The right front wheel of her shopping cart flipped and spun wildly and she fought for control over the damned thing, pushing through endless aisles packed tight with holiday shoppers. She hated the holidays. Hated how everyone lost their damn minds over 'the lowest price of the season' deals and she couldn't even go to the grocery store without swimming through tidal wave after tidal wave of the least cheerful people imaginable. Wasn't Christmas supposed to bring out the best in people? Good will towards man, happy greetings to everyone you meet or some idealistic Hallmark crap like that? Because all she had seen since Thanksgiving afternoon was the worst of humanity. Down to near fist fighting over the last of a plastic toy deemed the hottest toy of the season.
It didn't matter.
She didn't have to go through all that. It was just her and her little dog, Ava, anyway.
Well. Unless you counted him.
But could you really count someone you'd never actually spoken to?
She shoved a few extra strands of lights into the cart and made her way to the endless snaking lines stemming from the checkout counters. Trying not to punch random strangers was harder than you would think while Mariah Carey belted out 'All I Want for Christmas' for the millionth time over the speakers.
Christmas time in the city wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Sure, if you looked for it there was good to be found. People doing their yearly duty to the homeless and disadvantaged. For a few weeks they gave a little bit more, cared a little bit more… but it ended as quickly as the new year was rung in. Then all those less fortunate became invisible once again. But not to her. Maybe that's why she found herself in this situation. Buying all these stupid lights and decorations for someone who wouldn't even see them when her own sparsely decorated apartment only held a sad little tree strung with a few strands of lights and dotted with a few red and gold glass balls. That probably wouldn't have even happened if it weren't for her friend Mary Margaret's relentless insistence that it might help her lack of holiday spirit. That woman was the very embodiment of what the season was supposed to be about. But Emma would never admit that at night, when the world outside the glass of her windows was dark and cold, she found herself lying under the warmth of the Sherpa throw on her couch and relaxing her eyes so the lights on the tree blurred and spread like some sort of nostalgic photograph… and made her feel something like happy just looking at them.
It was her turn. She paid as quickly as possible and almost ran from the store. Taking special caution not to slip on the ice patches of the sidewalk outside until she could shove the purchases into the passenger side of the old yellow Volkswagen beetle and say a small prayer before cranking the engine that today wouldn't be the day that the old thing finally quit on her. As always, it sprung to life at the turn of her key and, as always, she let out a small sigh of relief before driving away towards the hospital.
Unloading the car, she couldn't believe it had already been six months since she discovered him.
A follow up investigation with a suspected abuse victim had led her to the ICU that hot summer day. Taking a breather in the hall, she saw him. A week later, she had to come back and saw him again. From time to time over the next two months duty would bring her to Massachusetts General. Curiosity would bring her back to his floor. Finally, she couldn't help herself. It was almost September and he was still there. So she found the nurse's station and just had to ask.
He had been in a car accident in May. A pretty major one and been in a coma ever since. There was no family to call, no visitors… He was alone. Alone. Just like her.
The first time she actually went into his room, she didn't say anything. She just stood and looked at him. He couldn't have been any older than herself. Standing beside him in silence, she studied him like a book. A fluffy mop of messy dark hair, a fading tan, thick black eyelashes and strong arms. A little poking around gave her his name. Killian Jones. That's all she needed to do a little digging.
He lived near the harbor and ran a small ship repair business. His business partner, William Smeegle, had taken over in his absence.
When she met Mr. Smeegle, she flashed her badge and said she was investigating the accident. He seemed surprised, that four months later someone would be asking questions about a pretty straightforward car wreck. Emma said there had been some new details they were looking into. Those details just so happened to be her own questions.
He answered questions about the wreck. She told him the hospital had said there was no family. Smeegle confirmed this. He was a widower - an artery in her heart had developed a hole and she died suddenly when it ruptured. His brother had died in an accident in the Navy. He had never known his parents. There were no children. He was a good man, took care of his workers and was always quick with a word of encouragement or slap on the back. Didn't deserve this… But who did?
She thanked him for his time, noticing the photo of Killian that hung in his office. He stood proudly amongst his crew of workers, bright blue eyes shining back at her and tugging at her heart. That night, she was back at the ICU. Being the only one to ever come see Mr. Jones, and knowing he had no kin, they bent the rules for her. She was allowed to come any time she wanted to. The doctors thought it might actually help.
So she sat. One of the nurses came in once while she was there. An auburn haired beauty with a sweet reassuring smile.
'Talk to him,' she encouraged, 'hearing someone's voice might actually help…'
So Emma started talking.
At first, it was simple things. Her name. What she did for a living… How much Graham and August, two of the other detectives in her division, could annoy her. But she was glad to have them. She didn't have many friends. Only a handful. It was hard to get close to people when you didn't trust anyone to actually stay.
'But you're not going anywhere, huh?' she said one night. And he wasn't. He was there. And all he could do was listen. So she kept talking.
Eventually, she took his hand while she spoke. Her thumb would rub circles on the top of his hand while she told him the reasons she couldn't trust. She had grown up alone in a state orphanage, going from foster family to foster family but never being adopted. Never being wanted. The first person to make her feel truly loved had let her take the fall for his crime and she went to jail and never heard from him again. Now she only had herself to rely on. She made a life for herself, despite everything. But she was broken.
By November, she was coming all the time. Sometimes she would just turn the TV on and watch with him, commenting on the shows out loud, laughing or crying as she watched. Sometimes she would read to him. She read many a book to Mr. Killian Jones. Some nights, she would kick off her boots and curl up next to him in the small hospital bed. Tell him things she never dared speak of to another human soul while she stroked his handsome sleeping face. That she hated being alone. She had searched most of her life for her family but never found any trace of them. Tears fell on his pillow when she told him that she hated Thanksgiving and Christmas. But she hated it simply because she was alone. And if she had a family… that she would probably cherish them more than anything.
Now it was December. And here she stood putting up decorations that he couldn't see all around his room.
"Emma! It looks great in here!" Belle gasped when she came by for vitals and Emma was almost done.
"Thanks. You think he would like it?" She smiled sadly.
"I think he would love it. Wouldn't you, Killian?"
When they were alone again she looked around the room over her hard work. The glass windows were lined with twinkling colorful lights. A small artificial tree sat in the corner absolutely doused with strings of lights, nautical themed glass ornaments and topped with a star.
She sat and held his hand, sleeping soundly next to his bed that night.
Christmas eve came. Mary Margaret tried to pull her over to the party she and her husband David were having that night. Feeling guilty about ditching once again, she went. Dressing in a sparkly red dress Mary Margaret begged her to wear, she showed up at the appointed time with a bottle of sparkling wine in tow for the hostess. She was ushered into the loft and was lost in a sea of only vaguely familiar faces. Mary Margaret and David tried to introduce her to everyone. A bored woman with resting bitch face named Regina greeted her halfheartedly and her adoring husband, Robin, gave a warm handshake. A tall brunette with wild brown eyes and a wide smile named Ruby introduced her boyfriend, a doctor named Victor who seemed like the biggest skirt chaser around. There were more… But Emma stopped paying attention. Everyone else slowly got trashed on the strongest eggnog Emma had ever drank. But it felt wrong. This felt… wrong. It only got worse as the couples lost inhibitions. Robin and Regina tucked themselves into a steamy back corner of the loft. Ruby and Victor had been fighting just an hour earlier over him shamelessly flirting with one of the other female guests. Now they were 'making up' in the bathroom. Loudly. Even Mary Margaret and David with their adoring looks and sickly sweet kisses shared under the mistletoe… She felt her eyes prick. And she knew where she needed to be.
A mumbled apology over an early exit was all she could manage, pushing her arms into the coat and running out into the ridiculously cold night air. A gentle snowfall began while she drove. It felt like she didn't exhale until she stepped into his room. The gentle, familiar beeping noises of his monitors soothing her like a lullaby. The fluorescent lights were off and the room was softly lit by the Christmas lights and tree. Sitting on his bedside, she held his hand tightly in her own and lowered her face until her forehead rested against his.
She hummed a Christmas carol. One she would sing to herself as a child on Christmas Eve every year when she didn't want to feel so alone and the world was quiet and still…
All is calm,
All is bright…
"I must be the craziest person in the world for this… But I wish you were awake, Killian. I'm tired of doing all the talking… I want to hear you talk. That would be the best Christmas gift in the world tonight," she whispered, a tear rolling freely down her cheek and falling to his, "I love you."
Not able to help herself, she placed a kiss to his soft lips.
"Merry Christmas, Killian," she breathed with her eyes still closed and nose still brushing his.
Emma stood and started for the door.
"Merry Christmas, love," the raspy voice stopped her dead in her tracks.
Her tear filled eyes widened as she turned to face him. And he stared back at her, his eyes even brighter blue than his picture gave justice, and smiled.
"You… you're awake! And you heard me?"
"Aye, every word…," he nodded, looking at her in a way she'd never been looked at before… A way that made her feel like her chest was going to explode, "And… I love you too."
Her hand covered her mouth and she ran to his bed, burying her face in his neck, knotting his hospital gown in her fists.
"There there, my Swan. I've only just woken. You still have to hear me talk. I've listened to you for quite some time. Now it's my turn."
"You're damn right it is," she agreed, looking up at him, glowing.
She kissed him again. Melted into it, holding her hand to the back of his head and lost in the feeling of him actually kissing her back. His thumb traced the line of her jaw, stopping at her chin after the kiss was over and he looked at her like she was the most precious thing in the entire world. It truly was the best Christmas present she could have ever asked for.