Living a Life (1/2)
Summary: Sometimes the things we see ourselves in most clearly aren’t made from glass, and sometimes death is not the ending we think it is, but a pause of breath that gives life to a new beginning.
Rating: T for now
AO3 - FF
Emma didn't really know why she did it, why she stopped at all.
The sidewalks were an icy mess, like the city didn't even care that they were staring a lawsuit in the face, and the clean, shoveled pathway through the cemetery was just too tempting to pass up. She was exhausted after a day spent at the precinct with her latest collar – some sort of mix up with the payment, or the filing, or whatever nonsense it was this time – and she just wanted to get home.
She didn't like the thought of using the cemetery as a shortcut, but the thought of being out of work for two weeks while she recovered from a sprained ankle was even worse.
Maybe it was because she walked past so many other gravestones that had been recently dusted of snow, the past few days of New England weather not accumulating on top of them, brushed away by the hands of loved ones. Maybe it was because she saw the wreaths leftover from Christmas dotting the quiet cemetery, bright orbs of red peeking through snow sprinkled like icing sugar across them.
But she stopped in front of a gravestone that seemed lonelier than the rest, slightly removed from the path and resting beneath one of the many bare trees, days of hardened snow and ice frozen to its surface.
Looking at it – neglected, ignored – she wondered if that's what her grave would look like when she died.
She should probably get cremated.
She should probably just leave. She had no business here, staring at some stranger's grave like the person lying below it cared about anything – cared that no one had stopped to sweep off the snow, but she didn't.
Instead, she stepped off the clean, salted path and crunched through layers of icy snow, deeper than she had thought. She could feel it crumbling over the tops of her low boots, icy pebbles melting and trickling down her heel. Well, she was stuck for it now.
She crouched down in front of the gravestone, and raising one gloved hand, she began brushing the frozen chunks of snow from its shoulders. Removing the dusting of windblown ice from the engraved front proved to be more work than she had anticipated, but after a few minutes she had most of it cleared, the rest would just have to melt on its own. Her hard work rewarded, she finally took the time to read the face of the stone.
She hadn't been to any funerals in her life, but she knew enough that the brevity of what she saw surprised her.
Liam Jones, 1977 – 2011
Her breath left her body, a chill wind stirring her hair and leaving her feeling somehow exposed, like she was doing something she shouldn't be - peering through the window of someone’s life only to find it was an empty house, abandoned. She had expected an old gravestone, someone with no family left to come sit by them and wipe away the snow.
She hadn't been expecting this.
He was young, not much older than her, and since it was only February, it hadn't even been that long since he'd passed. She glanced at the frozen ground she was squatting above and moved hastily to the side, wondering if there was some kind of graveyard etiquette. There must be. Don't stand in front of the graves where people are...resting, she guessed. She wasn't really sure. She'd never had a family, a grave to visit.
She probably should be thankful for that, less heartache.
Snow removed, job done, she stuck her hand back in her pocket and headed down the path. She wouldn't be back again. He wasn't her family, whoever she was, and she wanted to leave the nagging fear that one day that might be her in the cemetery where it belonged.
Weeks passed and she told herself when she headed down the cemetery path again that it was because another big storm had just blown through Boston, and for some reason known only to the city, they never cleared or salted the sidewalks in this neighborhood.
But she didn't try to stop herself when she reached his grave again, this time the name Liam Jones clearly visible, a thick blanket of fresh snow cushioning the top. She walked between the first row of graves and to the side of his, taking care not to step where she assumes he's buried. It seemed like the right way to go about it, even if there aren't any rules. She probably should've googled it, but she hadn't planned on coming back.
She really hadn't.
Instead of questioning it too much, she brushed the snow away with her sleeve and tossed a few stray, fallen twigs back to the ground. It wasn't until after she'd thrown them that she thought to make sure she hadn't dropped them onto another resting place – littering on dead people was most definitely poor graveyard etiquette.
When she stopped in spring, she told herself it was just to enjoy the blossoms on the cherry trees that blanket that portion of the cemetery, knowing it was a lie. She knew because she'd bothered to look up cemetery etiquette online, and yes, it was a thing. She was also mildly curious to see if anyone had been to visit him now that the weather was nicer, if she would even be able to tell.
There were a few graves she'd passed that had small flowers gracing their shoulders, and others with ornate vases built into the stone, colorful blooms filling them. She brushed a scattering of cherry blossoms from the top of Liam's grave and wondered again at the emptiness of it. He must not have had anyone, because if he had, surely they would have written something other than just the year of his birth and death.
Was he a father, a brother? Was he a son? Was he alone, as she was?
“Who were you?” she asked, but no one answered.
The next time she passed through, the cherry trees had long since lost their blooms, and she swept the sickly sweet smelling remains of them from his grave, bending down to tug out the stray clumps of tall grass where the granite sat, immovable. It seemed pretty obvious no one else was visiting, and that not even the groundskeeper had enough hours in the day to really keep everything neat.
They'd had enough dry days that she didn't have to crouch to visit, and found herself sitting back onto the grass between his gravestone and the next.
“Is this...weird?” she asked, glancing around to make sure no one was listening to her talk to a dead person she didn't even know. “I'm sorry no one comes here but me.”
Suddenly she felt self-conscious, the whole situation settling heavily around her, the overpowering perfume of dying flowers clinging to her skin. What the hell was wrong with her that the only connection she'd allow herself was with some stranger's gravestone? Angry with herself, she jumped up and hurried back down the path towards home. She was out of the cemetery and an entire block away when she finally remembered the daisies in her bag. Reaching in, she brushed the crumpled edges of the petals and sighed.
There was another visitor a few graves down when she returned, but they clearly knew enough to not eyeball her or say anything when she walked back over to Liam's grave – mildly flustered – and gently placed the rumpled cluster of flowers on the ledge in front of his name. She brushed her hands roughly on her leather sleeves and left as quickly as she came.
The next time it was a lot easier to talk to him, even if she knew he wasn't listening, and he certainly couldn't talk back. The daisies hadn't lasted very long, so she tossed them and said she'd bring more next time, although she realized she may need to leave something other than flowers. Work had been slow lately, and she wasn't stopping at the precinct all that often to drop off skips – and she couldn't just make a special trip once a week to refresh his flowers.
That would be crazy.
She didn't even know him.
So when her fingers ran across the smooth ridges of the seashell on her windowsill at home, she put it in her pocket.
Spring faded into the suffocating heat of summer, the grass parched and brittle beneath her feet as she crouched next to Liam's grave, brushing away the small ant hills that had formed in the sandy soil with a vengeance she didn't know she had in her for the tiny creatures.
“You know,” she said, and the words hurt before they even left her mouth, “you might be the only person I've got to talk to. How pathetic is that?”
She worked around the back of the grave, tugging up stray weeds she'd missed the last time.
“I brought you something other than flowers. Maybe you weren't even a flower guy, when you were around. I'm not much of a flower girl, I don't think. I've never really had anyone to buy them for me though. There was Neal...but he...well, let's just say he didn't leave me with any good memories, let alone flowers. Is there anyone who has good memories of you? I wish I knew some. It would be nice to know who you were, not just sit here guessing.”
The cemetery was empty, and that's when Emma felt most at ease, most like she could just say what was on her mind without having to worry about anyone listening, or whether they think she's crazy.
She laid the scraggly bunch of weeds at the side of the grave, reminding herself to take it out to the trash can when she leaves.
“Here,” she shrugged, pulling the seashell from her pocket and placing it on the ledge where she last left flowers.
It was a spiral shell, small, but perfect and white with a soft, amber colored center.
“I don't know if you really like seashells either, but...I picked that up a few years ago down at the beach. In the summer, it's always full of families and couples, so I don't go much, but sometimes when it's a little grey and stormy...it's just the most peaceful place to sit and think.”
She didn't say the rest of what she was thinking aloud – that seeing the happy couples and the parents with their kids just made her stomach clench, that all she could think of was how that was never something her mom wanted to go with her.
– was never something she got the chance to do.
That feels like too much to unload, even on a dead guy.
“It's pretty peaceful here too,” she sighed.
Summer relented and fall crept into the city, the once green leaves crisping and drifting to the ground. Despite getting a payday, she was leaving the precinct in a pretty shitty mood. Her skip had almost given her the slip, and she was going to be nursing a bruised shoulder from where she tumbled in an alley trying to keep up with him. By the time she stepped through the archway of the cemetery, the sun had already set, the streetlamps casting cold halos across the damp ground. She heard them before she saw them, and it took her a few seconds to realize they'd gathered just off the path next to Liam's grave.
“Hey!” she snapped, immediately angered by what she was seeing. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Christ, relax, lady,” one of the kids drawled, taking a swig from his beer and clinking it against the gravestone next to Liam's.
Emma didn't know who it belonged to, but it was always well cared for, and she was furious. There were four kids, teenagers, and they'd stomped all over the damp ground in front of the graves, clearly not caring that they were drinking and walking all over someone's remains.
“Look, kid, you and your buddies have about ten seconds to take your crap and get the hell out of here. I just left the precinct, and I've got Chief Humbert on speed dial – ” They didn't need to know how untrue that was, that, in fact, the guy gave her the creeps “ – so I suggest you take your party somewhere else.”
A few eye rolls and snarky comments later and they'd cleared out, leaving Emma feeling both pleased and worried for herself. She plopped down next to Liam's grave, wincing as her palm hit a piece of broken glass.
“Little shits,” she hissed, pulling the chunk of glass from her hand and setting it aside. It was too dark to find all the pieces. “What the hell am I doing?”
She leaned forward and straightened the seashell that was still resting on the stone, glad it had survived Boston's vagrant youths for this long. Wet leaves stuck to the front and sides of the grave, and she pulled off a few that hid his name.
“That's going to be me one day,” she muttered, eyeing the paltry engraving once more. “Emma Swan, time stamp. I'll be lucky if anyone comes to chase delinquents away from my grave.”
Everything was wet and cold, the smell of decomposing leaves rich in the air, and while fall made most people think of pumpkins and Thanksgiving, warm cups of coffee on cold walks – right now she could only think about how dark and cold and oppressively heavy it must be six feet under.
The next time she visited, she left a little fist-sized pumpkin she'd picked up at the bodega. She'd thought about carving it, what with Halloween around the corner, but that was never something she'd done before, and if she messed it up, she'd have nothing.
It didn't take long for the pumpkin to turn into a Thanksgiving feast for the city's squirrels, barely more than a rind left behind like something someone had tossed into the garbage, and she felt bad. She should have come back sooner.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, removing the half-frozen leftovers and pulling the few stray weeds with enough gumption to grow in later November. “Looks like you had quite a bit of furry company while I was gone. If I were a normal person, I'd be home sharing a Thanksgiving meal with my family, or friends – but I don't have either of those, so here I am, talking to you. Happy Thanksgiving, Liam.”
It wasn't long after the first snow hit Boston, and Emma was reminded of that first time she visited the cemetery and wondered who Liam Jones had been, why no one stopped to visit his grave. She could have googled him, but if she was being honest with herself – which she was really trying to be better about these days – she didn't really want to know if he had family that couldn't be bothered to visit. If she didn't know, she couldn't be angry with them for no reason, since she had no right to be.
She didn't know Liam Jones.
She had no right to bear a grudge for him.
As Christmas approached, Emma saw more people visiting, sometimes with family, and other times alone, leaving little battery powered tea lights and wreaths to warm the cold stone. When she saw the bouquet of poinsettias at the bodega, she didn't feel the least bit strange as she placed it on the counter. There aren't any Christmas decorations in her apartment, but she felt like Liam should have something to show that at least one person was thinking about him on the first Christmas he was missing.
The air was bitter and cold as she made the trek though from her neighborhood to the cemetery, but she didn't mind. When she reached Liam's grave, there was a soft blanket of fresh snow atop it, and she brushed it gently to the ground.
“You know, I really should thank you,” she said quietly, glad for the peace and solitude that hung around her. It made it easier to say the words. “I felt like maybe I was doing something nice for you, remembering you in the way I would want someone to think about me, just so that I wasn't completely forgotten, but I feel like coming here...shit, it'll be a year in a couple months. I think I figured something out. I don't want to be alone, Liam. I know I can't guarantee that I won't be alone one day in the ground, with no one left to care, but...I don't want to feel that way now. I've always kept people at a distance, too afraid to get hurt again, but I'm tired of being alone. I want a life, I want to live it...”
There was no answer, but she hadn't been expecting one.
Instead she leaned down and brushed the snow off the little ledge that still held her seashell, frozen to the stone, and gently placed the poinsettias beside it. She reached out and traced her finger along the carved edge of his name before turning to leave, glancing up at the blue sky between the bare branches of the cherry tree.
“If you're, uh, listening anywhere, well, thanks for everything, Liam. Merry Christmas.”
~ * ~ * ~
When Killian woke, it felt like he was being dragged from the bottom of the sea, every force on earth weighing him down still not enough to keep his blissful, dark peace from being disturbed.
Once the light hit him, it wasn't like in the movies. He didn't wake up groggy, or wondering where he was, confused about the machines beeping around him and the tubes connected to his body.
No, he knew exactly where he was and what led him here, and he wanted nothing more than to sink back down to that darkness that was so complete and starving it devoured every thought before he could think it. He wanted to close his eyes and fall back into that oblivion that had been his only respite from the flashes of memory, the pull of voices.
He didn't want to have to remember the sound that steel makes when it cracks and groans, the way the dock shook beneath their feet as the freighter slid into the crane, the sheer force of it toppling the massive tower of heavy steel as easily as if it were nothing more than a house of cards. He wanted to forget running for his brother, watching the mass of cables and metal come down over them – screaming, screaming his name and trying to reach him, unable to move, unable to breathe...
“Can you hear me? My name is Dr. Whale.”
The voice was leaning over him, his mouth moving, more words floating around him. Killian didn't understand why they wouldn't just leave him alone – he tried to roll onto his side, ignoring the the objections from the doctor, and that's when he felt it – a pain that burned up his arm and into his brain, as if his hand had been crushed by his movement. He jerked his arm, trying to understand what he'd done, why it hurt so badly – and then he saw it.
The bandages, the stump, the strangely shortened arm that most definitely used to have a hand at the end of it – except now there was nothing, and it couldn't possibly be his arm he was looking at, his hand that was missing, because he could feel it. The agony was so real it eclipsed everything else – the pain in his ribs and elsewhere vanishing as he thrashed and tore out lines and catheters.
There were hands on him, holding him – voices shouting, someone screaming. He was screaming, but it was so far away, a sea of darkness rising between him and the place where his hand wasn't, cradling and dragging him back down to that deep oblivion where there was nothing.
Nothing at all.
Tagging: @justanother-unluckysoul @kmom0f4 @the-darkdragonfly @teamhook @zaharadessert @xarandomdreamx @jrob64 @wefoundloveunderthelight @tiganasummertree @pirateprincessofpizza @lfh1226-linda @alexa-fangirl-forever @alifeofdreams @superchocovian @donteattheappleshook @hollyethecurious @caught-in-the-filter @snowbellewells @itsfabianadocarmo
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