This chapter is set immediately after the end of episode 1x08, "Desperate Souls" - just an instant, in fact. So spoilers up through that episode.


"Wait just a minute here!" Emma yelled after Mr. Gold. "We're not finished with this yet!"

He paused in midstride, almost stumbled, but caught himself instantly and somehow made the stop-and-turn actually look graceful.

"Of course we're not," he replied smoothly. "As I just told you, we still have to figure out how to resolve your debt to me."

How the hell had he taken back control of the conversation so quickly? Flustered, she – temporarily – abandoned his political dirty dealing and answered on the topic he'd raised.

"I won't do, or condone, anything illegal!" she insisted, setting her chin firmly.

He smiled warmly at her. "Of course not. I wouldn't expect anything else."

Again, he'd taken the steam right out from under her. She gaped at him, then forced herself to close her mouth and subject him to her best glare.

No luck from that either. He simply shrugged his elegant shoulders.

"Emma, my dear, none of this would've worked at all if I hadn't been completely certain that you would choose to do the right thing," he chided her softly.

"You – you counted on me to do the right thing?" she echoed, astonished. "That is one of the most… twisted… compliments I've ever heard!"

He chuckled, those wicked dimples piercing his cheeks even as his deep, molten brown eyes remained fixed on her face. Damn, if the dimples were deadly, those eyes were sinful beyond measure. They were also bitingly intelligent and focused. She could certainly understand why people might be scared of him. That brilliant, yet soft-spoken, intensity was hard to bear; it was as though he saw straight through her.

"You're welcome, I suppose," he said with a brief, courtly bow and a sarcastic lilt to the corner of his mouth.

She shook her head; tried to refocus.

"How did you know I'd figure out that you'd set the fire? You couldn't plan on that. Or really be sure that I'd be willing to denounce you, since there wasn't enough real evidence. Otherwise, you'd be sitting in that cell right now."

He sighed and ran a hand through his silky silver-streaked dark hair.

"Really, I would expect better from you. Of course – supposing that I did anything, which I'm not saying that I did – I wouldn't leave any real evidence behind. Anything that you might have found that would lead you to suspect me would, naturally, have been put there to purposefully bring such suspicion to mind."

"Naturally," she repeated bitterly. Damn him, she'd been led around like a horse on a tether. He'd made sure she'd seen - and smelled - him working with the lanolin just to ensure she'd recognize it later on the so conveniently placed rope at the site of the fire. Talk about planning in advance. Her mind quickly enraveled the scheme. "So I find the planted evidence, evidence that only I would connect to you, then you admit to it privately. We argue, making me angry enough to 'stand up' to you in front of the entire town. I do, and because you think everyone's afraid of you, they vote for me, and I win the election."

"QED," he said. Strands of hair slipped down to frame those rich, chocolate eyes as he nodded. "All you had to do was what any good person would do, which, of course, I already knew you would, and you became sheriff, which was the point of the whole exercise from the beginning."

His smile was both challenging and engaging at once. "You won the election because you're a good person who does the right thing, what could be better than that?"

She opened her mouth to argue, found herself without words, and again had to close her mouth before she looked too much like a beached fish.

"You're a manipulative bastard, you know that?" she finally said; it wasn't really a question.

"I've been called worse," he replied sanguinely. "In fact, I believe that Regina said something very similar a couple of days ago."

Her blue eyes flashed as a sudden, unpleasant idea struck her. He'd called Regina their 'common enemy.'

"Is this simply some – dispute – between you, using us all like pawns to get at each other?" she challenged.

For the first time since she'd first met him, he appeared startled. She felt a ping of satisfaction at managing even that much. His eyes widened, then he gave a full-throated laugh.

"No, no, well, not exactly…" His expression shifted to something more somber, pensive. "Regina and I have a… long history… you might say. We're – well, sometimes we agree and sometimes we don't. For the moment…" whatever she'd seen in his expression disappeared behind the familiar calmness "…I thought it was well time for the town to have a sheriff who isn't completely under her thumb."

"I'm not under anyone's thumb," Emma told him fiercely. "Not hers and certainly not yours, even if I do 'owe you a favor.'"

"I already know that; I seem to recall pointing out to you in the hospital that I rather liked the fact that you're not afraid of me," he reminded her. "Unlike Regina, I don't need people around me who obey my every whim. That would be extremely boring."

And there was yet another extremely twisted compliment. Emma swore under her breath then gave up. He was impossible to argue with.

"Thank you again, I think," she said sarcastically.

"You're welcome, I think, again," he replied.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

"I really won't do anything questionable, favor or no favor," she finally told him.

"And as I already said, I wouldn't expect anything else from you," he responded.

She eyed him. He watched her quietly, even peacefully, in return. Damn it, you truly could not win an argument with him. A sudden question snuck in on her, making her pulse speed up – who was he? Henry's 'crazy' ideas suddenly didn't seem quite so fantastical in that moment. This man was… extraordinary. Who the hell was he?

"If there's nothing else, Sheriff," he interrupted her strange turn of thought, "I have to finish up some work in my shop."

She mentally shook herself. Silly… she was just tired.

"No, nothing else for now," she said.

"Then, goodnight," he told her politely and turned to leave.

She found herself standing there alone in the brightly-lit Sheriff's office for several long minutes after he was gone, thoughts swirling in circles.

When she finally switched off the lights and left, it was with only one conclusion – whoever he was, ordinary – extraordinary - man or fairy-tale character, she was going to find out.