"Henry really asked you to protect me?" Regina asked.
"Yes," Emma answered shortly.
"Please? She's still my mom..." Henry begged in that piping little voice of his.
"We have to stop them," Emma said. She made no promises, but... well, she wasn't going to let a mob perform a lynching in the middle of town. No kid needed to see that.
And she'd kept that much of her promise to her son. Regina hadn't been taken by the mob. Apart from the fact that there was a soul-sucking wraith on the loose around the town, Emma wasn't sure why she was really helping Regina now though.
Okay, so David... Charming... was a little over-blunt and callous about the idea that Regina, rather than the rest of them had a problem. He wasn't a long-term thinker was Emma's general impression of him. So the wraith killed Regina, but what happened after? Would it go away? Would Regina turn into a wraith? What? She really, really wished she'd just stayed behind to demand a few more answers from Gold on that score.
On the other hand... how much forgiveness for Regina did Mary Margaret... Snow White... her mother... have? Because it frankly seemed to be a bit too much.
After the incident with Jefferson, Emma had borrowed Henry's book and given it a proper read through for the first time. The Evil Queen really earned her title several dozen times over, and Regina had been pretty damn far from saintly since Emma had met her. Locking her up had already not worked a whole bunch of times.
Frankly, Emma was one more transgression away from just... accepting Gold's 'present'. Even if that meant breaking a promise, however implied rather than actual it was, to Henry.
Regina pulled out a hat.
"You had it all along," Emma noted, eyes narrowed.
"What are you talking about?" Regina questioned dismissively.
"That hat," Emma said slowly, "belongs to Jefferson."
"Who the hell is Jefferson?" Regina asked, and she was so, so convincing.
Except that Emma knew bullshit when she heard it, even it it was trying to hide by pretending to just be innocent fertiliser to roses.
Mary Margaret and David entered then carrying brooms.
"Torches," David explained. "For when it comes back."
"They won't be needed," Emma said plainly, and scooped up the hat. She set it on her head and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Mary Margaret questioned, confused.
"I am going to return some stolen property," Emma said with a gesture to the hat on her head, "and deliver an over-due apology."
"But what about me?" Regina demanded.
"What about you?" Emma countered sharply. "How many times have you dodged a death sentence because someone begged for you? I might be okay with giving you a second chance, but guess what?" she hissed, words clear even though she didn't let herself within reaching distance of Regina. She didn't want to risk her taking back the hat.
"Emma?" Mary Margaret called, concerned.
"You blew your second chance, Regina. You blew it when you ripped out your own father's heart to cast your curse. You blew it again when you couldn't leave well enough alone and had to get your damned apple, to make sure a woman who was leaving wouldn't be a threat to your relationship with Henry," Emma declared firmly. "I didn't stop the mob because I thought you deserved a fucking fourth chance. I stopped the mob because I didn't want to see your corpse in the town square, and I sure as hell didn't want any of the kids in this town to see your corpse in the town square."
"Emma..." Mary Margaret breathed, stunned.
David blinked a couple of times, and worked his mouth silently for a moment, unsure if he should be proud or not.
"You can't just -" Regina started to protest.
"I'm a sheriff," Emma cut her off. "I break up mobs and tell folk to go home and cool off. I am not qualified to deal with supernatural threats. For that? Ask Gold. Apparently it's his shtick."
"He's the one that set the wraith on me in the first place," Regina grit out.
Emma's smile was cold.
"I guess you're out of luck then," she said, then turned on her heel and marched out of the room, and the building.
She had to see a man about a hat.
"Emma?" Jefferson greeted with confusion when he opened his door, clearly very surprised to see her.
"I came to apologise," she said. "You were right, and I was wrong."
"You didn't need to..." he started. "You know what? I think you'd better come in."
Emma carefully shifted the object she was holding behind her back around her person so that he wouldn't see as she stepped past him into his entryway. When he turned to face her after closing the door though, she held it in front of her.
"I believe," she said, and yes, the word-choice was very deliberate. "That is is yours."
"My hat," Jefferson breathed. "Emma... I owe you an apology as well. More than one."
"How about a not-drugged cup of tea, and some kind of pastry that doesn't include any kind of apple, and we sit down and talk?" she suggested.
Jefferson laughed weakly.
"Yeah," he agreed. "That sounds... like a really good idea."
"But put this away first," Emma urged, and held the hat out to him.
Jefferson nodded, took the hat, and they walked together through his house to the room where all of the many hats that didn't work lined the walls. The slightly battered hat was set carefully down on the porcelain head by the work-bench. Jefferson ran his fingers over the crown a moment, clearly thinking about what had to be done to restore the hat to pristine condition.
Then he turned and led the way back through his house to the kitchen, and they both sat at the breakfast table once he'd made a pot of tea for them to share, and set some biscuits on a plate for them to both pick from.
"Regina had it," Emma said softly.
"I know," Jefferson replied. "She came to me to get it to work this morning. She promised me a clean slate, with my daughter, if I helped her. I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough to just keep telling her 'no'."
"The apple..." Emma realised, eyes wide with horrified understanding.
Jefferson nodded sadly.
"I'm a weak man," he admitted, "and Regina knows how to use my weakness against me."
"Well, that's another strike against her," Emma decided. "Chalk up another reason to leave her to the wraith that Gold summoned."
Jefferson whistled, impressed.
"I knew he'd do something when I got Belle out of the asylum and sent her to him, but that, I did not imagine him doing," he declared. "A wraith will suck out her soul, but it won't kill her. She'll just... be confined to hospital," he said, his expression one of revelation. "Stuck on life-support, able to see everything happening around her, but unable to interact. Wow. Man's a poet."
"Uh... I appreciate that it's probably not the thing I should be taking away from all that, but who's Belle?" Emma asked, a frown of confusion on her face.
Jefferson shook him self.
"Even Rumplestiltskin, Mr Gold, has a True Love – and as I understand it, Regina told him she was dead, at her father's hand, more or less. Which is why he hates Maurice, Moe French, so much. Regina's kept Belle captive, first in the Enchanted Forest, then here, in an asylum under the hospital. Didn't even bother giving her any false memories, I think. Just... blank," Jefferson explained. "When Henry ate the apple instead of you, Regina declared her deal with me void, because the wrong person was caught. I knew that Rumplestiltskin wouldn't take Regina lying about Belle's death lying down, and besides, she's a good girl and didn't deserve to stay locked up like that anyway. I've been meaning to get her out of there for a while, but there was never enough of a, well, Henry being hospitalised distracted just about the entire staff, so I could slip in. A good deed and passive-aggressive revenge all in one."
Emma snorted into her teacup.
The pair spent the rest of the afternoon just talking. Sometimes about the Enchanted Forest, sometimes about their kids... a couple of times, they even delicately broached the subject of other persons who technically counted as family. Emma's parents, who were alive and pushing for more than Emma could handle just now. Jefferson's parents, who were long dead. Henry's father, who had sent her to prison. Grace's mother, who had died in an unfortunate accident because of Jefferson's work.
The various ways they both expected their kids would likely be very disappointed in them, angry at them, or whatever.
They even talked about all the things they'd done over the last twenty-eight years. Kinda. Emma gave a basic run-down of her life story, and Jefferson showed her all the degrees he'd gotten by correspondence course, or distance learning, or online courses, since he couldn't leave his house – and there were only so many times a guy could make the same damn hat.
The pair of them emptied the teapot three times, cleaned up the biscuits, and the clock in the hall struck seven.
"Stay for dinner?" Jefferson offered. "Just, you know, while you're avoiding the tearful reunion with your parents and Henry's sad-face. I think I've got some pizza bases in the freezer, and certainly all the good toppings in the fridge or pantry."
Emma's answering smile was gratefully relieved.
"Thanks," she agreed. "I... really don't want to face any of them right now. Might not want to for a while, actually. Is that weird? I've been looking for my parents pretty much my whole life, and now that I've found them, I want to avoid them."
"Subconscious passive-aggressive revenge," Jefferson suggested with a shrug. "Avoidance because you're afraid that they'll decide they're not so fond of who you grew up to be, or the things you did in the past. All perfectly normal."
Among Jefferson's degrees that he'd gotten, to pass the time in the unchanging twenty-eight years, was a degree in psychology. If for no other reason than so he could say with authority that he was not mad. Or at least, not all the time. Archie might be the only practising psychologist in Storybrooke, but Jefferson was the one that had actually studied, rather than the qualification coming from the curse.
"I'm beginning to question if my definition of 'normal' isn't actually all sorts of screwed up," Emma muttered.
Jefferson chuckled, and let Emma help him clear away the tea things before they got on to the business of making a couple of pizzas.
"How does magic even work, anyway?" Emma asked the next morning over breakfast.
She'd stayed the night in one of his guest rooms. She'd called Henry to let him know not to worry about her, and to apologise for not being enough of a 'good guy' to save Regina from a well-earned fate, but hadn't told him where she was. She had also asked him to relay to her parents that she was staying out over night, rather than letting him pass the phone to either of them. She was twenty-eight, she didn't need to be treated like a little kid by rediscovered parents at this point in her life.
Even if the little girl buried deep, deep down inside her did want to just be able to hold them and know that they loved her. The grown-up woman was still too used to the idea of abandonment that, even though her walls had slowly and steadily been crumbling since she came to this town... well, she wasn't ready for that just yet.
"Hm?" Jefferson queried, his mouth full of toast with honey.
"Magic," Emma repeated. "Regina said it was different here, and while I don't normally trust her or anything she says as far as I can throw my office desk..."
Jefferson nodded, finished chewing, and swallowed quickly.
"Right, something else I should have thought of before I thought threatening you into making me a hat would be a good idea," he commented.
"I've still got that hat, actually. Picked it up after Mary Margaret kicked you out of the window, stashed it in my car rather than leave it there. It's in a box at the bottom of my cupboard," she divulged. She did not share, however, that it shared that box with the blanket she'd had since forever.
"Magic in the Enchanted forest..." he trailed off thoughtfully. "You know what? A visual aid would be good for this," he decided and got up from his chair. He grabbed two clear plastic containers, a straw, and an egg cup, and filled one of the plastic containers with water.
"Okay, here we have the Enchanted Forest," he said, as he set the water-filled container down on the table between them. "Flooded with magic. It was in the very air we breathed, and for people who wanted to learn, people like Regina -" he held up the egg cup a moment before he dropped it into the water. "- the magic around them could fill them up and they could use it as they liked, within the rules, anyway."
"Okay, I follow," Emma agreed, that thoughtful frown on her face, pulling down her mouth and making a line between her brows.
"Then we have this world," he said, and pushed forward the empty container. "There's no magic in the air, but Regina brought some magic with her when she cursed us into this realm."
He pulled the egg cup out of the water-filled container and transferred it quickly over to the empty one. Some water splashed around into the container, and of course there was still water in the egg cup.
"She's got a limited amount of magic within her, left over from the Enchanted Forest," Jefferson said, and picked up the straw. "And every time she uses magic, she has a little less," he explained, and used the straw to take the water slowly out of the egg cup, until there were only a few drops left in the bottom.
"The things with magic that she brought over will dry up too," he added, and used the corner of one sleeve to soak up the splashes he'd made.
"And that's how it all was before the curse broke," Emma registered. "But now Gold's brought magic to Storybrooke..."
"You did that first, Emma," Jefferson scolded lightly, "but I can understand your perspective."
Jefferson bent the straw, and stuck one end into the full container, and the other end into the empty one. No water flowed between the two, of course. That would require the water to defy gravity in the first place, and in the second, the fold from where the straw was bent wouldn't let any water through anyway.
"Our good Rumplestiltskin created a link between the two lands. Nothing physical, but a pathway that would let magic through to those who could access it," Jefferson explained.
"Like him," Emma pointed out.
"Yes," Jefferson agreed. "But see, here's the problem," he pointed to the kink in the straw.
"The magic isn't coming through," Emma stated.
"Not to people like Regina," he said, and shifted the egg cup to be under the unhelpful straw. "She knows the connection is there, knows that magic is possible, but she can't access it. You and Rumplestiltskin are not like Regina."
"I lack appropriate props," Jefferson complained, and grabbed a paper napkin and a pen. He drew the two containers roughly, with the useless bent straw over the top. Then he added another connection, underneath. One that curved smoothly and wasn't blocked.
"That would work," Emma registered. "No blockage to stop the magic flowing, and the way it's set up, the water, er, magic would just flow through a connection like that."
"Except for the barrier here," Jefferson said, and pointed at where the 'pipe', for lack of a better term, stopped at the bottom of the empty 'container', and there was an extra bowl over the top. It pierced through the full one. "This barrier was intact, and the other connection was blocked."
"What's this bit here?" Emma asked, and pointed to the half-circle he'd drawn over the blocked connection.
"That, Emma, is you," he said, "or Rumplestiltskin. The magic will naturally flow into you. You are now the... tap, I suppose. Regina will be able to get magic from you, probably through physical contact, but she'd run out fast enough. You won't, and he won't."
"Should I be worried about Gold then?" Emma asked, concerned.
Jefferson shook his head.
"Not yet," he dismissed easily. "He doesn't really go for big or destructive much, unless he's feeling particularly vengeful like with Regina and the wraith, but even that was focused against one person, for all that there was rather a lot of collateral damage. He does more magic because people come asking than any other reason. Apart from spinning gold, that is."
"He really does that?" Emma said with a smile. "The way every other fairy tale I grew up with was being turned on its head, I was worried that was something that wasn't true."
"Oh no, he definitely spins gold. Or did. Probably does again now that magic has come back. He'd happily spend all day at his wheel doing nothing else if people let him," Jefferson asserted. "Well, he's got a couple of other things he wants as well, but yeah. One of the things people called him when they didn't want him to just appear – because to say his name was to risk him appearing at your shoulder in the old days – one of his titles was 'The Spinner', which was a lot more popularly used than 'The Dark One', because chances were good, or bad depending on your point of view, that he'd show up if you said that too."
"Huh," Emma mused.
Explanation completed, and no other questions coming from either side immediately, the pair got back to their breakfasts.
"Could you teach me how to use my magic?" Emma asked as they washed up the dishes.
"What?" Jefferson asked, a stunned, shocked, slightly flattered chuckle escaping his lips with the question.
"Regina's almost certainly a soulless husk by now, and I'm not exactly comfortable around Gold," Emma said. "He'd probably charge me for the lessons too."
"You could go to the fairies," Jefferson suggested.
Emma raised an eyebrow that said, very clearly and sarcastically, Really?
"You have something against fairies?" Jefferson asked, surprised but utterly neutral.
"I have actually read Henry's book, properly, since our last encounter," Emma stated. "Because of our last encounter, if we're gonna be completely honest, and unless I miss my mark, the fairy that would be put in charge of teaching me would be the Blue Fairy, and I gotta say, I didn't like what I read about her any more than I liked what I read about Regina and her mother."
Jefferson blinked in surprise. That was an odd comparison to make, and he said as much.
"They all three came across as manipulative liars, convinced that they knew best and that everything they had done was totally justifiable and right, and totally unapologetic. Gold, Rumplestiltskin, whatever, he didn't pretend that what he was doing was good or right or justified. He just sold magic to whoever asked, at crazy prices admittedly, and frankly? It looked to me as I was reading that book, that nine times out of ten, the less the person asking needed the magic, the more he made them pay for it."
Jefferson smiled at that. A proud little smile that congratulated her on figuring out a secret that, while it hadn't been a kept-secret sort of secret, no one else had ever bothered to even think about figuring out the truth of.
"But I'm still not comfortable around Gold," Emma stated, "and now that you know my objections to being taught by fairies, as well as the other options, my question still stands. Will you teach me magic?"
"I'm a portal jumper, not a magician of any kind," Jefferson dithered.
That eyebrow went up again.
Jefferson sighed, but he smiled again. Admittedly a resigned sort of smile, but it was capitulation, clear as day.
Emma's own smile in answer was one of triumph and gratitude.