There is a beautiful photoset that Lenfaz made me to go along with this over on Tumblr if you like visuals!


"So I know you really didn't like August all that much, but I was thinking–"

"No." Emma glares across the table at her sister-in-law, trying – and failing – to keep from brandishing her fork like a club. "No more Christmas party blind dates."

"I know the last few–"

"Seriously? Mary Margaret, he was gay. You set me up with a guy who doesn't even like women. The one before him turned out to be a skip. The one before him was Ruby's ex." Emma ticks them off one at a time on her fingers, her irritation only growing as she relives each horrible date. "So this year, I'm saying no. Absolutely not."

"What have you got to lose?" Mary Margaret asks, completely undeterred by Emma's protest.

"I already have a boyfriend!" Emma blurts out, reaching for her glass of wine and taking a large gulp to hide the lie. It's the only thing she can think of to shut Mary Margaret up, since her brother is sitting uselessly next to his wife with an amused look on his face – amusement she is pleased to note disappears the moment she makes her announcement.

"When did that happen?" he asks, glancing at his wife. Emma sees the look of disbelief the couple exchanges, and maybe she's digging herself a hole she'll never find her way out of, but in for a penny, in for a pound.

"It's new," she says vaguely, not setting down her wine glass. "Didn't want to jinx it."

"Who is he?" Mary Margaret jumps in, her excitement curdling in Emma's stomach. "Where did you meet? When do I get to meet him? Obviously you'll bring him to the Christmas party, but I want to meet him before that! Are you free for dinner this week?"

"Maybe if we're still together after the holidays. The party is a lot of pressure," Emma hedges, snatching the thread of a way out and following it. "I'm still figuring it out. And he works nights, so he might not be able to get off work."

You are such a terrible liar.

"Is he a cop?" David asks curiously. Oddly enough, he doesn't seem bothered by the idea, despite having told all of the guys in his unit to leave her alone the few times she's stopped by the district.

"What makes you–"

"All you do is work, and I know you're not dating one of your skips. That plus working nights, it isn't hard to put together." David shrugs, grinning at her while ripping apart a roll and slathering butter over it. "It's Killian Jones, isn't it? You complain about him all the time. I knew it!"

"This isn't the second grade." Emma's scowl deepens and she lifts her wine again, her cheeks on fire. "It's not him," she insists, but between the flimsy boyfriend lie and her fierce blush, even she knows David isn't going to believe her.

"It's all right. You don't have to hide it. We just want you to be happy." Mary Margaret's smile radiates happiness, just like the rest of her, and Emma tips her glass back, closing her eyes. Is it really so bad to let them think she's dating the guy? He's not in David's district, and they can just break up the night of the party – when it's far too late for Mary Margaret to find someone to set her up with.

Luckily, their dinners arrive before Emma can be asked any more questions, and when she changes the subject, they go along with it.

It isn't until later, when they all go to leave and they're standing outside on the sidewalk saying their goodbyes in the frigid Boston night, that Emma realizes just how screwed she is.

"So we'll see you at the party next weekend? With Killian?" Mary Margaret beams at Emma, wrapping her arm around her husband's waist and snuggling in close. "It's just a holiday party, Emma. David can invite him if you'd rather the invitation come from us directly. Would that be less pressure?"

"He works in a different district," she replies, hoping her smile isn't too brittle and her protest isn't as shrill to them as it is to her own ears.

"Yeah, but his old partner Robin is in mine," David explains. "He stops by once a week or so. Seems like a nice guy. I'm happy to ask if–"

"No," Emma cuts in sharply, mentally kicking herself. If she'd known that David actually interacted with Killian, she'd never have let them believe she was dating the guy. Now she's actually going to have to go find him and somehow get him to play along with her idiotic scheme.

Fuck fuck fuck.

"No," she repeats, taking a deep, calming breath. "I'll talk to him myself. No need to go all big brother."

"I wasn't going to," he protests, but when Emma raises an eyebrow, he shrugs. "I mean, maybe just a little."

"Leave Emma's boyfriend alone," Mary Margaret chides, smiling at Emma once more before tugging on her husband's arm as Emma fights the urge to cringe at the word boyfriend. "I'm so happy you met someone! I can't wait to meet him."

"Me too," she mumbles, shoving her hands into her coat pockets.

Fuck fuck fuck.

-x-

Emma means to swing by the district, she does, but all of a sudden it's Thursday. She's hauling a skip through the doors in a bright red minidress and sky-high heels – it's a trick that works far too easily – when she spots Killian and remembers that she's lied to her brother and his wife.

"Swan!"

She can't help her groan, dreading the conversation that's about to take place on so many levels as he approaches, all tight jean swagger with that damn leather jacket of his. The combination of the clothes and the scruff along his jaw only makes his grin all that more devastating, and if Emma didn't have a criminal to deposit, she would turn around and walk right back out the door.

Why don't detectives have to wear the uniform?

"Jones." She tugs on the skip's handcuffs, easily slipping into their usual routine and offering a smug smirk to match his goading grin. "Brought you a guest."

"Always room for one more, though I do believe we're out of the five-star rooms. One star will have to do for you, mate." Killian raises a brow at the guy in his cheap suit and bad dye job, a blotch of red wine obvious in the middle of his shirt. "And what did this one do to warrant wearing your drink, love?"

"Who says it's mine?" She matches his raised brow with one of own, casting a sidelong glance at her skip without bothering to hide her satisfaction. The guy had it coming to him, really.

"Bitch threw it at me! Dress like that is an invitation to–"

"Wouldn't finish that thought, mate." Killian's smirk slides into a dangerous smile, his eyes narrowing as he takes hold of the man's elbow. Turning his attention back to Emma, he sighs. "Which one of our missing guests is this?"

"Victor here is your doctor who likes to grope his patients," she explains, adopting a sickeningly sweet tone. "You know, the one with the really high bail? I should thank you, Victor. You just paid this month's rent."

"You stupid little–"

Killian drags him off, none too carefully. "Be right back, love," he calls cheerfully over his shoulder as Victor loses his balance into a cement wall. "Just going to see this one to reception!"

Emma laughs despite herself, shaking her head and rubbing her hands over her bare arms. She'll have to go back and get her coat from the restaurant – and pay her tab – but they know her. It isn't the first time she's lured one of these scumbags out with a seductive promise of dinner and a night of fun, and it won't be the last. If only men weren't so predictable, but hey, it pays the rent.

Killian returns a minute later, handing her a Boston PD hoodie. "Lose your coat again?"

"He was a runner. Or tried to be," she amends, gratefully taking the sweatshirt and hastily slipping into it. "Why is it so cold in here?"

"Budget cuts or some such nonsense." Killian shrugs, leaning back against his desk. It's almost too fast to notice, but Emma is watching him, and she doesn't miss the way his glance strays to her bare legs. Usually it would irritate her, but tonight she takes it as a sign of hope her ridiculous plan might actually work. "I can offer you a terrible cup of coffee. Tastes like burnt rubbish, but it's hot."

"I think I'll pass." She plans on skipping right over coffee and going straight to the six pack in her fridge. "Cuffs?" Emma holds out her hand expectantly, arching her brow. Handcuffs – the ones made for actually containing criminals – are a pain in the ass to replace.

"I do enjoy a woman in charge." Killian pulls them out of his pocket, letting the metal dangle off his thumb. "I might even let you use them on me, if you ask nicely."

Emma opens her mouth to rattle off a series of never gonna happen insults like she usually would, but she hesitates with her fingers halfway to the cuffs. Snatching them the way she wants to and telling him to enjoy fucking himself isn't going to get her out of her lies. "Actually, I–"

"Bloody hell, Swan, it was a joke." His demeanor changes instantly, and he straightens from his slouch before holding the cuffs out on the flat of his hand. "Never intended to upset you," he adds, and Emma silently curses her face for giving away her thoughts.

"I'm not upset."

"Aye, well, might have fooled me," he replies as she takes the cuffs, slipping them into hoodie her pocket with a soft chink of metal and nervously shifting her weight.

"I, uh, actually have...a favor to ask. You. A favor to ask you, I mean." Emma swallows her groan, glancing around nervously. The last thing she needs is for this to get back to David. "What time are you done tonight?"

"Two hours ago," he answers with a wry laugh, shrugging in response to her look. "One workaholic to another, aye?"

"I guess you got me there." Emma takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out, stalling. "You, um...you mind giving me a ride home? We can talk on the way."

She waits for the innuendo, the smirk, the wink and the comment about her asking him home, but he just holds her gaze for a beat too long, something too much like concern in his expression.

"Of course. It's bloody freezing tonight. Need to stop for your coat, I take it?"

"If you don't mind."

"Not at all, love. Car's out back." His fingers brush the small of her back as they start walking, and she wonders for a moment just what it would be like if he were to settle his palm there.

To distract herself, she nudges him as they pass a small Christmas tree in one corner cheerfully festooned with crime scene tape in the place of garland, the lights haphazardly strung. "Your handiwork?"

Killian glances back over his shoulder, amusement dancing in eyes. "Not quite. Scarlet is responsible for that bit of merriment."

"They let him back from leave?"

Will Scarlet is Killian's sometimes partner – who has totaled not one, not two, but four police cruisers in the last two years. After the latest incident, in which he swore his excessive speed was completely necessary, Scarlet had been placed on leave pending an investigation by internal affairs.

Killian only shrugs, eyeing the tree one last time before pushing open the door to the back alley. "He's on desk duty. It does things to a man." He shoves his hands in his pockets as they step into the chilly alley, and Emma forces any thought of him touching her to the far corners of her mind.

Even though Killian blasts the heat and flips on the seat heaters, the leather seat is cold on the back of her thighs and Emma can't help a shiver. She laughs sheepishly when she catches Killian watching her, shrugging. "He ran. I didn't have time to grab my coat."

"You ever think about going after these wankers in jeans and sneakers, love?"

That earns him a scoff and an eyeroll. "Please. Most of the time a dress like this does my job for me."

"It's a lovely dress."

"Uh huh. Drive. Usual place."

He chuckles, but he puts the car in gear and pulls out into traffic, easily navigating his way through the city and humming along with the radio. Emma watches the street lights play across his skin, burrowed into the sweatshirt and slowly relaxing as the car grows warm. It's impossible to know how he's going to react to her request, but as much as he can be a pain in the ass, she thinks he's a decent guy. Far too decent for her, if she's being honest.

A sudden flare of panic floods through her, and she takes an anxious glance at his left hand. It didn't even occur to her that he might have a girlfriend already, or god forbid, a wife that she doesn't know about. Wouldn't that just be her luck that a man who flirts shamelessly with her is already married?

"So what's the favor?" Killian asks after they've stopped at the restaurant for Emma's things. He glances over at her, waiting, she assumes, for her to click her seatbelt in place, but he doesn't move even after that's done. "Need help with a case?"

It makes sense he would think that – there've been a few tough ones over the last year or two when Emma has broken down and asked for his help. She's comfortable skirting the law to find her marks, but when her usual methods don't get her anywhere, she's been known to ask a favor or two – just like she's been known to find people now and again that the official channels can't. Killian Jones irritates the hell out of her, but he's a good cop, and obnoxious innuendos aside, she's never really minded working with him.

But this favor goes well beyond work.

"Not exactly," she hedges, turning to stare out the window.

"You in some kind of trouble, love?" he asks when she doesn't continue, and she almost calls the whole thing off right then and there. There's too much in his voice – too much concern, too much sentiment, too damn much.

But then she thinks about having to admit she made the whole thing up to keep David from asking Killian or his ex-partner about her, and that's worse.

"My brother and his wife have this Christmas party every year, and Mary Margaret is great, but she keeps trying to set me up with people. It's kind of ridiculous actually, because she means well, but I don't know where she finds these guys. And, I, uh, I might have told her I have a boyfriend?" Emma doesn't turn to look at him, her eyes resolutely on the sidewalk, the play of the neon lights on the puddles in the street.

She can hear the rustle of his clothes as he shifts in his seat, the whisper of leather on leather, but she's still surprised when his fingers tentatively touch her shoulder. He doesn't say anything, but his face is a myriad of questions, confusion marring the deep blue sea of his thoughts.

"My brother thought...thinks...it's you. The, um, boyfriend."

"You told your brother we're together?" Killian finally asks, his brows arched almost comically in surprise, but he doesn't take his hand off her shoulder.

"Not quite told. More like he guessed it was you and I panicked?" Emma laughs nervously, crossing her arms tightly over her chest and resisting the urge to get out of his car and never look back. "So...uh...the favor? Can you just...go with that? If you see him, I mean. My brother. We can break up the night of their party so you won't have to go."

"If I don't go, won't that just leave you open for more matchmaking?" He hesitates, but then his usual teasing grin appears. "I tell you what, Swan. I'll go with you to the party. That will keep your sister in law off your case for a bit, aye?"

"You really don't have to–"

"It would be my pleasure." His voice is so soft Emma is afraid he might actually mean that, but then his smirk is back, and his expression is too innocent. "Shall we do a bit of practicing at being a couple this evening? Your place or mine?"

"Seriously?" She rolls her eyes, ignoring the thrum of interest low in her belly. "You driving me home or am I walking?"

"What sort of boyfriend would I be, making you walk home in that dress with how cold it is?"

"Killian, I swear to god, if you don't start driving, I'm going to–"

"Now, now, love. No death threats. I know how you enjoy them and all, but you need me alive if I'm to attend this party." He has the nerve to pat her leg, and his laughter as she swats at him fills the car. It's a good distraction from the rush of heat flooding through her at the touch of his warm, calloused palm on her bare thigh. "Oh, come now. Just having a bit of fun, Swan."

"Drive."

-x-

I didn't give you my number so you could harass me all night.

Emma hits send with a scowl at the screen for good measure, noting it's after midnight before she tosses her phone onto the counter, pushing her hair back from her face. It's been a long day and an even longer night of surveillance, and all she wants to do is sit on her couch in her underwear with the Chinese food she picked up on her way home.

A boyfriend should know things. Merely want to do a good job so you don't go threatening me with murder again. You're far too pretty for jail.

She winces, but the opportunity to one up him is too good to pass up.

That's where you're wrong. Already been to jail.

The phone rings a minute later, and Emma groans, hitting speakerphone. "What?" she asks wearily, leaning over the counter and stretching her back.

"When the bloody hell were you in jail?"

"Juvie." Straightening, she leans her neck to one side, eying the curiously quiet phone. "I was a dumb kid. Took the fall for a boyfriend."

"And he let you?"

She scoffs, lowering herself into a backbend. If Killian is going to insist on a conversation, she's going to use the time to stretch her sore muscles. "Since I'm the one who spent six months in a cell, I'd say so."

"What happened?"

Emma shrugs as she straightens, only belatedly realizing he can't see her. "He stole some watches and sent me to pick them up. When I got busted, he took off. Haven't seen or heard from him since."

"That bloody bastard." Killian's voice is so low it's practically a growl, and Emma pauses in her stretches, surprised by the quiet fury in his words.

"It was a long time ago," she says after a pause, lacing her fingers together behind her back and bending forward. "Anyway, it's late. What do you want?" It comes out harsher than she intends, but not knowing how to take it back, Emma stares at her stained kitchen floor, tracing the cracks in the linoleum as she waits for his reply.

"I saw your brother today."

"And?"

There's a pause, the sound of rustling clothes, and Emma can just see him fidgeting. "If we're going to pull this off, Swan, I may need to know a bit more about you than your preferred method of trapping degenerates and how you like your coffee."

"You know how I like my coffee?" she asks skeptically, pushing further into the stretch.

"Sweet enough to crack your teeth in two and enough cream it barely resembles coffee, aye."

Emma straightens suddenly, staring at the phone as though Killian is going to climb through the screen and bite her – but the phone remains innocently on the counter, his nervous laugh floating up out of the speakers.

"I notice things, love. Part of the job."

"Right. The job." She shakes her head, cursing herself silently. Of course he remembers small details – she does too. "I like flavor. Flavor other than black and bitter," she adds, before he can counter her point, because Killian isn't the only one with an eye for details.

"Insulting a man's coffee is poor form, love."

"You started it." Emma huffs, glaring at the screen for good measure. "Listen, my dinner is getting cold. You working tonight?"

"Just wrapping up a few things."

"Meet me for coffee in an hour? We can...talk," she settles on, kissing her Netflix binge goodbye.

"You know Granny's diner?"

"Yeah. Granny is a friend of mine's grandmother, actually. Small world."

"Aye," he says softly, but before Emma has time to question the soft cadence of the single word, he clears his throat roughly. "I'll see you then, Swan."

"Sounds good." She barely manages to stab her finger against the screen to end the call before groaning loudly, throwing her hands up in defeat. "What the fuck are you doing?" she mutters to the empty apartment, wearily glancing down at her dirty jeans and grease-stained t-shirt.

The dark has no answer.

-x-

By the time Emma walks into the diner, her teeth are chattering from the cold despite her heavy coat, scarf, hat, and gloves. That's what you get going out with wet hair in the middle of winter, she scolds herself, flinging open the door and hurrying into the warm, bright space. The smell of bacon grease barrels into her, and for a moment, she almost forgets how ridiculous she feels coming here to meet Killian in the middle of the night.

"Evening, Swan."

She turns at the sound of his voice, spotting him in a booth toward the back along the wall. "Hey," she says as she walks up, dropping into her seat and glancing at the mugs on the table in surprise. "Did you order that for me?"

"Aye. It's hot chocolate. Your brother may have mentioned you enjoy it." Killian smiles as he says it, but she notices the way he scratches nervously behind one ear, a subtle flush coloring his cheeks – and making his eyes bluer than ever. "Is that all right?"

"Yeah, that's great. Thanks." Emma flashes what she hopes is a genuine smile, yanking off her gloves to wrap her fingers around the warm mug. "It's really cold out."

"Supposed to snow this weekend."

"Great. Let me add walking back from the party in the snow to the list of reasons I don't want to go."

"Is it really as bad as all that?"

"Worse." Emma takes a sip of her drink, her gaze straying to the window. "So, um, what do you want to know?"

He shrugs, tapping his thumb against his mug. The metal band of his ring clinks against it, keeping rhythm. "What would you like to tell me? What do you usually tell the guys you date?"

"My name, if they're lucky." Emma squeezes her eyes shut as the words slip out, her response a little too honest as her cheeks heat up. "Sorry. I, uh...I don't date much," she admits, opening her eyes to stare out the window. She definitely doesn't want to look at him after all but admitting her dates are little more than casual sex.

To her surprise, he laughs – not in mockery, but with a self-deprecating agreement. "Aye, me neither," he admits, and when she works up the nerve to look at him again, he scrubs his palm over his face wearily. "My brother and your sister in law would have a wonderful time discussing our lack of attachment, I assure you."

"You have a brother?"

"Aye. Older." He leans back in the booth, dragging his finger through the whipped cream slowly melting into his own hot chocolate. "Liam got married last year and he seems to think it makes him the expert on relationships."

"Funny, I know the feeling."

And just like that, they fall into conversation. Emma finds herself telling him things she never really meant for Killian Jones to know – how she was adopted by David's mom when she was ten, about the foster homes before that, about growing up with David and Ruby. She tells him about the time she fell out of a tree and broke her arm, and David carried her all the way back to the house; she tells him about the time Ruby convinced her to raid David's beer stash and they somehow, someway, managed to drunkenly convince him not to rat them out.

How she almost lost them all by getting involved with Neal and how grateful she was for them by the end of her sentence – how lucky she was to have a home to go back to after everything.

Killian tells her things, too. How his mom split when he was too young to remember her, how his father might as well have left, how his brother practically raised him – how he ended up a cop because after one too many nights coming home so pissed he could barely stand, Liam gave him a choice of the police academy or the military.

And by the end, she feels she's said too much – she's too exposed, too vulnerable, and by how quiet Killian is, she has to wonder if he feels the same. If he's regretting agreeing to this, regretting allowing her to see him for who he really is behind the detective who likes to give her a ration of shit when she hauls in skips.

So she fakes a yawn, finalizes the details for the party, and thanks him for the hot chocolate. It's a surprise when he walks her out, when he folds her in his arms on the sidewalk and kisses her cheek. "Practice," he murmurs in her ear, his breath hot on her skin, and he shoots her a devious grin when they separate. Just like that, he's back to the Killian she's used to, the Killian she knows how to manage. "As your boyfriend, I'd fully support that red dress as Saturday's attire, love. In case you were wondering."

"You wish," she shoots back with a roll of her eyes, giving him a light shove and absolutely not thinking about the feel of his body against hers, the warmth of him pressed close or the scent of his skin. "Goodnight, Killian."

"Goodnight, Emma."

The words follow her down the sidewalk, a caress that plays over her skin the entire walk home. When she catches sight of herself in the mirror as she hangs up her coat, her cheeks are flushed – and it has nothing to do with the cold.

-x-

"Next time you're out to snare one of your skips, that dress will do the trick nicely," Killian says when Emma opens her door to his knock. His eyes skim over her body, the cream sweater dress clinging to every inch of her.

"Thanks." She rolls her eyes at his once over, opening the door wide to let him pass – and using the opportunity to give him a once over of her own. She's never seen him out of worn jeans and leather jackets, and as much as she's always appreciated his rough and tumble look, there's something about him all cleaned up that makes her mouth water. "I think I'll stick with dark colors for that. Easier to hide stains. What's with the flower?" Emma frowns at the rose he's holding like a ticking time bomb, baffled by the color in his cheeks.

"It's a date, love." He cocks his head at her as though she might be a little slow, grinning like an idiot.

"Yeah, a fake one." She sighs, gingerly accepting the bloom with a frown. "It's going in an empty beer bottle. Not like I have a vase."

Kilian shrugs, trailing her into the kitchen and watching as she rinses out the promised beer bottle and drops the rose in. "Suits you."

"Seriously?"

"I merely meant that you're resourceful, Emma." His brows knitting together, he leans back against the kitchen counter, studying her. "I realize you're a bit wound up about all this, but do try to relax. It will be fine. We'll go, we'll have a few drinks, make polite conversation, and if you want to leave after an hour or so, I'll make our excuses. Who knows? You might even enjoy yourself."

It's impossible to miss the reproach in his voice, mild as it is, and Emma forces herself to take a slow, deep breath and lower her shoulders. "Sorry," she mumbles, her back still to Killian. "I owe you one for this, I get it."

"You don't owe me anything. An evening out with a beautiful woman isn't a hardship, I assure you."

And for a moment, she almost believes him – almost thinks he wants to be here. But that can't be right. He's just being nice to her, what with the obvious mess her life is that she needs to ask a man she barely knows to pretend to be her boyfriend to get her sister in law off her case.

"I'm not sleeping with you. It isn't that kind of date," she warns him as she turns around, doing her best to maintain her distance. He's obviously a fan of her dress, but Killian looks pretty good himself even still in his winter coat and a bright blue plaid scarf that sets off the color of his eyes.

A flicker of annoyance momentarily narrows his eyes, but he runs a hand through his delightfully disheveled hair and then shoves both hands in his pockets. "I'm quite clear on what this is and isn't, Emma," he says quietly, lifting his gaze from the floor to stare at her with such searing intensity she nearly takes a step back. "Let's try to have a nice evening, all right?"

She nods, swallowing hard against her own embarrassment. She's treating him like he's no better than her lowlife bail jumpers, and as irritating as Killian Jones can be when he's swaggering around the district, he's a decent guy. If he wasn't, she never would have asked him to do this – never would have trusted him to pull it off.

"I'm just going to grab my shoes and coat," she says awkwardly, fussing with the hem of her dress. With a weak smile, she rushes out of the kitchen and into the safety of her bedroom, sitting down on the edge of her bed to quickly pull on the knee-high suede boots she left on her bed.

"You can do this," she mutters to herself, zipping one boot, then the other and pausing to check her appearance in the mirror hanging off her closet door. She doesn't let herself consider the effort she put into tonight's outfit – the softly curled hair, the deep red lipstick, the carefully applied coats of mascara – and she definitely doesn't savor the heated look Killian gave her when he first saw her.

-x-

"Relax, Swan." Killian's hand settles on the small of her back as the elevator rises through David's apartment building, his breath warm on her cheek as he bends to speak quietly in her ear. "It'll all sort itself out."

"This was a terrible idea. I'll just tell them I got food poisoning." She fidgets, tugging on the hem of her dress and trying to ignore the heat of his hand on her back.

His laugh washes over her, and he steps a little closer. "Try a little bit of trust, darling."

"I trust you," she grumbles, twisting her neck to meet his eyes. It's only when their lips are barely an inch apart that she realizes the position she's put them in, and as her eyes drop to his mouth and he sways closer with the movement of the elevator, Emma realizes just how screwed she is.

Thankfully, the elevator doors open, and she steps out quickly on shaky legs, hoping Killian doesn't notice the slight wobble in her step. All she wants is to get inside her brother's apartment, find a drink, and convince Mary Margaret there is no need to set her up with another blind date.

It helps that Killian's bravado is as thin as hers – she feels him tense against her as she opens her brother's door, hears the deep breath he takes right before his palm settles firmly on the small of her back once more.

"Emma!" Mary Margaret spots her the moment they enter, beaming happily. Emma does her best not to appear nervous as the brunette approaches, and oddly enough, having Killian at her side actually helps. He slides his hand along the back of her jacket, his fingers settling on her waist with a slight squeeze, and she sneaks him a smile of thanks.

"You must be Killian."

Mary Margaret's voice is bright and bubbly, and for a second, Emma feels bad for tricking her. The woman seems genuinely happy for Emma, and as they make their way through introductions and David joins them, it's clear that her brother is also pleased.

But as Killian helps her take off her coat, his fingers brushing her shoulders and the back of her neck with a deliberate linger, Emma's temper flares. What's so wrong with being single? Why are they so determined to try to fix her? She's doing just fine, even if she doesn't have a happy shiny relationship to parade around at the holidays. She's made a life for herself, with a good job and her own place, and she came from nothing. Doesn't that all count for something?

"You okay?" Killian asks softly when he returns with a drink for each of them, looping his free arm easily around her like he's done it a thousand times. Without his coat, the heat of him bleeds through his shirt, and a reckless part of her wants to ask him to join her behind a locked door for a few minutes of distraction. His tailored wool coat was one thing, but the snug vest over a button up with rolled-up sleeves makes her want to run her hands – and tongue – over every inch of him.

But after tonight, Killian will still be a cop, and she'll still be chasing down skips. Since she'll have to see him again, he is firmly off limits for a bathroom quickie – no matter how delicious he smells or how attractive she finds him in this moment.

"I'm fine." Emma manages to answer his question through gritted teeth, her jaw so tight it might snap. It's a relief to tip her glass back and take a deep swallow of the spiked cider, nutmeg and cinnamon exploding on her tongue in a rush of sticky sweetness.

"Might want to pace yourself."

Emma scowls up at him, lowering her cup. "Seriously? I'm fine."

He doesn't look like he believes her, but he also doesn't argue. And maybe she's lying the first time she says it, but a few glasses of cider later, it's true.

It's good to see some of the friends that she doesn't always get to see with her unpredictable schedule, and oddly enough, it's good having Killian at her side. She has to remind herself several times that it's not real, that he's only doing this as a favor, but she's enjoying herself far more than she imagined she would.

Once out from under Mary Margaret and David's scrutiny, it's easier to appreciate the ease with which Killian fits at her side. He's attentive without being smothering, and despite knowing he only has to get through the one night, he makes an effort to talk to her friends and engage in conversation. And though he finds ways to touch her – a hand on her shoulder, his fingers sliding along her waist, an arm slung easily around her shoulders – he doesn't keep a constant hold on her in the way she finds so irritating in other men.

It's late when she finds him deep in conversation with her brother, her quick trip to the bathroom twenty minutes ago derailed by Ruby and Mary Margaret with assurances that Killian and David would be fine on their own. Emma is surprised when she realizes most of the guests have left, and for the first time in several years, she hasn't wanted to leave the party since they arrived.

"Tired, love?" Killian asks when she perches on the arm of the couch next to him, his fingers slipping into hers with a squeeze.

"Mmm," she mumbles, momentarily distracted by his lips brushing against the back of her hand. In that instant, she forgets it's not real, forgets her brother is sitting right there, forgets other people are in the apartment and she just watches, transfixed, as Killian raises his eyes to hers. There's something in his expression, and maybe it's softened by the liquor he's had and nothing more, but in that instant, she could swear it's something else – something gentle and tender and unlike the way anyone has ever looked at her before.

"Shall we go, then?"

Killian's question breaks her out of her thoughts, but it's David's eye she catches when she looks up. His smile is encouraging, and guilt flares up all over again when she realizes the two men have been getting along so well. David isn't as exuberant about his excitement as his wife, but it's clear he's not only happy for Emma, but also seems to genuinely like Killian.

"Do you mind?"

"Of course not. I'll just fetch our coats." Killian brushes a kiss against her hair as he passes, and though he's barely touched her, Emma feels it in every inch of her skin.

"You're good together." David grins as he gets to his feet, his posture easy and relaxed as he rocks back on his heels. "And I can't remember the last time I saw you blush like that."

"I'm not…" The protest dies halfway out of her mouth, the heat of her cheeks rendering her argument pointless. Instead she shrugs helplessly, too flustered to come up with a decent enough lie to explain her flush that isn't about how much she suddenly wants the night to end in her pretend date's bed.

"Go home, Emma. I'm happy for you." He steps forward, wrapping his arms around her in a quick hug. "And if he gets out of line, I know where to find him. And I have friends."

She rolls her eyes as she steps back. "Please. I don't need the cave man old brother speech," she tells him while Killian is still out of earshot. "I can handle myself."

Killian's return stops David from replying, and then there's a flurry of goodbyes. Killian is gracious, thanking both her brother and his wife for inviting him into their home – and very believable in the role of doting boyfriend as he helps Emma into her coat and folds her into his side.

Except once they're out of the apartment, Killian doesn't let go.

Snow flurries drift on the faint breeze as they begin the short walk back to Emma's apartment, their breath misting in the air around them as Emma pulls her scarf tighter. She should untangle herself from him, remind herself that this isn't real, but he's warm, and so she snuggles a little closer into his side.

"You never did explain why your brother assumed it was me," Killian says quietly after the first block, the sound of their steps on the concrete sidewalk nearly drowning out his voice.

"Assumed what was you?" Emma asks, but her heart starts pounding immediately – she already knows what he's asking, and she should be prepared for this question, but she's not.

"When you asked me to go with you to the party, you said Dave assumed we were...dating."

"Oh. That." She laughs nervously, straightening as his arm falls from around her waist. "Um, I'm not really sure. I guess I complain about you a lot?"

"I see."

He sounds hurt, and by the end of the next block, there's a foot of cold air between them as Killian drifts away from her the longer they walk. Her apartment is only another block, but the silence between them grows thick as Emma struggles to come up with a way to explain herself.

"I...I didn't really mean complain," she tries as they walk up to the apartment complex. "You just...you get under my skin."

"I apologize if I've caused offense. It wasn't my intention," he replies, but the words are formal. The ease that's existed between them all night vanishes in a moment, and Killian suddenly seems like a stranger.

"You haven't." Emma smiles hesitantly, stopping and turning toward him. "I...thank you, for tonight. You were great. This was...nice."

"My pleasure." His smile is tentative, but he's still keeping his distance, and Emma hates it.

Fuck it.

"Do you...want to come in?" she asks after a slight hesitation, fishing her keys out of her pocket. "I'm sure there are some terrible Christmas movies on." Oddly enough, it's not just a premise to get him into her bed. In the seconds it takes for him to answer, Emma conjures up an image of them snug on her couch, legs tangled together, and wonders if Killian would hum along to You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch the same way he hummed along with the radio in his car.

"Best not."

"Oh." Emma swallows hard, biting back bitter disappointment as the sting of rejection slices through her. "Okay. Well, goodnight, I guess."

"Goodnight, Emma," he says softly, and she swears there's regret in his voice. His fingers brush against her cheek, and then to her utter amazement, he presses a kiss against her hair before turning and walking away.

What the hell just happened?

-x-

Thank you for a lovely evening.

Emma blinks blearily at the text as she lays in bed the morning after the party, her fingers hovering over the keyboard. She wants to reply, wants to say something, but nothing seems adequate. In the end, she goes with thanks for agreeing to it and leaves it at that.

Killian's reply is instant, and somehow staring at his simple response – it was my pleasure – ties her stomach in knots. Once again she finds herself wondering if he might actually mean that, if the way his lips lingered on her skin that night was more than a show, but then she also remembers him turning her down when she invited him in.

So Emma puts her phone down and decides that's the end of that.

Until three days later, when it's Christmas Eve and she successfully lures another skip out with a lame story about not spending the holiday alone – and finds Killian at the district.

"Merry Christmas, Emma," he calls across the room when he sees her walk in, and his usual bravado is firmly in place. "Bring me a present, did you?"

"Not my best wrapping job, but I sure did," she plays along, jerking her head at the bleeding man standing in surly silence at her side. It isn't her fault the idiot tried to run and they both bit it on the icy sidewalk. His face may be bleeding, but she's missing a chunk of skin on her bare knee, so he doesn't get to be that upset.

And her dress is ripped, and this dress is one of her favorites.

Killian's expression flickers when he reaches them, his quick scan taking in her knee and disheveled state, but then he turns his attention to the skip. "Let's go, mate," he says firmly, gesturing toward the holding cells in the back. "Afraid Santa won't be visiting you this evening."

The man makes a low noise of disgust, but moves, and Killian glances back over his shoulder at Emma. Their eyes lock, and he doesn't say anything, but she nods, a promise to wait for him to return. She doesn't want to – his look is a promise he'll be back with more than the returned handcuffs – but her legs won't cooperate to walk back out.

Instead, she goes over to his desk and slumps into his chair, her body beginning to ache as the adrenaline of the chase wears off. Slamming into icy concrete hurts, and as she gingerly twists her leg to get a better look at her skin, Killian reappears with a handful of bandages. "You all right?" he asks, his voice quiet and his bravado gone as he sets the first aid supplies down on his desk.

"It's just a scrape," she insists, already getting to her feet. The thought of Killian fixing her up, touching her, is too much to handle. They need to talk about it at some point, how they're going to arrange their breakup for her family and friends, but it's Christmas Eve, and Emma just wants to go home and put on her pajamas after a hot bath. So she holds out her hand, expecting him to drop her cuffs into it and be on her way.

Instead, he frowns, his brows knitting together. He stares at her long enough that the silence between them becomes charged, but then he makes up his mind and puts a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Sit," he says gruffly, giving her a light push as he takes his chair back.

Emma hesitates, but when he sighs, scrubbing his palm over his face, she sits on the edge of his desk, far too conscious of her short skirt as she awkwardly tries to tug the hem down. But Killian doesn't say anything, simply reaching for the first aid supplies and muttering a quick apology before beginning to clean out the wound.

She hisses at the sting of antiseptic, and he pauses, their eyes meeting again. There shouldn't be anything intimate about it, sitting in the middle of the district office as they are, but it's Christmas Eve and there's barely anyone around. Someone strung up a few strands of lights, and the usually dark space glows cheerfully in the wash of red and green.

And Emma's foot is on his knee, his warm hands on her bare skin, and all she can think about is him kissing her hair right before he walked away from her.

"I ran into Dave today," he says as he's taping the gauze square into place, but this time he doesn't look up, his voice carefully neutral. "He asked if I was coming to Christmas dinner tomorrow."

"What did you say?" Emma asks, her heart beginning to pound as she tenses. He must feel it, his hands still on her leg, but Killian merely rips off another piece of medical tape to secure the other side of the bandage.

"That I already promised I would have dinner with my brother, but you had invited me for dessert." He still doesn't look up, giving the tape his full attention as he smooths the last piece into place and sets the roll down. But even though she can't see his face, his voice is low, and there are too many emotions to sort out in his words. "I wasn't sure what you'd told him, but that seemed safe enough."

"I've been avoiding him since the party," she admits, and when Killian finally looks up, she impulsively reaches for his hand and squeezes. "Thank you again for doing that. You were...you were right. I had a good time."

He glances down at their hands, his eyes darting back to hers before he slowly twists his wrist until his palm is open to her. There's something inherently vulnerable about it, his fingers relaxed under hers, just waiting for her to take what he's offering, and it's just holding his hand – only it's not, because he wears the same open longing all over his face when he quietly asks, "Would you like me to come to your brother's tomorrow?" Emma's breath catches as she slips her fingers between his and his thumb automatically strokes the back of her hand. "Keep the charade going a bit longer?"

And just like that, the illusion is broken. "Right. The charade," she mutters under her breath bitterly, snatching her hand away. "I can make up an excuse, don't worry about it." Emma starts to slide off his desk, but then he's on his feet and his hands are at her waist, keeping her pinned between him and the desk, his expression suddenly molten. But when he doesn't say anything, she sighs, her eyes focused on a spot over his shoulder. "You're in my way."

"Emma, look at me." She squeezes her eyes shut, but in the end, his raspy voice is too much for her to ignore and her eyes skitter back over his face before settling on his. "Why did you invite me in after the party?"

"What does it matter? You said no."

"Aye, but I didn't bloody want to."

"That doesn't make any sense." Emma rolls her eyes, leaning back to fold her arms across her chest and put some distance between them. She can't breathe with him so close, the heat of his body bleeding into hers, the scent of his skin overriding the mingled burnt coffee antiseptic scent of the office.

His palms slide along her cheeks, the tips of his fingers in her hair, and Emma shivers. "I said no because I don't want to pretend with you. And I don't want you for one night."

It should be obvious with the way he's touching her, with how close he's standing, with the way he's looking at her, but Emma is still afraid she's wrong, afraid she's imagining things. "What do you want then?" she asks, hoping her voice doesn't sound as shaky to him as it does in her own head.

"Don't you know, Emma?" He leans closer, his lips an inch from hers. "You," he whispers just before kissing her, one arm circling around her to pull her into him, the other hand cradling the back of her neck.

It doesn't last long, but Emma is still breathless when he pulls back, her hands fisted in his shirt. She stares up at him in wonder, searching his expression for the truth in his words – a truth that slowly becomes unmistakable as his fingers brush her hair back, and all the memories not only of the night of the party but how eager he's always been to help her come flooding back. Emma isn't good with emotional declarations, but she hopes that as she rises onto her toes and loops her arms around his neck, he understands it's her way of saying she wants him, too.

"Do you want to come watch Christmas movies with me?" she asks as the second kiss breaks, his arms still snug around her and her palms resting on his chest. With a smile, she reaches one hand up, gently dragging her nails through his hair. "And maybe come save me from my family tomorrow?"

He grins, stealing another lingering kiss. "Let me fetch my coat."

Killiam hums along to You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch – and when the song winds around to you have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile he whispers the words in her ear with such absurdity that she can't help but burst into giggles.

"You'd rather have a seasick crocodile?" she asks as the song continues to play, playfully pushing against Killian's chest even as he pulls her closer, one hand roaming beneath her shirt.

"Perhaps." His grin widens as she shifts, settling in his lap with her knees on either side of his hips. "Care to make a case for yourself, Swan?" Running both hands up her thighs, he toys with the hem of her shirt, his brow raised with a teasing glint in his eyes.

"I don't know. If there's a contest between me and a crocodile…"

And she's teasing, but there must be something in her voice or a flicker in her eyes, because his smile softens, and he tangles his fingers in her hair. "There is no contest, love. It's always you."

There's no more talk of crocodiles or grinches or much else that night, but when Killian arrives at David's promptly at five for dessert already tasting of peppermint and chocolate, Emma can't help but grin. "Picking me over the crocodile again?" she asks as he lets her go from their kiss, shrugging off his jacket.

"I don't know, Swan. Are you cuddly as a cactus this evening?" He waggles his eyebrows at her, and their laughter draws David and Mary Margaret out of the kitchen. A round of Merry Christmas is exchanged, and despite the raised brows from her family, Emma very happily spends the rest of the evening trading insults from the song with Killian.

And when David's Christmas party rolls around a year later, Emma steps out of their bedroom in the red dress Killian has always loved, a Santa hat pinned into her curls at a jaunty angle. "What do you think?" she asks, stretching one arm above her head and resting her hip on the doorframe with a seductive smile. "Still think I'm better than the crocodile?"

Killian's resounding yes makes them late for the party.