Chocolate and Cinnamon

John had one hand wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate while the other held The Hobbit open. After finding out that it was one of Mary's favorites he had voiced an interest in reading it and she quite happily gave him this copy. He'd only just started it but he was enjoying the book quite thoroughly.


He looked up as Mary slid into the booth next to him; a grin creased his face. "Hey."

She leaned up and pecked him on the lips, which he returned, before reaching over to raise the cover of the book so she could read the title. She grinned up at him upon seeing what it was. "How do you like it so far?"

"It's great," he marked the page, closing the book, "I can't wait to see how it ends." He turned to face her properly. "So, I've been meaning to talk to you about Valentine's Day."

Mary bit her lip. "Do you have to work?"

"Nope, he doesn't."

They both looked up at Emma's swift rejoinder. She sat down across from the couple. "I'm covering that night. So he's entirely free for whatever you two decide to plan."

"Are you sure you're ok with me taking the time off?" John questioned her.

"Absolutely," his boss affirmed. "I'm really not big on Valentine's Day anyway and not in much of a party mood." Ruby placed Emma and Mary's hot chocolates on the table; both women thanked her. "You two enjoy it." She took a sip of her drink. "How's your day going, anyway, Mary?"

"Henry's fine," Mary promptly answered.

"That's not what I asked you," Emma protested.

Her roommate gave her a look that clearly conveyed that the sheriff wasn't fooling her.

A wry smile crossed Emma's face before she asked, "You sure?"

"Really. He's his normal self," she reassured the worried mother. "Regina won't keep you separated forever."

It always amazed Emma how positive the teacher could remain, even in such a hopeless place as Storybrooke. "So, he's his normal self. He's fine," the blonde questioned. "He's happy?"

"Yes," Mary tried to assure her emphatically. When hurt slid onto her roommate's features the teacher realized that wasn't precisely what she'd wanted to hear and she'd taken it differently than Mary had meant it. "No!" she corrected herself. "He misses you, a lot! Trust me. I'm with him, like, six hours a day."

Emma looked reassured with those words, but then frowned as her phone buzzed on the table.

John looked up at her. "What is it?"

The sheriff scowled at the screen. "It's the station, something's up."

All three rose, Mary let John out so that he could follow Emma.

He looked back at her with a half-smile. "Dinner tonight?"

"Definitely." She nodded with an answering grin.

"Great." He gave her one last smile before jogging after Emma; he held the door open for Ashley, who had Alexandra strapped to her chest, greeting mother and child warmly.

A scoff had Mary turning her head.

Ruby was rolling her eyes as she cleared the drinks that Emma and John had left behind. "You two are so far gone over each other that it's almost sickening."

"Oh, leave her alone, Ruby," Ashley chided as she handed Alexandra to a very happy Granny. She turned to Mary with a smile. "Mind if I join you?"

"Please," the teacher agreed eagerly, gesturing for the younger woman to sit across from her as she settled back in the booth. "How are you doing?"

"Good." The young woman let out a slightly weary breath. "It's been a bit crazy with Alexandra not sleeping through the night, Sean and I going to school, him working, and preparing for the wedding in May. But," she glanced over at where Granny was gently bouncing the baby in her arms and cooing at her, "I don't know that I've ever been so happy." She looked back at the dark-haired woman with a brilliant smile.

"I'm so glad." Mary reached across the table to cover one of her friend's hands with her own.

Ashley flipped her hand to grip hers in return. "It's good to see you so happy as well." Her eyes were gleaming. "I think we all know who we can credit for making you that happy."

A hint of pink stained the teacher's cheeks, but she was beaming. "John's been amazing."

"But I'm betting you're still a little frustrated," Ruby commented wryly as she set Ashley's drink down.

Mary blushed wildly. "Ruby!" She glanced around them, thankful to see that no one outside their little group had heard them.

The waitress cocked her leg, propping her fist on her hip and eyeing the teacher. "So, what are you going to do to push him into it?"

The teacher bit her lip. "Do you really think I should? I mean is the timing right?"

Ruby raised an eyebrow. "It's Valentine's Day. When could the timing be even better?"

"She's right," Ashley agreed. "It's one of the most romantic days of the year. Is he working?"

"No, Emma is taking the shift that night."

"Well then, you're not going to find better timing to ravish him." Ruby smirked.

Mary blushed a remarkable shade of red.

Ashley rolled her eyes, at the waitress' antics. "But only if being with him is what you want at this point," she cut in.

Mary met the young blonde's steady gaze.

"Is it?" The young mother raised her eyebrows.

The teacher slowly nodded, the gesture becoming firmer as she did so. "Thank you."

"What are you going to do about Mr. Gold?" Mary looked at her roommate questioningly over their coffee the next morning.

Emma shrugged, crunching on a spoonful of cereal. "Until he actually does something, beyond looking for Moe French myself all I can do is watch and wait." She scooped up more flakes. "I'm planning on spending the day and night keeping an eye on him."

Mary watched the blonde over the rim of her mug as she took a sip. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Nothing except have a great time with John tonight." Her friend looked up at her, a sly gleam in her eyes. "Speaking of tonight," she set down her spoon and leaned forward on her arms on the table, "what do you two have planned?"

"Well," the teacher began, "he says he wants it to be a surprise," she gave the other woman a grin, "he just seems to love surprising me for some reason."

"The guy is a total sloppy, sappy romantic," Emma smirked, but there was true happiness in her eyes for the joy she saw radiating from her roommate. "He wants nothing more than for you to be head-over-heels in love with him, like he is with you." She picked her spoon back up. "Though, I've pointed out to him that you already are."

Mary smiled down into her mug, and then bit her lip, glancing up at her roommate a little nervously. "I-I was actually planning on having him come back to the apartment with me after dinner… And I wanted to make sure you'd be all right with that."

"Sure," the sheriff shrugged carelessly, "why wouldn't I be?"

"I mean, I want him to…stay," her friend clarified blushingly.

Emma looked up at her with a droll stare. "I know." Her gaze went back down to her cereal. "Why do you think I was already planning on being away from the apartment most of, if not all, the night?"

Mary's face immediately did a creditable impression of a tomato.

Waiting for Mary on her desk when she arrived at school was a vase of two dozen roses, half of them red and the other half white. The other female teachers had gushed and giggled over the gesture, teasing her about how romantic it was, with a few of them confiding how they wished that their man would do something like that. The note was handwritten and "requested" her "company" for the evening; recommending that she dress warmly and comfortably. She wondered what on Earth John had planned for their Valentine's Day.

She'd managed to rope Emma into helping her choose an outfit during a quick break the sheriff was taking that afternoon. It had been a debate for a while, but eventually they agreed that from the note's indications she should wear pants. They had settled on a pair of dark-wash jeans, a white cowl-neck sweater and a pair of red dangling earrings and a matching necklace that Emma lent her. Emma had then dashed off to relieve John so that he could get ready for the date.

Promptly at six there was a familiar, firm knock on the door. Mary opened it with a wide grin, a matching smile was on John's face; he stood at the threshold in jeans, a red and blue plaid shirt and his usual jacket.

His eyes went wide at seeing her and the grin on his face became even bigger. "Wow."

The slightest hint of pink tinged Mary's cheeks, but she looked him directly in the eye, head held high, with a bright smile. "Thank you."

He held up a hand, offering her the scarlet rose grasped in his fingers with a slight bow. "For you, my lady."

Mary bit back the giggle that wanted to escape at his overly-chivalrous gesture, accepting the de-thorned stem. "Well, thank you, good sir." She curtseyed and the lowered her head to sniff the delicate fragrance. "Let me just add this to my new collection and we can go." She turned to the kitchen, leaving the door open for him to enter.

John stepped through and followed her, watching as she carefully slid the rose in with the others he'd sent earlier in the day. "I'm glad to see you got them."

She gave him a laughing smile. "You threw the other teachers into quite a tizzy with these." Adjusting a few of the blooms she continued, "I've been working there for as long as anyone can remember and no one has ever done anything like this for me."

With a tilt of his head he inquired, "No one?"

Mary shook her head. "Never." She blushed and looked at him a little shyly. "I've never really garnered much attention."

He stepped forward, brushing her bangs from her eyes. "The men around here must be blind. Well, their loss." His grin became smug. "My gain."

Mary blushed a vibrant red. "You know you don't have to keep saying things like that."

"I want to, and I mean it," he insisted.

Her cheeks were still warm as she rose up and pressed a soft, sweet kiss to his lips. "Thank you."

John caught her elbows, preventing her from immediately moving away and pecked her lips again. "Happy Valentine's Day, Mary."

A smile curled her lips. "Happy Valentine's Day, John." For the first time she could remember she actually was happy it was Valentine's Day.

"Come on." He turned and lifted her coat from its hook, helping her into it. There was a secretive, delighted grin on his face. "I think you'll like what I have planned, at least I hope so."

They were bouncing along what Mary was fairly certain were either country roads, or off road entirely. She had agreed, after some cajoling from John, to be blindfolded for the drive out, so as not to spoil the surprise. Finally she felt the truck shudder to a stop, and John shifted it into park.

"Don't take off the blindfold," he instructed her as she was raising a hand to remove it; she heard his seatbelt click, "I'll be over in a moment to help you."

Mary lowered her hand and sat back. "Ok."

The keys jangled as he pulled them out of the ignition and the door creaked a little as he opened and then closed it again. She could just hear his crunching footsteps as he jogged around the front of the truck to her door. Mary turned her head blindly toward him when the door was opened, reaching out a hand where she thought he might be. John's sure hand caught her searching one; at his urging she turned in her seat, swinging her feet out. His other hand cupped the elbow of her other arm, helping her as she slowly slid from her seat to drop to the ground. She was slightly jarred when her feet hit the gravel; she leaned into John, letting him steady her, knowing with absolute faith that he wouldn't let her fall. Mary enjoyed the press of his form to hers, and the hitch she heard in his breathing. She bit her lip to keep from grinning at the thrill that ran through her at the knowledge that he was just as affected by her as she was by him.

John cleared his throat, shifting his grip so that he was slightly behind her, one hand at her waist and the other on her elbow. "This way."

It was a little disconcerting walking over the uneven ground unable to see, but John's steady presence and strong voice warning her of obstacles was reassuring.

Finally, he gently pulled her to a stop. "We're here." She felt him reaching up to untie the blindfold.

When the fabric fell away Mary's eyes fluttered open. She blinked a few times to assure herself that she wasn't seeing things before letting out a delighted laugh.

Twinkle lights were strung around the tiny, frozen pond; a small folding table and two chairs sat off to one side.

She spun to John, who was grinning at her broadly.

"Emma said that you mentioned enjoying ice skating, but that you hadn't been in a long time," he admitted.

Mary pressed her lips together, trying to contain herself somewhat, before she rose swiftly on her toes, grabbed the lapels of his jacket and crashed her lips into his.

John wrapped one arm around her waist, while the other cupped her cheek, chuckling into the kiss. When they pulled apart a bit he grinned at her saying, "I take it you like it?"

She pressed another quick, keen kiss to his lips; delight clear on her face when she pulled back again. "What do you think?" she asked coyly.

With a grin he kissed her once more before disentangling their arms and taking her hand to lead her over to the chairs. "Come on."

Upon his helping her down into one of the seats Mary realized that that her skates were set beside the table; she bit her lip. "I haven't skated in a long time, my skates aren't sharp."

"Don't worry," John assured her as he pulled one of his boots off, "I got them sharpened when I bought mine."

She couldn't help grinning at him again. "Thank you." She joined him in switching from shoes to skates. "So…can you skate?" Her eyes cast to him curiously.

He chuckled ruefully. "That was something I had to come here to test out," he admitted. "I was out of practice, but yes, apparently I do know how to ice skate."

"Wonderful!" Mary declared, getting to her feet, skates already done-up, and moved to stand in front of him expectantly.

John eyed her from where he was still bent over his skates. "How did you get yours on before me when you started after I did?"

She gave him a bright smile. "Practice."

Snorting, he yanked on the laces one last time before tying them.

Mary extended her hands to him. "Come on."

He smiled broadly at her, reaching up, taking her hands and standing. "As my lady bids me."

She rolled her eyes. "Emma right about you edging on corny," she teased him.

"Hmm," John leaned his head down to rub noses with her, a warm smirk on his face, "you wouldn't change me for the world."

She couldn't help the short, helpless laugh that escaped her. "No, I don't suppose I would." Tugging on his hands she teetered over to the ice. At the edge she bit her lip, glancing at him. "I haven't done this in a while; I might be a bit unsteady at first."

His hands rested on her waist as he moved with her gingerly onto the impromptu rink. "That's alright; at least that way you can't make fun of me when I fall."

"I can if I don't fall," she teasingly told him, as they began to slowly and tentatively shuffle across the ice.

"Hmm," he leaned his head over her shoulder so that his lips brushed the shell of her ear, "I suppose, but if you do I'd have to take retribution."

Mary looked over her shoulder at him with a cocked eyebrow. "'Retribution?'"

"Mm hmm," he confirmed grimly.

She continued to eye him warily, with the same feeling she got when one of her class pranksters was about to pull something.

Suddenly his hands at her waist were tickling her and she shrieked with laughter, trying to squirm away from him. Her jerky movements caused her feet to fly out from under her; they both went down fairly hard on the ice, though Mary's landing was a little softer, being that it was partially on top of John.

He let out a groan prompting her to roll over to check on him.

"John, are you all right?" Worry was bright in her eyes.

It took him a couple of gasps to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him by the fall. "That wasn't exactly the best idea I've ever had," he commented ruefully.

"Well," she began in as prim a voice she could muster while still worrying over him, "let that teach you not to do that while a person is skating."

"I suppose so." A smug grin began to spread across his face while his arms wrapped around her form, still lying atop his. "Though, I can't complain with the result at the moment."

Mary choked on a laugh. "You're unbelievable," she muttered, grinning.

His gloved hand caressed her cheek. "I thought I was 'incorrigible,'" he countered laughingly, pulling her head down to his, while lifting his own.

"That too," she confirmed just before their lips pressed together.

The ice was cold at John's back, but with Mary in his arms, every inch of her pressed to him, he didn't particularly notice it.

They let themselves just get lost in each other for the moment.

The annoyingly cheerful ring of John's cell phone had them slowly parting with groans.

They sat up on the ice while he pulled the jangling phone out of his pocket. "I'm sorry," he ruefully glanced at her. "The only person who really calls me is Emma –"

"And she wouldn't have called if it wasn't important," she easily cut in.

John smiled at her tightly, hitting the "answer" button. "Hello?"

Mary watched as his brow furrowed. "Uh huh…Yeah, I'll be right there…No, I understand…" His eyes lifted to Mary's. "Yeah, I'll tell her…See you."

She pressed her lips into a tight smile as he lowered the phone, hanging up. "You have to go?"

He looked at her regretfully. "I'm so sorry, Mary; Emma apologizes too, but she really needs me to be there."

She leaned forward, kissing his cheek. "It's all right." She pulled back again, looking at him with acceptance. "It's your job, and that's something I'm going to have to get used to."

He tangled their gloved hands together. "Thank you."

John frowned as he shifted the truck into park in front of the cabin. An ambulance had pulled up just before they had arrived and the paramedics were climbing out. Unbuckling his seatbelt, he turned to Mary. "I don't know how long this will take; you can drive my truck back home."

She bit her lip. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," he leaned over to kiss her quickly. "I'll get a ride from Emma. The food for tonight is in the back." John tilted his head toward the bed of the truck.

Mary reached over, placing a hand on his jaw, her thumb brushing along the scar on his chin. "Will you come by after you guys finish up?"

"It might not be until late," John cautioned her. "You have school tomorrow morning; I don't want you to be up too late."

She leaned over and kissed him again, before pulling back and smiling at him brightly. "I'll be waiting."

"Mary, you don't –"

The press of her finger against his lips silienced his well-intentioned objections.

"I want to," she countered, still grinning brightly.

A heart-melting smile spread across his face. "Thank you."

She stroked her thumb once more over the scar on his chin. "Go on. I'll see you later."

John ducked back in for one last quick kiss and then jumped out of the truck. He waited until she'd slid over to the driver's seat and was buckled in, before closing the door and stepping back. They waved to each other as she began driving off and he headed toward the cabin.

Mary had put most of the food away in the refrigerator; having grabbed a banana to tied her over until John got home from whatever the mess was. She had changed into a pair of pajama pants, a tank-top and sweater, before climbing onto one of the stools at the kitchen island with a copy of Sense and Sensibility and a mug of cinnamon-laced hot cocoa.

There was a familiar, firm knock on the door.

"Come in!" she called, not getting up from her position.

As expected, when the door was pushed open it was to reveal John.

"Hey," Mary greeted him brightly.

"Hey," he returned, closing the door. His expression became slightly chiding. "Isn't it a bit dangerous, leaving the door unlocked and telling someone to 'come in' when you don't know who's on the other side of the door?" His easy stride brought him to stand beside her.

"I knew it was you," she told him simply, with assuredness; cradling her cocoa between her hands.

John leaned against the island, his head bent close to hers. "Oh? And how is that?"

"Your knock is very distinctive." She took a sip of her drink and then nodded at the fridge. "I put the food in there; we can eat whenever you're ready."

His eyes became soft and the corner of his lips pulled into a half-smile. "You waited for me?"

"Of course I did." Her tone made it sound as if it should go without asking.

John cupped her cheek and kissed her sweetly. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." She set her mug down and slid off of the stool. "Would you like to eat now?"

"I'm starving," he admitted with a wry grin, following her to the fridge and giving her a hand with the food.

They worked together seamlessly as they pulled out the food, reheating some of it, and placing what they each wanted on two plates. Mary put some food on a third for Emma and then returned it along with what was left of the dinner in the fridge again.

They settled at one corner of the kitchen table; both were silent for a few minutes while they ate, until the edge of their hunger was taken off.

Mary looked up first. "What happened?"

John let out a weary sigh as he set down his fork and rubbed a hand over his face. "Mr. Gold found Moe French."

Her expression fell; she looked down at her plate. "Oh." She bit her lip for a moment. "I take it that he didn't handle things well."

With a mirthless bark of laughter he picked his fork back up again, casting a dark glance at her. "Mr. Gold gave him quite a beating." He took a bite and after swallowing asked, "You know the saying, 'looks can be deceiving?'" At her nod he continued, "Well, it most definitely applies to him. To look at him, especially with his limp, one would never believe him physically able to take on Moe French, but he did." John pressed his lips together, glaring at his plate.

Mary set down her utensil and reached over to cover his hand with hers. "What is it?"

He lifted his eyes to hers. "I'm still worried about Emma." He pushed some of the food around on the plate. "Having her tied to Gold makes me nervous, especially after today."

She rubbed her hand up and down his in a soothing gesture. "I worry too, but one thing she has in her favor is that Mr. Gold seems to actually like her, or at least respects her. And that's something few in town have."

John grimaced. "I know." He let the fork fall from his hand. "Some days I'm not sure who the bigger threat is, Gold or Regina."

"Well," she tilted her head thoughtfully, "they both have…dangers inherent in them and in dealing with them. Differing ones."

"Exactly." He lifted his gaze to hers with his emphatic tone. "They're both dangerous in their own ways, but which one is the greater?"

Mary pressed her lips together in consideration. "I think it would depend on the situation."

He let out a frustrated sigh, picking his fork back up. "And that worries me even more."

She lifted her hand to brush her fingers over his brow with a gentle smile. "And you say I'm the worrier," she gently teased.

A wry grin quirked his mouth as he looked back up at her. "I guess we're both fairly guilty of that, aren't we?"

Brushing the backs of her fingers down the side of his face, she gave him a sweet smile. "Well, if worrying all the time about those we love is the greatest of our so-called 'sins,' then I think we're in good stead."

John gave a soft chuckle, catching her hand as she began to pull it back. He gazed at her with a little regret. "I'm sorry that our plans for tonight didn't work out like they were supposed to."

"John, this is life, things rarely go as planned. And honestly," she turned in her seat and scooted closer to him, resting her forehead against his, "this has been the best Valentine's Day I have ever had. Don't apologize for that."

He sighed, reaching his other hand to cup the back of her neck. "I just wanted our first Valentine's Day to be perfect."

Mary grinned. "Life isn't perfect John. It's messy and confusing and sometimes painful, but in all of its imperfection is the beauty. The unpredictability is what makes life exciting and interesting and worth living." Amusement lit her eyes. "Look at how we met."

A rueful chuckle rumbled in his chest. "True." He rubbed his nose against hers affectionately.

"Anyway," she wrapped her arms around his neck, "just getting to spend time with the man I love makes it a perfect Valentine's Day."

His eyes locked with hers. "Mary…"

One of her hands slid from his neck to cup his jaw, feathering her thumb over the scar. "I love you, John."

A grin split his face as he gently pulled her from her chair to straddle his lap and kissed her deeply. "I love you too, Mary," he whispered back when their lips parted momentarily.

Their hands and lips roamed over each other. At the brush of John's hands Mary shrugged out of her sweater, allowing it to fall to the floor; his lips were instantly mapping her collarbones and shoulders. Mary's head fell back, granting him full access; meanwhile her hands had begun to fumble over the buttons of his shirt impatiently. Finally all of the buttons were undone and he released his hold on her long enough to remove the plaid and then to tug off his thermal undershirt.

"Mary," he mumbled against her lips, his hands pushing at her tank top, "if you don't want this to continue, you'd better say so now."

She tunneled her hands into his short hair, moving her lips to his ear. "Don't stop."

With a groan he tightened his arms around her. "Hold on." He pushed himself to his feet.

Mary's arms tightened around his shoulders and her legs locked around his waist. With their lips still engaged he managed to stagger to her room, kicking the door shut behind them.

He slowly let her slide down his body until her feet were finally, firmly on the floor. Then his hands shifted from their grip on her hips to push her tank top up. Mary released her arms from his shoulders for a moment to accommodate his tugging her top over her head. The shirt fell carelessly to the floor instantly forgotten. John pulled her back against him; they both moaned at the skin-to-skin contact. Mary's lips moved to his shoulder, tracing the lines of the scars there with her mouth and tongue, pressing soothing kisses over them, as if they were fresh wounds and she was trying to heal them with her lips alone. His hands skimmed up her sides, wandering freely over her torso to take in her curves and soft skin. Lips smoothed over her cheek and behind her ear, where he worked the skin with his mouth and teeth.

Lowering himself to his knees, John allowed his mouth to trail down the center of Mary's body; his tongue dipped into her navel, while his hands began to ease her pajama bottoms down. His teeth nipped at one of her hips as it was revealed; he continued to relentlessly push her bottoms down along with her underwear until they fell to the floor of their own accord. John made his way leisurely up her smooth, soft form, taking time to explore all the hollows and hidden places on her body, until his lips were mated to hers again.

While their lips were occupied Mary's hands went to work on his jeans, her fingers deftly undoing the button and zipper. John awkwardly toed out of his loosened boots, kicking them aside; once Mary had managed to shove his jeans and boxers down far enough he stepped out of them. He then slowly backed her toward the bed.

Having her in his arms, in bed, was intoxicatingly new…and yet also familiar. They both knew exactly how to touch and kiss each other to elicit moans and cries. Moving in perfect synchronization; not with the tentativeness of new lovers, but the assuredness of a couple who knew each other…oh-so-intimately.

When Mary threw back her head, crying out his name, it was wonderful and yet somehow…off. He followed her almost immediately over the edge, his own voice calling her name.

They lay languid afterward, tangled in each other's arms.

John's eyes blinked open to the ever more frequent, contradictory feeling of aching familiarity and confusing newness. His eyes cast down to where Mary was curled into his side, her head resting on his shoulder and her arm wrapped around his middle, his own arms holding her tightly to him. There were no words that could properly describe the rightness he felt in that moment; that this was what was meant to be, that he was meant to wake up next to her like this always. There was also a part of him that felt like he had awoken like this, hundreds of times before, but as far as John could remember that wasn't so.

He glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 2:23 a.m. His mouth was extremely dry, so he carefully and reluctantly extracted himself from Mary's grip and eased out of her bed. Her brow furrowed and her hand skimmed over where he was a moment ago; she shifted closer to that spot and burrowed into the residual warmth, still not looking wholly satisfied.

John let out a relieved breath that he didn't wake her and then set about finding his pants, not wanting Emma to possibly walk in and catch him stark naked in the kitchen. Once they were settled on his hips, he eased the door open and shut it with equal caution. He padded on nearly silent bare feet through the common room; he noted Emma's jacket hanging by the door and knew that he was going to have to take extra care to be quiet.

The glass of water did wonders for the desert that had taken up residence in the back of his throat. He glanced around the kitchen; a slight frown creased his face as he noticed an object hanging from the nearest window. John moved closer to discover that it was the shard of glass that Mary had found in Henry's backpack at Christmas; she had apparently found a way to hang it. At the light brush of his finger it twisted on the thin twine, the faintest gleam coming off of it from the dim lighting in the room and a streetlamp outside.

"You're too late."

No! He couldn't be! He'd promised!

"Open it."

"I'm sorry, she's gone."

John jerked back with a gasping breath; he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. When he opened his eyes again the shard was just hanging there, ordinary as can be. Casting one last leery look at it, he turned back to the kitchen and placed his now empty glass in the sink. As he was heading back toward Mary's room he noticed his shirts and Mary's sweater draped over the back of the couch – likely Emma's doing considering the fact that the last time he saw them they were on the floor. John detoured over to pick them up; an item lying on one of the cushions caught his eye and he set the clothing down again, reaching for it instead.

The white knit material was soft and plush under his fingers…and somehow familiar. He turned the fabric over in his hands, frowning. He drew a finger along the purple satin ribbon that had been woven along the edge. He noticed some embroidery and he allowed the blanket to gather in his arms as he shifted it to see what it was. Neat, perfect stitches spelled out in scrolling lettering "Emma."


Suddenly it felt like he was being hit with the force of a tsunami as images, emotions, sounds poured into his head and heart; bringing him to his knees.

"Emma…" her voice cracked, but was completely assured of the truth in her words. "Her name is Emma…"

"Aren't you a real Prince Charming?" the raven-haired beauty above him taunted.

Tears were streaming down her face; down his face, both hardly able to breathe through the pain. "You have to take the baby to the wardrobe."

An older woman held a ring up, telling him with unwavering faith, "True love follows this ring."

"I don't. Love you. I don't." She was looking at him directly in the eye, tearing his heart out.

There was no reason to, but he was desperately delaying their parting. "If you need anything –"

"Can you promise me that our child will be safe?" she countered desperately. "Can you guarantee it?"

"You don't know what you're saying," he begged, gripping the two most important people in the world to him.

Her bright green eyes met his over the tips of her fingers, the ring glinting where she had placed it.

"Nobility wasn't meant to be easy," an older man told him coldly.

"You'll find me." There was a breathless assurance in her voice.

"For our child," he reluctantly agreed.

"You don't want me to tell anyone who you really are…Snow White," he taunted her right back.

"You never have to worry, I will always find you." He brushed a lock of hair from her face.

"Snow wants to be with you more than anything," a red-hooded woman told him, as if it should be obvious.

"Always." She didn't need the assurance, but he gave it to her anyway.

Her beautiful eyes gazed at him without recognition, ripping his heart out for a second time.

"This is not real love. I've felt it. This isn't it. I know the difference." He glared at the counterfeit of his beloved.

Her face was glowing, as she smiled at him with such love. "Do you promise?"

She was radiant in her ball gown; unable to resist, he leaned down to murmur in her ear as he passed, "My darling." Her grin was like the sun.

Her voice broke, "We have to give her her best chance."

The tidal wave receded, leaving him gasping for breath. Things slid into their proper places. Puzzle pieces clicking into empty spaces. A distorted image unwarped.

Sharp blue eye opened, Prince "Charming" James gazed around the room, taking a moment to reorient himself. With a deep breath, he pushed himself to his feet, still staring at objects that were both alien and familiar to him, trying to integrate John's memories with his own. It was extremely disorienting for James, because even though much of John's memory felt like his own, to part of him it seemed like only a moment ago when he was slowly dying on the floor of the castle's nursery. His free hand instinctively went to his side, eyes gazing down as fingers traced the scar. That wound, had the curse not swept in, would have taken his life. If it weren't for the fact that the queen's men wouldn't have been there in the first place had she not enacted the curse, he could almost say that it'd saved his life. The queen. Regina. A rage that he could hardly control roiled through him. She'd destroyed so many lives, caused so much pain, all in the pursuit of assuaging her own need for revenge on his beloved for something Snow had done as a child and still regretted.

Snow's wracking sobs echoed after him as he sprinted from their bedchamber; it'd taken everything in him not to just turn back around and return to her.

Emma's slight weight nestled in his arms as he made his way to the wardrobe, the one and only time he got to hold his precious child.


James' eyes went back down to the blanket, still clutched in one of his hands; his heart clenched. Emma. He could hardly breathe as his eyes turned to the sheriff's – his daughter! – room. James knew that it wasn't a good idea but he couldn't stop his feet from carrying him to the door and slowly opening it – thankful that the hinges didn't squeak. In the darkness of the room he could make out Emma's form half-curled-half-sprawled across the mattress, the vibrant red comforter twisted around her legs, and her arms hugging a pillow. The bindings on James' chest loosened, his heart aching at seeing his little girl all grown up; a tear slid down his cheek. She inhaled deeply, shifting slightly; he tensed, worried that she'd awaken, but she just burrowed farther into her bed and let out a sigh. A relieved breath escaped his lips; it was a herculean effort but he forced himself to back out of the room – he could have stood there all night watching his daughter sleep, unable to believe and so overjoyed that she was safe and in front of him – and close the door silently behind him.

James pressed a hand over his heart, trying to concentrate on slowing its pounding; his gaze was drawn to the other room – Snow's room. His wife. He swallowed thickly, going back to the couch; he draped Emma's blanket neatly over the back, loving fingers stroking over it one last time, before picking up the shirts and sweater and heading for Snow's room.

He pushed the door open; she was still curled up exactly where she'd been when he went for a drink a few minutes – a lifetime – ago. His hands were trembling violently as he set the clothing down on a chair in the corner and made his way unsteadily to the bed – to his wife. James slowly lowered himself to kneel beside the bed, resting his arms on the surface, propping his chin on the edge. He silently observed her, his heart racing. Her hair was so short compared to the long cascade of curls she had back home, but it had started to grow out some since he awoke from the coma, the ends curled a bit hinting at the riot that it naturally was. The moonlight glowing through the windows made her porcelain skin appear even whiter, truly living up to her name. His eyes drifted down the smooth, soft skin of her shoulder, then to arm, to wrist, to hand…to finger. His mother's ring. His ring. Her ring. Their ring. It winked mutedly in the soft lighting from the windows. It both soothed James' heart to see it still with her, where it belonged, but drove him crazy with the fact that it was also wrong.

Wrong hand.

Wrong finger.

His fingers skimmed over her loosely curled digits, brushing against the green gem. Her eyelids fluttered open; his heart skipped a beat when his blue eyes were met with emerald green ones. She blinked a few times, trying to clear her sleep-fogged mind.

"John?" Her voice sleepily inquired.

It wrenched his heart to hear her call him something other than his name or Charming, but he swallowed hard and gave her a half-smile. "Yeah." His voice was thick.

She frowned slightly, her hand sliding out from under his to brush her fingers over his face. "What's wrong?"

Apparently it didn't matter whether she had her memories or not, Snow could always read him perfectly.

James reached up to grasp her hand again and brought the pads of her fingers to his lips. "Nothing," he murmured soothingly. "I just went to get a drink of water." He brought her hand up to his cheek, leaning into her touch.

A sleepy smile lifted her lips. "Ok." Her fingers drifted into his hair; he closed his eyes as her nails gently grazed his scalp. She leaned forward to brush her lips over his. "Come back to bed, John."

"As you wish."

They had a long way to go and much to do. But they had a start; their daughter had found them, even if she didn't believe it yet. James had hope and absolute faith that their world would be put right. But for tonight he climbed back into bed with his wife, who didn't remember that she was his wife, but they were together and he knew just how powerful love was, and that was something their family had in spades.

Snow snuggled into his chest, pressing a kiss directly over his heart. "I love you."

James kissed the top of her head, murmuring into her shorn locks, "I love you too." It took a while but he eventually drifted asleep to the familiar scent of chocolate and cinnamon.

Well, how was that for a little surprise? ;-) I have been waiting for James to remember for a while; I have known for a long time that he would remember first, but wasn't sure until a chapter or two ago that it would be this one. I hope that it lived up to your expectations! O.O If you found the memories disjointed and confusing…then my work is complete, because they were meant to be! ;-) I actually didn't mean for the chapter to get this long (though I have a feeling at least most of you aren't complaining about that… ;-} ), but like with most things in this story it took on a life of its own. I hope that you guys liked it! Please let me know what you think! I'm going over to get going on the next chapter of Once Upon a Time…and Again, Snow is tapping her foot and looking at me really impatiently so that I'll get to the point where she can yell at James for doing something not smart. ;-D

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