The shrill buzz of Emma's alarm clock erupted at seven on Monday morning, rousing the blonde from deep sleep. She burrowed her head underneath her pillow to avoid the bright rays streaming through her window and swiped tiredly at the alarm's snooze button. After the emotional catastrophe that was the theme of her weekend, she was unprepared to face another work week as Storybrooke's only law enforcement officer.
While Emma wanted nothing more than to fall back to sleep, a sharp knock on her door, followed by the sound of Mary's voice thwarted her plans.
"Do you want me to cook breakfast?" Mary called out through the oak door.
Emma thought it over before declining the offer. "No, thanks." She rubbed a hand over face as she sat up trying to gather her thoughts. A second later, Emma realized it was entirely too early to be having a conversation with Mary, who she normally only saw after they both finished dressing for the day around eight in the morning.
Muffled shuffling came from the other side of the door, and then, "are you sure?"
The maternal tone that colored Mary's voice incited an amused smile out of Emma and forced her to make the five steps the separated her bed and the bedroom door. The doorknob rattled loudly before the gears caught allowing Emma to finally yank the door open from its frame; on worse days, it took Emma several minutes to open her door.
"I'll get something to eat on my way to work." Emma assured her roommate, who was already dressed and ready for the day and standing primly on the other side of the doorway.
"Drinking hot chocolate or coffee isn't a meal." Mary chastised, walking down the flight of the stairs that began just a few feet from Emma's doorway. She shot Emma a knowing look over her shoulder, mouth curled up in a smirk.
Emma followed the school teacher, still clad in a pair of green boxers and a white tank top she used for sleep, suddenly curious about the change in their morning routine. "What are you doing up so early?" She lingered on the last step of the staircase, one hand curled around the banister while the other gestured vaguely at Mary, who responded to the question with a look of wide-eyed innocence.
"You don't usually leave until 8." The elementary school was three blocks from their apartment, which put Mary's commute at a 10-minute walk most mornings. Class started at 8:30, which meant Mary was an entire hour and a half early.
Mary flushed at the statement, squirming under the scrutiny. Emma's narrowed eyes tracked Mary's nervous moments around the kitchen. The answer finally came to Emma when the floral arrangement that decorated their kitchen island fell into her field of vision.
"Dr. Whale?" Emma's brow shot up in both amusement and surprise. "Again?"
When Mary turned a brighter shade of red at being caught, Emma burst out laughing. She leaned against the banister for support while Mary glared at her, cowed.
"He was on-call last night. We're just going to grab coffee at the end of his shift."
"You can do without the secrecy." Emma chuckled lightly, "I'm not going to judge."
"I don't really know what I'm doing." Mary finally admitted with a loud exhale, worrying her bottom lip. She grabbed her purse that sat on the loveseat and shrugged a bit helplessly at Emma. The arrangement she and Dr. Whale had finally settled on was new to Mary, who regardless of her skeptic nature was a hopeless romantic at heart. She wanted passion and emotion, but Dr. Whale was, admittedly, a nice distraction. He was charming, affable, and mostly a gentleman.
"He sends you flowers," Emma shrugged, making her way towards the refrigerator when her stomach let out a low growl.
Mary hovered at the entryway, eyebrow arched as she watched the blonde expectantly. "What does that mean?"
"It's more than I've ever received." Emma surveyed the contents of the fridge, frowning at the number of options. It was difficult to pick something to eat when Mary kept a well-stocked fridge. Emma was accustomed to acidic black coffee from a gas station and a bagel, if she was particularly hungry.
"Oh." Mary's voice came out surprised.
Emma snapped her head up to catch a trace of sympathy marring Mary's face for a brief moment. Mary had enough sense to look contrite after she realized Emma had caught the underlying pity in her response.
"I'll see you later?" Mary sighed, hoping she didn't offend Emma, again.
"If you aren't busy with Dr. Whale," Emma winked to which Mary responded with an eye roll.
"I'll see you later." Mary confirmed with a wave before disappearing out the door.
Emma shook her head, amused at her roommate's antics. In any other city, Emma would have dismissed the school teacher almost immediately due to Mary's mild manners and too-wholesome disposition. But, there was something that lingered beneath Mary's bright optimism that drew Emma – an imperceptible loneliness that seemed to mirror Emma's own.
Another low rumble from her stomach pushed Emma out of her thoughts and back to the present task at hand. She closed the fridge and went for the box of cereal bars in the pantry, ripping into the package and taking a bite from the bar as she rushed back up the stairs two at a time.
While she showered and dressed for the day, she forced her thoughts away from work, since those thoughts often circled back to Graham and that night. She pushed those to recesses of her mind, and tried to think only of how to apologize to Henry for her outburst the previous week.
How she would point him away from his delusions.
Helping Henry accept reality was one of the reasons she had stayed in town, but that had been sidetracked with the new job and Regina's antagonistic behavior. She glanced around the room with her boxes still stacked in the corner largely unpacked, and a surprising rush of claustrophobia took hold.
Could she stay long enough to help the kid, like she had intended? Even after everything?
She grabbed her blue jacket, draped across the chair, and walked out of the room before she could come up with an answer. There was no sense in wondering because she had a job that, at least for the moment, kept her rooted in place. She grabbed her car keys off the coffee table and locked the apartment behind her as she left.
The biting December chill hit her as soon as she stepped outside the apartment building. Emma noted she would need a thicker jacket soon if the sudden drop in temperature was indicative of another bitter winter ahead.
God, she missed Tallahassee, and the general warmth of the sunshine state.
Movement from the corner of her eye caught Emma's attention and caused her to pause. Someone across the street turned around abruptly when he noticed Emma staring at him with a scowl. He grinned sheepishly and shuffled in the opposite direction, hood pulled up over his head and hands pushed deep into his pockets.
Emma continued to glare at his retreating back, torn between yelling at David Nolan to stay away and feeling almost sorry for the confused ex-coma patient. Before she could come to a decision on what to do, her phone rang shrilly, destroying the last remnants of hope at a peaceful Monday morning.
The mayor's contact information flashed across the screen in block writing that blinked mockingly at the blonde. Emma bit back the frustrated groan that seemed to erupt naturally at the thought of dealing with Regina so early in the morning. After a beat, she hit ignore, not quite ready to start the week with Regina yelling about something or another. If it was an emergency, Regina would leave a voicemail and Emma would listen to it –in an hour, or so, at least, and maybe, after a cup of coffee.
Setting the phone to silent, she slipped the device into her pocket and opened the door of her Beetle with jerk.
The morning was not going her way.
She hoped the rest of the week would fare better.
On the other side of town, Regina scowled as the call faltered in the middle of the fourth ring only to be replaced by Emma Swan's monotone voice: I can't come to the phone right now, leave a message.
"Deputy Swan," Regina managed through gritted teeth,. "I need to talk to you regarding your employment as soon as possible." She pinched the bridge of her nose to hold in a loud exhale.
"I do hope you can pencil me into your busy morning," she added in a honeyed but deadly voice.
By Monday morning, Regina had a plan to run Emma out of town. It was simple, really, now that Henry was disillusioned with his hero, remaining angry and sullen all weekend at the mere mention of his birth mother. The people that kept Emma rooted to the town had begun to splinter – first Graham, now Henry. Regina thought if she could just push the issue harder, then maybe.
At the sound of Henry's heavy footsteps, Regina looked up from staring idly at the counter top in time to watch her son come to a stop at the kitchen's entryway, backpack slung over his shoulder and tie in a messy knot.
She shot him a warning look at his slightly disheveled appearance. "Eat your breakfast before you go anywhere," she commanded with a nod at the plate of eggs and toast on the kitchen island.
Henry frowned, "I'm already late for the bus." His good natured attitude towards the Mayor had run out this morning, replaced by the normal bitterness he directed at her. The shift was fueled by the vivid nightmare that had woken him up. He dreamt of the Evil Queen ripping out the Huntsman's heart with maniacal glee, of the curse and the sadness that enveloped the town; the thick wool over everyone's eyes that kept them fixed in a half-awake state. He reminded himself, then, what it was the Evil Queen had done to the other characters in the book. There was no redemption for that, regardless of her promise to protect him.
How could she be excused for the curse? It was the reason why Henry had spent the majority of his childhood isolated and lonely. If she hadn't meddled, if she hadn't enacted the curse, he would have grown up with a family – a mother, a father, and grandparents who were royalty.
The other children would've lined up to be his friend. Instead, he lived in a town where his classmates left him alone, wary of the boy who was the Mayor's son and too wrapped up in their cursed state of temporal suspension.
"I'm driving you to school." Regina studied him over the rim of her coffee mug with a raised eyebrow, daring him to challenge her.
She tried to quell the disappointment at the return of his hatred. The past weekend had been far too pleasant of an experience to be a permanent. She knew this, and yet, here she was on Monday morning: surprised and upset at the turn of events.
"Why?" Still, he sat down in front of the plate, dropping his backpack on the empty stool beside him with a loud clatter. He shoveled a forkful of eggs into his mouth and glanced suspiciously at the Mayor, brow knitting together, as he tried to figure out her true motives.
It was difficult staying two steps ahead; Henry seemed to forever play catch-up with her.
"Because I said so." Regina responded in a clipped tone. She walked her cup to the sink and rinsed out the dish before arranging it into the dishwasher. "Were you planning to walk with Deputy Swan this morning?"
Henry's frown only deepened at that. "No." He ripped a bite off his toast and avoided the look the Queen pinned on him, which held an even mixture of satisfaction and curiosity. The look made Henry wish he had lied, but it was too late to take it back, now.
She stared at him expectantly, waiting for a more elaborate explanation. "Are you going to tell me what happened between the two of you?" She sighed at his refusal to maintain eye contact; instead, he continued to stare glumly at the empty space over her shoulder, reticent as ever.
"Henry." Regina warned with an impatient tone. She wished he had given her more time before regressing back to these habits. There were days she lapsed into almost resenting the boy during moments of extreme frustration, particularly when she missed her son – the version of him that had toddled after her when he was younger, pressed sloppy kisses to her cheek, and promised to love her, forever.
She wanted to demand Henry tell her what had changed, aside from his obvious obsession over the fairy tales. When had she stopped being 'Mom'?
Henry shrugged refusing to offer an explanation. He turned his attention back to the plate in front of him, and gulped down the glass of orange juice to wash it all down.
A quiet second passed, and then a sigh, "I'm going to get my things."
Regina studied his blank expression a moment longer before making her way towards her study. She grabbed her purse and the manila folder sitting on her table that contained the city's budget for the next fiscal year to work on at the office between meetings with various city council officials.
It was ironic to find herself in charge of securing the basic necessities for the people she had loathed once upon a time. Twenty-eight years had eroded the resentment, only to be replaced by dull frustration over their ineptitude at helping her run the city.
When she turned around to call for Henry, she found him already at the doorway of her office, leaning against the door jamb with an odd expression on his face. It unnerved her how strongly he believed in the fairy tales, wondered if somehow his discovery of the true nature of their town was part of the curse.
She had murdered his namesake for this reality; it would be fitting if her son caused its demise.
"Ready?" Regina broke the silence as she approached him.
Mouth pressed in a thin line, he nodded and stepped aside to let her pass. He walked a half-step behind her, studying the stiffness of her posture and the hard lines around her eyes. The rhythmic click of her heels against the hardwood floor of their hallway filled the tense silence between the duo.
"Why did you adopt me?" He frowned at the words that now hung in the air, startled that he spoke them out loud.
The thought had kept him up all morning as he pored over the Huntsman's story under the covers with the sun slowly rising outside. If the Queen could kill the Huntsman, could kill her father in cold blood, could put the entire town under a spell, what did she need him for? Why did she continue to pretend to love him, or try to love him to begin with?
Now, the question was out in the open and his heart thundered in his chest, suddenly anxious over her answer.
She paused, hand hovering over the knob on the front door. Her mouth hung open slightly as she tried to find the right words to his question.
Henry let out a breath, chest tightening painfully as he watched the woman that raised him struggle to formulate an answer. "Forget it." He pushed the door open for her and flew to the car, blinking back the sudden wetness pooling in the corner of his eyes.
A part of him was hoping- well, it was all a moot point, really.
"Henry." Her heels clacked loudly against the cement of their driveway as she walked around to his side of the car. She bent to his eye level and held his chin between her thumb and index finger, gently tilting his head so he would meet her eyes. "I love you. Do you believe that?"
He shifted his eyes away from the intensity of her gaze.
"I love you." She repeated with a hint of desperation.
When Emma rolled slowly into her parking spot at the station, Regina was already waiting at the front door, hip cocked to the side with a hand resting on it. A burst of irritation blossomed in the pit of her stomach immediately – a feeling only Regina could elicit out of Emma.
The woman was infuriating in a way that left Emma at a loss.
"You're late," Regina stated with a sniff once Emma made it out of her car and to the precinct. "Not that it matters anyway. You're fired."
Emma didn't hesitate despite the Mayor's announcement. She opened the door to the station and walked into the building, leaving Regina to follow her. "Good morning to you, too," Emma called over her shoulder, unfazed.
Regina frowned and followed the blonde, unsure of what Emma was attempting to accomplish "Ms. Swan," Regina growled, cornering the blonde at her desk. "You're fired, as of this moment."
"Graham hired me." Emma shot back, whirling around to glare at the older woman. She folded her arms across her chest, digging in her heels for this latest round of one-upmanship.
Regina smoothed a wrinkle on her blazer. "Well, Sheriff Graham is no longer around to uphold that decision." She held out a hand for Emma's badge impatiently.
"This is my department, now, and I want you off it."