emma x august (once upon a time)
notes: for wooden swan week day 5, prompt: that's my problem... hoping (correcting canon).
summary: the habit is: everyone leaves her first; she never is the one to choose. until she is. and there are memories to cloud her decisions | after an unexpected detour to neverland, emma comes home to a different storybrooke. one thing remains her constant, and her source of dilemma.
I’ll wait, so show me why you’re strong
Ignore everybody else,
We’re alone now.
Suddenly I’m hit,
Is this darkness of the dawn?
And your friends are gone,
When your friends won’t come,
So show me where you fit.
-- Retrogade, James Blake
The couple who adopted Emma was a pair devout Christians. Once, the mother told her that God would always answer every single prayer that has ever been sent His way. “Here’s the catch,” she said. She told Emma that people couldn’t get their answers straight away because a thousand days in heaven is equal to one day on earth. “And they just give up, when all they have to do is just wait.”
And that’s what she did: waiting. After the couple dumped her back to the streets and into the foster system shortly after they found out they were pregnant, Emma waited for 1000 days for them to pick her up and take her to their house again. They never came back. While Emma, well, she stopped believing.
Until she was shipped off, quite literally, to Neverland.
Things happened so fast and she couldn’t explain it if she tried. But first, there was Tamara and the magic bean she flung at them to throw them off, resulting in a portal; Tamara had once again, to save herself, used magic, something she claimed to hate so much. Second, there were Storybrooke, Hook and his ship, her real parents, as well as herself. Third, there was a crash of the waves. Dark clouds. Swirling water. A big deep hole in the swirling water; big enough to swallow the ship. Blackness. And when there was light again: Neverland.
There was nothing heavenly about Neverland; at least for Emma there wasn’t. Hook probably saw it as one and promptly decided to stay there, but Emma was too focused on trying to get back to Henry to even care.
The day she stepped her foot on Neverland, Emma took one small round rock and put it in the inside pocket of her coat. The next day, she took another. The next day, another and so on until her shoulders were ached by the weight of the rocks, which rattled everytime she walked.
When she and her parents finally figured out a way to return to Storybrooke, Emma counted the rocks. There were 14 of them, and she threw them all away just moments before she jumped into the opened portal that would bring them back.
The last thing she heard was Mary Margaret’s voice beside her. “Looks familiar, doesn’t it?”
It wasn’t until she fell on Storybrooke did she realize: Neverland is heaven.
Because, as she learned later on, a day in Neverland means two years in Storybrooke. And if she spent two weeks in Neverland...
“No,” Emma sighed. “No, no, no, no.”
She rushed through the mostly deserted streets. All she saw was closed shops, skinny trees, dead leaves, dusty cars. And no one.
Well, almost no one.
Somehow her feet brought her to a building. It was wretched albeit familiar, much like its abandoned garden and the ruins of a fence that used to stand as its diminutive sentinel.
She waited until her parents caught up with her before crossing the ruins and the garden. There was a small flight of stairs; broken yet as sturdy as before. She hurried to the front door, and turned the handle.
Inside, the woman was waiting for them. “I knew you’d come at this day,” Granny spoke to them from the stool she was sitting on.
Truth be told, Emma didn’t recognize her at all. She was a lot thinner than Emma remembered; bones sticking out of wrinkled flesh.
What made Emma recognize Granny was the crossbow she had on her lap.
Mary Margaret rushed to her side. “What happened?” she asked. “Where’s Ruby?”
Granny swallowed. “They all went with her there,” she said then. And Emma closed her eyes, knowing exactly what Granny meant; that Regina had taken Henry to the Enchanted Forest, and the others came along, just looking for another place to call home.
Mary Margaret asked again, “All of them?”
Granny scoffed. “Not me!” she replied, matter-of-factly. She took pause at that, turning her head to stare at Emma instead. Her words, when they did come out again, were stiff and stagnant, as if she was reciting them from memory; like she had been repeating them over and over again. Probably every day for 28 years.
“He’s staying. When we found the stem of the beanstalk that the giant first brought here, we thought he should keep it, in case everyone else is dead. Because he’s young and the others are dying one by one,” Granny said. “He has it.”
“Oh,” Emma whispered.
Emma had never been here before. She used to visit him time after time, but they never exactly met at his house. His and his father’s house.
She knocked on the front door. And waited.
The voice that finally greeted her wasn’t coming from the other side of the door: “No way! It’s you?” It came, actually, from somewhere behind her. She turned on her heels and found herself looking back at him. It was him! August. The August she first saw that night in Storybrooke. Him!
Emma watched as he staggered towards her, closing the gap between them with each step. “Sorry I was just at the garage,” he said when they were close enough. “So. It’s really you, huh?”
She blinked. “The way I see it, I should be the one asking you that question.”
He frowned at that. The lines on his forehead deepened as he shook his head lightly, chuckling.
“August,” she gasped. “We’ve met. We— We’re friends. We were.”
That made him shrug. “I guess I was too young to remember,” he said. “Or it probably happened, as my father would say, in the before.”
She glanced down, noticing the wood dust on his boots.
“You want the stem, don’t you?” he said all of a sudden. Emma stared back at him, nodding. August let out a smirk before he reached out to turn the knob and opened the front door. His wrist grazed her arm as he did so.
But the door was opened and she followed him inside the house.
“Anyway,” he called out over his shoulder. “I recognized your face from the picture I took from your place. Now in my defense,” he added quickly, “it was empty and I didn’t know— Well, I forgot what you looked like. And my father said it’s important that the stem doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, so.”
He disappeared then, entering a room that Emma assumed was his. She cleared her throat. “Where is he, by the way? Your father?”
From where she stood near the wooden coffee table and a modest couch, Emma could hear all sorts of sounds coming from inside the room: drawers being opened and closed, papers turned, chairs dragged. All sorts of sounds except August’s reply. The wooden floor inside his room creaked under his weight. With a beat, he reappeared, carrying a box to her.
She recognized it. “That’s your old box,” she shrieked, sounding thrilled in spite of herself.
August smirked again, putting the box on the coffee table. He sat on the couch then, and Emma followed his lead, taking her place beside him.
“So it’s probably silly of me to keep the stem here, but this is where I keep all the important stuff. Well, all the stuff that are important to me, more like,” he croaked, opening the box.
Emma let out a breath. “Your typewriter,” she blurted out as it came into view. This time, August snickered out loud. “We were really friends, weren’t we?”
“I told you we were,” she muttered. She spotted a little plastic bag on one corner of the box; the stem kept inside it. She picked the plastic bag up and brought it to her eye level, marveling at the stem.
“Thanks, August,” she said softly. She turned to him then, catching his ready gaze in the process. She blushed.
August didn’t even try to hide his grin, amused. “You don’t look so bad for an old lady,” he pointed out.
She scoffed. “Funny coming from someone who got turned back into a 7-year-old and is technically still older than me.”
“Ouch,” he moaned with a grimace that was almost sincere. The left end of his mouth crooked upwards, beckoning a half-smile. He nodded at the stem. “So, what are you going to do now?”
“Now,” she sighed. “I guess we try to harvest it. Bury it underground, water it.”
“How long will it take?” August asked, frowning.
Emma shrugged, shaking her head. “I don’t even know,” she said. “Know someone here who knows magic? Make the beans grow fast? Like, ridiculously fast?”
He didn’t say anything to that, presenting a tilt of his head instead. It was the familiarity of it all that reminded her; that took her back.
“August,” she called out. “Water! The well! You once told me that if anything had magic, it’d be water!”
He almost laughed at that. “I told you that? Okay,” he said. “I guess now it’s just the matter of where to grow it.” His eyes involuntarily glanced at the back door’s direction. He coughed as if offering distraction.
But Emma already rose from the couch, making her way through the petite kitchen and to the back door. There was a small window next to the door and she peeked behind the curtain, finding herself peering at the backyard. It was empty except for a few grasses and, at one side, a couple of white-painted bricks that were arranged to surround a rectangular site; a bouquet of fresh wild flowers on its center.
The wooden floor creaked again, and August was beside her all of a sudden, looking at the bouquet. “I’m going to fix it soon, make it more pleasant. Just can’t find the time.”
She turned to him. “August,” she whispered. “Your father?”
August closed his eyes.
It was soon dark and they couldn’t go to the well until the day after. Emma let out a brief laugh when August asked her for the direction to the well (“You were the one who told me about it!” she said), but she bit her lower lip as she drew him a map.
“You don’t have to come, you know,” she suggested, as August studied the map.
He looked up at her. “I have to,” he said. “My father made me promise.”
Emma bit her lip again.
Emma got there first.
August didn’t arrive until 10 minutes later. His motorcycle engine roared from far away; she could hear the sound as clear as a bell, the only noise this dead town made.
The motorcycle turned a corner and she cleared her throat when she saw it.
“Hey!” August called out, as he killed the engine. There was a small rock near Emma’s right boot and she kicked it away, letting out a tsk as it hit one of the water containers she had placed next to the well. “Hey,” she echoed.
“So,” he said, observing the well, giving it the once-over. “You said I was the one who showed you this?”
Emma picked one container up. “Yeah,” she muttered. “We, like, dated here.”
He stopped dead in his tracks at that, chuckling. “Wait, wait. So we were dating?”
She rolled her eyes, making sure he saw it. “No,” she said. “We weren’t dating. But we were on a date once.” She tucked a few loose strands of her hair between her ear. “Twice, if you count that last time where I ended up screaming at you.”
He pursed his lips. “Sorry about that,” he mumbled, strolling closer.
Emma watched as his gloved fingers touched the rim of the well bucket; she gripped the container tighter. “You weren’t in the wrong.”
August told her that he should do the hard part (as hard as planting a stem could get), insisting that she should be in charge of watering it instead.
He never really made the offer and she never really asked for permission, but there was a silent agreement between them; “yes,” he would have said, if she had asked, “you can plant the stem in my backyard; the same backyard where I buried my father.”
None of them was sure it was the right thing to do; he kept his back to his father’s grave the whole time he was shoveling, while Emma stole glances at it, too afraid to ask August anything about everything.
He babbled as he watched her pouring the water, “He would have loved this. He wanted to help so much. He would, he would.”
He continued then, more to himself rather than to her, “He was waiting for you, for your parents to come home. He told me, ‘They’ll return and set things right again.’ The others told me to come with them. ‘We’re going home,’ they said. But my father was old and if I had left, he would have been on his own. I didn’t want to come with them, I wanted to stay with him. But after he’s gone and I’m alone, sometimes I can’t help wondering what the Enchanted Forest looks like now.”
A pause. Emma crossed her arms.
“Is that wrong?”
There was a beat before she realized the question was for her. Emma took a breath; her jaw fell.
But August chuckled. “I’m like that boy that gets left behind by the Pied Piper. Just standing here, wondering what it’s like at the other side.”
Emma dropped her arms to her sides. “I thought you’re Pinocchio.”
August laughed so hard, he cried.
The stem didn’t grow overnight, even with the help of the water from the well. But it did grow, faster than any normal plant would do.
Emma came everyday, if only to pour some more water to the soil, sprinkling it with more magic. And everyday, August would ask her.
“What was I like? Before?”
“You were pretty much the same.”
“I was this good-looking?”
“Oh, please. I meant back then, you also had this dry humor. A writer thing, I guess.”
“But I also looked this good?”
What was I like?
E: You used to act so mysterious. All wrapped in an enigma or something.
E: First time we met, you wouldn’t tell me your name. I never really knew why, sooner or later everyone would find out, anyway. I mean, I could just go to Granny and ask what name you used to rent your room.
A: So you would actually do that?
A: Stalk me?
What was I like?
E: You were kind to Henry.
A: I remember Henry.
E: Yeah, and even before, you were nice to him. Okay, I’ll say it. You were the only one who actually believed him about the curse and the whole fairy tale thing.
A: You shouldn’t feel bad about it. I believed in him because I knew what happened. If I were curse as well...
E: Yeah [smiles].
A: How weird would it be if time passes normally in the Enchanted Forest and he’s still a little kid now?
E: Why weird?
What was I like?
E: You ruined my life.
E: You sort of did.
A: I’m aware of that. My father, he told me about Neal and you. And me...
E: Yeah, and I used to think that if you hadn’t met him and he hadn’t left me in jail, I wouldn’t have had to give Henry up, the three of us could have been a family. You know.
A: You used to?
E: Because now I know, if I had stuck with him, I would have probably ended up in jail, anyway. Even longer than 11 months, most likely. And I would not have arrived in Storybrooke in time, and I would have never met my parents, and they would never have found each other. The list goes on forever.
A: I’m sorry.
A: I don’t know, I feel it’s just the right thing to say.
E: Now you’re here to help me get them back.
A: Them. Henry. And Neal?
A: He’s in the Enchanted Forest too?
E: We think so.
A: And by ‘getting them back’ you mean ‘get them here’ or just ‘follow them there’?
E: David and Mary Margaret have always wanted to go back there. Henry— He used to talk about becoming a prince. Neal hates magic, but it was his first home, and with Henry there...
A: And you?
E: I— I need a drink.
Emma let herself in.
August was standing in front of the back door when she stepped inside the house; he still left his right hand on the handle, letting her know that he was just at the backyard.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said, quiet.
Emma closed the front door behind her, staggering towards him. He pointed towards the small window when she was near enough, and Emma complied, brushing past him and peeking behind the curtain like she did that first day she came to his house.
The beanstalk was already as tall as her waist when she left it yesterday, but as she squinted her eyes, she realized that it had grown even more. It had fully grown, in fact, becoming a home to placid beans that were reflecting the sunlight and winking at her from where they hung.
“The beans!” she exclaimed, turning to face him, finding his eyes again, always prepared and always already fixed on her. Emma leaned her back on the wall.
But he held out his left fist and carefully opened it, leaving a magic bean on his palm exposed. “I hope you don’t mind. I took one already.”
She stared at it. “For the away trip?”
August chuckled. “No,” he said. “This is for me. For my home trip. You should take one bean for our away trip.”
Emma shifted her weight. “I don’t understand.”
“My father made me promise to help you, remember?” He put the bean in the pocket of his jeans. “I’m going with you there,” he continued. “And I’m sure as hell I want to come back here.”
She snapped at him, “What? You think I wanna stay there?”
“I don’t know. Do you?” he bellowed back.
She humphed as a response, buying time to find her answer; it never surfaced. “Why do you want to come back, anyway?” she retorted instead. “I thought you said you wanted to see the other side.”
“I said I wanted to look, not touch,” he replied, sternly. “My whole life is here. In case you’ve forgotten, I was not exactly born in the Enchanted Forest. I was made, Emma. And then I spent most of my time wandering with false people. I lived there with my father only for a while before he sent me away. Here. With you. And now I couldn’t remember anything that happened after that.“
Emma took a small step back; her shoulder bumped against the wall.
August resumed, “I got a second chance, I got to be with my father, be a good boy this time around. That didn’t take long either, did it? I was alone again, tending for my father. He made me promise to take care of you. Again. I’ve been making the same mistakes, only now, there aren’t people for me to hurt. Not so different, isn’t it, from before?”
He paused at that, standing a little straighter, like he was preparing himself for a fight. “But this has been a home to me. And I’ve been making new memories just fine; here, in Storybrooke. Especially now you’re here...”
Emma blinked at him, clenching her jaw uneasily. And August wondered, “I’m just pushing you away, aren’t I?”
He started to turn himself around then. He was already halfway to walking away from her, when she cried, “You haven’t asked me today.”
He came to a halt, turning on his heels to meet her again.
She repeated, more softly, “You haven’t asked me what you were like.”
August coughed meekly, his voice were coarse as he asked, “What— What was I like?”
Emma breathed in, bracing herself. “You,” she began, timidly. “There were times when you looked at me, and I honestly thought you were going to kiss me.”
She glimpsed down, taking in the floorboard. “You never did, though. And of course I know why now, you probably felt guilty about Neal and me.” She paused. “You were afraid.”
August had nothing to say to that; the silence gave way to other sounds instead, like the one made by the sole of his right boot as he dragged it forward. When he brought his other foot forward, Emma slid back again; her shoulders touching the wall once more. And August took another step, and he got closer, and closer, and there was no more space for her to flee.
He kissed her.
He was hesitant at first, as if he was asking permission. When she didn’t show any sign of retreating, the kiss grew solid; their lips aligned. And August turned assertive, his mouth demanding. Emma felt her hands pulling themselves up, finding their places at August’s shoulders, grasping them. And she kissed back, sucking at his lower lip. She sensed his tongue as it earned its way into her mouth to tickle her palate. It made her shiver, and she pressed on.
But it was August who pulled away first.
Emma let out a sigh, feeling a blush as it crept up to her neck.
August said, “The old me was punished for not being selfless, brave and true. And now I’m condemned to always be selfless, brave and true. I just finished being brave, and now I’m going to be truthful to you: I just want you to know, if you ever decide to come back to Storybrooke, I will be here, waiting. You don’t have to be alone.”
Emma swallowed, her hands clutching one another. “But, but I loved Neal,” she rasped, so faintly that he almost missed it. She looked up at him then; her brows furrowed, eyes inquiring.
August only looked at her, and resumed, “And this is me being selfless: I’m going to let you choose.” He slowly backed away from her, nodding at the back door’s direction. “You know where the beans are.”
He turned around at last, making his way to the front door, to the garden and then to God knows where; to the garage, probably. To his motorcycle, to Granny’s, to her parents’ place, to the well; she didn’t really know where.
One thing she knew: it was easier for her to guess where he was going rather than thinking about choices.
Emma buried her face in her hands.