This is the first in a collection of semi-related ficlets all focusing on the Neal/Emma/Henry dynamic. After Tallassee, I couldn't get them out of my mind. MRJ nailed everything and the relationship was heartbreaking. The chapters aren't necessarily going to be in chronological order, but it won't matter. They are all stand-alone anyways.
I am, however, subscribing to the theory that Neal is Bae and all of the chapters will reflect that.
As always, enjoy, and don't be afraid of the little box at the bottom that is hungry for reviews!
"Do you believe in magic?"
The words trickled down Neal's back like Ice against the Phoenix heat. It was an innocent enough question. He knew there were those in this world who believed in magic—believed in the stories adults told to keep children in line—but the real thing didn't exist here and that was the point.
That is why he had been free here. No matter what his nightmares told him, magic, and the Dark One was out of his life for good.
But then why did this strange man seem so different. There was something about him that sent the hairs on the back of Neal's neck standing on edge, and it only had a little to do with the creepy stalker-like interest he was showing towards Emma.
"I take it you do."
August smiled this impish, knowing smile. Not unlike the one that so often haunted Neal's nightmares. "So will you, trust me." He said, walking towards his bike.
Maybe if August had looked back he would have seen the truth in Neal's face—there was no will. Neal didn't have to believe in magic, he knew and nothing would ever change that. Nothing would ever swap that knowledge for restful nights—dream catcher or no.
Something inside Neal twisted as if he knew what was coming next. Every instinct within him told him to run, to take off in the other direction and never look back; but that was the cowards way out and, of all the things Neal was, both good and not-so-good, he was not a coward, for he had learned long ago that cowardice only brought on a hundred times more pain then courage, even if it was not the cowards that truly suffered in the end.
Neal followed him as he walked over to a vintage bike and placed his hand gently on the wooden box strapped to the back.
"I'm going to show you something—something that's going to make you look at everything differently—and when you see what I have in here you're gona listen. You're going to believe every word I say."
"Yeah right." Neal scoffed, briefly wondering if this guy had any idea just how ridiculous and overly dramatic he sounded.
Neal looked down into the box and what he saw turned his blood to about the same temperature as one of that Icees Emma had gotten him to try once as they were shoplifting their way across the western states.
Even mutes can draw a picture. A sing-song voice echoed in his memory and Neal had to fight to keep the bile from spewing forth like something out of a bad horror film.
The single piece of paper in it wasn't threating in the least…or it wouldn't have to anyone else. they would have just seen a single drawing, but Neal knew differently. It was a calling card; a haunting vision from a world he had tried so hard to put behind him. But now, as he read the single name scrawled across the blade, he knew that life had caught up with him and history was about to repeat itself.
He didn't bother to hide his shock. There was no point.
"Kay, I'm listening."
It killed him to say it; to look at August in the seconds before his world shattered again, turning something beautiful and perfect into nothing but dust born from nightmares and a life he had been trying to put behind him for the past ten years.
"There's a curse. And it needs to be broken. Emma is the key."
Neal closed his eyes and let it all sink in. Of course she was. She had to be. That's just the way his life went; for the first time in a long time he had a home, a family, and even though it was just he and Emma, even though it was just four wheels instead of walls, he was happy.
And so by the natural order of things, magic has to come and fuck that up to. Neal would even bet that his fa—that the Dark One had something to do with it too. Ten years and a world away that bastard still managed to bring his worst nightmares to the surface. Every. Single. Time.
August continued, the knowing smirk never leaving his face. "I was tasked with keeping her on track and you, my friend, just got caught in the crossfire."
Neal's eyes snapped open at the sound of the last word—a word far too close to a name and a life he had long ago buried—and he couldn't help but wonder if August was playing with him; if the word choice was deliberate.
"Now I'm goanna tell you a story and at the end of it you're going to have to make a decision. Will you do the right thing? Or not." August said as Neal tried desperately to hold himself tougher as his world came to a stuttering halt.
"So are you ready?"
Neal stood; half slumped against the course brick wall, staring at the cellphone in one hand and the unfolded wanted poster in the other.
They had discussed this, agreed it was the only way out—the only way Emma wouldn't look for him or follow him. it was the only way she could do what had to be done.
That didn't mean it didn't hurt like a bitch, though.
Emma was his everything and had been since the day she had stolen his already stolen car. And now he was about to stab her in the back in one of the worst ways possible—now he was going to have to make her hate him—and that killed him a hundred times over with every breath.
He would give anything not to have to do this—he would even rather be trapped forever in the dark, lonely moment when his father had let go, condemning him to this strange world…alone. But he had nothing left to give.
And in a way wasn't it fitting that his happiness be sacrificed along with everyone else? Neal wasn't stupid. The very fact that the curse had brought everyone to this world of all places, could only mean that he was behind it. This was all to find Neal and so if he was the catalyst to all this, then way she he get his happy ending.
Emma's destiny was bigger than him and he loved her enough not to hold her back.
He looked at August, not even trying to hide the lost look in his eyes.
August nodded, his face just the same as before and Neal couldn't help a flash of anger. Did the man feel nothing? Was his heart make of wood or stone? Something they didn't beat like the rest of them?
But in the end, he was right. Neal had to do this and he had to do this now.
The receptionist picked up on the second ring and Neal tasted salt as he spoke, struggling to keep his voice from quivering. "You know that Morgan's jewelry store robbery? The one back in May? Well, I have some info. There's a girl hanging out at the parking deck by the train tracks and she has one of the watches. Check today's security footage from the train station. She pulled them out of a locker."
He hung up without another word and pulled the battery out of his phone. To do the right thing, she had to think he was the bad guy—had to think he was completely abandoning her. Besides, he didn't have the strength to talk to her, not after this. maybe one day when all this was over, all this magic shit said and done, he could find her, explain everything and beg for another chance…or maybe by then she would have some other man in her life, someone to keep her smiling.
Either way as long as she was happy…
Neal slid down against the wall and put his forehead against his knees. August stepped forward and showed the first bit of empathy Neal had seen from the bastard.
Neal snorted. Of all the crazy things to ask.
He shook his head, his face still buried in the denim of his jeans. He wasn't oaky. He wasn't going to be oaky for a long time.