1 week passes

"Alex?" Jonathan called. He had seen her car parked outside--a little black 'Vette with a "Majyk Happens" bumper sticker. He poked around, opening doors and looking for her, until a sudden noise from the back yard drew him to the patio.

And there she was. She and Sean were apparently having a practice session--either that or they were dueling. Both were barefoot, and Alex's long hair had been pulled back into a tight braid. The blades flashed in the hot sun, in and out, left and right, forward and back. Jonathan sat down to watch.

It was an energetic match. Sean and Alex were both very good, but it soon became clear that Alex was better. As he watched, Jonathan couldn't help admiring her. Her movements were smooth and graceful, one flowing into the next as naturally as water flowing downstream. As she struck and parried, feinted and even flinched, he realised that she was stronger than she looked. It was a hot day, the match was beginning to drag out, and steel was heavy--but she never lost her grip. Not something he would have expected from someone almost anorexically thin.

Much to Jonathan's surprise, Sean disarmed Alex. Without missing a beat, she ducked, rolled, and came up with a dagger in her hand. Jonathan blinked in surprise. Sean was less startled and lunged at her again. However, he was playing right into her hands. She dodged the blade, but caught his wrist with her free hand, twisting it so that he dropped his sword. Suddenly, the point of her dagger was at his throat.

"Yield!" Sean yelped, now much more surprised than he had been when the dagger had appeared. Alex smiled and lowered her blade. Jonathan applauded.

Both combatants jumped and turned to look at him. Sean edged toward his sword, but Alex brought the dagger up again and he stopped.

1 week passes

As Jonathan pulled into the driveway, he noticed that once more Alex's black Corvette was there. He smiled at the bumper sticker and went inside. She was over here an awful lot. Not that he minded. He liked being around her.

Once in the house, he followed the sound of a small harp to the living room. He was about halfway down the hall when Alex--it had to be Alex--began to sing. Her clear, sweet soprano wove a story of love and death that made him stop and just listen for so long that he barely got to the living room in time to see her pluck the last notes on her harp. Her hair fell loose and unbound, creating a dark shadow behind the instrument, and her eyes were open only far enough to allow her to see the strings. At that moment, she seemed to be the loveliest creature alive.

Sean, who had also been listening, sighed happily. "That was beautiful."

"Yes," Jonathan agreed. "Positively breathtaking."

Alex opened her eyes and looked up at him. "Do you really think so? No, don't answer that. I'm not really doing the song justice, anyway. You should hear my brother's wife sing it."

"I didn't know you had a brother."

"A twin brother, actually. James. Lori--that's his wife, Loreli--hasn't had as much screaming and such to, ah, downgrade her voice. The ballad I just sang is one of her favourites, and she's sung it enough... Well, if you thought what you just heard was good, you ought to hear her."

"But that was so beautiful."

Sean laughed. "You're wasting your breath, Jonathan. She'll never believe she's up to Lori's standard." A speculative expression came over his face. "You know, I think your voice..."

"No, no, I'm just a rank amateur."

"But I think you two should sing a duet. I think you'd work well together."

Jonathan smiled and shook his head, but his heart sped up a little at the idea.

1 week passes

I know it's around here somewhere. If I could just--

The sound of the phone ringing interrupted Alex's thoughts. With a sigh, she gave up looking for the picture she'd misplaced and answered. "Hello?"

"Alex. It's Sean."

"I can hear that. Hi."

"Listen, Mary and I were supposed to go to see Cyrano de Bergerac tonight with another couple, but they backed out, so we have a couple of extra tickets. I was wondering if you wanted to go."

"I'd love to. Tonight, you said?"

"Yeah. We'll pick you up in about an hour."

"Great. I'll see you then. Who's got the other ticket?"


"You said you had two extra tickets. I was just curious as to who else is coming."

"Oh. Jonathan. He's meeting us at the restaurant."


The food at the restaurant was excellent, and the wine was better, but Alex somehow found herself distracted from it all. Her eyes were constantly wandering over to Jonathan, studying the way he moved or the way his hair fell or the way his eyes lit when he smiled. She told herself to stop it and enjoy the meal--but her mind kept wandering despite her resolution, and she managed to miss most of the play by watching the expression on his face change.

1 week passes

"Hi." Sean was shouting to be heard above the blasting music.

Jonathan was so intent on watching Alex that he actually jumped when Sean spoke. "Huh?"

Sean grinned and shook his head. "Oh, man. You've got it bad. And you've only known her for a month!"

Jonathan could only repeat himself. "Huh?"

"I saw you watching her. This could get interesting. Almost like my own little soap opera. Not that I watch them."

"I hardly think this qualifies as a soap opera."

"It does. You just don't know it yet. Trust me."

"Whatever. Don't you have a party to host or something?"

"And leave you alone to brood? Nah."

"Really, Sean. You can stop sticking your nose into my business any time now. Why don't you go bother someone else?"

"I think I might, actually. Here, have another beer." Sean pressed a bottle into his hand and disappeared into the crowd. Jonathan twisted the cap off, took a drink, and continued to watch Alex. She, too, was sitting in a corner with a bottle--but she was staring at nothing in particular. He didn't think she really wanted to be here. She kept wincing when the music got particularly loud, she wasn't talking to anyone, and she was drinking only enough to keep Sean from assuming that she needed a fresh bottle.

Jonathan decided to do something about that. He gathered his courage, made his way over to her, and said, "Don't look so thrilled."

She looked up at him and he realised that she was even more unhappy than he had thought. "Not you, too," she sighed.

He frowned. "Not me, too?"

"Sean's been over here all evening trying to get me to do something. Dance, walk around, get drunk--anything but just sit here." She flinched as someone turned the volume up another notch. "Quite frankly, I'd rather not be here, but my car's in the shop and I don't have a ride home. So I'm just going to sit here and get a headache if you don't mind."

"I don't mind at all, but if you go outside you'll be away from the worst of the noise."

"Sean would drag me right back in."

"Not if you were with someone else." He smiled.

Amazingly enough, so did she. "Was that an invitation?"


"Accepted, then. But--" she scowled down at her beer--"let's go through the kitchen and get something better to drink." Without waiting for an answer, she rose and made her way to the back of the room. Jonathan followed.

In the kitchen, Alex set her beer on the counter and opened the refrigerator. After a little bit of digging around, she came up with a bottle of wine and passed it to Jonathan. She rummaged around in the cabinets and finally asked, "Do you mind drinking straight from the bottle? I can't seem to find anything clean..."

"Sure, no problem."

They left via the back door and walked down to the beach behind Sean's house. A tiny spark of magic opened the bottle; Alex took a drink and passed it to Jonathan. "Thanks for rescuing me there. I hate parties."

"So do I, if you really want to know. Sean just wouldn't let up until I promised to be there. And I always do my best to keep my promises."

She nodded. "That's pretty much how it went for me, too. I thought maybe it wouldn't be so bad, but Sean..." She trailed off.

"Has he been bugging you, too? He's convinced I'm in love with you, and he kept telling me I ought to get you to dance or something." Even to him, his light tone sounded forced.

Alex regarded him somberly for a moment and took another drink before answering. "He's decided it's mutual, then, because he was more or less telling me the same thing."

"But he's wrong, right? I mean, surely I couldn't be as lucky as that. Besides which, you deserve better than me. You deserve a prince or something, not an ordinary guy like me."

"I have to disagree with that. Princes are often spoiled, evil, or think with the wrong part of their bodies. Or a combination. One in a million is the Prince Charming of faery tales. Believe me, Jonathan, you're much better off not being a prince." She passed the bottle back to him and he took a drink.

"At least if you married a prince you'd be rich and comfortable all your life."

"Wrong again. A prince's wife must be submissive at all times. She is a caged bird as much as any convict--but her only crime was being pretty, and her prison is gilded and lined with silk. I can't live that sort of life. I'd kill something before the year was out. Probably the prince."

They sat in silence for a long time, passing the bottle back and forth. It was somewhere around half-empty when Jonathan said, "Do you mind if I ask you something?"

"Not at all."

"Is Sean right?"

She considered for a moment. "I'll answer that if you will."


Alex took a deep breath and another drink. "All right. Sean is... Well, he's not that far off-base as far as I'm concerned."

Later, Jonathan swore his heart stopped at those words.

"I don't know, precisely, how being in love feels," she admitted. "So... I guess I'm not sure. But if this isn't love, it's the closest I've ever been to it. If that makes any sense."

"Perfect sense," he breathed. "It sounds a lot like what I've been feeling."

She didn't say anything for quite a while. The bottle was nearly empty when she said, "Jonathan, I really hate to do this, but I have to tell you--I won't be around here forever. And when I leave, you can't come with me."

"Do you mind if I ask why? Or why not, whichever."

"'Why' and 'why not' are one and the same. And I can't tell you. I'm sorry, Jonathan. It's not that I don't trust you, really. I just can't."

"You promised not to tell?"

"Something like that."

"I understand. Promises are promises. But should you change your mind..."

She nodded. "Of course."

The bottle was empty now. "Well," he said, "I'd offer to drive you home, but between the beer and the wine I think I've had a bit too much."

"Me, too," she admitted. "And I don't really know anyone else here. Sean dragged us into this. Do you think he'd put us up for the night?"

"He probably will. He's probably counting on it."

"You mean he's probably counting on putting us in the same bed."

"Yes, well, I think we've obliged him enough for one night. No offense meant."

"None taken. I think you're right."

"So. It sounds as if the party's dying down. I think I'm going to find somewhere to sleep. And in the morning, assuming my hangover's not too bad--" he smiled--"I'd like to drive you home."

"It's a date. As long as you don't forget to kiss me goodbye."

"I could never forget something that important." As if to prove it, he leaned over and touched his lips to hers. "Good night, Alex."

"Good night."

2 months pass

"Guys, I really don't think..." Alex began.

"Oh, Alex, it's just a graveyard," Sean told her.

"I don't know, Sean. Personally, I think--"

Sean cut Jonathan off. "So it's a graveyard. So it's after dark. So it's the new moon. At least it's not full," he snapped. "I'm going in. Coming?" Without waiting for an answer, he stormed off.

Alex shook her head. "He wasn't listening to the lecture on moon phases when he was studying," she sighed.


"The new moon rules the dead, the dying, and the undead. The full moon would have been a better time to come. Blood-mages are hoarding power tonight, and spirits are fairly close to our world. Not all of them are friendly."

"Can you... sense these spirits? I can't."

"Most people can't. But I can. They sort of reflect magic back to me. Like really, really dull mirrors. They're here. Lots of them."

"And not all friendly?"

"No. Some quite unfriendly. One..." she shuddered. "I have to go in after him."

"I don't follow that. How come you have to go in?"

"He doesn't know what he's getting into. It's too powerful. It'll eat him alive."

"Well, if you're going in, I am too."

"You shouldn't. Please, Jonathan, I don't want you to get hurt."

"You can't wrap me in bubble wrap all the time, love," he said with a smile. "I promise to run if you tell me to."

She just sighed and walked into the cemetery. A tiny shiver ran through the air as she dropped a layer of shields, allowing her to sense changes in the power flows around them more clearly. Sean was strolling down the main aisle between two large sections of headstones, swinging his flashlight back and forth. Alex became more agitated any time he wandered too far to the north, and she seemed increasingly worried as he moved east.

"Is It in the northeast?" Jonathan murmured.

She nodded. "The very corner. He's getting too close. It's getting angry."

"I could go delay him, if you don't feel comfortable going over there."

"I don't want It to get you."

"Is it possible for you to transfer your awareness of It to me?"

"Yes. But not without provoking It even more. It might even feed off of magic. I'll go."

"I'm coming too."

Together they hurried toward their friend. When they finally caught up with him, he had turned off his flashlight and pulled out a camera.

"Sean, please--" Alex began. He snapped a picture and turned to face her. "Oh, shit," she whispered.

"What is it?" Sean asked.

"That was exactly the wrong thing to do," she informed him. "Now It's even angrier. Let's get out of here. Now."

Sean frowned and started to protest. Much to Jonathan's surprise, he felt a malignant anger well up in the corner. "Sean," he interrupted, "can't you feel It? It's angry. It's going to hurt us. Let's go." And he dragged Sean along.

"Thanks," Alex told him later. "For helping me get Sean out of there, I mean. I wish you hadn't had to lie to do it."

He frowned. "I didn't."

"You can't be serious. You shouldn't have been able to sense It."

"But I could. It was... evil. There's no other word. I knew that if we didn't leave right then, we wouldn't be leaving at all."

Alex could only stare at him, puzzled.

1 year passes

Jonathan looked into Alex's eyes and tried to get his courage up. Odd, that he should be so nervous. He was sure of what her answer would be.

"What's wrong, love?" Alex asked. "You're so nervy you're making me shake." She smiled.

"I just... I have something I want to ask you," he replied, taking her hand in his.

"Ask away."

He took a deep breath. "Alexis, would you do me the incredible honour of becoming my wife?"

She looked down, and her hair fell down to hide her face. Moments later, a single teardrop splashed the back of his hand. When she met his eyes again, her expression was sad and troubled.

"Don't ask that, Jonathan. You don't want to hear the answer," she whispered. She took a breath that was almost a sob. "But you've asked, and I have to answer. I want to--gods, there's nothing I want more!--but..."

"But you can't," he finished, his heart sinking.

"I can't," she confirmed. "And you'll never believe the reason."

"Look, if it's just because you're from the other world, I don't mind. I'll live over there if that's what it takes."

She shook her head. "You remember that night at Sean's party, when I told you that I'd have to leave and I couldn't bring you with me, and I couldn't tell you why?"

"Yes." He'd forgotten, actually, but remembered once she mentioned it.

"I think it's time you knew. And if you know about... over there... you just might believe me after all." A long pause. "You're right, I'm from the other world. I was born and raised there. But I wasn't fortunate enough to be born to just anyone."

He thought for a moment, and the pieces all fell into place. "Sword training, musical training, education... You're a noblewoman."

She nodded. "Which might not have been so bad if I hadn't managed to be born the heir to the throne. There are actually laws against my marrying below a certain rank."

"I thought the inheritance went through all possible male heirs first. Isn't James in line before you?"

"No. In my country, it's a little different. It's strange, actually. It's the eyes."

"The eyes?"

"There's some story--myth or truth, I don't know---about a goddess blessing the ruling family long ago. Ever since, my family's been on the throne. Supposedly, the best ruler in each generation is marked by these eyes." She pointed at her own. "There is a clause in the law to allow for the possibility that no possible heir has the eyes that says the eldest male child inherits and so on and so forth, but that clause has never been needed. Somehow, the black-eyed kids always grow up, get the throne, live long enough to produce a successor, and see the kid grow old enough to take over. Until Father. We're strange and maybe a little backward, but we survive."

"So there's no way."

"The only way I could possibly get out of inheriting is to be exiled. And I need to be there, not in exile. My father had the eyes and was, indeed, a wonderful king; my stepfather... Well, I've told you about him. I need to help my country through his rule."

"Then why are you here?"

"Gathering information. I think he really wanted a reason to send me away for a while. I was finding some people we call 'crossovers'--who were born in our world, but have settled down here in yours--and following up on them. Andrew claimed that my superior knowledge of magic would make me the best person to find out about people who are probably using magic. And also that it would give James a chance to get some experience doing the Heir's duties, just in case something should happen to me."

"Which is ridiculous, of course. By virtue of the twin-tie, James dies when you do."

"Exactly." A second long pause. "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't believe me." She reached out and touched his mind. There was only honesty and sorrow in the touch--and love.

"I believe you," he said with a sad smile.

1 week passes

"What, you don't play the piano too?" Jonathan asked with a smile.

"Not really. I know where all the notes are--I just haven't played enough to be any good," Alex admitted.

"I would have thought that you'd have learned it while you were learning all that other stuff."

"No. First off, there's only so much you can squeeze into a given time period, even with magic helping you learn an instrument. Secondly, we don't use pianos very much over there."

"You don't? I thought it was the perfect thing for young noblewomen to learn."

"Only in books, dear. Most of the people who play anything at all over there are wandering minstrels, who can't exactly lug a piano around, or court bards, who consider it beneath them."

"Beneath them? I don't follow that reasoning."

"It's an instrument played by lowlife bar scum, according to one bard I know. A 'decent' court bard wouldn't touch one with a ten-foot pole and wearing gloves."

"They use violins, right?"

"Right. There's some legality that allows them that and their pride all at once. They make their violins look fancy, and make sure they always look brand-new, and claim that those scruffy instruments the peasants are playing are fiddles, not violins. I've never seen any other difference."

"A fancy name and a bit of shine makes all the difference."

"Exactly. But piano music never was very popular over there, even in the bars."

"Why not?"

"Hand me my harp, would you please?" He did, and she plucked three notes, letting them ring through the air for a moment before stilling the strings. "Nothing special, right?" He nodded. She reached over and struck the same notes on the piano in a chord. Magic reverberated through the room, backing the notes and making them more powerful. "That's why. For some reason, the right chords played on a piano can become almost a spell. Oh, it has to be exactly the right combination of notes in exactly the right octave, but it can happen. People aren't comfortable with magic floating around waiting to be put to use--besides which, some of the chords carry something more specific." She played a different chord, and a wave of depression washed over Jonathan. Another set of notes erased the effect. "The right sound can manipulate emotion, and most people don't want that to happen to them."

"But why don't we see that effect over here?"

"It has a tendency to affect non-mages only slightly. Remember that we have a much higher percentage of mages over there."

"Huh. I never would have guessed. Magic shows up in the strangest places."

"It's everywhere, if you only know where to look for it."

2 months pass

"Promise me something, love," Alex said as they stood on the misty banks of the River.

"Anything," Jonathan replied.

"This is going to sound rude and callous; brace yourself. I want you to promise me that you will not try to contact me."


"Sssh. Listen for a moment. Every time that contact comes, the temptations will get worse. The partings will get more painful. So let's just end it now, before it spoils. Please?"

"I take it you would make the same promise to me."


Jonathan sighed. "I don't like it. But I think you're right," he admitted reluctantly. "So I will promise you that--on one condition."

"And what's that?"

He almost smiled. "That I get to kiss you goodbye."

She did smile, but there were tears in her eyes. Tears, he marveled. This is only the second time I've seen her cry, and it's for me? I don't deserve it. Or her. And so, with one last long, passionate kiss, Alex took her leave. She did not allow herself to look back, afraid that if she did she would never leave. She had to. She had always known that she wouldn't be able to stay forever. So had Jonathan, though he might have forgotten.

Sean joined her on the other side of the River. They rode off toward the Royal Palace in Planiel--home. One day, when they had stopped for lunch, a sudden realisation hit Alex. She swore softly and settled into a trance so that she could scan her own body for... anomalies.

"What's wrong?" Sean asked when she emerged from the trance with another curse.

"I don't know whether 'wrong' is the correct word--I don't think we'll know that for quite some time. What's happening..." She sighed. "the night before we left, Jonathan and I... Well, we had a rather, ah, warm farewell."

"Oh, you two finally slept together?"

"You can be so indelicate at times. Yes, we did. Which wouldn't be a problem, except that we were both too caught up in what we were doing to think about protection."

Sean could only stare at her.

"I'm pregnant," she announced.

4 months pass

Jonathan opened the envelope. There was no name or address on it; Sean had simply handed it to him and said, "For you."

The letter was in Alex's hand.

Jonathan, it read, I'm sorry to break my promise, but I thought you might want to know this. No, that isn't right. You have to know this. Something unexpected has happened. I'm pregnant with your child. I plan to raise him here; in spite of the dangers of Court, I think that it's better. He'll never want for anything, and I can protect him from a childhood like my own. And it does rather conveniently allow us to keep our mutual promise. Much as I would like to see you again, I don't fancy the pain of leaving you again. I love you. Alex.

Jonathan looked up in amazement for a moment, then read the postscript: P.S.--I promise you'll meet him someday. A.

"I'm going to be a father?"

4 years and 4 months pass

"He's here, Your Highness," the servant announced.

"Good. Send him in."

"Highness, there is a woman with him."

"Does she look dangerous?"

"No, Highness."

"Ah. She should wait outside, then. However, if they persist..."

"She will be terminated, Highness?"

"No. She may come in."

The servant gave her an odd look, but obeyed. The visitor was alone when he entered the room, greeting her with a low bow.

"Thank you for seeing me, Highness."

"Forgive me, sir, but I am a busy woman and have no time for pleasantries. What brings you to me?"

"Magic, Highness."

"Of what sort?"

"Of a collaborative sort. You see, Highness, my sister and I are part of a very special group of people. We are twins, and we have each formed a love-tie as well. Each of our lovers has a twin, and those two are also bound in love."

Suddenly, all of Alex's attention was on the man, though she allowed no more outward reaction than a raised eyebrow. "A Perfect Circle. Amazing. It's very rare to find such a large group of people tied together."

"And we are all mages, Highness. But it is also rare to find one such as yourself."

"What are you getting at?"

"I think we have a goal in common, Highness. The Circle wants Andrew off of the throne. Your hatred for him is well-known. If we help each other..."

"You speak treason," she said flatly, and fixed him with her most unnerving stare. "Be glad no one else heard you."

He stared right back. "But... Highness, don't you want to rule? Of course we would set you--"

"No," she interrupted. "I don't want to rule, not now. I'm no fool--I have a small child to worry about, I am still somewhat unaccepted in many places, and the authority belongs no more to me than to Andrew. If I took the throne there would be riots in the streets."

"But you could show that you are a good ruler and--"

"And nothing. It would get me nowhere. I can do much more good from here--and that is my first duty, Brett. First to the country and people, then to this city and palace, then to the throne, and only then to myself. I cannot accept your offer--but I will also not reject the offer of help in the future, should you choose to extend it. For now, I suggest you leave. I have much to do and little time, as I told you."

"But, Highness--"

"I won't even tell anyone you were here, much less what passed between us. Please, Brett, I apologise for being rude, but I really must go. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes, Highness."

Remember: Please do not link to any part of this story, and please do not give out the address for any part of it. Thank you.

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