I'm sorry that it took longer than usual to get this chapter out! Real life (a.k.a. the thing I do to pay the bills) was really busy the last couple of weeks. But I hope that this chapter is worth the wait. Now, something awesome that happened recently. I was contacted by Jeff and Colleen Roney who do an OUaT fan podcast – their show is awesome by the way and I highly recommend that you guys go check it out! – and they were asked by Malini and Natasha, who have read my OUaT fanfics, to interview me… O.O To say I was shocked and honored is an understatement. First off, thank you so much to Malini and Natasha for requesting such an honor! I agreed to do the interview and it was recorded this past Sat. I'm not sure when they will have it up, but if you're at all interested in any of their show (they have awesome discussions involving listeners via e-mail, voicemail and Twitter, and they've done some great interviews including one with the woman who knit Emma's baby blanket!) you can find them at: onceuponatimepodcast.com and on iTunes.

A huge thank you to Sassy18 for beta-ing this! :-D


Chapter 9: The Calm

Thomas slowed his horse, Orius, to a trot as he approached Everbrook.

When he arrived in Riverdon three days ago he saw to it that Belle was safely and happily ensconced in the library before informing her that he'd be gone for a day or two. Once she'd assured him that she was all right staying there with Hama and Bates, who was still somewhat put-out with James for just disappearing, he'd packed the basics and saddled up Orius.

He turned the horse in the direction of Granny's, knowing that Snow was more likely to be there than at the castle, and even if she wasn't Granny or Red would be able to tell him where to find her.

As luck would have it he found the princess emerging from the woods in the direction of Ella and the dwarfs' home.

"Snow!" he called.

At the sound of his voice she spun, her eyes went wide as they alighted on him. "Thomas."

He brought Orius to a stop beside her and dismounted.

"We hadn't expected you." A warm, welcoming smile spread across her face. "Ella's back home."

Thomas was pleased to see Snow looking much better than when he'd left Everland. "It wasn't precisely planned," he admitted before glancing around at the curious on-lookers. "I actually need to talk to you about something first."

Snow apparently was able to read that he didn't want to have the "discussion" out in public and nodded. "Of course," she gestured in the direction of Granny's, "the kitchen should be fairly empty right now."

He nodded his agreement and followed her to the pub, leading his horse behind him; once there he tied Orius off to the hitching post by the kitchen door.

The kitchen was indeed empty aside from Granny and Lord Henry, who looked at the pair with identical lifted eyebrows.

Snow gave the proprietress and older gentleman one of her sweet, winning smiles. "Granny, Henry, you remember Thomas."

"Indeed," the older woman acknowledged with a raised eyebrow.

"We were hoping to use your kitchen to talk?"

Henry glanced between them, curiosity obvious in his eyes, but he stood, bringing his coffee with him. "I believe I will go outside and enjoy this lovely day."

"Mm," Granny agreed, lifting a bowl of peas to shell. The couple closed the door behind them.

Snow settled down at the kitchen table, looking at the prince expectantly.

Thomas sat down across from her, taking a deep bracing breath. "A few days ago James learned something…distressing."

Her eyes went wide, worry coloring them.

He reached out to place a reassuring hand over hers. "He'll be all right. With time. But I think he really needs you now."

Determination entered her expression. "Where is he?"

Thomas pressed his lips together. "I don't know. I didn't ask because I didn't want to have to lie to mother and father when asked. If I did know I would tell you, but I don't."

She tapped a finger from her free hand on the table as she thought.

"I have a few guesses," he continued, "but I can't be sure."

She bit her lip consideringly before her expression cleared and she sat up straight. "That's all right. I think I know how to find him."


The Next Evening

After they finished talking Thomas and Snow had stepped outside to let Henry and Granny know that they were done. The older woman had promptly informed Thomas that he would be attending her birthday celebration the following night, to which he responded the only way he could, affirmatively. Thus he was sitting at one of the many tables set out around the common green with a pint in hand and watching the impromptu dance that had begun. Granny and Henry had joined in, looking much spryer than their advanced ages would lead one to believe they'd be.

"Sweet, aren't they?"

He turned his head at the sweet voice that flowed out beside him, unable to help the grin that spread across his face.

A matching smile was on Ella's face as she sat down beside him. She was breathtaking in the simple but lovely blue dress she wore; in her non-work attire she seemed to have joined Snow in favoring light, flowing materials, though her dresses tended to be blue rather than the white that the princess usually wore.

He managed to tear his eyes away from her to watch the dancers once more. "They seem very…close."

Ella laughed softly. "According to Snow and Red, it used to be a big secret but apparently in the last couple of months it's become rather the open secret of the village."

"Why the change?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, no one really seems to, but it's accepted and everyone just doesn't talk about it."

"Do the king and queen know?"

"No, and Snow has been fairly clear on the fact that they are never to know."

Thomas nodded. "Understood."

Ella's eyes flicked to the side before coming back to him. "Speaking of Snow, she's been rather distracted and worried since you arrived yesterday."

He turned his glass on the table, pursing his lips. "It's about James. He received some shocking information and has disappeared to deal with it. I knew that he'd be able to deal with it better if she was with him." Thomas looked up at her inquiringly. "Snow said she'd be able to find him somehow."

A slight frown creased her expression. "I wonder how she's planning to do that."

"You don't have any ideas?" His head canted to the side.

She shook her head negatively. "There are still many things I'm learning about Snow. Red might know; I'll ask her tomorrow."

He "hmm"ed his agreement, turning to look at her watchfully.

Ella bit her lip, cradling her drink in her lap with both hands. "Do you really have to leave tomorrow?" A pleading note threaded her soft voice.

Oh, how he wished he could tell her no. "I should have left today," he told her regretfully. But he hadn't been able to deny himself the excuse to spend more time with her.

Her finger ran around the rim of her glass. "I'll miss you."

Curling a finger under her chin, he lifted her face.

Their eyes searched each other's expressions.

Slowly, haltingly, giving her plenty of time to say no, Thomas leaned his head to hers.

The first touch of their lips was gentle, hesitant; after a moment he pulled back slightly to look at her. Ella's eyes were still closed; she was still leaning toward him, barely breathing. He pressed his lips to hers again, more firmly this time. The contact remained relatively chaste, but testing. They were exploring this, tasting each other, learning what felt right, what felt good.

After several moments they parted, but rested their foreheads together, both of their eyes still closed.

"Why haven't you danced?" he asked in a husky voice.

"Because you haven't asked me." Her voice was soft.

Their eyes opened at almost the same time.

Thomas caressed a thumb over her cheek. "Will you dance with me?"

Her eyes lit up, a smile lifting her lips. "Yes."


Two Days Later


Snow had been relieved to receive Gaspard's prompt reply to the note she'd sent via her blue birds the day after Thomas arrived. He'd confirmed he was at home and available on this day.

She slowed her mare, Aravis, as she approached Rosewood Castle; little Chip came scurrying after the stable hand who had seen her arrival and was hurrying over.

"Princess Snow!" the little boy cried, waving at her enthusiastically.

Snow couldn't have stopped the grin that spread over her face even if she wanted to. Chip was such a joy, a sweet, bright child who charmed all who crossed his path.

"Hello, Chip." The princess knelt down once she was on the ground so that she was eye-level with him.

He was basically dancing around in his excitement. "They said you were coming today, but no one would tell me when; Momma said that you'd be here when you got here, Lumiere I don't think knew, and Cogsworth was just really stuffy and wouldn't answer me." She wasn't sure that he took a single breath throughout that entire narrative.


They both turned at the call.

Mrs. Potts stood at the top of the front steps, hands on hips but smiling down at them both genially. "No need to be bothering the princess, now. She's here to see the master."

"All right," the boy carried on cheerfully. He looked back up at Snow. "Can you play with me later?"

She gave him a smile. "Maybe. We'll have to see how this goes."

"Ok," he chirped before running off.

The princess looked once more at the older woman.

With a warm smile the housekeeper gestured her inside. "This way, my dear."

Gaspard looked up from his desk when she entered his study; he grinned, nodding to thank Mrs. Potts, who left. He reached over for his cane beside him and used it to help himself to his feet while Snow moved to meet him.

They embraced tightly; he pressed a brotherly kiss to her cheek. "Snow." He led her by the hand to a pair of chairs sitting on either side of a small table set for tea. "Your note said that you had a favor to ask?"

As ever, Snow was grateful for his straightforward manner; that he didn't bother beating around the bush as they settled down for tea.

She watched as he poured the tea into her cup, thanking him. "It's about James." She reached out for her cup and saucer.

Once he'd filled his own cup and had it in hand he looked at her expectantly.

She took a sip. "I need to find him."

He raised an eyebrow. "Is he missing?"

"According to his brother, Thomas, he received some shocking news and disappeared a few days ago," Snow explained. "Thomas came and asked me to find him, said that James needed me."

His blue eyes looked at her watchfully.

Her expression became pleading. "I need to find him. Please," she begged. "Find him for me?"

Gaspard reached over, covering one of her hands with his. "For you," he smiled, "anything."


Having elected to retrieve and saddle Aravis herself, Snow went to the stables.

Standing on a stool and all but hanging his upper body on the door of the stall, Chip was chattering on like a magpie to Aravis while petting the mare. Snow could see the indulgent bow of the horse's head and rather bemused look in Aravis's eyes at the talkative little boy.

"Are you and Aravis having a nice chat?"

Chip turned at her voice and gave her a wide, gap-toothed grin. "She's really nice and a really good listener." He continued to pat the white stripe that graced the horse's otherwise golden face.

Aravis shook her cream-colored mane, whickering a greeting to her mistress.

Snow moved to the mare's other side and began to gently run her hand along her tawny coat. "Indeed she is," she agreed easily.

The boy cocked his head to the side. "Do you talk to her a lot?"

"All the time," the princess confirmed. "Isn't that right, my girl?" she cooed to the mare, who softly and affectionately butted her nose against Snow's stomach. Snow laughed, stroking her hands over the horse's head. "That's my lovely girl."

Chip was watching her with gape-mouthed wonder. "She really understands you."

The dark haired princess grinned at him. "Animals understand a lot more than many humans give them credit for." She leveled an almost-serious gaze at him. "Never forget that, Chip."

He nodded his head vigorously. "I won't!"

She stroked a gentle, fond hand over the top of his sandy hair. "Good." She bent down so that they were eye-level. "Now, how would you like to help me saddle her up?"

He gave her a blindingly bright smile. "Yes!"

"Wonderful." She ruffled his hair affectionately as she straightened back up. "Let's get to it then!"


Three Days Later


To say that Thomas was surprised to receive King Gaspard's letter, requesting for them to talk and if he could stay for a night, would be the understatement of the century. He'd hardly said more than a handful of words to the man ever, so why he would want to be in contact Thomas could not imagine. However, he agreed and when the king's carriage drove up he was waiting outside.

King Gaspard slowly stepped down from the carriage, leaning heavily on his cane. "Prince Thomas."

The prince bowed. "King Gaspard."

The elder man bowed his head. "Gaspard, please." He extended his hand for Thomas to shake.

"Thomas." Thomas accepted the handshake, and then pulled away. "How may I help you, Your Majesty?"

The king leaned easily on his cane. "Well, I'm actually here because a dear friend of mine asked me for help." At Thomas' raised eyebrow he continued, "Snow White."

Both of the prince's eyebrows shot up. That changed and explained everything. He swept his arm toward the main doors. "Please, come in."

Gaspard nodded graciously. "Thank you." He followed his host inside.

Thomas had heard about the young, semi-reclusive king's rumored extensive spy network. It was said that he could find anyone, anything and any information in the realm, even when no one else could. So that had been Snow's plan. "I hadn't realized that you knew Snow."

Keeping pace with the prince's stride the elder man nodded. "Since she was born, our mothers were close friends. She's the sister I never had."

"I take it she told you the situation?"

"Enough of it. All I really care is that it matters to her."

Nodding slowly, Thomas accepted the answer, seeing in the words that the king felt the same way about Snow that Thomas and James felt for Belle. "How can I help?"

Gaspard looked at him levelly. "I have a few questions for you about your brother. Once I have those answers I should be able to find him."

Thomas nodded and gestured to his study. "We can talk in here."


Belle was in her element rebuilding the Riverdon library. She had always loved books; truthfully she found the world of books to be kinder and more accepting than most people in reality. Her father, James, Thomas, Liam, Hama, Bates, Queen Ruth, Jasmine and even Prince Phillip were exceptions to this; always treating her with respect and care. But outside of this small circle of people her only friends were books. It was late in the evening, well after dinner, which she had missed because she had lost track of time. She was returning to her sanctuary from the kitchens where she had charmed the cook into giving her some of the leftovers.

The staff had been abuzz over the visitor who'd arrived, King Gaspard of Rosewood. Belle had unobtrusively eavesdropped on the gossip about the young king as she at. Some of them had gasped over the man's badly scarred visage, but others had turned around and quickly scolded them. They pointed out that the man had been nothing but kind and respectful since his arrival. Belle had heard much over the years about King Gaspard, she naturally knew his history – who didn't? – she had also quietly longed for the chance to visit his library – the largest and most extensive in existance – and been almost equally desirous to see his rose gardens – rumored to be the loveliest ever seen. She had also heard tales that the man had the largest spy network in the realm, with eyes and ears everywhere. It was said that nothing happened anywhere that he wasn't aware of within a day or two. However, she also knew that people tended to exaggerate when telling tales, so she took this all with a grain of salt.

It was late enough that she didn't expect there to be anyone in the library.

But there was.

He was tall, taller than James; even though he was obviously forced to lean a portion of his weight on the ornate cane he had, he still kept his posture as straight and tall as possible. She could only imagine the hard work and time he'd put into being able to stand as upright as he did, with little to no bend in his body from his need of the cane's support. He cut an impressive, proud figure that radiated control, he was a man who knew his power and wore it with ease.

But at the same time, there was something quiet and calming about his presence that soothed any unease she might've felt at being in the presence of a strange man. From her position she could see only the right side of his face. One scar cut a long line from temple to jaw and another shorter one slashed viciously from just below his eye, down his cheek to split his lips, while a third appeared to originate somewhere near his hairline on the left side of his face and streaked across his forehead to cut through his right eyebrow and ended just before reaching his eyelid. The scars were perhaps shocking to some, but Belle couldn't help the way her heart skipped a beat the first time she laid eyes on King Gaspard.

She swallowed and took a deep, calming breath, trying to bring her pounding pulse under control. "May I help you, Your Majesty?"

He turned to her.

When his deep blue eyes met her brown ones it was all she could do to keep breathing. She managed to notice that the third scar actually disappeared into his hairline just above his temple; a cluster of scars at the corner of his left eye twisted the flesh of his cheek and eyelid, nearly pulling it shut, and a scar ran jaggedly from the left side of his chin down across his neck, disappearing into the collar of his shirt. Yes, the scars could indeed be called shocking, but that didn't stop her heart from racing and the instant attraction she felt spring up for him.

When was the last time she'd been truly attracted to a man? Had she ever been? She'd honestly thought that part of her had died after what Gaston had done. Even though the ever rational part of her mind was telling her that she should be terrified or even worried about the fact that she was so irrationally and immediately interested in a man she'd never met before, she couldn't silence her heart which told her that she could trust this man. Nor could she ignore the part of her that found the young king so achingly familiar and welcome. She hugged her book tighter to her chest, sure that he could at least see, if not hear, her heart pounding in her breast.


Gaspard had heard of Belle of Seaborn, the royal librarian. That she was brilliant, quiet and had a great love of books. He'd also heard how very beautiful she was, but it hadn't prepared him to be faced with the reality of it. She was petite, not even reaching his shoulder; she had a delicacy about her in the fineness of her bone structure and pale skin. Her eyes were a soft, lovely brown, shining with intelligence…and they didn't flicker from him even for a moment. They were wide with surprise, but not shock or disgust, a rarity for him who was so used to seeing horror on people's faces at seeing him and their averted gazes in an attempt, they believed, at not making him feel uncomfortable…though he knew it was to help their own discomfort. Her gaze never wavered, meeting his easily without any give in her stare.

His heart raced. When was the last time a woman – other than Snow, Red and Aurora, and even Ella – could look at him so directly without any discomfort or disgust? Never…not since the accident, and at that age he wasn't really old enough to care about what women thought of him. He had never dreamed that any woman would look at him like that, much less a woman of such great beauty – not just body but mind and soul as well – and intelligence. He had to concentrate to control his breathing, trying to slow his galloping pulse.

His usually acute mind finally caught up with her posed question and he cleared his throat. "I don't mean to disturb you. As you apparently know, I am King Gaspard of Rosewood."

She curtseyed. "I am honored to meet you, Your Majesty. I am Belle of Seaborn. And you are not disturbing me." She gestured with her arm around them at the partially-filled shelves, piles of books and half-empty crates. "Books are for all."

"I agree." Gaspard nodded, running a loving hand over the books' spines. "You have done an incredible job here." He looked around them. "I have heard how depleted the Riverdon Library was."

The librarian joined him in admiring all of her work so far, a proud grin lighting her face. "I was very flattered when Thomas requested that I do this."

His eyes moved over her form. "From what I have heard there's no one better to do the job; that you've done wonders for the organization of the Seaborn library."

She blushed, looking down. "Thank you."

"I don't believe in giving compliments to those who don't deserve them." He gave her a wry grin when she lifted her head. "I don't have the guile or tact for it."

Belle bit her lip, stepping closer. "I have heard," she began tentatively, "that your kingdom's library is the largest in the realm."

He smiled warmly at her. "As far as I know that is still true. My father was particularly avid in his adding to the collection." He knew that pride for his father's accomplishment colored his tone.

"It must be an incredible sight." She mused softly, unable to tear her eyes from his.

His eyes were locked with hers, gazing into them admiringly. "Indeed," he agreed quietly, his voice almost lost in the silence of the library.

Her breath was coming faster.

There was a clatter in the hall outside the doors.

Belle's eyes snapped down to the floor, color flooding her cheeks.

Gaspard cleared his throat, tapping his cane. "Perhaps, someday, you'll be able to come and see our library in Rosewood."

Her head lifted again with a gasp. "Really?"

He met her gaze again. "I would be most happy to have you come."

A smile hesitantly grew across her face. "I would like that."


Several Days Later


It was a struggle for Snow to maintain a calm, demure façade as she greeted Gaspard with her father and stepmother. The only reason he would've stopped in Everland for the night was that he'd found James. Her father, who had always liked Gaspard, shook her friend's hand warmly, Clara was smiling thinly as she allowed the young king to bow over her hand; Snow took both of his hands, kissing his cheek with a bright smile. When she pulled back he gave her a reassuring smile and firm nod, confirming what she'd known. He'd found him. Now the question became how she was going to be able to wait until they could speak alone.

It ended up not taking too long. They chatted over tea for an hour before Gaspard requested that Snow show him their roses, which she happily agreed to.

"Where is he?" she asked desperately once she was sure there was no one around.

He led her to sit on a bench, settling himself next to her. "Where is the one place a royal can hide in plain sight?" He raised a wry eyebrow.

Her expression was confused for a moment, but understanding dawned quickly. "Lochdubh."

"Indeed," he nodded. "That isn't all."

She tilted her head inquiringly.

He leaned both of his hands on his cane. "Apparently his family shares a close, old friend there with your family and mine."

Her eyebrows rose. "Really?"

Gaspard nodded. "He's staying with him."

Snow bit her lip, staring out over the gardens.

"A problem?" he asked.

She tucked a dark curl behind her ear. "He's the only one I know well enough in Lochdubh to stay with. And since there's no inn…"

"Hmm." He joined her contemplation.

The crunch of gravel on the path drew both of their attention.

"Pardon me if I'm interrupting."

"Not at all, Henry," Snow assured her surrogate grandfather.

"Lord Henry." Gaspard bowed his head respectfully to the older man.

Henry bowed back. "King Gaspard." He moved closer to them. "I heard you mention Lochdubh."

The pair glanced at each other and then looked back at Henry.

Snow decided to tell him the excuse she'd been planning to use upon finding out where James was as the reason for why she was going. "I was thinking about going to Lochdubh for the solstice, perhaps with Red and Ella, but there's nowhere that we can stay."

He smiled quite brightly. "Well, I have a solution for that. I have a cottage in Lochdubh."

"A cottage." Snow's eyes widened slightly. "I didn't know you had property in Lochdubh."

"It's a recent acquisition," he told her dismissively. Then his expression became pointed. "One that I would like to keep between us."

The princess bit her lip, eyes cutting to Gaspard, who was coughing lightly into his fist.

"Your secret is safe with us, Henry," Snow promised; Gaspard nodded his agreement.

"Wonderful." He smiled pleasantly. "Well, if you need a place to stay, I'm happy to let you stay there."

She bit her lip. "Are you sure?"

"Of course." A knowing look was in his eyes. "The solstice in Lochdubh is quite a wonderful celebration."

He knew. Had probably heard them talking. Snow gave him a grateful smile, standing and kissing the older man on the cheek. "Thank you, Henry."

He patted her hand. "You're most welcome, my dear."


The next morning when bidding goodbye to Gaspard, Snow kissed him on the cheek and thanked him quietly, but fervently. He had kissed her cheek in return and told her, "It was my pleasure. I just want you happy." With a final brotherly kiss to her forehead he bid her a fond farewell and boarded his carriage.

Snow had then all but bolted to the village in search of Red and Ella; thankfully she found them both occupied with mending in the Granny's kitchen.

Upon Snow's rushed explanation of what she wanted to do, Red quirked an eyebrow and smirkingly agreed.

Ella bit her lip. "I'm not sure I can take the time off."

Red rolled her eyes. "Oh, don't you worry. All Snow has to do is look at the dwarfs and they'll fall all over themselves to do as she wishes."

The princess leveled her friend with a look.

"You know it's true," the younger woman countered sardonically.

Snow rolled her eyes.

"What is Lochdubh?" Ella cut in before their exchange could degenerate into an argument.

Both dark-haired women glanced at her and then back at each other with near-identical grins.


Lochdubh was a small, coastal village on the edge of Seaborn. It had a small handful of the requisite fishermen, a couple of farms and a few merchants, but what it was known for was the large number of artists and craftsmen that lived there; they made up the majority of the population. It was a place outside of the social norms, where certain strictures were basically nonexistent; it made even Everland look straight-laced. But it was also a rather closed society. If you were a member of their community or a close friend of a member and had been "vouched for" you were "one of them" and they would treat you exactly the same as they would anyone, regardless of rank or position. If you were an "outsider" you would likely be treated as "befitted" your "station"…and entirely closed off from the community. Some royals, who had friends among the people there, had been known to stay in the village where they would be treated as a commoner, and should anyone come looking for them, the villagers would deny any knowledge of their whereabouts, protecting their privacy.

It was one of Snow's favorite places in the world, and one of her stepmother's least favorite.

She and her two friends had opted to take only what they could carry on horseback and no servants, preferring to keep their presence as small and quiet as possible. They were wending their way down what they were fairly sure was the last stretch of road before they reached the cottage.

"Are you sure this is the right way?" Red called from her position a bit behind Snow, who was leading the way.

The princess rolled her eyes. "It has only been a year since I was in Lochdubh last, I know my way very well. And according to Henry's directions, it should be at the end of this lane."

As if conjured by her words, when they turned the next bend a fairly sprawling house, with the beach just beyond was revealed. All three women pulled to a stop in front of the building, each of their jaws unhinged.

"I thought you said it was a 'cottage,'" Ella asked faintly.

"That's what Henry called it," Snow confirmed, her gaze running over the one-story, rambling house.

Red was gaping. "Why on Earth did Henry buy so large a house?"

Snow had recovered enough to toss her friend a sardonic look before dismounting. "Why does Henry do half the things he does?" Her friends followed her example and they began leading their horses in the direction of the stable. "The man's reasons are sometimes quite inscrutable."

"True," the dark-haired younger woman agreed.

Henry had seen to it that plenty of hay and oats, along with some food in the kitchen, already awaited them. Once their horses were settled, they ventured into the house. It turned out to have five bedrooms, a sitting room, kitchen, dining room, and a porch that wrapped around the entire house, with doors onto it from every room. It was a very light and airy place with many windows. They each selected a room with no fuss on any of their parts about who went where.

Upon dropping her bags in her room, Snow all but ran out again.

"Snow!" Red called after her.

"Don't worry about my things!" she called to them over her shoulder. "I'll take care of them when I return!" She tossed a wave at them without looking back.

The dark-haired woman gave an exasperated sigh.

"Did you really expect her to wait any longer to go find him?" Ella asked, laughter threading her voice.

Red cocked a wry eyebrow at her. "Not really, but that doesn't make it any less troubling to have her just running off like that."


Snow hurried her way through the woods to the town; once there, she hardly slowed her pace at all. She absently returned a few greetings that were thrown her way, too engrossed in reaching her destination to really pay attention.

With the clear, warm weather most of the craftsmen and artists had taken their work outside to enjoy the lovely summer days. Upon reaching the shop/home she wasn't surprised to see the proprietor sitting on a bench, sipping what appeared to be some type of fresh juice, and carving a design into what appeared to be a sign.


The woodworker's head lifted at her joyous call and his eyes lit up in recognition. He dropped his tools and moved to meet her. "Principessa!" he greeted her warmly, accepting her hug. Geppetto pulled back slightly to look at her with a raised eyebrow. "I take it you're here simply as 'Snow'?" he inquired softly.

Her eyes sparkled with humor. "Indeed." She bit her lip and then opened her mouth to ask the question that was burning in her.

"He's out for a walk," he told her, anticipating what she was going to ask.

"Where?" she begged.

His eyes twinkled. "You remember that little cove you've always loved?"

Her smile grew; she quickly pecked his cheek. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Principessa."

Just before she darted away she noticed a blond, clean-shaven man munching on an apple not far from where Geppetto had been working, watching her with a pair of clear blue eyes under raised eyebrows. She tossed the man a quick smile and hurried off again.

She had a Prince Charming to find.


Liam took a bite of his apple as he watched the young woman hurry off; he stood and moved over to where Geppetto had returned to his work. "Do you have a young lady friend that we're not aware of, Geppetto?" he teased the older man.

The woodworker gave a laugh, shaking his head at the young general. "No indeed. And you'd be doing her a disservice to imply any such thing." He leveled a semi-stern look at Liam.

The general gave him a grin before looking back in the direction that the young woman had gone. "Pretty girl," he mused.

"Quite possibly the fairest you'll ever see," the older man agreed, but then gave him a pointed look. "And quite taken."

"Pity," Liam told him with a somewhat wolfish grin before laughing it off. "Nah, she's lovely, but not my type." He took another bite of the apple. "She's too sweet. I like my women with a bit more spit and vinegar."

Geppetto chuckled softly, going back to working on the milliner's new sign. "Well, we'll see what you have to say after you meet her."

Smirking, he nodded. "I suppose we will."


Snow dashed through the woods to the cove she had found as a child. She supposed that it was odd that she liked it so well, considering that the first time she found it she nearly died when she fell off the rocks and almost drowned, but for some reason she liked the secluded place.

When she emerged from the trees and was gazing over the beach, her heart caught in her throat. There he was. Her James. Her Prince Charming.

He was sitting on the beach in a loose, deep blue tunic, dark brown work breeches and well-worn boots. He was staring out over the water toward the horizon.

Her heart was already racing in her chest at finally seeing him again, at having him so close. She took several slow breaths before bending down, slipping off her shoes and taking them in her hand. On slightly unsteady legs she began to make her way toward him.

She gulped in a breath. "I thought you were the one who was supposed to find me?"


James had been taking walks every day since arriving in Lochdubh, enjoying the chance to be able to do so without people constantly watching or staring at him. It was what he enjoyed about the community; he could come here and be treated like any other man, not have to deal with the constant pressures and expectations of being a prince. It had been somewhat helpful over the last few days, the peace, in dealing with the upheaval in his life. But at the same time being so far from his family and his home made it harder too. He still felt adrift in a storm without a compass, or any sort of anchor or mooring, and he wasn't sure how to even begin to get those lost bearings back even over a week after finding out the truth of his parentage.

The warm, salty breeze slightly ruffled his short hair, causing the loose sleeves of his shirt to ripple like the surface of an otherwise still pond.

"I thought you were the one who was supposed to find me?"

His raging thoughts silenced for a moment; everything in him went still at that sweet, lyrical cadence. James half-believed he was just imagining things; that if he turned he would see nothing and the momentary illusion would be shattered. But he couldn't have stopped himself from looking for anything, on the off-chance that it wasn't just his imagination.

She actually looked like a dream; long, dark curls tousled from the wind; her eyes sparkling brightly at him. She was wearing one of her usual long, white dresses of a thin, flowing material. She'd gathered a handful of the skirt in one hand, holding it above her ankles as she approached him barefooted, her shoes dangling from the fingers of her other hand.

"Snow," he breathed.

Her smile was like a ray of the sun. "Hello, Charming."

James was on his feet and had scooped her up in his arms little more than a heartbeat later. Her arms wound around his neck, holding on tightly while he spun them both around. "You came." He repeated it over and over, his tone full of wonder.

The instant he had her against him with her arms wrapped around him it was like someone had thrown him mooring lines and he'd finally found safe harbor. Snow was his safe harbor, his rock. He breathed in her warm, sweet scent; it eased the storm in him, steadied him. He'd stopped spinning them and lowered her to the sand, but hadn't eased his hold on her in the slightest, partially afraid that if he did she'd vanish from him and he'd be lost once more.

"You know, Charming," she whispered in his ear a little teasingly, "I'm not just going to disappear if you let go."

"I'm not quite ready to release you and test that theory." His voice was slightly muffled from his face being pressed into her hair.

"Well, do you mind if we sit down at least? I've been riding the last two days and ran here from town. I'm a bit tired and could use a rest."

"I think I can manage that." He pulled away enough so that he could sit down while still maintaining a hold on her. She began to settle herself beside him, but soon found herself pulled across his lap and cradled sideways against his chest. She didn't protest in the slightest.

"How did you find me?" he questioned, his lips brushing against her curls.

"First, your brother came to Everland a few days ago and told me that you had discovered some information that disturbed you and that you had left to sort it all out." She leaned her head back to look up at him.

He returned her gaze with a raised eyebrow. "As far as I know Thomas didn't know where I am."

"He didn't," she confirmed. "I'm fairly certain that he still doesn't." Her fingers ran up and down the arm wrapped around her waist. "There are certain advantages to being the surrogate little sister of King Gaspard."

James gave a wordless "ah", nodding for her to continue.

"Upon my request, Gaspard gathered information to your possible whereabouts, including asking your brother a few questions. He came here," she glanced around them, "to Lochdubh," she looked back up at him, "to confirm with Geppetto the fact that you were here." Reaching up she stroked her fingers down the side of his face. "Then he came and told me where you were… And here I am."

He bent his head down to rest his forehead against hers. "Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you for coming."

Her thumb feathered across the scar on his chin. "Where else could I be?"

His Snow. How could he have expected any other answer from her?

Her worried eyes gazed into his. "Want to tell me what upset you so much?"

He gave a weary sigh, letting his head fall forward slightly. "For today at least can I just enjoy having you here, in my arms again?"

She narrowed her eyes slightly. "You will tell me tomorrow."

Pressing his forehead to hers, he looked her directly in the eyes. "Yes. I promise." James wasn't keen on telling her what he had learned – nor was he particularly eager for the argument to come once he explained why he left Riverdon so suddenly – but he knew he needed to and he was a man of his word. He held her tighter to him. "We will talk about everything, but just for now, I need to hold you."

With a warm smile she gently tapped a finger against the scar. "All right." She rubbed her nose against his and pressed a quick kiss to his lips, pulling away before he could return the kiss. "I missed you too, Charming," she told him teasingly.

One of his hands slid up to cup her cheek, his thumb stroking delicately over the skin. "Snow…"

Her eyes dropped to his lips thoughtfully. "Hmm?" They rose again to meet his, full of promise.

He let out a groan and ducked his head down to take possession of her lips.

One of Snow's hands fisted in his shirt and the other gripped his shoulder, pulling him even closer; James' arm around her waist pulled her tighter to him while his hand on her cheek tunneled into her long locks.

It was all too easy to lose himself in their passion and love for each other. Having her with him was like coming home in a way that not even Seaborn Castle – the only home he'd ever known – had ever been.

"People are going to wonder where we are," he murmured against her lips, though he made no move to separate from her.

"Mm," she confirmed, pressing small kisses along his jaw. "We should head back."

Using his hand that was threaded through her hair he gently urged her to tilt her head back, exposing the column of her throat to his open-mouthed kisses. "In a little while," he breathed against her pulse.

One of Snow's hands slid up to the back of his neck, urging him on in his ministrations. "Yes," she agreed, her voice more of a moan, "in a little while…"


It was more than a little while before they managed to pull apart and finally head toward Henry's cottage. The whole time James made sure that he had physical contact with her in some way; holding her hand the entire walk. Snow rolled her eyes at him, but she hadn't protested in the least and frequently moved closer to him and initiated many gestures herself.

When they reached the cottage Ella had greeted him warmly with a hug while Red had smirked at him before granting him an embrace as well. They then all headed into the kitchen where they settled around the table for glasses of juice.

"The woodcutter's son stopped by with the last load of firewood for the kitchen," Red informed the couple as she finished pouring herself a glass, "he said that there was one of the community bonfires tonight."

James nodded as he took a few gulps from his glass, only now realizing that he was quite thirsty. "Yes, there is."

Snow grinned brightly. "Wonderful! I haven't been to one of the bonfires here in years."

"Do they have them frequently in Lochdubh?" Ella questioned the other three as she lifted her glass.

"Many during the summer months," the princess confirmed.

"They're very communal here," Red explained, "and the warm weather is just all the more reason for them to gather together."

"You'll enjoy it, Ella," James assured her, smiling.

"Well then," she began jauntily, "I look forward to it."


Geppetto's head was bent over a rocking horse he was putting the finishing touches on when Snow's lyrical voice called out to him bringing his head up. This time she wasn't alone, and the sight brought a smile to his face.

Her fingers were intertwined with James' and the prince was wearing the first genuine smile that the woodworker had seen on his face since his arrival. Snow was glowing with joy, pressing close to her beloved's side. With them was also Red, whose eyes shone with as much humor and mischief as ever, and beside her was a blonde who appeared to be a year or two younger than Red, with a sweet smile and bright eyes.

The craftsman raised his hand in greeting, setting down his tools and wiping the wood polish off of his hands as they came up. "Principessa." He smiled warmly as Snow rose on her toes to kiss his cheek.

"Thank you," she whispered into his ear.

He pressed a kiss of his own to her forehead. "Thank you," he softly corrected, cutting his eyes meaningfully to James.

Her eyes sparkled happily as they turned to the man beside her who gazed down at her with as much joy and adoration. Never in all of the years Geppetto had known the prince and princess, and he'd known them both all of their lives, had he ever seen them so happy. Yes, he decided, they were well matched.

James managed to tear his eyes away from Snow to grin wryly at the older man. "I hear that you were in on this little 'surprise.'"

Geppetto chuckled lightly. "Oh, I played but a small role…"

Snow smothered a laugh into the prince's shoulder.

The younger man raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."

The craftsman turned his amused gaze to the younger of the two dark-haired women. "Redelle, how is your grandmother?"

The young woman embraced Geppetto. "She's very well, keeping everyone else as much on their toes as ever."

"As it should be," the man told her approvingly before finally turning to the final member of the group, and the only face that was unfamiliar to him. "And who might this be?"

Snow and Red urged the young woman forward. "Geppetto, this is Ella De Barbarac," the princess introduced. "Ella, this is the greatest craftsman you'll ever meet, Geppetto of Lochdubh."

Geppetto smiled at the princess. "That is very sweet of you to say, Principessa."

"She only speaks the truth," James countered. He then leaned down slightly to speak in a faux covert tone to Ella. "I could swear that there's nothing this man can't make."

"I do not believe I have blushed this much since I was a lad," the woodworker commented mildly.

"Don't let him fool you." Red smirkd at Geppetto while speaking to Ella. "He is every bit as great an artisan as they are telling you."

The older man rolled his eyes skyward and tossed his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender.

Ella had been watching the interaction with great interest, always eager to learn more about her friends. She extended a hand to Geppetto. "It is an honor to meet you, Master Geppetto."

The older man bowed over her hand. "The honor is all mine, Mistress Ella. Principe James has spoken highly of you."

She grinned at the aforementioned prince. "Well, he has my thanks."

James shook his head ruefully. "I'm going to stop this right there before this all gets turned on me." He turned his attention solely to Geppetto. "Where's Liam?"

"He was getting nervous with you gone so long, so I sent him to deliver an item for me to keep him occupied."

The prince smirked, laughter bright in his eyes. "Actually managed to get on your nerves, did he?"

The woodworker shrugged. "Even I have my limits," he admitted easily.

James chuckled.

Movement just over the younger people's shoulders caught Geppetto's eye. "But I believe it is about to become your problem anyway."

After only a momentary flicker of question on his face the prince winced, and then slowly turned to face his approaching general, who didn't look all that pleased.


Liam was simultaneously relieved and annoyed at seeing his prince safe and sound, talking with Geppetto and three women. The whole group turned at his approach but his attention remained on his liege lord, whom he had every intention to, without creating too much of a scene, inform just how little he liked having him disappear for so long without a word.

"Liam, allow me to introduce some friends of mine," James said before Liam could speak.

The general gritted his teeth, knowing with those words that now was not the time or the place to voice his displeasure at the prince, so he turned his attention to the three women whom James had gestured toward.

The first his gaze went to was the woman directly next to the prince; the woman who had stopped by the shop earlier and spoken briefly to Geppetto.

James, holding her hand and looking at her with an expression that Liam could only term as complete and utter adoration, brought her forward a bit. "This is Princess Snow White."

With that name the look on James's face was explained.

His prince had continued to dodge Liam and Phillip's continued inquiries about the Everland Princess, even though they knew he'd seen her while in Riverdon. And Thomas hadn't been overly forthcoming with information either, though Liam suspected that part of the reason the younger prince hadn't said anything was because James knew something about him in return and, through a tacit agreement, neither was revealing anything. But Liam had still been able to glean quite a bit from subtle, and some none-too-subtle, hints that were dropped, and bits and pieces of information he picked up from Bates and Hama. This much the general knew: The prince had very strong feelings for the princess – more than confirmed by the look in his eyes just now – James intended to court her – probably had already quietly begun to do so from the looks the couple exchanged – and something had happened in Riverdon between them that not even Thomas seemed to know the full extent of.

As Liam now looked the princess up and down, he agreed with his original assessment of her, she was sweet and lovely, with innate goodness that matched James', and a gentleness that could draw one in so easily. Oh, he could see what attracted his prince's attention; according to James' own words after meeting her for the first time, she had a sharp mind, wit and tongue as well, but Liam would have to wait and see this for himself.

He bowed to her respectfully. "Your Majesty."

The princess rolled her eyes, waving her hand. "Please, it's just Snow, especially here of all places."

"Very well," he agreed. Her relaxed demeanor told him that her personality and style of ruling would likely blend well with James'; a positive mark for her on that front.

She turned to the two women with her. "These are two of my closest friends." She gestured first to the blonde. "This is Ella De Barbarac."

She was very young and sweet looking, perhaps not quite as confident as her companions, but he was left with the impression of a woman who was quickly coming into her own. She had a very honest face, and seemed to radiate an injured innocence; she'd been hurt badly but still hung onto hope. All in all, not Liam's type in the least, but she still sparked his curiosity to learn more about her and see what she would become once she fully knew herself.

"And this is Redelle of Everbrook."

Beautiful wasn't the word for her, she was stunning.

Her coloring was very similar to Snow's; long dark curls, though these seemed looser and sleeker than the princess', she had large, light hazel eyes, not quite as green as Snow's, more brown. Her face was very finely boned, with high cheekbones and a well-defined, graceful jaw. He would have described the princess as soft and warm; this young woman was sharp and fiery. The shrewd intelligence and sass glinting in her eyes caught and held him. How he hoped that he was controlling the smirk that wanted to cross his face, because by the flash of interest and annoyance in her gaze, she'd read it in his eyes. She lifted her chin slightly in defiant challenge.

Oh, this was going to be fun…


"So was it just me or were your general and my best friend taking an interest in each other?" Snow tilted her head back to look up at James, who was reclined behind her against a log with her sitting in front of him, her back to his chest; their legs intertwined and arms locked around her waist. Had they been anywhere else but Lochdubh they would have never dared sit so, but the rules of propriety and social norms were quite different here, and for the most part people just turned a blind eye.

The bonfire was streaking high into the glittering night sky a few feet from them. There was no set meal time, per se, and some people were still picking over the spread on the tables. A few musicians had pulled out their instruments and were picking over tunes, everyone else singing along to the ones they knew. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly; everyone was just having a good time.

James dropped his head to rest his chin on her shoulder. "I noticed that as well." Humor lit his tone. "I got the feeling they were also challenging each other."

Snow laughed softly. "That sounds like Red."

"Mm. That sounds like Liam." His gaze went to the fire. "When he isn't being the consummate general, he has a wicked sense of humor and enjoys winding people up."

She smirked. "It will be interesting to see how he stands up to Red."

He chuckled. "If they don't end up killing each other, I think they could be good for one another."

She giggled, and at his inquiring look explained, "Not that long ago Red was just telling Ella and I how she had no interest in falling in love." She lifted her eyes up to his.

His smile was tender. "It never finds you when you expect."

"No, it doesn't," she agreed.

They just gazed at each other contentedly for several moments.

She traced the lines of his fingers over the back of his hand with hers. "Tell me the story of your kingdom."

"'The story of my kingdom?'" he asked amusedly.

"Every kingdom has a story as to how it began." She shifted so that she was sideways in his arms and could look at him more easily. "I told you the story of mine. What's yours?"

A grin spread across his lips. "All right." James glanced at the ground around him and, upon seeing what he was looking for, reached for one of the many rocks that littered the beach and held it out to her. "Do you know what this rock is?"

She shrugged, turning the smooth, spangled rock in her hands. "No, but I have seen a great many of them around here on the beaches."

"It is a rock found nowhere else but on the beaches of Seaborn. It is called Verum Aquilonem." He tossed her a teasing look. "So how is your Latin, Princess?"

Snow pursed her lips. "Horrendous," she informed him easily. "But I do remember enough to know that verum means 'true' and thanks to the compass in the gardens back home I know that aquilonem means 'north.'"

"Correct," he nodded to the rock in her hands. "That is known as True North."

A frown furrowed her brow. "And you thought it odd that we called our flower Tears of the Moon." She settled against him. "I take it there's a good reason it's called that?"

"Mm," he confirmed, reaching out to trace a finger over the lines in the rock's surface. "See these marks?"


"They're fracture lines," he sat up, prompting her to do the same, and reached into the collar of his shirt for the leather cord that hung around his neck, "if you break the rock along them," he pulled the cord and its pendent over his head and placed the pendent in his palm to show to her, "this is what you get."

Snow lifted the circular, disk-like pendent into her hands, running her thumb over the polished, flat surfaces. "This is a sliver of that stone?"

He nodded and reached over to adjust her grip on it. "Hold it up to the moon."

She eyed him but allowed him to guide her hand up so that the center was over the waning moon.

She gasped. "Oh!" The pure white light of the moon shone through the crystalline stone; the center was clear and in the shape of a multi-pointed star surrounded by an ocean blue color, mottled with blood red and flecks of silver. "It's beautiful!"

James sat back, gazing at her with a smile, enjoying her reaction. "It is."

She turned back to him, lowering her hand. "What is the story?"

He extended his arm to the side, inviting her to settle back against his side, which she did. He let his fingers graze along her upper arm as he began to tell her the legend of his kingdom.

"It is called the Legend of Seaborn, but it is also known by the name Legend of the Sea. It is about the god of the sea." He turned his eyes expectantly to the woman in his arms, who grinned up at him impishly, closing her mouth with an audible click of her teeth. She gave a half-smothered giggle while he shook his head and continued his narration. "The sea god had a lover, a goddess; they say that the pair was very much in love. Then one day a being said to be either an imp, mischievous spirit or meddling god, decided to play with the couple's love for each other." His gaze went to Snow's face; her jaw had fallen open and she was sitting up to look at him fully. "He cast a spell on the god, tricking him into sleeping with a mortal woman."

"His lover…the moon goddess found them and…" she continued.

James nodded. "After the goddess slept with another man and became pregnant by that affair, the sea god became enraged. They say that the storm and raging seas that resulted from his wrath brought down hundreds of ships, killing many sailors. The other gods, in their horror, separated the lovers for all time.

"The sea god decided to spend some time travelling the seas, hoping to put time and distance between himself and his pain. He found a man clinging to a rock, the lone survivor of one of the ships wrecked in the god's wrath. The god heard the man quietly begging of any deity who would listen for his life and for the first time the god was faced with the reality of the pain he had inflicted on the mortals. Moved by guilt and pity, the sea god manifested himself in a small boat as a human and rescued the man.

As they made their way to the man's home port, the god learned that the man was a simple fisherman who was newly married. The man explained how the woman he loved had run away from her home village after discovering she was pregnant by an unknown man, knowing that if she stayed at best she would be ostracized. The fisherman met her along the shore one day and fell in love with her; he hadn't cared that she was pregnant with another man's child and he married her. They were now raising her son together. The sea god was surprised at the love and pride in the man's voice as he spoke of his adopted infant son; at the man's great love and compassion. How petty and low the god felt in comparison.

"When they finally arrived at the man's home they were greeted by his wife who was overjoyed at seeing her husband alive and well. The sea god though was shocked to realize that the woman who was embracing the fisherman was the very woman he had been tricked into sleeping with, and the child in her arms was his. Having been bewitched herself when they slept together the woman didn't recognize the god and welcomed him warmly as her husband's savior. The god knew he could not raise his child himself, nor did he feel he would deserve to if he could, but he felt that he should do something for his son, the woman he had wronged and the man honorable enough to love and care for them both.

"The god revealed himself to the family, much to their shock. He did not tell them that he was the one the woman had slept with nor that he was the child's father, only that he wanted to grant them his favor and to make amends for the pain and devastation his raging had caused. He made them rulers of a kingdom that contained most of the sea-side land; he created within that land the best ports and harbors, along with the most plentiful fishing. He promised to always protect their kingdom and see to it that their fishing remained fruitful forever."

She was grinning, her eyes sparkling with amusement. "The second half of the story," she mused. "That was why you became so intrigued as I told you the legend of my kingdom."

James nodded. "Yes." He gazed at her with a smirk.

She held up the pendent in her hands. "And Verum Aquilonem?"

He pointed to the center where the star was. "According to legend, and sworn to by sailors, if you line up the star with the moon at its zenith along with aligning the sliver flecks with certain stars you can use this to find 'True North' and by the patterns in the stone find your way to safe port."

"And this is true of all Verum Aquilonem?"

"It is."

Snow traced a finger over the patterns which were just barely discernible in the dark. "I understand the blue, for the sea, but why the red?" She looked at him.

"Actually, it is said that the blue is the sea god's tears of remorse and mourning," he corrected. "The red is the blood of the men his rage killed, so that the loss of their lives is forever remembered."

Nodding her understanding, she lifted the pendent once more to the moon. "It reminds me of stained glass."

James turned his eyes from watching her to join her in looking at the pendent; he canted his head in contemplation. "I'd never really thought about it but you're right. It does resemble a stained glass window a bit."

Still looking at the pendent, a flash from the other end of the cord caught Snow's eye and she tilted her head to see what it was. Frowning, she lowered the glittering object to rest in her other palm.

James noticed the shift in her attention and the moment he saw what lay in the center of her hand, his heart slammed into his throat. He'd worn the pendent since his mother gave it to him as a boy, David and Thomas had matching ones; it was only since he returned from Everland that he strung his mother's ring on the cord as well, and in his distraction he'd forgotten it was on there.

Snow took the ring between her thumb and forefinger, looking at it curiously before switching her gaze to him. "What's this?"

He swallowed hard, trying to fight back his emotions. "It belonged to my mother; she gave it to me to hold on to."

She smiled at him. "That's sweet." Snow continued to admire the tiny circle. It was beautiful in its simplicity; the green gem flashed while the firelight played off of the shining surface of the ring. There was something oddly familiar about it, something that drew her strongly; Snow wasn't sure why but she felt compelled to try it on. She didn't bother to take it off of the cord so it took a little effort to twist it onto her right ring finger but she could tell that without the cord it would fit perfectly. Snow then raised her hand out in front of her to admire the jewel on her finger.

James' heart was pounding in his chest as he watched her actions; she had no idea that the ring she had slipped onto her finger was the very one he intended to give her as her engagement ring. It looked so perfect, so right on her hand.

Snow lifted her eyes to gaze at him over the tops of her fingers, intending her expression to be teasing, but her breath caught at the look on his face. Her pulse began to race. In that moment her mind caught the near-same thoughts as his, how much this might be like how it would be when he proposed.

James wanted nothing more than to slip the ring off of the cord and then place it on her left hand, where it belonged. But now was not the time, not when there was still so much for them to discuss and get out in the open, and not while her father was still steadfastly against them marrying.

Seeing some of the intensity in his gaze die down, Snow took a deep breath and managed to look down at her hands, finally bringing the extended one back to her. She worked the ring off of her finger and held it for a moment, running her thumb over the green gem. Finally, she slowly extended it with the pendent to him. "It's beautiful," she told him, a touch of uncharacteristic shyness threading her tone.

"I'm glad you like it," he managed to rasp out as he accepted it back. He slipped the cord over his head again, tucking the pendent and ring under his shirt. He then lifted his eyes once more to Snow's.

So much filled that look between them. Hopes, dreams, love, anxiety, longing, fear, desire, promises.

James extended his arm to Snow again and she willingly let him pull her back to him, curling into his side.

For now this would have to suffice.


So there were a few Easter Eggs in this chapter (I'm pretty sure I've included at least one in every chapter so far); the big one involves a show that Robert Carlyle was in. Let me know if you get it. Thank you so much for reading! I hope that you all enjoyed having Snow and Charming back together again; I know I'm excited for the next few chapters! :-D If you're upset about them putting off talking about James discovering his parentage and why he left Riverdon so abruptly, or worried that they won't "have it out" over it…see the chapter title…and guess what the next one will be. ;-) I hope that you liked getting to see Geppetto, I've been dying to get him on scene ever since I first knew he'd be showing up! Chip was a complete surprise! O.O I knew that he'd show up eventually, but I was writing the scene with Snow riding up and suddenly, there was Chip running out and being his laughing, talkative self. Did you like how Gaspard and Belle met? I didn't know that it would be happening until right after I finished the last chapter; I hope that it was ok! It was also rather daunting in the wake of Skin Deep; I'd been so nervous about them having Rumple be the "Beast" and I just totally fell in love with the pairing! I actually kinda wish I could work it into this story, but with how far I've gone with the story at this point it wouldn't work and I just love the character of Gaspard. So I hope that you all aren't too disappointed on that front!

Ok, just to let you all know, this story is going to be going for a while. I'm talking months; this story started out fairly simple, but it has possibly spun even more out of control than HC. I will be covering Snow and Charming's courtship, engagement, wedding and at least some of their marriage; I will also be doing more with the characters we've already seen and a few that we've seen very little of so far and some that we haven't met yet. So fair warning that this won't be ending for a while.

As far as some names go, I've been debating whether to change King Rilian's name to "Leopold" and Queen Clara's name to "Regina", now that we know their names in FTL. I wanted to ask all of you your opinion on it. Which would you all like to see?

Now, on to something that I have been wrestling with for quite a while now. I have been planning on writing a chapter, it will take place in the next two chapters or so, that will be "M" rated, this will be my first attempt at writing an intimate scene, it will not be crude or overly explicit. I appreciate all of you readers' support and feedback, and I know that many of you are enjoying reading this story as much as I am writing it and I don't want to turn you all away, so I ask how you would prefer I handle this? I can post two versions of the chapter, one "M" and one "T", or I can do one chapter and clearly label where the "M" content begins and ends, or I can write it like any other chapter, just bumping up the story's rating, if it doesn't really bother any of you. Please let me know how you guys feel in a review, PM or Tweet. I think I'll even post a poll for you guys to vote.

I can never thank you all enough for reading! Sorry about the abnormally long author's notes! Please let me know what you thought of the chapter!

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