It isn't often that Killian Jones is jealous of his older brother. Siblings they might be, but Liam is unerringly fair and almost painfully honourable. Killian admires him, but he's not jealous.
At least, not usually.
But it's suddenly very difficult when Liam announces, "I've decided to ask Emma out."
Killian was focused on the video game he's playing, but any concern about capturing this Imperial command post disappears like stormtroopers under rocket fire. "What?"
Liam flops down into the armchair at the head of the coffee table, lounging back with a smile on his face. "I'm going to ask Emma to accompany me to the summer dance."
The screen explodes with blasterfire and flashes red before switching to the respawn screen, and Killian finally remembers to pause the game. "Emma Swan?"
"You…" He forgets his next words. The idea of Liam asking out Emma Swan is so foreign that it takes him a moment to fit it into his head. His brother. His brother, and his…
Well, his nothing. He knows her well enough, since the fencing club meets in the same gym as the karate class and he's never been good at keeping his mouth shut or refusing a challenge. He also helps out in his brother's bar sometimes or plays gigs there, and Emma frequently stops by for a drink after her shift at the sheriff's station. Their rivalry has turned into something a little friendlier, and in the wake of that, he's discovered that she's smart, and brave, and brilliant, not to mention gorgeous.
But, as he's told Liam over and over again, it's not like that. He doesn't like her. He just enjoys her company. Even when she's yelling at him.
And okay, maybe he thinks about her a fair amount. Maybe he mentions something she said, or did, or likes, on occasion. But it's Emma. He can't like Emma. She'd kill him.
He tries again, choosing his words carefully, just to make sure. "You want to ask Swan to the dance?"
"That's what I said." Liam looks amused, his blue eyes glinting in a way Killian's sure he doesn't like.
"As your date."
"Aye." Liam raises his eyebrows. "Unless there's a reason why I shouldn't?"
Killian's mind is racing. "I, ah…" He breaks off. Liam makes it sound so damn easy, like it's just a question. Like it doesn't matter.
And she'll say yes, he realises with a hollow feeling in his stomach. She gets along with Liam a lot better than with him. Everyone gets along with Liam. It's all but impossible not to. He's a good man. He's everything Killian has always wanted to be, and fallen woefully short of.
The thought of it, of seeing Emma and Liam together at the dance, makes his gut churn. Come to think of it, he's never seen her with another man. He's never heard her mention a boyfriend.
Perhaps, the honest part of him whispers, that's why he's been so very good at pretending that it doesn't matter to him. There was nothing to matter.
Now, suddenly, it seems that there is. He swallows, and tries again. "I didn't think you were interested in her."
"Oh, I'm not," Liam assures him, that oddly smug smile still lurking on his lips. "It's strategy. Quite genius, if I do say so myself. The power of jealousy, and all that."
And Killian remembers the look that Liam tends to get on his face when Tink is around, the way his eyes soften when she laughs, the way they gleam when she shouts down a rowdy customer. He's not the only Jones brother who's carrying a torch. In fact, he'd been teasing Liam about it this morning, hadn't he? Told him to get a move on.
His jaw clenches. This wasn't what he'd had in mind.
"Leave Emma out of your games, Liam," he says, shooting his brother a glare.
Liam's eyes widen innocently. "Games?"
"Tink isn't the jealous type, anyway," Killian goes on.
"Oh." Liam has the nerve to laugh. "Oh, no, Tink has nothing to do with this. I meant you."
"You." Liam leans forward, the grin on his face in full bloom now. "And your reaction just negated any hope you had of denying your rather obvious affections."
"I am not in love with her!"
Liam laughs, a surprised, delighted sound. "I didn't say you were."
Killian rolls his eyes to cover the chagrin that's plummeting through him. "You know perfectly well what I mean."
"Oh, I do." Liam chuckles, shaking his head. "I knew you had it bad, though I didn't realise just how bad—"
"You're imagining things."
"Am I?" Liam challenges. "Ask her out, little brother. Or I will."
Killian drops his controller. "You can't give me an ultimatum!"
"Call it what you like." Liam shrugs. "Motivation, perhaps. Killian, it's been three years."
"Since I met her," Killian rejoins hotly. "Not since I—"
"Yes?" Liam prompts when he doesn't go on. "Since you what?"
"Killian." Liam's expression loses most of its teasing amusement, and he shakes his head. "Ask her out. The worst that'll happen is that she says no, and then you'll know."
"As will she," Killian points out, but even as he says it, he realises that it doesn't matter. He'd probably never live it down. But his ego is hardly the most important thing in this mess.
This mess being that he has inadvertently fallen for the one woman who is, by all appearances, entirely immune to his charms.
He groans and buries his head in his hands.
"Sorry," Liam says. "But I have to push a little. It's getting ridiculous, watching the two of you dance around each other—"
Killian's head snaps back up. "The two of us?"
Liam shrugs again. "She's not as easy to read, but for what it's worth, I think you might have a chance."
Killian reflexively battles down the hope that wants to rise at those words. "Yeah, right."
But it doesn't matter. Liam's threat is not an empty one, Killian knows that from experience. And he can't quite stop himself from thinking maybe.
And so, the next day, he gathers every shred of courage he has and asks Emma Swan to the dance.
And her eyes widen just a little, and she looks around as if suspecting that any minute now, some self-absorbed prat with delusions of humour is going to jump out of the bushes and yell something about being pranked (or whatever the term is). But no such thing happens, and Killian treated to a shrug and an almost-but-not-quite-buried smile and a carefully casual "sure" and he feels like his heart might just take flight then and there.
(Liam is rather smug about it when he runs into them at the dance, their hands intertwined and their eyes constantly straying to each other. He stops being smug when Emma commandeers him for a dance while Killian asks Tink, and really, Killian thinks they should get an award for the smooth manoeuvre which leaves Tink in Liam's arms while Killian and Emma twirl away together.
They do make quite the team.)