I cannot believe I managed to finish this before next week's episode. The Canadian promo prompted me to commit my take on Rumple and Cora's past relationship to print before it became totally AU (although it's somewhat AU already because apparently Henry was a prince). Thank you for your love and encouragement! I really thought I was going to leave this as a one-shot. Will gradually add more (and adjust headcanon) as new episodes premiere. Meanwhile, enjoy!


The morning after Cora's conversation with the dark sorcerer, whose name she still refuses to speak, Lord Henry feels a new, shining hope for the future. Their daughter has somehow been spared a grim fate. She is still with them. He can still be a father. The thought makes his heart swell to the point of bursting. It doesn't matter if it's against propriety: as soon as he's up and dressed, Henry foregoes his morning ride and ascends the steps to the nursery with bounding gait. He finds the room and, on opening the door, he drinks in the scene like a parched camel. The walls of the little chamber are drenched in gold and lavender. Sunlight pours through the rose window, dousing the room in a heavenly patina and caressing the curtained crib where his darling child rests. Her nurse, Prunella, lifts her out of bed and begins to rock her. The door creaks as Henry pushes it further ajar. The nurse turns around, her head capped with a white veil, and smiles at him. She's positioned so that the crib's pink curtains protect her face from the sun, but her teeth shine like pearls even in the shadow. She mirrors Henry by beaming with bliss, then remembers herself and takes time to curtsy.

"Good morning, your lordship. I trust you are well?"

"More than well. Better than I have felt in some time." Henry comes close to her and her charge. "How is the little dear today?"

"She slept quite well last night." Prunella's eyes meet Henry's in delight. They have both lived in dread of the day now behind them. To stand here with the infant in their midst feels like a miracle. Even if he wanted to hide it, Henry's joy flows out of him like water liberated from a dormant geyser. He's known Prunella for years, since they were both children. It would be selfish to pretend there isn't something special about this moment.

With a sigh he says, "So did I. I was so afraid that . . . no. No more of that. I did not mean to disturb you. I was only wondering if . . ."

He tentatively raises his hands, feeling a little foolish. If Lady Cora were here, he would have reason to feel this way. His wife never fails to remind him of how clumsy and careless he can be. Prunella instead whispers, "Certainly," and sets the child in her master's arms. Her hands guide his, with butterfly touches, in how to hold the delicate creature. Steeling himself with a breath, Henry accepts the weight and cradles his girl against him as though his life, as well as hers, depends on it. Little Regina whines for only a few seconds. Her orbs shimmer like coffee in a porcelain cup. They alight on him. A shame they look puzzled and detached—a stranger's gaze—but he won't let that discourage him. They now have a lifetime to get to know each other.

"She's a good girl," Prunella croons. Henry hears the tiny hitch in her voice. "Made hardly any fuss last night or this morning. I woke early to give her her bottle, but she dozed right off afterwards." She's about to continue, but when she looks at Henry again something stalls her.

"Yes?" he gently asks.

Demure to a fault, Prunella folds her hands in front of her, yet her eyes do not flinch. "I was wondering if you and her ladyship intend to send out official notice of her birth. I know before . . ."

"Oh, yes, of course!" Henry tries to laugh away her anxiety. "I'll get on that today. Before I do, though . . . I don't wish to interrupt your schedule, but I would like to escort this fine young lady" (he gives his child's chubby hand a squeeze) "around the grounds for an hour or so. You may accompany us, of course. Perhaps after lunch." He smiles and raises his eyebrows expectantly. He has no reservations for Prunella's presence. It would comfort him to have a professional caretaker on hand if, by chance, he accidentally mishandles Regina.

"As you wish, my lord." The formal response is laced with a measured grin and enough glee to make the room glow. Prunella, Henry notices, has apple-green eyes that can be playful and motherly at the same time. They've been that way since her youth. It seemed her destiny to be a nurse like her mother, given her temperament as well as her station. Henry wonders, not for the first time, if she intends to remarry and have more children of her own.

Although his heart aches from giving her up, Henry returns Regina to the nurse's care. He still feels the child's heaviness in memory after he departs and resumes his daily duties. Finances to account for, contractors and stewards to negotiate with, inexperienced servants to school—none of these tasks shake his yearning and resolve to spend the afternoon with his daughter. Time works against his patience, especially without Cora around to converse with on matters concerning the estate. She's spending even more time today in her conservatory than usual. The fact vexes Henry, but it does not surprise him. He simply sighs at her absence and makes do.

The lunch hour finally arrives like a long-awaited carrier pigeon. Henry is prepared to eat his meal alone until he spots Prunella on his way to the dining hall. She's coming down the stairwell with a blanket-swaddled bundle in her arms. A gaggle of voices from Henry's upbringing emerges in his mind to discourage his impulse to catch Prunella's attention. 'It's not proper to mingle with the servants. The lines of status must be upheld, especially for a lord.' Even Cora's voice chimes in, a fresher addition to the choir of naysayers. He knows he's not a brave man, but that truth gives him the impetus to shush the ghosts of his teachers and call out to Prunella. It's not all that inappropriate. They grew up together. As playmates they'd understood each other better than most. Their friendship didn't stop them from becoming the people they knew they would have to be. Henry is only grateful that she decided stay at the estate after her marriage, and then after her husband's passing.

Prunella blinks, startled, at Henry's address, but she smiles and curtsies through her surprise. "Yes, my lord?"

"I . . . I wanted to inquire," Henry begins, feeling a flurry of embarrassment at the unorthodox request, "whether you and Regina would care to have lunch with me in the dining hall."

"Oh!" Prunella's smile drops. She clears her throat. "But I imagine Lady Cora would prefer to share that time with you."

She tries to keep her tone light and pleasant, but it sinks a little at the end of the sentence. Henry gives a kind half-smile. "I think we both know by now that Lady Cora is . . . an independent spirit. She takes meals at her leisure. As far as I know, she is still in the conservatory."

With a swallow, Prunella returns the smile and hoists a watchful Regina higher onto her shoulder. "Well . . . if you insist, my lord, allow me to fetch Miss Regina's bottle. As for me, I am not hungry."

She departs for the kitchen before Henry can speak. Even with Prunella he hardly ever manages to assert a word of persuasion. He already has a plan, however. He walks to the dining hall and orders a servant to tell the cook to prepare another place at the table, and to then leave the hall to him and his guest. He sits and waits patiently. He's been patient all day; a few more minutes won't be the death of him.

Or so he believes, until Prunella enters the dining hall via the kitchen with a rather put-out look. One soft, slender hand grips Regina's bottle and tilts it against the babe's eager mouth. The child remains blessedly ignorant of her caretaker's ire.

"My lord, I said I do not require any food. I ate not a quarter of an hour ago!"

Henry does not stop himself from wincing at this abuse. "Please, Prunella, there's no reason to be cross. I don't like eating my meals alone. Come, sit! Ask for whatever you wish."

"I wish to keep to my duties."

Her sharp tone hurts him more that he wants to show. But Henry bucks up what little courage he has to stand and draw out a chair beside him. "I wish to see my daughter while I eat. She cannot sit up by herself."

For a very long minute Prunella keeps herself and the child at a distance. Her forehead crinkles with many thoughts and her eyes dance about to Henry, the table, the room, Regina, and back to him. It's not so much propriety or gossip she worries about. In their youth they were never nearly as concerned about such things. It was fine for a young, unmarried lord to converse with a trusted servant now and then in less than formal circumstances. And, with the passing of both of Henry's parents, there was no one around to observe them and hiss judgmental breaths down their necks.

Not until now. The old anxiety has crept back into the atmosphere of the household. Marriage comes with its own laundry list of constraints that Henry admittedly hasn't wholly foreseen. Although he could convince himself that there is nothing compromising about this situation, he can't deny the possibility that Cora will seek him out after her toils in her favorite place and insist on making something out of his letting Prunella eat lunch with him like an equal. He won't offer any real argument against her peevishness, for from a noble's standpoint it is perfectly justified. Still, as he considers these things, Henry does not give up his grip on the chair. He watches Prunella and Regina together. It is about the child, nothing more. He doesn't want to let her out of his sight, even if his obligations force him to do so.

Some boldness flickers back to life in him. He returns to his seat. "I want to inquire about her health. So, consider it your duty to tell me everything about it."

He remains standing with a serious countenance that threatens to melt into something warmer. Prunella's eyes soften when she catches the subtle upward tug of his mouth. Her body shrinks with sighing. Her cheeks suddenly pale, as though she is very exhausted, but she brightens a little when she comes forward and sits at the table. She tries to hide the light in her face under a blanket of sobriety. Henry understands. When the butler materializes with a plate for his master, Henry thanks him and lets him know that the second plate won't be needed, after all. His companion permits a grin to peek through her collected façade.

"Thank you," she says. "What would you like to know? I'm afraid Regina is the most well-behaved, healthy creature I've ever dealt with. Makes things rather boring, I must say."

Tension abates and the pair discusses the little things about the child—her sleeping habits, what clothes she will need for the season, what toys she might like. On the surface they seem like trivial subjects, but in light of the fact that, until yesterday, they thought Regina would not remain with them, the manor is now somewhat undersupplied. The conversation drifts to the past—to the toys, trinkets and clothes Henry had as a child, and what Prunella's mother had taught her about making children behave while dressing, feeding and entertaining them.

"Oh, remember the rocking-horse!" Henry cries at one point, after his meal has long been absent from his plate.

"Oh, gods, yes!" Prunella laughs. At the same time she wipes more drool off Regina's mouth while the girl squirms and gurgles with increasing impatience. "You were so reckless on that thing. You fell off more times than my mother wanted to count! All the salve and bandages she used on you! And how you cried that one time it broke. I almost cried with you, you were so heartbroken."

Henry regards Regina with a thoughtful look. "We must still have it somewhere, yes?"

"I'm certain we do. In the attic." Prunella's eyes suddenly sharpen on Henry. "Oh, my lord, you're not going to encourage this little lady here to follow in your footsteps, are you? Not at this age, at least!"

His laughter bounds around the room at his companion's admonishing tone. "I would not wish to deprive her of any of the pleasures I experienced."

"But rocking-horses are meant for boys," she tuts.

"Nonsense. If she wishes to use it, she may. She will not be any less of a lady for it."

"Let us hope so." Chuckling, Prunella tickles her charge. The child stills grunts from restlessness. "I think she wants us to stop talking."

"Oh, yes!" Henry all too quickly rises to his feet. He hasn't forgotten his original intent, but he has not anticipated that their time in the dining hall would be so prolonged. Confident his plate and utensils will be cleared away in the near future, he ushers the nurse and child out of the hall. He stops only to let Prunella retrieve her shawl and the valet to bring him his coat. He then escorts them into the fresh autumn air. The days are not yet too chilly for strolls without cloaks or overcoats.

"So, here it is," Henry announces when they enter the main avenue that encircles the manor and its immediate grounds. The lawn before them rolls like a calm sea toward a gauntlet of tall evergreens about five miles off. The low hills partly obscure them as well as the fields where the laborers till and sow and harvest year after year. Following the avenue on their right, they can see its gray, winding body heading toward a grove. The branches of the trees are becoming weighted with fruit, and while some leaves still retain their summer green, others resemble tongues of fire and rain down at the slightest gust of wind. On the left, the avenue snakes toward the other buildings on the estate – the carriage house, the stables, the granary. "Your kingdom, my dear," he finishes, smiling at his daughter.

The child, barely a week old, hasn't the mind to digest her father's words, but her dark eyes rove across the landscape while Prunella props her up for a better view. Regina's eyes soon return to more reachable objects – namely Prunella's bodice, and just in time to decorate it with a milky glob of saliva. Unfazed, Prunella summons her handy napkin and cleans off the 'gift' before wiping the infant's mouth yet again.

Thinking the trees will hold more visual interest for Regina, Henry gestures to his choice of route with a hand. Prunella follows his lead. The two of them match each other's strides, neither too fast nor too slow. Henry allows Prunella to set the pace, since she must judge how quickly she can walk without tiring herself or disturbing Regina. He practices making his steps more dignified, self-assured. In control. Projecting such a persona has always been a challenge for him. Frankly he tends to feel more comfortable with other people in control, but now he is the head of the household. People look up to him, depend on him to rule his domain with conviction and wisdom. Some of his servants, like Prunella, have helped him with this task before he married Cora. If only Cora could find it in her to exercise the same patience as they. She might be disappointed with him less often.

"We'll need to start collecting soon," says Prunella, nodding up. Sometime in the midst of Henry's thoughts they've entered the grove and now are walking under the limbs of the fruit-burdened trees. They beg passers-by to pluck their pears and apples and lemons. "Shall we make those apple tarts you like so much?"

"Why not?" chuckles Henry.

"Perhaps we should make preserves and sell them to merchants for market." Prunella's sweet but chesty voice often drops in pitch when she speaks of serious things. "Antonia worries that we will fall short in our duties if we don't consider every financial advantage. She just worries, of course. That's why she's still the housekeeper."

"I'm quite happy for Antonia to remain the housekeeper until she declares otherwise." Henry grins in remembrance of bygone days when he gave a much younger Antonia grieve with his bad habits. He left toys lying everywhere, and often didn't remember to clean his boots properly before coming indoors. And how noisy he and Prunella and his other friends could be, few as they were and generally children of servants. Antonia lectured him endlessly on his thoughtlessness. As a child he hated that, and as a grown man his sentiments haven't changed much. But Antonia, maybe due to old age, has harangued him less frequently about his faults. Instead she expends herself griping about the rest of the staff and where they neglect their work. All for the greater good of the estate.

Regina suddenly starts wriggling with admirable vigor as they pass under a low-bowing apple tree. The tips of its branches reach out to them like fingers, and the child takes this as an excuse to reach back with her tiny digits. Prunella coos and wrestles with the girl to calm her, but the infant is determined. Her face contorts and grows red. Eyes squint and the mouth opens into a frown that threatens to unleash a wail. Whimpers and stilted sobs start coming out.

Inspired, Henry plucks a golden-red apple just above his head. The flesh is firm, promising a crispy bite. He draws close to Prunella and shows Regina the fruit. The child stifles her sobs and instead whines with interest. Her hands are too small and weak to hold the apple, so Henry continues to hold it near her face so she can see and smell it as much as she likes. Little fragile fingers do try to grip the smooth skin. Her round eyes alone seem capable of devouring the whole thing. Both Henry and Prunella chuckle at Regina's bizarre fascination. At such a minute distance where their breaths graze each other's faces, they dare to let their eyes meet only now and then. No words are exchanged. An inordinately warm breeze sweeps through the grove and embraces them.

Yes, Henry thinks, all is right with the world. If he can, he will make sure it stays this way.


"Really? The conservatory? You're sure you don't want to go somewhere more discreet, dearie?"

Rumplestiltskin's reptilian gaze adopts a confused and condescending glint. Refusing to let her annoyance show, Cora merely shrugs and nods to the glass walls surrounding them. "No one comes in here but me. I have absolute privacy—not even the servants will disturb us unless I summon them. And the glass is warped, so you needn't worry about anyone peeking in."

Even with these factors, Cora understands what Rumplestiltskin means. Of all the places on the estate—the groves, the cellars, the distant forest—she prefers practicing magic in her personal greenhouse. To anyone else it might seem an insensible choice, but she has her reasons. Over the last couple of years Cora has discovered an affinity for plants beyond collecting and reaming grain. She adores orchids in particular, having imported hundreds of varieties from across the world. Even with her numerous attentions to the upkeep of the manor and its property, she's made it her mission to nurture the exquisite, temperamental flowers in foreign soil. It hurts when just one of them expires on her. Sometimes, against her better judgment, she wastes days wallowing in grief and wondering where she went wrong. With every failure, she strives harder for success. The flowers, which Cora now observes Rumplestiltskin surveying with half-hearted interest, live as a testament to her tenderness as well as her ambition.

"If you insist," he accedes after a moment with a careless flick of his hand. The other hand conjures up a book in a puff of purple smoke. Cora sees it when she turns away from examining the red-mottled petals of the white odontoglossums. At once she smiles, and Rumplestiltskin sends a crocodile smile back. His free hand sweeps toward the pathway between the raised flowers beds standing against the glass windows on the right and the island of deciduous saplings and shrubs on the left. The path takes them to the far end of the conservatory, which opens into a cul-de-sac and offers plenty of room not only to walk around and monitor the orchids, violets, hyacinth, narcissuses and petunias in the elevated beds and the roses and hydrangeas in the ground, but also to sit on the greenish-black bench embellished with brass studs to rest and admire one's surroundings.

"Just remember," remarks the imp in a tittering lilt, "these spells have a bit of kick the first time around. If we were in, say, a sealed-off room with stone walls, you wouldn't have to worry about bringing down the roof over our heads and hurting your precious plants."

"All the more reason to practice here." Rumplestiltskin can say all he wants, but Cora has made her choice. She's not afraid of the power he's offering her. Once she was a little, when he first appeared to her in that dungeon. It was the first time she ever encountered magic, and it left her shaking with awe and terror. Thankfully she got over her shock. The mystique of magic lost its novelty and was replaced by the very real force of it possibilities. What few spells the Dark One taught her have already brought her fortune and, while not the royal life she was first promised, a significantly more comfortable situation than where she began. Besides, Cora believes she has always been destined for this kind of power. It feels natural to bend elements and people to her will after spending half her life in degradation and misery at the hands of others.

At her answer, Rumplestiltskin giggles like an excited child. The idea of potential destruction and humiliation at her expense must be an appealing notion to him. Cora smirks at his puerile delight and gestures for him to sit down. The sorcerer reacquires some manners and accepts the offer. He lounges one arm, fitted in black dragonhide, across the back of the bench while the other loosely presses the book to his chest. His leather-chapped legs cross and his head tilts as he watches her. Cora does not sit. While she attempts to appear wholly composed with a straight posture and folded hands, her nerves burn with anticipation.

Rumplestiltskin is trying to appear relaxed and controlled, too, but she detects stiffness in his pose. It may be due to his inhibiting leather attire, but she's prompted all the same to ask a question that has waited too long to be asked.

"Tell me: have you ever done this before?"

The imp squints. "Done what?"

"Taught magic. Well, taught it to someone so they can create a curse."

He showcases a comical frown and shakes his head. "You're the lucky first, dearie."

His response lifts an unseen weight from Cora's chest. She inhales slowly and dares a small grin. "That makes two of us. Since you're the teacher, of course, you should decide where we start."

"I intend to." But he still doesn't move, except for the large eyes that minutely shift, still gauging her even now.

"What?"

He moves his hand off the back of the seat, claps both on his thighs and pushes them forward, slowly. As his hands move, his torso follows. "You must understand that, while there are standard laws that govern how magic works, no two people who accept the gift of sorcery respond to it in the exact same way."

Cora sashays half a step toward the empty seat on the bench. From this angle, Rumplestiltskin's posture becomes more feline. He's eying her like she's a daring bird on a low branch. She's beginning to understand why. Her age and sex lead most people to presume she is weak, naïve and helpless. To Rumplestiltskin, an immortal creature of incredible power, she barely ranks above an ant. Yet he's teaching her magic. But he doesn't want her to forget their roles, and so he pushes the idea through his wrinkling smirk and hooded orbs that he's ready to snatch her up in his jaws without a warning. It's a challenge Cora has accepted, and though there is probably some real danger here, she doesn't regret it.

"I see," she says. "You're saying we may need to experiment with different approaches, and be prepared for anything. I understand."

"Do you, though?" Rumplestiltskin pushes down on his thighs and rises to his feet. A few languid steps and he's standing an inch from her face. "This is not something to rush into lightly. From now on, you must do all I say during our lessons. No arguing. No fussing. Complete obedience. Otherwise you'll learn nothing, and you'll end up wasting my time. And I really don't like my time wasted."

"Because it's so precious to you, a centuries-old wizard?" Cora quips.

The warm, closeted air of the conservatory seems to thicken around them. In a move that sends a spark down Cora's spine, Rumplestiltskin presses his finger into the underside of her chin. He angles her head up, though he doesn't need to for their eyes to meet. He's exposing her neck—a reminder from a wolf to a sheep who has the fangs around here. "Because if you won't do what I want," he murmurs, "I can and will find someone who will."

A small swell of panic rises and falls in Cora's chest. His domineering voice and behavior invites a few old ghosts of her childhood—her parents with hands that shoved, prodded, grabbed and wrangled. She grapples for her mental curtain to block them out. She can't manage it at first, so she chants to herself that this time it's different. She'll have what she needs to be free. Once their lessons are complete, Rumplestiltskin won't be able to enforce the same authority. She'll prove to him, too, and to herself that her will and mind are her own, even as she agrees to be his student and submit to his guidance. And even if she must debase herself from time to time for the sake of harnessing magic, all she has endured and has yet to endure will be worth it.

"You have nothing to worry about."

Rumplestiltskin grins with pleasure. He withdraws his finger. "Excellent. Now, let's begin with something basic. I have a chapter dedicated to horticulture and vegetation spells, if that's what floats your boat."

He holds up the book. The cover and pages flip open on their own to the indicated section. The smell of magic is mixing with the fragrances of her garden. It's sweet and sharp, and a little heady. Cora shakes her head clear of fleeting wooziness. She has to be completely focused. Perhaps it would be wise to consider other locations, after all.

Soon, however, she dismisses the notion. Though the imp's dark magic is changing the odor in the room and adding a heaviness to the air, it invigorates Cora and augments her concentration. The words on the page roll around her tongue and taste of spiced tea before she swallows them down to commit to unconscious memory. She learns the simplest spells in hardly any time—enhanced growth, color alteration, regeneration of damaged roots and leaves. The incantations spin in her mind like a pinwheel and require minimum strain. The more complex spells are different. While reading them off, and then using the ink itself as Rumplestiltskin demonstrates by blowing it off the page, she can replicate a young spruce in a handful of tries. When Rumplestiltskin takes away the book, however, her mind won't recall the spell, or the spell sticks inside the walls of her skull like drying syrup, resistant to her will. It's natural for a novice to not get it on her own so soon, she expects, but her frustration overwhelms her. She snarls and curses and comes close to tears.

"Take it easy." Rumplestiltskin brings down the pitch of his voice, soothing Cora's nerves. That she hasn't expected at all. His tone is stern but not mocking as he directs her. "Relaxation is key. The magic will work for you when you let it move freely inside you. Give it time to unstick."

How does he know how it feels inside her brain? Did he go through this, too? She knows he wasn't always the Dark One, though the Dark One has lived for longer than the history tomes have been able to record. So maybe he had to teach himself this control. The thought calms her even more. The replication spell still fights her, however, so Rumplestiltskin returns the book and lets her practice it some more with the text at hand.

Time and the rest of the world dissolve in a blur in the midst of the lesson. It's only when Rumplestiltskin's head whips toward the other end of the conservatory one second before someone knocks on the door that it all comes crashing back in stark relief. Cora curses under her breath.

"No one comes unless you call, eh?" The sorcerer turns to her, adding a giggle. "Have you mastered telepathic summoning without my knowledge? My my my, you may make a promising pupil after all."

"It must be Henry," Cora explains through clamped teeth. "Give me a moment. I'll deal with him."

"I think we've done enough today." He puts his palms together, finger matching finger. "Don't want to wear you out on your first day. Tomorrow, same time, we'll try a new place. My choice. Keep practicing!"

Purple smoke, or dust, winds around him like a python, bearing him away to a place Cora finds herself wishing she could follow him to. A silly idea she stamps on and does not bother investigating. She stalks down the walkway and, slowing down and assuming a more dignified air, answers the door.

It is Henry, as a matter of fact, holding little Regina in his arms. His dull brown eyes instantly lower as she brands him with a pointed glare. "I didn't mean to disturb you dearest, but I . . . I thought maybe Regina might like a look at your conservatory. I just took her for a walk outside and she was thrilled by the orchard. She seems to share your love of plants."

Fear tingles in her fingers—the same ones that had been conjuring up fresh rose petals and healing her sickly poinsettias. She takes a slow, outwardly thoughtful sniff. In fact she checks the air for any trace of that magical scent. There is none. Rumplestiltskin took it with him.

Her smile stretches across her face like cowhide being prepped for tanning. "How considerate of you, dear." Ready to send him away, she spares a look at Regina. Her child, rosy-cheeked and doe-eyed. A picture of innocence doomed to be crushed like a wild buttercup under a boot. Yet Cora's heart pulls out of her a little towards the child she managed to rescue from an otherwise inescapable deal.

She tries to release her tensing muscles while moving her gaze back to Henry. "Come on in. I think the poinsettias are doing much better. She'll like them."

Henry actually smiles and steps inside, tentative but hopeful. As he gawks at her little sanctuary like an ignorant tourist, Cora takes Regina's tiny fist between her forefinger and thumb, rubbing small circles on the back of it. Her skin is as soft as rose petals.

Regina looks up at her, expression blank yet needful of more of Cora's touches. She graces her child's cheek with a light graze of her knuckle. Her beautiful child—not only a promise of the future, but proof that Cora can perform this devilish dance with her lizard-skinned mentor and come out the leader. What Rumplestiltskin exactly wants with the curse he needs, she still hasn't learned. But she will. And then all will be secure. She and Regina will be free. They'll be safe.

They'll be happy.