And they lived happily ever after?
The man with flames for hair gazed irritably at the overgrown roses climbing fiercely in the walled garden of the palace. They had been a gift to the Princess from Endymion, the monarch of Earth. The Prince knew they were her favorite thing from his home: scarlet roses. Not more than a month after their planting, a virus struck them and threatened to kill the delicate flowers. But the virus had worked to the opposite effect than had been expected. The new breed of blossoms that arose was immune to the harsh, rough Nemesian weather – and they were turned white, a color never seen before in roses. Thrilled, Serenity had sent the mutated seeds of the virus-infected plants back to Earth where they continued to flourish.
Beruche, who had since become the ambassador for the kingdom of Nemesis, carried the white roses as peace offerings to all planets in the solar system. When she decided to stay on Saturn, aiding the small princess there as an advisor, Calaveras took up the honored title. It seemed that since Beruche was no longer needed as a surrogate mother to the Moon Princess, she felt a growing loyalty and protectiveness for the young Saturn Princess taking its place. Her sisters were surprised. Before Serenity's coming, Beruche had never showed much promise as a mother. Now they had word that she was soon to be married.
Calaveras was less couth than Beruche as an ambassador, but fortunately, she and her feisty personality hit it off well with the princesses; especially the spirited Princess of Mars and the other three inner planetary sovereigns.
At any rate, the moon-white flowers had somehow managed to invade the Silver Millennium, when the people of Nemesis originally had every reason to believe they would whither. And on Nemesis, the roses did not only live – they thrived.
"A miracle," Rubeus murmured, but his comment went unheard.
The pretty long-haired woman beside him snipped one of the pure roses from the vine. Cooan sighed. "The first blossoms of spring. It's always such a sad time, for everybody." The promise had been kept to her, and she had been promoted since the war with Metallia.
Rubeus sniffed. "Why does everyone always make such a commotion about it? She'll be back soon enough at any rate." He ignored the little tug of regret that played upon his heartstrings. He knew that the Princess meant more than just a means by which to improve the standard of living on Nemesis.
Esmeraude, sitting beneath the pomegranate tree primly, tossed her hair over her shoulder. It reminded Rubeus of the overgrown rose bushes. "Hn, just admit it. Nothing flows as smoothly when she's away."
"That's because the Prince insists on mourning for her absence as if she were dead."
"Don't exaggerate, Rubeus, it doesn't agree with you," the green woman retorted. "Besides, even if things did run as smoothly . . . it wouldn't quite be the same without her."
Cooan held out the rose to Rubeus. He hesitated momentarily, then received it from the Ayakashi, careful not to prick his fingers on the dangerous thorns.
"She reminds me of a rose," Esmeraude continued, musing. "Delicate and fierce at the same time. Just when you think you have struck her, she comes back undaunted, like the roses every spring; maybe even more strong than ever. It's a shame she never stays to see the roses at their fullest."
Rubeus raised his eyebrows at the luscious woman and smiled mischievously. "Esmeraude," he said, voice so full of saturnine, it made Esmeraude's mouth pucker. "Are you in danger of liking the Princess Serenity?"
At first he thought he had caught her from the wide-eyed look on her face, but like a snake, she struck back quickly. In an equally falsely sweet voice, "And are you, my dear Rubeus, in danger of falling for one of your underlings?" Her eyes flickered over to the oblivious Cooan, who was caressing the roses in the way a mother will do her baby.
If Rubeus had the reactions of a normal man, he might have blushed, but instead, he only appeared immensely irate. He narrowed his eyes at Esmeraude threateningly.
But the beautiful woman only laughed and strutted away, a bright green peacock.
* * *
The child with lavender eyes watched gravely. She was sitting atop the similarly somber man's lap, who himself reclined rigidly in an ornate wooden chair. The room was brightly lit, and although the curtains were drawn on the windows, light filtered through the skylights into the chamber. The two straight figures were a perfect marble statue.
Before them, the slender, golden woman slipped out of a gown and let it drop to the cool floor, seemingly unconcerned by the intense stares of her observers. Her movements were akin to a tall reed's, animated by a refreshing breeze.
Without turning around to address the man to whom she spoke, the child whispered, "I miss her already."
" . . . Me too."
She was about the age of five, but one look into her face, and one would swear she was older. Sometimes, she could be so serious.
The woman, now in revealing undergarments, gathered a second gown from off the large bed and stepped into it: one leg, then the other. One arm, then the other. This dress was different from the carefree, flowing gown she had worn only moments earlier. This dress was stuffy, confining. The child frowned. The woman looked so much more beautiful, so much more real in the first gown.
Serenity tried to bend her arms behind her to do up the garment in the back, but was finding it troublesome. She twisted around, trying to reach her fingers to the buttons. She looked silly, and if the mood had been lighter, the pale man might have laughed gently. Instead, he slid the child off of his lap and approached the woman to help her with her dressing.
She dropped her arms when he came up behind and allowed him to fasten up the dress for her. She watched his reflection in a full-length mirror as he worked. When he finished, he remained standing there and looked up. They gazed at each other in the mirror for a few comfortable moments, communicating wordlessly.
Turning, she held him close for a long, good minute.
After a while, the child decided she had had enough of that and went forward, wedging herself in between the two adults, so that she could participate in the embrace. She hugged the breathtaking woman and the regal man simultaneously. "Mama, why can't I go with you this time?" she entreated.
"Hush," Demando scolded, voice soft like air. "You're getting too old to be attached to your mother at the hip."
"But I've always gone before!"
Serenity smiled reassuringly. "No, he's right, Catey-love. You've started your lessons now. When they're finished at the end of spring, you'll come to stay with me for the rest of the summer. Until then, you'll be a good girl, and help your father in my absence, won't you?"
The child pouted.
"Hecate," her father said evenly. He was the only one who ever used her full name other than in formalities. And he never raised his voice. When mother was angry, she would rebuke her in exasperation. But when Papa was mad . . . his eerie calm was enough to keep the child from repeating the same transgression twice.
Mama patted Hecate's fair head affectionately. She wore her hair like her mother's. The little girl was almost the perfect image of her, except that her eyes shined a soft, hazy violet, and her hair was the palest, lightest blonde – just a shade darker than white. It was even lighter than her grandmother's.
The child was an enigma. She could be two opposite ways: at times, she was frivolous and carefree, like an ordinary child. Her laughter was contagious. The sound of it ringing through the hollow halls of the dark palace made life somehow more bearable for those who heard it. She and her mother sometimes danced and danced, for no other reason than they felt like dancing. Hecate was indisputably a moonchild. But at other times, she would grow quiet and very introspective, sad and old. She thought of things no other child her age would think of. Her eyes were piercing, and people around her would remark at how intelligent she was, how collected and melancholy – her uncle's niece, a true daughter of her father, and heir to the throne of Nemesis. What was more, the little girl had the capability of manipulating and harnessing both the ginzuishou and the jakokuzuishou, the light and the dark. Through her, they freely and indisputably worked together. She was a perfect balance; a living yin yang.
"It won't be so bad . . .," Demando said, but he wasn't talking to Hecate anymore.
Mama bent upwards to him and touched his lips with her own. She spoke over them, alighting little butterfly kisses with each movement of her mouth, "You know . . . if you feel you really must see me, you can always drop by one evening . . . and spend the night with me. No one would miss you."
He smiled vaguely. "I just might take you up on that offer." They kissed deeper.
Hecate tugged at her father's clothing. The two looked down expectantly. "Papa, I would miss you!"
They looked from the child, to each other, to the child, to each other again. Demando inched his fingers down to her middle. It was impossible to tell when he was planning something, because he never gave himself away by smirking. "Not if you're asleep, you won't." His hands launched a pre-emptive tickling attack on the little girl's stomach.
Hecate dashed away rather ungracefully in a fit of squealing giggles, making her mother burst into benevolent laughter.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," Demando said, who, contrary to the two females, had retained his composure throughout the whole ordeal. He came toward the door as it opened.
"What on Nemesis is going on here?" Saffir eyed Demando disapprovingly, whose appearance let on that there was absolutely nothing of any interest. He only looked rather bored.
But Saffir sighed, shaking his head and smiling. He too, was fairly good at reading his brother's hidden looks.
Before he could say anything more, the agile, small creature assaulted him playfully, and he bent down just in time to gather the little girl in his arms and twirl her around a few times.
"Look who it is," he said, though his teasing tended to be more serious, like Demando's, and only one who knew him well would have been able to tell. "My favorite niece."
"I'm your only niece," the child explained matter-of-factly.
"That's not the point, Cate – you're still my favorite."
Hecate only laughed, and tugged at his arms for him to let her down.
A second figure appeared in the doorway. It was Petz, peeking in to investigate the source of the tumult.
"Catey, go give your oba-san a kiss," Serenity reminded her.
"Oh, don't call me 'oba-san'," Petz complained, bending down so the little girl could kiss her cheek timidly. "It makes me feel old!"
"Kami forbid," Saffir rolled his eyes.
"Oh, shut – er, I mean . . . hush." Princess Serenity was eyeing them warningly. They tended to play crudely and needed to be reminded to tone it down a bit when around the royal child.
Then quietly, Petz added, "Ah, Serenity-hime, are you ready to go?"
The Lunarian woman adjusted her stiff traveling dress. She glanced at Demando.
He said to her in a lowered voice, "Can't I at least escort you to the Moon Kingdom?"
She shook her head 'no,' smiling sadly. "You know it'll only make it harder." Cheering up, "Besides, Saffir and Petz will take good care of me! They deserve a little rest on the Moon for a couple of days." After all this time, she was the same old Serenity.
Demando nodded, but was listless.
Serenity said, "Go on ahead of us, you two. We'll be out in just a minute."
Saffir and Petz immediately obeyed.
"It'll be fine," Serenity comforted him, smoothing down his sleeves with her hands, tugging at the bottom of the garment to rid the folds. "I'm going to see if even more surplus materials can't be spared and sent back here. We've been doing so well, don't you agree?"
He tried to smile for her, but he had not the skill for it, even in the best of moods; certainly not now. It was no use: she could see through him, and his false façade quickly broke and fell away. He buried his face into her neck and allowed himself this one moment of weakness.
Their child watched her parents in reverent awe.
Then steeling himself, he lifted his head and was the composed White Prince of Nemesis once more. "I'll see you at the end of summer?"
She blinked away the moisture tickling her eyes. "Like every year."
Demando felt something at his side. His small daughter took his hand. Her eyes were wide with simple earnest. "Don't worry, Papa . . . she always comes back."
Still holding her hand, the tall man knelt and kissed the little girl's cheek, then hugged her to him fiercely. When he stood again, he brought her up in his arms with him, and Hecate passed from his arms into her mother's. She clasped Mama tightly. And Papa held them both.
Sometimes, when they stood like this, they could understand each other's hearts, without ever uttering a word.
Their life wasn't perfect . . . and that was okay.
Serenity brushed the pale bangs from her daughter's soft-colored eyes. On her forehead was a small, inverted crescent moon – and it was golden.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
It's ooooooooooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeeeeeerrr! Some of you are overjoyed to crying and some of you are . . . disappointed . . . to . . . crying . . .? *shrugs* Probably the most of you have found a happy medium.
So . . . yeah. You've probably guessed that Serenity's philosophy about 'happily ever after' stories is actually my idea slipping through again. What? Me do something like that? *acts shocked* Never! ^-^;;;; The fact of the matter is that real life isn't like that. And I like my stories to be believable. (Well, you know, besides the whole magical powers and living on the moon and on Jupiter deal.) As far as the emotions and the life lessons go – if there were any life lessons to be found – I hope I've been able to do that. Hehe, but I'll let you be the judge!
Keep your eyes open for the rest of my thank yous and some notes. Also, I was thinking that if anyone had any questions to ask, they could do that now in their reviews, and I would answer them with a little follow-up author's note. Ask me anything! As long as it's appropriate.
Thank you so much to everyone. I love you all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!