Author's Note: Wow, okay! So this is, by far, the longest story I've ever written. A huge thank you to the Captain Swan Big Bang on Tumblr, mainly for giving me a reason to push through a completed multi-chapter, and to my beta Ice Cube 1 (icecubelotr44 on Tumblr) for reading through all of this despite the fact that I accidentally ended up doing the 50k Big Bang instead of the 15k Little Bang. Another massive round of gratitude to captainswanandclintasha (both here and on Tumblr) for being such a hero and doing some awesome last-minute art for this story, linked in my Tumblr post!
Also, a small disclaimer that this story was initially inspired by Suits (plus a Tumblr prompt from like two years ago, which I can't find anymore ha), so all of my legal knowledge has either been taken from said fiction or from the internet. Very, very sorry to those who have actual legal experience l o l.
Guilty, Your Honor
Her first day at Storybrooke Law is decidedly not going well.
It would have been enough to have nearly been late this morning, whirling into the firm's lobby in a clatter of heels and a quiet string of curses, with just enough time to fix the scarf carefully covering her neckline before her new managing partner rounded the corner. Of course, it had to be the one who had seemed to hate her during the interview, too – Regina Mills, all pursed red lips and disdainful eyes – and Emma had spent the majority of her orientation lecture wondering just how many strings her glowing recommendation from the firm's other branch pulled in getting her here while desperately trying to pretend she wasn't nodding off every two minutes from lack of sleep.
(It's no one's fault but her own, of course: she should have known better than to start exploring the nightlife twelve hours before starting her new job. Though, to be fair, she'd gladly do it all again, right down to the early morning scramble across the city, but now really isn't the time to be thinking about all the reasons why her brand new apartment had seemed so empty even after she'd unpacked everything she owned, or why Boston is already looking better than Portland ever would.)
Fortunately, Miss Mills is curt and quick and hardly even looks her way. Their tour of the firm's three floors is a whirlwind of information, and Emma knows she's going to be lost and starving around the lunch hour because there's no way she'll be able to find her way from the associates wing to the kitchen without some sort of map. But she also knows better than to even mention that she has no idea where they're heading, now that the tour seems to be over after a pit stop back at the nicest corner office she's ever seen – all glass walls and floor-to-ceiling views of the city skyline, for named partners only, of course – because the woman who owns that office looks like she'd rather be doing anything but training the new associate.
"You may be a fifth-year in our firm, Miss Swan," Miss Mills says, the drawl in her voice implying exactly what she thinks of that, "but that doesn't exempt you from being assigned to a partner, your immediate superior. Associates work directly with their partners and share their caseload, and I receive performance assessments for all associates on a regular basis." They're rounding the corner into another hallway lined with pristine glass, a blur of names etched over Partner of varying tiers on all of the doors, and Emma distinctly exhales a quiet sigh of relief that she seems to be being passed off. She's never been so glad to be babysat in her life if it means escaping this kind of daily thinly-veiled scorn in favor of someone who, hopefully, won't seem like they have it in for her.
They stop abruptly as Miss Mills pushes a glass door open, and it looks like her mouth is moving as though she's saying something. Unfortunately, Emma can't quite seem to hear anything but a low buzz drowning out everything but the sound of her breathing, because the only thing she sees when she turns to follow her into the adjacent office is blue.
Bright blue and dark tousled hair. Slightly less tousled than the last time she'd seen it – hours ago, god – but it's unmistakably him. She'd remember that scruffy, impossibly handsome face anywhere.
And, if the frozen expression plastered across it is any indication, he remembers her, too.
"— Miss Swan," she hears Miss Mills say, as if from a long distance away, and she forces herself back to reality in time to see him blink back to attention at exactly the same time. He's standing next to his desk with a stack of folders, hands full of papers as if he's forgotten he's still holding them, and although the bewilderment is still lingering in the faint crease between his eyebrows, she's glad to see his acting experience as a lawyer has at least gotten him to snap his mouth shut. "She's the new associate we'd discussed, transferring in from the Portland branch. You'd mentioned needing help with the Crocodile case, so she'll be here for whatever you need."
Her poor choice of words isn't lost on either of them, and she notes the way his jaw tightens as a flush of heat rushes to her face, her mind suddenly filled with hollow gasping and desperate whispers and I need you, I need you, please. He takes just a moment longer than normal to answer, but she seems to be the only one in the room who notices.
"Wonderful, Regina, you have my thanks," he says without taking his eyes off of her, and she knew she'd have trouble forgetting that accent from the moment he'd first offered her a drink. He places the papers on his desk slowly, like he's trying to stall for time, before striding up to her with his hand outstretched and what looks like a strained smile on his face. "Miss Swan. So glad to make your acquaintance."
His palm is warm against hers, and she's very forcefully reminded of smooth, heated skin running over every inch of her bare body.
"It's very nice to meet you, Mr.—?"
"Jones. Killian Jones," he replies carefully. Right. She already knew that, of course.
"Well, I'll just let you two get settled, then," Miss Mills says, and it's then that Emma remembers that handshakes don't usually last much longer than a second or two; she feels like the way they move apart is like a pair of teenagers getting caught. Luckily, though, their managing partner seems to be occupied with her phone and is already halfway out the door before turning back to them. "Jones, I trust you'll get Miss Swan started here on the right foot."
"Of course," he assures her, and with that she pulls the glass door shut behind her without so much as a parting word.
Emma's starting to think she might prefer working for Regina Mills after all.
She spins on her heel, the words hot on her tongue like an accusation: "You never told me you were a lawyer." At the same time, he huffs out a tight, "Bloody hell," hand carded halfway through his hair like he doesn't know it isn't already a mess. At her words, though, he pauses, throws her a look torn between exasperation and amusement.
"Was I supposed to?"
"It might have helped us avoid the situation we're in right now."
"I was under the impression that you preferred not knowing anything about me. And you never told me you were a lawyer either," he points out. She has a snippety response to that halfway out of her mouth – one that, in no uncertain terms, does not involve admitting that both are true – but then she stops, unsettled. A half-formed, terrible thought niggles at the back of her head.
"I shouldn't have had to," she says slowly. "You should have already known who I was."
He frowns. "What are you talking—?" But she doesn't let him finish, appalled by the picture painted by her belated realization – and she doesn't know how it took this long for it to even cross her mind.
"You knew you were getting an associate, didn't you? You had to have gotten my file, with my picture. You knew who I was."
"I didn't," he says, and he has the audacity to look faintly insulted on top of it all. "I just told you, love, I had no idea who you were until just now."
"Really? You talked with Regina about me, and my name never once came up?"
"She just told me we were getting a new associate; she never told me who it was."
"And it never occurred to you to check up on the person you'd be working with for the foreseeable future?"
That has him stopping in his tracks. "Wait, are you honestly suggesting I'm to blame for all of this?"
"I don't know," she says in a way that makes it clear that she does. "What are the chances that the man who takes me home from the bar ends up, by pure luck, being the guy I have to work for?"
She knows her accusations have hit a nerve when she glimpses the flash of temper in his eye. "I'm not a bloody idiot, love," he tells her flatly. "I had no idea that the blonde who seduced me last night also happened to be starting work here the next day."
"Don't try to pin this on me," she snaps. "And you were out drinking on a weeknight, too, so don't try to take the high road, either."
"I was celebrating a case," he says, eyes narrowing.
"You were celebrating a case, in a quiet bar, by yourself?"
"As opposed to hanging out in a quiet bar, by yourself, just for fun?"
"How I choose to spend my free time is none of your business."
"Well, considering how involved I was in this free time of yours—"
"You know what?" she cuts him off, thoroughly unamused by the way he raises an eyebrow, as if emphasizing the salaciousness of said shared free time. "It doesn't matter anymore. I'll talk to HR and get transferred to another partner – problem solved."
"And how will that conversation go, darling? I became involved with my assigned partner, so I'd—"
"We're not involved." The word tastes sour in her mouth. "It was a one-time thing. It won't happen again."
"I'm well aware of that," he says shortly. He looks like he has more to add, but before he can deliver anything with bite, he hesitates, halting himself right on the verge of speech. A muscle twitches in his jaw as he appears to waver between two points, struggling with the simultaneous desire to both say and stay his word, but in the end, his unrest is merely exhaled in a tiny, aggravated sigh.
"You're right," he says when he finally speaks, his voice tight as though that sigh had done nothing for relief. "Perhaps a transfer would be a good idea. It's very clear that even if we wanted this to work out, it wouldn't."
And of all the surprises today, it's his last sentence, somehow, that stings.
Because she remembers what he was like, what they were like together, before – it'd only been last night, after all. She remembers how he had leaned in, the dim light of the bar glinting on the white of his teeth along the path of his tongue, right before she'd grabbed him by the collar and kissed him, far too wrapped up in the cheeky delight of his company to care about anything else. She remembers how they had moved in sync, bodies twisting together in a perfect dance of sweat and pleasure, and the way she had fallen apart around him had been so singularly exquisite that even now her skin prickles with faint heat, a ghost of the sensation, at the memory. She remembers how he'd whispered in the dark afterward, how she'd whispered back – and she hadn't realized she was falling asleep, honestly, hadn't meant to fall asleep there with him at all, the words slipping from her mind and slurring on her tongue, until it was far, far too late.
She remembers all of these things, and she knows he does too – so it's his disregard for everything that makes his words a lie, even if it means nothing in the end, that has her nettled. But, she reminds herself with a firm mental shake, it doesn't matter. Like she'd already said, none of it matters anymore.
She hikes up her chin, looks him straight in the eye.
"Fine," he repeats, as if testing her resolve.
"Fine," she says again, for the last time. "I'll get a transfer."
"Fantastic." She holds his hard gaze, blue eyes familiar but steely. "I'll have the paperwork drawn up straight away."
"No, I'll do it," she tells him. What she doesn't tell him is that, if she's going to be cutting all ties with him, she'd rather do it now than waffle around with his secretary, right outside his office, for the time it'd take to get things ironed out.
"Do you even know what paperwork you'll need?"
She rolls her eyes. "I'm not an idiot either, you know. I'm pretty sure I can figure it out."
He blinks at her. And then, before she knows it, as though he himself doesn't even realize, a slow smile unfurls across his face, curving with a mischief she's not sure is intentional until he opens his mouth again. "I knew you were a quick learner."
"All right," she says firmly. "Good bye."
And she turns and strides right out his door without a backward glance, her only thought how much she's not going to miss this fucking conversational minefield once she's transferred, preferably to the other side of the building. But even after she's passed the glass wall bearing his name, she can't douse from her mind the last thing she'd seen before turning away – the glimmer of the man with whom she'd spent the night tucked into his smile like a secret.
The same secret she carries as she hurries down the hallway, feeling as though even if she were put on the stand, she could hide it from any jury in the world.
She should have known it wouldn't be as simple as that.
The chirpy voice tears her from the folder in front of her, and she freezes, fork halfway to her mouth. She'd thought spreading out her papers across every conceivable inch of the table and (mostly) pretending to be engrossed in perusing the firm's most recent major cases (purely out of lack of other options until her transfer, unfortunately) would have prevented any awkward social interactions during her lunch break – it had certainly worked for the past two days. The bright-eyed brunette clasping a lunchbox next to her table, though, seems to have other ideas.
"I'm Mary Margaret. Blanchard," pixie cut says with a warm smile, extending her hand in a delicate shake. "I work in HR."
"Oh." Emma blinks, unsure. "Is this about…?"
"Your transfer request? Yep." Mary Margaret gestures to one of the empty chairs, prompting Emma to herd her mess back into her space and forgo her plans for a quiet meal alone. She watches as the lunchbox produces a tupperware of pasta, followed by an apple, followed by a bag of baby carrots, and it's only when she finishes unpacking that Mary Margaret speaks again, meeting Emma's eye carefully. "I thought we could have a little chat."
Uh oh. Nothing good ever came from an opener like that. "Uh…"
"Don't worry," Mary Margaret assures her. "You're not in any kind of trouble. I just wanted to talk a bit, off-record."
"Right," Emma says slowly. She pushes the soggy contents of her salad around, which suddenly seem much less appetizing (especially when Mary Margaret cracks open her tupperware). "Was there something wrong with the request?"
"Oh, no, all the paperwork was in perfect order; I just reviewed it this morning, actually. I saw that you cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for your request, which is mostly only used in marital cases, but seeing as you don't work in family law I'll let it slide." She winks, and Emma forces a smile but doesn't speak. After a time, Mary Margaret continues, appearing to choose her words carefully: "I was just wondering… if something happened. You know, between you and Killian."
Her stomach lurches, as though she's just missed a step on a particularly steep staircase. "What?"
"I know he can come on a bit strong," Mary Margaret continues hurriedly, a look of concern marring her earnest face, "but he's a good man, honestly. He's a bit of a flirt, I know – my husband works with him; they're great friends, so I've gotten to know him quite well – but he would never intentionally do anything to make you uncomfortable. I promise."
"I, uh…" Emma shakes her head to clear her heartbeat from her ears. "What? No. It's nothing like that. Killian is, uh… he's great."
Mary Margaret tilts her head. "So what's the issue?"
Still reeling, it takes her a moment to find the right words. "It's… it's just that we don't really work well together." She shoves her shoulder upward, as though she hadn't only just stood in his office thinking the opposite. "We talked a bit about some of the cases I could work on, and we didn't really click. We think too differently, and I was afraid it would affect how we managed our cases."
The speech is textbook perfection, memorized to a T, but Mary Margaret's hawkish stare is measuring. "Really?"
"Yeah. I think we would both be much more productive working with other people." An understatement, for sure. Mary Margaret regards her for an unnerving amount of time, though it could just be that Emma almost feels bad for lying to someone who looks like she wouldn't hurt a fly.
In the end, though, Mary Margaret sighs, glances around the room quickly.
"Look, Emma," she says, lowering her voice such that Emma needs to lean in to hear her. "I technically shouldn't be telling you this as someone from HR, but as a friend—" Emma's not sure when they suddenly became friends, but she rolls with it "—I really don't think it'd be a good idea for me to process that request."
"What? Why not?"
Mary Margaret fidgets in her seat, giving her pasta a good stab before meeting her gaze again. "It's Regina. Miss Mills – you know, our managing partner?"
"Her name's on the door," Emma says with a thin smile. "Kind of hard to not to know who she is."
"She's not going to like it if you try to transfer so early into your time here. Trust me, you don't want to get on her bad side, and she'll definitely be annoyed with you if you don't try to work out what she's arranged." Emma's fairly certain the look on her face is beyond skeptical, which is probably why Mary Margaret shakes her head. "It's your decision, really, but she can make your life a living hell if she decides she doesn't like you."
"I'm pretty sure she already doesn't like me," Emma mutters, though she has a feeling Mary Margaret isn't just giving second-hand advice.
"If that's true, it's nothing compared to what she can do if she really has it out for you," Mary Margaret says, frowning. "Unless you have a spectacular reason for wanting a transfer, most associates, especially ones that haven't been here a year yet, stay with the partners they've been assigned."
Emma considers her, staring as she finishes. Part of her says to just suck it up and deal with the consequences, however severe they might be, if only to get out of the most awkward – and, realistically, the most irritating – work situation ever; after all, it's probably not anything she can't handle. The other part notes Mary Margaret's serious expression, the deliberate effort she's made to warn her of a threat that seems ridiculous but apparently has HR rolling out an unofficial policy just to protect the associates from their managing partner. If anything, it tells her that even coming clean might not get her off the hook, though the idea of revealing the truth here, to this relative stranger, in the middle of the crowded building lunchroom, has her balking more than any kind of miserable retribution she might face for the rest of her days at Storybrooke.
Before she can even begin to figure out how to respond, however, a loud clatter to her right announces the arrival of another guest at her table.
"Mary Margaret, I've been looking everywhere for you!" Another brunette, this one with long dark hair and bright red lips, drops a paper bag on the table next to Emma, who wrenches herself from her thoughts with a jolt. "Why aren't you sitting where we normally eat? And who's this?"
"Ruby, this is Emma." Mary Margaret sends her a sheepish, apologetic smile, but Ruby's is as sharp as a knife as she takes the last empty seat.
"Emma… Swan? You're the new associate, aren't you? You work with Killian upstairs."
"Guilty," Emma says, trying to salvage the rest of her papers from the table. The entire story feels a little too long for someone who didn't plant herself there explicitly to ask.
"Hope he hasn't been too rough on you."
Emma nearly chokes and drops all of the files in her hands. "Excuse me?"
"He's a nice guy, sure – kind of an asshat sometimes, but the guy's a total workaholic. And he flirts with anything that moves – you'd better be careful, but you probably know what I'm talking about already–"
"Ruby!" Mary Margaret interrupts her, looking faintly horrified.
"What? I'm just letting her know what she's getting herself into. Seriously, it gets kind of annoying after a while, but don't fall for it. If he starts getting too frisky with you, Mary Margaret here is with HR, and she'll take care of him for you."
"Ruby," Mary Margaret begins again, but the mixture of amusement and pity on Ruby's face has a defensive response out of her mouth before she even realizes it.
"I'm pretty sure I can handle it."
There's a short, surprised silence, during which Emma, chagrined, realizes how that may have sounded more condescending than she would have liked, so she quickly adds, "I mean, it's not a big deal. I've had to deal with worse on a regular basis for work."
Mary Margaret's slow smile holds a touch too much relief for her to find it completely reassuring, but somehow that seems less important than the way Ruby snorts, "Really? In Portland?"
Emma narrows her eyes. "What department do you work in again?"
"Family," Ruby replies, "but don't be fooled – the cases there can get pretty nasty." That wasn't necessarily what she'd meant (in retrospect, she supposes her question would have been better phrased how much does Mary Margaret tell you about incoming employees?), but Emma takes it in stride.
"What, in divorce cases? That's just catty ex-spouses trying to break their prenups, isn't it?"
"You'd be surprised at what people would do for love," Mary Margaret says, a faraway look in her eye, until Ruby swats her on the arm.
"Don't make it sound romantic!"
And Emma can't help it – for the first time since she stepped foot in Storybrooke, since she pivoted right back into the life of the one person she knew in Boston and never expected to see again, she forgets all about this complicated, ridiculous mess she's made for herself and lets out a full-bodied, genuine laugh.
(Nothing sobers her up like the unassuming manila folder that awaits her back in her cubicle following that afternoon's leg of never-ending training – even the rainbow-colored sticky plastered to the front, while making the sender completely obvious, fails to achieve what she can only assume is its cheery goal:
E – Thank you for giving this another shot. You can do it! – MM
Emma takes a few seconds to simply stare at the pile of her fruitless labor, weighing the cost of her fresh start against the stupidly handsome suit down the hall to whom she's somehow given the power to ruin everything, before giving up, marching resolutely down the hall, and throwing the entire stack down the shredder.)
"Thanks a lot for wasting my time."
If he's in any way surprised by the way she strides into his office without preamble, ignoring the closed door and the good manners she should have used to knock, it certainly doesn't show. Instead, Killian merely looks up from his computer, smiles when he registers her in the doorway.
"I take it telling HR we slept together didn't do much good?"
"Is this a joke to you?" Emma snaps, closing the door behind her before any stray ears wander nearby. There are two perfectly fine chairs in front of his desk, but she refuses to sit, instead crossing her arms and addressing him on her feet. "Why didn't you tell me I'd get in trouble if I tried to transfer?"
A single eyebrow arches up his forehead. "This is the first time I'm hearing of it, love. We don't get many associates who try."
"Are you sure? For all I know, this might not be the first thing you're keeping from me."
"What are you…?" His brow furrows, the humor finally fading from his face, and when he realizes her meaning, his mouth tightens into a thin line. "Bloody hell, are you still on about that?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize you'd ever convinced me to stop," she shoots back.
"For the last time, I hadn't a clue who you were when we first met."
"Right," she says, drawing out the word. "Like you haven't seen a single associate try to switch partners in the entire time you've worked here."
"Do you honestly think so little of me?" he demands. To his credit, he looks genuinely harried, if not completely pissed at the thought that she actually might. "Do you think I'm the kind of person who would willingly put you in this position? Had I known this would happen, I'd never have approached you in that bar in the first place."
Somewhere deep down, it's nothing she doesn't already know – hasn't known all along, even without the preponderance of evidence she's seen all over his face time and time again, because in that same spot buried thoroughly under all the cynicism she owns, she knows that the man she'd met that night hadn't been that kind of person, and it's that same man who is sitting behind the desk on the other side of the room right now. Still, she finds herself asking, "So you regret it?"
"Of course I regret it," he says, as if it should be the most obvious thing in the world.
It's exactly what she'd wanted to hear when she'd asked, but her, "Good," still comes out a touch testy. In any case, her approval, however irate, seems to dissipate at least a little of the tension from his shoulders, though she still keeps her arms crossed over her chest. "Whatever happened between us is in the past. If we're going to make this work, I'm not going to let it linger into our working relationship, and neither should you."
He tilts his head, an entirely unassuming motion that somehow still feels full of intent. "And is there a reason you're concerned it would?"
The implication in his words isn't lost on her at all. "Of course not," she replies hotly. "I am not looking for a relationship, with you or with anyone. And that's not going to change – but even if it did, it wouldn't be of any concern to you."
"Outstanding. That should make things a walk in the park, then, shouldn't it?"
"Just tell me what you want me to do so I can get out of here," she sighs. She doesn't think much of her word choice until he seems to respond only with a subtle shift in his expression – the tightness in his jaw losing its agitated edge, making her suspect he's biting his tongue instead, the sharpness in his blue gaze brightening into something almost apologetic at his unwillingness to open his mouth. The reason for that deceptive repentance makes her groan. "Come on, really?"
"I didn't say anything," he protests. "But I'm hardly at fault if the thought crossed your mind, too."
"I'll have my two weeks' notice to you by the end of the day."
"Always so eager with the paperwork," he says, clearly undeterred by her blunt promise. "No wonder we hired you."
"Hate to break it to you, but my paperwork skills are not why I'm here," she snorts. "So you'd better not just stick me with all of the grunt work."
"Oh?" Although his face remains completely impassive, she can see the way the flecks of blue in his eyes are stirring with life. "And just what other talents do you have hidden under your," he pauses, his gaze flitting downward, for barely a second, "sleeve, Swan?"
"Sorry, buddy," she tells him, narrowing her own eyes even as she feels her lips twitch. "You've already gotten your chance to get up close and personal with me."
And that finally draws the curve from his mouth, though she swears that had not been her intention – the tiniest grin fixed on his face as though he's yet to realize it's there, tinged with mingled surprise and delight. That is also when she registers the strange little victorious jig that seems to be transpiring in her chest, one she thinks is born from satisfaction but knows feels far too familiar for her to be entirely comfortable, because it's the same dance she'd felt thrumming through her veins as she'd laughed in the company of a very charming, very good-looking man her first night in the city, thrilled that keeping up with him had felt as natural as breathing.
She sucks in a quick breath now. Because they're not two strangers trading teasing ripostes in the darkness of a quiet bar and the warm shroud of mild intoxication; he's her boss, for all intents and purposes, and she's supposed to work with him – and that's something she'd do well to remember. She clears her throat in an attempt to clear the air, though she's not sure of what.
"Now can we actually talk about cases so I can leave?" she asks. Although his response is comforting to her guilty conscience, merely a brief gesture to one of the chairs on the other side of his desk, she's not too keen on how he seems to struggle with biting his lip out of the smile, even as she reluctantly takes the proffered seat.
(It feels distinctly like slipping into a bar stool, three seats away from a handsome dark-haired man nursing a glass of rum.)
In the back of her mind, the old adage about playing with fire flickers to life, and, still feeling the remnants of her heart stuttering around in her ribcage, she can't help but think that escaping from Portland may have just landed her right in the midst of the flames.