Author's note: I'm seriously humbled. When my over-obsessed little fangirl brain made a connection between a song I've heard many times over and Once Upon a Time and I decided to turn that connection into a story, I never dreamed the little three-shot that resulted would turn out to be one of my most well-received stories on this site. Thank you so much for your reviews and alerts and favorites. You guys are awesome. Here's the last part; hope you like!
Hush, hush, everyone heals in time.
The next couple of days passed without incident. Things in town were as hectic as ever and poor Emma still spent all day putting out curse-related fires but she had stopped bringing files home. Snow suspected she was simply trying to avoid another eye-strain-induced migraine but since Emma actually stayed downstairs with the family following dinner now, she didn't question it.
Conversation was slowly becoming less uncomfortable. The trick, Snow had found, was getting her daughter and grandson involved in activities together. It didn't matter whether it was card games or board games or reading books aloud to each other. For some reason, Emma was more relaxed with Henry around. It was only when Henry went upstairs to bed and the three adults were left to their own devices that the awkwardness returned.
As a matter of fact, things between Henry and Emma had been so drama-free that it came as a shock to Snow and David when, as they returned to the apartment carrying heaping bags of groceries, they heard a heated argument between mother and son filtering through the closed door and all the way down the corridor.
"I want to go back to school!" Henry's voice, and from his frustration level, Snow guessed it wasn't the first time he'd said so.
"And I said you're not ready to go back to school," Emma replied, her even tone just barely masking her own exasperation.
They opened the apartment door just as Henry whined, "The sheriff's station is so boring, Emma! The doctors say I'm ready to go back to school and I want to go back. So why won't you let me?"
Emma closed her eyes for a brief moment. Snow could almost see the numbers bouncing through her daughter's head as she silently counted to five. "You're not going back to school, Henry, and that's final."
"That's the kind of thing she used to say," Henry spat out.
The boy's eyes widened in surprise, as if he couldn't believe what had just come out of his mouth. When Emma flinched at the comparison to Regina, Henry turned on his heel and ran up the stairs.
Snow and David exchanged a glance. He darted his eyes to the stairs before looking back at her, silently suggesting he handle Henry while she took Emma. She nodded, set the grocery bags down on the counter, and waited until David disappeared up the stairs before approaching Emma. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Emma replied, though her tone indicated that she was about as far from fine as humanly possible. She stomped over to the grocery bags and began putting the items away one by one, slamming the cabinets and the refrigerator door closed every chance she got.
Snow allowed the tantrum for a few seconds before slipping a box of pasta from Emma's hand and calmly setting it in the cabinet herself. "What happened?"
"His doctors cleared him to return to school."
Why that news had caused an argument rather than a celebration, Snow didn't understand. However, asking Emma as much would have put her on the defensive, so she simply said, "I gathered that."
"He's not going back."
"I gathered that, too." As she set the milk in the refrigerator, she idly wondered when the heft of the full gallon would stop surprising her. She'd gone from buying quarts as Mary Margaret to buying gallons for a family, and she wasn't quite used to it yet. "You know that he has to go back to school sometime."
"He's not going back," Emma repeated, softer this time. The anger was gone and now her voice reflected the kind of concern that could only come from a parent worrying over a child.
Snow turned away from the refrigerator and frowned at her daughter. "Why don't you want him to go back?"
Emma suddenly found the back of a box of Cocoa Puffs fascinating.
"It's just that you're pretty adamant," Snow continued when it became clear that Emma wasn't going to answer, "and in my experience, that kind of certainty usually has a reason."
She turned the cereal box in her hand and began poring over the nutrition information.
Snow let the silence spin out for a few seconds before saying, "Well, it's fine if you don't want to tell me, but you do need to tell Henry. That boy deserves to know why his mother won't let him go back to school."
"I can't tell him," Emma mumbled, her voice barely above a whisper.
Emma set the cereal down on the counter before walking away and plopping down in a chair at the table. A quick glance told Snow all the perishables were put away, so she joined her daughter, sitting across from her. "I can't tell him because I don't want him to be scared." She looked up and met Snow's eyes. "I don't know where she is."
"Regina," Snow whispered, suddenly understanding the reason behind Emma's apprehension.
Emma nodded. "I don't know where she is but I do know where he is. If he's with me, I know he's safe."
"You think she's going to, what, kidnap him? Cast a spell and magic him away?"
"Either. Both. Something else entirely," Emma replied, her agitation growing. "Who the hell knows? That's the whole point! We don't know where she is and we don't know what she can do and we don't know what she's planning. I can't control her–"
"But you can control him," Snow finished for her daughter.
Emma shrugged, an uncertain expression on her face. She clearly didn't like having it worded that way. "Like I said, I know he's safe if he's with me."
Snow took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Emma still didn't trust anyone to help her. Why did she continue to think she had to do everything alone? She had family now, people she could rely on, people she could trust … if only she would let them in.
"Emma, you do realize that he's going to return to my class, don't you?" Emma frowned at her but she didn't look away, which Snow took as a good sign. "We'll get out of school at the same time. David or I can watch him until you get home or even bring him right to you if you want. The point is, whether he's with you at the station or with me at school, he's going to have his family around him all day. Nothing's going to happen to him."
"You don't know that."
"But you don't know that it will."
"I think I'd rather err on the side of caution."
"Is erring on the side of caution worth locking your son away from the rest of the world, Emma? How is that fair to him?"
That caused Emma to avert her gaze. Snow sighed, mentally kicking herself for pushing too hard.
Then again, maybe she should push hard. Maybe it was time to lay all her cards on the table and let the pieces fall where they may.
She inhaled deeply and held the breath, shoring up the courage for the chance she was about to take. After a few seconds of silence, she said in a gentle but firm tone, "A lesson I've recently learned about motherhood is that being a good mother means letting your child do things his or her own way. It means responding to the child rather than forcing the child to respond to you. Even though you want nothing more than to keep Henry with you all day long, you have to give him what he needs, not what you want."
Emma made herself small in the kitchen chair and picked at her cuticles. Snow's words had indeed penetrated but Emma wasn't in any way prepared to respond. Since she still had an audience, Snow kept talking. "You're the one who taught me that. It took me a little while to realize that you don't need a mother, Emma. You need a friend. And if I can be that friend for you, I'm more than willing to try."
Emma continued to stare down at her hands. The silence stretched out, and Snow eventually got up from the table and went back to finish putting away the groceries. She was down to the last few purchases when Emma joined her, grabbing two boxes of butter crackers and stowing them in the cabinet. "You're wrong."
"I'm wrong about what?"
"I do need a mother." Snow felt a rush of emotion at Emma's words, but what she felt most was joy the likes of which she'd never felt before. "I need a friend, too, but I need a mother. And a father. I'm just … I don't think I'm very good at being a daughter."
Snow wanted to tell Emma that she was the best daughter in the history of the universe but the sheer mushiness of that statement would have shut Emma down, maybe indefinitely. So she gave what she could only hope was a nonchalant shrug and said, "Well, I'm still trying to figure out how to be a mother, so why don't we start as friends? We can figure out the family stuff as we go."
For the first time since the return of magic, a genuine smile brightened Emma's face. "I think I'd like that."
Snow grinned back; Emma had her father's smile. "Me too." She almost reached out to caress Emma's cheek but stopped herself in time. A gesture as motherly as caressing her daughter's cheek would surely have violated their resolution to be friends first. "Now that that's settled, you should go talk to your son. Dinner will be ready in a little while."
Emma nodded and headed for the loft. She paused at the bottom of the stairs, turning to face her mother. "Hey, Snow? Thanks."
"You're more than welcome, Emma," Snow replied, touched that Emma had not only thanked her but also called her by her real name without stumbling over it first.
David came down the stairs mere seconds after Emma went up. "She seemed a lot calmer," he said, stepping behind Snow and sliding his hands onto her shoulders. He pressed his thumbs into her shoulder blades in a circular motion, smiling when he felt her muscles relax under his touch.
"We had a good talk," she replied, a soft smile on her face. "Our first real talk, I think. At least our first real talk since all hell broke loose."
Her smile widened when he planted a kiss on the top of her head. "How's Henry?"
"Confused and hurt that Emma won't let him go to school but mostly he regretted his outburst. He could tell he'd hurt Emma when he told her she sounded like Regina."
"The words did sting but I think she knew he'd only said it because he was angry."
"I'm sure they'll work it out," David said. He slipped his hands from her shoulders and when she turned to face him, he fixed her with a mischievous grin. "We are going to eavesdrop on their conversation, aren't we?"
"Oh, of course!" Snow replied, returning his grin. "What kind of parents would we be if we didn't?"
Snow listened from the bottom of the stairs long enough to hear Emma explain her reasoning for wanting to keep Henry out of school and then tell him he could return if he wanted to. After Henry thanked her and apologized for comparing her to Regina, Snow went to get dinner started, leaving David on eavesdrop duty.
About ten minutes later, David scrambled off the steps and joined his wife at the counter. She slid him a cucumber for the salad she was putting together, which he immediately began peeling. When Henry and Emma came down from the loft a few seconds later, they assumed David and Snow had been preparing dinner the whole time they'd been talking.
Without waiting to be told, Henry opened the silverware drawer while Emma pulled dishes and glasses from the cabinet. Snow and David raised their eyebrows at each other but didn't say a word as their daughter and grandson set the table. When they were done, Henry curled up on the sofa with a book, and Emma asked if there was anything she could do to help with the dinner preparations.
A look of mild horror crossed Snow's face, causing a bashful smile to curl on Emma's lips. "I meant is there something easy I can do? Chopping vegetables or stirring sauce or something. Believe me, I know my limitations in the kitchen."
There really wasn't much left to do. Snow had already breaded the chicken and had it baking in the oven, and the cream sauce was reducing on the stove. David had insisted on mashed potatoes but since he'd decided on the side mere minutes before Snow put the chicken in the oven, they'd had to settle for instant.
However, Emma offering her help was a huge step – for Emma and for the family in general – and Snow did not want to discourage her. Thinking quickly, she nodded at the salad bowl. "The salad could use another tomato and cucumber and maybe some croutons, if you can find some."
Emma's brow wrinkled as she frowned at the bowl Snow had indicated. From what she could see, the salad was done, sliced vegetables artfully arranged on a bed of iceberg and romaine lettuces. But when her questioning eyes met Snow's gentle ones, she understood. "I'll get right on it," she replied with a tiny, grateful smile.
"And I can poke around for some croutons!" Henry called, setting down his book and pushing himself up from the sofa.
David relinquished his knife and place at the cutting board to his daughter and met his wife's gaze over Emma's head. When he winked, Snow smiled at him.
As she watched Emma slice into the cucumber only to have David ask before placing his hands over hers and adjusting them to show her how to hold the knife to better control the thickness of the slices, Snow realized that her infant family was taking its first steps. There were sure to be more than a few stumbles along the way – and maybe even some crash landings – but in the end, they would all learn how to walk and they would do so together.