Chapter 23: Where There is an Ending, There's a Beginning…


Snow frowned from her perch at her bedroom window as she watched the steady stream of people arriving at the castle. Today of the End of Mourning ceremony and the thought that more people were here now than there'd been at Henry's funeral pricked her ire. She tried to reason with herself that it was to be expected when the Fall Equinox festival was taking place just a day later, but it still stung that people cared more about the party than the man.

Without a conscious thought, one hand began caressing slow circles over her abdomen.

"You should really try to be more careful about doing that."

The princess whipped around at the gentle chastisement.

Lucy bustled into the room, laying out the freshly-pressed dress Snow had selected to wear; the bright white fabric—the first chance she was getting to wear her trademark color since the mourning began—would be shrouded under the gray cloak for the ceremony and revealed for the celebration afterward.

Snow snatched her palm away from her stomach, cheeks coloring slightly. "I know," she admitted, "especially with all of the other nobles here."

The maid gave her an understanding, but firm smile. "And wouldn't do to stir up any rumors at this point, there will be plenty of that later on." Slight humor entered her eyes, causing Snow to have to bite back a laugh, so grateful that her maid and friend was among those who knew about her pregnancy.

"True," the dark-haired woman acknowledged with a grin. "James and I are certainly going to be stirring things up."

Lucy nodded. "Indeed. You just keep your sense of humor, mistress," she advised as she pulled the cloak out of the armoire. "No matter what those nasty biddies say."

Snow did her best to ignore the unpleasant clenching of her stomach, knowing that Lucy was right about the gossips when they found out about her pregnancy. Humor would be the best way to handle them, and really there was nothing else she could do once it started. She gave her maid a tight smile and firm nod before turning to the dress and rubbing the fabric between her fingers, a happy grin overtaking her expression. The dress was one of her favorites and one she knew Charming liked on her.

"It will be good to see you back in white, princess," Lucy told her, grinning broadly. "It suits you so well." A sly smile grew on her face and she winked, saying, "And I know that Prince James likes you in white very much."

The princess turned and playfully swatted the other woman who just continued to give her a grin that would do the Cheshire Cat proud.


"Prince James."

James was dismounting Cain when the cheerful greeting reached him; he turned to find Ella descending the stairs to the main entrance, grinning as she gave him a curtsey—there were other nobles around so she was observing the proper etiquette more than she normally would.

He returned the smile fully, bowing his head respectfully to her. "Mistress de Barbarrac."

She turned her attention to Liam. "General," she greeted him with a nod of her head, which he returned.


Ella returned her gaze to James. "Your brother arrived with Mistress Belle an hour ago, we made sure to place your rooms near each other." She gestured for him to follow her up the stairs.

"Thank you." James and Liam nodded their thanks to the stable hands who led their horses off and the footmen who took their belongings.

Once in the main hall, staff members greeted the prince and general with a restrained familiarity, a few stopping Ella to speak to her briefly about some matter or other. Finally they were making their way up the stairs and down a familiar hallway, the same one they'd stayed in their last visit…not far from Snow's quarters.

James eyed the direction Snow's room lay longingly, mentally wondering if he could possibly manage to slip away to her.

"Don't even think about it, Prince Charming," a brash voice called out from the other end of the hall.

He whipped around to see Red striding towards them, a quelling eyebrow raised and a smirk on her lips as she planted her hands on her hips.

"You'll see her soon enough. The mourning is enforced only until sunset, then you can be with your princess to both of your hearts' content."

Liam snickered beside him, ducking the absent swat James sent his direction.

Ella stood with her arms crossed and a smirk very similar to Red's aimed at him. The prince could hardly recognize the quailing, sooty, beaten girl he'd first met on the streets of Riverdon in the confident, glowing blonde before him now.

With a long-suffering eye roll, James turned to his own door. "You're both beyond cruel."

Snorts of laughter followed him into his room.


Ella tossed Red and Liam a grin before striding off, likely to find her own prince. The couple watched her until she disappeared around the corner. Liam then tilted his head at his room as he opened the door, Red nodded and followed him inside.

The moment the door was shut, she wasn't surprised to find her back pressed against it and Liam's lips on hers. Red wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him even closer to her as they devoured each other. Oh, how they both wanted to take this further but there wasn't really time right now; they'd have to wait until after the ceremony. But for a few minutes at least…

Finally, Red very reluctantly pulled her mouth away from Liam's, pushing him gently back. "I have to get back to the kitchen and then head over to the mausoleum to help with the preparations for the actual ceremony."

Liam groaned, pressing his facing into the joint of her neck and shoulder, then he heaved a sigh, pressed a kiss to her neck and grudgingly pulled away. He took Red's hand and led her over to the fireplace where a large blaze had been laid, both of them taking a seat in the chairs before the flames. "How have things been here?"

"Snow handled the wait probably better than I did, but the difference after she received James' note is obvious." Gazing at the fire, a soft loving smile curved her mouth speaking of her sister. "She's been on cloud nine ever since, and dying for this day to arrive." Red turned her eyes to Liam. "I haven't seen her so happy and excited since…well…possibly ever. Not even in that other life."

He nodded slowly. "James has been much the same since Abigail and Midas agreed to break things off. I don't think the smile has fully left his face in days."

A grin overtook Red's expression. "I just…can't help thinking that…maybe this new life we're living and all the good we've had is perhaps some reward or form of apology from whatever higher powers there are out there."

Liam shrugged, a matching smile tugging at his lips. "I don't know if I believe in any sort of deities or greater powers, but…I'm definitely not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'm just going to enjoy the good as it comes."


The sun was creeping towards the horizon as the townspeople and guests gathered on the steps below the palace, waiting for the royal family to arrive and begin the procession to the mausoleum for the ceremony. At first glance one could hardly tell the difference between commoner and noble in the sea of grey hooded cloaks, but upon closer inspection there was a clear divide of thin and tattered as opposed to thick and sumptuous. But every pair of hands held a white candle which would be lit during the ceremony.

Friends and family clustered close together in the space, both for company and comfort. That held doubly true for those closest to Snow: James, Ella, Thomas, Aurora, Eric, Granny and Belle had found each other almost immediately and remained in a tight group. Granny had informed the rest that Red and Gaspard had gone ahead to the mausoleum because they would be performing the music for the ceremony.

The heavy, ornate doors creaking open drew the attention of the entire crowd; three cloaked and hooded figures stepped out, two hovering on either side of the third, King Leopold, partially supporting his weight as they slowly descended the steps. The shortest of the trio turned their head slightly in James and the others' direction, a long dark curl escaping the confines of the hood. A small smile lifted James' lips. Snow.

The trio moved to the head of the path where the priest awaited them, the crowd trailing behind as the royal family and priest led the way to the mausoleum. Silence reigned, save for a few innocent whispered questions from young children, immediately hushed by parents with promises to explain after the ceremony. The mausoleum rose before them, white and austere with a few candles flickering in the fading daylight. Snow, Leopold and Regina took up their places on its steps with the priest; the rest of the crowd moved to stand in a large semi-circle before them with a small grouping of musicians, including a piano at which, it appeared by the cane leaning against it and tall form on the bench, Gaspard sat, off to the side.

The priest began the ceremony with words of healing and remembrance of the dead while still moving forward in their lives. A few more prayers and words of encouragement were offered up and then Snow stepped forward, Red's fingers plucking the strings of her guitar, making notes flow out slow and easy. After a visibly deep breath, the princess began to sing.

James didn't recognize the song; a calm, soothing tune with Snow's voice weaving through and between the instruments being played with a careful carelessness. The lyrics asked why, why this person was taken, and expressed feeling at a loss of where to go from here. Snow sang of reaching for others, not being alone; of keeping that person with them while continuing on and that eventually the pain would fade. At one point her voice dropped away and the crowd quietly hummed and wordlessly vocalized along with the instruments as they began to turn to each other, lighting one another's candles. Belle touched her wick to his, passing him the flame, which he then turned and did for Thomas. When he turned back it was to see Snow cradling her own lit candle which cast soft light across her face, turning the tear tracks on her cheeks a shimmering silver; her green eyes were already on his and she offered him a small soft smile.

Finally the crowd went still, candles flickering all around and their voices fading as Snow took up the refrain one last time before trailing off into silence. Then the royal family all turned and moved to the steps of the mausoleum, placing their candles upon them before turning and walking away toward the castle courtyard.

James longed to follow her immediately but he heeded the firm grip Aurora took on his arm and allowed her and the others to lead him up to the steps where he and the rest of the attendees set their candles around Snow, Regina and Leopold's. It struck James in that moment that this really was the end…this was the last goodbye to Henry, the man whom he'd called a friend, who'd been the first one to truly encourage him to pursue Snow for the sake of his own heart and hers. Setting down the candle, James murmured, "I'll love her always, and take care of her all of my days, I swear it." He pressed a hand to the cool marble. "Goodbye, my friend."

After the attendees had placed their candles they turned and headed in the direction that the royal family had gone. Once they were a pace away from the sacred grounds voices began to drift among the group slowly growing the closer they got to where James assumed the celebration would be. Hoods were quickly lowered and most began to remove their cloaks entirely, the mood shifting from somber to anticipatory.

A bonfire set the courtyard ablaze along with the dozens of colored lanterns scattered throughout, and long tables that groaned under the weight of the food atop them. Somehow most of the band had already made their way here and some were tuning up again, preparing to play more music. Another piano had been set up here and Gaspard was already moving to sit at it, making a low comment to Red that had her tossing her head back with laughter.

James' eyes found Snow with unerring accuracy. She was radiant. In the same glowing white dress she'd worn to the village's Spring Equinox festival, the high waist and loose skirt hiding any possible hint of her pregnancy; long, dark curls tumbling freely about her shoulders with a few Lacrimae woven into the locks. A brilliant smile lit her face as she spoke animatedly with the tailor, Daniel, and his wife and children, teasingly bopping little Sophie on the nose and tickling the baby's chubby cheek. She was vibrant, vivacious and brighter than the sun itself.

Seeming to sense his gaze on her, Snow turned, and the moment her eyes met his her grin became even more dazzling if it was possible. She excused herself from the family, the parents bestowing knowing smiles upon her and James, and then made her way to him as quickly as she could without drawing too much attention or appearing too improper… Which she then shot to hell by all but diving into his arms, a delighted laugh escaping her as they held each other tightly.

James chuckled as he swayed her from side to side, delighting in the feeling of her against him. "I hope you weren't hoping for things about us to remain quiet for any longer. The court is now abuzz."

She tipped her head back to meet his gaze, still remaining in his arms. "We've had to keep things quiet for too long as it is. I'm done with subtle and quiet and proper."

"Good," he grinned down at her, "so am I." And with that, James pressed his lips against hers.

They broke apart enough to look over at the snort of laughter that sounded beside them. Their friends were watching with varying levels of amusement and approval.

"Well, done," Aurora informed them, smirking. "You've now gotten every single tongue in court wagging and completely compromised each other."

The couple grinned at her unrepentantly.

"Well, then," James began, "I guess we'll have to do something about that very soon."

Snow turned her gaze back to him. "That sounds like a very good plan to me. But first, Charming…" she pulled away and tugged on his hand, "you're going to dance with me and celebrate my grandfather's life."

He willingly followed her, grinning like a fool. "As you wish, Princess."

The group watched their friends head out to where others had begun to dance to the music.

"They're so in love with each other it's either adorable or just sickeningly sweet," Aurora commented amusedly.

"And they never change," Liam inputted.

There were rolled eyes and murmurs of humored agreement as they all headed off either to dance, eat or socialize. It would be a while before any of them realized the tense that Liam had used, though most just shook it off, however, Gaspard silently filed it away to examine later.


Biting her lip, Belle slowly glided over to where Gaspard sat at the piano, his long, strong fingers caressing the keys, drawing out a sweet, rolling tune. Even though she stood behind him and her footsteps had been nigh on soundless under all the noise around them, Belle knew that he knew she was there. "I didn't know you knew how to play," she remarked quietly.

Not fumbling a note, Gaspard shifted on the bench in an obvious invitation for her to sit beside him, which she accepted, leaving enough space between them to not interfere with his playing. "My mother loved music." The king watched his own hands as they danced along the ivory and ebony keys. "She had me in dancing lessons as soon as I could walk…" She could see the muscles playing in his jaw and lay a hand softly on his bicep, feeling the tension drain out of him at her touch. "After the accident, I couldn't dance anymore, but my mother…she'd played piano all her life so…I took it up…in her memory at first, but then I realized that I enjoyed playing simply because I liked it… And it makes me feel…closer to her."

Smiling softly up at him, Belle's brown eyes gazed into his with an intensity that took his breath away as she rubbed her palm up and down his arm. "I think that she would be very proud of you. Both of them would be."

Gaspard read in her gaze and tone that she wasn't just talking about his skill at the piano, a lump formed in his throat and his heart squeezed painfully. He tore his gaze from hers and back to the keys, trying to blink away the pricking at the behind his eyes; Gaspard was infamous for his control, the mask he'd perfected over the years never slipping, never revealing his emotions—he was a master at it. But Belle…she just got past every defense and somehow melted that famed control into nothing. He was a king, and for all how few his years were he was one of the most respected and even feared monarchs in the realm. Yet this tiny slip of a woman could reduce him to feeling like a callow youth with her mere presence, and it should bother him…but it didn't.

As he finished the song he'd been playing he shifted into another, glancing up at Red who nodded and soon followed. Gaspard softly began to sing.

Belle's breath caught. Gaspard had read to her many times and they'd had countless conversations; she loved his voice—the deep, smooth, velvety tone—but it was quite possible she loved his singing voice even better. He sang of things and feelings that he didn't fully understand, but wanted to, and was more than willing to explore and figure out. His words and intent gaze on her had Belle's heart skittering, question and tentative hope in his eyes.

Swallowing, hardly able to breathe around the anticipation rising in her own chest, she shifted her hand from resting against his bicep to curve around it, leaning fully against him and pressing her cheek to his shoulder. Whatever tension had returned to his frame evaporated instantly, and during a break in the lyrics he brushed his lips against the crown of her head.

Belle's eyes slipped closed, a smile curving her mouth.


Thomas wasn't sure when the last time was that Ella wore a grin so broad as the one on her face now, watching all of their friends while he twirled her in his arms. Though truthfully he couldn't blame her, he hadn't been so happy and content in far too long, not only with his own life and relationship with Ella, but also seeing many of those they cared about most in such good places as well.

Goofy, love-struck grins hadn't left James and Snow's faces since the princess had dived into his arms, the two flashing Thomas and Ella delighted smiles whenever they passed them on the dance floor. Liam nearly had Red in his lap while she sat playing her guitar, the two of them constantly exchanging teasing smiles and whispers. Belle…lovely, sweet and, until recently, so very withdrawn Belle, was glowing, pressed against Gaspard's side and laughing at some comment Aurora made. And Eric and Aurora, for all the issues that prevailed in their respective personal and love lives were throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the joyous celebration.

For the joy on Belle's face alone Thomas could've worn a face-splitting grin, how happy he was to see the woman he loved as a sister so elated! Though at the same time a swell of overprotectiveness overtook him, eyeing the young king, he'd be leering of any man around their Belle, but King Gaspard, while honorable, certainly had a formidable reputation… Thomas resolved to get to know him better.

This night was a release from the long-standing tensions, worries, and grief that'd been dogging them all for months. Not everything was entirely resolved yet for any of them, but many things had been placed back on course or onto an even better one, and although they all still missed Henry now was the time to recount stories about him, to laugh over the jokes he told, and share wisdom he'd passed on.

"We're all going to be all right, aren't we?"

Thomas looked at his beloved questioningly.

Ella shrugged, biting her lip. "I mean…whatever happens, whatever comes our way, we're going to handle it. All of us, together." Her lips curved hesitantly. "As one big family."

A soft, understanding, and loving grin lifted his mouth as he glanced around at their family, by both the blood of the covenant and the water of the womb. "Yeah…I really think that we will." The prince looked back down into the blonde's eyes and reached up to stroke her cheek. "You're never going to be alone, ever again, Ella. None of us will."

Ella had heard similar things over the last several months, ever since she first met Thomas, Snow, and James, but somehow until this moment it hadn't fully settled, part of her had been waiting for the next shoe to drop. For her to wind up discarded and alone in a cruel world again. Maybe that shoe would drop, maybe bad things were ahead, but now…now she was ready. Now she knew that they could all handle it, that she would have people by her side who, when she couldn't do it alone would be there to help her. She'd ridden through this harder time with them, had gone through the pain with them, and now come out on the other side to the joy. And they'd all made it together.

A broad smile spread across her face as she curled in closer to Thomas, resting her head on his shoulder as they continued to dance. "I know."

Thomas suddenly lifted his head and looked around in confusion. "Where's James and Snow?"

A poorly-disguised as-a-cough laugh escaped Ella, her mouth fighting the smirk tugging at the corners of her lips. "I'm trying not to think about it.


The moment Snow's bedchamber door was closed and locked behind them, James dropped to his knees before her and pressed his lips to her stomach. "Hey, sweetheart. I missed you and your mommy so much."

Running her fingers through his hair and blinking rapidly to try and keep tears at bay, Snow grinned down at him, listening to him talk to their child.

"I'm sorry I had to be gone for so long, I'll try never to be away from either of you that long again if I can do anything to prevent it." His palms caressed her sides.

A contented sigh slipped from Snow as her eyes slid shut; how she loved hearing him talking to their daughter like this.

"Now, sweet girl, I have a very important question for your mommy, if we can have a moment."

Snow froze at his words, breath catching in her throat as her eyes snapped open to stare wide-eyed at her beloved.

James gazed up at her lovingly, reaching into his doublet right over by his heart, and pulling out his mother's ring.

She clapped a hand over her mouth as a gasp escaped, tears welling in her eyes. Snow had known that James would ask her and that it would be within the next few days, but she hadn't expected this very moment…

"Snow White…will you marry me?" he softly implored, holding the ring out to her.

Unable to speak in the moment, she extended her left hand. Any tension in James' frame dropped away as he slid the ring up her finger to rest snugly at the first knuckle, fingertips leisurely caressing over the one he'd just adorned. A perfect fit.

Snow furiously blinked back tears, swallowing the breathless giggle bubbling up her throat. Here they were, standing in her childhood bedroom, clothing rumpled and hair tousled from whirling around the dance floor the moment he proposed; by Court standards it was unromantic at best and an unforgivable faux pas at worst, but Snow couldn't imagine anything more perfect.

She gazed at the lovely, simple ring on her hand, sighing in utter and complete contentment. Still forcing back tears, Snow lowered her eyes to her Charming. "What do you think?" she finally answered, voice thick.

A brilliant smile breaking across his face, James was on his feet in an instant, pulling her into his arms to press his grinning lips to hers and lifting her off her feet to spin them around.

They drew apart just far enough to look at each other.

"Did you really doubt my answer, Charming?" Snow questioned, an impish gleam in her eyes. Squealing in surprise and delight, she found herself swept into James' arms bridal style.

"With you, Princess," he commented, smirking down at her wryly, "I wouldn't be surprised if you decided not to give me an answer until I 'convinced' you."

She laughed breathlessly, brushing her lips against his and enjoying the way his step faltered slightly. "Charming, I fully expect you to 'convince' me that I've given the right answer."

James followed her down onto her bed, lips never leaving hers. "Oh, I'll be very, very convincing," he murmured against her mouth. He eagerly swallowed the helpless, joyful giggles that bubbled past his fiancée's lips.

Their fingers fumbled between them as they rid themselves and each other of their clothes as quickly as possible, neither in the mood to draw things out after everything. Snow pushed against his shoulder once they were both bare, rolling him over so that she sat astride him. She grinned coyly down at her prince, dark curls tumbling over her shoulders and palms running up and down his chest.

James slid his palms up her thighs and along her sides to just below her breasts. He studied her body, taking in the changes. He cupped her hips in his hands comparing the breath of them, the slight widening of them to carry their baby. The slightest curve to her stomach, the skin growing tauter where their daughter was growing. His palms ran back up to her chest to cup her breasts, which he'd already noticed had started to swell earlier when she was in her dress, the bodice only just barely fitting over them, and soon she wouldn't be able to wear that dress at all. His thumbs circled her darkened nipples, drawing a sharp gasp from her. James loved to see the way her body was changing with her pregnancy, it never ceased to amaze him that his child grew within her. The awe only grew now that the woman he loved would be both the mother of his child and his wife.

Snow arched up into his touch, gazing down at him pupils blown wide, rocking her hips against his and dragging her wet folds along his hard length. "I want to ride you like this," she whispered, hands braced low on his stomach.

A harsh groan escaped him at her husky words, hands tightening on her breasts. "Whatever you want."

Grinning, she leaned down, kissing him and swirling her tongue along his. She put a little bit more weight on her palms and shifted her hips, levering herself up and then slowly lowering onto him, letting out a soft, breathy moan as he filled her.

James sucked in a breath at the feeling, hips arching up into her. "Gods, Snow."

Her muscles fluttered around him, clenching him in the best possible way.

"You feel amazing like this," she gasped, slowly rising on her knees, panting at the feel of him sliding out of her before she dropped back down onto him.

He thrust up in time with her, one hand gripping her hip while the other captured her left hand, pulling it up to press his lips to their ring. Snow grinned down at him, lacing her fingers through his as she rocked against him, faster and faster.

"This is really happening," she murmured, holding up their joined hands, the ring glinting in the flickering candlelight. "We're really engaged. We're really going to get married…"

James grinned at the soft wonder in her breathless voice, understanding exactly how she felt and nodding. "Yes, yes, we are."

Joyful laughter bubbled from her as she leaned down to kiss him, mouth already open as it met his, their tongues stroking and dancing while she undulated above him. At this angle her muscles clenched him so much tighter, drawing a groan from James, his hips rolling harder against hers on the next thrust.

Snow tore her lips from his with a gasp as he ground against her sensitive core. "Charming!"

One of her hands flew out to brace herself on the headboard, panting as she pressed against him as much as she could. Her breasts were inches from James's lips like this and he couldn't have resisted if he'd wanted to. He leaned forward, closing his mouth around her nipple and sucking on it. Snow cried out, back arching into his ministrations, hips bucking into him desperately and nails digging into his shoulder.

James watched her through heavy-lidded eyes, every time they were together Snow seemed to become more and more uninhibited in their lovemaking. He pulled his knees up enough that he could dig his heels into the mattress for leverage to thrust into her harder and deeper, and her inner muscles fluttered around him, drawing a long, low groan from his lips. "Snow…"

"More," Snow gasped out the demand as she arched her back, pressing her breast harder to his mouth and grinding her hips more into his with a shudder.

James captured the hand gripping his shoulder and gently pried it off, directing it up to the headboard, near her other hand, instead. Snow was panting, gazing down at him with hooded eyes as he slid his hands along her body to her hips, using his hold to bring them together even harder.

The next thrust had her throwing her head back with a loud, keening cry. "Please! James!"

Releasing her nipple, he kissed his way to her other breast, drawing that nipple into his mouth, sucking on it and scraping his teeth over it.

"Charming!" she screamed, body clamping down on his and sending him over the edge with her.

James tore his mouth from her breast with a harsh shout, his head smacking back into the pillows.

Both of them collapsed to the bed moments later, completely replete, panting in each other's arms.

Snow curled up on top of him with a satisfied sigh, head on his chest and an arm slung over his waist.

James, keeping one arm around her, shifted just enough to draw the blankets over them, both shivering from how overstimulated their climaxes had left them. He held her tight to him, pressing a soft kiss to her temple. "I love you, Snow."

"Hmm…" A sweet smile curved her mouth, left hand lazily tracing his chest and ring softly glinting in the sparse candlelight. "Love you too, Charming…my soon-to-be-husband."

Everything in him simultaneously went still and thrilled at the word "husband." "Snow White, my soon-to-be-wife." His eyes slid shut as he nuzzled the mass of curls at her crown.


They were woken the next morning by insistent tapping on the door, both of them jerking upright in bed, eyes wide.

"Who is it?" Snow called out, voice more than a little high pitched.

"It's Lucy, mistress. I brought you some breakfast."

Snow immediately scrambled out of bed, nearly sprawling on the floor as she got tangled in the sheets. "Just a minute!" She waved an arm at James, mouthing at him to "get down" as she pulled on her robe.

James, in his hurry to duck out of sight, did fall on the floor with a thump loud enough to have Snow wincing. He then pressed himself against the side of her bed furthest from the door, shoving himself so close that he was half under the bed.

Once she was sure Charming wasn't visible, Snow cracked the door open enough to see her maid. "Thank you, Lucy." She reached out to accept the rather suspiciously full tray—asking herself why wasn't she more disturbed by the fact that most of the castle knew she had her fiancé in her bed?

A secretive smile curving her lips, the younger woman bobbed a curtsey. "You're welcome, Your Majesty." She then turned and headed down the hall.

The dark-haired princess closed the door and locked it before heading over to the bed just in time to see Charming rising from the other side, doing up the fastening of his britches, and moving to take the heavy tray from her. "So how do you feel about most of the staff and all of our friends knowing exactly where you spent your night and what we were doing?" she asked dryly.

James froze, eyebrows relocating to his hairline. "What?"

Snow looked pointedly at the tray in his hands. "I might be eating for two, but I don't eat anywhere near this much food, James."

He followed her gaze to the tray, taking it in and realizing that it was a great deal of food, slowly Charming lifted his eyes sheepishly to hers. "Right." Clearing his throat, he followed her back to her bed. "So…pretty much everyone knows?" And if that wasn't both disturbing and embarrassing…

His beloved shrugged at she climbed back onto the mattress, legs curled under her, watching as he set the tray on the quilt and then settled in beside her against the headboard. "Not exactly. Our friends definitely know. Probably the majority of the staff too…" Pink tinged her cheeks at that. "But none of the nobles, and definitely not my father or stepmother." She lifted one of the two—there was absolutely no chance that Lucy didn't know Charming was in her room—bowls of oatmeal, spooning some cream and blueberries into it.

James grimaced as he lifted the tea pot, pouring them each a cup of chamomile. "And all of them know that you're…?"

"Mm hmm." She noded, torn between the joy of her pregnancy and the embarrassment that so many knew they'd gotten pregnant before they were even engaged, but thank the gods they were all so accepting of it.

Once he'd handed her a cup of tea, James lifted his own bowl of oatmeal, thoughtfully spooning some brown sugar into it. "How will most of the kingdom respond to us conceiving before we're engaged?"

Snow gulped down the sip she'd taken. "There will be some scandal, mostly among the more conservative types, who are in the minority in Everland." She distracted herself by popping a pear slice into her mouth. "My great-great grandmother had her daughter out of wedlock and she never married and never told anyone who the father was."

James' eyebrows shot up. "And…there wasn't any…issue with succession?"

She shook her head, lips quirking. "A few nobles tried to protest but after her father and mother announced their approval of my great grandmother being next in line after their daughter that more or less silenced any protests." Her eyes sparkled at him with humor. "We're rather liberal in our views here, I'm not sure if you've noticed," she gently teased him.

He gave a snort of laughter. "No, not at all."

A soft laugh escaped her before she continued. "We're actually more a matriarchy than a patriarchy here. We've had more crowned queens than kings. Though it's always been whomever was firstborn, male or female, that inherited the throne, unless the heir abdicated. And in most instances both the queen and prince consort, or king and queen held nearly equal standing."

This was radical thinking compared to many of the other kingdoms, some of which could barely even conceive of a woman inheriting the throne, though those were fewer now. "Well, with the legend of your origin it really does make sense that women would be regarded more equally than in other kingdoms," James commented, remembering when she told the story to him not long after they'd first met—had it really only been six months since then? "Basing your foundation on a goddess rather than a god."

She nodded, eating a spoonful of her oatmeal. "According to legend, after the moon goddess' daughter, Ever's, adopted parents passed she inherited the throne, so precedent was set for women taking the throne. My father was the first crowned king in over a dozen generations."

James frowned in curiosity. "Why so many?"

Snow grinned, mischief bright in her eyes. "Girls are more common than boys in my family, especially among the firstborns."

Laughter lit his own eyes. "So, what you're telling me is that I should expect several of our children to be girls? Beautiful, green-eyed, mischievous girls who are going to give me heart attacks?"

At her almost gleeful nod he let out an exaggerated groan.

Snow giggled, leaning over and kissing him on the cheek. "It'll be good for you, keep you on your toes. And don't worry," she pat the spot she'd kissed, "we'll have at least one son."

James tossed her a smirk. "Somehow I'm not wholly reassured by that."

Grinning, his fiancée—and did it ever feel good to finally be able to officially use that title—kissed his cheek again before returning to her meal.

They ate quietly for a few moments before James cleared his throat, prompting Snow to raise her head and look at him.

"So…how should we tell your father and Regina?"


Two hours later, Snow knew that her father and Regina would be having breakfast in the king's quarters; her father's still weak health and her stepmother still so deeply mourning her own father driving them both to seek as much solitude as they could.

After finishing their own breakfast, James had carefully snuck out of her room and back to his own where he cleaned up and changed while Snow did the same. About an hour later, when Snow had told him to, he returned to her room. She stepped out in a high-waisted, flowing dress he'd never seen before, the style and cut not one he was familiar with but it appeared to be one meant to better accommodate her advancing pregnancy, while also not making it obvious.

He grinned at her. "You're gorgeous," he told her, twining her fingers with his and lifting them to his lips to kiss her ring.

Snow beamed up at him. "Flattery will get you everywhere, Charming."

James leans in to teasingly whisper in her ear, "Promise?"

With a choked laugh, his fiancée swatted his chest. "Charming!" The humor started to fade from her expression, biting her lip as nerves overtook her. "Are we ready for this?"

Slowly he drew in a deep breath, giving her hand a supportive squeeze. "No, but I don't think we ever will be."

"Right…" Snow sighed before taking a bracing breath herself. "All right, let's go."

They saw very few people in the halls along the way, all of them staff members, most of the nobles were likely either down having breakfast in the main hall or not even awake yet. Finally the couple arrived at the king's quarters.

Swallowing hard, it took a moment before Snow was able to knock on the door, her taps likely just barely loud enough to be heard on the other side.

"Come in," Regina's voice rang out from within.

Glancing at each other, seeking support and reassurance, the couple pushed the door open and stepped inside.

Leopold and Regina sat at the breakfast table banked by windows.

"Snow. Prince James." The king's eyebrows rose for moment before a knowing glimmer entered his gaze. "To what do we owe the pleasure?"

Snow gripped James' hand in both of hers, nervously twisting their fingers, joy and anxiety warring inside her. She was so unsure as to how to announce this, her eyes went to James for help but he just smiled at her and nodded to urge her on. She took a deep breath then turned back to her father and stepmother. "James asked me to marry him and I said yes," Snow blurted out in a rush, her teeth capturing her lower lip and worrying it as she awaited their response.

Regina's eyes silently went from the couple to her husband.

Leopold looked thoroughly unsurprised, eyes turning to James. "Midas?"

The prince nodded, hand tightening on Snow's. "I broke with him and Abigail before I came here, it was amicable." He didn't even realize it as he held his breath.

Slowly a warm smile curved the king's mouth. "Well then," he started pushing himself to his feet, Regina instantly there to help him, before walking towards them, "congratulations are in order."

"Father!" Snow cried happily, rushing forward to meet him halfway and hugging him carefully but ecstatically.

The relieved breath whooshed out of James, leaving him nearly lightheaded as he accepted the formal kisses to his cheeks and congratulations that Regina bestowed upon him. Leopold then moved to his side, grasping his hand with surprising firmness and meeting the younger man's gaze levelly. "Love her and make her happy, that's all I ask."

A sound of protest left Snow and she rolled her eyes, but James met his future father-in-laws eye seriously. "I will, as long as I live and beyond."

Another smile creased Leopold's face. "Then I look forward to you joining our family."

"Thank you." James grinned brilliantly.

"We shall announce your engagement tonight at the gala," Leopold announced eagerly to them both before turning his attention to the prince. "How do you wish to inform your parents?"

The fair-haired man glanced down at his newly-betrothed regretfully, seeing her own wistful expression; they'd discussed this over breakfast, along with how—and what—to tell her father and stepmother. "I'm planning on returning home tomorrow. I would prefer to tell my parents in person about our engagement before the rumor mill has the chance to bring it to them."

The king nodded, his expression showing that he thought this the best choice.

James cleared his throat before continuing. "I was hoping that Snow, yourself and Queen Regina, along with any party you wished to bring, would come to Seaborn five days later for the official announcement there."

Snow's eyes went to the king and queen with bated breath.

Leopold's eyebrows rose in surprise at the short time-frame.

Regina, studying him closely, commented, "That's very soon. Are you sure your mother and father will agree?"

Blue eyes met green, and one corner of his mouth tugged upward. "My mother will be thrilled to have you and my father will be…amenable to it."

Leopold glanced at Regina, who went still for a moment, but then nodded; the king turned back to his son-in-law-to-be with a smile. "We would be glad to accept your invitation."

James turned to his fiancée, grinning brilliantly, she eagerly stepped into his arms, expression as bright as his. It was happening. Their hopes were coming to fruition.


After speaking with her father and Regina, Snow and James had gone to share the news with their friends as well; there was no surprise but there was much joy. Hugs, handshakes and congratulations were showered upon the newly-engaged couple; Granny had even pulled out two bottles of her famous berry wine that she only made two bottles of a year, saving them for special occasions. Sitting in the Inn's kitchen, the hodgepodge group of royals, commoners, humans, werewolves and dwarfs toasted to the happy news. Laughter and good-natured ribbing followed over lunch and well into the preparations for the equinox celebration.

With the end of mourning ceremony being the day before it had been decided that rather than holding the usual ball for the nobility, they would instead just combine it with the village's celebration. A few of the nobles had been complaining amongst themselves about not getting a "proper" equinox celebration, but those nobles quite quickly found themselves shunned once the king of Rosewood and the crowned heirs of Seaborn, Glenbriar, Seaside and Riverdon made their displeasure with them clear.

The villagers eagerly stepped up to help the castle staff with the cooking and decorating, setting up the field just outside the main gates of the castle, including a temporary wood dance floor and area for a band. Everyone was doing what they could to make things easier for the royal family, and amongst the townsfolk and the castle staff word quickly spread about the engagement, many giving the couple knowing grins as they passed, enjoying being in on the surprise that the nobility wouldn't be told until that evening.

"So, what's the story about the ring?" Aurora questioned, weaving the last of the Lacrimae into Snow's hair.

Red, Ella and Belle both turned from their own preparations, curiosity coloring their faces as well.

"What do you mean?" The dark-haired princess tilted her head back enough to see her friend.

"Well, it suits you so well, but," the blonde lifted her friend's hand to look closer at the ring, "this is certainly not the ring usually expected for royalty." There was no judgement in her voice, just curiousity.

Snow drew her hand back in front of her, smiling warmly down at it and rubbing her thumb over the gem. "It's an heirloom, passed on to him by his mother." Her smile widened to a grin. "He said that Ruth told him that true love follows this ring, and that's why he gave it to me."

Red chuckled, giving her sister a smirk as she braided Belle's hair. "Yeah, that's perfect for you two."

Ella moved over to teasingly crown Red with a Lacrimae circlet. "When will the wedding be?"

"We haven't discussed that yet," Snow admitted. "He's invited Father, Regina and I to Seaborn next week so that the official announcement can be made there and to discuss everything between our families."

"I'd say sooner rather than later," Red dryly put in with a pointed flick of her eyes towards Snow's stomach.

Snow gave the younger dark-haired woman a look. "That would be our preference for many reasons."

Belle, being as intelligent and observant as she was, naturally caught the looks and their tones, and after only a second blurted out in surprise, "You're pregnant?" Her hand immediately clapped over her mouth, chestnut eyes wide with shock at her outburst and the rudeness of it.

All the other women glanced at each other, realizing that they hadn't actually told Belle about the pregnancy.

Red looked around at each of the others. "Oops?"


James waited at the foot of the steps with Thomas, Liam, Eric and Gaspard for the women to come down for the celebration. The sandy-haired prince could tear his eyes away from the stairs, he was so anxious to see Snow.

"One would think you haven't seen her in weeks, the way you're willing her to appear."

James glared at his general, who just smirked back at him, unrepentant.

"Can't really say that most of us are any better," Thomas casually countered. "All of us except Eric are waiting for someone." He grinned at Liam's scowl. "So you can only say we're marginally better than he is at the moment."

Liam turned away with a sour look, trying to ignore Eric's snickering and Gaspard's softer chuckles at his expense.

Feminine laughter and voices drew the group's attention to the stairs once more in time to see the women appear at the top of the stairs. Snow's eyes instantly met James', a broad grin spreading across her face as she lifted the skirts of her brand new dress, the lace on the hem dancing around her feet as she quickly descended to him. James knew that he had the broadest, most sappiest grin imaginable on his face and he couldn't care less as his fiancée took his proffered hand once she reached the bottom, watching him kiss her fingers next to the ring with an equally bright grin.

"Ow!" He was abruptly startled out of staring at his bride-to-be by a tiny fist firmly hitting his shoulder, looking down to find Belle glaring at him. "What was that for?"

The petite brunette planted her fists on her hips, still glaring at him. "You didn't tell me that you were going to be a father!" she snapped at him, keeping her voice low enough that no one outside their group would be able to hear.

His eyes went comically wide. "Oh…"

"Yes, oh."

James glanced at the rest of their group, all of whom were trying not to laugh, before turning back to the woman he considered his sister. "I'm sorry, Belle. I got…distracted and forgot that I hadn't told you."

Belle raised an unimpressed eyebrow before stalking over to Gaspard.

Wincing, James turned to a silently laughing Snow. "I've got some groveling to do, don't I?"

"Some," she agreed, eyes dancing with amusement. Her thumb traced over the scar on his chin. "You can't say that you don't deserve it."

He sighed heavily as they both turned to follow their friends out the front entrance, covering the hand she placed in the crook of his elbow with his own. "I'm aware."

Lanterns hung all around, though unlit at the moment since it was still light enough out that they weren't needed. Even more tables than the night before were spread around, food once again weighing them down until they nearly cracked in half. Laughter and chatter from the crowd already created quite the din, while the musicians tuning up in the corner added to the noise and atmosphere.

Snow tugged on James' arm, nodding toward the small dais that had been set up with a table and a few chairs, at the center of which sat her father and Regina, motioning for the young couple to join them.

"I think they want to make the announcement now," she explained.

James took a deep breath, bracing himself for the hullabaloo to follow, just the start of what he was sure would be a circus, culminating in their wedding. Was it wrong that he wished it was all already over with? Squeezing his princess' hand he walked with her up to the dais, Leopold rising to his feet and Regina next to him, watching him carefully in case he needed her help. Snow, knowing that her father did not have the breath to gain the gathering's attention, glanced at the musicians near the dais, who nodded. The farrier rose and sounded out a few notes to call the crowd's attention, the king raised his arms in welcome.

"Everlandians and dear visiting friends!" His voice, though markedly weaker than it used to be, still carried, particularly in the respectful silence the people gave. "Thank you for celebrating with my family and I this happy day, and for your support over the dark days that we have just passed."

There was a quiet murmur from the crowd, observing the mention of Henry.

Once they'd quieted again, Leopold continued, "On this joyous occasion, I am most happy to share even more joyful news." His gaze turned to his daughter and the young prince, who stood holding hands and frequently grinning at each other. "I am thrilled to announce that my daughter, Snow White, is engaged to Prince James of Seaborn."

Cheers broke out, most notably from the commoners of Everbrooke and the couple's closest friends, but several of the nobles also showed enthusiasm for the match. It must be said that there were several sour-faced women who sniped behind hands and a few dark looks from noblemen, denied the chance of being prince consort.

The couple soon found themselves showered with congratulations on all fronts, and many local nobles who before hadn't thought to make the effort to know the prince now decided it best to rectify that.

Red informed Snow and James with a bright grin that the band had declared that, as the newly-engaged couple, they were to choose the first dance of the evening. James looked down at Snow, who grinned up at him knowingly and nodding, before turning to the band and announcing, "We wish to dance the Flacon de Neige!"

There was resounding, verbal approval from the gathering at their future prince not only choosing a native Everland dance, but also one of the most complex and most romantic ones.

And as the bride and groom-to-be took to the floor with the rest of the dancers, unable to look away from each other with the brightest grins on their faces, no one could argue how very much in love they were.


"Do you think you'll come? When Snow and the king and queen come to Seaborn?" Thomas watched Ella in the flickering candlelight from the table they sat at, holding her hands in his as they faced each other on the bench. He watched how the light from the many lanterns and candles and the fading glow from the last of the Lacrimae Lunaris cast streaks of gold and silver through her long sunshine-colored hair.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I have been away a lot from the dwarfs, so I'd hate to run off on them again." At his downcast look a small smile curved her lips. "However, they've been talking about going to Seaborn as part of the royal entourage, since they are a part of the guard." Thomas' head shot up, hope sparkling in his eyes. Ella bit her lip trying to hold back a giggle. "Grumpy says he isn't convinced that the guard is 'up to snuff,' as he puts it, and as part of Snow's personal guard they should inspect them."

Thomas coughed to cover a laugh at the image of the gruff dwarf telling off members of the Seaborn guard.

Ella finally gave in and let the giggles escape her. "I think he might just want to give Liam and James a hard time."

Chuckling, he grinned back at her. "So, if they decided to go…"

She nodded. "I'll be going as well."

"Good," he murmured, thumbs stroking over the backs of her hands. "I'd better concoct some failings on the part of our guard so that he'll be sure to want to come."

Ella threw back her head with laughter.



The next evening…

James glanced over at Thomas as they reached the door to their father's study, taking strength in the encouraging nod his brother gave him. They'd arrived only moments ago, coming directly here from the stables.

With one more fortifying breath, the elder prince pushed the doors open.

George looked up from his desk while Ruth lifted her head from the ledgers.

"Boys," their mother greeted them happily.

The king was scowling at his elder son. "James, just what the hell were you thinking, refusing Abigail?"

Ruth cast a sympathetic smile his way.

James clasped his hands behind his back, visibly steeling himself. "Well, I was considering the fact that neither of us wanted to marry the other."

"It was a good match!"

The prince had to force himself not to raise his eyes heavenward, begging for patience. "And we would've made each other miserable. She's in love with another man, and likely soon to be engaged to him."

George threw his quill down onto the desk. "Then who the hell else are you going to marry?" he demanded, continuing before James could get a word in. "Because I don't see you showing interest in any other women!" He snatched the quill back up again, grumbling, "I have half a mind to send you off to the Sultan next week with an offer."

Finally having an opening to speak, James cleared his throat. "Actually that wouldn't be possible seeing as I've invited King Leopold, Queen Regina and Princess Snow White to visit us next week."

His father's head snapped up. "What?! How could you invite them on such a short time-frame?! We'll never be able to prepare!" George reached over to the pull-cord to ring the bell, summoning one of the servants.

Suppressing the grin that wanted to spread over his face, James blithely answered, "Well, I thought you might forgive me for the short notice seeing as Snow is coming as my bride-to-be."

The announcement was given just as their steward came to the door and silence instantly descended on the room. Thomas was clenching his jaw, trying desperately not to laugh; Ruth had clapped her hand over her mouth with a gasp, delight already dancing in her eyes; and George, who had been about to instruct Shaw on preparations, whipped his head around to look at his elder son in shock.

"What?!" the king managed to gasp out.

James' lips twitched from forcing his mouth not to curve up into a grin. "I've asked Snow White to marry me and she said yes."

"Oh, James!" Ruth gushed, nearly leaping from her chair to rush over and hug him. "I'm so happy for you, my love," she told him in a low enough voice that no one else would hear.

He hugged her back tightly, no longer hiding his grin. "Thank you, Mother."

"Wha—? But… How?!"

The prince drew away from his mother to properly face his father again, still grinning broadly. "Snow and I have been quietly courting since we visited in the spring. I received King Leopold's blessing, conditional upon my first properly breaking with Midas and Abigail."

George continued to gape at his son for a few moments longer before turning to Shaw, who had been standing there the entire time, and for the first time in James' memory the other man was actually visibly struggling to maintain his proper formality in front of the king. "Well, you heard my son! Make preparations suitable for the future queen of Seaborn's arrival next week!"


Fate couldn't help the mischievous grin that spread across her face. Her child asked why she was smiling so. Eyes dancing, she told her child to watch as her fingers began to maneuver several threads, slowly bringing them to converge…


And after a long silence we hear from Fate again! Next chapter is going to be VERY interesting… I'll be bringing in a familiar face from the show, one I've written in Hot Chocolate but not here yet, I'm looking forward to that and Snow coming to Seaborn… So many things I'm excited for coming up! Thank you so much for reading!

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