In the year 2719, time travel was invented. To prove their point, the scientist who had developed and perfected the method applied for the patent on the first day that the United States patent office opened, with instructions that the documents were to remain sealed until the day of their departure. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there was no sign of this upon their return. The patent office's records showed an entirely different invention had been filed with the same number.
Annoyed but not deterred, the scientist applied for the patent in their own time, then did further research before making an announcement to the public. It was quite evident that what had become known as the 'Bradbury Effect' in such circles, the theory that even the slightest change to the past would have a dramatic effect on the future, did not exist in practice. Each visit to the past simply spun off a different line of possibility, without resulting in any changes to their home timeline. It seemed the perfect way to open a crosstime travel agency. Various organizations and consultants came forward to consider the matter in great detail, considering the ethics of forever altering the course of history in some variant of their world. It ended as these sort of decisions always end. They reached the consensus that, as there was profit to be made without detectable fallout for them, it was perfectly fine to allow the general public to take advantage of the service.
The Temporal Travel Agency opened to swarming crowds, all more than willing to turn over a good chunk of their life's savings in order to visit the past. Rules were soon set in place, to keep things under control. Certainly, there was always the odd person who wished to improve their own lot in life, even if it were just for another version of themselves, by giving advice they wish they'd received. But far, far too many wished to either seduce, assassinate, or postpone the death of their favourite historical figure. There may not have been notable fallout within their own timeline, but that was no excuse for excessive meddling. And – after pranksters published copies of The Last Supper and various coronation photos which featured themselves with anachronistic items prominently – stricter regulations regarding what could be brought along on a trip were set in place.
By 2721, prices had been adjusted to more reasonable rates, and the general public had come to view the past as simply another vacation destination. The old tourist spots always tended to draw visitors, the crowds that had always been there barely taking note of the additional visitors. Another popular choice, and one that required less of a screening process, were the 'nostalgic' nature lovers, the ones who simply wished to head to some uninhabited region to enjoy a stretch of wilderness in a time before pollution ruined the view.
In a city which had once been known as New Amsterdam, a dark-haired woman was applying for such a visit at the local branch of the TTA. Her pack contained a few items of period clothing, and the amount of currency she applied for converting was exactly the average a tourist would need for the year she stated she would stay. The destination point specified was oddly precise, but not too unusual. 2003, a region of Alaska that was several days' travel from any semblance of civilization. Census reports gave no indication of humans living in the area, so it could safely be assumed she only intended to 'rough it' for the fun of staying in the wilderness for the time.
Her husband accompanied her to the departure portal, and leaned in to give her a kiss for luck. "Wish you didn't use a glamour for this."
"You know how much trouble there'd be if anyone else found out. It's just enough that they don't suspect. And you'd know me in any time, no matter how I look."
The portal attendant stepped forward, interrupting them. "Your coordinates have been entered. You'll need to get going now, Mrs. Tanaraq."
Snow took a second to react. She realized she'd need to adjust to using the alias, now. One last kiss and smile for Bigby, and she turned to the portal.
They needed this chance.
Things had to go better, at least for some version of them
Late 2003, Alaska
Hiking out of the denser part of the forest, the crude cabin finally came into view. Snow steeled herself and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. After the long hike, she was almost as dirt-encrusted as she'd been when they first met. But that might help, really.
She heard some local wolves moving through the trees nearby, but didn't pay them any particular attention. They were keeping their distance, for now, and that was what mattered.
Approaching the cabin, she found the door unlocked. Rather, it had no lock. No real point out in the wilderness. Opening the door and stepping inside, she glanced around. Clothes, junk food wrappers, and empty alcohol bottles were scattered around. "Hello?" she called out, "Bigby? God, are you all right . . . "
Movement could be heard from the back room, and she stepped through. Bigby had been sprawled on the couch, but was now alert at her arrival. His clothing was shabby and his beard had grown out, but she couldn't hold back a smile for seeing him again.
He reached out and brushed his fingers against her arm, as if fearing her some hallucination brought on by the alcohol. He spoke, barely above a whisper, "Snow? It can't be . . ."
"I'm here, Bigby. It's. . . god, it's a long story, but I'm here. I'll explain everything." Impulsively, she hugged him.
The contact sent a shock through his system, and he tensed for a minute. Then his nose finally caught up from the alcohol-deadening and her scent hit him like a flood. He sank into her embrace, taking strength from the contact. After a minute, he noticed the odd variations in her scent. She was still Snow, there was no question there, but he could swear his scent was already on her. . . "It'll be some story, I bet. Care to start now?" He gestured toward the couch.
". . . and after you'd spent a year up here, trying to get drunk, no human contact beyond the odd supply run, by the time Mowgli came for you, you were barely responsive. I wasn't – I'm not – doing much better. The cubs were enough of a distraction to keep me sane, but I was an emotional wreck by the time we met up again." Snow curled closer to him on the couch and took a sip of her drink. She'd been speaking for some time, and the alcohol eased the painful memories she had to relate.
Bigby stroked her hair, comfortingly, and she continued. "It . . . wasn't the ideal way to reunite. We're both too damn stubborn and were too damn hurt when we left the first time, without any way to heal while we were apart . . . things were pretty volatile by that time. We managed, eventually. We love each other too much for it to have ever turned out otherwise, in the long run. But it took a long time. A long time. And there always seemed to be one thing or another trying to keep us apart. We both wished we'd been able to get together earlier, have more time together."
A pause, and she took another sip of her drink. "We thought it over a lot, once the announcement came out . . . if we smoothed things over before that camping trip, there was a risk of wiping our cubs out of existence. Immediately after, there was too much chaos going on . . . and with an intervention like this, time is needed to hash out the details. There are rules about approaching your younger self when travelling like this, and I'm stubborn enough that I don't know if I'd believe me even if I did. You were in transit for quite a while, and couldn't remember exact dates after all that time, this was the earliest spot I could track you to. If at least one of us were stable when we reunited . . . it would have made a world of difference. So now I'm here, I've explained the situation, and I'm desperately hoping that I can convince you to give me – and the other me – a fair chance."
She fell silent, turning to him for his response. His face was unreadable for a minute as he absorbed it all. The entire situation would be overwhelming even without her ultimate plan, to be fair. Finally, he nodded and gave her a slow smile. "I can't say this is easy to understand, or give any guarantee it'll work out smoothly. . . but I'll definitely give it my best shot."
Snow returned the smile, genuine and pure. "That's all I can ask."
". . . and, honestly, did you expect me to come out to the wild with you with six infants? Six flying infants, at that? What would we have done before you built a cabin? How would we handle it if a tether snapped, or we ran out of diapers, or one of them got sick? And having to manage all that while on the run from Fabletown, on top of it all. . . "
The gust swept through the room, familiar to Snow and confusing to Bigby. She beamed, and reached her hand out to the source of the disturbance. "Bigby. . . meet your son."
A moment of silence, then a quiet voice came from the spot. "mommy? I thought you were still on the farm. . . "
Snow gave him a wistful smile. "I still am, darling. It's . . . a very long story."
She turned to Bigby, who was standing there in shock and staring at the area of seemingly empty space, caught off guard even after her prior explanation. Finally, a warm smile. "Hello, Son. We're glad to have you with us. Don't worry, everything will be fine if we stick through this."
Neither mother nor father could see it, but the distinct feeling that their son was smiling at them was unquestionable. They returned it warmly.
"I know it's tempting to intervene, but everything will honestly work out for the best if you wait for Kevin Thorn to make his approach to Fabletown first. . ."
"Shit, no wonder you reacted so badly when you realized you were pregnant. If I'd known --"
"It's not your fault. It wasn't until quite a while after that I realized why I'd snapped like that, myself. But let it slide. If I know me, I'll just try to forget that part entirely."
"Okay, darling! Come to Mommy – and this time, try your best to keep the current from being noticeable."
She applauded and blew a kiss to her son when he arrived, just barely rustling one of the strips of paper which had been hung for the training.
"Now back to Daddy. That was good, but we've still got a way to go. . ."
"Right, I get the unforeseen consequences if I mention it, but why the hell didn't anyone notice that the Adversary had some of his wooden soldiers disguised and spying on Fabletown for so long?"
"I was fine with it when you asked to take things slowly, before everything went pear-shaped. That's definitely not going to change now."
"Well, it's not like I really dated. . . at all. . . since my divorce. It'll still be weird for me for a time. But make it clear that you're there for me, that you always will, and I doubt you'll have much of a wait."
"Just a little sip from the deer, darling. If you can manage this, you'll be able to have 'inside air' without anyone getting angry."
". . ."
"Well, that's progress. And I don't have to hunt anything for dinner tonight, now. . ."
"Beast managed quite well in your old position, to everyone's surprise. With Fabletown's additional budget, I'd advise letting him stay in the position, and taking on a lesser role for yourself. You'll be busy enough as it is."
"To be honest? I had the emotional stability of mercury. Hell, I'd been horribly betrayed by everyone I've ever trusted enough to love, and after trusting you implicitly for centuries, how would you think I'd react when I realized I love you? Not that I actually acknowledge it at this point, it took me years of therapy to catch on . . . "
"One more time, and try not to worry about the bunny . . ."
Snow and Bigby beamed with pride as the rabbit took a small gasp, shook itself off, and hopped away without harm.
"It makes perfect sense. You're too unpredictable to know anything for certain, but at least now I've got a better idea of how to approach our meeting." Bigby grinned and gave her a proper kiss. "It'll be more than worth it. You've made that much clear."
Snow beamed back at him, then noticed the calendar and her face went blank. "It's almost time for Mowgli to arrive. Less than a month to go. Remember what we went over . . ."
Bigby nodded, his own face expressionless. "I'm in a deep funk, haven't had any chance to get over you, but I've been drinking near-constantly to make the attempt. If we time things wrong or he somehow figures out you've been around, we only refer to you by the alias you were – will – use. You're just some mundy I ran into up here, I haven't spilled any of my secrets to you, or Fabletown's. He doesn't know me well enough to question some fling I had, and odds are he won't check your story."
"and I'm not here. I'll keep quiet and follow daddy when he goes."
"Right. And, when you meet up with me . . . once I've had time to relax a bit . . . tell me the truth. All of it. I know I'll understand, and our record doesn't show things turning out well when you hold back the truth." She looked at him with a small smile, feeling real hope for her mission. "Well, just in case it's a while longer, I'd better make a supply run . . . if you're gone by the time I get back, I wish you and your Snow the best of luck. I love you. No matter what time I'm in, even if I don't show it, even if I barely even realize it myself. Know that."
Bigby returned the smile, then held back from saying something. "I'll tell you when I see you again."
With that, Snow left the cabin and went to saddle up the horse they'd purchased some time back to help with the supply runs. A three-day hike didn't really support other options.
"Mowgli, say hello to my current better half. . . "
Snow quietly cursed her timing. She'd rehearsed the role before, and Mowgli had no real reason to suspect. She went through the motions and said all the right things, every inch the annoyed and ignorant rebound who realized her relationship was over; she even managed a few tears, at the end of the conversation. Mowgli joined them for dinner, then headed outside to give them some privacy.
"Well. . . I guess this is goodbye, for us. I'll be heading back to my Bigby, you'll return to your Snow." She reached out and squeezed his hand, lovingly.
"I'll never forget what you've done for us. I'll make it up to her, let her know I appreciate all she's willing to do for me. Thank you. For everything."
They made love one last time, sensual and tender, and a goodbye in itself. After, he dressed, took his pack, and left, off to his own Snow. No words were said; neither had any.
Snow checked her counter, after that – the one piece of future technology allowed, but with a safeguard that kept her from taking it out even around Bigby, it counted down to the time she'd need to leave. She had a little over a week.
The cabin was comfortably theirs, and made her wish that Bigby had tried his offer at some point they didn't have children to look after. The wolves knew her and gave her the right of way, so she simply took the time to hike around, enjoying the open wild as the brochures assumed she'd been doing all this time. When the counter dropped down to the final three days, she realized time was of the essence and saddled up the horse once more, packing only what she brought with her and a few small items to remember the trip by. The journey went quickly, and she felt a pang of regret when she caught site of the town she'd be making her return from. She had Bigby; she adored everything they'd built in their future, but it wasn't the same as living among the wolves.