That Dawning Light
"What makes you so sure?"
"This does. And I know it better than anyone."
The words are a comfort to her, as her body evades sleep and her dreams desert her mind. Emma just wants desperately to drop off, like the eleven-year-old lump snoring softly next to her, but whenever she tries, all she can see is a pair of cerulean eyes that she's pretty sure will haunt her until she is old and gray, while they stare at her from a much younger face.
A knot lodges in her throat and tears sting her eyes, but she knows he's just a few blocks away, sleeping in a bed that was lovingly made by his father. She knows this and yet she can't quite accept it, because August, her August is gone. And there's no getting him back.
It makes her think about that daydream she sometimes lets herself imagine, of waking up one morning to find herself young, with her whole life ahead of her. It's tempting, to be sure, but it's meant only for dreams. For she wouldn't give up who she is, even for the chance to redo her childhood with her parents beside her.
And perhaps the most amazing thing is that she knows they wouldn't trade one for the other, either.
Thinking that perhaps a change in scenery will be more conducive than counting sheep, Emma wanders down into the living room, minding the creaking stair, and revels in the silence of the place.
With four people living here, it's tough to find a moment of quiet, but she closes her eyes and inhales the scent that is so thoroughly family:her mother's cinnamon and her father's leather polish; Henry's penchant for peanut butter, and the perpetual scent of pine that at least one of them ends up carrying in from the woods.
She's distracted by the moonlight bouncing off something on one of the bookshelves, which is why she doesn't immediately notice David come through the curtain. She's in the shadows, in the corner by the door, and she takes a moment to watch him as he pads to the kitchen completely unguarded. She bites back a smile and tries to think of something witty to say, still finding the sight of Prince Charming in his peejays amusing, but something tells her to hold her tongue a minute more.
With his back to her, he puts the kettle on the stove and rests his palms on the counter, letting his head hang. It's as if the entire weight of the world rests on his shoulders, and Emma briefly wonders if that's the price to pay to be leader, husband, and father all rolled into one.
It's an odd role reversal, given his habit of scaring her in the wee hours of the morning, but she manages to whisper, "Hey," without frightening him too badly.
"Hi," he quietly replies, squinting his eyes to try and make her out in the darkness. "What, are you just lurking there? Waiting for some unsuspecting family member?"
His jokes are so different from the defeated man she saw not moments ago, but still she smiles, even if it doesn't quite reach her eyes. He tries so hard for her and it makes her heart hurt.
Before she can lose her nerve, she walks up to him and takes him by the arm, steering him to a stool, and gently pushing him down onto it.
"Emma, what – ?"
"It's my turn to make you tea."
"I didn't realize we were trading off."
She glares at him, wondering if his sarcasm is the result of spending too much time around her, or if he's always had it. It makes her eager to know what other traits she might have inherited. Pulling down two mugs, she sets about getting the tea bags ready and she can practically feel his gaze boring into her back.
"I'm fine," she answers to the question he never asked.
She spins around, knowing eye contact will further drive home the untruth. "Yes."
"Damn." It takes the amused look on his face to make her realize she's said it out loud.
"You might fool your mother, but not me."
"And here I thought you were the more corruptible one." She's treading on thin ice, but she says it anyway. "At least when it came to me."
Something soft passes over his tired features as he replies, "I said you couldn't fool me. Not that I wouldn't let you get away with it."
She turns back to the kettle to hide the bright blush that flushes her cheeks.
He's said it a million times, but she still can't stop the thrill she feels when he says her name. "Yeah?"
"Are you really okay?"
She takes a moment, letting the tea bag steep, before she turns and places the mug in front of him, resting her elbows on the counter.
"Has anyone bothered to ask how you are?" She says it without malice or accusation, but she can practically see the moment his walls go up. His back straightens, his eyes dim, and his features harden.
"I've heard that a lot tonight."
"Emma – "
It's a silent standoff, one she refuses to lose as father and daughter stare each other down with eyes one inherited from the other. Finally, David blinks, and the wall he put with surprising speed comes down with shocking ease. He shakes his head and his shoulders slump once more as he pinches the bridge of his nose.
"Your mother informed me earlier that she went to Regina's – "
"What?!" Emma almost yells and David can't help but chuckle.
"That's what I said."
"But – why? Regina could have killed her."
"Yeah," David says, a humorless smile on his face and tears clouding his eyes. "That's what she wanted."
Silence hangs heavy in the air because Emma has absolutely nothing to say. Actually, she has a million things she wants to say, but she doesn't know where to start. David seems to sense her distress, as most fathers do, presumably, and he places his hand on hers.
That's not how this was supposed to go. She was supposed to be comforting him.
"She couldn't live with the guilt. So she went to end it. And…" he trails off, taking a deep shuddering breath. Emma flips her hand, so her palm is flush with his. "And Regina took her heart."
Her grip on him tightens, and he holds on just as tightly.
"Her heart was darkened, so Regina put it back, and told Snow that she would bring about her own end."
"But she wouldn't."
"And she won't." David seems so sure of this, so positive that Snow will be fine, and Emma can't help wondering what has his faith so shaken. The question is just on the tip of her tongue, but just as she's about to give it voice, he continues. "The thing is – I can't live without her. I know I can't." He says it so matter-of-factly and yet it steals her breath. "When Regina poisoned her, I felt it. It felt like she had a hand around my heart," he presses his free hand to his chest, "and she squeezed so hard."
Something sharps twists within Emma, thinking of Graham and the heart that should have been hers. The heart that was hers, if only for a moment.
"What has me up is not the color of her heart, but the fact that tried to give it away in the first place."
The tear that's been threatening to fall throughout his speech finally splashes onto his cheek, and he releases her hand to hastily wipe it away.
"Anyway. In answer to your question: No. I'm not fine."
She takes his hand again before she can second-guess herself, knowing he'll need it for what she's about to say. "Well, if we're sharing 'Things That Mary Margaret Should Have Told Us,' then you should probably know that the wardrobe took two."
His face goes slack and his grip on her loosens, and Emma realizes in that moment that she probably should have primed him a bit more for that particular bomb.
"Marco told us today. While we were looking for August. He apologized," she quickly says, because David's shock is gradually turning to rage. "It took two, but you know what?" She grabs his other hand and presses them close between hers. "I'm glad things turned out the way they did. I mean, of course I wish I had had both of you my whole life, but… either way, I would have grown up without you. And call me greedy, but I want both of you. All or none."
He leans down and places a kiss on her knuckles and she chokes out something she swears isn't a sob.
"And daughter or not, I wouldn't have wanted to be responsible for your separation. Like you said, you can't live without her."
"I can't live without you either," he quietly replies, his rage giving way to overwhelming sorrow.
"I love you," she blurts out – and of course, the three words she had been so terrified to voice come to the surface when she needs them most. They make her feel light and airy, wrapping around the two broken people in the kitchen and attempting to make them whole.
His laugh seems to get stuck in his throat, turning the joyful noise into a strangled sound. He presses his forehead to their clasped hands and nods against them.
"I love you, too," he murmurs. "So much."
They stay like that for a while, father and daughter clasped across the counter. For how long, she's not really sure, but she's lost feeling in her fingers so she can guess.
"Tea's gone cold," she whispers.
"We should go to bed," he suggests.
It's been a long day. And she still hasn't settled on how she feels about August. Or Neal and Tamara, for that matter. Though David would gladly listen to her problems until daybreak and beyond, he's been burdened with enough tonight.
But there's always tomorrow.
She goes to the bookshelf to see what caught the moonlight oh so long ago, and she receives her answer in the shape of a blue glass figurine.
"What the hell…?"
"It's a unicorn," David says, coming up behind her.
"Yeah. See the horn?"
"Yes, thank you. I know what a unicorn is."
He chuckles. "It was part of your mobile. It was one of the few pieces I could salvage from Gold's shop after the fight."
"This was mine?" She cups it in her palm, as if it's become infinitely more precious.
"Still is, as far as I'm concerned," he replies. "You're too big for a crib, but maybe you can put it on your bedside table or… or something."
It still shocks her when she remembers the enormity of all they've done for her. Of all they did just to prepare for her. The toys and the blankets and the cribs. She was hoped for. Planned for. She was wanted.
She turns quickly and clutches the unicorn to her chest. "Then beside my bed it shall go."
He grins and nods, making a move to go, but she's not quite ready for this to be over. For this shared moment to disappear into memory. So she takes his arm and holds him in place, swallowing down the butterflies in her stomach as he stares at her expectantly.
"Goodnight, Dad," she murmurs, noting the pleasant shock on his face as she places a kiss on his cheek. It's a night of firsts, she figures.
"Goodnight, Em," he replies without missing a beat.
A night of firsts, indeed.