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Dangerous is the Vexed God

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The line went dead.

Water splashed softly against the sides of boats in the harbor.

Maleficent looked from Regina to her phone and back again. "I don't know what just happened but judging by the stupid look on your face it wasn't good."

It wasn't. Killian had found Emma and Henry.

And then the phone had gone dead.

And she couldn't do anything about it. She wanted, desperately, to get in a car and drive all day until she had her son in her arms and her eyes on Emma.

But instead…instead she stood there staring at her phone.

"He got to them didn't he," Aurora asked.

She could only nod.

"He won't hurt Henry or Emma," Mulan insisted.

"And he wouldn't shove us off a cliff either would he," Aurora fired back sourly. "If Mulan and I leave now we can be there in four hours."

Part of Regina, the bit that could be a callous and pragmatic mayor, told her to tell them to wait. Emma would call back and they'd know more and save themselves a trip.

But the day had already been long enough and Regina was too exhausted and emotionally keyed up to tell them to wait. She plucked her car keys out of her pocket and tossed them to Mulan. "Be careful," she intoned.

Mulan nodded grimly. "Call us when you hear back?"

They jogged back towards Regina's car, leaving her standing on the dock beside a mildly confused Maleficent. "Hook," the newly resurrected sorceress asked, "that the cute little pirate always trying to murder Rumpelstiltskin?”

"He is."

"And you're worried he succeeded because…?” She snorted, “I know a lot's changed but I seem to remember you hating the imp."

"That hasn't changed. But he was with people I…" she winced, "care about."

Maleficent laughed again—this time throaty and fully bodied. "Seriously? You actually care? About another person? That’s alive? The curse was more awful than I thought."

 

####

It didn't matter who was who or why they were doing what they were doing. When one guy had an inch of hook jammed into another guy's chest and her son was watching it all Emma was going to stop it. 

She grabbed the fire extinguisher off the floor and brought it down like the heel of a shoe onto a bug. The flat end slammed into Hook's head, sending bone rattling vibrations up through the metal.

It was one solid hit to the back of the head. Enough to knock out just about anyone. She didn't catch his eyes rolling up into the back of his head--being that she was behind him. But she watch his whole body go loose before he slumped over, his hook sliding effortlessly out of Gold's chest.

Gold sighed, like someone had gently pushed the air out of him.

“You all okay,” she asked reflexively—her eyes darting around the room to take in her son, his father and the two men in front of her.

The dazed wide-eyed look everyone gave her said no.

Emma dropped the fire extinguisher to the ground and blindly reached her hand out behind her, expectantly waiting for Henry to come grab it. She refused to take her eyes off Gold and Hook though. They were the threat and she put herself between them and her son as soon as she felt his small damp hand in her own.

Henry tried to peak around her arm to get a better look at what had happened. “Is that—?”

“Captain Hook,” Neal said grimly. He ignored the surprised look Emma and Gold both gave him and wadded up his scarf so he could press it against his dad’s wound. “Not sure how he got out of Neverland though.”

“His boat,” Henry helpfully supplied.

Neal glanced back, surprisingly not alarmed. Just raised and eyebrow and said with a teasing smirk, “You know him too, huh kid?”

“He put my mom’s car in a tree the other day.”

Neal looked up at Emma and she averted his eyes, focusing on the unconscious pirate instead. “Guess we should…tie him up?” She wasn’t really clear on how she was supposed to handle fairy tale characters tearing their way through New York City to enact a three hundred year old plan for revenge. Calling the cops just seemed…wrong.

“You and me can put him down in the basement. Henry you want to help your grandfather up to my apartment?”

Emma wasn’t crazy about leaving her son alone with Gold, but having him with them as they hid a body seemed just as bad. 

When Henry and Gold had made it onto the elevator, grandfather leaning heavily on grandson, she took Hook’s feet and Neal took his shoulders. “Lead on,” she said.

They started forward.

Neal stopped. “My dad look okay to you?”

Gold looked sweaty and pasty like he’d just been stabbed. “He’s the Dark One Neal. He’ll be fine.” She pushed forward, but Neal stood still. Hook folded up uncomfortably between them.

“When he had magic maybe.” Neal dropped Hook’s top half and reached for his phone.

Hook moaned.

Still holding his legs Emma studied him, “Can I guy get two concussions in ten minutes?”

Neal was too busy ignoring her and dialing 911 to answer. She had to drop Hook’s other half to grab his phone before he could hit SEND. “Gold doesn’t need an ambulance.”

Neal huffed. Suddenly agitated. “Gimme the phone Emma.”

It set her on edge and she stood taller. “Not if you’re gonna use it to call an ambulance! Ambulance means cops and cops mean questions.”

“He was stabbed!”

“By a fictional pirate from Never Neverland! Your dad walked! Right up the stairs! He’s fine.”

 

####

He wasn’t fine. When they got back upstairs they found Henry traumatized, Gold furious, and his wound oozing something yellow and acrid.

“It’s poison,” he said through gritted teeth. “No known cure.”

Henry was hugging the wall. Pale and confused. Random assaults on his mom’s aside Emma didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so…violent. It had shaken him more than she’d liked.

Neal was trembling almost as badly as his son. And as Gold. Like he actually cared about the guy who’d abandoned him through a portal so he could keep some super powers.

“There’s got to be—“ Neal ran his hands through his hair. It stuck up in every direction. “There’s gotta be something right? Magic?” He almost whispered the word. Lowering his voice and looking at Gold like his answer was gonna hold the secrets of the universe.

“Not here,” Emma said gently. “There’s no magic outside of Storybrooke.”

“Then we get him back there.” It wasn’t a suggestion.

“How? It’ll take hours. Plane or car. And no offense,” she said to Gold, “I don’t see you surviving a trip that long.”

“The pirate’s boat,” Gold insisted. “It got him here didn’t it? It can take us back.”

“You got a lot of experience sailing magic ships?”

Neal shook his head, “No, but I do.” He stood up, nodding to himself like the plan he was forming actually made sense. “We get  to Hook’s boat and we can save my dad.”

 

####

Regina’s hit END on her phone, and rather than explain her conversation with Emma to the group of very interested people sitting in her living room she elected to stare out the window in dumb shock.

When she’d called Emma to warn her of Killian’s betrayal there hadn’t been time to catch up. Forty minutes later when Emma called her back there had.

At least been a little time.

Enough for Emma to give Regina news that shattered the foundation of her whole world and ruined any and every plan she’d ever have.

“If you look closely, you can actually see her descending into a fit of dramatic hysterics,” Maleficent stage whispered.

She was sitting on Regina’s couch and enjoying a coke, which she found “odd” and “refreshing.” She sipped it through a straw. Loudly.

“Regina?”

Maleficent, being the Mistress of All Evil, was lounging across more than half the couch, leaving Snow White to sit primly on the single empty cushion. It was a distractingly curious dichotomy the two created. Maleficent in her sharply cut black dress and Snow in her oversized white sweater.

Snow's head was tilted just so, her face a mask of concern at strong counterpoint to Maleficent's abject disinterest. "Regina what happened?"

What happened was that Emma had learned that Rumpel's idiot son was in fact her idiot ex. What happened was Henry's birthfather had now been thrust back into their lives. What happened was Henry now had a neat little biological family if he absolutely desired it. 

Rumpel's stabbing. Killian's betrayal. Maleficent's return. None of it mattered because the people she cared about most were in the hands of a…a…

Okay. Yes. She didn't know WHAT Baelfire was. Beyond a deadbeat father and a serial abandoner of people in Regina's life.

But the unknown of him didn't matter. Not after Emma had told her that Neal had forever ruined her for relationships. Not after Henry had decided to hate both his mothers in a fit of pre-adolescent angst. Things were too fragile. Regina's place in the tiny family she'd carved out was too insecure.

The man's sudden arrival spelled only doom.

"Regina!"

David had come out from behind the couch to shout in her face. She startled, her hand, still clutching the phone, flying to her chest. "Yes, what," she asked sourly.

"What happened? Are Emma and Henry okay?"

"They're fine."

Snow piped up, "And Neal?"

"Who's Neal," David asked.

Regina was curious too. "Yes dear. Who is Neal?"

"I…" She flushed and wilted—Mary Margaret shining through in a display of gutlessness.

"Who is Emma for that matter?" Maleficent had finished her coke and was pondering her nails, casually magicing a whole array of colors onto them.

"My daughter," Snow said with pride.

Maleficent rolled her eyes.

"We're getting away from the point," Regina snapped. "You knew about Neal already?"

"Emma called me." That pride hadn’t left Snow's voice. As if she were pleased that it was Snow Emma had called with the news.

Which only helped to further rankle and unravel Regina. She tried to loom over her, hoping her sharp tone and angry glare would put a little humility back into Snow's frame. "And you didn't tell me?"

It backfired. "I'm sorry Regina. In case you missed it you were busy resurrecting an evil fairy! What was I supposed to do?!”

"Toddle down into the cave after her," Maleficent offered.

She was the most unhelpful stupid fairy--

"I really feel I'm missing something there," David interjected. "Like, for instance, I don’t know…who the heck is Neal?!”

 

####

The plan had been for Neal to go get the car while Emma hovered over the wounded Gold and Henry rooted through his dad’s belongings and pointedly avoided his new grandfather. But the longer Neal was gone the antsier Emma became. 

Memories of the last time he’d said he’d be “right back” kept running through her head—refusing to be ignored. Gold didn’t help. Panting in pain and whispering that Emma had the power to fix everything.

“Because he loves you,” Gold insisted.

Henry had been out of earshot, watching his grandfather warily and bouncing with nervous and worried energy.

The mood in the room had finally gotten to Emma and she’d jogged down the four flights of stairs to check on her ex.

He hadn’t run, but he wasn’t waving down cabs or stealing a getaway car either. He was just…standing there. Waiting. Bouncing on the balls of his feet and biting his lip in that same nervous way Henry did.

And he got worse when he spied Emma.

All the color draining out of him for what had to be the third time in their very long day. “Emma what are you—“ he looked around. Casing the surrounding area like they were robbing a convenience store and the cops would be there any second.

“Checking on you. I thought you were getting us a car.”

“I—look go back upstairs. I’ll come get you when its here.”

“When its—“ She didn’t move. Just stared at him with what she was pretty sure was a perfect impression of Regina’s “you’re an idiot” face.

“Someone’s dropping a car off. If you’ll go back upstairs I’ll come and get you when they’re here.”

The way he worded it made it sound like a seedy underworld friend would be squealing to a stop in front of them any second in a ten-year-old beater of a car with a knock in the engine.

What actually happened was a gorgeous woman showed up, kissed Neal on the cheek and asked what was wrong.

And if her familiarity wasn’t bad enough Neal sank into her. Leaning on her for support in all kinds of very intimate emotional and physical ways.

Emma stepped back.

Neal remembered she was there and tried to smile. But just looking at Emma seemed to hurt him, and the smile couldn’t even get to his eyes.

The woman’s smile was warmer. Curious and confused, but kind. She extended a hand. Introduced herself as his fiancé. Said the word like it wasn’t a knife digging into Emma’s stomach and shredding all the good and hopeful parts of her.

She was grateful magic didn’t exist in this part of the world. Emotions she knew pretty easily conjured the stuff were welling up inside of her and if they’d been back in Storybrooke she was absolutely fucking positive storm clouds would have gathered and thunder would have crashed and Neal and his fiancé, Tamara, would have been turned into woodland creatures.

The lies that slipped off Neal’s tongue as he talked to his fiancé were so familiar it hurt. The jumpiness. The caginess. He was hiding Emma and Henry and his dad from her just as he’d hidden her from all of them. And now Emma could see it. She wasn’t the one being duped. She was doing all the duping herself. 

She tried a tight smile that probably looked like a grimace every time Tamara glanced at her. Tried not to run off. Even though everything in her said she should toss Henry over her shoulder and just run.

Eventually the lies were good enough for the woman, and she ducked her head gullibly and walked away, chancing only one more curious glance back at Emma and Neal.

Emma’s jaw was clenched so tight her teeth were gonna crack. “Something slip your mind there Neal?”

He was still watching his fiancé’s back. Like he cared. “I was gonna tell you.”

“Clearly.”

“You were…”

“What?”

“You were thinking about other stuff and it just…it seemed like it could wait.”

Okay…admittedly…she’d been thinking about Regina. 

Worrying about how to explain Neal to her more than she would have if they hadn’t gotten drunk the night before and almost made out on a roof. And she was thinking about her again there on the street. Her memory immediately leaping to that wounded look Regina would get on her face. Like the whole world had conspired to shit on her and she was surprised by that fact.

“See,” Neal interjected. “You’re thinking about it again.”

Not “it,” she wanted to say. “Her.”

 

####

Hook’s boat smelled like rum and fish. Something Gold kept reminding everyone of. Loudly. Often. 

Consequently she and Neal learned they could still communicate non-verbally when they silently agreed to move him below deck.

He’d landed in what, she presumed, had been Regina’s quarters. He’d refused to sleep in Hook’s out of principal and this had been the next closest one. Clothes, Regina’s clothes, still littered the floor and furniture. Sometimes a breeze from above deck would be caught, wiping away the stench of the boat and replacing it with the sour apple and sweat smell of Regina’s dirty laundry.

It was like she’d abandoned the room, leaving it in the middle of the day. Moldy bread and desiccated fruit on a plate. A dried out pot of ink and a forgotten fountain pen. Even a pile of treasure that looked a lot less flashy in the muddy light filtering through the deck. It was all just lying around, painting a sad little portrait of Hook—a guy who couldn’t even bother to clean up the ship he claimed to love.

She poked at the pen. “You think someone would have cleaned up. They’ve been back in Storybrooke for weeks.”

“They must have had things on their mind,” Gold grunted. He tried to sit up and flinched in pain.

“How’s the poison?”

“Slowly killing me. Have any other simpleminded questions to ask, Sheriff?”

She shrugged, “Have an idea of what you need to save yourself?”

“My shop.”

“That’s it?”

He was sweaty and greasy looking and the poison has sapped the color from his skin leaving it dull and sallow, but he could still peg Emma with that hard glare of his. “That’s it,” he said evenly.

They didn’t talk much after that. The boat rocked sickeningly as they cut across the water. Moving so fast that they met and flew over waves like they were in a motorboat.

Emma remained below deck. Ostensibly to watch Gold, but mainly to keep from getting seasick.

When they finally passed into Storybrooke a shudder of magic ran over the entire boat. Emma’s locket burned hot then cold and stars danced in front of her eyes as the magic swam over her. Like being caught in the middle of a river. Waves of water she’d survived, but she staggered and braced herself against the bed frame under the onslaught of magic.

“Getting a little sensitive are we?”

She side eyed Gold and straightened up again.

“Must be all that spellwork you did with Regina. The gates are opened now dearie. You’d best train it or—“

She snapped, “Or I’ll what?” 

He was so God-damned serene sometimes. Watching her with a mixture of bemusement and thoughtfulness. “You might hurt someone.”

 

####

Regina did not go down to the docks to wait for the ship with Snow and Charming. Sitting around wringing her hands and acting like an idiot version of Penelope wasn’t going to help anyone. 

Rooting through Rumpel’s shop would.

While the others waited for Emma and Henry she worked on the puzzle she’d been presented with.

Nightshade wasn’t a curable poison. It was, in fact, notorious for being fatal without exception. But Rumpel had demanded to be brought back to Storybrooke—brought back to his shop. Which meant something lurked there that had the power to hold back death.

Something—

“What are you doing here?”

Rumpel’s girl, Belle, had come in from the back of the shop. She was scowling at Regina and teetering on heels about three inches taller than should be safe to walk on.

“Just browsing,” she said snidely.

“Leave.” There was steel in the girl—something Regina often forgot. But there had to be for her to put up with—to be in love with—Rumpelstiltskin. 

Regina idly spun a globe with a finger and shrugged, her eyes still scanning the shelves. “Can’t.”

“Regina,” the girl started, her name falling pleasantly enough from her lips.

She sighed. Leaning on a glass countertop she openly appraised Belle. “Talked to your boyfriend lately?”

The girl bristled.

“He’s dying. And while I’d love to let him die I have an unfortunate obligation to help save his life.”

“Why?” No questions about how he was dying. Just sharp focus suddenly directed at Regina. “You hate him. You imprisoned me for decades just to hurt him.”

“Water under the bridge.”

Belle continued to scowl. “Why,” she repeated.

“Someone I don’t hate asked for my help.”

“Emma.” It wasn’t a question.

And it was Regina’s turn to bristle. She stood up straighter. “While I do enjoy chatting I have the sudden urge to stick you back in the cell where Jefferson found you.”

Before Belle could make an attempt to respond—to accuse or conciliate or just open her mouth—a powerful wave of magic skittered through Regina. It was blazing fire searing through her veins and chased by anger she could only describe as…delicious.

She heard Belle as if through a tunnel. Her voice faraway and ringing off stone walls. What was more present was Emma. Suddenly back in Storybrooke and with the two of them bound by their matching lockets every bit of Emma was unshielded and coursing through Regina. She didn’t have time to put up a wall. Emotions were flying too quickly, too furiously, for her to grasp.

She leaned against the countertop again. The glass split under the heels of her hand.

Magic lanced through her, glowing in her veins. Belle looked from the shattered glass biting into the bandage on Regina’s hand to the pulse of magic just beneath the skin and coursing through her arm.

Belle stepped back, her hip brushing against a pile of maps on another countertop. They tumbled to the ground, drawing Regina’s attention. The girl gasped and looked at Regina…looked at her with fear. The Dark One’s girlfriend, a woman who literally courted evil was terrified of her.

Or for her. She couldn’t be sure. Couldn’t do anything but focus on all of Emma’s magic, channeling through her simply because the other woman was back in Storybrooke and upset.

Had Emma just never been this upset before? No. It had to be coming back. They’d just become accustomed to each other’s presence and some how failed to notice when it was gone. Now it was just making itself know—

Another pulse of magic ripped through her and the glass beneath her hand broke apart. Shards into the showcase below.

She tried to open her mouth and say something. To warn Belle. But her tongue wouldn’t move and her jaw was rigid. All she could do was wave her hand. Will the woman out of the shop before Regina did something awful by accident.

It wasn’t as awful as that first time with another Emma. Then Emma had been consciously forcing an explosion of magic into the locket, and into Regina.

This time it was just…bleeding out of Emma. Like a bad leak in an old roof, and Regina was the bucket—bracing herself against a shattered counter and collecting the torrent.

Trying to keep it from overflowing. Emma’s magic was raw, and if it flowed out of Regina it would annihilate Gold’s whole shop. Or more. She couldn’t be sure. It writhed inside of her. Fought to escape and envelop her.

So she did what she’d told another Emma to do so long ago.

Focus.

She sucked in a breath. Used the magic squirming inside of her. She’d come to Gold’s shop to figure out how he planned to survive, and now she had a wealth of magic at her disposal to help.

She shaped and honed it into a knife and when she finally opened her eyes to survey the shop once more she smiled. Sparks of magic skittered across her eyes.

She could see Gold’s plan.

And she knew precisely how to foil it.

 

####

David, Mary Margaret and Ruby were waiting for them on the dock. Mary Margaret was watching them disembark with carefully considered emotion. Too exact to be natural. She broke away from her husband and her best friend as soon as Emma’s feet touched the ground and wrapped Emma in a hug.

“You’re safe,” she whispered into her ear.

Awkwardly Emma patted her back with her one free arm. “Yeah, was never in any danger. Guy’s a drunk pirate.”

Mary Margaret’s eyes flickered over to Gold, whom Neal was carefully helping down from the boat. It was a sharp, dangerous look. Not the kind the fluffy Snow White of Storybrooke or the timid Mary Margaret gave. More like the look in that woman’s eyes when she took down a giant ogre with a single arrow.

In an instance she was…dangerous. “Not who I was worried about,” she said quietly. Then Mary Margaret shuddered, the dangerous woman disappearing behind a dopy smile.

“Glad you’re back,” David said, pulling Emma into another hug before she could protest.

Ruby mutely smiled and nodded in agreement. 

“Yes, we’re all delighted Ms. Swan survived a sojourn into the city,” Gold grumbled. He pointedly did not point out his own impending doom. 

It was pretty easy for them to see anyways. The guy was still sweating profusely and the poison was still oozing out of the wound, creating a smell that had Neal and Gold both wrinkling their noses. Gold slumped against his son dramatically and no one, even David, moved to help.

Until Henry bounded off the ship smiling like there wasn’t a guy standing at death’s door two feet away. “Did you guys see me bring the boat in,” he asked exuberantly.

“By yourself,” Mary Margaret asked in mock surprise.

He nodded but looked to Neal, “My dad helped.”

There was a weird look Mary Margaret and David then exchanged. Communication passed between them that Emma had no grasp of. She frowned, but didn’t speak up. Right now they had to get Gold to his shop to keep him alive.

Her parents, and their clear concern over Neal’s arrival, would have to wait.

She went back to help Neal carry his dad, shooting her parents both a challenge as she passed by them. Ruby gave them a wide berth and went to punch Henry lightly on the shoulder. “What do you say to a milkshake why they sort things out?”

He opened his mouth to protest and Ruby seemed to give him some kind of…look. Emma had no idea how, but one minute Henry was pulling his normal shtick—wanting to be in the hottest part of the fire—and the next he was being guided away from the pier by Ruby without complaint.

She was gonna have to ask her her secret when she was done with Gold.

She took up his other arm to help Neal and guided him toward’s David’s truck.

“This is Neal by the way. Henry’s father and Gold’s…”

“I’m his son,” he said with an apologetic shrug. “Nice to meet you.”

Mary Margaret was squinting, “You’re not how I pictured you.”

He glanced to Emma and back to her, his eyebrows raised, “Is that a good thing?”

“Chiseled,” she said, still squinting. “I imagined you more chiseled.”

“So bad thing then.” He yanked the truck door open and carefully pushed his wincing father in.

“And taller. Emma why is he so short?”

“Okay,” David interjected, guiding his wife around to the driver’s side. “Let’s save comments about Emma’s ex for after we’ve saved Gold.”

David and Mary Margaret squeezed onto the bench in the cab next to Gold, leaving Emma and Neal to the bed of the truck. Riding in the back was becoming a habit. Like she was trying to make up for all those times she got kicked out of the bed as a kid for fear she’d crack her skull open.

“That’s Snow White,” Neal asked when they were on the road and the wind was loud enough to keep their conversation private. 

“She lost her heart. She’s not normally so…”

“Judgmental?”

“Pretty much. I mean. Maybe. I don’t know. I knew Mary Margaret, who definitely wasn’t judgmental. That,” she pointed towards the cab, “is Snow White, who as far as I can tell is good with a bow, will always find her husband and has a long complicated history with Henry’s other mom.”

“Who was obsessed with that whole ‘fairest of them all’ thing.”

“Regina is definitely not that…okay she’s pretty conceited, but not murder Mary Margaret conceited. She tried to kill her because she ‘ruined her life.’ Far as I can tell it involved Mary Margaret saying stuff she shouldn’t have to psychotic witches.”

Neal nodded sagely, “Those psychotic witches man. You can never trust ‘em.”

 

####

Eight minutes later Emma was thinking she couldn’t trust the non-psychotic witches either. They carried Gold into his shop and found it completely empty, the corners shrouded in shadows and glass all over the floor from a broken counter.

“Nice place,” Neal joked.

Something bad had happened in the shop. She could feel magic like Regina’s—so cold she half expected her breath to fog. “What happened?”

“Nothing good,” Gold growled. “Belle should be here.”

Neal mouthed over his dad’s head, “Belle?”

“His girlfriend,” she mouthed back. He looked like every other kid who ever found out their parent had a sexual drive. Surprised and vaguely disgusted.

“Regina should be here too.” David knelt and gingerly picked up a piece of glass, glaring at it with his one good eye. “Said she was on her way.”

Mary Margaret was surveying the shop like a hunter searching for prey, her mind completely focused on the scene at hand. “You don’t think…Maleficent?”

David grimaced. “Possible. I’ll go to Regina’s and check. Are you all okay with—“ he jerked his chin at Gold.

“We’ll be fine, David. Just call us when you find her.”

David left, Mary Margaret started compulsively tidying and Emma and Neal helped Gold into the back room of the shop, where a sad little cot was pressed against a wall of shelves filled with knick knacks from another world. She tried not to let her eyes linger on any one thing for too long—half afraid she’d get her face melted for her troubles.

“Is that a pair of fairy wings,” Neal asked, his eyes on a flimsy pair of wings that looked like they belonged on the back of a little kid’s fairy godmother costume.

“She’s not using them anymore,” Gold said. 

As one Neal and Emma dropped Gold onto the cot. 

“That’s the Papa I remember.”

“They were a gift,” he insisted—a little petulantly.

Neal ignored his dad and bounced around the room, peering at everything but not really taking stock of anything. “All of these gifts?”

“No. But I had my reasons Bae.”

He rolled his eyes, “Sure you did. Just like you had a reason for abandoning me.”

Gold inhaled sharply, his eyes flaring with…it wasn’t anger. If Emma hadn’t known better she would have called it grief. “I’ve changed.”

“He’s not the only one abandoning people,” Mary Margaret said. She was back from the front, standing in the doorway clutching a dust pan. “Broom?”

Neal stepped between his dad and Mary Margaret, “Is that supposed to be aimed at me?”

She laughed, and spotting the broom lying against a cupboard, went to retrieve it. “Smarter too, Emma. I imagined him much smarter.”

“Mary Margaret…” It had been a long day after a very long night and Emma was too tired to fight with her former best friend about this. “Let it go.”

“What, like he let you go?”

“Or like you let me go. Or me Henry. No one in this room can really judge anyone for abandonment.”

“I was protecting you. You were protecting Henry. They both did it for selfish reasons.”

“And you aren’t selfish,” Gold asked. He’d pushed himself up and was leaning against the shelves, his chest sagging. “I seem to recall a little girl spoiling a woman’s life so she could have a new mother.”

Mary Margaret flushed.

He raised his good arm and ran his fingers across the edge of a shelf. “Starting wars just so she could have a kingdom too. Wasting lives in a battle with a queen.”

“I’ve paid for my selfishness. What have you ever paid for?”

“What have I paid for,” Gold asked mockingly, “What has she paid for? She cursed you to this land and now she has her son, and her…” he glanced at Emma, “friends. What was Regina’s cost?”

Emma stepped between them, “All right, enough.”

But Gold wasn’t done, leaning forward, “Doesn’t it kill you that she destroyed your life and gets away with it.”

“Gold shut up—“

“Doesn’t it kill you that she gets to win?”

“I said shut—“

“Doesn’t it kill you that she gets Em—“

“Yes!” Mary Margaret threw the broom and dust pan to the ground, stalking angrily towards Gold. “Yes it kills me. But—“

“But what dearie? Too afraid to take your revenge?”

“Gold if you don’t—“

“Papa—“

“Or do you just need the means?”

There was a moment of silence. A stillness as Emma, Gold and even Neal all stopped talking and waited to hear what Mary Margaret had to say.

Because it made sense. Wanting to hurt Regina after what she’d done to Mary Margaret. It made sense. And she didn’t have a heart now. She wouldn’t be able to hide her feelings behind good intentions and “love.” There would just be cold, hard desire.

But before Mary Margaret could speak steady chilling applause broke the silence. A slow clap that drew all their attention to another corner of the room, where the darkness was like a shroud. 

Regina emerged from the shadows and Emma flashed back to the boat when Regina’d killed a man with a thought. There was the same unsettling sense about her.

This was Regina with the upper hand. A predator toying with its prey.

“That was quite the performance dear.”

Mary Margaret lifted her chin defiantly. “I wasn’t acting.”

“I wasn’t talking to you.” Her eyes were on Gold. “Riling her up like that. Trying to get her to kill me?”

“What good would that have done,” Emma asked.

“Would have made me feel better,” Gold groused—pouting now that whatever plan he’d apparently had had been discovered.

“Only if she used this to do it.” Regina produced a weird black and white candle with a wick on both ends.

Mary Margaret started. “That’s—“

“Some very dark magic. Save a life by taking a life. Mine for yours Rumpel?” Regina was way too amused by the idea. The humor coloring her question.

“Fair trade.”

She tightened her grip on the candle and it snapped in two, a gust of frigid magic flowing out of it. “That plan’s off the table.”

Neal glanced down at his dad, “You were gonna kill someone to save yourself?”

“Bae…”

Only trying to tell his son he was changed and better didn’t exactly work when he’d just been caught trying to murder Henry’s mom. Neal ran from the room, and part of her wanted to shout after him that that was the only thing he was good at.

But the other part of her wanted to stay in the room to make sure Gold didn’t try anything else. He was going to be getting more desperate now that his big plan had failed, and Emma, having made her living hunting desperate people, knew full well that the most desperate were also the most dangerous.

 

####

She wouldn’t say seeing Emma again was like a balm. That was romantic twaddle that Snow or David would espouse. But seeing her alive and well was soothing. It wasn’t just because she’d been worried. She was adult enough to admit she had been worried about Emma.

It was Emma’s magic. The way it…softened when she saw Regina. No longer blistering hot it lapped at the edges of Regina contentedly.

Emma likely didn’t even know it was happening. 

When Gold was either dead or living and they’d both slept for a few days she was going to have to sit Emma down and teach her how to—not just control all that magic, but contain it. 

Otherwise they’d end up having to build a cage in this universe. The image of this Emma trapped in that cage, the passion and fight draining out of her, was not one Regina wanted to see made reality

“So if he can’t use that evil candle,” Emma nodded at the broken candle in Regina’s hand, “how’s he supposed to save himself.”

“There’s no way,” Rumpel declared dramatically. “That was my only chance.”

“The Blue Fairy,” Snow said—her eyes narrowed in thought. She nodded to herself. “She’s the most powerful—she’s a fairy. If anyone can help she can.”

“You maybe, not us.” Regina tried not to let bitterness color her voice.

She was fairly certain she failed.

Emma sighed. “Right. Mary Margaret get to the nuns. See if they can help. And I guess I should track down Neal before he does something stupid. Regina you good to stay here and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid?” 

“We’ll be fine.”

Emma nodded. Started away. Paused. “No murdering him while we’re gone.”

“I—“

Emma glared.

“Fine.”

Snow dashed out the door that Neal had gone through and Emma started to follow but stopped again. Looked over her shoulder. Stared in that maddening way of hers—as if she could see straight through Regina. “Would the Blue Fairy really refuse to help?”

Regina thought back to another fairy. One who’d wanted to save her—even if it meant disobeying the Blue Fairy. “She has before.”

Emma frowned. It was small. Rumpel didn’t even catch it. 

 

####

Emma had to jog to catch up with Mary Margaret. “The Blue Fairy,” she said, “be careful.”

Mary Margaret tilted her head, “You’re worried about the Blue Fairy?”

“Regina said—“

“Regina was the Evil Queen. If Blue didn’t help her she had good reason.”

“Right. I know. Regina used to be evil and Blue shits rainbows. Just…she hasn’t been exactly honest with us ‘good guys’ lately okay? Be careful.”

In a move that surprised both of them, Mary Margaret didn’t argue. She’d done that a lot since getting a head full of Snow White jammed into her brain. Disagreed with just about every little thing Emma tried to do.

Having her just nod, having that one little moment where she acknowledged that maybe the woman who was technically her daughter but the exact same age might know what she was talking about—it was nice. It felt like old times where Mary Margaret hung on her every word when it came to all things action adventure related.

Mary Margaret resumed her jog towards the convent and Emma started to follow Neal.

Then realized she actually had no idea where the hell Neal was. She was tempted to walk back into the shop, metaphorical tail between her legs, but she’d kind of made a big show of being a bossy badass with a plan a minute earlier, and walking back in was seriously going to compromise that image.

Her locket was frosty against her skin—still chilled from Regina destroying that dark magic candle. She plucked at it in irritation, the tips of her fingers going a little numb at the touch.

How the hell was she supposed to find Neal?

It wasn’t like he was just going to run away. They were stuck in a tiny town. He didn’t even have a room at Granny’s yet. He didn’t even know where the bars were.

Wandering the woods made sense, or a walk down the beach. But that was a lot of ground to cover for just one woman and she couldn’t just—

A bird sitting on the roof of Gold’s shop squawked curiously and Emma closed her eyes at the impending feeling of shame.

She looked up at it. “Hey,” she started.

Okay. It was a lot of shame. And first, second and third-hand embarrassment. 

The bird tilted its little head.

“You wouldn’t…be able to help me track down a guy would you?”

The bird squawked again, and Emma died a little inside.

Because the bird definitely said yes.

 

####

It was an uneasy peace. 

Regina sat, legs primly crossed, on a chair by Rumpel’s cot. She didn’t look at him. Tried to ignore the stifled groans of pain. Focused on the poison. She could smell its foul magic. It was a persistent stench like the rot of a dead animal trapped under a house.

She reached out, carefully, with her own magic. A curious trek forward, eyes downcast, focus sharpened to a point.

“It won’t help,” he muttered, shifting on his cot and trying not to poke at the wound. “If it was just a matter of magic don’t you think I would have healed myself?”

“I wasn’t trying to heal you.” She picked at the hem of her skirt. She’d changed after the earlier venture into the mines for Maleficent. Chosen a coal gray skirt with a soft silk lining that laid pleasantly against her bare thighs. “I was studying it.”

“Be more delicate. That was like studying an ant with a sledgehammer.”

“Really?” She let her magic wander of him, picking at the poison and his own dark magic alike. “I thought this was the sledgehammer.”

He just gritted his teeth—refusing to show more pain. “You done?”

“Maybe.” She poked again and earned a grimace from Rumpel. “Okay, now I’m done.”

They both relaxed…at least they acted as relaxed as they could in the circumstances. Rumpel was dying, at the hands of Regina’s friend, and there was nothing she could do. No cure she’d have the time to put together while he still lived.

They needed…time.

She looked up to study him. “I should curse you.”

“Don’t you think death is enough?”

“If you’re in a sleeping curse you’re not dying.”

“If I’m in a sleeping curse I’m not living either.”

Regina found herself leaning in—passion infusing her voice, “But you have a chance.”

“I have a chance with the nuns.”

“Right,” she rolled her eyes, “choose the fairies and Mary Margaret over me.”

“Wouldn’t you?”

I can save you. Unlike them I actually want to see you survive.” It was a stupid thing to say. Something fueled by emotion and exhaustion and a hungry need she hadn’t even been aware of.

Rumpel—Gold—didn’t crow with delight at the admission. Not like he once would have. There wasn’t even a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. Just something chilling and curious.

Regina stood up—flexed the muscles of her back and tried to pop her neck. It cracked loudly in the room.

“Why?” His voice was a low rumble. Soft. Human. The man she’d made rather than the imp he’d been.

“Henry. He needs a malicious conniving imp for a grandfather to balance out all of Charming’s niceness.”

Gold said nothing. When she chanced looking back at him she met an even stare.

“Do I really need to justify myself,” she asked.

He raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Not to me.”

Never to him. He’d been the only one to never beg for an explanation. He’d never sought to understand what she was. To perceive the evil churning inside of her. He’d simply understood. Seen her and known her. Better than anyone.

Emma. Daniel. Even Henry had only seen a part of her. Rumpel—no—Gold saw all of her.

She sat down again and was careful not to look at him. She focused on his feet. The normally polished shoes he wore were scuffed with dirt. They hadn’t suffered a whole new city well.

“I never have needed to explain myself to you, have I?”

He said nothing.

“My father. My husband. I had to explain myself to them. But never you. You understand me.”

“Not this time I’m afraid.”

She laughed. “No. Not this time.” She leaned over, her hand digging into the edge of the mattress. “All those years watching me. Guiding me. But we have a little break and you no longer understand me.”

“You should want me dead.”

“I do.”

“Than why am I alive?”

“Because good people don’t kill.”

“You’re good now?” He was as incredulous as she’d once been. When she and Mulan had stood before a fire in Agrabah and the warrior had anointed her a hero.

“I’m trying to be.”

“You? Me?” He motioned between them, “We can never be good. We’re not built that way dearie.”

She laughed again. Struck by those words. Built. Like she’d been manufactured in a factory. Put together piece by piece for the express purpose of destruction and despair. A cog in the Fates’ machine.

“I could kill you,” she agreed.

That old familiar smile of Rumpel’s returned. “There’s the Regina I know.”

“Take your knife and slit your throat.” She looked around the room. As if the famed dagger itself would be resting on a shelf. “It’d be fitting. Your protege taking your place. Only with less gold.” She shrugged. “Isn’t really my color.”

“No,” his gaze was even, “no, you prefer black.”

She rolled her eyes, “Like my heart. I know.”

“I was thinking your hand.” Faster than a man in his condition should have been he reached out—snatching her bandaged hand in a grip as tight as a god’s. Something like cool oil seemed to ooze through her hand. “You already know my dagger’s magic.”

She tried to pull her hand away, but Gold’s grip was firm. His eyes gold. “I survived.”

“But it lingers.”

The oil sensation continued up her arm.

“The magic has a taste of you now Regina, but I think, I think if it was just you and the dagger? It’d devour you.”

She swallowed, “I’m stronger than you think.”

“Yes. You took a god’s hat and broke a world or two. But inside? Where it counts?” He glanced up at her chest, gold eyes seeing through sinew and bone to stare at the dark heart within. “You’re weak Regina. The dagger would whisper in your ear and you’d bow,” he cocked his head, his voice pitching high, “like a peasant.”

There’d always been some kind of line drawn between Gold and Rumpelstiltskin. One was a man, fashioned by a curse. He was a liar and a murderer. And reluctant. To love or care or even live. The other was a demon forged in fury and bitterness. A manic imp that peeled back the layers of the world and reveled in its carnage.

As often as she’d called him Rumpel since the curse broke he’d still been Gold. But now, his hand on hers and his eyes shining he was the imp completely. His skin seemed ready to turn to glinting scales at any moment. He was panting—infused with sudden energy—calling to mind the squirming monster he’d been in another world. 

“I die, you die, dearie.”

She squeezed his hand hoping the awful feeling lurching up her arm would disappear. Her fingers were numb. “You can’t know that.”

“Maybe, but you can feel it.”

Her fingers seemed to lose all their color for a brief instance. Turned a gray like carved stone.

The imp was right.

 

####

Emma found him at the edge of the forest on a rarely used trail covered in old leaves. He looked up at the sound of her heels crushing them. Looked up like he was surprised. “How’d you find me?”

“Little bird told me,” she said dismissively. The referenced bird flitted off in a huffy tweet. “What the hell are you doing?”

Neal looked around. They’d come just far enough into the forest that the surrounding trees muted the white noise of the town. There was only the breeze and the rustling of leaves. “I’m enjoying a walk. Emma—what,” he jammed his hands into his pockets, pulling his whole jacket down too tight over his shoulders, “—what are you doing?”

“Looking for you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Your dad is dying and you ran away. Not my definition of fine…or mature.”

He sighed, “I—he was gonna kill that woman.”

“Regina—“

“He was gonna kill her. Guilt free. Clear conscience.” 

“Well, it’s Regina. He probably would have felt a little guilty.”

“You’re joking?”

She laughed, “It’s Regina and Gold Neal. They’ve been trying to politely kill each other as long as I’ve known them. Quietly murdering each other is like, a hobby for them. Like me and petty theft, or you and running.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“Too soon? Sorry, it was just I was having flashbacks in Gold’s shop. Things get tough and you disappear.”

“This is different.”

“Really? Because the way I see it you’re leaving your dad just like you left me, and just when we needed you.”

“I—“ He ran his hand angrily through his hair—locks sticking up comically in every direction. Then he sucked on his lower lip, taking a moment before he tried, again, to explain why he wasn’t an asshole. “I had to leave you. You had a destiny and I couldn’t stand in the way. But him—he made his choices. He didn’t even have a destiny until he went and looked for that stupid dagger.”

She stared. “Destiny?” She wanted to pull her hair out. Or shove her foot so far up his ass hold she was using his head as a shoe. She surged forward, so close she could see the individual gray hairs at his temple. 

“Destiny! You—Why is this entire town obsessed with destiny? You didn’t have to leave me Neal. You didn’t have to leave me rotting in a jail for a year with a ruined record and a baby on the way. You don’t get to blame that on some bullshit idea of fate. That was you. And you walking away now? That isn’t because of your dad. That’s you too.”

“He kill—“

“Killed a lot of people. I know. He also created the curse that stuck us all here. And he probably ate babies and puppies at some point. But he’s dying. He’s done. This is it for him Neal, and if you don’t go reconcile you’ll hate yourself for the rest of your life.”

The defense of a man she actively despised earned her a careful appraisal. Neal studying her like she was some fascinating graffiti on a gas station wall. “How can you, after all this time, still be such an optimist?”

“Not a lot of point to things otherwise is there?”

Someone chuckled. “Oh I can think of plenty of things to live for besides hope.” 

Emma and Neal fell apart like they were on fire, both turning at the sound of the new voice. Neal slipped into a fighting stance and Emma reached for her gun while building up a huge force of magic.

It was the killer she and Regina had been hunting for days. The guy she’d had half the creatures in the forest looking for. Standing there in front of her in a dark green hoodie that shadowed his whole face—leaving only bright teeth to shine in a perverse smile.

He carried two wands, one in each hand. And twirled them between his fingers like toys.

“Kind of brazen,” Emma said. “Just popping up like this. You know I’m gonna arrest you right?”

He bowed deeply, “You’re welcome to try.”

“Who the hell is he,” Neal asked. 

The smile beneath the hood grew wider. “Friend? Family?”

Emma scowled, “Family tree’s big enough thanks.”

He laughed again.. Something so unhinged it sent a chill through Emma. “If only you knew.”

“Everybody in this town this weird?”

The man redirected his focus to Neal. “Afraid I’m not from around here Baelfire.” He said the name with relish. Emma half expected him to hop up and down with amusement.

Neal tensed, tilting his head back to study the man. “How do you know my name?”

“I know all about you,” he turned slightly, “you too Emma.”

There was something familiar. The voice. Or the mannerisms. Some part of him she should know but couldn’t know. She stepped between Neal and the man, her gun never wavering. “Bet you don’t know what I ate last night.”

That fucking grin. “Bet I know what you wanted to eat.”

“Mature.”

He shrugged, “Never grew up. Didn’t have the chance.”

“You can do it in jail.”

“Didn’t work too well for you did it?” The stupid, fucking grin. And all the things he knew. The buttons he could press as easy as breathing.

He looked dawn to marvel at his own ability to twirl a wand. “The thing I’m wondering, watching you two dance around each other like you don’t want to sleep together, is why you’re out here. Alone.”

“Privacy,” Emma cracked.

“Fresh air,” Neal quipped.

She glanced at him and he shrugged with that quick grin that used to do things to her insides.

“Adorable,” the hooded man crooned. “Really. It’s no wonder you two got together. Or,” he motioned between them with his wand, “are getting together?”

“Keep it in your pants pal. We weren’t out here for that.”

“Not even a little?” 

“He’s engaged and his dad is dying. I don’t think this is the time.”

That earned the tiniest of falters in his shit eating grin. “Rumpelstiltskin is…dying?” 

Sure—that’s the part he gets hung up on. If she’d known it was that easy to get him to stop smiling she would have said something earlier.

“Yeah,” Neal said, and his voice nearly cracked. “You’re probably one of the hundreds of thousands he screwed over right? Red letter day.”

“Not…quite.”

The hooded man stepped back and Emma felt that distinct pull she’d finally started associating with magic and teleportation. 

“Wait,” she called after him, “you don’t get to just fly out like that. I’m arresting you.”

“No, you aren’t.”

“You at least gonna tell me who you are?”

That grin returned—as manic and dark as ever. “Family.”

Then there was a puff of smoke and Emma and Neal were once more alone.

“What the fuck is up with this town?”

“Everyone is related and has really inconvenient magical powers is what’s up.” She holstered her gun. “The way he left, I’m pretty sure that guy wants to chat with your dad before he dies.”

“Too much to hope he wants to help?”

“Maybe.”

 

####

Regina never contemplated death. Thinking about her own death could only lead to thinking of the deaths of others. Lives lost and lives taken. Thinking of death put her at the edge of a very dark pit she had no desire to leap into.

But now she was facing mortality. At some point in the near future Rumpelstiltskin would die and Regina would either be consumed by his dagger or become one with it, taking a mantle she was repulsed by. 

She’d preferred it when helping him survive had been an option instead of a necessity. 

Her hand seemed more numb than usual. She squeezed it into a fist and only relaxed when she felt the barely healed wound pull painfully.

“You know,” Gold had re-situated himself and was staring up at the ceiling, “I do have one idea.”

“It can’t involve killing.”

He tsked. “No one has to die, and it saves your life too. Finally clears out all the dark magic you’ve been infected with.”

Regina leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest and appraising him, “And what’s your plan?”

“You give me your magic.”

She laughed, “I’m sorry. Either I just misheard you or the poison’s gone to your brain.”

“I’m serious. You funnel your magic into me. I live. You’re healed—“

“And I have no magic. I can’t be magic-free. Magic’s kind of my thing.”

“Magic nearly lost you your son.”

She pushed up off her seat, stalking away from Gold and trying not to pace in the tiny back room. “It also got him back. I’m not giving it up. Especially for you.”

“You’re out of options dearie. You want to live, I have to live and I can only live if you give up your magic.”

She shook her head. “No, I’ll curse you, find a cure and—“

“You’ll do nothing of the kind!”

“Why? Afraid there’s no one to wake you up?”

He looked away.

“Belle may have terrible taste in men but she does ado—“

Her phone rang. A startlingly trill noise. Modern and earthly and interrupting an all too surreal conversation. Glaring at Gold she pulled the phone from her pocket and answered.

“What?”

“Regina?” Snow was breathless. And calling her. “Thank God. Is he still alive?”

She glowered at Gold. “Unfortunately.”

“I spoke with Blue—“

“And—“

“And she says it was out of her hands. The Fates have decided.”

“How theatrical of her.”

“I’m serious Regina.” There was a sound like a car door shutting. “I’ve got one other idea, but he has to stay alive for it to work. How is he?”

“Trying to get me to do something stupid to save himself—so relatively healthy.”

“I’m serious Regina.” Snow started a car, the old engine roaring through the phone.

She glanced back at him. Tried to see him sans the nearly fifty years of baggage. When he wasn’t the imp, or the man she’d made, he was just an old frail thing. Sweat soaking his clothes and the cot, his hair lank around a pale and haggard face. 

Bones and festering meat. That was all he was.

“Not well,” she said succinctly. Suddenly struggling to find her voice.

Snow was quiet, just the sound of the road and the drone of the engine. “And you?”

She sniffed and walked further—angry that she should feel anything but joy over his impending doom. “I’m fine dear. Alive and well and watching my arch-nemesis slowly die. Would have preferred doing it myself but beggars can’t be choosers.”

“We’ll save him.” A promise. An attempt at comfort. It was so odd to here Snow so passionate about someone unrelated to herself. 

“You’ll try.”

 

####

Regina had made Emma swear one thing. All their time together and there was just the one thing she’d made her promise her.

Not to teleport.

Generally speaking that wasn’t a problem. Emma had it on good authority that when she teleported it was in a big puffy pink cloud, and while she wasn’t vain by a long shot she still had a little pride.

And she hated pink.

And she’d promised. There’d been a lot of fear in Regina’s eyes when she’d begged her. A lot of fear and talk of unmaking worlds.

So teleporting, nine times out of ten, wasn’t an option.

“Fuck!”

“Any luck?”

The problem was Emma had been trying to get ahold of Regina since the fairy killer had teleported away and the stupid phone was giving her a busy signal like Regina was the one damn person in the whole damn United States too cheap to get call waiting.

What kind of monster didn’t get call waiting? It wasn’t…was it even an optional service anymore?

Maybe it was something to do with the town. The whole “mild time warp because of a curse” thing screwing with the phone service.

“Jesus!”

“So no luck?”

None whatsoever.

She and Neal were refraining from an all out sprint and just jogging back to Gold’s shop. It seemed a lot further than she remembered.

And Regina still wasn’t answering.

“Maybe my dad has a phone?”

She looked over her phone to scowl at him. “The guy has 8-track in his car.”

Neal winced.

Emma resisted the urge to throw her phone as far as physics would allow. 

“Come on Emma, we’re almost back. They’ll be fine.”

“This guy kills fairies Neal.”

“And my dad and Regina aren’t fairies. They’re, you know, big…evil…sorcerers.”

Emma groaned a long and satisfying “fuck.” She was trying to foot race a magical serial killer back to a shop owned by a mythological imp to protect him and a fabled evil queen and she was doing it all with her ex-boyfriend who—

“It’s a little funny,” he said, a smirk still pulling at the sides of his mouth.

And it was. When Emma stepped back from the situation it was really funny. And ridiculous. And silly. And.

Jesus. Her parents were Snow White and Prince Charming and she was starting to nurse a major confusing something for an Evil Queen.

Who was about to be blind sided by a very capable murderer.

That took the humor right out of it.

And it left her feeling helpless. As helpless as that promise she’d made to Regina.

Who couldn’t yell and berate her if she was being surprise murdered.

“Neal I—“

She looked to him beseechingly. 

“You gotta go?”

She shrugged. “They’re not answering and I can’t… There’s not enough time.”

He nodded, his lips disappearing into a grimace. He nodded. And stepped back. 

Emma turned away and focused on Gold’s shop. Pictured it in her head. She could smell the dust on old knick knacks and mothballs tossed in the corners to ward off rats. She could see Regina, hands wrapped around herself as she watched her old mentor die. Regina always smelled like harsh soap and freshly cut apples. It was a hard smell. And familiar.

She could see all the little details of the woman—a beacon at the center of the shop. And all she had to do was pry the world apart. Harrowing to consider, but easy to do. Pull until the space between them was gone. Until it wasn’t the edge of the forest with Neal by her side, but a dark little shop and a woman she—

The whole world popped and crashed and existed in an instant. Ionized air lingered in her nose and something sharp-like crackled across her skin. And she was suddenly standing in the shop. Standing across from Regina, who still had her phone pressed to her ear.

And who looked at Emma like she was Death herself.

“Hey,” she said sheepishly. 

“Dangerous way of traveling,” Gold noted.

Regina was still staring. She’d gone ashen.

“Figured it was safer than letting you two get jumped by our fairy murderer. Who’s on his way.”

“How…” Regina finally spoke. Croaked. Her voice lost. “How did you do that?”

“I just kind of…thought?” Regina’s eyes drifted down to where the locket lay beneath Emma’s shirt and Emma touched it self-consciously. “Can we stop talking about how I teleport into buildings and start talking about the murderer? Who is coming? To make sure Hook’s poison works.”

 

####

A crack of thunder. 

A flash of light.

She’d thought she’d left behind that kind of calamitous magic in a world that would never be. But it had found her. Leaked through the cracks into this world. Her world.

It was supposed to be a different Emma. One not beaten down by ten years of war and her mother’s rule. One not pulled apart by her very own magic. One not in love with Regina. This Emma was supposed to be different. 

She wasn’t supposed to rip through space and time just to warn Regina. She wasn’t supposed to be staring at Regina. Watching her. 

Only her.

Like in that moment she was all that mattered.

“Regina?” Her head was tilted. Her hair, wavy from the long day and the shock of humidity on Hook’s boat, made her looks so very different from that other Emma. Who’d kept her hair pulled back and out of her face.

“We should move me somewhere safer,” Gold suggested.

His voice. Oily as his magic, drew her out of her reverie. “We’re not moving you,” she snapped.

Emma raised an eyebrow. 

Regina sighed. “Snow has a plan. She’s on her way. We wait.”

“This ‘murderer’ means to kill me—“

“You’re already dead dear. Snow’s Hail Mary is your last chance.”

“It isn’t.” His previous suggestion was there like a storm just between them.

She straightened up. “It is.” 

And just like that it was gone.

A muscle twitched in his jaw.

“Okay,” Emma said, carefully stepping between them and having no idea what was going on. “So how do we keep him alive until Mary Margaret gets here?”

“That’s easy,” a sickeningly familiar voice crowed, “you don’t.”

Their fairy murderer had arrived.

 

####

Regina didn’t wait. There was no attempt at stalling or forcing a trite discussion. She waved her hand and the murderer went flying out the back door of the shop with Regina in hot pursuit.

Gold and Emma both stared at the gaping hole where the backdoor had been.

“Guess she doesn’t like interruptions,” Emma lamely joked.

“Evidently not. Now stop staring.” There was a loud boom outside. Big enough to rattle every bit of bauble and kitsch on the walls. “You’ve got to keep me alive.”

“How exactly?”

He pointed to an empty jar. “Regina taught you how to channel your magic right? Use the chalk in there and draw a barrier around us.”

“That jar is empty.”

“Only to a fool. Grab the chalk Emma. Your girlfriend won’t hold that man off forever.”

His statement was punctuated by another boom. This one shook dust out of the slats in the ceiling.

 

####

He laughed. Like it was a game

“I’ll give you credit,” he panted, “You’re not awful.” He dusted mortar from a crushed building off his sleeves and hood. “And you’re persistent.”

“If anyone is killing that imp it’s me.”

He laughed again. The sound like steps upon her grave. “As I hear it anything we do is just finishing the job your mate Hook started.”

Regina uprooted a sapling and launched it at that obnoxious grin.  

The murderer split it in two with his wand, set both halves on fire, and shot them back at her.

 

####

A gout of fire flared against the barrier. Emma leapt back, surprised, not by the fire flying at her face, but by the complete lack of heat. She reached out to touch what she couldn’t even see. “How—“

“Magic,” Gold said from his cot. “Stop gaping.”

He sounded like Regina. Who was fighting a two-wanding murderer. Emma didn’t know a whole lot about magic or wands or fairy magic or whatever, but she figured that even Regina would have trouble. Outside Regina turned the fire into smoke and disappeared into it—leaving their bad guy confused in the center of the road. 

Emma pressed her bare fingers against the barrier. Despite being invisible she could still feel it, taunt like a balloon. “If this barrier’s up I can go help Regina.”

“With what? Your finesse?”

She shot Gold a dirty look over her shoulder. “I’ve got magic.”

“The whole town knows that.”

The locket was warm. “He’s got wands. Don’t you think she could maybe use some of that magic?”

“You ever try to water a garden with an old leaky hose?”

 

####

She created the smoke just so she could take a moment to catch her breath. Her magical reserves were running low since the spell to bring Maleficent back and Emma’s magic, wild and violent, was begging to be used, brushing up against her and whispering in her ear. 

It was all too much for Regina. Temptation and exhaustion trying to pull her apart.

So she slipped into the smoke and took a breath.

That was a trick Mulan had taught her. Find a moment in the chaos. 

And just breathe.

His cocky voice broke through the thick smoke. “All worn out are we?” With a gust of cold wind he cleared the smoke and tilted his head, irreverently judging her. “No stamina Regina.”

She cracked her neck, the pop loud in her own ears. “Oh I’ve got plenty.”

 

####

“I’m…I’m confused. Am I the garden or the leaky hose?”

Gold huffed, inhaling through his nose and glaring at her as he exhaled through his mouth. “You’re the water.”

Emma blinked.

“The water is magic.”

“So…you’re calling Regina a leaky old hose?”

“Yes.”

Mature. She glanced out through the magically sealed hole in the wall. Regina and the murderer were back to fighting—calling vines out from the forest to do battle with dragons made of—she squinted—what looked like smoke.

“She doesn’t look very leaky.”

“You overestimate her stamina. And underestimate your magic.”

Her mind flashed to that moment on Hook’s boat, when Regina had emerged from the shadows with dark light in her eyes. Savagely unmaking a man and healing Emma with a thought and a terrifying smile.

And all with Emma’s own magic.

“What she does when she uses my magic…it’s not normal?”

Gold didn’t speak. She understood the guy well enough to know that he didn’t admit mistakes or weaknesses. So he couldn’t speak. Not really. Answering her question would mean admitting that what Regina did—what she was capable of—was more than Gold might ever be.

She stared at him—as if looking hard enough could pull an answer out of him. “Is it?”

He swallowed. His eyes drifted to the hole in the wall to watch the battle outside. Regina had turned the vines called from the forest into giant arms of fire and was lashing out at the monsters made of smoke. “When I met her she couldn’t even conjure a flame.”

 

####

He wasn’t fast as much as he was slippery. Darting out of the way of her attacks like he could anticipate them. All the magic Regina could potentially call upon and she couldn’t even hit one idiot in a hoodie. 

Emma’s magic—begging to be used—was wriggling further inside of her. Sidling up close to Regina’s own source of magic and imploring. Her resolve was shivering inside of her—ready to break.

And then he stopped.

“He’s nearly dead you know. We could stop fighting and watch him die.”

She laughed. A sharp bark pulled from a smoke thickened throat. “What? Together?”

“Why not? We both want him dead.”

“I know why I want him dead. Why do you?”

“He destroyed my family.”

“Get in line.”

“I’m offering you peace Regina.”

She shook her head, “They’d never forgive me if I let him die.”

“Her?”

“My son.”

He snickered. “I knew your son, your majesty. He was much more pragmatic than you think.”

He knew him.

Knew. 

She staggered.

Another life and another son. That Henry had been pragmatic. He’d understood sacrifice. And he’d hated Gold. Rumpel. And— “Who are you?” Dread suffused her.

“You haven’t figured it out.”

She wouldn’t say that name. Saying that name might make it true. She could only watching with growing horror as he slowly reached up to turn back his hood.

And Snow White ran him over with a car.