HOT CHOCOLATE

Plots and Plans

"Emma, this is insane."

The sheriff swallowed hard, pointedly not even glancing at her deputy–no matter how much she agreed with his assessment–and avoiding looking directly into Mary's eyes, which were desperately trying to hold back tears at the moment. Those walls that Mary had spoken of a few months earlier, that Emma struggled so hard to maintain, were in shambles. It tore her heart out having to do this to the woman she considered not only her best friend but a member of her unconventional family.

"I didn't hurt Kathryn!" the dark-haired teacher protested as the blonde snapped another booking photo.

Emma reluctantly met her gaze. "I know that, Mary Margaret."

"Then why are you arresting me?"

Emma indicated that she was finished with the pictures; James moved over to wrap an arm around his wife, holding her close. His heart lurched as she leaned heavily into him, after all her displays of strength over the last few days it was devastating to see her so close to falling apart now.

"Because I can't appear partial; I have to go where the evidence leads and right now it's pointing to you."

"This is crazy," James exploded, "just this morning I was the primary suspect…now Mary? Something's going on here." His jaw was set at a determined angle.

"Of course something's going on!" She turned to the couple, hands clenched at her sides. "And this is wrong, but with all this evidence if I don't arrest you, Mary, Regina might use it as grounds for getting me fired and bring in Sydney or someone equally under her thumb. And you'll be railroaded."

His arm tightened around Mary.

"So please, both of you," their daughter begged, "try and be patient with me."

Emma watched John compress his lips into a thin line, turning them nearly white with the pressure; Mary's eyes swam with barely restrained tears.

"We can't even move forward with the case until we verify it's Kathryn's heart," she pointed out, trying to sound hopeful, though that had never been a strong suit for the blonde.

James pulled Mary closer, brushing a kiss against her short locks.

With a deep breath the sheriff continued, "For now I need you to bear with me…I have a few questions I have to ask you."

Her roommate sighed wearily, reluctantly drawing out of her lover's comforting embrace. "This is crazy." She shook her head, arms crossed protectively over her middle. "I would never hurt anybody."

They headed down the hall; Emma leading and Mary following with James protectively close behind her. The blonde held the door to the interrogation room/evidence storage open; the teacher stopped dead in her tracks just a step inside the door.

A scowl darkened James' expression. "What the hell is she doing here?" His voice was tight, just a breath away from a snarl.

Regina smiled up at them in that infuriatingly smug, superior manner of hers from her seat at the table. Such was his fury that the prince wanted nothing more than to beat that look right off her face, and he was a man who very much adhered to the rule his mother taught him of "not hitting women." Although Regina very loosely qualified as a human being, let alone a woman in his opinion.

"She asked to be here as a third party to make sure I stay impartial," Emma explained.

"Who's gonna keep her impartial?" James glared at the queen-turned-mayor.

Mary reached out and took his hand. "It's fine, John."

He wasn't appeased. "What about legal counsel?"

"Mary does have that right." Emma nodded, directing her attention to her best friend. "If you want it you're entitled."

The dark-haired woman shook her head decisively. "I have nothing to hide."

"Mary," James pleaded.

"John," she squeezed his hand, smiling at him a little weakly but still reassuringly, "it's ok. I'll be fine." She then released his hand, he was much slower in relinquishing his hold, and moved to the other side of the table from where Regina already sat.

James moved to follow.

"I don't think you should be in here, Deputy," the mayor announced, eyeing him sharply.

His eyes narrowed. "And why not?"

"You're too involved," she countered evenly. "Your ex-wife is the victim and you're screwing the accused."

How he managed to keep from striking her James wasn't sure; as it was he took a threatening step toward her.

His daughter's hand on his arm stopped him.

"John." Emma's voice cut through the red haze of his anger.

It was a struggle but he finally turned his gaze from the object of his ire to his child.

Her voice lowered so only he could hear. "I'll be right here with Mary the whole time."

Emma could feel the muscles of his forearm flexing under her hand, demonstrating his inner struggle to control his temper. When John nodded she released the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.

James' moved to his wife's side, bending down to kiss her lovingly, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs; her hands wrapped around his wrists, leaning into him. Finally they drew apart, he rested his forehead against hers. "I'm going to go back by the apartment and pick you up a few things."

His wife managed a brave smile, nodding.

He kissed her once more then reluctantly pulled away. Before stepping out of the room he shot another glare at the triumphant queen and then whispered under his breath to Emma, "Take care of her."

She nodded firmly in understanding; he reached up and squeezed her shoulder in gratitude and solidarity before finally exiting the room.

He got into his truck and stuck the key in the ignition, hand gripping it in preparation to turn it over when he went still. James suddenly pounded his fists against the steering wheel in frustrated impotence. Hating how helpless he felt, his wife accused of a crime she would have never committed, not even when she was under the influence of Rumplestiltskin's potion, and being completely powerless to make the madness end.

The sun was peeking over the tops of the buildings in town. They'd been up all night dealing with this nightmare. His hands scrubbed tiredly over his face, tears burning behind his eyes. He had to save her, his wife, his Snow.

His hands clamped around the steering wheel tight enough that his knuckles were whiter than his wife's namesake. Slowly his grip slackened until he could finally pull one hand away to start up the vehicle, pulling out of his parking space and out into the empty streets of the cursed town.

O~U~A~T

His key scraped in the lock of the apartment door, the jangle of metal loud in the empty living space. It seemed somehow quieter and more devoid of life now than it normally did when he was the only one home. Dinner sat cold and forgotten on the kitchen island; to busy his hands and mind for a moment he moved over to dump it all out in the trash. Mary would have fussed over the waste. He automatically began washing the dishes, feeling like he needed to do so, if nothing else than to maintain some sense of normalcy in the space. Mary hated leaving messes, and Snow did as well.

Upon finishing the chore, he braced his hands on the edge of the sink, head hanging down, and tried to rein in his once again surging emotions.

Snow grinned up at him, arms wrapping loosely around his neck. "My passionate Charming," she gently teased. She rose on her tiptoes to rub her nose against his. "You don't do anything by halves."

Tears leaked out from between his shut eyelids to trickle down his cheeks.

His lips quirked up in a half-grin. "My mother always said that of me."

His fingers curled into his short hair, fisting there, teeth gritted.

Her laughter bubbled out. "Well, she was entirely right!"

Tremors shook his frame violently.

Her green eyes sparkled with humor and adoration. "And I love that about you." Her lips pressed to his in a passionate kiss.

His hand closed around a glass next to him on the counter and he flung it with all his strength across the room, a cry of heartrending anguish tearing through his lips. The crash and his throaty yell echoed through the empty living space as he slowly slid to the floor, back pressed against the cabinets beneath the sink; head falling into his hands as he sobbed, shoulders heaving with his tears.

O~U~A~T

James wasn't sure how long he remained crumpled on the kitchen floor. Even after his tears had abated he'd remained there for quite a while longer, staring sightlessly at the cabinets of the island across from him. When he finally rose his joints popped and creaked from sitting on the hard floor for so long, complaining loudly, reminding him vividly of all his old injuries. Ignoring them, he got a broom and dustpan and proceeded to sweep up the mess he'd made breaking the glass, inwardly making a note to buy a replacement and feeling guilty for breaking one of his wife's dishes.

He then set about fulfilling his purpose in coming here, gathering things for Mary's stay in the jail. He first went to the bathroom, putting her toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and soap into a toiletry bag. James then moved on to the bedroom. He found his sports bag and put Mary's bathroom items in it. He then began gathering undergarments for her and several changes of clothing, sticking to things that he knew were her favorites and comfortable.

From the bedside table he retrieved the book she was currently reading, a well-worn and dog-eared copy of Persuasion by Jane Austen. He ran his fingers over the tattered cover; he hadn't read the book or any of the others by the author, but Mary had always glowed with excitement and happiness when speaking about Jane Austen's works. He'd been hoping to read them after he finished with The Lord of the Rings, if for no other reason than she loved them so much.

He wasn't sure how, but he found himself sitting on the floor, back against the side of her bed, book just barely dangling from his fingers, head bowed and a hand scrubbing over his scalp. James was a man of action, sitting on the sidelines and watching while others fought battles went against every instinct he possessed. Especially when it came to his loved ones.

Lost in thought and his emotions he wouldn't have noticed the heat kicking on, even though it was currently the only sound in the otherwise silent apartment, save that a loud rattling noise accompanied it.

James lifted his head, frowning as his eyes scanned the room for the source which seemed to be coming from close by. His gaze landed on the grate–he was thankful that the few memories the curse had supplied him of this world included such simple things. The prince moved to lift the metal cover; inside there was an object wrapped in cloth, curious he pulled it out, unwrapping the item.

A long, deadly-looking hunting knife lay in his hand. His stomach dropped to his feet, the complete weight of the evidence in the conspiracy against his wife crashing over him. James' mind raced, trying to think of how to deal with this new "evidence" that would point right at his beloved. His first instinct was to take it and hide it or get rid of it, but he knew Regina was the one who had set this up and if the knife wasn't found she'd become suspicious and there was no telling what she'd do then. Another idea began to form in his mind.

O~U~A~T

James had just replaced the grate when he heard the apartment door open and Emma call out, "John?"

"In here!" he shouted back, moving over to the bed where the bag he was packing for Mary sat and placed a pair of pants in it. He could hear his daughter moving around in the kitchen.

"Hey, where did this glass in the trash can come from?" There was an odd note in her voice.

"Me," James replied; he turned at his daughter's approaching steps to see her stop in the doorway. "I broke a glass when I was doing the dishes."

"Oh." She actually seemed a little disappointed.

He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Something wrong?"

"The box that we found the heart in," the expression on Emma's face was pained, "it was Mary's jewelry box."

His hands clenched at his sides, trying to keep from lashing out again in his anger. "And now?" he bit out tightly.

"And now," she began with a sigh, "I'm looking for any indication that we've had a break-in."

"Or else there isn't any proof that Mary didn't do this." He finished her unspoken thought.

Emma's eyes slid to his apologetically.

His teeth were clenched so tight that he was surprised they didn't crack. But he refused to give in to his anger and frustration, knowing neither would help Mary, and Emma was doing her best to help and didn't deserve his ire.

James turned back to the bag, jaw set, and zipped it closed.

"There's one more thing."

Her tone had his back stiffening. "Yes?"

"I have to put you on administrative leave."

He spun to face Emma. "What?"

His daughter's expression illustrated just how much she didn't want to be doing this. "You're too close to this case and for your sake as well as Mary's it's best you stay as far away from it as possible, including staying away from the station so that no one can claim you possibly tampered with the evidence."

"This is Regina's doing, isn't it?" he asked, the disgust in his voice not directed at Emma but at his stepmother-in-law.

"Actually, she wanted me to fire you entirely. I'm the one who decided to put you on administrative leave instead."

James sighed, head falling forward in defeat, before straightening up and pulling out his keys. He carefully removed the ring that held his keys for the station and all of the locks inside, unclipped his badge from his waistband along with his gun and holster, handing them over.

When she reached to take them from him, Emma caught his hand in her grasp; his eyes lifted to meet hers.

"This is only until I can clear Mary," she promised earnestly. "I have no intention of releasing you from your post."

He gave her a small grin, which she returned before her instinctive discomfort with emotional displays began to creep in and she pulled away, shrugging. "It would suck to have to train a new deputy."

He chuckled softly. "So, should I give you Mary's belongings to pass on to her?"

Emma gazed at him consideringly then, making a decision, spun one key off of the ring he'd just handed her. "Here." She extended it to him and he tentatively accepted it. "It's the key to the front door and the front door only."

His eyebrows shot up.

"Put the bag on your desk for me to look through." She rolled her eyes. "That way Madame Mayor cannot accuse you of slipping something in it to free Mary." Her gaze became pointed. "Regina is gone for the day and I'll probably be here for a while."

Catching her meaning, James grinned. He wanted to hug his daughter and place a grateful kiss on her forehead but knew that if he was lucky she'd just jerk away and chalk it up to emotions running high, worst-case she'd rack him and never even look at him again, much less talk to him. "Thank you," he told her emphatically instead.

O~U~A~T

Mary was sitting on the cot in the cell, head in her hands, when James entered the station. "Mary."

His wife's head immediately rose from where she had buried it; a smile lifted her lips even though she'd obviously been crying. "John!" She was on her feet and covering the short distance to the bars.

James nearly ran to where his wife was, not even looking as he dropped the bag on his desk in passing. His hands closed over hers on the bars, savoring the small contact, he gently guided her hands a bit higher on the bars; his lips pressed against the backs of her fingers lingeringly, eyes locked on hers.

When he pulled back she uncurled her fingers and reached between the bars to cup his cheek. "Emma said she was going to have to put you on administrative leave."

One corner of his mouth quirked up wryly. "Yeah, she did."

Mary's brow furrowed. "I'm so sorry."

He was shaking his head before she even finished the second word. "Don't, Mary. This isn't your fault." His thumb stroked along her jawline. "None of this is your fault. As you told Emma and Regina, you've done nothing wrong."

She managed a smile for him, but it was weak.

Needing to cheer her up even just the smallest bit he nodded at the bag. "I brought you some things. Emma said that she has to look through them first to satisfy Regina that I didn't bake you a cake with a file in it." He rolled his eyes sarcastically, earning him a small quiet laugh. He drew a finger across her cheek. "I put Persuasion in it along with clothes and toiletries."

Grateful tears shimmered in Mary's eyes; breaking James' heart as her lids slid shut.

"Thank you," she managed tearfully.

"Mary…" His voice was rough with tears of his own.

"I'm scared, John," she sobbed.

His hand curved around the back of her neck, fingers sliding through the short hair there, his lips pressed to her forehead. "I'm right here, Mary," he murmured against her skin. He kissed her face, anywhere he could reach, over and over. "I love you. I will love you for all eternity."

"And do you, Snow White, promise to take this man to be your husband and to love him for all eternity?" the priest inquired grandly.

She felt certain her face would split in two from the grin that was spread across it, unable to remember a happier moment in her life. "I do…"

"Mary?"

She blinked rapidly, the grandiose room disappearing from around her, finding herself still staring into brilliant blue eyes, but in a jail cell, dressed not in a beautiful white wedding dress, but her nearly painfully ordinary slacks, blouse and cardigan. She buried her face in her hands.

"Mary?" What had been curiosity tingeing John's voice was now worry. "Darling, what is it?"

The whole time they were moving through the first set of the dance their eyes were locked, holding each other much closer than was called for in the dance. Then came the moment to switch partners, he leaned down to murmur lovingly and teasingly in her ear as he passed, "My darling."

She squeezed her eyes shut, fingertips pressing into them, trying to breathe through the clash of emotions that were threatening to overwhelm her.

His rough palms gently cradled her face, an anchor in the storm of her feelings that she grabbed onto desperately.

"What's wrong?" he begged. James hated seeing his wife so distressed and wanted nothing more than to ease her burdens in this already difficult situation.

She haltingly lowered her hands from her eyes and reached out to curl them into the collar of his jacket, with a deep bracing breath she finally whispered, "I think I'm going crazy."

He frowned at her in confusion. "What?" he whispered back.

Mary kept her voice low in case someone walked by or into the station, not wanting to be overheard. "I keep having these dreams and…hallucinations or something."

His heart leapt, hoping that these "dreams" and "hallucinations" were what he thought they were. "What are they about?"

The laugh she let out had a slightly hysterical edge to it. "You know Henry's fairy tale theory?"

His pulse sped up a bit more. "Yes."

Mary's emerald eyes were so full of conflicting emotions and confusion. "The dreams and…whatever you call the other times while I'm awake–are about that. We're together, dressed like we're in medieval times and my hair is long; we're in castles, riding horses–I've never even ridden a horse!–fighting with swords and shooting bows and arrows–I wouldn't know the first thing about how to do either! I-I'm pregnant in some of them… And you call me Snow and I call you James or Charming, mostly Charming…and…" She made a distressed noise before covering her face with her hands again, shaking her head.

James wanted nothing more than to tell her it was all true, that that was their real life, a life they had begun to live together when it was abruptly and painfully interrupted. But she wasn't ready to hear that yet, and she didn't need the added strain such a revelation would bring. No, what she needed right now was comfort and support.

He reached out and gently pulled her hands away so he could look her in the eye. "Mary, listen to me, please." Once she was looking back at him he continued. "You're absolutely not crazy." When she opened her mouth to protest he shook his head, reiterating firmly, "You're not. I know you and I know you're not going crazy. I know you need answers, and we'll get them, but right now you need to focus on getting through this nightmare situation. Afterward," he raised one hand to cup her cheek, "we'll figure things out."

Mary nearly slumped to the floor with relief. He believed her and he didn't think she was crazy or something. He was standing by her. She slid her hands up to rest her palms against his chest, feeling his steady heartbeat under her palm; she pressed as close to him as the bars would allow. "Thank you."

His hand slid from her cheek to the back of her neck, the other slipping between the bars to grip her waist, pressing just as close. "I love you, Mary. We can win this fight. We will!"

A smile lifted her lips. "Such faith," she murmured, reaching up to caress his face. "I love you too."

The kiss was more than awkward with the jail cell bars between them, but that didn't lessen the passion of it or how reaffirming and soothing it was for them.

A throat clearing finally had them pulling apart, rather sheepish smiles on their face as they turned to Emma, but both of their grins fell once they laid eyes on her.

Their daughter was standing just inside the door to the station, hands clutching a plastic bag, expression pained.

"What is it?" Mary's voice quavered.

James reached over to cover her hand that was once again gripping one of the bars. Strange, he mused, how he was bracing himself when he already knew what was coming.

"I-I found this knife in the heating vent in your room, Mary." Emma held up the bag so that they could see the long blade inside.

What little color resided in the dark-haired woman's face fled. "Is that…?"

"It appears to be," the sheriff confirmed her friend's fears faintly.

Mary breathed out something that sounded like "oh, gods," though Emma was certain she must have misheard her when it came to the "s." Green tinged the skin around her lips and, pressing the back of her hand to her mouth she dashed to a corner so her back was to the other two, loosing what little was in her stomach.

The blonde hurriedly unlocked the cell; James dashed in once the door swung open, rushing over to his wife who was crouched down, wrapping his arms around her shoulders.

"I'm sorry," she managed softly, hand still pressed to her lips, body shaking.

"It's fine," Emma assured her, silently directing James to help her over to the cot while the sheriff went to lock up the knife and fetch a mop and bucket.

James was all but carrying Mary, her legs like Jell-O. "I'm sorry, I just…" He lowered her to the thin pallet that passed for a mattress.

"Mary," he gently interrupted, "Emma said it was fine. You've had a shock, and with what you've already been through no one can blame you for reacting the way you did."

She was still trembling from the emotional overload and throwing up; he ran a hand across her damp forehead checking her temperature. Her skin was clammy. He reached behind them to draw the blanket up from the bed and wrapped it about her.

"Thank you," she murmured. One of her hands scrubbed across her eyes. "I just don't understand. What is going on? Why is someone trying to frame me for Kathryn's murder?" Her emerald eyes gazed into his with such aching confusion. "What did I ever do to deserve this?"

James' jaw was clenched tightly, wanting to tell his wife exactly who was behind this and explain why, but they had literally no proof. "I couldn't say," he settled for instead.

Emma chose that moment to return with the mop and bucket.

He squeezed Mary's shoulder. "Stay here."

"I should help–"

"No," he gently countered, hands on her shoulders keeping her from rising. "You're still shaking; you need to give yourself a few minutes longer to recover." He straightened. "I'll give Emma a hand."

His wife reluctantly acquiesced, drawing the blanket tighter about her.

Father and daughter quickly worked together to clean up the vomit and sanitize the floor and wall. By the time they'd finished Mary's shaking had stopped and she was much steadier…and dying to brush her teeth. Emma escorted her to the bathroom when she made the request, after a cursory inspection of the bag James had packed, the sheriff rolling her eyes quite exaggeratedly over the necessity of the search.

When they returned, James had put away the mop and bucket and straightened the bed. His wife gave him a grateful smile and kiss before stepping back into the cell; Emma shutting the door behind her.

Mary could still feel the panic and terror choking her, barely hanging on to her composure by a thread. "Emma, I don't even know where the heating vent in my bedroom is!"

The blonde had her arms crossed over her chest, using the protective gesture to help hold herself together; Mary needed her to keep a level head. "Well, someone did, and they put that hunting knife in it." Her eyes darted to the floor. "I checked for signs of a break-in but there weren't any." Her gaze lifted back up to her friend.

The teacher's eyes went wide. "You don't believe me…"

"Of course I do," Emma quickly cut in, moving closer to the cell, some of the natural guardedness of her posture slipping to reveal that she was telling the truth. "But what I or John," she nodded to her erstwhile deputy, "believe doesn't matter."

His spine stiffened at her words.

"Evidence it piling up by the hour."

Mary took a few deep breaths, closing her eyes trying to find some semblance of composure. "Ok, what are you saying?"

"She's saying," James explained, "that you should hire a lawyer." Concern furrowed his brow and determination set his jaw.

"An excellent idea."

They all whipped around at the too familiar accented cadence.

"Mr. Gold," Mary managed, nervously wrapping her cardigan tighter about her.

James wasn't sure he could speak right now, his temper far too hot after everything that had happened; his fists clenched at his sides, eyes burning holes in the damn imp.

"What are you doing here?" Emma asked incredulously.

"Offering my legal services."

"You're a lawyer?" The sheriff raised a skeptical brow.

The shorter man began to make his leisurely way over to them, leaning heavily on his cane. "Ever wonder why I was so adept at contracts?"

James couldn't help thinking that the profession, added on to his running the pawn shop, was perfect for the man–if you could call him that. All the clichéd jokes about blood sucking lawyers were suddenly quite apropos in his case.

"I've been following the details of your case, Ms. Blanchard, and I think you'd be well-advised to bring me on as your counsel."

Her gaze was wary. "And why is that?"

"Well, because the sheriff had me arrested for nearly beating a man to death, and I managed to persuade the judge to…drop the charges." He pointed out lightly.

"Asserting your influence isn't what's needed here," Emma firmly countered, her feelings of distrust for this man matching her deputy's. "We need to find the truth."

"Exerting influence may be exactly what's needed here."

The sheriff stepped toward him, unafraid. "What's needed here is for me to do my job."

"Well, no one's stopping you." Rumplestiltskin volleyed back. He leaned forward on his cane. "I'm only here to help."

"Enough!" Mary finally exclaimed. "Please go," she breathed out.

Emma held her head high, arms crossed over her chest, glaring at the would-be attorney. "You heard her."

"No, I was talking to you," Mary softly corrected.

Emma turned to her, expression hurt.

"Mary," James said lowly, fingers reaching out to touch her arm.

"He's right." Her gaze went back and forth between the two people she cared for most in the world. "I need help." Her eyes settled on the sheriff. "And you need to do your job, or else I'm screwed."

Had the situation not been so dire James would have been amused to hear such a crude slang of this world coming from his wife.

"So just please, do your job the best you can, and you'll prove me innocent. Until you do, I need some practical help."

Rumplestiltskin came to stand near the cell. "Trust me."

"Not happening," James muttered under his breath; his wife shot him a sharp glance.

The imp decided to ignore the comment. "This is in Ms. Blanchard's best interests."

After a couple of heartbeats, Emma looked back at her best friend. "Good luck, Mary Margaret," she murmured quietly.

The raven-haired woman nodded, forcing as bright a smile as possible.

Emma continued to speak to Mary but turned to face the man who was now her best friend's lawyer. "I hope your best interests are what he's looking out for." She slowly walked to her office, closing the door behind her.

Mary kept a bit of distance between her and the man so many feared; James' posture was protective, keeping his body between hers and Rumplestiltskin's.

"I can't pay you," she softly admitted.

"I didn't ask for money."

James' pulse jumped, not liking the sound of that.

"Then why are you doing this?" Mary eyed him warily.

That damned smile of his that he got when he knew something, had some ace up his sleeve, quirked his mouth, doing nothing to ease James' dread. "Let's just say…I'm invested in your future," he told her meaningfully.

The prince leaned his head closer to his wife's. "Mary, you don't have to do this." She looked at him. "We'll find someone else."

"Someone we can afford?" she countered, a wry twist to her lips. "The only legal help we could afford otherwise would be a public defender, which would also be for free, but the one here in town doesn't exactly inspire a great deal of confidence. I don't have savings and your divorce wiped out most of yours, and Emma doesn't have anything either."

His hand gripped the bar tight enough that his knuckles went white, hating the fact that Mary was right about this. Their options were severely limited…basically two: the public defender–who was basically guaranteed to loose–and Rumplestiltskin–whose motives were inscrutable.

The imp cocked an eyebrow at James, a smirk playing about his mouth. "It would be best if you weren't here either, Deputy."

"I'm on administrative leave," the prince shot back. "I'm too 'involved' in this case to be active apparently." No way in hell was he going to leave Rumplestiltskin alone with his wife, especially not when she was so vulnerable.

His wife's fingers encircled the wrist of the hand locked in a death grip on the cell bar with. "And I want him here."

"Well, then," the "lawyer" said genially, "if there's no conflict with his job and you wish him to stay then let's get on with this."

Over the next hour Rumplestiltskin questioned not only Mary but James as well about the events leading up to Kathryn's disappearance, the sandy-haired man responding a bit more reluctantly, but still cooperative for his wife's sake. He then proceeded to outline their options for defense strategy, and though James could clearly see the sly, knowing glint in the imp's eyes that indicated he had plans he wasn't sharing, the prince couldn't deny that the short man knew his way around the law and how to manipulate it.

At the end of the hour Emma came in to announce that they had to leave because she was closing up for the night. Rumplestiltskin had smoothly cut in informing her that he wished to see the knife she'd found and question her about it before he left.

The sheriff reluctantly nodded, obviously not wanting to have to deal with the man, but cast a small smile at her two friends. "We'll be back in a bit," she added, granting her tacit permission for James to remain until she returned.

He slid his hands between the bars to wrap around Mary's back, holding her as closely as the bars allowed. She reciprocated the embrace as best she could, wanting nothing more than to burrow into the safety of his arms, but unable to fully do so.

James had his lips pressed against her forehead. "Do you want me to bring you something for dinner?"

Her lips curved into a gentle smile at the worried, protective note in his voice, arms squeezing him affectionately for a moment. "No." Her voice still didn't have quite its usual strength. Her head tilted back to look him in the eye. "Thank you for the thought, but Emma said that she's going to bring something." She blew out a breath. "Though I'm not sure I'll be able to keep any of it down."

His brow furrowed worriedly, her lover lifted a hand to feel her forehead. "Are you still feeling sick?"

Mary reached up, catching his wrist. "I'm not sick," she tried to reassure him. "My stomach is just…churning from…everything."

An unconvinced frown remained on his face but James nodded, allowing his hand to caress the side of her face. "If you're sure…"

Her hand tangled with his, tightening her fingers around his reassuringly. "I am." In all honesty she was afraid for him to leave, his presence was helping her keep the overwhelming panic and fear at bay, but he couldn't stay.

Their foreheads pressed together again, fingers of their linked hands knotting between them. "I'll ask Emma to get you soup and maybe crackers, or at least something that won't likely upset your stomach."

Mary's free hand came up to furl in the front of his shirt. "Thank you." Face canting up, her lips brushed against his. "I love you."

Fingers sifting through her dark strands, James pressed their lips together more firmly, trying to pour every ounce of love, faith, comfort and support he could into it, hating that he had to leave her in this place. "I love you too."

When Emma and Rumplestiltskin returned it killed the couple to pull apart, but James promised to return as early as possible the next day. They kept their hands linked as he forced himself to walk away, maintaining the contact until he had moved out of their reach, hearts aching in their chests.

The prince quietly voiced the food request to his daughter, managing an understanding smile in response to the helpless apologetic one she gave him, before exiting the office just ahead of Rumplestiltskin.

Once they were several paces down the hall, away from the office's door in the empty passage, James spun on the imp, facing him head-on.

The shorter man easily drew to a stop, expression unfazed at James turning on him so abruptly. "Well," he rested his hands comfortably on the handle of his cane, posture relaxed, "I was wondering when we'd be having this little chat."

The prince's hands were fists at his sides, longing to lash out, but that wouldn't do anyone any real good–though it would certainly make him feel better. "What are you doing, Rumplestiltskin?"

"Why whatever do you mean?" the imp inquired in that infuriatingly mild tone of his.

James gritted his teeth, working very hard to remind himself of all the reasons that hitting the man wasn't a good idea. "You know exactly what I mean. What game are you playing, agreeing to represent my wife pro bono? You don't do anything without a reason or without getting something from it. So what are you getting out of this…arrangement?"

The imp took a limping step forward. "That isn't your business, dearie." The fair-headed prince nearly snarled back at the man, however Rumplestiltskin continued before he had the chance. "However, I can tell you, that I have no intention of your wife going to jail or otherwise being punished for this crime. So rest easy." He began to move around James.

"You expect me to just take your word on that?"

The imp turned back to him. "Well, dearie, I would expect after all that lovely time we spent in that dungeon and all the other deals you've been party to that you would know I'm a man of my word."

James' lips compressed into a razor thin line, hating the knowledge that Rumplestiltskin might play on the intent of words, but he followed them to the very letter in his deals.

"Your Majesty." The imp mockingly bowed.

With nothing else to do the prince watched his former prisoner slowly amble down the hall, jaw set as it had been for so much of the day in frustration at his own helplessness and silently praying that his plan would work.

O~U~A~T

James entered the empty apartment for the second time that day after grabbing a sandwich at Tony's for dinner. He'd thought that with all his tarrying in the sandwich shop that Emma might be home by now, but she wasn't. He hung his coat and keys on the designated hooks by the door, dragging his feet through the common spaces to his and Mary's room, stopping dead in the doorway.

His things had taken up noticeable residence in the room, but with so short an occupation on his part his tastes were only just starting to make an appearance; the room was still more Mary–who had decorative tastes that were close to Snow's so it was very much her as well. The pain was intense enough in his chest that James was surprised he wasn't doubled over with it. It was all wrong, his beloved not being here. He stared at the bed for a few moments, fatigue dragged at his eyelids and body, but his mind and emotions were a riot. Instead his gaze scanned the room further.

A pair of his shoes he'd toed off haphazardly near the bed yesterday were now neatly lined up next to hers near the closet, Mary's doing. He'd draped a pair of his jeans, belt still looped through the waistband, over the back of the chair in the corner; lying over the arm, in an uncharacteristically lax gesture for Mary, was one of her sweaters. His hands closed over the soft material of the cardigan, rubbing the familiar texture between his fingers, when he lifted it to his nose, her scent still clung to it. He didn't know how he got there but he found himself more or less collapsing on the bed, tears on his face and her sweater still in his hands.

He never remembered the oblivion of exhausted sleep taking him.

O~U~A~T

Mary had managed to eat some of her dinner, vegetable soup and crackers Emma brought her from Granny's, without her unsteady stomach complaining. She was now preparing for bed; Emma had closed all the blinds, locked the door and shut off the lights save for one she placed in the cell for Mary to use.

The teacher changed out of the clothing she'd been wearing for nearly 48 hours and into a pair of pajama pants; she dug around for a top to wear when her fingers encountered a familiar soft material. She pulled out one of John's flannel shirts, her favorite one actually…for both of them, the color made his eyes look even bluer and she liked wearing it because it always seemed to smell of him. She sniffed it, a small smile curving her lips at finding his comforting scent on it and pulled it on, the soft texture familiar on her skin. Mary curled up on the cot, keeping one arm near her face so she could still smell him from the cloth on the sleeve.

With everything that had happened and all of her emotional and mental upheaval, Mary had thought she wouldn't be able to sleep. But perhaps because of everything that had happened and her emotional turmoil, coupled with the fact that she hadn't slept in nearly two days, she fell into blessed, dreamless unconsciousness only minutes after her head rested on the pillow.

O~U~A~T

Emma was…well whatever was beyond exhausted. In her life she'd gotten used to upheaval, and impermanence. So this whole situation with Mary should have been a piece of cake to handle emotionally… But it wasn't. She chalked it up to the fact that despite her best efforts to remain as detached as she could, Mary along with John and Henry had made it past her walls and into her heart. That in just a few months she'd actually gotten used to the routine of her life here in Storybrooke, had grown accustomed to the comforting rhythm of it all.

Henry, who might occasionally be hurt by something she did, never wavered in his love and affection for her, always there looking up at her with that bright grin. Mary, with her steady, sweet personality and ever-ready ear, after never having a roommate Emma had come to count on her presence in their apartment with a cup of cocoa waiting after a hard day. John was the very definition of dependable, always having her back and helping her take care of and protect their unconventional family.

Part of her wanted to run as fast and as far as she could away from this place and all of these people she depended on and cared for; it opened her up to get hurt, to get her heart ripped out. But she couldn't. It was far too late, she loved them all and they needed her; they counted on her.

What actually scared her the most, even more than opening herself up by caring for her family, was that they depended on her, and not just them but the rest of the town as well. Perhaps it wasn't something she fully thought through when she was determined to become sheriff, but she was all too aware of it now. The part of her screaming at her to run was also screaming at her to quit the sheriff job, crying that she didn't want people to depend on her! She didn't ask to be responsible for taking care of an entire town! She could barely take care of herself most days. But the fact was she had asked for it. In running for sheriff, she'd asked for their trust, their faith, to be placed in her. And no matter how inadequate she felt she couldn't let Mary or any of them down. She'd been a screw-up all her life, but now she wanted…no, she needed to get this right!

Emma stood in front of the apartment door; she pressed a finger to the lock that only a couple of hours ago Henry had used to prove to her Regina was indeed behind all of this. Afterward she'd quickly driven him back to Town Hall to return Madame Mayor's keys and taken him home, mind reeling with this new revelation. She pulled her finger back and replaced it with her own key, once inside she went through the routine of hanging up her coat and keys by the door–it was odd how something so simple as that could comfort her with its normalcy. John's belongings were already there, though it was absolutely silent.

Emma kept her footsteps as soft as possible, making her way to Mary and John's room.

Slumped over on Mary's side of the bed, booted feet still resting on the floor and hand clutching what appeared to be one of her roommate's sweaters, was John. Emma quietly made her way over to him, his shut eyelids and slow, steady breathing telling her that he was deep asleep. She could see the obvious remnants of dried tear tracks on his face; her heart lurched at the sight. She knelt down beside her deputy and began to remove his boots one-by-one, doing her best not to disturb him, setting them down beside the bed. Then Emma wrapped her hands around his ankles and carefully lifted them up onto the bed.

John stirred with this action, eyes cracking open groggily. "Emma?"

"Shh…" she softly soothed, pulling a blanket over him. "Go back to sleep, John."

"Hmm," he relaxed again, burrowing into the pillow, while his grip tightened on the sweater, pulling it closer. "Thank you…" He was drifting back off almost instantly.

"You're welcome," the blonde replied, though he obviously was beyond hearing her. She watched him for a few moments longer before finally rising and heading upstairs to her room, falling into her own bed, fully clothed, and joining her parents in dreamless sleep.

Goodness knew they'd need all the rest they could get in the coming days…

O~U~A~T

Next chapter will be…interesting, with Jefferson involved. XD Oh, is it EVER going to cause some craziness! Thank you so much for reading! Please let me know what you think of the chapter! :-D

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