“Hi!  I’m Fate, would you like to dance?” said a voice full of laughter in tones that seemed incapable of not sounding vaguely musical.  I turned to find myself looking into the eyes of one of the most gorgeous creatures I’d ever seen.

She was taller than myself, at least then; I still wasn’t quite full grown at the time.  She wore a light filmy dress that didn’t quite reveal the corish’sha she had traced her body with, though her arms and shoulders were bared and clearly displayed the lines that began at her fingertips and twirled and twined their ways toward her more intimate areas.

Her eyes were like obsidian pools with flecks of starlight trapped in their depths, her hair was long, wavy, and a subtle auburn that made me wonder if something could actually make silk out of copper and bronze.  Her skin was like caramel and flawless.  She was clearly almost half again my own age – probably nineteen to twenty-two.  I suddenly found it hard to breathe and fought hard to avoid letting my jaw drop.

“S-Sure,” I finally managed.  “I’d love to,” I added with feeling.  The dance was a slow, soft one meant for couples to dance close, and I thanked the gods for such luck as she took my hand in her own.  It felt like living satin.

“You’re an amazing dancer,” she flattered when we’d finished, but then it occurred to me she might have meant it.  Her own dancing, while good, hadn’t been any more perfect than my own – but it was hard to think of my dancing as anything but flawed, as I knew too many dancers.

I also didn’t care.  “Thank you.”

She smiled and I melted.  “So, do you have a name or should I just call you ‘beautiful’?” she asked, teasing, with the stars in her eyes twinkling.

“Serena,” I said a little shyly.

“Ah, a lovely name.  Convienient.  I can name you ‘beautiful’ or call you by a beautiful name.  Can’t ask for simpler.”

I smiled back.  We spent the rest of that Summer Fest party together and went to the ball later in the sulid together.  She had a friend who was in a position to get her a pair of tickets for a concert by Triflixta, perfect seats too, right by the stage, and an introduction to the band.  It turned out that they were her favourite band too, so we were both so excited it’s no small miracle neither of us wet ourselves.

She seemed a godssent breath of fresh air – a spiritual and psychic salve that spent the next several korvare soothing the stresses of being a newly minted Professor, and one who was semi-famous on top of it all.  My paper had got a lot of attention as scientists and mathematicians across half the Milky Way, a quarter of Galfarra, and even a few Vortonians praised or derided it.  I’d spent three years at Delthakk University perfecting it even when my entire family moved back to Ireland.  I had elected to stay and, while I never regretted it, it was still lonely to have six and a half hundred parsecs between myself and my family.  Fate healed the loneliness, soothed the frustrations and stresses.  I still had a lot of work to do.  I’d developed my mathematics; I’d learnt the secrets of what I’d dreamt since I was hearing Heinlein’s stories read to me by my Grandfather as I sat on his knee beside the fire as a little girl.  I had the keys, but I couldn’t see the door, or perhaps the other way around.  Still, she was a welcome distraction.  Maybe she did delay my progress, but she prevented my going mad so it was well worth it.

We went to all manner of things together.  I’d never been a homebound sequestered sort, but she showed me things I’d never thought of.  Rock climbing, diving, Londrellich opera … In my turn I taught her flying, skating, and the guitar.  She taught me many other things.  I’d certainly dated, but she was my first lover; she was imaginative and willing, and I was eager enough.  Before long I knew I was in love.

I would lose nulaire at a time to day dreams of she and I married, of our beautiful children, of the gorgeous wedding, of growing old with my beautiful, wonderful, witty, amazing Fate.

Such an appropriate name, I often thought.

It was after we’d gone dancing at a zero-grav club over New Junil one day in Okona; we were lying together in my bed, she was asleep and looking like a goddess more than ever, somehow.  I’d made up my mind.  I wanted to spend my life with her.  I planned it all in a few heartbeats and fell asleep with a smile so content and happy it would shame a cat who’d just got its fill of cream, my heart near to bursting with the excitement and joy.

Next day I took her to her favourite little Allurian café in Jarlikt where they have shanrinad and make a delicious vaelihs.  There I told her.

“Fate, I love you.”

“Love ya too, hon,” she said in that cute absentminded way she always did.  I always found it so charming.

Taking a deep breath and smiling, no thoughts that she would be less than thrilled at my next words ever entered my mind as even a remote possibility.  As a scientist I know I shouldn’t believe there’s any such thing as impossible, but try to convince the Human mind of that.  Besides – it is a paradox; if nothing is impossible then it’s possible that something isn’t possible.  Still, it’s a better way to examine the universe.  If impossible is a dirty word, then you don’t miss the wonders before you.  I’ve done my best to never forget that again.  I still do sometimes, but thankfully never on anything so major again.

“Love, I think we ought to get married.  I mean, wouldn’t it be great?  Together, you and I, forever?  Raising our beautiful children, waking up in one another’s arms every morning and falling asleep in them every night?  I think we should have a wedding.  I think they’re beautiful, and there’s something so … real about it all then, don’t you agree?  And … and,” I stumbled.  “What’s so funny?”

“Serena, you’ve got to calm down.  Hon, you’re cute and all, and a fun lay.  And you can be fun to hang out with, but why would I want to marry a little girl like you?!”

I blinked at her.  I stared into her eyes.  The ebon depths seemed cold, now I looked at them properly.  Her words of love suddenly echoed through my mind as it occurred to me that they’d always rung hollow – every one of them.  The adorable absentminded manner wasn’t; it was just distracted non-concern and auto-reply.  I was shattered.

I didn’t slap her.  I didn’t say a cruel word to her.  I stared in pleading disbelief.

“Oh come on, Serena!  You weren’t serious were you?  Spirits but …  See?  This is exactly what I mean.  You’re just a girl.  That whole marriage and children mess?  Crying like this?  Childish day dreams and baby tears.”  Her voice echoed in what remained of my heart, and it shattered those pieces like an Italian operatic soprano I saw once did a crystal glass.

I ran from the café tossing a handful of credits on the table as I stood.  I needed my mother and father.  I needed my strong, wise, weathered grandfather and my firey, kind, tiny grandmother.  I needed my patient, statuesque, demure granny.  Even my sister and brother, I didn’t care.  I needed held!  I needed the arms that had comforted me as a baby.  The people who I could never doubt loved me as, right then, I felt lost and empty.  I went to the next best place from my parents’, over six hundred parsecs away, arms.  Next door to my home was a huge, wonderful, loving family who had become fast friends with my own.  One of my best friends in all the universe was their son, Richie, and I looked to his parents as almost my own.  Certainly they counted myself among their many daughters.

At that time of day the most likely person to meet as I entered the home was Viktor as he sat smoking his pipe on the porch or reading in their library.  Today was no exception as I came upon him reading some stupid old Dickens novel, in the living room it turned out.

“Serena?  What’s oomph!” he started to say looking up from his book as I came in, but had the words knocked out of him along with his breath as I ran into his arms crying harder than ever and, possibly, clung a bit tightly at first, and might have collided with his chest with a tiny bit too much velocity.

He held me for a full half of a nulair as I cried and hiccoughed myself into exhaustion.  I couldn’t speak; I couldn’t think; I couldn’t even feel except for the bleeding, aching pain and sense of loss.  To his credit he didn’t make the slightest effort to ask me to do any of it, except maybe feeling – I suppose he hoped his soothing sounds and words and warm strong arms would help me feel better.

In time it did.  Especially when Sarah, the family’s newly minted leytgelez, came into the room and, without a word or a moment’s pause joined her father in holding and comforting me once she saw me – completely forgetting about whatever errand or question had brought her there.

When my tears subsided and I was breathing more properly Sarah kissed my head, a feat she could never have managed had I not been virtually folded in her father’s lap, and got up, returning shortly with a small glass of some of the poteen my grandfather makes and sends myself and Viktor occasional jugs of.  She handed me the glass and waited until I’d taken a few sips of the powerful liquor that so reminded me of being a little girl living beside my grandparents and playing among the barrels and tanks of grandfather’s distillery.

I shook my head amusedly.  “At this rate you’ll be running the Salon and Her Ladyship will be apprenticed to you.”

She blushed behind her freckles at the praise.  All she’d ever wanted was to work at the Salon like her Grandma Gretchen, and she idolised Lady Salarissa and several other leytgeleshi.  No one would have been surprised if she’d joined at four, having been born with the perfect temperament and talents for it.  The young apprentice was blossoming beautifully.  Her natural grace and her attentive and caring personality were rapidly becoming flawless fluid movement and veritable mind-reading.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” she asked with infinite concern in her voice.

“Fate.  She …” I couldn’t say it.

Viktor looked a mix of sad and furious while Sarah looked on the verge of tears.  Though, being Viktor and Ren’s daughter and a true redhead, there was a trace of outrage in her eyes as well.

“She, what?” Viktor asked softly, gently, but also somewhat commanding; suddenly I could see the legendary war hero and half-Mugdarran that I knew, only academically, he was.  He’d always, otherwise, been an eccentric literature professor and unremarkably Human if a large-ish specimen.

I told them.  Sobbing and choking and hiccoughing my way through I told them how I felt and how I’d decided to tell Fate and how she’d responded.  I wished, for the first time in my life, in all sincerity that I lacked my perfect recall.  I was able to hear her every hurtful word filled with laugher as I spoke, I could see every little nuance of voice or expression the whole time I’d known her that could have – had I been looking for it – been a sign of her true feelings … or more to the point the lack thereof.

Their expressions both made me add, “Please.  Leave her be.  I love her.  Despite this, I love her and don’t want to see anything happen to her.”  I hated myself right then.  I was ashamed of still loving, of still caring about her, but I couldn’t stop.

Sarah, again, proved she was ready made for her profession.  “Of course we won’t!  And there’s nothing wrong with still loving her.  It proves you really did in the first place and that you can still feel that love, to acknowledge it and let it keep you from wanting her to hurt, or to feel as badly as you do, just makes you a better person than she is, and a better person than anyone could ever actually deserve.”  She hugged me to her, and kissed me softly.  “I’m needed at the Salon,” she said sadly.  “Will you be all right?  Would you like to come with me?”

She clearly was not going anywhere, even if the universe began to crumble around us, until she knew I was going to be okay.  “Go on.  I’ll … I’ll live.  I’m going … May I borrow Stardust?  I think I need a ride to clear my head.”

She smiled sweetly.  “He’s all yours,” she said hugging and kissing me again then looking at me searchingly before she brushed a tear from my cheek and left, hugging and kissing her father goodbye on the way.

“Sure you’ll be all right?” he asked sounding almost as concerned as Sarah had.

I shrugged.  “Eventually.  Lots of beautiful women in the universe.  One of them has to like too smart blonde Human girls … right?”

He chuckled a little.  “Right.”

I hugged and kissed him.  “Thanks.  I … I wanted Mum and Da, but you were a good substitute.”

He hugged me back and when he let go I ran out to the stables to saddle up Sarah’s handsome teenaged speckled grey and lost myself in thoughts as he picked his own way along the game trails and meadows of the Stathelv Forest.  It was dark before Stardust determinedly carried me back to the house, tired of the trails and ready for a rub down and a nice ripe canĵor for his trouble.  His coat was shining silk by the time I finished, and he happily ate both of the canĵoris I gave him.  He’s as therapeutic as his mistress for troubles.

I still hurt for a while, and a sulid later at my birthday I wasn’t as happy as I could have been, but I got over it.  I met other women.  None I felt so strongly for as Fate, but they proved to me I could be loved and safely love back which Richie suggested I had issues with.  I still tell him he was full of it though, since I not only hate telling that ego he was right, I also feel so stupid for the whole thing.  Eventually I even found someone I love so very much more than Fate I often find it hard to call what I felt for her ‘love’ anymore by comparison, and we’re living happily ever after.