Title: Finding Happy Ever After

Author: Janine

Fandom: The Princess Series

Characters: Talia Malek-el-Dashat/Rose Gertrude "Gerta" Curtana

Rating: PG

Summary: Happily ever after is a choice.

xxx

Talia paused, momentarily halting her nightly wandering through the palace hallways, when she arrived in front of the door to an old, rarely used storeroom. The storeroom was one of many rooms in Whiteshore Palace that contained a hidden entrance to the secret passageways that existed beneath the palace, and this particular secret entrance was one that Talia had used many times in the past because it opened up just outside of Snow White's library.

On countless nights in the past, Talia had slipped unseen into the storeroom and made her way into the dark passage beyond. The first few times she had gone through the storeroom entrance she'd had to carry a lantern with her when she made the journey, but she had traveled the path so often over the years that her feet now instinctively knew the way and she could traverse it in complete darkness.

Talia reached out and placed her palm flat against the door and closed her eyes as emotion overwhelmed her.

How many times had she seen the faint glow of candlelight shining from beneath the library door as she near the exit of the passageway?

How many times had her heart started to thunder in her chest as she walked towards the light because she knew that just beyond that door lay Snow White?

How many times had she entered the library to find snow passed out, her face resting on the pages of an open book, her back rising and falling steadily as she slept?

Too often to count.

Snow had often fallen asleep in that library only to awake in her bedroom, tucked neatly beneath her covers. The first few times it had happened, Snow had assumed that she'd managed to make it to her room under her own power but had forgotten the trip because she'd been so tired. However, one night as Talia had gently carried Snow's sleeping form through the palace hallways, Snow's dark lashes had fluttered, a soft sound had escaped from her throat and then her eyes had blinked open.

"Talia," she gasped, squinting as she leaned her head forward to confirm that the blurry face hovering above hers actually was that of her best friend. "Am I in the air? Why am I in the air?"

Talia had bitten down on her lip to stifle a smile, and had gruffly murmured, "You're perfectly safe, Your Highness. I'm just taking you to bed."

Snow's eyes, had brightened mischievously at her words, and Talia had sighed deeply as Snow giggled and drawled, "You're fresh. You haven't even bought me dinner."

Talia's lips curved up at the memory, but as she returned to the present her smile faded. Her hand trailed down to touch the brass knob doorknob in front of her and she ran her fingers over the dull surface, her heart aching painfully when she remembered how she used to throw the door open without hesitation and descend into the darkness with a smile.

But now … now Snow was gone, Snow was dead and Talia paused.

The library beneath the palace had not been abandoned. The library was still there and Talia was fairly certain that if she entered the storeroom and followed the passage that she would find it occupied. Snow had liked her sleep and many times when Talia had gone down to the library at some ridiculous time of the night, she had found it empty for Snow White had been asleep in her bed. Gerta, on the other hand, was night owl, and on the few occasions since Snow's death that Talia had snuck down to the library she'd always seen the candlelight shining from beneath the door and had heard Gerta moving around, dropping books heavily onto tables, humming softly, and talking to herself as she tried to work out the intricacies of some spell.

She'd stood outside the library doors on those nights listening to Gerta, sometimes for quite a while, but she'd never entered the library like she had when it had been Snow's.

Gerta, she knew, would have been happy – beyond happy really – to have seen her, but the thought of entering the room, knowing that Snow was not beyond the door and never would be again, had been too much for Talia to bear. Snow's death had devastated her, and after all of the abuse it had taken over the years, Talia's heart was slow to heal.

Talia turned her head to the left and looked down the long palace hallway. Prince Jakob's room was not far from where she stood. She had already checked in on the boy once that night, and had even sung him a song when her presence had awoken him, but she could always check on him again.

Talia made up her mind to do just that, but when it came time to actually make her body move she found herself rooted in position, her hand curling more tightly around the brass doorknob, her subconscious unwilling to walk away from the storeroom, the library and Gerta once again.

She turned to look at the door of the storeroom and her heart clenched.

She wanted to go see Gerta.

She'd stopped outside of the storeroom every night that week, and on those other nights she had forced herself to move on and go look in on Jakob for the second or third time, but this night the urge to enter the storeroom and go the library was too strong. Her refusal to follow her instincts and see Gerta had only strengthened the desire and before Talia was fully aware of having made a decision, she found herself turning the doorknob and entering the storeroom.

Gerta wasn't Snow. She may have been constructed from Snow, and resembled her slightly in appearance and mannerism, but she was her own person. A person Talia had come to like and care a great deal about over the past few months – even though she had tried not to.

When she, Gerta, Danielle and Jakob had first gotten back to Lorindar from Allesandria where they had laid Snow to rest, Talia had retreated inside of herself and everyone had left her alone to her misery. She and Snow had not been a couple, but Talia had loved her fiercely, had loved her enough to wake Snow from a magically induced sleep with True Love's Kiss, and her friends had given her time to mourn the loss of the woman she had loved.

However, after a couple months of Talia hiding away in various dark corners of the palace, barely eating and hardly speaking, Queen Danielle had decided that she'd left her friend to wallow in misery for too long and had sent Gerta to fetch Talia.

Supplied with three bottles of strong Arathean wine, the three of them had drunk and talked late into the night and some life had returned to Talia's eyes. Talia had smiled for the first time in months that night and she had even chuckled softly a time or two.

There was life in Talia still, and after that night Gerta had made a point of seeking her out more. Talia always made a show of resisting, but Gerta was persistent and more often than not she eventually persuaded Talia to come with her on whatever little errand it was she off to, and slowly Talia's solitary days had become less solitary.

Candlelight shone from beneath the library door when Talia reached it, but she could not hear any sounds from within the room. She considered turning back, but her heart resisted again, keeping her from moving until finally she reached out and carefully began to open library doors.

The room remained much as it had been when it had belonged to Snow, though it was tidier and more organized. Gerta had a system of organization that a normal human being could follow whereas Snow had sorted everything according to her own Snow logic. However, Talia's wall of weapons remained where it had always been, the bookshelves remained where Snow had positioned them – though they were now alphabetized – the large work bench remained where it had always resided, but the floor was visible instead of being scattered with various papers and articles of clothing, and of course, the large mirror that had once dominated the room was now gone forever.

It was the figure hunched over the desk in the center of the room that commanded Talia's attention however. Candlelight danced over Gerta's red hair, lighting it up until it appeared to be flecked with gold. Gerta's head was resting on the page of an open book, her cheek pressed against the paper, and Talia breathed in sharply at the sight of her. Though Snow's hair had been dark as midnight, Gerta reminded Talia so much of Snow in that moment that Talia nearly fled, but something kept her rooted in place, something kept her watching Gerta, and the longer she watched the more the pain in her chest eased.

Snow had always been dead to the world when she was asleep, limbs loose and completely relaxed; her face serene as a painting of a fairy.

Gerta was different.

Gerta's lips moved as she muttered softly to herself. She shifted as she slept, crinkling the page of the book beneath her cheek. Her brows furrowed sometimes and her hands twitched. At one point she smiled in her sleep, and Talia swore she heard her mumble, "Stupid, Arathean," under her breath, though the fond smile on her lips stayed in place.

Talia didn't know how long she stood there watching Gerta, but she knew that it had been a while and eventually she forced herself to move. She walked towards the desk intent on picking Gerta up and carrying her to her room so that she could sleep properly, however when she arrived at the desk she spotted a glass dagger resting near Gerta's right hand and she paused.

The dagger looked like a miniature version of the enchanted sword Danielle carried, and Talia breathed in deeply as her eyes turned to look at Gerta as she remembered the conversation she had had with Gerta at the Harvest Festival two weeks before about Danielle's sword.

"You covet it," Gerta had whispered teasingly as she and Talia trailed behind Danielle, Armand and Jakob, Talia's eyes scanning the area around the royal family vigilantly looking for signs of danger.

"What?" Talia muttered, sparing a brief glance over at Gerta before returning her eyes to Danielle.

"Her sword," Gerta responded pleasantly, not the least bit phased by Talia's gruff manner, "So good for stabbing, slashing, maiming, chopping and other violent pursuits. You wish you had one."

"It is good for stabbing," Talia agreed.

She'd been fortunate enough to have been able to use the sword on a few occasions and it was a magnificent weapon. The glass was tougher and more durable than any sword Talia had seen, the fragile material made impossibly strong by the love of a mother for her child. Danielle's mother had imbued the sword with part of her spirit, with her love for her daughter, and the sword had saved Danielle's life on numerous occasions.

"Unfortunately, I'm short a mother with fairy blood to enchant one for me," Talia continued.

"Yeah, obviously you're out of luck. I mean it's not like you're walking beside a sorceress or anything," Gerta replied.

Talia turned to Gerta and scowled at her and Gerta simply stuck her tongue out at Talia in response.

"Danielle might get jealous," Talia responded, her scowl dissolving into a small smile as she looked at Gerta.

"So?" Gerta asked, looking over at Talia with wide, innocent eyes.

Talia shook her head at Gerta in response and looked away from her, but not before her lips from twitched up again in a smile.

Talia smiled at the memory. Gerta had reached out and taken her hand as they continued to trail a short distance behind Danielle and her family, and though Talia had gone tense when Gerta had first taken her hand she hadn't pulled away.

She'd had a good night that night, walking hand-in-hand with Gerta, and that wasn't something that Talia had been able to say for quite some time.

A glance at the page Gerta's head wasn't smooshed against confirmed to Talia that Gerta was indeed working on a spell to enchant the glass dagger for her, and something inside of Talia unclenched.

Gently, Talia reached out for Gerta and tenderly brushed a few strands of red hair off of Gerta's face.

Gerta loved her. Talia knew that, Gerta had told her that and so had Snow. The love Gerta had for her burned in her eyes every time she looked at Talia or said her name. Gerta treated every scrape and bruise Talia received like a life-threatening injury, fawning over her and handling Talia like glass even though Talia was deadliest warrior in Lorindar. When Gerta reached out to touch her and Talia allowed the contact, Gerta's whole body relaxed as if the final piece in a puzzle she'd been trying to complete forever had finally slipped into place.

The pure love Danielle's mother had for her was the key to the enchantment of Danielle's sword, and Gerta was going to use her love for Talia to enchant the dagger.

For so long, Talia had watched Snow, loved Snow, protected Snow, and longed for Snow, hoping against hope that one day Snow would look at her the way Gerta now did. She had always known that it was impossible. Snow's preference was clear, and Talia had known that Snow could no more change her desire for men than Talia could change hers for women, but hope was not a rational emotion and Talia had clung to it throughout the years.

Snow had been a true, loyal, wonderful friend to Talia, and though she could not love Talia the way Talia loved her, Snow had loved her fiercely. So fiercely in fact that she had considered taking a love potion to give herself a desire for Talia's body that could match the love she had for Talia in her heart. Snow had loved her so much, that when Snow realized that her mirror was cracking and that the demon her mother had contained within it would break free, Snow had separated her humanity from her body and given it life in the form of Gerta – Gerta who loved Talia in every way, including the way Snow herself couldn't. Snow had loved her so completely that her very last act on earth had been to sever the energy that connected her life to Gerta's so that when she died Gerta would be able to live on and be with Talia.

The tatters that had been left of Talia's heart after Snow finally slipped away had not allowed her envision the future for herself that Snow had, where she and Gerta were together and happy. Though Gerta had been made from Snow, she wasn't Snow and Talia had needed to heal from the loss of the woman she had loved before she could even fathom having a future, let alone a future with another woman.

It had now been three months since Snow's death, and Talia's heart wasn't anywhere near being healed. The thought of Snow still brought tears to her eyes and choked her up so much that she couldn't breathe sometimes. There were parts of the palace and the city beyond that she avoided because they reminded her special moments with Snow. There were foods she couldn't eat because they had been Snow's favorites and sorrow made them taste like chalk and ash in Talia's mouth.

Talia had loved Snow and she would always love Snow, but as Talia gazed down at Gerta and felt something warm in her heart Talia began to believe for the first time since Snow's death that it would be possible for her to care for another again.

Gerta was not Snow, but she was kind, and brave, and funny, and compassionate. She was less guarded emotionally than Snow had been, and her openness often forced Talia to deal with feelings that she would have rather ignored in a healthy way. When Gerta's fingers brushed over her hand, or Gerta pressed against her side for warmth, Talia's heart picked up speed and there was a stirring between her legs. When Gerta smiled, Talia wanted to smile and more and more often she did. When Gerta kissed her cheek before saying goodnight, more and more Talia wanted to clutch at her and hold her close.

She wasn't yet in love with Gerta. Talia couldn't have woken Gerta from a magical sleep with True Love's Kiss as she had with Snow, but she did have increasingly strong feelings for her. She enjoyed being around Gerta, she was attracted to her, and she would protect Gerta with her life. Talia was still healing, but what life there was still in her heart Gerta gave breath to, and Talia believed that if Gerta could continue to be patient with her – as she had been so far – that she could come to love Gerta deeply.

Talia brushed her fingers softly over Gerta's cheek, allowing herself to revel in the softness of Gerta's skin for the first time, allowing herself to imagine what Gerta's lips would feel like, and allowing herself to enjoy the feelings that stirred inside of her instead of feeling guilty about them.

Snow wouldn't have wanted Talia pining after her forever. Snow wouldn't have wanted her to spend her life miserable and alone. The last words Snow had said to her were, 'Promise me you'll take care of her. She deserves to be happy. You both do. Happy ever after is a choice.' Snow had used her dying breath to give Talia and Gerta her blessing, and Talia knew that the most disrespectful thing she could do to Snow's memory would be to ignore her final wish.

Snow wanted her to be happy, and though it made Talia stomach clench to think about it, Talia knew that she could be happy with Gerta … if she let herself be.

"Hey," Talia said softly as Gerta's eyes slowly began to blink open.

"Talia?" Gerta asked, her lips curving up to a large smile even though she was still so sleepy that she probably had no idea where she was. "Wa'as'appened?" she murmured blinking as she rubbed at her eyes.

"You fell asleep on your book," Talia said smiling as she watched Gerta rub at her eyes, trying to clear her vision.

"I do that sometimes," Gerta said unperturbed and Talia smile widened until it also shone in her eyes.

"Books are for reading, beds are sleeping," Talia responded as Gerta gazed up at her, her expression happy but also curious. She was still half-asleep, but she was clear minded enough to notice that Talia`s expression was more unguarded than she had ever seen it before.

"Come on, let's get you to your room," Talia continued, drawing Gerta out of her thoughts.

"I'm fine here," Gerta responded, moaning softly before putting her head back down on the book.

She was too tired to move.

"Witches," Talia muttered under her breath before she leaned down and began to pick Gerta up gently.

"Sorceress'," Gerta mumbled, smiling as she felt herself being lifted into Talia's arms. "Are you going to carry me to bed?" Gerta asked, gazing up at Talia before she rested her head on Talia's shoulder and snuggled closer to her.

"I suppose I have to since you're too lazy to move," Talia muttered, but her features were relaxed and she adjusted her hold on Gerta to make it easier for the redhead to snuggle against her.

"I'd say you're my knight in shining armor, but you're far prettier than any knight I've ever seen," Gerta said breathing in deeply as she drew her nose along Talia's neck and inhaled her scent.

"I should hope so," Talia murmured, earning a smile from Gerta as she turned and headed for the door, using her foot to move the lever that would trigger the spell to automatically extinguish all of the flames in the room.

"I know it's not a problem for you," Gerta breathed out as Talia entered the passage that would take them back into the palace proper, "but some of us need sleep and I might not be able to fall into slumber again now that you've woken me."

"My lullabies always send Jakob to sleep. I guess I'll just have to sing to you too," Talia replied easily though inside her stomach was alive with butterflies.

Gerta was silent for a moment as they made their way through the darkness.

"Truly?" she asked softly, her voice hopeful and vulnerable in a way that made Talia's heart ache for her.

"Truly," Talia responded, pausing for a moment to take a deep breath before she continued. "If you want … I could stay with you until you fall asleep. Just to make sure the lullaby took."

Gerta breathed in sharply at Talia's words and when she shifted her face against Talia's shoulder, Talia could feel the damp press of tears but all that Gerta said was, "I'd like that. Thank you," which Talia was grateful for. She knew her offer meant a great deal to Gerta, but she wasn't quite ready to talk about what it meant for them, not yet.

"Can I choose the lullaby?" Gerta asked, and Talia could hear the smile in her voice.

"You don't know which lullabies I know," Talia pointed out and Gerta sighed before lapsing into silence for a moment as she thought.

"You'll have to sing to me more so that I can learn them all and then pick my favorites," Gerta declared a few moments later, though there was a tentativeness in her voice that showed Talia how nervous she was.

"With my voice they'll all be your favorite," Talia replied grandly, though she wasn't really joking. The fairy magic that flowed through her gave her the voice of an angel as well as above average strength and superhuman grace.

"I'll be the judge of that," Gerta declared though again there was an uncertain but hopeful quality to her voice.

"Okay," Talia agreed and a second later she felt Gerta's smile through the thin material of her shirt.

They entered the palace proper and Gerta blinked against the sudden light, before burying her face her Talia's shoulder to shield her eyes. As she hid her head, her lips brushed against Talia's neck, and Talia's heart spiked happily at the contact, brief as it was.

"You know," Gerta began as Talia continued to carry her through the hallways. "I can see up your nose from this angle."

Talia glanced down at her and scowled, but Gerta simply smiled and lifted up her hand as if to stick her finger up Talia's nose.

"Hey!" Talia exclaimed, smiling despite herself as she angled her head away. "I'm going to throw you down the stairs," she muttered bringing her face around to glare at Gerta again now that the redhead had lowered her hand.

"If you do I'll make it rain pee in your room," Gerta replied smiling sweetly, though the expression turned impish when Talia gaped at her.

It was Talia herself who had shared the story of how Snow had made in rain pee in Prince Armand's bedroom after the Prince had given her insult, so Talia knew that it was possible.

"You can't…" Talia began.

"I've been combing through Snow's books late into the night for months and I've discovered all sorts of wondrous things," Gerta interjected.

"Wonderful," Talia muttered darkly.

Snow had been quite a prankster and she could see that Gerta had a propensity for mischief as well. Gerta hadn't been as well trained as Snow, but her knowledge and abilities had been growing more and more with each passing day and Talia was sure that soon Gerta would be able to get into almost as much trouble as Snow used to.

"Don't worry, Talia," Gerta laughed, "I'll use my powers for good … mostly."

Talia raised a questioning eyebrow at Gerta as they reached the redhead's bedroom.

Gerta murmured a few words that Talia couldn't understand. For a moment nothing happened and Talia arched her eyebrow even higher, but before she had a chance to speak the laces that held the top of her shirt together began to undo themselves until the swells of Talia's breasts were exposed to Gerta's appreciative eyes.

"You're as bad as Snow," Talia muttered as she glanced down to see much more of her bosom than she was used to seeing while out in public.

"Worse," Gerta said grinning before a shy look came into her eyes. "If you'll let me be," she added softly a second later, pausing for just a second before she traced her finger along Talia's collarbone suggestively.

"Oh," Talia breathed out, eyelashes fluttering as Gerta's finger ghosted across her skin. "I'd like that," she whispered roughly, and Gerta smiled up at her brightly. "But … for tonight, an Arathean lullaby?" Talia asked softly, a faint blush dusting her cheeks as her large brown eyes pleaded for understanding.

She wanted to kiss Gerta and touch her, but she wasn't quite ready for it yet. She needed to take things slowly, but she did want more to develop between them.

"I can't think of anything that would make my dreams sweeter," Gerta responded, smiling up at Talia gently before she leaned forward and pressed a sweet kiss to Talia's jaw, more than content to give Talia all of the time she needed as long as they could wait together.

The End