Feathers In Time

Summary: Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time or Charming's life as marked by the days held to celebrate it. In honour of Josh Dallas' birthday.

A/N: I love exploring Charming's life and Josh Dallas' birthday has given me the perfect excuse. All feedback is warmly welcomed! Title and featured quote are by Jean Paul Richter.

Disclaimer: OUAT and all of its characters belong to ABC…all I own is a twitter account dedicated only to following Once's actors and writers.

The first birthday he remembers is his sixth.

His mother lets him sleep in past the time he would usually rise for his chores and has a loaf of his favourite sweetbread waiting for breakfast. On the table is a present wrapped in rough hessian tied off with string. He tears into it with all the enthusiasm only an innocent child can muster, delight suffusing his features when he uncovers a new ball. The leather is slightly worn but meticulously sewn and he hugs his mother so tight his arms ache. She hugs him back just as fiercely, tears in her eyes he won't know the true reason for until a long-held secret comes to light from the lips of giggling mad magic man.

He finds his father in the field, the man echoing deep laughter as David runs circles around him with his ball. Strong, weather-beaten arms haul him up, swinging him in the air in large, dizzying circles. The faint stench of ale lingers on his father's breath but he is more steady and solid than usual, the result of resisting the lure of the tavern for a single night in order to celebrate with his son. (It won't last…the pain of the other birthday they should be celebrating driving him back into alcohol's warm embrace before his son even falls asleep).

David then spends the afternoon running around the farm, ducking and weaving in amongst the sheep while laughing in delight at the freedom, at the wind running through his hair. Kicking the ball high in the air, he watches it against the sky, imagining it's a dragon flying past with scales gleaming.

By the time his energy runs out, he's telling his mother this was the best day of his life.

A month later, their cart is in a ditch with his father inside and best days become scarce.

His first kiss happens on his thirteenth birthday.

He spends his morning as usual, tending to the flock and making sure there is nothing too strenuous left for his mother to do. Her back has been aching ever since a fall the previous winter and he has been conscientious about her share of work on the farm since.

They sit for lunch under the sunlit sky, the thick slices of ham on their bread a treat they usually only have during Yule. Ruth presses a few coins into his hand when they're done, telling him to buy whatever he wants in the nearest village's market. He saddles up his horse, his father's horse and sets off with mind whirling at the possibilities.

He runs into some of the local boys, the closest to friends he has and accepts their well-wishes with a grin. He spends most of his money on sweets he passes around between them, always willing to share whatever he is able. Mouths sticky with honeyed goodness, they sneak into the back of the local tavern whispering hushed excitement at their daring. They pool their meagre wealth and send the eldest lad to the bar, cheering when he returns with mugs overflowing with ale. David is hesitant, well aware of the perils of the amber fluid but reminds himself he is not his father and downs his just as gustily as his friends.

When they emerge an hour later, the sun is lowering in the sky, beckoning David home. On the way to his tethered horse, he bumps into the baker's daughter. Her blonde hair gleams in the fading light, her pink lips curving prettily as she wishes him a happy birthday. She flushes before darting forward, intent on pressing said lips to his cheek but a small stumble causes them to land on his own lips instead. Frozen for a second, they tentatively linger before she runs away, cheeks even redder than before.

His fingertips run over his lips constantly on the ride home, tingling still from the unknown touch. However underneath the awe is a sense of wrongness he cannot and will not identify until rouge-tinged lips set in a delicate pale face surrounded by raven hair erase any memory of kisses before.

His grandest birthday is also his worst.

A hall dripping in more gold and gaudy decorations than sheep on his farm.

Tables laden with enough food to feed all the villagers and farmers he has ever met for a month.

Minstrels and dancers and parades of sycophantic nobles who act as if they are his closest allies with simpering words of praise yet know him not at all.

He wants to hide away in his room but the stern glares King George sends his way when no one else is looking keep him rooted in place, a smile plastered on his features maintained through sheer effort.

The only consolation he has is that his fiancée has taken ill and was unable to attend. He has not seen Abigail since their journey to her kingdom was interrupted by a brazen, beautiful thief. He does not think he would be able to play the dutiful future husband when visions of emerald eyes and soft smiles haunt his every thought. He wonders if her birthdays before her banishment were celebrated like this…he wonders if he'll ever get the chance to ask.

Hours pass and with each indulgent moment, he feels a little less real, a little less David. It's hard to hold onto oneself when every around you treats as a different man. When he finally manages to escape, he slumps against his chamber door with a sigh.

He wants nothing more than to fall into slumber but a small package atop his pillow halts his progress, the folded letter underneath even more so.

It's from his mother, delivered by the one knight he trusts to keep their correspondence secret, the man whose life he saved when faced with the dragon.

It's a short simple message, a wish of birthday luck and good health signed off with love. The accompanying package is homemade cookies, the aroma immediately bringing back childhood memories.

He eats them slowly, savouring each one and finds himself grounded once more. Despite the excesses he now lives with, he's still the shepherd who treasures the little things underneath.

His next birthday highlights the difference a year can make.

The hall is swapped for a crowded campsite.

The feast replaced by a small portion of roasting meat hunted by a friend's hand.

And yet, this is the happiest celebration of his day of birth he has had in years.

Friends swap jokes and broad smiles, homemade mead is shared freely and slapping knees and random objects hit gaily becomes the music of choice. The beat is hypnotizing in its rhythm and he finds himself standing, twirling, arms full of giggling beauty. Snow spins close, her face flushed with glee as she pecks his cheek before spinning away once more.

He readily admits much of his happiness comes from her presence. She'd snuck into his tent that morning and woken him with soft kisses and a whispered happy birthday, shyly presenting him with a fabric-wrapped gift. A dagger, sharp and new and fierce. She'd rambled through an apology that it wasn't anything grander, more practical than heartfelt but he'd cut her off with a tight embrace. She'd given him a gift he could use to protect her, protect the innocents caught up in this battle for kingdoms and he couldn't ask for anything better.

She'd coaxed him away from their friends for the day, a small basket packed with lunch tucked under her arm. He now knew it was so the others could gather all the necessary things for the evening's festivities but he could not complain. They'd found a meadow, redolent in flowered splendor and spent the day lazing in the cloudy sunlight. They'd played as children would, the small respite from the rigours of war unleashing their inner youth until their playful touches had become heated by more than the sun. They'd played then as adults, skin bared and mouths fused upon a bed of crushed wildflowers til they were breathless and sated.

Snow had dragged him back to the campsite in the waning hours of daylight, his initial reluctance to return replaced by humbled wonder at the scene he was now immersed in.

She spins into him again and this time he holds on.

He hopes he gets to hold on through every one of his birthdays to come.

David Nolan's first birthday in Storybrooke is coated in deceit.

Kathryn has to be at work early but he lies, claiming illness as he still lays in bed half hour after he should have arisen. She frets, saying she can stay home but he waves her off, tells her he only needs rest and tonight they can celebrate. She kisses him on the cheek, promises a birthday dinner to remember and heads out the door.

He feels guilty that he's relieved she believed him, his lies laying ashen in his mouth but not enough to smother his excitement for the day.

A few hours later he waits at the bridge's edge, blinking up into the midday sun. A small hand slips into his, a grin spreading across his face at the feeling. This time she brings the picnic, spread out across what he has come to think of their rock. They take turns feeding one another, stories interspersed about the latest antics of her class and the cutest new rescue dogs at the shelter. They pretend there's no queries about their future on their minds, no doubts as to what comes next…lies come far easier to themselves now.

When their stomachs are full, they share kisses still tainted by the thrill of the forbidden, of the love burning deep behind closed doors. Time passes too quickly, real life intruding so they part with one last fierce kiss, the only present she dare give him a small coin, a talisman of luck to bring good fortune.

He lumbers home, ready to act the part his memories demand him to play but before he can change into clothes more suitable to a day spent resting a knock sounds on the door.

It's the mayor's son, the sheriff's son smiling innocently but with nervous eyes. With a quick happy birthday, he presses a multi-coloured paper-wrapped gift into David's hands. He tells him it's for later, that he'll understand when everything is fixed before he runs off.

With a confused shrug, he rips into the paper.

It's a small figurine, Snow White and Prince Charming holding hands.

It's cute but kitschy…yet he finds himself hiding it away in his bedside table, something telling him it's more precious than he knows.

His latest birthday is nothing short of perfection.

Granny's is practically empty, littered with broken streamers, dirty mugs and emptied plates. A banner reading Happy Birthday David is hanging crooked above the counter, one end on the verge of falling to the ground.

In the back corner booth, the last of the guests are huddled together, voices quiet.

Henry's leaning against the wall, eyes flickering with sleep but unwilling to give in to the call of slumber yet. Emma's next to him, stirring her hot chocolate by waving her finger in a lazy circle, the slight glow at her fingertip echoing to the faint shine of the now self-stirring liquid.

Across the table, Snow rests against his chest, head tucked into that perfect spot underneath his chin made just for her. She occasionally shifts slightly, enough to press a soft kiss to the bared skin of his neck before settling again. In her arms Neal is snuggled tightly, quiet snores emanating from his open mouth, tiny hands bunched against his blanket.

David received more presents than he knows what to do with, a new leather jacket from his daughter and a signet ring with their children's birthstones from his wife amongst them but this moment right now is the best gift he has ever received.

His family, together and happy.

Hopefully for all the birthdays to come.