Snow White and the Huntsman

She felt the beginning tug of a smile lift the corners of her lips when she caught sight of him through the dense crowd at her coronation. She already felt the weight of responsibility resting on top of her head where the new crown rested, making her breath catch in her throat and her heartbeat speed up with the same fear she had felt in the Dark Forest. But just as he had been her savior in the hell of those woods, so he was here amidst the fear of her uncertainty.

She was near panic at the thought of running an entire kingdom on her own – imagine it, the girl barely out of her adolescent years who had scarcely spoken to a single soul since she was captured and imprisoned in a tower as a child. Snow White barely had any familiarity with society at all, had only experienced the people living in her kingdom in the life-changing week it had taken her to defeat Revena, with the help of the Huntsman, Duke Hammond, and the Dwarves. Now she was expected to run a society. Fear overwhelmed her.

But the second she found his face in the crowd, and felt his unbearably bright blue eyes on her, his smile allayed her fears in an instant. The look on his face seemed to tell her he would protect and support her still, as he had the day they met, no matter what they may face. She felt an inexplicable calm.

The moment passed, and she lost sight of his face in the coronation proceedings. After many passage readings, intonations, and repeated prayers, a celebratory feast began. Dukes and duchesses, lords and ladies, knights, dwarves, and the common folk all joined in together to eat, dance, and celebrate the beginning of the rightful Queen's reign. Snow White smiled and thanked her supporters, an endless stream of villagers who wanted to express how happy they were she had ended Revena's reign of terror. The young girls of the village were safe again.

Duke Hammond finally swept in and saved her, telling the throng of happy townspeople that the Queen must break to eat and would gladly resume their audience another day. After all, she had the rest of her life to prove herself as a good queen. Snow shot Hammond a thankful look and moved away from the crowd. The celebration was taking place in the castle gardens, newly revived by caretakers that had been around since Snow White's father had been King.

Snow White wandered through some high, clipped hedges to a quiet corner of the garden, removed from the feast. She perched on a modest wood bench, letting herself exhale for the first time since they had placed the crown on her head.

To her right, she knew the Huntsman rested against a stone well in the shadows. He moved away from the well, moving slowly until he stood directly in front of her. He dropped to one knee, bowing his head. "My Queen."

The rumbling of his voice squeezed her heart. "My Huntsman," she returned ruefully. "Please rise, sir. I won't allow the hero who has saved my wretched life many times now to bow before me. If it weren't for you, I'd be dead in the depths of the Dark Forest." She ducked her head.

"I thought you were dead." He whispered. Her eyes shot back up to meet his. "I still don't understand how-" His voice halted, unsure. "I saw you there, lying dead and cold. I failed to protect you." He finished.

She smirked. "You saved me."

She continued, attempting to explain when his brow furrowed with disbelief. "I was dead and cold on the outside, but within, I was aware of everything. I could not move or speak but I could hear, and I could feel. I remember lying on a bed of furs when you came and spoke to me." His eyes widened.

"You spoke of your sorrow for your wife and how you hadn't felt anything since her death. Then you said I reminded you of her, and you felt as desolate of my enchanted slumber as you did of her death. You felt sorrow that you couldn't protect either of us." Then Snow put two fingers against her bottom lip. "You kissed me."

"When you left, I felt tears running over my cheeks. I could feel my fingers twitch. Your kiss saved me from death." She finally admitted.

"I know I cannot speak for your dear wife, but allow me to say this: if you offered her your protection and trust as you did me, then you did not fail her. You gave to her the greatest gift." Snow White fixed the Huntsman with imploring eyes, but he was frozen, still kneeling before her.

"I confess I fear the tasks that lay before me as Queen, knowing you will likely return to your village to hunt." His brow crinkled, though he continued to stare at her.

She lost all semblance of royal formality.

"I can't do this without you."

The voice that uttered this plea was not that of a Queen; it was the voice of a lost little girl.

He responded immediately, her fear propelling him out of his stupor. He took her hand against his heart and wiped a fallen tear away with his calloused thumb, allowing his warm, rough palm to brush against her cheek.

"You have already proven you don't need me to protect you." He pointed out gently.

"But if you'll allow it," she swallowed nervously, "I want you at my side. As the Captain of the Queen's Guard."

At this, he smiled, and Snow could feel her heaviness lifting.

"You can have my life and my honor, my Queen."

A second later, he asked, "Is that the only reason you want me at your side?"

She shook her head solemnly, fear closing up her throat.

The Huntsman looked guarded, cautious.

"And what of William? The Duke of Hammond's son is highborn like you, closest to your age, and not to mention irrevocably in love with you. He is your perfect match." He said, but he sounded insincere even to his own ears. "He would make a worthy king."

"But his kiss did not break my spell and end my suffering." She whispered haltingly, afraid to meet his steady gaze. "His were not the eyes that kept watch over me at night in the wilderness. His were not the arms that blocked me from every foe, and his were not the hands that carried me to safety. His was not the heart that believed in me despite everything, even after I ceased to breathe."

He sighed wearily. "My Queen, you don't want to cast your lot with a man like me. I am already damaged by war and loss. I gave up honor for the life of a lecherous drunk, and I am certainly not an appropriate suitor for a beautiful maiden Queen. You haven't yet come to know the disappointment men impose on girls with your unsoiled loveliness. I would ruin you." This muttered, bumbling speech left the Huntsman awash in the misery of his own insecurities, still clutching Snow's hand against his chest and looking utterly wrecked.

She moved her hands to rest on either side of his face, to make sure he looked directly at her. She met his miserable gaze with a small, girlish smile.

"You have already ruined me."

Her whispered confession broke the last wall between them, and he answered her by dropping to both knees and pulling her close to him, her slight body pressed against his generously muscled one.

He brushed her loosely braided hair away from her face, looking into her wide eyes earnestly.

"I'll be right here to protect you for as long as you'll have me." He promised.

She smirked. "I hope you'll plan on forever, because that is how long I will require your services."

He laughed, the laugh of someone whose burden has been lightened.

"That may give me just enough time to be able to describe how beautiful you are to me, my Queen." His lips brushed against her pale cheek.

"Call me Snow."

And that was the last thing either of them said for a long while, after his warm lips finally found hers in a gentle, slow kiss.