As Pacifica gratefully pulled familiar clothing over her head, albeit a red dress she didn't remember owning, she tried to ignore the shiver that trickled between her shoulder-blades. From what Raquel had said, her body had disappeared completely, like the Peacemakers did when destroyed, and she had gone away somewhere, somewhere that, when she returned, had healed her mortal wound and left her naked as the day she'd been born. Pacifica could no more explain the conversation she had had in a place that didn't seem real than she could count the stars in the sky, but she knew at least that she had been, for a moment, quite dead. Dead beyond where even her siblings could reach her. And then alive once more.
"In a minute," she called back. The uncertainty in Shannon's voice thumped into her chest with the weight of a boulder. Not since their mother's death many years prior had she seen her brother cry, and yet he and Raquel had wept in each other's arms while holding her as though they would never stop. From the moment they had returned to the temple, Shannon had scarcely let Pacifica move more than an arm's length from him, his normally impassive face haunted by something.
"But then," she considered, "I don't know what I'd do if I saw Shannon or Raquel die, either." Tears of her own threatened– tears of relief, tears of worry, tears of a lifetime of blame and guilt and shame – and she dashed them away as she began twisting her hair into its customary braid.
"I'm coming," she called, ducking from the tent-flap and back into the sunlight she hadn't been sure she would ever see again. Leaning on his sword so close to the tent she almost stumbled into him was Shannon. His posture was its usual casual slump, at once aware of and not caring what happened around him, but his eyes were deep and full. Pacifica considered hugging him again, but then smacked his head instead.
"Hey! What was that for?" he exclaimed.
"Can't you give me any privacy at all?" she retorted, but the fire of her anger fell flat. Still, as he grumbled at her, it restored something normal to his voice, released a bit of the tension she could feel hanging off his shoulders.
"Pacifica, there's someone who would like to speak with you," Raquel said from her own seat nearby. Though her grief for her younger sister had been wild and uncomprehending, it was the eldest of the Casulls who had been able to center herself the most quickly, returning to her usual serenity more quickly than the younger two. She looked up from her little book and gestured.
Several paces away, flanked by Chris, who always seemed to be beside him, stood Prince Forcis. His back was to her, and he was looking out over the hill to the city far beyond, but there was something tight in his shoulders that told Pacifica he was aware of her gaze. She looked back to Raquel and Shannon, her stomach twisting in an all-too-familiar fear. An hour ago, he had tried to kill her, had succeeded, in fact. She was not so trusting as she had been then.
"It's all right," Shannon said, and his little sister looked at him wide-eyed. "It's different now. There is no more Scrapped Princess." He paused for a moment, and steel crept in whispers into his words, the steel of a thousand unspoken threats. "Also, he isn't carrying a sword this time."
When Pacifica turned back to her twin for confirmation, Shannon took the instant away from her questioning eyes to close his own. If he lived a hundred years, he would never, never forgive himself for failing her so utterly. His sword had existed to protect her – he'd told her so many times. He would have given his life without question to defend her. But the danger he'd feared for so many years did not, in the end, come from Peacemakers or the army or the church of Mauser. It came from Pacifica's own flesh-and-blood sibling. If he lived a hundred years, Shannon would never forget seeing her lifeblood pulse out of her, knowing he was already too late, and knowing he would not be at her side when she died.
When he opened his eyes, Raquel caught his gaze and looked back unflinchingly. Yes, she could read those thoughts as though he had spoken them aloud – she had an uncanny knowledge of both her younger siblings and what they felt. Shannon could see the same regret in her that he carried in himself, the same certainty that they had failed, that they had almost lost Pacifica to their own trusting folly. And yet, Raquel projected an acceptance too, as if telling him that, while they had stood by while Pacifica died, the world was new, and they had new chances now to redeem themselves. And clearly she believed this was the first step.
Pacifica turned back to Raquel and Shannon, her fingers curling into tense fists. She swallowed a dry lump in her throat and opened her mouth to refuse, when Shannon lurched to his full height in the graceless way of his that belied absolute mastery of self and steel.
"I'll come with you." His voice was steady, his hand on her shoulder was sure, and suddenly Pacifica had much less fear. Her brother, her real brother, was right beside her. There was no place safer than that. It would be different this time. She nodded and moved to speak with her twin.
"She won't come near me. I can't blame her," Forcis said under his breath, knowing Chris would hear. As a prince, it was unsightly to permit himself to show tension and fear, so he kept his schooled features turned to the horizon, even as he was unable to keep his hands from clenching.
"She'll come. She'll come because she wants to understand you. She'll come because she'll have to forgive you. It's the way she is," Chris replied in the same undertone. From his vantage point, he could see a silent conversation occurring between the Casulls. Though he had known them for just a short time, he had watched them plenty. There were few men he respected as much as Shannon Casull, and few spirits he found worthy of his own interest and admiration as he did Pacifica. With the same faith that had led him to their cause, he knew they would answer.
When Pacifica began to step forward, Shannon at her heels, Chris moved to tell Forcis so, but the look on the prince's face showed that the elder twin already knew. Chris wondered if he could sense her at his back, if he knew she was near without even looking. As the prince had always known when Chris was near.
"You don't have to be afraid," and there was lead in his voice when he spoke to the girl a pace from his back, not the commanding yet dire voice of a king, but the defeated voice of a man in pain, a man much older than his now 16 years. "I won't hurt you."
"I…know that," said Pacifica hesitantly. She took a breath. "It's over now, isn't it?"
"It's over," he confirmed. At last Forcis turned, looking her in the eye for the first time since the moment before he'd stabbed her an hour prior. To Pacifica's surprise, his bright eyes, mirrors to her own, were filled with tears.
"Sister," he said, and he could not keep a slight tremble from his voice, "I'm sorry. I thought, as a prince, it was my duty to protect my people, and I thought to do that I had to…"
"I know you thought that," Pacifica rushed to reassure him, though doubt lingered in her tone.
"I didn't know as much then as I do now. Chris has explained a great deal, and while I don't understand it all, I do understand that in the end, you didn't have to die. In the end, you were fighting for my people as much as I. I betrayed you, betrayed my sister, for no reason at all."
"Brother," she whispered. Then, without knowing she was going to do it, Pacifica reached forward and seized the prince's hand. "It's all right. I'm here now. We're both here. You're not hurt and neither am I."
"I intended to die with you, to leave this world together as we entered it, but somehow I was spared. That was your doing, wasn't it?" Forcis asked. "There's no reason I should have been saved. God does not reward kin-slayers. Whatever you did when you went to the heavens, you are the reason I am standing here now." His eyes were troubled and he seemed torn between grasping Pacifica's hand more tightly and pulling away entirely.
"I don't know about that. I didn't do anything special," she shrugged, holding his hand with a surer grip, almost tugging him nearer. "But whatever happened, doesn't this mean that we were supposed to be together again? Here with everyone?"
The prince shot an amazed look to Chris, who only nodded. Pacifica's spirit was not quite legendary, not yet, but it was definitely nothing short of extraordinary. It had turned more than one enemy into an ally, after all.
"You…you really can forgive me what I've done?" he asked.
"Well, at first I wasn't sure I would," Pacifica answered in her most direct way. "But then I thought about what I had always heard about being the poison that would destroy the world. I even told Shannon that if I was going to bring some kind of destruction that I'd rather he kill me than let anyone else do it, and I didn't want to hurt the world, either. If I had been you, if you had been the Scrapped Prince, if all I knew was what I'd been told and that my people were being punished, maybe I'd have done the same thing. Although," and here her face fell, "I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to go through with it."
"You were brave enough to live, Pacifica," Shannon interrupted, reminding them that he was there, a waiting shadow. She threw him a small, relieved look and nodded.
"He's right," Forcis considered. "If I had been the Scrapped Prince, I'm not sure I'd have been brave enough to challenge that destiny as you did."
"Sure you would have!" she protested. "The only reason I was brave enough was because I had Shannon and Raquel to believe in me. If they could challenge the world, then so could I. You…" Pacifica suddenly stopped. She really knew nothing about her own twin's family. As if reading her thoughts, he smiled very sadly.
"I envy you that. I never really knew our mother – they took her away after she didn't order your death – and father and I were not close. I never had anyone like your brother and sister. I always felt so sorry that you had such a difficult time, but I never realized that you might not be alone the way I was."
"But you're not alone!" Pacifica smiled. "You have me now!"
There was a sudden stillness, as though the words had broken some sort of spell.
"That's true. You are my sister," Forcis said thoughtfully, a multitude of new ideas just occurring to him for the first time. "And unless they find father, which they probably won't, I'm to be king. I'm older than you, but only by a minute. You're still a princess, still my twin, now that you're not the Scrapped Princess. You could be, you know."
"If you wanted to claim your heritage, you're still a princess. You could come and help me rebuild the capital, even help me rule if you wanted. If you'll have me as a brother and a king, at least I could finally give you everything you should have had your whole life." Now Forcis was watching her intently, and clasped her hands firmly. His mind and his heart were racing. Pacifica was his sister, the only real family he'd ever known, and she was everything he could want in someone to care for and to care about him. She could fill the hole in his heart and the void in the kingdom. And it would give him a chance to truly seek repentance for his actions.
But to his surprise, Pacifica laughed.
"Me? Be a princess in the castle? And wear fine dresses and have my own servants and a crown?" She grinned. "We'd eat eggs every single day and I could take a bath after every meal!" Then the mirth slid out of her eyes and she shrugged to her twin. "No. Thank you, truly, thank you, but no. I spent so much time already known all across the land, and I didn't like it. All I ever wanted was to go home, to go back to our village, to have a normal life. Now that I'm not the Scrapped Princess, I won't give that up."
She must have seen something crestfallen in his face, because she pulled him nearer and looked straight into his eyes.
"But just because I don't want to be a princess doesn't mean I don't want to be your twin. I have an older brother and an older sister already, but I don't have a twin yet. And you don't have a sister. I don't have to be royal to be your family, you know."
"Pacifica…" Forcis breathed, unable to take it in. How could someone you had killed forgive you? How could someone turn down a life of ease for a life of labor? How could someone want to be family to a complete stranger?
"But only under one condition."
"Anything," the prince promised heartily. If she wanted half the kingdom, it was all he could do not to give it to her. He owed her that much, and so much more. Her face settled into a small smile, even though her eyes were entirely serious.
"Don't ever be sorry for what you did again. We'll both be happier if we let it be over now."
As those words thudded home into the prince, Shannon and Chris, both forgotten again, shared a tiny nod of approval. Pacifica was Pacifica, and neither of them would have expected any less of her.
Forcis felt his face break into a grin that matched hers exactly, and he bowed very deeply over her hand. In spite of all that had happened, in spite of all that was yet to come, Forcis felt suddenly that his world was quite new in a very different way, and he could tell, without even looking, that Pacifica felt the same. God had given them a great gift today, and more than a wider world and a new truth to live, had given them each something irreplaceable. Forcis did not need Chris or anyone else to tell him not to let this chance slip by him again.
"You have my word of honor, little sister."
And with a grin, Pacifica threw her arms around him and laughed. For a moment, Forcis stiffened; an hour ago, this gesture had been a prelude to death. Even Shannon took a sharp breath, though he moved not an inch. But Pacifica ignored her brothers, one by heart and one by blood, and kept laughing, joy spilling from her as shadows of a lifetime in doubt fled the morning.
He couldn't help it. The dignity of a prince could not withstand this contagious spirit of a sister he had no right to claim, and could not have let go of had he wished it. So Forcis returned the embrace, promising them both with his laughter in return that all their lives, which for so long had been defined by death, would start anew from this moment. His, Pacifica's, the Casulls, Chris's, and the lives of every person in his kingdom had been renewed today. Together, they would start over.
And for as long as he reigned, never would a bright soul be scrapped again.