A Mother's Comfort
by misscam

Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my words.

Author's Note: Set after 1x07 and Graham's death, with an epilogue set after 3x04. Also uses Jennifer Morrison's recent reveal that Emma wears a shoelace from Graham's boot around her wrist. Written for aponderingcharming. Hope you enjoy! Thanks for Angie for beta.

II

Emma is sitting in a chair as Mary Margaret rushes into the hospital, and it's almost as if Emma is in her own world even with so many people surrounding her and so much noise around her.

It's as if nothing can touch her anymore. She looks numb, shell-shocked, her eyes still swollen from crying but no tears in her eyes now. It's almost as if something has died in her when Graham died, and Mary Margaret feels a sharp tug at her heart.

Ever since she got the call, she's almost dared to hope it was a mistake – that Graham is alive and well after all, that she won't have lost a friend and Emma won't have lost the potential for more than a friend. But now, looking at Emma's expression, Mary Margaret feels that faint hope shatter. Her presence might be a small comfort, but it's all she has to offer.

"Emma," she says quietly, but Emma doesn't even react. "Emma?"

Only when Mary Margaret puts a hand on Emma's shoulder does Emma react, lifting her eyes. The pain in them almost makes Mary Margaret flinch, and she draws Emma into a hug without even thinking.

She can't think of anything else, after all.

"He died," Emma says tonelessly against Mary Margaret's shoulder.

"They told me," Mary Margaret replies quietly. "Emma, I'm so sorry."

"He died," Emma says again.

"Yeah," Mary Margaret agrees, hearing her own voice catch, but managing to swallow the lump in her throat. She can grieve Graham later herself. Right now she has to be strong for Emma.

"He just collapsed," Emma says. Mary Margaret almost wishes that Emma would rage and scream instead. This shutting down almost seems more dangerous, Emma Swan not only behind walls, but behind moats and drawbridges too. "Dr. Whale said it was his heart."

"There is nothing you can do here," Mary Margaret says gently. "Let's go home, Emma."

"Okay," Emma says, and leans into the hug for just a second before pulling away.

II

Mary Margaret makes hot chocolate, hot soup, and even finds what she has of alcohol to have ready while Emma takes a long, hot shower. She isn't sure what else to offer as a remedy for grief and shock – she can't even remember the last time anyone in Storybrooke died.

There is some color in Emma's cheeks as she walks out of the bathroom, hair still damp from the shower. Without saying anything, Emma sits down at the table and reaches for the nearest bottle of alcohol.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Mary Margaret asks softly.

"No," Emma says.

"Do you want to be alone?"

"No."

Mary Margaret nods at that, and sits down by the table as well. Silently, Emma pours them both a drink.

It feels strangely like a wake, Mary Margaret finds.

II

Mary Margaret wakes to muffled sounds, tearing through her strange, fragmented dream about a howling wolf. It's crying, she realizes, barely audible but still waking her, almost like a mother's instinct.

She gets up quickly, hurrying upstairs to find Emma sobbing into her pillow. It's a raw, undignified sort of crying, as if a dam has broken and Emma can't hold anything back.

Mary Margaret says nothing. She simply gets into Emma's bed, putting her hands on Emma's back. For a moment, Emma stiffens, then draws a shuddering, heartbreaking breath.

They lie in silence for a while, Mary Margaret slowly rubbing Emma's back while Emma calms her breathing and slowly regains some composure.

"I kissed him and he died," Emma says after a moment, and Mary Margaret feels a new and sharper wave of pain. She was the one encouraging Emma to drop her walls, not to keep love out. "How's that for a reverse fairytale? It's not true love's kiss, it's the kiss of death."

"Emma!" Mary Margaret protests. "A kiss can't..."

"Emma Swan kisses the sheriff and he drops dead," Emma goes on, and her laughter is brittle, as if it's ready to break into a million shards. "There's the headline for tomorrow's paper."

"Emma," Mary Margaret says softly. "You had nothing to do with his death."

Emma sighs, but her shoulders fall slightly and some of the tension seems to drain away. "It still feels like I did."

"I know," Mary Margaret says, and Emma holds a hand out behind her without looking. Mary Margaret takes it and squeezes softly.

"I'm sorry I woke you," Emma says apologetically, sounding almost embarrassed.

"I'm glad you did," Mary Margaret counters.

Emma says nothing at that, just exhales. She doesn't ask if Mary Margaret is going to stay, as if she already knows the answer.

And so, they fall asleep like that, both into uneasy nightmares that seem less powerful in each other's presence.

II

In the morning, Emma is all business and all walls up and all determination to return to work as if nothing has happened, and Mary Margaret watches and grieves for Graham and Emma both.

Graham's death seems to have killed something else too, something that might have been, and Mary Margaret thinks about David and knows the pain of that.

II

Mary Margaret decides to bring Emma lunch at the station and walks in to find Emma standing by the desk, looking down at the floor with a faraway expression.

"Emma," Mary Margaret says softly. "You can stay home today, no one will expect you to..."

"No," Emma says harshly. "If I stay away today, I will stay away tomorrow too and I'll never be able to return here. It will haunt me. I have to... I have to keep working here."

"You don't have to prove anything," Mary Margaret argues softly, but Emma shakes her head.

"I do," she says, and Mary Margaret wonders if it's to herself or to someone else.

"I brought you soup," Mary Margaret offers instead, and Emma finally lifts her gaze from the floor.

"Soup," Emma repeats.

"Chicken soup," Mary Margaret specifies.

"You're such a mother sometimes," Emma says, just hint of affection in her voice.

They end up eating the soup together at Graham's desk, and for a while at least, Graham's ghost is kept at bay by the smell of chicken soup.

II

There is no next of kin, and so, it's Emma that ends up sorting through Graham's stuff and even the box of clothes he wore when he died. She even insists on doing it all herself, forcing Mary Margaret to simply watch and ache with the desire to help, to comfort, to fix it.

Goodwill gets most of the stuff, but when almost everything is packed up, Emma pauses at the sight of his boots that he wore when he died.

"He was a good man," Mary Margaret says quietly. "You're allowed to grieve him and move on. He would have wanted you to."

"I don't want to," Emma says, her voice raw. "If I grieve him and move on, he's..."

"He's gone," Mary Margaret finishes.

"Yes," Emma says and her voice is so emotionless it might as well hold a million different emotions from all it speaks volumes.

Quietly, Emma unlaces the shoelace from the boot and ties it around her wrist. He's not gone, Mary Margaret realizes. Emma is keeping him. Just as she kept her baby blanket despite her parents being lost to her.

She told Mary Margaret once that she wasn't sentimental. That was wrong. Emma Swan very much is – she just hides it better, that's all. Just like she does her emotions and even her love. They might be behind walls and well-guarded, perhaps. But they're definitely there.

"What?" Emma says, noticing Mary Margaret's gaze.

"Nothing," Mary Margaret says softly, touching the shoelace on Emma's wrist before smiling at her. "Let me help you pack up the last few things."

"Okay," Emma finally agrees.

II

As the next weeks pass, and Emma doesn't speak of Graham again, Mary Margaret remembers the shoelace and knows Emma, Emma hasn't forgotten at all.

And all Mary Margaret can think of as comfort is to be there for her.

II

Epilogue: Neverland

II

Snow finds her daughter leaning against a tree, looking more composed than earlier when she had her outburst about loving Neal still. Even so, Snow can see the ghost of grief in her daughter's eyes, and it haunts her too.

Charming squeezes Snow's hand before letting go, telling her that he's there, but will follow her lead. She draws comfort from that, taking a deep breath before approaching Emma.

Their presence might be a small comfort for their daughter, but it is all they have to offer.

"I'm sorry," Snow offers, and Emma looks up.

"Not your fault," Emma says, and seems to mean it.

"I'm still sorry," Snow offers, and Emma swallows. "I wish I knew how to comfort you. I know I never..."

"You did," Emma breaks in and looks up.

"Did what?" Snow asks.

"You comforted me," Emma says quietly, her expression slightly distant. "After Graham died, you were the only one there for me."

"As a friend," Snow says quietly, but Emma shakes her head.

"As family," Emma says, her eyes soft and sad at once. "You were there."

Oh, Snow thinks faintly. Maybe that's how mothers do it. They offer comfort by being there. Maybe that's all they can do.

Slowly, Snow draws nearer and takes Emma's hand. She can feel the shoelace there, still tied around Emma's wrist. Still the ghost of Graham, though it might be more at rest now.

"I'm still here," Snow says, managing to keep her voice steady. "We're both here for you, Emma. In whatever capacity you want."

"We are," Charming chimes in, and Emma shifts her gaze to him. He looks at his daughter with such love Snow wants to cry for him, for them all, but she forces the tears back. Not now. Later, in Charming's arms, then she'll cry for what they've all lost. Right now she has to concentrate on what they can have.

"I know," Emma acknowledges quietly, and that, that is a small sort of comfort after all, Snow finds.

And it's a start.

FIN