The forthright way Emma admitted understanding his wish for calm seas in his life made Killian realize that his initial feeling about her — that she somehow fit — was no hazy dream. He could see that same rough edge in her that he felt in himself, the one born of surviving whatever trials the universe doled out, but always with the caveat that survival meant being alone, and often in a dark space. During the few years before adopting Gale, everything in his life was dim and hidden in shadowy corners. The light that furry little creature brought with her helped him see so many things he'd forgotten he was capable of — laughter, warmth, compassion — but when Emma Swan stepped aboard, it was as if someone had finished turning the dimmer switch up until the room was flooded with light and color. Finally, he was seeing everything.
"And what do you wish for, Emma Swan?" Killian asked.
He couldn't help but notice the slight hitch in Emma's breath as her pale green eyes widened briefly at his question. She stared back at him, eyebrows gently rising, mouth opening to give him an answer, only to be overtaken by a small shiver a half second later, interrupting and shutting down her desire to share.
"My sweater," she answered, smiling tightly, "it's getting chilly." With that, she stood up and made her way below deck, leaving Killian sitting there, slumped back in his seat, arm around Gale who was lightly snoring, her fur still a touch damp from swimming. Brilliant, he thought to himself. Next time just ask her how many kids she'd like. Idiot.
He took a swig of his beer and looked out over the horizon, shunting aside his irritation with himself for obviously pushing her. The golden light from the sun's descent was becoming more intense until he thought it rivaled the color of Emma's flaxen hair. When she finally returned, wearing a long, black, collared cardigan over her heather gray t-shirt, he could confirm it. The sun's last hurrah before its final fade into twilight brought out every facet of her golden hair and began adding a few new colors — a pale pink and a creamy orange that illuminated her face and made her eyes shine. If David were here, he'd accuse Killian of being smitten and he'd be hard-pressed to argue against it.
"You don't look much like a pirate," Emma said without preamble, sitting back down on the bench as she plucked a strawberry from the plate between them and bit into it.
Killian stiffened for the briefest of moments and tilted his head, confused, as he said, "Come again?"
"Your boat," she said, pointing aft over the edge. "It's named 'The Jolly Roger,' right? That's the name I saw painted on it. You're missing the perm and waxed mustache to be captaining a boat called 'The Jolly Roger.'"
Killian relaxed and chuckled. "Aye, I suppose I am."
Emma shrugged briefly, waiting for an answer. "So? What's up with the name? Just a fan of the lifestyle or do you suffer from Peter Pan syndrome?"
"No, actually," Killian said, shaking his head, "it's my poor attempt at dark humor."
"I'm intrigued. How so?" Emma asked, her head canted and eyes narrowed as she considered him.
"Are you sure, darling?" Killian asked, a warning in his tone. "We're having a lovely afternoon and this is not the kind of story you tell someone on the first—" he stopped short realizing the direction he was taking.
Emma raised an eyebrow, "First what?"
"First sail. First anything, really," Killian said, his hand waving off any deeper meaning she might be questioning.
"I'm a big girl. Pretty sure I can handle it."
"Very well," Killian sighed, unsure he could handle it not having prepared himself for this conversation quite yet. He stroked Gale's fur as she snuggled up against him on the bench, head on his lap while he fondled her silky ear, lost in thought. He'd never opened up to anyone so quickly before, but Emma, it seemed, was not anyone else.
Finally, he cleared his throat and met Emma's expectant gaze, schooling his own expression, trying to hide the grief he would never stop feeling from what he was about to share. She must have seen it anyway, because her own expression changed...softened...and he had to look somewhere else or witness his pain reflected back at him in some sort of fun house mirror from hell. Instead, he watched another boat on its course back toward the harbor, and began his story.
"My older brother, Liam, was the only family I had from the time I was young — he always did his best to take care of me after our parents were gone, but it wasn't easy. He joined the Navy to support us, and, eventually, when of age, I did as well. We both ended up in different sections of the SBS — Special Boat Service — the British version of the Navy Seals."
Gale shifted, interrupting him, and pushed her head into his stomach as she stretched and looked up at him before settling back into her donut shape, head pressed snugly into his thigh. He smiled down at her, thankful for the moment to breathe, and patted her rump.
He continued, his voice flat, emotionless. "I was a fresh lieutenant piloting the small craft taking the squadron Liam commanded on a mission to board a Somali pirate ship to rescue a couple British Nationals they had kidnapped." Killian stopped again and took a deep breath to push down the ache he still felt whenever he thought of that night. Emma was still watching him intently, leaning forward slightly in her seat, waiting silently for him to finish. He frowned and looked away again before continuing. "Let's just say something went horribly wrong in the way of faulty intel. Liam was shot, badly wounded. He died in my arms on the way back to our ship."
He couldn't tell her yet how when the light left Liam's normally mirthful eyes, and his booming voice silenced, a significant part of Killian died, too. He struggled every day to remember the best of his larger-than-life older brother, that memory of what family felt like, and not just the last bloody moments he held onto him, making bargains to anyone who would listen, to save his brother, all to no avail.
At his pause, Emma leaned farther forward and said quietly, "I'm so sorry, Killian." Her eyes watery with unshed tears.
Giving her a half-hearted smile, he exhaled through his nose and met her eyes again. "The manner of his death did not sit well with me, and I guess my mutinous inclinations were a little too much for the comfort of Her Majesty's Navy. As it turns out, I was far more angry with my employers than I was the pirates who killed Liam and I was rubbish at hiding it. An officer friend of Liam's was able to call in some favors to get me an honorable discharge before I was due to get out, even though I definitely did not deserve it. So, I took Liam's death benefit and left my country for good. I used the money to settle here in the States, and eventually used some of it to buy this boat like he and I had talked about doing after we left the service. The sea was always a part of us, and I couldn't give it up. It would be like giving him up." he finished, his voice rough, barely above a whisper.
Emma smiled sympathetically and concluded, "So ironic piracy, huh?"
"Pretty much," he admitted, followed by a defeated sigh.
Emma bobbed her head, pursing her lips together, and sat back again, not making eye contact as she seemed to be mulling over his story. Eventually, she looked up, gazed over her shoulder, port side, at the water. Killian watched Emma as she absorbed the view spread out before them, awash in the changing colors sunset had triggered. Her forehead wrinkled slightly, a hint of a smile bringing out the roundness of her cheeks. She sighed softly and looked back over at him, her eyes bright with the reflection of the sun's last rays reaching toward them.
"Ironic pirate or not, this is a beautiful place to have ended up," she said, reminding him of how far he had come since that tragic day, but also how far he had yet to go...wanted to go.
"Aye, lass, that it is," he concurred, never taking his eyes from her.
They sat in companionable silence a little while longer, picking at the food on the tray, drinking their beers, and enjoying the vista until Emma yawned.
"Perhaps we should clean up our supper and head back now," Killian suggested. "It will be dark soon enough. Care to give me a hand, love?"
Emma nodded and stood up, stretching her arms overhead as she twisted her back to crack it, then letting her arms flop back down to her sides with a satisfied grunt. She graced Killian with a sleepy smile and said, "I can't remember the last time I felt so relaxed. I didn't know how much I needed it. Thank you," she said.
Killian bowed low, winked at her, and said, "You're welcome, m'lady."
Snickering, Emma picked up the tray of what was left of their food and made her way down to the galley. Killian was not far behind, having picked up the beer bucket and garbage, leaving Gale still dozing on the bench. The two took care of putting the leftovers away and washing and drying the dishes before stashing them in their cupboard so they wouldn't crash around when they set sail again. Every once and a while, Killian would catch Emma looking around the cabin, still somewhat in awe.
"So, Swan, like my boat, do you?" he asked, half a smirk riding up his cheek.
"Yeah," she said in disbelief. "It's tough not to. I didn't know anything like this existed. It's...homey...and just...amazing."
Killian was happy with her assessment. "Well, lass, you are welcome to sail with Gale and me anytime. We go out most weekends if the weather permits."
Her excited smile was enough to stop his heart in his chest for what should have been several beats. "Seriously? I might just take you up on that."
"I hope you do," he said, sincerely. "If you don't mind finishing up down here, I'm going to stow away Gale's dock and get the boat started again for our return."
Upon Emma's acquiescence, Killian climbed back up on deck, refolded the now dry dock, returning it to its spot, which woke up Gale. He was sure she was hoping for one more round of fetch before going home given how she sat up politely and looked at him, her big, brown eyes flickering to the Chuck-it tucked under his arm.
"Sorry love, it's getting dark. We'll play again another time, I promise." He finished shoving the dock and toys into the space beneath the seat and was promptly licked on the nose as he went to stand up again.
Shaking his head with a chuckle, Killian leaned over, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against Gale's, and held onto the thick fur at her neck, scratching her where his fingers had sunk in to the softness of her inky coat. "You're a daft girl, Beanie." He kissed her nose and caressed her muzzle before straightening up.
"Beanie?" Emma asked, amused, from the doorway. Her arms were crossed casually over her chest and she looked affectionately at Gale who began thumping her tail when Emma spoke.
Killian shrugged. "Rhymes with 'Galene,'" he said. "Poor girl has a million nicknames. It's a wonder she comes back to me at all when I call her, but she answers to pretty much anything. Right Queenie?" Gale's thumping got louder and then she barked at Killian.
"That's her favorite," he laughed. "Delusions of grandeur," he added in a loud whisper, leaning into Emma's space conspiratorially.
Rolling her eyes, Emma moved over toward Gale, scratching her under the chin. "Don't listen to him, you are a queen," she crooned and was rewarded with a lick on the face of her own.
Killian arched his eyebrows and tilted his head toward the harbor. "Ready to head back then, love?"
Stepping in front of Emma – who seemed as content as he had ever seen anyone look, much to his pleasure — he reached out and adjusted the lapels of her sweater so they covered her up more. She looked into his eyes curiously, but didn't stop him. He was close enough that he could feel her light exhale on his cheek, and smiled gently at her. "It gets cold this time of day," he explained, his voice soft and low causing her to lean in slightly. "And I like to drive fast. Don't want you to be cold."
"Quite the gentleman, aren't you?" Emma asked sarcastically, her eyebrow raised in challenge at him.
"I'm always a gentleman," he responded, pushing a lock of her hair out of the way, over her shoulder.
"Hmph," she huffed shaking her head ever so slightly, but never taking her eyes from him.
Waggling his eyebrows, he stepped back and started the engine then shifted the sail to catch the wind in the right direction. Emma sat with Gale again, petting her, the two of them seeming to enjoy the wind whipping by and through their hair as Killian made speed back to the docks before the slowly purpling sky finished its transformation into night.
The last light was fading away when Killian backed The Jolly Roger carefully into its berth. He cut the engine and began going through his docking procedure as Emma went to retrieve her bag from below deck. He detached Gale's staircase from where he had it lashed to the bulkhead and attached it for her to get off the boat. He returned to the cockpit, removed Gale's life jacket, causing her to shake off not once, but twice, throwing the last droplets of water hidden in her shiny black coat, then grabbed her leash from where it hung on the helm.
"Shall we?" he asked them both and waved toward shore. He hopped down to the dock first and offered his hand to Emma, helping her as she, too, jumped down, grasping his arms tightly as she landed. He knew that for many people, solid ground was another adjustment after getting used to the rolling of the boat, so he held her steady for the moment it took her to get her bearings again.
"Th-thank you," she stuttered, looking at him through her lashes then abruptly dropping her hands from his arms and backing away. In that moment of closeness, he could feel the heat rolling off her in waves. Or maybe that was his heat, he couldn't be sure of anything other than being near Emma Swan was a heady experience, indeed.
Killian needed a moment himself, to readjust his...thinking...before he could speak again. Gale ran down her stairs in a thunderous hurry and banged into to Killian as she came up short, her clumsy interruption welcome for a change. He caught Emma's eyes and pressed Gale's leash into her hand then pointed toward the nearby building.
"Would you mind, darling, taking her highness over to the grass there so she can pee? It was a bit of a long ride for her tonight and I'm sure she needs to go," he said. "I just need to finish up one quick thing on the boat and then I'll be right over."
"Sure," Emma said as she lead Gale over to the grass near his office.
Killian took care of stowing Gale's ladder again, then did a quick inspection to make sure nothing was out of place or was left on or behind. Everything "ship shape," he joined Emma and Gale to walk Emma back to her yellow Bug parked in the visitor's lot.
"Thank you for taking me sailing," she said, standing by her car, with a genuine smile that hit Killian right in the chest. He hoped he would be privy to it again. Soon. And often. "I had a great time."
"As did, we, love. Thank you for coming along." Suddenly he felt like a school boy not knowing how, or wanting, to break off the conversation. He could see the same struggle in Emma as they exchanged grins but didn't move otherwise.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, handing back Gale's leash. "This is yours."
Killian held onto her hand after relieving it of the leash and held it to his lips. "And this is yours," he said, kissing the back of her hand softly. He felt her shiver, which was just an extension of the one he, too, felt shuddering through him when he touched her.
"Guess that answers the age old question of when you kiss your guests," Emma chuckled, slowly removing her warm hand from his grasp as if not wanting to break contact.
Killian returned the chuckle and opened her door for her. "Sweet dreams, love," he said closing her door gently, then watching her drive away. A small whine from Gale brought him back. He stroked Gale's head a couple of times and said, "I know what you mean."
On Monday, when Killian returned home from a rather exasperating day dealing with boat owners who didn't give a shit about protocol or safety precautions, Gale greeted him as enthusiastically as ever — kisses, howling, and leaning into him to get scratched and hugged. There was no better way to forget the idiocy that came with his job than with Gale's unabashed love for him. Although...
Killian looked over at the notebook he shared with Emma, and laying on the pages was a long chain, with two pendants — a gold and silver skull with crossbones, and silver sword — dangling from it. He pulled it over his head, enjoying the heft and solid feel of it against his chest. Grinning like a child on Christmas morning, he read the note.
Look at the treasure Emma and I found today! She said if I was going to be the dog of a pirate, I should start learning to dig up the good stuff and earn my keep. Hope you like it! Oh, and she thinks you and I make quite a team and would like it if we helped her out during her next puppy kindergarten training class.
If you can make it, class is this Wednesday night at 6pm at the shelter. I have always wanted to be able to have a "demo dog" to show clients what to strive for, and I think you and Gale are perfect for the job.
P.P.S. Pizza is on me after.
Killian glanced down at Gale who had just returned with her favorite stuffed duck in her mouth ready to play "keep away" with her as they did whenever he returned home from work.
"What do you think, Galene? Shall we go be good examples for a change?" he inquired of his furry girl as she stared at him.
Gale dropped the duck and barked, almost annoyed that he would even question whether or not they would go. She picked up her duck again and trotted out of the kitchen glancing back at him, ready to start the chase in earnest.