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Chapter 23: Welcome Back

Emma stared at the glowing red numbers of her clock. It was the third time she'd woken up that night and it didn't look like she'd be sleeping anytime soon. No matter how hard she tried to screw her eyes shut, she could still see the numbers taunting her. Today of all days when she needed sleep the most.

Today was the day that she was going to take her life back—back away from Drizella; back away from that bastard who said he loved her a lifetime ago; back away from the gossipers of Storybrooke. It was nerve-wracking to officially go back, but it was what she wanted. It was what she needed to find herself again, to make everything normal and to squash the pity thrown her way every time she was spotted.

Still, she couldn't sleep and in her exhaustion she let out a frustrated sigh and slowly eased out her boyfriend's arms. She looked over at him and smiled. She loved waking up before Killian because looking at him with his face was so serene and innocent even was one of the most beautiful sights she'd ever seen, and right then it made the tension in her neck and shoulders disappear in an instant.

She loved this man more than anything and he always made sure to show her he felt the same. She wished she could wake him up, but he had to get up soon, too, and it wouldn't be fair to steal him away from whatever pleasantness he was dreaming of.

He'd had such a roller coaster ride of excitement these last two weeks that he deserved to at least have this break from her issues, she thought. She had never felt such endless love and support from any one person in her entire life as she had with him these last weeks, and she was starting to recognize how increasingly comfortable she was about the hope she'd given him about maybe one day sealing their relationship with getting married. She was still conditioned to be wary, but he was her home and if there was one thing she knew about that it was that you never let it go once you find it. She had no intention of ever letting what they had together go.

He started to stir in his sleep, no doubt sensing her missing presence, but she was restless and couldn't lay there in her racing thoughts anymore.

Walking by, she gently ran her hand through his ruffled hair and smiled when he gave a sleepy contented sigh before she left the room and padded down the hallway.

She plopped down on the couch, taking up a book that Belle had practically forced into her hands on her trip to the library the day before. It was a beautiful novel clearly loved by previous readers who had highlighted and underlined strings of the pretty poetic words.

Emma called it vandalism at first, but Killian loved things like that and showed her how much better it made the story, how it showed what touched others.

She reread a quote talking about 'home'—a theme, she suspected, that Belle had chosen just for her—and though it wasn't as flashy as the others on the page, it reminded her of everything she'd been through to get to this point in her life, and like the quote said, it was worth every struggle.

She rifled through the end table drawer for a pencil and started underlining her own contribution to the book when she felt a kiss to her temple and a hand urging her to make room on the couch.

"Hey," she smiled and relaxed back onto his chest.

"What're you doing awake?" he murmured into her ear, happy to have her back in his arms again; this intense situation or not, it always alarmed him to wake up without her.

She sighed and let the book fall to her lap. "I don't know. It's all just… making me nervous, I guess."

"You'll be just fine, love. Probably won't be anything more than darts and paperwork." She tilted her head back to smile and he could see the exhaustion in her expression. He picked up the book from her lap and flipped back to the page she was on.

He settled in behind her, resting his chin on her shoulder, and started to read from Emma's newly marked line—smiling a little as he read it; only pausing momentarily at the end of each passage to plant kisses across her shoulder until Emma's eyes finally fell closed and her breathing slowed. Sometimes all she needed was for Killian to talk to her, reassure her that everything would work out fine.

Killian gently picked her up and carried her back to their room. He lay down beside her and wrapped his arm around her waist, hugging her close to him.

"Goodnight, love," he whispered.

In the morning, Emma returned to work with Killian's last pep talk still playing in her mind when she found a box of donuts laying on her desk.

"Thanks, guys. You know me too well," Emma smiled at her coworkers who all started to laugh.

"And she's back in action," Graham said, moving to steal a donut, but Emma smacked his hand away.

"I don't think your name is 'Emma Swan,' and this box clearly says, 'To: Emma Swan.'"

"Good to have you back," he said, smiling when she finally gave him one.

"Good to be back," and it was true.

Despite her nervousness from earlier that night, she was glad to be at her desk again, her badge in place, and her coworkers happy to see her return.

It was the day of Mrs. Nolan's beloved Summer Festival.

It'd been two weeks since her and Killian lied down in the Nolans' yard, confessing their day's stories and working out the Drizella-situation under the shifting clouds. She much preferred the stars like the night her and Killian spent on the beach as he explained and drew the constellations with his finger. That night always made her smile; Killian always made her smile.

Impressively in only two weeks, Emma had managed to work through some of the aches she'd let live in her heart and she felt stronger for it. Killian, Mary Margaret, David, and a few meetings with Dr. Hopper all helped lift that huge weight off of her, and for the first time in years, she felt like she could really breathe again.

It couldn't change the past or her memories of a darker time before that detective, carrying an envelope holding her invitation to Storybrooke and to a real family, sat down with her in that dingy diner, but her friends and family were helping her deal with everything that had been unearthed.

When Emma first started showing her face around town, she still received curious looks and sympathetic smiles, but as the days went on, Storybrooke began to see reality again; that reality being that Emma Swan was a strong, capable person—compassionate and fair, but most of all, happy even with every bit of misfortune that had been thrown at her.

Because when Emma smiled, she lit up the town. She was taking away her past's hold on her and part of that hold was letting Drizella continue on, miserable as ever, without any help from her. Revenge wasn't the answer, not for Emma.

The same couldn't be said for Mary Margaret who had to be held back by David every time she caught a glimpse of Ashley's sour-faced stepsister walking around town.

At first, Drizella would just smirk arrogantly and walk away with her nose up in the air, but one day, when she had actually been close enough to feel the heat of Mary Margaret's rage, she quickly dropped her lips into a frown, learning never to go to the grocery store on Tuesdays and Fridays, never to near street of the Nolan's residence, and never to let Mrs. Nolan catch her around town.

But today, everyone would gather in the park where the old retired barn sat for the festival and with Drizella running for the summer pageant queen, Emma and everyone else was going to have to face the bitter, cold-hearted woman. For the rest of the early morning preparation, Ruby grumbled about how ridiculous it was that Drizella was a contestant.

Emma and Ashley kept teasing her, telling her to enter the pageant and show them how it was done, but Ruby just kept rolling her eyes and changed the topic, letting her own vendetta against Drizella rest while they all chatted away—finally finished with squeezing the seemingly endless supply of lemons for the lemonade stand.

The women sat lazily in the cool shade of a tree while they watched their boys follow the barked commands of Mrs. Nolan. Emma didn't envy Killian; the poor man was sweating from working so long in the sun, the sweltering heat making even the smallest of tasks nearly unbearable. He continued hammering the stage steps together, trying, unsuccessfully, to not get distracted by Emma batting her playful eyes and teasing him. He wanted nothing more to run over, scoop her up, and escape to their house and the ocean breeze, but even their breaks were monitored by Mrs. Nolan.

Ruby's laugh brought Emma's attention back to their conversation. Ruby had been talking about her honeymoon.

"We took a hike up this one trail and there was a little lagoon with a waterfall." She paused, still grinning and flipping through the photos in her phone and listening to Ashley's 'ooh's and 'aw's. "I told him it was too slippery, but he didn't listen and…"

Like a flip book, the picture showed Victor striking a pose, his 'guns' on display; the second showed him heading toward the waterfall. Next he was taking a leap to a boulder and afterwards slipping and flailing his arms, frantically trying to find something to hold on to. Finally, a soaking wet Victor walked back toward the camera looking pink-cheeked and embarrassed. Knowing Ruby, she was probably mercilessly laughing at him from the shore.

"I didn't show you the best part," Ruby giggled. The girls leaned in and watched the video she'd taken after.

'What did I tell you?' Ruby laughed from behind the camera.

'Hey, a little water never hurt anyone,' Victor tried to play it cool, standing with his hands on his hips in the shallow pool.

'Oh right, and now you're going to tell me that you meant to do that,' she teased.

'Look here, Mrs. Whale, a man never backs away from an adventure.'

'Oh yes, so manly.'

'Actually yes I—' Victor looked down and jumped, scanning the waters around him.

'You okay, babe?'

'Yeah, I thought I felt—' The next part was Victor screaming, running madly to the shore; yelping every time he stepped on the sharp little stones. 'Something's in the water! It's trying to eat me!'

"You stopped recording!" Ashley exclaimed.

"When your husband starts panicking saying that something's biting him, then yes—you put down your phone, Ashley," Ruby laughed. Emma noticed how her eyes shined when she said 'husband.'

"Holy crap, what was it?" Emma asked.

"They were just these little fish. Like the ones they use in foot spas, and there was even a little girl playing around with them next to us. I pushed Victor back into the water and he shrieked."

The girls giggled, sneaking glances at Victor who stopped what he was doing, staring at Ruby's phone wide-eyed. He knew.

"So basically, every time I bring it up, he gets all red and storms off."

"Aw, that's cute," Ashley said, waving to her own beau working with the others on assembling the last bits of the stage.

"So, Emma," Ruby grinned. "When are you and Killian getting married?"

"W-what? Who said—did he say something to Victor?" Emma stammered.

"No. He didn't say anything, but—" Ruby gasped, "you clearly said something. What'd you say?"

"Nothing. Just that… I might be—soon be—in the future, possibly open to the idea of…"

"Of being Mrs. Jones?!" Ruby squealed way too loud.

"Stop it!" Emma shushed her, clasping a hand around her friend's mouth and glancing over to see if Killian's ears perked up, but instead, he was too distracted by his own yell.

"Bloody fucking hell," he hissed, glaring at the hammer laying on the hay-covered ground below. Emma immediately hopped off the table.

"That's right, Emma. Go take care of your man," Ruby laughed, Ashley not doing anything to hide her own giggles, too.

"Shut up, Ruby," Emma muttered, her cheeks inflamed.

Killian squeezed his finger tightly trying to stop the pain while muttering more curses.

"Hey, you okay?" Emma asked.

"Been better, darling," he said. "Your mother is a bloody slave driver." On cue, Mary Margaret started to wave her arms, shouting, 'No, no, no. That's all wrong,' over a crooked banner. Emma placed her hand on his back and began to guide him away.

"Well, let's get you to freedom then."

"I'm allowed to leave?" he asked in disbelief, like it was too good to be real.

"Sure." She shrugged. "She's not the boss," Emma said, taking his arm in hers and leaning over for a quick peck. "I am." The two walked away while her mother's orders to the other citizens suckered into helping, rang in the distance.

"How is it?" she asked, stopping to examine his hand.

"Painful—I think it may require some special attention." He snaked his unharmed hand around her waist and pulled her against him.

"You hurt your finger, Killian," she said dryly, leaning into him nonetheless. "I think that hardly calls for medical attention."

"But the pain," he pouted.

"Maybe we should have Victor take a quick look at it then?"

"Now why would I want that when my lovely girlfriend could be nursing me back to health?" Killian said, his lips ghosting over hers.

"Sheriffs and nurses? I'm starting to think you have a kink for a woman in uniform, Killian Jones."

"What took you so long, love?" he chuckled. "And why? Do you have the uniform?" She playfully pushed his arm, not able to contain the smile on her face because this was them—teasing and fun and making everything better again. "I love you, Emma Swan," he mumbled onto her lips, again grateful for her rescuing him.

"I know," she smirked and it looked cute on her, Killian noted. Almost cute enough to distract him from the throbbing pain of his swelling finger. Almost. "I love you, too."

"Girls! We still have a lot of work to do," Mary Margaret said, ordering Ruby and Ashley to start on another project.

"We should probably get out of here."

"Yeah, you should shower."

"Only if you'll join me."

"I'll see what I can do," she smiled, and they began to walk back down the street toward their home.

It was just before noon and the festival stage was finally completed without further help from Killian thanks to Emma's insistence to Mary Margaret. His finger now down to a dull ache, Killian didn't mind half as much about spending a few hours tying together utensil sets, hanging streamers and lights, and moving pumpkins; especially since it gave him more time to disappear with Emma—sneaking behind trees and the old barn.

It also didn't go without Ruby's never-ending comments.

"Wow-oh-wow, that has got to be the longest trip to get more pumpkins ever."

Killian placed his pumpkin down smugly, lips red and slightly swollen, as Emma hid her face, her hair still mussed up in the back.

"Ruby," Belle called, leaning around the side of the barn entrance. "Mrs. Nolan was wondering if you could give her a hand out there." Ruby winked at Emma's pink-cheeked face and left them to haul the rest of the gourds.

"Thanks a lot," she grumbled to Killian. "Could you look anymore smug?"

"You weren't complaining a minute ago, darling," he teased, kissing her on the cheek then picking up the last of the pumpkins.

"I'm just glad this whole thing will be over in a few hours," Emma mumbled, setting down her own pumpkin.

"I don't know about that. I'd say we've had our fun," he sent a wink no better than Ruby's her way. She rolled her eyes and walked out of the barn with Killian. They glanced around the grounds and marveled at its total transformation.

Streetlamps were wrapped in streamers; lines of booths were filled with everything from homemade candles and jewelry to games; pumpkins and hay bales were stacked on and around the stage; there was a long bench-table covered with pies; a large trough for bobbing apples; ribbons and medals laid out neatly on the stage; and Mary Margaret who stood triumphantly in the middle of it all.

"Isn't it wonderful?" Mary Margaret said to Emma and Killian, hugging them both for their hard work. "And you know, Emma, it's not too late to enter the pageant," she said excitedly.

"No, no, no, no. I'm perfectly fine being in the audience, thank you very much."

"It wouldn't be fair for our daughter to enter anyway; she'd win before the beauty contest even started," said David.

"Agreed," Killian said, giving Emma's hand a squeeze and even receiving a kind nod from David.

"Don't worry, it's the pie eating contest that really counts anyway," David smiled, elbowing Emma. "And we need someone to carry on the Nolan legacy since someone has banned me from it—and any other form of fun—this year."

"David, we are not having this discussion about your diet again. You know what Dr. Whale told you, and no. It's not a beauty contest—it's a pageant," Mary Margaret corrected.

"Ugh," Ruby chimed from behind them, staring up at the stage, too. "I can't believe that Drizella is actually going to be in it. She's never going to win."

Mary Margaret sighed. "It took all my strength not to rig a trap door. What a great idea, too. Wasted."

"Violence is not the answer, mom."

"But it's an option," Ruby said happily.

"You guys! No more, stop," Emma warned, but Ruby and Mary Margaret just smiled at each other, their faces too innocent looking.

"It looks like people are starting to show up," David announced, and the group broke up to go to their booths.

Emma and Killian let the next shift take over at their booth. Killian won Emma a stuffed animal then Emma took her turn with the pellet rifle and proved that he wasn't the only good shot. With their matching bears, the two played hide-and-seek in the maze made of hay bales, ending with Emma tackling Killian into a pile of straw. They were still picking it out of their hair when David called them over toward the stage.

The pageant was beginning and there was Drizella—pretty, Emma had to admit, aside from her signature scowl—standing up there on stage with the other ladies.

The band began to play, signaling the beginning of the contest, and Drizella actually did well in presenting herself as a sweet person, humble and kind and not at all the woman who was slighted by Emma and set out to ruin her life when the opportunity presented itself. Ruby kept saying she was going to vomit every time Drizella spoke.

The lights strung above turned on as the sun began to set. Everyone clapped as the judges tallied in the votes and prepared to announce the winner. Ribbons were presented to first place pies, cobblers, and jams. The whole thing was so long that Emma's eyes started to glaze over after the sixth award presented until she heard her name.

"Emma Swan? Could Emma Swan please come up?"

Emma looked at Killian who merely shrugged and gave her a slight push forward. Emma shyly made her way to the stage as everyone clapped enthusiastically for her.

"Since arriving, Miss Swan has helped and inspired many of us and I think I can speak or everyone when I say that Storybrooke is lucky to have such a wonderful sheriff," the announcer smiled, slipping a purple sash onto Emma's shoulders.

Emma could see Mary Margaret snatch away a bouquet of red roses from a woman with far more force than necessary and handed her a bouquet of white roses to give to Emma instead. Emma could see Ruby give Mary Margaret a relieved smile.

"Emma Swan, I hereby present to you Storybrooke's outstanding citizen award for your services and dedication to this town and the people in it." Everyone clapped and hollered, shouting, 'Go Emma!' The loudest probably David.

Emma made her way off the stage and back toward Killian.

"You knew about this," she said.

"I did," he grinned. She playfully punched his shoulder than wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.

"And without further ado, the award and title of Storybrooke's Summer Pageant Queen, by a landslide, is..." The spotlight circled around and around until it landed on one woman.

Drizella had won.

"Are they fucking kidding me?" Ruby said outraged once she reached the rest of the group.

"It doesn't mean anything, Ruby," Victor assured her, rubbing her hand comfortingly while she hissed on.

"I mean, who the hell in their right mind would vote for her after what she did." She sent Emma an apologetic frown for the reminder. "Sorry."

"It's fine." Emma waved it off, but Killian tightened his arms around her still and leaned his head forward to whisper in her ear.

"Don't worry, love. I'll take your mind off of it later."

"Oh wow, how selfless of you," she smiled and nudged her head affectionately against his.

"Ruby, come on. Calm down," Victor pleaded, trying to trap her in his own arms, a loving ploy to hold her back from running over and ripping out Drizella's throat. "It's stupid and who knows; maybe it's some sort of joke."

"Really? This is a joke? Whoever came up with this plan has one screwed up sense of humor."

"Maybe it was fixed." The flat voice came from behind them and Mary Margaret stepped into view, staring intently at the stage, and calm. Far too calm.

"I knew it!" Ruby shouted and tried to jump down off the table, Victor still wrestling to hold back his raging wife.

Something caught Killian's eye—something gleaming under the lights, peeking out from Mary Margaret's pocket. Just as observant and suspicious of her mother's tone, Emma looked at her mother's retreating figure.

They all watched Drizella being crowned, a sash placed over her shoulders, too, as she received a bouquet of flowers. The bouquet of red flowers that Mary Margaret had handled before. Music was cued and announced the beginning of the Summer Queen's victory glide down the catwalk.

"This is bullshit," Ruby huffed. "Absolute bull—" The end of the catwalk collapsed, the support beams all giving out. Drizella howled, sprawled atop the pile of wood.

Victor finally let go of Ruby and the two rushed up to the stage—Victor, serious and in work mode, and Ruby in what looked like sheer delight.

Emma and Killian stared at the commotion underneath the shade of the trees next to them.

"What did you?! You can't do things like that!" David shouted.

"I didn't do anything, David." Mary Margaret glared back at her husband.

"Mom, what's going on?" Emma asked wide-eyed, hesitant, dreading to know the answer to what she already knew—yet all the same, a small part of her was welling up in pride and endearment at her mother's loyalty.

Ruby pushed her way back through the crowd with a wolfish grin on her face.

"What happened? Is she okay?" Emma asked.

"I think she sprained her ankle and might have broken her arm," the giddy brunette sang. "I think I saw some blood, too," she added all too cheerily. God, Ruby was more ruthless than Emma had thought. "Victor's heading back to the hospital, so can I get a ride?"

"Of course you can, Ruby! We'll take you," Mary Margaret spoke with just as much enthusiasm, and as the group made their way to the car, Killian fell behind to let David have a moment with his daughter.

While David and Emma laughed, Killian began to walk in step with Mary Margaret.

"Mrs. Nolan," Killian said.

"Yes, Killian?"

"Your screwdriver is showing," he said calmly. He peeked at her from the corner of his eye and saw her smirk darkly as she pulled it from her pocket and held it behind her; sliding it up her sleeve and out of sight.

"I think we should celebrate," she smiled innocently. "Emma's award, I mean," she half-lied. "Will you and Emma stay for dinner?" They exchanged smiles and walked side by side.

"Your mother scares me sometimes," David said to Emma.

"She said she didn't do anything."

"Right. The beams weren't secured by total accident."

"I know. With her attention to detail with this festival?" Emma snorted. "Let's just hope that's the end of." She stopped and looked back, outstretching her hand for Killian to hold as they all made their way back to the Nolans' house for dinner.

The next day, Ruby called up Emma who was soaking up the sun down at the beach with Killian.

"Who was that?"

"Ruby. Apparently, Drizella has a mild skin rash on her face and neck."

"No doubt from those flowers she smothered her face in yesterday," he said.

"Poison ivy?"


"And it's for sure. She broke her arm."

"I don't think Ruby had anything to do with the stage."

"You're right. She was way too happy and surprised by that," she said. "I don't like this. I feel guilty."

"You," he kissed her, "are far too nice sometimes."

"No I'm not. I just don't like the idea of someone getting hurt over me—even Drizella. My mom's lucky nothing worse happened."

"You heard her. She said she knew nothing about it."

"She had a screwdriver in her pocket."

"Good to be prepared."

"Yeah, for revenge," Emma sighed.

"Emma, stop worrying about it and enjoy the day. Alright?" Killian moved closer and lay his head over her heart, listening to the two things he loved most, the sea and Emma.

"Alright," she smiled, running her hands through his messy hair. "I love you, Killian."

"I know," he mimicked her then laughed. "I love you, Ems."

Just so you know, I'm writing another story that needs to be finished ASAP, so I'm not too sure when I'll next update Eyes Like the Sea. But please know that I love this story and I have so much more planned for Emma and Killian—and it may not all be bad :)

Thanks for reading, loves3 Leave a comment please? :D