The slamming car door jolted Killian Jones from his nap.
Not any car door, mind you, his car door. His car door that was attached to the car he'd stolen only a day before. Also the same car where he had been napping in the back seat. Carefully, Killian opened an eye, wary of how the newcomer would react to finding him in the back seat. He caught a glimpse of a leather jacket and a long, blonde ponytail as the woman in the front seat jammed a screwdriver into the ignition.
Oh, this was going to be interesting.
The woman started the car in record time, cranking the screwdriver and zooming off still completely oblivious that Killian la curled up in the back seat.
"I'm impressed, love," Killian said, sitting up. The woman screamed, eyes wide behind her glasses. Killian ducked out of the way of that long blonde hair as she wrenched around to face him. "But really, you could have just asked me for the keys."
Grinning, he dangled the keyring by her ear.
She seemed to have trouble deciding whether to keep those green eyes on him or on the road. Oh he liked her, gutsy enough to jimmy the car window and easy on the eyes as well.
"Just drive, love, it's fine." Killian patted her on the shoulder, causing her to jump and the car to weave as they pulled into traffic.
"I just stole your car. Your life could be in danger," she said, the low pitch of her voice doing nothing to hide the slight waver.
He chuckled. "Killian Jones," he said, leaning against the seat and propping his chin on his right hand.
"Yeah, I'm not telling you my name." Her voice held steady this time as she eyed him through the rearview mirror.
"I shan't need it to have you arrested," Killian said, "when the robbery is still in progress."
The woman glanced black at him. He recognized the look on her face. It was one he'd gotten many times since he came to this realm several months ago. He flashed his winning smile.
"Emma," she said. She pressed her lips tightly together. In a tone so soft he might have missed it if he wasn't leaning so close, she said, "Emma Swan."
"Swan," he said, letting the name roll around his mouth. "I like the sound of that."
Emma tensed, sucking in a sharp breath, eyes fixed on the road. "So, do you just live in here or are you just waiting for the car to be stolen?"
"Well, that's a tale that should be told over drinks, don't you think?"
"Excuse me?" She whipped around to look at him, blowing right through a stop sign.
"Eyes on the road if you don't mind, Swan."
A horn beeped at them as Emma's attention returned to driving. Thankfully, the other driver had been paying more attention than she had.
Both hands on the steering wheel, Emma said, "I am not having drinks with you. You might be a pervert."
"Aye, I might be," Killian said, "but you, lass, are most certainly a car thief. Done this often, have you?"
"I said I was sorry."
"Actually, you didn't, love."
Behind them, a siren blipped. Emma cursed. Killian's eyes shot to the red and blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror. Terribly cheery, he thought, when in his limited experience those lights always meant bad news. He groaned.
"That's why I said eyes on the road."
Emma pulled over, her hands steady on the wheel.
"Screwdriver," he muttered, handing her the keys and stashing the offensive object in the pocket of his hooded sweater.
The thud and crunch of heavy boots approached from behind them as Emma slid the key home. "License and registration."
"Hi," Emma said, her voice bright and innocent as she flashed an apprehensive smile up at the officer. This lass possessed nerves of steel.
Killian managed not to laugh as he leaned forward. "My apologies, officer," he started, plastering chagrined smile on his face. "This is my car, actually, I'm trying to teach my girlfriend how to drive stick."
The officer raised an eyebrow, tossing a look down the street. "She's got a lot to learn," he said, turning back to Killian.
"Aye, that she does," Killian sighed dramatically, "but women, mate." He grimaced, pulling his expression into one of long-suffering patience. Emma's glare drilled holes into his skull, but he studiously ignored her.
The officer pressed his lips together, nodding slightly. "Alright, I hear you. It's a warning…this time."
"Thank you, officer."
The man tipped his broad-brimmed hat to them and strode back to his car.
Killian sagged in relief. That was a close call of exactly the kind he that he had no time for. He'd already wasted enough time getting acclimated in this realm, the added difficulty of avoiding the authorities would only complicate his search further.
Emma turned on him. "What are you? Some sort of misogynist."
Shoving the seat forward, Killian opened the door and slipped into the front seat.
"I don't know what that is," he said, "but you're welcome. Now, let's go, Swan, we got lucky."
Emma reached for the keys, her hand freezing half way to the ignition. "We?" Her face lit up.
Killian bit back a groan, she had to be a quick one.
"This isn't your car either, is it?" A grin spread over that lovely face, lighting her eyes up. "I stole a stolen car."
Killian returned her smile, couldn't help it really. Oh, he definitely liked her. And it had been quite a bit of time since he'd enjoyed the company of the fairer sex, perhaps he did have the time for a distraction or two. Especially if the distraction was as pretty and blonde as Emma Swan.
"Now how about that drink, love?"
Emma scoffed, but she reached for the keys anyways, starting the car.
# # #
By the time he directed her to a more secluded spot, Killian was rethinking his plan.
For one thing, despite the too old look in her eyes, Killian suspected Emma to be much younger than she let on. If she was a day over twenty, Killian Jones would eat his boots. And twenty was generous, he thought, as she sat next to him on the park bench, her bag settled possessively in her lap.
"I think you said something about a drink," Emma said, staring him down even as she fiddled with the strap of her bag.
"Aye, that I did," Killian said, pulling his flask out his pocket. He popped the cork, taking a swig of rum. "Though, now that I've got a proper look at you, I'm starting to wonder if you're of age. I know this realm frowns on…" He searched for the word that he'd seen plastered on the convenience stores. "Minors imbibing liquor."
"This realm," Emma asked, brow wrinkling. "And what realm are you from? Neverland?"
Her question knocked the breath right out of Killian, a red flag rising in his mind. Had Pan sent her to check up on him? There was no other way she could possibly have guessed that. Not with his hook carefully stowed in the other pocket of his hoodie. Before he acted—jump up and run really, that was always your best bet with an agent of Pan's—Emma laughed, swiping his flask and lifting it to her lips.
"Ugh, what is that?" Emma scrunched her nose up. Quite adorable, really.
Adorable was not a word he felt comfortable applying to his distractions. Ravishing. Gorgeous. Enchanting. Those were the words he used for the women he used. Adorable was for children and for lazy mornings spent teaching someone you loved how to tie sailor's knots. Emma was decidedly the former.
"Rum." He reached out, plucking the flask out of her grasp. He considered walking away right then and there, getting in the car and driving until Portland and this woman—girl, really—lay far behind him, but her eyes stopped him. This might not be Neverland, but he could recognize a lost boy no matter the realm. Or lost girl, as the case may be.
Emma rolled her eyes. "Just pretend we're back in the mother country. I hear eighteen is the drinking age over there."
"Great Britain? The U.K.?"
"Ah, yes," Killian said. He'd heard those names bandied about a few times when he met people. "The accent."
"Came in handy today," Emma quipped, reaching for the flask again. This time, she managed to keep a straight face as she sipped.
"That it does on occasion," he said. He leaned in, appraising Emma casually. "You're eighteen?"
Emma paused just a beat before replying and that was all Killian needed. "Yes."
Stretching his legs out in front of him, Killian smirked. "You're lying."
Emma shifted away from him, suddenly very engrossed in her fingernails. A damp breeze came up, blowing strands of blonde hair over her cheek as she fiddled with the zipper of her jacket. Her jaw clenched, a muscle on her cheek popping. Savagely, she jammed a hand into her bag retrieving the keys and tossing them into his lap as she stood, gravel crunching beneath her feet.
"Look, Killian, it's been fun, but I should get going."
"Swan, I think you should…"
Emma stepped back. "I know what you're going to say and you should know it's not happening. You can't go home if you don't have a home to go back to."
"I know," Killian said.
"How?" Emma blinked, the nervousness on her face blooming into fear. "You're with social services aren't you? Look, I'm not going back. I'll have aged out next year anyways and I'm old enough to take care of myself."
"Social Services?" Killian grimaced. "I don't know what that is, darling, but it sounds official and I think there are probably easier ways to catch runaways than hiding out in a stolen car."
Emma shook her head. "Right, of course, that makes sense. Then how do you know?"
"I recognize the look in your eye," Killian said. "I've seen it in my own eyes since I was a lad. An orphan's an orphan, no matter how old you get."
Emma shifted her weight, hand clutched around the strap of her bag. She approached the bench again and sat gingerly, a good deal of space between them now. Killian's heart, tired and unused as it was, went out to her. He took a swig of rum to drown out the sentimental thought.
"You're an orphan too?" she asked, voice soft and crackling.
"Aye," he said, holding the flask out to her.
Emma took it, but didn't drink, weighing it in her palms. Killian watched her, reminded of another child so very long ago with dark hair instead of blonde, boy instead of girl. A boy he made a promise to, a promise he failed to keep. Killian looked at the keys in his lap. He should walk away right now. He knew, with everything in him that if he didn't walk away, this girl would prove a very different kind of distraction. Not the kind that lasted one night—Never that kind of distraction. Captain Hook might be a scoundrel, but even he had lines he didn't cross.
He should walk away.
But Emma was alone and, if looks were anything to go by, very used to people walking away from her.
"Care to talk about it?" he asked.
"Do you care to talk about how you lost a hand?" she shot back.
Killian touched a finger to his brow. "Fair enough."
She proffered the flask again and he drank, still toying with the idea forming in his mind. Perhaps she didn't have to be a distraction—after all, recruiting someone familiar with this realm could only aid in his task. They could help each other, couldn't they?
"I don't mean to upset you, Emma," he said. "But I think we make quite the team."
Emma quirked an eyebrow. "Oh really? And what's that supposed to mean?"
# # #
This was Killian's least favorite con.
It also happened to be their most effective con so far.
"Ready?" Emma asked, double-checking that her bag was in position.
Killian gave her a tight smile. "Always, Swan."
The bell above the door tinkled as they entered the convenience store, drawing the gaze of the balding clerk. Show time, as Emma liked to say. Killian leaned in, hand caressing the bag hidden under her dress, and planted a kiss on her temple.
"Get whatever you want, darling," he said, "I'll try and get directions."
Emma giggled, looking up at him with eyes that could only be described as lovesick. "I will," she said and sashayed over to refrigerated food bin, opening the door and perusing the contents as Killian approached the counter.
"Good day, sir." He turned the full force of his most charming smile on the narrow-faced man.
The clerk looked taken aback. "How are you?"
"I've had better days," Killian said, snagging a map from the rack on the counter and doing his best to unfurl it one-handed. A task he mastered long ago, but Killian found a little pity tended to silence most questions. "Listen, mate, the wife and I are trying to get to Eugene and I think we're headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps you'd be so kind as to help a fellow out?"
The clerk's eyes narrowed and he threw a glance over at Emma, who was sniffing at something that looked like food. "Okay, wait."
Killian braced himself for what was coming. The ease with which people accepted Emma as his wife always curdled an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was only matter of time before someone questioned why someone as old as he would be attached to a seventeen-year-old girl.
"Do I look like a tour guide?" the man snapped. "Why don't you buy the map, then I can help you."
Killian bit back a sigh of relief as he reached into his back pocket and threw a five dollar bill on the counter. As he did, one of the keychains on the display in front of the cash register caught his eye. A circle of metal, black enamel surrounding a little silver swan that winked at him as the keychains swayed slightly. His eyes darted up to find Emma, but she was ducked behind a shelf, no doubt stuffing comestibles into her bag. He thought of snagging it, but it was on his left side, he couldn't filch it without giving the game up.
When the clerk bent down, pointing to a dot on the map, Killian chose to slip a couple of chocolate bars into his pocket instead. He happened to know those were Emma's favorite.
"Hey," a new voice said. "Hey, that guy's…"
On cue, Emma let out a loud groan and came rushing back to the front of the store. "Oh God! Oh God!"
The clerk's head shot up, eyes going wide. Killian took advantage of the distraction, flipping the map up so no one would see him snatch the keychain from the rack.
"I think…I think it's time…" She gasped for breath, hand on her side.
"So you didn't see…"
Emma moaned again, so gustily that Killian half believed her himself. "It hurts really bad," she cried, latching onto the newcomer.
Killian rushed over, murmuring encouragements and waving off the clerk's questions as he bustled Emma out the door, her cries of pain drowning out the protests of the would be snitch. They banged through the door, breaking into a run as soon as the door slammed shut behind them. Emma held the bag close underneath her dress as they careened around the corner, laughing breathlessly.
"The little fellow saved our necks," Killian said, slipping the keychain into his pocket as he retrieved the keys to their car.
"He sure did." Emma laughed again, pausing to unhook the bag from around her neck. "The miracle of birth." She tossed the bag between the front seats.
"Good haul," Killian said, glancing down at the bag. When he looked up, Emma wore a mile wide grin, her eyes sparking. Bare inches separated them. Killian's breath caught, his attention captured by the brush of her lashes against her cheek. The keychain in his pocket felt warm against his skin.
Killian cleared his throat, pulling away as he shoved the keys in the ignition.
"We need to move."
# # #
They enjoyed their first meal of the day, waiting by the bug as they scoped out the motel. Emma was working on the second half of a chocolate bar.
Sneaking into motels had been Emma's idea, something she'd picked up during her few months alone. Killian loved the fact that it provided him access to the miracle of the shower. He was far better kept—and far better smelling—than he had been in months. Public restrooms only allowed for so much personal grooming.
Emma nudged him with her elbow, glancing over at the family traipsing down the walk.
"Twenty minutes until housekeeping," she said, popping a final piece of chocolate in her mouth.
They hurried over, Killian producing a rigged lock pick from his pocket, shielding the doorknob with his body as Emma stepped to the other side.
"You really are going to have to show me how you do that one-handed," she whispered.
"I'd rather pray that you never lose a hand, Swan," he said as the tumblers clicked and the door swung open.
"Oh look," Emma said, dumping her bag on the bed. "The granola family left this." She held up a circle, with a net strung inside it, feather tassels hanging from the bottom.
"Is that object of some special significance?" Killian asked.
"It's a Native American dreamcatcher," Emma said, plopping down on the bed and holding the object above her. "It supposed to keep all the nightmares out and let only good dreams in to protect your home."
"So, it's a trap for nightmares?" Killian took it from Emma, thumbing one of the beads woven into the net. Green as Emma's eyes. "We should keep it."
Emma laughed. "Yeah and hang it where? The car?" She dumped the bag onto the bed, sorting through the food that would have to last them until tomorrow. They would need to get to another part of town before they could pull this trick again.
Killian watched Emma, the strange urge rising up in him to say that maybe it was time. Maybe they should settle down, find decent jobs, stop running everywhere. Except he couldn't. He had a town in a place called Maine to find. He needed to keep working east.
"It's not much of a home," Killian said. "But it's all we have for now." He tossed the dreamcatcher onto the bed by her bag. "We keep it. Now, Swan, shall I shower first? Or can I trust you not to take up all our time?"
Emma rolled her eyes. "Oh please, we both know you take longer. Go." She waved her hand. "I'd rather be well fed than smell pretty."
"Yes, well, you don't have to sleep in the same car as you," he said. "So, I'll be quick."
# # #
"So back here in three hours?" Emma asked, fingers wound around the strap on her bag.
"Aye, Swan, you go work you magic, I'll meet you here at nine." He squeezed her hand gently and handed her the keys. "I'll be right here. Hopefully with a little dinner."
Emma possessed a special talent for wheedling a little extra cash from bleeding heart do-gooders, but her act worked better without Killian. He preferred to fall back on his own particular set of skills and they needed every bit they could get, so on occasion they would divide and conquer as it were. It was high time they moved on, but that took gas and for gas, you needed cash.
Killian headed for the busy shopping plaza, he always managed to find some distracted businessman or frazzled "soccer mom" as Emma dubbed them—whatever that meant. There would be someone here who wouldn't notice a deft hand slipping into their bag or coat pocket.
He sensed the tail before he saw him.
Pausing to peruse the selection in a shop window, Killian noted the people following him, saw the man in the black coat eyeing a shop down the line. Hand curling around the hook in his pocket, Killian kept walking, focus shifting from those around him to the man behind him. He bumped into a woman carrying several parcels, spinning just enough to see if the man was still following him. Apologizing, Killian helped the woman right her packages and ducked into an alley, pulling his hook out of his pocket and locking it into place.
The man in the black coat rounded the corner. Killian grabbed him by the lapel, shoving him up against the wall and pressing the point of his hook at the man's neck.
"You picked the wrong mark, mate," he said.
The man gasped, one hand grabbing what would have been Killian's wrist—if he still had one on that arm.
"It's not like that," he said, "I just want to talk."
Killian raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? Perhaps I don't want to listen." He relaxed, shoving the man to the ground. "On your way then." Perhaps it was a mistake, letting this man go, but he was loathe to explain coming back with blood on his jacket. Emma would worry.
The man's eyes went wide as he took in the wicked curve of metal.
"Really?" he said, rubbing the scratch left in his skin. "Of all the people Emma could have taken up with, she found Captain Hook? You're actually real." He laughed wryly, picking himself up off the ground. Dirt stained his pants. He shook his head, brushing at his knees. "Who am I kidding? I'm real, of course you would be too."
Killian froze, turning back to the man on the ground. "What the bloody hell are you going on about, mate?" His eyes narrowed. "And how do you know Emma?" Killian knew he should probably be more alarmed with the fact that this man knew who he was, and yet, the mention of Emma troubled Killian far more. Had Pan been watching him? What would happen if he though Emma was getting in the way of Killian completing his task.
"I'm August," he said, "think of me as Emma's guardian angel."
"Guardian angel?" Killian scoffed. He crossed his arms, fixing his most deadly glare on the man. "Well, you've certainly bollocksed that up."
To his credit, August didn't flinch. "I've been looking for her for the past two years. And I finally find her and what's she doing? Robbing convenience stores with a dirty pirate. Tell me again who 'bollocksed' this up?"
"Two years?" Killian growled, anger drowning out the nagging truth behind August's word. Who was this man to tell him what was best for Emma? The ground crunched beneath Killian's boots as he approached the stranger. August was taller by an inch, maybe two, but Killian had no doubt his own rage would even out the fight. "And where exactly were you the rest of her life? Eh, mate?"
August flinched, kicking at some trash on the ground. "I'm not perfect and this world? Full of temptations. Turns out I'm not that great at saying no." He gestured to himself. "I'm not built that way."
"So, who are you?"
"We were in the same home together," August said. "I thought she would be safe in the system…"
"Back then, I promised I would take care of her. I'm just trying to keep my promise."
"Too late for that, mate," Killian said, his dislike of the man multiplying. "Maybe I'm not doing the best job, but I'm doing a better one than you ever did. We take care of each other, she and I."
August's eyes jumped up, recognition sparking in them—and maybe a little bit of humor. "You love her."
Now it was Killian's turn to step back. "It's not like that, mate. I've never touched her."
"There's more than one kind of love."
Killian met August's stare for a moment before letting out a slow breath. "Aye."
"Good. Then that means you have to do right by her. You have to leave her."
"Never." The bloodlust boiled up inside Killian. He seized August by the jacket, slamming him into the wall again. His forearm dug into the soft flesh of August's throat. "I will never abandon her." The vehemence in his voice surprised Killian. He truly meant it.
The other man gasped, fingers clawing at Killian's arm. "She has a destiny. There's a curse…"
"I know about the curse," Killian said. "Why do you think I'm here?"
"Then you should know that she's the one to break it."
Killian staggered back. Emma—his Emma—was the savior? She was the one that Pan had blathered on about when he'd given his instructions? Out of all the people in all the world, the girl meant to break the Evil Queen's curse had broken into his car. Killian felt like he'd been plunged in an ice cold sea.
This changed things.
"The curse has to be broken," August rasped, hand at his throat. He swallowed, a grimace of pain crossing his face. "Emma is the key. It was my job to keep her on track and you got caught in the crossfire, Hook. Now you have to make a decision. Will you do the right thing?"
"The right thing?"
"Leave her, so that she can fulfill her destiny."
Emma, her fingers wrapped tightly around her bag, came to mind. Killian could remember the exact tone of her voice as she confirmed—not for the first time—that he would be there when she returned. The look on her face as she got into the car and drove away, the apprehension, was seared into his mind. Emma—whose parents sent her to this world—left only with a newspaper clipping to tell her what kind of people her parents were. Though, the little article now told a very different story.
And this man asked Killian to do what had already been done to her too many times.
"No," Killian said, clenching his fist. "No, leaving Emma will never be the right thing. She is worth more than your bloody destiny."
August stared at him, silent, the gears in his head turning. Thoughts flickered behind his eyes, but Killian held up his hand.
"If what I've heard is true, we still have eleven years before Emma can break the curse," Killian said. "There's no point getting her to Storybrooke before then."
"How is it you know so much about the curse?"
"None of your business, mate," Killian said. "All you need to know is I'm doing a better job than you. And that's the end of it."
# # #
He was doing right by her, Killian assured himself that night.
The smile Emma graced him with when they reunited told him this was right. He learned the difference quickly, between her true smiles and the ones she put on to fool the rest of the world. Trust came slow with Emma Swan and he realized he cherished that trust.
Though Killian didn't know what she would say if she discovered he held answers about her family.
But he couldn't just tell her.
Emma Swan didn't believe in fairy tales.
He stretched, taking up every inch of the front seat he could. Emma slept curled in the back, her hair a messy silver tangle in the moonlight. A slight smile even as she dreamed.
Good dreams tonight then.
Emma shifted and the blanket slid off of her shoulder. Without thinking, Killian reached out, pulling it back up over her shoulder. Last night was bitterly cold. Perhaps it was time for them to find somewhere a little warmer. He'd bring that up tomorrow. New territory would be difficult, but they could manage.
The leather band around his wrist chafed, reminding Killian of the question bothering him since the encounter with August. Had Pan known? When the demon tracked Killian and his men down in the Enchanted Forest and offered him a chance at his revenge, had he known that Killian would meet Emma? Pan dumping him in the exact city as Emma seemed too great a coincidence.
With a start, Killian realized his last thoughts of that task had been some weeks ago. It frightened him, how easily taking care of Emma became his priority. But, a small voice asked, was that a bad thing? According to Pan, eleven years of the curse still remained, that was plenty of time to cross a country. Plenty of time indeed.
Perhaps, it was time for him to start thinking about what those eleven years would look like.
# # #
Emma eyed Killian suspiciously as they pulled into the motel parking lot. True, it wasn't their usual haunt. Most nights they holed up in back alleys or secluded parks, places a two people sleeping in a beat up old car would be overlooked. Emma pressed her lips together.
"What's going on, Killian?" she asked.
"It's not every day your favorite lass turns eighteen," Killian said, bumping her shoulder gently with his. "I thought you deserved a night in a proper bed."
Emma gaped. "We're celebrating my birthday by breaking into a motel?"
Killian pressed his hand to his chest. "You wound me, Swan. As if I would give you a pilfered gift." Fishing the room key out of his pocket and handing it to her.
Emma bit back a smile, pressing her lips together.
"It's already paid for, Emma," he said. "So you might as well enjoy it." Killian grinned and stepped out of the car, slinging his small sack over one shoulder before retrieving the small paper sack he'd secreted in the trunk of the car. The car door slammed behind him as he headed for their room, rushed footsteps overtaking him at the room's entrance.
"I thought we used all of our money getting the new VIN for the car," Emma said, slipping the key into the lock.
"Aye, but this is a little side project I've had going," he said.
Emma paused, door half-cracked, and glanced up at him with wide eyes. "Killian, you didn't have to do that for me."
"It's high time you had a good birthday, Swan." Bracing his shoulder against the door, he pushed it the rest of the way open.
The room wasn't much to brag about. Dull, over-washed blankets lay atop slightly yellowed sheets. Wood laminate peeled from a corner of the armoire and a popped seam along one arm of the couch, but the necessities were there. Killian nudged the back of Emma's leg with his knee, pulling the door closed behind them. The bed creaked as Emma sat, fingers digging into the covers.
"I can't believe you remembered."
Emma only showed him the article once, her fingers shaking slightly as she handed him the worn paper with its soft edges and worn corners. The story, and consequently the date, had burned into his mine that day. He now suspected that perhaps her parents hadn't chosen her place of arrival in this world. Perhaps they hadn't been the ones to send her through at all. But he kept that to himself for now. He made his peace with the fact that Emma wouldn't believe him months ago.
Tears danced in Emma's eyes when she looked up at him, though the stubborn set of her chin meant she was fighting them.
"Now," Killian said. "Since you're the birthday girl, I shall let you have first go at the shower and I won't even complain if you use up all the hot water." He shooed her toward the bathroom with his stump. He could shower later, after she fell asleep.
Emma swiped at her eyes and grabbed her bag, disappearing into the small room.
Killian waited until he heard the hiss of the shower before he set about the final preparations. It took some doing, pulling his last purchase of the day out of the bag one-handed, but he managed it without damaging anything.
And all that was left to do was wait.
Emma didn't take long. She never did.
She came out, toweling her hair dry, dressed in a pair of leggings and a baggy Portland Beavers t-shirt they filched as a reminder of their time there. It had turned into one of their things, snatching some souvenir from each city they visited. Killian slipped his hand into his pocket, fingers closing around one last souvenir from Portland he'd saved for the right occasion. This occasion, perhaps.
"You know, I'd forgotten what it's like to have fresh towels," Emma said. She froze when she saw the item on the table. "Is that—Is that a cupcake?"
"Aye." Killian said. "German chocolate. I thought about getting you a whole cake, but I'm afraid that wouldn't fit in my pocket." In truth, Killian bought the elaborate confection fair and square. More and more, he found himself worrying what would happen to Emma if they were caught. It was why they finally purchased a title for the bug and why they spent longer in each city now. Earning money honestly took a longer, but they took small odd jobs more and more, resorting to thievery less and less.
Leave it to Emma to turn him from his pirate ways.
"Killian…this is too much," she whispered. "You shouldn't have."
He smirked. "The look on your face right now says otherwise, Swan."
Emma barreled into him, knocking the breath out of him as her arms wrapped around his shoulders. A hiccupping sob burst from her, the soft breath tickling at his collarbone. Killian wrapped his arms around her, pressing his cheek into the coolness of her wet hair.
Emma sniffed. "No one has ever done anything like this for me before."
Killian pressed a chaste kiss to her temple, heart aching. "Shall we light the candle, love?"
Emma pressed the sleeve of her t-shirt underneath her eyes and gave him a watery smile. "Yeah."
The miracles of this world still astounded Killian at times, but that didn't mean that he wasn't grateful for things like lighters, which could be used easily with just one hand.
"Make a wish, Swan," he said.
Emma swallowed, looking up at him with bright eyes. "I don't even know what to wish for."
"Oh, I'm sure you can think of something."
Biting her lip, Emma focused on the candle. Her eyes met his across the little table and she nodded once. She didn't look away from Killian as she leaned forward and blew out the candle.
"Is there a knife?" she asked.
Killian quirked an eyebrow. "And what would you need a knife for, Swan?"
"Well, I'm not going to eat this whole thing myself."
"I thought you might save some for breakfast."
"Killian," she said, holding out her hand.
Chuckling, Killian rose from the floor and went to retrieve the paper sack. The bakery had kindly provided a plastic knife with the massive cupcake. Emma grabbed his wrist when he returned, tugging until he collapsed on the couch beside her. She took care as she peeled back the wrapper, careful not to smudge the icing. Killian leaned back, smiling at the care she took with something that would be mush in their stomachs in a matter of minutes.
At last, Emma cut the cupcake down the middle, handing him his half. "Cheers," she said, holding her half aloft before taking a giant bite.
"Ah, if it's a toast you want, Swan…" Killian pulled his flask from his back pocket. "You are officially of age in the mother country." He passed her the flask before taking a bite of his half of the cupcake.
They made quick work of the treat.
"Thank you, Killian," Emma said, curling into him. "This is the best birthday I've ever had."
Killian ducked away from her piercing gaze, scratching the back of his neck.
"I'm serious, Killian," Emma said, fingers catching his jaw and bringing his eyes back to her. "This has been the happiest year of my life."
In a normal exchange, Killian would point out that it had only been eleven months. Instead, he raised the flask.
"To another banner year, Swan," he said and took a swing, then handed the thing to her.
"To another banner year," Emma said.
Killian found his eyes lingering on the curve of her neck as she tilted her head back to take a drink. The way her shoulder slipped beneath the over-sized t-shirt with just a bare glimpse of collarbone. Perhaps, that had been enough rum for the night. For him, at least. He waved the flask away when Emma offered it back.
"I've had quite enough," he said. "Early start tomorrow and all that."
"Housekeeping doesn't come until ten," Emma said.
"Ah, but as you'll remember that car of yours cost us a pretty penny. We'd best replenish our funds quickly."
Emma leaned back into him, cheek pillowed against his shoulder. "So we're staying?"
"For the time being," he said. "Though…I have been thinking."
"Stop it, Swan," he said, jostling her so she giggled. "I am trying to be serious."
Emma huffed, sitting back and pulling her knees up to her chest. Resting her chin atop them, she said, "Okay. What have you been thinking about?"
"What would you say to settling a bit," he said.
"I've just been thinking it might be nice to sleep somewhere other than the bug," he said.
"Ah, so that's what this is about," Emma said with a sly grin. "You're trying to remind me there are other ways to sleep than curled up in the back of a car."
"Or perhaps I just wanted to do something nice for you birthday."
"So…here? In Phoenix."
"I was actually thinking Maine," Killian said. "There's a little town I know of over there. It might be nice. People won't ask too many questions. I could be the older brother, caring for his younger stepsister, I think."
Emma bit her lip, expression souring a little. "Siblings?"
"Aye, people like to gossip in small towns."
"Yeah," she said. "I guess so."
"What's wrong, Swan?" He took her hand in his, trying to meet her eyes.
Emma shrugged. "Just thinking. What's the name of this town?"
"Really?" Emma burst out laughing. "Sorry," she said when Killian glowered. "Sorry, it's just…that name."
Killian shook his head. "Just think about it, Swan."
"You really want that," she asked, the smile staying on her face. "With me."
"We take care of each other, remember?" he said. "You're the only family I've had in a long while."
Emma sighed. Something bothered her, something Killian couldn't quite place, which bothered him. HE was used to being able to read her easily. Perhaps she didn't like him putting a label on this thing they had. Or his talk of things that seemed permanent was what put her off. Emma didn't like either of those things, she didn't believe they lasted. Killian was inclined to agree with her. Many things didn't last.
That made the things that did so much more important.
"One last thing," Killian said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out the keychain he'd been holding onto for the better part of a year. "A swan for the swan princess."
He expected an eye roll at the silly nickname. He'd taken to calling her that occasionally since his run in with August—ever since he found out who she truly was. She thought the nickname ridiculous. "I'm not a princess," she always said.
Tonight's reaction was very different.
Emma gasped, sitting forward as she cupped the silver charm in her hands, her smile lighting up her eyes. "This is for me?"
Killian grinned. "Something I picked up in Portland, I've just been waiting for the right moment. And seeing as you now have that car free and clear, I thought—"
Emma surged forward, the cold metal of the keychain pressing against his cheek as she pressed her lips to his. She tasted like chocolate and rum, her lips slightly chapped against his. He leaned into the kiss for a just a moment before pulling away.
"Emma…" he said, grasping her shoulder, needing distance between them, but also reluctant to let go.
"What?" Emma raised an eyebrow, green eyes sparking dangerously. "Am I not your type?"
Truly, she wasn't. His taste tended toward brunettes, despite how they reminded him of Milah. Though it had been a very long time since he enjoyed a woman's company in the way Emma's eyes suggested. A bit hard to bring a woman home when home was a tiny car shared with a seventeen-year-old girl. And somewhere along the way, assuring Emma that he wouldn't leave had become more important than seeking his own pleasure.
"I don't want to be your sister, Killian," Emma said.
Heart pounding in his chest, Killian swallowed. Killian Jones had lines. Lines that he did not cross. Right now though, he was having difficulty remembering just where those lines were. Especially since, by this world's standards, Emma was now on the right side of one of those lines.
"And what do you want, Emma?"
"This," she said, leaning forward.
Killian captured her lips with his own.
# # #
Killian woke in a real bed for the first time in more than a hundred years, his arm draped around the waist of a lovely warm body. Soft hair tickled his nose and without opening his eyes he knew it was blonde. Gently, he pulled Emma closer.
Killian blinked all the way awake, ignoring the pins and needles coming to life in his right shoulder.
He lay in bed. With Emma.
The night came flooding back, her legs wrapping around his waist as he stood from the couch and carried her to the bed. Every whispered, "Are you sure?" and equally quiet, "Don't stop." The way she'd looked at him, like he was her whole world and how each kiss left him sure that she was his. The way everything last night felt right, like home.
What had he done?
I don't want to be your sister.
Of course she didn't. She was young, impressionable, used to people leaving her. Of course someone staying would look like love to her. A cold feeling washed over him, settling in his gut and turning it to bile. Carefully, Killian slid his arm out from under Emma, pausing when she stirred, sighing in relief when she didn't wake. He crept to the bathroom and flipped the light on and then right back off as the blasted fan whirred to life. Turning on the faucet, he splashed cold water on his face.
What had he done?
Last night, everything had been perfect. He had home. He had family.
Emma had been perfect, the treacherous part of his brain said. He wrenched his mind away from those thoughts. Those thoughts said kiss her awake, take her again.
This couldn't happen again.
There were lines. Lines constructed to protect Emma. Killian wasn't a fool, he knew when they took up together that she was beautiful and fiery, but she was also young, impossibly young compared to him. And the man who'd once believed in good form couldn't see any way this was not taking advantage of her.
You were already planning on taking advantage of her when it was time to break the curse.
Aye, but not this way. Never this way.
Killian cursed his bad judgment and the rum.
No, not the rum. He hadn't had enough last night to truly impair his thinking. This was him. He destroyed every good thing that came his way, how could he have thought it wouldn't happen with Emma?
Except, it hadn't happened yet.
Emma could still be spared.
He needed to leave.
Tiptoeing back into the room, Killian gathered his things. Emma slumbered on, her skin glowing slightly blue in the light that slipped through a crack in the curtains. A tempting sight, but not in the way he expected. Everything in him wanted to slip back under the covers with her, to allow her to wake safe and loved for the rest of her life.
How long ago had he declared that leaving Emma would never be the right thing?
And here he was, ready to slip out the door without a goodbye.
All he wanted to do was stay.
Which was why he needed to leave.
He grabbed his shirt and sat, slipping his feet into his shoes. Was there time to write a note? She deserved that much at least—no, she deserved much, much more, but he wasn't the one to give it to her. She deserved someone who could love her.
You do love her.
The thought smacked him straight across the face.
Killian jumped, turning to find Emma propped on both elbows, brushing hair out of her face.
"What's wrong?" Emma reached over, flicking on the light, eyes narrowing when she saw him half-dressed.
Killian busied himself with slipping his shirt over his head, unable to even look at Emma as he said, "I have to leave."
"Okay," Emma said.
He couldn't help looking over as she threw aside the blankets, shocked because surely it couldn't be that easy. Surely, she would demand an explanation.
"Give me five minutes and I'll be ready to go." She'd already found her shirt on the other side of the bed and was slipping it over her head, Killian averted his eyes again, just for that brief moment—both touched and despondent that she felt no shame in front of him. That was exactly as it should be—but not with him.
Killian sighed. "No, love, I'm going alone."
He felt everything on that side of the room went still. By now he didn't have to see Emma to feel every ounce of hurt, pain, and confusion running through her.
"I don't understand. Last night you said…" Emma's voice cut off with a soft gasp. "Is this because of last night?"
"You're better off without me, Swan."
Finally, he glanced over at her, expecting tears or heartbreak. He found anger.
"That's a lie and you know it." She stalked over to him, crossing her arms over her chest as she glared at him. "So the last year, everything that we've done…you're just going to throw that away because we had sex?"
Killian stood slowly. "It shouldn't have happened, Emma."
"What? Why? Is it the age thing, Killian?"
Seven hells, how did she know him so well?
She took his silence as his answer
Emma scoffed. "I'm eighteen, Killian."
Killian took a turn laughing. "Aye, Swan, I'm still more than twice your age." It was the truth, technically. He snatched up his hoodie and his bag, slinging it over his shoulder. He needed to leave now. "This has to be a one-time thing."
"Wait, Killian," Emma said, her voice breaking. She latched onto his arm. "Look, you want it to be a one-time thing then fine. It was a one-time thing. Please don't go." Her voice was so soft it cut him.
Killian wanted to hold her, tell her what she wanted to hear, stay with her forever. But his mind wouldn't stop reminding him that she was a child—no, Emma Swan hadn't been a child in a long time, but compared to him she'd barely taken her first steps.
Tears welled up in her eyes, threatening to spill over and Killian's heart broke. His thumb skimmed her cheek, catching one as it fell. If she wanted him to stay, how could he leave her? But if he stayed, he knew it was only a matter of time before it wasn't enough. Sooner or later, he'd want what they shared last night. How would he ever be sure if she wanted it too or if she just gave in because that was what she thought she needed to do to keep him?
Emma's hand slid up his arm, over his chest to his heart. "Killian, please. I love you."
"I love you, too." The words sprang to his tongue, bursting forth from a place he wished he'd seen before now. And seven hells, it was true. He didn't just love Emma Swan, he was in love with her. A foreign idea to him after so many years believing that Milah would be his only love besides the sea and yet here was Emma, offering him a second chance. He could—if he stayed—he would love her for the rest of his life.
And it would be enough, he realized.
It would be enough for him.
But how long would it be enough for Emma?
Killian remembered being that young. He remembered discovering a little more about himself every day, to say that he wasn't that same person that he had been at eighteen was a vast understatement. Emma would grow and Emma would change and how long would it be until she realized how much better she deserved?
Until she realized that she could have so much more with someone else.
"And that's why I have to go," he said. Gently, he pried her hand from his arm, trying not to look at her as he picked up his things. He stopped, pulling out the last of their cash and throwing the envelope onto the coffee table. "I'll get the rest of my things out of the car and leave my spare in the glove box." He looked back one last time and regretted it. He didn't want to remember her this way, tears streaming down her cheeks, arms wrapped around her middle. Last night, as she cut the cake, that was how he wanted to remember her always, the incandescent smile on her face when he gave her the keychain.
But he didn't deserve those memories, he supposed.
He would never be sure now, if some part of him hadn't manipulated her into this.
Either way, this was his fault.
The snick of the latch sliding into place sounded final. He half-hoped, half-dreaded Emma wrenching the door open and coming after him as he gathered his things, begging him not to go again. He knew he hadn't the strength to walk away from her a second time.
The door remained closed.
Killian still took his time, opening the rucksack and combining both his bags. On a whim, he reached down into the bottom of the bag, his fingers closing around the cool metal of his hook. He pulled the attachment out.
It had been too long.
Too long since he'd thought of Milah and his revenge. Too long he'd been content to take his time when just across this country his revenge waited. It was time to stop distracting himself with teenage girls and get back to what he was sent here to do—back to what he wanted more than anything else. He slammed the trunk shut, but the noise did nothing to drown out the voice telling him that he wanted something very different now.
Revenge was the only safe thing. Revenge was all he had.
Shouldering his bag, Killian yanked open the car door, tossing his key into the glove box as he'd promised. He might be done with Emma Swan, but he was a man of honor. He kept his word. He never promised to stay, not with his word at least. As he closed the glove box, something caught his eye. The dreamcatcher, sent swaying by the way his weight shifted the bug. The feathers fluttered, catching flashes of the streetlight that turned the beads a sickly color. Killian paused, reaching out to let a feather ghost over his fingers. Gently, he unhooked the dreamcatcher, placing it on the top of his bag.
He closed the car door carefully, suddenly mindful of the people into the other motel rooms, and started off on his journey.
If he had to walk the whole way to Storybrooke, he would.
# # #
"You have a hook for a hand."
The small voice came from behind Killian. With a nod to Ruby as he picked up his coffee, Killian turned to face the bright, young person verbally assaulting him. He recognized the mayor's lad, with his shaggy mop of dark hair hanging in his green eyes, immediately. The boy stood in Killian's path, clearly expecting an answer. Surprising. Though, Killian spent his first year worried someone would realize that he didn't belong, he eventually figured out that Pan's bracelet was more than his ticket into Storybrooke, it also allowed him all the benefits of the curse. Unless he interacted with them directly, people tended to ignore him.
Until now, that was.
"You are a perceptive lad," Killian said.
"Aye, well that is the way with people. We're all different. Now if you'll excuse me, I have places to go."
"No, I mean you're not from around here," the boy said.
Killian raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I imagine the accent gives that away."
The boy sighed. "No, that's not what I mean…" He gestured with one small hand for Killian to bend down. And even though Killian didn't feel inclined to chat with this child, he leaned down anyways. "Don't you see it? Everybody else does the same thing every day, but not you. I've been watching."
"You have, have you?"
"Yeah," the boy said. "There's something up in this town."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean, lad." Killian stepped around the boy. If he didn't hurry, he there would be a run in with the Crocodile and he truly didn't relish one of those. He didn't need to blacken his mood any further.
When he arrived in Storybrooke, he made finding Rumpelstiltskin his first order of business. During his month long trek across the country and the weeks spent searching for spot Pan described, he drowned out his guilt over Emma with thoughts of revenge. The sweetness of finally having the Dark One at his mercy. The knowledge that Rumplestiltskin could do nothing to stop him.
Finding Rumplestiltskin was an easy task. What he had found had been far harder to stomach.
The Crocodile didn't even recognize him.
Pan told him it would be so, but Killian hadn't believed him. Not until he marched into the pawnshop and Rumplestiltskin looked at him like he was any other customer.
Killian thought he wouldn't care. As long as he killed the man who took Milah from him, what did it matter if the man knew who he was?
But though he recognized Rumplestiltskin without the glittering skin and the scales, Killian hesitated. He wanted more than just to skin the Crocodile. Killian wanted the man to know exactly who he was when he did. Killian wanted to see realization in the man's eyes, for the man to know who it was that had bested him.
So Killian waited.
If what Pan told him was true, he had one last year to wait.
And then…but Killian didn't want to think about her. Not when he wasn't even sure she would make it. Who would get her here? He discovered quickly that while Pan's bracelet allowed him to enter Storybrooke, it didn't allow him to leave.
He only hoped August would succeed where he failed.
"My name's Henry," the boy said, trotting up beside Killian as he left the diner. Behind them, the soft thud of the door cut off the jingling bell.
"Killian," Killian bit out. He winced at his tone. His experience with children had been, until now, almost entirely negative. He sighed, this child was no lost boy. That much was clear from the look in his eyes. "Killian Jones."
"No one in this town ever gets any older," Henry said, kicking at a stone in the road.
"And how would a…" He paused, trying to remember how long the boy had been here. The mayor threw a lavish party every year and the first one had been… "Seven-year-old know that no one ages here?"
Henry huffed. "I'm eight. And it's kind of obvious when I'm the only kid that ever moves up a grade."
"Ah, I see," Killian said, feeling a little sorry for the lad. It couldn't be easy, being the only person in this town that changed. Killian at least was used to being alone by now. Being alone was something he knew well even when he had the Jolly Roger and his crew. But for a child to be alone? True, there were harder fates for a child, but that did not make this one any less sad.
"You don't believe me," Henry said, his face falling.
Killian had the sudden urge to tell Henry that he did believe him. And moreover, explain why. However, if Pan told the truth at the beginning of this whole escapade, then the Evil Queen was this boy's mother and she was the one person whose attention Killian didn't want to risk attracting.
"It is a bit far-fetched, lad," Killian said.
"While lying is among my awful habits, I assure you lad, I am speak the truth now."
Henry sighed. "Maybe I was wrong."
Something inside Killian sank. "Perhaps you were, lad, but it never hurts to keep your eyes open."
Henry blinked, a grin lighting up his face. Killian nearly smiled in return, though he couldn't place why it felt so familiar.
"Henry," came a strident voice. "Stop bothering that poor man, we need to go."
Killian turned to see the mayor, dressed in a tight black dress and jacket, hand on her hip. She pressed her lips together, giving her son a look only a mother could. Killian remembered being on the receiving end of that look many times as a small child.
"I'm sorry, sir," the mayor said. "My son doesn't know the meaning of the word stranger."
"It's quite alright," Killian said, nodding and turning is head slightly. Any minute now, the game would be up. "You have quite a clever boy."
The woman smile a little. "Yes, he is very clever. And in a good deal of trouble. Did I not tell you to not wander off while I talked with the Sheriff?"
"I just went to Granny's, Mom," the boy said.
Killian took advantage of the distraction Henry provided and with another half nod, he walked off down the street, not noticing the Crocodile until the man passed him. As always, the bloodlust rushed up. Killian fought the urge to chase the man down. He might be biding his time before he killed the man, but beating Rumplestiltskin to a bloody pulp always sounded like a good idea.
Wait, he told himself. He couldn't exact his revenge from the inside of a jail cell and even he didn't like his odds against the iron bars inside the sheriff's station.
His hand closed tightly, hissing as hot coffee gushed over his hand. He dropped the crumpled cup, shaking the stinging liquid off of his hand.
One more bloody year to wait until it was time to exact his revenge.
One more year and Emma would come.
Just a little something that I started thinking up early this season. And decided to play around with. Yeah, I know it's probably been done before. Whatever. Anyways, I think we can all tell where this is going. We'll be switching off now and then between Emma and Killian's POVs and I'll warn you, timeline is going to stay much he same in regards to their relationship for reasons (that will become more apparent when we get to Emma's POV). This is going to be a fic of the slowest burn. Lemme tell you, it's been weird not only writing early, angry Killian, but also revisiting some of the ships that I shipped before the CS movie determined the course of my life (or at least which ship I'd sail off on).
Not sure how far I'm going to take this. I'd like to get to the end of season one at least. Maybe I'll take it as far as season three. After that it seems pretty redundant to keep going, as S4 on would take basically the same path. Dunno, maybe if people are still enjoying it, I'll keep it up just to continue improving my descriptions (this has been a wonderful exercise). We'll see. That's a HUGE commitment. My more, um, "serious" writing projects have to take precedence.
Anyways, can't say how often I'll be updating. With all my other project, chapters are taking a few weeks to write.
But definitely give me feedback. Definitely remind me that you're still reading. I'll try not to disappoint.