Chapter 4: Satin as Soft as Cream

The sweetest submission,

Drinking it in,

The wine, the women,

The bedroom hymns

-Florence Welch

The white dress Henry picked out at the costume shop rode up on her butt in a funny way. She tried to address it as discreetly as she could, given the fact that she was in the spotlight of the whole restaurant as David, sitting only a chair over from her, made his speech. It was Henry's birthday and he sat at the head of the table, a plastic crown placed eloquently on his messy hair. The townsfolk watched their prince with adoration in their eyes and Emma glanced at their people.

In true "Henry" fashion, he asked all who attended his party to dress up as their true selves, the people and creatures they were back in their home. "You don't have to hide any more," he had said once most of the guests had gotten there. "We won't turn you away for who you are."

As their living room had been blown to shambles by the misadventures of Cora, Emma suggested holding the party somewhere else— "like at the Italian restaurant near the edges of town". Henry was ecstatic, mostly because of the large open ballroom at the very heart of the restaurant; "It'll be like real ball and everything!"

However, he wouldn't let Emma pick out a princess gown to match her parents. He frowned and disappeared for a bit and came back with a simple white dress, caps over the shoulders for sleeves and strappy heels to match. When she asked why, he looked at her with a small mischievous smile.

"It's my birthday, you can't say no."

Emma often wondered how this kid was hers, especially now that he was giving a speech of his own, about acceptance and love coming not only from family but friends as well. They were all his family, he said. At that, Mary-Margaret leaned over to David and whispered, "he's going to make a great king one day" with tears in her eyes.

After dinner, the local string quartet began to play and Emma had the first dance with her son. Graciously and her heart practically bursting with pride, she let him lead her to the dance floor. They swayed and he showed her the progress he'd made in his dance lessons with David. Emma laughed, feeling free for the first time in a long, long time. He had to stand on his toes to spin his mother under his arm. Everyone laughed softly at that.

"You're a good kid, you know that, right?" Emma asked quietly, once everyone else had joined on the dance floor.

Henry stopped dancing and hugged her tightly. "And you're a good mom. Not many can say they saved their sons from a chimera."

Emma laughed. "Yeah, and I'm still picking monster guts out of my hair."

Henry paused and bit his lip. He looked up at his mother worriedly. "Are you sure I'm a good kid?"

Emma frowned. "Of course, Henry, what—,"

At that moment, the doors opened discreetly at the far end of the ballroom and just by the swift movements of his shoulders and the tip of his feathered hat, she knew it was him. He took off the hat and cloak to reveal his original pirate garb. He was dressed to the nines and she caught his open chest through the thin material. Hook dropped his hat and cloak off against a chair at an empty table. He straightened up, adjusting the flow of his sleeves as he scanned the crowd through the dimly lit room. Emma stopped moving all together.

"So are you sure I'm still a good kid?"

"Henry," she breathed. "Why did you invite him?"

"I wanted to say thank you for saving me. Because technically, while you stopped the chimera, he saved me from being crushed by a bunch of rocks. And you were a little preoccupied."

Emma took her son by the shoulders, hiding them both in the crowd. "He's a dangerous guy, Henry. He could hurt anybody at this party."

Henry shook his head firmly. "I made him pinky promise that he wouldn't hurt anyone. Besides, he wouldn't go back on the deal he made with you, the swan princess."

Emma narrowed her eyes, internally furious at her eavesdropping child. "So you heard that, didn't you?"

"I was busy picking up your weapon and my book, not busy being deaf."

Emma glanced over the heads of the crowd again. She felt her heart freeze when she didn't find him in the corner any more.

"And besides, it's my birthday so you can't say no." With that, he scampered off into the crowd.

Emma felt weak on her knees. "I need a drink."

She smiled when Henry danced with Mary-Margaret.

She smiled when Blue and the fairies did their magic show.

She smiled when Ruby and Granny brought out the cream cake and Henry made a wish with the candles. She hoped it was a good one. She didn't take a piece, but for reasons other than her anxiety.

But she was being watched and she knew it. She silently begged that he would just jump out like he always did, and they could get this— whatever it was he wanted because she just knew he wanted something— over with.

Finally, near midnight, Emma's strained nerves couldn't take it any more. She grabbed a full glass of champagne and without anyone knowing, slipped off to the recesses of the restaurant. She walked until a fluttering curtain offered an escape. She pulled back the red curtain and found a lone balcony, overlooking the city. There was a small glass table with two chairs there, but angrily she shoved them aside and leaned up against the iron railing.

It was a moment, then a beat and a silence, and she relaxed. Someone had hung white Christmas lights on the roof above the balcony and it gave the area a dull glow, as though the sun had kissed the room before going to bed. She took a sip of champagne and the tension unwound from under her skin.

Why did he get to her this way? Why was she avoiding him? Why did he feel the need to torture her? Why did he have to be the one who saved Henry?

She breathed, a single Hook-free moment, and drank in the cool night air until it calmed the raging in her chest.

A shadow moved behind her, blocking the light from the room beyond the balcony, and Emma knew it was him, even before he spoke, before she caught the scent of mint and sea salt in the breeze, before he sidled up next to her. His posture matched her own, leaning slightly against the iron fence of the terrace. He was silent, gazing out over the lights of the town as if she wasn't there. In his ringed hand, he held a piece of cream cake, the kind that gave her irrational hives. Propping it up against the railing, he poked at it dryly, before cutting a piece, framing it perfectly within his thin mouth and sucking it free from the fork. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched his throat muscles swallow the spongy cake. His Adam's apple moved and Emma flung her gaze out into the night air, warmth spreading up her neck.

The draped lights above them reflected in his rings, drawing her attention to his fingers, his fingers that had done much— fingers that loved and killed equally. Fingers that could do things to her— if only she asked—

Emma threw back a gulp of champagne, determined to fight remain upright despite the fact that she could no longer feel her knees. Hook watched her finish her drink in a most un-lady-like manner, the corners of his smooth lips threatening to turn up. She caught him grinning like a wolf, his eyes dark despite the lights above them.

"You look ridiculous." She grumbled at him, slurping up the last bit of drink. A rivulet of the champagne escaped her mouth and it ran down her jaw, then her neck. She angrily wiped it away. She found him staring again, but this time right at her throat. She felt exposed as if she knew his sudden impulse to bite down there sharply. Maybe this little white dress was a little too little . . .

"At least, I'm not flouncing about with giant poufy sleeves."

Emma frowned. Hook scraped off another piece of cake and thoughtfully chewed it down. When she gave no answer, he nodded over his shoulder to the rest of the party.

"Your father seems like a wonderful man. But I'm afraid to tell you, the man has no sense of style."

Emma remembered David's ecstatic smile when he found the "Prince Charming" costume at the local store. No one had the heart to tell him that it made him resemble the Michelin Man.

She snorted, leaning forward onto her forearms against the gate. "And you, Mr. Feathered Hat and Neo Jacket, you have style?"

"Neo Jacket? What in the bloody hell is that?"

Emma chuckled to herself, the champagne suddenly bubbling under her skin. "I forgot. You've never seen The Matrix. You've never seen any movie."

The night air was cool. The breeze returned, like a hand of a child asking to play.

"I'd like to, some time. But I heard these movies are better enjoyed in the presence of others. I've also heard that if food comes along with these moving pictures, it's often considered a date." He sucked a bit of frosting from the fork, his tongue moving lazily up and down the metal sides. His glance slid over to Emma, as if to see if she was watching. "What do you think about that?"

It was an interesting sensation, to be jealous of a kitchen instrument. But Emma shook her head.

"I'd say 'move it along, Hook', you're barking up the wrong tree." She looked at him, her head turned. "What is it about you? Why can't you get it through your head?"

Hook shrugged, rocking back a bit on his heels before taking another bite of cake. "I don't know. That near-kiss in your apartment said differently. While we're at it, let's look at why we were there in the first place. Right, because you hate to see me in pain. You have to face facts, Emma darling, you care about me."

"I'm the sheriff. I have to care about people."

Hook huffed and stood up. He put the half-eaten cake on the glass stand near the railing. "Yes, well, here's the catch, love. I'm a sodding pirate and I don't have to care about anyone." He tipped back over, turning towards her and resting one arm on the railing. He took his hook like he would a second hand. "And ready for the better part? I care about you. A lot about you, actually . . . and your happiness, and how you feel, what you want, and mostly, what you feel about me."

Emma leaned away from him, her lower back resting on the railing. She crossed her arms. Her heart fluttered painfully against her chest, but she would never let him know that. She simply shrugged.

"What about Milah? The reason you're here?"

At that, Hook visibly shrunk away, all assurance gone. He wrapped his hand and hook around the panels of the railing. The wind blew his hair and made him look fifteen years younger in the blink of an eye.

"I'm not a stupid man, Emma. A man who love too fiercely and too blindly, yes, but I know what happens to the pour souls who chase ghosts, who can love only in the past. She—she— will never leave me, never entirely, but I know she'd want me to be happy. And I've been so unhappy, for so long . . ." he trailed off, his voice breaking.

"I'm sorry." Emma said, after a moment. She was also grasping the railing as though it held her up. She twisted her palms around the metal. "I know how much she means to you. I shouldn't have brought her up."

"Love is pain, darling," he said softly, "there's no escaping it. Just find the right mate and you can only prolong it."

"That's a grim outlook on life, coming from the adventurous, lady's-man-pirate." Emma's mouth threatened to smile.

"Says the lass who chained a potential ally to a beanstalk."

"C'mon, you had it coming. The eyeliner thing doesn't scream 'trust me, I'm full of warm, fuzzy feelings'. Also, the fact that you're kind of the most notorious pirate in my land threw me off."

"The most notorious?"

Emma rolled her eyes. "Can it, Hook. I can feel your ego expanding from over here."

Hook smirked. " 'The most notorious pirate', hmm, I think I can work with that."

He picked up the cake again and scooped out a large chunk happily. Emma watched him as he licked his lips clean.

"How do you ingest that stuff?"

Hook shrugged, eyeing the food carefully. "Aye, it would go better with some rum, but it surely fine as it is. Why? You don't like it?"

Emma shook her head, leaning back and still pulling on the railing. "I was seven, in this foster home that already had way too many kids. It was the youngest one's birthday and he screamed for days about how he wanted nothing but cream cake. And then, when he finally got it, he hated the taste. But the parents had already dropped like three hundred dollars on this present. So for literally a week, I ate nothing but that freakin' cake. Brings back bad memories every time I'm around it."

"That's a terrible story, darling." Hook said sadly. "But honestly, you're really missing out."

Emma sighed wistfully. "It does look good, I'll admit."

He slowed in pulling the fork out of his mouth, a strange thought dawning in his head.

"You said you hadn't tried it again since, yes?"

"Uh, yeah."

"So you don't know if you don't like it? You just fear it?"

"Hey, I'm not afraid of some stupid cake, pal!"

"Then try it."

He stood up and she let go of the railing.

"No, I know I don't like it. It's too rich and creamy and—,"

"You fear it, and what it brings. You fear memories, of painful ones. This cake is divine and you're passing it up because of fear."

Emma raised her eyebrow. "Divine? Thanks for the tip, Ms. Deen."

"Don't change the subject, love. I want you to taste this cake."

"Hook, you're being ridiculous."

"And you're living in fear of what if." He placed the fork into her hand, and brought the plate to her other hand. "You can't fear a ghost forever."

Emma narrowed her eyes at him, the idea that the cake meant something more to him briefly crossing her mind. But he seemed intent on this. In fact, he was almost begging.

Nearly angry, she grabbed the plate from him. Making eye contact with Hook the whole time, she jabbed the fork into the spongy cake, icing included, and stuck it into her mouth.

She blinked and glanced down.

She had found Jesus. In processed-sugar form.

"Oh my God," she moaned from between her teeth. "This is delicious."

He smirked at her. "I haven't been here long enough to be sure, but I believe the phrase is, 'I told you so'."

"Well, now, it's your loss because I'm going to eat the rest of it." She jutted her chin into the air as she leaned back against the railing, still eating what was left of the cake.

He leaned back with her, his arms resting in between the panels. However, he watched her intently. She glanced at him only once and immediately realized how dirty eating could be. She quickly popped the last bit of cake into her mouth, now staring solely at the floor.

"Emma," he murmured. Don't look at him, don't look at him, dontlookathim! "I think I'd like to hand in that favor now."

She nearly choked on the cake in her mouth. She swallowed it whole, vigorously shaking her head— bad idea, very bad idea!

"Not to worry, love, it'll only take a moment."

Swiftly, he took the plate from her. She felt warmth spread from where their fingers touched at the bottom up to her cheeks. Oh God, what was he going to make her do? There was a limit— of what he could do— or she could do— oh please not on the balcony! Maybe he wanted money, pirates love money, and he was just going to ask her for reimbursement for saving Henry. Her toes curled inside of the white heels, she awaited her fate.

But when he looked back up at her, through dark lashes and with eyes heated and dark as an aquifer, she knew money wasn't on his mind. He straightened up and took a step forward. In response, Emma slid back and bumped up against the iron railing. She had half a mind to ditch the damn shoes and jump over it— broken bones be damned.

He grinned, raising a calloused hand to her cheek. Gently, he rubbed his thumb against the corner of her mouth and with fingers leaving a trail like embers, he drew back his hand and adeptly sucked on his thumb, his eyes beckoning.

"Had a bit of cake right there." Hook muttered. This time, when he stepped into her again, she didn't move. His hook locked onto a metal rung of the gate, it clinked and for some reason, Emma shuddered. Unconsciously, she thought of handcuffs, the location of a pair she knew exactly. But the memory of the handcuffs and frankly any other thought dissipated from her mind as Hook pressed himself against her. She knew she should be worried about where his other hand was but the scent of sea salt and sweet cream overpowered her. He was so close.

"Now, Emma, I want to kiss you—," he began. Emma swallowed, blinking rapidly, and shook her head. She opened her mouth to protest, but he took her wrist and placed her hand gently on his chest. "I want to kiss you, on your neck. This is your debt to me, alright?"

Her hear thumping erratically in her chest, beyond all reason, all what the past had taught her, beyond all the lessons she learned the hard way, Emma nodded. The blue in his eyes caught in the lights above, making them glow and she thought of gold, and princesses and princes and fairy tales and true love. The fingers on his chest were inches away from the black hair on his exposed skin. The white on her nails became near translucent in contrast.

Hook's hand, still clasping her wrist as one would hold a cherished item, began to move. The pads of his fingers brushed down her forearm, skin teasing skin, touched her elbow, and regretfully trailed away, up to her shoulder. He watched his hand move, as though enthralled by the image of their contact, as though it was a dream made real, as though her flesh was as every bit as soft as he hoped. He sighed woefully, as he skimmed the crux of her neck and shoulder, a single finger brushing her nape.

When his eyes fell into hers, Emma wondered vaguely where the ground had gone, to where time and space had escaped because, for all she felt and knew, they were simply floating in light. His eyes, like twilight, twinkled with the hint of stars, of the Milky Way against the flash of the moon.

His hand stopped somewhere near her throat. Her earlobe felt the heat off his thumb and it drove her absolutely mad. His fingers threatened to knot in her hair, as they drummed on the back of her neck.

Very slowly, he smiled, his thin lips turning, the stubble stretching, and bent forward, gently guiding her head to turn. Briefly, she wondered if he was going to bite her there, his breath hovering and gliding up and down her exposed throat. It ran warm, like a wolf's, curling up into the soft patch of skin under her ear and rolling, as if he controlled it, down onto her cold chest. Above her, she stared at the white lights as if they promised oblivion, but it could only come if he was there to give it to her.

He whispered something, or maybe it was a sigh, or a gasp of frustration— Emma couldn't tell. She was drinking him in, his body so close and his scent swallowing her like waves crashing against warm sand. Every bit of her body was singing to him, begging him to hurry, to be braver than she could be.

She breathed in, her chest heaving, and she smelled burnt caramel, and mint julep, and an oceanic scent, of salt and cold and iron and metal and soaked wood and wet kelp. Her bosom pressed against his chest and she felt him inhale sharply.

"Hook—," she murmured. She wasn't sure if that was a request or a plight.

And he kissed her, there on the vein of her neck.

She gasped, as if someone had put ice on her throat instead, but his lips were warm and needy and quiet. She gasped and she felt him stiffen. He pulled her to him, tighter, as if they could be melded together, as if the fire from his kiss could seal their bodies together in perfect union. Emma's eyes fluttered to a close, breathing deeply. Against her, he shuddered, sucking her skin just a little bit harder than necessary. He began to rub circles on her earlobe, with his index finger and his thumb— and that's when Emma (and the hot warmth in her hips) finally broke.

She pushed him away. He stumbled back, his face begging and frustrated.

"No, you gave me your word! You said—,"

Emma grabbed onto the lapels of his coat and, shoving them both up against the wall, kissed him so deeply, she felt a bit of herself tumble free and fall into his throat. He tasted like aged rum, good rum that's turned dark and heavy and runs clean down your throat. His tongue followed that path when she opened her mouth to him. He tasted like rum, and the cake that she swore she would never like, and the sweet, sweet cream, of sugar and milk and satin cream that stuck to places it had no business being. She wanted to lick it from him, run her tongue over his cheeks, up his throat, under his ear; lick the cream from his rough warm skin until she tasted sugar and flesh between her teeth. She wanted to roll in rum, swim in it completely naked and drag herself across him. She wanted to worship him in tangs and sweets of the tongue.

She wanted him to suck the sweat from her skin.

His hand clasped her hip, but his fingers twitched ever so, threatening to roam, to explore her. The hook was pressed against her butt, cold to her burning skin. But it was his lips, God, his lips, that nearly had her on her knees.

They pressed down onto every crack and crevice that she held secret. She swore she felt smoke rise from the trail they left on her neck, every touch intensified by the scratch of his stubble. She realized the breeze made her cold and with that, came the understanding that his tongue had been there too, lapping up her soft skin and tasting her when her defenses were down. He had bested her.

Furious and nearly blinded by their intensity, she drove her hands up into his hair and threw her hips forward. She felt the building's wooden walls claw at the back of her hands but she didn't care. If she was meant to be consumed, she wouldn't give it to him easily.

He grunted at the suddenly upheaval, his lips pulling back in a shocked smile, but she bit down onto his bottom lip and sucked. They slipped slightly, as his knees wavered. He shuddered, grasping the wall behind him, when she finally released him.

"Bloody hell, Emma," he marveled. Her wrists locked tightly around his neck, she gazed into his eyes, the desire there pressing a warm sensation to the bottom of her stomach.

"What? I don't hold out," she gasped. He chuckled, panting slightly, and kissed her again, this time much slower, but without the same heart-stopping tension as the one on her neck.

"You are one hell of a woman," Hook muttered, his eyes tracing over her face as a pen would write poetry. He gently curled a strand of hair behind her ear, before gazing back at her. His hand cupped her jaw. "I won't push, but Emma, do you want this to go on?"

He was absolutely serious; no joke, no whim glimmered in his blue eyes that now stood as resolute as stone.

She felt her heard pounding. She hadn't considered "going on". Logically, she obviously knew what came after a session like this, but something was stopping her.

Taking her pause to mean she was considering the idea, Hook righted himself and pulled her up to his chest.

"I've got a ship, Emma, a place where no one can find us." With a brush of his finger, he tossed hair from her sweaty forehead. "I've got a place where we can be utterly alone. No one will come looking, and no one will . . . well, hear the screams."

He smirked.

Emma's heart plummeted into her stomach. She was frozen to the spot—

It was a simple enough question that could be answered with the shake or turn of her head.

"Hook— I—,"

His face fell, but not seemingly by her pause. He looked upset by his own moniker, as though that was not the name he was expecting to fall from her lips.

Then the unthinkable happened.

"Emma," Ruby trotted out onto the balcony, her infamous red cloak twirling at her ankles. She caught the two entangled up in each other and gasped. Hook released her and turned his head into the dark, as though startled by the intruder. The wind picked up and Emma was suddenly very cold. Emma couldn't meet Ruby's perfectly aghast eyes.

Ruby glanced from Emma to Hook, who now stood in total darkness, staring at the ground. Emma rubbed her shoulder to fight off the cold. Her skin ached for the warmth of him, to be pressed up against his firm chest. Her lips burned from the scratch of his unshaven face.

Something furious and bright rushed up into her throat. She glared at Hook.

"Stay away from my son. You don't get to make promises without talking to me first."

Without another look in Hook's direction, she strode off passed Ruby.

It was a moment before the girl caught up with her.

"Um, did I see whatever I think I just saw?" The waitress asked, soundly slightly dazed. Emma wove through empty tables and chairs at the back of the restaurant, feeling heat creep up her cheeks, her fists clenching.

"I don't know, did you?"

"Emma, come on now, you have to tell me something—,"

"Whatever you're thinking, you're probably right."

Emma was caught off guard as the swift little wolf stepped in front of her, blocking her storm.

"Emma," Ruby begged imploringly. "I don't know what to think. One minute you're enemies, the next it looks like I interrupted a very important conversation, one that wasn't entirely said with words."

Emma swallowed and looked at the ground. "I don't know what to tell you. But Hook, he got to me. And tonight, I don't know, I just didn't want to fight back. But, please don't tell anyone."

Ruby frowned sadly and took Emma by the hands. "I would never tell anyone if you didn't want me to. And I would never judge you. Hooking up with . . . well, Hook is pretty low on the 'Horrible Things to do' list."

The question tumbled out of her before she could stop it: "So it's okay, then? Me and Hook?"

Ruby smiled sadly. "I can't tell you what is right or wrong. You just have to do what feels right. But don't listen to what people say. That's a piece of advice that I've always kept. Your mother saved my life with it, actually."

Emma slipped her hands free, guilt blooming in her like a raging flower. Her mother, her father, Henry— they all saw her as a princess and like-wise, someone who would marry a prince. Not a blood-thirsty pirate. She nodded, trying to smile.

"That's good advice." Emma said, her throat nearly closed. Ruby frowned but Emma pushed passed her.

They entered into the big ballroom once again just as another song began. Mary-Margaret appeared out of nowhere, a ridiculous smile on her face and David wrapped around her like a giant bow. They were both panting.

"Where have you been, Emma?" Mary-Margaret gasped. "We've missed you out on the dance floor!"

"Had to use the bathroom." Emma murmured. "Where's Henry?"

"Your son is quite the charmer." David grinned at her. He pointed to the center of the ballroom, where Henry was teaching slow dancing with Granny and Blue in a weirdly cute threesome.

"I know where he gets it," Mary-Margaret muttered into her husband's cheek before kissing him vigorously.

"I don't meet to interrupt this little gathering," Whale said, sidling up out of the dark. "But I was wondering if Ms. Lucas here would like to dance."

Ruby, who was staring intently at Emma, blinked and looked over at him as if he had grown up out of the ground. Her cheeks suddenly turned scarlet and nodded. Graciously, she took his hand and they began to wander off, but before they got too far, Ruby turned and grabbed Emma by the arm.

"Don't forget what I said." She said imploringly. "Do what feels right. People will accept you whoever you are."

As Whale and Ruby trailed off, Emma felt the eyes of her parents latch onto the back of her head. It took all of her strength not to groan.

"What did she mean by that?" Mary-Margaret asked.

"Emma, are you in trouble?" It had only been a couple of weeks and David already mastered the "Dad" voice.

"No, guys, I'm fine, I was just worried that I hadn't spent enough time with Henry tonight, on his birthday and everything."

A hand tapped her shoulder. Emma turned, her stomach suddenly entirely liquid, and met Marco behind her.

"Would you care to spend a little more time away from your boy and join me in a dance?"

Emma saw Mary-Margaret swoon in David's arms out of the corner of her eye and felt the blush creep up her neck. But she nodded graciously, ignoring the bite of disappointment.

She allowed Marco to lead her onto the dance floor, and just as a perfect gentleman would, he delicately placed a hand on her waist and held the other aloft. She saw Henry swaying peacefully in the arms of Granny and Blue. He looked perfectly content.

She smiled back at Marco, urgently pushing thoughts of a certain pirate out of her mind.

"You look as beautiful as an evening flower, Princess Emma," Marco said graciously.

"Oh, please, you don't have to call me that. I'd kind of wish you wouldn't actually," Emma grimaced.

"Don't let anyone belittle you, Ms. Swan. I see much pain in your eyes." When she frowned, he continued. "I do not mean that in offense. I see you struggle every day to be a better woman and that is perhaps the most noble of goals. You want to be better for your son, for your family. But what about you, Ms. Swan? Don't you want to be better? What do you want?"

Emma's mouth dropped. "Of course, I want to be better for Henry. I think I am, getting better. I didn't like who I was before I came here to Storybrooke and I never want to see her again. That's why I like being here, with all of you. It gives me a chance to see how good the world can be."

"Then you have to stop seeing the worst in other people." At this moment, their dance slowed to barely a sway. Emma took every word like a bullet to the chest. "Love does not come at ease. Guarding your heart against pain is understandable, logical even. But that is one of life's great mysteries. Love is illogical, Ms. Swan. You can't time it, or measure it, but you can feel it. You feel it without a doubt. We all know what love feels like and once you do, there's no use in using logic because, well, most times there is no logic to be applied."

Emma shivered as though someone had let in a draft and without knowing why or how, she knew Killian was in the room. And the thought send shivers up her spine and nearly stopped her heart.

"And how do you know all this?" Emma whispered. Her palms felt sweaty.

Marco laughed, his silver beard glowing in the sprinkling light above them.

"Dear child, when you are as old as I am, you will have the same stories. It's inevitable. It's the glory of growing old. Now the question is, who do you want to tell those old stories to?"

Emma sighed and shrugged. She leaned forward and rested her chin on his shoulder.

"I have no freakin' clue."

He laughed again, this time hugging her, and the two continued to dance, his words surrounding them like lyrics of an unheard tune. She smelled burned wood and something sweet like lavender. She caught her mother and father at one of the tables. He was telling her a story and she was laughing so hard, tears poured down her round cheeks. And he loved watching her smile.

She found Ruby and Whale sitting bizarrely close together, their foreheads inches from touching. He had a hand on her knee and she played idly with his fingers.

Henry was showing Gretel his storybook, her brother happily eating more cake beside her. However, Gretel seemed minutely more interested Henry's hair than the pictures on the page.

Emma closed her eyes, smiling faintly.

All was well.

And yet . . .

Marco turned in their patterned circle, and Emma's eyes slid open. Across the room, in the dark recesses of the unlit corners, her eyes caught Hook. He had his arms crossed, an unruly grin tugging at his lips. A thick eyebrow leapt into the air, as if to ask, "Really? The wood-cutter?"

She felt her shoulders shrug and she hugged Marco tighter. All humor left his shadowed face and Emma felt the arrow of his jealousy lance his heart. She smiled quietly to herself and closed her eyes again, allowing Marco to turn her again.

What are you doing, Emma?

Later that night, when David carried a sleeping Henry back to the car, and Mary-Margaret took another twenty minutes to leave because she was profusely thanking and hugging everyone goodbye, even crying here and there. Emma stood by the arch of the door to the restaurant, wishing everyone well and good night. She grinned as Ruby was led from the building by a quiet but forceful Whale. Ruby blushed when Emma gave her a "thumbs up" when Whale opened the car door for her.

Eventually, the room was empty and the manager thanked them for their business. Emma was staring at the dark ballroom when her mother came up with a coat.

Mary-Margaret frowned and looked into the darkness as well.

"Emma, did you forget something?"

Emma shuddered and shook her head. She accepted the coat, but a questioned burned so hot in her mouth, she feared it might imprint on her throat.

"What if this is my costume? What if this isn't the real me?"

Mary-Margaret made a sound of sad dismay and wrapped herself around her daughter, her massive skirt shuffling like a gossamer bell.

"Sweetie, this was just a game for Henry! He's so in love with these stories, there's no way we couldn't let him have some fun! But Emma, honey, I thought you'd be proud of his choice for you."

Emma frowned. Mary-Margaret smiled that smile where happiness literally consumed her and it beamed from her, like a beacon. Her blood-red lips shown bright in the night. She took her daughter by the cheeks.

"We, the people of this town, are all separate people, Emma. We will have memories forever of living two lives, of being both part of this world and the land that is truly our home. But, sweetie, you are the Savior. There is no second part of you where you are a hero and where you aren't. Every bit of you is the Savior and that's why it's wonderful. You are perfect, just as you are."

Mary-Margaret hugged her and Emma shuddered, tears suddenly spilling down her cheeks.

"I'm so glad you're here." Emma cried softly into her mother's shoulder.

"Oh, Emma," Mary-Margaret said gently, stroking her daughter's hair. "You are so full of light, you draw people in. You will never be alone."

That night as David drove them all home, Emma watched trees fly by in the moonlight, Henry's sleeping head resting in her lap. Her free hand cold by the air conditioner, she put into the pocket of her jacket. She felt something small and sharp there and when she pulled it out, she realized it was a folded slip of paper.

Her heart doing summersaults, she glanced at her parents and Henry to make sure neither one was watching her. Then she opened the paper.

I was wrong and shouldn't have said the words I did.

The food was far from divine because the most heaven-sent being here tonight was you. Tonight, you were a princess, Emma, and I am thankful I got to spend even a moment in your beautiful glory. Tell your son I am in his debt now and there is nothing I won't do to repay him.

The offer still stands, Emma Swan, should you wise up one day. And that day, I look most forward to.

I'm not here looking for absolution. I have found myself an old solution.

Come find me one night, if you wish to find your own liberty.


*A/N Thank you so much for the reviews and favorites! This makes my heart happy! I think we've got about two more to go and then we're done! Thanks again!