The characters belong to Kitsis and Horowitz but I take them out to play from time to time.
When Emma had set the flyer down in front of Regina six months before she hadn't really thought it through. True, it was a great opportunity for the business, if only to get the name out there and expand their clientele. She hadn't realized that Regina would insist that since it was her idea to have a booth at the Portland Tattoo Expo she would have to be the one running it.
Pulling a sweatshirt up over her shoulders she cursed the fact that it was the middle of the summer and all she wanted to do was bundle up in as many layers as possible. She knew the only reason the convention hall was kept so cold was because the artists who were currently working would sweat buckets otherwise. It didn't help to remind herself that before they had gone to get lunch she had been grumbling under her breath about wanting a fan for their booth.
"You probably should have packed one of our own sweatshirts," Ruby said pointedly from behind her. "It's not good business to be wearing the merch of the competition."
"I didn't think about it," Emma grumbled as she pulled the zipper up to her chin, "and can you really call them competition if they're located in a different state?"
"Well, just remember for next time," Ruby murmured. "That and to pack more snacks and a lot more drinking water."
"Who says we'll be doing this again?" Emma questioned, watching groups of people filtering past their booth.
"Aw, man, you guys have to come back! It'll be like a tradition!"
Emma turned to look at the guy Ruby was working on. He was grinning at her over Ruby's head with only a slight wince giving away that his forearm was under the needle.
"I'm pretty sure something needs to happen more than twice for it to be considered a tradition," she chided turning back to face the crowds.
"Which is why you should just keep coming back," the guy, Eddy, according to the appointment book said. "Then it will totally be a tradition."
"Keep still, unless you want this hawk to have crooked eyes," Ruby chastised.
Emma rolled her eyes and pulled her long blonde hair up into a messy bun. She didn't even know why she bothered leaving it down when she was working, it ultimately ended up tied back and out of the way. Satisfied it wasn't going to come loose she bent over the sketchpad she had open on the table in front of her. She'd had a gruelling session that morning and just wanted to work on new designs the rest of the day.
The Expo was the first major decision she had made as an official partner at Queen's Quills and Emma was cautiously happy that the weekend had been a success so far. They had booked all their available times within the first three hours and sold all their merchandise by the end of the first day. Regina had been ecstatic about that and had sent her husband, Robin, down early the next morning with every scrap of clothing left in the studio. Even with the restock they only had a few t-shirts and a couple of hats left to get them through the last few hours of the weekend.
Despite Regina being all for the Expo she had chosen to stay back at the studio in Storybrooke. Emma didn't blame her, considering half the artists and their piercer were also in Portland, but it would have been nice for the owner of the studio to make an appearance. There were a few seminars that Emma knew Regina would have loved, all focusing on the business side of tattooing. Emma had to go instead and was almost bored to tears listening about market trends and expansion possibilities. She at least remembered to record some of the more interesting talks and jot down notes to share when she got back.
Overall they'd had a great weekend. Ruby had been excited to explore nightlife that didn't involve running into anyone she had gone to high school with and August was always up for new experiences that he could integrate into his novel. Emma had just wanted things to go smoothly and they had, aside from the lack of sellable goods and edible snacks. She smiled to herself thinking about how scandalized her son Henry would be when he found out they had run out of pretzels.
"Alright, that's that. I'm pretty sure I don't need to remind you of the protocols but I'm going to do it anyways," Ruby drawled as Emma heard the sound of plastic wrap being ripped from the roll. "Leave this on for a couple of hours, then wash it, no scrubbing, with plain ol' antibacterial soap, pat dry and voila! a shiny new work of art to show all your friends. Use whatever after care product you want, I recommend any unscented lotion but who am I to judge. Now pay my friend and take a card."
Emma bit her lip to keep from laughing as Eddy sputtered behind her. Ruby Lucas may have been one of the best free hand artists she'd ever seen but her people skills needed work. Not that Emma was one to judge, Regina had to constantly remind her to engage with the clients instead of working in complete silence.
Eddy thumbed through his cash while trying to catch Ruby's eye as she cleaned up the work station. Scoffing, Emma rapped her knuckles on the table catching his attention. He had the decency to blush before handing over his money and grabbing a business card. She watched as he walked away, making sure to keep his arm angled out from his side to avoid accidentally hitting it.
"This weekend has been pretty fun," Ruby said plopping down at the table next to Emma and unclipping her hair. She had added violently red streaks to her brown hair over the weekend and used every opportunity to show it off. "Too bad there isn't one of these every weekend."
"I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be good for business, not to mention our licences wouldn't let us if we wanted to," Emma scoffed.
"I know that. Doesn't mean it wouldn't be fun. So, do we have any more appointments or are we free to roam when August gets back?"
August had taken the opportunity after lunch to explore the rest of the exhibit hall since they had only booked two tattoo appointments for their last day. Even though he was technically supposed to be representing their studio as their piercer he had continued the pattern he had back in Storybrooke. If he was around he was more than happy to do his job, but he wasn't always at the studio, choosing to experience life instead of just observing it. Emma wasn't entirely sure why Regina hadn't fired him yet but he was one of her closest friends so she didn't worry about it too much.
"Nothing more for us at least, but I've already told a bunch of people that our piercer would be tied down to the booth for the rest of the afternoon," Emma said glancing up. "There's already a few people that are circling the booth waiting for him to drop back in."
"Nice, teach Booth to cut loose on us," Ruby said leaning over to glance at Emma's sketchpad. "I see you're still fascinated with flowers. What was it this week? Daisies or carnations?"
"Peonies," Emma answered annoyed. "It's like the guy is deliberately trying to send the most difficult things to get right. Last week it was gardenias. Do you know how hard it is to draw a flower that has white petals? It took me almost the whole week to get it perfect."
"Oh, I know he's doing it on purpose," Ruby laughed, leaning back in her chair. "If you ever bothered to read the cards that come with the arrangements you'd know that."
Emma looked over at Ruby in shock. It was no secret that Ruby couldn't keep her nose out of other people's business but Emma thought she might have been the exception. She tried to hold onto her indignance in light of the fact that she hadn't realized that there had been cards attached to her flower deliveries.
When Emma had finally been hired as a full time artist at the Quills she finally had some disposable income. It had been a habit back in Boston to order bouquets or flower arrangements for her area in the studio she had been working at. Sometimes they were for inspiration but mostly she liked having something simple yet beautiful to look at.
For the first couple of weeks she had ordered from the Game of Thorns florist but soon realized the most exotic thing they had in stock were gerbera daisies. Their specialty were roses, all sort of colors and varieties, but Emma didn't have a need for that. Roses were a romantic flower, given on Valentine's Day, for dates, or anniversaries. She hadn't received flowers of any type from anyone, other than Henry on her birthday, in years.
It was a month before she realized that the store next to the Quills' studio was actually a downtown storefront for the nursery at the edge of town. Looking at it from the street it had the appearance of a quirky bookstore that had tried to justify the use of paper by lining every available surface with plants. She had only found out they weren't a bookstore when she had met the owner at the market.
He had been delivering arrangements and noticed Emma trying to choose between irises and calla lillies. Fifteen minutes later he was handing her a card and telling her to order directly from his store instead of getting ripped off by the mark-ups done by the market. She had laughed and assured him she would. It wasn't until she got home that she looked at the card and saw that she walked by the store everyday before work.
At first the arrangements had been standard, beautiful, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then, about five months ago, she started getting more exotic blooms and fascinating color and texture combinations. She had never altered her order but the bouquets and arrangements kept changing. Whoever was preparing her order somehow knew that she used them for more than just decoration and she wasn't sure how to feel about it. So she hadn't read any of the cards that had come with her flowers, ever.
"I'll pretend that you didn't just admit to snooping around my work station and move on," Emma ground out.
"Don't tell me you aren't the least bit interested in what the guy has to say?" Ruby moaned in disbelief. "I mean, come on, he's been making you these amazing things made from dead plant matter for months now."
"Dead plant matter? Here I thought I was the one not into romantic tropes."
"Graham isn't complaining when some arbitrary holiday rolls around, since I'm saving him money, but we're not focusing on me here," Ruby tapped her finger on Emma's sketchpad. "Plant Man has been wanting to get your opinion on his hard work and you've just been ignoring him this whole time."
"Does it count as ignoring if I had no idea about it?" Emma hedged. "I just thought it was the owner doing all the work. He was the one who told me about the store in the first place."
"Anton? Seriously? That guy has one hell of a green thumb but an eye for detail he does not," Ruby said thoughtfully. "Actually, I don't know anyone who works at the nursery who could possibly be Plant Man. Most of the guys out there are all about growing the stuff, not making it look aesthetically pleasing."
"Plant Man? Are we seriously going to call him that?" Emma scoffed focusing on getting the shading right on her peony sketch.
"Better than the nickname he's given himself: 'Captain Greenthumb'. I mean, can you get any more pathetic?" Ruby said throwing up her arms in indignation.
Emma laughed, inclined to agree with her. 'Plant Man' wasn't much better but definitely less terrible than just referring to him as 'that guy who arranges flowers'. Either way Emma was glad Ruby wasn't trying to push her into something romantic with Plant Man, at least she wasn't at the moment.
"God, where's August? I'm definitely starting to get cabin fever here," Ruby said restlessly, kicking at one of the legs of Emma's chair.
"You can always go without me, you're an adult."
"Where's the fun in that? Besides, if I don't pry you away from this table soon you won't leave at all. I know Robin is on the way to haul this crap back home and you'll want to start packing up way too early. There's still a few hours to go and I don't want to waste them folding up banners and cleaning."
Ruby dropped her head dramatically onto the table, rattling the various items on it and knocking over their stack of business cards.
"Nice, very mature," Emma huffed, pushing up the sleeves of the sweatshirt as she reached across the table to shuffle the cards back into place.
"Looks like you missed a few," an accented voice came lilting from behind her.
Emma turned around to see who was talking to her but the owner of the voice was already kneeling down to pick up the cards that had fallen to the floor. All she could see was a mess of thick dark hair that had been carefully styled to look like it hadn't been. Ruby, having a better vantage point, was digging her elbow into Emma's side and wagging her eyebrows like the horny wolf from old cartoons.
"Um, thanks," Emma winced, batting Ruby's arm away.
"No problem, lass," the man said straightening up. "Glad to be of assistance."
Carefully placing the dropped cards on the pile Emma had fixed he finally turned to face them fully. Emma's first thought was that there was no way someone could possibly be that good looking in real life. Her second was that Ruby's heel was practically grinding her toes to dust under the table. She jerked her foot free and subsequently knocked the table again, sending everything on it flying.
Mortified beyond belief Emma quickly rounded the table, but not before punching Ruby in the thigh as she had stood up. The guy had stood watching the chaos in shock before breaking into a surprised laugh. Emma could feel her cheeks burning in embarrassment as she gathered pens, cups, and business cards as quickly as she could. She was flinging everything back on the table when she turned to see her sketchbook floating in front of her nose.
"Is this yours?" The guy asked.
Emma didn't hear the question at first due to the fact that she had somehow been hypnotized by the eyes looking back at her. They were lined with smudged black pencil as though he was trying to distract from the faint purple shadows under them. What it really did was draw attention to a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen in her life. His face was so close she could see flecks of green circling the irises.
"Uh, what?" Emma stammered, her cheeks heating up again at the realization that she had been caught staring. "Yeah, that's mine."
She snatched the book out of Blue Eyes' hands and tucked it under her arm as she grabbed the last of the debris off the ground. Studiously avoiding his gaze she circled back to her spot behind the table. Ruby was watching her with interest, eyes darting back to Blue Eyes with no hint at subtlety.
"I thought this was the Queen's Quills booth?" Blue Eyes asked confused.
"It is," Emma answered equally confused.
"Then why are you here?"
"Excuse me?" Emma asked indignant.
"Well, you're wearing a Stovington Inks sweatshirt," Blue Eyes stated, as though pointing out the obvious.
"I told you! And you thought that going to expos every weekend was bad for business," Ruby said validated.
"I'm sorry my choice of wardrobe has people confused. Next time I'll wear a sandwich board with our logo on it all weekend," Emma had recovered from her earlier embarrassment and was quickly trying to forget it ever happened.
"So we are going to do this again, I knew it!" Ruby crowed.
"Don't count on me bringing you though," Emma teased avoiding looking at Blue Eyes by straightening everything on the table again.
"Well, Blue Eyes, what brings you to our neck of the woods?" Ruby's foot nudged Emma's under the table, somehow knowing Emma had already given him that nickname.
"Blue Eyes?" He asked in an accent that Emma finally pinpointed as English.
"You haven't exactly introduced yourself so what else was I supposed to call you?" Ruby said waving her hand in his direction.
"Killian will do," he quipped shifting on his feet. "I have yet to learn yours."
"I'm Ruby, second in command this weekend and this-"
"Is Emma Swan?" He finished for her.
Emma's head snapped up quickly, meeting a teasing blue gaze. She blinked rapidly before crossing her arms and sitting back to observe him cooly. Killian was tall and lean but not lanky, at least not that she could tell because he was wearing a loose fitting black sweatshirt with some band logo on the front. He had a scruffy beard that only appeared to be a day or two old but it was a lighter brown, almost ginger in color, and his skin was tan, as though he spent a lot of time outdoors. His right hand reached up to scratch behind his ear as she watched and she noted that his left remained in the pocket of his sweatshirt.
"How the hell did you know that?" She asked annoyed.
"No offence, but you don't look like a 'Regina'," he said as he gestured to the pile of business cards. "The name was on the card, love."
Emma rolled her eyes and wondered why the guy was still hanging around. He obviously wasn't interested in setting up an appointment with them and despite the earring she noticed in his right ear he didn't seem to be waiting for August to show up either.
"You know, it's not everyday you see a sight like this," Killian observed.
Immediately Emma rose to the defensive. She had received a few pointed comments and questions over the weekend about the ability of a woman, let alone two, running a successful tattoo studio. Mostly it had come from neanderthals who had had too much to drink but it still rankled every time.
"What? You don't think that women are capable of running a business, that we should be kept in the kitchen where we belong? I've got news for you, buddy, it's not 1955 anymore," Emma spat out.
Killian took a step back, raising his hand in supplication. "Apologies, Swan, I had no intention of offending you. I just meant that it's not often that a tattoo artist has so little art of their own."
Emma deflated and felt the heat start spreading across her cheeks again. The man definitely had a way of setting her off balance.
"That you can see," Emma clamped her mouth shut quickly but heard Ruby snicker at her unintended innuendo.
"Do tell, Swan, is there an intricate design across your lower back or perhaps a rose on each hip?" He asked popping the p and leaning into her space with a grin.
"Roses are overrated," she scoffed, yanking the sleeves of her sweatshirt down to cover the small buttercup tattoo on the inside of her left wrist.
Ruby laughed loudly, causing Killian to look at her, and Emma used the distraction to scan the faces around her. Sighing in relief she saw August, his curly brown hair in disarray and a smile stretching his face, making his way back to their booth with Will Scarlet in tow. Apparently Robin had sent Will to help with getting them back home. Before either of them could open their mouths Emma jumped up from her seat, dragging Ruby up with her.
"Great, you're back and with Will to keep you company," Emma said quickly still pulling Ruby behind her. She turned to Killian and sneered. "I would say it was nice to meet you but I'm not a big fan of lying."
"Hey, that's my line," August called after them as they walked away.
"Well, that was rude, even more so than you usually are," scolded Ruby as soon as the booth was out of sight.
"He deserved it, he was being an ass," Emma said petulantly.
"Or he was flirting with you and you immediately went into lock-down mode. I swear, someday I'm going to give up on you and deliver thirty cats to your house."
"Henry's always wanted a pet," Emma muttered, stung by the comment about her emotional openness.
"He wants a dog and I agree with him," Ruby said smiling as she stopped in front of a food cart. "At least with a dog there's a slight probability of you actually being nice to it right away."
Emma's mouth opened and closed several times as she tried to come up with a response. Finally she gave in and said nothing. It wasn't a secret that she was difficult to get along with but only Ruby and Mary Margaret would point out when she was taking it too far.
Shifting uncomfortably in line behind Ruby Emma wondered if she should find Killian and apologize. Then she figured that she'd probably never see the guy again so what was the point. She tried to tamp down the feeling that the incident would be something she would dwell on for days and the weekend had been going so well.
Author's Note: Here we go, my first multi-chapter modern AU ever, I needed something to keep me sane during the hiatus. This story is based off a prompt on Tumblr and is an early birthday present for my sister who saw it and decided I needed to write it. I already have plenty written so far and hope to update on a regular basis. I have no idea where it will take me but I hope you readers are happy to join the ride.