"Emma, that's you," Mary Margaret breathed, unable to take her eyes off of the young woman who stood in the corner of the screen with a look that Mary Margaret had seen far too many times.
She turned and gaped at her fully grown daughter. "You must be..."
"13. Maybe 14," Emma returned.
Mary Margaret's eyes turned back to her teenaged daughter on the screen. She wanted to be the woman in the video standing next to Emma.
"Are you missing the part where she is with the snow queen?" Regina quipped, before she turned back to the woman who was the focus of this meeting. "Emma, your knew her before you came to Storybrooke?"
It was shocking and upsetting but worse for Mary Margaret was seeing her daughter. This over 15 year old video showed her baby the way she would have known her if the curse had never happened. Maybe smiles would have come more easily. Maybe that face would have been for the times she felt her parents were being unfair or her siblings annoyed her. This girl would have lived in the castle, been their actual child rather than a baby, an idea, a woman who had just barely begun to accept that she had parents who did love her.
The conversation happened around her. Mary Margaret kept turning to look as different people spoke but her gaze kept being drawn back to the overwhelming image of her daughter. She wished there was more to this video. If it were a confessional of her daughters thoughts like on so many of the silly television shows Ruby and Ashley delighted in, or just a longer piece of conversation with her daughter, she might have been able to just let it go. Instead, she wanted to know everything about this moment and her child.
What had been at the center of this child's desires? Besides parents who loved her, which fate had kept her from? Stories of Emma's past were hard to come by. Her daughter so rarely shared and what Emma did say often felt like knives in Mary Margaret's heart. Her baby had been forced into a dangerous world too early because of a curse and the needs of others and there had been little that Snow White or Mary Margaret could do to change that.
If she could have walked into the screen and taken her child into her arms, she would have.
"Hmm?" She asked, tearing her eyes away from the screen to look at her husband. Both he and their daughter were standing over her giving her peculiar looks. Mary Margaret did not want to know how many times they had tried to get her attention.
To combat their concerned faces, she plastered on a bigger smile and kept her mind on focusing on the conversation so they would not get too suspicious. As it was, no one seemed to have wanted to talk to her about the video.
David's face got that crease in his forehead he always got when being overly concerned. Emma tended to get it too. She really was her father's daughter sometimes. "We're heading out," David began, "Are you-"
"Holding down the fort so to speak?" Mary Margaret finished for David, keeping up her bright expression and tone. She wasn't certain if his plan was to ask her what she was planning on doing or if she was okay. She would rather have the latter conversation when she had something to say. "Yes. Neal and I are good," she turned to look at her son, still asleep peacefully in his stroller, and thoroughly grateful she had this time to spend with him. Everyone may have thought her crazy or over-protective or unable to find distance but she did not wish to miss anything.
David and Emma were still looking at her as if they were not sure they knew what to do with her. She looked between the two of them. "Anything in particular you want me to do?"
Emma stopped staring at her with a shake of her head, and Mary Margaret wanted to stand and close the distance between them as Emma walked to her desk and began preparing her service revolver to be holstered. "No. We've got this covered."
There was so much Mary Margaret wanted to talk to her daughter about. It had been easier when Emma had just been her friend and roommate instead of them sharing the knowledge of their true relationship. Clearly, from the way her daughter stood stiffly and the way she would not look at either of her parents. Mary Margaret wished she had the words to help her beautiful, strong girl but Emma already had enough disdain for her optimism. Ultimately, they both wanted to know what the Snow Queen's agenda was and why she had been around to take care of Emma. The only way they would get answers was if Mary Margaret let Emma go.
She stood and glanced around the room. The two boxes off to the side of Emma's desk stood half open, the hint of things inside poking out the top as if they had both been rifled through. "I can look over stuff with a fresh eye," Mary Margaret offered. With a mother's eye was what she thought, however that would not help her case with either of them. "I might catch something you've missed."
Going through her daughter's things was, Mary Margaret thought, a mother's right, even when their children felt otherwise. It was different when your daughter was a grown woman.
Emma sighed and turned to look at Mary Margaret. There was exhaustion and a lack of belief in Emma's eyes that "I don't see how. We've been through these things with a fine-tooth comb, but if you want to..."
"Yes!" She exclaimed. Realizing that she had probably sounded far too eager, Mary Margaret tried tempering her excitement with a soft smile. "It's not a problem. I'll let you know if I find anything." With one last bright smile for both of them, she said, "Radio if you need help."
The looks they gave her said they wouldn't even if they needed to. Which was fine. Her daughter had given her permission to go through her childhood things. There was little else she needed today.
Making her way to the boxes, Mary Margaret gave a more honest, soft smile to her grandson. "Henry, you want to help?"
He gave her an understanding smile as he lifted his bag over his shoulder. "Thanks grandma, but I've got places to be."
"Alright, sweetheart." Mary Margaret opened her arms and Henry came in for a hug. She took a moment to catalogue the weight and feel and smell of him as well. She leaned back and took a look at Henry who just seemed to be getting bigger. "Stay safe."
Left alone, the first thing Snow grabbed was the plush, knitted blanket she had wrapped her first-born in. It was the first and last act of motherhood she had done before handing her daughter off to be placed in a magic tree. Lifting it to her face, she let the soft, fluffy knit brush against her cheek. How, thirty years later, did it still smell of the castle and Emma? It made her heart and stomach ache.
She placed the blanket over her shoulder and began to look through the box. There were small things that her daughter would have been able to collect while she traveled. Like Emma, as a young woman, Snow had tramped all over the world, looking for people and places to be temporary safe harbors while she escaped her step-mother's reach. Only the most precious and easy to carry items had stayed with her. There were keychains, a bracelet, and a picture of Neal – which made Mary Margaret wish to see the young man who had been the first love of Emma's life.
Emma had been right; there wasn't much in these cardboard boxes that made her past with the Snow Queen clear. It did, however, show a small glimpse into Emma's life. Mary Margaret did not know all the references or what everything meant, but she at least had a small idea of what was important to her baby girl.
Turning back to the screen, young Emma's frustrated face stared back at her. While she had known Emma as a baby and now again as an adult, the sight of her daughter as a teen was entirely different. Snow had accepted, mostly, when she gave birth too early, that her daughter would grow up without her. Consciously, she had known she would miss birthdays, milestones and shaping the person Emma would become. Since getting her memories back, Mary Margaret had accepted this woman her age was her daughter.
Looking back at who Emma Swan had been, that had never been a thought in Mary Margaret's mind. She loved her daughter entirely for who she was. Still, seeing a real, living girl that had been her daughter...
Mary Margaret did not necessarily want to change it. She wouldn't wish away Henry or Neal or the lives they had all made since the curse. It wasn't fair. But neither was getting to know about your daughter's childhood through a box full of random trinkets.
Giving one last look down at the box, Mary Margaret put everything back but the blanket and walked back over to the camcorder. Hitting a button of the side of the device, Mary Margaret rewound the tape to the beginning before pressing play. Her young daughter's face took up most of the screen. Another, dark haired girl was on the tape with her, but Mary Margaret's eyes were only for her baby. Not that she was such a baby here. She did seem young and foolish and delightfully free.
Hot tears were falling down Mary Margaret's face before the video is fading out. As soon as the screen went all snowy, she rewound it and watched it again. It was not as if the video gave her any new information. Nothing of great importance was shown. This was her daughter, though, the way she looked, the way her eyes sparkled and crinkled at the corners like David's.
Snow White had had plans for Emma. Even knowing that they would not come true, she had imagined these kinds of days with her own child, smiling, laughing, and enjoying themselves. To know that she had been happy was a joy, but to have lost out on the chance to be with her, to share in those moments...
When she was watching the entire, short video again for who knew how many times, a voice cut through the room. "David called and said you might want lunch."
Mary Margaret's head snapped up to see her best friend standing in the doorway, a shirt on that cut low into her cleavage and a plastic bag clutched in her hands.
Typical David. He knew something was off but couldn't figure out what and was too focused on finding the Snow Queen to stay and figure it out. When in doubt, send Ruby. "It smells good."
"Granny's lasagna, always a winner." Ruby unceremoniously let the box hit the counter and placed a hand over her stocking and denim covered hip. "What are you doing?"
Without looking at the blanket draped over her arm, Mary Margaret gestured to the boxes and the screen behind her as she spoke. "Oh, helping with the investigation. Looking through Emma's things and this video and trying to figure out how she got connected with the Snow Queen."
"Or trying to learn more about your daughter."
Tears pricked Mary Margaret's eyes. This woman had known her through what felt like a million lifetimes. Ruby also knew her better than probably anyone, except maybe David. Ruby was always there of her, especially at her lowest. Turning away from Ruby, Mary Margaret stared at the screen again. "Look at my daughter, Ruby. Isn't she beautiful?"
Ruby's arms came around her from behind and Mary Margaret felt her friend's chin poke against the top of her head. "I would have loved being that girl's Aunt Ruby."
Laughing and swiping at tears, Mary Margaret admitted. "She likely would have gone to you with all of the things she refused to tell David or me."
"And I would have given her advice that involved having the best time possible and following her heart."
Mary Margaret rolled her eyes and leaned back into her friend's embrace. "You already do that."
"Yes," Ruby insisted, as long manicured finger shot past Mary Margaret's head and pointing at the grinning face on the screen. "But that girl would have totally listened to me every time."
Mary Margaret swiveled the chair she sat in to face her son and Ruby shuffled with her. "Neal," Mary Margaret instructed with a smile, "You are going to be polite to Aunt Ruby but you will always trust your mother in all things and be a very good boy."
She did not need to see Ruby's face to see the wolfish smile on it. "We will have so much fun, Neal. You have no idea."
It was hard to believe that her children would grow up so far apart from each other. Still, reminiscing on the past was not going to do anyone any good. "Let's eat and then I'll feed Neal."
Talking with Ruby was helpful. Playing with Neal was even more so. Though the sting of not having these moments with Emma came ever sharper when contrasted with Neal's existence. Snow had wanted this so badly with her daughter, her eldest. While she had sacrificed both of their happiness for the good of their people, she still wished there could have been another way.
"Hey," her daughter's voice brought her out of her thoughts and back into the world. "You're still here."
Mary Margaret cuddled Neal close to her chest and wished for things she couldn't have. Giving her eldest a sad smile, she said. "I said I would hold down the fort." Something in Emma's hand caught her eye. "What's that?"
Emma looked puzzled for a minute before glancing down at her hand. She lifted the folder that was stuffed to nearly overflowing. "This?" A flood of emotions crossed her daughter's face before settling into the mask that Mary Margaret had come to know far too well. "Oh it's just a file?"
"Oh," was the most intelligent thing she could come up with. Standing, Mary Margaret settled a sleeping Neal back into his carriage. Sliding her hands from beneath his warm soft back, she was grateful that he didn't wake up. Straightening she turned to her daughter. "What's in it?"
Emma gave the shrug that Mary Margaret had come to know meant that Emma cared far more than she wanted anyone else to know. The blond also would not look her in the eye. "Just stuff. My stuff. The Snow Queen had it locked in her truck." Emma lifted the folder and frowned at it. "I think she wanted me to see it."
A few steps closed the distance between them. Not for the first time, Mary Margaret felt like her request was going to impose upon her daughter. Still, she couldn't stop herself from asking. "Can I…?" She trailed off as she realized her hand had lifted towards it. "Would you mind if I…?"
Her voice cracked before she could finish asking the question and Mary Margaret knew if she tried to ask again, she would surely be in tears.
Thankfully, Emma understands and lifts the folder where Mary Margaret can easily take it. "Sure," she tells her, and gives another casual shrug.
Holding the folder as if it were the most fragile, precious object she could ever find (and really, wasn't it) Mary Margaret opened the file. Sitting inside was a painting, a landscape that was rough and nothing like the painting lessons that Emma would have received growing up a princess back home, but a tangible thing. "Oh, Emma, this is beautiful." Tears were hanging in her eyes as she looked up at her child, "You did this."
Another casual shrug was what Mary Margaret got in return as well as the awkward foot shuffle that Emma was fond of. "I guess. I don't remember painting it or anything."
Mary Margaret flipped it aside and continued looking through the contents. As she did, she took a seat on one of the desks in the police station. There were more pictures, writing pieces, cards and a report card. She opened and read the words scrawled there: Thank you for being the family I never had.
She had wanted, more than anything, for her daughter to be loved. If she were honest, in her heart of hearts, she had wanted Emma to be loved by her own mother. Having Emma, any version of Emma, feel unloved by her, was a continual blow. Even with the knowledge that Emma had, mostly, forgiven her for her decision, it still weighed heavily on Mary Margaret's heart.
Feeling the watchful eyes of her eldest child on her, Mary Margaret closed the card and put it back amongst the artwork and the "Wow. This is…" Mary Margaret swallowed against the tears. One escaped and fell down her cheek.
"She actually cared about me," Emma whispered, sitting down next to her mother on the edge of the desk. "Whatever else…you don't keep a file like that on a kid unless they matter."
Mary Margaret nodded along with her daughter's words. "No, you don't."
They sat together in silence, both staring at the folder and its contents. There were so many things Mary Margaret wanted to say, but she wasn't sure she had a right to say any of it. They all started exactly the same way, however.
"Emma, I'm sorry—"
"Mom, no," Emma interrupted, "We've been over this."
"I'm still Sorry we put so much on you; making you into the savior. It wasn't fair and you deserved…Gods, you deserved this your whole life and I… I hate her. Not for what she's doing now but for having ever gotten to really mother you." Her bitter laugh was strangled by her tears, "Which is awful. It's awful and I'm sorry that I wish I had been the one to save your things and get cards and it's selfish."
Sadness enveloped her as she thought back to the day she had Emma and had to give her up. "I wanted you to feel loved and for at least a little while, you did."
Emma blew air out of her mouth and twitched her hair out of her face. "Well, she stole my memories, so it's not like I even got to hold on to those."
"You can hold onto this. It may not be much but it's something."
"If you want it—"
She pressed the folder back into Emma's hands, no matter how much she wanted to snatch it up and pour over it for hours, cataloguing every detail of a few months of her daughter's life. Truth was, it didn't belong to her. She had given up that right the moment she had handed Emma over to Charming to put into the tree. "No, it's yours. They're your things and your memories, even if you don't have them. That file belongs to you."
The glass door swung open, revealing David. "I did a last sweep of the town and everything seems quiet. There's no change in the wall and nothing really going on." Finally looking at the two of them, he asked, "Everything alright?"
Forcing a smile onto her face and wiping away the rest of her tears, Mary Margaret straightened. "Yes. Emma was just showing me what she found in the truck."
David frowned, letting her know that he knew she was not fine. Mary Margaret shook her head at her husband. She would have another good cry over it at home, in bed, where he could hold her. She had fallen apart enough in front of her daughter for one day. Considering how little her daughter liked sharing feelings, Mary Margaret was certain she would prefer both of her parents out of her hair and the station alone for the night.
"I can take the night shift if you want," David offered to Emma. "It's been a long day."
Emma shook her head in return. "No. I want to finish up some work." Lifting the folder, she gave a sardonic grin. "Evidence to catalogue."
Mary Margaret turned back to her daughter and wrapped her arms tightly around Emma. She could feel the tenseness in Emma's body and the surprise, where her arms dangled for a moment, before she relaxed into the hug and returned it. "I love you," she whispered to her daughter, "More than you could possibly know."
Releasing her, Mary Margaret walked over to collect the diaper bag and stroller where Neal slept. "Call if you need anything," not that she would, "and we'll get together soon."
David wrapped his arm around her shoulder, and more tellingly, she let him. Mary Margaret did not look back to her daughter, whom she was sure was straightening things so as to not watch her parents too carefully. They could not take back the time or memories lost. Mary Margaret just eventually hoped they could all forgive the cost. Glancing down at her sleeping son, she was grateful the universe had given her a second chance to get parenting right. She wasn't entirely sure she deserved it.