Chapter 13: Guilty Pleasure
Feeling air suddenly filling her lungs, Emma opened her eyes.
“Emma!” she heard almost instantly.
At first totally disorientated, she barely had time to wonder where she was when his lips captured hers, his hand slipping in the nape of her neck, and his arm wrapping in her back. Then, she knew: she still had no idea about where she was, but she knew she was with him, and it was all she cared about. She tried to kiss him back as intensely as he was, but her lips seemed to be only weakly responding. Her whole body actually felt weak and she didn’t know why. She didn’t remember what had happened before the present moment. She let him pull her up in a sitting position, their lips against each other. She was totally drowning in his embrace, and didn’t try to find her way back to the surface.
When she did resurface, she instantly regretted this moment when the fact he was there was the only thing that she knew; when he let her breathe and she looked around, she recognized the room and it all came back to her. Her eyes filled with tears when she saw the shards of glass scattered on the floor. Seeing the distress the room was inspiring her, Killian immediately cupped her chin to look her in the eyes.
“What has she done to you?”
“Poisoned apple,” she managed to say despite the emotion strangling her voice.
“Why did you eat it? Did she force-feed you?” The hatred the thought of the Evil Queen was inspiring him made his jaw clench.
“No, she said I had a choice. But I didn’t. She showed me what would have happened if...” Memories of the vision made tears even more abundant and stopped her from talking. Her sentences were fragmented when she managed to talk again. “The glass, it’s what she used to show me. It shattered in the end, I think I did it, I don’t know how. She showed me. I saw you die. There was no choice to be made, I… I can’t lose you.”
His arms wrapped around her and she pulled her to him, her cheek pressed against his chest, his hand in her hair.
“You won’t lose me, you don’t have to worry. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s surviving.” He kept her in a tight embrace, his eyes on the shards of glass. It had been the second time the Evil Queen had pretended to give her a choice, using him to get what she wanted, and Emma had sacrificed herself for him, again. He tightened his embrace, resting his cheek on the top of her head. “You are safe now.”
Pulling back, Killian cupped her cheek. She had stopped crying. There were only a few tears left, which he softly wiped away. Finally, she smiled, leaning into his hand.
“You saved me,” she said in a low voice. Overwhelmed with all the memories of what had happened with the Evil Queen, the mirror and the apple, she was only now realizing he had awakened her.
“All it took was a kiss,” he said with a tender smile.
His smile brightened as he watched it dawn on her; he knew she had read this chapter as well, he knew she knew what this kiss meant. Speechless, her eyes were searching his, as if looking for some kind of confirmation. He only smiled more.
“Actions speak louder than words, but talking about words, I was afraid I would never have a chance to tell you this, something I could have told you so many times before,” he said, his hand still cupping her cheek, looking her in the eyes. “I love you.”
Emma’s lips parted. Somehow, she already knew, because he was wrong; many times he had let her understand how he was feeling about her. But hearing the words still took her breath away. She wanted to say them back, but for some reason they wouldn’t come out. Her eyes were locked on his. She was thinking of this kiss which had pulled her out of this eternal sleep; surely he knew without the words. Surely he knew that if she didn’t have these feelings for him, she would still be asleep. ‘Actions speak louder than words,’ since the words wouldn’t come out, she could just show him. Getting down of the altar, she closed the distance between them and captured his lips, trying to communicate all the tenderness and love she was feeling through the kiss. She smiled when he was breathless, and smiled even more when she felt he would have gladly gone for another kiss.
“Let’s get out of here,” she whispered, slightly out of breath herself. She looked around and it was when she realized there was no door or no hatchway. “How did you get here?”
“By the window,” he said with an amused smile. “And I’m afraid that’s also how we’ll get out.”
Emma looked out of the window and, wondering how they were supposed to go down, looked back at Killian. He was emptying his pockets on the floor and she came closer.
“You took all of this with you.”
“Don’t look so surprised, love, I can happen to be far-sighted,” he chuckled. “There was no door at the foot of the tower. I thought perhaps I had simply not seen it, but I considered the option that there wouldn’t be any at the top either. I could have climbed down the way I climbed, but it was not as easy as a beanstalk. With you I prefer to be more careful. Now… abseiling is not something I’m used to.”
“You don’t know how to go down?”
“I haven’t said that.”
“You have a figure eight descender,” Emma spotted among the items.
“You know this?”
“Don’t look so surprised,” she replied on a teasing tone, using his own words, before kneeling down next to him, examining what he had. “I did some climbing at school, I’ve learned how to use this. But usually we need a harness.”
“A harness. How do you plan on belaying yourself?”
Killian raised an eyebrow, somehow confused by her question. “With the rope.”
“You’re going to tie yourself with the rope?”
“Aye.” He was obviously not seeing the problem.
“It won’t be comfortable, the rope will hurt you.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” Amusement tinted his features. “I can handle it. How about I get ready, you come with me, and we go down together?”
“Aye, I can’t let you get hurt by the rope.”
Emma sighed, knowing she couldn’t do anything if he had decided to be stubborn. “Would you change your mind if I told you it’s not safe?”
“Why would it be unsafe?” A smirk appeared on his lips. “Can you hold onto me tightly?”
This sudden question made a soft blush cover her cheeks. “Yes.”
“Then, you’re safe,” he said.
“And you’re stubborn.”
Killian laughed and pressed a soft kiss on her cheek. “Perhaps I am.”
Among all the tools he had brought, he gathered what they needed. Standing up, he coiled a short rope around his waist and passed it inside the descender. Emma was watching him, trying to remember what she had learned years earlier.
“Wait,” she said, “it’s not going to work if you pass it now.”
“I must admit I’ve rarely used such a device.”
“Let me help.” Taking the descender back, she passed a loop of the long rope inside it, before placing it back around his waist. Not moving, he watched her finishing to coil the rope. His hand then covered hers.
“I’ll take care of the knot.”
“Killian, I don’t like this. Isn’t there any other way? How can we know the knot won’t just give way.”
“Trust a captain to tie safe knots,” he said, looking around. “This is exactly what we need.”
Killian was looking at one of the metal rings in the wall above the window. He went to pass an end of the long rope inside it and tied a knot Emma recognized as a double figure-eight loop. Finally ready, he stood up on the edge of the window, and before she had time to say anything, tried the system: sitting in the air, his feet still on the edge of the window, he smiled at Emma whose breath had been taken away by fear.
“See? It’s safe.”
He sat back on the edge of the window, indicating her to join him. She knew he wouldn’t risk her safety; if he told her it was safe, she would trust him. Slowly, she came to him and sat on his lap, crossing her legs around him.
“Do you really think this is the right way?” she asked, passing an arm in his back and placing her hand on his shoulder, pulling herself closer to him.
His hooked arm around her waist and his hand tightly closed on the rope, he went back outside. They started to go down, Killian walking down the wall of the tower while little by little letting the rope slide in his hand. Emma saw how tight the rope seemed to be around his waist.
“Are you sure it’s not hurting you too much?”
“Emma, with you holding me like this, there is no pain to be felt.” She looked up from his waist and drowned into his eyes. “Love, when you look at me like this, I just want to kiss you. Not the thing to do when our lives hang by a thread, or by the rope in my hand, to be more precise.”
Biting her lip to repress a smile, she looked down at the said hand. “And you’re saying this doesn’t hurt? At least let me help.”
“How do you want to help?”
She placed her hand below his, closing it tightly on the rope. “There’s no need to let the rope slide in your hand like this. With two hands, it’ll be easier. Now, just let go of the rope and place your hand below mine.”
That was what he did and, little by little, they went down, each of them with an arm wrapped around the other one, both focused on the rope and on coordinating their hands.
“I think you were right when you said we make quite the team,” she said, beaming, when they finally reached the ground. Taking care of freeing him of the rope, she then threw his arms around his neck and kissed the man who loved her. Since he had told her, she had been able to focus on the present moment and put aside all the bad memories; everything that had happened, all of the hell she had had to walk through, had led her to this moment, and she wouldn’t trade a day for a chance to feel like this, to feel blissful. She brushed his lip with the tip of her tongue and smiled as he seemed to go for more when she pulled back, his lips following hers. Capturing them again, she melted in his embrace.
“What was that for?” he asked, passing his tongue on his lips, their foreheads still against each other.
“You wanted a kiss while we were going down this tower. Maybe you were not the only one.” Quickly, she pecked his lips. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure,” he replied with a light smirk.
It was only then that she looked around. “Where is the Jolly Roger?”
“Not here. I came by horse. I told you riding could be convenient, it wasn’t so easy to find you.”
This was when Emma realized she was probably mistaken; when waking up, she had felt like she had taken a bite of this apple on the previous day. Her voice was hesitant when she asked, “how long have I been asleep?”
“If she cursed you right after taking you away from me, I’d say seven weeks.”
Her mouth fell open in surprise. She had no word. Her eyes followed him as he went back to the horse.
“Do you fancy some drink? Or anything to eat?”
Emma quirked her eyebrows, not expecting the question. She had no idea, because her thoughts had been kept busy. “I don’t know.”
“Well, if you decide you want anything, there’s some food here, and some water there.”
“Such a provident captain,” she said with a smile, joining him. “Should I sit before or behind you?”
“Before. If you sit behind, I won’t be able to see you.”
A light giggle escaped her. “I could say the same.”
“Before,” he insisted with a bright smile.
When they left, Emma sitting on the horse before Killian, it was already the middle of the afternoon.
“How long is the ride?”
“It took me all night and all morning to come. But it may take even longer to go back, we’re not as much in a rush as I was.”
Emma would never admit what she was thinking at the moment; how delighted she was at the prospect of spending hours like this, with his hooked arm wrapped around her, leaning back against him.
They remained mostly quiet. Killian didn’t have any necklace to follow this time. He had to focus on where they were going, especially because he had not paid much attention to where he was going on the outward journey; he didn’t remember of the exact path, he only roughly knew the direction. Leaning against him, Emma was lost in her thoughts. She thought of the last evening she had spent in the quarters, how close they had been already, and of this conversation she had overheard between him and his brother, of how she had wanted to talk to him and had been waiting in the quarters that he would come, until she had heard him screaming on deck. Unwilling to think of what had happened next, her thoughts went back to the first day when she had met him, and she relived everything that had happened since she had arrived in this realm.
Hours passed and the night fell. Emma tightened his arm around her.
“If you’re cold, there’s a blanket.”
Emma bit her lip, repressing a smile, and tilted her head to look at him. “You’re warmer than a blanket.”
“How about you take this? I’ll tell you where we have to go. For now, we just need to follow the path.” He handed her the reins of the horse. As soon as she took them, he wrapped his second arm around her, his cheek coming against hers as he came closer, holding her in a tight embrace. “Better?”
Emma followed his indications while enjoying being in his arms. But his embrace was so warm and soothing that she soon found herself fighting sleep. She resisted, focusing on the path ahead of them, fighting to keep her eyes open. When the path ahead was straight, she allowed herself to close her eyes, only a few seconds. But the few seconds were long enough for her to doze off; her head tipped over and she suddenly sat up straight, opening them again.
“Do you want me to take back the reins?”
“No, I will be fine. I’ll keep my eyes open.”
But it was easier said and done; several more times, her head tipped over.
“You still don’t want me to take the reins back?”
“No, I can do it. Just keep holding me like this.”
“As you wish,” he said. Keeping his arms around her, he pressed his lips in her neck and trailed kisses down the line.
“Killian… what are you doing?” she asked, automatically tilting her head on the side to stretch her neck for him.
“Keeping you awake,” he said between two kisses.
Brushing her clothes aside, he bared her shoulder and kept trailing kisses. Emma melted in his embrace. His method was efficient; she was not willing to sleep anymore.
“On the right,” she heard him say.
It was only when they were at the junction of two paths that she realized what he meant. His cheek was back against hers, he had stopped the kisses. Emma bit her lip, not daring to ask him for more.
About half an hour later, she found herself fighting sleep again; she dozed off again to wake up with a start.
“Love, do you want to stop for the night?” Killian didn’t like the idea of making her sleep on the ground, but he couldn’t leave her like this, the journey was still long and she obviously needed some rest.
Killian chuckled. “And you’re saying I’m stubborn.”
The open-mouthed kiss he pressed in her neck was more intense than the previous kisses and was enough to arouse her. She was about to reply when he talked.
“Emma, look,” he said, pointing a sign. “There’s a tavern over here. Turn left, unless you really want to keep riding all night.”
“I think it’s better to stop for the night.”
She turned left. Soon, they saw lights at the end of the path. Light, and also sounds of laughter, were coming out of the windows of the tavern.
“The Snuggly Duckling? Funny name for a tavern,” Emma commented.
Tying the horse to a gate nearby, they entered the tavern. The place was crowded and noisy, full of men who made Emma think of brigands. It was late in the night already, and all of them seemed to have had too many drinks. They were obviously interested in the newcomers, especially in Emma, who felt many eyes on her.
“Stay close to me,” said Killian, grabbing her hand and keeping her close while they crossed the place to the counter. “We’d like a double room. Unless you prefer two single rooms?” he added, turning back to Emma.
She glanced around. The place was not really reassuring. She didn’t mind sharing a room with him, anyway. “A double room is fine.”
“Sorry, Sir,” said the man behind the counter after checking his register. “The only room I have left is a single room.”
“That’ll do,” said Emma.
Surprised, Killian looked at her, before paying and taking the key the man handed him. The room was larger than Killian had expected; there was not just a bed but also an armchair and a small table along the wall.
“Take the bed, I’ll take the armchair.”
“Don’t misunderstand what I am going to say, because I’m planning on sleeping but, Killian, there’s enough place for both of us in this bed. We’d be very close but it’d be more comfortable than the armchair.”
Killian chuckled. “Very tempting offer, love. But I am sure the armchair is fine.”
To prove his point, he went to try it. What he didn’t expect was for Emma to join him, sitting sideways on his lap.
“I thought you were planning on sleeping.”
“Not now. There’s something I’d like to know: how did you find me? You told me I had been sleeping for seven weeks. What happened all this time?”
“You want to hear the story now?”
“Yes. Unless you were planning on sleeping now?”
“I’ll be fine, I can tell you now.” He settled to be more comfortable, sinking in the armchair and pulling her closer, wrapping his left arm in her back. “Time has never gone by as slowly as it went by these past few weeks.”
Killian told her most of the story. He told her how, when seeing her being taken away from him, he had changed direction, how he had been planning on going to the Evil Queen’s castle but Liam had convinced him to go to the Dark One instead. He explained how, though extremely annoying, the crocodile had helped him by giving him a locator spell which, once poured on the necklace, had indicated him the way. More than a week had already passed. It had been the start of six other very long weeks. Killian told her about how he had kept track of the position of the ship, about how the archipelago had given him a false hope, but skipped the part about the void he had been feeling inside, or how he had been trying to fill it.
“Finally, we reached land in the end of the afternoon. Liam tried to hold me back until the morning, but I couldn’t wait any longer. We were in this small village and most of its inhabitants were gathered on the docks. A man lent me a horse when I told them I needed one to find you. I then followed the necklace. I didn’t know how long I would have to ride, I’ve lost track of time. It seemed so long that I considered the possibility I would reach the other end of this land and still need to go further. But the necklace led me to this tower. I was both relieved and scared; relieved that I might see you again, scared of what she might have done to you. My love, I was so afraid when I called for you and got no reply. I climbed the tower, and when I reached the top, I saw you on this altar. My worst fears seemed to have come true. I thought it was over, I thought you were gone. I thought I had failed and I had lost you forever. I thought your heart would never beat again.”
Emma, who had been quietly listening to his story until then, never taking her eyes off of him, wrapped her arms around him and tucked her face in the crook of his neck. Leaning his head against hers, he went on with his tale.
“This was the first time I was relieved to be wrong. When I took your hand and rested my head over your chest,” he said, his words making a soft blush cover her cheeks, “I’ve heard it. Your heart, it was still beating. Then, I knew. I knew you were asleep, and I knew there was a way to wake you up. I was only hoping it’d work.”
Emma pressed a kiss in his neck.
“You spent almost two months fighting for me and you never gave up.” She hardly believed someone could do this for her. But she noticed how he looked down. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve let you think I’ve fought valiantly, but I haven’t told you everything. These weeks away from you were ones of the worst. There was this emptiness I can’t even describe. Without you, it was like I was lost in the dark. I am quite ashamed to say that rum was the only thing that made me believe I could see the light again.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, cupping his cheek.
“Sorry about what?”
His look of surprise disconcerted her. The answer was obvious to her. “Sorry that you went through this hell because of me.”
“Emma, love, don’t be mistaken.” He sat up straight and searched her eyes, his fingers under her chin. “Do you really think I regret anything, when all of this led me to you? I don’t regret a single moment. I would go through it over and over again, because if it allows me to be with you, it’s worth it.”
“Killian…” She simply had no word. Her arms tightened around him and her face went back to his neck, a single tear rolling down her cheek as she wondered what she had done to deserve his love. It was only after a moment that he talked again.
“Emma, there is something I need to tell you. This locator spell, the crocodile asked for a price. He didn’t leave me a choice.” She looked up, worried. “I gave him the bean.”
Emma was relieved. With everything that had happened, she hadn’t granted the bean a single thought. She even barely remembered they still had it. “Killian, it’s alright. If you hadn’t, I would still be sleeping in that tower.”
“Don’t you understand? I’ve traded your only way to go back to your realm. By the way, there’s something I wanted to tell you about it. On the day when I’ve lost you for the second time, I had talked with Liam. I never had a chance to tell you about this: when you go back to your realm, if and only if you want to, I’d like to come with you.”
Emma bit her lip. “I’ve overheard this conversation between you and your brother.”
“You did?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I was going on deck to see you, and I’ve heard your voice in his cabin. Killian, I can’t let you do this. I can’t let you leave your ship and Liam behind. He’s your brother. And he told me once that sailing is what you love.”
“But that was until I met you. I love you more. I can’t let you go. You are my first love, and I want you to be my last.”
A soft sigh left her. “Never stop being so perfect.”
Tenderly, she pressed her lips on his and kissed him. There were so many things she wanted to tell him, but she simply didn’t seem to find the words. She then leant against him, playing with his fingers.
“You have no idea how much I have missed holding you in my arms like this.”
“Keep me, then.”
“Be careful with what you say, love. I may be tempted to do just that,” he said with a crooked smile. “But what if you suddenly decide you want to run away?”
His tone was teasing but his words were reflecting something deeper. He was actually worried he might cross a line and make her run away, and this was the reason why he had rejected her offer to share the bed. Emma focused again on their now intertwined fingers, biting the inside of her lip.
“I won’t run away. You have no idea how soothing and comfortable your embrace is.”
She stayed against him, her head in the crook of his neck, keeping her hand in his. Before she had time to see it coming, she dozed off in his arms. A tender smile was on his lips when he felt she was asleep. He hesitated, tempted to keep her in his arms all night, but after a moment decided to tuck her in.
When Emma opened her eyes, she was in a dark room. Everything was red. There was something extremely oppressive with this room. On the walls were blood red curtains on fire. There were curtains but there was no window. With panic striking, Emma looked around. There was no door either. She was trapped in this room, surrounded by fire. She started with surprise as she felt something warm on her ribs. But this warmth was different from the unbearable heat of the room, this one was enjoyable. The warm feeling went down to her waist. Suddenly, the red room disappeared and everything was black. What she had felt like a warm feeling was still there and she reached for her waist. Her hand covered Killian’s and she smiled, instantly relaxing as she realized she was lying on her side, in the bed of this single room at the tavern.
“Are you alright, love?” Killian asked from behind her, keeping his hand on her waist. “You were shuddering.”
“Nightmare,” she simply replied.
Grabbing his hand, she wrapped herself in his arm, pressing his hand against her chest, keeping it close to her heart.
“Please stay here.”
“As you wish,” he said, shifting closer and pressing a soft kiss on her cheek.
It took her no time to fall back asleep. When she woke up in the morning, the sunlight was filtering through the window. The sun seemed quite high already. Killian still had his arm around her, his hand in hers over her heart, holding her so close that his chest was pressed against her back. He seemed to be still asleep and she wondered whether she should wake him up. At first not moving, she then started to play with his fingers. It was when she took them to her lips that he finally woke up and kissed her cheek.
“May I say I’ve never slept so well than this night?”
Emma smiled and turned in his embrace to face him. Quickly enough, she drowned into his bright blue eyes and she didn’t seem to be the only one to get lost. His eyes locked on hers, his fingers reached for her face, softly caressing her cheek. None of them seemed to keep track of time and know how much time had gone by while they were staring and smiling at each other. Emma had forgot everything, at this moment it was like he was the only one in her world. She was first to come back from this world which seemed to belong only to the both of them.
“Shouldn’t we go?”
“Aye, you’re right. If you let me stare at you like this, I could look at you all day. Are you hungry? They surely have what’s needed for breakfast.”
Emma nodded. Together, they went down. The place was much more quiet now. Most of the men who had been there in the evening had left. The few of them who were still there were asleep. The bartender cleaned one of the tables and invited them to sit. When he listed the different accompaniments for pancakes, Emma interrupted him as soon as she heard one of them.
Killian chuckled and turned to the man. “The same for me.”
“Very well,” said the man before going back behind the counter.
“You made your choice quite fast,” said Killian, amused. “I didn’t know you were a fan of chocolate.”
“Chocolate is my guilty pleasure.”
“Your guilty pleasure?”
“Yes, something I love even if…”
“I know what a guilty pleasure is.” A light laugh escaped him. “I was just surprised chocolate was yours.”
“Oh, and what’s yours?”
With a smile, Killian locked his eyes on hers. “The beautiful woman sitting right in front of me.”
Speechless, Emma didn’t even try to stop the blush from covering her cheeks and kept staring at him. Fortunately for her, the man soon came back with the pancakes, which happened to be so delicious that Emma hesitated to take a second one, but she resisted the temptation.
“I go before you, like yesterday?” Emma asked when it was time to leave.
“So that you can stare at me.”
A smirk tugged at his lips. “Exactly. Now, get on the horse.”
“Alright, captain.” Something caught her eye and a mischievous grin appeared on her features. When walking past him, she briefly stopped and kissed him, her tongue brushing the corner of his lips. She giggled when seeing his look of surprise. “Guilty pleasure. You had some chocolate left.”
Killian chuckled and settled behind her. Soon, they were back on the way to the ship.
“Can we do like yesterday? I take the reins while you keep me in your embrace.”
He didn’t hesitate long before handing her the reins and wrapping his arms around her. “Like this?”
“Yes. How long do you think we need to ride before finding the ship?”
“A long time. I don’t think we’ll arrive before the end of the afternoon.”
“Good,” she said, leaning back against him.
Hours passed and they kept riding through the forest. Emma stayed in charge of the reins while Killian guided her, holding her in his arms. Her eyes instantly closed and her lips parted when she suddenly felt his open mouth in her neck.
“Killian… We’re going to go straight into a tree if you do this.”
“Horses are smart enough to avoid trees on their own.” He kept his lips in her neck until they reached a junction. “On the right.”
Emma opened her eyes just in time to turn right. “How do you know where we’re going?”
He laughed. “I don’t.”
Her eyebrows raised in surprise and she turned back to him. “You don’t know where the ship is?”
“Not precisely. My guess is that it’s somewhere in this direction.”
Emma focused back on the path and decided to trust his instincts, not that she had a choice anyway. And she was right to do so: finally, after a couple hours, the path led them to a village and the Jolly Roger came into view.