Notes: The majority of this story was written back in 2013-2014.
This chapter was inspired by Kelly Clarkson's "Behind These Hazel Eyes" ("I told you everything/Opened up and let you in/You made me feel alright/For once in my life/Now all that's left of me/Is what I pretend to be/So together, but so broken up inside")
The rating for this chapter is a tame T, though later on the story requires the magic M...
This chapter takes place shortly after Regina meets Charming in the dungeon, but before Snow arrives to save him. (ep.1x21)
Charming heard steps down the corridor, someone was coming. He expected the Queen to come to gloat again, but the steps were far too quiet to be hers; the first time she marched into the dungeon he thought thunder echoed from the damp stone walls. No, this was someone who did not want to be heard. Soon a tall dark figure approached the bars as David stood up to see who it was. A man in black armour took a skeleton key out of his pocket and opened the lock.
"I'm a friend, I'm here to help you escape…" he whispered, but the prince impatiently interrupted him, "Did Snow send you? Where is she? Is she alright?"
"Yes, she's waiting for you in a small room near the kitchen; it will be easier to sneak out of the castle from there. Follow me."
Charming's eyes lit up with the flame of hope as he stepped out from the cell and followed the stranger. It didn't matter who this dark knight was, as long as he was willing to help him escape from the clutches of the Queen. David was just a few steps behind, when the other man turned around the corner and knocked out two guards who were passing down the corridor. Not long after the first encounter, two more knights came out of nowhere. This time David was quicker and hit one unconscious. The stranger took care of the other. A few moments later, the mysterious man stopped in front of a small door and signalled to him to go inside. "Here. Quickly."
Charming walked inside to find Snow White a few paces from where he stood, and she rushed to him the moment she saw him. As he took Snow in his arms, he didn't hear the door shut behind him.
"So you rescued me after all," he whispered. All his concern and fear for her melted away in a passionate, long kiss. There was something strange in that kiss though – he couldn't quite figure out what it was. He drew back, meaning to ask her what had happened, but the question never left his lips. He stood frozen in shock, his hope fading like echo in the distance.
He was staring at a beautiful face, but it was not Snow's.
"Oh yes, I certainly see the allure…" Regina's laughter startled the prince and he took a few steps back.
"You!...What trickery is this!"
"Have a seat and help yourself to some food, I believe you're starving by now."
"I want nothing from you but to leave me and Snow alone! Let me go!" His blood was boiling in his veins.
"Sit down to eat, dear. What good would your freedom be if you starve to death first? Oh, that's right, you don't fear dying," she chuckled. "Allow me to impart some wisdom on you - being beheaded in the name of love might seem romantic and heroic. But trust me, you'll never meet a woman who prefers looking at your lovely head after it's been detached from your shoulders."
Charming could barely contain his rage seeing her smirk. He started towards her in a fit of anger, reaching down to his scabbard, only to find it empty. Before he knew it, his back hit the granite surface of the wall. After the violent impact, he had to struggle to remain conscious. He was gasping for air, trying to fight the invisible force that was holding him in mid-air against the rock. He tried to scream, but no sound came out of his mouth. Soon he realized his body refused to obey any commands. He was paralyzed with pain, pinned to the wall and utterly helpless.
"Promise to behave if I let you down, hmm?", the Queen inquired, a sly smile upon her lips.
Still, David kept trying to kick and shout. He tried to gather all his might, hoping he would break free. His efforts only made things worse, as tree branches appeared out of nowhere and wrapped him in a tight grip. Every move he attempted to make caused the magic binds to restrain him with even more crushing force. Eventually, Charming was so drained of energy, he had to give up his futile fight. He had no choice but to calm down and think. He had no clue what to do. He had no weapon. If he could at least find a knife...
Suddenly, the idea of lunch didn't sound so bad to him. All he had to do was allay her suspicions, and as soon as she let her guard down, he'd have his opening. He was tall enough and quick enough, he could close the distance between them in a leap or two; then grab a fork or a knife from the table, press it against her throat and use her life as leverage. The plan relied on her being too shocked to react, but he had to make it work. After all, he had won battles with even slimmer chances of victory.
For the moment, it was best to play along. As soon as he managed to nod in resignation, he felt the branches loosen and his feet touch the ground.
It took him a while to recover before he could stand on his feet again. At last he stood up and approached the table set for a rich feast. The Queen patiently waited for him to pick up a plate with deer meat, and then, pleased that she had his full attention, she went on.
"I met your brother James once, briefly, before he met his…untimely end," Regina started in a controlled, calm voice.
Charming instantly snapped at her, "How do you even know I had a brother?"
"Oh, I have eyes and ears everywhere, dear. Anyway, you two are so very different. Same dashing looks, similar gallant manners, but not nearly the same in the way you think. Unlike him, you do not think like a prince. Him…well, he knew about the duties and responsibilities of a royal, he would have married anyone if he was told it would be good for the kingdom. "
"I'm not my brother," he tried to interrupt, but she didn't let him continue.
"You, on the other hand, you were ready to give up any hope for power or status for the sake of love. Being prince meant nothing to you." She paused, letting out a breath as she tilted her head. "You remind me of someone…Someone that I used to...know." Her voice had unexpectedly turned into a soft, mournful melody.
David fell silent, his intent gaze never leaving her. He was stunned to see her looking so vulnerable, apparently lost in painful memories. Perhaps it was a good time for him to try to attack her, or at least run, because she wasn't looking his way. She was staring at the floor deep in thought, but he was just too transfixed by her. He had all but forgotten about the knife. What use would it be anyway? Even if he managed to reach her before she used magic on him, he couldn't wound her enough to slow her down and escape.
Charming suddenly snapped out of his trance-like state and tried to remind himself who this woman was. Despite his best effort to sound harsh, his shout betrayed his hesitation. "Enough games, you evil witch!"
"You think this is a game?!" Her voice regained all its glory and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as it echoed from the granite walls. "This is a story, an important story, and you shall hear it. You need to learn who your precious Snow White is, how very rotten to the core she is!" The Queen's entire demeanour had changed to blind rage. She leaned forward threateningly in his direction, and he was expecting to have the air knocked out of his lungs again. Instead, she took a deep breath and struggled to regain composure before speaking again.
"I was in love once." By the tortured expression on her face the prince could tell she was sharing something deeply personal.
"You…loved someone?" The surprise in David's voice annoyed her too much, so she ignored the question.
"The man I was in love with, he worked in the stables. But my mother's greatest wish was for me to be queen. She wouldn't have let me become the wife of a stable boy, so Daniel and I kept our love a secret. Then one day I saved a young girl's life after her horse had gone wild." The Queen glanced at Charming, then hissed through her teeth, "Snow White."
"The next day her father, the king, asked me to marry him. You see, just like you, I decided to run away and be with my true love. But I shared my secret with that girl, and she told my mother, she betrayed me. A betrayal that cost Daniel his life."
Regina turned to the prince and held his gaze. The eye contact was so intense he felt uneasy and averted his eyes. He lamely shifted his weight to his elbow and looked down to his plate.
"I'm sorry that you lost your love", he offered quietly.
"You're not the one who should be sorry. The one who robbed me of happiness has never shown true remorse."
Charming frowned in disbelief. He couldn't decide what was more difficult to imagine, the Evil Queen saving Snow White's life, or the latter betraying her saviour. But Snow never denied ruining her step-mother's life.
He looked up. "You're wrong." His tone was soft and sorrowful. "Snow does feel responsible. She told me as much when we first met. But if she was just a young girl, I don't think she meant any harm…"
"I warned her of the consequences! She betrayed me anyway!" He flinched involuntarily as Regina's expression twisted with scarlet rage. "She did not think about me, she did not heed my words, all she thought about were her own feelings and desires!"
David barely noticeably shook his head. He refused to believe that Snow could be any less caring and considerate than he'd thought her to be.
"Ever since the day I saved her, I've been trapped in a world that revolved around her… She was the fairest in all the land, she was the one the king and everyone else in the entire kingdom loved. For years, I had to soothe every fear, return every smile, support every whim, give advice when needed. I was a prisoner for the sake of her happiness, even though she cost me mine. I was a prisoner in a loveless marriage, a queen to a king who only had eyes for his daughter, who never spoke about me the way he spoke of his first wife. He demanded loyalty and dedication, but he never showed me affection. I lived through worse than the marriage you almost lost your life to avoid."
A few tears rolled down her cheeks but she made no effort to wipe them as they formed wet paths on her face and landed on her dark dress. Her knees felt too weak to stand and she was forced to sit down on the nearby couch. David stood up and slowly, cautiously, started walking toward her.
"I see that you know great pain, but you have to move on, for your own sake. Sometimes you have to forget about the past suffering, and find the strength to keep looking for your happy ending."
The Queen was a strange sight as the tears turned to violent sobbing. Despite her awe-inspiring dark dress and raven curls cascading down her right shoulder, David did not find her intimidating. At that moment she curiously reminded him of a child waking up after a horrible nightmare, scared and helpless. Charming couldn't resist the urge to sit down next to her and after some hesitation wrap his arms around her. She buried her head in his shoulder as he continued.
"You know my story, Regina. Less than a year ago, my entire world turned upside down. I learned that I had had a twin brother I had never met, that he had died a hero's death. I had to take his place and become a prince, I had to leave all that I knew behind, including my own mother, for a life of uncertainty and danger."
He could still feel her quietly sobbing against his leather jacket, but she seemed a little calmer. "I could not afford to mourn my brother's death or the fact that I may never see my mother again. If I had let misery rule me then, I might have never met Snow and fallen in love with her. I had to let go of the past before I could find true happiness. So should you."
She drew back and the sudden movement startled him. Regina's brow tightened. She was perplexed; Charming had truly surprised her. No one had made her feel this safe, yet vulnerable, in a long time. She had struggled to remain strong for longer than she cared to remember. She'd had only herself to rely on. It was no wonder that she relished the opportunity to just be weak for a moment. A warning flashed in her mind that this prince was still on Snow White's side. She tried to silence it, to convince herself that he had sympathy for her, that he saw who the real victim was. Still not entirely convinced, a part of her remained alert.
Charming carefully studied the features of the woman he was clutching in his arms before realizing that he didn't see the Evil Queen anymore.
Staring back at him were almond eyes, so deep and full of untold sorrow that he felt hypnotized, and so glossy because of the tears that filled them, he saw his own reflection. Those eyes were beckoning, silently pleading for him to kiss away the pain. He felt his lips burning with the need to oblige the request. He cupped her face with both hands and wiped away the tears from her cheeks. His breathing quickened as his lips found hers. She had the sweet taste of apples on her tongue. Although the kiss was unexpected, she responded immediately and placed her hand on the back of his neck to pull him closer. The world stopped around them, leaving nothing but the intense contact. She playfully tugged at his lower lip with her teeth, before tilting her head back to squint up at him.
A boyish triumphant grin stole onto Charming's face when he noticed that she'd finally stopped crying. What followed was the sudden realization. He had kissed her. He had tried so hard to soothe her, but he had not considered what her reaction to the kiss would be. She was batting her eyelashes at him now with wonder and expectation, but he had no clue what to say or do. He felt awkward, his mind frantically searching for an excuse for him to look away or change the subject. It seemed like an eternity had passed, when he finally thought of something. He cleared his throat, and used the opportunity to move his hands away from her face. Regina looked genuinely puzzled.
"So will you leave us be then?" He meant to sound more hostile and cold than he actually did, but the change in his tone was obvious nonetheless.
"I told you how she destroyed my happiness, I shared my secrets with you, and you still want to be with her?!"
"If you must, take my life, just let Snow live…" Charming was pleading, but that only enraged the Queen further.
"Guards! Seize him!" Four black knights immediately stormed into the room and surrounded David. "Take him to the dungeon!"
"Please, don't harm her! It will fill your own soul with darkness that will never let you be happy! You'll never find peace!" The prince was screaming in desperation as the guards dragged him out of the room. He was sure his words fell on deaf ears.
Later that night in the dungeon, his thoughts drifted to Regina again. It had been so easy to loathe her before, when she was nothing more but an evil witch to him. Now, he couldn't make up his mind whether he hated and despised her, pitied her or simply wanted to mend her broken heart. He had never before thought it possible to have so many conflicting feelings for a person. And yet this strange mix of emotions she evoked was too seductive. He had never known anyone so enigmatic before.
He shook his head. No, he couldn't allow himself to think that way, to hesitate. He couldn't let her corrupt him, his heart belonged to Snow White, to his last breath and beyond hope. Regina had probably used an enchantment to confuse him, it was suspicious how she had insisted that he eat the food. The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to believe that. When he finally convinced himself it was a spell, he was drowsy at last and rested his head against the cold rock of the cell.
As he was falling asleep, a single image stuck in his mind and stayed there until he was finally unconscious: the sight of sad almond eyes looking up at him.