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After the Coronation
He turned when Snow White called his name, her voice echoing through the otherwise empty corridor. He paused, though he wanted nothing more than to leave.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she demanded, striding quickly towards him, her crown slightly askew atop her head.
“I’m leaving, M’lady,” the Huntsman replied. “I’ve done my job, and now you must do yours.” He waved his hand limply towards the throne room. “Go back to your people.”
“You’re one of them too, you know,” Snow White shot back, holding her ground. The Huntsman had always admired her tenacity more than he cared to admit, but now, when he was trying to desperately to flee, it was beginning to grate on him. “And...And...And I order you to stay!” she said triumphantly.
The Huntsman laughed, even though he had never felt quite the same ache in his chest as he was feeling now. “I’m sorry, my queen,” he said, making to walk away from her. “But I still take orders from nobody. Not even you.”
She said nothing as he turned his back on her, and he thought that she might actually let him go. He had to leave, of course; how could he remain here, after all this? He couldn’t bring himself to do it, not even for her....
“Wait,” she said finally, and her voice was different this time. It was not stubborn, strong, or defiant, the voice of the Snow White Queen. It was soft and fragile, ready to break apart at the slightest provocation. It reminded him too much of Sara, and vicious tears bit at his eyes.
Slowly he turned, compelled to by the same voice that had not let him give Snow White to Finn’s men nor deliver her to Ravenna, and saw that the young queen had tears in her dark eyes as well.
“Don’t go,” she pleaded with him, and the Huntsman felt his empty heart began to stir. For a moment he allowed himself to consider what it would be like to stay here, to leave all that had happened before behind him and finally, finally, move on to a new life.
He couldn’t picture it.
“I must,” he said, but his boots seemed to be nailed to the floor. His place was...not here, but elsewhere, he knew that as well as he knew his own fragmented soul. But where? The question still remained to be answered.
Snow White forced a weak smile. “Who will protect me?” she asked, spreading her pale hands out at her sides.
The Huntsman pointed back towards the throne room, his leather armor rustling. “You have William.”
Snow White shook her head. “He’s a friend. That’s all he’s ever been.”
“What should that matter, if he can keep you safe?”
“That’s not it and you know it.”
“Then why don’t you come out and say it--” he smirked--”your Highness? I don’t have times to play word games with you.”
Snow White took another few steps towards him. “I know it was your kiss that brought me back to life,” she said simply, and for a moment the Huntsman felt his heart go completely still.
How did she know? He had kept the information from her to protect her, keep her safe. William could offer her a life the Huntsman never could, with all the love and happiness she so rightly deserved. If she thought that William was the one who had kissed her and brought her back from death, she would truly be able to be happy with him. What could the Huntsman give her? The same he had given Sara?
“I know,” she said, coming close enough to take his hand, to trace his stubble-laced cheeks with her slender finger tips. “And that’s all that matters.”
“He’s better for you, Snow White,” the Huntsman said, deciding that he would most definitely hate himself for this later, when he actually got a chance to think about it, but that thought didn’t bother him nearly as much as it should have. After all, he was quite used to that feeling by now.
“I don’t want him.” She now sounded slightly more like her old self, and the Huntsman didn’t know whether to feel relieved about that or not. “He didn’t bring me back--he kissed me too, and he didn’t bring me back. You did. And that means--”
“I don’t care what you think it means, Snow White,” he said, and he gently pushed her away, even though he did care, slightly too much.
“Yes,” she said, reading him with too much accuracy, as always. “You do. You know, and you care. Just as you care about me.”
The Huntsman ground his teeth together. Did she always have to be right? Was it not enough that she was kind and strong and brave and beautiful and clever? Did she have to know him so well?
“It’s because I care about you, Snow White,” he managed, telling the truth leaving an even worse taste in his mouth than lying ever had, “that I must go. I’m no good for you. I...I can’t stay here and put you in danger, just as I did...just as I did with...” Sara...
“The danger has passed, Huntsman,” Snow White whispered, taking one of his rough hands with her own; she felt so much smaller than him, like her hand would get lost in his. How she had ever managed to wield a sword, to lead an army, was a miracle the Huntsman had no place puzzling out. He had no place around miracles anyway. “Look around you. The darkness has fled. Now that Ravenna is dead, this kingdom is safe again. You don’t have to leave. Please.” She blinked several times, and her eyes--which had always reminded the Huntsman of those of a wise doe--were suddenly swollen and reflective with tears. “Don’t.”
“I must--” he began, but she pulled him close to her with her surprising strength, suddenly standing straight and tall, as if she were back in her armor instead of coronation dress.
“--stay,” she completed for him, “with me,” and then she stretched up and kissed him.