Title: These Days are Numbered, Prologue
Rating: PG
Warnings: angst, brief mention of character death
Characters/Pairings: Charity/Miguel (I know, I'm surprised too, lol), original characters, mention of Jessica, past Kay/Miguel
Summary: She slid her cold hand beneath his tee-shirt, murmured against his neck, "You could have loved her, Miguel. I know you. If you and I had never met…"


"Mommy?"

Joy's voice was whisper-soft, a breath of air more than anything, but Charity had heard her nevertheless. Lifting her head up from her mountain of pillows, she frowned at the tugging tightness she felt in her chest when she answered the five year-old, beckoning her to step out of the shadows and come closer in the hopes she wouldn't waken her exhausted father. "What is it, Sweetie?"

Joy's eyes were wide and glowing in the darkness, her grip on her doll tight as she padded to the edge of her parents' bed. "I had a dream."

"A bad dream?" Charity questioned, concern lacing her voice as she lifted a hand to the silken cheek. Finding no evidence of tears, she sighed in relief and pushed herself upright on her elbows as her daughter took the time to consider her answer.

Joy finally shook her head, making her pigtails bounce. "It wasn't scary."

Charity smiled at her brave little girl. Her courage and stubborn determination were heartening in the face of the uncertainty Charity knew lay ahead in her young life. Joy would be okay; she just wished she could say the same for Miguel. His angry words from earlier, his wholehearted resistance to her acceptance of the inevitable still echoed in her faulty heart, and she felt the failing organ clench with the remembrance. Pushing her covers back, Charity leaned heavily against her hands for a second as her daughter stared up at her. "Do you want to tell me about it?"

Joy nodded at her, her warm little fingers wiggling between her mother's cooler ones. She tucked her doll beneath her chin and tugged.

The hardwood felt cold beneath Charity's bare feet, the hallway endless before they reached the little blue bedroom with its ceiling of sparkling stars. Turning on the bedside lamp, she fell back against the carved headboard of the rumpled twin bed, opening her arms in invitation. Joy snuggled close immediately, her small fingertips absently tracing the long, puckered line nestled between Charity's breasts as she painted her story with her childish words.

"I was big, and Matthew too. He wasn't a baby anymore."

Charity smoothed the loose strands of hair that tickled and teased her nose and pressed a fist to her wistful smile. "How big? Big like Little Ethan?"

"Bigger," Joy proclaimed. "Almost big as Daddy."

Charity swallowed and blinked against the swell of tears she felt threatening, tightening her arms around her baby and pushing against her own sadness and probing selfishly for more. Coincidence or not, Joy's dreams had long been more intuitive than even the most detailed vision Charity had ever claimed to have; the impossibility of physically being present to watch her children grow up was becoming more and more real to her with each passing day. "Who else was in your dream? Was Daddy?"

Joy nodded against her mother's neck. "Uh huh. He was handsome."

"Your Daddy's always handsome," Charity told her.

"Even when he smells like stinky old fish?" Joy giggled.

"Even when he smells like stinky old fish," Charity agreed, the smell burning her nose with the recalling of it. (Nine days on a boat, and he'd brought the sea home with him). But she was glad he was home, thankful for the reprieve from Jessica's concerned hovering. She knew her cousin meant well, but Charity was growing weary of it all. She was tired of being treated with kid gloves, a sore point she'd addressed and fought over earlier with Miguel. She wanted to live her life, such that it was. She pressed a kiss to her daughter's silky crown and suppressed a wince when Joy's (heat-seeking) icy little toes burrowed beneath the cotton skirt of her nightgown. Belatedly, Charity realized the little girl was still spinning her tale.

"He told me I looked just like a princess in your dress, Mommy."

Charity sucked in a shaky breath at the image the revelation produced all too clearly in her mind's eye (her wedding dress), and she forced a smile for Joy's benefit when she found herself staring, suddenly, into eyes just as blue as her own. She didn't realize she was crying, not until her daughter traced the path of one of her tears (down her cheek, past her lips, clinging desperately to her chin).

"She was crying too. The girl in Daddy's old pictures."

Charity's heart twisted and lifted in the same instant (Kay), and the warring emotions still tightened her throat when she lifted her eyes, just in time to catch the shadow of her husband as he retreated from the open bedroom door. Rubbing her daughter's satin-clad back, she encouraged her to tell her more. "What else do you remember, Sweetie?"

Joy had long fallen back to sleep when Charity crept back into her own bedroom (the baby slept still, too). The digital clock on her nightstand told her it was well-past midnight when she rest the thick white envelope against it with ink-stained fingers, her cousin's name scrawled across it in delicate letters. She sank back against the pillows that had been thoughtfully rearranged in her absence and stared up at the ceiling, waiting for her husband to speak. Miguel didn't keep her waiting for long.

"You're giving up."

Charity sighed. They'd already had this argument, earlier tonight and many times before. "I'm not giving up, Miguel. I'm preparing myself."

"Preparing yourself for what?" Miguel hissed, struggling to keep his voice down. "To die?"

"Maybe," Charity answered him honestly. "Miracles rarely happen more than once, Miguel. We both know how long that waiting list is." She turned her shimmering eyes toward him, "I need to know you and the children have someone to look after you if…"

"It won't come to that," Miguel cut her off stubbornly. "And even if it did, we don't want anybody but you."

"You and Kay have a long history together."

"We were friends, once upon a time," Miguel grudgingly admitted.

Charity thought of Maria, sweet Maria who'd never really stood a chance (and the promise she, herself, had been unable to keep), and the pain and utter heartbreak that had been in her cousin's eyes the last time she'd seen her, before she'd left Harmony behind for good, putting an entire continent between her and the rest of her family and friends. "You loved her."

"Not like that. We grew up together."

Miguel stiffened when Charity erased the distance between them, snaked her arm around his waist. She slid her cold hand beneath his tee-shirt, murmured against his neck, "You could have loved her, Miguel. I know you. If you and I had never met…" His stubble was rough beneath her lips as she lifted to kiss his cheek, his dark eyes glittering with denial as he cut off.

"But we did."

Charity sighed and rest her head against his chest, listened to the reassuring thump of his heart beneath her ear. "Miguel."

Miguel tightened his embrace, his voice a discontented, weary rumble. "Not tonight."

"I made a promise once, long ago, and I broke it. Maybe this is my chance to put things right," Charity told him, her chest tightening again. Her clear blue eyes searched her husband's pained gaze as he snagged her pillows from the other side of the bed and stacked them behind her head and shoulders. "You need her in your life. Matthew and Joy need her in theirs."

"Not tonight. We'll talk about it later," Miguel promised her gruffly as he wound his arms around her waist and lay his head between her breasts. Like his daughter before him, he traced the puckered scar lightly with his fingertips. "Love you," he whispered as his tears wet her skin.

Charity stroked her hands through Miguel's thick, dark hair and prayed for strength and a miracle (just not the same miracle her husband prayed for) as her husband gradually relaxed into sleep. "I love you, too."


Clearly, I am insane.

*giggles*

I've been piecing together the next chapters of ASII, OUAT, and Haunted, but nothing satisfies me (as usual). So I took a break, watched some tv, and saw this old movie that planted this little plot bunny.

You're welcome (lol).

So, this is just the prologue, and there's bound to be some questions.

Don't worry.

I don't really plan to be all mysterious on this one, chapters are going to be in chronological order (and if I stray from that format, I will clearly label and explain it).

Per usual with me, this fic is AU. Think about the time all the babies were born. ;) Maria, Marty, Endora, Sarah. As you've just read, Maria didn't survive. Obviously, things are going to be tweaked a little bit.

I'll explain more as we go along. Provided, of course, that you guys are interested in seeing this story continue.

Oh my goodness, I can't believe I'm writing a non-Shuis centered story that features Charity in a prominent role. Whatever is wrong with me?

LOL!

Never fear, everyone will eventually make their appearances, but this fic will be heavily Miguel-Charity-Kay focused.

If that's something you're interested in reading, please let me know.

Feedback is love, love, love!

Thanks for reading!