The Distance of Time
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.
Author's Note: Set some undetermined time after 2x01. Contains some inventions of mine as to what may have happened in the meantime, so will possibly be made AU by future episodes. The quote also named in the story is indeed Tennessee Williams. "The Glass Menagerie".
"I'm not sure mom is happy," Henry announces at the breakfast table and Snow has to take a sip of her tea to hide how his remark almost makes her stagger. "Emma, I mean."
Charming isn't fooled, giving her a quick look, his eyes piercing and bright in the morning sunlight filtering through the windows. It is another sunny day in Storybrooke, another hopeful day even if they're still here. At least they remember; memories so preciously regained. At least she and Emma are not stuck in the remains of a land cursed anymore. At least they know the land is not gone. What is merely hurt may be mended. She needs to believe that, not just about their land.
"What makes you say that, kid?" Charming says after a moment, and she has to smile a little at the obvious bond between the two. At least the time he lost with Emma (and her) gone he gained with Henry. That is something at least.
"She looks funny sometimes when she doesn't know I'm watching," Henry says slowly, a kid trying to piece together an adult with clues he's too young to fully understand. She knows that feeling. "She puts away my book all the time. She doesn't smile at you too, even when you're smiling at her."
"Your mother is a little overwhelmed by everything," Snow answers after a brief exchanged glance with Charming. Henry seems to notice that too, but what he reads from it she is not sure.
"But she broke the curse!" Henry objects.
"Yes," Charming says, his voice warm and filled with love for the daughter he's still learning to know. "She did. But we still have to live with what the curse did."
"But that's not how it was meant to be. I wanted her to bring happy endings back," Henry says, sounding bewildered.
Oh, but there are none, the part of Snow that has Mary Margaret's memories almost wants to shout. Tell a story, end it on happy and the narrative has the happy ending. But life still goes on, time goes on, and not always just happily. That's why she gave him the book when she was Mary Margaret, after all. To give him hope of happy endings when life didn't always deliver.
"She will," Charming says reassuringly, already moving to put an arm around Henry. "The story is not over yet. Your mom will have her happy ending, I promise."
That his other mom – Regina – might not have one, he doesn't say, but Snow knows he's thinking it. Might not even feel too bad about it, except for Henry's sake. Perhaps for Henry's sake Regina might even find an ending that isn't that of an Evil Queen. Perhaps. Stranger things have happened.
The object of their discussion walks in at that moment, looking brisk and in a hurry. That in itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but she has to agree with her grandson – Emma does have an odd expression sometimes before composing herself.
"Come on kid, before Regina threatens to curse me into a toad for being late with you again," Emma says. Their sort-of agreement to sort-of share Henry's time that they made after Emma returned is not an ideal one for either Emma or Regina, Snow knows. Sooner or later it will give, and not prettily. But for now it holds and Henry seems pleased by that. Time is all the more precious with the knowledge it can't last.
"Are you seeing Rumpelstiltskin again today?" Charming asks before Emma can hurry Henry out.
"He is up to something," Emma says, the steel in her voice evident. "I am keeping an eye on him until I know what or he gets so annoyed with me he lies to me and I know what he's not up to."
"Yes then," Snow interjects. "We'll come with you."
For a moment Emma looks ready to fight it, then she lowers her shoulders a little. "Fine. I'll meet you at his shop in an hour."
"See you grandad! See you Mary Margaret!" Henry calls out cheerfully as he's ushered out the door, and Snow finds herself smiling at his obvious happiness of having them in his life. If only Emma...
She can feel her smile falter a little and then Charming's hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him.
"Henry's right," she says. "She isn't happy."
"She isn't miserable," he counters. "You told me you made progress with her while you were away. It will take time, Snow."
"But we've lost so much time already," she murmurs.
"I know," he says, voice tinged with regret. He even more than her, he doesn't say. He was left here to make some sort of working order out of the mess that was post-curse Storybrooke while she and Emma had time together (time mostly spent running from things or into trouble, granted, but still time).
"Time is the longest distance between two places," she says, the quote coming to her from distant memories of Mary Margaret's. Mary Margaret found it pretty but didn't really understand it. Snow does, and she knows it isn't just between places time is the longest distance. Between people too.
"Tennessee Williams," Charming replies after a pause, and she knows it is memories from David being dredged up. Perhaps he too understands it better now.
"It's not just that," she goes on. "Sometimes I think she blames me." Emma hadn't said as much, even denied it one evening while they were stranded together, and yet Snow can't make herself quite believe it.
"No," Charming says softly, looking at her in that way that is part affection and part just knowing her. "You do. You blame yourself."
She doesn't acknowledge it for a moment, watching the horizon through the window and everything that lies beyond it, 28 years behind them and a lost upbringing. Yes. Of course she does., deep down.
"I made the suggestion," she says, sounding harsh even to her own ears.
"Yet I did it," he counters softly, his fingers entwining themselves in hers. He could have refused to, she knows. A part of her almost wishes he had, but that would have made him another sort of man, and she loves him as is.
Love. No wonder Rumpelstiltskin likes to bottle it. The force of it can make people do terrible things. Wonderful, unselfish, great things – but terrible in a way too. Send a child away. Lose years. Lose first words. First steps. First everything, and so many seconds and thirds too. All done for love.
Take a bite of an apple too, she remembers, and shudders. For love. Terrible and wonderful all in one.
"Snow?" Charming asks, and she nestles her head under his chin, pressing a palm against the cloth of his shirt.
"I wish..." she says, not sure how to put it all into words. That it hadn't been necessary. That the best thing for Emma hadn't been so horrible. That they all had been a little more selfish or Regina a lot more selfless. That it can all be mended now, now that they're together. That there wasn't a distance of 28 years between parents and child; sometimes it feels an eternity.
"I know," Charming says into her hair, and she closes her eyes for a moment, feeling the warmth and nearness of him. Together again, like so many other times. If they can do that, they can do anything. She can believe in that.
She tilts her head up and he kisses her enthusiastically, a touch desperately as he often would in the time just after a reunion. As she often would as well, she remembers.
"We have to meet Emma in half an hour," she reminds him and she can feel his lips curve into a smile as they brush against hers, the softest of touches before he pulls back slightly to look at her.
"She said an hour," he reminds her, a slight twinkle in his eye.
"Exactly," she replies. "She told her overbearing overprotective parents to meet her in an hour."
"So half an hour," he agrees, kissing her again. Softly this time, changing the angle as she leans into it and deepens it, linking her arms behind his neck. Half an hour. That's time too, and for all the time lost, they still have the time to come. Time to get to know her daughter, time to watch her grandson grow up into a young man, time to love her Prince Charming, time to mend, time to cover the distance of 28 years, time to save the world and fix the curse and make Henry's wish of happy endings come true.
Life goes on, after all. Time goes on; distance that might be covered rather than lost now that they have the chance. Maybe even all the way to a happy end.
All depends where the story ends, of course.