Emma rolled her eyes as David dumped another load of paperwork in front of her, adding to an already mountainous pile. As it turned out, avoiding your responsibilities to go gallivanting through another realm had its side effects. Every time Regina caught up on her own work, Emma found herself lumped with all kinds of forms, complaints and even a few letters without any apparent purpose besides someone wanting to waste her time with insignificant matters that honestly had nothing whatsoever to do with policing Storybrooke.
They had been back for over a month now but even still, the paper kept flowing and Regina refused to lighten the load, claiming that just because they were together, it did not mean Emma could shirk her duties any more now than she had been permitted to before. Any attempt she made, of which there had been many, Regina would firmly shut her down with the threat of revoking certain privileges, Emma would easily relent and David had started taking full advantage of the sudden connection between her backside and the chair behind her desk.
On top of all that, she was still trying to sort through the mess involving Rumplestiltskin and Cora while fending off both of her parents who continuously tried to assault her with their idea of family bonding time. If she had known that allowing Snow the opportunity to apologise for her mistakes would mean the constant interruptions of her daily life and invitations to join them at the apartment, she might have reconsidered the idea altogether.
"I've been commanded to tell you that the first three forms need to be looked at, signed and delivered by five," he informed with a smirk once she had finished her usual period of groaning.
Emma contemplated slamming head first into the desk and knocking herself out in an effort to escape this new, extremely boring routine she had been thrown in to; a thought that crossed her mind an alarming number of times throughout the past week. She dismissed it with a glance toward David who wore the frown of someone able to read her mind and sighed, thanked him as she waved over to the door before yanking the topmost form from the stack with an incomprehensible mumble.
After barely a minute of glaring at the piece of paper, she raised her head again upon realising his presence remained and her brow rose in question.
"Your mother wanted me to ask-"
"No," she interrupted. If there were an award given out for someone with the worst possible timing in the world, David would win it every single time. "As you can see, I have a lot of shit to do. I let her apologise, I never once implied that I forgave her and I am not going to pretend we're a picture perfect family when we are so very far from being one."
As soon as he rubbed the back of his neck and averted his gaze, she knew she had latched on to the wrong assumption and it took her all of a second before understanding came. "It's about that stupid meeting, everyone wanting to go back to the Enchanted Forest," Emma chuckled bitterly and shook her head. "Of course it is."
It was yet another thing she had the honour of dealing with. Even if she wanted to do as they kept suggesting, it would be impossible without Regina's help and neither of them had bothered to include her, even going as far as denying needing her presence at a meeting Emma refused to attend without her.
"We're not the only ones who miss being there," he defended.
She expected nothing less. It was the same old story with her parents, never were their intentions purely selfish, their decisions and feelings backed by people who Emma was not entirely sure even understood the fact that Snow White and Prince Charming were merely people like them in this world and not the royals they once were.
"Most of you have lived here longer than you did there and honestly, how can you miss a place like that?" She had, quite often, compared her time there to an extremely long camping trip and while she actually enjoyed camping, it lost its appeal rather quickly when she considered it as a permanent way of life. The walls of a palace and an oversized bed were in no way worth the lack of indoor plumbing, television and other such luxuries of what she thought of as her world.
"Home isn't a length of time, Emma. We don't belong in this world and now that we have our memories, it isn't where we want to be," he tried to explain.
Emma nodded her understanding while chewing her lower lip as she thought of a way to tell him what she had wanted to avoid for as long as possible, or at least, until she had dealt with everything else that had been tossed into her lap. She and Regina had already spoken to Henry of their plans and, while he was not one hundred percent on board with them, he accepted the fact he would remain behind with them, should the others return to their world.
"I wanted to tell you both when you were together and maybe when we were on better terms but," she paused when he tilted his head and she had to swallow the sudden lump in her throat before she was able to continue. "There are numerous reasons I've prolonged this meeting, but none of them are more important than this…"
"I don't want to lose my family." The words came out rushed and she raised her hand when he opened his mouth, knowing he would try to reassure her without waiting for her to finish. "I visited that world. I lived in it and not once did I enjoy the time I was there. It is not a suitable place for a child and it will be a cold day in Hell before I choose to spend my life constantly worrying about the safety of everyone I love."
She knew by his tone that he was about to try to convince her otherwise and she shook her head as she said, "This is not up for discussion. I am an adult and my son, my girlfriend and I will be staying in Storybrooke, regardless of anyone else. If you and Snow want to return there, then fine; maybe we'll visit. But this is where I live, this is my home and I'm not giving it up for anyone or anything."
When he said nothing further, she lowered her gaze back to her work, her shoulders slumping as he quietly left the room. There was a time when she would have fallen to her knees and begged for someone exactly like her parents. A time where that love and devotion would have meant the world to her but while she wanted them and while, with time, she could forgive them virtually anything; the truth was she no longer needed them and if she had to let them go, she would. She was tired of being the person that everyone else wanted her to be. She was not the Saviour or a Princess and like those from the world of fairy tales, all she wanted was a chance to be happy.
Regina rushed from the bathroom and into the bedroom at the sound of her phone ringing on top of the dresser. She cursed the obnoxious device for preventing what could have been a pleasant moment in the shower seconds prior, though a smile curled her lips as she found it difficult to be upset knowing Emma was the one causing the interruption.
"I do hope you have a good reason for forcing me out of the shower," she purred into the phone and her smile transformed into a grin as Emma chuckled on the other side.
"No reason would come close to adequate enough for causing such a travesty, my Queen." Emma hummed and Regina's grin widened, knowing without a doubt she would be on the forefront of Emma's mind for the foreseeable future. "Damn woman, I was not looking forward to being late home and then you go and put those thoughts in my head."
Even though she was unable to see it, Regina immediately pouted and questioned, "You're working late, again?" On some level, she was aware the reason Emma worked so much recently was because of her and while she often had to convince herself as the Mayor, not to be soft on the Sheriff, the knowledge did nothing to quell her disappointment.
"Yes well, it's close to Halloween and apparently there are some kids messing around inside the clock tower." Regina heard her sigh before Emma launched into an explanation, "Jefferson called just as I was leaving, said Grace mentioned something about a group of boys at school talking about some stupid prank they're planning, thought I might want to check it out."
"Emma," Regina warned, picturing the sarcastic eye roll that accompanied the tone of Emma's words. "The clock tower isn't safe for children to be inside and while I would very much like for you to come home, I'm afraid I have to agree with Jefferson."
"I had a feeling you'd say something along those lines," Emma replied. "Which is why, rather than come straight home as I intended, I called you while I was on my way there and before you scold me for talking on my phone while driving, I'm walking."
"You're ridiculous," she replied, shaking her head as Emma laughed.
"Little cold too," Emma agreed. "All this overtime, I think the Mayor should reward her Sheriff."
"Oh?" Regina played along, her grin back in full force as she teased, "I'm fairly certain I reward you every time I sign one of your pay checks, Miss Swan."
"Ooh, I do love it when you call-" Emma stopped mid-sentence and Regina frowned at the sudden silence.
"Sorry babe; thought I saw something." Emma tilted her head as she continued to stare up at the face of the clock tower. She could have sworn there was something up there. "I'm here now; I'll be home in a bit but I should probably get off the phone. Love you."
"Love you," came the reply and Emma smiled as they said their goodbyes.
Pocketing her phone, she glanced around at her surroundings and grimaced. Between their trip to the Enchanted Forest, her parents and work; she had forgotten all about the ominous feeling that overcame her whenever she neared the Library and pushed it to the back of her mind. Now that she was there, her skin had started to crawl and the sensation worsened the closer she came to entering.
"Fricken kids," she muttered and shook her head as she shoved open the door. "Let's terrify the Sheriff instead of, oh I don't know, egging someone's house on Halloween like normal people."
Emma had plenty of bad experiences to overcome thanks to her childhood and she had successfully confronted them with few exceptions; stairs being the worst of them all. Looking up at the ones that led to the clock tower, the mere thought of climbing them caused a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she knew would remain until she distanced herself from the place.
Perhaps with a couple of therapy sessions thrown into the mix, though she felt silly admitting the fear in her own mind; it would be tragic and rather laughable to talk about it with someone else. She was no longer that eight-year old girl who had been too weak to stand up to her bullies, now more capable than ever of protecting herself. It was not as though her foster brother was hiding up there, waiting for her to appear so that he could have his fun and cause an accident that would result in another broken leg. Despite the hell that she had been through growing up, it had been the one and only time she had ever broken a bone.
The memory was so vivid in her mind that, as though it had been far less than the reality of twenty-one years since then, her leg ached from the thought alone. Knowing from experience that she would not be able to banish it with a simple shake of her head, Emma breathed a heavy sigh and began to wander through the rooms that remained accessible.
Regina had reopened the place at the request of Belle who, for some reason that Emma was uninterested in understanding, had decided to leave certain areas available at night. She remembered some rambled nonsense about serenity and sleepwalkers or something, Regina had attempted to explain but as soon as Emma realised it had to do with the typical fairy tale blather, she decided she no longer cared and had waved her girlfriend off to waste her energy elsewhere.
Sauntering into the main room with a slight limp, Emma was surprised to find Belle still hanging about. She cleared her throat in an attempt to gain the woman's attention without startling her and Belle immediately spun towards her, her hands disappearing behind her back as a noticeably strained smile pulled at the woman's lips. "Hello Sheriff, is there something I can do for you?"
Emma's eyes narrowed, curiosity piqued along with a sensible dose of suspicion thrown in for good measure as she replied, "I was told that a group of children were planning to cause trouble and that I might find them here."
"You would have." Belle nodded, her smile becoming more genuine as she visibly relaxed before explaining, "Four boys tried to sneak up into the tower, one of them made it but the other three ran off when they saw me."
"And the fourth?"
"Peter, I believe is his name, I found him huddled in the corner by the clock face." Emma stepped back with a sharp inhale as Belle brought the object out from behind her. "He had no idea what he had found but even without seeing the name engraved along its side, I knew."
"Is that-" Emma started to ask but trailed off when Belle gripped it lightly by the blade and held it out to her, brows furrowing as the question changed. "Why are you giving it to me?"
Closing the distance between them, Belle grabbed her by the hand and placed the dagger in her palm before Emma could even think to protest. "While I love him more than I could ever hope to express, I have never denied who he is or what he is capable of and when the time comes, this is the only hope you have of stopping him, Sheriff."
Shit shit shit.
The word repeated itself within Emma's mind the second she set foot outside, occasionally slipping from her lips as she made her way back to the station. When Belle had visited that day at work, she had had her doubts about the woman assisting in dealing with Rumple, even after Regina had assured her countless times that Belle could be trusted, that she would come through for them were the opportunity to present itself, Emma had still possessed serious doubt.
She herself would not hesitate in the slightest to side with Regina, a point she has proven repeatedly since the curse broke and without the situation to determine otherwise, she assumed her place would always be beside her True Love. She could not fathom a time where she would sacrifice Regina, whether for the Greater Good or her own moral code as the bond between them continued to grow, to strength with each passing day; the idea that something existed which could one day tear them from one another was far beyond her comprehension.
Rather than focus on that, however, it was the dagger hidden within her jacket that caused her inability to conjure a thought besides the single vulgarity. Nerves that were generally made of steel seemed to flee when faced with confronting not only the Dark One, but the rest of the town as well.
Another reason she had been against the meeting was because she needed to let everyone in on the fact there was a possibility they were all still in danger. A possibility that had come into existence because Rumplestiltskin had lied to her and she had fallen too deep, too quickly for the once Evil Queen to deny her the chance at salvaging a relationship with her mother who, as luck would have it, terrified the townspeople more than Regina could ever have hoped to.
She had no clue as to how she came to be standing outside the mansion, lost in her head as she was but as soon as she looked up from the pavement, she felt the familiar pull of her tie to Regina before the door to their home opened and the brunette appeared on the stoop.
"Emma, where is your heap of scrap metal?"
"Um…" She ran shaky fingers through her hair, unsure how to explain the fact she must have teleported herself to the gate without meaning to and unable to prevent her panic from entering their bond.
Regina moved closer, sensing the confusion and distress emanating from her. "What happened?" She asked, a worried crease forming at her brow as she reached for her only to be denied when Emma stepped backwards and out of her reach.
As much as she needed comforting, Emma didn't think Regina would respond well to being accidentally stabbed. "I might possibly be having a mental breakdown right now but we can't do this here," she smiled sheepishly as she grabbed Regina by the hand and dragged her back inside.