So much has changed thought Snow White as she settled herself amongst the branches of the apple tree. In the two weeks since her defeat of Ravenna, Snow had barely had time to breath. This was her first moment of true freedom since becoming queen. Snow leaned her forehead against a sturdy branch and closed her eyes. Although Ravenna's reign had been poisonous Snow could almost feel the land begin to heal itself. Even now Snow fancied she could feel life pulsing through the limbs of the old tree. A smile touched her face; the apples from this tree had always been her favorite. The day she could once more partake of them couldn't come soon enough.

As she sat there musing the quiet sound of someone walking inside the garden alerted Snow to the fact that she was no longer alone. Opening her eyes the figure of the huntsman came into view and Snow felt her eyes widen and her heart beat fall out of rhythm. "Eric..." she breathed the name as a prayer and unconsciously gripped the branch she was seated upon. The huntsman spotted her among the barren branches of the tree and the somber expression upon his face lifted.

"I am not certain if that is the appropriate place for her majesty to be seated." The deep timbre of his voice reverberated through Snow's body and she shut her eyes in a feeble attempt to block his visage from her eyes. Now that he was closer Snow could make out the hair roughed planes of his face, the deep blue of his eyes, the way his long brown hair fell across his cheeks paying no mind to the hair tie that held the rest of it back. His lips were curved up in a smile and Snow felt herself longing for them as one who had already had a brief taste. A small flush rose along her neck. Certainly she would remember having sampled them before.

Aware that he was beginning to loose his smile because of her lengthy pause Snow said softly, "You have no need to call me that Huntsman. We have been through too much for you to resort to courtly manners."

Eric shrugged his wide shoulders. "Aye that we have your majesty but I know my place in this world and it is not the place of someone who can speak so familiarly with the queen herself."

"Eric." Snow said his name with a warning tone and glared down at him. "Please...It would make me feel more...myself if at least one person I knew called me by my true name." She raised her body up and began the decent from the tree.

Almost immediately he was there and Snow found herself being lifted down as if she weighed nothing more than a handful of grain. Eric's large hands spanned her waist and Snow could feel a tumult of emotion swirl through her at his touch. She placed her hands upon his warm shoulders and their eyes met. For a moment all was still. His blue eyes seemed to drink her in and Snow was sure that she could feel herself tumbling forward to meet what lurked within their depths. Heat suffused through her body and all too soon the moment was broken as one of the many ravens in the palace let out a shrill cry. Eric seemed to jerk in surprise and immediately Snow felt her feet upon the ground. His hands dropped and he took a step backwards.

Unable to bear the sudden loss of his warm hands Snow took a step forward and placed her hand on Eric's arm. He stiffened and she smiled gently. "Thank you." She gestured towards the path leading further into the garden. "Perhaps you'd like to join me on the rest of my walk?"

He nodded and the two of them set off at a slow place deeper into the garden. For a few moments they walked in amiable silence.

Snow couldn't help herself and moved slightly towards her left so that as they walked her shoulder brushed against his arm. A tingle of warm shot to her finger tips. Much better. She looked up at Eric and smiled. He grimaced and stopped walking. "Your majes...Snow...There's something I must speak of to you."

Snow had kept walking but the tone in his voice stopped her and she turned to face him."What ever is the matter?" When he didn't respond right away she said gently, "You know you can speak of anything to me."

A long moment of silence and then: "I'm leaving." The words seemed to hang there in the silence as Eric stared at Snow with an unreadable expression on his face. Snow could only stare at him in shock and only then did she realize that he had a pack slung across his shoulder and his axe resting snugly against his hip.

A cry sprang to Snow's lips. "You're leaving!" Without thought she strode back to him and grabbed onto the lapels of his coat. She stared up at him stunned and throw numb lips pushed out. "Surely you're jesting."

His hands reached up and covered hers giving them a gentle squeeze before removing them. "No your ma-...Snow. My place is not here in this palace." Eric hesitated before adding, "You shouldn't worry about being alone; you will have the Duke and William to aide you in every way. And with Quert acting as a liaison between you and the dwarves you will not have a moment to remember a huntsman."

Snow felt a mixture of hurt and anger at his words. After everything they had gone through together how could Eric expect her to just let him go calmly? They had weathered the dark forest, trolls, the queen's guard...

"How can you say that?" Snow White grabbed his hand and continued heatedly, "You are a part of my life now and I will not let you leave me so easily. Surely there is work for a huntsman here in the palace. If not I will create such a work. I cannot..." Her voice trembled into silence but after a brief moment she squared her shoulders and declared defiantly, "I will not be parted from you!"

Eric was quiet for a moment; desperation and hopelessness colouring his voice when he finally did speak. "Do you think this is something I chose to do easily? Do you sincerly believe I would part from you so quickly If I did not think that it was necessary?" Eric's large hands were suddenly cupped gently around Snow's face and his blue eyes peered earnestly into her green ones.

"Then do not leave me." Desperately Snow reached up and placed her own cool hands on the huntsman's cheeks. She closed her eyes and drew his head down to touch her forehead to his. "Do not leave me huntsman." The struggle with in him at her desperate plea was almost palpable. Flushed Snow kept her gaze downward until she felt His hand running a fiery trail along her cheek. Snow's eyes widened as Eric's left hand slid behind her head to tangle in her hair. Their eyes met again and Snow felt herself tremble as Eric pulled her closer to him. Their breathes mingled for a brief moment and then...bliss.

That was the only word Snow White could use to describe her emotions as their lips blended together. It was gentle and soft and the way their lips fit together tugged at a distant memory in Snow's mind. She vaguely remembered kissing William back in the forest but she immediately shrugged that aside. It had felt nothing like this. Like her insides were on fire and the only way to cool the flames was to press against Eric. Snow melted into him and Eric's hand ran down her arm before fitting around her waist and pressing her against him.

The flames were fanned and increased; the sudden closeness of their bodies awakening something inside each of them. Eric's hands gripped Snow almost painfully as his kiss turned fierce. Snow gasped giving the huntsman more access to the softness of her mouth. For long moments the young couple was entranced in each other. Nothing existed for them but this moment. Then, just as suddenly as the kiss began, it ended. Snow leaned her head against Eric's shoulder and took in deep shuddering breaths. Eric was breathing heavily and he held Snow White to him unable to find the strength to release her. In a soft murmur he said, "Not a day passes that I do not thank God for returning you to me."

It was if Snow's eyes were opened, almost forgetting words flooded her mind, "I'm so sorry I failed you...so sorry. But you'll be a queen in heaven now and sit among the angels." and the memory of an exquisite pressure against her lips just before she awakened from her death like state. In wonderment Snow White pulled away and looked up at him.

A smile parted Snow's lips. "You woke me up. Your love brought me back to you." Her fingers grazed his cheeks as she continued to stare up at him, a warm expression in her eyes.

Eric flushed a deep red and said, "I don't understand, what have my feelings got to do with anything?"

"Only true love is strong enough to break any spell Huntsman. It is the purest of magic." Snow leaned into him and continued softly, "You love me Eric. Your love is what revived me, what gave me life once more." Her arms tightened around him and she finished by saying, "So please, do not speak anymore of leaving me. My heart will surely break."

Eric's fingers found her chin and gently pushed her face up so he could see into her eyes. His expression grave he asked, "Am I to understand that...that you return my sentiments?"

A shy smile touched Snow White's mouth and she nodded. "Yes. I love you more than words could ever express."

"Then My Queen it would be a privilege to remain here beside you. I pledge to you my heart and my life." Eric spoke solemnly and lifted one of Snow's hands up to his mouth to press a soft kiss against the palm of her hand.

Snow shivered from the contact and whispered, "Then Huntsman I do pledge my heart and life to you. Forever."

Eric drew Snow against him and whispered against her lips, "Forever."

The End