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Atonement

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Before he knew it, Jefferson’s feet were carrying him swiftly in the direction of the apartment where Emma lived, his mind once again racing. He knew he shouldn’t have been so stupid as to trust Regina and fall for her deals—obviously made under false pretenses, but clouded by his love for his dear daughter, her favorite bargaining tool—when they had only caused him nothing but misery in the past. He didn’t know why he felt this time might be different, that he would at last get some semblance of a happy ending with Grace as promised. That hat, he realized, hadn’t ever brought him anything good.

Somewhere in his hectic mind, Jefferson could just feel he had been tricked yet again for Regina’s personal gain. She wasn’t going to give him his happy ending, help him forget unless she got what she desired first. And if she wasn’t going to keep up her deal, then he thought it was only fair that her plans for Emma were thwarted. He wanted so badly to believe that he and Grace could get a better story here but Regina had been right—he had no reason whatsoever to trust her word.

And Emma. He thought of her, his breath clouding in the air while he weaved down side streets and avenues toward her home, and the knot in his stomach that had formed ever since Regina had announced her plans tightened. He never meant to hurt her, not now, not before when he was struggling with so many things. In fact, it was the opposite. Part of him was beginning to feel something for her; he wasn’t sure what, but the mention of her name had brought a smile to his face when he thought he’d forgotten how. 

Jefferson entered the apartment building and wandered around trying to find the right apartment number. His heart hammered into his chest hoping he wasn’t too late—if he couldn’t get his story here rewritten, he would gladly take their life in the Enchanted Forest back without another thought or another deal, if it meant Grace was his daughter again. And for that, he needed Emma. Everyone needed Emma. Jefferson would have been lying if he didn’t admit that he wouldn’t enjoy seeing Emma go up against Regina and make her pay for the unhappiness she had caused.

“Emma?” he called. “Emma!”

That was when he heard it: Emma’s voice as she called out the name of her son. Jefferson followed her voice, ears attuned, and immediately noticed there was something off about it. There was panic and desperation lacing her tone, coupled with a gasping sob of complete and heartbreaking anguish. Anguish Jefferson could fully understand; it was a sound of a parent at their lowest, darkest point in the face of losing their child.

Emma!”

He barely had time to register his actions before he was elbowing open the door, which was thankfully unlocked. He stopped short in the doorway to see Emma on her knees on the floor with Henry in her arms, sobbing hysterically. Jefferson swallowed hard and let his eyes close for a moment, one hand clenching into a fist at his side. The boy, he slowly understood, had been the victim of Regina’s treacherous apple, not Emma. And now he felt even worse.

Emma glanced up at him with her cheeks damp from a steady flow of tears. Her expression surprised him; in her state, she only cried harder once she realized it was him. She fought to push words and sentences out of her mouth but Jefferson stared as she sputtered and cried out Henry’s name. Jefferson covered the distance between them in a matter of seconds and crouched down beside her.

“Did you call for help?” he asked, his heart still thudding against his ribcage, hands shaking.

Emma shook her head. “I can’t—I—Oh, God, what did I do? I didn’t—”

“There’s no time for that,” Jefferson replied in an attempt to appear calm. He wasn’t about to let another parent lose their only child to Regina’s hateful revenge spree. “You didn’t do anything. It was Regina. Where are your car keys?”

Emma sniffled and silent tears made their descent down her face. “W-What? What are you—”

“Car keys,” he repeated again. He threw a glance at the pale-faced boy in her arms and felt his own emotions burning at the back of his throat and behind his eyes.

“Jacket p—pocket,” she sputtered. “Why…why are you helping me?” She pushed Henry’s hair away from his forehead, trailing her fingers down his pallid cheeks while Jefferson got up and rooted around in her jacket.

He retrieved the keys and pocketed them. “Because I still believe in you,” he said. “Come on.”

Jefferson crouched again and lifted the unconscious boy into his arms, cradling him gingerly against his chest. He looked down at Henry’s face and felt such guilt and sorrow on his shoulders for inadvertently causing this. He would never in a thousand years harm a child, much less little Henry, who had shown nothing but kindness and friendship to his dear Grace. He would never wish this fate upon anyone; Emma deserved to share a life with her son as he did with his daughter. Jefferson only hoped it wasn’t too late for them both.

Emma arose and followed Jefferson out of the building to her car, where he placed Henry in her arms again before settling into the driver’s seat. They were on their way to the hospital moments after, Jefferson breaking all speed limits and red lights—at Emma’s insistence—to get there. He couldn’t look at her during the short drive, couldn’t bring himself to think of how this could have been avoided had he told Regina no. The yellow Bug came to a screeching halt in front of the emergency room doors and both Jefferson and Emma were out of the car faster than their feet could carry them.

He waited for her and any news on Henry in a frantic state, pacing the floor and unable to sit down. When Emma emerged she was unsteady on her feet and collapsed into a sobbing heap in the middle of the waiting room floor, her face in her hands.

“I don’t know…I don’t know what happened,” she cried, “I should have never…Henry…I—I don’t understand wh—what’s going on…”

“Hey,” Jefferson answered gently, “It’s not your fault. I told you it’s Regina’s. She’s the one who did this, her and her poisoned apples.”

And me, he thought, but he also thought it wise not to let her know that, yet.

“I didn’t believe him,” Emma sobbed, “I should have st—stopped him. He’s going to die…and it’s all my damn fault. Mine.”

He lowered himself to her level. “Stop that,” he told her, “Emma, listen to me, don’t say things like that. Henry is not going to die. Regina is not going to take another child away from their parent, not like this.”

She peered over at him, wiping tears from her face. “You don’t know that,” she stated. “How do you know he’ll be okay? You can’t—”

“Do you love him—Henry?” Jefferson asked.

Emma paused. “Of course,” she sniffled, “Of course I do. I love him more than anything.”

Jefferson smiled. “Then that should be enough,” he declared. “True love can break any curse, remember that.”