Actions

Work Header

cinder over everything

Work Text:

Approximately three seconds after Emma yells her good-bye and locks the door behind her, Mary Margaret dumps the remains of her soup into a Tupperware container, half-heartedly washes the bowl, and races on bare feet to her bedroom, where there is a dress—ostensibly back from the dry cleaners but not yet put away—draped over a wicker chair.

“Bad idea, bad idea, bad idea,” Mary Margaret chants under her breath as she pulls her sweater and leggings off, stuffs them into her hamper, and begins to dot perfume hastily on her pulse points. She spends a precious ten seconds trying to decide, on a scale of one to Ruby, just how slutty putting perfume on her inner thighs makes her.

This is a Ruby kind of afternoon; Mary Margaret rubs a quick spritz against the rounded insides of her thighs and then her shaking hands almost break the bottle trying to put the cap back on.

With her dress half-on, she shimmies her way over to the stereo, where there is a collection of mood-setting CDs hidden behind three Rene Fleming recordings and the Pretenders and Blondie albums Emma had brought with her. She spends a long time vacillating between Carlos Nunez and basically everything else she owns—on the one hand, bagpipes are rarely sexy; on the other, Mary Margaret has three Tori Amos CDs and nineteen operas as her alternatives—and picks Carlos Nunez.

She’s shoving the CD in and mashing buttons when there’s a knock at the door.

Oh god. Her eyes flit to the clock over the stove; he’s ten minutes early. Her dress isn’t even zipped. She isn’t wearing shoes. On her way to the door, she considers shoes and then discards the idea and is reaching for the doorknob when she remembers, right, her dress isn’t even zipped.

This is an unmitigated disaster.

“Hi,” she says as she opens the door.

David has brought her daisies. They’re her favorites. “These are for you,” he says, shoving the flowers at her and awkwardly shifting on his feet.

“Oh, they’re lovely,” she murmurs, and the small burst of pleasure overwhelms her nerves, which stop jangling long enough for her to bury her face in the bouquet. “Thank you.”

When she lifts her face to his, David is staring at her. “You’ve got a—flower,” he says, and reaches out to pull it from her hair. His fingers touch the shell of her ear and she can feel the blush descend, down her ears and into her cheeks and then it drops lower, to her neck and chest. “Are you going to invite me in?” he asks.

“Oh, right, yes,” she stammers, backpedaling and promptly almost tripping over Emma’s sneakers. “Let me just put these in water. Would you like some tea? I had the kettle on earlier.”

He doesn’t answer; when she turns to see why, he’s pushing the door shut behind him, his eyes gratifyingly glued to her ass. It’s pretty spectacular in this dress, which she’d bought on the assumption that it would look like the rest of her wardrobe. On the hanger, it does; on her, she finds dips and curves in places that are highly inappropriate for the classroom.

“Tea?” she prompts. She can’t help the grin when he tears his eyes to her face.

“Sure,” he says. And then, “Those will keep, won’t they?”

She frowns down at the flowers. “They’ll do better in water.”

Thanks to her distraction, what with her enjoyment of his obvious interest and the unexpectedly classy gift—he’s married and they’re having an affair, she hadn’t exactly expected daisies—she’s penned in against the counter before she realizes what he’s doing. Their difference in heights in emphasized by the way he has to lean down (and down and down) to kiss her.

The daisies end up crushed between them. “That,” he gasps, as he shoves the flowers towards the counter, “is a really great dress, Mary Margaret.” She’d intended to get a little more wearing of it done, but his big hands pin her hips against the counter and then drag up her arms, his thumbs sliding under the straps to rub her shoulder blades.

“Thanks,” she says the next chance she gets, which is three minutes later when she finally has to wrench her mouth from his so she can get some air into her lungs. Forget classy; this is capital-T torrid levels, and she’s about to get ravished against the counter where she eats breakfast every morning.

Before she can suggest a change in venues, he’s kissing her again, slanting his mouth over hers and licking his way deeper into her mouth. It’s surprisingly filthy, all things considered. With his flannel and big work boots and Boy Scout smile, Mary Margaret had expected neat kisses, warm hands, and soft lovemaking.

Soft is clearly the last thing on his mind when he tugs her hair and licks a long line up her throat to suck on a pulse point behind her ear. He probably gets a mouthful of her perfume, but all he does is groan and she sort of melts into his arms, like all of the bones in her body have liquefied and fallen out of her ears.

“Oh my god,” she says when he picks her up and she is suddenly appreciative of how big he is, the strength in his shoulders as she links her legs around his hips.

They don’t make it to her bedroom, so the first time David Nolan and Mary Margaret have sex, it’s at two in the afternoon on the floor of her apartment four steps from the front door, on the debatable cushion of his flannel shirt and her dry clean-only dress.

All things considered—it blows her head clean off. She comes three times, and that’s while they’re still on the floor. Afterwards, when she’s trying to make tea again and mostly just succeeding in necking with him like a fourteen-year-old against the kitchen sink, he presses two fingers against her and she comes screaming like a banshee, her teeth sunk into the muscle of his shoulder.

Mary Margaret isn’t a nun. She knows how long it takes to get to great sex, and it isn’t ten minutes of heated kissing followed by her rubbing her bare back against the floor as David’s thumb presses her clit and makes her purr like—seriously—an expensive foreign car. Sex this good should take months of work, figuring out their good spots from their bad and what they want and how to get it.

David had known exactly where to touch her; she didn’t have time to think before he roughly slid the flat of his palm against her breast and soothed or stirred exactly what she’d needed. She’d known to suck his fingers knuckle-deep into her mouth, and she’d twisted the short hairs on the back of his neck as he lost the steadiness of his rhythm and fell apart in her arms.

Just as an experiment, Mary Margaret gives him his cup of tea and then sinks to her knees, there, in the kitchen, and sucks him dry against the counter, her knees rubbing against the linoleum of the floors and her hips jerking to the soft, awestruck moans that leak out of him.

Mary Margaret hasn’t given a blowjob since college; she shouldn’t be this good at them, still, but her fingers and her lips know exactly what to do.

Hair sticking up in the back, David blinks down at her with owlish eyes and shakily sets his mug on the counter, spilling half of it in the process. “When does Emma get back?” he asks her, and she frowns, licking the front of her teeth absentmindedly.

“Seven, I think?” she says. “But you can’t be ready already.”

“You’re going to drive me out of my mind,” he tells her, and slings her over his shoulder and marches towards her bed. Their tea gets cold; her bedroom windows actually fog up, she didn’t know that was possible.

~

Good sex is really hard to hide; great sex is basically impossible. Mary Margaret is covered in bruises and sore to high heaven hours later, when David brings her tea in bed and they rub against one another, slowly and lazily, eyes still lidded from their quick nap. David’s back would be torn up from scratches if Mary Margaret didn’t keep her nails short; all the same, he has speckles on his throat and shoulders and down his chest and a fairly incriminating one on the left side of his ass.

“This,” Mary Margaret tells him as she presses her thumb against a particularly obvious bruise against the hollow of his collarbone, “is the opposite of discreet.”

“Kathryn and I—aren’t sleeping together right now,” says David, which, wow, the last thing Mary Margaret really wants to be doing is talking about his sex life with his wife. She already feels like enough of a skank when she lifts her head a few inches off of the mattress to see the trail of destruction leading towards her bedroom.

“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” she tells him, because she honestly doesn’t. “I can’t—give you marital therapy, David.”

“I don’t want marital therapy,” he says, sounding shocked and perturbed. “That’s something I don’t even want to think about.”

The alarm clock next to Mary Margaret’s head begins to chime; it’s five-thirty, and Emma will be back within an hour and a half. “I’ve got to clean up before Emma gets home,” Mary Margaret says, regretfully sliding out of his arms. “We made—a lot of mess today.”

It’s a bit of an understatement. The front room of her apartment looks wrecked. She doesn’t remember knocking over two lamps or sending a tower of CDs crashing to the floor, but apparently they did. Wrapped in her sheet, David gives the room a bewildered look. “Did we do that?”

With a small sigh, Mary Margaret slips on a shirt and slippers and goes to find the mop.

By the time Emma is home with pastries from Granny’s diner, David is gone and the apartment has been set back to its original state of order. Mary Margaret, wearing a high-necked sweater and jeans, is washing dishes and listening to Storybrooke’s only radio station when Emma’s key scrapes in the lock and she kicks it open, the bag of pastries clenched between her teeth.

“What’s on the news?” she asks, kicking the door shut behind her. She makes to strip off her jacket, and then frowns at the couch. “Did you clean today?”

Mary Margaret shrugs. It takes serious effort to disguise the resulting pain from what the motion does to the muscles of her back; is it possible she’s strained something? It was just sex. “I got a bit bored,” she says, hopefully breezily. She keeps her eyes trained on the mugs she’s washing until she feels like her expression is under control.

Emma meets her gaze with a single, artful eyebrow. “You’re glowing,” she says, a little accusingly.

“I like cleaning,” says Mary Margaret airily. “Are those apple turnovers? I’m starved.”

“If I spent half my afternoon polishing the floors, so would I,” mutters Emma as she begins to dig through the bag. Luckily, there is nothing but air for Mary Margaret to choke on, and she’s already turned to the fridge to rustle up something to drink; only the milk and eggs get to see her blush.

~

The problem with great sex—other than the incriminating bruises and inconvenient muscle aches—is that, having sampled it, Mary Margaret wants it all the time. She meets David a few times a week, afternoons when her kids have music and PE and evenings when Kathryn has a book club or gardening society meetings and he’s shooed out of the house, but there is a pulse in her body that flares at his nearness and roars through her blood when he’s not around.

It’s like being a teenager, only when Mary Margaret was fifteen she was obsessed with Ian Keller and spent most of her time doodling Mrs. Keller on the edges of her calculus notes, not fantasizing about sneaking into an animal shelter to fuck someone’s brains out in a supply closet.

“I’m a mess,” she whispers, slicking on lipstick and checking her reflection in the bathroom mirror. There’s actually no excuse for dressing up; whenever she sees David, he spends two seconds being appreciative of what she’s wearing and then two more tearing it off. She could be wearing a dirty U of Maine sweatshirt and ratty jeans and he’d still be shucking her clothing like a starving man, mouth pressed against her skin.

Thinking about his mouth, the wet slide of his tongue, makes her shudder where she’s propping herself up with one arm against the sink. She should really feel ashamed, but what she wants is him—all of him, surrounding every moment of her, filling her up and spilling out of her so that his air is her air and she is never without him again.

“This is dangerous,” she reminds herself. In the sharp fluorescent light of the bathroom, her skin is washed out to the same shade as the tiles of her bathtub and the slick redness of her lips makes them appear like they’re floating above her skin, detached from the rest of her body. They feel permanently swollen; David’s kisses are hard and long and he kisses like he wants to bring all of her capillaries flush against the inside of her skin.

Mid-pep talk, Mary Margaret realizes that she’s run out of condoms. As if she’s in a sitcom, she runs her hand over the bottom of her bedside drawer as though that’s going to make some magically float out of the wood paneling. “Dammit,” she mumbles, and looks at her watch. She has twelve minutes until David is supposed to arrive; she has a pot of pasta ostensibly set out to boil, but the likelihood of them eating any time before nine or ten is pretty much nonexistent.

Frantically, Mary Margaret throws a coat over her black slip and shoves her feet into boots and half-runs, half-skids her way to the drugstore. The pharmacist is sneezing behind the counter as she grabs the first box she reaches, which is luckily an innocuous enough set of mixed Trojans.

Because this evening is shaping up more and more like an episode of a half-hour comedy sketch, Liam Whale steps into line behind her, with a bottle of chocolate syrup and an unrepentant look on his face. The pharmacist rings up Mary Margaret’s purchase and flicks his eyes to Liam, over her shoulder. “Together?” he asks.

“No!” says Mary Margaret, regretting her scandalized tone almost immediately. She doesn’t need to look at Liam to feel his lazy grin trail along the back of her neck.

“Whatever,” mutters the pharmacist. Mary Margaret hands him her debit card and tries not to impatiently tap her fingers against the counter; she hates it when people do that. Liam’s eyes are still on her back; can he see her lipstick? She’s wearing the same hose she was wearing the night she went home with him from Granny’s; is he the type to notice that?

Why does she care? She has four minutes until David is supposed to arrive at her door. She doesn’t have time to make sure Liam Whale keeps his gossip-loving nose out of her business. So what if she’s wearing nice hose and good lipstick and is buying a box of condoms? Lots of attractive single women do what she’s doing. The town isn’t so small that she couldn’t have found someone to be dating quietly.

“Have a nice night,” Mary Margaret says to Liam tightly as she grips her white plastic bag and accepts her debit card and tries not to be obvious as she runs out the door.

“You too,” says Liam. “Enjoy it.” He gives her a big wink, and shakes his bottle of chocolate sauce. “I know I will.”

It’s a mixed blessing—the pharmacist definitely believes they’re sleeping together, which means he doesn't think she’s sleeping with David Nolan. But then again, the pharmacist believes she’s sleeping with Liam Whale.

Gnawing on her bottom lip, Mary Margaret darts up the last set of stairs to her apartment and finds David leaning against her door. All thoughts of pharmacists and Dr. Whale fall out of her head. “Hey,” he says, standing up quickly and giving her one of his slow, warming smiles. “I thought you might’ve ditched me.”

“Never,” she assures him, breathless from the run. “Sorry, I ran out of—um, supplies, and had to dash to the store.” She unlocks her door, and her fingers tremble on her keys as he gently crowds her against the frame.

“Those are pretty sexy stockings,” he tells her. “I like the line up the back. You look like a librarian.” They’re in a hallway and she doesn’t have an excuse ready if someone coming up the stairs sees them, but her knees begin to quiver and she shoves her key into the lock and shoulders the door open, trying to slam it shut as quickly and quietly as possible before she collapses on top of him.

He crowds her body against the door and kisses her. He is methodical, thorough even. His kisses say more than just I want you. They also say hello and I’ve missed you today and I want to map out every cell of your body with my tongue. “This coat’s pretty sexy, too,” he continues conversationally, undoing the buckle and starting on the top button. “It’s probably the lipstick that’s doing me in, though.” She’s a little flattered—she hadn’t known he noticed the effort she put into her appearance.

Any lingering doubt on that account vanishes when he sucks the air in through his teeth as he finishes the last button and reveals her slip. “I, um, got distracted in the middle of dressing,” she says, aware that her voice sounds far away and soft. He trails a finger along the edge of the dark lace as it falls across her chest and up her shoulder, so he can nudge her coat to the floor.

“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs into her ear and palms her left thigh so it curves up and around him, cradling his hips against hers. “Look at you.” There’s something undoubtedly witty that could be said here—Emma would be good at that—but Mary Margaret just grabs his face with both hands and draws him down for another kiss, using her teeth to worry his lower lip until he gives up on sliding his hands against the silk of her slip and actively begins to pull it off.

She forgets about the box of condoms, until they’re in bed and he’s reaching for the drawer and she’s as tight as the string of a bow, muscles coiled and her hips bucking up against his hand. “Shit,” he says, “there aren’t any left,” and she’s going to tell him about the box in the living room but what comes out is:

“I’m on the pill,” which is a really dumb response. It should be something like, “Have you been tested recently?” or even, “I just ran out to buy another box of condoms, they’re like twelve feet away.”

But Mary Margaret’s brain has clearly finally given her up as a lost cause because she just tells him she’s on the pill and he waits, poised above her, for a second that stretches on almost infinitely, and when he slides into her, his eyes have caught hers and she can’t look away. The sensation, familiar and wonderful, of sheathing and accepting and millions of fertile agricultural analogies, is amplified by the dark sweep of his eyelashes, his brows furrowed in concentration and effort. She sweeps her thumb against his cheekbone and thinks, This is what it was like with James, before the thought is snatched out of her head and gone.

If good sex is practice for great sex, then great sex is practice for whatever she and David have that night—it’s practically divine sex. Every feeling is so sharp it feels as though he actually sinks into her skin and seduces every cell of her body on the atomic level. His mouth tastes like spiced wine; she’s drunk and her head spins but she can still press herself against his sharpness, run her nails down the line of his back and lick the sweat from the taut line of his collarbone.

He takes her apart a million times, into tiny pieces that he scatters to the wind. It’s a religious experience. Mary Margaret wakes up at nine that night to David nibbling on her shoulder, brushing his fingers down the curve of her spine. “Mmmgh,” she says into her pillow, and stretches her legs until the bones in her toes pop. “I feel really great,” she mumbles.

“Me too,” he tells her. “Did you—that is.” He frowns, takes a breath, and tries again. “Who’s James?”

Lazy and still mostly asleep, Mary Margaret nudges her head against his shoulder until he unfurls his arm and she can rest her head on his shoulder, curved like a comma against his body. “Someone I used to date,” she says, words muffled and slurred. “Ages ago.” She dozes off, and then wakes up enough to ask, “Why?”

“You said his name,” David says into her hair. “In your sleep.”

“S’probably weird dream,” Mary Margaret tells him. She barely remembers James; she lost her virginity to him, but what he looked like is hazy in her memory, like most things. He might have been blond? She’s too tired to think about it. “M’sleeping,” she says into David’s shoulder. “Too cold to get up.”

“It snowed,” he replies, shifting her weight so he can wrap both of his arms around her, one looped over her waist and one pressing between her shoulder blades, above her heart. “An hour ago.”

“Mmm,” she says, and falls asleep to the gentle rise and fall of his chest. “S’my name, don’t wear it out.”

~

The next morning, basically everyone in town knows that Mary Margaret is sleeping with Liam Whale. The admin from the main office comes by her classroom before the first bell to give her an enthusiastic high-five and a gentle reminder than Liam Whale has slept with half of Storybrooke and she should make sure to use protection.

“Then again, apparently you know that already,” Greta finishes, with a wink that kicked saucy in the nuts on its way to lascivious.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” says Mary Margaret, hands trembling on a stack of assignments that need to be graded. “I’m not”—here she blushes, predictably—“seeing Dr. Whale.”

Greta’s usual expression when speaking with Mary Margaret, which is one of long-suffering patience for Miss Blanchard’s native timidity, resurfaces and smothers most of the companionable lecherousness from moments before. “Oh hon, if you aren’t you should be.”

By the time Mary Margaret gets to Granny’s for a late lunch at 4, the news has looped back in on itself and the sheer number of grins, winks, and nudges that she’s gotten is a little astounding. When she was actually sleeping with Liam it wasn’t this bad.

David is sitting at his usual booth when she arrives, thumbing through a thin book and working on a busman’s lunch. She takes the table next to his and gives him a small smile. “Hello, David,” she says. “How’s it going?”

“Well enough,” he replies, and licks his thumb to turn the page. His eyes stick to hers for an achingly long moment, and then Ruby bangs her way over and he jerks his attention back to his plate.

Ruby pulls a cup from midair and pours Mary Margaret a stream of coffee. “Listen,” she says, “I’ll take your order in a second, but I wanted to talk to you about something.”

Oh god. “Ruby,” Mary Margaret begins.

“A little bird might have told me that you spent last night enjoying some little R and R with the good doctor.” Ruby pauses. “By which I mean the bad doctor.”

The flush starts with Mary Margaret’s ears and dyes the entirety of her face scarlet in a matter of seconds. She can see David startle out of the corner of her eye, but she doesn’t want to deal with the emotional drama that is sure to erupt if she looks at him; it’s hard enough to control herself as it is. “Dr. Whale and I aren’t seeing one another socially.”

Ruby smirks. “Right. Of course you’re not. But if you were, you’d probably want to get yourself tested, stat. The guy’s the town bicycle for every woman over 23, and you don’t want to get tetanus.” Mary Margaret opens her mouth to deny again, like she’s beginning to suspect she will into her grave, that anything’s happening between her and Liam, but Ruby has a faster draw. “I was tending bar the night you two went home together—you were blitzed out of your ever-loving mind. Just don’t be a moron about it, okay?”

Mary Margaret watches her own hands move as if controlled by someone else, plucking a novel out of her bag and arranging it by her empty place setting, and from very far away, she hears her voice say, “That was a one-night kind of thing, Ruby. Can I have a bowl of French onion soup and a small house salad, please? Italian dressing.”

With a sniff that doesn’t sound terribly offended about the rejection of her sound advice, Ruby turns on her heel and saunters back to the counter. For a few seconds, Mary Margaret expends all of her attention on making sure that the spine of her book is perfectly parallel to the edge of the table. “Well,” she says, clearing her throat. “What are you reading this week?”

“What was—that about?” David asks. His voice is a low hiss, with just the faintest curl of anger underneath it. Is he jealous? She’s too nervous to lift her eyes to tell. That’s a bit of a funny picture, considering that Mary Margaret sends him home at eleven at night to his wife.

It takes a very long moment for her to remind herself that she’s timid, not a coward, and she raises her eyes so that they meet with his. He is angry; frustrated more so, perhaps, and it makes her very tired. “This town has a gossip mill more prolific than the Daily Mirror. I was buying some things at the store, Liam was in line behind me, and assumptions were made.” It’s happened before, once with Archie Hopper and once, ages past, with a gym teacher at the school.

“You went home with him?” David whispers.

Oh dear lord. “Yes,” says Mary Margaret, because she doesn't believe in lying. “Months ago, when you—when we—the bridge.” She has to cut herself off before she rambles down a conversational ravine and breaks something. “It was one night, a long time ago.”

What makes her most uncomfortable about the silence that follows is the way that David’s eyes feel against her skin. His focus is sharp, but scattered; it touches her lips, her throat, her forehead, curves against her ears and brushes against her hair. What that focus brings out of her is astounding; whole emotions, ones she hasn’t thought of in decades, roil against her skin, impatiently pressing against their final barrier to release.

“What?” she finally asks, lips numb.

“I wish that I could kiss you here,” he tells her, eyes strange and narrowed but not unkind. “You shouldn’t be ashamed.”

Of course she should; she’s sleeping with a married man, sneaking around behind his wife’s back. She’s a wreck of a person. But he means Liam, probably. “I know,” she says, and means it. “You should tell me what you’re reading.”

He holds up the book; it’s Vonnegut, the spine cracked. “Mrs. Henderson recommended it.” When Mary Margaret was new to the school—ages ago; she’s been working there too long, if she can’t remember much about before it—she’d spent a lot of time in the school’s library, trying to absorb all of the reading levels she’d be responsible for covering. Mrs. Henderson, who was white-haired and stern-faced and clearly didn’t believe in electronic card catalogs, had been patient and kindly.

“She’s got a good hand for that,” Mary Margaret replies. “I remember when she handed me Margaret Atwood for the first time. She just about broke my heart.”

It had surprised Mary Margaret, how much she loved the author who shared her name. For years she ate up mysteries and romances and science fiction, running through the library’s paltry stores and then moving on to book clubs and borrowing them from Mrs. Henderson herself, who had a truly massive personal collection. She wasn’t sure she would like Margaret Atwood; she frankly hadn’t thought she was prepared for it.

Sitting catty-corner to David, sipping her coffee and dragging her eyes across the cover of the new book she’s reading—Zadie Smith, On Beauty, from Emma’s incredibly tiny collection of personal possessions—Mary Margaret thinks of a robber bride and then loathing breaks out in goose pimples across her skin. She isn’t like that—she’s not a wrecker, not a demon.

David’s eyes crinkle; he begins to tell her a funny story, about Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut, something he learned in college, but foremost in Mary Margaret’s mind is the first time she read The Robber Bride, fingers drawing down the line of the page, the words ugly and harsh as they rose against her hands. Is that what she’s become? Kathryn is gentle and kind and she doesn’t deserve to be punished—she’s not Regina, for god’s sake, even if she is her friend.

Abruptly, Mary Margaret stands and says, “I have to go—sorry, I just remembered something,” which isn’t a lie, and she puts down money for the coffee and extra for the food she won’t eat and she leaves the diner, frantic to put space between herself and the reflection of herself forming in her mind.

“Mary Margaret!” David follows her, of course, out of the door and down a side street. “Mary Margaret, wait.”

It seems as though they are destined to repeat this tableau. How many times is she going to flee? How many times is he going to chase her? It’s not going to be forever; it can’t be. Does she rely on him to do this? She honestly hadn’t thought she wanted his company, but part of her must have known he would follow, because her heart beats harder and fuller against her ribs. She waits for three seconds, hands pressing her purse against her chest, before she turns on her heels.

He’s stalled two feet away, holding his book and her book and frankly looking freezing because he hadn’t bothered to put on his coat. “You forgot this,” he tells her, offering On Beauty like a sacrificial victim. “Are you okay?”

No. “Thank you,” she replies, polite and a little distant. “I’m sorry, I just really need to be somewhere.” Somewhere else. She wants to be held in warm arms and cry herself to sleep; she wants to curl up on a knotted rug in front of a big fireplace and read until her eyes blur and she needs glasses to focus her vision. What she mostly wants to be is not here.

Usually she likes talking about books with David—it makes her feel like the entire procedure is much less torrid, and considering the turn that the sex has been taking, two steps back from torrid is nice. The problem is that two steps back from torrid makes this a different kind of affair; it’s an emotional kind of cheating instead of a physical one, and it makes her selfish and angry. She doesn’t want to send him home to his wife; she wants to keep him in her bed so they can laugh about Tolstoy.

Maybe he can read all of her thoughts on her face; she’s not a practiced dissembler. “Mary Margaret,” he murmurs, taking two small steps forward and enfolding her in his arms, “I want you to know something.” He presses a light kiss, like a butterfly, against her temple where her hairline meets her hat. “When I am with you, everything in my head becomes clear. I spend the rest of my day confused and overwhelmed and tired but the second I have you, it stops.”

Almost immediately afterwards, he releases her. They’re on a public street, after all, even though it’s mostly deserted, and oh god, she’s going to get photographed and end up in the Daily Mirror. “Don’t panic,” he tells her, eyes steely, and he leaves her alone as he stuffs his arms in the sleeves of his jacket and heads off in the vague direction of the animal shelter.

Mary Margaret spends twenty embarrassingly long seconds trying to remember what she had originally intended to spend the rest of the day doing; his little declaration has turned her into a mess. She knows what he means, though, about the isolation and solace in a sea of confusion. For such a small town, Storybrooke has an awful lot of people, and nine days out of ten Mary Margaret wants them to take four large steps backwards, out of the circle of her life.

Everything is clearer with David. He reminds her of someone in that respect—god, who is it?

~

Mary Margaret spends most of Saturday tearing through her apartment, looking for her old diaries. “Jesus, what’s gotten into you?” Emma asks when she comes home from the station to find Mary Margaret buried in a pile of papers and photo albums and Christmas ornaments from her students.

“I’m trying to remember an old boyfriend,” says Mary Margaret absently, digging into the contents of an old filing cabinet. “I know I kept my old teenage diaries, I just can’t find them.”

“Who was he?” asks Emma, clambering onto one of the kitchen stools and grinning. “The Big Bad Wolf? Rumpelstiltskin?”

 “His name was James, I think,” says Mary Margaret. She bites her lower lip and gives up the drawer as a lost cause; it’s clearly filled with her tax records from the past decade. “He just popped into my head, yesterday, and I realized that except for the tantalizing summary ‘lost my virginity to him in a shed in the woods,’ I can’t recall our relationship at all.”

“Even I remember the guy who popped my cherry,” says Emma, sounding a little impressed. “I mean, he was four years older than me, worked for a mechanic, and wasn’t exactly a prime specimen of manhood, but I still remember him. Eric Weiss. Friends called him Skull.”

At Emma’s wistful tone, Mary Margaret takes the time to give her a disbelieving eyebrow. “You honestly expect me to believe the first boy you slept with was named Skull?”

“Nicknamed,” Emma corrects her. “It was his nickname. Besides, his best feature was his hair, which, it being 1997, was very…” She makes a swirling motion around her head. “…long.” She smirks to herself and rearranges her limbs on the stool. “Well, actually, his best feature was his ass.”

Unsure if Emma is serious or yanking her chain, Mary Margaret moves on to the next drawer in the filing cabinet. “As, um, compelling as that story is, it unfortunately has done nothing to jog my memory.”

Emma licks her teeth; it’s her thinking face. “What make you think of him?”

Mary Margaret spends a few busy seconds digging in the drawer and then, when she thinks her voice will be steady, she says as nonchalantly as she can manage, “I was taking stock of things, and I remembered how calm he made me feel. Being around him was like a lens that made me see the rest of the world differently.”

Without being aware of it, she’s stopped sorting and begun to drift, hugging her knees to her chest and staring a little dreamily into space. “Sounds nice,” says Emma, her voice strange. There’s an expression on her face that Mary Margaret can’t fully identify.

“I think it was,” agrees Mary Margaret. “I would love to find it again.”

“Why don’t you look for him? If Henry’s right and no one ever leaves Storybrooke, he should still be around.” The thought jolts Mary Margaret out of her thoughts; even as Emma finishes saying the words, James has drifted away. She can’t remember his face, let alone his last name.

“I haven’t the first clue how to find him,” she reminds Emma. “At any rate, I’m not looking for a love connection.” When she says it like that, it sounds so simple. Mary Margaret isn’t looking for a love connection because she already has one, with a married man.

Obviously Emma can’t just pick that out of her facial expression, but she must see something. “Do you need a drink?” she asks. Mary Margaret’s kind of drink mostly involves a dollop of something alcoholic in her nightly tea, but that probably isn’t what Emma means.

“I—“ begins Mary Margaret, before sighing. “Actually, yes.”

Emma grabs her keys from the bowl on the kitchen counter. “Give me twenty minutes. Pick out something awful to watch.” As she disappears out the door, shrugging on her leather jacket, Mary Margaret picks herself up off the floor and shoves her files haphazardly back into their original order. She’ll regret the lack of care come tax season, but now is not the time to worry about tax season.

When Emma returns, fifteen minutes later, with two six-packs of local ale and a frosted bottle of vodka, Mary Margaret has arranged three seasons of The X-Files on the coffee table in front of the TV and is tossing butter and cheese into a gigantic bowl of popcorn.

They watch Mulder and Scully investigate their way across America, starting off with beer and popcorn before devolving, mid-season 5, to vodka and fruit juice, and then just vodka by the season 5 finale. Mary Margaret has definitely had benders like this before, earlier in her twenties, but she can’t remember any quite this bad. She is thoroughly, sloppily, mind-meltingly drunk by the time Scully is glaring belligerently at the appearance of Diana Fowley.

“I don’t want a love connection,” she tells Emma, head resting against her shoulder. “I feel like a different person in love. I make different choices.”

“Bad ones?” Emma asks, surprisingly considerate for her level of inebriation.

“No,” says Mary Margaret slowly, thoughtfully. “Just different ones. Maybe bad ones. Good ones too. Like, fuck you, Regina! I’m good at my job! I got Henry to speak when he was monosyllabic and reticent.”

“Those are some five dollar words,” replies Emma. “I’m possibly too drunk for those.”

“When he was quiet and shy,” modifies Mary Margaret. “Me, I did that. Because I’m not a bitch.”

“No,” agrees Emma, drowning the last of her vodka. “No, you are the least bitchy person I know.”

“Look at what we did,” Mary Margaret continues, sitting up to better gesture between them. “You didn’t know Henry before you came, but he was a mess. A quiet and shy one, but a mess. I opened him up, and you lit a fire under him.” She sways a little to the ending credits of the finale, and hums under her breath. “I am good at my job.”

They are drunk enough that subtlety is a thing of four or five hours ago. “You are,” Emma agrees, patting Mary Margaret on the shoulder. “I’m probably shit at sheriff, but I’m fucking better than Sidney Glass. Jesus, he couldn’t arrest a paper bag for littering.”

Mary Margaret offers her a high five. “You aren’t shit at sheriff. You save people. Kids. You investigate.” On (fuzzy, drunken) instinct, she wraps her arms around Emma. “I’m glad you’re here. Storybrooke used to be sad.”

“Like you?”

“Like me,” Mary Margaret confirms. “Like Henry. But now that you’re here, we’re all beginning to work again.”

~

Sunday morning, Mary Margaret is really hung-over. She can’t remember the last time she had this bad a hangover. When she peels herself off the living room rug at ten, the sun at last too bright through the windows to ignore, it’s to Emma snoring on the couch like she wants to beat a chainsaw at a noise-making contest. Blearily, Mary Margaret sits up and then rests her head against the coffee table, letting the coolness of the wood soak into her temple. From her pocket, her phone buzzes insistently.

It’s a text from David. You all right? Never called me back.

For what feels like years but is probably only two or three minutes, Mary Margaret blinks at the screen of her phone and reaches through her short term memory for a promise to call David. It occurs to her after longer than is probably neurologically sound to check her voicemail; she has four.

Before listening to them, she fortifies herself with two glasses of water and a glass of orange juice to wash down twice the recommended dose of aspirin. “Kathryn has a meeting with her garden committee,” the first one says in David’s voice. “Would you like to have some dinner? I’m free until ten.” The next three are variations on the same theme, with his voice taking on a soft, wounded texture with the later timestamps.

Nauseous and light-headed, Mary Margaret is not in the mood to be overly accommodating. Emma and I had a girl’s night, she texts back, fingers leaden and tingling. Sorry, missed your calls.

It’s fine, she gets back almost immediately. Picnic lunch later?

The instinctual mixture of nausea, guilt, and shame isn’t enough to smother the small spurt of pleasure that wells in her heart. Just because she dislikes what she’s doing doesn’t mean she dislikes David, or spending time with him, or the love she feels for him, probably because she lacks the self-preservation god gave to a chicken.

Sure. 3?

That gives her five hours to medicate herself and pour herself into a nice sweater and a skirt with wooly thigh-highs. When Mary Margaret comes into the kitchen from her bedroom, dressed and showered and moderately less hung-over, Emma is chugging coffee from a travel mug and her hair is dripping onto her shoulders. “Dunked my head in the sink,” she tells Mary Margaret. “Trick I learned in college. You going out?”

“Some errands,” says Mary Margaret, fiddling with the hem of her sweater. “How do you feel?”

Emma’s red-rimmed eyes blink and swerve in her direction. “Fierce and a half. Wish I didn’t have a night shift later—I’m going to get a call from the Adler farm, I know it, and I’m going to shoot Pete Adler in the foot.”

If anyone in Storybrooke deserves to be shot in the foot—other than Regina, but with creatures like her, The X-Files has taught Mary Margaret, you need to cut off its head and salt and burn the body—it’s Pete Adler. “They’ll build a statue for you in the town square if you do that.”

“Not if Regina has any say in the matter,” mutters Emma, swallowing another mouthful of steaming black coffee. “Do you want any of this before you head out?”

The thought turns Mary Margaret’s stomach, which foretells an unpleasant future at the picnic in an hour. “Maybe a little,” she finally says, slipping onto one of the counter stools.

With almost professional grace, Emma mixes cream and sugar into a mug, sprinkling in a little ground nutmeg and giving it a quick swirl. “Did you used to be a barista? Or a bartender?” asks Mary Margaret. “You do that very well.” She props her chin on her left hand and takes a sip of coffee; it feels like a door opens between her mouth and brain and heaven pours into her head.

“Yeah, actually.” Cocking a hip against the counter, Emma grins. “Those were some good years in my early twenties; someone owed me a favor, so I spent a year and a half tending bar at this trendy place in Baltimore. Great tips.” Emma is the only person that Mary Margaret knows who is so free with sharing her memories. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also the most interesting person that Mary Margaret knows.

“What was it like?”

“Bartending?” Emma frowns and shrugs. “Like other jobs, really. It wasn’t like adding booze made it very different from waitressing, the tips were just better; and a fucking lot of investment bankers hit on me.” Pinching her nose, Emma pours the rest of her coffee down her throat. “Bleck. Anyway, yeah, it was nice to be stable for a while.”

Mary Margaret got her current job at Storybrooke Elementary directly after she graduated from college; she’s never been anything but stable. “Next time we have a girl’s night, you’re in charge of mixing drinks. Ruby is tired of always having to do it.”

Emma’s attempt at a smile is pained. “Girl’s night? Like, manis and pedis and rom coms on the living room floor?” She looks like she’d rather swallow glass.

“More like martinis and listening to the dirty details of Ruby’s latest conquest,” Mary Margaret admits. “The last three movies we watched were True Lies, Die Hard, and Speed.”

“Well, never am I one to stand in the way of reliving 1985,” says Emma. “Count me in. Anyway, I’ve got to shower this shit out of me and become a responsible member of the community. Enjoy your errands.”

Her eyes drift to the neck of Mary Margaret’s sweater, where two buttons have been left undone. Mary Margaret has to fight the urge to redo one of them; she’d spent three minutes staring in the bathroom mirror, trying to decide if two looked casual enough not to excite interest, so she knows that she looks fine and not at all like the mistress of a former coma patient. She might look like the woman recreationally sleeping with Liam Whale, though, so there’s that.

“Have a nice time on your shift,” replies Mary Margaret, eyes fixed on the dregs of her coffee. “Don’t shoot Pete Adler.”

The second the bathroom door shuts behind Emma and the lock snicks, Mary Margaret tosses on her coat and boots and dashes out the door, stuffing her hair into her newest hat. She and David usually meet at the toll bridge. In David’s defense, there’s no way that he knows that the sight of the bridge always makes her heart shrivel up inside her ribcage and die a little.

It’s 2:45, but David Is waiting at the bridge edge, leaning against a tree with a picnic basket at his feet. Although the wind is brisk, the sun is strong and the weather seems likely to favor a picnic. “David!” she calls out, waving and speeding up.

He fixes his eyes on her, so she gets to see them crinkle with pleasure at the sight of her. “Mary Margaret,” he says, and although his voice is not very loud it is still full of strength. “Hello,” he continues when she is closer; he snags the belt of her coat and pulls her closer. “Your cheeks are pink; did you walk here?”

“Yeah, the weather’s so nice, and it’s not too far.” She nestles her nose against his cheek and breathes in, mouth slightly open, letting his scent fill her head and throat. “Mmm, hello.” His free hand reaches to tangle his fingers with hers.

“I like your hat,” he whispers, releasing her belt to run his thumb along the skin of her cheek. “Did you make this one?” He always seems so entranced by the idea of her knitting.

Before she can answer, he kisses her. She hasn’t tasted him since Thursday night, with the incomprehensibly fantastic sex and misunderstandings and her favorite stockings shredded under his hands. At the thought of it, her body begins to clench. He tastes like tangerines, and the flavor is akin to liquid sunlight.

“I thought we were having a picnic?” she murmurs, plucking at the zipper of his jacket.

He hisses as her fingers, cold from being exposed to the air, reach under layers of shirts for his skin. “God, Mary Margaret, your fingers are worse than ice.” She nips at his bottom lip and goes in for a hotter, deeper kiss, with enough tongue to make up for her cold hands.

There’s not a lot less romantic than the thought of dirt and dead leaves involved in sex, but David has come prepared with three picnic blankets, and they barely have time to spread down two of them before Mary Margaret lies on top of him, her knees framing his hips, stripping off her coat and trying to kiss him and also unbutton his jeans at the same time. It’s really too fucking cold for sex outside, but she’s not going to take off any more layers.

Content to let her mess with their clothing, David slides his hands up her thighs, finally encountering free skin where the stockings end. “Oh God,” he gasps. “Do these—oh, fuck.” Mary Margaret gives up on wrestling her coat off and focuses all of her concentration on undoing his jeans, which have button closures.

When she finally succeeds, the triumphant noise she makes into his mouth is immediately diverted into a harsh moan that is driven out of her by his hands, firmly palming her upper thighs and then slipping along the curve of her leg to assist elsewhere. “Mary Margaret,” he gasps wetly into her mouth, “did you make these stockings?”

“Yes,” she says, barely audible, panting and sweating horribly in her coat, which she finally is able to wrench off, almost dislocating her shoulder in the process. “Why?”

“So amazing,” he murmurs, and clearly frustrated with fumbling, he stills his hands against her hips and guides her down so she takes him in, in a long, slick single stroke. “Jesus. Your legs should be illegal.” With that, he reaches for the hem of her sweater, to dip his fingers into the sweat pooling in the small of her back and encircle her waist with his hands. As nice a compliment as it is, there are better thing his mouth could be doing, so she licks her way up his throat to his mouth, biting with just enough pressure that she can be sure she won’t leave a mark.

There’s no point in comparing the experience to Thursday, but it’s still pretty great sex. Mary Margaret ends up curled against David’s shoulder, drinking Earl Grey out of thermos and picking at the remains of a chicken salad sandwich. “I’m sorry about running off on Friday.”

Due to her position, she feels David shrug more than she sees it. “The situation is not ideal,” he says, running his fingers through her hair. “You do know—that I’m not ashamed of you, don’t you?”

Theoretically, yes, she does, but that doesn’t mean very much late at night, when she stares at the ceiling of her bedroom and wishes that he’d thought all of this through when they met at the toll bridge, months ago, rather than figure it out when he was ensorcelled enough in his marriage to fear leaving. They don’t talk about the future, but she can sense the discussion barreling towards them. She hopes that all of this, the sex and the picnics and the lunches at the diner, mean that he is going to pick her over Kathryn. Losing him a second time might just kill her.

Her relief that Kathryn isn’t pregnant can only carry her so far; the end of that road is coming fast. It is not, however, now, so Mary Margaret pops another green grape into her mouth and absently kisses David’s chest. Being out in the forest with him emphasizes all of the aspects of their relationship tied to being calm and centered and peaceful. “These are really yummy,” she says, licking the front of her teeth and reaching for another handful from their Tupperware container.

“I got them from Renee Adler—she has a greenhouse, and she wanted to thank the shelter for taking care of her whippet’s after its ACL surgery last month.”

Mary Margaret squirms her way up so she is half-draped across his chest. She lazily feeds him a grape, and then kisses the sharpness of the flavor from his mouth. “My hero,” she coos, and he laughs, scraping his blunt nails down her side, under her sweater.

“Taking care of a whippet is no easy task,” he informs her seriously. “It took all my strength, dexterity, and courage.”

“I’m sure it did,” Mary Margaret says drily. “Have another grape, brave conqueror.”

After they have finished the grapes, the swaying of the tops of the trees is hypnotizing; Mary Margaret watches them and struggles to keep her eyelids open. With David’s heart beating strongly under her ear, it feels as though everything is conspiring to seduce her into sleep. It doesn’t hurt that the forest seems to be whispering to her. I will find you.

She might dream it. I love you, Snow. I will always love you. “It’s not snowing,” she replies sleepily, before pulling herself marginally more into wakefulness. “Wait, is it?”

“What?” David grins at her. “You’re so asleep. No, it’s not snowing. Go back to sleep; I’ll wake you when we need to get back.” After a long pause, as he lulls her back into her dreams with a big hand drawing soothing lines down her back, he finally says into her hair, “Tuesday’s Valentine’s Day. Do you want to get lunch at the diner? I’m starting Anna Karenina and I’ll need your brilliant insights to help me through.”

“Of course,” she replies, already asleep. “Always.”