He didn't want to leave his father, but he did. He listened to Gepetto's words. He would protect Emma, even though she was quite a handful. He was seven, he didn't want to take care of a baby, but this baby was a princess. He had a duty to the kingdom. Not to mention Snow White, the beautiful, caring queen. He would forever feel guilty, for ripping her chance to raise her child away from her. Later he would feebly joke that she wouldn't look good as a cougar anyway, but the humor never helped the guilt.
He didn't like this world. The loud contraptions that were called cars, which drove down the road so fast, faster than even a horse. The people in what was called the "foster care" system were mean and uncaring, only wanting to get their hands on the fat check. This was no place for a baby, definitely not a place for a princess. She must have known something was wrong, she cried often, or maybe it was just because she was a baby. He had never been around a baby, he had never been a baby, having been carved out of wood into the form of a young child. He tried to cheer her up, making silly faces and tickling her. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. When it didn't, their foster father yelled at her and roughly pulled her out of the crib, pushing her into one of the older kids' arms, ordering them to get her to shut the hell up!
He didn't want to leave her, he really didn't, but he had to get out. Away from their foster father, away from the responsibility. He was seven! He couldn't deal with this! He was being selfish, and not the least bit brave. But he was Pinocchio and as the fables went, he was a compulsive liar and not a very good person. When he told the adults at the diner his name, he was unaware of the fact that his life would be made into, not only a book, but also a movie, which was basically a play you could watch from home on a weird box like thing called a television. The adults had laughed in his face, but when they realized he was being serious, they stopped chuckling and called the authorities.
There was another thing he didn't like about this world. His life, his friends lives, were documented for all to read and watch and they were ridiculed. He had seen the Disney version of Snow White and Cinderella and they were such weak characters, not to mention they got mostly everything wrong. He hated Disney. But he soon learned to love this world. Meals you could put into the microwave and be done within minutes; despite cars drawbacks, they were fast and he loved the speed; movies were awesome; the clothes were comfortable; technology in general amazed him. In his world, they were a couple of centuries behind technology wise. Which begged the question, was he from the past? Did the tree transport them to the future? Or were they in another dimension entirely?
He grew up. His hair darkened, he grew taller, he hit puberty, which was a bitch, but his voice did stop cracking at some point. And as he grew, his guilt weighed him down even worse. He tried to escape it, he did, but the farther he ran, the worse he felt. He was just grateful it didn't affect him physically, because if anything was a turn off, it was finding out a guy was half puppet.
He was twenty-six when he finally looked her up. She wasn't quite eight-teen yet, so she would still be in the foster care system. Another thing that made him feel like shit. He had been able to get away from that place, growing up with that little band of misfits, but poor Emma had to grow up in the system.
He found her address. It was a long drive, but it was worth it. When he rang the bell there was yelling, and then a boy opened the door. "Yeah?" he asked, impatient.
"Is Emma Swan here?"
He gave him a suspicious look, crossing his arms. "Why?"
"Old friend," he replied. It was the truth, she just didn't remember him.
He stared for an uncomfortable length of time before answering shortly, "She's at work." He went to shut the door, but August stuck his boot in the threshold, stopping it.
"Where does she work?"
He glared. "If you're such good friends, shouldn't you know?"
"We haven't kept in touch."
"Oh, yeah?" he countered. "Then how did you find her here?"
Damn, this kid was annoying. "She didn't tell me she got a job," he explained.
"What good friends you are," he muttered. He looked up, his eyes rolling, before resting on August again. "She works at the diner down the street."
August grinned and tousled the boy's hair to annoy him, which made him slap his hand. "Thanks, kid." He pulled his foot back and the door was slammed shut, which caused more yelling. He shoved his hands in his pocket, happy he had the chance to get out of that place, but then immediately felt guilty, because Emma hadn't.
He drove his motorcycle down the street and after two blocks, he found the diner. It was small, like most family-owned businesses. The tables were black and white, the bar had a checkered pattern, and the walls were an ugly color that usually came with a small restaurant. It had a very '50s feel to it. How cliché.
He took a seat at the bar, tapping his fingers against the counter top as he waited for a waitress to serve him. Finally, one came came over, having finished giving an order to another customer. She was cute. Blonde hair and blue eyes. She had on a horrendous mustard colored outfit. There was another thing that came with small restaurants, ugly uniforms.
"What can I get for you?" she asked, pen poised over a notepad.
He checked her name tag and froze. Emma. Of course. He should have noticed, she looked just like her parents. She had James's eyes and hair color, but Snow's chin and curls. He was an idiot.
"Sir?" she asked, her head tilted, barely concealed impatience in the tone of her voice.
He smiled, smoothly holding out his hand. "I'm August."
She looked at it distastefully, before back at him. "Not interested."
He pulled his hand back, pretending to be hurt. "A guy can't introduce himself?"
"I so don't have the time for this. Order something or get out," she snapped.
He looked at her, completely taken aback. This was Snow White's child? The queen notoriously known for being sweet. The guilt pressed on him harder. She never would have been like this if he hadn't left her, if he hadn't taken her mother's place in that wardrobe. He grinned easily, hiding his discomfort. "Coffee, please."
"How do you take it?" she asked, slipping her notepad into the pocket of her apron and the pen behind her ear.
She turned around, fixing his coffee. He took the opportunity to hate himself. It was his fault she was this way. He was such a piece of shit. She faced him again, disrupting his thoughts. She handed him the coffee, asking if he wanted anything else, which he replied no to, and she went to go wait on another customer. He had a feeling this was going to be hard.
The bell to the door rang as a man walked in. He was older than him, probably in his thirties. There was nothing special about him, he was tall, wore a suit. His nose was a little crooked and he had stubble on his chin, his hair and eyes were brown, but all in all, not very attention grabbing. But as soon as Emma caught a look of him, she grinned.
She walked around the bar and shouted into the window to the kitchen, "Annie, can I take my break now?" Annie called back yes and Emma untied her apron and put the pen behind her ear in a cup on the windowsill. She practically skipped around the bar and over to the man, her eyes bright as she met his gaze.
He stared at the interaction in shock. His first impression of Emma was she obviously wasn't much of a people person, but when she looked at that guy, it was with pure joy. What the hell? Was he a foster father?...The answer to that was no, because she pecked his lips affectionately and took his hand in hers, pulling him over to a table in the corner.
He wanted to be happy for her, he did. Good for her, but seriously? That guy was old enough to be her father. He shook his head in disbelief. He honestly was a piece of shit. None of this would have happened if he had stayed with her, or more importantly, if he had listened to Jiminy and stayed behind.
He sighed, took another sip of his coffee, which scorched his throat and slapped a couple of bills on the counter, giving her a generous tip. Not because she was a good waitress, to be frank, she kind of sucked as a waitress, but because she was Emma. He looked at her one last time before leaving the diner. She was still wrapped up in that guy.
He paid for a room in a shitty motel. The stains were questionable, the bed was uncomfortable, but it was blessedly cheap.
He returned to the diner the next day, ordering another coffee and greeting her cheerfully. "Hello, Emma."
She smiled mockingly. "What's your name again? June, right?"
The diner was packed that night, unlike the night before where there was only a couple of people. When the man came back, Emma called for her break and they went outside. He wouldn't think anything of it, except it was freezing outside. Not to mention the next day he came, business was dead again, and they were secluded in the corner. Maybe they didn't like the noise...
"Coffee again, March?" she greeted as he sat down, days later. He confirmed it with a nod. When she handed it to him, she leaned on the counter, a curious look on her face. He tried not to stare at her cleavage, because she was a princess dammit, but then she crossed her arms in front of her and the the view was gone. "Why do you keep coming back to this place? Our coffee tastes like shit."
It did. It was the instant stuff, left in the pot all day when business was nonexistent. He shrugged, a secret smile on his face. "The place has charm, don't you think?"
She rolled her eyes, pushing herself away from the counter and taking care of another customer.
He wondered when the right time would be to tell her the truth. Now, when he was nothing to her but a customer? She would think he was crazy. Later, when/if he gained her trust? Would she believe him, or would that just push her away? He decided to take the chance and wait. Besides, he wanted to learn more about her. Except she obviously wasn't the type to talk about herself. She never mentioned anything. She didn't seem the type to offer anything of herself if he did, either.
He knew nothing about her. Not her favorite color, food, book, tv show. Not if she was a morning person, if she liked her life at home, if she liked her job. Nothing. The only reason he knew her last name was because of being with her when she was a baby. Despite all of this, he conversationally asked one day, "Who's that guy?"
She raised an eyebrow at him as she poured more coffee into his mug. "What guy?"
He rolled his eyes. "I think you know who."
"I don't, actually." Liar.
He sighed. "That guy that always comes when you have a break."
She made a sound of realization, as if she hadn't known what he was talking about. She smirked as she leaned against the counter, arms crossed in front of her. "Jealous?"
He scoffed. "Yeah. I'm jealous of the sixteen-year-old waitress's boyfriend." He messed up her age to piss her off.
"He's not my boyfriend," she muttered, uncomfortable. Then she glared. "And I'm not sixteen! What are you, like, thirty?"
He rolled his eyes at her uncharacteristic petulance. "Funny, pick on my age. What's your boyfriend's age, forty?" She glared. "Someone's touchy about the age of their boyfriend," he teased.
She huffed, crossing her arms across her chest. They had a brief staring contest before she sighed, and she looked at him with fear in her eyes. "Is it that obvious?"
"Yes." It was obvious, if you cared enough to notice.
"Nobody's supposed to know," she admitted. She rushed on, "He has a wife, but he's going to leave her. He loves me."
"Jesus, Emma. How old is this guy?"
"Thirty-eight," she whispered.
He cleared his throat, awkward. "Have you guys...?"
She glared. "I don't see how that's any of your business."
"It is in the eyes of the law."
Her eyes grew wide. "Are you a cop?"
"Hardly." He laughed.
She sagged in relief. "You won't tell anybody?" she begged. "He loves me, he really does! We met last year when I first got the job. He promised he's going to leave his wife soon."
He smiled sadly. "I won't tell." Because that's how friendship started, right? On a foundation of trust? If she trusted him to keep a secret, she could trust him to never lie to her. "But Emma, if he does anything to you, anything you don't like, you'll tell me, right?"
"He wouldn't do anything," she insisted. "But...yeah, I'll tell you. What would you do?"
He grinned. "Why defend your honor, of course."
She snorted. "How...charming."
He concealed a grimace at her choice of words. The last thing he needed was for her to call him Charming. He downed the last of the shitty coffee and handed her a couple of bills. "I'll see you tomorrow, Emma."
Just as he reached the door, she called his name. "January! How old are you, anyway?"
He smirked, opening the door and walking out of it. Before it closed, he called back, "Twenty-six."
And so it began. Their friendship, that is. He would come in for coffee at five, she would take her break at six and he would leave, not really wanting to be around whatever the hell that relationship was. Was he jealous? Perhaps. Was that relationship stupid as hell? Absolutely, and he didn't want to witness it. The diner was closed on Sundays. Sometimes he would go in the mornings, and she would usually be there, except for her days off, of course. She had recently graduated high school, he learned.
Her favorite color was red, but she hated pink. He mockingly thought that wasn't very princess-y of her. She had never been the one to read, never having the patience to sit down. She muttered something about not watching TV much. He wondered if it had to do with her living arrangements. She never talked about her life at home. She was most certainly not a morning person, but she liked her job well enough to get up to go to it in the mornings.
He finally summoned the courage to ask her about her parents. Nobody had needed assisting, so she leaned against the counter, per usual, and hummed to herself, mulling it over.
"My parents they, uh, they abandoned me on the side of the highway," she said after a minute of quiet thinking. He desperately wanted to yell at her that that wasn't true. They would never abandon her, but then she started talking again, a tiny smile on her face. "A seven-year-old boy found me. Sweet kid, huh?"
"Yeah," he muttered. "Sweet." Except that sweet boy left you like the selfish, stupid, wooden puppet he was and only finally looked you up after seventeen years. He looked up at her. "Did someone adopt you?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm in the system. I'm saving up my money for a car." She winked. "I get really nice tips."
"A car, huh?" She nodded. "Can't your boyfriend just...you know?"
"He's not my sugar daddy. I can take care of myself."
He didn't get a chance to reply because then there was the familiar jingle of the bell at the door, to which she grinned and took off her apron. She patted August on the hand in a form of goodbye and merrily skipped over to the man, who he still hadn't learned the name of.
August sighed and shook his head, leaving a nice tip once again before leaving.
He wondered if something was wrong because the next day she didn't show up at work, and it wasn't one of her days off.
"Hey, sweetie," Annie greeted. "Coffee?"
He shook his head. "Not today. Do you know where Emma is?"
Annie shrugged, tucking her pen into the pocket of her mustard colored shirt. "She called in sick."
"Is she okay?" he questioned, worried. Sometimes it was hard to remember that in this world, something like the flu wasn't a big deal. Sure, they had fairies, but that didn't mean that every time a person got sick a fairy came over and cured said person of their illness.
She gave him a knowing smile. "She should be fine. Said it was probably a twenty-four-hour thing. Should be back in tomorrow."
"Yeah," he muttered. "Okay, thanks."
And the next day she was back, her sarcastic wit as sharp as ever. They teased and they joked. She called him Autumn, because she had already gone through all of the months and now she was working her way through seasons. When he brought her being sick up, she cooed mockingly that he was so adorable when he was worried. He rolled his eyes and she replied that she had just puked a couple of times, but her stomach eased up on her later in the day, only leaving her nauseous.
"You know," she brought up, after they had fallen silent. "My birthday is in a couple of days..."
He hadn't forgotten. The day she was born was a big day, not only for the kingdom, but for their world. It was the day the curse had happened. He had made her a wooden unicorn, not quite sure when to give it to her. He couldn't say happy birthday, because she had never mentioned it. But now that she did...He had a feeling she would laugh at the gift, but it only reminded him of the mobile his father had crafted her when Snow was still pregnant.
He raised an eyebrow, pretending to be disinterested. "That's cool."
She rolled her eyes and shoved his shoulder. "Don't be an ass."
He grinned. "You have any plans in mind?"
"Not yet," she hinted.
"Not even with whats-his-face?"
"Whats-his-face." She laughed at the name. "Will be busy at work. He said he'd make it up to me, though." Her voice was tight as she explained and he didn't bother to talk more on the subject. She stared at him, bouncing on her toes eagerly, until he laughed.
"Where do you want to go to dinner?" he asked.
She grinned, before thinking thoughtfully. "Hmm...A really greasy burger sounds amazing. Ooh, and skittles! And peanut-butter..." She trailed off.
He laughed. "How about I surprise you?"
"Okay," she conceded. "But no sea-food!" She mimed barfing. "Just no."
He picked her up at the diner on his motorcycle, where she hugged a little too tightly, one hand wrapped around his waist, the other her stomach. When they got off, she felt like she was going to puke, but she waved it off, saying she had felt sick a lot lately.
He presented her with a bag of skittles and she laughed. They ended up at Burger King because she had wanted something greasy. She ate everything off her plastic tray, and then the skittles too, splitting them in half with him.
"Do you want me to drop you off at your house?" he asked as they walked to his motorcycle.
She paused, her steps halting. "Um...a block away?"
"A couple of houses away?" he suggested.
She conceded and once again, she hugged his waist tightly, her head tucked into his shoulder. When he put it in park a couple of houses away, she stumbled off the bike, holding onto a nearby telephone pole for support. He helped take her helmet off, her arms still wrapped around the pole.
"You okay?" he asked. His hand gently pushed her hair away so he could feel her forehead. "You don't feel warm..."
"I don't know what's wrong with me," she admitted. "I've been puking for days now."
He took his hand back and walked back to his bike, digging around in the seat until he found the box and presented it to her, hoping it would distract her from her stomachache. "Happy Birthday, Emma."
When she opened it, she laughed and smiled up at him. "A unicorn?"
He grinned. "You just seemed like the type to like that sort of stuff."
She nodded, her fingers running over the wooden mane, her smile growing wider. "This really is amazing."
"I'm happy you think so."
She stared up at him until he got slightly uncomfortable, wondering what she found so interesting about his face. That was when she placed the palm of her hand on his cheek and stood on her toes to lean in to kiss him. Completely taken aback, he didn't move until a second later, where he set his hand on her waist. And sure, maybe he shouldn't be kissing the princess of the seventh kingdom, but who really cared? She was funny and cute and even though he was three years shy of being a decade older than her, he really didn't care. Just as he threaded his fingers through her hair, she yanked out of his grip and puked into the grass behind her.
"Jesus, Emma. You really bruise a guy's ego," he exclaimed as he ran over to her, holding her hair back. Her mouth smelled rancid, but he didn't really care, pulling her into a hug. "Are you okay, Emma?"
"I think I should go home," she muttered.
"Okay," he murmured. He handed her the unicorn she had dropped on the ground, which she smiled half-heartedly at, clutching her stomach. He watched her walk to the front steps, not getting back on his bike until he saw her close the door.
She didn't show up for work the next day, and he was tempted to check up on her at her house, but didn't want to get her in trouble with her parents. If they were anything like the man they had first gone to...
But she did show up for the day after that. He arrived earlier than his usual time, worried about her. As soon as he walked into the door, she ran to him, her head tucked into her shoulder. "I need to talk to you," she whispered into his ear.
"Want to go outside?" he suggested.
She nodded, calling back to Annie that she was taking her break early. They sat on the curb outside the diner, both silent.
"I broke up with him," she said.
He looked at her. "Whats-his-face?"
She nodded. "Yeah, John. He's been telling me that he was going to leave his wife for months and I was just sick of hearing about it."
"This wouldn't have anything to do about me, would it?" he asked tentatively.
She shrugged. "Sure, sort of," she muttered, embarrassed. "You just made me realize what I wanted sooner."
"What is that?"
"Not him. I mean, lets be honest hear, he's been playing me for over a year. I know I've only known you for two months, but I really like you. And I'm not sure if I'm ready to do this." She motioned between them. "Not so soon, but I do want to try at some point." He smiled. Whatever this was, he liked it, a lot. He grabbed her hand. "But you know." She laughed, and it choked in her throat. "I'm so stupid. I actually thought he loved me, and you know what? I gave that bastard my virginity! And now I'm having his child..."
He froze, before turning slowly towards her. "How do you feel about this?"
She shook her head. "I want to give this kid its best chance, which, frankly, isn't with me."
She was acting so much like her parents and she didn't even know it. He scooted closer to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. He kissed her temple tentatively, unsure, but she looked up and gave him a tiny smile, leaning her head against his shoulder.
This girl, or, well, woman, was the daughter of Snow White and James. She looked so much like them, even sort of acted like them. She was strong, and witty, and sure, emotionally closed off, but lets face it, they were both pretty emotionally fucked up. Not to mention beautiful. Was it love? He wasn't sure. But he did know he would support her fully in any of her decisions because dammit, he would not do wrong by her again.