Chapter 16: Grief

Thomas scrawled the last flourish of his signature on a land lease then set it aside in the pile of documents he'd finished going over and endorsing. He knew that leading up to his coronation and for much of the first year of his reign this is most of what he'd be doing: reviewing, negotiating and confirming various contracts; updating antiquated laws…basically catching up on over a hundred years of paperwork.

"Your Majesty."

His head snapped up at the calm, formal voice from the doorway. "Yes, Victor?"

The butler moved forward carrying a tray. "Cook felt that you didn't eat enough for breakfast and asked that I bring you some tea, sire." He set the steaming tray down on his master's desktop.

Thomas' eyebrows had shot up and he was rather thrown by the gesture. "Thank you," he managed, stumbling slightly over his words. "I really am all right, he didn't have to…"

"It's Michael's way, sire." Victor arranged each of the items before his liege. "Best to just accept the gesture," he told the prince conspiratorially, "not to would hurt his feelings."

The fair-haired prince laughed, accepting one of the sandwiches offered to him. "I'll keep that in mind."

"I have been meaning to ask, if I may, Your Majesty: How did you like Rosewood?" Victor inquired, pouring tea into a cup.

"It's lovely." Thomas carefully balanced the cup and saucer that were handed to him. "The architecture is breathtaking and the rose gardens as beautiful as rumored to be, and the library as extensive." Laughter shone in his blue eyes. "Though Belle would be able to tell you about that better than I."

"Oh," the older man chuckled, "Mistress Belle has spoken quite extensively on the library." He set the teapot off to the side where Thomas could easily reach it to refill his cup. "And how did Mistress Ella find it?"

Thomas couldn't stop the wide grin that spread across his face at the mention of his beloved. "She had a wonderful time," his smile slipped, "though she and Red were anxious for both Snow and King Leopold and we had to cut the visit short."

The butler bowed his head solemnly. "King Leopold is a good man and Princess Snow loves him very much. I hope that he recovers."

"As do I," the prince fervently agreed.

Victor straightened again. "Is there anything else I can do for you, Your Majesty?"

"No, thank you, Victor."

"Very good, sire." He turned and headed to the door.

Suddenly Thomas remembered something he'd been meaning to ask his butler. "Victor, a moment!"

The butler instantly turned. "Yes, Your Majesty?"

"I just have a question." He leaned forward, folding his hands on the desktop before him and at his head of household's nod, continued, "You like Ella?"

"Yes, sire."

The future king continued to look at him inquiringly. "You approve of her as my wife?"

Again the butler confirmed this; if he was confused by the line of questioning he didn't show it.

"Why?" Thomas finally asked. "Most would, and will, be pushing me to marry a noble or a princess. They wouldn't see my intention to wed a commoner as appropriate, especially since this is a newly reinstated throne."

Victor seemed to consider his words for a moment. "May I speak freely, Your Majesty?"

"Please," the fair-haired man prompted emphatically.

The older man took a thoughtful step forward. "When the monarchy of this kingdom passed to the hands of Seaborn the nobility began a rapid decline. Those that didn't fall into irreparable debt married into nobility of other kingdoms and, with no court here, didn't spend any time in Riverdon other than to occasionally see to their properties here." His brown gaze was direct. "The people do not consider them truly of Riverdon, our nobility only by name." He clasped his hands behind his back. "You are already well liked and loved among the people. They know you to be a good man and that you will be a good king. They respect you. However, you aren't of Riverdon."

Thomas nodded, acknowledging this truth, which had actually worried him somewhat in becoming heir to the Riverdon throne.

"Most would prefer it if the bride you took was unarguably of Riverdon. Someone who had lived here her entire life and truly knew the kingdom and people…regardless of her social stature."

Sitting back, the prince's gaze wandered across the room, understanding dawning on his face.

Seeing his liege's expression, Victor continued. "The de Barbarac family is one of the oldest in Riverdon; though not of noble blood it is a highly respected line. Auguste de Barbarac was a great man, who did much for others."

Thomas' blue eyes shot to his butler, surprised. "You knew him?"

"Yes." Victor seemed to stand even taller at the pride of the association. "When I was falsely accused of stealing from a former employer he helped clear my name and aided in securing a new position for me."

Thomas stared at the older man thoughtfully.

"The only ones who will perhaps object to your choice of bride are any nobles who have unwed daughters they'd hoped you would marry," Victor informed him with a slight grin.

The prince laughed, knowing that to be all too true.

The butler adjusted his posture, becoming the consummate serving man once more. "Is there anything else you require, sire?"

"No, thank you, Victor…for everything."

"You're welcome, Your Majesty." Victor bowed and exited the room, leaving the future king to his thoughts.


James grinned down at Snow's letter, relieved to hear that her father was on the road to recovery and very happy to hear that she wanted to stick to their plan of him visiting in a week.

His smile fell, a grimace drawing across his face. Of course he'd have to get through his "visit" with Midas and Abigail first…

Pushing that thought aside, he placed the letter on his desk to respond to later and then exited his chambers to head down to lunch. Halfway down the stairs he watched as Liam led Thomas toward the informal dining room, likely having just removed him near-bodily from the study where his little brother had basically chained himself to his desk. The general was animatedly extoling the virtues of taking breaks to the younger prince who was rolling his eyes exaggeratedly.

James gave a soft chuckle before calling down, "He has a point, little brother." Both men looked up as the elder prince descended the last few steps and joined them. "You have to come up for air occasionally and laugh once in a while, or you might turn into Father." His eyes widened in mock horror.

Thomas cocked a wry eyebrow. "Gods forbid."

Belle was already sitting at the small table when the three men entered the dining room. She was engrossed in the open tome at her elbow and barely cast them a smile and greeting before returning to the pages, absently eating whatever was on her plate.

One corner of James' mouth curled up in a half-grin. "How is lunch, Belle?"

"Good." She was still totally absorbed in the book.

"Think the plot could use some salt?" Liam asked with faux-innocence, thinking she wasn't paying any real attention.

"No, but I know a couple of men with extra cheese," she returned absently; after a beat she lifted her head to glare mildly at her three surrogate brothers.

The general grinned at her, unrepentant of his teasing.

Brown eyes rolled in affectionate exasperation before turning her attention to the elder prince. "Have you heard from Snow?"

James grinned as he sat down. "A letter arrived an hour ago. Her father's fever broke."

Thomas and Belle voiced their joy at the news, Liam, the only one who hadn't met the king, was still glad for Snow's sake.

Lifting his fork, James continued, "The plan is still for me to visit next week and," he took a deep, bracing breath, "see King Midas in two days."

"I spoke with Victor and Bates," Liam placed a slice of roasted chimera on his plate, inwardly wondering why the hell the cook had decided to serve the odd-tasting meat, "our things should be mostly packed by tonight and ready for us to leave tomorrow morning."

"Perfect, thanks." The prince turned his attention to his brother. "Snow asked that you might join us for the visit if possible…Ella would really like to see you again soon."

Thomas grinned broadly. "Twist my arm if you must…"

James turned his attention to Belle. "Would you like to join us as well?"

She shook her head regretfully. "There's a shipment of books coming in next week and I really should be here to accept and properly shelve them."

"Belle," Thomas wryly countered, "the books will be here when you return."

"I know Snow would love to have you visit again as well," James agreed, a smirk lifting his mouth. "And who knows, King Gaspard might decide to stop by while we're there."

She blushed brilliantly and sent him a half-hearted glare, hope evident in her eyes.

A bluebird zipped in through one of the open windows, dropping a rolled parchment in front of James and twittering at him frantically.

"Two letters in one day, she really can't wait to see you!" Liam smirked, winking at his liege.

James rolled his eyes, though something about the bluebird's manner unnerved him. He unrolled the letter, his eyes quickly taking in the few words on it.

Much to his brother and friends' surprise he abruptly shot to his feet, dropping the letter to the table. "I have to get to Everland." Without another word he bolted out of the room.

The trio watched him leave in stunned silence. Thomas reached over and snatched up the paper; Liam had gotten up and moved around the table to read over his shoulder while Belle, seated next to Thomas, leaned in closer to see it as well.


Henry died last night. Come immediately, Snow needs you.



James had taken off like a bat out of hell less than an hour later, Liam with him. Thomas and Belle would be leaving the next morning in the carriage, but nothing could have held James there a moment longer.

The worried prince pushed Cain much harder than was good for the animal; he mentally apologized repeatedly to his loyal steed, silently promising him the best treatment and food he'd ever received when they arrived. He and Liam made it to Everland in a little over half the time it would normally take, arriving an hour or so before sunset.

A few servants were outside when they arrived, they shouted to alert the stable hands, who came rushing out to take the horses.

"Give them both extra attention and care," the prince directed, "they've earned it."

"Of course, Your Majesty." The hands bowed and hurried to do as they were told.

When they turned to go up the stairs it was only to see Ella rushing down them as quickly as she could without falling; James sprinted to her, Liam right behind him. They met the black-clad young woman half way at which point she turned and went back up with them.

"Neil, one of the footmen, told me you were here," she told them as they dashed toward the front doors. "King Leopold is still too ill to be out of bed and Regina isn't handling much right now. Snow's trying to take care of everything because neither of them is in any condition to do so." They burst into the entrance hall. "However, neither is she. She didn't sleep last night, and you know she already hadn't been sleeping well lately. She's stressed, she's hurting…"

They had reached the kitchen door; she stopped, turning to face James. "She needs to let herself mourn, to let go, but she won't when she feels like she has to manage everything herself and that she can't show such weakness when she's needed." She swallowed hard. "And…and there's…other things…"

His brow furrowed. "What other things?"

"Snow needs to tell you that."

They all turned at Red's comment. The dark-haired young woman, dressed in black like Ella, was holding the door open, looking weary, but immensely relieved at seeing James.

"I'll talk to the maids and see if their rooms are ready." The blonde spun on her heel and headed off.

"She's in here." Red tilted her head into the noisy kitchen.

James ducked inside, eyes scanning the hectic atmosphere–likely they were preparing for all of the guests coming for the funeral–searching for Snow and after excruciatingly long moments finally finding her.

She was standing at one of the counters, vigorously stirring something in a bowl, her back to him. He had never seen her dressed in dark colors before, the black of her dress was a stark contrast to her pale skin; her long hair was loosely pulled up, a few curls brushing her neck. Her back was ramrod straight, shoulders set rigidly, movements stiff and jerky. She was trying to restrain herself, hold in how she was really feeling. James' heart ached from the pain radiating from her form.

The prince ignored the looks from the staff members as he approached his love. Once he was close enough, James reached around her, his hand closing over the one white-knuckling the spoon. She froze under his touch.

James' other palm rested on her hip. "Snow," he whispered into her ear.

Her head turned, green eyes meeting blue. "Charming," she breathed, a sob catching at the back of her throat. Her forehead crumpled and she began to lean toward him but then her gaze snapped to the kitchen staff next to them, and she immediately stiffened again.

"It's ok," he murmured in her ear, understanding that she didn't feel comfortable letting them see her fall apart. He gently worked the spoon free of her grip, more than anything he wanted to sweep her up in his arms and spirit her out of there, but he respected that she wouldn't want to appear so weak. Instead he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and walked with her out, his body naturally curving around hers protectively, as if trying to shield her from all this.

The kitchen workers pretended not to notice any of this taking place; one of them nonchalantly grabbed the abandoned bowl and spoon, pulled it in front of them and began to stir the contents much more carefully than the princess had been.

Red and Liam stood back, silently watching the couple leave the room.

A relieved breath escaped her lips in a rush, she slumped forward slightly.

Liam frowned worriedly; he reached out and curled his hand around the back of her neck. "Hey, you ok?"

With a deep breath she lifted her head again to meet his gaze. "Yeah. I'm just so glad that you and James are finally here." Red patted a weary hand on his chest, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Things will get better now…" Her eyes closed again.

The frown on his face deepened. "This is more than Henry dying… What the hell happened?"

Hazel eyes lifted to his, and what he saw there did nothing to assuage the worry he was feeling.


James guided Snow through the hall, neither letting on how emotional they both were at the moment. He noticed an empty sitting room through an open door and gently pulled her inside, shutting the door behind them.

He moved to face his beloved, fingers ghosting up and down her upper arms while she hugged her middle tightly. "Snow."

Emerald eyes lifted to his, he held her gaze, not wavering even an instant.

Tears slowly filled her eyes, her lips trembling. "Charming…" A sob escaped her as she fell forward into his embrace, all but collapsing against him, counting on his strength and trusting him to catch her.

His arms were instantly wrapped around her, cradling her to his chest protectively. "I have you." His fingers sifted through her dark curls. "I have you. I'm not going anywhere."

Her arms locked around his waist; slowly her hands slid up to grasp his shoulders, holding on for dear life, as the sobs racking her form shook them both. "Why? Why didn't he…why didn't he tell us? Why did he go? Why did he have to be there? Why me? Why? Why…?" The questions spilled from her ceaselessly, most of them not making sense to him at all, some not even comprehensible through her crying.

James just held her, murmuring soothingly to her, and after a few moments moved them onto one of the couches, Snow's legs no longer supporting her. He rocked her in his arms, promising her that it would be all right, and it would, he swore it to himself, even if he had to make it so.

He had no concept of how long they sat there, but the sun had disappeared behind the mountains, silhouetting their craggy forms, by the time Snow had calmed.

"I'm sorry," she murmured into his shoulder, arms still wrapped around him, but less out of desperation now and more out of need for comfort.

His lips pressed against her temple. "There's nothing to apologize for. You just lost your grandfather and you're under a lot of pressure."

Her grip tightened on him momentarily. "Oh, Charming," she gasped, finally lifting her head to look at him. One arm unwound itself to trace her fingers over his features. A single tear slid down her cheek, he wiped it away with his thumb. With a watery smile she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him in love and gratitude. "Thank you. Thank you for coming." There was a catch in her voice but she managed a real, albeit tiny, smile when they leaned back to look at each other again.

A tentative tap on the door at that moment interrupted their plans to speak further.

Snow turned away from the door, trying to dry her eyes and make herself as presentable as possible. He waited until she had turned back and nodded that she was ready before calling out, "Come in!"

The door slowly opened to reveal Ella hesitantly peeking inside. James noticed how some of the tension from her shoulders eased at seeing the evidence Snow hadn't been able to erase of her tears. "Dinner is ready, your stepmother will be joining you for the meal."

"Thank you, Ella." Snow gave her friend a genuine, though subdued smile.

The blonde's responding grin was warm and relieved. "You're welcome, Snow." She stepped out of the room, closing the door behind her.

Snow's gaze went to James again, her fingers tangling with his. "I have to go clean up."

"I should do the same," he reluctantly agreed, thumb rubbing over the back of her hand.

Snow cupped his cheek, drawing him in for a sweet kiss. "I love you," she whispered after their lips parted.

He couldn't help the smile that lifted his lips. "I love you too."


Dinner was a quiet, awkward affair. Regina hadn't said much beyond thanking James and Liam for coming to pay their respects to her father. Snow had been quiet, picking at her food and not saying much to anyone, visibly withdrawing back into the shell she'd erected before James arrived. He hated seeing it, his warm, vibrant, sassy Snow so quiet and unlike herself.

She excused herself from the table early, disappearing up to her room before James could reach her after excusing himself. Reluctantly he headed up to the room that had been given to him; he removed his belt and scabbard, then his leather doublet, draping them over the back of a chair. He moved to the fireplace, bracing one hand on the mantel and staring into the flames, wishing with all his heart that he knew how to fix this for Snow.


Snow made her way silently through the halls, never more grateful for her habit of wandering at odd hours since no one gave her a second glance. After dinner she'd stopped by her father's room, he'd assured her, repeatedly, he was doing much better. He had then sent her to her room brooking no further argument–it was remarkable how forceful he could be even when he was still so weak–insisting she get some sleep and promising that Doc was coming in to check on him during the night.

Snow had gone to her room as told...but she didn't stay there. After changing into her nightgown, robe and slippers she'd quietly left her room, going to her Charming. Red had off-handedly informed her where her prince was staying just before Snow had entered the dining room for dinner.

Her fingers closed around the door handle, slowly twisting it and pushing the door open.


James leaned against the frame of the open balcony doors, staring out at the mountains. Clouds had settled over the peaks, hiding the tops from sight, truly making the kingdom feel like it was sheltered, closed off from the rest of the world. In the darkness of night the gray cloud cover looked black, almost as if Mother Nature too had gone into mourning for the sake of the royal family.

His arms were tightly crossed over his chest, the temperature was cooler here than back in Seaborn or Riverdon. According to what he'd been told, Everland winters tended to be colder and summers warmer than in his own kingdom, not surprising he supposed since the sea seemed to moderate the climate in Seaborn. He could feel the heat of the fire radiating across his back, a stark contrast to the colder breeze blowing through the doors.

He turned at the creak of the door to his room opening.

Snow hesitantly entered, not sure if he was asleep, but relieved to find him awake. "Charming."

What tension had settled again in his body relaxed as he turned to face her fully. "Snow." He was instantly at her side, taking her hand and pulling her the rest of the way into the room, closing the door firmly.

With no further prompting Snow stepped into his embrace, arms wrapping around him tightly. Tears quietly trickled from under her closed eyelids; James felt them slide down his neck, absorbed into the collar of his shirt. His hands ran soothingly up and down her back, murmuring words of comfort into her hair.

Sniffling, she lifted her head, pulling back far enough to look into his eyes. Her hands slid from where they were wrapped around his waist up to his chest, one curved around the back of his neck; she used her hold to draw his head down and fasten her mouth to his.

The noble part of his brain was protesting, loudly, that this wasn't right, that it was wrong to take advantage of her being in such a vulnerable state, though her tongue tracing over his lower lip was nearly distracting enough to completely drown out that voice. He forced himself to pull his mouth from hers, hands gripping her waist to keep her from trying to follow. "Snow, we shouldn't do this. You're mourning and–"

Her fingers pressed gently to his lips, stopping his words. "Charming." Her lower lip trembled. "You're not taking advantage of me." Her hand slipped from his mouth to settle over the scar on his chin. "I need you. I need this. I need us…please." Her other hand applied pressure on the back of his neck to try and draw him back to her.

James searched her emerald eyes, finding them full of tears but certain, not frantic just desperately needing. He allowed his head to bend to her urging hands, though instead of matching his mouth to hers he softly brushed kisses over every other part of her face.

Snow stopped directing his mouth to hers, instead closing her eyes and absorbing his sweet, soothing gestures; occasional tears still escaped her eyes, but this was helping.

She tugged his shirt from the waistband of his breeches, one hand sliding up his bare chest until her palm rested over his heart, feeling its steady reassuring beat. A shuddering, relieved breath escaped her. Henry's death had brought back the too-real images from the dream where she held James' bloodied body in her arms. Having his warm, strong form pressed to hers with his heartbeat thrumming under her hand was beyond comforting.

James' hands had found the belt of her dressing gown, easily undoing the knot. Snow released her hold long enough for him to brush it from her shoulders and allow it to fall to the floor in a puddle of pure white silk and lace. Even before she was entirely liberated from the robe she was leaning back into him, her lips finding the pulse point at his throat and pressing to it.

Her fingers furled in his shirt and impatiently yanked it up, desperately needing to feel his skin under hers unimpeded. With that little prompting, James raised his arms, aiding her efforts. Snow was reluctant in removing her mouth from the strong, reassuring pulse at his neck but the promise of more naked skin was tempting enough to make it worth it. He tossed the shirt aside; her pale fingers were already skimming over the tan skin of his chest, lips soon joining in the exploration.

He threaded the fingers of one hand through her hair, the other traced up and down her back gently while James remained otherwise passive, allowing her to take the lead and take from him what she needed. Her hand cupped the back of his neck guiding his head down to hers; she took possession of his mouth, kissing him deeply and thoroughly. He groaned, kissing her back, hand fisting in the back of her nightgown, drawing her even closer; her arm around his shoulders tightened in response, pressing her body against his all the more.

She let one hand trail down his chest to the waistband of his breeches, tracing the edge until she reached the fastenings, her other hand joined the first in undoing them. James stepped backward out of his breeches once they hit the floor, pulling her with him. Snow trailed her mouth from his over his jaw and down his throat to settle over his pulse again, running her tongue over it, enjoying the beat she felt there and the affirmation of his life that it was. He used his grip on her nightgown to draw it up, pulling the scrap of fabric over her head and dropping it carelessly to the floor.

Snow allowed her hands and eyes to wander over his body freely, needing the visual and tactile proof that he was with her, alive and real. That he wasn't dying on the floor in her arms, or for some reason with some other, unknown woman in a strange place where they wore strange clothing and used strange mechanical devices.

Emerald eyes lifted to blue, her lips trembling as her palms rose to cup his face between them. "Touch me."

James lowered his head, covering her lips with his, letting his hands play over her curves, fingertips trailing down the line of her spine, urging her flush against him, his kiss swallowing her moan at the contact. Her fingers dug into his muscled shoulders, she drew his lower lip into her mouth, nipping it and then running her tongue over the spot. He backed himself toward the bed bringing her with him, when the backs of his legs hit the mattress he sat down, pulling her to straddle his lap, not once breaking the connection of their mouths.

Her lips skimmed to his ear, "Hold me, please." Her voice wobbled a bit, the uncharacteristic vulnerability a knife through his heart.

James locked his arms around her, perhaps what might normally be too tight, but he had a feeling she needed him to hold her tighter than usual. "Always," he promised against her temple.

Snow squeezed her eyes shut, face pressed into his neck so that she could feel his pulse again. One hand tunneled into the hair at his nape. She inhaled deeply, drawing in his scent, woodsy, masculine and soothing, her Charming. She pressed her open mouth to his shoulder, sucking on the skin and nipping at it, tasting salt and remnants of soap, and a flavor that was uniquely him. It drew a pained groan from him, arms tightening around her.

She drew her teeth up his throat, nipping lightly at his jaw and chin, before brushing her lips against his teasingly. Unable to help himself, James cupped the back of her head, holding her still for him to latch onto her mouth, kissing her deeply. Snow sighed contentedly into the kiss, fingers caressing his cheeks. She met his tongue with her own, returning the kiss passionately, hips rolling against his purposefully.

"Snow," he growled into her mouth. Feeling her lips curve into a smile against his, his arm constricted around her waist.

In response her tongue teasingly traced the inside of his upper lip.

He was only human and there was only so much of this particular torture he could take before retaliating. His hand slid from her hair down to cup her breast, thumb circling the nipple and garnering a satisfying moan. While she was distracted by the kiss and his ministrations, his other hand stealthily moved from where it was wrapped around her waist to between their bodies.

His fingers sliding through the folds of her core jolted Snow into awareness; her head jerked back from his, a gasp tearing through her lips, her hand instinctively shooting down to wrap around his wrist. "James…"

The prince didn't stop his teasing exploration of the hot slick flesh, hooded eyes watching her expression closely, seeing the initial shock at the intimate touch fade and her eyes slide closed as she moaned. He had never touched her like this when they made love before in Lochdubh, but somehow he knew exactly what to do that would have her burning in his arms. Her hand still gripped his wrist, but she made no move to push it away, in fact her hold tightened, as if afraid he would pull away, her hips instinctively rocking against his digits in encouragement.

James watched each flicker of emotion on her face, slipping one finger inside her, the others still playing over every sensitive inch of her. Her head fell back with a breathless cry, his hand that had been massaging her breast snaked around her waist to keep her from falling backward.

Snow couldn't stop her body from grinding against his hand, seeking even more friction. Some small corner of her mind that was easily ignored protested that she was acting like a wanton, not at all proper for a princess, even when she already was breaking rules by sleeping with a man not her official fiancé or husband. But she didn't care, couldn't care, didn't want to care. Not when this felt so good, so right. Not when he was making her feel more alive than she'd felt in far too long. And not when she was again having the nagging sense that this wasn't something new, that even though she couldn't remember it, Charming had touched her like this before. They had done this before. Many times.

James withdrew his fingers from her, drawing a whimper of protest from his love at the loss of contact. Her hand tried to direct his back to where it had been but he resisted, she tried to press against his erection looking for some relief, but his other arm, locked around her waist, held her back.

"Charming…"she growled through her teeth in frustration, fingernails digging into his shoulder in punishment of his teasing her.

A half grin spread across his lips, enjoying seeing her so unrestrained, unburdened, losing herself in his touch and the moment. After a moment longer of refraining from giving in to her demands, James finally allowed two of his fingers to enter her again, her inner muscles clenching around the digits as they stroked her. His other fingers caressed the surrounding flesh, while the pair began to slide in and out of her rhythmically, his thumb circling the spot he somehow knew would send her spiraling over the edge but not placing pressure directly on it. She moaned, writhing in his hold, arching back against the bar of his arm. Still watching her reaction, he latched his mouth onto one of her nipples, sucking hard. A soft cry escaped her, her core clamping on his still moving fingers, her hands burying in his hair, holding him against her.

Snow bit down on her lip, teetering on the precipice, desperately needing the release of falling over it, but just not quite getting there. Groaning in frustration she bucked her hips downward again, seeking release.

Finally James allowed his thumb to brush over the sensitized nerves, watching as she cried his name, squeezing his fingers inside her. She had climaxed before when they made love, but he'd been too preoccupied to observe hers because he himself was usually going over the edge with her. Watching her come apart like this was a new and incredible experience. And yet…not new…

Snow gasped for breath, her body tingling from the sensory overload; she was nearly limp, still mostly braced on the support of his arm. His lips released her nipple, she shuddered as they trailed over still-sensitive flesh. His mouth stopped at one spot on top of her breast, sucking on the skin, intent on leaving a mark there. Snow was still replete and pliant in his embrace, trying to catch her breath but not averse to what his mouth was doing, languidly tunneling her fingers through his hair in encouragement. She shifted slightly and suddenly gasped as another ripple of pleasure went through her, the fingernails of her other hand digging into his shoulder. She hadn't noticed that his fingers were still inside her until her movements had sent them rubbing against her; they began moving again, caressing highly sensitized flesh.

"Charming," she breathed, she'd thought herself completely spent but her body was already coming back to life as his fingers gently stroked her core. Snow moved restlessly against him, hands fisted in his short hair, tugging at his head. With a final loving swirl of his tongue against the spot he'd been working with his lips and teeth, James allowed her to pull his face to hers. She drew him into an open mouthed kiss, her tongue running along his, meanwhile one of her hands reached down to curl around his erection.

James wrenched his lips from hers, a breath hissing through his clenched teeth. "Snow." His eyes opened to find her green ones watching him as intently as he'd watched her. Her hand stroked over him with an expertise that she shouldn't have, a knowledge of what would send him reeling that she shouldn't know.

Her fingers running along the length of him, watching his already dark eyes grow darker, despite being aroused herself, Snow felt oddly calm and in control and powerful. She knew that Charming was physically strong enough to take charge of the situation if he chose but he wasn't, he was letting her take a certain amount of lead herself, and seeing how she affected him was a heady thing, that she had as much power over him as he did her. Part of her wondered at how in turns she could so desperately need him to be in control and for her to be out of control, and then moments later her needing to have control of the situation. She leaned forward, mouth closing over his earlobe and sucking on it, knowing, from when they were together before, that that drove him to distraction.

His hand clamped down on her wrist, stilling her strokes and causing her to look at him in question. Eyes nearly cobalt with desire, he told her huskily, "I'm only human, Snow. I can't take much more of that." He leaned in to her, lips brushing her ear. "And I don't want to be outside of you any longer."

His uncharacteristically blunt words sent a shiver down her spine. James pulled back just as her gaze lifted to his, heavy-lidded eyes meeting as all thoughts of teasing fled. Both of his hands went to her hips, helping her as she rose up on her knees, her hand guiding him to her entrance; their eyes remained locked the entire time. His fingers bit into her hips, she'd have matching bruises by morning, as she slowly lowered herself, taking him inside her; Snow gasped, face burying in the joint of his neck and shoulder. It had been too long. Neither had fully realized just how much they had missed this intimacy between them and the completeness they felt together like this.

They remained still for several heartbeats, adjusting to the feeling of being joined again and reveling in it. When they finally moved James discovered that in this position he had very little leverage and control, Snow had almost complete control over their joining. A breathless, knowing smile curled her lips as she too realized this. One blond eyebrow rose as the grin turned impish, her arms wrapping around his neck and her head lowering to his. "Don't look so alarmed, Charming," she taunted, her lips brushing his, body slowly rising and falling against him.

What good intentions he had left went out the window; in an ungainly motion, using a strong grip on her thigh, he flipped their positions, drawing a surprised yelp from her. Snow, now on her back beneath him, hair spilling across the quilt, grinned up at James, assuring him that she didn't mind the reversal in the least. He managed to shift them further onto the bed so that they didn't fall off. Their joining from there was passionate and almost clumsy with them half on and half off the mattress, but neither noticed or cared. After Snow once again fragmented with James chasing her over the edge, they collapsed in a sweaty, panting tangle of limbs and long ebony curls.

She locked her legs around his waist, seeking to delay him slipping from her, lips tracing his features. James let his eyes close, breathing heavily through the exhaustion creeping in and allowing himself to enjoy Snow's loving gesture. Finally her lips slid down his neck to press to the pulse in his throat, staying there. James hadn't been oblivious to the many times she would touch that pulse point or his chest, right over his heart. He thought that perhaps Henry's death had raised some fears in her of losing him, thus her preoccupation with these proofs of his being alive.

Eventually, and with great reluctance, they untangled themselves from each other long enough to crawl farther onto the bed and under the warm covers. Snow curled into his side, an arm around his waist and a leg curved over one of his in a gesture as possessive as his arms wrapped her. Her head pillowed on his chest, ear over his heart to hear it thumping reassuringly as she fell asleep.

"I love you, Snow," he murmured into her temple as he pressed a kiss.

She turned her head to kiss his chest before settling her ear over the steady beat again. "I love you too, Charming."


She was curled up on her side on the cot, staring sightlessly across the cell.

"Mary Margaret."

Her head snapped up, joy shot through her. He was here! "David." She rose to her feet, moving to meet him at the door to her cell.

He approached the cell slowly. "Emma said we could have a few minutes alone." He curled one hand around a bar. "I wanted to tell you that Dr. Hopper helped me remember what happened during my blackouts."

Her emotions were a clash, hope and fear. "And?"

David turned to take a few paces away from the bars. "Uh…I only…um…got pieces of the memory, but…" he faced her again, "we were in the woods," he glanced to the side, remembering, "and I kept saying, 'Don't do it.'"

She raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Don't do what?"

"'Don't kill her.'" He gazed at her with anguished confusion. "That's what I kept saying."

Mary Margaret closed her eyes for a moment, collecting herself. "Kathryn?" She swallowed. "You think you remember me wanting to kill Kathryn?"

"Can you explain why I have that memory?" he begged.

Hurt, betrayal flared in her. "David…are you asking me if I had something to do with Kathryn's murder?"

"The sheriff found a heart in our spot." He approached her. "It was in your jewelry box."

Her heart was being torn from her chest for what felt like the dozenth time by him, she countered each of his steps forward with one back.

"The weapon was found in your apartment."

She stared at him in utter agony, unable to breathe as his accusations rained down on her like physical blows.

"I have these…these memories. So, yes, I'm asking."

"When your phone records came back," she sobbed, "when I found you wandering in the woods, when everyone thought you killed Kathryn, I stood by you. I never once doubted you. And now that everything is pointing to me…" she stared at him disbelief, "you actually think that I am capable of that kind of evil?" Tears dripped heedlessly down her face.

David gazed at her with growing guilt and regret.

"Get…out." Mary Margaret didn't shout, or scream, her voice was level and soaked in torment. She turned away, giving her back to him, refusing to look at him any longer, unable to take the doubt in his cerulean irises a moment longer. As she heard his footsteps fade behind her she squeezed her eyes shut… She couldn't keep doing this…

Snow gasped, head snapping up from the pillow wide awake, her hand had shot to the other side of the mattress, heart sinking faster than a stone upon finding it empty.


She sat bolt upright, head whipping around at the voice, worried that she was just imagining it. But blessedly she wasn't.

Her Charming, dressed only in breeches, was kneeling beside the fireplace stoking the fire, the light from the flames playing over his skin, casting the lines of his body in flickering shadow. She relaxed at the sight of him, absently drawing the sheet up to her chest and holding it there. Snow drank in the vision of her beloved before her, the fire painting his tan skin in an even deeper golden glow.

He rose and moved to her side, sitting down on the bed next to her, fingers running through her hair. "What's wrong?"

Snow reached out to lay her hand on his chest, letting his warmth, a touch warmer than usual from the fire, seep into her. "A bad dream." She smiled at him, her hand rising to cup the side of his face. "A bad dream, but it's over now." Her fingers stroked his cheek. "You're here." Her voice was soft as she said this, seeming part statement and part wonder at the fact.

A grin quirked his lips. "Where else could I be?"

It took her a moment to place the phrase, realizing he was quoting what she had said to him in Lochdubh upon finding him on the beach. Her mouth curled into a responding smile; she pressed it to his. "Thank you," Snow whispered against his lips.

He grinned again, kissing her once more before rising. "I'm going to add another log." James moved back to the hearth.

Snow's emerald eyes followed him, once he was crouched by the fireplace she dragged her gaze away, searching the floor around the bed. Their clothes were scattered about, the closest item Charming's shirt, she leaned over the side of the bed and picked it up off the floor. Pulling it over her head she buttoned the few buttons, which reached James' sternum but on her was almost to her navel. As she rose from bed Snow rolled up the sleeves so that they no longer covered her hands, the hem fell to a few inches above her knees.

James lifted his head when she knelt beside him; smiling warmly as she settled onto the floor, curling her legs under her. He returned her smile, prodding the fire one last time before resting the poker against the wall beside the fireplace. He lowered himself to sit as well, wrapping his arm around her shoulders to draw her into his side. He pressed his lips to her temple. "Tell me what happened," he quietly murmured against her skin.

Her eyes squeezed shut, as if trying to shut out the memories but she took a bracing breath and began.

"I had just set out the letter I sent you for Azalea to pick up in the morning…" Her gaze went to him questioningly.

He nodded. "I got it." A smile lightened his worried expression a bit. "I was happy to hear that your father was recovering."

A small smile managed to briefly grace her face. "Thank you." It slid back off, her mind returning to what she was telling him. "Just then Lucy came to my door…"


The night before…

All the blood drained from Snow's face. "Is it my father? Has something happened? Did he relapse?"

Lucy swallowed thickly. "Princess…" She was wringing her hands nearly raw. "It's not your father…it's Lord Henry…"

The princess' stomach dropped like a stone.

The maid opened her mouth but no sound came out; she took a deep breath and tried again. "He-he's dead."

Air was sucked from Snow's lungs. "What?" she managed to gasp out.

Lucy's face crumpled. "Lord Henry died…some time earlier this evening."

Snow staggered back into her room, groping around until she found something to sit down on–her bed–trying to keep from collapsing on the floor. "What…what happened?"

Her maid swallowed hard. "I don't know. Granny…she woke up and he was…"

"Have…" The princess had to close her eyes for a moment to help brace herself. "Have you…told my stepmother and father?"


Snow's head snapped up, eyes narrowed. "'No?' Why on Earth wouldn't you tell Regina that her own father–" She broke off, her mind catching up to exactly what Lucy had said. Her eyes slid shut in realization. "Oh…oh… Granny."

Lucy's hands were knotted together desperately. "We didn't know…we didn't know how to handle it."

The dark-haired princess was on her feet, pacing the room furiously, hand pressed to her mouth against the rising bile, trying to think.


"Give me a moment!" she snapped, temper short with the grief, stress and worry. Instantly she felt bad, her apologetic green eyes went to the maid, someone she considered a friend.

Lucy was already shaking her head. "It's fine. What should we do?"

Snow pressed her palms together and then laid the matched fingers against her lips. "Henry didn't want Regina to find out at all…much less like this." She resumed pacing, though at a more measured pace, one hand propped on her hip, the other running over her mouth in deep thought. "And even if he's found elsewhere in the inn, questions will be raised, things…implied. Neither my father or stepmother need that." She rubbed her forehead, coming back to the same thought that had been nagging at her and realizing there was little other choice. Her back stiffened, breathing deeply. "We need to get him home."


She turned to find that Lucy had paled, but was slowly nodding.

Snow spared a glance for the nightclothes she was wearing. "Let me get dressed."

Her maid nodded and slipped out of the room, sensing that the princess wished to be left alone while changing.

Snow stared at the door for several moments, steeling herself to do something that truly bothered her to even think about.

With one last bracing breath she moved to her closet and began grabbing practical clothes, dressing as quickly as possible. They had a long night ahead of them.


Snow wasn't sure how Lucy had managed it but they met no one on their way out of the castle. The village was equally quiet, the roads deserted due to the late hour. Red must've been waiting for them at the door, opening it under Lucy's knocking fist. Tear tracks on her cheeks were just barely visible in the wavering light from the candle she carried.

"Where is he?" Snow was immediately all business.

There was the slightest tightening around Red's eyes to indicate how her best friend's briskness bothered her. However, saying nothing of it, she led the princess up to her grandmother's room.

Granny looked up, eyes red from tears but face dry; she was sitting in a chair beside the bed, next to Henry who lay there unnaturally still. The older woman rose and moved to the door. She had to clear her throat before being able to say, "I'm sorry, Snow." She glanced back at the man on the bed, fighting back the tears once again gathering, before returning her gaze to her surrogate granddaughter. "So sorry."

The princess nodded stoically. "Thank you."

Granny's eyes narrowed for a moment, she pressed her lips together as understanding entered her gaze.

Snow stepped into the room. "We need to move him back to his room at the castle."

Red and Granny's eyes met.

"Is that really necessary?" the older woman cautiously asked.

"Father and Regina don't need the gossip that Henry being found at the Inn would generate." Snow had her arms crossed over her chest, stance rigid.

"I'll make sure the way is clear," Lucy calmly volunteered.

"Thank you," the princess acknowledged over her shoulder.

The maid curtseyed and hurried off.

Red stepped forward, "I'll give you a hand moving him." She turned to face Snow. "There's a small wagon out back, we should be able to move it fairly easily between the three of us."

"That'll work." Her green eyes met the level hazel ones of her surrogate sister. "We'll carry him."

The younger woman compressed her lips but nodded, moving with Snow to the bed.

Granny set her jaw. "I'll get the wagon ready."


"You moved your grandfather's body?"

Snow continued to stare into the fire but she nodded in answer to James' horrified question. "It had to be done." She closed her eyes, causing the tears pooling in them to slip down her cheeks. "I…" Her voice cracked, she swallowed; James pulled her closer, wrapping his other arm around her, offering what comfort he could. "I had to protect my family." His heart broke at the pain and tears in her tone.

He drew her into his lap, cradling her in his embrace; she wept into his chest bitterly. "I can certainly understand that," James murmured against the crown of her head.


Snow struggled to hide how her stomach churned as she and Red carried Henry's body through the castle. His skin was too cool to the touch and didn't feel the same as when he was alive. She kept distracting herself from the unnerving sensation and unsettling thought of what she was doing.

Granny was a few steps ahead of them making sure that the way was clear, though Lucy had apparently been successful in her part of the mission as they hadn't met a soul. When they reached Henry's room, Granny pushed the door open and held it while the two young women carried the older man through.

Apparently Lucy had come in before them and turned down the bed so that they could more easily and quickly get Henry into it. Regardless of the fact that they knew he was dead and couldn't feel pain they were infinitely careful and gentle as they lowered him to the bed.

Granny came over and helped them tuck him into the bed, using her personal experience to place him in what was his natural sleeping position. Gaze uncharacteristically soft, she then brushed his hair back off his forehead, the gesture lingering and intimate. After placing an affectionate, bittersweet kiss on his brow she stepped away.

Snow's mind was screaming in confusion over the conflicting feelings raging inside her. Tucking someone into bed was something people did for children and the sick, to those who still lived, but her mind kept insistently reminding herself that he was, in fact, dead. Her heart rebelled, shrieking in protest. He couldn't be dead! He was her grandfather! The only grandfather she'd ever known! He was always so strong and kind, hugging her fiercely to his chest and smiling at her with eyes that twinkled undeniably with life. How could that just be gone now? It took all of her will power to ignore the war being fought between logic and emotion, between heart and mind, between the young girl who had rejoiced at finally having a grandfather and the woman who knew that the man she looked up to and loved so much would never willfully open his eyes again. She'd never see his pleasant smile as he watched others around him. See his kind eyes gazing at her with utter, absolute acceptance. Hear his familiar deep tones advising her without judgment or prejudice. His arms would never wrap around her in an encompassing, comforting embrace.

Her heart bled inwardly while she refused to let it be seen on the outside.

Granny and Red had been standing, watching the silent princess, who had been lost in her mind for several minutes, waiting until she slowly returned to the world outside her thoughts again.

"We'll head back to the Inn," Granny gently told Snow, once the young woman's eyes had refocused.

"Of course." Her voice was barely-there, slightly rough from trying to hold back her pain and tears. Her green-eyed gaze remained on the man in the bed, hands resting lightly on the quilt. "Thank you."

Red clenched her hands at her sides in frustrated helplessness at seeing her sister in such pain and withdrawal, while the young women's mutual grandmother gazed at Snow with compassion, grief of her own and the ache to do something to ease the young woman's pain, but knowing that she couldn't. Granny gently grasped her younger granddaughter's elbow and directed her out of the room.

Snow's long fingers curled into the quilt, fisting tight enough for her nails to nearly tear the fabric. She sucked in several breaths, forcing back the sobs that were demanding release. No, she couldn't be found in here. She should leave now.

Her other hand slowly slid across the soft quilt until it rested on the one of Henry's they'd left on top of the blanket. Oh-so tentatively her fingers curled around his palm, slipping her hand into his.

Her hands were curled into fists at her sides. "I'm not angry," she insisted stubbornly.

A larger, calloused and wrinkled hand encompassed one of her smaller, white-knuckled ones. Pain and confusion-filled emerald eyes lifted to patient, understanding chestnut eyes. There was no demand, no force in either his gaze or touch.

With the painful slowness of a blooming flower, her tight fist unfurled, haltingly turned and her fingers curled around his with equal hesitance. Once she was returning his grasp–albeit loosely and with the utmost caution–Henry's weathered hand closed about hers in a firm, steady grip. A heartbeat later the conflicted princess's hand was clinging to his desperately.

Snow squeezed her eyes shut, jaw clenched tightly. Snow had been so angry and hurting over her father re marrying and the perceived replacing of her mother. Henry, even though he'd only just met her, had sought her out in the barns and simply sat down next to her, letting her work through her emotions and supporting her as she did so. She wasn't sure he knew how much him simply holding her hand had helped.

The hand she was holding was agonizingly cold and slack in hers. Finally she slipped her hand from the unresponsive one, slowly turning away and moving to the door. She refused to look back as she closed it behind her. Snow headed down the hall to her room where she would sleeplessly wait the hours remaining until her surrogate grandfather's body was found by his valet. The man would go to the housekeeper, who had the unhappy duty of going to inform the queen while Lucy was sent to–unnecessarily–inform a still awake Snow.


James rocked Snow back and forth in his arms on the floor, his mouth pressed into her hair, letting the pain radiating off of her wash over him, her tears trickling from his neck, where her face was pressed, down his chest, and soft sobs reverberated against his shoulder. He murmured to her ceaselessly, not having any real idea what was spilling from his lips but needing to comfort her in any way he could.

The story had tumbled from her, in turns halting and a jumbled rush of words, sobs interrupting the narrative, her fingers digging into his shoulders, hands, arms, back, wherever she was holding him at the moment, searching for purchase, needing the anchor. As she told him what had happened, slowly most of the questions that she had sobbed out earlier made sense. Her desperate pain over why he had to be at Granny's that night. Why she had to be the one to carry him back to the castle. Why she had to be the one to take care of the situation. Why he had to die. Only one question that he remembered really remained unexplained.

He lifted his head slightly so that his chin rested on the crown of her head and was able to speak clearly. "Earlier you asked 'why didn't he tell us?'" Her grip tightened. "What did you mean?"

Snow tenseed in his arms and part of him wished he could take it back or tell her to forget he asked, but she needed to get it all out. So instead he waited. Waited until she had the words.

Her hands grasping his shoulders didn't relax, but her head turned to the side until her face was no longer buried in the joint of his neck and shoulder.

"He knew he was dying…"



Doc cringed slightly under Regina's incredulous gaze and Snow's one of near-betrayal.

"His heart…" the learned dwarf hesitantly continued. "I heard the irregularity several months ago. I told him that it was dangerous; that if he took it easy he would live longer…" He swallowed thickly. "He ordered me not to tell anyone." His small hands were knotted together furtively. "As his physician I had to honor his wishes."

"Why?" Snow finally gasped out, her eyes turning to meet her stepmother's. "Why wouldn't he tell us?"


"Why didn't he tell us?" Snow's pleading, drenched eyes were searching his as if the answer could be divined from their cerulean depths.

"I don't know," James admitted, curling his body around hers more, wishing that he could somehow use his form to protect her from this hurt or at least absorb the pain and take it from her.

With a teary sniff she burrowed deeper into his embrace.

"Maybe," he began thoughtfully, his palm rubbing soothingly up and down her back, "he didn't want to worry you or your stepmother." His lips brushed her temple. "He knew how deeply you both cared about him and naturally he'd want to save you from the painful anticipation of losing him."

After a few heart beats she admitted, "I'm so afraid…that he didn't know–" Her throat closed up, momentarily choking off her words, she had to swallow a couple of times to clear it before she could continue. "I'm scared that he didn't know how much I loved him. How much he mattered to me."

"He knew." James' response was instantaneous, without a breath of doubt.

She lifted her eyes to his again, bottom lip trembling. "How can you be so sure?"

His hand rose to gently cup her cheek. "It was in every hug you gave him, every kiss on the cheek. Every time you turned to him for advice and help. Trusting him to give you the affection and support you required. And he loved you just as much." A grin lifted his mouth. "You could see it in the pride and love in his expression every time he referred to you as his granddaughter. In his protective care and the way he wanted your happiness so dearly, wanting it as much as he wanted Regina's."

A tear trickled from Snow's eye, a stroke of his thumb wiped it away. "He knew, Snow. And he loved you too."


A/N: In case you're wondering, no I didn't change who died. I was deliberately being missleading in the last chapter. When I first started this story I thought it was Leopold who was going to die, but quickly realized that it didn't feel right. Henry stepped up and became rather insistent that HE was the one who was going to die. I had gotten to the part where Snow and Charming reunited when I recieved the news about my grandfather. The fact that it was Henry who died actually made it even harder to return to. A few weeks ago I felt ready to go back to writing but the moment I opened this document I couldn't do it; I closed it pretty much immediately. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I was finally able to work on this again. My emotions being as they are took me to places in my writing that I never thought I would go. This chapter, for me, went from: "ANYTHING but this!" feeling where I couldn't even look at it for weeks, to being perhaps one of the most painful but theraputic outlets for how I felt. This chapter came at both the worst moment it could but also the best. I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, and the timing of this chapter is no different. As much as sometimes I still want to cry when writing about how Snow is feeling in this story right now, I'm looking forward to the next chapter and beyond. We'll be seeing the arrival of more friends in the next chapter and in the coming chapters seeing more of Regina.

Back                         Home                              Once Upon a Time Main Page                          Next

Your Name or Alias:      Your E-mail (optional):

Please type your review below. Only positive reviews and constructive criticism will be posted!