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Until the Day Breaks and the Shadows Flee

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Chapter One: On the Rugged Mountain 

 

The procession making its way down the streets of Misthaven was beautiful in a macabre sort of way. It was led by chanting priests in black hooded robes swinging orbs of burning incense. Behind them, Queen Snow and King David rode in an open carriage draped in black satin and drawn by a team of chestnut horses. They were both decked in mourning clothes of black, the queen’s face covered by a lace veil. Behind them was another carriage, this one drawn by two white horses. This one was closed, dark curtains pulled shut. Yet everyone knew who was inside, dressed in the wedding gown that should have been worn in celebration. The townspeople lowered their heads as it passed, some dabbing silently at their tears. Bringing up the rear of the procession were the ladies of the court, also dressed in garments of mourning. The only sounds apart from the clip-clop of the horses and the creaking of the carriage wheels came from them: deep wails of grief accompanied at times by the warbly singing of an old folk song about a maiden wed to death himself.  

At the village gates, the priests and mourning maidens abandoned the procession, standing before a throng of villagers. The silence that had fallen amongst the people remained until the royal carriages crested a hill and were no longer in sight.  

On these two carriages traveled, cloaked in silence. Even the king and queen were at a loss for words to comfort one another, and their daughter had requested to be left alone for the journey.  

Finally, the carriages rumbled to a stop at the top of a misty hill. It was rumored to be filled with monsters and lesser gods and goddesses whose constant turmoil created the rumblings of thunder and flashes of lightning upon its peak.  

King David helped his wife down from the carriage, then went to assist his daughter. Yet the door opened before he could lend his hand, and Emma alighted on her own, her face pale yet determined, her back straight.  

“Emma,” her mother said, a sob rising in her throat, “you don’t have to do this.” 

The princess’s stony expression softened slightly at her mother’s tears. “Yes, I do. What is my life compared to that of our entire kingdom?” 

Snow let her tears go then, clasping her daughter in a desperate embrace. David enveloped both his girls, his hand coming up to cup the back of his daughter’s head. It seemed only yesterday he was rocking her to sleep after a midnight feeding. He kissed the top of her forehead before releasing her with a trembling smile, his eyes awash with tears.  

Emma clasped the pure white fabric of her gown in both fists. “You know what the oracle said. You must leave me here alone.” 

Snow practically collapsed in her husband’s arms as he led her away. Emma watched both royal carriages rumble back down the hill, her courage fleeing with them. Once they were out of sight completely, she fell in a heap upon the ground. She was surprised, however, when tears didn’t come. She supposed she’d had time to accept her fate.  

The mist turned to a thick fog, and she wondered if she would die quickly before seeing the monster approach. She closed her eyes and awaited her “groom.” A virginal sacrifice to sate the hunger of a beast and save a kingdom. It was an old story, wasn’t it? 

*************************************************** 

Emma had imagined many gruesome scenarios since she learned that she was destined to be the “bride” of a hideous creature. Yet in none of those tableaus had she imagined that she would get bored waiting for the damn thing to show up. Yet here she was, going out of her mind wondering how much time had passed. She curled up on the ground, using the long train of her dress as a makeshift pillow. She didn’t expect to sleep, but suddenly she was jolted awake by the hot sun on her face.  

She sat up and rubbed her eyes, amazed to see the green hill, dotted with the most beautiful roses she had ever seen, and the sky bright and blue above her. The fog was rolling away, revealing such amazing beauty as it went. Then the fog revealed something even more unbelievable, and Emma’s jaw dropped.  

Right before her was a huge, glittering castle. It was of white stone, with angels on every buttress and turret instead of gargoyles. Every bit of filigree and trim around its windows and doors was done in gold. Emma scrambled to her feet, in complete awe. As if the castle itself knew she was awake, its gates swung open. Emma hesitated for a moment, part of her wondering if she were still sleeping, and another part worrying that it was a trick, but a tug in her core seemed to pull her towards the castle.

She went through the open gates, marveling further at the beauty that surrounded her. A path of white marble cut through a garden filled with flowers of every hue. They seemed more vibrant than any Emma had ever seen, and butterflies and hummingbirds flitted around them by the dozens. 

Just like the gates, the doors of the castle swung open of their own accord. Emma made her way up steps also of pure white marble. The marble extended into the foyer of the castle, yet as the door gently closed behind her, the feeling enveloping her was one of warmth. Despite the cool stone beneath her feet, the wooden banister of the spiral staircase was a comforting mahogany, and the plush furnishings made her long to curl up and take a nap. 

“Hello?” she called out tentatively. 

In response, Emma heard giggling and childlike chatter. 

“You were supposed to greet her at the door!”

“Well, you were supposed to be watching from the second floor balcony.”

“Hush, both of you, you’ll scare her!”

At first, Emma couldn’t figure out where the voices were coming from. Then she noticed glittering balls of colored light bouncing and floating all around her. If the accompanying voices hadn’t sounded so delightful, she might have been frightened. 

The orbs began to grow and lengthen, and Emma could make out three distinct colors: green, purple, and red. Then she was able to see wings, then the tiny creatures attached to them.

“Fairies!” Emma exclaimed with a smile.

The orbs faded, and then three young women were delicately landing upon the marble floor in front of her. The first had blonde hair like Emma’s, pulled into a loose bun on the top of her head. Her dress looked as if it were made of green leaves. 

“I’m Tinkerbell,” she said with a curtsy, “and I take care of the flowers in the garden and will also be your cook.”

The second fairy had long dark hair plaited in two braids, an olive colored complexion, and large brown eyes. Her dress was made of soft deerskin dyed with indigo and decorated with intricate beading. 

“I’m Tiger Lily, and we all take care of the flowers, Tink.”

Emma bit her lip to keep from laughing at the dark haired fairy’s obvious irritation with the blonde. 

The red-head giggled fondly at her fellow fairies, then addressed Emma. “I am Ariel, and I am to be your chambermaid.” Then she gasped and lowered into a deep curtsy. “I mean, your majesty.”

Emma’s mouth dropped open in surprise as the other two fairies curtsied as well. “I, I don’t understand -”

“We are here to wait upon you,” Tiger Lily explained, “at our master’s command.”

“Your . . . master?”

“Of course!” Tink exclaimed, clapping her hands merrily, “You are his bride, after all.”

Dread flooded through Emma’s veins. Being sacrificed to a monster was one thing, actually being married to one was quite another. She swallowed the bile rising in her throat. 

“And . . . who is your master?”

Ariel giggled, and Emma was suddenly weary of the blonde and redhead’s exuberance. At least Tiger Lily seemed more sedate. 

“We can’t tell you that!” Ariel exclaimed, as if it were a silly question.

Tiger Lily reached out and grasped Emma’s hands. “You are home now, m’lady, that is all you need know. All will be provided for you; anything and everything your heart desires.”

“But,” she bit upon her lower lip, “when will I meet my . . . husband?” She tried not to choke on the word. 

For the first time, Tink looked solemn. “You won’t see him much, I’m afraid. He has many responsibilities. He is away from the castle now, and he gave no word of when he would be back.”

Emma frowned and pulled her hands out of Tiger Lily’s grip. “What kind of being is he? A cyclops? A chimera? What?”

All three fairies burst into giggles - apparently Tiger Lily could be silly too - and without answering, they transformed back into pixies. They dipped and swirled as they darted around Emma’s head in a most annoying fashion. 

“Whatever you wish to eat will be served in the dining hall,” Tink’s voice called out.

Emma sighed as the fairies disappeared. She hugged her middle and did a cautious turn, taking in her ornate, exquisitely lovely surroundings. Well, she was hungry, and pork chops with gravy and roasted potatoes would really hit the spot . . . 

Scarcely were the thoughts formed when she smelled something delicious down the hallway at the east end of the castle. She followed it, easily finding the dining hall, spread with a feast of all her favorite foods. She wondered for a moment if it could be poisoned, but her growling stomach won out in the end and she sat down to pile her plate high. 

Even captive Princesses forced into marriages with beasts had to eat, after all. 

************************************************************************

 

Ariel chattered excitedly as she showed Emma around her new chambers. They were gorgeous, Emma had to admit, with a large, ornate bed surrounded by exquisite tapestries. Emma longed to draw them around her and sink into the inviting bed piled high with soft pillows. 

“Now this,” Ariel said, flitting across the room, “is the master’s favorite part.” 

She flung open the French doors that lead out onto a spacious balcony, but Emma latched onto a single word. Her heart plummeted, and the last thing she cared about was a balcony with a view. 

“The master’s? This . . . these are his chambers?”

Ariel turned to face her, head tilted innocently. “Of course. I mean . . . they are yours now, too. Yours and his. The . . . marital suite?”

The fairy was wringing her hands now, her face slightly pale. She turned to shut the French doors and pulled yet another tapestry across it. Avoiding Emma’s gaze, she went about the room lighting several candelabra. Then she opened the wardrobe, pulled out a long satin gown and laid it out on the bed. 

“So the master will be sleeping here as well? That’s what you’re saying?” Emma demanded, stepping close to Ariel. 

Her maid turned slowly to face her. “Yes. I mean, he is your husband after all.”

Emma clasped her hands together as they began to shake and took in a deep breath. She would not succumb to fear now, not when her kingdom was in danger. She released the air in her lungs and tried to force her pulse to slow. 

“And when shall he return?”

Ariel shook her head, a look of apology upon her face. “I’m sorry, but one can never tell.” She bit her lip for a moment, then smiled encouragingly at Emma as she grasped her hands. “You have nothing to fear, Princess, I promise you.”

Easy for a fairy to say, Emma thought dryly. She wasn’t sharing a bed with . . . whatever the master was. 

“Is there anything else I can get you?” Ariel asked.

“No. I just wish to be alone.”

As soon as Ariel’s footsteps faded out into the hallway, Emma sank onto the bed, finding it just as soft and inviting as she had imagined. She lay sideways, curled in on herself, eyeing the satin gown disdainfully. The cloth looked light as air and far more comfortable than the wedding gown she still wore, yet it had thin ribbons for straps and a plunging neckline, clearly a garment meant for seduction. She simply wouldn’t wear it.

Try as she might, however, she couldn’t get comfortable in her cumbersome gown. Frustrated, she leapt up and stomped over to the wardrobe. Inside, she found a collection of beautiful gowns, and in the back, a collection of nightgowns. She grumbled when she found that they were all in the same style, simply in different colors. Black, red, and pink didn’t seem any better than white, so she returned to the bed and began removing her dress. As she struggled with the corset, she wished she had asked Ariel for her help after all, but eventually she was slipping the simple satin garment over her head. It slid against her bare skin deliciously, and Emma sighed in contentment. She crossed over to the vanity and removed the crown of flowers pinned in her hair, running her fingers through her long locks. 

A shiver ran down her spine as she crawled into the giant bed, pulling three of the four tapestries closed. On the open side, she kept the last candelabra burning, the encroaching darkness causing panic to crawl across her skin. She slipped beneath the covers, hoping against hope that the master wouldn’t be returning for their “wedding night.”

He didn’t even bother to see me in my wedding dress , Emma thought sarcastically to herself. She started to laugh bitterly, but then an image rose in her brain of being chased through the halls of the castle by a lust-enraged dragon or minotaur, and it turned into a hysterical half-sob.Then the blood froze in her veins at a creaking sound on the other side of the closed tapestries. Did someone just enter through the balcony doors?

The lights in the candelabra by her bed burned lower in an unnatural way, and Emma’s pulse quickened. She scrambled to the head of the bed, fisting the sheets and blankets at her chin. Was this when the monster would come? Had he been toying with her all this time? 

A rush of air blew through the room, extinguishing all the light. The tapestries around the bed, which had seemed so luxurious when she first entered the chamber, now felt like heavy walls trapping her in. She held her breath, straining to hear, but it was useless against the pounding of her heart. She sensed his presence more than anything when he reached the bed, and she squeezed her eyes shut. Not that it made a difference in the pitch-black room.  

“I won’t lay a hand on you.” His voice was deep, yet gentle.  

Emma opened her eyes but still didn’t relax her posture. “I find that difficult to believe considering this,” she swallowed around the lump in her throat, “is our wedding night.”  

She felt the bed dip and pulled her feet up hastily.  

“Believe it or not, I speak the truth. You can trust me.” 

Emma squinted in the darkness, trying to see his face.  

“You won’t be able to see me,” he told her calmly. 

“Then how can you expect me to trust you?” she shot back, unable to keep the frustration from her voice. 

He surprised her by chuckling in a low, warm tone.  

She licked her dry lips. “What kind of monster are you?” 

“I’m not a monster,” he answered simply. 

She eased forward hesitantly. “Then you’re human?” 

“I . . . didn’t say that either.” She heard him pull in a deep breath. “Listen, all you need know is that you are safe and the plague that was ravishing your kingdom is over.” 

Emma bit her lower lip. “But you expect something in return?” 

“The only thing I ask is what you are willing to give.” 

Emma fell back on her pillows in exasperation. “You speak in riddles just like the oracle!” 

There was that chuckle again. “They do like to be mysterious, don’t they?”

Now that she was lounging upon her pillows, Emma released the sheets from her grip as well. “So what are we doing, exactly? You say you won’t touch me, so why are you here?”

“You are still my bride, that much is true, and like any groom, I wish to get to know you.”

“Most grooms do that before the wedding.”

He laughed again, and the sound was actually becoming relaxing. She wriggled down beneath the covers and attempted to stifle a yawn. 

“You’ve had a long day,” he said gently. “How about tomorrow night you tell me a bit about yourself?”

Emma hesitated, her body tensing involuntarily. As if he could see her reaction, he hastily spoke again.

“Rest assured, I will not touch you without your consent. Ever.”

Emma swallowed, wanting to believe him, but unsure if she should. “Okay, I suppose tomorrow night we can talk. On one condition?”

He hesitated, and it sounded as if he were clearing his throat. “Within reason. That’s all I can promise you.”

“Tell me your name.”

She could literally hear his body sag in relief. And was it possible to hear someone smile?

“That is easy, love. Please call me Killian.”

“Killian,” she repeated, almost testing it on her tongue. “I like it.”

“I rather fancy it myself.” Yes, he was definitely smiling. 

A pleasant breeze blew through the tapestries, and then the candles flickered back to life. Her new husband was gone. 

Chapter Text

Whatever breeze had caressed Emma when her husband slipped away in the dark of night must have been some sort of magic, because she slept more deeply than she had in a long time. She was surprised when the morning sun filtered through the curtains and fell across the bedcovers. Birds chirped outside, and Emma stretched luxuriously, feeling incredibly well rested. Not at all the night or morning she had expected. 

Come to think of it, this time yesterday, she was expecting to be dead by now. 

Perhaps being married to a mystery man wasn’t such a horrible alternative. Especially if all he wanted was to visit her in the dark of night to talk. Dread, however, filled Emma’s chest as she sat at the vanity and worked the snarls out of her hair. She couldn’t forget that she was vulnerable. She didn’t know who Killian was or what he was. Nothing in this castle made sense. And she was legally his wife. She knew well what expectations men held. Memories of Baelfire came unbidden, and her hand shook so badly she had to lower the brush. This husband of hers vowed not to touch her without her consent - for now. But how long would that last? 

Emma was shaken from her reverie by a knock at the door. She called for the person to enter, and a cheerful Ariel bounded into the room. 

“How did you sleep, m’lady?”

“Please, call me Emma”

The red-head nodded as she gave her a bright smile. “Alright . . . Emma.”

“That’s better. Could you help me with my stays as I get dressed?”

“Oh, of course, m- I mean, Emma.”

The dresses within the wardrobe were not only beautiful but perfectly suited to Emma’s tastes. She chose a pale pink gown with a square neckline and small puffed sleeves. The skirt was beautifully embroidered with tiny flowers and was short enough to allow her to move about the grounds easily. Ariel laid it out on the bed and then helped Emma with her undergarments. 

“Don’t yank my stays,” Emma told her lady’s maid, “I’m not one of those princesses who faint because their corsets are too tight.”

Ariel chuckled. “Oh, I’m the same. I refuse to be uncomfortable. Though I do dress more traditionally than Tink or Tiger Lily.”

“I noticed that,” Emma said thoughtfully. “May I ask why?”

“Oh, um . . . “

“I’m sorry,” Emma said quickly, “I don’t mean to pry.”

“No, no, it’s okay.” She let out a long breath as she turned to pick up Emma’s dress. “I spend part of my time in a maritime kingdom with the man I love.”

Emma’s brows rose. “You are married to a mortal.”

Ariel blushed as she helped Emma into the gown. “Yes, his name is Eric. He’s a prince, actually, set to rule his kingdom after his father.”

“I didn’t think fairies and mortals could wed.”

“They don’t - usually - but the master helped me.”

Emma’s brows furrowed as Ariel tugged her over to the vanity so she could do her hair. “You’re married to a prince, which makes you a princess, so . . . why are you my lady’s maid again?”

Ariel just grinned as she ran the brush through Emma’s locks. “It’s the peace agreement between my people and my husband’s. I serve here half the time, and the other half, I’m with my love.”

“Your people? You mean the fairies?”

“Yes. When they discovered my relationship with Eric, they threatened to take my wings, banish me, and separate me from my husband forever. But the master -”

Emma waved her hand in the air, “I know his name is Killian, he told me.”

Ariel met Emma’s gaze in the mirror, blinking rapidly. Emma blushed furiously, wondering if she thought . . . 

“Well,” she continued as she twisted strands of Emma’s hair into a braided crown at the top of her head, “ Killian intervened. He tried to work things out so I could be mortal always, but this was the best he could do.”

Ariel smiled at what she had done with Emma’s hair. It fell in waves down her back with the circle of braids on the crown of her head. 

“Killian must be very powerful,” she fished.

“Oh he is,” Ariel hummed as she secured the braids with a few hair pins.

“So he’s a magical being?”

“Oh no, he’s -” Ariel startled, dropping a few of the pins on the carpeted floor. “I’m sorry, Emma, I just . . . I can’t . . . “

“It’s okay,” Emma sighed, “I understand.”

Ariel dropped the errant pins onto the vanity and turned Emma towards her, placing her hands firmly on her shoulders. “It is very important that you don’t know who the master is,” the woman searched Emma’s face with worried green eyes, “promise me you won’t try and find out. It could mean -” She broke off and stood suddenly. “I’ve already said too much.”

Emma still sat there, as Ariel hurried out. Worry and a tiny bit of fear swirled in her gut. Trust me he had told her, but how could she in a house with all these secrets?

*******************************************************************

Emma spent the rest of the day exploring the grounds of the castle. The gardens were exquisite, filled with flowers Emma had never seen which sent forth fragrant bouquets that seemed stronger than any she’d ever experienced. The rose garden alone took her an hour to peruse; she’d never seen so many colors and variations. The orchards were filled with every fruit tree she knew of and then some. She picked several different kinds - apples, pomegranates, peaches, and apricots - then settled on the ground beneath the branches of one of the trees to sample them all. She thought how wonderful it would be to have cheese and bread as well, since her stomach was telling her it was lunch time, and almost immediately what she desired was spread before her upon a soft blanket. After partaking until she felt she might burst, she leaned back against the bark of the trunk and was lulled to sleep by a fragrant breeze rustling through the leaves above.

After her repast, she wandered through the vineyards, and then through the pumpkin patch. It seemed plants of every sort grew here regardless of the time of year or location. Speaking of which, Emma wasn’t entirely sure where she was. She knew the mountain top where she was left of course, but something told her that the castle and its grounds weren’t necessarily part of Misthaven. Perhaps it wasn’t even part of this realm. 

The sun was warm, but not unpleasant, and a delicious breeze was always on the air. Emma wondered if the weather was always like this. Was it some type of enchantment? Of course, she’d only just arrived. There could very well be a storm on the morrow. 

Emma stopped her wanderings suddenly, for right before her was a thick, gray fog. She spun around, frightened that she would be lost in the murk, but behind her, all was clear. She could even see the turrets of the castle clearly. She frowned, wondering at the strange mist that seemed to block her way, but then she shrugged and headed back to the castle. Her stomach was telling her it was time for supper any way.

***************************************************************

Emma chose the light blue satin nightgown after perusing all of her choices, then chuckled at herself. 

“What’s so funny?” Ariel asked as she turned down the bed. 

She shrugged. “I just caught myself debating on what color nightgown I should choose. I mean, it’s not as if anyone but the two of us will see it.”

“Well,” Ariel said shyly as she met Emma’s gaze, “I know I like to wear pretty night things at times for my husband.”

Emma rolled her eyes before turning so Ariel could loosen her stays. “Your husband sees you with the lights on I’m assuming.”

“That’s the truth.”

Emma burst out laughing at Ariel’s suggestive tone.

“Oh gods, did I say that out loud?” Ariel giggled. 

“You did,” Emma laughed.

The two of them continued to chuckle as Ariel helped her remove the rest of her garments. After she had slipped into her nightgown, Emma turned and took Ariel’s hands in hers. 

“Thank you for being a friend to me when you don’t even know me yet,” she told the fairy sincerely. “It’s made me far less lonely.”

Ariel’s eyes shone brightly. “I knew I would like you, we all did.”

Emma narrowed her eyes. “You, Tink, and Tiger Lily?”

Ariel nodded enthusiastically. “The master - Killian - he told us all about you.”

“Oh.”

Emma silently got into the large bed, mulling over Ariel’s words. She scarcely noticed the fairy puttering around the room, closing the balcony doors, dousing the candles, and collecting the tray of hot chocolate Emma had enjoyed earlier. She must have given an affirmative answer when Ariel asked if she wanted the tapestries around the bed pulled closed because soon Emma found herself shrouded in darkness and alone with her thoughts.

Killian told them all about her? This knowledge had Emma on edge, but not in the fearful way of the night before. She sat up in bed, agitation mounting as she waited for Killian. As soon as she felt the bed dip, she snapped. 

“Have you been watching me?”

“Well,” Killian said dryly, “happy to see me?”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I can’t see you at all, and don’t avoid the question.”

She heard him release a long sigh. “I regret that I must keep secrets from you, Emma, but I promise it is for your own safety.”

“I don’t need to be protected!” she snapped.

“You think that, but you’re wrong.”

“Spying on me doesn’t mean you know me.”

His tone was harsh when he spoke again. “I’m not speaking of your capabilities, love, I’m speaking of forces greater than you know.”

“I’m not your love,” she grumbled. 

Killian ignored her irritation. “Yes, I did spy on you, if that’s what you want to call it. I never violated your privacy, however, and what I observed only made me determined to save you and your kingdom.”

“No one saves me but me!” she cried indignantly. She rose from the bed and tried to leave the shelter of the tapestries, but a gentle hand to her elbow made her freeze.

“Please, my dear Swan, don’t leave.”

His breath was warm upon her cheek, and she could feel heated skin and chest hair against her bare upper back. She could feel each finger of his hand as it rested gently in the crook of her arm. He certainly felt like a man. A strong, muscular man, based on the chest rising and falling just behind her. 

“Swan?” She hoped he couldn’t hear the slight tremor in her voice. 

Once again, she swore she could hear the smile that slowly tilted his lips. “Aye, Swan. That’s what you remind me of. Beautiful, elegant, yet strong,” he chuckled, “and violent when provoked.”

His words were like a comfortable, soft cloak being wrapped around her shoulders, and she relaxed. He released her and took a step back, telling her without words he trusted her not to try and run again. Emma eased back down onto the bed, and she heard him do so as well, leaving plenty of space between them. 

“You did promise to tell me a bit about yourself.”

“First answer one more question.”

“If I can.”

“Are you able to see me? Right now, I mean, in the dark.”

“Yes,” he said without hesitation, “you’re wearing a blue gown, your cheeks are pink, and your eyes are flashing. I’m assuming the latter is because you’re angry with me.”

“That isn’t fair!” Emma exclaimed.

“I’m not trying to be unfair. I can’t allow you to see me, for your own protection. You, however, could never be cloaked in darkness. Not from me, at any rate.”

“Why?”

“You’re a stubborn lass.”

“I thought you’d been watching me. You didn’t figure that out before marrying me?”

The laugh that came from him then was exuberant and free. There was a touch of playfulness to it that made Emma’s heart flutter. A smile lifted her lips despite herself. 

“Now, Swan, I would like to collect on that promise. As you have so eloquently pointed out, watching you has not revealed all of your delightful quirks. I would be honored to know more about you. Your likes, your dislikes . . . your beginnings?”

Though she still had many unanswered questions, a delicious feeling of calm settled over Emma. She curled her legs up under her and wrapped one of the many soft blankets around her shoulders. She talked and Killian listened, for how long it was hard to say, since her husband brought with him an unnatural darkness. He asked questions, too. What was her favorite dessert? Did she like pets? What kind? What was her favorite flower? She told him about her parents, and the surprise brother who was born when she was thirteen. He laughed as she shared Leo’s antics, and her heart ached with missing the little boy. Talking of her family and her somewhat idyllic life in the castle, though it made her a bit homesick, was still a joyous topic. Then Killian asked her a question that caused her blood to freeze.

“Have you ever been in love?”

She hated that Killian could see the way her lips parted and her eyes widened at his question. She quickly schooled her features and forced the answer from her suddenly dry throat.

“No. I have never been in love.”

Chapter Text

The weather was still lovely the next day, and Emma was yet again drawn to the beauty of the castle grounds. Exploring them didn’t bring her the same peace, however, and she found herself sitting pensively upon a cushioned swing beneath an arbor in the rose garden. She absently pushed the swing with one foot and was so lost in thought she didn’t hear Tiger Lily approach. 

“You seem melancholy.”

Emma put her hand to her breast as the fairy’s words startled her. “I didn’t see you there.”

“Sorry,” Tiger Lily apologized with a somewhat ironic smile. “May I?”

“Of course,” Emma said, shifting to make room on the swing. 

When Tiger Lily sat, she pushed the swing with slightly more force than Emma’s idle movements. The repetitive back and forth soothed Emma’s jagged nerves. She was surprised when Tiger Lily said nothing at all. Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and a gentle breeze stirred the flowers, and still the fairy did not speak. 

“I suppose I am a bit melancholy,” Emma finally admitted. Tiger Lily merely nodded, so she continued. “Killian asked me about my family and my childhood last night, and while talking to him was comforting, I suppose it made me a bit homesick.”

“That’s understandable.” Tiger Lily was quiet for several more moments, yet she studied Emma’s profile with a probing gaze. “That’s not all though, is it?”

Emma gave her companion a wry grin. “I didn’t think giving counsel was part of your job description.”

Tiger Lily’s arched brow matched Emma’s own sass. “But it is to serve you and Master Killian. Is there something else you wish to have besides a listening ear?”

Emma’s gaze soaked in the beauty of the garden around her. “I like to draw,” she finally said, “so drawing pencils and a sketchpad would be nice.”

Tiger Lily flicked her hand casually, and there in Emma’s lap were brand new art supplies. And not just graphite and charcoal, but colored pencils in rich hues. All were organized in a leather satchel. Emma grinned and got started on a fresh sheet of paper. As her hand worked the pencils across the page with a scratching sound, Tiger Lily still sat quietly next to her. 

Emma tilted her head, gnawing on her lower lip as she tried to get the shading just right on a middlemist rose. “Killian also asked me a question last night that startled me.”

Tiger Lily merely hummed in response. 

“I didn’t answer truthfully.”

“Your hesitance is understandable - considering the mystery of your new home.”

Emma turned her gaze upon the fairy in surprise. They shared a smile of understanding before Emma looked back down at her drawing.

“And yet,” Emma continued, “I’m still bothered by the question and what it stirred up.”

“I know what it’s like to have memories you wish you could banish completely. I know Ariel told you her story, and while mine is quite different, it resulted in the same threat: losing my wings.”

Emma paused, her pencil hovering over the paper. “Are all three of you banished fairies?”

Tiger Lily nodded. “This is our only home now, but at least we still have our wings and our magic.”

“And Ariel has her prince.”

“Yes, but it’s hard for her. Not fully being with him.”

“And what about you? What’s your story?”

“Let’s just say I allowed fairy magic into the wrong hands. Not that it was my intention to create the Black Fairy in all her infamy, yet as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

They both fell silent again, the only sound besides the nature surrounding them that of Emma’s pencils scratching on paper. She had heard of the Black Fairy and the havoc she often wrought, but she’d had no idea that the kind fairy beside her had anything to do with it. She’d had good intentions apparently, and they had gone awry. Emma certainly could understand that. 

“Sometimes bad things happen when we trust the wrong people,” Emma finally said, still concentrating on her drawing. “Is that what happened?”

“You could definitely say that. It sounds as if you speak from experience.”

Emma only nodded. Tiger Lily reached out and placed a comforting hand upon Emma’s knee.

“Killian is not one of those wrong people, Emma. I know you have many questions, but one thing you can be sure of is that he is worthy of your trust.”

*************************************************************************

“What about your beginnings?”

Emma was hugging a pillow to her chest, squinting in the darkness though she knew it was pointless. She felt the bed dip as Killian shifted. 

“My beginnings?”

“You heard all about mine last night; it’s only fair.”

“Mine may take awhile,” he said with a chuckle.

“Well, we’re married, which means we have a lifetime, right?”

“Your lifetime, at least.”

Emma’s eyes widened, and his answering chuckle reminded her that though she couldn’t see him, he could see her. 

“You’re immortal?”

“Yes,” he answered simply, “so my childhood was many centuries ago.”

Emma chewed on her lower lip as she filed this fact away with the rest. He had magic, he helped people, and he was immortal. “What was it like - your childhood?”

“I suppose most would say it was idyllic.”

“But you wouldn’t?”

“I wanted for nothing. Except, that is, my parents’ approval.”

Emma frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be; it’s made me what I am today. My mother raised me, sort of. My father was never around. He was disappointed that I wasn’t more like him.”

“You take after your mother then?” Emma wondered why he said his mother raised him sort of , but she didn’t want to pry, especially if it was a painful memory.

“Most would say yes, but I hope I’m not too much like her. I love her, and she loves me in her own way, but her love tends to come with conditions. I’m constantly doing her bidding, seeking her approval. It irritates my father to no end.”

“What’s he like?”

“Heavy handed, harsh, violent. One of those who believes a man isn’t a man unless he’s pounding his chest.”

“So nothing like you, then?”

A slow smile filled Emma’s face as silence stretched between them. She heard the bed springs squeak as Killian shifted, and somehow she just knew he was blushing. 

“Well,” he finally answered, “I wish I could agree, but his blood does in fact run through my veins. There’s a streak of violence that comes out in me at times that shames me.”

“What makes it come out?”

When Killian spoke again, his voice was harsh and strained. “If someone I care about is threatened or harmed, my first instinct is to draw blood.”

Emma’s heart hammered in her chest at the intensity in his words. It should have frightened her, but it didn’t. Instead, she felt absolute certainty that she was someone he would fight to protect with whatever violence was necessary. And that, surprisingly, made desire rise up within her - desire to know this man intimately. It was something she hadn’t felt since Baelfire long ago, when she was still scarcely more than a girl.

**************************************************************

“Tonight I propose we play a little game.”

“A game?” Emma repeated teasingly as she hugged her knees to her chest. 

She was getting comfortable now with Killian’s nightly presence, though he still remained at the foot of the large bed. Emma’s place was still pressed against the headboard with several feet between them. She heard Killian slide across the comforter, the bed shaking slightly with his movement. 

“What are you doing?” she asked him. 

“Getting comfortable.”

She narrowed her eyes, trying in vain, as she did every night, to see him in the inky darkness. “Are you lying across the bed?”

“Yes. Is that okay?” The sincerity of his question warmed her heart.

“Of course it’s okay. Now what’s this game you mentioned?”

“You ask me a question, and if I answer, you are required to answer one of mine. Truthfully.”

“Sounds unfairly to your advantage.”

“I realize that, but unfortunately, for your -”

“Safety, yeah, you’ve said that. Multiple times.” Emma rolled her eyes.

“I love when you make faces at me.”

Emma grabbed a pillow and threw it at his head - or where she guessed his head was.

“You missed,” he told her smugly. 

“It’s also not fair that you can see me, but I can’t see you.”

“Life is never fair, love, and anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”

“That’s cynical.”

“You disagree?”

“No,” Emma grumbled. She heard Killian sigh in contentment. “Are you using that pillow I threw at you?”

“Ahh, that I am.” 

“Thief.”

“You threw it, Swan.”

He was calling her that more and more, and she hated to admit how the nickname warmed her heart. She waited for him to point out that, technically, the pillow and everything else in this room was his, but he didn’t. For some reason, that warmed her heart too.

“So how about the game I proposed?”

Emma gnawed on her lower lip. There was really only one question she didn’t want to answer, but as she sat thinking, she realized that a tiny part of her wanted to tell him. The thought of bringing it up still frightened her, but if he asked . . . 

“Okay, I’ll play.”

“Wonderful! Now, what’s your first question?”

“Who - or what - are you exactly?”

“Someone who is becoming more and more fond of you with each passing day.”

She could almost hear his smug grin in the darkness. “Smooth,” she snipped, snorting inelegantly through her nose. 

“It was worth a shot,” Killian teased, “now for my question - “

Emma held her breath. 

“Have you ever snuck sweets before supper?”

A laugh rushed out of Emma right along with a surge of relief. “When have I not? Ruby has been my best friend since I was little. Her Granny was my nurse. The two of us would sneak into the castle kitchen regularly for tarts or biscuits. I’d like to say I’ve outgrown it, but . . .”

She trailed off with a shrug and Killian laughed. Before she could even think through her next question strategically, words were tumbling from her mouth. 

“And what about you? Do you also have an insatiable sweet tooth?”

“Not at all,” he groaned. “I rather prefer a hearty meal over sweets, to most people’s surprise.”

“Why would people be surprised?”

“Uh-uh,” he scolded, “only one question at a time.”

Emma pouted. “That’s more clarifying an answer than an additional question.”

“You’re a clever lass, I’ll give you that, but those are the rules. Now for my question . . . hmm . . . how old were you when you had your first kiss?”

“12,” Emma answered smugly, wondering if he was dancing around what he really wanted to ask, “but only because my friend Elsa dared me. He was the know-it-all son of some visiting dignitary, and Elsa and I grew weary of his incessant talking. My kiss rattled him enough that he hardly spoke a word the rest of his stay.”

“Clever lass indeed. And who was Elsa?”

“A Duchess of Misthaven. She and her sister were the only tolerable girls my age at court. And your first kiss?”

“It’s been many centuries, but if I recall correctly, I was 13. That damn nymph chased me for almost an hour before she caught me.”

“A nymph . . . “ Emma forced her tone to remain neutral.

“Mhmm”

After a long silence, Emma huffed in exasperation. “Just tell me about the damn nymph, Killian!”

He chuckled, and the warmth of it spread across the mattress. “Being caught by a nymph can mean trouble. Lucky for me, she was just a child and let me go the minute I told her who I was. She was afraid of my mother.”

Emma filed away every detail of the story to mull over later. Her husband was letting tiny clues as to who - or more specifically what - he was, and eventually she knew she’d figure it out. 

“I see that smug grin, my Swan,” he said, “which means I need to wipe it off your face. Now tell me, have you ever been in love?”

The color drained from Emma’s face and her lips fell downward. “I already told you - no I have not.”

“You were lying.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Ah, but I do, love. You’re somewhat of an open book.”

Emma lowered her face, her fingers tugging at loose threads in the sheets across her lap. “Maybe I was. Once.”

“I know what it is to have loved and lost, if that makes it any easier.”

“You do?”

“Aye.”

“What happened?”

He didn’t seem to be taking count of her questions anymore, and the bed shifted as he changed positions. She gazed forward, searching for his face, to no avail. Still, she felt his eyes upon her. 

“Her name was Milah, and she was stuck in a marriage to a horrible man. I was sent by Ju - a friend - to help her escape.” Killian tugged at one of the blankets wadded up beneath her feet, and she lifted them so he could take it. 

“How horrible was this man?”

“Have you ever heard the legends of the Dark One?”

“Of course. It’s a common ghost story children whisper to each other. A man who was the vessel for the darkest magic.”

“It isn’t just a story. Milah’s husband was the Dark One.”

Emma couldn’t hold back her gasp. “Killian.”

“I suppose you can guess the story doesn’t have a happy ending. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with her, but I did. We ran away together, but nowhere is far enough to escape the Dark One. When he found us, I tried to protect her, but . . . I failed. He killed her right in front of me.”

“I’m so sorry,” Emma whispered.

“It was over a century ago now,” he said in a soft voice, but Emma could tell the pain was still there.

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm her nerves. If he had shared such painful memories, how could she do any less?”

“His name was Baelfire. I was very young, and he was a bit older than me.” She paused, expecting questions, but Killian remained silent. “He was rather wild, spending his days in the market, stealing to fill his belly, and his nights in the taverns spending every bit of coin he had managed to pilfer. Now it seems empty and immature, but at 15, it was thrilling.”

“Only 15, love? How old was he?”

“Oh . . . um, 19, so not so very much older than me. It was more that he was so worldly, and I was so . . . sheltered. We met when he tried to steal my purse in the market.”

“Let me guess, you decked him.”

Emma chuckled. “Aye, I did. I liked to sneak out of the castle with Ruby and my handmaiden Lily. Bae was terrified when he realized who I was.” She found more loose threads and wrapped them around her thumb. “Anyways, I started sneaking out more and more to meet him. I fell for him hard and fast, but I was a little . . . nervous - about . . . physical things.”

“Emma,” Killian asked darkly, “did he hurt you?”

“No! At least, not like that . He was just persistent about wanting  . . . “

“Sex?” Killian filled in bluntly, and Emma’s head jerked up even though she could see nothing of his countenance in the dark. “The bastard was pressuring you for sex, was he not?”

Killian’s protective tone was like a balm to Emma’s wounded heart, and she deflated with relief that she didn’t have to mince words as she told the rest of the story. 

“Yes, he did, and I loved him so much that I gave in.” Emma pressed her eyes together, trying to banish the memories that assaulted her. Perhaps it was the darkness hiding her from his gaze, perhaps it was the way the tapestries felt like a sanctuary from the rest of the world, but Emma suddenly was able to voice what she had never been able to before. “It wasn’t what I had always dreamed. Where I had imagined tenderness, it was rough, where I had longed for something precious, it was crude. It . . . hurt, to be honest. And after . . . he didn’t want to see me anymore.”

Her hands were fisted in the sheets now, and silent tears rolled down her face. 

“Emma,” Killian said softly, “that isn’t how it’s supposed to be. He didn’t love you; he used you. You deserved so much more.”

Emma reached up with a shaky hand and wiped at her wet cheeks. 

“I’m sorry for asking now,” Killian told her, his voice almost a whisper. 

“Don’t be,” she replied, and she wasn’t sure why they were both whispering, “I actually feel better getting it all out. I’ve never even told Ruby. My mother asked, but how could I burden her?”

“Watching you, I also saw enough of your mother to know it wouldn’t have been a burden. She would have gladly helped you carry this, Swan.”

Emma nodded, her throat growing tight with thoughts of her mother. How she missed her! She realized now how much she had taken her for granted the last few years. It was typical of adolescence she supposed, but here she was, twenty-two and in a rather odd marriage. She would give anything now for her mother’s probing questions. 

“I think my game has become quite heavy,” Killian sighed, “my apologies, love.”

“Nonsense!” Emma argued, sitting up straighter and lifting her chin. “It’s my turn for a question, isn’t it?”

“Aye, love, if you’re sure.”

“Absolutely sure, though can I make a request instead of asking a question?”

“Perhaps . . . I suppose it depends on the request.”

“I’d like to see your face.”

Killian was silent for so long, that for a moment, Emma thought he might have left for the night. Then his voice came softly, “You can not see me, but you can . . . touch me. I mean, my face, that is.”

Emma bit back a chuckle at his nervous clarification. He was sensitive of her comfort level after what she had shared, and it made her heart swell. She reached out tentatively in the darkness, but all she felt at first was empty air. Then warm fingers were wrapping around hers. She was embarrassed at the gasp that escaped her lips. Then the bed shifted and he was there beside her. So close, his warmth caressed her skin. 

“Here,” he said, pressing her palm to his cheek.

She squinted, hoping to at least make out some of his features in the dark, but to no avail. Instead, she let her hand soak in his warmth and lightly rubbed her fingers over the scruff covering his jaw. It was a strong jaw, and she quirked her lips in a half smile when she felt it clench at her touch. She traced her fingers over his cheeks and felt his eyelashes flutter against her knuckles. He had a straight nose, thick eyebrows. His brow furrowed as she explored, and she smoothed it with a stroke of her thumb. Her fingers found their way into his hair, which was surprisingly soft and thick, and it made her heartbeat pick up speed. 

“These are a little pointed,” she said with a giggle as both her hands drifted over his ears. 

Emma could hear him swallow, and when he spoke his words came out husky. Was he as aroused as she was?

“That’s all you have to say, Swan? I’ll have you know women find me devastatingly handsome.”

Though she couldn’t see him, her explorations made her believe his words. She wished she could see the color of his hair, his eyes, wished she could see his smile. As if he could read her thoughts, his soft lips beneath her thumbs curled upwards, and beneath her palms she felt twin indentions crease his skin. 

“Do you have dimples?” she teased. 

“Why? Do you like dimples?”

Emma rolled her eyes, but her answering retort was swallowed when Killian turned his head and pressed a lingering kiss to her palm. Her other hand fluttered away from his face, hovering over heated skin. She remembered the feel of his bare chest against her back and longed to press her hand there, but the deal had been for her to explore his face, not . . . the rest of him. 

Killian seemed to sense her hesitancy and took both of her hands in his, pressed a kiss to her knuckles, then released her. She heard the bed creak as he rose. 

“Good night, love.”

She collapsed against the bed, more breathless over their innocent touches than she had ever been over Baelfire’s salacious ones. Before she could even whisper her own goodnight, the candelabra by her bed flickered back to life, and her husband was gone. 

Chapter Text

Apparently, Emma’s new home wasn’t the paradise she had assumed, for the next morning rain beat upon the roof and lightning flashed across the sky. Of course, she supposed the flowers needed the rain as much as they needed the sun. 

She had been here for a week now and had fallen into a routine each morning. Ariel came to help her dress and do her hair, then she went downstairs and took her breakfast in the salon. It was smaller than the formal dining room, and therefore it felt less awkward to dine alone there. She also loved the wall made entirely of windows that faced the rose garden, and the room itself was filled with ferns and other potted plants. 

On this rainy morning, however, the wind was howling and thunder rumbled throughout the castle. A wall of glass didn’t seem quite so inviting, so she asked Ariel if Tink would bring her breakfast up to the sitting room just off the master bedroom. In true fairy fashion, the table set itself automatically, Emma’s desired breakfast of scones and scrambled eggs already on her plate. She sat at the small table, but before she picked up her fork, she called into the empty room. 

“Do you not like me, Tinkerbell?”

A darting ball of light swooped over the breakfast table, then grew in size until Tink was standing before Emma with her hands on her hips. 

“Who ever said I didn’t like you?”

Emma shrugged before taking a bite of her eggs. “Ariel and I talk daily, and when Tiger Lily isn’t too busy, she and I chat in the gardens, but you and I . . . “ She trailed off, arching her brows at the blonde fairy. 

Tink huffed and plopped down in the chair next to her. She picked up a scone and nibbled at it. “It’s not you, Princess, it’s me.”

Emma waved her hand in the air as she chewed and swallowed her own bite of scone. “I already told the others, no Princess , no your highness , just Emma.”

Tink ducked her head as she gave her a shy smile. “Okay, Emma.” She continued nibbling at the scone, gazing out of the windows as a blush stained her cheeks. 

“Are you in love with my husband?”

“No!” Tink shouted, dropping her scone with a clatter onto the breakfast china. “I mean, that is to say, well . . . I would say it was more a crush than love , and I’m over it. Way, WAY over it.”

Emma laughed even as Tinkerbell seemed to shrink farther in on herself. “It’s okay, Tink, really.”

“You mean it?” Tink asked hopefully.

“Absolutely. I only have three friends in this castle during daylight hours, so it would be silly for you to avoid me.”

“True,” Tink said with a cautious smile, “and Killian never saw me that way, really. It was just a stupid crush. He always only saw me as a little sister type.”

Emma cocked her head at Tink as she continued her breakfast. “Does this have anything to do with you being banished and almost losing your wings?”

“Yes,” Tink admitted, sinking lower in her chair. Emma smiled at how childlike and innocent Tink was, especially in comparison to Tiger Lily and Ariel. “Killian felt responsible I guess, though he didn’t do anything wrong. He intervened, and here I am.”

“Tink,” Emma asked hesitantly, “is Killian a fairy too?”

Tink dissolved into giggles, almost choking on her scone. “Heavens, no! Whatever made you think that?”

“Well, he seems to be heavily involved with the fairies, and last night . . . “ Emma shifted uncomfortably, but then decided to come right out and say it, no matter what conclusions Tink jumped to, “last night I noticed his ears are a little pointed.”

“Excuse me, fairies do NOT have pointed ears,” Tink shoved aside her blonde locks to show her perfectly rounded ears to Emma, “you’re thinking of elves .”

“Okay, is he an elf then?”

Tink shook her head as she spooned some eggs onto her plate. 

“A nymph?”

Tink rolled her eyes. “Nymphs are all female.”

“Hmm,” Emma slouched in her chair, but she refused to give up. Her husband helped not only fairies but a woman in an unhappy marriage. He had experience with nymphs, had a demanding mother, and an absent but powerful father. His childhood had lacked nothing of material possessions, and he lived in an enchanted castle surrounded by enchanted gardens. He obviously possessed magic himself, considering how the darkness he enveloped himself with when he visited her wasn’t of the natural variety. 

“Don’t even try to figure him out,” Tink said around a mouthful of eggs. She swallowed and wiped her lips with one of the linen napkins. “He’ll reveal all to you, but not until the time is right.”

“And when will that be?”

“When he knows you are safe.”

“From whom?” Emma bit out in frustration, but the fairy had already miniaturized and flitted away. 

********************************************************

For the first time since her arrival, the weather kept Emma confined to the castle. She spent the morning exploring several of the rooms, many of which contained gorgeous paintings and lifelike statues of incredible beauty. Killian obviously had impeccable taste. Emma also wondered if some of the art were gifts from those he had helped. 

After lunch, the storm had abated, though rain still poured from the sky, so Emma went to the castle library. She had been there previously to find novels to read as she enjoyed the gardens. Today, the room’s large fireplace had been lit to ward off the chill of the rain. Emma selected a book and went to sit in one of the window seats flanking the fireplace where she would have more light to read.

The minutes ticked by, and as they did, the rain tapered off. Emma grew drowsy from the light, trickling sound of the rainfall combined with the warmth of the room. Soon the words were blurring on the page and her head was nodding. She laid the book aside and looked instead out of the window

The dark clouds of the storm were being banished by warm rays of sunshine. Here on the second floor of the castle, Emma had a wonderful view of the grounds. As the clouds parted further to reveal a glittering rainbow, Emma leaned her forehead against the pane of glass, squinting to be sure she was seeing clearly. With a gasp she jumped from the window seat and hurried over to the one on the other side of the fireplace. She saw the same thing there on the borders of the castle grounds. The same thing she had run up against on her first day here: a wall of thick fog. 

Emma left her novel abandoned in the library to race up and down the hallways, looking out of every window she could find. She climbed all the way up to the battlements on the top floor where she had a 365 degree view. She raced from one casement to the next, breathless and trembling. Every vista she took in proved it: the wall of fog completely surrounded her new home. 

******************************************************

Emma expected to feel defensive and angry when Killian came to her that night. She had thought that she would demand answers immediately. Instead, a request fell from her lips. 

“Sit next to me?”

Emma’s hand searched for his in the dark emptiness around her, and when his fingers

found hers, warmth spread from the contact all the way down her arm. She slid over to make room for him, keeping a firm hold on his hand. Once they were both settled, Killian rested their joined hands on the mattress between them, and Emma threaded her fingers with his.

“Something is bothering you,” he observed.

“Is the barrier surrounding your home to keep me from leaving?”

Killian shifted towards her, drawing their joined hands up to his bare chest. “Emma, my love, this is your home now too. Not only that, the moment you set foot in that fog, you would find yourself on the same mountaintop where your parents left you.”

“Then why is it there?”

“To shield my castle. It isn’t safe for certain . . . individuals to know where it is.”

“That’s why I couldn’t see it at first when I arrived?”

“Aye.”

Killian lowered their hands back to the mattress and situated himself next to her. Emma wet her lips as she thought.

“So I don’t have to stay here? I could leave?”

Killian was silent for a moment, and based upon the way his thumb was brushing her knuckles, Emma was fairly certain he was pondering how to answer.

“Just as you came to that mountaintop of your own free will, you can choose to stay or leave.”

“I sense a but following that statement,” Emma told him wryly. 

“Unfortunately. The oracle was being truthful when she said the plague in your kingdom wouldn’t stop unless you gave yourself up to the creature on the mountain.”

It was Emma’s turn to fall silent. She clearly remembered the oracle’s cryptic and devastating words when she and her father had gone to her in desperation. Killian’s words now were exactly the same. The oracle had said: “Princess Emma must give herself up to the creature on the mountain, dressed in her wedding gown. Her sacrifice shall end the plague.” Emma and her parents had assumed that meant her death at the monster’s hands. Only now could she see the alternate interpretation of those words. 

Like the true princess that she was, Emma lengthened her spine and lifted her chin. “Then I shall stay.”

“My dear Emma,” Killian breathed as he pressed kisses to her hand, “I hope desperately that someday you will want to stay because this is your home.”

Emma blinked back sudden tears. “My family thinks I’m dead.”

“And so, thankfully, does your mortal enemy.”

His words were like ice spreading through her veins. “What enemy?”

“I cannot yet say,” Killian said, and in his voice she heard regret, “but please believe me, love, I am doing all I can to make things right. It is my hope that one day we can lower our defense, throw open the gates, and welcome your family to visit here. But until that day comes, I need you to try something new.”

“What’s that?”

He leaned closer and she could feel his warm breath caressing the curls that brushed her cheeks. 

“It’s called trust.”

*************************************************************

Killian’s new place was beside Emma in the bed, his hand clasped in hers. Over time, Emma drew closer to his side and eventually lifted his arm over her head so he could pull her against him. Then she began tucking her head into the crook of his neck as they talked, his fingertips drawing circles absently on her bare shoulder.  As their nights together came and went, Emma became so comfortable in his presence that she began drifting off in his arms as they sat propped against the headboard. She would awaken to find herself tucked in beneath the sheets, and a contented smile would fill her face. 

One night, she was being pulled under by sleep when she heard Killian whisper against her hair. “Emma? Emma, love, are you asleep?”

Part of her wanted to answer him, to enjoy his company a bit longer, but she was already too close to the edge of sleep to form words. He gently lowered her to the pillow and pulled the sheets and blankets up to her chin. He stroked her hair, and though Emma felt a bit dishonest pretending to already be fully asleep, she also relished in experiencing his tenderness first hand. Then he began to speak, and a delicious feeling swooped low in her core. 

“I will win your heart, Emma. And when I win it, it won’t be because of any trickery. It will be because you want me.”

He brushed a kiss to her forehead, and the feel of his lips against her skin sent tingles down to the tips of her toes. He left her then, but his words lingered in her dreams. 

 

******************************************************

“You never answered my question, love.”

“Hmm?” 

Killian’s answering chuckle reverberated through his chest and against Emma’s shoulder. “I asked how your day was.”

“Oh,” she murmured, still distracted. She turned in his embrace to have a better angle with which to run her fingers through his chest hair. She nuzzled her nose against his neck, and Killian responded with a groan. 

“What was my question again?” he muttered into her hair as his lips trailed along her temple. 

Now Emma laughed. “You asked about my day.” She trailed her hand up over his shoulder blade and ran it down his bicep. “But it’s a dull topic I’m afraid. I’d much rather hear what realms you traveled to today.”

Killian said he couldn’t tell her what he did all day, but he gladly told her where he had been. He told her about the frozen fjords of Arendelle, the cardamom cluttered stalls of Agrabah where the wind smelled of spice, and the sparkling Emerald City of Oz that was so bright, visitors had to wear special glasses. Emma, who had never traveled farther than neighboring Camelot, drank in his descriptions eagerly. 

Tonight, however, Emma cared nothing of dazzling cities or mystical lands of magic and sand. Killian’s voice, she had come to realize, was husky and provocative. It had ignited her senses every night, but at the moment she wanted more than his voice. Her hands explored his chest, his collarbone, his neck, but even that wasn’t enough. With the tips of her fingers, she touched his lips, so soft, so inviting. 

“I’ve lost my train of thought again.” 

His voice was low, undone. His lips moving beneath her fingers made something coil tightly in her belly. She shifted closer, the only thing between her breasts and his bare chest the thin fabric of her nightgown. 

“Kiss me.” She hadn’t meant it to sound like a command, but the low and ragged tone of her voice made it sound that way. 

“Emma,” he breathed, and his heart beneath her palm beat rapidly as he bent his head towards her. 

Killian’s lips met hers tentatively, reverently, but she was having none of it. She grasped the back of his head with one hand, burying her fingers in his hair and practically bruising his lips with the force of her reciprocity. She opened for him willingly and mewled into his mouth as his tongue explored and drank her in. Her other hand cupped his jaw, scratching his stubble with her fingernails. 

Killian’s hands circled her waist tightly, pulling her flush against him, and his fingers danced up her back, leaving fire in their wake. Leaving one hand splayed across the middle of her back, his other threaded through her hair. When they finally parted, they were both out of breath, and Emma’s lips were swollen and wet. 

“That was . . . “ Killian breathed, and Emma didn’t blame him for being at a loss for words. She was just as wrecked. 

Emma brushed her lips against him again, but in the darkness she missed and only grazed the corner of his mouth. His lips were tipped up in a smile. 

“My day,” Emma breathed as she nuzzled against his jaw, “was nothing of consequence until now.”

Killian chuckled, tucking her against him and wrapping his arms tightly around her. “Aye, love, your kisses are far more intoxicating than any exotic realm I have ever visited.”

Chapter Text

“And that’s when I told the Jinn that if he wanted to strand me in the desert, he’d have to do better than a crazed flying carpet.”

Emma laughed at Killian’s story as she scratched her nails through his chest hair. His fingers played with strands of her hair. They no longer sat up against the headboard, but cuddled under the blankets as they talked. 

And kissed. There was a lot of kissing. Emma had never tasted anything as heady as Killian’s lips; she simply couldn’t get enough. The fairies often found her staring off into the distance, completely missing their questions or attempts at conversation, and every single time it was because she was thinking of Killian’s kisses. Sometimes she wondered if that was his magic - lips that dripped with fine wine. 

Despite their passionate kisses for the last week or so, Killian was still a gentleman. He kept his hands in only the appropriate places, refusing to cross an unseen line. Emma wondered if it was because of her past with Baelfire. And it was sweet, it really was, but Emma longed for his body in ways that made her blush at times when the fairies caught her daydreaming. 

Now, as she lay pillowed against his chest, she thought of his whispered words when he believed her to be sleeping: When I win your heart Emma . . . it will be because you want me . Maybe he was waiting for her to make the first move. After all, she’d been the one to invite him to sit beside her; the one to ask for a kiss. 

Emma craned her head up, squinting in the dark as usual to see him. It was amazing how she could be so attracted to someone she had never seen. Her hand trailed over his sculpted abs, and she smirked. She may not have sight to base her attraction on, but she sure as hell had touch, and oh, how perfect Killian’s body felt beneath her hands!

Emma shifted, tracing Killian’s torso, neck, and then face with her hand so she could find his lips. When she did, she pressed her own to his, her body half on top of him. He responded with a half growl, devouring her with his mouth as he pushed up on his elbows to meet her. Emma dug one hand into his soft, thick hair while she threaded the other beneath his arm. Splaying her hand on his upper back, she rolled backwards onto the mattress, bringing him with her. The weight of his body on top of her had her heart beating erratically. Killian cupped her face, his arm brushing against her satin-clad breasts. Emma grabbed his wrist and guided his hand to her breast. She gasped as his thumb fondled her hardened nipple through the satin, breaking their kiss. Killian’s lips slid across her jaw and down to her neck, his hand still cupping her breast. 

“Emma,” he breathed against her skin before sucking at her pulse point. She dug both hands into his hair as she moaned. His hand slid from her breast up to her shoulder blade. He turned the attention of his lips from her neck to her collarbone, trailing kisses as he slid the strap of her nightgown off her shoulder. His lips found hers again, and he kissed her deeply as his hand once again found her breast, naked this time. 

“Killian,” Emma groaned against his lips. His other hand found the other strap of her nightgown, and he slipped it off as well. Cool air hit her exposed breasts as Killian pulled away slightly, running his hands reverently over her flesh. Heat rose into her cheeks as she remembered that though she couldn’t see him, he could see her. 

“You’re exquisite, my Swan.”

The words thrilled her even before he rested his head between her breasts. She tugged at his hair and arched her back as he showed her just how thoroughly a person could be kissed. 

 

*************************************************************

 

The view outside the wall of glass in the salon was beyond beautiful; the sun was tinting the flowers with its gentle morning light, and a hummingbird flitted just in front of the central window, its ruby red stomach glittering like a gem. 

Yet Emma saw none of it. She idly ran a finger over the top of the cinnamon bun on her plate, and once she’d coated her fingertip with icing, sucked the sticky sweetness off. The act made her think of all the things she and Killian had done with their lips the night before, and a tiny giggle-snort escaped her. 

“Someone’s in love,” Tink teased as she filled Emma’s mug of hot chocolate. 

Emma’s head snapped up, her eyes blinking rapidly. “I . . . um . . . what are you talking about?”

Tink plopped down into the chair next to Emma and propped her chin in her hands. “Distracted, smiling at nothing, loss of appetite: they’re all classic signs.”

Emma shook her head adamantly. “Love, Tink? That’s rushing things a little, don’t you think? I mean, I’ve only been . . . that is to say . . . “

“You’ve only been married,” Tink supplied, “for 16 days and 12 hours?”
Emma’s eyes widened. “That’s . . . specific.”

Tink shrugged. “I’ve seen people fall in love in less time. After all I used to -” Tink suddenly broke off, her jaw dropping almost to the tabletop. 

“Used to what?”

“Nothing,” Tink said, waving it off with one hand, “but back to you and Killian. I think something happened last night, didn’t it?”

The fairy wiggled her eyebrows, and Emma buried her flaming face in her hands. 

“I knew it!” Tink squealed, clapping her hands together. “Oh, I’m so glad Ariel is off with Eric, or she would have gotten all the juicy details first.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, “ Emma said, raising one hand, “first of all, it isn’t what you’re probably thinking. And second, I’m not giving specific details.”

Tink visibly deflated. “You didn’t finally consummate the marriage?”

Emma groaned and massaged her temple. “Not yet, okay, but we did . . . other things.”

“Oooh,” Tink said eagerly, and Emma rolled her eyes. 

“I just,” Emma bit her lower lip as she broke off a piece of her cinnamon bun, “never knew it could be like this.”

Her eyes watered unexpectedly, and she blinked the moisture back. Baelfire was the last person she wanted to think about right now, but he rose up in her memory nonetheless. He had never taken his time to kiss her body the way Killian had last night. He had certainly never pleasured her without thought to himself. Come to think of it, he had never pleasured her, not fully. That had become obvious last night when Emma cried out Killian’s name as his scruff rubbed the inside of her thighs. It was like a million fireworks had gone off inside her, terrifying and rapturous all at once.

“Whatever you’re imagining right now must be good,” Tinkerbell teased. She rose from the table and gave Emma a wink before she left the room. 

Emma smiled to herself as she bit into her cinnamon bun. The sticky icing dripped down her fingers, and she caught it with her tongue. Her smile turned to a smirk. 

***********************************************************

Emma had absolutely no interest in talking tonight. It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy her long conversations with her husband, it was just that she had been wound tight all day, and she couldn’t wait much longer for release. She was glad that Ariel was still off with her prince because when it came time for bed, Emma merely discarded her pale pink dress and all of its accompanying undergarments and slid beneath the cool sheets of her bed - their bed - wearing nothing at all. She had doused all the lights, pulled all the tapestries closed, and when she pulled the blankets up to her chin, she curled in on her side and closed her eyes. She tried to regulate her breathing despite her racing heart. There had been a night here or there when Emma had drifted off before Killian arrived, usually when he had been traveling to distant realms. Each time, he had slipped under the covers as he whispered her name, then gathered her sleeping form into his arms. Usually, Emma awakened at his touch and the feel of his solid form pressed against her back. 

She hoped tonight he would do the same. She bit her lip thinking of the surprise that awaited him beneath the sheets, then reprimanded herself to relax. 

The tapestries rustled, and cool night hair tickled Emma’s nose. She squeezed her eyes tight, her body trembling pleasantly in anticipation. The bed dipped and Killian’s hand touched the blanket covering her shoulder gently. 

“Emma?’ he whispered. 

She pressed her lips together as a giggle tried to escape. She swallowed, heart thumping as Killian pulled the covers back. Just as she had anticipated, he reached for her, pulling her back flush against his chest, his arm encircling her waist.

“Why Swan,” he said huskily, burying his nose in the riot of her hair, “you seem to have forgotten your nightgown.”

Emma turned in his arms, lining her body up with his. The half toga he always wore about his waist couldn’t hide his length as it pressed against her. 

“Someone’s happy to see me,” she teased, running her fingers up and down the hard planes of his chest. “It’s a shame really that I can’t see you.”

“You can feel me,” he growled as he pressed her back into the mattress. Emma squealed with laughter as he nibbled at her ear and ran his hand up and down the side of her body. He grabbed her hip, hard enough to leave a mark, and she yelped. At the sound, he yanked back.

“I’m sorry, love,” he apologized, collapsing against her and resting his head between her breasts, “I got carried away.”

Emma ran her fingers through his hair and kissed his forehead. “You didn’t hurt me,” she assured him, “you just surprised me.”

Killian lifted his head and then shifted so he was lying alongside her instead of on top of her. He caressed her face, his lips hovering close. 

“But I remember what you told me. You wanted tenderness and something precious. I plan to give you that, my Swan.” 

Emma trembled at the sincerity of his words as he kissed her gently, his thumbs lightly stroking her cheeks. 

“Now,” he said, rubbing her nose with his, “the first order of business is for me to appreciate this exquisite beauty.”

Emma giggled as he yanked down the sheets. He lay on his side, her body completely exposed to him. The cool air sent goosebumps skittering over her skin, but that was nothing compared to what Killian’s hands did as he explored her body. He paid particular attention to her breasts, slowly tracing them with the tip of his finger, then tracing the same path with his tongue. He kissed every inch of her body, but it was different from the night before. He was taking his time, agonizingly so, until Emma was writhing beneath his touch. She was arching her back and panting, her hands fisted in the sheets, but he wasn’t finished with her yet. 

“Do you want me Emma?” he asked her as he lay down atop her again.

“Yes, yes, gods, yes!” she cried, yanking at the tiny scrap of clothing encircling his waist. 

He took hold of both her wrists and pinned them beside her head. “Not quite yet, love.”

There was something incredibly arousing about the way he stilled her arms as he worshiped her body once again.

“Killian,” she whimpered, “please, please .”

She heard him chuckle as he released her hands and she made quick work of discarding what little clothes he was wearing. This was the part that wasn’t new to her, and she thought she knew what to expect. A few quick thrusts accompanied by a few grunts, and Baelfire had been finished with her. 

Killian, however, was a different kind of lover, and he was far from finished lavishing his attention on Emma. The pleasure she had experienced the night before was nothing like the waves of ecstasy that washed over her now. Killian had worried earlier when he had dug his fingers into her hip, but Emma was worried she might draw blood on his back, and if she tugged any harder on his hair she might end up pulling it out. 

When he collapsed against her, both of them spent and slick with sweat, Emma wasn’t sure she ever wanted to leave this bed again. Her thighs shook, her breaths came raggedly, and her arms felt limp. Killian’s head found its favorite spot between her breasts, and Emma ran her fingers through his damp hair. Tears welled in her eyes, surprising her. 

“I . . . I love you,” she whispered. 

Killian stilled completely in her arms, and her heart almost stopped. Surely this didn’t come as a shock to him? He shifted, and Emma squinted to try to see his face in the dark. When she couldn’t, she reached out and traced his jaw with her fingertips. When he turned and pressed a kiss to her palm, she let out a shuddering breath of relief.

“I love you so much, Emma,” he told her, voice thick with emotion, “it’s difficult to put into words. You’re . . . my soul , Emma.”

He kissed her then, an almost sloppy thing, and Emma found herself laughing as she peppered his face with awkward kisses of her own, her lips never landing where she meant them too. 

“And you’re my heart,” she whispered into his ear.

************************************************************************

Several nights later, Emma was wrapped up in Killian’s arms, her back to his front. She was content and slightly drowsy after making love, and she was trying to motivate herself to ask Killian to find her nightgown for her. He was the one who had tossed it over his shoulder, after all. They had both laughed when they heard it hit the tapestry. 

“What are you laughing about, Swan?” Killian’s voice sounded just as content as hers. His thumb rubbed lazy circles on her bare stomach and his nose nuzzled in her hair. 

Emma turned in his arms and gave him a little push so he was lying on his back. She pillowed her head against his chest almost purring in her serenity. “You threw my nightgown,” she mumbled against his collarbone, “and I can’t see a damn thing.”

His hand drifted up over her hip then trailed along her spine. “You don’t seem particularly eager to get dressed,” he observed.

Emma just murmured blissfully against his skin and relished the feel of his fingers in her hair. “I need a washcloth too.”

“When I leave, I can light the candles.”

“But I might be asleep by then,” Emma whined.

“Then perhaps I should take my leave -”

“No!” Emma squealed, grabbing his shoulders to keep him from rising.

He chuckled as settled back down into the pillows, holding her tight. “I”m increasingly confused by you, love.”

“I know I’m not making sense, it’s just . . . I wish you could stay all night. I wish I could wake up in your arms, just like this.”

Killian kissed the top of her head. “I know, and so do I. Soon, hopefully, we can have that.”

They fell silent again. Killian ran his fingers up and down her bare arm, and Emma splayed her hand over his heart. It thumped beneath her palm, steady and comforting. 

“Are you happy, Emma?” he whispered.

Emma hesitated, the pitch dark around them contrasting more than usual with the heart beating beneath her cheek. “Yes,” she finally said.

“You hesitated.” His voice was quiet, slightly hurt, but patient. “What is it, my love? How can I help you be happy here?”

Emma sighed and rolled away from him. He followed her, pushing her hair out of the way to trail kisses across her neck. 

“I love you,” she told him, “but I also miss my family and my friends. If I could only see them and let them know that I’m alive and safe . . . “

Emma trailed off as Killian’s breath came out in a sigh against her skin. She worried she had angered him until he gathered her in his arms again. 

“Everyone has to believe you are dead, Emma, but I could arrange a visit from your friends - “

“Really?” Emma squealed, turning back around so rapidly, her forehead collided with his chin. 

“Bloody hell,” Killian muttered.
“Oh gods, I’m so sorry!” Emma cried and tried to reach out to pat his cheek only to poke him in the eye instead. 

Killian yelped in pain again, but it quickly turned to laughter. “Calm down, love, before you damage me permanently.”

“Sorry,” Emma whispered, pressing both hands to her mouth. “Can you really let me see them?”

“Your friends, yes, but your family isn’t possible.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll have to erase their memory before they leave here, but it would be impossible to do so with a bond between parent and child.”

Emma deflated for a moment, but then gave a firm nod of her head. Killian loved her, he cherished her, he listened to her. The fairies all adored him and trusted him, surely so could she. He was protecting her from something, but he was trying to make a way for them to really be together. Once he accomplished that, her parents could come stay with them for awhile. He didn’t have to make a way for her to visit with her friends, but he was willing to do it just to make her happy, despite the risks. 

“I understand,” she told him, “and I trust you.”

Killian grabbed her suddenly in a searing kiss that was brief yet intense. When he pulled away, he pressed his forehead to hers. Oh, how she wished she could see his eyes!

“You don’t know how much it means to hear you say that,” he told her. 

She smiled and kissed him chastely in response, grinning when she didn’t miss. 

“You’re getting better at kissing in the dark,” he teased her. 

“But I still poked you in the eye,” she laughed. She rubbed her fingers through his chest hair, then frowned. “But how will you get my friends here?”

“No worries, Swan,” he said, brushing a kiss to her temple, “I have my ways. Be ready for tea tomorrow afternoon?”

Emma was glad he could see her beaming smile in response. 

********************************************************************

Just as Killian promised, the bell at the front door rang at precisely three pm the next day. Emma had already told Tiger Lily that she would get the door herself in order to put her friends at ease, so she rushed to answer. She flung the door wide eagerly, her smile bright as she saw her three closest friends standing on the castle’s marble landing. Three pairs of eyes widened in shock when they saw her, and soon the four young women were embracing one another in an awkward group hug. There were tears and shocked exclamations as well. 

“We thought you were dead!” Elsa choked out, her blue eyes shimmering with tears. 

Emma shook her head, joy spilling into her countenance. “I’m fine, as you can see.”

“But how?” Lily asked, her brow furrowed. 

“There was a burst of magic from the mountaintop,” Ruby explained, “then those sick from the plague suddenly rose from their beds, perfectly fine. We all thought . . . “

Tears were rolling down Elsa’s fair cheeks now. “We assumed that was the moment of your death. It’s been so difficult. Everyone is joyous that the plague is past, but your parents are in mourning and -”

The duchess clapped her hands to her mouth, choking back a sob. Emma frowned in sympathy as she reached out to place her hands gently on Elsa’s arms. She pulled her friend over the threshold as she gestured to the other two women. 

“I’ll tell you all, but please, come in. Tinkerbell has prepared tea for us in the salon.”

“You were expecting us?” Lily asked in confusion as Emma ushered them through the marble halls. 

“Of course,” Emma answered merrily, “Killilan promised me he would get you here in time for tea.”

“Who’s Killian?” Ruby asked. 

Emma ushered them into the salon where Tinkerbell had outdone herself with the tea service. She made sure her guests were seated first, and only then, after sinking into her own place at the table, did she answer.

“Killian is my husband.”

Silence descended at the table as her friends gaped at her in astonishment. Emma couldn’t help the tiny smirk that lifted the corner of her mouth. “Tea?’ she asked as she lifted the pot.

Wordlessly, her friends accepted the offered beverage. They added cream and sugar, stirred, and sipped, until finally one of them spoke. Emma wasn’t surprised in the least that it was Ruby.

“So what’s he like?”

“Rich, obviously,” Lily snorted as she swiped a few teacakes. Emma’s lady-in-waiting had the least refined manners of Emma’s friends, having been raised in the village by a single mother until being hired by Queen Snow to work at the castle at thirteen. Snow chose her personally to be her daughter’s maid, and the queen’s instincts as usual were spot on. Lily had been more like a friend over for a sleepover than a servant from the very beginning, just as Snow had hoped. 

Emma smiled, feeling a blush stain her cheeks as she spread jelly on a biscuit. “He’s wonderful; kind, tender, funny. He really listens , you know?”

Ruby leaned over the table. “But is he handsome? I’m guessing he is based on how you’re blushing.”

Emma bit her lip and then stalled by taking a bite of biscuit. After swallowing, she answered honestly. “I actually . . . haven’t seen him.”

All three of her friends furrowed their brows in confusion. 

“But you just said . . . “ Elsa stuttered. 

“What do you mean you haven’t seen him?” Ruby cried. 

“We’ve spent time together - “ Emma started to explain.

“So you have seen him?” Lily asked.

“No,” Emma answered slowly, “you see, he only comes to me at night, and it’s dark -”

“Emma!” Elsa cried. “You can’t be serious! You mean to tell me this man . . . has relations with you,” the proper duchess’s voice dropped to a whisper, “but he won’t let you see him?”

Emma’s face turned so red she had to press her fingertips to her cheeks to cool them down. 

“And he’s obviously rather good at those relations,” Ruby quipped.

“Ruby!” Elsa admonished.

“What? Look at Emma’s face! And did you not hear the way she said he’s wonderful ?” Ruby gave an exaggerated imitation of Emma. “She was practically swooning.” The brunette turned to Emma and grabbed her arm eagerly. “You have to tell me everything. How does he kiss? Did he make love to you the very first night? Was that the burst of magic we saw? Was he better than Baelfire?” Ruby laughed and waved her hand dismissively. “Of course he’s better than Baelfire -”

“Ruby!” Elsa repeated, louder this time. “Stop acting like a silly schoolgirl. Emma could be in a dangerous situation here.”

“Killian isn’t dangerous,” Emma argued. 

“How do you know that, Emma?”

“Because I know him, Elsa!” Her voice was rising with an edge of defensiveness, which she knew wasn’t helping her case.

“How well can you know him, really?” Lily demanded. “He won’t even let you see him!”

Elsa placed her hand gently on Emma’s. “I’m worried about you. You seem happy, but I just want to make sure this man is trustworthy. It all just seems a little suspicious.”

“And the oracle said you’d be sacrificed on the mountaintop,” Lily pointed out. 

Ruby rolled her eyes as she finished chewing on a petit four. “Would you two stop? It’s obvious Emma is happy, and look at this place!” Ruby grabbed Emma’s other hand and smiled broadly. “This is a celebration! Our friend is safe, and she’s married!”

“Ruby’s right,” Emma insisted as she lifted the platter of petit fours, each one decorated with a tiny frosted rose. She offered the plate to each of her friends, and each young woman selected a bite-size cake. “I really am happy. Can we talk of other things? I want to know what the three of you are up to!”

“To Emma and a happy marriage!” Ruby cried as she lifted her cup of tea. She glared at Lily and Elsa to follow suit. Reluctantly, they imitated Ruby’s posture. 

“To Emma and a happy marriage!”

**********************************************************************

The rest of the tea went well as her friends told her what they and their families had been doing over the past month. Elsa wept as she relayed how Anna had recovered from the plague, and Lily blushed as she talked of stealing a kiss from a handsome knight in the halls of the castle. Ruby told her that Granny was doing well, but kept fishing for information about Emma’s mysterious husband. Once the tea pot was empty, Emma rose from the table and invited her guests to take a tour of the castle. 

“Look at this library!” Elsa gushed. 

“How did your husband get all these books?” Lily asked, her tone almost accusatory. “And all the artwork? I’ve never heard of anyone rich enough to acquire treasures from so many realms.”

“He travels,” Emma said with a shrug, “speaking of, how did the three of you get here?”

“It was the strangest thing,” Ruby told her, “one minute, we were chatting in your mother’s flower garden, and the next, we were suddenly standing at your front door.”

Emma smiled as she traced her fingertips over the bindings of several books. “That sounds like Killian.”

“He has magic?” Elsa asked. 

Emma sighed. “Don’t ask it in that tone, okay? It’s light magic.” At least, she’d always assumed it was, especially since fairies lived on the property. Before her friends could ask any more questions, she ushered them out. “Speaking of gardens, the ones here are lovely . . . “

Emma felt a headache coming on, even though the sweet scent of roses filled the air. Even here, in this beautiful garden, her friends were each acting as they had since they first arrived. Ruby was exclaiming in delight over everything, Elsa was suspicious, and Lily seemed increasingly irritated. 

“It’s all a bit . . . pretentious,” Lily deadpanned. 

Emma blinked rapidly. “Excuse me?”

“Did your husband have to show off by planting every rose known to mankind?” 

Emma wasn’t sure if Lily’s eye roll was for the word “husband” or “have”, but either way,

her irritation was growing. 

“The roses are gorgeous,” Ruby put in quickly.

“Enough about the roses!” Elsa declared, yanking on Emma’s arm. “We have to talk about Emma’s situation.”

“My situation ?” Emma pulled her arm from Elsa’s grasp. 

“Yes, Emma,” Lily added coming close to her side, “think about it. The oracle said you needed to sacrifice yourself on the mountaintop in order to save the kingdom. Now you find yourself here with a husband who only comes to you at night? In the dark?”

“This place is thick with magic,” Elsa put in. 

Lily nodded. “Can’t you see? Your husband is the monster.”

“No!” Emma exclaimed. “I may not have seen Killian, but I know him. We’ve been intimate in ways I never was with Baelfire. There’s no way he’s a monster.”

“Exactly,” Ruby said, “don’t listen to these two, Emma.” She came alongside Emma, threading her arm with hers. 

“Ruby,” Lily snapped, “you have read way too many romance novels. Whoever this . . . husband is he can’t be hiding in the darkness for anything but nefarious reasons.” 

“Lily, I think you’re just jealous.”

“Jealous!”

“Yes! You’ve been jealous of Emma for years now. You come here, you see her with all this wealth and gushing about her wonderful husband, so of course you’re trying to spin it in a negative light.”

Ruby’s words infused Emma with encouragement, but then Elsa’s words rushed over her like a cold rain. 

“If he were really trustworthy, Emma, he wouldn’t hide from you.”

“He’s the monster,” Lily repeated, “and he’s been toying with you like a cat with a mouse.”

Emma’s heart beat erratically as she remembered herself thinking that very same thing the first night in the castle. 

Elsa spoke again. “Don’t let his seductions blind you. Something isn’t right here, and I get sick to my stomach thinking of anyone - man or beast - taking advantage of you.”

“Maybe he’s just embarrassed for Emma to see him,” Ruby argued. “He could have scars or be deformed in some way.”

Lily wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, think of what you might have been sleeping with this

whole time! If anything, he has to look hideous.”

Emma tilted her chin. “I don’t care what he looks like. He could be missing limbs for all I care. I love him!”

All three of her friends fell silent at her declaration. Ruby dropped her head to Emma’s shoulder. “Oh, darling,” she whispered. 

“You know what they say,” Elsa said gently, “love is blind. Which is exactly why I want you to be careful. If he won’t let you see him, wait until he’s asleep, then light a candle and see him for yourself. Please?”

Elsa kissed Emma on the cheek, and all Emma could do was nod. “I think it’s time you all headed home,” Emma said wearily, “you’ll be expected soon for the evening meal.”

She wasn’t sure how Killian would get her friends home, but after Ruby clutched her tight, whispering in her ear to ignore the other two women, the brunette simply disappeared on a wisp of wind. Elsa embraced her next with whispers of endearments, then she too was suddenly gone. Emma turned last to Lily. Her former lady-in-waiting gave her a hesitant smile as she clutched both her hands in hers. 

“Don’t be a fool, Emma. One night as you lie in his arms, he’ll kill you, maybe even devour you like the monster that he is.” She leaned in close, intensity in her eyes, and steel in her voice. “If it were me, I would hide a dagger under my pillow. I would seduce him, and then while he slept, I would plunge the dagger into his heart. I would kill him before he could kill me.”

Lily had already begun to fade away as her final words drifted Emma’s way. Alone in the garden, it suddenly felt to Emma like there was a chill in the air. 

Chapter Text

The most important key to Emma’s plan that night was to ensure that Killian was thoroughly and completely exhausted so that he would fall asleep before her. It wasn’t an impossible task; twice since they had fully become one, his breaths had evened out before hers. Twice had she whispered his name to receive nothing but contented, shuddering sighs in response. Twice had his hands slipped from her shoulders, arms going lax upon the bedding. Twice had she traced his features in the dark freely, trying to map out his face in her mind’s eye. Both times she had accomplished such a feat the same way - by encouraging him to make love to her with wild abandon through her own fast and furious movements. Even then, without any hesitation in her trust of him, she had been surprised at herself. Would she have been so bold without the inky darkness surrounding them? Never with Baelfire would she have imagined herself as the aggressor in their physical relationship, especially since she had only been fifteen, and he older in both years and experience. Yet with Killian, she felt emboldened and confident. Even more, she felt completely safe in their intimacy. So safe she was able to be as expressive as her whims carried her whenever they made love. It felt they had been enjoying one another’s bodies for years rather than weeks. 

But now, with Lily’s and Elsa’s seeds of doubt planted in her mind, that safety felt as substantial as the mist surrounding the castle. Could she throw herself completely into wild and frenzied lovemaking with such thoughts swirling through her mind? Emma feared she would have to fake her enthusiasm, and she worried even more that Killian would see right through her charade.

To her everlasting shock, however, no charade was necessary. She made love to Killian that night with desperate abandon, feeling every caress, every kiss, with heightened senses. She ended up with her legs wrapped around him, her head thrown back as his hands gripped her back.

“Emma,” he gasped against her neck, “Emma, you’re everything and more.”

He was sitting up too, his limbs tangled with hers, his body trembling all over. His lips captured hers, swallowing her cries as they both came undone. Emma’s forehead fell to his shoulder as she gasped for breath, her fingers finding their way into Killian’s damp hair. He lay back on the bed, pulling Emma gently with him. 

“Am I really that good?” she asked.

“You’re bloody amazing,” Killian replied.

“But,” Emma said hesitantly, “you’ve been with many women, I’m sure, since you’re immortal -”

“Swan,” he cut her off, laying a finger to her lips, “no one compares to you, and that’s a fact.”

Emma smiled, dropping a peck to his chin (she’d meant to kiss his cheek, but close enough). She felt so content in his arms, she could almost forget Elsa’s concerns and Lily’s doubts. Her hand stilled in its exploration of Killian’s chest. What if the skin beneath her fingertips was an illusion? Killian said he was protecting her, but how could she be sure? Baelfire had made many promises all those years ago and had meant none of them. Emma had sworn she wouldn’t be so gullible again. Yet here she was, sleeping with a man who was keeping secrets from her. 

She was lost in her thoughts, yet Killian was silent as well, the only sounds he made occasional hums of contentment as he played with the ends of her hair. Soon his hand dropped to the small of her back, accompanied by more even breathing, then his hand stilled completely and slid to the mattress. 

“Killian?” Emma whispered. She lifted her head, turning her gaze to the pillow that she couldn’t see. “Killian?” she whispered again. 

When she got no response, she slipped slowly and silently from beneath his arm. Emma eased from the bed, moving stealthily until her foot felt the silk of her nightgown. She pulled the garment on, then eased to her hands and knees to feel beneath the bed. Only a moment of searching, and her fingers came in contact with the item she had hidden there. Her palm sweat as she gripped it tightly and rose to stand beside the bed, lifting it above where she guessed Killian lay. 

Her other hand groped towards the nightstand and closed over the matches that Ariel kept there. With trembling fingers, it took her a few tries to strike one. The flare of light was blinding in the deep darkness of the marriage bed. Emma touched the flame to the candle she had hidden, and a soft glow spread across the bed. 

Emma’s breath caught in her throat as her eyes took in her husband for the first time. The sheets were twisted low around his waist, and his arm still lay outstretched where Emma had lain just moments before. His body was slim, yet made of perfectly sculpted muscle. The chest hair she had run her fingers through was dark, and his skin was tanned. Emma raised the candle higher as she leaned over the bed, her heart beating fast as she gazed upon his face. 

He was beautiful. His head lay sideways on the pillow, exposing his perfect neck and collarbone. His jaw was strong and covered in dark scruff. His hair was as black as the darkness in which he always came to her, and fell across his forehead in the most inviting way. He seemed serene in his sleep, his thick dark lashes laying against his cheeks. 

Emma trembled all over with both shock and relief. He wasn’t a monster at all! He wasn’t deformed or scarred in any way. On the contrary, he was a perfect specimen of a man. In her awe, Emma failed to pay attention to the candle she held. Her shaking hand sent a drop of hot wax splashing onto Killian’s shoulder. He jerked awake with a gasp, his eyes wide with betrayal when they landed on Emma. 

“What have you done?”

His eyes were blue. A breathtaking, gorgeous blue. The candle tumbled from Emma’s hand, going out as it rolled across the marble floor.

They were plunged back into darkness for only a moment, and then Killian’s magic brought all the candelabras flaring to life. He leapt from the bed, and seeing his fully naked form in all its glory only made the dread sink into Emma’s gut more deeply. She had betrayed his trust, and even worse, fear now filled his eyes. Why had she listened to Elsa and Lily?

“I’m so sorry, Killian,” she choked out, tears brimming from the corners of her eyes. 

He stilled his frantic movements to cup her face in his hands and look deeply into her eyes. “I know, my love, and I forgive you.” 

Killian pressed a brief yet tender kiss to her lips, and Emma sagged against him. He only held her for a moment, and she felt bereft when he gently set her away from him. He hastily dressed, foregoing shoes, then grabbed Emma’s hand to pull her towards the door. 

“We must flee, Emma.”

“Killian, wait!” she argued, stubbornly planting her feet. “Can’t you tell me now what’s going on?”

He grasped his dark hair with both hands in frustration. “She could be here any moment!”

“Who?”

“My mother.”

“And she would be . . . “

Killian sighed, his arms falling back to his sides. “Venus.”

Emma’s jaw dropped. “Venus? As in . . . the goddess of love and beauty?”

“Aye.”

“And your father?”

“Mars, the god of war.”

Emma clasped her hands together as they began to tremble. “Is Killian even your name?”

“It’s the name I prefer. The name my parents call me. I have many names, however. In Egypt they call me Min, in Germany, Freyr. I’m Aengus in Ireland, and in Greece they call me Eros. I’m most well known by my Roman name, Cupid.”

“The god of love,” Emma gasped out, stumbling backwards to fall into the chair by the fireplace. “No wonder you’re so good in bed,” she pondered aloud. 

A cocky smile flickered across Killian’s face for just a moment before he grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. “We must go, Swan.”

She raced after him, clinging tightly to his hand as he guided them down the hallway to the back stairs. Wall sconces flickered to life as they raced down flight after flight. 

“I don’t understand,” Emma gasped, “why are we running away from your mother?”

Killian stopped so rapidly, Emma almost crashed into him. He turned to her with sad, frightened eyes. “She wants you dead, Swan.’

“But why?” Emma cried. “I’ve never done anything to her!”

Killian pulled her close and pressed his forehead to hers. “You didn’t have to. Your beauty sealed your fate.”

Emma shook her head, still confused, but Killian was racing down the stairs again at a breathless pace. Deeper and deeper into the bowels of the castle they went, the air becoming stale and cold. Emma shivered, for she was still in her satin nightgown and bare feet. Killian turned to her in sympathy when he noticed, rubbing his hands up and down her arms. 

“Come, Swan,” he said, wrapping one arm around her shoulder and tucking her into his side. 

The stairs had come to an end, and before them in the stone wall was a cavernous opening. Emma could see nothing within but endless ebony, and the chill she had felt emanated from its depths. The wind rushing out sounded like moans of loneliness and heartbreak. Emma pulled away from Killian’s grip as cold dread skittered down her spine. 

“No,” she shuddered. 

“Emma, we must,” Killian explained patiently, grasping her hand, “it’s the only place where we’ll be hidden from her sight.”

Emma suddenly felt light headed, panic rushing through her veins as her pulse picked up speed. Killian came closer, his blue eyes intense as he searched her face. 

“Please, my love, trust me.”

His words shattered her heart. Wasn’t that all he had ever asked of her? He had demanded nothing from her physically, had provided for all her needs, had patiently been her companion night after night, and had even brought her friends to visit her. All he had wanted in return was her trust, yet she had withheld it. They were in danger because of her. The least she could do was trust him now. 

Emma reached out to take the hand he offered her, but before her fingers could even brush his, the walls around them began to shake. A chasm opened between her and her husband, and Killian cried out her name. Then he was out of sight as a whirlwind of black clouds and thick dust enveloped Emma. She could no longer feel the stones beneath her feet, wasn’t entirely sure which way was up, and a roaring almost split her ears. Then she was falling in the darkness.

Emma’s shoulder slammed into something - the ground perhaps, though she no longer knew where she was -  and the black whirlwind of dirt dissipated around her. Emma sat up, holding her hand to her pounding head. She looked around, blinking in the light of early dawn. 

“No,” she whispered hoarsely, “no, no, no!”

She scrambled to her feet, spinning around frantically. She was back on the desolate mountaintop where her parents had left her. There was no castle, no rolling gardens of beauty. 

There was no Killian. She was alone. 

Chapter Text

 

Chapter Seven: Jealousy as Strong as the Grave  

 

Emma had never been the type of person to fall apart under pressure. She had faced her heartbreak over Baelfire, the plague that struck their kingdom, and the prophecy of the oracle all in the same way: with tenacity. She hadn’t even reached out to her family and friends to lean on. She could take care of herself and refused to be a burden to anyone. With Baelfire, she had also felt a heavy dose of shame and humiliation, constantly chastising herself for being so naive. Ruby, Lily, and Elsa only knew what little they did because they had aided her in the clandestine relationship. 

Emma wouldn’t say she was falling apart in this moment, either, yet she also knew she had never felt so completely out of her element. Something significant had also shifted in her since her marriage to Killian. Handling things on her own no longer seemed like the strength it once had. Ironic, really, because never had she been so completely alone as she was now on top of this mountain. 

No, that actually wasn’t true. Her husband was the god of love ! Venus may be powerful, but surely their union was strong enough to withstand her jealousy. Killian wasn’t a demigod; he was the son of Venus and Mars. She was confident in his love, even in the face of his mother’s wrath.  Emma threw back her shoulders and tilted her chin. A Princess of Misthaven may not be much against a goddess, but she was no shrinking violet. 

“Venus!” she cried out. “Venus, I beseech you! Please, oh goddess, allow me an audience!”

Emma sank to her knees in the damp earth, bowing her head reverentially. She clasped her hands in her lap, her skin starkly white and chilled against the bright royal blue of her nightgown. Her teeth chattered as the cold wind sliced across her skin. Her hair tangled around her head, blocking her vision. 

“Venus, I beg of you,” she said again on a whisper. 

The words had scarcely left her mouth when the wind cutting through the satin of her garments shifted instead to a warm zephyr. Emma could smell a sweet perfume enveloping her, and she swooned at the headiness of it. She felt herself falling, but gently, and when she sat up but a moment later, she found herself in a large room, ornate, yet warm. Boughs of cedar, interwoven with flowering vines, made up the walls and the ceiling. The floor was a glassy marble in a shade of softest pink unlike anything Emma had seen before. She was in the middle of an opulent, round bed piled high with furs and pillows. She took in her surroundings in awe for a moment before her eyes landed on another bed sitting atop a small dias. Emma gasped when she saw who lay upon it. 

“Killian!” she cried, leaping up and racing across the floor. 

Her wardrobe hadn’t changed, and the rosy marble was cold beneath her feet. She raced up the four small steps leading to Killian’s bed, but when she reached the top of the dias, something unseen halted her. She took a step forward, trying to reach him, but was once again shoved back by an invisible force. He lay there, so close that Emma could have touched him if not for the magic protecting him. He looked so similar to when she had gazed upon him by the light of her candle - was that really only an hour ago? - that it broke her heart. His cheek rested on his pillow, one arm flung out as if reaching for her - his wife.

“Killian,” she choked out, tears coursing down her cheeks. 

“He can’t hear you.”

Emma spun at the sound of the voice. Standing there in the middle of the room was the most beautiful woman Emma had ever seen. Her beauty wasn’t even something a person could put into words. Unlike him, Killian’s mother had light colored hair. Emma had many a suitor claim her hair was the color of gold, but seeing Venus, Emma knew what an empty compliment that was. Venus had hair that was truly golden, shimmering in such a way that Emma was mesmerized by it. Her eyes were the color of the seafoam legend said she was born from, such a sparkling blue-green that they literally drew Emma into their gaze. Her skin was flawless, her lips the color of deep red wine, her eyelashes dark and thick. Her figure was flawless too, her curves on perfect display through the soft white garments that clung to her frame. Emma knew she was gaping but couldn’t stop herself.

“Oh my dear,” Venus said in tones that dripped with condescension, “you see now how foolish you’ve been, don’t you?”

The goddess strode across the room, a natural and easy sway to her hips, and sat before a vanity with a gilded mirror. She lifted her hand casually towards her perfect face, her fingers fluttering near her cheek bone. 

“What have you done to him?” Emma demanded, marching down the marble steps with her hands clenched at her sides. 

“Oh,” Venus replied with a casual wave of her hand, “a long, refreshing sleep is all that it is.” She caught Emma’s gaze in the reflection of the mirror. “He’s a god, after all. Unlike you .”

“So . . . he’ll waken?”

“Eventually.” 

Emma let out a breath of relief, yet her eyes still narrowed as she gazed upon Venus. “What’s the catch?”

Venus gasped exaggeratedly as she spun upon her stool to face Emma. She pressed a perfect, slim hand to her breast. “Why my dear, I am only looking out for my son’s best interest as any mother would. I’ve been concerned from the moment I learned of this . . . infatuation of his.”

Emma didn’t really know how to respond to that, so she merely kept a suspicious eye on the goddess as she rose from her vanity and crossed the floor. She strode past Emma and to the dias where her son lay, a look of tenderness upon her face that Emma wasn’t completely certain was sincere.

“He’s always been much too passionate for his own good,” Venus tsked, “but I suppose it’s to be expected considering his lineage. His father has a tendency for rashness.”

“Killian said you wanted to kill me.”

“Of course I did.”

Her cool manner as she said it, so casual and matter of fact, sent ice through Emma’s veins. She strode towards Emma, and it was all Emma could do to stand her ground and not flee. Venus came toe to toe with her, taking Emma’s chin in her hand. 

“I suppose I can see your appeal,” Venus scoffed as she studied Emma’s face, “for a mortal.”

“I never did anything to -”

“Silence,” Venus snapped, releasing her roughly. “I don’t care to hear you defend yourself. The fact of the matter is; princes, dukes, sultans, military leaders, even peasants were suddenly all begging me for the same thing: that they would win the heart of Princess Emma. After every one of the balls your parents threw, I would then have to hear the heartbroken pleas of the men who had fallen under the spell of your beauty.”

“But I didn’t -”

“Foolish girl!” Venus raged. “That’s the point! You didn’t do anything! You’re nothing! Yet no one was exulting the beauty of Venus anymore, only yours. I’m the goddess of beauty . I couldn’t let a mere mortal girl receive praise over and above me!”

Venus took a deep breath and released it, her exquisite features settling once again into a serene expression. When she resumed her story, the calm timbre of her voice was more terrifying than her previous rage. 

“I sent my son to kill you. Did you know that?”

The blood drained from Emma’s face, but she refused to answer.

“I gave him a vial of poison,” Venus continued casually, lifting bottles of perfume from her vanity one by one and idly sniffing them, “but he hesitated.” She frowned as if Killian were a disappointment to her. “The first time he saw you, you were in the castle courtyard getting a sword fighting lesson from your father. Your mother was there too, teasing you both about archery being the superior pursuit. You were in breeches, sweaty and flushed, your hair messy and pulled away from your face, yet you mesmerized Killian for some reason.”

Venus shrugged dismissively, and Emma’s temper flared. “Unlike you, he sees more than what’s on the surface!”

“He’s also infuriatingly monogamous. It’s embarrassing, really. What’s the point of immortality? Eternal youth and vigor? I ask you.”

“And you’re infuriatingly shallow and selfish. Killian told me what his childhood was like, you know.”

Venus’s eyes widened threateningly. “Be careful, mortal. Forget not to whom you speak.”

Emma swallowed nervously. When she spoke again, she forced humility into her words. “Forgive me, I beg you. I am a mere mortal, as you said, but I love your son with all my heart. He’s my husband. He is my beloved, and I am his. I would do anything to prove my loyalty to him so that we might be together.” 

Venus was leaning closer to the mirror, admiring her own reflection, as if she weren’t paying a bit of attention to Emma’s impassioned speech. “Why should I care about your insignificant happiness? My son is immortal. When you’re old and gray, he will still be young and virile. And when your body turns to dust, he’ll have to find another anyway.”

“Then why deny us this short time of happiness? If I’m distracted during the flower of my youth by his love, then I’ll be out of your way.”

“Or a constant thorn in my side,” Venus bit out, “even my own son favors you over me. And don’t you think I care at all about the pain loving a mortal will cause my son?”

Actually, no Emma thought, but she held her tongue.

Venus spun away from the mirror to regard Emma. “No. My plans for you have changed, and they are so much better than your death. So much better than ravaging your kingdom with a plague. So much better than dressing you up in a wedding gown to be fed to a monster.”

“That was all you?” Emma gasped. 

“Of course it was! My soft-hearted son just had to get in my way, but unintentionally he has given me a much better punishment for you - a more fitting one.”

Emma hadn’t noticed that Venus was stalking ever closer, pushing her closer and closer to the dais upon which Killian slept. Emma stumbled into the bottom step, falling backwards, catching herself before her back could collide with the marble. 

“To love someone just out of your reach. To forever long for a husband that you can’t have.”

Emma shook her head, tears pricking her eyes. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“My son will slumber until your death.”

“No!”

 “Unless,” Venus amended, casually examining the nails of her left hand, “you can do as you swore and prove that your love for him is true.”

“I told you I’d do anything.” Emma hated that she was begging, but she couldn’t stop the tears that streamed down her cheeks. 

“Good girl.” A sadistic grin curled the goddess’s lips. “Bring me the flower of eternal beauty. It is currently in the possession of Persephone in the Underworld. I want it back.” She gestured to Killian with a shrug. “And it just so happens to be the cure for my son’s enchanted slumber.”

Emma swallowed nervously. “It shall be done, but . . . how do I get to the Underworld?”

Venus’s gaze snapped to Emma’s. “That isn’t my problem, mortal,” she bent down to stroke Emma’s chin, “though I wouldn’t tarry if I were you. Every moment my son remains in the arms of Morpheus, the closer he is to forgetting you.”

Emma couldn’t prevent the gasp from leaving her lips. “How long?” she managed to ask. 

“Days? Weeks? Months?” Venus cooed, her hand drifting to tuck an errant hair behind Emma’s ear in a mockery of a motherly gesture. “I’m not entirely sure.”

The sweet nectar of Venus’s breath against her face left Emma dizzy and disoriented. The room began to spin, her vision to blur, and Emma felt herself falling once again.

*********************************************************

“Is she dead?” a voice near Emma’s ear asked in a hushed tone. Emma tried to open her eyes, but her lids felt weighted, and her head pounded.

“Of course not, Ariel,” another voice above her snapped.

“Would both of you get away from her?” Emma recognized Tiger Lily as the third voice. “Venus’s magic will have left her queasy, and the last thing she needs is the two of you in her face.”

Emma managed to peel her eyes open, yet her vision was fuzzy. A flash of red swam before her. 

“We can’t let her sleep long,” Ariel said worriedly. “We don’t know how much time Killian has.”

The fairy’s words caused reality to slam into Emma, and she struggled to a sitting position despite the pain that threatened to split her skull. She moaned and clutched her temple with both hands. The three fairies rushed to her side with words of comfort and concern, and Emma realized she was surrounded by the thick branches of a tree. The night sky, blinking with stars, was visible through the canopy of leaves above. 

“Wh-where am I?” Emma asked through dry lips. Her mouth tasted like cotton.

“Drink this,” Tiger Lily said gently, offering her a cup of coconut milk. 

Emma drank eagerly, and as the sweet liquid filled her, she felt herself strengthened, her mind less muddled. 

“This used to be our home,” Tink told her, the tone of her voice much too chipper for Emma’s frayed nerves, “before Killian got us our wings back. Of course, now his house has been poofed out of existence or something by Venus, but -”

“Tink!” Tiger Lily snapped. “Not. Helping.”

“Sorry.”

Emma shoved aside the soft fur that the fairies had draped over her, and rose quickly to her feet. She was second guessing that decision the minute the tree house around her seemed to sway and spin. 

“Easy there.” Ariel hurried to her side. “A lot of magic has been used on you in a short amount of time. You’re going to be disoriented.”

“I don’t have time for you to coddle me,” Emma snapped, brushing Ariel off. “Killian’s memory of me will be lost forever if I don’t hurry and get Venus what she wants.” Emma sank back down to the creaking bed of woven reeds, moaning as she buried her face in her hands. “Though I have no idea how to even get to the Underworld, much less persuade Persephone to give me some magical flower.”

“The first part’s easy,” Tink enthused, plopping down next to her and wrapping her up in a side hug, “you’ve already seen the entrance to the Underworld.”

Emma lifted her face to look at Tink in astonishment. “You mean that cavern Killian was trying to convince me to enter?”

The fairy nodded her head enthusiastically, and when Emma turned to Tiger Lily and Ariel, they too nodded their agreement. 

“But . . .” Emma said, rubbing at her temple, “Venus destroyed our home.”

That final word - home - made Emma’s chest tighten as realization of its truth washed over her. All the weeks she had resided in the castle, she had missed her home and her family. Yet now, all she wanted were those marble halls, the exquisite gardens, the warm and welcoming library. And Killian. Most of all, she wanted her husband by her side. 

“She destroyed the castle ,” Tiger Lily clarified, “and even that only temporarily. Cupid - Killian, I mean - is a god too, remember. He can rebuild our home in all its glory, don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried about our house , I’m worried about him ! Are you saying that the entrance to the Underworld is still on the mountain?”

The three fairies nodded, and Emma surged to her feet once again. She didn’t sway this time, and she counted it as her first victory, albeit a small one. “Then let’s go!”

The fairies exchanged dismayed glances. 

“What?”

“We . . . “ Ariel trailed off, wringing her hands, “can’t go with you.”

“But you have to! I don’t know how to get back there, much less how to navigate in the Underworld.”

“Fairies are immortal beings, so we aren’t allowed in the Underworld,” Tiger Lily explained gently.

“But we can give you gifts!” Tink put in, her face beaming as if this ought to make everything better.

“Gifts?” Emma asked with a wry arch of her brows. 

“It’s a fairy thing,” Tink said with a smile and a shrug, Emma’s sarcasm going completely over her head. 

Ariel wrapped her arm around Emma’s shoulder. “Really, Emma, we can help you. The journey must be yours, but we can point the way and aid you through our gifts.” 

The redhead flicked her wrist, and there in the palm of her hand was an ornate, golden compass with markings in a mystical language Emma had never seen before. She took it and lifted a questioning gaze to her new friend.

“It’s enchanted,” Ariel explained, “instead of pointing north, it points to the object you seek. In your case, Persephone’s flower.”

“Thank you,” Emma whispered. Ariel’s other arm came up to wrap around Emma, enveloping her in a warm hug. 

Tink bounced forward, pulling a vial free from the leather cord around her neck. What was inside glittered and caught the light of the moon above. Emma cocked her head.

“Sparkly dirt?”

Tink giggled, “No, silly, pixie dust! As you can imagine, it’s almost unheard of in the Underworld. Charon, who ferries the boat across the River Styx, will want payment to take you across, especially since you’re . . .  you know, alive?”

Emma couldn’t help smiling as she took the vial. “And let me guess, he really likes pixie dust?”

Tink’s eyes went wide and her mouth formed a small “o” of surprise. “Pixie dust is a very versatile and powerful magical substance.”

Emma bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Thank you, Tink.”

Emma grunted as the petite fairy launched herself at Emma for a fierce hug. After relinquishing the blonde fairy, Emma turned to Tiger Lily. She especially valued Tiger Lily’s steadiness at such a time, and felt certain that her gift would be the most important. So when Tiger Lily pressed a stack of thick discs wrapped in brown paper into Emma’s hand, a furrow creased Emma’s brow. They smelled of ground beef.

“Are these -” 

“Dog biscuits?” Tiger Lily nodded. “They are. Surely you’ve heard of Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the castle of Hades and Persephone?”

Emma blinked rapidly. “And I subdue him with . . . dog biscuits?”

“Infused with pixie dust!” Tink whispered.

“Works like a charm,” Tiger Lily insisted. 

“How would you know? You just said fairies can’t go to the Underworld!” Emma felt panic rising suddenly. She had a bad feeling about this . . . 

Ariel took both of her hands, forcing their green eyes to meet, and in the fairy’s gaze, Emma found solace. “But that doesn’t mean we haven’t helped desperate souls like you. We love you, Emma, and we love Killian. More than that, we believe in your love for one another. You can do this.”

Emma’s lips tipped up in a wobbly smile as tears welled in her eyes. The fairies stepped forward to embrace her in a slightly awkward group hug, and Ariel’s words filled the depths of her heart, lending strength for the quest ahead. 

*************************************************************

Emma did not hesitate this time as she approached the cold and foreboding opening of the inky cavern. She stepped through boldly, Ariel’s compass pointing straight ahead. She made her way through a tunnel of vines that swayed like bony appendages, catching in her hair and brushing against her bare arms, yet she soldiered on. She exited the passage of thick foliage, and there before her were the viscous, black waters of the River Styx. 

She walked with steady purpose towards the hooded figure that piloted the small ferry. She clutched Tink’s vial of pixie dust which hung around her neck. The golden compass and the dog biscuits rested in the satchel at her hip. Nothing but firm resolve radiated from her.

“Stay strong, Killian,” she whispered, “I’ll never stop fighting for us.”

Chapter Text

If Emma had to pick just one word to describe the Underworld it would be colorless . The only hues that clung to the scant vegetation were in shades of grey. The very air itself hung thick with a smoky miasma, and it tinged the realm of the dead like a painting coated in eons of dust. 

The castle of Hades and Persephone rose before Emma. Cerberus lay at her feet, each of his three jowls distracted by the thick biscuits Emma had given him. Her heart beat wildly as she hurried down the rocky path towards the castle which resembled a tower of jagged, broken glass in varying shades of black. She clutched the strap of her satchel, her feet hurrying lest Cerberus make quick work of the dog treats and come begging for more.

The closer she got, she more she worried. How did one go about making a request like this of a goddess? If Persephone had long held the flower of beauty close, why in the world would she give it to a mere mortal? And even before her request could be made, how did she begin to seek an audience with the Queen of the Underworld? She couldn’t just knock on the front door. Could she?

The decision was taken from Emma’s hands, however, the minute her foot touched the castle’s bottom step. Guards dressed completely in black, nothing but a cold void behind the visors of their helmets, seized her before she even had a chance to cry out. Their hands were so cold, they burned as she was forced up the steps and into the castle. 

She was hauled down the black marble corridors. Emma kicked and struggled, but her efforts were futile. Please, she begged to whatever deity would still listen to her, don’t let them throw me in the dungeon!

The guards kicked open a heavy door of steel and dragged Emma into a cavernous room with a domed roof. At the end of it, two beings sat side by side on matching thrones. Relief flooded Emma, and she inwardly whispered a prayer of thanks. It wasn’t the entrance she had hoped for, but all that really mattered was that she had an audience with the king and queen.  The guards thrust her roughly forward, and Emma fell to her knees on the hard, cold floor. 

“How did you manage to get past Cerberus, mortal?” Hades asked. 

Emma trembled as she lifted her gaze to the larger of the two thrones, but not because Hades was speaking in a thunderous voice. On the contrary, he sounded calculating and slightly . . . bored? His crisp suit, closely shorn hair, and neatly trimmed, pitch black goatee reminded Emma of that shady ambassador from the Southern Isles. Slimy her mother had called him. Of course, it woud be suicide to call the god of the Underworld that. Emma swallowed nervously.

“I . . . gave him a treat?” Emma winced when it came out like a question. Her plan had been to exude confidence, not grovel. 

To her surprise, Hades threw his head back and laughed heartily. “Did you hear that, darling? Gave him a treat!”

He wiped at tears of laughter as his wife cast a smile in his direction. “Yes, dear. No mortal has cooked up a batch of those since . . . Ulysses?”

“No. no,” Hades corrected, waving a hand in the air, “I thought it was a female then, too. Medea? No . . . she was a witch, though. I think.”

As Hades debated over who last charmed his pooch, Emma took the opportunity to look more closely at Persephone. For someone who lived half the year in the Underworld, her complexion was almost radiant. Her hair was a deep brown, with streaks of auburn, and her eyes were bright amber. She gazed with humor and ease at her husband, her hand idly rubbing his forearm. Together, each detail made hope surge through Emma’s veins. She took a deep breath, then spoke as reverentially as she could while still infusing her voice with confidence.

“I was given the biscuits as a gift from the fairies to aid me in a very important quest.”

“A quest?” Hades asked, a sudden edge to his voice. 

“Now, dear,” his wife admonished softly, “none of that.”

“Always with the quests! Do these mortals think I have nothing better to do down here?” he turned to Emma in exasperation. “Do you know what I go through? Do you?”

Emma didn’t know how to respond, so she simply shook her head.

“Processing each soul as it enters, weighing them on the scales. Coming up with fitting penance when necessary. Then processing those who move on to paradise. There’s far more to running this operation than anyone knows. And if that weren’t enough, mortals on quests , seeking guidance from the dead, or begging to let the dead free -”

“I’m not here for anyone who’s dead,” Emma bravely interrupted.

Hades blinked in surprise. “You’re not?”

Emma shook her head. “I’m trying to . . . free someone from Venus, but she’ll only let him go if I can get the flower of eternal beauty.”

“That shallow, insignificant excuse for a goddess,” Persephone snapped, her earlier peaceful facade falling away to reveal a truly powerful deity. “She’s been trying to get that flower from me for eons. Well, I’m sorry you’ve gone to all this trouble, but the answer is no.”

“Please!” Emma exclaimed, feeling no shame in groveling now. “I beg of you. I know it’s

a lot to ask, but -”

“You know nothing, mortal! Venus will waste the juice of that flower on herself though she 

has absolutely no need of it. Simply so no one else will ever get their hands on it.”

“Maybe she wishes to have it so she can help those who lift up prayers to her.” Even as the words left Emma’s lips, she knew how ridiculous the suggestion was. She expected Persephone to laugh condescendingly. Venus certainly would have. Instead, the goddess scrutinized her until she was tempted to squirm.

“You’ve met Venus,” she finally said, “and I have a feeling you know full well how ridiculous you sound right now.”

Emma deflated, sinking into a heap upon the floor, her knees aching from kneeling on the cold marble. She lifted her gaze to Persephone. There was only one other option, and that was to be fully vulnerable with the goddess. If she turned out to be callous and cold, she and Killian were both doomed. She prayed that Persephone would prove compassionate instead.

“Once again, I beseech you, goddess of spring, Queen of the Underworld. I don’t ask this for myself. It is for the man I love, my husband. Venus has him under a sleeping curse.”

Hades tsked and shook his head. “She’s taken yet another lover? This is why I prefer these austere halls to Mt. Olympus. So much drama, I tell you.”

Persephone grinned at her husband and lifted his hand to her lips. Emma felt hope surge in her heart. 

“He isn’t her lover,” Emma explained, “and he isn’t even mortal. Killian is my husband - Cupid, I mean. The son of Venus.”

“Killian!” Persephone exclaimed with a gasp. “That precious boy loved the springtime, you know. It’s why so many lovers choose that time of year for their wedding vows.” The goddess shook her head. “I say Venus may be the goddess of beauty, but not of love, not truly. No, it his her son who fights for love and heeds the prayers of the star-crossed.”

“Now, my love, I know you have a soft spot for the lad, but this is Venus we’re talking about.” Hades frowned in concern. “Your feud with her goes back eons.”

Emma rose to her feet, her hands clasped at her breast, hardly daring to believe that the goddess would be willing to help her. “I love him so much, but Venus is determined to keep him under an enchanted slumber until I’ve taken my last breath.”

“Unless you retrieve my flower?” Persephone asked.

Emma nodded. “Yet every moment I delay, Killian is one step closer to forgetting me.”

Persephone scowled and rose quickly from her throne, she motioned for Emma to follow her as she swept down the small steps of the dais. She went through an archway to the right of the thrones, and Emma hurried after her.

“Venus is so fickle,” Persephone muttered as she hurried along, “and her memory is laughably short. Yet that may be to your advantage.”

She smiled conspiratorially back at Emma before pushing open a heavy oak door at the corridor’s end. Beyond the doors was the first bit of color Emma had seen since entering the Underworld. It wasn’t much of a garden - only two things grew in the mostly stone courtyard - yet in the vast sea of black and grey, it was a veritable oasis. At the east end of the courtyard, a large tree grew, heavy with pomegranates. Yet it was the pathway to the west which Persephone hurried down. 

“Venus has forgotten that I took care of her boy as much as I could, during the spring and summer months, of course. Juno was his other main babysitter, which explains his soft heart for women trapped in arranged or loveless marriages.”

Emma thought of the story Killian had told her of his first love, Milah, and she realized that it was Juno who had sent him to assist her. Ahead of her, Persephone came to a stop in front of a large rose bush. Only these roses sparkled with golden radiance, and even Emma could sense the magic radiating from them. Her mouth dropped open as she looked at the goddess of spring.

“I thought there was only one flower.”

Persephone’s lips widened into a smile. “Oh no, there have always been many on this rose bush, which I have tended with great care for many centuries. I couldn’t let Venus know that, however.”

Emma shook her head in wonder. “Then why not share?”

Persephone’s amber eyes narrowed, and Emma could practically feel the ground at her feet crackle with angry energy. “With that selfish goddess? She would do nothing but wreck havoc with these flowers, causing all sorts of mischief. Remember that golden apple “to the fairest”? Remember that impotent, silly Paris? Venus got us plunged right into the Trojan War. Can you imagine what she would do with a whole bush of flowers that can give eternal beauty?”

The blood drained from Emma’s face at Persephone’s impassioned speech, and her heart sank. “But Killian . . . “ her voice drifted off, for what argument did she have for a goddess?

“Although,” Persephone pondered, tapping her finger upon her lips, “Venus isn’t the smartest goddess. You could take her a flower, and let her believe it’s the only one.”

“Oh,” Emma exclaimed, “I’ll do anything you ask, if you’ll only help me!”

Persephone’s gaze turned serious, “Be careful what deities you make such promises too, my dear.”

Emma swallowed nervously, but then Persephone smiled softly once more. 

“All I ask, however, is that you answer a question. Answer correctly, and I’ll give you the flower.”

Emma blinked, her hands grasping nervously at the satin of her nightgown. “I’m . . . I mean, I’ve never thought of myself as . . . . “ she sighed. “What if I get it wrong?”

Persephone reached for Emma’s hand and squeezed it. “I don’t think you will. The question is this: Why did I plant this rose bush here, in the Underworld? Why did I not plant it in the world of the living?”

Emma’s first thought was that she planted it here to protect it. After all, Killian had tried to flee here with Emma so they would be hidden from his mother’s eyes. But then she gazed upon the golden flowers, mesmerized by their incandescence. The longer she looked upon them, the more a feeling of peace washed over her. Their beauty wasn’t just striking; it was soothing. Suddenly, the answer struck her with startling clarity. She turned to Persephone with a small smile upon her face. 

“You planted these flowers here for your husband. To comfort him, to remind him of you, in the long months you are forced to part.”

Persephone gave Emma a tiny nod of her head, a flash of pride in her eyes. “I had a feeling you would guess correctly.” With that, she snipped one of the flowers from the bright green plant, then surprised Emma when she picked a second one. The goddess placed both in a large leather pouch. “To keep them from being crushed,” she explained. 

“But Venus thinks there’s only one flower.”

“The second is for you. I have a feeling you’ll need it. Keep it close until absolutely necessary.”

Emma bit nervously at her bottom lip as she accepted the pouch. She placed it carefully into her satchel, then regarded Persephone thoughtfully. 

“How will I know when -”

“When it’s absolutely necessary?”

Emma simply nodded.

“You’ll just know.”

***********************************************************

Travel via deity was getting old. At least this time, when Perephone teleported her to the home of Venus, Emma actually landed on her feet. She was still dizzy with a pounding headache, but at least she wasn’t slamming into the ground or completely unconscious. Persephone evidently had a gentler touch.

This time, however, Emma wasn’t in Venus’s private chamber, but in a courtyard with abundant greenery and a fountain surrounded by a glittering pool. Though soothing, gentle splash of the water couldn’t mask the shouting coming from a nearby open doorway. Emma recognized one voice as Venus; the other was male. Emma tiptoed closer to the angry sounds.

“You’re willing to let our son sleep for possibly another eighty years just because of some mortal girl?”

“Eighty years might as well be a week when you’re immortal, and since when did you care about Killian anyway?”

Emma was close enough now to peer around the edge of the doorway. Killian had been moved from the dais to the round, luxurious bed that Emma had awoken in the last time she was here. Venus stood on the other side of the room, arguing with a broad, muscular man dressed like a gladiator in leather armor with a red cape flowing over his back. A feathered helmet and broadsword lay at his feet. Emma assumed this was Mars, Killian’s father, and she could certainly see the resemblance in the god’s thick dark hair and startling blue eyes. He had a full, curling beard, and his jaw was tight as he glared at Venus. 

“I’ve cared about him far more than you have!” he thundered. “Otherwise he wouldn’t be in an enchanted sleep right now, would he?”

“No harm will come to him,” Venus shot back, “he’s surrounded by a protection spell.”

Mars arched a brow as thick and dark as his son’s, “Or is it to keep the mortal girl from awakening him?”

As intimidating as the god of war seemed, Emma figured this was just as good a time as any to make her presence known. At least one of the deities in the room was on her side. She took a deep breath to gather her courage, then rapped her knuckles on the door frame. Venus and Mars both spun towards the sound, and Emma stood as confidently as she could manage just beyond the threshold. When neither of them spoke, she broke the silence.

“I have completed my quest, and I have brought you what you seek.”

Venus’s eyes widened with delight while Mars rolled his towards the ceiling. Emma glanced nervously at her husband, who slept peacefully through it all. She stepped fully into the room while reaching into her satchel. Just as Persephone had advised, she removed only one flower, and handed it carefully to Venus. The golden rose still glowed and sparkled with ethereal beauty. The goddess took it reverently in her cupped hands, gasping in awe. 

“Long have I desired this,” she whispered. 

“As if you don’t have beauty enough of your own,” grumbled Mars.

“Keep your opinions to yourself,” Venus snapped at her former lover.

“I brought you what you requested,” Emma reminded her gently, “and I believe completing a quest to the Underworld is sufficient proof of my love for Killian. You must awaken him!”

“I must do nothing!” Venus snapped. “I am a goddess!”

Before Emma could even think of a reply to her callous declaration, Venus had crushed the beautiful flower between her palms. Emma gasped in shock as the broken petals grew dull against the porcelain skin of the goddess of beauty. Only the flower’s inner nectar still glowed in Venus’s palm. The goddess brought her cupped hands to her lips and sipped up the sparkling juice with relish. She then took a deep breath, an almost manic smile filling her face as she tipped her gaze to the ceiling. The veins in her neck glowed, then the shimmering golden hue filled her cheeks and blazed from her eyes. Her hair for a moment seemed to alight like the rays of the sun. Then Venus gave one more shuddering breath, and her countenance returned to normal. She couldn’t have possibly gotten any more beautiful than she already was, and now that the flower’s magic had faded, Emma saw no difference in the goddess before her.

Persephone had been right.

“Please, Venus,” Emma tried again with feigned humility, “free my husband from his slumber.”

“You keep calling him your husband,” Venus snapped, “but you are nothing more than a mortal. You can’t understand the ever-changing needs and desires of a god. We take lovers, not spouses.”

Emma was thankful for what she had seen between Hades and Persephone, for it guarded her against the lies of Venus. 

“That may be true for you, but it’s not true of all the gods and goddesses. Killian has chosen me, and I choose him.”

“She brought you the damn flower,” Mars snapped, “wake the boy up.”

“Boy,” Venus sighed, “you never can see him as a man, can you?”

“And you can? All you ever do is treat him as your errand boy, never willing to cut those apron strings.” 

“At least I’m involved in his life, which is more than I can say for you!”

Emma inched closer to the bed where Killian lay, frustrated at the time that was being wasted while the two divine beings fought. Had she slipped from Killian’s memory already? She knelt by the bed, reaching forward, but it was no use. Venus’s protection spell was still intact.

“Involved?” Mars was still arguing with Venus. “I can list half a dozen goddesses, fairies, and mermaids who were more of a mother to him than you. Maybe I’ll just wake him myself!”

“You can’t, the spell doesn’t work that way.”

“But I can do this,” Mars spat, lifting an arm and snapping his fingers. 

The sound of it was loud, reverberating through the room, and the magical shield surrounding Killian and the bed upon which he lay, shivered and then dissolved. Emma surged forward with a cry, flinging her entire body across Killian’s chest and peppering his jaw with kisses. 

She pressed a kiss to his still lips, murmuring against them, “I love you, come back to me, Killian.” 

When she pulled back, he was just as deeply asleep as before. Behind her, Venus giggled with deceptive sweetness. 

“It isn’t the kind of sleeping curse that your mother was under. That was cast by a mere mortal witch. Your kisses will do nothing to wake him, you foolish girl.”

“Then wake him!” Emma screamed. “You promised!”

Venus shrugged in an almost bored way. “I’m known for my fickleness, and, well . . . I just don’t feel like waking him up.”

Rage surged through Emma’s veins, and she clenched both fists as she stared at Venus. Her knuckles brushed against the satchel she had forgotten that still hung from her shoulder and across her chest. Suddenly, she remembered the second flower and Persephone’s words: Keep it close until absolutely necessary.  

Gently, she reached into the satchel and pulled out the second flower. Venus gasped, her eyes widening. 

“Where did you get that?”

Emma ignored her and turned to Killian. She cradled his head in her lap. She crushed Persephone’s flower and squeezed the juice between her fingers and past his slightly parted lips. His eyes blinked, then opened. Yet, as they gazed upon her, they looked confused. 

“Where am I? Who are you?”

“You don’t know me?” She choked out a sob, clutching desperately at the front of his shirt. “Look at me, Killian! It’s me, Emma, your wife!”

His eyes widened. “I don’t have a wife, and I allow few to call me Killian.”

Behind her, Venus spoke with cold malice. “You’re too late, little mortal girl.”

Emma ignored the goddess as tears slipped down her cheek. “But you do have a wife, and I call you Killian because you asked me to. I love you, and you love me.”

“It’s true, son,” Mars said gently, stepping around Venus and coming closer to the bed. 

Killian looked with shocked confusion at his father, and Emma wondered how rarely he saw Mars. Then his bewildered gaze fell back on her. 

“Then why do I not remember you?”

“It was your mother.” Emma trembled, terrified that she was too late. Then a spark of hope lit within her. Her parents! Maybe her kiss couldn’t waken him, but that didn’t mean it was powerless.  “I - I can make you remember me.”

She pressed her lips against his, and felt his shocked surprise in the rigidness of his mouth. Yet as her tongue brushed gently against the seam of his lips, he responded, opening for her and angling his head to deepen the kiss. She cupped his face, and he grasped the back of her head. Her lips curled into a smile as she broke the kiss, pressing her forehead to his. His eyes were closed, his breath ragged. 

“Remember now?”

“Your kisses are intoxicating,” he rasped, but when he opened his eyes, there was still no recognition there. “I wish I could claim a woman as beautiful and passionate as you as my wife, but how can I when I still don’t know you?”

Emma sobbed, dropping her head to his chest and wrapping her arms tightly around him. The rigidness of his shoulders and the awkwardness as he patted her back only made her heart break more. She was too late.

Suddenly, the floor felt as if it were shifting, and Killian grasped her more tightly as they seemed to hurtle through the air. Head spinning, Emma pulled back from her husband to look around, completely disoriented. She blinked to clear her vision and was shocked at what she saw.

They were in another marbled room with tall Grecian columns, yet this one was ten times larger than the private chambers of Venus. Towering over their heads was not a domed roof, but billowing clouds. Surrounding them in this great hall were twelve giant, elaborate thrones. Sitting on each was a beautiful, regal figure. Emma scanned them in awe, startling when she saw Venus sitting on one to her left. She inched closer to Killian, and though he did not know her, he pulled her close to his side. They were in the throne room of the twelve Olympians.

“Princess Emma,” thundered a voice in the center of the room, “come near.”

On trembling legs, Emma obeyed. She assumed this was Jupiter, king of the Olympians, and she lowered herself to one knee. He didn’t look like she had imagined: glowing, with a long beard and a thunderbolt in his hand. Instead, he was clean shaven, muscular, with a smooth, young face, yet his expression was stern and she felt herself tremble. 

“Emma, you have apparently angered Venus a great deal.”

“I did not mean to, your . . . majesty?”

Jupiter surprised her by chuckling. “Many beautiful maidens have aroused her jealousy, my dear. Yet none have managed to steal the heart of her son.” 

“And steal it she has,” Mars spoke up, and Emma turned her head to see him seated on a throne to her left. “I saw the lengths my son went to in order to save her, and I have likewise seen what Emma has been willing to do to save Killian.”

“I never saw you as a romantic,” Venus snapped from her throne across the room.

“Maybe not,” Mars shot back, “but I do admire those willing to fight for what they want.”

Jupiter lifted a hand to stop the lovers’ spat, and turned his gaze back to Emma. “I understand you completed a quest to the Underworld to prove your love.”

“Yes,” Emma said, her emotional control slipping as a tear tracked down her cheek, “but I was too late. Killian no longer remembers me.”

“If I may, my lord,” Killian’s voice was suddenly there at her side, and she was surprised when he took her hand gently in his. “If this lass truly is my bride, then there’s nothing I could wish for more than to remember her.”

Emma blinked at him in surprise, and he in turn gave her a shy smile before scratching behind his ear. She had never seen him so unsure and confused. Or, more accurately, she had never heard   him seem out of his element before. He certainly was now, and her heart grew with love even more.

Jupiter rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “What say you, Juno?”

“No one is more loyal than our Cupid - Killian,” she said, looking at the young god fondly, “and he deserves happiness after so much loss and turmoil.”

“And what of this Princess, Minerva?” Jupiter asked, turning to the goddess on his other side. “What does your wisdom discern about her character?”

“Tenacious,” Minerva answered, “strong, smart, and willing to die for those she loves. If I’m not mistaken, she’s also a product of true love.”

Vesta spoke up from her place at the brazier that burned in the center of the room. “Oh yes, she is the daughter of the legendary Snow White and her prince.”

“I have a proposition,” Jupiter announced in a booming voice. “Never have I seen a mortal worthy of being wed to a god until now. These two should be wed in the truest sense.”

Venus surged forward on her throne, “But in order to do that, she would have to be -”

“A goddess?” Jupiter chuckled. “Yes, I am aware. I propose making Princess Emma a goddess, returning Killian’s memories, and allowing these two to live out their happy ending without interference. After all,” he turned a humorous gaze upon Venus, “that way she would cause you no more trouble with her beauty.” 

Venus pouted and practically slouched on her throne, but she made no reply. 

“All in favor?” Jupiter asked.

There was a chorus of “ayes” from every god and goddess, save for Venus. Jupiter clapped his hands, and a thundering wave of magic pulsed outward, washing over Emma and Killian. They both stumbled, their hands pulled from one another’s grasp. Emma shook her head, and turned towards her husband. A slow smile filled his face, and a sparkle lit his brilliant blue eyes. 

“Emma!”

“You remember me?” she gasped, tears spilling from her eyes. 

“Yes,” he laughed, “but love, look at you!”

Emma looked down to find herself clothed in a figure-hugging gown of purest white, embroidered with silver and gold thread. Gold bangles hung from both wrists, and her hair was piled upon her head in a riot of ringlets threaded through with baby’s breath and tiny pink rosebuds. 

Yet it wasn’t her appearance she cared about as she crossed the room in two strides and flung herself into her husband’s arms. He caught her in a firm embrace, pressing her flush against him. Their lips met hungrily, and Emma poured into the kiss every desire she had felt while missing him. Killian couldn’t stop touching her, running one hand up her back and down her arms, his other making a mess of her perfectly styled goddess hair. 

Their kiss was interrupted by the clapping and cheers of the twelve Olympians. They parted, a blush upon Emma’s cheeks, and turned to face Jupiter. Killian kept her tucked against his side, his arm holding her close. 

“Killian, you are Cupid, the god of love, and here is your bride: Psyche, the goddess of the soul. For it is these two entwined - the heart and the soul - that creates the strongest magic of all: true love.”

***************************************************************

Years Later . . . 

 

Emma and Killian sat in the garden of their estate on top of the misty hill, watching as their two children ran amidst the flowers that the fairies tended. The god of Belief and the goddess of Hope. 

Often, Emma and Killian were called away on adventures. Some as simple as answering the desperate prayers of lovers, others as dangerous as battling the gods of Discord, Hate, and Apathy. One day, when they were old enough, their children would join them. 

Yet their favorite days were these, with the warm sun beating down, happy and content. Their love now bathed in light; a light that had pushed away every shadow.