Chapter Thirty Four: Love

Death was amazingly peaceful. It was like being caught inside a vast silver mist, one that stretched into eternity. She tried to move, but found that her soul was frozen solid. If she still had lungs, she would have sighed in resignation.

'If this is all death is going to be, I'm going to go crazy with boredom!'

Then, almost like her words had triggered a reaction, the center of her soul heaved. Freed from her frozen state, Haru held both hands to where her heart was supposed to be. She didn't feel the way she had felt her whole life. It was like… something was healing her. But what?

As her chest continued to pulse, a door began to creak open in her mind. Her mouth opened in horror, and tried to shut the door.

It was already too late. A banshee-like wail of despair rang through the mist as her mind became drowned in terrible images. She was dancing alone, begging with her whole heart for her royal father to just look at her. She could hear the terrible speech he gave, the one time she actually ran to him for help.

The murders were the worst of all. She had spared no one in her madness, even the innocent children that loved playing in the royal gardens.

Haru screamed in silent horror as her mind forced her to relive her sisters' death. There had been nothing to keep her madness in check. All the pain, all the blood, the lives she destroyed… there was no escaping her guilt.

She opened her mouth to scream Baron's name, but she no longer had a voice box. She was on her own for this fight.

The raging monster inside of her seemed to pause for a mere second, as Baron's features flittered through Haru's mind.

Sensing a way to freedom, she began fighting back. For every one of her father's rejections, she recalled Baron's heart-melting smile. The monster bombarded her with various atrocities, but she held onto Baron's memory like a rock in the storm.

His voice… his touch… the way he always managed to be around when she needed him. How he always knew just the right thing to say. When she thought that might grow too repetitive, she unleashed the endless love she had for the cat doll.

Her memories and emotions seemed to be confusing the monster beyond words, because the terrible images stopped. Instead, there came a timid, curious probing.

Haru relaxed, and started running through her best memories. She remembered the first time she won an award for her technique, and all the times she would dance in the rain, the snow, and even the fog.

Realizing that the pain in her heart was completely gone, Haru started dancing in the mist to emphasize her point. She closed her eyes; not out of habit, but to better visualize the memories that could save her.

She remembered her mother, and how she would rock her gently while crooning the lullaby that wouldn't let her forget about her sisters. Oh, her sweet, sweet sisters…

Whatever was keeping her company was no longer a monster. She could feel it quiver happily as she remembered when she had first met her sisters, or in Ahiru's case, when she realized that the cute duck was really her poor little sister. Again, she let her love flow through her mind like a thick, warm blanket. Her sweetheart and her sisters; her greatest treasures.

That thought made her strange companion hesitate, and then shyly offer some memories of its own.

With a start, Haru could see her sisters, aged five and seven, dancing together in the royal garden with her. All three of them were giggling and having fun in each others' presence.

She bit back a sob of joy and pain as her companion showed her more images of her sisters, her heart aching again as the years and the prince drove them apart.

Before their deaths were reached, the memories stopped, and she could feel a desperate probing. Knowing what her companion wanted, Haru offered more memories of her sisters; alive and whole. She was sad that she had only gotten to see Ahiru as a human for a few seconds, but the companion was grateful for even that small piece.

Her hand suddenly smacked against something hard and metal. If she were still alive, it would have hurt terribly. She opened her eyes in surprise, only to find a tall silver mirror, standing in the mist for no apparent reason. It was beautifully wrought, with gilded flowers on the frame.

Haru slowly stepped in front of the mirror, slightly scared at what would be on the other side of it.

It was her, but at the same time was not. Her hands were curled timidly over her chest, while her reflection was pressed the glass, her silver-tinged eyes wide and eager.

'Princess… Kokoro?' Haru asked in her mind, since one apparently couldn't speak in this limbo.

Her reflection nodded, staring at her worshipfully. 'Yes. That was me, long ago.'

Feeling a little strange, Haru reached up with one hand, and pressed it over the same place that her past self had her hand.

They both felt a jolt that sent life and warmth through their veins. Haru flinched, but Kokoro exulted.

'Dost thou understand what this means?' she asked her modern counterpart, who shook her head in shock.

The Queen of Ice and Chaos smiled, tears freezing to her cheeks. 'Thou canst return to thy life, but we must be joined in full before thou canst leave this place.'

Haru's heart filled with horror. 'We're not going to go on another rampage, are we?'

Kokoro shook her head, opening her mouth for a silent sigh. 'Nay, fair one. When we are joined, you will be the dominant one, for this body was born yours.'

'Why are you content with that?' Haru couldn't help but ask.

The look of pain began to return to those silver-tinged orbs. 'I have known so little love in my own life, and thou has achieved that which I had always longed for.'

Haru smiled gently. 'A kind-hearted immortal that adores me?'

'In part. Thou hast respect, even in kingdoms outside our own. Thou hast my beloved sisters, safe and whole. Thou hast the love-filled life I have always wished for. Please, allow us to join, that I may take some small part in your joy.'

Haru stared at her past self, and bit her lip nervously. 'If we do, will you promise not to overwhelm me again?'

'It will be outside my power to do so. Thou wilt know everything I do, including our magic.' Kokoro gave a melting smile, although her eyes were still filled with ancient pain. 'But I will admit to another motive; thou art not only me, but mine descendant. I never got a chance to truly be with my daughter, and no amount of time would be enough to spend with my beloved sisters. Please,' she begged once again, sliding into a heap at the bottom of the mirror as silent tears streamed down her face.

Haru sighed, kneeled next to the mirror, and placed both her hands on the glass.

Eagerly, Kokoro placed her hands where her counterpart's were.

ooOoo

The following jolt was powerful enough to make her eyes snap open and sit up from the blanket she had been wrapped in. An explosive gasp escaped her throat, and she panted a bit from the terrible scare.

She was immediately attacked on her right, by a human Ahiru.

"You came back! You came back!" she wept, nearly strangling her sister in her happiness.

Haru grinned painfully, and gave her little sister a warm bear hug. "I almost didn't, Little Sis. Kokoro really knew how to put up a fight."

They were still in the cave, and she could spot just the tiniest bit of sunlight filtering through the cave's opening. She looked down, to notice that Baron had been tucked into the same blanket she had.

He was wide awake, and tears of relief spilled from his eyes. It was surprising that he managed to restrain himself long enough for both of her sisters to hug her first, drenching the neck her fancy dress in their tears.

But even Baron's willpower could only hold out for so long. After a few minutes, he gently pried her from Rue's possessive grasp, and locked her into a warm embrace. "Don't you ever scare us like that again, love."

She shook her head happily, and firmly pressed her lips against his. "Baron Humbert von Gikkingen," she said rather formally, making his green eyes flicker with worry. "You may have thought that you did the wrong thing by loving me, but you know what? I've seen a life without you to hold me together, and it isn't something I want to repeat. If I didn't have your memory in death, Kokoro's madness would have overwhelmed me and I wouldn't have made it back." She kissed him quickly on the lips with a wicked grin.

"I don't know how I'm still here, but I want you to know I'm not going anywhere for a very long time. Sorry, but it looks like you're stuck with me."

Baron's glorious eyes overflowed with tears as he kissed her again. "I think I could live with that, love."

"Hey, what about us?" Muta demanded as he tried to wiggle through the bodies barricading him from Haru.

Toto had a remark ready for him, and within seconds, ridiculous insults could be heard echoing through the cave.

ooOoo

Mytho paced outside of his chambers, constantly looking at the door with a worried expression.

Fakir laughed at his friend's fears. "You shouldn't have to worry, you know. Rue's a healthy young woman; she'll come out of this just fine."

Another scream resonated from the room, making them all jump in surprise.

"In one piece, more or less," he added with a nervous laugh, resuming his chess game with Baron.

The immortal was holding his chin thoughtfully, his adopted daughter on his lap to keep her from sneaking into the room.

"Move that piece, zura!" she giggled, pointing at a rook in the corner.

"As you wish," he complied with a smile, shifting the white piece across the board.

Fakir stared in shock. "How did I not see that one coming," he groaned, settling a pawn into a defensive position.

"How can you two remain so calm?" Mytho asked them with disgust. "I'm about to become a father any second, and you two are worrying about a silly game!"

"It is most certainly not a silly game," Baron informed him stiffly. "Chess is a good training tool when it comes to strategy. Those who are obvious on the battle field usually end up dead."

Mytho sighed tiredly, and took a glance at the board. "You shouldn't have moved that pawn, Fakir. You left your king wide open."

"What, how?" Fakir demanded.

Baron grinned, and swiftly moved his queen across the board, to rest directly in front of the king. "Like that, sir knight. Would another round restore your dignity?" he asked with a wicked smile, making Uzura giggle with delight.

Her usual clownish clothes had been replaced with an adorable dress, hand-sewn by her adoptive mother.

"I doubt it," Fakir laughed, putting his hands into a defeated gesture. "If I were playing against my wife, I'd win within five moves, but you're a master."

Mytho rolled his eyes at the old game between the two, and went back to pacing the floor nervously.

Perhaps half an hour later, the royal physician opened the door, and urged the newly crowned king to come inside. Mytho did so eagerly, making the doctor shake his head good-naturedly as a chuckle escaped his throat.

"Can we assume the birth was a safe one?" Baron asked politely, standing up while keeping Uzura in one arm.

"You may. We now have a little princess, and the queen is doing just fine." He smiled warmly, and moved to the side so that the two men could enter.

Fakir ran in first, and immediately went to his redheaded bride, kissing her once on the cheek. Thanks to her share of the family curse, Ahiru still couldn't tell him how much she loved him. Luckily for her, he already knew. Together, they took a good look at the little princess, nestled safely in a lacy white blanket.

She had fine dark red curls, and a beautifully perfect face. But she was sleeping, so no one could tell what her eye color was.

Rue looked exhausted, but happy as her husband held both her and their daughter in his embrace. "Hello, Baron. Care to greet the newest addition to the family?"

"Of course. Hello, little one," he said softly, kissing the tiny child's forehead.

She wrinkled her face as his whiskers tickled her, but she did not awaken.

Baron chuckled, and turned his attention to the last woman in the room, Uzura escaping his arms to get a better look at the baby. He walked around the bed, and enfolded the young woman in a fervent embrace.

She brushed her lips against his, tears of happiness escaping her eyes. "Isn't she beautiful?" Haru sighed happily, briefly pointing a finger at her niece.

Baron nodded, stealing another kiss from his beloved wife. "They all are, love. They all are, including you."

She blushed happily, and looked at her new niece, currently wrapped up in the bit of lace she had started making for her mother. "So, have you two decided on a name yet?" she teased.

"Not exactly," Rue said sheepishly, smiling tiredly. "I wanted to name her after you or Ahiru, but do you have any idea how many parents are naming their girls after us, after Paulamoni named her little girl after you? I don't want my little girl to get mixed up with half the girls in ballet class. Learning will be hard enough, thanks all the same."

"We were going to use Neko, if our little princess had been a prince," Mytho admitted, only slightly more at ease with his sister-in-law then when they had met almost a year before. "But with a little girl, I'm at a loss. Neko doesn't feel right for her."

Haru smiled sympathetically, although there was still that bit of dislike against him. She looked at her niece, suddenly realizing that the baby looked exactly like the one she had given up, in her memories as Queen Kokoro. She had gotten better at repressing those memories, but now there was one that actually proved useful.

"You could name her after Mom," Haru offered.

Rue looked up at her curiously. "What was her name again?"

"Naoko," Baron reminded her gently. "It's been passed through your family every few generations for centuries."

The young queen looked down at her child, and smiled. "What do you think, love? I rather like it."

The king nodded after a moment. "It's a good family name. I'll tell the royal clerk as soon as he comes back."

Baron smiled in contentment, picking up his slim wife long enough to steal her chair, and sit her on his lap.

Always eager for her chance, Uzura squealed with delight as she jumped from the bed and into Haru's waiting arms.

Haru leaned back into her husband's arms, and just watched the happy scene unfold. Her lips were curved into a gentle smile of contentment as she cradled her adoptive daughter, and sighed happily.

There was still a lot that neither she nor her husband understood. Like, whether or not she was an immortal now, or if Baron was a mortal. She had no idea if she would stop aging, or if Baron would eventually die with her.

And yet… those questions didn't seem as important as they used to. What was going to happen would eventually happen, and there was nothing she could do about it, except live life to its fullest.

And she had every intention of doing so, for as long as she could.

"Are we gonna go back to the Refuge, zura?" her daughter asked, playing with her size-adjustment medallion, which matched the ones that both her parents wore.

"No, sweetheart," Haru said with a gentle smile. "We're going to help your aunt for a while. Besides, I want some time to spoil my niece."

"As if spoiling our daughter wasn't enough for you," Baron teased, kissing her neck softly.

She giggled, and playfully batted his face away. "Oh, I love you, Baron!"

His heart, now inside her chest, fluttered around like a butterfly at her words. He grinned, and swept her into a low dip so that he could kiss her again, never mind that a giggling Uzura was still in her arms.

"I love you too, Haru."

ooOoo

Lots of love goes to; Kitani, The GamerSwordsman, YAYfanfics101, Chantal, fringeperson, Yoru-101, mizgardenia21, inujisan, Bloodsong, CaptainBillyTheWerewolf, aznchocoholic, kittydemon18, Bambi4ever, sailor star rainbow, laurashrub, splattermusic, Nonimouse, Yuna-and-Stefie, Raika Saotome, Savannah Cullen, Crazymusician22, Rini's Ghost, II Yuna-chan II, cutekoala, Drifting One, fireboltcrazed, Little Minamino, Bushi-Ishia, Ducklin, Nanenna, Anonomous-Allstar-Fan, Darkness' Forbidden Scribe, ChocolateBunnyChan, EagleBlaze, Casitatis, Elvin Magi, Stacey, Guess., kari910, Love it, Lithium-Flower, question?, Utsuro, cwizumi, TimeTraveler008, zara2148, Kumi knako, shatatomyo, The Spiked Dragon, Lorie-Sama, ThePureLily, Wanderer D, Icefyre01, Kakashi's-lil'-sis, Shatoma, YuumiBat, Megii of Mysteri OusStranger, fan, liz, Kuki200, Lithium, EtherealSympathy, spoiledpuppy, QuickStar, Raye of the Sunshine, Brietta-Cerdwin, Silence Navarathna, Marlene00891, LeafeKnight7, and xTenshixShinigamix for all the love and support they've given me through my longest story yet. I love you guys, even if spell check doesn't, mwa ha ha!

I'll be honest; the real reason I wrote this story was because I wanted a scene where Neko-sensei chases Haru all over the school grounds while she screams "Not again!" It didn't quite work out, but oh well. As I was thinking about a plotline for this story, and watching bits and pieces of Princess Tutu, I noticed almost immediately that although there are a lot of birds in that anime, Ahiru was the only one that had human eyes; why? If she weren't really a duck, then who was she? Who were Rue's parents, and how come you never see them except for a small clip near the end of the series? Why couldn't Ahiru get just a little bit of happiness; why did she have to give up everything?

Then as I thought about Haru having a missing sister (Rue), I remembered a short story I had read some time ago. In 'The Book of Enchantments' by Patricia Wrede, there was a story called 'Cruel Sisters'. It was about three princesses, but from the middle one's point of view as the older and younger sister conspire against each other to win a suitor. The youngest one dies, maybe or maybe not at the oldest one's hands, and the oldest one is convicted and sent away, leaving the middle one all alone to send the shallow suitor away. But the story didn't really tell more about the middle sister, and after what happened to the other two, it wouldn't have made sense for her to live happily ever after.

For some reason, that formula worked amazingly well in blending the two animes into one solid sequel. Think about it; Rue, Haru, and Ahiru. Other than Ahiru's hair color, the three sisters even looked like the ones from 'Cruel Sisters'. I couldn't resist. Oh, and the part where Kokoro turns into all sorts of things to try escaping Baron was taken from a fairy tale (can't remember the name of it) where a girl's sweetheart was taken by the Fair Folk, and the only way she could get him back was by holding onto him when the Queen changes him into anything she could to get her to let go of him.

Mytho, Rue, Fakir, Ahiru, and almost all of the residents of Kinkan Town belong to the Princess Tutu genre. Cat R. Waul (aka Wally), Chula, and the gang of cats was from American Tale; Fieval Goes West (random thought; I thought that version of Tanya looked just a shade like Haru). Haru, Baron, Toto, and Muta belong to the Cat Returns genre. The only characters that are completely mine are filler people that never got a name, like the realtor, the cooks, and most of the students.

I'd love to own Baron, though…

Oh, right. The next story;

What sort of secrets could the Angel of Music be hiding?

There were a lot of people begging that I do a story like this, so I hope it sounds a little familiar.

Lots of love,

YC