Back again with more Hot Chocolate! :-D Things have finally begun to slow down at work ( I have one of those jobs where late spring/summer is our busy time of year and fall/winter/early spring are the slow time of year.) Though we did have a burst of activity the last couple of days so it took me a day longer to edit this chapter. There is quite a bit of episode dialogue in this chapter, but hopefully the chapters after this will make up for it with very little of dialogue from the episodes. After this chapter I'm going to be twisting things quite a bit again… ;-} I think you guys will enjoy what I have in store for our intrepid family and group of friends… Thank you SO MUCH for all of the support and encouragement! :-D I LOVE hearing from you guys and what you think about the chapters!


It's a Mad, Mad World

James stared fixedly at the steady drip of coffee into the pot. He normally wouldn't have just stood there doing something that was so wasteful of time, however it was an old habit. Standing watch over things he could control–a fire flickering in a fireplace, coffee brewing–when he was worried about the people he loved and helpless to do anything to protect them.


His head snapped up at his daughter's shout; her worried expression had him wondering how many times Emma had tried to get his attention. "Sorry?"

"I was just saying 'morning…'" She eyed him with a deep frown. "I called you three times…you ok?"

He opened him mouth to say "fine" but closed it again at the cocked eyebrow she gave him. "I was just lost in thought…about Mary." The coffee had finished brewing, he lifted the pot and poured two cups. "Worrying about her."

"Don't." Her voice was firm but he could hear the forced bravado in it. "We're going to fix this, we're going to find the truth and get her out of this mess." The set of her mouth and the stubborn determination in her eyes were oh-so-familiar; James knew she truly believed in her promise, that they would save Mary and she was going to use every ounce of her will to make it happen.

He held her gaze. "She's the love of my life, Emma." His hands clenched around the mug. "I can't…I can't lose her." Again, he silently added.

He could see her clenched knuckles were almost as white as the ceramic mug she was holding. "We won't lose her. We'll save her." She couldn't allow for anything else.

James wanted more than anything to just take her word, to believe that everything would be all right, but fear had clamped like a vise around his heart and lungs. "Have you heard back from the lab?" he asked as levelly as he could manage, setting his coffee down on the counter.

Emma's jaw clenched, obviously reluctant to answer. "Yes…it was Kathryn's heart."

The prince spun around to face the counter, hands clamping down on the edge, trying to keep from throwing something again. He didn't want to break in front of his daughter of all people, especially not when she already had too much weighing on her shoulders.

"I'm sorry, John."

After squeezing the counter once more, he snatched up his coffee, dumping the nearly full mug out in the sink and setting it inside. He then turned on his heel and strode to the door, grabbing his coat along the way. "I'm going to get Mary's breakfast." Without another word he opened the door and shut it behind him hard enough to rattle the hinges.


Emma stared at the door her deputy had just left through. He was trying to hold himself together but she could see that what was happening with Mary was really getting to him. If Mary was taken from them she wasn't sure John would ever recover from it. She doubted he would. If she was honest with herself, Emma didn't think she'd recover either, but she was trying to studiously ignore that small voice in her mind.

She'd never been a believer in there being just one perfect person out there for everyone or "true love" or, as he called it, "the love of your life." Life had made her a skeptic of love of any kind…however Mary and John…they made her question her belief in there not being such a thing.

Her jaw locked tight. She couldn't let that fall apart; the couple who made her hope that such a thing as "true love" really existed… She couldn't lose the people who meant the most to her! She couldn't lose her family!


Ruby was uncharacteristically subdued as she handed James two cups of coffee–since he hadn't really drunk more the a couple sips of the one he's made back at the apartment he'd bought himself another, though he wasn't sure he'd be able to drink that either–and the paper bag with Mary's breakfast. "John?"

Weary blue eyes lifted to meet hazel ones.

She bit her lip, brow furrowed with worry. "How's Mary?"

His first instinct was to snap back, how the hell did she think Mary was doing? But this was Ruby, Red, one of Snow's dearest friends, and one of the few people who had stood by Mary and remained a true friend when people thought they'd had an affair. James swallowed thickly, fighting to rein in his temper. "Scared."

She wrapped her arms tightly around her stomach. "And the case?"

Not wanting to have to admit how bad things were out loud, he dropped his head, hanging it for a moment before straightening and gathering his order. "Thanks, Ruby."

"You're welcome…" Her gaze followed his tall form to the door anxiously. The waitress gnawed on her lower lip, able to see clearly how thin the mask he was wearing was, trying to convince everyone that he was fine but it was about as far from the truth as possible.


When James entered the station Emma was standing next to the cell, her head bent close to Mary's. They both looked up upon hearing his footsteps. For several heartbeats there was a pregnant silence.

"John," his wife finally breathed, easing the loaded moment.

"I brought your breakfast." He held up the bag and coffee, attempting something that resembled his usual charming grin, but was fairly sure he didn't succeed. He slipped one of the coffees and the bag through the bars to her.

"Thank you," she murmured, setting the bag on the cot beside her before leaning forward to press her lips against James' lingeringly.

When they pulled apart it was to find that Emma had discreetly slipped away into her office.

The prince reached between the bars to stroke his fingers over his love's dark cap of hair. "Were you able to sleep last night?"

Mary leaned into his caress, a tiny smile lifting her lips. "Yes, wearing your shirt helped." She turned her head to place a kiss on the inside of his wrist. "Thank you for that."

They were keeping their voices low, far too aware of their lack of privacy and how easily someone could just walk into the station.

His mouth turned up in a half-grin. "It looks better on you than me anyway."

She managed to hold the smile for a couple more heartbeats before it slid off her face, head falling forward, her fingers plucked at the buttons on his shirt. "Emma told me about Kathryn's heart…"

James clenched his jaw. "She told me before I left this morning."

Mary rubbed the worn fabric of his flannel shirt between her thumb and forefinger. "She also told me how she found evidence that Regina is framing me…"

His brow furrowed. "What?! She didn't mention that! What is it?"

Her palm flattened against his chest in a calming gesture. "She didn't say, only that she couldn't turn it in."

"Why the hell not?!" If they had evidence to vindicate Mary why wasn't Emma revealing it?!

"Because she said it wouldn't stand in court." Green eyes lifted to his. "And that's what they care about, when it comes to proving who killed Kathryn."

His knuckles went white as his grip on the bar tightened.

"She's still looking for more evidence, court-worthy evidence, but…" Her small white teeth tugged on her lower lip. "I don't think that Regina will let her find it…" She squeezed her eyes shut against the burn of tears.

James pried a hand from the bars and reached between them to cup her cheek, exhausted green eyes opening and lifting to blue ones in response to his touch. "I won't let you go to prison, Mary," he swore. "I love you, and I won't let you be convicted of something you didn't do!"

Her eyes gazed into his searchingly.

A frown pulled at his mouth, wondering what she was looking for. "What is it?"

Mary stared at him a moment longer before opening her mouth, however she snapped it shut again when Emma exited her office.

"Hey, I have to run out for a while…" She fiddled with her keys, obviously uncomfortable with whatever she was about to say. "John, I have to ask you to leave with me because if Regina comes in here and catches you alone with Mary she'll probably twist it in some way to make things worse for Mary…"

He hated to leave his wife, but knew that Emma had a point and he wanted to do anything he could to protect his true love. Also, something in his daughter's tone when she said she had to "run out" was nagging at him and he wanted to find out what she was doing.

Reluctantly James leaned forward to kiss Mary, hands clinging to her, wishing for the thousandth time already that he didn't have to leave her here.

"I'll see you later," he murmured to her once they drew apart.

"Ok. I love you."

His fingers tenderly brushed aside her bangs. "I love you too."

She managed a weak smile for him, squeezing his hand before forcing herself over to the cot to her breakfast and coffee, watching her family leave. Once the door closed behind them, her hand slipped into her pocket and withdrew the key she'd found before Emma arrived. The key that unlocked the door to her cell. She stared at it contemplatively as her thumb traced over the raised image of the skull in the metal…


"Emma!" James caught her arm outside before she could head down the street. "Where are you going?"

It was so strange to Emma how John could sometimes make her feel like a teenager getting caught sneaking out by her father. The alien sensation instantly put her on the defensive. "I'm a grown woman, John, I can take care of myself."

When she tried to pull away, he tightened his grip slightly. "I know that, but if it has to do with Mary I want to help. I need to help." James was careful to word things in a way he knew would help ease the guard she'd just thrown up.

She eyed him, he guessed that she was using her "superpower," trying to determine if he was being honest, which he was, just not sharing the whole reason he wanted to go with her. "I'm going to talk to Gold," Emma finally admitted, apparently satisfied he was being truthful.

He was relieved she was willing to tell him, but his jaw locked at what she told him. It took him a few seconds of drawing deep breaths to calm the anger that had flashed through him at the name. "Let's go."

They didn't speak the entire way, determination filling the atmosphere between them.

The front of the pawn shop was empty; Emma called the proprietor's name as they made their way to the back room where they found Gold taking an old, jewel-studded, gold oil lamp from a shelf behind his work table.

"Mr. Gold."

"Just taking inventory." He turned to face the father-daughter pair. "What can I do for you, Ms. Swan and Mr. Nolan?" He settled himself into the chair behind him. "Any developments in the case I should be aware of?"

The imp knew, James realized, his jaw set.

"Yes," Emma stated emphatically. "Regina set her up."

"And this surprises you?" the shorter man inquired sardonically. "Show me your evidence, and we'll get this over with immediately."

"Yeah." The blonde leaned forward, planting her hands on the tabletop, and the prince suppressed the urge to pull his daughter back from Rumplestiltskin. "That's the thing. There isn't any–anything that's court-worthy. But I know it now."

"Look who's suddenly become a woman of faith." The imp's eyes cut to James, glinting craftily, before returning to Emma. "Why are you here, Ms. Swan? To spin conspiracy theories?"

"I need help."

"From me?" Rumplestiltskin gestured to himself, a smirk growing on his face.

"Every time I've gone up against Regina, I've lost, except for one, when I became sheriff, when you helped."

"As I recall, you don't exactly approve of my methods," he pointed out.

"I approve of your results," Emma countered.

Again the pawnbroker glanced at James, who was clenching his hands furiously at his sides, forcing himself to remain silent, because in this case…he honestly could say that he'd do anything–short of sacrificing his daughter or grandson–to save his wife. Even make a deal with the devil himself.

"And this time, I have something more important than a job. I need to save my friend." There was a hint of a quaver in Emma's voice when she spoke of Mary, telling of how much she truly cared for the other woman.

"And you're willing to go as far as it takes?" There was something in his tone that told James the imp was fishing for a particular answer.

"Farther," the blonde replied without a moment's hesitation.

The shrewd eyes shifted to the blue ones of his once-upon-a-time-captor. "Same," James informed him instantly.

Rumplestiltskin smirked, his eyes alight with glee and satisfaction. "Now we're talking." He sat back, turning his attention to the lamp. "Fear not, Ms. Swan. Regina may be powerful, but something tells me you're more powerful than you know." Dark, beady eyes glittered with far too much knowledge.

James had never felt more like he'd made a deal with the devil himself, even though there hadn't been any deals struck.


Striding down the hall to the sheriff's office the three of them encountered Henry sitting in one of the chairs just outside reading his book.

"Henry. What are you doing here?" Emma frowned curiously at her son.

"I came to congratulate you," he told her, excitement bubbling in his words.

Sheriff and erstwhile deputy glanced at each other, amusement tingeing their expressions, though neither had a clue why the child would be congratulating them.

"For what?" James asked his grandson.

"Your genius plan!" he told him in a voice that indicated it should be obvious.

A bad feeling twisted the prince's stomach; his daughter crossed her arms over her chest in a gesture that told him she was feeling the same foreboding he was.

"And what plan's that, Henry?" Rumplestiltskin inquired, stepping around the other two adults and into sight.

The excitement drained from the child's face, suddenly finding his shoelaces very interesting.

"Right," the imp muttered before heading into the sheriff's office.

They watched him limp off before the two adults turned back to the child.

"Sorry," Henry told them repentantly. "I thought Mr. Gold was in on it, now that he's Ms. Blanchard's lawyer."

"In on what?" Emma frowned at her son in confusion.

Surprise flooded the boy's face. "The escape plan."

"Escape plan?!" James felt panic, crushing and heady, course through him.

"Sheriff, could you join me, please?" Rumplestiltskin called from the office.

Father, daughter and grandson rushed inside…only to be met with the disheartening sight of Mary's empty cell, door standing wide open.

"She's gone," the imp stated.

James' feet carried him to the cell, reaching it first and going inside, looking around as if Mary were somehow hidden in the Spartan space.

"Henry, what did you do?" Emma gasped.

"Nothing!" he swore. "She was gone when I got here."

The prince turned to face his family and Rumplestiltskin.

"Her arraignment's tomorrow," the pawnbroker put in.

James swore softly under his breath.

The imp's gaze turned to the fair-haired man. "If she's not there…"

"She's a fugitive," Emma finished, scanning the cell, just as James had done. Her panicked gaze met his. "Doesn't matter if she's convicted for Kathryn or not, she's screwed."

He stepped forward to stand an arm's length from her. "We have to find her!"

"Yeah," she agreed, spinning on her heel, the two of them nearly running into her office. "And we have to get her back here before someone notices she's missing."

"Oh, you mean Regina?" Rumplestiltskin sardonically clarified.

"The arraignment's at 8:00 a.m. I'm sure she'll be here bright and early to celebrate her victory!" She grabbed her gun from a drawer in her desk. She surreptitiously pulled out James' as well, pressing it into his hands as she passed him, muttering for only him to hear. "Just in case." He nodded in thanks, clipping the holster to his waistband.

"You have until 8:00 a.m. then," Rumplestiltskin once again stated the obvious.

"Uh, what about me? How can I help?" Henry eagerly inquired.

"Go home," Emma told her son firmly.

"Emma." The boy hurried up to his mother. "If she leaves Storybrooke–"

"Not now, Henry," she countered, too focused on her missing roommate to deal with Operation Cobra. "Come on." She steered him toward the door, James right beside them.

The boy turned back to his grandfather, eyes pleading. When Emma was called back by Rumplestiltskin, James continued with Henry into the hall–even though it was difficult to let her near the man alone, the prince could tell his grandson needed him.

Once they were a ways down the hall James pulled them to a stop and went down on one knee so that he was eye to eye with his grandson. "Don't worry, Henry, Emma and I will find Mary and bring her back safely."

"But what if she tries to leave? No one can leave Storybrooke!" The child's eyes were wide with worry for the woman who was his teacher and grandmother, though she didn't remember that last part yet.

James had rested both hands on Henry's shoulders, he squeezed them gently. "Well, then she probably won't get far and we'll be able to find her and bring her back more easily," he pointed out, trying to lighten the situation.

His grandson gazed at him levelly. "Mrs. Nolan tried to leave…"

The sandy-haired man didn't know how to respond reassuringly to that…

"Let's go," Emma called out as she strode toward them.

Grandfather and grandson rose and followed her outside.

"I'll take Henry home and then start searching toward the north," James volunteered, guiding the boy toward his truck.

"Thanks." Emma swung into her yellow Bug. "I'll head south. We should try and check the woods on the way out of town." She paused, apparently thinking of something. "Could you check out you two's usual haunts? Like the Toll Bridge?"

"I'll head over there after I drop off Henry," he promised, ducking into the cab of his truck.


Henry stared up at the imposing mayor's mansion, his eyes slid back to James mournfully. "Do I really have to go back there?"

Oh, how he wanted to say "no." The prince ran a hand over his grandson's head. "I wish you didn't, but..."

"But the law says I have to," the boy finished bitterly.

The crestfallen expression on Henry's face broke James' heart. Damn Regina for what she'd done! He'd never believed that Snow deserved the full weight of blame that her stepmother placed on her shoulders–she'd been only a child who didn't know better!–however he could've at last relatively accepted her actions against himself and Snow, if they hadn't extended to harm their child, grandchild and the entire populace of their world.

For a moment James considered how different their lives would be if they hadn't been forced from their home: Emma would have been raised by Snow and himself, loved and adored from the moment she was conceived. They probably would have had other children, they'd both always wanted a big family. If Emma had still had Henry out of wedlock he would have been loved just as devotedly by his grandparents. James and Snow would have done everything they could to help Emma raise her child. And meanwhile the prince would've hunted down the man who had dishonored her so and make his displeasure clear. He would have made sure that if she ever got married that the man truly loved her and Henry; that he'd be a wonderful husband and father. He wouldn't let any child of his settle for less than someone who made them truly happy and loved them entirely.

He gazed into his grandchild's sad eyes. He'd missed everything, he hadn't gotten to share any of the moments a parent looked forward to with Emma, or Henry for that matter. James' heart ached with the longing for everything that he should have had, that they all should've had.

The prince swallowed hard, wanting more than anything to just not let Henry go, but as with Mary he had no choice… Gods, he hated this world!

He squeezed Henry's shoulder, managing a smile as best he could. "We'll find Mary…everything'll be ok."

The boy forced a smile before climbing out of the truck, closing the door behind him and dashing up to the house.

James didn't think that it was possible to hate this world any more than he did, hate how powerless he was here, how helpless he felt to protect his family.


James' head swung back and forth as he drove, blue eyes searching ceaselessly for any sign of Mary. He'd gone by the Toll Bridge, the pond he took her skating on for Valentine's Day, and a few of their other favorite places, but there'd been no indication that she'd been to any of them. He'd driven through most of the northern part of Storybrooke, even gotten out and searched a few parts of the forest on foot. His panic grew with each minute that passed without him finding her or Emma calling to say that she'd done so.

The ring of his cell phone broke through the monotony of the low drone of the truck's engine and tires running over the road. He grabbed it from the seat beside him, glancing at the screen to see that it wasn't one of his, admittedly few, contacts, before flipping it open. "Hello?"

"John, it's Emma."

Instantly he was fully alert, hope threading through him. "Did you find Mary?"

"No, but I need your help!" Her voice was barely above a harsh whisper; instantly internal alarms began blaring in James' mind.

"What's wrong?" he asked urgently.

"I was drugged and am being held in a mansion near the edge of town…I need you to come help me!"

"Where are you?"

She rattled off the address; thankfully he knew where it was, a giant mansion he'd noted during his search that was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. He braked and jerked the wheel around, U-turning in the direction of the house; he then hit the gas and fishtailed off. "I'll be there in five minutes," he promised his daughter.

"Thanks." The line went dead after that one word; James hoped that it was of her own volition and not her captor's…


James parked the truck about a block away from the house, not wanting to alert Emma's captor to his presence. Cutting through the woods and yard around the house, sticking to the shadows as much as possible he finally reached what appeared to be the backdoor of the massive residence. Drawing his weapon, he held his breath and slowly turned the doorknob, fervently praying that the house wasn't outfitted with an alarm system, a relieved breath whooshing from his lungs when the door cracked open sliently. James pushed it open with equal care and caution, tensed, waiting for it to squeak, but apparently whoever lived here kept the hinges in good repair, they were silent.

Easing the door closed again, his gaze scanned the dim interior, which appeared to be the kitchen, pots and pans hanging from the rack over the butcher's block like alarm bells, waiting to simply be struck. The prince kept his tread as light as possible on the tile floor, for once thankful that the soles of his boots here were rubber rather than the hard leather of their own world.

The entrance hall was just as empty and dim; James peered up the stairs, slowly shifting his weight onto the first step experimentally, not even the slightest give in the step–apparently the owner was fastidious about the upkeep of his home…

Thankfully the upstairs hallway was carpeted, muffling any noise his footsteps made. As he made his way down the hall he carefully opened each door a crack to peer inside. The first two were unremarkable. But the third…

A light shone from under the door, more promising than the first two which had been dark and empty. A shadow passed under the crack; James tightened his grip on the gun while his other hand curled around the doorknob. After a heartbeat of bracing himself he flung the door open, gun pointed into the room.

He cursed as a hard object was brought down on his wrist, causing his hand to go numb and the gun to fall from his suddenly non-responsive fingers. He turned to find a pistol leveled at him by a well-dressed brown haired man, who had been holding Emma trapped against him, hand over her mouth, but suddenly threw her at James. He reached out and steadied his daughter before she could slam into him.

"Emma!" He braced her with his hands on her upper arms, eyes scanning her over, making sure that she was unhurt. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah." Her eyes cut to the man with the gun as she straightened up; reluctantly James allowed his hands to fall away, not wanting to make Emma any more uncomfortable in the situation than she already was. Her gaze went back to his. "Mary's here."

He felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. "Is she ok?"

"Scared," she glanced accusingly at their captor again, "and tied up in a room, but otherwise fine."

James turned his attention to the dark-clothed man, still pointing a gun at both of them. Blue eyes flicked to the floor, looking for his gun, finding it halfway across the room, too far for them to reach without the risk of one of them being shot by the other man.

"Well, well…what a charming family reunion," the unknown man mocked.

James shifted his body so that his body was between Emma and the man, or more specifically the gun berrel. "Who are you? Why are you doing this?"

"I'm Jefferson, and I'm doing this because she," he pointed the gun at Emma, "is the only one that can make my hat work!"

"He thinks he's the Mad Hatter," Emma elaborated to James under her breath.

It took the sandy-haired man several moments of mental searching to recall Mary's mention of Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter, stuck in a perpetual tea party.

The gun steadied on the pair, the man's jaw set furiously. "My name is Jefferson," he bit out between his gritted teeth. "Now," he grabbed Emma by the shoulder and forced her to the table, "make it work!" The muzzle now swung toward James. "Or Daddy here won't be keeping his head…"

Emma's eyes went to James, full of worry. "Mary," she mouthed to him.

He nodded, eyes going to "Jefferson." "Please, our friend–"

"You mean your wife," the madman corrected him, though James was beginning to wonder just how mad the man really was.

The prince's blue gaze flicked to his daughter before returning to their captor. "I certainly hope she will be someday."

"No!" Jefferson stalked toward him, the gun leveled at James' chest. "You know," he snarled. "You remember!" The muzzle stopped inches from his plaid-covered sternum. "I know you know! I know that you remember exactly who you are, who she is," the gun waved in Emma's direction, "and who 'Mary,'" he said the name mockingly, making it obvious how real he believed the name to be, "is!"

"I told you, it's just a story!" Emma shouted, though their captor's eyes never left the other man and James didn't dare look away from the "Hatter."

"You know who she is," Jefferson continued, indicating Emma while still speaking to James. "Who she is to you! Who she is to that other woman! Who she is to all of us!" He drew the gun closer into his body, making sure James couldn't grab it while he took a step closer. "And yet, you do nothing to make her realize it! Nothing to make her make her wake up!"

James' hands curled into fists at his sides, not allowing himself to look at his daughter, afraid he might betray himself. "You believe that I'm Prince Charming from Henry's fairy tale book and that I remember being so?"

"I don't believe," the dark-haired man snapped, "I know!"

"Regardless," the prince calmly interjected. "If you believe that of me, and by extension you believe that Mary is my wife–my true love–Snow White, and Emma is my daughter…you have to know that I will do everything in my power to protect them from anything."

"And you can all go home, nice and safe," Jefferson began in a normal tone before screaming, "after she makes the hat work, I get my daughter and we go home!"

With that last word he was clocked from behind and fell to the ground. James had distracted their captor long enough for Emma to grab the telescope from its stand and sneak up behind him. The prince snatched up the gun as he and Emma bolted from the room.

The blonde wrenched open a door down the hall revealing Mary bound to a chair. James ignored the fury that bubbled up in him at seeing his wife that way and began helping Emma free his love.

Her eyes went wide at something behind them as he pulled the gag from her mouth. "Look out!"

James shot up and begun to spin around, raising the pistol, but mid-turn something cracked hard against the back of his skull, his vision went blurry, the world was spinning and his ears rung; he barely felt it when he hit the floor. The sounds of fighting around him were muffled and distorted, he was having trouble clearing his head enough to focus.

"John!" Hands were on him, he tensed but then almost instantly relaxed, his body recognizing Snow's touch, the feeling of her small, capable hands sent a wave of calm through him.

He opened his eyes, but his vision was blurred. "Sn-Mary?" His hand blindly reached for her, she caught it and his fingers tightened around hers, desperately afraid that if he let go she'd disappear.

Her other hand moved to his head, fingers gently moving over the scalp; he hissed out a breath when she encountered a tender spot. "I'm sorry." She brushed an apologetic kiss to his forehead. "There's a nasty lump there, we need to get you to the hospital, you might have a concussion."

"Can you stand?" Emma inquired from his other side.

"Hold on," he mumbled, opening his eyes again. It took a few minutes of blinking and squinting but finally his wife and daughter came into focus in the dim room. "Ok."

With the two women's help he slowly sat up–he had to stop a couple of times, the spinning and pain nearly making him vomit–and then even more haltingly rose to his feet. Once he was standing he looked around the room–the orbit it began to take making him regret the action a moment later, forcing him to close his eyes for a moment and swallow back bile.

"Where's that Jefferson guy?" he finally asked once he was sure what was left of his lunch wasn't going to be making a reappearance.

Emma and Snow–damn, that hit was really messing with his thought processes, he kept thinking about her as "Snow" and nearly slipped up a few moments earlier, he really needed to focus before he said something he couldn't take back–each took one of his arms and placed them over their shoulders, helping him remain upright–because walking on his own right now was not happening…

"Mary kicked him out the window, but it looks like he somehow disappeared before he hit the ground," Emma grunted as they made their way down the hall.

James had to close his eyes on the stairs and trust the two women, because the vertigo nearly had him falling forward.

To distract himself he asked, "Mary, how–" he winced at a particularly painful spear of pain through his head, "how did you get out of the cell?"

Her fingers fisted in his shirt against his side. "There was a key under my pillow…I thought that you might have put it there…"

Regardless of the disorientation having his eyes open caused him his blue irises met her green ones, brow furrowed. "Why would I do that?"

She shook her head, pressing her face momentarily into his shoulder. "I don't know, things have been so confusing and crazy since this all started…" Her gaze returned to his, expression turning pleading. "I was planning on calling you once I was out of town."

They'd exited the house and reached where the shattered glass from the window littered the lawn, Jefferson's hat lying upended among the shards. Emma moved away after making sure that Mary could support James on her own. All three searched their surroundings as they approached the hat, but there was no sign of the man who just a short while ago had held them captive.

"There's no sign of him anywhere." The sheriff's eyes still scanned the area.

"Who was he?" Mary looked at the other two inquiringly.

Emma's eyes cut to James before going back to the top hat she was turning over in her hands. "A very lonely man." She frowned and turned back to Mary. "By the way, have you been taking kickboxing classes and not telling me about it?"

Emerald eyes went wide, she seemed at a loss for words for a moment, as if something was niggling at the back of her mind before she stammered out, "I-I have…no idea where that came from…"

Her tone and expression gave James pause, sending a jolt of hope through him, as she began to urge them all toward the front of the house where they found Emma's yellow Bug covered with a tarp.

Their daughter swept the cover off the vehicle and yanked the door open, relief obvious as she straightened back up and held the keys aloft with a triumphant grin at the couple.

James heard Mary–his head must be clearing, because it was easier to think of her as that again–sigh with relief, but as Emma approached them, eyes not meeting hers and posture tense, he almost felt his wife deflate.

Jade eyes studied the lines in the driveway. "So, Sheriff, I guess you'll be taking me back now."

The prince's arm tightened instinctively around his love, jaw tightening.

Their daughter glanced toward the road before looking back at them and tossing the keys to Mary. "Here. Both of you, go."

The dark-haired woman looked up at the blonde, wide-eyed and almost hopeful. "You want me to run?"

"No," she countered miserably, "but it's your choice."

James wanted to say something, but somehow felt that the best person to convince Mary to stay was their daughter.

The sheriff took a step closer to her friend. "Just know something–running ain't easy. I've done my share of it. And once you go, there's no stopping."

"Emma," Mary nearly gasped out, fear evident in her voice, "nearly everyone thinks I killed Kathryn!"

"Mary Margaret, you have to believe in me!" Emma begged. "You have to trust me!" Her voice was just an inch away from breaking. "I know it seems impossible, but I can get you out of this!"

"Why is it so important to you what happens to me?" Mary sounded truly puzzled by this.

"Because when Regina framed me and you bailed me out, I asked you why and you said you trusted me." Her eyes were red-rimmed and wet. "And then when I wanted to leave Storybrooke 'cause I thought it was best for Henry, you told me I needed to stay because that was the best for him." She was an inch away from the letting the tears pooled in her eyes fall. "And I realized all my life I have been alone. Walls up. Nobody's ever been there for me except for you two." She included James in her gaze as she said that. "And I can't lose that! I cannot lose my family!"

The breath was stolen from James' body at hearing his daughter actually refer to them as family; he had to swallow hard several times to fight back his own tears and to force back the desperate desire to pull his child into a hug.

"Family?" Mary's soft, tremulous voice was full of burgeoning hope, so indicative of her own desperate desire for family.

"Friends…" Their daughter shifted uncomfortably, though he could still see that she was clinging on to them and the love and acceptance they represented. "Whatever." She shoved her hands in her back pockets. "You know what I mean." After a beat she met Mary's eyes again. "Wouldn't you rather face this together than alone?"

James watched a smile slowly growing on his beloved's face; she held out the keys to Emma, drawing a relieved breath from his lungs.

When Emma reached to take them Mary caught her hand and held on, the blonde returned the grasp. They shared a warm, quiet smile, cementing what was already one of the three strongest relationships Emma had ever had.

The soft tolling of the clock tower bell drew all of their attention. Their grins fell and Emma's wide worried gaze snapped to James'. "The arraignment."


Emma had broken probably every single posted speed limit, and blown through every stop sign where no one was present on the way back to the station. James had acquiesced when his daughter had ordered him to stay in the car, his head was throbbing so moving wasn't something he particularly wanted to do. She then hustled Mary back into the station and the cell; after that she returned to the Bug and announced that she'd promised her roommate to take him to the hospital directly, no arguments.

James had chuckled, inwardly musing that Emma was so much like her mother.

The doctors had checked him over, poked around his head, making sure that he hadn't fractured his skull–thankfully he hadn't–before decreeing that he had a concussion and should stay in the hospital. James' input had been, "not a chance in hell." He had a strong, innate aversion to hospitals, he'd learned, plus the fact that he didn't trust the people here not to be possibly working with Regina, he certainly didn't want to risk being at her mercy again…

After they reluctantly agreed to release him from their care if someone was able to stay with him, his cerulean eyes had cut to his daughter pleadingly. Emma had grimaced but told them that he lived in her apartment and that she'd keep an eye on him. The doctors had been extremely displeased with his leaving, especially with his history of being in a coma and "amnesia," but they didn't really have much choice in the matter.

Emma had wanted to take him directly home to rest, but he'd insisted on grabbing something for both of them and Mary to eat, none of them having had a proper meal since lunch the day before. They grabbed three meals to-go from Granny's. James was grateful that the pain relievers the doctors had given him had dulled the pain in his head substantially and that the world was no longer spinning like one of those merry-go-rounds he'd seen in this world. Hopefully it would remain so because he needed to eat and had no desire to throw his lunch right back up again.

When they entered the station Mary looked up from where she'd been reading the Daily Mirror. James scowled at the headline: "Heartless" with a picture of her right under it. "Why are you reading that trash?" He reached through the bars to hand his wife the bag of food.

She shrugged, tossing the paper aside and moving to the bars. "Makes for good fiction I suppose…" She accepted the meal he handed her; her fingers reached up to brush along his temple. "What did the doctors say?"

"He has a concussion," Emma spoke up from where she was sorting through some mail that had been delivered. "And they wanted him to stay overnight for observation."

Mary's dark brows pulled together, disapproving gaze turning from the blonde to her lover. "Then why aren't you there?"

He opened his mouth to defend himself.

"Because he's a stubborn male who hates doctors," their daughter quickly replied.

James rolled his eyes, ignoring the slight twinge of pain that caused, turning to Emma. "I don't hate doctors."

Emma cocked an eyebrow. "The death glare you sent Whale would suggest otherwise."

"John," Mary said reproachfully, "was it really necessary to glare at Dr. Whale?"

He scowled. "Oh, that has little to do with him being a doctor."

His wife blushed brilliantly. "You can't go around glaring at every man I ever dated."

Cerulean eyes snapped to hers, gaze sharp. "'Every man?' Just how many guys are we talking about?"

Mary rolled her eyes at him. "Emma," she looked past him at their daughter, "remind him that he can't go around beating up or arresting people just for having dated me."

When no response came and James saw Mary's expression become worried he turned to face his daughter as well.

Emma was staring down at a sheaf of papers in her hand, disbelief painted across her expression.

"Emma, what's wrong?" James' brow furrowed in concern.

Slowly the sheriff's eyes lifted to them. "It's the report from the lab on the knife. There were fingerprints on it…"

"Oh, gods," Mary breathed; even though she hadn't even told them who the prints belonged to she could tell from Emma's expression it wasn't good. Her stomach roiled ominously.

Emma's gaze went to James. "They're John's."


Soooooooo…what do you guys think? Did you see that last part coming? I was trying VERY hard to make it a surprise. I don't like it when my stories get too predictable, so I try to throw curveballs occasionally. I hope you all liked it! Thank you SO MUCH for reading and let me know what you think! Now, I'd better get to work on Once Upon a Time…and Again before my readers for that kill me over the cliffhanger I left them with! XD

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