Author's note: This was written for a BigBang Challenge on livejournal. The story is complete which is quite a new thing for me, but I'm going to post it in chapters. If everything goes as planned I'm going to post a chapter every Sunday.
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me except the story itself.
This story was inspired by a video on youtube that was made to the song Heartless by The Fray, hence the title.
Warning: English isn't my native language, but I had to very nice people beta-read it and it got much better due to their work, so thanks to Kadeeleigh and miley-avril. Every remaining mistake is mine or got there after they sent it back.
"I want you in my office. Now."
She didn't introduce herself, and didn't wait for an answer, just gave out her order and hung up.
Graham though knew the town's mayor quite well and from that simple sentence he deduced, that something had happened, something important that really angered Regina. He also knew that when she was angry – and honestly, her being angry was more the rule than the exception – there was no use in arguing. She ordered him to do something and he obeyed.
So, he redirected the office phone to his cell, closed up the department and walked over to the Town Hall. The mayor's secretary threw only a cursory glance at him and waved at the door. He was after all a frequent guest here and he never came without an invitation.
He knocked on the heavy doors and after he heard a faint "come-in" he stepped inside. The mayor was writing something in an exclusive-looking notebook, so he just stopped at the edge of the carpets and waited to be noticed. She finished writing and looked up at him. Her face was distraught and that never was a good sign.
"Last night something was stolen from my office. Something very important." She said without spending any time on greetings.
"So, would you like to make an official police report?" Graham asked as he pulled his notebook from his back pocket.
"No, put that away!" she snapped and he did so without comment. It wasn't the first time that Regina wanted to keep something off the books and most times he didn't try to find out her reasons behind her wishes.
"This is confidential and I don't want anything on file" she said.
Regina pushed her chair back somewhat away from the table but stayed sitting. She also didn't offer a seat to the sheriff, so he remained standing.
"Then what do you want me to do?" he asked.
"To get it back for me, of course. Don't play dumb." she said with an edge in her voice.
"What is it that was stolen?"
"Blueprints. You don't need to know any more than that." she said.
"Do you have any idea who has them?"
"If I did, I obviously wouldn't need you now, would I?" she snapped again.
Graham didn't even falter at the outburst. By now, he was very much used to her moods, they've been working together for ages, it seemed. Or – as Regina liked to remind him – he worked for her. He learned to play this game a long time ago, and he realized that he could never be the winner in it, so he just tried to work with her rules.
"Where did you keep these blueprints?"
"In my desk, in a secret compartment."
"Can I take a look at it?"
"No." she said bluntly.
"Don't you think that some information would be helpful, so that I can find your property?" he asked, more amused than angry, and that just infuriated the mayor more.
"Don't forget who you work for, sheriff." she said with a cold smile. "Ask what you want, and I will decide whether I wish to answer or not."
Graham wanted to sigh, but contained himself, as pouring oil on fire wasn't a very clever thing to do.
"When did you notice that the blueprints were missing?"
"When I came in this morning, at about eight."
"And are you sure that they were stolen last night? How often do you open that compartment?"
"I check it every day. All the items in there are very valuable and I often have to use one or the other."
"But nothing else was taken?"
"No. Only the blueprints."
"It might be very helpful for me to know what the blueprints are of as the thief came specifically for those" he said simply.
"Maybe, but that's not something I'd like to share with you." she said with finality.
Of course she doesn't, but she still wants him to find them. As if he could work miracles.
"Was your office locked?"
"Yes, it was."
"Were there any signs of a break in?"
"No, I didn't see any."
"Can I take a look at your door, at least?"
She waved at the door indicating that he was allowed to do that. He had a small flashlight on his belt, and he took it off, opened the door and knelt in front of the lock. The secretary watched what he was doing with some curiosity, but when Regina appeared in the doorway, she quickly looked away. Obviously, Graham wasn't the only one who noticed Regina's bad mood. At close inspection, he could see small scratches around the keyhole. It was definitely tampered with, and by the looks of it, with a professional lock-pick. He stood up silently and ushered Regina inside. If she didn't want anyone to know about the theft, then he obviously wasn't allowed to talk in front of her assistant.
"Someone definitely broke in here." he said when the door was closed again. "And that someone was aiming to find the blueprints and nothing else. They also knew where to look for them as the room wasn't searched. My guess is that the actual burglar was a professional, probably hired by someone" he summarized. "Any idea who might have wanted the blueprints?" he asked again.
"No." Regina said adamantly, but Graham suspected that she was lying.
"Is there anyone else who knows about the secret compartment?" he asked instead of calling her out on his suspicions.
"Marco built the desk, so he knows." she answered.
"And no one else?"
"No one that I know of."
"Okay, that should be enough, for now." he said. "But if you think of anything else you would like to share, just call me."
Marco was the only carpenter in town, and a good man. Graham didn't think that he would sell information about his clients to criminals, or would in any way be connected to people who break into other people's houses. Maybe he didn't do it voluntarily, though. Graham also didn't know of anyone who could be called a professional criminal in town. There were a few trouble-makers, some aggressive ones and even some with shady businesses, but you could leave your house open during the night and nothing would be stolen. His only trail led to Marco, though, so he had no other choice but make the carpenter's shop his next stop.
The warning bell woke him from a wonderfully peaceful sleep in his own small chamber. For once he was neither in service nor being punished and that was a rare occasion, so he was naturally frustrated at being woken.
He slept fully clothed as he used to in the forest. It gave him a sense of safety. He knew that it was false, but it still helped him sleep better and it was also a feeling that was denied to him when he was spending the night in the Queen's bedchamber. Thanks to this habit, he didn't need to waste time getting dressed, he just burst out of his chamber to see what the commotion was about.
The alarm was still going off and guards in full armor were running towards the courtyard. He stayed close to the walls to not get in their way. There were servants too. Some of them moved around in a panicked haze, while others cowered out of the way. The Huntsman saw one younger boy, belonging to the former group of servants. He just stood in the middle of the corridor, seemingly paralyzed in fear as a pack of soldiers came rushing his way. He was simply pushed to the floor, crying out in pain as he fell. All the guards ignored him and went on.
The Huntsman quickly stepped to the boy's side and picked him up off the floor before another squadron could trample him. The boy couldn't be more than ten and he looked at the Huntsman with wide eyes, his mouth slightly open in a fearful pant.
"Are you all right?" the Huntsman asked, looking the boy up and down. Nothing seemed to be bleeding or broken.
"Y-yes." he stuttered.
He seemed to be scared to death and the Huntsman wasn't sure what the boy was more scared of; the guards, the reason for the alarm, or the Huntsman himself. He knew that a lot of people in the castle thought of him as a dangerous being, more animal than human. They never talked to him and tried to avoid any eye-contact as if he would attack them if they looked at him the wrong way. Most times he didn't care but seeing that fear clearly written on a child's face was kind of disturbing.
"Stay close to the wall and be careful where you go." he said more roughly than he intended and turned away from the boy.
Instead of following the soldiers outside, he went toward the stairs and hurried up to the roof. From there he could see clearly in every direction. The guards were gathering in the courtyard but seemed to be more or less at a loss. The Huntsman, on the other hand, could see the three figures disappearing at the edge of the forest and he could also recognize the not-completely human forms: they were trolls.
But why would trolls break into the Queen's castle?
The forest around the castle was deep and dark and after a few moments, he couldn't see the escaping creatures anymore. He looked at the woods longingly, as he always did when he came up here, but there was really no use in pondering the impossible, so he turned away and walked back down slowly.
The throne room wasn't very close to his chamber, but the Queen's angry voice rang out throughout the corridor. She was definitely having a tantrum. He had no desire to be on the receiving end of her wrath, so he started back to his own chambers. At the entrance though, he was stopped by two guards who for once didn't wear their usual helmet that would have covered their faces.
"Her Majesty wants you in the throne room" the older one said with a disgusted frown. "Come with us!"
He grabbed the Huntsman's arm and pulled him forward, in a very unnecessary act of showing authority. A few months ago he would have shaken off the hand, maybe even hit the guard but now he just followed them meekly. He had learned the hard way that he had no say in what happened to him.
There was still some defiance in him but he learned to use it in the most subtle ways possible (going up to the roofs for example, when he had nothing to do there). Even by obeying every single rule (or at least every rule he was aware of, because sometimes new ones appeared from out of nowhere), he couldn't go a week without severe punishments, but at least his heart has stayed in its box for weeks now.
The throne room was quite crowded when they stepped inside: the Queen's father, the captain of the guards, the head of the council and a dozen soldiers were in the room. The huge mirror that decorated the wall behind the throne and the other one on the opposite side were both misty but the ominous figure of the Queen's chief advisor couldn't be seen. He usually stayed away when there were so many people around.
"What took you so long?" the Queen asked when the three men stepped inside.
"He wasn't in his chamber, Your Majesty." the older guard said with a deep bow and at those words her furious eyes turned to the Huntsman.
"And where the Hell have you been then?" she asked angrily.
"I heard the alarm and went to the roof to see what was happening." he answered truthfully.
"And what was it that you saw?" Regina asked.
"Three trolls disappearing into the woods, Your Majesty."
The Queen raised her arm and her magic pushed him into the wall hard and kept him there, his feet at least ten inches from the ground. There wasn't a single person in the room who didn't flinch at that demonstration of power.
"And you didn't think this was important enough to report immediately?" she asked in a furious whisper before turning to the rest of the room. "Leave us alone!" she said.
Everybody obeyed. They hurried out of the room as fast as they could, except the Queen's father, who threw a sympathetic glance at the Huntsman and the captain of the guards, who stopped at the door, quite foolishly.
"I could send a squadron after them if you so wish..." he started but the Queen cut him off angrily.
"No! I'll handle this!" and the doors were slammed in the captain's face by the force of her magic.
The Queen turned back to the Huntsman and he tried not to flinch. Even after all this time and being subjected to it regularly, her magic frightened him. When she used it, he was absolutely helpless. It was at times like these that he really felt like he belonged to her, like he was not a real human being but an object, a tool to be used.
"Your pitiful attempts at defiance are usually amusing but I'm not in the mood right now." she said, as she waved a hand releasing the Huntsman from her magical force field.
He landed on his feet and waited for her next move.
"Those trolls stole something important from me and you are going to get it back. I can trust no one else with it, but I know for sure that you won't betray me. You are to leave immediately. Ask my father for your old clothes and weapons. But remember, I'll have my eyes on you, and if you're not back in twenty-four hours, I will take out the box and send the guards after you."
He knew of course what she meant by that. At the start of his imprisonment, he was stupid enough to try escaping. He had traveled almost five miles before the excruciating pain in his chest brought him down. The agony was unbearable, and by the time the guards arrived – hours later – he would have begged them to take him back if he had he been coherent enough to speak. He never tried to escape after that occasion. He was 'tamed' as the Queen liked to say.
So now, he just bowed his head in submission and left for the mission without further questions.