Part Ten: The Cartographer
She's walking along just a step in front of him, and he could mark time by the loose swing of her hips, so strangely confident in a foreign land. It makes him stop, suddenly, and say, "I'm beginning to think."
She turns to face him, but she doesn't stop, she keeps moving away, and her smile is both sardonic and hopeful. Sardonically hopeful? Hopefully sardonic? Both, both, neither, it doesn't matter, because it is a smile, and he could warm his hands at it if it were cold out.
"That's a scary statement," she says. "Am I supposed to take you literally? Have you not actually been thinking this whole time?" She lifts her hands, drops her gaze away from him toward the ground. "Never mind. Ignore that question."
"What I'm starting to think," says Jefferson, ignoring her patiently, because maybe he owes her a few cheap shots, "is that we're going about this all wrong."
Her eyebrows raise; he can practically hear it. "No kidding."
"The concept is sound," he says, and repeats it just to hear himself say the words. "The concept. Is sound. Nothing wrong with the concept. It's the execution that needs work." And if he twitches, and develops a tic in the lid of his left eye at the word execution, that's nobody's business but his own. But she's hovered closer to him again, and her eyes are direct.
"You're twitching," she says.
"Emma," says Jefferson, and grins, loosely, like he can't help it. He can. He can stop smiling at her any time he wants to. He just doesn't want to, much. "Let's try this. You take the lead."
"What?" says Emma Swan, blankly. "You don't mean that."
He shrugs, turns his mouth downwards. "Sure I do."
"I've never been here before, Jefferson. Even if I subscribed to the notion that my parents were born here, even if I was born here and left as a brand-new baby, even you wouldn't say that I should have committed the lay of the land to memory."
"Geography's got nothing to do with it," says Jefferson, and he will stop smiling any minute now. Or maybe he won't, because it's starting to make her look unsettled and irritated, and as much as he loves it when Emma smiles at him, getting under her skin like this is pretty fun, too.
"It's got everything to do with it. I don't even know that directions work the same way here as they do at home."
"It isn't home, Emma," he says. "It's just the other side of the hat."
She rolls her eyes at that. "Whatever."
He folds his arms. "Look, just go with me on this, for a while. I've been leading you around, trying to find something that will break your own personal curse, something that will make you stop being a skeptic and start to believe the evidence of your eyes. Nothing's working. We might as well just be meandering, for all the results we're getting."
"You mean we haven't been meandering?" Her arms are folded, now, too, mimicking his posture. He thinks she's probably doing it unconsciously, though.
"Not without purpose," he tells her. "But the purpose hasn't been fulfilled. We're not finding what you need. So what if we let you try and find it? You make the decisions. You choose the path. It's worth a shot. So let's try it this way."
She drops her arms then, and gives an exasperated sigh. "Why on earth would you expect this to work?"
He reaches over, wraps his fingers around her arm just above the elbow, and trains his eyes on hers, waiting till he has her full attention. She gives it unwillingly, grudgingly, but she gives it in the end.
"What?" she says, softly.
"This world is in your bones," he says. "This is where you belong. Wherever else you spend your life, your soul knows when it's home. That's why the geography of the thing doesn't matter. You don't need to know east or west, up or down, left or right. You don't need to know that we're in the meadows just to the south of Witzend, or that the castle where your mother was born is somewhere beyond those hills over there. Your head might not know it, but it's your heart that reads the map."
She shivers. He can feel it under his palm, along with the quickened beat of her pulse, butterfly-swift.
"That doesn't make any sense."
"You're going to balk at senselessness now?" he says, eyes still levelly on hers. He wills her to listen. He wills her to choose to do what he asks.
She rolls her eyes.
"Okay," she says. "We'll do it your way."
He doesn't point out that this is what they've been doing all along; she knows it, she doesn't need the reminder. Instead, she starts walking, tentative steps that take him by surprise. He trails along behind her for a few moments, till she stops and waits for him to catch up to her.
"Jefferson," she says, and pauses while she puts her words in order. "Why didn't you remember that it was your castle?"
He swallows, hard.
"It hasn't been mine for a long time," he says. "Sometimes, people forget. Places remember who belongs to them. They remind you, when you walk back through the door."
Another swallow. It is getting increasingly difficult.
"I wanted to forget," he says. "All I see when I think of home is a big, beautiful house with a black and white color scheme and a telescope in every window. I hate it. It kept me captive. But it is what it is. People forget; things are re-written, things-" He trails off, shaking his head. "Why are you asking me this?"
"I want to know what's written in your bones," says Emma, but she says it so quietly, he can pretend he hasn't heard.
When she starts walking forward once more, it's with him at her side.