The characters and situations in this story belong to Edward Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, ABC, and other entities, and I do not have permission to borrow them. No infringement is intended in any way, and this story is not for profit. Any errors are mine, all mine, no you can't have any.

This is mostly pointless, and stems solely from my irritation with the blatant error in Desperate Souls. I have no explanation for why Emma knows that Mr. Gold is aware of the fairy-tale world - this thing is already too long. However, from what I can tell, he's correct about Maine's knife laws.

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The sight of Mr. Gold and the Mayor locked in a ferocious argument on the public street wasn't, alas, as unusual as it once had been. Emma took as long as she could to think about whether to go break them up, and this time it worked; by the time she got close enough to hear what they were saying, Regina was stomping off in a rage - no mean trick in stilettos - and Gold was headed back towards his pawnshop, face drawn in an expression of cold fury.

Emma sighed and followed. Now was obviously not a good time to engage the man, but she'd promised Henry. And I do try to keep my promises, even when they make me look like an idiot.

"Mr. Gold," she called, hastening to catch up to him. "Do you have a minute?"

"My time is valuable," he drawled as she drew abreast, but his anger seemed to have subsided into annoyance. "What is it you need, Sheriff?"

"Just the answer to a question," Emma said, feeling her cheeks pinken and silently cursing her complexion. "Henry asked me to ask you."

"Ah. Well then, what is the question?" he asked impatiently, unlocking the door to his pawnshop and pushing it open.

Emma took a deep breath. "He wants to know if you think the 'kiss of true love'" - she made air-quotes around the words. " - Can actually break a curse of dark magic."

"The kiss of true love? Don't tell me you're taking the lad's drivel seriously." Gold stepped into the shop, making his way through the clutter that was different every time she saw it, the thump of his cane a counterpoint to his uneven step.

Emma followed, wrinkling her nose even though no trace of lanolin remained. "Hey, he's been pretty accurate."

Gold huffed dismissively, slipping behind the shop's counter. "Really, Sheriff. Curses are dark things; do you really think a simple press of lips can destroy something so evil?"

Emma shrugged. "Seems to me that if you believe in curses you have to believe in a way to break them." She folded her arms, settling into the space between a stuffed and mounted emu and a dressmaker's dummy skewered with a dozen knives.

"Your naiveté is refreshing." He pulled a box from a shelf and opened it, pawing roughly through the contents.

"I call 'em like I see 'em." Slightly bored, Emma drew one of the knives from the dummy and examined the blade. It was an old kitchen knife, but quite sharp. "It's worked so far."

"Forgive me if a repaired clock tower doesn't particularly excite me." The box held pocket watches, it appeared; Emma winced as Gold all but slammed one onto the counter.

She slid the knife back into the dummy and chose another. "What am I, then, chopped liver?" she retorted idly.

"Disruptive." He turned far enough to snarl at her. "We were nicely balanced here until you came along."

"More like stuck in Limbo." The second knife was a long dagger that looked more like a stage prop than an actual weapon. The wavy blade was ornamented with some kind of engraving, and Emma squinted at it, trying to make out the letters.

Gold was suddenly in front of her, holding out a hand. "I'll thank you not to trifle with my personal possessions." His voice was icy.

Emma sniffed. "I don't think you'd get much for this, whoever engraved it can't even spell." She reversed the blade neatly and slapped the hilt into his palm.

Gold blinked. "What?"

Emma pointed at the letters etched into the metal. "R-U-M-P-L-E, see? It should be R-U-M-P-E-L."

He stared down at the blade, eyes widening until the whites were visible around his irises. "What?" he said again.

Emma turned her squint on him, wondering if he was pulling her leg. "Rumpelstiltskin is spelled R-U-M-P-E-L, not like rumpled. It's German, I think."

Gold's lips moved soundlessly, his fingers tracing the engraving. Emma watched him uneasily. What, did I just ruin some priceless artifact or someth -

The BANG from the counter made her jump. The cash register's drawer had shot out so violently that the machine was rocking, and bills were fountaining into the air like a firework made of money, coins glittering amidst the paper. Emma ducked reflexively, but it all fell behind the counter.

Behind her came the rattling sound of blinds, and sunlight flooded the dim pawnshop. Emma spun in time to see the door fly open by itself, letting in a flood of fresh air.

Gold nearly knocked her over as he hastened for the door, the dagger in one hand and his other swinging out his cane. Emma pelted after him. "Hey! What the hell is going on?"

He didn't answer - he didn't even bother to close the door behind him, let alone lock it. Emma slammed it shut and hurried to catch up; for a lame man he was putting on a lot of speed, striding unevenly down the sidewalk.

She jogged along beside him. "Care to tell me what you're planning here?"

"Is it any of your business?" He didn't even sound winded, drat the man. Emma rolled her eyes.

"You're carrying an unsheathed blade that has to be over six inches. That's probably illegal."

"Actually, Sheriff, carrying an unconcealed knife is legal in Maine as long as it isn't a switchblade." Gold didn't look at her but she could see that his eyes were lit with a fierce gleam, something oddly triumphant - not the look he wore when calling in a deal.

"You didn't even lock your door," she protested, not sure why she was trying to slow him down.

Gold didn't answer. Nor did he acknowledge the somewhat spooked greetings of the people he passed, their usual caution clearly augmented by his demeanor if not the weapon.

When he headed straight into Town Hall, Emma followed. He tossed a frown at her as they passed through the doors. "Are you security now, Sheriff? What a comedown."

"Hey, much as I loathe Regina, I can't let you skewer her," Emma pointed out reasonably, still matching his strides. "It'd look terrible on my resumé."

Gold snorted. "I assure you, I have no intention of harming our good Mayor. In fact, I'm about to give her her heart's desire."

"I'm not so sure that's a good thing either," Emma mumbled, and he snickered.

"Actually, you may be useful." He shot her a glance that was just this side of wild. "Stay close then, Ms. Swan, and you might get your chance to be free of your debt."

Oh, great. What am I getting into now? Emma shook her head at Regina's secretary as they passed, ignoring the woman's squeak of dismay.

Regina was rising from her desk as Gold blew through her office door, her face a mask of disapproval. "What is the meaning of this? Sheriff Swan, how dare you allow this man to just barge - "

Gold flicked his wrist, and the blade embedded itself in the center of Regina's desk, piercing straight through her blotter with a thunk. She froze, mouth open and cheeks flushed, staring down at the knife.

"It's yours," Gold said. "If you give me what I want."

Emma, watching, felt her gorge rise slightly at the utter, naked greed that spread over Regina's face. "Certainly," the Mayor said softly.

She reached out a hand, but Gold was quicker, his fingers wrapping around the hilt and yanking the blade free. "Ah-ah. Not until you meet my price."

For a moment Emma thought Regina would argue, but instead she reached for her phone and punched a speed-dial button, raising the phone to her ear and favoring Gold with what Emma could only term a lustful smile. "Hello, Administrator," she purred into the receiver, her eyes never leaving Gold. "Oh, I'm quite well, thank you. I need release papers for that little project of mine. Very good, I'm glad you understand."

She hung up the phone. "It's yours any time you want to pick it up."

Gold cocked his head and smiled back, hard and blazing. "Do accompany us, Sheriff. If only to ensure, ah, fair play."

"That's rich, coming from you," Regina commented lightly, rounding the desk and still smiling like a shark. Emma, who had been thinking something similar, shuddered nonetheless.

"Where are we going?" she asked dryly, concealing her uneasiness.

Gold didn't answer, merely turning and walking out. Emma turned an ironic palm out in invitation, and Regina swept past her.

Their little procession didn't have far to go, just down the street to the hospital. Gold led them around the building to a rather dingy back entrance, one clearly used mostly for trash pickup and smoke breaks. Standing outside it was a tall man in blue scrubs, black hair hanging in his face and hands gripping the handles of a wheelchair. In the chair sat a young woman wrapped in blankets, brown hair limp and face bearing the blankness of drugs or catatonia.

Gold let out a careful breath at the sight, then turned a challenging look on Regina. She held out a hand to the man, who gave her a packet of papers; turning with exaggerated grace, she laid them in Gold's own outstretched palm.

He tucked them into his jacket pocket without unfolding them, then balanced the knife on his forefingers and extended it to Regina, inclining his head in regal mockery.

She took it with an inhalation that spoke of either reverence or satisfaction; either way, it made Emma even more nervous. "Come, Ms. Swan," Gold said quietly. "Help me with Miss French here and I will consider your debt discharged."

Emma let out her own breath. I guess he would have trouble pushing it with his bad leg. When she moved towards the chair, the woman didn't seem to see her, but the tall man stepped out of the way. Emma had to wrestle the chair over the broken pavement to the sidewalk, but once there the ride was smoother.

She glanced over her shoulder as they hurried towards the street. "What was that all about?"

"You'll find out soon enough, I should think," Gold said, sounding very pleased. "It's a good thing she's not suicidal. She'll find that some curses bite deeper than others." He pulled out a cellphone and dialed.

"Rrrright," Emma sighed, and kept pushing. She wondered if she should balk, or at least try to ascertain the young woman's state, but Gold was moving quickly and his urgency was infecting Emma.

Gold led them not to his shop or his house, but to the police station. "If you want to put her in protective custody I'm going to need a reason," Emma said as they halted outside the building.

Gold ignored her, instead replacing his phone in his pocket and dropping into a stiff crouch in front of the wheelchair. More gently than Emma would have believed possible, he reached out and brushed a strand of hair from the woman's face. "Rose," he said softly.

She didn't respond, still staring into nothing. Gold's lips tightened, and then he leaned forward and whispered in her ear. Emma couldn't hear what he said, but the young woman - Rose? - slowly frowned, a puzzled expression.

Gold nodded, then straightened with the help of his cane. "Not at all. I simply require a…lift."

Emma regarded him for a moment, then shrugged. "Why the hell not."

It was easier to take the squad car than her Bug; as she folded up the wheelchair and put it in the trunk, Gold settled Miss French in the back seat and then took the front one.

"Where to?" Emma asked as she buckled herself in. "And should I be worried about you taking a sick person with you?"

"We'll be seeking better treatment," Gold said. "Just to the edge of town, please."

"Yeah, like that usually works." But she was curious. Emma put the car in gear and pulled out.

It never took long to get to the sign marking the edge of Storybrooke. Emma pulled up just in front of it and shut off the engine. "What now?"

Gold pointed with his chin at the road ahead of them. "There."

A car was approaching, a shiny black luxury vehicle. As Emma watched, it mirrored the squad car, pulling over to the shoulder and parking on the far side of the town line. The driver was invisible behind the smoky glass.

Gold got out and opened the back door, reaching a hand inside, and to Emma's surprise Miss French took it, allowing him to help her out. Her face was still mostly blank, almost as if she were sleepwalking, but Gold put an arm around her in a motion so tenderly protective that Emma felt her eyes prickle.

And she watched in astonishment as the halting pair crossed the town's border without pause or mishap, Miss French leaning hard on Gold and Gold leaning hard on his cane, but neither stumbling.

Gold helped Miss French into the black car, then slid in beside her. As he shut the door, Emma's patience snapped and she sprang out of the squad car. "Hey!"

Gold's vehicle was already reversing into a turn, but it stopped, and his window went down. "What is it, Ms. Swan?"

"How'd you do that?" Emma propped her hands on her hips.

Gold smirked at her, his expression lit with something she'd never seen him wear before. "Did you know, Sheriff, that in medieval times literacy was a very rare thing?"

Emma frowned. "What?"

But the window was already going back up, and as she watched the car completed its turn and accelerated smoothly out of sight.

Emma stood for a long while, looking up the road to where the car had disappeared. None of what had happened that afternoon made the slightest bit of sense.

But the memory of Gold's face stayed with her, and at last she recognized what she'd seen.

Hope.

When she finally turned the car towards home, Emma was smiling.

End.