Anna sighed as she closed the doors behind her. She loved parties, but this one had gone on for far longer than it deserved. The second anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Commonwealth didn't seem like the sort of thing that required a state dinner but her parents had come, the Manticoran and Grayson ambassadors had come, even Cornelia was in-system from Corona this week. All of whom wanted her opinion on one matter or another. The only person who hadn't wanted a piece of her was Admiral Naismith, which was a shame because Anna liked talking shop.
Now the castle lay dark and quiet. Outside the windows, the still-falling snow blanketed Chantel in peace. Anna loved Arendelle, her adoptive home, and its winters were so much like those of Sphinx, her birthworld, that she rarely missed it. She strode down the corridor. "Oh, Captain Anna, there you are."
Anna turned. "Gerda?"
"Yes, Captain. Captain Calhoun told me I might find you here. The Ladies Gothel and Her Majesty are waiting for you in the tea room."
"In the tea room? Why?"
"It's... important, or so I'm told."
Anna looked down. "I wanted to change out of my gown, but I guess I'll go right now." She reached in her pocket, found the box, nodded that it was still there.
Gerda gave her an approving look. Anna turned and walked back toward the tea room. Anna had fondness for the room where Meke had once performed that amazing interview. She and Elsa had spent hours there over the past two years, holding hands, talking, even arguing now and then. And kissing, lots of kissing. She was past fifty now, and kissing was still super important. Anyone who thought kissing was for finishing schoolers was an idiot. She opened the door without waiting. The light was low.
Elsa was seated at the small desk she kept in the corner, her greenshade desklamp casting a soft glow across the oaken surface. There was a small cardboard box on the table next to three cream envelopes. Anna tried to hide her surprise. That combination of box and envelope often came with an increase in rank, but usually she only saw it on the desk of a superior officer.
Elsa didn't count as an officer.
Jessica was lying on a couch, arms clamping a throw pillow over her face. Cornelia sat reading in an overstuffed chair, tablet in hand. Anna could tell them apart only by their outfits. "Everything all right?" she said, trying to sound normal. The air in the room did not feel normal.
"Anna," Elsa said, rising from the desk and rushing to hug her. "I'm so glad Gerda found you. It's been a very intriguing evening."
"Oh? What happened?" A reception was always a place for political intrigue, but Anna hadn't heard anything unusual. Just the usual jockeying for position, favor and impression. "Good intrigue, or bad intrigue?"
"Both," came the muffled voice from underneath the pillow. Jessica pulled the pillow aside, revealing her lovely features. "Today sucked."
Elsa looked up. "Meinhard had a proposal for Jessica today."
Anna gasped. "Hans Meihnard proposed to you?"
"No," Jessica said, and she pulled the pillow back onto her face. Cornelia scowled.
"Brecht?" Anna swallowed. Brecht Meinhardt, Duke Meinhard, was the sort of aging debauch who plowed through women. The idea that he would try to add any of Anna's friends repulsed her, but Jessica and Cornelia were in a special category all their own. Lady Gothel's daughters may have been clones raised in biecybernetic creches, but they had assimilated and adopted the real world with open arms and a kind of disciplined enthusiasm that must have been innate. That sort of relentless exploration of what made the world interesting must have served the cryogenically extended captain of a slower-than-light starship very well, and as long as they held onto their humanity, Anna predicted it would serve them greatly.
Elsa said, "Not in marriage. Brecht Meinhard asked Jessica to join him in an alliance to reduce my power-- further-- and make the duchies individual agents. He tried to convince her that her name had, um, weight."
Jessica pulled the pillow aside again. "I hate this. I am not my damn mother. I am not The Mother and I don't want to be! I can't wait to get off this rock."
"And away from your relatives," Cornelia said.
"You don't have to deal with them, all the way at Corona. For me, they're still in orbit above Arendelle," she said, pointing up at the ceiling. "At least Duke and Naylia finally came around, but some of them really are crazy."
Anna suppressed a giggle, but she appreciated the sentiment. Elsa said, "Brecht made two important mistakes, though. He used the word 'overthrow,' so I have a reasonable charge of treason I could make against him. And he did it where microphones could pick it up. Which means the charge would stick if I used it against him. I think I'll ask him to retire. Hans is easier to, shall we say, keep in line?"
Anna nodded. She had met Hans Meinhardt. He seemed like a nice boy, but he was at best a boy and always would be, not really equipped to play the game the way his father did. Or, for that matter, the Westergaards. It was too bad for them Elsa and Elizabeth played at an even higher level. "This will affect the balance of power."
"Maybe," Elsa said. "He still has a cache of secrets and lies. I doubt he could ruin me, but I'm sure even my allies have things to hide. Not necessarily legal things, but shameful."
Anna nodded. "We both know how that works."
"Indeed. But I'm glad Gerda found you, Anna. Today has been busy in other ways." She tapped on the envelopes on the table.
"Yes. Aside from the event this evening, these came. This," she said dramatically, picking up the first envelope, "Is actually addressed to Jessica. And the other is for Cornelia."
"It is?" Jessica fell of the couch in her hurry to get up. Both women scrambled to their feet, reaching out as Elsa handed the envelopes to them.
Cornelia was first. "'Lady Cornelia Simone Gothel, you are hereby accepted to the Royal Manticoran Service. Report to cadet's training on Saganami Island no later than March 12th, 1918PD. Fail not at your peril.'" Her eyes widened. "I made it! Did you?"
"Yes!" Jessica said, holding up her own copy and embracing her sister. They both jumped up and down together. "We did it, we did it!" Jessica took a deep breath. "Thank you, Elsa. Thank you so much."
"It wasn't all my doing," Elsa said. "I'm sure for both of you, your grades mattered just as much."
"I know, I know, but with the wind-down they're not taking any cadets who aren't... You know." Jessica looked up. "I'm going to make it. I'm going to command my own starship someday."
"Yes," Cornelia said.
Elsa said, "I believe both of you."
Cornelia giggled. "Explaining to the Manticorans how we're twins but we didn't really grow up together... it'll be fun."
"Thinking it will be 'fun' is better than thinking it will be 'weird,'" Anna said.
"And with that," Elsa said, holding up the cardboard box. "This came from the same address." She opened it and held out two small velvet boxes. "I imagine these are your cadet... pips?" She looked at Anna, who nodded. "But you need a uniform to go with them."
"They give you one on the island. Showing up with your pips is your first test of responsibility."
Jessica held the box to her chest. "That's marvelous!" She looked down at the desk and the third envelope. It was different from the other two. "So, what's that?"
"This," Elsa said, tapping on the envelope, which was already opened, "Is a letter from Rapunzel." She held it out to Anna.
Anna read it. "Well," she said, grinning at Elsa. "The only surprise there is how long it took." She turned to Jessica and said, "Rapunzel proposed!"
"Took her bloody long enough," Jessica said, laughing. "I bet it was terribly romantic."
"Eiffel Tower, Night of the Moons. Eugene said yes."
Cornelia laughed. "Well, of course he did! Those two have been gooey for each other all the time I've known them." She sighed. "Some day, my prince will come."
"Not if I get him first," Jessica teased.
Anna laughed. "Well, it looks like everyone's getting married. I heard a rumor that Felix and Tamora are trying to find a wedding date."
"I hadn't heard that," Elsa said.
"That's because you're too busy to pay attention," Anna said. "You'll get an invitation once they've figured out when on their calendar. Maybe we should tell them that Eugene and Rapunzel are also looking for a date. And... speaking of dates." Anna hesitated, but Elsa raised her eyes in that beseeching way Anna could never resist. "Today was the two year anniversary of the signing."
"Yes?" Elsa said.
"Which means it's also the two year anniversary of the day I turned you down."
The room seemed to freeze. The twins held their breaths. "And what do you mean by bringing this up, Anna?"
Anna reached into her pocket, fumbling for the small box she had carried in there all evening long. Waiting for just the right moment. "Hold on," she said. She found it, fished it out. "There."
"What's that?" Elsa said.
"Like you can't guess?"
"I'm going to make you go all the way through with it," Elsa said, smirking.
Anna took a deep breath, raising herself to her full height, which still wasn't nearly as tall as Elsa. "If you want to be that way, then..." She grinned. "God, I'm nervous. Okay." She opened the box, revealing two platinum-alloy gold rings, thick and strong, but without any diamonds. "Elsa, you and I agreed two years ago that we could wait until we saw how well we fit. Two years is long enough. I think we do. If you think we do, then... will you marry me?"
Elsa's face was blazing with light and love. "Jessica, Cornelia, you're my witneses." The twins giggled. "Annastasia Christabelle DuVar, two years is more than enough. I was ready then to marry you. I'm ready now. Yes."
"Really?" Anna said, her voice squeaking.
"Yes. Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times, yes, Anna, I will."
Anna grabbed Elsa and kissed her, hard, her hands wrapped around the other woman's waist. Their bodies molded joyfully together, and when she finally broke off for air they looked at one another and giggled. "We should call Calhoun, and King John, and coordinate."
"We will, we will," Elsa said. She looked at the twins. "You heard her, ladies. She proposed to me. She can't back out this one."
"She didn't back out last time, Elsa. She turned you down."
"And with good reason," Elsa said. "But she doesn't have a good reason this time."
Anna knew her smile probably looked insane, but she couldn't help it. "This time, I know I'm doing the right thing." She sighed. "I love you, Elsa."
"And I love you."