They worked together, in the aftermath of it all: the Galactic Fairy and the Vajra's Little Queen. They made appearances together, and they gave speeches that were almost more like conversations. They put in all their efforts to build the new colony on the Vajra homeworld, even if to a cynical observer it might only seem like they were making token efforts. They were performers. This was what they did, and they put their hearts into it completely--and now they were together when they did it.
So it wasn't surprising that before long, some eager reporter asked Sheryl and Ranka the question everyone had been waiting for as they both stood on the same podium: "So when are you going to be appearing in concert together?"
Ranka hesitated and glanced at Sheryl, then tried not to look like she'd done so. Sheryl pretended not to see it, and instead she simply took the cue to answer first. "Since when does Sheryl Nome do duets? We'll have our own concerts."
"That's right," Ranka piped up. "Our styles are very different, so everyone, please look forward to seeing us in our individual performances."
And that took care of that. They were both very firm, and any time someone asked the question again over the following week, Sheryl and Ranka together shot them down with a look.
Their togetherness had its limits. At night, they retired to the simple homes that had been hurriedly constructed for them, each with much less security than they'd become used to. Ranka was guarded by Brera; Sheryl was guarded by Alto. Since the battles had ended, Alto had stopped sleeping in the same bed as Sheryl, so they, too, also had a limit to their togetherness. He wasn't ready for anything real yet. He made a point of seeing both Sheryl and Ranka, but in the end he never went too far. His number one priority was flying, and their number one priority was singing, and they were all busy, anyway.
But Sheryl was secretly pleased that he stayed with her. She was also a little surprised that it didn't bother her how often Ranka came to visit. It just made her feel a little strange and fluttery, and then she'd want to snatch up an old-fashioned pen (as was her wont) and write new song lyrics, but she could never think of what they were.
A week after the reporter first asked that fateful question, Ranka came to Sheryl's home again. She'd come before, of course, even during that week, but this time was different: it was the middle of the night, and she'd clearly dressed hurriedly. When Sheryl opened the door, the first thing she did was chide Ranka: "You'll never keep a staying power in the industry if you don't learn how to make time for dressing, Ranka. Your skirt is on backwards." But beyond her words, she observed also that Ranka had forgotten to put on a bra, and for the first time that actually meant something noticeable. She was still growing. Would she have to modify her innocent, girlish style, or could she make it grow with her?
Ranka blushed and flailed at her backwards skirt with both hands. This gave Sheryl time to step back into the little house, inviting Ranka in. "The princess is asleep right now, but he'll wake up from his beauty sleep for you. Go ahead."
"No," Ranka said.
"You came all this way and you're going to let Alto's sleep keep you at the door?" Sheryl smiled. "That sounds like a point for me."
Ranka's blush came back, and this time it stayed. "Sheryl! I came to talk to you. Because I lied!"
Sheryl stepped back into the doorway. "What are you talking about?"
Ranka turned an earnest face up at Sheryl, her gaze a little scared but direct. "I want to sing with you," she said.
"I won't do that," Sheryl said. "No matter how much you ask, Sheryl Nome doesn't do duets."
"No!" Ranka was still flustered, but more and more Sheryl could see that there was a new determination beneath that. "I don't want to sing on stage with the Galactic Fairy, Sheryl Nome." She curled one hand into a first, then lifted it to the sky and pointed. "I want to sing under the sky with Sheryl."
That silenced Sheryl, as few things could.
"So please come outside," Ranka said, "and sing with me. It'll be all right if only the stars are our audience."
In her robe and her slippered feet, Sheryl stepped outside. The grass still felt strange around her ankles. The stars above still looked strange in how they adhered to the patterns of their dance; she was too used to stars that blurred and skipped with every stop she made on her tour. "Why?" she asked.
"I'm sick of wondering," Ranka said. "I'm tired of looking at this new house with you and Alto inside and wondering what you are, while I'm separate. I miss how it felt when I put my hands on your belly and made everything better for the three of us. That's okay, isn't it, Sheryl--no, it is okay! If that's how I feel..."
"Then that's how you feel," Sheryl said. She shut the door behind her. "Your Aimo is a love song, isn't it? I'd like it if you taught it to me, Ranka."
Still breathless, but not quite enough to stop her from singing, Ranka nodded. "Sheryl...I'll start."
"Of course," Sheryl said.
Ranka tipped her head back to the stars. "Aimo, aimo, nete lhushe, noynar milia ehndel protea..."
Sheryl had heard it enough times. She joined in. "Photow mih."
Ranka trembled, but she continued, this time with Sheryl's voice twining around hers. "This is a warm sea..."
The words felt as strange in Sheryl's mouth as the grass did around her feet. She treasured the feeling. "Lhuley, lhuleyah. The dancing larks in the sky, they are waves. Lhuley, lhuleyah. You are a gentle child of green."
"Sheryl," Ranka said when they were finished.
"Hmmm?" Sheryl's heart was beating faster, but she couldn't show such a thing.
Ranka could. She threw herself forward and flung her arms around Sheryl. "It's okay! It's really okay!"
"Of course it's okay," Sheryl said. "I'm Sheryl Nome, and you're Ranka Lee!"
"It's okay," Ranka repeated, "because we sing for Alto, and Alto flies because of us, and sometimes, sometimes, sometimes...! Sometimes we sing with each other."
There was nothing more that needed to be said, but plenty that needed to be sung. They lay in the grass under the sky together until morning, and when Alto came out looking for Sheryl, he found the two of them side by side, hands entwined, singing each other's songs.