Author's Note: I know this chapter is short, but I wanted you all to know that I haven't forgotten about this story. Please review! Also, now that this is officially AU, should I continue it or no? Just curious to hear your opinions. Either way, enjoy!

Esme gazed out the window wistfully. It was a beautiful day out. White, fluffy clouds in a bright blue sky. The sun shining down as if heaven itself were smiling. The leaves of the trees waving tantalizingly in the wind.

Esme released a sigh and she absentmindedly stopped cleaning the surface of the kitchen counter, her hand coming to a rest as her mind was filled only with thoughts of the outdoors.

Sudden clarity broke through her vague dreams and she snapped alert. Eyes flicking rapidly back and forth, Esme observed the forest that lay just behind Mr. Gold's house. Her heart began thumping quickly at the very thought beginning to fester in her mind. Nervously she glanced around her, though she knew quite well that the house was empty. Gold was at work and would be still for some hours.

He'd have no way of knowing if she went for a little jaunt in the woods.

The idea filled Esme with exhilaration, the kind she used to experience on the rare occasion in her cell when she'd believed in the possibility of escape. Making up her mind quickly, Esme jumped up and rushed to the back door.

Her hand paused lightly on the knob. Closing her eyes as though this would somehow shield her from the betrayal she felt she was committing, Esme slowly twisted the cold metal.

Esme opened her eyes and gazed outside. She stumbled through the doorway, a huge grin beaming from her face.

Finally! To be reunited with nature again after these weeks cooped up in Gold's house. First she had been stuck in a cell for as long as she could remember, with no ability to visit the outside world, and then she had immediately become a—more comfortable—prisoner in Mr. Gold's home.

In short, she dearly missed nature. She missed all of it. And as she kicked off her shoes and let the soft grass tickle her feet, Esme realized that she wouldn't have been able to spend one more day away from all this. She'd slowly been going crazy… but no more. She'd simply disappear into the deserted forest for a few hours and then return home before Gold got home from work. He would never be any the wiser. What he didn't know couldn't hurt him.

Gold glanced up from his paperwork as the shop bell jingled happily. The person strolling into his shop sent a smirk to his face. Despite himself, Gold found that he rather liked the town's new sheriff; she was more interesting to deal with than the rest of the dull town at least.

Emma walked straight up to the counter behind which Gold stood, her expression serious. Then again, she always tended to be in a serious mood when she found it a necessity to call upon the owner of the pawnshop.

"And what can I do for you today, Miss Swan?" he asked politely, still smirking. Emma fixed her gaze on him and tossed something onto the counter.

"Explain these to me."

Gold looked down curiously and picked up the stack of papers she had dropped there. Casually perusing the white sheets, he maintained a perfectly cool façade, though his mind immediately began turning wheels. As soon as he'd decided upon his course of action, he set the papers down and looked back towards Emma.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean," Gold replied, pretending to be serious, though they both knew he was only teasing her to prickle her nerves.

Gold grabbed his cane and limped away, making his way towards another of the counters, pretending he had something to occupy himself with. In all honesty, he simply hated standing still. Emma followed him, staying on the customer side of the counters as he began fiddling with a small clock.

"These receipts show that in the past several weeks you've begun purchasing almost twice the amount of food at the grocery store that you previously bought. You've also made several trips to the department store and come out with clothing made for young women, not… men."

Gold grinned at her faltering last words.

"It's alright, dear, you can call me old. I take no offense to it." His nose crinkled as he smirked again. Emma ignored this comment.

"I'm giving you the chance to admit the truth, Mr. Gold," she said severely. "Otherwise I'll be forced to obtain a warrant to search your house and I'll have to arrest you for obstruction of justice."

Gold met Emma's fierce and unrelenting gaze.

"Actually Miss Swan, I'm afraid I can't let you do that," he told her assuredly. Emma's eyebrows rose dangerously at his arrogance.

"Well I'm afraid you can't stop me," returned Emma in a harsh voice. Without waiting for a response, Emma turned away from the man and began making her way towards the exit.

"Uh, Miss Swan," Gold called out in a singsong voice. Halting, Emma warily turned back to face him. His unchanged self-assured expression made her feel sick to her stomach, little though she cared to admit it. She had a bad feeling that he would indeed have some way to stop her. This was Mr. Gold she was dealing with, after all.

"Do you happen to remember that little deal that we made?" he questioned lightly, "If I remember correctly, which I do of course, you owe me… a favor. Isn't that right?"

Emma's heart grew cold at his words.

"What is it that you're saying?" she asked, her voice strangled.

"I'm saying, dear, that I'm cashing in on that favor. And here's what it is. You will do none of the following things: arrest me, break into my house with or without a warrant, or tell Regina anything of your discoveries. In fact, rather than turn in my… ward, you shall help me to protect her. Is that all very clear, Miss Swan?"

Mr. Gold's characteristic smirk and stubbornly arrogant and amused attitude had vanished, replaced with a deadly serious man. Emma was stunned by the magnitude of his demands and was about to reply when he continued speaking.

"It may interest you to know, however, that I believe most strongly that you will agree with me on these matters. Any lies that Regina has told you are merely that: lies. Filthy, twisted lies," Gold spat the words bitterly off his tongue.

"I've seen the records," argued Emma firmly, "This girl that you have taken in is mentally unstable. She could hurt herself. She'll go crazy, if she hasn't already."

"And who gave you those records?" hissed Gold, angrily stepping out from behind the counter and towards Emma, frustrated with her stubborn stupidity. He expected better of her. "The Mayor?"

The Sheriff offered no response, instead clenching her jaw. But Mr. Gold could see in her eyes that Emma was considering his words, possibly weighing her trust in the two villains.

Apparently she decided that something made Mr. Gold more trustworthy than Regina. The fact that she'd been suspicious of Regina ever since she'd demanded that the investigation remain a secret probably helped to contribute.

"You're sure that this girl isn't clinically insane?" Emma demanded, needing to be absolutely positive before making a wrong decision. Gold's expression relaxed at his words and a small smirk graced his features again.

"Positive, dear. You see… I knew her before she was locked away. If I'd known her fate I would have…" Gold trailed off, his eyes gazing off into the air.

If Emma hadn't known better she would have thought there was a sheen in his eyes that hadn't been there before. Somehow she felt her heart going out to the man in front of her. She was shocked! She'd never seen him look so emotional, so… human.

The look was gone quickly, but Emma's sympathy didn't disappear with it. Regardless, Gold blinked his vacant thoughts away and stared at Emma again.

"No matter. There is nothing to be done now. You may leave, Miss Swan. If I ever need your assistance with this matter I shall… call you."

Startled once more, this time by his sudden dismissal, Emma turned to leave, making her way to the door confusedly.

"And Miss Swan? Don't forget, not a word to Regina."

Emma nodded vaguely and stepped out of the pawnshop, feeling a bit as though she had been entranced. Putting a hand to her forehead, she tried to shake off the hazy feeling that had overtaken her. As her head began to clear, she made her way to the police car, evaluating everything that had occurred today and what it would mean from here on.

Gold watched Emma's retreating figure, feeling satisfied that his deals at least still held some weight in this world, even if his true magic powers had gone forever. It had been somewhat of a shame that Gold had been forced to use up his only favor with Emma, but as he thought about it, Gold realized there was no better way he could have used it than for Belle's protection.

Though Gold felt satisfied with the way his meeting with Emma had gone, he still felt a bit uneasy inside. He scolded himself for these irrational feelings and returned to his paperwork, grasping the pen firmly in his hand and lowering it down to the paper.

Nothing. He couldn't focus. He couldn't force his hand to go through the motions of writing. With a sigh, Gold gave it up. Though he knew that Belle was safe at the moment, he also knew that he wouldn't be content until he saw her again, saw with his own two eyes that she was still there. Still alive and whole, brown hair streaming, blue eyes shining.

Following his instinctive need, Gold briskly limped to the exit of his shop and flipped the sign to show that the store was closed. He then made his way through the doorway and headed off for home, sure that he would feel better once he saw Belle there.