Sorry it took so long for this chapter. As always, thanks for the reviews and follows. I love and really appreciate them. Hope you enjoy.
Snow's happy moment was over so quickly she was left reeling, and that was the only thing she could process. One second they were hugging, and then a door opened. Emma froze. Then she bolted. Emma disappeared so quickly Snow hadn't even had a chance to move. Snow glanced once at the stranger still standing in the doorway of his room. He looked just as shocked as Snow felt.
He wasn't just a stranger, Snow thought. Emma knew him, and for some reason this man terrified her.
Snow glared at him once, then took off down the stairs and out the front door of the B&B. James was standing on the lawn, his hands up in confusion, mouth open as if he was just in the middle of saying something. Halfway down the street Emma had Henry in her grasp, moving fast.
"What happened!" James called to her.
Without a word, Snow took off after Emma. Thankfully, James asked no more questions and followed. It felt like it took them forever to reach them. She called to her daughter, but Emma showed no signs of slowly down, though it looked like Henry was trying to hold her back.
James caught them first. He ran passed and stopped in front of Emma, taking her in his arms. "Emma, stop!"
Emma jumped at the contact. Snow caught up and wrapped her arms around Henry, who was asking a million questions at once. She patted his head, hoping he'd get the hint. It was only Emma who she had eyes for.
Emma, who was a mess. She looked seconds away from crying. Her beautiful hair was tossed to the side, windswept, and her chest rose and fell so fast she must not have actually been breathing. But it was Emma's eyes that scared Snow the most. Snow had never imagined that eyes could show so many emotions at once: fear, regret, anxiety, disbelief, doubt. Emma looked like she was imploding. It was more than a deer in the headlights; Emma was a deer faced with the unimaginable.
"Emma," said James, looking at his hands which still held her arms in a tight grip, "you're shaking."
"Let's get off the street," Snow said, pulling Henry down the sidewalk.
Emma nodded and swiped her hands down her face. James put his arm around her waist and led them down the street. "To the station," he said.
They made it in record time, the whole trip Henry and Snow in front. Snow was sure she would get a crick in her neck: she looked over her shoulder almost every other second. All the blood from Emma's face had gone, even her lips growing dimmer than their normal pink. However, as she walked, restrained by James, she seemed to be trying to calm herself. By the time they made it to the station, a hot red had sprung up on her cheeks and she was running her hands through her hair.
"What happened?" James demanded, settling Emma on the edge of one of the desks.
"Emma, what's wrong?" Henry asked.
But Emma shook her head. "Nothing," she said, her voice surprisingly strong.
"Don't lie to us, Emma?" James ordered.
"You know the stranger?" Snow said. She touched a hand to Emma's shoulder, but Emma shrugged away as if burned.
"I said it was nothing," she said backing away. Her fingers fumbled against her jacket as she straightened it nervously. "I just—I thought—I…"
"You didn't just have a panic attack for nothing," James said. Snow could hear it in the tone of his voice—Prince James was going away, and protective father Charming coming out.
She turned to Henry, who looked ready with more questions. "Henry, go in the Sherriff's office."
"Now, Henry," Snow said forcefully. For a second she thought her grandson would argue; his face grew bright, but he closed his mouth reluctantly and ducked under Snow into the office. Snow closed the heavy glass door behind him.
Emma was pacing now. James' eyes followed her with precision, as if he could catch the thing bothering his daughter trailing right behind her. Snow stepped between them and held out a hand to Emma.
"Please, Emma," she begged. "Sit down."
Emma stopped pacing long enough to lick her lips, and then she nodded and walked over to one of the desks in the bullpen. She leaned all her weight on her arms, propping herself up against it, and let out a deep breath.
"Tell us who he is," Snow said. She tried to keep her voice as calm as possible.
It seemed as if Emma had finally gotten control of herself. Snow didn't know if that was a good thing or a bad thing; at least if she was panicking, then she and James might get some information. But now, the harder Emma fought to get a grip on herself, the more she would shut down. Snow fleetingly remembered her posture at Graham's funeral.
"Who?" James barked. Snow glared at him, hoping he'd meet her eyes so she could silently tell him to back off, but he had his eyes glued to Emma's ducked head.
"The stranger from earlier," Snow told him.
He finally looked up, anger boiling in his eyes. "Did he do something?"
"No," said Snow immediately.
"Then what happened?"
"Nothing," Emma said finally. Snow's heart sank. She was right. When Emma looked up, it was with a mask of such complete calm that Snow wondered if ten seconds ago there had actually been something wrong. "I'm sorry for scaring you. I thought I recognized him." She shook her head. "Maybe using magic has got me feeling a little off."
"Emma," Snow sighed. How could they have regressed so much in such few minutes? "You did recognize him, and for some reason, that man sent you hurtling down the stairs. Why?"
Emma shook her head. "I thought he was someone I knew—"
"Emma, we only want to help," James pleaded. He looked at Emma with his blue eyes opened wide—the same look that Snow had never learned how to refuse. To reinforce it, Snow stepped beside him and took both of Emma's hands in her own, hoping her look of earnest would pull something out of their daughter. Emma sighed and turned her face away. Snow squeezed. It seemed to work. Emma finally turned back, but whatever their daughter was going to say got lost as someone else walked into the station.
All three of them turned to the intruder. Of course, it was the stranger. Emma pulled her hands out of Snow's and turned to him. Snow felt James step forward.
"Neal," Emma deadpanned. She held her jaw clenched, but stepped around the desk, closer to the man named Neal. Snow could almost see the wall Emma was constructing—the defenses she had fought months to get through.
The stranger's face lit up at Emma's voice. He put his hands up and laughed incredulously. It was strange how calm and carefree he looked, as if he could not feel the tension emanating off the others in the room. Snow's eyes flickered to Henry in the office, who had looked up from whatever he was doing and was moving to the door.
"You haven't changed at all." He grinned.
"What are you doing here, Neal?" Emma asked slowly. The smile slowly faded from Neal's face and he dropped his eyes. He tucked his hands into his pockets. Neal took a couple steps closer, seeming to collect himself. When he looked up, he looked directly into Emma's eyes.
"I came to see you," he said.
Snow and James reacted too slowly. Emma threw a right hook right into Neal's face, sending him stumbling backward, and was winding up for a second by the time James pounced on her. Snow stepped between the two—Emma who was being pulled back by James, and Neal, who was holding his nose behind his hands.
"What's going on?" said Henry, running out of the office.
"Emma, calm down," James said forcefully. She had already pulled out of her father's grasp and was standing behind his outstretched hands, staring murderously at Neal. Snow turned to him to find him sniffing and patting his nose with the back of his hand. Snow didn't know how there wasn't any blood: Emma had landed a great punch. She tried to keep her prideful smile tucked away, though Snow was sure Neal probably glimpsed a small smirk when he glanced at her.
"You should go," Snow ordered, but Neal didn't move. She glanced again at Emma, suddenly remembering that her daughter had magic-magic that was controlled by her emotions.
"Who are you?" asked Henry.
"What do you want?" Emma growled at Neal. Snow stepped to the side, partly to hold Henry back, and partly to get herself out of the line of fire. Emma looked ready to launch herself across the room. Her eyes were as black as they'd been the night she and Emma had argued in the forest. If possible, Emma seemed to be collecting more hate by the second, as she glowered at her acquaintance.
Neal shrugged, his happy-go-lucky smile gone. He scoffed and threw up his hands in defeat.
"I told you," he said, "I came to see you."
"It's a little late for visits, don't you think?" Emma snapped.
"Well, I couldn't come earlier," Neal argued. Snow flinched at the heat in his voice. Any moment, whatever this was, would explode. She searched for some way to end it quickly. "I couldn't come until the curse—"
"The curse?" Emma breathed. Snow's ears sharpened as the whole dynamic shifted. She peeked at James. His eyebrows were furrowed, clearly as confused as they all were. Even Emma's face had changed, though Snow didn't think it was for the better. This face was even more dangerous—all emotion wiped away, except for Emma's eyes. Her chest started to heave.
"Why don't we—" Snow tried to used the moment to her advantage, but Emma was already creeping forward.
"You know about the curse?" she whispered.
Neal swallowed. "Yeah."
"Are you from the Enchanted Forest too?" Henry asked from behind Snow. Snow pushed a hand against his chest.
Neal glanced curiously at Henry then back up to Emma. Emma's mouth opened, as if she had finally made a connection.
"Are you?" Snow strained to hear her daughter's voice. The silence seemed to come alive in the moments before Neal spoke. But Snow already knew the answer. Neal looked guilty, but more than that, he looked caught. His eyes dropped away in the same way that Emma's did when she was forced to talk about something uncomfortable.
"Yeah," he sighed. "I am."
Emma lifted a shaky finger and pointed it at him. "You knew." Her voice cracked. "You were a part of it. You were a part of everything."
In every word Snow heard a part of Emma's heart crumble. Her voice was so low, each accusation a struggle for her to get out. Snow caught James' eyes. They needed to get things under control. He nodded imperceptibly and inched closer to Emma.
"And you used me," Emma cried.
Neal lunged forward. "Emma, listen—"
"No!" Emma screamed, throwing both hands out. Neal jerked as if caught by a hit to the stomach and flew through the air, smacking the opposite wall with such force, tumb-tacked papers fluttered around his head, the board falling beside him. James wrapped his arms around Emma's waist, dragging her back again.
"You!" he yelled at Neal. "Leave now!"
Snow watched as James pulled a heartbroken Emma away, into a room. Henry circled around her and ran after them. Neal stood, shaking his head in disbelief and moved to follow, but Snow slapped a hand to his chest and stared him in the eye. His brown eyes widened under her stern gaze. As of yet, Snow still had no confirmation of who this person was to her daughter, yet she had an inkling. And after everything Mary Margaret had heard, she was incredibly weary and seriously wishing she had her bow with her.
"I don't know who you are," she said lowly, "or what you've done, but you better stay very far away."
Neal's face grew tight as he listened to her threat. She imagined he didn't know how to take her: this small woman threatening him. Her eyes dared him to try something.
"I suggest you leave before my husband comes out here to kill you," she said. And she stood her ground until Neal nodded awkwardly and backed away.
"I just want to talk to her," he said. Then he was gone.
Snow sighed and headed to the supply closet James had taken Emma into. Emma was leaning weakly against a filing cabinet with Henry pressed against her chest. He had his arms wrapped around his mother and was looking up into her face. She held his nose pinched between her fingers, an obvious headache forming. James looked up at Snow's entrance and stiffened.
"Is he gone?"
"Yes," Snow answered. She moved closer to Emma. "Emma?"
"Is there any part of my life that wasn't touched by this fucking curse?" she said looking up and staring at the opposite wall. She looked at it earnestly, as if the answer would come popping out, or paint itself there for her to see.
"We'll get through this," James told her softly, but Emma was shaking her head.
"I don't want to get through this," she said. Then, hardly loud enough for anyone but Henry to hear, "I just want to go home."
Snow moved forward, moving her face until Emma was looking at her. "Then, let's go home."
"We have to tell Gepetto about August," Emma said, rubbing Henry's back.
"We can do that tomorrow," said James.
"No. Now. I want this over with."
Snow nodded. They would hurry over to Gepetto, apologize as she had wanted, and then she'd take her daughter home. She promised.
Snow watched James' chest in the darkness. She had been awake for hours, alternating between watching her husband sleep and staring at the ceiling, wishing she could be upstairs with Emma. They had spent much more time out than she had originally promised Emma. They found Gepetto in Granny's and apologized. Snow still flinched when she thought about how she'd attacked him. It was shameful, her behavior, but the moment they told him about Pinocchio, all of that seemed forgotten. He sped out of the diner, Dr. Hopper right behind him. Then, they'd decided to get lunch that they could bring home, but of course, Granny's was the center of town. They ended up having to stay as Snow talked with Red. James was bombarded by Prince Eric and Phillip, and Emma ended up in a serious conversation with Grumpy, Doc, and Happy about unicorns (though Snow didn't understand why). Then they'd taken a trip to the mines to see how the dwarves were making progress. Emma seemed oddly fine the entire time, happy to make a trip or help someone else out.
Snow worried. She was sure Emma was only being this productive because facing herself would be too hard. But Snow didn't want Emma to do that anymore. She wanted her daughter to come to her or ask her for a hug. She wanted Emma to let James hug her and cry into his shoulder. She wanted to help Emma feel, no matter how terrible, so that they could avoid her feeling worse later. But by the time they got home, it was dark. Emma and Henry trotted up the stairs and had not come back down. James had taken forever to fall asleep and even now his rest was fitful, but at least he could close his eyes. Finally Snow could stand lying there anymore. She crept out of the room slowly and made her way into the kitchen.
Out of the corner of her eye something caught her attention. Snow crouched a little and walked around the kitchen island. There was something wrong with the table. As she got closer, she let out a sigh. Snow lowered herself to her knees and crawled over to the chairs.
"Emma," she said quietly.
Emma turned to her. She was lying under the table, her back on the floor and her baby blanket draped over her chest. The moonlight from the window streamed onto her hair and face making her look silver. Snow thought of a mermaid. Emma was beautiful, her eyes clear and her face relaxed.
"What are you doing?" Snow wondered how Emma had slunk in between all the chairs without making a sound.
"Just thinking," Emma said. Snow smiled sadly.
"Mind if I join you?"
Emma shook her head. Trying to be careful, Snow slid herself under the legs of the chairs closest to the island. She knocked her head once and laughed when Emma smiled. Finally she was right beside her, daughter who stared at the underside of the table. She counted it as a victory that she had not been shooed away.
"So," started Snow. "Why under the table? It's not a very good hiding spot."
"No, it's not," Emma laughed softly. "Habit, I guess. I used to be small enough to crawl under them all the time."
"I guess you still are."
"Sometimes," said Emma. "It was never about hiding. It's just a good place to think. You get a whole new perspective."
Snow gazed in wonder at her daughter. She supposed it was a beautiful spot, especially at night. There were details that couldn't be seen from any other position, like the way the living room rug curved at the edges, as if striving to roll itself back up again. And there were swirls of wood grain under the table, like the fingerprints of a hand. In a way, Snow felt small down here, but it was a nice feeling. It was comfortable.
"What are we thinking about?" Snow asked quietly.
"I think you know," Emma said.
Snow waited a moment before asking, "Are you going to tell me who he is?"
"I think you know that too."
Snow nodded. It was as good as an answer. She didn't want to push, but she reached her hand over and laid it on what felt like Emma's stomach.
"I wish the world would stop for just a minute," Emma whispered.
Emma turned to her, her eyes blue like her father's in the moonlight. "If it did, what moment would you choose? Which moment would you freeze?"
Snow hardly had to think about that one. She would want something happy, and she had many moments of pure happiness, but there was only one that she wished could have lasted longer: The breaking of the curse, and holding Emma in her arms again, as her mother. Emma looked at her in surprise, and Snow smiled. She wondered if Emma was thinking it would have been a moment with James, or her daughter's birth, but that moment had been too bittersweet. It was happy for her, but no matter what, once the world started moving again, Snow would have had to make the decision to send her daughter away, and she couldn't go through that again. After the curse had broken, and she had seen her beautiful Emma for the first time, that's when she had known that nothing could stop them. She had all of her friends around her, safe and healthy, but in her arms, she held her entire family. She had even gained someone. That moment had been so stunning, Snow teared up talking about it. Emma nodded though and placed her hand on Snow's.
"That was a scary moment," Emma said.
"Yeah, it was," Snow agreed. "But still the best."
Emma turned and thought for a moment. "I'd choose that too. Well, not that exact moment. I'd choose the moment I opened my door and saw this brown-haired boy grinning up at me, telling me he was my kid."
Snow's smile widened.
"Even though it led to all this shit," Emma laughed. "I was so scared. But underneath all that, I saw this beautiful little boy, and he was smiling at me. He was so excited." Emma turned her head back to the underside of the table as she talked. Snow didn't think she had ever seen her so relaxed. "I had made a wish right before that, you know? I had wished that I wouldn't have to be alone on my birthday. He was my first birthday wish come true."
Snow blinked the tears from her eyes. They had both lost something with their children, but in the end, they had gotten their children back. Their family would always find each other, as Charming would say. Speaking of him, Snow peered through the legs of the chair to see his feet padding toward them. He circled the table and crouched down on the side by the door.
"Hi," he said, sleep still in his eyes.
"Hi," Emma laughed.
Charming groaned like an old man and squeezed himself between the legs of the chairs. Emma and Snow waited for him to get comfortable, all the while grinning at his confusion. After knocking his ankle painfully, he finally settled.
"You know, this was supposed to be quiet time for me," said Emma.
"Ah," Charming said, "if only. What are we doing down here?"
"We're thinking," Snow said.
"I heard a lot of chatter for thinking."
They fell into an easy silence. James moved a lot, obviously uncomfortable on the floor, but Snow thought she heard something from upstairs. She wondered briefly if Henry was still having nightmares. Snow tried not to glance over at Emma too often, but her eyes trailed down her face. She watched Emma's face grow more and more serious. Eventually, she spoke again.
"I guess you want to know about today."
"Only if you want to tell us," Snow said quickly.
"No, I want to know," said James, but he said it jokingly. Emma chuckled a little.
"It's not like you haven't figured out who he is. I'm sure Snow told you."
James smiled apologetically. "He's Henry's father."
Emma crossed her arms under her blanket. "Yeah. He's Henry's father."
"What?" said a small voice.
The three of them under the table immediately chilled. Emma's eyes widened in shock.
"Henry?" Emma called. He must have been on the stairs; Snow couldn't see his feet.
"You said my father died!" Henry cried. "You told me he was a hero."
His feet slapped the metal stairs as he sprinted back to the room. Emma called out for him again and bolted from the floor. She looked once at Snow, whose heart broke for the panic that had once again taken over her daughter's graceful face.
"He's going to hate me," Emma whispered.
"Just talk to him," Snow told her.
It was much harder to get out of the chairs with Snow and James tangled in them, but Emma pushed her way out, and soon her feet hitting the stairs mingled with the chairs scratching against the floor as they fought their way out. Snow slipped out pretty easily, but Charming had a harder time. Snow went over and lifted the chairs off of him. He stood up and gave her a pained look. She understood. Even in a moment of peace, there was always something that disrupted their family. Snow placed her hands on his chest and tiptoed to kiss him when Emma came running down the stairs, this time in boots thrown over her sweats. Snow glanced over her shoulder and knew she would not be getting sleep tonight.
"He's gone," said Emma.
Thanks for reading. I enjoyed writing this chapter, so I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please review. :D