Chapter 1: Voices in the Darkness
He was floating in darkness. He had been for a very long time. He wasn't sure how long. At first, there had been pain. His shoulder and his abdomen had throbbed insistently with every breath and every heartbeat. Slowly, the pain had faded until all that was left was a dull ache throughout his entire body, as though he hadn't moved in a long time, which he supposed he hadn't.
Occasionally, flashes of sound pierced the darkness. He could never understand what he heard. The sounds were muffled and warped. He strained to hear them more clearly, but he never managed it. Sometimes, he felt a warm, comforting, loving presence, but only for a moment before it was gone and he was left in the darkness once more, left feeling suspended from himself and from the world. He remembered nothing of the time before the darkness. He felt no desire to leave it, either.
Then something changed. He couldn't pinpoint the moment the shift occurred, but he knew that it happened. He began to feel the clothes and the sheets that were resting against his skin. He could hear beeping in the background where before he'd heard nothing. He could feel the beating of his heart within his chest. He could feel the weight of his body on the mattress. For the first time in a long time, he felt anchored to the world.
The comforting feeling that came so fleetingly was stronger, too. He ached to reach out and embrace it, somehow knowing deep in his heart that the aura surrounded a person and that that person was important. It was only in those fleeting moments that he considered fighting the darkness. Sounds were still incomprehensible to him, but they were distinguishable from one another and sometimes...sometimes he heard a light, familiar feminine voice and knew it was her, the one who brought the warmth.
He began to wonder why he was trapped in darkness. He didn't remember what had happened that had left him there. It probably had something to do with the pain he had once felt, but he wasn't sure. He began to realize that he needed to leave the darkness, that he wasn't supposed to be there, but he just didn't know how. He was tired and the darkness seemed inescapable.
A weight on the bed beside him broke him from his hazy thoughts. Never before had that happened. He felt the warmth of her presence. She spoke and for the first time, he understood.
"Look, I know this is odd, but I'm doing it for a friend. So please, just bear with me."
She shifted a bit, becoming more comfortable. He heard the rustle of pages and she cleared her throat. "As the prince chased the thief on horseback through the treacherous forest, his betrothed crossed her arms and pouted, wondering how many dreadful boring minutes it would take until they could resume their journey again..."
The story woke something inside of him, a fire that he hadn't felt in a long time, that he hadn't even remembered had ever existed. Her words faded, though her voice remained, a pleasant buzz in the back of his mind. He felt alive, even as he floated in the darkness. Images flashed through his mind. Roiling black clouds encroaching on the horizon. A beautiful dark haired woman dressed in white, her hands resting on her swollen belly. The same woman with tears tracking down her face, her hands on his face as he attempted to comfort her. He could feel her pressed against him as he kissed her passionately, desperately even. He saw a baby, still red from birth, cradled in his arms, wrapped in a wooly blanket. He felt his heart break for something he couldn't remember. Pain lanced through his shoulder and abdomen such as he hadn't felt in a long time. He felt something warm and sticky coating his side and heard her calling to him, begging him to come back to her. How he longed to, but he hadn't the strength. Then she was gone, and he was left in darkness.
He wasn't sure how long he was lost in the strange flashes, but her words once more pierced his mind. She was still reading him the story, the oh so familiar story.
"They didn't need words to express what they felt in their hearts. It was here in the shadow of the troll bridge that their love was born."
Their love! He remembered that. How he knew it he could not say, but suddenly he was filled with the knowledge that this was their story, that this woman who had been his only source of warmth in the darkness was his love. With a strength he did not know he possessed, he fought back the darkness and reached for her.
"For they knew, no matter how they were separated, they would alwa-ah!"
She gasped and stopped short when his hand touched hers. The feel of her skin was so familiar. He longed to open his eyes and gaze at her, to remind himself of her features, to caress her cheek with this thumb, to recall the color of her eyes, but his strength was spent. He could only remain still in the darkness that still chained him.
She left and his heart ached at her loss. He wanted her to stay, he wanted to hear the rest of their story. Then maybe he would remember. Maybe he the darkness would lift.
To his joy, she returned a few moments later. He heard her speaking to someone else, telling them that he had woken. The other person, a man by his voice, told her that she was mistaken. There had been no change in brain activity. The man told her that she must have fallen asleep and dreamt his movement. He fought against the darkness, trying to move as he had before so that he could defend her, but his body refused. The darkness had him in its hold once more. All he could do was lay there and listen to her footsteps fade away. He barely even noticed the other man say something to no one (at least he thought it was no one for she was gone and the man wasn't speaking with him) before leaving the room and leaving him alone once more.
He struggled against the darkness that had held him captive for so long. It was as though the darkness was alive and actively seeking to keep its hold over him secure. For the first time, he felt something that drove him to fight the darkness. He had tested the darkness out of idle curiosity before, but now he wanted to be free. The woman, he didn't know who she was, but she was important and he needed to find her, to protect her, to hold her in his arms and never let her go. His chest ached with that need.
Slowly, he pushed the darkness back. He felt wakefulness flitting around the edges of his consciousness and with an almighty effort, forced his eyes open.
The world was slightly blurred and painfully unfamiliar. He was staring up at a plain white ceiling. Turning his head, he saw a glass wall and others in another room lying on beds. The only sound was a monotonous rhythmic beeping. Something was clinging to his face. He ripped it away and tossed the thin tube aside. The movement caused pain to flair in his arm. He looked down to see a needle with another thin tube attached to it embedded in the skin in the crook of his elbow. He pulled it out quickly, barely feeling the pain. A thin trickle of blood ran down his arm. He ignored it and sat up.
His body protested after remaining immobile for so long. Tossing aside the blankets, he dragged his legs out of the bed and forced himself to stand. The floor was cold. He felt weak and shaky, unsteady on his feet, but he forced himself forward.
The glass door swung open at his touch. He stumbled through the room where the others were sleeping, searching wildly for her. But he didn't see her. She wasn't there. His gaze fell on the door at the other end of the room. Thinking that she might be in there, he staggered toward it. His weight fell against the door and it swung open. He nearly fell to the ground, but somehow managed to catch himself.
He was outside. Just a few paces away was a forest. Something tugged him forward. The troll bridge. He had to reach the troll bridge. Guided by something he didn't understand, he plowed into the trees.
It was slow going. He stumbled often. His vision was still clouded and it was dark. Often, his foot caught roots or he walked right into a low hanging branch. He fell into a bush at one point and a branch caught on something around his wrist. He yanked it free and continued on.
After what felt like and may well have been hours, he heard water running. He'd reached the bridge. His head was spinning and his breath was coming in harsh gasps. His limbs were shaking. His feet ached with every step. Darkness was encroaching on his vision again. Desperately he pushed aside. He couldn't let the darkness take him. He had to find her. He had to stay awake.
His foot slipped on a loose rock and he crashed to the ground. The sound of the water was greater than ever. He could feel it running over him. He knew he had to move, but his strength was gone and the darkness crashed back in on him more strongly than ever before, stealing all awareness from him.
When the beam of her flashlight landed on his prone body lying in the stream, Mary Margaret's heart almost literally stopped.
"Oh, god," she whispered in horror and dread that she didn't quite understand. She felt like something icy had been driven into her heart. She tossed her flashlight aside and ran to him. "Oh, god! Oh, god!"
She barely heard Graham behind her, calling for an ambulance. Panic echoed through her mind, drowning out all else. Heart squeezing painfully in her chest, Mary Margaret grabbed his arm and started trying to pull him out of the water. Graham seized John Doe's other arm and Emma go his feet. Together, they managed to heave him to the shore.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no," she muttered as they laid him down and she saw how deathly pale his skin was. "I found you. It's going to be okay."
"Is he okay? Is he going to be okay?" Henry asked frantically.
Emma leapt to her feet and ran over to him. "Don't look okay. Don't look."
Sitting back to give her room, Graham watched as Mary Margaret shook John Doe. Her heart clenched painfully when she felt how cold his skin was. She bent down and listened for his breath, but there was nothing.
"Come back to us," she pleaded. "Come back to me."
Come back to me.
The words echoed through his mind. He'd heard them before and hadn't been able to answer no matter how much he wanted to. He felt something pushing against his chest and realized that he couldn't breathe. Then, warm lips pressed against his, forcing air into his lungs. They lingered longer than necessary and when they left, he felt their absence.
His lungs burned and he felt his throat clench. He coughed, spitting up water. It hurt to breathe, but the ache in his chest faded as he gulped in oxygen. He gasped, opening his eyes. A pair of hands grabbed his face, supporting him gently. A beautiful woman with short dark hair was leaned over him. She seemed familiar.
"You saved me," he murmured.
"She did it. She did it! She woke him up!" a young voice said.
Another voice, a woman's voice, answered, sounding surprised and relieved. "Yeah, kid. She did."
He looked back up at the woman leaning over him. "Thank you."
She smiled. "Who are you?"
His mind stayed blank. No name, no memories leapt forward at her question. "I don't know," he realized.
She continued to smile comfortingly. "It's okay," she promised. "You're going to be okay."
And he believed her.
"The ambulance should be here any moment," said a thickly accented male voice. "We need to keep him warm and get him as dry as possible."
A leather jacket appeared out of nowhere and the woman took it. She gently draped it over him. He grabbed her hand, wanting to feel her. She gently lifted his head and shoulders into her lap and cradled him for warmth. From that position, he could see that there were three other people with them. One, a woman with golden curls and a red jacket was hugging a young boy who was grinning from ear to ear, looking almost triumphant. A scruffy looking man was speaking into a walkie-talkie. He alone wasn't wearing a jacket.
The blonde woman seemed to shake herself and quickly shucked her jacket as well. When the boy started to the same, she shook her head. "Your mother will kill me if you catch a cold. Keep that on."
He did it anyway, saying stubbornly, "She's not going to find out," and laid his coat over his legs. He smiled at the boy weakly and was rewarded with a blinding grin.
"Thank you," he whispered again.
The woman who was holding him gently squeezed his shoulder. He shivered slightly. "My name is Mary Margaret," she said. "I'm a teacher. I volunteer at the hospital. That's how I met you. I work in the long term ward."
He began to relax slightly into her embrace. The sound of her voice soothed him and it helped him forget how cold he was. She continued to talk about her students, gesturing to the boy at one point, but he missed his name.
Eventually, the paramedics arrived. The waved her away. He wanted to protest, but knew that they needed room to do their jobs and she continued to hover nearby. His eyes barely left her while the two medics took his blood pressure, his temperature, and a dozen other things. She kept giving him reassuring smiles. He didn't break eye contact until the paramedics lifted him onto the gurney and began hauling him up the ambulance. Mary Margaret and the others from his rescue party followed after, but her eyes were downcast as she watched where she stepped.
"Will any of you be riding with him?" asked one of the paramedics once they had him settled in the ambulance.
He looked at her and hoped that she understood what he was silently asking. Her presence was comforting, even if he didn't know why. The blonde woman elbowed Mary Margaret.
"I-I will," she stammered. The paramedic nodded and offered her a hand to help her into the back of the ambulance. She took it, stepping lightly into the vehicle and seating herself on the bench beside him. He smiled and reached out for her hand. She took it and smiled gently.
"I told you you'd be okay," she murmured.
His smile widened slightly. "I believed you."
Chapter 2: Confusion
*Peaks around the corner* So…it's been ages since I updated this. I don't know if any of you have been reading my other fics, but as I've stated there I had a lot of things crop up. End of the year, packing the dorm, driving halfway across the country, moving back in, getting a job. The list goes on. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that this fic got put on the back burner. I can't guarantee that updates will be terribly regular. My job requires a lot of writing and research. My free time is going to be drastically slashed. That said, I won't abandon this fic. It just might be a bit slow. That said, enjoy!
Edit* Someone pointed out to me that David was a bit too coherent in the ambulance. I went back to reread it and realized that they are absolutely right. I wrote that convo and ended up changing course with the chapter. After taking so long to get back to this fic it didn't quite register what I'd done. So this is an edit to fix that and to make the whole chapter flow a bit better. I really do apologize. I had my head out of this fic for so long and I hadn't even been able to catch up with the series because of finals and moving back home that I probably wasn't in the right frame of mind to be posting.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The ambulance lurched as it careered around a corner, throwing Mary Margaret out of her seat. She gasped in surprise, reaching out blindly to catch herself. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of the paramedic starting out of his seat to catch her, but with John Doe between them, she knew it was useless. Squeezing her eyes shut, she braced herself.
A surprisingly strong hand grabbed her by the upper arm, halting her fall so that instead of landing face first on the ambulance floor she ended up sitting awkwardly on her hip, her arm twisted over his head. Eyes wide, she looked up to see John Doe leaning over the edge of the gurney, looking down at her with concern clear in his still dazed eyes.
"Are you all right?" he asked hoarsely.
Mary Margaret nodded numbly. The ambulance jerked as it hurtled over a bump in the road. She would have lost her precarious balance had it not been for John Doe's grip on her arm. The paramedic finally made it around to her side of the ambulance and helped Mary Margaret back into her seat. He quickly showed her how to seat herself more securely as there were no straps before turning to John Doe, who was still struggling to hold himself upright enough to keep his hand on Mary Margaret's arm.
"It's all right," she said calmly, gently laying her hand across his. "I'm fine. You can let go."
He blinked at her, clearly confused, and his grip on her arm only tightened. The paramedic leaned forward to pry John Doe's hand loose. Again, his grip tightened until it was almost painful. Mary Margaret waved the medic away, whispering, "He's confused and I don't mind."
"He's in no condition to be straining himself like this," the man hissed. "He could hurt himself."
"I understand," she said firmly, as though talking to one of her unruly students, "but he's obviously confused. Forcing him isn't gong to do any good. Just let me talk to him. I'll get him to calm down."
The paramedic looked like he wanted to argue, but John Doe was visibly beginning to tremble from the strain of staying in his semi-sitting position. The medic nodded tersely and carefully made his way back to the other side of the ambulance.
Mary Margaret carefully scooted forward so that she could lean closer to John Doe. He looked at her blearily. She placed her hand back over his. His eyes found hers again. They were still hazy, but there was something burning in his gaze that she couldn't place. Deciding to leave that mystery for later, she smiled gently and stroked his fingers lightly with hers.
"Thank you. That would have been a nasty fall."
"Your welcome," he murmured.
"Do you think you can let go now?" she asked. "I appreciate your help, but I don't want you to hurt yourself."
His eyes flickered down to where their hands rested against one another then back up to her eyes. He looked tortured, as though something had torn apart inside him. He shook his head slowly.
"No, I can't. I can't lose….I can't," he muttered.
Though startled by this reaction, Mary Margaret leaned closer and rested her hand against his cheek, forcing him to look at her. "You don't have to let go," she promised. "Just take my hand instead, so that you can lay down. I'm not going anywhere. I promise. Just please, lay down before you hurt yourself."
John Doe hesitated, but the broken look in his eyes slowly vanished. He nodded slightly and gradually loosened his grip on her arm. Mary Margaret scooted as close as she dared given the way the ambulance was still lurching and eased her fingers under his, gently prying his hand from her arm even as she wove their fingers together. His gaze never leaving hers, John Doe eased himself back onto the bed. Pain flickered across his face as he did. Mary Margaret stroked her thumb across the back of his hand. His fingers tightened on hers.
Hesitantly, she reached up with her free hand to run her hand through his hair. It was a bold move that she would normally never consider, but he looked so much like a lost child and it felt so natural. The pain eased from his face as her fingers ran across his scalp.
"It's going to be okay," she whispered. "We'll be at the hospital soon and they'll take good care of you."
He leaned toward her and whispered urgently, "Don't leave me."
"The doctors aren't going to let me stay with you," she said, though wanting nothing more than to promise never to leave his side. "I don't know when they'll let you have visitors. But I promise that I will come see you as soon as they let me. I won't even leave the hospital."
Despite her promise, John Doe still looked stricken.
"No, you can't go. You can't. You found me."
"I know," she whispered, threading her fingers through his hair again. "If they would let me, I would stay. I'll be as close as I can. I'll be outside your room. The moment they let me, I'll be there, I promise. I found you once. I'll find you again."
His fingers clutched hers sporadically, but he seemed to understand. He nodded weakly.
"Promise," he whispered, leaning into her touch. "Promise that you will come back."
Choking on the lump in her throat that she thought might just be her heart, Mary Margaret nodded. The paramedic stared at them both in undisguised astonishment. She blushed slightly at the realization of just how intimate that conversation had appeared and resolutely avoided the man's gaze. Not that looking at John Doe was any less disconcerting. Though his eyes were still glazed, his gaze was rather fierce.
The rest of the journey passed in silence. Mary Margaret never stopped in her ministrations to John Doe. She continued to stroke the back of his hand with her thumb and run her hand through his hair. His eyes eventually slid shut, but his grip on her hand never slackened. It was as though she was his lifeline, his only tether to sanity. Though he relaxed slightly, he didn't sleep and he seemed to tense marginally whenever the jostling of the ambulance sent Mary Margaret reeling away from him. It made her heart break just a little every time.
It wasn't long before the ambulance shuddered abruptly to a halt. John Doe's eyes snapped open. Forcing herself to stay calm, Mary Margaret continued to caress his hand with the back of her thumb.
"It'll be all right," she assured him. "I'll only be gone a little while and then I'll be back. The doctors will make sure that you're all right. You'll get some sleep and you'll feel better."
"But you'll be back?" he asked.
She nodded, forcing back tears, but before she could actually answer, the other paramedic threw open the door.
"Ma'am, you'll need to exit the vehicle," he said, beckoning her out impatiently. When she hesitated, he sighed. "We can't get him out if you're in the way and he needs a doctor, so please, step down."
Feeling horrible, Mary Margaret shot John Doe a look that she hoped was comforting and apologetic. His grip on her hand loosened marginally and she was able to pull her fingers free so that the paramedic could pull her out of the ambulance.
"The visitor's door is over there," he said, pointing to a glass door to the left of the ambulance bay, barely giving her a second glance before hurrying back to help his partner lower John Doe out of the ambulance. She watched from just out the way. He immediately caught her eye. He looked more confused and out of it than ever. They held each others gazes only for the briefest moment before Dr. Whale and a contingent of nurses surrounded him, blocking him from her sight.
Spinning on her heel, Mary Margaret hurried into the hospital through the visitor's entrance and up to the reception desk.
"Where are they taking John Doe? The coma patient who woke up and wandered off?"
The nurse looked up. "Are you family?" she asked in a bored tone.
"No, I'm a volunteer in his ward. I helped find him."
"Sorry. Only family is allowed back there."
"You don't understand, he doesn't have any family," she said desperately. "He doesn't even know who he is. I'm the one who found him. I rode here in the ambulance. I held his hand. He's confused and he'll be looking for me."
"If you're not family, I can't allow you back there until he's been cleared by Dr. Whale."
"Maybe you can allow me back there."
Mary Margaret spun around in relief and very nearly hugged Graham. He was leaning casually against the counter. How had she not noticed him walk up? One hand was in his pocket, conveniently pulling back his leather jacket so that his sheriff's badge was on display. Not that that was even necessary. Everyone in Storybrooke knew he was the sheriff.
The nurse suddenly looked a lot less bored. "Of course, Sheriff. He's been taken back to the ICU."
Graham smiled charmingly. "Thank you. They're with me, by the way," he added casually, gesturing to Mary Margaret, Emma, and Henry. "They were part of the rescue party."
She just nodded. Still smiling, Graham dipped his head slightly in thanks. He gently laid a hand on Mary Margaret's shoulder and steered her toward the ICU. Emma and Henry trailed after them.
"Thank you," Mary Margaret said sincerely, once they were out of the nurse's earshot.
Graham just shrugged. "John Doe seemed to become attached to you, probably because you were the first person he saw. I don't know much about amnesia, but I do no something about trauma, and he'll benefit from having someone he trusts nearby through all of this. He really seemed to need you when we were at the bridge. I doubt that's changed."
If she hadn't been so worried, Mary Margaret may well have blushed.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway outside of David Nolan's hospital room. He'd been moved early that morning into a room without glass walls. It was supposed to be more private than his old room in the long term ward. He wasn't sure that he liked it. He couldn't see who was coming and it wasn't part of his old ward. Pushing himself up on his pillows, David waited anxiously for any sign that the footsteps were slowing. He hoped that it would be Mary Margaret. He hadn't seen her since his wife had shown up the night before.
His wife. He had absolutely not memory of her at all, not even the slightest sense of familiarity when he saw her. She was a complete stranger to him. Even his own name, David Nolan, sounded foreign to his ears. He'd had all morning to get used to it, and he still wasn't. He still felt like his real name, his real identity was just out of his reach.
A young nurse in light blue scrubs walked past his door, her nose buried in a chart. She didn't even look up when she passed. David sighed, disappointed that it hadn't been Mary Margaret, and let his head fall back onto the pillows so that he was looking up at the ceiling.
He had seen her standing in the hallway when he'd first been brought in, just as she had promised. Even separated by a glass wall, her presence had been a comfort to him. He'd still longed to hold her hand and feel her close, but he hadn't felt so lost and groundless as he did whenever she was gone, even if it was only for a moment. Then, Kathryn had shown up. She'd just appeared out of nowhere as far as he was concerned. He hadn't even realized she had been trying to see him until they were done with their poking and prodding and the doctor, David thought his name was Whale, started to explain.
The doctor hadn't been able to tell him much about how he'd ended up in a coma. He couldn't even tell David how long he'd been in the coma, despite the many times that David asked. It was apparently something of a miracle that his muscles hadn't atrophied. He was stiff and weak from prolonged bed rest, but he hadn't actually lost muscle mass.
Almost desperate for any information that might help him piece his life back together, David had asked many questions about his condition. Dr. Whale had been evasive to say the least. Instead, he'd waved forward the woman from before and introduced her as Kathryn Nolan, his wife.
Before he'd known it, she had her arms around his neck. He had returned the embrace, unsure of what else to do when he had an obviously distraught woman clinging to him. As he had put his arm around her, his eyes had found Mary Margaret. She had still been standing in the hall, fulfilling her promise. He had wanted nothing more than to feel her arms around him in that moment, but she had turned and walked away before he could. He hadn't missed the unbearably sad look in her eyes.
Kathryn had stayed with him for nearly an hour. She'd talked incessantly, trying to get him to remember something. He had just nodded every once and a while to keep from falling asleep. Nothing had sounded at all familiar. Eventually, a nurse had taken pity on him and managed to usher Kathryn away by telling her that he needed his rest. She'd given him a shy kiss on the cheek before finally leaving. He'd fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion soon afterward.
The morning had found David considerably more coherent. He'd spent most of his time since waking trying to sort through everything. He'd come up with more questions than answers.
He had no idea what had happened to him. The doctors hadn't been able to tell him anything. Just that he'd been found bleeding and unconscious on the side of the road and had assumed he'd been in some kind of accident, though there had been no car in sight. His shoulder and abdomen had been badly injured, but had healed nicely while he was unconscious. He would need physical therapy, but they told him that he should regain full use of his arm.
Unconsciously his hand strayed to the knotted scar on his shoulder. It was easy to reach through the lose neck of his hospital gown. He had the bone deep feeling that the scar, and the one on his abdomen, had been hard won for a worthy cause, not the results of an accident.
After a moment his hand fell away and his thoughts turned to Mary Margaret. He'd known her for less than an hour. He wasn't entirely sure how long as most of what had happened before his arrival at the hospital was a haze, but he felt a deeper connection to her than to the woman who was supposed to be his wife. He'd been so disoriented the previous night that he could barely remember what the doctors or Kathryn had said to him, but he could remember Mary Margaret in crystal clear detail. He could remember how much he had needed her and how much it had hurt to think of being without her. Oddly enough, he remembered the blonde woman and the little boy with the same clarity, even though he hadn't spoken to them.
It was all so jumbled. David could feel the answers tugging at the back of his mind, but they were just out of reach. It was enough to drive him crazy.
The sound of footsteps outside in the hall broke through David's thoughts for the fifteenth time that morning. He looked up tiredly, unable to stop himself from getting his hopes up. He shouldn't have.
Kathryn, smiling almost shyly, walked into his room. She had a Tupperware in her hands and looked like she was dressed for work. He glanced at the clock and realized that she'd probably stopped by during her lunch break.
"Hi," she said quietly. "How do you feel?"
David shrugged. "All right, I guess."
"Do you remember anything?" The hope in her voice was almost painful.
Disappointment flickered across her face and her eyes closed a bit, but after a moment she fixed her smile back on. "I'm sure it's only a matter of time. I brought some your favorite cookies. I bake when I'm stressed out, so the kitchen is overflowing right now. I also brought the book you were reading before…well, anyway, maybe they'll help."
David took the cookies and the book awkwardly and set them on the bedside table. "Thanks. I'm sure they're wonderful."
"I'm sorry I didn't come back sooner," she said, moving closer. "I couldn't get off work. We're understaffed at the moment, and my lunch break is only half an hour, so I can't stay long."
"It's fine," he assured her. "I don't want you to get into trouble."
Kathryn sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. "But I should be here. It's where I'm needed."
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm not going to disappear if you're not there."
"We've lost years, David. I don't want to lose anymore."
He wasn't sure what to say to that, so he just smiled reassuringly. Kathryn reached for his hand. She squeezed it gently. They sat like that for a moment, the silence growing increasingly uncomfortably for David. Eventually, Katharine checked her watch.
"Oh, I'm going to be late. I'm so sorry. I have to go. I'll be back this evening," she promised.
"Don't put yourself out," he said sincerely. "I don't want this to affect your job. The last thing you need is trouble there."
A soft smile crossed her face. "You always did put yourself last. I'll be here. Feel better."
"Thanks for the cookies."
"Anytime," she said quietly before heading out the door.
Groaning, David slumped back against his pillows. He still felt absolutely no reaction to his wife, not the slightest stirrings of remembrance or the barest hint of emotion. She might as well be a stranger off the streets. The only thing he'd felt during that conversation was uncomfortable. Even thinking about Katharine as his wife felt wrong. He scrubbed a hand over his face. He felt like he was getting lost in a fog. The more he learned, the longer he was awake, the more lost he felt. The only thing that was becoming clear was that he needed to talk to Mary Margaret.
Desperate for some distraction, he picked up the book Katharine had left. It was a historical fiction novel about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. According to the back cover, it was a novelization of the actual events. It didn't seem all that interesting to him, but he flipped to the first page and started reading.
He still looked up whenever he heard footsteps.
Sitting in the park his story book balanced carefully on his knees, Henry stared at the picture of Prince Charming. It was an exact portrait of the man from the hospital. He grinned. The curse was breaking. That was the only way he could have woken up and because he'd been unconscious, nearly dead even, when the curse struck he didn't have the false memories. All he had to do was convince Emma to help him get Prince Charming back for real.
Henry knew that his mother didn't really believe him and he didn't blame her. Even he could admit that it sounded a bit far-fetched. The only reason he'd even noticed was because he was growing up and none of the other kids in his class were. They did the same thing every year, without fail. Emma hadn't seen any of that and she'd had to grow up before she was really an adult, but Henry knew that eventually she'd believe him and for now he'd settle for her just humoring him as long as it helped break the curse.
It was odd, even for him, to think that a man who didn't look any older than his mother was actually his grandfather or that his teacher was his grandmother. It didn't really matter, though. What mattered was that they were his family, his real family, and he couldn't wait to save them.
Grinning to himself, Henry slid the book under into his back and hopped off the bench. It was time to go find Emma.
Author's Note: Just a quick explanation, between the first and second sections, at the first pagebreak, you can assume that what happened on the show when they got to the hospital with Katharine's and Regina's appearances, happened here.
Also, while I have never ridden in an ambulance and have only really seen them on TV, my dad has. He had a heart attack years ago and was rushed from the local hospital to the big one in Indianapolis. I remember my mom being completely freaked out because we caught the ambulance as we got off the highway, which meant they had slowed down. As it turns out, it's not exactly a smooth ride. They had to slow down for safety I think because the passengers in the back, i.e. my dad and one of the paramedics, were getting jolted around. He's fine, btw. This happened over ten years ago and he's downstairs right now. I just wanted to explain where that came from.
Last, but not least, the book I have David reading is a real book. It's called "Killing Lincoln." My mom keeps telling me that I need to read it, so I thought I would have Prince Charming do it for me, lol.
Chapter 3: Hints and Whispers
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Mary Margaret flitted about her apartment like a bird, unable to stand still for more than a few minutes. She was impossibly torn. Her promise to John – to David, she corrected herself sadly – echoed in her head. It was like a physical tether trying to pull her to the hospital and her heart cracked a little every time she turned away from the door, forcing herself to keep busy with household chores that really didn't need doing. No matter what connection the two of them had imagined feeling for one another, he had a wife and she couldn't come between them. She knew that he had latched onto her in a moment of confusion and fear and weakness, but she couldn't take advantage of that.
But oh how she wanted to. It physically hurt to stay away from him, especially when she remembered the expression on his face when she'd been forced to leave the ambulance. He'd seemed to need her so much. Only the knowledge that it was his wife who should be comforting him, not her kept Mary Margaret from rushing to the hospital.
Taking a deep breath, she leaned her hands against the counter and ducked her head. She had no idea what to do. Logically it did make sense on some level to honor her promise to David. It was unlikely that he'd gotten his memories back in the course of one night and he was probably still confused, which meant that her staying away probably wasn't doing any favors. On the other hand however, and just as logically, her presence could make easily make it difficult for him to connect with his wife and she would not be the one to come between them.
She was caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place and she had absolutely no idea what to do.
Eventually, her conscience got the better of her. She had promised to be there for him. Wife or no, he was confused and lost and she was the one thing that seemed to help that. She hadn't missed the way his eyes continued to find her even as he was embracing his wife. She would go, fulfill her promise, and leave. That would be the end of it.
She almost turned around half a dozen times on her way to the hospital. Once there, she went through her routine in the long-term ward. David Nolan was no longer there, which she really should have expected. She made her rounds, delivering flowers, talking quietly to the patients who were awake, helping the nurses, and in general stalling before going to find David. She ended up whiling away the entire morning.
"Where did they move David Nolan after he came in last night?" she asked off handedly as she helped Dawn, one of the nurses, organize the mess of files that covered the nurses' desk.
Dawn glanced reflexively at the room where he'd lain for so long before flicking her hair over her shoulder and saying, "I think they moved him to a private room upstairs, now that he's awake. The mayor actually pulled some strings to get him up there."
Mary Margaret couldn't help but frown a bit at that. She knew that Regina was his emergency contact. Emma had mentioned it at one point while muttering about how suspicious the mayor's involvement in the whole thing was. She had to admit that she did agree. Regina was usually pretty hands-off. Everyone knew that she was in charge and that you did not cross her, but for the most part she remained aloof. It was odd that she, of all people, had turned out to be David's emergency contact and for her to seem so invested in getting him back together with wife. Mary Margaret tried to tell herself that that was just Emma talking, but something about it felt right.
"Why do you want to know?" Dawn asked curiously, interrupting Mary Margaret's thoughts. "Do you have a thing for him?"
She blushed slightly and busied herself with the files in front of her. "It's not like that. I helped find him and I rode back to the hospital with him. Before they loaded him off the ambulance, I promised to come see him as soon as soon as they would let me."
"Well, then what are you doing her?" asked Dawn incredulously. "Go see him!"
"I can't shirk my responsibilities and I didn't stop to think that they'd move him."
"You're a volunteer Mary Margaret. Most of the time you just keep the patients company and while that's nice and all its not exactly necessary. We could have spared you. Now put those files down and get upstairs!"
"No, I know what you're thinking," Mary Margaret protested.
"Who me?" asked Dawn innocently. "I'm not thinking anything. I saw that poor man last night when I was on my rounds. Even asleep he looks lost. If you helped find him and then stayed with him, then it's probably a good idea to at least stick your head in. I don't know much about amnesia, that's not what I studied in med school, but if I was that lost and confused, I'd welcome the sight of a familiar face, especially one that I know is a friend."
Mary Margaret sighed. She'd known that from the beginning. It was why she'd ended up coming into the hospital in the first place. Sensing a victory, Dawn tapped a few keys on the computer, pulling up hospital records. She grinned when she found what she was looking for. Jotting it down on a piece of scrap paper, she pushed it into Mary Margaret's hands before pushing Mary Margaret out from behind the desk.
"Go on then, go see him and be sure to tell me all about it when you come in tomorrow."
"You're a horrible busy body," Mary Margaret laughed.
Dawn grinned at her cheekily. "That's why you like me. I've got to go on rounds. I'll see you later."
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Mary Margaret made her way out of the long-term care ward and across the hospital to the private recovery rooms. She checked the paper Dawn had given her. David was on the third floor, which was for orthopedic recovery. She supposed that it made sense that he would need physical therapy after being in the coma for so longer.
The closer she came to his room, the more nervous she became as well. She couldn't explain it. Something about him spoke to a part of her that was so deeply buried and so long forgotten that she couldn't begin to understand it. That same part of her was what called her to him, making it so impossible to just forget the way his dazed eyes had bored into hers.
Her heart fluttered when she reached his room. The door was standing open, but from the direction she'd come, she couldn't see inside. She didn't give herself a chance to overthink. She just shoved the paper Dawn had given her into her pocket and walked hesitantly inside, knocking lightly on the door as she did.
The sound of a light rap on the door drew David out of his book. He'd only made it in about a chapter. It just wasn't all that interesting to him. He looked up and the book nearly slipped from his fingers. Mary Margaret was standing halfway inside the room. She blushed lightly when their eyes met.
She looked even more beautiful than he remembered. Just seeing her made his heart beat a little faster. The sense of displacement seemed less already and she'd barely even entered the room.
He smiled and pushed himself up off the pillows.
"You came," he whispered.
Mary Margaret blushed. Taking a step further into the room, she loosened the ring on her finger and spun it around nervously. "I promised I would. I tried to come sooner, but they wouldn't let anyone in who wasn't family last night and I volunteer Saturday mornings. I didn't even stop to consider that you'd be moved. I just got away."
David frowned slightly. It was odd considering that he barely knew Mary Margaret, but he just knew that there was something that she wasn't saying. "Mary Margaret, what's wrong?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, twisting the ring about her finger more quickly.
"I can't explain it, but I know you. I know something's wrong. What is it?"
"It's nothing, honestly. I should probably be going. I've got to finish grading some tests before Monday." She took a step backward, but stopped when David sat up, grimacing in pain when the movement forced long disused muscles into use.
"What are you doing?" she demanded. "You'll hurt yourself."
She grabbed him gently by the shoulder and pushed him back onto the pillows.
"I don't understand you," she sighed.
David looked at her tiredly. Her hand on his shoulder was so calming, so grounding. It cleared away the mists that shrouded his mind and made the uncertainty of having no idea who he was a little bit easier to bear. "I can't explain it either," he said. "I just…it's easier when you're around. There's something about you."
"You barely know me!"
"But I do! You're the only one I do know! I don't even recognize my own wife, but there's something familiar about you."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"It's true," he insisted. Somehow it was vitally important that she know that.
"I believe you," Mary Margaret assured him. "It's just a little incredible."
Relief washed through David. She believed him. That meant everything. He didn't know why it meant everything, but it did. He reached up and removed her hand from his shoulder so that he could twine their fingers together. Mary Margaret blushed and made a move as though to pull her hand free.
"Please," David whispered. "It helps."
Mary Margaret sighed again, but moved a bit closer and returned his grip. She was still fiddling nervously with her ring, but not so compulsively as before. Something about the ring was as familiar as Mary Margaret was to David. He gazed at it, rotating around her finger, curiously for a minute. The ring made a sense of possessive pride and warmth rise within him. He blinked and the feeling went away.
"I'm sorry," he said abruptly. "I know this is awkward."
Mary Margaret smiled. "It's all right. I can't imagine what it must be like for you."
"It's not that bad," he sighed. "Not really. I just feel a little lost."
"It's only been a day, not even twenty-four hours since you woke up," she pointed out. She squeezed his hand reassuringly. "It has to get better eventually. And I'll do everything I can to help."
David smiled. "Thank you. You have no idea what that means to me."
A warm smile crossed Mary Margaret's face. "I honestly don't know how much good I can do."
"Treating me like a normal person is a good start," he chuckled.
"I suppose it is. I'll do my best." She glanced up at the clock over the door and grimaced slightly. "I really do have to go. Those tests won't grade themselves and I've already been putting it of for too long."
Something tightened inside him at the thought of her leaving, but he managed to nod. Mary Margaret must have read something in his face, because before he could say anything about when she might come back, her lips quirked into a smile and she said, "I suppose I could just run back to the apartment and pick everything up. If you don't mind the company, I could work here."
David couldn't stop the almost manic grin he felt tugging at his lips. "I wouldn't mind."
"In that case, I'll be back soon. Is there anything I can get for you?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so."
Squeezing his hand one last time and giving him another smile, Mary Margaret hurried out of the room. David felt as though she'd taken some of the warmth from the room with her, but being alone was more bearable than before. Sighing, he looked down at the book still lying on his lap. If it had held no interest for him before, it held less for him now. He set it on the bedside the table, beside the unopened container of cookies. His fingers lingered over the plastic for a moment. Out of a curiosity, he pried up one corner of the lid, revealing some kind of shortbread cookie. They really didn't look all that appealing. He shut the lid tightly again and leaned back to wait.
Ignoring Emma's exasperated calling of his name, Henry scampered down the hallway of the hospital. He skidded to a halt when Emma caught up with him and grabbed the back of his jacket.
"Slow down kid. We are in a hospital."
Clutching his book more firmly to his chest, Henry looked up at Emma, begging her to at least humor him, even if she didn't believe him. "But we have to see if he remembers, Emma, before the curse gives him a fake life. We have to help him!"
Emma sighed. "Kid, David Nolan is suffering from amnesia. He doesn't need you confusing with stories about fairy tales come to life."
"Emma, please!" he whined. "It might be our only chance to break the curse!"
The long-suffering groan that escaped her at that made Henry grin. He knew she would give in now.
"Five minutes. You get five minutes," she said, "then we leave."
Grinning more broadly than ever, Henry hugged Emma around his book. "You're the best, Emma," he said against her stomach. She returned the embrace stiffly, still unaccustomed to the sign of affection. After a moment passed, Henry slipped away before she could change her mind.
He already knew what room David Nolan was in. He'd overheard the Mayor talking to someone about getting him moved the night before. It hadn't been difficult to sneak into her office at home and find the paper where she'd written down the room number.
Emma caught up with him again just as he reached the room. Looking resigned, she knocked on the door and stuck her head in.
"Hi," she said awkwardly when David looked toward the door. "Sorry to bother you."
David smiled at her when she paused, unsure of how to go on. "It's fine. Do I…do I know you?"
She shook her head quickly. "Not really. I was there last night with Mary Margaret."
Comprehension dawned on his face and something flickered in his eyes almost like recognition. Henry nearly jumped up and down in joy. Charming was still in there and he was fighting back.
"You helped save me," he said quietly.
Emma shifted uncomfortably. "I'm pretty good at finding people. Anyway, the kid here wanted to come see you. He tagged along last night, too."
Brimming with excitement, Henry scooted into the room. "I'm Henry. Have you ever handled a sword before?"
Emma groaned even as David just looked confused. "You'll have to excuse him," she said, giving Henry the patented don't-you-dare look. "He's got a wild imagination. It runs away with him sometimes."
David grinned down at Henry. "That's the best kind of imagination."
"That's what I think, too," said Henry excitedly. "My mother doesn't approve," he added, his smile falling a bit.
David's gaze flickered toward Emma in confusion. Noticing the look, Henry's smile returned. "Emma's my real mom. I meant my adoptive mom. She thinks it's crazy to believe in fairy tales, but I think they're real."
"Is that your book of fairy tales?" David asked. His gaze kept flickering back to Emma.
Henry nodded vigorously, looking like he was about to burst he was so excited. "You wanna see? It's what Ms. Blanchard was reading to you before you woke up."
Eyes widening, David pushed himself up against his pillows. "I'd love to see it."
Without further hesitation, Henry hurried across the room and hoisted the thick stork book up onto the edge of David's bed. But before he could begin talking about it, Emma's phone went off. She pulled it out of her pocket and sighed exasperatedly.
"We gotta go kid," she said, stepping toward him. "That was Graham. You're mother is looking for you. I'm in enough trouble with her right now."
Henry's shoulders slumped, but he nodded, knowing just how determined his mother could be. She had enough of a vendetta for Emma without making things worse. It was annoying that he'd been so close to actually talking to Prince Charming, but there would be other chances.
"All right, I'm coming," he said.
"Don't forget your book," said David when Henry moved toward Emma without taking it.
Henry grinned at him. "You keep it for a while. Maybe it'll help. It's got to be boring stuck in the hospital. If you're curious, Ms. Blanchard was reading the Snow White and Prince Charming story," he added slyly. Emma rolled her eyes.
"Come on, kid. Before your mother figures out you're with me."
Emma was ushering him out the door when David's voice made Henry stop short. "You never told me your name."
Knowing that Prince Charming wasn't talking to him, Henry looked at the woman who could save them all, then back at the man who was her father. Emma hadn't even noticed that Henry had stopped. She was looking at her phone.
With a secretive smile, Henry turned back to David and said, "Her name is Emma," and then he ran off after the Savior.
When he heard footsteps coming down the hallway, David reflexively shoved Henry's book under his pillow. For some reason, he just knew that it had to be kept a secret. He'd just gotten it hidden and sat back when Mary Margaret walked into the room. Something told him that he didn't need to hide the book from her, but it was already done, so he smiled.
Mary Margaret smiled warmly in return. "I wasn't gone that long."
"Long enough. Did you get what you needed?"
She nodded and he noticed for the first time that she had a large tote over her shoulder. It looked rather heavy. He felt like he should get up and take it from her, like a gentleman would. He also felt like she might well slap him or knee him in the gut for doing it. As it was, all David could do was watch her deposit the bag in the chair in the corner so that she could drag both toward the bed. Once she had it where she wanted it, she set the bag on the ground and sat down.
"How much did you bring?" David asked with a chuckle.
Mary Margaret flushed slightly as she pulled a think folder out of her bag. "Well, I thought that I might work on the lesson plans when I finished grading. There are always things for a teacher to do."
"Yeah, I guess there are. I don't suppose you need any help?" he offered.
She nodded without hesitation. "Of course. How do you feel about grading math homework?"
"Do I have to remember how to do the math?"
Her laugh was amazing, David decided, and he loved that he was the one who made her do it. He'd like to do that more.
"No," she giggled. "I do have an answer key, if you think you need it."
"Better to be safe than sorry. I think I can manage fourth grade math."
"I'm sure you can. Here's the key and these are their assignments." She handed him two manila folders, one significantly thicker than the other. "Make sure they showed their work. If they got the right answer but didn't show how they did it, then they only get half credit. The same goes if you can't read their handwriting."
David nodded as she spoke. "Doesn't sound too difficult."
"You'd be surprised," Mary Margaret chuckled. He really did love the sound of her laugh. "It can be quite a challenge to decipher the writing of ten year olds."
"Hopefully I'm up to the ask."
She smiled again before bending down to pull out more folders. She balanced one precariously on her knees. It nearly fell to the floor three times while she tried to balance the tests on her other knee and dig out a pen. Moving carefully, David scooted toward the other side of the bed.
"Here, set those up here," he said. "You can use the bed as a table."
Hesitating for only a minute, she murmured, "Thank you," and carefully arranged her papers on the edge of the bed.
After that, they worked in companionable silence, speaking only occasionally. It was oddly peaceful for David and the longest he'd gone since waking without thinking about how lost and confused he was. It was easy to focus on the work and pretend that everything was normal. Only, he wasn't pretending. Sitting alongside Mary Margaret, just working together in silence was so incredibly normal. Just as being around her grounded him, so did this.
Eventually they grew comfortable enough to talk about little things. Mary Margaret began telling him about her students as they worked. He noticed that she spoke about Henry quite a bit. A feeling very similar to the one he felt around Mary Margaret rose in his chest when the boy was brought up. It was the same feeling he'd had when he'd learned the blonde woman's name, Emma's name, when she left with Henry. It was a good feeling.
He wished that he could add more to the conversation, but he did enjoy listening. David thought he might be content to just listen forever.
They'd been working for hours when Mary Margaret noticed the time.
"Oh!" she gasped. "I'm supposed to be having dinner with Emma. I'm not sure she knows how to cook. Whenever I'm not at the apartment, she just orders take out."
David chuckled. "We wouldn't want that. Is this the same Emma as the one who helped find me?"
"One and the same," said Mary Margaret in mild surprise. "How did you know she was even there? She stood back the whole time. I didn't even think you'd seen her."
"I didn't. She and Henry came by while you were gone." He smiled in remembrance of that meeting. "I got the impression he dragged her along. She looked pretty reluctant to be here."
Mary Margaret let out a very sad sigh. "Emma's not much of a people person. She had a hard life before Henry went and brought her to Storybrooke. She doesn't really trust people. I still think it's amazing that she agreed to stay with me. She was living out of her car. Oh!" She blushed guiltily. "I probably shouldn't have told you that."
"Don't worry, I won't say anything," David promised, more disturbed by the prospect of Emma living in a car than he wanted to let on. He helped gather up the papers that had been scattered across the bed as they worked.
"Will you come by tomorrow?" He asked as nonchalantly as possible. Even he could hear the tension on his words.
Mary Margaret shuffled a few papers into a manila folder before looking up at him. "I do still have papers to grade and I could use the help. If you're still interested."
"Definitely," he said quickly. "I enjoyed it."
"Then, I'll come by tomorrow morning. Have a good night, David."
"You too, Mary Margaret. Thank you. I really can't thank you enough for being here."
On impulse, she reached over and squeezed his hand reassuringly. "Any time. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good bye," he said softly. Somehow he felt as though he was saying goodbye for more than just the night.
Author's Note: I'm not entirely sure that I like this chapter. It feels a bit like filler, but it had to be written. Just to make it clear, Mary Margaret's part at the beginning starts about the same time as David's in the last chapter. When she enters his room, it's been about an hour since he picked up the book and started reading to keep himself occupied. R&R. I love getting feedback from you guys.
Chapter 4: Life Goes On...
WHITE FLAG! Sorry for the delays in posting this and everything else. I was preoccupied with getting a job and then once I got said job, settling into the routine. As if that wasn't enough, they've been doing a ton of hiring and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not getting enough hours, so I'm back to job hunting for employer number 2. Anyway, my must has been all but squashed after that. But it's back! Or at least, so I hope. Anyway, I'm sorry for the wait. I hope you enjoy the chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Later that evening, long after visiting hours had ended and most of the nurses had gone home for the evening, David gingerly shifted onto his hip and pulled the storybook Henry had given him out from under his pillow. The leather cover felt warm and familiar under his hands. Almost mesmerized, he traced the edges of the embossed letters with one finger.
Once Upon a Time…the words that preceded a tale of fantasy and adventure, romance and magic. They echoed through his mind with a strange familiarity. David took a deep breath and opened the book.
It didn't have an index. He thumbed through the book, stopping when something, a picture, an illuminated letter, a series of words, caught his eye and quickly came to the conclusion that, rather than being a series of unconnected stories bound together, it was all one story. Each chapter was just another adventure. Sometimes different characters were introduced, but they were all interconnected. The pictures were proof enough of that. The story Henry mentioned, the tale of Snow White and Prince and Charming, was just one part of it.
David found that story and began to read.
The world spun as he read. The scenes played behind his eyes like memories. He could smell the dirt of the forest, hear the wind in the trees, and feel the weight of a sword in his hands. Mary Margaret's voice echoed in his ears as he read, the words somehow familiar and foreign. He could feel her presence fill the room as he lost himself in a story more vibrant than anything anyone had tried to tell him since he'd woken up. It was the tale of a thief and a prince, the tale of a lost ring and a fugitive princess, the tale of a battle against trolls and against the truth, the tale of evil witches and loyal friends. It was the tale of a true love stronger than anything.
David felt the prince's aching loss as he rode through the forest to find Snow and it was as though his own heart was breaking when James arrived only to see the woman he loved lying in a glass coffin. David felt her cold lips against his own. And when her skin warmed and her eyes opened and she gasped with life, it was his hear that was mended.
Suddenly, Snow's face, one of two things that had not been crystal clear to him, snapped into focus. The sudden warmth that David felt radiating through his very soul when the princess woke pulled him out of the strange in-between place he'd been hovering in since he'd opened the book. He snapped back to reality with a jolt, starting slightly and nearly throwing the book off his laps. He just managed to grab it before it tumbled to the floor.
For a long moment, he just sat there, fighting to catch his breath and calm his racing heart. It didn't make any sense. How could reading a book, a fairy tale at that, seem more real that the story of own life? The images he'd seen as he'd read, they weren't just a mind's attempt to turn words into pictures. They were fully detailed, like memories. Even now, he could remember the birdsong, the smell of the carriage, the feel of the linen tunic against his skin with just as much clarity as the past few days. He could even remember how much it had hurt when Snow had shot the prince. David reached up unthinkingly and rubbed his arm where the prince had been shot. His heart skipped a beat when he felt the smooth, knotted skin of a scar in the exact same place.
"What?" he whispered, pulling up the thin fabric of his hospital issue pajamas to stare at the round circle of scar tissue on his arm.
His mind was spinning. The world felt like it was tilting around him. Nothing made sense.
A wave of exhaustion washed over David, quelling the many questions whirling through his mind. Reluctantly, he closed the book and slid it back under the pillow. Something inside of him whispered that the book held answers, answer that he needed desperately, but he was so tired and his head ached. No matter how much he wanted and needed answers, they would have to wait until tomorrow.
He ran a hand over his eyes tiredly. The strain of his first day fully conscience after literally who-knew-how-long asleep and the later hour were beginning to tell on him. He could barely stay awake. His mind was still spinning. So little made sense, he felt so confused and his head ached with it. Despite that, his eyes drifted closed and he slowly drifted off to sleep, the echoing laughing of an elusive thief ringing through his ears.
Over the next week, David fell into something of a routine. A nurse woke him every morning, usually from a dream featuring the thief from the story, who always bore an uncanny resemblance to Mary Margaret in his mind, for breakfast and physical therapy. They were slowly, but surely, coaxing long disused muscles back to full working order. He was almost constantly sore and tired, but it was well worth it.
Between noon and one o'clock was usually when Kathryn stopped by during her lunch break. Those visits inevitably left him more drained than his physical therapy sessions. She always brought pictures and little keepsakes with her from "their home" and told him stories of their life together in an effort to get him to remember. He never did and have to tell her that he didn't remember made him feel like the world's biggest heel, especially when he was becoming more convinced that he didn't want to remember. The more he learned about his "life" before the coma, the less he wanted to live it.
The only bright spot in his day was when Mary Margaret showed up. She came by as soon as she could get away school. Some days she was later than others, depending on when the parents picked her students up. He'd almost panicked when she didn't show up until nearly seven on Wednesday because of a teachers meeting that she'd forgotten to mention the day before. She'd bustled in, her customary tote over her shoulder and a Tupperware in her hands, apologizing and explaining that she'd had to go home to make dinner since Emma wouldn't eat otherwise and he'd mostly stopped listening after that because he had just been happy to see her.
When she'd finished apologizing, she handed him the Tupperware, which had consisted of the leftover lasagna she'd made before settling herself in and pulling out her paperwork for the night.
It was what they did every afternoon. Mary Margaret would spread out the papers she needed to grade and decide what he could grade, often while she worked on lesson plans and other grading. They would talk idly as they worked. Mary Margaret would chatter about her class, most often about Henry. David was particularly curious about the boy since Henry was the one who'd given him the storybook in the first place. David hadn't been able to find much time to read since that first night. He often fell asleep before visiting hours were over and something inside him was decidedly against letting anyone but Henry and maybe Mary Margaret or Emma, whom he hadn't seen again, know that he had it. While he was curious to learn more about what the book held, spending time with Mary Margaret was enough to keep the confusion and emptiness at bay for a time.
The hardest part of the day was always when she had to leave. David knew that, as a volunteer, Mary Margaret could stay past normal visiting hours and once she had, but she also felt a certain amount of responsibility toward Emma. It was one of the things that he found himself liking about her, even if it did hurt to watch her walk out the door.
David treasured the time he got to spend with Mary Margaret. It was as though those moments were in Technicolor while everything else was faded. They felt real when nothing else really did. She haunted his dreams, sometimes as the Mary Margaret he saw every day and sometimes as the beautiful princess he'd read about. The latter dreams always made him ache inside, as though something was missing.
All things considered, however, David was doing as well as could be suspected. He was slowly working back to physical fitness and he was doing all right emotionally. His memories weren't coming back and, when Kathryn wasn't giving him the sad eyes for not remembering, he was mostly dealing with that. It always helped with Mary Margaret was around.
"I don't know," Mary Margaret sighed, jolting David out of his thoughts. "M?"
David grinned and leaned forward for the notepad they were using for their game. "Mm-hm. Two of them."
She buried her face in her hands, a fetching blush rising to her pale cheeks. He chuckled. "Get it yet."
"Yes," she said, reappearing from behind her hands. "And I am completely mortified. I almost hanged on my own name." Laughter twinkled in her eyes as she spoke.
David reached for the pad and began filling in the still missing letters. "Don't worry. I would never have let you hang. I would have added fingers, toes, a hat, maybe a horse."
"Is this a game you played a lot…before?" she quickly tacked on.
"I don't know." He frowned slightly, not at the knowledge that he didn't remember, but at the strange tugging in his mind he always felt when he tried to remember something around Mary Margaret.
Her smile faded slightly. She cocked her head and gave him a reassuring look. "It'll come back. They're sending you home in a week, they have to think you're progressing, don't they?"
"Well, you're making new memories just fine."
"Maybe I'll like these better."
For a moment, David thought he'd overstepped. He'd been trying not to spend too much time attempting to define his feelings for Mary Margaret, especially considering he was supposed to be happily married. But he couldn't deny that every time they were together he felt something. He couldn't explain it and he couldn't define it, but there was something connecting them. David hadn't said anything to Mary Margaret because he did remember her reaction to his muddled attempts to tell her much it meant to him for her to stay when he'd first woken up. She definitely remembered that he was supposed to be married.
To his surprise, a shy smile spread across Mary Margaret's face. She ducked her head and glanced down, but didn't comment on what he'd said. "Okay, play again?" she suggested.
"Can I guess, too?"
They both looked up to see Kathryn walking in. It took David a moment to remember that it was Saturday and that Mary Margaret had the day off. She'd come in earlier that morning to volunteer and then come by to see him.
On some long forgotten reflex, David stood as Kathryn entered the room.
"Mrs. Nolan," said Mary Margaret, glancing around. "Ah…um…It's noon already. I should go," she finished awkwardly, edging around the foot of the bed. David wanted to ask her to stay, but something stopped him. Things were already awkward enough.
Kathryn smiled at Mary Margaret. "Good day, Miss Blanchard."
Mary Margaret sent her a quick smile before ducking out. The moment she was gone, Kathryn turned back to David. "I brought some more pictures. It's our old dog – Ajax, remember?"
Sighing, David looked at the picture. He'd never seen the dog before, but after everything, he couldn't bare to tell Kathryn that. So he plastered a smile on his face. "Yeah… Yeah, Ajax."
The smile that spread across Kathryn's face at that was so hopeful that he felt guilt spear through him for misleading her. He glanced away so that she wouldn't see any evidence of his deception on his face and his eyes fell on Mary Margaret, who had just finished signing out and was walking away. In that moment, there was no doubt who David would rather be with.
The next two days were hard for Mary Margaret. After having it thrown brutally back into her face that David was in fact married, she'd gone home. She'd known that her feelings for David weren't exactly appropriate, but it was far too easy for her to forget that when they were alone. He looked at her like she was the center of his universe and sometimes he said things that made something tingle down her spine.
Then Kathryn walked in and reality smacked her in the face.
It was one thing for David to think that he felt something for her. He didn't remember who he was. He was confused and he was looking for anything to anchor his life. She was the first person he could remember and she'd been saving his life when she did it. It only made sense that he would reach out to her. It only made sense that he might be confused when it came to what exactly they were to each other.
Which meant that she should be doing the responsible thing and keeping distance between them. She should be a good friend, she should be there for him, but she shouldn't be leading him along. Whether she meant to or not, that's exactly what she had been doing.
A brief discussion with Emma hadn't helped anything, though it had gotten her to stop scouring a hole in her dinnerware. Emma hadn't told her anything that she didn't know, but somehow, hearing someone else tell her how stupid it was to fall for a married man gave the situation that much more clarity.
Mary Margaret was still wrestling with what to do when Emma came bursting into the apartment late Sunday evening. Startled, Mary Margaret looked up at her roommate. She frowned when she saw the thunderous expression on Emma's face.
"Emma?" she asked cautiously.
"I don't want to talk about it," Emma snapped, storming upstairs.
Mary Margaret frowned. She definitely needed to talk, but she'd been around Emma long enough to realize that the other woman wouldn't say anything until she was ready. However, if she happened to make some hot chocolate the scent would eventually entice Emma down. If she left out a bottle of something alcoholic so that Emma could spike her drink, the other woman would open up that much more quickly.
Sure enough, Mary Margaret had no sooner put a dash of cinnamon in each of the two mugs she'd prepared when Emma came tromping down the stairs. She'd already changed into sweatpants that hung low on her hips and a tight tank top. Without a word, Emma snagged the mug Mary Margaret held out to her. Then she plopped down on the bar stool and proceeded to stare broodingly into her cup.
Mary Margaret let the silence stretch between them for a moment. Predictably, Emma spoke after a few minutes.
"Regina nearly got Henry killed."
Mary Margaret nearly dropped her mug. Of all the things she'd thought might be bugging Emma, that was not it. "What?" she managed to splutter.
"Some old mine tunnels collapsed day before yesterday. Henry thought their might be proof that his book was real hidden down there. Regina overheard Henry saying as much to me and Archie." Emma's grip on her mug tightened to the point that her knuckles went white. "Regina threatened Archie. I don't know how. She forced him to tell Henry that he was crazy, that believing his book is real is a delusion. Henry went into the mines to prove us all wrong. Archie when in after him. The tunnel collapsed."
Unable to sit still any longer, Emma pushed away from the bar roughly and began pacing back and forth. Mary Margaret could just watch and try to quell the fear growing in her belly. If anything had happened to Henry, she was almost certain Emma wouldn't be here and she definitely wouldn't be taking so long to get to the point. Even with that knowledge, she couldn't help but feel guilty for not realizing sooner that was something was wrong. She should have known the moment Henry came to the door and Emma dropped everything to help him.
"We found an air vent and they lowered me down," Emma continued, her voice tight with suppressed emotion. "I barely got to them in time. If Archie hadn't managed to get his umbrella through a hook on my harness, hewould be dead."
"But they're both okay, right?" asked Mary Margaret.
Emma nodded sharply. Her fists clenched at her side.
Mary Margaret frowned. "There's something else, isn't there?"
There was a long moment before Emma answered. "I get that Regina doesn't want me muscling in between her and her son, but he found me and that oughtta mean something. I barely got him out of there and she shoved me aside."
A fierce urge to march up to Regina and punch her in the face rose up in Mary Margaret. Righteous anger, not just for Emma, but for Henry as well, seared through her veins. How dare that woman treat a child like that?
But just as quickly as it came, the anger left. That wasn't what Emma needed, and right now, she was the one Mary Margaret could help.
Setting her mug on the counter, Mary Margaret crossed the kitchen and gently laid an arm on Emma's arm, halting the other woman in her tracks. "It does mean something," she said gently. "Henry came to you and you've been doing everything to be there for him. You've been doing everything Regina hasn't and Henry knows that. No matter how many times she tries to push you away, as long as you're there for Henry when he needs you, she'll never succeed."
"How can you be so sure?" Emma asked, her voice little more than a broken whisper. It was rare that Mary Margaret caught a glimpse of the insecurities Emma kept buried deep inside, but in that moment she saw just how much Emma cared about Henry and just how much it was killing her that his chance for something better than she could offer was failing so spectacularly that he'd created a fantasy world to escape it. She saw just how much it hurt that Emma's every attempt to be something of a mother was thwarted by Regina.
"Because I know Henry," said Mary Margaret, sounding more confident than she felt. "He's been happier since he found you than I've ever seen him, even with everything that's happened. He loves you."
Emma sighed. "I don't know why," she muttered.
Wisely, Mary Margaret kept her mouth shut. Though she'd never actually spoken about her life, Emma had dropped enough hints for Mary Margaret to put together the pieces to the get a vague, but grim pictures. It hurt her heart that Emma was so jaded, but at least she was slowly beginning to see that there were people that cared about her.
"What about you?" Emma asked, clearly trying to change the subject. "Did you work everything out with David?"
Mary Margaret sighed. "I haven't seen him."
"So I'd take that as a no."
"That would be a fair assumption."
"I know!" Mary Margaret moaned. "But he doesn't really have anyone in his corner right now. Even Kathryn is pressuring him to remember. He's attached to me and in his mental state, I can't take that away from him."
"Which is what makes you a good person," said Emma. A small smile curled her lips. "But you have to draw the line, for both your sakes, or your both going to end up hurt."
"I know," sighed Mary Margaret. "I'm just not sure how exactly to handle it."
Emma sighed and grabbed her now cold hot chocolate. "Well, I'm not the person to ask. Feelings and I are not very good friends. I tend to run and hide when they're involved."
"You know, that's not actually a good thing."
"Never said it was," Emma snorted, and that was the end of the conversation.
Alone in his room, Henry turned the glass shard he'd found earlier over in his hands. He wished he had his book, even if it was important the Prince Charming use it to get his memories back. Henry was almost certain that the glass was from Snow White's coffin, but he wanted to be sure. He needed to be sure that he had proof.
Before this, he'd been running on blind faith and coincidence. There was no proof that Emma's decision to stay in Storybrooke had anything to do with the clock working again or that that even meant that time was finally moving forward again. There was no proof that having Mary Margaret read to David had woken him up because they were Snow White and Prince Charming. It could have just been that having someone there for the first time in years had been enough to help pull David back. No matter what Henry believed, he knew that there were other explanations.
But to have proof beyond the uncannily accurate pictures in his books gave him hope like he hadn't felt since he'd found Emma.
Henry grinned to himself and slipped the piece of glass into the corner of his closet where his mother would never look. Despite nearly getting trapped in the mines, it had been a good day. Archie was a little closer to being Jiminy and the queen had lost a little bit of power. Even better, Emma was starting to put down roots. She was staying with her mother and she'd actually gotten a job. She might not have said anything, but Henry had noticed the badge on her belt. He might not have figured out who Sheriff Graham was supposed to be, but the fact that Emma had actually gotten a job in Storybrooke had to be a good sign.
"Henry! Bed!" Regina shouted from downstairs.
Henry sighed. "Yes, Mom."
He hurried into his pajamas and dived beneath the blankets. Despite the fact that his book wasn't even in the house and the shard was safely hidden, he didn't want to press his luck any further. He didn't want to get grounded. There was way too much that he still needed to do.
Just so you know, I switched the timeline a little bit. Mary Margaret doesn't have the confrontation with David and Kathryn by the pond until after finding out about what happened to Henry and Emma. I think that because Mary Margaret and David are in love that it would take more than another run in with Kathryn to make Snow back off. That scene, with a few of my own tweaks, will be in the next chapter.
If you have the time, my sister and I have started a blog. It's the-frustrated-writers.blogspot.com. I'm Lady Aisling, and she's TheLadyTexas. We'd both love to hear from you.