Written as part of the 2017 Captain Swan Big Bang Challenge over on tumblr. You can catch up with all the other fics that are complete by following the blog there and/or subscribing to the C2 here.
This is complete in 16 parts and will be posted every Thursday from now until its completion.
And yes, there is a happy ending after all this... just so you know.
Head over to my tumblr (icecubelotr44) to see all the amazing artwork that was done for this fic by optomisticgirl and ab-normality! There are imagesets for every chapter and a video and a gifset that will be posted there!
"Keep up, little brother. We want to get good seats for this lecturer of yours." Killian tried to glare as Liam laughed jovially and reached out to ruffle his hair. His glasses slid down on his nose as the roughhousing got a little too rowdy, but Liam backed off immediately when Killian stumbled.
He wasn't a baby any more; why couldn't Liam understand that? He was thirteen years old, had already taken his GCSE's the year before - three years before any of his peers - and was well on his way to finishing his sixth form courses in record time. He'd be done with his secondary education that spring and could move on to a bachelor's program after he'd taken some local classes to prepare himself for the rigors of his program. Colleges and universities were already hounding their father to admit him early, and, with Liam's guidance and support, Killian planned to accept an enrollment at Oxford contingent on his classwork. Liam was already looking at flats there for the two of them while he attended classes. Oxford University was far enough away from Brennan Jones that Killian could thrive in the educational culture without reproach. Without his father's blatant disapproval and patent neglect.
The book in his hands was written by the speaker they were in Ireland to see. This man was well-versed in quantum mechanics and had ideas that meshed with Killian's own theories and early experiments. He wanted very badly to speak with the man after the lecture, see if he could glean just a little bit more knowledge to help with the blueprints he was drafting. The chapter he was currently devouring as they walked down the street, complete with highlighter in hand and a bit of luck in not tripping over the sidewalk, was the main subject of the lecture.
Killian paused to turn the page, covering a passage completely in scribbled yellow. This idea was something new; something that might get him over the latest obstacle in his calculations. Completely absorbed in the words on the page, he paused in the middle of the walkway, his eyes glued to the information. Unknowingly, Killian sank down to sit hunched over the book on someone's front steps, the cold of the concrete ignored in favor of the knowledge that gripped him.
The numbers for his algorithm bounced around his head wildly; if he could just figure out this stage of the formula, then maybe his father would take him seriously. If he could just work out how to make the bridge connect, then he could convince someone to fund the construction of his machine. Time travel was possible; he knew it was. Now if he could just-
BANG! BANG! BANG!
The noise startled him, but not enough to tear his eyes from the page. He lost his train of thought, angry that the numbers fell silent once again, his equation just out of reach. Coming back to himself, Killian realized that those noises sounded like gunshots.
Probably a car backfiring, Jones, don't be a baby, he rationalized, waiting for Liam to come back around the corner he'd disappeared beyond. His brother was probably going to yell at him for dawdling, for getting lost in his brain again, but Killian couldn't help it. The science of time travel - of quantum mechanics and theoretical physics - was just so interesting.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
The noise came again, making Killian look up sharply. What was that? he thought. That wasn't a car. He didn't have much time to ruminate on it as people began to run towards him from around the corner, yelling about someone shooting and the blood from a man who was shot. Killian stood to his feet abruptly, heart racing as he waited for Liam to get him - to get them to safety.
But Liam didn't come.
The crowd began to thin out and Killian still didn't hear his brother's familiar lilting accent, didn't hear the fear that should be ringing out clearly from his brother's voice because Killian wasn't with him. Didn't hear Liam calling out his name.
Because Liam wasn't coming.
Killian started running, pushing through the remaining people on the street who were grabbing at him, trying to pull him away from the danger around the corner.
He ignored them.
He finally made his way around the building, his heart in his throat and praying to a God he wasn't sure he believed in that Liam had gotten dragged the other direction by the crowd. Praying that he wasn't going to find the scene that was already forming in his head. Begging anyone who would listen that Liam was okay.
Knowing that he wasn't.
There was a cold feeling settling in his gut, tears already stinging his eyes and leaking down his cheeks, breath caught in his chest and making him gasp in precious oxygen as he ran.
His brother's worn leather bomber jacket.
Jeans with a hole under the back pocket that he'd poked fun of Liam for weeks about.
Scuffed, black boots that had spent a lifetime stacked neatly next to Killian's sneakers.
Blood. So much blood covering pale skin and frigid concrete and hands reaching out weakly towards Killian.
Weak coughing as more blood bubbled up and out of Liam's mouth.
Screaming. So much screaming and crying and pleading and was that him making those sounds?
Sharp pain across his knees as he slid across the concrete. Warm wetness on his own jeans as Liam's blood seeped into them. Cold, abject terror settling in even as he cradled his big brother's head in his lap. Droplets of water falling from his face to Liam's own. Gasping and the vise around his chest, tightening ever so slowly around his heart.
Liam's hand reaching up to brush the tears away.
Killian grabbed his brother's hand, locking their fingers and squeezing hard. He brought Liam's hand up to his own cheek, making sure his brother could feel that he was safe.
Liam opened his eyes.
The blue gazes locked together, matching sets of misery and pain and fear.
He had never seen Liam afraid before.
"Are you all right, little brother?" Liam's voice was so strained that it hurt Killian's ears trying to understand him.
He nodded, biting on his lower lip to try and stop the tears so he could reassure his brother. "I think you mean younger brother, Liam." He tried to rely on their normal banter to soothe them both.
"You'll always be my little brother, Killian. Even when you're all grown up and a doctor and flying through time to save the world."
He gripped tighter when Liam's hand loosened on his. "No. No, no, no, Liam. No, you're going to be fine. We just need to get you some help. Get you to hospital. Help! Someone, please! Hel-"
"It's all right, little brother. Killian, it's all right. You're safe." Liam's voice was soft, gentle, and it made the tears Killian was trying to hold back course down his cheeks even faster.
Killian was shaking, clutching Liam as close as he dared. There were other people around them; he didn't know where they came from but as long as they helped, as long as he could stay with Liam, then he didn't care.
"Who was the first electricity detective, Killian?" Liam asked with a grin.
Killian just shook his head.
"Come on, little brother. Who was the first electricity detective?"
"Sherlock Ohms, and it's still not funny, Liam. You're going to be fine, right?" He needed Liam. He needed his big brother. They were going to Oxford - Liam already had a job lined up and waiting.
"Think like a proton, right?" Liam was still joking, but the words were a mere whisper and his eyes kept fluttering closed.
Killian rolled his eyes, wiped a bloody hand across his nose, and responded by rote. "Because they're always positive."
Liam nodded, then closed his eyes.
They didn't open again.
"Liam?" Killian choked out. "Liam, wake up. Please. Open your eyes, Liam. Liam, please."
He hugged his brother tightly to his chest, buried his face in Liam's neck, and sobbed.
Liam's body went limp in his arms, and Killian curled over him until they were both lying on the cold sidewalk. "I'll fix this, Liam. I know how. I'll figure it all out and I'll come back and fix this. I'll save you. I promise. God, I promise I'll save you. Please, Liam, please."
The people became important then - because they were pulling him away from Liam, dragging him back from the emergency personnel taking Liam away from him. He was screaming again, his throat hoarse as he cried and fought, trying to get to his brother. He needed Liam. Liam needed him.
Liam didn't need anyone anymore.
When they got Killian situated in the back of the ambulance, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders and an oxygen mask against his face, he sat numbly. There was a flurry of activity around Liam, but the droning alarm on the machine told him all he didn't want to know.
The doors to the back of the ambulance shut while Killian's eyes were still fixed on where he'd last spoken to his brother.
The book he'd been reading, the one that was so important that he hadn't been at Liam's side when he was shot, was left on the sidewalk, all covered in his big brother's blood.
"Damn it, Jones!" the voice startled him awake. The nightmare was already fading, but Killian didn't need to hold on to the wisps of the dream to remember. He could still smell Liam's blood, hear his brother's voice as it faded out, see the EKG line go flat, feel the cold skin of Liam's fingers wrapped in his hand. Taste the tears that tracked down his cheeks as his brother was wheeled away.
No, he didn't need to remember the dream.
He experienced the memory every day.
Without his glasses on, Killian couldn't read the time on his alarm clock, but there were only three neon numbers and it was still dark outside the dorm window. Too early to be awake, then.
And no wonder his roommate was pissed. He'd woken Scarlet up at least three times in the past week. If he wasn't careful, Will would request a room transfer just like all the others.
Killian sighed and rolled over, muttering some semblance of apologies to Scarlet's snores. He buried his face in his pillow, letting the cotton soak up the tears that had spilled down over his cheeks. It had been five years.
Five years of disappointing his father. Five years of dodging the man's attempts to bring him back to England. Five years of fighting with Brennan Jones on how he was wasting his life - how there was a perfectly good union job waiting for him at home.
Five years of learning what it meant to be an only child.
He'd rather be an orphan with an overly protective brother.
The knot in his throat tightened, choking him as he fought to keep silent. Killian needed to get ahold of himself. His professors were already worried about him. His advisor had started hinting that maybe he should go home for the winter break instead of booking all of the lab hours he could. If he showed up to physics class after a long weekend with bags under his eyes and a quart of coffee, someone was sure to notice.
But the thought of going back to sleep, of falling back into the nightmare… the memory of Liam's death, it kept him too tense to even close his eyes.
Killian groaned and punched his pillow. Better to get a few hours in working the numbers on his equation than to lie in his bed and try not to remember. He rolled out of his bunk, half sprawled over the ladder before his feet caught on one of the rungs. A few steps down and his bare feet hit the cold tile, the shock of it enough to drive out the last vestiges of sleep from his brain.
A few hours down in the common room letting the numbers dance around his head, then he could shower and head to class.
His professor might not notice.
Killian stumbled out of the room, dodging the stoner from down the hall who was weaving back to his room with a girl hanging off him. Killian's nose came up in distaste, unsettling his glasses as he tried not to breathe in too deeply. He didn't understand the appeal.
The scientist inside him wanted to figure out the nuances of college life outside of books and labs. But that would require his thoughts to stray from the numbers. They were already starting to dance - the parts of the equation that he had solidified years ago playing in the corner of his eye. Sometimes it felt like if he could just look fast enough, the whole thing would be there - the finished equation that would allow him to bridge the gap between now and then.
Three hours later, he was down half a pad of paper and the pen he'd been scribbling with was out of ink.
And he was no closer to finding his way back to Liam.
Closing his eyes against the grit of staring at the numbers for too long, Killian dragged his hands down his face and looked for the clock.
Just enough time to stand under the shower until he felt almost human again, grab some breakfast in the dining hall, and make it to class with no time to spare. No time for idle chitchat with his classmates or concerned professors, he could slip in just before the start of the lecture and huddle in the back of the room.
If the glare Dr. Hopper gave him when Killian slunk into the back of the room was any indication, he didn't succeed. Killian sighed as he slumped down in his desk, pulled out his notebook while trying to ignore the sounds of several expensive laptops booting up around him, and started preparing himself for the lecture he would be getting after class.
Dr. Hopper didn't disappoint.
"Killian, my boy," he started, wiping his glasses with a handkerchief that had seen better days. "I have to say, I'd hoped the long weekend would do you some good. Did you do anything besides study?"
Killian wanted to roll his eyes. He wanted to rail against the man for even suggesting that he take time away from learning everything he could about quantum mechanics in order to partake in some of the expected rituals of the college-aged adult.
But Dr. Hopper didn't know why Killian was so focused. He didn't know about Liam or the moral dilemmas Killian wrestled with every night. He didn't know why Killian couldn't stomach the idea of taking even a moment away from his studies for himself.
It had been five years. Five years without his older brother's sure hand and steady presence.
Five years of barely treading water in the storm of the century, just hoping for an epiphany to buoy him up until the next wave of failure crashed over his head and tried to drown him.
So Killian did what he did best. He deflected.
"Scarlet had some friends in our room this weekend. There was a massive xBox tournament going on. It was fun." Killian was careful with his words. Nothing he said was a lie; he just wasn't involved in any of it.
Hopper looked down his nose at him, the glasses on his face doing nothing to disguise the incredulous look. "And did you partake in any of the games?"
Killian did his best not to glare. Just as he had done all weekend over the second-hand desktop computer he had cobbled together from spare parts. Every time one of Scarlet's friends guffawed or hollered or knocked something over, it scattered the numbers in his head or distracted him from the homework he was trying to complete.
But the man sitting in front of him now wasn't some college kid intent on sleeping and drinking his way through his undergraduate education. This man was the one responsible for telling Storybrooke University whether or not Killian was able to handle the increased rigors of being a barely eighteen-year old junior in their prestigious science program.
In short, this man was responsible for Killian's continued use of their facilities to find his way back to Liam.
So instead of glaring, or lying, or walking out of the lecture hall altogether, Killian scuffed the toe of his shoe against the linoleum flooring and obfuscated. "Well, sir, there wasn't really…"
"Yes or no, Mr. Jones?"
Killian couldn't meet his eye. "No, sir."
Hopper nodded. "No. I thought not. You need to get out of your own head sometimes, Killian. It won't do you any good to go to all this trouble of graduating only to burn out before you even make it into graduate school. You have two weeks left until finals, and then I want you to go home. You need-"
"But sir. I-"
"-No 'buts', Killian. I want you to take some time off. Go back home to England, take a break. It will do you some good. I promise." Hopper nodded with an air of finality.
Killian wanted to cry. But he couldn't. He wouldn't.
"I can't go home, sir." He took a deep breath. "If I do, my father won't let me come back."
Hopper looked up sharply, searching - Killian was sure - for the lie. And oh, how Killian wished he were lying. How he wished that he could go home for a while and rest. But there was nothing there for him except more stress than a month of uninterrupted lab time could ever cause him.
"Please, Dr. Hopper. Please don't make me go home."
The man looked at him intently for another moment before he nodded. "Very well, I won't make you leave your dorm over break. But I am going to think about this some more. You're one of our brightest students, Killian. I just want to help."
Killian's knees almost buckled with the relief that coursed through him. He could stay. He could get to work on some of the practical applications of his equation, maybe even start cobbling together some of the parts he would need when it came down to building an apparatus for testing.
He could be one step closer to fixing everything.
Emma Swan was ready to pull her hair out. Her hare-brained idea two years ago to just run away - instead of working two after-school jobs and eeking out enough grant and scholarship money so she'd only have to pay student loans until she was retired and not after - was looking better and better. She had a week left in the semester, six exams to prepare for, and her boss at the library had just told her that budget cuts had forced the facility to let go anyone who wasn't there on official work-study.
Her actual work-study job in the student center wasn't enough to cover the plethora of books and supplies she would need for the spring semester. Never mind frivolous things like being able to have a social life instead of spending every spare moment cooped up in her dorm room studying. Or, God forbid, actually eating one meal that wasn't provided by the cafeteria's meal plan.
When the alarm on her phone went off, Emma grimaced. She had planned on being at least fifty pages further along in her manic quest to highlight anything important that she might need for the final she was studying for before heading off to her Intro to Physics class. Grumbling under her breath, Emma shoved her books back into her bag and raced out of the library with her earbuds still in her ears. She almost forgot the travel mug that had basically become an extension of her hand over the last few weeks.
But only almost.
Dancing her way around bookbags and students half-sprawled over every available surface, Emma made her way through the library and out onto the quad. Snowflakes were falling softly through the air and, if she didn't have to sprint across the entirety of the open area, Emma might have taken the time to appreciate them. As it was, she was already late and the snow falling on the bricks would only make trudging across campus treacherous.
Emma just barely made it to class on time, her hair dripping melted snow and her mood less than jovial. The professor paused for only a moment to spare her a nod and an appraising glance over his glasses before he began lecturing.
Ruby smirked at her before offering up her scarf so she could stop the mess from dripping all over her notebook. Emma stuck her tongue out at her roommate, but accepted the soft wool and tried to slick some of her hair back to sop up the moisture.
Despite her best intentions, Emma found the lecture on heat engines and thermodynamics fading out as she tried her best to figure out how she was going to be able to afford to come back for the Spring semester. Emma had no other options. She knew if she took a semester off, fell into a minimum wage job and a tiny apartment and credit card debt, she'd never make it back. And she had seen enough of the older kids who aged out of the foster system before her who never got out of that hole.
Emma refused to lie down and take what the system said was enough for her.
Before she knew it, the students near her were shuffling around, slamming laptop covers and shrugging back into winter jackets and hats. Ruby was standing next to her desk, biting back a laugh at the perplexed look that Emma knew was painted across her face. The class was over an hour long; how had she missed the entire lecture?
"Don't worry, Em. You can borrow my notes," Ruby whispered, the laughter finally breaking free. "What had you so caught up? Was it a boy? Please tell me it was someone hot."
Emma rolled her eyes. As if she had time for anything other than work and studying.
"No, Ruby. The library needed to let me go and I don't know where I'm going to find another job in the middle of the year. Think your grandmother would let me pick up some hours?" Emma looked at her friend hopefully, but knew the question was moot. Granny barely needed more than Ruby's help at the diner, never mind how Emma would get to and from the restaurant in between classes and work.
Ruby was already shaking her head regretfully. "I wish she would, but Granny already took someone on for break, and Ashley will be back just after New Years. Sorry, Em."
It was what she expected. "Don't worry about it; I'm sure I'll think of something."
"Miss Swan?" the professor interrupted them. "May I speak with you for a moment?"
Ruby gave her a sympathetic look before making a beeline for the classroom door. "I'll see you at dinner, Em!"
Emma glared at her retreating back before turning back to the professor. "I'm so sorry, Dr. Hopper. I swear I'll catch up on the notes from today and it won't happen again."
Dr. Hopper shook his head and smiled gently. "You're not the first student to zone out during one of my lectures, Emma, and I'm sure you won't be the last. That's not what I wanted to speak to you about."
Emma blushed a little anyway. "Okay?"
"I couldn't help but overhear your conversation with Miss Lucas. Ms. French had to let you go?"
Now her ears went red. "Oh… umm, yes. But it's not what you think. I'm not working for her on work-study, so it was just a budget thing. I didn't do anything wrong or anything." Emma wondered if he and the librarian were friends or something else.
Dr. Hopper smiled. "Emma, why don't you let me talk and then you can see if your assumptions of my assumptions match up together?"
Emma dropped her gaze to her shoes, nodding silently.
"I brought up your need for a job because I find myself in need of a lab assistant for one of our upperclassmen." The professor paused, took his glasses off, and began to clean them. "You would need to stay here over break if that's an option, but if you two worked out, the position would be open for the next three years, through his graduate school requirements."
Emma stared at the professor. "I… I don't really know anything about physics. I mean, nothing beyond what you've taught, of course," she tried to cover.
The professor laughed jovially. "Of course. I wouldn't need you to have much of a working knowledge of physics. My student will take care of that. As long as you can follow directions and… well, I would consider it a bonus if you could manage to get him out of the lab every once in awhile. That's more what I'm looking for, but he can't know that. Do you understand, Emma? If he knows that I'm manipulating him to have a little bit of a social life, he'll spend even more time working."
"So, what, you want me to be his… girlfriend?" Emma was starting to get a sick feeling in her stomach.
"No! No, of course not. I would never… no, Miss Swan, nothing like that," Dr. Hopper stuttered, his own face turning as flaming red as his hair. "Just remind him to eat every once in awhile. Maybe offer to go with him to the cafeteria so he has some accountability for his own life. Try to get him out of the lab. That's all."
"And I wouldn't just be in his way? Won't he notice that I'm not exactly a physics prodigy?" Emma couldn't stop her mouth from moving. She needed the money, it wasn't like she could say no.
Dr. Hopper turned back to his desk, digging through the paperwork. "You may not be, but he is. In all likelihood, he won't even take much notice of you. He's a bit… hyperfocused. Too focused. But if he wants me to keep signing off on all the extracurricular hours he requests, he'll accept your help. I think you'll be just what he needs to stay on the right track."
Emma nodded slowly, trying to work through the nuances in her head. She could barely force herself to remember to eat in the cafeteria on a regular schedule, preferring to pretend that the meal she had just skipped wasn't important. And now she was supposed to take on another person's schedule atop her own? All while pretending that she cared about physics enough to take a job in the department? And what if they didn't hit it off? What if she agreed to this only to find herself out of a job come January? If it was hard to find a new job now, it would be nearly impossible once the semester started up again.
But her student loans weren't going to pay themselves after college and it would help if she wasn't swimming in even more debt when she graduated.
Dr. Hopper handed her a sheaf of papers with the title "lab assistant" on the front. "Take some time to think about it. You'll find all the information in here - times you'll be definitely needed and times that will be optional, as well as a list of your official responsibilities."
Emma smiled in spite of herself. This man would make a horrible poker player.
"I'll look it over and let you know. Can I take a few days?" Emma asked as she tucked the papers into her backpack.
"Of course. And Miss Swan?" Dr. Hopper smiled wryly, "Make sure that you do get those notes from Miss Lucas at dinner. Wouldn't want you to do poorly on your final and then take the position, would we?"
Emma grimaced at the reminder that they were just about to approach 'Morgue Hours' on campus before the start of finals. "Of course. And I am sorry about today."
Dr. Hopper waved off her apology as he turned back to his desk. Emma took it for the dismissal it was and raced out the door and back into the snowstorm.
Where she promptly collided with a solid body and ended up sprawled across the cobblestones.
"Bloody hell!" a voice called out, and Emma opened her eyes to see the young man with glasses she had run into turn a pirouette with his arms in a windmill before he toppled over into the snowbank.
Emma clenched her eyes shut and groaned. She had a feeling that, whoever he was, he was going to make her pay for that. She pulled herself to her feet and ignored her half-open backpack in favor of trying to help him up.
The young man ignored her, scrambling to his feet with an apology on his lips and a distracted look in his eyes. "Are you all right, lass?"
Emma started - both at the accent that rolled off his tongue and at the question itsel. "Me? ...I'm fine. Are you okay?"
"Fine, fine. Just… if you're truly all right, I'm a bit late. If you don't mind…?" He sounded distracted and hadn't taken his eyes off the door to the science building.
Emma certainly wasn't going to keep him here to realize that she had run into him instead of the other way around. "No problem," she mumbled as he nodded and hurried off.
Shaking her head at the odd situation, and not willing to question if her luck was improving in the most roundabout way possible, Emma finally picked up her backpack and headed off to her next class.
Hours later, curled up in the corner of the dorm room that wasn't filled with her roommate's clutter, Emma was nodding off as she continued highlighting her history book.
"Emma Swan!" A high-pitched shout tore through the room and startled her badly enough to drag the highlighter diagonally across the entire page.
"What the hell, Ruby?!" she yelled back, her heart in her throat.
Ruby's hands were on her hips as she glared up to where Emma was squashed into the corner of her lofted bed. "Dinner was hours ago. You were supposed to meet me. Aren't you hungry?"
Emma's stomach growled in answer and her head swiveled around to the alarm clock on top of her wardrobe. 9:30PM flashed back at her. She hung her head. The cafeteria was long closed by now.
She hadn't even formulated an excuse when Ruby started rummaging through the bottom drawer of Emma's desk. There was a sneer on her face at the choices - Easy Mac, Ramen, or questionably old beef jerky. "Come on, Granny will feed you. Let's go."
There wasn't an inch of wiggle room in the command, but Emma started to sputter anyway. "Ruby, that's not… I can't… I have to…"
"Don't want to hear it, Em." Ruby straightened up and pulled Emma's jacket from the desk chair. "Get down here. I already called Granny when you stood me up. She's on her way to pick us up."
Emma rolled her eyes, but shut the book on her lap and started to climb down the ladder.
"So what did Hopper want to talk to you about, anyway?" Ruby asked as they inhaled Granny's lasagna later that evening.
"Job," Emma mumbled around a mouthful of pasta. "Assistant."
Granny's lasagna really shouldn't be interrupted by more than one-word answers.
When she had finally finished her second helping of dinner, she explained further. Ruby, of course, had the important questions.
"An upperclassman? Is he hot? What kind of parties do you think he can get us into?"
Emma was impressed when her eyes didn't actually roll out of her skull. "Not important, Ruby. Did you hear what Hopper really wants me to do?"
"Emma. These are absolutely important questions." Ruby leaned forward as if she could impart her wisdom more fully with eye contact.
Emma sighed. "I didn't meet him. And going by how Dr. Hopper described him, I don't think he's ever even seen the inside of a college party, never mind has the sway for freshman invites."
Ruby pouted. "But you are going to take the job?"
"I don't really have any choice, do I?"