Chapter XLI: Rediscovery

They called themselves Lorian and she Aida.

That was all she knew about this world.

Her brain, by her account, had been utterly fucked. Scrambled, destroyed, flipped upside down. She knew what the Sun did and why the night turned into day. She knew how to clothe and bathe herself, and she knew that she was in a fanciful world filled with grandeur.

But her age and her background, her surname and her parents. Her likes, dislikes, what she wanted for breakfast the next day, nothing came to her. It was a dark void trying to be patched in by these strangers huddling around her like she was someone as important as they were.

The person known as Lorian seemed the most affected by her loss of memories. When they found out she didn’t know a thing about them, they began to cry, and the mustache fellow took them in their arms to ride out their intense feelings. The two gladiator-looking friends were in a panic, and so was the long-haired lady. She was trying to calm everyone down and failing.

Honestly, Aida felt a little bad, knowing she was the cause of their worry. She just wished she knew who they all were and what’d happened ten minutes ago.

They brought her downstairs. Incredibly upscale, this place. They all were. She came to wearing this white dress that felt much too expensive for the night, but someone had dirtied it.

Her, from a time she couldn’t recall.

They brought her into a sitting room filled with books. Walls of books, books on the table, elaborately-placed novels to frame the paintings and statues. For the craziest moment, she wanted to hobble over and read all that she could. She had a feeling it wasn’t all fantasy—there’d be history here, pages she could lose herself in to recount all the years she must’ve missed.

Then she read the room and realized that it probably wouldn’t be appropriate. Lorian’s eyes were ringed red.

“What’re we to do now?” asked the mustache man.

“Has she truly lost everything?” asked the woman.

“F-for the moment,” Lorian said encouragingly. “It’ll come back. Something always happens when she jumps. She must’ve jumped far enough that she can’t…”

They looked at her again. Something about those doting, green eyes did something to her that made her want to remember. They were soft and their movements were caring and kind. She wondered if they were friends. She hoped.

They asked her questions about things she from another time must’ve known. Circa and Eve, two names that meant nothing to her. The mustache man was named Carmine and he asked her about her time with Lorian at Missus Sharma’s. The long-haired woman—the Queen, she found out through context clues—asked her about what happened after she left Lorian’s wedding. Lorian asked how she was feeling.

“Numb,” she said honestly, because everything they were saying, all the hurt she heard in their voices, sounded like a joke. Like they were making up each thread as they went along. Carmine had one account while the queen seemed out of the loop. Lorian kept chiming in with parts of their lives together, trying to make this timeline linear. “I feel numb and tired.”

The Queen sighed. All of their eyes looked extremely tired for this night. “We should retire for the night and come back to this with all leveled heads.”

“I agree,” Carmine said. “You two, especially,” he addressed the Queen and Lorian. “Aida—”

“She can stay overnight, can’t she?” Lorian asked. “She must. She can stay with me. Or she can sleep alone.” They checked in with Aida on what she wanted.

Aida stretched out her right leg. Huh. Apparently they must’ve been more than friends if they were so eager and ready to share a bed with her in, what she assumed to be, their home.

They were more than fancy: Lorian was royal.

She couldn’t imagine being of royal blood.

“Sure,” she said with a shrug.

They walked her through the castle. Their hand hovered by hers for something to hold, but it didn’t feel right to be clingy to them right now. Even after everything she’d heard, they could only surmount to a friend she’d lost contact with years ago. They couldn’t relate to each other anymore. She didn’t even know their last name. That was important to her.

She walked ahead to see their face. “What’s your last name?”

She brought them from a stupor. They blinked her into focus. “Well, I’ve had two. Romano is my family name. Ashwell was my chosen name.”

“Do you get to choose your name if you’re part of the royal family?”

“No. I changed it because I was told to marry someone I didn’t want to marry. His name was Prince Zaahir. I didn’t want that life for me, so I changed my name.”

“So is Lorian your chosen name?”

They nodded, and Aida was content with that and went to keep going when Lorian slowed down.

She looked back at them.

They rubbed the back of their neck as they looked to the carpet. “My real name is Lucia Maria Carolus Durante di Romano.”

Aida’s eyebrows shot up. Even without her memories, she knew the naming conventions of this world. Names that ended in “a” were normally meant for girls.

Strange enough, she hadn’t seen them as just a girl since meeting them. She’d automatically just seen them as something else, something more than what she was. “Got you,” she said.

“I know it’s confusing.”

“It’s not,” she said immediately.

They smiled through an inner pain. She knew that, and hated it, how they hid their true feelings through a fake smile. “I apologize. This’s…Well, it’s odder for you, of course. Of course it is.”

She looked up at the architecture. “How old’s this place?”

“It was built around 1,200 years ago. Back during Queen Eve’s time. Do you remember that?”

“How would I know what happened 1,200 years ago?”

They chucked to themselves. “Long story, I guess.”

Aida watched them fake another smile. “How long have we known each other?”

“Since the fall.”

“Then how is that a long story?” She took their hand and led them through their own home. “It’s snowing, so it couldn’t have been more than a few months, right? How much could’ve happened in a few months?”

“More than you can imagine.”

“Well, my imagination’s shot, so I’m sure nothing will surprise me.”

“It’d be nice to surprise you.”

The room Lorian ended up leading her to was nothing akin to a bedroom. Golden walls with intricately carved trim. A four-poster, King-sized bed that looked too expensive to sleep in. A fireplace without a trace of unneeded soot burned into the night, keeping every corner warm.

“This’s my room,” Lorian said. “The maids must’ve come in here and cleaned up before the wedding. You should’ve seen the looks of it when I was throwing a fit about twenty-four hours ago.”

“What happened twenty-four hours ago?”

“Oh, nothing too grand.”

“Really?”

They chuckled. “No, I’m sorry. I forgot I need to be more direct with you. I was being married off to a prince named Prince Zaahir, but then I ran away. Then many things happened in succession. I met you, and your future self, and my future self. We kissed,” they added in, like that wasn’t important to her, to them, “and then Carmine found us and separated us, and then I was forced to re-marry Prince Zaahir again. I thought I’d never see you again and destroyed this place with my rage.”

“Good.”

“Huh?”

“Good,” she repeated, firm. “You shouldn’t have to marry someone you don’t want to be with, and you shouldn’t have to be a princess if you don’t want to be. Good on you for leaving. Should we leave again?”

They smiled a little more genuinely. “You came back for me right before I was meant to remarry. You met Eve, a wonderfully complex human being from a thousand years in the past. You were able to control your jumps. I assume you met Circa and that’s why you’re like this now.”

Aida looked them over. “And this all happened in the span of a few months?”

“It didn’t feel that chaotic.” They burst into a quick laugh. “Okay, maybe a few times, it did.”

“And who’s Circa?”

“Who knows anymore.” 

Aida wanted to keep that conversation going, but the  tiredness in their eyes, how the heaviness of the night—of the half-year—must’ve been weighing on them, kept her back. They fell into bed, arms barely able to support their drooping shoulders. Their head sagged towards their lacy pillows but didn’t fall. They waited for Aida to claim their own spot.

“I apologize for being so dreary. I can’t remember the last full night’s rest I’ve had. Oh.” They left for one of their drawers and pulled out a nightgown. “While you look lovely in that, I assume it’s difficult to sleep in.”

“Why was I wearing it?”

“To crash my wedding.”

“That how I was, huh?”

“You have no idea.”

She excused herself into the bathroom connected to their bedroom. The nightgown smelled like them. They had a particular scent that clung to their body, or Aida just recognized it clearly. Like a home she couldn’t remember.

When she came back, Lorian had dressed into a simple white button-down and silk bottoms. They were under the covers. Her side of the blankets had been folded for her.

Aida climbed in awkwardly and settled down on her back, the easiest on her sore leg that hadn’t yet healed. She hoped she didn’t have to live through that dull ache for the rest of her life.

The quiet hurt. She felt like she needed to ask more and say more, to help with whatever Lorian was going through, because clearly, this couldn’t go on.

“Maybe your memories will come back when you wake up.”

“I doubt my luck is that great. Is it?”

Lorian looked up to their ceiling. “I’m not sure how to answer that. I think I was lucky to meet you, so I guess both of our lucks combined to make that happen. Unless you secretly thought that meeting me was a mistake.”

“Don’t ask me that knowing I hardly know you.”

“My apologies.” They got into position, their back to hers. “Goodnight,” they said.

“Night,” she said, but she didn’t fall asleep. Her mind was far too awake for her body, her bad foot tapping in anxiety about not knowing her own past.

She looked over to Lorian’s sleeping body. She wanted to see their face again. Her history was and would forever be tied to that face.

That thought helped get her to sleep.

She remembered falling, with all of her memories falling around her. Glass shards breaking into piece after piece until she couldn’t place them back together again. She’d spent hours gathering the shards from off the ground with Circa watching her, forgetting more than she’d picked up.

Her time as a child, of spending her days between the Siinan palace and the Roman palace. She, excited about meeting Julia and casting hateful looks up at King Julius II. She felt her mother’s touch as she fell asleep in her king-sized bed, her telling her stories about pirates and fairies that made her imagination run wild at such a young age.

She remembered loving to learn about her history and reading everything she could because she was set to become the next queen of Siina.

“You’re our future,” she heard a voice say, “and you’ll make a magnificent queen.”

She awoke with her eyes already open. Eyes before mind, mind before body. Sweat stitched her to the bed as she frantically palmed the other side of the bed for her love. “Lorian!”

Something hit her. “What? What?”

She cradled her head. Already, the thoughts and feelings and words of her dreams were leaving her. Circa and Eve, the ruins of Siina. Catacombs, nights spent by the fireplace, Lorian, holding her.

She held herself, trembling. It was like there was a leak in the back of her brain, letting the precious memories spill out down her back and through the floorboards. She needed…She needed to…

Lorian touched the middle of her back. “What’s wrong? What do you need?”

Their touch brought more memories over the abyss. She fell into their side and clung to them. How, how could she have forgotten them? For hours last night, unable to remember what they had been through, how much they meant to her.

She tried holding back her tears as she tried desperately to keep hold of what few memories remained. It wasn’t fair. She couldn’t lose them. “I remember,” she whispered. “Bits and pieces, but they’re blurry.” She pulled at their hair around her scalp. Eve’s face, Lorian’s sister’s name. The cottage they’d hidden away in, who owned it again?

Lorian took her into their arms. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

“It’s not. I’m losing them as quickly as I’m getting them back. It’s like a dream I’m forgetting.”

“Well, we’ll fix this together. I know we will.”

All that time, reinvention, and discovery, it’d been taken away so easily. Everything she’d learned about herself and Lorian, their families and how they were tied together.

Eve’s family.

Her family.

Circa.

Something caught on the blankets: a handwoven bracelet embedded around a circle amulet.

Aida’s breath caught in her throat. She squeezed her wrist. The tiny stone within the bracelet had the letter “A” etched into it. 

She grit her teeth as the tears and snot ran down her face. She remembered something. A face. A gentle hand touching her. But the memories were so faded. It was as if someone had scrubbed them from her brain by hand.

She looked up at Lorian, her love, her confidant she knew so well. Where had they met? It had been in Roma City, hadn’t it been? At the academy she’d wanted so badly to attend? What was the name of it again?

“Aida?”

She tried calming down her breathing. She gulped back spit. “Lorian, they’re there. My memories, I know they are.”

They rubbed her knee. “I know. I’m here.”

She knew that already. They’d always been there, ever since…

Something about books.

What book had she liked again?

“Does your head hurt?” Lorian asked.

“I think it’s…broken,” she said. “Very, very broken.”

“Well, just give it some time. I’m sure all of it will come back to you.”

“I think time is the worst thing for me now. I can’t remember anything from the past. I-I remember you, and Missus, Uh…” She squeezed her eyes harder to think. “Sharma’s place, but the farther in the past it is, the less I…” She dropped her head into Lorian’s chest, which they took to her as easily as a mother would to a crying child. How she wished she could have that moment with her own mother. That mother lived in Bělico, didn’t she?

No. While she did have a mother in Bělico, there had been another.

In a dark room.

With Circa.

She ripped the blankets off of her.

“Aida?”

“I-I need to go,” she said. “I need to talk to the king about something very important, o-or the Constable. Carmine—”

Her head wavered. His name. That little memory of him felt tethered on the thinnest fishing line. If she pulled on it too quickly, the memory would swim away.

Her body, being moved too suddenly from laying down for so long, gave out. Her knees buckled and she started going down hard.

So, as easily as breathing, she simply willed herself not to fall.

The jump happened quick; she hardly heard the electric zap that took all Visatorre away. She was so focused on herself that she couldn’t. She ended up ten paces to the right, near the windows.

“Aida!”

Before she got too comfortable, she tried again. A jump to the left, close to the fireplace. She wasn’t happy with her performance—she didn’t hit her mental mark—so she tried for the bed and hit one of the posts.

“Your Highness?” The bedroom door unlocked from the outside to reveal a constable standing watch—Carmine. “Is everything alright?”

Aida didn’t know, but she wanted to try one more time. Without thinking of the consequences or her own wellbeing, Aida readied her knees and touched Lorian. 

They disappeared for that brief moment in time and freefell into night. They landed on stone, cold against their bare feet, and before them stretched out the magnificence of Roma City. Every building and road leading to it, thousands of years of history and a dozen years of modernity rolled into a city of nearly 250,000.

She’d travelled them to the top of the palace, atop the clock tower they loved so. The rising Sun sparkled the mosaic glass beneath their feet.

Lorian clung tightly to Aida as they looked over the edge. A nervous smile tickled their lips as a cold wind played with their hair.

Aida felt her brain spilling out of her ears, making her feel lightheaded in a completely new, flighty way. It didn’t hurt, but in time, after another two-dozen more jumps, she probably wouldn’t be able to think straight. 

But it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t seizures or convulsions or migraines anymore. It was finally fine.

“This’s incredible,” Lorian said. “Terrifying and death-defying, but so wonderfully incredible. Does this mean that all your memories are coming back?”

Aida refocused her blurry eyesight. “Oh, just a few. None too important.”

Lorian laughed. “None at all?”

“None at all, but, uh, I think I need to talk to your mother about this. Like, right now. She’s technically the reigning monarch, right? I don’t need to talk to your dad about this, right?”

“…Well,” they said with delay. “Uh, back before you left to wherever you went, something… happened with my family. I think it shattered.”

“Shattered?”

They nodded. “Let’s go see my mother.”

“So he attacked you?” Aida questioned. “He attacked Beatrice? That’s your sister, isn’t it? That girl doesn’t have a fighting bone in her—What the fuck is wrong with him?”

Language,” said Carmine. He was escorting them to the queen after they landed back within the castle. He’d dressed down since they’d last met. “I see that your memories have returned, but you need to be more diligent around Her Majesty.”

“How is she?” Lorian asked. “My mother?”

“Hasn’t slept a wink. We’ve been all over the castle signing documents, apologizing to both Aldaín and Bělican diplomats who saw the mess of last night unfurl. King Dimitri’s in shambles not because his wife was attacked but from how this will sully his reputation. Bea got out of the infirmary this morning, Durante’s in jail. Your mother willed it. Out of everything that’s happened, that was the one thing she was resolute on.” He took a deep breath. “That, and keeping me from the guillotine for what I did.”

“I’d hope she wouldn’t murder you for saving her kids.” She crossed her arms. “I can’t believe you two boned.” 

Carmine tripped on the carpet. “E-excuse me!?”

Aida,” Lorian chided.

“N-now please, honestly!” Carmine fixed an ascot tie he wasn’t wearing. “You’re in the Royal Palace of Roma, and I know you are injured and your head isn’t in the right place right now, but we do not speak like that in front of the Royal Family!” 

“Oh, much more has been said and has happened in dirtier corners of this place.”

“What’s that supposed to—No, don’t even answer that.”

“Besides that,” Lorian said, “Aida, when you left the ballroom, what happened to you? What did you see? How did you earn your double ring?” 

“I have it now ?” She touched her Visatorre marking and felt the second ring scarred into her skin. “Right. Guess I took the final step.” 

Carmine opened a door guarded by three officers. “Your final step to what?”

Prince Zaahir and Kadar were in the parlor waiting for them. Zaahir looked unperturbed, but Kadar, who was sitting down for the first time since Aida had seen him, looked horrible. Black eye turning green, a padded bandage over his cheek,  and his leg was noticeably bandaged underneath his robes.

The queen, with all things considered, looked well. No amount of makeup could hide that she’d been crying, but she wasn’t hiding it. She wore her emotions on her sleeve unapologetically.

She was holding Beatrice’s hand. Her daughter was accompanied by two maids who were pouring her tea. Her dress was quite pretty for this morning, nothing elaborate like what she was wearing the night prior. 

The absence of sleeves showed off her left arm, or what was left of it. It’d been cut off just above the elbow, leaving behind a healing stump around thick stitches.

“Good morning,” the queen said. “Are you well?”

“No,” Aida said simply, and told them her history.

The longer they spoke, the more maids came in to serve them and advisors came in to document the historic meeting they were delving into.

Aida told them about Eve, about all the secrets Circa had let her see, and about Circa herself. Explaining her existence was the hardest part of the story. How did you prove the existence of a Goddess when a maid was asking you what tea you preferred with your biscuits?

Lorian had her back the whole way, even when she told them about a seven-foot-tall Goddess who enjoyed the world’s misery as much as its joys. It helped that both Beatrice and Zaahir had helped bury Eve in the Catacombs. They supported almost everything they’d done leading up to here. This left only the queen and Carmine to persuade.

Or Queen Rosalia and King Carmine.

They didn’t know yet. After only dealing with Lorian’s sudden flee from the throne last year, they’d never dealt with a king’s abdication in their history.

As of right now, the entirety of Roma was under the rule of Queen Consort Rosalia Romano and her lover and her two children, one of which may or may not be renouncing their title that day.

And Aida, the last surviving heir to the country of Siina.

Carmine ran a hand through his hair. “This’ll be…not difficult, it’ll be impossible to prove.”

Prove?” Aida asked. They’d been talking for well over four hours. She’d gotten comfortable on her sofa beside Lorian, legs crossed, lap covered in cookie crumbs with a cigarette in her mouth. Lorian had taken to their coffee, black. They were on their fourth cup. 

“We won’t be able to prove that you were the child of Eve,” Carmine said. “I didn’t even know she had an heir before her death.”

“That’s because her history was scrubbed from the records. They didn’t want anyone knowing a Roman king was murdered by a rival queen that he slept with. Had relations with. Whatever. They said she killed Queen Julia instead and—I don’t know, they rewrote history because they were the ones who survived to tell the story.”

“You have my official statement of seeing her in the Catacombs,” Zaahir said.

“And mine as well,” Beatrice added.

“And while I wasn’t there when Miss Aida saw Circa or Eve, from the marking on her forehead to the stories she’s telling us, I don’t have any reason to assume she’s lying.”

“This means that she’d be a lost heir,” Carmine argued, “to a dead country.”

“Not dead,” Aida clarified, “just unjustly maimed and built upon by people who had no business building upon it.

“Look, putting me and all of this aside, there’re thousands and thousands of Visatorre lost in Roma because of what my mother did. Most are homeless and struggling to get work and proper schooling that’s just given to other non-Visatorre people simply because they act different. I know none of us in this room are responsible for their suffering. I know we want the best for our countries and have been in shitty situations for years, fuck, all of their lives. But I want to see a difference happen now. Not in ten years from now, not until this heir gets married off and this alliance gets made. I want to start working on fixing this country now. Is that absurd, because I don’t think it is.”

“That’s a large, unquantifiable project that’ll take years to act on,” Carmine said. “You can’t change people overnight.”

“But we can start it now.”

“And many of us in this room have been working on improvements. We have. It’s only—”

“Because of Durante? Because you were scared of him? He’s out of the picture now, ain’t he? He was a coward and a traitor. We don’t have to worry about that fucker anymore.”

A few of the queen’s advisors looked at one another.

“It’s true. I know how all ya’ll thought about him. He tried running a dictatorship when the world runs on monarchies.”

“So you’re saying you want to revive Siina?” Carmine asked.

“What? No. I’m saying I want the Visatorre and the…the Mediocris to live without hating each other.”

“Mediocris?”

“It’s something my future self called non-Visatorre people. Look, I don’t have to be the goddamn ruler of a country that’s still in ruins. Not…not now, at least.”

Lorian looked over at her.

“Right now, I think we should focus on fixing the world. We have three heirs in this room that can change this. Zaahir, you’re passionate about your love. You want everyone to have their voice, whether it’s the smallest, weirdest, fucked up girl with a limp, to the very royals sitting before us in this very room. I respect that.”

Zaahir bowed his head.

“And Beatrice, you’re one of the most selfless rulers I’ve met. You deal with a scumbag of a husband in a cold and desolate country filled with snow, yet you care so, so much for Lorian, for your child, for your people. You lost your arm to protect them.”

Beatrice looked to her lighter left side.

“It seems selfish to ask for so much, but I don’t want to see these people get fucked over anymore. We deserve a spot at the table. We deserve to reclaim our history the crown stole from us.”

Throughout Aida’s talk, the queen had neither taken a bite out of the food provided for them nor sipped on the coffee and tea everyone had broken for. She’d listened to everyone’s worries with a straight face, taking Aida’s ramblings seriously. Aida applauded her for being so strong when her world was crashing down around her.

At the sudden silence, the eyes drifted to the very woman who outclassed all of them. 

Queen Rosalia closed her eyes before speaking. “I’m sorry.”

Aida tensed. That wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

“You watched your mother go through so many hardships during her reign. I cannot imagine what you must be feeling after reliving such a past. Everything you’ve said has been true, but what’s even truer is that we haven’t done enough to help the plight of these persecuted people. I hid behind my husband for years, yet you are exactly correct. I am the reigning monarch and should’ve had more impact on my people. I know that the Visatorre need that voice to speak for them, and you have done an excellent job in demonstrating that with us today.

“Right now, my advisors and I need to sort out the fate of our kingdom Durante has left us with. We also need to make sure Beatrice heals in a safe environment, and we need to annul Lorian’s engagement with Prince Zaahir.”

Lorian dropped the cup about to reach their lips.

“Pardon me?” Zaahir asked.

“I’m nullifying the engagement.”

The two in question looked at one another.

“That is, if both of you want it nullified. I’ve assumed that Lorian’s opinion hasn’t changed in the past ten hours, and I know you’ve engaged yourself with someone else.”

Zaahir took Kadar’s hand. “My…my mother—”

“I will have a word with her. I haven’t been able to speak to your mother due to Durante’s…beliefs, but now that is all in the past.” She smiled. “I see a bright future with all of you here. You care so earnestly and passionately. It makes me wish I’d grown with such ideals, to be so independent.” She sighed. “Well, if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that our fates can change in the blink of an eye.”

Lorian chuckled, but there was relief and tears in their voice. Aida took their hand to steady them.

“That’s…” They wiped their eyes. “I’m sorry. That’s just all I’ve ever wanted, uhm…”

Their mother sat up and hugged Lorian around their shoulders. “I know, and now I can do my part as a mother and help keep my children safe.” She turned to Beatrice. “Both of you.”

“If you’re expecting me to abdicate or get divorced or time travel into a war, I don’t think I can do any of that.” Beatrice paused, tongue swirling in her mouth. “For now.”

One of the advisors bowed. “Your Majesty.”

“I know. I apologize. I have a meeting with Carmine and my league advisors at eight.”

“T-they want me?” Carmine asked. “Are you sure that’s…I mean, I can, surely—”

“Of course. Going forwards, you might need to accompany me to many more meetings. Is that alright?”

He got up and dusted off his clothes. “Of course! But…I should change into something more…”

“Monarchical?”

He blushed. “More presentable, but, yes, of course. Course.”

“Course,” Aida repeated, because she liked seeing him sweat.

The queen turned to her. “Thank you for shedding some much needed light on us this morning. I cannot promise immediate change, but I can at least promise you this: I will do my best going forward to make Roma a safer, kinder country for everyone.”

“Thank you.”

After she and Carmine departed, Beatrice left next with her maids. She said she needed to check on her daughter now that she was likely awake and wondering what’d happened to her mother. Zaahir insisted that Kadar needed to change his bandages, but he was so fidgety and ready to be alone with Kadar that Aida let him go. Before they left, she shared a look with Kadar. He winked at her.

She and Lorian left last, holding back the doting maids and officers who wanted to stay by their side. After talking and listening for so long, Aida just needed Lorian Time right now, just the two of them.

They escaped to the clock tower through one of Aida’s jumps. The morning light painted watercolor swirls on the dusty wood. Her bedspread and mess had been cleaned up, clearing the floor for them.

When they reached the clock, Lorian exhaled loudly and fanned their eyes with their hands.

“Okay, deep breaths now,” Aida said. “What, are you having convulsions? Need to lay down now, sleep for a week and miss all the royal drama?”

“Hush.” They wiped away the stray tears. “I’ve been fighting this marriage all of my life, and I almost lost you and my sister. I lost my father and gained a new one, somehow. I watched him nearly die.”

“And all that fighting’s been paid off. If you didn’t argue it, you might’ve been married off this year and we wouldn’t have met.”

“And you wouldn’t have met Eve. And Circa—Aida, my God, how was it?”

“Strange. She never stops smiling. Like, crazy smiling. It’s weird.”

“I guess if you’re a Goddess who just watches life go on. Life into death, death into life, children dying, children saving lives, I guess all you could do is smile blissfully knowing it’s all going to happen.”

“I’d fucking do something about it, the ass,” Aida said.

“Don’t badmouth a Goddess. Are you just like your future self now? Can you jump anywhere, at any time?”

“I don’t know. Gotta experiment a bit more.”

“Be careful. I know you’ll be alive up until your future self, but between then and now, we don’t know what can go wrong. You can hurt your head.”

“We don’t know what can go on, period.” She twirled in a circle. “We have the next, what, ten years to figure out what happens next. So many things can go wrong.”

“…Your Highness.”

She gasped audibly. “Hey, no.” She pointed a finger at them. “I don’t pull that shit with you, you ain’t doing that with me now.”

“I mean…” They shrugged. “Things change.”

She dropped her finger.

“I’ve been thinking. If I don’t marry Zaahir, which now I’m not, I…I mean, do you think I can try? Try to pick up the title again? I technically never abdicated. I just…took a leap year.”

Aida found herself biting her lip. Her broken brain was turning. “And if I, allegedly, of course—”

“Of course, this is all hypothetical.”

“Right. Hypothetically, if I were to gather the masses, show them that I am royalty by, say, bringing valuables back from the past—”

“Nothing serious.”

“Of course. And if I happen to recreate a palace of my own, get a few guards, or officers, or, fuck, even gladiators, bring back the old words with new meanings…”

Lorian smiled along with her. “That would be rather titillating.”

“It’d be grand. Can you imagine, you and I, ruling a whole chunk of Roma as two monarchs? Bringing back Siina? And me? A princess? A queen? I have no class. I don’t know how to create laws or suffer through budget meetings or council hearings. Who knows if the public will even accept me as an heir? So what, she brings back a few valuables and documents from the past explaining her family lineage? They still might hate me for what my future self has done.”

“Or they might praise you for finally putting Durante behind bars.”

She bit her lip. She gained a hop to her step. “What if we just abolish the whole monarchy entirely? Make something new. They couldn’t stop us if we tried.”

“Alright, now that’s a little intense, even for you.”

“We’re royalty, Lorian. Nobody could stop us.”

Lorian took her hand, and the two of them rekindled their previous dance together.

“I can teach you,” they said as they led her, “how to be a monarch. Just a warning, the budget meetings are dreadful.”

“Oh, no. Budget meetings are dull?” She twirled against Lorian’s height. “Great. Now all my plans have gone to the wind.”

“I’m sure you can manage.”

“Not unless I poke myself in the eyes first. I’m just pissed that I can’t remember shit about shit. It’s like everything after last week has been covered in a duststorm and I’m stuck digging out the pieces jutting out from the sand. I can’t even remember how we met, Lorian.”

“Well, I heroically saved you from a pumpkin patch.”

“Yeah, right.” She eyed them. “Did you?”

They turned and waltzed with her. “It’s a shame that no one has written down your extensive thoughts in some kind of journal, something that might happen to be at my favorite elderly woman’s cottage that we can sift through.”

She stared at their stupidly pretty face. They had freckles. She hadn’t known that.

“You have,” they said, ruining the surprise. “I was thinking about it last night. You’ve written essays about what you know and everything that’s happened in our lives.”

“I have?”

“Yes! Goodness, Aida, we have so much to work on. Have we restarted from square one? Do you even remember why you like me?”

Aida cocked her head as she studied them, really studied them. While many of her memories were buried, something that always stuck out from the sand was this blond little head, always with her, caring for her, loving her even with all of her faults.

Bringing them down, Aida stood up on her tiptoes and kissed them.

A shocked “oomph” silenced Lorian and their teasing.

Aida pulled back. “Yeah, I remember,” she said. “I don’t think I’d ever forget all of you.”

Lorian smiled that smile of theirs, the one that’d captured Aida the moment they meant, and they hugged her with both arms. “That’s all I can ask from you.”

Ew!”

A metal latch undid itself, and two curious, nosy, irritable heads poked out from the top of the clock.

Future Aida and Future Lorian were watching them from above. Future Aida had plopped down on the roman numeral for twelve while Future Lorian lounged within the curve of the clock. Upon being spotted, Future Aida stuck out her tongue. “Ew,” she repeated. “Find a more private place to confess your love, you dramatic lovebirds!”

Aida groaned. “You’re still here?” she called out. “I thought we got rid of you.”

“The silence was so nice while it lasted,” echoed Lorian.

“Is that how you’re taught to speak to your elders?” Future Aida asked. “Hey, now are you happy that I kept everything a surprise ’til the very end? Wasn’t it worth it, in the end? Wasn’t it a fun story?”

Aida glared the woman down.

If she squinted, from a distance, she saw that she was beginning to look a lot more like her.

Taking the ends of her nightgown, Aida curtsied to her future self and gave her a bow. “A marvellous performance, I agree, though the dramatic flare was a bit unnecessary, don’t you think?”

Her future self, mirroring her, bowed all the same. “Who do you think I get it from?”

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