A Step Inside

It seemed, John thought to himself, that he was to perpetually be on the outside looking in when it came to the three people in the world he most wanted to be close to.

They were sitting on the patio outside Granny's, oohing and ahhing at a baby along with Ruby and Sheriff Graham. As John, from his position at the entrance to the patio, looked at the young parents, who could hardly be out of their teens, he felt a fairly strong feeling of familiarity for them, especially about the young man. John felt as if he could confide in him about anything, and trust him to have his back.

Ruby was the one holding the infant at the moment. "She is so beautiful," she gushed at the pair.

The young blond woman grinned and turned to look at the boy next to her. "Well, she already has her daddy wrapped around her tiny fingers."

The young man grinned unabashedly.

Mary Margaret spoke up from her seat as she took a sip of hot cocoa, "That's as it should be." She smiled gently, though John could see pain and longing lurking in her eyes.

The waitress threw the father a look. "As long as you stay like that and keep Ashley and Alexandra happy we'll be good. 'Course if you hurt either of them again, I'll castrate you."

He grimaced, but soon was giving her a slightly pained grin. "Maybe you shouldn't be making such threats around the sheriff and deputy."

Emma had lifted her mug. "I didn't hear anything." She glanced casually at the sheriff, who sat across from her. "Did you, Graham?" She took a sip.

He shook his head. "Just the birds chirping on this fine day." Humor was sparking in his eyes.

The young father half laughed, half groaned.

"Face it, Sean," Emma said, setting her mug down, "you're damn lucky that Ashley took you back."

Sean looked at the pretty blond next to him, adoration obvious in his eyes, "And I know it." He took her hand and entwined their fingers.

"Can I hold her?" Henry asked from where he was sitting between Emma and Mary Margaret.

"Of course," Ashley said, nodding for Ruby to allow him.

The 10 year old positioned his arms to take the baby. As Ruby settled Alexandra in his arms Emma reached over and gently shifted his arms slightly. "Make sure you support her head," she cautioned him.

He nodded and stared down at the infant in his arms; after a moment he looked back up at Emma. "Was I really this small?"

"Yeah, kid, you were." John could see the tumult of emotions in her eyes that she quickly hid behind a smirk. "Hard to believe, huh?"

The boy nodded, looking down at the baby in his arms again.

"So," Ruby drew all of their attention; she was looking at the new parents, "Sean, how's your dad dealing with everything?"

The young man pressed his lips together. "Well, I more or less gave him no choice in the matter. We told him we were keeping Alexandra and we're going to get married this spring. He threatened to throw me out of the house; I said that it wouldn't make a difference and that we would manage. He threatened a few other things, as well as tried a few different types of persuasion, but we didn't budge. So he agreed that we could live at his house so we finish college."

John could admire the tenacity the young couple was showing in the face of adversity.

Mary Margaret smiled at them encouragingly. "Good for the both of you."

"Thank you," Ashley smiled brightly at the her.

Henry looked up at the dark haired woman. "Would you like to hold her, Miss Blanchard?"

The school teacher's eyes went wide. "Oh, I don't know…"

Ashley was already standing and taking Alexandra from Henry and moving her to the woman's arms. "It'll be fine," she assured her.

Mary Margaret automatically placed her arms in the correct position, though John could see she still looked rather stricken.

The young mother adjusted the blankets around her daughter and gently ran a hand over the baby's head. "There, see."

Mary Margaret didn't look at her, her eyes had been glued on the baby since the moment she had touched her arms. Her expression softened from the near-panic into a gentle smile.

John's heart seemed to stop in his chest as he looked at her sitting there. Then, in his mind, an image was superimposed over the one before him. Mary Margaret's hair was longer, she was in a pure white, flowing gown, cradling an infant in her arms; she was exhausted but she was looking at the baby with such love, pride, joy…and aching sadness.

He blinked several times and rubbed his eyes; when he looked up again things were back to normal, Mary Margaret's hair was in a pixy cut – not fairy tale, long locks – and was wearing her habitual skirt and sweater. There was an ache in his chest at the loss of the vision.

Her head lifted, and as if she had sensed him watching, her eyes immediately locked with his.

He couldn't breathe; the connection was so strong, it was like being pulled under in a rip current of emotion and she was the on rock to cling to. Her lips parted and the storm of her emotions was naked in her eyes.

"Hey, John!"

They were snapped out of the connection abruptly by Henry's greeting.

John took a deep breath and managed an easy grin for the kid as he stepped up to their table. "Hi, Henry."

A heavy blush stained Mary Margaret's cheeks. "Henry," she began, not even glancing in John's direction but keeping her gaze fixed on her student, "remember how I told you John Doe wasn't his name, David Nolan is."

"But he said I could call him John," Henry explained simply.

All eyes went to him – he noted how high Emma's eyebrows managed to climb on her forehead with some amusement – he shrugged. "I prefer it to David, for now."

"Oh," the dark haired woman looked down at the baby.

There was a momentary awkward silence; then Sean stood up and extended a hand to the elder man. "I'm Sean Herman." He extended a hand which John accepted; it was a firm, sure grip. The young man gave him a piercing look, as if he was trying to place how he knew him, but then shook his head and turned his attention to the young woman beside him. "This is my fiancée, Ashley Boyd."

She gave him a bright smile, shaking his hand. "Hi."

"It's nice to meet you both. I've been told I'm David Nolan," he gave them a self-deprecating smile, "but I go by John."

Ashley grinned. "It's wonderful to meet you."

The sheriff glanced at the other two women at the table before standing up and extending a hand to John. "I suppose proper introductions are in order, since the last time we met you probably weren't in the best condition to remember it. I'm Sheriff Graham."

John accepted the handshake. "I remember."

Emma rose and extended her hand, she was cautious about looking at him, probably leery after what happened at the playground. "Emma Swan."

He nodded.

"She's the new deputy," Henry declared proudly.

John grinned at the blond woman, a teasing glint in his eyes. "Is she? Well, I'd best behave myself with both the sheriff and deputy here."

Emma rolled her eyes and ruffled Henry's hair as she sat back down. "Emma'll be fine," she muttered.

John nodded; then turned for the introduction that he had been most anticipating.

Mary Margaret's cheeks were still pink; she shyly looked up from the baby. "I'm Mary Margaret Blanchard."

One side of his mouth creased into a warm smile. "It's nice to meet you, Miss Blanchard."

She glanced down. "Just Mary," she corrected.

He decided to try and distract them all a little by directing his attention at the baby. "Who is this?"

"This is Alexandra," Ashley told him, her voice bursting with love.

John gently stroked a finger along the infant's cheek. "Hello Alexandra." He looked up at the glowing parents. "She's beautiful."

"Thank you," Sean beamed.

John looked back at his four rescuers. "I've been meaning to thank all of you for finding me and saving my life."

There were "you're welcome"s and casual/embarrassed brushoffs.

He turned to Mary once again. "I understand you gave me CPR."

She looked down, smiling abashedly, before seeming to summon up some kind of nerve and looking back up at him. "It was…" she paused looking for the best word, "the right thing to do," she finally settled on.

He gave her a half smile. "I still thank you."

Neither of them looked away; then something that was out of character for Mary lit in her eyes and a more daring smile lifted the corners of her lips; somehow to him this expression on her face seemed familiar. "You're welcome," she said, her voice stronger.

Ruby stepped forward. "Can I get you something, Mr. Nolan?"

"John," he absently corrected; pulling himself from the eye lock with Mary to look at the waitress. "Hot chocolate, please."

She smirked. "Will you be joining the Cinnamon Crowd with that?"

He raised an eyebrow. "'Cinnamon Crowd'?"

She circled a finger in Mary, Emma and Henry's direction. "These three all take their hot cocoa with cinnamon, like you did last time."

"Ah," he nodded. "Yes, I'd like cinnamon in it."

"'Kay, I'll have it right out," she sashayed into the diner.

He turned to find a place to sit.

"Join us, John!" Henry said enthusiastically.

He turned back.

"Kid," Emma said lowly, drawing her son's attention to her, "he might be meeting someone."

Henry looked back at John. "Are you meeting someone?"

He shook his head. "No."

Before he could say more Henry had jumped up from his seat and moved over to an empty table to grab one of the chairs from it. "Then you can join us!"

Emma looked at him. "You don't have to," she told him quietly with a wry half-smile.

He looked over all of the people around the table; Sean, Ashley and Graham's welcoming smiles, Mary's pink cheeks but still warm smile, Emma's cautious but not unfriendly half-grin, and Henry's unending exuberance. A feeling of rightness was settling in his soul. He looked back at the deputy. "I'd love to."

He helped Henry pull the chair over and sat down between Mary and Graham.

Ruby came back out and set his hot chocolate down in front of him. "And so the Cinnamon Crowd grows," she said smirking at them teasingly.

The Cinnamon Crowd.

He was part of something.

He looked around the table at the people who had begun talking again and were reaching out to include him in conversations and interactions.

It felt good to no longer be on the outside looking in.

He had finally taken a step inside.

If you can't tell, I like the characters of Ella/Ashley and Thomas/Sean; there is so much potential story there, especially with Charming/James/John/David. They will definitely be making several appearances in this series, along with baby Alexandra. I hope that you enjoyed it! Please let me know what you think!

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