Hello wonderful readers! :-D I'm sorry this took a while, but I hope that you all like it! Thank you sooooooo much for all of the encouragement in review, PMs, tweets and now on tumblr as well, along with the faves and alerts! :-D Yes, I just mentioned tumblr, I am on there; I have two blogs a general one and another that is dedicated to my OUAT fanfics, the links are in my profile if you want to check them out! :-) I'm so glad that you guys liked how I did with the M rated chapter! It was very encouraging to know that I did well! So enough of my rambling, on to what you guys are here for!

To Sassy18, I've said it before and I'll keep saying it, thank you sooooo much, dearie! ;-D


Chapter 12: Life

Snow was lying on her back in the grass, the leafy blades softly brushing her arms and cheeks; the warm summer sun shone down brightly on her, warming her closed eyelids. She was enjoying a rare carefree day spent away from the burdens of ruling a kingdom, and pushing aside, if only for a little while, her worries about her stepmother's threat. A smile curled her lips as a wide palm stroked over her slightly rounded stomach, fingers splayed. James loved laying his hand on her belly, taking every chance to connect to the child she carried in any way he could and to feel their baby move. There was a flutter beneath his hand, drawing laughs from both of them.

Snow covered his hand with hers. "She knows her daddy." She turned her head, opening her eyes to look at her Prince Charming, lying on his side beside her.

"She?" A blond eyebrow cocked as he leaned down and pressed a kiss to her stomach.

"Mm hmm." Her fingers tunneled through his hair. "We're having a girl."

He laid his ear on her belly, grinning at her. "I don't think so. I think it's a boy."

"Nope," humor threaded her tone, "a daughter. A little girl."

"How are you so sure?" he teased, shifting around so that his body was settled over hers, hands bracketing her waist; he bent his head again to brush his lips over the bump.

Snow grinned. "I just know." Curiosity chased across her face. "Why do you think we're going to have a boy?"

Her husband shrugged, thumbs caressing the sides of her abdomen. "Sons tend to run in my family."

She cupped his face between her hands, brushing her thumbs over his cheeks lovingly. "Would you be disappointed if we had a girl?"

James' eyebrows shot up in alarm. "Of course not!" He reached up a hand to cover one of hers. "I would love to have a daughter." A warm grin spread across his face. "A little girl who looks just like you, with your spirit."

"And your heart." Snow added with a matching grin. Her thumb traced over the scar on his chin. "I love you."

He turned his head, pressing a kiss to her palm. "I love you too."

"Oh my gods!"

James shot up in bed, rudely yanked from the dream by the shriek, reaching for his sword…which wasn't there. He glanced around at the unfamiliar room, gradually remembering where he was.

"Red!" Snow's sharp shout beside him drew his attention to her.

She apparently had risen in bed with him and was clutching the blankets to her chest. His other arm had instinctively shot out to stretch across in front of her in a protective gesture; her own free hand was curled around his upper arm.

Gaping and horrified in the doorway was indeed Red. "Oh my gods!" she screamed again.

James used his right hand to make sure that the blankets pooling in his lap kept him covered, while lowering his other arm and resting that hand reassuringly on Snow's blanket-covered thigh.

"Red, what is it?" Ella dashed into sight; the moment she looked in the room her eyes went wide. "Oh goddess!" She spun around so that her back was to the couple, hand clapped over her mouth.

Snow raised the blanket a little more to cover her chest better, scowling deeply. "Haven't you heard of knocking?"

"You slept with him!" Red screeched back incredulously.

The princess glared at her. "Since I'm the one in bed with James, I'm pretty sure I'm fairly well aware of that fact."

Something that sounded suspiciously like a strangled laugh escaped Ella.

"Oh my gods, Snow, have you lost your mind?"

"No, but I think I might be close to losing my hearing," she snapped. "Why the hell are you in my room in the first place?"

Red opened her mouth to give what was likely to be a sharp retort, but Ella spoke first, still keeping her back mostly to them and only chancing tiny glances over her shoulder. "We were worried about you when we couldn't find you at the party; Geppetto said that he saw you leave earlier."

"Thank you, but as you can see I'm fine," the princess informed them tightly.

"Fine?" James thought that Red's voice might have risen even further in pitch, if that was possible. "You slept with him!" She leveled an accusing finger at the prince, still shouting at her friend. "How is that anywhere in the realm of 'fine'? Gods, Snow, are you insane?"

Snow, obviously having had enough by this point, leaned over the side of the bed, snatched up one of James' boots and reared her arm back to hurl it at her friend. "Get out!"

Ella, apparently being able to see just enough, perceived the danger; reached in, grabbed the door handle and pulled it shut just in time for the boot to thwack harmlessly against the wood surface.

"Sorry!" the couple could hear her muffled shout through the door.


"Sorry?" Red squawked, eyeing the blonde incredulously. "Sorry? They're the ones who should be sorry!"

"Red, it is her life," Ella sighed patiently.

The dark-haired woman pointed at the door, shaking with outrage. "They are each heirs to kingdoms! Have they even considered the ramifications of this?"

The blonde took a slow deep breath. "Well, there isn't really anything that anyone can do about it now. What's done is done and certainly can't be undone. And it is far too late at night to be trying to deal with it now." She firmly grasped Red's arm and began to pull her away down the hall. "So, we might as well just leave them be and get some rest ourselves."


"No, buts," Ella quickly countered.

Red scowled. "You know, I think I might have actually liked you better when you were timid."

Her blond friend just grinned at her.


James had shifted to sit upright, his hands rubbing up and down Snow's arms and pressing a kiss to her shoulder blade, murmuring soothingly to her as he pulled her back against his chest. She was angry, upset and hurt, and was resisting slightly, but slowly she allowed him to draw her into his arms.

They could hear Red's angry raised voice and Ella's calmer, more measured tones fade down the hall.

He'd wrapped one arm across her shoulders and the other around her waist; Snow's hands rose and knotted her fingers with his, clinging desperately to him.

"I don't care what she said," she bent her head and peppered kisses along the arm he had across her breastbone, "I love you. I don't regret this."

"I love you too," he whispered. His lips pressed to her bare shoulders and neck. "I don't have any regrets. However, she has a point about ramifications." The hand around her waist slid to span her abdomen, resting over her womb. "You could be pregnant." The dream was still fresh in his mind and made him ache all the more with longing at the idea that even now she could be carrying his child, even though it would be the absolute worst timing for it.

Her heart skipped a beat at the thought of having a baby with James, remembering how happy they both were about it in her dream; her hand rested atop his. "I know." Her fingers tightened over his. "I want that with you, so much."

"As do I," he told her huskily.

Snow turned sideways in his arms; he cradled her against his chest. His hands caressed over her arms and back, his lips brushing her hair. "I wish I could marry you tomorrow."

Her hands curled around the arm wrapped around her waist, eyes sliding shut with longing. "I would like nothing better," she agreed softly. Her face turned into his shoulder. "Can we do that, just get married, you and I, no one else, and go find that little farm to live on?"

James' arms tightened around her. "I would love that. But we can't."

"No," she sighed. "We can't."

They sat like that for a moment longer before settling back down under the covers, arms and legs tangled. Snow's fingers drew soft lines across his chest; James' hands wound through her curls.

"I had a dream," she began quietly, "we were together," her eyes were on her caressing left hand, remembering the weight of the rings that had rested there, "married."

"You were pregnant." His voice was a touch hoarse.

Her eyes lifted to his. "Yes."

His hand slid from her back to cup her cheek, fingers tunneling into her hair. "You were insisting it was a girl."

"And you thought it was a boy."

They continued to stare into each other's eyes for long moments.

"I was right," she told him softly, the dream hadn't shown that part but somehow she knew it, bone-deep. "It was a girl."

His thumb traced patterns against her temple. "I know." And he did. They were going to have a daughter in the dream, even part of his dream-self had known it, but apparently the pattern of his family having sons was so set in his mind that he couldn't help doubting what his heart knew. "A little girl with your spirit."

"And your heart." Her hand splayed over his chest, feeling said organ thrum strongly beneath her palm.

The thought, the hope was so strong they both could feel it. The infant's first cry, the slight weight of her body in their arms, the utter elation at the birth and abiding true love for their daughter.

A tear slid down Snow's cheek; she swiped it away. "I'm crying," she mumbled, forcing a short laugh. "Crying over a dream."

James tightened his arms around her, swallowing thickly. "I think in this case it's completely understandable. It felt so real." He pressed his cheek to the top of her head. "I feel like I lost something in waking up."

"Me too," she quietly admitted, ghosting one hand down to her stomach; it somehow felt strange to find it flat, fingers expecting to encounter a bump. She raised the palm to press against her forehead, squeezing her eyes shut. "It's very disorienting and confusing."

He cupped her cheek in one hand, tilting her face up; she opened her eyes to meet his. "We'll figure it all out," he promised.

A smile slipped onto her face; she pushed herself up to couple her lips with his. He curled his hand around the back of her neck, guiding their foreheads to rest against each other after they pulled back from the kiss.

Snow's eyes were shut, her face serene, arms wound around his neck. "Hmm."

James smiled at the contented sound that escaped her.

"Is it strange that we aren't even questioning the fact that we had the exact same dream?"

James skated his wide palms up and down her bare back, considering his words and her possible reaction before deciding to go ahead and say it. "I know you don't believe in it, but you're my true love; I've stopped questioning such things happening between us."

She was silent for a moment.

"I lied," she whispered.

His eyes snapped open; he cupped her face between his palms, urging her to lean back enough so that their eyes could meet. "What?"

Her eyes cast downward. "I have always believed in true love…but…when you think that you'll never have it…" She took a deep breath. "It hurts less to try not to believe in true love when you think that you'll never find it." She met his gaze once more. "Meeting you destroyed any hope I had of maintaining that illusion." Fingers slid from his neck to settle on the scar on his chin. "You are my true love. I can't imagine my life with anyone else. I don't want my life to be with anyone else. Only you."

In one motion James sealed his mouth to hers and rolled her under him, drawing a startled gasp from her; her fingernails dug into his shoulders for purchase. His palms dragged over her shoulders and down her back, provoking her to arch into him. Snow sucked on his lower lip, tongue tracing the bow of it; he groaned, arms pulling her tighter against him. His knee parted her thighs and he settled between them; she moaned into his mouth, her legs coming up to cradle his hips.

As they made love an unconscious thought flitted through James' mind, not registering in the heat of passion. Snow, my love…my wife…


James wasn't sure how he managed to wake up before the dawn, sleeping with Snow next to him was the most comfortable he'd ever been and the deepest sleep he'd ever known. Most likely it was purely from ingrained habit that he managed to awaken in time. They were both languid in rising from the bed, unhurried even though they should have been. As Snow turned to lift a dressing robe from her vanity's chair James grinned and paused in fastening up his breeches to reach over into her mussed hair. "I'm afraid we ruined your lily."

She turned her head to see him holding a wilted and squished petal in-between his thumb and forefinger; a smile spread across her face, taking the item from him. "It's fine." She lifted the petal to her nose, sniffed it and then gave him a brief but loving kiss before they parted to continue dressing.

Snow walked with him to the door from her room directly to the porch, now wrapped in the white, lace-edged dressing robe. She was so warm and appealing; it took every ounce of restraint James possessed to not just return to bed with her. At the door he curled his hand into the nape of her neck, covering her mouth with his. Snow furled her hands into the collar of his shirt, rising on her toes to press closer to him. His arms slid around her back to cradle her against his chest, kissing her leisurely and thoroughly. Slowly their lips drew apart.

"Will you come back for breakfast?" she whispered.

One of his hands cupped her cheek, his thumb stroking along it. "Nothing could keep me away. Especially with you leaving tomorrow."

Her hands gripped his shirt tighter, as if that could ward off their impending separation. "I don't want to leave you."

His arms still around her waist pulled her closer still to him, not allowing even a hairsbreadth of space between them. "I don't want to let you go." James rested his forehead against hers. "But we'll just have to make the best of today and tomorrow morning."

Snow buried her face in the crook of his neck. "I hate having to be responsible and always having to do things the right way," her mumble was muffled against his skin.

A chuckle rumbled through his chest; he pressed his lips to her curls. "Well, we didn't exactly do the responsible or so-called 'right thing' last night."

Half-smothered laughter spilled from her. "True."

Finally they pulled apart; James placed one last lingering kiss on her lips. "I'll see you in a little while." He traced the line of her throat with his thumb.

Before he could entirely move away Snow clenched her hands in his shirt, pulled herself up, and pressed a kiss to the scar on his jaw. "I love you." Her hands reluctantly released their grip.

James gave her one of his charming half-grins. "I love you too." He slowly backed away, watching her the entire time.

Snow stood in the doorway, biting her lip, eyes sparkling.

Suddenly he dashed back up and kissed her again; she giggled as he spun her in his arms. He set her back down on her feet, kissing her sweetly over and over.

After a moment's indulgence she pushed back on his shoulders laughing. "You have to go!"

"I know, I know." He pressed his nose into her hair inhaling deeply. "You smell like stargazers."

A giggle bubbled from her as he began backing away again with a giddy grin, but surged forward to her to kiss her again.

"James!" was her laughing protest.

"I'm going," he promised, kissing her one last time before finally walking off, glancing back at her over and over.

Once he was out of sight, Snow buried her face in her hands with a helpless giggle. Gods, they were hopeless.

James was still grinning as he entered Geppetto's kitchen.

Liam was sitting at the table, coffee cup in front of him and a sardonic look on his face. "Do I want to know where you've been all night?"

The prince cocked an eyebrow. "Liam," he clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder, "plausible deniability is a wonderful thing."

"Right," the general said wryly, rising from his seat, "wasn't there, didn't know, couldn't have stopped you even if I tried."


Snow sat on the floor, legs curled under her, with a towel spread under her, sponge-bathing herself from a basin. She was perfectly fine with this method of cleaning but at the moment she was quite sore from the night before and was silently wishing for a proper hot bath, but that would have to wait until she got home, and truthfully, it was probably a good thing that none of the maids could see her now. Running the sea sponge over her skin she traced fingertips over the evidence from last night, the flares of red from the rasp of James' stubble, bruises on her hips and thighs that fit his fingers and palms, and small red and purple marks swirling over her shoulders, neck and breasts where his teeth and mouth had nipped and sucked on the sensitive skin. She'd have to wear clothing that covered those marks and her hair down for a while, Snow mused, blushing slightly, at least until those particularly visible and incriminating marks faded.

There was a tentative tap on the door; the princess turned her head toward it. "Yes?"

"Snow, it's Ella." The blonde's soft voice drifted through the door. "Can I come in?"

She bit her lip, considering for a moment and then took the towel folded beside her, wrapped it around her waist and held it to her chest. "All right."

Ella slipped in, closing the door quietly behind her; she gave Snow a gentle smile. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine." Snow adjusted her grasp on the cloth, holding it more securely.

The younger woman canted her head reprovingly. "Snow, our housekeeper told me enough of what goes on between a man and woman for me to know that the woman is usually at least a little sore the first time." There was a hint of pink to her cheeks, but her gaze was direct.

The princess managed to keep most of the blush off of her face, but nodded. "A bit."

Her friend clasped her hands loosely in front of her. "Would you like some help washing your back?"

Snow's gaze softened at her friend's thoughtfulness. "Ella, you don't have to." Though it would be a great help and relief.

The blonde was already shaking her head and settling down behind Snow. "I know I don't have to, but you're my friend and I want to."

The sponge was gratefully passed from the princess to her friend. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." She dipped the sponge in the basin. "Lift your hair."

Pale, delicate hands swept aside ebony curls.

"Oh my!"

Snow hadn't thought about the fact that the bruises from James' grip on her waist and hips would be somewhat visible on her back. "It's fine," she quickly told her friend, blushing.

There was a choking sound from her friend. "Snow, there are bruises on your back and…red marks on your shoulder and neck…"

The dark-haired woman bit her lips, trying to keep from grinning at the scandalized note in the younger woman's voice. "Apparently your housekeeper didn't inform you that some bruising and other marks are natural when a couple makes love." She looked over her shoulder at her abashed friend. "They don't hurt and they weren't inflicted with pain, allow me to assure you," humor flooded her voice.

Ella went beet red. "Oh."

"Ella, you really don't have to–" she tried to give her friend a graceful out.

"No," the still-red-faced woman countered, "no, I want to help."

"Thank you," Snow said quietly; she turned her head to face forward again, clutching the towel to her front with both hands. Her eyes slid shut at the soothing feeling of the damp sponge being drawn across her back.

"So…" The princess had to smile at the tentative note in Ella's voice, waiting for the questions to come. "Was it…I mean…was he…were you…"

Snow took pity on her friend. "It was wonderful. There was some pain but it was over quickly and it was worth it. He was gentle about it and so loving." She couldn't help the cat-who-ate-the-canary grin that spread across her face. "James is a very passionate lover."

"Snow!" Ella's scandalized tone was ruined by the giggle in her voice.

"Well, it's true!" the princess laughed back.

"You said that some bruising and marks happen when a couple…you know." Snow wanted to tease her friend a bit more but restrained herself, deciding to let her get used to her and Red's more open attitudes–taught to them by Granny–about intimacy. "Do you think…that you gave James any such marks?"

A self-satisfied smile spread across Snow's face, liking the thought of having left James with some visible reminder of the night before. "I'm sure I did."


James wasn't a lazy man, but he didn't like just sitting around and doing paperwork either, back home he was out training with his men most every day and here in Lochdubh he'd been about any and all tasks that he could find. So he was in good shape and strong, but somehow, after last night with Snow, he was still sore; he fervently hoped that Snow wasn't hurting too much. He moved to the washbasin in the corner; glancing in the mirror momentarily but then doing a double take. He reached up a hand to move aside the collar of his shirt, left open at the neck, and grinned.

Just below his left collarbone was a small red-purple mottled mark; tilting his head to the side he saw a second at the corner of his jaw. He gave a chuckle as he began to pull his shirt over his head which became a soft hiss of slight pain when a sting flared through his back as the cloth brushed it. Once it was over his head he turned his back to the mirror. A number of small, red crescent-shaped wounds dotted his shoulders and long scratches of a lighter red stretched across his back. When he faced the mirror again he found that his collarbone wasn't the only place that Snow had left a mark.

Well, he inwardly mused, apparently he was going to have to sweat things out in training for a while when he returned home.

"You know, that shit-eating grin is almost enough to make a man want to beat you," Liam commented from where he was leaning against the doorjam, arms crossed.

James turned to his friend. "You know, you and Red are quite well-matched," he moved over to the wardrobe in the corner for fresh clothing, "both of you seem to have issues with knocking."

His general cocked an eyebrow. "And what might the story be behind that?"

The prince, now holding a fresh tunic, walked to the door. "Telling you would ruin your chances of claiming plausible deniability." He grasped the handle telling Liam, "And it's none of your business," then shut the door abruptly and firmly in the other man's face.

"Ow," was the wry and not overly-pained comment from the other side.

"You'll live," James told his friend unsympathetically through the wooden barrier.


When Snow entered the kitchen Ella was silently setting the table and Red was fuming over the sink-full of pots she was cleaning from making breakfast.

"Morning," the princess quietly greeted.

The blonde gave her a tense, warning look, eyes cutting briefly to their dark-haired friend.

Red's head whipped around to glare at Snow. "'Morning'? That's all you have to say after what you did last night?"

Snow's eyes narrowed. "I believe that this is my life, not yours. You're acting like I've committed some high crime."

The younger dark-haired woman slammed down a pan before spinning on the princess. "You're a crowned princess! Future queen of Everland, one of the most powerful kingdoms in the realm! He being the heir to the throne of another." A furious hand waved vaguely in James' hypothetical direction. "And you slept together!"

The princess' eyes became jade slits. "As I told you last night, I'm fairly well aware of that fact since I'm the one who committed this so-called sin."

"You're not even engaged!" Red all but shrieked. "What if you're pregnant?"

Snow set her jaw, hands fisting at her sides. "Then we'll just have to get married sooner."

"Red–" Ella attempted to gently cut in.

Red ignored her. "How can you be so blasé about this? Even if you wed, the child will carry the stigma of being conceived out of wedlock and your marriage will be considered nothing more than an attempt to legitimize the child. There might even be whispers that the baby isn't even James'!"

"We know this," Snow hissed at her. "If it comes to that we will deal with it, but our child will never once wonder if he or she is loved, nor will they wonder who their real parents are."

"Gods, how can you two be so selfish?"

"Selfish?" Snow choked out.

Red continued as if the princess hadn't said anything. "And how could James be so irresponsible as to seduce you like that?"

"Did it ever occur to you that I might have been the one to seduce him?" the elder woman countered waspishly.

"Please," Red rolled her eyes, "what do you know of seduction, and he's a man."

Snow did something then that was exceedingly out of character for her: she slapped her best friend across the face.

The younger woman's head had snapped to the side with the slap but she turned it back almost instantly to face Snow again, hand cradling her cheek and looking at the princess aghast.

"How dare you say such things about James?" Tears had welled in Snow's eyes as she glared at Red. "Just because you're refusing to deal with your feelings for Liam–"

"My what?" Red attempted to scoff, though it wasn't all that convincing.

The princess' hands were curled into tight fists at her sides. "It's not my fault that you refuse to tell him that you're a wolf!"

"A wolf?"

All three women froze at the voice, color draining entirely from their faces.

"Oh, goddess," Ella whispered, her eyes, which had become the size of saucers, were fixed on the kitchen door.

Snow had clapped a hand over her mouth, eyes wide with horror, as she slowly turned to face Liam, James, Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy in the doorway. She spun back to her best friend. "Red, I'm so sorry, I didn't know they were there! I would never have–"

"No," the younger woman cut in. Her face had gone stony the moment they heard Liam's voice; her eyes on him. "It's better this way actually." Her voice was tight. "Because now he knows, and he'll stop entertaining these delusions that he has, because who wants a monster for a wife?"

"Red!" both of the other women cried out in immediate protest.

"'Scuse me," Red said, jaw clenched, before spinning on heel.

"Red, wait!" Liam, breaking out of his initial shock, dashed after her.

James' eyes went to his beloved in time to see her frame begin to shake with silent sobs, jolting him into action. "Snow." He pulled her into his arms instantly; she buried her face in his chest, small hands fisting in the fabric of his shirt as she cried.

While the prince comforted his princess he ignored the four observers standing in an awkward silence.

Ella began taking away a couple of the place-settings, figuring that Red and Liam likely weren't going to be wanting breakfast, attempting to act as if nothing had happened. Geppetto cleared his throat and guided Pinocchio into the house.


The woodworker looked down at the child's inquiring tone.

"What did Snow White mean when she said that Red was a wolf?"

A particularly loud sob escaped the princess at the innocently posed question; James, his arms still tight about her, led her outside.

Jiminy, from his habitual spot on Pinocchio's shoulder, decided that in this moment keeping quiet might be the best option, opting to let Geppetto handle any explanation.

With a sigh the craftsman settled the boy into a chair at the table before taking one beside it. "The first thing you should know is that there is no need to be afraid…"


Red castigated herself as she stormed through the forest. How could she have been so foolish? So oblivious? She should have smelled them or at least heard them coming! Gods, she was an idiot!


Liam calling her name caused a pain so acute that it would have been more merciful to just stab her through the heart. "Go away, Liam! You know the truth now, so just leave now and don't drag this out."

A strong hand locked around her upper arm, immovable as a manacle, and spun her to face him. "I told you last night that I'm not going anywhere."

She tried to shake off his grip, unsuccessfully. "I don't want your pity," she spat out. "I release you from your promise; now get the hell away from me."

Her struggles only got her other arm caught in the grip of his other hand as well. "And who the hell said I wanted to be 'released' from my promise?" he hissed back.

She struggled harder. "Leave, damn it!"

"No," he told her adamantly. "Why do you think I would want to leave? Why do you think I wouldn't want to stay?"

"Because no other men ever have!" she finally half-screamed half-sobbed. She met his eye with tears in hers. "No one wants a monster! And it would hurt less for you to go now than later," she managed between gritted teeth.

When Liam moved it wasn't to push her away, no, just the opposite, he hauled her against his chest and crushed his lips to hers.

Red resisted, struggling for several moments, doing everything she could not to give in, but she was fighting a losing battle. How could she resist the pull to him when everything in her felt it was as natural as breathing to be swept up and get lost in him?

Slowly, her defenses crumbled; she melted into him. When her arms came up to wind around his neck Liam finally released his grip on them and allowed his hands to splay across her back, holding her to him. Tears escaped from under her eyelids at the bittersweet release of finally giving in to her feelings and being in his arms, part of her still unable to accept that he was staying.

After long sweet, passionate moments their lips finally parted; tears were now streaming down Red's face. "Please," she begged, voice barely a breath away from a sob, "please don't do this. Don't give me everything when you're just going to take it away."

He cupped her face between his hands, thumbs wiping the tears from her cheeks. "I keep telling you, Red, I'm not going to give up on you."

Her eyes slowly opened to meet his, tears still slipping from her eyelashes.

"And I'll keep telling you and working to prove it to you until you believe it," he added.

"Why? Why me?" She searched his eyes for answers. "This curse runs in my family. Any children I have will likely have it as well. How can you want me with that risk? I don't think I even want to have children and risk passing it on to them."

"Red," he gave a short chuckle, "we haven't even tried to court yet." He traced his hand down the side of her face. "I just want the chance to court you. Children…" Liam grinned, "children I'm more than willing to wait on discussing and quite happy to adopt if that's what we decide."

"Liam," her voice quavered.

He gently covered her mouth with his. "We have time, Red. And I'm a pretty patient man."


James had drawn Snow over to a bench under one of the trees a short distance from the house. He was cradling her against his chest, one arm wrapped around her shoulders and the other hand cupped around the back of her neck, fingers tunneled into her hair. Snow clung to his arm, face buried in his shoulder, attempting to muffle her soft crying.

"I can't believe I betrayed Red like that!"

"It was a mistake, Snow," he soothed, stroking a hand up and down her back. "Red knows you didn't mean for us to hear. She'll forgive you soon, if she hasn't already."

"I betrayed my best friend, James!" she cried pulling back slightly to look him in the eye. "The woman I love as and consider a sister!"

He cradled her face in his hands. "You didn't know we were there," he reiterated. "Red knows that you wouldn't have said any such thing if you had known." He held her gaze intently. "Red knows you; she knows you're not malicious and wouldn't hurt her like this intentionally."

Snow sniffed indelicately, lifting her hands to swipe at the tears on her cheeks. "I feel so stupid," she groaned. "We don't really even mention Red's heritage that often."

He brushed the curtain of her hair over her shoulder. "You wouldn't want a secret like that getting out."

A short, mirthless laugh escaped her. "No, that's not really why we don't talk about it." She gave him a small, wry smile. "In Everbrooke it's not a secret."

James frowned. "Oh?"

Her shoulders lifted briefly in a sad facsimile of a shrug. "Everyone in town knows about Red's family, as does my family…actually a good portion of the kingdom knows."

His eyebrows shot up. "Most kingdoms I know of would have run off such a family or hunted them down."

A frown furrowed her brow. "It's not their fault. They can't help what they are and her family has found ways to control it, so most of our people just leave them be and keep the truth of what they are from outsiders."

He gazed at her, a smile lifting his lips. "You protect them."

"There hasn't been a time in our kingdom's recorded history where Red's family hasn't been present," she explained quietly. "We don't know when they first came; it's been thought that perhaps they were the first family to come to Everland. They used to be more numerous, but their numbers have severely dwindled over time. Some killed because of what they were, others dying without having children because they didn't want to risk passing on the trait, though not all of the decedents have inherited it. They are as much part of the very fabric of Everland as my family."

He gently massaged the back of her neck; seeing that her talking about it was helping calm her he asked, "When did Red learn of her heritage?"

Snow leaned into his ministrations. "She's always known, we all have, it was never a secret from her. But as for her transforming," she swallowed, eyes sliding shut as a lone tear slipped out, "we actually thought that she'd been spared that." She reached over and took his other hand in both of hers, drawing it to her lap where she slid her fingers between his. "Usually when a child has inherited that trait it's fairly obvious early on; Red didn't seem to show any of the signs, though in hindsight there were a few that were subtle enough that they were overlooked. And normally the transformations would begin at about ten years of age."

James' long fingers rubbed particularly tense muscles in her shoulder. "Red didn't change at that age I take it?"

"No." Her fingers traced the faint battle scars on the back of his hand with which she was becoming quite familiar.

"How did it happen?"

Snow's eyes lifted to stare out over the water. "It was the night of Red's thirteenth birthday…"


"If we get caught, our parents are going to kill us," Snow muttered to her best friend as they snuck through the woods with a few of their other friends. Snow was among the eldest of the group of teens, most of them being around Red's age since it was her birthday they were clandestinely celebrating.

"Don't be so pessimistic, Snow," the younger girl teased.

They'd all snuck off shortly after sunset to go have a party of their own in the woods, buzzing with the rebellious excitement of doing so.

"Yeah, Princess."

Both girls turned at the chimed-in comment, Red's smile grew and a light pink suffused her cheeks at the sight of her crush, the blacksmith's son, Peter.

He grinned broadly at them. "Stop worrying, it's gonna be tons of fun!"

"Oh, I'm sure of that," the princess commented wryly, "the only question is how much trouble we're going to be in."

He abruptly stepped in front of the two girls, causing them to stop. "In order to get into trouble we'd have to be caught…so…" he began backing away grinning roguishly at them, "we don't get caught."

Red giggled, jogging after him, casting one unbridled grin at her friend before doing so.

Snow offered a weak one in return; no matter how she tried to get in the spirit something akin to dread had settled in her gut. "I have a bad feeling about this," she murmured under her breath.

They'd reached the clearing and begun setting up. It really wasn't much more than an unsupervised, nighttime picnic with the added twist that one of their friends had swiped a couple of bottles of Happy's homebrew.

Even as Snow settled in with the others, her eyes continued to dart around anxiously, searching for a threat that she could feel all the way into her bones, but just didn't seem to be there. She couldn't name at the time what it was that bothered her so much, but years later she wondered how different things might have been had she truly listened to the feeling and talked Red out of going.

Just as one of the boys pulled out a guitar to begin playing a cloud drifted out of the way of the newly-risen full moon, bathing their little camp in the haunting pale light.

The vague threat that had been nagging at the princess all night became deafening alarm bells in her mind as Red suddenly went rigid.

The cup in Snow's hand slipped from her grasp as she saw her friend's eyes start to glow a gold color; she leapt to her feet. "Run!" she screamed.

The others looked around confused, but quickly their confusion became horror and they scrambled away as the birthday girl's usually lithe form began to grow and change. They all scattered in different directions; for reasons Snow and Red would never be able to entirely explain, except possibly because of Red's burgeoning feelings for him, once fully transformed the wolf chose to go after Peter.

Snow had skidded to a stop, heart pounding, mind racing at seeing the boy being chased by her transformed friend. Turning she moved to dash after them, but halted when Peter managed to scramble up a tree, feet missing being swiped by giant paws by mere inches. Once she was assured that the wolf couldn't reach him but was still intent on doing so, the princess raced off to the one person who would be able to help Red.

Fists pounded frantically on the chipped red-painted door. "Granny! Granny! We need help, please!"

Relief crashed over her as she heard soft, muffled grumbling approaching the door. Snow was fairly certain she had never seen Granny's eyebrows climb so high on her forehead as when she saw her standing there.

"Princess, what on Earth are you doing here at this hour?"

"Granny you have to come now! We all went out for Red's birthday and…" her head turned to gaze at the full moon.

The woman who had been grandmother to her all her life went as pale as the orb over their heads. "Gods preserve us." She yanked open the door of the closet next to the entrance, pulling out an already-loaded crossbow and snatching up an old, familiar, red cloak. "Show me where, child, hurry!"

The time it took them to get to where the wolf was still terrorizing Peter at the tree seemed an eternity but it couldn't have been more than a few minutes. As it was they were barely in time.

The wolf had been slamming its body against the tree, causing it to shudder violently; Peter was struggling to hang on. Just as Snow and Granny broke through the trees the boy finally lost his grip, plummeting to the ground and landing with a harsh cry of pain. The older woman had already taken aim; the sliver arrow sliced into the wolf's flank just in time to send it sprawling before completing its soaring leap for the prone boy. The princess and innkeeper had rushed over, Snow to the fallen teen and Granny to cover the changeling with the red fabric.


"I don't remember anything from the moments just before the transformation until I changed back under the cloak." Red had been very blunt in her description of what had occurred during her thirteenth birthday, trying to shock Liam, force him to see what she saw as reality. To prove to him just how dangerous she really was. "If Snow hadn't gotten Granny there as quickly as she did…"

"But she did," the general countered from his spot on the rock beside her.

Red frowned at him. "Peter ended up with a broken leg, a bad one; from what I've heard he continues to walk with a limp to this day!"

The lack of judgment in his eyes actually hurt more than condemnation would have. "You had no control over what you were doing in that form. It wasn't your fault."

"I shouldn't have been out there at all!" she snapped back.

"True," Liam agreed mildly, "but you were just being a normal teenager."

"I'm not a normal person!" she all but shouted. Why wouldn't he see that?

"No," again his voice was level and easy, "but you didn't know that then."

"I knew my family history! I shouldn't have gone out on a wolf night!"

"You thought that you hadn't inherited it."

"Why are you making excuses for me?" Red cried, almost anguished.

"I'm not." He rested his forearms on his knees, loosely lacing his fingers together, gaze steady on her. "What I am doing is pointing out that you were a child; children make mistakes. After that did you ever go without your cloak on a wolf night again?"

"Of course not!" she looked almost horrified at the very thought.

"See." One hand gestured to her. "You had no idea that you'd be a threat to your friends that one time, but now that you do know you could possibly hurt someone you take the necessary precautions."

Bewilderment painted her expression, unsure of how to take his words and afraid to let them in.

"Red, you made a mistake; now, someone may have gotten hurt from it but no one died." Liam shifted closer. "And you learned from that; you haven't allowed the situation to repeat itself." He sat back. "How many people do you think have made mistakes, gotten others hurt, and even killed, didn't learn from it, and made the same mistakes again?"

Conflicted, Red stared out into the woods.

"Think about it," he advised. "And decide if you can let go of this guilt, self-hatred and possibly see a future that doesn't necessarily hold this self-imposed spinsterhood."

The intent look he gave her was impossible to turn from, and truthfully an oh-so-deeply buried part of her wanted to take his recommendation, wanted what he was offering.

Hope for a different life kindled.


James' thumb stroked the skin behind Snow's ear gently, trying to soothe what was left of the tension in her. "What happened to Peter?"

She turned her gaze to him. "His family was actually from another town; they had moved to Everbrooke when he was a baby, they decided to move back to their old home. They swore not to breathe a word about Red; I don't think they really blamed her per se, but after what happened they didn't want to remain in the area either." She twisted her hands with his in her lap. "She still blames herself for it, even though it wasn't really her fault, and she's never mentioned marriage or children for herself ever since. Nor have any the men shown interest in her beyond casual flirtation."

"Well," he pressed his lips to her forehead, "Liam is just as stubborn as she is and isn't going to let her go easily."

Snow tilted her head back to meet his gaze. "I hope so. I want her to stop avoiding love so much. I want her to be happy, not just content. There's nothing wrong with not getting married if that's what you truly want, but not doing so because you're afraid to be in love?"

With a half grin, James slid his hand to cup her cheek, kissing her temple before leaning back to couple his eyes to hers again. "If things are meant to be, they'll work out."

The corners of her lips finally lifted slightly, one of her hands rose to curl around his wrist. "You have such faith."

He leaned his head forward to rub his nose against hers, chuckling softly. "David used to tease me about it."

Her other hand rose to clench in the fabric of his shirt, mouth canting closer to his. "Hmm." A real smile finally graced her lips. "I like it."

Covering her hand with one of his, James brushed his lips against hers. "I'm glad."

Snow moved her head closer to his, making the teasing contact a real kiss, love and gratitude for his gentle understanding and helping her in this painful moment. After several leisurely moments Snow pulled back, rubbing her nose affectionately against his, drawing a grin to his face.

Glancing over his shoulder she noticed something sitting on the bench beside him. "What's that?" A smile lifted her lips, looking back at him.

James looked to his other side. "I had almost forgotten." He reached over and picked up the stargazer lily and presented it to her. "I picked this up in the market on the way here. To replace the one that was ruined last night."

Accepting the gift, she smiled sweetly at him. "I didn't mind, James."

"I know." He took the flower from her again and reached around to tuck it in the back of her hair. "I wanted to get you another." His fingers brushed through her hair. "And besides," he gave her one of his half-grins, "I like the way they smell on you." His nose brushed her long locks, drawing in the mixture of stargazer, lacrimae lunaris, chocolate and cinnamon; scents that shouldn't have gone together but smelled so right on her. It smelled like home.

Snow laughed softly, leaning in to him. "I'll take that as a compliment." Humor was bubbling in her voice.

"It was meant as such," his tone held equal amusement, fingers tunneling into her mane. He pressed his lips to her temple. "Feel better?" His voice vibrated against her skin.

A smile curled the princess' lips. "Yes, and I'll be better still once I apologize to Red." She paused, and then turned her head, pressing a kiss to the scar on his chin. "Thank you."

James pulled back, a gentle smile on his face. "Always."

His fingers sifting through her locks revealed the red-purple mark behind her ear, drawing his attention to the discoloration marring her skin. Tracing a thumb over it, he grinned at her. "You know, you're lucky to be able to hide this; I'm not so fortunate." He turned his head to the side, showing her the similar mark she'd left on his jaw.

"Poor, baby," she teased, pressing a kiss to the spot; pulling back, mischief sparkled in her eyes. "I can always hit you with a rock to cover it up."

He snorted. "I think once was enough for a lifetime." James rested his forehead against hers, concern touching his expression. "How do you feel after last night? Are you hurting?"

Snow shook her head, stroking a hand along his face. "A little sore, but it's nothing." She smiled sweetly at him. "I'm mostly just happy about last night."

His thumbs rubbed her waist where he was gently holding her. "As am I." He grinned teasingly again. "Though, I won't be able to go without a shirt for a while."

Her expression was a mixture of apology, humor and pride. "Did I hurt you?"

He shook his head. "No, my back's just a bit scratched up."

Snow skimmed her hands soothingly down his back, placing a kiss on his shoulder. "I'm sorry."

James burrowed his face into the side of her neck, pressing his lips to the love bite behind her ear. "What about you?" His voice was slightly muffled against her skin, palms drifting along her sides. "Did I leave any other evidence?"

Snow pulled away, grinning back at him with humor. "Suffice to say that I won't be letting Lucy help me dress or bathe for a while."

They both thought that they probably shouldn't be feeling quite so proud of the fact that they'd left such marks on each other and that they bore such marks. But they did.


For the remaining four, breakfast was an unusually subdued affair with the only real talk being Pinocchio asking questions about Red being a wolf and Geppetto and Ella answering. Jiminy was fairly quiet, mostly listening to the woodworker and young woman's answers, and occasionally chiming in with a few inquiries of his own.

They were almost finished when Snow and James finally stepped through the door; the couple gave their friends warm smiles and nods before they went over to get plates and serve themselves. Just as they were settling down at the table the two remaining members of their group appeared.

Snow was back on her feet in an instant and moving over to stand before the woman she called sister, tears once more welling in her eyes, hands being wrung like a wet dish cloth. "Red, I'm so sorry, I never–"

With a tight hug Red cut her friend off. "Snow, I know." She pulled back to meet the princess's eyes. "I forgive you."

The elder woman locked her best friend in another embrace. "Thank you." She released the hug enough to look at Red again. "And…I'm sorry about slapping you."

There was a wry tilt to Red's lips. "Yes, well," she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, "I really shouldn't have said what I did. It was wrong of me to speak like that." Her expression became serious. "I'm sorry."

A small grin lifted her mouth. "I forgive you."

After one more hug the women finally released each other; Snow went back to the table and Red headed over with Liam to get their food.

The moment that Red sat down, Pinnochio leaned forward and eagerly asked, "Are you really a wolf?"

Several of the adults choked on whatever they had been consuming at that moment. Red, at the utter lack of fear in the child's tone, couldn't help guffawing, burying her face in her hands while her friends attempted to recover.

Gods, this was why she liked children.


After Pinocchio's guileless question the atmosphere in the kitchen lightened to a jovial one; Red laughingly answered the child's question and a few others he posed. Finally Geppetto gently chided the boy that he needed to let Red eat; Pinocchio's mouth instantly snapped shut, apologizing softly, Red brushed it off with a grin before taking her first bite of breakfast.

The woodworker quietly cleared his throat to get the attention of the others around the table. "I spoke with Barney on the way here; he and a few other friends had heard you were all leaving soon and asked that I invite you all to dinner at Adder's Cove."

Adder's Cove was one of the more secluded beaches in Lochdubh, visitors rarely ever found it so it was a favorite spot to be used by the locals.

"They don't have to do that," Snow protested.

Geppetto was shaking his head. "They know this, but you all are able to visit so rarely that they all wanted the chance to visit a bit more and to say goodbye. It won't be a large party, small and fairly quiet."

The five young people looked at each other; with wry grins and nods they agreed.

"When are you planning on leaving tomorrow?" James took a bite, glancing at the three women in question.

The friends looked at each other in consultation.

"Mid-morning?" Red offered.

The other two nodded.

"That would likely be best," Ella agreed.

Under the table James' free hand slid over to capture Snow's, she twined her fingers with his. Both contemplated the thought of their impending separation with distaste and desperately wished for the time when they wouldn't have to face such a thing.


"What is wrong, Pinocchio?" Geppetto had noticed the boy's growing disquiet since their friends' impending departure had been mentioned at the breakfast table, but the craftsman had decided to wait until it was just himself, Pinocchio and Jiminy in his workshop to mention it.

The child lifted a sad gaze to the older man. "I…I'm just wondering what's going to happen to me." He bit his lip. "I mean, you all said that I could stay with you for a while, but what happens now?" He pushed a sanding stone from side to side with his finger.

Geppetto and Jiminy glanced at each other knowingly; the woodworker then crouched down to Pinocchio's height. "That is something I wanted to discuss with you, Pinocchio."

Reluctantly, the boy lifted his eyes to the man's.

"I spoke with Jiminy," Geppetto continued, gently placing work-worn hands on the child's shoulders, "and if you wish, I want you both to stay here with me."

Pinocchio's eyes went wide. "You want me to stay? Forever? You want me to be your apprentice?"

"More than that, Pinocchio." The lonely craftsman took a deep breath, nerves even getting to him. "I wish to adopt you, if you would like that."

If it was possible Pinocchio's eyes went even wider. "You want to adopt me?"

"Yes." Geppetto nodded his head for added confirmation. "I want you to be my son."

"You'll be my father? My real father? We'll be a family?"The boy turned his saucer-sized eyes first to Geppetto and then to Jiminy, seeking confirmation of what he had just heard.

The cricket was giving the cricket version of a smile and nodding. "Geppetto asked me to stay and I said I would."

Pinocchio turned his attention once more to Geppetto, biting his lip anxiously again. "Does this mean…can I…can I call you 'Father'?"

The woodworker began blinking furiously, trying to hold the tears that burned in his eyes at bay. "I would be honored to have you call me 'Father', Pinocchio."

The widest and brightest grin either man or cricket had ever seen broke across the child's face just before he barreled into Geppetto's chest, hugging him tightly and then pulling his conscience into the embrace. Three souls who had known little-to-no family all their lives finally had found it once again with each other.


Soooooooo…thoughts? There will be at least one more chapter with them in Lochdubh, before they have to return to "real life". I've had the scene where Red walking in on Snow and James in my mind basically since the moment I began contemplating having them sleep together. As for Snow slapping Red…O.O I actually didn't see that coming… What did you think of how I dealt with incorporating Peter, how Red knew her family heritage, how she became a wolf? I know some of you are really anxious for more Ella/Thomas and I promise it's coming but they have to leave Lochdubh first! I'm going to miss having them in Lochdubh because things are so much less restrained, but I can't wait to get back to all the other characters! XD Now, I have to go work on the next chapter of Hot Chocolate…*scurries off*

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