Title: Three-legged Man

Fic Type: One-shot

Genre: Human AU, General

Pairings: noneeeeeee. Except for the blatant, torrid makings of a James/Emily pale romance.

Summary: Why yes, I am writing humanized fic of – out of all possible fandoms – Thomas and Friends, or at least I am trying to write something that won't sully its apparently already sullied fanfiction reputation. When a certain red-haired speed sprinter goes missing, his team mates immediately (and, mostly, grudgingly) come to his rescue. The first one to come to his aid, surprisingly, is the haughty princess of the Sodor race tracks, Emily Stirling.

Preview:

"Fancy seeing you here, Hughes. And here I was thinking you thought it, ahh, too beneath you to spend your precious time dying in a ditch?" Emily smirked, intentionally aiming her flashlight beam on the red-haired man in front of her. She could see his hand clutching for a pair of sunglasses that weren't there, however, and took mercy, lowering her beam a smidgen. Those eyes of his never did mix well with bright lights...

Chapter/s: Three-legged Man

"Fancy seeing you here, Hughes. And here I was thinking you thought it, ahh, too beneath you to spend your precious time dying in a ditch?" Emily smirked, intentionally aiming her flashlight beam on the red-haired man in front of her. She could see his hand clutching for a pair of sunglasses that weren't there, however, and took mercy, lowering her beam a smidgen. Those eyes of his never did mix well with bright lights...

"Shut up, Stirling." The young man in question still kept his arms busy covering his eyes, trying not to think about how his foot still hurts or how embarrassing it was that it was her, of all people, who had to see him in this state. Dying in a ditch, indeed. "Mind your own business 'nd leave me alone."

"To languish here and maybe die? Not bloody likely, Hughes. Not if I've got anything to say about it." She crouched down, trying to meet his eyes (and failing), her flashlight beam now aiming squarely between them both. "Food for thought: when Thomas tells you that you shan't do something, it does not mean that you have to go and prove him wrong."

"Pshaw. So he said we shan't go on the tracks at night. That's complete rubbish an' everyone can see it! Thomas is a fool."

"The race tracks are bumpy, cracked, and are in terrible need of a renovation." Emily sighed, nursing the same headache that had lingered since Gordon had woke her, and pompously told her to do something about James' disappearance. "He was just telling you to be careful, you buffoon. But then again, he could've worded it better...knowing you."

James raised one eyebrow, finally looking at the dark-haired girl. "What's that supposed to mean, Stirling?"

"Knowing you, you'd just think he was daring you, and rise to the bait, just as you did exactly!" She didn't want to punch him, no really she did not, but if he kept acting like the cocky fool he always was she might have to clock him. "The more someone tells you not to do something, the more you feel you have to do it! Hughes, is your brain hardwired in reverse psychology or something?"

"Hey! 'S not my fault that your dear, sweet Thomas doesn't exactly have a good track record with giving out instructions! Remember last year?"

"Yes, I do, Hughes. I think we all do. But that is beside the point! Ugh, you are impossible." Emily shook her head, dark green eyes crinkled up in annoyance. "Stop acting like such a child. Come now, let's go home."

Emily turned her back on James, not wanting to see his face any longer in a fit of unbecoming annoyance she tried to pass off as classic haughtiness. She walked away from him, fully expecting him to follow, and was surprised when she suddenly heard a small voice say:

"Wait." The young man behind her winced, slowly, hesitantly, almost – very uncharacteristic of him – shyly. "Please. Damn. It's just…it's just my foot."

Naturally she'd be worried by now, seeing as James never really was one to ask for help – to ask for help in such a shaky voice, no less! – but Emily Stirling is one girl whose pride reaches megalomaniac-levels of intensity. "Yes, your foot. What about it?" she snarled, trying to keep up the act.

What made her guilty the most was that she could almost hear James flinch away at her tone. "I think I sprained it. Ouch, bollocks! Guess you could always go and have someone else deal with it instead – wait what're you doing?" He yelped as Emily suddenly seemed to charge at him, grabbing his arm and draping it over her shoulder.

"Helping you, you big, lousy idiot." Emily huffed, blowing some of the bangs that escaped her hairband away from her face. "What does it look like?"

"But – but I thought you said –"

"This does not mean I am letting you off the hook, of course. I still think you're a special, extinct kind of daft to be someone who'd do this to himself." Emily gripped the flashlight tighter with one hand, and held the wounded man closer to her side with the other. "I'm just going to get you home, you got that? And when they've looked at you and put that foot in a tourniquet, I am going to clock you upside the head like you deserve for practicing in the dark without a light, you loon."

"Aye aye, ma'am." He grins like a fox, his golden eyes almost patronizing when he steals a glance at her. This side of her was refreshing, to say the least. Her Royal Bossiness deigning to stoop down to his level, helping him and even holding him close when he was covered in leaves and mud and who knows what else?

"Don't call me ma'am." Hauling both their weights would clearly take its toll on Emily, the hardened long-distance runner, seeing as she herself had just recovered from illness, and as she was now beginning to have trouble breathing. Or was it just the snow getting to her? She had seemed to have draped her thick, comfy dark green jacket over his shoulders, after all. She would have been freezing, despite that dark wool turtleneck she wore underneath.

Hoping to keep her mind off the cold, and to push back the odd lump in his throat, he decides to make fun of her as he usually did. "Aye aye, sir."

"I do not know how they put up with you, you dolt!" Sure enough, her pace was quickening and her voice had regained its vigor. "You're impossible!" Emily's nails dig into his side a bit too tightly for James' liking; he has to remind himself not to yelp, that would bring him even more embarrassment.

"You – you – don't – put up – with me." James wheezed in between gasps, trying to smirk through the pain. "You – love me! Just – admit it, 'Mill – ie, it'll make – haa – things a whole – lot – easier."

Emily flushed crimson, and her eyes crinkled, clearly outraged. "My word, how do you even fit in doors, seeing as you've got all that hot air! – and it is not 'Millie', you crass little peasant, the name's Emily. E-mi-ly! Not so difficult to say now, isn't it?"

"What – ever." he huffed in reply, "Mill – ie is cute. Our – hmm – term of endear – ment, don't you – aghh – say?" It's a joke, but he rests his head on her shoulder, succumbing to cold and exhaustion and the incoherency of it all. His plan to out-practice Thomas leading him to injuring his leg, leading him to getting rescued, leading him to bickering with his dame in shining armor. "Hmm. Hair – smells nice. For an amazon."

"Let us now use our inside voices, shall we! God damn. You are a handful."

"But – hngh – we are outside, 'my lady'."

"The air quotes, why can I feel you making the air quotes?" Emily groaned. "Anyway, 's not like you've got full control of your air back yet. Rest those vocal cords of yours – oh, I'm sorry, you're not used to not being able to hear the sound of your own voice, aren't you?"

He pouts at her, but suddenly the pain in his foot decides it would be a good idea to pierce through his hipbone just then, and he finds himself groaning. Emily's nails dig into his side again, this time out of worry and not annoyance.

"Bother! Hey, Hughes!" He could hear her voice, feel her jacket over his shoulders, but right now the darkness was calling him and it felt so nice to just give in. "Oh no, James, wake up, stay with me – HEY!"

She slapped him, once across the face, and his cheeks were as red as his hair. He grunted in reply. "…what?"

"I said wake up, you insufferable twit, you hit your head and I am not about to let you fall asleep on me!" His head held in the hand that used to be on his side, she takes his arm over her shoulders again and carries on. "I hate the sound of your voice as much as any of these other guys do, but if I am going to keep my conscience sane I am going to have to force you to make me listen to you ramble on for the rest of this hell walk. You are gravely injured."

"See, I keep – telling you 'bout my – my foot, Millie. 'S about time you – believed – in me." He spat, clawing on her shoulder for dear life lest they both spill out on the icy pavement, and who will help them then?

"I never said I didn't believe you, loon." Emily huffs, indignantly, stubbornly, even though James could see her teeth chattering. "Let's carry on, now. They'll be catching up with us soon."

"Who'll be catching up?" He didn't believe in the ghost stories Edward loved telling them, no he did not, but if they did happen to be true he did not want them to become true now, when his foot was injured and he was at the mercy of a certain dark-haired amazon.

"Oh, just Thomas and the others," she shrugged, and even though her movements were supposed to look as easy as breathing, he knew that she was having a hard time carrying both their weights. He almost felt sorry for her. Almost. "We split up. The arrangement was that if one of us had not checked back to base in ten minutes, the others would come the way he went. So they'll be looking for us, now."

"How did you split up, exactly-?"

"Thomas went with Percy, just like Pettigrew with Holden, and Gresley with Stanier. As usual."

"But – but why didn't you team up with one o' them?" His breath suddenly came quicker, and his words spilled out of him quicker as well – careless and honest. "It's dark, Millie! And you're a girl!"

Emily had to pinch him on the cheek for his insolence. "Shush with your misplaced chivalry, Hughes, it never did fit you. Yes, I am a girl, but I am also your team mate. Team mate. Like it or not, your safety is our responsibility. And besides, if I did team up with one of the male pairs, then I wouldn't have gone here, wouldn't I?"

"You – you're right, though."

"…especially since you told Percy that ghosts reside in this part of the woods. Poor lad's got enough to worry about without you making up stories, Hughes."

"Hehh. Avonside's such an easy one to fool, it's almost like he was tempting me to mess with him. What'd you expect?"

"I guess I never really expected anything from you." Emily shrugged, grinning a bit, thinking he wouldn't notice. (He did.) "That's no surprise."

"So, after getting to know me better, d'you think you'd start to expect something of me now, hmm?" Suddenly James felt a little better. His foot still hurt, sure, and his head still stung something awful, but for some reason gaining an upgrade in this little girl's perception seemed to make him feel like he was sitting on the edge of a chair in excitement. This was new. It was interesting. Whatever it was.

"Maybe I'd expect you to treat me like a decent person should," she said, cocking her head as regal as an actual Princess would. "Will that expectation suffice?"

"Oh, yes it'll do." He took a deep breath, and could not believe he had been thinking of saying what he was about to say for a while now. "So as long as I act like 'a decent person', you'd count us as friends?"

Now it was her turn to be caught off guard. "Hmm? But – I thought we already were? In some level of friendship, I mean. Apologies if that was presumptuous of me."

"Of course. Our team manager – your father, I must add – told you it would be becoming of you to be at good terms with all of us." He finds himself grinning a bitter grin, his tone of voice bordering mellow. "So you were friends with us all because you had to, not because you wanted to. Not like how you act 'round Tommy and the squirt – how you call 'em by their names and not stick with 'Bilinton' and 'Avonside' like you call us who're left."

"So. An actual friendship with me." She raises an eyebrow, understandably cautious. "You'd want that? I thought you hated how I am apparently a 'stuck-up bossy princess'?"

"Yeah, that's true, but I think you're one hardcore lass and surprisingly, I don't seem to find you bad company." He makes this motion with his hands that seem to be emulating hands raised up in surrender, but she can't be too sure. "And I even am, right now, letting you haul me around like luggage. That's gotta count for somethin'."

"Maybe it should," she murmurs thoughtfully, and that's when they were suddenly joined by company.

"James? Emily? Where are you?" Thomas' voice echoes through the woods so clearly, it'd be no time before he sees them both.

Worried, James turns to Emily and whispers, almost conspiringly. "Hey 'Millie. Does my hair look funny?"

Emily gives her friend the once-over and sighs, bubbling laughter edging her words. "Your hair is caked with mud and leaves, Hughes. I think Thomas has seen you look worse."

James huffs, pouting this time. "I thought we were going to give the friendship thing a try."

"We are. You, my dearest darling ginger, are just on friendship probation."

She says this with so much saccharine sweetness that he does not notice her finger pinch his nose.

"Ouch!"

Emily laughs, a nice, trilling sound, and despite himself, he can't help but join in.

- - END

A/N: Why yes, this is the mystery fandom I've been giving hints about on all my social media profiles these past few days. Thomas and Friends is my little brother's favorite fandom at the moment! I personally think it's a bit silly, though still rather accurate in its own quirky way, and seeing as Hunter loves the show to bits and pieces I can't exactly throw shadows on his love for it, now can I?

The more I watched him watch them, the more I was struck by the steam engines' personalities – none of them was entirely, stereotypically good, all of them had a cheekiness to them that my brother definitely related to. But I do not have any prior specialized knowledge about steam engines, and definitely do not want to make stuff up as I go; that just makes me uncomfortable with my writing.

So I decided to make 'em human instead, which is apparently frowned upon by the society at large! But, ahh, I'd like to say that I am definitely more comfortable writing humans interact, so I wish someone out there likes this, I guess?

Also: I ship no steam engine ships. Take note of this. But the 'pale romance' term I am using to describe how I write the two interacting in this fic actually comes from another fandom's terminology – it's from Homestuck, and if you don't know it, you can just look up "Moirallegiance" and there it is! This fic basically stemmed from the fact that the wikia said Emily treats James like a little brother.

There might be more of this 'verse, or there might not be. Either way, I'd like to say thanks for reading!