A/N: I can't stop writing this ship! They're so lovely!
I've got to put a warning up though. SAD STORY IS SAD. If you're cool with that, read on!
(Sorry, sad stories are my favorite.)
Sword an extension of her arm, mouth blooded and twisted in a battle cry, she is not witness to the last blow the Huntsman will ever take.
The world has flourished under her rule for years, life sprouting from ruin, but today they are at war. A tribe at the edge of the world threatens her people. Ravenna's few living followers, banished from the castle and its surrounding grounds, have grown in strength and numbers during their exile. And during the previous night, attacked. Snow rode out with the first swell of soldiers, despite both Willam's and Eric's pleas to remain within the castle walls - she has been a caged bird before, never again.
Victory and death fill the air, her lungs. Hair tied back from her face, Snow rages through waves of men, graceful and deadly by turns, slipping beneath the edge of a blade to cut into throats and through abdomens. Entrails spill out in piles. The enemy gargles final prayers for forgiveness. And Snow White stands tall in the midst of it all, breasts heaving against the inside of her chestplate, eyes dark and cutting. She fights for everyone in her kingdom, and for him.
She looks for him in the chaos, stares past the bravery of her army, searching out the muddy brown of his leathers. No matter how many times she has asked - she has long since lost count - he would never accept the armor worn by the rest of her men, said with a half-smile that he was a huntsman, not a soldier, and that he fought not for this land, but for her. She had always simply rolled her eyes at that and called him a loon, to which he would quickly agree, because what else could explain his fancying a scrawny twit like her outside of madness?
When she finds him now, she hates herself for it, for being so weak, for allowing him to step foot into battle without six layers of chainmail and a small village spaced between himself and an enemy's weapon.
"Eric!" she cries, and it's hardly a sound at all, the echo of something shattering. He's laid flat in the grass amongst a sea of bodies. The struggle has moved on, leaving him out of harm's way. For that, she is thankful, releases a staggering breath and drops to her knees at his side, shedding sword and shield to grip at his arm. His blue eyes, bright still with the fervor of war, slip towards her, but there's something wrong in their movement, sluggish
He works for a smile, but it wilts quickly into a poorly disguised grimace. It shows through on her face instead, sad and hopeful where there should be none.
"Are you injured, where? I'll call for the doctor." She struggles to keep calm, but her voice wobbles at the edge of a realization she can't accept. He's got both hands folded neatly on his left side, but she can't look there. She won't. The barest lining of crimson catches her eye, but she shuts out the color before it can be anything more than a hallucination.
The morning air is suddenly freezing. It's a fight to get it into her lungs, and there it stings. Where the battle was like a pulse between her ears before, now it is barely a babble, faraway, white noise to what's happening here, what may have already happened.
Eric hasn't said a thing, about where he's hurt or that he's fine, or anything at all. He is watching Snow and dragging in breaths through flared nostrils and nothing else. What's happening to him, there's a name for it, but she doesn't dare think it.
Snow wets her lips and cups her hands to call for a medic, shaking all over and too terrified of his silence now to hide it any longer. But before she can make a sound, there's a weak hand at her elbow and from the edge of her vision she can see him shaking his head. "Don't, Snow. Please."
The defeat in his baritone is cutting; she can't look at him. She is consumed by the violent smears of red over an angle of her armor, shaped like his fingers, the very same fingers that had trailed down the curve of her cheek the night before. The same handprint she still felt burned into her side from when they made love is now stamped over her elbow in condemnation. She is to blame for this.
"No! You're going to be fine, please, let me get help," she says fiercely, pressing a kiss to his palm, lips red as blood painted in the warm slickness. And then, breath caught, she looks at what his hands were hiding. His other has fallen away and she can see everything. The sound that leaves her must be startling, because Eric jerks and reaches for her arm, to steady her or to hold her back, she doesn't know.
There is blood everywhere. It has bloomed violent and mocking over his entire middle, seeped into every crease and fold. It is spilling down his sides and puddling beneath him in a sticky halo.
She looks and looks, entranced by what her flippancy has done. Her face is wet, lashes clumped with tears, but she can see where the blood is darkest now and, wiping the blurriness from her vision, she presses both tiny hands over the oozing wound in a futile attempt to stopper it. Eric grunts like she's speared him herself - hasn't she? - and tries to lift his head away from the grass, but he can't, it's too heavy. He sinks back to earth and then he is still.
"Why didn't you just wear the damn armor like I'd asked?" Snow cries, anger the only thing holding back the realization that he is slipping, that he can't be saved. She grounds her hands into the place where life is pouring from him in buckets. It's all over her, she's soaking in it.
When she finds the courage to meet his eyes, they're so tired, clear as the morning sky, but unfocused and glossy. Even with mud on his face, he looks pale, more like a ghost than living flesh. It won't be long now, that cruel part of her whispers, and not even the stricken sob that leaves her throat raw and in ribbons can silence it.
"Princess," he breathes when finally she has looked down into him, and the worst part is there's a smile in his voice, nevermind the fact that she has been queen for years. It must take strength he doesn't still possess, but somehow Eric manages to lift a hand and trail those same damn fingers down her cheek again. Frayed and unraveling fast, Snow leans into his touch with shuttered eyes, leaves his wound to press her hand against the back of his and hold it there against her face.
I've always loved this, she thinks absently about his hands, about how they could be so rough, hardened by years and years of labor, and yet so gentle for her alone. He would often cup her face in both hands to kiss her, and just that simple touch, the warmth of his broad palms upon her cheeks, was enough to have her flushed and wanting. They could be so delicate, in loosing her garments and in smoothing up her arms or the insides of her thighs. The weight of his hand curled over her hip in sleep felt more like home than all of the castle or the lands she reigned over.
These hands were her home.
When Snow opens her eyes, the Huntsman's are shut. He is beautiful like this, the pinch in his brow gone and his mouth no longer a tight line.
And his hand on her face, it's so heavy now, she can't bear its weight. It drops to the grass the moment she releases it, palm turned up at the sky, slightly curled and sticky with spent life, but unmoving.
Snow White opens her mouth to scream, to beg for help, or to breathe, something, but she can't. Her lips tremble, cracked and parted and still tasting of blood, teeth smudged with it, but no sound leaves her.
She is numb for that sliver of time, staring down at Eric's face and knowing without checking his pulse that he is gone. In a field of wildflowers and the imposing form of her huntsman, she is alone. The battle rages elsewhere, but the war has been lost. Sat at his side, Snow leans close to touch Eric's lips, his nose, the corners of his eyes that would crinkle with a laugh.
It is all just a dream for that moment, one of her mind's favorite nightmares, but then, like high tide, panic swells and swells until she is drowning.
"No... No!, No, no!"
The marrow has left her bones, she is hollow, the husk of something living, like him, and when she screams, there is no one to calm her. Snow crawls upon him, sits over that hole in his side. It soaks into the seat of her pants, staining her clothing and skin red, but she can't care, she's got the hair smoothed back from Eric's face with her hands and is babbling an eternal string of, "No, no, no"s into his throat, forehead bowed against the straight line of his nose.
Her tears, hot and wild and belonging to not a queen, but a tiny girl too familiar with loss, slip through dirt and grime to sit in the hollow of his throat.
She remains curled over him for, she doesn't know how long, weeping or seething or whispering, cheek to frozen cheek. But her tears will not cure him, and that's when she remembers, with a sudden gasp, something that will. True love's kiss.
These hands, half the size of home, have brought burnt lands to blossom. They have coaxed life from the most hopeless of things, made valleys of green and rivers of the bluest blues. The entire kingdom was thriving under her rule. Fruits grew larger on their branches, flowers bloomed year round, not even blankets of snow could shake the trees of their leaves. All of this, at her command. And a kiss, well, they'd already conquered that brand of magic. Even now, her lips would tingle at times, the ghost of his saving kiss still there in the black of her hair and the white of her skin and in the stubborn beat of her heart.
"How could I forget?" Snow says, and she's smiling now, because in a moment she'll have Eric back. Pink will flush out the grey of his lips and cheeks and those eyes like the sky will open again. They will walk back to the castle side by side and there she will keep him, until that hole in his side is stretched over with flesh once more. Never will he leave for battle again without a full suit of armor, half-smiles or not.
Hands braced at either side of his face, Snow folds down until her and Eric's noses are touching, and whispers when their mouths are only a fingerbreadth apart. "Huntsman, king of my heart, I love you, only you." And then her lips are on his.
It is like kissing ice, and when she pulls back, just enough to watch his eyes open, she feels frozen through.
He doesn't move immediately, but then again, neither did she. By the time she had woken, he was gone. Only the scent of strong spirits and leather spoke of his presence.
"Eric," she breathes, combing into his hair with the fingers of one hand, tears dripping from her lashes and the point of her nose to peck him on the face. Still, he does not stir.
When too much time has passed, she kisses him again, and again, presses her lips to his own and to his chin, over his closed eyelids, anywhere she can.
"Wake up, dammit," she grits, pounding at his chest with tiny fists, lifting his hand to dust kisses over each of his knuckles. Panic climbs and climbs, and after a while, she can no longer smother it. It's not working. Why isn't it working?
His wound continues to ooze steadily. Her shins slip through the mess as she scrambles up his body to cradle his face against her breastplate, begging him to, "please, wake up. Eric, please!"
For hours she holds Eric, right there in the middle of the meadow, until the sun is high in the sky and dips back towards the horizon. Her kisses do nothing to rouse him, but she cannot cease peppering him with them, curled into his side, brushing her lips over his temple and the shell of his ear.
"I love you," she says forcefully through quiet sobs, like she's trying to prove her affections to God himself. But if God listens, he does not come to their aid. Everything is quiet. Not even the birds dare to sing with Snow draped over the lifeless body of the huntsman Eric, her lover, protector, savior, home.
It isn't until dark that William finds her. She has fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion alone, but when he wakes her, she will not go. She clings to Eric's middle, tacky now with dried blood, and cries out. "Leave us!" she screams, voice raw and broken, and surges up to deliver more saving kisses.
She looks more like some feral thing found at the edge of the forest than the one true queen. There's a mad shine in her eyes, and though she struggles, William has her in his arms at last. A group of men are summoned to bring home the body, and Snow comes undone all over again at the word: body. Not soldier or man, but body.
At sunset, shackled in William's hold, Snow White is carried from her Huntsman, back to a place they keep telling her is home. But home is back there in that meadow of wildflowers, home is cold and still and will never be again. Home has been lost forever in bright blue eyes. And in those hands.