Dog and Pony Show
Throughout the years Emma had been working with dogs and their people, she occasionally would run across a dog/owner combo who resembled each other — à la the beginning of 101 Dalmatians. She'd try not to laugh aloud at the pair in deference to the fact that it actually made it easier for her to remember both their names, but it wasn't easy. It was, however, safe to say that she never encountered a duo that made her heart explode with unending love for the dog and a fiery lust for the owner. There was a first for everything. Because through the window of the training room at the shelter, Emma spied Killian Jones and his Gale, talking with David Nolan, looking like they came from the same litter.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" she mumbled to herself in complete disbelief as she peered through the window trying not to be seen while she reattached her jaw, which had stopped dropping somewhere near her kneecaps. She peeked through the window again to commit to memory the beauty of the two of them together, so effortlessly perfect, because she never wanted to forget.
Killian, with his rather disheveled dark hair, had on a black, long-sleeve, v-neck t-shirt, his own "fur" the perfect backdrop to showcase the pirate-themed necklace she'd given him — which she could see he was wearing thanks to the sunlight glinting off the metal pendants — as well as black jeans with black high-top Chucks. Gale sat politely, still on her leash, blending in with Killian, the light cutting into the room making her coat shine like polished onyx, as she leaned against his leg so he could easily stroke her ears while he chatted. The only colors between the two of them were his brilliant blue eyes and a new, bright, bubblegum pink collar around her neck. Sweet Jesus...
Emma turned her back to the window and leaned her head against the wall of the building. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she could feel the flush creeping up her neck right into her face. Oh, God, what is wrong with me? lead to How can one person that good-looking be real? and finished with What am I getting myself into? She needed to get whatever was possessing her to feel damn near giddy out of her system before going into the training room. Dogs might be able to sense fear, but men could sense an ego boosting opportunity a mile away. She had no doubts Killian and David would peg her for the 12-year-old, boy-band-loving schoolgirl she apparently was if she went in there now. Killian would just look smug about it, and David would only pepper her with stupid jokes forever more if he thought she liked his friend. No fucking way. So she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, counted to 10 (twice...maybe three times) and then headed in, professional, yet approachable, face securely in place.
She walked through the doorway into the cheerful yellow room, and was greeted by three smiling faces and one loudly thumping tail.
"Swan," Killian said with a hint of disbelief that she was actually there even though she was the one who invited him. Gale strained at the end of her short leash as she tried to get closer to Emma, wagging her tail in large arcs, hitting both Killian and David with each swing. Emma gave everyone a quick wave as she removed her backpack and dropped it to the floor in front of the large white board.
"Hey, Emma!" David exclaimed as he came over to give her a hug. "Thanks so much for teaching this one again. I know you prefer the more advanced classes."
"No problem. Maybe this will be a good group," she said hopefully.
"Try not to threaten anyone this time though, ok?" David asked warily but with a knowing smile.
"I make no promises," she responded with a grimace.
Last time she taught the puppy obedience class, some asshole rolled and pinned his puppy on its back then yelled in the poor dog's face because it "wouldn't listen." She snatched the puppy away from the guy and quietly promised to roll and pin him if he tried that shit again in front of her or any of her students. Then she stopped the class and re-explained the point of everyone being there, which was to learn positive reinforcement training. It wasn't the first time someone had decided they needed to dominate a puppy, but it certainly was the last. She stopped teaching puppy obedience which killed her because she loved watching those goofy pups become smart dogs, but one more idiot and she was bound to punch someone and wind up in jail...again, but this time for assault. She couldn't afford to lose everything she'd been working towards.
"Then just do the best you can," David offered instead. "I tried to weed out the jackasses ahead of time."
"Thanks," Emma said, somewhat relieved. David was short a trainer, and he'd been forgiving after that incident, so she didn't want to let him down.
David smiled sympathetically at Emma. "I'll let you two get ready for class." He thumped Killian on the shoulder and said, "I'll see you Friday night at the Council meeting."
"Absolutely," he nodded.
Pointing his finger and wagging it in Killian's face, David narrowed his eyes and said, "Good. 'Cause this time I'm taking you to the cleaners."
A big grin split Killian's face as he chuckled deeply. "In your dreams, mate. I've almost got enough money put away to go on a long tropical vacation thanks to you. Warn Mary Margaret you'll be eating ramen again for the next month."
The two men smiled warmly at each other as David walked out the door to the shelter, but not before shooting Emma a subtle nod at Killian and a quick, questioning arch of his eyebrows. Emma scowled at him in response. David's laugh echoed down the hall. Son of a bitch.
Oblivious to their exchange, Killian turned to Emma, his smile still bright enough to power a city block.
Emma shifted her scowl into dubiousness. "Council meeting?" she asked, curiosity piqued.
"Aye, that's what we call Poker Night. It's me, David, and some fellow city employees: our mate Robin from Fish and Game, August from Parks and Rec, and Jefferson from Transportation. We play the second Friday of the month. David always loses. He works with animals more than politicians, so the man is rubbish at bluffing. He probably could have put a kid through college with what he's lost over the years."
Somehow Emma was not surprised. David had been a good friend and helped her and her business out any way he could, but he was not one for hiding things well. He was as open as the dogs he loved so much. And that was why she preferred working with him. He was just a big puppy himself.
"So," she said, changing the topic. She waved at Killian's choice of outfit and said, "Taking this whole pirate thing and running with it I see."
Killian shrugged nonchalantly. "I've been told I look quite striking in black, darling," he informed her with a wink. "Brings out my eyes with the added benefit of hiding the dog hair. Shedding season, you know."
Snorting at his practicality, Emma leaned down to give Gale a kiss and check out her new accessory. "Love Gale's new collar...I think. Are those?...I've never seen pink skull and crossbones before."
Killian crossed his arms over his chest and nodded, amused. "She may be a pirate, love, but she's still a lady. I think you carry it off quite well, don't you Galene?"
Gale wagged her tail, thwacking it against the door. Emma stroked her head one more time, then straightened up.
"Alright, Dread Pirate Roberts, give me a hand getting the room ready?"
"As you wish," Killian said with a bow.
Emma closed her eyes and dropped her head back — the man had a talent for making her want to groan, and not just in the good way — then directed Killian to leave Gale behind and put up the baby gate that closed off the small kitchenette they were standing in front of from the rest of the room. She covered the gate with a blanket so the other dogs wouldn't be able to see Gale, and reached into her backpack for a nice new smokey bone for Gale to gnaw on until they needed her.
With Gale settled, she had Killian set up two sets each of two folding chairs against the three outer walls, leaving the front of the room free for Emma to teach. They put informational packets and clickers out on each pair of chairs, then Emma wrote "Positive Reinforcement Training" on the whiteboard and was filling in some bullet points when the puppies and their owners started filing in. Emma could see Killian out of the corner of her eye nodding and waving to each person in greeting as they took their seats. At least one of them had natural people skills. He should come along all the time, she thought.
Her work at the board finished, she glanced around the room at all the new dog owners juggling leashes, curious puppies, and all their gear. Some were managing better than others, but they were all doing it with a sense of humor, so that was promising. She tried to gauge who might be a problem child as quickly as she could, but instead all she saw were the women trying to catch glimpses of Killian, making their settling in more complicated than it needed to be. She reassessed her earlier thought; maybe he should've stayed home.
Once everyone was seated with their puppies at least leashed and not wandering off (yet), she introduced herself and gave her training credentials and contact information. She grabbed a clipboard from her bag and said, "I just want to take roll so I can start putting names and faces together. Ok...Anton and Tiny?"
"That's us! Hi!" a gentle giant of a man, his brown, curly hair pulled back into a ponytail to reveal a round, open face, said genially, waving to Emma and the rest of the class. His sleek black and brown Min Pin, Tiny, sat regally on his lap, Anton's enormous hand practically covering the entire front of the pup as he held him steady. Emma smiled warmly at the man, already sure he was going to be one of her favorite students.
"Very nice to meet you, Anton and Tiny. Next up is Ariel and Sebastian?"
"Hi!" A red-headed woman with a curly black mop of a Portuguese Water Dog currently inching its way toward the dog next to them, gave an easy-going grin as she raised her hand. She looked around the room, and when she made eye-contact with the tall, dark-haired man barely holding his Sheepdog puppy in their allotted space, she blushed.
"Hello, Ariel and Sebastian....Now...let's see...Victor and Frank?"
The blondish man with the cheesiest grin on the East Coast pointed at Emma asked in a voice that reminded her of a piano lounge singer, "How you doing?" His little dog, which looked like a mix between a Blue Heeler and some sort of terrier — all spots and crazy, wiry hair, with one big patch of dark fur over his right eye — was hiding behind his leg, peeking out at everyone, more than a little afraid of the activity.
"Just...um...fine. Thanks. Uh...Eric and Max..." Emma called out but the only man left in the room didn't answer. Emma looked back down at her list to be sure she didn't miss something then called out again. "Eric and Max?"
Finally pulling his gaze from Ariel, Eric looked embarrassed as he grinned at the floor before answering. Busted. "Oh, sorry! That's me, us, I mean. I'm Eric, this is Max." Emma nodded at him and he went back to stealing glances at Ariel while trying to keep Max from escaping his leash.
"Kathryn and Goldie?"
"Over here." The more flustered of two blonde women spoke up, as she struggled with her Golden Retriever puppy who was chewing and wrestling with her leash in a jumble of paws, leather, tiny teeth and soft, golden fluff. Emma heard Killian snort off to her right and she tried to contain her own chuckle.
"Welcome, Kathryn and Goldie. And finally," Emma said turning to the woman closest to her on the left, "you must be Elsa and Olaf."
"Uh, very nice to meet you!" she said shyly, her gaze sliding past Emma and straight over to Killian. Her eyes widened just a little bit as he nodded at her. Her dog, a fluffy Siberian Husky puppy was sniffing around her chair, oblivious to the rest of the activity in the room, but he did manage to tangle his leash around Elsa's legs in a way that would no doubt be tragic if she tried to stand up too quickly. What a shame...
"Great! You're all here. Let me just give you a quick rundown of the schedule. First we'll talk a little about positive reinforcement training and how it works, and then we'll work a little on getting your puppy's attention using the clicker, and toward the end of class, we'll let them all socialize. But for now, I know I'm asking the impossible, but please don't let them near each other so we minimize the distractions. If we need to put up gates between them we can do that. What I'd like you all to do now is give them a toy or something to keep them occupied for a few minutes while I show you the results of consistent training."
Motioning to Killian, he leaned over the baby gate and grabbed Gale's leash before popping open the gate itself to bring Gale over to the front of the room where Emma was waiting.
"This is Killian and his dog, Gale."
"Hello, everyone," Killian said, earning the pointed attention of Elsa and Kathryn, much to the chagrin of Emma, and apparently Victor Whale.
"Killian would you mind running through some of the basic commands Gale knows?"
"Absolutely! Come, love, let's show them what you can do," he said to Gale who was looking at him as if he were the only person in the world.
He ran through the standard commands: "sit," "stay," "down," "wait," "come," "speak," and Emma's favorite, "kisses." Gale performed them all flawlessly as Emma knew she would, and Killian showed the owners how a loving dog-owner could have a strong relationship that lead to reliable obedience...as long as no one was trying to date him apparently. Emma was so glad she asked to have Gale be her demo dog...and Killian her person. By the awed looks on all the dog owner's faces, she could tell they would be hungry for that same kind of relationship with their dogs too. This was the perfect set up for the rest of the class. If only she had met him sooner.
"That's great! Thank you—" Emma started, ready to move on to the next part of the class.
"There's one more, love" Killian interrupted. He looked at her with an excitement in his eyes that Emma could not resist.
"Uh...Ok...Well, show us what you got," Emma allowed with a wave of her hand giving Killian the floor again.
Killian faced the class and explained, "I have a boat that I take Gale out on frequently, and sometimes I need to swing the sail around quickly and I don't want to knock her overboard. So I taught her a command to help with keeping her out of the way at a moment's notice." Looking down at his dog, sitting so nicely at his side, he said softly, "Gale, love, hit the deck."
Immediately, Gale dropped to the floor, head down, as flat as she could be. Killian reached into his pocket and tossed her a treat as he said, "There's a good girl."
Emma was sure she looked as astonished as everyone else in the room. Killian met her eyes, his own a combination of pride and merriment at what he'd shown her he could do. Emma shot him an impressed grin as she clapped in appreciation with the rest of the class. Killian bowed and returned Gale to her place in the kitchenette so Emma could continue undisturbed.
She briefly discussed how clicker training worked, how treats played into the whole process, and the different ways owners could use the clicker to get certain behaviors to be consistent over time. When she described "shaping" as a method of forming a behavior, a good portion of the class looked confused, which was not unexpected. Previously, she would pair people up to play a game that illustrated the concept, but not wanting to have the class go overtime, and doubting the puppies could contain themselves much longer, she decided to do something a little different.
"So, my uh...assisstant, Killian, and I are going to demonstrate how 'shaping' works. The goal is to communicate without speaking. Shaping's a bit like the hot and cold game we all used to play as kids. When he gets 'warmer' I'll click — normally he'd get a treat, too, but I don't want this to take all class. If he's 'cold' I'll just be quiet and wait until he moves in a direction I want him to go. When he does finally exhibit the behavior I'm looking for, I'll click one last time and give him a treat then," she explained.
Killian shrugged and piped up, "I like treats." The class laughed at his response, and he smiled and winked at Emma.
"Good," she said, shaking her head at his cheek. "Now go stand over by the door. Let's get started."
Killian did as Emma told him and stood in front of the door. When she nodded, he took a step towards her. Click. And another step. Click. Then a few more. Click. Click. Click until he was standing just outside of arm's reach. He tried to take another step but she just stood there, so he stopped and stepped back. Click. She kept her eyes on him, blank look on her face so she wouldn't give the game away. He tried taking a step to either direction...nothing. He tried turning around. Nothing. She could see his frustration growing with each failed motion, and he raised his hand and scratched behind his ear. Click.
His head snapped up and looked at her in the only way she could describe it: triumphantly. Her only reaction was to slightly arch her eyebrow, urging him on. He kept his hand near his ear for a brief moment, and she could see he was deciding which direction to move it in. He started to raise it higher to the top of his head. Nothing. He touched his nose. Nothing except for a few snickers from the class. He touched his lips. Nothing — no click anyway...Emma gulped and Killian looked at her through his damnable dark lashes, smirk pushing out from either side of his finger as it rested there. Still nothing. Looking a tad disappointed, he began to lower his arm to his side, obviously at a loss again. Click.
This time he arched his eyebrow, raised his arm again to where it was when she clicked. Click. He looked across the line where his arm was and he huffed to himself as he looked up at her, silent question in his eyes. She just waited. Slowly he moved his arm toward the center of his chest. Click. He reached for the pendants hanging from the chain. Click. As he grabbed them tightly in his fist, she clicked again and held out a Hershey's kiss.
"Good boy!" she said, laughing. He grabbed the kiss and unwrapped it, popping it into his mouth much to the amusement of the rest of the class. She loved that he knew how to work a crowd because it took the pressure off her. She congratulated herself again on her brilliant idea to have him be a part of her class and wondered if he would agree to do it regularly.
After Killian moved back to where Gale was chilling out behind the gate, she went on with the class, teaching the dog owners the most important thing: getting the dog to pay attention. It was the foundation for all the other commands and she moved from dog to dog, showing the owners how to do it and praising them for their successes, leaving each one with a look of relief not just in their face, but in the relaxed, confident way they dealt with their puppy after Emma left.
With fifteen minutes to go, Emma announced they would let the dogs loose to get some socializing in — a little reward for working hard. She asked Killian to let Gale out too, so the pups could interact with an older, stable, dog. She was hoping Gale would prove herself to be as good a demo dog as her dad was crowd-pleaser. She wanted Gale to show the pups how to play and behave appropriately with other dogs as only another dog could do. She wasn't disappointed.
In the tumult of running, chasing, tumbling, sometimes howling dogs, Gale interacted with them all, play bowing and letting the puppies roll over her, mouthing their muzzles gently when they got too nippy with her, and picking one or two of them up by the scruff and removing them from the group when she'd had enough of their shenanigans. Not a person in the room could help but laugh and smile as the puppies and Gale did what dogs do best: make their people happy by being happy themselves.
She felt the comfortable solidity of Killian standing beside her, happy to have him there to share her favorite part of puppy class. He leaned close to Emma's ear and whispered, "She's a beautiful girl, my Gale." Suppressing the shiver reflex at his closeness she seemed to have picked up a week ago, Emma chuckled at Killian being the proud dog dad that he was, but in truth, she couldn't have agreed more.
She looked over at him and nudged his arm with her elbow to get his attention again. "Thanks for bringing her. I had a feeling you would both be great at this."
"How could we not come, love? If it weren't for you, Gale wouldn't be half as amazing as she is. We owe you much, Emma Swan," Killian admitted as he looked back at Emma, the earnestness of what he said washing over her until she was sure she was drowning in his eyes again.
"Uh, Ms. Swan, seems we've had an accident over here," Victor's voice called out, interrupting the moment to point out a puddle where Frank had relieved himself in what was probably a reaction to Olaf's persistent attention.
"Party's over, kids!" Emma teased. "Actually, it is time for class to end, so if you all could gather your furry kids and belongings, I will see you next week. If you have any questions at all, my email is in the packet. I will be happy to address them then, and we can also discuss them at the next class. Thank you all so much for coming — it's been an absolute pleasure meeting you all."
As Emma was saying her individual good byes to her students, she noticed that Killian had found the cleaning products and was taking care of Frank's accident. When he was done with that, he folded up the chairs, returning them to their rack out in the hall, so that when the last person left (Elsa, with a long look over her shoulder at the hustling Killian), they were ready to go out for pizza.
Killian and Emma sat outside under the blue and white striped awning of Pandora's Pizza, a large pepperoni and mushroom plus a couple bottles of ale between them. Gale lay at Killian's feet, her leash wrapped around the leg of his chair, her doleful eyes glancing up at him now and again in hopes of a pizza bone being dropped in her direction. They'd been bantering back and forth about the class, Killian offering her some insights based on what he'd observed watching each of the dogs and their owners (the most amusing being that Eric and Ariel would end up in bed together by the end of the course).
"You know Swan, you really were bloody brilliant out there on the floor with the dogs...and their people. You're amazing. How did you get into dog training in the first place? Did you have dogs as a child?" he asked before taking a huge bite from his slice.
Talking around the food squirreled away in her cheeck, Emma answered with her fingers covering her mouth and her eyes unable to meet his. "Not really, no. It's been so long, I don't really remember."
Killian looked at her skeptically and gestured toward Gale. "Why don't you have a dog of your own, if you don't mind my asking?"
She sat back putting some distance back between them and took a long swig of beer before answering. "My landlady is a cat person," she said, landing somewhere between a statement and a question.
Killian huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. He frowned, sat back himself, and shook his head. "While that may be, darling, I don't think that's it. This should be an easy question to answer. Why isn't it for you?" he asked.
Emma's eyebrows knit together as she dismissed his prodding. "It's a long story. You don't want to hear it."
"Perhaps I would," he countered, his eyes set upon her with a seriousness that made her antsy. There were only a few people in her life who knew her whole story and it wasn't something she shared freely over pizza. At least not so far.
Emma stood up, dropping her napkin on her chair. "Excuse me for a minute? Just need to hit the ladies' room. I'll be back," she said.
"Gale will be sad if you aren't. She's counting on those pizza bones," he joked even though he looked at her with concern. Emma gave him a weak smile in return, and headed into the modest restaurant, and straight into the single-stall bathroom.
Luckily there was no one in there to see her pace like a caged animal, chewing on her thumb nail while she considered Killian Jones and all the conflicting things he made her feel. He'd been nothing but kind and appreciative and interested in her. He was insanely hot and she loved his dog like she were her own. He'd been generous not just with Gale, but his time, and his own story. Telling her about his brother could not have been easy. She knew it wasn't. He was completely wrecked as he shared that part of his past with her, and she understood all to well what that loss must have done to him. But still, she didn't know everything about Killian and that scared her to death. She didn't know what to expect from him. She wanted to tell him everything about her. She felt like she could, but she'd been wrong before.
Emma turned on the faucet full blast, clearing her mind by listening to the constant flow of water down the drain and not the shitty voice in her head that was telling her there was no way he was going to stick around once he knew her truth. She splashed some water on her face and dried it with a stiff paper towel. She crumpled it up and tossed it into the garbage, willing the notion that she had to continue to hide to go with it. Christ's sake she was an almost 30-year-old woman with a business of her own and why was this so fucking difficult? If she couldn't trust her own instincts about him, then maybe she should trust Gale's. Gale clearly adored him, trusted him to be her safety net. If a dog could do it, why couldn't she?
Emma took a deep breath and walked out of the bathroom with determination. She paused at the door and watched Killian for a second. Gale was standing, her front paws on his lap, and he looked worried as he stroked her head and neck, occasionally kissing her nose while he talked to her. He looked around and sighed, making Gale hop down from his lap. She put her head on his lap and he continued to distractedly run his hand from the crown of her head to her back.
Emma shoved the door open, and Killian looked up as the bells above it jingled, his relief at her return blatantly apparent. Emma sat back down in her seat and took a deep breath. She picked up her beer bottle, fiddled with the condensation wrinkled label, and sat back with a sigh.
"So, uh, how I got into dog training, why I don't have a dog, and all that...other stuff you mentioned kind of go together," she started.
Killian stopped petting Gale and watched Emma closely, giving her his rapt attention. If she'd been in a different mood, she'd have clicked and given him a treat.
"I was raised in the foster system, so dogs weren't a regular thing in my life. I was on my own from the time I was 17, and I met this...guy. Neal. Long story short, he disappeared and I ended up in jail taking the fall for a crime he committed. Haven't seen him since. Don't want to either."
She looked up at Killian whose expression had a layer of anger surfacing over his curiosity. His nostrils flared and jaw twitched, but he refrained from commenting and she was grateful for that.
"The one good thing to come out of that experience...the only good thing..." she continued, "was that the prison I was in had a program that taught inmates how to train dogs. As it turned out, training was one of my special talents. Being with the dogs was the only time I felt right, like I was something more than what I had been lead to believe my whole life. Ruby, Mrs. Lucas' granddaughter, was my cell mate at the time, and when I got out, I moved here and she hired me to help her.
"As for why I don't have a dog..." she shrugged, "well, I couldn't afford a place that would let me have one, for starters. And once I decided I wanted to have my own business training dogs one day, I needed to save as much money as I could in addition to paying for my certifications, so I stayed in my cheap, 'no dogs allowed' apartment. I knew I was going to have to make my own way, so that's what I've been working toward the last ten years. Not many people are willing to hire ex-cons...especially when they've been in for burglary. So, my sacrifice was not having a dog of my own. But once Gale came into my life...I dunno...I didn't feel quite so...incomplete anymore."
Hearing her name, Gale got up and walked over to Emma, who held her furry face between her hands and kissed her nose with love and gratitude.
Killian leaned in over the table toward Emma, the corners of his mouth upturned slightly, and said, "I know exactly what you mean."
On Friday, when Emma went to pick up Gale for their walk, there was a gift box with a big, fluffy red bow, waiting for her by the notebook. Before reading the note, she ripped off the paper (with puppies all over it, of course) and opened the lid to reveal a silver-framed picture of Emma and Gale from the boat ride they'd taken last weekend. In it, Emma was laughing freely as Gale licked the side of her face, the sky beautiful shades of pink and purple behind them. She ran her finger over the glass, her breath catching in her throat at what she saw. For the first time ever, she saw joy in her own face. Stunned and hands trembling, she read the note.
Thank you for the pizza the other night — pizza bones are my favorite! Can we go there again sometime? Maybe without my lousy dad who wouldn't share his pizza with me?
Lameness aside, my dad thought you might like this picture of the two of us. He said it was his favorite and he thought you looked beautiful (shhh...don't tell him I told you...he's shy!). I hope you like it.
PS. I need to ask a favor of you, if that's ok. Can I call you about it later?
PPS. I'm not that shy. You are beautiful.
Tears started filling Emma's eyes and she kneeled down, hugging the picture in one arm and Gale in the other.