Disclaimer: Not mine.
Just a one shot. My own attempt at Neal's reappearance in the show.
In hindsight, he feels guilty, because he feels like he should've known better. He hasn't been out of his coma for terribly long, and as David Nolan, he was self-involved, and myopic, so he can see how he overlooked the fact that there was a man in town he hadn't known before because there were a lot of people here he didn't know. He is kind of glad that Henry didn't notice him, but at the same time, wished he would've pointed out the newcomer during the chaos. It would've prepared him a bit more.
Emma and Snow have only been home a few days, and they're having dinner at Granny's when it happens. Emma picks at her sandwich, her appetite still coming back after their time away. Henry is at Regina's for the night, as he had spent the first few nights with the Charmings, and Regina had been surprisingly helpful in getting them home and giving them space. Henry suggested it, and David had to give his daughter immense credit, the way she acted like she didn't care, for it was just for the night, a night after weeks of him staying with her father at their apartment.
Her father. She coughs out a laugh as she thinks of how ludicrous it sounds when she thinks on it herself and she offers a half smile when Snow raises her eyebrows in question, her body curled up against David's chest while his arm rests around her shoulder in the spot across the booth from their daughter. Emma can hardly believe it, how crazily normal and regular this all feels, and she wonders how long this can last, how long it will be with she and her parents, sitting around as they have a hot meal and talk about their day.
Not very long, it turns out. She shakes her head with an happy chuckle, and looks around the diner just to look. That's when she's sees the man sitting at the back of the restaurant. He had been there when they entered, she knew, but his menu had been hiding his face. She sees he's been casting glances over at them, and now that he sees he's been caught, he shifts uncomfortably, shying his body away as if he can hide from her. The pleasant feeling in the air is extinguished like a popped party balloon. Emma launches herself from the table before Snow can fully react and keep her from lashing out.
"What in the hell are you doing here?" She knows she still looks tired and rough from their trip, and she knows this is neither the time nor the place, nor the best way to do it, but she cannot keep herself from him. Angry hot tears well in her eyes but she keeps them held back; don't give him that satisfaction.
She slams her hands down on the Formica tabletop, causing his drink and plate to jump a bit the air, drawing the attention of the semi-crowded eatery as everyone stops to stare. His face has gone pale and after a moment of shock plays across his face, he reaches for her hands, his expression crumpling.
"Emma, please, let me..."
She slaps him hard across the face and he doesn't cower back or even bring a hand to soothe it. He deserves it, he knows this; he deserves all the angry words and strikes she has for him. "You can't have him," She spits. "You can't, so you better get the hell out of this town and never come back."
She grasps at his jacket with both hands now and he involuntarily shies back, bracing himself for a fist to the face, but it never comes. Instead, he sees the man who has been acting as Sheriff with his hand on her arm that she has cocked and ready to go and she is glaring at him for stopping her.
"Everyone is watching you." He whispers firmly to her, his look pointed. She snaps out of her rage for a moment to realize his words are true and Neal can see the realization causing her neck to redden with embarrassment at the attention she's drawn. She lets the Sheriff usher her back and towards the front door. The short haired brunette he's heard referred to as Mary Margaret...Snow, he believes, scurries after them, casting a glare back at the man in the booth. Well aware of everyone's eyes still focused on him, he clears his throat and bows his head to continue eating, very conscious of the sting that is dulling on his cheek to be replaced by an angry red mark.
Outside the diner, Emma's chest heaves with short, quick breaths as the adrenaline makes her body ache and her head dizzy. David has released her at this point and Mary joins him to give her room as she paces on the sidewalk, her hand going to her hair line as she thinks of what she just did. Bile rises in her throat but she swallows it down the best she can. She needs to calm down; she needs to think.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god..." She whispers, shaking her head. What the hell was he doing here? Did he know about Henry? Did Henry know about him? How long had he been here? Oh god, Henry was going to know she lied to him, and Regina was going to be furious, and that wasn't even to think about the fact that Neal was here, and that stupid puppy dog eye thing that Henry had inherited still made her heart skip in her chest...
"You'll have to excuse us if we're being insensitive, but what the hell was that, Emma?" Mary asks, her voice low in an attempt to calm her daughter's nervous pacing. Emma keeps shaking her head, wringing her hands. "And don't say it's nothing, because it was very obviously-" Emma cuts her off, knowing that she will not be able to keep this secret for long, nor should she; she will need Mary and David's help if she is to protect her son.
"That, was Henry's father. Neal."
"Henry's...father." Mary repeats, her expression stunned. "But you said..."
"I know what I said. I don't know why, or how, but he's here and I..." She trails off, eyes shining with tears. David looks from both his daughter and wife's stricken expressions, knowing a bit from what Mary had told him about Emma's illustrious ex before the curse had broken, and spun on his heel back toward the diner doors. Mary grabs his arm roughly, catching him off balance so he stumbles as she is pulling him back.
"Charming, what are you doing?"
"I'm bringing him out here, to answer her questions. Where there are no witnesses." His voice is tight with anger, and Mary rolls her eyes. Emma is too lost in her distress to notice it. Snow glares at him pointedly and he, in return, settles back with an exasperated sigh, his hands firmly on his hips.
"Emma," Mary starts softly, walking over to the woman as she casts her husband a warning glance. "Emma, stop. Look at me." Mary places her grip softly on her daughters upper arms and squeezes them comfortingly. "Emma, come on, talk to me."
"Henry's going to hate me," She whispers, her head still bent. "I lied to him, Mare."
"You don't even know if that's why he's here."
"Why else would he be here?" She snaps at her mother. "What if he's already talked to Henry? What if I don't even get to explain..."
"He hasn't." David offers from behind them. "Henry's stayed with me, and he hasn't mentioned it. I don't even think he's seen him around. As you must know, it's been rather contentious here. He would've mentioned a new face."
"See?" Mary says with a smile, brushing a strand of hair away from Emma's face, tucking it behind her ear softly. "I mean, you are going to have to tell him but, at least it will be on your terms."
"I don't want him here." She grinds out, quickly and angrily brushing a lone tear that has escaped from her eye. "There's so much I haven't...he's just not a good guy. And there's so much else going on..."
"How about we go home for now? It's been a really, really long day, and we both need a good shower and good nights rest. Henry's at Regina's, you know he won't be out for the rest of the night."
She considers her mothers words and begrudgingly agrees. It's getting late and she can't very well drag him out of bed half awake and drop this thing on him in a panic. She knows she will not sleep well, but she will be able figure out exactly how she wants to handle it. On her terms. They walk away from the diner together, one of Mary's arms around her waist while Charming holds his wife's hand in the other.
When they arrive at home, Emma goes straight to the bathroom and takes a longer shower than she has in months. She's never realized how much she loved indoor plumbing until she went weeks without it, and the heat and the steam from the shower help as she leans against the tiled wall and cries. She remembers the way he told her he loved her, the way she had been so sure, from the look in his eyes that it was true. The way he'd held her in the mornings and nuzzled against her neck at nights, and the way it had been him who had promised her everything when she had expected nothing, then taken it all away and used her to protect himself.
She remembers the way Henry beamed at her when she told him how heroic his father was, how he died saving people. Her heart falls as she realizes she is going to have look into his eyes and tell him the truth, and even worse, tell him why. And she knows, because Henry doesn't exactly stay out of things, that he will want to seek Neal out. She knows she will have to see him again. Unless she can get him to leave.
As she prepares for bed, Mary hangs back near her doorway, and Emma can practically feel her mother's eyes booring into her back, desperate to help and to understand and to be there, but Emma just shakes her off, pleading a headache and exhaustion, and that she just needs a little bit of time. She closes her door and turns off the light before climbing into bed.
She doesn't look out the window, so she doesn't see the figure bathed in streetlight, leaning against the post, staring up at her window, and waiting.
She manages to not see him again for a few days. At first, she's skittish and jumpy around her family and Henry, and she doesn't tell him for as long as she can. But the more days that pass, the more she gets nervous, and she knows she must. She picks a rainy Tuesday night later that week as she says goodnight to him, and she feels herself start to cry as she apologizes and asks him to forgive her.
The look on his face is one she will never forget, one of horror and sadness, but not of anger or betrayal. She moves to brush a hair from his head and he jerks back, the news still fresh. He falls asleep with his back to her that night, and doesn't let her touch him. Her heart aches.
He goes to school the next day with Mary Margaret without so much as a hello or good morning, shrugging his jacket on as she loops his backpack straps around his arms before charging out of the apartment. Mary offers her a sympathetic smile and a quick squeeze of her hand at the despondent look her daughter's expression takes on, and as the door closes behind them, David rests a soft hand on her shoulder. She swallows the lump in her throat, and shakes her head gently at him with a sad smile.
"We should get to the station." She says softly, wanting to move past the difficult moment, and he nods in agreement as he moves to hold the door open for her while she grabs her keys.
The ride to the station is an awkward one. Mary Margaret has retaken her post as the teacher of the fourth grade class she has been teaching for 28 years, claiming she believes it is her place and it feels right, that it's important to the children. David has returned the Sheriff's badge to Emma without prompting, and at first, stated he would return to the Animal Hospital. She won't pretend that the smile he suppressed when she insisted he stay on at the sheriff's office as the deputy didn't cause butterflies in her stomach.
They don't speak of the serious things when they are so close everyday, but of the inconsequential. To her own surprise, though, it is when David doesn't really consider her that he makes her fight to keep a straight face, the idea of bursting into a smile in front of him making her feel strange. It's as simple as a comment if someone cuts him off in traffic, or a dry observation of the comings and goings in the town. She has even laughed out loud a few times, and she begins to realize more and more that this David and herself have much more in common than the David of before. It helps, this morning, to soothe the hurt that she has brought upon herself with her lies to her son.
"He will come around, Emma." David offers as they walk into the station. "He'll be over it soon."
She sighs. "I hope so."
They receive a call a few hours later, citing a break-in at Mr. Gold's pawn shop while he was away taking care of some things at the library. Her father shudders at that note, and shakes away her questioning look as he tells the person on the line that he and the Sheriff will be right there to take care of it. She rolls her eyes.
"It's just a breaking and entering, I can check it out myself." She points out, grabbing her keys and her gun. He shrugs off the words.
"I'm not doing anything else. And it's better safe than sorry; the towns still really unstable, and we still don't know who everyone is."
It irritates her a bit, because she knows part of his delight in retaining a position at the station is rooted in that he likes keeping an eye out for her; there's another part of her, however, that warms to the idea that he would be so concerned. She worries about his protective nature; she has seen it with Henry, and with Mary, and she saw it in his eyes as she brokenly spoke briefly with them about Neal. She hopes to never see the vagrant again-she really hopes he's already left town-but more than anything, she hopes if he hasn't, she runs into him before David does, because as much as she almost hates him, the vision of her father who is her age beating the shit out of her ex-boyfriend is too cringe worthy to bear.
They pull up to the pawn shop, the broken window at the front and a very cross looking Mr. Gold standing outside, his hands crossed over his cane. His expression is sour as Emma walks up to him slowly, dreading the conversation that will take place.
"Ms. Swan, it seems that ever since you've arrived in our town, patrons just cannot help themselves."
"Somehow, Gold, I think it's more your irascible charm that may have that effect on people." She retorts with a withering expression. He winks at her, and she knows he is just having his fun, in his own weird, dark way and she huffs as she breezes into his shop, David only a few paces behind.
It seems she will get her earlier wish, she thinks as she explores the shop. Mr. Gold has reported that nothing was taken-that the call may have interrupted the thief, or maybe he just did not have what the culprit was searching for. Instead, an item has been left in it's place, as if waiting for her to come and find it.
The dream catcher spins from the shopkeepers fingers. "Mean anything to you, dearie?"
She feels David's eyes on the back of her head as she struggles to keep her breathing steady, taking it from the imps grasp. "David, can you take this back to the car? I want to look around a little bit more."
His reluctance to leave her is evident, but he does as she asks; he can see how her shoulders have tensed up and her expression has turned to stone. He notes that she takes the back exit from Gold's shop, into the alley way, and he decides to loop around, just out of sight, just in case. He clutches the dream catcher in his hand.
She stands in the alley with her hands on her hips. "I know you're out here. I saw what you left, you crazy bastard."
Neal emerges from behind a dumpster, a sheepish grin on his face, his hands up next to his head. "Hey Ems."
She glares at him. "He's the wrong guy you want to pinch from."
"You'd be surprised at how much I believe that." He replies softly. He lowers his hands to his side, sliding his Chuck Taylor'd feet across the gravel under them. "It's good to see you again, Em."
She stares at him for a few quiet moments, rage making her head pound as she forces herself to remain calm, to breathe in and out, to remind herself that beating the ever loving crap out of him would very well get her fired. She sighs finally, glaring at him. "What the fuck are you doing here, Neal? And what the fuck do I have to do to get you to leave and never, ever come back?"
The smile fades from his lips, and he stuffs his hands in his pockets, any sort of confidence fading away as his shoulders slump forward "Em, I...there was a guy, back then. He told me you had something to do, something important and I knew I couldn't stand in the way of that, that's why I left."
"What guy?" She asked with a glare, standing up quickly. "A guy? Some stranger? What was his name?"
"August Booth. He said that he knew you, that he was supposed to look after you and that you would be okay."
She goes eerily quiet, but he can sense the rage building inside of her. She takes a few deep breaths, white knuckling the gun at her hip as she swallows hard; she will deal with that later, she decides. "So you let a guy who you didn't know, convince you to set me up and send me to jail for almost a year because he told you I had something else to do? Do you have any idea how awful and ridiculous that sounds? How much worse that makes this? You haven't answered me yet either." By now she has stalked toward him, growing almost with every step as he steps back away from her and is pressed up against the brick wall behind him. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I came here, for you." He replies vehemently. "I really thought...I thought it was the best thing for you!"
"You thought leaving me alone, in jail for months was best for me? For abandoning me without any explanation? How in the hell was that good for me, Neal?"
"I have been waiting for you!" He raises his hands in a pleading gesture. "I've been waiting for almost 12 years to hear that I could come find you, that we could be together."
"We could've been together then!" She exclaims, pulling away from him. "What about what I wanted in all of this?" She demands. "No one has ever given a damn about what I wanted, or given me a choice. My entire life! I wanted to be with you, Neal."
"I wanted that too, but you were meant to..."
"To be miserable? To be alone?" She whispers. "I loved you. I trusted you. Why did you let a stranger convince you it was alright to throw me away, if you loved me too? How could you do that to me?"
There was something cathartic about the words as they left her lips, and she realizes she has been wanting to say these things for so long. The fight goes out of her and she lets her shoulders sink forward, and suddenly she just wants him to be gone, and to get back to the station. She's embarrassed she's let it get this far. "It doesn't matter. You need to leave. Leave Storybrooke. There's nothing here for you. If you think there's anyway we could ever..." She shook her head. "It's already too complicated here. You need to leave."
"I can't leave. There's more to this that you don't know." He whispers then, shaking his head. "And it will make you hate me more."
"Don't underestimate how much that already is." She smiles tightly, looping her fingers in her jeans. "You need to go, I can't...please just tell me if you're planning on leaving. Henry has been dealing with enough, and the best thing that you can do for him now, is to leave."
"Henry?" He asks, his face frowning in confusion. "Are you...seeing someone?"
She gapes at him; if he doesn't know, though, she is not going to tell him. "Apparently, he didn't tell you everything." She shakes her head, turning toward the mouth of the alley. She can see David's silhouette in the sun, hands on his hips as she stands tall on the side of the road. She cannot see his expression, but she knows he is livid. She turns back to Neal. "I think you need to go."
"That your boyfriend?" Neal spits out, a hint of jealousy in his tone. She scoffs at the question.
"Not that it's any of your business, but no. No it's not. You're in way over your head, Neal." She shrugs her shoulders with a shake of her head. "If you ever really cared about me, if you ever loved me, you'd leave."
He watches her figure retreat to meet up with the man near the squad car, who offers a hand to her but has it waved away as she goes straight to the passenger side and climbs in. As he listens to the motor fade away in the distance, his eye line turns to the backroom of the store he has just searched over. He can feel the old man's eyes on him; he has heard everything.
You're in way over your head
Her words come back to him and he smiles. If you only knew Em...if you only knew.