Rating: Teen. Some implied adult activities, nothing explicit.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.
Author's Note: Set in an AU with no magic.
It's a cold, rainy summer Wednesday when Mary Margaret Blanchard meets David Nolan again, seven years after the first time. The first time, she accidentally knocked him into a tree and even caused a scar on his chin from a sharp branch. This time, she only knocks herself into him, not looking as she walks into the tiny library and finding herself crashing into a muscled chest.
Clumsy, clumsy, she manages to berate herself with as she lifts her gaze.
"I'm so, so sorry," she rambles, as soft hands steadies her. "I'm..."
Blue eyes meet hers, and the words die on her lips. She knows these eyes. She spent many an evening gazing lovingly into them.
"Snow!" she hears him exclaim warmly, and her cheeks flush at the nickname. His nickname for her, and only his, and thus she hasn't heard it in years. It manages to sound just as right on his lips now as it did then.
Snow White. He used to call her that, as if she was the princess in his fairy tale. Life is rarely a fairy tale, she knows now. But for a couple of months, when she was just 18 and had the most wonderful summer holiday of her life, it felt like it might become one, Prince Charming and all.
Then she had her heart broken.
She feels paralyzed, too many emotions slamming into her at once. He's here. He's really here. After all these years, they're in the same place.
"Snow," he says again, just as warmly. "You're here. You're really here."
"I..." she tries, swallowing. "Hi, Charming."
Her use of his nickname makes his smile break into a grin. He looks positively giddy at seeing her again, his hands running up and down her arms.
"Hi, Snow," he murmurs, and she remembers how that tone of voice could make her toes curl. "I can't believe you're really here."
She can only nod at that. She can barely believe it herself.
"I..." she begins, trying to find the words, any words.
"Mommy?" a soft voice asks, and Mary Margaret feels a small hand grab hers and cling on. Emma. Oh. Of course it's Emma, who was just petting the dalmatian outside while mommy returned the books quickly. Meant to be quickly, at least. Oh.
"Mommy?" David repeats, his gaze shifting to look at Emma curiously. Emma is looking just as curiously at him, Mary Margaret notes, and she feels... She has no idea how she feels.
"She's my mommy," Emma says, sticking her chin out slightly, as if ready to challenge the world. She might only be six, but she has never lacked courage. "I'm Emma. I'm six."
"Six,"David breathes, his forehead crinkling. "You're six years old?"
"She is," Mary Margaret manages to say, and his gaze shifts to her again. It's no longer warm, just confused and... Hurt? "I..."
"Is she...?" he whispers. Oh yes, he's done the math. He knows the last time he saw her was almost seven years ago.
"Yes," she manages to say, and his eyes close for a moment. When he opens them again, he seems almost lost. "You didn't know?"
"How would I know?" he asks, voice brimming with hurt, and she swallows. Oh. He didn't know. He didn't... "Mary Margaret, how would I know?"
"Mommy?" Emma says again. She looks confused, staring from one to the other.
"Emma, why don't you go talk to Belle and let her help you find some new books," Mary Margaret manages to say, trying to smile reassuringly. "Mommy has to talk to... To David for a while, okay?"
Emma looks suspicious, glaring at David for a moment. It's so similar to how David would do it that it makes Mary Margaret's heart ache.
"David's an old friend that mommy hasn't talked to in a long time," Mary Margaret hurries to add. "It's okay. Please, Emma."
"Fine," Emma relents. She stomps slightly as she walks over to Belle, just to demonstrate she is not doing this entirely willingly, but Belle soon has her all smiles and laughter.
David is just watching her, awestruck, seeming to memorize every detail. "She's beautiful."
"She is," she agrees, moving away from the door and to the nearest corner. He follows, a little dazed. "David..."
"Why don't I know about her?" he asks, a touch angrily, fixing his gaze on her. "Didn't you want me in her life?"
"Of course I did!" she says hotly. "I wanted nothing more than... I wanted Emma to have her father. Of course I wanted you in her life."
"Then why...?" he starts angrily, then exhales, calming himself. "Sorry. Why didn't you tell me?"
"I couldn't find you," she whispers. Her voice sounds breathless and wobbling even to her own ears. "I spent weeks looking for you. I sent letters. I looked everywhere... I couldn't find you. Your father found me instead and coolly informed me that you wanted nothing to do with me. He... He said I was just a summer fling. He threatened to make sure I would lose custody of my child if I kept persisting in trying to contact you."
"My father," he repeats, and his eyes darken with anger again, but not at her this time. "Mary Margaret, I swear... He never told me. I didn't even know that he knew about you."
"Oh," she breathes.
"My twin brother was in an accident. That's why I had to leave so suddenly. He was in a coma for weeks, and then... Then he died. I never meant to... I sent letters. I looked for you when I came back, but I couldn't find you. When I finally tracked down your home town, I met your step-mother. She refused to help me."
"Regina," she breathes, feeling her heart break a little. She always knew her step-mother didn't care much for her, but it still hurts to have it confirmed. "I never got your letters. Maybe... Maybe Regina made sure I never got those."
He stares at her intently. "Mary Margaret, I swear I didn't know. I would never have... I never wanted to leave you. I came back to find you, to... continue what we had. You were never just a summer fling. Please, please believe that."
"I..." she breathes, trying to make sense of the storm of emotions inside her. "I believe you."
He exhales, as if relieved. For a moment, they just stand there, both overwhelmed.
"Do you still want to be in her life?" she finally asks, and his eyes seem so, so bright with longing as he looks at her.
"Of course I do," he breathes. "She's my daughter. She's... I'm a father."
"You are," she agrees, her heart aching for him. "Do you want me to tell her?"
He closes his eyes, and without thinking, she takes his hand. They used to hold hands as if it was the most natural thing in the world back then, she remembers, but that was then, and this...
He laces his fingers in his and his palm is as soft against hers as it was then.
"Don't tell her yet," he finally says, voice filled with determination. She remembers how assertive he would be when he had made his mind up – one of the qualities she really loved in him. "I want her to know me as something other than the father who wasn't there before we tell her. I'm going to earn being her father, Mary Margaret."
"You don't have to," she tells him, and he shakes his head. "David. You already are. You don't have to earn anything."
"Yes, I do," he says, and she knows she can't change his mind. "Please, Mary Margaret."
"Okay," she agrees, glancing over to where Emma is happily pointing at something in the book Belle is showing her. "If that's what you want."
"That's what I want," he says, smiling softly at the sight of Emma, before shifting his gaze onto her again, "to begin with."
He starts by taking both her and Emma for ice cream by the harbor. If Emma is still suspicious of him, ice cream seems to at least temporarily quash them, and they end up sitting on a bench together even after the ice cream has been devoured.
The ocean is calm, with gentle waves that seem to brush the beach more than crash into it. A few sea gulls are flying above, making Emma point happily.
"Do you like birds?" David asks, and Emma looks at him shyly before nodding. "Just like your mother."
Of course he remembers, Mary Margaret thinks, wondering why that still makes her stomach flutter slightly.
"Mom likes blue birds," Emma says after a moment. "I like swans."
"Ah," he comments lightly. "Why swans?"
"Emma once found a baby bird in the park," Mary Margaret fills in, and he smiles at that. "It was almost dead, but she wanted to save it. She thought it was a duckling at first. It was a swan. We managed to nurse it back to health."
"Mommy saved it," Emma says with satisfaction.
"She saved a blue bird once too," he says, and Emma looks at him. "That's how we first met. Your mom climbed a tree to save a bird that had gotten trapped in some plastic. I was taking a walk there that day and spotted her high up there and foolish thought she might need saving. I was very wrong. Your mother not only managed to jump down on her own – she hit me when she landed."
Emma laughs. "Did you, mommy?"
Mary Margaret smiles a touch bashfully. "I did."
"I even have the scar to remember it by," David goes on, pointing to his chin, and Emma peers at it.
"Did it hurt?" Emma asks.
"It was worth it," he says warmly, smiling at them both. "Certain things are worth the hurt."
"I know," Emma says, sounding almost grown-up for a moment. "I fell off the swing once and my knee hurt, but it's worth falling off sometimes. I like swings. I like feeling like I can fly."
"Do you?" David asks, and she nods. "I'd like to see this swing that dared throw off Emma the brave."
Emma giggles, then jumps off the bench. "I'll show you!"
She does; they all go to the playground and try the swings, and Emma laughs in delight as David pushes her on the swings – high enough to give her the sensation of flying, but not so high as to risk her falling.
He walks them home after a few hours. She doesn't ask, he doesn't ask, Emma doesn't ask. It just seems to happen. Emma is beginning to warm up to him, as he shows earnest interest in anything she says without pushing her. Emma doesn't like being pushed, Mary Margaret has long since learned about her daughter. Perhaps David has picked up on that, or perhaps he just instinctively knows.
For someone who only learned he was a father today, he is doing very well indeed.
The part of town they live in is not exactly the most well-to-do, and she can see David notice it. Still, he says nothing, and is all smiles at he follows them up the stairs and to the door to the loft.
He pauses there. "I... I have to go back to Boston today. I have a few things to sort out. But I'll be back here tomorrow."
Boston, she thinks as she nods. So he lives there. She doesn't even know what sort of life he's currently living, what sort of life she and Emma are disrupting. His father had great plans for him, she remembers. Law and politics. Plans he didn't want disrupted.
"Tomorrow," Emma says. She peeks up at him curiously.
"Tomorrow," he repeats.
"Do you like mommy?" Emma asks after a moment, as direct as children so often are.
"I do," he says earnestly, and Mary Margaret swallows. "Very much. Is that okay?"
Emma regards him, then finally gives a regal nod.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then," he says warmly, holding out a hand. "It was very nice to meet you, Emma."
Emma shakes it solemnly. "It was very nice to meet you, David."
After David has left, they make dinner together, mother and daughter, and later Emma sits down to draw a picture of mommy saving a blue bird. She even draws David looking on admiringly after thinking it over for a while, making Mary Margaret's heart ache a little.
Emma has never complained about the lack of a father in her life (or a grandfather, for that matter, something that could also have been), but even so, she has wanted more of a family, Mary Margaret knows.
Hell, she wanted more of a family for her. For her precious, beloved daughter she wanted the world, but she's had to make the best of what she had.
Before bed, Emma nestles against her on the couch, and they read Winnie the Pooh together for half and hour. Mommy and daughter reading time, a tradition they've had since the first night Emma rested in her arms out of the hospital.
Emma seems particularly thoughtful tonight, not commenting much and not quite listening either. But whatever is going through her mind, she doesn't put it to words and Mary Margaret doesn't ask, as much as she wants to.
"I love you," she tells Emma instead, kissing the top of her head. Oh, how she loves her daughter. These last seven years may have been the hardest of her life, but they've also been wonderful, all thanks to her precious daughter. Certain things are worth any hurt.
Emma doesn't protest bedtime for once, and is soon out like a light. Mary Margaret watches her for a few minutes, mostly to postpone confronting her own tangled mess of emotions.
Finally, she closes the door and walks downstairs to the silence and emptiness of the kitchen and living room, curls into her armchair – and cries. She can't help it. She made a sort of peace with it, six years ago, that the young man she had loved was now lost to her and that Emma wouldn't know her father, a painful, heartbreaking peace with it, but knowing now it could have been different...
It's a new sort of pain, and she hugs herself to keep from trembling. She could have had David. Emma could have had her father. They could have been a family.
How long she sits there, she isn't sure, but it must be a while. Distantly, she hears a soft knock on her door, then another. Without really thinking, she gets up to open.
It's David. He looks worked up, she notices, all energy and determination.
"Sorry," he offers immediately. "I know I said tomorrow, but I couldn't wait, I... Mary Margaret, have you been crying?"
"I..." she tries, but it comes out like a sob, and immediately his arms go around her. The aching familiarity of his embrace brings out another sob, and another, and soon she is crying helplessly. She can hear him close the door, and feel herself guided to the couch and onto his lap as he sits down.
"Mary Margaret," he murmurs comfortingly, kissing the top of her head. "I'm here."
She isn't sure how long she cries, but he holds her through it all, his hands warm and supportive against her back. Every now and then he presses a kiss against her face, gentle and soft, until she's all out of tears.
"I'm sorry," she whispers against his chest.
"Don't be," he says, lifting a finger to her chin and tilting her head upwards to look at him. His cheeks are lined with tears too, she realizes. Oh. It isn't just her feeling the loss of what might have been, then.
She swallows, trying to regain her composure. "I thought you were going to Boston?"
"I did go to Boston," he says, his voice a sort of restrained calm that doesn't seem very calm at all. "I went straight to my father. He didn't just admit what he had done – he bragged about it."
"Oh," she says, putting a hand against his chest. "David, I'm so sorry."
"He kept all your letters from me. He even contact Regina to make sure I wouldn't be able to contact you. Apparently she was very happy to do it. I'm so sorry."
"I think she resented me," Mary Margaret murmurs. Her voice sounds far away. "My father married her to give me a mother. She didn't want to be my mother."
"I'm sorry," David whispers, kissing her temple. "Is she..."
"She convinced dad I had shamed the family by becoming pregnant before getting married," she says, and feels the sharp pain of that day even now. "My father is... Old-fashioned. He demanded that I give the baby up for adoption after she was born. I refused. I couldn't believe he could even ask that of me. So I walked away. I... I haven't talked to anyone in my family after that day."
"Oh, Mary Margaret," he says, looking at her with pained eyes. "You were just 18... How did you...?"
She gives him a trembling smile. "I managed. For Emma. I didn't even know where I was going. I just... got on a bus and ended up in a small town. I was a waitress there first, and I became friends with one of the others waitresses there. Her name's Ruby. She and her grandmother helped me a lot. The last few years I've been working while getting a degree. I'm a teacher now. That's why we moved here a few months ago. I got offered a position here after the summer break."
"I'm impressed," he says, and knows he means it. "You're very resourceful, Mary Margaret. Emma's lucky to have you."
"She'll be lucky to have you too," she says, and he sighs softly and presses his forehead against hers for a moment.
"My father told me that you and your bastard child wasn't good enough for me," he says, and oh, she can hear the anger now, barely restrained at all. "I told him he was wrong, that you were both far too good for me, but that I would spend a lifetime making myself worthy of you both. Then I punched him and left. He was screaming that he would disinherit me if I walked out that door as I left, but I'm not going back, Mary Margaret."
"But..." she breathes, and he shakes his head.
"All my life, he's made me feel not good enough. Not like James. After James died, I tried very hard to be what my father wanted, but I was wrong to. I'm just David."
"You're not just anything," she protests, and he looks at her. "You're... You're wonderful. You're a true Prince Charming."
"Your Charming," he says softly, and he looks at her as if she's the world. "You really were my Snow, you know. My princess. I would have slayed dragons for you."
"I know," she whispers, and he kisses her. It's a soft, comforting kiss, lips brushing hers while his thumb brushes her cheek. It still floods her mind with memories of hundreds of kisses from those weeks, leaving her a little breathless.
She leans her head against his chin as he breaks the lips, drawing her finger across his scar. All these years, and he still has a mark left by her.
"I've rented a room at the local bed and breakfast," he says after a few moments. "I packed the truck with some stuff that's just mine, and I got some savings of my own, but that's all I can offer you and Emma right now. I'm sorry."
"Don't be," she murmurs sleepily, feeling her eyes slide shut. She's exhausted, she realizes. "You're offering us you. That's... That's better than anything else in the world."
She can feel him kiss her temple again, a lingering kiss that helps lull her to sleep.
In the morning, she wakes in her own bed to find that David must have tucked her in after she fell asleep in his arms. Other than that, there is no sign of him, and she finds herself almost fearing the previous day was all a dream.
Emma wakes early too, padding into the kitchen as Mary Margaret is making tea, looking as grumpy as she always does in the morning. Her daughter is not a morning person, but she does light up when there is a firm knock on the door.
It's David, freshly showered and smiling, holding a bouquet of snow bells in one hand and a large bag of pastries in the other.
"I thought I would have a better chance at being invited to in for breakfast if I brought breakfast myself," he says, winking at Mary Margaret."But since I wasn't sure what princess Emma would like for breakfast, I got a bit of everything for her."
"And only flowers for mommy?" Emma asks, folding her arms and looking very unimpressed.
"Mommy's favorite flowers," Mary Margaret hastens to add, as David looks a bit crestfallen. She takes the bouquet from his hands, and smiles at him. "Thank you, David."
"Hmm," Emma simply says, but finally reaches out to take the bag of pastries. "Mommy likes pancakes, you know. I like buttercups."
"I see," David says solemnly, and a sort of understanding seems to pass between him and Emma. He follows her into the kitchen, and Mary Margaret bites her lip and tries to blink away tears as the two of them begin to divide up the pastries.
A family breakfast. The first of many, she now knows. The first of... the rest of their lives, maybe, and oh, how she wants that.
They decide to have a picnic that day. It's warm and sunny, and so they make a picnic basket and bring blankets and set off in David's truck. Mary Margaret remembers his truck. He'd saved up for it himself, she remembers, by working at a local farm, something his father apparently hadn't approved of.
Emma does like the truck, and David's stories about working at that farm too. They agree between them that sheep are best, and Emma lets it slip that she's always wanted a sheepdog.
She looks guilty the moment she realizes what she's said, and Mary Margaret has to swallow a lump in her throat. Emma. Oh, Emma. So much she's probably always wanted, but hasn't dared to voice it aloud.
They find a quiet spot by a small lake, putting down the blankets and having a light snack before Emma proceeds to draw the birds she can see while humming happily. David seems content to just sit and watch, though he does seem to suspiciously be edging closer and closer to Mary Margaret's spot on the blanket.
It reminds her of that summer, seven years ago, when they spent so many evenings by the sea, huddled together on a blanket. He must be thinking of it too, because she catches the way he looks at her from lowered eyelids.
"Look!" Emma calls, and they both look up. "Ducks!"
Sure enough, there is a whole family of ducks gliding across the water; mother duck and her little ducklings.
"Ducks," Mary Margaret agrees. "A family of ducks."
Emma frowns. "But there is no daddy duck."
Mary Margaret exhales sharply. She can hear David hold his breath. "Emma, ducks don't... That's... That's normal for ducks. That's how they do it. The mom raises the ducklings alone."
Emma looks across the water for a moment. "What about swans?"
"Swans are different," Mary Margaret says softly. "They... They stay together. They are a pair the rest of their life and raise their babies together."
"Oh," Emma says in a far-away voice. "I like swans."
"I like swans too," David says, and Emma turns to look at him. She looks hesitant, almost afraid, but then she nods, a touch shyly.
David takes them to a rather lovely restaurant for dinner, insisting that just spending time with them is occasion enough. Emma seems pleased with that, especially when she's allowed her own choice of dessert.
She doesn't seem to want to finish it, as if she wants to prolong the meal for as long as possible, and Mary Margaret has a very good idea why.
David seems to pick up on it too, exchanging a look with Mary Margaret before clearing his throat. "Would you like to go to a petting zoo tomorrow? I've found one about an hour's drive from here."
"A petting zoo?" Emma repeats. "With you?"
"With me. I'd like to spend time with you both tomorrow," he says warmly, and Emma looks at him quizzically. "Just like we did today."
"And after tomorrow too?" she asks, her voice almost hopeful.
"And after tomorrow too," he promises sincerely. "Tomorrow and the day after and the day after. I'm going to be around every day from now on, Emma."
She considers that thoughtfully. "Every day?"
"Every day," he repeats, and it sounds like a vow. Slowly, Emma holds out her hand. He takes it and shakes it solemnly.
"Every day," Emma agrees.
When Mary Margaret excuses herself to use the rest room, she even finds them whispering together when she returns, heads close together and almost identical expressions as they look up at her.
Mary Margaret isn't entirely surprised when she wakes to soft giggles from the kitchen and the smell of pancakes. And sure enough, when she walks into the kitchen, she finds David already there with a very happy Emma.
He's brought pastries, a bouquet of snow bells and one of buttercups (Emma's favorite flowers) and now he is cooking pancakes. The table is already set, all ready for her.
"Look, mommy!" Emma exclaims, beaming at her.
"is this what you two were whispering about last night?" Mary Margaret asks, and Emma nods happily.
"Operation Rooster," Emma says, dangling her feet in the air. "I got up early to let David in so he could cook you pancakes for breakfast."
"I was reliably informed you like pancakes," he says, and his smile could light up a whole room, Mary Margaret is sure.
"He means I told him," Emma points out. "Do you like it, mommy?"
"I love it. Thank you," she says warmly, tip-toeing to kiss Emma on the forehead. Emma folds her arms, then looks pointedly at David.
Oh. Mary Margaret feels a faint flush to her cheeks. Is Emma suggesting she...?
Emma seems quite put out by the delay, giving another pointed look. "He did most of it!"
"I know, darling," Mary Margaret manages, and her cheeks are definitely flushed now as she feels David's gaze on her. "I... I love it, David. Thank you."
"Hmm," Emma says, sounding disapproving. "Doesn't David like being kissed?"
"Emma!" Mary Margaret protests, and David lets out a bark of laughter.
"He likes it very much," he says, voice filled with mirth, and Emma looks at him. "When the time is right for a kiss, that is."
"Hmm," Emma says again, but this time, it sounds more thoughtful than anything.
The petting zoo ends up being a wonderful experience. Emma gets to ride a horse, pet sheep, feed pigs, play with rabbits, and Mary Margaret gets to watch her daughter be utterly, utterly happy and watch David see the same.
He seems to delight in every smile, every laugh, and after the first few minutes, he takes Mary Margaret's hand and never lets go.
Emma seems to delight in that too, smiling at them when not completely enthralled by the various animals.
"She seems in her element," David says as Emma laughs when one of the dogs lick her hand.
"Yeah," Mary Margaret says softly. "I wish I could get her a dog, but the place we have isn't..."
"Shh," David says softly. "You've done wonderfully with her, Mary Margaret. Just spending time with her tells me that."
She swallows. "I wanted her to have the world."
"She had something better," he says, his voice so loving it hurts. "She had you."
"Don't argue," he says, putting a finger on her lips. "I know how it feels like being loved by you, and nothing compares to that. Nothing. I know that better than anyone. I've spent almost seven years missing it."
"I've missed you too," she says, closing her eyes when he cups her cheek. "Being loved by you was..."
"Is," he corrects, and she opens her eyes to see him gaze lovingly at her. "I never stopped. Did you?"
She licks her lips. "No."
He kisses her. Not soft and comforting this time, no. Hard and demanding, lips tugging at hers until she parts them, one hand at her back to press her even closer. She soon feels breathless, moaning softly into his mouth as he lifts her off her feet and spins her around.
He caresses her ear lovingly when he breaks the kiss, as he always seemed so fond of even then. Gently, he lowers her onto her feet again, stealing one last peck as he does.
"Mary Margaret," he says, just a touch huskily. "I don't know if you could tell, but... Being Emma's father isn't all I want."
"I could tell," she says, and he laughs softly. Then he seems to spot something over her shoulder, and smiles bashfully.
"I think she could tell too," he says, and she turns to see Emma looking at them from across the field, eyes wide.
Emma falls asleep in the truck on the way home, and instead of waking her when they get there, David simply lifts her up and carries her inside, looking as if he's carrying all the treasures of a kingdom. To him, Emma probably is. After all, in a way he has given up a kingdom to be her father. Mary Margaret knows how much money and influence his father has, money and influence he has now rejected.
It makes her heart ache with love for him.
"Goodnight, princess," he murmurs as he lowers Emma onto her bed. Then, after a moment's hesitation, he presses a soft kiss to her forehead. Emma sighs happily at that, her eyelids fluttering for a moment.
"I'll be right out," Mary Margaret tells him, and he nods before softly walking out. She spends a few minutes carefully getting Emma as undressed as possible without waking her, then gently tucks her in and kisses her forehead.
David is leaning against the kitchen counter as she enters, looking down at the floor and looking lost in thought. Whatever he is thinking of, it doesn't seem to be sad. He looks more as if he's mulling something over, or perhaps considering alternatives.
"Thank you for today," she tells him, and he lifts his gaze to look at her. His gaze feels like a caress, as it always has. From the first day she met him, the way he looked at her felt like a caress. "Emma loved it. I loved it. It was lovely."
"Am I getting kissed?" he asks, voice husky, and she shakes her head. He looks almost crestfallen for a moment, and then she holds out her hand.
"You're getting more than kissed," she tells him, and he follows her to her bed.
David was her first back then. Oh, she had flirted with other boys before, kissed some, but there had never been anyone she'd wanted to do more with until him. He was her first, in every sense of the word.
She was his too, she knows. He told her as much afterwards, and the fact that he wasn't ashamed of it, that he had willingly waited for someone it felt right with, was another reason to add to the thousands of others to why she fell in love with him.
They were both nervous that first time, she remembers, and slightly awkward, all desire and no experience. They still managed to make it wonderful together, and she still remembers that first moment of realizing just how much pleasure it's possible to feel.
It got better and better after that, as they learned together, spending most nights just... Exploring. Discovering.
She supposes that makes this a re-discovery.
They make love twice; the first time oh so slowly, face to face, truly taking their time to relish every touch, every kiss, every caress, every stroke, and finally, every moment of their bodies joined. It feels like slowly waking up again, as that part of her has been dormant for far too long. The second time is far more impatient, insistent, his fingers and hard thrusts making her come apart in his arms twice over before he's satisfied.
They can still make it wonderful together, she thinks afterwards, as David kisses her neck almost leisurely. Maybe... Maybe that's the key.
"David?" she murmurs, and he brushes his nose against her. "I know we've lost seven years together. I know you've lost six years with Emma. But... I want us to... I want to focus on what we can still have. I don't want to us to lose ourselves in regret."
He smiles at her so tenderly it makes her breath catch a little. "You always tried to find the best in every situation. You always had such hope. I loved that in you so much then. I think I love it even more now. I'd like that too, Mary Margaret. In fact, I've already started thinking about what we can have now."
He kisses her very softly, his lips still upturned in a smile.
"You've probably already made some plans for us," she comments after a moment, and he chuckles. "You always had such faith that things would work out for the best. You always made plans for that. I loved that in you so much. I'm going to love it even more now."
She can see how much his words means to her, as he closes his eyes and exhales. Softly, she kisses his eyelids and the bridge of his nose.
"I may have made some plans," he admits, and when she laughs, he kisses her until she far too breathless to laugh anymore.
Mary Margaret wakes to a myriad of sensations. Strong arms caressing her, a warm body pressed against her back, and light, light kisses against the back of her neck. David, of course, and she has to admit she could get used to being woken like this rather than by the alarm.
"Good morning," he murmurs into her skin, as she shifts slightly.
"Good morning," she agrees, feeling him smile against her skin. "Mmmm."
"It's going to be a very good morning soon," he informs her cheekily, and her eyes widen as his fingers dip down and he nuzzled a kiss against her shoulder. Oh. Right. She can remember a few mornings those seven years ago when she woke to... Well. He was always an early riser, wasn't he?
He still is, as it turns out.
A very, very good morning later, David is making pancakes and Mary Margaret is making toast when Emma walks into the kitchen and pauses at the sight of them.
"Hello, Emma," David says, trying to sound casual. He almost manages, but just almost.
"You're wearing the same shirt," Emma says, then glances over at Mary Margaret. "Mommy looks different."
Oh no, Mary Margaret thinks. They should have thought about the shirt. They should have, but they had so many other things on their mind.
"I... I stayed here last night," David says carefully. "I... was tired. I needed to rest. I... Yeah. Rest."
"Mommy helps you rest?" Emma asks suspiciously.
"Very much so," David says, and Mary Margaret bites her lip hard.
"By resting you mean kissing," Emma says, folding her arms. "That's what grown-ups do when they like each other like you like mommy. I'm six. I know that."
"You're right," he says softly after a moment, flipping the last pancake onto a plate and then stepping over to her. Carefully, he kneels down to look her in the eye. "Your mommy and I... We're... We're going to be kissing from now on. Sometimes, when grown-ups like each other in a special way, they like to kiss. I like your mother in that way. She's very special to me."
"Like swans," Emma says, looking at him thoughtfully. "Not like ducks."
"That's right," he says softly. "This won't be like with ducks, Emma. I promise you that."
"She's special to me too," Emma says. "Not like grown-up-kissing special, but special. She's my mommy."
"I know," he says, and Mary Margaret can see him ache with wanting to tell her the truth. He will feel like he's earned the right to soon, she is certain. "That will never change. She'll always be your mommy. But I hope... I hope that I will become someone not grown-up-kissing special to you too."
"Hmmm," Emma says thoughtfully. Then very slowly, she nods.
They all spend an utterly wonderful week together.
They go to the lake again. Another picnic basket, another warm summer day. Only this time, David begins to teach Emma to swim and she laughs in delight at it when she finally manages. Mary Margaret laughs in delight too, when she dives into the lake with him, and they steal a few kisses while under water.
They go to a museum in Boston with a special bird exhibit, and Emma walks through it twice, eyes bright with marvel. They get her several posters of birds to put up in her room, and David gets Mary Margaret a blue bird painting.
The day it rains, they spend in the library, just reading. Emma listens to David read the Gruffalo with a myriad of different funny voices, and then both Emma and David nestles against Mary Margaret as she reads Winnie the Pooh. It also turns out Belle is an old friend of David, and the whole reason he was there for Mary Margaret to bump into that day, and Mary Margaret makes a note to get Belle something special for Christmas.
They take a local ferry to another town, visiting a local market with a small fun fair, mingling among other families also there, and Emma holds both Mary Margaret's and David's hand as they walk.
They spend a day in the backyard, making a bird house that Emma paints and they hang up together, making a new home for a new family. Then David makes them all wooden swords, and he duel merrily with Emma until Emma inevitably wins (as David wouldn't have any other outcome), and has to be comforted in his defeat by mommy.
They go with Emma to her weekly paint class, and watch her paint two swans and a little swan baby, and Mary Margaret takes David's hands as he swallows and knows it's time.
As it turns out, George Nolan thinks it's time to say a few things too.
He is waiting by door to her loft as they walk home that day, and David tenses the moment he sees his father.
"Get out," he says hotly, angrily. "You have no right to be here."
"I have every right," George says coolly. "Do you think I'll stand by and watch you throw your life away on this... This one night stand you had one summer and her bastard? You don't even know if it's your child."
"Mommy?" Emma asks, her voice thin.
"Oh, I know," David says, balling his fists. "But it wouldn't even matter if she wasn't. Because I love them, father. I'd love them no matter what. I've loved Mary Margaret since the moment I laid eyes on her, and I love her daughter too. You wouldn't understand that. You've never loved anyone. Not even James. Not really. You just loved making him into you. But I'm not you. I'm..."
"You'll be nothing without me," George spits, and Mary Margaret balls her fist.
"He won't be nothing," Emma suddenly says, sticking her chin out. "You're mean. David's not nothing. He'll be mom's swan. He'll be... He'll become my daddy. That's not nothing. "
David looks at her, and Mary Margaret can see the myriad of emotions that play across his face. He swallows, then swallows again.
"You're right, Emma," he says, a single tear running down his cheek. "That's everything."
"You don't..." George begins, taking a threatening step closer to Emma, one step too far.
It feels very, very satisfying to hit a man who has just insulted the love of your life and your darling daughter, Mary Margaret reflects, as her fist connects with George's nose. He looks absolutely startled for a second, then he falls backwards against the door.
"Stay away from my family," Mary Margaret hears herself say, and David just stares at her for a moment before he smiles brilliantly.
"Mary Margaret Blanchard," he says, lifting her hand his lips and kissing her bruised knuckles, "I love, love, love you."
It takes several minutes to get George out of their hallway. He makes noises about pressing charges, but Mary Margaret already knows he won't. That would take admitting what had really happened, and he's far too concerned with appearances for that.
Emma doesn't say much, looking very, very thoughtful as David nurses Mary Margaret's knuckles, and biting her thumb absentmindedly.
"I'm sorry about that, Emma," David finally says. "That was my father. He... He isn't happy with me, but that's not your fault."
"He called me a bastard," Emma says tonelessly. "Is that like a duckling? Someone who just has a mother?"
Mary Margaret and David exchange pained glances.
"No, it's not, honey," Mary Margaret says softly. "It means something else. It's... It's not a nice word, Emma, but he's not a nice man. He was wrong to say those things."
Emma nods slowly.
"You're not a duckling, Emma," David tells her, kneeling down. "I wanted to... This isn't how I wanted you to find out, but... You're... You're the daughter of two swans who loved each other very much and just lost each other for a while."
"You and mommy?" Emma asks. Her lips tremble slightly. "Are you really...?"
"I am really your daddy," David manages to say. "I'm so, so sorry I wasn't here your first six years, Emma. It wasn't because I didn't want to. I...I lost your mother and I didn't know about you."
"He's telling the truth," Mary Margaret manages to confirm. She's crying, she realizes, but tries to smile through the tears.
"He's my daddy," Emma says, looking at him intently.
"I am," he says, and Emma leaps into his arms and clings to him. After a moment, Mary Margaret leans into the embrace as well, and they just hold each other for a long, long time.
After dinner, Mary Margaret encourages David and Emma to go to the playground together, just the two of them. They'll need time for just the two of them as well, she knows. They've made a good start, but they'll still need time and space to build on what they've started.
They'll probably go on the swings, she thinks fondly. It will be their thing, the first of many things to come that they'll find joy in together. She can't wait for that, to see their relationship grow and prosper.
A soft knock on the door interrupts her pleasant thoughts, and for a moment, she wonders if it might be George returned. She considers not opening, but after a moment, she sticks her chin out and goes for it. He won't scare her. She refuses to let him do any more harm.
It's not George. It's Regina.
"Hello, Mary Margaret," Regina says quietly. "You've been hard to find."
"I didn't know you were looking," Mary Margaret says, swallowing.
"I have been for a while," Regina says, sounding tired. "George Nolan called me today. Told me David had managed to stumble across you and intended to be with you. He told me where you lived. He wanted my help to break you two up."
"Like you gave him last time," Mary Margaret says, feeling bile at the back of her throat. Regina just sighs. "Are you going to?"
"No," Regina says, closing her eyes. "I... I adopted a baby boy a few years ago. It... It changed a lot of things for me. I'm not going to help George. I... I'll help you, if you need it, if you want it."
Mary Margaret feels slightly dizzy. "And dad..."
"He died a few months ago," Regina says quietly, and Mary Margaret feels a sharp jolt of pain. Despite everything, she did love her father. "He... He had a lot of regrets near the end. The biggest one was you. I don't think he ever forgave himself for what happened. He's left you almost everything, apart from a few things for me and my son."
"Oh," Mary Margaret says slowly. Money. Money she can use for Emma.
"Now that I know where you are, I'll put the lawyers in touch," Regina goes on. "I gather from George that you did keep the baby?"
"Emma. Her name is Emma."
"Emma," Regina repeats. She smiles distantly. "You know, when you walked away that day, I couldn't understand why you did it. Why you were so determined to try to find your David, to keep your child in the face of losing everything else. I didn't think love – any love – was worth it. That's what my mother taught me. But she was wrong."
"She was wrong," Mary Margaret agrees.
David and Emma returns a few hours later, full of stories about swings and going for ice cream, and she lets their happy chattering fill her. David clearly picks up on something being off, but settles for just stroking her hand now and then.
They read the first few chapters of Matilda for Emma together, with her nestling between them, until Emma almost falls asleep on them. And so, they take her to bed together, and she regards them with sleepy eyes as Mary Margaret kisses her forehead first, then David.
"I love you, my little swan," David whispers to her, and Emma nods a few times at him before her eyelids close and she drifts off.
They hold hands as they leave. They seem to be doing that more and more, Mary Margaret thinks, and delights in it. It is becoming the most natural thing in the world again, as it once was. Only now it will be just as natural when Emma holds hands with them too.
They sit down on the bed together, and David tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, waiting. He was always so good at this, letting her take her time to find the words, a patient listener.
"My father died," she finally says, hearing her voice crack.
"Oh," he says softly, and she leans against his shoulder.
"All these years, a part of me has hated him," she says softly. "But I never stopped loving him as well. Now he's gone."
"I'm sorry," David says softly, kissing her temple. "What can I do, Mary Margaret?"
"Comfort me," she murmurs, and he gazes lovingly at her. "Be my Charming."
"I always will be," he promises, stroking her cheek. "I love you, Snow."
She'll tell him the rest tomorrow, she thinks, as his lips find hers and they find comfort together.
Mary Margaret wakes to find herself still being held gently, just like she fell asleep, but David isn't the only one in bed with her, she realizes. There's also Emma, sitting on the side of the bed and watching them both.
"Emma," she mutters, glancing at the alarm and seeing that it's still much too early for Emma to be willingly up. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Emma says stubbornly.
"Emma," Mary Margaret says softly. She can feel David stir as well. "Is it what George said? He won't come near you again, I promise."
"Or mommy will punch him again," David adds, going for a joke, and Emma smiles faintly.
"It's not George," Emma says. "I just... I wanted to make sure daddy was still here."
"Come here," David says, and Emma scoots over, sitting down on the covers between David and Mary Margaret. "Emma, when I told you I would be here every day from now on, that was a promise. I'm going to keep that promise."
Emma swallows. "I want to believe that. I just... I'm... scared."
"So am I," he says softly. "I'm afraid you won't like me as your daddy. I'm afraid your mommy won't want to be with me. I'm afraid I won't be good enough for you. For both of you. But Emma... When you're scared, but dare to believe anyway, that's when you're truly brave. Do you want to be brave with me?"
"Yes," Emma says. She holds out her hand, but David shakes his head.
"Wait," he says. "I want to show you something first. Both of you."
He takes them to a farm just outside town.
It's a white two-story farm house, slightly weather-worn, with lots of green fields around. It has a barn too, which needs a new coat of paint but looks otherwise rather charming. A lovely farm, and Mary Margaret can already tell what's coming.
"What's this?" Emma asks, her forehead crinkling in the same way David's does as she takes it all in.
"It could be a home," David says, sounding just a bit nervous. "I have just enough in my savings to buy it."
"For you?" Emma asks. "So you can stay in town and visit me and mommy every day, like you promised?"
"No," he says, kneeling down. "For us to live in. You, me and mommy. So we can be together every day. If you say yes, that is."
"Oh," Emma breathes. Softly, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a black box. "Is that for mommy?"
"I have another one for mommy," he says very softly, glancing up at Mary Margaret. She blinks away a few tears as he smiles lovingly at her. "I've had a ring for her since I was 18. No, this one is for you. It's not a ring, but I hope you'll like it anyway."
Gently, carefully, Emma opens the box. "Mommy, it's a swan necklace."
"It is," David is. His voice sounds thick. "Emma Blanchard, would you do me the great honor of accepting me as your daddy?"
"I accept," she says solemnly, holding out her hand. This time, he does shake it. Softly, he helps her put on the necklace. "You got my name wrong, though."
"Did I?" he says, looking slightly crestfallen.
"Emma Ruth Blanchard," Emma says, and he looks at Mary Margaret in astonishment. "That's my full name."
"You named her after my mother?" he manages, eyes bright with tears.
"I knew how much she meant to you," she replies, and he smiles at her, oh so very lovingly. "I... I never stopped loving you, you know. I wanted Emma to have something from you."
"Propose to mommy now," Emma says eagerly. "Propose to mommy before she cries too much."
"Too late for that," Mary Margaret manages, as David stands up, then kneels down on one knee in front of her. Softly, he holds out a black box and opens it to reveal a ring with a green stone.
"I've had this since my mother died," he says softly. "She wanted me to find true love, you know."
She can only nod. She knows. He told her all about Ruth that summer seven years ago, and she hoped then that maybe she could be it.
Now she knows.
"When I came back after James died and tried to find you, I had this ring with me," he goes on. "I wanted to propose to you then. I loved you so much back then. I still love you. I think I might even love you more now. Mary Margaret Blanchard, would you do me the great honor of marrying me?"
"What do you think?" she manages to say, pulling him up into a fierce kiss.
"I think that means yes," Emma says, and David chuckles into the kiss before he swings Mary Margaret around and she is the one laughing. She feels as if she might be able to fly, so much happiness bubbling up that she feels light with it.
Slowly, he lowers her onto her feet again, smiling at her all the while. He leans his forehead against hers as he takes her hand and slowly slide the ring onto her finger. It seems to fit perfectly, and Mary Margaret swallows at the sight of of it on her finger.
"And the farm?" he asks after a moment.
"I like the farm," Emma says. She already eyeing it a bit possessively. "I could build a treehouse in that tree. We could have sheep."
"We could get a dog too," he says, and Emma's eyes widen in excitement. "Anything the two of you want."
"I have money too," Emma says excitedly after a few moments, and Mary Margaret knows her daughter is thinking of her little piggy bank with just a few dollars in it.
"Emma," she says softly. "You were saving that. You don't have to..."
"I want to," Emma says stubbornly. "I was saving up for something special. This is special."
"This is special," Mary Margaret says softly, smiling at her daughter. "I like the farm. I like it very much. I'd love to live here with you. But only if you let me and Emma pay for half."
"But..." he says, and she puts a finger to his lips.
"My father left me money, as it turns out," she says softly. "I'll tell you everything later. But I insist. We'll do this together, David Nolan. We'll do everything together from now on."
"Like swans," Emma interjects happily.
"Like swans," David agrees, smiling at them both.
They buy the farmhouse.
They get a dog, a small sheepdog that seems to instantly fall in love with Emma, and Emma happily names Wilby. Emma gets her treehouse too, and repaints it every few weeks to suit her mood.
They get sheep, and David seems more than happy to properly get into farming. He often takes Emma with him, and the two of them seem to bond very happily over sheep, farming and Wilby the most amazing sheepdog in the universe.
They build plenty of birdhouses too, Emma and Mary Margaret, and spends a lot of time bird spotting while David makes them hot chocolate with cinnamon and smiles at them as if they're the loveliest sight he knows.
They get married at the town hall. A small, intimate ceremony with a few guests of hers and a few guests of his. He's wonderfully handsome in his tux, and he seems to find her utterly mesmerizing in her simple white dress with a flower crown of snow bells, and Emma utterly spellbinding in a yellow dress and a flower crown of buttercups. David insists they're both the most beautiful women in the whole world, and even gets Emma to shake on it and Mary Margaret to kiss on it.
They repaint the barn and fixes up the house, and in September, when Mary Margaret discovers their family is going to expand, they start building a nursery too.
And most of all – they're together. They're happy. Truly, really happy.
It doesn't make Mary Margaret believe in fairy tales again, though. For a couple of months, when she was just 18 and had the most wonderful summer holiday of her life, her life felt like it might really become a fairy tale, Prince Charming and all. It wasn't to be, as it turned out. She was so young then. So very young. So much hurt still to come.
Life is never a fairy tale, she knows now. It's too messy for that. Too painful. But she can still make a mostly happy story out of hers – and it will be worth it.
Love always is.