TAKING CARE

Mary Margaret had been unaware of the depths of human nature, namely, stubbornness. Emma Swan, she'd found, was the poster child for stubborn, guarded and standoffish. She was still in a bit of shock that the woman had even agreed to be her roommate, and that decision had come about weeks ago. She realized, of course, that the fact that Emma was still in town at all was at least partly because the woman was too stubborn to let Regina have Henry without a fight. Whether she realized it or not (and Mary Margaret strongly suspected she didn't realize it, if only because she didn't want to), Emma was locked in a battle over Henry with Regina.

But for the moment, the greater reasoning for Emma's staying in Storybrooke and the mitigating circumstances of her life and her choices were not particularly important. Emma's stubbornness, though, that was paramount, because whether her roommate wanted to admit it or not, Mary Margaret wasn't a fool. She was sick. Quite sick, near as she could tell. She had first noticed a few days ago. Emma had still stayed out working her full shifts (she was nothing if not dedicated) but would come home and go straight to bed, only occasionally stopping for food or anything else. Mary Margaret had done her best to provide her roommate with food, anything else she could do, but Emma wasn't exactly one to take such concern well, so she'd been avoiding her. Things had gotten worse in the past few days. The cough was loud and sounded awful, and it had only gotten worse as time had gone on. Mary Margaret had silently fretted as she was wont to do, but hadn't done anything to confront her roommate.

This morning, though, was the final straw. Emma had been tossing and turning all night if the creaks from the loft and the coughs were any indication. And now she'd been in the bathroom for a very long time. Mary Margaret considered the best course of action for a while, but her fear that Emma was unconscious on the bathroom floor won out eventually, and she approached the door. She hesitated for a moment, wondering why she was so concerned with her roommate's health. Emma was twenty-eight, and seemed perfectly capable of taking care of herself. In fact, she thought it was entirely possible that Emma took care of herself to a fault. Maybe that was why she was so concerned. No one had ever taken care of Emma. And something about that filled her with sadness beyond the normal compassion for a friend. She couldn't put a finger on why, but she knew she had to do something.

"Emma?" she said softly, one hand on the door, hovering just over the handle. If she didn't get an answer in a moment, she was going in, even if she had to break down the door. But she needn't have feared, she got an answer quickly.

"Ye-" a burst of coughing- like static over a radio- and then a scratchy "Yes?"

Well, if she hadn't been sure she was sick before, she was now. Emma sounded terrible. "Are you alright?" she asked, figuring it was best not to just come outright and ask anything that would scare Emma off. She had a feeling that Emma wouldn't know how to handle such outright concern, and she'd found that Emma tended to handle things that she didn't know how to handle in one of two ways: she either ran or fought like a caged animal. Neither was particularly pleasant, so such an open-ended question was a nice compromise. Which was why she was unsurprised by the answer she got in response. "I'm fine, just you know, brushing my teeth and things." Emma's voice was muffled through the door, but Mary Margaret almost chuckled at the implicit guilt. Emma sounded like one of her fourth graders did when they were caught doing something they weren't supposed to be doing. But the white lie was a lie nonetheless, and it took her a while to decide whether or not it was worth calling Emma out at this particular moment or not.

She finally decided it was probably best to let Emma win this particular battle. The war, though, she was determined to win. "Well, alright. I'm making breakfast if you want anything," she answered finally, her hand hovering over the doorknob for a moment before she sighed quietly and walked back towards the kitchen, putting on a pot of tea and putting some bread in the toaster. If Emma was going to insist on going to the station today (which she would, no doubt) then she was at least determined to get something warm to drink and some food in her before she went. After a few moments she heard water running and the unmistakable sound of the bathroom door opening. She glanced up and caught a glimpse of blonde hair trying to escape to the stairs. Sometimes she thought maybe she treated Emma like a child, but then Emma would act like a teenager trying to sneak in from a date and it felt a little less ridiculous.

She followed the other woman silently, catching her halfway to the stairs and placing a hand on her arm to get her attention. "Emma?" Emma stopped and turned towards her guiltily, straightening up and trying to look casual. She wondered sadly what it was that had happened to make Emma so unwilling to show or admit any sort of weakness. It made something deep inside of her twist painfully. She didn't know why she hurt so much for her friend, but she did. "Yeah?" Before she could think about what Emma's response would be, she put her hand on her roommate's forehead. She couldn't help but smile at Emma's look of shock. Her mouth opened and Mary was sure she was going to get some sort of Emma Swan verbal jab, but her friend just closed it. And opened it again. She'd managed to catch her speechless. She felt as though she should get some sort of medal.

Her amusement was cut short by the realization that Emma was beyond warm and well into hot. Her friend was burning up, and Mary Margaret mentally kicked herself for not doing something to help her friend earlier. It was rare that Mary Margaret wished she was more assertive, but this was one of those times. She tried to fight Emma's fires with… well, water wasn't really the word. Maybe it was. Not a gushing storm, though, a summer rain. Sometimes she thought a hurricane would be better. "Emma, you're burning up," she said kindly.

There it was, the steel in Emma's eyes. She'd come to recognize that steel instantly. It hurt her how often it asserted itself. It made her want to hug her friend, hold her close until the steel bent. But she had a feeling that hugging Emma was a foothill on the way to Everest, and she was still used to the elevation. So she would continue with the spring rain and hope that if it went along long enough, the steel would rust and flake away. Mixed metaphors aside, she had to do something. "So?" Emma said, breaking eye contact with Mary Margaret, trying to brush her off. "I feel fine," she said stubbornly before breaking into an impressive and painful sounding coughing fit. Mary Margaret waffled for a moment before going for broke and placing what she hoped was a comforting hand on her friend's back.

"So I think you shouldn't go in to work today. You have to take care of yourself," she said kindly once the coughing had stopped before removing her hand and allowing Emma her space back. "I feel fine," Emma said, and Mary Margaret worried she'd pushed too hard and too far. After a moment, her resolve won out. There was no harm in going for broke, was there? "Emma," she began with as much kindness and concern as she could muster, though Emma continued to avoid her gaze.

After a moment, she reached out and gently took Emma's chin in her thumb and forefinger, bringing her eyes around to meet her, and she was surprised that what she was met with was not the steel she had expected, but fear and surprise. It pained her, but she soldiered on. "Emma, please. Stay home today. The rest would do you good, I think." Emma just looked at her for a long time, searched her face for something. Mary Margaret didn't waver under the scrutiny, but she was still surprised when Emma acquiesced. "Okay," she said, breaking eye contact instantly. Mary Margaret let her. She had heard the trepidation, the tremble in Emma's voice, and said nothing.

"Okay," she said, releasing her friend. "Why don't you go sit on the couch?" Emma just nodded without ever looking at her, and walked over to the couch. Mary Margaret allowed herself a small triumphant smile before going to the kitchen and busying herself with preparing a cup of tea with honey. She figured the tea was a good start, and if she could get Emma to drink that maybe they could try the toast. That done, she carried the mug to the couch where Emma was sitting, staring at the wall, though Mary Margaret could only guess at what she was thinking about. She just pressed the warm mug into her hands, earning her a questioning look from Emma. "It'll help with your throat," she said with what she hoped was a comforting smile before crossing the room and sitting down in a chair across from her roommate.

She said nothing, just tilted her head slightly to the side and watched her roommate wondering briefly what Emma was thinking about as she stared wordlessly into the mug of tea. She considered asking the other woman what she was thinking about before deciding against it. She'd pushed enough for a day and gotten more then she had expected in return. If Emma wanted to talk, she would. That was something she had learned quickly. Emma's decisions to confide in someone came in fits and starts, gone as quickly as they appeared. All she could do was be waiting when Emma was ready. She knew Emma had and would do the same for her.

The question still surprised her, though. "Why?" She frowned slightly, trying to make sense of what Emma could mean. She studied her roommate for a moment, shifting to a more comfortable position in the chair. "Why what?" she asked in response, her gaze never wavering from Emma's face. "Why're you-" something painful passed over Emma's face and she bit her lip, clearly never intending on asking the question she actually wanted answered. "Aren't you going to be late for work?" she asked abruptly, looking at the clock on the wall.

That was an easy enough question to answer. "Today is an off day," she answered quickly. Emma responded almost as quickly. "Why're you sitting here with me then? You must have had plans, something more interesting to do then sit here with me." The implications of the statement twisted something in Mary Margaret again. Emma only glanced at her. The shame, the whys, the questions unasked and unanswered hung in the air between them and Mary Margaret wasn't sure when she figured out that she loved Emma Swan like family, but she knew it for sure now. "Is it really that hard to believe that someone would care about your wellbeing?" she said, wishing she had said anything else as soon as she saw the tears in Emma's eyes. "Oh, Emma," she murmured, the sight of her roommate's tears threatening to break whatever was twisting inside of her. There was something important just out of her reach and for a moment she was distracted by it – there was something she was forgetting, and it had to do with Emma, but she didn't know what all she knew that it was so important, so why couldn't she remember it- but she pushed it away.

She crossed the room and knelt in front of Emma, gently extricating the mug from her hands and placing it on the floor. She put one hand on Emma's knee, the other on Emma's hands, which were clenched so tightly in her lap that Mary Margaret worried idly that she would break them. She said the only thing she could think of that might not make things worse. "I didn't mean to upset you." That seemed to break Emma out of her emotional reverie. "No, I'm fine," she said instantly, sniffling. The steel was back in her voice and in the orientation of her shoulders, in her hands. "Just something in my eye." It was a pitiful excuse and they both knew it, but Mary Margaret let it stand. She'd pushed enough for one day. She gently squeezed Emma's hands, pleased that it relieved some of the tension in them. "Of course," she said gently, pushing the cup of tea back into Emma's grasp before crossing the room and resuming her post.

They sat for a while, though Mary Margaret couldn't pin for how long. She did notice when Emma's head started to bob. Emma was clearly fighting the need to sleep. She got up and went upstairs, retrieving a blanket and pillow from Emma's room. She put the pillow on the end of the couch and took the mug from Emma's hands, causing her roommate to blink awake. "Emma, you should get some rest. You're falling asleep sitting up," she said kindly. Emma tried to shake her head, and Mary Margaret just smiled. Stubborn to the end. "Emma. Just get some sleep," she repeated, nodding at the pillow she'd placed on the couch. To her surprise, Emma just nodded, resting her head against the pillow and shivering as Mary Margaret spread the blanket over her.

She stood, planning on making Emma some soup while she slept when Emma's voice stopped her. "Mary?" She turned, kneeled next to her friend once again. "Yes?" She was surprised to see the conflict in Emma's eyes. Whatever she was going to ask next, it was serious. "Will you-" the tone of her voice said everything that Emma clearly didn't want to put in so many words. She just smiled and nodded, allowing Emma to save some face. She lifted Emma's head and removed the pillow before sitting on the couch and placing the pillow on her lap as Emma's head settled back down on it.

Emma's eyes fluttered closed, and Mary Margaret had a sudden sense of remembering something. There it was again, that inkling that she was forgetting something important. She had the sudden feeling that she had been in Emma's position, that someone had comforted her like this when she was very small. She put her hand on Emma's head, brushing her thumb on her roommate's forehead. Emma tensed and her eyes opened. "What're yo-" Mary Margaret gulped before shushing her roommate. To her relief Emma's eyes closed again, though she didn't relax. "My mother used to do this for me when I was a child and didn't feel well," Mary Margaret said, though she was confused at the memory. Come to think of it, that was about all she could remember of her mother or her childhood, and even that memory was hazy. It was strange, but that wasn't important now.

She stroked Emma's hair gently. Her roommate was still coiled like a spring, and she knew that she would never get any rest at this rate. "Emma," she said, studying her roommates face. Her eyes were closed tight as though if she didn't hold them so tight she would burst in to tears. That might be exactly the problem, she realized soberly. But she didn't stop; she just continued to stroke Emma's head, hoping the constant motion would lull her into sleep. "Just relax, okay?" she said kindly. She got a small nod in response, and to her relief, Emma relaxed more and more. Mary Margaret sat that way for a long while. Emma was family. And if she knew anything, it was that she took care of family.


Alright, as requested, the companion piece. I have a lot harder time writing from MM's perspective, but I hope this was sufficient. Cheers, and thanks for all the reviews! You guys are great. I might continue this as a little MM/Emma series of oneshot-y things. If there's any interest, I'd love to hear it. Thanks!