Timeline: General season 2 and speculative future seasons and time jumping. Slow-burning Mad Swan pairing.
Disclaimers: Would that it could be mine, how I wish it so.
I think I'll journey out some day to wondrous lands afar,
Or even chart a journey to a distant blazing star.
But rest assured that when my journey begs to take its cue,
Always know that when I go, this journey takes you too.
Part One: Fashion me a vessel, something fair of line. Pay off all my debts, and I'll sign yours in kind.
Emma Swan's fist pounded on the mansion's gaudy, hand-carved door, with no regard to its quality or the racket her actions produced. After a prolonged silence, the owner's voice hollered from some distant room: "Who are you!"
Folding her arms, the Sheriff of Storybrooke glared at the barrier looming before her. Making chit-chat to her kidnapper was the last thing Emma wanted to waste her time with this morning, but everyone else had uniformly agreed to the plan. Even Mary Margaret, who scowled at the mention of the town's violent local eccentric, had suggested this over going to Rumpelstiltskin for help. Leroy and Ruby seemed to consider Jefferson harmless when compared to the other threats they'd faced with the curse, but personally, Emma disagreed. Since coming to Storybrooke, Mr. I Don't Have A First Name Jefferson was the only person who'd successfully threatened her with a firearm. That made him just the special kind of asshole she'd been familiar with her whole life. Now, thanks to a series of unbelievable shenanigans and a shapeshifter witch with literally no heart, she was stuck asking the so-called Mad Hatter for help. Before approaching Emma made sure she had David on speed dial, even if he was stuck across town at the moment.
"It's Sheriff Swan! I need to talk to you, Jefferson! Now!" There was a rustling, the sound of a door closing, and then: "Come in, Sheriff, I'm down the hall on the right!"
The oak behemoth swung inward on well-oiled hinges, barely squeaking at Emma's touch. She made her way across the entry parlor and then veered right, toward a hallway that looked too dark for her taste. Frowning, Emma drew her gun and kept it just slightly raised before her hip. If he did anything weird, she'd shoot him. And she would be determined not to be sorry afterward, either. Emma walked the another dozen feet, then called out.
"In here," said a man's voice to her left. Frown set across her mouth, Emma nudged the door with her foot, and entered with weapon drawn.
Jefferson sat on the floor, with an elaborate pattern laid out before him and piles of fabric to either side. He held a pair of scissors, which he dangled immediately upon seeing the pistol pointed at his head.
"So sorry, Emma," he said after an awkward pause. Jefferson's eyes never left hers, which sent off all kinds of warning bells: normal people looked at the gun, not the shooter. "But that has to go. Grace is upstairs, so no more playing with guns in the house."
Watching Mary Margaret kick this man out a window was not nearly enough, Emma decided. She really, really wanted to shoot him.
Moving at a glacial pace, Jefferson eased himself onto one knee, then the other, and finally to his feet. His hands were raised, his clothes were perfectly pressed, and he wore an expression so innocent it could sell cookies to Girl Scouts. "May I help you, Princess?"
The tableau held for another five or six seconds, then Emma let loose a sigh. She stuffed her gun back into her belt holster, and faced the portal jumper. No one point in trying to scare a crazy person, after all. She could take Jefferson if she had to, and there was Grace to consider. Emma was not a fan of brandishing around children.
"How much do you know about what's been happening in town?"
Jefferson shrugged. "I know that Queen Regina's at odds with your parents, and that there's some guy who looks like a pirate running around. I pulled Grace out of school when I found out the Queen's mother was here."
"Yeah, well, things have gotten a whole lot worse in the last few days." Emma brushed her hair back from her coat collar, and used the motion to disguise a quick check of her weapon. Still in place, perfect. Luckily for him, some spark of intuition must have told Jefferson to keep his distance this time around. He held back, still in the middle of the room, his spine ramrod straight but his expression casually disinterested. Emma knew the disinterest had to be fake; he'd admitted to spying on her before. Everything Mary Margaret—Snow White—remembered about Jefferson indicated that back in the Enchanted Forest he'd trafficked in information as much as knickknacks. Time to test that hunch.
"Cora's a ruthless, unrepentant monster, and this has to stop."
"I see. You want to travel," he drawled. Jefferson inclined his head, letting a smile climb his features. It was gorgeous, Emma gave him credit for that much. He probably knew exactly how gorgeous, too.
"Yes," she conceded through grit teeth.
"And how is that going to help Storybrooke?"
"We need to get to the land of giants, to find—" Emma paused, then recited, "A heart in an egg in a duck in a well in a church on a lake on a mountain far away."
"Never heard of it," said Jefferson. "And I'm not a portal jumper anymore, so unless you want to stay for dinner in half an hour, you should probably look elsewhere, Princess."
"I'm not a Princess," snapped Emma, and crossed her arms before her chest in a blatantly defensive posture. Once she realized she was doing it, it was too late to take it back, so Emma held the pose and tried to make it look intimidating instead. People had been calling her that title for weeks, and it left her flustered every time.
"Sure you're not. And I wasn't raving mad last month. We can talk all night about the things we'd like to pretend, but that won't make them true."
"Look, can you help me or not?"
He grinned, spread his hands wide, and spun in place. "See any magic hats, Emma?"
"I know you don't have one right now," she retorted. "I want you to help me make one."
The dazzling smile slipped from Jefferson's face faster than a landslide: "No."
"Why not? I can do it, I've started to use my magic a little. We can figure it out this time."
Shaking his head violently, he hopped over the fabric pattern to a clear spot on the floor, and set his scissors on a nearby shelf. Free from his work space, he began to pace the floor in short, jagged repetitions.
"Absolutely not. If I help make another one, someone's going to want me to use it. And I am not leaving my daughter again. I don't need it anymore, and besides, it'll only bring you tragedy in the end. That's all it did for me."
Emma stepped forward, raising her hand in a placating gesture. She hoped Jefferson would stop pacing; it reminded her too vividly of their first encounter in this house. "Well," she offered, "What if you helped me make it, and then I used it without you? I went in last time by accident."
He halted mid-pace, looked her in the face, and laughed. It was nearly a cackle, full of bitter memories and self-righteous dismissal. "Sure, you could do that—if you wanted to get to the Enchanted Forest with no way of getting back."
Rocking on her heels, Emma asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean that anyone can fall into a magic hat given the right circumstances, but that doesn't mean you can control it." Derision dripped from his voice, flinging little barbs into all her plans. "For those people the hat will go to the Enchanted Forest, because that's where I used to live when I jumped regularly. And it's where you were born. But without me you wouldn't be able to bring the hat with you, and without me you'd never go anywhere else. Even if Regina took you to the Hall of Realms, she only knows the door to Wonderland."
Jefferson tapped his skull, and gifted her with a sickly grin. "It's all in here, Princess. And it's not coming out."
"Look, Jefferson," said Emma, letting her frustration slip, "We can sort out the journey; you won't be asked to join us, I promise you. I just need to make a hat so we can use the portals."
Two steps closer, and Emma could see his eyes were a cold blue-green in the light of the study. He waved a hand at her question, as if it were a fly. "Make a magic hat? And then what, almost get the Savior killed, again? I don't think so."
He strode past her, leaving the work room and leaving her behind in it. His richly embroidered vest brushed her shoulder as he went, heading back down the hall to the front of the house. "HEY!" Emma shouted, and darted after him. "Jefferson!"
The mad man halted, spun on one heel, and looked at her.
"You owe me," Emma said in her Don't-Fuck-With-Me-I'm-Armed voice. In reply, Jefferson flung his head back and posed, thrusting out his chin in a way that accentuated the cravat beneath his jaw line. He was doing his best to look unimpressed by her, but the picture was imperfect.
"For stealing your gun? Well, I apologize, Sheriff. I was cursed, and more than a little mad for it. I'll send Snow White some flowers tomorrow with my sincerest best wishes. If you like, I c—"
"For Henry," she cut in, and Jefferson's insolent gaze dropped to the floor. Bitterness coiled in Emma's stomach at the memory of Henry's death-white pallor, so she cut a little deeper.
"You owe me, Jefferson. You almost caused my son's death out of blind selfishness, so in fact, I'd say you owe me a big damn crate of magic hats." Emma stepped up into the Mad Hatter's face, remembering how he'd tried to use physicality to intimidate her all those months ago.
"Now here's how it's gonna go down. I'm gonna go get some food, and let you have dinner with your kid. In two hours I'll be back, and when that happens you're going to show me how to put some of this goddamn magic to use."
Jefferson's eyes traced over her expression, running up and down the length of her features until finally resting on her stare. His breathing came a bit short, and Emma wondered what he sought in her gaze. Sympathy? Absolution? He could chew on that guilty conscience for a good fucking while, in Emma's opinion. After a moment Jefferson slumped, eyes skittering away from her unforgiving glare.
"As you wish, Princess." He pointed listlessly at the door. "You can let yourself out."