At this exact moment, Ned was four years, one month, three weeks, twenty-three hours, and one minute old. He'd spent the morning helping his mother bake pies for the Coeur d'Coeurs' annual Pie Off, and now, he wanted to make one of his own. He'd studied her every move, watched as she'd broken eggs and added other ingredients. The little boy had even been allowed the very important job of pressing the cream-colored start button on his mother's mixer. After a morning full of cherry, peach, and whatever other pies they had baked, the little boy had decided that it couldn't be all that difficult.
With the baking finished, his mother had begun to clean the bathroom, leaving her son in front of the television set. Engrossed in the grout around the sink, the woman didn't notice her son padding softly down the hall. She also didn't notice him sneaking into the kitchen looking as if he were up to something.
Until it was too late that is.
Twisting off the cap of her favorite cleaning solution, the woman froze as a crash came from the kitchen. There were no other sounds, no accompanying scream, and that scared her more than anything. The bottle of cleaner slipped from her hands as she jumped up, the bright blue liquid spilling over the tile as she ran towards the kitchen.
Heart pounding in her chest, Ned's mother looked around the kitchen frantically, but her son wasn't there. Refusing to believe her eyes, the woman ran around the kitchen praying she would find him hiding under the dining table or by the cabinets. Realizing he was nowhere to be found, the woman was just about to call out her son's name when a small coughing in the pantry caught her attention.
"Ned!" She didn't wait for him to call back or come running to her. The mother needed to get to her son as soon as she possibly could.
It was a short distance from the entrance of the kitchen to the pantry, and she managed to cross it in the space of a breath. Frantically flipping on the pantry light, the woman's eyes widened in surprise at what she saw.
Standing in a cloud of settling powdered sugar was her son looking as if he'd been caught in a snowstorm. Each time the child coughed, a new gust of the confection would swirl about him. The sugar caked around his lips and sticky nose and caught in his hair and eyelashes.
Unable to stop herself, the woman slumped against the doorway laughing out her relief. Yes, this meant that she had another mess to clean up. But for the moment, she was content to laugh at the sight before her.
Looking over her child, the woman's giggles died away as she noticed the scared expression on his face. Ned had always been a quiet child, and she'd found that he always needed positive reinforcement. To know that he was loved unconditionally. Deep down, she knew she could never give him what his father would not, and that broke her heart. She saw the way her child followed his father around, waiting for him to be the hero he was supposed to be. And she watched sadly as the man continued to slip from that pedestal with each broken promise. They'd had discussions about Ned and how the little boy was suffering. But in the end, she'd realized what she'd been trying to deny. Ned's father simply did not care. He didn't love his son. Because of that, she would lavish him with as much love and attention as she possibly could.
"Oh, honey, look at you." Not caring that it would only make the mess worse, the woman strode forward and scooped the child up in her arms. At the sight of his tiny face covered in powdered sugar, her lips split into a wide smile. "You look like a little snow angel." Kissing the tip of his nose, she was happy to see her son's face light up. She was even happier when Ned threw his powdered sugar-covered arms around her neck and planted a sugary kiss on her cheek. Gently wiping the confection from his cheeks, the woman laughed as her son sneezed a tiny white cloud.
Looking into her son's eyes, she ignored the white powder coating her normally spotless pantry. Right now, Ned was all that mattered. Even if he were to cover the house from ceiling to floor, she wouldn't care. Messes were of no importance when it came to her son's happiness.
The facts were these: Over the next few years, Ned would make a lot of messes in his mother's kitchen. Some she would yell about while others she wouldn't. Either way, she would make sure that her son knew how much she loved him. That didn't mean that his sad eyes were always able to save him from punishment. But it did mean that there was always a slice of pie and a glass of milk waiting for him when he was out of trouble.
Twenty-five years, four months, one weeks, fifteen hours, and two seconds later, Ned was flipping the sign on the door from open to close. It had been a stressful day filled with cranky customers and a broken freezer. If it weren't for the fact that his baking stone was a mess, he'd have gone home and left the cleaning to Olive.
In no hurry to scrub away the sticky fruit juices and flour covering his workspace, the pie-maker looked around his diner. For the most part, it was clean, but he did find a fork lying forgotten under a booth. Grasping the table's edge, Ned knelt down and crawled underneath so he could retrieve the utensil. It only took a moment, but he had no desire to clean up his counter so he drew out the moment for a long as possible.
Clenching his hand around the sticky fork, Ned heaved a sigh as he began to back out from under the table. A small scream from the kitchen, accompanied by a soft thud caused the pie-maker to jump and bump his head on the underside of the table. With his hand still clutching the glittering utensil, Ned rubbed at the now throbbing spot on his scalp. After a moment, it hit him. There had been a crash and a scream in the kitchen where Olive was cleaning.
A crash and a scream where Olive was.
He tried to scramble backwards out from under the booth, but he only succeeded in bumping his elbows, knees, and head (again). The third time his skull connected with the bubblegum-covered side of the table, Ned stopped moving altogether. For just a second he sat completely still so that he could gather his thoughts and limbs.
Heart pounding fiercely but otherwise physically calm, Ned carefully backed himself out from under the table. It only took a few seconds, but it seemed to take forever to get the whole of his body away from the table's legs. Free of the booth's confines, Ned wished that he could just sit on the tiled floor soothing his many bumps and future bruises. But with Olive's scream echoing through his head, he knew he couldn't.
Fork forgotten but still between his fingers, the pie-maker pushed himself up as quickly as he could. Just like everything else since he'd heard the crash, getting up off of the floor seemed to take much longer than it should have. His lanky limbs simply refused to cooperate. At all.
After much flailing, Ned finally managed to make his way to his feet. Though he was technically standing, the pie-maker was not really standing. Arms held out awkwardly and still bent over, the man half ran, half stumbled in the direction of Olive's scream.
When going through the doors leading to the kitchen, Ned was usually careful lest he bump into someone on the other side. But right now, the pie-maker all but fell through the double doors in his haste.
His heart was pounding despite the short distance between the dining room and the kitchen. As the organ threatened to break through his ribs, the pie-maker's eyes frantically searched the room. The sight that met his eyes caused his overactive heart to stop beating for a few seconds. It wasn't until his brain fully processed the room that his heart began to function again.
There was no sign of a crash.
There was no Olive.
There was nothing.
Just his kitchen. Normally the sight of the room was enough to soothe his seemingly permanently frazzled nerves. But right now, the place that always brought him the most joy was turning his inside out.
The fear of something being wrong with the tiny blonde pumped through his veins. In the few years Olive had worked for him, Ned had never been this worried about her. And if he were truly honest with himself, he had never been this anything about her. But then again, she was always there. She was safe, constant. Something that he took for granted. Something he'd depended on without knowing he was doing so.
And now, something was wrong with her.
His feet were stuck, rooted to their spot as he imagined all of the horrible things that could happen to the blonde in his kitchen. The possibilities started out rationally, but quickly descended down a path of bloody carnage. At first the blonde had merely tripped over Digby. After all, it wouldn't be the first time she had. But soon Digby had become a large blender with the waitress's hand stuck inside, her anguished face splattered with bright red blood. After that, he could see his oven that was supposed to be off, switched to on, her short legs sticking out of it kicking furiously. With each vision of kitchen-induced horror, the man's heart began to beat harder and faster in his chest.
Stuck in the middle of what was normally his sanctuary, Ned stopped breathing when a small cough rang through the kitchen. If he hadn't seen the small puffs of white coming with each tiny cough, he would have thought she was a ghost. White from head to toe, he would have thought that Olive was one of his re-animated corpses even though he hadn't touched her. It was an irrational thought, but his mind wasn't dealing with rational/irrational at the moment.
It took one more spluttering exhalation of whatever the blonde was covered in to spur his feet into action. Rushing forward, he reached out, the worry and anguish distorting his normally handsome features.
He'd wanted to grab her, to wrap his arms around her. But when she looked up at him, white powder coating her lashes and framing her confused eyes, he stopped. A foot away from the blonde, he let his arms drop to his side. He couldn't bring himself to touch her.
The two stood a mere twelve inches apart, not touching, not speaking. He wanted to ask if she was ok, wanted to grab her shoulders and examine her bare skin for injuries. However, he couldn't reach across the gap separating them. Her unsure gaze held him in place more tightly than a vice.
Olive gave her head a shake, sending a cloud of white into the air. Though she'd broken their eye contact, Ned still couldn't bring himself to look away or move. She stood before him, powdered sugar covering her hair and skin, marring the green fabric of her dress. He should have offered her a towel or asked if she was ok. That much he'd deciphered in her cryptic gaze. But the realization of what she meant to him refused to let those things happen. After all, if he felt that way about Olive Snook, how did he feel about Chuck?
The waitress' eyes flickered to his once again. She was searching his gaze for something that he was trying to deny. Some indefinable something that he only ever associated with Charlotte Charles. A sad smile crossed Olive's face when she realized the pie-maker was not going to help her. A smile that broke his heart just a tiny bit. Her soft voice only served to tear the organ apart even more. "We really need to get a step stool for the store room. It won't take me long to-"
"It's ok. I'll clean it up." The confusion he was feeling seeped into every word, and Ned quickly dropped his eyes.
"Oh. Ok. Night then." Olive tried to smile once again. The attempt failed. Nervously brushing a few powdery strands of hair away from her face, the blonde grabbed her purse before slowly pushing her way through the kitchen's double doors. Flipping out the dining room lights, she couldn't help but feel guilty. Though for what, she didn't know.
The facts were these: that night, Ned would spend more time than was necessary cleaning up the sugary mess in the storeroom. He would think of Olive, and he would think of Chuck. Slowly, painfully he would come to realize how important the blonde was to him even though she was not the girl named Chuck. He wouldn't confront what that meant. In fact, he would probably never confront what that meant. He was, however, pretty sure that Olive Snook was some sort of angel.
Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- This was originally written for round 3 of lj user"smallfandomfest". (Prompt: Ned/Olive, Snow)
- Katie: Thank you so much. As usual, your red pen of dooooom has saved something for me. All of the carnage is dedicated to you. :duck: