A careless word, another cross.
THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES TO EXPRESS HIS DEEP REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND PRIVATE FIRST CLASS PETER HOLLOWAY WAS KILLED IN ACTION IN DEFENSE OF HIS COUNTRY IN WESTERN EUROPE JUNE 4 1943.
There is nothing Mary Margaret can say. There are no words that will bring Peter back, no magic spell that can turn back time and undo what's already been done. And there is nothing that can be said that will ease Ruby's suffering (nothing to be said that doesn't betray her own utter, shameful relief).
There is nothing; nothing but her friend's hot tears against her neck, nothing but heart wrenching sobs and the shattered remains of a future full of laughter and promise. Like so many others, Ruby's marriage has ended before it's even truly begun, and while Storybrooke will mourn for Peter – the Daily Mirror will surely print a story, third page in the lower right-hand corner with the headline LOCAL BOY AMONG DEAD IN DEVASTATING BATTLE – but in a week, maybe a month, they'll hardly remember Peter Holloway, and how he'd spent his summers terrorizing Mrs. Potter's chickens. In time, Storybrooke will pay no mind to his absence, but Ruby? Ruby will relive this awful memory for the rest of her life.
Finally, Mary Margaret manages to pry the flag from Ruby's fingers, its crisp folds now wrinkled and ruffled by her fierce grip, and sets it reverently on the bedside table, beside a photograph of Ruby and Peter, carefree and laughing on their wedding day.
Ruby's hands tremble now, restless without something to hold onto, and Mary Margaret catches them in her own, squeezing tightly. "Are you hungry?" she says, and Ruby shakes her head, still blinking back tears. "You've hardly eaten in days."
Ruby's voice is small and vulnerable, like a child's. "I'm fine."
Mary Margaret doesn't believe her, but knows better than to fight it. Over the past days, their roles have been reversed – where Ruby had been caring for Mary Margaret, pulling her back into the world from the dark depths of her despair, now it's time for Mary Margaret to become the caretaker. "Let's rest then," she suggests, though she knows Ruby has hardly slept since the telegram arrived.
Ruby nods, but doesn't speak, simply following her friend's lead as Mary Margaret eases her into the bed and pulls the covers up over her shoulders.
Dimly, Mary Margaret thinks that there are things she should be doing, preparations she should be making – not just for her own child, growing slowly but demandingly present within her – but also for Ruby's life as a widow. Because there must be some change; there must be some earth-shattering disruption in their lives at such a loss, something more than a standard telegram and a neatly folded flag. Somehow, Peter's death must be present in their day-to-day existence.
And yet … somehow it hasn't. How can it? When they've been without their husbands for so long? When they've both spent more time praying for their husband's safety from halfway round the world than they ever did in their marriage beds?
And then Ruby sobs, a deep, heart-wrenching howl from beneath her cocoon of quilts and blankets, and Mary Margaret knows – she knows – that nothing will ever be the same again. Even if for the months (years?) to come, they will pass the days and nights much the same as they had the days and nights before, Ruby's life – and the lives of thousands upon thousands of men and women across the country – will always exist in the shadow of loss.
"Oh, Ruby..." Mary Margaret sighs, feeling a wave of grief and compassion washing over her as she eases into bed alongside her friend and pulls her close, Ruby's face turned into the curve of her neck. The sobs wrack her body for a long while, the mattress trembling in sympathy, until finally exhaustion claims her, and she is quiet and still.
Mary Margaret turns to press a kiss to Ruby's temple, and wonders when the war will be over.
(And fears that perhaps it never will.)
But even through the loss - the pain, the sadness, the anguish - through everything, hope still remains. They're still here, as evidenced by the soft hitching of Ruby's breath, the pounding of her own heart. Hope is here, drumming into the world with every tiny kick Emma makes between them.
Emma. She hadn't thought of a name until now.
Emma it is, then.
David wakes, blinking and straining to hear past the incessant ringing in his ears. Everything hurts – his shoulder, his side – and the world around him spins and blurs. He squeezes his eyes shut again, willing the world to stop moving, and sifts through his memory to piece together the chain of events that has brought him here.
"There you are." The voice is female, softened by a British accent – though when the blur of color in her place sharpens to a clear image, he notices she's wearing an American uniform. She looks exhausted - what appear to have once been impeccable victory rolls now mussed and unkempt, the faint stain of Victory Red lipstick only barely visible on her lips – and he wonders how many soldiers she's sat beside today; how many of those soldiers didn't make it. She offers him a flask. "Water," she clarifies, when he doesn't accept it at first. "You're rather beat up but you'll live."
David frowns, the events of the night before – has it really been that long? - coming together in his mind: standing in line for the transatlantic with Killian, the air raid sirens, the race for safety. "There was a raid," he says blandly. He tries to push himself up to a sitting position, but his side and shoulder burn harder at the movement.
"Good," the woman says, though he feels her definition of 'good' has been severely altered by the war. She slips an arm under his shoulders and helps him prop up, before holding the flask of water to his lips. "At least your head's made it relatively unscathed."
David drinks gratefully, the liquid burning then soothing his parched throat. He realizes then that he's in the infirmary tent, which – despite every cot being full – is significantly less occupied than he'd expect following such a raid. "How long- ?"
"You've been unconscious for the better part of two days," she explains, helping him to lie back down. "Took some shrapnel, but the medics think you'll be back to fighting shape in no time." She frowns a little at that, as if she disapproves. "You came to a few times, when they were removing the shrapnel, I suppose. You called out for a 'Margaret', and they assumed you must have meant me."
"Mary Margaret," David explains, his voice no longer scratchy and strained. "My wife."
The woman – Margaret, he presumes – smiles. "Well, your wife will be glad to hear that you'll be just fine. If you'd like to write to her, I can make sure your letter gets out with tonight's mail run." He notices that there is a pad of paper and a pen on a table nearby.
"I'd like that. Thank you, Margaret."
She purses her lips at that. "It's my pleasure, soldier. And I prefer 'Peggy'."
The doorbell rings, and Mary Margaret groans. Getting up has become decidedly more difficult, and while she isn't entirely prepared for the responsibilities that motherhood entails, she is more than ready to be done with pregnancy: her ankles have seemingly doubled in size and exhaustion has overtaken every aspect of her life. She half rolls off the sofa to make it to her feet, and the doorbell rings again while just before she's able to pull the door open.
"Mrs. Nolan," Gold says in way of greeting, and his eyes immediately focus on the swell of her belly. She hadn't exactly been hiding the fact, but following the accident she hadn't been exactly forthcoming either. "I suppose congratulations are in order."
Instinctively, her hand moves to the bump. "I suppose they are."
He smiles genuinely. "How much longer?"
"A month," she says. "Maybe a bit more."
"Children truly are a blessing," he says, though his voice is tinged with sadness. "Be sure to treasure him every moment."
"Her," Mary Margaret corrects on instinct.
"Her? You can't possibly know that."
"I just know," Mary Margaret says.
Gold looks amused by that, but doesn't bother to argue. "And what of your husband? How is he?"
Still alive, she thinks, though the alternative to that statement makes her blood run cold. "Still in Europe," she says instead.
"A pity that he isn't here," Gold says, leaning past her to take the envelope labeled 'RENT' from the table by the door. "Let him know my thoughts are with him," he adds, "and congratulations again."
Gold leaves, and Mary Margaret feels David's absence more acutely than ever.
"Looks like you dodged a bullet, mate."
David looks up, having just finished his letter home to Mary Margaret, to find Killian hovering over his infirmary bed.
"A bullet," David repeats wryly, remembering the bombs dropping from the sky. "So that's what we're calling those."
Killian laughs humorlessly and perches on the edge of the bunk. He has his hand tucked into the opening of his jacket, and David notices that it's been wrapped haphazardly with linen – surely not the work of the skilled nurses and medics here.
"Oh, this?" Killian pulls his hand a little further out, though not all the way. "Just caught a bit of shrapnel. Couldn't let it keep me down long. Been in and out of this bloody tent for my own men. I was pretty relieved to see your sorry arse passed out here."
David feels a little less awkward to know that this British officer isn't making a sick call to him on a purely social basis – he feels useless enough trapped here waiting to be declared fit for duty again, and he would be sorely disappointed to find his friend shirking responsibilities when there's a war on. "So your guys made it out of here before me then?" he says with a hint of jealousy.
Killian's expression grows solemn, and he lowers his eyes. "In a manner of speaking."
And David isn't sure what to say to that, punched in the gut by the reality of their situation – the reality of a world at war where life is just waiting to end. He thinks of his brother, and what the commanding officer must have gone through that day; he wonders how many other men were lost then, how many suffered and how many slipped away in the blink of an eye. "I'm sorry," he says, and wishes there were more that can be said.
Carpentry, Mary Margaret decides, is not a skill best pursued while pregnant.
She already has a bassinet, of course, a hand-me-down from Ashley whose little Alexandra had far outgrown its use. And, Ashley added longingly, it's not as if they'll be needing it anytime soon. Like David, Sean had yet to return from the frontlines. (Mary Margaret thinks maybe it's a sign of the times, how they find relief and safety in their husbands still fighting, because the alternative is so horribly grim.)
The bassinet is lovely, but Mary Margaret knows there will come a time when Emma will need a real crib, something sturdy and all her own. Yes, the crib is used, something picked up at the secondhand store, but between the necessary repairs and the painting and embellishing Mary Margaret has planned, it will be a crib fit for a princess.
Of course, repairing the rails would be much easier if her hands reached a bit further beyond her growing bump.
The front door opens and Ruby rushes in. "Sorry I'm late," she says, smiling broadly for the first time since the memorial service. "But we have a surprise for you."
Mary Margaret frowns and abandons her efforts on the crib. "A surprise?"
Granny follows Ruby into the apartment, a box under one arm and a bag in the other. "We've brought presents," she says, quick to get comfortable on the couch with Ruby, while Mary Margaret doesn't bother to get up from the floor, knowing it will take much longer than should be necessary.
"Presents? Oh, Granny, you didn't-"
"I didn't have to, but I wanted to," Granny insists, not even giving Mary Margaret the chance to finish. "And besides, only one was my idea." With that, she hands over the bag she'd brought in.
Mary Margaret accepts the bag, tears stinging her eyes. Damn hormones. "Thank you." Inside, she finds a cream-colored knitted blanket, laced with a purple satin ribbon. In the corner of the blanket, the name 'Emma' is lovingly embroidered. "Oh," she breathes, truly speechless at such an incredible gift. It smells of cinnamon and apples, and she knows Granny has made it by hand.
"Ruby said you were decided on the name," Granny explains, then adds with mock severity, "I sure hope you're right about it being a girl."
"I'm sure," Mary Margaret promises, though she can tell from the hint of a smile playing at the corners of Granny's mouth that she's teasing. "Thank you so much. This is – this is perfect. Thank you."
Granny bends over, and Mary Margaret leans into her as the older woman drops a kiss to the top of her head.
"And this," Ruby enthuses, handing Mary Margaret the box, "is from both of us." The box is heavier than Mary Margaret expected. "And Leroy," she adds as an afterthought. "Mr. Gold too, if you count that he gave us a good price."
Mary Margaret frowns, wondering what the mystery gift could be. She undoes the meager wrapping – a page from yesterday's newspapers; want not, waste not, after all – and opens the box to find a lightly used camera.
She doesn't have time to respond before Ruby is explaining rapidly, her excitement getting the better of her. "We all chipped in – me and Granny and Leroy – and I haggled with Mr. Gold, but it didn't take much once he knew who it was for. (You know how he has a soft spot for you.) I thought it would be perfect for you to send David pictures of Emma without having to take her to have them done. And this way he doesn't have to miss a thing because you can-"
Granny cuts her off with a hand on her shoulder, but Mary Margaret continues to gape at the enormity of the gift she's just been given. She isn't sure if it's the hormones still, or if she'd be crying regardless, but she can't stop the tears this time at all. "Oh, Ruby. I can't – I don't even know what to say."
"Don't say anything," Ruby insists, then bends to help her friend up from the floor. Mary Margaret catches her in a tight hug, wondering what she's ever done to deserve a friend like Ruby. "This is what aunts do, right?"
Mary Margaret squeezes tighter. "Thank you," she says.
"Don't thank me," Ruby reiterates. "Just step back and let's get a picture of you for David. I'm sure he's dying to see you like this."
Mary Margaret isn't so sure about that, feeling like she's ballooned to twice her size, but she steps back behind the half-constructed crib and turns to show her profile, her hand sliding under the curve of her bump. Ruby fetches the camera and - "One … two … three," - snaps a picture.
It's been nearly a week, and David's wounds are considered to be on the mend. The stitches itch and the pain is still ever-present, but the shrapnel he took to his side and shoulder are far from enough to send him back home stateside, and the medics are fairly certain that in a week or so he can get back to the frontlines. His unit has moved on, but apparently another unit is leaving in 10 days to join them. If all goes well with his injuries, he will be able to join the auxiliary unit and regroup with his own men.
They've released him from the confines of the infirmary tent, but he's found that his time is better spent there than unable to fight elsewhere. The raid had taken more than just battle troops, and the medic team had been hit particularly hard. They were short-handed in the aftermath, grabbing help from whoever was qualified to give it; he'd discovered that the woman – Peggy – who had been with him when he woke was actually a U.S. intelligence officer, but she had driven an ambulance in the early years of the war. Proof, David thinks, that when lives are on the line, rank and pay grade cease to matter.
So David helps restock supplies, gives blood when a transfusion is needed, and helps to keep morale up amongst those who are more wounded than he. It isn't exactly how he'd hoped to serve his country, but he feels he has a purpose in this role regardless.
He's in the midst of a rousing game of poker (where he's sure to lose all his rations' worth of cigarettes – luckily he doesn't smoke) when two British soldiers come rushing in, a British officer slumped between them.
"He just passed out," one of the young men explains to the nurse that comes to their aid, "and we couldn't wake him."
David glances over his shoulder, and is about to return to losing all his rations when he catches sight of the blackened bandage around the officer's hand and stops to take a closer look.
"Has he been feeling ill?" he hears the nurse ask, but before the young soldiers can answer, David is there, helping to lift Killian's weight onto the nearest cot.
"His hand," David explains. "He said he got a bit of shrapnel to it but it wasn't worth looking at." He looks at Killian's hand now, how the makeshift bandage is discolored and clinging unnaturally to the flesh.
The nurse immediately sets to unwrapping the linen, and Killian still does not stir. The last of it falls away, and David feels faint. One of the young men goes white as a sheet, wavering on his feet; the other covers his mouth with his hand as if he might be sick. The nurse swallows thickly, and takes a deep breath before shouting for a doctor.
What Killian had described as 'a bit' of shrapnel must have amounted to a generous spattering across his entire hand. He was lucky not to lose it altogether. But now infection has set in, and the wounds are black and gangrenous, giving off a foul odor that permeates the infirmary tent. David isn't sure how something so serious could go unnoticed for so long, but he knows that Killian is a man bound by duty and revenge, and he would not have revealed anything that might have taken him out of the fight.
The doctor is there quickly, and after only a brief examination, he is able to offer a course of treatment. "We're going to have to amputate."
'It's too soon,' is all Mary Margaret can think as she paces the length of the apartment.
She isn't ready, she's decided. Not because she lacks the maternal instincts necessary to be a mother, but because this isn't how this was meant to happen. David isn't here. They'd married days before leaving for training, and they have yet to have time to build their life together – to build a home, to enjoy their marriage. And she's okay with that; it's something she had come to terms with the moment she enlisted. But she still cannot face the fact that their child may grow up without him, that no matter what, the war is far from over and David will miss everything – her first steps, her first words, her first smile. He'll miss it all.
It's simply too soon.
Unfortunately, Emma doesn't know that. A wave of pain overcomes Mary Margaret, and she knows that 'too soon' or not, this is happening now.
She hears the sound of the key scraping in the lock, and is at the front door, bag in hand, when Ruby walks in, exhausted from her shift at Granny's.
"Mary Margaret? Wha-"
Mary Margaret takes a deep breath. "The baby," she says. "She's coming."