Author's note: I tried my best to make this feel as real as possible, so please let me know if any parts feel out of character to you. For the time being, I've kind of ignored the fact that magic has returned & that Regina is still a threat; those elements both exist in this story, but they play more of a background role, because I want the focus to be on Emma trying to navigate her relationship with her family. Finally, a special thanks to Tvmatchmaker795 for encouraging me to write this!
Emma gazed out the window, watching as the last remnants of the purple haze faded away. She had no idea what the fog meant, but her gut told her it was not good.
"What was that?" Henry asked, his voice shaking slightly. Emma shook her head, attempting to put on a brave face for the boy, "I'm not sure kid, but whatever it was, we'll face it together." She ruffled his hair and was once again flooded with relief that he was alive.
Snow ran through the hospital, her husband not far behind. She smiled distractedly at those who bowed their heads and murmured "Your Majesty" as she passed; she had far too much on her mind at the moment to worry about her royal duties. Part of her was still reeling from her reunion with Charming, which had been cruelly cut short by the arrival of the mysterious purple cloud. As soon as it had passed, her thoughts had instantly turned to Emma, and she knew that she must find her immediately. Without a word, she'd raced off to the hospital, a puzzled Charming trailing behind her.
When she finally reached Henry's room, Snow stopped just inside the door, gasping at the sight of her daughter. Charming glanced from the blonde to his wife, a look of understanding dawning on his face. Though he wanted nothing more than to sweep his not-so-little girl into a tight embrace, he resolved to hang back and let the two women have their moment first. He grasped Snow's hand reassuringly as both stared at Emma through tear-filled eyes.
The images Emma had seen when she touched Henry's book came flooding back to her. She stood frozen as the realization set in; these two people, who mere hours ago had been her roommate and a man she barely knew, were her parents. She'd pictured this moment thousands of times, rehearsing exactly what she'd say when she finally stood face to face with her birth parents, but in this moment, she found herself utterly speechless. The looks of what could only be described as unconditional love on their faces caused her to blush and drop her eyes.
Snow gazed at the woman before her, trying to reconcile memories of her beautiful baby daughter with the friend she'd come to know over the past few months. For the first time, she truly looked at Emma, studying every contour of her face and mentally cataloging the similarities between this woman and herself. She thought of the last time she'd seen the blonde – when she'd been chastising her for trying to run off with Henry – and she desperately longed to take her in her arms and apologize, but she kept her distance, knowing the woman would not be comfortable with such contact.
For a few moments, all were still, the air heavy with anticipation and unspoken words. Finally, Snow could stand it no longer; she raced forward and threw her arms around the younger woman. James soon followed, unable to maintain his resolve to keep his distance.
Emma closed her eyes, relaxing into the embrace, which she neither returned nor resisted. She felt like she was standing on the edge of a precipice, and that her actions in this moment would set the course for all future interactions with her parents. She tried to lose herself in the moment, willing herself to accept the love of her family and to reciprocate with love of her own.
Suddenly, she became very aware of the small audience that was watching the reunion – Henry was grinning up at the group from his bed, waiting for his turn to greet his grandparents, and the hospital staff, as well as a few of the patients, had gathered to watch through the glass walls. The site was enough to jar Emma back to reality, and the magnitude of the moment abruptly came crashing down on her. She was no longer standing on the edge of the precipice; she'd fallen off and was now hurtling inexorably towards the ground.
"No," she said quietly as she broke free of the pair's grasp. "No," she repeated, "I can't. I – I have to go." She was met with looks of hurt and confusion, but she didn't care; all she knew at that moment was that she had to put some distance between herself and the hospital. Her first instinct was to hop in her bug and drive as far away from Storybrooke as she could get on the remaining gas in her tank, but her thoughts soon turned to Henry and how small he'd looked lying in that hospital bed. After all she'd gone through to get him back, she knew that leaving town without him was not an option.
Instead, Emma ran, not knowing exactly where she was headed, until she arrived at Henry's castle – or, at least, the site where Henry's castle had once stood. She seethed with anger as she realized that this was just one more thing that Regina had taken from her. Sitting down among the debris of the erstwhile castle, Emma pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around herself. As she finally shed the tears that she'd been fighting, she began trying to sort out the onslaught of emotions she was feeling. First and foremost, there was an overwhelming sense of relief that Henry was alive, tinged by intense anger at Regina for all the pain she had wrought. Her adrenaline was still pumping from fighting the dragon, something she was still struggling to believe had actually happened. And last, but certainly not least, there was the fact that her entire life was a lie. She'd grown up believing that her parents had callously abandoned her on the side of the road, and that fairytales were merely fantasies. Now she'd been asked to believe that not only were fairytales very real, but that her parents were actually iconic inhabitants of that world, who not only loved her, but sent her away to give her a chance at a better life. It was a lot to take in, even for someone more emotionally stable than Emma was at the moment.
She did not know how long she'd been crying before she heard the sound of a vehicle approaching. She looked back to see Mary's familiar car pull to a stop, and turned away as the brunette got out and headed in her direction. She considered running again, but she didn't know where she'd go, and she knew she had to face Mary eventually.
Snow slowly approached her daughter, attempting to sort out what she wanted to say. She knew she'd frightened Emma at the hospital by moving too quickly, and, as much as it had hurt her when Emma ran away, she couldn't say she blamed her. Following Emma's hasty departure, she'd put on a brave face, not wanting to further upset Henry or those who'd been gathered outside the room. After convincing Charming to stay with the boy, she'd driven around town for a bit to clear her head, and then set off in search of her daughter.
Emma hastily used her sleeves to wipe away the tears that had spilled onto her cheeks, as the older woman sat down next to her, not close enough to be touching, but closer than Emma would've liked at the moment. Reaching into her coat pocket, the brunette produced a small package of tissues and handed them to Emma, who quickly dabbed at her red-rimmed eyes and blew her nose.
The two women sat in silence for a few minutes, until it became clear that Mary was waiting for Emma to speak. Emma cleared her throat, hoping to steady her voice, "Where's David?"
"He stayed behind to talk with Henry," Snow answered, choosing not to correct Emma for referring to James by the wrong name. Emma nodded as she absorbed this information, glad that Henry had not been left alone in the wake of her selfish departure. They lapsed into silence again, until Emma finally could stand it no longer.
"Mary, I – I'm sorry about before, at the hospital. I just…I can't. I'm not ready…" Emma stammered, words failing her as she tried to make herself understood.
"Emma," Snow sighed, fighting the urge to reach out and take her daughter's hand, "You don't need to apologize. If anything, I should be the one apologizing. You've suffered so much. You were just a baby; it was my job to protect you and –" she paused and shook her head, "That's a discussion for another time and place." Emma breathed a sigh of relief, glad to put that conversation off a little longer.
Snow swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and continued, "Look, Emma, your father and I don't expect you to change overnight and suddenly embrace us as your parents; that would be unrealistic. After all you've been through, it wouldn't be fair for us to expect immediate forgiveness. But maybe we could take it slow, you know…baby steps."
"Baby steps?" Emma repeated questioningly.
"Yes, we can start by making one or two small changes at a time, and build off that. I promise that we'll be patient and let you set the pace. "
"Ok…but I don't even know where to begin."
"Well, for starters, you could call us by our real names, Snow and James. Do you think you could do that?" Snow asked gently.
Emma nodded, silently testing out the names in her head. She found it slightly easier to assign the name "James" to David, as she hadn't really known him that well before the curse was lifted, but she knew it would be difficult to adjust to calling her roommate by a new name.
Snow smiled kindly at her, "Thank you. It means a lot to me that you're willing to try and make this work." She stood up, wiping the debris off her pants, and looked down at the younger woman with a penetrating gaze. "I will do everything in my power to make things right, Emma," she said quietly, lightly placing her hand on the blonde's head. Emma's heart constricted at the gesture, which she found simultaneously comforting and disconcerting.
After a moment, Snow removed her hand. "I'm going home to start dinner," she said, making an effort to keep her tone light. "I think we all could use a hot meal after today's events. Would you like a ride?"
"I think I'm going to stay here for a while," Emma said shaking her head.
"Alright, but not too late; it gets cold at night." Emma's head snapped up, her startled eyes meeting Snow's apologetic ones. "Sorry, maternal instinct, I guess."
Emma watched as the brunette climbed into her waiting car, and half-heartedly returned the older woman's wave. As soon as the car was out of sight, Emma once again broke down. She felt better after her conversation with Mary – despite her promise, referring to the woman as "Snow" just didn't feel right – but she was still an emotional wreck.
Finally, when she'd been reduced to dry sobs, Emma decided she could hide out no longer. It was starting to get dark, and, she noted wryly, it was indeed growing colder. She used the remainder of the tissues to clean up her smeared eye makeup, and stood up.
On her way home, she stopped by the hospital, where she learned that the doctors were insisting on keeping Henry for a few more nights. Thankfully, Davi – er, James– had already left, so she did not have to endure another uncomfortable mini-reunion. Henry was sleeping, and, rather than wake him, she simply sat by his side, stroking his hand, and thinking about how close she'd come to losing him. She was tempted to stay by his bedside throughout the night, but she felt physically and emotionally drained, and sitting in a chair all night would not be conducive to sleep. Plus, she knew Mary would be worried, and she wouldn't put it past the woman to come looking for her. Placing one last kiss on Henry's forehead, she left the hospital and headed home.
She felt somehow nervous as she pushed open the door to the apartment, knowing that they – she was not yet ready to refer to them as her parents, even in her head – would be waiting for her. Both looked up at her from where they were seated at the kitchen table, James with a shy smile and Snow with a look of obvious relief, as if she'd been worried that Emma might not return.
Emma hovered near the door uncertainly. Noting her discomfort, Snow broke the silence, "Are you hungry?"
Emma shook her head, "No, I'm just tired. I think I'll go to bed early."
She quickly raced up the stairs, pretending not to hear as Mary called out after her, "You really should eat something, Emma." In truth, she really was quite hungry, having skipped lunch to battle the dragon – no matter how much she thought about it, it still seemed so surreal – but she just wasn't ready for a "family dinner" yet.
Snow watched as Emma disappeared into her room, disappointment clearly etched on her face. Charming reached across the table and tentatively placed his hand on hers, but she shook him off and quietly began putting away the leftover food. She couldn't break down, not yet.
Later that evening, Emma crept downstairs, hoping to grab a snack without drawing attention to herself. Quietly easing the refrigerator door open, she spotted a plate of saran-wrapped leftovers sitting on the top shelf. She had to smile as she read the note on top, "Emma, in case you change your mind." It reminded her of something the "old" Mary – her roommate and friend – would've done. She turned and headed back toward her room, preferring to eat the food cold rather than risk waking the others by using the microwave.
The sound of muffled crying coming from Mary's bedroom caused her to stop short. Anger flared within her, as she wondered what David – dammit, James – had done to bring the brunette to tears. Despite the fact that she now knew the truth about James, a big part of her still viewed him as the man who'd cheated on his wife and broken her friend's heart. She turned and headed toward the bedroom, intending to tell him off, but just as she reached out to pull back the curtain leading into the room, she heard the woman speak.
"She was just sitting there, sobbing," Snow choked out. She'd been doing her best not to fall apart since the moment the curse was lifted – she'd kept her feelings in check when Emma raced out of the hospital, she'd reined in her emotions while talking to Emma at the castle, she'd even managed to hold it together when her daughter had once again snubbed her at dinner – but now, in the privacy of her bedroom, she succumbed to the emotional turmoil of the day.
"Shhh," James said soothingly, rubbing calming circles on her back. His own eyes filled with tears as he thought of his daughter's distant behavior toward him, but he remained quiet and let Snow do the talking, knowing that he needed to remain strong for her in this moment.
"She looked so small and alone. I just kept thinking about the last time I saw her – how tiny and vulnerable she was, how I was only able to hold her for such a short time. It took everything in my power not to throw my arms around her, but I knew if I did, I'd never be able to let go again." She turned and buried her face in Charming's chest, allowing him to wrap her in a comforting embrace.
Emma suddenly felt sick as she realized that she, not James, was the source of Mary's distress. A small part of Emma desperately wanted to fling back the curtain and run into the woman's arms – to allow her mother to hold her, and, for once in her life, to trust someone to take care of her. Wasn't this what she'd prayed for since she was a child, what she'd wished for on every birthday candle and shooting star? And yet, she remained in place, listening to the sounds of the older woman's sobs and James' soothing murmurs. She found that the walls she'd constructed to keep others out now held her prisoner, preventing her from accepting the love her parents were so willing to offer.
Her appetite gone, she placed the leftovers back in the fridge and trudged to her room. As she lay in bed, tossing and turning, she reflected on her conversation with Mary that afternoon. She'd promised that she would try the "baby steps" approach, but at the time, she'd mostly agreed in the hopes that the woman would leave her alone. As she pulled the cover over her head to block out the muffled sounds from the room below, she resolved to truly put forth an effort to meet...Snow halfway. She wasn't ready to fully accept that her roommate was her mother – heck, she wasn't even sure she was ready to accept that the woman was a fairytale princess – but she knew that she had to do what she could to avoid hurting the only woman she'd ever considered family. With this new resolve in mind, Emma finally surrendered to the exhaustion wrought by the grueling day.
Ok guys, I'd love to know what y'all thought. I'd like to continue this (no promises, but I will try!), so please let me know what you liked, what didn't work for you, etc. Thanks!