Helooooooooooo my lovely readers! :-D Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much for the reviews, tweets, DM's, PM's, alters, faves, encouragement and comments! :-D Again I'm sorry about the chapters slowing down, I had a couple weeks of vacation last month and worked on this quite a bit, but I was also doing other things including going up to Steveston for one day and watching filming of season 2! XD It was REALLY fun and interesting to see, I saw Josh Dallas and Sebastian Stan both filming and Raphael Sbarge on set, the town itself was in an…interesting state… XD Anywho. I really hope that you enjoy this chapter! :-D


Chapter 14: There and Back Again

Snow was sitting with Granny in the Inn's kitchen going over a few recipes she'd recommended for the fall equinox. The celebration was still three months away, but Regina was already insisting on beginning the preparations now. Though Snow couldn't exactly argue with her reasoning to start so soon since the fall equinox was their second largest celebration, surpassed only by the spring festival.

"What do you think," Snow rubbed her fingers tiredly across her forehead, glancing at her surrogate grandmother, "boar or deer?"

Granny rifled through a few of the pages on the table before her. "I'd go with the deer, but boar would certainly be good." Without looking, she reached over and grabbed the princess' hand. "Stop playing with that ring, Snow, you'll break the chain."

The dark-haired young woman's eyes went to where Granny was grasping her hand with surprise. Without realizing it she'd pulled out James' ring and begun fiddling with it absentmindedly. Snow blushed, tucking the ring back into place under the higher-than-usual neckline of her dress. "Sorry, Granny."

"Hmm," the older woman acknowledged wryly. "So when exactly is that young man of yours going to get back here and put that ring on your finger properly?"

The princess' mouth fell open. "How did you–?"

Granny pulled out one of the recipes from the stack and studied it intently. "Your clothing choices have been more concealing than usual for the summer, along with wearing your hair down all the time when that thick mane has to be hot, and you're wearing a ring that you didn't have before, but it's on a chain around your neck and not on your finger...yet…" She cast a dry look at her surrogate granddaughter. "Do I really need to spell this out any further for you? I'm old, not blind."

Snow gave her a sheepish smile, fingers rubbing the still visible mark behind her ear, having unconsciously gone there at the mention of her change in clothing and hairstyle habits. "Are you upset with me?"

The proprietress rolled her eyes. "Goodness, child, I'm not your mother! And we all know I'm no saint!"

The princess choked on a laugh.

"I know that that boy is head over heels in love with you, as you are with him." Granny inclined her head to indicate the ring around Snow's neck. "And obviously the two of you are planning on marrying." She lifted a pencil to make a note on the recipe. "If the pair of you have chosen to share a bed before marriage, perhaps it isn't the wisest choice, but that's your choice and your business, not mine. So long as it was done in love and you plan on making those promises to each other sooner rather than later."

Snow had pulled out the ring again and was twisting it around her forefinger. "We are," she promised. "We love each other more than anything and we are going to get married. There are just things we both have to straighten out first."

A single grey eyebrow rose. "Well, don't spend your lives trying to 'straighten things out.' Sometimes you just have to go ahead and act, because things certainly will never be perfect."

A warm grin spread across the princess' face; she stood up, took the two steps to Granny's side and pressed a kiss to the woman's cheek. "We won't," she assured her; her smile became amused. "Besides, Red has only given him a month to propose properly before she takes matters into her own hands."

Granny's eyebrows shot up.

Snow laughed at the nearly horrified expression on her surrogate grandmother's face before she pecked her cheek again and glided off to the stove. "I'll make us some tea."


Two days back in Seaborn castle and not only was James desperately missing Snow, but he desperately wanted to unleash the long tirade on his father that he'd been holding back. Gods, he'd forgotten how frustrating the man could be! And Thomas wasn't around to help smooth things between the two of them, not that James could blame his younger brother for leaving, ostensibly to handle a few things in Riverdon, but in reality taking the time to visit Ella and continue their courtship.

"Well, don't you just look like a ray of sunshine?"

James' stalking stride paused, turning to face Phillip. He was torn between being happy at seeing his friend and exasperation at what he knew was going to be a conversation that would try his patience.

Phillip smirked at his expression, reading him all too well. "So, how was Lochdubh?"

The sandy-haired prince rolled his eyes, continuing his brisk way down the hall to the training fields. "Don't you have other places to be and things to do?"

His friend easily kept pace with him, his posture casual. "None so nearly as entertaining as bugging you. And besides my parents wanted me to come here and handle negotiating with you and your father a few alterations to our trade agreement." The dark-haired prince eyed James' face. "Nice beard, by the way. Thought you hated them."

"Trying something new," he informed him shortly. He'd grown the facial hair to help hide the love bites Snow had left along his jaw until they cleared up.

A single dark eyebrow rose. "What has you in such a bad mood? You're a step away from biting my head off."

James spun on his friend, opening his mouth to snarl at him, but at Philip's level look he snapped his jaw shut, hanging his head. "I'm sorry, Phillip. I haven't been sleeping well the last few days." Since Snow had left.

"Eh." The other prince shrugged his apology off. "Thomas and Liam warned me you were in a mood."

That earned him a droll look from his fair-haired friend. "And you sought me out anyway. You get far too much enjoyment out of yanking my chain."

"That," Phillip easily admitted, "and I figured someone needed to hang around to keep you from saying or doing something you'd really regret with Thomas not here to do so."

James chose not to comment on that, just continued walking.

"So," his friend continued lightly, "when are you going to be leaving to visit a certain snowy princess?"

"When are you going to actually go meet your betrothed?" the sandy-haired prince countered instantly.

The teasing smirk fell off of Phillip's face at that.

His friend gave him a pointed look that clearly conveyed for him to stop poking his nose in James' business or he'd start turning it on him.

They continued down the hall in silence.


Thomas' head was bent over the paperwork spread across his desk; he was trying to get it all done as quickly as possible so he could leave in two days' time for Everland to visit Ella. King Leopold had graciously once again extended accommodations for his stay, even though it was such short notice. Thomas could hardly contain his excitement over seeing the woman he loved again.

"Excuse me, Your Majesty."

He looked up to see his butler in the doorway. "Yes, Victor?"

The older man strode up to the desk, posture showing deference to his monarch, while still carrying the pride he felt in his station. "This came by messenger just a moment ago." He held out a sealed letter.

Thomas accepted it, a little surprised at the seal in the wax, having only received a missive with it once before. He broke the scarlet wax, eyes sweeping quickly over the elegant script. "Victor, King Gaspard is passing through and has requested to stay here a night." He handed the message back to his butler. "Please see to it that accommodations are readied for himself and his party, and send the messenger back to let him know we'd be more than happy to host him."

Victor bowed. "Immediately, Your Majesty." He disappeared less than a second later.

The young soon-to-be king rubbed a hand over his forehead, feeling a bit tired and exceedingly grateful for his decision to hire Victor. The man was intelligent, efficient and, along with his housekeeper, Mrs. Wells, had gotten the palace running in near-perfect order in under a year. Between the two of them they found, interviewed and recommended to Thomas other hires for the staff; soon thereafter Thomas more or less informed them that he trusted their judgment and to just bring the contracts to him to sign once they'd decided on a candidate.

His blue eyes scanned the room around him; he was terrified about his quickly approaching coronation, but part of him also yearned for it to come. He now understood what James had tried for so long to explain to him, how he'd never wanted the power of being king, but at the same time he enjoyed the chance to help the people, to improve things, to be able to hear his people's needs or desires and then do something about them.

Thomas' gaze settled on a second desk and chair that had been pushed into a corner. Victor had had it quietly placed in here after Thomas' stay in the spring, when he'd met Ella. The prince hadn't asked for it, but it had been in his mind; when he'd seen the desk sitting unobtrusively in the corner, he'd turned to Victor and asked about it. The butler had simply stated that he thought it might be needed in the not too distant future.

He ran his eyes over the delicate carvings in the pale wood, fashioned by Geppetto like his own, though it was much more feminine in appearance. A vision of Ella's golden head bent over some ledgers or a trade agreement they were trying to decipher together danced tantalizingly through his mind. The desk would need to be moved to a more central spot in the room, perhaps they'd push their desks side by side so that they could more easily work together, he mused.

The prince shook his head to clear the image; he was getting too far ahead of himself. He was trying to court Ella properly, along with giving her the time she had quietly alluded to needing. She'd made her feelings for him clear but also indicated a desire to regain her strength, independence and self-worth that had been trampled upon for so many years by her stepmother and sisters. He'd let her know he understood and was willing to wait until she was ready. As it was, even though the waiting killed Thomas, he was enjoying seeing the woman he loved growing in confidence, seeing her really coming into her own. It soothed an ache that had resided in his chest since he first saw Ella so meek, quiet and nervous around him and others.

He hated seeing anyone so trampled by life, but he'd never felt it as strongly as he did with her; the prince still couldn't explain the depth of his emotions so soon after meeting her, and by the time he'd actually thought to notice the anomaly he was too much in love with her to look back.

Thomas picked up his quill again, turning his attention back to the correspondence he'd been working on; he needed to finish it before King Gaspard arrived, though the desk in the corner remained in his mind, as it always did when he was in this room. Yes, a queen's desk would be quite necessary, and hopefully it would have its occupant before too long…


Belle's brisk stride carried her through the halls from the library to the entranceway, hoping to be able to catch a glimpse of King Gaspard arriving. She wouldn't dare to actually greet him there, it was entirely against decorum, but she was hoping to at least see him again. Her thoughts of late had often centered around him, remembering his intelligence, kindness, how he was able to converse on any subject she'd brought up and could keep up with her own rapid-moving mind without trouble. He'd read so many of the same books she had, and they were still able to recommend fascinating new books to each other.

Finally the young librarian reached the large entrance hall but remained in the shadows of the small servants' corridor off to the side, watching for the young king's tall form to come through the double doors. Footmen stood at the ready to carry the luggage up to the visiting monarch's quarters.

Then he was stepping through the door and Belle's heart skipped a beat, breath catching in her chest.

Gaspard was conversing easily with Thomas, the pair striding along together through the hall.

The young librarian hugged the book she was carrying to her chest like a child's security blanket, not a far off the mark comparison she inwardly acknowledged. Books had always been her comfort, while other children had stuffed animals and blankets she found comfort in books, carrying at least one at all times. She wondered if Gaspard thought of her at all since the last time they saw each other, if he would be interested in talking again, if he remembered his promise to invite her to Rosewood to see his library…

Her heart stilled in her chest when his blue eyes turned right to her, locking on her own. She knew that she hadn't made a sound nor moved, but he'd known she was there. A smile curved his lips and he nodded to her. Belle's cheeks were very warm, but she was smiling quite happily in return and curtsied to him from her spot.

He continued to talk with Thomas, all the while his gaze stayed on her until he would have had to turn his head to see her, which would have been exceedingly rude to his host.

Belle bit her lip, reluctantly returning to her haven, hope swelling in her heart.


Gaspard had been journeying home from attending the solstice celebration in Seaborn and a couple days of talks in Agrabah, which had ended blessedly well, considering how tumultuous his relationship sometimes was with Sultan. In attending the solstice in Seaborn he'd hoped to see Belle again, but hadn't been able to locate her during his stay. When he asked Thomas explained that she was very uncomfortable in the castle when it was crowded with guests, so he'd arranged for her and her father to go and stay at a small seaside cottage for the duration of the celebration. After the solstice Gaspard had continued on to Agrabah; when he completed his business there and was on his way home he heard that Thomas was in residence in Riverdon so he decided to take the chance and see if Belle was possibly there as well.

And there she indeed was.

A smile lifted his lips as he made his slow way to the library. Even after such a brief acquaintance as they'd had he'd missed her over the past few weeks. Her soft voice, warm smile, the eyebrow that would quirk in a teasing way but made an appearance far too rarely, her quick intellect that matched his. And he sincerely hoped that she would agree to the request he was about to make.

She immediately turned upon his entrance from where she was shelving books, her lovely brown eyes lighting up as they met his blue ones. "King Gaspard," Belle greeted him a little breathlessly. She dropped into a curtsey.

"Please," the king held his hand up, "that's not necessary." It truly bothered him to have such formality between them. "Certainly not when it is just the two of us. In fact," he took a few halting steps closer to her, "I would welcome you calling me by my name, Mistress Belle."

She gazed at him watchfully, biting her lip while pink bloomed across her cheeks. "Belle. Just Belle."

"Belle." Her name slipped from his lips easily, naturally, sweeter than lacrimae lunaris honey on his tongue.

Her breath softly caught at the way he said her name, heart racing in her chest; she inhaled deeply to steady herself somewhat. "Gaspard."

His heart skipped a beat at finally hearing his name on her lips, it sounded so right, as if she'd said it hundreds of times before. He loved the way she said his name.

Gaspard tried to contain his need to fidget, but found himself twisting his cane back and forth. "I was hoping to see you in Seaborn for the solstice, but Thomas said that you were staying in a cottage with your father."

She nodded. "A village not too far from Lochdubh. I am not…fond of being around a lot of people and I enjoy the quiet time away from the palace with Papa. But I do regret not seeing you." Her smile was sweet, curling through him warmly and lifting his heart.

"I actually have a request to ask."

Her head tilted to the side. "What is it?"

His thumb rubbed over the handle of his cane. "Thomas informed me that he would be going to Everland the day after tomorrow for a few days and I was hoping that you would go as well, and during that stay if you might come to Rosewood for a day or two."

Belle's heart beat double-time, she tried to control the wide grin that wanted to split her face; her smile still became even wider than it was. "I would love that." A finger of unease managed to still run down her spine, even through the comfort she felt with him. "Though…perhaps it would be…best if…"

Gaspard apprehended what she meant. "I have invited Thomas to come as well and I'm hoping that Snow and perhaps a few other friends will make the trip too."

Relief washed away the touch of disquiet; she caught her bottom lip between her teeth, a need to tease him a little rose in her, a daring she hadn't felt with anyone outside her small circle of friends in far too long. "Just so long as you promise me the chance to poke around your library."

He grinned at her broadly. "I'm actually rather inclined to let you raid any books from it you'd like."

Brown eyes sparkled at him amusedly. "A dangerous promise to someone who loves books as much as I do."

Gaspard smirked. "I'm willing to take that chance."


Her legs were so unsteady under her; she braced her weight against the wall as she made her way down the corridor. Bodies littered the floor, a few dressed in black, but most of them in the silver and white of their knights; her heart ached for the families who lost loved ones. And yet Snow couldn't help the relief that swept through her each time she looked upon one of the fallen and it wasn't her Charming.

She clutched her abdomen, her body so sore and weak after having given birth only a few minutes ago, and knew she really shouldn't be out of bed. If the world were sane she'd still be lying in bed, her beautiful Emma in her arms, her husband lying beside her, his arms wrapped around both of them; rejoicing together in their daughter's birth. But the world wasn't sane or fair. The curse was coming and Snow had to find her husband, she wanted to be with him when the curse arrived, she needed to know that Emma had gotten away and was safe.

Finally she reached the door of the nursery; two of their knights lay on the floor outside it along with a couple of black knights not too far from them. She turned her head to look inside what was supposed to be their little girl's room. It took a couple of heartbeats for her to really absorb what she was seeing.

Charming, his white shirt stained crimson, lying on the floor oh-so-still, in a growing pool of his own blood.

"No." The word slipped past her lips without her really realizing it. Then Snow was saying it over and over as she staggered and stumbled to her love's side, crawling the last few feet when her weakened body gave out. Her hands ran over his unmoving form, shaking him slightly, part of her believing that he had to only be sleeping, unable to accept that she would never see his blue eyes look upon her with love and adoration, never see them light up as they had done when she told him that she was pregnant.

Snow clasped his face between her palms, gazing down at his beloved, familiar features. "Please, please come back to me," she begged him. She'd given up their child to save her; she couldn't lose her husband as well! His skin was so cool to the touch…

Snow gasped, shooting bolt upright in bed, hand clutching James' ring to her chest. Her eyes flew around the room in alarm; her other hand went to the opposite side of the bed, finding no one, which sent her spiraling even more toward panic. Her hand then flew to her stomach; flat, no indication of pregnancy, not even the slight rounding to hint a recent birth. She covered her face with her hands, tears still streaming down her cheeks behind them, her mind whirling, unable to fully reconcile all of the residual emotions from the dream–which like all the ones she'd had involving Charming since meeting him felt all too real–and what her mind was telling her was reality.

The last few days since she'd left Lochdubh and last saw James she'd hardly slept at all and when she did it wasn't particularly restful sleep, but this nightmare…this was new and terrifying. She needed Charming. She needed him here right now. She needed to have him in her arms, in front of her where she could touch him, feel his warm skin and reassuring heartbeat and know that he was alive and well. A logical corner of her mind quietly reminded her that he was in Seaborn and couldn't be there at the drop of a hat.

But I need him here! the less rational side of her mind railed.

Snow took a deep breath, she needed to be logical, rational and– Her heart was having none of it, the dream was still too close, too fresh and felt far too real. The princess shoved herself out of bed and quickly dressed in breeches, a shirt and boots.

The members of the guard in the halls bowed to her as she quickly passed; she nodded her head in response, but wasn't going to stop and talk, especially since she was sure there were still tears on her face. None of them questioned her being out of bed, wandering the castle so obscenely late, Snow had always kept strange hours, and recently she'd taken to going for walks when she couldn't sleep. She snagged an apple from the bowl of fruit set out in the kitchen as she passed through on her way out to the stables.

Snow entered through the side door and briskly approached Aravis' stall, grabbing a lead line on her way, the horse greeted her sleepily. Her hand closed over the latch, ready to yank it open and bring the mare out to saddle up. The logical side of her mind resurged, stilling her. She gritted her teeth at the inner debate that began anew. In frustration the princess threw the line on a nearby table, spinning on heel and beginning to pace up and down the aisle, stride sharp.

Oh, how she wanted to tell the reasonable, rational voice to go to hell, and ride off to Seaborn for her Charming. The familiar scent of wood, straw and horses–not James' scent but one that she associated with him–was working its magic and starting to calm her emotional turmoil somewhat and allowing clear thought. But how she hated it.

Her pacing drew to a stop a few feet away from Aravis' stall; she allowed her jaw to clench once more in annoyance and frustration before forcing herself to take a deep breath. Snow then made her way over to her mare. Sleep wouldn't be forthcoming and she was still feeling far too emotional; since she could not seek the comfort of her beloved she would take what she could get from tending to her favorite horse.

"Hello, my girl," Snow softly cooed to the horse, tears liberally lacing her tone.

Aravis worriedly nosed her mistress' stomach, sensing her pain.

"I'll be fine," the princess assured her, running her hands over the mare's head. She reached into her pocket for the apple and fed it to the gold-colored horse.

While Aravis happily munched on the apple, Snow let herself into the stall, pulling out a brush which she began to run over her horse's coat. The dark-haired princess let her hands go through the rhythmic motions of brushing Aravis' golden coat, allowing the familiar movement to help soothe her a bit.

She tried to focus her thoughts on the horse, to try and distract herself from the nightmare, though she wasn't entirely successful.

Snow set aside the brush, retrieved the comb and began to gently work it through Aravis' mane. She could still feel an edginess within herself, but most of the earlier terror was gone.

"I miss him, 'Ravie," she quietly admitted to her horse, calling her a pet name she rarely used anymore. "It makes me feel on edge, not having him with me. Like…" She frowned slightly while her fingers gently worked out a snarl in the cream-colored locks. "Like I'm half expecting something terrible to happen to him if he's out of my sight even for a moment." A self-deprecating smile twisted her lips. "Pretty silly, huh?"

Aravis let out a huffing breath, shaking her head and looking back at her mistress as if to contradict her.

Snow ran a fond hand down the mare's face and pressed a kiss to her forelock. "Thank you, sweet girl." She scratched Aravis' neck under her mane, the way she liked. "Thank you for being such a good listener and friend."

The mare nuzzled her side as if to say, "Of course."


Belle's eyes lifted to stare up at Everland castle as Gaspard helped her down from the carriage. It was an entirely different style from Seaborn and Riverdon, but still breathtakingly beautiful and suited to its environment.

"Gaspard! Thomas!"

The librarian's gaze was drawn down the steps to the front doors by the feminine voice calling out to her companions. This must be Princess Snow White, she mused to herself. The princess was beautiful, graceful in her hurried steps down the stairs, her face alight with joy at seeing the guests, though as she came closer Belle could also see dark circles under her eyes. Belle's gaze went to Gaspard beside her to see worry lightly crease his brow; the princess either didn't see it or chose to ignore it, rising on her toes to hug the tall king tightly. Belle studiously ignored the sting of jealousy she felt at how natural the gesture was for them, obviously a common endearment between them.

"Snow," Gaspard greeted the dark-haired woman, affection obvious in his tone.

After Snow dropped a sisterly kiss on the king's cheek, she turned and hugged Thomas with almost equal affection, she also whispered something to the prince too low for the other two to hear, which had him grinning broadly at her.

The princess then turned to Belle with a bright smile. "Are you two going to introduce us?" she inquired of the two men teasingly.

"Snow White," Thomas began, "this is Belle of Seaborn." The librarian was a little surprised at how the princess' eyes lit with even more happiness. "Belle," the prince continued, "Princess Snow White of Everland."

Belle curtsied. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty," she greeted formally.

Snow stepped closer to her, taking one of her hands in both of hers. "Please, call me Snow. I've been looking forward to meeting you; James and Liam have spoken very highly of you."

The brunette was a bit thrown by the princess' warm and instant acceptance of her and the offer to be on a first name basis so soon after their meeting, though she could definitely see another thing that had drawn James to her: her easy, casual manner. "I would be honored."

The princess grinned, shifting to include the two men in her gaze. "Come, I'll show you to your rooms."

"Are you sure your father is all right with us staying here?" Thomas questioned as they made their way up the stairs.

"Very," the raven-haired woman assured him. "The only reason he wasn't here to greet you is that he's in a meeting with Lord Willoughby."

Belle was shocked by the sudden venom in her voice, which up until then had been sweet and joyous.

Gaspard's eyes narrowed dangerously. "What does that letch want?"

Snow rolled her own eyes. "Who knows, he's always making up excuses to come here and try to convince Father and I that he'd be a wonderful choice of husband for me." Her expression was as sour as her tone.

The prince and librarian looked back and forth between the other two.

"Who is Lord Willoughby?" Thomas finally inquired.

"A local noble," the princess began.

"And a sad excuse for a human being," Gaspard added, mouth set in a grim line.

"Father will see to it he finds the door as soon as possible," Snow assured them. "He doesn't bother letting the toad even see me now during these visits. He knows how much I despise the odious man. But let's not talk about him," she stated definitively, arm still looped through Belle's as the stepped through the double doors. "Mara," a dark-haired, brown-eyed maid stepped forward, curtseying, "could you see to it that Mistress Belle is placed in the room next to mine?"

Belle's eyes became as wide as saucers, but if this was an unusual request for the princess the maid gave no indication.

"Right away, mistress." She hurried off, presumably to make the arrangements.

"That's not necessary–"

Snow was already shaking her head, cutting off any protests. "With two male visitors in residence, it's best that you stay in the family wing for propriety's sake," she countered simply. "Besides," her grin widened, "I'm looking forward to spending the time getting to know you."

As she allowed the dark-haired princess to lead her up the stairs, Belle had the feeling that this was the start of an eventful and interesting visit.


Taking a break from sparring, James bent down to pick up his skin of water and, straightening, lifted it to his lips for a long drink.

"Are you trying to permanently run off any potential sparring partners?"

The fair-haired prince rolled his eyes at Liam's sardonic question. "You volunteering?" He glanced over his shoulder.

His general snorted. "Thanks, but I'd prefer not to be limping off the field today nursing injuries."

"If it means you'll tell me what the hell has you so riled up and snapping at everyone, I'll volunteer." Phillip began to unfasten his jerkin, drawing his sword.

James clenched his jaw as the dream from the night before rose before his eyes.

Clattering of weapons, cries of pain and death echoed into their quarters from the hall.

Despair and defeat crashed over him at the loud sounds. "Then our plan has failed," he said resignedly. He looked back down where Snow was gazing at their newborn daughter with such utter horror at what could befall their baby. "At least we're together." He wrapped his arm around her tighter, resting his forehead against hers and stroking his other hand lovingly over Emma's head. At least he'd be with his family, the people he loved most in the world, as the end came.

"No." A firm resolution had entered his wife's voice. "You have to take her."

He looked up at that statement; she couldn't possibly mean what he thought she did…

"Take the baby to the wardrobe."

"Are you out of your mind?!" She could possibly think of sending their child through that thing alone without one of them to protect and raise her!

"No. It's the only way," she insisted, meeting his incredulous gaze head on. "You have to send her through."

"No, no, no, no," he begged for her to stop, to not continue this madness, to just let them be. "You don't know what you're saying."

"No, I do," Snow told him emphatically. "We have to believe that she'll come back for us!"

His face crumpled, trying to hold back the new wave of tears, knowing deep down that his wife was right, but still trying to fight against that knowledge, not willing to part with his family. He gazed down at Emma's tiny face, worrying about what would happen to their innocent child where ever she was going.

"We have to give her her best chance!"

James lifted his gaze to Snow again, seeing the pain he was feeling reflected in her own eyes and lining her face, unable to deny the truth of what she said now. He pressed his mouth into a thin line, trying to restrain his reaction; he looked back down at their daughter and bent his head to kiss her forehead, heart aching.

Snow gazed at their baby with such love and longing. "Good-bye, Emma," she whispered before pressing a kiss to Emma's cheek.

The prince brushed a hand comfortingly over her back, wanting so badly to be able to make this all stop, to somehow seal them all away in a place where this nightmare couldn't touch the ones he loved, but he didn't have that power.

His wife slowly lifted her head and reluctantly passed their newborn daughter to him, fingers lingering even once he had Emma safely settled in his arms. He stared down at their child in his arms for the first, and possibly last, time. His blue eyes lifted to meet Snow's emerald ones. Unable to stop himself he bent to give her one last kiss, trying not to think that it might be the last he ever shared with her. By sheer will, and the driving knowledge that he had to save their daughter, he pulled himself away from his beloved and hurried across the room to where his sword hung in its sheath from the chair and drew it, the mettle zinging.

Just before he reached the doorway James turned back. Snow mustered a smile for him through the tears crowding her eyes; he forced a small one in return, though it was probably more a grim line than anything. Before he could change his mind he rushed out the door and into the hall.

Though she'd obviously been holding it back and trying not to let him hear, Snow's agonized sobs easily reached his ears…

He swiped a hand across his eyes, as if he could erase the memory just like that. Snow's cries had still been ringing in his ears when he'd awoken, hand closed around the hilt of his sword, hardly able to breathe through the pain racking him.

"Never mind," he growled and, rather than engaging his friend, stalked off.

All the training and work in the world wasn't going to make this better. He needed Snow, in front of him where he could touch her and hold her and reassure himself that she was happy, alive and well. But he couldn't leave, not so soon after his return and not when he still had so much to mend here.

His eyes went to the area of the garden his mother had dedicated to her lilies. James went over to one of the few remaining stargazers–this late in the summer most had already long ago finished blooming and had faded–he broke off one of the blossoms and took it with him, needing some connection to the woman he loved. The strong, sweet scent of the lily, a reminder of its scent on Snow, would hopefully ease some of his anxiety.



Phillip watched his friend's actions curiously. James wasn't someone he'd call a "plant-person," always more interested in animals and people when it came to living things. So his picking a flower was definitely noteworthy.

The more time Phillip had spent around his friend since Snow White had first come into the picture the more the dark-haired prince wanted to meet the woman who was tying his oh-so-unflappable friend into such knots. He was torn between amusement that someone could shake James up, and anger that she could also cause him so much pain.

Phillip was beginning to wonder if perhaps it was time to finally suck it up and meet Aurora, if for no other reason than it might give him an excuse to finally meet Snow White.


Liam sighed, shaking his head. James wasn't dealing with the separation from Snow well at all, and according to the letter he'd received yesterday from Red, via one of Snow's bluebirds, the princess wasn't fairing much better.

He tapped a finger against the hilt of his sheathed sword. Gods, he hoped James got things straightened out well enough that he could leave sooner rather than later for Everland. Red's letter had made her feelings on the matter clear, reiterating a threat she'd apparently made to James while in Lochdubh, something about wandering into Seaborn during wolf's time.

Snow and James were making their rather passionate goodbyes to each other a few feet away; Ella was keeping her gaze well averted, trying to ignore them. Red rolled her eyes as she turned to mount her horse, but Liam stepped in front of her, blocking her way.

"Do I get a goodbye kiss?"

She cocked that sassy eyebrow at him, crossing her arms. "And why would I kiss you goodbye?"

He grinned at her broadly. "Because you want to."

"Well, aren't we full of ourselves," she commented sarcastically.

He just kept grinning at her.

They stood like that for several moments before Red abruptly grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, dragging him the scant few inches between them and pulling herself up to press her lips to his.

Liam gripped her by the waist, kissing her back with equal enthusiasm.

Just as suddenly as she initiated the kiss she pulled her mouth from his; he tried to follow her, but she placed one hand over his mouth and used the other to push against his chest.

"Something to think about, and motivate you to visit Everland with your liege when he comes to propose." With that she turned on her heel and swung up into the horse's saddle.

He smirked at the memory of their parting in Lochdubh. In the letter Red had reminded him that he'd better be of the party when his prince did visit again or she'd be forced to take "extreme measures." Liam was actually intrigued by what those measures might be; grinning, he wondered inwardly if that made him a masochist…


Ella pulled a clothes pin from the pocket of her apron, hanging Sneezy's vest on the line. The chores had piled up a little over the week she'd been gone, but not as badly as she'd worried they might. Apparently the dwarfs had taken care to try not to make too much of a mess and keep the house relatively neat. According to Red this showed how much they really liked Ella, that they would put the effort in to keep things from becoming too messy to make her job easier upon her return, and that they wouldn't want to disappoint her.

The blonde grinned, she'd become fond of the seven quirky men as well; as demanding as working for seven miners could be it was miles and away easier than the forced slavery she'd been under with her stepmother and sisters. The dwarfs were gentle and kind, never pushing her to exhaustion and insisting that she eat with them, making sure she had enough. Quite often they would lend a hand with chores, even though it was her job, wanting to help out. A couple of days ago they'd returned from the mines and accidentally tracked in mud all over the floor she'd just cleaned that afternoon. With one sad, disappointed glance from her at the dirty floor they'd all been scrambling for mops, buckets and brooms to clean up the mess they'd made. Since then they made sure to take off their shoes at the door before coming in.

Ella glanced inside her kitchen window, grinning at the sight of the bright blue glass vase with wildflowers spilling from it. Dopey brought flowers home nearly every day, smiling so brightly as he held them proudly out to her.

For a while she'd thought that Grumpy didn't like her since he didn't speak much to her and was quite gruff while doing so, until she mentioned this to Snow. The princess had grinned and asked about one of her chairs that had been wobbly. With a frown Ella had looked down at the chair she was sitting on, the very one, and realized that it had been rock-steady for quite a long time. Snow pointed to the pump at the sink commenting offhandedly about how nice it was that it didn't leak anymore. The blonde's jaw had hit the floor, catching her friend's drift. The princess had laughed and explained that Grumpy wasn't one who overtly showed affection, he did so quietly through such small actions and without need of being thanked.

After that Ella began learning the ways best to let the dwarfs know she appreciated what they did and that she cared for them as well. She learned their favorite foods–Grumpy had a particular love of her strawberry rhubarb pie–how they preferred their clothes cleaned–Happy hated his collar to be starched–their rooms cleaned–she always dusted and swept Sneezy's sleeping space first so that the dust was out of the air long before he got home…

She found herself happy doing these extra little things, happy seeing their enjoyment of what she did. Ella hadn't had a real family since her father died, but that's what the dwarfs, Snow and Red were quickly becoming for her. Her life wasn't necessarily easy, but she was the happiest she'd been in far too many years.

Now if only…

"Would you like a hand with those?"

Ella froze. For a moment she thought perhaps she was wishing so hard for Thomas that her mind had conjured his voice. She turned her head to find him standing a few feet away. Doc's shirt slipped from her suddenly slack grip. Her feet took a couple of halting steps forward, seemingly unsure of what to do, how to react; she wanted so badly to give into the impulse running through her, but years of manners and etiquette were piping up in the back of her mind. She hesitated. Then, setting her lips into a determined line, pushed past her reservations and raced the last few feet between them, throwing her arms around him. He caught her, holding her just as tightly in return.

No, not a dream, this was quite real, much to her joy.

"So can I take this as you missed me?" Thomas teased.

Pulling back slightly, she smirked at him. "Just a little."

With a grin he ducked his head down to press his lips to hers. Ella melted into him, sighing contentedly into the kiss. Her hand rose to cup the side of his face, thumb running over his cheek, enjoying the rasp of his stubble against the pad of the digit.

Thomas kept one arm locked around her waist, holding her against him while his other hand tunneled into her loosely pulled back hair, reveling in the soft locks sliding through his fingers. Like always she smelled fresh and clean, like when the sun broke through after a spring rain, with just a hint of lavender clinging to her skin.

When their lips finally parted he ran his hands up and down her arms. "I missed you too."

Ella grinned up at him, taking one of his hands in hers and pulling him after her back to the clothes line. "You said something about lending me a hand?"

He chuckled, accepting the pair of pants she pushed into his hands along with the pins she took from her apron. "Word of warning," he fumblingly pinned one side of the trousers on the line, "I have never done this before."

"Well, it's a good thing that this is one of the easier chores then," she told him teasingly.

In the time it took him to hang the one pair of pants she'd hung two shirts and a pair of socks and was already handing him a shirt and more pins to hang. He smirked. "I think Snow and Red have been a strong influence on you. You're quite bossy."

She tilted her chin up proudly, eyes sparkling with amusement. "Thank you." She tilted her head to the side inquiringly. "How were things in Seaborn over the solstice?"

Thomas grimaced. "Tense. Father was naturally less than pleased with James leaving like he did, though things seemed a little bit better when I left, though neither of them has ever really gotten along that well. Of the three of us sons, James was always the one least close to Father."

"Because David was the favorite?" Ella asked. Thomas had hashed out for her his sordid family dynamics, save for the most recent revelations which he wasn't going to divulge without James' permission, over his last visit.

"No," he shook his head for emphasis. "That never bothered James, he's just so unlike Father that they couldn't really find much common ground. They love each other," he quickly added, "but they just don't see eye to eye on a lot of things."

"How is James dealing with it?"

"As he usually does," Thomas shrugged, "arguing quite forcefully with Father, but biting his tongue on some of his choicer words and fulfilling his duty as he always does."

Ella eyed him thoughtfully. "And how are you handling it?"

He grinned at her a little self-deprecatingly. "I'm a little more passive-aggressive in how I go against our father. James and David would outright argue with him, more so James than David–oh, the shouting matches that they've had! Meanwhile, usually I'll listen to Father, not argue with him, and turn around, ignore what he said, and do as I see fit. But I have occasionally butted heads with him quite strongly and overtly when I felt it necessary. Besides, I'm not Father's heir apparent, I don't have to deal with the same pressures that James does, so it's a totally different kettle of fish anyway."

Her gaze remained on him levelly. "And how are you dealing with your upcoming coronation?"

The prince gave a short laugh. "Scared stiff." He grinned at her. "It's going to be a couple of months after the fall equinox."

Ella's eyebrows rose in surprise. "I hadn't realized it was so soon."

"Yeah," Thomas rubbed the back of his neck. "I half want to run as far and as fast as I can in the absolute opposite direction, and half can't wait to get to work." He smiled at her wryly. "All these years James has been trying to explain to me the feeling and now I finally know firsthand what he means."

She reached over to tangle her fingers with his, thumb smoothing over the back of his hand. "You'll be a great king, Thomas. You care deeply about your people."

His fingers tightened around hers and he gently pulled her closer to him. "Ella…" He reached out and took her other hand in his. "I was wondering…if you would agree to come to my coronation? Snow is going to be attending with her father and stepmother; she said that she'd love for you to join their party."

Ella's breath caught. It was seemingly an innocent invitation, but they both knew that it meant much more than that. Even though Ella was the daughter of a wealthy, highly ranked merchant and landowner it still wasn't exactly the norm for her to attend such an event. Her attending with Snow would keep it from appearing too strange to outsiders, but they both knew with her agreement they were crossing a bridge that they couldn't backtrack from. She crossed the bridge at a sprint. "I would be happy to attend."

Thomas grinned brilliantly, lifting both of her hands to kiss the backs of her fingers. "Thank you."

She returned his smile with an equally bright one.

He released her hands to cradle her face between his palms. "By the way," his grin was both joyous and teasing, "I love you too."

Ella didn't think she could smile any wider as his lips settled over hers.


"I hope that you will be comfortable here." Snow smiled brightly at Belle over her shoulder from where she was opening the doors to the balcony in the guestroom.

"It's wonderful," the young librarian assured her hostess, following her out onto the balcony. "Thank you so much for all of this."

The princess clasped her hands in front of her. "You're very welcome."

The brunette bit her lip before continuing. "I have been looking forward to meeting you since James returned from Everland and spoke of you. He has been as a brother to me, and the look in his eyes whenever he speaks of you…I have always hoped he'd find such a love."

Snow actually felt her cheeks grow warm at her guest's words. "James' love is more than I ever dreamed of finding." Her hand went to press against her chest over where the ring hung, her heart aching with missing him. Not wanting to linger on how much she was missing Charming and not quite ready to share something so personal with a woman she'd just met, she cast her mind around for another topic. One came to her quickly and a small teasing grin pulled at her lips. "You know, I've known Gaspard all my life and I have never seen him so attentive to a woman before."

Now it was Belle's face that flushed crimson. "He has been very kind to me and I can talk with him like I can with few others. His mind is so sharp." Her eyes flew wide. "Not that you and James and Thomas aren't intelligent!"

The princess was already waving her words off, moving to settle into one of the two chairs at the luncheon table on the balcony. "Don't worry about it." Humor colored her tone. "I know what you mean. Gaspard's mind has always been one of the most astute I've ever encountered. He seems to see everything and absorbs information so quickly. He usually is patient with people and willing to wait for them to catch up to him in his deductions, but I do know that he tires at times of how much slower the rest of the world seems."

As Belle came to sit in the other chair Snow's grin became mischievous. "When we were children and had tutors, sometimes we would be taught together and I remember how he often became bored because his intellect wasn't properly exercised which resulted in many entertaining pranks from him."

The brunette's eyebrows shot up.

Snow laughed softly. "I know, he doesn't seem the prank type, does he?"

"No," Belle agreed, eyebrows still near her hairline.

A wistfulness entered the raven-haired woman's expression. "His parents' deaths and his injuries were hard on him; they sobered him a great deal, forcing him to grow up much faster than he normally would have." An amused smile quirked her lips. "Though he still has a very wry and keen sense of humor."

Belle gazed at the woman next to her watchfully. "Were you two…did you two…?"

The princess' emerald eyes turned to her questioningly.

The librarian took a deep bracing breath. "Were you two ever…an item?"

Lighthearted laughter spilled from Snow. "No, no, no." She chuckled a little. "Some time ago we considered a friendship-marriage, since both of us were tired of the matchmaking schemes that were being tried upon us. We thought that perhaps we could have a good marriage based on our strong friendship and mutual respect. However, neither of us could think of the other in terms other than filial, so we quit the idea before we ever even brought it up to anyone else. But no," she shook her head for emphasis, "we have never actually courted."

The brunette couldn't help the relief that swept through her.

There was a teasing gleam in Snow's eyes. "You'll be the first woman any of us has ever seen him show a real interest in."

Belle looked back at the princess, a little wary.

There was a rather smug and satisfied look on her face. "For once he'll be the one on the receiving end of teasing."


Leopold watched his daughter quietly give instructions to a couple of servants regarding their guests; they listened intently, going off to do as she bid instantly. It comforted him to know that the servants listened to and obeyed her so willingly already, boding well for how the castle would run when she became queen.

"Good evening, Father." She gave him a small, if somewhat distracted, smile.

"Snow," he returned. "You seem happy with our visitors here.

"Hmm," she acknowledged with a wider smile. "I'm always glad to see Gaspard and Thomas, and I've been looking forward to meeting Belle."

His daughter kept her eyes on the hallway ahead of them; he gazed at her assessingly. "Prince Thomas has been visiting with fair frequency over the last few months," he commented neutrally.

"Yes," Snow agreed, "I know he's very nervous about his coronation this fall and wants to be sure that he has strong ties with neighboring kingdoms. Plus," a grin lit her expression, "coming here gives him a chance to spend more time courting Ella."

"Ella?" He stopped dead, staring at his daughter in surprise.

She turned to him, nodding. "Yes." After taking in his expression, her face became puzzled, tilting her head to the side. "I thought that you knew."

Leopold felt quite relieved at this news–he'd been leery of having another prince of Seaborn interested in Snow–but he cleared his throat uncomfortably, a bit embarrassed at his mistake. "No, I…I actually thought his affections lay elsewhere…"

The princess frowned uncomprehendingly for a moment at her father, before understanding flooded her expression. "Oh, no! No! Thomas and I…" She shook her head more firmly. "No, he and I are just friends." Normally she would have just left it at that, but the frustrations she'd felt when she first returned from Lochdubh and had successfully buried all of this time, resurged. Her eyes narrowed. "No, my affections lie elsewhere, and have done so for quite some time."

She could tell he knew what she meant from the look in his eyes. "Snow–"

"You know, I saw James while I was in Lochdubh," she interrupted him; something she was fairly certain she'd never done to her father. Her lips compressed into a thin line. "He told me how he'd asked you for my hand and you refused him…" Her jaw set. "Without even consulting me."

"My dear." Leopold reached for her hands, but she jerked them from his grasp, moving a few paces back, staring at him with something he had never seen in her eyes directed at him before. Distrust, hurt and anger. And did it ever tear at his heart. He curled his fingers into fists, frustrated at his own feelings of impotence at the moment. "I was just trying to protect you. There's a situation with Midas–"

"He wants James to marry Abigail," Snow cut in. "I know. James told me a couple of days before you turned him down." At the flash of surprise in her father's eyes she continued, "We decided early on that we didn't want secrets in our relationship. We're both very open and honest with each other."

"Snow, the situation with Midas could be dangerous–"

"James is working out a plan to break with Midas peaceably, and considering all the options should things not go well." Her face crumpled. "What hurts, Father, is that you didn't even think to ask me how I felt in the matter."

"I knew how you felt, Snow," he countered as gently as he could manage. "I saw you talking, walking and sitting with him during the visits here and in Riverdon. But I wasn't convinced he really loved you since you were his only other option for marriage."

"And you didn't trust me to know my own heart and to know his well enough." Her hands were clenched at her sides. "James wouldn't risk his kingdom for anything less than real, true love."

His expression became stunned.

"Yes, Father," she nodded her head firmly, "I said 'true love.' That's what James and I have and neither of us is willing to give that up for anything." She took a step closer to her father. "I love you, Father, but I am going to marry James. He's going to propose to me properly and I'm going to accept him, with or without your blessing." Pain flashed across her face. "Though, I would infinitely prefer it to be with."

The stood facing each other in silence for several moments before Snow finally turned and walked off without another word.

Leopold remained standing there. Staring at the wall and wondering when his daughter had grown up and stopped seeing him with the eyes of a child.


"So basically you and I are to be chaperones to two couples on this little trip?"

Snow laughed softly at the sour note in Red's voice. "Yes. Though Gaspard and Belle have not actually admitted to anything, but I recognize the way he looks at her." She carefully cut a few more lacrimae lunaris that were spilling over the sides of the raised flowerbeds in the palace gardens.

Her friend muttered something under her breath following behind her, hands on hips, and then said audibly, "I guess we now know how Ella felt while we were in Lochdubh."

"Hmm," the princess quietly agreed, placing the flowers into her basket.

Red watched the woman she loved as a sister. Snow had been much too quiet for her tastes, though not in the same way as before James' letter to her explaining his actions in Riverdon. And the dark smudges under her eyes, which deepened daily, worried Red. Snow frequently pulled out the ring that hung from her neck, fidgeting with it, gaze unseeing and thoughts far off.

Red could hardly blame her friend, her own heart traitorously longed for Liam, missing him sorely even though she tried to make herself not think about him. But he crept into her thoughts with increasing frequency. Snow and Ella caught her daydreaming the other day, she was fairly certain neither of them was going to let her live it down.

"You know, Father actually thought that Thomas kept visiting because of me."

Red looked at her friend again, brow furrowed. "What?"

Snow's lips were twitching with amusement. "Yes, he thought that Thomas was infatuated with me."

The younger dark-haired woman's jaw fell open in shock before laughter began rolling from her heartily.

"Mmm," the princess agreed amusedly. "I corrected him of course."

"Of course," her friend agreed through chuckles.

Gradually the amusement drained from Snow's face. "I confronted him about his refusing James' request to marry me."

That instantly sobered Red; she'd never heard of any disagreements between Snow and her father, ever. But she couldn't imagine that her best friend had let the king off lightly after all the pain she'd gone through. "What did he say?"

The raven-haired woman shrugged. "That he was trying to protect me."

Hazel eyes studied the princess' posture, the rigid set of her shoulders. "Did you forgive him?"

Snow let out a soft breath. "Working on it. He didn't exactly apologize."

Red winced. Her friend would never insist on an apology from her father, but it would have gone miles in soothing the hurt she felt and mending things.

The princess rose, dusting off her hands and brushing dirt and grass from her skirt. "I also informed him that we were getting married."

The younger woman cocked an eyebrow, helping her friend gather up the blooms she'd picked. "And how did he respond to that?"

"Nothing." She hung the basket from her arm. "I think my telling him James is my true love rendered him speechless."

Red couldn't stop the laughter that rang out. "Oh, my! I would have loved to have seen the expression on his face from that!"

It was still obvious how much her father's difficulty accepting her decision troubled her, but Snow returned her friend's amusement with a wide grin, looping her arm through Red's. "It was rather satisfying."


"But I love you."

"And that is what makes it all so sad."

James gasped in a breath, jerking awake. His hand instinctively went to the other side of the bed, searching for Snow, his pulse skyrocketing when he found it cold and empty. But then he remembered where he was, and where Snow was. He slumped back on the mattress, scrubbing a hand over his face; he stared up at the canopy of his bed, the scarlet color indistinguishable in the darkness of his room.

He tried to remember what his dream had been about, but it had just felt like a jumble of color, sounds and images, with only a few things jumping out. He frowned remembering the last words that had echoed through his mind before waking. Said in his and Snow's voices…and yet not their voices. Something vital was missing from each of their tones, from the essences of who they were…

The prince groaned, swiping a hand across his eyes and shaking his head at his own thoughts, before rising from bed. James cast a glance at the open windows to see it still dark as pitch and sighed, knowing that what meager few hours' sleep he'd managed would be all he'd get that night. He dressed in just a shirt, breeches and his boots before making his way up to the tallest tower. He settled into one of the crenels, as he'd done countless times before, with his back against a merlon. Instead of his gaze being on the ocean, as it usually was, it was turned in the direction of Everland, though he could only see its guardian mountains from here.

"You've been restless since you came home."

The prince's head turned at his mother's voice, finding her standing at the top of the stairs and hatch into the tower.

"Have you had a full night's sleep at all?" Her brow was creased with worry.

James considered evading the question or even flat-out lying to try and ease his mother's mind, but he knew she'd know he wasn't being truthful. "No," he stated honestly.

Ruth moved to where he was sitting; he drew up his legs so that she could sit in the crenel with him, her back against the opposite merlon, feet resting on the floor. "What's troubling you, son?"

His gaze went back out toward his love's kingdom, hand absently rubbing his chest over his heart, as if that could ease the constant ache there a small amount. "I…" He sighed, rubbing his fingers over his eyes.

"Is it about Snow White?"

Blue eyes met all-too-knowing brown ones; a wry smile twisted James' lips. "I miss her," he admitted.

A teasing glint entered her eyes. "I would be worried if you didn't."

He laughed softly. "We never could hide anything from you."

Ruth couldn't help smiling back at her son's unbridled, boyish grin; James had certainly grown up, but that was one thing about him that had never changed, that bright, wide smile. And she was glad for it. "When do you plan to see her again?"

"In a couple of weeks."

She managed to quell the disappointment that rose in her at learning she'd be losing her son again so soon. "And will you propose to her then as well?"

James took a deep breath. "That's the plan." His thumb rubbed along a scar on his index finger, a habit since he'd received it as a small child from a knife she'd told him not to touch.

The queen brushed a hand over the skirt of her dressing robe to drape it more comfortably along her legs before loosely clasping her hands in her lap once again. "Does she know what you intend?"

His eyes met hers, something she couldn't quite read in them. "I gave her the ring."

Ruth froze, eyebrows rising on her forehead.

"I didn't put it on her finger," he continued quickly, "but I wanted her to have it, as a tangible promise that I would return to her to propose properly."

Her fingers knotted together, feeling anxiety over her next question. "And Midas and Abigail?"

"I'm going to break with him, hopefully they won't take offense." His jaw set, obviously worried.

"And if they do?"

James stared down at his hands as they tightened into fists. "I have a possible plan that I need to discuss with Snow and Thomas… But hopefully it won't come to that." His eyes went to his mother again. "She's my true love," he told her simply.

Her breath caught at hearing her son say that in such a definitive tone, not even a trace of doubt.

"And…even though I feel like…like a traitor, a bad monarch, saying it…I can't give her up for anyone or anything." He dropped his head, scrubbing a hand over his scalp. "I'm struggling without her just over these few weeks…I can't breathe even thinking of not being with her forever." His gaze lifted to hers, eyes begging for her understanding.

Ruth reached out, cupping his cheek with her hand, unconditional love and acceptance in her brown eyes. "All that I have ever wanted for my sons is for them to be as happy as possible…and to find true love for themselves."

A relieved smile spread across his face as his hand rose to cover hers; he turned his head and pressed a kiss to her palm. "Thank you, Mother."

She brought her other hand up to cradle her son's face between them and press a kiss to his forehead. "I love you, son." Tears pricked her eyes as she smiled at him. "Always." She let her forehead rest against his. "You have my blessing."

His wide, bright grin was back again as he enfolded her in a tight hug. "I love you too. Thank you."

Her eyes closed, enjoying this embrace from her child. How quickly they grow up, she mused inwardly. She was still smiling as a tear managed to slip down her cheek. And how happy and proud they made you when they make the right choices.


Thank you so much for reading! :-D I know there isn't really any direct Snowing in this and I don't think there will be in the next chapter either, but the next one should set it up for them so see each other again…and that's all I'm going to say about that! ;-} I'm going to be working quite a bit with Belle/Gaspard and Ella/Thomas in the next chapter continuing what's going on here. Phillip was a bit of a surprise… O.O I didn't think he was going to stick his nose into things so soon, but he seems to be threatening it and if he decides to follow through on going to visit Aurora…needless to say it's gonna be interesting… XD And YES Snow and James' memories are creeping steadily in…including their SB ones. Which when they really start remembering SB things are gonna being pretty strange for them. ;-} I hope that you guys enjoyed the chapter! Please let me know what you think! :-D

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