Being Grounded
by misscam

Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.

Author's Note: Written to the following prompt: "you live in the apartment above me and everyday I can hear you singing in the shower but you're really good and it makes my day" au. So yes, AU.

II

The morning Mary Margaret Blanchard moves into her new apartment, she feels as if she is in freefall, a spiral downwards that she has no idea where ends. She has not only lost her father, but any link to him, thanks to her step-mother claiming everything the day after the funeral and actually throwing her out in pretty much nothing but her clothes.

She has some money saved up, but she cannot continue her studies, and all her dreams that her father encouraged suddenly seem to have died with him.

For a week, she stayed at Ruby's, but Ruby lives cramped enough as it is with her ailing grandmother. So here Mary Margaret is, with a suitcase of clothes and a flat of bare necessities that she managed to rent fairly cheap on account on it being old. It has a certain rustic charm, but she cannot imagine it as a home right now. She can't imagine anything at all, feeling empty.

She closes her eyes and tries not to cry.

Faintly, above her someone sings. It must be the flat above. It's a male voice, strong and fairly musical, singing a tune that Mary Margaret can't identify since she can't make out the words. It is still strangely comforting, giving her a sense of not being alone.

Okay. She has lost her father, and the step-mother she actually thought cared turned out not to after all, but she has friends and now a flat and a neighbor who sings wonderfully. She can make the best of this. She will make the best of this.

II

She gets a job as a teaching assistant. It doesn't pay too well, but she can live off of it as long as she is careful. Her father always insisted on raising her in extravagance, but he is gone now, and strangely, she feels... almost more free like this.

She attends garage sales and flea markets, and fills her flat with a curious collection of slightly worn, but charming items. Ruby's grandmother teaches her how to cook on a budget, and slowly, but surely, Mary Margaret feels like she is getting a handle on her new life.

And every morning at 7.15 am during the weekdays, her upstairs neighbor sings in the shower and Mary Margaret listens. It becomes a part of her morning routine and a part of her life, a few minutes where she simply feels at peace. It doesn't really matter what he is singing, just that he is. There is something about his singing voice that gives her the same feeling her mother singing her lullabies did – a sense of stability, of home, of being grounded.

(She misses her mother so much, even if it has been over a decade since her mother died. Something seemed to die in her father after that as well, and nothing was ever quite the same.)

Who the voice belongs to, she has no idea. There is no name on the mailbox, and she can't make herself knock and ask. How would she even phrase that? 'Hi, I live upstairs and listen to you sing in the shower every morning?'

No. That would make her sound like a stalker, but she wonders if he has any idea his habit of singing in the shower makes someone else happy. Some days, when she wakes up and her grief over her father and everything else seems to choke her, the only thing that seems to lighten her day is his singing.

And then one day, he doesn't sing.

II

It's 7.16 am, and it's quiet. It's a weekday, it shouldn't be quiet.

7.18, still quiet.

7.20, and Mary Margaret feels herself torn between conflicting emotions. Perhaps he simply didn't feel like singing today. He would have no idea it meant something to someone else, after all, so to him, not singing would not seem like a big deal. Perhaps he is sleeping over somewhere else.

Perhaps he has moved, a thought that strangely saddens her.

7.21. What if something is wrong? He could have fallen in the shower. He could be an older man, suffering a heart attack. He could be in danger, facing burglars or robbers. He could...

7.22. Something must be wrong. Before she can convince herself otherwise, Mary Margaret grabs the bat Ruby gave her as a moving-in-gift, and leaves her flat. She tip-toes quietly up the stairs, finding the door to the upstairs flat slightly ajar.

Oh no. Something has happened.

"Hello?" she tries calling out. "Do you need help?"

There is no answer, and she carefully opens the door further and steps in, clutching her baseball bat. The flat is silent, almost dark, and she can't see anyone at all.

"Hello?" she tries again, wondering if she is about to make a massive fool out of herself. But the door was open. He wouldn't just leave it open.

"What the hell?" a voice says behind her, and then someone grabs her from behind. The bat drops to the floor, but she manages to fight her arms free, swinging her fist clutching the keys around. She has time to make out a male, blond hair and blue eyes, before her baseball bat hits him squarely on the chin.

He goes down, more from the surprise than the force, she thinks, but she gives him no time to react. Quickly, she straddles him, holding her bat up threateningly.

"What have you done with the guy who lives her?" she hisses, narrowing her eyes at him.

"What have I done?" he repeats, sounding confused. "I am the guy living here!"

Oh no, she thinks with a sinking feeling. Oh no.

"You?" she asks, staring down at him. Her key has left a bloodied cut on his chin, she notices. Oh no. No no no.

"Me," he confirms. "I take it you're not here to rob me, then? Despite the baseball bat"

"No," she says. "I'm so, so sorry. Your door was ajar and I thought... You didn't sing in the shower this morning. You always sing in the shower at 7.15 am. I'm your downstairs neighbor, Mary Margaret Blanchard. I... I'm so, so sorry. I truly thought something was wrong!"

She is rambling, she realizes. He is staring at her, but not angrily. He seems almost amused, actually.

"Mary Margaret Blanchard," he repeats. "You thought something was wrong and you rushed to save me with a baseball bat."

"It seemed like the honorable thing to do," she murmurs.

He smiles then, his smile reaching all the way to his eyes and making them light up, and it's like being struck by lightning. Mary Margaret feels jolted, her breath catching.

"I'm David Nolan," he says, and Mary Margaret is pretty sure she's about to fall all over again.

II

She invites him for breakfast. It is the least she could do after wounding him, and he accepts readily enough. He looks quite at home in her kitchen, smiling at her decorations and complimenting her cooking, and strangely, she never wishes the moment would end.

"I am sorry," she says again, when all they have left is to finish their coffee.

"Apology accepted," he smiles, and she can already tell that David Nolan smiles easily, but always genuinely. "I'm sorry I worried you by not singing. I was... My mother was hospitalized recently. I rushed there last night. Must be why I forgot to lock the door. I only came back this morning."

"Oh," she says. "I'm sorry."

David nods, smiling softly and sadly. "They say she doesn't have long. A few months, maybe. She's... After my brother died, she's all I have left, since my step-father considers me a disgrace."

She touches his hand gently without thinking. "I'm so sorry. I... I can imagine how you feel. lost my father recently. He was all that I had left and my step-mother doesn't even consider me family."

"I'm sorry," he says, looking at her in a way that makes her feel seen. "I guess we have more in common than just being awake at 7.15 am every morning."

She laughs softly. "I guess so."

"I didn't know anyone could hear me sing," he says after a moment. "If it's bothering you, I can..."

"No!" she says quickly, forcefully. "I... I like it. You have a good voice."

"Thank you," he says, looking down at her hand still on his. "I better get going. Thank you for breakfast, Mary Margaret."

"Sorry about the injury," she offers.

"Don't be. It was worth it," he says, and his eyes are bright as he looks at her.

II

The next morning, he sings at 7.15 am again, and she listens with a smile on her face, trying not to imagine him wet and naked in the shower. (Because now that she knows what he looks like, that image is far too enticing.)

She suspects he might be putting in an extra effort today, judging by the strength of his voice, and it makes her blush slightly to think it is probably for her.

Ten minutes later, there is a knock on her door. She isn't entirely surprised to see a freshly showered David Nolan, hair still slightly wet, smiling at her.

"Good morning," he says, and it's impossible not to smile back at him. "I was wondering if you would like to have breakfast with me. I have croissants."

"I'd love to," she says, and means it.

II

The next morning, he sings at 7.15 am, and ten minutes later, she is at his door, inviting him for breakfast. The next day, it's his turn again, and then hers.

He keeps her up to date on his mother, who is fighting valiantly and still hanging on. She talks about her job, and every now and then they share a piece of their lives. He learns about her step-mother claiming the inheritance. She learns about his twin, the preferred brother by their step-father, who died a few years back. He learns about her childhood, she about his. She reveals her dream to study ornithology, he reveals he doesn't want to become the lawyer his step-father tried to groom him for despite being offered a fortune.

It feels like building a friendship, except that she knows it's more than that.

The fifth day, he kisses her across the kitchen table, tasting of orange juice and something that is just David Nolan. It is wonderful, the sort of kiss that would fit right into a fairy tale, at least until they knock several plates to the floor in their eagerness to deepen the kiss.

It was worth it, David tells her, and kisses her again.

II

She buys him new plates for their next breakfast date, and he laughs at the blue birds decorating them and declares them absolutely charming.

He's bought her flowers, buttercups, and she declares them – and him – absolutely charming. He grins at that, braids one into her hair before he kisses her again and doesn't stop until they're both breathless.

"Go out with me," he asks against her lips. "For dinner, not just breakfast."

"Okay," she agrees, smiling as he brushes a light kiss against her swollen lips. "I'd love to."

II

He sings in the shower fifteen minutes before he's due to pick her up for their date – a love song that makes her smile as she gets dressed.

Ruby has convinced her to wear a short, red dress, and it is worth it the moment she opens her door and sees David Nolan stare at her with an awestruck expression.

He looks pretty good himself, she has to admit.

They have their date at an Italian restaurant, and he brings her roses and a cup decorated with blue birds that he apparently found passing a shop and couldn't help but buy for her. She laughs more during their dinner than she can remember doing since her father died, and can't seem to stop smiling.

When they get as far as dessert, they feed each other ice cream until he looks at her across the table and she feels hot and cold at once.

They pay their bill hurriedly, and she takes him by the hand and leads him home, feeling his gaze on her the whole way. She only pauses by her door, turning around just as he crowds her against the door and kisses her passionately.

"Would you like to come inside?" she gasps into the kiss, and she can feel his lips curve into a smile against hers.

"I'd love to," he says.

II

Making love to David Nolan is like falling, and being caught, over and over again. It is wonderful, breathtakingly wonderful. He has large hands that roam her body methodically, discovering just where to touch and caress her. He kisses her happily, eagerly, tenderly, passionately, and a million variations in-between, and always seems to want one more. His body is toned and hard, yet always feeling soft against hers.

She loves it. She is also pretty certain she is falling in love with him, falling asleep after several hours in bed with him to his soft humming.

II

She wakes at six am, not quite sure at first why. David is still sleeping, having wrapped her in his arms and nuzzled against her.

There is another soft knock on the door, and she realizes that is why she woke up. At this hour, she can't imagine who it might be, so she slips carefully out of David's arms and grabs her bat on the way to the door.

Of all people, it's Regina. Her step-mother, who she last saw giving her an icy glare across the mansion courtyard.

"Mary Margaret," Regina says. She still looks icy, but there is something like a crack in her facade. "Can I come in?"

"What do you want, Regina?" Mary Margaret says coldly. Once, she looked up to this woman and wanted nothing more than to consider her like a mother.

Regina opens her mouth a few times, as if considering and rejecting what to say. "It took me a while to find where you lived. This is..."

"Not up to your standard?" Mary Margaret cuts in. "It's my home, Regina. I'm actually happy here."

It's the truth, she realizes. Somewhere along the way, this became a home.

Regina looks hesitant for the first time. "I though you would be dying to move back to your father's mansion."

"What do you want, Regina?" Mary Margaret repeats.

Regina closes her eyes. "He meant to leave it all to you. He told me before he died. I... It's all yours, Mary Margaret. The mansion, the fortune, all of it."

Mary Margaret stares at her. She can barely believe this is coming from Regina. "Why?"

Regina grimaces. "I thought I would be happy taking it all from you. I'm not."

"Why did you want to take it all from me?"

"He only married me to give you a mother. He never loved me. I didn't want to marry him, but my mother convinced me. She was... She was going to disinherit me if I didn't."

"You were unhappy," Mary Margaret says quietly.

"Yes," Regina says quietly. "I blamed you. You, the beloved, perfect daughter. I... I'm sorry."

Regina sounds about as happy to make an apology as she would be swallowing glass, and seems just as sharp and brittle, and desperately, desperately unhappy.

"We'll share it evenly," Mary Margaret says softly. "He married you. I... You're family, Regina."

Regina considers that, then curtly nods. "I'll send my lawyer by tomorrow. I... Thank you, Mary Margaret."

Mary Margaret watches Regina go, feeling strangely hopeful. When she closes the door and turns around, she sees David watching her with a fond smile. He's shirtless, wearing only his adorable sheep-decorated boxers.

"I'm happy for you," he says.

"For the money?" she jokes, and he shakes her head.

"For starting to mend fences with your step-mother," he says. "I could see you weren't just grieving your father."

She can only nod, walking into his arms. He embraces her, kissing the top of her head and she feels wonderfully steadied in his arms. He grounds her, she thinks, and tilts her head upwards to kiss him.

II

They make love slowly, the morning light kissing her skin just as he does. Afterwards, they curl up together and she tells him she will use the money to go back to university, but that she is not moving anywhere.

At least not until he moves with her, she doesn't say, but already knows. She is going to marry David Nolan one day, and they'll make a home together.

"It's 7.13 am," he murmurs, brushing his nose against hers.

"Oh," she giggles.

"Sing with me?" he asks, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

There is only one answer to give, she knows. "I'd love to."

II

At 7.15 am, David Nolan and Mary Margaret sing together in the shower for the first time; it won't be the last. Not by far.

II

FIN