Last chapter! I'm sorry if it seems rushed. As always thank you so much for everyone's reviews and support. I'm not sure what the next story will be but you guys will be the first to know.
"Take us back," the Prince commanded. The driver obeyed and to the crowd's confusion the carriage went back to where Haru was supposed to be.
As soon as the carriage had driven off without her in it, Kana rushed back to where Haru was trapped. What would she choose: her stepdaughter's good fortune or her actual daughter?
No, Peony ceased being her daughter the moment she left her. She was supposed to take care of her mother after all the sacrifices the older woman made for her. It was the right and honorable thing to do and taught from one generation to the next.
Haru after scrabbling to find a foothold was beginning to sob in despair. Being abandoned wasn't the worst thing that could happen but dying without telling him…telling Baron her true feelings would be her eternal regret.
The light above her at the well's opening was blocked by someone peering down at her.
"Please! Get me out of here!"
A rope was miraculously lowered and Haru painstakingly climbed her way up. She was gingering helped over the well's edge and as her mysterious savior stepped into the light, she gasped.
"Kana! Why? What about Peony?"
"She abandoned me."
Haru placed a sympathetic hand on the grieving woman's arm. "I'm sorry."
Kana placed her hand on top of Haru's in grateful acceptance. Perhaps she should have raised her daughter to be more like Haru.
"I'm sorry, Haru, for abusing you for all this time. It seemed like I was filled with so much anger and painful headaches that I took it out on you."
Headaches? Haru thought this sounded familiar.
The rumbling wheels upon a gravel road interrupted their musings.
"They've returned!" Kana exclaimed.
She bowed low before the Queen who swept imperiously over to her.
"I am sorry for misleading you, your highness. As you can see I have righted my wrong and I beg you for your forgiveness."
The Queen nodded and Prince Machida stepped over to see if Haru was injured. He passed a furious glare at the imposter.
"You ought to be beaten a thousand times for your insolence! Unfortunately it is not my decision to make because your injury was to Haru." He bowed courteously his true bride.
Haru stared at Peony who still looked unremorseful about her actions and made her decision.
"She should stay here and let her spend her days where she can not trouble anyone."
"And I'll stay with her," Kana interrupted.
With confusion Haru tried to persuade her not to but the elder woman would not be moved.
"I need to continue fixing my wrongs. If I can improve her then the better it would be for the both our souls. If not, I least I can spend my days keeping her in check."
Finding that she could not convince her otherwise, Haru acknowledged her decision with a heavy heart.
"I promise I'll be by to visit you." She gave Kana a warm hug. It wasn't easy to acknowledge and improve on your child's faults.
With the rightful girl, the three stepped into the waiting carriage. Haru leaned her head back against the cushions. With all of the chaos she found herself with another headache. It was strange; she never had such painful and lengthy headaches before.
Again they approached the town square, this time with the true bride revealed. The townspeople merely thought that the new bride had forgotten an item at home and now was confident enough to show her face in public. The kittens sang again:
Now we have nothing in our hearts to fear
All in the kingdom can let out a cheer
For the prince has found his true bride today
Now we can wave to her, hooray hooray!
To the others it sounded like a happy chant to their new ruler but to her it echoed hollowly as a funeral dirge. Near the kittens she spotted the familiar faces of Toto, Muta, Yuki, Lune and last of all Baron. Their guises were of human form shielding themselves from the non-magical eye.
Haru gave a startled sob which caught Machida's attention. He saw her wounded look at the strange man with green-yellow eyes and short cropped orange hair.
"I see, Haru."
She stammered out a few words of apology before admitting, "When I was trapped, I feared for my life, but all I could think about was him. I'm sorry Machida. You deserve someone better."
"I doubt I could find someone as wonderful as you, but I'll find someone for myself this time." He gave a sideways glance at his mother. She was the one who insisted he ride out that night in that part of town, as if she had been planning for the two to meet. The Queen arranged for their meetings and actively encouraged the two to form an attachment.
"No!" the Queen hissed. "You cannot! I will not allow it!"
"Mother you have been acting peculiar for weeks now, as if you're not yourself. Stop, driver."
He helped Haru out in front of the town center's fountain while the Queen followed. Haru's eyes began to tear up and Machida held his head in pain the closer she came.
This feeling is so familiar.
The five denizens of the Cat Kingdom stepped forward.
"What's wrong Haru?" the raven haired, beak nosed man spoke politely.
"Toto, something just feels wrong." She clutched her head trying to think through the fog
One of the horses pulling the carriage reared its head in fear causing the carriage to jolt backwards. The resulting movement caused the Queen to lose her balance. As she righted herself her crown shifted to reveal a large black widow spider resting atop her head.
This strange feeling, a spider…spider makes webbing from silken threads just like the strand I pulled from May Suki's head!
At the girl's realization the dangerous creature gave a screech and leapt at Haru to try and kill her with a poisonous bite. Baron pulled Haru out of the way and into the safety of his arms. May Suki landed instead on the ground right beneath the carriage wheel and with another terrified jolt from the horses, caused the entire stagecoach to roll right over the vindictive creature. With a startled scream thus was the evil purged from both worlds.
"What happened?" the Queen murmured holding her head.
Lune and Yuki explained the situation to the confused woman. May Suki had been controlling her and Kana for years apparently seeing something special in Haru and using them all for her nefarious purposes. Machida looked on sadly as he saw Haru and her mysterious admirer standing in each other's arms.
"Eh, there are plenty of more fish in the sea, kid. Even though she's special I'm sure you'll find another girl."
Though Muta's informal treatment of him wasn't exactly becoming of a future king, Machida strangely found comfort in them.
He walked off to make the wedding change announcement to his people.
Haru stared into Baron's eyes trying to see if her memories of him did any justice. They didn't so she just contented to admire his gold green eyes and auburn fur. Despite the human guise she saw him in his cat form.
Baron, unable to do anything while Haru was in his arms, flinched and stammered out, "I'm sorry about your wedding."
The force of the hit caused Baron to jerk his head around and the others to gasp in confusion.
The girl who committed the hit then wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his chest.
"I wanted to visit, not stay forever. The Cat Kingdom is my home now."
She had meant it to. Baron was her home and wherever he was, she would follow.
"Great, now we have to deal with their googly eyes all the time now. I'm not gonna eat cause it's so sickening," Muta muttered.
"You could stand to lose a few pounds," Toto retorted.
This resulted in an all out brawl between the two.
Baron accepted a firm handshake from Prince Lune who congratulated him on everything working out. Yuki did likewise but with a warm hug for Haru.
"You're two of the most stubborn people who I have ever met!" She chided them but brightly smiling through her happy tears.
"Haru!" A loud and panicked voice rang out in the street.
Hiromi ran up to the girl muttering barely coherent sentences. "The Prince, marriage, cancelled, what?!"
Haru calmly took the girl's hand and placed it in Baron's.
"Hiromi meet Baron. Baron, this is my best friend Hiromi."
He placed a courtly kiss on the back of the shocked girl's hand and suavely answered, "A pleasure."
Haru rolled her eyes at his blatant attempt to charm Hiromi. Surely her friend would not fall…
A girlish giggle erupted from Hiromi as the very handsome man politely enquired after her well being.
"Don't pay any attention to his foolishness, Hiromi. I thought I taught you better than to listen to flatterers!"
Striding confidently amidst them, Oba gave Haru an affection hug and kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations, my dear. I knew you and Baron would work things out."
Baron respectfully bowed towards the elderly woman before she too gave him a loving kiss. Haru looked on in confusion.
"May I introduce to everyone my liaison for the Human Kingdom," Baron stated slyly.
"Oba!" Haru exclaimed. "I never knew!"
"Well that would make me a very bad informant, then wouldn't it, Haru?" the old lady shot back with a twinkle in her eye. The woman had been subtly reporting the details of events in the kingdom and handled problems and question whenever she was needed.
It made sense, Haru thought. No one would know that the meddling and prodding questions of an elderly woman would be anything suspicious.
"I've always looked out for you the best I could, Haru. It's too bad that I couldn't stop that demon from hurting you so much," she said sadly.
"Oh Oba! You did your best. No one knew it was May Suki and Kana has repented at what she has done to me. I forgave her and I'll forgive you."
Lune stepped in to relay his information.
"May Suki has been manipulating us all from the beginning. She thought to scare Haru away to the Prince's palace but instead went to the Cat Kingdom. May Suki then had to convince Haru to return in a very painful way."
Both Haru and Baron flinched at that statement.
"She then possessed the Queen so Haru could marry Machida."
"But why didn't she just control the kingdom using the Queen," Haru questioned.
"The others noticed how strangely she was acting. She wanted to start over with a blank slate that no one would know."
"Me," Haru whispered a little ashamed at how inconsequential she was. Baron touched her hand in comfort. She cheered up immediately. Haru had a hand in her own happy ending. It did not mattered what anyone else thought before.
"Everything's righted now," she sighed. She gave a loving smile to Baron. "Let's go home."
They all bid Oba and Hiromi goodbye, promising to visit soon. Together, Baron, Haru, Lune, Yuki, Muta, and Toto, trooped up the hill and past the border dividing the kingdoms. Baron and Haru separated from the others outside of his quaint cottage.
Beneath the moonlight he held her hands tenderly in his own. He had found out that she had overheard his hateful comments at the fountain.
"I really am sorry Haru for everything."
She raised a hand to silence his lips. "I should have listened to the whole conversation Baron. You missed me as much as I missed you. I'm sorry too."
"Then we're even."
Baron grinned for the first time since Haru left and together they whispered the three words each had been hoping to hear. Smiling he tipped her chin up with gloved fingers and kissed her with all the pent up feelings he had abandoned for weeks. She returned the kiss with equal ardor. They both pulled back to see the happiness reflected in each other eyes. Baron opened the door, welcoming her into their home.
Haru, to her extreme happiness, not only was accepted into the Cat Kingdom with open arms but served alongside Baron to right the wrongs of both kingdoms. They attended the marriage of Lune and Yuki during which they endured the not so subtle winks and grins from Muta and Toto. The two were married later on in a uiet ceremony attended by Oba, Hiromi, of course the kittens (who made this all possible). Kana even came with a small gift although Peony did not offer her congratulations. Oba proudly announced she was turning over the reigns of her duties to Hiromi.
Haru gave a sigh of happiness as Baron opened the door to their home and kissed her under the lintel. Who would have thought her life would have ended like this?
"I am going to live in the Cat Kingdom."
A simple sentence, more than likely an empty threat, but to one girl it was her destiny.
Done with another fairy tale/ Cat Returns hybrid! Hope ya'll enjoyed it as much as I spent slaving over it. As always please review!