a/n: title and lyrics from Needtobreathe's These Hard Times.
It's clear enough to me
The ugliness I see,
Is evidence of who I need.
Give me an answer,
Give me a way out.
Give me the faith,
To believe in these hard times.
He sleeps sprawled across the bed, sheets tangled around his legs, arm thrown over her waist.
For a moment, Snow watches him, her husband, and she reaches out to ghost her fingers over the scar on his chin. She can't believe she really married this man yesterday. She traces her hand down over his neck, the slope of his shoulder, and across the warm, smooth planes of his back.
Her mind flickers to her stepmother.
She looks to the balcony window, yellow light streaming in from behind the curtains, making them glow gold. As quietly as she can, she slips from the bed, careful not to wake James. She finds his shirt, the same that she'd taken off him the night before, and pushes aside the curtains to open the balcony window. The forest lies spread out before her breathlessly, the trees topped with snow.
"Aren't you cold?"
She looks over her shoulder to see James awake, his sleepy eyes on her. He has a soft smile on his face, and it makes her smile, too. "I don't mind the cold," she says. She looks back at the forest.
Her stepmother might be somewhere in that forest.
"Her threat is empty," he tells her. "You have to believe that."
She shakes her head as she meets his gaze again. "She doesn't make empty threats."
He moves from the bed, comes to stand in front of her, and takes her hands. "If she wants to take our happiness, she better be prepared to fight, because I am, Snow." His voice is soft and sure.
"It shouldn't be like that," she whispers. "This is supposed to be happily ever after."
He presses his forehead to hers, and she doesn't want to cry. She married the man she loves yesterday. She shouldn't want to cry. "We'll still find it," he promises, "together. You can't lose hope in us yet." She nods. He draws her into his arms, and she closes her eyes as she hugs him.
She can't let her stepmother dictate her happiness any longer.
"Charming," she finally murmurs, and she pulls back to look him the eye, "you're naked."
She grins at him, and he laughs into her mouth before he abruptly scoops her up, laughing still more when she squeals a little and wraps her arms around his neck. "And you're not," he says. "That doesn't seem fair to me." He carries her back to bed, and she can't care about threats and curses and unhappy endings when Prince Charming looks at her like that.
"I do believe in equality in a marriage," she replies, and she crooks her finger at him.
She moves to Tallahassee because her old friend Mark says she can crash on his couch.
"And you'll be able to find work down here, Emmy," he promises. She tells him not to call her that as she hangs up the phone, and she takes a Greyhound to Tallahassee that same night. She doesn't have a reason not to, and a place to crash isn't something to ignore, even if it's Tallahassee.
She finds a job within a week, and she likes the place Mark has. His roommate is a douche, but she's lived with worse, and the cockroaches don't bother her, either. She works at a tourist restaurant, and the tips are pretty good; she likes some of the people she works with, like Jody.
"I've lived here my whole life," Jody tells her. "What about you? Where are you from?"
"I'm not really from anywhere," Emma replies lightly. She likes Jody, she really does, but she doesn't exactly like to make friends, especially not with kids who work simply to pay their way through college, who think of that movie with a cartoon cat when someone says the word orphan.
Jody nods, eyes curious, but that's all Emma offers, and Jody doesn't push it.
She starts to pay rent, and Mark kicks out his roommate after the asshole misses rent for the third month in a row. It's nice to have an actual bed to sleep in. And exactly a week later, she meets him, with his dark hair and his bright eyes and his shy smile. He bumps into her at the grocery store, calls her ma'am as he apologises, and he can't quite meet her eye. It's cute, she thinks.
She doesn't expect to see him again, but he stops by the restaurant. "It's Emma, right?" he asks.
He asks her if she wants to meet him for coffee tomorrow, maybe, if she isn't busy, and she can't help herself when she agrees. She likes how sweet he is. And, two empty coffee cups between them and the tips of his fingers brushing the tips of hers, he calls her as pretty as a princess.
She laughs loudly at him, but she agrees to an actual date. What's the harm?
A week after her wedding, Snow stands in front of their kingdom to encourage everyone to stay strong, to keep courage, to hold hope. The former Queen possesses only the power of their fear.
"And if we do not fear her, we take any last power she has from her."
She really wants to believe her own words, but she can't. James says that she shouldn't let a ruined woman haunt her. He sends his forces on a hunt for the Queen, and the reward on her head is more than she ever offered for Snow, and beyond that, he tells her, little else can be done.
He implores her to trust him. It isn't that easy. She can't simply forget the threat, no matter how hard she tries, and it does haunt her, for days and for weeks and for months until, finally, as she watches Thomas and Ella marry, she thinks she finally might believe her husband.
"I can still remember when I first met Ella, still a servant to her stepmother," she tells James. "And look at how far she's come." She leans against him in their carriage. "She deserves all of it."
He kisses the top of her head, an agreement.
If Ella and Thomas can have her happy ending, why can't she and James?
She needs to have hope, that's all. A few weeks later, James travels up north to help Eric with troll skirmishes on the edge of his kingdom, and Snow wants to come but she's too sick. This is the first week they've been apart in nearly a year and a half. She hates it. The dwarves visit the castle for the first time since her wedding to keep her company, though, and Doc offers his services.
She trusts him more than she does any castle doctors, but she still can't believe his diagnosis.
He tells her the day before James is set to return, and it floors her. It can't be real, and her thoughts come in waves: first shock, second panic, third amazement. And then she feels a kind of hope.
She waits up for James that night, and the moment sees him arrive on horseback, a little after midnight, she races out to second landing. She watches him for a moment as he hands his coat to a servant and starts to take off his gloves, but she can't hold in her excitement for long. "Charming!" She leans against the banister and beams at him, and a grin stretches across his own face.
He takes the stairs two at a time. "Missed me?"
"Mmm, A little." She breaks into laughter as she runs to him, propels herself up with her hands on his shoulders, and kisses him full on the mouth. She draws back as he laughs, stares up at him for a moment, and then starts to pepper kisses all over his face, his cheeks, his nose, his chin, his forehead. He holds her to him with a hand on her hip, and he runs his other hand over her hair.
"I think this might be the best homecoming I've ever received," he tells her.
She only grins at him. "I have something for you," she says. She grabs his hand. "Come on."
He laughs again as he follows her to their bedroom, and she pushes him to sit on the bed before she rustles around in her bedside table. She planned this. "What is it?" he asks, amused. She spins around, and she presents the tiny piece of cloth in her hands, so excited. He doesn't understand.
"It's a sock," she says. "I knit it."
"I didn't know you could knit," he says. He looks at the sock. "Or is that the surprise?"
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Charming." She has a hand on her hip. She thought it would be obvious, but he can be ridiculously obtuse, can't he? "I spent all afternoon on that sock," she tells him. She can see him try his best not to laugh, even as he looks back at the little green knit sock.
"I'm sorry, Snow," he says, "but this sock doesn't even look big enough to fit your tiny feet."
That's her point, and she raises an eyebrow at him. He looks at the little sock. He looks at her.
"I'm pregnant!" she exclaims, impatient. She can't hold back. She rocks on the balls of her feet, touches her hands to his shoulders, and watches as complete shock flickers across his face.
For a moment, he simply stares at her, and finally he starts to smile. "Yeah? You're pregnant?"
She nods as he starts to laugh, tears in his eyes, and she kisses him again; she can't kiss him enough. He pulls her closer, onto his lap, her knees hugging his hips, his arms secure around her.
"You're pregnant, Snow," he says. "You're pregnant."
"I talked to Doc," she says between kisses. "All the signs say I am." Her smile is irrepressible. "I'm pregnant," she repeats. The words are so perfect on her tongue; she can't say them enough.
"You're pregnant." Her happiness looks back at her in his smile, and his eyes glisten.
She kisses a few stray tears from his face, her heart warm and swollen in her chest, and he hugs her, buries his face against her neck. "We're having a baby, Charming," she whispers. He kisses the soft, sweet skin of her neck, and he holds her a little closer. She could sit here like this forever, with James so close to her, his stomach pressed to her, their baby safely tucked between them.
They're having a baby. She laughs to herself and holds James closer still.
Emma blinks blankly at him. "What?"
"The tests are positive, Ms. Swan. You're pregnant." The doctor smiles, but the gesture doesn't reach his eyes, and she stares at him until he shifts uncomfortably and clears his throat. She isn't really starting at him, though. It's just that this can't have happened. It just can't have happened.
He starts to talk again, about medical care and brochures for other options, and she tries to listen, but before she long she simply presents a tight smile and she makes her escape. Her hands shake when she tries to fit her key into her car door, and she barely drives beyond the parking lot before she pulls over to vomit on the side of the road. A part of her wants to drive right back to the clinic.
She can demand another test.
But seven pregnancy tests bought at the grocery store and a cup full of pee tested by a doctor weren't all wrong, and this is real. She leans back in the seat of her car, closes her eyes, and tries to will herself not to cry. Her phone goes off. It's Jody. She ignores the call. She breathes in.
She breathes out.
She drives back to the apartment, and she drinks all the orange juice she can find in the fridge before she busies herself with the clogged sink. She has work that night, and she takes a shower.
It isn't like life just stops. At the restaurant, Jody asks her where she was all afternoon. "You could have picked up a double shift," Jody says. "I thought you would jump at the chance for it."
"I would have," Emma admits. "I was just busy." She picks up the plates for table nine, nods thanks at Jamie, the chef, and sighs as she finally looks Jody in the eye. "I'm pregnant." Jody gapes at her, but Emma can't exactly sit down and have a heart-to-heart with her in the middle of work.
An hour later, they take a smoke break at the same time. Emma asks for a light.
"You probably shouldn't, right?" Jody asks, hesitant.
"Yeah, I guess not," Emma says. She sighs and shoves the cigarette back into the box. She leans against back of the restaurant, the brick cold even through her clothes. She can feel Jody stare at her, but she keeps her gaze on the gas station across the street. "You know I've been sick," she murmurs. "It wasn't a bug. I went to that clinic up by that Mexican place. I'm pregnant."
"You're pregnant," Jody repeats.
"I'm pregnant." The words make her feel sick. It might be the pregnancy, too, though.
And that thought makes her feel even worse.
"What are you gonna do?" Jody asks. She reaches out, still hesitant, and touches Emma on the shoulder. Emma finally looks at her, but she doesn't want to see the pity that radiates off Jody. She focuses on the cigarette that Jody holds, on the red glow that eats its way towards her thin fingers.
"At this exact moment?" she finally says. "I'm gonna finish my shift. Break is over."
The panic builds slowly in Snow. As the excitement fades, the anxiety takes hold.
She tries not to think about it, not as James talks happily about a nursery, not as she reads a letter from Ella written in excited, cramped writing that congratulates Snow over and over again, not as the dwarves shower her with gifts and the castle servants smiles softly at her when she passes.
It isn't that easy not to think about it. She can't not think about it.
She can't do it at all. She can't be a mother. She lies in bed and stares at the ceiling and knows she can't do this. She can't be a mother. She wakes James up. "I can't do this," she tells him. He blinks sleepily at her, and she carries on. "I can't be a mother. The very idea is just absurd. It's ridiculous."
He frowns at her for a moment, and he sits up. "You'll be a wonderful mother."
"No." She shakes her head, and she pushes herself up to look at him properly. "I don't know how to be a mother. I don't have any idea." She continues to shake her head, and she pushes back the sheets and stands, and she whirls around to face him again an instant later. "The closest person I've ever had to a mother is my stepmother — what kind of role model is that? No. I can't do this."
"I don't think you have to worry that you'll become your stepmother," he says. "Look, Snow —"
"I don't know how to be a mother." She crosses her arms. "I can't do this. I'm not a mother. I'm not. And I already have to worry about what my stepmother might do to try to destroy us —"
"You don't have to worry about that," he interrupts firmly.
"— And now I'm supposed to have a baby?" She can't believe she was ever excited at the prospect; it was utter foolishness. She isn't built for motherhood. No. "I don't even like babies!"
"I don't!" she exclaims, walking away from the bed and then walking back. He doesn't understand, doesn't really realise. She can't be a mother. He picked the wrong woman. "And babies don't like me," she says. "I had a cousin who had a baby. I hated that baby, and it hated me."
"And how old were you?" His eyes are amused. She wants to smack that amusement off his face.
"Eight. That's not the point." She collapses on a chair, and she presses her hands into her face. "I can't do this. I can't be a mother." She peaks out at him from between her fingers. "I can't."
He stares at her for a moment, and he finally climbs out of bed and squats down in front of her. "Snow." He tugs on her wrists, pulls her hands from her face. "I have never met anyone as strong as you, or as good or as sweet or as loving as you. There is no doubt in my mind that you will be a good mother." He smiles. "I couldn't have picked a better mother for my children."
"You really believe that?"
"I do." She runs a hand over his hair, and he pushes his face into her hand. "I truly do."
She smiles a little. "I don't know how. I don't, James."
"I don't think anybody does," he replies, "not until it happens."
"And my stepmother — "
"— is irrelevant," he says. He brushes his thumbs against her knuckles. "And you don't need to worry about her. No matter what happens, our child will know her mother loves her. You will be a good mother, Snow. I know this." He smiles that sweet smile of his, and she can't resist it.
And then he starts to tug her night gown off, and she laughs a little, puzzled, but she holds up her arms and lets him take it off. He nuzzles his nose against her bare breasts, and then he presses his face to her stomach, and he kisses the soft skin. "You hear that, baby?" he asks.
"Charming," she whispers, her heart melting a little.
"You have the most amazing mother in the world," he continues, lips tickling her skin.
She laughs softly, and she runs her fingers through his hair. "And the most amazing father."
Jody offers to take Emma back to the clinic.
"I'm fine," Emma insists, annoyed. "I can handle this by myself."
The doctor, though, tells her that she needs to have someone come with her when she returns for the abortion itself. A part of her thinks she should ask Jody, but her mind flickers to Mark first. He won't ask as many questions, and he won't want to talk about her feelings, and it'll be simpler. She tells him, and he sighs. "Yeah. Sure. I can make it." He might be an ass, but he has his moments.
He asks about the dad as he drives her. "It's that dude you've been with the last year, right?"
"No," Emma says. "We broke up. You know that. It was just this guy that came into the restaurant. It was a one time thing. I don't even know his last name." She presses her forehead to the window.
"You're a fucking liar," Mark tells her. She doesn't bother to respond.
The woman at the front desk looks at Mark. "Is this the father?" she asks.
"Is that your business?" Emma replies.
She almost wishes the dad were Mark. They were in the same group home a few years ago, right at the start of high school, and he always looked out for her. It'd be easier if she could say her friend, her roommate, knocked her up when they were drunk, rather than, well, the truth.
But, then again, the truth doesn't really matter, because in another hour this baby won't matter.
She reads People magazine as she waits. The nurse who finally calls her name is nice, and she explains everything calmly and quietly, and she doesn't talk down to Emma. It's a relief. She doesn't want to make small talk with this woman, though. She wants all of this to be over.
She can't be a mother. The very idea is ridiculous. She doesn't know the first thing about motherhood, or kids, or even family, and she'd be the worst mother imaginable, she knows that.
An eighteen-year-old orphan isn't really the kind of person that parenting magazines highlight.
She wonders if her own mother was in this same position, but she didn't have the guts to have an abortion. She leans back in the seat, feet in those stupid holsters, and tunes out the speech the nurse starts to give her. It doesn't really make any sense, what her mother did. She's always thought that.
Her mother abandoned her on the side of the road, but she left her wrapped up in a blanket with her name stitched to the front? It's always driven her a little crazy to think about. If her mother didn't want her, she should have just had an abortion. That makes it simpler on everybody involved.
"Are you ready?" the doctor asks.
She looks at him. She thinks of her own mother. She thinks of her own life.
"Ms. Swan? Are you ready?"
And Emma shakes her head. "No."
It's strange to be pregnant.
She isn't supposed to ride horseback, isn't supposed to leave the castle grounds, isn't supposed to eat this or do that. It's utter nonsense. James shakes his head at her when the castle servants tattle on her and tell him she rode a horse into town to visit elves she befriended years ago. She merely smiles back at him, because he wouldn't dare tell her what not to do.
Her life does start to change, though, with each passing day.
She feels more than ever before, happier and angrier and sadder and simply more of everything, her emotions always so close to the surface. She wants to eat all the time, and to sleep, and she wants James all the time, too. She finds reasons to pull him away from this or that, and if he teases her, or, worse still, tries to protest that he has work to do, she merely levels him with her best pout and whines, Charming,and she has him in the palm of her hand. He can't ever say no to her.
Her body starts to change, too; her breasts are fuller, her skin brighter, her stomach taunter before it starts to swell; she feels tired all the time, and cravings drive her crazy, but she can't help any of it.
And, honestly, she doesn't mind the changes.
James traces his fingers around her rounder face, his eyes soft, and she knows he doesn't, either.
Her breath catches the first time she feels the baby kick, and she squeals, grabs the hand of the nearest person, a visiting Grumpy. He looks affronted when she presses his hand to her stomach, but his face begrudgingly softens ever so slightly as she beams at him.
She skips off to find James, to let him feel their baby kick, too.
News of the pregnancy travels soon enough, despite how quiet Snow wants to keep it, and the presents pour in, stuffed animals, blankets, little trinkets, and toys. According to the signs, to the cravings Snow has, to the length of her morning sickness, the doctors declare her baby a boy.
A flood of wooden horses and toy swords overwhelms the castle only days later.
It feels like a girl to Snow, but she doesn't say anything. Any daughter of hers is welcome to play with all the wooden horses and toy swords her little heart desires. She doesn't care if the baby is born a boy or a girl, as long as he or she is born healthy, is born into a happy world. And that's the black shadow that lurks in the back of her mind, ever present, ever cruel, ever impossible to ignore.
No matter how much time passes, she can't forget what her stepmother threatened.
It worries her more that nothing has happened yet. Her stepmother hasn't even tried to hurt her.
What if she wants to wait until Snow has the baby so that she can hurt the child? The very idea makes Snow sick, makes her heart pound, makes her clutch her stomach protectively as her baby kicks, like she knows how anxious Snow feels. She finally mentions the fear to James.
"No," James says, voice firm. "That won't happen. She won't ever even see our child, Snow."
He squeezes her hand across the table, and she nods and manages a smile for him.
She makes the decision as soon as she officially hits a week without morning sickness. Mark tries to change her mind, tells her she doesn't have to leave. "I'll help you with the kid, Emmy, I will."
"I'm not about to keep it," she replies. "And don't call me that."
He steps in front of her, stops her from picking up another box. "Where do you even plan to go?"
She shrugs. "It doesn't matter. I need a change. It's time for something new."
"You just don't want to run into your baby daddy," he says. She crosses her arms over her chest and stares at him, annoyed. "Look, don't act like I don't know you. You can't run your whole life. You have a job here. You have a place to stay. You have me to help you out, and Jody, too. If you want to keep this kid, then you can. And fuck anybody who tells you that you can't."
"I don't want to keep this kid," she insists. "And I can find jobs and places to stay anywhere." She glares at him until he finally steps aside. She picks up her last box, and she elbows Mark in the stomach when he tries to take it from her. She can lift a stupid box into the back of her truck. "I've never stayed in one place for long, and I'm not about to start." He doesn't try to argue anymore.
He does tell her that she can always find him if she needs any help.
She blames the tears she cries that night in her parked car off the highway on her hormones, always so out of whack these days. She cries at everything now. She wants to eat at the weirdest times, too. It isn't weird food, really, just weird times. And she has to pull over to pee six or seven times a day. She can't imagine how much worse it'll be in a few months.
"I'll make a deal with you, kid," she says. "I'll eat the greasiest double cheese burger I can find at two in the morning for you if you don't kick my bladder one more time." The kid kicks her again.
She rolls her eyes, and she drives still further west. She doesn't really have a destination in mind.
Her truck breaks down in Phoenix. It seems as good a place as any, and she sells the truck for parts, which makes her enough money to tide her over until she finally finds a job, this time at the cheap diner attached to a motel. She doesn't tell the manager that she's pregnant. The man is pissed when he finds out only a few weeks later, but Emma doesn't bat an eye under his furious glare.
"It's illegal to fire a woman because she's pregnant, you know," she tells him.
She keeps her job. She needs to save up enough money for a new car if nothing else. New bras to fit her swollen breasts cost money, too, as do those giant vitamins that the free clinic in Phoenix recommends. She picks up a few brochures while she's there. She needs a plan for this kid.
She can't fall asleep. It keeps her awake, the need.
"Charming." She runs her hand over his chest. He blinks sleepily. "James." She tries not to whine.
"What's the matter?" he murmurs, and he sleepily turns towards her, wraps an arm around her. She only presses closer, and she repeats his name. Isn't it obvious? "What is it, Snow?" And she takes his hand, guides it down between her legs, because she needs more of him, all of him, needs him to do something about this endless need that fills her up, needs him to touch her so, so much.
His fingers press against her, and it makes a delicious heat shoot through her. "James, please."
He kisses her neck, turns her a little. "I just. . . ." she whispers, and he nods, murmurs a reassurance against her shoulder, and starts to shuck his pants. She presses still closer to him, her back to his chest, feels her insides coil even tighter when his hands graze over skin and he pushes up her nightgown, moves closer, squeezes her breasts. She whimpers his name again, desperate.
And his dick slides against her back, slips between her cheeks, and he finally pushes into her.
She's already so close, is always so close now, and she shudders, eyes falling closed, feels greedy as his he pulls out, bends her leg, kisses her neck, and plunges back in. She breathes his name, blindly finds his hand with her own and brings it up to her breast, and, God, she needs release.
The waves of it wash over her a moment later, crash into her the way he does, and her world comes together as it falls apart. Her whole body goes slack, even as his hips jerk and his sweaty face presses into her hair, her name a moan on his lips. She smiles a little.
She can sleep now.
He stays wrapped around her afterward, and she turns to press a kiss to his shoulder, a thank you.
Emma sleeps in the break room at the diner most nights.
The landlord at her apartment is a creep, and nobody at the diner is about to begrudge the pregnant teenager a night on the break room couch. Her manager makes a few snide comments, but her fellow waitresses all defend her, especially since they split tips and everybody wants to feel good about himself by tipping the pregnant chick extra. Her manager can go fuck himself.
It becomes harder and harder to work, though. She can't be on her feet for more than a few hours at a time before her ankles hurt so bad she wants to cry. She needs a desk job, but she barely managed to graduate high school, and she wouldn't even know how to make a resume for herself.
She makes friends with these two sisters who stop by the diner a lot, and the women offer her money to cat sit for them, probably out of pity. Emma willingly accepts their pity, and she takes a shift less a week, time she instead spends in the company of four cats and a dog that acts like a cat.
It's probably the biggest break she gets.
Her back becomes so sore she wants to take pain killers, but the doctor at the clinic doesn't like that idea, and Emma isn't about to put herself through this pregnancy just to mess the kid up. She already quit cigarettes and hasn't had a drink in six months; she can forego some pain killers, too.
She calls Mark once. He doesn't pick up the phone. She doesn't call him again. Jody calls a couple of times, and Emma answers, makes small talk, and tries to be as nice as she can, but she isn't surprised when the calls stop. It's kind of a relief, actually. She hopes Jody makes it to college. For weeks on end, she receives calls from him, too. She can't afford to keep minutes on her cheap phone, though, not really, and she doesn't bother to buy another when the stupid cell finally breaks.
After that, she doesn't suspect she'll ever hear from him again.
It starts to fall apart when Thomas and Ella visit.
Snow can't believe that Ella is pregnant too, and she laughs as she hugs her friend. James kisses Ella on the cheek, and Thomas kisses Snow on the hand, and then he announces that he needs to talk with James about something. Snow rolls her eyes, and she tugs Ella away. "I want to show you the nursery," she says. "We have so much to catch up on! And how far along are you now? You look wonderful, of cousre. And why didn't you tell me you were pregnant sooner?"
Ella smiles, opens her mouth as if to answer, and tears well in her eyes.
"Oh, what's the matter?" Snow asks, still smiling a little as she takes Ella by the hand.
"I might lose everything," Ella whispers, chin trembling. Snow shakes her head, and her smile fades. She doesn't understand, but Ella looks away, brushes the tears from under her eyes. "I made a terrible mistake, Snow. I was so desperate, and so lonely, and I didn't even think about it."
"About what? What is it, Ella?"
"I never had a fairy godmother, Snow. I made a deal with Rumpelstiltskin."
"No," Snow says.
Ella meets her gaze. "Yes. And he wants my baby. Thomas wants to trick him. That's why he wanted to visit today. He wants James to help him. And I'm sorry. I don't want to involve James in this, or you; I can't let anyone else risk everything for me." Her tears fall steadily now.
Snow shakes her head and pulls Ella into another hug. She can't believe this, yet she can, and it shouldn't surprise her, really. A happy ending isn't as easy as a fairy godmother. But she's glad that Thomas and Ella came to James and Snow for help. They will help them. She hugs Ella closer.
She wants to help more than she can, in fact.
James decides to return with Thomas and Ella to help secure Rumpelstiltskin, but he refuses to let Snow come. "You're seven months along already," he tells her, shaking his head. "You shouldn't travel, not anymore, and certainly not for something as perilous as this."
"I'm not helpless just because I'm pregnant, Charming," she snaps.
He only stares at her, and her anger deflates a little. "I would never try to treat you like that," he says. "But you are pregnant, and this isn't a mere visit to friends. I need you to do this for me, Snow. I need you to stay here. I'll be back soon, and Rumpelstiltskin won't ruin any more lives."
She concedes. She'll let him have this. It's only supposed to take two weeks.
Ella waves from the carriage as they leave, her eyes broken, and Snow can only wave back sadly.
And for the next two weeks, she lets the worry take her over. It isn't simply for Thomas and Ella, or even for her own husband, about to try to trick the worst trickster in any kingdom. No, her mind settles on her stepmother, on the way her face contorted as she swore she would destroy their happiness.
They might not have heard or seen anything yet, but Snow can't believe her stepmother didn't mean what she threatened. It's only a matter of time, and it would be silly to try to ignore that truth. She would wind up where Ella is now, with everything she loved on a precipice, a breath from lost to her forever, and she won't let that happen. She has to be prepared. She can't let her stepmother win.
She has to protect her daughter.
It's a girl. She knows it is. James has a long list already of names for a son, although she knows if it were a boy she would want the child named after him, another sweet, charming boy. And she'll have a son eventually, she knows. This little child is a girl, though.
"And I will protect you, Emma," she whispers, hands on her stomach, "I promise."
She doesn't expect James back for another two days when, in the middle of the night, she feels the bed shift. She blinks a little. A moment later, James presses against her, his hand on her stomach, and he kisses the back of her neck lightly. "James?" She murmurs. "What happened?"
She turns in his arms and rubs the sleep from her eyes. "It worked," he says, his breath warm against her face. "He signed the contract, just like we wanted, and I personally saw him locked up."
It's what she wants to hear. "But?" she says. She can hear the hesitation in his voice.
"I'm not sure," he replies, sighing. "He signed the contract, and it stripped his magic. We had him completely in our grasp. I was with him the entire time; he couldn't have. . . ." His whole face turns tightens ever so slightly, his jaw locking.
She frowns and touches his cheek, smoothing out the wrinkles in his forehead. "What?" she asks.
"Ella felt faint," he starts.
A dozen terrible scenarios spring to life in her head. "Is she okay? Is the baby okay?"
He nods. "She's fine. The baby's fine. It's just that Thomas went to fetch her some water, she says, and he — he didn't come back. He disappeared. We looked everywhere, but we couldn't find him."
She tries to understand. "He just disappeared?" she asks. "How . . . ?" She searches his face.
"Ella thinks Rumpelstiltskin is to blame. She swears that he did something, that he took Thomas. And I can't say she's wrong. He certainly has the power, and she and Thomas did break a deal with him. And . . . and he told her that she'd never see Thomas again so long as she kept her baby."
"What does he expect her to do?" Snow asks, and she tries to push herself up. He helps her, hands on her elbows. She touches her own hands to their baby. "Trade her baby to bring Thomas back?"
"I don't know," James says, and his voice turns firm. "But Rumpelstiltskin won't harm anyone again, I will make sure of that. And we'll keep that baby safe. We'll help Ella. I swear, Snow, I will do everything in my power to find Thomas." The words sound as much for himself as for her.
"I can't believe this," she murmurs, "and to be in that position. . . ."
"We'll help her," he says. "She isn't alone."
Slowly, she nods, and she finally looks at him. He covers her hand on her stomach. "You say you'll always find me," she whispers, "but you know I'll always find you, too, don't you?"
He kisses her forehead. "I know. Always."
"I don't have a ring," Emma says. The woman at the convenience store smiles tightly and looks away. Emma rolls her eyes, pays for her groceries, and starts the trek back to her new apartment, where she lives with four other girls, her bed a mattress shoved into an alcove beside the kitchen.
She hates people like that woman, who stare so blatantly at her bare left ring finger, who silently calculate her age. Yeah, she isn't married. Yeah, she isn't even nineteen. Yeah, she's a statistic.
It's not like if enough judgmental people stare at her, it'll change anything.
She mentions that to Angela, her pregnant roommate. Angela is probably the reason Emma has a bed again; the other girl works at the hotel attached to the diner, and she befriend Emma at the first chance she had, insisting that people in their situation had to stick together. Angela is sweet.
Angela is also stupid, because Angela wants to keep her baby. She's not even legal.
But Emma keeps her mouth shut. She knows Angela doesn't exactly agree with her decision to put her baby up for adoption, but that's always been the plan, really, since the moment Emma decided not to have an abortion. She doesn't even want to keep this kid. It's never even been a thought.
"And you want a closed adoption, is that right?" the social workers asks.
"That's right," Emma says. "That means I don't have any contact with the kid, right?"
The social worker nods. "Now, even with a closed adoption, you can have some say in the parents who adopt your child. It depends on the adoption agency you want to work through, but I can help you pick the best fit. I definitely have some recommendations, in fact, and. . . ."
She trails off as Emma shakes her head.
"I don't need to know who takes the kid. I wouldn't be able to tell a fit parent anyway. All I want is to know that the doctors at the hospital will hand the baby off to somebody who actually wants it."
The social worker nods again, and she reaches out to touch Emma lightly on the hand.
"I understand," she says. Emma doubts that, but she smiles anyway. The woman is nice enough.
Angela asks her about the social worker later that night, as they walk home from work. "She knew what to do," Emma says. "She knew what I had to sign. All that stuff. She was helpful."
"She told you that you have other options, too, right?" Angela asks. "I mean, like that you don't have to give your baby up, if you don't want. It's your baby, your daughter or your son, yours." She doesn't look at Emma as she talks, and her voice is strained with the attempt to sound casual.
"I know my options, Angie," Emma replies. "Trust me."
Angela stops in the middle of the street. "If this is about your own parents, you can tell me. I know you don't really like to talk about wherever it is you came from, but I'll tell you my story."
"Angela, I don't —"
"My mom kicked me out when I told her I was pregnant." She talks fast, her eyes eager. "And my dad ran out on us long before that. My mom said that I didn't know how to be a parent, and she wasn't about to take care of the kid for me. If I didn't get rid of it, I wasn't allowed in her house."
"I wouldn't want her to take care of my kid," Angela continues. "She was a horrible mother. I won't be like that. And no matter what your mother was like, even if she was horrible to you, even if your parents disowned you, that doesn't mean you'll be the same as them. It doesn't."
"Angela. Stop." She tries not to shout at the smaller woman. "I wasn't disowned. I've never had a mother to disown me. My parents abandoned me the moment I was born, and I plan to do better by this kid. But better isn't with me, okay? And I don't want a pep talk from you that says otherwise. I know who I am, and I know what I'm able to do, and be a mother isn't on the list, okay?"
Angela nods, her voice small as she murmurs that she understands. They don't talk about it again.
She can't really fall asleep, but she pretends she does, because she knows James worries.
And she can't really blame him. He didn't want to talk to Rumpelstiltskin, didn't want to make a deal with him, but she insisted, she forced him to, and now not even he can deny the threat.
It's easy to slow her breath, and she waits to hear his own breath even out, too. But before she does, she feels him shift against her, and his fingers ghost over her cheek. He kisses her temple and whispers something too low for her to hear, his breath so warm against her skin. And then his hands move, and he starts to fumble with the ties along the front of her nightgown.
His warm hand runs over the stretched skin of her stomach.
"It's me, Emma," he breathes. "It's your father." It's quiet for a long time. "I'm sorry that happily ever after didn't last long enough to see you into a good world. You deserve all good things, and I — I promise I'll do everything to give you those good things, to give you the best life I can, despite what's still to come. I'll always take care of you and your mother. And I'll always love you."
Snow can feel Emma aim a kick at her daddy, and she smiles, letting her eyes flicker open.
"No matter what," James continues, "you can count on me. I won't let anybody hurt you."
He kisses her belly, whispering the words again, whispering how much he loves her. And finally he pulls back, and his gaze falls on Snow. "You're awake." She reaches out to touch his face, and he turns slightly and kisses her palm. His own hands are still on her stomach, on Emma.
"She's so lucky to have you," she tells him. "I am, too."
"The council will meet tomorrow," he murmurs. "We'll find a way to fight this."
She nods, but she can't help her next works. "I always thought if ever I had a daughter, it would be different," she whispers. "I thought I would be able to give her the life I didn't have. I thought I would be able to tuck her in at night, hold her when she cried, play with her, dance with her —"
He moves closer. "You will still have that, Snow, I believe that. She will still have that."
"I'm scared, Charming," she admits, trying not to cry. "I'm terrified. I don't want to lose her."
She can see that he doesn't have the answers, but he cradles her to him, and he kisses her. "I will do anything to save you both," he says. She clutches him tightly, afraid to let go.
Emma doesn't realise how much she talks to her kid until Kevin points it out.
He works in the kitchen, and she likes him well enough, but she snaps back at him that she doesn't talk to her unborn baby more than she does anyone else, and he only shrugs. After work that night, she waits for her roommates to fall asleep, and then she sits up a little in bed. She pulls up her shirt to run her hands over her stomach, the skin stretched, her belly button popped out.
"I do talk to you a lot, don't I, kid? I guess that's just something people do. My mom probably talked to me. She probably made up excuses why she was gonna leave me by the side of the road."
She feels the kid move. "You know that it's not that I don't want you, right?" The words stick a little in her throat. "I mean, if I weren't who I am, I would keep you. 'Cause I bet, I bet, you're just an awesome kid. I bet you're smart. And you're probably gonna be able to take the world by storm. I think you can." She nods.
"See, the truth is," she says, pressing her hand against her stomach, "it's not me. It's you. Yeah. I just went there." She laughs a little to herself, and she tries not to cry. "You don't want me for a mom," she whispers. And it's not just that I can't give you a dad, or that I don't have money, or that I'm not even legal. It's that I think parents are supposed to, like, shape their kids, make their kids like them. And you don't want to be like me. I'm tough, but you shouldn't have to be."
She stares down at her stomach, traces her fingers against the spot the kid kicked only moments before. A set of tiny toes presses against her thumb, and her heart flip flops inside her.
"You should learn how to love people, how to trust people," she murmurs, "and you should be sweet, and happy, and fearless, and all those things that I don't know how to be. That I'm not. That's the kind of parent you need, so I'm gonna give you that, okay? I'm gonna do that for you."
She closes her eyes for a moment, and it sets off her tears.
"I want to prove that I can do this," she whispers. "I want to prove that I'm not like my parents, and I can do something right by my kid. I might not ever do anything else that means something, but I'm gonna do this right. And I just — I need you not to hate me for that, okay? You understand?"
Her chest burns a little when the kid shifts, aims a punch at her.
"I'm probably gonna miss you," she says. "I mean, hey, you're the only person that's stuck with me for this long before in my life." She laughs tearfully. "I guess it only makes sense that I talk to you. But you're not gonna remember me. And I'm glad. It'll be better that way. Easier for you."
The light down the hall goes on, and she can hear one of her roommates shuffle to the bathroom.
She says the last words so quietly she might not even say them aloud at all.
"Just be loved, kid, okay? That's all I want from you. I want you to be loved. Just be loved."
She doesn't look Angela in the eye the next morning, even when the other girl stares at the dried tear tracts on her face. And in the middle of the lunch rush, her water breaks. This is it.
"This is it," Doc tells her, "this is it, Snow. You're almost finished!"
James squeezes her hand, and she squeezes his, and she screams, and then the sound is drowned out by another scream. She collapses against James. He kisses her temple, and his chest rumbles with a kind of laughter against her shoulder. And Doc hands her the baby, bundled up in a blanket.
His eyes are sad as he bustles from the room, surely to find his brothers, but but Snow can only gaze down at her daughter, at Emma, a pretty, perfect little baby, already as charming as her father. The sounds of chaos leak into the room, break into her heart, and she stares at her daughter, and her heart starts to break. She can't go with her. The wardrobe only takes one.
James shakes his head at her, but this is the only way. This is how they save her if no one else.
If they really love her, this is what they have to do.
She doesn't cry until James leaves, until the sounds of her baby are lost in the screams of terror outside the bedroom, and her whole body hurts with the sobs. It wasn't suppose to be like this.
It was never supposed to be like this. She was supposed to go with her daughter. She was supposed to be with her, to help her, to take care of her, to be the mother she herself never had.
How can Emma make it all alone?
And where is James? She can't lose him, too. If something terrible is about to happen, she needs to be with him. She can't be alone. She falls out of bed, and her knees hit the ground hard, but she stumbles to her feet and out of the room. Where is he? Is Emma safe? What's happened?
It's all broken, the whole world; she kisses James, and he doesn't wake up, and she's helpless to stop what happens next. Emma is safe. She needs to be safe, wherever the wardrobe took her, she must be safe. Snow clings to James, the magic that swirls through the air so thick it makes it impossible to breathe, and a blackness starts to creep into her vision. She sobs against James.
And then she hears her daughter cry for the first time, and she sees Prince Charming smirk that insufferable smirk, and she prays that somehow, someway, some day, Emma finds them.
Angela wants to go to the hospital with her, but Emma shakes her head, and she takes a Taxi.
The cab driver looks freaked, but she breathes in and breathes out, and the hospital is only eleven blocks from the diner. She manages to check herself in, to fill out the paper work, and in the end her labour lasts forever, like the kid doesn't want to leave. It's the next day when it finally happens.
Afterward, all she can really process is the loud, angry screams of her kid in the hands of a nurse.
She closes her eyes, breathes in and breathes out, and they take the baby away. The nurse offers to let her see him, and that's more than Emma can take, to hear that word, to hear him, and she shakes her head wordlessly. She doesn't even open her eyes. It's not her kid. It's not. She breathes in.
She breathes out.
It's more than an hour before she's finished with everything, before the nurse tells her to rest as she flips off the light, closes the door, and leaves Emma in an empty hospital room. She opens her eyes and stares through the darkness at the ceiling. The machines beep around her.
Her whole body is sore, sweat dried on her skin, her hair tangled. And her baby is gone.
She presses her eyes shut again, presses her lips together tightly, presses back all the hurt, but it doesn't work, and a sob bubbles up and breaks free. She screams a little, teeth gritted to muffle the sound, and her throat burns, still so sore from the screams of labour, and she only cries harder.
The sobs wrack her body, make her head pound, and she ends up with her face pressed into the pillow so that no one can hear, so that she can't even really breathe, and she passes out eventually.
A week and a half later, she buys herself a Volvo for cheap and hits the road. It'll probably be a complete waste of her time, but it's not like she has anything else to do, anywhere else to be.
And how hard can it be to find her mother?
Give me motivation,
Give me all my heart's desires,
Show me something gorgeous,
Show me till my eyes get tired.
Give me all the drums and,
Show me how to play them loud.
Show me how to move,
When I can't feel that you're around.