The first time she sees him in town, he has his daughter clinging to his back, and Emma is so surprised she forgets to wonder how he survived the fall from the window – and when she does think of it, well, stranger things have certainly happened lately. At first glance, Jefferson looks like a different person – smiling, relaxed, teasing his daughter over his shoulder. But Emma notices details, and she sees the tightened jaw, the wariness in his eyes, the way his focus darts around, taking stock of his surroundings. He knows, better than most, never to feel too secure.
Jefferson plunks himself down on the bench without invitation, and she doesn't look over at him. His daughter and her son are playing a game with other children, with rules incomprehensible to any post-pubescent observer. It seems to involve a great deal of shrieking and clambering up and down the dome-shaped jungle gym. "I don't want to alarm you," he says, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, keeping his voice low, "but you're being watched."
"Says the man with a telescope in every window?"
"You may have cause yet to be glad of that. Nine o'clock. Turn slowly."
"Why didn't you leave?" she asks. "Take your hat and go home?"
He stares off over her left shoulder, too many answers playing themselves across his so-expressive face. But the one that reaches his lips is, "That world is empty. I could bear it, I'm… used to solitude. But Grace…" He shakes his head. "I don't want her to be an outcast, like me. She should have friends." He looks back at Emma, quick and piercing. "And then there was you."
"Let's just say… you inspired me."
Emma doesn't know what to make of that, and changes the subject.
To everyone's surprise, Jefferson actually turns up when invited to a meeting of what Henry has dubbed, for better or for worse, the Heroes' Council. Those black-and-white designations come easier, Emma thinks, when you're ten.
Emma can tell Jefferson's uncomfortable, keeping near the door, the restlessness in his limbs indicating that he could bolt at any moment. It occurs to Emma that "team player" is probably not an apt description for this man, so used to operating in isolation, relying only on himself.
It's not something most people would say of her, either, though, and the thought makes Emma smile.
He earns Red's undying gratitude when he figures out how to retrieve her cloak, and Charming grudgingly admits his usefulness in a tight situation. Snow takes longer, and when she looks at him, he feels like she can see every double-deal, every bad decision, every selfish impulse that ever led him down a less-than-righteous path. He tells himself he has nothing to prove, that she can take his help or leave it – but the set of her jaw is so like Emma's, and they share a mistrustful hardness of expression. And there are some people he does want to impress.
The explosive flame illuminates the hazy night, a chaos of swirling orange and yellow, sparks crackling in the tall grass. Jefferson sees it first and flattens Emma to the ground, momentarily knocking the wind out of her. "Oh, that's just cheating!" she gasps. "Fireballs? Really?"
"Take up your grievance with the cruelty of the universe later, Emma," Jefferson says. She starts to get up, but he hisses, "No!" and pushes her back against the hard earth. "She's trying to flush us out. Stay down."
She understands, then, that half-wild, hunted look he too often gets. He's been the quarry before.
One by one, the others depart, back to their homes or back to their posts, leaving Emma alone with Jefferson and the sound of the cicadas, chirping unconcernedly in the warm summer night. As soon as the sound of Charming's footsteps die away around the corner, Jefferson moves with that startling speed he can muster out of nowhere, pressing Emma against the alley wall, his lips capturing hers. The kiss is possessive, swift, and leaves her dizzy.
"Sorry," he murmurs, nuzzling her ear. "I've been wanting to do that for weeks."
And then he too slips away, into the night.
It becomes addictive, stealing kisses from each other when no one else is watching; there's a strange competition to it, each trying to catch the other off-guard. Emma nearly jumps out of her skin when he nips at the back of her neck; she hadn't even known he was in the room.
They don't talk about what, if anything, it means. It's just a game, a distraction from this strange war, moments of heat, flashes of fire. If it makes her heart pound faster, if he can hardly keep his hands off of her in company – well, what of it?
Fuming, she slams the door behind him so hard that it rebounds. He tears back through only a moment later, apparently having decided they weren't done after all. His expression is dark, little left now of the teasing or tender lover, and that's just fine, because Emma's in the mood for a fight, and he's all too willing to give it to her.
Only later does she realise what a favour he did her, pushing her until her temper exploded on him rather than anyone else. They need her to be strong and sure; he can let her lose control.
They put themselves on separate teams, all too aware – even if they'd never admit it out loud – that they can't afford the distraction. This mission is too critical and far too dangerous, and so while Emma takes to the forest with Red and the Dwarves, Jefferson joins Snow, Charming, and the others at the river.
But before they leave headquarters, he presses her hand, his fingers stroking the inside of her palm, and his head bends towards hers just enough to whisper "Be careful" against her ear.
Red sees the little gesture, catches the scent of heightened pheromones, and grins.