A/N: Originally this series of one-shots started with Daughter of Wisdom, Son of the Sea, but that turned into a 20,000 word fic that still has more to be written (which I'll get to - I promise) so this is the official start of my AU one-shots. This one is a no-curse AU where Killian returns to the Enchanted Forest later than he does in canon.

As always, I don't own anything and freely admit to being a massive quote thief. Please enjoy and review (also, I do have a cold so there is a chance that certain things make sense to me but in reality, is nonsensical and I apologise, I'll re-draft it when I'm feeling better).

The Enchanted Forest has changed since he'd been there last. Of course, by Hook's estimate, that was over 300 years ago, so change was expected, he just hadn't thought it would shock him so much.

Hook turns from observing the port through his window and returns to his desk, searching through the reports. Rumours of the Dark One were inconsistent, Hook has been told that he was captured, defeated or that he had fled to another realm. But the rumours did have something in common and that was whatever had happened to his prey, Queen Snow and King David had been involved.

Hook has been investigating the current rulers of this land and finds himself mildly impressed. Whatever they did to the Dark One, they had also apparently managed to capture a witch calling herself the 'Evil Queen' and had ruled the land peacefully for the last 25 years.

He hates the idea of leaving his ship, even for his revenge, it had been his only comfort for the past 300 years, but he knows that his mission requires stealth and he is ready to sacrifice anything to achieve his goal, even if that means going inland for a time.

Smee interrupts his musing with a knock on his cabin and makes his way down the ladder after Hook barks at him to enter. Smee appears more nervous than usual as he twists his cap in his hands.

"Captain?" He starts cautiously, "We've got someone on deck who wants to see you, see says she's a-"

"Powerful sorceress who does not like to be kept waiting," a woman declares, appearing in a puff of purple smoke.

Hook may have been startled if he hadn't spent the last 300 years dealing with the overly dramatic Peter Pan, whose favourite game was to appear out of nowhere. He would never be grateful to that little demon, but he was glad his love of theatrics was actually helping him.

The woman seems surprised when he simply arches his brow and leans casually against his desk, "You're dismissed, Smee."

Smee is all too eager to leave, his self-preservation instinct a good trait for a pirate, but not a particularly good one for a first mate. Hook waits until his door closes with a bang before he speaks, feigning boredom.

"I haven't even been back in this realm long and already I've gained the attention of a sorceress, I'm flattered."

Her eyes are devoid of emotion, something that almost makes Hook shift uncomfortably and she smirks as if she knows.

"Well," she says dryly, "I heard that you have been making enquiries about a certain... Dark individual. I believe there can be a way for us both to get what we want."

Hook pushes off his desk and circles around the woman, attempting to find some crack in her icy shell. She is past her prime and was obviously well endowed based on her clothing and her ridiculous parasol. He stops his circuit in front of her, stepping into her space and she doesn't even flinch, in fact, her smirk grows wider.

"And what exactly, is it you want?" He asks, with a tone that usually sends women – and men – to their knees.

The sorceress was one of the only people he'd met so far – aside from that little demon – who seemed immune.

"You want the Dark One dead and I have a way to kill him, is there anything more you really need to know?"

Hook grins, a show of teeth, as he steps back with a courtly bow, "Captain Hook, my lady, and whom do I have the pleasure to be embarking on this journey with?"

Her smile is just as deadly as his, "My name is Cora."

Hook observes the castle as he enters, his subservient posture irritating him more than his itchy cloak. The castle is busy with flustered servants and obnoxious party guests, all here to celebrate Princess Emma's 25th birthday, and none of them noticing anything odd about another stranger.

He continues walking down the halls, pretending like he belongs. The weight on his hip seems to be dragging him down and he tries not to feel the evil emanating from the crooked dagger.

He has no reason to believe or trust Cora when she offered him the dagger, only taking the deal because he already knew about the Dark One's weakness. How he knew this was still painful for him to reflect upon, especially after he learnt that the young man was no longer in Neverland.

Hook shakes himself out of his memories and dismisses his feelings about the dagger as a flight of fancy. It is nothing more than a tool, a tool that would finally let him achieve his revenge.

He turns a corner and is delighted to discover he was in fact heading in the right direction, indicated by the presence of the guards at the other end of the corridor. He ducks his head further and begins to shamble along, ignoring their calls to stop.

One guard reaches out to stop him and he quickly rams his elbow into his face, ramming the other guard head first into the wall before he can call for help. Many would consider him weak for not taking the killing blow but he prefers to consider himself intelligent. The King and Queen will have many new issues to deal with after this evening and he prefers not to have a bounty on himself because he killed a few of their guards.

He pushes the door open, creaking as it goes, and grabs a torch from the bracket. The way down is dark and ominous and the weight on his hip seems to grow heavier.

The torchlight flickers as he goes and he whistles the cheeriest sea shanty he knows to focus himself. He sheds his ridiculous disguise as he walks, whistling merrily until he reaches a fork in the path.

Cora had told him of this, claimed she would give him the dagger and instructions to the Dark One's cell, which was apparently down the left path. Her price for the dagger was for him to simply release the prisoner from the right path first. He can recall her words clearly as he questioned why he even had to hold up his end of their bargain.

"I am told pirate's have their own code, I suppose this will prove once and for all if this is the case. If not, it will prove that the rumours of what I do to people who cross me have been severely understated."

The tunnel down the right path was similar to the rest of his journey, flickering torches showing the cell that awaited him. A figure shuffles in the shadows and a voice rings out, the cruelty diminished by weariness.

"You are certainly different from the usual figures who come to visit me. I suppose the only question is if you are here to rescue me or kill me?"

"Which would you prefer, my lady?"

The Evil Queen, the woman who terrorized the Enchanted Forest for years before her capture, moves into the torchlight, the years of her captivity changing her from the seductive queen she had rumoured to be.

"Neither option particularly appeals to me after these years, but it matters not, neither of us will leave this place."

She nods her head to something behind Hook and he turns quickly, stunned by what he sees. For a moment, he fears he is back on his ship, because this woman could be nothing more than a siren. She is dressed in a deep red ball gown, golden hair piled on top of her head and green eyes blazing with challenge.

Only the sword in her hand indicates she is a product of more than his own mind and he readies himself as she raises her other hand, surprising him further as her magic creates a white barrier between himself and Regina.

"Quite impressive that was, lass," he smiles, "Do the King and Queen like to dress their pet magicians like ladies or just the pretty ones?"

She doesn't crack a smile or show much reaction to him, only raising her brow slightly as she lifts her sword.

"You will no longer be able to reach her, no creatures of dark magic can cross that barricade. I suggest you surrender before the guards come as I will be slightly kinder."

"As tempting as that offer is lass, I'm afraid I have to decline, I have a deal to fulfil." He smirks at her before he continues, "I don't believe that you called the guards, lass, you would have wanted this glory all for yourself."

He unsheathes his own sword and falls into his stance, nodding approval when she does the same.

"Good form," he calls before he lunges at her. They circle each other, swords blocking and swinging, testing each other's defences. He catches her sword in his hook and she trips in her bulky gown, sword flying out of her hand.

His sword is at her throat before she can move and he feels a grudging respect for the defiance in her eyes.

"Now, there are more enjoyable activities I'd prefer to do with a woman on her back," he teases, "But with my life on the line you've left me no choice. Lower the barrier or we'll have to discover how permanent it is."

"Why would I do that?" She asks, all confidence, "When I'm winning?"

Hook isn't able to move before she lifts her left arm, blasting him back with his magic. He is knocked back into the cave wall and groans, cursing himself for his own foolishness.

He shakes his head to attempt to clear his vision and he sees her, that distracting, brilliant temptress, stagger to her feet and stand between him and Regina.

With his remaining pride, he bows in acknowledgement of her victory and begins to run in the opposite direction, hoping to escape the castle before the unconscious guards are discovered.

Emma slumps once the intruder is out of sight and lets go of her magic.

"Well, well, it certainly looks like you've learnt control," Regina snarks.

She looks to the woman who attempted to murder her parents on multiple occasions and can no longer dredge up her disdain for the woman.

"I learnt what I had to. Do you know that man?"

"I've never seen him before in my life and I suppose I'll have to wait another 25 years before anything interesting happens again."

"For the crimes you've committed, do you think you deserve any less?" Emma asks curiously.

Regina sighs and moves back into her cell, "The years in here have given me nothing but time to think and I've come to the conclusion that I wish your mother had the nerve to kill me. It would be kinder than my fate."

Emma turns from her, disturbed, and leaves without another word. The guards are stirring when she returns to the upper levels and she orders one to find her parents and order a search.

When she finally gets the opportunity to sleep, she is haunted by a pair of blue eyes, ones that for a moment, seemed to make her feel like she was brighter than the sun.

He tells himself he's observing the enemy so he can be prepared for the next time he attempts to infiltrate the castle. There is no other reason why he sneaks around to watch her train with her guards or interact with her people. There is a perfectly adequate explanation as to why he perks up when he sees the hint of blonde emerge from the palace gates, escorted by two of her guards, and it has nothing to do with the princess.

It had been quite a surprise to discover that he had duelled with the Princess Emma, the guest of honour at the ball just over a week ago. He had been too focused on his revenge to properly plan for his mission and he had to learn more about his greatest threat.

He had learnt that Princess Emma was both loved and adored by her people, and that was evident in the way the people greet her as she strides out of the gate, still as lovely in tights and a brocaded top. She is apparently in the possession of light magic due to being the product of True Love and Hook rubs the back of his head, remembering that despite the innocent way it sounded, it could definitely pack a punch.

He follows at a distance, watching her as she moves through the market, smiling with and talking to her subjects. She says something to her guards and they relax, moving around the stalls themselves and giving her some space.

He watches her delicate fingers as she browses the scarves, feeling the different materials. She slips a soft red one around her pale throat and for a moment as she contemplates, it feels like there is nothing else in the world but her.

The cacophony of the market quickly rushes back around him as she reluctantly puts the scarf back and looks to her guards, both of whom are busy watching a side show. She quickly moves into a side alley and Hook follows, intrigued to where she may want to go alone.

He sees a flash of gold at the end of the alley and quickens his pace, attempting not to lose her. He cannot see any trace of her after the next turn and curses, deciding to go back to observing the palace.

He hears something shift behind him and the knife is at his throat before he can defend himself, smiling at how easily he had been duped.

"Who are you?" She asks, emphasising her point by shifting the blade.

"Killian Jones," he replies, surprising himself with the choice of name, "But most people have come to call me by my more colourful moniker, Hook."

He swings said attachment to show why and she spins him around, blade still at his throat as she assesses him.

"And what do you want with me, Hook?"

"Well, princess, you made it obvious you are the biggest threat to my mission so I thought I'd do some reconnaissance before my next go."

"Your sneaking skills could use some work, last time you were carrying some seriously dark magic, I'm surprised everyone couldn't sense it. And this time you follow me in plain sight around the market."

"I suppose I am a little out of practice," he admits, "I've been away for some time. Now, do you might putting the dagger away, princess? We both know you're not going to kill me and I don't want you to accidentally cut my handsome face."

She looks to protest but sheathes her dagger, glaring all the while.

"Just don't forget, I do have my magic if you attempt anything," she threatens.

He raises his hands in supplication, "I'm just here for a chat, anything else if up to you."

Hook wiggles his eyebrows at her and he feels that if he looks hard enough, he can see the glint of amusement in her eyes.

"Why should I believe anything you say when you're working against my kingdom?"

"I don't particularly care about politics, princess, I have my own goals."

"Right," she says, crossing her arms, which draws Hook's attention to an inappropriate location, "So answer me this, why would anyone want to become the Dark One?"

Her words drag Hook out of his reverie, "Become the Dark One? I simply want to kill him."

"You didn't know? The dagger will kill Rumplestilkin, but it will transfer his Dark One powers over to you."

Hook feels the wind go out of his sails and leans against the alley wall as he contemplates his new dilemma. He has said on multiple times that he would do anything for his revenge, but this, this was something else.

The princess nods as if understanding his predicament, "Don't try to infiltrate the castle again," she warns, "I will stop you."

She begins to walk away and that seems to make the situation worse for Hook, he wants to say anything to keep her in his sight.

"You look lovely in red, princess, the scarf would suit you perfectly."

Her startled look somewhat eases the ache in his chest and once she is gone he slides down the wall, wondering how far he is willing to go for revenge.

Emma tells herself that her ride today is perfectly innocent and she is expecting nothing unusual to happen. Her rides are one of the only times she is alone, something she spent years getting her parents to agree to – all parties concurring that she would just sneak off on her own if they didn't let her.

Their terms made sense, she would always pick different days and times to ride, never falling into a pattern and always take a different path. If she wasn't back in two hours, they could send out all the search parties they liked.

Emma adjusts her scarf as her groom finishes with her horse, her new, red scarf and tells herself she is simply wearing it because it's starting to become cold and there is no other reason.

She's barely been told that she's ready to go before she's kicking in her heels and leaving the stables behind.

The wind is rushing through her hair as she takes the trail that leads to the ocean, tasting the salt on her tongue. She only slows when she can see the sea glittering in the sunlight and finally lets go of her courtly mask.

Emma dismounts and ties the reins to a tree before sitting near the edge of the forest, taking in the view. She's not sure how long passes before she hears snapping twigs behind her.

"You're not very good at sneaking through forests either," she calls, annoyance in her tone hiding her racing heart.

"I've never been very fond of forests, princess, I much prefer the sea."

He sits on the ground, a good metre away and looks over her appreciatively.

She expects teasing and is unprepared for what comes next, "The scarf does look beautiful on you, princess, but I imagine you could dress in a sack and still steal men's hearts."

She has always had a knack for hearing the truth and she can detect nothing but sincerity in his words.

"I liked it," she says simply, not willing to admit anything else.

"If you'll permit me, princess, I have a question for you."

She turns to face him and gives no other indication of her response which seems to inexplicably make him smile.

"Why are you doing this? Spending your days with a man who broke into your castle and could be a threat to your kingdom?"

"Have you decided what you're going to do about the Dark One?"

He sighs, "Deflecting with a question will get you nowhere in the end, princess." Hook settles back against a tree and looks over the ocean, the choppy water today an exact match for his eyes.

"I think despite your seemingly perfect life, nobody ever challenges you, nobody looks past the gown and the crown to see the woman underneath. I think you're lonely, princess, and you have been for some time."

His words sting, the truth stings and she snaps back, "And what would a pirate captain know of loneliness?"

She hears a rustle next to her and Emma knows it's a mistake but she finds herself looking at him, into those sincere blue eyes, "We all have our disguises, princess."

It's suddenly all too much and she stands, pushing herself away from the tree, from him and his perceptiveness. He doesn't move as she mounts her horse, eager to put some distance between them.

"I'll see you next time, princess."

It becomes a game between them, Emma stealthily moving away from her guards – the only challenger being that guard with curly hair and a stare like a wolf – and Killian eventually finding his way to her side. They eventually begin trading secrets in these stolen moments, especially after Killian rolled up his shirtsleeve and she saw his tattoo. Talking about Milah is simultaneously one of the hardest and easiest things he's ever had to do in his long life and he feels almost freer for having done so.

"That's why you want to kill him, isn't it? Rumplestilkin," she clarifies.

"Aye, you are a perceptive lass."

"Are you still going to try?"

He doesn't answer her question – he never does – still unsure about the cost of his revenge.

Emma eventually tells him of her ex-fiancée, Walsh, a man she thought she could trust who simply turned out to be another lecher after the secrets of her kingdom in order to be let back into his own realm, Oz.

"That man is a bloody fool."

She shrugs, "The last I heard he'd been turned into a flying monkey. I think that's punishment enough."

Calling her by her first name is a new development, something she'd recently insisted on. He likes the way her name sits on his tongue and that he was one of the few people allowed that privilege. The first time Emma had used his name, it had been to thank him for a bouquet of buttercups he'd brought her. She'd used it so casually he thought he'd misheard but she was staring at him with those beautiful green eyes and he wondered if he could be that man again. His true name hadn't been uttered in hundreds of years but it was starting to make Killian want more.

She tells him about her childhood and her struggles with her powers and he discusses his experiences in Neverland, apparently dashing many romantic stories from her early years. He eventually opens up as to how he became a pirate in the first place and she moves to grab his hand, the gesture both startling him and filling him with warmth.

She had told him before that she wouldn't be able to meet up today as her parents were throwing another ball. He had joked that her parents seemed a little optimistic since it had barely been a month since he'd broken into their last one but she's simply replied that that's the kind of people they were and they wanted to impress their guests from the Maritime Kingdom. The reminder of their first meeting sits heavily between them as they both know that if Killian were to attempt his revenge again, that would be the end.

Killian awkwardly adjusts the costume he is wearing, unused to being out of his leathers. The long brown coat is a nice change from his heavy leather one and he has to admit the white shirt is comfortable but he feels ill at ease amongst the royalty, invitation or not.

He positions the mask more appropriately on his face and fixes his fake hand as he observes the crowd, looking for the telltale glint of gold. He hadn't told her he planned on coming and their exchanges recently had been stilted, both fearing what he may again use the cover of the ball for.

When he spots her, it seems like that first night again where the rest of the world fades away. Tonight, she is just as stunning in a coral dress, adorned with feathers and jewels to match the swan mask that sits on her face.

He walks over to her before he can lose his nerve and executes a courtly bow to her and her dark-haired companion.

"Your highness," he says smoothly, "May I have the honour of a dance?"

"I am flattered by the gesture, my lord," she begins, before her eyes finally land on her face and she gasps, "And I would gladly accept."

She finishes her sentence in a rush practically drags him away.

"What are you doing here?" Emma hisses.

"I had an invite," he replies with a smile.

"Meaning you bribed someone." He can see her roll her eyes behind her mask and he gently grabs her hand to kiss her knuckles.

Her green eyes have settled on him intently and he can't wipe the smile from his face, "Your subjects are going to gossip if we don't actually start to dance, princess."

She shakes her head to clear her thoughts and he has someone managed to make her speechless, "I'm a bit out of practice, Killian, I haven't danced since Walsh."

"No matter, Emma," he says, as he positions her hands, "I've found with a waltz there's only one rule, pick a partner who knows what he's doing."

She smiled softly back to him and they dance as one, moving gracefully across the ballroom floor. If Killian hadn't realised it before, it hit him with full force why he wasn't currently seeking his revenge, why he had hidden the dagger away and not touched it since Emma revealed what it would do to it.

He was in love with a princess and a life consumed by revenge suddenly seemed worthless. Not when the light from the chandelier highlighted the different shades of gold in her hair, her eyes glowed with joy and her laugh warmed a part of his soul he'd thought he'd lost forever.

"So, princess, what would you think of a man who has left his path of revenge behind him? Of one with no titles or lands or anything one as incredible as you deserves?"

"That would depend on the man," she replies gently, "The rest of it has never been important to me."

Killian hums happily as he twirls her, wondering how after all those years of darkness, he'd finally found some hope.

Emma still feels as though she's floating as she retires to her rooms, the aching of her feet insignificant in light of her evening. She had barely managed to avoid her parents and she knew she owed them an explanation concerning why after so many years of not participating, she'd decided to spend her evening dancing away, but for now she wanted to enjoy the feeling before reality comes crashing down on her.

Her maids had stayed long enough to unlace her gown before she dismisses them, slipping out of it in the privacy of her chambers and treading over to her vanity. Her magic is easy to summon as she sits in her undershift and she closes her eyes as a picture forms in the mirror, not wanting to embarrass her friend again by catching her changing.

"Elsa?" She calls, "Are you there?"

"Yes, Emma, I'm here," a crystalline voice calls back, "You can open your eyes, I'm decent."

Emma looks to see her best friend sitting in front of her own mirror, hair loose from her usual braid and dressed in her own nightgown.

She smiles, glad to see her friend once again, "How are things in Arendelle?"

"Busy as usual," Elsa replies as she begins to brush her hair, "I think this is the first opportunity I've had to sit down all day."

"You've got to take care of yourself as well," she admonishes, "Or at least let Anna take care of you."

That causes Elsa to laugh, "Anna's got her hands full with her own daughter, she doesn't have time to take care of her sister as well."

Emma pouts at the reminder, "I wish I had time to visit and meet the baby."

"Our own wishes often come second to matters of state," Elsa replies with a sigh before she sits straighter with a determined expression on her face, "But enough of that, how have you been?"

Emma begins to describe what she has been up to since she spoke to Elsa last and is reminded how much she misses her friend. Emma was sent to a diplomatic mission to Arendelle after Elsa took the crown and they struck up an immediate friendship. Emma had been a bit of a late-bloomer where her powers were concerned and while Elsa had her powers her entire life, she did not have any control over them. They had struggled together to master their abilities but in the end they both prevailed and Arendelle and the Enchanted Kingdom had been firm allies ever since.

"So, when are you going to tell me what's really bothering you?" Elsa asks bluntly after Emma had been describing her last trip to the markets.

Emma blushes under her friend's scrutiny, "What makes you think anything's bothering me?"

"The fact that I know you, Emma, out with it."

"I think I might be falling for someone."

"I see," Elsa replies, her tone giving nothing away, "And who is this lucky suitor?"

"Uh, that's the thing," Emma starts awkwardly, "The first time I met him he broke into the castle to free one of our prisoners and we ended up duelling, and he happens to be a centuries old pirate captain."

Elsa's eyes appear to be popping out of her head, "Are you serious, Emma?" Elsa sighs before she can defend herself, "Don't answer that, I can tell you're serious."

Her friend places her hair brush down and places her hand on the mirror and Emma copies the action, pretending she can feel Elsa's cool touch.

"Emma, I know you like to think of yourself as a cynic but I know you better than that. I know you've grown up with everyone saying you're the product of True Love and desperately wanting the same for yourself and you deserve it, Emma, I just don't want you to be hurt again."

Emma nods in agreement, "It frightens me as well, Elsa, but we both know that shutting ourselves off from the possibility of a happy ending never ends well. I want to try."

"Does your pirate captain feel the same way?"

"We've been skirting around the issue for so long," Emma says with a sigh, "But when we danced together tonight, it's almost as though I could feel it. And he says he wants to change."

"Well, at least you're not claiming it was love at first sight, then I would have had to travel all the way to your land and make sure you understand what a fool you're being."

Their different views of love always make Emma laugh, "I'm pretty sure my parents fell in love at first sight, but my mother ending up robbing him and hitting him with a rock anyway."

"Just be careful, Emma," Elsa says seriously before smiling, "Now tell me all about your pirate captain."

Killian barely holds back to urge to whistle as he walks back to the inn. His mind was reliving every moment of the ball, remembering how it felt to have Emma in his arms, watching her move as gracefully as the swan that decorated her mask.

He nods to the innkeeper as he enters the taproom and makes his way upstairs, the music of the ball repeating in his mind. He is shrugging off his jacket and laying it on his bed before he notices anything is amiss and by then it is too late and he is unable to move.

He hears footsteps as Cora walks into his line of sight, her face unreadable.

"When I make deals with people, it is with the expectation that the other party will actually attempt to complete their task."

With a wave of her hand, he is released from the spell and he holds his ground as his mind races ahead.

"I have attempted it, my lady, I just ran into an issue that I am working towards fixing."

Her lips twitch into a cruel smirk, "Oh, do tell?"

"The princess," he says uncomfortably, "She can sense the magic of the dagger, it makes things difficult."

"Of course," Cora replies, "And in this time you have found no way to counter one princess?"

"I've been busy," he smirks, "As you well know, I've been away for some time, I thought I might reacclimatise myself to this realm."

Cora studies him and shakes her head, "No, that's not it at all, Captain. Maybe we should try a joint approach? You will go and release my daughter, taking your revenge on the man who stole your beloved from you and I will deal with the princess."

He cannot stop the growl that escapes him at her threat and she nods as if something was just confirmed for her.

"That's unfortunate, Captain. You chose her and the consequences of that decision."

There is no time for him to move or react before her hand plunges into his chest and he is gasping with the pain.

"Hearts are a funny thing, Captain," she says conversationally, "Sometimes, it is more useful to leave them in the chest. Taking them seems to take things such as initiative and resourcefulness, which I often need in pawns. However, there is a line where free will makes your other traits useless to me, a line you have just crossed."

When her speech ends, she pulls his heart out and Killian collapses to the floor in pain.

He wants to scream and shout and rage against his captivity but there is a voice that tells him to stand and he is helpless to do anything but obey.

"Now," Cora says, smiling maliciously, "We are going into the castle and you are going to do exactly as I say, is that clear?"

"Yes, my lady," Killian replies monotonously. The look on his face is blank and dead and shows nothing of the turmoil inside as what's left of his conscious weeps over what he may be forced to do.

Emma is unsure what awoke her and she listen for any intruders, grasping the knife hidden under her pillow. When she cannot hear anything, she sits up suddenly and releases a blinding flash of magic.

She quickly searches her room but finds nothing amiss and she laughs at her own foolishness. Her laughter is half-hearted as she can still sense something is wrong and she suddenly realises it's the same thing she sensed the night she met Killian.

Emma curses and races through her room, quickly dressing herself in her riding outfit and buckling her sword. She avoids the guards as she makes her way to the lower levels, needing to know for herself if she was simply being used again, if he simply offered her meaningless platitudes in order to make her lower her guard.

She is near the entrance to the prison when she smells it and the overwhelming scent of blood nearly makes her gag. She forces herself to take the final steps and she looks over the hallway, palace guards lying in puddles of blood, the prison door open.

Emma rushes over to them and curses herself for not sensing the danger sooner as she realises she is too late to save the guards. Her palm is alight with magic as she strides down into the darkness, wondering what she will find at the end. She lengthens her steps in order to catch up with the culprit, her heart hoping as her mind whispers that trust is for fools.

She nearly sighs with relief when she sees torchlight at the crossroads. In the light, she can see two people and her heart seems to shatter as she recognises the profile.

"Killian," she whispers to herself and the magic in her hand flickers. He is still dressed in his outfit from the ball, the only difference being the hook once again on his hand, and the reminder of their night summons her anger.

"Stop where you are!"

Both figures turn and Emma can see Killian – Hook – is with an older woman, dressed in silks and carrying a parasol.

"Ah, Your Highness," the woman says, "We were wondering when you might be joining us."

Killian simply stands there, his eyes blank in the firelight but Emma can see all see needs to by the blood on his unsheathed blade.

"Surrender now," Emma repeats, "And neither of you will be harmed."

"I'm afraid only one of us will be harmed tonight, child. You see, I plan on having a very special reunion and I need the perfect gift. What could be a more perfect gift for Regina than letting her kill the daughter of her mortal enemy?"

Emma feels the blood drain from her face as she takes another look at the woman, "You're Cora, the Evil Queen's mother."

"I'm flattered you've heard of me, child."

Emma understands how much trouble she's in and she attempts to focus her magic, thinking of her parents and Elsa and all those she loves, but Killian's lifeless eyes keep invading her thoughts and her magic flickers in response, a fact not unnoticed by Cora.

"Poor child, it seems light magic is unreliable and useless, much like you."

Cora turns to Killian and says imperiously, "Go to Regina's cell and free her, I will be there with our prize momentarily." When he doesn't move, she touches a strange pouch tied to her waist and Killian begins to walk away without a glance in Emma's direction.

Her rage simmers and though her magic is much more powerful when fuelled by positive emotions, anger works just as well when she needs.

She uses the same trick she did before, this time making a barrier to the corridor where Regina's cell lies. But she is distracted enough that Cora's magic catches her off guard and she is flung back.

Emma gets to her feet groggily as Cora places her hand over the pouch and says to Killian, "Don't kill her, simply disarm her."

She barely has time to unsheathe her own blade before he swings, just getting her guard up in time. The swords collide and Emma is disgusted by the blood that is drying on his blade.

"Why are you doing this?" She asks as she parries another one of his blows, "What changed?"

He doesn't respond as they continue to trade blows, Emma holding her own now that she isn't hindered by skirts.

"I wouldn't bother, dear," Cora calls, "He doesn't have the heart to respond."

Cora cackles as Emma falters and Killian's next strike is precise, her blade flying out of her hand.

Emma stands defiantly as Killian's blade is levelled at her throat and looks over to Cora.

"You took his heart?"

"It was quite easy really," she claims and pulls his heart out of the bag at her hip, "Love had made him oblivious to the danger around him."

Cora gives the heart a squeeze and Killian staggers, the sword falling out of his hand.

"What are you doing?" Emma cries, "Stop!"

"I'm simply showing you a lesson, child," Cora continues patiently, walking over to Emma and replacing the heart in the bag, "Love is weakness."

The pain Emma feels when Cora's hand enters her chest is unbearable and she gasps with the shock. She fears the end when Cora pulls... But nothing happens. Cora pulls again and Emma looks down at Killian and feels her magic hum through her veins.

"You're wrong," Emma says, conviction in her voice, "Love is strength."

Her magic blasts Cora back and the witch slams into the wall, unconscious. Emma stands shocked for a moment before she rushes over to Cora and pulls the bag from her waist.

Killian staggers to his feet as she approaches him and he looks too dazed to be any threat. She pulls his heart out of the bag and holds it for a moment, feeling it pulse in her hand.

She looks at his blank eyes and remembers how blue they seemed when they danced, shining brighter than any jewel.

"Killian, come back to me," she pleads before shoving his heart into his chest.

He staggers and she waits fearfully, hands clenched over her heart. She breathes a sigh of relief when he looks up and she can't help the grin that spreads over her face in response to his own.

"Emma," he breathes, "You are bloody brilliant, amazing."

She laughs and flings herself into his arms, enjoying the feeling of his hand and hook wrapped around her back.

She pulls back reluctantly and looks into his face, blue eyes blazing with emotion.

"I love you, Emma."

Her heartbeat picks up at his words and she fears her face may stretch from smiling too much.

"And I love you. Don't do that to me again."

His kiss is a promise and she curls her fingers into his hair, enjoying the way their lips move together. They break apart and Killian leans his forehead against her own.

"Why do I think fighting Cora is going to seem easy in comparison to convincing your parents of having a pirate captain for a suitor."

"You're a good man, Killian, that's enough to them." She says firmly and takes his hand in her own.

She encases Cora in her magic and begins moving towards the stairs, mentally rehearsing what she plans to say to her parents.

His steps are hesitant and she gives his hand a gentle squeeze, "It'll be you and me, Killian, always."

A/N: I hope you all liked it! I have some more AU ideas on the brain so I'll hopefully that the next one up within the next two to three weeks.

Be well,

Adrina Stark.