Don't Wait Up

His daughter is wearing a dress.

That in itself is a novelty, but that's not what concerns him. The hem falls a few inches above her knee – perfectly appropriate – but his daughter is wearing a dress and the hem falls a few inches above her knee.

As her father, this is entirely unacceptable.

Snow gasps and clasps her hands together as Emma descends and Charming instantly feels a sense of betrayal because how can she not see that their daughter is completely unfit for public consumption?

"You look beautiful!"

Charming sighs. Traitor.

"It's just August," Emma replies, as if his name alone completely excuses the extra eyeliner she's chosen to wear. "Stop glowering, it's not a date."

"I'm not glowering," Charming grumbles.

"You are, too," Emma replies.

"You are," Snow chips in. "You had the same look on your face when the trolls tried to storm the castle moat."

Charming instantly tries to relax his features, but he knows he's been caught. And it's true; Emma's hem is bringing out the same level of indignation and aggravation that those damn trolls inspired.

"It's drinks and bowling. Hardly a candlelit dinner." Emma claps him on the back and the tension in his shoulders eases somewhat.

Of all the men in her life, August is probably the smallest threat. She views him more like a brother than, say, Hook and Charming takes comfort in that. Still. That knowledge doesn't stop the glower from returning the second a knock is heard at the door.

"Stop that," Snow mutters as she passes him to let August in.

"I'm not doing anything!"

"Your nose is growing."

"I heard that," comes August's voice through the door.

"Sorry," Snow chuckles as she swings it open and ushers him in. "Charming is being less than."

"Hey!" He's been called many things, but to be called un-charming by Snow, of all people, is an affront indeed.

August smiles and shoves his hands into his pockets as he looks everywhere but at the prince.

"You want something to drink?" Emma calls from the kitchen as she pops the top on a bottle of beer.

"Aren't you going out?" Charming asks. The bowling alley is in walking distance (much like everything in this town) so there's no concern about driving, but really, he'd like his daughter as sober as possible for this outing.

As if she's reading his inner monologue, Emma quirks an eyebrow at him and takes a massive swig of her beer. "Chill out, Pops."

Charming's jaw drops as August and Snow laugh and it's not the blatant lack of respect that has him so gob smacked. He's used to his daughter's insubordination; in fact, he kind of loves it. No, what has him glued to the floor is the whole 'Pops' of it all.

She's called him 'Dad' once in his life. Just a few days ago, in fact. But every time she uses any term of endearment in any tone (teasing or otherwise), it further drives home the fact that this is his daughter and he would do absolutely anything for her.

"Well, don't be rude. Toss one over," is the reply he tries to keep casual.

Emma grins and tosses one bottle at her father and the other at August. Both catch them effortlessly.

"Mary Margaret?"

"No, I'm good."

"Where's Henry?" August asks, noticing the silence that the boy's absence leaves.

"Playing with Grace at Jefferson's," Emma replies as August takes a seat at the counter, giving the prince a wide berth.

Jefferson. Another man whose head Charming wouldn't be opposed to mounting on the wall.

August gapes. "You left your kid with The Mad Hatter?"

Hm. Maybe August is growing on him.

Emma responds by throwing a dishtowel at him and the man laughs and ducks, causing the towel to smack Charming in the face.

"Oops."

"Don't you two have places to be?" he asks as he picks the towel up from the floor.

Though he'd love to glare at August for the rest of the evening, really, he just wants a break from the sudden onslaught of men that have entered his daughter's life. He wants to sit back and put his feet up and not plot the death of one of the town's new residents for five minutes.

It's tiring, this whole father-business.

"Yeah, yeah, we're going," Emma responds as she tosses back the last of her beer and recycles the bottle. She really is too good at that.

"Have fun, you two!" Snow calls and Charming thinks that's very magnanimous of her.

He settles for a "Be careful," as he tosses one last narrowed gaze at August. The man visibly gulps.

"You know, you still scare me," August says, as he helps Emma into her coat.

"He scares you?" She spins around to stare at him, as if the thought of Charming scaring anyone is positively preposterous.

He tries not to bristle at that.

August nods. "Em, your father was a prince. Do you know how intimidating that is for a seven-year-old?" His gaze shifts to Charming. "That feeling hasn't diminished after 28 years."

Charming is silent a moment, before he grunts, "Good."

It's a truce of sorts, an understanding between men. Charming still stares at the floor though, because the image of Emma leaving the house in that dress is not something he wants to see when he closes his eyes. She lets out an amused snort, which she tries to turn into a cough, but she's fooling no one. And then she utters the three words he never, ever wanted to hear:

"Don't wait up!"

Charming manages to wait until the door closes behind them before he hangs his head and groans as if feeling physical pain.

Snow's chin fits perfectly on his shoulder if she stands on her tiptoes behind him, and she wraps her arms around his torso, brushing her nose against his neck. "It's just bowling, sweetheart."

"And alcohol," he mutters. "And August."

Snow giggles. "A perilous combination."

"Don't laugh! Did you see her dress?"

"Of course I did. I bought it for her."

He spins so quickly, she has to jump back. "You bought that for her?"

He expects her to stand her ground; to get indignant and say something like, 'You're damn right I bought that for her,' but instead, she bites her lip and cocks her head and stares at him as if he's the most adorable thing in the world.

"Oh Charming…"

"What? What does that mean? Don't 'Oh Charming' me!" He sounds ridiculous, he knows he does. But he's rapidly losing ground to both his wife and daughter (who isn't even home) and why can't Henry be here to help level the playing field!

Snow guides him to the couch and, with a hand on his chest, gently pushes him down into the cushions. But instead of joining him, like he's really hoping she will, she stands in front of him with her hands on her lips and continues to stare at him with that annoyingly endearing and devastatingly beautiful smile.

"I think you've properly terrified every man in town. Even Leroy is too frightened to buy Emma a cup of coffee at Granny's, lest you drag him down to the station for interrogation."

"I wouldn't interrogate Leroy," he mumbles as Snow snorts.

"Well, Leroy doesn't know that. You know he's like an uncle to Emma, and yet ever since Hook, Neal, and August have come to town, you're acting like anyone who glances sideways at her should lawyer up and be ready to post bail."

He's quiet for a moment, not agreeing or refuting, because, really, it's an awfully tempting notion, and the keys to the cells are right over there on the counter.

But finally, Snow sinks down into his lap and he wraps his arms around her waist, burying his face in her cropped hair and inhaling the scent that is so distinctly her.

"Give her space," his wife, ever the reasonable one, whispers. "You have her. Don't drive her away."

He sighs and she moves with the rise and fall of his chest. "Fine."

Snow pulls away and presses a kiss to each of his eyelids. "You're an amazing father. And Emma knows it, which is why she teases you."

Her fingernails graze the side of his head and he closes his eyes, leaning into her touch. Yes, he'd endure another 28 cursed years, if it meant one more day of this. Of having his wife in his arms and tracing the constellations of her freckles. Of giving his daughter's dates grief and welcoming his grandson home with a hot chocolate. Of looking in a mirror and seeing which features he managed to pass on to a daughter who's all he could have hoped for and more.

"Come on, my Prince," Snow says as she stands, beckoning him with an outstretched palm. "Henry won't be home for another hour."

He allows her to lead him through the curtain and to the bed, where she pushes him down again and slowly begins to undo the buttons on her blouse.

It's a feat of epic proportions that they manage to get their clothes back on in time for Jefferson to knock on their door. Charming doesn't like him, not one bit, but unfortunately he can't inflict any bodily harm with Grace by his side, absolutely beaming at the Prince and Princess she knew from a previous life.

Henry bounces in, waving bye to Grace and her father, and Jefferson practically picks Grace up and runs down the steps with her, just to get away from Charming's narrowed gaze.

"What happened to the relaxed man I saw twenty minutes ago?" Snow whispers as she passes him on her way to the kitchen to heat up some dinner for Henry.

"He was forced to get to out of bed," Charming mutters and Snow winks as she pulls out some pots and pans.

Dinner is quiet; well, as quiet as it can be with Henry giving his grandparents a play-by-play of the day. Charming loves it and would normally be hanging on his every word, if his attention wasn't being high-jacked by Emma and what she could possibly be doing right now.

They eventually get Henry to settle down and go to bed, which unfortunately leaves Charming with one less distraction. Still, his wife is wily in her ways, and he eventually finds himself back in bed and finding new constellations on her skin.

He's not sure how much times passes – his wife is good at keeping his attention occupied – but somewhere in the back of his mind, he registers a distant phone beeping.

Blinking a bleary eye open and reaching an uncoordinated hand down to blindly reach for his jeans, he eventually pulls the phone out of the back pocket and mutters a sound which he hopes sounds somewhat like, "Hello?"

"Prince James?"

The sound of August's slurred voice has Charming immediately bolting up in bed.

"What's wrong?" He's mindful to be quiet, since Snow is still sleeping peacefully beside him, but his heart is hammering against his sternum and he's pretty sure all of the blood just left his face.

"We're fine… Sort of… Drunk, but fine… ish."

Charming rolls his eyes as he hears Emma giggling loudly in the background. "Where are you?" he asks, already pulling on his jeans and shrugging a sweater over his head.

"Uhh, I think it's… Hold on…" there's a shuffling on the other end as Charming hears August ask a muffled, "Where are we?" Emma's laugh rings out again before August comes back. "A pub… the pub on" – hiccup – "on the other side of town."

Charming sighs. "I'll be there in five minutes. Do not move."

"Sir, yes, sir," August salutes, which is promptly followed by a crash, a curse, and more of Emma's laughter.

Charming ends the call and spends the drive trying to figure out how to tell Marco that he's maimed his only son.

The bar is nearly empty when he gets there, which is typical for 2am on a Friday night in Storybrooke. It smells like stale beer, roasted peanuts, and another smell that he has no desire to identify.

"My Prince!" August calls, arms in the air, when he catches sight of him, and oh boy Charming is so not prepared for this.

Emma is teetering dangerously on the edge of a bar stool, and he wants to be angry with her, but she positively beams at the sight of him and he can't be mad when his daughter is looking at him like that.

"Pops!" She, too, raises her arms and nearly ends up in a heap on the floor, if not for what little mental faculties August manages as he grips her shoulder, keeping her upright.

"That might have been my fault, your Majesty," the bartender says, a short man who clearly knows who he is. "They asked for the house special, but I don't think they realized just how much alcohol a house special contains."

"Noted," Charming wryly replies as he makes his way towards the drunken twosome.

"I totally kicked his wooden ass at bowling, Dad," Emma gloats as he approaches.

August merely gives a resigned nod. "It was ugly."

"Not as ugly as your tomorrow morning is going to be," Charming mutters, but the joke goes clear over their heads and he decides that, yes, it's definitely time to go home.

"Check?"

"On the house," the bartender replies, and he looks a little sheepish to be sending his princess back to her parents absolutely soused.

"Can you walk?" he asks August, because if the way Emma is leaning more and more against his shoulder is any indication, she won't be moving on her own anytime soon, and good though he may be, he can't carry both of them.

"I can walk. Drive? No. Carry her? No. Bowl? Apparently not… But I can walk."

"Good," Charming says as he places a hand on Emma's back and hooks his other under her knees, deftly hoisting her in the air and causing a tiny yelp to escape his daughter's mouth.

"Wow, you're really good at that. August, isn't he good at that?"

"Very," August slurs and Charming manages a nod to the bartender as he kicks the pub door open and lets the cool New England air wash over them. The fact that neither of them comments on the temperature proves just how liquored up they are.

Luckily, he parked right outside the door and he sets Emma down, never letting go of her waist, as he opens the door and practically lifts her into the truck. He leaves August to his own devices as he moves around to the driver's side and jams the key into the ignition.

"It's just drinks and bowling," she had said. Somehow, he thinks he would have preferred the candlelit dinner.

The ride is quiet; after Emma calms down enough to stop commenting on all of the things that Charming is good at, those currently being driving, sword fighting, impersonating a prince, and glowering. And not necessarily in that order. He half expects her to start playing 'I Spy' just to have something to say.

"So what do I call you?"

"Excuse me?" Charming glances in the rearview mirror to find August's wide blue eyes staring at him.

"What do I call you? When I was a kid, you were Prince James. Though, now I hear that you're not even that."

Charming glances over at Emma to find her passed out against the window, her breath fogging the glass, and he wonders what else she shared. She's not a sharer, not in the least. So the fact that the man in the backseat of his car brought down one of the many walls his daughter is so good at building, makes him reassess his opinion of him.

Perhaps Emma needs August. And if the way those wide blue eyes are pleading with him for some sort of acceptance, Charming guesses that August needs Emma just as badly.

"You can call me David."

He hears the once-wooden boy exhale heavily and Charming has to bite back his grin. He'll cut the kid some slack. Just this once. But if he gets his daughter drunk one more time, he'll figure out how to turn him back to wood and use his fingers as toothpicks.

The truck drifts to a stop outside of Marco's and it takes August three tries before he's able to open the car door. He debates on whether or not he wants to send him off with one last verbal scolding, but going by the way Marco swings the door open and stands there with his hands on his lips, Pinocchio is in for his own paternal lecture.

August seems to realize this and he gulps before he exits the car.

"Good luck," Charming mutters.

"Thanks," August replies in a tone not unlike a man facing the firing squad. He shuts the door as gently as he can to not wake Emma, but David's pretty sure that a broadside by a freight train wouldn't wake her at the moment.

He waves to Marco, who sends an exasperated yet grateful wave in return, before heading back to their tiny apartment and the two people who hopefully will never find out what went on tonight.

This incident can remain between father and daughter – until the next time August and Emma decide to go drinking with a side of bowling.

Though she probably weighs 110 pounds soaking wet, it's not easy maneuvering her up the stairs. Banging her head is a near thing and he can't help but remember the last time he held her in his arms. She was a lot more manageable back then, even with the wound across his shoulder.

He finally manages to get the door open, allowing it to swing back as he takes a moment to listen. All quiet on the western front.

He tiptoes across the living room and sets her down on the couch. Henry is currently sprawled out on the bed upstairs and there's no way he's putting his drunk daughter anywhere near her impressionable son.

Emma's golden hair fans out across the pillow and he takes a moment to stare – something he doesn't allow himself to do while she's conscious. Because Emma keeps people at arm's length. She builds walls, and it's his job, their job, to slowly, gently, break them down.

He tears himself away to get her a large glass of water and a couple of aspirin, which he sets on the coffee table beside her. He covers her with a blanket and fusses with her pillow a bit, but really, he just wants a moment more. A moment of unguarded fascination for the person, this perfect and perfectly flawed person he helped create.

Gold was right: she does have her mother's chin. And yes, he thinks as he brushes a finger across her cheek, maybe even her father's tact.

He turns to go, but feels a surprisingly strong grip on his wrist, which keeps him where he is. Emma is staring at him and it's the most sober she's looked since she walked out the door that evening.

"Thanks for finding me," she whispers.

Charming swallows hard and smiles, knowing the words are coming before he even places the kiss on her forehead.

"I will always find you."

Fin.