Fic: Light In All the Darkness
Part 5 of my Mad Swan fic ‘Skeptics and True Believers’, follows on from ‘A Hand to Hold’ Wherein we have Helle friendship, and Grace/Paige actually gets lines.
(Full chapter listing at my masterlist)
Light In All The Darkness
Regina comes in the middle of the day, when she knows Emma will be at work.
Jefferson is trusted to stay in Granny’s, where Ruby can keep an eye on him. If he leaves, Granny calls the Sheriff and she’s there in a heartbeat.
When the phone rings, and Emma picks it up, she expects to hear that he’s gone outside and disappeared, or that he’s harassed a customer. He gives people the creeps, she knows that, but people have come to accept that he’s her responsibility and that she’ll deal with it.
She’s his only friend, like it or not, and that’s just the way it is.
No one ever said that life was fair.
But it’s Ruby, telling her that Regina came with Dr Whale, and they took Jefferson in Dr Whale’s car. Granny said not to worry about it – no one could believe that the Mayor and the Sheriff would disagree over this – but Ruby insisted.
And Emma wants to go to the hospital right that second. She wants to bust Jefferson out of there, prove he’s safe in her home.
She likes having him with her. She’ll miss him when he’s gone.
And these are truths that her empty heart knows, even when her mind is screaming and waving its arms in protest.
But she can’t. Because she’s not a medical professional, and she’s broken no laws, and Archie told her what happened during their session: Jefferson lost his mind and attacked him.
The Mayor has broken no laws.
So Emma goes home to an empty apartment, and doesn’t worry about eating right from the fridge, and turns on her stereo to escape the silence. Jefferson is always talking, whether he’s giggling like a child or brooding in deep and dangerous anger. He’s always talking, and the silence is heavy.
But she carries it, like she carries everything else, and she has no high hopes when the doorbell rings.
It’s Henry, and he’s got a friend with him. Paige smiles, shyly, as Henry pushes inside. “Ah, hi.”
He has his determined-face on. Emma groans, “What’s up, Henry?”
“You have to go save the Hatter!”
“Henry,” she sighs, and sees Paige fidgeting out of the corner of her eye. She kneels down, so she’s face-to-face with her son, and looks him in the eye, “Jefferson is a very sick man, and he needs help.” She sighs, and she knows Henry can see the pain on her face, “And he can get that in the hospital.”
“But my mom looked so happy when she came home tonight, like she’s winning.”
“How do you even know about him?” she frowns, and Paige coughs.
“He always says smiles at me, in the street.” She says, and her voice is quiet, “And now, he’s always with you.”
And maybe Jefferson is this girl’s father, because her sad, sweet smile is a carbon copy of his.
Henry takes over, “He needs you, Emma. He needs you to help him break the Curse. And you can’t do that if he’s locked up.”
“Henry, I can’t go busting people out of insane asylums, I just can’t. They’re going to make him better again, and then they’ll let him go.”
Letting him go seems like the order of the day.
“My mom doesn’t let people go,” Henry looks at her like she’s incredibly dense, “He’ll disappear into the hospital and never come out.”
She doesn’t want to think that. But she can’t help it: a part of her, irrational and stupid as it is, still blames Regina for Graham’s death: because until she got angry, Graham was alive.
And until she got involved, Mary Margaret was fine.
Regina has a talent for taking away the people that Emma cares about.
“How about I go visit him tomorrow, huh?” she compromises, “You can come, too, and-” she breaks off, remembers a crucial detail, “He’ll be back by midnight.”
And Regina would think she’d stolen him away. And then she’ll be fired for sure, and Mary Margaret will be truly screwed.
“What?” Henry’s confused, frowning, and Paige is watching the pair of them. She looks so awkward, like they’ve both lost their minds.
“I don’t know why, but Jefferson is always back here at midnight.” She stands, and grabs her jacket from the chair, “Let’s go.”
Jefferson sits in his chair, and has a million little lights shone in his eyes.
The doctor is trying to find Hatter, hidden behind Jefferson’s blank eyes. He’s probing, looking for signs of the madman within, for a reason to lock him up and throw away the key.
Regina watches from the side, and he wants to leap from the chair and off with her head!
She has a Jabberwocky’s smile, with diamond-dagger teeth and blood red lips bared in a snarl. And he hates her, more than anything in the world, more than he hates magic, more than he hates the family that stole his daughter.
He could rip her to pieces with his bare hands.
It’s her fault that he’s insane. It’s her fault that Grace doesn’t know his name.
And that thought brings the smile to his lips, brings Hatter to his eyes. He tries to move, he’s growling, screaming, and he’s tied down but he could break free. He needs to feel her throat, soft and malleable, beneath his fingertips. He needs to hear her bones crack; watch her blood flow like wine.
He hates her more than he hates the Queen of Hearts.
Hatter is drugged, and carried under the Earth. He can sense the worms in the soil beyond the walls; feel the weight of the building crushing them as he’s locked in the basement.
He’s alone down here. And it’s cold and dark, and almost peaceful, almost liveable.
It’s not home. His home is a whitewashed wooden house, with a patchwork quilt and the Curse-Breaker in the next room.
He’ll be home by midnight.
He expects to feel the way he did in Wonderland. He wants Hatter to remain in control, to scream like the crazy man he is and tear at the walls, to make his fingernails bleed with the need to get back into the world, the world that has his Grace in it.
But Hatter withdraws, and it’s Emma who he holds in his mind. He has learnt to live a life without his daughter by his side, and while he would give anything to have her back, here and now she’s not what he needs. He needs his sanity, his hope: his best friend. He needs Emma to hold his hand and bring back the light.
He’s there for minutes or hours, he can’t tell. He stays by the window, watches the sun arc across the sky,
Then there’s a small voice, tired and croaky, through the stone walls. “Hello?”
“Who is that?” he asks, wondering if his insanity has re-emerged, wondering if he’s hearing voices now. But this isn’t one of Alice’s lullabies, crooning through his memories, nor Grace’s delighted giggle. This is accented and new, someone he hasn’t met.
“I’m one cell over, I think.”
“Did they hurt you?” that she’s so concerned for him, when she sounds so sad herself, makes him want to weep. He might have been insane, but at least he was free.
“No. Not really. No more than usual.”
“Who-” she stops, and he can almost feel her thinking, “Who are they?”
“A Queen and her apothecary.” He says, and then sighs. Hatter isn’t here, and Jefferson suffers for his mistakes, and speaking in riddles won’t bring him back, “The Mayor, Regina, and Dr Whale.”
“Oh.” Then her voice takes on a different tone, “The Queen? Your friend, the Queen?” she sounds like she’s reciting something from a television show, high and mocking, truly insane, and bitter.
“No. Not a friend.” Not anymore. They had been, once upon a time, when he was a magician’s apprentice and she a lady in love with a stable boy. But the girl he knew all that time ago is long gone and dead, replaced by the woman who sent a whole world careening into Hell, and abandoned him in Wonderland.
“Do you… remember?” she whispers it, as if it’s a sin.
“White knights and princesses. Magic.” The last is said so quietly he barely hears it, but there it is.
“Yes. I remember the Evil Queen’s curse.”
And she laughs, and she’s not insane, and he’s laughing too. “I’ll be home by midnight,” he says, after a moment, “I’m Jefferson.”
“My name is Belle.” She says, after a very long pause, “But you won’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Names are a powerful magic. Someone once told me that.”
“Only Rumplestiltskin ever used names in magic.” He says, without thinking at all, because here is someone who understands, here is someone who remembers.
But she’s crying. He can hear her, sobbing through the walls, and he knows it was his fault.
And he doesn’t know what to say.
So after a minute of listening to her weeping, to a girl he’s never seen crying her heart out in a dark, cold, cell, he just asks, “What happened?”
“Names have power. And that one’s the worst.”
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