disclaimer: everything you recognise I do not own.
Whispers in the dark
Steal a kiss and you'll break a heart
Pick up your clothes and curl your toes
Learn your lesson, lead me home
- Mumford and Sons
It was the beginning of September and they were lying on a little dock, in the town of Bellingham, Washington, huddled together under a blanket intended more to keep them hidden rather than warm. That morning, they'd driven from Portland to Seattle with plans of staying in the city, but something had told them to keep going. After another few hours of driving through town after town, they came across a small lake that immediately caught Emma's attention. She had squealed in delight and demanded for Neal to pull over. He did without question – he always did what she asked – and she flung open their bug's door and sprinted toward the lakes edge. The cause of her excitement lay twenty feet away, tied to the end of a dock, covered in freshly fallen leaves and was beginning to deflate.
"It's a Launchpad! I went on them all the time during a summer camp when I was 8. The foster home I was staying with at the time had a camp they sent all the kids on for a few weeks during July and it was definitely the most fun I've ever had. They fed us well, the beds were comfortable and I could do whatever I wished all month long". Emma sighed, and turned to Neal with a wistful smile on her face. Neal smiled softly back at her for a moment before his eyes lit up and his smile shifted into a grin.
"Let's see if this one's just as fun then". He had slipped off his jacket and was unbuckling his belt before Emma protested.
"It's 60 degrees!"
Neal raised his eyebrows at her as he stepped out of his jeans, leaving him in only his boxers.
"I never pegged you as a chicken Miss Swan".
She glared at him for a moment before she bit her lip and stared out at the colourful pad. While she was distracted, Neal stepped behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"Okay, you have two options: either you go in willingly or I throw you in". Emma gasped as she felt his lips against her ear and his bare chest on her back and all rational flew out the window. Taking it as hesitation, Neal tightened his grip and threw her up into his arms.
"Neal!" Emma shrieked as carried her bridle style through the shallow water. "You didn't give me time to decide! Or take off my shoes!"
"You were going in the water anyway. I'm just hurrying it all along".
Emma huffed but made no attempt to get out of his hold.
"Brrr, it's cold", he teased.
Emma smacked his chest. "You're unbelievable. Put me down".
"Put you down? Well alright". As he opened his arms, Neal caught a quick glimpse of Emma's eyes popping open and her mouth forming a perfect O shape as she fell into the water. There was a moment of silence before she broke the surface spluttering and gasping for breath.
"I'm g-going to k-k-kill you", Emma scowled as she struggled to stand back up.
Neal grinned and offered his hand but she ignored it. Instead, she ripped off her now soaking jacket and threw it at his face.
"Also thanks a lot, asshole. That was my favorite and now it's ruined".
Neal frowned. He never thought Emma would have a favorite of anything. She didn't have many possessions and what little she owned she didn't seem to care about it. Or so he had thought.
He hated moments like this; when he was reminded just how little he knew about the most important person in his life.
He felt like an idiot. "Em, I'm sorry, I didn't think–"
Emma forced a smile and waved her hand flippantly. "Don't worry about it. I'll be right back". She grabbed the jacket from his grasp and trudged back to shore where she sat down and began removing her boots. He couldn't help but laugh as she made a face when she held one upside down and a rush of water teemed out. She did the same with the other before she stood up and began peeling off her jeans. Neal turned around quickly then to give her privacy.
He was distracted for a few moments as he observed the scenery around him. A sigh of contentment slipped from his lips. It was peaceful here. Nothing like the big cities he was used too. Yet it felt all so familiar; the forest that surrounded the lake for miles in every direction and the snow capped mountains that loomed above them. It almost looked like–
Emma was beside him then; clad in only a singlet top and her underwear and all thoughts about his previous home flew from his mind.
"So do you know how a Launchpad works?" Emma asked, oblivious to Neal's gawking.
"Ye–uh–no", he stammered. Emma looked up at him then and he quickly looked away.
He cleared his throat. "What does it do?"
She grinned. "I'll show you. Follow me!" She sucked in her breath and dived below the surface and he watched her trail of bubbles for a moment before following after her.
When he reached the Launchpad he looked up, expecting to see Emma clambering aboard the inflatable toy, but she was nowhere to be found. He called out her name tentatively but he was met with silence.
"Come on, Emma. This isn't funny".
He felt a shiver run through his bones and he hoped it was just from the cold. He treaded water as he glanced around him, hoping to catch a glimpse of blonde hair. Nothing. He was about to search under the water when felt something grab his leg and he screamed. Emma appeared, giggling hysterically.
"You scream like a girl".
Neal would be mad if it wasn't so damn happy to see her. He pulled her towards him and buried his face into her hair.
"Don't do that again! I thought I lost you!"
Emma's smile slipped from her face and she pushed him back. He took in her wide-eyed expression and swallowed thickly.
"I don't like being alone", he said quietly.
Her face softened, and she nodded.
"I get it. I'm sorry". She offered him a comforting smile and he smiled back. They stared at each other for a moment, before Emma looked away and motioned towards the pad.
"Okay, so how this works is person A gets on and sits near the edge right there, facing towards the lake. Person B has to start from the jetty and jump onto it, making sure they land on the red circle. Person A will fly through the air and land in the water. Then Person B will crawl over to the edge and wait for Person A to do the same for them. And so on". Emma looked back at Neal to see if he's following and he nodded at her in understanding.
"Do you want to go first or should I?" he asked.
"Maybe you should jump first so you know what to expect?" she suggested. Neal nodded in approval.
"Alright, let's do this!"
He helped boost Emma up onto the toy before swimming over to the dock and hauled himself up. The second he was out of the water he regretted it.
"It's so cold!" He whined. Emma just stuck out her tongue.
"Suck it up", she teased. He mock glared at her as he approached the edge of the jetty.
Emma nodded and shifted herself in preparation. Neal took note of the way she pulled her knees to her chest, wrapped her arms around them and locked her fingers together. Seemed easy enough. He began to countdown.
"Three". He winked at Emma before she turned her head to face the lake.
"Two". He bent his legs.
"One". He pushed himself as high into the air as he could and slammed himself down on the pad with as much force as he could muster. He watched as Emma went flying, her hands losing its grip on her knees and consequently had her landing in to the water on her stomach with a splat. He broke out into fits of laughter when she submerged moaning.
"You're a lot bigger than the kids who jumped for me at camp".
He pretended to flick his hair back. "Why thank you".
Emma giggled. "Alright, no need to be egotistical. Get to the front of the Launchpad".
Neal carefully crawled across the pad before sitting at the edge and mimicked Emma's position from before. He glanced back to seek her approval but instead saw her sprinting towards the edge of the pier and throwing herself into the air. He turned back and closed his eyes, waiting for the force of her body hitting the toy to propel him sky high. Instead, all he felt was a slight jolt that sent him rolling straight off into the water.
Emma's pouted face greeted him when he popped back up.
"I think I touched the clouds!" he exclaimed sarcastically before smirking at her.
"I'm sorry I'm not any bigger".
He wanted to say she was perfect, but he shrugged and smiled reassuringly instead.
"Don't worry about it". When she didn't smile back, he pushed up against the Launchpad, which caused Emma to be thrown off balance and fall in. When she appeared at the surface she laughed and splashed water at his face.
"My turn again!"
They continued for another hour or so before both plunked themselves down on the jetty in exhaustion.
"My entire body hurts", Emma groaned as she lay down.
Neal grinned as he leant back on his hands and glanced up at the sky. It was dark now, and any warmth the sun had provided was long gone. When he saw that Emma was beginning to shiver he raced over to the car and returned with a few blankets, dry clothes and food. Emma sat up in excitement when he handed her a chicken sandwich and had torn it open before he could blink. When he picked out an Apollo bar for himself, and covered them both with blankets, he lay back down.
"Can I ask you something?" Neal said after a few peaceful minutes of silence and turned on his side to face her.
"Sure", she answered as she took a bite of her sandwich.
Neal picked his next words carefully, not wanting to send Emma running.
"That blanket of yours…the white one with your name stitched on it…"
He saw her tense and he immediately regretted asking, but knew it was too late to turn back.
"Did your…um…did your –" He wasn't sure how to ask.
"Did my parents give it to me?" She finished for him. Neal smiled apologetically and nodded.
"Yeah they did".
Neal waited to see if she'd say any more, but when she took another bite of her snack, he rolled onto his back and focused his attention on the stars. It had been silent for so long that when she spoke again, he had almost flinched in surprise.
"What I don't understand is why they'd take the time to name me and stitch it on a blanket if they didn't want me", she said quietly.
Neal turned back to face her.
"How do you know they didn't want you?"
"Who leaves a newborn child on the side of a road?" She cried. "If they wanted me, they would've cared about me. And if they cared about me they wouldn't have left me for dead".
Neal looked away and fiddled with the wrapper of his chocolate bar.
"They didn't even have the decency to drop me off at a hospital", she muttered quietly. It was silent for a moment.
"Why did you keep the blanket?" Neal couldn't help but ask.
"I–" She faltered and picked at her sandwich, before placing it next to her as she lay down. "I don't know…"
They fell back into silence and Neal couldn't help but think about his own situation; about how he ended up alone, and for the first time he wanted to share his story with someone.
"My father chose his job over me".
Emma turned her head to look at him in surprise. He usually avoided all conversation about his past. Emma had shared hers their first week together but he had always changed the subject whenever Emma had asked about his.
"It was tearing us apart. It made him do things he never would have thought of doing before. He'd become a different man, and it scared me. He scared me". Neal closed his eyes for a moment and he saw the face of the Dark One as he drove a sword through the hearts of innocent men and women. The image was a clear as it was a hundred years ago.
"I tried to find a way out. I asked him to leave with me. To quit and go somewhere else, but he backed out at the last minute. He ran and left me to face this world alone".
Emma didn't say anything. There wasn't anything really to say. Instead she moved closer so he could feel her side pressed against his and she squeezed his hand.
"What about your mom?" She asked quietly after a moment.
"She left when I was young".
"I'm sorry". The gentleness and complete sincerity in her voice caused a tightness in his chest. He was falling in love with her.
Unbeknownst to his sudden realization of feelings, Emma turned to face him. He could see the hesitancy on her face so he nodded, encouraging her to continue.
"My entire life I've been alone. I haven't had anyone who I cared for and certainly not anyone who cared for me. I was just another meal ticket. But you–"
Emma's voice cracked and she cleared it before speaking again.
"When I hid from you earlier, you were the only person to ever look for me, and the only person who has ever been happy to see me". She raised her eyes to smile at him, and he could see they were glistening. He reached out for her hand and she met him halfway.
"With you, for the first time, I'm not alone".
She was crying freely now and he moved to wrap his arms around her. She buried her face in his chest and he rubbed her back until her shoulders stopped shaking.
"I'm so cheesy", she mumbled against his chest. He chuckled.
"You're not", he assured her. He heard her sigh and bury herself further into his chest. He felt a sudden desperate need to make the beautiful blonde feel better. To let her know he was here. That he'd always be here.
"Em?" He moved his head so his lips were against her ear. "I promise you're never going to be alone again".
Emma lifted her head so it was leveled with his and he moved his hand away from her back, slowly as if not to startle her, to gently cup her cheek. He didn't know who made the first move but soon their foreheads were pressed against one another's and he felt her breath tickling his lips. He closed his eyes as her fingers traced circles on the back of his neck and he moved his hand to thread into her hair. When she sighed his name, reality set in. The urge to kiss her was so strong it was overwhelming, but he couldn't give in, not if it risked him losing her… He pulled away.
"Are you sure?" he asked after he forced his eyes open. Emma tightened her grip on his neck and pulled him back to her.
He fervently closed the distance between them and captured her lips in his.
Rain woke them up around 8am and they quickly gathered their blankets before rushing to the bug. He noticed Emma had thrown on a green sweater instead of her usual leather jacket – which now lay discolored and scratchy in the back seat – and guilt once again consumed him.
They drove to the town's main street and parked outside a cheap looking café to grab some breakfast. When he spotted something hanging in the next-door shops window, he told Emma to go in ahead and that he'd be right there.
When he was sure she was gone, he ducked into the shop. Hanging on a mannequin by the door was a beautiful red leather jacket. Hesitantly he looked for the price tag and winced when he found it. $250. There were 5 others hanging on a rack next to it, so he was sure they wouldn't miss one… He was about to grab one when a lady appeared from the back.
"Morning sir. Can I help you with anything?"
Neal fumbled for a means of a distraction. He spotted a pair of heels on a shelf nearby.
"Do you have a size 7 in those shoes?"
The woman smiled warmly at him.
"For your girl I presume?" Neal nodded.
"I'll go get them. Stay right here". When she disappeared, Neal sighed in relief. He searched through the pile of the jackets to find a small and was out the door within seconds.
He unlocked the car and hid it in the back seat before rushing over to the café's window and knocking on the glass to get Emma's attention. When she turned to face him he motioned her over wildly. She frowned but did as he said.
"I just ordered us coffee".
"We can get it somewhere else. We need to go".
Emma sighed as he rushed them to the car.
"What did you do?" She asked as they sped away.
He glanced out the review mirror for any sign of the lady following them and exhaled in relief when he saw no one. They were safe.
"I got you something". Keeping his eyes on the road, he reached into the back seat and pulled out the jacket.
"I felt really bad about what happened with your other jacket so I wanted to make up for it".
"Neal", Emma breathed in awe. "It's gorgeous".
She stroked the leather gently before reaching out to squeeze his free hand.
"But you really didn't have too".
Neal shook his head.
"I wanted too".
Emma bit her lip and nodded.
"Thank you". She leant across to kiss him on the cheek.
He watched out of the corner of his eye as she put it on. It was perfect.
"God Emma. You look beautiful".
"Hey, eye's on the road" She scolded, but he could see her face light up with a smile, and her cheeks flood with color.
"So where to now?" Emma asked. Neal thought for a moment.
"I don't know about you but I kind of miss Portland".
Emma threw her head back and laughed.
"Portland it is!"