"Don't you think you should, I don't know, talk to her? Clear the air?"
This wasn't the first time Emma had suggested this. Not by a long shot. But their kitchen was now about 90% peony, and something had to give. Preferably the peonies.
Ruby grimaced. "Emma, I love you, but if we couldn't bring ourselves to talk on a nine-hour non-refundable train ride through the alps, do you really think we're going to start now?"
She had a point. But Emma could think of at least twenty newly delivered reasons why it might be worth giving it a shot.
Whatever had happened before The World's Most Awkward Non-Refundable Holiday, clearly someone was eager to make amends. Unless of course Dorothy was under the mistaken impression Ruby suffered from hayfever, and was attempting slow torture, one arrangement at a time. Somehow Emma doubted it.
"You sure you don't want to try, like, actual healthy adult communication? It seems to be working for Killian and Belle."
"Why do you do that?"
"Do what?" Emma asked.
"Get that pinched look whenever you say her name. With this crease right between your eyebrows. Right here."
Emma slapped her hand away.
"You don't like her, do you?" Ruby said, as though this somehow confirmed a long-held suspicion of hers.
"What?" Emma blustered. "Of course I like her. What's not to like? She's sweet and nice and god, her pancakes. It's just…"
"She's sleeping with the guy you're carrying a torch for?" Ruby finished, all innocence.
But it wasn't like she was going to tell Ruby that. Ruby, who regularly came home tanked. Ruby, who had always been a very honest drunk. Ruby, who liked to sit up with Killian at all hours on the weekends, playing cards and gambling away household chores.
It was not a good combination.
"A torch? Me? Hey, no one's carrying any torch here!"
"Oh, c'mon!" Ruby snorted. "You've had a raging Maglite for the guy as long as I've known you. And look, I get it, okay? He's got that whole tall, dark and broody thing going on, and it's working for him. And we've all caught him leaving the bathroom in that towel that's just a little too small on him. But if you didn't like seeing him with his girlfriend, don't you think maybe you should have, I don't know, told him how you felt? You had three whole years do to it in!"
But Ruby was on a roll now. "No, instead you chose to go out with that jerk from the furniture store. The one I thought looked kind of like a monkey. And that writer guy..."
"August," Emma supplied.
"Right," Ruby continued. "You keep going out with all these deadbeats you don't even really care about. Because when it ends, and with those guys it's definitely just a matter of when, you get to just brush yourself off and go, 'oh well, I tried,' and you never actually have to risk getting your heart broken again."
Any way you sliced it, Ruby was ruined as a waitress. With those kind of insights, she should've been sitting in a fancy office, charging $250 an hour to see into people's heads.
But no, Emma wasn't going to tell her that. Not when Ruby was so right. Not when denial, her old friend, was so readily available as an easy out.
"I liked August!" Emma protested.
"Uh huh. So when he sold that script and moved to California, approximately how long did you spend considering going with him?"
Of course she hadn't considered it. Los Angeles, was, well... Los Angeles. And her life was in Boston. Her job. Her friends. Killian-
Ruby had her dead to rights, and she knew it. And that self-satisfied smile wasn't helping.
"You know what I did after my first date with Dorothy?" Ruby said suddenly, interrupting Emma's shame spiral.
"Text me all of the gory, gory details?" Emma supplied, remembering just how gory.
Ruby waved her hand dismissively. "I mean after that. You know what I did?"
"I went on Pinterest and started looking at wedding themes."
Emma opened her mouth, but nothing came out. That is, that was…
"So unlike me, right?" Ruby said, rolling her eyes. "But I just knew, you know? She was it. Still is it." She made a face. "I should call her, huh?"
"Uh, yeah," Emma said, stretching her hands wide to take in the peonies that now occupied every available surface of their apartment.
"Fine," Ruby relented. "I'll call her. But you have to tell Killian how you feel."
"Rubes! That's not anywhere near the same thing. For one thing, we live together. And let's not forget he has a girlfriend."
"Actually," came a deeper voice from the doorway, "He doesn't."
Please don't be, please don't be… It was Killian. Leaning oh-so-casually against the door jamb, his thumbs hooked in the belt loops of his jeans.
Did he have to look like he'd just stumbled out of an ad for Levis right now?
Ruby had never exactly been one for subtlety. Between the hair and the cleavage and the everything, you somehow knew not to expect it. But when she made a big show of getting up and leaving the two of them there, alone, Emma still kinda wished she could have one friend who could be chill for like, two seconds.
The one saving grace was that when Ruby slipped into the hallway, she already had her phone in her hand. If Emma had to meet her humiliating end, and that was a dead certainty, at least it would be in service of making their apartment peony-free.
Only once Ruby's footsteps had died away did Killian finally heave himself up into a standing position, his attention still keenly fixated on her.
There was only one thing for it, Emma had to go on the offense.
"So I hope you're not going to miss living in a greenhouse, because I give it three hours and Ruby and Dorothy are back on. Goodbye apology flowers, hello having to announce yourself before you walk into rooms, because you know what they're-"
"Which I guess is better than the flowers. In some ways. I mean, it's gross, obviously. But at least I'll be able to get to the coffee maker without-"
He'd taken Ruby's empty chair now, and Emma felt herself bite her lip, to stop even more of the babble from spilling out.
"How much did you hear?" Emma asked, her voice a lot more shaky than she'd like.
"Raging Maglite?" he repeated. His amused tone was reassuring enough, but his words? Not so much.
"You and Belle broke up?"
"Aye," he said, one hand reaching up to scratch behind one ear. "A few weeks ago now. You might've noticed, but you've been hard to pin down lately. Extra hours and what not."
An intentional choice, on her part. Sure, she needed the money. But there was also only so much domestic bliss one person could accidentally walk in on. Taking a few extra diner shifts seemed like the more responsible choice than dragging her sorry ass to the nearest bar and drowning her sorrows, night after night.
It wasn't what Emma really wanted to know. Sure, she cared about the guy. About his well-being. That's what had started this whole mess, after all. But the larger part of her was just dying to know why? Had he broken it off? Had she? Did Belle think scruffy, intelligent, piercing-eyed Brits just grew on trees?
"Aye. Just not meant to be."
The smart thing would have been to leave it alone. Change the subject right quick, and then get all the details off Ruby later. Emma Swan was not all the smart.
"So it was a mutual decision, then?"
At this, Killian made a noise. A not exactly kind of noise. "It was mutual in that she pointed out, quite rightly, that she could do a lot better than a guy who's completely hung up on his flatmate. And I agreed."
If there was any oxygen left in that room, it sure didn't feel like it. Emma felt dizzy. Lightheaded. He didn't- He couldn't-
"You're hung up on Ruby?" she managed, her jokey tone taking a brittle turn half way through.
"Don't you know, Emma?" he said, reaching across to take her hand in his.
It was everything she'd ever wanted, and also everything she was deathly afraid of, all in one innocuous gesture. She wanted to throw up. Or cry. Mostly cry. She settled for keeping her hand steady, even as he drew it up to his mouth. Even as he pressed his lips to the skin above her knuckles. Even as every cell in her body turned to liquid.
He was still holding her hand when he smiled again, his thumb rubbing small circles into her palm. "Aye, love. It's always been you."
"Well, at least since the first time I accidentally drank one of your fancy beers, and you nearly took my head off. Or the time you forgot your towel coming out of the bathroom. That was also a particular highlight."
Stupidly in love with him or not, he still got a whack on the arm for that. And it was just that little shot of normality that gave Emma the courage to form her next words.
"You're not kidding about this? I mean, you're serious. About us?"
"Deathly serious. And I know, I know I should have said something sooner, but you always had some perfectly average bloke hanging around, and I figured you weren't interested. And when I met Belle at the library I thought you were still with that Walsh fellow and-
He didn't get further than that. Not with Emma's hands rough on his collar, dragging her towards him. It was bad enough she'd practically climbed up onto the table to eliminate any remaining space between them, but he didn't seem to mind, not when she ducked her head and kissed him for all she was worth.
Three years was a long time to think about kissing someone. Emma had plenty of ideas up her sleeve.
When they did eventually break apart, breaths ragged and Ruby's excitable squeals kind of ruining the mood, she stayed close, her forehead pressed to his.
"You're not gonna hurt me, right, Jones?"
"Are you kidding, Swan? Ruby would kill me if I did."
The both looked across to where Ruby stood by the stove, her FaceTime conversation with Dorothy still in progress, a smug smile pasted across her face. "Yep. What he said."