My dearies, darlings, beloved readers, thank you for baring with me all of these months. It's been a long haul for me, very busy and emotional. I'm sorry that it took so long, I was in England for over a month over the holidays, my once-a-year visit with my family. Then my grandmother's health began to decline and she passed in February, as some of you know, so I wasn't really in much of a mood to write. And last month I was away on intensive training for work. I hope that you've all been well, I've appreciated your encouragement more than I can EVER express, and your condolences when my grandma passed. I'm sorry that this chapter is shorter than others, especially considering the LONG hiatus, but I hope that you still enjoy it! :-D

This chapter is dedicated to my grandmother: I love you, Grandma, and I will miss you SO much, thank you for all you taught me and gave me; every time I watch Murder, She Wrote, you'll be sitting the beside me. Thank you, Lord, for the 29 years, 1 month, 1 week and 2 days I got to have with her, and for being there with her when she passed.

I can NEVER thank my, dartie, Sassy1988, for all of the "talks", fangirling, laughter, betaing, and in the hard moments comforting. Thank you for being there, dartie!


Chapter 21: Just a Few Days


From her position at the bay window of her room, Regina watched her stepdaughter tighten her horse's girth a final time before mounting. The innkeeper's granddaughter, Reddell Lucas, was standing unenthusiastically beside a bay gelding, and the blond common girl from Riverdon, Ella de something, already sat atop an Appaloosa mare. In any other kingdom Snow would be surrounded by guards and ladies-in-waiting, only in Everland could a crowned princess get away with riding off with only two common born women. Granted, one of those women was a werewolf and better protection than probably a dozen knights while the princess herself was skilled with weapons, but both of these facts just further demonstrated how differently things were done here.

No one had been surprised when Snow had announced a week ago that she was going to stay at the family hunting cottage for a few days, being in mourning their usual workload had been dramatically reduced–though Regina was loath to think of the wave they'd be handling once the period ended–and with visitors mostly banned they had little to occupy their days. The princess had obviously been trying to keep busy but she was restless, she wasn't used to being idle and didn't enjoy it. Regina was perfectly willing to admit that things had been better between them of late–more so than they'd ever been–but she was still relieved when Snow had asked her–another surprising change–if it would be alright if she got away for a while. The queen had granted her blessing, fighting to not show how happy she was, her stepdaughter had been slowly driving her mad with her nervous energy, which had shot up exponentially in the last couple of weeks, the young woman just brimming with it and excitement.

The three women urged their horses off, Snow sending hers into a gallop almost immediately, leaving the other two to catch up.

Turning from the window, the queen shook her head. People in love truly were tiresome.


There was a small town a few miles from the hunting cottage, that was where Red, Ella and, when he arrived later that day, Liam were going to stay. Snow had recommended it to James for his friend shortly after they agreed to meet. The people were discreet and Red had a few relations there who were almost as loyal to Snow as the two members of the Everbrooke branch of the Lucas Pack were.

Snow was glad that she'd sent word ahead of her decision to stay at the cottage, several of the townsfolk had been hired to prepare for her arrival, to her specifications, no questions asked. So the amount of provisions, more suited to two people than one, was supplied without comment.

The princess was pleased with the large pile of wood, more than sufficient for the few days they'd be there–she'd have to tell those who'd prepared the house to take the excess as part of a bonus after she and James left. She removed Aravis's tack, giving the golden mare the good, thorough rub-down that she richly deserved. The dark-haired woman spoke softly and encouragingly to her beloved horse, lavishing the attention that Snow had unintentionally been neglecting since Henry's death.

Once Aravis was cared for and happily grazing in the corral, Snow shouldered her bags and headed into the cottage. Fresh linens covered the bed in the master bedroom, which had been aired out after so long in disuse–while Regina loved nothing more than riding, she absolutely disdained anything remotely connected to the hunt. Snow felt that this place, along with the house in Lochdubh Henry had left to her and James, would be a perfect retreat for her family.

Snow placed the few articles of clothing she'd brought in her saddlebags into the armoire, making sure to leave Charming plenty of room for his belongings. One pale hand stroked the doors once she'd closed them, then skimmed her fingertips over the bed frame. The texture of the old, roughhewn furniture harkening back to long ago childhood memories. She'd only been in this room a handful of times, but all of the furniture in the cottage was of the same design, commissioned from a local woodworker by Snow's great grandfather when the cottage had been built. The furniture wasn't anywhere near as fine as that in the castle, and not even as elegant as that in Henry's–she had a feeling she'd always think of it as that, his gift to them–house, but it was as solid as the mountains of Everland, and beautiful in its own way.

Snow's lips curved into a smile. James would love it. Her palm pressed against her belly; it was the perfect place to tell him about their child.


James parted with Liam midway between the cottage and the village, the prince struggling not to laugh at his friend. The general was so obviously torn between deep reluctance to let his prince out of his sight unprotected, and overwhelming eagerness to see Red. Carefully, James followed Snow's directions, having no desire to get lost in a land he was unfamiliar with and delay his reunion with his beloved.

The cottage was understated. Too grand to be the home of a peasant but certainly not what one would expect from a royal family. He could see Aravis grazing in a corral attached to the small–by royalty standards–stables, smoke curled from the chimney along with the scent of cooking rabbit.

James tied Cain to a hitching post in front of the house, promising his steed a proper rubdown and food shortly... He just had to see Snow now.

Opening the front door revealed the lower floor to be mostly one common space, the chairs gathered around the fireplace where rabbit stew was cooking led to the actual kitchen where Snow looked up from slicing pears. Her face lit up like the sun, she dropped the knife and ran to him.

"Charming," she gasped joyfully as he caught her in his arms and spun her around.

"Missed me?" James asked teasingly.

Without releasing him in the slightest, she lifted her head, mirth sparkling in her eyes. "Not in the slightest."

He chuckled, kissing her soundly and thoroughly enjoying her response. This was his Snow, his sassy, sarcastic Snow, and he couldn't begin to say how grateful he was to see her healing as she was.

After a long moment of just holding each other tight he finally lowered her to the ground. Her eyes went to the door and then turned to his, gaze chiding. "You just left poor Cain out there like that?"

He shrugged, unable to manage a truly repentant expression. "I might have been a little excited to see a certain princess."

She laughed, pecking James lightly on the mouth before pushing him in the direction of his horse. "Go take care of that poor creature. Dinner will be ready soon."

With a mock pout and stealing on last kiss, James hurried out to attend his faithful steed.


There was something different about Snow. James couldn't put his finger on it but it was there, undefinable. One might chalk it up to Henry's death and the healing process she was going through, but he somehow knew that it was more than that. He'd always associated warmth with Snow, but it was never a truer sentiment than now. Tonight she practically glowed. All through dinner he watched her, catching the subtle changes but unable to understand what they meant. Once they finished eating, Snow teasingly informed him that since she cooked, he cleaned. James pretended to grumble, but willingly washed the dishes, watching her out of the corner of his eye, while she picked up a sewing project. The smile on her lips hadn't left since he walked through the door, and it stayed, even as she pricked her finger, chuckling and shaking her head at her own clumsiness.

Once the last pot had been set aside James went to Snow's side; she looked up, grinning. "Do you feel like a walk?" she asked. "There's a waterfall I would love to show you." His princess set the project aside, rising from the chair. "It's lovely all year round, especially at night, but we'll have to come back in the winter, the waterfall freezes and it's the most remarkable sight."

"Sounds amazing." He was still studying her, trying to understand what was different, to divine the secret he could see sparkling behind those emerald eyes.

What was she keeping from him?


Snow knew James could tell something was up, that she was hiding something, though thankfully he apparently was able to tell it was a good thing, otherwise he'd have been insisting to know what it was long before now.

The night was lovely, a full moon–Red was probably having a good time running with the younger members of her family's pack; she and Granny preferred to live in Everbrooke, but Snow knew they occasionally missed others of their kind. The air had grown crisper with every passing day, fall fully descending, the leaves all aflame with oranges, reds and yellows. One of the only flowers still in bloom were the Lacrimae, forming glowing patches in the grass, though with the equinox next week they too would soon fade.

They reached the waterfall and pond, moon and starlight made the cascading water shimmer like thousands of diamonds.

"You're right," James murmured, momentarily transfixed, "it's lovely at night. However," he turned his gaze to her, eyes glowing with love, "not as much as you."

Snow decided to blame the pricking of tears on the pregnancy; she gripped his doublet and pulled him in for a kiss. "Charmer."

He caressed her cheek, grinning back. "You're the one who chose the nickname," he countered teasingly.

Running a fingertip over the scar on his chin, a soft smirk quirked Snow's lips. "And you more than live up to it."

James tilted his head enough to kiss her finger.

She bit her lip. "I have something to tell you." Her hands tangled with the one of his.

Her prince canted his head, curiosity and amusement coloring his expression. "What is it?"

Biting her lip again, she looked down at their joined hands. "You know how we've joked about how we've done things out of order in our relationship?"

One of his eyebrows rose, not really sure where she was going with this. "Yes?"

Still nervously gnawing on her lower lip and keeping her eyes on their hands, she pressed his palm to her abdomen, and with a deep breath finally lifted her gaze to his, seeing the dawning understanding in his blue eyes. "Say hello to your child," she whispered.

For a heartbeat he was frozen with shock before he managed to say, "A baby?"

Snow nodded wordlessly, the joyful tears shimmering in her eyes, choking her voice.

His other hand slid down and joined the first gripping her waist as intense joy lit his features. "You're pregnant?"

A helpless giggle escaped her as she nodded again. "Yes."

With a shout of joyful laughter, James swept her up into his arms, spinning them around. When he set her back down he kissed her over and over, laughter still spilling from between their lips. He dropped to his knees and pressed his lips to her belly, right over their child. "Hello, little one," he whispered. "Your daddy loves you very much."

Tears were streaming down Snow's smiling face as she watched her husband-to-be talk to their daughter for the first time. Her hands ran lovingly through his hair and he lifted his head, eyes gazing up at hers, matching grins on their faces. She cupped his face, drinking in the joy there, burning the details into her memory so she could always remember how happy he was the moment he learned about their first child.

His thumbs caressed her waist, adoration shining in his gaze. "I love you both more than anything in the world."

Heart squeezing at his words, her fingers drifted down to trace the scar on his chin. "We love you too, Charming. Truly and eternally."


James had his arm wrapped around her waist, keeping her pressed to his side the whole way back to the cabin. Hovering. Snow resisted the urge to roll her eyes; well, she knew what she'd be getting herself into the moment she told him. When he tried to guide her to a chair by the fire she finally had enough and swatted his hands away.

"I'm pregnant, Charming, not an invalid."

The look in her eyes warned him not to push it any further, and he took a step back and let her take care of her own cloak.

He'd just hung his own on a peg by the door when the sewing his love had been working on earlier caught his eye. Snow turned from draping her black velvet cloak over a chair to see him turning the white fabric over in his hands. Clasping her hands behind her back, she bit her lip as she moved over to his side. "It's a Naming gown."

Blue eyes met hers.

"A tradition in Everland." She wrung her hands anxiously. "Presenting the baby to have their name officially recorded and singing the Lullaby to them for the first time." Snow knew he still wasn't enthusiastic about the Lullaby, but hoped he'd eventually come around and agree. The mother-to-be took an anxious step forward. "What do you do in Seaborn?" She didn't want him to think she'd leave his kingdom's traditions out.

A smile lifted his lips. "We bring the infant down to the beach and they're blessed as a child of the sea with salt water and the traditional blessing."

"Will we need another gown for that?" She caught herself reaching for where his ring used to hang around her neck, and instead twisted her fingers back and forth. Gods, not only would she need him to see that she was willing to adopt his ways, but also his family and all of his people. What else would be needed? What if she failed? What if she did something wrong and offended them from the very beginning?

The circling train of worries in her mind was derailed when James captured her hands, emerald eyes snapping up to blue.

"This will be perfect," he assured her.

Grateful tears filled her eyes, a smile curving her mouth. Snow cupped the back of his neck and brought his head down to press her lips to his.

James gripped her waist, drawing her closer, eagerly returning her kiss, then he remembered and dragged his mouth from hers. "Wait, is–is this...ok? I mean...with the baby? Is it ok to do...that? Is it–?"

"Charming," Snow snapped. "I'm pregnant. Pregnant women have done 'that' for all of history. And if you don't come up to our room now and do 'that' with me, I will take extreme measures." When she began pulling him upstairs to their room by the lapels of his doublet he willingly followed, a grin quirking his lips.

Snow pushed him down onto the bed–apparently their bed, James thrilled at his love referring to the room as 'theirs' already–she straddled his lap.

"Impatient?" he teasingly asked as he dragged her skirts up. His fingertips skimmed up the backs of her thighs, pressing into her hips intent on leaving their imprints on her skin.

She nipped at his bottom lip in mock punishment. "And you're not?"

James chuckled, latching his mouth onto hers. His thumbs traced over her hipbones, finally drawing his hands out to run up the back of her dress.

Snow already had his doublet completely untied and open only moments after they were on the bed, palms smoothing up and down his chest. His fingers fumbled over the laces running down her spine; why the hell did women's clothing have to be so gods damned complicated?!

His lover laughed against his lips. "Having trouble?" she taunted.

"I'm tempted to just use my knife," he grumbled, the stays knotting around his fingers.

"Don't you dare! Lucy would have my head! This is one of my few dark colored dresses!" Snow tried to sound stern, but there was laughter lacing her tone.

"Then you'd best help me, darling," James growled, "or I won't be responsible for my actions."

Still attempting to stifle her laughter, Snow reached behind her, swatting his hands away and working the laces herself–less than accidentally grinding her hips against him in the process of wriggling out of the garment and dragging a moan from him–once it was loose enough she helped him pull the dress over her head. The princess laughed aloud at the relieved sigh that escaped James when he saw that she wore no corset, only a breastband, camisole and underwear. However, her mirth was quickly stifled by his mouth upon hers and his hands wandering under her few remaining garments.

Snow managed to force his hands away from her long enough to shove his doublet off his shoulders and divest him of his tunic. Lips locked on his, she pushed him onto his back, laughter spilling between their kisses. They scrambled clumsily further onto the bed and James flipped them, propping himself over her. He moved down her torso, pushing the fabric of her camisole up to press his mouth to her still flat belly. He traced loving, soothing patterns over their child, nuzzling the spot where the goddess had blessed them. Her prince lifted his head to grin at Snow, tugging the fabric up and off, Snow arching her back and lifting her arms to help him.

Charming laid a path of open mouthed kisses from her stomach, between her breasts, skimming to the spot just behind her ear that he knew always made her moan and sucked it gently, grinning at the sounds that escaped his love. Snow wrapped one arm around his shoulders, free hand burying in his hair, neck arching into his ministrations. The familiar sting of her nails scraping across his skin flared in his back, her legs locked around his hips, heels digging into his lower back.

"Pants. Off," Snow demanded in gasps.

"You're going to have to unwrap your legs long enough for me to take them off," he teased her, palms skimming to her ankles.

"Well, where's the fun in that?" she muttered into his skin, laughter audible in her muffled voice.

"Impatient," he taunted back, teeth grazing her earlobe and then pressing a kiss behind her ear.

Snow nipped his shoulder, soothing the sting with a sweep of her tongue, reluctantly she released her legs from his hips.

James propped himself up enough to unfasten his breeches and shove them off. He then turned his attention to Snow's remaining undergarment, tugging them down her legs and grinning up at her. He kissed the inside of her knee, tracing a scar there–distantly making a note to ask her about it later. Trailing his lips up her inner thigh, he watched her bite her lip and squirm under his ministrations.

Snow wasn't in the mood for teasing and gripped his shoulders, nails digging in as she drew him up to match her lips to his. James would've liked to draw things out but with the month apart and news of Snow's pregnancy, he was quite willing to forego their usual foreplay.

Pulling back from the kiss, he nuzzled her temple, the sweet, affectionate gesture melting Snow's heart even as her hips shifted restlessly under his. She stroked his cheek with her thumb. "Love you," she murmured against his neck.

"I love you, too," he told her, pressing a kiss to the joint of her neck and shoulder, sliding inside her slowly.

A satisfied sigh escaped both of them, stilling for a moment to just enjoy being together.

James set a slow, gentle pace, in spite of Snow's occasional pleas to go faster, interspersed with teasing words, and gestures.

"I'm not going to break," she complained, bucking her hips to his and wrapping her legs around his waist.

But he just kissed her and kept the pace as it was, capturing the gasps that slipped from her mouth in his own. Snow clung to his shoulders as the pleasure pooled low in her belly, her lips pressed to his temple, moaning into his ear. James slid his palms up her sides, stroking the sides of her breasts with his thumbs and sucking on the joint of her neck and shoulder.

She dug her heels into his lower back, drawing him deeper inside her, pulling his lips to hers in a sloppy but loving kiss. His hands skimmed from her hips to her knees, thighs, back, stomach, never staying still for long, trying to absorb every inch of her skin.

Finally they collapsed on the bed clinging to each other tightly, utterly spent regardless of the more leisurely pace.

It was several minutes before they were able to rouse themselves enough to crawl under the blankets, and tangled together, they drifted off into a deep sleep.


Liam held his hand out and Red padded up on silent paws, and nuzzled his palm, leaning into his touch as he buried his fingers in her fur. The general pressed his face into the thick dark hair at her neck; it'd been a long time since he'd seen her in wolf-form, not since their time in Storybrooke.

Red rested her chin on his shoulder, a contented huff escaping her as she let him embrace her. Liam knew that, even as human as she was, Red enjoyed her time running around in wolf-form, experiencing a freedom that he only barely understood even with her explanations, as frustrated and incomplete as they tended to be because she never felt words properly encompassed how she felt.

He'd brought up the suggestion of him turning...once, but the fear and terror in Red's face instantly silenced him on the subject. Later she'd explained that she was afraid that whoever turned him, even if it was her, might taste blood and go into a frenzy and be unable to stop. And it'd taken nearly an hour of holding her for her trembling to ease.

Liam turned his head to speak softly in her ear. "I love you, Red. You're always beautiful to me."

She licked his cheek and carefully bumped his nose with her wet one, bringing a grin to his face.

He pressed his lips to the top of her head before standing and grinning with his hands in his pockets. "Have fun. I'll see you in the morning."

With an eager yip she turned and dashed off to her impatiently waiting cousins. Liam watched them disappear into the dark forest, a wistful smile on his lips as a chorus of howls echoed back to him.


Snow was drawn into the waking world by James speaking softly, cheek pressed to her belly, fingers caressing where their child slept.

"...I want you to know that you and your mommy are the most important people in all the worlds to me." He traced invisible patterns over her stomach. "I don't want you to ever feel like you aren't important, that you can't come to me about things, that I don't love you with all my heart, that I wouldn't do anything for you. I would move heaven, Earth, hell and every single world in existence for you and your mother. I will do everything I can to keep you from getting hurt, and if I can't prevent it I will be there for you, always. I would die for you, and I would kill for you." He pressed his lips to their child. "I love you so much."

A sniffle escaped Snow, finally drawing James' attention; she gave him a watery smile, hand running through his short hair. "My Charming." She cupped his cheek. "You'll be an amazing father."

He grinned. "And you, my darling Snow, are going to be the best mother." Her love kissed the slight swell of her stomach before pushing himself up on his elbows. "Now," he reached up and lifted Ruth's pendant from where it rested on her chest, "this is my mother's." James smirked. "She gave it to you when she was in Everland."

A grin spread across Snow's face as she nodded. "Mmm hmm."

"She told you about the spell on it?"

Reaching behind her neck to unfasten the clasp, Snow grinned even wider. "Oh, yes."

Lips curled in a smile, James held the pendant up by the chain and let it dangle over her stomach, over their unborn child. Gently it swayed from side to side, following the path of the sun. "I can never remember which direction means what."

Smirking and running her fingers through his hair, Snow asked him coyly, "What do you think it means?"

Blue eyes followed the pendant's motion. "Well, going from the dreams we've both been having, and this...feeling I have...I'd say…" His gaze lifted to hers. "A girl."

Snow thought her face would split from how broad her grin was. "Say hello to your daughter."

Joy shone in his eyes as he pressed his lips to her belly. "Hello, my sweet girl."


A gentle touch of lips to his cheek slowly woke Liam, and he blinked his eyes blearily open. Red was grinning at him as she crouched down in front of him, resting her chin on his knee. Her eyes, though tired, sparkled with excitement and life, as they always did after a night of running free in her wolf-form.

"You're going to have the worst crick in your neck after sleeping in that chair," she softly teased him.

He leaned forward, feeling that very crick twinge at the back of his neck as he did so, carding his fingers through her long locks. "Good night?"

Her grin widened, face leaning into his palm, enjoying his thumb rubbing her temple. "Fantastic. The weather was perfect. Neri and Kline had a great time."

Red had been so happy and excited to be here for her two cousins' first run as wolves and Liam was easily caught up in her enthusiasm.

"You're so beautiful like this," he told her with a smile. Quickly, he added, "You're alwaysbeautiful, but you're just...magnificent like this. So excited and...alive."

She bit her bottom lip as she rose to her feet, then climbed onto his lap, straddling him and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Red kissed him, grin still curving her lips. "I love you."

Arms wrapped around her waist, Liam held her tightly, enjoying the feeling of her in his arms as she curled herself around him, burying her face in his neck. "I love you too." He sent out silent thanks to whoever might be listening for being given this love in the first place and even deeper gratitude for having it returned. He was never letting her go again.


James did the breakfast dishes, Snow smiling at him teasingly as she wrapped her cloak around her shoulders and danced out the door, saying she'd see him in a few minutes.

After getting the plates all dried and put away he strode outside, Snow stood at the corral fence, their horses were both with her, lapping up the attention she was lavishing on them. For a brief moment an image overlapped the one before him: Snow was still standing in that spot, but she was holding a little girl with long blond curls, helping her feed the animals apples and showing her how to properly pet them. It faded back to the present, but James' heart leapt at the tantalizing peak into the future, their future; he couldn't wait for it, to have such moments for the rest of his life with Snow. For the rest of his life with their family.

He moved over to her. "Hey."

Snow turned to him with a grin, still rubbing Cain's velvet soft nose. "Hi."

The prince reached out a hand and run it over his horse's neck; the stallion glanced at him but immediately turned back to Snow, much more interested in her. "Oh!" James huffed, half-amused and half-annoyed. "I see how it is." He gave Cain's head playful shove. "Traitor." The horse snorted.

His princess laughed, scratching Cain's forelock while her other hand stroked over Aravis' neck. "Animals like me."

James leaned against the fence. "You're not worried about Aravis being in the corral with Cain?"

She shook her head. "They're both well trained and behaved, and 'Ravie isn't in heat."

He switched to her other side to run a hand over the mare's coat. "I've been meaning to ask about Aravis." Blue eyes studied the gold coat and cream-colored mane and tail of the horse. "She doesn't have the usual coloring of horses from Everland or most any other kingdom, except Agrabah."

A wistful smile curved Snow's mouth. "That's right. She looks so much like her mother, Sophia, my mother's favorite mare." James stilled beside her, but Snow's attention was solely on her horse. "She was a gift from Father, he brought Sophia home to Mother early in their marriage after a particularly long trip to Agrabah. She'd been fascinated and enchanted with the desert horses, and when the opportunity to acquire one presented itself he snapped Sophia up." She glanced up at him. "You know how very rare it is that anyone from Agrabah permits an outsider to have one of their horses. As it was, Father had to agree to not have her pedigree."

James' eyebrows had flown up when she admitted to Aravis' origins, nodding in acknowledgment of her statement. The pedigrees of the Agrabahan horses were closely guarded secrets, the horses considered the most valuable things anyone in the kingdom could own. He couldn't imagine how much King Leopold had paid or what he had done to get one.

Snow had returned her attention to the mare. "My mother loved that horse." A contemplative smile lifted her expression. "She taught me to ride herself, and Sophia was the first horse she put me on." Hints of tears glinted in emerald eyes. "Some of my earliest memories are of riding Sophia in front of my mother." Blinking rapidly, Snow swallowed hard. "When–when Mother...died...I spent most of the nights during that first month sleeping on the floor of Sophie's stall." A soft laugh escaped her. "She stood guard over me, like I was one of her own foals." Snow's fingertips traced the white stripe on Aravis' face. "After that Sophia, even though she was a bit big for me, pretty much became my horse..." her lips quirked in amusement, "or I became her human." She glanced at her prince. "I often overheard trainers and stablehands debating the subject."

Aravis pressed her face into Snow's chest and she stroked the mare's head. "Each time Sophia had a foal, I paid close attention to how they raised and trained them, helped more and more with each. Around...around the time Father married Regina..." her lower lip trembled but she took a deep breath and continued, voice steady, "Sophia was getting old and they decided to breed her one last time. I spent the whole of the pregnancy hovering around Sophie, taking care of her," she glanced at him confidingly, "though I wasn't just worried for her, she was also a good distraction from my new stepmother. As you can tell Aravis was born healthy and strong, and while the birth went well..." she shrugged, "Sophia didn't recover quickly or as well as before. She tended to 'Ravi well, but I was...hesitant to ride her." Snow pressed her cheek to her horse's forehead. "She looked so much more fragile, sweet Sophie. Father gave permission for me to raise and train Aravis myself, with the supervision of the head trainer, Bran. Under his guidance," she smiled slightly, "and Sophia's watchful gaze, I put into practice what I was taught, and even with a few mistakes I managed to succeed..."

Green eyes squeezed shut, tears slipping out. "Sophia died two years later...I cried for a week."

James wrapped his arms around her and Snow leaned into his embrace with a shuddering sigh.

"It felt like I was losing my mother all over again," she admitted, stroking a hand up and down Aravis' face. "She's how I hang on to both of them."


Over lunch and dinner James learned that Snow's palette had become very picky and inconsistent with her pregnancy. Coffee, he learned, was going to be out some mornings for him (the scent sometimes turned her stomach), as was bacon, certain cheeses, sauces and soups with tomato base... He firmly agreed with her that any alcohol was out, and was more than happy to abstain with her. She also had some of the famed odd cravings, fish topped with vanilla custard, strawberries in her chicken soup...she usually made the "normal" dishes for James and then added what she wanted to her own plate.

He tried to hold back his grimaces at her choices but Snow burst out laughing at his contorted expression, he was thankful she took it with humor rather than offense. She scooped up some of the fish with custard onto her fork and leaned across the table with it, offering it to him. "Try it," she prompted.

James pursed his lips in distaste, but reluctantly obliged, leaning forward to accept the food off the fork. His love laughed even harder at the variety of expressions that chased over his face, finally settling on confused more than anything.

"Well?" she asked, eyebrow raised.

"I...don't know... It's not bad, more...odd."

She giggled as she took a bite of her own, smiling around it as she chewed; James felt, in that moment, he'd eat almost anything she offered him if it made her that happy.


Snow was lying on her side, head propped on her hand, watching her fiancé-to-be undress to get ready for bed. After he pulled off his tunic her eyes traced the long, thin scar over his right shoulder blade. "I've been meaning to ask you about that scar on your shoulder blade." She gestured at it as her lover turned. "How did you get it? It looks like a scar I saw on a knight's chest once, it was inflicted by a scimitar."

James' eyes narrowed, frowning. "Why were you looking at a knight's chest?"

Her mouth twitched, emerald orbs sparkling with amusement. "You're looking a little green around the edges, my love," she teased.

"Snow..." he growled warningly.

Throwing back her head, she laughed. "I was 13, the guards were in the training yard; it was high summer and the hottest day we'd had in a decade. Red and I were trying to pretend not to be watching." Snow continued to smile amusedly at James' scowl. "We were young girls, I believe it's fairly normal for girls that age to ogle good looking men, especially when they're shirtless." She cocked an eyebrow. "It means about as much as young boys staring at pretty girls, or sneaking peeks of them bathing." Snow smirked as he had the good grace to blush.

He cleared his throat uncomfortably, sheepishly looking down at his hands. "Um...it was a few years ago. I...uh...ended up getting between Jasmine and a potential suitor, and I...rather insulted him." He sat down on the bed facing Snow. "He took it personally, and demanded a duel." James waved over his shoulder at the scar. "He ended up the worse for it, but got a shot in before it was over."

Snow reached over, fingers finding the mark by touch alone. "How did Jasmine feel about all of this?"

A chuckled rumbled from him as he stretched out on his side next her. "Well, she was the one who actually got in the strike that ended it...she punched him in the jaw, knocking him out."

His princess smirked. "I think I really might like her."

"I'm scared by how much I know you'll like her. And how much she's going to like you," James snorted.

She just grinned unrepentantly.

"Now," he shifted to reach for her leg, "since we're discussing scars," his thumb traced the white twist of flesh on her knee, "where did you get this one?"

A wistful smile twisted her lips. "That...that was the turning point after I lost my mother. The moment when I truly began to heal."

One blond eyebrow rose. "You had to get hurt–and fairly badly if this scar is anything to go by–in order to start healing?"

"Ironic, isn't it?" Snow ran her fingers through his hair. "That cove in Lochdubh? The one where I found you and where we..." she bit her lip coyly, "had our lunch?"

A half laugh-half groan escaped James. "Yes?"

"It was right after we left the High Court that last time, I can hardly even remember what set it off, but...I was so...angry... I ran off from our manor, totally heedless of where I was going and what I was doing. I tripped...or slipped...I'm not sure, but suddenly I was in the water, being dragged down by an undertow. Gaspard...he'd just arrived in Lochdubh with his parents, he saw me and followed. If he hadn't I would've drowned; he pulled me out of the water. Once we were back on land, he noticed that I was bleeding." Snow covered the hand he had over the old injury. "I was bleeding a lot, but he staunched it enough and got me help."

James tucked the lock that had fallen across her face behind her ear and then cupped her cheek in his palm. "Then I owe him a debt I can never repay."

She leaned into his touch. "So do I." Closing her eyes, Snow took a deep breath. "As I was struggling there, trying to get my head back above water, I realized how careless I was being with my own life, that my mother would want me to really live. That I wanted to truly live."

His palm skimmed down her side to her knee, thumb once again tracing the scar. "Then I can be grateful for this."

Snow pressed her fingertips to the scar on his chin. "Scars are just reminders of important things, of lessons learned. I don't mind them in the slightest."


James was jostled from his sleep, his hand automatically reaching for his sword at the abrupt interruption. All he saw was Snow dashing to the chamber pot near the bed, gagging.

He sprang out of bed to her side, sweeping her hair into his hand and holding it back, rubbing her back soothingly while she threw up. Reaching up to the mew, James dunked the washcloth on the stand into the basin of water and wrung it out. He dabbed it at the back of her neck where sweat was starting to bead from her exertion.

Finally Snow collapsed back against James' chest once the round of heaving had ceased.

He ran the damp cloth across her forehead, kissing her sweaty temple. "You know," he began after she'd caught her breath and was finally relaxed against him, "right now this very moment is one of the best in my life thus far."

As utterly exhausted as she was Snow felt a spike of annoyance. "What, holding your almost-fiancée's hair back as she throws up her guts because she's pregnant with your child?" She just barely had the energy to imbue her voice with some of her irritation.

James picked up on her tone, and remembering what he'd been told about pregnant women and their moods, knew he needed to tread carefully and clarify what he meant very quickly. "No, that is not what I meant. I meant because I'm holding my whole world in my arms right now."

His love lifted her head to meet his gaze.

James' palm moved to rest on her abdomen. "You and our daughter are my whole world."

Tears welled in emerald eyes. "Keep saying such sweet things, Charming, and you're going to have me in tears for the next seven months," she told him in an attempt at her usual humor.


"A miracle! here's our own hands against our hearts. Come, I will have thee; but, by this light I take thee for pity."

The next afternoon found Snow and James on a picnic by the waterfall she'd taken him to on the first night. They were sprawled on the blanket he'd spread over the ground, Snow on her back with James resting his head on her stomach; she ran her fingers through his hair, enjoying listening to him read one of their favorite plays.

Teasingly she cut in with Beatrice's line, "I would not deny you; but, by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion; and partly to save you life, for I was told you were in a consumption."

Abruptly he twisted around, now resting prone above her, tickling Snow's sides mercilessly.

"Charming!" she shrieked through laughter, writhing under his onslaught.

He locked his arms around her, trapping her against his chest. "Peace! I will stop your mouth."

Muffled laughter escaped from between their lips, her arms curving over his shoulders and James' fingers burying in her hair.

"You two really need to learn to be more careful about when you're together right now."

The couple jerked apart, heads whipping around at the voice to find their three friends standing a few paces off: Liam, who'd spoken, smirking, Red giving them a droll look and Ella pressing her lips together, trying not to laugh.

James turned back to Snow, rolling his eyes and muttering, low enough that only she heard, "Seriously?" as he pushed himself up and away from her.

The princess laughed softly, sitting up and grinning at the trio before them. "How are you all doing?"

"Great." Red's hazel eyes lit with excitement, obviously having enjoyed her time with her relatives.

Liam's gaze locked on the dark-haired woman next to him made it obvious what he was enjoying about this trip.

"Well," Ella nodded as they joined the couple on the blanket, "I've found several bolts of cotton at the market here, just what I've been looking for to replace several of the dwarfs' shirts." Her nose wrinkled. "They seem to have...issues with getting new ones when they need them."

The two other women made equally disgusted faces.

"What is it with men and not properly dressing themselves?" Red questioned, plucking a cookie from the basket.

"Hey!" James protested. "I dress well."

"Yes," Snow's mouth twitched with amusement, "but who should receive the credit for that? You or your mother?"

The prince opened and closed his mouth in several attempts to defend himself, but finally snapped it shut and pressed his lips together, rolling his eyes. His friends and love burst out laughing and he glared at his general. "And you're any better than me?"

Liam smirked, shaking his head. "I've made no such claim. I know better." He chose an orange from the picnic. "If your mother didn't keep an eye on my wardrobe, I'd likely forget to get new clothes entirely."

James mock scowled. "Traitor. And who said you could join us?"

"Snow hasn't objected," the general nodded to the princess, smirk still gracing his mouth. "And don't tell me you are going to contradict her."

The fair-haired man turned Snow to see her looking at him with raised eyebrows, amusement sparkling in her eyes. "Well, Charming?" Her lips twitched, trying to suppress a wicked grin.

A glance at the other two women showed that he'd find no aid from that quarter.

With a put-upon sigh he admitted defeat. "No, my darling."

Laughing, Snow leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Serves you right for subverting my authority in my own castle."

He mock winced. "I knew that would come back to bite me."

Their friends enjoyed a good laugh at his expense.

James narrowed his eyes at the picnic basket. "Did you know they were coming? Is that why you packed such a large lunch?"

Trying to stifle a grin, Snow affected a careless shrug. "Red and Ella might've mentioned possibly seeking us out at some point today."

"Face it, James," the werewolf told him, "you aren't going to win."

"Lose with grace," the blonde advised him before taking a bite from a cookie.

For all his being ganged up on by their friends, James was enjoying himself greatly, he'd missed these times from Lochdubh when they would all be together just laughing and joking. And the joy and amusement on Snow's face was something he'd never grow tired of seeing.

"I'll tell thee what, prince..."

They all turned to find Red reading from the discarded volume of Much Ado About Nothing.

"...a college of wit-crackers cannot flout me out of my humour." She smirked at the royal couple over the top of the book. "Dost thou think I care for a satire or an epigram? No: if a man will be beaten with brains, a' shall wear nothing handsome about him. In brief, since I do purpose to marry, I will think nothing to any purpose that the world can say against it;" she sat up straighter, holding her head high, continuing in a faux-grandiose voice, "and therefore never flout at me for what I have said against it..." eyes sparkling amusedly at Liam she said the last line, "for man...is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion."

James couldn't agree more with the famous line, especially for those in love...and he found himself completely unapologetic for it.


Ella watched as Red and Liam walked out of the house, she to join her cousins for their full moon run and he to see her off for the night. The blonde had no qualms with admitting she was jealous of her two best friends for having the men they loved there while Thomas was absent.

She pierced the needle in her hand through the gray velvet fabric spread across her lap, piecing the hood onto the cloak. Red had eagerly dragged her over to one of her relative's fabric shops and helped her select the cloth. She'd then shown her the pattern for the traditional cloaks they wore in Everland for the ceremony at the end of the mourning period. Ella had already made a new dress for the autumn equinox celebration, a sky blue color that she knew Thomas liked on her; she hoped that he might attend.

Rubbing the material between her fingers, Ella bit her lip. Thomas had discussed with her the possibility they might have to declare themselves engaged sooner than they'd intended...and that she might have to be queen of Seaborn rather than simply Riverdon. Her heart pounded at the thought. A land she'd never been to, the largest kingdom in the realm... Oh gods and goddesses, she was unnerved enough about marrying Thomas when he was going to be king of one of the smaller thrones–the throne of her native kingdom. Ella scrubbed a palm over her forehead; she loved Thomas, loved him with her whole heart...but could she do this? Could she, who'd been little more than a slave for so many years, be a queen?


Charming raced across countryside and through forests, heart pounding in time with his steed's hooves. Glancing at the ring on his pinky finger every few minutes he could see the gem glowing progressively brighter. The hoofbeats drummed out the mantra of his love's name, Snow Snow Snow Snow Snow... The remembered excruciating pain that assaulted him as he was lying in the Queen's dungeon, and the constant, gaping emptiness he'd felt ever since were more than enough to tell him that something truly terrible had befallen his beloved.

White flakes of snow had begun to fall when the gem reached a blinding brilliancy; Charming's eyes flew around his surroundings, knowing that she was somewhere near. A group of dwarfs clustered around something he couldn't see caught his eye and he just knew that was where she was. Not even waiting for the horse to stop, he threw himself from its back, hurrying forward as the dwarfs turned to him.

One with white hair and beard, and gold-rimmed spectacles stepped forward, his voice quavering as he said, "You're too late."

Their group parted, revealing what it was they were gathered around.

A glass-lidded coffin. And inside, adorned in white, she lay.

No! The word resounded in his mind, falling thoughtlessly from his lips over and over as he ran to her side. His hands pressed to the lid, meeting cold unforgiving glass.

Her long dark curls–he saw her in his mind the first time they met, those very locks windblown and rebelliously disheveled, beautiful beyond words–fanned around her head. Her lips were a darker red than normal, even starker in their contrast against her pale skin. Her eyelashes sooty crescents against her cheeks, never again to open to reveal laughing emerald eyes. Still as death.

It couldn't be true! Not after how long and hard they've fought to be together!

"Open it," he commanded, sounding more like the prince he'd been forced to become than he ever had before.

"I'm sorry," a dwarf with a dark beard and a gruff voice told him. "She's gone."

Nononononononononono! She can't be! She can't! his mind protested as he collapsed under the weight of his grief on his knees beside her coffin, begging any power that might be listening to give her back. How was he going to go on without her?

James gasped, eyes snapping open and sweeping the room ceaselessly, trying to reorient himself. A form shifting in his arms drew his attention.

Snow snuggled deeper into his side with a sigh, her exhale fanning across his chest.

Relief coursed through him at the feeling of her, naked, warm and alive against him. James' hand went to her stomach, their child nestled safe in her womb, growing, warm and protected. A relieved sigh escaped him as he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her flush against him, his mouth finding hers. Slowly his love responded to his kiss, drawn to the waking world by his lips and wandering hands.

"Charming?" she murmured sleepily against his mouth, arms encircling his neck.

Rolling on top of her, he skimmed his hands down her sides; Snow arched into him, wrapping a leg around his. He lifted his head slightly and Snow's eyes–though sleepy, danced with life and vibrancy–fluttered open, meeting his, a hand caressing his forehead and cheek.

"What's wrong, Charming?" Worry filled her emerald orbs.

James pressed his forehead against hers, arms tightening around her. "You were dead. Dead…and I…" He captured her mouth desperately.

She accepted his desperation, arched into his demanding, possessive caresses, curling her legs around his waist. "I'm here," Snow breathed against his lips, guiding his hand to her chest where he could feel her steady heartbeat. "I'm alive." Her beloved gasped into their kiss, feeling the tears burning in his eyes. "I love you." She moaned as he entered her. "I'm not going anywhere, Charming. I love you."

The fact that he should be more gentle in making love to her passed fleetingly through his mind, but her cries of pleasure and hands pulling him closer, nails digging into his skin, urged him on in their almost violent union.

"Gods, how I love you," he groaned into the joint of her shoulder and neck as they finally collapsed into the pillows, panting.

Snow kept her legs locked around his waist, hands stroking lovingly up and down his back, while her lips traced the tear tracks on his cheeks. "I love you too, my Prince Charming," she murmured against his temple. "And I'm not letting you go, ever."


James and Snow packed their bags the next morning with much less enthusiasm than they had only days earlier. Ella, Red and Liam would arrive shortly for breakfast before they all rode out for their respective destinations. Just a few more days, they kept reminding themselves, just a few more days and his dealings with Midas would be concluded; the mourning period would be complete; James would be able to propose and they could be together openly. Though they were fully cognizant of the complications that also lay ahead: if Midas took offense and having to deal with his ire, and telling their families about the pregnancy, they were trying to hold on to the positives and only deal with those issues as they arose.

Palm gently caressing the small of her back, James asked, "Will you be all right?"

Snow caught his hand, tangling their fingers together. "I'll be fine, Charming." She tossed him a teasing, scolding look. "Don't fuss."

"As m'lady commands," he said in a mock-serious tone, earning himself an eye roll. Chuckling, he pressed his lips to her forehead. "Just a few days," he breathed against her skin, trying to reassure himself as much as her.

"Just a few days," Snow quietly agreed.

Both had a feeling they'd be among the longest days either had ever experienced.


"This is it."

Abigail lifted her head from her book–her father thought it was a novel but was in reality a book on the laws and customs of a neighboring kingdom; the princess was absolutely fascinated with law, order and politics, subjects generally not considered appropriate for women in her kingdom. "What is, Father?" she politely inquired.

"Prince James will be arriving in two days." He clapped his hands, and rubbed them together eagerly. "We'll announce your engagement that evening and it will all be arranged."

"Oh...yes..." Her face was frozen in an emotionless smile. "How–how...wonderful..." Gods, how had she become so trapped?

Back                         Home                              Once Upon a Time Main Page                          Next

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

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