She opens her eyes and finds herself in a forest. The trees are huge, old, covered in moss and ivy. They're fully leafed out and a warm breeze sweeps through them and over her.
Looking down she frowns at the long, white dress she wears. It's some kind of cotton or linen, lightweight for the warm weather, and decorated with tiny embroidered pink roses. On her feet are delicate looking matching shoes with kitten heels.
Nothing she'd ever be caught dead in.
But, it all feels...comfortable.
As she starts to turn around, trying to find a way out, a path, anything that leads away from the too close trees, birds erupt from the branches surrounding her, their song shrill, and she lifts her head to watch the multitude take flight. In a minute silence falls, even the insects quiet, and she swallows hard, wishing for her gun.
(A part of her knows this is a dream, but that thought can't take hold because it feels all too real)
Uncontrollable panic hits her, and, as she gathers her skirts and petticoats to run, an arrow flies past her cheek to embed itself in the tree in front of her. With a gasp of fear, she spins, and a man comes from the shadows between two huge oaks.
Clothed in dark green and black leathers, he blends so well into the forest, that it takes her a long moment to recognize him.
Emma woke with a start, grabbing her heaving chest and trying to catch her breath. Tears stung her eyes as the last image of the dream held fast.
But Graham had been dead for nearly three weeks and had never looked like that.
Finally forcing herself to calm, she lay back down and frowned at the ceiling. He was dead. Natural to dream about the dead, she supposed, and they had been...close at the end.
Emma really didn't like thinking about what might have been between them. They had just started and then he was gone. It hurt.
A knock drew her from her painful memories and she called, "Yeah?"
Mary Margaret poked her head in, concern on her face. "Hey, you okay?"
"I'm home for lunch."
Emma's eyes widened and she threw back the covers to jump from bed. "Shit, I should have been at work four hours ago!"
Chuckling as her roommate dashed around, jerking on clothes, Mary Margaret said, "It happens to all of us now and again. Sometimes our bodies just need sleep."
"Yeah, but most times those bodies don't work for an evil witch looking for any chance to fire them."
It's night in the forest and she kneels beside a small stream, its water crystal clear. Dipping her hand in, she carefully lifts it to her mouth and licks.
No water has ever tasted as perfect.
Cupping both hands, she fills them and drinks, closing her eyes in pleasure. When she opens them and looks into the still water, there's a man reflected over her own image. Gasping, she turns on her knees, twisting the stupid dress around herself, and meets Graham's eyes.
An arrow is notched in his bow, but it's held loosely at his side. He gives her a cool look, clearly not recognizing her, then bows his head.
"I apologize for earlier. I thought you were my prey. The shadows hid the gold of your hair."
"...Prey? Do I look like a deer or a rabbit?" she asks caustically as she pushes herself to her feet and brushes down her skirt which is amazingly not wrinkled or stained.
His chuckle is dark and humorless. "My prey is a different sort of animal." Looking around, he frowns suddenly. "These woods aren't safe. Where's your home?"
"Far away." She sighs and wishes to wake up. Seeing him is amazing and painful and she really isn't a fan of the forest. "Look, Graham..."
Eyes locking back on hers, he frowns even deeper as he interrupts, "I don't have a name."
"Right, dream," she mutters, then tries to smile. "Okay, so what should I call you?"
"Yeah, should have guessed that. So, you live around here?"
This is getting her nowhere and the pain at looking at him is just growing, so she closes her eyes.
Another dream, another awakening gasping for breath as if she'd been drowning. Sweat drenched Emma, and she cursed beneath her breath as she forced herself to calm down. Rolling over, she glanced at her alarm clock and saw that it was afternoon.
She'd overslept again.
"I'm not sleeping beauty," she bitched as she shoved herself from her bed and headed to the bathroom for a quick shower. "This is ridiculous."
"Maybe you should go to the doctor," Mary Margaret suggested hesitantly as she watched Emma fiddle with her fork and not eat more than a bite of dinner. "The last two nights you've slept over twelve hours and through your alarm."
"I'm fine, really, I am. I'm just tired. Probably some kind of reaction to the stress of the new job." Which she was going to lose if she wasn't careful.
Mary Margaret sighed. "Okay, want me to wake you before I leave for school tomorrow?"
"Yeah, and I think I'll get a louder alarm clock. Maybe one of those big clanging ones."
Another dream, the same forest, the same annoyingly feminine outfit, but this time she walks a narrow path and the sun is high overhead. There's no sign of Graham--the Huntsman, she reminds herself--so she walks. Birds chirp, leaves rustle, bugs make bug noises. It's a forest. She supposes that somewhere there are probably predators, but the only animal she sees is a squirrel dart across the path several feet ahead of her.
And, then, he's beside her in a widening of the path, one hand on the hilt of a sword, the other holding the bow. "Are you a witch?"
"We are many leagues from where I saw you last night. Too far for you to have walked."
"You walked it."
He looks at her, a small smile tugging at his lips. "I'm the Huntsman."
"Yeah, you keep saying that like it should mean something."
"Most have heard of me. The Queen's Huntsman. Part wolf, part man, or so the rumors say."
"Oh geez, is this fairy tale world? Why am I dreaming of that?" Throwing up her hands in frustration, she stalks faster down the path, hoping to wake up and get out of here.
"A dream?" he asks, moving in front of her to stop her progress. "My lady, this is no dream."
"Yeah, it is, because you're dead." Saying it hurts, more than it should. They'd barely begun...
He touches her cheek with leather encased fingers. "Don't I feel real?"
Too real, too painful, too much.
Pushing past him, she lifts her skirts and runs.
He doesn't follow her, but out of the corner of her eye she sees a huge white wolf matching her pace.
Mary Margaret's knock and cheerful, loud voice, dragged Emma from the dream. Panting as if she really had been running, she forced out an answer and got up. A glance at her clock showed her that she'd slept through even the louder alarm, but she wasn't late, at least.
It was a slow crime day in Storybrooke. Emma had one go round with Regina that left her feeling bitter and empty, and, after an uneventful patrol, she returned to the station and slumped into her chair. Shoving her keyboard aside, she folded her arms on her desk and pillowed her head on them.
"Okay, this is just really annoying," she yells to the sky. The sun filters light through the dense canopy of trees, and there are no paths again. Not in the mood to push her way through brush, she plops onto the soft, mossy forest floor and buries her face in her hands. Taking deep breaths, she counts to a hundred in her head, hoping to wake up.
No such luck.
When she opens her eyes, she lets out a startled yell, because he's there, crouching in front of her, the wolf sitting on its haunches at his side looking bored as it yawns.
The Huntsman smirks. "You appear to be very frustrated, my lady."
"These dreams are pointless."
"If they were dreams, perhaps, but every time I see you, you distract me from my prey. It's like you're sent here to do just that." A hand shoots out and catches her jaw, squeezing slightly until she winces and tries to pull away, but he's strong, way too strong.
"Let me go," she bites out.
"My Queen will be very disappointed if I fail and you, my lady, don't want to find out what she'd do to you if she discovers you're assisting her greatest enemy." He lets her go and rises smoothly to his feet.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Huntsman, Huntsman, who is...
It hits her hard, the truth, but...this is a dream. It's setting has to be due to Henry's obsession. This isn't real.
"You're after Snow White," she says bluntly, still not believing any of this is more than a dream.
He stiffens, anger flooding his face, and he reaches down to jerk her to her feet and into his tight embrace. She squirms, but he really is too strong. "So, you are helping her."
"No, but I would if I could. The Queen is an evil bitch."
A snort acknowledges her statement, but he doesn't let her go and she puts her hands on his chest to shove him away.
He moves, topples, but she goes down with him, pressed to his hard body beneath supple leather. Her face hits his chest and she smells sweat and musk and some kind of subtle herb.
The Huntsman smells like Graham had during their one, too brief kiss.
Grief floods her, for what might have been, and she silently curses her subconscious for making her see him again in her sleep.
See him, feel him, and, oh god...
His hand tangles in her hair at the back of her skull and he drags her into a kiss.
It's hot, wet, so different from their first, yet he tastes the same. A hint of whisky and man and...
"No," Emma whimpered as she awoke to Mary Margaret's frantic shaking of her shoulders. Her eyes flew open and she realized she was crying even as she saw her roommate doing the same, her face pale and frightened.
"Thank God. Emma, I've been trying to wake you for nearly fifteen minutes."
Feeling like half of her is still asleep, in Graham's--the Huntsman's--arms, Emma pushed herself up on shaking arms and stared blankly at her lap. She didn't feel awake.
Licking her lips, she realized she could still taste him.
Whisky and man.
"Something's wrong with me," she managed to mumble.
"Yeah, I'm making an appointment for you with a doctor. Emma, you're sleeping way too much. Are you...are you taking sleeping pills?"
"No," she denied with a shake of her head that, at last, fully awakened her. "Okay, yeah, set something up. I gotta get back to work." As Mary Margaret looked on in concern, Emma jiggled the mouse and winced at the number of unanswered emails showing on the computer screen.
The doctor found nothing wrong with her that a good night's sleep couldn't fix. When Emma balefully argued that she was sleeping more than normal, he told her she wasn't sleeping well and that was making her more tired.
He gave her a prescription for sleeping pills which she tossed away without filling.
There was nothing physically wrong with her and she refused to even entertain the notion of seeing Archie.
She didn't want to share her dreams with anyone until she could figure out what the Hell they meant besides her missing a man she might have loved.
It's several dreams later, dreams in which they walk and talk and sit and eat and never leave the forest (and never mention the Queen or Snow White), that she finally realizes he never asks her where she goes.
Except...he's a dream. His point of view doesn't exist.
Shaking her head in confusion, she watches him as he starts a fire to cook the rabbit he killed for their dinner, and she...doesn't understand any of this.
The food tastes real. Their sun feels warm on the top of her head. She sweats beneath the several layers of petticoats. During the last dream she even slipped behind a tree to pee.
All of it felt so real, she didn't think anything of it.
But, it's a dream!
Fisting her hands, she presses them to her temples, willing herself to wake up. She doesn't like it here anymore. She wants to go home.
"You are home, Emma," the Huntsman says softly as he kneels in front of her, concern on his face, and she realizes she must have been begging aloud, and, also, that she never told him her name.
"Fairy tales aren't real."
"I'm not a fairy tale, whatever those are. I'm very real and so are you, and while there are other realms, other lands, this is home, Emma."
"I never told you my name," she says dully.
One leather clad hand caresses her cheek while the other entwines with her trembling fingers. "I've always known you. In here." Their hands press to his heart and she feels it beat, and remembers.
"But...you said you don't have a heart."
"But, I do, and it belongs to you." Leaning forward, he touches her lips with his in a sweet, soft, loving kiss. When he pulls back, he's smiling. "How do you like your rabbit?"
No longer wanting to go home so desperately--or wake up--she returns his smile a bit tremulously and lets him help her up. "Fully cooked. Not all of us were raised by wolves."
He laughs and the sound sends shivers of pleasure and want through her.
Graham never laughed so freely.
It took a glass of ice cold water to the face to awaken her the next time, and Emma gasped and flailed and wanted to fall back asleep so desperately. Mary Margaret was scared, really scared, and Emma tried to brush it off as nothing, but they both knew something was really wrong.
Over breakfast, at which she nearly dozed off in her very strong coffee, she finally agreed to make an appointment with Archie.
As she nearly sleepwalked through her day, avoiding Regina and, thankfully, having to do nothing more than write a couple speeding tickets, all she could think about was going back to sleep and back to the Huntsman.
Emma did call Archie and made an appointment for the following day. Yawning, she greeted the two deputies on duty at night and grabbed her jacket to head home, only to nearly run over Henry.
He was holding the book and looking frightened. That look on his young face brought her fully into the present and she sat him down on a bench in the waiting area.
His answer was to open the book to a story entitled, "The Huntsman and the Swan Princess." The picture...A man in leather. A woman with a heart shaped face.
Emma jerked her eyes away from the unsettling image and to her son. "Henry?"
"This wasn't here the last time I looked at this part. It's before the story of Snow White running from the Huntsman. It...I've never heard of it before, but look at the picture, Emma."
She didn't want to. She didn't want to see the drawing that had made her heart clench in fear after only a brief glimpse, but he was pushing the book onto her lap and pointing to the images and she looked.
Graham stood in a sun speckled forest with his bow in one hand and a smile on his face. He faced a golden haired woman dressed in a white gown bedecked with pink roses. His leather clad fingers lifted her chin and she was smiling at him.
She, Emma, was smiling at the Huntsman.
Violently shaking her head, she shoved the book back at her son and rose to flee as if the wolf was at her heels. She heard Henry cry her name and run after her, but she was faster, and she burst from the building and ran for the edge of town and into the forest.
In the distance a wolf howled.
The full moon hangs low in the sky and there's a chill to the air. She shivers and huddles closer to the fire and into the embrace of the man who holds her.
"A hunter's moon," he says softly as his eyes move across the stars. "Winter is coming."
Looking around in surprise, she notices the leaves on the ground and those, dark and dry, still hanging from the branches. When did the seasons change?
"You need shelter, Emma. You can't survive in the forest without it."
"I need to go home." It's a familiar litany, but she's not sure she means it anymore. Leaning back against his sturdy chest, she entwines their fingers, smiling slightly at the familiar feel of leather. "Do you ever take these off?"
"When you're with a woman?"
When he doesn't answer, she tilts her head up to look at him and sees the discomfort on his face and knows. A grin breaks out as she teases, "You've never?"
He scowls, but it's not an angry look, and his arms tighten around her. "I was raised by wolves, remember?"
Remembering something from the real world, she asks, "The Queen?" and is greeted by a horrified look that makes her feel warm and happy.
"No, never with that harpie."
Making a decision, she turns on her knees and, shoving her skirts aside, straddles his thighs. Cupping his cheeks, she notes his surprise, then leans forward and kisses him.
They've kissed many times--gentle, sweet, loving, but never heated, never hungry.
His lips part beneath the persistent pressure of hers and their tongues touch, licking, and she guides him until they are both panting. His hands are hard on her back, moving up and down until they're cupping her hips and pulling her against him, and she squirms and reaches for the fasteners of his jacket and the ties of her bodice, fumbling with both. Breaking the kiss in frustration, she pulls back enough to wrench open the knots and bare her breasts. The cold makes her nipples harden immediately, and she sees his eyes latch onto them.
Color flushes his cheeks, making her feel powerful, and she reaches behind her for one of his hands, guiding it to her breasts. The leather is warm, his fingers strong, and she arches into his caress, moaning before kissing him again.
"Lady...Emma, we shouldn't," he murmurs against her lips, even as his fingers pinch her nipple, and she deliberately rocks her hips down, feeling how much he wants her.
As he groans, she figures out the clasps of his jacket. Opening it, she jerks it down his arms and off. His chest his lightly furred and muscular and she just wants to kiss and touch him everywhere, but the throbbing between her legs urges her to speed this up. Her hands slide down his chest to the lacing of his trousers and she pulls at the knots, taking a moment to rub the back of her hand across the bulge beneath the leather.
The Huntsman groans again, a deep, guttural sound that sends a shiver through her straight to her groin. He's kissing her cheek and throat and she wants to guide his hot mouth to her aching nipples, but her hands are busy with the damn knots.
He figures it out on his own and when his beard brushes her breast and his lips latch onto her nipple, she nearly shakes apart in pleasure. Fingers tearing at the knots, she finally gets them freed, pulls the laces apart, the leather flaps aside, and then her hand wraps around his hard and silky shaft, and they both groan.
"Emma," he pleads, his voice a whisper buried between her breasts, and she strokes him and rocks her hips against him. There's too much fabric and she curses and grabs her skirt and petticoats, yanking them up, letting most of the material fall behind her. His cock pushes against her bare stomach and their eyes meet, both hot and dazed.
Then she pushes at his shoulders and he falls back on the ground next to the fire. Hands cup and caress her breasts, supporting her as she lifts her hips and guides him inside her.
After she sinks down, taking him all in, they still. She feels full of him and, for a brief moment, she wonders if Graham would have felt like this, then she shakes it off and begins to rock her hips.
The Huntsman's eyes widen in wonder and pleasure and then he arches his back, driving up into her, his hands squeezing her breast, her waist, and they move together so easily. He's a fast learner and when she takes the hand from her waist and moves it between her legs, he fumbles for a minute but then presses his thumb against her clit and rubs.
The leather glove will stain, will smell like her, and she doesn't care. The thought only arouses her further and she rises and falls, rocking harder. Leaning down, she changes the angle, presses her hands to his shoulders, and, as he lifts his head, meets his mouth with hers.
She climaxes first, his thumb and the leather wrapped around it, too much for her sensitive clit, and she cries out against his cheek, shuddering above him. Through the yards of cloth, he takes her hips and bucks up into her, eyes closed, teeth clenched, and she loves how he looks, how his face twists and his mouth opens to release a howl.
As he spills inside her, there's an answering howl from the nearby wolf.
"I can't wake her up," Mary Margaret cried as the doctor examined Emma's still, unconscious body. "She's like Sleeping Beauty."
Regina snorted--present because Henry insisted on seeing Emma before school--and Mary Margaret, face pale and shining with tears, turned to glare at her.
The doctor looked up from his examination, concern on his face. "You're certain she didn't take anything. I gave her a prescription for sleeping pills."
"No. She said she didn't fill it."
He shrugged in frustration. "I don't know what this is. I think we should admit her to the hospital, perhaps call in a specialist."
"Maybe she ate a poisoned apple," Henry said solemnly, his eyes shimmering with tears.
Regina rolled her eyes and drew her son out of the room. "Let the doctors tend to her, Henry. They'll figure it out."
She wakes to the feeling of warmth on her face and at her back. Her bed is oddly hard and she blinks her eyes open, then gasps in shock. The dying fire is in front of her and, a glance down reveals a leather clad arm and hand wrapped around her waist. The Huntsman is curled behind her, snoring lightly into her neck.
She's still here.
The dream didn't end.
As fear slams into her, a sound from the darkness on the other side of the fire draws her attention, and a man slips from the shadows. He crouches down, hands dangling loosely between his legs. Dressed in green and gold, she realizes there's a matching sheen to his skin and hair. He's leering at her chest and she flushes and quickly pulls her bodice closed.
Looking back at him, she realizes she recognizes him and gasps, "Mr. Gold?"
His smile sends a shiver through her. This person is not...human.
"Not quite, dearie. Well, not here. You are a puzzle and a pleasure. Too soon to be here. Not needed quite yet, but a lesson to learn? Perhaps?"
"I'm dreaming within a dream," she mutters and gently frees herself from the Huntsman who rolls to his back as she rises to her knees, tucking her skirts beneath her and tugging the laces of her bodice together.
"Had a pleasurable night with the wolf did we?" he leers.
Scowling, she crosses her arms over her chest. "What do you want?"
"You've been wandering the forests for a while now, sweet Swan Princess. Lost and confused. As I said, you're a puzzle, a conundrum. You don't belong," he stresses, then smiles again. "Not yet. What have you learned?"
There's no answer for a long time and then the truth she's been fighting against and denying begins to sink in and, finally, she answers him, her voice and lips and whole body numb. "The book is real."
He grins and laughs and spins away into the shadows. "Go home, dearie. We'll be waiting for you when it's your time to return." As he disappears, he takes the forest and the fire with him.
Emma turns and watches the Huntsman--Graham--fade away.
To be replaced by Mary Margaret, sitting on her bed next to her, tears on her cheeks.
Emma didn't explain. How could she? She acquiesced and returned to the hospital for more in-depth tests. They still found nothing. They kept here there overnight and everyone held their breaths when she fell asleep and released them when she woke the next morning, as refreshed as anyone sleeping in a hospital could be.
The doctors gave up on trying to figure out what had been wrong and, since she seemed to be over it, they released her and she returned to work. If she was quieter, no one really noticed.
No one, not even Mary Margaret, knew Emma all that well.
As the weeks passed, Henry resumed his attempts to get her to believe that Regina was an Evil Queen and Mary Margaret was Snow White. Emma listened more carefully than before but was still hesitant to believe wholeheartedly. She read up on fairy tales outside of his book, focusing on the tale of Snow White and the Huntsman.
He didn't seem like Graham.
And she couldn't find any references to a story of a Huntsman and a Swan Princess. The only mentions she could find of the Swan Princess were related to the ballet, Swan Lake.
Slowly she set the whole experience aside as weirdly lucid dreams, brought on by some strange illness and the fantasies of her son. This was the real world. It was the only world.
Until seven weeks had passed and she stood in her bathroom staring down at a stick as the plus sign turned pink. With a shaking hand she examined the other three tests as well.
And that was impossible. Emma hadn't had sex with anyone in over six months, since before coming to Storybrooke. She and Graham had only kissed. She couldn't be pregnant.
Emma slumped down on the closed toilet and buried her face in her hands as all the images of the dream slammed back into her conscious mind. She remembered how real making love with the Huntsman had felt, down to the stickiness between her legs and the beard burn on her breasts.
Instead of going to work, Emma went to the cemetery. It was a cold morning, but clear and bright. She could see the fading moon as it set, full and large on the Western horizon. It was January. It was a wolf's moon.
Dropping to her knees at Graham's grave, she brushed away a few leaves and then lightly touched one gloved finger to the inscription--simply his name and dates of birth and death.
How much, if any of that, was true?
Her other hand went to her flat stomach and she closed her eyes, drawing up twin images--one of The Huntsman and one of Graham.
In her mind, they merged.
In the distance, a wolf howled.
And with blinding clarity, Emma knew what was true and that the world she called real wasn't hers. As she rose to face the day and find her son and his book, she silently promised Graham, The Huntsman, that someday she would find him again. She would bridge their worlds and lay their child in his arms.
The Evil Queen be damned.
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