The Storybrooke Pet Shop had a curious, musty odor inside. It was not quite the scent of livestock, which Killian knew well from his time in the navy when they'd often kept goats on board for long voyages. Rather, this was a heady mix of sweet hay, warm dog, and marrow bones. Not quite offensive. But not exactly pleasant either.
Henry seemed to pay it no mind as he strode past the shopkeeper (what fairytale character had he been once upon a time, Killian wondered?) toward the back of the store, where an entire wall was filled with large, brightly colored bags of dog food.
"How many do you think we should get?" Henry asked.
Killian arched an eyebrow as he mentally tried and failed to calculate the volume of kibble a dozen medium sized dogs might require.
"Best grab as much as we can carry," he finally said.
Henry nodded in agreement and bent to lift a bag. He handed Killian two — one for each arm — and then one for himself. Thus loaded down, they made their way back through the aisles lined with clear glass terrariums, wire cages, and bins heaped with rawhide bones back to the register.
With a grunt, Henry heaved his bag up onto the counter. "These are for the shelter. My grandpa said he has some kind of tab?"
Although David no longer manned his post at the Storybrooke Pet Shelter, he still took it upon himself to help the place out any way he could. And since he was busy planning a first birthday party for the young prince Neal, he'd asked Killian and Henry to take his regular donation to the shelter in his stead. Killian had readily agreed, eager for any excuse to spend time with the lad.
The shopkeeper grumbled and held up a finger. "Yeah. Hold on a minute. Let me find my log…"
Henry and Killian waited while he rummaged around in some cupboards underneath the register until a sharp whistle caught their attention.
A cage sat on the far end of the counter. The door had been pinned open, and its occupant — a small, green bird with gray cheeks and a grayish-blue head — sat on top. It tilted its head to the side and leveled one beady eye at Killian when he turned to look at it.
"What's that?" he asked.
Henry gaped at him, open-mouthed. "Are you serious? You don't know what that is?"
"Why should I?"
"It's a parrot!" At Killian's bemused expression, he added, "Tons of famous pirates had parrots!"
"None that I'm aware of," Killian replied, a little defensively. "What use, exactly, is a parrot supposed to be to a pirate anyway? It's quite a plain little thing."
The parrot fluffed its feathers and managed to look insulted.
"Well, they're not all this small," Henry explained. "And they can talk. Watch…" He leaned toward the bird. "Polly want a cracker?"
It regarded him for a long, silent moment, unimpressed. Henry tried another phrase on it to the same effect, and Killian began to seriously harbor doubts that the creature could speak at all when all of the sudden, in a high-pitched, sing-song voice, the bird cried out, "Buster! Buster! Baby Buster!"
Amused, Killian stepped over to the cage. "Buster?"
"That's his name," the shopkeeper said.
"Aye? Pleasure to meet you, Buster."
The bird walked to the edge of the cage, its gait slightly awkward and waddling. Then, with a surprising amount of speed, it levered itself over the edge and began sliding down the vertical bars on the side. Halfway down, it stopped and, sticking off the cage like a tiny tree branch, used its new vantage point to reach out and nibble one of the buttons on Killian's jacket.
Something deep in his heart warmed. As a sailor, he'd spent an undue amount of time considering birds — as omens, as signs of land, as raucous company up in the rigging — so having one regard him so personably, to have such a normally flighty creature express an earnest and innocent sort of interest in him made him feel…well, kind of special.
The shop keeper cleared his throat. "So, just the kibble for you then?"
"Yeah. Thanks," Henry said.
They started to walk out, but a wild impulse made Killian stop and turn around.
Emma slammed her car door — it was the only way to get it to latch anymore — and started up the steps to her house. She'd had a long day. Not "fairy tale creatures come to destroy the town" long. More an "everything that can go wrong will" kind of drudgery. But still exhausting enough that she was heartily looking forward to collapsing on the couch, lighting a fire to drive back the chilly Maine night, and watching Netflix with Killian until they either fell asleep or into each others arms. Right now, both options sounded equally good.
Inside, she shrugged out of her red, leather jacket and hung it by the door before taking off her gun and putting it away. She locked the drawer she kept it in with an air of hopefulness. God willing, she wouldn't need to get it out in a hurry any time soon.
"Killian?" she called out. "You home?"
His voice came from the living room. "In here, love."
Good, she thought. Already right where she wanted him. Was it too much to hope that he'd made dinner, too?
She started down the hall.
"I've been thinking all day about come home and—" She stopped mid-sentence, startled by what she saw. "What is that?"
Killian smiled. "It's a parrot."
A small, green bird sat perched on his shoulder. Behind him, tucked in between an armoire and the window, was a cage filled with colorful hanging toys and faux branches.
"Is it…" She didn't know how to process this. "It's yours?"
"Aye. Your boy informed me that all pirates of note have parrots."
Henry did this?
"His name is Buster," Killian supplied helpfully.
Emma stared for a second before she realized her mouth was hanging open and abruptly shut it. This was hardly the strangest thing to happen in her life — her boyfriend was Captain-freaking-Hook after all. She could roll with this. Easy peasy.
With a smile, she strode over to him and rose up on her toes to kiss him hello. He sighed contentedly against her mouth and his hand settled on her hip. Emma pulled back, licked her lips, and was about to suggest skipping dinner entirely when she noticed the bird looking at her from its spot on Killian's shoulder. Buster's eye, up close, was black with a small ring of yellow — like a lizard eye, cold and calculating.
"Let's…uhh…" Emma shook her head. "Let's settle in."
She heated up leftovers for the both of them and brought it out to the couch to eat, hoping that Buster would be back in his cage for the rest of the evening. She was irritated to find the bird still hanging onto Killian's shirt, energetically preening the hair around his ear. He didn't even seem to mind when the bird occasionally stopped to play with his earring.
"Aren't pirate parrots supposed to be bigger?" Emma said as she sat down.
"Come now, love. It isn't polite to mention the size of a man's bird."
He sounded entirely amused.
Emma shook her head and turned on the next movie in their queue, Alladin — they were slowly working their way through all the major Disney films, which given their lives, Emma thought might be appropriate material to be thoroughly familiar with; plus Killian always had plenty of interjections about what Hollywood had or hadn't gotten right about fairies, magic spells, and the various denizens of the Enchanted Forest.
Killian leaned forward and watched with interest when Iago came on, and Emma silently wished she'd chosen something else, lest she provide any more fodder for his sudden interest in parrots. But he quickly relaxed, perhaps realizing that Iago was no more faithful a depiction of birds than the cartoon Captain Hook had been of pirates.
Like every night, he eventually slung an arm over her shoulders, and Emma tucked her feet up underneath her and leaned against his side. As the credits rolled, she turned into him and nuzzled her face against the side of his neck before working her way up, spreading kisses across his scruffy jaw toward his mouth.
"Baby Buster," a small voice grumbled.
The bird was puffed up, all of its feathers sticking out so that it was round as a tennis ball, and its eyes were half shut.
"Think we can put the parrot away for a while and spend some time just the two of us?" Emma said as she walked her fingers up Killian's chest.
"Aye." He had to clear his throat. "Of course."
Killian got up, returned Buster to his cage, and then took her hand.
With a grin, she led him upstairs to the bedroom.
In hindsight, Emma realized that the moment she'd asked Killian to put Buster away, she'd forfeited any chance for peace. It became the opening salvo in an all-out war for his affection. Which, in her better moments, Emma had to admit was flat out ridiculous. She was jealous of a bird — a non-human, non-rational, tiny scrap of a creature who probably had a brain the size of a peanut. But what little gray matter Buster had, he put to good use. He was a crafty little bastard.
Emma sipped her coffee and watched Killian across the kitchen as he stirred honey into a bowl of oatmeal. Buster was in his usual spot on Killian's shoulder, both of them standing with their backs to Emma — although Buster peered over one wing at her every once and a while with an I'm-watching-you kind of squint.
Killian raised the spoon to his mouth to take a taste and hissed when it was too hot.
"Bloody hell!" Buster called out.
Killian's head jerked up in surprise, and he sent Emma a huge grin before reaching up to gently scratch Buster's cheek. "When did you learn that? Smart little bugger."
Emma rolled her eyes.
Buster flapped with delight, then tilted his head and began scratching it against the scruff along Killian's jaw. It boarded on obscene the way the bird fluffed its feathers and slowly rubbed its face against Killian's. Emma considered the rough scrape of Killian's stubble something only she had the luxury of indulging in — when they kissed or held one another or made love. Watching the two of them canoodle made her want to walk across the kitchen, pluck Buster off her boyfriend, and toss him out the window…send the little creep off to so what a real bird ought. There had to be a girl-parrot out there somewhere who liked face snuggles and pirate accents.
She shook her head to clear it and took a big gulp of coffee. It seared on the way down.
"I may have to work late tonight," she announced.
Killian glanced at her. "Anything I can help with? Life's awfully dull around here without any wicked witches or nefarious, underhanded Dark Ones lurking about."
"Sure. Can you come by the station this afternoon?"
He agreed and she left with a quick kiss.
The roads were icy. She had to drive to the station so slowly that she could have easily walked and made it in the same amount of time. David was already there by the time she arrived, sitting at his desk with an open box of doughnuts. Emma snatched a bear claw on her way by.
The rest of the morning zipped by.
When she returned from Granny's that afternoon with a large, greasy to-go bag of grilled cheese sandwiches and onion rings, she found David talking to Killian. And Buster.
Oh, good lord…
"As you wish!" Buster was saying, bobbing his head up and down. "Bloody hell! Baby Buster!" He whistled and warbled and then made a noise that sounded exactly like the timer on her oven.
"Is he friendly?" David asked hopefully.
Emma stood back and watched as David proffered a finger and Buster gamely climbed aboard.
"Hey, buddy," David said with a huge, goofy grin.
Astonished, Emma watched as the bird worked its routine on her father. Whistles. Chatter. Kissy sounds. Buster pulled out all the stops. And David was falling for it — hard.
Was no man immune to this damn parrot?
What was it, part siren?
She was about to walk in and slam her lunch bag down on her desk with an exaggerated huff with the hope that she might interrupt some of the insufferable male bonding going on when a brilliant idea popped into her head.
Struggling to conceal her smile, she walked into the station.
"Hey, Killian." She kissed his cheek, then turned to her father and the unsuspecting parrot. "I see you've met Buster."
"Yeah." David lifted his other hand and softly petted Buster's back. "Birds that can talk. Seems almost magical. Doesn't it?"
"Abracadabra!" Buster squawked.
David laughed. "I think he likes me."
Killian's arm slipped around Emma's waist, tugging her close. This time, she couldn't hold back her grin.
Yes, she thought, the taste of victory sweet on her tongue. This would do just fine…
Juggling a bag full of party streamers on one arm and her squirming son in the other, Mary Margaret shoved the the door to her loft open with her shoulder. One more day to get ready for Neal's birthday — to bake and decorate cookies, stuff gift bags, hang up decorations, and pick up a cake from the bakery. So much work for such a tiny person. And he wouldn't even remember it when it was through!
Neal screamed and began shoving against her chest as soon as they were inside. With a sigh, she let him down to the floor and watched as he toddled off toward the bed, which he had recently discovered that he could crawl underneath and then giggle as his parents tried to retrieve him.
"Go ahead. Have your fun," she said. "Mommy needs a minute."
Keeping half an eye on Neal, she put a kettle on the stove to heat and set out a cup for tea.
Her water hadn't quite come to a boil yet when David walked in with a bird on his shoulder and a wire cage in one hand.
"What is that?" she blurted out.
"A parrot!" His eyes were wide with excitement.
"Yeah. I know. What I mean is…why exactly do you have a parrot?"
"It's Killian's. Emma asked if I could take him for the night."
He set the cage down on the counter and took out one of the plastic dishes from inside to fill it with water.
One eyebrow arched, Mary Margaret carefully poured her cup of tea. "What are they so busy doing that they can't watch him?"
"I don't know, they didn't say."
"Oh, really?" She took a careful sip from her cup.
David's hand paused on its way back to the cage, his whole body freezing. "Oh! Ohhh… You don't suppose they're…" He looked pale.
"Don't think about it," she advised and patted him on the shoulder.
She stopped to stroke the top of Buster's head before heading off to the bedroom to fetch her son, whose laughter she could already hear echoing out from underneath the bed.
They both knew, there was only one reason to hire an overnight sitter.