Fighting Battles

John strode into the sheriff's department, two coffees in a tray in one hand and a bag with a donut for him and a bear claw for his boss in the other. He strolled into Emma's new office. "Got a celebratory treat for your first day as the official sheriff…" he trailed off, noticing Emma's pale face. He set the coffees and bag down on her desk, leaning over the surface to grasp her arm. "Emma, what's wrong?"

She lifted her eyes to his. It took a few moments, but she swallowed and began, "It was all part of his plan."

John frowned, sitting down in the seat across the desk. "Whose plan?"

Emma blinked a few times, regaining some of her bearings that had been so thrown by Gold. She hadn't meant to say that out loud, didn't want anyone else to have to bear the burden of her troubles, but as she looked at the man she had chosen for her deputy she realized that this was one person she probably should tell, and whom she knew she could trust. She rubbed a hand over her forehead, taking a deep breath. "Mr. Gold was just here; he told me that he'd always intended for me to publicly defy him, saying that it gave me an 'even greater quality' than just going up against Regina because people fear him even more. He did it to make sure I would be elected."

John was dead still for several moments. He wanted to refute what she said; wanted to tell her that no one had that good of foresight, but something in him stopped him. There was something in the back of his mind and soul that whispered Mr. Gold was entirely capable of predicting things that well. That same part had been telling him from the first moment he met the pawnbroker that he was a dangerous man. He breathed deeply. "Did he say why he wanted you to be sheriff so badly?"

She hesitated, looking down at her hand, which was clutching the sheriff's badge.

"Emma…what is it?"

She stroked her thumb over the star. "In order for Ashley to keep Alexandra I had to make a deal with Gold."

Ice settled in his gut. "What kind of deal?"

She shook her head. "He hasn't specified, yet. He only said that I would owe him a favor."

John leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk, clasping his hands together and pressing them against his lips contemplatively. They both knew this was not a good situation in any way, shape or form, having the sheriff indebted to the man who basically owned the town and brokered in deals that were on the darker of the shady-side.

The sheriff pressed her fingertips to her eyes. "What am I going to do?"

He pulled his hands away from his mouth and rested them on the desktop. "For starters we can't really do anything at this point."

She raised an eyebrow at his insistence of the plural.

He ignored her reaction and continued, "I say that for now, we wait." He unlaced his fingers and crossed his arms on the surface. "Until we have some idea of what he's going to want, there's not much we can do."

Emma smirked ruefully. "True." She sighed, looking toward the coatrack; he followed her gaze to find Graham's jacket hanging there. "Gold," she said by way of explanation of his unasked question.

He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Why?"

She shrugged. "He didn't say really. Maybe he was trying to soften me up a bit before dropping that bomb."

John looked back at the coat, his mouth set in a grim line.

During his lunch break John decided to stop by Mr. Gold's shop; he didn't know what David Nolan had been like, but John preferred to face problems head-on.

He stepped through the door of the pawn shop for the second time in his life, that he could remember. "Mr. Gold?" he called out when he didn't immediately see anyone.

The shorter man appeared through the curtains to the back room. "Deputy." He moved behind the counter. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" It was clear from his tone that he knew exactly why John was there.

John placed his hand flat on the countertop, but didn't lean into them, keeping his posture rigid but neutral. "The sheriff told me about your visit this morning…and about the debt she owes you."

"Ah." The man leaned on his cane.

The deputy looked at him piercingly. "Why are you dangling this over her head?"

Gold shrugged. "I'm not 'dangling' it, deputy." His lips twitched the slightest amount. "I just haven't yet needed to call in that favor."

John narrowed his eyes; the man wasn't being entirely truthful. He was choosing his wording carefully, which in John's book was just as bad as lying and ten times as dangerous. "What game are you playing, Mr. Gold?"

"Whatever do you mean?" The man didn't even blink.

Oh, he knew exactly what John meant, but the deputy wasn't going to get anywhere with him. He leaned forward slightly. "Emma's a good person, friend and mother. She's working hard to make things better around here. If you hurt her, I will kill you."

The shopkeeper raised his eyebrows, a hint of surprise and respect entering his eyes.

John turned and headed for the door.

"You're very protective of our new sheriff." The deputy half-turned back to the other man, who was eyeing him thoughtfully. "Though, would she appreciate your coming here though and getting involved in her affairs, I wonder?"

"Emma's had to stand on her own for far too long," John told him. "Whether she likes it or not, she's got people who aren't going to let that happen anymore."

"So, you have our sheriff's back," it wasn't a question.

The younger man's gaze never wavered from the other man's. "Always."

"What a…charming sentiment."

John's eyes narrowed at the meaningful emphasis Gold put on the word "charming", it was the second time he used it in as many meetings. John wondered if it was possible that the other man knew of Henry's fairy tale theory. He turned the rest of the way to face the shopkeeper properly.

The older man gave him a small smile. "Good day, Deputy." He disappeared into his back room.

It took several moments before John was able to turn back to the door, greatly unsettled by the man and their interaction.

As he stepped out the door he made a mental note to ask Henry who he thought Mr. Gold was.

John walked through the nearly empty elementary school's hallways, nodding greetings to the few teachers he saw; a few of them stopped him and asked that he pass on their congratulations to Emma.

When he reached the fourth grade classroom he stopped in the doorway, he immediately had to lean against the frame to try and catch his stolen breath at the sight before him. Mary was sitting at her desk, reading over something. Sunlight from the windows spilled over her, giving her and ethereal glow, she was always beautiful to him, but right now she looked almost fae-like. She set aside whatever she'd been reading and lifted an envelope; she slit it open with a letter opener.

"Careful," he finally managed.

Her head snapped up at his voice; a smile lighting her face upon seeing him.

An answering half-grin spread across his. "Looks sharp." He nodded to the letter opener in her hand.

"John." Delight was warm in her tone.

He straightened up and strolled over to her desk, moving around to her side of it and sitting down on the surface just to her left, facing her. He slid his hand to one of hers and tangled their fingers together. "How was your day?" He stroked his thumb over her knuckles.

"Good, pretty much the same as usual." A small frown marred her features. "Though, I worry about Henry."

John's brow furrowed in concern.

"He doesn't seem to relate well to the kids in the class, he never has, but I just can't help but worry about him." She looked down at the desktop.

He squeezed her hand gently. "Do you want me to talk to him?"

Mary rubbed a hand over her forehead. "I don't know. He seems to interact perfectly well with us, but he just doesn't seem to know how with those his age."

"Is it because of his belief in fairy tales?"

She shook her head slipping her hand from his so that she could arrange a few piles of papers. "No, this has been going on since long before I gave him the book." She picked up one stack and tucked it into her bag. "It was actually the reason that I gave it to him in the first place, because he was so lonely." She cast him a wry smile. "Little did I know at the time what I would put into motion."

He reached up a hand to cup her cheek, feathering his thumb over the skin. "Do you regret the decision?"

She brought her hand up to lace her fingers with his. "Never."

He leaned down, pressing their foreheads together. "I'll talk to Henry."

Her lips curled up. "Thank you." She ran her fingers up and down his arm. "How has your day been?"

John really wanted to talk to her about Emma's situation with Gold, but couldn't break that confidence. "Ups and downs," he settled.

She traced her fingers over the scar on his chin. "I had lunch with Emma; she told me about Mr. Gold."

He let out a relieved sigh. "Good." He sat back up, his hand sliding up her arm to intertwine their fingers again.

Mary tilted her head to the side. "So, what did Mr. Gold say?"

He raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

She gave him a look. "I know you, John, when a problem like this comes up you like to confront it."

He gave a rueful chuckle. "I saw him during my lunch."


He traced his fingers over her palm. "I don't trust him."

"Beyond his actions during the election, why?"

"When we spoke, he never lied, but he wasn't honest either." John pressed his lips together. "And I have this bone-deep feeling that he is a dangerous man." He tightened both of his hands around the one of hers. "I feel like he's a master chess player and we're all the pawns on the board of his game."

"So you believe that he was telling Emma the truth, that he predicted her telling everyone what he'd done?" she looked at him watchfully.


Mary bit her lip. "It seems rather farfetched that he could foresee Emma not only connecting him to the fire, but also her standing up to him."

"If this were anyone else, I'd agree, but somehow I have this feeling that this man is entirely able of that kind of foresight," he told her grimly. "And as far as Emma defying him, that, at least, isn't all that farfetched. It's totally within Emma's personality to have done so."

She nodded. "True. She would never let herself win through a lie like that." A small smile pulled at her lips. "Henry says that she – all of us really – are 'good' and that means we have to 'play by the rules'."

John chuckled softly. "If only the world was so black-and-white."

When she didn't respond he looked up to see an almost torn look on her face.

"What is it?"

She twisted her ring staring out into the room. "I don't know. It's just that sometimes I think that children have it right. That the world and truth are a lot simpler than we adults make them. That in at least some things it really is so clear cut. Good and Evil. Right and Wrong. Truth and Lie. Love and Hate." She turned and gave him a wry smile as she rose to her feet. "But that could just be the eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week I spend with my students talking."

John slowly shook his head, watching her gather her things. "No. You have a point. Adults do tend to make things more complicated than they really are, and children have this clarity that a less cluttered and burdened mind brings." He stood as she strung the strap of her bag over her shoulder. "It's probably because we don't see things so simply that things become so complicated in the first place." He took the books she was carrying and placed them under his arm.

She gave him a sweet smile. "You're just saying that to make me feel better."

"No," he assured her, shaking his head. "I believe it. There's nothing wrong with wanting that simplicity, there's a beauty to it. That's part of the appeal of fairy tales, good always triumphing over evil." A half-smile quirked his lips. "It's not a bad fantasy really, imagining that we're all actually fairy tale characters." He reached up his free hand to brush aside the bangs that had fallen into her eyes. "I certainly don't mind being Prince Charming to your Snow White." He allowed his hand to skim down to hers.

She was restraining her smile but her eyes sparkled with humor and affection…and – if he'd let himself actually dare to name it – love. She turned her hand to entangle it with his. "Emma would probably be giving you hell for sounding so much like a real Prince Charming."

John gave her an appropriately charming grin. "Nah, she's getting used to it. Says, that it's one of my 'charming' quirks. Though she tosses the occasional 'corny' and 'sappy' in my direction."

Mary gave a strangled laugh as they turned and made their way out of the classroom and down the hall. "I really am quite curious how you two interact together at work."

"Really well, actually," he informed her cheerfully. He grinned at the dubious look she cast him. "We're similar in the ways that matter and different enough to make it work."

She frowned. "That shouldn't make sense."

"But it does," he grinned.

Mary sighed, sliding her hand up to rest it in the crook of his elbow. "Oddly, yes." Wry humor was thick in her voice.

He saw a look come over her face. "What is it?"

She bit her lip, looking down. "It's just… After everything over the holidays, and other things, it's begun to feel like the four of us – you, Emma, Henry and I – are almost like our own little, somewhat dysfunctional and odd family." She turned her ring with her thumb. "Like broken pieces that somehow fit together."

John watched her with some surprise. He had also felt the familial bonds that were starting to form between them all, like they belonged together, but had never really been able to describe it to his satisfaction, either to himself or Archie. But there Mary had put it so concisely, the exact illustration of them. Four broken people who together fit to make a whole, or at least a near-whole. "You've just perfectly described what I've been struggling to put into words for the longest time."

She tilted her head up to look at him. "You feel it too?"

"We all do." He gave her a half-grin. "Why do you think Henry loves spending time with all of us together? And even though Emma acts all indulgent and sometimes annoyed with us, why she joins in whenever she can?"

Mary pulled them to a stop and stared at him wonderingly. "You're right." A smile slowly spread across her face. "I've always wanted family," she commented softly.

"I think we all have, even, and perhaps especially, Emma, though she'd never admit it." He brought his arm up to wrap around her shoulders and they began walking again.

She wrapped her own arm around his waist, sighing. "I worry about her. Those walls she has are so thick, and she hardly lets anyone in." She looked up at him. "It's gotten worse since Graham died. Not with us really, but others…" Her lips pressed into a thin line. "She's just not letting anyone else in."

John leaned over and pressed a kiss to her temple. "I think that all we can do is give it time and patience at this point." He pushed the door out of the school open for them. "We just need to keep showing her that we're here for her and not going anywhere."

Mary leaned into him, enjoying the warmth and comfort that she felt whenever she was around him. "You're right."

Something told both of them that they'd have a great many battles to fight and they needed to be ready for the long-haul.

A chapter in which John is, unknowingly and unintentionally, an overprotective papa, threatens Gold/Rumple, and we get some John-Mary fluff. I hope that it was ok! I am very eager to see the episode tonight with Hansel and Gretel! Thank you for reading! Let me know what you think!

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