The ground was shrinking beneath his feet.

Neal tuned out August's story of the curse as his eyes widened in realization and horror. The puppet is right. Neal would have to leave her, leave the only thing that mattered to him in this world. Break her heart.

And what choice did he have? Could he continue to let the citizens of the Enchanted Forest suffer? Could he keep Emma from her destiny? From the family she secretly longed for? No. He could not.

So there goes my happy ending, too.

He couldn't bear to think of it any longer; pulling himself out of his down-spiraling thoughts, Neal chose that moment to tune back in to August's tale.

And was lucky he did.

"…and so it was prophesied that the Savior would return on her twenty-eighth birthday-"

"Wait, twenty-eighth birthday? That's over ten years from now," The cogs in the car thief's mind began to turn. "You'd have me leave her for something she's supposed to do in ten years?"

August looked down at him, still on his soap box. "Of course. If you stay, she can't fulfill her destiny."

"Wait, what exactly is her destiny?"

"To break the curse, and bring back the happy endings."

"How?"

"That…is not what we're discussing."

"You don't know. Nice. You expect me to break Emma's heart so that she can do…something ten years from now."

"You've got an alternative?" Defensive, now.

Neal's mind raced, and a new plan formed. "How 'bout this…you do your job. You're supposed to protect her, right? Protect her happy ending. Go off and find whatever the hell it is she's supposed to do. Then tell me. I'll make sure she does it…10 years from now. Till then, she gets her happy ending. With me."

"What? No. You leave. She saves. We stay out of it."

"Maybe you don't mind waltzing in and out of her life when it's convenient for you, but I won't. And with both of us leading her to her duty…destiny- whatever- we can be sure she does it!"

Though his eyes narrowed and face grew hard, Neal could see August's resolve slipping.

"How will I find you, when I've learned what she has to do?"

"You dug me up easy enough. And I know this: we'll be in Tallahassee."


"Neal!"

Seeing her there, waiting for him near the parking structure by the tracks, happy, safe, and with him, Neal finally let the dam burst. Although she couldn't know how close he'd come to leaving her, Neal was overjoyed. He ran to her, scooped her up in his arms, and held her close to him for a second before kissing her for a long moment with all of the relief and love he felt.

"I got it, Twenty-thousand, easy." His smile overflowed from his face, contagious. Emma smiled right back, and leaned in to touch her forehead to his.

"Tallahassee?"

"Tallahassee. Let's go find home."


The opening of a door had never sounded more like a death sentence.

Pacing along the floor of their little apartment, Emma looked for a way to let go of the anxiety, or maybe just buy some time. Neal tossed his keys onto the black and white counter of the adjoining kitchenette and unceremoniously dumped his backpack on the floor by the door. Shortly after arriving in Tallahassee six weeks prior, Neal had snagged a job as a valet for a fancy restaurant in the better part of the city. Though the hours sometimes sucked and he had to wear a stupid red tuxedo-style uniform, he got to drive new and expensive cars, plus tips were great because the only people who could afford that dining establishment were people that could afford good tips.

Neal began to loosen his tie and unbutton his faux-silk vest as he walked into the main room of the apartment, walking up to Emma until only their crappy little couch separated the two.

"Hey, Ems." Neal greeting, leaning in for a kiss.

Emma, too distracted by the butterflies in her stomach to properly kiss him back, let him kiss her cheek instead and murmured a non-committal "Hey."

Sensing her distress, the easy smile on Neal's face melted into concern. He walked around the couch, and standing before her, asked, "Emma, what's wrong?"

She chickened out. "Nothing, really," she answered, not meeting his gaze.

"That's a lie."

Neal's tone was gentle, and his brown eyes were soft, loving, worried. Finally looking up into them for the first time since he'd come home, Emma wondered for the shortest of seconds why she was so nervous to tell him. This should be exciting news, right? She should be celebrating; they should be celebrating. And he'd be happy about it, right? Right? The butterflies returned in full force at the thought of what she'd do if he wasn't, if he was angry, if he didn't support her; and then, Emma had known one too many kids in foster care because their fathers had walked out on them...

More like plain old flies, big and buzzing and making it hard for her to breathe.

But that was ridiculous. She knew Neal, and he wouldn't do that. Though hard to ignore, it was the nerves talking. Trying to control her thoughts, she looked him straight in the eye with an expression that hopefully looked something like confidence, or, at the very least, not like a terrified teenager who just found out her twenty something boyfriend had just knocked her up.

Inhale. Exhale. Don't be a coward.

"Neal, baby…I'm pregnant."

Emma watched the myriad of emotions that flitted across Neal's face as the news sunk in. First, to her surprise, was joy. But as quickly as it had come, the joy was gone, replaced by shock, then fear, then love, finally uncertainty, and back. The flies wreaked havoc on her stomach again, until, after the long second passed, all emotions faded, and Neal's expression became guarded.

"Okay." His voice was even, but he couldn't quite hide the spark that lingered behind his eyes, not from Emma. "What do you want to do?"

"Do?" She met Neal's intense gaze, slightly indigent. "What is there to do?" She bit back. Her anger clearly came from fear, and the emotion that she so rarely showed softened him.

"Whatever you want. I'll support you, no matter your choice."

Emma shrunk away from his arms. Though relieved at his words, she instinctively shied from his support, and looked away. "What do you want to do?"

The question brought back some of Neal's guardedness, so with falsely casualty, he replied, "I'm not the one who has to carry a kid in my stomach for nine months…so this is your call."

Emma's eye's shot back up to his, though she kept her distance. As usual, Neal could keep nothing from her. "So you'd have me keep him, then?"

Doing his best to stay aloof and failing entirely, he responded "Forget it. Do whatever you think is right."

"Bullshit."

Neal sighed, and dropped the casual act. "Okay, yes. I want to keep the kid. A lot."

"Why?" Emma's eyes and tone could have cut steel. She couldn't quite believe his reaction would be so positive so quickly.

"Well…remember what I told you about my family, my father?" Neal spoke slowly, searching for his words, but surely. He had already told Emma bits and pieces about his past, leaving about everything about magic, beans, and other worlds. "I had a small family for the first 14 years of my life. We didn't have much, but that was okay. I loved it, even if my mother wasn't really in the picture. But then my father…changed, so I spent all my time trying to get him back, to make us feel like a family again. And when I couldn't, I left him. I was on my own for so long...Guess I didn't know how badly I wanted the feeling of family back 'til I found you. And now the kid just completes the picture."

Looking back into his tender gaze, Emma wanted so badly to agree, to admit that all she wanted was to keep the kid, too. But anxiety held her back.

"Neal, my mother left me abandoned on the side of a highway. I don't know how to be a mom."

"And my father lied to me and used me as an excuse to hurt people. I don't know how to be a dad. But we'll figure it out, all right? Doesn't everyone feel like this? All we gotta do is be the parents we wish we had."

"Ha. You make that sound easy. Or even possible."

"We figured out how to take care of each other, right? Now we just gotta make room for one more." The thought lit a small but brilliant smile on Neal's lips. Emma couldn't stay so anxious when he looked at her like that, and though the butterflies in her stomach still pounded, she smiled too.

"So, you're sure about this? About raising a kid, all by ourselves?"

Neal's smile grew, though he spoke low and serious. "That's why we came to Tallahassee, remember? To settle down, be a family? I think neither of us expected one so soon...but you know what they say about gift horses and their mouths."

Emma couldn't help it. Though she could tell he was hiding most of it for her sake, Neal's enthusiasm was catching. Pulling herself close to him once more, the blonde ducked her head under his chin to hide her face in his neck. He wrapped his arms around her as she murmured, "He's gonna have a great father,"

"He'll have a better mother."

The former partners-in-crime stood there, entwined in silence for a long moment. Suddenly, Neal pulled away, a light in his eyes.

"'He.' So it's a boy, is it?" He teased.

Smiling widely, Emma pulled back, staying in his arms but looking up at him, and flirted back, "It could be a girl, too, you know. I just picked a pronoun for convenience's sake."

"It could be either," Neal allowed, crinkly eyed countenance still cheerful. "But I'm betting it's a boy."

"Okay, well you had better not be disappointed either way, mister, cause I could have a total ass-kicking daughter-"

"I think I'd like to marry you."

Emma, stunned into silence, took a quick step back from his embrace, like he'd shocked her. Neal, she noted, looked like he couldn't quite believe he'd said it either.

Foot in his mouth and not comforted by her lack of response, he tried to recover. "Well...you know…we….we could be one. A family, I mean. An official one. You, me, and the kid. We could do it. I mean, I don't have a ring or anything, and God knows we don't have much-"

"I think I'd like to marry you, too."


They were married in a small courthouse ceremony a month later, with one of Neal's coworkers as witness. Given that groom's name was probably still on a wanted poster somewhere, he took her last name, though they agreed, boy or girl, their little miracle would take Cassidy as a middle name.

"Henry." The first word Emma spoke as a married woman broke their contented silence as they walked out of the courthouse hand-in-hand.

"Henry?" Neal smiled back. He couldn't not smile.

"If it's a boy. After all my years moving from family to family in the system, I never met anyone named Henry. So no memories attached. Like a fresh start for the kid. And I don't know. It kind of feels right."

"Henry Cassidy Swan. Good name."


Being pregnant was weird.

Her whole body got aches and pains all the time, she scarfed down whatever food was on her radar like she was a starving lion who'd never seen meat before, and none of her favorite clothes fit.

But weirder still, was how obsessively caring Neal became.

He had told her that he wanted a family, but Emma didn't really expect him to become such a papa bear so easily. He threw out every ounce of alcohol in their apartment the night she admitted her pregnancy, and hadn't touched a drop since. He never missed a single doctor's appointment. He sacrificed all of the blankets and pillows in the apartment to her whenever they curled up to watch movies. He always ran to the store to buy her Spider-Man shaped mac and cheese and hot cocoa with cinnamon when she woke him up at 4am with a craving. And he did it all happily.

When Emma had asked him about it, he simply answered "A good man takes care of his wife and family." Even when Emma called him a misogynist-for the second time, she was quick to point out- and dumped her iced tea on him, he didn't mind.

It was all so...impressive. Her kid was gonna have the best father anyone could ask for. And really, it shouldn't have surprised her so much, the intensity with which he threw himself into fatherhood. Neal was the one who suggested they settled down in the first place. Must of hoped for something like this.

But no matter how many times he surprised her, Emma was continuously and pleasantly shocked at his devotion to their little bundle of joy.

Like the Saturday five months into the pregnancy the couple went to pick out the baby's furniture. Neal was willing to spare no expense, but Emma kept him grounded, and they ended up leaving the Babies R Us with a whole nursery full of necessities. (The "nursery", in all reality, was just a bit of their bedroom that was to be sectioned off by a couple of curtains. It was just a temporary measure, as the pair was determined their next big purchase would be a real house, with more than one bed room.)

Later that day, Emma went out to run some errands while Neal started assembling the furniture. She arrived home to find that Neal had already hung the dividers, and assembled the crib and the rocking chair. The man in question was sitting on the floor of the makeshift room, a look of pure concentration on his face, surrounded by the pieces of was looked like it was to be a changing table.

"Woah." Emma said as she stepped through the curtain. "Neal, how the hell did you get this all done so fast? I was only gone for like, 2 hours. It's like magic." She moved to sit in the rocking chair near the window in the corner, rubbing her slightly swollen belly as she tiptoed her way across the small space, trying not to step on any of the metal and wooden pieces strewn across the floor.

Neal couldn't help but cringe at the magic reference. "Yeah, exactly like that." He turned and shoved some of the pieces out of his way so he could come to kneel before her. Kissing her stomach, he murmured "Hi, baby," then strained his neck up to kiss his wife hello.

"But actually, though, how did you manage all of this?"

"When I was a kid, I lived in a small town. Like tiny. Not nearly enough people around able to fix stuff. If something broke, you had to learn to fix it yourself. I guess it stuck with me."

"I'll say." Emma looked around, amazing by what Neal had already done. To the left of the chair was the crib, white painted wood, simple, with bevels in the bars and a carving in the head piece that curved with its edge. Around them hung a lacy, baby blue curtain that sectioned off about half of the master bedroom with just enough room for the two of them to comfortably take a few steps in any direction. The solid walls were bare, except for above the crib, over which hung a framed picture of the latest ultrasound scan.

Neal quickly went back to work, determined to have the nursery done that night. Watching him, cradling her unborn kid, and relaxing in the calming atmosphere of the baby-room-to-be, a thought struck Emma that she wasn't sure she'd ever get.

This. This is home.


"He's so...tiny."

If Emma hasn't spent the last 13 hours in labor, she might have make a joke about how the new-dad's first words upon seeing his son were so ordinary. It may have also been emotion blocking her usual wit; in truth, Henry Cassidy Swan, born only 5lbs 11oz, was 3 weeks early, and the boy looked about as fragile as she felt. Though Neal's first words were not very creative, his second though simple sentence overflowed with all of the love and awe inspired by the infant boy, the kind of love only a parent can feel. A sentiment mirrored perfectly by the new mother, as well.

"He's perfect."


Emma awoke with a start. The scratchy white sheets of her bed were tangled uncomfortably around her legs, which were clothed only in a pair of her husband's boxers to combat the Florida heat. She struggled for a moment to be free before noticing the other side of the bed was empty.

As a parent to a 4 week old, waking at random hours of the night wasn't uncommon, but this time, something was different. The clock on the night table to her left told her that it was just after 5 in the morning, way too early for Neal to be beginning the day for his recently acquired job as a car salesman. And if Henry were fussing, she would have heard.

After blinking back the sleep from her eyes, Emma pulled the sheets off entirely and sat up, and looked around, finding her missing man.

Pale moonlight streamed through the window into Henry's makeshift nursery. Behind the curtains, she could see his silhouette as it stood over the crib. His form was silent and still. When Neal didn't move after a few minutes, Emma finally pulled herself out of bed, and padded to the opening in the partition to see him. His back was facing her, head tilted to gaze at his son. The whole scene was bathed in the soft, blueish glow from the window, and for a moment, Emma thought the atmosphere was peaceful, beautiful, even. But the closer she got, the more apparent the tension in her husband's body was.

His white tee shirt strained against his rigid back muscles, which were more stiff than could possibly be comfortable. Sweat that had nothing to do with heat pooled beneath his neck. A fear that something was wrong with Henry rose in Emma's mind, but when she reached the crib, the steady rise and fall of the baby's tiny chest quashed it. She turned to her husband.

Immediately, she could see what was troubling him. Though his countenance was blank and only half even visible, his eyes gave it away. Neal hadn't acknowledge her, and remained unresponsive when she wound her arms around him and pressed herself into his side.

"Was it the nightmare again?" Emma murmured.

"Yes." His voice was stark, cracked. The pain in it tore at her.

The silence returned. Trying to pull Neal back to her, Emma broke it a minute later.

"Was it the same as before?" Though Neal had never gone into specifics about the terrors that still plagued him, she wished he would talk to her, make her feel like there was something she could do besides offer as much support as she could muster.

"The images were the same," he affirmed. "The perspective was different. It wasn't my father leaving me." The words were like a chisel, breaking his empty mask. Pain became evident in Neal's eyes, though the gaze was still trained on Henry's slumbering face.

"What happened?"

"I...I was in my father's place. I abandoned own son," His voice struggled to stay even, though he said it like a confession.

Before Emma could speak the words of comfort that would relieve him of his imagined guilt, Neal whipped around to face her, looking with wide, crazed eyes into hers and clutching her shoulders. His sudden change in demeanor and position startled her.

"You have to leave." He said it with such finality that for one wild second, Emma thought he meant now. "You have to take Henry and leave me. If I turn into my father…if I become like him." He let go of her, mood shifting once more, turned back to the crib, and whispered, "I won't hurt my son, I can't, and if I do, you have to promise you'll save him. From me."

"Neal." Emma replied firmly, finally understanding that she was witnessing one of her husband's rare moments of insecurity. "Neal, look at me. Look." She ran a hand comfortingly though his brown mop of hair, then used it to force his head to face her. "Neal, you won't hurt Henry. You said it yourself, I know you won't. You couldn't; you love him too much."

"My father loved me, too, when I was a boy. I never thought then he could be the cause of my nightmares. And then he...changed...just like I could."

"You aren't your father, Neal. You are stronger and kinder and braver than him. You won't change."

"But what if-"

"You won't. I won't let anything change you." Her fierce tone finally seemed to pull him off of the edge. He looked at her with clear eyes for the first time that morning, and his body seemed to relax as Emma drew him into her embrace once more.

"Thank you." Neal rested his head on her shoulder as she played with his hair in the way she knew he liked.

"Any time."

"I love you. Both of you. So much."

"I love you, too. Now back to bed, mister." She added gently, hoping it would lighten the mood. "You have work in a few hours, and I can't sleep alone anymore."


Fatherhood was perhaps the greatest thing that had ever happened to Neal. He had a steady job, a fantastic kid, and a perfect wife (who currently worked with a police station catching criminals, how badass is that?).

Neal's favorite time of day to contemplate this was everyday at precisely 4:32pm, when his son would come running out of his preschool and daycare center, eager to talk his willing father's ear off about all the things he'd done and learned that day. The center was on the way home for Neal, and so, everyday at precisely 4:32pm, he was there to walk Henry home.

The 4-year-old happily tugged at his father's hand with much more end of the day energy than the man could muster. Mastering reading skills were the greatest adventure in the preschooler's life. Henry blew through every book his parents could get for him.

Currently, the child was telling his father all about his new favorite story, a telling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, of all things. Neal was contented to just listen to Henry animatedly rehash the story, inwardly laughing and cringing at the irony of hearing the story from its heros' unknowing grandson.

The boy talking seemingly without taking a breath until they were just down the street from the Swan residence, a cozy brick townhome in one of the better neighborhoods in Tallahassee. Then he stopped.

"Daddy? Who's that?" Henry pointed toward home. Someone was leaning against a motorcycle on the street outside their house. As soon as he saw the bike, Neal knew exactly who it was.

August W. Booth had returned.

The closer father and son drew to the man on the street, the farther Neal's stomach dropped. As he worried about the news August had finally come to bring him, he wondered idly how he had escaped this part of his past for 5 years.

August finally caught sight of the pair, looking amused as he noted their linked hands. "Well," he called as soon they were in earshot, "Looks like you and Emma have been busy,"

"Hello, August," Neal sighed, coming to a stop a few feet in front of the former puppet, just at the bottom step of his house.

"Cassidy," August greeted causally.

"Who are you?" Little Henry asked precociously while taking a step around his father, toward the stranger, brow furrowed.

Neal pulled him back and knelt to his level, turning his back to August. "Kid, why don't you go inside, and wait for daddy in the kitchen?"

"But Dad-"

"Go," Neal commanded. "If you're good, and don't tell your mom about the visitor, I'll make sure you get extra dessert tonight."

Henry looked between his father and the stranger and back again, weighing.

"It better be chocolate, or I'm telling." Neal handed the key to Henry, who turned up the steps and disappeared inside.

August, still leaning against his bike, watched the exchange with an amused smile. "Cute boy. Though not really a part of the deal we made-"

"Shut it, August. You know I don't work in deals." Neal snapped with angry impatience. The sooner he could handle the fallout from his past, the sooner he could return to his well-loved present. "Did you learn what she has to do?"

"There's a town, in Maine. Storybrooke. So far as I could tell, people who aren't from our world can't even see it, let alone enter. The people there live the same sad lives everyday. That's where they all are. My father, Emma's parents...your father. And Regina, the Evil Queen."

"So what exactly does Emma have to do?"

"Not clear. Your father prophesied that Emma would break the curse, but not how. Getting her there on her 28th birthday is a good start."

Of course it was Papa. Neal sighed again, already dreading this part of his future. "Fine. Looks like Emma's getting a road trip for her 28th birthday."

"You do that. I did my part," August shifted, preparing to climb back onto his motorcycle. His face assumed a sly, mocking grin.

"Neal?" A new voice called from behind him.

Turning at the sound of his name, Neal saw Emma approaching the scene with a slightly confused, though not hostile, countenance.

"Hey, babe." He reached out for his wife and kissed her on the cheek when she got close enough.

"Who's this?" She asked him, giving a little nod to the strange bearded man on the bike.

"An old friend," the biker in question answered, looking from Neal to Emma and back as though he saw some secret joke that was wildly amusing. "Name's August."

"Emma." She replied, reaching out to shake his hand.

The longer the exchange between the two lasted, the more uncomfortable Neal became. "And he was just leaving," Neal emphasized.

"Right." August agreed with mock politeness. "Don't forget what I told you." He told Neal pointedly, and then, with one last amused grin, August drove off.

As soon as the bike's roar was out of earshot, Emma turned to her husband. "What was that about?"

"Nothing you have to worry about." Neal answered awkwardly.

Emma's tone was a reproach and a warning. "Neal..."

"Someone from my past," Our past, he almost admitted. "It's fine, really. He won't be coming back."

Tough with eyes still narrowed and lips pursed in suspicion, Emma seemed to accept that. She turned and began to walk up the steps to the door.

"Thanks," Neal was hugely relieved that she let it drop. "Also, do we have any chocolate? I made a promise to our son."


"Shhh!"

"Dad!"

"No, kid, you gotta-"

"Ouch!"

"Sorry!"

Slowly, the whispered words of father and son poked into Emma's awareness. She opened her eyes to find both her boys in their pajamas, struggling to get through the doorway at the same time. Neal held a wooden tray with a couple of lavishly full plates and Henry, now six, held a pot of coffee in one hand and an empty mug in the other. It was comical, how both had such rapt concentration trying to balance their loads and walk through the door at the same time.

Emma chuckled, causing both boys to look up with identical faces of shock at having been caught, which only made her smile more.

"You know," she said with sarcastic causally as sat up in bed. "Breakfast in bed usually goes better if you don't wake the receiver up trying to walk into the room."

Henry returned her smile and nearly-shouted "Happy birthday, mama!" before finally disentangling himself from Neal's legs and racing to her side. The child carefully set down the coffee and mug on the bedside table before leaping into his mother's arms.

"Thanks, kid." Emma hugged him back, looking over his little brunette head to her husband, who stood still in the doorway watching the scene fondly.

Meeting her gaze with a twinkle in his eye, Neal approached, setting the tray on the opposite end table and coming to join the family moment.

"Happy birthday," he offered quietly, amused.

"You're in trouble," Emma responded, leaving foreword to kiss him. "You know I don't do birthdays."

"Yeah, but Mom," Henry complained, sitting up to look at her. "Not having a birthday is lame."

"Yeah, Emma, it's lame." Neal repeated. Her husband sat himself beside her in bed, reaching to wrap an arm around his love, struggling to hide the laughter in his eyes.

"Dad and I decided to make you breakfast in bed for you! He woke me up way earlier than normal so we could try to think of the most delicious breakfast ever and then we made it together! We didn't even break any of the stuff in the kitchen! And Dad made you waffles and bacon and I brought you coffee and-" Henry's speedy and excited monologue cut off and his bright eyes darted to the empty mug. "Oh! I forgot milk. I'll be right back!" Henry jumped up out of bed and ran out the door and down the hall.

"Careful with the running, buddy!" Emma shouted after him.

"Yeah, yeah!" was the only response she got. Sighing, she looked back over to the man beside her. "Seriously. You know how I feel about this day, Neal." Emma had always hated her birthday, because even though most people got to celebrate the day they came into the world, it was only just a reminder to Emma that she didn't even have a mother to thank for it.

Birthdays were only lonely downers before Neal came into her life, and even then, she never felt like commemorating the day she was left for dead on the side of the highway. Neal knew this.

"Yeah, but baby, I think you coming into the world is something to celebrate. And I'm sure Henry agrees." His smile was sad, remembering how hard his beloved wife's life once was, but after a moment he lightened. "Besides, your birthday is always gonna suck if you never make any new good memories for it."

Emma glared at him for a brief moment, then sighed again. "Fine."

"Thank you." Neal kissed her forehead as she began to pour some coffee.

At that very moment, Henry's footsteps could be heard making his way back up the stairs.

"I got the milk! Woah-" Henry tripped as he rounded the last corner just a little too fast. The heavy jug went flying, spilling milk everywhere as it went.

"Oops."

Neal laughed and he started up to get paper towel, but Emma groaned at the mess. "Good memories," she mumbled. "Great start."


Four years later to the day, Emma let out a similar groan. "Remind me again why I let you convince me that a family road trip up the East Coast was a good idea."

Lost in the woods in the middle of no where, Maine and trapped in the passenger seat of the yellow bug by a storm, she was not a happy camper, but Neal seemed all too happy to be road tripping long hours into the morning. In fact, he seemed a little too chipper. Like he was anxious or on edge. Being a little past on edge herself, Emma didn't press it, but her husband's strange demeanor didn't make her attitude much better.

"I think it's good clean family fun," Neal responded, eyes darting along the dark, wet road for any indication of where exactly he was driving his family. "Henry agrees with me, right, pal?" He risked a glance into the rear view mirror to see the 10-year old was still slouched across the back seat asleep, and a snore was all he got in reply. "Right. That's what I thought."

"Fine...but we're gonna stop at the next town to spend the night." Emma half whined, half demanded.

"Funny how we used to be so good at this living out of the car thing." Neal almost laughed, but it sounded more like a nervous snort.

"Yeah, well, that was ten years ago."

"At least we still have our looks."

A few moments of silence passed before the headlights finally swept over a sign.

"Ah, here we are," Neal sighed in relief - or was it resignation? - as he turned off to follow the sign that read ;Welcome to Storybrooke!' in bright colors. He looked down at the clock; it read 12:28am. "Oh," he added as they drove into the small town's limits. "Happy birthday, Emma."


AU: Eh. So that's that. I don't own Once Upon A Time.

I'm might continue in this AU if people like it and I feel inspired. Honestly this has been sitting in my Google Docs since January and it's taken me this long to actually write it so I'm not about to commit to a squeal...but if the mood strikes, ya' never know.

Thanks for reading, bud.