Late September, 1816.

He found her walking the hallways the following morning, as she was on her way to wake up Grace, his hand hooking around her arm and tugging her into a dark corner of the hallway.

For a moment Emma thought he was angry at her for leaving him the way she did, but when she met his eyes, he still wore that same, soft expression with which he always looked at her. Though there was something else in his eyes as well, something he tried so hard to hide from her. Confusion? Hurt, maybe?

"You were gone," He started quietly, frowning at himself as though he was uncertain of how to continue, or even what his question was.

"Yes," Emma whispered, finding herself unable to look him in the eye for too long and looking away to where his hand still held on to her arm with the gentlest of grips, slowly trailing down until he held her hand in his. "I apologise –"

"Don't," He interrupted her quickly, his hand squeezing hers softly. "Never apologise. I told you this was entirely your choice. I simply wished to know whether you were all right. I have not hurt you, have I?"

"No, you have not," Emma promised. She found herself torn between wishing for him to let go of her, and never let go at the same time. "I simply... I grew scared. It was incredible, but such activities should have been reserved for my husband."

Killian nodded once. "I understand."

I don't think you do.

"If someone found out that I have done this, before marriage, I would be..." She trailed off.

"Emma, I won't tell anyone, if that–"

"I know," She whispered, averting her eyes once more to her hand in his and wishing she could find shelter in his arms once more. But she made a choice and began to understand the repercussions that came with that choice. "I am glad it was someone gentle, though."

He smiled and nodded at her, reaching out to her cheek but deciding against it at the last moment. "I simply wanted to be certain that I have not hurt you."

"You have not," Emma confirmed as she pulled her hand away from him. "Please excuse me, I must…"

"Of course." Killian smiled once more in a way that did not quite reach his eyes, taking a step aside to let her pass.

Walking away from him was entirely the hardest part of their conversation. She could bear her own hurt, she could scarcely bear his, but to walk away from him, and thus sealing her choice, it was simply too much.

Quickly, before entering Grace's room, she wiped away her tears. If Grace noticed at all, she chose not to mention it, but if her obedience without objection and kind affection were any indication, Grace knew something was wrong. Of course, she knew, she was clever enough to realise but also clever enough to not ask questions.

Ruby was a different matter entirely, once Grace had been sent to ballet practice, and Emma found herself alone in the kitchen with her, Ruby suddenly dropped everything, plopped Emma down on the chair across her and made her talk.

Any servant entering the kitchen was promptly sent away so that Emma could quietly confess what troubled her so.

"It is Killian, is it not?" Ruby started when Emma found it difficult to begin.

"Yes," Emma admitted, tracing her finger over the wood texture of the table.

"What has he done?"

"It is more what I have done…" Emma took a deep breath, exhaling slowly as though it would clear her mind and ease her of her troubles, but she was not that lucky. "I walked away from him."

Ruby nodded. "Why?"

"Because I am scared? I was willing to lay with him; a man who is not my husband and who is very unlikely to ever be my husband."

"Did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Sleep with him?" Ruby explained herself calmly. She was not looking for gossip, she was looking to understand Emma's situation. And even if she knew Ruby could keep a secret, Emma shook her head. She didn't feel shame, she simply wanted to keep that intimate information to herself. "All right. Have you spoken with him yet?"

"I have," Emma whispered. "He seems hurt."

"Are you surprised? It is quite obvious he is more than a little besotted with you."

"Not enough to offer me a proposal," Emma objected.

"Have you asked him?"

Emma barked out a laugh at that, hiding her smile behind her hand at her sudden outburst. "Surely you cannot be serious?"

"Will you not consider the matter from his perspective? It is the first time in seven years that he has opened his heart up, and now he is willing to give it to you, his servant." Emma pulled a face at that, and judging by Ruby's smile, it did not go unnoticed. "I understand it is not what you wish to hear, but we cannot hide what we are. It is the truth. We know that, he knows that, society knows that. And whilst he may say he does not care for society, it is still a long way from treating your servants with kindness to offering a servant a proposal. Perhaps he is considering whether he loves you enough to not care about the scandal it will create. Personally I think he does, but the both of you simply need to stop being so scared."

"That is a lot easier said than it is done," Emma muttered.

"You think I do not know that?" Ruby grinned, reaching over the table for Emma's hand. "I choose to believe that it will work itself out in the end. Is your mind eased a bit?"

Emma smiled. "It is."

"Good," Ruby said. "Now out of my kitchen, I have a dinner to prepare. Oh, and I believe it will rain later, so bring an umbrella when you go to fetch Grace."

Emma looked up at the sky worriedly as the first drops of rain started to fall. With her mind otherwise occupied, she'd completely forgotten that Ruby had warned her for the rain. And so she now stood, without an umbrella, waiting outside the building where Grace practised ballet. Tugging her shawl a little closer around herself, sighing deeply. Any hope that the rain would hold off a bit longer, was cast away when in the distance the heavens cracked open with loud thunder.

"Miss Emma?" Emma turned around, standing face to face with Mr William Avery. Though she had to admit, she had not recognised him at first, how could she, when she had barely seen the man once. But there was something in his features that reminded her, as though she stood face to face with a bad memory.

Emma made a polite curtsy. "Milord."

He tipped his hat at her, smiling kindly as he did, and Emma had to remind herself of the things he'd said about her the first time she'd met him. "I apologise I was not able to make it last night."

"It is quite all right, Milord," Emma spoke, a faint smile forming on her lips.

"Nevertheless," He started, looking up at the sky as the raindrops started to increase. He opened the umbrella he carried and took as step closer to shield both Emma and himself from the increasing rain. Emma hated to admit, but the gesture was nothing short of gentlemanly, even if he stood just a little too close now. "Allow me to make it up to you, perhaps you might join me for dinner one day?"

"Oh," Emma said, startled. "I– uh…"

"This Saturday perhaps?" Mr Avery continued when Emma could not find the words to speak.

"I would have to ask Mr Jones," She said quietly, looking over her shoulder to see Grace among the other girls exiting the building. Grace shielded herself from the rain underneath her bag, but happily skipped towards them nonetheless, it was nothing new to see Grace with her never ending supply of energy.

"I am certain he will let you, if you would ask. Send me a letter if you cannot get Saturday off, I will speak to him for you," Mr Avery spoke, greeting Grace with a smile. Grace took a polite curtsy in return.

"I do not see Thomas anywhere, Emma," Grace squinted her eyes as she looked through the crowd. Parents and their children hastily ran towards their own carriages.

"I'm afraid I walked here, perhaps if we walk fast, the rain will not harm us as much."

"Please, allow me to bring you home," Mr Avery spoke, gesturing at his carriage. Emma knew better than to hold on to her pride, certainly when Grace's health depended on it, and thus she accepted his offer.

In the carriage, he sat across from her, with Grace seated next to her. They resorted to small talk, though it was not entirely unpleasant. And when Grace started speaking of the things she'd learned at ballet, Mr Avery engaged in conversation with her. It surprised Emma how much he knew of ballet when after a year Emma still only knew a few terms and their meaning. Of course, with Eleanor having been a dancer for much longer, it should not have been that surprising.

Once arrived at the mansion, he escorted the girls back inside underneath his umbrella, making sure they entered the house safe and untouched by the rain.

Before he left, he urged Emma to consider his request, saying he hoped to see her on Saturday.

The days passed slowly, now that she did not look forward to each longing gaze and each lingering touch. Though he did not actively avoid her, he kept a proper distance between them. It is your choice, it is always your choice. And Emma chose to keep whatever virtue she may have left to herself, and save it for her husband, if she ever found one.

And Saturday came around quicker than expected. Even if she'd sent Mr Avery a letter saying Mr Jones had not given her the day off–not that she'd asked–and Mr Avery sent a reply telling her that it was a terrible shame, though if Mr Jones changed his mind, she was always welcome, Emma somewhat expected Mr Avery to have contacted Mr Jones himself.

Sitting with Grace and Maple in the garden, Emma found her mind more often than not drifting to the possibilities of what could have occurred if she'd accepted Mr Avery's dinner invitation.

And not all of them were bad.

Being unable to focus on her book anyway, Emma had left Grace in the garden, where she attempted to teach Maple some commands as per her father's request, and went to fetch some refreshments. She'd nearly dropped the entire plateau to the floor when the door was knocked just as she walked past it. Emma set the plateau down on the drawer, and opened the heavy door.

In front of her stood a young woman, she couldn't have been much older than her. Her eyes had the colour of chocolate, she recalled a time when Killian brought a little piece of it with him from one of his travels, her dark eyes stood out against her fair skin, her hair was a bit lighter than her eyes. And she was tall, much taller than Emma was.

"I am looking for Mr Jones," The woman spoke as Emma remained silent. Her voice was kind and warm, she spoke like an educated woman, her words very pronounced. Emma found herself straightening her back and lifting her chin so that she wouldn't seem as small and insignificant compared to her. "Is he home?"

"Yes," Emma spoke, wishing her voice had sounded more confident, before stepping aside to allow the woman to walk in. "I shall fetch him for you, would you like to wait in the Salon?"

"Yes, thank you."

Emma opened the doors and gestured for her to enter. "Who shall I say is awaiting him?"

"Caroline Edwards," She replied, taking a seat in the chaise before the fire with her hands folded neatly on her lap.

Emma's own hands shook as she left the beautiful brunette in the Petit Salon and made way for Killian's office. She knocked the door softly, for some reason hoping he was not there. But he was, and he called her in with a curt response.

He stood by his office window, the setting sun shining brightly behind him.

"A Miss Caroline Edwards is waiting for you in the Petit Salon," Emma announced, hoping her voice did not sound as resentful as she felt. But she could not help it. Here he stood, his hair neatly combed, his chin clean shaven, the scent of a manly Eau de Cologne filling his little personal library. It had scarcely been a week, and already he was meeting other women.

Of course, Emma understood it had been her own choice to step away from him, but she felt the hurt that it took only a week before he'd forgotten all about her. Had she mattered so little to him?

He looked up briefly before turning his attention back to his cravat. "Right," He muttered, fumbling with his cravat before throwing his hands up in frustration and sighing deeply.

Emma walked over towards him, brushing his hands away so she could tie his cravat for him. She could feel his eyes on her, glancing at him showed he'd not noticed that she'd taken a little longer than was needed in tying the fabric around his neck.

"Who is she?" Emma asked quietly as she smoothed the fabric of his vest, inspecting the work she'd done for flaws–but admittedly, also to keep her hands on his chest for a bit longer. She understood the choice she made, even though she'd somehow hoped he would have understood her meaning, and offered her his hand in marriage. She knew it was not as easy as to simply tell him her desires, she had no idea what she was allowed to expect of him, or if she was even allowed to expect anything of him at all.

But standing so closely before him, her hands lingering on his chest, she dearly wished he would kiss her, still.

"William introduced us," Killian answered. "He said I might like her–"

"Oh –" He laid his hand over hers before she could walk away, making her look up to him again.

"Emma, no, it's not like that. I am merely having dinner with her."

"It is none of my business, Milord."

She could tell she'd hurt him by calling him that: his face fell, his grip on her arm loosened enough for her to pull her arm away. "Emma –"

"It is quite all right, I should not have pried," She crossed her arms in front of her, finding comfort in the way it shielded her from him, the way it held her together when truthfully she was falling apart. She took a deep breath before speaking up again, not wanting to show how much it affected her. "I understand it is short notice, but I wondered if perhaps I might have a free evening tonight? Just for this week, I will remain at the estate on Tuesday," She quickly adds.

He nodded, the barely-there-smile on his lips seemed forced. "Of course. Anything you need. You may have both days if you want."

"No, it is fine."

"Um," He scraped his throat, swallowing thickly, "Just make sure you let Ruby know, I am certain she won't mind."

"Thank you. Miss Edwards is waiting for you in the Petit Salon, enjoy your evening." Emma curtsied and left his office before he could speak again, making her way towards her room. On her way there she found only Mary Margaret, whom happily went on a search for Ruby in Emma's stead.

And so Emma sat alone in her room, making a quick effort to put her hair up, and applying some blush to her cheeks, before changing her dress into something a little more appropriate for dinner.

"Mary Margaret said you were looking for me," Ruby said as she entered Emma's bedroom just as she was tying up the pink ribbon around her waist. "Are you going somewhere?"

"A man has requested I join him for dinner," Emma answered, picking up her cloak from the hanger by the door. "I have already asked Mr Jones and he has given me permission to leave, I merely needed to inform you. Mary Margaret is with Grace now."

"Is this about the woman– Emma, please, don't think anything of it. He is simply too polite to turn her down."

Emma shook her head, tying her cloak around her neck. "It is all good, Ruby, it does not matter."

"Your heart matters."

"My heart will get past this," Emma countered stubbornly, and for a moment, she believed herself. "I will see you tonight."

"I get the sense that you do not like me very much, Milady," Mr Avery offered his hand to help her in his carriage. "Would you care to elaborate on what it is I did or said wrong?"

Emma stared at him as he sat down across her, her lips slightly parted as his question caught her off guard. But perhaps now was the chance to ask him the question that had plagued her all night, for he'd been a perfect gentleman all evening. He complimented her, he treated her as a proper Lady, he spoke lovingly of his daughter, treated his servants with respect. And it had become surprisingly easy to convince herself that he'd simply used a poor choice of words that first day they met.

"Do you remember when we first met?" Emma asked carefully.

"I do," Mr Avery replied and took off his gloves, neatly laying them on the seat next to him.

"I overheard a conversation between you and Mr Jones," She admitted, toying with the string of her cloak.

"I see, will you allow me to explain myself?"

"Have I a choice in the matter?"

Mr Avery chuckled, shaking his head just slightly. "Of course, but I would very much like to explain myself."

"Very well."

"I admit I said things I probably should not have said about you, all I wished to know was whether Killian had any feelings at all for you, he requires a bit of persuasion to tell someone how he feels. I regret the manner I used to persuade him."

Emma frowned. "Why would you wish to know his feelings, whether existent or not?"

"I am certain you have heard that I am in search of a new wife, and I must confess, from the moment I met you, I had my sights set on you. Of course, I am not in the business to steal another man's Lady. Hence why I inquired about his feelings, if not a bit regrettably."

"Oh," Emma mumbled. "Oh…"

Mr Avery smiled brightly. "I suspect I have taken you off guard."

"A little bit, yes," Emma answered as the carriage pulled to a halt in front of her home. Through the curtains she saw people still walking around in the kitchen. And on the other side of the estate, a single candle burnt in Killian's office. "I do not know what to say," She mumbled, keeping her gaze on the mansion before his coachman opened the door for her. "Thank you, for dinner, it was quite pleasant."

Truthfully, she hadn't known why she expected to make it inside the mansion without having to speak another word to him, but his voice called her back before she even made it to the stairs.

"Marry me."

Emma turned around, he stood a few feet away from her, a look of expectancy on his face. "Excuse me?"

"Become my wife," He clarified, as though the words 'marry me' were foreign and held no meaning to her.

"I am honoured, Milord," Emma spoke clearly. "But, respectfully I will have to decline."

He scoffed and shook his head. "If you are waiting for Killian, you are wasting your time, darling."

Now it was Emma's time to scoff. "I am not waiting for him."

"Then why refuse? I would offer you things far above your station; wealth, lands, a title. I could give you a family. You would never have to work a day in your life."

"I do not mind my work with Grace, Sir."

"You realise that there are not many Lords who would offer a marriage proposal to a servant, yes?"

Emma laughed quietly, shaking her head. "I do."

"Then why decline, would you rather not live a wealthy life?"

"That's not it, Sir," Emma objected. Of course, every servant dreamt of one day escaping this life, but she wouldn't necessarily say she was poor, finding a home in Killian's household has left her richer than she'd ever been. Friends, a family. She was never hungry and well-taken care of. She was properly happy most of the time, until she gave it up.

"Then, what are you waiting for? No," Mr Avery frowned, looking at her as though he could read every thought in her head. "The question is, who are you waiting for, is it not? Killian? You may say you are not waiting for him, but Emma, I would advise you to consider your answer carefully, Killian is still in search for a wife. You are coming of age, soon no one will have you…"

"Respectfully," Emma spat, suddenly filled with anger. "I would rather die a lone spinster than become your wife."

Mr Avery grinned, if he was offended at all he did not show it. "My darling, please reconsider your answer. A better proposal than mine is not very likely to offer itself up, and you may say you'd rather be alone, but I can see it in your eyes: you long for a family. I can give that to you, you need only accept my hand." His voice had grown soft almost as though he was soothing a wild animal before he would trap and kill it. He stepped towards her with calm confidence and Emma let out a quiet breath as he took her hand in his and placed a gentle kiss on the back of her hand. "At least think about it." She hated the man for seeing right through her, but she hated herself more for even considering accepting his proposal–even just a little bit.

Emma stood by the window of the kitchen, her fingers making a fist, crumpling up her apron. Tears had formed in her eyes but she refused to let them spill and thus stared firmly out of the window. Her jaw clenched until it hurt, the lack of sleep made her head even heavier.

"Emma?" She barely registered her name. Whose voice was that? It was not Grace's, she was at ballet. Not Ruby's nor Mary Margaret's. Was it a man? Yes. Whose? David's? No, it was probably Killian's. With her luck, it would be him. "Emma?" He tried again, his voice soft: gently breaking her from her haze. She couldn't look at him, tears would inevitably flow if she did, and she refused to be weak. Certainly not in front of him.

"What?" She swallowed thickly, her voice had been harsher than she intended.

Killian didn't seem taken aback by her bitterness, instead, he even moved closer. "Is everything all right?"

"Does it look like everything is all right?" She spat, finally looking at him. Rather than seeing anger for her response like she hoped, she found his features had coloured a shade of worry. It would be so much easier to say goodbye–or to be sent away–if he was furious with her, but he showed compassion instead.

"Come," He said gently, extending his hand. She dismissed his gesture but indicated she would follow him.

She followed him to the petite salon; it was warm, the fire crackled like it had been lit for a while.

Emma did not sit down, she watched him as he moved around her, closing the doors and facing her. "What is troubling you?"

Emma pursed her lips, widening her eyes to keep her tears from spilling over her cheeks.

"I received a marriage proposal," She said bluntly, then shrugged once and laughed as the tears finally flowed. "It is a good one. He is rich, I would not have to worry about a day in my life. And he wishes to start a family with me."

"But?" Killian arched an eyebrow, crossing his arms.

"But?" Emma repeated, desperately trying to wipe away her tears. All efforts were in vain, they kept coming. Why was she crying? Was a marriage proposal not exactly what she wanted? Was a marriage proposal not what was supposed to make a woman complete? It was. But it wasn't Mr Avery's proposal she craved.

"What is stopping you from accepting?" Emma hated how calm he sounded, his questions were asked with composure. Why was he not angry, or jealous? Did he truly not love her at all? Did she truly matter so little to him?

"What's stopping me?" Emma chuckled painfully, her voice had risen a few octaves and she hated herself for all of it; for crying, for sounding weak and hurt. It took her two deep breaths to steady herself, when she spoke her next words she sounded broken, still, but a lot calmer. "How can I love this man when my heart will be left elsewhere?"

"If he is capable of love, eventually your heart will heal," He spoke, easily wiping that argument off the table. "Anything else?"


"Do not worry about her. We will find another –"

Emma scoffed, her heart aching. "Am I that easily replaceable? Do you wish me gone?

"No," He laughed, scratching behind his ear. "A poor choice of words on my part. I do not wish you gone at all. But you are one of the most selfless persons I know. A choice as important as this one should be made because of what you want, not because of what other people want. I promise you, to fill your shoes would be a nearly impossible task for anyone. Grace adores you; she loves you. You work well with the other servants. You deliver great work –"

"And what about you, Killian?" She interrupted him.

"I don't..." He trailed off. He had no answer ready. Not one that he was willing to give at least.

"Of course," Emma breathed out a sigh, nodding her lips pursed, looking anywhere but at him. "No... That is..." The silence caused by her loss of words was filled with the sound of the little clock by the fire, announcing four o' clock.

"I must go get Grace."

"I can do it," He offered.

"No. I will do it." Emma said firmly. "It would seem I have to tell her I am leaving."

"Are you all right?" Grace questioned as they strolled through the little park. Unlike other times, Grace had remained quiet about the things she'd learned in her lesson, and Emma knew she was the one to blame. "You have been awfully quiet since last week. I did not wish to pry, but…"

Emma shook her head, sitting down on a bench by the lake, waiting for Grace to sit next to her. "I love you, Gracie, you know that right?"

"Emma, you are scaring me."

"I'm sorry."

A silence fell and it appeared to be enough for Grace to figure it out. It was no surprise. She was a clever girl. "You are leaving are you not?" Grace's voice broke mid–sentence, tears welling up in her eyes.

"Please do not cry," Emma pleaded as Grace wrapped her arms firmly around Emma's neck, her bag falling down onto the ground in the process.

"Do not leave me, Emma, please. You promised you would never leave me."

"I'm sorry, Gracie."

"But I love you," Grace sobbed.

"And I you," Emma promised, rubbing her hand over Grace's back in an attempt to soothe her.

"What of father?" Grace pushed her away, suddenly angry. "Is he just letting you go like that?"

"He is."

"No, that's wrong!"

"Oh Grace," Emma sighed her chest aching with bottled up tears, "One day when you've grown up, you will understand... Marriage proposals, they do not come easily for someone of my station. When a good one comes up, you need to take it."

"Take me home, Emma, please." Her plea was one of mixed anger and sadness, her tears still rolling over her rosy cheeks.

The short distance they still had to travel was spent mostly in silence. The occasional sob that escaped Grace tugged at Emma's heart, making the fight against her own tears a heavy one.

It was not an easy choice to be made, there were many arguments of why she shouldn't accept Mr Avery's proposal, Emma knew that. But she also knew that a person could grow to love another person, she also knew that Mr Avery had been correct; in a month she would be twenty-five, receiving another marriage proposal was highly unlikely, let alone one that gave her a way out of her life as a servant.

But to Grace it was all so simple; her father loved Emma, and Emma loved her father. Why should they not be married?

Emma couldn't say she ever had foolish and childish notions like that, having been faced with poverty and hunger at a young age, not everyone had three meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in, but she remembered a time when she wished so desperately for a man to sweep her off her feet, whom she loved and loved her in return.

"I wish to speak with father alone," Grace said firmly as soon as they entered the mansion, walking immediately towards Killian's office.

From the moment she watched Grace enter the room, Emma could hear them yelling at each other. She'd barely ever heard either of them yell so angrily, let alone at each other.

Being the reason they were yelling at each other, Emma considered that going inside was not the best idea she ever had, but once in his office, they didn't even notice her.

"You love her!" Grace countered the prior argument. "Why are you letting her go just like that?"

"Leave," Killian said promptly, suddenly no longer yelling, but still filled with anger.

"You know I speak the truth, you –"

"Go to your room, Grace."

Grace sighed, defeated, and turned around to see Emma. It is then that Killian noticed her too, he looked tired and lost, and every bit as miserable as Emma felt.

"I thought I could change his mind," She whispered quietly, wiping her hands over her face to wipe away the tears.

"I know, Gracie, it is all right."

"Do not go, Emma, please," Grace pleaded softly, grabbing fistfuls of Emma's gown into her hands as though that would stop her from going anywhere. "Father loves you, he is just too afraid to say it."

"Grace," Killian warned sternly.

"You are only getting angry because it is true!" Grace protested, crossing her arms.

"I thought I told you to go to your room."

"But –"

"Grace!" Killian raised his voice then.

Grace nodded, her face easily falling into the angriest expression Emma had ever seen her wear. For a moment Emma expected Grace to yell at her father, walking away, and throwing the door shut.

But the way she spoke instead, broke Emma more than anything.

"Just so you are aware," Grace started quietly, though the anger was so audible in her voice. "I will never forgive you for this." Killian could barely even look at his daughter, had she thrown a fit, somehow that would have been more bearable than this. "You will come say goodbye, won't you?" She looked up at Emma.

"I will."

Grace only nodded at that, quietly walking out of the room, the door–even if it was not slammed–sounded so very loud in the unbearable silence.

He looked at her from his spot across the room, standing in the safety behind his desk where neither Grace nor Emma could reach him, before quietly speaking up. "Are you leaving already?"

"I imagine it would be best if I do, yes," Emma answered, knowing full well that if she chose to stay a little longer, it would make leaving all the more difficult. Or perhaps it would give her mind the time it needed to come up with reasons why she should not leave.

"You have made your choice, then?"

"If Grace is correct, and you do love me…" She trailed off quietly, before letting out a stuttered sigh, finding herself unable to finish the sentence.

"If Grace is correct, and I do love you, it means I am letting go because I wish for nothing more than your happiness."

Emma nodded, quietly turning around.

He loves you, Emma. Her mind tried to tell her this over and over again as she walked away from him for the second time. You can see it in his eyes. Why are you walking away?

I'm scared.

AN: Oooh dear, I'm sorry about the very long wait for this chapter, as you can imagine I found it a bit difficult to write, and I considered having it end differently, but I promise the ache will be soothed in the next chapters ;)

Further, I do have a few notes;

First and foremost, thank you so much for all the birthday wishes and kind words.

Also, LKaOUT has reached 1000 kudos on AO3 on my birthday, which was an absolutely insane birthday present, thank you so, so much.

As well as a huge thank you to Irene for creating incredibly gorgeous manips for this story, I'm still hearteyes about it!

Last, my mother has been pushing me to contact a publisher for this fic, which is–after a lot of persuasion–what I did. I have yet to hear what they think of it, but they told me the beginning looks promising. What this means for the fic, I have no idea, but I will definitely keep you guys posted. The way I see it, LKaOUT will either be finished online, or on paper. But I am a bit of a pessimist, so I wouldn't worry too much, I have every intention to give you guys a proper ending to this story. I love it so much, and I do enjoy writing it, so it would be a shame to simply let that sit.

Again, thank you so much, for all the lovely comments, for showing me such kindness, and for sticking with me even when I take a while to update.