MFC MODERATOR NOTE: THE LAST PART OF THIS CHAPTER IS RATED R! The writer has a PG-13 version of this chapter which you can hunt down on fanfiction.net but I chose to post this version because it is so very well written. It's only the last portion at the bottom that wanders into 'R' territory. You'll know when you're getting to it so simply go to the next chapter when you hit that point if you'd like to keep out of 'R' territory.

Author's Note: Well here is it you guys! The "R" version of chapter 11! (And honestly I like this version better! It was a rollercoaster writing it, but I wrote the intimate scene with my wonderful cheerleader beta helping me not back down from it! And I'm proud of the effort I put in; it was really hard cutting around through it to make it "PG-13".) Anywho. Nothing vulgar, most will probably find if fairly tame really, but I'm not someone who writes smut so, there you have it. A side note, I have had so many questions about this story and the differences between it and cannon and what the heck is actually up, etc. Here's the premise basically: The curse was broken and not only was everyone returned to FTL but time was turned back SUBSTANTIALLY and things were VASTLY changed as well over time, to quote Aslan from Narnia, "things can't happen twice the same way." Some things will be different, some things that happened originally may happen differently or not at all. This is a post-curse, AU; I will be working as much of what happens in the show into the story as I go as I can manage but some things just won't fit with the story I'm telling. So, here's a warning now, don't always expect things to be entirely true to cannon.

Sassy18, dearie, how can I thank you enough for the advice, edits and your input? Thank you sooooo…much! :-D



Chapter 11: Re-Winding

The next morning when James arrived at the kitchen door of Henry's house not only was it unlocked for the first time in three days, but it was wide open. Even though he knew this was Snow's way of telling him that he was welcome he rapped lightly on the door before he stepped through, wanting to give her some warning.

Snow grinned at him over her shoulder from her position at the stove. "Good morning, Charming."

His heart leapt at the teasing greeting; he'd missed it over the days she ignored him. "Good morning," he returned.

She turned back to the pan where she was cooking eggs. "Scrambled all right with you?"

A grin played at his lips. "And if it wasn't?"

"Then you'd go hungry," she glibly informed him.

James chuckled. "Scrambled is fine."

He moved across the room until he stood directly behind her; with one hand he brushed her hair over her shoulder before settling both of them on her waist. James bent his head forward to skim his lips from the joint of her shoulder and neck, up the column of her throat, then ghosting them over the shell of her ear. He saw her mouth curling into a smile as she tilted her head to accommodate his ministrations.

"Do I get a good morning kiss?" His lips traced the line of her jaw.

A grin was trying to spread across her face. "I'm making breakfast."

He reached around to take the pan from her and set it off to the side; he then turned her to face him. Snow had finally stopped fighting the grin and it was radiant; she ran her hands up his chest to wind around his neck. James splayed his hands across her back drawing her against him; he bent his head, brushing his lips softly against hers.

"I thought that you wanted to kiss me good morning," she taunted him.

"Oh, I do," he assured her, chuckling. He proved his point a moment later, taking possession of her mouth in a searing kiss.

Snow pushed herself up on her toes, pressing her body closer to his; James moaned at feeling her curves flush against him. He loved how uninhibited she was in showing how much she wanted him, though it also drove him crazy, straining his own self-control to its limits.

When their lips parted Snow peppered small teasing kisses along his jaw.

"Snow," he groaned, firming his grip on her waist and pushing her back to look down at her, "I'm only human."

Her cheeks were lightly tinged with pink, but there was an impish gleam in her eyes as she grinned at him.

His eyes narrowed. "You did that on purpose."

She was biting her lip, holding in a laugh.

Cocking an eyebrow, he gave her a dry look. "That's cruel."

Raising her hand and pushing him back with one finger to his chest, she teasingly told him, "I have breakfast to make." Snow turned back to the stove, returning the pan to the burner so that the eggs could finish cooking.

James watched her for a few moments, before stepping up right behind her again. He leaned his head in over her shoulder; he could see a self-satisfied smile gracing her lips. "Still playing unfairly?"

"If you recall," humor threaded her tone, "I wasn't the one who started it." She turned her head to look at him. "And you can't say that it's not totally undeserved."

He smirked back at her. "I admit nothing."

Snow's expression became teasing. "Of course you don't."

They were grinning at each other within moments.

"Would you please get the plates and mugs?" She pointed at one of the cabinets.

"Of course." He leaned in pressing a quick, chaste kiss to her lips before going to do as she requested. "What were you planning to do today?" he asked.

"I don't have any plans." Snow looked at him. "What were you thinking of?"

He set the dishes down on the counter near the stove and leaned his hip against it, facing her. "I was going to go out for a horseback ride. Would you like to join me?"

A grin lit up her face, chased by a teasing smirk. "Do you think you and Cain can keep up with me and Aravis?"


James wasn't sure what he'd been expecting when Snow came to meet him down by the stables, but her wearing cream-colored breeches and white men's shirt while leading the golden mare by the reins definitely hadn't been anywhere in his imagination. He could now see why women were expected to wear long coats while riding, the breeches conformed to her curves perfectly and, without the coat, his view of her form was unhindered. The shirt wasn't at all form-fitting; in fact, it was loose, but the fabric draped over the dips and curves of her torso intriguingly.

Her grin was teasing, eyes sparkling as she approached him. "See something you like, Charming?" The braid she'd pleated her hair into slid over her shoulder when she canted her head to the side; a few curls had worked free to brush her cheeks.

He stepped closer, the hand that wasn't holding Cain's reins coming up to gently grip her waist, he bent his head to hers; their lips met and clung. Snow's free hand rose to clench her fingers in the front of his dark green shirt; a soft moan drifted from her throat.

After a few moments James lifted his head, opening his eyes to meet her sparkling ones. "Does that answer your question?" he asked huskily.

She grinned, rising on her toes to quickly kiss him again. "Maybe, Charming." She pecked him once more and then lowered to her soles, pulling away to adjust Aravis' girth. "How long will we be staying out?"

James looped the reins over Cain's head. "Well, I brought some leftovers for lunch, so until dinner if we want."

Snow cast him a grin over her shoulder before mounting. "Good." Once in the saddle her eyes glinted impishly at him. "Then I'll race you to the cove!" She urged Aravis to sprint off.

He swung up onto Cain's back, kicking the war horse into a gallop. "That's cheating, Princess!"

She glanced over her shoulder, laughing at him as she shouted, "Don't be a sore loser, Charming!"

"I haven't lost yet, Princess!" he yelled back. "Nor have you won!"

They raced through lanes, woods and beaches to the cove, the person in the lead changed over and over. Just as they reached the cove Snow pulled out in front and won the race, though James wasn't a neck-length behind her. She was the first one to begin dismounting but he was only a second behind her and faster in getting off of Cain, so by the time her feet touched sand he was already there, picking her up by her waist.

"You're a cheat, Princess." His fingers began dancing over her sides.

Snow shrieked with laughter, squirming in his arms, trying to get away. "I believe–" she gasped, "there's a saying–" her laugher redoubled, "that all's fair in love and war." She continued to writhe, trying to get free.

Her struggles became enough that James had to lower her to the ground, where she lay on her back still guffawing; he followed her down, propping himself on his elbows above her. Her laughter was slowly petering off as she gazed up at him, fingers curling into the fabric of his sleeves; her expression became inquiring. "What are you thinking about?"

"Well," he dipped his head down to skim his nose across her cheek and then back again to rub it against hers, "I'm thinking that for the first time, I have you all to myself with little-to-no time constraint and even smaller chance of us being interrupted."

She ran her hands up his arms to wind around his shoulders, pulling him closer so that their lips were lightly brushing. "What do you think we should do with all of this uninterrupted time?"

He grinned. "I'm sure we'll think of something." And with that his mouth settled over hers.


"So, did my prince run off with your princess again?"

Red was sitting on the porch of Henry's cottage in one of the carved, wooden lounge chairs–Geppetto's work was as superb as ever–she took a deep breath, trying to quell her racing heartbeat at Liam's sardonic question. What was it about this man that got under her carefully woven defenses, could make her pulse skitter and breath catch? Part of her wanted nothing more than to turn around and banter flirtingly with him; she liked the heat that he sent coursing through her veins. She ruthlessly pushed it all aside, reminding herself of all of the reasons why she shouldn't like him at all and the reason she couldn't be with him, or any man. "Snow left a note saying that she went out riding with James; they'll be back for dinner," she told him, not even glancing up from the book she was reading.

"Where's Ella?"

She was acutely aware of Liam moving from the doorway behind her and around to sprawl in the chair across from her. His easy, lazy movements had Red's heart pounding. Damn it! It was wholly unfair of the fates to place the first man she'd ever been at all attracted to in front of her like this when she couldn't have him and after she'd finally contented herself with spinsterhood.

"She's at the market; she saw a few bolts of cloth the other day and decided to go back for the ones she wanted before the festival tomorrow. Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy?" She felt joy bloom through her at the thought of those three. She and the others had been overjoyed at how close Geppetto and Pinocchio had grown over the last few days. Speaking with Jiminy they'd discovered just how affection-starved Pinocchio was; what they had been giving him he soaked up like a bone-dry sponge. But he seemed to seek it out the most from Geppetto, who was more than happy to provide it. The boy spent hours at the craftsman's elbow absorbing everything that the man had to teach him about woodworking. Last night the child had fallen asleep leaning into Geppetto's side while the man was telling him a story.

"They decided to go fishing early this morning; won't be back until late afternoon." Out of the corner of her eye she saw him grin broadly. "Guess it's just you and me."

Red suppressed the flutter of her pulse. "No, it's just you. I'm reading." She raised the book in her hands to emphasize the statement, keeping her eyes on the pages.

He snatched the book out of her hands.

"Hey!" She attempted to grab it back but he pulled it away.

His gaze met Red's head on. "Why are you putting me off?"

She set her jaw, attempting to maintain a glare. "Why do you keep bothering me?"

Liam's eyes were intent on hers. "Because I want to."

Because I want you, the real meaning behind his words knocked the wind out of Red.

A stricken expression flashed across her face before she could cover it. Taking a deep breath she reasserted her stoic façade, stood and took the book back, keeping her eyes locked on his. "You don't want me."

He sat back gazing at her levelly. "How do you know that?"

Her jaw locked, pain flaring in her eyes. "Trust me. I know. And you do not want me." Red spun on heel and briskly strode back into the house.

Liam watched her retreat, before turning and staring out over the beach. Water lapped at the sand, the hushed rush of the small waves hitting the shore softly countered the chirps of the birds and whisper of the wind. He frowned deeply, Red's words echoing in his mind.


Snow and James had removed the saddles from their horses and tied them off by the reins to a couple of nearby trees. They pulled out the food and blankets they had brought; Snow spread one of them out on the ground while James set their things on top of it. She then sat down and proceeded to pull off one of her boots.

James raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing?"

She smirked at him, teasing, "Taking my shoes off, what does it look like?"

"I can see that," he countered wryly, "why though?"

She rolled down her sock and stuffed it inside the boot. "I want to go walking down by the water." Her head canted to the side coyly as she tugged off her other boot. "Want to join me?"

With a grin he sat down beside her and began copying her movements. Snow stuck her other sock into its boot and stood, staring down at him, waiting. Chucking, he finished removing his own boots and rose to his feet, taking her hand in his; they walked down to the water side-by-side. Snow stopped once the waves could reach their feet and grinned, watching the water wash over her toes.

"You like the sea?" James asked.

She lifted her head, eyes sparkling. "Yes." Her gaze turned to the distant, shimmering horizon. "I love the mountains, woods, fields and lakes of my home, but I do enjoy being by the ocean here."

He lifted their linked hands to kiss the back of hers. "Well, that's certainly good to hear, considering that most of my kingdom is on the water," he gently joked.

She turned to him, a sassy grin on her face. "Why, are you implying something, Charming?"

He tugged on her hand, grinning back at her. "Not at all." He leaned his head down, covering her mouth with his.

Her free hand curled into his shirt; James' palm pressed against the small of her back drawing her closer to him. A cold splash against his knees caused him to jerk his head back; there were water spots on the knees of his breeches and droplets rolling down his legs. Snow was grinning up at him impishly, the toes of her right foot stirring the water that had settled back around their feet.

He raised an eyebrow, smirking. "You don't want to start that, Princess."

"Why," she kicked more water at him, "not?"

"Oh," he began moving toward her; Snow countered each of his steps with one backward, "because I'm going to have to take retribution."

A giddy grin spread across her face. "Retribution?"

His eyes glinted with mischief. "Oh, yes."

Abruptly he swooped in and scooped her up in his arms; she was laughing, clinging to his neck. James began striding deeper into the water; upon realizing what he was doing, Snow tightened her arms around him crying through her laughter, "No, James! No!"

"Retribution, Princess," he chuckled.

When the water was above his knees James allowed himself to fall backward into the water, Snow still cradled to his chest; she yelped as they splashed into the salty surf.

They surfaced quickly in the shallows, she spluttering and he laughing. Snow glared at the man beside her and sent a wave of water at him. "Very funny, Charming."

He caught her hand and began pulling her with him out to deeper water. "I told you, Princess, retribution."

She didn't fight him on going farther out, but she didn't help him either. Snow cocked an eyebrow. "Well, now our clothes are all wet."

Once he was neck deep he pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her waist, hers wound around his shoulders. "They'll dry," he said dismissively.

Snow rolled her eyes but a smile was tugging at her lips; she pressed her forehead against his.

James raised one hand to tunnel his fingers into her loose braid, slowly working them through the pleat. As his fingers met little-to-no resistance combing through her locks, Snow realized that he had removed the tie at the end and her hair was soon floating free around her shoulders in the water like seaweed. His hand returned to cup the side of her face, his thumb gently tilted her chin slightly; his mouth slid over hers, parting her lips with his. Her fingers dug into his shoulders with a whimper.

Snow's shirt had worked free of her waistband, James' hand slid over the skin of her back. Gods, she was soft, he mentally groaned; he was unable to stop his palm from continuing to skim across the bared flesh.

"James," Snow gasped, arching into the touch. Oh, goddess, they needed to stop! the rational voice managed to whisper through the pleasureful haze clouding her mind. Her head fell helplessly back.

Taking advantage of the bared skin, his mouth trailed from the corner of her lips, over her chin and down her throat, tongue running over her pulse. Snow's legs instinctively came up to wrap around his hips, drawing a groan from them both at the intimate contact. James' hand ran from her cheek, down her shoulder to join the other at her waist, thumbs caressing along her ribcage. Snow clasped his face between her palms, bringing his head up from where he was nibbling on the hollow of her throat, and claimed his mouth with hers. The hungry kiss drew a pained groan from James' throat; his tongue and lips began dueling hers for control.

A wave washed over their heads.

They pulled apart, gasping. With one arm still wrapped around his shoulders Snow used her other hand to push back her hair that the water had swept over her face; her legs drifted from his waist. James kept his arms around her waist as he waded, until they reached where she could stand and he lowered her until her feet were firmly on the bottom. Their eyes met and after a few moments they burst into laughter, clinging to each other's hands as the slowly, stumblingly made their way back to shore.

Once they had reached dry land again, James tugged on her hand, bringing her to a stop beside him, he brought his hands up to cradle her face and kissed her softly. She leaned into him, sighing against his lips.

Eventually he lifted his head, brushing his nose against hers, but then red flooded his face and he turned his head to the side. "Uh, we should get a fire started."

She frowned at his sudden change in demeanor. "What is it?"

He cleared his throat stiffly, still not looking at her. "We, uh, we need to get your shirt dry."

Snow glanced down and instantly heat flooded her cheeks as well; she crossed her arms over her chest. "Oh." She had forgotten that she was wearing a white shirt and what happened when white cloth got wet. The nearly transparent material left little to the imagination, and James was trying very hard to be a gentleman.

He cleared his throat again. "There's–there's a spare blanket back over by the picnic; you can wrap yourself in it while we dry your shirt."

"Right," she mumbled, red-faced.

They stood there for a few moments longer, the draw to finish what they had begun in the surf still so strong and humming through their veins. Finally they forced themselves apart, each going in opposite directions, Snow to the blanket and James to search for firewood.

Snow used the opportunity while he was searching the tree line to drape the blanket about her and awkwardly remove her shirt.

After gathering the necessary kindling, James returned to the blanket and began lighting the fire; slowly coaxing it to life. Once it was large enough he set up a few taller branches he had found near the flames and draped Snow's shirt across them; this done he removed his own and repeated the process. Finally he moved to sit down a respectable distance from her on the blanket.

Snow hated the stretch of empty space between them, wishing it an eternity in Hades.

For several moments all that was heard was the rush of the waves and cries of gulls.

"I'm sorry." James' voice came out a bit rough; he was staring down at his fingers which were mercilessly twisting a twig.

She frowned. "For what?"

His gaze turned to the sea. "I have put you in a highly compromising situation, and a gentleman should never do so to any woman, much less the woman he loves and is courting."

Snow suppressed a smile; still gripping the blanket closed about her she scooted closer to him. His head turned, surprise flaring in his eyes as she settled down next to him, leaning into his side, her head on his shoulder.

"I am in no way offended, James," she assured him, staring into the flames. "We're not a conventional couple, and honestly, I prefer it that way." She turned her head, resting her chin on his shoulder. "I love you. And I want us to do things our way, not society's, or our parents', or the traditional way. I want us to do things how we want to, not how anyone else tells us to."

One of James' hands moved to cover the one she was using to brace herself on the sand, his fingers sliding between hers. His head canted closer to hers, lips centimeters from her own. "That's a rather…dangerously tempting way of doing things," his voice rasped.

Snow let her nose rub against his. "Perhaps," she quietly acknowledged. "But it seems to work for us."

"True," he agreed, a half smile quirking his lips.

A satisfied grin lit her face as she tilted her head down and pressed a soft kiss to his bare shoulder and then laid her cheek on it, eyes still on his.

"So," James tangled their fingers together, "our way?"

Snow nodded. "Our way."

He pressed his lips to the crown of her head and murmured into her dark locks, "Whatever that means."

A quiet laugh bubbled from her. "Whatever that means."


Snow didn't think she'd ever seen Red's eyebrows climb so high on her forehead in her entire life as the younger woman took in the couple's disheveled state upon their returning to Henry's house.

"I thought you were going for a ride?"

Snow easily dismounted from Aravis. "We did."

One eyebrow still cocked, Red eyed them from head to toe. "You both look like you took a swim in the sea. And since when did swimming become part of horseback riding?"

The princess just grinned broadly while the prince coughed into his fist.

After clearing his throat once more, James turned his gaze to Snow. "I'll be back for dinner."

Snow moved over beside his horse, where he was still mounted. "All right, see you then."

James leaned precariously down and brushed a loving kiss across her lips. "See you later." Sitting back up, he turned and urged Cain into a trot, only looking away from Snow when he got close to the tree line and needed to pay attention to where he was going.

Snow continued to watch as he rode off, grin bright on her face.

Red eyed her princess, arms crossed. "Do I want to know what you've been up to?"

The grin on Snow's face became even wider, and then she turned to her friend. "Nothing you need to know about," she told her in a sing-song voice, sashaying off with her horse to the stables.

The younger woman rolled her eyes before heading to the house.


An hour later Snow stepped out of her room, brushing her still-damp hair over her shoulder; she'd bathed and changed into a fresh dress and was now heading to the kitchen to help with dinner.


She turned at Liam's call; he stuck his head in from the front door as she passed. "Liam." She moved over to him. "Did you need something?"

He braced a hand against the doorframe, glancing toward the kitchen, before returning his gaze to her. "Can I talk to you for a moment?"

Snow shrugged. "Of course." She allowed him to guide her outside by her arm. "What is it?"

He led her enough of a distance from the house so as they wouldn't be overheard. "I'm sure you've noticed that I'm interested in Red."

She grinned. "And she in you. You two are a little less than subtle about it," she told him amusedly.

The general chuckled. "I suppose." His expression became more serious. "She's keeping me at arms-length, though."

Snow frowned.

He compressed his lips. "And she told me this morning that I 'didn't want' her; she was quite adamant about that fact."

The princess' expression fell, realization dawning as she looked down at the ground.

Liam eyed her assessingly. "I have a friend who has said similar things."

Snow's eyes slowly rose to his.

"She was attacked by a man…" He allowed the statement to trail off, implication clear.

She shook her head. "No, Red has never been harmed by a man in that way. That's not why she's pushing you away." Empathy was clear in her expression.

"Then why?"

The princess bit her lip. "I can't tell you."

He raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"

She rubbed her hands together anxiously. "Because it's not my secret to tell." She tangled her fingers together. "All I can tell you is it isn't because of a man hurting her, not even really about her getting hurt at all."

Liam frowned. "Then what?"

Her expression became pained. "I told you, I can't say. It's up to Red to tell you."

He pressed his lips into a thin line, but nodded.



Thomas blew out a breath, wishing he was wherever his brother was, especially since Snow had mentioned Ella was accompanying her to see James in a note she sent to him via bluebird. It being the night before the solstice his parents were holding a dinner party for the guests who had come to stay in the castle. Swirling his drink Thomas amended that he wished he was just about anywhere else at the moment. Sultan had already pestered him twice about him possibly courting Jasmine, and he'd seen Midas question his parents politely about James' absence; they told the king that he was off handling some contrived situation. From the way Midas had been eying Thomas most of the night, the prince had the feeling that the king really wanted to question him about it as well, probably a little less politely though.

'And here he comes,' Thomas thought sardonically as the king began to weave his way toward him. The prince took a bracing swallow of the wine in his hand. "King Midas," he bowed, "how good to see you."

The monarch's jaw was set, obviously annoyed, but he nodded his head in perfunctory acknowledgement. "Prince Thomas."

Deciding not to beat around the bush, Thomas asked, "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Yes," Midas told him tightly, "I'm curious about your brother's whereabouts."

"My parents told you, Your Majesty," the prince politely replied, "James is handling a situation in a distant village."

Shrewd eyes narrowed. "Yes, they said that, but they were rather vague about what the 'situation' was or the location of this 'village.'"

"I believe he said he was going to Thornfield," Thomas stated; it was a tiny village in their kingdom and one of the most distant as well. Thomas wondered if King Midas would even be able to find the place if he tried.

"Hmm." There was a grim set to the king's mouth. "You know, your brother should really learn about fulfilling his responsibilities."

A scathing retort lurked on the tip of Thomas' tongue and while he desperately wanted to voice it, he clenched his jaw shut instead.

"Now, Your Majesty," a familiar drawl smoothly cut in. Philip came to stand beside Thomas, grinning at the king pleasantly. "There is one thing you should know about James, which anyone who is acquainted with him knows. Responsibility basically defines James. He doesn't know how to be irresponsible." The dark-haired prince gave a wry grin. "That's my job."

King Midas scowled disapprovingly at Philip before turning on heel and moving off to speak with another group of nobles.

Thomas slowly let out a controlled breath. "Thank you," he told his friend lowly.

"As if I would let that oaf insult James like that," the dark-haired prince sardonically countered. "Now," his expression lost its usual mocking edge and became entirely serious, the side of Prince Philip that only his friends saw, "where the hell is James and why is he going so against his own nature and disappearing?"

The fair-haired prince met his friend's eyes, seeing that he wasn't going to be put off. He sighed and tilted his head to the side to indicate that they'd go for a walk. "Come on, it's a bit of a story."



The next day. The summer solstice…

The preparation process for the solstice festival in Lochdubh was quite similar to Everland's in that it was a small village and everyone pitched in to help. Children ran about laughing and playing, free from chores for the day, while adults smiled upon them with pleased indulgence. Pinocchio was a bit nervous at first about playing with the other children, but after some encouragement from Geppetto and Jiminy he was soon running amuck with the other youngsters, looking the most like a young child that any of the adults had ever seen him be, the too-old look in his eyes gone for the moment.

The adults laughed and talked as they set up for the celebration. The load of all the work that had to be done to prepare for the large lunch and the bonfire that night, made light with the many hands pitching in. Any drudgery that may have existed in having to put forth so much effort vanished with the laughter, jokes and talk that flowed easily.

The townspeople never even blinked at having nobles working alongside them in the chores. Visitors to the town had not a clue that the hands serving them a dish belonged to a crowned princess or that the arms lugging their table and chairs were those of a future king. It was a secret that the locals kept, one outsiders weren't privy to. And one that had been shared with Jiminy and Pinocchio just the night before. Pinocchio had frowned and asked if he should bow to Snow and James, which they assured him that at least while they were in Lochdubh the answer was no; the child had then nodded, accepting the answer, and continued to eat his dinner as if such news were an everyday occurrence. Jiminy had been a bit more thrown and it had taken him several moments longer to recover, but after the other humans had explained that the royal pair preferred to be treated no different than anyone else he had agreed to continue to do so.

Throughout the morning and afternoon Jiminy stayed with Geppetto, enjoying talking with the man and truly getting to know the person he had once been so determined to help. The cricket wondered how he could tell Geppetto that the man had saved his soul; that in trying so hard to help the woodworker Jiminy had found himself.

The craftsman had been talking about Pinocchio a great deal, marveling over the way the child took to woodworking, fatherly pride shining through. When he had questioned Jiminy about the child's education the cricket had to admit it was sadly lacking, having taken a back seat to survival and them having no access to materials. Geppetto wasn't discouraged by this; he asked about Jiminy's own knowledge and his plans for the future. The man wasn't even attempting subtlety; making it obvious what his intentions were. Jiminy admitted that if Geppetto wished to adopt Pinocchio he himself had no idea as to any plans for his own life. This prompted the woodworker to ask if he would consider staying and helping with the child's education since Geppetto's own time would be limited in attending to it due to his work. Handed the chance to remain close to the two people who mattered most in his life, what other answer could Jiminy give but yes?

Finally Geppetto had anxiously inquired if Jiminy thought Pinocchio would accept if the woodworker asked to adopt him. The cricket, who had been privy to Pinocchio's whispered confessions of hopes and dreams, assured him that the child would most happily agree.

Pinocchio and a few of the other village boys scurried around behind the men who were building the main bonfire, which was going to be larger than usual since it was the largest celebration of the year, and the smaller secondary ones. The children were permitted by the men to carry smaller branches over to the growing piles. Between laughing with his new friends Pinocchio would jabber to James and Liam who were helping in the process, bringing wide smiles to the two men's faces.

Throughout the day James kept catching Liam's eyes straying to Red, almost more often than even the prince's own did to Snow.

"You know, this watching-from-afar routine is really out of character for you," James commented wryly as he sat down on a log next to his general, offering him a skin of water. "Normally you would go right up and talk to her."

Liam grimaced before taking a drink. "I did that."

The prince cocked an eyebrow. "And?"

His friend handed him the skin back. "She was pretty insistent that I couldn't possibly want her."

James frowned. "Did she say why?" he asked, raising the water to his lips.

Liam shook his head. "I asked Snow, but she said that she couldn't say; that it was up to Red to tell me. Though, she was adamant that Red hadn't been hurt like Belle."

"Have you asked her?" James poured some of the water over his head to cool down a bit more and handed it to his friend again.

The general accepted the skin. "She's been avoiding me."

"And?" The prince cocked an eyebrow. "When has something like that ever stopped you?"

Liam stared at his friend for a few moments before a smirk quirked his lips. "Never." He poured the rest of the water over his own head.

James clapped the other man on the back and the pair returned to work, grinning.

Meanwhile Snow, Ella and Red were shucking corn and Red was being grilled in low voices by the other two about Liam.

"It's unkind leaving him like that without any real reason for it," Snow gently but frankly admonished her friend.

"And what am I supposed to tell him?" the other dark-haired woman hissed back. "The truth?" At the princess's responding look she scowled. "Be serious," Red snapped.

"I am," Snow stated flatly.

"What can the harm be?" Ella softly put in.

Red's eyes snapped to the blonde. "'What can the harm be?'" Her voice was sharp and nearly a sneer. "Perhaps I don't want to have another person looking at me with fear, especially him!"

"We don't look at you with fear," her blond friend pointed out. Ella had taken the truth of Red's "inheritance" with surprising calm and acceptance.

"Yes, well Snow's always known, and I have this belief that you have no sense of self-preservation," Red countered testily.

Snow threw the ear she had just shucked into the pot at her feet with a little more force that necessary, her sharp gaze turning on her stubborn friend. "You're the one who's been telling me for years not to give up on love!"

"What?" Red sneered. "You think I should endanger a man with my 'problem' and possibly pass this…this…curse on to a child?"

The intensity of the princess' sharp gaze turned up several notches. "And what if he's willing to risk his own life?"

Red felt like she'd been kicked in the stomach.

"What if he loves you that much?" Snow continued ruthlessly.

The younger dark-haired woman looked away to stare in the direction of the sea.

They were all silent for several moments.

"Are you really willing to give up the possibility of such a love and the happiness it could bring you?" Ella quietly inquired.

Red's eyes slid shut as tears began burning behind them.


The sun was setting and the fires had been lit. Food sprawled across tabletops, taps flowed freely and instruments were tuned up. It was already looking to be a great party and the night hadn't even begun.

After the long day out in the hot sun, James and Liam had gone back to Geppetto's to wash up and change before coming to the party; according to Jiminy, Snow, Red and Ella had returned to their own abode to do the same. The prince had gone most of the day and only spent about two hours with his beloved so far. He was aching to have her with him, and he definitely wanted the chance to dance with her in his arms. His eyes scanned the crowd almost continuously, watching for the princess and her two friends.

"Looking for me, Charming?"

A grin spread across James' face before he turned. And the air was abruptly sucked out of his lungs.

Snow was wearing a style of dress popular around Lochdubh–the bohemian attitudes and lifestyle of the town definitely bled into their clothing–this particular type of dress was called a "wrap-around." It literally did as the name implied; to put it on one wrapped it around their body, slipping their arms through the sleeves, and a tie would be knotted at the hip, keeping it closed. But the truly tantalizing thing about the dress wasn't that it clung to every dip and curve of her body, it was the knowledge that all it would take to remove it was simply untying that one flimsy knot.

Gods preserve him!

A coy smile lit her face as she made her way toward him with a slow, graceful stride, hips swaying provocatively.

Oh, goddess.

Desire slammed him in the gut, pooling there. Gods, he wanted her.

The thin white material billowed around her legs as she came to a stop in front of him; she lifted the glass from his near-slack grip and, keeping her eyes locked on his, sipped his drink.

"Not quite Happy's brew," Snow commented, humor threading her voice as she handed the glass back to him.

James took the drink back, unable to look away from the seductive siren before him.

She loosely wove her fingers together behind her back, swaying slightly from side to side, her smile still flirtatious. "Are you planning on dancing with me tonight, Charming?"

He reached out with his free hand, allowing it to skate from her upper arm, bared by the short sleeves of the dress, down her back, curving around her waist; drawing her against him. "Oh, yes," he said huskily, bending his head close to hers, noting the stargazer lily that had been pinned into the back of her hair with a half-grin.

Snow grinned, rubbing her nose against his. "Good," she whispered back. She then rose on her toes and quickly pressed a kiss to the tip of his nose, before lowering to her soles again, grinning at him brightly. "Now, you can get me a drink."

With a laugh, he backed up slightly but kept a hand against the small of her back as he guided her over to the taps.

After she was drawn a pint they moved over to a half-empty table, going to the unoccupied end. James gave her a hand down onto the bench, where she curled her bare feet under her. He then settled himself next to her, hardly a breath of space between them.

James took one of her hands and wove his fingers with hers; bringing them up to study the knotted digits. "You know," he told her thoughtfully, running one of his thumbs along her knuckles, "now that we have decided that we're going to get married, something we haven't talked about yet that's a little important, is how we're going to handle both of us being heirs to kingdoms." He gave her a wry grin.

A half sigh half self-deprecating laugh escaped her lips. "I guess that's something we're going to have to think about, isn't it?"

He pressed a kiss to the back of her hand. "Just maybe."

She leaned into him, resting her head against his shoulder with a sigh. "I've spent my life preparing to take over ruling one kingdom."

His arm wrapped around her shoulders. "As have I. So how are we going to deal with two?"

After a thoughtful silence Snow tilted her head up to look at him. "What do you want to do?"

James pressed his lips to her forehead. "Honestly, if I could have it my way we would run off and just live as common folk somewhere quiet and secluded, far from the drama and political machinations of Court."

"Hmm." A smile spread across her lips. "Sounds nice, quiet and sane."

"And totally unattainable for us," he murmured wryly into her hair.

A soft laugh whispered from her. "Indeed."

His fingers gently drew a line up and down her arm. "Rule together and then allow whichever of our children best suit the thrones to inherit?"

Snow tipped her head back, eyes meeting his. "Children? Are you planning on more than one, Charming?"

He dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose. "As long as that's all right with you, most definitely."

She grinned at him brightly, settling her head back into the crook of his shoulder. "Sounds like a plan."

James continued to let his hand drift up and down her bare arm. "You want multiple children?"

"Mm hmm," Snow nodded against his shoulder. "Being an only child can get lonely."

"When we met again in Everland, you said that you spent enough time with the other children in the village that it didn't."

She looked up at him. "Do you remember everything I've said?" she gently teased.

He grinned back. "Well…not everything perhaps…"

She stifled a laugh; tilting her head back into place. "The other children along with Red, Aurora, Gaspard and Eric helped make it less lonely, but honestly…I always wished that I had a sister or brother." A quiet smile curled her lips. "I've always wanted more than one child."

"Well, it's good to know that's something we agree on," James told her.

"Hmm," she softly affirmed.

They sat in companionable silence for several moments watching their fellow revelers, the band had struck up a tune and dancers whirled around.

Across the nearest fire they observed Red doing her level best to duck Liam, while the general determinedly dogged her.

"Do you think those two will work it out?" James quietly questioned.

Snow lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "If Red will stop being stubborn and explain, then perhaps."

Their dark-haired friend darted over to them.

"Here we go," the prince muttered just before Red reached them.

"Snow, they're going to be playing Flacon de Neige next." She reached out a hand to the princess. "We'd better find partners if we want to dance it."

James tightened his arms around the woman wrapped in them. "She already has a partner."

Both women turned surprised gazes on him.

Red's expression became amused and she propped a hand on her hip, a smirk pulling at her lips. "I thought you didn't know how to dance the Flacon de Neige."

"Three months ago I didn't."

"And you do now?"

His fingers danced over Snow's arms, tilting his head down to gaze at her. "Let's just say that I was quite motivated to learn."

His princess grinned up at him before turning to her friend. "Looks like I already am spoken for."

Red rolled her eyes as she turned away, saying, "Of course you are."

Snow laced her fingers with his, biting her lip. "You know we don't have to dance it if you don't want to."

James dipped his head down to steal a kiss. "But I do want to." He brushed his nose against hers, before slowly releasing his hold on her, though retaining one of her hands and stood up, helping her to her feet as well. "We had best get out there."

Her grin was radiant as she allowed him to lead her to the dance floor.

After leaving Everland, one of the first things that James had done was seek out someone to teach him to dance the Flacon de Neige. It had taken some doing but he'd eventually found a young couple working in the castle who had family in Everland and knew it. He had learned that the dance was entirely as complicated to perform as it had looked. Not only was it a complicated set to memorize but there were two "versions" of it.

One version was chaste enough that any pair could dance it, but the second version was a much more intimate one. The partners moved much closer, touches went beyond what was ordinarily allowed between a couple without an understanding; this version was meant to only be performed by engaged and married couples, though some allowance was usually made for ones who had a strong understanding.

The couples were set in two circles, the women inside the men's; both groups started the dance facing inward, men facing the women and the women with their backs to the men. With the start of the music the man would step forward and reach to brush a lock of hair over the woman's shoulder, or at least pretend to if her hair was pulled up. The woman would tilt her head in his direction; at the cue of the song she would turn around entirely to face him bringing her hand up, as if to hold the man off, and this is where the two versions began to differ. The woman was the one who proposed the level of intimacy for the dance in this moment; if she rested her hand against his chest then she was indicating that she wished to perform the more intimate version; otherwise her hand would remain suspended between them for a moment indicating the other. From there the dance became a carefully controlled whirl of bodies; earning its name from the dancers looking like snowflakes interweaving.

James and Snow took their positions and the music began flowing. James' fingers ran over her dark curls lingeringly; he could see her pressing her lips together to suppress a smile as her head canted in his direction. When it came time for her to spin to face him her expression was properly controlled, and her hand landed on his chest firmly, unmistakably. His pulse skittered at the contact and the intent look in her eyes. Technically speaking they should not be dancing this version, they might have a private understanding, but for their own reputations' sakes they should have an official one before dancing this. However, Lochdubh was a great deal more forgiving of such lapses in etiquette and people were all-too-happy to turn a blind eye to certain things. And James couldn't have denied himself the chance to hold her even closer in his arms for the world.

Throughout the dance Snow made her movements as teasing as possible, pushing his self-control to its limits. In his frustration he found himself "pushing" back, taunting her, holding her closer and a heartbeat longer than necessary.

When the music finally drew to a close and they had bowed and curtseyed respectively, their eyes locked. For several moments they were unable to move, hearts racing, desire heating their blood.

Red and Ella grabbed Snow and dragged her off to perform another dance that was just for the women. James stared after them, unable to look away from the dark-haired beauty even as he moved to the taps for another drink.


Red was laughing with Snow, Ella and a few other women when a strong, calloused hand closed firmly over her arm. She whirled around, but she didn't need to look to know who would be standing there, the shocks cascading down her spine and stirring her blood told her quite clearly enough.

Liam smiled at her pleasantly, thinly-veiling annoyance. "I believe I'll claim the next dance with you."

She gave him a tight-lipped smile. "I don't think so."

"Why not?" He kept his voice light.

"It's a bad idea." The strain of forcing herself to hold him at a distance threaded her voice.

"It's just a dance, Red," he told her lowly.

Oh, how she wanted to agree, but she really shouldn't. Red turned to her two friends who seemed to be quite absorbed in a conversation about a dress Snow was hoping Ella could help her make.

No aid on that front.

She turned back to the man before her. What could one dance hurt? a traitorous voice questioned. She was so tired of fighting it. Why couldn't she give in and allow herself this one moment to hold to her heart in the long, cold, lonely years to come?

"All right," she finally acquiesced in a soft voice.

Dancing with Liam was the most wonderful experience she'd ever had, but also the most heartrending, being in his arms and knowing that she couldn't stay in them. Why had she thought this would be a good idea? His touch was steady and sure, and his eyes…oh, could she have ever even dreamed of a man looking at her like that? It tore through the walls around her heart and made her want to weep.

The song finally ended and she began to pull away, but he tightened his grip on her wrist. "How about another dance?"

Red squeezed her eyes shut. "Why?" she pleaded.

"Why what?"

She turned a tortured gaze to him. "Why are you doing this?"

He met her eyes honestly. "Because I want to show you that I do want you."

"No you don't!" There was a hysterical edge to her voice.

He narrowed his eyes slightly. "How do you know that if you won't tell me the reason you think I won't?"

"Because no man ever has." She was blinking furiously. "Most people can't handle finding out, and I don't want you to look at me like they do!"

He frowned, uncomprehendingly.

"Please, Liam," she begged. "Let me go."

For several heartbeats he did nothing but stare searchingly into her eyes and then, rather than releasing her, he pulled her closer so that there was hardly any space between them and bent his head close to hers. "No, Red," he stated firmly. "I'm not going to let you go. I'm not going to force you to tell me, but I'm not going to leave you either."

Her wide eyes gazed up into his.

"Do you understand what I'm telling you, Red?" Liam asked.

She swallowed thickly at the intent look he was giving her.

"No matter what happens," he continued, "I'm always going to be here, whenever you're ready."

Her heart was racing.

He slowly loosened his grip on her arm, allowing it to slip from his grasp. They remained frozen there for a few moments–a lifetime–before Liam, keeping his eyes ever on her, bowed and slowly made his way to where James was standing.

Red continued to stare after him, knowing that a piece of her heart had just walked off.


Ella was sitting next to Geppetto near the band, listening to the music, not hearing a note, and allowing her eyes to wander over the party sightlessly.

"Are things nicer where you are?"

She jolted at the genial tone beside her, turning to face the kindly woodworker. "Sorry?"

Geppetto chuckled, wrapping his arm more securely around Pinocchio who was slumped against his side, long since asleep. "You were many miles away."

Ella had the good grace to blush. "I'm so sorry; I'm being horrible company."

The apology easily was waved off. "Nothing to apologize for." His gaze became inquiring. "What were you thinking about?" When her blush deepened a bit of realization dawned on him. "Or should I say who?"

She ran a finger around the rim of her cup. "I'm just missing…Thomas." She glanced at him confidingly.

"Ah," the man nodded with understanding. "Principe had mentioned that you and his brother had taken an interest in each other."

Ella smiled down at her cup. "I – well…I suppose…I mean nothing has precisely been said... But…I've never felt like this about any man before."

A soft chuckle slipped from Geppetto's lips, Pinocchio briefly stirred but immediately settled once more. "According to Principe James his brother is…how did he put it? That he is a 'gone man?' That Principe Thomas is 'head-over-heels' for you."

Her teeth bit her lip, the words causing her heart to skip in her chest. "Did James really say that?"

"I am not one to tell tales, Ella."

Her hands tightened around her glass and she lifted her eyes to the crescent moon. "I miss him so much. I just want to see him again, more than anything."

Geppetto reached over with his free hand and patted one of hers. "And I have no doubt that you will, the moment that he hears you have returned home I'm sure Principe Thomas will come to visit as soon as he is able."

Ella gave him a hopeful smile before turning her gaze once more to the glittering sky.


James found himself separated from Snow for over an hour with barely enough time to ask her how she was enjoying herself the one moment he was near enough to her, before she was whisked off again. They continued to catch each other's eyes though, she sent him teasing looks that kept the desire in his gut from dissipating in the slightest. Oh, was it ever frustrating…

Eventually she disappeared around a group; his eyes began seeking her out earnestly, but for several minutes he couldn't find her. Worry began to creep in–Lochdubh wasn't that big of a town–his gaze searching relentlessly. Then he caught sight of her coming from nearly the opposite direction of where she had been. Apparently she'd managed to slip her friends and was sauntering toward him; there was a small bowl in her hand and she was licking its contents off of her fingers.

Oh, gods…

"Charming," she greeted him, eyes sparkling impishly.

"Princess," he managed in a near-normal tone, gaze intent on her.

She bit her lip stepping a bit closer. "Have you ever had Lacrimae Lunaris honey?" She dipped a fingertip into the bowl, which he now took to contain the aforementioned honey, and then delicately lifted it to her lips, drawing it off.

He had realized early on in the evening that she was trying to seduce him, and honestly, even with all of the reasons why they shouldn't, he hadn't been able to bring himself to ask her to stop, and he certainly couldn't now.

He swallowed hard. "No, I don't believe I have."

She held the bowl up to him. "Would you like to try some?"

She had dipped two fingers into the bowl again and was about to bring them to her lips. James was more than ready to turn the tables by now. He quickly reached out and cinched her wrist in his hand, surprise flared in her eyes. Keeping his gaze locked with hers, he bent his head and drew her fingers into his mouth.

She visibly sucked in a breath, a flush spreading over her skin. The fluttering beneath his fingers was fast as a hummingbird's wing.

His tongue curled around the digits before slowly releasing them.

Snow's eyes were dilated; her lips parted helplessly.

They stared at each other, immobile for several heartbeats, Snow trying to gather at least a few of her wits and James waiting to see what she would do.

With one deep breath she closed the last of the space between them, furling her free hand in the front of his shirt and pushing herself up on her toes to press her lips to his. The kiss was searing, but it wasn't unbridled passion, no it was something far more dangerous. Love, desire, and a silent plea for more; appealing to him on all levels.

Slowly she lowered herself once again to her soles, eyes gazing up at him.

James swallowed thickly. "Snow…" he rasped.

She caught her lip between her teeth anxiously before taking a deep breath. "I'm tired…walk me home?"

After a heartbeat of hesitation James reached out, taking the bowl from her and set it down on a nearby table. He then placed a hand at the small of her back and began guiding her away from the party, down the path that led to Henry's house.

The walk was silent; fraught with desire so thick they could hardly draw breath.

James' hand at her back was scalding and Snow felt like her heart was going to pound right out of her chest.

For them the journey to the house was an eternity enclosed heartbeat.

At the threshold they turned to face each other. Snow was trembling with aching desire and pulse-pounding nerves.

James stepped forward, allowing his fingers to ghost up and down her arms. "Snow, if you're not ready for this…" His gaze intent on hers, he swallowed visibly, fingers naturally twining with hers. "I can just kiss you goodnight and leave."

She allowed his willingness to accept her decision, regardless of what it was, to sink in. "Is that what you want?"

"Snow," he breathed. A rueful chuckle slipped from his lips as he lowered his head to rest his forehead against hers. "There are thousands of reasons why we shouldn't even be thinking about doing this…but gods help me," his hand rose to settle around her throat, thumb caressing over her pulse, "I can't bring myself to care about them. I want you."

The stark words sent a spike of heat racing through her blood. Heart pounding, Snow slowly rose on her toes bringing their lips millimeters apart; James didn't move an inch. After the briefest of pauses she closed the last bit of distance between their lips.

After a moment their lips parted; their eyes were instantly locked. Snow reached behind her for the handle of the door, twisting it open, she backed into the house, pulling James with her. He nudged the door shut with his heel, before following her down the hall to her room. At her door he swept her up in his arms, eliciting a surprised gasp from her; but she was instantly melting into him, arms wrapping around his shoulders. She pressed her lips to his throat, allowing them to explore the texture of the skin there.

James kicked the door closed behind him; he made his way over to the bed and gently set his beloved down on it. Snow sat up watching as he sat down on the edge near her; he reached down, pulling off his boots, his movements unhurried. There was no rush between them, they had the night and both wanted this to last.

Once he was done he turned back to her and crawled toward her. Snow lay back, letting him come to rest above her, bracing his weight on his elbows. Her fingers rose to trace each of his features, his eyes slid closed at the light caress, when the digits brushed his lips he allowed himself to press a kiss to them, but to remain otherwise passive until she went further. Eventually the tips of her fingers came to rest over the scar on his chin. At her stillness his eyes slowly opened to meet her gaze. Her eyes flicked back and forth between his; she then lifted her head, her hand sliding to cup his jaw, coaxing his head down to hers, which he obliged.

James let his tongue glide past her lips, savoring the taste of her. Snow nipped at his bottom lip earning her an approving moan. He pulled back a bit, shifting his weight to one arm. He watched his now free hand slowly skim up her arm and over her shoulder. Snow's heart began to beat double-time as his fingers traced the lace-edged neckline of her dress; her pulse went skittering as his hand passed between her breasts. He continued following the line until he reached the tie at her waist; his eyes lifted to hers, asking permission.

Snow swallowed and nodded.

Fingers slowly pulled at the bow the strings were tied in; her heart raced as she felt the dress loosen around her. Rather than just unwrapping the garment from there his hand went back to her shoulder where he began to push the dress down her arm, his lips following it. Snow's head fell back as his mouth trailed down her chest following the swell of her breast until he reached the top of the breast band she wore. His hands slipped between her dress and back feeling for the knot that held the band in place; she wrapped an arm around his shoulders helping arch herself up so that he could more easily get to it.

James had long since realized that Snow wasn't a woman who favored corsets; in fact the only time he'd seen her wear one was for the Spring Ball in Everland, and he was very grateful she wasn't wearing one now. Trying to get her out of that contraption would have been hell.

The band finally came loose and he brushed it aside. Snow was trembling under him as his mouth continued to move down her breast, her fingers now fisted in his shirt. When he reached her nipple he paused, worried that he was pushing her too far too fast.


He glanced up to find her gazing at him questioningly with hazy eyes, not seeing any fear, only a touch of nervousness blended in with the obvious desire. With this reassurance he lowered his head again and closed his mouth over her breast.

Snow gasped, arching into him. Oh, goddess! Her thoughts scattered to the wind under the pleasureful assault. When he finally lifted his head she clasped his face between her hands and pulled him toward her; he obliged easily, coupling his mouth to hers.

Quite suddenly Snow wanted to feel his skin against hers, now. She began tugging at his wine-colored tunic, the drags of her fingers pulling it from the waistband of his breeches and drawing it up his torso. James allowed his lips to leave hers only long enough to pull the shirt off; then he returned to her mouth, tossing the clothing thoughtlessly aside. Gods, her skin was silken against his.

Tired of working around her arms still being trapped by the sleeves of her dress, Snow began to wriggle her limbs free of the fabric, having more success once James lent his own hands to help. With her arms now entirely at liberty she wrapped them around his torso, letting her hands dance over the muscles, sensitive fingers absorbing the texture and small variances from the scars she had glimpsed when he'd worked shirtless. They were small generally, non-lethal, though there was one long, thin one across his right shoulder blade that looked as though he had been on the wrong end of a scimitar. She'd definitely need to ask him about that someday.

James' hands mapped out every curve and rise of her body, he pulled his lips from hers to draw them over her collarbones; his teeth nipped at the hollow between them. Her hands gripped his corded shoulders, neck arching in response. He accepted the silent invitation and leisurely made his way up her throat to the spot behind her ear where he began working the skin with his teeth, lips and tongue.

Snow shifted restlessly beneath him. "James," she moaned. Her movements brought him between her legs, the new position and contact had them both reeling.

She arched into him instinctively, which caused him to tear his mouth from her neck with a groan. "Snow."

Her fingers fumbled with the fastenings on his breeches, hands eagerly pushing them off of him, his own helping until he could kick them aside. He then came to rest against her again, both of them gasping at the sensation of nothing between them; their eyes met for a quelling moment, searching.

It killed him to say it, but James managed to rasp, "It's not too late to stop."

Keeping her eyes locked with his, Snow drew her leg up along his before curling it around his waist, drawing him that much closer, and answering him loud and clear.

His hand spanned her throat, tilting her jaw with his thumb so he could slant his mouth over hers. Hands wandered and cupped, exploring and learning – or what felt more like re-learning to them if they were honest with themselves, they knew too well what would make the other moan and writhe with pleasure. However, neither was really of a mind to notice this fact at the moment.

James lowered his mouth to her other breast, taking the nipple into his mouth and drawing strongly on it. Snow cried out arching into him, hands fisting at his short hair, trying to hold him closer. Her writhing movements brought his erection in line with her core; the contact roused them both, her eyes snapping open and his head lifting to look at her. Their eyes were locked, both panting.

One of his hands slid down to rest on her lower abdomen, thumb feathering back and forth over the skin. "It's going to hurt, Snow."

The worry and care in his expression warmed her heart; she nodded. "I know." She shifted against him, her movements encouraging him to continue.

With himself positioned against her entrance he leaned his head down to kiss her, murmuring against her lips, "I love you." He thrust inside her.

Snow tore her lips from his with a cry; trying to muffle it against his shoulder, nails digging crescent-shaped wounds into his back.

James' arms tightened convulsively around her, burying his face in her hair.

Tears trickled out of the corners of Snow's eyes; he began kissing her face, words slipping from his lips heedlessly.

Her eyes were screwed shut, unsure of how to respond to this intrusion into her body and the pain. Then other things began to register, James' lips pressing to every inch of her face worshipfully, murmured words of apology and love, the dampness of his own cheeks and the tremors that were shaking his frame at not only the effort of remaining still against his baser urges, but with the pain of, at least in his eyes, having hurt her. She didn't want him to blame himself in any way; she didn't want him suffering for something she wanted just as much as he did. She cupped his face between her palms; this caught his attention and he let her draw his face to hers. Mouths once more mated to each other, her tongue slid against his, inviting his own response. Her nails gently grazed up and down his chest before her hands wound around to splay across his back; the pain had been receding and Snow began to move restlessly against him. James couldn't stop his hips from rocking against her at the teasing of her movements.

Once again Snow pulled her mouth from his, but this time it was to gasp as pleasure rippled through her.

His head bowed into her neck with a pained groan, his hips jerking against hers again. "Snow."

Rather than give him a verbal response she wrapped her arms around his shoulders again and arched her hips into his. "James," she breathed into his ear.

He lifted his head gazing down at her with hooded eyes, taking in the passion glazing hers; that was all he needed to see to take possession of her mouth. He pulled his hips back and then thrust forward again slowly. Snow shuddered against him, her hips not quite synchronized to his, but insistent and eager. It didn't take all that long before they matched each other's rhythm, the tempo picking up.

One of James' hands skimmed down her side, to thigh, to knee, where he firmed his grip and drew it up encouraging her to wrap it around his hip; she obliged, her other leg moving to do the same. He dragged both of his hands from her waist up her torso and then ran them up her arms; she unwound them from around his shoulders, as he guided them to stretch above her head. He laced their fingers together there, holding tight. His lips drifted feverishly from hers down her throat, enjoying the way she arched into his ministrations. They were both so close to the edge, could feel it taunting them. His mouth moved to her breast again and as his mouth played over the skin, she shattered in his arms, taking him over the edge with her, drawing a hoarse cry.

They lay panting in one another's embrace, hearts pounding against each other.

After a handful of heartbeats James roused himself enough to roll over, bringing her with him; she sprawled across his chest. They continued to breathe heavily in each other's arms, waiting for their hearts to return to a semi-normal pace. Once they could manage it they tugged the covers loose on the bed and slipped under them. Snow snuggled into his side, arm wrapping around his waist and head settled on his chest, ear pressed to his heart. James' arms wrapped around her like iron bands, as if afraid someone would come and try to steal her from him.

"I love you, James," she whispered against his heart. "For all eternity."

His heart raced at the familiar promise that a couple usually only made upon their marriage vows, but between them, before she even had an engagement ring on her finger, if felt right.

"I love you too, for all eternity," he vowed in return.


Fate's nimble fingers began to slowly twist two strands together. Her child looked on with wonder and the dawning understanding that these were never two strands but one that was being re-wound as promises were remade. Ties unbroken.


And there you have it! :-D So, how did I do? I was REALLY nervous writing this, but I'm fairly satisfied, particularly this is my first time writing such a scene. I'll likely be writing one again for this story, I think. How did you guys like Red and Liam and my bringing in her "wolfy" problem? (You will be seeing more of them in the next chapter!) Those of you asking for more Ella and Thomas, I promise it is coming! Philip, I've been sooooo…wanting to write more for him ever since he FINALLY explained to me why he is the way he is and I'm REALLY looking forward to telling his and Aurora's story! :-D I hope that you guys liked it! Thank you so much for reading!

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