Playing For Keeps

John was already at his desk that morning, working on the paperwork for Ava and Nicholas; he had been surprised and very pleased with how things had turned out for the two children. He figured with all the effort Emma had put into finding the children's father the least he could do was complete the paperwork involved and contact the proper authorities about getting the father official custody.

His head lifted when Emma swung through the door, a coffee in each hand. "Morning."

One eyebrow rose. "Good morning."

She set one of the coffees in front of him.

"Thanks," he lifted the beverage to take a sip. "You're in a chipper mood."

She shrugged, leaning back against another desk and blowing on her drink. "It was a good day, yesterday."

Elbows on the desk he leaned forward. "I would certainly say so. You not only kept those two kids out of the system, but found their father and reunited them. I'd say that's a job well-done."

She shrugged. "I just figured since he was unknown that he probably didn't even know he was a father." She watched the coffee turn in her hands. "And I knew how I felt the moment that I saw Henry so I thought that it might be the same for him. Now it's up to them to see if they can be a family."

"They will," he told her confidently.

She cocked an eyebrow. "How are you so sure?"

"Because he chose to keep them."

Her head canted to the side.

"Even though he felt so insufficient to the task, he still chose them." He sat back, his hands wrapped around his coffee. "And he's the kind of man that will honor that decision and give his children everything in him as a parent." A smirk tugged at one corner of his lips. "Like someone else I know."

Emma rolled her eyes, giving him a look. "Sap," she muttered before taking a drink of her coffee.

"So you keep asserting." Humor threaded his voice; he resettled in his chair. "So, Granny had someone check-in last night."

She nodded, swallowing the coffee. "Yeah, some guy that just came in. Course, according to Henry no one new ever comes to town."

"The curse?" he grinned, though, as always when the topic was brought up, it resounded somewhere in him.

"Apparently." She tilted her head to the side, looking at him consideringly. "I've been meaning to thank you for humoring him with the whole fairy tale thing."

He shrugged. "He's a little boy; we all need our escapes, especially at that age. Besides," he grinned, "it's kind of flattering being told that you're Prince Charming."

"Yeah, well," she smirked, "you certainly fit the part." Her voice was teasing, but then her expression became thoughtful. "Actually he's done a pretty good job in casting most everyone in town."

"Mm," he agreed. "Madame Mayor definitely suits the Evil Queen." He frowned thoughtfully. "Actually I've been meaning to ask who he thinks Mr. Gold is, just out of curiosity."

"Last I heard from him he hadn't quite figured out who he was yet, but during the election he told me that he was the most dangerous man in town."

"Hmm," he lips set in a grim line, "I certainly agree with that."

"He definitely inspires a healthy dose of caution when dealing with him," she agreed as she reached for the phone, which was ringing next to her. "Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Swan speaking." Graham had been pretty insistent on her answering the phone at least somewhat professionally, and it had stuck. "Hey…Uh huh…Yeah, he's here." Her eyes went to John who raised his eyebrows in askance. "Uh huh…All right, I'll tell him…Thanks…Bye." She hung up.

"Who was that?"

"Louis," she leaned forward on her elbows, "he wants you to stop by his office as soon as you can."

John felt almost overwhelming, contradicting emotions of exultant hope and nearly crushing worry. "Did he say why?"

She shook her head. "Nope, but that it was very important."

He looked down at the report he was working on.


His head lifted at the one word from his boss.

"You're not going to be able to concentrate on anything until you know what it's about, so just go."

A grateful grin spread across his face as he stood, pulling on his jacket. "Thanks."

John stepped through the door of his lawyer's office. "Louis?"

The man's head appeared from around the corner. "John, great!"

Well, the man's upbeat tone was certainly heartening. "Emma said it was important?"

The lawyer shifted through a few sheaves of paper before pulling out a manila envelope. "You know," he began as he moved over to John, "I usually am not sure what to say when delivering these papers, but in this case I believe I'll say, 'congratulations'."

John's breath caught in his chest as his trembling hands closed over the envelope. He lifted the flap and pulled out the papers inside.

There it was.

"You are now a single man."

John reached out his hand and grasped his lawyer's in a firm, vigorous shake. "Thank you," he told him adamantly.

"You're very welcome, John."

A relieved breath whooshed out of the deputy as his eyes scanned down the papers.

"So," his lawyer began, drawing his eyes back up to him, "now that you're a free man – so to speak," he canted his head to the side, "what are you going to do?"

A grin pulled at one corner of John's lips.

Emma looked up as he entered her office; she raised an eyebrow smirking. "Well, no need to ask what that grin means." She capped the pen she'd been using and leaned over her desk, one hand outstretched and her hand opening and closing in a "gimme" gesture. "Let's see 'em."

He handed her the envelope as he sat in the chair across the desk from her.

She pulled the papers out of the envelope, letting her eyes scan them. "So," she dropped the sheave back in and returned it to him, "how does it feel to be a free man?"

He took a deep breath and let it out again. "A relief. And quite liberating."

She leaned her arms on the table, folding her hands together. "Now, I wonder what you're going to do with this new-found liberty?"

John smirked at her knowing look, sitting back in the chair and crossing his arms. "What do you think?"

Emma chuckled as she straightened up. "You know, for all of the school not allowing non-parents to come in during the day, they're quite accommodating to people with a badge."

A grin spread across his face. "Lunch starts at eleven forty-five doesn't it?"


The bell for lunch rang.

"We'll pick back up after recess," Mary called to the children, who were scrambling out of their seats and heading to the door. She moved over to her desk to gather her things for lunch.

Henry was the last one to stand and the last to the door, as usual. "Hey, John!"

Mary's head snapped up at the boy's cheerful greeting, John's piercing blue eyes were waiting for hers.

"Hi, Henry." He managed to pull his eyes away from Mary to grin down at the boy. "Anything good for lunch?"

The child made a face, shrugging.

John crouched down; reaching into a paper sack he was carrying. "Well, here." He pulled out a cinnamon roll in a plastic to-go container.

Henry's face lit up. "Thanks!" He accepted the treat from the deputy, all but tackling him with a hug.

John wrapped his arms around the boy, closing his eyes, reveling in the affection and love he felt for the child. "You're welcome, kiddo."

Henry finally pulled away. "See you later!" He dashed down the hall, calling out to Ava and Nicholas who had just exited their classroom.

The deputy watched until the boy had disappeared from sight with his two friends; he then stood.

"You really made his day."

He turned to Mary who had moved to stand beside him.

His breath caught at the smile she was giving him. "Kids deserve to be treated once in a while."

She brought her hand to rest against his cheek. "It was a sweet thing to do. Thank you."

He leaned into her touch, giving her a half-smile. "It was my pleasure."

Her hand fell to her side and she looked down at the bag he was carrying. "What's this?"

He lifted it. "Lunch. I thought we might eat together since I have some news I wanted to share with you."

A grin spread across her face. "That sounds perfect."

They went over to her desk; he pulled an adult-sized chair from against the wall to sit beside her while she cleared enough space for them.

"Henry seems to have made friends with Ava and Nicholas." He nodded in the direction of the door.

"Mm." She helped him pull the food out of the bag. "It's good to see him getting along with children closer to his age, though he still doesn't play much with kids in the class."

They both sat down and began to eat.

"Well, that's progress, isn't it?"

"Yes." A small smile curved her lips. "He's been eating lunch and playing with them every day at school since the three of them first met."

"They can relate to each other probably better than any of the other kids here." His gaze was watchful on her.

"True." Mary nodded. "I guess I just can't help but worry." She gave him a self-deprecating grin.

"It just means that you care," he gently countered. "And it's one of the many things I love about you."

She looked absolutely stunned, her eyes wide on his.

John's gaze never wavered from hers.

"John…" she said breathlessly. Her eyes darted toward the door, which he had closed, before looking back at him.

He reached to the manila envelope he'd placed on the desk and handed it to her.

Her eyes dropped to the item momentarily before going back to him questioningly as she accepted it from him.

"Open it."

She lifted the flap and pulled out the papers; there was an audible catch in her breathing and her eyes snapped up to his.

Hope, that she hardly dared believe in, began to blossom in her chest. "John?"

He stared into her beautiful eyes, not hiding an ounce of his feelings for her. "Louis just gave me those this morning. It's official."

A tremulous smile slowly spread across her face.

His heart was pounding, his emotions heady. "I want to take you on a real date." His voice was a little husky.

Her smile grew brighter. "When?"

A giddy grin spread across his face. "Tomorrow. Tonight…now." He was nearly laughing for the joy coursing through his veins.

She let out a helpless giggle, her grin as wide as his. "I don't think we can do 'now' since I have to teach." She bit her lip. "But I'm free tonight."

"Tonight'll be great." He was grinning like an idiot and he didn't care.

The bell to call the end of recess rang, yanking them out of their little world.

John reluctantly stood, helping her gather up the trash from their lunch; that done he looked up, meeting her eyes. "See you at seven?"

"Seven," she agreed, following him to the door.

It opened, and as usual Henry was the first one in; he looked back and forth between the adults. "You guys look really happy…" He eyed them suspiciously.

Mary opened her mouth, though what she was going to tell her student she wasn't sure.

Before she could say anything John had leaned down and was whispering into Henry's ear low enough that the other kids, who were filing in, could not hear. Henry's face lit up at what the man told him, and when John pulled away the boy reached out and shook his hand. "Awesome!" He then scampered off to his desk as the last child entered the room.

Mary looked up at John with a raised eyebrow. "What did you tell him?"

He braced his arm on the door jam, grinning down at her, and said just softly enough that only she could hear. "Just that I have a date with the fairest woman in town."

Pink flooded her cheeks. "You're incorrigible." A pleased smile tugged at the corners of her lips.

He bent his head closer to hers. "And you would have me no other way."

Humor shone in her eyes, though he said nothing.

"See you tonight." He grinned before finally leaving.

"What on earth am I going to wear?" Mary tossed another shirt across the room to land on her bed next to her roommate, who was flopped on her back across the mattress.

"Mare, I don't think it's going to matter much, honestly, since the man can't seem to take his eyes off of you no matter what you wear," Emma commented wryly.

The dark haired woman tossed a balled-up shirt at her friend. "You're no help," she teasingly groused.

The sheriff rolled her eyes as she tossed the impromptu projectile to join the others. "Yeah, well, this isn't exactly something I have experience with," she pointed out. "Ask me to arrest or find someone, then we're talking."

Mary snorted, giving her friend a droll look. "I'll keep that in mind."

Emma propped herself up on her elbows. "Fine." She blew out a breath. "What about that blue, spaghetti-strap dress?"

The dark haired woman dug around in her closet and finally pulled out a pale blue dress. "This one?"

A headshake. "No it was a darker blue, closer to turquoise."

"Oh! I know the one!" Mary absently hung the dress and dove back into her closet finally surfacing with another dress. "This one, right?"

"Yeah!" Emma grinned. "That's the one."

The teacher smiled down at the lovely dress. "You're right, it's perfect." She set it aside and turned back to the closet. "Now for a sweater."

"Oh no." Emma was actually on her feet and directing her roommate away from her sweaters. "You do not wear a dress like that on a date with a sweater."

"Emma," she blushed, "it doesn't have sleeves and it's cold out."

"That's what coats are for," the blond woman promptly answered. "No, now we move on to the shoes." She turned them both to Mary's, admittedly, small selection of footwear.

Emma looked over them with a grimace; her eyes cut to the dress and back to the shoes once more. "Hang on a second." She walked out of the room.

The dark haired woman watched after her friend curiously.

A few moments later Emma returned with a pair of strappy heels. "These are perfect."

"Oh." Mary eyed them a bit leery. "I'm not sure about that Emma; I've never really worn heels much."

The blond snorted. "I'm betting it's probably more like 'ever'. And these aren't that high." She turned them over so that her friend could see that while the heel was higher than anything Mary owned it was much lower than most of Emma's. The sheriff pressed them into her friend's hands. "At least try them on with the dress," she insisted.

Minutes later, standing in front of her full-length mirror, Mary had to admit that Emma was right, the heels really did the dress better justice than her flats would have.

Her friend had an I-told-ya-so smirk on her face. "David is not going to know what hit him."

A knock sounded from the door.

"Speak of the devil." A Cheshire cat grin spread across Emma's face as she bolted for the door faster than Mary could ever hope to move in the heels.

She cast a look at her cardigans, feeling somewhat naked without the familiar cover, but at the same time there was something in her stirring. Something that wanted to – to quote Emma – "knock John on his ass". She took a deep steadying breath and turned her back on the sweaters; heading out of the door to her room.

John was talking with Emma by the door; he was wearing a nice pair of jeans with a blue button-down that enhanced the color of his eyes. Those very eyes turned to her when she came around the kitchen; his jaw dropped. Satisfaction at seeing that look on his face curled through her.

"Wow," he finally managed after his mouth opening and closing a couple of times ineffectually.

A warmth suffused her cheeks. "Thank you." Her eyes cut briefly to Emma, who was smirking knowingly again.

"Don't you guys have a dinner to get to?" the blond inquired.

This seemingly jolted John out of gaping at Mary. "Right." He turned to where the coats were hanging on hooks and retrieved Mary's; he helped her put it on in a very old fashioned, gentlemanly gesture.

"Thank you." She smiled brightly up at him.

Emma held the door open for them. "Have fun," she told them in a teasing, sing-song voice.

John rolled his eyes at his boss's taunting. He took Mary's hand in his and threaded it over his arm as the descended the stairs out of her building.

"So, where are we going?" She tilted her head back, though not as far as usual with the extra height from the shoes, to look at him.

"Chez Crabe."

She looked at him wide-eyed. "That's too expensive!" she protested. "You don't have to take me there! Especially on a first date."

He lay a finger over her lips, stilling any further protests. "I want to." He gave her one of his knee-melting half-smiles. "You are entirely worth it. Besides," he grinned, tucking her hand tighter into his arm, "according to Emma you've had enough dates at Granny's to last a lifetime."

She let out a soft laugh, resting her temple on his shoulder. "You don't have to try to impress me, John." She tilted her head up to look at him again. "We could be sitting on my couch, eating left-overs and I would think it was a good date."

He chuckled. "Well, I'm sure we'll have plenty of those nights in the future."

Mary bit her lip, grinning at him talking about them in the future.

He gazed at her intently. "I don't want us to start out like all the other people you've dated."

Her heart skipped a beat at the intensity of his stare.

"I'm going to be playing for keeps, Mary," he continued. "I want forever with you."

She took deep breaths, trying to slow her racing heartbeat. "You seem so sure," her insecurities showing through in those words.

They had reached the restaurant, he held the door open for her, placing a hand at the small of her back to guide her in. "I told you, Mary," his eyes never left hers, "I know who and what I want."

John gave his name to the hostess who led them over to their table, a small one in a corner off to the side. He helped Mary out of her coat and then pulled out her chair for her to sit down before seating himself. The somewhat isolated position of the table and the dimness of the lighting lent an air of intimacy.

Mary chewed on her lip as she perused the menu; her eyes lifted to John. "Are you sure you want to eat here."

He raised an amused eyebrow. "Mary…" humor tinged his tone. "Keep asking that and a man might feel a bit emasculated."

Color flooded her face. "I'm sorry I just –"

His hand reached over, covering hers. "I know," he told her gently.

She looked up at him again. "I just don't want you to feel like you have to impress me or something," she whispered. "I'm just happy being with you."

He lifted her hand to his lips. "And I with you, but I told you that I want to do this." He brushed gentle fingers over her furrowed brow. "Now I know that it's probably as fruitless as telling the sun not to rise, but stop fretting."

Mary gave him a look that had him grinning, he loved it when that fire leapt in her eyes.

"That's better," he told her with a chuckle as he sat back again.

She rolled her eyes and looked back down at the menu to make her selections.

Once they ordered there was silence for a moment.

"So," John finally broke the silence, "I take it that those shoes are Emma's?"

She looked up to see his eyes twinkling with mirth. She cocked an eyebrow at him. "How do you know that? Maybe they're mine." She lifted her chin, trying to put on a superior air.

Laughter rumbled from his chest. "Because you were holding onto my arm a bit tighter than normal and nearly fell over a couple of times on the way here."

Mary blushed scarlet. "You know, I don't think most women like to be told they don't walk well in heels."

Humor was still alight in his face. "My apologies. Though I must say that I enjoyed the chance to have you close."

The blush had faded a bit but a light pink still suffused her cheeks at that comment. "I said it earlier and I say it again, you're incorrigible." Fondness colored her tone.

"Hmm…I'm going to have to work on that then," he teased. "After all, I'm supposed to be Prince Charming, not Prince Incorrigible."

Laughter bubbled from her, prompting a wide, pleased grin to spread across his face.

Their food arrived; they both thanked their waiter before turning back to their conversation.

"Speaking of fairy tales," Mary began as she lifted her fork.

John looked up from his plate having just taken a bite.

"Emma told me who Henry thinks she is."

John raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Really?"

"Mhm," humor lit her eyes, but there was something less amused lingering in the shadows. "Apparently you and I are parents."

The fork nearly dropped from his hand. "Pardon?"

She gave him a smile. "Henry thinks Emma is the daughter or Snow White and Prince Charming."

John wasn't sure how to feel about this, though that same something was pulling at the back of his mind as it always did when the "curse" came up. "Well, that certainly could make things interesting, what with her being my boss," he commented wryly.

She giggled softly. "I told her that she has my chin."

He gave a chuckle before frowning slightly in thought. "You know, that would also make us grandparents…"

She frowned for a moment but then her eyes flew wide with realization. "Oh my!"

He smirked. "Even more jarring, isn't it?"

She buried her face in her hands with a groan. "I'm not even going to think about it."

Mary had never been on such a wonderful date, not so much because of where they'd gone, but because of whom she was with. They had laughed and talked the whole way through dinner; he had hardly looked away from her the entire time, a heartening change from the last date she'd been on.

John was walking her home, her hand once again looped through his arm; this time she quite willingly leaned into him, not even bothering to try and hide it.

He walked her right up to the door of her apartment.

She let her hand fall reluctantly away from his arm and turned to face him, biting her lip. "Thank you, John; I can't remember the last time I had such a wonderful time on a date."

He reached over and brushed her bangs out of her eyes – they really were getting rather long, usually she would have gotten a trim while ago, but she couldn't seem to get around to it. He allowed his fingers to trail down the side of her face. "I'm glad." His finger curled under her chin.

She stared up at him with bated breath.

He slowly lowered his head; a hairsbreadth away he hesitated.

Mary wasn't sure where the sudden boldness came from, but she rose on her toes to close the last distance, allowing her hands to reach up to grasp his shoulders for balance. And, even more shocking, she was the one who initiated deepening the kiss.

John moaned his approval, wrapping his arms around her waist, and hauling her body flush to his. It was a good thing that he had such a firm grip on her, because she was pretty sure that even if she were in flats her knees would have given out.

His tongue traced the inside of her lip, drawing a whimper from her. Something in her, something uncharacteristically bold, wanted to push his control as much as he was hers. Her teeth nipped at his lower lip; he groaned pulling her tighter to him.

His hands mapped the contours of her back, tracing the length of her spine. Her fingers teased around the collar of his shirt, dipping along the skin exposed by the two open buttons at the neck. Neither wanted to stop.

But if Mary knew Emma, her roommate was likely still up and waiting; she had no desire to show up with John in-tow and have to endure Emma's looks.

And as much as John wanted Mary, there was no way he was going to start their official relationship like this, sleeping with her after their first date.

It took all of their willpower to part their lips; they pressed their foreheads together, both of them panting.

"You kiss all the men you go out with like that after the first date?" he asked, a little teasing.

Her eyes lifted to his. "What do you think?"

He let himself get momentarily lost in her orbs. He pressed his lips to hers, keeping the contact chaste but pouring his love for her into the gesture. He finally lifted his head and they slowly disentangled their arms. He kissed the back of her hand, his eyes locked with hers the whole time.

"Good night, Mary."

Her fingers squeezed his. "Good night, John. Thank you for such a lovely night."

"Thank you, Mary," he countered sincerely. He pressed one last kiss to the backs of her fingers before finally letting them slip from his grasp and forcing himself to leave.

Mary watched him head down the stairs before going into her apartment.

Emma turned to look at her from her spot on the couch. The blond woman raised an eyebrow. "From the obscenely dreamy look on your face I'm gonna guess that it went well."

I hope that you all enjoyed it! I know I had some fun and so many things I didn't plan happened! O.O This story just keeps surprising me! Well, I'm going to be heading off to watch the new episode! I'm uber excited! :D Thank you so much for reading! I hope that you all enjoyed it!

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