Snow steps out of the shade into the warm sun, words dying on her lips as she takes in the sight before her.
Stripped to the waist, kneeling by the river, is her husband-to-be carefully washing himself. She should have suspected, but when Grumpy had said he saw James heading down this way, the thought hadn’t even crossed her mind of his intent. All she’d been thinking about was spending some time with him today, before another endless round of ‘take back the kingdom’ talks began.
Because as much as she wants her kingdom back, as much as wants to no longer be afraid of Regina, to no longer feel the threat for Charming from King George, she just wants to spend a little time with the man she loves. But with the stresses and the worry, not to mention the fear of being discovered, there has been so little time for them.
Truthfully, there is nothing to be embarrassed about in seeing him like this, after all they are to be married and married for love, not politics or wealth. Moreover, if Snow had her way she would probably have found her way into his bed by now...this more than anything brings heat to her cheeks because as a princess she’s meant to be more high-minded than that. Though, she supposes as an outlaw it’s probably expected of her to drift from one bed to another.
Not that she intends on drifting anywhere – why would she when she gets to have this?
And just like that the heat in her cheeks because less embarrassment and more desire. She stifles the childish giggle, but inattention causes her to shift her weight, and her foot falls on to a stick which breaks with a snap loud enough to be heard over the slow moving water.
Within the beat of a heart, Charming has his sword in hand, turning to face whatever danger might be lurking in woods. They’re all so tense waiting for attack from any side, it’s not surprising, but Snow startles anyway, every nerve sparking with expectation. He’s standing there, shirtless, armed waiting for attack and she’s standing, staring, mouth a little dry.
“Who’s there?” he calls and she realises he can’t see her there in the shadows.
She steps forward into the sunlight, a little sheepish at being caught out. “Sorry,” she says, not entirely sure if her apology is for startling him or for catching him bathing.
“Snow?” he lowers his sword and glances down, seeming to realise his state of undress and he blushes, reaching for his shirt, cast to one side.
She wants to tell him not to bother, but all of the boldness she might possess is not enough to force the words past her lips. So she says nothing, cursing her sudden shyness and is disappointed when he covers up.
“Are they arriving?” he asks. They’re expecting most of their allies today to begin to finalise the first part of their plans and such, but not until after noon, several hours from now. Snow is surprised to hear the weariness in James’ tone and she notes as she hasn’t before the slight slump to his shoulders and the shadows under his eyes.
He’s been so strong and firm in his beliefs for all the time she’s known him, that she’s wondered where he draws his seeming boundless enthusiasm from and how he can hold so tightly to his faith when she seems to waiver so easily. Perhaps now, they’ll finally see the limits of his patience.
The thought doesn’t unsettle her as much as she thinks it might, but instead strengthens her own resolve and she steps forward to reach out in comfort. He takes her hands and squeezes them tightly.
“No,” she says. “I was just looking for you. I thought we could spend the morning together. Alone.” The last word is weighty with possibilities, some of them less innocent than others.
Immediately, she notices the change in him as his posture straightens, his lips curving up in a smile, lines disappearing from his face. “That,” he says, “is the best idea I’ve heard in a long time.”
“Good,” she says, allowing him to draw her nearer, pulling her tight against him. Warmth and happiness suffuse through her and she leans upwards to capture his lips with her own. Standing here in bright sunlight, wrapped in the arms of the man she loves, Snow can let all the fear and worry go and allow herself a moment where the future is herself, James and whatever joys might come.
His lips leave hers and she is momentarily disappointed, but when he starts pressing kisses down her neck, soft and heated, she feels as if her blood is singing in her veins. In response she slides her hands down to where the loose linen of her shirt makes it easy for her to find his skin underneath, and her sneaking fingers can then slide easily under his waistband.
All thoughts of any future along with everything that has come before have vanished into the here and now. In the mean time his lips travel back to capture her own and there’s an urgency in this kiss that matches her own.
Living quarters are tight and lack of privacy has kept them at arms length, pairing this with their so very recent reunion and Snow feels all that emotion bubbling to surface racing through her veins and igniting in a further outpouring. She is here and he is here and danger is far away and for now all she wants is this moment, this space and this time and nothing else.
But standing on an open and rocky shore of a river with their friends and allies no more than a ten minute walk away is very much not the place they should be doing this, so with great reluctance she slides her hands so they rest on his hips and breaks the kiss. Still she is unable to let more than a couple of fingers of space separate them.
He is still so close and she can see every emotion as it flicks across his face, which even as it is is so open and easy to read and she loves it as she loves every about him. Right now, the heavy desire darkening his eyes is quickly being replaced by embarrassment and she realises that while the strength of their reaction does not surprise or bother her, it certainly has him and she wonders at him.
“Snow. Sorry. I...”
“No.” She interrupts him with a short hard kiss. “Not that. Just – not here.”
He glances around sharply, taking in their surroundings; there’s not a living soul in sight, but it’s not given that they will remain alone.
Taking that as permission she leads him away from the water’s edge towards the trees, but unexpectedly he pulls back, and this time she reads unease in his expression.
“What is it?”
“Perhaps we should wait.”
“For what?” she says sharply. Given they’re both fugitives and a long way from taking back even one kingdom she can’t see how or why waiting for anything is a good idea. Besides he was so eager before, what brings this sudden change of heart?
“It’s just there’s something I need to tell you. I should have told you before...” the weight behind his words and the way his lips pull down, his eyes shadowed and unhappy alerts her to whatever it is that holds him back. And perhaps it is as much him as circumstance that has kept them apart so far, but she can’t understand why he has fought so hard to find her only to hold back now.
Charming is the one who taught her to have faith in the first place and the value of holding on to that faith even when life becomes dark, so she chooses to hold on to that faith.
“What?” she says, as gently as she can.
“King George isn’t my father.”
If he’s expecting her to be surprised or upset by that confession, he’ll be waiting a while. She’s already begun to wonder, given George’s own confession and subsequent hatred for his apparent ‘son’ and only heir, Charming’s devotion to his mother and the fact that no royal line is immune to bastards, especially one where arranged marriages are common.
But, in the end he does surprise her with the truth behind the statement – nothing so ordinary as she might have thought – the confession he makes, where he’s really come from and how he ended up engaged to Abigail so wholly against his wishes.
“I don’t regret it,” he says, his eyes trained on hers. “Because that’s how I met you – but I won’t hide it from you either.”
In this moment, she is so overwhelmed with what she’s feeling, how fortuitous their meeting really was, how many battles he has fought to find her that she had no idea about and how grateful she is to have him with her now. Tears well up in her eyes at the anxiety in his face as he waits for her reaction, but she does not let them spill. Days ago he asked her to marry him, and she remembers her joy in that moment, in her own acceptance, and she finds that it is in no way diminished by this admission.
“I love you,” she tells him. “I’m so glad that it was your carriage I chose to rob.”
He chuckles, a little thickly, and leans over and kisses her and there is some weight that has been lifted from both of them by the release of this secret. It is not the only one; they both have a number which Snow is sure will be shared over time, but they have each other and by her own words they will do this together.
Right now, though, they have a morning which is theirs and theirs alone and after everything they’ve been through, how hard they’ve worked to be together, she is determined to enjoy it.