A Heart in Disguise

Chapter 22


She had been running for her life for so long that now she felt there wasn't a point anymore. Part of her just wanted to start trouble just to have that thrill of a chase, but then again she didn't have her bow and arrow at her side.

The only thing she had were the clothes on her back and the last bit of sanity that was hanging by a thread. It felt strange to pass by without the threat of her life being taken and even then she still had to fight the urge to hide when a dark guard emerged. Life had surely taken a turn, yet instead of it being a relief, it felt like an eternal darkness had shrouded over her heart.

The sky was a pale ocean of gloom imploring the arrival of rain. As Snow made her way to god knows where it began to drizzle. Lifting her face upward, she allowed the cool droplets to splash upon her face, yet she could hardly feel them. The only thing she felt was this numbing madness inside of her as her sanity held on by a thin string. She wanted to take that strand and wrap it around her throat, jump off the highest cliff she could find, but there were no cliffs here. Just woods buzzing with life, a life she once adored.

When she came upon the nearest village she searched within her pouch to find a measly amount of gold. Perhaps just enough to buy a piece of bread for her grumbling stomach, but instead of following that logical path she meandered into the tavern that was roaring with drunken men.

"What will it be?" the blonde barmaid inquired when Snow sat down.

"What will this get me?"

The clinking of a sparse collection of coin hit the wood of the bar as she kept her face downward, hidden within the shadows of her hood.

"A mug of ale."

The brunette furrowed her brow as her face tilted upward to look at the plain woman.

"You're kidding me."

"I wish I wasn't."

Snow nearly scoffed. She was used to high prices in low times, but never this. And the sad thing was, the tavern was still packed as rounds of men drank away their problems instead of trying to fix them; anything to numb the pain, the shame of living in poverty, the shame of living in the filth that the Evil Queen had brought down upon them.

A bitter shiver ran down her spine and she clenched her fists as the thought of that woman. She was one of them now; all she wished to do was numb the pain.

"Fine. Just give me something."

Her gold vanished and a couple seconds later a pewter mug was slid her way filled to the brim with glistening foam spilling over. It took her a moment until she finally picked it up.

About five minutes later an older man sat down next to her and she nodded curtly, cherishing this precious poison that was slipping down her throat. This wouldn't be enough to accomplish her goals, but there was no turning back now as her stomach grumbled once more.

"I've seen you before," the man commented after receiving his own brew of choice.

"I doubt that," she said and drifted her face downward to avoid his gaze.

She didn't wish to be known. She didn't wish for everyone to know that Snow White had failed, that she didn't care anymore about the sake of these people's lives. What would they say when they found out that the she had finally been broken by the Evil Queen?

"Wait a second," his beer sloshed as the mug hit the bar, "You're Snow White."

She could have hit the man, but it was too late. Upon that, the barmaid stopped and looked over. Snow groaned and grabbed her head.

"I'll be damned," chimed in the blonde as she made her way back over ignoring the angry drunks on the side that were waving their empty mugs at her. She'd get to them in a second.

"We thought the Evil Queen had you executed."

Snow's face contorted and she met the woman's eye just for a brief second.

"Is that what she told you all?" she asked.

"We haven't heard a thing. Suddenly we weren't seeing signs up anymore and the Dark Guards. Everyone assumed that you had been captured. I'll admit, it's been a rather baffling few months. First the disappearance of the Queen and then suddenly she's back, but she's not really."

"What do you mean?"

It was the older guy who answered this one.

"My boy got caught stealing last week and I was sure the consequences would be harsh, but nothing happened. The Evil Queen didn't seem so evil anymore. It's as if the sorcery she dabbled in finally suffocated the last bit of life out of her leaving her like a lifeless corpse. It's strange indeed, but I fear that this is some wicked game of hers."

Snow fell quiet and drank the last bit of her ale only to be given another one. The barmaid winked.

"On the house for royalty."

It was insane how a name could buy you something.

"I'm not royalty anymore."

"But you should be. That throne is rightfully yours."

"She can have it."

The two fell quiet around her and exchanged a worried look. After several attempts at getting the woman to talk again, they decided to leave the brunette in peace to wallow in whatever darkness she was in, for they could see a similar disappearance in her eyes just like the Queen's.

It wouldn't take long for the silhouette of rumor to fall upon the village folk; soon they would be turning their heads in shame. Their only hope had been Snow White.

By the time the brunette was ready to leave the tavern she had consumed enough alcohol to make her journey towards the exit a wobbly one. A skilled drunk could have easily found his way home, but for a lightweight Snow should have sided with finding a room, but what gold did she have? The barmaid already took what she had with little a care to return the gold even after she found out who she was. She probably would have been offered a complimentary room for the night if she tried, but she was unwillingly to use her prior title to bend the will of others.

The only thing on her mind was to retreat into the night and become a ghost, but such an idea was made difficult with her constant stumbling through the streets. Nevertheless, she had the shroud of the night to veil over her true self.

A woman passed her by with long brown locks and Snow reached out to grab her wrist in a stumbling motion.

"Wilma," she slurred desperately.

However, just as quickly as the woman pulled away from her grip with a frightened gasp, she realized it wasn't who she thought it to be, simply a stranger in the night.

"Sorry," she muttered.

So this is what it had come down to? Illusions? Desperations? She had felt loneliness before, betrayal; it was nothing new when one was a bandit, but this entire incident had been such a heavy foot upon her skull that she wasn't sure she could rise back up. Her eyes closed; the pounding in her head grew louder and the world swirled rapidly beyond her grasp. She was falling, falling down into a spiral dance of confusion and treachery.

The image of Wilma emerged from the depths of her mind, but it distorted until she was face to face with the Evil Queen laughing deviously in her face.

"You fool," the Queen snickered, "Did you really believe that you were good enough to be loved? Look at you. You're weak. Pathetic. Your heart isn't even worth taking."

The princess shook her head with a silent plea; the image of the Evil Queen altered once again, but this time into a woman who was not a Queen, but a lifeless shade. It was a shadow that held the mask of someone strong and dominant, but it was simply that: a mask. There was more to the story than what she had been told; she knew that for certain, yet the more she thought of it the more her insides split apart.

It didn't occur to her that she had staggered onto the ground until a pair of hands her touching her gently and asking her if she was alright, but she didn't look up. The voice continued on a little more urgently and that's when the familiarity hit her.

But it couldn't have been. Her mind was playing another trick on her again; this was all staged by the strings of her heart. Whoever this person was clearly knew her for they were calling her by her name in such a frantic plea.

"Snow look at me," the female voice begged, "Can you hear me?" Finally the bandit turned her heavy head to glance at the woman. "It's me, Red."

It was a blur on how they got to the room they were in. The last thing Snow remembered was the woman helping her up before she had passed out. When she woke, the soft beams of day were streaming in through the single window.

The brunette tried to sit up, but as she did it felt as if the weight of the world had been shoved inside of her small head and she groaned, falling back down onto the bed.

"Are you awake?" the voice was evidently the wolf girl's which only raised another question. Why was she here?

"Barely. Where are we?"

Dull, hazel eyes watched with an aching gaze as the cloaked woman sat down upon the blankets. Red was looking at her with so much worry that it made the other woman's head pound harder.

"Just the tavern. The same one I'm presuming you nearly poisoned yourself at."

They both let out a sigh of their own before Snow eventually rose up and pulled her knees to her chest. Dark circles hung below her eyes like the dark half of the moon. She was looking at Red, but they both knew she really wasn't seeing anything.

"How are you here?"

"I ran of course," she gave a wolfish grin to try and lightening the mood, "after you and Wilma left I decided to try and venture into the meadow villages. I heard that the warrants for your arrest had been taken down, and I feared the worst."

"Woe is me; I'm still alive."

That was by far the most deadpanned statement Snow had ever said in her life. Whether stated with a rushing river of laughter or solitude, it was a pretty big deal. Of course, it shouldn't have been a surprise where Red's mind immediately jumped to. Taking her friends hand, she squeezed it reassuringly.

"Snow, what happened to Wilma? Did she…?"

"It doesn't matter."

"What do you mean? The Evil Queen, she didn't—?"

"I don't want to talk about this right now."

Red's brow pulled together and she retracted her hand back into her lap. She observed how her friend pulled her knees towards herself even more. The air was growing thick with confusion causing the brunette wolf to take sharp breath of air.

As much as she wanted to pry the answers out, she knew force wasn't an option. Reaching down for a basket that was beside the bed, she pulled out a piece of bread and offered it to Snow.

"Here, you should probably get something in your stomach."

Snow refused to talk for the next two hours. It wasn't until she actually comprehended the pained confusion in her companion's green eyes that she realized she needed to tell Red the truth of what happened. Red had been a part of the journey as well; it wasn't fair to keep her in the dark.

So she did just that. She told her everything from the moment they left to cabin to the being captured by Prince James all up to meeting Regina's frozen stare in the Dark Palace. It would have been great to say that she didn't shed a tear, that the well had run dry, but they flowed regardless.

"I still can't understand how all of this happened," Snow said between sniffs, "How can the person I spent the last few months of my life with just suddenly vanish? I know how it happened, but I still cannot fathom why."

"So what are you going to do?" the wolf-girl asked, "You can't just turn back around and forget this ever happened."

"Why not? The last few months of my life have been nothing but a lie. I risked my life in treading those mountains only to end up where I started."

A soothing warmth was felt on her shoulder as Red's hand made contact, silently urging Snow to look at her, but she wouldn't. Instead the frail woman continued to stare blankly at her pale hands.

There had been a time when she would find comfort in the silver necklace that hung upon her neck, but as she instinctively went to run her thumb over the pendant, she found that it was gone. She couldn't remember whether she had lost it at some point or purposely ripped it off; either way, the loss of it was bittersweet.

"Was it really a lie?"

Snow snapped her head over with a sickening contort of her lips.

"Have you not heard anything that I've just told you, Red? Wilma was never there; that woman I grew to love never existed."

The very moment that certain word fell from her lips she practically crumbled to pieces. Love. She had loved her. She would have journeyed the Mountain a thousand times if it meant it would bring Wilma back.

"But those feelings were real, Snow. I saw the way she looked at you. Don't you remember that she saved your life from the Ice Wraith when she could have let you die? I think you're failing to see what you've seen the entire time."

"I don't want to see it!" her voice was shrill, "Regina was married to my father and murdered him if you don't remember."

"I know. I realize how crazy all of it is. It's completely mad, but haven't you always been about forgiveness?"

Snow looked back down at her hands in her lap and shook her head.

"She went too far this time."

"Do you even know the full story?"

"Why are you siding with her, Red?"

"I'm not! What did she tell you when you saw her in the palace?"

"She told me..." Snow's voice dissolved as the figure of the woman appeared in her mind's eye, "She told me her plan went wrong, that she never even meant to run into me."

"I deceived you, my dear. I wish it could have played out another way."

Amber eyes had seemed nearly lifeless, yet Snow had still seen a glimmer of familiarity. It was always in the eyes. Wilma's true emotions were always hidden in her gaze and in that short moment Snow had seen her again.

There was a longing deep within; the fragrance of her shadow still haunted her. The memory of her touch, the sound of a deep groan arising in the back of her throat when they shared that moment together, it burned like a thousand suns against her mind. Yet the illusion had come to reveal its true nature.

"I just want this all to end," Snow whispered.

The wolf's fingers wrapped around her hand and squeezed gently, her thumb attempting to sooth the heartache with a soft motion. As long as she had known Snow White, she had never witnessed this woman's fire so diminished.

"Don't be stupid and lose someone like I did," Red told her sincerely, "What I saw between you both wasn't forged nor was it something that only you could have created yourself. The way she looked at you, the panic in her eyes when she thought you wouldn't wake up, that wasn't pretense."

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