Desperate Times

All copywrite goes to the writers and producers of OUAT and ABC. Purely for entertainment purposes only.

It had been nearly a week since Emma and Mary-Margaret had returned from their journey through the Enchanted Forest. After the frenetic pace they'd set for themselves in order to find a way home, now that they were back in Storybrooke, Emma Swan's world seemed to slow down drastically around her, while everyone else in her life went skittering about full-speed ahead. Even though she'd seen the realm of fairy tales with her own two eyes-dragons, giants, witches and all-the idea was still sometimes more than her real-world brain could fully comprehend. And so, as a result, she'd taken to living this new chapter in her life from moment to insanely crazy moment, step by tentative step.

The most difficult aspect of her entire adjustment was learning how to be a part of an actual family-to accept the idea that there were now people in her life that loved her so much that they'd sacrificed everything to put her first-and would obviously do so again without hesitation. Finding her parents was what she'd always wanted, but like so many lost children, Emma couldn't shrug off her abandonmet that easily, despite the Charmings' good intentions. Which was why she still couldn't bring herself to call them Mom and Dad just yet. She wanted to let the walls down-let her parents in-but it wasn't something she could just make happen overnight. She had twenty-eight years of hurt to forgive. It was going to be slow going, but Emma knew she would get there eventually. After their adventures in the forest, she and Mary-Margaret had a pretty good mother-daughter understanding already, but forming a bond with David was something else entirely. Truthfully, Emma didn't really know what she wanted from him. A doting father? It was a little late for that. She was a grown woman who was extremely capable of taking care of herself, thank-you-very-much.

All of these thoughts had been plaguing her as of late, the least of which was what to do about Regina "The Evil Queen" Mills. David had wasted no time after their reunion filling Emma in about the goings-on around Storybrooke during her prolonged abscence. She was quite taken aback to learn that Regina seemed to be working towards turning her life around...even if it was more for Henry's sake than any desire to mend fences with Snow and the rest of the town. In fact, if it hadn't been for Regina pulling the dark magic out the portal, Emma and her mother would surely have perished. Loathe as she was to admit it, that was something Emma would not soon forget. In point of fact, she realized now that she owed her son's stepmother a great debt.

Whether or not 'Little-Miss-Merry-Sunshine' would call her on it remained to be seen. You couldn't exactly put anything past the Evil Queen, after all...

In all fairness, though, Henry had seemed genuinely amenable to spending time with her, and if those moments together did some bit of good towards healing Regina's fragile emotional state, well then, Emma really couldn't begrudge her that tiny concession. She, of all people, knew what it was like to live with the crippling pain of regret. Ever since Henry had come back into her life, and probably even before that, Emma had been fighting tooth and nail to be better. To be the mother that her son deserved. He believed in her so fiercely, and Emma would be damned if she ever allowed anything to happen that would damage that little boy's faith in her. If it took to her last breath, Emma swore she would not squander the second chance she'd been given. She supposed, in a way, Regina was only trying to do the same.

However, Regina had much more to make up for than most, and the rest of the citizens of Storybrooke weren't going to be nearly as forgiving.

We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.

At the moment, Emma's little 'concession' had earned Regina the afternoon with Henry after he was let out of school. Since she was stuck at the office, she wouldn't be able to pick him up, and even though she could've asked Snow and Charming to watch him, Emma was hesitant. Once they'd returned, Snow very quickly packed up and moved into the house that David had once shared with Katherine. Emma wasn't upset by this. Not in the least. After all, her parents had been violently thrust apart for almost thirty years. It was only natural that they'd want their own space and the time to 'reaquaint' themselves. Lord knew, she did not want to be the one to walk in on her parents and see something that was definitely none of her business. Having the apartment to herself with Henry was so much easier and much more within her comfort zone. And so, earlier in the morning, Emma'd made the grudging decision to ask Regina if she'd mind looking after Henry for a couple of hours, to which Her Majesty had only too happily agreed.

Regal issues aside, the main focus of Emma's thoughts for the past couple for hours centered around the enigma that was Storybrooke's most ill-regarded citizen:

Rumplestiltskin.

As of late, Gold had been relatively quiet-reserved even-around town. David had assured her that the pawn shop owner had kept every last darkly magical part of himself in line since she'd been away, even going so far as to admit that, if it hadn't been for Gold, they might never have found a way to communicate across the realms. Not to mention how he'd helped to save Henry from the fires of the Netherealm. Although Emma was grateful, that didn't mean she wasn't still keeping her eye on him.

No...she didn't trust that man any farther than she could throw him.

Fortunately, it seemed as though the pretty new librarian (who Emma had now learned was named Belle) appeared to be providing a calming influence in Gold's life. Generally, this meant that the more time he was spending with her, the less he was getting everyone else riled up. If Emma thought these people had a grudge against the Evil Queen, she had no idea what she was in store for when it came to the Dark One's long list of sins. The fact that she still owed the man a favor and very much needed to speak with him on certain...matters...was driving her to distraction. On one hand, Emma knew that she needed answers about this 'magic'...or whatever it was that she'd been able to fell Cora with. Emma wanted to know if it was just a one-time thing or some sort of natural ability. In all honesty, she really didn't want the burder of some sort of mystical savior superpower-the human lie detector bit was enough for her to deal with.

She was loathe to confront Gold directly, knowing what he truly was and was therefore capable of, but when she remembered holding Graham as he died in her arms and Aurora's shriek of pain as Cora toyed with the princess' heart without a care in the world-if it meant she never had to see another innocent person being ripped apart purely on someone's sick and twisted whim-she'd figure out how to make it work.

A fleeting thought passed through Emma's mind just then about the all-powerful sorcerer and his sweet lady love: the unbreakable Crocodile now had a very obvious and exploitable weakness.

Hook would've loved the irony.

Whoa! Where had that come from?

Emma had been so busy putting the townspeople's lives and her own back together since returning from the Enchanted Forest, that she honestly hadn't had the time to think much on those who'd been left behind in the other realm. Mulan and Aurora, she knew, were very able to take care of themselves, and were probably off on another adventure of their own making. Cora, without doubt, was probably seething from her defeat, which made it highly likely that she'd not stop until she found a way into Storybrooke. Even though things had been quite as of late, everyone knew exactly what kind of threat the witch posed. The whole town was constantly on guard, every citizen poised to defend themselves at the drop of a hat should the need arise.

Hook, however...well...he was an entirely different can of worms.

As many times as his moods had shifted and his allegiances changed, you never quite knew what the smug bastard had planned from one moment to the next. Still, Emma held absolutely no regrets about clocking the insufferable pirate across the face with the compass. When it came right down to it, getting back to Henry was all that mattered. End of story. She would not apologize for her actions, and she certainly knew that Hook would never apologize for his. She also knew how dedicated Hook was to his quest, saw his desperation in every action he took. He would find a way to Storybrooke even if it killed him. This reason, above all, was why Emma had felt she had no choice but to leave him chained up at the top of that beanstalk.

But did you leave him up there for the good of the group...or for yourself?

She couldn't risk it. Not with Henry's life on the line. But Emma couldn't ignore the fact that Hook-Killian-knew her. Inside and out. He had read her through and through, as he'd said, like an open book...almost from the moment they'd met. He understood her so well, it was utterly terrifying. He had managed to see beyond her fortified emotional walls and veneer of cold indifference to the broken soul underneath. What was worse, when she had asked him about Milah, and his demeanor had changed so rapidly, she'd been startled to see her pain reflected in his eyes. To hear the hurt in his voice. In that moment, Emma could see just how broken he truly was. They'd both loved and lost; both suffered. If she'd been any other woman, she might have fallen prey to the 'charming rogue' bit he was playing. Emma, however, was anything but ordinary. In her time as a bail bondsperson, she'd dealt with countless men who'd tried every sexual tactic under the sun to get her to look the other way on an arrest. By now, she was all but immune. Hook was no different. For all of his bravado, arrogance, over-the-top flirting and theatricality, Emma knew the truth of him. That was his armor. Captain Hook was the mask that he allowed everyone to see, while the true Killian Jones was hidden away.

She knew she was no different. And that was why she had to do it. No, he hadn't lied to her, and yes, the sting of her betrayal had hurt him. She'd read the truth in his eyes. But it had to be done...and not because she didn't think she could trust him...but because she was scared to death of trusting him too much. Emma had already been down that road once, with Neal, and swore she'd never let anyone get that close again.

Ugh. Get a grip, woman.

Emma roughly shook all lingering thoughts of the aggravating swashbuckler from her mind...or at least, she tried to. He may not have said as much, but Emma could see it written all over Killian's face: his burning need for vengeance had become all-consuming. It had, literally, taken over his entire life. This was rage and loss and despair, all rolled up into a neat little broken-hearted package. She knew these emotions very well; ran the gamut of them after Neal had abandoned her. This is what drove Killian, she knew, to seek revenge at any cost. Pehaps that was her own secret reason for not wanting him to come through the portal.

Killian wouldn't get anywhere near Rumplestiltskin. The pawn shop owner would cut him down without even batting so much as an eyelash. She might not have condoned the pirate's methods, to be sure, but she understood his heart. She wasn't going to let them kill eachother-not on her watch. This was still her town, and she was still its sheriff. It was her job to protect everyone...or die trying.


Cora was suprised at how easy it had been to assimilate herself into this realm. She thought it'd be more difficult, what with magic being so unpredictable here, but she could still feel its power thrumming through her veins, reverberating out into the world with every step she took. It was obvious to her that someone had introduced magic into this world-Rumplestiltskin most likely. Regina, she knew, did not have that kind of prowess. She let emotions guide her actions far too often, and look where it had gotten her.

Her precious daughter was now a Queen without a kingdom.

That would most definitely not do.

Cora had only been in Storybrooke for a few days, but in that time, she had managed to amass quite a bit of interesting information and observation. It was easy enough for her to shift into the guise of some quiet, unassuming townsperson that no one would even look twice at. It's amazing what you can learn when no one realizes that you even exist.

She'd managed to watch the comings and goings of each member of the Charming family, especially Emma and Henry. The boy was every inch his mother, but Cora could see Regina's fire in his eyes. The child had tenacity and a wisdom beyond his years, both traits that, with the right kind of encouragement, would make him a fine sorcerer one day.

But not under Regina's care.

Her love for Henry had caused her daughter to go soft. That would have to be remedied immediately. Which, from Cora's perspective, would not be a difficult feat to accomplish. Regina's relationship with the citizens of Storybrooke was tenuous at best, tolerated at worst. It seemed as though she was breathing only because the Charmings allowed it. It would take very little convincing for these people to turn their backs on Regina completely, which was exactly what Cora wanted to happen.

Once she realizes that she has nowhere else to turn, my little one will see. She will come to me, beg my forgiveness. And then, I will help her take back this kingdom...piece by bloody piece.

Before Cora could attempt to focus all of her attention on her daughter, however, she had another issue to attend to.

Rumplestiltskin.

She had been watching the little imp as well, trotting around after the pretty young girl who owned the bookshop. He was acting like a lovesick schoolboy. It was positively pathetic, but at the same time, immensely useful. The woman was a weakness for her dear, old master. One that Cora could easily exploit. Aside from the Charmings, Rumple was really the only other stumbling block in the way of putting Regina back into a position of power. She knew he would rather see the Queen dead than restored to her full regal splendor. Destroying him, however, would be easier said than done.

Fortunately, Cora had done her homework during all those years she'd been stuck in Wonderland. She knew about the Dark One's dagger and how he could be controlled with it. She also knew it was the only object that could kill him. It was one of the most powerful magical artifacts ever created, and therefore, emmitted a very intense stream of energy. Rumple, she reasoned, probably had not considered this when hiding it, since no one else in this god-forsaken place was magically adept enough to sense it. Not even Regina.

But Cora had sensed its power...almost from the moment she'd set foot in Storybrooke. It took little effort to track the signature to its source, and after some magically-assisted digging, the weapon was finally in her hands.

She had the means, and now she simply needed a hand to guide it towards its destructive purpose.

Cora didn't even have to think twice about who she would use. They may have parted ways when they first arrived, as his agenda was very different from hers, but that didn't mean she was entirely done with the clever Captain. She would've liked to keep him on side, as he could be very useful when properly baited, but while she'd been observing Rumple, Cora had also been keeping a keen eye on Hook. It amused her to think that he actually believed he was being inconspicuous in his stalking.

He hadn't even bothered to change into more acceptable clothing. Talk about being single-minded...

She wasn't entirely sure what Hook's plan was, and quite frankly, she really didn't care. The Captain had absolutely no idea that magic had been brought into this world, which would make him going after Rumple directly akin to suicide. There were far better ways to go about this business, Cora reasoned, and she would give him the means to do so. But not for the reasons she would have Hook believe.

This was killing two birds with one stone.

She'd grown tired of the Captain's poor execution, even if he managed to make up for it on the follow-through. The pirate lacked focus, especially when it came to the allure of a pretty face. Well...a certain pretty face, anyways. She'd noticed that, for as much time as he'd spent watching Rumple like a hawk, he also managed to put a concerted effort towards skulking around any and every location the Swan girl was known to frequent.

She should've known.

It seemed as though the pirate had become infatuated with the princess and could not stop following her, though he'd yet to make his presence known.

Cora did not have the patience to indulge Hook his childish games, but she knew what to do in order to turn his attention her way. Give him the answer to his prayers and watch them all fall.

Cora turned the corner from where she'd been standing onto a relatively quiet, affluent residential street. It took her less than a minute from there to lock on to her destination: the largest and most dominating house on the block. She walked briskly up the steps to the front door, and when she was sure she would not be seen, she shifted quickly back into her normal apprerance, gaudy dress and all. She then gave the door a light knock and waited.

A few moments passed before she was able to make out the sound of footsteps nearing the entryway. Then, the door opened and,

"C-Cora? How in the-" the older man stammered, clearly shocked.

"Hello George," she smiled woodenly, "why don't you invite me in, and I'll tell you all about it?"


New York City

August was worn-the-hell-out. No, he was fucking exhausted. When he'd first arrived in New York on the trail of Neal Cassidy, he didn't figure it would take all that much effort to find the guy. After all, he did know where Neal was living. He'd always known.

Even after they parted ways in Canada all those years ago, August never did stop keeping track of him. He had to be sure that Neal kept up his end of the bargain and stayed away from Emma. So far, the man had done as he was told.

August went on to watch over Emma's progress, and even though it hurt him to no end to see her hit rock bottom the way she had, he knew in his heart that it had to be that way. You can't crawl yourself back up to the light unless you've fallen into the darkness first. She would have it rough, but he was sure, in the end, that she'd come out a better person for it.

And damn it if she did.

Now, though, Emma had broken Regina's curse, and so August found himself scouring the streets of New York to fulfill a promise to a guy who probably didn't even deserve it. His first stop, of course had been Neal's apartment, but the place had been cleaned out-recently. A little monetary 'convincing' had allowed him to learn from some of his neighbors that Neal had talked about moving to the New England area for a while, but they never really bought that he intended on going through with it until now.

Apparently, Neal had beaten him to the punch and decided to leave for Storybrooke on his own. Thing was, the town wasn't on any kind of map because it wasn't supposed to actually exist. Neal would never find it on his own.

After that little let down, August scoured the car rental places, the train station, and the airport...only to come up completely empty-handed. Neal Cassidy was proving to be one slippery son-of-a-bitch. The only place he hadn't checked was the bus station, which now that he thought about it, probably was the best way to get to Storybrooke outside of a car. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of it sooner.

Walking into the station, August immediately went over to the monitors to peruse the departure times.

Bus number 449. One-way to Augusta, Maine. Departing at 5:00pm.

Bingo.

Since Neal wouldn't know exactly where Storybrooke was, it wasn't hard to deduce that a major city like Augusta would be his first stop. Looking at his watch, August determind that he might only have about half an hour to scour this place before that bus started its first boarding call.

It took him less than ten minutes.

Knowing Neal as he did, it wasn't difficult to hazard a guess as to where he'd be killing time-the bar. Which is exactly where August found him, nursing a beer and a cigarette, while watching a poker tournament on ESPN.

He sild onto the stool beside Neal and leaned over to whisper, "so much for old dogs and new tricks."

When Neal turned to look in August's direction, the recognition was immediate, and the poor guy almost had a heart attack then and there.

"Holy shit, man!" Neal croaked, running a shaking hand over his face. "How in the hell did you find me?"

"Let's just call it a bit of magic, my friend," August replied evenly as he signalled the bartender for a beer. "So...taking a vacation, I've heard?" August had already made up his mind that he wasn't going to beat arund the bush with this guy. He was just too damn tired.

"You oughta know. You did send me the postcard, didn't you?" Neal retorted, not at all taking the bait.

"Ok, look. Here's how this is gonna go. We don't particularly care for eachother. Great. Fine. Whatever. At the moment though, we do have a common goal," August got straight into it.

"Emma," Neal answered simply.

"Yes. You want to go to Storybrooke and reunite her because she finally broke the curse," he continued as if Neal had said nothing at all.

"Of course. You told me, once she was free, I could see her again. I've been waiting ten years for this," Neal told him, pent-up emotion bleeding into his voice.

"I get it. I know. But you know you can't take the bus," August picked up the map of Maine that Neal had been examining, "because Storybrooke isn't on any map. You'll never find her this way. So," and at this he paused to rub out the headache he knew would soon be coming on, "I'm gonna drive you there. Well...actually...you drive till we hit the Maine state border and I sleep, cause man, I seriously can't even keep my eyes open anymore. You wake me up when we get to that point, and I'll tell you where to go from there," he finished, while slaming back the rest of his beer.

"And why the hell would you be doing this? I mean, we barely know eachother," Neal asked, ever suspicious.

"Because I made a promise once upon a time, and I fully intend to keep it."


A/N: This fanfic will be switching back and forth from the perspectives of quite a few different characters, so be warned. I do love reviews, so keep 'em coming!