The Savior's Savior
She knew of the wardrobe and of his battle to get her there. She knew of the wounds he sustained, of the curse that had condemned yet saved him, and that during the five minutes she spent in his arms with steel raining down around her, she never once uttered a single sound.
She barely knew him. The entirety of her direct communication with David Nolan involved finding him in a stream and attending a homecoming party where the conversation involved a toothpick and a sword.
She's not sure why she's remembering that of all things in this moment. If she gets into the nitty-gritty psychosis of it all, it's probably because this moment – this moment that she absolutely cannot bear to think about, let alone live through – makes her want to curl around the people she loves.
David Nolan is not one of those people, which is why she's so surprised to find him here. Now. With his arms wrapped around her, holding her together. Indeed, his arms are the only things keeping her from shaking to pieces. And though he may not be on that short list of people she holds dear, it doesn't make her release the grip she has on his jacket.
"I was walking by the station and I saw the ambulance," she overheard him tell one of the paramedics. "And… and I just wanted to make sure everyone was okay."
But they're not.
"I just wanted to help."
But you are.
Graham's body is mere feet away. She can't look at him. She can't say his name. She can't even breathe because to inhale would mean to smell the pine and the coffee and the soap that is so distinctly Graham.
She closes her eyes and presses her face into a firm shoulder that reminds her so much of him that she can barely keep her scream contained.
And yet that firm shoulder is bracing her, practically supporting the entirety of her weight as she sags under the knowledge of all that's happened tonight. Of all that will never happen again.
David's hand rubs circles on her back as she twists the edge of his flannel shirt in her hand. Somewhere in the back of her mind lingers the tiniest feeling of embarrassment. This is practically a stranger and yet he's witnessing quite possibly her most vulnerable moment. Well. Her most vulnerable moment in a long, long time. She should feel self-conscious but she doesn't because she's feeling entirely too many other emotions to let vanity anywhere near the top of her concerns.
"I've got you," David murmurs and Emma – despite their lack of history – knows he does. She trusts him implicitly without reason or cause. "I've got you, Emma."
"He's gone," she finally chokes out. A confirmation and a resignation.
"He is," David quietly replies. He doesn't tell her it'll be okay. He doesn't offer empty promises. He's just there, holding her a little tighter.
And Emma clings back as if it's the most natural thing in the world.
Henry misses his castle. Sure, the new playground is fun and certainly more involved than the little wooden structure that had been his sanctuary for many an afternoon, but…
This was their spot. His and Emma's.
And now it's nothing but a pile of broken wood.
He wedges his sneaker into a crevice and hauls himself up onto the structure. If he can get high enough, maybe he can pretend he's locked in a tower and the savior will come and release him. Or the Prince. Either. He's not particular.
The thought makes him smile before a sudden realization causes his stomach to flip. He's been so busy attempting to convince Emma that she's the child of Snow White and Prince Charming that he never stopped to think about what that meant for him.
He's the grandson of legends. The heir. The thought makes him gasp and his grip slips, sending him tumbling back to the ground, but not before something sharp catches his leg.
He cries out but the breath is knocked from his lungs as he hits the ground and suddenly, everything is a little bit hazy.
Someone is running towards him and it takes his brain a second to register that Prince Charming is dropping to his knees by his side. Convenient.
"Henry, are you okay?" Large hands cup his face, wiping sand from his cheeks. "Henry, look at me."
"Yeah, kid. Where are you hurt?"
At the mention of 'hurt,' Henry's leg throbs and he points to the tear in his jeans, which the gash below is staining red.
David uses his fingers to gently open the rip in the fabric as he takes a good look at the damage below.
"How bad?" Henry asks.
"You'll live," David replies with a smile. "I don't think you need stitches, but we should go to the hospital, just in case."
Henry sits up faster than he thought possible and practically ends up in David's lap.
"No, no, you can't take me there!" He so urgently needs David to listen to him that he's gripping his shirt collar with all his might. "They'll call the Evil Queen and she'll be so mad!"
"Okay, okay," David soothes, and if he realizes he's gently rocking Henry, he makes no comment. And Henry doesn't mind. "The Evil Queen, huh?"
"It's a long story," he mumbles into the older man's shirt, suddenly feeling very tired.
"Stay awake, kid. You might have a concussion."
"Can we go to Emma's?"
David stiffens below him, because Emma's is also Mary Margaret's, but lifts him with ease and murmurs an, "Of course we can."
Ten minutes later, they're trudging their way up the stairs to the apartment, Henry still in David's arms. He should feel indignant – he is ten after all – but frankly, he's too tired and his leg hurts too much to care about being carried.
David knocks and Henry listens as the door swings open a moment later.
"Uh, hi," David's chest rumbles as he speaks.
"What the hell happened?"
Henry can't help but smile at Emma's typical reaction.
"He fell from the castle," David says as he moves into the apartment. "Won't let me take him to the hospital. This is the only place he'd come."
Henry watches over David's shoulder as Emma's face goes from worried to shocked to overwhelmingly relieved.
David shifts him a bit. "You awake, kid?"
"Uh huh," he replies.
"Good." David places him on the couch and brushes his hair back from his forehead. "I think he might have a concussion. Better to keep him awake as long as possible, and then wake him periodically throughout the night."
"How do you know so much about concussions?" Emma asks, already moving towards the couch and sitting by Henry's side, much to his relief.
David shrugs. "I was a rough and tumble kid." He stands for a moment more, and Henry really wants him to stay, but it's not time for that. Not yet. So David nods and moves towards the door, but Emma's off the couch and jogging after him before he can even place a hand on the knob.
"Thank you," she says as she grabs his arm. "I'm glad you were there."
She smiles and then he smiles, the relief and joy infectious as he gives Henry a small salute and leaves. Emma leans heavily against the door, staring at Henry as if he's about to disappear at any moment. And Henry realizes right there that parents are connected to their kids in ways that go beyond just inherited genes.
"All right, let's see the damage," Emma says as she comes over and gently unlaces his sneaker, pulling his leg into her lap. It stings, but Henry can't be bothered with that right now. Not when there are so many more important revelations happening around him.
David doesn't even realize that he's happy because his daughter is happy. He doesn't realize that he's feeling this level of relief because his grandson is safe.
"Kid, don't go zoning out on me. You're gonna give me a heart attack."
"I'm just really glad Mr. Nolan was there," Henry replies, letting his concussed head rest on Emma's shoulder.
"Me too, kid. Me too." She places a hard kiss in his hair, and lets her lips linger a moment longer than she normally does.
Saving Henry means saving Emma, by proxy. Which of course, Henry muses, David's been doing since the moment she was born.
"Belief is not proof. If I don't do this right, things will end up worse for you."
The words seemed so hollow, even as she was saying them. What if all she's giving Mary Margaret is false hope? The leaden weight in the pit of her stomach is growing heavier by the hour and Emma is thisclose to staging a jailbreak and getting the hell outta dodge.
The old Emma would have done that. Not this one. This Emma has responsibilities. A town to protect and, most importantly, a son to love.
She closes the door to the bullpen and leans heavily on the wall, resting her forehead on the cool cinderblock.
"How is she?" comes a voice behind her and Emma jumps as she spins around.
"David, I told you to go home."
"I know," he responds from where he sits on the floor, elbows resting on his knees.
"But you're still here."
Emma sighs and stares at the broken man before her. He looks in desperate need of comforting, but she just doesn't have the energy. Not when her best friend is in a jail cell that she herself locked.
"She doesn't want to see you."
"I'm actually not here for her. I mean I am, but… I actually came to check on you."
Emma looks up sharply, suspicion rising. "Why on earth would you be here to check on me?"
He smiles sadly at her. "Once upon a time, we used to be… cordial. It's just – You're her best friend. It can't be easy."
"Says the guy who broke her heart."
"I'm not proud." And indeed, it looks as though her words have caused him physical pain. His palm lingers over his chest, as if suppressing a phantom ache. "And despite what you may think of me, and despite what Mary Margaret thinks of me, I did consider you a friend. You still saved my life. I'm just… making sure you're okay."
Emma's spent the past 48 hours trying not to scream at the top of her lungs with all she's not saying. With all she's not sharing. The one person she needs to talk to is the root of all her worry. Of all her guilt and pain.
The weight of it makes her lean against the wall once more, chin dropping down to rest on her chest, as if her head is too heavy to hold up any longer.
She hears shifting to her left and guesses that David's gotten up from the floor. Sure enough, he's leaning against the wall right next to her a moment later.
They're quiet, but it's not an awkward quiet. Not like their many run-ins in the aftermath of his decision to stay with his wife. It's almost… nice. The wall is keeping her steady and the warmth of his arm where it presses up against hers is keeping the guilt from overwhelming her.
"She asked if I actually thought her to be capable of that kind of evil," he says, after a long moment, running a hand through his hair and giving a humorless chuckle. "And she's not. I know she's not, but I still… I still asked. And I'll live with that for the rest of my life."
He places a hand on her shoulder and gives it a squeeze. "Don't feel guilty because you're doing your job. Mary Margaret understands that. And she knows you're doing all in your power to get her out of there. You believe in her. Which is more than I could do."
Something inside Emma breaks at the look of utter devastation on his face, and yet she's heartened by his words. She manages a tight smile for him and only then does he release the firm grip on her shoulder.
"Please let me know if you need anything," he begins to walk towards the door, turning at the last moment. "And if you do, I'll be at Granny's."
His shrug is small and slow, as if his shoulders carry too much weight to move much more than that. "It never felt like home."
Emma nods, because she knows the feeling. Her home is missing an important piece. An irreplaceable piece.
She feels his hand on her shoulder long after he's gone and his words stay with her as she follows leads. And yet, she still can't believe that it was David Nolan, of all people, who saved Emma from herself.
"How can I be a parent if I never was one?"
"I know. I've been asking myself the same question."
He's getting good at that: talking her down from the ledge. It's a very 'father' thing to do, Emma thinks, as she limps into the kitchen and she can't help but be a little envious of his natural parental abilities. If she had to inherit one thing, why couldn't it have been that?
Still. Despite her grumblings, she can't help but replay their conversation from earlier over and over in her head.
"We don't have to go through any of it alone. We're family."
She grabs an ice pack from the freezer and places it on her ribs, wincing at both the pain and the cold as the word "family" tumbles around her head. It's heady for 3am on a Wednesday morning.
"You never said you were hurt."
She jumps nearly a foot in the air and groans as her battered body is jarred. "You have got to stop doing that."
David looks contrite as he pads over from his place on the couch. "Sorry."
He's distracted, eyeing both the ice pack and the rest of her body as he quietly assesses the damage.
"Regina threw you harder than I thought."
"Uh huh." He places the gentlest of hands on her waist and she winces. "Yeah, fine."
Before she can even offer a rebuttal, he's taking her wrist and examining the cuts and bruises that run up her forearm. When he gets to her elbow, he holds it up for her to see and it's not pretty.
"That's not fine."
"Well, don't get mad. I didn't throw me."
"I'm not mad! I'm…" He leaves the sentence hanging as he disappears into the bathroom for the first aid kit.
He comes back a moment later, and Emma has to bite her lip to hide her smile at the intent look on his face. They haven't done this yet. She's been home for 48 hours and this is still new for both of them. Wading through these father/daughter waters.
And yet, she thinks back to their conversation earlier and how he knew exactly what to say and when to say it.
"Sorry, I should have warned you," he says, looking apologetic as he holds the cotton ball full of antiseptic in his hand.
"It's fine. I've had worse."
His ministrations pause and he studies her face. "How worse?"
And she knows he's asking about much more than just her surface injuries. He wants to know about the hurts deep down that no one can see and that she's taken a lifetime to hide.
"Not that much worse," she lies and she wonders if it's the prince in him or the father that sees right through it.
"Can we not, right now? I just… it's too much." She thinks that if she has to discuss her childhood on top of everything she's feeling about Henry – to her father, of all people – she will lose it right here in the kitchen between the coffee maker and the refrigerator.
"Of course," he immediately replies, placing an appeasing hand on her arm, and returning to his work.
She watches him patch her up for a long moment, debating on whether or not to voice her present predicament. Henry's adoptive mother murdered his therapist and the boy hasn't said a word since she told him. He's sleeping, thank god, upstairs, but eventually he'll wake and Emma will once again be lost.
"I don't know what to do with him," she quietly admits when the weight of it becomes too much.
The cotton ball pauses, the only proof that he heard her words, before he continues to clean her cuts, giving her the time and the silence to elaborate.
"I just… I wasn't lying today. I'm not good at this parent thing. I'm a horrible role model. When things get emotional I run. I don't – I don't do emotions."
She feels a puff of air on her face and looks up to find David with a slight smile on his.
"Oh I believe you." He meets her gaze then. "I also believe that you'd do anything for that boy upstairs. Just as I'd do anything for you. If that's not emotional, then what is?"
She can't hide behind a wall when he's staring at her like that.
"And what happens when he wakes up?"
"You follow your gut. You've got great instincts. Go with them."
She watches as he places a band-aid on her elbow and retrieves another ice pack for her wrist, gently binding it with a bandage.
"How do you do that?" she finally asks.
"Know exactly what I need to hear."
He shrugs. "I don't know. I'm making this up as I go along."
The flippant reply draws a laugh from her and she regards him for a moment. The fact that he's as lost as she is when it comes to parenting is a comfort in and of itself. And it makes her think that if he can wing it, so can she.
"You know I got those instincts from you."
He looks up at her once more and smiles a bashful smile she's definitely seen in her own mirror more than once.
Suddenly, facing Henry in the morning doesn't seem so bad.
She considers herself a decent fighter, yet she feels ridiculous holding this sword like she actually knows what to do with it. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see David holding his weapon like it's an extension of his body. He's assured. Confident. Yet if the way his gaze keeps darting over to her is any clue, worry is lurking just beneath his strong façade.
The fireball ignites in Regina's hand and Emma has a moment to think holy shit before it's being tossed in her direction. She lifts her sword and braces for the impact, but before she can even wonder how the hell she's going to get out of this one, David is throwing himself in front of her.
The word gets caught somewhere in her throat as she watches him ably fight off the attack. It's impressive to be sure, but she doesn't even have time to help before he's being tossed out the door like a doll.
"David!" she manages to scream before Cora is throwing her back into the wall. Her head is spinning, but she and Neal eventually manage to barricade themselves in the back room. Still, her mind is pulsing with David David David, a beat that doesn't go away until his name flashes across her caller ID.
"Are you safe?"
And of course those are the first words out of his mouth. Of course they are. She's seen the book and the illustration depicting the wound on his side. She's seen the spots of blood on her baby blanket, and just assumed they were leftover from some careless caretaker. Hell, she's even seen his scars, which he inadvertently showed while running from the bathroom to the bedroom in nothing but a towel.
He's been stepping in between her and danger for the whole of her life. And she's not quite sure how she'll ever be able to repay him.
The forest is cold and damp and now is really not the time for a heart to heart – not when Henry is out there with a pack of dynamite – but she can't help but look over at David every few minutes as they trudge through the foliage.
"He'll be fine," David says after the fifth time he catches Emma glancing at him.
"I know," she replies, even though she really doesn't. "I'm actually more concerned about you."
"Me?" He pulls up short, but quickly continues on their journey, knowing his grandson is the destination.
Emma glances behind them at Neal, who seems lost in his own little world and therefore not keeping an ear on the conversation.
"You've been holding everyone together, particularly Mary Margaret." She steps closer to him, taking two steps for every one of his long strides. "It just – It can't be easy."
The words echo a sentiment he said to her oh so long ago. Back when he was still just David Nolan, sitting on the floor of the sheriff's office.
"Don't do 't close off. That's my thing."
He gives her a half smile. "Maybe you got it from me."
He laughs outright this time. "I feel like I should reprimand you for your language."
"Go ahead." Truth be told, being reprimanded by her father for anything sounds like the best idea in the world.
"There are so many things I regret," he finally admits after a while.
"Snow. I should have been there. I should have…"
"What? Stopped her? That was her own decision," Emma reasons. "Her own choice. And now, she has to live with it."
It's harsh, but that's how she was brought up. To accept the consequences. David nods, but Emma can tell all he wants to do is take the pain away.
"What else do you regret?"
Her stomach drops. "You regret me?"
"No!" This time he stops and grabs her shoulders. "Not like that. I regret that I couldn't raise you. I regret that every day when I look at you. You're so strong and I'm so proud of you, but… "
"You wanted to be there," she quietly finishes.
"I wanted to be there."
Emma turns to find Neal trying to look like he's not eavesdropping by inspecting a tree a little too hard.
"Well, you're here now," she says, swallowing past the lump in her throat. "Don't feel guilty for giving me my best chance. Don't ever."
"I should have tried harder."
"You nearly gave your life! If that's not trying hard, I don't know what is."
Neal has given up the ruse and is now staring at them with a pained look on his face, as father and daughter stare each other down.
"Now let's go get your grandson before he blows himself up," Emma finishes, before the emotions simmering beneath the surface take over.
Her panic rises within her as she continues along the path, but then David falls into step next to her, and she is instantly calmed. She wonders if she has that same effect on him.
They eventually arrive at the well and Emma is relieved to find the dynamite nowhere in sight. Still. Regina is threatening to kill her mother and Emma will be damned if she lets that happen.
"If you want to kill Mary Margaret, you're gonna have to go through us."
"Okay," Regina simply replies.
Emma has a moment to think oh great, another fireball when David is stepping in front of her again. She wants to yell at him, to tell him to knock it off, that it's her turn to save him, but she knows it'll be fruitless.
He is the father she never knew she had and the savior she never knew she needed.