Emma breathed a sigh of relief as soon as she entered Graham's apartment and closed the door behind her. It was a little smaller than she was initially expecting, but the place looked comfortable and welcoming.
It was fairly open plan. To her left was a small kitchen, just big enough for a cooker, fridge, and a small island with two seats. Further down on the left was a table with four chairs, with one seat slightly askew in front of an empty mug and bowl. There was a sofa and tv set to the right of it, which is where Emma placed her bag while she took one of the longest showers in her adult life.
She was sitting there staring at the ring with damp hair when Graham came in. As he turned to shut the door, she shoved it into her pocket and smiled.
"Thanks again for letting me stay," she said as he yawned. "Long day?"
He smirked as he headed towards the kitchen. "You don't know the half of it."
"Fancy a drink? I'm afraid I haven't got a lot of options in for the beverage department, but I'm sure there'll be something to tickle your fancy." Graham quickly opening and closing cupboards. "There's water, coffee, hot chocolate, and some scotch."
"Hot chocolate is fine, thanks." Emma said, feeling her heartbeat pick up as she turned to face him. She felt guilty for bringing it up so soon after he had finished work, but she couldn't wait any longer, and she couldn't risk him falling asleep on her before she found out. "So, what's the deal with Hoo- - Killian?"
Graham paused, frowning as he started boiling the water. "What do you mean?"
"Why is everyone so afraid of him?"
As Graham turned around, Emma noted just how tired and worn out he looked. His hair hang limp over his forehead, brushing just past his eyebrows. His eyes could be easily mistaken for tunnels with how dark his circles were, and how brooding his gaze was. His unkempt beard almost matched the lack of tie and creased shirt he was wearing. Even when he thought he was going crazy, he hadn't let himself get to this point.
"You know how the carrot and stick approach works, right?" He asked.
Sheshook her head, confused.
"Okay, let me explain it to you." Graham walked over to the sofa and sat down next to Emma, speaking in hushed tones. "There's a cart driver and a mule. If he wants to make it to the market on time, the mule has to go faster. If the mule speeds up, the driver will give him a carrot. If the mule slows down, the driver will jab him with the stick."
"Okay," Emma said slowly. "But what has this got to do with this?"
"Bear with me. Regina is the Mayor, so she's the cart driver who decides where to go and what happens to the rest of us, who are-"
Graham smirked. "Right. Me and the rest of the law enforcers on the City Council are the carrots, offering them rewards or another way out if they chose to comply with us. This leaves us with the stick for punishing those who step out of line, which in Killian's case, is more like a dagger."
As he finished, the kettle began squealing loudly, causing Graham to quickly hop up from the couch to take it off the heat. In the time between her flatmate making the hot chocolate and placing it down in front of her, a dozen thoughts had already spun through her head. Yet the most important one was left unanswered.
How did Killian turn into someone everyone feared?
When Emma traced back through her memories to her first encounters with Killian, when he was an 'evil' pirate looking for revenge, he was never completely the bad guy. Sure, his thirst for revenge against his crocodile almost led to her and Snow being abandoned in the Enchanted Forest, but he had a good heart. Unlike many 'villains' she'd faced over the years, Killian had had one thing that the others lacked: a guilty conscious over his actions. This new Killian seemed brutal.
Graham sighed as he sunk into the couch the next to her. "You'll be best to keep your distance from him, Miss Swan. Killian's temper may be fickle, but hell hath no fury like a Regina scorned."
"What does that mean?" Emma asked, taking a sip from her drink.
Graham hesitated. "Have you heard of a woman named Kathryn Nolan?"
"Yes," Emma said slowly.
"Our dear old Killian liked to visit her some evenings. After some time, Kathryn wanted to call it off and start seeing other people. They were at The Rabbit Hole at the time and Killian had had a little too much drink, he threw a few-" Graham shook his head "-he threw a lot of punches when the bartender and a few locals told him to calm down. He had started getting a bit handsy, and started making a bit of a scene when Katherine said no."
"That doesn't sound like Killian," Emma said immediately, shocked. Then she remembered that this wasn't her Killian and tried to quickly correct herself. "I mean, what happened to respect and boundaries?"
"Not everyone is a gentleman, Emma." He said sadly. "When the news reached the local paper, Regina was furious. She dug up some illicit documents relating to Katherine and had her evicted from her home. People think that she moved to the opposite end of town, but no-one has really heard from her since."
Emma's head was swimming as she tried to make sense of it all. "Why would Regina get involved?"
"You don't know?" Graham asked, surprised. "Her and Killian have a thing."
She almost laughed in disbelief when the words left Graham's mouth. Although a pirate and an Evil Queen being together wasn't completely illogical, it still left a sour taste in her mouth. If they were together and Killian and further explored his darker side in this reality, she could only imagine that those two would bring out the worst in each other when together.
She could only hope that they didn't ever show that around Henry.
"Anyway, enough of that," Graham said chirpily, grasping his mug with both hands. "Tell me more about yourself - the real Emma Swan. Where are you from?"
For the first time since Emma opened her eyes back in New York, Emma began to feel happy as Graham unwittingly distracted her from her daily struggle of trying to find a way back to her original timeline. They sat talking for hours after their drinks had emptied, with Emma telling Graham all of her funny anecdotes and unfortunate mishaps as a bail bondsman, and Graham catching her up on all of the stories that Storybrooke had to offer from some of their more colourful inhabitants.
Their conversation trailed off into the early hours of the morning, only ending when Emma dozed off in the middle of Graham showing her the latest nature documentary that made him wish he had a career change. When he finally noticed her agreeable murmurs becoming quieter and less cohesive, he pulled his favourite blanket out of storage and draped it over an exhausted Emma before his next early shift.
"So, where did you go yesterday?" Henry asked, scooping up a bit of ice-cream up with his spoon. "What happened with your idea?"
"I-" Emma hesitated, wondering how much of her staying at Graham's was appropriate to tell Henry. Considering that they were just friends, she opted for the truthful option. "I stayed over at Graham's. He's letting me sleep on his couch so that I don't have to break my neck in my car every night."
"Okay." Henry said, surprising Emma with the mild response. "And what about your idea?"
Emma sighed and dug a spoon into Henry's ice-cream. "Still in progress."
"What do you have so far?"
Emma quickly glanced around Granny's before reaching into her pocket and pulling out the twisted gold band, showing it to Henry. They both stared at it in silence for a while, listening only to the background chatter of regular patrons and the occasional ring of the doorbell.
It wasn't long before Henry admitted defeat and asked Emma what it was, not recognising it from anywhere.
"This is the engagement ring that Daniel gave to your mother," Emma said in hushed voice. "In my Storybrooke, Regina told me that she would look through it and see his face – it was her only last connection to him, especially as it was possibly one of the only enchanted objects in a land without magic. However, she used it to create a tiny portal to grab the apple that poisoned Snow, then made it into a dreadful apple dessert. The only that was meant for me, but almost ended up killing you."
The boy nodded slowly. "And you think it still might have some magic in it now?"
"I'm not sure." Emma admitted, slipping the ring back into her pocket. "If Regina still treasured Daniel like she did, she'd have never let it get tossed into a school jumble sale to save the building that she's trying to get closed. It especially wouldn't be there if she knew it contained magic. The Curse hasn't been broken yet, so she mustn't have many sources of power here."
"So why did you keep it?" Henry asked.
"I don't know." Emma cocked her head to one side and smiled at her son. "I guess some part of me wants a reminder that Regina isn't truly evil when she comes at me again. Or maybe I'm just clinging to the shred of hope that it still might contain some magic that can help get me home."
"We'll get you back home," said Henry. "One way or another, the heroes always win."
Emma laughed and ruffled his hair, much to the boy's repulsion. She tried to seek comfort in his words, but there was something about what he said that was playing on her mind. After a moment's thought, she took off her own necklace with the swan pendant and slipped Regina's ring onto it.
"Here, kid." Emma leaned over the table and fixed the necklace around his neck. "Keep these safe for me."
The boy looked down at them in confusion, picking up and inspecting each one. "Why? Wouldn't they be safer with you? I'm the one who lost the storybook."
"There's no-one that I trust more than you, Henry." Emma said softly, briefly cupping his face with her hand. "And I'm not asking you to keep hold of them just because the ring might contain some magic."
"Then why are you giving it to me?"
"To remind you that both of your mom's are trying their best to be your hero," she explained, staring sadly at the necklace. "She might not be on our side now, but she will fight fiercely to keep her family safe, no matter what the cost. So whenever she does something to try to throw us off of our plan, remember that there is still some good in her. There's proof of that in the other Storybrooke, anyway."
When Henry nodded at her with solemn eyes, she was in awe all over again about how such a mature head could sit comfortably on his tiny shoulders.
"Where did you get this one?" He asked after some time, picking up the silver swan pendant.
In that moment, it was as if Emma had been sucked through another icy portal and was 18 again. Instead of sitting in a booth at a diner, she was back in her 1969 Volkswagon Beetle and riding on the adrenaline high from making a successful pregnancy store scam. She looked over at Neal with stars in her eyes, who was handing her the swan keychain she had just been admiring moments earlier. The way he looked at her made her wonder why she had ever wanted to be anywhere else but that rusty, old car with the first man who showed her just how full her heart could feel.
She blinked and she was back in Neal's apartment in New York. She was kneeling, holding Henry's face in her hands as she told him that she had lied about who his father is and watched the hurt of betrayal spread across his face, seeing his trust in her seal off in his eyes like a metal vault slamming shut. She could practically hear Neal's heartbeat pounding a dozen times a second as he realised what 11 years of absence and ignorance looked like.
When she found herself holding him as he took his last breaths and then shoveling dirt onto his grave with their son, she knew something had to change. Even if it meant nothing when she returned to her Storybrooke, she couldn't let history repeat itself here; she had a chance to make things right.
"Your father gave me this," she murmured, her voice thick. "Many, many years ago."
"Who was he?" Henry asked quietly, aware of Emma's distress but unable to completely contain his nervous energy.
Emma couldn't help but chuckle as he frowned, almost seeing the cogs whirring around in his head. When it finally clicked, and he had matched the name with the fairytale character that Emma had told him about on her first night to this Storybrooke, his face shone as he sat up straighter in his chair. At this point, she was glad that she neglected to add the detail that Neal died in her timeline.
"You mean Baelfire?" He asked excitedly, scanning Emma's face for a giveaway answer. "Rumplestiltskin's son, the one who you tracked down in New York?"
"I can see where this is going," Emma said, rolling her eyes fondly.
"Can we go see him?" Henry pleaded, leaning forwards on the table with his forearms. "He was here before the Curse, right? He might be able to help us get you back, and I could meet him at the same time. It's foolproof!"
"You're forgetting one thing," Emma warned, remembering what Graham said last night. "Regina is never going to let me take you to Boston, and I don't feel like double crossing her."
"Then we'll go right now."
"Please, Emma." Henry interrupted, looking up at her with big eyes. "He's my dad, I just want to meet him."
Emma sighed, briefly weighing up her options. On one hand she could say no, which would have no effect on Regina's consistent battle with her whilst making her son – and only ally – upset with her. On the other hand she could say yes, resulting in a very happy son, a very confused new parent, and one very pissed off witch. She tried having a reasonable debate about it in her head, but her heart knew that there was only one true option that she had – even if it meant breaking her heart and diving into hell all over again.
"Okay," she said eventually, "let's go meet your dad."
A toothy grin erupted on Henry's face spanning from ear to ear. "When can we go?"
Emma checked her watch.
"Now." Emma stood up and picked up her coat, feeling the thrill of that rebellious adrenaline rush creeping up on her. "If we're quick, we can get you back home for bedtime."
After seeing Sidney's images of Emma leaving Graham's apartment earlier that day, Killian lashed his phone against the bed and ran his hands through his hair, letting out a frustrated grunt as he sat down heavily on the mattress. He tore off his jacket and threw it against the wall, landing on the floor with a soft thump. He moved onto his shirt buttons, only managing to fumble a few of them open before deeply sighing and resting his head in his hands.
There was something about her that made him lose his mind and find it whole again, all within the same instant. It was as if her eyes were tethered to his heartbeat, and every glance that she spared in his direction pulled on that connection and gave it life, reminding him what it was like to be truly alive. It was in moments like that that he both doubted and revelled every step he had taken to get to this point: it meant that he could finally see her once again, but what would she think of the man that looked back?
"Killian," Regina murmured from the doorway, prowling forward and sitting gently beside him. "Talk to me."
He sat up and sighed, staring blankly at the wall in front of him. "I can't do this anymore."
"Do what?" Regina said, placing a hand on his back.
"This, Regina." Killian blurted, standing to get away from her touch. "I can't keep this up, not when she's here."
Even though it felt like Regina's eyes could bore a hole through his head the moment he let the words slip from his mouth, they both kept silent. A wave of anguish washed over Regina as she realised just how much trouble Miss Swan was proving to be: taking her son, alienating Killian, and – discovered thanks to Henry's storybook – the Saviour to the Dark Curse she had spent years trying to get. Her seemingly perfect life was unravelling more and more each day, and it was all because of her.
"She's alone, you know?" Killian said quietly, interrupting her thoughts. "I've see perils of abandonment in a dozen young eyes before hers. It's something you can't quite shake, no matter how many people you have in your life."
After a few moments of thought, Regina stood up and closed the gap between them. She placed a hand on his chest at first, feeling his heartbeat through the thin fabric of his shirt. She then trailed her hand up to his cheek, lifting his face so that he met her gaze. She poured all of the compassion she could into that look, before leaning closer and whispering: "How can you help her if you're not willing to help yourself?"
With that, she gently pressed her lips against his and closed the door to the room with a small kick.
AN: SailorMew4 and Littlest1 I've missed Robin! Emilee Amethyst Thank you, I look forward to writing more :) Kiwistreetswan Yeah, I wish we saw more of him. &I wasn't sure about the gauntlet and have done research/ began watching the show again. I've hazed over details and believe I may have made a boo boo somewhere, but hopefully it ties together and will make sense in the next chapters!