Some time later...
“Come on, girls,” Emma sighed. “Let’s go in. It’s been a looong day, huh?” she continued, noting the circles under her eyes as she checked on Gale and Zen in the rearview as proof of just how tired she was.
Emma stepped out of her ancient yellow Bug, and popped her seat forward with a groan to let her two furry girls out of the back. She didn’t take them to the office with her too often, but today had been busy with private training lessons and a staff meeting, and she wanted to be absolutely sure they made their regular lunchtime hike to the lake. At least if they were in the same room with her, she couldn't accidentally forget to run home. Killian was away for a couple of days at some homeland security meeting in DC, and his being on travel was a great excuse to keep them with her. As it turned out, they were helpful as demo dogs for some very tough training sessions, so she was giving some serious thought to making them her partners at the office on a more regular basis.
Gale hopped out first and almost immediately caught a scent in need of investigation. With her nose to the ground, twitching in every direction and tail straight up in the air like an antenna with its tip flicking here and there as she separated other smells from the one she was tracking, Gale became immersed in her explorations along the driveway. The main scent she caught brought her to the garage door and she pawed at it, but Emma was too busy coaxing Zen (who had been out cold and snoring) out of the back seat to notice.
Zen, on the other hand, finally somewhat alert, carefully stepped out and stretched — coiled tail in the air curving toward her back and her head down by her paws — the perfect downward facing dog. Emma liked to tease her that she would make an excellent yoga instructor if she ever needed to supplement their income. Zen looked up at Emma, the late afternoon sun bringing out the clear blue of her eyes and the practically white stripe on her otherwise golden forehead, and she gave a lazy grin, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth in the fading heat of the day.
Emma scratched behind Zen’s ears and kissed her nose, then grabbed her bag from the passenger side and trailed along behind her to meet Gale at the side door into the garage.
Even though she knew the garage was going to be empty, she was disappointed nonetheless at the lack of Killian’s Jeep normally parked there. Emma treasured her alone time when she got it, but that only lasted about 24 hours before she missed Killian calling her “love” every other sentence and the weight of his arms around her while they slept. She wouldn’t lie — she also missed his help with their two furry kids at the end of a long day dealing with other people’s dogs and their issues.
Emma was pretty sure, though, that Gale and Zen didn’t miss him quite as much as she did if the amount of time they spent on Killian’s side of the bed was any indication. The three of them had quite the cuddle the night before, which would have been great if it weren’t for the fact that Emma was pinned under the covers and couldn’t move most of the night, which made for a stiff morning. The dogs were both well-rested at least, but Emma woke up wanting a nap and a long soak in a hot bath.
She opened the door to the kitchen, the dogs running ahead into the house — no doubt to go grab their favorite toys like they always did for a round of “keep away” before dinner. Emma was feeling Killian’s absence acutely since it was really his job to run around like a crazy person with the dogs. She was a little too tired right now to play chase without the likelyhood of face-planting and ending the day with a hospital visit. Maybe she could convince them to snuggle on the couch with her, a movie, and a tub of ice cream instead...
A large bouquet of flowers on the counter stopped her in her tracks half a step through the doorway. She knew they had to be from Killian, only because he always used empty tennis ball containers and pretended his flowers were from Gale, or sometimes Zen. The man did not own a real vase and she didn’t see a need to fix that. The ball container was perfect for them, not to mention there was usually one handy. Truth be told, there were more tubes of tennis balls around than boxes of pop tarts which was saying something. She stepped over to the counter to get a better look and smell wondering what the special occasion could be.
Before admiring the blossoms, she glanced around the kitchen and listened to hear if Killian was in the house, but his Jeep wasn’t anywhere in sight, so he couldn’t have been around. He must have stepped out for a bit. With any luck he was grabbing dinner so neither of them had to cook. She called out for him anyway, but there was no answer. She couldn’t imagine why he’d come home early, but it wasn’t the first time he dodged out on something to come back to her. It was a bit of a habit of his, and one she was not about to discourage.
Standing before the bouquet, she admired the bursting and frilled white peonies, the pale pink and lavender roses (she was probably going to have to go make nice to Johanna next door again), and a couple of branches of dogwood flowers she hoped he bought from a florist rather than snipped from another neighbor’s yard. His “piracy” was strangely romantic, but still theft and she was pretty sure he’d get in trouble for it one day. That particular habit of his, however, he refused to break, stating proudly: “Once a pirate, always a pirate, love.” Emma stuck her nose right in the fragrant mix and inhaled the delicate scents and felt the softness of the petals against her nose and cheeks. She could understand why dogs loved to put their whole snout into flowerbeds sometimes. It was like disappearing into another world.
She placed her hands on the counter to balance herself and not overturn the floral cloud in front of her, but they landed on an open notebook instead and slid a little, almost knocking over the “vase” anyway. It was the same notebook she and Killian had used to communicate when she walked Gale before they met in person. They hadn’t needed it for a long time now — not since they started their relationship in earnest a couple of years ago. But seeing it again made her smile warmly at the memories of some very silly messages.
Of course there was a note written on the pages in Killian’s handwriting, but from Gale.
Thanks for taking me and Zen to work today. We love getting to spend extra time with you when Dad’s away!
Speaking of being with you...my Dad and I were wondering if you and Zen would join our little pack for good. I said you already were part of the pack, but he said something about making it official. I guess he means it’s off to the vet for you to get your microchip so we can find you if you get lost. Don’t worry though, it doesn’t hurt. Oh, wait. He said that’s not what he means at all. Maybe he’s getting you a new collar? I dunno now...he’s so confusing...
Emma snorted then giggled to herself. Killian’s sense of humor never failed to amuse her. She hadn’t even realized how much she missed their notes to each other from Gale until this minute, but her heart skipped a beat and she felt the sting of tears in her eyes at Killian wanting to be “official.” She read on:
Maybe you should turn around and he can explain it himself.
When she turned around, there was Gale, a black velvet box in her mouth, sitting right next to Killian, who was down on one knee.
“Surprised, love?” Killian asked, giving her a wink and a waggle of his eyebrows.
Emma laughed as she nodded, speechless, tears starting to slide from her eyes down her cheeks. Zen wandered in, sporting a brand new collar just like Gale’s pink pirate one Killian had gotten her a couple of years ago when Emma began teasing him about his pirate ways after her first sail aboard his boat, The Jolly Roger.
“I see Zen is on board with this,” Emma choked out between her laugher and tears as her sunny girl came and stood next to her, curly tail swishing lightly against her leg. The dog yawned, then walked over to Killian and licked his nose while he was at eye-level with her.
He scrunched his face at the contact and laughed. “Aye. She’s easy. I promised her a bigger bed to lounge on. And how about you, darling? Care to join our pack for the long haul as well?”
“I’m considering it,” Emma teased. She knew a long time ago that she wasn’t going anywhere, but she was relieved to know Killian didn’t want her to go anywhere either. “Is this my microchip?” she asked pointing to the box in Gale’s mouth. She reached out to take it from Gale, but the black dog turned her head, dodging Emma’s hand.
Killian looked at the dog in utter disbelief. He stood up and stared down at her, hands on his hips. “Galene! Bad form! This is not what we practiced and you know it, you cheeky girl. That might feel like a tennis ball, lass, but I assure you it is not. No more keep away — now give!” Killian commanded.
Gale turned her head back toward Emma who was trying to contain her laughter at Gale’s selective disobedience. She loved to best Killian (especially in front of Emma), and had the uncanny ability to be subtle about it, catching him off-guard every time. Emma reached in with her thumb and pointer finger to pull the box gently from Gale’s jaws. When she finally gave it up (Emma having to give it a little tug first), Killian bent down to give Gale a hug and a kiss for finally playing along, muttering about what a “dreadful girl” Gale was as he loved her unabashedly anyway.
The rather slobbered upon box opened with a snap to reveal a white gold band inlaid with a princess cut diamond flanked by two pairs of stacked round diamonds, and set off by four squares of onyx on either side. It was beautiful and unlike any other ring she’d seen. She pulled it out of the box and slipped it on her left ring finger. It fit perfectly and looked like it was made for her hand. She loved everything about it: the fact that nothing stuck out of it so she could wear it during training and walks and not worry about ruining it, the black squares which had to be for Gale who brought them together, and the four diamonds for the four of them. Her little family. Her pack.
“Well, love...” Killian said hesitantly as he faced her, slouching down to catch her attention. “What do you say?” he asked, looking into her watering jade eyes. “Will you marry me?”
Emma could only nod her head enthusiastically and throw her arms around his neck and hold on tightly, still nodding. Killian chuckled and spun her around, lifting her feet off the floor and scattering the dogs from the kitchen.
When he set her down again, Emma felt like she was caught in the eye of a dazzling storm: this moment, like out of a dream, locked in time while the universe turned swiftly around her unchecked against the contentment she felt inside her. He was her peace in this world and she never wanted to be without him. She placed her hands on either side of Killian’s face, her new ring resting on his cheekbone and she looked into his eyes and said, “Thank you, Killian,” before kissing him with all the tenderness she felt for him, for Gale, for this life they’d begun building together. It was more than she ever could have hoped for when she was bouncing from home to home in the foster system and certainly when she was locked up in jail. She worked hard to get where she was today, professionally, but she never expected this kind of reward, personally. She was overwhelmed with the joy she’d once been so sure she would only ever get to watch others experience, and it felt like the greatest gift anyone had given her.
Killian held her tightly to him, one arm wrapped around her back, his other hand cradling her head gently in contrast, as their lips met and melded over and over again until they were both out of breath. Emma pulled back for a moment, eyes still half-closed but admiring the rather debauched look on his face, a soft grin playing across her lips.
He smiled back at her and said, “It is I who should be thanking you, love. You’ve given me everything.”
Emma ran her knuckles along his jawline and gave him a slow peck on the lips. “I was thanking you for not microchipping me,” she whispered.
Killian began to shake, a deep rumble working its way up his chest and he threw his head back with a loud bark of laughter. He hugged Emma to his chest, kissing the crown of her head, and she could feel his smile that mirrored her own. “Aye, lass. I’ll not be taking you to the vet. I’m not worried about either of us getting lost ever again.”
“Me neither,” came her muffled reply.
“So, darling, how shall we celebrate?” he asked, running his hand down her back to rest on her hip.
Before Emma could answer, Gale came into the kitchen and dropped her stuffed, squeaky duck at their feet, while Zen had moseyed over to her food bowl stand and gave it a whack with her paw, making it sound like a small gong.
Looking at both of the dogs and then back at each other, Killian quirked his eyebrow in response to Emma’s own arched brows and the two broke apart reluctantly. Zen came over and stood between them, leaning against Emma's legs.
“Looks like we’ll have to save that celebration for later,” she sighed. “I’ll get dinner while you chase Gale?” Emma asked, absentmindedly stroking Zen’s ear while they conferred.
“Aye, I’ll meet you on the couch in...fifteen minutes?" Emma nodded. "How about The Artist tonight? I know Zen likes the music and Gale finds that Jack Russell amusing,” Killian suggested.
Gale pushed her duck closer to Killian and looked up at him. Emma snickered as he glanced down at Gale with a fleeting frown then looked back at her with a roll of his eyes and shake of his head at how both dogs insisted on their usual routine in spite of how special the day had just become for all of them.
“Sounds good,” Emma replied, reaching over and giving his hand a squeeze. She walked over to the fridge to grab the dogs’ food and check to see what was in their freezer for them. “Chocolate chip ok with you? Or...it looks like there might be some peanut butter cup left over from last time,” she offered.
“Both.” Killian said as he picked up Gale’s duck and tossed it into the living room for her to go retrieve. Gale dashed in and grabbed it, then peeked at him over the edge of the couch waiting for him to make his move.
Before he began his chase though, Killian turned to Emma, catching her gazing at him with a grin she couldn’t contain, still on a high from making their life together “official.” She glanced down at her newly accessorized hand and smiled, then waved it at him. She loved the way the light sparkled off the diamonds and white gold, but she loved each of those black squares just as much. She could see now that it wasn’t only that they represented Gale, but the darkness that each of them had to come through to find the light in the other. She never wanted to take the ring off.
Killian ignored the frustrated noises coming from Gale in the living room and stepped over to Emma, raising her hand to his lips and kissing her ring. "I'm so glad you like this, darling," he said, admiring how it looked on her. With a satisfied smile, he touched his lips to hers then said, “I love you.”
"I love you, too. And the ring is perfect. I've never seen one like it."
Killian hummed under his breath and touched his nose to hers. "It's one of a kind, just like you."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, pirate."
Tapping the tip of Emma's upturned nose with his finger this time, he said, "I'll keep that in mind for later, love."
Gale interrupted with a short, frustrated bark in Killian's direction before he and Emma could get lost in each other again, then she picked up her duck from where she dropped it on top of her legs that were dangling over the back of the couch she was leaning over like a person would. Zen moved out from behind Emma to see what the fuss was about, and walked up to Gale, snatching the duck from her mouth and brought it back into the kitchen and deposited it in her still empty food bowl. Gale tilted her head, eyes wide at her sister's blatant theft, then bounded off the back of the couch and into the kitchen to take back her favorite toy, setting the two dogs off into a tug-of-war with the duck losing more stitches with each shift in power. Emma and Killian watched the exchange between the two dogs with amusement.
"I think we should wait a while to have non-furry kids though. We'd be outnumbered," Emma cautioned.
"Aye, lass. Couldn't agree more."
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