/|\ Paradise /|\


/|\

Emma's eyes slowly open to the sight of blue eyes peering down at her, a familiar manic light shining in their depths.

"Emma!" The voice cheerfully exclaims, crooked teeth beaming down at her. She barely has time to open her mouth before the man pulls her into a tight hug, practically lifting her off of the couch.

The blood rushes to her head at the swift movement, her vision swirling for several moments. Slowly she returns the hug, her arms wrapping around the man's shoulders.

"Jefferson," she says, trying to hide her grimace at the strength his arms are squeezing her.

"Papa," Grace groans from somewhere behind her, out of her view. "I think you're crushing her!"

Emma smiles, nodding in agreement as Jefferson thrusts her an arms length away, holding her shoulders. "Sorry," he tells her, "I just... I'm so happy to see you. You would not believe what has just happened..."

"Jefferson, darling, let her breathe for a moment." An unfamiliar voice chimes in, her voice melodic.

She maneuvers herself into a more comfortable position on the couch, her eyes raking over the small cottage. She isn't sure how long she has been asleep, but based on the lighting, it is mid-afternoon, almost dusk. Subconsciously, her fingers rub at her chest, directly above her heart. She feels the gentle thumping over her heartbeat, and she rests her palm over it. She takes comfort in the consistent beating of the organ. (Why would her heart be missing anyway?)

Her eyes flicker towards the lump of fur in front of the fireplace, where Pup is curled up with a sleeping Charles sprawled out on her stomach, his little fists clutching handfuls of fur. She smiles at the picture, but the smile quickly disappears as Jefferson follows her line of sight and opens his mouth.

"You never told me," Jefferson comments casually, sitting on the edge of the chair across from her.

Emma yawns, her body aching. "Told you what?"

He sends her a charm-filled grin in her direction, "That you know where I live."

She scowls at his teasing. "I don't."

"Oh, you say that you don't? So where in the hell are we right now?" he quips right back at her.

"No, what I meant was–"

"Jefferson, please," the warm voice is more clear, directly behind Emma now, "You'll scare her off."

Emma turns around to investigate the source of the voice, and sees a short woman with long white blonde hair and friendly eyes. She smiles hesitantly at her, but the older woman beams back at her. Emma notices a slight gap in between her two front teeth. It adds to her almost otherworldly charm.

"You must be Emma," she says, bowing her head in an informal greeting. "I have heard so much about you! I'm Alice."

"A pleasure," Emma responds, bowing her head as well. It's quiet for a moment, and Emma whips her head around to look at Jefferson, who casually puts his hands behind his head, his legs crossed and resting on the small table.

Emma raises an eyebrow at his overly casual position. He grins crookedly back at her.

She decides not to beat around the bush. "I need to talk to you. About the other worlds."

His body language changes almost immediately. She meets his gaze head-on, not flinching as his blue eyes flick across her face, assessing her. Assessing her for what, she does not know, but she does not blink. She is a princess, and she does not blink first.

Whatever he was looking for, he seems to find it, and he abruptly stands up and strides to the front door. Emma hastily pulls herself off of the couch, her hands grabbing at the shoulders of her flannel nightgown, pulling it up so she does not expose herself.

"Wait!" She calls after the madman, who begins to laugh as he throws on his purple jacket, his back facing her. She stumbles on the hem of her dress, and suddenly a pair of small warm hands help steady her.

"Here," Alice says kindly, draping a black coat around her shoulders. Emma smiles back gratefully, sticking her arms in the sleeves and shrugging it on to her form more comfortably. It's bigger than the two of them, but Emma likes how warm it is. She nods in thanks to the woman, before feeling a blast of cool air as Jefferson opens the door. Emma looks back at the manic man, who is still laughing. She notices he is holding a curious leather bag, reminiscent of a hat box. She looks at it with a puzzled expression, her mouth opening to ask questions.

Jefferson starts forward and grabs Emma's hand, pulling her out into the night. "We'll be in the shed, my dear," he calls back to Alice, who waves back cheerfully at him. Emma protests as he drags her out of the hut, her head turning frantically back to Pup, who barks in anger, having awakened from her slumber. "Not sure how long we'll be gone. Tuck Charlie and Alice in, and read them a good night story for me, please!"

Jefferson walks clumsily; he is otherwise occupied by holding the box in one hand and dragging Emma behind him in the other. The door closes behind them, and they are immersed in the night.

"Dammit, Jefferson," Emma snarls, attempting to yank her hand out of his in protest. She can still hear Pup barking from inside the house, but as she moves farther away, Pup quiets her harsh barking.

The shed is small, and Jefferson kicks open the door, seeing as his hands are full. The two are in darkness together, and Emma blinks frantically, trying to adjust her eyes to the blackness.

She hears a thump, and her hand is released. Suddenly, something is shoved into her hand.

"Light this," Jefferson mutters to her, also passing her some matches. Her hands fumble around the unfamiliar figure, before realizing it is a rusty lantern.

She scowls wordlessly at his command, but she does it anyway. The lantern is old, but after several tries it finally produces a weak orange and flickering light. She smiles, and uses the opportunity to look around the room.

The shack is windowless, but she feels the wind blowing through the cracks in the wood. It smells moldy and like chopped pine wood and hay, but the smell is not unpleasant. She tightens the collar of her black jacket so it blocks out the cool breeze.

"I already told you, I want – no, I need to know about the other worlds," she says.

Jefferson is leaning over now, his hands steady as he opens the carrier, and he looks up at her and grins.

She frowns down at him. "Why are we here, anyway?"

He straightens to his full height, and thrusts the large black object into her hand. She doesn't look at it first, only stares at his eyes, which have a strange tint in them. Finally, she looks down.

"What – it's a hat." she stammers out dumbly. She doesn't known what she was expecting, but it certainly wasn't this.

Jefferson looks somewhat proud, "Indeed it is. Fine workmanship, too. Can't find 'em made like this anymore."

Her hands begin to shake, and she swears her vision goes red as anger swells in her chest, threatening to crawl up her throat. Her fingers squeeze the worn fabric of the hat, crushing it in her hands, her mouth opens several times, opening and closing in astonishment and rage. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Jefferson gauging her reaction with one of those infuriating smiles on his face.

He taps the hat with his finger, "I will admit, the thing has seen better days, but it is the only one that works anymore. You... a friend of mine made this for me, a long time ago."

She pretends not to notice his verbal slip up, and looks up to meet his eyes. She stares at him for several moments, the ability to speak completely failing her, and it all clicks into place.

"Do you think this is a game to me?" she snarls at him. His smile falters, and she continues right along anyway, the words pouring from her mouth, "This is not a game to me, mad man. Lives are being risked because of this. Lives of those who I care about, and I do not have the time to play your little childish imaginative games when the weight of the entire kingdom is pushing down on my shoulders. I've already lost enough of my loved ones in the past few days!"

"Emma," he begins, but she cuts him off, her voice steadily rising.

"I trusted you!"

"Look closer," he interrupts.

"What is there to look at?" she hisses at him again, "It's a stupid old hat. I shouldn't have listened to you in the first place –"

"Look again," he tells her, and she quiets down. "You can feel it."

Her hands tremble, the anger rushing out of her veins, but she pulls the hat closer to her chest, her eyes flicking across the dirty and scratched hat. She isn't sure what she feels, but for a moment, the hat seems to thrum in her palms like it is alive, like a beating heart. Her vision becomes blurry, and the only thing that feels real is the pulsing top hat in her hands.

"Look closely," she hears him say, his voice muffled, "Because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see."

She tears her gaze away to look at Jefferson, and at the same time, they both breathe out the same word.

"Magic."

As soon as it is said aloud, Emma knows it to be true. She stares down at it in awe, licking her lips while Jefferson watches her silently. Questions bubble up onto the tip of her tongue, so many she does not know which one to start with. She tries to start with an easy one first.

"What does it do?"

He shrugs in response, "I don't really know. I'm not sure if anyone truly knows anymore. I... I didn't just choose this business, Emma, it chose me. You have to understand that." His voice grows darker as he continues. "The different worlds change you."

"So it is a portal, then." That much she had expected, but she is still surprised.

Jefferson's usual manic look to his face is replaced with a haunted stare. She doesn't press him further on his past, but instead turns the hat around in hands. It grows hotter the more her skin comes into contact with it, pleasantly burning her fingertips. Jefferson plucks the hat from her hands then, and she feels an immediate sense of loss that overwhelms her. The two sit in a calm silence, before Jefferson continues with a soft croak.

"The portal takes something from you," he begins, "A part of you that you may not even know you had, but it's addicting, Emma..." He suddenly curses loudly, running a hand through his already disheveled hair. "I've never had to explain it to someone before. I've never met another jumper besides my wife, but even then we don't have to voice it to each other, we just know."

He gazes at her imploringly now, and Emma swallows, thinking of the silent communication between herself and the Huntsman. He took something from her as well.

"You can't teach emotions to one who hasn't felt them before," she says back to him, and he looks relieved at her ability to follow him.

The two are in that companionable silence again, and Emma can hear Pup scratching at the door from inside the house. Her fingers twitch, almost like she is longing to brush her hands over the wolf's soft fur like she usually does when she is in deep thought.

She frowns down at the hat. "How does it work?"

He grins happily at her and lifts his hand, twirling his index finger around in a circles. "You just spin it, princess."

"Like a top?"

He nods and hands her the top hat; she relishes in the lovely warmth that penetrates her cool skin. Jefferson is backing up, watching Emma wordlessly as she crouches on the ground, both hands on the brim of the hat.

She feels exceptionally foolish there, awkwardly squatting on the ground like a feral animal. Looking down into the hat, she sees nothing but the worn fabric that is customary.

"Do you trust me?" Jefferson asks quietly, his hands clasped behind his back, observing her.

Emma takes a deep breath and looks up at him from under her lashes, her fingers clenching the hat in front of her.

"Not at all."

He barks out a dark laugh at her response, and she returns it with a shaky smile.

"Breathe deeply," he cautions, "Think of the warmth that the hat sparks in your bones, and turn it."

And breathe she does. In, hold breath, out, repeat. Suddenly, her arms jerk, faster than she could even blink, and the hat tumbles in a circle gracefully.

The floor beneath her feet trembles, the wind roaring as it whips past her ears, and she gasps, springing to her feet on the uneven ground, desperate for balance. Jefferson lets out a breathless exclamation of excitement as the hat grows bigger, spinning faster, almost sinking into the ground as the dark chasm of the portal grows in between them.

The purple smoke that billows out of the hat makes her cough, stinging her eyes as she looks up to meet Jefferson's gaze from across the portal.

He yells over the wind to her. "After you, princess!"

She nods, hair whipping across her vision and stinging her face, and all she can think is, I am a princess no longer. I am a wolf. Steeling herself, she crouches, poised like a wild animal ready to leap for the kill, teeth gritted and jaw clenched.

Emma stares down into the abyss, and the abyss gazes back up at her.

She jumps.

/|\


Happy season premiere, everybody! Ah... yes... this is late. I would give you the reasons, but I would just bore you. No, I have not forgotten about all of you, I love you all so much! I would respond to your lovely reviews, but fanfic doesn't seem to work properly? I can't respond to any reviews for some bizarre reason... sad. I even heard there's a tumblr post going around about this story! That just baffles me, you're all so amazing!

Enjoy a snippet of the next chapter (yes, there is a next chapter!):

"She struggles to roll over, and Jefferson lets out an impatient exhalation of breath as he leans over grabbing her hands and pulling her to her feet. She stumbles clumsily and she yanks her hands away from his grip, her eyes squinting at him. "Don't touch me," she growls at him. He shrugs, clearly unhurt, and gestures wildly around the room, spinning in a circle on his heel.

"Behold!" He cackles, and all Emma can think is mad, he's absolutely mad. "The Hall of Doors!"

Her mouth is starting to fill up with blood, so she just glares at him a little longer before spitting it out to the side, and lets her eyes wander the room. Mad mad mad. "

Writing Jefferson is my favorite, heh.

Please leave a review!