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A New Life

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This story is No. 6 in the series "Family Matters". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: At the age of sixteen, Emma Swan starts working at a local diner. At the age of seventeen, she catchs a man sleeping in his car and begins to believe in 'true love,' until the worst happens... Emma/Neal. Buffy/OC.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Once Upon a TimeTanydwrFR1513,9671161,29614 Apr 1314 Apr 13Yes
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Once Upon A Time. I do own 'Jack Irons' and his and Buffy's children (i.e. not Nick and Emma).

Note: This does contain spoilers for Henry's parentage, and means that Buffy's arrival and adoption of Pinocchio and Emma may have had additional rippling effects that led to Neal and Emma's meeting. I have also tried to address how the relationship might have occurred given Emma's very different lifestyle in this universe, as well as how Henry ended up in Storybrooke.


A New Life


When she was sixteen, Emma Swan started working in diner ten blocks from home. It was the kind of neighbourhood no one gave much thought to, an area of mixed industry and tourist trap that made her parents wince, though she had a feeling that had more to do with Nick’s turbulent teenage years than anything else.

“Look, Mom, Maria’s uncle owns the place, and it’s not like you didn’t have a job when you were my age,” Emma told her when she had applied for the job. “It’s just a couple of nights a week.”

It seemed to take forever for her mother to agree, but eventually she did, with stern warnings regarding her schoolwork and being careful around grabby customers that Emma took with a large pinch of salt that barely prevented her rolling her eyes.

God, Mom is so over the top, Emma thought, recalling her mother’s even more dire warnings about frat boys, drinking and human sacrifice when she heard that her friend Jenny had started dating a college freshman.

As it was, Emma thrived at her new job, revelling in the extra money and the sense of responsibility she got from it. Maria helped her learn which patrons to avoid and which were good tippers, and by the summer she was taking on full days to keep herself flush with the money that funded the late nights and fake IDs that every teen needed. She knew her parents would pitch a fit if they found out, but they could be impossible, and the kids were just as bad.

She had started the new school year and passed her seventeenth birthday when a yellow VW Beetle caught her eye, seemingly abandoned down an alley opposite the diner. Wondering if it needed reporting and too interested in its unusual presence so near her workplace, she approached it.

There was someone lying on the backseat.

“Oh my God,” she gasped and began banging on the window. “Hey, you okay? You alive in there?”

The figure moved and Emma let out a sigh of relief even as he wound down the window and glared at her.

“Hey, I was… Hello.” His irritation turned to a smirk. “So, is that what pretty girls do for fun around here?”

“I – I thought,” she swallowed, by no means immune to the good-looking, if sleepy, guy peering up at her, “well, I don’t know what I thought, but people don’t usually sleep in the back of their cars!”

“So you were looking out for me, huh?” he asked. “How very charitable.”

“I work at the diner across the street,” she answered. “You don’t see many cars parked down here.”

“Well, maybe someone in your diner poisoned me and I was sleeping off the effects,” he quipped and Emma startled herself with a laugh.

“Seriously, you’re going with that?”

“Seemed as good a shot as any. Neal Cassidy,” he told her.

“I don’t know if I should be giving you my name. For all I know, you’re some kind of pervert who likes sleeping in cars.”

“Well, I may be a pervert, but you’re definitely a busybody, and I wanna know who to ask for if I visit your diner,” he said, blue eyes serious, and she gulped as she recognised the flirtation for what it was. He had to be twenty at least, probably a year or two older, but did that really matter? The sleeping in the car was weird, but maybe he worked nightshifts nearby and was too tired to make it home.

Okay, I’m grasping at straws, but he doesn’t really seem the pervert type, she admitted to herself.

“Emma,” she answered, “Emma Swan.”

“Nice name,” he said. “You work here every day?”

“Part time,” she replied, not wanting to admit she was still in high school. “Couple of evenings a week and weekends.”

“Well then, maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Sure.”

Three days later, he was sitting in one of her booths when she walked into the diner, grinning at her.

“He’s been here every evening since Monday,” Maria informed her, raising one eyebrow, “and asked for you in particular. Something you want to tell me?”

“No.”

But the pattern continued, and Emma was helpless to resist him. It didn’t matter that she was lying to her parents, that her school grades were dropping, that even Maria was getting worried. Neal was wonderful. He was clever in a totally new way from her father or brothers, good with his hands, and kissed her like she was something precious.

Neal took her on dates to the beach, and parks, and tiny little corners of the city she didn’t even know existed despite having lived there her whole life. The light in his eyes when he gazed at her was so wistful and loving that she could not help but return it. She learnt he liked jelly doughnuts and chocolate and his car was his favourite belonging.

On a cold afternoon walking in the park, she told him she loved him and he said the words back without hesitation, and she wondered if this was what her parents had felt. If this was what they, sometimes jokingly, called true love.

She gave him her virginity after Christmas, and despite the initial pain and awkwardness, it soon became everything she had ever dreamed of and more.

Unfortunately, Christmas and January brought Nick home more often, and he noticed what her parents didn’t.

“Who is he?”

Emma looked at him, eyes wide.

“Who’s who?”

“The guy you’re going out to meet.”

“I’m not –”

“I’m not stupid, Emma,” Nick interrupted, growling softly. “You’ve changed. You’ve got new glasses, you wear your hair differently, more make-up. I heard Mom ragging on you about your term papers, and you seem to be doing a hell of a lot more shifts at the diner than I remember doing at my job when I was your age.”

“Like you can talk? You had how many girlfriends at high school?” Emma sneered, biting back a wince at the disappointment in his eyes.

“Really? That’s your defence?”

“I’m seventeen years old, Nick, and this is none of your business. I’m going to work, so just butt out!”

She stormed away, to work and to Neal, who was looking unusually distracted.

Three days later, he disappeared entirely, leaving only a note in his usual booth saying Sorry. I love you.

Her heart broke.

“He’s gone,” she whispered, hands shaking as she looked at the note. “Maria, he’s gone.”

“What?”

Emma handed her the note as she headed into the ladies’ room, barely able to keep breathing. Maria followed, looking worried, but Emma was dry-eyed. The pain was too sharp, the kind of lancing pain that steals your breath and leaves your body shuddering. The pain of betrayal.

He deserted me. He left me.

“Em?”

“How could he? How could he just leave? Is that all I get, one lousy note?” She turned to Maria, and only now, with the sympathy shining in her friend’s face, did her eyes start to sting. “Is that all I meant to him?”

“He said he loves you,” Maria offered, and Emma let out a harsh bark of laughter.

“Isn’t that what they all say to get you into bed?” Emma asked, taking the note back. She wanted to crush it, to crumple it to pieces, to burn it like he had burnt her heart. Had thrown everything she gave him back in her face.

“So you did –?”

“He was my first.”

She didn’t start crying, but the shaking never stopped, all the way through her shift. By the end of it she had dropped two plates and flung hot coffee in a man’s lap, and lost her job as well as her boyfriend.

Mom was appropriately sympathetic and Dad could not help himself laughing when she explained what had happened. It was only later, as she crawled into bed alone, that she gave in to the gut-wrenching sobs that had been fighting to escape for hours.

But she wasn’t as quiet as she thought, and a few minutes later, her door opened, her mother’s soft footsteps padding across her room. She always had had ears like a bat.

“Emma?” Mom murmured, one hand light on Emma’s shoulder. “This isn’t about the job, is it?”

And Emma sobbed again as her mother slipped in behind her and held her in her arms. She couldn’t tell her everything – she couldn’t face that, her mother’s anger over her dating an older man – but she could tell her enough. Enough that it sounded like a boy at school, and that his breaking up with her via a note stuck to her locker had led to her unusual clumsiness.

“Oh, Emma, honey, I’m sorry,” her mother whispered, smoothing her hair. And Emma let herself sink into her mother’s embrace, let her tell her everything was going to be alright, that her heart would heal, that the first heartbreak was always the worst.

For a while, Emma let herself believe it.

But the following day at breakfast, the truth set in.

Nick. He had noticed, and he had done this. He had scared Neal off.

It was that afternoon, when Nick came to pick her up from school on their mother’s insistence, that she confronted him about it.

“You had no right!” she yelled. “No right at all –”

“No right? Emma, the guy was my age,” Nick protested.

“I love him, he loves me, and you sent him away –”

“Emma, he’s a thief and a con-artist.”

“How dare you –?” Emma began, bringing up a hand to slap her brother in the face, when he caught her wrist and shoved a piece of paper at her. Neal’s name and picture were brandished across it, along with the word WANTED and the crime of theft.

“Over twenty-thousand-dollars-worth of watches, Emma,” Nick told her, his voice soft. “He was here to hide, hoping he could do it in a big city.”

“He didn’t tell me…”

“Of course he didn’t. Just like you didn’t tell him you were seventeen.”

The protest was on her tongue, but it died at Nick’s expression. He continued, his voice harsh.

“Doesn’t matter if he loved you or not. They’re not going to look kindly on a thief who’s also guilty of statutory rape,” he informed her.

“No. No, it wasn’t like that, it’s not, I’m old enough –”

“Not by the laws of this state, you’re not,” Nick told her. “So tell yourself that’s why he left. To protect you both.”

“He left because you made him. He should have told me, I could’ve –”

“What?” Nick asked, throwing up his hands in exasperation. “What, Emma? Run off with him to Mexico? Deserted Mom and Dad, me, Andy and Jo? You’d leave us for your boyfriend?”

“I loved him,” Emma said, eyes defiant. “I still do –”

“Except that he lied to you, Emma.” Nick stepped forward, hands on her shoulders. “Look, princess, he was bad news. Your grades have dropped, you’ve been cutting class, out every night –”

Emma wrenched herself from his grip with hard laughter at his hypocrisy. Mom and Dad had never needed to bail her out for underage drinking.

“Says you?” she demanded.

“Look, I know I gave into temptation a few times –”

“A week!”

“There’s so many out there, Emma, and I’m no good at resisting. Mom and Dad are the only reason I’m even half good at this job.”

“Job? Protecting me? Is that what this is about?”

“Yeah, fine job I’ve done of that, with you hooking up with a crook.”

“He’s not – he wasn’t – stop saying that!” Emma cried, and this time her punch caught Nick off guard. Emma stared at him and her fist in horror, and ran.

XXXXX

It was the middle of February before Emma acknowledged the skipped period and the changes in her body for what they were. She told no one, only bought a pregnancy test on the other side of town and sat a public bathroom to wait for the result. She cried when it came out positive.

“How could I be so stupid?” she murmured, staring down at the two blue lines. For a moment she thought fleetingly of the times Neal had talked about settling down somewhere together, somewhere different, warmer, and now she wondered if it was somewhere that he wouldn’t be recognised. Could they have raised a family together?

She couldn’t tell her parents. She couldn’t. They would want to know the father’s name, and even if she didn’t tell them, Nick would, and then Neal would be in even more trouble. And despite the fact that he had left her, that a part of her hated him for not even telling her to her face, for believing whatever Nick had told him to convince him to back off, another part of her still loved him.

Mom would be so ashamed of her. Emma knew she loved Nick with all her heart, but she had sometimes admitted that pregnancy at twenty had made everything so much harder, especially when some wouldn’t believe she was widowed. Emma pregnant at seventeen and entirely single would be even worse.

And Dad… he’d be furious. He’d rant and storm and head straight out after any man he suspected might have touched his ‘little girl.’ Never mind Emma was his niece by marriage, not his biological daughter. She was as much his little girl as Jo, and she knew he would blame himself – and probably Maria’s uncle, because she knew both her parents would make the connection in an instant.

How could she do this to Jo and Andy, who looked up to her, who had always considered her the ‘cool big sister’ and followed her about like puppies as toddlers?

And Nick… A part of her hated Nick more than she could possibly say, because she knew, she knew Neal would have been there for her, would have wanted this, no matter how horrified he might have been about her age.

For so long Nick had been her guiding light, her protector and guardian, despite his teenage troubles, and for her to hate him so much was truly frightening.

She made it a week before she ran, unable to face her mistakes. Took only what she could pack in one bag, emptied her bank account (not her inheritance – she couldn’t touch that until she was eighteen), and ran.

And soon learned she had indeed been blind to the true horrors of the world. She bounced from big city to big city, waiting tables, avoiding roaming hands until her belly grew too full and she had to stop in Phoenix, Arizona. There, she managed to get a job in the laundry, ironing sheets, shirts and whatever else passed her way.

For the first time, she began to hate Neal. He had turned her into this. He had been older than her, and he had forgotten the condoms just as much as she had. He had got her pregnant and that stripped away the blinders that made her look at the world with hope and left only despair behind. Had he known, she wondered, what she had truly been? That she was a spoilt daughter of the white middle class, destined for college and an equally middle class job, husband, life? Neal had been a janitor, she discovered, when he made his theft, almost as blue collar as it got, and in her darkest moments she could not help but wonder if he had known some of the truth about her and rejoiced in seducing her, changing her.

She hated herself for such thoughts, for giving him other motives, darker, crueller, than she knew the truth to be. Neal had not been so calculating. He couldn’t have been. He couldn’t. She could not be that wrong. Not when she had been wrong about so many things.

She was not special. She was not the princess her brother and father nicknamed her. There would be no hero on a white steed to come and rescue her, no saving kiss, no kingdom won and white wedding. Life was so much more complicated than that.

But God help her, but she loved her baby. She had wondered, in that first week, if she could get rid of it, if she could abort the child and pretend her life was going on as normal. But how could she when, despite lies on both sides, she clung to the belief that her child had been conceived in love? She hadn’t been raped, there was no health risk, the only genuine excuse she could think of to abort her child was her youth and lack of job. But was that an excuse, when this was her mistake? Could she make an innocent child pay for her mistake?

In the end, she couldn’t. That was when she ran.

She had been reminded that there was a reason she didn’t like philosophy. Emma simply couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing her child. Who he or she would be, what they would become.

The question after that became whether she could keep the baby. Every thought of motherhood only reminded her that her own mother had died in childbirth, that she had betrayed her true mother – the one who raised her – by leaving. Every day she wanted Buffy more and more, to share with her the joys of the first flutterings, and the agonies of nights without sleep.

But before she could give in and make the call that would bring her mother to her side, Emma went into labour a month early, less than three weeks before she turned eighteen.

There were complications. That was what they told her afterwards, when it was all over. She had lost blood, she had been unconscious. Then they insisted that before she fell unconscious she had told them she wanted the baby to be adopted. Worse still, it was a closed adoption. Somehow, her signature was on a document that forever parted her from her son.

She screamed. She raged. And then finally, when a familiar figure appeared in the door, she sobbed.

“This is worse,” she murmured into her mother’s arms. “This is worse than that heartbreak.”

Worse still, they couldn’t find him. No matter how many tricks they tried, her son had vanished into a new life with new parents.

That did not stop her father suing the hospital, especially when he discovered there was a sizable donation made the day of the adoption. The story even made the local papers, when Emma was awarded compensation of over a hundred-thousand dollars.

“I shouldn’t have run,” she said one night after she was back home, tucked into her mother’s side, but suddenly aware of how much larger she was than her mother. “If I hadn’t, he’d be here.”

The hospital had at least been kind enough to tell her she had borne a son with brown hair and blue eyes.

“You were scared,” Mom murmured. “If only we’d looked harder. When you want to disappear, honey, you do it well.”

That guilted her even more. All the effort her family had put in to finding her – especially Nick, who had been roaming about America on that goddamn motorcycle trying to find her – when she had only thought of leaving them behind.

“I know how my mom felt now,” she heard her mother whisper, almost too quiet to be heard.

“What?”

And so Mom told her a story. It was a story of a girl chosen to fight evil. It was a girl who fell in love with an older man, who gave him her virginity, and who lost him afterwards, not to his past sins, but to his inner evil. It was a girl who then had to kill him to save the world, who had to reveal all her secrets to a mother who wouldn’t believe, and who fled into the ether to escape the traumas of her past.

“Did she get a happy ending?”

“Not until she was twenty-seven and forced to flee that world and stumbled across a child and a newborn babe in the woods.”

When Mom told Emma this new story of her past, Emma did not laugh or cry or disbelieve her.

Because in that moment, it did not matter. If she was telling a tale to make her feel better, so be it. And if she was telling the truth... what do you say to a woman who chose to be your mother because she wanted you to be safe from the horrors of the foster system? Safe in a foreign world? What do you say to a woman who gave you and your brother a past and a future?

It did not matter what was true or not, because Emma understood one thing.

A mother’s love is the strongest love in the world.

And she could trust only her family.

So she offered up a crumb.

“I named him, you know,” she said.

“What?”

“My baby. I had names picked out for a boy and a girl. Elizabeth Dawn, if it was a girl, for my two moms. Jonathan Henry for a boy, for my two dads. I – I thought it might be a boy. Before, I was nearly going to call, so many times, I wanted you all so badly. I thought he could be Jonny, you know? Or maybe Harry, if he went by his middle name, to distinguish him from Dad.”

“Oh, Emma,” Mom whispered, her voice with that throaty softness that meant she was near tears. “Tell your father that.”

“I will.”

And she did.

On getting home, amongst the pile of post she found a set of car keys with a Pyrrha Swan keychain and a note about a local garage. Neal’s car was inside, waiting for her, complete with transfer papers, and she wondered if it had been his after all or if she was accepting stolen property, and hated herself, once again, for her doubts.

She bought a chain and fashioned the Pyrrha Swan token into a necklace, her own personal talisman, reminding her never to forget.

And every year, on her son’s birthday, she bought a cake, and made a wish on his behalf.

Be healthy.

Be happy.

Be wise.

Be good.

Be mine.


She did not return to school. She took her GED with her parents’ and neighbours’ assistance. She went to college. She got a degree.

Her parents didn’t like her becoming a private investigator, but they liked it more than her suggestion of becoming a bail-bondswoman. They liked her moving to Boston when she was twenty-three less, but knew she needed her space.

Her siblings, far from blaming her, loved her yet. She remained the ‘cool’ big sister (just as Nick was the ‘cool’ big brother – the motorcycle and leather jacket helped), even providing a place to stay when Andy got into MIT.

And then, on her twenty-eighth birthday, destiny came for her in the form of a ten-year-old boy.

She embraced it with open arms.



Note: I hope you enjoyed this new version of Emma and Neal's romance. Do people want more background - Nick and Neal's conversation, Nick's teenage troubles, a bit about Buffy and Jack's kids, Andy and Jo, or do you want Emma and Henry meeting first? Any suggestions for just how this Emma and family will deal with Regina and the curse would also be appreciated - I have ideas, but I know that sometimes readers can have ones that can shape a narrative, especially when you're not sure how you're going to get somewhere!

Lol, Tanydwr

The End

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