A/N: I had this idea, and I'm sure its probably been done previously in some form or other, but hey, that never stopped me before! lol My faith in Rumbelle seemed to dry up some time ago, but I cannot get all the SwanFire possibilities out of my head. Journeying into their past and making it all work out appeals greatly, and so, I bring you an altered history, and the beginnings of a happy ending...
Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Kitsis & Horowitz, Disney, ABC, and other folks that aren't me.
A Tallahassee Christmas Miracle
It didn't feel much like Christmas. Not that Emma Swan had experienced a great many Holiday seasons that were all that they should be. As a child in foster care, she had her share of fun sometimes, but it was never quite the same as being part of a family. When she was grown, she figured she would find the happiness she was supposed to have. Even if she had to steal it, that was okay. At eighteen, she had truly believed she had found her place in the world, the day she met Neal Cassidy.
That was more than two years ago now, and so much had happened. Emma never thought she would know perfect happiness, but she came pretty close when her and Neal were running around together, making plans to build a life in Tallahassee. Here she was, in the town they had thought to call their home, and though she wasn't alone, Neal was nowhere to be seen.
"Hey, it's okay, little man," she said, leaning over the stroller to see her baby.
Emma smiled at the small boy who was whimpering in his sleep. At barely six months old, he had no idea that today was Christmas Eve. That was something, Emma supposed, she couldn't really let the kid down when he didn't even know what was happening. Still, Emma wanted him to have some semblance of Christmas, something that was worth having to prove they were here in the world together at what ought to be a special time of year.
Wandering around the busy store, at the very least Emma hoped to snag some baby formula and ideally one of those 'Baby's 1st Christmas' ornaments. They wouldn't have a tree to hang it on or anything, but at least it would be something. Emma pulled the change from her back pocket. Actually, it might be better to use the money she did have for the formula and steal food for herself. Candy bars and smaller canned goods fitted into pockets that much more easily than a large tub of powder.
"At least with all these people, nobody is going to notice a few things disappearing," she muttered to herself, though Emma made it look as if she was talking to the kid.
She had named him Michael, for no real reason other than she liked it. There were no relations to name him after, except for his own father, and Emma couldn't handle that. Any tiny reminder of Neal hurt, not just because he left her and allowed her to be busted for his crime, but honestly, because she missed him so much it hurt all of the time. Being in jail for his crime, that was bad. Finding out she was pregnant, so unsure if she could cope with keeping any baby, never mind one that Neal fathered, it was all tough. That didn't change what was in Emma's heart. A part of her hoped he would be there when she was released, or even that he might come visit. If Neal could just explain what happened and say he was sorry, Emma was sure she could find it in her heart to forgive him. She loved him too much to stay mad for long. Besides, a kid should know both it's parents.
Michael had a mother and Emma would always be there for him, but she did so wish he had a father too, that she still had Neal to watch her back like before. They made a good team, and she had loved him. She never knew she could love like that until they met. The only other she could love as much was the little guy in the stroller.
"To think I actually considered..." she began to say, stopping and shaking her head as she continued walking towards the back of the store.
There was a time when she had almost completely decided to give up her baby. Her son would be better off raised by others, a good family who could give him more than she ever could. Emma knew that was true, but only if everything worked out perfectly. That didn't happen often in life. It never happened for her. Maybe the baby was better off with her, because at least they were blood, at least they would never leave each other.
"That's the plan anyway," she said with a small smile as she took another look at her sleeping son. "Now, let's see what we have here..."
Emma cut down the next aisle, finding it only half filled with people. Expectant mothers and those with babies the size of Michael or slightly bigger were fussing over the special ornaments and all. Emma moved between them, excusing her way down the aisle and trying not to run into anyone's ankles with the stroller, at least until she spotted the thing she wanted. Then she made a big deal of nearly bowling a guy over.
"I am so sorry!" she told him dramatically. "I'm such a klutz. Are you okay? I really am sorry," she repeated, a hand on his arm as she checked he was unhurt.
"Honestly, it's okay. It happens," he smiled amiably, seeing she was upset and trying to be kind.
The stranger had no idea it was all distraction tactics. Emma was drawing attention to the minor incident so that nobody noticed her other hand creeping onto the nearby shelf, retrieving a small snow globe and shoving it into her pocket. With a grin and a thanks to the man for being so kind, she started pushing the stroller again. Her eye caught a mirrored panel at the end of the aisle and the glare of a security guard behind her. Emma hurried. She took the corner quickly and sharply. This time she crashed into a fellow shopper in a real accident, almost taking his legs out from under him.
"Geez, I'm sorry!" she said on reflex, all other words escaping her as the man righted himself and turned to look at her.
"Emma!" he gasped at the sight of her.
"I... Neal?" she checked, unable to trust her own eyes.
It was then Emma noticed that his attention was no longer on her, but on the baby fussing in the stroller. With wide eyes full of genuine amazement, Neal looked from Michael to Emma and back three times before he could find the words to question her. Even then it was really more of an expression and strangled sound than a real sentence.
"If I knew where to find you I might've let you know," said Emma acidly.
Neal winced a little at her tone, but for the most part his eyes were still on the child. A smile crept onto his lips as he sank down to the level of the strollers seat and he gazed at the baby, apparently amazed. Emma looked back the way she had come and sighed.
"I need to not be here," she told Neal desperately.
"Sure, let's go," he agreed, sure he knew what her problem was.
They made their way out of the store together, bypassing the cash registers and slipping out of the door mostly unnoticed. There was a cafe across the street that Neal suggested they head for. Right now Emma didn't care so long as she could sit for a minute and get her bearings. Neal looked like he felt much the same, and she couldn't blame him. It was surprise enough to see each other here. He just realised he must be a father too, and that was a lot for anyone to take in.
Emma sat down at a table, parking the stroller next to her seat and putting on the breaks. Neal ordered them two hot chocolates with cream and cinnamon and then joined her. Once again, his eyes went right to the baby.
"Your son" Emma filled in. "Michael"
"Michael" he echoed, smiling at the infant who was half-way back to being asleep. "He's... Wow, Emma. I can't believe this." Neal gasped, trying to take it all in. "We have a son?"
"For six months now," she agreed, watching his amazement, trying not to be moved by the look of wonder on his face. "I can't wait to tell him how he was born in the big house, and that it was his father's fault that his mother was there."
Part of her wanted to hurt him. Neal deserved both barrels after what he had done and Emma had always intended to give it to him if their paths should cross again. Certainly she hadn't expected to run across him quite like this, but it didn't change anything, it couldn't.
"Emma," said Neal, shaking his head. "I... I am so, so sorry for what happened."
"Are you?" she checked, lifting her chin.
Neal watched her expression and hurt registered in his eyes. He knew he did wrong, he would have to be an idiot not to realise, but he had hoped if he could just see Emma again, let her know the circumstances, maybe she could forgive him, maybe she would want to.
"Emma, I can explain," he assured her.
"Go ahead," she snapped. "C'mon, I'm listening. I really want to know what the hell happened, Neal. One minute we have these plans, you and me, Tallahassee. I actually thought..." she stopped when her voice began to falter, highly aware that she was about to cry in front of him, something she swore she would never do. "Well, apparently I'm an idiot."
"You're not an idiot," he told her grabbing onto the stroller when she made to get up and leave. "You know I love you," he said in a low voice, mindful of all the attention they had already attracted with her yelling.
"Really?" asked Emma with wide eyes. "Do I know that, Neal? The prison record kind of makes me think differently," she said, equally as low as his own voice as she leant across the table, realising now that they had gained a bit of an audience.
Neal shook his head, grip loosening on the stroller when he realised Emma was staying. Again his eyes fixed on the little boy that was apparently his son. That was incredible.
"I never meant for that to happen," he said then, determined to explain as best he could, preferably without freaking Emma out with talk of magic and fairy tales that she would never buy, not right now. "There was this guy, he... he fed me this story," he said, rubbing his forehead like he felt a headache coming on. "It was crazy, but at the time I just... I freaked out. I actually believed you'd be better off without me, but I never, ever, meant for you to take the fall for me," he explained desperately. "I swear, Emma, if I'd realised how things would turn out. If I'd known you were pregnant..."
"I didn't even know that," she admitted with a sigh. "Not until I was already locked up."
Neal looked at the table, suitably ashamed of himself, and deeply saddened by the news that his son had been born in jail. This was never how it was supposed to go.
"You said that already."
"Well, do you at least believe me?" he asked, trying to meet her eyes.
"I don't know, Neal," she sighed, still trying to evade, knowing if she didn't he would get her with those puppy dog eyes and charming smile, because she still loved him, in spite of everything, she couldn't help it. "I don't think I know anything anymore. All I do know is that it's Christmas, and my baby is going to spend what should be the most special day of the year for a kid in a shop doorway, cold and hungry," she said, eyes on her child that had to matter more than anything, whether Neal was in the picture or not. "I thought it was tough when I was out on my own, but this?"
"You're not alone anymore," said Neal, hand closing over hers on the table. "I don't want you to be. Emma, why do you think I came to Tallahassee? I never really thought I'd find you here, but I wanted to. I'm here because... because this was the plan, because I wanted to find some kind of happy ending here. I knew I never could anyplace else with any other person."
She was staring at his hand on top of hers. Mostly Neal was just glad that Emma wasn't pulling away or trying to run from him. He was being genuine here, as he had been from the start with Emma. The life he led before, Neal had to tell a few lies, but wherever possible, he told Emma the truth, she meant too much not to. Sure, he had to fudge a few facts, else reveal too many strange truths that she would never buy, at least not yet, but nothing was truer than how much he loved her. That much he hoped she believed, in spite of everything.
"Neal," she said his name like a tired sigh. "I can't just... This is insane!" she exclaimed suddenly, almost loud enough to make him jump. "There has to be a hundred, thousand people in this town. How did you even find me?" she asked, almost angry about it somehow, yet her hand remained under his on the table yet.
"Today, I wasn't actually looking," he admitted. "I have been, but today, I just walked into that store - I'm not even sure why I did, honestly - and there you were."
A smile lit up his face and it was impossible not to smile back. Emma had that problem from the get go. This guy could just look at her and she was gone. It was the best feeling, and the worst at the same time, because he had hurt her so very badly.
"You trying to tell me we just got a Christmas miracle?" she asked, clearly not buying.
"Maybe. Is that so crazy?"
"I don't exactly believe in magic," said Emma, rolling her eyes. "But... Well, I'm not sorry you found us," she admitted, turning her hand over and letting her fingers entwine with his own. "You got a place here?"
"Yeah, and now you do too. All of us together," Neal smiled, looking from Emma to Michael and back. "I'm not saying it's going to be an amazing Christmas, Emma, but we're together. That's how it's supposed to be. I believe that, don't you?"
"I don't know. Maybe," she admitted. "Neal, I want to trust you. I want it to be that easy, for us, for him," she said of their son. "I just-"
"Let me prove it to you, Emma, please," he urged her, gripping her hand. "I want to be with you, both of you, I can't tell you how much. Whatever life throws at us, I want us to face it together. Please?"
It was quite the impassioned speech, practically impossible to resist. Neal was like kryptonite for Emma and she couldn't say why, unless it was the obvious fact that she loved him, like she never loved anyone else before. He was Michael's father, and they did need a place to stay. On a practical level, Emma knew she had to go with Neal, stay wherever he was for now, but it was already more than that and she knew it. Even if she had somewhere else to be right now, she would choose this man, his place, their future.
"Okay," she said, nodding her head.
"Okay?" he double-checked.
"Yes, okay. We'll come stay with you. We'll... we'll see what happens," she told him with a smile.
"You hear that, buddy?" said Neal with a grin as he leant over the stroller. "You're going to have your first Christmas with your Momma and your Daddy."
Emma laughed even as tears filled her eyes. It was so crazy that they found each other again like this, and maybe even crazier that she was willing to forgive and forget. Neal was sorry, she did believe that, and he still loved her as she loved him. Maybe it was a Christmas miracle that had brought them here, just exactly like this. Her smile widened when Neal picked her hand up from the table and kissed it hard.
"I missed you," he told her.
"I missed you too," she admitted, leaning over the table for a real kiss she felt she had waited too long for.
When they parted there was an uncharactetic blush rising in her cheeks, but Emma couldn't mind the warmth she felt running through her whole body. Neal's smile lit up his eyes and it was almost as if they were exactly as they had been before it all went wrong.
"So, why the hurry from the store?" he asked Emma then.
She looked around as if still fearing she was being watched, and then Emma produced the snow globe from her pocket and handed it to Neal. With a smile of his own he turned the small item over in his hands until the snow came down over the scene inside.
"Baby's 1st Christmas," he whispered.
"Mine too," she admitted, "with a real family. We can be a real family now, right?"
Neal got up and came around to her side of the table, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and puling her closer.
"We already are," he promised, his free hand resting on the stroller where Michael slept on. "I love you, Emma."
"I... I love you too," she admitted, not minding at all when he leant in to kiss her again.
Maybe she could start believing in magic after all.
A/N2: For those wondering why the baby is called Michael, I just like the name... and then I remembered that its the name of the actor who played Neal and it seemed even more appropriate! lol Plus he was only ever called Henry on the show because of Regina, so it needed to change in this AU. Hope you enjoyed the story and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Seasons Greetings to you all :)