Emma could hear someone whistling and that was how she knew she wasn't back in her apartment. That the previous night had been real. Maybe if she kept her eyes closed, she could pretend that it was just a dream. She had had similar dreams before on the days where she felt her loneliest, painful dreams where her son showed up at her door and found her.
Sometimes, the dreams would only hurt because when she woke up, she was alone. Other times, her son would have searched for her and then decided she wasn't worth it when he met her.
The fact that it was real made things even worse. She had wished she wasn't alone on her birthday, and he'd knocked on the door. He didn't even need to tell her who he was, she could see Neal's features in his face, but she had tried to deny it, only for a minute, because it seemed so impossible that he was there.
Now, whenever Henry realised she couldn't be a mother and left her alone again, she would know his name and what he looked like. She would know him. And on the days where she thought of the son she gave up, the days that came more often than she would ever admit, everything would feel so much worse.
"Shut up, Leroy!" A woman's voice grumbled and Emma figured she needed to open her eyes, because although she knew she wasn't back in Boston, she wasn't entirely certain where she was. So she buried what she was feeling, hid it away, and then took in a deep breath and opened her eyes.
She only felt a mute sense of resignation and confusion when she realised she was behind bars, her eyebrows raised in shock when she saw another woman sharing the cell with her.
"I can whistle if I want to, sister." A man replied angrily, and Emma peered past the woman to see that the speaker is in the other cell. "I'm not gonna stop doing what I want because you got drunk and disorderly again."
And he kept whistling.
"You were just as drunk." The woman grumbled, standing up and tugging her dress down as if it were long enough to cover anything and then tottering over to the cell door. She seemed completely oblivious to Emma.
Emma took advantage of that, sitting up from the cot and running a hand through her hair. The last thing she remembered was swerving her car to avoid a wolf - and what was that all about? - and she wasn't enjoying waking up inside a cell for the first time in a decade.
"Jones!" The woman yelled out the name, and Emma turned to see who she was talking to. A man was striding into the station, wearing a leather jacket and vest over a surprisingly dark floral shirt and looking very attractive. His hair was mussed, as though he had just rolled out of bed, and Emma raised an eyebrow when she noticed that he was wearing eyeliner.
She knew he wasn't the Sheriff, so she wondered why he was swaggering into the room at such an early time in the morning.
"You here to get me out?" The woman asked, and he chuckled lowly, coming to a halt in front of the scantily dressed woman and hooking one thumb into his pocket, posturing so his hips were angled slightly towards her. "I have a library to open."
"You and I both know, Lacey, that you never open the library on time." he drawled, a dangerous smirk on his face. "You're usually here. I'm sure your other regular visitors know not to arrive at this early hour."
"And I know you're here to bail me out again." Lacey said, and Emma watched as she leant closer to the cell door, rested her arms on the bar and curled her finger to gesture the man closer. "Why don't you come here and let me thank you?"
"You know I'll never take you up on that, love." Jones said, pointedly stepping back. "We'll just add this to the money you owe me. I have to say, I'm going to be very wealthy when you finally pay me back."
"You'll be waiting a while." Lacey said with a shrug, stepping back and starting to fidget with her hair.
"I'm good at waiting." Jones replied with a cold smile. "The Sheriff will let you out. I just thought I'd let you know before I headed into work."
Lacey didn't say anything else, retreating back to the corner she had been sat in earlier. Jones started turning, and Emma felt confusion run through when he caught sight of her and stopped. His eyes widened, his very blue eyes, and his jaw dropped slightly. Emma had been looked at that way before, but not when she was in her leather jacket and jeans and trapped in a cell. Maybe if she was in a skin-tight dress, she wouldn't be so confused, but he looked like all the breath had just been knocked from him.
She stood up, and wandered over towards him, resting her chin on the horizontal bar and then tilting her head slightly.
"It's you." he breathed, looking her up and down and then shaking his head slightly, as if he couldn't believe he was looking at her, except that made absolutely no sense, because Emma was completely certain she'd never seen this man before in her life.
She would remember if she had seen this man before.
"Really?" she sighed, because he had to have heard of her arrival. There was no other explanation for his response. "Things get around fast in a small town."
He blinked at her, licked his lips - and that was annoyingly attractive - and then slowly nodded his head. "That's exactly it." he told her, running a hand through his hair. "Rumours abound and all that. And now I'll be going."
She watched him leave, and not only was that the strangest first conversation she'd ever had with anyone, but she was certain he had been lying.
She didn't want to dwell on it, not when she could feel the other inhabitants of the cells starting to turn their attention to her. She didn't want to talk to them - she wanted to be released, get in her car and get the hell out of Storybrooke.
Although she'd have to give Henry his book back first.
She could see the angry man, Leroy, opening his mouth, preparing to speak to her, but then another voice echoed through the station before he had the chance. "Lacey, you've been bailed out again. And Leroy, if I'm going to let you out, you need to behave. In fact, that goes for both of you. Stay out of trouble."
"Seriously?" Emma asked, stepping back to allow the Sheriff to unlock the door and then watching Lacey strut past her, the woman making sure to trail her hand across the Sheriff's arm as she passed. The Sheriff rolled his eyes, and Emma guessed that this was a common occurrence.
"As for you, Miss Swan, I guess Regina's drinks are a little stronger than we thought."
Not only did Emma know for certain that she wasn't even tipsy, she thought it was a bit unfair for him to say that given the state of the woman who had just left, but he had a kind smile and she knew he didn't mean it like that.
She still wanted to make sure he knew what happened. "I wasn't drunk." she stated confidently. "There was a wolf standing in the middle of the road."
"A wolf." From the doubtful expression on his face, Emma thought she might have made things worse. Or at least made him more inclined to doubt her when she insisted that she was sober. "Right."
Then the Mayor - Henry's mother - rushed in, and Emma knew that leaving Storybrooke was going to take a bit longer than she had hoped.
It turned out Henry had gone missing again, and Emma determinedly tried to ignore the memories of her own attempts to flee from foster homes, but it was impossible to stop herself from worrying that Henry wasn't happy, that she would leave him in Storybrooke and he would be miserable.
But she had to leave, because she couldn't stay.
She would make sure he was safe, was home, and then she'd give him his book and she'd leave. And this time, she would make it past the Storybrooke sign.
It seemed that, for some reason, a small town like this required more than the usual amount of people needed to find a little boy. The Sheriff had accompanied her to the Mayor's house, Regina insisting she didn't want Emma walking around unwatched after being arrested the night before.
Emma had gritted her teeth and let the comment go. The woman's son was missing, it was understandable that she was irritable.
What Emma hadn't expected was for Regina to make another call and ask someone else to come and assist them.
The man from before, Jones, was standing outside the Mayor's house when they got there, looking very impatient and then following them through the large house into Henry's room. Emma felt strangely on show when she sat at the computer and began to boot it up, the Sheriff kneeling down beside her and Jones hovering at her shoulder and watching her every move.
"This is far too many people for a simple job." Emma pointed out, loading up Henry's inbox and sighing at the lack of emails. "I can find him, even without his emails. A little hard-disk recovery and we'll have him."
"I'm more old-fashioned in my techniques." The Sheriff said as Emma slid the USB into the computer port and watched the program run. "Pounding the pavement, knocking on doors. That sort of thing."
"Oh, don't sell yourself short, mate." Jones chuckled, Emma twisting to look up at him. "Graham here can be a good huntsman, if he puts his mind to it."
And then Jones smiled, a strange, knowing smile that Emma didn't understand. "Henry's not game. He's a kid." She said sharply, and the man just laughed. "How many animals do you know that can…" She paused, clicking on one of the newly recovered emails - a receipt from - and widening her eyes at the contents. "Spend two hundred and fifty dollars on a website? He has a credit card?"
Regina pushed Jones aside to join them at the computer. "Of course not."
"Well, he used one." A few clicks later and the transaction record was displayed on the screen in front of them, the card belonging to a Mary-Margaret Blanchard, whoever that was. Emma turned to see Regina's lips pursed, a look of pure anger on her face, and Jones shaking his head as if he should have expected that answer. "Who's Mary-Margaret Blanchard?"
"Henry's teacher." Regina snarled, Emma raising an eyebrow at the venom in her voice.
"Look, we'll go to talk to her and we'll find Henry." Emma said placatingly, a few clicks shutting the computer down again. "It's a small town, there can't be too many places to hide."
"You're saying this about the lad who ran off to Boston?" Jones said dubiously, and Emma hadn't thought of that. Except he'd gone to Boston to find her, hadn't he? Surely he didn't regularly leave Storybrooke. She said as much and Regina huffed and stormed from the room.
"I'll go talk to her." Graham said awkwardly, finally standing up and heading out of the room and then Emma was left, alone, with Jones.
"What are you even doing here?" she asked, annoyed by the smirk that had spread across his face the minute it was just the two of them. "What are you, a deputy?"
"No, love, just a shopkeeper." He answered with a shrug, stepping towards the bedroom door and holding it open, gesturing for Emma to go through the doorway first. "I'm simply doing a favour for a friend. If Regina asks, I'll make sure to get the job done."
"In the mayor's pocket, are you?" she grumbled, irritated by the sarcastic bow he gave her in response. That, and the fact that there was something off about all of his answers. He wasn't lying, but he wasn't telling the truth either, and that feeling was unfamiliar to Emma. She didn't like the uncertainty he made her feel with every sentence.
"Like I said, we're friends." He insisted, and that feeling was there again. "I'm not the sort of man to refuse to help out a woman."
"And there we go." She sighed, finally stepping through the door and starting when she felt the light brush of his hand against her back. When she glanced back at him, however, he looked sheepish, hand clenched into a fist at his side, and maybe he really hadn't meant to do that.
It was the first time that something he said hadn't sent that uncomfortable feeling through her, and the first time he was telling her the truth
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they saw Regina, coat on and ready to leave, and Emma wondered if maybe she had been meant to follow Regina when she stormed out of the room. "Jones, I'd appreciate it if you stopped delaying Miss Swan. I'm sure she wants to leave Storybrooke as soon as she can."
Again, Jones just chuckled. At least he didn't seem bothered by the cold demands the Mayor seemed happy to fire at people. "I have to admit, it appears you're the one who would rather she depart quickly." he drawled, and Regina huffed again. "But to make up for the time you believe me to have wasted, I'll start the search while you go and talk to Miss Blanchard. I trust you'll be keeping things civil?" The Mayor shot him the most withering look that Emma had ever seen, but Jones ignored it and turned to Emma. "Now, Swan, may I have your number? Not for anything salacious, I assure you. I simply think it might be sensible to have a way of contacting you, should I succeed in my search for Henry."
"Can't you contact Regina?" Emma asked, but she was already holding her hand out for his phone. He beamed at her, the first genuine smile that didn't seem to be hiding anything, and then pressed his old brick-like phone into her hand.
"What if you split up?" he asked, as she was typing her name and number into his phone.
And she'd given him her details without him even needing to persuade her. For a moment, she was tempted to delete the number she had just entered and give his phone back, no number given, but his point was valid.
"Thank you, my lady." he told her, sending a wink her way that almost made her regret her decision, but then he slid the phone into his pocket without even checking she'd done as he asked.
And the odd display of trust was strangely comforting.
"Can we go?" Regina insisted, and again, Jones got to the door first, holding it open for both Emma and Regina.
"See you later, Swan." he said, inclining his head towards her as she passed him. "At least, I hope I will."
Emma had left Mary-Margaret at the school as soon as she could. As kind as the woman seemed, it had hurt when she spoke of Henry, about how he had wondered why anyone would give him up. Emma knew that thought, had asked that exact same question of herself so many times, but she couldn't have looked after Henry.
She had known that even before she gave birth with her feet shackled to the bed.
But she didn't know Mary-Margaret, so she'd taken a deep breath and told her it was okay, that she was fine.
When she sat back in her Bug, Henry's book on the seat next to her, she knew she had to talk to him before she left, and she was leaving. She would have given anything to know why she had been left alone, as painful as it would have been, because at least it would have stopped all the unanswered questions.
She could at least give that to Henry.
So she followed Mary-Margaret's directions, sighing in relief when she saw Henry sat on the old playground, backpack still on and shoulders hunched.
Emma wanted to make him feel better, even if all she could offer him was fairytales and an explanation.
She parked nearby, tucked the book under her arm and then made her way over to him, sitting down beside Henry.
"You left this in my car." she stated, handing it over to him. He didn't say a word and just kept looking out over the bay, looking out past the old tall ship in the docks, and Emma knew he was staring at the clock tower, waiting for the hands to move. "Still hasn't moved, huh?"
"I was hoping that when I brought you back, things would change here." He said eventually. Emma sighed, unsure what to say. He believed what he was saying, believed it so much, but it was insane. "That the final battle would begin."
"I'm not fighting any battles, kid." She insisted. "All I want to do is bring you back to the people that are looking for you. The Sheriff, Mr Jones, your mother."
He perked up, surprising her with the wide grin he sent her way. "You've met Mr Jones? That's good."
"Good?" she asked, one eyebrow rising when she saw his grip on the book tighten. "Why? Is he in there? Is he Prince Charming, or something?"
"No." Henry said, clearly bemused by her suggestion. He appeared to debate something for a few seconds, and then he opened the book, flicking through the pages to an illustration he hadn't yet shown her. "But he is in here. Look, Prince Charles looks just like him. I've always wondered who his Princess is, because I've never seen her around town. But when I saw you, I realised it had to be you."
The curse was already ridiculous - Emma's parents being Snow White and Prince Charming and sending her through a magical wardrobe, but she could understand, only just, why he might figure that the baby was her. Because he was looking for something to place his hope in, and the name Emma was written across the baby blanket. But for him to believe that she was a fairy-tale character, that she was the Princess dancing with the character that, okay, bore a passing resemblance to Jones, made no sense. No sense at all.
And maybe the Princess was blonde, but Emma couldn't see anything else in the picture that might lead Henry to such a conclusion.
Except maybe he hoped that if Emma found her Prince, that would be another reason for her to stay.
Emma knew that Prince Charming's didn't exist in real life, and she was already positive that Jones wasn't hers.
"No, Henry." she said, shaking her head. "That's not me. I never danced at a ball, there isn't a Prince Charles that's going to sweep me off my feet and I am not fighting any battles."
Henry frowned. "You are going to fight battles. You're here because it's your destiny. You're going to bring back the happy endings."
"Can you cut it with the book crap?" Emma asked, slamming the book shut. Even if it was true, which it undoubtedly wasn't, Emma didn't even know what a happy ending looked like. It wasn't like she'd ever experienced anything near to one.
"You don't have to be hostile. I know you like me," Henry said, smiling at her, and Emma felt all the fight drain out of her. She did like him, how could she not? He was her son, no matter what she tried to tell herself and he was precocious and determined and he'd found her. "I can tell. You're just pushing me away because I know you feel guilty." And apparently, he thought he understood, thought he knew what she was feeling, and she gazed at him, wondering what he was about to say. "It's okay. I know why you gave me away." She stared at him, wondering how he could know, because she had never known, had never been able to think of a reason her parents would have left her by the freeway. "You wanted to give me my best chance."
She couldn't look at him - she had to look away - because he was right, he knew and it sounded like he forgave her. "How do you know that?"
"It's the same reason Snow White gave you away."
"Listen, kid, I am not in any book. I'm a real person and I'm no saviour." She told him, stalling to try and hide how overwhelmed she was, because everything was becoming too much, but then he looked at her and he looked so sad that she felt part of her walls break, felt a tear escape. "But you are right about one thing though. I wanted you to have your best chance. But it's not with me." And that was it, that was all she could deal with. "Come on, let's go."
She strode off without him, heading straight back to her car, except only managed a few steps before Henry was calling after her. "Please don't take me back there! Just stay with me for one week. That's all I ask. One week and you'll see I'm not crazy."
Emma couldn't stay for a week, she couldn't get to know him any more than she already did. He'd realise that she was right, that she couldn't save anyone, that she wasn't his best chance. He'd know and he'd be another person to realise that she wasn't good enough. And then she'd be alone again, but she would remember him and miss him and she just couldn't stay. "I have to get you back to your mom."
She could hear her voice shaking, she knew she was close to breaking and she hated it. "You don't know what it's like with her!" Henry protested. "My life sucks."
"Oh, you want to know what sucking is?" she asked, because he had to know how good he had it, because his life couldn't be worse than hers had been, she didn't know what she would do if it was, because she had given him up so that he would have a better life, so that he would be happy. "Being left abandoned at the side of a freeway! My parents didn't even bother to drop me off at a hospital! I ended up in the foster system and I had a family until I was three but then they had their own kid so they sent me back." She stopped and took a breath, tried to compose herself and she felt herself soften when she looked down at him. "Look, your mom is trying her best. I know it's hard and I know sometimes you think she doesn't love you but at least she wants you."
"Your parents didn't leave you on the side of the freeway. That's just where you came through."
"What?" she breathed, unable to believe he was still talking to her about his storybook theory.
"The wardrobe." He said, as if it was obvious. "When you went through the wardrobe, you appeared in the street. Your parents were trying to save you from the curse."
"Sure they were." she said, through a chuckle. She had to laugh, she didn't know how else to respond. "Come on, Henry."
Emma had been sitting in her car for hours. She had asked Regina one question, if she loved Henry, and her answer, that of course she did, had rung false. Emma wasn't certain - too many things in this town seemed off, so she wasn't sure if Regina was actually lying.
But she couldn't leave Henry until she knew, because she had given him up so that he would have his best chance. And if Regina was lying, Emma needed to know.
She could stay for one week. Henry had asked for one week, and although it would be even harder to leave him by then, she could stay. For him.
By the time she had fully convinced herself that she was making the right decision, that she couldn't run from this, darkness had fallen.
She found what appeared to be the only place to stay in Storybrooke, an old building called Granny's Bed and Breakfast, wandering into the reception and glancing around awkwardly when she heard loud voices arguing upstairs.
It looked like they didn't get many visitors, cobwebs decorating the check-in desk, but Emma figured that they were still open, so they couldn't be doing too badly.
"Excuse me?" Emma said, exhausted, when the arguing duo came down the stairs and didn't see her. Her words stopped the fighting immediately, the older woman turning to look at her. "I'd like a room."
"Really?" the woman asked, the one Emma guessed was Granny, and by the way the younger woman peered around the door, Emma decided that perhaps she was wrong. From the looks on their faces, it had definitely been a while since anyone tried to stay. Emma nodded, and for only a second Granny looked as if she didn't know what to do, but then she bustled into action. "Would you like a forest view or a square view? Normally, there's an upgrade fee for the square, but since rent is due, I'll waive it."
"Square is fine." Emma said, wrinkling her nose when Granny dropped the check-in book onto the desk and a thick layer of dust flew into the air.
"Now, what's the name?"
"Swan. Emma Swan."
"Emma." A familiar voice interrupted them, and Emma spun around to see Jones standing in the doorway, a brilliant smile on his face when he met her gaze. "I've been waiting a long time to hear that."
"What, since this morning?" she asked, eyebrow raised, and Jones simply chuckled.
"I'm Killian Jones." he said in response, stiffly holding out his left hand for her to shake, a strangely challenging gleam in his eyes. "It's a pleasure to finally know your name. I have to admit, I feel like I've been waiting a lifetime to hear it"
Emma rolled her eyes, but took his hand, glancing up in surprise when she realised she was holding a prosthetic. He raised an eyebrow, as though expecting her to say something. She hadn't even noticed until she had held it, and she wasn't going to comment now, instead shaking his hand firmly and then drawing her own back, unwilling to hold his for much longer, not when his gaze had softened and he was smiling at her in a way she really didn't understand. "What are you doing here? Are you stalking me?"
"No, Swan, just here to collect the rent." He said jovially, nodding over her shoulder to the Bed and Breakfast's proprietor.
"Do you do everything around here?"
He ignored her. "Rent, Mrs Lucas?" he asked, and Granny handed him a wad of cash, which he stuffed into the pocket of his leather jacket without checking. "Cheers." He leaned nearer to Emma, and she couldn't stop herself from swallowing nervously. He really was close. "See you around, love. I hope you enjoy your stay. Have a good night, Mrs Lucas. Ruby."
He stepped back, winked at Ruby, and then strode out the building.
Emma took a deep breath and then shot a questioning look at Granny. "I thought he was a shopkeeper."
"I don't think anyone's entirely sure what he does." Ruby was speaking, and Emma turned to see that she was watching Jones leave through the window, an appreciative smirk on her face. "Not even him."
"Not even him?"
"He inherited a shop." Granny explained. "You may have seen it. Mr Gold's Pawnbrokers? It seems that Mr Jones keeps finding new things that the previous owner had his hands on. In general, though, he owns this place."
"The inn?" Emma asked, surprised by the information. She didn't know what she would have expected, but Killian Jones had not struck her as a pawnbroker or landlord. Then again, all she had managed to gather from the few conversations she had exchanged with him was that he was friends with the mayor and apparently a regular visitor to the town library, which didn't give her too much to go on.
"The town." Granny muttered, starting to write Emma's name down in her book. "He's generally lenient when it comes to rent though. In fact, I'm surprised he remembered to collect it this month."
"He forgets to collect the rent?" Emma repeated with a surprised laugh. "I wish my landlord was like that."
"It is pretty great." Ruby stated with a laugh, finally dropping the curtains and turning from the window. "To be honest, I think he's pretty great. Have you seen him?"
"Ruby!" Granny reprimanded, but Ruby shrugged unashamedly. "Miss Swan is a guest!"
"Yes, but she has eyes." Ruby bit out, and Emma was worried things were going to escalate into a full-blown argument again. "I'm just saying, a guy that looks like that and doesn't ask for rent, what's not to like?"
Granny opened her mouth to comment, but Emma interjected before she had the chance. "I'll be here for a week." she stated, forcing Killian Jones out of her mind. "Just a week."
Granny visibly deflated, and then turned to give a room key to Emma. "Well, Miss Swan, welcome to Storybrooke."