As always, thank you everyone for reading and those who commented! Part of the reason this chapter took a while is that I had some decisions to make story-wise and logistics to work out. :-D I hope that you guys like the chapter!

Dartie, as always you royally rock! XD Thank you for sitting through the long discussions, inner/outer debates, letting me bounce ideas off of you and making this chapter (every chapter really) possible. ;-D


Chapter 19: Winds of Change


By mid-afternoon the day after the funeral, the guests had cleared out of the castle but the royal family had naturally not been there to see them off because of the seclusion. Belle and Liam had moved to Granny and Red's inn with the intention to head back to Riverdon the next day. James and Thomas left that morning for Seaside to stay with Eric for a week or so. The plan was that once Hama arrived in Riverdon and Liam felt Belle was safe, the general would join his princes in Seaside and ride with them on their return trip–James' protests that they'd be safe enough had fallen on deaf ears since Liam didn't compromise on his liege's safety; bend a little, yes, but completely break all of the "rules," no.

Liam was glad to have another day in Everland, particularly in Everbrooke, but more specifically the inn Red called home. He'd just found the woman he loved again and wasn't eager to have to leave her again. Lying in Red's bed, hand stroking up and down her bare back, the man who, in another life, was called Frankenstein viewed their impending separation with a grim set to his features. It'd been a relief to learn that others remembered, specifically Granny; it appeared, with the memories, she was quite happy to let them pick up their relationship unhindered. She seemed to be feeling particularly lenient with him having to leave so soon.

"I guess we really know how Snow and James feel now," Red murmured, tracing patterns over his bare chest. "Always being pulled apart…"

"Hmm," he grumbled, arms tightening around her. "It sucks."

Red snorted with laughter at the very Storybrooke turn of phrase. "Yeah, it does." She rested her chin on his chest, studying his expression. "It truly bothers you. James traveling without you."

He was silent for several moments, eyes tracing the cracks in the ceiling. "In this life, I've never liked him traveling without me to protect him. But these...memories..." His embrace tightened further. "Save for regaining my memories of you from that time...I rather wish I didn't remember."

Red forced him to loosen his hold enough so that she could prop her head on a hand and look at him properly, brow lightly furrowed in curiosity and concern. "Why?"

A sigh escaped him. "Because...things...my emotions weren't so...confusing before."

She just continued to watch him, waiting until he'd arranged what he wanted to say.

How had he gotten so lucky as to find what others searched for fruitlessly all their lives not once but twice, he wondered. His true love, someone who knew him better than he even knew himself?

"Before my loyalty to James was so...uncomplicated. Complete." He rubbed his forehead. "Now...with Whale's memories..." The doctor-turned-general gave Red an amused look. "Did you know he punched me back there? After Emma broke the curse. For that one-night-stand with Mary Margaret during the curse."

His lover smirked, pushing aside the twinge of jealousy at the reminder that the man she loved once slept with her best friend, even if it was only a one-night-stand and only because they were cursed. "Granny told me about it. She saw it happen out the window." Mirth sparkled in her eyes. "She found it rather amusing."

He massaged the remembered pain in his jaw, chuckling. "Yeah. He's not one to be trifled with in any life when it comes to Snow." Liam sobered again. "Part of me has this driving, almost unquestioning loyalty to him... The other protests that he isn't my prince and I certainly owe him no loyalty." He clenched his jaw. "I hate that voice."

Red stared across the room, fingers idly tracing his collarbones, measuring her words carefully. "There are...insecurities and...horrible memories from my original life in the Enchanted Forest that...I could do without."

His arms tightened as if he could protect her from the pain of a long-lost past with his embrace alone.

"But we have those memories. And we'll have to integrate those aspects into our identities. Also, as Granny has done, we should try to use them to our advantage." She lifted her head again to look him in the eye. "Learn from our mistakes." A smile curved her lips. "It's like James said back in Storybrooke, after we got our memories back, 'we are both.' And we're richer beings for it."

Liam's nod was slow but thoughtful. "Perhaps...perhaps I should use this time away from James to straighten myself out."

With a proud smile Red patted the spot right over his heart and then pressed a kiss to it. "That is all any of us can do, or expect."

They settled back down, waiting for sleep to take them.

"Though if he remembers and punches me again I'm going to slug him right back."

Red snorted with laughter.


Charming was packing. Packing for a wedding he didn't want, for a honeymoon with a woman he all but detested, and a life that he'd do just about anything to escape. He could easily admit, though, that if the bride were someone else, a woman with long dark curls–not blond–and impish green eyes–not cold blue–he'd be more than happy to walk down the aisle. Gods, if only Snow would come! He was to be married tomorrow! His hands fisted around a shirt and then shoved it into the bag. So little time! What if she hadn't received the letter? …What if she didn't feel for him as he did for her?! What if he'd mistaken the look in her eyes as she'd gazed at him over her fingertips with his mother's ring on her hand that day in the woods? What if–

The door clanking shut jerked Charming out of his thoughts.

There she was. As if conjured by his very thoughts. Snow White.

His heart pounded, he could hardly breathe; his eyes fixed on her, unable to yet believe that she was in fact standing before him.

Slowly, deliberately, she took a few steps forward. "James," she greeted him quietly.

"Snow," he finally managed to gasp.

She stopped midway across the room. "I got your letter."

"You came." Wonder filled his voice, finally he believed she was there, that she'd come for him. "You came!" he cried, rushing to her and sweeping her up in his arms, repeating it over and over again.

Her arms wrapped around his neck, holding on as he spun her around, and he felt her face momentarily press into his neck.

A relieved laugh escaped him as he repeated the words one last time as he set her feet back on the floor and pulled back. Charming had half-consciously placed himself between her and the door, wanting to make sure that if anyone came in they'd have to go through him to get to her. Finally he could see her face, eyes absorbing each beloved feature, reminding himself of what had escaped his memory.

He bent his head, gently drawing her to him, intent on finally kissing the woman he loved. Snow leaned in to him, but then abruptly her hands pressed to his chest instead.

"Wait, James." There was an almost desperate quality to her voice.

He gazed at her questioningly.

"Us…" she took a deep breath, "it can't happen."

Now Charming was truly confused. "What's wrong? Of course it can!" His thumbs caressed Snow's upper arms. "You're here. We can go. We can be together. We can leave all this." His hands gripped hers, desperate to hold onto her. "I know there are costs, but I've planned for everything. They can't hurt us." Her green eyes just kept staring into his. "And now that I know that you love me too–"

"I don't," she cut in flatly.

His heart stopped beating in his chest. "What?"

Her gaze remained level. "Love you."

The pain sliced through him, sharper than a thousand knives.

"I don't." She shook her head. "I'm sorry." Snow took a deep breath again, glancing down for a moment. "You said I would always be in your heart," she looked back up, head shaking, "and that is too cruel a fate. Go live your life!" she implored him. "Live it without me because there is no place for us together."

Her tone was firm, final, his death sentence. Tears streamed down his face.

"And fill your heart with love for someone else." Snow nodded in emphasis. "Someone who can love you the way I never have. The way I never will."

Did he have a heart left in his chest?

She looked down; his gaze followed hers to see the letter he sent her held out to him. She didn't even want to keep this, this outpouring of his feelings…

Charming…no, James–if she didn't love him then what meaning did that name have anymore?–forced his hand to take the proffered item, crumbling it into his palm.

Their eyes lifted to meet one last time, holding for what seemed an interminable moment, but was only the span of the last beat of his broken heart, before she moved around him.

His hands clenched at his sides, part of him screaming, demanding that he grab her and hold on and never let her go. But he couldn't. He couldn't move. Couldn't breathe–didn't want to continue breathing. And he couldn't watch Snow walk away, his shredded heart in her hands.

James shot up in bed gasping, hand clutching at his heart, unable to process the all-too-vivid and real pain inflicted by the dream. His eyes whipped around the unfamiliar room, trying to remember where he was, then the crashing of the waves through the open balcony doors reminded him: Seaside. His hands clutched the blankets around him, fingers noting different textures among the cotton, drawing his gaze down. The thin, embroidered material of Snow's white silk shawl was woven between his fingers along with the linens and her note nearly crushed in his grasp. Swiftly, he released the paper, hands flattening it out on his knee.

My Beloved Charming,

Snow's sweet, teasing voice echoed through his mind as he once again devoured the rest of the letter.

All my love,

Your Bandit Snow

Her laughter spilled from his memory, humor dancing in her emerald irises as she gazed up at him with such love.

His forehead pressed to his knee, trying to breathe through the pain still coursing through him.

Snow had never said those horrible things from the dream to him, never would say that to him, just the opposite. Over and over she'd told him she loved him and wanted to be with him forever. She'd stolen some of his shirts, his bandit princess–James' lips curved into a small smile at that affectionate thought–to help soothe the sting of his absence. His hand pressed against his chest, catching both the shard of Verum Aquilonem and the ring hanging from the chain. She'd entrusted something of her mother's into his care, an item she treasured as a link to her beloved parent.

Carefully laying the letter on his bedside table, James shoved the blankets aside and rose quickly from bed, her shawl still clutched in his hand. He stalked over to the open balcony, bracing his hands on the railing as he gulped down the familiar salty sea air.

Seaside wasn't all that different from Seaborn; as the similarities in the names implied, they were kingdoms whose lifeblood was the oceans they sat upon. Though Eric's land wasn't as large or perhaps as craggy as James' and they had more sand beaches here rather than pebble ones. Still, the briny quality of the air and rhythmic crash of waves helped ease some of the tension in him.

Tears still stung his eyes and the remnants of those he'd shed in his sleep stiffened his cheeks. Was this what Snow had gone through with her nightmares? Gods, he hated that he wasn't there for her even more now. His hands itched to touch her, to run over every curve and burrow through her long hair. He longed to hear her actually say that she loved him, to banish the words from his dream. Pressing the heel of his free hand to his forehead, James gritted his teeth. That dream had felt far too real for his comfort, as real as the one where he'd held his hand against Snow's pregnant stomach and felt their child move.

Focusing on keeping his breath even, James drew every memory of his beloved around him, clinging to all of the ways she'd told and shown him that she loved him and wanted to be with him forever. How he longed to rush down to the stables, saddle Cain–hell, forget a saddle, he'd ride bareback just to save time–and storm right back to Everland. Damn the consequences.

But the prince in him, the noble who knew better, pointed out that he couldn't break the mourning period so openly. The honorable part of his brain chimed in that even though he couldn't care less about his own reputation, he cared about Snow's very dearly, and just rushing in would not only break the rules of the mourning, but would also damage her in the eyes of others. James' hands clenched on the railing. He could be singularly selfish when it came to her, he couldn't give her up, ever, but he'd gut himself before he hurt her.

He considered keeping this from her, saving her the added stress and pain, but then his own words from just two nights ago came back to him. James grimaced, he couldn't go back on his own word after making Snow swear not to do the very same thing ever again.

The prince rubbed the silky material of his love's shawl between his fingers, fixing her pleading gaze in his mind before forcing himself to the writing table in his room. James carefully lay the shawl on the table, fingers lingering. He finally lowered himself into the chair, drawing a blank parchment to himself and dipping the quill in the inkwell. His thumb flicked the feather thoughtfully before he set nib to paper.

My darling Bandit Snow,

You don't know how it comforts me to know you have things of mine, to imagine you wearing my shirts.

Not exactly what he planned to say, but it was entirely true and suited to his rather possessive mood.

I miss you already. It isn't helped by the visitation of a nightmare of my own. As real as the dreams we've talked about before. A nightmare where you're telling me that you don't love me and we can't be together. Ripping my heart out with tears in your eyes.

James' hand stilled over the letter; his mind had unconsciously been going over the details of the dream and he was now able to pick up on things his dream-self hadn't. The fact that she'd almost given in to the kiss, the forced quality of her smiles, how near falling apart she'd been the entire time.

Looking back I see things in the dream-you that the dream-version of myself didn't seem to know you well enough to see. Things I recognize immediately...

He frowned. How could he see all of that so vividly but his dream-self couldn't recognize it? James knew Snow better than anyone, just as she did him, and they always called each other on it when they tried to hide anything. Why hadn't he seen the blindingly obvious signs in the dream? He wrote down all of these thoughts and observations.

None of this makes sense...all I know is that I love you and need you in a way that is sometimes frightening. The whole rest of the world could go to hell and as long as you were there beside me it all would be just fine. I need to hear your voice, feel your breath on my face, hear your laughter, feel your skin against mine. The days until we can meet again seem interminable.

He absently stroked the fabric by his free hand.

I love you, Snow. More than anyone or anything in this world. We will marry and have the life we've talked and dreamt of: love, laughter, children, working together all of our lives, and living fully with everything that comes with doing so, the joys and the pain. I want it all with you and only you, my bandit princess. You not only absconded with my shirts but my heart as well, long ago. Know that my heart is yours forever.

All of my love,

Your hopelessly head-over-heels for you Charming

After dusting the page with pounce so that it'd dry faster, and making sure the ink was no longer wet, he carefully folded it, pressing his seal into the red wax over the fold, and writing her name on the outside. He left it propped on his desk to send off first thing in the morning.

James then once again lifted the delicate, ornate cloth from the desk and returned to bed. He probably looked akin to a small child with a security blanket, but he didn't care, the prince clutched his beloved's shawl close as he settled under the covers, inhaling her scent deeply. Slowly, he drifted off into a sleep that while not long or necessarily restful was at least dreamless...for now.



Aurora watched the servants rushing around the castle from the railing above the entrance hall. Last minute preparations for the arrival of her betrothed the next day… And she whole-heartedly wished she was anywhere else.


The blond princess turned at the call, forcing a smile. "Yes, Mother?"

The queen's delight was evident on her face. "Have you decided what you're going to wear to meet Phillip?"

It took all of Aurora's willpower to keep the smile on her face and not roll her eyes. "I was thinking my blue dress with silver beading or the pink one with peach embroidery."

"Hmm…" Queen Leah compressed her lips, tapping a finger against them. "What about your lavender one?"

The princess gritted her teeth; that was her favorite gown and she certainly didn't want to taint it with any bad memories of Phillip's visit. "What about my rose-colored one? The one with the gold and pink beading?"

Leah looked thoughtful for a moment and then a smile lit her expression, obviously recalling the dress. "That would be lovely! We can weave a few orchids from the hot house into your hair." Her mother nodded firmly. "You're right, that will be absolutely perfect!"

Aurora just smiled, watching her mother hurry off, likely to choose the colors of orchids that would go best with her dress. Once the queen was out of sight, she finally let the smile drop and took a deep breath, releasing it slowly.

"I have always wondered why you didn't just tell your parents how you feel about this arrangement?" a voice softly commented behind her.

A wry, but soft grin graced the princess' face as she glanced over her shoulder. "I have tried, Fauna," she told her godmother.

The middle of the three sisters her parents had bestowed the title upon smiled kindly but pointedly. "Not explicitly, I believe."

"No," Aurora admitted, sighing. "But I don't think they'd really want to hear it even if I did…" She turned to fully face her favorite godparent. "Not without a good reason for refusing." She cocked an eyebrow. "And disliking him because of some childhood mischief and current rumors doesn't really qualify."

Fauna curved her arm through the princess' elbow. "I believe we could both use a cup of tea." She led her young charge down the hall toward her quarters. "As to your feelings about Phillip, we both know what the High Court rumor mill is like."

Aurora laughed softly, remembering some of the more outlandish ones that'd circulated over the years.

"And," the older woman continued, an amused smile on her face, "little boys tend to pick on little girls, it's apparently the natural order of things. Most grow up, and become at least relatively responsible and productive members of society. Making good husbands and wonderful fathers."

With a sigh the blonde leaned her cheek atop her godmother's head. Aurora loved all three of her godmothers, but Fauna was the one whom she could rely on to listen and give her advice, and to do so with a cool head. Quieter and clearer-headed than her two sisters, and other than Eric, Fauna was the one Aurora always leaned on.

James' words about Phillip echoed back to her.

"…we all have our…tragedies. And they and the way we deal with them form us in many different ways."

"I hope you're right," she murmured.



Waking the morning after the guests left was a much slower and laborious process than normal for Snow. Rising through the layers of sleep was like wading through molasses, the lure of dreamland constantly beckoning her back and reluctant to release her. Finally, she managed to drag her eyelids open, blinking groggily in the dim light.

How far off was dawn? she wondered. Then she noticed a bright strip of light stretching across her covers, frowning as she followed it to a crack in her closed bed curtains. She didn't remember closing them.

It took blinking several more times, three deep breaths and rubbing away the sleep that crusted her eyes before Snow was awake enough to push herself up and draw aside the curtain. She almost dropped the cloth at the brightness that assaulted her eyes.


One arm shielding her eyes, Snow blinked blearily. "Lucy?" Her eyes slowly adjusted to the sunlight streaming into the room, soon able to see her maid laying aside a dress she was mending–it looked to be Snow's green day dress, she'd caught the hem with her heel a couple of days before the funeral–and rising to move toward her.

The princess' green eyes flickered around the room. "What time is it?"

Lucy drew the bed curtains the rest of the way open. "Nearly ten, Princess."

"Ten?!" Snow was about to fling herself out of bed, but a surge of vertigo from rising too quickly and the sight of her bare legs, reminding her that she wore only Charming's shirt, made her sit back against the headboard, drawing the blankets up to her lap. She mentally thanked her maid for not commenting on her nightwear. "I've slept nearly half the day away." She shoved a hand through the tousled, curly mass of her hair, grimacing as her fingers caught on knots. "Why didn't anyone wake me up?" She hated sleeping in so late!

Lucy lifted a tray of food from a nearby table and brought it over to set on Snow's lap. "I was ordered by no less than five people to let you sleep as long as possible." The young maid leveled her with a look. "You haven't truly had a solid night of rest and woken naturally in months, Princess."

Snow chose to ignore that comment, no matter how true it might be because even though she'd slept better with James here than she had since Lochdubh, she'd still had to rise extra early to either leave his room or to help him sneak out of hers. "Who ordered this?"

"Prince James, for starters."

"He's not your liege," Snow pointed out.

Lucy cocked an eyebrow at her that clearly said, Yet.

The princess rolled her eyes, biting into a piece of bacon and immediately grimacing as her taste buds soured, apparently not keen on the flavor today. She spat it back out as discreetly as possible in her napkin, taking a sip of tea to wash the taste away.

"Along with Red, your father, Granny and King Gaspard." She stopped, glancing thoughtfully to the side. "Actually, make that six, Ella was rather insistent of it as well."

Green eyes narrowed into slits. "Do I get a say in my own kingdom?"

"When it comes to your health, milady, no," Lucy told her firmly.

The princess gave her a sour look which the maid pointedly ignored in favor of choosing a dress from Snow's rather lacking selection of dark colors.

Lucy sighed. "We should have more dark dresses made for you, you have so few."

Snow pushed the sleeve of Charming's shirt up as she grabbed the spoon so that the cuff wouldn't drag in her oatmeal. "Why? We aren't going to have visitors, so there's no one to impress and I'm rarely going to wear them except for funerals. It would be a shameful waste of goods and efforts."

The maid cast a droll look at her mistress. "Yes, but by the end of the morning period the few ones you have will likely be worn out."

"Then we'll replace them as needed," Snow informed her airily. "And I would prefer to wear my dark green skirt and stays with my brown blouse, please. I want to spend the day in the gardens, helping prepare the beds for the fall."

Lucy rolled her eyes but selected the items requested. That was Snow, she grieved by losing herself in tasks she enjoyed, especially ones that made her feel closer to the person she lost.

Snow carefully spooned the oatmeal into her mouth, grimacing as some nearly spilled onto the shirt; this was why she generally didn't like eating in bed, it could get messy. And she really didn't want to have to wash the shirts sooner than she had to because that would eliminate the residue of Charming's scent. She rubbed the soft cotton of the sleeve between her fingers, lifting it to her nose and breathing deeply, soothed by the smell of James' scent mingled with hers. Her heart fluttered as she grinned against the cloth, once again imagining his reaction to finding her note and the exchange that she'd made.

Choosing a pear slice from the plate, Snow lifted it to her grinning lips, biting into it as she further imagined what he would do when they saw each other again.


The inn's staff loaded Liam and Belle's things into the carriage Thomas had left for them to take back to Riverdon. While Granny filled the young librarian's hands with food for the road, Liam drew Red off to the side.

"Are you sure you're going to be all right here?" he questioned, gaze intent on hers.

She smirked, eyebrow cocked. "I'm a werewolf under the protection of the crown and sister to the heir to the throne… I think I'm good."

Liam chuckled, both at her point and at the Storybrooke phrasing she used. "True, you've always been better equipped to protect yourself than I have." His expression turned self-deprecating

Red's expression fell and reaching out she grasped his face. "Don't say things like that. I wouldn't want you any different. I don't blame you for anything." She drew him to her, pressing their foreheads together. "I don't want you any different than as you are." A half-grin curved her mouth. "I rather love my arrogant, mad scientist-turned-general," she teased him.

He smirked, once again looking more his overconfident self, hands on her waist draw her closer. "I knew you could never resist me."

The lycanthrope snorted as she leaned into him. "There's the conceited ass I love," she said before their lips met.

It was long, lingering moments before they drew apart, her hands resting on his shoulders and his on her hips.

Liam's eyes opened to the sight of the castle over her shoulder, a topic that they hadn't yet discussed, but was dangling over their heads, moving to the forefront of his thoughts. "What about Regina?" he asked grimly.

Red turned her head to follow his gaze. "Granny said that she and Henry have never seen any indication that she remembers at all."

"But is she a threat to Snow and James?"

She shook her head slowly. "As far as we can tell, Regina's simply the product of this lifetime. She wasn't forced into the marriage with Leopold, in fact it was entirely her choice, and she and Snow didn't meet until after their engagement was announced." Red cupped his cheek to draw his attention back to her. "There are no signs that she hates Snow to a homicidal level. They don't necessarily get along or really like each other, but she doesn't seem intent on harming her either."

"Hmm…" He wasn't convinced, which of course she understood. James was his liege lord, someone he was utterly devoted to; Snow was his prince's love and future wife, so any threat to her he considered a threat to James.

Red slid her hands down to grip his. "Of course, I'll be keeping a close eye on them all," she added pointedly.

He relaxed…slightly. After a beat, his hands tightened around hers. "I'll return as soon as I can."

She released her grip and crossed her arms, looking at him archly, repressed humor sparkling in her eyes. "You'd better. The full moon isn't all that far off…I'd have to hunt you down if you didn't return soon."

Her lover raised his hands in mock surrender. "Well, I certainly don't want to anger a werewolf."

A grin spread across her face, arms still crossed.

Liam smirked, lowering his hands to grip her upper arms. "I'm gonna kiss you one more time…to tide us over until we see each other again."

She pursed her lips, trying to restrain her laughter. "Who said I needed a kiss to tide me over?"

"I did." His mouth locked on hers before she could voice anything further.

When they pulled apart they were both grinning, though there was a bittersweet quality to their expressions.

She gently tugged on the collar of his leather doublet. "Love you, Frankenstein."

He grinned cockily. "Love you too, wolf-girl."

In spite of their words they kissed yet again before finally heading to the carriage where Belle had been studiously ignoring them and Granny watching them with a smirk; the rest of the staff and the stable hands were more circumspect. Liam handed the librarian up into the carriage and bid grandmother and granddaughter one last goodbye before climbing inside himself.

As they drove off, Liam's eyes remained trained on Red until she was out of sight.

"You two are nearly as bad as Snow and James," Belle informed him dryly.

He raised an eyebrow at her. "And you and Gaspard are the image of discretion…"



James had woken at dawn, tired and still troubled by the dream. The servants were only just setting the table for breakfast when he entered the small, private family dining room, waving off their concerns and simply placing some bacon, eggs and cheese between two slices of toast and pocketing a pear, while he drank a cup of coffee, then taking his chosen items with him and heading out. His first stop was the aviary, glad that Eric's parents had granted the Seaborn prince permission to use their pigeons the day before. With Snow's letter safely attached to the bird's leg he sent it off, reassured by the birds' master that Everland was one of the places the pigeons were most familiar with because of the friendships between the kingdoms.

His primary task of the morning complete, James headed down to the beach. There were meetings he was to attend but not until after lunch, making this time his. It was warmer here than back in Everland, and he pulled off his boots and socks, leaving them at the bottom of the steps leading from the castle to the beach.

The sand was cool and soft beneath his feet, the beat of the waves familiar and comfortable, conducive to thinking more through his dream and emotions more.

Though he knew it'd only been a dream, and that Snow loved him as much as he loved her, it had felt so real. The emotions so intense, shredding his heart and making it almost impossible to breathe whenever he thought of it. He pressed a hand to his chest, right over his heart where he'd tucked Snow's note under his shirt, needing some piece of her close to him.


He looked up at his brother's call.

"Thomas." James waited for him to catch up. "I thought early-rising was only my prerogative in the family."

The younger man shot him a droll look. "With all of the travelling recently I wasn't able to sleep any later."

The elder brother nodded, gaze returning to the shoreline as he resumed his walk.

"What has you so preoccupied?" Thomas inquired, falling into step with him.

James crossed his arms, feeling the press of the letter, ring and shard against his chest. "Just a bad dream…nightmare." His eyes went to the crashing waves. "And I miss Snow. I'm worried about her."

He could see Thomas nodding out of the corner of his eye. "I'm missing Ella. I was planning on travelling through Everland and stopping at Granny's on the way back home to see her."

The elder prince cut his gaze to his brother. "Would you mind extending the stay for a few days?"

Thomas halted, turning to his brother. "Well, it'll certainly be a hardship," he commented sarcastically but his expression was intrigued. "Why?"

James looked off to the side.

The younger man smirked. "You and Snow are meeting each other."

He couldn't meet his brother's gaze. "There's…a cabin where we can meet."

Thomas' eyebrows shot up, his brother's admission and what it implied obviously surprising him, but soon amusement colored his expression. "Well, lucky for you, Liam and I have women we love that we want to spend time with in Everland as well."

James turned back to him, a smile lifting his expression. "Thank you."

He grinned. "We're all fools in love."


Upon entering the small dining room for lunch, the heirs of Seaborn and Riverdon greeted their extended family warmly. Eric's parents, who'd insisted James and Thomas call them Aunt and Uncle since they were boys, had been thrilled to have their nephews visiting for the first time in years.

"How did you sleep?" Queen Catherine inquired.

James pressed an affectionate kiss to her cheek. "Wonderfully," he lied easily as he took his seat.

Everyone except Thomas bought it, and he said nothing as he mimicked his brother's actions. Though the elbow in the ribs let him know he wasn't off the hook.

"We received this letter," their uncle announced, drawing about half of their attention as they began to eat. "From your mother."

That got all of James and Thomas' attention.

"How is she?" Thomas was the first to ask since his brother had a mouth full of roast beef.

"She's doing well," King Shawn poured himself more water, "and she's coming to join us for the duration of your visit."

Both princes' eyebrows shot up.

"Is Father coming as well?" the younger prince inquired.

"No, she said that he had much work to do and couldn't take the time away at the moment."

"When does she arrive?" James leaned forward.

"Three days. She will be stopping through Riverdon where your general will accompany her the rest of the way."

"I haven't seen Aunt Ruth in longer then you," Eric glanced at his cousins, "I can't wait to see her again."

"I know she's just as anxious to see all of you as well," Thomas agreed.

Lunch passed with discussion of plans for when Ruth arrived. Afterwards, James and Thomas went to the elder prince's room.

"Mother never travels on her own like this," Thomas immediately stated the moment the door closed behind them. "Especially in such a spur of the moment fashion. What's going on?"

James leaned back against the frame of the open balcony doors. "The Hell if I know. I'm as thrown as you, little brother."

Thomas dropped into the chair at the writing desk, racking his mind as to why their mother would do something so far out of character. What was she trying to accomplish?



Belle let out a relieved sigh as she set her satchel on her desk in Riverdon library. The ever familiar scent of books, which she associated with learning and knowledge, washed over her in comforting waves. Crates from the newest book shipment cluttered the floor, she grinned happily at the thought of the cataloguing and shelving ahead of her, eager to make order out of the chaos the books were likely in after being packed.

Her fingers lingered over her bag, remembering what was tucked inside, she lifted the flap and pulled out a brown paper-wrapped item. Gaspard had given it to her the day before when they'd met in the Everland library that morning.

He held the rectangular package out to her.

"What is it?" she asked, fingers running to the sealed edges of the wrapping paper, the familiar feel of a book inside.

"Don't open it yet," he quickly requested. "It's a gift...but I would like it if you would wait until you are back in Riverdon before you open it."

She folded her arms, hugging the item to her chest. "All right, I promise I'll wait." Belle bit her lip. "Thank you."

Red lightly tinted his cheeks. "You're welcome."

"Oh!" the librarian gasped, suddenly remembering. She hurried over to her satchel, placing the gift inside before rummaging in it. "I nearly forgot." She drew out a book and blushingly handed it to him. "I wanted to give this to you. It's one of my favorites, the tales of King Arthur." She wrung her hands. "If you don't want to read it–I mean, if you've already read it–"

He grasped her fidgeting hands with his free hand, drawing her gaze back up to him from the floor. "I haven't...read it, I mean. But I would love to."

Carefully, Belle tore the paper away, not surprised when a book was revealed. Its leather cover and bindings were intricately decorated with gilt roses, though no title was visible on the outside. Opening the cover she found a page with elegant yet masculine script scrolling over it.


This is the history of my kingdom, including its legends and myths. I hope to discuss them with you when next we meet.


She blushed at the informal way he both addressed her and signed the note. Such a gesture would be considered scandalous between a royal and a commoner. A quietly pleased smile curved her mouth as her fingers traced his name.



Thomas entered his room already undoing the ties on his doublet. The talks after lunch had gone well, naturally, they'd just dragged on and on unnecessarily. Also he and James still had no idea why their mother was coming to Seaside in such an uncharacteristic manner.

James had been distracted most of the day, though only Thomas knew him well enough to recognize it. Aside from missing Snow–he'd decided not to even think about the fact that James had all but admitted to being intimate with the princess–the younger prince wondered what could be bothering his brother so much.

He tossed his doublet onto a chair, another item already draped over the back of it, a burgundy cloak. Thomas ran the fabric through his fingers, a smile lifting his expression.

It was the day before the funeral; Ella bit her lip, blushing as she held the folded fabric out to him.

"What's this?" he asked, grinning as he accepted it.

She clasped her hands in front of her. "It's a cloak."

He stared at her for a moment, stunned.

Her hands twisted back and forth. "I made it for you…it's colder here than back in Riverdon and Seaborn…I wasn't sure you–you had anything warm enough with you. A-and I just…I just really wanted to make something for you. Something you can wear."

Thomas shook the fabric out, revealing a long, hooded cloak, the material was soft to the touch, yet thick. The sliver clasp at the throat was ornate knot-work, but it was familiar somehow, he ran a thumb over it.

"It was on my father's favorite cloak."

He lifted a surprised gaze to hers.

She was still blushing, hope alight in her eyes.

His heart squeezed, she'd given him one of the last tangible links she had to her father. Thomas reached out with his free hand, palm cradling her cheek. "It's perfect. Thank you."

Ella's smile was radiant, leaning into his touch. "Do you want to try it on?"

After undoing the clasp, Thomas draped the cloak over his shoulders; Ella reached up and hooked the clasp and then smoothed her hands down his chest over the fabric.

"Well?" She bit her lip. "What do you think?"

Thomas caught her wrists, keeping her palms pressed to his chest. "I love it."

Ella grinned, leaning in and pressing her lips to his.

He couldn't help grinning into the kiss as he wrapped his arms around her, drawing her fully against him.

Thomas rubbed the cloth between his fingers, his thoughts turning to a very special order he made to the dwarfs–not Snow's friends in Everbrooke, another group at a smaller mine a few miles east–just two weeks ago. It should be ready in another month. His coronation was just over two months away… He wondered if he might be able to put the item to its intended use by then.



Snow opened the door to her room, entering with a weary sigh, grateful for the aches in her muscles that signaled she would sleep soundly that night. The steam rising from the mew on her washstand told of the hot water inside, bringing a smile to her face, the warmth would feel so good after the long hours in the garden. A tray of food was set out on the day table in the corner, Snow lifted the lid covering her food to reveal a thick stew and portion of crusty bread, her stomach rumbling loudly in anticipation. Breaking off a piece of the bread, the princess dipped it into the stew and chewed on it as she moved to the washstand, relishing the rich flavor of the stew coating the bread. By the time she was done washing up, the water she'd poured in the basin was brown and murky.

Feeling cleaner, she finally properly sat down to the meal Lucy had left for her, not minding her manners as she would have in company. The mug of hot chocolate coated her tongue with its thick sweetness, the cinnamon adding that…something she'd never been quite able to define, something that just tasted of…home. It was the only way she knew to describe it. The food and hot drink were comforting and relaxing; Snow drew one foot up and under her on the chair.

There was a sealed envelope sitting beside the tray that she hadn't noticed before, she lifted it, taking in the burgundy wax and the two rearing unicorns in it. Her mouth curled into a hopeful smile as she broke the seal and opened the letter eagerly. It was indeed from James as she'd hoped; fingertips pressed to her mouth, she grinned at his greeting. His comment about her wearing his shirts had her blushing but smiling, heat curling through her veins, easily able to imagine his expression.

As he described his dream, her actions and words, it felt as though she'd been hit with a battering ram in the chest. Knowing the pain he was feeling made her own heart bleed, that any version of her could hurt him, even just a mere illusion, killed her. It warmed her heart though as he told her again how much he truly loved her and all of his hopes and dreams for their future. Laughter bubbled from her at the way he signed the letter, fingers tracing over her nickname for him and what he'd added.

She took the remnants of her dinner and the letter with her over to her desk, sitting down and pulling a fresh parchment toward her.

My Charming,

I love you. Eternally and truly I love you. More than anyone or anything. I will love you until I die, and beyond, into the life after this. I will tell you I love you every day we live, a hundred times a day if you wish. You said that you already thought of me as your wife, I feel the same. I think of you as my husband.

Do you need to see me? I can be at the cabin tomorrow if you want me to be. Just tell me what you want. What you need. I know I denied you the chance to help me through what I went through with my dreams, but I desperately want to be there for you. I love you, Charming.

You don't need to worry about me, I'm all right. Red, Ella and Granny seem determined to check on me every half hour. My father is already demanding that I rest more. The staff listen to you more than I–yes, Lucy told me that you ordered her to make sure I got enough rest, and I'll forgive you this time for your over protective tendencies. I haven't had any further nightmares since the first night you were here for the funeral. I have dreamed about other things though. Last night I dreamt of you. We walked along the shore of a sea, you went down on one knee and proposed to me; I felt such joy as you slid your mother's ring on my finger.

I love you with every fiber of my being, with every beat of my heart.

All my love,

Your Snow

P.S. I thought it might interest you to know that I sleep in your shirts.


Glenbriar the next day…

Aurora's jaw was clenched almost painfully tight as she watched the Royal Carriage of Lochlomond pull up in front of her family's palace. Her hands were clenched before her, knuckles white, unable to smile, but managing to keep a relatively pleasant expression on her face. Her parents on the other hand smiled delightedly.

The carriage door opened, and the princess took a deep breath, bracing herself for the first sight of her betrothed in so many years.

Phillip was both exactly what she was expecting…and yet not. He was tall, dark-haired and handsome–which from the way he carried himself he was well aware of–but… There was something in his movements as he stepped down from the carriage and approached her and her parents that was almost…tentative. Was it possible he was actually as nervous about meeting her as she was him? Aurora saw his eyes straying to her many times, even as he bowed to her parents.

After greeting her father and mother, he moved to stand before her, flashing a confident grin, and perhaps, if she hadn't spoken to James before that might have been all she saw. But she looked closer, into his eyes, and saw something more.

She held her head high, still wary, but let her grip on her hands loosen and her jaw release, and gave him her hand when he reached for it.

"Princess Aurora, a pleasure." He bowed over her hand, a smirk playing at his lips, though the pain still lingered at the back of his eyes.

The blonde curtseyed. "Prince Phillip. It's been many years." She kept her voice neutral, not betraying a feeling one way or the other towards him.

"Please," King Stephan said jovially, "come inside and settle in! We have plenty of time to catch up over the next few days."

Phillip offered Aurora his arm; she looked down at it for a moment, taking a deep bracing breath before laying her hand on his arm and allowing him to escort her.

Imagining the image they must make, the two of them walking up the steps together, the princess of Glenbriar silently prayed that they could make this work. That she and Phillip could rule together amicably and have a good marriage.



It was a rare occasion indeed to see Liam wearing an expression that was anything less than amused or at least tinged with amusement, very little truly phased him. But this morning, staring at the letter in his hand he was distinctly surprised and actually ruffled by whatever it contained, and Belle secretly enjoyed being privy to this moment over their breakfast.

"May I ask who your letter is from?" she inquired politely.

"Queen Ruth," the general said after a beat, setting the parchment aside. "She's going to be passing through here tonight on her way to Seaside."

Belle's spoon paused just before her mouth. "Without the king?"

"Yes." He continued eating. "Hama is traveling with her here, I'll be joining her the rest of the way."

Thoughtfully, the librarian chewed the spoonful of fruit. "Did she say why she was making the journey?"

Liam shrugged a touch uneasily. "She made no mention of any reason beyond wanting to join her sons in a visit with relatives she hasn't seen in a long while."

The brunette watched the man she considered one of her brothers. He had been much quieter of late, introspective, as if there was a great deal weighing on his mind and he was trying to work through it all. It was so very uncharacteristic of him, an almost disturbing change.


Looking up, he gave a distracted, "Yes?"

"Are you all right?"

She could tell from his expression he was going to brush her off. "Truthfully."

His mouth snapped shut, watching her carefully for a moment. "Why do you ask?"

"You've been too quiet, so very preoccupied since before we left Everland." Her thumb rubbed the spine of Gaspard's book resting beside her hand. "I'm just worried with you being so out of form."

A smirk curved one corner of Liam's mouth. "I just have a lot to think about. A few things happened while I was in Everland and I just need to figure them out. I'm perfectly fine, Belle."

Finally with something to go on, she leaned forward. "Does it have to do with Red?"

"In part…" His expression took on a self-deprecating cast at her dubious look. "In large part," the general amended.

"Will I be gaining another new sister-in-law in the near future?"

That prompted the first full round of real laughter from him that Belle had heard in days. "I think I can safely answer yes to that…unless of course Red decides to be contrary, which she is apt to do."

Belle cocked an eyebrow. "You do realize how lucky you are that she even gives you the time of day, right?"

His expression sobered for once. "Don't worry, I'm fully aware that I don't deserve her."

The seriousness, with the faintest tinge of self-loathing, was so very foreign for him that it disturbed Belle in a ways that very little ever did.


Reaching over, he covered her hand with his, and grinned wryly. "Don't you worry, Belle, I'll be right back to form in no time."

She watched his hand slip away from her own. So much about him was…off. She hoped and prayed that he was right, that he would be back to himself in time.



"And here are the training grounds," Aurora said as she led Phillip into the open space. She was giving her betrothed a tour of Glenbriar at her father's insistence.

"Spend much time here?" There was a sarcastic lilt to his voice that had the princess narrowing her eyes.

"A little."

Before he could finish turning to face her Aurora had expertly drawn one of the swords from the rack and leveled it less than an inch from his Adam's apple. Eyebrows raised, his gaze slowly followed the blade up to her eyes.

The point unwavering, she shrugged. "All of my friends are skilled with weapons, they were insistent I be as well."

"You know, I just realized that a woman wielding a weapon is quite arousing."

With a disgusted scoff Aurora lowered and replaced the sword in the rack. "Are you really such a cad or are you just trying to get a rise out of me?"

"Keep playing with that sword and you'll get a rise out of me."

She glared at him. "Is it even remotely possible for you to not be crass?"

"I do have a reputation to maintain, sweetheart," Phillip stated with a smirk and careless shrug.

Crossing her arms, Aurora eyed him speculatively. "I'm curious about something."

"I believe there's a saying about that particular virtue being a feline' s doom."

Ignoring his flippant comment, she continued, "Why are you going along with this betrothal? We don't know each other and by all accounts I'm not the kind of woman that interests you."

The dark-haired prince gazed at her thoughtfully for a few moments. "Why are you going along with it?"

Annoyance pricked her at his turning the question around, but rather than picking a fight over it she shrugged uncomfortably and said, "My parents want it. It's a good match for the kingdom. And I don't have any other prospects really."

Philip tapped a finger on the hilt of his sword, she noted the similarity of the gesture to the one she'd seen in James.

"My father," he began slowly, apparently having decided what to say, "his health is...not the best. His physician, the staff and I try to curb his bad habits so as to prolong his life and improve his health, but he's very...resistant to the changes." His gaze cut to the side. "All he's ever wanted was to see me married, the kingdom secure, and–" He broke off, staring fixedly at something in the distance for long moments before his eyes returned to hers. "My father's dearest wish is to bounce his grandchildren on his knee. I want to give him that. And I need to do what is best for my kingdom." His mouth tightened momentarily into a thin, white line. "And I too have no other prospects."

There was only perhaps five feet of flat ground between them but it may as well have been a yawing chasm. Could they find enough common ground between them to bridge it?



Less than two days later and things had settled back into their old rhythm for Ella, back to her chores around the dwarfs' home and her own, helping out sometimes at the Inn or the castle. Today Snow was helping her with the chores that'd piled up with all of the goings-on for the funeral. The dwarfs of course hadn't said a word of complaint when their laundry and dishes and household cleaning fell to the wayside, but Ella still felt guilty and wanted to get things caught up finally.

She finished folding one of Bashful's shirts and looked up in time to see Snow, who was scrubbing the clothing on the washboard, press a weary hand to her forehead and sway slightly. "Snow!" The blonde hurried to her side, placing a steadying hand on her shoulder, worry clouding her expression.

The princess waved her off, though the smile she forced onto her face was wan. "I'm fine."

A scowl furrowed Ella's brow as she forcibly drew her friend away from the washtub and to a seat at the table. "No, you're not. You look like a light breeze could blow you over. Sit." She pushed Snow into the chair before heading over to one of the kitchen counters. "It is nearly lunch anyway." That wasn't wholly true; it would be a very early lunch.

Snow gave her a tired, but grateful smile. "Thank you. I'm actually starving."

A loaf of bread, cheeses and a bottle of wine had been set aside for the meal, Ella brought them over to the table, placing the food directly in front of Snow.

The princess' head reared back, hand clamped over her mouth, making a choking sound before bolting from the table and outside. Ella followed closely behind her with worried enquiries, the dark-haired woman barely made it to a tree a couple of yards from the house before throwing up. Snow continued to cough and gag for several moments longer after she'd emptied everything that had remained in her stomach. The blonde kept a grip on her friend's upper arms, trying to keep her upright, watching her with ever-growing concern.

Once Snow's heaving had ceased and she was breathing deeply, Ella led her back into the house, but the princess balked when her friend started directing her to sit at the table. The blonde didn't question it, instead getting her to a stool by the sink, she then ran a cloth under the water from the pump and filled a glass.

"Here." Ella handed her friend first the rag, so that she could wipe her mouth, and then the glass.

Snow took a mouthful, swished it around and then spat it back out into the sink, repeating the process two more times before actually swallowing any of the cool liquid. "Thank you," she murmured.

Ella rubbed the princess' shoulder. "Are you all right, Snow? Really?"

She slowly nodded. "Yes, it was just…one of the cheeses, the smell was so strong and it turned my stomach. I'm probably still just having a few issues recovering from the last few months."

A single blond eyebrow rose. "You mean from the way you completely ran yourself into the ground and beyond?"

Snow rolled her eyes, but smiled amusedly. "As you say."

"Here." Ella reached over, ripped off half of the loaf and handed it to her friend. "Eat this, slowly, and I'll make you some hot chocolate. It'll probably be easier on your stomach than the wine."

"Ella," she protested, "I don't want you to trouble yourself–"

"Snow, you're one of my dearest friends, ever," the blonde swiftly countered as she began the process of making the hot cocoa. "You would do exactly the same for me. Besides," she smirked at the princess, "do you think I want Red and Granny out for my blood?"

A soft laugh flowed from Snow, she gazed at her friend with a fond smile. "True… You are one of my dearest friends as well, Ella. I'm forever grateful to have met you and become friends. Thomas is a good man, I know you and he will be happy." A grin grew on her face. "And I will be very happy to get to call you sister."

The blonde's eyes flew wide, her mouth dropping open slightly. "I hadn't thought about that… I've never had a sister before, not a real one. My stepsisters weren't…"

Snow reached over, covering one of her friend's hands with her own. "The only sister I've ever had is Red…" She grinned broadly. "I'll be glad to call you such, not just of the heart but in actuality."

Ella pressed fingertips to her lips, the shimmer of tears in her eyes. "I really am going to have a family," she breathed.

Her new sister squeezed her hand. "Ella, you already have one."


The next day…

People, Liam mused inwardly, truly underestimated the will and cunning of a determined mother.

Ruth had arrived at Riverdon the previous evening and informed him that they would be leaving the following morning…and spending the night in Everland.

The general reminded the queen that the royal family was in mourning, as such she would not be able to stay in the castle, but she blithely responded that the inn would do perfectly well. Liam was fairly certain that Ruth was fully aware of how close Snow was to Red and Granny and the likelihood that she would be at the inn.

Yes, Queen Ruth was one of the canniest people Liam had ever known, and even though she was much smaller than he and hadn't any skill at fighting, the general was very scared of her.

Red's jaw dropped open as she saw him ride up in front of the inn, the Seaborn carriage right behind him.

"Liam!" She moved to meet him where he was dismounting, eyes going back and forth between him and the carriage. "What…?" Her question trailed off unasked, eyes flying wide as saucers when Ruth stepped out of the carriage. "Your Majesty!" She dropped into a curtsey. "We hadn't expected you."

The innkeeper's granddaughter's eyes cut to Liam who just shrugged helplessly.

Her concerns were waved aside with a smile. "I know. I'm not here in any official capacity. I'm only staying the night before continuing on to Seaside to join my sons."

The dark-haired woman swallowed. "Please, come in, we'll see you to your quarters." She bowed, gesturing for the queen to follow her.

The pub portion of the inn was closed, too late for lunch and not quite time for dinner, and the front rooms were empty.

"Red, what on Earth is all the commotion, girl?" Granny appeared from the kitchen, the moment she saw the queen her eyebrows shot up. Liam and Red wondered if she was going to say anything as scandalous as what she said to James the first time she met him. "Your Majesty." She executed the first curtsey Liam had ever seen or heard about from her.

Grandmother and granddaughter shared a glance that Liam wasn't able to read.

"The queen is seeking accommodations for the night." Red's interlocked fingers twisted back and forth.

A single grey eyebrow rose on Beatrix of Everbrooke's forehead. "We are honored to offer whatever hospitality we can, though our means are humble."

"I'm quite happy with whatever you have available." A warm smile lit the queen's features. "I was also hoping that I might impose on you to pass on my condolences to the royal family. I knew Lord Henry, he was a friend and I miss him."

Granny and Red shared another look.

"We'll…we'll let them–"

"Red. Granny."

Everyone looked up at the soft voice.

Princess Snow White–wearing a dress that was so dark that you almost couldn't call it green but black instead–stood in the now-open doorway to the kitchen, watching them all with a calm gaze. She looked better than when Liam last saw her, healthier, the dark circles under her eyes had faded to hardly more than faint smudges.

"It's all right," Snow told her grandmother and sister. She moved forward, stopping before the queen and dipping into a curtsey. "Your Majesty."

Ruth bowed her head. "Princess."

Granny's shrewd eyes flickered back and forth between the two royals. "There's no one in the kitchen right now, nor will anyone save us have any reason to enter any time soon."

Snow smiled and nodded her gratitude before turning back to the queen. "Your Majesty." She gestured toward the door.

"Thank you," Ruth said, nodding to her hostess before following Snow.

After the door closed, the remaining three stood in silence for several moments.

"I'm wondering if I should make some comment about this being highly irregular and completely against the rules of the mourning," Granny commented offhandedly.

Liam turned to her. "Instead, how about we all just sit down and have a drink…or ten."


Snow offered Ruth a seat at the table, which she accepted, and then moved over to the teapot sitting on the counter, she brought it to the kitchen table before retrieving two cups. They were silent while the princess poured them each a cup, it wasn't until they'd each taken a sip that they finally spoke.

"I love James," Snow said softly, staring down into her cup. "More than anyone in this world or any other."

Ruth smiled. "As he does you. I'm not here to judge your feelings, I just wanted to finally see you and speak with you properly. Preferably before my son proposes."

The princess lifted her eyes to her future mother-in-law. "I just…I just wanted to make sure that you knew how much I love him. How important he is to me."

The elder woman gazed at her watchfully. "James told you the truth of his paternity."

It wasn't a question but Snow still nodded.

"The love his father and I had for each other was true, deep and eternal. The way he looked at me is the same way James looks at you, or even when he's simply talking about you." Her eyes lit up with a warm smile. "And the same love is in your eyes."

Snow looked down, blushing, but Ruth placed a finger under her chin and lifted her face again.

"I have no doubts or worries about your feelings for my son, or his for you." She gently smoothed a thumb across her daughter-to-be's cheek. "You will be happy together."

Finally, with those words, the dark-haired woman's face relaxed into a smile.

"And you'll be wonderful parents."

The smile slipped, green eyes fell to the tabletop again.

Concern instantly flared within Ruth. "What is it?"

Snow clasped her hands around her cup tightly. "How can you know I'll be a good mother?" she questioned.

The queen's eyebrows flew up. "What?"

Slowly the princess turned the cup between her palms. "It's just… My-my mother…"

Understanding and compassion cleared the confusion. "You were…very young when she died."

With a glance into the accepting brown eyes of the woman she would soon call mother, Snow finally continued. "Aside from Granny and Hannah's guidance…I grew up–I grew up without a mother. How-how do you know I'm going to be a good mother if I haven't had one for most of my life?"

Ruth took Snow's hand in hers. "Because you want to be a good one, and you love wholly and deeply, just like my son." A bright smile curved her mouth. "And I'm a mother, so I know." She winked.

Snow didn't look really any more comforted.

The queen studied her closely. "Is there more?"

One slim, pale finger tapped the table softly, the young woman biting her lip fretfully. "What if…" Taking a deep breath she began again. "What if I can't have children?" Green eyes slowly lifted to meet brown. "My mother had difficulty becoming pregnant…and giving birth to her second child, who was stillborn, nearly killed her, and she died not long after of a broken heart."

Finally it all made sense to Ruth, all of her future daughter-in-law's anxiety. Snow knew how much James wanted children, she did as well, but what frightened her was not being able to give the man she loved the children they both wanted.

"My son would love you no matter what," Ruth told her firmly, keeping their eyes locked. "Even if you two could never have children he would want you and love you for all of your lives."

This seemed to give her some comfort, even garnering a small smile.

Ruth reached to the back of her neck, unclasping the necklace she wore. "My mother gave this to me when I was pregnant." She held the pendant up for Snow to see. "She said that a gypsy spelled it to be able to tell the sex of your first child, even before you conceive." She swung the pendent back and forth one direction. "North to south, it's a boy." Then she made it swing in the perpendicular direction. "East to west, a girl."

Snow's eyes had widened and she leaned forward more eagerly. "And…" her voice quavered a bit, "it works?"

The queen smiled at her reassuringly. "It did for me with my boys."

There was an aching longing in the young woman's face.

Ruth leaned forward conspiringly. "Why don't we try it, just between the two of us?"

Snow's expression was torn between nerves and longing, slowly she allowed her future mother-in-law to draw her hand to the middle of the table. It was shaking with terror, imagining, with startling clarity, the pendent hanging completely immobile above her hand and the stab of pain to follow at the sight. She nearly snatched her hand back as Ruth let the necklace dangle over her palm, but the queen held firm.

For interminable heartbeats there was no sound except the roaring in the princess' ears and then the sudden whoosh of the breath she hadn't realized she was holding escaping.

The silver pendent swung gently but definitively over her palm.

Lips trembling, Snow lifted her emerald eyes to meet Ruth's warm, happy ones.

"A girl," the queen told her.

"A girl." Snow's voice was choked with emotion, tears gathering in her eyes. "We're going to have a daughter."

Ruth lowered the necklace into the princess' palm, closing her fingers over it. "Yes. You are." She kept Snow's hand clasped in both of hers. "And you are going to be a wonderful mother."

The young woman's other hand rose to grip their already joined hands, tears of joy and relief finally slipping down her cheeks. "Thank you."


Seaside the next morning…

James might not have really been sleeping, more like lightly dozing, but that didn't mean he was pleased to be roused by a face full of fluttering feathers and persistent chirping.

"What the hell?" he groused, swiping his hand in front of his face, not actually hitting the bird that apparently decided to accost him so early that morning, but it did seem to drive the creature back.

Sitting up, he finally opened his eyes to find one of Snow's bluebirds staring up at him expectantly; it began twittering at him again once it saw that it had his attention.

Worry spiked through him. "Is something wrong?"

The bird chirped a couple more times before lifting off and dropping a letter into his lap and then flying out the window. He wasn't sure what to make of the animal's actions, it'd acted as if there was something urgent happening, but leaving so soon, without waiting for a response didn't seem like it was too worried. And James knew that some of his beloved's feathered friends were just naturally excitable.

He unfolded the letter, relief washing through him at the calm, even happy, flow of her script, betraying no agitation.

James wondered how sad it was that they couldn't seem to go one day without contacting each other. He'd received a letter from her yesterday morning in response to the one he'd sent after his nightmare. Her constant repetitions of her love for him had gone a long way toward soothing his heart and her offer to even be at the cabin the next day sent waves of warm affection through him. Then there was her postscript… He tried to forcibly turn his mind from it, though he wasn't entirely successful and images of Snow in his shirt, lying in bed–preferably with him–drifted through his mind pleasantly.

Forcing himself to focus on the letter in his hand, he began reading. In the first paragraph she responded to his last letter, letting him know that while she understood why they couldn't meet at the cabin yet she was anything but pleased. Gods, how James had wanted to just drop everything and meet her there, still did, but with his mother arriving today it wasn't possible for him to get away unnoticed. There had been few times in his life that he'd loathed his responsibilities more.

She reassured him that she was doing well–he intended to write Red or Ella to verify this statement–she did admit to keeping busy, but once again told him that her friends and the staff of the castle were making sure she got enough food and rest. The tone of her letter became stern, chastising him that if he was going to make sure she was taken care of from afar then he'd better be taking care of himself as well.

Laughter rumbled from him as Snow regaled him with Doc's latest invention-debacle–something called a blender, meant to be used in cooking–Ella had been less than amused with the results in her kitchen.

Her writing took on an excited note as she told him her father had sat out on his balcony for lunch yesterday. The first time he'd been out of bed since the illness, and that Doc had been very pleased with the progress, but they were all taking it very slow and being extremely cautious.

James was smiling as he read her closing statement of her love, and about to set the letter aside when writing on the back caught his eye. It was a post script that had his jaw dropping.

P.S. I adore your mother.


Yes, Snow IS pregnant. *plugs ears for the squealing and "I knew it"s* XD Now we just need Snow to find out and then tell Charming. ;-) Did you guys like Ruth and Snow's talk? It's one I've been excited to write for a long time, one of the scenes I've had in my mind for the longest. Thank you for reading, please let me know what you think! :-D

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