THE COMPANY OF WOLVES

The Company of Wolves.

Chapter 3: Epitaphs and Epithets.

She waited until the small crowd had dispersed, all gone back to either Granny's diner, where she had laid on a small lunch for anyone who had known Graham to attend if they wanted, or Regina's mayoral home, where she also had arranged a rather more grand dinner for the Sheriff's wake (though from Henry's earlier comments, the dinner was less to do with Graham himself and more to do with the task of filling the void that he had now left behind him).

Emma hadn't wanted to attend either; though she was expected at both.

The mayor's because, like it or not, she was now technically Sheriff herself, in the interim and by default and not for long of course. She was on the town payroll and that meant that her presence was required, even if only to fire her and pour a little more salt into the wounds of today.

It was just assumed that she would be at Granny's. Because she had been close to Graham, even to their eyes. 'A recently made but much cared for friend and work colleague,' the Father had commented in his speech that she'd listened to from the very back of the church, stood beside the door, ready to run.

Friend her ass!

They wanted her there to tell them that it was okay, that he was in a better place now and would never be forgotten. They would look to her to tell them that he would always be in their hearts…or something equally chick-flick-ish and saccharine.

No. That was too harsh of her and she felt immediately guilty. They had all cared for him like she had…

Perhaps she would go, later. To Granny's at least, for Mary-Margaret and Ruby and Henry if he managed the climb down from his bedroom window like he'd muttered he would when he thought she'd not been listening properly. But for the moment she remained standing, motionless and silent, brow drawn down and knotted into a frown, before the plain black granite headstone.

There were no dates. No record of his birthday, no date that his life was cut prematurely short. No loving son, no beloved brother. It read only his name, in silver gilt uppercase: 'Graham Humbert' underscored by a verse (or more a single line of one really) that told her: 'There is no instinct like that of the heart.' Somehow, someway the ordinarily deemed touching words felt like a barb. Like a joke at Graham's expense. Like a jibe meant to bait her specifically. It made Emma rub at her aching temple, eyes closing briefly against the pain there and sigh.

"A beautiful epitaph. Did you pick it?"

Shock jolted down her spine at the interruption, clear-voiced and with a distinctly well-spoken British accent. She glanced up, to the row of headstones behind Graham's. She'd been so absorbed in her own thoughts that she'd not even seen him arrive, had thought herself quite alone.

The question's speaker was turned away from her, clad in a thick, black peacoat that belted around the middle and was trimmed with dark fur at the collar which he'd pulled up tight about his neck and ears. His hair was cropped closely at the back and sides and left slightly longer on top, a coppery shade that shifted between dark blonde and auburn in the afternoon light. She would have to move if she wanted to see his face, but for the moment she stood her ground, reluctant to leave Graham's final resting place and slightly irritated that this man had interrupted her, disturbed her time with him, her goodbye.

"No, I didn't." she responded eventually, evenly, when her continued silence verged on becoming ignorance and therefore rude. Her frown was still present though, somewhat puzzled now as she studied the man's back. "The Mayor chose it."

"Ah, our illustrious Lady Mayor." The man nodded, as if those few words from her had told him everything he'd needed to know and it was exactly as he'd expected. It made Emma feel slightly uncomfortable. A little like her dealings with Mr. Gold. "I should have known." Reaching down he carefully laid a single white rose upon the base of the headstone that held his own attention, the tips of his gloved fingers brushing briefly across the name of 'Rosemary Lux' -the looping, curling script inlaid with gold- as he straightened again.

"Apologies." He spun upon the heel of his shiny black shoes and faced her, blue eyes sombre, though they creased at the corners hinting that he must have smiled and laughed a lot at some point in his life. Once upon a time. "I've disturbed your reflection." A slight incline of his head, a bow almost, and then he was making to walk between the headstones and past her, leaving her even more confused than she had been. "I'll take my leave."

"That's it?" Emma heard herself asking incredulously before she could think twice. She was upset and irritated and thus her tone was unchecked, sharp and accusatory. She didn't know this man. For all she did know he was probably just trying to be kind. Probably thought he was being nice offering a friendly word to someone who was grieving.

Was it really so obvious that she was grieving?

He paused in his steps when their shoulders were level and looked at her again with what she would later swear was amusement. It made her previous uncertainty return tenfold, but she'd said it now, better continue.

"I mean, you honestly expect me to believe that you went to all that effort to start a conversation with me just to find out who chose some fancy words on a grave stone?" she quirked an eyebrow and he did laugh then, white teeth flashing, even beneath dullness of an overcast sky.

"No. No, of course, you're quite right. Quite right." He chuckled and squared his shoulders to her as he spoke, covering his smile with leather-clad fingers before sobering somewhat. "The truth of the matter is that I've heard a lot about you, Miss Swan. I confess, when I saw that you'd lingered also once the service was over, I was curious to see if the rumours were true."

"And are they?" she countered, near demanded. Her own laugh was bitter, less amused than his, but then she'd been caught unawares, today of all days, when she had just wanted to be alone. She did not appreciate being laughed at, nor being the topic of conversation for strangers, but the man held up his hands, in surrender or defeat or both and she softened. Just slightly.

Instead of answering directly his lips curled into a gentler smile. He had the good grace to drop his gaze to the ground, however, tugging the glove from his right hand. He moved a few steps closer and offered it out to Emma to shake, perhaps a peace offering.

"I'm happy to meet you for myself, Miss Swan." He said instead. His palm was warm when she took it; she hadn't realised that the wind had gotten up and had chilled her so. "My name is Philip."

"Well, Philip, since you know my name already, you may as well drop the formality. Its just Emma. Only the Mayor calls me 'Miss Swan'."

And you're not one of the Mayor's men, I hope.

"Emma," he echoed. And as if he had plucked her thoughts straight out of her own imaginings (or read them at least in dark green-blue of her eyes; her usual guard lowered today), Philip turned a little to his right and pointed past the sturdy structure of the church, back into the town centre.

"I own a restaurant in the town centre. The Briar Rose." His hand disappeared into one of his deep pocked and he drew out a small, black business card, offering it out to her. "Perhaps you might like to drop by sometimes. I'll save you a table. On me, of course."

"Seriously?" Emma snorted, suddenly and incredulously. Her voice crept up a notch even as she reach forward to accept the card. "You're hitting on me in a grave yard? After the funeral service of my-" that paused her and she searched for the correct word. What had Graham been to her? "-of the Sheriff…" Three kisses and a whole lot of repressed feelings did not make him her boyfriend, or whatever (wasn't she too old to have 'boyfriends' anymore?). Truth was they'd not been given the time to find out if he was her anything.

She had suspected though.

She had hoped

"No." Philip stated simply and softly, allowing her time to consider, to remember, to drift off back into the bitter-sweetness of memory, something that he himself -from the looks of his knowing and suddenly heartbroken features- knew only too well. "I only thought you might want to talk about it…" She knew exactly what 'it' he was referring to. "…with someone who's going through the same thing. You look like you could use a friend."

Emma remained silent. Her chest tightened uncomfortably and suddenly it became hard to breath at being reminded that she was alone again now. The man who had served to distract her, for a little while at least, from this pain, this utter loss, inclined his head to her again.

"Think about it," he entreated. "Sometimes a tale's ending can be rewritten just by introducing a new character to the story."

"What?" she wrinkled her nose at his words. He reminded her of Henry suddenly and she studied him. To see if he knew something (what she wasn't quite sure) or if he was mocking her. Perhaps he was one of Regina's men after all.

His stare was even and steady, however, giving nothing away and eventually he turned to take his leave. Emma glanced down at his business card again, a fancy golden rose embossed upon the back and on the other side his name in the same looping script that had been used upon the headstone of the grave he had been visiting.

"Hey, I thought you said your name was Philip?" she called after him, frowning. "Says here you're mister…" she paused long enough to read the name again, just to make sure she got it right. "Stewart Phelps?" his surname made her lips thin with stifled amusement, but she couldn't quite keep her eyebrows from rising as she glanced back up at him.

Philip, or Stewart, for the briefest moment looked as if he'd been caught completely off guard, forgotten where he was and who he was with and had let slip something that he shouldn't have. His mouth parted slightly, searching for words and explanation as if he sought for some story or white lie to cover something up. It piqued Emma's curiosity, but eventually his composure returned along with his charming smile and he waved a carefully re-gloved hand; more a twitching of his two forefingers really.

"Forgive me." He replied, smoothly. His voice, whilst deeps, wasn't as deep as Graham's had been, but it held the same sort of juxtapositioning of authority and gentleness. A contradiction. "Philip is my middle name-"

"Stewart Philip Phelps? Man, were your parents cruel!"

He met her interruption with another good-natured smile. "-it's also something of a nickname for me amongst my friends." Obviously he was a man who'd been mocked numerous times over the years for his unfortunate full name. And for a second time that afternoon, Emma felt guilty. She swiped it away as she did an unruly golden curl that persisted in falling into her view.

"I would regale you with the story of how I ended up being known as Philip to some people instead of Stewart, but alas, I'm needed elsewhere. Perhaps another time?"

"Sure, I guess." She pocketed his business card and turned back to Graham's headstone as he made his way over to his waiting car and driver, heels clicking out a steady rhythm against the flagstones of the pathway.

~oOo~

Back                         Home                              Once Upon a Time Main Page                          Next

Your Name or Alias:      Your E-mail (optional):

Please type your review below. Only positive reviews and constructive criticism will be posted!