For anyone who is interested I'm now on twitter; you can find me under KayleePete and if you choose you can bug me about writing more or send encouragement my way or if you just want to talk about OUaT or stories. I may also post on twitter little spoilers for my stories if you're interested. Anywho. This chapter was a real rollercoaster to write, so hang on.

Thank you so much to Happy Endings for All for beta-ing!


Chapter 7: Snag

A soft tapping had Ella frowning and rolling over in her still mostly-asleep state, thinking that it was just a branch hitting the window in the wind. A soft voice gently calling, "Ella?" dispelled any such illusion. It was so unlike the harsh screeching of her stepmother and stepsisters that she was expecting that she jerked herself upright in bed, wide awake. She looked around the room, finding herself in one larger than she'd ever stepped foot in. She was lying in the largest canopy bed she'd ever seen with the softest linens she ever felt. She wore a nightgown of pure white, finer than she'd ever owned. After a moment everything from the day before came rushing back, but even with the proof around her she still felt that it must be a dream; she reached over and pinched her own arm. Nope, not a dream.

"Ella, dear, are you awake?" Princess Snow's soft voice asked from the other side of the door.

"Yes," the young woman finally managed to respond, "come in!"

The door opened to reveal the princess carrying a tray of food; she smiled brightly. "Good morning." She bumped the door with her hip, sending it closed. "I brought you some breakfast."

Ella pushed herself up in bed as the other woman came over. "Thank you, Your Majesty, you didn't have to."

The princess gave her a chiding look as she settled down on the bed next to her. "I told you, Ella, you can call me Snow." She reached over to help adjust the pillows behind the younger woman so that she could sit upright against the headboard.

"Snow," Ella softly repeated, watching the dark-haired woman beside her.

Snow set the tray in Ella's lap. "I was awake and had eaten already, so I volunteered to bring your breakfast to you."

"Thank you."

The princess, seeming to notice the expression on Ella's face, canted her head to the side. "What is it?"

"I think I'm just still a bit overwhelmed by all of this." She looked down where she was rubbing the fabric of her nightgown between two fingers. "I mean, just yesterday I was in rags and sleeping on the hearth of the Le Pieu's kitchen. And now… I have never worn clothing of such fine linen." She held up some of the fabric in emphasis. "And I'm here…" she gestured around the grand room.

Compassion reflected in the dark-haired woman's eyes. "Life has not been easy on you, has it?"

"I don't want pity," Ella said quickly, but made sure to keep her voice respectful.

"And I'm not offering it," Snow countered gently. "Sympathy and empathy aren't the same thing as pity. I don't offer friendship and equality to people I pity."

The blond woman was stunned. The princess's off-hand comment yesterday about them being, or at least becoming, friends was one thing but to have it put point-blank like that, and having her say that she looked on Ella as an equal was jolting. "You're…"

"I'm what?" Snow inquired.

Ella bit her lip. "I-I don't mean to offend you, but you're not anything like I expected royalty to be like."

The princess gave a lyrical laugh; her eyes sparkled with mirth as she asked, "And what did you expect?"

"I – I guess more…distant o-or…I don't know…not so…" she stumbled over her words.

Snow raised an amused eyebrow. "Honesty is the better part of valor, Ella. You won't upset me with whatever you have to say."

The younger woman's face burned, but she took a deep breath and attempted to set aside all of the social strictures that the princess seemed quite content to ignore. "I suppose…refined."

The princess grinned. "Oh I can be refined…when I choose to, but please, continue."

"Maybe not so, down-to-earth – normal, I guess."

Laughter bubbled again. "The only difference between you and I, Ella, is I was born to a ruling family and raised in a castle." She held out her hand, palm-up, for the other woman to see. "I'm flesh-and-blood, just like you."

Ella stared at the older woman, wide-eyed.

There was a knock on the door.

"Who is it?" Snow called.

"It's James; Thomas is with me along with a visitor for Ella."


"One moment!" Snow called, rising from the bed and moving to the foot of it where a chest sat. She picked up a shawl that had been draped over the lid, absently recognizing Geppetto's work in the carvings on the chest; she had seen many of his creations in the castle. She went back to Ella and helped her wrap the material around the younger woman's shoulders for modesty. Once they were both satisfied that she was sufficiently covered for male company the princess once more called out, "Come in."

The two princes came in followed closely by an anxious looking middle-aged woman.

Snow noted how Ella's eyes lit up at the sight of Thomas and his own lips curved into a grin upon seeing her. Her eyes met Charming's, who had also seen the pair's reactions. He coughed discreetly into the back of his hand and Snow looked down, biting on her lips to keep from grinning. The elder prince stepped aside, allowing his brother to take the lead.

Thomas moved to stand beside the bed. "How are you doing, Mistress De Barbarac?"

"Ella," she corrected softly. "And very well, Your Majesty."

"Thomas, please," he countered.

Snow gave a strangled sound and quickly turned what had nearly been a giggle into a cough; Charming smirked at her, his own shoulders shaking silently.

Ella's eyes turned to Snow, who just grinned at her.

Thomas looked back and forth between the two. "Am I missing something?"

The dark-haired princess cleared her throat. "Just before you came in I was shocking Ella with my completely scandalous ideas of equality and such."

Charming threw back his head laughing. Thomas looked back and forth between this brother and the princess with a raised eyebrow.

"We'll visit Everland, someday, Little Brother, and you'll understand," the elder prince assured him.

Thomas cleared his throat. "Right." He stepped aside, gesturing the woman with them forward. "Princess Snow White, Mistress Lillian." The women exchanged the appropriate greetings. "Ella, Mistress Lillian, Master Jean's wife."

The woman was clutching a bag to her chest and a tremulous smile was on her lips. "Hello, Ella," her voice shook severely with the emotions that were clearly overwhelming her.

"Mistress Lillian," the blond woman nodded, biting her lip.

"Oh," the older woman all-but-ran forward, clasping Ella's hand, "please, call me Lillian." She sounded close to tears.

"Lillian." Ella nodded.

Tears glistened in Lillian's eyes. "Oh, you look so much like your mother…and your father."

"Thank you," the younger woman murmured, blushing with pleasure.

Out of the corner of her eye Snow noticed the two brothers moving to the door; just before he stepped out Charming met her gaze and tilted his head to the hallway. She nodded.

The princess stood. "I have to go get ready for the talks today." She flashed the other two women a warm smile. "I'll leave the two of you to get better acquainted."

Ella reached up to squeeze her hand. "Thank you."

Snow responded in kind. She lifted her gaze to the physician's wife. "It was lovely to meet you, Mistress Lillian."

"And you, Your Majesty." The woman curtseyed.

Snow left without further fuss, closing the door behind her. Once out in the hall she looked to the left.


She turned to the right at Charming's voice to see him standing at a room, holding the door open. She went over and entered the room; he closed the door behind them both.

Inside, already seated at a small table were Thomas and Jean. Charming placed a hand at the small of her back, guiding her over to be seated across from the other two.

Snow turned to Charming expectantly.

"Yesterday, before he left, Thomas and I asked Jean to find out what he could of the De Barbarac family and lands and return as soon as possible to inform us," he explained.

"It didn't take long, Your Majesties," the physician said, his lips pressed into a thin line.

"Tell us what you know of the family before the death of Master De Barbarac," Thomas instructed.


"You will not find a soul who can speak out against August De Barbarac," Jean began. "He was a good man, who loved his wife and child and treated those who worked for him well. He was a shrewd businessman, but fair in his dealings. He was wise enough that when it came to farming his lands he turned to those who were more knowledgeable than he; his lands, during his lifetime, were fruitful." He let out a weary sigh. "Unfortunately he was not so wise in choosing his second bride, Baroness De Ghent." He looked down at his hands. "While he lived the business and farm thrived, so the Baroness's spendthrift ways were not that noticeable. After his death however…" His lips pressed into a thin line.

"How bad is it?" James inquired.

The older man rubbed a hand over his face. "She has run that farm and the business into the ground. Burned through the money faster than it comes in. She either let off or ran off all but a skeleton staff, and those who remain only do so out of loyalty to Auguste's memory and Ella herself."

Snow frowned. "Ella must be of age, why hasn't she been given her inheritance?"

Jean turned to her with a grim look. "Because, my lady, Auguste left no will."

James's eyes slid shut in realization.

"But as his birth daughter she should still inherit at least a portion of his property and or wealth, what's left of it."

The physician shook his head. "There is no such provision in our laws."

She went still. "Pardon?"

He took a deep breath. "According to the laws of Riverdon, if a man leaves no will all of his holdings will pass to his first-born son, if there isn't one it goes to his wife and finally if there is neither they will pass to the first-born daughter." Jean gave the horrified princess a sympathetic look. "Ella has no legal claim to any of August's property until the death of her stepmother, at which time, [I]if[/I] there is anything left, it will revert to her. Until then her stepmother has no actual legal responsibility to her."

"What a positively…archaic…chauvinistic law!" she spat out. She spun to James. "Your family allows such a law to persist?"

He grimaced. "In Seaborn we changed those laws generations ago," he assured her. "However, by the terms of the annex, the Seaborn crown has the authority to enforce the laws of Riverdon, but not the power to change them. That right belongs only to the ruler of Riverdon." He clasped his hands on the table. "The intention had been to have a second-born child take the throne. But my family has had difficulty for generations having more than one child, and the scarce occasion when they did, it was exceedingly rare that more than one made it to adulthood. My brothers and I were the first generation since the annex that it had been managed."

Thomas picked up from there. "The result is that many laws of this kingdom are severely outdated." He clenched his jaw. "And the frustrating part is that even if I were to take the throne and change the law tomorrow I could do nothing for Ella's situation because her stepmother's inheritance of the land would be considered grandfathered in."

Snow looked between them all. "Is there no way around it?"

"Not unless she's broken a law." James turned to Jean, hoping for perhaps some good news there.

The older man shook his head. "I asked anyone I could and even from the Barbarac staff the answer is no." He sighed. "The woman may be morally and ethically wrong, but she isn't legally."

"Which means that there is no way to bypass her." Thomas looked down, shaking his head.

"We can't let Ella go back to that place," Snow said fiercely. James had noted how quickly she had become attached to the young woman.

"Your Majesty," Jean began grimly, "had any of us who were Auguste's friends known how she was treated she would never have been forced to remain in the first place. We would have gladly taken her in."

"Why didn't you?" Thomas inquired.

"The Baroness pulled away from us all because we weren't of nobility and on the rare occasion when she even deigned to answer our queries about Ella she told us she was at a school." He gestured in the direction of Ella's room. "I hardly recognized her as it was."

"Looking back isn't going to do us any good at this point." James leaned forward on his elbows. "We need to figure out what options are open to her at this point so that she can make a decision as to her future."

"Lillian and I would be glad to have her stay with us, but we gave our son and daughter-in-law our house and moved into the apartment above my clinic; we have not the room." Jean helplessly spread his hands, palms-up.

"She could stay here," Thomas put in.

"That wouldn't be appropriate," Snow pointed out. "Unless she were to start working for you."

Thomas grimaced. "The castle and grounds are over-staffed as it is."

"Are there any positions open around town?" James questioned the physician.

"I can ask, but I would think it actually better if Ella could get away from Riverdon, or at least the town center, until the Baroness has returned and all of this has blown over."

Out of the corner of his eye, James noticed Snow pressing a fist to her lips thoughtfully, while he narrowed his eyes at the older man. "Why so?"

"The Baroness will undoubtedly make as much trouble for Ella as possible once she finds out that Ella has left Barbarac."

"Do you think she would accept a position in another kingdom?" Snow suddenly asked, drawing all three men's gazes.

James lifted an eyebrow. "You have something in mind?"

She tapped a finger on the table top consideringly. "I know of at least one position in my own kingdom that would be available to her should she wish it." She leaned forward. "She could even come and visit for a few days, to see if she wants to accept the job. If she decides no then at least she'll have been able to get away for a while and will be properly recuperated."

They all exchanged glances.

"It's an option she should at least be given," James pointed out.

"Mm…" Jean nodded. "I can still ask about openings in town so that she has others as well."

Snow turned to Thomas, who looked at her levelly. "What is this job?"

She folded her hands together atop the table. "Some friends of mine are in dire need of a maid. They have a small cabin behind their house that she would be given as her home. It isn't an easy job, but they will never overtax her. They will treat her with kindness and respect, be unfailingly fair and likely become quite protective of her."

"She will be protected there?"

"She will not only have their protection, but mine and my friendship," Snow promised.

James looked at his brother with raised eyebrows. What she had just offered was probably the greatest gift a royal could give to an outsider in their kingdom. The specific protection of their crown and, even more so, the right to call the royal "friend" would all but guarantee the safety of the individual; anyone who thought to harm them would have much to contend with.

His younger brother slowly nodded. "All right." His eyes turned to Jean. "Could you compile a list of possible positions by tomorrow?"

"Yes, You Majesty."

The younger prince nodded. "Good, we can tell her about them all tomorrow. See what happens from there."


The talks had broken for lunch. Leopold stood at a window overlooking the gardens, watching his daughter wandering the gravel pathways; she stopped and turned, apparently hearing her name called. He couldn't see her expression, but as Prince James came into sight and approached her, he could imagine how her face lit up. He hadn't failed to notice the interest his daughter had begun to show in the prince, which the young man returned. He had been shocked when his daughter, who had never shown any interest in men beyond her friendships with Gaspard and Eric, was suddenly intensely interested in the heir of Seaborn. The reason he had agreed to the visit in spring was because his wife had been so insistent; even though Snow had never had any intention of getting married he had thought that at least they could strengthen the ties between their kingdoms through the visit. When his daughter and James had begun to spend more time together he had been wary of the situation on his daughter's behalf. Then he had heard about the engagement that Midas wanted to arrange between the Seaborn prince and his daughter, Abigail.

James had threaded Snow's hand over his arm and the pair was walking companionably to the fountain. The princess laughed at something that the prince said and he leaned in closer to her.

Leopold pressed his lips into a thin line.


"You know," Charming remarked and they sat on the edge of the fountain, "you haven't told me what you've been doing since we last saw each other."

She brushed a wrinkle in her skirt. "Mostly just the usual day-to-day, though I've been helping out at the dwarfs' home more often lately." She laughed softly. "I usually drag Red along to help with the chores. And Father has been having me come to meetings and such more often." She grinned up at him. "I did get to spend a couple of days with some friends," there was a sparkle of humor in her eyes, "one of them being a cousin of yours."

His brow furrowed. "Cousin?"

"Prince Eric of Seaside."

"Ah." Comprehension dawned on his face. He canted his head to the side. "I hadn't realized that you two knew each other."

"I met him through King Gaspard of Rosewood and Princess Aurora of Glenbriar. We've all been friends since childhood."

Charming cocked an eyebrow. "You're friends with Princess Aurora?"

"Mm hmm." She nodded, humor dancing in her eyes. "And I understand that you're friends with Prince Phillip of Lochlomond."

He smirked ruefully. "Indeed. Though you also knew him when we were children, if I remember correctly."

A scowl crossed her face. "Yes, he teased Aurora and I mercilessly when we were at Court." She tilted her head to the side, her eyes locked with his. "I also recall that the last time I attended Court he was bullying me because I'd been crying and you punched him. Gave him a black eye."

He gazed at her levelly. "He didn't have a right to do that to you. You'd lost your mother and were mourning her."

She slid her hand into his, smiling at him. "Prince Charming living up to his name," she said teasingly.

He gave her a grin that certainly lived up to the nickname. "I do have a reputation to uphold."

Snow rolled her eyes. "Of course."


James lifted her hand to study their intertwined fingers. "I haven't seen Eric in a couple of years. How is my cousin?"


He raised an eyebrow. "Snow, if you feel the need to lie, why answer at all?"

She let out a breath in a soft whoosh. "It's not really a lie, he's mostly good."

Worry was visible on her face to his eyes. "And the part that isn't good?"

There was a wry twist to her lips. "I can't tell you. It's a confidence that I don't feel I can share, at least not without Eric's permission."

He nodded slowly. "I can respect that."

"So," her head canted curiously to the side, "on the topic of old friends, has Phillip grown up at all?" Doubt and humor were thick in her tone.

An amused shake of the head and smirk, were his answer.

She rolled her eyes. "That's what I thought."

A chuckle rumbled out of James's chest. "He's not pulling the braids of smaller girls anymore," he joked. "But he can still act closer to the age of twelve at times."

"Well," her chin propped on his shoulder, their noses nearly touching, "only one of you can be Prince Charming."

He tilted his head the slightest amount, letting his nose rub against hers. "As long as I'm the one you call that."

Her eyes sparkled. "That's the plan," she told him softly, "isn't it?" She bit her lip, a touch of an uncharacteristic vulnerability in her voice and eyes with the last part.

He stared into her eyes, knowing exactly what she was asking. "Yeah." His voice was thick to his own ears. "That's the plan."

"Do you promise?" It was barely a whisper.

He wanted to kiss her in that moment and remove any doubt that might exist in her mind as to his feelings for her, but they were risking enough censure sitting so intimately. Lifting her hand to his lips he settled for kissing the back of it. "I do."


Ella gently paged through the drawings, watercolors and letters Lillian had left with her. Most of the artwork her mother had made, but there were a couple that Lillian herself had done of Nicole and Auguste. Ella could barely remember her father's face any more and had no memory of her mother; these images were perhaps the ones she treasured most of all the things the older woman had given her. The letters were mostly just normal, everyday correspondence between Lillian and Nicole, just the mundane talk of two friends, but through them Ella was able to learn more about her mother as a person. Nicole De Lencret had a gentle sense of humor with a lyrical way of writing that was almost like poetry; even as she wrote of just daily life, how she had enjoyed her quiet life at Barbarac was blindingly obvious. The letter after she first met Auguste De Barbarac was colored with her already blossoming love for him. Her words upon discovering she was pregnant glowed with uncontainable joy, bringing tears to Ella's eyes at knowing how loved she'd been by her mother.

A quiet knock had her hastily dabbing away tears. "Who is it?"

"It's Thomas, may I come in?"

Her heart leapt at his voice, as it had a habit of doing anytime she saw or heard him, but she hesitated, it wasn't proper for her to have a man in her room without a chaperone.

"I'll leave the door open," he continued, apparently understanding the reason for her hesitance, "I just have something for you."

She looked down at her shawl and began to wrap it higher around her neck. "Come in."

When the door opened their eyes locked and he froze at the entrance, Ella's breath caught in her chest. This moment, the two of them, their eyes connected, was so breathtakingly familiar.

Thomas shook himself. "Umm…" As promised the door remained open while he haltingly moved to her bedside.

Ella took a couple of breaths, trying to slow her heartbeat.

He held up a small stack of books in his hand. "The book collection is severely depleted, though the librarian from Seaborn is working to remedy that, but I thought that you might like something to read, even as slim as the pickings are."

A glow warmed her heart at the gesture. "Thank you." Her hands shook slightly as she accepted the books.

"I wasn't sure what you liked, so I took the liberty to bring a selection." Settling on the edge of the bed he showed them each to her. "Snow made a few suggestions, including a couple of Shakespeare's plays."

She turned the volumes in her hands. "Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest." Her eyes lifted to his, her face alight. "My papa used to read these to me."

Thomas's lips slid into an answering grin and he handed her the next. "This is a collection of poems that I enjoy."

She flipped through a few pages letting her fingers skim over some of the words.

"And this," he placed the fourth on the blanket with a somewhat sheepish smile, "is a collection of myths, legends and folk tales."

A giggle bubbled from her; he joined her with a rueful laugh.

"I know, it's childish –"

"No!" she was quick to counter him, unthinkingly placing her hand over his, to prevent him from pulling the book away.

He stilled under her touch.

Her teeth bit her lip, warmth infusing her cheeks. After a moment she shifted her grasp to the book and pulled it toward her. "It has been a long time since I've gotten to read these stories. I would like to again." A shy smile lifted the corners of her lips. "Thank you."

The grin he gave her in return had her heart tripping in her chest.

"You're welcome."


"I have a question." Snow curled her feet up under her on the chair; her chin propped in the palm of one hand, elbow on the arm of the chair, and her hot cocoa cradled in her lap with her other.

Charming's legs were stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles and propped up on a stool across from him. They had again retreated for a late-night mug of hot chocolate in the kitchens as they were wont to do.

One eyebrow rose. "What would that be?"

"Earlier, when we were discussing Ella's options, you mentioned that your family hadn't had more than one child survive to adulthood until you and Thomas since the annex."

"Mm." He nodded, sipping his cocoa.

A thoughtful frown creased her expression. "But your great-grandfather and Eric's great-grandfather were brothers and they both survived to adulthood." She lifted her mug for a sip. "I thought that the annex pre-dated them."

"It does," he acknowledged. "But he was not eligible to become king of Riverdon."

Her eyebrows rose on her forehead.

He let his feet drop to the floor and leaned forward to set his mug on the floor. "Our great-great-grandfather married a woman who was heir to the throne of another kingdom, Dellaford, and as part of the marriage-deal if they had more than one child one of them was to become ruler of her kingdom."

"Oh…" Snow nodded, understanding dawning. "That's how your family became connected to Dellaford kingdom."

"Yes." He sat back again. "And when Eric's grandparents had a second child they decided to create a second kingdom for Eric's father."

"Heavens," she muttered amusedly, clasping her mug between her hands, "all of these other kingdoms and their interconnections make mine look rather simple, really." There was a teasing light in her eyes.

He gave her a half-smile. "Well, as you've pointed out before, your family has been content to intermingle the royal bloodline freely with just about anyone from any level of society. You rarely look outside your own boarders, and never that far."

She cocked one of her eyebrows wryly. "You make us sound almost in-bred."

The smile became a smirk. "Which we both know is a thought without merit. Your family has probably been even better about avoiding that than many that marry into other royal lines, because you're so willing to marry outside our ilk."

Her eyes narrowed teasingly. "How very diplomatically recovered."

His head fell back with a rich laugh prompting her own laughter to bubble out.

She set down her mug and dropped her feet momentarily to the floor so that she could scoot her chair next to his. This done she brought her feet back up under her and leaned over to rest her head on his shoulder. His arm curved naturally around her, his nose burying in her hair.

The fingers of her free hand softly trailed up and down the arm he had wrapped around her. "After dinner, Father was talking about us leaving the day after tomorrow."

His hand caught hers on a down sweep of her fingers, tangling the digits together. "We knew it was going to happen." Though he seemed to be trying to convince himself as much as her.

"I know," she sighed, turning her head slightly so that she could breathe his scent in deeply. "I'm just selfish enough to wonder when we're going to see each other again."

His finger under her chin lifted her face, their eyes meeting.

His thumb ran tantalizingly over her bottom lip. "If I have my way, soon."

Keeping her eyes locked with his, Snow shifted her face slightly and pressed a kiss to the pad of his thumb.


James couldn't look away. It was a bad idea, letting this go on, but he couldn't tear himself away.

Snow rose in her seat toward him; he met her half-way.

Their lips just brushed at first, but then he slanted his mouth over hers parting his lips to meet her eager kiss. One of her hands curved around the back of his neck; her nails scraped over the skin gently, sensually.

The rational part of his mind was entirely drowned out by everything else in him.

His hands closed over her waist, all but lifting her out of her own chair and pulling her willing form to straddle his lap. The white fabric of her nightgown and dressing robe pooled around her legs and in his lap; even though there was much of the material, it was thin and very little stood between his calloused hands and her soft skin.

Her hands trailed down his chest and then back up again, wrapping one arm around his shoulders while the other hand rested against his collarbone, her thumb brushed against the hollow of his throat, bared from the open tie, drawing a moan from him. His own thumb ran along her hip and his other hand slid to her back where his fingers caressed up her spine; she gasped. His lips skimmed across her cheek to the side of her neck, which she arched, giving him full access to the smooth skin. Her hand slid from his shoulder to tunnel her fingers through his hair and gently tug on the strands.

The latch on the door clanked open.

Snow scrambled away from him, moving over to where their mugs were and bending to collect them, letting her hair curtain her face. James leaned forward in the chair, bracing his arms on his knees and trying to stifle a grimace before turning to see who came into the room.

Thomas stepped around the door and paused at seeing them.

"Little brother," James greeted him.

The younger man's eyes flicked back and forth between his brother and the princess. "I didn't know that anyone was down here." He let the door close.

Snow cast him a convincingly innocent smile as she moved over to the sink. "We were just having some hot chocolate and talking." She nodded her head at the stove as she dunked the cups into the water. "There's still some warm milk left in the pot if you'd like some."

"Thank you."

A pregnant silence enveloped the room while Snow rinsed the mugs and Thomas made his drink. James was gritting his teeth, trying to get control of his reaction to his and Snow's…activities.

Once she had set the dishes to dry beside the sink, the princess turned to the brothers. "Well, I'm going to head up to my room. See you both in the morning."

Thomas nodded to her bidding her a good night.

James wanted to escort her to her room, but there was no way he was standing up at the moment with his brother around. "Good night, Snow."

A soft smile lifted her lips. "Good night, James." Her slight form slipped out the door.

The brothers continued in silence until Thomas had made his cocoa and was heading for the door. "James?"

"Hmm?" His head turned slightly.

"I'm not sure what I almost walked in on, but whatever it was," he cocked a wry eyebrow, "could you never again do it in my kitchens?"


The next morning, as the sun was just cresting the horizon and James was dressing, there was a knock on his door.

"Father sent this." Thomas leveled the letter at his chest the moment his brother opened the door.

The older man raised an eyebrow at him, accepting the missive and stepping back to let him in. "When did it come in?"

Thomas closed the door behind him. "Just a few minutes ago."

James broke the seal and unfolded the parchment; once he had finished reading the contents he grimaced.

"What is it?"

The elder prince handed the letter to his brother. "Father wants me to attend some talks in Agrabah."

"When do you have to leave?" Thomas's eyes scanned down the words.

"Just after lunch at the latest." He accepted the missive back from his brother once he was finished. "I'll be staying there until the High Court gala Sultan is holding."

"Fun," was his brother's wry comment. Thomas watched his elder brother move to stare out the open doors of the balcony. "Do you want me to have the servants come up to pack for you?"

"Please," was the absent response. "I have some things to do." James's hand rose to press against a spot on his chest.

Thomas raised an eyebrow at the odd gesture, but shrugged it off. "I'll send the servants up. Jean's already here and if he says that it's all right, Ella will be joining us for breakfast, so we may be able to tell her about the positions in town and Everland."

"Right." An equally absent nod.

Eyes narrowed Thomas studied his brother. He opened his mouth to ask him what was going on, but after a moment he recognized the look in James's eyes and knew that he wouldn't be getting a straight answer at that moment. So, he shook his head and moved to the door. "We'll be waiting downstairs."

"See you there."


"Are you sure?"

Snow laughed at the repetitious question from the anxious woman. "I'm positive," she assured Ella.

The younger woman ran her hands over the sky blue material of the dress. "It's just so nice. Are you really sure you want to give it so me?" She looked over her shoulder at Snow who had volunteered to act as waiting maid to help her dress for breakfast.

The princess raised a pair of teasing eyebrows. "Keep asking me that and I'll start thinking you don't like it."

"No!" Ella quickly assured her. "I love it."

"Well, good." Snow did up the last clasp. "I've never worn it – I have no idea why my stepmother thought this color would look good on me or why she insisted I bring it, but it's the perfect shade for you." She smoothed her hands over the blond woman's shoulders and helped her turn to face the mirror. "There."

Ella gasped. "Oh, Snow!"

The dark haired woman giggled softly. "I'll take that as approval."

The younger woman brushed her fingers over a blond curl by her face. "That's really me…"

"It is," Snow confirmed. She watched Ella take in her greatly altered reflection with wonder; her heart ached for how miserable her new friend's life must have been. Things still weren't looking easy either…

Master Jean's search for open positions in town had been more or less fruitless. Snow had spoken with her father the night before about the possibility of Ella returning to Everland with them to meet the dwarves and see if she would like to work for them; he had agreed to it. This morning when she spoke to Jean and he had told her about his lack of success he recommended that Snow speak with Ella in private about the job.

The princess bit her lip, debating how to begin. "Ella."

The younger woman turned to look at her. "What is it?"

"There's…something I want to discuss with you. Would you like to sit for a moment?"

Ella nodded and with the aid of the crutch she had been leaning on and Snow's arm they made it over to a pair of chairs and settled in.

Snow took a deep breath. "James, Thomas and I spoke with Jean, who explained your situation to us. How your stepmother has control of your family's lands, and the way the laws work here."

The blonde's eyes dropped to the floor. "Oh."

"We just wanted to see if there was anything we could do to rectify the situation," the princess hurried to explain.

"There isn't," was the soft, and flat, answer.

"Yes, that's what we learned. However, we thought that maybe we could see if we could give you choices for what you want to do from here."

Surprise colored Ella's expression.

"There aren't many," Snow quickly added. "There are a couple of jobs in my kingdom that, should you like, you can have. But if you really prefer to stay here, Jean said that a few of your father's friends would be happy to have you stay with them as long as you want or need to, or at least until you have found a job and gotten your feet under you."

Ella bit her lip, turning her head to look out the window beside them. "I've never been more than five miles from my home," she whispered.

Snow placed her hand over the other woman's. "If you want to stay here I can understand that and I will come and visit you."

The blond was clearly torn. "The jobs are already open?"

The older woman nodded. "The one in particular that I have in mind isn't easy, but you will be treated well. And you will have friends."

"What is it?"

Snow prayed that she what she was about to tell her wouldn't scare her off. "I have these friends, seven dwarf brothers, who can't seem to keep house for themselves."


The princess raised a calming hand. "I know it sounds daunting, but they are good, kind men, who will respect you and treat you with kindness. They will never overburden you and you will have time off for yourself."

Ella was giving her a leery look.

Snow leaned forward. "If you like you can even just come and visit Everland for a while; stay with me, so that you can see how you like it. Once you've recovered if you've decided you want to come back to Riverdon I will bring you home."

The younger woman cast her eyes to the side in thought. "Can I think about it?" She looked back at Snow.

"Of course. My father, stepmother and I don't leave until tomorrow."

"Thank you."


Thomas kept glancing at the door, though he was trying not to be obvious about it. He didn't know what it was about Ella, but he was drawn to her so strongly.

"You know, I think that the saying about watched pots applies to doors as well."

He turned at his brother's wry comment. "Funny," he countered.

James tilted his head, eyeing him consideringly. "You have really become interested in Ella, very quickly, Little Brother."

The younger prince gave him a droll look. "Pot, kettle and all that."

This drew a snort of laughter from his elder brother. "I suppose I walked into that one."

"Only slightly."

Over the last day and a half Thomas had come to understand exactly why the Everland princess had caught his brother's attention. It was strange, but even though they had only known each other a short while – not counting the time they had spent together as children – they already fit almost like puzzle pieces. "How do you think she'll take the news that you're leaving today?"

He tapped a finger on the table. "She'll probably like it about as much as I am." His eyes cut to Thomas. "What about you? What do you think of Ella possibly going to Everland?"

Jean had stopped them in the entrance hall on his way out to inform them of his lack of success in finding a position in town and that Snow was telling Ella about the jobs in Everland.

Lips compressed he said, "I don't want her so far away."

After a moment of silence he lifted his eyes to meet his brother's, understanding was clear in the older man's eyes.

"Well, from here you're less than a half-day's ride from Everbrook, where she'll be living if she does accept the job."

"True," he sighed.

The doors to the breakfast room opened; both princes rose as the King and Queen of Everland entered, as dictated by customs and courtesies. The royals exchanged greetings as they seated themselves. Only minutes later Princess Snow entered the room with Ella, prompting the men to rise again while good mornings were spoken. Once they were all seated Thomas signaled to one of the servants for breakfast to be brought out.

"We saw Bates in the hall," Snow began quietly, her eyes going to James. "He said that you were leaving today."

He nodded. "Unfortunately. My father needs me to go to Agrabah; I must leave today in order to arrive in time."

"Oh." Her head lowered to focus on the plate that had been set before her.

Thomas's eyes turned to Ella's. He raised his eyebrows briefly; she bit her lip, trying to conceal the amusement that was dancing in her eyes. His brother and the princess were so gone over each other.

"Snow has told us that you might be joining us for our return to Everland." King Leopold took a sip from his glass.

Ella turned her eyes, nervousness plain in her gaze at being addressed by the king. "I am considering it, Your Majesty. I plan to make a decision later today."


Was it wrong, Thomas wondered, that he was still hoping she decided not to go?


After breakfast had broken up, James approached King Leopold in the otherwise empty hall. "Your Majesty, may I speak to you privately?"

The monarch nodded his head. "Of course." He gestured for the prince to lead the way.

They chose a small study; once inside King Leopold turned to him. "What is it you wish to speak to me about?"

James was good at reading people and the king's tone revealed that he possibly knew what the prince wanted to say.

He wasn't one to beat around the bush. "I wanted to request your permission to ask your daughter to marry me."

The king gazed at him watchfully for a moment and then answered. "No."

James felt like he'd been sucker-punched; it took him several moments to recover enough to speak again. "May I ask why, Your Majesty?"

"For many reasons." The monarch clasped his hands behind his back. "I have heard of Midas's offer to your family. I know that my daughter is your only other option at this point for marriage; I would never see her married for such reasons."

The prince opened his mouth to refute the allegations the king had just laid at his door, but Leopold continued before he could do so.

"Even if I were to believe that you had feelings for her strong enough for marriage, I wouldn't permit her to be placed in a position to be under Midas's wrath." His lips became a thin line. "I'm sure you're just as aware as I am what the man is capable of."

James could not refute that.

"And on another note, my daughter has had little exposure to the public eye in her life. As you saw, our kingdom is small and close-knit, she bares little to no scrutiny there, her life has been very sheltered and she's happy that way. Becoming your bride would thrust her into a spotlight that she has never imagined; she would be put under a magnifying glass for all to inspect, exposed for the masses." The king looked him directly in the eyes. "You have gotten to know my daughter a bit, would that make her happy?"

He was gritting his teeth, but unable to deny the king's words. "No." Though just about all that he was cried out that he would do everything in his power to make her happy, even in that life the king had just described.

King Leopold moved to stand slightly to his right, in front of him. "You are leaving today; my family leaves tomorrow. It would be best if you and my daughter didn't have contact for a while. At least until one of the two of you is married."

James's jaw was still clenched, eyes staring straight ahead into the room, unable to answer the king.

"Do you not agree?" the king pressed.

He allowed his eyes to cut to the monarch.

Their eyes locked and a battle of wills ensued.

James refused to give the older man the answer he sought; instead after several moments he gave a bow. "Pardon me, Your Majesty. I must prepare for my journey." He turned his back on the king, a rude gesture by Court standards, but he really couldn't look at the man a moment longer; he stalked out of the room.

His brother met him not far down the hall.

"James, I've been looking for you, Big Brother." The younger prince pulled to an abrupt stop once he took in the expression on his brother's face. "What's happened?"

James paused beside Thomas, his fist clenching and unclenching at his sides. "Could you have my horse readied now?"

"Now? I thought you were going to wait until after lunch?"

He had also thought he might be proposing to Snow about now, but that wasn't going to happen. Gods he wanted to put his fist through something. "I changed my mind."

"James, what's going on?"

The elder prince managed to take a deep breath, and calm himself somewhat before turning to his brother. "Nothing you need worry about, Little Brother." He continued down the hall, ignoring the inquiry his brother sent at his back.

He all but slammed the door of his room; he wanted to grab something and throw it, but refused to give into the childish urge. His long strides took him to the balcony where he braced his hands on the railing, leaning into them and gulping in deep breaths, trying to rein in his emotions. Pain radiated from his heart as the hopes that had taken root so recently were shattered. He lifted his head to gaze at the window that was growing so familiar, there was no movement inside; she was probably with Ella somewhere. He pressed his hand to his chest over his heart; the ring was caught under the press of it. What would he tell her? How was he to deal with this?

He bowed his head.


He was taking his time in leaving, watching the front door out of the corner of his eye.

His dawdling paid off when Snow burst through the doors and dashed down the stairs to him.

"James!" She pulled to a stop in front of him, her chest nearly heaving at what must have been a sprint through the palace; staring up at him, confusion bright in her eyes. "I heard that you're leaving now?"

His chest ached, but he nodded. "I really need to get to Agrabah as soon as possible."

Her eyes searched his. "When am I going to see you again?"

He could barely speak past the lump in his throat. "I don't know."

He could see that she was fighting to keep her face from revealing just how much she truly felt. "James?" Her uncomprehending stare locked with his.

He moved over to her; his still-ungloved hands taking one of hers. He lifted it to his lips, kissing the palm, his eyes all the while on hers. He closed her fingers over the spot and pressed another kiss to her knuckles, trying to pour everything that he felt into the gestures and his eyes.

He could give her no promise, but nor could he say good bye to her as her father wanted. His tortured gaze stayed on hers, his thumbs caressing over the spot where his mother's ring should have already been.

Her eyes continued to search his for answers, ones he couldn't give her because she adored her father, and even though the man's decision ripped his heart for his chest he could respect the king's desire to protect Snow.

His horse whinnied, shaking its head; reminding James that he had to leave and there was no way to put it off now that the decision had been made to go. Letting go of her hand was a herculean task, one that he barely managed.

Her eyes followed as he went through the motions of mounting. Their eyes met once more before he turned his steed and rode off, with the weight of her gaze heavy on his back the whole time.


Ella wasn't sure what to do. Her eyes kept cutting to Snow who had been staring out the window of the carriage wordlessly the whole trip so far.

Ever since Prince James had abruptly left the day before, the princess had been distracted, almost listless. When Ella had announced her decision to go to Everland Snow had smiled and voiced her happiness at the other woman's choice, but the sad, confused distance had remained in her eyes.

The blond woman desperately wanted to ask her friend what was wrong but didn't feel comfortable speaking so freely in front of the king and queen, so she held her tongue and turned to look out the window beside her.

Prince Thomas's face lingered in her mind; just before she left he had pulled her aside and quietly asked if he could possibly visit her after she had settled in. She had blushingly agreed and he had grinned widely in response. Oh, how her life had changed in – had it really only been three days? She kept expecting to wake up and find it all a dream, but so far it had remained real. She was still friends with a princess, dressed in finer clothing than she'd ever owned, sleeping in the most comfortable bed she'd ever lain on and, somehow, a prince had taken an interest in her.

She looked down at her lap where her hands caressed the book of folk tales that Thomas had pressed into her hands, saying they'd talk about them when he came to visit.

A small smile graced her lips.


One of fate's children crouched down beside her at her loom. He pointed out a snag in the pattern, asking why she didn't correct it. Fate gave her child a smile, telling him to watch and wait…


*cowers under a table* PLEASE DON'T HURT OR KILL ME! They're making their way to each other, I promise, but I couldn't let it happen in only seven chapters! Besides, this way I can bring in even more characters and plot lines! I hope that even though I split them up, for the time being, that you still liked it! Thank you so much for reading and PLEASE let me know what you think! I'll be getting to work on the next chapter as soon as I'm done with the next chapter of Hot Chocolate. I so can't wait for the episode on Sunday!

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