For n_e_star, who prompted James/Snow White, Happy Birthday. Trying out a new fandom here guys, so I'm kind of hoping it works. This could be interesting. Hope you guys enjoy it.
He knew it was a bad idea.
He absolutely knew it was a bad idea.
He was already betrothed, promised to another. And his intended wasn't just anyone. No, she was the princess. Of a neighbouring kingdom. A very prosperous neighbouring kingdom which a union with could save his own.
So it wasn't just his own life and his mother's he was risking with his little trip; it was the lives of all of his countrymen.
But he was riding his horse in the opposite direction of the castle he would soon be living in anyway, because he was insane.
(Or because he was something else that felt very similar to insanity.)
James (he may as well get used to calling himself by his new name, it was who he'd become) had only spent a few days in the company of his bride to be and already his life was stretching before him like some terribly unpleasant task. His fiancé was petty, spoiled, difficult to please, judgemental and completely oblivious to the world around her.
And yet he was to marry her.
But not with his mother's ring. James had decided. He couldn't give Midas' daughter his mother's ring. He didn't care that there was a possibility that he might come to love Abigail later (a remote possibility, but James supposed there was an outside chance). He still couldn't bring himself to give her his mother's ring. A woman like Abigail wouldn't care for a ring that love followed. All she'd care about was the size of the jewel in the setting.
And it just felt wrong. James would do his duty to his country, but he would not sacrifice his only remaining link to his mother to a woman not worthy of it.
Regardless of the fact that wisdom urged him to turn his horse around and gallop back to his soon to be father-in-law's castle, James led his mount forward, trying to disturb the forest around him as little as possible. The forest itself wasn't the problem, it was what, or who, could be lurking within it.
And there were several reasons that James didn't want to attract attention.
On that score, what his bride to be would think about this little jaunt was low on his list of priorities. The woman he was searching for was at the forefront of his mind. He would not be responsible for leading her enemies directly to her. Thus, caution was required.
He still had yet to find her. But he wasn't worried on that score. He was confident that he would always be able to find her.
Suddenly James heard the slightest movement just behind him. He couldn't quite stifle his grin before he turned, certain that the intruder didn't mean him harm.
"Charming," Snow White said by way of greeting.
James dismounted immediately out of politeness. "Are you never going to call me by my given name?"
She pretended to consider the question. "Probably not," Snow admitted after a moment.
James grinned. He didn't really mind, especially since the given name he was currently using hadn't actually been given to him. Whereas the silly nickname she'd assigned him sounded like it belonged; whatever it was, it was his alone. Besides she wasn't using it to mock him anymore, much.
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" he asked with a grin.
She shrugged. "So what brings you back to these woods so soon? I'd have thought after your last little mishap, you'd be anxious to stay away."
He took a step closer to her. "Maybe I like adventure," he said with a small smile.
He watched her smile back. "Another royal bored with your glamorous lifestyle?" she teased, eyebrow raised.
His jaw tightened slightly at the irony of that. "Not exactly," he murmured softly. He hadn't been living the royal lifestyle long enough to get bored.
He caught it, and realized that he needed to lighten the mood. "And you're one to talk," he reminded her. "You're of the royal line and you've been traipsing around these woods for months now."
"Ah yes," she said dryly. "That's me, getting my thrills by sleeping in a hollowed out log. Nothing whatsoever to do with the enormous reward on my head."
So much for lightening the mood, James thought ruefully. "Speaking of which," he told her. "Shouldn't we be moving off the road?"
Snow White cocked her head towards a little path through the trees. "Follow me," she told him.
"So how did you know I was coming?" he asked her, leading his horse behind him.
She shrugged. "I try to monitor the people entering this part of the forest as best I can."
"Not that you were hard to track." she added. "Wandering about aimlessly as you were."
"Hey!" James objected.
Snow hid her grin as best she could, "Tell me, what exactly were you planning on doing if I hadn't found you when I did?"
James puffed up his chest slightly against the blow to the male ego. "I found you once, you remember."
"You can find me again?" she asked almost hopefully, turning towards him.
"Exactly," he whispered.
"Oh," she breathed
"Except that this time you found me and saved me the trouble," he added.
"Why?" she asked turning away from him as she continued to lead him deeper into the forest.
He followed, sure that she knew where she was going. "Why what?" he wondered.
"Why did you come find me again?" she asked. "You're obviously not here to turn me in to the Queen, even if it would mean enough gold to save your kingdom."
"No," James said decisively. To be honest, that thought hadn't even entered his mind.
He smirked. "So, you're quite famous you know."
"Yeah, my face is hung up all over town," she said dryly.
James ignored that. "You're a princess," he reminded her.
"Was," she whispered softly. "Was."
"I gather that's something you're born into, not something that gets assigned," he reminded her, wondering if dared reach up to squeeze her shoulder, or even her hand.
"And sometimes things change," she reminded him in turn.
James frowned. He knew that only too well. Before his brain could go too far down that path, he reminded himself of what he'd wanted to say. "What I meant was, there are records all about your life at Midas' Castle," he told her. "Telling all about your family, and your eventual disappearance, and your birth."
She froze almost imperceptibly. "That must have been an exciting account," she said attempting to sound casual.
"Fairly standard," James acknowledged with a smile, enjoying his moment. "But it does mean that I know what today is."
"Hmm?" she asked, with another horrible attempt at sounding oblivious to what he was hinting at.
"I know it's your birthday," he said softly, sincerely. "Happy Birthday, Snow.`
She stopped walking, but didn't turn to face him. "You came all this way to wish me happy birthday?" she asked, staring very determinedly at a tree.
`No, of course not,' he replied.
She tried to hide her disappointment. "Of course not."
James wasn't cruel enough to deceive her for long. "I also came to give you your present," he added, holding out a small package in her direction.
He watched her bite her lip to try and contain her smile as she turned towards him. "You shouldn't have," she started.
"Maybe not," he acknowledged. "But I did. So you might as well open it. Besides, everyone should get at least one birthday present. Even princesses on the run from the law and reduced to living in tree trunks."
Snow chuckled. Taking the parcel from him, she unwrapped it slowly, and then stifled a gasp.
Inside was a pair of fur-lined mittens. "Perfect," she whispered.
"Yeah, I noticed that you had the hat and scarf, but seemed to be missing the mittens," James replied awkwardly. "And winter's coming."
She sent him a tremulous smile. "Thank you. They're beautiful."
He found himself returning the smile, happier than he'd been in days. "I'm glad you like them."
"This was really very... charming," she said with the now familiar smirk.
He rolled his eyes.
She grinned. Then the smile slid off her face. "You should go."
He looked up quickly. That wasn't what he'd been expecting. "What?"
"You shouldn't be seen with me," she told him quickly. "Then the Queen will just kill you too."
James wanted to tell her that he didn't care. That he'd risk it. That he didn't care what the Queen thought. But he did care. He cared very much. He wouldn't let anyone get hurt because of his carelessness, least of all her. Sometimes doing the right thing felt incredibly wrong. But he didn't want to burden her with his troubles. She had enough of her own. So instead of an explanation that would do neither of them any good, he went with a joke, "Actually, I happen to think I'd look good on a wanted poster.
"That's not the point," she said with a laugh.
He smiled. "I suppose not," he admitted. "Though I'm glad you agree that the medium would suit me."
She flushed. "I said no such thing."
"I think it was implied," he shot back.
She rolled her eyes slightly. "I knew I should have left you wandering aimlessly in the forest."
This time he did reach for her hand, "I would have found you eventually."
Snow stared at their joined hands for a moment before lifting her head and meeting his eyes, "I know."
James hardly dared to blink. "Good."
"You really need to go," she whispered.
He swallowed, "I know."
He stared at her for almost a full minute, trying to read her eyes, and communicate something with his own. Finally he sighed, and grabbed the reins of his horse to return to the road. "Until I find you again, Snow White."
"Hey! This time I found you, remember?" she teased.
He smiled one last time, before mounting and riding away.
He didn't want to, but if he stayed a second longer he'd do something incredibly stupid, like never leave.
He didn't look back until he reached the road. By that point she'd turned away. Still, he watched her hood disappear into the forest.
He longed to follow.
At least he'd know that her hands would be warm. At least he knew that she had his mittens.
He wished he could give her more.
And he wished he'd had the courage to tell her about the ring he'd sewn into the lining of the left mitten.
James supposed it didn't matter if she never found it or not. She was the only person he could ever give it to.
After all, love followed that ring.