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The Meat Cute

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Emma - 2007

They were perfect for each other. Absolutely, adorably, true love perfect, and even a jaded cynic like Emma Swan could respect a love like that. Her best friends David and Mary Margaret had been in love with each other more or less since the third grade. Mary Margaret had kissed David on the school bus, and he'd chased her around the playground the next day. It was pretty much a done deal when she'd sent him the note asking, "Do you love me? Check yes or no." He'd obviously checked "Yes".

Thirteen years later, David finally proposed, which is why Emma finds herself this very Friday night in a loud and rowdy honky tonk in Ft. Worth (over an hour's drive away from her quiet, comfy bed back in the sleepy little town of Storybrooke) celebrating Mary Margaret's Bachelorette Party. She even curled her hair and wore her best ass-accentuating jeans, for god's sake. To say this isn't Emma's usual scene would be an understatement. She doesn't have a usual scene, to be honest. Between her job at the diner, studying for her G.E.D., and taking care of an energetic four year-old, she can't remember the last time she had a night out. The only reason she's here tonight is out of love and loyalty to the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. David Nolan.

Well, that and the very generous offer of all-night babysitting from her boss, Granny Lucas, who happens to be Ruby's grandmother. It is this last fact which is presently keeping Emma from strangling Ruby, who keeps insisting that Emma participate in the PG-13 truth-or-dare list she created for the party.

Emma runs the scenario through her mind. Hey, thanks for keeping my kid overnight. Sorry about choking your granddaughter? Nah. Probably not cool.

Still, she admits to herself that this all could've been worse, even as she watches Belle - quiet, shy little Belle - do a body-shot off some stranger at the bar to the sound of hoots and hollers from the rest her group of friends (and a few bystanders). At least Mary Margaret was able to talk Ruby down from the original X-rated list.

"Come on, Em," Belle cajoles as she rejoins the group. "If I can do that, you have to do something, too." She playfully bumps Emma's shoulder with her own.

Ruby smiles wickedly at Emma and begins quietly chanting her name. "Em-ma. Em-ma. Em-ma!"

Emma scowls and waves her off, but soon Mary Margaret, Belle, and Ashley join in the chanting, getting louder and louder. "Em-ma! EM-MA! EM-MA!"

"OKAY!" Emma huffs in annoyed resignation and reaches her hand out to Ruby. "Gimme the damn list." After a quick perusal of the little pink piece of paper, Emma decides on the tamest item she can find. She hands the page back to a gleefully grinning Ruby. "I'll do number 12."

Ruby scans the list quickly. Eyes alighting on the appropriate line, she flicks her dark brown hair over her shoulder, clears her throat dramatically, and reads aloud to the others, "Item 12: Get a stranger to buy you a drink." She nods her approval. "Fair enough. I pick -"

"Whoa, wait," Emma interrupts, eyes widening. "Who says you get to pick the target?"

Ruby turns to Mary Margaret. "Alright then. What says the Bride-to-Be? Do we let Emma pick her own victim, or do we all get to choose for her? We'll defer to your ruling, since you're the princess tonight."

Mary Margaret giggles, but tries to assume a more regal posture, or at least as much as someone who's four margaritas in can manage. She's dressed for the "princess" role tonight. Her dark, pixie-cut hair is topped with a silver and white plastic tiara complete with mini-veil. A white satin sash proclaiming her status as "Bachelorette" slices across her deep teal dress. She even has a little plastic scepter which she is currently tapping on each of Ruby's shoulders as if bestowing a knighthood. Knowing full well where this is headed, Emma groans inwardly.

"M' royal edict -Tha's a funny word 'edict'." Mary Margaret snorts another giggle, then tries to compose herself. She raises her scepter and begins again. "Royal edict is that Lady Ruby of Lucas shall select the victim!" Ruby claps her hands excitedly as Mary Margaret continues. "I also rule that Lady Emma of the Swans must close her eyes for the choosing."

"Really?" Emma pleads.

Mary Margaret furrows her brows and points her plastic scepter menacingly at Emma. "Yes, really. No peeking. Thus sayeth the bride. I mean Princess." She pauses for a second as a thought occurs to her, and then claps a hand to her mouth to stifle a chuckle. "Ha! I'm the Princess Bride!" She whacks Emma's arm with the scepter. "Get it, Ems?"

Emma (and the rest of the girls) can't help but laugh at the happily drunken Mary Margaret. With a sigh, Emma places a hand over her eyes in capitulation.

"Okay, Ruby, my soul is prepared," she claims. "Do your worst."

A few seconds pass for Emma in darkened silence (or more accurately, darkened ambient bar noise), followed by awed whispers and murmurs from the group. This is sounding ominous, Emma thinks.

Ruby's voice breaks through. "I choose him."

Emma opens her eyes and follows the line of Ruby's perfectly manicured pointer finger to a man sitting alone at the bar. From this distance, she can make out his tousled black hair, broad shoulders, classic profile and a scruff-peppered jawline that could cut glass.

Emma swallows hard. Oh, god. What have I gotten myself into? The man is far too attractive, and she's long out of practice at flirting. Her son Henry has been the only man in her life - the only man she's wanted in her life - for years now. I'm not ready for this!

The girls all give her encouraging pats on the back and shoulder, but Emma is backpedaling as hard as she can. "Oh nonononono," she murmurs, her eyes wide in panic. "I- I have no idea how to get a guy to buy me a drink. I pass. Give me the list back, I'll pick something else. What would I even say?"

Just as Emma believes her friends are about to pick her up and physically carry her over to the dark-haired man's side, he stands and walks away, leaving a half-empty glass on the bar. Emma sags in relief, and turns back to the high-top table where she and her friends are congregating.

"Oh!" Emma snaps her fingers in mock disappointment. "Too late, he's gone. Let's do something else now. Anybody want jello-shots?" she chirps a little too brightly.

"Not so fast!" Ashley grabs Emma shoulders and turns her back towards the bar area. "See? He just walked over to the jukebox, and he left his drink behind. He'll be right back to his spot in a minute. Go!"

Emma can see her friend is right, but she still hesitates. "And do what exactly?"

Ashley shrugs. "I don't know. Go sit on his barstool? Then when he gets back he'll have to talk to you."

Emma nods and takes a deep breath. Get your shit together, Swan. Since when are you one to back down from a challenge?

She squares her shoulders and tosses her hair. As an afterthought, she tugs the neckline of her black tank top just a tad lower (a little extra cleavage couldn't hurt, right?), then marches forward with determination. As she nears the barstool, she peeks between the other patrons and sees its previous occupant is still pressing buttons on the jukebox. The bar area is crowded, and he likely won't see her until he's practically right next to her.

She orders a rum and Dr. Pepper from the bartender, and as she's digging out her credit card to open a tab, she notices the crumpled pack of cigarettes she rarely makes use of. If there was ever a night I needed a smoke, I think this is it. Emma hasn't had a cigarette in months. They're probably stale, but she lights one anyway, hoping the combination of nicotine and alcohol will give her just enough of a kick so that she can pretend she remembers how to flirt with a man. She says a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of honky tonks that this is one of the few bars in existence where a person can still smoke indoors.

She takes a long pull and exhales slowly, savoring the rush as the wonderful, deadly chemicals flood through her veins. She sips her drink and is just about to take another drag, when she feels a tap on her shoulder.

Emma turns and her gaze locks with the bluest eyes she's ever seen, as a deep, accented voice rumbles, "Excuse me, lass, but I think you've got my chair."

Killian - 2007

Another damn bar, another damn barstool, and Killian Jones feels no less a fool than the day she left him. He still cannot fathom how he could've been so wrong about Milah. He'd tried so hard to do everything right, to play by the rules. How had he missed the signs?

Married. His Milah was married. Correction, he thinks. Not MY Milah anymore - bloody hell, I guess she was never mine. Also, that would be "IS" married. Present tense. Looking to stay that way as well. Not only married but -

No, he can't let himself think about it. Hell, he started this ridiculous road trip for the exact purpose of running away from her memory, from the shattered remains of the life he'd planned for the two of them. For three weeks now, he's been drinking and fucking his way across America to try to forget Milah. Using rum to numb the pain, and women to try to feel something again. Fat lot of good it's doing me...

He motions for the bartender and orders two fingers of rum on the rocks. When the drink arrives, he drains half of it in one swallow, feeling the burn of cheap alcohol sear the back of his throat. He relishes the physical pain as an appropriate accompaniment to the ache in his heart. Closing his eyes, he turns her memory on, and lets the movie of their time together play behind his eyelids. As long as his eyes are shut, she's still there with him. It's always like this. Every night, in every town, in every bar, at the bottom of every glass, his fool-hearted memory waits patiently for the chance to fool him some more.

Slowly he opens his eyes again, and his senses are assaulted by the neon glow of beer lights, the twang of country music, and the smell of booze and a horde of sweaty bodies in fairly tight proximity. He glances down the bar and sees a petite brunette blushing furiously as she licks salt off some redneck's arm before downing a shot then biting a lime from between the man's teeth. This sight is closely followed by high-pitched howls coming from a high-top table further away where a group of women are presided over by a lass in what looks to be a plastic tiara with a veil. The brunette shakes her body-shot partner's hand embarrassedly, then returns giggling to her mates.

Killian cringes inwardly. A hen party. Wonderful. A celebration of love and marriage is exactly what I needed to be around tonight. Why the devil am I even here? He pauses his mental grumbling to look down at his still half-full glass. Ah, yes. Rum. That was it.

He downs the remaining contents and stares into his now empty glass for a while, trying to tune out the other voices around him (is that table of lasses chanting something now?) by focusing on the song playing in the background. He's never been a huge fan of country music - classic rock is more his style - but he's willing to admit that a plaintive steel guitar and crying fiddle make a perfect soundtrack for heartbreak.

He signals the bartender to bring him another round, and as he waits, he digs in his pocket for change. Might as well drop a quarter or two of my own in the jukebox. His drink is placed in front of him, and again he swallows half of it in one go. He's scrounged together three quarters, so he stands and wends his way through the crowd to the jukebox, leaving his remaining drink and barstool unattended.

Making a music selection is proving harder than he originally thought, however. To begin with, the jukebox is one of the modern wi-fi streaming, mp3 playing overly complicated models. On top of that, it seems to mostly be filled with only the latest hits out of Nashville - none of which Killian recognizes. He finally manages to find some older artists' names amongst the lot, and taps hopefully at Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and George Jones. Finally, he edges back through the sea of people to the familiarity of his spot at the bar, and the promise of alcohol-induced numbness. Except that -

Shite. What's this then? He's nearly back to the bar when he sees her, or rather he sees her back and the long blond curls cascading down it. Killian is in no mood tonight to deal with any member of the fairer sex, and this one now seems to have the audacity to be not only sitting in his spot, but smoking! Not that I couldn't use a smoke tonight myself, but she's going to bloody well get ash in my rum!

Rolling his eyes and quickening his pace, Killian marches up to the woman, attempting but not completely succeeding at keeping a tight rein on his temper. Reaching out with two fingers, he taps her on the shoulder, but as the woman turns to him, his heart very nearly stops, then leaps traitorously into his throat.

She is breathtaking, her eyes as green as a pine forest, her hair a glowing halo of sunlight even in the dimness of the bar. His mouth has gone bone dry, and all Killian can manage to do is mumble a raspy, "Excuse me, lass, but I think you've got my chair."

A/N (continued): The songs referenced in this installment are "Check Yes or No," "Fool-Hearted Memory" and "The Chair" - all by George Strait.

HUGE THANKS to Lena (lenfaz) and Krystal (captainswannl29) for beta-ing for me!