HOT CHOCOLATE

So, I have the most kick ass dartie EVER! Sassy got this back to me this afternoon! XD Here's the new chapter less than a day after I updated Once Upon a Time…and Again!

O~U~A~T

Interruptions

Emma was distant the next morning, which James understood, but it killed him. She needed to pretend that last night didn't happen, but at the same time she needed time and distance to deal with last night.

His heart ached for his beloved daughter, wishing with everything in him that he could take this burden away, save her the conflict and pain. James hated what'd been taken from them. Their family ripped apart, all of the years lost, innumerable moments he couldn't get back with his child… And he hated this world that had burned her so, that had left her so broken. He wished he could go back and undo every single hurt that'd been enacted upon her. Whenever he thought about it his hands would clench in impotent rage, pain wracking him at being unable to even comfort her as a father. Damn Regina for what she did to his child!

Mary tossed a strained smile at Emma as she handed her one of the three Tupperware boxes she carried. "I made us all breakfast." There was a determined, forced cheerfulness in her tone.

Emma and James instinctively turned to each other, her worry for her best friend and bone-deep knowledge that he shared it overriding any awkwardness she felt from last night's revelations.

Mary wasn't handing the situation well, and James knew that the parts of Snow that had been slipping through scared her all the more. Mary wasn't Snow, she didn't have his wife's fire and steel, and she'd been stuck for 28 years in a place that never changed, the very definition of permanence and stability. Mary still wasn't accustomed to such violent and sudden upheaval. Snow, on the other hand, had spent much of her adult years only really knowing impermanence and instability. Snow would have taken all of this in stride and come out swinging. Mary didn't have the coping mechanisms to deal with what was happening. The thinnest of veneers covered her fear and the fact that she was just a breath away from falling apart.

James accepted the rubber container that his wife pressed into his hands and caught her fingers before she could pull away. "Mary," he murmured, tone a soothing caress.

She stiffened under his touch, eyes slowly lifting to his; even if he hadn't known her better than he knew himself, he still would've been able to see how close she was to tears.

"Please," she begged, "I can't fall apart..." Tears gathered at the corner of her eyes. "I don't think I'll be able to stop crying."

Letting the Tupperware drop to the floor, uncaring of it stayed closed or not, James cradled her face between his palms. He kissed her, pouring all of the reassurance and comfort he could into it, he could feel wet droplets sliding between their mouths, but just continued to kiss her.

"I love you," James murmured against her lips before pulling back to meet her tearful gaze. "And nothing can ever change or take that away."

Pressing her forehead against his, Mary gripped his wrists. "They can take you away from me," her voice quavered.

"No." He shook his head in emphasis. "They might imprison me, but I'm always yours." James sifted his fingers through her hair. "And the truth has a habit of coming out."

She tried to smile, tears still streaming down her cheeks.

James needed to find a way to reassure her. Leaning forward he whispered in her ear, "I will always find you."

He could see the effect the words had on her, reaching inside, touching the part that was Snow, flowing confidence and reassurance through her. And while Mary might not understand why she felt this way she seemed to be willing to let it soothe her. Her lips met his again, tears beginning to dry. "I love you," sighed into the kiss.

A smile curved his mouth. "I love you too."

With a grin that had his heart skipping a beat at how much it looked like Snow's, she kissed him quickly again. "You'd better pick up your breakfast." Humor lit her eyes as she stepped back.

His heart pounding at the sudden change in Mary's face, James had a hell of a time tearing his gaze from her to look down where he'd dropped his meal, finding it thankfully still sealed shut, if rather shaken up. His eyes kept straying to his wife as he bent to pick up the Tupperware and moved onto his cot to eat.

Mary had gone to the desk where she'd set her own breakfast down along with the thermos and three mugs she'd brought, proceeding to pour coffee into each cup. She had no idea what'd gotten into her. How had his words brought forth such a confidence that all would be well? That somehow together they could overcome this? It made no sense but the part of her that wanted to curl in a ball and weep would obviously do no good, so she chose to wrap herself in this confidence, because it was certainly better than that weakness.

At some point during her and John's exchange Emma had, unsurprisingly, escaped to her office and was paying a little more attention than necessary to eating her meal. After handing John his cup, just smiling at his piercing look–that same part of her that charged in and overtook her fear wanted to tease him a little–she headed into her roommate's office, coffee in hand and a calm smile on her face.

"Coffee?" She held the cup up in question.

When she looked up, the blonde's eyebrows shot up her forehead and it took her a beat or two to respond. "Yeah." She thanked Mary as she set the mug in front of her.

"You're welcome," the dark-haired woman responded.

Emma caught her hand as she turned to leave. "Mare...are you...ok?"

The teacher thought carefully before answering. "I don't know." She smiled. "But..." She bit her lip. "I think I'm heading that direction."

The sheriff let her hand slip from hers, watching as her best friend dragged a chair in front of John's cell and settled down to eat with her lover with as much normalcy as could be had in the situation.

O~U~A~T

Mary was heading down the sidewalk, she'd been loath to leave John but they were in dire need of groceries at home and it gave her something productive to do instead of pacing the Sheriff's station.

"Mary!"

She looked up from digging through her purse to make sure she had her wallet to see Ashley hurrying toward her as quickly she could with Alexandra in the stroller. Relief and worry simultaneously lit her face as she folded the elder woman into a hug which Mary returned, automatically at first but once the momentary shock wore off her arms tightened into an actual embrace.

"Sean and I've been so worried!" The young blonde pulled back, concern marring her brow. "We were collecting money to get you a lawyer and Sean was pouring over his books from his pre-law classes, trying to find some way to help. We were so relieved to hear when you were released, but upset that John had been arrested!"

The audible reminder of the wrongful incarceration of the man she loved was a spear to Mary's heart, but she continued to cling to the love and confidence that'd imbued her being. "Thank you, Ashley." She managed a smile. "I appreciate it and I know John will as well."

Horror flashed across Ashley's expression. "I'm so sorry! I'm making it worse, aren't I?!"

"No, Ashley." Mary gripped the young mother's upper arms. "You're trying to help and be a true friend. And I thank you for that." She gave her arms an understanding squeeze.

She gave a watery laugh. "I should be the one comforting you!"

The teacher pulled her into a hug. "I'm working fine… I'm working on being all right."

They remained embracing for several moments.

"You know…" Mary commented over her friend's shoulder, injecting some humor into her tone, "I think we're still going to need that money you collected…John's going to need a lawyer."

Ashley gave a laugh.

O~U~A~T

James was alone in the sheriff's department, Emma having run out to do…something. She hadn't elaborated, but he was fairly certain he'd heard her mumble something about trying to get evidence to exonerate him. He was almost to the end of Two Towers, he made a note to ask Mary to bring the next book when she came for lunch.

"John?"

His head snapped up at his grandson's voice. "Henry?" He dropped the book and shot to his feet.

The boy's face lit up. "John!" He ran to him, hands gripping the bars.

James rushed to where Henry was just as quickly, kneeling in front of him, covering his small hands with his own. "What are you doing here?!"

"I had to see you!" The boy's forehead crumpled. "First Ms. Blanchard and now you! The Evil Queen has to be stopped!"

"Henry," he stared directly into his grandson's eyes, "don't do anything that could get you into trouble!"

"But I can help!" Henry protested.

"No, Henry! You have to stay out of trouble." The former prince made sure his voice conveyed the dire nature of the situation.

"Why?!" There was a petulant set to the child's face and voice.

James took a deep breath. "Because you have to be strong and look out for your mother and grandmother."

It took a beat for the full meaning of the statement to sink in, then Henry's eyes went wide as saucers. "You remember?!"

"Yes." He nodded slowly. "I'm James, Prince Charming. Mary is Snow White, my wife and true love… Emma," his voice cracked, "Emma is our daughter…our little girl." A grin lifted his mouth. "And you're my grandson."

"Well, we need to tell everyone!"

"No!" James quickly countered.

"Why not?" The boy pouted again.

"Because…" The prince sighed. "Because Emma isn't quite ready to fully accept the truth, and if we tried, they'd just lock me up in the mental hospital and…and I don't want to think about what they'd do to you, or what Regina would do to Mary and Emma."

Henry's expression sobered. "I understand." Then his brow furrowed in confusion. "But why are you telling me this?"

James hung his head. "Because…if…somehow, I don't get out of this…if they convict me and lock me up…it's up to you to help Mary remember, and to get Emma to believe and break the curse."

The child's expression illustrated how overwhelmed he was before settling into stubborn determination. "I promise, I'll do it."

He cupped the side of his grandson's head, smiling. "That's my boy, a true prince."

"Henry."

Their heads snapped to the door.

Rumplestiltskin stood in the entrance, leaning on his cane. "Does your mother know you're here?"

"I…uhhh…" the boy stumbled and stammered, trying to come up with an excuse.

"I recommend," the wily man cut in, "that you leave now, before our Madame Mayor notices you're absence."

Henry's eyes darted between the crafty imp and his newly-discovered grandpa. "O-ok." Impulsively, he reached through the bars and hugged James around the neck as best he could.

The prince couldn't breathe. This was his first hug from his grandson when they were both fully aware of their relationship and knew that the other knew. His arms automatically went around the boy, but soon he was hugging him as tightly as Henry was him.

"I love you, Gramps," the boy whispered.

It took several swallows before James was able to speak. "I love you too, son."

Slowly, reluctantly they released each other, pulling away before James gave his grandson one last crooked grin and urged him to the door.

'Stiltskin waited until Henry was out the door and down the hall before closing the door behind him.

James sat back on the cot, a wry eyebrow cocked. "To what do I owe the…pleasure?"

The shorter man smirked. "Clever ploy…and predictably noble, placing your fingerprints on the knife."

The prince kept his expression carefully blank. "I don't know what you mean."

A chuckle rolled from Rumplestiltskin. "Oh, no, no." He grinned again at the sandy-haired man. "I suppose you don't."

"What do you want, 'Stiltskin?" James asked flatly.

The imp waved the characteristic bluntness of Charming off. "Well, your current lawyer, the public defender, is rather…"

"Inept?" The erstwhile deputy offered.

"To put it bluntly." Rumplestiltskin rested his hands atop his cane. "I've come to offer my services since, with Ms. Blanchard's charges cleared, there's no longer any conflict of interest."

Blue eyes narrowed into icy slits. "Why?"

The imp smirked. "As I told your wife a long time ago…I'm invested in your futures."

O~U~A~T

Emma seemed even more dejected, if that was possible, in the last two days leading up to James' trial, as if she'd let him down in some way. More than anything he wanted to reassure his daughter that she could never disappoint him but things were still…complicated between them.

As the court officers began to pull him out of the station, James reached out to squeeze his child's hand, giving her a reassuring smile. All that mattered to him was that his family was safe.

Mary was sitting directly behind him in the court room, more than anything he wanted to lean over the barrier and kiss her, but this wasn't the time or the place, so he settled for a quick grip of her hand before taking a seat at the defendant's table.

The judge called the court to order…and it began.

James had pretty much tuned them all out by the second sentence; he knew that whether or not he was convicted had little to do with him.

Spencer was only minutes into his opening statement when the doors banged open. All heads turned to the entrance to see Emma running breathlessly down the center aisle, shoving the gate open.

"Sheriff Swan," the judge snapped.

"Excuse me, Your Honor." She didn't sound particularly repentant. "But there's been some kind of mistake."

James glanced back at his wife in confusion, who shrugged, expression mirroring his, before they both returned their gazes to their daughter.

"And what on Earth kind of 'mistake' could warrant interrupting a trial?"

The blonde took a deep breath. "Kathryn Nolan was found 15 minutes ago behind Granny's Diner…alive."

O~U~A~T

Soooooooo…thoughts? Did you guys like it? I couldn't help ending it there! XD Hopefully the muse will continue to be helpful… XD Thank you for reading! :-D

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