Title: Can You Help Me
Summary: "All I used to have to do to get her to talk to me was make her some hot chocolate with cinnamon. Now she hardly can stand to be in the same room with me." A quiet sigh escaped Snow's lips. "I just miss her."
Spoilers: Set after 1x22, "A Land Without Magic
Characters: Emma, Snow White, Charming, and Henry.
Rating/Warning: K+. Some angst, some fluff, some family bonding.
Disclaimer: Once Upon a Time and its characters were created by Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz and are owned by ABC. Not mine, never will be mine, I'm just playing, all that jazz.
Author's Note: This evil little plotbunny was supposed to be a one-shot. It quickly turned into a three-shot. Oops? Inspiration for this story, the title, and the lyrics used to head each chapter all came from one of my favorite songs by Vertical Horizon (and one of my favorite songs in general), "Can You Help Me." Feedback is much appreciated and will make my Week From Hell better! Enjoy. :)
Can you help me? Because I went away.
Can you help me, or is it too late?
Can you help me? I'm trying to get through.
Can you help me? Because I want to love you.
A gentle hand slid onto Snow White's shoulder. She jumped at the unexpected touch and clamped her own hand over her mouth to muffle her gasp. In the stillness of the darkened apartment, even that small sound would have been deafening. "Sorry," a contrite voice whispered into her ear. "I didn't mean to startle you."
"It's okay," she replied just as softly. Her heart rate was already returning to normal as she turned her head to give her husband a tiny smile. "What are you doing up at this hour?"
"Funny, that's the exact same question I was about to ask you." He gave her a pointed look and then gestured at their surroundings, silently asking his wife why she was standing at the top of the stairs to the loft bedroom at two in the morning.
Her smile turned sad as she returned her attention to the bedroom. Henry's nightlight provided just enough illumination for her to see that he was sleeping peacefully. And it provided just enough illumination for her to see that Emma's sleep was far from peaceful.
The past couple of days had been chaotic, to say the least. Once the purple cloud dissipated, it was quite evident that magic had been restored. The implications of the return of magic were showing themselves more and more every day.
Both Regina and Rumpelstiltskin had gone into hiding. There was no sign of either of them in any of the obvious places, at any rate. Emma had just barely managed to settle the gathering mob and send them all home while firmly telling them that she would handle it. The mob had backed down, trusting their savior to do as she said, even though poor Emma quite clearly didn't have the slightest clue how to protect a town from an evil witch and the Dark One.
It also turned out that even something as simple as going home had become insanely complicated. The curse had torn families apart and created new ones, with members of one family scattered all over town and living with members of other families. As such, any one family could have a number of homes, all of which had been shared with a number of families.
It was for this reason that David, Snow, Emma, and Henry had all squeezed into the apartment Snow had inhabited as Mary Margaret. It hadn't been easy at all; the apartment was barely big enough for her and Emma to share. Moving two other people in had made the space practically claustrophobic.
Henry, still on a high that was equal parts joy at Emma breaking the curse and vindication, had taken everything in stride. He insisted he didn't mind having to sleep on the daybed in the loft because it was just his size. They'd grabbed his favorite things and some of his clothes from Regina's house and he'd happily stuffed everything into the tiny dresser he now shared with Emma. He'd gone from living in a huge house with a bedroom of his own to sharing a loft space with an adult, but he was happy as a clam.
His mother was a completely different story. Not comfortable around people in the best of circumstances, Emma would practically withdraw into a world of her own every time she felt the need to escape the cramped space, which was becoming increasingly – and, to Snow, concernedly – frequent.
"Snow, your side of the bed was cold when I woke," David whispered, startling her from her reverie. He gently rested his chin on her shoulder, following her gaze to the two sleeping bodies in the bedroom. "You've been up here for a while, haven't you?"
Tears brimmed in Snow's eyes but she blinked quickly before they could fall. "This is the only way I can get close to her now."
His hands searched for hers in the darkness. After finding them, he threaded their fingers together and squeezed. "Just give her some time."
Snow sniffled before nodding her head. She still had Mary Margaret's memories, after all. She knew Emma, and she knew how Emma handled things. Even as she and David had dashed to the hospital to find their daughter and grandson after the cloud rolled through, she'd had a sinking feeling that Emma's walls had shot straight back up again.
Their reunion had been awkward at best, and Emma had spent the past couple of days with Henry at the sheriff's station, leaving before breakfast and arriving home just as Snow got dinner on the table. She brought boxes of files home with her and would retreat upstairs to work after the dinner dishes were dried and put away.
When David pressed her on it, Emma had insisted that she had a lot of work to do. And of course, she did, but Snow knew Emma well enough to know that she was using her work as an excuse to avoid dealing with either of her parents.
Conversation among all the adults was stilted and superficial, and Snow longed for the ease of their relationship before. Before the curse was broken and before their relationship was defined and complicated and before she could look at Emma without seeing that beautiful, precious, squirming little baby she'd swaddled in a blanket and sent off into an unknown world, completely alone.
"I almost wish I didn't have Mary Margaret's memories," she whispered to David, "because then I wouldn't remember when it was easy."
He completely understood the desire not to remember. There were plenty of times he had wished that he didn't have David Nolan's memories, wished he didn't remember how David Nolan had treated Mary Margaret. But Snow didn't need commiseration right now; she needed a release. So he put a small smile on his face, raised a single eyebrow, and said, "She was easy?"
Just as he'd hoped, she giggled. No, relating to Emma hadn't been easy, not at first. Over time, though, she'd managed to chisel away at Emma's walls and dismantle them, brick by brick. Now it felt like a construction crew had come in overnight and built the walls back up with stronger materials. These walls, Snow knew, couldn't be dismantled piece by piece. These walls would require a wrecking ball.
"All right, maybe easy isn't the correct word," she allowed, "but we were comfortable with each other. All I used to have to do to get her to talk to me was make her some hot chocolate with cinnamon. Now she hardly can stand to be in the same room with me." A quiet sigh escaped her lips. "I just miss her."
"I know you do," he murmured. "Truthfully, I think she misses you, too. I can see it in her eyes when she looks at you."
She turned to face David, her eyes searching his for signs that he was merely humoring her. "Do you really think so?"
"I do." Before he could elaborate, Emma turned over in bed with a soft whimper. Snow tensed, wanting more than anything to run to her daughter and comfort her. David held her back and then nudged her shoulder. "We should go. You think she's uncomfortable around us now? Just wait until she finds out we've been watching her sleep."
As if on cue, Emma shifted position again, swiped a hand across her face, and propped herself up on one elbow.
Snow gasped as she and David tried to duck back into the shadows, but it was too little, too late. "David? Mary Margaret?" Emma grumbled sleepily. She hadn't gotten used to her mother's real name yet, and the old name had a tendency to slip out. Neither Snow nor David ever bothered to correct her, figuring she'd get used to it in time. "What are you guys doing?"
"The power went out downstairs," David replied. Snow wrinkled her brow at him and he gave her an almost imperceptible shrug, as if to tell her it was the first alibi that came to his mind. "We were just checking to see if it was out all over the apartment."
"It's on up here," Emma replied after a groggy glance around the loft. She threw the covers off her legs and started to push herself off the bed. "Must be a tripped circuit breaker or something. Want me to check it out?"
"No, that's not necessary," Snow hurriedly answered. "We've got it under control. Go back to sleep."
Emma frowned in puzzlement but shook her head and settled back down, tugging the covers around her shoulders. "Okay, whatever, just trying to help," she mumbled. "G'night."
"Good night, Emma," Snow returned.
Snow and David remained silent until Emma's breathing deepened. Then they met each other's eyes and quietly shared a laugh. "That was a bit of a close shave," he whispered through chuckles.
"Too close," she replied, choking back another giggle. "Much too close."
By the time Snow got up the following morning, Emma and Henry were already dressed and gone. A note in Henry's childish hand left on the counter said that they'd headed to the station early because Emma had a mountain of work to do. Snow imagined that Emma did indeed have a lot to do – or at least a lot of things to try to wrap her head around – but did it really necessitate leaving the apartment before seven in the morning?
She heaved a sigh and tossed the note into the trash can. "Emma and Henry already left," she called to David, who had just turned off the water in the shower.
"Hmm," came the distracted reply. Just as she opened her mouth to repeat herself in case he hadn't heard her, he poked his head out the bathroom door. "Bet you they didn't get a good breakfast."
"You know as well as I do that Emma is hopeless in the kitchen …" She trailed off, realizing that her husband was suggesting that they take their daughter and grandson out for breakfast.
The plan was genius, really. Sitting through breakfast with her best-friend-turned-mother and her best-friend's-lover-turned-father was probably the last thing in the world Emma wanted to do but she wouldn't put up much a fight in front of Henry. "No," Snow said, a coy grin on her lips, "I bet you they didn't."
"Make it half an hour."
David returned her grin.
Less than an hour later, the four of them settled into a booth at Granny's. Granny had decided to keep the diner open even after the breaking of the curse because, in her exact words, "people still need to eat." They placed their orders, and when Emma asked for a slice of toast and a cup of coffee, Snow had to bite her lip to keep from telling Red to add an egg or two to her plate.
"Did the doctors say when I can go back to school?" Henry asked no one in particular as they waited for their food to arrive.
The school had also remained open because, much like Granny's reasoning for keeping the diner running, children still needed an education. Snow continued to teach Mary Margaret's class in an effort to keep things as stable as possible for the kids. Henry, however, had not been to school since his release from the hospital, and he was beginning to get antsy. Sitting in the sheriff's station with Emma all day long was really boring.
"Not for a while, I don't think," Emma replied. She felt her parents' surprised eyes on her and shifted uncomfortably. Henry, oblivious to the dynamic among the adults, opened his mouth to protest, but Emma shook her head. "You just got out of the hospital, Henry. You're supposed to be taking it easy."
Snow and David exchanged a glance. Henry did need to build his strength back up, but his doctors hadn't said that he would have to remain out of school for any length of time. David looked like he wanted to bring up that point but Snow gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Not here and not now, the silent gesture told him.
He nodded to let her know he understood and changed the subject, asking Emma about her plans for the day.
"Well," she said, smiling a thank you when Red brought their drinks over, "first on my list is tracking down some weirdo who keeps knocking on doors at night and asking whether or not the children are home."
Henry's brow furrowed in thought. A moment later, he started snickering, and Snow soon joined in with a giggle of her own. Emma looked helplessly at David, who shrugged at her. "What's so funny, you two?" he asked.
"'Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,'" Henry recited.
"Oh, come on!" Emma groaned, covering her face with her hands. "Seriously? You never said anything about nursery rhyme characters, too! Next you're going to be telling me that the lady who owns Storybrooke Landscape and Design is Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary."
Henry, not catching Emma's statement as sarcasm, nodded excitedly. "Now you're getting it! And remember when I told you about that boy who chases all the girls around at recess making kissy faces?"
Emma stared at him with a look of horror on her face. "Don't even say Georgie Porgie. Just … don't."
"Okay," Henry shrugged, winking at his grandparents. "I won't."
By now, David was chuckling, too. "On the bright side, at least now you know that there's nothing sinister about your weirdo," he said to Emma. "He's just making sure the parents know where their children are."
"Yeah, well, maybe that kind of behavior was sweet in the Enchanted Forest but in this world, that's how episodes of Law & Order: SVU start."
Emma was met with three frowns of confusion. She hadn't expected Henry to understand the reference, but she thought she'd at least get a snicker out of David and Mary Margaret – er, David and Snow. Strike number … oh, too many. "Never mind," she sighed.
Snow started on the dinner dishes while Henry and David retired to the living area for a game of cards and Emma carried a copy paper box full of files up the stairs to the loft. As Snow washed, she looked from her husband and grandson, who had apparently decided on Go Fish, to the stairs and back again, frowning in thought.
She hadn't expected it to be this hard having her daughter so near and yet so far away. Emma was physically there, close enough to hear whenever she made even the slightest movement upstairs, but the emotional distance between them might as well have been an ocean. If only Snow knew how to break the ice, how to get through to her. How to reconnect with her.
Snow put the dishes away and, before she could think better of it, climbed the steps to the loft. Emma sat on her pillows, her back propped up against the headboard. Piles of paper and scads of manila folders surrounded her. "What on earth are you doing?" Snow asked as she took in the mess.
"Welcome to my life for the last few days," Emma sighed, brushing a lock of hair that had escaped her loose ponytail out of her eyes. "Trying to match up everyone's real identities to their curse-created ones. Sorting out rightful ownership of property and possessions. Settling feuds that have been forgotten or whitewashed for the past twenty-eight years. You name it, I'm in the middle of it." She absently swiped a hand across her forehead as she plopped a stack of papers on her bedside table. "This is a freaking nightmare."
"Do you want some help?"
Emma flinched, and Snow knew at once that she'd pushed too hard. "No, thanks."
"It's just that I know where I am with everything," she hastily added. Snow raised an eyebrow and indicated the mess. Emma shrugged, picking up another file. "I know it looks bad, but it's controlled chaos."
Sensing that continuing down this avenue would only end in an argument, Snow decided to switch the topic of conversation. "Did you find Willie Winkie?"
Grateful for the subject change, Emma shuffled through some folders until she found the correct one and handed it over to Snow. "I can't believe I'm about to say this, but yes, I found Willie Winkie. You may have known him as Adam Cryer. He works at the newspaper, running the press. I explained to him that he can't go around knocking on people's doors anymore but if he has concerns about anyone's safety, he's free to call the station."
Snow gave the incident report a cursory glance. The man in the license photo didn't look familiar to her but as Mary Margaret, she hadn't come into contact with many of the people working in the newspaper's printing office. She set the folder back down on Emma's bed and gave her daughter a smile. "I knew you'd find him."
"It's what I do," Emma replied with another half-hearted shrug.
The two of them fell into a mildly uncomfortable silence. Snow looked Emma over, taking in the dark circles under her daughter's eyes. "You know, Henry and David are playing cards downstairs and I'm thinking of joining them. Do you want to come down and play with us?"
Emma met her eyes for a split second before averting her gaze again. "I've really got a lot going on up here–"
"We could play whatever you want," Snow offered.
"What difference does it make to you whether or not I play cards?"
Again, she'd pushed too hard. She cringed but some instinct she didn't quite understand made her stand her ground. "It doesn't make a difference to me, personally, I suppose. It's just that you look like you need a break. Your eyes are swimming, and you're clearly getting a headache because you've been massaging your forehead for the past few minutes. So put everything away for the night and come downstairs. The files will still be here tomorrow."
Emma glanced around at the reams of paper covering her bed as she considered Snow's words. Playing cards certainly sounded a lot more fun than what she was doing, and Snow was correct about her mounting headache. She eventually let out a breath through her nose. "War, or it's no deal."
"War it is," Snow smiled.
Emma rolled her eyes as she crawled over folders and papers and off the bed. As Snow followed her down the stairs, she grinned, thrilled that she'd managed to talk her daughter into a little more family time.