a/n: this is a long overdue reaction to the amount of feels that this pairing gives me. i never really thought it'd be possible to ship a character born of a fairy tale with someone other than their designated prince, but boy, was i wrong. take that, prince william. oh chris hemsworth, the things you do to me. sigh. story title comes from breath of life by florence + the machine.
a little touch of heavenly light
"May I have a moment?"
The guards nod behind their armor, excusing themselves from the chamber with a bow. Her lips quirk at their actions; she told them that, while she appreciates the gesture, they needn't extend such courtesies to her at all times, despite the crown resting on her head. When the door shuts behind them, she turns to face the gold disk that hangs on the wall.
She stares at it through narrowed eyes, recognizing that the circular scrap of metal is what sent Ravenna on a manic rampage for her heart.
Her eyebrow creases as she wracks her brain for the plausible thing to say—it's not everyday that she's required to summon an enchanted mirror, after all. "Mirror," she calls. "I request your presence."
She wants to laugh at herself—surely she must seem foolish. Before she dismisses her original plan, she notices movement from the corner of her eye. She turns to find that the center of the disk is moving, liquid gold falling to the floor. Her eyes widen when the matter starts gliding closer to her, until the molten gold transforms into a sheath of some sort, taking the shape of what she thinks to be a hooded man.
She nods, exhaling sharply and straightening her posture. Her thumbs fiddle with each other as she joins her hands, and she absentmindedly wonders if the mirror can sense her anxiety. The fact that this enchanted object seems to respond to her command makes her more nervous than it should.
"How did I awaken from Ravenna's charm? How—how was the spell lifted?"
"That kind of magic can only be undone with the power of another—a force stronger than that of well-practiced dark magic," the mirror answers.
"What would that be?" Her teeth attack her lip as she waits to hear what was so powerful that it managed to override the strength of Ravenna's magic.
"True love's kiss."
She's in a frenzy.
If what the mirror said is true, then whoever kissed her─that's who she's supposed to be with. Her true love. The person that even dark magic recognizes as having the power to pull her back from any insurmountable obscurity she may undergo.
She's relieved, she really is. Solving the mystery of whom resurrected her could lead to the ending of the dispute for her heart that William and Eric are currently engaged in. No more walking on eggshells around them, no more looking both ways before conversing with William, no more feeling guilty when she catches herself staring at Eric for a second longer than need be.
She's also a nervous wreck. While this will mean peace for her, it will also mean a painful revelation to one of her two suitors, and although she wants nothing more than to calm the throb that encircles her head whenever she's so much as in the same room as them, she can't bear the thought of bringing either one of them harm.
She cares about William, more than anyone will ever be able to fathom. He's been a constant in her thoughts since she was a child. He was her first kiss, the person that her parents assured her she was meant to be with, and the memories she has of them running joyously through the castle's grounds are some of her most cherished.
Then there's Eric, Eric. While at first, it was obvious to both of them that they'd rather not interact with each other for longer than necessary, as time passed, he's shown a different side to himself, a side that kind of snuck up on her. Now, with him living in her castle, she can't help but admit─
She's pulled out of her reverie when she unceremoniously bumps into one of the dwarves, whom she's quick to identify as Beith. He grunts and bends down; she looks around to see that she's sent all the goblets he'd been carrying crashing to the ground, and she gasps.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Beith," she laments, immediately pulling at the skirts of her gown and getting on her knees, hands fumbling towards the multitude of goblets surrounding them, arms gathering as much as they can carry.
"Your highness!" he chastises, eyes darting around them sharply, lest anyone see the queen herself, on the floor assisting one of the castle's dwarves. Her hand stills and her eyebrows crease in confusion. This is no ordinary queen, he thinks to himself, suppressing a chuckle. "If you insist," he allows.
She blinks, nodding towards him. She stands, placing the drink containers into Beith's waiting arms, teeth mercilessly chewing on the inside of her lips as she ponders. It's best that she knows who kissed her, isn't it? That way, she doesn't end up with the wrong person, and in turn, everyone can be happy?
Her mouth decides before her brain has a chance to catch up.
"Beith, you guarded my body when I was taken into Duke Hammond's castle under Ravenna's charm, am I correct?"
The dwarf nods gruffly. "Certainly. All six of us stood outside the door, day and night."
She pauses to send him a gracious smile for all that he's done for her before continuing. "You must tell me, did I have any visitors?"
"No, your highness," he denies. She has to restrain the urge to scoff in disbelief. That's impossible, if the dwarves say she didn't have any visitors, then how is she supposed to put a name to the lips that brought her back to life? She's so caught up in her dilemma that she almost doesn't hear Beith's following words, "the huntsman was very adamant in not allowing anyone to enter."
Her eyes widen; she has her answer. Eric, her huntsman, with his gruff appearance and surly demeanor, was who all the fates determined she should be with. He kissed her, he made it possible to defeat Ravenna and restore life's essence to their kingdom. Her fingers raise to graze her lips slowly, almost in awe that they were once pressed up against his.
"Eric," she gasps, and even she can detect a smile tickling her lips. "He was there?"
"He never left your side."
"Do you wish to court Snow White?"
He can't help but chuckle at the young prince. Eric looks up from sharpening the blade of his ax to look at him, chin raised and jaw set, the poster ad for determination, eyes so steely and unaware of any real pain. He can't hate him, as much as he wants to, as much as he should. He's good and pure...what she deserves.
He swallows the lump in his throat. "I wish to protect her," he answers. At the remaining hesitation in William's shoulders, Eric scoffs. "Nothing more. I made that clear to her when I first met her." His mind flushes with the memory of finding her within the gallows of the Dark Forest, eyes wide and fearful. Since then, it's been his sole mission to make sure she's safe, at all times.
William merely raises an eyebrow. "You insist on remaining in her presence for longer than customary when it comes your occupation," he pushes, eyes intently hovering over his face in the attempt to discover any hint of untruth.
Eric sighs at his insinuation—he's not entirely wrong. He doesn't really serve a purpose at the castle; he spends most of his days at Snow's side or training the dwarves in hand-to-hand combat. While he can't deny that he prefers the former, she never seems to mind, always greeting him with a smile that lights up her whole face and reminds him exactly why he's still taking up residence there.
He'd originally thought no one minded his presence. Apparently, he was wrong.
"Does that bother you, Prince?" he asks sardonically, standing so his face is level with William's. The prince squares his shoulders, trying to disguise the feeling of intimidation by portraying it as blind courage. Eric tilts his head to the side, easily seeing through the facade, and steps back. He makes a hasty decision. "No matter. I'll be leaving the premises soon enough. After tonight's ball, actually."
The sooner, the better. She'll be rid of him, and he'll be rid of the nagging voice in the back of his mind, always screaming at him that he'll never be up to par with William in terms of being what her heart desires.
William's eyes widen imperceptibly—he hadn't been expecting that. "Why?"
Eric doesn't answer immediately, instead returning to work on enhancing his weaponry. It's when William has his back turned, ready to walk away, that he hears him.
"You're right. A castle is no place for a huntsman."
"I told you, I would not be gallivanting around in—"
His words die in his throat when he turns and catches sight of her. She's coming towards him slowly, gloved hands resting delicately at her sides. The champagne-colored bodice of her dress is adorned with pearls, and her loose curls frame her face perfectly to a fault. He can't help but think that she's bathed in an ethereal glow, like her entire body is singing for him.
He swallows, fumbling for a coherent way to phrase just how wonderful she looks.
"You look beautiful."
To him, this is an understatement.
To her, it is a compliment of the highest order.
Snow smiles, eyelashes ghosting over her cheekbones, and he wonders if his imagination is teasing him or if her cheeks have grown a discreet shade of pink. He deludes himself into believing that it's the latter, and he finds himself smiling back at her.
She can't help but breathe him in. His hair is slicked back, resting at the nape of his neck in a ponytail, and he took it upon himself to shave. She'd always known he was handsome, but now, without the rubble of grief and several years of heavy drinking ghosting over his appearance, she decides he's more than that.
He's simply gorgeous.
And, according to destiny, he's hers.
She swallows, pointing to his middle, blinking away thoughts that are anything less than appropriate. She's never been one for crude scrutiny, but it seems to be one of the many things that being around Eric brings out in her. "It's odd, seeing you without an ax and sword at your side."
He smirks, like he knows the internal battle she's having with herself. "I'm not just a huntsman, your majesty."
She looks at him thoughtfully. "I'm aware," she assures, and the way her eyes are sparkling tell him that there's something else she's not saying, "and I've told you, Eric. I would like my friends to call me Snow."
"As you wish. Is there any way I can relinquish this forsaken ball?" he asks, tugging at the cuffs of his dress robes, visibly displeased with his attire. He exhales sharply, staring at the grand doors that will lead them into the ballroom, where many citizens and merchants await the arrival of the woman at his side.
She smiles at him, but he can't help but notice how the light in her eyes diminishes. "Of course. I wouldn't want you to feel uncomfortable."
She nods courteously, and steps forward, hand reaching for the handle when he pulls it back. She's looking at him questioningly, and he tucks her hand into the crook of his elbow, deciding to grant her this favor that she didn't even ask for. She's done so much for him, for everyone, without ever thinking of herself, and he figures it's the least he could do.
Her answering grin makes it worth while.
If someone ever told him he'd be at a ball celebrating a queen's victory in banishing her predecessor, an act that he himself helped orchestrate, he'd probably laugh, decide that you're not mentally stable, and walk away. Now, if someone ever told him that he'd also be dancing with the queen, enjoying the way her body feels flush against his, and counting the colors in her eyes, he'd probably punch them in the face.
Alas, here he is.
"I wasn't aware you obtained dancing skills," he muses.
Her eyes find their way to his, and he's surprised to find hurt and confusion brimming her forest oak irises. "It seems as if we're both full of surprises." He doesn't have to ask what she's alluding to, and he wants nothing more than to give Prince William a piece of his mind. But mostly, to reach up and wipe the line of worry in her forehead away with his fingers. "It was brought to my attention that you wish to leave?"
He sighs, training his eyes on a fixture on the wall behind her, his hold around her waist imperceptibly tightening as he forces himself to ignore the tinge of anguish lacing her words. "That's right."
"Are you unhappy with something in the castle? Would you like a bigger bedchamber? Did you quarrel with the staff? Did you—"
He shakes his head. "No, nothing like that, your ma—Snow. Snow."
"Then why do you desire to leave me?"
It is then that he allows himself the small mercy of looking down at her. Her eyes are downcast and her lips have transformed her effervescent smile into a frown that looks so foreign against her soft features. He restrains himself from bursting into laughter. She's managed to rid him of the remaining grievous residue that he thought would permanently surround his heart, and she honestly believes he wishes to leave her?
She cares, he realizes. She actually cares whether he's there or not. If he were to pick up his already packed suitcase and mosey out of the castle grounds before anyone caught on to his actions, it would actually hurt her. The very concept of his presence being a necessity to her is baffling, but he can see it now, just how much pain his absence would bring her.
Nevermind the fact that he's a huntsman and she's a queen, and everything about them is so very inappropriate, or that all eyes are currently trained on them, on the way his fingers are pressed to the small of her back, on the way her face is pressed gently into his chest. Nevermind the fact that he could live a hundred lifetimes, and he still wouldn't deserve her.
He's willing to do whatever it take to keep her happy, even if it means indulging in his own happiness.
"I don't," he admits. He lifts her chin up with his index finger, forcing her to look at him. He hopes she can see the sincerity outlined in his face. "It's a matter of the past. I'll stay."
She hesitates, her selfless nature making her second-guess his decision. "I do not wish for you to be troubled."
"I won't. While you're here, I won't."
She nods solemnly and presses herself closer against him, hoping that he can't feel the strong palpitating of her heart against his own chest.
She doesn't know why the thought of Eric leaving her terrifies her so much.
She does, but that's something she'd rather not dwell on right now, not while William is watching them through narrowed eyes.
"Do you wish to come in?"
"I'm not sure if that's appropriate."
He shifts from one foot to the other, and his hand reaches up to scratch at the back of his neck. He's awful at lying, she thinks.
"Well, what if you were stripped of a choice?" she teases, mischief shining in her orbs. "I, as queen, command you to enter."
He shrugs. "Well, since I can't go against your orders, I suppose I must oblige." He steps in, careful to look down the hallways before closing the door behind him. Suddenly, he's laughing, and it's this warm, earthy sound that makes her join in and want nothing more than to hear it again. "Oh my, what will the dwarves think?"
She's still smiling as she goes to place her crown on its designated cushion, sitting on her bed as she removes the monstrous devices that people call adequate dress shoes. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Eric awkwardly standing in the corner of the room, never allowing his eyes to travel to where she sits.
Ever the gentleman.
"Thank you, for not leaving," she whispers.
"And leave you to fend for yourself with all those haggard witches? I'm not a monster."
He's smiling, brighter than she's ever seen him smile. His eyes are crinkled at the corners and she thinks this is how she likes him best—smiling as if the wretched world they live in hasn't tainted his spirit.
She's suddenly very aware of their situation; the fact that they're in her bedchamber, the fire burning quietly behind her, bathing him in a warm glow that reminds her of sunset and everything that's right in the world. Her tongue darts out to moisten her lips and she takes a deep breath.
"No, you're not."
He swallows and clears his throat, bringing them both back to reality. While he's the first to admit that he would stay there all night with her if he could, he hasn't forgotten his conversation with William earlier, hasn't forgotten about the fact that he looked at the prince and saw everything she deserved and everything he could never be.
He turns and heads for the door and she shakes her head furiously. She's done skirting around their situation like it's going to burn her if she dares to bring it up. She's done pretending like he's not the first thing she thinks about when she wakes up and the last thing she thinks about before going to sleep, like every time he glances in her direction she can't feel her heart thundering against the confines of her chest.
"I know it was your kiss that lifted Ravenna's spell," she blurts out, and his hand pauses over the door's handle before it clenches into a fist and falls to his side. Her jaw sets and she places a hand on his shoulder. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He never wanted her to find out. He wanted her to fall in love with William, realize he was the best thing for her, they'd get married in a grand ceremony that the entire kingdom would attend, and they'd produce perfect, dark-haired babies. They'd be happy. He'd be alone.
That was the plan.
Now it seems like Snow's sole intent is to veer the plan off-course.
"What good would it have done?" he asks gruffly, refusal to turn around adamant in his tone. "I notice the way William carries himself with you—you'd be blind to not see that he loves you." He turns, just enough so that she can see the outline of his jaw, the way his eyes are cast downwards. "And that's what you deserve—a cordial, noble prince; someone worthy of your affections."
She's semi-conscious of tears gathering in her eyes. She finds it so endearing, how he's so determined in giving her what he thinks she needs, even if it's at his own expense. If anything, it draws her towards him even more. How he hasn't recognized that she thinks the world of him leaves her truly flabbergasted. She was so sure that she'd been nothing if not painfully obvious in her feelings for him.
"Someone so bright, and yet, I've never met anyone more foolish," she says wistfully. "William loves the memory of me, of frolicking in my mother's garden as we exchanged trivial arguments. We're different people." She reaches up and cups his cheek in her palm until he turns. He abides, and she can't help but smile when he leans into her touch. "You claim to see how William looks at me, and you do not manage to see the way I look at you?"
He closes his eyes, refusing to listen to a word she's saying. He's never been good at ignoring her, and he finds his resolve crumbling away against his will. "That doesn't—"
"Listen to me," she interrupts, "you are more than worthy of my affections, and even if you aren't, it's too late—they're already yours. I wouldn't wish for anyone else to hold them." His eyes open, and she's almost shocked to see something swimming in the crystalline depths that she thought she'd never bear witness to; vulnerability. "Now, I want you to repeat after me: I am worthy of your love."
"I'm really not," he denies, only to stop short when he sees the stark conviction in the set of her lips, and it wills the words to spew from his mouth. "I am worthy of your love."
She grins. "There, that wasn't so hard, now was it?"
He rolls his eyes, finger reaching up to lightly trace over her cheeks. She swallows, looking down to see his skin against hers, and she wonders if he loves the feeling of it almost as much as she does. The way he's looking at her assures her that yes, yes he does.
"You truly are something else."
The way he says this—how his tongue caresses each syllable like it's something precious, something he lets himself indulge in—lets her know what his next move will be.
His lips press against her own, so tantalizingly slow that it takes every fiber of her being to not grab him by the neck and pull his face to hers. He's tentative, a slight peck on the lips, another on the cheek, and she knows there's more, knows he's holding back.
Difference between them is, she's done holding back.
She wraps her arms around his neck and assaults his lips with as much passion as she can summon—with him around, it's not like she's lacking any. He's hesitant, keeping his hands on her shoulders and allowing her to dominate their kiss.
Snow appreciates the fact that he wants to be gentle with her, she does—but gentle is for William and hand-holding and walks in the garden. Eric is so much more, something foreign and exciting that makes her blood boil and heart thunder against the confines of her chest and she wants that—wants him.
She yanks at his hair with one hand while the other creeps under his shirt, and he becomes undone. His arms wrap around her waist, pulling her flush against him to the point that she's sure there's not an inch of space between their bodies.
Her teeth nip at his lip, and she shivers at the low growl that rumbles deep in his throat. His lips move from hers and place butterfly kisses all over her neck, her shoulders. She fists her hands in his hair and buries her face into the crook of his neck, murmurs I love you into his skin.
He whispers her name, and he spends the next couple of hours making her forget it.
She wakes at the crack of dawn and looks up, only to have the crown of her head bump against Eric's chin. He merely snores in response, and she breathes a quiet laugh. Even in sleep, his arms envelop her waist firmly enough for her to feel the warmth and safety that he always emanates.
Snow presses a feather-light kiss to his bare chest before curling herself closer to his body.
She thinks she could get used to waking up like this.