My actual Yuletide story, written for LadyOfSpring. She was everything I could have asked for in a Yuletide recipient and made me feel very, very good for participating this year. Thank you, again! :D

Title: Darkness Beneath the Skin
Fandom: Legend
Pairing: Lily/Darkness, mentions of Lily/Jack
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 10,713
Warnings: Graphic depictions of sexual situations - if that's not your cup of tea, there's no shame in itナ but please don't read it. Thanks! ^_^

Disclaimer: Legend does not belong to me - but man I wish it did. These guys are such fun to play with. ^_^ It was written by William Hjortsberg, directed by Ridley Scott and produced by Joseph P. Grace, Tim Hampton and Arnon Milchan. (Thank you, IMDB. O_o;;;)

Summary: "The only pure truth about absolutes is that no thing is a true absolute. No thing is always one thing and never something else. Perfection is a mere illusion. For in being recognized as perfection, in being defined, even only in this small way... the thing one describes ceases to be perfect, for the very words used to describe it are not perfect. And it was just so with the Void."

December 22, 2011: After resisting the Yuletide challenge for years out of fear of its size and prestige, I finally caved in this year. In the true spirit of Yuletide, I tried to offer as many truly tiny (or what I thought would be truly tiny ^_~) fandoms as I could. But here's my little Yuletide secretナ I sort of really hoped I'd get to write for this one. And then I actually got assigned to someone who wanted it and much rejoicing was had. ^_^ Really. Ask my friends. I was insufferable with my giddiness. ;) So thank you, Yuletide recipient, for requesting this fandom and requesting a fic based off of my favorite scene in the entire movie and thus giving me an excuse to watch it a bazillion times. You totally made my season and I hope I did your request justice. Happy Yuletide! I know mine has been! :D

Darkness Beneath the Skin
by Renee-chan

~In the beginning, there was nothing but the Void. It was an empty blankness so complete, so vacant, that no words in any tongue, human or otherwise, could adequately describe it. At the time of the beginning those words may have existed, but no one now lives who may say for certain. Perhaps no such words existed even then. Words were unnecessary, then, for in the very act of describing a thing it becomes more than nothing... which the Void was not. The Void simply was. No reason. No purpose. No plan. No feeling. It simply existed, an end unto itself.~

The day was beautiful, bright, almost otherworldly in its promise and the cold stone of castle walls held less appeal than ever. This was a day meant for cavorting, meant for frolicking in forest clearings and playing amongst the trees. This was not a day to be a princess. A voice whispered that to her in the night, sometimes. It had shaped her dreams since she was a little girl, promised her the world. She wanted that world, that life... that promise of a freedom that forever seemed to elude her grasp. She'd always wanted it - a chance to be more than just a princess, more than a pale, fragile summer flower. She didn't just want to be a part of nature... she wanted to be a force of nature, like the thunderstorm, the lightening - quick, brilliant and powerful. And a force of nature did not spend a day such as this cooped up indoors and practicing her fine work with a needle and thread. Fortunately, having spent many such a day in the forest with Jack, Lily had learned more than was proper about how to move silently and quickly, to go undetected when she would. It was the work of scarcely a minute to be rid of her minders, to slip her father's leash and be free of the cold stone around her.

Once she was in the marketplace even the most tenacious of her guards, her protectors, couldn't keep up with her, hampered as they were by their armor and the crowds. Lily skipped light and free amongst the merchant stalls, giving away smiles as radiant as purest gold at the thought of her approaching freedom. The townsfolk always smiled in return, enchanted by their princess and her innocent, wild-child ways. "Lily-of-the-valley" they called her - beautiful, dainty and uncontained like the woodland flower - and gathered bouquets of it whenever she ventured out into the woods, as though the scent and allure of her namesake alone would bring her back to them.

Lily took the latest offering, smiled at the small girl who handed it to her at the gate, and was off and away over the drawbridge with nary another backwards glance. No temptation, no matter how sweet, could keep her from her freedom on this beautiful spring day. There was magic in the wind, the very air was rich with it. Yes, indeed. Today was for the woods. Jack would know what it all meant.

On her way into the woods Lily paused for a while at the outlying cottages, a soft smile of nostalgia coming to rest on her lips. She could never pass this way without stopping and talking to Nell, no matter how briefly. Lily had been but a girl when she first stumbled upon the peasants who lived outside the castle walls and made their living off the land. These people might be poor, might have to do without all the town conveniences she took for granted, but their lives were rich in other ways. They held tighter to their families, these peasants. They cherished every small thing they had, be it food, clothing or shelter. They wanted for nothing. Everything they needed, the fertile land around them supplied. It was an existence at once foreign to her own... and yet somehow it called to her very soul at the same time. Lily's heart ached for the closeness, the tenderness, these people felt for each other. Nell had sensed that and befriended her. Though a woman not much older than Lily was now, she had mothered the motherless princess as much as the girl would allow. That bond persisted still, but not even the temptation of Nell's table could keep Lily from the forest and her freedom for long. Not on a day such as this.

Later Lily might regret that she did not dally longer with her friend, did not take comfort in Nell's solid presence while she could, but at that moment her thoughts were filled with wild abandon... were filled with Jack. Later she might remember the beauty of this one, perfect summer day as one does a childhood faith forever lost, but not then, not at that moment. At that moment, she was happy, innocent as that child and filled with perfect, golden love. With one last embrace for Nell, Lily gathered her skirts and fled into the forest, calling her lover's name.

~Nothing, however, can remain that perfect, that pure of purpose, forever. Perfection runs down, eventually. Driven by entropy it dissolves into chaos. It ceases to be perfect. For the only pure truth about absolutes is that no thing is a true absolute. No thing is always one thing and never something else. Perfection is a mere illusion. For in being recognized as perfection, in being defined, even only in this small way... the thing one describes ceases to be perfect, for the very words used to describe it are not perfect. And it was just so with the Void. On the day when the perfect nothingness recognized itself as perfect... it ceased to be so. And when a perfect Void is no longer perfect, its nothingness becomes... somethingness.~

It had been just as Lily suspected, as her dreams had whispered to her in the night. This day was magical, was so much more magical than anything she had ever seen or experienced. She had been witness to the purest, most perfect goodness that mortal eyes could ever hope to see. She had lain hands on a unicorn... and he was perfect. Lily's mind could not conceive of a more perfect beast. No steed had ever been made who could match him, no light so bright that it could outshine him. She'd been drawn to that purity, like to like, and could not have kept away for anything. She'd had to reach out, to touch, to become part of that perfect purity, kin as it was to her own, but so, so much more besides.

Yet, even as her hand had touched that velvety muzzle, even as she had marveled at how such perfection could be cold and wet to the touch from drinking, just as she would be... it had all broken down. Distracted as they both were by each other's pureness of heart, neither Lily nor the unicorn noticed the dark presence lurking in the bushes. Neither sensed the danger until far too late. But, even then Lily did not know it for what it was. All she knew was that the twin of her essence had touched her so very briefly and then been ripped away, startled into flight down dark forest trails.

Lily was slow to emerge from that moment, slow to realize what had happened. But even as she rejoiced in it, savored the memory as one she would immortalize and treasure forever, a shadow passed over her heart. Jack was unhappy with her. Jack believed she had done wrong, had done something forbidden. But how could this be so? How could such a perfect moment of connection between two beings of honest purity be wrong?

For the first time in Lily's memory, Jack was at a loss for answers. He didn't know why such a thing was wrong, only that it was, that she had risked her immortal soul by doing what she'd done. Never one to submit easily, all Lily could think in response was that if her immortal soul was the price she paid for touching that perfect purity of heart, even for a moment... it just might have been worth it. She would carry that touch, that love, that light, with her forever. She refused to believe that that was evil. Jack would see. Jack would see in time. Already she could feel the power in that one touch racing through her veins. It made her giddy, almost dizzy with joy. No shadow could mar this day, not even Jack's superstitious nonsense.

With a soft, apologetic smile, Lily knelt beside Jack. He was curled in on himself, trying to make himself small, unworthy of notice, but Jack could never be unworthy of notice to her. He was hiding, perhaps from the rapidly darkening skies overhead, perhaps from the enormity of what they two had done... perhaps even from her. He thought he knew her, did Jack. He thought he knew her heart as well as he knew the signs and trails of the forest. But this - what had happened here today - was something he had not foreseen and it had frightened him. Lily could see it. This fear, it had frozen him, a tiny mouse in the shadow of a stooping hawk. But no matter how responsible he thought he was, Lily knew better. This had been her own doing, no matter how unintentional. Jack might have brought her to the unicorn, but she had been the one who could not resist the desire to reach out and touch. It wasn't Jack's fault. Lily resolved then that if there were consequences to befall them, it would be she who would contend with them. A women who wants to be more than a princess, a woman who wishes to be a force of nature herself, must learn to deal with nature on her own.

Jack would never agree to this, though, Lily knew. And his fear and uncertainty right now were crippling him. He'd seen a side of her he'd not known existed, a side he couldn't guide or control. It frightened him. Lily forced herself to ignore the small voice inside her that thrilled to see that fear in Jack's eyes, to know that she had been the one to make him so unsure. Never before had he fallen to any of her feminine wiles. Coupled with the power still coursing through her from touching the unicorn, it was a heady rush that he did so now. Still, a scared Jack, an uncertain Jack... that wasn't what Lily wanted. She wanted him strong. She needed him strong... especially if, as he said, there would be consequences to face for what she'd done. Lily needed to focus Jack on something he could understand, a problem he could solve, something which wasn't a threat. Fortunately, Lily knew Jack's heart better than he knew hers. She knew Jack's moods, knew his temper, knew how easily distracted he could be from one thing to the next. Just like any other creature of the woods, Jack lived in the moment with not much care for the future or the past. She would focus him on the present, where he belonged. Let her worry about their future. She was better suited to it. Lily would take care of everything.

~At first, it is but a shadow, a tiny flaw in the otherwise perfect emptiness that is its existence. But as with everything, that shadow grows with time, takes on a nebulous type of form, a purpose of its own. It grows. It evolves. It gives itself a name and with that name, it defines itself. The name it chooses is Darkness.~

The day had been magical, full of light and wonder and Lily had reveled in it, loved the pure perfection of it. How quickly that had changed! The once bright sun was now pale as a winter's moon, the green rolling grasses of the meadow now covered in white, glittery snow. At first, Lily had been scared, horrified at the sudden change. What power could have done this? The small voice within her whispered that it had been she who had done this, she who had trapped the unicorn... she who had brought on this immediate and oppressive winter.

Looked at through the lens of those words... a strange thing happened. A change came over Lily as she realized that as outwardly terrifying as this abrupt shift in the weather had been, it was also magnificent... and just as magical in its own way as the spring sunshine had been. And she had done it. Lily had become the force of nature she'd always wished to be. Lily wanted to continue to be terrified, knew she should be, but as she stared around at the frozen winter wasteland, as she realized that she had had a hand in its creation, for just a moment her heart thrilled to the sudden darkness around her in a way it normally only did around Jack. Just as the unicorn had been, this was power in its purest form. How else could the weather, the very seasons themselves, have been subverted as they had been? Only the truest of magic, the purest of power, could have done this. Lily would have liked Jack's advice, his thoughts on the abrupt shift in the day... but she truly didn't need it. Lily already understood why this had happened and what part she had played in it.

Advice is what you ask for when you already know the answer and wish you didn't. Nell's words. Practical, salt of the Earth Nell. Nell, who had cared for Lily as if she were her own. Nell, who was, even now, frozen in this barren tundra just as was the rest of the world. Nell couldn't help her. Jack couldn't help her. Lily felt like she was the only mortal thing awake and alive in this new world. It was terrifying... and intoxicating. This... this was freedom the likes of which she'd never had. She was beholden to no one, responsible to no one, answerable to no one save herself... and she had been the one to make it happen.

The truth in that thought rocked Lily to the core. This... the responsibility for this cold, dead world lay at her feet. Jack had been right. No thing moved in this wasteland. No soul breathed. Lily could not turn to Nell for comfort, nor could she turn to Jack. She'd been the one to send Jack off on that fool errand to retrieve her ring... just as she'd been the one to lock away any other living being who might have helped her to undo what it was she'd unwittingly done... destroyed the most pure source of goodness in the world. For what else could have leeched the light out of the world but the death of the unicorn?

Lily staggered back out into the snow, shock and horror beating against her mind like the wings of a caged bird. She had done this. She had been the one to destroy the unicorn, as surely as if her hand had dealt the fatal blow. She had allowed the darkness into this beautiful day and tainted it as surely as she had tainted the unicorns. She hadn't been trying to do any harm! She'd just been drawn to that kindred spirit, that love of freedom, of light. She could no more have stayed away than she could have ripped out her own heart. But at what price, freedom? At what price, purity and love? She'd foolishly thought that she would pay any price for that one touch, but this... She couldn't live with this, this knowledge of what she had done, what she had destroyed.

Lily had to find a way to make it right. When they'd followed her to Nell's cottage, the goblins had spoken of a great Lord, the Lord of Darkness. They had been ordered to slay the remaining unicorn, to remove the last vestiges of light and good from their land so that only Darkness would rule. Never. Lily would never let that happen. She was a princess. She would one day be queen. These were her people. This was her land. She ruled here and no one else. She would go to the remaining unicorn, protect her... and if she failed in that, she would go to Darkness and topple him from his throne with her own two hands. No one harmed her people. It was time the world learned what Jack and her father already knew... no one ruled Lily but Lily, herself.

Of course, it was not so easy as that. The one protecting the Unicorn didn't believe her until the goblins were upon them. She saw them coming and had but one moment to make a choice: she could hide... or she could let herself be taken along with the unicorn. There was something in her that would not admit defeat, that would not cave to the idea that she had been bested, outsmarted. And more than that, she had promised the unicorn her protection, this last of her kind, and Lily was a woman who kept her word. She could not do any less than that now. She would not make herself an oath-breaker on top of everything else she had done this day. She could not count on Jack to fix this for her. She could count on no one but herself. And since she could not stop the goblins from taking the unicorn, she would ensure that she stayed close by, ready to act, ready to fix this situation in whatever way she could. So, Lily let herself be taken, allowed herself to be immersed in that darkness. It was the only way.

~Darkness would continue to grow, unchecked, unsupervised, with little rhyme and no reason and eventually come to fill the Void which spawned it. It, however, would never be content to be an end unto itself. It was far too aware of how empty it feels, how lonely it is to be by one's self, trapped with no one but the vast emptiness to talk to... an emptiness which does nothing but echo back its own selfish words and desires.~

Once they arrived at Darkness' lair, the unicorn began to fight back, began to rear and plunge and kick, desperate not to take that last step into the dark. Darkness is the very antithesis of Light. They two can not coexist in the same space at the same time and the unicorn knew that, knew that her very entrance into this lair of darkness would bring disaster to one or the other... or both. In the end, though, she was no match for the combined might of the goblins and the oppressive darkness. They beat her down though they were unable to break her even at the very last. Lily smiled and used the opportunity to sneak away from her captors. She had to find a way, any way, to break the unicorn free. She would not have many chances - if she found even one she'd be grateful - but she had to try. She was not beaten, either, not even cowed.

A strange thing happened, though, once she won free of the goblins. She'd intended to move straight through the castle, to formulate a plan of action and carry it through, but once inside, time seemed to slow, to turn back on itself and stretch out interminably. Without the sun as a guide, without the ever-changing sounds and spirits of nature around her, Lily could not place the hour, even the day. Time slowed to a crawl, as reluctant to move on as Lily became herself. She became lost in the labyrinthine halls and corridors, couldn't find her way back to where she'd begun or forward to her destination. And the things she saw... there were such wonders, such horrors. Sometimes she couldn't tell which was which - they were one and the same. They were dark and terrible, frightening to behold, but even Lily could not deny the power in them. And just as she had been drawn to the purity which was the unicorn, so too was she drawn to this purity... for it was purity. It was purity of darkness, of evil, but it was purity, nonetheless. And it was powerful.

Lily wandered from room to room, through the twists and turns of the winding corridors, past prison cells and opulent guest rooms, past dank, fractured rock formations and grand columns. This lair was a confused jumble of styles, of whim and fancy, as though the owner was a child, picking up one thing, playing with it for a time and discarding it just as quickly as it was picked up in the first place.

After a time, Lily began to feel a pattern, a flow to the chaos. It began to make sense. She began to recognize it. Her thoughts had been not very far from the mark, she thought. This restless chaos, this jumble of fact and form, had to be the result of boredom, of isolation... of loneliness. Lily's own rooms in her father's palace had looked like this before she had met Nell... met Jack. Nothing could hold her interest for long, nothing could distract her from the pain of her mother's loss, of her father's gruff ineptitude and inability to demonstrate his own love for his daughter. She had been alone and she had run wild and she could not bring herself to finish anything she started. She had been drowning in her own pain and unable to look outside it but for someone else to share it, someone else to inflict it on so that she would not be alone in it.

As Lily wandered the dark halls of the palace, became more familiar with its strange design, its unexpected turns and abrupt dead-ends, the abandoned gems, jewels and beautifully carved statues began to weave a tale of woe around her. They spoke to her, called to her, their beauty even more pronounced for the darkness in which they were discarded, abandoned. She had seen very few things this fine in the daylight world. These treasures were from cities, from peoples, long forgotten. They deserved better than this. They deserved to be remembered... cherished.

Lily turned one last corner and drew up short. This room... it had to be the great hall. It had perhaps once been beautiful, full of light and laughter. Now, though, it was dark, dismal, full of shadows and very little else. The great hearth was lit by a roaring fire which provided warmth, but no illumination. This fire threw more shadows into the room than it did light. And those shadows moved, whispered, danced around her, not as empty as they were in the rest of the great fortress. These shadows were alive... she had awoken them. Lily shrank back against the wall, suddenly aware that in coming here she had, again, unwittingly done harm. Her very presence, her purity of soul, of self, had called to the darkness as strongly as it had to the light... and the dark had responded, had taken strength from her mere presence. The darkness spoke its harsh words into her ears, the sibilants the only sound standing out amongst the whispers, eerily similar to the voice in her dreams. It wanted her to stay.

~Such an existence would even have driven Darkness mad were it to continue forever. And so, just as the imperfection of the Void spawned Darkness, so too did the imperfection of Darkness - this deeply hidden hope for companionship in the great Void - spawn something else...~

Emboldened by Lily's fear, the shadows laughed, converged, solidified into a living darkness. The shadows gowned themselves in the richest of fabrics, dripped themselves in diamonds, pearls, drew all of the riches of the great hall to them as they gave themselves form. Lily watched in horrified fascination. She could not deny that the shadows were beautiful. She could not deny that there was a part of her that wanted what they had - the freedom to go where she would, when she would; the right to robe herself in the vast treasures around her. She did want these things... but at what price would they come? She'd learned something of prices this day, was no longer as innocent of consequences as she'd once been. And this price would doubtless be too high for Lily to pay. She had learned much of the cost of such luxuries.

Still, the shadows called to her. They swirled around her, whispered their desires into her ears, lascivious promises she could not deny... promises she did not want to deny. Because there was another truth to this darkness. It needed her. It needed her in ways that Jack never would, that her father never would, that her people never would. It needed her warmth, her light, her purity. It was so lonely, so, so, so lonely... Its pain called to her as nothing else ever had, for it was a pain she understood well.

Lily felt herself drawing away from the wall before she'd consciously decided to do so, felt herself moving into the steps of the shadows' dance, almost against her will. Almost. There was a terrible beauty in those shadows as they danced. It was a grace not born of the mortal world... and Lily wanted it. She wanted that grace, that beauty for herself. And in that moment, as she moved to the center of the great hall, Lily she came to a sobering realization. She was going to fall. She was going to fall, to let Darkness into her soul... to become one with him. She could do nothing else. The seductive power of the Dark was simply too great. Jack would say there was another way, that there was always another way. That was the luxury of living the life Jack led, free and unencumbered, a child of the forest. Lily knew differently. Sometimes, there was no other way. Sometimes, the only way to truly serve the Light was to embrace the Dark. Sometimes, the ends justified the means. Lily was no child of the woods, she was the daughter of a king... and she knew that sometimes one had to do distasteful things in order to not have to do even more distasteful things. She also knew this: when one willingly embraced the Dark, one had a modicum of control over exactly how far one fell. As that idea settled in her mind, Lily straightened, turned towards the dark elemental and finally, willingly, let it draw her into the dance.

And what a dance!

Lily's stretched out her hand, let it alight in that of the shadows as she closed her eyes and abandoned herself to the steps. It was heady, intoxicating, a wild rush like none she'd ever known. It was a loss of control, but a willing one, control given up not taken away. Lily spun with the shadows, twirled from one to the next as soft, reverent hands reached out to touch, to caress, to embrace. One minute she stood alone, dancing as a mirror to the shadows, and the next with the shadows danced as a mirror to her. As time spun and dipped and reformed itself around her, stretched and pulled to extend the night in ways she couldn't comprehend, Lily lost track of who was leading whom. Sometimes the shadows took her hand, pulled her along, another arm wrapped firmly around her waist, guiding the steps of the dance. Sometimes it was Lily who led, who slid her arms around the shadow and laughingly pulled it close just to spin it away again a moment later. They played, cavorted, frolicked, as free and joyous as any time she had ever spent in the spring-lightened woods with Jack.

Jack... there was something she must remember about Jack. The shadows sensed her withdrawal, then, the momentary pause in the steps of the dance. They reached out again, enfolded her, engulfed her in their embrace, hands insistent presences on her face, her eyelids, her lips, her neck. The touches were light, almost intangible, like fairy breath. They move on, slid into the mass of her hair, skittered down her spine to slide around her, a barely there pressure just beneath her breasts. She shivered, overwhelmed by the sensation, the wanton desire in those shadowy touches, in the weight of the eyes she could feel in the shadows. This... this was the moment. It was here, now, when she would decide exactly how far she would fall.

Lily let it all go then, all thoughts of Jack, all thoughts of responsibilities, of family and home and hearth, of sunlit meadows and dappled woods. She let go her sense of self and embraced the Darkness, knowing as she did, as those shadowy hands reached out in answer, caressed ever deeper into her being, sliding into her, beneath her skin to touch her very core... that she would never again be quite the same.

In that last moment, Lily reached out her hands and embraced the shadows. She didn't have the words to describe the resultant joining. She had felt the shadows slide through her, under her skin, to wrap around her soul. Not even Jack had touched her as intimately as this. She was shaken with the force of it, with the power in it. And it was power - power and purity. Just as it had when she touched the unicorn, the purity of this darkness now sang in her blood. But as the unicorn's power had made her feel light, buoyant, as though she could reach the very stars in the skies, this touch had the opposite effect. It grounded her to the Earth, made her feel heavy... full of lassitude and baser desires. She was the immovable bedrock, now, the power coursing through her coming from the deepest, darkest places of the Earth and rooting her there. Somehow she knew that with this power inside her, never again could she be moved against her will.

The shadows shifted, moved just beneath Lily's skin, and she shivered. She could feel those feather-like caresses, the small shimmers of movement as the new darkness within her settled. It was restless, unused to being confined, refused to be still. Lily's body moved of its own accord, her arms more graceful than before, her steps more sure, her heartbeat slower and more steady. She was overcome with it, the stretch of the shadows under her skin, the feel of that darkness settling within her soul, languid and heavy with need. She moved and she danced, spun into the steps with an easy familiarity she had not had before, she and the shadows slowly becoming one.

When finally they began to slow, the frantic need to move, to stretch their new limbs easing, Lily was able to come to a stop, breath deep and full. And as she looked up, her eyes meeting their shadowed twins in the mirror, she gasped in shock. She truly had become one with the shadows, her hair and lips now the color of darkest night, her skin as pale as the snows outside. She was robed in the rich fabrics and jewels she'd so admired earlier and surrounded by all that beauty, all those treasures, everything she'd ever thought she wanted... she realized that she would give it all away in a heartbeat to have Jack take her in his arms and tell her that it was going to be all right.

Lily stepped closer to the mirror, drawn to the vision of pale beauty she saw reflected there, unused to her new self, and felt the shadows shift within her, again. This shift was a gentle pulse, an eager response to something Lily could not yet see, but could feel and she knew... Darkness was coming. She knew, but nothing could prepare her for the sight. Cloven of hoof, horned of head and red as blood, he was a beast. He wasn't human, had never been human. The shadows pulsed within her once more, urging her to step forward, to fawn into Darkness' waiting embrace, but she could not. She fought the urge, fought the shadows, until with one last might wail, they gave way before her will. And without their new, but now necessary, support... Lily collapsed, fainted dead away.

~It spawned the Light.~

In dreams they whispered, taunted Lily with her foolish desires, the deepest, darkest wishes of her heart. The voices of the shadows hissed their cruel words into her ears, mouthed them against her throat until she wanted nothing more than to escape. She didn't want this freedom, these riches, anymore. They came at too high a price. A deeper voice spoke then, chased away the raspy voices of the shadows, soothed the restless darkness within her. And that was when Lily knew. The voice which had spoken to her, shaped her dreams since childhood... it had been this voice. Darkness had been the one to call to her, to whisper sweet nothings into her ears until she could not conceive of dreaming a dream that he had not touched.

Lily came awake all at once, then, to see Darkness crouched over her like a wolf about to feed. She panicked, pushed herself up and back as quickly as she could. It was undignified, unworthy of her station, but with the shadows pushed back for now, it was her own instincts riding at the fore and she would not deny them now. They might save her life... or her soul. Darkness smiled, a twinkle in his glowing eyes as he drank in her fear, her disgust. He asked one simple question of her and when Lily heard it, she nearly fell into weeping hysterics at the absurdity of it all. Did the gown please her? No. No, it didn't please her. Not when it came with all it represented. Beautiful as it was, luxurious as it was, rich as it was... Darkness thought it was to be her bridal gown. But what really made her want to wail and weep and throw things was the simple fear that Darkness was right. Beneath the skin they were already joined, his darkness, his shadows, his evil, crawling through her veins as though it had every right to be there along with the unicorn's light. And worse even than that, was the idea he'd planted within her that that it might not be his darkness coiled in her soul... but her own. How long had he nurtured this darkness in her soul and why? Was it all done to trap the unicorn? Was this the culmination of a plan set in motion so long ago that only a being who'd lived eternity could comprehend it? Or was he right and it was none of those things? Was it Lily's own darkness, her own greed, her own evil, which had brought her to this place?

Terrified by the magnitude of that possibility, Lily flung Darkness' words back at him, aimed each verbal thrust to inflict as much damage as possible. Anything to get him to back away, to back down. And to her surprise... he did. He backed away, still mocking her, but for one brief moment she'd seen the shock in his eyes at her brutal rejection, seen the pain of that loneliness as it flared ever so briefly in his eyes, felt the wailing of the shadows within her as they yearned to comfort their master.

He tried again, after that, over and over, alternating between an almost endearing sweetness and hesitation and arrogant, violent demands. It took Lily time, precious time she feared she didn't have, but she began to puzzle it out. His protestations of love, his simple desire for her to converse with him, his immediate attempt to control his temper when she'd refused a seat at his table... it began to make a terrible sort of sense. And when he spoke of dreams, of how he used them to influence a world he could not touch directly... then Lily knew for certain. Her entire life, this entire culminating day, had been nothing but an elaborate courtship ritual to him. He truly believed that her mere presence here, her acceptance of the shadows within her meant that she was responding in kind to his gestures of affection... of love.

It was then that Lily knew what she must do. The very idea was repulsive, especially as she knew that Darkness could not have come up with the plan which had begun to grow within her. No man could have. No man could be that cruelly clever. This particular darkness, this particular piece of cruelty was purely Lily's own. And if she had any hope of seeing the light again, of seeing Jack, of freeing the Unicorn... she had no choice.

When next Darkness offered her a seat, Lily smiled, a coy smile, a secretive smile... a lover's smile. Darkness paused, the hope in his eyes so obvious it caused a pang of doubt in Lily's heart, still, she pressed on.

"Sit?" she asked, "Nothing more than that?"

Darkness leaned forward, an answering smile on his face that was too hopeful to be as seductive as he'd intended it. He amended, "And talk with me."

And there was the crux, right there - that loneliness. Could Lily, herself, ever have become this depraved, this cruel, this empty? Surely, she could have... if not for Nell. Nell had taught her how to risk herself again, taught her that not all love must end in pain, taught her that there was value to be had in the holding of a hand, in the beasts of the forests, in the blades of grass in the meadow... the sun in the sky. She must remember that, hold dearly to it, and do her best to ignore the part of her that wanted nothing more than to answer that loneliness... to be for Darkness what Nell had been for her. There were no answers down that path.

~The difficulty was in this: Darkness was born of the Void and Light was born of hope. These two forces exist to be the antithesis of each other. They can not coexist in space, in time, without battling against each other. It is in their very natures to be opposite and it is this very nature which defines them. And so, just as they can not exist together, neither can they exist apart.~

Darkness offered her food, offered her drink. He enticed her with magic, flaunting his powers on simple tasks so as not to approach too close... so as not to be rebuffed, again. Lily recognized it, the weakness in that covering of strength and brutally, viciously exploited it. She allowed her face to take on a reflection of awe, let her hands wrap around the crystal goblet that Darkness had just filled. She raised her eyes to meet his, to see the eagerness in them... then allowed her eyes to darken, to fill with the cold of the barren wasteland that was once a verdant valley... her valley. Lily sneered and said shortly, "I do nothing for your pleasure."

Darkness' reaction to those words was everything Lily had hoped they would be. He erupted in violent outburst, railing at her, trying to force her into submission if she would not go willingly. The great beast that was Darkness was no different than any man that way. Tempt, tease, give them just a taste of what they want, reel them in until they are all but begging for more... and then yank it away. It infuriated them, kept them off balance, unable to think clearly. It gave a woman power over them, a power Lily had never tasted, had never wanted to taste. But in this moment, in this place, with the power of the shadows seething within her, Lily felt differently. She liked wielding this power... She liked wielding this power over Darkness. Her relationship with Jack wasn't like this. It was innocent, sweet, full of chaste, sunlit kisses and gentle smiles, the soft stroke of a hand over cheeks, brows, perhaps a neck. This was different. This feeling of power, the danger of it, of knowing that at any moment she might push too far, might enrage Darkness enough to truly do her harm... it was intoxicating. There were no gentle touches here. It was all heat, passion, raw and violent like a fire... like the lightening.

She pushed harder, scraped away at Darkness' control, what little he had. He was confused, disoriented, uncertain of her. Darkness thought he knew her, just as Jack thought he knew her. He'd whispered his poisonous words in her dreams since she was but a child, thought that because he helped shape the woman who she had become... that he knew the woman who she had become. He did not. He knew her no better than Jack. It was easy, then, to know what buttons remained to be pushed, the last taunts to push him over the edge.

And so, Lily pushed them.

Darkness came charging down the table at her, knocking things off it as he went, swinging his great head with those magnificent horns from side to side. And he truly was magnificent. He was repulsive, animalistic, completely alien to her... but he was magnificent. And in his rage he was more magnificent, still. When he was nearly upon her, Lily let her lips stretch into a smile, emitted a joyous laugh as she allowed the shadows to push her once again into a dance - a brief spin, this time, just enough to land her gracefully at the seat of the throne that could one day be hers. And as she alighted there, as confusion began to fill Darkness' eyes... the unicorn screamed.

Swept away by the moment, in awe of the blazing eyes, the raw power barely contained before her, Lily's mind leapt ahead of her. Her mouth opened and she barked out the words, "I hear a throat begging to be cut!"

That stopped the great beast dead in his tracks, the unexpectedness of her change in attitude surely leaving him wondering when the other shoe would drop. She watched as he fought to reign in his anger, fought to change directions to keep up with her... as though he ever could. He got himself under control enough to ask if she was that anxious to see blood flow, and clearly the mere thought of his future bride having a bloodlust to match his own was overwhelming to him. As she answered with the words he wanted so desperately to hear, his sudden desire wafted through the air like the roses he'd offered her at the start of this... this engagement dinner.

She smiled up at him, suddenly as demure as any princess in any land ever was... but she didn't ask for what she wanted. She demanded. "Grant your bride one wish on this night."

"You have but to ask," was Darkness' response, as though that should have been obvious. In a way, Lily supposed that it had been. Darkness had groomed her for this her entire life, had seen a loneliness that matched his own and coveted the child who bore it and somehow stayed strong. He'd pined for her all these years, fantasized that she felt the same. The sheer possibility that she might was his greatest dream come true. Lily had the sudden unsettling sense that had she requested it, Darkness would have thrown himself at her feet and worshipped her in that moment. And she could have asked it, too. In that moment, she wanted to. She wanted it with a strength that frightened her.

Lily lowered her eyes then, shaken with how closely she'd come to being seduced by that cruel darkness. She let her smile turn coquettish, adoring, as she said, "I will stay here with you... as you wish." Seeing that wicked sting of hope prick Darkness once again, and overwhelmed by the hammering of her own heart, Lily allowed herself one endless moment to picture it - this great game between them continuing for eternity, these innumerable luxuries and riches, anything she wanted hers for the taking - and for that one moment... she meant it. She meant those words with all her being. The shadows within her screamed in triumph to be answered by the cry of the unicorn. And Lily remembered what she must do. Schooling her expression back down into that coy, taunting smile, she added, "But on one condition."

"Anything!" was Darkness immediate answer. Of course. Anything to keep her near, to keep her happy, to bind her to him. Anything in his power to grant. And then Lily dropped the coup de grace in seven... evil... words.

"I want to kill the unicorn."

Lily felt the sharp pain of the unicorn's fury like an arrow to the heart, felt it as the unicorn somehow knew she'd been betrayed. There was no time, no way to explain that it was a ruse, that it was the only way for Lily to get close enough to free her. The unicorn believed the face of what she saw, believed that no being of the Dark could have even a shred of light left within her. But because the unicorn believed it... Darkness believe it, too. And at the childlike joy in their master's eyes, the shadows again seethed in triumph, reaching out their hands inside her to stroke, to pet, to caress... as though Lily were a high-strung horse who'd performed beyond expectations.

Lily wanted to feel triumph over the success of her deception... but as Darkness swept away, all but giddy in his joy, she only felt ill.

~After an eternity of the battle waging within it, the Void grew weary, longed for simpler times, for times when it had been merely an end unto itself with no other forces to encroach upon its perfect blankness. And so, the Void expelled them, its children, cast them so far away that it would take another eternity for either to return. The Light flew high, fast and free, away from the constricting grasp of the Void which spawned it. Darkness, however, clung with tooth and nail, refused to completely release his hold, terrified of a return to a loneliness more complete than the first. And so the Void imparted upon him one last gift before flinging him away...~

When Darkness returned, Lily expected to be taken to the unicorn straight away. Darkness simply smiled, told her that all must be done at the proper time. They must await the stroke of midnight, still hours away.

Midnight was still hours away? Had it been so short a time? Time's distortion was even more severe than she had imagined. Lily had feared that it had been days since she first came to be here. The revelation was at once amazing and terrifying. She'd thought that surely by now Jack would be on his way, ready to fight by her side when she committed her great act of betrayal, the mirror to her first such act. But now... if it had been mere hours, Lily could not count on Jack to be here. It was unrealistic, unfair to expect it... and it meant that she was likely to die this night.

That thought filled her with a perverse sort of calm. If she was to die tonight, that knowledge was a gift. It was the ultimate freedom - license to do whatever she pleased with these last hours. And what she pleased... was to play the game.

Lily moved back to the table, swept up to her throne and alighted gracefully upon it. Darkness stood at the opposite end, looking uncertain. In a mirror of what had gone before, Lily patted the table beside her and said, "Sit." With a smirk, she added, "I value your thoughts."

Darkness came to her, then, strange eyes shining so bright they all but glowed. By the time he reached her, a chair had appeared ready for him. It took surprisingly little to get him to speak. It should not have surprised her. As often as he had asked, demanded, all but begged for conversation from her, Lily should not have been surprised that he was starved for someone to talk to. But what surprised Lily most of all, was that she was equally interested in hearing him speak as he was to do the speaking.

Perhaps it was the shadows purring inside her at their master's closeness. Perhaps it was the way he fawned attention, more suave than any courtier she had ever known... and in a way that Jack never would, that Jack never could. Perhaps it was that in spite of the evil which permeated his tales, he had lived so very long among mortals that he had acquired a virtual treasure trove of knowledge, more valuable even than the treasures strewn so carelessly around his hall.

Lily found herself forgetting the game, forgetting the need to wield that temptingly dark feminine power, and simply enjoying their "simple conversation." They ate as they spoke and they drank as they listened. To Lily's even greater surprise, Darkness had not been lying when he had said that he valued her thoughts. Just as she had awakened the shadows when she first came here, so too, had she awakened him. She was a breath of spring air in this dank place, even with the stain of darkness now settled around her, and he'd been waiting to converse with her in a more meaningful way than a few whispered words in the night for years. It was flattering having all of that attention focused on her.

The conversation paused then, fell into a natural lull, as bodies began digesting, as the wine slowly worked its own brand of magic. Lily found herself rising from her seat and stepping out into the great hall. Darkness rose as well, a puzzled frown on his face as he called after her, "Lady?"

Lily smiled as the shadows rolled within her, stretched out again beneath her skin. She extended a hand and said simply, "Dance with me."

Darkness' eyes blazed as she began to move, intricately flowing steps easing her closer and closer to him, only to draw back further away just after. He watched her every move, swayed slowly in time with her, as entranced by her dance as she had been by the shadows' dance. She borrowed brutally off the well of dark knowledge within her, used the shadows own dance against their lord and master. It took less to draw him out than it had her. He swept into the dance, a bull in more than form, but she tempered him, eased that mad rush into something better.

Once they found a rhythm, they twirled together around the floor, Lily's small hand resting in Darkness' great one, his other hand wrapped around her waist, the nails pricking lightly into her back as he pulled her closer. She wanted to keep some distance, but the press of warm, solid muscle against the bared line of her chest and belly felt delicious in contrast to the winter chill still settled deep in her heart.

They moved together, each spin of the dance alternately bringing them flush against each other and pulling them apart. The dance moved faster - faster, faster, faster! - until it stopped... no warning. Lily froze, pressed against the lean line of Darkness thigh and hip, feeling his breaths matching in alternate rhythm to her own. With each time she inhaled, he exhaled. With each exhale, he inhaled. And all the while, the shadows within her seethed and pulsed in time to their heartbeat, for that too was beating as one.

Lily braced her hands on Darkness' chest, pushed back just enough to look at his face. Her earlier revulsion had faded, exposure granting her protection against the horror she'd first felt beholding that distorted visage. Now, she only saw the magnificence of form, the bitter loneliness... and that bright ray of hope shining through the rest like a diamond in mud. And Lily was going to betray him.

Sliding her hands from Darkness' chest up to his neck, then to his face, she pulled him down towards her, lips parted - in anticipation or disbelief at what she was about to do, even she couldn't say. And when their mouths met... all that passion, all that anger, all that promise of violence from their earlier game, poured itself into that kiss. Darkness plunged his tongue into her mouth to twine with her own, thrusting into her in an unmistakable rhythm. Jack didn't kiss like this, like he would devour her through her mouth. He was gentle, almost hesitant, as though he feared she might break. Jack... Jack... sweet, innocent Jack... and she might never see him again. And even if she did... he would never kiss her like this. Darkness knew that she didn't have to be handled so carefully, knew that she wouldn't break from something so tame as a kiss... even a kiss such as this.

He reared back, then, slit-pupilled eyes dilated, breath coming faster, louder, harsher. Lily whimpered at that lost contact, reached up to pull him back down. If she was going to die tonight, if this was to be her last night on Earth... if she was going to give in to Darkness so completely as to commit the act of betrayal on purpose which she had originally committed by accident... then she wanted it all. The passion, the great love that Darkness promised... she wanted it, even if she could only have it for one night.

As Lily melded their mouths back together, Darkness moaned, pulled her closer so that she all but straddled his leg as he knelt to get closer to her. She whimpered, rocked herself experimentally on his thigh. It was only then, as she felt the heat blazing off of him, that she realized that there was nothing between she and he in that moment. She blushed, hotly, momentarily embarrassed at her own wanton behavior, at how easily she'd succumbed to desire.

Darkness leaned closer, the warmth of him pressing against the bare flesh between her breasts. He whispered into her ear, "Anything, my lady. You have but to ask."

Lily shivered then, undone by the familiarity of that whispered voice. Smiling at her, softer than she'd imagined he could, Darkness lifted her from the floor and gently deposited her on a nearby lounge. She'd not remembered it being there a moment ago, but with the gentle surge of the shadows within her, stoking the flames they'd started between them, she could not bring herself to care.

Darkness sat beside her and reached out with one finger to slowly trace his nail down the bare skin exposed by the dress: the hollow of her neck, the skin between her breasts, her belly. The soft, gentle scratch felt good, better than she'd imagined it might. Darkness repeated the action - two nails this time, then three and four. The gentle scratch shifted from being soothing to maddening, promising touch and not delivering. She arched up into it, laughed with delight at how quickly the great beast pulled his hand away to aVoid impaling her.

He growled then, irritated at her small act of defiance, and pinned her wrists over her head with one hand while he slid the other beneath the lip of her dress to run those nails up and down her side. She made no move as he repeated the action on the other side, no other move until he turned his nails outwards to shred the cloth top of the dress, until only that band of diamond remained, its cold, heavy weight draped diagonally between her breasts. She cried out then, arched upwards to try to draw those nails higher. Darkness chuckled darkly but did not oblige her. He did, however, release her wrists. When she tried to move them, though, she found them stuck fast, pinned down by the swath of diamonds which had adorned her chest a moment before. Darkness smirked and made quick work of the rest of the gown, laughed reassuringly as though to boast of how easily he could make another. He draped something over her, then, another blanket of diamonds which only barely covered the sacred place between her thighs as it rested heavy on her belly - the necklace which had first seduced her into this great hall.

Darkness smiled at the picture she made, mostly bare and writhing against the red velvet of the lounge, and rose. Lily cried out to stay his leaving and he turned back to her with a smile of pure heat... of pure joy. He left her there for a second, a minute, an hour, an eternity as time dipped and rolled and reformed itself, yet again... as she pressed herself first up, then down, even went so far as to spread her legs and let the diamonds drip between them in the hopes of achieving some small amount of contact.

When Darkness returned, he bore with him an easel upon which rested a canvas. He spun it slowly to face her and she found her breath catching. If it was a mirror, it was a perfect one. It had captured her in that pure moment of wanton abandon, that moment of pure seduction by the dark... and it was beautiful. Darkness smirked as he began tracing his nails up and down Lily's arms, legs, inner thighs, around her breasts and gently... oh, so gently across her nipples. She gasped, fought not to arch up into the touch.

Darkness leaned over her, then, one hand dipped lower, between her thighs at last, one finger pressed flat against the diamond necklace to press it against her where it had fallen between her legs. Lily cried out, her legs falling open at the unexpected pleasure of that sensation. Darkness smirked, leaned closer to whisper in her ear, "How like you my gifts? Does the gown not... please you?"

At that moment, Lily would have begged if it would buy her a more solid touch by real flesh instead of cold stone. Darkness seemed to sense this and pressed the diamond necklace against her once more before rearing back, spreading her legs wide and slowly pressing inside her just beneath where the diamonds rested. Lily did cry out then, arching her back at the sensation. As she did, both she and Darkness let out ragged gasps at the feel of the cold diamond pressing between them.

Darkness pressed forward, leaned over to cover Lily with his great bulk, his horns tearing great gouges out of the cushions beneath them as he lunged forward to suckle her breasts, then to claim her mouth once more. Lily yearned to reach up, to touch, to feel in return, but Darkness kept her trapped, both with his body and with the diamond sash. She could only writhe beneath him, rocking up to meet his thrusts as best she could from where she lay pinned. With each thrust, each press of Darkness within her, the diamonds pressed against her, as well. The cold hardness pressing against that spot which had caused her such great pleasure was an almost painfully pleasurable contrast to the hard, intense heat thrusting within her.

As time moved, forwards, backwards, speeding up, slowing down, again looping back on itself, Lily lost track of how long they lay there intertwined, Darkness pressed inside her, but eventually the pleasure built until Lily didn't think she could take one more wave of sensation. Darkness reared up over her again and began to thrust faster, harder. He reached his hand back down and pressed hard against that one large diamond, pushing it firmly against her as he thrust again and again and again until Lily's pleasure crested and came crashing down around her, shaking her whole body with its force. As she shook, Darkness resumed his thrusting, not yet finished himself, but he reached up and unbound Lily's wrists.

Lily reached up, greedy for touch, for the feel of skin beneath her fingers. With a feral growl of her own, she reached up and grabbed onto Darkness' horns to pull herself up from the lounge. Darkness let out a surprised grunt as she rocked upwards, finally pushing him down onto his back with her on top. She bared her teeth in a smile that held just a hint of the beast lurking around the edges, braced her hands on Darkness' chest and slowly began to push herself up until he almost slipped from her... only to slam back down, again. She repeated this slow slide until Darkness' hands began twitching with the need to force her to a faster rhythm. Lily laughed, picked up his large hands and urged him to wrap them around her hips to assist her, which he did, gratefully.

With his strength assisting her, Lily was able to move faster, harder. As she rotated her hips with each downward thrust, she was surprised to find that heat building within her once more, but it only encouraged her to keep moving. They moved together for another eternity, Darkness' hands shifting from Lily's hips, to her ribs, to her breasts and back, again. Finally, after a small forever, Lily felt herself shuddering with the cresting of that wave, again. Only, this time when it crashed down around her, Darkness was soon to follow... and darkness followed soon after that.

~The gift the Void gave to Darkness was this: the gift to walk in the dreams of humanity, so that even in his exile, he would not be completely alone.~

Lily remembered little of what happened after that. When next she woke, she was clothed in the dark gown as though nothing had happened. After that there was fire, fear, a desperately beating heart... and a betrayal. Then there was fighting and pain and an anguish that knew no end until Jack awoke her with that kiss.

Lily returned to her father's castle a changed woman, the shadows still seething within her. She took the small possy of Lily-of-the-valley from a young boy, this time, when she returned to her villagers, none of them the wiser for the day's odd adventures - had it truly been only a day? And as she stared down at the bouquet in her hand, Lily was struck by the sudden knowledge, perhaps born of the shadows, that her namesake flower was also one of the deadliest of poisons known to man. The knowledge made her laugh so hard she wept. The peasants couldn't console her, nor could Nell the next day or Jack the day after that.

It wasn't until a month had passed and Lily finally bled, again, that she began to rise from her self-imposed darkness, letting that small ray of hope for a better future begin to shine within her once more. She was no longer pure of heart, nor would she ever be again, but Nell still loved her. Her father still loved her, too, though he was still abysmal at showing it. Jack still loved her, as well... of course, he did. He'd become a hero for her, after all. Her shy, timid, woodland prince had taken up a sword and armor to protect her. He might never understand her, never touch her with the same passion as she'd been touched on that fateful night... but he loved her and he did whatever he could to make her happy.

And on those rare days when Jack failed in that, as he sometimes did, Lily still had her dreams... dreams where neither she nor the one who sent them were ever again alone.

A/N (a.k.a. post-fic disclaimer):

I, uh... honestly wasn't planning to write you anything over rated 'R'. I've never written het smut before and I was terrified to even try it. And then I got to the insert scene I was writing just for the story and Lily grabbed my muse and away she went. O_O I don't even know. But it was easier that I thought it would be and now I'm not so scared of it anymore. Soナ I just wanted to offer you an additional "thank you" for helping me broaden my horizons? *unsure but game smile* Anyway, thank you, again, and Happy Yuletide!

Blushingly yours,
Your Yuletide Author