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Dangerous is the Vexed God

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Furry car. Housed at bus depot. Actually dog. Keeps licking people who get close. Disaster averted.

Tiny monkey with cymbals. Actually Little Boy Blue. Turned back to human with rising sun. Returned to parents. Disaster averted.

Six foot long slug. Salted when it destroyed three vegetable gardens and slimed Chip Potts while he was chasing it with a stick. Determined to likely be a feral cat. Did not have boots. Disaster averted (we think).

Tar pit. Filled with rocks. Former ogre upset because he was planning to bathe in it. Neighbors glad because they did not want to see a naked ogre bathing in a tar pit in the center of Main Street. Disaster averted.

Living trees trying to grab people. Pruned. Disaster averted.

Flock of seagulls. Decent music. 

“I don’t think this is how a police report goes.”

Emma leaned back in her chair, “We’re the police. It can go how we want.” It was Monday morning and after a full weekend of work Emma was finally starting to feel like things were under control.

“And Flock of Seagulls isn’t decent. They’re great,” David continued. Surprised, Emma looked up. “They just have bad hair,” he added bashfully.

“Monumentally bad hair. Mary Margaret on a humid day bad.”

He winced. Mary Margaret wore hats on humid days and if a person valued their lives they didn’t mention it.

“Now back to the report: Flock of seagulls. Decent band. Terrible birds. Flew away. Hopefully not a loved one. Disaster averted.”

“Murderer of two fairies. Ran away. Disaster imminent,” Aurora drawled. She strode into the room in an outfit out of an L.L. Bean catalog, complete with leather and rubber boots, a farm jacket a size too big and a flannel shirt. “But Deputy Basile has a lead. Disaster,” she paused to appreciate her own self, “potentially averted.”

“I really don’t think this is how police reports go,” David whined.

“Just wait until she gets to the part on how she got the lead,” Mulan said. She’d come in behind her girlfriend, and was wearing her usual deputy uniform, only with the legs tucked into a pair of boots that matched Aurora’s. She bent down to unlace them. 

Aurora moved into the center of the room, shrugging off her coat. The deputy badge she wore around her neck flashed as it caught sunlight streaming in through the window. “It was genius.”

“I doubt Emma will agree.”

That just made Emma nervous. She looked warily at Aurora, “What did you do?”

“I talked to witnesses.”

“David and I did that last night. Blue was the only witness.”

“Of the murder. I talked to those who witnessed his escape. A car picked him up and drove away,” she pulled out her cellphone, “I got the license plate number and everything.”

“How?”

“She talked to birds.”

She talked to— “Huh?”

Aurora preened, “I’ll admit it’s been years since I tried, but as you know all princesses can talk to birds.”

Not all princesses. Regina talking to them just sent them plummeting to their deaths. 

“Right. Regina taught me that in the Enchanted Forest. Which is full of magic. Maine isn’t magical.”

“But the town is. I found a very lovely owl out near the barrier and he spoke with a whole flock of different kind of birds and they went out, asked questions, and came back.”

She was so proud of herself Emma didn’t even ask if she was serious.

“Isn’t it wonderful,” Aurora asked brightly.

Emma’s brain was definitely leaking out through her ears. It had to be. Not just from the news that the murderer was immune to the curse, but by how Aurora had come by the information. She had—she’d just— “How the hell are you supposed to put that in a police report!”

“I don’t know, you’re the sheriff. Also, we need bird seed.”

“A lot of bird seed,” Mulan said.

“Why do we need—“

Regina, and her perfect timing, chose that moment to click clack in in high heels and a dressy gray ensemble, “Emma why does the outside of the police station look like a Hitchcock film?”

 

####

Regina was not allowed to help with the bird problem. 

Something about having to clean up all the corpses if she opened her mouth in front of them.

David and Mulan went to the feed store for the seed to satisfy the legion and Emma and Aurora stood outside shouting platitudes to sooth them.

It left the station completely empty, and if Regina had had it in her head to do something awful she could have.

But she was a good and relatively honest woman now. Loosening all the screws on the chairs would be rude. As would switching the labels for the salt and the sugar in the kitchenette. Leaving keys to all the locks hidden under the pillows in the cells was just illegal.

Well, switching the labels on the sugar and salt wouldn’t be that rude, and if given time she could come up for reasons why the sheriff and her deputies all deserved it. It was accomplished with a simple swish of her hand.

It was not why she’d come to the station though. She’d come to examine the wand the murderer used. Emma was still insistent on Regina being the de facto magic consultant—much to the Blue Fairy’s frustration—and after a day of rest she was ready to get back to investigating.

The man had now killed someone important to Aurora, a former fairy who used to do nothing but sing in the forest and frolic with woodsmen, and he’d attacked Regina.

Smiled at her.

She wanted her hand in his chest, squeezing all his secrets out of him.

She drew a pair of rubber gloves from the box at the door to the evidence room. Their smell was nauseating and the one bulged over the bandage on her hand. Her hand itself ached the closer she got to the wand. Throbbed really. She pulled it into a fist clumsily and released again, hoping the movement would return some of the sensation leaching from it.

It didn’t.

Shoving it into the pocket of her coat she had to rely on her other hand to empty the evidence bag onto the table.

The wand had shattered into three pieces when she’d grabbed it and the faint outline of her hand could be seen on the largest, middle, piece. The tip of the wand was black as though scorched and the handle was a milky gray.

As a fairy’s wand it would have originally been iridescent and garish. Blue or green or whatever color the fairy holding it had been born to be. She could see faint traces of pink peeking through the gray. Just tiny veins of color. The handle was adorned with glass vines and berries that suggested the owner had been fond of vineyards.

Maybe the fairy had a problem with drink.

Like more than one of the fairy monks.

Been murdered while passed out.

Angry, violent magic came off the shards in waves. Somehow Regina’s own magic had burned itself into the wand, consuming what bits of the fairy magic were still in it. It had all been too much for the pieces and they pulsated angrily because of it.

She apologized aloud, and was glad everyone else was gone.

Wands weren’t sentient, but years of having a fairy’s magic funneled through them imbued them was a kind of consciousness. 

“I need to know who used you last,” she whispered, “my magic may have broken you, but it was their hand that threw you. So any help you could give would be appreciated.”

It continued to give off a raw anger that would have driven most to their knees. Regina was familiar with the emotion. After all it was what fueled her own magic.

Her other hand twitched suddenly in her pocket and she yanked it free and watched as her fingers all tightened and curled like a talon.

The wound on her hand, only half healed and maybe never mended whole, spasmed with intense pain. She gritted her teeth and did what the wand couldn’t quite ask. She yanked the glove bandages off and watched as magic in the wand arced up toward the cut. A spark struck the flesh. She didn’t see it. Seeing it required looking at her hand. She could only feel it.

More and more magic from the wand shot upwards, pelting her hand like pinpricks of fire. The wound flared with heat so intense she thought her whole hand might burst into flames. Magic coursed in through the wound and filled her with gray, errant thoughts she couldn't quite grab hold of.

Then, because one explosion in a day and a half wasn’t enough.

The wand exploded again.

 

####

Emma was waltzing back into the station to make sure Regina wasn’t switching the sugar and the salt or something equally juvenile when something loud sort of “whoomphed” in the evidence room. Black soot shot out from around the door, caking the surrounding wall and floor.

She rushed toward the door knowing that could never be a good side when it swung wide open and Regina stepped out, covered in even more soot.

Emma stopped short. “Do I want to know?”

“I was examining the wand the murderer used,” she said primly. Which was a feat, what with her being a completely matte black except for the now startling whites of her eyes. “It exploded.”

“That seems to be happening a lot around you.”

Regina slapped the sleeves of her jacket and clouds of soot plumed out. Emma stepped back a step to avoid getting covered.

“Are you…okay at least?”

Regina looked down at her hand—the one that had had a bandage on it since her return. She flexed it. “I appear to be.” She ran the thumb of her other hand down her palm. Soot was smeared away to reveal an angry red wound that ran the width of her palm. Dark veins of black spread out from it.

“That’s—“

Regina shoved her hand into her pocket. “A reminder not to step between people and cursed knives.”

“I didn’t—“

“Know? Why should you?” 

“I don’t—is it healing at least?”

“Slowly.” She raised her shoulders and shook herself. It would have been a small movement, but clouds of soot fell off of her. “But that’s not what we should be discussing,” she said. Purple smoke ran over her and the soot disappeared. She pulled her hand out of her pocket and wrapped it in a new bandage with practiced efficiency. 

“You want to talk about the wand.”

“The previous user was…not kind.”

“Kind of gathered from the murders.”

“The wand showed me its past. He killed the fairy he took it from. Stabbed him with the wand.”

“Him? There are guy fairies?”

“Of course. They make wine in their monastery out in the woods.”

“Seriously?”

Regina raised an eyebrow.

“There’s a whole other group of fairies out there and no one thought to mention it?”

“I presumed you knew. You do have a map of the entire town. What did you think the giant gray “monastery” part was?”

She though it was a park or something. “Why do I never see them walking around then?”

Regina pursed her lips in satisfaction, “I made sure they were all very private, and that they took vows of silence.” It blossomed into a full blown grin, “Male fairies are normally much more gregarious than their female counterparts.”

God, she was an asshole. “You’re such an asshole.”

Regina wouldn’t deny it. She continued smiling smugly and shrugged instead.

“And why do I get the feeling you aren’t the only one being an asshole about this. The Mother Superior said all her nuns were at Granny’s when Merryweather was murdered, and we know they were all at the clambake the other night. That leaves the monks she failed to mention.”

“Who never leave their monastery—even to murder nuns,” Regina reminded her.

“Right, but if the guy is murdering nuns its not like he takes his vows too seriously.” 

“You really think the Blue Fairy, purported purveyor of all things good, knew about the murders?”

“If Gold can fall in love with a woman than a fairy can murder people and another one can screw with my investigation.”

“Don’t let others hear you say that Emma. Fairies are…respected where we come from, and for good reason. They’re incapable of killing.”

“Right. Mother Superior told me it shows up on them if they do kill. Like a mark or something.”

“Exactly. The monks would notice if one of their number were killing, and they’d report it. That’s in their nature too.”

“Maybe.” She sighed. “Fairy conspiracy because of this “war” or whatever does sound kind of crazy.” Regina said nothing. “And I guess Aurora did say the killer had someone pick him up. That kind of means the threat’s from outside the town.”

“Which may be worse.”

“I don’t know. Outside the town means Leroy’s Splash theory could be right. Inside the town means someone knows how to get out without losing their memories and are hiding it to help with some huge war we know nothing about.”

“They sound equally awful.”

“Yeah. You get vivisected or you get to be in whatever the hell this war is supposed to be.”

Regina mulled it over, “If I had to choose, I think I’d prefer war that spans lands. I get to kill more people that way.”

Such. Such an asshole.

“So lets hope the monks are up to no good then.” Emma jerked her head in the direction of the parking lot, “Want to take a ride and find out?”

“Do I get to kill them if they are?”

“No. But I might let you inflate them. We can tie them to the back of the cruiser and float ‘em to jail.”

“Not your mother’s justice,” she sniffed.

“The day I try to do justice like my mother just shoot me in the face.”

She didn’t know why she said that. She didn’t actually know anything about Mary Margaret and the other land and her brand of justice. But Regina beamed, and that seemed like a good enough reason in the moment.

 

####

“How, uh, was Henry yesterday?”

Emma insisted on driving, despite having only a vague idea of where she was going, and she drove slower than Aurora she sat in the driver’s seat.

Well, not actually. Aurora tended to rabbit on the break. Emma cruised, letting the car speedometer smoothly slide from too fast to too slow and back again. 

“He was good. It felt a little like old times.”

Emma nodded. “Good. Maybe we could…do it again sometime.”

“Share custody? Done playing parent so soon?”

She twisted her hands on the steering wheel. 

Regina flexed her bad hand. “Sorry.”

“I get it, you know, your frustration?”

“Do you?”

She nodded again, “Sure. You adopt a kid and care for him and love him as much as you can and then get a broken curse and me for your trouble. You had him to yourself and now you’ve gotta share.”

“You make Henry sounds like a cookie.”

“I’m just saying I understand why you’re mad about the living situation. So I want to help.”

“Help would be having him home.”

“Even if he doesn’t want to be there? Because honestly, right now, I think it should be up to him you know? He should have a choice.”

“You think that because you were an orphan forced to grow up when you were three. Henry’s a sheltered boy who wanted to break the curse so he could go horseback riding and fight dragons. I’m allowing him to stay with you because it seems to do him good.”

“Allowing?” She shot Regina a skeptical sideways glance.

“Allowing,” she reiterated. “And I think it would be a mistake to give him too much control in this situation. We start treating him like an adult and soon he’ll be one. And you and I both know the dangers of growing up too fast.”

Something in Emma’s jaw tightened and she squeezed the steering wheel again. “So you get him for weekends,” she said finally.

I’m the weekend dad?”

“For now. Then, when he’s not quite so—“

“Henry?”

“Right—we can switch. Do every other week or something. Let him think he’s running the show at least. After everything we’ve done—“ She’d done Emma’s tone implied— “It’s the least we can do.”

“Fine.”

They continued on in silence. Regina hadn’t expected that much give from Emma. Maybe every other weekend—or just every other Saturday. Just like—she laughed.

“What,” Emma asked.

“It’s like we’re divorced parents. Negotiating custody.”

“Only less lawyers. And none of the marriage benefits”

“That can change.”

Emma blushed and pressed down on the gas. Normally the silence would have been irritating, but Emma hadn’t reminded Regina of their cessation of “things.” Hadn’t reinforced the self-imposed wall between them.

It was a victory.

A small, small victory.

She leaned back in her seat and didn’t even bother to wipe the smile from her face.

 

####

Emma would lie to the face of anyone who asked, but, feet to the fire, when she thought of monks she thought of the little squirrelly guy in Sister Act 2. The group home had had terrible TV reception and you needed someone on the roof holding the antenna and pointing towards the center of town while to other people dance around the tv with foil just to watch anything without snow static. That movie had been one of exactly three they’d had on VHS. Which meant no dancing. They’d watched it until the tape was stripped and even tracking couldn’t save it. 

It had formed a lot of her opinions of holy orders.

So she’d expected lots of goofy guys in big brown robes and bigger hats, but the monks all wore slim white robes with black cowls and thick sashes. And they all hated Regina.

Silently of course.

The curse was broken but most of them retained their vows.

Puck, the actual Puck, led the monastery as Blue’s proxy. He'd put on weight since the curse and his belly protruded over the chains he wore instead of a sash. He had a friendly smile, and a white blond hereditary tonsure highlighted by his dark skin.

Apparently once upon a time Regina had done something that got him kicked out of a fairy court and wrapped in chains of iron--the ones still around his waist. He seemed to hate Regina most of all. Just, with a smile.

Emma used it to her advantage. When people raged at Regina they also tended to spill a lot of secrets. Between all the threats and insults was all kinds of very informative chatter.

So she learned that the Mother Superior had a morale problem and one of the monks was very close to Archie. And she learned all about parties at a moonshine still deeper in the forest with the nuns when the Mother Superior had gone to bed. And she learned about the growing number of missing monks who declared their intent to become hermits and were never seen again.

And that Regina used to have threesomes with Puck and Clarion—whoever the hell that was.

It was irritating that that’s what stuck out to her and lingered in her head the way back to Storybrooke. 

Regina and a couple of good looking fairies doing—“I was an evil queen with a leather fetish,” Regina mumbled, like she was apologizing. But the leather just made it worse. As did the apology. “Besides she was a queen and he was her most loyal servant and they were quite persuasive.”

Emma tried to ignore her.

“And you’re a loner bounty hunter with a very open mind regarding sexuality. You’re honestly telling me you haven’t had threesomes?”

“Me not having a gender preference has nothing to do with how many partners I sleep with, also, I am not talking about who I have or have not slept with, because unlike you I like to keep my underpants business private.”

“Mine was private until you dragged me along to talk to Puck.”

“I invited you and you said yes! You were the one that knew your ex was going to be there.” One of them at least.

“We were really more partners. Like in tennis.”

“Tennis partners don’t get naked and do things with crops!”

Regina sulked.

Emma sulked.

They made it back to town without either one magically shooting the other out a car window.

That night Emma watched the Disney version of Snow White and tried to enjoy the part where the Queen fell of a cliff. She also ignored the nervous looks and wide berth her family gave her.

Regina having threesomes with hot fairies thirty something years ago shouldn’t have bothered her. The woman was her family’s archenemy and that was something that was actually bad. Her sleeping with some never dressed fairies and going through a leathery bondage sounding phase was the opposite of bad. It was good healthy sexy fun.

What was bad. What was truly atrocious.

Was the jealousy.

Emma was jealous

That seemed worse than all the murder and mayhem in the world.

She spent the next week purposely not asking Regina for help and trying to solve a case that was quickly beginning to look like fairy on fairy homicide.

It managed to get worse when they went to look up the license plate number Aurora had acquired. “Name is Peter Tamlin,” David announced. “Lives in Boston.”

Only when they found his residence in Google Maps a sinking feelinged developed in Emma’s stomach. Because wherever Peter Tamlin lived it wasn’t at 1245 Worcester Street. Not unless he was given to living in malls.

“It’s a market,” Mulan said. “People live in markets.”

“Maybe where you’re from. But here that’s a shopping mall and people don’t live there.”

“So we’re screwed,” David asked.

“We’re screwed.”

God, if Leory's Splash theory ended up being right Emma wouldn't have to be worried about being vivisected. She'd kill herself.

With their best lead ruined they returned to walking through the forest looking for missing monks. It was long, mundane, irritating work and it gave Emma way too much time to think. 

About Regina.

And how walks through the forest didn’t suck quite as much with her around.

 

####

“I won’t do it.” Regina crossed her arms to make herself sound more determined.

Aurora sighed. “I’m not asking you. Emma is.”

“Then Emma can get off that high and mighty horse she inherited from her parents and ask me herself.”

“She’s busy.”

“I know. Judging me.”

“No,” bless the princess, she was trying to be patient. “She’s out in the woods looking for the stills and the missing hermits.”

“Something you can do.”

“She thinks you’re mad at her.”

“She judged me.”

“I judge you every time you open your mouth and we’re still talking.”

“That’s different.”

Aurora smirked.

Regina rolled her eyes, “Oh shut up.” She turned back around to continue chopping onions. She was working on her knife skills. They’d gotten rusty when she’d been stuck on a boat for nearly three years. Before she never used the mandoline sitting at the bottom of the pantry and now she couldn’t even make scalloped potatoes without it.

Aurora came around the kitchen island and leaned on the countertop. “It’s not like it’s a major request.” 

She turned around and wagged the knife in Aurora’s face, “You’re asking me to figure out how someone could pass through a barrier none of them should be able to pass through. That’s fairly significant.”

“Isn’t it just…reading books?”

“No,” her onion slices were getting too uneven and she pushed them to the edge of the cutting board in disgust. “In order to figure out how they are manipulating the curse I have to understand the curse.”

“But you cast it.”

“I did a lot of stupid things. It was thirty years ago and I was very upset. I never, technically—“

“Understood the curse?”

She shivered. “The results of it. The curse itself I understood. Far too well.”

The knife in her hand suddenly resembled one used long, long ago. She could still remember the slick blood coating her hands. 

It clattered loudly on the cutting board and she stepped back. The taste for practicing her skills turning noxious. 

“To understand what it did I’d have to talk to Rumpelstiltskin and talking to him is at the very top of a very long list of things I don’t want to do.”

“I didn’t want to bury my godmother after she was drowned, but here I am.”

Of all the manipulative things Aurora could have said, that was the most effective. Because Regina could still see the grief that had added new lines to Aurora’s face. And in her head she could still hear her sobs from that night. 

“You volunteered to come, didn’t you? You knew I’d reject Emma but if you asked in the most manipulative way possible I’d agree.”

The corners of Aurora’s mouth turned up. Just a fraction. “No, you would have done it if she asked too, but I need you to do it because I need to find this man. I need to see justice done.”

She sighed theatrically and leaned back against the counter. “Very well. I’ll speak with him.” Aurora started to say thanks and Regina quickly continued, “But be careful. Justice can turn to vengeance at the drop of a hat and they are very different things.”

“Worried about my soul? After all these years?”

“I’m rather fond of it sometimes. I’d hate to see it blackened.”

“Careful Regina. You keep talking like that and you could wind up hugged. Or worse.”

“What’s worse than your pitiful attempt at displaying affection?”

Aurora got all moon eyed, “You could find yourself loved.”

 

####

Emma lied about going into the woods again. They’d been at it for days and found nothing but a blind guy with an axe chopping wood. Aurora had suggested they avoid him, “I’m fairly certain he’s one of those riddle masters that will kill you if you meet him and don’t answer his riddle.”

Riddle masters were becoming common enough—with the threats of death at least—that Emma was seriously considered speaking to the town council about having the practice outlawed, or at least regulated to get rid of the potential for murder part.

That afternoon when Aurora said she was going to talk to Regina Emma said she’d go into the woods alone, and then made her way to the hospital instead.

To the cells beneath the hospital to be accurate.

It had been nearly a full week since Merryweather’s murder. All Emma had to show for it was an ever expanding mystery, a car that could lick people and a new, awkward component to her relationship with Regina.

Her instincts were telling her the missing monks were the right track to follow. But they hadn’t left much of a track. She needed someone who could find them.

And she found Whale in the hall between her and her mission.

Shifty as always.

“Something wrong with the prisoners,” she asked.

He glanced at Cora’s cell. “They’re fine. To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“You know they’re not your patients right? They’re here because this is the most secure place for them.”

“Cora asked me to come.”

“Next time miss the message.”

He sighed and looked away. “Why are you here sheriff?”

“None of your business, but seeing as you’re standing here I’ve got a question for you.”

He raised an eyebrow and fidgeted. 

“Know anything about the monks with the vineyard outside of town?”

“Their early 80s stuff is awful. Tastes a little mildewy.”

“I’m thinking about the monks that have gone missing. Monks with anatomy you seemed to know a lot about last time we seriously talked.”

“If you’re asking if I’ve ever vivisected a fairy. Yes.”

That was. Easy? 

“In another land. Gold kept me in good supply and I know for a fact your dear friend Regina looked the other way. So if you decided to arrest me for it make sure there’s enough room in the cell.”

He tried to brush past, and normally, after a shocker like that she might have let him. But his arrogance grated on her very frayed nerves and she yanked him to a stop with a tight grip on his arm. “I don’t care about what happened over there,” she snarled. “I care about here. My town. I find out you know anything about those monks you won’t need a cell.”

His eyebrow arched cooly once more, “A threat sheriff. The mayor’s hot headedness is rubbing off.”

She leaned in close enough that she could smell the antiseptic on his skin and mint meant to hide the alcohol on his breath. “What to find out what else I picked up from her?”

The way his skin went pasty white said he did not. He jerked his arm out of her hand and rotated both shoulders trying to reclaim some of his pride. “Careful sheriff,” he managed to say, “one of these days you and your queen may find out out that threats and proclamations aren’t power. And if I’m there you can be sure I’ll be helping teach the lesson.”

 

####

Clutching his cane in one hand and dusting the glass countertops in his shop with the other Rumpelstiltskin looked decidedly less impressive than she knew him to be. He looked doddering. Old. Simple.

“All out of love potions dearie,” he said without looking up.

“I don’t need potions to get people to love me.”

“Just time travel.”

Regina shrugged, “It’s helpful.”

He tossed the rag on the top of a basket of cleaning materials. “So why are you here? I thought you’d be busy trying to woo our noble Sheriff Swan.”

“What gave you that idea?”

“Cecily.”

God that stupid witch and her fat mouth. “Cecily should be careful what secrets she shares.”

“You kissed her in the middle of a forest filled with magic. If you wanted it private you should have done it in your bedroom.”

“I would have but that idiot gnome was turning her into a tree.”

That earned her a rare look of surprise, “My my, you do get up to interesting things in the forest.”

“You should try it some time. That girlfriend of yours doesn’t strike me as the type to be content spending all her time  here and at the library.”

“She loves books.”

“She also loves traveling. Or did I not abduct her in the Middle Kingdom while she was battling a mythological cat?”

Rumpel glared, “Reminiscing with you is always so entertaining and not the least bit irritating.” He spun a funny looking globe on the counter. When it stopped it New York City it seemed to pulsate in a deep red. “Why are you here Regina?”

“I need information.”

“I don’t know who’s killing fairies.”

“I have my own suspicions about that. What I need to know is about the curse.”

“You cast it.” He couldn’t stop the gloating smirk.

“And you made it. And hid more than one detail about it from me already.”

“And you think I’ve hidden more.”

“I think if anyone in this town knows how to escape the barrier still in place it’s the man who created the thing.”

He shrugged, “I might know a thing or two…”

“And let me guess. You’ll tell me, for a price?”

His eyes briefly flashed gold. He looked like a man, but the imp was still there, vibrating in his skin.

 

####

Her reason for coming to the hospital was at the end of the row of cells, sitting in a chair with half moon spectacles perched on the end of his nose and the bill of his bright red hat casting most of his face in shadows—everything but the bulbous tip of his nose and that long beard.

“How’s the prison life treating you,” she asked through the window at the center of the door.

He didn’t look up from the book in his lap. Instead he licked a finger and turned the page.

“You’re tied to the earth right? So I’m betting sitting in a ten by ten cement cell is making you a little crazy.”

His eyes flicked up to the door and then back down to his page.

“What if I could get you released. For a day or two?”

He shut the book firmly. “You’ve only just put me in here.”

“I have, but I need someone who talks to the forest, and you’re who I’ve got.”

“Get a princess to do it.”

“I’ve tried. I need someone who,” she took a deep breath, “I need someone who talks to trees. You do that. Right?”

“Any particular reason?”

“There are monks, missing in the woods, I need to find them.”

He grinned. “The missing monks. The sheriff finally starts catching on.”

“You knew?”

“It’s a conspiracy.”

“So shed some light on it. We’ll work on getting you an early release.” She didn’t mention the man she’d just spoken too. if David the gnome knew anything he’d have to provide it himself. 

He sucked in a loud breath through his nose and exhaled through his mouth. “No.”

“No?”

“You stuck me in a cell and want me to unmask a massive conspiracy that could easily have me killed for what? A few days in the forest? No.”

“You realize this is the only offer right? I walk away and you rot in here. Maybe for years.”

“But I’ll be alive. I help you and I’m the next fae folk on the murderer’s list.”

“What do you mean fae?”

“You’ve got an encyclopedia of magic knowledge at your beck and call Sheriff. Figure it out for yourself.”

“He means fairies and their descendants.” Cora’s voice was filtered by the shuttered door of her cell, but it was clear enough for Emma to shudder at the sound.

All the monsters she’d met, and Cora was the most unnerving. Especially now with a heart.

David sneered at the wall separating him for Cora. “No one asked you.”

“She asked for help. I’m merely offering it.”

Emma shut the window to David’s cell and moved to Cora’s. She nodded to the nurse at the end of the hall, who hurried to open it. When she stepped in the stone in the ceiling keeping Cora from using magic touched her with its suffocating affect. Like wearing pants too thick for the weather.

Cora sat primly on her bed, her back ramrod straight and her hair down and perfectly coifed. She didn’t see a hairbrush anywhere and wondered how she got it so neat.

“You have something to say?”

“I have many things to say Sheriff.” Her mouth stretched into a too still smile, “For a price.”

 

####

“So name it.”

Regina had made enough deals with Rumpel to not need to linger on pleasantries. Especially as they were only pleasant for the imp. 

"Oh I don't know--" He was playing at being coy, and if they'd been anywhere but his shop she would have flexed her magic a bit. "I want a promise from you."

"It doesn't have to do with my first born does it? My family has a history of getting out of that deal. Wouldn't want to renege on you by accident."

It was so delightful to watch his glee turn sour in an instant. Especially the way it made him look less like the Dark One and more like an old pawn shop broker with a limp.

"If one of us leaves the town the other must remain."

"Going on a trip?"

"I leave and you stay. You leave and I stay. Simple as that."

"Why?"

"That'll cost you another deal."

"Fine." She held out her hand. "One of us will always be in town."

The magic in his touch was the only thing colder than Regina's own, but it still made the scar on her hand burn like fire.

 

####

"You want what?"

"Dinner. With my daughter. And my grandson." She picked at her dress.

"Okay…you know that just because I'm sheriff I can't order citizens around."

"No, but you can let me out for a day on good behavior."

"I--"

"And you can talk to my daughter."

"What makes you think me talking to her would do any good?"

"She saved your mother, the one person in the world she hates more than me, because you asked her to."

"I never did."

She tilted her head, "Didn't you?"

 

####

He set a vial of liquid on the countertop. "The only way to get through the barrier is while holding your dearest possesion after covering it with this."

She looked from the vial and back up to Rumpel's face and didn't hide her incredulity. "Seriously? A potion?"

"I recall you being fond of them."

"I love them." She pointed, "You don't."

"They have their uses from time to time."

"How's it made?"

"Carefully."

Regina couldn't stop her face from screwing up into a very nasty and angry expression. 

"Watch it dear. You'll get wrinkles."

"Who," she said through gritted teeth, "has access?"

"Oh well that," he threw the vial up in the air and caught it smoothly, "is something I can answer. Me, and only me. No monks, nuns, or murderers."

"So this," she glanced back over at the globe. Closer inspection showed it was imcomplete, the lands fading the further from New York they way. "You are going on a trip."

Vial still clutched in his hand he pointed at her, "And you're staying here."

"The murderer is out there," she gestured with her hands, "I can't catch him if you're roadtripping across America."

"Suppose you can't. Shame. Think he'll knock off another one of those godmothers? Maybe the red one this time."

"You wait a few hundred years to be reunited with your son. Wait a little longer. Let me find this bastard and put him in--"

"I've waited long enough," he sneered. "Now it's your turn to be patient your majesty."

"People will die."

"Since when did you care?"

It was like a slap to the face.

That was the problem.

Until that other world. Until Emma and Henry.

She hadn't.

 

####

"That was…"

"Another time and place. I know. Your feelings may have changed, but I doubt my daughter's has. She's always had trouble," for just an instant Cora Mills looked pained, "Letting go."

"And you think me asking instead of you will help."

"You arrange a dinner. Oversee it yourself if you like. And I will tell you what I know."

"Great bargain, if you actually know anything."

"You want a show of faith?"

"It'd be nice."

"Fae are fairy folk. Ogres, sprites, that sanctimonious blue fairy. Creatures with magic that are not human. The gnome in the other cell is fae."

"You already said all this. Fairies and their descendants."

"Yes fairies and their descendants." Her eyebrows rose as if she was about to be earnest. "They're at war dear. And I think they mean to make Storybrooke their ground zero."

"How--"

The silken smile she'd come to associate with Cora replace what earnest altruism had briefly taken her. Smooth and soft and deadly as a snake. "He talks in his sleep. And I listen."