Their first meeting was a disaster, and it was silently agreed by all parties involved that certain words and phrases (kidnapping, drugging, prisoners, telescopes, concussions, windows) would never be mentioned in certain company (Snow/Mary-Margaret, for fear of what she might do without a window nearby, and James/Charming/David, for while he was a fool he was still a protective husband and father of a daughter too ancient for her years).
There were times that she remembered that night and wished things had been done differently. He had been charming and conscientious (before the drugging and kidnapping parts), and his house was beautiful (even if it was patterned to look like playing cards and forests and filled with hats and telescopes). When she remembered the way he looked at her on the road before all the craziness that came later, intelligence in his eyes and mirth twisting his lips into that half-smile and how that contrasted with he looked at her in the hat room, intense and dedicated and regretful all in one, something lurched and burned deep in her belly. When she thought of the way his hand had felt knotted in her hair and the way he murmured into her ear and heat whispered across her skin, she shivered. The thoughts those memories inspired were shoved down and away, locked in a cell and the key thrown away, because she could not have feelings for a psychotic loon who had kidnapped her mother as part of a ridiculous trap to make a magic hat-
(And she would groan and search for the bottle of aged whiskey that Leroy had taken to making in an old abandoned cellar, because that story would never work and she needed the heavy burn to scorch away any and all feelings that were turning into something she never wanted to think about again)
He had been a desperate man, wanting only his daughter, and she didn't believe him, refused to believe him, and nearly broke him as a result. It wasn't until she saw the proof in the damned book that she began to realize just what she had done, what her pride had almost cost, and had been filled with guilt. She searched for him then, searched the woods and the house and the back alleys in a desperate attempt to find him and apologize for everything that had happened (even though the rational part of her brain insisted he had gotten what he deserved, getting kicked out of a window and into that goddamn hat).
It hit her with the force of one of Snow's haymakers one night, the idea that she understood and knew Jefferson better than anyone else in town, because only she understood the desperation and the fear and the fact that all of that combined with those lips of his and those goddamn leather pants only made him all the more dangerous to her, because he had managed to get under her guard and past her shields and now made himself a nice cozy place in her heart.
He always remembered that night, and always wished things had been done differently. Every time he saw Grace off to school, every time he stepped into the living room or the forest room or the hat room or even saw a telescope or that goddamn metal teapot, he remembered. He remembered how it felt to have her limp and heavy in his arms, how she reminded him of summer, warm and smelling of oranges and sunshine and wildflowers. He remembered the way her head lolled on his shoulder, how right it felt to have her against him all soft and trusting.
He remembered, all with a sense of shame, because he had lured her there under false pretenses and he knew it was wrong, that it was despicable and so far below who he was, who Jefferson was-
(And the Hatter would cackle and sneer from the dark shadows in his mind, screaming in a sing-song voice that he liked it, he liked the evil and the dark and the wrong-)
He would retreat to his bedroom then, and open a drawer in his desk to find the aged whiskey that was delivered with his groceries, and drink it straight from the bottle in an effort to drown out the Hatter's screams and memory of Emma's face when she realized he had her mother tied to a chair, the look he had put there, the look he was responsible for.
It hit him with the force of Snow's kick one night, when he was in front of his fireplace and staring into the flames with the bottle at his side, that it was because he had gotten his Grace back, that the curse was broken and he was able to move freely and openly and that the Hatter would retreat whenever his thoughts were of just Emma, not of what happened or what he had done, just her and the way she felt like summer in his arms and he wondered if she tasted like she smelled, of oranges and warmth and sun, and that was when he knew the Sheriff-Savior had made herself at home in his heart.