Finishing what you start.
Author's new note. I'm giving some serious thought to writing a short follow up to Finishing, but I'm not sure if it would be appropriate. Let me know in reviews if you think I should let it stand, or give something new to all my long time fans.
Let me see if I can remember enough from my old piano lessons to sum up what a coda is. In a piece with a coda, you play to the end of the designated segment of music. At the end you return to a symbol somewhere in the previous music. From there you play to another symbol. This takes you to the coda. The coda is the end of music, the conclusion.
I don't own these people.
As the interplanetary ship prepares for its final approach, I take a moment to reflect how things change. Things were so different from the days of my youth, that crazy and innocent time of my life that I sometimes look back on sadly. It had been so perfect. And then it had ended.
Just like everything that starts, it had ended.
I wonder if that's why I'm doing what I am doing now. I stretch as much as the tiny third class seats on the flight allow me to. As much as I can, plastered to the window next to my seat thanks to the enormously fat man next to me. I try not to let the stink from his unwashed plaid business suit overcome me. I try not to allow his wheezy and whining voice to drive me to suicide, but sometimes its just so hard.
He had had eight hours to work through his entire life, telling me everything from where he had been born to what his job was to the stereotypical displaying of his children's photos. I fell asleep two hours into it, and woke up two hours later to discover he hadn't even noticed.
"What about yourself? What are you doing on Pluto?" he asks. I hope he's not expecting to much, as there's only a couple of minutes left of the flight.
"Vacationing," I tell him, and the fatty laughs. I think he had told me his name, but I really hadn't cared enough to pay attention.
"Nobody vacations on Pluto," he chortles stupidly. "It's as cold an inhospitable as the woman who rules it. Now Venus. There's a vacation. Let me tell you..." He trails of slightly at the very cold look I was giving him. "Sorry," he mutters.
"A long time ago, I knew someone on who came from Pluto. We were forced to part under extreme circumstances, I've never forgotten her." I stop talking.
"And now you want closure?" He pats me on the back. "Listen. It'll work out. These things always do."
Patronizing ass. But he was right. It'll work out now, one way or another.
I groan as I force myself into a sitting position. Ouch. The beating I took from that ambush from the three Firsts didn't even hold a candle to the un-godly pain that's coursing through me right now. That dunce Moon really packs a punch. Must be some kind of magical idiot savant. I had just barely managed to escape.
The barrier had been designed to keep my kind out of that plain. The barrier was still active, though weaker than once it was, thanks to my effort. It had been an act of desperation to invoke it, and have it drag me back into this hell-hole before Moon's full power came to bare on me. It had worked, though just barely. I also hadn't been prepared for the back lash that it would cause. Ouch.
Well. I guess that answers that question. You can't ever go back home. You can only hurt the ones you love. Ect. Ect.
I collapse back down on the ground. I hope no one finds me. That would be bad. My eyes close, and I sleep again...
"Do you have anything to declare, sir?" the customs agent asks me. I'm an extraordinarily powerful semi-demonic creature? An abhorrent pustule on the side of the multiverse?
"I have nothing to declare. I don't even have any luggage," I tell her. She nods her head, and checks something off on her list. I can only imagine what she's thinking when she looks at me. Clothing has become a flashy thing, full of synthetic plastics, and sharp angled shapes sown into rigid clothing. I'm wearing the Chinese shirt, and the black tied off pants I wore all those years ago. Slippers adorn my feet, and my hair is tied up in a pigtail that hangs down from my neck, and coils around my neck and shoulders. I haven't cut it in over two centuries. Even then, it had been burnt off in battle, on the rims of the galaxy. Before that it had been a hundred and fifty years since my last cut. I like it long. It's like a tail, and since I haven't used my original form in so long...
"Purpose and length of your intended stay?"
"Business, and I don't know. It's the nature of my business to be a little unpredictable." I could be leaving the next day, or I could be dead. Who knows?
"Enjoy your stay on Pluto," the customs agent smiles at me. She had somehow managed to undue the top button of her uniform, and was leaning forward, a shy look on her face.
I ignore her advances, and leave without a word. Her aura shines disappointed for a moment, and then she's back to work. I smile slightly as she redoes her button when she talks to the fat man that had been my flight mate.
I level unholy destruction at the mass gathered before me, and sigh slightly at the nature of my problem.
The Firsts and Seconds had discovered that I had the power of the former Lord. They had been revolted, disgusted that a Third could rise to such prominence. They had decided to remedy this, by destroying me.
They had come like a wave. And like a wave against a cliff, they had been broken and beaten back. Only to come again, to meet the same fate. A cliff would be worn away eventually, would collapse under the relentless assault.
I am not a cliff.
I have done this for over two centuries now. I have discovered countless 'tricks', and my skills only increase with practice.
Once the lord of this realm had been called He-Who-Remembers. When I killed him, and drove off assault after assault upon my person, my onetime peers had given me a title. He-Who-Brings-Oblivion.
I don't even really mind. Its something to keep my mind on. Something to keep my mind off of...
"If you'll look to the right, you will see the entrance to the grand ball room. It is over one hundred yards in length, and fifty yards up overhead. It was constructed..." the tour guide rambles one, giving pointless statistics involving the construction and carrying capacity of the structure we were entering.
I don't bother to pay attention. I took the tour of this building for the explicit purpose of discovering the lay out of the palace. I will need to know it for later.
"Now, to the left we have the entrance to the private wing of the palace. It occupies one story of the palace, and has eight rooms. All the other palaces in the Kingdom have private wings nearly three times this size. However, since out queen spends the majority of her time guarding the Gates of Time, Queen Pluto has limited her suite to a much more manageable level." The tour guide tries to impress us with the frugality of her queen, and several of the tourists in the group flash cameras at the doors.
I raise my hand. The tour guide inclines her head at me over the others. "Yes sir?"
"How often can the queen be found in her quarters?" I ask, not caring how the question sounds. I could have been much more subtle, but I truly doubt it'll ever matter.
"Normally the queen stays here only sporadically, without warning to the caretakers of her castle. However, due to the royal ball scheduled on the Moon tomorrow," no one questions which moon the ball was taking place on, "we have been informed that Queen Pluto will be staying the night before hand, so that she can be properly prepared for tomorrows event." It goes without saying that Pluto will only be at the ball as long as manners require. The entire Kingdom knows that she's a recluse, and prefers to avoid crowds.
"Thank you," I tell the tour guide politely, and she smiles at me before she continues her tour.
Too many women on Pluto seem eager for action. I guess everyone needs something to do on cold nights. I already have my nocturnal activity planned, so I pretend ignorance to her attention. I had found out what I wanted to know.
Once upon a time, I would have ran quickly over the palace grounds, darting from shadow to shadow to avoid detection. But time has taught me well. The shadows are so closely wrapped around me, that the only possible detection would be physical contact, or a spotlight aimed directly at me. Sure, by now I knew how to bend light around me, effectively making me invisible, or shape the pigments in my skin like a chameleon, but I feel more comfortable in the shadows. I had spent so much time in the shadows, as I had spent so much time as a human, that the two are second nature to me.
I leave the grounds, and enter the palace proper. My soft slippers whisper on the stone, a sound so slight that most would think it their imagination. I pass two guards, all diligent in their patrols, without notice. For the briefest moment, I am tempted to tape a 'kick me' sign on their backs, but my mood is too dark to maintain those thoughts for long. I pass through the enormous ballroom. It has never been used. I checked the records. In the entire millennium since it had been constructed, there has never been anything more than maids and tourists through these doors.
As I whisper my way through the dark, I can feel the tightness in my belly grow. I had been to all the palaces. From the inners, to the outers. I have toured them all. This was the final one, and the only one to be graced with my late night visit. After I had finished this one, I could return to the frontier. The frontier is enormous, and dangerous. Periodic invasions, and a good distance from the arm of the law has made the places next to lawless. I could find work there easily, disappear into the mass of people.
There was only one reason I hadn't yet. I have to finish what I started, all those centuries ago.
I push open the doors to the private floor. A grand flight of stairs, carpeted in a deep green, and wide enough for three men to walk abreast up greets me. As I mount the stairs, each step brings me another question.
Why am I doing this? Hadn't she proven what she wanted? Was it worth death to come back? Will I follow through with this? Did I really want to end it?
No answers follow my ascension of those stairs. Maybe they would be there when I descended them next.
The floor I have gained is what you would expect from the living quarters of a queen. Plush carpets, golden and crystalline statues adorning the corridor, shimmering chandeliers. I didn't really think that Setsuna would have something like this. It must have been the builders idea of a necessity to royal dignity. Eight doors adorn the sides of the hallway, but I have no need to check them. I can feel her aura, and already knew which door she was behind. I cross to the end of the hall, and push open the door. It slides open easily, on well oiled hinges.
Beyond lays the royal bed chamber. Lacy sheets hang from the ceiling, drifting from place to place, creating almost a maze of veils. I brush by and under them, approaching the center of the room, and the bed that was there. The bed is enormous. Big enough for three or four people, with silky pillows piled high on top of it. Next to one corner is a small bedside table stand. Next to the stand is a sleeping body, curled into almost a ball, wrapped in sheets, and dwarfed by the pillows on the bed. The body barely seems to take up a tenth of the bed. There she was.
Suddenly, I can't seem to move. It has been over a thousand years since the last time I had seen her, I had been near her. Her aura is similar, yet different. Aged and refined. I force myself to take the steps to get across the distance between us. My throat is dry, and my palms sweaty.
She hasn't changed a bit. I look down on her, and I can't even begin to describe my feelings. Her green hair lays fanned out on the pillow next to her, her cinnamon skin contrasted by the pale sheets. Her eyes are closed, but I can still imagine the shade of her crimson eyes. One hand pokes out of the sheets, curled cutely, barely brushing her cheek. My breath catches in my throat.
"Beautiful," I whisper, the word a breath of air that barely crosses my lips. I look down at the table next to her, and see a lone picture frame there. Curious as to what she keeps a picture of that's so important she practically sleeps next to it. I wipe one sweaty palm on my pants, and carefully so as not to wake her, I pick it up and turn it so I can see.
My heart skips a beat. No. Its not possible.
The picture contains Setsuna and myself, dressed up elegantly, though me in bandages, looking embarrassed. I can remember when it was taken. The second night of our week of dating. Haruka and Michiru had insisted on it, though Setsuna had given them looks that would have killed lesser women. Hotaru had been a bit jealous of the attention I was giving Setsuna, but even she had seemed to support me and Setsuna's partnership. This picture must be over a thousand years old. I can't even begin to imagine how she had kept it so bright and new.
The frame slips from my fingers, and I fall to my knees besides Setsuna's bed. What could this mean? I had lived the last thousand years with the memory of the Scouts trying to kill me. I couldn't really blame them, as they had been fighting off an invasion by my kindred, so it would be natural for them to try to kill me as well.
I start to shake. I can't do it. I had come here for, as the fat man on the plane had said, closure. I had been prepared to tell the sleeping Setsuna that I love her, and still loved her after all these years no matter how she felt about it. I had come to say my final goodbyes, and promise never to darken her door again. I had come to finish what I had started.
And now I couldn't. I didn't ever want to end this. I wanted to be with her for eternity and a day.
My hand reaches out, shaking horribly. With an enormous effort, I steady it. As it slowly comes closer and closer to the sleeping Setsuna, my breath becomes more and more shallow.
With a caress as light as a breeze, my fingers brush the skin of her cheek. A tears leave trails down my cheek and hit my leg. I hadn't even realized I was crying.
She stirs slightly in her sleep, and I withdraw my hand.
It can't end like this. I stand up, and turn to leave. I would rather continue with this bitter sweet forbidden love for an eternity.
As I brush past the lacy curtains, I hear a stirring on the bed. I freeze as a commanding voice breaks the silence. "Stop where you are."
Setsuna had woken up. I freeze. Should I escape? Should I flee into the night? No. I will stay, and take what comes. I straighten up, and wait.
"Turn around slowly, and identify yourself." I can only admire her coolness. Like the time when she had exited the bath and found me waiting, she was so calm with a stranger in her bedchambers so late at night. With the tightness of worry dissolving into butterflies in my stomach, I turn.
She had risen from her slumber and now sat upright, calmly holding her blankets around her chest. Her aura radiates a mixture of anger over my invasion, and confidence in her ability to handle whatever it was that was going to happen.
"Hello, Setsuna," I whisper, afraid of my voice breaking if I speak any louder. Her crimson eyes widen, and she inhales.
I had changed over the years. I had matured, getting taller and wider, but my features had remained the same. My pig tail was larger than it once was, but my clothing still similar.
"Ranma?" she whispers. I can only nod my head. She begins to shake, and her posture slumps. She leans over her legs, and I hear a muffled sob. "No," she forces out. "No. This is another dream. You're not here."
"A dream?" I ask. I have no idea how to react, but it hurts to see her like this. I take a step towards her.
"Another dream. You'll say you love me, and that I'll never be alone again. Then I'll wake up, like I always do," she sobs. I can't stop myself. I am beside her, and holding her. She wraps her arms around me and continues to cry. "Or you'll tell me that I killed you, and that you hate me. I can never tell which is worse."
I'm reminded of a similar situation I had had with Hotaru once, all those years ago.
I don't tell her either of those things. Instead, I begin to talk to her. "A long time ago, I had been chosen by He-Who-Remembered to aid in the destruction of a barrier that kept the rest of my kind in check. I served faithfully for ten years, and when I returned, I discovered that all my family and friends had been destroyed. A merciless genocide. I swore revenge." My words seem to be calming her. She has stopped shaking, but she still desperately clings to me. "I set out without a home or a plan. While I was searching for my vengeance, I was taken in by four women. Those were the happiest days of my life. The time I spent with them was like a dream. Especially with one in particular. I couldn't tell them that my real name wasn't Ranma, that I wasn't even human. Who knows what they might have done? I had hoped that they would never find out. It wasn't to be..." I trail off. A tear rolls down my cheek, and lands on Setsuna's beautiful green hair. The viridian wave absorbs the moisture.
I continue after a moment. "I discovered that all four of the women I had been staying with were powerful beings, who had rooted out and hunted invaders before. I panicked. I couldn't let them catch me. Not till I had had my revenge. I fled. After I had killed the one who had betrayed me, I returned. I was going to the house of the women that had meant so much to me. To explain, tell them what I was. I never made it."
"How?" Setsuna whispers. She releases me and sits up. She moves away from me so that she can face me, still wrapped in the silk sheets of her bed. I sit on the edge, with my head bowed under the memories. "How did you survive? We had seen Moon's attack strike you. We had thought you were dead." Her voice has no expression, but her aura is once again maddeningly incomprehensible.
"I fled. I returned to the world that I had been born on. By then, my power had grown so great that I couldn't return, not with the barrier that kept my race imprisoned for so long still intact. I had to fight off my kin, who were maddened with hatred for me. It was centuries before I could even begin to work on breaking the barrier, and centuries after that before I could finally return to this world. By then so much had changed. The one time vigilantes had become princess, and I was still a demonic thing. A creature they had once tried to destroy. I was certain that they would never accept me. Finally, I decided that it was time to end it."
"Is that why you're here?" Setsuna asked calmly. Her aura swirled even faster. "Are you here to end it?"
"No," I whisper. "I had came here to say goodbye, but I can't." I look her in the eyes. Her beautiful eyes. "We were only together for a couple of weeks, back then. Not even a month. But I fell in love with you. I've never fallen out. I started something with you all those years ago. Something I don't ever want to finish."
She looks at me without speaking. Her look would have been unreadable, but once again her aura reveals her emotions to me. And once more I can't even begin to make sense of them.
"You said that Ranma wasn't your name, and that wasn't your shape." I nod. She continues. "Will you tell me your real name? Will you show me your real shape."
Wordlessly I stand and step away from the bed. With my back to her I slowly strip, unwrapping my pigtail from my shoulder, folding my shirt and pants carefully. My underwear and the wrap I wear around my chest follow. My slippers lay side by side, with the socks on them. I stand there naked, and then I change back..
My muscles unfold themselves, my bones shift, my fur and tail sprout in an ebony wave. The claws in my hands extend with the noise of a sword being unsheathed. When the change is finished I turn around.
Setsuna looks at me. Long black hair covers my body. On my back are stripes of opalescent darkness. Three inch claws extend from my fingers. My ankles had moved their position to higher up on my legs. My ears had shifted higher up on my head, while my face remained largely unchanged, though now thoroughly furred with short black hair. A long tail twitches behind me. "My name is Ran."
I had seen others look like this before. Mostly on animes. They called it the cat-person look. With an easy shift of my balance, I descend onto four legs, where I am just as comfortable as on two. I assume a very feline sitting position, back legs curled up underneath me, my front legs supporting my body, and my ears twitched forwards. Behind me my tail lashes furiously.
Setsuna drops the sheet she had been using to cover herself. Beneath she is wearing a modest night gown, made of green lace. She stands gracefully from the bed where she had been sleeping only minutes before, and sways gracefully over to where I wait. She kneels before me, out faces almost equal, and only inches apart. She studies my eyes intently.
"Hello Ran," she whispers, and then her arms are around me, her body pressed up against mine. "My name is Setsuna. All those years ago, you told me that you loved me." My arms lifted from the ground, and wrapped themselves around her. "I wept for days after you died...After you returned to your plain, because I had never had the chance to tell you, that I love you too."
We embrace for what seems like eternity. Then she begins to separate, and I reluctantly let go of her. Her face is once more inches from mine.
"I need to get some sleep," she tells me. "Would you take me to bed?" I stand, and pick her up. She wraps her arms around my neck, and I cradle her body to my large furry chest. I carry her the few feet to her bed, and place her gently in it. When I try to release her and straighten, she holds me tightly.
"Please," she begs, and her aura is a strange mix of fear and desire. Not sexual desire, but something deeper. "I don't want to be alone any more." I don't resist as she pulls me into bed next to her. It is easily big enough for the both of us. Disregarding the sheets, Setsuna curls up next to me, wrapping her arms around me, and almost burrowing into my fur.
I don't know when we fall asleep, but my last conscious thought is of her against me. I am happy.
My ears twitch, and I awake in a heartbeat. Where am I? What's going on? Besides me Setsuna murmurs in her sleep, and I freeze. Oh, yeah. That's where I am. Then what woke me up? I expand my senses for a moment. Oh boy. Trouble.
Coming down the hallway to Setsuna's bedchamber is maid, pushing a cart heavily laden with breakfast. While her reaction to her queen being in bed with an enormous cat-person would be funny, I think Setsuna could do without that hassle. I consider moving, but reject it immediately. I have waited a thousand years to be where I am now. I'll be damned if some tramp with a trolley moves me. Instead, I just change into my human appearance. Now Setsuna was only in bed and intertwined with a naked man. Much better.
I manage to pull a sheet around my waist as the maid reaches the door and opens it. Setsuna frowns in her sleep from my movement, and tightens her hold on me. Her smooth legs, uncovered below her thighs, wrap around mine, knocking the sheets askew. Oh well, I tried. I tighten my grip on her in response, breathing softly on her face, and she smiles in her sleep.
"Milady," the maid calls softly upon entering. "I have brought you..." she trails off as the scene before her becomes clear.
"Leave it by the door," I tell her dryly. "I'll make sure she gets it." The maid gawked for a moment, completely flabbergasted, and I sigh. "That means you can go." She turned around jerkily, and left the room, forgetting to close the door behind her.
"Within an hour every one in the palace will know about this," Setsuna whispers by my ear.
"Are you ashamed?" I ask. She shakes her head slowly.
"Never," she tells me. She tightened her grip on me, and we hold each other desperately. "May I ask why you're human?" I think she just noticed my shape. While its one thing to sleep next to a naked cat, a naked man is another matter.
"Would you rather the maid have spread word around the palace that their queen was into bestiality?" I ask her teasingly. She blushes crimson, both in her aura and on her face.
"I've never... been... with anyone before," she tells me. She leans forward and hesitantly brushes herself against me.
"Neither have I," I tell her. She rubs her leg against mine slowly, and begins to move her head in to kiss me.
While I have nothing against that kind of action, I can tell from her aura that she doesn't really want to do this. I break our embrace and sit up.
"What is it?" Setsuna asks, her voice cool, but her aura flinching from the rejection.
"Setsuna, I have waited a thousand years just to be near you. I can wait a thousand more just to kiss you. Don't do this because you think its what I want," I tell her seriously.
"What do you mean?" she asks hesitantly.
"My kind is more advanced, more sensitive that normal humans," I begin. "We can see things. Like auras. While its not exactly sight, we can sense them, and different emotions have different 'colors'."
"What do you mean," she ask slowly. Her aura was slowly becoming apprehensive.
"I mean that while your face might not give anything away, I can tell that you don't want this. Not yet." Her aura flashes in guilty relief. I continue. "I also mean that I want you to be honest with me. If you're angry or depressed, or anything, I don't want you to try to hide it. I'll always be able to tell."
She nods, slowly.
"Good," and I grin hugely here. "Now, lets eat. Big day ahead of us." I stand up and pad naked over to the cart with breakfast on it. I take a second to wave at a cleaning girl who had been peering down the hallway, trying to spy on the queen, before kicking the door shut and taking the food over to the waiting Setsuna. "You like eggs?"
After a shave and a bath, we depart the private wing of the Pluto Palace. I'm clothed now with my long pigtail wrapped around my shoulders and neck again. I'm wearing the only outfit I own, a green Chinese shirt with ebony pegs, the loose pants tied off at the ankle, and soft slippers not letting a sound loose with my steps. Beside me Setsuna is resplendent in a dark green simple dress. The neckline is a trifle low cut, but not enough to be indecent. As we walk through the hall, both of us quiet and content with the company we're keeping, servants give us startled looks, some so shocked that they forget their tasks and gape openly.
They have good reason to. After I had finally shattered the barrier, the only remaining member of my species, I had looked into the history of the world I had rejoined. In over a thousand years, the princesses of the planets have been busy. While Queen Serenity had only one husband, all of the other former inner Scouts had had numerous marriages and consorts. Only Venus had more than one at the same time, but most of the ones they had taken had been regular humans, and had eventually grown old and died. Of the outers, Neptune and Uranus, Michiru and Haruka, had been lovers for as long as any can remember. Saturn was almost universally shunned, but even she had on occasion flirted with, and once it had been rumored that she had taken on a lover. Only Pluto had remained totally celibate, abstaining from any form of relationship besides her friendship with the other outers, and her working relationship with the inners. Now, after almost a thousand years, to be seen openly with a naked man in her bedchamber, and then traverse the castle holding his hand...
I swear I had seen a couple of servants drop down into desperate prayer after we had passed.
"Well Setsuna?" I quip from her side. "What are we going to today?"
"Originally, my schedule was a public audience for two hours, and than attending the royal ball on the Moon."
"Why are they scheduling the ball so early?" I ask.
Another one of those looks. "It is on another planet, Ran. They're operating on a different time zone."
Man do I feel stupid. Am I blushing?
"Well, we should follow through with it," I say. Setsuna gives me a hard look. I shift nervously under it. "Well, I would like to see Hotaru, Michiru, and Haruka again." Setsuna softens, and turns back forward.
"Yes, I hadn't thought of that." We continue for another minute, when Setsuna asks hesitantly, "Ran. What now?"
I grow serious. "Well," I say slowly, "You still have your duties as the guardian of the gates of time, don't you?" She nods. "I would never dream of taking you from your duty. I know how important it is to you." I can feel a subtle relief in her aura while I continue. "I also know that if I was there with you, you would be distracted. I wouldn't want to get in your way."
I shake my head as Setsuna draws a breath to protest. "You know it as well as I do, Setsuna. We can't be always be together." By now we have reached the queens entrance to the audience chamber. A herald stands at ready to pronounce her, though his eyes bulge when he sees me walking next to Setsuna. At my words Setsuna turns to me, and I hold her again. She knows what I had said was true, though she doesn't like it.
"I can go to the frontier," I tell her as we embrace. "I can help them there, use my powers there. I'll always be close. I can come back to you whenever you have free time. It doesn't matter how long, I will always be waiting." She nods against my shoulder, her aura a gentle pink from the love we share. We brake apart, and I surreptitiously turn aside as she wipes one of her eyes gently.
Straightening, she turns to the herald. "Announce us," she orders like a queen.
"Y-yes your Highness. M-may I ask how to announce the gentleman?" he stutters out.
I am suddenly treated to the most delightful sight. Setsuna's aura turning yellow with mischievousness. "The Royal Consort, Ran." The heralds knees almost buckle, but he valiantly steps forward to do his job. I think I like Setsuna like that.
Royal Consort Ran. It feels good to be known by a title other than He-Who-Brings-Oblivion.
The rush of the teleportation surges through me. Let me tell you something about teleports. You see them, and think 'wow what a way to go'. I remember an old American T.V. show involving a spaceship and an engineer with a Scottish accent where they teleport to and from planets all the time. They make it seem like a simple and speedy way to translate. And they are to most people.
Most people don't have a counter-rotary aura that dwarfs small moons.
I desperately stagger about, my head alternately aching and euphoric. My stomach heaves within, but I hadn't eaten anything before hand in anticipation of this event. Ye' gods what have I done to deserve this? I compliment myself on my foresight. When Setsuna had asked where I had wanted to be teleported, I told her anyplace with a bucket nearby. I hunch over the aforementioned appliance, and wait for the world to stop spinning.
After sitting through one of the quietest public audiences I have ever seen (the public had kept trailing off and staring at me) it had been time to attend a ball. The royal tailor, being made of sterner stuff than the rest of the palace ignored my new position, and had taken one look at my clothing and squawked a feminine cry of outrage. He began ranting something about the plebian first century archaic look and trying to decide what type of plastic-cloth would look best on me, when I had cut him off and politely informed him to make me something in the same style, preferably with silk. After he had recovered from the gruesome death threats that had accompanied my polite insistence, he had complimented me on my choice with silk, and produced, through some extremely useful twist of technology, exactly what I wanted. A good man.
I commented on a strange lump in his aura, and his good mood evaporated. Upon him telling me that he was dying of cancer, I had given him a generous tip, and removed it from him without him knowing.
After I had gotten dressed, Setsuna informed me that I would have to go on ahead, as she was having some trouble with her outfit. Women. They just like to keep you waiting. She had sent me ahead, with a message for the Queen and a note for the herald informing him of my status.
The teleport pad I had landed on had been specifically designed for people who respond to teleports in the same fashion as I. The bucket automatically rinsed what little managed to rise from me, and a cool glass of water with a breath mint laying next to it greets my exit of the stall.
From there it's a matter of seconds, and I join a small line of minor and major nobles waiting to enter the ballroom. I study them as I wait. A chain of pompous popinjays and fluttery fairies, so puffed up on their own importance to pay much attention to a young-seeming man in old clothes. Anyone like that must be some kind of servant, obviously. Useless connivers. Some of them have minor magical fields surrounding them, and a few have actual power. I personally don't have a magical field. Just my personal aura which I am keeping under the strictest control, not letting it stretch much further than that of a normal human.
All in all, sheep. Look out, here comes the wolf.
After Baron and Baroness Von Schneider, proceeded by the Duchess of La'Termines and the Marquis de Latemmene, I step up. The herald is a pompous looking elderly man, with a huge drooping mustache. His was the kind of herald that recognized all the lords on sight, and knew fragments of protocol that were so trivial that even the Queen probably ignored them. He eyes me disdainfully, figuring me for a minor lord trying to up his social standing by attending a ball on the Moon.
I hand him the invitation. He eyes the seal of the Plutonian royal house, his look an intense study, and it passes his inspection. Breaking the seal, he opens it and quickly scans the message. Than he gasps, and pounds his heart repeatedly, the envelope forgotten as he struggled over the shock, narrowly avoiding cardiac-arrest. He openly gawks at me for a moment, looking funny with that mustache, and than rereads the note again in more detail. Behind me the other guests are startled from their private worlds, and regard the herald with interest at his most unusual behavior.
"Come on, friend. I have a ball to get too," I tell him, tapping my foot and crossing my arms. He gulps loudly, and turns to the ball to perform his function.
"L-lords and Ladies, I p-present to you, the Royal Consort of the queen of Pluto, Ran," he stumbles out. Silence descends upon rooms, and open stares greet me as I enter.
"You got to work on that stutter, pal. Its bad for business," I tell the herald in passing.
I stride into the crowded ball room, and make my way to in front of the Queen's throne. Serenity sits there, and I can't help but compare this regal beauty to the young magical-girl that tried to kill me all those years ago. Besides her are the one time Sailor Scouts. On the Queens right, after the throne of Endymon, stand the previous inners. Mercury stands by herself in a blue gown, Venus next to her with one of her husbands on arm (They don't call her the goddess of love for nothing) in yellow, Mars in red standing next to Jupiter in green. The last two had started a relationship several years ago, perhaps brought on by long camaraderie, and their respective husbands dying almost on the same day. On the queens left are the outers. The ones I have been looking forward to seeing again, after all these years.
Michiru has lost none of her elegance, while Haruka had gained a mediocrom of restraint apparently. They had matured a bit more, blooming into a kind of ageless beauty. Haruka also has apparently given up cross dressing. They wear aqua and orange respectively. Hotaru stands next to them, the most changed from those days. The once young girl had grown up, gaining height until she stood taller than my male form. She had grown willowy thin, with a set of athletic breasts. She wears a dress of dark purple, almost seeming black until it reflects the light with a purple sheen. Where the others wear long gowns, she manages to pull off being the only one wearing a short dress with flying colors. Her dark hair flows down her back. She is very beautiful. She is also alone. Fear of her power has driven off all who would be with her. She must be very lonely, and my heart reaches out to her, even as I turn my attention to Moon.
"Your Highness," I say, presenting a bow just lower than that you would give to an equal. There's no way I'm going to a knee in front of this woman. My bow is just barely polite enough to pass. A rustle passes through the crowd. Through the inners' auras a ripple of indignation passes, while the outers ignore my behavior to their queen. I can see a kind of questioning and speculation stir through their auras. I can imagine what they're thinking. Who am I to become the consort of Pluto? Would I measure up? I know the four were close, all those years ago, and it looks like they still are.
The queen herself ignores my bow and its implication. I can see the same kind of speculation in her aura as had passed through the outers. "Royal Consort of the queen of Pluto," she murmurs speculatively. "You will forgive my shock. Such a think is unheard of. I must ask how it has come to pass. More so, how it has happened without my gaining any knowledge of such an event beforehand."
"I don't think that this is my story to explain, and if it was I would say that now is not the time and here is not the place," I answer. "Furthermore, I must regretfully inform you that queen Pluto will be late in her attendance of your ball." She had needed time to get dressed. I am suddenly treated to the most delightful internal picture of Setsuna running frantically around her chambers, clad in a towel, pulling at her hair and tossing clothes over her shoulder as she digs through a dresser. It is all I can do not to giggle. It would have raised questions.
Serenity raised her eyebrow. "Indeed? This is truly most unusual. Never before has Lady Pluto been late." She stops, and looks introspective for a moment. I wonder if she's really the same Moon that had attacked me all those years ago? She was so much more refined, so much more royal now. She continues finally. "It is customary for the consort to keep the queen's place until she can arrive. Will you do so?"
I nod. "Yes your Highness. It would be an honor." I ascend to Pluto's position, behind the throne. There I can see a scuff mark in the marble of the floor where Pluto had stood for countless events since the creation of the Kingdom. I assume a position, behind those scuff marks. The eyes of the outers had followed me, and take note of where I stand. Their speculation only increases at the respect I give Setsuna when she isn't even here. I return their glances evenly. Will they remember? How will they react when Setsuna and I tell them and the inners?
I don't know.
The ball continues. Even from my position, so far removed from the crowd, I can tell from the looks that I am the center of every conversation. Let them talk. They really don't matter that much. Introductions for dozens of lords and ladies pass by the Queen. I ignore them. I have no intention of getting involved in politics. I would be on the rim now, fighting, if it wasn't for Setsuna. She is my only tie to this court. No that's not true. She's the most important tied. I have three others besides her. They stand in front of me on my left.
After the last minor lord is announced, the Queen rises to announce the commencement of the ball. The first dance is for the queens, and they descend from their positions to begin their dance. Mercury and Hotaru remain in their position, as they have no partners. I stay where I am since my partner hasn't arrived yet either.
As the dance continues, I catch the other two not dancing giving me strange looks with greater and greater frequency. Mercury and Hotaru give me almost identical looks of befuddlement. I find myself making an internal bet with myself. How long before they place me? Will it be before or after Setsuna has a chance to present me to them privately. What will they do if they do remember me? Shout in astonishment, try to convince themselves that I can't be who I am?
I am brought out from my thoughts as I feel a familiar aura entering the ballroom. At last. Setsuna.
A murmur spreads through the assembled toadies separate before her. I see her and my breath is taken away.
The dress was snug around her waist, and brocades of lace roll down the skirts. The cut is a little higher at the front end than the back at the bottom. Dark pantyhose covers her legs, and high heeled shoes her feet. The top of her dress has a high collar, higher in the back than the under her chin. Tight sleeves outline her arms, and they open bell like at the ends to allow green gloved hands to poke out. Her hair is piled up on her head in a complicated coil.
The one she had worn all those years ago, on our first date.
I don't remember when I had begun to move towards her, but we met in the center of the dance floor. As the other queens twirl around us, I reach out and take Setsuna's hand. Raising its knuckle to my lips, I kiss it once.
"May I have this dance?" she asks as I raise my eyes from her hand.
Unlike the first dance we had shared, Setsuna does not begin clumsily. Neither do I. We twirl around each other, a complicated pattern, where I led her just as much as she led me. We would come close, but never quite touch, except for our hands. Her aura radiates contentment and happiness. I can't even begin to imagine what mine displays. Perhaps a confusing mélange like what Setsuna was always displaying.
In my life there had been many things that I have finished. The barrier, my war, my people. Even this dance had to end eventually. The only thing I never wanted to end was my life with Setsuna. Maybe that admission is the end of my old life. A finish. It's time to start a new one. Who knows how it will be finished.
As we complete our final twirl, out bodies close together, neither of us out of breath, but both of us breathing hard, Setsuna leans in, and we share out second kiss together.
A passing butler with a tray fully laden with half empty champagne cups sees us and starts, tripping over his own feet. The cups fly through the air, an impossibly slow trip, and douses me with the cold liquid.
We adjust out head accordingly to my height change and refuse to break out kiss for another moment. I think I hear someone in the crowd fainting.
Finally we break apart. I brush my crimson hair aside. Somehow the tailor had sown some sort of form melding plastic into the waist band of my pants, and certain parts of my shirt as well. They constrict with my new from, revealing my rather prominent change in gender to the crowd more fully, but taken care of my height change. I definitely like that man now.
"Ranma?" a voice breaks the silence. With one arm still around Setsuna, I turn. Hotaru stands ramrod straight in her position by the throne. On the floor Haruka's eyes had widened, and Michiru's hand was pressed to her lips.
I smile at them. I put my other hand behind my head, and give them a small smile, nodding my head.
More people in the crowd feint, and the rest stand shocked, as the queen of Saturn, the bringer of silence, launches herself from the throne, and nearly tackles me in a hug. She leans against me, so much taller than my female shape, and cries into my shoulder. Haruka demonstrates that she hasn't picked up that much restraint over the years and follows, while Michiru abandons elegance as well. They both race across the floor, holding their gowns up to keep them from tripping them. They enter the embrace as well.
I stand, surrounded by the people I had grown to love in that too short time I had been with them, and I am happy.
"I'm home," I tell them.
The coda. The finish of the piece. The conclusion.