YES! It is finally here! XD SO much happened in this chapter, and much that I didn't necessarily expect! XD I hope that the wait was worth it! :-D Thank you EVERYONE for all of the reviews, faves, alerts, tweets, posts, messages, gif attacks, etc... XD And thank you for the support through losing my grandfather. :-) No words can express.

To my lovely dartie and beta, SassySnow! ;-D Thank you for being the best dartie EVER! XD


Chapter 18: Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood…

"You know that the moment they realize we've slept together Snow and James are going to give us such hell."

At Liam's wry comment Red pressed her lips to his bare chest. "We'll survive." She snuggled deeper into his embrace.

His fingers traced patterns over her hip, enjoying the feeling of her skin against his. "I missed this," he quietly told her. "I missed you."

"Our memories were reset." There was an old, familiar vulnerability in her voice.

He kissed her temple. "I may not have known what I was missing, but I felt your absence."

Her arm tightened around his chest. "I missed you too."

She'd needed to get away from the castle; Snow was with James, so she knew her sister would be all right. Things were under control with the staff, Granny was asleep at the inn, Ella had returned home for the night and Doc was sitting with the king. Red could finally take time for herself, time to deal with the last few days…

As she plopped down on the edge of the lake's dock, the young woman buried her face in her hands. The memory of carrying Henry's body flashed through her, sending a shudder over her frame. Hazel eyes squeezed tightly shut, trying to block out the image, but that only made it stronger, so they snapped back open. She gazed down at the rippling surface of the lake, hands dipping into the water and scrubbing against each other, trying to rid themselves of the feeling of Henry's cold, still weight.

"Not thinking of jumping in, are you?"

It was a testament to how lost she was in her thoughts that Liam had approached without her noticing. Red turned to see the man who'd managed to steal her heart, no matter how hard she'd tried to safeguard it from him. "A little cold for a swim this late in the year." She hugged her red cloak tighter around her. "Fall comes early here."

Liam grinned sardonically, sitting down beside her. "So I've noticed." His blue-eyed gaze became pointed. "What's wrong?"

Her mouth opened for a moment…and then closed again, she returned her gaze to the lake.

Liam tapped a finger on the dock, debating, and then leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. "I'm not from here."

Red frowned at him in confusion. "From Everland…? I know…"

He shook his head. "No, from this world." He waved a hand around them. "This reality, whatever you want to call it. I'm from a different one…" a mirthless chuckle escaped him, "a very different one."

Hazel eyes widened to the size of saucers. "You're a world jumper?!"

A wry smirk twisted Liam's lips. "Not exactly…voluntarily." He loosely laced his fingers. "I was born into a world that either had no magic or very little of it, for if there was any I'd never seen it there. It was a rather dreary place, if I remember correctly. I had a younger brother, Gerhardt, who was everything I wasn't, everything our father wanted in a son… My father was a powerful man, titled and a decorated officer in the military. My mother was lovely, kind and gentle…" his eyes went to his hands, "and understanding of her elder son who was less than enthusiastic about fighting and much more interested in science."

Red's eyebrows shot toward her hairline. "But you're James' best general!"

He gave her sad facsimile of his usual grin. "I am here and now." He looked away again. "I wasn't then. Not even remotely interested in any such thing. My father always blamed me for my mother's death. I was ten; she was helping me with one of my experiments in a rainstorm, which caused the illness that took her life."

She shook her head. "You were a child! She was your mother! She just wanted to help you with what you loved!"

Liam reached over, brushing a curl behind her ear. "She would've liked you."

A rare blush stole across her face. "How do you know?"

His characteristic grin lit his expression. "Because you're exactly what she said I needed. Fiery, fiercely loyal, loving, you get my sense of humor and I get yours, and you have no problem with putting me in my place when needed." He leaned forward confidingly. "I don't know if you've noticed but I can be a bit arrogant."

Red snorted. "Not in the least."

He winked at her. "Good to know I'm hiding it so well."

She laughed softly. "So, how did you end up here?"

His expression sobered, looking away again. "I became obsessed with finding a way to bring my mother back. Burying myself in my science books, searching for an answer." He clasped his hands together, the knuckles white with how tightly he gripped them. "My father had been calling me a monster since the day my mother died. I just…wanted to prove him wrong…prove to him that I could give life and bring the light back to our family. Gerhardt tried to pull me out of it, tried to get me to accept what'd happened, even if Father couldn't. But the more bitter our father grew toward me, the more determined I was to 'fix' what I'd done."

Red covered his hands with hers, needing to comfort him somehow.

"I came up with an idea, a way to bring people back from the dead and I went to my father to tell him, to show him…" His eyes closed against the pain. "He backhanded me and told me I was unnatural. My mother was dead, it was my fault and nothing my 'foolish tinkerings' came up with could change that." He turned his gaze to hers. "I didn't stop, but I realized there was one thing he was right about…I couldn't bring my mother back that way, she'd been dead too long. So I began trying to find another way…" A frown creased his brow. "I meddled in things best left alone."

Apprehension curled through Red, Liam's speech patterns had slowly been changing as he spoke of his past, his accent altered slightly. It felt like her Liam was slipping away from her…and she didn't like it. However, she couldn't stop him, she wanted to know about him, his past, what it was he so needed to tell her.

"I found this…item. I'm still not sure what it was, though I now know it must have been magical. I used it to build a machine that I hoped would allow me to travel back in time to save my mother. I realize now that even if I had succeeded there's a very good possibility I could've wrecked things worse, stories of time travel abound in both that world and this about all that can go wrong. I switched it on and was sucked inside… I woke up in the forest less than a mile from Seaborn Castle to James shaking me and asking me if I was all right. David kept saying they should 'detain' me for 'trespassing.'"

The familiar humor colored his expression and tone, easing the disquiet in Red, she grinned at him in return. "I can imagine it easily."

"Yes, very much the two of them. James making sure everyone is all right, even if he doesn't know they're good or not. David charging headlong into a situation, sword drawn." He nodded definitively. "And that's why most of us have always known James would be a better king than David would've." His gaze met hers. "David was the fighter, which is what made him a great prince. James is the protector, which is what will make him a great king."

Red tilted her head thoughtfully. "I never thought of it like that, but you're right. From what I've heard of David, James is much better suited to ruling."

"David liked his freedom, doing as he pleased, fighting creatures and battles." Liam grinned wryly. "You don't really get to do that much as a king. Not if you want to be a good one."

She nodded her agreement, then, wanting to hear the rest, asked, "What happened after you woke up?"

"Well, as usual James reined in David's...enthusiasm and asked me how I suddenly appeared out of thin air. The first words out of my mouth were, 'Where the hell am I?' Needless to say there was quite a bit of arguing and shouting before I finally agreed to follow them back to the castle to see if their father could figure out what happened. It took most of the rest of the day but eventually we worked out what had happened. While inquiries were being sent out I ended up living with James and his family."

Liam smiled. "Queen Ruth is a lot like my mother, which made me both more homesick and comforted me as I hadn't been since her death. James invited me to run around with him and his friends and attend his lessons." He gripped the edge of the dock tightly. "James saw other ways to employ my intellect, that my analytical and creative mind was perfectly suited to strategy as well as the sciences. He started dragging me into his lessons on battle tactics; his teachers were impressed with my performance and encouraged me to continue attending. I did, but of course my focus was still getting home."

"You wanted to get back to your family." Red nodded understandingly.

"Actually," he gave her a wry grin, "one thing the two months, at that point, away had given me was some clarity and I realized the validation I'd been looking for from my father would never come, no matter what I did. No, at that point I just needed to be sure Gerhardt, my little brother, was all right, the same way I'd seen James checking on Thomas and looking after him. That's why I needed to find a way home."

Liam took a deep breath. "One day a crone showed up saying that she might be able to help, and insisted on speaking to me alone. She told me she could return me to my world but that there were things I needed to consider before I decided to leave. She said if I returned to my world I would live out my days mostly alone, declared mad by the world with only my brother and his family as occasional company. If I were to stay here I could pursue all of my interests without ridicule, and truly do some good and save lives.

"I of course asked about my brother and father, she showed me them in an orb. My father had destroyed my equipment and moved on with barely a hiccup in his life, if he worried about or missed me he didn't show it. Gerhardt missed me and was still hoping for my return, but he was excelling in military school, top of his class and, other than missing me, happy. The crone told me he'd grow up to be a great hero and marry a lovely woman who would give him many children. I was wavering and she knew it so she drew her ace... In the months I'd been here I had naturally heard about True Love, even met a few couples who had it." His gaze met Red's. "She told me that if I stayed, I would find True Love. I was only fourteen but I was old enough to know that when I grew up that was what I wanted."

Her heart skipped a beat.

"I asked if it was possible to send my brother a message; I sent a letter through a portal she conjured, telling Gerhardt I was all right and happy but that we won't be able to see each other again, that he shouldn't look for me. I told him I loved him and wanted him to live his life, long, happy and full. That it was for the best that I left and stayed gone."

Red tangled her fingers with his, supporting him wordlessly.

"Afterward, the crone and I exited the sitting room where we'd been and told James and his family that we couldn't make it work. I asked if I could remain with them, which they agreed to after some pleading from James and Thomas. From then on I was raised side-by-side with the princes; David used to call me the 'professor' because I outdid them all in academics and often ended up tutoring them in various subjects. I'm not the strongest at pure fighting but James and our instructors said my strengths in other areas made up for that, that being a great fighter wasn't the most necessary element to leadership. So with their encouragement I worked hard and when the time came, even though I wasn't the most skilled with a sword, I was chosen to advance to general.

"But along with my military career I was able to freely pursue my interests in science." He smirked amusedly. "Belle's father, Maurice, and I have a rather grand time working together on projects and often causing…small explosions."

The image his description prompted drew a round of laughter from Red.

Liam's face showed his enjoyment of her mirth. "And now," his expression became pointed, "One monster to another, what's wrong?"

Something niggled in the backs of their minds at the words "one monster to another." Red started pulling her hands from his, but he caught them, refusing to let her move away. She continued to stare across the water, trying to ignore his unwavering gaze.

Without her permission the story spilled from her like a dam breached. Granny waking her in the dead of night, running to Lucy's, carrying Henry's body with Snow, her sister's detachment, the sick worry...

She drew her palms from his to scrub them together, again attempting to rid herself of the memory of Henry's cold, slack skin against hers.

Liam catching her hands again in his stilled her movements.

Hazel eyes slowly lifted to meet blue. "We failed her." She whispered, a tear trickling down her cheek. "We-I failed Snow. My sister. My princess."

"No, you haven't." He shook his head, gaze unwavering from hers. "She's just inside." Liam nodded to the castle. "You haven't failed her."

"We didn't protect her. I didn't protect her!" Red pressed the heels of her palms against her eyes. "She's my best friend, my family! She is my monarch and I didn't do anything to keep her from having to bear such a terrible burden!"

"Snow wouldn't have it any other way."

"How do you know?" she snapped, suddenly glaring at him.

"Because James would've done the same and not wanted to be kept in the dark." His gaze remained level. "He'd want to take care of the situation himself."

It took a few moments before Red was able to pull her eyes from his, looking out over the lake again.

Liam gently captured her chin, turning her face back to his. "Snow's all right. There're still things you can fix."

"Maybe there's still some stuff you can fix."

Her head snapped up, the waft of a memory, said in her voice, though not-her-voice. There was almost a sadder, more world-weary tone to it.

His eyes were on hers, as wide as her own.

The moment, an…almost-memory, nagged at them both.

Red's eyes narrowed as they bored into his, hard, trying to cut through the haze obscuring something she knew she needed to know. Something teasing just at the edges of her mind.

Abruptly, Liam cupped the back of her neck and smashed her lips to his.

It was a spiral of memories, both theirs and yet not-theirs.

"I wasn't such a bad guy, you know. I wanted to bring life back. But he never got over our mother. If I could've just brought her back–"

"That guy in the hospital–someone keeps calling for him. Maybe a wife, a mother. Maybe there's still some stuff you can fix."

Her clear-sighted gaze that seemed to see through any pretense easier than through glass.

"I wanted my name to stand for life. But everybody just thinks it's the name of a monster. I guess they're right about that. Rumplestiltskin says that magic has a price, but from where I'm sitting, seems that science does, too. Every time I try to save a life, someone else dies."

Their lips touching for the first time, the shock…the rightness of it.

"Hey. Yeah. Look, you're Frankenstein, and I'm the werewolf. I ate my boyfriend. Regina thought she was punishing us by erasing who we were. But I think she underestimated how much crap we wanted to forget."

His sardonic, arrogant smirk that drove her crazy…because she knew the only reason he wore it around her was to drive her crazy.

"But…we can't let it stop us. She gave us a chance to start over, and I wanna take it. I think you should too."

"Thank you. Monster to monster."

The pulled apart gasping, eyes wide and searching each other's.


A smile lifted her lips. "Victor!"


The dark wood of Snow's canopy bed contrasted starkly with the pure white of the bed curtains and linens. The mattress was plush under them, giving the illusion of lying in a snow drift in a forest. James had drawn them down onto the bed after Snow had finished telling him about her dreams; tears streaming down her face, he'd held her tightly, murmuring soothingly to her until the trembling in her frame subsided. Her fingers now idly traced patterns across James' chest, while his own caressed up and down her back.

"Who gave you the letter?"

He'd been expecting the question ever since he handed her the letter, now lying oh-so-innocently on the bedside table. "Red accidentally found it when you sent her to find some papers in your room." He could see the frown lines creasing her forehead. "It fell out of a book apparently, and she looked at it to see if it was what she was looking for."

It took Snow a minute or so before she remembered the time James referred to, Red had returned from her search with the missing document–and apparently the letter tucked away. Something she recalled now, looking back, that didn't register at the time, was the worry that shone even brighter in Red's eyes. She wanted to be angry about the invasion of her privacy, but she was the one who asked Red to go looking around her desk, and she was the one who forgot to destroy the letter. And Snow knew Red too well to ever believe anything malicious behind giving the letter to Charming. She was just a concerned friend/sister who wanted James to fix the pain Snow was feeling. As she would do for Red.

Snow pressed a kiss to her lover's fabric-covered chest. "I know she didn't mean anything but to help. And you're right that I should have told you. But I still feel like my privacy was invaded. And I don't like having things taken out of my hands like this."

James buried his nose in her hair. "Well I guess the lessons to be learned here are to not keep things from each other...and not to let others have access to your desk."

She sorted and swatted his chest at the teasing. His princess lifted her head, resting her chin on his chest, smirking. "Oh, and I don't know who you were trying to fool earlier, saying you'd comfort me by letter. We both know you wouldn't have stayed still for as long as it took to saddle Cain."

His smirk mirrored hers, fingers stroking her cheek. "I admit nothing." His expression turned serious. "When does your mourning period end?"

Snow's face fell, she turned her head so that her ear was once more pressed over his heart, snuggling deeper into his embrace. "One month, one week and one day... I'll be out of mourning the day before the fall equinox."

Over a month. Over a month before he could propose to his Snow. "How stringent are the rules of your mourning period?"

"Very." Her fingertips drew meaningless patterns over his heart. "We aren't permitted any visitors from outside our kingdom who aren't related. We do not see any of the local nobility unless they're family and are visiting only as such. And we aren't to see any of the common folk on matters of business. The only exceptions are in extreme conditions."

James knew that the rules of the morning period were for the royal family's sake, to give them time to properly grieve and to protect them from having their grief taken advantage of. But that didn't mean he wasn't hating the thought of not being able to see her for that period.

"Midas sent word that he won't be able to meet for three weeks." His arms tightened around her. "I couldn't propose until after that anyway." He wasn't sure whom he was trying to convince, or even what he was trying to convince them of.

Snow didn't say anything for several moments. "There is a small cottage, only three rooms, it's about ten miles from here, tucked away in the woods and mountains. My family would use it when on hunting trips."

His palm, which had been skimming up and down her back, stilled.

She lifted her head again to meet his gaze. "I'm not permitted to leave the kingdom, but I'm allowed to spend a few days away from the castle, within our boarders."

A half smile pulled at his mouth, fingertips tracing the curve of her cheek. "Eric was talking about Thomas and I coming for a visit. It's been many years since we've been to Seaside."

Snow was grinning. "Returning to either Seaborn or Riverdon, Everland is on one of the possible routes."

James chuckled, kissing her. "Red's right. We really do meet clandestinely far too often."

A yawn-mingled laugh escaped his love.

He carded his fingers through her curls, coaxing her to rest her head back on his chest. "Sleep, my darling."

"Mmm..." Snow cuddled against his side, lips curved in a sleepy but content smile, arm hugging his middle. "Love you, Charming."

He pressed a kiss to the top of her head. "I love you too, Princess."

James listened to her breathing as it slowed to the steady, peaceful pattern that signaled she was asleep. Snow's face was relaxed, free of the lines of grief or worry that'd resided there during the last few days. And no furrow of distress on her brow or twist of fear to her features from dreams where he abandoned her, either unwillingly by death or, for some unfathomable reason, willfully for another woman.

His eyes went to her letter on the table, remembering when he first read it.

He forced himself to unfold it.

My Beloved Charming,

James would never tire of her calling him that.

I don't think I can ever convey how much I miss you, how nothing really feels right with you not here. I don't want to make you feel guilty or pressured, I do not write this to make you feel so. I just have to at least write it down somewhere. You may never even read this…I'll probably not send it, I don't want you to feel bad, it's not your fault. I'm not even making sense.

The smile that had lit his features at her greeting gradually slid off of his face throughout reading the first paragraph.

The days are fine, good even. I keep busy and I'm enjoying spending time with our friends and working around the castle and village. I'm generally happy, but I'm always missing you. I'll want to tell you something, or do something with you, I'll want your opinion, or just want you to be there in a meeting where a noble is being particularly pompous and long-winded to lean over and mutter something to me, making me nearly burst out laughing, even though it would be completely inappropriate, and making all of those stuffy nobles wonder what on Earth has us so amused. But you're not there. In those frequent moments it's hard, but usually something comes along and I am distracted for a while at least.

He was eased to hear that her days were at least bearable, but at the same time he hated knowing that they weren't good for her, that she wasn't happy. He hated that she wasn't happy.

The nights are hell.

Ice settled in his gut.

I don't sleep much, if at all, and in the silence and solitude of the night I feel the loneliness most keenly. But it's worst when I actually do sleep. I have nightmares.

James' jaw locked.

Nightmares as real as the dreams we've talked about. Ones where you're dead or dying in my arms, so still; your blood staining both of our clothing and the floor beneath us and your lips so cold under mine, believing that I will never see your eyes open and look up at me again.

It took several swallows to get past the lump in his throat. He could easily imagine her pain over believing him dead, even for a moment…even in a dream.

Ones with places and things I don't recognize, calling each other names not our own and you saying that you cannot be with me. Gods, I can't breathe!

He could feel the pain, heartbreak, and even betrayal that laced that line, the memory of those dreams, hitting James in the gut like a battering ram.

I want–no, I need you so badly when I awake from those nightmares. I need you to hold me, to hear your heart beating, feel your skin warm under my fingers. To have you tell me that you love me and that you will for all eternity, that you will put this ring on my finger and we'll be together forever.

Tears pressed behind his eyes, stinging, burning. Pain wrenching in his chest, wanting nothing more than to hold his beloved in the moments she was writing these words…but he couldn't.

Come for me, James. Find me. Find me like you promised you always would.

I love you, for all eternity.

With all my heart,

Your Snow

He had to fight so that his fingers wouldn't crumple the letter under them. Love, pain, betrayal, frustration all warred within him. Why hadn't she told him?!

Cerulean eyes continued to stare unwaveringly at the letter. If one didn't know the contents, it was so innocent, simply a piece of paper. For those who didn't love Snow, some might mock her words, or not appreciate the depth of feeling poured into them. And yet others might use those words against her.

With painstaking care, James eased her from his chest; she moaned discontentedly, fingers tightening on his shirt. He placed loving kisses across her face, gently prying her hands from him. "I'll be right back."

Snow still frowned, but calmed under his ministrations and allowed him to leave the bed.

James took the letter from the bedside table and moved to the fire. His fingers creased it thoughtfully, eyes following his own movements, before laying the paper in the flames. He watched it burn, making sure that it was entirely consumed before returning to the bed and Snow. Both of their "sins" against each other were erased, forgiven by each other entirely. They would learn from their mistakes and move on, no need to ever bring them up again. They were cast into the depths of the sea, James mused as he slowly drifted into sleep. He couldn't remember where he read or heard that but it was apropos.


Aurora was glad that none of the sleeping quarters were near the kitchen, otherwise the noise she made from banging pots and other items would have roused the dead. She figured taking her wrath out on inanimate objects late at night, in a place where none were nearby was for the best.

"What did that skillet ever do to you?"

The blonde turned to find Eric standing just inside the door. She turned her attention back to the pan in her hand, attempting to hide her embarrassment at being caught. "I was just..." She fumbled for an excuse but then a sauce pan caught her eye. "Just looking for the right pot to make hot chocolate." She traded the skillet for the small pot.

"I never knew you were partial to cocoa, it's always been more to Snow's taste."

She shrugged uncomfortably, she'd have it occasionally, usually with Snow, but she didn't tend to make it for herself.

Eric caught her hand before she could reach for what was left of the day's milk, drawing her gaze to him. "How about I make us some tea instead?" His smile, not calling her out, was simply understanding and accepting.

She released the pot, nodding and giving him a somewhat sheepish smile. "That sounds great."

Eric replaced the sauce pan, then lifted the kettle and took it over to the pump to fill it.

Aurora took a seat at the table to watch him go through the soothing, simple process of making tea. She could never thank enough whatever power was responsible for bringing her group of friends into her life, but especially Eric. He was her brother, her rock. He was the one she'd always turned to when her world was tossed asunder, or simply when her parents' prodding about her betrothal got to her. Which, she was willing to admit, if only to herself, was part of the reason she had reacted so poorly to learning of his attachment to Ariel. It was selfish, she knew, wanting to keep him to herself, but she permitted herself that very human weakness.

"Do you think that Prince James will propose to Snow after the mourning?" Aurora propped her chin on her fist.

"That's the impression I got." He placed the kettle on the open burner, making sure the fire was stoked high enough.

She watched her finger sketch a horse on the counter. "And you and Ariel?"

Eric braced his hands on the edge of the counter, head falling forward and back seemingly slumping. "I don't know."

Aurora hated how defeated he sounded. As much as his relationship with the mermaid princess worried her, Aurora wanted her brother happy. She didn't know what to say, any reassurance she tried to give him could prove empty and false, and any other words she had would be disparaging. All she could do was just be there for him, whatever the outcome.

Eric cleared his throat and returned to spooning the tea leaves into the pot. "So, do you feel like talking about it?"

Aurora pursed her lips, disliking the turn in conversation, but fully expecting it.

He glanced over his shoulder, humor touching his features at the sour set of hers. "You know you'll feel better after you do."

She huffed out a breath, hating that he was right and knew her so well, but proceeded to tell him nonetheless. "Mother and Father received word before I left that Phillip plans to visit."


That's all anyone could really say. She'd always known she would have to at least meet and talk to him someday, though it didn't make facing the more immediate prospect of it any easier.

"Maybe you should ask James, Thomas and Liam about him? They might be able to allay some of your qualms." Eric poured the hot water over the leaves and placed the lid on top to allow the tea to steep.

Aurora gave a rare unladylike snort. "I like those three fairly well, so far. But they're his friends and certainly not impartial."

The dark-haired prince leaned back against the counter, shrugging, and crossed his arms over his chest. "Still, it certainly couldn't hurt to ask."

She made a doubtful sound, returning to her invisible sketching. "We received the news of Phillip's visit only a couple of hours before Red's letter about Henry." She slashed a stormy sky behind a rearing horse.

Eric silently poured them each a cup.

"And finally," she continued, sarcasm creeping into her tone, "there's Maleficent's delightful presence."

He gave her an understanding half smile as he handed her a mug, which she accepted with murmured thanks. "I have to say," Eric commented, settling down opposite her, "for all of the bad blood between your family and her, you're both handling being in close quarters with remarkable grace."

Aurora made a face. "Well, I'm certainly not going to make a scene at a funeral, especially one for a family member of a friend. I'm guessing that Maleficent has at least a few compunctions herself–as hard as that is to believe–and is acting as such for the same reasons."

"I know that Snow appreciates it, and I'm sure Queen Regina does as well." He blew on the tea before taking a sip.

"Hmm." There was a doubtful note in her tone, which she voiced. "I can't guarantee that the peace will last, especially once Snow and the queen go into seclusion after the funeral tomorrow."

Her brother reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "Don't worry, we'll try to help you to maintain the peace."

A grateful, though not completely convinced, smile lifted her face as she leaned over to press an affectionate kiss on his cheek. "Thank you."


Red and Liam lay wrapped in each other's arms, staring into the dark in thoughtful silence. They were still absorbing the memories that were just returned to them and all the emotions that came with them, and the complications they caused.

"What do you want me to call you?" Red asked, fingers tracing the planes of his chest. "Liam or Victor?"

He thought for a moment, stroking her arm. "Liam," he finally said decisively. "That's the name I chose for myself when I decided to stay here. It's who I am now."

She nodded, still watching her hand's movements.

"Do you regret remembering?" Liam asked after a few moments.

Her fingers stilled and she looked up at him with a confused frown. "Why would you think I might regret remembering us?"

He shrugged. "Along with remembering us you remember everything else. Including things you mentioned you'd like to forget."

"Liam." His name was a sigh, part exasperation and part affection, as she sat up to look at him properly, holding the sheet to her chest so that he wouldn't get to distracted. "When I said that, I didn't mean I'd take it back. I was more than willing to take the bad memories because then I also remembered my friendships with Snow, James and the dwarfs. For all that I got back in the deal it far outweighed the bad." She cupped the side of his face in her hand. "And I feel exactly the same this time around. I wouldn't give up these memories to forget the darker spots in them."

He grinned, fingers threading into her hair. "Neither would I."

Satisfied that he believed her, not that she doubted his ego would gladly accept it as true, Red allowed him to draw her back down to his chest. Though now she felt comfortable enough to voice her own insecurities. "Do you regret staying here and not returning to your brother?" She knew how important Gerhardt was to him; she had to know.

"He's alive and happy. That's all I ever wanted for him." Liam pressed his lips to get temple. "And I'm exactly where I want to be. Where I belong." His arms tightened around her. "With the woman I love."

For all his snark and leering, he could have moments of startling honesty and tenderness as both Liam and Whale.

After the initial rush of happiness from remembering each other had worn off and then they'd both–to borrow a phrase from that other world and for lack of a better way to put it–freaked the hell out. Her mind had whirled trying to remember: Had she killed Peter or not?! Had she slaughtered hunting parties from her village?

Liam's eyes had flown wide, and he'd momentarily shouted Gerhardt's name. He'd leapt to his feet, saying that he had to save his brother until Red had grabbed him, repeatedly reminding him of what he'd told her about his brother. Red placed his hand on her breastbone so that he could feel the calmer pattern of her breathing and try to match it. Minute by minute, his heaving breaths slowed to a regular rhythm.

From there lips had locked, hands held on and refused to let go; Red still wasn't sure how they made it to his room in the castle. Their coupling was desperate and quick, neither able to muster the patience to take their time. That would come with their second round, after they had time to catch their breaths and no longer needed the immediate reassurance that the other was actually there and not disappearing...or dead.

"The reason I gave you for deciding to train to be a general," Red nodded to Liam's half-statement, "that wasn't the entire reason."

Her head lifted, confused frown creasing her face. "What do you mean?"

Blue eyes cut to the side, but she saw the troubled look clouding them. "That day, the final battle..." Liam swallowed thickly. "Holding you as you died, my medical training useless to save you, and my feeble fighting skills completely inadequate to watch your back like I should've done..."

She sat up again, eyes wide. "No! That wasn't your fault! You can't think like that!"

He nodded but Red could tell that it was more of a placating gesture. "Well, I might not have consciously remembered why but I felt this driving need to learn those skills, to be able to protect others." His gaze went to his lover. "I love you, Red. In a way I never thought myself capable. Losing you again...I can't stand the thought."

"Well," she carefully began, while trying to infuse a little teasing into her voice, "we'll just have to make sure that doesn't happen."

A smile crossed Liam's features, before kissing her lightly and holding her to him. If his embrace was a touch tighter Red didn't mention it.


It was about an hour before dawn when James and Snow stirred. The barely-visible, dark cloud cover out the window foretold how little the sun rising would make a difference in the brightness outside. He kissed her lingeringly at her door, promising to meet her in the kitchen shortly.

Making his way through the halls, the few servants James met didn't comment or question his presence, simply bowing or curtsying and murmuring greetings before carrying on with their duties. Over the last couple of days, the prince had grown to fully appreciate the loyalty and discretion of Everland Castle's staff. He had the feeling that most of, if not all of them knew exactly what had been going on between himself and Snow, along with where they had each slept the last two nights. However from what he could tell they'd kept it entirely amongst themselves. In many palaces there would've been speculative glances thrown their way and not-so-discreet gossipy whispers behind hands. If the servants talked about them they at least had the good grace to do so out of sight and away from prying ears.

So James' journey to his door was uneventful.

And then the door of the room next to his opened.

His jaw nearly hit the floor at the sight of a rather disheveled Red exiting his general's quarters, shoes in-hand, an obvious attempt at sneaking out. After easing the door shut as softly possible she turned.

Instantly she froze, the look on her face calling to mind an expression, "deer in the headlights," though where he'd heard such a phrase or what the hell "headlights" were, James wasn't sure. However he did rather enjoy the reversal of the situation, one eyebrow rising and a smirk curling his mouth.

After a few moments Red managed to recover enough to roll her eyes and hold her head high as she strode by James, muttering a good morning–which he returned–with as much dignity as she could muster. Though the vivid blush staining her face and neck undermined much of her efforts.


At the half-whisper, she froze, back going ramrod straight, while James turned with an even broader grin to see his general, shirtless. From his open doorway, Liam's mouth hung open, eyes wide, at seeing his liege.

"Uh…" the general's eyes darted back and forth between James and Red's back.

"I'll see you later, Liam," Red responded in a moderate tone, not turning around.

His eyes flicked to the prince who was now leaning back against his own closed door watching the embarrassed pair with ever-growing amusement. "Right…"

Red briskly continued down the hall.

The prince turned a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin on his general, who met his look with a rather fixed expression, for several moments seemingly unsure of what to do. Then his face creased into a half-sheepish half-self-satisfied grin and he shrugged before ducking back into his quarters.

James chuckled as he let himself into his room. Snow would find this development very interesting.


Red mentally cursed her bad luck the entire walk home. She should've been more cautious leaving Liam's quarters, it somehow not even occurring to her that James might be returning to his room at that time, or that Snow might be leaving had she been in the prince's room, even though both were early-risers and would want be to in their respective rooms before sunrise. James would invariably share his intelligence with Snow, and Red and Liam would never hear the end of it after all the hell they'd given the royal couple. Right now, Red just hoped to avoid being caught by her grandmother and the likely...discussion to follow.

She held her breath as she opened the kitchen door, cringing when it gave the softest of creaks, though in the silence of pre-dawn it sounded as loud as one of the firecrackers King Leopold had procured from the Eastern Kingdom for Snow's 20th birthday. She closed the door as softly as possible, wincing as the sound issued from the hinges again. As Red turned felt a round of déjà vu.

Granny sat at the table, watching her granddaughter with a raised eyebrow.

Talk about walks of shame from hell. First, she's caught leaving her lover's room by her sister's lover, and now she's caught returning home by her grandmother. Oh, yeah, this was officially the worst morning after ever.

"Have a good night?" Granny inquired in an arch tone.

Red stood just inside the doorway staring at the woman who'd raised her, not once but twice. With Granny it'd always been a mixture of grandmother and mother, her own–in the other life–having not been there–whether that was by her choice or Granny's Red still wasn't really sure–and in this one her mother had been fatally injured while running out in the woods. Red had been a little girl and Granny had set her down beside her mother, she could still feel the texture of her mother's fur as she ran her fingers through it, saying goodbye, her mother weakly lifting her head to lick her arm…

Granny had always been there, the only parent Red had ever really had, in either lifetime.

Damn, this was awkward.

She twisted the fabric of her skirt between her fingers. "Good…"

Wry amusement lit the older woman's expression. "Indeed." She stood and headed toward the door to the main part of the inn. "Try not to let the guests see you head upstairs, Ruby."

Red's jaw hit the floor. "What?!"

Granny smirked. "Did you really think you were the only ones to remember?"

Her granddaughter took two staggering steps forward. "Who…How…? How many?"

Beatrix returned to the kitchen table, gesturing for Red to take a seat across from her. "That I know of so far? Myself, Henry," her head bowed in a moment of grief and respect, "and just recently Geppetto and Jiminy."

The young woman nearly collapsed into a chair. "We…we were wondering…if anyone else remembered."

"There aren't many." Granny poured a cup of coffee and pushed it across the table to Red. "When you think of how many were taken to that land the first lifetime it really is extremely rare."

Red turned the mug between her hands, a habit of Snow's that she'd picked up. "It's kind of like having three lives in your head…" She rubbed her forehead with one hand. "It's disorienting, especially so when we first remembered."

"It is indeed." Granny nodded, taking a sip from the cup she'd just poured herself.

"How long have you known?"

The innkeeper took a deep, thoughtful breath. "Since…since your mother died."

Her granddaughter's eyes went wide. "So long? How have you born it?"

Granny shrugged. "It wasn't bad, the memories helped me so that I didn't make many of the same mistakes this time around. And after Henry came I wasn't alone in remembering, even though he wasn't in Storybrooke with us."

Red pressed a fist to her lips. Finally she asked the question that'd been insidiously nagging at her, and that she knew was also in Liam's mind though he didn't voice it. "Is this real? I mean…these…memories…they're not fake like the ones from the curse?"

Understanding lit Beatrix's face. "So far as I can tell, this is all real. I don't know how or why everything was reset, or why so much is different, but…for all intents and purposes… With the breaking of the curse, we've been given a second chance."

Tears pooling in Red's eyes, fingertips against her mouth. "So…I really didn't kill Peter… I haven't killed anyone in my wolf-form, this time?"

"Never," she confirmed.

Red closed her eyes for a moment; tears trickled down her cheeks at the motion. "Thank you." she breathed. "Thank you!"

Her grandmother reached across the table to cover her hand. "I didn't want you to have to bear that burden. Aside from the fact that somehow this time around the kingdom is more accepting of our kind, I told you so that you wouldn't be so unprepared." She gave a sigh, head hanging. "Though it was still a shock nonetheless."

Red flipped her hand over to return Granny's grasp, squeezing her hand. "You and Snow have helped me more than I can ever say. And now I have Liam again…" She smiled at her parent. "Thank you."

Granny met her gaze, a small smile lifting her mouth, and squeezing her hand back before releasing it and clearing her throat as she stood, her more brisk, gruff exterior reasserting itself. "You'll want to bathe and get changed before we have to head to the castle."

The young woman gave a soft laugh as she stood. "Yes, Granny."


James had waited until after he and Snow had eaten breakfast and gone to the privacy of her study before telling her of his little discovery. He'd share what he saw with is beloved, and each have a time giving their respective friends hell over it, but neither was about to expose their friends as fodder for gossip.

Snow choked on laughter over his description of Red and Liam's expressions and reactions. "At least we didn't walk in on them, they should be thankful for that. I know I am." She cast him another grin before turning her attention to a drawer she was digging through, looking for several contracts, agreements and correspondences she needed to send before the funeral that afternoon.

He chuckled. "I agree wholeheartedly." He sat back, smirking in the chair across her desk.

Attention still on sifting through the contents of a drawer, Snow opened her mouth to respond, but then frowned.

Instantly James leaned forward, concerned. "What's wrong?"

She drew out a thick, sealed letter, her fingertips tracing over the simple seal. "I'd forgotten about this."

Her prince stood and moved to her side, arm going around her shoulders while he looked down at the wax seal on the paper. He didn't recognize it, a simple "H" with a silhouette of a horse. "Who is it from?"

It was a beat before she answered. "Henry."

Blue eyes snapped to her face, trying to read her expression, which was almost guilty.

Snow turned the envelope over to reveal the name written in simple, unembellished, but neat hand, Regina. "He asked me to give this to Stepmother after he passed… I'd almost entirely forgotten." Her emerald gaze turned to his, worry and guilt coloring her expression, telling of her fears that Regina might be angry that Snow didn't give her the letter sooner or that she might take the contents out on her if they weren't good.

James ran his fingers through loose curls falling down her back soothingly. How he wished he could take this burden from her, but it would only cause more friction in the long run. "Why don't you take that to her and," he lifted the pile of papers from her desk, "I'll take these to the messengers to be sent off?" He cradled her jaw in his palm, thumb gently stroking her earlobe. "Your stepmother will understand."

A sweet smile curved her lips; she cupped his cheek and leaned forward to kiss him. "Thank you, Charming." Wariness still tinged her expression but she seemed at least a little soothed by his words.

With another quick kiss, James took her hand and helped her to her feet, leading her out of the study until they reached the stairs, where he kissed her hand lingeringly. Snow squeezed his fingers and smiled at him, nodding firmly before turning and heading up the steps.

The prince watched his princess ascend the stairs until she turned at the landing and was out of sight.


Snow stared at the door to Regina's quarters, nervously fingering the letter in her hands. For all of the stress and the pain since her father fell ill, things between her and her stepmother had been better than they'd ever been. They always managed to pull together when her father fell ill and the situation demanded it, but this last illness and Henry's passing… Her teeth gnawed on her lower lip in thought. She was loath to upset the peace that'd settled between them and this letter… She gazed back down at it. What if Regina was angry at her for not remembering it sooner? Or what if it was too soon?

The princess took a deep fortifying breath, deciding there was nothing to be done for it. She raised her fist and knocked on the door.

"Who is it?" Even though her stepmother's voice was muffled through the door, Snow could still hear the quaver in the woman's voice. She cringed, this really wasn't the best timing if Regina had been crying.

It took her a moment to force her voice to work. "It's me, Stepmother… If now isn't a good time I can come back later."

There were several long heartbeats of silence before Regina called, "Come in, Snow."

With another deep breath, Snow pushed the door open and slipped inside.

Regina stood in the middle of the room, head held high, the consummate queen–something they had in common, if Snow felt inclined to admit it, was that they both retreated behind the "royalty" mask when they felt vulnerable. "Close the door, please."

The young princess latched it behind her; she clasped the envelope between her hands in front of her, thumb rubbing circles over the wax seal.

"Yes, Snow?" There was an uncharacteristic patience in the queen's voice as she addressed her stepdaughter.

After a beat of further worrying, Snow stepped forward and held the letter out to Regina. "Henry gave this to me to give to you."

Regina's hand, which had been reaching for the proffered item, almost recoiled, but then finished the gesture. Long fingers closed over the envelope, caressing the seal.

Snow wrung her hands in front of her. "He asked that I give that to you upon his passing. With everything that's happened I'd forgotten until I found it in my desk this morning."

Regina's unfathomable dark eyes lifted to meet her stepdaughter's nervous green ones. "Thank you."

There was a stretch of silence, Snow took this to be her stepmother's dismissal; she turned and headed toward the door.


The princess turned back to the elder woman.

Regina turned the envelope unconsciously between her hands. "Your…your offer to sing the Lullaby…"

Snow's fingers tightened around each other. Two days ago, she'd offered to sing the traditional song in case her stepmother had felt too emotional to do so, though she'd wondered how she'd get the words past her own lips. At the time, Regina had said she'd think about it. "Yes, Stepmother?"

She drew a visible breath. "Thank you, for the offer. But…I'll sing it."

The princess' hands loosened slightly. "Yes, Stepmother."

"Though…" The queen cleared her throat. "Perhaps you could be ready to…step in if…if my voice gets tired."

This was a level of weakness that the queen had never before allowed Snow to see, it made her feel both unnerved and honored that Regina would let her in this much. She curtseyed. "Of course, Stepmother."

Regina nodded her head and then gestured that Snow was free to leave.

With the door closed firmly behind her, Snow finally let out a long breath, thankful for the moment to be over and that, not only had it not ended badly, but it'd actually gone…well, by their standards.

Maybe, she mused as she made her way down the stairs, there was hope for more of a relationship between her and Regina after all.


It was lunch time when Red and Granny arrived at the castle, the funeral attendees who lived close enough to return that day had arrived and the whole castle was abustle with activity. The normally calm and serene atmosphere almost an uproar at the influx of guests and the staff trying to keep up with the unaccustomed demands. Red knew that the staff, while they enjoyed the occasional challenge of such a large party, would be longing for things to return to normal and peace to resume. And for the chance to properly mourn for their friend and lord without the disruptive presence of the court.

Red and Granny, having already eaten their lunch, went directly to the kitchens to lend a hand. There was hardly any room to move in the large room, but still the help was dearly needed.

Snow had apparently escaped the large lunch as soon as she politely could as she stepped into the kitchen only an hour after the meal would've been served. The strain of having to deal with the both the well-meaning visitors, and manipulative nobles – attempting to use this time to try to curry favor – lined her face. James followed closely behind her, obviously doing his best to do what he could to protect her from anything and everything he could.

When the princess' eyes alighted on Red, however, the shadows in her expression immediately lightened, amusement gleaming in the green irises.

The younger woman watched her best friend's approach warily, and rightfully so.

"So," Snow smirked, "how did you sleep last night?"

Shit. Red made a mental note to watch what she said more carefully, the slang and cursing of her Storybrooke identity were bleeding through in her thoughts. Her eyes cut to James, taking in the rather self-satisfied smirk on his face, she pursed her lips. "Fine."

Green eyes sparkled back at her impishly. "Indeed."

Red grimaced. Her sister would say no more on the subject at the moment, but she wasn't safe from the hell she would receive once they were alone.

Tossing one last smirk at her best friend, Snow glanced around the mayhem that passed for the kitchen. "Can we be of any help?"

The younger woman scanned the room. "I don't know that we actually have any space for more people." She returned her gaze to the couple. "I think we're all right for now, you had best prepare for the funeral ceremony." Compassion lit her face as she watched renewed grief enter Snow's expression, James' hand instinctively pressing against her back. Red reached out and gripped her sister's hand.

Snow managed a grateful smile for her best friend, squeezing her hand in return before letting her prince lead her out of the busy room.

Red couldn't help watching them with a smile, things may have changed this time around, but some things hadn't. And Snow and Charming's love was one of them.



The couple hadn't gone ten steps when Granny's voice rang out behind them. James felt Snow's back go rigid under his hand. When she told him about what happened when Henry died, his beloved had also confided feeling resentment toward both Henry and Granny, that because he was with her that night Snow had been forced to move his body. It tore at the princess who could hardly bring it upon herself to hate her worst enemy. For all her fire and sass, Snow's gentle soul needed time to recover from the ordeal. He slid the palm that'd been resting against the small of her back around her waist, needing to comfort and shield her. Snow discreetly reached for his hand on her hip and squeezed it, releasing it just as covertly before they turned to face the woman who'd been the only grandmother Snow had ever known.

Drawing on the love that she had for the woman, the princess managed a smile. "Yes, Granny?"

Sharp eyes studied the couple from behind glinting spectacles, whatever she saw had her compressing her lips and then nodding. Granny reached into the pocket of her apron, withdrawing a sealed envelope. "Henry… Henry asked me to pass this on to you after he died."

Snow haltingly accepted the letter, thumb caressing the familiar seal. "Thank you," she said quietly.

The widow clasped her hands before her. "He said that I should recommend that you two read it together."

Prince and princess glanced at each other before turning back to Granny and nodding.

"Best you both get ready for the funeral," Beatrix suggested as she made to return to the kitchen.

"Granny!" Snow suddenly burst out.

The older woman turned just in time to catch her surrogate granddaughter in a hug.

"I love you, Granny," the princess murmured into her shoulder.

"I love you too, my girl." Granny closed her eyes, as grateful as ever that she'd been given the chance to be family to this remarkable young woman again. She pulled away to meet Snow's green gaze, understanding all too well the conflict that the princess was feeling. "And when you're ready, I'm here."

A grateful smile lifted the grieving princess' lips. "I know."

With one last squeeze to her granddaughter's hands, Granny returned to the kitchen.

Snow waited a few heartbeats after the older woman had disappeared behind the door before turning and wrapping her hand around James' proffered elbow, allowing him to lead her up the stairs.


It was an hour before the funeral when James arrived at the bottom of the stairs, meeting Aurora who'd just exited a sitting room. "Princess Aurora." He bowed.

The blonde curtseyed. "Prince James."

He clasped his hands behind his back. "I'm actually glad that I ran into you."

She arched an eyebrow, smirking. "Really?"

The prince rolled his eyes. "I'm not familiar with the funeral practices here. Do you know them?"

Aurora visibly reined in her humor, composing herself in an appropriately serious manner. "Not much is required of us as visitors, the family and the priest lead most of the ceremony. After the actual service, before we exit we're permitted to give our condolences to the family. After the condolences the family will exit through a private back door and go straight into seclusion." She loosely clasped her hands before her. "The rest of us guests are to leave tomorrow of course."

"Not to see them until the end of the mourning period." He gazed up the stairs, mind going to his beloved.

The blond princess gazed at him watchfully for a moment. "At the end of their seclusion, there is a service to formally end the mourning period, followed by a gathering to celebrate Henry's life."

James turned to her, eyebrows raised at her voluntarily sharing this unsolicited information.

She shrugged with studied carelessness. "Snow has been so preoccupied with everything else on her plate that I thought that she might have forgotten to tell you about it. It's the first chance you'll have to see her and I know that Snow will want you there."

He stared at her thoughtfully for a few moments before nodding. "Thank you."

Aurora cocked an eyebrow. "This advice isn't exactly given for free."

The prince braced himself. "What do you want?"

She shifted uncomfortably, staring at her fidgeting fingers. "Just before I left home, we received word that Prince Phillip is coming for a visit." She looked back up at him. "I was hoping you could tell me a little about him as he is now… Preferably as objective an opinion as possible?"

Surprise lit his face, though understanding quickly overtook his expression. "I don't want to influence your opinion, you should have the chance to form it from meeting him again yourself."

An uncharacteristically unladylike snort escaped her. "You can't influence me toward him any worse than I already feel about the situation."

James tapped a thoughtful finger against one of the intricate, silver knot studs on his belt. "Aurora…" He let out a breath. "Aurora, the best thing for me to say is that…we all have our…tragedies." Her eyebrows shot up. "And they and the way we deal with them form us in many different ways. Try to remember this when you meet him. That maybe…maybe what you see on the surface…isn't what's really there."

She gave him a droll look. "Now you're talking in riddles."

He pressed his lips into a thin line. "There are certain things that aren't mine to tell."

Aurora pursed her lips. "I don't suppose your brother or your general will give me a straighter answer?"

James let out a chuckle. "Thomas will keep his confidences. Liam…Liam might just try to play with you more."

The princess rolled her eyes. "That's what I thought." She sighed. "Well, I suppose thank you for what little you told me…which wasn't overly helpful."

His mouth was set in a grim line again. "I'm sorry. I just…" He glanced away, staring toward the door thoughtfully, before seeming to make a decision and turning back. "My father was talking of sending me to discuss alterations to our trade agreements. I was planning on stopping through Glenbriar on my way home. If you're still frustrated by him and not understanding why he is the way he is after his visit…" she could see the muscles in his jaw working for a moment, "ask me when I arrive."

Her blue eyes narrowed. "Something really happened to him?"

James rubbed a finger over the scar on his chin. "It's his private business. And I shouldn't be the one to tell."

Aurora's eyes narrowed even more, deeply wanting to question him further but knowing that he wouldn't say anything more. She nodded, forcing herself to be satisfied with what he told her…for now.


Everyone had gathered in the chapel just before sunset, filling all of the rows of benches, with Snow and Regina alone in the front row. Henry's coffin, lid closed, sat at the front of the room, rose petals scattered across the marble surface.

The priest performed the service, speaking of Henry's life and virtues, his love for his family and how he would be missed. He intoned the ceremonial words bidding Henry into the afterlife. Afterward, Snow and Regina were called to stand in front of the coffin. Red and a handful of other townspeople moved off to the side a few feet away from the royal family and picked up instruments.

James recognized the song as the music began and Regina's voice flowed out, a touch horse from the strain of suppressed tears. It was the first song Snow sang while they were in Lochdubh, the one that sounded an odd cross between a lullaby and a lament. He wondered its significance that it was included in the service. Halfway through the second verse the queen's voice cracked; Snow smoothly slipped in, finishing the verse and letting her voice fade again through the refrain as Regina's voice regained strength. With the last strains from Red's guitar slowly fading Regina stepped forward, laying a white rose on top of the coffin, Snow following suit with a few Lacrimae Lunaris blossoms, both lingering before, side-by-side, moving off to the side, so that the attendees of the funeral could say their good byes and then offer condolences before moving to the back and leaving the chapel. Both women stood tall, every inch radiating all of the regality they possessed, faces composed and receiving each person's words graciously.

James, in his turn, held to a tradition of his people, placing a sliver of Verum Aquilonem amongst the flowers and petals on the lid. Thomas and Liam did the same. They received odd looks from some of the mourners, but no one commented. Most laid Lacrimae Lunaris–one of the few flowers still in bloom this late in the year–upon the coffin, some placed others, different colors of roses–mostly by nobles who had hot houses–and other flowers.

The prince then moved to the queen, expressing his condolences to her, which she received with a tiny smile and a nod in Snow's direction. The gesture spoke volumes, not only that he could move on, but that she knew why he was really there…and she approved.

He was shocked, but grateful; James bowed low to her, hoping that he fully conveyed the gratitude and respect that he felt.

Then he stood before Snow, a smile, albeit a grief-tinged one, but still recognizable as the one she reserved for him gracing her features. He took her fingers in his. "How are you handling it?" he questioned quietly enough that only she could hear.

Her eyes flickered to the remaining crowd of mourners, she returned her gaze to him with a brave smile. "I'll make it."

James wasn't entirely convinced, but he nodded, and kissed the back of her hand. "I love you."

Her eyes softened, alight with love and appreciation. "I love you too."

It was the hardest thing on Earth but he managed to release her hand and follow the path of the mourners ahead of him.


Eventually the chapel emptied, leaving only Snow and her stepmother. The princess turned her attention back to the coffin, she stepped back up to it and laid her palm on the lid; she could feel Regina's eyes on her. "Good bye, Grandfather," she whispered, tears lacing her voice. She pressed a kiss to her fingers and then touched them to the lid. Finally she turned and allowed Regina to lead her out the back door of the chapel.


Dinner was actually a louder affair than the night before. A few seats down from himself, James could hear a couple of nobles speaking in tones not quite as low as they intended about proposals they were planning on trying to get passed as soon as the mourning period was over, hopefully slipping them by with Snow's grief still fresh. A few others were talking about trying to "comfort" the princess or queen.

James ground his teeth together; he needed to get out of there before he committed murder. He could see how annoyed the rest of Snow's inner circle was growing with the talk around them as well. Apparently they were all on the same wavelength, because they all rose at the same time, ready to escape the room.

Maleficent watched the group, or more specifically Aurora, with an almost malicious glee in her eyes. "I heard that your dear betrothed was coming for a visit," she purred at the blond princess.

James, who was right behind Aurora, saw her back go ramrod straight.

"Arranged marriages," the older blond woman smirked, "a tricky business. Never know when the man might just lose interest and forget all about you in favor of some trollop."

Turning to face the woman who hated her family, the princess' hands were balled so tight the knuckles were bleached white.

Maleficent didn't back down from the fury in Aurora's gaze, if anything she seemed to be bolstered by it. "I mean, it's not like he hasn't before… And you're so…" she eyed the princess, "forgettable."

Red and James' restraining hands on either of her arms were the only things keeping Aurora from throwing herself at the woman.

"Ignore her," Red hissed into her ear, trying to pull her friend away.

Eric joined in their efforts to get the heiress to Glenbriar out of the dining room, murmuring encouragement along with Red.

Aurora wrenched herself from their grip the moment they were in the hall. "Witch," she snarled under her breath.

They all glanced at each other, Belle standing back, seemingly unsure of how to handle the seething princess. Thomas and Liam also maintained their distance, the youngest prince more out of keeping an eye on things, Liam because he found at least some humor in the situation. Gaspard stood close to the princess similarly trying to calm her through words as well, his injuries making him unequal to physically restraining her. While Ella's sharp, wary eyes stayed on the door, ready to let them know if anyone–specifically Maleficent–came through the doors from the dining room.

"You know she just wants to get a rise out of you," the young king reminded her.

"Well she succeeded," Aurora seethed in return. "Always insulting my parents and me…"

Eric glanced at the rest of them, and then turned his attention solely onto his sister. "I could use a round or two on the training grounds before it gets too late."

The blond princess turned to him, and after a moment a wry smile lifted her mouth, knowing exactly what he was doing, and loving her brother all the more for it. "I could use a go with the swords." She let him lead her off in the direction of the training grounds.

The rest of the group watched them go, and once they were out of sight released a collective breath.

"I believe I'm going to retire," Gaspard stated mildly.

There were murmurs of assent from the rest as they either headed toward the stairs or, in the case or Ella and Red, toward the kitchens to check in with Granny and leave through the door there. Though James was fairly certain he caught looks exchanged between Red and Liam, and he had a good guess what they meant, he decided to say nothing of them though, more interested in going to his own room.

He wasn't surprised when he opened the door to find Snow sitting on the bed, legs curled under her and back against the headboard, staring into flickering fireplace.

Her gaze turned to James and a welcoming smile curved her mouth. "Hi."

"Hi," he softly returned, undoing the ties on his dark, leather doublet and tossing it over the back of a chair before settling on the side of the bed to remove his boots.

Snow continued to watch him, soothed by the simple intimacy of the moment.

His boots discarded on the floor, James swung his legs up onto the bed, shifting to sit beside his love and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. Snow leaned into his embrace, cheek pressed to his chest.

James dropped a kiss onto the crown of her head. "How are you really doing?"

A deep sigh escaped her. "It was…hard." She snuggled deeper into his side, swallowing thickly. "In some ways harder than I expected and in others…strangely easier."

"Dealing with the people being the harder?"

She tilted her chin back, to look him in the eyes. "Was that how it was for you too, with David?"

The lingering sadness that always entered his eyes at the mention of his twin flashed through them. "Yeah."

She sighed, pressing her ear to his heart. "I know that most of them mean well but…"

"If anything they sometimes make it worse?"

Snow nodded. "I actually wanted to scream at them to stop, to go away, quite a few times."

James laid his cheek atop of her head. "That's usually the worst of it when it comes to dealing with others." His fingers carded through her curls.

His princess breathed a deep, relieved breath. "I'm actually looking forward to the peace and solitude."

A worried frown crossed his face. "I heard some of the nobles talking."

A snort escaped her. "I can imagine some of the content."

"They're hoping to take advantage of yours and the queen's grief–I'm not really worried about their hopes to seduce the both of you–but they're hoping that right after the mourning period they'll be able to slip proposals and laws past you."

"Hmm…" she acknowledged. "I'd already considered that." She looked up, giving him a wry smile. "They tried the same when my mother died, my father told me about it." She pressed a kiss over his heart. "Don't worry, we're prepared."

"Good." Her prince stroked his palm up and down her back. "That song that the queen sang?"

"Mmm hmm?"

"You sang it while we were in Lochdubh…what is it?"

Her fingers traced idle patterns over his chest. "It's the Everland Lullaby. It's sung to every child the first time when they're presented and then throughout their early childhood. When they get older they're taught it, and then they sing it to their children. Upon our deaths the nearest family will sing the Lullaby for the final time to our bones."

James frowned, disturbed by this. "That sounds rather…morbid."

Snow looked thoughtfully into the flames. "I suppose it could be seen as such. I actually find it comforting, it being a symbol of our lives coming full circle to their end in this world."

"How did the tradition start?"

"Legends say that a soldier in a war long, long ago wrote the song while on the battle field for his children, and would sing it to them before bed each night when he was home. It is said that when his wife gave birth again the soldier sang it over the cradle of his newborn shortly after it was born. Upon his death this family sang it to him. From there, it is said, the song spread and the tradition began."

His brow was still furrowed. "I don't know how I feel about this…tradition." He looked down at her, expression troubled. "About carrying it on with our children…"

Snow bit her lip, fingers smoothing the wrinkles in his brow. "I would like to continue it. But, it is something we have time to discuss."

"Hmm," he agreed, deciding to let it go for now. He finally noticed that she was holding something in her lap. "Is that Henry's letter?"

Her own gaze moved to the item, nodding. "Yes." She turned it over in her hands. "Even if Granny hadn't said we should read it together…" Snow lifted her emerald orbs to his, "I would've still wanted you to be her with me when I read it."

James wondered how it was possible for this woman to repeatedly steal his heart when he never even took it back. He kissed her lovingly before resting his forehead against hers. "Are you ready?"

Snow took a deep breath and then nodded, both of their gazes going to the envelope as she broke the seal and unfolded the missive.

Dearest Snow,

If you are reading this, then I've passed on, and likely it is because of my heart. As you probably now know, Doc heard the irregularity some months ago. He told me that if I took more precautions I would have a better chance of living longer, but the precautions he wanted me to take…honestly I couldn't live that way, it wasn't truly living. I never told you and Regina because I knew you'd both try to get me to follow Doc's advice. I'm getting old, Snow, I've lived a long life, and I've had what few have ever known: true love. I have had two wives, the second being the love of my life. A beautiful, wonderful daughter, who is so strong. And the most remarkable woman to call my granddaughter.

Snow's voice broke at this point and she couldn't continue, so she handed it to Charming while she allowed the tears to overtake her.

What I have learned in these many years of living is that you should live your life to the very fullest extent possible, no matter how old you are. And I haven't regretted a moment of it. I have met the man who will be your husband and I'm glad to have been able to see this day, though I do regret missing your wedding.

James had to clear his throat before he could continue.

I wish you both the greatest happiness imaginable. After everything you deserve it. Someday…well, much of what I have to say now will seem nonsensical to you, but someday it might make sense. I sometimes wonder if I hope for that day or not for both good and bad can come of it. But if that day does come…I hope that you'll be able to find it in your hearts to forgive an old fool for making mistakes and loving too deeply, too blindly.

They exchanged confused glances, what on Earth could he mean?

I have loved you, Snow, as the grandchild I never had. I still pray that someday my daughter might have children of her own, but I want you to know that I couldn't have loved you more had you been of my own blood. I'm proud of you, my dear. You'll make an amazing queen someday, and you and your Charming will reign well together and love each other for many years to come.

Most of my belongings, including my estates, I have left to Regina, with a few things quietly bequeathed to Beatrix, she likely already has them. To you and James I give you the deed to the house in Lochdubh (enclosed), which I had purchased as a wedding gift for you and your husband, my dear Snow. May you and your children fill that house with laughter, love and wonderful memories.

Love and live, my children.



James managed to blindly set the letter on the bedside table, he and Snow holding each other tightly as they mutually mourned the kind and loving man.

Later, as they made love, it was slow and lingering, giving and receiving comfort from each other and trying to make it last, as they were acutely aware that with the dawn they wouldn't be able to see each other until Snow found the chance to sneak off to that cabin.

When he escorted her to her room, Snow paused at the door and removed the chain with his ring from around her neck and carefully placed it into his palm.

He frowned at her in pained confusion. "You're giving it back to me?"

Still holding his open hand in hers, she smiled up at him. "I don't need it as a visible promise anymore; I know that you'll return." Snow closed his fingers over it. "And I want you to have this so that it is readily available for you to put it on my finger when you do." With a suddenly impish grin, she rose on her toes, lips meeting his, arms locked around his shoulders.

James meanwhile had the hand clutching the necklace wrapped around her waist, and the other cradled her jaw, thumb stroking the lobe of her ear, while the kiss deepened.

It was several long moments before they were able to pull apart, panting.

Snow bit her lip, fingertips tracing the scar on his chin. "Take care of the chain? It belonged to my mother."

His eyebrows shot up. She was trusting him with something that'd belonged to her mother, and he was fully aware of how precious she held those few items that she had.

His fist tightened around the jewelry. "I will," he promised.

She pressed another kiss to his mouth; his arms reluctantly released her when she pulled away. "Can you send word when you're able to go to the cabin?"

He nodded. "Eric's family keeps messenger pigeons."

Her fingers threaded through the short hair at the back of his neck. "I'll be waiting."

James' kiss was soft, lingering. "Gods, this has gotten beyond old," he groaned, arm tightening around her waist. "I'm sick of this meeting and then separating, having to plot secret meetings…"

Snow's lips clung to his. "Just over a month." Her palms caressed his cheeks. "Then we can get engaged, and at least the clandestine meetings and pretending we aren't in love in public can end."

He sighed, kissing her one last time, drawing the moment out before they finally drew apart, hands staying joined and then simply fingertips until Snow had closed the door.

Later, when he checked his trunk before leaving, James would discover two of his shirts replaced with a bundle with a note atop it:

My Beloved Charming,

I've absconded with some of your shirts so that I might have something of yours that smells like you. I have replaced them with my favorite shawl, soap and satchel.

All my love,

Your Bandit Snow


So! Surprises all around! XD I've always known that Granny and Henry remembered, and after Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy's reunion those two decided to remember as well! XD Red and Liam…I wasn't sure if they were going to remember before or after Snowing, but regardless I figured it was a ways off…apparently I've been overruled! XD I was struggling with how to begin the chapter and then suddenly there was Red and Liam…WITH THEIR MEMORIES! Yes, Liam has ALWAYS been Whale/Frankenstein, though after we found out he was Frankenstein I had no idea how to incorporate that… XD And then Liam basically took over and said, "This is how I got here…" Anywho, not sure if the backstory is any good, hell, I'm not sure if the CHAPTER is any good, though Sassy says she loves it… Shit… DARTIE! *runs off wailing for help defeating harpy-critic* Thank you for reading and PLEASE let me know what you think! :-D

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