Battle may never end, for there chaos thrives;
And only in chaos can we live our lives.

After Snow takes the Assassin's curse, she leaves to rebuild the Four Kingdoms. But she finds the Beast impossible to control and will do anything to get rid of it and spare her kingdom carnage. Enter Rumplestiltskin, one of seven equally enigmatic and long-named dwarves. Their requirement for breaking the curse? Snow must live with them for a year. She leaves a serving girl in her place, who must lie to--and fall for--an unwitting Huntsman.

But curses can never be broken. Evil can never be killed. And Snow can never stop fighting.


22. Chapter 11

Ella sat on Snow's bed, staring at the empty doorway long after the Queen had left. The ancient doorway, once painted white, was now worn down to the wood beneath. Stripped clean of it's lie. The analogy did not go over Ella's head. 

Snow had ordered Ella to leave the love of her life. And she'd sounded little more than irritated when doing so. 

No wonder that fat merchant loves her so, Ella thought darkly, thinking of Casin's constant praising of the Queen. 

Ella didn't cry. But then, Ella had never cried at the important things. 

She hadn't cried when her mother died. She hadn't cried when her father left on his constant trips and voyages. She hadn't cried when her sep-sisters teased her, when her step-mother made her the house servant. Ella hadn't cried when she received the letter telling her that her father had died. And she hadn't cried when she ran away. 

Ella could have cried at any of those times, but she didn't. She had planned. she had schemed and snuck and worked to ensure her own safety. 

But Ella couldn't do it. Not this time. This time it was the simple matter of Ella defying the queen or submitting. Stealing her identity or remaining Ella. Treason or love. Power--true power--versus emotion. 

She lowered her head, the black locks of hair that didn't belong to her slithering over her shoulder, brushing against her neck. Ella imagined a rope in their place, a noose for her attempts to do nothing more than keep the man she loved. 

She couldn't tell him she'd lied. Ella couldn't tell him that she wasn't who he thought she was. But she'd known--she'd always known--that this could never work. 

The Huntsman came into the room. 

"Snow?" he asked. His voice was soft. The deadly, strong mercenary that became soft, just for her. He could have snapped her neck in an instant, but instead he chose to caress it gently. He could have impaled her heart, but instead he treasured it. 

And she had to impale his instead. 

She looked up. "Hello." Ella gave him a soft smile. 

"Are you okay? You acted oddly in the corridor." 

It would have been so easy to say, "Oh, so sorry, I'm not Snow. I'm actually a servant wearing your Queen's body." But it wasn't easy. It was impossible. 

"Why... why do you love me?" Ella asked instead of answering his question. 

The Huntsman sat on the edge of the bed, stretching the richly embroidered cover between them. He took her porcelain hand into his own scarred one. 

"Because you have a cleverness in your eyes that other women lack. You have a happiness to your soul that you let so few see, yet I've always noticed. There is a strength in everything that you do. You're fearless, Snow." 

I'm not! she wanted to cry aloud. Then she stopped. 

A cleverness in her eyes. Even now? But that cleverness as her own! 

And Ella was happy. Despise her abuse, her neglect, her lies, she could be so genuinely happy. When was Snow ever happy? She was gruff, confrontational. There was an anger in her eyes that she took out on the battlefield. 

And perhaps she wasn't as strong as Snow was, but Ella was strong in her own way. She had to be, to have survived what she did. And she had done so without the help of three mentors and a kingdom that loved her and her every move. 

Ella could be fearless. She knew in her heart of hearts that she could be. That she would have to be. Because only a fearless woman would embrace the fact that she was loved, and only a fearless woman would fight for those fireworks. 

She leaned across the bed, taking the Huntsman's dark face in her hands and pressing her lips to his. She felt the love, the strength. The fireworks. She could feel both their pulses, the beating of their hearts. She was alive. Ella was strength. She was fearless. 

She would be Snow. 

Ella would be Queen. 

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