Belle stopped for breath, leaning against a tree trunk. The sun was behind her now, casting the trees’ shadows ahead of her. But where is mine? Belle thought with a start.
She tried to remember when she had seen it last - and found she couldn’t recall. I wasn’t looking for it, Belle admitted to herself. It could have left on the bridge, at the river, in the water… Or with Rumplestiltskin. Is a shadow the price of forever?
Emma knocked on Regina’s door. Never liked this part, she thought to herself. And it isn’t just because this is what the cops do. And I’m the cop here.
Henry opened the door. “Emma!” he said. “Wait, what are you doing here?”
“Is your mother here?” Emma asked.
Henry looked at her, trying to divine her purpose.
“I’m here, Sheriff,” Regina said, coming up behind Henry, placing her hands gently but protectively on Henry’s shoulders. “You wanted to see me?”
“I’ve got some bad news, Madam Mayor. You may want to sit down for this,” Emma said. “Henry, can you give us a minute?”
“Now then, what’s this all about?” Regina asked Emma.
“There was a murder last night,” Emma said. “The victim was Tabitha Mills.”
Regina nodded slowly. “We weren’t close, but yes, I knew her. She was my sister-in-law.” Regina took a breath. “Can I ask…how did she die?” You said it was a murder, but I’ve learned never to underestimate May’s connections, even when she’s locked away as securely as she is.
“Somebody tore her open. Made it look like an animal attack, only… Only there are no animals that big.” Unless Jurassic Park is part of the fairy tale world Henry talks about.
The sun was rising. I ran all night? thought Belle with a start.
At first she thought the growling came from her stomach: being minor nobility, she had so rarely been hungry before her interludes within Rumplestiltskin’s prison.
Then she saw the wolves approaching, growling. “Please, get back,” Belle said to them. “Leave me alone.” Let me mourn my shadow in peace.
“Why would we do that?” asked a man walking among the wolves.
“I -” Belle began to say but stopped when he pulled out a sword and used it to draw a circle in the ground around her, and then he stepped back, he and his wolves waiting and watching. Belle recognized what she was seeing…recognition of something from the bravery tales. “I’m safe inside this circle until I answer you, because then I’m safe inside and outside the circle. Is that so, Lord Romulus?”
“Then you also know,” Romulus said, “that if you leave the circle before answering my question to my satisfaction, your life is forfeit. Now… Answer.”
“I am niece of King Midas, daughter of Duke Mo. My name is Belle.” I suppose I have to remember to reverse them from now on.
“The girl traded for safety,” Romulus said.
“I agreed to it, over objections,” Belle said.
“Then you are my guest. You may step out, to safety.”
Belle stayed where she was.
“Your choice. Then I have a question for you, Belle : why are you not in Rumplestiltskin’s possession?”
“He…” Belle said, not sure which was worse: ‘he kicked me out’ or ‘he banished me.’ She settled on, “He let me go.”
"So you came from Rumplestiltskin’s, did you?" Romulus asked Belle, as if to confirm it. Belle nodded. "And you want to get back in his good graces?"
"I would like that," Belle said.
"You want all to be forgiven, all hard feelings washed away."
Belle nodded, noting cautiously that Romulus was approaching her, closer and closer.
He drew his short sword and, blade tip nestled so it would slide between his ribs *just so*, placed the sword grip in Belle’s hands. "Push. That’s all you need do."
Belle’s first instinct was to drop the gladius sword and refuse - but then she remembered what the Nixie had said about knowing the context. "Why?" Belle asked. "Why would Rumplestiltskin want you dead?"
"I killed his son." Red Riding Hood’s father.
"And his wife? Did you kill her, too?"
"Never met the woman. *She* wasn’t spying on a bathing woman."
"What?" Did Rumplestiltskin know? Or did you spare him from knowing the How?
"Someone had told him that magical people will tell you anything if you steal their skin while they’re bathing." Back then, the Kings Of White were neutrals, so I leveraged that to bring White to ally with Midas. I still remember the look on the White Queen’s face when she first saw Rumplestiltskin - and back then, she was not at all skilled at magic. "I haven’t left King Midas’ lands since then."
Belle recalled her papa asking how Rumplestiltskin had gotten past what Uncle Midas had had a hand in forming - the walls.
“No,” Thomas Kaiser said.
“Please? You have to,” Ruby said.
Thomas stopped and looked down at her. “You asked me for a job. I gave you that, because you have excellent references and I know your family. I let you work in the office on the condition that your performance in the diner does not suffer. Do not ask for more.”
“I want to know if you know who my grandfather is. Nothing more.”
“And if I tell you? What then? I assume you’ll go find him.”
Ruby nodded. “In my spare time. Not when I’m supposed to be working.”
Kaiser sighed. “I know your grandfather and your great-grandfather.”
“Is my father really dead?” Ruby asked.
“Yes. A hunting accident.”
“And their names…?”
“That wasn’t what you asked.” Tom checked his watch. “Lunchtime’s over, back to work.”
Ruby growled, but complied.
IN THE ENCHANTED:
At one point in their conversation, “And speaking of demons… beware of my enemy the Snark,” Romulus advised.
Belle frowned. “I’ve never seen anything that says snarks were demons,” she said.
“Yes.” Of course.
“Have you ever read anything of the Evil One? The entity which is Rumplestiltskin and his predecessors?”
“But you learned firsthand?”
“Learned the way I know snarks,” Romulus said.
You love a snark? “Perhaps we could speak to one, at least for a little while.”
"There’s no way to get the Snark here for a talk," Romulus said. "She never shows her face, only her mischief. Sometimes she writes down her legal opinion on something, leaves it out for someone in need to find it."
Belle remembered how Rumplestiltskin would always drink with her, particularly when it was from those fine porcelain cups. She remembered how her uncle Midas would always make time to have tea with her when she was a girl and visiting his palace. I have an idea how to capture her, Belle thought.
Belle poured the tea into little cups, hoping this would work - and hoping they didn’t have to be porcelain to serve the purpose.
"What do you want?" a woman’s voice asked Belle.
"I am having tea," Belle said. "Would you care for some?"
"Tea is a gesture."
"Tea is tea."
“Everything has significance and meaning.”
Belle thought of the chipped teacup. “But that’s only personal signifigance.”
“Everything starts. People instigate a lot, and things are very significant to them. They give it meaning.”
“Does it matter if I’m not aware of any significance?” Belle asked.
“Then why tea?” the voice asked her.
“I like tea. Everyone I know likes tea. I can make something else if you’d prefer.”
The silence brooded. Then, “Tea…is more than fine,” she said and stepped out from the cover of the forest’s shade and shadows.
“I am the Snark.”
“You are?” Belle asked.
“We were never extinct.”
“Oh no, I mean I always thought ‘snark’ was a race, a society.”
“Also true. I am a snark. Next to no one encounters multiple snarks, so treat it as my name as well.”
“Your real name is secret?” Belle asked, having read of things like secret names.
“My other name is long discarded,” the snark said, stepping as far as the stone Belle was using for a table, and with care and caution picked up a cup. “Why are you offering me this?” remembering a king who once captured her with the aim of eliciting a spell from her.
“What do you mean?”
“I am no friend of yours.”
“Can we be friends?” Belle asked.
“Snarks have no friends,” the snark said.
“Can I be your friend, at least?”
“Not possible,” Snark said firmly, decisively.
“Why not?” Belle asked.
Answer her question, and she’ll think I’m dodging the question. "We have had the discussion for a long time, Belle," Snark said. "What would we be like without our rigorous training, hardships, and deprivations? Now I see the answer standing before me.”
"I’m not a snark," Belle said.
"You’re punishing yourself. I need no powers to deduce that."
"Why would I be punishing -"
"Denial. How human of you - I may blame your parents. And thus I blame myself.” And she watched the light go on in Belle’s eyes.
"What makes you think I’m a snark, Great Snark?" Belle asked.
"I know my own daughter," Snark said.
Belle’s eyes were wide. “You and Duke Mo…?”
Snark made a noise of disgust.
"Also, you are co-heir to the throne of Midas,” said the snark.
“We are snarks? Abigail as well?" Belle asked, breathing a sigh of relief.
"A child of politics." Midas handed you to his in-laws for them to raise, unable to think of a greater gesture for peace. While he kept the other one, to train her for the throne.
"While I am a child of love," Belle said.
"Snarks cannot love, child. We are superb imitators, however."
"No, no that can’t be." Rumplestiltskin would be laughing his breeches off at this news, no doubt. "Does…does my father know?"
The Snark raised an eyebrow. "Midas was the snark assigned to reign in the troublemakers in this corner of the Empire." Before the Empire ceased to be. "I was part of his unit."
"A pack of hunting dogs," the Nixie said. Belle turned and saw her standing half in the river; she turned back, and the Snark had vanished. "The analogy holds better than a squad of knights."
"No!" Belle said, turning on the Nixie, stomping towards her, but stopping short of the waterline.
Smart, the Nixie thought.
"King Midas is a gentle man, a kind-hearted -"
"Have you met his enemies?"
Belle frowned. "Are you one of them ?"
"I have no argument with the Empire. Point of fact, I gave Midas a gift - I pointed him to the wolves."
“You have already met Romulus the once king,” the Nixie said. “As Midas would have, eventually.”
“And there it is - the question you fear to ask: ‘if it would have happened anyway, what use am I?’”
“It’s a good question,” Belle said.
“Had Rumplestiltskin come to your castle when you were a child, would you have done the same as you did?”
“No,” Belle said.
“And that is why.”
“Thank you.” Thank you for not speaking in riddles.
“You’re tired, Belle. You have been through a great deal.”
“You tried and got further than most; return to me the letter, and you can go home.”
Belle just looked at her.
“The church and its agents will not bother you any longer,” the Nixie said.
“That’s not it,” Belle said. “I promised you I would deliver the message, and I will!”
“Very well,” and dropped splashlessly into the river’s current.
“Goodbye?” Belle said.
Looking out across the entirety of the park, Emma could almost let herself be lulled into believing that there was absolutely nothing wrong with anything here in Storybrooke, that there wasn’t anything rotten in things going on, and that Emma hadn’t called the FBI for help with someone who might be a witness - or who might have abducted Kathryn Nolan.
"Lovely day. Deceptively so," was the greeting Emma had been waiting for.
"Thanks for agreeing to meet with me," Emma Swan said.
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation is always happy to lend a hand to our sisters in other branches of law enforcement. I’m no different in that regard," Sara Um said. "Particularly since you thought to ask first."
"As opposed to thinking to ask forgiveness later," Emma said. Which I nearly did anyway.
Sara nodded. "I’ll clear the red tape, and you can talk to Tom Kaiser within the day." Strange you mentioned him as a suspect - you thinking vendetta?
"Kaiser’s gotten his hands in trouble plenty of times, but he wouldn’t bother with a housewife," Sara said.
“How well do you know Kaiser?” Emma asked.
“Well enough to know you’re fishing, Sheriff. And despite that, I’m still willing to help you in your investigation.”
“*I’ll* talk to him,” Sara said. It’s been a while since we were in the same neck of the woods.
"Part of why prophecies are kept so vague is so they can’t be avoided," May Noapte had once confided to Archie. "Were I to say you would die in July, you might wear armor vests and avoid those places perfect for knifing. But you would not think to avoid an elephant breaking wind, or a newfound lover for whom you would change everything about yourself.”
Archie took notes while May Noapte continued her account of the world which is according to her, equally as real and present as this one. From what Archie could tell, May’s delusion - the reason she was always strapped down on her hospital bed - was a more intense version of Henry’s.
Which brought him back to what she had just said. "Mule ears?" Archie asked.
"Yes," May Noapte said.
"I don’t think it makes sense - even in the context of… what you’re telling me," avoiding using the word ‘story,’ "to have puppet kings wearing donkey ears," whether they’re real or fake ears.
"As opposed to wearing part of a dryad? Yes, that’s so much nobler."
"So you’re saying that the symbolism of the mule ears, is rooted in the history and mythology there, much as the importance we attach to laurel wreathes stems from Greek mythology?"
May watched him.
"Do you like it? Or is a better question ‘Do you enjoy it?’ ?" she asked him.
May and Henry were in agreement about what Archie was in the other world. "Do I enjoy being human?" Archie asked.
"Unpleasant as the thought is, yes," May said.
"I like it very much. I imagine being a cricket had downsides." Not exactly something I could say to Henry, though.
"It could have been worse."
"Worse?" Archie said.
In The Hospital Basement:
"I have some questions," Regina said to Patient Four through the slot in the door. Patient Four, who, it was said, used to answer to the name of ‘Dee Bell.’
"Questions deserve answers," Patient Four said. "But nothing easy," as she slung herself over, feet on the floor, and walking to the door. A slight push and -
And it opened. A should’ve-been-locked door opened. How? Was the question crossing Regina’s mind…right until Patient Four shot out an arm and gripped Regina’s throat tightly, pushing the Mayor against the cold hard wall. And then let go, letting Regina slide down to the floor.
"I will deal with the Nixie," Patient Four said in Regina’s voice, and walked away, to leave the hospital, Regina worried dimly as memories came flooding up, unbidden…
Regina’s POV -
"For as long as…" Gold says. You’re my best chance at convincing Henry to give up thinking his book is reality. At the worst, you say you’re someone like the Woodsman or the merchant who sold Jack some magic beans; I can work with that. It might even defuse some of this in Henry’s mind.
‘On Earth’? So you have an idea what I’m going to ask you. Doesn’t matter: I can’t back down now. I never have backed down before, can’t start now. "What about…other places," I ask, doing a good job of keeping the disbelief out of my voice.
Mr. Gold’s smile broadens and grows, like that of a Cheshire cat. And then he says, "Rumplestiltskin." You’re mocking me, I almost say - but he would claim to be entirely serious. Even if he’s lying, he’d say that.
Dear Lord, please let him be mocking me. It wouldn’t be the first time, by Gold or by anyone else. And Henry’s belief is an open secret in Storybrooke. I’m accustomed to the mocking, spoken and silent.
But if Mr. Gold isn’t mocking - if he truly is - or believes himself to be - Rumplestiltskin - then dammit. Then maybe Henry was right, and I’m the Evil Queen.
The person nobody wants to be.
"…your Majesty," Mr. Gold addresses me. Or who Henry - and he? - believe me to be.
"There were some things I omitted," May Noapte|the Nixie said.
"Such as what?" Regina wanted to know.
"That each heart is tuned to a different degree - some crumble sooner than others." And I started you off with a more durable one, so you would not be suspicious of their lethal aspect.
"Sheriff Graham died because of that omission!"
Nixie shrugged. "I merely mentioned where to find the gun. You fired it. This blame is not on my head, not on my shoulders, not on my hands."
"You told me the contents of the repository would keep Storybrooke from bubbling over."
"I never lied to you, Regina Mills. But even a leash may choke if the hands that hold it is tight enough," Nixie said.
"What kind of game do you think you’re playing?" Regina asked.
"Chess. You are a piece on the board. Like you used to be." Before you became Queen.
Regina knew that, I’m not Queen. I’m not. She had always been mayor. She had almost always been Henry’s mother.
And she couldn’t move while Belle was leaving.