Disclaimer: I do not own Once Upon A Time.
Emma wanted to melt into the floor.
How could this have happened? She had all her facts lined up – or so she thought – and she had still managed to get everything so wrong. The self-satisfied smirk on Regina's face proved that the mayor wasn't lying about using the missing funds to buy the land to build a new playground on. She would still swear that those were the blueprints to a house and the meeting with Gold was unnecessarily secretive and suspicious.
Did Regina just generally act like a psycho or was she baiting Emma and leading her to this moment?
And, more to the point, was Sidney involved? If Regina had been setting her up then she either could predict her very, very well (a prospect she found deeply unsettling) or Sidney told her about the bug.
But there was time to worry about that later. In the meantime, she had to somehow try to save face with how wrong she had been in her public denouncement of Regina and get out of that meeting with some semblance of dignity intact. Regina had never had such a public victory over her and who even knew how Henry would react?
Her phone buzzed. Fortunately, she had had the sense to put it on vibrate before coming in here.
She knew that she shouldn't check it in the middle of the town meeting because it was only going to make her look less professional but at this point she was desperate and maybe this was her miracle.
Shaking her head at herself for entertaining the notion of a miracle, Emma glanced down at her phone. She didn't recognize the number but that didn't make the message any less important.
'Last time I checked embezzling for a good cause is still embezzling.'
Emma drew back, stunned, and almost dropped her phone.
The message was absolutely right and it was a wonder that that hadn't occurred to her earlier.
She chanced a glance back at Mr. Gold and though he seemed politely bored by the proceedings, she couldn't think of anyone else who would send her that.
There was, of course, the possibility that one of Storybrooke's strange laws said that it wasn't embezzling if the embezzlement was for a good cause like how apparently getting arrested but not charged meant that she was a convicted felon. Even her time in jail when Henry was born hadn't been for a felony. She was actually surprised that her apparent felon status – which stopped her from renting a room – didn't stop her from successfully running for sheriff but she knew better than to give their power-hungry mayor any ideas.
Still, if the information wasn't good then Gold would know and since he seemed to want nothing more than to strengthen her position so that she would be in a position to do him more favors and to help her out so she would trust him and fall under his influence then she could feel reasonably sure that the information was good.
And besides, what did she have to lose at this point?
"Miss Swan?" Regina's all-too-smug voice cut through her musings and brought her back to the present. "Do you have something you'd like to share with the rest of the class?"
Emma smiled pleasantly. "I do, actually."
Regina looked taken aback for one brief, shining moment before her eyes narrowed and her unflappable mask fell back into place. "Then by all means stop wasting this town's time."
"Madame Mayor, would you say that it is an accurate summation of events to say that you took the missing money and used it to by the land to build a playground for children on since the previous playground was destroyed by the storm?" Emma asked politely.
"We've already been over this, Miss Swan," Regina said condescendingly. "Do try to pay attention."
"Please humor me," Emma requested.
Regina sighed. "Fine, yes, that is what happened."
"So you bought the land with town funds and only informed the town that 50,000 dollars of its not infinite budget went to this project until five minutes ago," Emma concluded.
"I built a playground for children, Miss Swan. I didn't use the money for any selfish cause and I certainly didn't steal it," Regina declared.
"I think you'll find that you're mistaken on that front, Madame Mayor. Your intentions may be pure – though you do have a son that benefits from this – but that doesn't matter," Emma replied. "You didn't have permission to just take the funds and use them as you see fit and only explaining what happened when someone confronts you about it."
"I would have revealed the playground without your interruption," Regina insisted. "And as the mayor I-"
"You are not a dictator," Emma cut her off. "You may wish that you had ultimate power but you don't. You have to follow the laws just the same as everyone else and there is nothing in any law or charter this town has that says that you're allowed to steal money if you use it for a good cause. Nothing."
Up until now, things had been deathly quiet but now a low murmuring broke out among the crowd.
"You may not have intended to do so but you just confessed to embezzling 50,000 dollars in front of the town sheriff and anyone with any sway in this town," Emma continued. "I hope that you have a good lawyer because you're going to need it." With that, she took out her handcuffs and marched right up to Regina.
Regina was absolutely floored at the way events were unfolding. "What are you doing?"
"Regina Mills, you are under arrest for the embezzlement of 50,000 dollars of city money. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you," Emma recited, figuring that Regina could piece it out for herself. She yanked Regina's arms behind her to hand-cuff her (not entirely gently but not so rough as to get complaints about police brutality.)
"What you doing, Miss Swan?" Regina snapped. "You can't do this."
"I think that you'll find that I can. You can ask your lawyer about it should you choose to exercise that right," Emma said cheerfully.
She happened to catch Sidney's eye. Despite the fact that this was a better victory than she could have hoped for, the man looked downright ashen. It was almost as if he didn't want them to win. Well, that answered that question about how Regina had managed to set her up.
Emma glared at him as she led Regina to the backseat of the squad car, pointedly ignoring all of the shouted questions that were being directed her way by the reporters or the curious in the crowd. Regina was muttering something about how she would not stand for this sort of insolence but it was sort of hard to hear her over everything else.
Emma wasn't particularly surprised to find Gold standing calmly by her car and apparently inspecting the tires.
"You," Regina hissed in a tone that promised divine retribution.
"Me, Madame Mayor?" Gold asked, his voice full of calculated innocence. "I had no idea that that money was embezzled."
"It was not-" Regina started to say as Emma opened the door and nudged her inside. The door slamming shut cut off the rest of what she was saying.
"I suppose I have you to thank for this," Emma said wryly, not pleased to once again be in Gold's debt but at least it wasn't one of his infamous 'deals.'
"Oh, no, not me, dearie," Gold denied, shaking his head. "I just provided a little inspiration once you had your story and Regina implicated herself."
"Well, thank you anyway," Emma said, trying to sound neutral.
"We make a good team, don't we?" Gold mused thoughtfully. "Certainly better than you and that stooge of Regina's. He'll probably try to convince you that this was his intended outcome."
"Well I know better than to trust that," Emma assured him. "I saw his face when she was arrested."
"Oh, very astute," Gold complimented.
"This doesn't make us a team," Emma warned him. "You may have helped me out today but I still can't trust you and I can't work with someone that I can't trust."
"You'll learn," Gold said, sounding absolutely certain.
Emma raised an eyebrow. "I'll learn to trust you or I'll learn to work with someone who I can't trust?"
Gold just smiled cryptically at that and turned to walk away. "You'll learn," he called back over his shoulder. "Baby steps."
Score one for Operation Cobra.