Author's Note: Written by request, because I'm procrastinating writing the things I should be writing. An Alternate Universe for the show Once Upon a Time where Emma finds her parents when she's 12 instead of 28. It's basically a bunch of family fluff.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, and I'm not making any money from this story.
Warning: Small disciplinary spanking of a minor near the end. I do NOT advocate the spanking of minors in real life, only in fiction.LOST AND FOUND
Emma took a quick peek at the parking lot from her hiding spot in the ally behind the restaurant. The pickup truck was still there, and since the sun had set, the temperature outside had dropped ten degrees. The truck had a large blue tarp covering the contents in the back, but she had a guess as to what was under that tarp, and it was exactly what she needed.
"It's now or never," she whispered to herself.
She secured her backpack over both shoulders, tipped her baseball cap down low on her forehead, and left the safety of the dark ally. She walked purposefully towards the pickup truck, forcing herself not to run and draw anyone's attention. She made it to the truck without anyone noticing, and quickly glanced back to make sure no one was around, before climbing up on the back bumper to look inside.
She lifted the end of the tarp and smiled. Just as she'd suspected when she saw the couple with two small children walk into the restaurant, the family was moving, and this truck held most of their household belongings, including a couch.
There were several boxes on top of the couch cushions, but Emma was small for a twelve-year-old, so she didn't need much room. She crawled in under the weatherproof tarp, and after several minutes of shoving and wiggling, she had wedged herself between the back of the couch, and the boxes that were sitting on the cushions.
Within seconds, her body heat warmed up the little space under the tarp, and she felt her eyelids drooping. The past twenty-four hours had taken their toll on her, and she was desperately in need of sleep, but she didn't dare sleep until the truck started moving.
Her body tensed when she heard the little family coming back to the truck, but as soon as they were in the cab, and the vehicle started to move, Emma closed her eyes. The last thought she had before falling asleep was that she hoped the family was moving across the country so that she never had to see her hideous foster mother ever again.
# # #
Emma woke to the sound of voices nearby. Momentarily confused and frightened, she couldn't figure out what was pressing in on her, but then she remembered where she was. She was in the truck, it wasn't moving, and it wasn't turned on, which meant the family had stopped somewhere. But she had no idea how long she'd been asleep, so she had no idea if this was a quick bathroom stop, a stop for the night, or their final destination. Her ears strained to hear the conversation going on somewhere to her right.
A male voice said, "We can camp here for the morning. I can get some sleep, the kids can run around and play, and then after lunch we can get back on the road again."
A woman's voice said, "It's not a campsite, Jason, you just drove a few blocks down a dirt road. We don't even know if this is private property or not. It's barely even light out yet. What if someone uses this road to get to work?"
"We haven't seen another car for miles. It'll be fine."
A child's voice cried out, "Mommy?"
"Right here, sweetheart."
Emma could hear the people moving back to the cab of the truck, and knew she had to get out of there before they came back. She'd always been good at reading people, and she knew this family wouldn't hurt her, but she also knew they wouldn't just let her be on her way either. They'd want to help her, and that would mean going back into the system and rolling the dice on another foster family.
Moving as quickly as she could while keeping quiet, she wiggled herself off of the couch, and carefully lifted the tarp just enough to slip out the back of the truck.
"What was that?" The woman's voice said with alarm.
"I'll check it out," the man said.
A rush of adrenaline at the thought of getting caught spurred Emma into action. It was just light enough to see some trees in the distance. If she could make it to those before she got caught, she had a chance. As soon as her feet hit the dirt road, she started running.
"Hey!" The man's voice shouted after her. "Hey kid! Don't run off!"
"It's a kid?" the woman asked.
"Damn it," the man said, and started out after her.
Emma ran like she'd never run before; her backpack bouncing against her back with each step.
"Stop!" His voice was closer to her than before, and she knew he'd catch her before she reached the trees. "Come on kid, give me a break."
Emma tripped on a small rock, and fell off the side of the dirt road. She rolled a couple of feet down an embankment, and looked up wildly behind her, expecting the man to be hovering over her.
But instead, the man was still up on the road, looking bewildered. "What the hell?" he muttered. "Where'd she go?" He got off the trail, walked down the embankment a few steps to her right, and then cupped his hands to his mouth to yell, "It's dangerous to be out here on your own! Come back and have some breakfast with us!"
Emma froze. She wasn't sure why he couldn't seem to see her, when she could reach out and touch his boot, but she wasn't going to alert him to her presence.
For the next few minutes, Emma watched with growing curiosity while the man, the woman, and their two kids looked all around for her, but apparently couldn't see her. When they finally gave up, and walked back to their truck, she stood up and cautiously continued to the trees.
Three hours later, Emma kind of wished she'd had breakfast with the nice family before taking off. Hunger hadn't been all that unusual during the two years she'd been with Ms. Harrell, but she'd never gone a full day without eating anything before, and her stomach hurt like hell.
She was lost in the woods with no food, no water, and no people in sight. The only thing that kept her hopes up was the dirt path. It was clearly man made, so if she continued to follow it, she would eventually find some form of civilization.
Just as she was thinking about turning back around, she caught a glimpse of something made of bricks through the trees. She got off the trail, and headed towards it. When she realized it was a well, she rushed forward, and looked down into it, hoping there was water. She lowered the bucket until she heard it splash and then pulled it back up with a grin. After drinking her fill, she felt something inside her chest swell, and she felt inexplicably at peace. She sat down with her back against the well to take a small break, and saw a small trail leading away from the dirt road. Curious to see who used the well, she got up, and followed the trail.
Within minutes she found herself on the outskirts of a small town, and congratulated herself on a job well done. Now she just had to find out if they'd crossed state lines. If not, she'd reluctantly hop on another truck, but if they had, she'd stay here. She'd scope out the town for abandoned buildings, check on the restaurants to see which one threw out the best food, and avoid the system for as long as possible.
# # #
Three weeks later, Emma had settled into her new life in Storybrook. 'Home' was a large abandoned barn not too far from the well she'd found on her first day. There was a restaurant in town called Grannies that threw away all kinds of perfectly edible food, so she never went hungry. There was a little library, and the nice lady there had given her a library card without asking to see ID, so she had books to read. And the people in the town seemed to be nice in general.
Emma had avoided the grade school for the first few weeks, but once she'd walked by the playground during recess, she couldn't help but walk past it every day at the same time. She didn't love school, but she definitely missed having friends to hang out with.
On the Monday of her third week, she lingered near the fence, watching the kids play for just a little bit too long.
"Did you want to come inside until recess is over?" A woman's voice asked, startling Emma.
She whipped her head around, and saw a kind looking woman with short-cropped black hair smiling at her.
Swallowing down her fear, Emma said, "Oh, no, I was… just… I should be going home. My mom will be worried about me."
The woman gave her an odd smile and said, "Well, maybe you can ask your mom about staying a little longer tomorrow."
"T-tomorrow?" Emma said, backing away a step.
"Sure," the woman said. "I see you walking by here each day. Ask your mom if you can stay out a little longer tomorrow, and I'll introduce you to a couple of the students your age during recess."
Emma edged away another few steps, too busy panicking that someone had seen her, to really think about the offer. "Oh… I don't know if my mom would be okay with that."
The woman's smile grew tight. "Well my name is Mary Margaret, and you're welcome to come join us at recess anytime."
"Thank you, I've got to go." Emma tried to force herself to walk away but ending up sprinting down the street until she made it to the woods on the outskirts of town. Once she felt 'safe', she had time to think more clearly. She had always had a sixth sense when it came to reading people, and she knew without a doubt that Mary Margaret was being sincere in her offer, and that she was a good person, but Emma found it disturbing that she'd been discovered so easily.
She wandered back to her barn, and considered taking Mary Margaret up on her offer.
# # #
Over the next four days, Emma's life was even better than it had been before. She'd taken a leap of faith and joined the other kids at recess the day after their first meeting, claiming that her mother was okay with it. Mary Margaret had introduced her as a 'home schooled' child to a couple of students, and informed them she would be joining them for recess. Emma had made friends with a girl named Grace, and it felt wonderful to have half an hour of being a normal kid before heading home to her barn. The nice teacher always asked Emma a few leading questions about her home life, but Emma found those easy to answer or dodge.
Then on Friday, all of Emma's routines came to a screeching halt. When she got home to her barn, she found the town sheriff waiting for her, holding her backpack. She tried to run, but he caught her in seconds, and dragged her kicking and screaming into the sheriff's station.
The sheriff immediately called the mayor once he had put Emma in a chair, and she knew the jig was up. She was going to be put in foster care, but at least it would be here in this town, because there were three states between her and the horrible Ms. Harrell.
When the sheriff walked away from Emma to whisper things through the phone to the mayor, Emma thought she'd better be proactive.
Surprised to hear the girl speaking to him in a normal voice instead of screaming, he turned and looked at her with raised eyebrows.
"Could you please call Mary Margaret over at the school? She knows me."
He whispered something to the mayor, and then dialed the school. A few minutes later, Mary Margaret and Mayor Mills arrived at the same time.
The mayor glared at Emma, and a shiver went down the girl's spine. She shrank back into her chair, when the mayor took a closer look at her. "Who are you, and how did you get to Storybrook?" the woman demanded.
Emma could tell that this woman was even worse than Ms. Harrell. The mayor was evil.
"Mayor!" Mary Margaret chided. "She's just a child."
"A child who has been living here under our noses for weeks!" The mayor shouted and pointed a finger at Emma's nose. "No one comes to my town without me knowing about it, so how did you get here?"
"Stop it!" Mary Margaret hissed at the mayor, and then kneeled down in front of Emma. "Emma, I need you to tell me your story. I'm a registered foster parent, and I'd love to have you stay with me, but that can't happen unless you're up front with us."
Emma couldn't believe her ears. The kind woman was a foster parent? She wanted Emma to stay with her? It was too good to be true, but if there was even a chance, she was going to take it.
"I used to live in a foster home in another state, and no I won't tell you which one, and I won't tell you my last name. The woman I lived with kept the food locked up, and only fed us once a day. We were forced to do all of the housework. She wouldn't spend one dime on our clothes or school supplies, but she had lots of fancy clothes and make up. Then… she wanted me to skip school one day to help her get ready for a fancy party she was going to, and I refused. She slapped me hard enough to knock me over, so I grabbed my stuff and ran." Emma glared at the three adults and said, "I'm not going back."
"Of course your not," Mary Margaret said.
Emma was pleased to see that both the sheriff and the mayor seemed to agree with that assessment.
"But how did you get here?" the mayor demanded.
"I hitched a ride, got left in the woods, and walked until I found this town."
"You walked?" the mayor asked suspiciously.
"That's not possible," the mayor muttered to herself, and then glared at the girl. "Do you have family members here?" she demanded.
Emma snorted and shook her head. "I don't have any family. I'm an orphan."
The mayor and the sheriff stepped away to speak in private, while Mary Margaret took Emma's hand in hers. "Would you like to stay with me?"
Emma found herself oddly infatuated with the kind teacher and nodded sincerely. "I would."
"Then it's settled," the woman said with a smile.
# # #
Three long hours later, after lots of paperwork, a visit from the town's social worker, and the odd threat of 'all be watching you' from the mayor, Emma was walking into Mary Margaret's apartment.
The open loft apartment was sunny and full of bright cheery colors. Mary Margaret said, "I would give you a tour, but that would be a little silly since you can see everything from right here." The two shared a smile, and then the teacher pointed to a bed on the other side of the dining room table. "That's where I sleep." She pointed to a set of stairs that led up to a small landing. "Your bed is up there, and the bathroom is to the left of the kitchen."
"Why don't you go put your things in your room, while I get started on some dinner for us."
Emma checked out the little room on top of the stairs. It was small and sparse, with only a bed, and a dresser, but the comforter was pretty, the bed was soft, and the dresser didn't have any chips or scuffs in the wood.
"Is spaghetti okay?" Mary Margaret asked from downstairs.
Unwilling to unpack her bag just yet, Emma carefully tucked her backpack under the bed, and set her jacket on the end of the bed, before going back down to watch the teacher cook.
When Mary Margaret saw her, she smiled and gestured to one of the barstools on the other side of the kitchen counter. "Why don't you sit here, and we can talk while I put dinner together."
Once Emma was sitting Mary Margaret said, "It's nice that this happened on a Friday, because it means we can spend the next two days getting to know each other a little bit before school on Monday."
Emma nodded and tried to be cautiously optimistic about the weekend to come.
Mary Margaret put a pot of water on the stove and said, "I want you to feel safe and happy living here, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make that happen. This house is your house for as long as you stay, which hopefully will be a long time. You're always welcome to come into the kitchen and get yourself a snack. I don't keep much junk food around, because I have no willpower when it comes to chips or candy, so I don't keep those in the house. But I always have fruit, cheese, crackers, bread, and peanut butter, and you're welcome to them."
That all sounded just fine to Emma. It was way better than eating out of the trash.
Mary Margaret continued to talk while she started making spaghetti sauce. "I do have a few rules, and I want to go over those now so that we both know what to expect from each other."
Emma tensed up, waiting to hear what they would be. She'd had to put up with a lot of nonsense rules from various foster families, so this list would be a good indicator of what kind of foster parent the teacher would be.
"Number one, I always want to know where you are. You can't leave the loft without telling me where you're going first."
Emma nodded without hesitation.
"Number two, you have to go to school. On Monday we'll go together and enroll you. Storybrook doesn't have a middle school, just the grade school and high school, so you'll definitely be going to the school where I teach. You'll probably have some testing the first day to see what grade level you're at. I teach fourth grade, so there isn't much chance of you being in my class, but I'll be driving you to and from school. I stay for about an hour after the kids leave, and you can spend that time in my classroom doing homework before we go home."
Emma nodded enthusiastically. She was looking forward to going to school, and having some quiet time to do homework sounded fine. Getting a ride instead of having to take the bus would be an added perk.
"Number three, you're going to have one chore that you do regularly around the house, but you get to pick what that will be. You can either clean the bathroom once a week, do the laundry twice a week, or the dishes once a day. Which would you prefer?"
In horrible Ms. Harrell's foster home for unlucky children, Emma and the other kids had been responsible for all of those chores, along with several more. Only having to do one sounded fantastic. "Dishes?" Emma said, picking the daily one so she wouldn't accidentally forget and make the teacher angry.
Mary Margaret smiled. "Great. I'll give you ten dollars a week as long as you consistently get the dishes done."
The teacher nodded. "Of course. You'll need a little spending money. Probably to buy yourself junk food, since I don't have any. But I warn you, if you buy a big bag of chips, and leave them in the kitchen, I'll probably eat some."
Emma couldn't believe her luck. The rules seemed perfectly reasonable, and she would be able to save up some cash for emergencies if she needed to run again.
"Last rule is number four," Mary Margaret said, "you're welcome to watch the tv, and there's a laptop on the kitchen table that you're also welcome to use, but I do expect you to get your homework done first, and I also expect you to keep it age appropriate. No horror movies, and no youtube channels with a ton of cursing or talking about inappropriate things. If a show says it's for people fourteen and up, you shouldn't be watching it."
Emma scowled. That rule sucked. She'd lived through worse stuff than most of the shows out there depicted, and now she wasn't allowed to watch them?
Mary Margaret raised an eyebrow at Emma's scowl. "I see I've hit a sore spot."
Quickly schooling her features into a neutral mask of indifference, Emma shook her head and said, "No, that rule is fine."
"It's okay to disagree with me," Mary Margaret said gently, "I won't get angry, but I probably won't give in either. I'm a PG type of person, and this is a PG type of house, but if there's a specific show you like, you can ask me about it, and I might make an exception depending on the content."
Emma simply nodded and kept her mouth shut.
The teacher gave her a smile and said, "That's it for the rules. Did you have any questions for me?"
Looking down at her lap, Emma asked, "What if I don't follow the rules?"
"Well, I think the punishment should fit the crime, so it would depend on what you did. If you go out without telling me first, you'll probably be grounded to your room for the rest of the night. If you skip your chores, I'll probably just remind you the first couple of times, but if it becomes obvious that you're doing it on purpose, I'll probably add more chores to the list. If you skip school, I'll probably assign you extra homework for a few nights. If you watch something inappropriate, I'll probably ground you from the television and internet for a few days."
Emma scrutinized the woman for several seconds, trying to see if she was being honest or not. Those punishments sounded perfectly reasonable, and much less harsh than what other foster parents had done to her in the past. But Mary Margaret seemed completely genuine, and Emma believed her.
"Okay," Emma said. "That sounds fair."
With a twinkle in her eye, Mary Margaret said, "I'm glad you think so."
Emma wasn't sure what the woman found so humorous, but she let it go.
Four hours later, Emma was tucked into her new bed, hoping that this amazing new living situation would last a long time. Earlier in the night after Emma had gobbled down dinner, she'd washed the dishes along side Mary Margaret who showed her were everything went. Then the woman had told her she was welcome to take a shower as often as she wanted, but would prefer it if she showered at least once every three days. After getting clean for the first time in weeks, Emma had sat on the couch next to the woman, and watched a surprisingly interesting documentary on sharks. Then the woman had shocked Emma by going up the stairs with her and actually tucking her in and kissing her on the forehead before saying goodnight. It had been oddly comforting for a girl who'd never had that kind of treatment even when she was young enough to want it.
# # #
A week later Emma was happier than she could ever remember being. She hadn't gone hungry all week, she'd been able to keep herself clean, she'd had a comfortable place to sleep, and she'd been able to make a few friends at school. Mary Margaret was the best foster parent a girl could ask for. She never yelled, never said a harsh word, and showered Emma with all kinds of praise and affection.
Saturday morning over breakfast, Mary Margaret said, "Normally on Saturdays I go volunteer at the hospital. Last weekend was a little unusual since you'd just come to live with me, so I skipped it, but I'd like to go this weekend."
"Okay," Emma said, feeling a little sad that Mary Margaret wasn't going to spend the day with her. She'd been thinking about asking the woman to take her to the docks so she could see the ships and the seagulls, but she didn't want to disrupt the woman's life so much that the woman wanted to get rid of her. She added, "I'll be fine on my own for a little while."
Mary Margaret shook her head. "I'm sure you would be fine on your own, but I wouldn't be fine with it. In fact, I'd be a nervous wreck thinking about you here by yourself."
Emma glared at the older woman. "I wouldn't steal anything, or go through your stuff if that's what you're thinking."
A snorted laugh came out of Mary Margaret before she put her hand over Emma's on the table. "That's not why I'd be worried, sweetie. I'd be worried that you were lonely."
"Oh." Emma didn't know what else to say.
"Besides," Mary Margaret gave Emma's hand a gentle squeeze before letting go to continue eating her breakfast, "you've been alone too often in your little life. I was wondering if you'd like to come with me to the hospital. You could meet some of my friends, and see what I do there. If you like it, you could come every week, and if you don't, we'll find some other activity for you to do next weekend while I'm at the hospital."
Emma felt guilty that she'd jumped to conclusions, and ecstatic that Mary Margaret wanted to share this with her all at the same time.
"I'd like to come to the hospital with you."
"Great. We'll leave right after breakfast."
# # #
The hospital turned out to be fairly dull for Emma, but she didn't want to tell Mary Margaret that she wasn't having a good time. She pretended to enjoy herself for a few hours, and couldn't help but be relieved when the woman said, "One more stop, and then we'll head home for the day."
Emma followed Mary Margaret to a sleeping man's bedside. As Emma got closer to the man, she felt a strange wobble in her stomach. Mary Margaret sat down in the chair next to the bed and took the man's hand in hers.
"What's wrong with him?" Emma whispered.
"He's in a coma. Car accident."
"Is he a relative of yours?" Emma asked, looking at the way Mary Margaret was holding the man's hand.
"No. I just… I feel connected to him, the same way I felt connected to you from the moment I saw you. He's name is David, and he's been this way for three years. He was married, but his wife divorced him two years ago."
Emma hated to admit it, because she certainly didn't believe in anything supernatural or mystical, but she also felt some kind of connection to this David person.
"If you want to, you can hold his other hand while I read him a chapter of this book." Mary Margaret picked up a paperback mystery from the bedside table. "We're on chapter fourteen."
Not quite understanding the need she felt to get closer to the stranger, Emma walked around the bed, and held David's lax hand in both of hers. As soon as her hands closed around his, the man's eyes flicked open and then closed again.
With a gasp, Mary Margaret whispered, "David?"
Emma was about to pull away, but David's hand squeezed hers, and his eyes opened all the way.
"Nurse!" Mary Margaret called out. She let go of David's hand, and said to Emma, "Stay here while I go get some help."
Somewhat frightened, Emma nodded and watched Mary Margaret rush out of the room. She glanced back at David, only to see him staring right at her.
"Where am I?" he croaked, and tried to clear his throat.
"The hospital." Emma answered.
David looked around the room, and said, "Water."
Emma's gaze followed his, and she saw a little glass with a straw next to a pitcher.
"Oh, sure." She let go of his hand, put some water in the cup, and held it up for him to take a sip.
After a few swallows, David leaned back on his pillow and said, "Thanks."
A couple of nurses came rushing back in with Mary Margaret, and a doctor soon followed. Emma and Mary Margaret were quickly ushered out to the waiting area, and David was taken down the hall for testing.
Mary Margaret put her arm around Emma's shoulders and said, "I think you're a good luck charm."
The woman nodded. "He's been in a coma for three years, and the day you decide to visit is the day he woke up."
Emma wasn't sure if she liked that description.
"We should go home." Mary Margaret said.
"Now?" Emma asked. "But he just woke up."
"They'll be doing tests on him for hours, and…" the woman blushed slightly, "…well, I don't really know him. Or at least I didn't before the coma. He'll think I'm some kind of creepy stalker."
Emma thought about how she would feel in the same situation and shook her head. "No he won't. He'll just be glad someone is here with him."
After a few seconds to consider it, Mary Margaret nodded and said, "Alright then. Let's go have some lunch, and then we'll come back to check on him."
# # #
A few hours later, they came to check on David, only to find Mayor Mills in his room, grilling his doctor for answers.
"I'm warning you Dr. Whale, if you're purposely keeping me in the dark about what happened here, I will…"
"You'll what?" Dr. Whale asked. "Force me to break doctor patient confidentiality. I said no, and that's final."
"What's going on?" Mary Margaret asked from the doorway.
The mayor's head whipped around to glare at the intruder, and as soon as she saw Emma, she hissed, "You."
Emma gulped and stepped back.
The mayor pointed a finger in the girls direction and said, "You did this."
Emma shook her head, and Mary Margaret stepped in front of the child to shield her from the mayor. "I don't know what your problem is Mayor Mills, but if you don't stop scaring my child, I'm going to file an official complaint against you."
Even though she was afraid, Emma's heart warmed when Mary Margaret called her 'my child'.
Mary Margaret was on a roll and kept talking to the mayor. "You should be happy David woke up after all this time. He's going to stop costing the taxpayers money."
If looks could kill, the mayor would have incinerated Mary Margaret, but since they didn't, the mayor plastered a fake smile on her face and said, "Of course I'm happy about it. I was just curious. I didn't mean to frighten your little urchin." The mayor turned to David with the same unpleasant smile and said, "Rest up, you'll need your strength."
The mayor turned to leave, but before she made it to the door she leaned towards Emma and hissed, "I don't know who or what you are, but mark my words, I will find out."
Emma glared at the evil older woman and refused to comment.
The mayor stormed out, and Mary Margaret led Emma to the chair by David's bed. Mary Margaret sat down, and shocked Emma by pulling her up to sit on her lap and giving her a quick hug.
Mary Margaret looked up at Dr. Whale and said, "Now that that unpleasantness is out of the way, how's the patient doing?"
Dr. Whale gestured towards David and said, "Ask the patient yourself. I've been held up from my rounds long enough."
Once Mary Margaret, David, and Emma were in the room alone, David said with a smile, "Do I know you? The doctor said my memory might be a little choppy at first."
With a blush and a smile, Mary Margaret shook her head. "We don't know each other. Well… I mean… I kind of know you, but you don't know me. I volunteer here at the hospital, and I've been reading stories to you for three years now."
"Three years is a long time for such a one sided friendship," David said. "Hopefully I can make up for lost time. Is this your daughter?" he asked, gesturing to Emma, who was still sitting in Mary Margaret's lap.
"Yes, this is Emma."
Emma was yet again shocked that Mary Margaret hadn't clarified that she was a foster child, and not her actual child.
"Hello, Emma." David said. "I guess should say thanks."
"For the water?" Emma asked. "You already said thanks."
"For helping me wake up. Everyone says you were holding my hand when it happened, so thank you for whatever you did."
Emma shrugged, feeling awkward and shy. "I didn't do anything, but you're welcome I guess."
David made eye contact with Mary Margaret, and said, "Maybe it was both of you together that did it. But whatever happened, I'm grateful. Why don't you two tell me about yourselves, so I can be a better friend than I have been for the past three years."
Mary Margaret smiled, and started telling him about herself.
# # #
Over the next week, Mary Margaret and Emma spent a lot of time in the hospital. They found out that David had no living relatives, and when his wife had divorced him two years ago, it had left him broke. He had no house, no bank account, and no job. Even after finding out all of that, Emma and Mary Margaret still kept coming back to see him.
The day before David was released, he was lamenting the fact that he had no place to stay once he was released, when Emma blurted out, "Why can't he stay with us?"
Mary Margaret's eyes opened wide at the suggestion. "Oh… Well… that wouldn't be… I mean..."
David smiled softly and took Emma's hand in his, "That's a really sweet offer Emma, but I couldn't stay with you and Mary Margaret. What if the social worker came to check on you? They wouldn't be okay with me living there, even if it was just temporary, and I'd never want to do anything that would jeopardize the relationship you have with your mom." He kept her hand, but looked up at Mary Margaret, "Besides, I haven't even asked Mary Margaret out on a date yet, and it would be kind of awkward to date someone you lived with."
Mary Margaret blushed and smiled. "That would be awkward."
Emma hadn't gotten completely used to the way they both referred to Mary Margaret as her mother, even though they all knew she was only a foster child. A rush of happiness coursed through her every time it happened.
Emma leaned in towards Mary Margaret, so she could whisper in her ear. "You should ask him out. Invite him to dinner."
Mary Margaret smiled at Emma and said, "I think that's a great idea, sweetie."
"What's a great idea?" David asked.
"We want to invite you to dinner at our house tomorrow night."
David grinned at them both. "I'd love to."
Emma and Mary Margaret shared a smile.
"Now we just have to find me a place to live," David said, pulling the daily newspaper off the little table by his bed. "You guys could help me look for a job or an apartment that doesn't cost anything."
"We'd love to," Mary Margaret said, taking a section of the paper, and handing half of it to Emma.
Ten minutes later Emma put the paper on David's bed and pointed to an ad. "What about this?"
With an indulgent smile, David dutifully looked where she was pointing, but once he read the ad, his smile turned into a grin. "I think you've saved me again, Emma. This is perfect."
"What is it?" Mary Margaret asked.
David read the ad aloud. "Handyman needed for repairs to local church. One month's room and board in exchange for services rendered." He smiled at the girls and said, "One month is plenty of time for me to find a decent job, and find a place to live."
Emma didn't say anything, because she knew it was a pipe dream, but she was hoping that once the month was over, David would be asking Mary Margaret to marry him.
# # #
A week later, Emma thought things were going along very well between the two most wonderful adults she had ever met. David was living and working at the church, and he was having dinner with Mary Margaret and Emma every evening. But there was a problem. The relationship between David and Mary Margaret seemed much to PG rated for Emma. Emma had seen the way Ms. Harrell had kissed and rubbed up against the men she'd dated, and even though Emma found it gross, she assumed that's what adults were supposed to do, and David hadn't even kissed Mary Margaret good night yet.
Wanting to encourage the adults to move things along, Emma concocted a plan. Friday night, after the three of them had shared a nice dinner, Emma said, "I don't feel very good."
Mary Margaret was at her side in an instant, feeling her forehead. "What doesn't feel good, sweetie?"
"My stomach," Emma put a hand over her abdomen.
"Do you feel like you're going to throw up?" Mary Margaret asked.
"I should probably go home," David said.
"No, don't go!" Emma said quickly, making both adults stare at her with surprise. "I mean… I'm not going to be sick. I just want to go lie down, so you should stay and keep Mary Margaret company."
Mary Margaret and David exchanged a glance, not sure what to make of this strange behavior from Emma.
"You want to go lay down?" Mary Margaret asked.
"Yes please. And maybe I could skip the dishes tonight? I promise I'll do them in the morning."
"Of course you can skip the dishes if you're not feeling well." Mary Margaret said, running her fingers through the child's hair. "I'll do them for you tonight."
"I'll help," David said, "It's the least I can do since you've been feeding me all week." He stood up and started taking dishes to the sink.
"Thanks, David," Mary Margaret said, and then held her hand out to Emma. "Let's get you settled on the couch."
"The couch?" Emma asked. That wouldn't help the two adults get together.
"I want to be able to see you if you're not feeling well, and I want you close to the bathroom in case you start feeling worse."
"But I… I'd feel better in my room."
"Sorry, sweetie, I need you where I can see you. But I'll bring your blanket and pillow down here so you can feel more comfortable."
"Emma, I said no," the words were spoken softly, but Emma could tell Mary Margaret was serious.
Pouting because her big plan had failed, Emma sighed and muttered, "Yeah, okay."
Fifteen minutes later, Emma was pretending to sleep on the couch while listing to David and Mary Margaret talk about boring adult nonsense.
# # #
On Saturday, Emma decided she needed to up her game. She hadn't spent any of the thirty dollars from the money Mary Margaret had given her, and she planned to use it wisely.
When Mary Margaret asked her if she was ready to go volunteer at the hospital, Emma said softly, "I don't really want to go."
"You don't?" the woman sounded genuinely surprised. "Why not, sweetie?"
"I should have said something earlier, but… I don't like spending time at the hospital now that David's not there."
Emma rushed to say, "I thought maybe I could spend some time here at home. I promise I won't feel lonely even if I'm alone for a little while, but if you're really against that, maybe I could stay with David at the church today."
Her brow furrowed while Mary Margaret thought that over. "I wouldn't want to spring you on David without asking, but that might work for next weekend."
"If I tell you something do you promise not to get mad?" Emma asked.
"Of course." Mary Margaret pulled Emma into a hug. "You can tell me anything."
The hug made her feel crappy about the lie she was about to tell, but she said it anyway. "I'm not used to having someone around all the time, and sometimes I kind of want to be alone."
Mary Margaret knelt down so she could be at eye level with the child. "Thank you for telling me, sweetie. I'll try to make more of an effort to give you your space, but that's going to be hard for me, so I hope you'll be patient."
"Good." The woman stood and said, "Tell you what, I'm not comfortable leaving you here for the full four hours, but I'll let you stay here alone for two hours."
Two hours would be long enough. "Okay, thank you."
Mary Margaret held up a finger and said, "Not so fast. You have a whole new set of rules to follow for being alone."
Emma groaned on the inside, but simply nodded on the outside. "Okay."
"No leaving the apartment. Keep the door locked, and don't answer it if someone knocks. Don't answer the phone. And the rule about not watching anything inappropriate is firmly in place, even when I'm not here."
Emma nodded, and already felt guilty for what she planned to do. "Got it."
Ten minutes later, after a lot of reassurance, Emma was finally alone in the loft. She scampered up to her room to get her money, opened the front door and looked around to make sure no one was watching, and then walked out to the hall, shutting the door behind her. She glanced at the door wishing she had a key to lock it, but she didn't, and she wasn't going to be gone all that long. Storybrook was a quiet little town with almost zero crime, so she felt relatively safe leaving it unlocked. She quickly started walking down the street to the little pawn shop she'd seen six blocks away from Mary Margaret's house.
Emma stepped into the pawn shop, and looked around at all the great stuff with awe. The man behind the counter was helping someone else, so she had time to go down the isles and stare at things. When she finally heard the other customer leaving, she went towards the front of the store. The man behind the counter smiled, and she noticed he had one gold tooth.
"Hello dearie, what can I do for you?"
Emma looked through the glass counter at the jewelry and said, "I want to buy something pretty for my mom. Maybe a necklace or a bracelet."
"I see, and what price range are we looking at?"
"I have thirty dollars."
"Well, I don't have much for under thirty," he pointed to one of the black velvet trays that held two thin silver necklaces. "Those are the only two."
Emma looked at them closely and smiled. Yes they were plain, but Mary Margaret wasn't a flashy type of person. "I'll take the one on the left."
"Perfect," the man said as he unlocked the case. "I'm sure your mother will enjoy it. What's her name?"
The man froze while taking out the little tray. "Mary Margaret? The teacher Mary Margaret?"
A feeling of unease started bubbling in Emma's stomach. "Yes, do you know her?"
He put the case back where it was. "I know she has no children."
Emma had gotten somewhat used to both David and Mary Margaret referring to her as Mary Margaret's daughter, so to hear the shop owner refute that made her feel small.
"I'm her foster daughter," Emma muttered.
"Really…" the man said, looking her over more closely, "… how very interesting. What is your name child?"
Feeling less and less safe by the moment, she decided it was best to lie, "Jane."
The man held up a finger and said, "You're lucky your nose doesn't grow when you lie dearie. I have a gift for names, and yours isn't Jane."
Frustrated with the situation, Emma got the money out of her pocket and said, "Could I have the necklace please?"
The man smiled at her. "Tell you what derie, I'll make you a deal."
"What kind of deal?"
He reached in and pulled out a beautiful golden necklace with intricate little snowflakes laced together to make the chain. "If I can guess your name in three tries, you give me the thirty dollars, and leave the store with nothing. If I can't guess your name, I'll give you this necklace for free."
Emma stared at the beautiful necklace with longing. She was positive that it would cost hundreds of dollars if she tried to buy it. She glared at the man. "I've been staying with her for a few weeks. You probably heard about it and already know my name."
"Shrewd girl," he said with a grin. "But the game wouldn't be any fun if I already knew the answer."
Generally Emma knew when someone was lying, and she felt he was being honest. "Fine, it's a deal."
He held out his hand to shake, and she shook it once before letting go.
"Is your name Gertrude?" he asked.
Emma made a face. "No!"
"How about Celeste?"
"Not even close," Emma said with a smile.
"No?" he said with a smile of his own. "Is your name Em… ily?" he asked with a pause as if he was toying with her.
"Ha!" Emma said. "I win! My name isn't Emily either."
"Ah well," the man said with a smile. "You've bested me then." He handed her the gold necklace and said, "I believe this belongs to you now."
She gently grasped the shiny necklace, not quite believing she'd won. "Thank you," she said with a grin.
He gave her a nod, and she started for the door.
"Oh Emma, dearie," the man's voice called to her as her hand landed on the store's doorknob.
She turned to him with wide eyes when she realized he'd used her real name as though he'd known it all along.
"Do tell your mother that Mr. Gold says hello."
Feeling all kinds of worried, and nervous, Emma gave him a curt nod, and practically ran out of the store.
Once she was a block away from the creepy man's store, she slowed to a walk. It was a sunny day, and the worry she'd felt drained away. She looked at the necklace and hoped she wouldn't have too much trouble convincing David to give it to Mary Margaret as a gift. Hopefully he was the kind of guy who knew women liked to get pretty things, and would see the brilliance in Emma's plan.
When Emma got to the apartment building where she lived, she saw the sheriff's car out front. A tiny bit of worry crossed her mind, but there was no way the sheriff was here for her. He was probably dealing with one of the other tenants. But just to be safe, she put the necklace in her pocket, before going into the building.
Happy to see that the door to Mary Margaret's loft was still securely closed, Emma opened the door with a smile of relief. The scene that greeted her dashed all of her hopes. Mary Margaret was sitting on the couch crying, and David was sitting next to her with his arm around her shoulders. The sheriff was standing in front of them taking notes.
"Can you tell me what she was wearing?" the sheriff asked.
David was the first to lock eyes with the child. "Emma!" he said with genuine relief as he stood up.
Mary Margaret gasped, jumped up, and rushed forward. She knelt down in front of Emma and enveloped her in a crushing hug. "Oh Emma, you're okay!"
Feeling horrible, Emma hugged Mary Margaret back.
"What happened?" Mary Margaret said, leaning back to look at her. "Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine." Emma said softly. "I just…" she looked over at David and the sheriff, wishing they weren't there, "…I just went out for a while. I'm sorry."
"You… went out?" Mary Margaret asked, as if trying to understand what that meant.
The sheriff put his pad away and said, "Like I said earlier, these things generally work themselves out."
With a scowl, David put a hand on the other man's shoulder and led him to the door. "Thanks for all your help Sheriff Graham, but I think we've got it from here."
"No problem," the sheriff said as he let himself out.
David shut the door behind him, and knelt down next to Emma and Mary Margaret. David put his hands on Emma's shoulders and Mary Margaret let go of her to wipe her eyes. David turned the child to look in his direction and said sternly, "Just to be sure I'm understanding correctly, you were left alone, your mother told you not to leave the loft, and you decided to leave anyway."
A couple of tears slid down Emma's face. This was not at all how she had envisioned this day going. She nodded.
"Why?" David asked.
"I… I just had to go out."
David's eyebrows went way up on his forehead before crashing down into a scowl while his lips pressed into a thin line. He let go of Emma stood up and back up a couple of feet.
Emma turned to Mary Margaret, only to see the same angry expression on the woman's face.
"That's not an acceptable answer, Emma. I want to know where you were."
Emma shook her head. "I didn't go anywhere bad, I promise."
"If you're not willing to tell me where you were, then you need to go to your room for a little while and think that over."
"Emma." David cut her off. "I know it's not my place, but if you don't do what your mother told you to do right now, I'm going to carry you to your room. You had us both worried sick for the past half hour, and we need time to cool down."
Mary Margaret stared up at David for a few seconds, and then slowly nodded in agreement. She stood up and said softly, "Go to your room, Emma. I'll call you down in a little while and we can talk some more."
Emma dashed up the stairs, flopped down onto her bed, and hid her face in her pillow to cry. Everything had gone horribly wrong, and now both of her favorite adults were angry with her, and she couldn't even say she blamed them. After a few minutes, her crying tapered off, and she listened to the soft murmur of voices downstairs. She couldn't hear what they were saying, and she wasn't sure she even wanted to know. She pulled the necklace out of her pocket, wishing she could save her plan, but knowing it was futile. Once she'd decided to confess, she felt slightly better, and hoped that this whole thing didn't drive Mary Margaret and David apart instead of bringing them together.
"Okay Emma, I'd like you to come down and talk to us please," Mary Margaret said.
Emma slowly came down holding the necklace. She saw the two adults sitting on the couch. Mary Margaret patted the empty spot next to her, and Emma went to sit with them.
The woman's arm automatically wrapped around the child's shoulders, and Mary Margaret said, "Are you ready to tell me where you were?"
Emma nodded. Without looking up, she told them the whole story, including the deal she'd made with Mr. Gold. Thankfully neither of the adults interrupted her, and when she was done with the whole story, she handed the necklace out to Mary Margaret.
The woman took it and said, "Emma, sweetheart, even though your heart was in the right place, you made a lot of bad choices today. It's not okay to try and manipulate David and I into stepping up our relationship. That's got to happen at it's own pace. I'm glad you like David and that you want us to be close, because that's what we want too, but jumping into it before we're ready would be a mistake. But that's a minor infraction compared to leaving the loft. That was not only deceitful of you, but it was also dangerous. Mr. Gold is not a nice man, and certainly not someone I would want you to be alone with. I know you've lived on your own, and you've done plenty of dangerous things, but that was out of necessity, and you're lucky nothing seriously bad has happened to you yet. Taking chances like that when you have a safe and secure home is not okay."
"I'm sorry," Emma whispered, feeling truly horrible.
Mary Margaret gave her a strong hug. "I forgive you sweetie, but for now you've lost my trust. You certainly won't be left alone again anytime soon, and for the next three days, you're going to spend two hours a night sitting at the kitchen table where I can see you, with nothing at all to occupy your time. There will be no television, no computer, no books, and not even your homework. It's just going to be time for you to reflect on what you did, and how it affected all of us."
Emma thought that sounded awfully harsh, and looked over at David with a pout to try and garner his support.
"Don't look at me for sympathy," David said, "I told your mom she should spank you."
"David," Mary Margaret chided.
"I'm not going to lie," he said seriously to the woman, and then turned his eyes on Emma. "If you were my daughter, and someday you might be, I would have turned you over my knee and given you half a dozen smacks on the seat of your pants the minute you refused to tell me where you'd gone."
Emma had seriously mixed feelings about that. On the one hand he'd basically told her there was a chance he would marry Mary Margaret, and become her official foster father, but on the other hand he was threatening to hit her.
"Half a dozen?" she asked.
"That's six," Mary Margaret said.
"Oh." Emma looked down at her lap and thought that over for a few seconds. Back when Ms. Harrell had slapped her, Emma had felt a burning hatred for the woman, and she'd immediately planned her escape. But she already knew she wouldn't hate David if spanked her. Ms. Harrell hit her out of anger and spite. David would be doing it because he cared about her. She didn't necessarily agree that it was okay for David to spank her, no matter what the offence was, and she'd be upset, but she wouldn't hate him. She made eye contact with him again and said, "Okay."
"Okay?" he said.
She nodded. "Yeah, I understand. If you become my dad, I have to take the good with the bad. Ninety-eight percent of the time you'll be great, and two percent of the time when I do something wrong you'll be mean."
"Well, that's not how I would have put it," David said, "but sure, you could see it that way."
Mary Margaret gave Emma a kiss on the top of the head and said, "Enough hypotheticals. I don't know about the two of you, but it's almost noon, and I'm starving."
"Wait a minute," Emma said, "You weren't supposed to be home until noon. Why did you come home early?"
"I realized my wallet wasn't in my purse, so I came home to get it. When I found the door unlocked, and you gone… I thought someone from your past found you and took you."
Emma leaned into Mary Margaret and gave her another hug. "I'm sorry."
"I'm just glad I was wrong."
Over lunch, David and Mary Margaret agreed that David would take the necklace back to Mr. Gold's shop, and speak to the man about making deals with children. Emma had protested a little, because she had gone into his shop in the first place, but the adults weren't having it. They told her that no one in town liked or trusted the pawn shop owner, and they assured her that Mr. Gold wouldn't blame her for David's visit.
The rest of the day wasn't much fun for Emma. After lunch Mary Margaret had taken Emma with her to the hospital so she could get her volunteer work done. Then during dinner, David and Mary Margaret had spent most of the time discussing Mr. Gold and all the rotten things he'd done to the people in town. And then after the dinner dishes were done, Emma had been sent back to the table to serve out her two-hour sentence of enforced 'reflecting on bad behavior'. The only positive point to the whole day was the fact that David and Mary Margaret had snuggled together on the couch while Emma was at the table, and they weren't even gross about it. After two dreadfully long hours, the adults must have taken pity on her, because they let her sit between them to watch half an hour of television before sending her to bed.
Emma was almost asleep when she heard movement downstairs. She heard David and Mary Margaret saying their goodnights, and then Mary Margaret thanked him for all his help. There was a long silence after that, and Emma was almost positive they were kissing. Just before she drifted off, she heard David say, "Snow?" to which Mary Margaret replied, "Charming?" Emma didn't get it, but whatever made them happy was fine with her.
# # #
The next morning when Emma came down the stairs, she was surprised to see Mary Margaret and David sitting on the couch wearing the same clothes they'd had on the night before.
"What's going on?" Emma asked.
Mary Margaret held out her arms for Emma, and said, "Come here sweetie."
Emma cautiously walked over, and when she was within reach Mary Margaret pulled her up to sit in her lap.
"David and I have something to talk to you about, and you may find it difficult to believe."
"Okay." Emma said nervously.
Over the next half an hour the two adults told Emma all about being Snow White and Price Charming from another realm. They talked about their courtship, their marriage, and her evil stepmother Regina who tried to keep them apart. Then they talked about true love's kiss bringing their memories back the night before.
By the time they were done with their story, Emma felt like crying. She didn't think Mary Margaret and David would pull some kind of prank on her, and they seemed to genuinely believe what they were telling her, which meant they were utterly insane.
Then David started telling her about Snow's pregnancy, and giving up their daughter as soon as she was born to prevent her from getting sucked into the evil witch's dark spell. David finished his story with, "We named our daughter Emma and sent her into the portal with a baby blanket with her name knitted into it."
Emma jumped off Mary Margaret's lap and yelled, "You guys had no right to go into my room while I was asleep."
"What?" Mary Margaret said. "We weren't in your room."
"Yes you were!" Emma shouted, feeling more and more betrayed by the moment. "You saw the blanket. I don't know why you're telling me this stupid story, but I don't believe it, and I want you to stop!"
Mary Margaret and David shared a look of amazement before Mary Margaret said, "We thought… no we hoped you were our Emma, but if you still have the blanket, that proves it."
"Stop lying!" Emma yelled while a few tears rolled down her face.
"We're not lying," David said gently, taking her hand in his. "I know it's hard to believe, but I swear we're not lying."
Mary Margaret suddenly snapped her fingers and said, "I can prove it." She rushed over to her dresser, pulled out the bottom drawer, and reached into the back. She pulled out a white knitted baby dress with purple frills, and matching booties.
Emma gasped when she saw them. They were exactly like her blanket. Emma shook her head, but when Mary Margaret held out the dress, Emma ran her fingers over the fabric and shuddered.
"As Mary Margaret, I thought these were some baby clothes that my mother made for me, but as Snow I remember that I made them for you."
"Could you show us the blanket?" David whispered.
Emma nodded and raced up the stairs. She pulled out her backpack, dumped everything out, and unzipped the special inside pocket to get the only object she owned from her childhood. A white knitted baby blanket with the word Emma knitted into it with purple yarn. It was well worn, and more gray than white, but it was obviously a match to the little dress downstairs.
She knew she didn't believe that the people downstairs were actually Snow White and Price Charming from the fairy tails, but the blanket made her consider the possibility that they were her biological parents.
When she walked downstairs with the blanket in her hands, Mary Margaret made a whimpering noise and turned to David. "She is our Emma."
Emma handed the blanket to Mary Margaret, who ran shaky fingers over the name. "I made this myself."
David held the baby dress, and looked back and forth between that and the blanket. He looked at Emma and some tears rolled down his face. "It's true. You're our daughter."
Mary Margaret touched David's arm and said, "You woke up from your coma when she touched you."
"That's right." David scowled and added, "You don't think Regina knows, do you?"
Mary Margaret shook her head. "If she did, she never would have let Emma stay here."
"We can't let her know that we've gotten our memories back."
Both of the adults looked at Emma, and then at each other.
"We'll need a plan." Mary Margaret said.
Emma's stomach growled, and David chuckled. He held his hand out to her and said, "Let's go talk about it over breakfast."
The three of them spent the entire day talking and making plans. They were going to keep their old memories a secret, and they were going to use the legal system in this new realm to beat Regina at her own game. Tomorrow morning before work, Mary Margaret would take Emma to go to see Dr. Whale for a DNA test to prove that Emma was Mary Margaret's biological daughter. While they did that, David would get the paperwork filled out for a wedding by the local justice of the peace. Right after work, David and Mary Margaret would get married in a quiet little ceremony. Then on Tuesday after work, Mary Margaret would take the DNA proof to the Social worker, and tell her she'd decided to do the test after seeing Emma's baby blanket.
They were hoping to get all of that done before Regina had any inkling of what was going on under her nose. Once they were legally in the clear for this realm, there wouldn't be much Regina could do to sabotage them.
Emma noticed over the course of the day that both David and Mary Margaret kept giving her little hugs and touching her shoulders, as if they needed to reassure themselves that she was truly there with them. During breakfast, David had insisted that Emma start calling them 'mom' and 'dad' instead of their first names, and Emma readily agreed. She'd been waiting to call someone that for years, and the more she said it, the more she liked it. She didn't even care anymore if they were crazy or not, they clearly loved her, and that was more important than sanity in Emma's book.
After dinner, David reluctantly went back to the church to keep up appearances, and promised to meet them at the courthouse right at five o'clock the next day.
Once the dishes were done, Emma was dismayed to find herself seated at the kitchen table to serve out her two hours again before bed. She'd tried protesting since everything had changed since yesterday, but her mother hadn't been swayed.
# # #
Their plans worked out perfectly, and by Wednesday their little family was legally binding and Regina was none the wiser. By Thursday, David had a part time job as the school janitor so he could be close to his wife and child in case Regina tried to attack. Emma still didn't buy into her parent's odd story about being from another realm, but she did believe she'd found her biological parents. She'd seen the test results from Dr. Whale, and it was hard to argue against scientific proof.
Friday during recess, Emma saw Mayor Mills pulling into the school's parking lot. Emma stopped the game she was playing and walked to the fence to see what the mayor was going to do. Regina's gaze narrowed in on the child for a few seconds, before ignoring her, and going into the office. The bell rang signaling the end of recess.
Emma looked around for her mother, but Mary Margaret had already gone inside. Emma's teacher called her inside with the rest of the class. Making a snap decision, Emma went back to her classroom, but immediately told her teacher that she needed to go to the bathroom. The teacher sighed with irritation, told her she needed to take care of that before recess next time, and then handed her a hall pass.
Once Emma was out of her class, she rushed to the main office to see what was going on. She could overhear the mayor yelling from outside.
"Did you do a background check on him!?" Regina's voice rang out.
"Of course we did Mayor Mills," a male voice answered. "Mr. Nolan has a clean record, and a high school diploma, which are the only two requirements for the position. Can I ask what the problem is?"
Emma thought it sounded like Principal Beck, and wished she knew where David was on the school grounds. He should be there if they were talking about him.
"Who told him about the job?" the mayor demanded.
"It was advertised online."
"What made you pick him? Surly there were other applicants."
"He made the best impression on the review board, and unless you can give me a valid reason why you're asking these questions, or show me a warrant for information, I'm done talking."
Emma silently cheered at the principal's answer, and had to seriously reconsider her opinions about her parent's story, because Regina clearly had it in for her family.
"This isn't over!" Mayor Mills yelled.
Emma realized the mayor was leaving, and ducked around the corner so she wouldn't be seen. She could hear the mayor's high heel shoes clipping down the hall, but instead of fading away, the abruptly stopped halfway down the hall. Emma held her breath, and pressed herself against the wall. After hearing nothing at all for several seconds, Emma couldn't take it anymore, and quickly glanced around the corner.
To her utter amazement, the mayor was no where to be seen. Her parents' stories about Regina being a powerful witch didn't seem quite so ludicrous. Emma slowly walked down the hall in the same direction Regina had gone, and planned to go find her father to tell him what she'd heard. But halfway down the hall, Emma saw the sign, 'Boiler Room' on one of the doors.
Emma realized the mayor must have gone in the boiler room, and felt a little silly for her temporary belief in magic. But then it struck her – what was the mayor doing in the boiler room? It couldn't be anything good. What if she was doing something truly horrible like planting a bomb? She put her hand on the boiler room doorknob, but paused before cracking it open to look inside. Her parents had told her to stay away from Regina, and Emma completely agreed with that in theory, but no one else was here, and someone had to figure out what was going on.
Making up her mind, Emma slowly opened the door a crack, and peeked inside. The only thing she could see was a set of stairs heading down to the basement. Scowling, Emma quietly went in, made sure the door didn't slam behind her, and crept down the stairs one at a time, keeping her eyes open for the mayor.
Before she got to the bottom of the stairs, Emma could hear the Mayor arguing with someone.
"I don't care what you have to do Sydney! I need that information, and if you can't get it for me, I'll find someone who can!"
Emma stayed on the step she was on, and leaned out to look into the boiler room without going all the way down.
She was relieved to see that the mayor's back was to her.
"See that you do!" the mayor said, and then slapped her cell phone off. She shoved it in her purse, and then stared at the big metal boiler in front of her for a few seconds. After nodding to herself, she waved her hands in the air, and a ball of green smoke appeared.
Emma had to put her hands over her mouth to keep from gasping. It was one thing to hear someone talk about magic, and quite another to witness it first hand.
Regina flicked her wrist, and the green smoke seeped into the metal, and disappeared. The mayor let out a wicked chuckle, brushed her hands off, and turned to leave.
Luckily for Emma, the mayor's phone rang, distracting the woman for a few seconds as she made her way to the stairs. Emma rushed out of the boiler room, and down the hall towards the lunchroom hoping to find David.
He wasn't there. Emma knew she was running out of time, and ran to the other end of the school to check the supply room. Slightly out of breath, Emma tried the door, and found it unlocked, which meant someone was in there, and that someone was most likely her father. She went in, and saw David on the other side of the room cataloging the janitorial supplies.
David turned with a smile when he heard the door open, but then frowned with concern when he saw Emma in the room with him. He put down his clipboard, and rushed over to her. He knelt down and put his hands on her shoulders.
"What's wrong?" he asked with concern. "Why aren't you in class?"
"Regina's here," Emma said.
David pulled her in a bit closer, and looked towards the door. "Here at school?"
Emma nodded. "I saw her come in right after recess. She went to the office and asked all kinds of questions about how you got your job. She seemed very angry about it, and then instead of leaving, she went to the boiler room. I didn't believe you and mom before when you were talking about magic, but I saw her using it. She waved her hands and this green smoke appeared out of nowhere and she made it go inside the boiler."
David shook his head. "What were you doing in the boiler room? And how did you overhear Regina asking questions about me?"
Those weren't questions she wanted to answer, but she couldn't think of a plausible lie, so she scowled at the ground and muttered, "I saw Regina coming in, and asked for a hall pass to use the bathroom."
After a short pause David said, "But you didn't go to the bathroom."
Emma's stomach took a dive when she heard David's stern tone. She shook her head.
"Instead you went to spy on Regina, after we expressly told you to stay away from her."
"And the boiler room?" David asked.
"I followed her in there to see what she was doing," Emma admitted quietly, and then rushed to add, "But she didn't see me the whole time."
The next few seconds were a blur to Emma. One moment she was standing in front of David, and the next moment she was upended over his thigh. A squeak of surprise came out of her, followed by a yelp as his hand smacked the seat of her skirt six times. Then before she'd had time to even process what was happening, she was standing upright in front of him again.
David pointed a finger at her and said, "You stay away from Regina."
A couple of tears ran down Emma's face, and she glared at her father while rubbing the sting out of her bottom. "That hurt," she said with censure.
"Good. Don't do it again," he said.
"I was trying to help."
His stern features smoothed out into sympathy. He wiped her tears away with his thumbs and then pulled her into a hug. "I know you were, but you can't put yourself in danger like that. Your mom and I just found you. We can't lose you again."
Some fresh tears rolled down Emma's face at those words from her father. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
He patted her back a few times and said, "Okay, you're forgiven. No more tears now, you've got to go back to class."
She let go of him and said, "But what about Regina and the boiler?"
"You let me worry about that." He stood up and held out his hand for her to take. "I'll walk you back to class."
She wiped the residual tears off her face while they walked down the hall together and by the time they made it to her classroom, she had her emotions under control.
"No more hallway adventures, right?" David said. She shook her head, and he squeezed her hand once before letting go. "I'll see you in your mom's class after school."
Emma had trouble focusing for the rest of the afternoon. Her mind was too busy wondering what nefarious plan Regina was hatching, what her father might have found out about the evil woman's plans, and what her mom was going to have to say about all of it.
Over dinner that night David told both Snow and Emma that the principal was calling him a hero for discovering a small leak in the boiler. The technician they had out to look at it told them that the leak probably would have caused thousands of dollars worth of damage over the weekend, and that the school would have had to close down for at least a week while they did repairs.
# # #
Emma thought she was happy when she'd settled into a routine with Mary Margaret after moving in, but that was nothing compared to the sheer glee of spending the entire weekend with both of her parents. They spent the whole weekend in the loft to avoid running into Regina, and all three of them were happy to have the uninterrupted time. They played some card games, they watched a couple of movies, they ordered food to be delivered, and they spent hours talking. Emma told them about her time in the orphanage and her awful experiences with Ms. Harrell. Then both Snow and David told her their childhood stories, which were also full of horrible events, which made Emma feel even closer to them than she had before.
# # #
Monday morning before lunch, one of the office staff came into Emma's class and whispered something to her teacher. The teacher turned to Emma and said, "Someone in the office needs to see you, Emma."
Confused and more than a little nervous, Emma got up and followed the lady to the office. As soon as she stepped through the doorway and saw who was waiting for her, she thought she might throw up.
Ms. Harrell was standing next to Regina at the counter.
"There you are, sugar! You've been gone so long, I thought I might not recognize y'all."
Emma cringed at the southern twang coming out of the bleached blond stick thin woman with the obscenely short skirt and huge fake boobs.
Ms. Harrell stepped forward to hug her, but Emma jumped back out of the way. She knew all too well that a hug from Ms. Harrell usually came with a pinch and a whispered threat.
"Don't touch me!" Emma said, and ran behind the counter to get assistance from the nice office lady who always kept colorful erasers on her desk to give to the kids. "Please call Mary Margaret to the office." Emma pleaded.
"Yes," Regina agreed with a wolfish grin. "Please do. We need to get some paperwork signed so that this poor child can go back to the loving foster mother who has looked after her for two years."
The office lady quickly sent one of the student helpers off to collect Mary Margaret.
Emma shook her head vehemently. "I'll never go back with her."
"You're a child," Regina said patronizingly, "You don't get a vote in what's best for you, that's for the adults around you to decide."
"Any adult with eyes could see that Ms. Harrell isn't good for me," Emma said glaring at the woman who'd made her life miserable for two full years.
"Now, Emma," Ms. Harrell scolded, "Don't throw a fit." She looked at the office lady apologetically, "The child has always been high strung, and prone to fibbing."
Emma felt tears on her face, and blurted out, "How did you find me?"
Regina grinned and leaned down so she could stare into Emma's eyes. "It took a lot of time and resources, especially since you never gave us your last name or the state you were from, but I found her for you."
Emma felt a chill go down her spine at the triumph and excitement in Regina's face. She looked Regina in the eyes and said, "She hurt me."
Regina's smile faltered. "She's your legal guardian."
Mary Margaret came rushing into the room and said loudly, "No, she's not. I'm Emma's legal guardian."
Emma rushed over to hug Mary Margaret, drawing strength and comfort from the touch.
Regina's head whipped around to face Mary Margaret. "No you aren't," she hissed. "You're her temporary guardian, and a poor one at that. My sources tell me that you're living in sin with the janitor, and that you've already had to call the police once because you lost the child." Regina pointed to Ms. Harrell and said, "This is Emma's legal guardian, and this is who she's going home with."
"Over my dead body," David said as he walked through the door."
"You're the janitor!" Regina screeched. "Go clean something and leave us alone!"
"No, Regina," Mary Margaret said firmly while holding Emma close. "He's my husband."
David held up his hand to show Regina the wedding band. "We're married."
"But… no that's… that can't be!" Regina wailed.
"That don't make no difference," Ms. Harrell said, "The child still belongs with me."
Mary Margaret gave the woman a cold smile and said, "No she doesn't, she belongs with me. I'm not just her foster mother, I'm her biological mother."
All of the color drained from Regina's face. "No," she whispered, "It can't be."
"The social worker will be here any minute, and you can see the proof for yourself. Dr. Whale did the DNA test last week."
Ms. Harrell glared at Regina and said, "I didn't drive all this way for nothin'. You'd best still pay me for my time before I go."
David said, "Actually Ms. Harrell, you have an appointment with the sheriff before you can leave town. He has some questions about the foster home you run, and the kids you take care of."
The bleached blond woman yelled, "I'm leavin'!" But Mary Margaret, David, and Emma were blocking the doorway, and they refused to budge when she tried to go past them.
A few seconds later, Sheriff Graham showed up, and took Ms. Harrell in for questioning.
Once Ms. Harrell was gone, Regina glared at Emma with hatred and said, "I don't know how, and I don't know when, but I will tear your family apart."
"Why?" Emma asked, trying to sound innocent. "Aren't you the mayor? Why do you want to tear my family apart."
Regina's eyes darted around the room, and saw all the staff members looking at her with shock.
"Yes, of course I'm the mayor." Regina straightened out her clothes and brushed back her hair with her fingers. "I don't know what came over me. I apologize. We'll wait for the social worker, and once I see that all of the paperwork is in order, we can put all this behind us, and go our separate ways."
Half an hour later Mayor Mills left the school in a huff, and the office staff was congratulating Mary Margaret and David on their wedding and their new daughter. The principal insisted that they all take the rest of the day off to recuperate.
As they were leaving the office, Emma said, "Now that everyone knows, can I call you guys mom and dad in public?"
"Absolutely," David said.
"What do you think Regina will try next?" Emma asked.
Mary Margaret shook her head. "I doubt she'll try anything for quite a while. After being publicly humiliated the way she was today, she'll want to do a lot more research before planning another attack."
"So for now… we just get to live life like a normal family?" Emma asked.
"That's right," David said, putting one arm around his wife, and the other around his daughter as they walked through the parking lot towards Mary Margaret's car.
"I think that sounds fantastic," Mary Margaret said.
"Me, too," David said.
"What about you, sweetie?" Mary Margaret asked Emma.
Emma couldn't keep the grin off her face. "It sounds perfect."