So this was supposed to be a cute little one-shot, which is now going to be at least a two-shot because I have no control over how wordy I am :)
But this is a, very deserved, Christmas present for my friend Chocolatecrackle (whenever she gets the time to read it) who followed me into the fandom so she could be my cheerleader. Thank you and I hope you get to have a very relaxing (and not too hot) Christmas!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Emma would hardly term herself an expert on cats. She hadn't even particularly wanted to own one herself, but her colleague David had come in to the station with a story about how they'd bulldozed the house down the road and found a mother cat and kitten living underneath it; his wife Mary Margaret was going to keep the mom, did Emma want the kitten?
Well, no. Not really. Emma thought the idea of being responsible for another living creature was completely terrifying. And so, she'd protested, as best as she was able.
"I couldn't. I mean…I'm a police officer. I work shifts…"
David had shrugged. "Cats don't care. Plus they're nocturnal…or, what's the other one? Active at dusk. Anyway. It'll keep you company. And your place already has that cat door installed."
Emma sighed, and wished, fervently, that she had actually got around to getting the cat door removed from the back door of her little cottage. The previous owner had been some kind of mad cat lady and it had been there when she'd bought it; locking it had seemed the easiest option at the time and the whole notion of replacing that panel of the door had been put on the backburner.
But now she still had a cat door, and there was the possibility that, with no relationship on the horizon and very little interest in signing herself up for yet another heartbreak, David was trying to set her up to be the town's next mad cat lady. It was not a prospect Emma relished, but she couldn't come up with another excuse quick enough, and David just made the decision for her. "Great. I'll tell Mary Margaret to bring her around tomorrow, after school."
"Yeah. We called her Tinkerbell. I mean, you can change it if you want," he shrugged and took a sip of coffee that had to be cold by now. "But I think Mary Margaret already got her a collar and it would be a shame to waste the money."
"Yeah. Fine. Whatever." At that point Emma had admitted defeat. Maybe she could just give the cat to a shelter and tell David she ran away. After all, what were the chances the thing would actually want to stay with her when it got there?
The next afternoon David's wife Mary Margaret had arrived carrying a cardboard box with a few holes in the side, through which a pair of green eyes were barely visible. When the box was opened in Emma's living room, there was a flash of grey, the tinkle of a bell, and the kitten disappeared under the sofa in a blur.
"Don't worry," Mary Margaret said, unloading cans of kitten food on Emma's kitchen counter. "She's just feeling a bit nervous. She'll come out when she's hungry."
Emma looked at all the cans and wondered just how much food one small cat could eat. "Maybe she just wants to go back home, you know? To her mother?"
Mary Margaret shook her head. "Cats are meant to be solitary. I don't think they'll miss each other all that much. These days Bluebell just hisses at her."
Emma wasn't all that convinced. Solitary was one thing, something that Emma knew far too much about, but she couldn't imagine that the kitten under the sofa would be at all comforted by the fact she was Emma's pet now. No, she was bound to run. After all, Emma had done it enough; all the times she'd left a foster home that had promised her something akin to a family and never actually kept up their end of the deal she'd been running herself, looking for a place she really belonged.
She wasn't sure she'd ever found it. Although Storybrooke, Maine was close. But there was still a pull she felt, an urge to see if maybe, out there, somewhere she'd find the family who'd given her up.
And the kitten would be exactly the same.
If it ever came out from under the sofa.
Emma put some of the cat food in a bowl on the kitchen floor, but the kitten ignored it and stayed where it was. A quick glance under the sofa had revealed the same green eyes that Emma had glimpsed earlier, but the kitten didn't join Emma when she sat on the sofa to watch some TV, and it still hadn't budged from its spot when she went to bed that night.
And if it wasn't for the glaring reminder of the kitten food left in the kitchen to remind her in the morning, Emma might have forgotten that she now had a cat at all. It was only when she put her cocoa down on the coffee table as she went to find her boots, and came back to the sight of a small kitten lapping up the whipped cream at the top of the mug, that she actually had a chance to view her new roommate.
The kitten had eyed her warily, and puffed out its fur in a display of aggression tempered only by the fact that its nose was decorated with a big blob of whipped cream.
"Hey," Emma said, gently. "It's OK. I don't bite."
It turned out that Tinkerbell did, the kitten catching her with its teeth as Emma reached for the mug "Ow!"
Tinkerbell looked a little worried at Emma's loud reaction and she immediately felt bad for the thing. It wasn't like she understood the rules yet, was it? And she was just a baby.
"No more biting, OK?" Emma reached out her hand and Tinkerbell sniffed it experimentally, before allowing Emma to stroke her tiny head. Almost immediately the kitten started purring, louder than Emma would have thought was possible given her size.
"Well, I guess if you want, you can stay then," Emma said, pretending she wasn't being won over by the thing. "But if it doesn't work out, no hard feelings, OK?"
That was two years ago, and Tinkerbell, now a sleek plump-ish fully grown cat, was more than aware of the rules of the house. Most of them she'd set herself. She didn't like cat food as much as she liked the whipped cream out of Emma's cocoa, the macaroni cheese from Emma's dish, or the cookie crumbs that were left on the coffee table. The cat gym Emma had purchased remained unused, but the mat in the kitchen was a mess of frayed ends and the rows of small holes in the living room curtains showed exactly which path Tinkerbell used to reach her favourite spot at the top of them.
Above all else, Tinkerbell laid claim to the spare pillow in Emma's bed. Every night Emma fell asleep to the sound of her purring, and in the morning she awoke to the not so gentle tap of a paw on her nose, reminding her to get up and put the cocoa on.
It wasn't so bad, all told. And given that Emma had all but given up on the notion of ever finding a human who she'd be happy to share that pillow with, Tinkerbell didn't seem like such a bad companion to have.
But, expert or not, she did have some notion about cats. Or thought she did, anyway. At the very least she thought she'd heard most of the noises they could produce.
So when she heard a weird, almost mechanical sounding noise coming from her kitchen one morning she never expected it would be feline in nature.
"What…the hell?" Emma asked, processing the scene in front of her. Tinkerbell was perched on the countertop, which was a strictly forbidden activity, but it wasn't the biggest problem in the room right then. The problem was a skinny pale orange tabby cat who was alternately yowling at the top of his lungs and eating as much of Tinkerbell's cat food as he could cram into his mouth. Some of it didn't stay in his mouth for long and he spat it back out, all over the floor.
Tinkerbell looked positively horrified, and Emma wasn't impressed either. "Hey, you. Out!"
The cat didn't even look around at her words, but kept on eating. Emma had no choice but to pick him up, hoping like mad that he wasn't riddled with fleas, or worse. As she hoisted him away from the food he was so still so desperately trying to consume, she realised just how skinny he was. It felt like there was absolutely nothing between his skin and his bones.
"Oh great. A stray." Getting stuck taking it to the shelter was the last thing Emma wanted, but she couldn't just leave it to fend for itself. Its eyes were a faded orange with dark flecks through them, and it just looked old and desperately in need of a decent meal.
A meal that didn't belong to Tinkerbell.
But as Emma held the cat, gingerly, and wondered whether she should lock it in the bathroom while she fetched Tinkerbell's cat carrier, she noticed the glint of something around the cat's neck. There was a small red metal tag attached to a very scruffy collar that had possibly once been red also. Peering at the words engraved on it she could just make out his name. Mr Smee.
That was…possibly the worst name anyone had ever given a cat. Far, far worse than Tinkerbell, which, Emma reminded herself, hadn't even been her choice. She flicked the tag over with one finger while the cat in her arms let out another ear-splitting yowl, but there was no contact number or address on the opposite side. Nothing to let her know where the cat had come from.
But if he had a collar, then he had a home. Where there was, no doubt, a large bowl of his own food waiting for him. Without wasting any more time thinking about it, Emma walked to the front door, opened it, and put the cat outside.
"Goodbye, Mr Smee."
Job done, she ignored Tinkerbell's rather pitiful stares in favour of a shower and getting herself ready for the day. Showered, dressed and feeling somewhat more ready to start the day Emma returned to the kitchen only to find Mr Smee back in place.
For a moment, Emma thought that she was seeing things. But Tinkerbell was sporting an expression almost as bewildered as Emma's and the ear-splitting yowl with which Mr Smee chose to announce his presence sounded again.
"Son of a…" Emma muttered, picking the cat up again and putting him out the front door.
That time, the cat apparently got the message and Emma and Tinkerbell could eat their breakfast in peace.
Emma assumed that was the end of the matter; sure he might have strayed into her yard, and then her house, out of curiosity, but now that the cat knew he wasn't welcome, he wouldn't come back.
But he did. He came back the next morning. And the morning after. And then the afternoon after that. Twice again after dinner.
Emma was starting to get a little worried about him. He might not have been a stray, but was he clearly confused about where he lived.
"Do you think cats get, like, Alzheimer's disease?" Emma asked David, as they sat in the patrol car eating lunch.
"I don't know," he replied. "I guess. But you'd know better than I would. I mean, you like cats."
"I like my cat." That was true. Emma and Tinkerbell got along fine these days, but Emma had never taken to the mother cat that David and Mary Margaret had kept, the large blue-grey they'd called Bluebell. Mary Margaret thought she might have been some kind of pedigree, but Emma didn't think that made her any the more appealing. Maybe it was the way she liked to slalom through Emma's legs every time she arrived to visit, maybe it was Bluebell's insistence that if Emma hung her leather jacket on the back of a chair, it was clearly meant to be a replacement scratching post.
Maybe it was the fact that she never once seemed to wonder how her daughter was doing. Although Emma knew that cats didn't think like that, couldn't feel emotions like that, she still couldn't help herself believing that Bluebell just didn't care about Tinkerbell anymore.
And the thought made her a little sad.
But she had a whole other cat and his mental decline to worry about now, and she was at a loss as to what she could do for him. Surely someone was missing their rather elderly and possibly demented pet?
David didn't have any good advice on the subject, short of possibly asking the local vets if Mr Smee was their patient, and Emma resigned herself to making a few calls when she got home. It would be easier if she could figure out what house he might have come from, but her little cottage was right at the edge of town, near the water. One of a mirrored pair no doubt originally intended to be used by the families of the fishermen who'd once been the town's main industry.
But there was a lot less fishing going on these days, and the other cottage was usually rented out, short term, to people on vacation. Emma didn't pay much attention to the comings and goings in the place, afraid that if she accidentally mentioned its occupants to David, he'd attempt to set her up with whatever eligible guy lived there.
OK, well, that had happened once. And ended pretty badly when the guy, August, had finished the book he'd come to Storybrooke to write and had then packed up and left during the night. It wasn't like she was heartbroken over it; it wasn't even like it was the worst breakup she'd ever had.
In fact she'd been on a downhill slide since her ill-fated teenage romance with a drifter named Neal Cassidy whose inability to stay on the right side of the law had been their ultimate downfall. Since then notable dating disasters had included Emma falling for her boss at the station, only for Graham to realise that his heart still belonged with his ex and to up and leave town to be with her again. And last of all in the chain of break-ups that littered Emma Swan's dating life had been Walsh, the guy who made custom built furniture and sold it in town. The guy she'd pegged as being nice, and safe and everything she should be looking to settle down with.
And she hadn't even been all that upset when she discovered he'd taken up with that red-headed midwife with the rather nasty jealous streak on the side. No, by that stage she'd pretty much given up on the idea of romance, love or any of the other things that she was supposed to want so desperately. It just wasn't on the cards for her. Perhaps it was the case that her childhood spent in a variety of foster homes with a bunch of people who barely varied at all had left her with some deep-seated inability to actually…well, love anyone. She supposed that made sense; you couldn't feel an emotion unless you'd experienced it yourself.
She wasn't all that surprised then, by being left, again. And there certainly didn't seem to be any point to constantly banging her head against the brick wall that held her back from doing enough to stop anyone leaving her.
No wonder David and Mary Margaret had thought she needed a cat. And, actually, now that she thought about it, they hadn't even tried to set her up with anyone since they'd given her Tinkerbell.
Did they really think she was destined for life as a spinster? Is that what she wanted for herself? Emma realised that there were, perhaps, some hard questions she would have to face but right then was not the time to ponder them. Not as she pulled up to her cottage and noticed that, for the first time in months, a light was on inside the cottage opposite, and a dark coloured pick-up was parked outside, and a rather familiar orange shape was making its way away from the cottage in question and towards the front porch of her own place.
"Gotcha," Emma murmured to the interior of the car, as she pulled up and parked in her own driveway. She was amazed she hadn't thought of checking the rental for new occupants prior to this, but, in her defence, there'd been a real drive to clear up all the outstanding paperwork in the station and she'd been quite busy with work.
Mr Smee seemed a little perturbed when she scooped him up as he was rounding the side of her house; normally this didn't happen until he'd at least made it inside and managed to purloin some food to boot. He gave Emma a look over his shoulder that suggested she simply wasn't playing fair.
"Time to go home, buddy," she muttered as she marched across the street full of purpose and fired by a, in her mind, righteous indignation. The owners, whoever they were, were clearly defective letting such an elderly cat wander around by itself. She'd suggest that they took steps to remedy the situation, politely of course, and then that would be that. No more Mr Smee sneaking into her kitchen in the dead of night.
Tinkerbell would be ecstatic.
Emma knocked on the door, thankful that Mr Smee was so light she could easily manage him with one hand. If it was Tinkerbell she might have been in trouble. Tink had some weight on her these days, plus, she was prone to being wriggly if she was upset.
Whatever, or, more correctly whoever, Emma had expected to be on the other side of the door it certainly wasn't the man who opened it. She liked to think that she wasn't someone who was easily swayed by physical appearances. She wasn't someone who was easily swayed by anything. But this man, guy…whoever he was, had one of the most handsome faces Emma had ever seen. He had dark hair, blue eyes and a dusting of dark scruff across his jaw that just drew Emma's eyes towards his lips…
But he was a terrible cat owner. And that was what she was here to focus on.
"Yes?" he said, frowning. Emma caught the slight British accent as he spoke and she was hit with a brief flash of curiosity about who he was and where he'd come from.
Focus, Emma, she thought, before blurting out "I have your cat," so fast that it might as well have been one word instead of four.
The guy gave her an amused smile and his eyes raked over Emma. It caught her a little off guard. Surely he wasn't checking her out as she stood on his doorstep holding his half-dead cat in her arms?
No, he wasn't. As soon as he spoke again Emma realised what it was he'd been looking at; the uniform she was still wearing. Ridiculously, she wished she'd changed before coming over here, that her hair wasn't scraped back from her face quite so severely, that she had a little more makeup on, that she wasn't wearing her heaviest boots and a jacket that did absolutely nothing for her.
"Have you managed to get yourself arrested for vagrancy, Mr Smee?" he asked, looking at the cat and not at Emma. Mr Smee barely returned his gaze, preferring to look from side to side with great interest, as though this place was all new to him. It made Emma even more worried about the poor cat's mental acuity.
"I really don't spend my time arresting cats," she said, a little defensively. "I just wanted to say…well. Your cat. He keeps coming to my place, and upsetting my cat." That wasn't strictly true, of course. Mostly Tinkerbell watched Mr Smee from a wary distance, almost as though he was a drunk uncle at a Christmas party, one more shot of tequila away from potential embarrassment. She didn't mark her territory, she didn't raise a paw to him, and she'd only hissed once or twice.
But Mr Smee's owner didn't need to know any of that.
"I see," the guy replied, but he didn't say anything else and he didn't make any move to actually take Mr Smee from Emma's arms. She considered putting him down on the porch, but was worried that he'd just make an immediate run for her house again.
"Look, I get that he's…sick. But surely that means you just need to take better care of him?"
"That's his problem. Mr Smee's. He has a hyper-active thyroid. He's on medication for it, but it's tricky to get the right dose."
"Well…shouldn't you just, you know…" Emma felt like it would be inappropriate to say the words out loud, right by Mr Smee's ear. But she hoped the guy would pick up what she meant.
He didn't. "Do…what, now?"
"You know. Put him out of his misery." The frown that crossed the guy's face made Emma want to immediately retract her words because she'd clearly just made him miserable.
"Um…remind me not to put myself in your care when I'm sick. He's fine, really. He's just a little hungry all the time."
"Hungry? Poor Tinkerbell can't even get a look in now. Do you know how much extra I've had to spend in cat food in the last week?"
"I'm sorry? Tinkerbell?" The guy had gone from affronted to amused in about 0.3 seconds.
"I didn't name her. She came already named. And it would have been a shame to waste a perfectly good collar." Now Emma was back to defensive. "Look, just take the cat, and…and…just…" She took a deep breath, hoping to get her powers of speech back under control. "Just watch him, OK?"
She pushed Mr Smee into the guy's arms. Mr Smee didn't seem unhappy with the development, although he did let out a loud belch, filling the air rather unpleasantly with the smell of fish. "I will," Mr Smee's owner assured her, as he leant forward to peer at the badge pinned to her uniform. "Officer…E. Swan."
"Emma. It's Emma Swan."
"Lovely to meet you, Emma. It's nice to know the neighbours. I'm Killian. Killian Jones."
"OK. Good to, uh…meet you." The silence after Emma spoke was a little tense and she thought she should probably leave, but wasn't sure what the protocol was. However Mr Jones decided to fill in the silence for her.
"Well. Thanks, love. For looking after him for me."
"I'm not your love." The words were out of Emma's mouth before she thought about them too much and the guy, Killian Jones or whoever he was, looked taken aback at the vehemence with which she'd spoken.
"Just keep him at your place, OK?" Emma added in the slightly more professional but not all that less stern voice she used for warning people not to do anything stupid when she was on the job.
Emma nodded, but didn't say anything else. She just turned and walked away, pretending she couldn't feel him watching her as she crossed the street.
She thought that would be the end of the matter and that Mr Smee would stay on his own property from now on. And certainly he didn't make an appearance at all that night and Tinkerbell seemed slightly bewildered by that, constantly looking over her shoulder as she ate her cat food, perhaps wondering how long she'd have sole possession of her bowl.
Emma was also pondering the goings-on in the rented cottage, but for an entirely different reason. She was curious about Mr Smee's owner…just because she was, really. It was an odd feeling and one she didn't entirely trust.
But the peace that she and Tinkerbell enjoyed was shattered the next morning by a familiar clatter at the cat door followed by an even more familiar yowl as Mr Smee landed on the doormat.
"Really?" Emma asked him, but he didn't seem to have an answer to that. Emma hoped his owner did because he was going back home just as soon as she and Tinkerbell finished their cocoa. And if she maybe let Mr Smee have a taste of whipped cream, because, honestly, he was just skin and bones and needed fattening up, then she wasn't exactly going to confess that to Mr Jones.
He was just getting in his truck when Emma fronted up, Mr Smee once again in her arms. "You need to actually feed your cat occasionally." She shoved the cat in his direction which was a mistake because he wasn't expecting it and their arms ended up a little tangled with Mr Smee caught in the middle. It was all highly embarrassing, and, strangely, a little enjoyable.
"Oh, he's had breakfast," Mr Jones replied. "One of us ate all the bacon."
"Well one of you finished it up with Tinkerbell's breakfast and my whipped cream, so I think he's done alright for himself."
Mr Jones put Mr Smee gently down on the porch and turned to face Emma. "He has. No one invited me for breakfast." He gave Emma a bright smile and she thought, briefly, that he looked even more handsome in full daylight than he had the night before.
Well, she wasn't going to be charmed by him. That was for certain.
"He wasn't invited. He just…barges in through the cat door. And then he yowls the place down and steals all the food."
"Ah, a cat flap. Well, cats will wander, love. There's not much you can do if you're not prepared to lock him out."
"I'm not your love." Emma turned and stalked off, feeling decidedly unsettled by the encounter. She was in the right, surely? She didn't have to put up with a strange cat wandering through her house and stealing food, and she certainly didn't have to stand there while some guy she barely knew called her love.
No, she was totally in the right on this one. And he was correct, she should just lock Mr Smee out.
Her experiment with locking the cat door did not go well. Tinkerbell refused to come anywhere near her when she finally got inside, Emma having not even realised she was standing out there. Emma could tell when Mr Smee wanted to come inside, however, as he yowled and banged the door and eventually managed to wedge a paw under the flap and nearly wrench it up.
Emma sighed, and relented. It just wasn't worth the bother. "Why are you here and not over there? With him?" she asked the cat, but he didn't an answer.
What she really wanted to ask was why Mr Jones was here in Storybrooke, and what he was currently doing, but that just seemed ridiculous. Like Mr Smee would know the answer to any of that.
She went to bed a little fed up with herself for being hung up on a guy when she really should know better and she awoke to a rustling in her kitchen pantry that turned out to be a very happy Mr Smee amid a pile of dry cat food he'd managed to tip out of its container at some point during the night.
Things clearly needed to change around here.
"I'm still having problems with that cat," Emma informed David, as they tidied away some evidence at the station.
"No. The cat that keeps coming in. Mr Smee. I, uh…I found his owner. He's renting the cottage across from mine."
"Who? The cat?"
"Its owner." Emma was interested in what David knew about the guy, given he'd just come to town, but she wasn't letting on that she'd already done her research. From what she knew Killian Jones was employed as a contractor for the boat-building company owned by Eric Prince, the one that made all the really expensive yachts for people who got to sail to the Hamptons. Or Bermuda. Or anywhere, really.
David nodded, and then sighed when he realised the pickaxe he'd been filing had pierced through the plastic bag they'd stored it in. Turning to reach a fresh one he asked "Did you tell him to keep his cat inside?"
"He didn't seem inclined to lock him in. And, I mean…I don't know anything about the guy. I think he's just here temporarily. For one thing he's British…"
Emma waited to see what David's reaction to the news that there was a guy living opposite her, but he seemed far more interested in getting the pickaxe in the new plastic bag without ripping it. "You don't seem all that interested in him," Emma prompted in the end.
"Well, unless he's about to threaten anyone with a pickaxe then, no, I guess I'm not."
Emma sighed and tried to think of a way to phrase what she wanted to say without it seeming petulant, but it ended up sounding a little whiny anyway. "You used to try to set me up with them all."
"Guys. People who came and rented one of the places. Anyone really. And then, I just realised the other day, you and Mary Margaret got me a cat and stopped doing all of that."
"Ah. Yes. Well, uh…" David's gaze shifted from the pickaxe to the wall and back again but he didn't meet Emma's eyes.
"What?" she prompted.
"You know…we discussed it…me and Mary Margaret and you always seemed a little prickly about it. So we figured you were fine. As you were. And you have Tinkerbell anyway, now."
Emma sighed and nodded, but couldn't bring herself to form any words that really agreed with David's assessment. For one thing, fine was not the same as happy.
And she couldn't honestly say that she was happy.
"But you know what you should do?" David said suddenly, and quite brightly.
"Get one of those kits that make the cat door magnetic…so the cat has to wear a special magnet on its collar to open it, and other cats can't get in. If you get one, I'll help you fit that. That'll solve all your problems." David looked pleased with his solution and, although Emma wasn't convinced that it would, indeed, solve all her problems, she agreed anyway.
God forbid she be her usual prickly self about it.
Later on, when she walked around the corner to the bakery called Olaf's, craving something sweet and filling, she was still wondering why it made her feel so down that David and Mary Margaret had stopped even trying to find her someone. Sure, she hadn't always appreciated it. Sure, a lot of it had consisted on her going on absolutely pointless dates with guys she had nothing in common with. Sure, their one success was August Booth, and look how that ended?
But all the same, at least they were trying. At least it showed they cared…or something. Tinkerbell was nice enough, but mostly she cared about Emma being there to replenish her food and make sure the heating got turned on in winter. It wasn't quite the same.
The bakery's owner, Elsa Halverson, stopped kneading dough when Emma walked in and wiped her flour-dipped hands on her apron. "That kind of day, huh?"
Emma nodded, wondering if her misery was written that clearly on her face.
"I thought so. Nothing like a hard day at work to send you in search of a blueberry Danish." Elsa moved away from the area where she prepared the bread to the cabinet where she kept the sweet things. It was sadly depleted at this time of day. "Hmm, no blueberry. Can I interest you in a chocolate croissant?
Emma shrugged and then realised that wasn't a real answer. "Sure, Elsa. I might as well go all in."
Elsa gave her a long look over. "Chocolate's better for the heart anyway. At least, that's my sister's reasoning behind…well. Most of her chocolate consumption." Elsa put the croissant in a box and handed it to Emma.
"Oh. My heart's fine," she replied, passing over a couple of notes. "I mean…I guess I just got told I'm prickly so it's hard to find me a date. But, you know, that's not news."
"You're prickly Emma. But not un-dateable." Elsa smiled kindly and pushed her long silver-blonde braid back over her shoulder.
Emma didn't feel all that comforted. "So, how do you manage? I mean, no one's setting you up, either…not your sister, or anyone. And you're OK with that?"
"Sure I am." Elsa seemed to find the question surprising. "I'm really happy on my own."
Emma felt a little embarrassed about asking. "Of course you are. Yeah. I mean…I know. It's fine, really." She turned and started to walk out of the store.
"Emma?" The sound of Elsa calling her back made Emma turn around. "It's OK not to be…happy, that is. You don't have to just settle for what you have just because it's hard to believe you might deserve anything better."
"Yeah, uh…" Emma was more than just a little embarrassed now. She regretted bringing the subject up because of course it came back to her situation and, really, aside from learning that she was a little bit prickly she hadn't heard anything she didn't expect from David. Quite why it had made her feel so suddenly on edge and unsettled, she didn't know.
And expecting answers from a baker was just ridiculous.
"I'll see you around Elsa. Thanks for the croissant."
But the croissant didn't fix Emma's problems and nor did the upgrade to the cat door. Tinkerbell struggled to get the magnet on her collar to line up with the one David had fitted to the door and spent a lot of time banging on it in frustration while Mr Smee watched her curiously.
And then when Tinkerbell began bringing home discarded objects, it all became a little much for both Emma and her cat. Once again Emma found herself banging on the door of the rental cottage across the street.
Killian Jones answered the door looking as though she'd dragged him out of bed, which was a real possibility given the early hour. But she'd had enough, she really had, and she wasn't even going to allow herself a moment to appreciate how good he looked, all sort of warm and rumpled, and how that probably wasn't even fair given the current state of her own hair.
"I tried to keep him out," Emma blurted out, as Mr Jones squinted at her. "I got one of those magnetic things, for the cat door. But all that has happened is that Tinkerbell has brought home three paperclips, two rusty nails, something that might have come from a watch, and then, this morning, a teaspoon. The magnet on her collar doesn't work with that stuff stuck on it, and she can't get in. And she's so miserable, stuck outside and watching everyone else just…going on without her. Like they don't care that she's been left out. And do you know what the worst part is?"
Mr Jones shook his head and Emma continued on. "Mr Smee still got in. Through the bedroom window, I think. I woke up, and he was on the bed with me. I just…" She threw up her hands in resignation. "I don't know what to do anymore."
He regarded Emma for a moment and she suddenly felt exposed under his gaze. She didn't really need him to do anything, after all. She just wanted him to know about all the trouble Mr Smee was causing…mainly for Tinkerbell. It wasn't like he really cared, so, she'd just leave him to the rest of his day.
And she was about to flee the scene when Mr Jones scratched at the back of his head before speaking. "I'll fix it."
"The…uh. Cat flap? I could take a look at it."
"You'll take the magnet off so Tinkerbell can use it again?"
"Well, I'd hate Tinkerbell to be unhappy, so yes."
Emma thought for a moment. "OK. Fine. Good." She realised that she didn't sound overly grateful and tried to amend that. "I appreciate the offer, Mr Jones."
"It's Killian. Mr Jones is a bit…formal."
"Well…OK. But it feels a bit weird to be on a first name basis with you, and not with your cat."
Killian laughed at that. "He's a different generation, and a stickler for formalities."
"I guess I'll have to take your word for that. But you, know. I still appreciate you helping out."
There was a pause and then he continued. "Well, lucky for you it's Saturday so I'm at your disposal. Just give me half an hour to get dressed and I'll be over, alright?"
"Yes. Fine." Emma was feeling more than a little embarrassed now; partly due to the feeling she'd over-reacted to the whole situation, partly because Mr Jones had drawn attention to the fact he was only wearing a t-shirt and pyjama pants.
And Emma herself was similarly underdressed.
"I'll just…head back…and uh, see you. Later on," she stammered, walking backwards and gesturing over her shoulder at the same time, before turning away from him, hoping he didn't notice that she was blushing a little now.
"You will. And, uh, Emma?"
"Yes?" She looked back over her shoulder.
"I do like your pyjamas, love." With that he shut the door and she didn't get the chance to remind him that she, definitely, wasn't his love.
And it probably would have been churlish anyway, seeing as he was giving up part of his weekend to help her out.
Well, to put her cat door back to its previous state after her ill-fated attempts to keep his cat who kept sneaking into her house like some kind of geriatric ninja, she reminded herself.
He probably didn't deserve special treatment for that.
She'd definitely tell him if he said it again.
And in the meantime, she wasn't going to do anything special just because he was coming over. As it was the first Saturday Emma hadn't been scheduled to work in a while, and she'd planned to catch up on her laundry and housework. She definitely wasn't going to dress up as though he was a real guest; the tank top, old sweater and jean shorts she would have otherwise worn were just fine.
So if she was in the process of cleaning the kitchen counters when he arrived, then that was just because this was like any other Saturday.
"So, uh…this is your place," Killian said, looking around curiously as she led him down the hallway to the kitchen at the back of the cottage.
"I think it's pretty much the same layout as where you're staying," Emma ventured, not sure if she should really give away the fact she'd been in the rental cottage previously.
"But this is less of a shithole."
"Well, there is that." The last time Emma had seen inside the rental it was looking pretty down at heel. She could only guess what a few more years had done to the place.
Killian looked a little sheepish. "I, uh…sorry. I probably shouldn't have been so blunt."
"Well, it's not my place you're calling a shithole. And I don't think you're wrong." Emma gave him what she hoped was a conciliatory smile, and he smiled back.
"OK, so I'll just get started then," Killian said, putting down the toolbox he'd brought with him, and opening the back door. Mr Smee must have been waiting outside as he immediately walked straight in, ignoring his actual owner and throwing himself at Emma's legs.
"He does seem quite at home here," Mr Jones commented.
"And that would be the problem."
"Yeah. You, uh…sure you want to change the cat flap?"
Emma pointed to the top of the kitchen cupboards. "I think you'll find that I'm not the one making the decision. The teaspoon was a bit much and she's freaked out. Also, she doesn't like strangers."
"I'm not that strange."
"Well. She won't come down while you're here, but she will appreciate the cat door being back to normal."
Killian nodded and crouched down to get to work. Emma drifted around the kitchen making some attempts to clean up, but mostly just watching. Eventually she gave up all pretence at housework and remained a silent observer. And that was at the point where Killian nearly skewered his hand with the screwdriver. "Ow!"
"Are you sure you're alright? I mean, you know what you're doing, there, don't you?"
"I work with my hands all day," he said, with a shrug. "I just normally don't have such interesting distractions." He gestured to Emma with the screwdriver.
"What? I'm just standing here!"
"Exactly. Who knew those legs were hiding under that ugly uniform?"
"Oh." Emma wasn't sure what to make of that, not the part about her uniform being ugly and definitely not the part about her legs. It was all a little confusing.
But, strangely, not as uncomfortable as it might have been.
There appeared to be no more mishaps with the procedure and, rather quickly Emma thought, Killian sat back on his heels and surveyed the cat door. "Done."
"Is it? Are you sure that's it and it'll work now?"
He jabbed the flap with the screwdriver and they both watched it swing freely back and forth. "I think it'll be fine. Tinkerbell won't have any more trouble." He looked over at where Mr Smee was sitting on the kitchen table. "Not from the cat flap, anyway."
Killian started gathering up the pieces he'd removed and packing away his tools and Emma cast around for something else to say. Probably 'thank you' would be the accepted thing, followed quickly by 'goodbye', and perhaps, in this instance, 'take your cat with you when you leave.'
But, for some reason that she wasn't going to press herself for, Emma didn't feel like saying any of that. And she definitely didn't feel like going back to her original plan for the morning of laundry and housework. So she did the one thing she did want to do.
"I was going to make some cocoa…do you, uh, want some?" she offered, as Killian stood up and brushed down the legs of his jeans.
"Are you afraid that if you don't offer me something I might steal the sandwich out of your hand?"
"Well, I'm assuming Mr Smee picked up his habits from somewhere. But no, I think I'm safe."
She waited to see what Killian's response would be and he took a moment to scrutinise her closely before he made up his mind. Emma felt a little exposed under his gaze but made the decision that this was her house, her kitchen and she wasn't going to hide from him.
Whatever it was he thought he was looking for, anyway. Possibly he was just trying to figure out what else she'd been hiding under the uniform. Her sweater was bulky enough, but it had slipped off one shoulder and she straightened it up.
"That would be most appreciated," he said, in the end, and Emma gestured for him to take a seat at the kitchen table.
"Fancy seeing you here," Killian added, dryly, to Mr Smee who was still stationed on the table. The cat ignored him, stretching out his back leg and, rather shakily, beginning to wash it.
"I have to say, he snores." Emma continued, adding the whipped cream to the top of the cocoa. "Like, really loudly. I didn't think cats did that. Do you think they can get sleep apnoea?"
She put a mug of cocoa in front of Killian and then sat opposite with her own.
"Thank you. But I have to say, I don't."
"Don't think they can get it? I'm pretty sure the way he sounds isn't normal."
Killian smiled at her over his mug, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "I don't snore."
"Oh. Well I suppose that's…interesting." She looked away from Killian, afraid that if she kept getting sucked into his orbit then she'd be tempted to find out whether he was actually telling her the truth.
And she wasn't that desperate to not be alone. Not to the point of throwing herself at the first man who turned up and flirted with her.
Mr Smee had given up washing and was looking at Emma expectantly. Almost automatically she wiped a finger through the whipped cream on top of her cocoa and held it out to him, feeling the rough rasp of his tongue as he lapped it up.
"Did you just give my cat cream?"
That broke Emma out of her reverie about willpower. "What? No…I just." Realising she'd been caught and there wasn't any way to get out of it, Emma gave up. "Well, it's not like he's putting on any weight."
"How much cream have you been giving him?"
"Oh, only a taste. Now and then," Emma said, dismissively. "Just…well I always give some to Tinkerbell and I thought I shouldn't leave him out." It was a really terrible excuse on her part, and she knew it, but all the same, she held her chin up and almost dared Killian to call her on it.
If Mr Smee didn't keep coming into her house, it wouldn't have even been an issue, would it?
"No wonder he's over here all the time. All the treats he can eat, a place on the bed, gorgeous female company…"
Emma decided enough was enough. "You're laying it on a bit thick, you know?"
Killian pointed over his shoulder. "I meant Tinkerbell."
"Really? You're going to try to charm her now? I don't think she responds to flattery."
"Not even if I tell her that she has the loveliest green eyes. Almost as lovely as her owner's."
"Phfft. Well, she's still on the cupboard so I don't think it worked."
"Ah, but these things take time, don't you know?"
Emma didn't have a response to that at all, and the conversation was going down a road she didn't like the look of. She changed the subject. "So, how long are you in Storybrooke for?"
Killian shrugged. "I don't know…until the work runs out, I guess."
"And Mr Smee? He doesn't mind moving from place to place with you?"
"It's better, I suppose, than living on the streets where I found him. Well, at a marina. I'm not sure whether he was dumped off a boat or just left, but he was in a bad state when I took him in and he was just…" Killian looked down at where his fingers were tracing an imaginary pattern in the wood of Emma's kitchen table. "Grateful, I guess. I told him I'd look after him, and I'm doing my best to keep that promise."
Emma nodded. "They do, uh…keep you grounded. Cats, I mean."
"And you and Tinkerbell? You've been here a long time?"
Emma shook her head. "I moved here about nine years ago, I think? It's…OK. I mean, I've been worse places. Tinkerbell…she just needed a home when her mother didn't want her around anymore."
Killian raised his mug. "Well, to waifs and strays then."
"Waifs and strays," Emma echoed, tapping her mug against his.
They drank in silence for a while, which Emma was surprised to find wasn't all that unpleasant. She was used to just having Tinkerbell for company, and, lately, Mr Smee, but the addition of Killian didn't make her feel as though she had to be something she wasn't, which was how she often felt around strangers. Even without David helpfully pointing them out to her, she was well aware of her faults; too stern, too strange, and with absolutely no ability to put anyone at ease.
But if Killian noticed any of this about Emma, he was polite enough not to say. And his silence, the fact he didn't fill the space with chatter like others she knew did, simply made her more curious about the man sitting opposite.
He stood up and carried his mug to the sink, and, as he did so, Emma got a clear look at the tattoo on the inside of his arm and she felt compelled to ask him about it. It wasn't anything elaborate; just a heart with a dagger through it. But she was curious about the name inked underneath all the same.
She could pinpoint the moment his entire body tensed and Emma regretted asking the question. "It's for, um…" He hadn't turned around and was talking to the kitchen curtains, which was always a bad sign. From her perch up high on the cupboards Emma could swear that Tinkerbell was shaking her head at her, and she really didn't need the cat's disapproval to feel like a heel. She was about to tell Killian that it didn't really matter when he turned around and finished.
"She was my wife. But she's gone now. Leukaemia."
"Oh. I'm sorry." Emma knew it was inadequate response but she doubted that there was an adequate one for this situation. Mostly she just regretted causing him the pain of dredging up old memories. It wasn't something she relished and she couldn't even claim the same kind of tragedy, just a whole bunch of…emptiness, really.
"Well. Everyone leaves in the end, don't they?"
Emma wasn't sure whether he wanted her to agree with him or refute that statement, and mostly she just wondered how he could know. How he'd managed to look at her and understand that it was the most awful truth she knew, and the one that, no matter how much she fought, she found herself living by. Eventually, everyone would leave her, so what was the point in trying anymore?
Emma nodded, hoping that covered it. She wasn't about to show her own scars to this man, but they were no doubt obvious anyway. Especially with the way Killian was looking at her now.
"I'll take that as my cue to leave now, too," he said in the end, forcing a smile onto his face. He gathered up the toolbox, and then hefted a surprised looking Mr Smee under his arm. "Come on, let's leave the nice ladies to some peace and quiet."
He headed towards the front door and Emma followed, not sure she was really happy about him leaving but not at all ready to ask him to stay longer. She'd enjoyed the company, mostly because, she realised, it was just company. It wasn't another set-up orchestrated by David and Mary Margaret, and it definitely wasn't Emma pinning her hopes on another guy who was going to let her down.
It definitely wasn't that, she reminded herself. Good-looking he might be, but he'd made it clear, hadn't he? Everyone leaves, and he'd be no exception.
In some ways, it was nice to have it out in the open.
"Well, thank you for your hospitality," he said, opening the front door. "I'd make Mr Smee say thanks, too, but he's a little shy."
Emma laughed, glad to have the sombre mood broken. "You know, he's not so bad. I guess. I mean…" she gave an off-hand shrug with one shoulder. "If he does get lonely, I guess he could come back over. As long as he remembers that, uh, Tinkerbell needs her space."
"I'm sure he could do that. He's not a bad old thing, really."
"No. He's not. And, uh, thanks. For the door. Tinkerbell will be a lot happier now."
"Good. I'd hate to think she was miserable."
"Well, she'll adjust. And maybe it's not bad for her, having someone new around."
Killian nodded, and started down the steps, still with Mr Smee tucked uncomplainingly under his arm. "Goodbye, love."
"Uh…Emma, remember? I think it's…well, it's less complicated. If I'm just Emma."
"OK. Goodbye, Emma, love."
"Bye." Emma watched him start crossing the street, and then closed her door. As she turned she nearly stood on Tinkerbell who had left her lookout post, perhaps out of curiosity, or perhaps just because she wanted to make sure that Mr Smee was gone for good.
"He might come back," Emma said. "And I don't know, but I don't think he's that bad? Do you?"
Tinkerbell flicked her tail in a way that suggested she was less than impressed and then led Emma back down to the kitchen to where the pile of laundry was still waiting. It was less than fifteen minutes later that the bang of the cat door flap alerted her to the fact they were no longer alone and that Mr Smee had escaped his owner's clutches.
Emma supposed they'd have to get used to that.
Thanks for reading!