A/N: Okay, this one is officially fanfiction to Once Upon a Time, but it can just as easily be read as an original story. Meaning that even if you aren’t a fan of OUAT you can still (hopefully) enjoy it.
Robert was well aware that he was a bitter man. But how could he not be with an ex-wife, who to this day called him up at random intervals to tell him his many short-comings as a husband? And how could he not be bitter with an estranged son and an empty house?
And now, after a gruelling day in court, his car had broken down and he had to take the bus of all things. Dirty, foul and filled with people, who were constantly falling into him like it he didn’t had trouble enough already leaning on his cane while simultaneously making it appear as if it was merely for decoration. Robert bit his teeth together as yet another stop forced the very heavy woman across from him to stumble and fall into him, surrounding him with the cloy smell of her perfume. Robert had enough.
“You!” he snarled catching the eye of a young boy, who’d been so lucky as to get a seat. “Up!”
“What?” the young boy looked at him incredulously. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Up!” Robert repeated. “You’re young. You can stand. Do you think I’m walking around with this for fun?” He lifted up the cane a little for emphasis. “Haven’t you ever been taught that’s it’s good manner to give your seat up for those older than you? Or those with a disability? I, as you can see, are both of those things, so give me your bloody seat, stand up, and be thankful you can do so.”
The boy started grumbling, but one look from Robert promised him eternal pain if he didn’t do what he’d been told, and finally, finally, Robert could sit down.
Of course he still had to sit next to a young girl, who for some unfathomable reason had decided to pierce her face in every way she deemed possible. Thankfully she got off after only a couple of stops, and Robert was able to claim the windows seat.
Slowly, as they moved further away from the city centre more people got off the bus than on, and after twelve minutes or so Robert finally felt he could breathe freely again. He wasn’t alone, as he would have preferred, but he didn’t have to share his seat with anyone.
At least until the young girl sat down next to him and turned towards him with a brilliant smile.
“Good day!” she greeted. She sounded like she’d come directly out of a Disney movie, and Robert sent her an annoyed look. Her eyes were bluer than the sky and shining with life. They irritated him. Hopefully she’d get the message and wouldn’t try talking to him again.
“Did you know that just a hundred years ago, people didn’t grow much older than thirty?”
Was she talking to him?
“What?” Robert heard himself asking before he could stop himself, instantly regretting it. Sadly she took it as a permission to continue.
“It’s true!” she said excitedly. “And now it’s like over seventy. That’s over twice as old in just a century! And it’s not even just in the developing countries! It’s all over the world! Isn’t that awesome?!”
“Quite,” he said drily, his tone suggesting the exact opposite.
“I know! Someone born in Liberia can actually expect to live twenty years older than they could in 1990. That’s a year older for every year gone by!”
“The more time for us to kill each other in,” Robert remarked, meaning to end the conversation then and there.
“But we’re not! For every 100.000 people 500 used to get killed by humans. Now it’s only a handful or so.”
“I suppose too many people die of hunger before we have a chance to kill each other off.”
“But we’re getting more food! Forty percent less people are starving in the last fifteen years!” Her eyes dimmed slightly. “Of course people still starve though. Like one out of nine.” She seemed to pull herself together. “We’re improving though!” she said cheerfully.
Robert was slowly starting to wonder if there was something wrong in this girl’s head. She annoyed him. Particularly because of her smile, which made him feel funny on the inside. It was unpleasant.
“Well,” he grunted, even though he really shouldn’t encourage her by talking. “The improvement isn’t going to continue. We’re too many people.”
There. Perhaps now she would come to realise how bad the world really was.
“Actually the average woman only gets two and a half kids!”
“That’s half a kid too many,” he pointed out.
“But in the sixties it was four and a half kids per woman. And we’re talking worldwide, not just in the States. Oh! And we‘re getting smarter.”
Now this one Robert knew wasn’t true. The teenagers from earlier proved that very well.
“I can assure you, dearie. We are not.”
“Yes we are. They constantly has to change the average of the IQ test because of this. If the average person had taken it a hundred years ago they would have been a part of the top two percent of the population.”
“IQ doesn’t necessarily mean cleverness,” Robert argued. He’d never taken an IQ test in his life. He didn’t believe cleverness could be measured like that.
The girl merely laughed, apparently thinking he was joking, before suddenly putting her hand out towards him. “I’m Belle,” she introduced herself, and Robert realised she expected him to shake her hand. Usually he would have sneered at her, but instead he found himself complying; trying not to notice exactly how pretty Belle really was.
“Robert,” he said shortly.
“Well, it was very nice to meet you, Robert.”
Finally she was quiet, and Robert found himself wishing that she wasn’t. He wondered how to start up the conversation again. He hadn’t tried doing that in years. At least not just for the pleasure of talking.
“Do you… do you always think so…”
“Positive? Yeah, I try to. I mean; the world is an amazing place. I feel so sad when people can’t see that.”
Robert couldn’t see it, but for some reason he didn’t want to see Belle sad, so he didn’t say anything.
“How do you even know all that?” he asked, honestly fascinated.
“I study social science at the local university. I was just heading home.”
“You usually take the bus to and from the university?”
“Yeah, every morning at seven thirty.” She smiled, and Robert tried to remind himself that she was still in college and most definitely too young for him.
Still though… He left at seven thirty in the morning as well. Maybe he could begin taking the bus. Not that he was that desperate for company. It wasn’t for Belle he would change his habits. But it would save him gas money and it would be better for the environment.
He hadn’t thought about the environment since he was a lad on eighteen, but suddenly the world seemed like a place he wanted to protect.
And maybe one day he’d be able to see it like Belle did.