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16 October 2013 @ 03:00 pm
Dangerous is the Vexed God (2/?)  

Title: Dangerous is the Vexed God (2/?)

Author: maggiemerc

Rating: M

Spoilers: Veers from canon after the third episode of season 2.

Disclaimer: Of course I don’t own them. All the lady loving would be hella canon if I did.

Summary: Emma Swan just wants to adjust to life in a post-Curse Storybrooke. She wants to get to know her kid. Get to know her parents. And maybe learn how to use her magic. But the town has an epidemic of flying monkeys, there’s a drunk pirate walking down Main half-naked, Regina Mills keeps looking at her like she’s seen her naked,  and, oh yeah, someone’s killing off fairy godmothers.

Chapter Two

Regina Mills was not a morning person.

Emma didn’t expect that. She’d assumed Regina was one of those nuts up at the crack of down milling her own damn flour for her bread and grinning condescendily at anyone who had just staggered out of bed.

As she considered that idea she realized it was about the exact opposite of Regina, who was a spoiled queen who’d lived half her life in a town created to personally please her.

Of course she’d be offended at the sun for rising.

“Want some coffee Regina?”

“I want eight hours of sleep and that obnoxious smile of yours flayed off your face.”

Despite her miserable look Regina was put together. Her hair was in place and her clothes neat. She’d even applied makeup to the dark bags under her eyes.

“You slept for one week straight in the hospital. How can you still be tired?”

Regina held up her bandaged hand, “I was in a coma because of a curse!”

“David’s up,” she motioned to the end of the hall where David was yawning and scratching his belly. “And he was in a coma for twenty-eight years.”

Regina pretended to ignored her, “I take it back,” she said. “I do want coffee.” She disappeared in a puff of purple.

Emma was never gonna get used to Regina's new found fondness for just—puffing places like a pretty non-blue version of Nightcrawler.

At least this time it was excellent, if accidental, timing. Whale, in his rumpled white coat, pushed through the door, a stiff body on a gurney being wheeled behind him like a macabre parade.

Since coming back through the portal Regina had a unique and intense aversion to the doctor. Her second day out of the coma Emma had come in and found her weak and pale and using her magic to crush Whale’s throat with an IV stand.

She refused to tell anyone why she hated him. Emma had even asked Mulan and Aurora about it. They’d both shrugged and Aurora had said something about how “she doesn’t talk much about what happened over there.”

“Over there” being the mysterious place that had changed Regina and left her with nothing but those lingering looks of hers and that locket around her neck.

It was unnerving as hell and something Emma worked really hard not to think about. Fairytale lands and princesses and princes for parents were bad enough. She wasn’t going to add the time travel implied by Regina to the mix.

Emma and David followed Whale into an OR where the orderlies lifted Merriweather's body onto an empty table. The doctor slipped on rubber gloves that went up to his elbows and a black plastic apron and big magnifiers that made him look like a creep. He picked up a sharp looking scalpel and smiled way too happily for Emma’s taste.

“Now then,” he asked, “shall we begin?”

####

Regina could have gone to the hospital cafeteria for her coffee, but she’d lived nearly six weeks in that hospital recuperating and the cafeteria had stored a dead body all night. So she went to Granny’s instead.

The diner had been completely restored since the battle. According to Henry Rumpelstiltskin had even assisted the fairies in the final days of the rebuild—which meant the building was probably laced with magical listening devices now.

It didn't stop Regina from going in. And neither did the old widow who ran the place. She was still sore about Regina knocking her unconcious and disguising Mulan as her.

And the curse.

And the destruction of her diner.

She was really sore about that last one.

Even though everything (curse excluded) had been in aid of saving her life and the lives of all her patrons who happily paid way too much for a second rate lasagna.

She glared hatefully at Regina when she stepped through the door, her eyes beady and judgemental.

“Oh please,” Regina said aloud, “It’s not like I kicked your puppy.”

“You have kicked me,” Ruby said from her spot behind the counter, “Twice that I remember.”

Water under the bridge.

Regina waved dismissively and avoided eye contact, looking around the room at the various patrons—who all looked back with a mixture of fear and irritation. “Can I please just have a coffee? Large, black, devoid of excrement?”

Aurora, sitting all alone in a booth by the door and reading something on her tablet, snickered.

Regina zeroed in on her with a raised eyebrow. “I thought you’d be wallowing in bed this early." The clock over the counter said it was only six forty five.

Aurora motioned to the empty bench across from her and Regina took a seat. “Couldn’t sleep last night. Been here since five.”

“Reading?”

“Research.” She waved down at the iPad she'd special ordered with her mother's credit card. “Apparently this land has hated witches for centuries."

"I assume you're reading about Salem?"

"One of their favorite methods of murder was drowning," she frowned at the screen. "They'd hold them under until the confessed or died.”

Regina had a bad feeling she knew where this conversation was headed, and played with Aurora's napkin, forgotten on the table.

“According to this,” Aurora glanced down at the screen again, “Wikipedia, you can’t even scream when you’re drowning.”

Regina shifted uncomfortably—twisting the napkin around her fingers of her good hand. Aurora had her prescription reading glasses on, and the faint tint of the lenses masked some of the dark emotion in her eyes. Emotion most would considered decidedly un-princess-like. She started, “Aurora…”

“You try to breathe but you can’t, and your head is under water so any sounds you make are muffled. You’re alone.” She looked up over the frames of her glasses. Her gaze was cool.

“Merryweather wasn’t alone when she died.”

“We were inside laughing and drinking—“

“And she was murdered. I’m aware. But dwelling on it—empathizing with the dead—helps no one.”

“You’re helping Emma find the monster who did this aren’t you?”

“I’ve offered my services as a magic expert and she's agreed.”

“Tell her I can help. Tell her I can—“

Regina reached out and snatched Aurora’s wrist. “I know what you’re capable of.” She hoped the squeeze she gave her was comforting instead of alarming. She could never be sure how people would react.

A long shadow pass over their table as Ruby arrived with Regina’s coffee. Her bright eyes were focused on Regina’s hand. Specifically the unbandaged one wrapped around Aurora’s wrist. Her lips—not quite as painted since the curse broke—were pursed in condemnation.

Regina yanked her hand away and reached for her coffee, “Took you long enough. Were you picking the beans yourself?”

She fired back, “Milking the cow."

Aurora looked up at the werewolf in surprise, “You have a cow?”

“What?”

“She was making an attempt at sarcasm,” Regina explained. “She’s about as successful at it as her best friend.”

Ruby glared and stalked away.

“You should be glad she can’t kill with a stare,” Aurora murmured.

“Please. She can’t even kill when she’s turning into a giant wolf once a month.”

“She could be lulling you into a false sense of security. Maybe one day she's going to stalk into your bedroom late at night and snap your head off and eat your remains.”

Regina looked over in surprise, but tried not to let her alarm show, “You’ve given that some thought.”

Aurora leaned forward, resting her chin on her fist, “I always assumed that if anyone I knew was going to be murdered it’d be you.”

Regina hated to admit it, but she'd assumed the same thing.

After assuring Aurora she'd speak to Emma, and casting a quick spell to sour the large glass of milk Ruby was about to drink, she popped back to the hospital, where Frankenstein was elbow deep in the dead fairy's torso and looking very happy about that fact.

"Careful," she said, “you get too happy over that corpse and you'll have to change your pants Doctor."

Emma sighed and closed her eyes, "Gross."

"Come to marvel your work," Frankenstein asked cooly.

Regina inched close enough to be able to see the woman’s insides. So many organs she knew the feel of, and even the look from books. She’d never actually seen them though. They glistened in the cool light of the OR. In particular the heart. Pale, solid, with big fat veins.

Nothing like the ones she still had in boxes in a tomb.

“She’s still got her heart,” she noted. As if that was evidence enough of her innocence. “Besides, if I went and killed her you can be damn sure I wouldn't have left the body behind."

Emma rubbed at her temple with her thumb, the movement shifted her collar enough for Regina to see the locket around her neck and she promptly became interested in her fresh coffee.

"There a reason you think Regina did it," Emma asked. There was weariness in her voice—like when she dealt with her parents or something “too frickin’ fairy tale-like.”

Whale prodded something a lung and it made a graphically squelching noise. Regina accidentally made eye contact with David, who looked just as disgusted as she felt.

"The victim drowned," Whale explained, "and I've found no signs of assault and no signs of a struggle on the body. There's no sign of drugs either."

"But that's not confirmed until a tox screen right," David asked. When everyone stared at him in surprise he rubbed the back of his head, "Henry and I watch Castle together."

It was Whale's turn to sigh, "As much as it pains me to say it, you're correct. However, tox screens are woefully inadequate when we consider the fact that she's a fairy."

"Was a fairy," Regina interjected, “in this world without her wand she's as human as the rest of us."

“But here’s the thing though: she had the wand,” Emma revealed. She jerked her chin in the direction of a metal tray, where the wand shimmered on top of a pile of the dead woman’s clothes. “It was wedged in her girdle.”

"My research into the physiology of magical creatures is woefully inadequate at this time," Whale said. Regina snorted. He ignored her. "But what little research I have done suggests that most toxins and drugs in the land would fail to work within the system of a fairy, human origins or no."

Regina's magic coiled in irritation. Frankenstein was insinuating, pretty strongly, that he'd experimented on some poor fairy to learn that.

Emma's face was completely slack—any hint of her understand ingwhat he said hidden by a blank stare. "Is that fancy mad scientist speak for it had to be magic?"

"Yes."

"Then how about you get back to the living patients Doc. We'll take it from here."

"I haven't finished the—"

"We got it Whale," David stepped up behind him. "You've got other patients to see to."

He looked from one Charming to the other before nodding reluctantly. "Very well. I call you when the tox screen comes back."

####

Emma watched Whale pack up all of his scary looking autopsy tools, toss his bloody mad scientist gloves in a biohazard bin and leave, the samples for the tox screen in a bag tucked under his arm.

"I take it we're all on the same page," Regina drawled. She'd set her coffee cup down and was staring after Whale with an unnervingly steely look.

"He's been doing experiments,” David said.

"Could he have meant before the curse," Emma asked. She didn't think he had, but it was better to ask the other too then just assume the guy was vivisecting fairy nuns.

"Possibly," Regina murmured, her face screwed up in deep thought. "He and Rumpel—Gold were quite chummy back in the day. But it sounded like he was talking about fairies with human physiology, something that didn't exist until the Curse."

"So we might have just had the murderer autopsy his own victim?"

Regina shook her head, "I doubt it. While I'd take new samples to be tested just to be sure, I'm inclined to agree with the doctor as to the cause of death."

"Magic," David growled.

"Powerful magic—that he has no access to.”

Shit.

"And you still can’t…trace it or whatever?”

Regina held her hand out. It glowed—Emma's locket turning cold as a result. She wriggled in discomfort, but tried to stay focused on what Regina was doing.

The body glowed again too, more brightly than it had the night before in the pond. Emma could now see the magic ripple across the corpse as if it were tangible. The hair rose on the back of her neck and the locket went from being cold to being like a block of ice between her breasts.

Regina's hand trembled and David looked at Emma in alarm before tentatively moving forward. "Regina," he started.

She hissed and snatched her hand away like it'd been burned. The magic around the body turned to a fine mist that fell softly to the ground.

"Nothing. There's magic still masking the precise spells used. I can't see anything."

Emma thought about offering her own magic…whatever to help, but memories of the other times Regina had used it—memories of the ice water the blood in her veins had turned to—stopped her.

"Okay," she said instead. “So we’ve got someone with a lot of magic drowning fairies and we’ve got a mad scientist possibly vivisecting fairies.”

“We can’t be sure on that last one,” David said.

Regina crossed her arms and grumbled, “The man experimented on his own brother’s corpse. He’s capable of anything.”

“Either way. I need to talk with the Mother Superior.”

David added, “And Gold. He’s about he only one as powerful as Regina now, and he knew Whale from before.”

“So which one do we speak to first,” asked Regina.

“I’ll chat with the Mother Superior. David you go pick up Whale, see what you can get out of him.” He nodded eagerly.

“And me?” Regina was all expectant looking—a far cry from the usually completely reluctant woman she knew. Her lips quirked up into a half smile, “You want me talking to Ru—Gold?”

“I wanted to talk to him myself,” Emma said, “I figured you could…”

Regina raised an eyebrow.

“I mean, there’s other magic users right? Besides Gold?”

“There is,” she said carefully, “But he’s the most likely suspect.”

“Right, but—“ Emma knew this next part wasn’t gonna go over well, “The thing is, you and Gold…you hate each other.”

“Yes?”

“So maybe you talking to him about a murder isn’t the best idea?”

It took a second longer than it should have for Emma’s words to sink in. Regina stared at her cooly and then she realized what she’d said and recoiled. “You think I can’t be objective?”

David snorted.

“Not helping,” Emma said sharply.

He held up his hands in surrender.

“I—I can be very objective Emma. I’m the queen of Objectivity!”

“Snow White,” she said simply.

Regina turned bright red, her mouth working for the right words before finally— “Oh screw you.” She rounded on a very amused David, “And you.” Turning back to Emma with very angry, dark, and hungry eyes she snarled, “And as I’m no longer necessary I’m leaving. You know where to find me Sheriff.” She tapped the locket just beneath her blouse then grabbed her coffee and disappeared.

"Why do I feel like we just told her she couldn't sit with us at lunch," Emma asked.

"Don't worry about," David said, “according to your mother Regina's always been sensitive."

As if she'd heard what he said Regina popped back into the room. David yelped.

"And I forgot to tell you that Aurora would like to help. So perhaps she can help that unobjective idiot interview Whale? She's an excellent interrogator." She peered at David like he was a slug.

Emma was speechless. Managing only an, “Uh—"

"Also before I forget," she waved her hand towards the body. Purple smoke descended over it, and when it disappeared the deceased was dressed in a neatly pressed habit with her hands crossed over her chest and her hair all regrown and styled into a bob. "Her family shouldn't have to see her splayed open like a science experiment."

"Thanks," Emma mumbled.

Regina disappeared again.

"She's gonna backseat drive this whole case isn't she?”

David nodded. "You want to come with me and punch Whale? It'll make you feel better."

"Nah, I need to help the family make arrangements and talk to the nuns. But taking Aurora isn’t a bad idea.”

He nodded again and turned to leave.

"Oh, and try not to actually punch him when you talk to him,” she called after him.

"If he resists?"

"No police brutality."

The son of a bitch actually pouted, leaving Emma to wonder what the hell kind of world he'd lived in before Storybrooke.

####

Standing there while a couple of nuns and Aurora's moms huddled around a body was more emotionally trying that Emma had expected. They'd cried and remarked on how alive she looked.

"Like she's sleeping," Briar Rose had said.

Then the two fairy godmothers and the one fairy mom had produced their wands and waved them over the body. Roots had sprung out from some invisbled seam beneath Merryweather's corpse and wrapped around, forming a stunning coffin that looked like the gnarled base of a tree. A bouquet of blue flowers had sprouted from the place where her head lay. The four women had all smiled sadly, before each one plucked a flower. Briar Rose plucked three more and offered one to Emma. She took it reluctantly and stuck it in the zipper of her jacket like a corsage.

Afterwards she took the long way back to the apartment. The autopsy hadn't been stinky as far as dead bodies went—with the flowers it had even smelled kind of nice, but in her haste to get out of the apartment without waking Henry that morning she'd blindly reached for, and grabbed, the wrong bra. It was the ruined one she'd worn in the Enchanted Forest and needed to throw away. The underwire was biting into her sides like a freaking torture device.

She would have just taken it off and shoved it under the car seat, but she figured going braless to interview some nuns was tacky.

Out of habit she took the long way from the hospital to the apartment. It was the route she'd used when ferrying Henry to and from to visit his mom and it took the car right along the bay. The docks were all empty and the bay itself filled with fishermen. She could see the mast of Hook's boat—one of the only ones still tied up. The asshole was probably dead to the world and she briefly considered driving down closer and running the sirens a few time just to annoy him.

But it would have annoyed the people dotted along the beach erecting tints and setting up long tables and chairs and building enormous bonfires.

The "annual" clambake was in two days. Annual being a loose term as it was, in fact, the first official town clam bake.

It had been Ruby’s idea, but she'd passed off the organization of it to Mary Margaret and Kathryn Nolan. While most of the town just assumed it was a celebration of the curse being broken and families being reunited, Ruby’s unspoken plan was to have someone she and David trusted watching Mary Margaret when they couldn’t.

Most of the town didn’t know about her heart issues. Didn’t know that according to Regina her heart was in the hands of some mysterious queen in a far away land and there was almost zero chance of it being reunited with its owner. Zero chance of it being used against them either.

And Mary Margaret backed that claim up. She actually agreed with Regina. Insisted she didn’t feel any different.

But everyone around of was still…concerned.

She was a lot more frigid than Emma had remembered her.

Her green eyes always seemed darker when she watched her. Even Henry, who had to be the most optimistic kid to ever live, was unsettled around her. "She needs a heart," he would say gently. "She can't love without it."

But she could. And she did! She smiled at David and would caress Emma's shoulder when she walked by her and she'd ruffle Henry's hair.

She was still Mary Margaret. Just…off a fraction. Emma probably wouldn't have even known if she hadn't seen David crush her heart in his hand or heard Regina's really bizarre and not so informative explanation.

She slowed the police cruiser down to watch Mary Margaret direct two of her dwarf friends wrestling with poles for a tent. She had a little clipboard clutched to her chest and was slicing one hand through the air. The wind off the water had turned her cheeks bright red.

From far away she still looked normal.

From far away she still had a heart.

The underwire jabbed into Emma's side and she pressed down on the gas. It was better not to think about the mom she'd probably lost just when she'd found her. Like Regina's locket it was better out of sight. Out of mind.

####

Regina assumed it was Mulan coming down the steps into her cellar. She walked with a grace that no one else she knew possessed, and stepped lightly, effortlessly avoiding the two steps that groaned like an old man. She was also the only person awake at that hour that would dare step into Regina’s domain without invitation. Killian might have, but he was sleeping off the drink in his ship most likely.

"Thought you'd be helping with the murder investigation," Mulan said.

"Emma has me talking to the second-rate 'villains' to see what they know."

"So you're sitting in your cellar because…?"

"Because," Regina grunted, "I want to make cider." She was standing at the cider press, twisting it around and around enjoying the graphic noise of a apple pulp being smashed beneath a wooden plate. "Winter's coming and all."

Mulan poked around the cellar. She'd never been down there. To Regina's knowledge no one had but her and Henry. It was where she'd spend the fall and winter making cider. Most with apples from her tree. After Henry had arrived she'd started purchasing apples in bulk from the market and making larger batches to donate for Miner’s Day.

The cider operation in her cellar had expanded from a small press and a few bottles, to something approaching an actual business. The cider aged in the oak barrels along the wall and she had even more enormous glass jugs for fermenting. To a layperson it looked terrifyingly science-like. Mulan approached one of the jugs and peered at the bulbous glass piece sticking out of the top.

"That's to control air intake for the yeast."

Mulan had no idea what she'd said but nodded like she did.

"I have a feeling I'll be going through quite a bit of cider this year with that alcoholic on the boat. Just wanted to get started on a new batch early.”

”So…you're helping Killian get loaded?"

"If you put it that way."

"And avoiding hunting for Merryweather's murderer while you're at it."

Regina stopped crushing apple pulp and put her hands on her hips. Her bad hand ached a little from the pressure put on it, and her fingers were clumsy and numb. "Now you're just being critical."

Mulan poked one of the bottles and raised her eyebrow at Regina. "I'm not the one sitting in my cellar avoiding my responsibilities."

"Avoiding—I ran this town for twenty-eight years! Every budget meeting, Miner's Day, school fundraiser—even the clam bakes were organized by me. If I want to make an excellent batch of cider instead of running errands for Emma Swan I'm fully entitled!"

"Clam bakes?"

Damn it.

"You're mad about the clam bake so you're wallowing down here?"

"No. I'm irritated about the clam bake. I'm down here because I'm an incredibly powerful sorceress who could be helping Emma find a murderer but instead she told me to talk to some people and maybe she'd call me later." The last part came out as an unbecoming sneer.

Mulan rested her thumbs on the buckle of her belt and stared. That awful stare she'd used on everyone back on the damn boat to get them to do what she wanted. It was a stare of judgement and for, reasons Regina never understood, when Mulan stared at her like that she had an urge to be better.

It had to be some form of magic she'd learned while training to be a military genius.

"I sound like Snow White don't I?"

"If she sounds infantile."

She gave the cider press another turn, it resisted the entire way, the whole contraption whining in protest. She snarled and stepped away—throwing up her hands as she went.

"Very infantile," Mulan said.

“She said I couldn’t be objective. Me. Did she miss the part where I put aside my own feelings and killed to save the world?” The part where she'd killed someone she loved to get her son back and now had to run around with a terrible version of her that was a bossy know it all that didn't know anything?

“What couldn’t you be objective about?”

“That imp.” She and Killian were currently having a disagreement about that bastard. Killian wanted him murdered immediately. Punished for his considerable crimes.

Regina kept seeing the way he honest to God smiled at her mother and had insisted they hold off on plans for murder.

“You and Gold do have a history. You wouldn’t be my first choice to deal with him either.”

“Still—“

“Regina.” She stared again. “Someone murdered a person that Aurora cares about. We don’t get to wallow. We don’t have the luxury.”

Regina sighed.

Caring about others was exhausting.

“I have an idea of someone who might know something. Care to join me after I prep this batch?”

Mulan rolled the sleeves on her uniform. She was the only one of the 4-person department that ever wore the drab ensemble. Regina supposed it was because she got to wear a whole belt of equipment with it and it made her feel like she was back in armor.

“Two people will probably make this faster."

Regina gave her a tight smile.

Not just exhausting. Grueling.

####

Emma was trying to pay attention to what the Mother Superior was saying. They were sitting in her office at the convent and sunlight was streaming through the wooden shades and onto the austure desk from which the former fairy governed her nuns. She had her hands settled in front of her on the desk, rolling her wand between her thumbs and forefingers.

“You think someone with magic did it,” she asked quite seriously.

Emma said yes, and explained, but she kept glancing out the window, where a little man in a blue jumpsuit and bright red hat was stooping to collect dog shit from beneath a tree. She guessed he was the groundskeeper and she wondered what he’d done to Regina in another land to get stuck on dog shit duty.

“Why,” the Mother Superior asked.

“I’m sorry—what?”

She squared her narrow shoulders and sat a little more primly, “Why do you think someone with magic killed Merryweather?”

“Uh…because she drowned in a pond and there was no sign of foul play?”

“She could have fallen.”

Emma raised an eyebrow in surprise. “I mean, sure. She could have. But Regina thinks someone used magic.”

“Regina? The Evil Queen.”

Emma was surprised at the venom in the nun’s voice, and the way she’d said the epithet. Emma could hear the capital letters—could hear all the dark and nasty history of the title when the Mother Superior used it. Regina’s past stopped being abstract. Came into sharp focus.

She had to shake her head to clear dark thoughts from her head. “Former Evil Queen,” Emma amended. “She’s reformed.”

A tight smile and glistening eyes, “You are so very much your mother’s daughter. The hope you have is truly inspiring.” Emma bristled. “But it is not so easy to just stop your wicked ways. Not when you were born into. Shaped by it.”

“Maybe, but no offense Mother Superior, I spend time with the lady.”

“And you trust her.” The smile still stretched across the nun’s face.

“Yeah, I do.”

“As you trust her friends.”

Emma snorted, “What, so they’re evil too?”

“A pirate consumed by revenge, a warrior cast out from her own land, and…” It was the Mother Superior’s turn to seem really uncomfortable—like Aurora’s meer existence was unsightly. “The fairy girl.”

Emma remembered the story Regina or Aurora or someone had told her. About how Aurora’s moms were a queen and a fairy who gave up her wings to be with the woman she loved. Her fairy godmothers had been her mom’s sisters—or what passed for sisters with fairies. And Maleficient was supposedly a changeling that had grown up in Briar Rose’s court.

It hurt her brain thinking about it, but it clearly hurt Mother Superior more. She was offended by Aurora’s existence. Offended enough that she must have been pretty upset that they were all having their cozy dinner together.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where were you last night?”

The nun’s mouth dropped open in horror. “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting Sheriff?”

Emma plastered on a charming smile. “No. I know you. My parents trust you,” she lied. “But there are other nuns—fairies here in the convent right? Maybe one who didn’t like how close Merryweather is to her god daughter?”

The Mother Superior stretched her hands out flat across the table before her. The tips of her fingers turned white as she pressed them into the wood. “There are many, but we take an oath. We don’t harm humans.”

“Merryweather was a fairy.”

“Once. She was human when she died. The oath applies. If one of us had…” she drew in a long breath, “It would be visible. A fairy can’t commit such a heinous act without it showing on their skin.”

“So it won’t be a problem if I speak to everyone. Get alibis?”

The Mother Superior’s smile was all at once fragile and knowing and angry. “No problem at all.”

####

The little lawn gnome was wandering through the freshly planted pansies below the windows of the convent. His thick boots sunk deep into the mulch and his hands were brown with dirt, the ends of his nails completely black.

It had taken her and Mulan an hour just the find him. He served as the groundskeeper for half the town and wandered from place to place, tilling the earth, spitting big gobs of phlegm in the grass and planting awful pansies instead of the wide variety of gorgeous plants he was supposed to tend.

As far as she could tell the pansies were a post curse affectation. Like Whale vivisecting fairies or Gold being polite to people.

She and Mulan had to slog their way up the hill from where Mulan had parked her cruiser. Mulan’s boots had smooth bottoms that slid on the wet grass and Regina’s heels kept digging into the dirt.

A little breathless at the top of the hill she put her hands on her hips and pointed to the spot before her with her chin. “Come here please.”

He grumbled, spat, and went back to planting pansies.

“Sir,” Mulan said officiously, and too politely for the former gnome to listen, “we need to speak with you.”

He pointed a fat little finger at Mulan, “You I’ll speak to,” he said in a soft voice. “She can fester.”

Regina stalked closer, “I could fester, or I could turn you into a tree like that wife of yours.”

“You turned his wife into a tree?”

“No, I did,” he snarled, and then he waved hand rake in Mulan’s face. “And I can do the same to you if you don’t get her out of my sight.”

“If you turn her into a tree I’ll just turn her back and go kill a few of your woodland friends,” Regina sighed. “Like that fox. I could use a nice pelt.”

He swiped his hand rake at her, the three sharp prongs glittering as they slashed through the air.

Regina step back, but continued to grin nastily.

She didn’t actually plan to skin the fox, as the fox was currently a high school boy who had a good chance of going all district in long distance running. The man in front of her didn’t need to know that.

“Now that you to have threatened each other,” Mulan glanced at Regina without taking her eyes off the gnome, “Can we ask our questions?”

“I don’t know anything.” He spat again.

“You don’t even know what we’re going to ask.”

“It’s about that busty little fairy that croaked right?”

Regina watched him turn back to his flower bed. He squatted with a grunt.

“Yes,” she said, eyeing him suspiciously.

“I don’t know anything.”

“You were once the most powerful gnome in the Enchanted Forest. The very land whispered to you of everyone's secrets. You know everything.”

“Didn’t stop you from going to my brother for help when you cast your curse.”

Right. Paul. “On the bright side…you didn’t end up like him either.” He was still a ugly lawn gnome statue in her back yard. “Please,” she tried to smile polite, “tell us what you’ve heard.”

“No," he spat.

“Mulan I’ve tried the polite way. Do you mind if I try a productive way?”

Mulan shrugged, “As long as there isn’t any property damage.”

She turned back around and grinned savagely at the little man. His ruddy complexion turned as pale as his beard and he raised his hand rake in defense.

“Go to hell hag.”

She popped the knuckles on her good hand, “You first.”

####

Emma had her head ducked down and was watching the pavement as she went back to her car. Her brain was sorting through the information she’d gather and she was trying to figure out why every single nun (none had been lost to Whale's experiments), excluding the three at Aurora’s last night, had been at Granny’s.

The nuns didn’t eat out. Especially during the evening. It smacked of unnatural convenience that they all had the exact same alibi.

She was so wrapped up in puzzling out what the hell the fairies were up to that when the shadow passed over her head she just assumed it was a cloud.

Until is moaned like a guy being floated through the air like a god damned balloon.

When she steeled herself and looked up she did, in fact, see a little man being floated through the air. It was the gardener she’d seen earlier, minus his bright red hat.

That was clutched in Mulan’s hands, and she was twisting it while watching Regina wave her hand and sent the guy into a loop a pilot would have been proud of.

“What the hell are you two doing!”

“Having a conversation,” Regina drawled.

“He wasn’t being helpful,” Mulan added.

“So you’re floating his butt through the air?”

Neither woman took their eyes off the man, who was cursing loudly and vividly. But both women still nodded, as one.

“Stop!”

“He deserves it,” Regina argued.

“What the hell has he done to deserve—“ Regina floated him directly towards Emma’s head and she had to duck to avoid the profanity spewing little man. “—This?”

Regina wagged her finger up and down and he floated higher. “He used to turn people he didn’t like into trees.”

“Not okay but—“

“He also ran the largest lumber mill in the enchanted forest.”

“Oh.” That was actually pretty heinous. Only— “I didn’t let people lynch you Regina, so I can’t let you torture this guy just because he was a jerk over there.”

“I’m not torturing him for that. I told you. He has information that I need.”

“No, he has information I need, and it isn’t legal to get it by floating him around like a Mary Poppins!”

Mulan winced and Emma had no idea why.

Then Regina swiped her hand upwards and the gardener disappeared into the morning sky.

Emma had to tilt her head all the way back to watch the little guy soar. “That is the opposite of what I asked,” she sighed.

“I’m sorry. Last night you told me to help with the investigation. This morning you tell me to limit it to questioning former acquaintances. Which I am currently doing.”

“Regina—“

“You have to make up your mind Emma. Do you want my help or not?”

“Of course!”

“Then let me do my job—“

“Not if it involves that,” she jabbed her finger up at the sky.

There was a sound like a tiny oncoming train, that Emma only belatedly realized was the man screaming as he plummeted to his death. But Regina waved her hand and he jerked to a stop about three inches above the ground.

“David,” Regina said cooly, “the sheriff has asked that I interview you in a less entertaining manner. But before I start that interview I’m going to pluck every single hair from your beard. With tweezers.”

David? The…gnome?

Emma called out Regina’s name again.

Regina ignored her, “You can save yourself that considerable pain.” She flipped him up and floated him towards her, giving him enough height that they were eye level. “Tell me what you know.”

David, David the gnome, grew perfectly still. And Emma and her deputy and that all-powerful mayor grew silent. The only sound was the birds above and the distant cars on faraway roads and the wind in tree.

He closed his eyes. Resigned himself. “Just whispers.”

“Of what,” Regina asked in a low voice.

He peered up through his eye lashes. “Tell me Regina, when’s the last time you went strolling down Gingerbread Lane?”