Killian was so absorbed in the comic he was studying that he'd hardly noticed when Emma came in. Truthfully, he was taking advantage of the quiet afternoon and the small size of the impending shipment to get caught up on reading—and to do anything to distract himself from the prospect of seeing her again. David's words kept running through his head, but he still didn't know how to make Emma a proposition without it seeming like a proposition.
And clearly it had worked, because he was so entrenched in the story that he'd never even heard the door. His glasses actually fell off the tip of his nose when she startled him with her voice, which at least made her laugh, so he didn't feel as bad for unintentionally ignoring her.
"Hi! Sorry I didn't see you come in," he recovered, scratching behind his ear.
"Must be a good story." She peered over the counter to look at the trade in front of him. "Are those pirates?"
"Aye; Anne Bonnie is her name. Fiercest 12-year-old pirate to set sail!"
"I thought you said you were a Navy man? Aren't you supposed to fight against the pirates?"
"Ah, so you went rogue?"
He waved his hook at her and joked, "I suppose so."
They giggled; she was doing that more and more around him, and he'd never tire of it. "Is it any good?"
"It's geared at kids, but it's cute. I would have loved it as a boy."
"Have you always read comics?"
"Inquisitive today, aren't we?" He was teasing her, but secretly (or maybe not-so-secretly), he loved it, even if it had been awhile since anyone had asked or he'd talked about his youth. "Yes, I have—ever since I was a wee lad. I'd 'borrow' them from my elder brother's stash, and read them under the covers, then try to put them back before he noticed."
"Oh, always. But he never seemed to mind. For both of us, they were something of an escape."
She hummed. "Yeah, I get that. Is that where the Batman obsession started?" she wondered with a wink.
"Aye; he was always Liam's favorite. And I, the younger brother, always wanted to be just like him, so I fell in love with the Caped Crusader, too."
"I'm guessing the rum part of your story came after he passed?" she said lightly.
"Mhmm. And the no-good ex, and hitting some form of rock bottom before leaving it all behind to start fresh here."
"Just like Dark Knight Rises."
"Heh, yeah, just like—wait, I thought you were a Marvel girl?"
"I see movies," she protested. "But...I may have watched that trilogy recently."
"Yeah. Had to do some research."
"It wasn't because David made you, was it?"
She laughed. "No. He is the one who got me into comics as a kid, but I'm a big girl now. I do what I want."
"Just had to make sure. He can be very persuasive. Why else would I be working here right now?"
"Because you love comics and it keeps you close to your brother?"
She saw right through him. "Well, yes; same as it reminds you of your youth."
"Am I that obvious?" she complained with a cringe.
"You're something of an open book. That and I noticed Back To The Future and Disney Princesses in your hands last week."
He saw a window open just then. "Speaking of busting, if you're a fan of 80s films, what are your thoughts on the new Ghostbusters?" It was premiering in a couple days.
"Oh, I can't wait! It looks like a lot of fun."
"Definitely. Would you, maybe, want to go see it together?"
She smiled, but then her face fell, dragging Killian's heart with it. "I would love to, but I already promised my best friend I'd go with her. I'm so sorry!"
However defeated he felt, he couldn't let it show (and she had a legit reason—he could tell she wasn't blowing him off). "No worries, love; just thought I'd ask."
"Maybe some other time?" she offered with a small smile.
"Yeah, I'd like that. We'll see."
He waited until she was gone to bang his head against the counter. Sure, he could take hope in the fact that it wasn't an outright "no", but it'd shaken his confidence.
Good thing Suicide Squad was coming out in a month, right?
But not even two weeks later, Emma came thundering in—quite literally—on a quiet Sunday morning during a thunderstorm. Things typically didn't pick up on Sundays until later in the day, after everyone got out of church, so he had made himself quite at home on one of the beanbag chairs in the kids' section, reading. He was startled not only by the fact that there was a customer, but that it was her, and on a day other than Tuesday.
"Swan, what a pleasant surprise," he called out from his seat, apparently scaring her in return. She jumped, and her frantic eyes landed on him.
"Oh, thank God. I need your help."
He stood up with only minor struggle (and suddenly realizing that he wasn't as spry as he was at 5), setting the comic he'd been reading aside. "How may I be of service, love?" Anything you want, he added in his head.
"I've got a birthday party for a 6-year-old and I have no idea what to get him."
"What does he like?"
"Batman," she said with a sheepish smile.
"Well, you've definitely come to the right person." He was more than touched that she sought him out; if now was his turn to play hero, he'd step up to the plate. "Follow me; I've got an idea."
The new Funko shelves had been finished with only a minor amount of ribbing between the guys—mostly directed at Killian—and were now fully stocked, two deep, and organized alphabetically by fandom. "Who's the birthday boy?" he asked.
"My...almost nephew, I guess? Mary Margaret's step-sister's stepson."
"Yeah." Mary Margaret had dragged the lad, his father Robin, and his step-mom Regina in a few times. They hadn't talked much, but he remembered the boy having a distinct interest in a particularly-named character.
"Then I've definitely got the right thing. Just got it this week." He knelt down to the Ts, and after a short browse, grabbed the figure he wanted. "How's this?"
Emma chuckled. "Robin? Really?"
"I know he's a fan of Teen Titans, and Robin in particular."
"I guess any little boy would get excited if his dad shared a name with a superhero."
"Can you blame him?"
"No," she agreed. "But is this okay for a kid? I've only seen adults with them."
"It's a toy; it's definitely for kids. Or kids at heart."
"Does that mean you have some?"
He thought back to the current state of the bookshelves in his apartment. "Yeah, you could say that…'some' might be putting it lightly though."
"How many?" she asked teasingly.
"What? They're adorable."
She just laughed. "Okay, I believe you." Then, gesturing to the one he still held, "This is perfect. Thank you."
He checked her out as fast as he could, seeing as she was in something of a rush. Luckily, they had some gift bags behind the counter, too, so he wrapped it up quick.
"Seriously, Killian—you're a lifesaver," she enthused.
"All in a day's work for a hero," he rebutted casually, but he was flying high inside. Maybe a little too high. "Perhaps gratitude is in order?" he suggested boldly, tapping a finger against his lips as he passed the bag to her with his hook.
"That's what the thank you was for."
"Is that all a boy's happiness is worth to you?" He honestly didn't know what he was doing, but she'd taken the bait.
"Please. You couldn't handle it."
"Perhaps you're the one who couldn't handle it."
Before he knew what was happening, she'd grabbed the opening of his zip-up and tugged him across the counter, crashing her lips into his. He huffed when his stomach slammed into the edge, but was too lost in her mouth and the taste and feel of her lips to care much. His hand found her hair, soft and silky against his fingertips, and he could feel her fingers massaging the base of his skull.
A line from one his favorite movies as a child ran through his head: "Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure; this one left them all behind."
But suddenly, her lips weren't on his anymore; he chased them, even with the barrier between them. "That was…" he breathed
"...A one-time thing," she whispered back. She stepped away, suddenly panicked. "I-I'm sorry; I shouldn't have...I've gotta go."
"Emma, wait—" he called, dashing around the counter after her. But she was all but running out the door before he could make a move. His heart was still pounding from that incredible kiss; he touched his lips, still warm and wet from hers.
He recognized that look in her eye, though. She hadn't just ran from the store; she'd ran from him.
"Bloody idiot," he cursed himself. "Bloody buggering fool." He threw himself back down on the beanbag chair. I'm such a bloody arse.
He sat there cursing his stupid posturing until another customer arrived, ignoring the comic he'd been reading—the newest Thor—until he put it back on the shelf where it belonged.
She didn't come in the following Tuesday.
Or the one after that.
Eventually, he noticed her name in the subscription folder. He filled them every Wednesday, and at some point during the week, hers emptied, but never when he was around.
His heart stuttered when he noticed she'd subscribed to Barb Wire.
But summer started to turn to fall and he still hadn't seen her since that kiss.
"Dude, what is going on with you and Emma?"
He and David, with Mary Margaret's help, were decorating the store for Halloween—she insisted that the yellow walls looked perfect next to orange and black. The guys were perched on ladders, carefully hanging streamers along the tops of the shelves while she handled the windows, and apparently, David wanted to gossip.
"Nothing, mate. I've told you that."
"You've been moping for weeks. I thought I told you to ask her out ages ago?"
"Aye, and I did. We've been over this."
"I just don't get it."
"What's not to get? She's not interested; she made that clear." He wouldn't lie—he kept a green lantern lit for her still, but it had been ebbing toward the feeble side lately with nothing to feed it.
"You never told me just what happened."
"Yeah, because you're her brother, and I don't kiss and tell." He angrily taped a streamer to the shelf.
Bollocks. Somehow, he'd never mentioned that; any time David had brought it up in the past few months, he just shrugged off the man's inquisitions, and as far as David knew, they were still dancing around each other.
"Excuse me: kiss?" David waved a hand in front of Killian's face to get his attention. "She never—you never...what?"
Killian sighed. "Yeah; I kissed Emma."
"How about we have this conversation not on top of a ladder, aye?"
Safely on the ground, David began his interrogation anew. "Tell me everything."
"Tell him what?" Killian groaned; now Mary Margaret had joined the fray.
"About how he kissed Emma and apparently hasn't talked to her since."
"Killian!" she scolded, slapping his arm.
"Ow! It's not like that, I swear."
"Then what's it like?" She crossed her arms, going into teacher mode.
"We flirted; we kissed; and then she ran off and I haven't seen her since."
"When was that?" David wondered.
"End of July."
"Oh, well that explains that."
"Why she's been acting weird," Mary Margaret supplied.
"And why she's only been coming on Thursdays," David continued.
"That girl," Mary Margaret complained, shaking her head. "We have to fix this, David."
"What if we—" "Maybe they—"
Killian had to interrupt; he recognized their conspiratorial tone for what it was and would have none of it. "Stop. Don't even think about it. We're all adults here; I can handle a bit of rejection."
He walked away before either of them could say anything else.
Because, as he was well aware, he wasn't handling this rejection well. He'd tried to go on a few dates, but no one seemed to hold a hammer to Emma. (He may have started reading Thor again. And Captain Marvel, Spider-Gwen, and other Marvel titles.)
He didn't see the plotting glance David and Mary Margaret exchanged as he walked away.
The weeks leading up to their annual Halloween party found Dave eerily quiet on the subject of Killian's personal life. That meant his mate has either given up the cause, or—more likely—he had something planned.
He wondered if that was why there were DC titles in Emma's folder now: Harley Quinn, Wonder Woman, and Bombshells. He liked to think he had something to do with her interest in another set of heroines, but knew better.
David was inviting him over after work more often, though, for everything from movies to card games to D&D. (And David RARELY played role playing games.) But Killian almost always turned him down, especially after the sheer awkwardness of the one time he accepted: he could never say no to The Princess Bride.
And apparently, neither could Emma. The entire evening was a farce, involving David and/or Mary Margaret trying to get Emma and Killian close to one another but with them both stubbornly refusing. It ended up with them on either sides of the living room until Emma had to leave on a work call before they even got to the fire swamp.
He'd hoped that was the last of his friends' meddling, but fate didn't seem to be on his side. The next morning, the store was already unlocked when he arrived—which was pretty common on the few days David came in before him. But David wasn't there. Killian started looking around, doing a mental assessment to see if anything was amiss or stolen, but everything seemed fine. He ran to check the register, but that too was intact.
He was at a loss: who would unlock the door and not take anything? He wouldn't complain, of course, but it was odd.
He was about to go check the back stockroom when a small box on the counter caught his eye. Cautiously, he looked it over: it was a Funko box—with Clark Kent inside. Stuck in the slot of the box was a strip of paper bearing his name in a generic typeface. He laughed a bit, thinking how Emma called him that all those months ago. But then he shook his head, assuming it was just another setup from his friends, or maybe Granny had snuck in and put it there; she struck him as the kind who'd know how to pick a lock.
He still rather liked the figure, though, and despite his large collection, it was one he didn't have. So he stuck it under the counter, where it would be safe, and went about opening.
It ended up being an oddly busy day, and he never got the chance to tell (or rather, ask) David about the figure, and when he came across it again after closing, he simply brought it home and added it to collection. He put it in a place of prominence, but decided to not give David the satisfaction of an inquiry.
And he was glad he didn't when that turncoat of a friend told him of a change in plans. The two of them had decided ages ago to go as Batman and Robin for Halloween—David had an impressive Batman suit already and apparently Killian looked good in shorts. He'd even told Emma about it a few months back during a discussion on cosplay (him: big fan and avid cosplayer; her: casual observer but admires the dedication). But of course, a week before their party, David dropped a bomb on him.
"So...Robin is doing it with me."
"Robin? What the hell, mate?"
"Sorry! You've just been so moody lately; I figured you weren't going to dress up."
"I ALWAYS dress up, Dave. You know this. You've seen this. Need I remind you of the Star Trek premiere?" (There was a reason he owned an official Starfleet uniform top; paired with his naturally pointed ears: boom! Spock.)
"I know, I know. But Robin was there and you weren't and there was beer involved...sorry, man."
Killian sighed. He knew it was just another example of David being too damn friendly. "It's fine. I'll figure something else out."
Two days later, David came out of the back room after his lunch break talking on the phone.
"Great! I'm so glad you can finally make this one. It's gonna be a blast. What are you wearing?" Pause. "Dammit, fine; but you know I'm not good with surprises." Another pause. "Alright, me too. See you soon. Bye."
He'd hardly hung up before he was beaming at Killian. "Guess who just said they're coming to the party?"
"Chris Hemsworth?" (Killian knew about Dave's man crush; there was a reason he always dressed as Thor for Marvel events.)
"I wish. No—Emma."
Killian's heart skipped a beat in both fear and elation (but mostly fear). So he tried to play it cool. "Oh, fantastic. And she's dressing up?"
"Yeah, but she won't tell me as what. Have you decided what you're going as?"
In the second after Dave asked the question, Killian realized there was only one thing he could go as.
"Yeah, I have." But he groaned a bit internally: dammit, I'll have to shave.
Killian still wasn't sure what he was doing. How he even managed to find a decent costume on such short notice was beyond him, and David had assured him he looked good. ("Were I unwed, I would take you in a manly fashion," were his exact words. Killian reminded him that he wasn't married yet with a raised eyebrow.)
So here he was, with the party in full swing. Mary Margaret had insisted on swapping their usual mix of classic rock for Halloween music, and he wasn't entirely sure of Granny's sobriety level but she was somehow managing to dance with every guy there (Killian, ever the Navy gentleman, had treated her to a waltz).
They had a good turnout, too, even though this was technically a private event. But from his perch behind the counter he saw all their friends having a good time. Robin truly was a perfect...well, Robin, and little Roland was following him around in his Robin Hood getup (Killian also was just realizing how common that name was in sci-fi and fantasy). Regina had gone as Wonder Woman and Mary Margaret was the Catwoman to David's Batman. Granny and her granddaughter, Ruby, were Ghostbusters (Holtzman and Gilbert, respectively, with Ruby's boyfriend as Kevin). All manner of movie and comic character were represented, but he still hadn't caught sight of the one person he wanted to see. He got excited when a flash of blonde hair and red leather came in, but it was just Regina's sister in a Harley Quinn wig.
He sighed in frustration and nearly ran a hand through his hair, until he remembered that he had gelled it perfectly. So he settled for scratching the too-smooth, clean-shaven skin of his chin and tapping his hook against the counter. He knew he was being antisocial, but with David and Mary Margaret off canoodling, and other happy couples around, he just felt oddly left out.
He knew it was silly to even think that his going all out with this costume would somehow impress Emma—he knew her better than that—but as he watched Spider-Gwen tap on Robin's shoulder and lean in both romantically and cautiously, he found he missed their similar interactions.
Wait a minute—why was Spider-Gwen trying to flirt with Robin? He's taken. Though he couldn't see her face, the way she jumped back when Robin turned around told him that Spider-Gwen was talking to the wrong person. She seemed to shrink back and scan the room, though it was hard to tell with the mask and hood covering her face.
She cautiously made her way around the store, evidently looking for someone. And there was something just familiar enough in her gait that made him follow her.
She slinked between groups on either end of shelving aisles and worked her way around the crowd at the food table. He quietly followed as stealthy as was possible when wearing a brightly colored cape.
(And if he puffed out his chest as he made his way through the store, well—he could blame it on the costume)
He could still see her as she neared the throng around the makeshift dance floor, but then someone cut the overhead lights in favor of the black lights and disco ball they'd put up for the party. In the time it took for his eyes to adjust, he lost sight of her.
Blast. It wasn't like the store was really that big, but apparently they'd invited everyone they knew and then some. He attempted to circumnavigate the crowd, but no matter where he looked, he couldn't find her.
He gave up with a sigh, hung his head, and turned to head back to the front. But of course, he'd hardly gone a few feet when he ran into something—or rather someone.
He instinctively wrapped his arms around the person, whose gloved hands landed on his chest.
It was her—Spider-Gwen.
"It's about bloody time," she said flirtatiously, echoing his own words from months ago.
He stiffened and held his breath. It wasn't just Spider-Gwen, it was her.
"Next time, don't stand on ceremony, Swan."
Though he couldn't read her emotions through the mask, the fact that she didn't seem eager to leave his embrace told him plenty.
"I won't," she said, and then moved to pull off her mask.
"Allow me." Gently, Killian slipped his fingers under the edge of the mask at her neck and pulled up until her face was revealed.
"I'm sorry I ran," she began. "I just...that's my thing: I run away. That's how I've always survived. I couldn't take a chance I was wrong about you."
Even with the low light, he could see the honesty and apology shining in her eyes. He should have been offended, but could tell she wasn't done. "What changed your mind?"
"There might have been a hope speech somewhere in there from Mary Margaret. And realizing we have the same favorite movie helped, too," she added, chuckling. "But, mainly...I realized that I was tired of running. And I missed seeing you here. Sometimes, you just need to know that someone has your back. Especially when that guy is Superman."
He glanced down at the red-and-yellow emblem on the chest of his blue jumpsuit, blushing. Surely she had to feel how hard his heart was racing under her palm, and he found himself wishing he were a Time Lord with a backup in case this one beat right out of his chest. He was floored and elated that he'd somehow broken through all those walls of hers, especially knowing that she'd done the same to him. "You really missed me?"
"Does that surprise you?"
He smiled. "I missed you, too."
Her fingers toyed with the S on his costume. "Did you get the Pop figure?"
He blinked in disbelief. "That was you?" She nodded demurely. "You picked the lock, didn't you?"
"Uh, yeah. Sorry."
"Should have known; Barb Wire has some great lock-picking skills."
"You started reading that?"
"You started reading DC." She glanced down with a bashful smirk. "Like I said: I missed you, too."
She looked, back up, her eyes growing wide with realization. "Wait—the costume…" She reached up and ran the back of her hand over his smooth cheek. "You shaved your beard for me?"
He glanced down, swallowing, before looking back up at her through his lashes. "Aye."
Slowly, she drew her gloved fingers up to the edges of his cape. Holding on, she rose on her toes and met his lips, kissing him firmly and intently.
His hand wandered up, finding its way into her hair under the hood of her (excellent) costume as the kiss deepened, bordering on indecent given the fact that they were technically in public.
But, to his slight dismay, she broke off a second later, laughing. He feared for his kissing skills a moment, but she blurted out, "We're crossing the streams."
"Beg your pardon?"
"Marvel and DC. We're crossing the streams."
He chuckled. "And we're all the more powerful for it. What did you think of—"
She placed a finger on his lips to stop him. "I'm going to have to stop you there, because you need to shut up and kiss me again. Oh, wait." She tugged her hood and mask back on, but only halfway, leaving her nose and mouth exposed. "You wouldn't happen to have anywhere for me to hang upside down, would you?"
He just shook his head at the Spider-Man reference. "No, because that would make me the Peter Parker here and I'd rather not be dead."
"You read Spider-Gwen, too?" She sounded shocked, but didn't give him a chance to respond before she'd pulled him down by the edge of his cape and was kissing him again.
He took back what he'd thought about their first kiss—this one was the one for the ages.
On the other side of the store, David and Mary Margaret were watching the festivities. But they were less concerned with what Ruby and her boyfriend were doing in the broom closet than they were with what just unfolded next to the dance floor.
"Effing finally," she said as she refilled the punch bowl.
"Good call on getting that Spider-Gwen costume." David was munching on puppy chow.
"It was her pick; I just found it. How did you get him to go as Superman?"
"I didn't. He did that on his own."
She sighed. "So we didn't really play matchmaker?"
"No, but it was a good effort."
One year, a few conventions, and several movie premieres later, Halloween rolled around again, and so did the Halloween party.
All their friends were there, and David and Mary Margaret—now with the same last name—were dressed as Captain America and Peggy Carter.
Killian was again watching the festivities from the sideline...but so was Emma. They matched perfectly as Westley and Buttercup; though their Marvel-DC debate had been buried, they still went neutral with their favorite movie.
She was kind of side-eyeing him though, as a few other superheroes trickled through. "What is it, love?"
"Nothing. Just...I really liked that Superman costume."
"Shall I change?"
"No! You rock the pirate look good, too."
He chuckled a bit. "Well, I know you don't need saving anymore, but Clark Kent will always be here when you need him."
And as she pulled him in for a kiss, he knew that though he may have found his kryptonite in Emma Swan, never again would Killian curse owning a comic shop. Because sometimes, a fantastic story walks right in the door.