Author's Note: An anonymous prompter on Tumblr asked if I could do a similar story to "Safeguard" set in Storybrooke where Emma gets injured on the job and Charming has to take care of her. We all know I cannot resist the siren song of Daddy Charming, so here we be! I adapted the prompt a tetch (you'll see how) just so I don't end up repeating myself too much. Mama Snow, Captain Swan, and some Swan Believer will show up in future chapters (because I cannot resist their siren songs, either ;)). Feedback makes every day like Christmas! Enjoy. :)
Emma Swan hated wild goose chases, which made it all the more unfortunate that she was beginning to suspect she was on one.
Some kid had called the station earlier to inform her of a kitten stuck in a tree in the east woods. She wasn't entirely sure a stuck kitten was really the sheriff's purview but considering what she usually dealt with, she'd take it.
"Are you sure the kid said the east woods?" David asked as he trudged along the path at her side.
Since Emma wasn't even sure rescuing a stuck kitten was part of the sheriff's duties, the call certainly hadn't required both of them. Things had been fairly quiet in Storybrooke, though, ever since Belle banished Gold outside the town line. With the unexpected peace came a lull in their normal villain-chasing, which meant the sheriffs could actually act as sheriffs instead of superheroes.
It was in acting as an actual sheriff that Emma had discovered that she really had no patience for paperwork. She'd also discovered that her father shared the same impatience so when he'd asked to come along, she'd shrugged and said, "Whatever floats your boat."
"Yeah," she replied now, somewhat out of breath. "He definitely said he east woods. Said he watched the poor thing dart up the tree and could hear it crying but couldn't get it to climb back down."
Which was fine except they'd been all over the east woods in the last hour and had seen neither hide nor hair of a mewling kitten. Hence why Emma was beginning to think they'd been sent on a wild goose chase. She sighed and turned to her father. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That there is not and never was a kitten in a tree?" David asked.
So he was. She drew to a stop on the path and sighed again. The sun was beating down on her head through the trees and she suddenly wished she'd thought to bring some water along on this trek.
"The kid sounded sincere on the phone, though," she said to her father. At least, she'd thought he had but there was clearly no kitten to be found out here. Hell, she couldn't even imagine a kid coming all the way out here on his own. Most of the paths dead-ended so it wasn't even like there was anything to explore.
David glanced around, squinting as he tried to get his bearings. After a moment, he nodded. "Here's what we'll do." He pointed to an offshoot of the path they'd been following. "I believe this path here leads to the toll bridge. If there was a kid out here, this is the path he would have taken because the others dead-end. We'll follow this path and if we find the kitten before we hit the bridge, great. If we don't–"
"There probably never was a kitten," she nodded. "Sounds like a plan."
They started down the path in silence. Emma didn't know how David really felt about this excursion but she was kicking herself for traipsing all the way out here for nothing, never mind dragging her dad along for the ride. Er, hike. Whatever.
Normally she was better at picking up on bullshit than this. But the kid had sounded so sincere and the thought of a tiny kitten stuck in a tree had stirred something inside her, some little memory of how frightening it was to be alone in the world. To not know where her next meal was coming from, to not have someone to comfort her when she was scared. And yeah, it was a kitten, not a person, but she didn't want the kitten to feel that way, either, so she'd charged ahead with the rescue.
Which was apparently a stupid thing to do because it was clear now that there was never a kitten at all. Now she was in the middle of the woods, out of breath from their trek, sweating under the hot sun, and frustrated as all get-out. She would have killed for a gulp or two of cold water. She sighed again. "Dad, I'm sorry."
David frowned at her. "For what?"
She arched an eyebrow at him. "For what? For dragging you out here on a nonexistent rescue."
Her dad grasped her hand and tugged her to a stop on the path. "First of all, you didn't drag me out here. I offered to come. Second of all, there's nothing to apologize for. You were just trying to help a defenseless baby animal."
"But there is no baby animal."
"That's not your fault, kiddo. What if you'd ignored the call and there really was a kitten stuck in a tree?"
Okay, maybe he had a point. She shot him a grateful smile and he smiled back. "Point taken," she said. "All right, let's get the hell out of here."
"Works for me."
They walked on in comfortable silence. The only sounds were the chirping of the birds, the rustling of the low brush on either side of them, and the crunching of the leaves beneath their feet. The trees had thinned out somewhat, which let the sun beat down directly on their heads.
After a couple of minutes, Emma's mouth ran dry. How much longer to the toll bridge? (Not that she intended to drink the water from the stream but it would be nice to swish for a few seconds.) It took her a moment or two to realize that her dad had picked up his pace and was now a good ten feet ahead of her.
Only then did she notice the absence of sounds. Or not absence, exactly; more like a dulling. She could hear them but it sounded like she had something in her ears. Her throat and tongue felt like sandpaper. It wasn't until the white spots began darting in front of her eyes as the rest of her vision tunneled that she realized what was happening and by then, it was too late. "Dad, wait," she called but instead of the shout it was in her head, it came out as a croak.
She saw him turn around, saw the panic on his face, and then she saw nothing.
Charming swore his heart stopped beating when he turned on the path to find his baby girl pale and swaying on her feet. Then she started to go down and it was like a spell had broken. He closed the ten or so feet between them in a fraction of a second and caught her under her arms before she hit the ground. He gently guided her to the forest floor, bracing the back of her head with his palm, all the while calling her name in an attempt to bring her around.
What the hell had happened?! She'd been fine when they left. She'd been fine during the hike. Hell, she'd been fine when she talked to him not even five minutes earlier! This couldn't be magic; if there was someone in town who'd wanted to hurt her, they would have known about it.
No, this wasn't magic. It was something physical. Her face was practically devoid of color. Her breathing seemed normal, if still a little labored from their walk. He shook her shoulders but all he got in response was a groan.
It was on the third call of her name that she stirred. A soft whimper turned into a groan as she started to regain consciousness. Her eyelids fluttered and eventually dragged open. "Dad?" she asked groggily.
She sounded so young, so much like the little girl Charming wished he could have known. It was all he could do not to drag her onto his lap and cradle her like the little girl she once was.
A disoriented Emma tried to sit up but Charming held her down. The last thing he wanted for her to lose consciousness again. "Shh, easy, kiddo. Take it slow, all right?" His stubborn baby girl wriggled under his grasp. "Emma, stop."
Her still hazy eyes flashed in annoyance at the command but she did obey. "What happened?"
"I was kind of hoping you could tell me. You called out and then just collapsed. How are you feeling now?"
She frowned. "Hot. Tired. Thirsty." And then the haze cleared. "I passed out."
"Yes." Now that she was thinking clearly, he felt comfortable allowing her to move. "Do you think you can try sitting up?"
Charming held one hand out to her, which she grasped, and placed his other hand behind her back as he slowly helped her sit. Once she was upright, he continued to hold her and watched her face to make sure she was all right. When it appeared as if she was going to stay conscious, he let out a breath of relief.
He ran over what she'd said when he'd asked how she felt. She'd felt hot and tired, which was normal of someone just regaining consciousness. But thirsty … "Emma, were you thirsty before you passed out?"
His poor baby girl was still struggling somewhat to catch up. He smiled gently at her. "When you first came around, I asked how you felt and you said you were thirsty. Do you remember feeling thirsty before you passed out?"
She frowned as she mulled over the question. "Actually, yeah. My mouth was really dry and I remember thinking I couldn't wait to get to the toll bridge because there'd be water there."
So it was as he thought. Though Charming was glad to hear the confirmation of his theory, he was now left with a conundrum. His poor baby girl was dehydrated but they were out in the middle of the woods without any way to get her the water she'd need to make the trek back to civilization.
Then what Emma had said struck him. The toll bridge! That was the answer, not just because Emma could get something to drink there but also because there was a road, which meant an ambulance could meet them there.
His baby girl wasn't going to be at all enthused about the idea of the ambulance but frankly, Charming didn't care. If she was dehydrated enough to pass out, she needed more than a couple sips of stream water to replenish her fluids. He shut his eyes and tried to visualize the distance to the toll bridge from their position. It was farther than he really liked but it was doable. They'd just have to go slow so as not to tax Emma's dehydrated system.
Charming opened his eyes and returned his gaze to his sick baby girl. The color was returning to her cheeks, thank the heavens. "The bridge is our best bet but you should rest another few minutes. I just have to make a couple calls and then we'll get going."
"You're not calling Mom, are you?" Emma groaned.
A relieved chuckle escaped Charming's lips. At least she was starting to sound like herself again. "Sorry, kiddo, she's second on my list. She had my head when I didn't call her about the ice cave and I'd rather not repeat that experience."
Emma gave a little smile at that. "Dare I ask who's first on the list, then?" She got it after a second. "You're calling an ambulance."
"Yes, I am."
He was prepared for an argument. He was prepared to offer her the slew of reasons why her fainting spell required a trip to the emergency room but the argument never came. Instead, she simply heaved a resigned sigh. "Wonderful."
In an effort to calm her obvious exasperation with the entire situation, Charming smiled at her. "Not exactly how you imagined your day going when you woke up this morning, is it?"
"No, not so much. This is so embarrassing."
"Hey, this stuff happens. No need to be embarrassed."
She leveled a loving glare at him. "You're not the one who's going to be sitting in an ambulance."
He chuckled. "All right, point taken."
Then she did something that filled his heart to the brim with love: she shifted closer to him and nestled her head on his shoulder. All of a sudden, the years seemed to melt away and he felt like his little girl was a little girl, one who seeking comfort from her daddy.
Charming wrapped his arm around Emma's shoulders and for a long beat, he just held her. Then she pulled out of the embrace and heaved a sigh. "Okay, fine, call the ambulance and then call Mom. Let's get this over with. Oh, and Dad?"
"Can you call Killian, too?"
He smiled and brushed his thumb down his little girl's cheek. After the panic of the last few minutes, he'd give her anything she wanted. "Of course, kiddo." And then, because he knew his daughter, he decided to go with a joke. "You sure you're ready for this? Things are going to be pretty annoying from here on out."
She smiled. "Not at all but let's do it anyway."
It was all he could do to resist the urge to hug her again and never let her go. "That's my girl."