Title: Dangerous is the Vexed God (3b/?)
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.
Author’s Note: This chapter took longer than expected to get out. On the bright side it is extra long?
Warning: Graphic discussion of the slaughtering of animals. The queasy are warned.
The house, thank Christ, was not made out of cookies and candy. It was a creepy cabin, the kind made out of the fat trunks of trees and with a big wobbly chimney jutting out from above rotten looking wooden shingles. A thin plume of smoke drifted out the top and somewhere far away a raven crowed.
It was hard not to feel a chill seeing the place, nestled in a cove of old growth forest that hid most of the sun’s bright light and made everything colder than the early part of fall should be.
“If she’s so bad why’d you bring her over?”
“Some monsters shouldn’t be left to their own devices.”
“Incestuous serial killers get stranded, but cannibalistic kid snatchers snag a ticket?”
“Most of her power was lost when those children shoved her in her own oven. What’s left of her is dangerous for what she knows, not what she can do,” Regina paused, an obnoxious knowing grin on her lips, “Though I wouldn’t get too close to her kitchen.”
Both horses shivered the closer they got to the cabin. Like they could feel the evil emanating from within. Regina’s stallion pawed at the muddy road and shook his head in protest. Regina had to dig in with her heels and manipulate the four reins. She gritted her teeth silently as she pressed her horse forward.
The one Emma was on was more placid, but she reached a point where she wouldn’t go further and Emma wasn’t about to try and force it. With her luck the horse would bolt and the two of them would end up in New Hampshire by sundown.
“Let me talk,” Regina commanded quietly, “and whatever you do, don’t agree to anything.” She dismounted smoothly and swiftly enough that Emma felt jealous. The chain of Regina’s locket flashed on her neck as she moved and Emma’s locket burned briefly.
As she made her own, considerably less graceful, dismount the front door of the cabin creaked open. The hinges screeched and birds in trees overhead fluttered away, casting the surrounding forest in silence.
A woman emerged. Her whole body was covered in wet looking scars and she was hunched over, as if the burned skin had permanently contorted her. One withered hands held a shawl closed around her shoulders and her other hand, unmarred by burns, was extended before her. Blue blank eyes roved sightlessly. The unblemished hand rose shakily to her mouth. She licked her lips and smiled. “I…smell…a witch.”
“Then perhaps you should invest in deodorant dear.”
Regina’s snark didn’t phase the other woman. She hobbled forward, limping heavily. “Not just a witch—“ She sniffed the air, her head bobbing dramatically. “A girl. An orphan.”
Not true. Emma…Emma had parents now. Sure they were the same age and one was missing an eye and the other was missing her heart, but they were parents who loved her. Parents who cared. Parents who didn’t make her pay rent.
Involuntarily her hand touched her stomach as if too soothe the empty pit that formed at the word orphan. It was habit—the word always clanged painfully around her insides.
The witch was still grinning, and even though she was clearly blind she seemed to be looking directly at Emma. She stepped back in alarm, her shoulder bumping against her horse’s nose.
Then dark hair filled her vision as Regina stepped between her and the witch. “She is not your concern,” she said archly.
The witch tried to look over Regina’s shoulder, craning her neck as far as her misshapen body would allow. “She smells delicious.”
“And she’s about twenty years too old for you. You like them young remember?”
“I can make an exception.”
“I didn’t bring her for you.”
Those milky eyes wandered over the general area of Regina’s head. “Then why?”
“She’s the sheriff, and we have questions for you.”
“Your…granddaughter. How lovely.”
Regina glared—which didn’t do much good. “If you want to start this conversation the wrong way you’re doing a wonderful job Cecily.”
“You’ve come for me haven’t you?”
“Yes,” Emma said, “But—“
“You can’t arrest me. What happened in the other lands remains in the other lands.”
Her story was one of the few from Henry’s book that Emma bothered to remember. A creepy witch eating orphaned kids? It was gonna stick in her head. And at that moment, watching the woman just standing there with bleeding gums leaving her teeth yellowed and long and sharp looking. She wanted to arrest her. Or kill her. To do something. She could hear those teeth chewing on flesh.
“I’ve been good here,” the witch protested. “Just suckling pigs.”
Something behind the house squealed and Emma remembered the name slapped on all the pork at the grocery store. She was going to be sick. “You’re where they get the meat for the grocery store?”
The witch’s smile grew. Her gums had receded leaving each tooth looking longer than it should. “Just the young bits.”
“As soon as it hits puberty she won’t touch it.”
Emma was going to be really sick.
The witch waved to a path that led behind her cabin, “Would you care to see?”
Regina sighed, “No, we’d care for answers Cecily. Stop trying to distract us.”
Cecily (Emma thought the name wasn’t nearly German and evil enough sounding) ignored Regina, and hobbled along the path. Regina buried her hands in her jacket pockets and followed. Emma joined her and fought the urge to draw her gun and use it right then. The witch turned around briefly, like she could see Emma’s thoughts.
“The trick to succulent meat is tenderness.”
Emma kept seeing fat little children in an oven with apples stuck in their mouths. She shuddered. Regina brushed past her, following the other witch closely, and again putting herself between them.
“I produce the most tender meat you’ve ever tasted. You can cut it with your thumb.” She wagged her thumb in illustration.
Coming around the corner of the house Emma was slammed with the smell of animal. It was as bad as the feedlots she’d driven by as she made way through the Texas panhandle on her way between Arizona and Tallahassee. The stench was unmistakable. Hundreds of animals pressed into a small space. Shit and blood and the mere press of bodies producing a unique perfume that could make the unprepared retch.
Regina produced a scarf from her pocket and held it to her nose. Emma just tried to hold her breath.
The barn they stepped into was poorly lit, the only light coming from sunlight streaming through boards. Full grown pigs rutted about in muck in large pens and piglets were all pressed close together in stalls—so close they couldn’t move.
A ploy to fatten them up.
“How are my pretties today,” Cecily cooed.
She flipped a switch near the door and the barn was bathed in stark green yellow white light. Emma squinted.
“Cecily.” Regina’s voice was muffled by the scarf in front of her face.
“Hold on, I need to feed them. I have to prepare the fattest today.”
“The grocery stores are still buying from you,” Emma asked.
“The people of Storybrooke have developed a taste for my meat.”
Regina actually looked ashamed.
“Snow White herself is coming by for piglets this evening.” Cecily reached into one of the stalls and loving stroked the ears of a small pig. “They’ll roast them on the spit tomorrow.”
Emma tried to reconciled the 4th grade teacher who had been her friend with the heartless princess that would do business with a cannibal to make a clam bake special.
“Naturally she goes and turns a simple clam bake into a pig roast,” Regina sighed, “but I don’t care about that right now, we’re here about Merryweather.”
“She’s dead.” Cecily smiled, but whether it was because she found an appealing piglet or because of Merryweather’s fate Emma didn’t know.
Emma rolled her eyes.
“You know more than that,” Regina insisted. “I seem to recall you eating a few of her sisters.”
“They were freshly hatched and I caught them fair and square.”
Emma was going to need to disinfect her entire body when she got home. “You ate fairies?”
She smacked her lips. “The newborn ones are nearly as sweet as children.”
Regina rolled her eyes like it was old news, “And Merryweather and her sisters never forgave you.”
“All the more reason they’d tried to kill me, not the other way around.” She turned towards Emma again, taking a deep breath. “You smell almost as sweet as they did.”
Emma stepped back. Her locket chilling burning with cold against her skin and warring with the her nausea for the most unpleasant feeling.
Regina jammed her scarf back into her pocket and stalked forward, “The gnome told me you know something about her murder. Now stop wasting my time and start talking or I’ll fire up your stove and shove you into it.”
She was blind, hunched, and could barely walk, but Cecily hobbled right into Regina’s personal space, peering up despite being completely blind. “Always quick with empty threats Regina.”
She glared down at the witch. “I burned you once,” she sneered.
“But I hear you’ve changed. What would our succulent smelling sheriff think if she saw you torturing me?”
Regina loomed over her, her face only a few inches from Cecily’s. She spoke clearly, enunciating each word, “Ask the gnome.”
A muscle in the witch’s face quivered.
The room suddenly turned quiet. The pigs turned lethargic in their pens. The stench of the barn seemed to…shift. The space became warmer and the stench turned pleasant. Like something roasting.
There was spice.
Warm and toasty, like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The whole barn was turning into gingersnaps, the pig shit into chocolate, the straw into spun sugar. The pigs stood immobile. The stark white fluorescent lights overhead flickered and became cozy flames. Icing oozed down the walls. The hard packed dirt floor turned soft and spongy like gingerbread.
Emma cried out in alarm.
Regina crossed her arms, perfectly at ease on the shifting floor. But Emma had to scramble. She reached for the wall and yanked her hand away as icing dripped onto her fingers.
This was freaking— “Stop it,” she demanded.
“This place is looking a little underdone,” Regina said and then flipping fire sprouted up around her feet, scorching the ground and sending up black gouts of smoke that smelled like burned bread.
“You’re the one that’ll roast Regina.”
The gun going off put an end to the brewing battle. A single bullet hole was smoking in the spot exactly between Regina and Cecily’s feet.
Emma looked very official in the moment. Like a cop on television, her badge glimmering on her waist and her gun held in both hands before her, her eyes steely as she glared over the end of the barrel.
“That’s enough,” she growled. “The candy land magic bullshit ends now or Cora gets two more cellmates.”
“You think you can stop either of us,” Cecily actually asked.
Emma’s magic. Raw and ineffable flowed out of her, buffeting them both. “I can try.”
It was the first time this Emma had tapped into her power in Storybrooke, and it exploded out almost in a visible wave that Emma seemed to be completely unaware of. She had no idea how powerful she was. Cecily blanched in horror, her thin frame crumpling in the face of the onslaught. Regina kept standing—the locket scorching between her breasts and the magic moving in and out and around her.
She called Emma’s name—sounding breathless even to herself.
Cecily’s baked goods horror show subsided and seconds later Emma turned off the faucet to her own power. She blinked—as if she’d surprised herself and looked sheepishly to Regina.
“So,” Regina panted, directing her question to Cecily, “Now will you talk?”
“I know,” she glanced at Emma again, “Even if she doesn’t. And that’s one of the reasons we need to know about Merryweather. We’ve already got Emma here walking around with a nuclear power plant inside of her. We don’t need someone else running around murdering fairies.”
“I didn’t do it.”
“Then why’d the gnome send us to you?”
“He wanted you dead.”
“Then he wouldn’t have sent me to you.”
Cecily shifted her shoulders slightly, accepting that fact. “You know my gift Regina.” She hobbled back over to the stalls and once more systematically poking and prodding every piglet within reach. “I see what others can’t. Do you know why?”
“I grew up in the Enchanted Forest. I’m aware of the Blind Witches dear. Didn’t Rumpel kill your great grandmother?”
“Great-great grandmother. She saw the future and he stole that gift from her.”
“The way he tells it she gave it to him.”
Emma had lowered her gun and was looking from one witch to the other in confusion. “I’m lost.”
“The Blind Witches see what others cannot,” Regina explained. “Some saw through disguises and others through lies. Some saw the future. Some saw the past. Cecily here sees—“
“I see intent.”
It had always made it difficult to circumvent her. You could never plan when dealing with Cecily—as Regina and Maleficent had both learned the hard way.
And as too many children had as well.
More than one child Regina had sent into Cecily’s house had died because of it. They’d sneak in and planning to kill her and claim the satchel but would be roasted and eaten instead. It had forced Regina to find younger and younger and more wholesome children for the task. And more impulsive too.
Emma squinted, laboring over that reveal. “So you don’t know what I look like, but if I intend to punch you…”
“She can see it. And what does this have to do with Merryweather? Did you see someone planning to murder her?”
“Worse.” She grasped a pig by its hind legs and drew it from its pen. The screech was ungodly. Emma turned green with nausea. “I saw a war.”
War. Big deal. Emma wanted to see war she could watch the news. It was a damn sight better than watching Cecily throw a piglet to the ground and bind its squirming legs.
Regina took Cecily’s words more seriously. She was still in that fugue state of hers when her mind was working faster than anyone else’s.
“Where,” Regina asked, “Who’s planning it?”
The blind witch smiled, enjoying the fine film of panic coating Regina’s words. “I might tell you. For a price.” She tugged a knot into place on the pig’s back legs and picked it up again. It squealed and writhed in her surprisingly stable hand.
“You can tell us and not go to jail,” Emma groused.
“And my crime? This isn’t the Enchanted Forest Sheriff. You can’t just lock us away because you don’t like our power.”
“How about for eating kids? That a good enough reason.”
She pulled the pig to the far end of the barn and into a smaller room with white tile walls and floors. “Then I suppose you’ll take Regina too.” Emma and Regina followed her. “How many did she murder—“
“Name the price,” Regina interrupted. She was still in her pensive place. That mayor at town meetings, or the witch intrigued by some new magic.
She stood in the door between that white room and the barn where Emma stood. Emma stepped closer to Regina, lowering her voice, “I thought we weren’t making deals.”
“You’re not making deals because you can’t tell the difference between an ogre and a giant.” Regina didn’t take her eyes off the witch, “I know what I’m getting into. Name your price Cecily.”
Cecily selected a knife from a magnet on the wall. “I want to leave.”
“Emma broke the curse, I have no control over what’s left.”
“No, but Rumpelstiltskin is already plotting his own way out, he has for generations. Learn how he plans to do it and share.”
No talk about how maybe letting a serial killer lose on the non-magic population of the world was a bad idea. Or plan to actually get help from Gold. Cecily asked and Regina promptly answered.
She placed the squirming pig on a slab in the middle of the room, and in one swift, familiar motion, slid her knife through the piglet’s neck. It twitched and blood, brighter than any Emma had seen, spilled across the slab. S
Regina took a step into the room. “You’ll have your way out. Now who did you see?”
Cecily hung the now limp carcass on a hook. Blood dripped on the tile and started to turn tacky on the knife, forgotten on the slab. It covered the witch’s hands and she seemed to marvel at the sensation.
“I saw the war itself. Bleeding into this land from all the others. Trickling over on the backs of your victims. Magic,” she held up a hand and fire flared in it, burning away the pig’s blood, “and its creators,” in her other hand the blood formed a globe of liquid that hovered just above her palm, “want to war over this world—the last bastion of its kind.”
“She intended to stop it.”
Emma was coming out of a dream…or a nightmare. She staggered back into the natural light dimmed by the surrounding forest and gaped at it all. She could smell tree sap and freshly turned earth and hear birds over the muffled squeals of the pigs the Blind Witch was butchering. It was the real world. One that made sense.
The barn was something else. Something as bad as the Enchanted Forest. Disjointed and colored all wrong.
Regina followed her out. Her hand brushed Emma’s shoulder, “Are you okay?”
She shrugged her off. “Fine.” She turned to face Regina, and she kept her eyes only on her, letting the barn itself dissolved into the background, “Except for the part where this had nothing to do with the murder.”
Regina raised an eyebrow, “You don’t think motive is important?”
“Of course it is. But that,” she pointed at the bar, “that’s—war!? We’re in the middle of Maine where our son is learning to ride horses and we’re all stuck going to a clam bake tomorrow. War isn’t an option.”
“It’s rarely a choice for the ones not waging it.”
“Right. Exactly. You said Storybrooke is cut off from the other lands. That you’re the only one who can travel back and forth.”
“So how’s this war supposed to work Regina? Are you going to war?”
“Then what’s going on?”
She shook her head, “I don’t know. All I’ve heard are—“
“Rumors. When we travelled there were rumors, and my mother warned me—“
“The other Cora.”
Emma had to walk away. She took long strides back around the cabin towards the horses and away from Regina talking about another Cora.
“No. No, enough. I’m not—we made it back from the Enchanted Forest—alive! And that’s enough okay? I don’t need wars and factions and whole other timelines!”
Emma shouting struck Regina dumb.
The silence of the forest pervaded their conversation and even the squeals of pigs and chirps of birds seemed to disappear.
It was just Emma and Regina. Magic and all the insanity of it and normalcy. Facing off. Until…
Regina looked…pained. “Denying it won’t make any of it go away.”
“It’s working for Mary Margaret and David.” It was a cheap comment and Emma knew it. Her eyes were wet—with frustration for sure—and she wiped at them.
Regina tried to console her with a weak smile, but it came off like a frown. “Merryweather was murdered because she knew about a war I’ve only heard whispers of. Whether it can come to Storybrooke or not is irrelevant.” It was an olive branch. Regina partitioning all the crazy into little easier to swallow bites. “Whoever murdered her believed. That was enough.”
“Her sisters didn’t know anything. I asked the Mother Superior and—“
Regina stepped close again. Her voice more gentle than it had any right to be. Like she wasn’t talking to Emma, but someone she actually cared about. “She may be part of this.”
Which meant only one, really, really bad conclusion. “We’re not just dealing with murder. It’s conspiracy.”
“Glad you figured that out.” David the former gnome and current city employed groundskeeper, stood between them and the horses, his short arms crossed over his large belly and his bearded chin jutting out in challenge.
Emma asked the obvious question, “Where the hell did you come from?”
He sniffed, “I burrowed.”
The shift from empathetic Regina to wicked queen was so fast Emma got emotional whiplash. She stepped in between Emma and David and grinned savagely. “Come for another go troll?”
“I’m a gnome.”
“Not in this land.”
His cheeks turned as red as his hat. “I came for revenge.”
“And I said no revenge,” Emma shouted over Regina’s shoulder.
The gnome and Regina both made her feel five and actually rolled their eyes, in unison.
“So what? You dig your way out here,” Regina pantomimed a dog digging a hole, “and just demand you vengeance?”
“My original plan was to turn you into a tree. That blind bitch in there hates you as much as I do. She wouldn’t tell a soul and in this forest,” he surveyed the surrounding trees, “it’d be years before they found you.”
“Quaint little plan for murder. How were you going to do that? The sheriff’s standing right here.”
“She wasn’t supposed to be.” His lower lip stuck out in a pout. “You couldn’t have stayed at your desk eating donuts?”
He shrugged, “So they’ll find her body on the edge of town in a few days and you’ll have disappeared. That story will write itself.”
He was a confident little fucker.
Regina laughed, “Of course. You will murder the Savior.”
“Thanks,” Emma muttered.
Regina crossed her arms defiantly, “But that still leaves me. How do you expect to do it? Your magic can’t even affect the pansies in this world.”
He held up an acorn, “With this.”
Regina’s amused and regal smirk quickly turned into a frown. A kind of worried frown that made Emma’s fingers twitch. Was she allowed to pull a gun on a former gnome wielding an acorn? He grinned devilishly.
“I folded quite a bit of magic into this. Even borrowed some from old friends.”
“For that to work you’d need power—“
“From dozens of sorcerers, wizards and magic creatures.” He held it up to the sunlight and inspected it proudly. “I’ve only been working on it for the last twelve hours, but enough people were clamoring to help put you down that it should be potent enough.”
Emma wanted to ask for what, because it had to be pretty bad if Regina was eying a tiny nut nervously and her two traitorous horses were giving the stand off a wide berth.
But the bastard little gnome threw the acorn and Regina raised her hands to—magic it or something—and Emma was an idiot. She reached out and caught the little fucker. Snatching the nut out of midair with reflexes honed by dodging old drunks’ punches.
The acorn chucker and Regina both stared at her with equal measures of surprise—only rooted in very different emotions. David seemed delighted that she’d caught it, and confused, and maybe scared.
Regina just seemed horrified.
“What did you do!”
Emma wasn’t sure what she’d done. Evil acorns had been thrown and she’d caught them. She looked down at her hand, it was still balled into a fist and as much as she wanted to drop the acorn her fingers wouldn’t move.
The gnome tried to walk away and Regina, without taking her eyes off Emma, lashed out. Vines and branches screamed out of the trees and wrapped around him, again and again until he was in a cocoon of greenery. It bobbed overhead, and the two horses both looked up at it curiously.
Regina kept staring. She yanked her doeskin glove off her hand with her teeth and grabbed Emma’s fist. The bandages she still had on her hand tickled Emma’s knuckle as Regina’s fingers tried to pry Emma’s fist open.
The cut from Gold’s knife had been deep, and her fingers were still clumsy. When David was properly bound she yanked her other glove off and tried to use both her hands.
“Are you insane?”
Emma tried a weak explanation, “It was an acorn?”
“From David the Gnome! Master of Forests! Builder of Trees! He turned his wife into a tree.”
Emma thought she ran up a mountain and turned herself into a tree as a metaphor for death or something. “To be fair, David the Gnome is a lot friendlier on TV.”
“He actually outlined his plan for murder while we stood here.”
“He’s one of the town drunks and spent yesterday floating around town like a balloon. Excuse me for not taking his threats seriously.”
Regina grabbed Emma by the wrist and stuck her balled up fist in her face. “And now? Serious enough for you?”
Why yes. Yes it was.
“Why does my skin look like bark?”
“Because you caught an acorn and are turning into a tree.”
One of the horses whinnied. It sounded like a laugh. Emma scowled.
Regina snapped her fingers, “Focus Emma.”
“I am!” She looked down and watched the bark spread. Little twigs with little leaves sprouted from her knuckles. More of her turned rigid. “There’s an easy fix for this right?”
“If he’d tried to do it with just his regular magic yes. But the whole point of the acorn is—“
“It’s a curse.”
“Isn’t that your expertise?”
She tried to sound a lot more hopeful than she was feeling. She was losing sensation in all her extremities. The spreading bark, maybe owing to some weird gnome sense of propriety, spread over her clothes rather than under them.
So she was gonna be a tree, but she wouldn’t be naked.
Regina prodded the bark with her fingers. “I don’t know. I—I’m used to sleeping curses and ones that ruin the lives of my enemies.”
“Being a tree qualifies as life ruined Regina.”
“I know,” she snapped, “but technically not in the same way.”
“Well, yea for technicalities. Have fun taking Henry to visit his mom the mighty oak.”
“I think you’re,” she winced, “an apple tree.”
“If I die I want my remains turned into a bat and the gnome beat to death with it.”
“Not a problem,” Regina promised grimly.
“Okay,” Emma tried to stretch and make herself taller, hoping it would give her more time. “Let’s look at options. If I become a tree you know where I am and can research and fix it possibly.”
Regina weighed that, “Maybe,” she ran a hand through her hair, mussing it up, “but maybe not. Gnome magic is about becoming one with the land. It tends to be permanent.”
“Tends. Not always? So you get with Gold or the Mother Superior or even that creepy bastard Whale and you guys can—“
“Quiet.” Regina held up her hand for silence and Emma would have reeled back but she couldn’t move much more than her neck anymore.
Regina chewed her lip. She was breathing loudly through her nose and glaring intently—really raking her eyes over the tree that used to be the rest of Emma.
God. She was gonna end up as wood chips in the smoker at Granny’s wasn’t she?
Regina suddenly set her mouth into a firm line and narrowed her eyes before inhaling through here nose, “I have an idea.”
“You have an idea?”
“It might not work. You’re not—“ she winced again, “it isn’t ideal, but I can try.”
The bark had spread to her neck. “Okay. What are you trying?”
Regina reached out—a hand on either side of Emma’s face.
Her eyes flew from one hand to the other and back to Regina’s face. “Regina?”
“Shut up.” She was staring at Emma. Really staring. Like she was trying to convince herself of something. She took another deep breath, this time through her mouth. Her tongue darted out and wet her lips. Her hands trembled.
“Regina—now’s the time…”
Then her finger tips brushed lightly against Emma’s skin before moving into her hair. Her palms pressed against Emma’s jaws and her thumbs grazed her cheeks. She stepped close enough that her knee must of have brushed against the trunk of the tree that used to be Emma’s thigh.
She whispered, “What are you doing?”
“Hopefully saving your life,” Regina murmured. Her breath briefly warmed Emma’s lips. Then she pressed her own to them.
It was the third kiss.
Not as hungry as the first.
Not as kind as the second.
This kiss was gentle and safe and scared and unfamiliar warmth blossomed inside of Emma, spreading from where their lips met through her veins to her center and out to her fingers and toes. A timid tongue—how could Regina ever even be timid—caressed her lower lip and the warmth kept spreading. Emma’s eyes drifted closed, because it just seemed natural and iridescent light shined behind them. Her own lips parted.
Someone sighed softly into an open mouth.
And the acorn fell from Emma’s hand, but she didn’t notice, because her hand was on Regina’s hip and it felt
It felt true.