Title: Tender Hearts from Snow White Sorrow

Disclaimer: I don't own, but if I did, there'd be a Hunstman movie in the works and I would play it every day, and buy all the merchandise. I would love it forever and make it cookies and get it a puppy for Christmas that we would name "Barry Pupper".

Summary: Sleepless night gives way to a coronation morning, and Snow White fears if she does not tell him now, she never will.

Characters/Pairings: Snow White/Huntsman

Notes: started as a drabble and expanded over a sleepless night. Though the movie was perfect on its own -in all its subtle romantic ways, being foremost the coming of age story for one brave girl, and for that i love it- these two required more than a meaningful look across the crowd and I hope I have done it justice. Spoilers for the entire film of course, all two beautiful hours. Epilogue, coda, missing scene: take your pick.

Words: 2621


...

"Walk with me," she requested, stepping out into the pale morning light. He unhitched himself from the shadowed eave, stiff from a night of restless sleep, and followed her.

The garden was in bloom. Life was beginning again to be pulled through roots to fragile limbs from the earth, renewed: buds were open on withered stems, tender blades of green scattered the wretched mounds of dirt and ash.

There was even a red rose, full-blown and fierce against the once-ruin.

"It is true," the huntsman said, in awe, watching her move through the tangled wreck, pausing only to right the stalk of a fallen plant or brush aside the brambles from a fresh vine. "You will heal this burdened land."

Her body went still yet her heart beat frantic in her chest like a moth trapped in a jar.

"I do not know how," she confessed, her voice a whispered fear; a child afraid. She kept her back to him, a step out of reach. Yet he could hear her voice, and see the fallen slope of her shoulders. He battled himself to keep his hand at his side, clenched, though it quaked to cradle her worried cheek.

"You will," he assured her with a conviction he felt to his core, standing as tall as he had felt in many a ragged year. "Have you not already regenerated me?"

She could not turn to meet his eye, though she dared herself to try. He had done much more to save her than she had for him. He had rescued her when she was but lost and without a prayer. He had held her upright when she would have fallen, found the strength in her that she didn't know she possessed. And now, was it all ended?

Her head lifted despite the doubt that weighed it down; her shoulders straightened. "Then will you now go?" she asked, almost dreading the words as they struggled past her dry lips. The sound of her heart was loud in her own ears, ringing like a death knell.

"I believe…" the huntsman faltered. There were no battles left to fight, no princess' to protect. His unexpected journey had ended and with it had come the rightful sense of an end, not only of the dark times laid upon the kingdom, but for his own wandering. He'd been adrift so long in the stupor of loss and ale; what was he to do now?

"I believe," he began again, this time with perhaps a greater confidence, "I could be persuaded to stay. If I found myself to be needed," and here his pulse all at once quickened, the uncertainty of acceptance or rejection hinged on this fragile moment he felt with crushing importance.

For the first time her eyes touched upon his and he wished himself a worthier man for the way they played havoc with his undeserving heart.

"And if I were to always be in need of you?"

He answered without hesitation. "Then I would stay, always."

The huntsman was aware of the sound of his voice, and the way his hands had begun to tremble. She had somehow moved closer, or the air had grown thick, pressing in the space around them. Regardless, the scent of her swirled to him, and her pale skin was in clear view, radiant in the soft sunrise. His eyes could not help but travel the curve of her delicate face, unscarred from age or spoiled disposition, and become moored in the meadow seas of her eyes, awash against the raven-wing shimmer of her hair. He was entranced, and truly had been from the very first: that desperate grey moment in the horror of the Dark Forest when all was yet unclear. His heart pained and his mind tortured by dead remembrances, he was no use for anyone in need, much less himself. And yet she had chosen him, and he had trusted a hope yet beyond his understanding, siding with the gentle pleas of a lost and terrified girl. Something had changed in that moment, for him, and for ever.

"I am indebted to you," she said in a way that only dreams sound and he watched her lips as she spoke, unashamed to wonder how they would feel against his own -this time bright and full of life, and not the cold embrace of mournful guilt. "And it is my regret to not have thanked you for all that you have done."

"You have, princess, more than you shall ever know."

There was hardly a calculable space between them. She stood whole and alive before him, unafraid and beautiful in the bend of his shadow. Truth waited between them, lovely and unspoken and undeniable. He had only but to reach out his hand to her and he would surely be ruined, with no way and no willingness to turn back.

"Yet," she said suddenly, as if awakening from some spell, "I do not even know your name." A look of consternation overtook her pale features and the moment was ended: the world around them relaxed and the thread that had drawn them so closely together was effectively snipped. He could not contain a gentle chuckle at her undue worry, and his expressed mirth broke up the silent mutiny between his body and his better judgment.

"Eric," he said, and she tested the name on her own, finding it satisfactory.

"It suits you," she said, offering a half smile. "It is a good name."

And then she laughed; a pure sound, the song of birds, "I could not have very well beckoned you by calling you "the Huntsman" now could I have?"

It was the sound of her laugh that gave him daring: her, himself, the very change in nature that reignited a youthful playfulness within him.

His tongue teased before he could reign in the reckless member: "And what if I shall not take to being beckoned?"

For a moment she was perplexed, unsure of the nature of his words until his tone and wild grin corrected her course of thought and a fire of likewise mischievousness danced in her eyes.

"I am your queen," she challenged.

"Not yet," he countered, turning quickly on his heel to the drop of her jaw.

There was a time when such insolence would have cost him his head. And still, perhaps, propriety and rules of conduct demanded of him a little better respect. Though not queen yet, she certainly stood upon higher ground than he. Yet, he was carefree; a young man once again. And like all young things, he was overly-confident to a fault. But a fault he knew was not without admirers, if the sound of footsteps trailing after him was any indication. To hell with status! -she had become his life-blood, the very spirit enlivening his bones and sinew. And so refreshing was this change in him that he would not stand to be made ashamed of it, nor pause to consider a consequence. Life was beautiful, and there was no wrong in that.

He could feel her fight and fury as she followed him, and her passion made him grin. He'd started a fire beneath her new-found pride and he rather liked it's effect. This was a new Snow White, expanding out from her life of locked-tower and terror; growing and learning and becoming as quickly as the tender plants she'd brought back from the ground.

Her dress rustled as she hastened to keep up with him. He could hear her exasperated gasps and the pause as she gathered her skirts into her hands so that she would better maneuver across the uneven ground. Satisfaction wet the edges of his wide grin; what little he'd had the chance to teach her, she had remembered well.

Eric plunged onward, unsure of his destination but getting there with speed nonetheless. His giant strides took him to a far corner of the garden, where the twisted trunk of an ancient tree grew out from the rock and wall despite all belief to the contrary. It was under the barren, gnarled branches that he stopped, halted so abruptly that Snow collided full tilt into his solid back. She uttered a small scream of surprise and would have toppled had Eric not wrapped his arms around her, catching her fall.

He held her in his arms, longer than he should, and close to his chest. Again he was acutely aware of her nearness, as well as the far place they had secluded themselves, unintentionally away from curious faces. Her eyes were wide, and they stared into his, as readable as an open book. With a shake, he brought himself away from the edge of his senses, and slowly lifted Snow to her feet, moving back to assert space between them once more.

"Forgive me," he began to say, but his words were lost in the flood of her own.

"I remember," she began, taking an assertive step back into the space he emptied.

"I remember the pain and the cold and then the silence. I thought I would reach Heaven, but there was only darkness that stretched forever. Darkness and silence and loneliness." Her eyes refused to waver from his own and her words came forth fast and strong, as though she had only to get them out of her for the memory to no longer haunt her and she needed every bit of strength his presence could offer.

"You asked me once what I knew of sorrow. You did not know me then, and I hardly truly knew myself, but I did know the loneliness. And when it came to me again, after, I felt, so sure a defeat, I welcomed it. Imagine, loneliness itself an old friend." She laughed, a soft ruefully sound.

"I was ready to die. I was ready to spend my eternity in the dark and silence. I am ashamed of it now, and was even then though I did not acknowledge it. I thought in my despair and loneliness that it would be simpler to give up than to struggle onward. But then, you came."

Tears sprang from the corners of her eyes and Eric had no will to stop his hand from reaching out to comfort her now; his rough-hewn palm cupped the side of her face, his thumb moved to catch the salt tears as they fell.

So long ago she had known affection before it was ripped from her like all the bright things the Queen had sought to darken. Eric's touch filled her with something forgotten and she wept anew, not of sadness but of joy. She remembered his touch that night, while she lay still and departed in some hallowed hall of worship.

"I heard you," she confessed. "I heard you speak of your wife and your sorrow, and I heard you speak of a faith in me I myself did not have. Your voice pulled me from the loneliness. You brought me back. You led me to life again and you gave me the strength to face her.

"She did not take my heart. And I can thank only you."

Eric's hand fell from her face. He wrestled with his words, desperate in his insignificance to find the ones that would be of most value. "Nay, princess, it was you who had the strength within you all along."

Snow shook her head. "Were it not for you, I would be laid now beneath the ground; a useless memorial of a failed hope."

"Twice I failed you; you deserved better than me." His words slipped and were trampled by the yet present doubt and lingering guilt, "I am unworthy of merit."

"There is no one more worthy," she argued earnestly.

"There are better men," he contended, his voice heavy.

"And where are these better men that came to my aid? Shall you point them out to me so that I will reward them with that which you do not want?" She heard the intended edge to her voice, and saw its effect in the furrow of his brow.

"Maddening woman," he growled. "There you be, giving me grief again. Can you not understand-"

She interrupted, "-that you cannot accept due gratitude?"

"That," he said, "you are everlastingly compassionate, and strong, and brave. You are the most gentle and brightest creature I have ever met. But you are also naive and innocent, princess. You cannot yet understand what is it like for me to stand before you… and want nothing more than to take you in my arms and kiss you."

Snow had gone very still and Eric rubbed a hand across the back of his neck, heaving a rumbling sigh. "To think I had lost you felt as though I had lost myself again. In that moment of faith in you, I had no faith in myself. I am- was a drunkard, princess. A lost man before you and a lost man to be after you had gone. But then you returned to live and breath and rule this kingdom and you claim it is me who brought you to this point, but I know that it is not. For I was weak, and unfit to offer strength to anyone.

"I am weak still. I fight against myself when I see you, for you do bring me good in all the ways I have long been without. These hands ache to hold you near and my lips yearn to touch yours. But I know I cannot. For I am unworthy of your heart, princess, as a heart so greatly desired deserves itself a great heart in return. And I have not been blessed with such."

Snow stood a fraction back, her face unmasked, waiting, looking as though she stood in the presence of a roaring beast. And a beast Eric felt, something gruff and terrible. But she did not run, and he should have known. She was a fighter, his princess, and she would fight until the end.

"It is my heart," she said, her voice almost challenging him to argue her. "I will choose to whom it belongs and what prize, if any, I gain in return. You do not see yourself as you ought, as I have, and do now this very moment. You say you have no great heart, but I disagree."

He scowled. "And there is no one else? No other being that you would rather be the keeper of such a thing?"

His words had intended to, and did thus pull forth the edge a worn memory: apple trees and brown eyes. William. She considered the image of him in her mind. He man he was now and the boy she once knew. Those times were long ago. A different lifetime, and childish fancies, never to be the same at it was.

She shook her head and held it high, unyielding. "None."

Eric offered a wry smile, something from beyond himself, coming forth unbidden but true. He felt as though something had begun to break apart inside him. His self control disintegrated; his adamancy shattered. Guilt and worry and shame melting away in the light of her affirmation. He stepped closer, of free will and without hesitation, and ran his fingers across the arch of her face, and his bruised knuckles along the underside of her jaw.

"You are sure?"

"Completely," she said, a flush coming into her cheeks, rosy red against the pale skin.

He laughed then, freely, happily. "You astounding girl," he chided, slipping an arm around her waist and bending his face close to hers.

"Queen," she corrected, a great smile stretching itself upon lips he brushed gently with his.

"Not yet."

fin