Author's Note: Well this is my first ever fanfic. After seeing SWATH, I could not get the characters out of my head. I hope y'all enjoy my take on what might follow the coronation scene. All of your input/feedback would be much appreciated, seeing as how I am brand new at this. Hope you enjoy!
Oh, and I don't own any of the characters (I think I'm supposed to say that).
Snow turned at the sound of the familiar voice behind her. She had seen him at the coronation ceremony from afar and had been surprised at his uncharacteristically clean appearance, but the shock she felt at being this close to him was reserved for how young he seemed. She could almost believe that he hadn't experienced multiple wars and more heartache and despair than any man should endure in one lifetime.
"Huntsman, I am surprised to see you still here. I would have thought you'd steal off into the night as soon as you were able." She made the statement light-heartedly, her way of masking the inexplicable awkwardness she now felt in his presence, but his morose expression had her immediately regretting her words.
"I would not make that mistake again, Highness." The Huntsman's words were spoken so softly that Snow had much difficulty hearing them. The party was still in full swing and she had begged to be allowed rest after dancing with more partners than she could count. She now looked up to the Huntsman from her throne placed at the head of a throng of tables. Before she could retract her statement, the seriousness in his gaze was replaced with a mischievous grin. "Reclaiming the throne has suited you well; I almost did not recognize you in all of your finery. Though I admit I am still a bit partial to the mail."
He winked and Snow looked to the floor in attempt to hide the rush of blood that was now warming her entire face. She hoped that all of the attendees were too engaged in the party activities to witness their queen behaving like a smitten child. What would William think?
The thought surprised her, for she had never compared the two men before. They represented two very different places in her mind. William represented the childhood friendship and familiarity of a home once loved, and the Huntsman her new found strength and passion for leadership.
She wasn't so naïve to miss what else William represented. Though no one said as much, the entire kingdom was awaiting the announcement of their engagement. And despite the fact that she knew it to be the most logical course of action to follow her commencement, the conflicting feelings she had about a marriage with William had occupied her thoughts most nights since the falling of Ravenna. She felt the question was coming soon and was no closer to knowing what her answer will be. William was a good man and deserved a definitive answer, at the very least. She owed him so much more.
That thought reminded Snow of other debts left unpaid and brought her attention back to the Huntsman. "I am glad you approached, I have been meaning to give you something."
He raised his eyebrows. "Is that so?"
"Yes, will you walk with me?"
"Can't very well refuse the queen now, can I?"
Snow stood and rolled her eyes at his comment, ignoring the smile that lit up his entire face. A smile that he did not show enough, for it was truly beautiful. "Don't test me, Huntsman." she said as she began making her way out of the ball room. She heard his booming laughter follow her.
She felt the eyes of her people on her as she made her way to the doors and tried not to focus on what their thoughts might be at the sight of the Huntsman a few steps behind her. She was sure there had been many whispers, not all of them kind, about the brute force of a man who had spent several nights with their princess on the journey to the Duke's. Snow felt a surge of anger about the unwelcome thoughts and the irrational need to defend and protect her Huntsman, though she was sure he would not care in the least about what others thought of him. Her chin raised and back straightened, she glanced behind her expecting to see him oblivious to the looks surrounding them. Instead, she saw his eyes moving over the entire room before shamefully meeting her own.
Resolved to end the discrimination right then, Snow stopped to wait for the Huntsman to reach her side. He gave her a questioning look and the two exited the room at equal pace, side by side.
"I don't believe your people approve of their queen sneaking off with a backwoods huntsman." He didn't look at her while he spoke, but Snow could detect a deeper emotion behind his attempt at flippancy.
"You are not just any huntsman, you are my Huntsman." He could not hide the corners of his mouth rising infinitesimally. "And I do not have to sneak anywhere; I am queen."
"Ha! Look whose become all high and mighty! I think you may have to have your crown refitted, Your Majesty. Your head has grown too big!" She let him laugh loudly for several moments, enjoying the sound more than any thing else about the day's events. Try as she might, she could not suppress her own smile from spreading across her face.
"I simply will not stand for anyone thinking poorly about any of my friends."
The Huntsman immediately sobered and looked down at her with questioning eyes. "Is that what we are now?"
They had reached the immaculate red oak double doors of her new chambers. Snow had requested that a new room be made up after finding it difficult to stay in the same room where she had seen her father's corpse. Unfortunately, she had discovered it was not just the ghosts in her father's chambers that kept her from a good night's sleep. The ghosts followed her no matter where she was.
In truth, the best sleep Snow had experienced since she was eight years old had been the nights spent under the stars on her way to the Duke's castle. Of course, there were some exceptions to that as well, such as the first terrorizing night in the dark forest and the fiery raid on the water village. Now that she truly thought about it, those non-peaceful nights all had one thing in common: her Huntsman had not been there. And the Huntsman represented safety to Snow. She felt as if she had had nothing to fear as long as he was by her side.
What a strange epiphany! She was both excited to figure it out and aggrieved, for now that she understood what was missing she could never hope to sleep soundly again.
She felt her face drop and knew the sudden onslaught of sadness would not go unnoticed by the Huntsman. She attempted to right her features before replying, "Yes, Huntsman, I am indebted to you always. And for that, I will forever be your friend."
The smile he offered did not reach his eyes and she knew that hers in return would be false. The declaration was meant to be reassuring, instead it had felt damning.
She turned to open her chamber doors. He realized her intention in the same instant and graciously held the door for her. Snow almost laughed at his new found chivalry. She entered into her candlelit room and made her way to the desk she had placed beneath the window on the wall opposite her. Behind her the Huntsman let out a long whistle.
"These are quite the digs you've got here, Highness." Snow watched as the Huntsman took a turnabout in her room, surveying every detail in awe. He stopped at her massive four post bed and shook it as if to test its sturdiness. She smiled as she wondered why he'd feel the need to test its strength, and then blushed violently as her thoughts then took on a mind of their own.
What was wrong with her?
"You think this bed is big enough for you?" he laughed as he looked her way. Snow immediately dropped her gaze and turned her back to him, knowing her face was probably still a shade rosier than normal.
"Are you all right?" His voice was thick with concern which made it all the more difficult for her to regain composure.
"Yes, of course –"
"You look a bit flushed. Here, sit down." He touched her elbow with his large, calloused, and impossibly gentle hand and brought her to face him. He was close, so close that Snow was bombarded with his scent of pine, leather, and soap. She instantly knew that the only reason it smelled so intoxicating was because it was him. She dared not look at his face, instead keeping her stare eye level with his chest.
She was startled to realize that the arm he was gently holding now tightly gripped his forearm in return. She wondered if that touch felt like a low burn to him as well. He brought his free hand under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. His intensely blue eyes searched her face, probably looking for signs of a fainting spell, before finally locking on her own eyes.
Snow was paralyzed before the Huntsman.
This was not normal, she thought to herself. This is the same man whom she had struck in the forest, the same man who drank to drown out the world, who was rude, uncouth, and callous, the same man who showed her the means to once and for all kill Ravenna. The same man who only a few weeks ago would have traded her life for the life of his late wife.
So why was he looking at her this way now? And why did she enjoy the way her heart was now pounding inside her chest?
More importantly, why did his proximity remind her of something very distant in her mind? A dream perhaps…
Suddenly the Huntsman blinked, dropped his hands, and the moment was over. Snow White rocked back on her heels, only then realizing that she had been angling herself toward him. "Don't go fainting on me, Princess." he smiled crookedly. "Sorry, I mean Queen."
She let out an exasperated laugh. "I think it's this blasted dress; they made it too tight. And please, when we are like this – just you and I – refer to me as Snow."
He bowed his head. "Very well, Snow." he replied, as if testing it on his lips. "In that case, were you aware that I actually had a name other than Huntsman?" The smile had returned to his face and she was once again transfixed by how handsome he was. How had she not noticed before?
"I am aware. Eric, correct? The dwarves told me…though I'm not sure it will do. In my mind I still think of you as my Huntsman."
He laughed. "I s'pose I'll never be able to live that one down then."
"You suppose correctly. You may as well get used to it, Huntsman. It suits you."
"All right, all right. Enough of that. Show me what was so important that you felt the need to take me away from the party."
"Forgive me, I was not aware you were enjoying yourself so immensely. I do not recall seeing you dance for a single song." She was enjoying teasing him, for this was the first time they had been able to be alone and let their guards down since before the battle.
"I'm just wondering how you could notice anything, given all the whirls about the room you were taking."
She didn't hesitate, just threw herself into the next question before she could stop herself. "You didn't ask me."
"I don't dance."
"I don't believe you."
He raised his eyebrow. "You wouldn't be able to keep up."
"I have been known to learn rather quickly."
His mouth slowly stretched into a smile. "Aye. I'll grant you that one, Snow White."
Once again she could not help the smile that spread across her face. It was as if everything about her acted on its own accord when in the presence of the Huntsman. Reluctantly, she turned her attention back to the desk beside her. Opening the top right drawer, she pulled out a black leather pouch and jingled it loudly for his benefit.
"A hundred gold pieces, as promised to you Eric. I'd wager you had thought it forgotten, am I right?" She proudly held the pouch out to him. To her surprise, he looked as if she were holding a poisonous snake between them. Slowly, painstakingly, he retrieved the purse from her hand and loosened the tie to take in its contents.
Snow was more confused than ever as to what this man truly wanted. She had thought he would be happy, thrilled even, at her offering. Instead he now wore the face of a man who had been publicly lynched. She was aware that he had gone much farther than the agreed upon journey, that he'd risked his life time and again for her, the sum of his duties amounting to much more than the gold pieces in his hand. But he could not believe this was going to be his only reward, could he?
"I counted it myself, there should be one hundred there. But that, of course, is not the only show of gratitude I have to give. I wish to offer you a place here in my castle, on my court. Duke Hammond has also suggested to me that a Queen's Guard be initiated. I thought of only one person who could be named Captain. I understand that none of that could ever fully repay…"
His head snapped up then, cutting her ramble off mid-sentence. His blue eyes burned with hatred.
"I don't want your job, I don't want your stupid gold, and I certainly don't intend on staying another second behind these walls." he shouted (Snow randomly noted how much thicker his accent got when he was angry). He threw the pouch back onto her desk.
Anger like she had never felt before swelled up inside her, momentarily taking precedence to the hurt she would most certainly feel at his harsh words. "You just said you would not make the mistake of leaving again!" she pointed out.
"I said that I wouldn't make the mistake of sneaking off again. This time you will be fully aware of my departure!"
"Have it your way then, you selfish, ungrateful swine! Go back to your tavern and your whores. Drink yourself to death for all I care!"
"Perhaps I will, Your Majesty. Maybe then I'll finally be able to drown my sorrows and my conscience." He made his way to the door, his long strides resounding through her chambers much like the rhythmic thudding of her own heart at that moment. She focused outside her window, prepared to let him storm out of her room and her life forever, when she realized the true motive behind his actions.
"That's what this is about isn't it?" she asked softly, not turning around. His footsteps ceased. "You do not think you deserve it." Her eyes welled up with unshed tears for she knew it to be true the second she spoke it aloud. Even after all he had done, he was still punishing himself.
"Do not pretend to know my mind, Highness. Let me remind you how very little you know about me." He spoke through gritted teeth.
"That is because you try to hide yourself from me! But try as you might, Huntsman, I can still see little remnants of your true self that shine through your masquerade."
"This is my self!" He stepped closer as he shouted.
"A self you never cared for!"
He stopped half way across the room, she did not know where the words had come from but the effect they had on the Huntsman was almost instantaneous. Snow was surprised to see him blink away his own tears, an image that triggered another strange memory inside of her.
"What did you just say?" he asked incredulously.
"You never cared for that rough, cold, and dark side of you. She made you a better person, didn't she? Your Sarah. And because she's gone you don't feel like you deserve a better life."
The Huntsman just stared at her, the kind of stare that would have normally made Snow feel nervous or self-conscious. As if he was staring right through her, deep into her soul. But she kept on…
"You deserve to be happy. I think I know the man she must have seen in you, for I see him too. She would be proud—"
"Proud! Proud that I wasn't able to protect her? That I wasn't able to protect you? The deal was for me to get you to Duke Hammond's, and I just assume that you meant alive! She killed you, Snow. I carried your cold and lifeless body into the Duke's castle myself as I carried the entire weight of guilt for her death. I don't deserve any kind of reward, least of all your gratitude."
She watched as he walked to the bench at the foot of her bed and sat, head in his hands. What could she do to convince him how much he was worth to her? He was already decided upon his irrational guilt, but there must be some way to explain why she felt that she owed him her life.
More than just the countless times he'd saved her from harm's way…Snow felt in the pit of her stomach that she was alive and breathing because of him. She had died and would have remained so had it not been for the broken man before her. She had no evidence to support her feeling, no memories of any occurrence during her death, however, she just knew it.
Snow took several shallow breaths before moving to stand before him. His face was still hidden under the protection of his hands, his entire body hunched over as if he were weeping, though no sounds escaped his lips. She carefully repositioned her dress and lowered herself to the floor in front of him, tucking her legs beneath her. She prayed God grant her the wisdom to find the right words.
"You have my gratitude whether you can accept that or not, Huntsman. I am grateful that it was you the queen sent into the forest that day instead of any other desperate man from the village who would have handed me over to her brother without a second thought." She could not repress the cold shiver that ran down her spine at the thought of the vile creature that was Finn. The Huntsman had lowered his hands but kept his eyes fixed on the ground. She continued.
"I am grateful that it was you who led me out of the dark forest unharmed, for I believe it a task that could have only been done by you. I am grateful that you came back for me that night and saved me from the queen's men yet again. I am grateful that you killed Finn, a man who still makes his unwelcome appearances in my nightmares."
He looked at her then. His face held a combination of disgust at the mention of Finn mixed with such sympathy that Snow found herself having to take a deep breath to continue.
"And though I remember nothing of being under Ravenna's spell of death, I do recall the few moments before opening my eyes. It was if I could hear your voice in my dreams. I could not tell you now what it was you were saying, but I feel as if you were willing me wake. Somehow lending me your strength to give me the power to open my eyes, for there is one thing I am certain about – I could not have done it on my own."
The Huntsman's face was mere inches from Snow's. All anger and hostility had vanished from his features, replaced with tenderness and a piercing gaze that sent a warmth flooding through her entire body. Before she could comprehend what was happening, he slowly touched the tips of his fingers to the side of her face. It could have been a feather's caress for how light it felt moving toward her mouth, but it left a fire in its wake – a hint of the burn that she felt could consume her effortlessly.
"You were so cold and still. The red of your lips faded to a pale purple. And though your beauty remained, I mourned for the loss of fire in your eyes, the spirit that drove your determination…and your stubbornness." He offered a ghost of a smile. "I should have known that not even death itself could extinguish that flame." She closed her eyes as his fingers carefully outlined her bottom lip.
She wanted to bask in this moment and never have it end, but it had triggered memories of the dream in fragments. She remembered the smell of incense and candles burning, combined with the same distinct smell of her Huntsman. She recalled a soft caress of her hair, a pained voice, and tears not her own wetting her face… and something else. A touch as light as his now, the smallest of pressure on her lips, and the first breath of air that filled her lungs.
Her eyes snapped open and locked on the Huntsman in amazement. He was at war with himself, she could see the battle raging behind his eyes as he gazed at her. She knew which part of him would win; he would drop his hand, apologize for his outburst, and go on pretending that they had not become bound together by their impossible journey.
Snow covered his hand with her own, pressing her face tighter to it. She wanted to make the decision for him, to show him that he did not have to pull away. But she could see that part of him was raising the white flag and surrendering to what he believed was right. Slowly, he leaned back and unlocked their eyes.
She refused to drop the matter. She wanted to know if the dream was as real as it felt. She needed a reminder. She needed proof, if only for confirmation of what she already believed to be true.
She sat up straight on her knees, bringing her face to the same level as his. The Huntsman had only a second to show his surprise before she lightly pressed her lips to his.
A bolt of lightning. A fire storm. Pure, powerful, potent. Magic. Snow could not specifically pinpoint the correct comparison to describe what truly passed between herself and the Huntsman, only that it was unlike anything else in this world. It was far more than just lips upon lips. It was transference of energy. The kiss itself was light and sweetly short, but the passion she felt upon that touch was enough to make her wish that she could remain in that moment forever.
But, as it was, the Huntsman had other ideas. Framing her small, heart shaped face with his hands, he pushed her face from his. Separated by mere inches, Snow White could still feel the energy between them. It was frightening, exhilarating, and maddening all at the same time.
"What are you doing, girl?" He did not drop his hands from her face and Snow gripped his forearms, a gesture she intended to relate her unwillingness to let him back away from her.
"I had to know, I'm sorry, but I just had to know." She whispered painfully. His eyes darted back and forth from her eyes to her lips and she held her breath in hope that he would return her kiss.
"Try and make some sense! What did you have to know?"
Snow dropped her eyes, staring at the space between them instead. "The evil in the queen's curse was enough for me to succumb to death. I have heard that there is only one thing powerful enough in all the world to overcome the curse of death." She paused and let the impact of those words fill the room. The Huntsman ceased to breathe. "I asked Muir how it could be, how I could have returned from death. He had only a theory, you see, a theory that where such evil exists, it can only be countered by the most powerful and most elusive magic of all – pure and true love. He said that that kind of love is the legacy my parents left me with, and had I not spent most of my life locked away from the world it more than likely would have been tainted, forgotten. He said it was ironic because, if his theory is correct, by imprisoning me Ravenna was preserving what would be the cause of her own downfall."
"The curse worked though. You were dead." He reminded her in an uneven voice.
"Exactly! Which is why I doubted Muir's theory." She locked eyes with him again and searched for her answers in their depths. "Tell me, could there be another reason? Do you know of anything else with the power to break such evil?"
The look on his face confirmed that he knew exactly what could be powerful enough. However, he did not appear pleased with the information. Much to her dismay, he dropped his hands and leaned away from her. Snow released his arms with great difficulty. A lone tear escaped as she sat frozen before him.
"The love of which you speak is elusive – most of all to me. I am a drunk and a low-life who has spent the last year creating debts I cannot pay, starting fights I could not win, and mourning the wife I lived for. I do not possess such love and could not ever hope for it again. I am sorry, Snow."
She wished she could drown out his words, for closing her eyes was not even lessoning the pain by half. He did not love her. He never would. Whatever it was that she felt was entirely one-sided and she had never felt more foolish in her life. Probably it was not even love she was feeling, spending ten years of one's life locked away in a tower does tend to inhibit one's ability to distinguish between emotions.
That must have been it! He was the first human being she had encountered since the rising of Ravenna that did not wish her harm. He had protected her, made her feel safe and strong, and so she just assumed it was love and not just admiration she felt for him.
"William – he kissed you. Why is it that you do not suspect it was he that broke the spell?" The Huntsman's voice brought her out of her silent reverie and it took her a moment to process his words.
"How do you know he kissed me?" She hated how her voice cracked, betraying the internal thought process she just completed.
"I saw it in the forest after you died in his arms." She heard the raw emotion behind his words and wondered at its meaning. Perhaps she was just imagining that as well.
She pondered the idea of William's kiss being the force more powerful than Ravenna. It was true that when she was first reunited with William she had to hold herself back from rushing into his arms, for as soon as she saw him she felt at home again - sheltered, free of burdens, comfortable - just as she was as a child. That was the true reason she had kissed whom she thought was William in the forest. He had been all she thought about as a child and even as she grew older she had spent countless hours wondering what he might have been doing at those moments.
But so much had changed since then. Everything inside of her had shifted somewhere between the curse of death and her awakening. Where her single goal had been to get to the Duke's castle and to freedom, she had awoken with the feeling of purpose to free not just herself, but all of her people. Her heart no longer ached for the childhood lost, but burned for the victorious future.
Her heart had changed, she had changed, and with that change came the loss of her adolescent fascination with William. Because this was the first successful time she had had deciphering her feelings, Snow felt immensely saddened by the pain he would eventually feel because of her. She wondered if he would hurt as bad she just had and winced at the thought.
However, no amount of thinking would change what she knew to be true. It was not William's kiss that had broken the curse. "Is that what you want?" She asked, searching the Huntsman's face. "Are you hoping that it was the pure love of William that saved me so that we may live happily ever after in wedded bliss?"
Anger flashed in his eyes and he quickly stifled it. "If it was true love's kiss, what do my hopes matter?"
"Because I am asking you!"
"And since you are queen now I must do exactly as I'm asked, is that right?" He was dodging the issue, but she knew better than to fall for it.
"Did you kiss me after I bit the apple?" she asked pointedly, leaving no room for a redirect.
"I told you, William did."
"Did you kiss me at any time after I bit the apple and before I awoke?"
He anxiously ran his hands through his hair before standing. Her eyes did not follow him, but she felt his presence at the window behind her. "Why are you doing this, Snow?"
She thought about telling him the whole truth. She thought about describing the feelings that course through her stomach when he nears her. She considered telling him how she had feared that he would leave her after her coronation. She even thought about telling him how she selfishly never wanted to be parted from him...but she had already revealed too much.
"Because I need to know. I must know." she whispered. Snow closed her eyes to hold back the tears that were threatening to fall once again. She heard footsteps making their way toward her and she held her breath in order to slow her overactive heart. She knew he was kneeling beside her, watching her, but still she kept her eyes closed.
"Look at me." he commanded. She opened her eyes slowly and let out the breath she had been holding, careful to keep her tears at bay. For what seemed like an eternity he said nothing, simply remained in his squatted position studying her with such intense concentration that Snow White was powerless to look away.
Not that she wanted to. In his eyes she saw hope. He could say whatever he liked, but it was impossible to believe that he did not feel anything toward her, not with the way he looked at her now. The battle was still raging on between what he thought to be right and what he wanted, but she could see that victory might be in her near future. In his eyes she saw him considering what she had been saying as clearly as if the arguments were being transcribed on paper.
Finally, he straightened to his towering height and offered her a hand up. Hesitantly, she complied and stood to face him. She was still unable to determine which side had won, if any at all.
"We best be getting you back to your party, Highness. Don't want to have nasty rumors going around after one day on the throne." The Huntsman smiled and winked as she narrowed her eyes at him.
"Are you not going to answer my question at all then?" she was disappointed, but the sting of rejection was gone. Though the question still hung in the air, she did not feel as if she had lost anything.
He made his way to the door and held it open for her. She did not take her eyes off of him as she walked slowly his way and watched as a magnificent smile spread across his face.
"It will keep," he said as she passed him through the door, and as he closed it behind them, added "for now."
Snow White's heart soared as she reentered the ballroom with her Huntsman.