Mr. Gold stood in Storybrooke’s cemetery, the light of the moon shining down on the stone that made up the tomb where Regina’s father rested.
And so much more.
Idly tapping his cane against the ground with a dull thumping sound, he stepped forward, running his fingers over the cool marble. With a light touch, he lifted the latch holding the doors shut. It took more effort to push one of the massive panels open, and he grit his teeth as a sharp jabbing pain shot up his bad leg.
But then the door opened a crack, and he worked to push it further, so that the moonlight would shine into the tomb.
He didn’t bring a flashlight. Didn’t want to risk being spotted before he was ready.
The sarcophagus lid that he knew hid the stairs to Regina’s secret room of relics from the life before wouldn’t budge at first. He had to set his cane down, wedge his foot against the wall and heave. The space was small enough for him to reach.
He can’t imagine how Regina gets the dratted thing open. Not when it gives him so much trouble. Perhaps a touch of her magic remains.
In that, he envies her. He grows tired of limping, remembering days when he not only danced - he flew, he jigged, he whirled on the winds and skipped across treetops as if they were stepping stones. He has a knack for names, especially his own. He never forgot who he was. No curse, especially one of his own making, could take that from him.
Though all in Storybrooke call him Mr. Gold, he still feels like Rumpelstiltskin.
But that is not the only reason he found Snow White’s daughter and arranged a series of events that would eventually lead her to Storybrooke. It is not the reason he came to the tomb, pushed the sarcophagus open, revealing the hidden stair. It is not the reason he flips his phone open and dials the Sheriff’s office to report seeing vandals in the cemetery.
All magic has a price. The price he paid to keep his power was very dear indeed. At times he finds himself wondering what would have happened. What could have been if he had let the curse breaking power of True Love’s Kiss work through him.
If he had given in to Belle.
He had once been able to spin straw to gold. He lived on a vast estate, filled with rare treasures.
But the most precious to him, in that life and in this one, was a chipped cup.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, he exited the tomb, limping to the gate with his teeth set in determination. With the Savior’s arrival, happy endings had begun returning to those who could not remember they had ever lost them.
Rumpelstiltskin held out hope that one day, something he remembered losing all too well would be given back to him. And then he wouldn’t need his chipped cup anymore.
He reached the street where he had parked his car just in time to see the lights of Sheriff Swan’s police cruiser.
Emma was immediately suspicious when Gold called to tell her that there were ‘hoodlums’ vandalizing city property in the cemetery, but she had little choice but to check it out. So she checked that her badge was securely clipped to her belt, then shrugged on her jacket and set out.
She should have known she was going to find herself in front of a familiar tomb.
“Regina is going to love this,” she muttered under her breath, flicking her heavy police issue flashlight on and holding it over her head, peering through the opened doors.
Was the coffin thing open?
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me! Please, please, don’t have taken any of the bones.” Regina would find a way to blame her for it, and she’d have to be notified. At the end of a night shift with far too little caffeine, Emma just didn’t have the energy.
Her sturdy boots echoed hollowly against the stones as she stepped into the tight space. She didn’t know if it was the fact that it was a grave, that it was Regina’s father’s grave, or that the last time she’d been here had been with Graham, just before he died, but her heart jumped in her chest, pinched with a sudden fear.
Were those stairs?
The beam of her flashlight pierced the darkness, throwing the steps into sharp relief. They went down, into some tunnel below the cemetery. Maybe that’s what the kids broke in to find? Maybe there was some local legend about treasure or, or –
Or the Evil Queen’s lair, piped up Henry’s voice in her head.
She shook it, dispelling the thought. Regina probably didn’t even know this was here, and would be mad as hell when she realized her father’s bones were missing.
Sighing, Emma radioed it in to the woman who did night dispatch, then drew her gun and started for the stairs.
She just hoped she could get this all sorted out before Regina swept in with her cutting remarks and sly accusations.
Taking the steps slowly, Emma crossed her arms in front of her, bracing her gun hand against the one she used to hold the flashlight. Maybe she backed her way into law enforcement, but she took pride in her job. She wasn’t the Savior Henry believed she was, but at the very least she could be a savior, in small ways.
Finally she reached the end of the stairs, finding herself in a cavernous room with some sort of boxes built into the wall. They looked like safe deposit boxes, if banks used marble. Maybe this had been a bank once. Maybe old banks used marble.
…And were underground. Right.
“Police! Come out with your hands up!” Emma called into the stillness, then waited.
She held her breath.
But nothing happened.
A cursory sweep of the chamber revealed more marble and pretty much nowhere for anyone to hide, so she felt safe enough holstering her gun and going to examine the stone safety deposit boxes more closely.
She pressed, she pulled, she did both, she tried sliding the raised black panels to the side – but nothing worked. They wouldn’t open.
There was a sudden clatter on the stairs, and Emma whirled, her hand going to her gun.
It was Regina, dressed as smartly as she always was, though she must have pulled herself out of bed when she heard, given the hour.
Emma let her gun go, though her fingers clung to the metal, as if they knew something she didn’t.
“Madam Mayor. You didn’t have to – ”
“Of course I had to,” Regina cut Emma off, her eyes flashing.
“I know that this is your father’s grave, but I’m not going to get to the bottom of this if you don’t let me do my job,” Emma said in that wheedling, reasonable voice that every so often swayed Regina.
Not this time. It wasn’t her father’s grave that sent her sprinting to her car as soon as word reached her that the tomb had been vandalized and Sheriff Swan was investigating, but the very room they stood in. It was the seat of her power, of what magic remained for her in this world. It was her old life, locked away to be preserved for eternity.
Regina said nothing in answer to Ms. Swan. She simply stood in the archway of the staircase, watching her destined enemy prowl around her inner sanctum, considering. Thinking. Plotting.
“This will be something for the Daily Mirror,” Emma mused weakly, trying to fill the silence between them when it became apparent that Regina wasn’t going to leave.
Regina’s face was blank, as it often was. In her time in Storybrooke, Emma had come to realize that the mayor hid a lot behind frosty smiles and emotionless stares – but all was told in her eyes. At times they glistened, other times they sparked, smoldered, or softened. Emma didn’t know yet what each look meant, but she was satisfied to know they meant something, that Regina wasn’t the perfectly in control, perfectly freaky ice queen she made herself out to be.
There was a look in Regina’s eyes now that Emma didn’t like. Her gun hand itched, the hairs on the back of her neck standing at attention.
“We’ll have people from Boston wanting to come look at this,” Emma continued, moving toward Regina – and the staircase, suddenly wanting to be above ground again.
“You’ll do no such thing. You will tell no one of what you’ve seen here,” Regina commanded with all the air of someone who thinks they’re royalty.
Emma sighed. “Sometimes I think you fight with me just to fight with me. This could be important, Regina. An archeological find. Maybe this is an old bank vault or an older tomb or something.”
Making a decision, Regina smiled a predatory smile. “Or maybe it’s my secret lair, the only remnant of my life as the Evil Queen.”
Emma laughed uneasily, tossing her golden hair to one side as she tried to step around Regina to get to the stairs.
Regina stepped into her path. They stood so close they could feel each other’s breath.
“Tell me, Sheriff Swan, you were a bail bondsperson before you came to Storybrooke, isn't that right?” Regina trailed her hand up Emma’s arm, leaving goosebumps in her wake. “A hunter, of sorts? Not of animals, but of men.”
Trying not to look at Regina like she was crazy in case it somehow made her crazier and sent her off into a rampage, Emma swallowed, then answered quietly. “Yeah, I guess that’s one way to look at it. I hunted down deadbeats.”
“Good,” Regina purred.
Then she thrust her hand into Emma’s chest, closing her fingers around the woman’s heart.
Emma gasped, choked, thought she might throw up. Thought she was crazy. This wasn’t happening. Regina wasn’t that strong.
This wasn’t happening.
She fell to her knees like a puppet with its strings cut, a beam of light spiraling sickeningly through the darkness as her flashlight rolled from her hands. Her fingers twitched, fluttering weakly when she tried to move.
Regina couldn’t possibly be holding her heart. That didn’t make sense. She’d be dead. Maybe she was dead. How did she know? Maybe dying was lying on your side with blood in your mouth and sludge in your veins.
This wasn’t happening.
Regina click-clacked across the room, her heels sounding louder than they should. Emma blinked and saw her dressed in all black, her hair spiraled elaborately around her head.
She blinked again, and Regina looked normal – in her normal suit, with her normal hair, her normal shoes.
And a heart in her hands.
Graham’s words came back in a rush. He couldn’t feel anything. He insisted his heart was gone, that it was here somehow. That it had been taken from him.
Maybe he wasn’t crazy.
Or maybe Emma was.
But this was happening.
She felt it, she believed it, and if that didn’t make it real, she didn’t know what did.
She hoped she’d be able to say that to Henry.
Regina somehow opened one of the cabinets that Emma had struggled with earlier, pulling a drawer out and then flipping open the lid of some sort of box. Emma’s heart looked like a ruby in her hands.
She plunked it into the box, and Emma gasped, all color draining from her face as all feeling drained from her soul.
The next thing she knew, Regina was helping her up, pulling her to her feet and wiping at her face.
“Regina?” Emma asked, trying to focus.
“Shhh, my Hunter,” Regina shushed, wiping blood away from Emma’s chin with her thumb. “You fell and bit your tongue.”
Leaning forward, Regina kissed her, her own tongue caressing Emma’s sore one. “All better?” she asked, resting her hands on Emma’s shoulders.
“Yes,” Emma answered, though she didn’t notice a real difference, or care very much.
She felt numb. Few things seemed to matter as much as she thought they had, once upon a time.
Regina straightened the lapels of Emma’s jacket, then smiled at her. “Go back to work now, Sheriff. I’ll see you tomorrow, for a city council meeting.”
Emma blinked, bending to pick up her flashlight. “But tomorrow’s Saturday.”
Regina’s smile turned into a smirk. “I know.”
Mr. Gold looked up at the sound of the bell that announced someone had just entered his shop. “Regina,” he smiled, staying seated behind the counter. He was examining a pocket watch, bits of clockwork laid out before him. “Come to threaten me, or is it a deal you want today?”
“Neither,” she answered in the tone he recognized from days of old, a strident note hidden within the sultry timbre of her voice. “I’ve come to tell you I’ve won. I know it was you who showed Emma the staircase. Your ploy didn’t work.”
Enjoying her triumph, she strode further into the room, running her fingers along the various items displayed on the countertop. “She isn’t the Savior anymore. She’s the Hunter. Now the curse can never be broken.”
Mr. Gold smiled, a twinkle of Rumpelstiltskin showing in the curve of his lips, the glimmer in his eye. “All curses can be broken, dearie.”
Regina frowned, suspicion coiling in her gut.
“Now if you’ll get out of my shop,” Gold continued, “I have to repair this watch for Mr. White, before he starts running late.”
He paused, giving Regina the opportunity to heed his dismissal on her own. When she didn’t move, he licked his lips, then said the Magic Word.