Somewhere in the universe, very far from here…
A young prince was pacing his elaborate and rather magnificent chambers within his elaborate and rather magnificent palace. This palace was situated on a rather elaborate but not as magnificent thing called a Battle Moon. This Battle Moon was in constant orbit, with two other Moons, around a planet called Rock.
And, well, you get the idea.
In any case, Prince Pyrus of Planet Fire was pacing, long enough to scuff the floor. Usually, when Pyrus was pensive, he took it out physically, be it training with his staff, or poring over strategic methods and trying to see if he could act them out by himself, things like that. However, the one thing that was troubling him could not just go away with a simple mindless act of athletics.
The door swooshed open, without any warning, but he was expecting it, somehow. Eventually, he figured it would.
"Are you just acting like an idiot or are you actually one?" the curt, clipped greeting began, snapped out by none other than the Princess of Planet Ice, Lady Zera. "You don't just make up an excuse like a child and walk out on a meeting, Pyrus."
He stopped pacing long enough to let her stand in front of him for about a second, just long enough to see how angry she really was. And she was furious. The topic had been important. It had been put off long enough. And, now it was put off again.
Zera narrowed her eyes at him, and he sort of sagged under the weight of the gaze. He slid his hand through his flame and sighed dejectedly. "I know, I know…" he agreed, trudging, defeated, over to a narrow couch. He slumped down onto it and cradled his head in his hands.
Zera felt a momentary pang of guilt at being so rough, but it didn't last. She walked over to him, all business, and stood right in front of him, so that she shadowed him. He looked up at her.
"You've been putting it off for what, years now?" She started up again. "No one knows why. No one GETS why. And it's pretty sad and pathetic when even BLAZE is afraid of talking to you about it. No," she sighed, crossing her arms dramatically, "no, it always has to be me that does all the dirty work, isn't it?"
Pyrus managed a small smiled. "You're being a brat. Why is it such a chore to talk to me?"
Zera glared at him. "Because for some reason you become stupid whenever someone mentions the words 'coronation', 'Pyrus', and 'sometime soon', in once sentence."
Pyrus groaned at hearing the words again, and Zera rolled her eyes and stomped her foot on the ground. "You're being stupid!" she snapped. "I mean, you've BEEN king for ages now. You're only putting off the formal ceremony. I don't get why it's such a big deal."
"You wouldn't," Pyrus muttered, his smiled gone. Her words had put in back into his sour mood, one that had been temporarily lifted with her brattiness.
Zera frowned at him, then sat down next to him in a huff. "Then why don't you EXPLAIN it to me, seeing as how I'm your friend and all."
Pyrus sighed, sat up, and appraised her. She seemed sincere enough, as if she were actually serious about listening to him and perhaps helping him out.
"Okay then," he agreed. "I'll enlighten you."
Zera, wordlessly, moved to the side of the couch so that her back was facing the armrest. She leaned back, crossed her legs and her arms in front of her, and stared at him, pointedly. Pyrus thought that it was so unlike her to press and press, and then suddenly shut up about it. But, he figured it might as well be said.
"The thing is," he began, his hands back into his flame, "when a prince is ready to become king, he has to go through all of these stupid purifying rituals and ceremonies. They're tedious and take up so much time. They're also boring."
Zera smirked, but remained silent. He gave her a stern look, but the smirk didn't fade. He decided to ignore it.
"And, uh…" Pyrus fidgeted, and Zera's interest immediately perked up more. If it was enough to make Pyrus edgy, it must be really interesting stuff. "As well, the future king has to get married."
One of Zera's antennae twitched, and she shifted a little. "Married? Isn't that a little…I dunno, stupid? And out-dated?"
Pyrus gave her a sardonic smile. "Oh, it gets better."
This time, both of her antennae twitched. "Oooh, do go on then."
Pyrus sat up again and, it looked, practically melted sitting up onto the couch. "The parents choose the wife. If the parents are somehow not able to, then the Vizier chooses the wife…" he shot a sidelong glace at her. "And so on…"
Zera frowned. "So it's an arranged marriage."
Pyrus tapped the side of his nose.
Zera rolled her eyes. "That's stupid."
"That's not the point. It doesn't matter if it's stupid or not. It has to be done."
"Okay, then," Zera's tone of voice was hard. "What kind of wife would be chosen for you?"
"This is the best part. Are you sure you want to hear this?"
"Oh, do I!"
Pyrus had to smile at her sarcastic tone. "She has to be politically minded, as well as intelligent and selfless. As well," he let the suspense build before he went on. "As well, she has to always know her place, which is right behind the husband, always as his caretaker, mate, and bodyguard."
This time, instead of snorting, like she usually would have, she started laughing, really, really hard.
"I figured you would have liked that," Pyrus mumbled, unable to suppress a smile.
"Like it?" Zera shook her head. "No. Find it amusing, yes. There is quite a difference."
A small, thoughtful silence went between them.
"Why does it bother you so much?" Zera suddenly asked.
Pyrus looked up at her in disbelief. "How can you say that?"
"Seriously," Zera blinked, looking bemused, "why should it bother you? It's just a political marriage. I'm sure kings before you have done it and dallied outside of the marriage."
Pyrus smacked his hand on his forehead, so hard the sound of it made Zera wince. "You did not just say that."
Now Zera looked smug. She sometimes got small pleasure from shocking Pyrus. "I did, actually, and I stand by it. If this stupid arranged marriage thing is tradition, I'm sure adultery within it is, too."
Pyrus shook his head. "I don't think so. It's rather illegal."
"For the man or the woman?" Zera asked sharply.
At that, Pyrus looked bashful. "The woman."
"Mmhm," Zera replied, her eyes narrowed dangerously. "You see?"
"That doesn't prove anything."
"I think it does."
"And besides, why do you keep calling it stupid, anyways? I'm sure Planet Ice has laws like that, too." Pyrus snapped.
Zera suddenly straightened up, giving off definitive snobby airs. "Of course we don't," she declared. "Our royalty marries out of love."
"Really," Pyrus said monotonously.
"Yes," Zera puffed out her cheeks.
"So your mother loved your father, and vice-versa?"
"Of course!" Zera looked shocked at the very idea that it couldn't be.
Pyrus grinned slowly, a sudden thought coming to his head. "And was your mother a commoner?"
Zera opened her mouth, then shut it, abruptly. She frowned, then glared, then blushed, the strange way her people blush, with a slight darkening of her cheeks. "Er, no," she muttered, "she was minor nobility."
"Mmhm," Pyrus sat back on the couch, looking victorious.
"Look," Zera said, her eyes flashing, "I don't understand why you're lamenting about this like it's a tragedy. This tradition is, what, eons old? So what!" Zera threw up her hands. "So is the tradition of warring against each other, and we managed to get rid of that!"
"Mostly," Pyrus rolled his eyes.
"Skirmishes involving stupid, bigoted people do not count, Pyrus."
"It doesn't matter whether or not we're at war. The point is, the morale of the people is already low enough with the changes they've already had to deal with. I'm sure it would lower if more changes happened, especially," Pyrus looked strange here – almost like a person half his age, "if it was to involve me."
Zera looked thoughtful for a moment. Pyrus took the moment to tilt his head back and cover his eyes with his arm, heaving a huge sigh.
"Well then," Zera blinked, "I wonder if your new wife will like me."
Pyrus took his arm away to give her a hard shove, his expression half-angry, half-amused. Zera stumbled a little and fell halfway off, laughing in her loud, amused away.
"This isn't funny!" Pyrus snapped, struggling very hard not to smile.
Zera just sat there, only her legs left on the couch. She propped herself up on her elbows on the floor and gave him one of her 'you-KNOW-you-want-to-laugh' looks.
"Besides," Pyrus said, raising an eyebrow. "We BOTH know that she would hate you."
Zera grinned. "Obviously. I'm certainly not Fire-King-wife material, thank the Glacier," she replied. "I have learned to think for myself. Oh, and I have a personality, too."
Pyrus decided to shove her legs off the couch instead of replying. That made Zera laugh again. She swung her legs around and sat on the floor, her back propped up against the couch. Pyrus turned to the side and stretched his legs out on the now-vacant side, leaning back.
"Hey," Zera said, looking pensive, "do you think your new wife would let you be friends with me anymore?"
Pyrus looked over and down at her. She sounded so worried that it touched him, deeply. He wasn't sure why. It was very similar to the feelings he had during the last few days of the war with the Beast Planet, but they were closer, and warmer, he thought.
When he got a closer look at her, he saw that she looked sad. Their eyes met, and for a moment, they both realized what the real issue was, and why Pyrus was so hesitant to go forward with the coronation. Zera bit her lip, and Pyrus swallowed.
"I wouldn't care," Pyrus said quietly. "I mean, it's arranged, right?"
Zera suddenly frowned, her eyes narrowing. She didn't like where this was going, especially when it came to her own thoughts. "This is stupid," she snapped.
Pyrus looked startled all of a sudden. "What is?" he asked, sounding worried.
"I mean, if you don't WANT to get married, then don't, you stupid idiot," Zera growled, her eyes still on his. "Don't you remember when I kept bugging my father to become a warrior like Jade?"
Pyrus suddenly smiled. "Of course I do. Were you EVER annoying."
Zera rolled her eyes. "You're missing the POINT," she said, holding her hands up in exasperation. "I didn't think there was another way for me until I met Jade. I was raised thinking that women were only good at being the background characters in a war. You know, for planning the set-ups to the battles and taking care of the technical stuff, but not actually getting our hands bloody, you know?"
Pyrus wrinkled his nose a little at her wording. "Okay…" he said slowly, unsure of where this was going.
Zera could tell, and it frustrated her. "My POINT is, when I saw that there was alternative, when I saw that women could be warriors, too, I wanted that to be ME. And I wouldn't let up until my father finally agreed. And you know what?" Zera's eyes flashed again, but this time with pride. "It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me."
Pyrus smiled softly, but said nothing, so she went on.
"I got fit, I got strong, and I could finally stand up for myself, you know?" Zera smiled, finally breaking her eye contact from him. Oddly, it made him feel a little lonely. "I know there isn't a war going on now," she said softly. "But that doesn't matter. The point is that I changed things. I made a new tradition. I made it known that there can be War Queens as well as War Kings."
Pyrus couldn't help it. "Yes, by being a brat, you changed history. How pioneer of you."
The sting of her punch on his leg made him laugh. "My point is, you jerk," she growled, her eyes back on his, "that if I can change something, so can you. Why can't you see that? You and I, we're both going to bring in a new generation of people, people free of war. Your people, I know, they have it hard," her glare softened, and once again Pyrus felt touched by this, "but think of all of the things you could make better. Think of all of the things you could do for everyone. I know I do."
Pyrus leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, so that he could look more closely at her. She looked a little nervous at this, but she held her ground. "Just change it," she said, her words wobbling a little.
"Do you realize how much work that would be?"
Zera snorted. "You obviously have never, ever sparred with Jade."
Pyrus looked fearful at the very thought, and she laughed at this, making him smile. Another small, amicable silence went between them. Each had their thoughts on the other without realizing it.
"It's nice that we can talk like this," Zera said suddenly, looking at her hands in her lap. "I mean, without verbally eviscerating each other like we used to."
"It was all in good fun," Pyrus replied.
"Yeah, it was," Zera agreed, smiling.
"Zera, do you ever wonder if I had any OTHER reasons for not formally accepting the title?" Pyrus asked her, peering over at her again.
Zera shook her head. "Frankly, I couldn't figure it out at all. I thought you were just being stubborn."
Pyrus blinked at her, and she blinked back. He muttered something, then leaned back. Zera leaned back as well, her head resting on one of the cushions behind her. "What was that?" she demanded, getting annoyed. "I didn't understand you, and I hate it when you do that."
"I don't do it as a habit, you know," Pyrus muttered.
Zera rolled her eyes, stood up, and sat back down on the couch, roughly, right beside him. "What did you say, please?" she said tersely.
Pyrus couldn't resist smiling. It was like a little bubble in his stomach. Her anger sometimes amused him, because sometimes he could tell that she just didn't get what she looked like when she was angry. The way she looked made him happy sometimes, just because she could be so honest and open with her feelings, be it bratty or serious.
Pyrus sighed and looked at her. "Maybe, just maybe, I was waiting for your coronation," he said softly.
Zera's antennae did the weirdest thing he had ever seen. One went back, and one went forward. "What do you even mean by that?" she demanded. "That's stupid, too. It'll be AGES before I take the crown. You want to talk about morale? Waiting THAT long will crush morale."
Pyrus nodded. "It's not like I didn't come to that same conclusion."
Suddenly, Zera felt jittery and shy. "And why would you wait for me anyways? My coronation in no way affects yours."
Pyrus panicked suddenly, his words getting stuck in his throat. He searched frantically for anything else that was not the truth, and suddenly remembered what she had said before. "So that you and I can usher in a new generation of peoples together."
Zera didn't buy it. "You idiot. You don't think I know that you just plagiarized that from me? You weren't thinking that at all until I mentioned it!"
Pyrus was silent, embarrassed. Zera turned to him in shock. "Wow, I was right?" she laughed suddenly, smacking him on the shoulder. "You have no shame!"
Pyrus reached over and yanked her hand back, holding it between his own. A strange, melancholy look came to his face, and Zera felt that same little sadness.
"Ow," she said softly, wishing she didn't have to say it. "Um, ow." A touch, even a small one, still caused discomfort or pain for both of them. Over the year they had become closer, better friends, real friends, people who actually confided in each other.
At least about most things.
And in the course of said friendship, occasionally they did touch, did hold hands, out of comfort, to comfort and be comforted, but nothing else, nothing deeper, came from it.
Zera, however, sensed something deeper in this touch, which was why she was probably trying so hard to sabotage it, out of nervousness, or even fear.
"You know," Pyrus said quietly, so quietly that Zera had to lean in closer to hear, "I never noticed how small your hands are."
Zera bit her lip a little before replying. "They're not that small, you know."
Pyrus smiled, his eyes still on their sandwiched hands. "I know. You don't have to take everything as an insult."
"Yes I do," Zera sniffed. "Otherwise I might take it to the heart."
Pyrus didn't reply. He stayed quiet. Yes, their touch stung a little, and yes, her hands were much different than his, but he certainly had grown attached to her.
"It's silly how close we are, isn't it?" Pyrus said, his eyes half-closed. Zera peered over at him, looking sad, but he didn't see it. Not until he looked up when she spoke.
"It's not silly," she said. She placed her other hand on top of his. Now her eyes were glued. "It's sort of neat. Maybe it's breaking another stupid, stuffy rule."
"Mm," Pyrus nodded slowly, distractedly. It felt sort of nice, how their hands were meshed together.
Zera decided it was pointless to try and keep the flow of conversation going. She sighed and moved closer to him, before resting her head on his shoulder lightly. Pyrus blinked, then smiled faintly.
At the same time, they both relaxed and stayed quiet. For a long, quiet moment, they stayed sitting together in that casual, comfortable pose, each playing with the other's hands. It was, perhaps, one of the few intimacies they could share without fear, or even repercussions.
Pyrus suddenly said, his voice strained, "I don't want to get married without you."
Zera closed her eyes. "I know," she agreed.
"This is stupid," his voice was hoarse, and it pained her. She didn't want to open her eyes, didn't want to see the pain on his face, the one that mirrored her own.
"It would never work," she said softly.
"You don't know," he snapped.
Zera shifted uncomfortably, but didn't move away. "No, it's true, I don't." she agreed.
"This is so stupid."
Now Zera looked up at him. His eyes were already on her. She sighed, deeply, wishing that she didn't have to be the hard one, wishing that she didn't have to be mean all the time, trying to keep him away from her, trying to avoid moments exactly like this one for a whole year…
"I know," she nodded. She smiled faintly. "So change it."
"Heh," Pyrus smiled a little as well. When he did so, his pained expression eased. "Heh, yeah. And our planets would freak out."
"And we would have no where to stay, no where to live. No middle ground. No tradition."
"Tradition be damned. We'll make our own, sort of like a new alliance."
"Pyrus," Zera said sadly, "it would never work. We wouldn't even be able to have heirs."
The very thought pained him deeply. It was like a vise in his chest, squeezing tightly. Zera sounded bothered, but not pained by it. He figured it must have occurred to her before.
"Heirs be damned," he said forcefully, but his heart wasn't in it.
Zera pulled away one hand and rested it lightly on his chest, her fingers a cold touch. "Now you're the one who's stupid," she said lightly.
Pyrus dragged a hand away and put his arm around her shoulders, yanking her closer. They paused for a moment, slowly getting used to the painful prickles each felt from contact. Once they both could ignore it, they relaxed.
"We have this, I guess," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"Let's just not talk about it for a long time," she suggested. "Forget about it."
"It has to be done eventually, you know. You're right. I do have to formally accept the throne."
"Shut up about it, Pyrus."
"But I'm saying you're right, and you're getting mad?"
Zera squeezed her eyes shut out of frustration. "Yes," she hissed, "I am. I don't want to be right, okay? So shut up."
Another silence passed between them, soon broken.
"It has to be done."
This time it was Zera.
Pyrus nodded sadly, resting his chin on top of her icy hair.
"It's stupid…but I know."