A/N: The majority of this story will take place in Storybrooke, post-curse, but some chapters will be in Fairytale Land, exploring some the mysteries of Jefferson: His wife, his knowledge of Belle/Rumpelstiltskin, and first and foremost, how he came to acquire such a magical hat...
Fast-forward to 2 weeks after the curse breaks...
Emma Swan stood on Jefferson's porch, her fist raised to knock on the door, but she hesitated. Memories of drugged tea and scarfs and hats and a gun pointed in her face raced through her mind. It was only the house that brought back those memories. There were more recent memories that came to her mind whenever she thought of Jefferson... Emma shut her eyes as she took a deep calming breath, and suddenly, the door in front of her opened.
Jefferson swallowed at the sight of her standing on his porch and his heart pounded in excitement.
"Emma," he breathed her name and he realized just how much he had missed saying it.
Hope welled-up inside of his chest. It was the kind of hope he had felt when—after decades—he had finally heard his daughter call him "papa" again. Jefferson stared at the blonde woman on his doorstep. Her lips were parted and her eyes were wide as she looked into his. The moment seemed to last forever. Emma was choosing her words carefully before she spoke them and Jefferson decided that it was best not to speak. He knew he didn't deserve her forgiveness. He didn't even know if she had come to forgive him. He knew better than to hope things like that. Jefferson had lost a lot of people throughout his life, but Emma Swan was the only one he stood to lose because of his own stupidity—his own madness. He didn't want to lose Emma. He was tired of losing. He had lost enough.
Chapter 1: The Price of Magic
Roughly 20 years before the curse...
A cottage-shaped wagon, inscribed with the words "Seymour the Spellbinder", rolled to a stop at the edge of a busy town-square. Its door, like two ornate shudders, flew open, suddenly, and an eager-eyed little boy stepped-out onto the wagon's porch. An over-sized top hat sat on his head and a wide grin was pasted on his face as he glanced around at all the busy townsfolk. With a deep breath, the boy reached up and gripped the brim of his hat, holding it securely on to his head as he jumped from the wagon.
"Jefferson!" a concerned, maternal voice called after him, "Don't you wander too far!"
"Yes, mama!" the boy shouted before running off into the crowd.
Jefferson dodged passed the clutter of people, even ducking between the long legs of one man as he ran about, exploring his new temporary home. The boy came to a stop once he reached a clearing in the center of town. His grin grew wider as he glanced around at the passing people—people who did not even spare him a glance. Jefferson performed his hat tricks, then, tumbling the hat down his arm and then back on to his head again. The top hat flew into the air, rolled down his back, and was tossed under his leg. A few passersby stopped to watch the little boy and his amusing hat tricks, but Jefferson barely noticed. For his last trick, he spun the hat on his finger, keeping up the momentum as he quickly rotated the hat with his free hand. A gust of wind blew passed him followed by the end of a cloak that knocked the hat from his finger.
"Hurry along Regina! We haven't got all day!"
Jefferson watched the two women fly by as he bent down to pick up his hat. In her haste to catch-up, the smaller of the two dropped an object on to the ground—a shiny object. Jefferson flipped the top hat back on to his head and ran after the women.
"Wait!" he cried, "You dropped your—"
A shiny ring laid at his feet as he bent down to pick it up. It sparkled with an inner light that held the little boy captivated, momentarily, until he glanced-up at the woman standing before him.
"Your ring," he said with a grin as he held it up to her.
The woman was beautiful and dark with her rich, chestnut hair and her long black cloak. A smaller version of the woman stood by her side carrying a small jewelry box. She wasn't a woman at all, Jefferson noticed; she was a girl—a girl only a few years older than he. The woman's suspicious expression quickly turned into a smile.
"Why, thank you, child," she spoke as she took the ring from him, "What a noble deed!"
Jefferson flashed her a broad grin, bowed his head, and then started to skip away.
"Boy!" she called after him and he turned around, "I noticed your hat performance. Where did you learn such tricks?"
"My papa!" Jefferson was all too happy to reply, "He's a magician! He taught me a lot of things!"
"How wonderful!" the woman exclaimed with too much enthusiasm to be genuine and the girl standing beside her yawned in boredom.
"May I see your hat?"
The boy thought about it for a moment and then rolled the hat down his arm before cautiously handing it to the woman.
"What a magnificent hat," she said as she gently held it in her hands, "Did your father make this hat?"
Jefferson shook his head.
"My mama made it—but I sewed the lining!"
"Did you, really?" the woman sounded amazed, "What is your name, boy?"
He told her his name, and she smiled kindly in response.
"You're going to grow-up to be a very talented man, someday, Jefferson,." The woman paused as she examined the hat for a moment, and the next words that came from her lips weren't meant to be heard: "Talented people are always useful."
"Hold this, Regina," she ordered as she handed the hat to the girl.
Regina scowled at it as if it were something contagious and Jefferson noticed.
"Hey—" he started to complain.
"Jefferson," the woman spoke as she bent down to look into his blue-gray eyes, "I'm going to give you a special gift. You deserve a gift for returning my ring to me—few people would have done the same."
Jefferson looked cautiously between the woman and the girl named, Regina.
"What kind of a gift?"
The woman smiled, pleased.
"I'm going to give your hat magic—real magic! Your hat will have the power to take you to other worlds, but only you will know how to make it work."
"How?" Jefferson asked, his eyes wide with eagerness.
"That will be for you to discover. You and you alone. It is your hat."
Jefferson nodded and looked away, his little eyebrows knitting together as he thought, and then—
The woman nodded in-kind and held her hand out towards Regina. The girl gave her mother the hat and then wiped her hands on to the skirt of her dress as if the hat had gotten them dirty. Noticing it, Jefferson frowned.
"Hello, hat." the woman said as she held it before her and winked at Jefferson.
He watched with interest as the woman began to whisper strange words inside of the hat, words he didn't understand. Then, all-of-a-sudden, a burst of light emanated from it and the townsfolk who were passing by stopped in their tracks at such a spectacle.
"What a wonderful trick!" the woman quickly examined as a cover for her sorcery.
Some of the people clapped in response. Jefferson smiled at the applause as the woman gave him the hat back.
"Now you must take great care of this hat, understand?"
"Oh, yes! I will—I mean, I do! I already promised my mama and papa that I would."
"Good boy," she said as she patted him on his head, "Run along home now, and remember—the magic of the hat is for you to discover. You and you alone."
Jefferson carefully placed the over-sized hat on top of his head and it sunk down, covering the tops of his ears.
"Yes, miss. I'll remember."
The woman stared at him for a moment as if to memorize his young face and then she turned on her heel, causing her cloak to whip around her. She walked off and the girl was slow to follow.
"Come along, now, Regina."
Regina glanced back over her shoulder at the little boy with the big hat before the two women disappeared into the crowd. Jefferson reached up and ran his fingers along the brim of his hat, smiling in excitement at the magic it was said to posses. He couldn't wait to tell his mother and father! The boy ran back to the wagon then, dodging passed the townsfolk and holding his hat onto his head in fear that it might fly off. He was panting when he reached his home and he quickly climbed the metal steps to get inside.
"Mama! Papa! My—"
"Look what I found, Jefferson," his mother interrupted as he enter the wagon, "Mushrooms! What a treat!"
His mother was a lovely blonde-haired woman with sky-blue eyes that crinkled the tiniest bit at the corners when she smiled. Her smile, Jefferson was sure, could light up the world if all other lights went out. The boy was still panting, his heart pounding in excitement as he noticed the large mushrooms that sat on a plate in front of her at the table. She would stuff them with bread crumbs and herbs and serve them for dinner—this, Jefferson was sure.
"Hello, son," his father greeted as he pulled back the colorful curtain that served as a door into his bedroom, "Did you catch any coins for your striking, stupefying, stroke of stagecraft?"
The boy smiled at the silly way his father spoke as the man lovingly placed a hand on his sons cheek. His father's features were darker than his mothers. The man's brown hair was flecked with gray at his temples and he had a whimsical mustache that curled at the ends. His father, the great Seymour the Spellbinder, was a kind man with a taste for the eccentric.
"No, papa," Jefferson replied, "I didn't, but look!"
The boy took off his hat and held it out to his father.
"I picked up a ring that a townswoman had dropped, and in return, she made my hat magic!"
Seymour the Spellbinder raised a curious eyebrow at his son and then took the hat in his hands, slowly turning it around to examine it. Jefferson was beaming as he waited for his father to witness the magic of the hat, but it didn't happen.
"Some magic materializes momentarily, and other times, only at the magician's manufacturing."
Seymour handed the hat back to his son. The magic of the hat, Jefferson remembered, was for him to discover alone. He was the magician now and the magic was for him to manufacture. Jefferson glanced-up at his father, who smiled warmly down at him, and then, as if the boy knew just how to make the hat work—Jefferson placed the bottom of the hat atop his finger and spun it. A great whirlwind overtook the inside of the small wagon as the hat spun at an inhumanly fast pace. Jefferson's hands gripped on to it, spinning with it around and around and then off of the floor until he and the hat reached the ceiling. His parents yelled-out and Jefferson cried as the entire floor of the small wagon opened-up into a black abyss below his dangling feet. His parents were sucked into the hole, screaming and calling out his name. Jefferson, terrified, held on the hat, listening as his parents voices grew fainter and fainter. His face was streaked with horror cried tears and his heart sunk into his stomach. The voices of his mother and father were silent then, and all-to-quickly, the floor below him closed-up and he and the hat fell to the floor. Jefferson laid there, clawing and pounding on the wooden boards, sobbing for his disappeared mother and father as their terrified faces burned into his memory.
When some townsfolk came at the sound of his wails and picked him up from the floor, his finger tips were bloodied from digging at the wooden boards. Jefferson managed to grab for the hat before they scoped him up. He stared deep inside of it as hands carried him off, and he knew, somehow, that his mother and father were inside of that hat—in another world. He had done this to them. You and you alone. He remembered the woman's words, but he hadn't listened. Jefferson knew in that moment what he had to do. At the young age of nine, Jefferson already knew what his purpose in life would be—he would spend it discovering the mysteries of the hat until he was reunited with his parents again. He would find them, he told himself, and then would make sure never to lose a loved one to the hat ever again...