This fic is the originally titled 'Shoes'. Those who read this already know the reason for that title, but I decided it could do with a change.

Beware- spoilers

Flashbacks

'Shoes'.

Monica frowned at the note she'd made for herself. She should have done something about it last week, but in all the confusion she'd left it till the last minute. Well, not the last minute exactly- she had that afternoon and that evening and the night, and then it would be the big day…

Yes, it was the latest earth shattering news- Maximilian Zelmite and Monica Raybrandt were getting married, and there was one day to go.

Monica smiled as she looked around her room in Max's mansion where she had been living for the last year. Tonight was the last night she'd have a room to herself, she thought in what was supposed to be a wistful tone but instead felt herself being overcome by giddy excitement. Not that she'd had much chance to enjoy her last few nights of privacy- Mena and Claire, old friends of Max, had been helping Monica to prepare for the event ever since it had been announced, and had been the ones to do all the frantic dashing about and shrieking and panicking to counter Monica's coolly optimistic attitude with which she approach most eventualities, even her own wedding. She swore they were more excited than she was, and Monica had spent most of her time in the last few weeks trying to keep them both on a leash before they forgot this wasn't actually their wedding.

Monica had never gotten used to the idea of sitting back and letting people wait on her; she always had to be in control of things going on around her. Even as a baby, when her royal servants had started to do anything for her, the infant princess had become entranced with their actions and immediately moved to join in, usually making a bigger mess as she crammed her toys into clothes drawers, sprayed freshly cleaned windows with her milk bottle or tried using her diaper to polish shoes.

Speaking of which…

"Claire, I really don't need any of your shoes," the former princess insisted as she pushed three pairs of shoes out of her face.

"Why not have a look at mine?" Mena pushed her way forward. "I know you all think I dress terribly but I have great taste. And I'm only one size bigger th-"

"I really don't need any shoes, thanks," Monica insisted, struggling to remain polite as she repeated herself for the eighth time, and lied as she added "I've already got something prepared."

Oh thank goodness she'd been trained for a career in politics.

After another ten minutes of deflecting demands to see the shoes, refusing offers of other shoes and ignoring pleas to shorten the overly long dress Monica had insisted on, the two girls were bustled down the stairs and out of the house. Being thrown out didn't dim their enthusiasm in the slightest. Their excited nattering continued right up to the point Monica closed the door in their faces, and didn't even stop then- just sort of faded into the distance as the girls finally went home.

Alone, Monica sighed tiredly. She really had to get the last of her preparations done. She had something special in mind, and everything had to be just perfect for Max. The big day was of course for both of them, but she particularly wanted it to be perfect for him. She owed it to him; she was humbled to be allowed the chance to marry him. In truth they'd been together for such a short time; known each other for such a short time, but she knew he was the one for her. She knew it from that day a few months ago when they'd found the new path in Balance Valley- no… longer even than that. Perhaps from the moment she'd first met him. When she thought of the times he'd been there for her, she knew there was no doubt he was the one for her.

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One year ago

Unexpected arrivals from Monica had become commonplace. Over the last four years the girl had been finding ways to bend the rules of time to come back and visit Max, and the boy no longer reacted with the same confusion as he had when she'd first appeared in the zelmite mine with a Starglass.

But this time was different.

Max pressed a mug of cocoa into his friend's hands as she hunched in her chair next to the fire. Her face was desolate and didn't register the hot drink in her hands, and she shook with something more than the night's chill. She'd clearly been crying not so long ago.

"Monica, what happen?" Max asked as soon as he'd checked no one had been awoken by Monica's unexpected arrival. Somehow he'd known something was going to happen that night, and had been wide awake and staring out the window when the warrioress had half run, half staggered into the garden and towards the door. Whatever was the matter, he didn't want everyone else sticking their oar in till he'd heard it for himself.

Monica raised her head to look at the boy crouching in front of her. Max felt his heart clench as his eyes met the bloodshot ones set into a distraught face, and his hands twitched with a need to act and put right whatever it was that had reduced the bravest girl he'd ever known to tears.

"The election ended today."

On the few occasions Monica had been able to visit, she'd kept Max apprised of the goings on in the future. She'd taken her place as the leader of what remained of the Raybrandt kingdom, but for the sake of what she saw as building a fairer and more progressive system of government she'd ended nearly a hundred years of tradition by renouncing the monarchy and establishing a democracy, becoming President Monica of Raybrandt and committing only to a four year term of leadership before the people would have the choice to elect their leader.

"They all thought I was an idiot for giving up my family's power," Monica whispered. "Even my own advisors. They practically said it to my face."

"But that's ridiculous! How could people dislike an idea like that?" Max protested.

"I thought they would have gotten used to it by now, but my rival said it was because I didn't want to lead; that I didn't have the strength to rule and I was trying to pass the job onto someone else."

"But what about all you've done? Defeating Emperor Griffin and-"

"They said I was nothing but a warrior without a war," Monica's cold and bitter words cut Max off. "I also remember the phase 'over the hill' being used."

The slightest flicker of Monica's hot temper showed in her eyes, and for a moment Max thought she might bounce back from her sadness in a storm of determination to turn the situation around. But the fire quickly dwindled, and Monica hung her head low.

"You remember Gaspard?"

Max was surprised by the sudden change of subject. How could he forget that man? A terrifying, warmongering monster who they'd both fought with, and in the process learned that for all his brutality he was a victim of circumstance- of fear and superstation because of his changeling demon father. Since that day, Monica had had to live with the painful knowledge that if her kingdom had done more to protect changelings from that sort of discrimination, Gaspard wouldn't have returned to take revenge, by destroying her kingdom's capital and slaying her father.

"The first thing I did when I took power was pass laws preventing the kind of prejudice he faced, so that no one would ever end up like him. So many people couldn't face the idea of accepting changeling demons. Varn played on that- his party made all these insinuations about me, about how I was too weak to lead, about the plans I had for my country. He said the true leadership of Raybrandt died with its king."

Max was flabbergasted to hear this. Monica had always described her main political rival- Governor Rosarius Varn of the east of the Raybrandt Kingdom- as an oily, unscrupulous man who adopted a win-at-any-cost attitude. Max had always assumed Monica had been exaggerating about him. Clearly she'd been telling the truth, and right now Max would have given everything he owned for just five minutes alone with him. How dare he speak about Monica's father like that! ? How dare he use his memory to publically embarrass her! ? Max knew the burden she carried- she'd found her father herself, before his body had even gone cold. How many people could claim to know pain like that? And this jumped up, egotistical politician had made a joke of it?

Max would have liked to express his feelings verbally, but for the first time ever it seemed his friend wasn't in the mood for fighting words, so instead he gently reached out to touch her hand comfortingly. She didn't respond.

"I'm so sorry Monica," he said uselessly. He hated himself for being unable to do more.

"What about your supporters- you must have some, right? Are they going to object to what he said? What's going to happen next?"

Monica looked up at Max again. This time there was something that looked like shame on her face.

"I didn't concentrate on any election campaign. I was too busy working on destroying the leftovers of Griffin's army. It was the first time the people could choose to have a different leader; I didn't really think they'd vote for anyone else for the first time ever."

She hung her head again as though unable to look Max in the eye, and he heard her muttering "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

"But, you had ideas, surely?" Max asked. "Plans for kingdom- stuff like that. People must have known about that."

"I was away fighting rogue monsters on the boarders. Varn had no plans for the country; I assumed his campaign would fall through. But while I was away he worked on a smear campaign against everything I was doing. He discredited everything about me until no one in their right mind would vote for me, and he was the only other real candidate. I looked absolutely ridiculous- they announced the results publically and no one there was on my side. I had to sit through the whole thing while Varn gloated over his victory. I had six percent of the votes."

Monica barked a harsh laugh.

"My own kingdom and I couldn't win my own first election."

"There's still the next election Monica. You said this Varn is an idiot. All you gotta do is work on a plan for next time…"

Max was cut off by the withering look Monica gave him before dropping her gaze again.

"Max, I can't face my people ever again. They hate me. My father raised me to rule the land and my own people hate me. I can never go back there. I've failed my father. I've failed my duty and everything I believed in."

"You can't think like that," Max said firmly.

"Can't I? Varn was right; I failed to live up to my father. I'm a fool. He'd be so ashamed of me."

"That's not true!" Max almost shouted. His voice was harsh, but his touch when he took hold of Monica's chin and forced her to look at him was soft.

"You're not a fool. You made a mistake, that's all. No one's perfect, and you can't expect to be able to please everyone."

Monica didn't look convinced, but she kept her attention trained on Max. He continued.

"Everything you did- passing those laws, fighting the rogue monsters- everything you did, you did because it was the right thing to do. I know you Monica, and if you'd known that making those decisions would turn people against you but you still believed they were the right decisions you would have gone ahead with them anyway."

Monica held Max's gaze for what seemed an age. Tears began to well in her eyes and she croaked "But my father, he was the king. He wanted me to look after the land when he was gone. And I-"

"You did the right thing, even though no one else could see it. You stuck to what you believed in without thinking about what it would mean for your popularity because you cared about your people more than you cared about yourself. You say your father would be ashamed. I say he'd be proud."

The mug slipped from Monica's hand and toppled onto the rug. It lay forgotten as Monica latched onto Max for dear life and cried into his shoulder.

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Monica allowed herself an unusual looking smile. Strange how Max made what should have been a bad memory into a good one. But ever since she'd met him, Monica had found her fiancé to be an entire aspect of life unto himself; his presence made all the difference. That was why she so wanted to marry him, and that's why she needed to make the final arrangement for their day to be perfect.

'Or perhaps I should say 'purrrrrrfect',' she giggled out loud, but then set her jaw in a frown. There was only one way to make the final preparation, and it had to be done now.

Monica quickly grabbed her boots from where they sat on the shoe rack, pulled them on, and opened the front door.