It’s not that she’s without suspicion as she examines the turnover Regina had handed her, immaculately wrapped in tupperware, accompanied by the trademark sinister smile. But, who knows, she reasons, maybe baked goods really are Regina’s way of apologising. Besides, the turnover does smell delicious, and Henry, however much he hates the woman, has always raved about his adoptive mother’s cooking.
And anyway, Regina may be corrupt and cruel, but she’s a small town mayor in spike heels, not some Mafia-esque criminal mastermind. She wouldn’t actually poison Emma, at least not when she’d be the number one suspect by pretty much all counts, would she? Besides, even if Henry’s crazy theories were correct, surely any Evil Queen worth her salt would have a wider range of strategies to hand than simply than poisoning people with apples? It’s not as if it was wildly successful the first time round, at least not according to the film, and Regina may be many things, but stupid definitely isn’t one of them.
Seriously, Swan? You’re debating the tactics of fictional villains? Just eat the damn thing. And she raises it to her mouth - and holy fuck, it smells good - and, salivating, takes a large bite, moaning as the buttery pastry melts into the sweet spice of the still warm apples. If Regina cooks like this, she thinks, it might be worth seeing if this truce has any chance of holding. Five seconds later, she’s slumped from the chair and lying prone on the floor. And then all hell breaks loose.
It’s surprisingly easy, how the mind adjusts, but, well, Emma’s always been a pragmatist. Three days later, as she steps cautiously into Gold’s shop, she’s accepted it all - curses, Enchanted Forests, same-age parents - and it’s something else that’s increasingly preying on her mind, filling her with a sense of unease that’s entirely at odds with the celebratory atmosphere in the town.
“Sheriff Swan,” Gold says, as the door swings shut, blowing dust from the darkened shelves. “Or, should I say, Saviour? Although the manner in which you delivered us from our sad fate does rather leave something to be desired, I feel. Hardly heroic, being awoken by your ten-year-old son after falling for the oldest ruse in the book.”
Emma doesn’t rise to the bait, simply rolling her eyes and striding past the dusty relics until she’s barely a foot away from him. She needs an explanation, and, however abhorrent this man is - and she knows, now, she’s seen the truth of him, scaled skin and malign intentions - he’s her best shot of understanding, of making sense of what she saw while she was sleeping.
“Anyway, Sheriff, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company? Tired already of playing happy families with the Charming clan?”
“Cut the crap, Gold. I’m here because I need-
“Oh, do let me guess, a favour? You must know by now, Sheriff, that I don’t give away knowledge for free, although I am always open to a reciprocal arrangement - assuming of course, that you have something I might want.”
“And what would that be?” Emma replies defensively, her need for answers warring with her suspicion over any answers Gold might give, and what she might have to offer up in return.
“Well, why don’t you start off by explaining your dilemma, Sheriff, and then I shall name my price.”
“Fine,” she starts, unable to conceal her distaste. “The curse - the sleeping curse, I mean, not the - the town thing- the one in the turnover. Does it, I mean, well, can it -“
“Spit it out, dear, I don’t have all day.”
“Look, while I was sleeping, I saw… things.” she pauses, unsure of her voice, as if voicing what she’d seen would confirm that it was real, would give away more than she wishes to, even to herself.
“You’ll have to be much more specific than that, Sheriff,” Gold says, tapping his cane on the floor as she steps closer to her, his presence filling her with a vague revulsion. “Precisely what kind of things did you see?"
“It was like…like dreams, only more vivid, more real, like - like I was travelling into the Enchanted Forest, back into the past. And it was out of order, and bits were blurred, as if they were scenes zooming in and out of focus, but it seemed so, so real. So I wanted to check if-“
“-if a sleeping curse can cause you to travel in time?” And she’s piqued his interest now, she can tell, can almost see the cogs whirring in his brain, as if he’s filling another piece of the grand strategic puzzle she suspects he keeps in his head, the puppet master gaining another potential string to use on his victims.
“Well, my dear, that is an intriguing proposition. Let me guess, did all of your dreamtime visions concern a certain person, perhaps the very person who intended you to linger in eternal slumber?” And Emma’s annoyed, because the smirk on his face is a gloating one; he clearly knows something that she doesn’t, something that he is not particularly interested in telling her.
“Yes, it was about her…Regina. About a boy she loved, about her mother, killing him and forcing her to marry the King, and about you - Rumplestiltskin - teaching her - you…you made her kill an innocent, just to prove that she was worthy of being your student.”
“True, Miss Swan, all perfectly true,” Gold smirks, his face betraying not a hint of remorse for his actions towards his former pupil, and Emma fights the urge to sock him squarely in the face. “Well, I suppose you have confirmation of your answer - it seems that a sleeping curse can, in certain cases, allow you to see into the past. Consider yourself lucky, my dear; for mere confirmation of the particulars, I shan’t call in a favour.”
And he’s stepping away, smug smile still in place, and her patience snaps, and she whirls up into his face. “Look Gold, over the past few days I’ve been poisoned by a fairytale villain, broken a 28-year curse, and found out that my parents are not only the same age as me, but are fucking Snow White and Prince Charming. And now, to top it off, apparently I can time travel and get front row seats to the life of the same woman who wants to kill me. I need some answers, Rumplestiltskin - what the fuck does all of this mean?”
If he’s flustered, he barely shows it, instead stepping calmly away and looking curiously at Emma, who’s poised and flushed, torn between her need for answers and her growing need to punch Gold’s smug smirk from his face. “Oh, I shouldn’t read too much into it dear. Making a potion, a curse, is a skill, an art. There is something of the maker in every potion, almost like an artist’s signature on a painting. It would seem, that on this occasion, Sheriff, Regina has simply left rather more of herself in her potion than she would have liked. What is more interesting, infinitely more interesting to me, dearie, is the fact that you - the Saviour, nonetheless - had the power to interpret the message.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well,” he says, stepping away from Emma, a discernible bounce in his stride that reminds her of the fey, dancing imp that she’d seen during her slumber, “two possibilities immediately spring to mind, although I can’t see why it would be at all in my interest to share this information with you.”
“Gold,” Emma growls, squaring up towards him, and she’s surprised when he almost immediately relents, almost as if the information is too juicy not to be shared.
“Are you sure, dear, that you really want to know? Sure that you don’t want to enjoy your reception as the pure, untainted Saviour of Storybrooke, without having me shatter all of your illusions?”
“Yes,” Emma replies determinedly.
“Well, Sheriff; usually, only those with particular, shall we say gifts, are able to see through time. But these gifts are almost always allied to darkness, and so your visions, well, Saviour, they hint at a propensity for darkness deep within you, a rotten core in your heroic soul. Oh dear, what on earth will your parents say once they learn their darling daughter’s not all candy hearts and rainbows?”
Emma can tell, despite his palpable glee, that he’s not lying, and, what’s worse, the first emotion that floods through her, before the dread, is relief. “What’s the second possibility?” she barks, seeking a distraction, not wanting to dwell on what her relief might mean.
“Oh, well this one is even more amusing, Sheriff. The second possibility - and bear in mind that one, both, or neither could be true - is true love magic.”
Emma’s heart thuds, and she’s stunned into silence, her mouth falling open as she lets the implications of the statement wash over her. “You’re lying!” she hisses, even though a glance in his eyes confirms that he isn’t.
“Oh, why would it be in my interest to lie, Miss Swan?” he replies archly. “Besides, I know about your superpower - far be it for me to try to trick our noble Saviour. Oh yes, it’s been well documented that true loves can have a special insight into the other, into their life across time, their past, in some cases even their future, can see the different versions of their lover take shape before them, can understand what’s made them who they are, and even, sometimes, what they could grow to be. My, my, what would Snow White think of this, her own daughter-”
“The future?” Emma gulps, and she sees Gold wrong footed; he’d been expecting stormy denials, but all she can think about is the one vision that had confused her the most. Regina, older, long hair, more casually dressed, in the kitchen, baking cookies, a tall, muscled young man - Henry? - sitting at the table. Herself, slouching in, drawn by the delicious smell, moulding herself around Regina’s back as she tried to sneak bits of the raw cookie dough. Regina playfully swatting away her hands, before capturing them, kissing her knuckles, as Henry sighed in exasperation.
“Something else you’d like to share with the class, dear?”
“I - one of the visions, I think it was from the future,” she says, and although she will not share more, she senses that Gold has grasped her meaning by the amused cock of his head, the slight widening of his eyes as another puzzle piece clicks into place.
“What I saw, is that fixed?” she asks, not sure of the answer that she’s hoping to hear. “Is that definitely going to happen?”
“Perhaps it’s best if I use an analogy,” he says. “I’m assuming, of course, Sheriff, that your vocabulary extends that far?”
“I know what an analogy is, Gold,” she huffs, and he merely smiles his sinister smile and paces, tapping his cane of the floor as he begins his monologue.
“The future…well, my dear, you can think of it as rather like a chessboard. One gifted in the art of divination can, like a skilled chess player, anticipate the effects of particular moves, can judge how certain decisions might affect the configuration of events, and can thus see particular scenarios that may, or may not, come to pass.”
“So, the future - what I saw, I mean, when I was asleep - might not happen?” And she should be happy, relieved even, but instead it’s a strange, hollow disappointment that lodges in her chest, almost as if she was wanting confirmation that - no, she stops herself, no.
“No, Sheriff, it might not. Not, at least, if you are determined that it does not. Creatures of fate we may be, but the future is not so set that it cannot be changed. And, knowing both you and Regina, I’d say the vision that you saw is fairly unlikely to happen anytime soon. You may consider yourself reassured.”
And, Emma stands there, stock-still, emotions bleeding into each other, her head a confused mess of conflicting feelings about time, Regina, Storybrooke, the curse, about the whole damn thing. But Rumple, well evidently Rumple’s better at reading her emotions than she is, for he looks at her, clear amusement shining in his eyes. “Well, Sheriff, divination is a notoriously imprecise science, but, from your disappointment, perhaps what you saw isn’t quite as objectionable to you as you’d like it to be. I’ll leave you to ponder what, if anything, that might mean.” And with that, cane in hand, he limps through towards the back of the shop, leaving Emma stunned amongst the relics.
She’s avoided Regina for days, tried to avoid even thinking about her, tried to bask in the attention of parents, and her son, and the hordes of well-meaning Storybrooke residents gushing over her. A lost princess, the Saviour, our Saviour. And then, all of a sudden, the same people stop thanking her and start talking about various methods of killing Regina, and so Emma has no choice but to smash a window of the mansion - for there’s no way Regina would have answered the door - and to accost the woman in her picture perfect fortress.
She finds her in the kitchen - power suit, heels, full makeup, despite the fact that Regina’s holed up in her lair, can’t leave the house, and feels the slightest twinge of admiration for the woman’s determination.
“Regina,” she says simply.
And Regina doesn’t bother to fight, but simply walks over, holds out her hands in an exaggerated gesture of submission, plasters the politician’s smile on her face. “Miss Swan,” she replies, her tone flat. “How nice to see that you’ve enjoyed your little rest. I must say, I had thought that you’d have arrived to escort me to the hordes sooner; it seems the sleep must have made you sluggish.”
“No, Regina, I’m not - I’m not here to kill you,” Emma says, realising that the woman before her is expecting the worst. “I’m here to try to help.”
“Help?” Regina hisses, her face contorted into a sneer as she continues to walk closer. “And why on earth, Miss Swan, would the noble Saviour want to help the Evil Queen? I may be many things: evil, wicked, murderous, but stupid enough to fall for your ludicrous attempts at manipulation I am not.”
And it’s almost certainly entirely the wrong thing to say, given the situation, but Emma finds it slipping out. “Because, because I saw things, Regina. I saw things while I was asleep. About you, about who you were, back before you became like this. Your mother, the King, Dan-“
“Don’t you dare, Sheriff,” Regina screams, the sneer entirely gone as blind rage overtakes her, and she strides over the last few inches and shoves Emma up flush against the counter, her leather of Emma’s jacket bunched tight in her fists. “don’t you dare pretend that you know me based on some dreams, don’t you dare, don’t you ever dare to pity me. Whatever happened, whatever you may think you know, I did what I did, I chose what I chose, and I won’t have some idiot coming in here and making out that I was just some pathetic little girl wanting her mother to love her!”
And Regina’s face is red, her eyes brimming with tears as she realises exactly what she’s said, and Emma feels her eyes filling with tears too. It’s not quite anger, not quite pity, and she’s frozen there, staring at her vanquished enemy, both of them breathing heavily as time slows to a crawl around them.
“I saw something else, too, Regina,” she whispers. “The future….I saw you in the future-“
“-Oh, is that what this is about, Sheriff Swan?” Regina snarls, attempting to regain her composure, but it’s more brittle, less convincing, given the angry tears still in her eyes. “You’re here to gloat, to tell me in painstaking detail exactly how you and the idiots of this town are going to torture me, to humiliate me, to get your final revenge? Well, you should know, Saviour, that however defeated I am, I will never give you the satisfaction of seeing me grovel, or plead, or beg for your mercy. So tell me, Emma, great seer of the future, tell me how it ends, tell me how the Evil Queen is vanquished by the noble heroes, tell me all about it, because I’m sure it will be a thrilling tale.”
And Emma looks at her, and behind the defiant, painted make-up, she can see it all, the anger, the rage, the pure hurt of the woman made weapon, whose only route to freedom was to hurt harder than she’d been hurt herself. The dutiful, cautious daughter; the naive, lovestruck teenager; the angry bride, bitter wife; the student captivated by darkness and power. The woman in the kitchen, laughing softly as she tries to stop Emma from sneaking pinches of the cookie dough, capturing her hands and kissing her knuckles. And suddenly, seeing, really seeing the woman just inches in front of her, the very last thing Emma wants is to add to all the hurt.
So all she does is cock her eyebrow, and lock her green eyes with Regina’s brown ones, still glinting with defiant, hurt fury, and say, simply, clearly “no.”
And Regina moves closer, close enough that their breath mingles, and Emma gasps at the curious intimacy of their positioning, Regina’s hand tightly gripping her arm, a smirk coming over her painting lips. “Oh, you don’t want to spoil the surprise, is that it? Come on, Miss Swan, enjoy your victory, enjoy telling me, word by word, about how my tragic tale ends. I killed, tortured, crushed hearts without a thought, so there’s no need for you to feel guilty. Whatever it is, I deserve it.”
“No, Regina, that - that wasn’t what I saw. That wasn’t what I saw at all.” And she expects Regina to lash out again at the attempt at kindness, to resist any notion of pity, but it seems the rage has left her. Instead, her brow furrows, and she pants, releasing her death grip on Emma’s jacket slightly, and her eyes catch Emma’s, and Emma’s struck by the sadness in them.
“Henry?” she whispers, almost shyly, and suddenly, strangely, Emma has the urge to hug her, because whoever, whatever she’s been, this woman, Emma can see that she’s never lied about her love for Henry, that she’s loved her son - their son? - when Emma couldn’t.
“He was fine,” Emma replies softly, a wan smile on her face. “Kinda tall - I, I think he was in college. He looked happy.”
And Regina smiles, the anger drained from her posture, and now, instead of squaring up to one another, it’s almost intimate, the two of them pressed up against the kitchen counter, talking about their son. Almost like, almost like…
“What - what else did you see, Emma?” she asks, her voice barely audible, as if she's ashamed of herself for even asking.
And Emma can’t answer her, not without either lying or a guarantee of a fist to the face, but, standing here, she starts to think that that particular future is not only one that might happen, but one that she might, someday, even want. “Gold - Rumple - he says that the future’s not set, that there are multiple scenarios, that we, all of us, I mean have to choose it. And so, this future, I don’t know if it’ll happen, and I don’t want to-“
“No spoilers?” Regina chuckles darkly, her tone now somewhere between curiosity and resignation, but she hasn’t moved away from Emma, and her hands have now flattened on the jacket, clasped almost over Emma’s heart.
“No spoilers,” Emma confirms, a sheepish smile on her face. “But Regina, this future, you - you looked happy to me. And if I get much say in it, it was one….one that I’d choose.”
“You, you’d choose a future in which I get happiness?” Regina stutters, and Emma’s saddened by her disbelief, saddened by the fact that Regina doesn’t feel herself deserving of anything but pain. And she knows, in this moment she knows, that she’ll move heaven and earth to protect this woman, not just from the baying mob, but from all of her demons, to see her happy, peaceful, loved.
“Yes,” Emma whispers, her eyes once against catching Regina’s. “I’m not interested in revenge, Regina. If I get to choose, I choose happiness for us, for all of us.”
And she half-thinks, doesn’t say the last words, because they’re still nascent, felt rather than voiced, even to herself, as the two move away from the counter, Regina silently pouring out two glasses of water.
I’d choose you.
I’ll choose you.