Rustling in the Dark
Summary: "How can I ask for your forgiveness when I can't even forgive myself?" James and Snow struggle to reconcile David and Mary Margaret's actions with their own, post-Season 1.
A/N: This fic was born out of my desire to explore how two people as devoted and honourable as Snow and James would deal with remembering how their alter ego's acted...because while I believe they can overcome anything, I don't think it is going to be easy. This is much more angsty than anything I have ever written, so please review to let me know if I pulled it off!
The title comes from the following quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
The leaves of memory seemed to make, a mournful rustling in the dark.
Disclaimer: OUAT and all of its characters belong to ABC...all I own is a fervent wish for time to speed up so I can watch Season 2 sooner rather than later...
"...so the Prince set off with Red by his side, on a quest to find his beloved Snow and prove to her that true love could overcome any obstacle in its path..."
Snow let her voice trail quietly away as a soft snore emanated from her once captivated audience. Placing the book carefully to one side, she bent over and pressed a gentle kiss to her grandson's forehead.
"Goodnight Henry," she whispered, eyes lingering on his sleeping form for a few moments before she rose from the makeshift bed in the corner of her room and headed out into the main living area where Emma was sifting through a pile of documents.
"Is he finally asleep?" Emma asked, looking up at Snow with a smile. It was still amazing to Snow that this was her daughter; beautiful, strong and so much a perfect blend of her and James that her heart was overwhelmed every time she laid eyes on her.
"Yes, and it only took three tales this time."
Ever since the curse had been broken and their little family reunited, Henry had been the happiest Snow could remember. He was constantly asking questions about their lives in the other world and had requested to hear his grandparents' stories in their own words. It was a request Snow gladly fulfilled, the chance to be a part of his childhood filling a small piece of the ache she felt every time she remembered that she would never get the same experience with her daughter.
Emma smiled in response, before turning her attention back to the work in front of her. Storybrooke had been thrown into chaos with its residents suddenly remembering en masse and the addition of the return of magic had not helped matters in the slightest. Snow had been worried about the strain it was placing on Emma, given that her dual roles of sheriff and saviour had brought most of those with problems to their doorstep, but her daughter seemed to be handling it for the moment. Of course, she and James had been helping as much as they could, assuming positions of leadership amongst the still disorderly community.
Speaking of her husband, Snow's gaze turned to the clock resting on the wall, brow furrowing as she took in the late hour. James had left to meet with Thomas over three hours ago, a meeting which he had assured her would be brief. Caught up in helping Emma and then putting Henry to bed, she hadn't realised so much time had passed.
Worry swept over her. While she knew James could handle himself, the dual threats of Regina and Rumplestiltskin lingering over the town meant that it wasn't impossible that some calamity had befallen her husband. Trying to remain calm, she picked her cell phone up from the counter and dialled his number. If there was one thing about this world she was grateful for, it was the technology...ringing someone was a much faster and reliable way to contact them than message by bird.
The phone rang for a few seconds before her husband's voice came over the line.
His greeting was soft, but something in its tone immediately changed the relief she had initially felt into an emotion far more filled with worry.
"Hi...are you alright? I thought you said you would only be gone for a little while."
Snow tried to keep the concern from her own voice but just as she could tell something was wrong with her husband from one simple word, he could read her just as easily.
"I know, I'm sorry love, I didn't mean to worry you. I...I just had to clear my head."
"Why?" she asked reflexively, "Did the meeting not go well?"
"No...no, it was fine."
He fell silent. Even if he was telling the truth about the meeting, something was obviously wrong.
"Where are you?"
There was a pause, as if he wasn't sure he wanted her to know before he let out a heavy sigh.
"At the bridge."
"I'll be right there."
Half an hour later, after reassuring Emma (twice) with a confidence she did not truly feel that everything was fine, Snow found herself standing at the threshold of the toll bridge. Her husband was standing in the middle, shoulders hunched over the railing as if they were carrying the weight of the world upon them. She supposed that wasn't far from the truth...they had all been feeling the strain that their new-found circumstances had created but somehow she could sense that what was weighing upon him now was something different and far more wearying. His entire form seemed to emanate defeat and it took all of Snow's self-control to approach him slowly, wanting nothing more than to wrap him in an embrace in an effort to ease whatever had caused his current state.
As she reached him she placed a tender hand upon his arm, her anxiety rising as his whole body tensed, his shoulder shrugging out of her grip. They had always been a very tactile couple, and his rejection of her touch stung deep.
"Charming?" she questioned, uncertainty colouring her words with a tremor.
The wind rustling through the trees seemed deafening in the silence between them, the quiet chirp of crickets magnified ten-fold. Just as Snow's worry had risen to a level where she was about ready to beg him to tell her what was wrong, James drew in a deep breath and began to speak, still facing away from her to look out over the dry riverbed.
"After I left Thomas, I decided to duck into the grocery store. I thought I would bring home some of those cinnamon candies you and Emma like so much," he paused here, hands tightening on the railing, "...and while I was there, I ran into Abigail."
Snow felt guilty at the small spark of hatred that simple name stirred in her heart. While rationally she knew that her relationship with James was born out of Regina's manipulations and that she was just as much a victim as anyone, Snow couldn't help that tiny part of her which raged at the thought that Abigail had shared with her husband something which he had vowed to share with Snow and only Snow for the rest of their lives. And with that thought, Snow began to realize what exactly might have caused James' current state...an inkling which was confirmed as he continued to speak.
"She wanted to apologise...and to ask my forgiveness. I told her there was no need. She had not wronged me in anyway, she was not at fault."
James' swallowed thickly, his head still stubbornly turned away from Snow though she wanted nothing more than to see his beautiful blue eyes locked onto hers.
"But I realised...I realised I could not say the same, could not ask the same."
At this, he finally turned to her and Snow's heart broke at the clear anguish in his face, his eyes burning with shame and guilt and a thousand emotions she would do anything to erase.
"After all, how can I ask for your forgiveness when I can't even forgive myself? I hurt you so many times and in so many ways that I truly do not know how you can stand there and look at me with anything but anger."
Snow felt ill...she knew the memories of their lives here in Storybrooke were a source of confusion and hurt but she had not realised just how much they had affected her beloved Charming. She felt as though she had let him down by not discussing this earlier, for allowing the concerns of the town to take precedence over ensuring her husband's well-being. With gentle but deliberate movements she reached out and cupped his face in her hands, thumbs stroking across the stubble-roughened skin. His head dropped, seemingly unable to deal with the unwavering love in Snow's gaze.
"Hey, look at me," she started, waiting until he had once again locked his eyes onto hers, "You don't need to ask for my forgiveness because just as you told Abigail, there is nothing you have done that requires it. You are not David..."
"But I am!" he interjected strongly, pulling away from her once more, "He's a part of me! I remember being him. I remember every time, every single time my words carved wounds into your heart, every time I saw your eyes fill with tears, every time I treated you with far less respect and care that I would usually treat a friend, let alone the love of my life."
James was pacing, his hands clenched into tight fists at his sides, eyes wild with the force of his emotions.
"I broke every promise I ever made to you...to myself! And the worst part is everything he did I am capable of..."
"Everyone is capable of acting that way! It's how we choose to act that makes the difference. David may be a part of you, but that is all he is...a shadow of who you really are, just as Mary Margaret was a pale imitation of who I am. His actions were those of a man who did not truly know who he was and I do not, in any way, hold you responsible...you must believe that."
Snow stopped, her chaotic emotions causing tears to swell in her eyes, matched by those sparkling at the edges of her husband's tortured gaze. She could see that he was still not convinced. How could she make him understand? She needed to heal the pain in his heart just as surely as he had healed her loneliness when he had come into her life. She wracked her brain for the words but only one idea presented itself...something she had withheld from him, not from any intention to be dishonest but because she had tried desperately to bury the memory. It was her shame; the one thing Mary Margaret had done which Snow regretted above all else.
"I, no...Mary Margaret...she slept with someone."
She had not meant to blurt it out so abruptly, but it was too late now...the words hung between them, suspended in time. James had frozen into place, the pain she had so wished to spare him flashing across his features.
"I did not tell you before because the only way I could look you in the eye and not feel like I did not deserve even the smallest portion of your love was to try and forget it ever happened. And when that failed, to remind myself that I am not her...that she was someone timid and afraid and weak enough that she would seek solace in a drunken encounter instead of fighting for the man she truly loved."
By the end of her confession Snow felt completely drained, her hands hanging limply by her side and her eyes fixed to the ground, afraid of what she would see if she looked at her husband. The first glimpse of pain she had seen at her initial outburst already enough to tear her heart to shreds. An eternity seemed to pass, each minute moment stretching into infinity and dripping with anguish. But then, her shadow on the concrete beneath her feet was joined by another before she found herself wrapped in a desperate embrace. Her Charming's arms pulled her tightly to his chest, his head resting upon her own. She sunk against him, burying her body into his comforting warmth, curling her hands into the thick material of his jacket.
James didn't say anything else, and he didn't need to. In that one utterance of her name she could hear a thousand words...of understanding, of forgiveness, of love. Relief swept through her...silencing that small part which had been so afraid he would reject her, be unable to forgive her Mary Margaret's transgression just as he had been afraid she would not be able to see past David's many mistakes.
"You are not her," he finally continued, voice full of conviction.
"And you're not him," she added, head rising to look up into his softened gaze, expectantly waiting for the right answer.
"And I'm not him," he confirmed, hands stroking along the length of her back, reassurance pressing into her skin with every pass of his fingertips.
"I hate this...I hate what the curse turned us into and that even now that it is broken, we continue to suffer the consequences it wrought," Snow said quietly into his chest, words muffled by the fabric, "Can we not just skip to the happily ever after part of our lives already?"
James lightly chuckled, the sound mixed with the remnants of his tears.
"I don't think this world works that way, my darling."
"Then we shall just have to make it happen ourselves."
A ghost of a smile lit up her husband's face, "And how shall we do that exactly?"
"As we have done, and will continue to do, everything else..."
"Together," James finished.
"Together," Snow echoed, before pushing herself up onto her tiptoes to capture his lips in a tender kiss, her entire being shuddering at the depth of emotion which passed between them in that one simple contact. This was the true difference between themselves and the people they had been. David and Mary Margaret may have loved each other, but what she and Charming had was something far more powerful and infinitely more precious...a bond which connected their very souls in a way that no-one else could ever understand.
However, Snow knew this would not be the end of their worries...that one conversation would not suffice to truly deal with all of the consequences their two disparate sets of memories would continue to raise. But standing upon that moonlit bridge, wrapped safely in her beloved's embrace, she knew without a doubt that their love could overcome any obstacle...as it always had.