In less than twenty-four hours, the Palace workers had readied the grounds and their home with immaculate precision, preparing the most glamorous wedding ceremony that would stand the test of Roman time.
Lorian thanked who they could. They apologized to their seamstresses as they tailored them into a three-piece suit, they thanked their hairdressers and the women who believed this was all for true love. Lorian didn’t have the heart to trounce their naivety of the night. They truly thought Lorian had come back after turning a new leaf with Zaahir.
As the Sun set, Lorian got a tingle in their side that wouldn’t go away. All the party planners and maids and chefs warmed up the Palace with buzzing energy. Their mother and father were nowhere to be seen, which should’ve made them calmer, but knowing they could come out from anywhere—their mother crying and their father shouting—haunted them all evening.
At eight-thirty, two maids and a nameless officer came into their room.
“They’re ready for you,” one giddy maid said.
Lorian took a breath, sat up from their vanity, and nodded. “Alright, then.”
The ballrooms shined. Hundreds of individual chandelier candles had been lit. The Palace smelled of gravy, turkey, sweet puddings, and jellos. The maids Lorian had seen working extraneous hours were now on the sides of the halls, taking in a momentary peace, leaning on their brooms and swaying to the practicing orchestra in the main ballroom.
As per Roman tradition, the two to be wed partied in separate rooms. Guests could come and go as they pleased, giving each party their blessings, but the two weren’t to meet until the twelfth song ended, usually two or three hours into the night depending on the conductor. The guests would whisper how beautiful the bride was in her gown and how lucky the groom was for his lucky woman. Lorian had spent the better part of their first time getting drunk in their room, wishing to be saved from this wretched night.
Now, they stood on their heels, searching for the only person in the world who mattered to them. Carmine was absent, as was their sister and Zaahir and Kadar, so they were searching aimlessly in a sea of dull magnates. They noticed that, out of everyone here, none of them were Visatorre. They should’ve noticed that more as a child, but they didn’t know how many Visatorre actually existed and the plights they faced before Aida.
The pressure of the night doubled with every dress and feathered hat they passed. They tried being on their best behavior and thanked and bowed to those who came. Bold men commented on Lorian’s outfit choice or asked where the mysterious woman they’d been with had jumped off to, but the officers and maids stationed with Lorian politely guided the conversation around the sensitive subjects. They must’ve been handpicked by their mother and father to make sure Lorian didn’t ruin any more lifelong treaties with a curling lip.
Getting what seemed like only halfway through the meet-and-greet, Lorian was guided towards the ballroom windows, where a controlled crowd was forming around Beatrice.
The overly polite dipped their heads and bowed, allowing Lorian a private yet public moment with their sister. She was wearing a high-neck golden ball gown that reached the floor and spread out like a wedding dress. Yellow flowers bunched up around her corset and chest and dripped down the gown’s tulle like melting paint. Her daughter, Nina, was matching her in a pink dress, while her husband was nowhere to be seen. Good.
Beatrice cocked her head to one side, showing them her neck, their signal since childhood that they needed to talk.
Lorian gave her their arm, and the three of them, accompanied by officers, left towards the emptier part of the ballroom.
When they were as alone as they were going to be that day, Beatrice asked, “What’s the plan?”
“Wonderful. Aida hasn’t one, either.”
“Hey, if you have any ideas, I’m all ears.”
Nina crept out from around her mother’s dress and looked up at Lorian.
“Hi there,” Lorian said, giving a wave. “It’s nice to finally see you.”
She tucked her face back into Beatrice’s dress. “You’re really pretty. You look like Mo’mma.”
“But you don’t look identical.”
“That’s because we’re fraternal, not identical, though I am prettier than she is, aren’t I?”
“Don’t answer that,” Beatrice said, and guided them away from the deafening orchestra and towards the main staircase in the entrance hall. While it was quieter, the room now had double the amount of people in it, hardly making it an opportune place to talk about wedding sabotage.
“Have you seen Carmine?” Lorian asked. “He’s supposed to be giving me updates on Aida, but I haven’t heard anything from him in hours.”
“I’m not sure where he’s run off to. I’d met with Aida a few hours ago. She’d needed help putting on her ball gown.”
“She’s wearing a gown? How’d she get one?”
“Carmine bought one for her. It’s quite a beautiful piece.”
An excited grin spread across their face. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t seen her in a dress—they don’t think they’d ever seen her wear anything else—but knowing Aida and her ways, they knew she’d be planning something dastardly.
A hush fell over the main ballroom. People looked up from their conversations, women dropped the fans from their mouths. Champagne glasses fell to ones’ waists as confused whispers broke out about what they were seeing.
Lorian followed each of their gazes up to the top of stairwell, and they faltered backwards. They tripped on their sister’s tulle and swallowed back their heart before it fell from their throat.
Aida stood proudly at the top of the golden staircase. She had a hand on her hip and one over her eyes as she used the high grounds to survey the ballroom. Carmine stood faithfully by her side. He, like her, had dressed up for the night in his most regal attire, but there was a reason everyone had stopped their mindless talk, and it wasn’t just because they’d seen the infamous Aida Mirko.
Her dress was that of a dream, the one painted in every little girl’s fairy tale. It was a white ball gown that hugged her curves, an off-the-shoulders, sweetheart cut that dipped down her chest that would’ve made the most indelicate woman faint. The lights caught on whatever diamonds were sewn into the fabric. She was wearing earrings, rings, jewelry they’d thought they’d never see on her. Her hair had been styled in the way that must’ve taken hours to complete but that didn’t hide her Visatorre marking. Like a true princess of Roma, she wore it down, her curls perfect down her back.
Lorian didn’t know how someone could fall for the same girl twice, three times, four. They’d lost track at how many times Aida had stolen their heart so damn easily, but curse her, she had that touch over them. By just existing, just catching her eyes, she had reworked every cell and atom in their body to fall ever more effortlessly for her.
Their eyes met. Carmine said something to her. The crowds around them, too keen on watching for anything out of the ordinary, came over in droves, whispering about the girl they now recognized from the wanted posters around the country.
With her eyes never leaving Lorian, Aida lifted up her dress, revealing silver matching slippers.
And she disappeared in a perfectly controlled jump.
The crowd gasped, turning every which way to catch sight of the mysterious time traveller. One woman screamed and alerted officers into the space.
Lorian didn’t have to wait long. In a blink of a nervous eye, Aida touched down like a drop of water over a pond before Lorian. Something tripped her up—her high heels, perhaps—but it didn’t stop her from jumping up to meet Lorian’s height and claiming their lips as hers.
Lorian’s eyes widened. They felt themselves falling, so they locked their arms around her waist, keeping her on them. Her dress blossomed with the flowers stitched into the fabric, and it twirled around her and her legs for the briefest of moments before she needed to fall back down and look up at him.
She dropped back down and glared intently up at them. “You’re mine tonight, and tonight, I want to dance with you.”
They were so lost from her entrance, her dress, the lasting, tingling sensation from her lips, that all they could say was, “Pardon me?”
“I want to dance with you. Right now.”
“Yes.” She took their hand and readied a forceful dancing stance.
The penultimate song before Lorian met their spouse began.
“Lead me,” she commanded.
And they did. Overcome by the idea of her, Lorian, for the first time in these palace walls, did what was asked of them.
They took her by the hand and led her into a waltz. All she knew was to keep her dress raised to one side as she danced, so Lorian helped her the rest of the way. Neither of them knew what dance they were dancing to; they made it up as they went. It just fit, them dancing with her, because all the while, they weren’t watching for their parents or waiting for their sister to tell him how they were doing this wrong. They didn’t care how their form was off because Aida kept dancing onwards instead of dancing around them. It was simply fun, and lovely, and romantic in their own way.
Guests compacted themselves in the foyer, their own makeshift ballroom. Curious onlookers watched from the inner balconies as women stood up higher to watch the performance. Nothing about the dance was trendsetting or spectacular, but Lorian felt like it was. It felt like they were dancing for the first time, awkward and in a whirlwind of new emotions for the one they loved.
Lorian twirled Aida around in a mighty swing. “What’re we doing?” they asked her.
“Figured this was the best way to weasel your father out of hiding. Thought the kiss might’ve really set him off.”
“You don’t think just the presence of you will take care of that?”
“Because I’m never one to push anyone to their limit.” She let them guide her into a spin. “How’re you feeling?”
“Well, right now, you look the most stunning I’ve ever seen you, and you’re leaving me a little breathless at the moment.”
“Oh, come now. You’ve seen me naked multiple times, I remind you.”
“Do you want me to faint? Is that your goal for tonight?”
She didn’t disagree. “Carmine suggested it, you know. He said it’d look good with the darkness of my hair or eyes or something. Man has more fashion sense than I do.”
She shrugged, though her cheeks burned red. “Same to you, I suppose. Your parents haven’t knocked you yet for wearing a man’s suit?”
“Haven’t met them to find out.” They rubbed her arms up and down. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Just feel sort of funny, like my brain’s in two different places.”
“Do you want to stop?”
“Absolutely not, are you kidding me? We haven’t even gotten to the best part.” Taking Lorian tightly by the arm, she stood up on her tiptoes and went for their lips again. Lorian quickly licked them—their lips were so dry from her—but she didn’t kiss them. Touching foreheads with them, Aida connected with them and whisked them away in a jump.
They landed ten feet to the right, spooking a man off his feet and into a server. It neither hurt nor disoriented them as much as it had the first time they jumped, and so, both Aida and Lorian laughed, laughed at the impossible suddenly becoming possible at the worst possible time. She was utterly amazing, this girl Lorian had found themselves with, and they couldn’t stop themselves from falling in love with her all over again, like time had reversed to their first meeting.
Aida teleported them back twenty paces near a guest who literally jumped back in fright.
Aida choked on a laugh and made herself snort, and from that, it was all over. Lorian dropped their head onto hers and laughed hard and uncontrolled. “You can control teleporting other people now?”
“More or less. Did you see that man hop like a hunted rabbit? Goodness gracious, poor soul.”
“But Aida, Aida, can you control it all now? What’s there left for you to do?”
As their song ended and the two of them kept holding one another, guessing at what was to happen next, the crowds parted once more. The people bowed, some left the room entirely, when they saw the king, the queen, Carmine, Zaahir, and two officers run in for Aida and Lorian.
“Lorian!” the king shouted. “What are you doing?”
Aida stepped back with Lorian in tow. She puffed out her chest. “Good evening, Your Majesty.”
He looked over at Carmine, who was halfway down the ballroom steps, wondering why the Queen’s right-hand man hadn’t put a stop to any of this yet. “I need you to come with me.”
“I have done nothing wrong in Roma or Bělico other than exist.”
“You’d been withholding my daughter from us, you’ve been evading my men, you attacked them without just remark—”
“The Queen’s men attacked me unlawfully, your child ran away from you, and my future self attacked you. None of that falls onto me.”
Lorian’s father clenched his fists. “Constable, arrest her.”
Aida opened her mouth to refute him yet again, likely being the only one to ever argue against the king in such an offhand manner.
Then she closed it. Her eyes caught on something in the crowd, someone. All the willpower she was willing into her body to finally stand up to speak with the queen vanished in a slow exhale.
“Aida?” Lorian whispered.
She said nothing, so Lorian followed her gaze. All they saw were people, people. Gowns and suits and riches and wealth.
Someone stepped out from the crowd, and Lorian audibly gasped.
It was that woman. That tall, silent, smiling woman draped in white cloth who stood like a statue. She was on the entire other side of the crowd and nearly blended in with the columns holding up the ceiling.
She smiled at them, then disappeared in an eye twitch. Those around her acted as if they couldn’t see her.
“Carmine, I said seize her,” the king repeated, but Carmine stayed still, and all the officers in the room stayed still, wondering what was going on and who needed to be hurt tonight.
The hesitance in power gave Aida enough time to pick up her dress and dart backwards into the royal palace.
Her run snapped off something from her slipper and sent it clattering to the tiles. She turned for it, thought to go back, then must’ve either heard or saw something Lorian couldn’t, and thought better of it. She kicked off the second shoe and continued off. She slipped around a group of startled men, hooked the corner, and then she was gone, leaving all but her shoes in her wake.