Perfect. Emma thought, smoothing the creases out of the map spread over the hood of her car and tracing her finger for the hundredth time over the same blank area. It was no use, and she knew it. If the stretch of road she had so fortunately broken down on hadn't been on the map the first time she looked, it wasn't going to be no matter what she did. Just fucking perfect.
Leave it to her to finally make the decision to leave Boston, to finally break free of her lonely routine of a life and maybe find somewhere to be happy, and get stuck in bumfuck nowhere not even a day later. She kicked at the front tire of the car as she made her way back around to peer in the trunk again. She had poked around back there earlier, looking at every bit of the engine she knew anything about, but there was only so much a person could do at the side of the road and, unfortunately, what little could be done was not going to get this car back on the road.
"Should've sold you when I had the chance." She muttered to the car, slamming the trunk with a bit too much force. She trailed her hand along the roof, though, as she came back around. It wasn't the car's fault – it was old and she drove it hard some nights when speed was better than feeling. It was bound to happen sometime, but now?
She grabbed the map and locked the car, then struck off down the road the same way she had been headed before the car had stuttered to a glorious, messy stop. At the very least, she was determined not to go back the way she had come. She may be stuck, but at least she had gotten somewhere.
Even though there was nobody else on the road, and hadn't been for hours, she stuck to the far edge of the shoulder. The circumstances could have been better, but she had to admit that the walk itself was actually nice. It was early September, and the world was hovering over the line between summer and fall, the leaves just starting to show hints of oranges and reds, and the air crisp but still warm. And frankly, after having been in Boston for three years with all the noise that came along with it, hearing nothing but the sound of the gravel shoulder crunching underneath her boots and the faint calls of birds from the woods that bordered the road…it was nice.
Caught in her thoughts as she was, she didn't see the signpost until she was within an inch of running straight into it.
"What in the…" Emma had never been one to have words surprised straight out of her mouth, but she figured this was a reasonable exception because she had studied that map and there had definitely not been a town anywhere near here. She had been hoping to come across a farm or maybe, if she was very lucky, some kind of makeshift garage, but certainly nothing big enough to warrant a cheerfully painted wooden sign proclaiming "Welcome to Storybrooke".
"Figures." She muttered, but it was with a smile. Nothing screamed Quaint Small Town America quite like a town with a name like that. Hopefully Storybrooke would have a tow truck, or at least someone with a phone that actually got reception out here so she could call the garage she had passed a half-hour ago, get her car fixed, and get back to driving…wherever it was she wanted to go.
It only took five minutes to reach the edge of what looked like the main street. What Storybrooke lacked in size it clearly made up for by stringing everything along three blocks, stores packed tight against their neighbours on either side of the road. There were cars parked in front of a few of them, so she wagered there must be at least a gas station somewhere in town. And if she was right, it would be along this stretch of road.
As she walked along, she couldn't help the small smile that crept onto her face. For a town too small to be on the map, it had just about everything – pharmacy, diner, even a pawn shop – and it was pristine. There was something homey about the neat little shops and the spotless streets that there had never been in Boston.
The smile dropped off her face then, fast, because she had spent her whole life training herself not to feel at home anywhere, because homes didn't last. Not for her. And she thought she had finally broken that habit because in Boston she hadn't felt anything. She had come close with…well, she had come close, but had never quite gotten there. That feeling of belonging had never hit her in the town where she had lived for three years, where she had been building a life, but after ten minutes in a tiny town she was suddenly throwing around homey like it was nothing? No.
She started walking faster. The sooner she was out of here, the better.
It was just her luck that the only business in this entire town that wasn't on the main strip was the garage. She would have turned around when she reached the end of the main street if a stocky, slightly surly man hadn't barrelled into her and demanded to know why she had stopped so suddenly. Even though he grumbled about sidewalk right-of-way, when she told him her problem, he had at least given her directions.
The garage was on the far end of the main street, half a dozen blocks away from the rest of the businesses. There wasn't a ton of anything on this edge of town, so she saw the dark shape of a building squatting a ways away from the road well before she got close enough to see the weathered sign out front: Jones Bros. Automotive.
"About time." She muttered to herself, cutting across the dusty lot. The garage was bare and simple, two large doors set in a plain cement building with a farmhouse set farther back on the property. She strode up to the door that was rolled open and poked her head inside. "Hello?" Her voice rang out in the cavernous garage, but nobody called back. If this was the mechanic's day off…
She stepped inside and walked over to a mini van with the hood up, peering in. The engine looked half-rebuilt, and she figured if there was something in this place that was in some state of repair then someone here had to know what they were doing enough to help her get back on the road.
"It's generally customary to knock." A smooth voice came from close behind her. She jumped, moving to straighten and whirl to face whoever was there, but banged her head on the open hood instead.
"Son of a…" She resisted the urge to kick the van as she moved out from under the hood, but that urge quickly shifted to kicking the man in front of her as she saw how close he was to laughing. "Well, it's customary to actually be in your own garage in the middle of a business day." She said shortly. "Do you work here?"
He just flashed a crooked grin at her and tapped his chest, drawing her eyes down to the name stitched on his shirt. Killian.
"That's Killian Jones." He said, gesturing towards the road and the sign in the yard. "So yes. I work here. What can I do for you?"
"My car stopped just outside of town, by the sign." She waved her hand in the general direction of the road. "I looked, but there's nothing obviously wrong with it, and I've only been on the road a couple hours, and…" she trailed off and gave him a half-helpless, half-frantic look. "I kind of wanted to be well past Maine by now, so if you could fix it…"
He smiled that crooked smile again, and chuckled a little under his breath. "I'll bring the truck around." He said. "We'll see what we can do."
He disappeared through a door in the back of the shop, but he wasn't gone long before she heard the distinctive rumbling of a very large engine coming around the front of the building. The truck ended up being some demon hybrid between a tow truck and an eighteen-wheeler, the trailer long and solid. It could probably hold two of her cars on the bed and pull another behind it without breaking a sweat.
"I drive a small car, not a monster truck." She said as he hopped out, striding past her to grab a small tool box from the garage floor. "You'd need like…a pickup truck at most to tow it. Hell, you could probably push it back here if you had to."
"We're a small town, love." He said. "I can carry one truck on the amount of business I get, and I've got to be prepared in case I'm needed by a damsel in distress who does drive a monster truck."
"I'm not in distress."
"Certainly not." She was going to overlook that stupid smirk on his face, but only because she was screwed if he didn't help her. She just rolled her eyes, and his crooked smile grew as he passed her, tapping her elbow and nodding in the direction of the truck. "Hop in. Let's see if we can't get you back on the road."
He took a roundabout way back to her car, skirting the main street and driving past endless stretches of cornfield until her car was suddenly a little yellow bulb on the horizon, and then right in front of them. As he slowed the truck, he let out a low whistle.
"Beautiful." He said quietly. She didn't think she was meant to have heard him. "'72?"
"Your car." He pulled past it as he spoke, backing his truck up until it was inches from her front bumper. "1972 Super Beetle, right?"
"Yeah." She could feel a thread of approval in her voice, and the look he shot her in return was half mirth, half confusion.
"Don't sound so surprised, love. I work with cars every day. I do know a thing or two about them."
"Yeah, I guess you do." She could feel herself turning red, so she hopped out of the truck to avoid looking at him, lest this conversation trace back to the years that this car had been all she had, and to the fact that he was looking at it like he respected it, in a way, and how that meant something to her well beyond what it should.
She waited for him to retrieve his tool kit and come around the back of the truck, then nodded at the car. "The engine's in the trunk."
"Thanks." He flashed her that same amused smile and walked past her to the back, opening the finicky trunk on the first try and leaning in to study the engine without preamble. He looked so comfortable with it, prodding at it with a curious finger, and she realized that he definitely knew exactly where the engine was before she said it, and on top of that more about it than she would ever have a dream of knowing.
She opened the door and sank into the driver's seat as he worked, thumbing absently through the old napkins and receipts she'd shoved in the glove box throughout the years. There were times she would look at this car and see it as a regular vehicle, and then there were times like these where it would seem like losing it was imminent, where she would find a crumpled placemat from the diner she had worked at after she had been released from prison, and remember the history she had with this car. God, she hoped he could fix it.
"Love?" He tapped on the roof of the car, and she jumped. He was leaning there casually, and looked as though he had been for a while. How many times had he said something before she had noticed? "We'll have to take it back to the shop so I can take a closer look, but I think I found your problem."
"It is a fixable problem?"
"Everything's fixable." He motioned for her to follow him back to the trunk, crowding under the hood with her. "What it looks like is that someone's replaced the original fuel injection system with a carburetor/distributor combo, and did it poorly, so your engine's working in a piecemeal sort of way, not as the unit it should be, and it just reached its limit."
"What do you mean reached its limit?"
"If the components of the engine aren't working together, you're going to end up with heat issues, seal issues, pump issues…and from the looks of it whoever put in this carb combo didn't have the…finesse they should, so I'll have to take it apart to see what's been affected."
"Are you sure?" She extracted herself from under the hook and stared at the engine from above. "I mean…I knew someone had replaced it but it's never been a problem before."
"As I said, I'll take a closer look in the shop, but I'm near positive." He rubbed a hand over the engine before stepping back as well, slamming the hood. He left a dark handprint on the tailgate, but she ignored it. "If that's the problem, we can try to fix what's there and stick with the setup you've already got, or we can convert back to injection and set the whole thing back up the way it would have been originally."
"That sounds like a lot of work."
"Let's see the full extent of what we've got to work with, alright?" He smiled at her, and there was a hint of sympathy to it. "Help me hook her up to the truck, and I'll take a look this afternoon."
She was paging through an old magazine in the small office attached to the garage, a lukewarm cup of coffee in her hands, when he came to find her later that afternoon. She took one look at the grave expression on his face, and her heart stopped.
"It's bad news, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid so, lass." He went to sit behind his desk, clicking at something on his computer screen as he spoke. "I was right about the problem, and honestly there's enough affected by the shitty conversion that you're going to encounter this issue again unless we do some major work."
"So what are you saying?" She stood to walk around the desk, watching him click through some sort of catalogue without really seeing. She felt slightly dizzy, and she knew it was just a car but it wasmore than that, and now he was throwing around major work…
"I'm saying that at this point, I think converting back to injection is your best bet if you don't want to have the same problem a year or two down the road." He tapped the screen and looked up at her, and he probably saw her pale a few shades as she saw the number at the end of a terrifyingly long list of parts. "That's what it'll cost to do it, and labour on top of that."
"Are you serious?" She felt slightly frantic and she knew she sounded it, but she didn't care. "I'm a bail bondsperson, and I'm not even working right now and I mean I have some training but not nearly enough to fix this even if I could afford the parts and I don't even have anywhere to…"
"Hey." He held up a hand and she bit off her sentence, realizing with no small degree of mortification that she had slightly forgotten he was there. "We'll figure something out, love, but we both know your options are limited right now so there's no use getting worked up about it."
"Says the man with steady job and the place to call home." She snarled, then sighed, rubbing a hand over her face. "Sorry. I'm just…"
"It's alright, lass. I understand." He pressed a few keys and stood, grabbing a few pages as they rolled out of the printer and bringing them back to the desk. "You said you had mechanical training?"
"I…yeah, a little. It's basic, but…"
"Ninety percent of my business is oil changes, tire changes, and standard tune ups. Think you can handle that?"
"I'll make you a deal, love." He jotted a few figures on the printouts and nodded once, resolutely, to himself. "I'll bill the parts at cost and prorate the labour if you're willing to work off the rest."
"I…" She almost wanted to lie about her qualifications because this was more than she ever could have hoped for in this situation, but there was no way he wouldn't find out. "I'm not certified or anything. I just…took a few classes, once. A long time ago."
"It's fine, love." He grinned, and it sounded as though he was the one who wanted her to say yes, as though it was for his sake and not for hers. "It's basic work, and I'll check it before it goes out, but there's nothing fancy about the cars in this town. I'm sure you'll be fine, and if you're not we can work something else out, but I'm willing to try if you are."
"Yes." She let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding, that final yes all that she needed. "God, yes that would be great. Thank you."
"Wait until you're elbow deep in dirty oil before you get too excited." He sat back down at the desk and pulled a business card from the top drawer, handing it to her. Granny's Inn and Diner. "That's a B&B just at the other end of Main Street. Tell her I sent you and she'll give you a bit of a deal. She owes me a favour for some brake work."
"I…" Emma found herself without the words to thank him. It was one thing to get this type of kindness from someone she knew – and she had never even gotten much of that – but from a stranger?
"Go get yourself set up, love." He chuckled, waving at the door. "I'll find you some coveralls tonight and see you in the morning, yeah?"
"Uh…yeah. Thank you."
"Instead of a thank you, how about your name?" He shot her that crooked grin again. "I can't very well have you working for me if I don't even know what to call you."
"You seemed to be doing alright." She rolled her eyes at that – he had probably called her love about a hundred times since she had first walked in – but returned his smile. "But it's Emma. Emma Swan."
"Well, Emma Swan." He winked at her and turned back to the screen, waving her out the door. "Welcome to Storybrooke."