Fic: But I'd Still Choose You (2/2)
Fandom: Once Upon a Time
Characters/Pairings: Snow White/Prince Charming; Mary Margaret/David
Word Count: ~14,000
Rating: perfectly innocent :)
Summary: it isn't easy to find where he's supposed to be.
A/N: I'm playing on a new playground here, so be gentle with me :) title and lyrics are from The Civil Wars's Poison & Wine. I'm sure my speculation on the relationship between Snow White and the evil Queen and what happened with them will turn out to be wildly off base, but it's always fun to speculate :)
It's easier to find Snow White than ever before, and he thinks maybe she wants it to be that way.
He doesn't even make his way too deep into the forest before, the midday sun bight enough to pierce through the trees and light the sprinkling of snow on the ground, he can see signs of her, signs of someone who knows this forest as well as he does. He waits for a moment.
"You wanted to sneak up on me again, didn't you?" he asks, leaning against a tree.
"I'll admit, I liked the idea, yes."
He smiles as he turns around to face her, and he finds her in a dress for the first time, with her hair piled atop her head. But the laced up boots, the dirt under her finger nails, and the smirk on her face are familiar sights. He can't seem to take the grin of his face, and she only smiles right back at him.
"And what do you need this time?" she finally asks, and she reaches out to pet his horse. "You can't possibly use the excuse that you were worried about me again, as I've seen little of the Queen or her guards in weeks, and you must know that."
"She has seemed particularly frustrated lately. The reward on your head has doubled."
Snow rolls her eyes, and she takes him by surprise, then, when she asks him if he wants something to eat. A cave of hers, an older one that she's only recently started to restock, is right up the hill. "The dwarves are well," she tells him, "but I thought I might try to make a run for it before the first heavy snow fall. I need to find a weak point in her wall of guards before I do, though."
"You still intend to leave, then?" he asks.
"At the first chance I can."
He watches her for a moment as she leads them through the woods. "I have another idea," he says.
She glances at him, and he stops, waiting, watching as her forehead creases, and she stops, too. He can see her eyes search his face. "Another idea?" she finally repeats, a puzzled smile on her lips.
"I used to believe that a person learned to love," he says.
Her smile turns only more puzzled, but he doesn't let her interrupt. "I thought that love wasn't something without rhyme or reason," he says, holding her gaze, "wasn't spontaneous, wasn't something that came from first sight or first kiss — like you believed."
"I still believe that," Snow says.
He stares at her, watches her lips part a little, and then she drops her gaze, and he swallows thickly. He takes a step closer to her. "I was prepared to marry for my kingdom, and I firmly believed I would learn to love Abigail. But then I met you, and all I can think now is that to learn to love someone seems a terrible fate when true love exists." And she feels the same, he knows it.
"That's nonsense," she replies, shaking her head.
But he reaches out and touches his hand to her cheek, and he can see her breath catch.
"You don't have to run," he says, his heart hammering. "Come back with me, Snow."
She reaches up and rests her hand over his on her cheek. "I . . . I can't. . . ."
"You can," he murmurs, and he takes another step closer. "Your kingdom is yours, and I will help you claim it. Others will, too. You need only have the courage." He brushes his thumb against the soft skin of her cheek, flushed pink but still so cold. "The ring does fit you."
"No," she says. "We barely know each other, and you have — you have responsibilities, James. You're an honourable man. You can't walk away from that. And if I could take back my kingdom, I would, but it isn't as easy as you say, it simply isn't." Her eyes beg him to understand.
And he does understand, understands her fear, born of a mother who hates her, understands how easy it is to deny what a person really knows and feels and wants. It takes a different kind of fearlessness to face that, takes more than it does simply to survive in a magic forest.
He can't blame her for that. He turns her face just enough to kiss her cheek
"Maybe you're right," he tells her. "Maybe I should do the honourable thing, and you should find an escape, and you and I shouldn't cross paths again. Maybe that would be best."
"James," she murmurs. But he takes her hand in his, and with his other hand he pulls the ring out from his breast pocket. He presses it into her hand. Her eyes fly from the ring to his face, and he smiles. "I can't —" He closes her hand around the ring, and her words cut short.
"Maybe it would be best, but I don't care."
He holds her fisted hand in both of his, and he steps close enough to feel her eyelashes flutter against his cheek, to feel her shiver. He kisses her cheek again, lingering for a moment.
"I'll take your kingdom back for you," he tells her. "And then I'll find you again."
He doesn't look back as he leaves.
He frowns when he sees Mary Margaret race suddenly down the fire escape of an apartment building, what must be her apartment building, he realises. He stops in the middle of the street for a moment as he watches her spin around in a panicked, frantic search for something.
It's below freezing out, snow fresh on the ground, and she'll freeze. What's the matter?
"Mary Margaret!" he finally calls out, and she spins around.
Her clothes are wet, her hair plastered to her head. "The bathtub in my apartment won't turn off, and the whole place is flooded, and the landlord told me to turn the water pump off out here, but I can't find it, and I don't know what to do! I don't have the money to pay for all of the repairs —!"
"I can help," he volunteers. He doesn't know anymore about any of this than she does, but she certainly needs someone to help her. He starts up the fire escape, and she follows after him.
It isn't hard to find the bathroom, water splashing out of it. She somehow managed to break the tub water faucet. He finds the water closet down the hall, and he can see she fiddled around in there, too, but it doesn't take him too long to find what she didn't and to shut the water off. He can hear her sigh in relief from the down the hall. "It worked!" she calls out. "Oh, thank God, David!"
She looks so incredibly happy, even with water lapping at her ankles, and he finally realises that the buttons on her sweater are mismatched, and as soaked as she is she must have already been in the tub when this happened. That sends his mind to all other places. "You wanted to repay me," she continues, oblivious to his thoughts. "I think this more than does the job!" She laughs a little.
He chuckles, too. "I'd say my life is at least worth a little flood control."
"At least," she says, and she starts to pull towels down from the bathroom closet. He takes one from her, and it's soaked in a moment. She uses spare sets of sheets to soak up more water when they run out of towels, and they manage to make that work, but the apartment is still a mess.
And on the way to the kitchen to make some hot chocolate, Mary Margaret slips.
He catches her awkwardly by the waist, and hoists her up, her skin warm through her wet sweater, and she's so close suddenly that he can feel her breath on his face. He can see the gold in her eyes, eyes that flicker to his lips, and her own lips are so close, full and pink. Her hand touches his face, fingertips brushing his ear so softly and slipping into his hair.
He feels everything when he looks at her; he feels full and complete, feels alive and adventurous, feels out of breath, and he can't explain any of it; it almost terrifies him, really, how her face so close to his feels like the warmth of the sun against his face.
He feels like he loves her.
And then her thumb brushes against the scar on his chin, and he thinks of Catherine, who told him he tripped as a kid and skinned his chin. He thinks of Catherine. Mary Margaret leans forward, and he turns his head, lets her kiss catch on his cheek. Her fingers slip from his face, and he sets her on her feet properly so that he can step away, away from her, from her kisses, from her love.
"I'm supposed to be at the grocery store," he says.
"Oh, right," she replies, nodding, and she takes a step back, too. She won't look at him.
But he looks at her. "I can't," he breathes. He shouldn't. He has a wife, and he knows he can learn to love her even if he never remembers how he once did. He doesn't even understand what he really feels for Mary Margaret; it's too much to understand. This is all too much.
"I know," she says, and her eyes are wet now, her smile as broken as it is pretty. And when he reaches the door, ready to leave, she says his name, brings his gaze back to her. The apartment is a mess, towels and blankets all over the wet floors, and she stands in the middle of the mess. "Maybe you shouldn't eat lunch with me anymore," she says. "Maybe we shouldn't be friends."
He nods, and she doesn't look at him as he leaves.
James talks with Philip again, and he meets with Eric as well, and he knows he'll have Thomas on his side. But even with all their support, he can't find a way to dethrone the Queen. They're all wary at the idea of war, and that would be the most likely course at this point. Her people don't support the Queen, but her guards do, and they keep her insulated, the kingdom tightly in her grasp.
A month after he tells Snow he'll do this for her, he feels useless. When a courier brings word from Philip that he needs to talk about rumours he's heard, James can only think of the worst.
His mind spins to the possibility that the Queen has begun to spread a new web of lies, or perhaps even that the terrible woman has finally caught Snow, and his stomach turns at the thought. As he saddlers his horse, he wonders how furious his uncle would be if he simply had his own kingdom declare war on the Queen. His own men are more than a match for the Queen's guards, surely.
Anxiety sweeps over his horse suddenly, and James tries to calm her down, but then his own eyes catch on the cause of her abrupt fear, and his hand flies to the hilt of his sword.
"It's Prince James, isn't it?" Rumpelstiltskin asks. "Or do you prefer Prince Charming?"
James only draws his sword. "I know who you are, and if you make a single move with your dark magic, I'll slit your throat." He knows how Rumpelstiltskin appears in the darkest hours of despair, and he won't let himself be tricked, even in his own darkest hour. "You are not welcome here."
"Now, there isn't any reason to be so hostile," Rumpelstiltskin says. "After all, I'm only here to help you, dear prince! You might be a little nicer to somebody who wants to help you."
"I don't want your help," James snaps.
"Are you sure about that? It seems to me like you could use a little help. And I'm sure we could come up with a deal that even you find agreeable." He tilts his head, his crazy smile still in place.
"I will not make a deal with you," James replies, trying to keep his voice even, "and this is a waste of both our time." His sword in one hand and the reigns of his horse in the other, he makes to move past Rumpelstiltskin. "You will win nothing from me."
"You won't defeat her without me," Rumpelstiltskin continues, as if James hasn't started to walk away. "But I can deliver her to you! It won't be much that I ask in return. After all, the Queen has slighted me, too, and I don't let a slight go unanswered."
James pauses. If Rumpelstiltskin has his own reasons to take down the Queen, reasons other than to manipulate James, then maybe an alliance with him, for this alone, wouldn't be a mistake.
"Oh, ho, you're curious now, aren't you, Prince Charming?" Rumpelstiltskin laughs. "It's a simple story, really. I once made a deal with a pretty little girl. I told her I'd help her win herself a king, but in return she'd need to give me whatever I asked. She agreed, but she broke our deal."
"I fail to see how this has anything to do with me," James says.
"It was the Queen, don't you see?" Rumpelstiltskin says. "The evil Queen, people call her now. She agreed to give me anything, but when I'd turned her straw to gold, when I'd held up my end of the bargain, she refused to hold up hers. She refused to give me her first born child."
James turns to look at him, and Rumpelstiltskin nods. "Yes, that's right. I mean Snow White. And when the Queen cried that she couldn't hand over her child, I so benevolently offered another deal. I am a reasonable man. I told her if only she'd guess my name she could keep her baby. But she didn't guess it! She overheard it! She cheated!" His eyes flash with a kind of abrupt rage.
"The baby should have been mine! But, oh, make no mistake, the deal she broke haunted her, took from her what she made the deal for in the first place. It even made her hate the very child she wanted so desperately to keep. You cannot break a deal, Prince Charming!"
"Snow isn't yours," James says.
"Oh, I know," Rumpelstiltskin dismisses. "I want nothing with her now. But you and I have a common enemy, don't you see? We can help each other. I'll tell you what you need to know to bring down the Queen, and in return. . . ."
"And in return what?" James asks.
"You'll owe me," Rumpelstiltskin answers simply.
James stares at him for a moment. "You think I don't know what that means? You think I would be so stupid as to promise you anything, and then when the Queen had been locked away, then when Snow and I were married and she became pregnant, you'd claim the child for yourself?"
"Now, now, I never said that I would ask for that."
James lifts his sword, forcing Rumpelstiltskin to back away. "I will not make a deal with you."
"Oh, oh, calm down," Rumpelstiltskin says, raising his hands up, "if you're sure, I'll be on my way. But should you change your mind, I'm sure you'll be able to find me." He smiles his crazy smile again. "Never fear, my prince, this isn't the last you'll see of me!" And he disappears with a soft pop. Slowly, James lowers his sword.
And, still shaken, he sets off to talk to Philip. It's a two day ride.
But he understands why Rumpelstiltskin chose that moment to talk to him when he arrives two days later and Philip explains his news. That was his darkest moment, yes, but it was also his last dark moment, because the tide has changed. "It's a rising murmur in her kingdom," Philip says, "and it's spread to mine. Apparently, Snow White has reached out to the peasants, to her people, and they've promised their loyalty. They want their beloved princess back on the throne."
James thinks of what Rumpelstiltskin said. The evil Queen, people call her now.
More importantly, James realises, Snow wants to fight. He smiles.
"If you want to march on the kingdom," Philip says, "my men will be with yours, as will the people, and we can count on the western kingdoms to support us. Her dark magic is a threat to all of us." He pauses. "We can easily force the guards to stand down, lest a revolution begins. The Queen cannot resist outer and inner pressure. If you want to make a move, now is the time."
James nods. "Now is the time."
He misses Mary Margaret before even a week passes.
This is the right thing to do, but he doesn't really have any friends, doesn't really have anyone but Catherine. And Catherine can be sweet, but he doesn't really know how to talk to her, and she doesn't seem to need him to talk to her; she talks more than enough for the both of them.
His work takes him from the elementary school to the middle school, and that makes it easier to avoid Mary Margaret. But he still sees her around the tiny town, especially at the diner, where it becomes painfully clear how much he doesn't want to avoid her. He can't help that his eyes always stray to her whenever she's nearby, and he loses track of the number of times her friend Emma catches his gaze and silently demands he look away, demands he leave Mary Margaret alone.
He thinks a lot about if he had let her kiss him, what it would have been like, if he would have felt something. And he kisses Catherine, and he waits to feel something, but he can't, and he can't make himself happy with her, no matter how hard he tries. A part of him wants to blame Mary Margaret.
If she hadn't come into his life, if he hadn't opened his eyes for the first time to see her face, then maybe it wouldn't be so hard to like the life that was already carved out for him. But she did come into his life, and her smile was the first bright picture in his mind when he took a sharp breath of cold air, and he can't fit into this life. He kisses Catherine, and he wants to kiss Mary Margaret.
After a while, he starts to doubt it's worth the effort to pretend otherwise.
The little boy, the one who believes they're all cursed fairy tale characters, actually comes to his house on a random Thursday afternoon and begs him not to give up yet on Mary Margaret. "You're supposed to be with Ms. Blanchard," he tells David. "You're supposed to love her."
He doesn't really know what to tell the kid.
But as he hangs up the Christmas lights that Catherine has him bring down from the attic, he tries to make the display something special, because Mary Margaret told him how much she loves Christmas lights. She likes to drive all around town to see all the lights. He wants her to like these.
No matter how hard he tries, he can't fit into this life, and he can't forget Mary Margaret.
As a new year dawns, he kisses Catherine at midnight and he decides maybe he and Mary Margaret can be friends, despite what she said. He makes up excuses to stop by the diner as often as he can in hopes he'll see her when Catherine isn't around and he can actually approach her.
Of course, Emma is always around when Catherine isn't, and her expression is never pleasant when she looks at David, as if to warn him off, clearly protective. He understands, he does, but he doesn't think she really understands. The last thing he wants to do is hurt Mary Margaret. He finally sees Mary Margaret come in to the diner alone, snow in her hair and on the shoulders of her bright red pea coat. She glances around, and he stumbles out of his booth, waving to her. Her face freezes when she sees him.
"Mary Margaret," he says, smiling. "How are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine," she says, and she holds her purse close to her chest. "How are you?"
"I've —" He suddenly doesn't know what to say. "I've missed you."
Her eyes soften.
They both spin around, and another man with balding blonde hair stands, a large, toothy smile on his face. David looks back at Mary Margaret, and she won't really meet his gaze. The man hugs her, and she laughs awkwardly. "Hi Stuart," she greets, and Stuart kisses her cheek.
"This is Stuart," she tells David, "and this is David." She looks back and forth between them, and Stuart holds his hand out to David. He shakes his hand, nods at the smile Stuart offers him, and he looks back at Mary Margaret, who has her gaze on the floor.
This is a date. She came to the diner for a date.
"I'll let you two enjoy your evening," David says, and he retreats back to his own booth, even as he watches from the corner of his eye as Stuart helps Mary Margaret out of her coat and pulls out a chair for her. He shouldn't be surprised. Why wouldn't Mary Margaret date? She's single.
She isn't married. She has no reason not to go out, to live her life. He should be happy for her.
As he leaves, he doesn't let himself look at her table, at her and at Stuart.
A week later, he buys two Valentine's Day cards. He wants Mary Margaret as his friend, and he tells her as much in the card. A few days later, he sees her in the check out line at the grocery store, and he doesn't try to push his way through the crowded store to talk to her, but he waves.
Her smile is soft as she waves back. It's the highlight of his week. And he knows he loves her. It isn't scary.
It simply is what it is: love.
He makes the decision at that moment.
And that night, at the dinner table, he pushes his peas across his place and waits for Catherine to finish her explanation of the surprise party they threw her co-worker, Cindy, and how tacky all the decorations were, but that's to be expected with Janice in charge of decorations, obviously, and do you want another beer?
"I actually need to talk to you about something," he tells her.
"Oh, is everything okay?" she asks. She doesn't look too concerned.
"No," he admits, "it's really not."
She frowns, and she slowly sets her fork down. "What's the matter?"
He sets his own fork down, too. "I'm not happy. And I know that sounds selfish to say, but I've tried for months now to make myself want this life that is supposed to be mine, but it isn't working. I don't belong in this life. I wish I did. I wish I could." He really is sorry, and he needs her to know that.
She closes her eyes, touches her hand to her mouth for a moment, and she shakes her head sadly. He expects her to tell him that he just needs to be patient, that he'll remember his life soon, but instead when she finally opens her eyes and looks at him again, her gaze is resigned.
"I should have known this would happen," she says. "After all, it happened before."
He frowns. "It happened before?"
"I told you we had a fight before your accident, but that wasn't entirely true," she says. She pauses. "And neither was our marriage." His frown deepens, and he isn't sure he understands, but she only continues, tears brimming in her eyes. "We aren't married, David. We never were. We were engaged, but you called it off. You said we weren't really right for each other, and you left."
"But —" He shakes his head. No. That doesn't make any sense.
"When the mayor called me," she explains, "she addressed me as Mrs. Nolan, and she said that the courts had a record of the marriage licence we applied for, and I realised that nobody seemed to know that we weren't married, and this was my chance to win you back. . . ."
He pushes back from the table. "All this time, all these months," he starts, and he finds he isn't angry, isn't even frustrated. "I've tried to remember a life that didn't exist. I tried to remember a lie."
It's almost a question, and her answer is tearful.
"I thought we could have a fresh start!" she protests. "And it wasn't all a lie, it wasn't!"
He swallows thickly. "I do need a fresh start," he says. Her lip trembles, and he stands, and she breaks into tears, burying her face in her hands. He can't think of anything to say to her, not now, anyway. All he can think of is Mary Margaret. He grabs his wallet on the way out of the house.
"It doesn't matter what you do to me," the Queen hisses, teeth barred. "You've already lost your happy ending, Prince Charming." The nickname on her lips is poison, and he hates the triumphant gleam in her eyes, but she has no power anymore. Her words are an empty threat.
His forces, along with Philip's, marched into the kingdom, and the people rallied behind them, cheering, throwing flowers, as if for a homecoming. Her guards fought, but they were easier to take down than James could have imagined. It was easy to take the kingdom, really.
Still, the Queen fled, and it took over three days to find where she hid in the forest.
That doesn't matter now.
"You have been stripped of your throne," he tells her, "for attempted murder of the rightful heir, for treachery, for treason, and surely for crimes worse than anyone here would like to imagine."
He nods at the guards who have a hold of her, her magic so precariously suppressed, and they pull her to her feet. He grips the hilt of his sword, lest she try to make some last minute escape. He'll escort her to the dungeons down below, and he'll see any last vestige of power taken from her.
"It won't make a difference," she tells him, and she looks insane now, eyes wide, "you can lock me up for all eternity, it wouldn't save her, that foolish, trusting child."
He doesn't want to ask, but he has to. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Your precious Snow White," the Queen says, her whole face contorted, "accepted an apple from a stranger, and a bite of that is the last bite she ever took." Her smile isn't a smile. "She took from me what I loved most, and now you can know how that feels."
His heart pounds in his chest. "You lie."
She laughs, and then she lunges forward suddenly, and the guards restrain her, and they start to drag her away. "I wouldn't lie about such a pleasure as this, dear prince! Snow White is dead!"
"No," he says, shaking his head.
"Yes!" she shouts. "You think I didn't finally discover where she'd hid herself away? You think I didn't find that little cottage with all those drunken dwarves? They leave her alone all day, you know, and when a sweet old lady comes with an apple, how can kind, pretty Snow White resist?"
He can't really breathe, but she tries to lunge at him again, and the guards start to drag her away. She only continues to scream the words. "Snow White is dead! Poisoned! Snow White is dead!"
The words turn his blood cold, make his breath burn, force his feet to start towards the door of their own accord, and within moments he finds himself in the stable. He won't believe that wretched woman, he won't. He'll see for himself now, see Snow alive, see her happy and finally free.
A sudden onslaught of panicked shouts reaches him, even as he rides away, and the Queen may have well just made her attempt at an escape with whatever last vestige of power she still holds. But he can't spare the time for that. He urges his horse on, to the forest, to Snow White.
He'll find her.
He takes the stairs up to her apartment two at a time, and his hand shakes a little as he knocks.
Emma answers the door, and she frowns when she sees him. "Is Mary Margaret here?" The words come out rushed, and for a moment Emma doesn't answer, but finally she shakes her head.
"She's on a date, actually, with Stuart. You've met him." She shifts a little, leaning her hip against the door. "Shouldn't you be at home with your wife right now?" she asks, eyes suspicious.
"I don't have a wife," he replies. "I never did. I don't know what my life really was, but it doesn't matter. I don't care anymore, and I don't need to pretend I do. Where is she? Mary Margaret?"
"She's on a date," Emma repeats, expression unreadable.
He nods. "I'll find her." He turns to leave, but Emma stops him, and for a moment she only stares at him. "The Italian place up on third street," she finally says. "They should still be there." He lets out a breath, and he nods, thanking her, and then he's back down the stairs and on the street.
Third is only six blocks away.
It starts to rain on his way, soft and steady, and he makes a scene when he stumbles into the restaurant. But he spots Mary Margaret right away, and she looks shocked as he weaves his way through the tables towards her. He doesn't spare a glance for Stuart. "I need to talk to you," he says, and Mary Margaret only gapes at him. "I need a minute to talk to you, please."
"I'm — I'm on a date, David," she says.
"I know," he says, "but I really need to talk to you, because you're really the only friend I have, and I just really need a friend right now. It'll only be for a minute. I need to talk to you."
She glances at Stuart, smiling apologetically as she pulls her napkin off her lap, and then suddenly she takes David by the hand and leads him to the back of the restaurant, where the bathrooms are, a small, darker space. She drops his hand, and she crosses her arms, expectant.
"I'm not married," he tells her.
"You're not —?" She shakes her head. "You are married. What are you —?"
"No, I'm not. I was engaged, but I broke it off. And Catherine wanted to try again, and she lied to the mayor, and she said we had married, but we hadn't. I'm not married. She isn't my wife."
Her brow furrows, and he knows she doesn't understand. He reaches out, touches her arms.
"Catherine lied to me," he explains, "and I have a feeling she convinced a lot of people to do the same. Everybody lied to me. But you didn't, and you are — you are the best thing in my life, and I know you're here on a date, and I know you and I haven't really talked in weeks, and I know —"
"You know what it means that I'm here on a date?" she interrupts.
"And I know that I don't have a single reason to deny the way I feel any more," he says. "I never really did, honestly, and I'm sorry that it took me this long, but I've found my way here now."
She starts to shake her head again, and she makes to move past him, but he catches her hand. She turns back around, eyes so wide, and he tugs her closer to him, even as he steps closer to her.
He kisses her, finally. And her lips are soft and sweet, and he can feel her eyelashes flicker against his face, even as her hands come to rest on his shoulders, and her lips part against his. He draws back for a moment, opens his eyes in time to see her own open once more, and, slowly, her eyes searching his, she smiles.
"Are you sure about all of this?"
He kisses her again, and he can feel her smile against his lips.
"I think I was always supposed to be with you."
I wish you'd hold me when I turn my back,
The less I give, the more I get back.
Oh, your hands can heal, your hands can bruise.
I don't have a choice, but I'd still choose you.