Shadows - Chapter Two* * *
Disclaimer: Not mine, doobeedoobeedoo.
* * *
- Chapter Two -
The tent was nearly deserted. The various warriors that had assembled there had quietly slunk outside, the better to get away from the prince and that strange Child who claimed to be someone who they all knew. And this knowledge led them to run away as quickly as possible.
He idly wondered why the boy wasn't taller. Evidently said boy was more skilled than he had thought, given the disgusted look that was thrown in his direction.
"You've grown," the prince said speculatively.
One eyebrow raised in a disconcertingly familiar fashion. "Hm."
"Why are you here?"
"Why do you think?"
A shrug. "Perhaps."
Then again, just because he was so small didn't mean he wasn't vicious. At least, his Puck wasn't very nice. Absolutely adorable, yes, but not nice. So why should this one be any different? "That is, to kick others."
Judging by the glimmer in his eyes, he'd guessed right. "Most likely," the Child replied smugly.
"Why would you help us?" Let's hope you didn't wind up as psycho as mother dearest, at least. Then again, it might come in handy...
He smirked. "Self-preservation."
So you do stay with me. I wonder if I should be relieved or terrified. "So much for family loyalty."
"A fine thing for you to say," he pointed out. Oberon grimaced.
"We can't choose our parents."
"Consider it beneficial that you didn't entirely fail at the parenting gig." He paused, something dark flashing through his expression. "At least not with me."
Filing that comment away for future reference, Oberon decided to ask the important question. "Do we win?"
"You think I'd tell you that?"
Well, it was worth a try. Has he gotten brattier? If that's even possible - though this one probably won't pull on my hair as much...
"So indeed. Know anything about war?"
The smile he got bested Mab's at her most deranged. "Yes," he purred, "I might have picked up a trick or two through the millennia."
Yes! Oberon thought gleefully.
~Why are you so happy? War is hell, my lord.~ But he had a very sly look on his face, eyes half-lidded and lips curling smugly.
He stared down at the trickster in utter confusion.
Puck just gave him a wide, sweet smile that he recognized entirely too well. Once again, he wondered how on Avalon he wound up with a hobgoblin for a son. Oh, of course, his mother the lunatic, the one he was currently trying to kill. Amazing how dealing with your children from ten thousand years into the future made you forget about little things like that.
"Oh, by the way, I brought some friends home to join the party. Hope you don't mind."
Oh-ho, did you now? Allies? "Friends?"
Dark lashes drooped prettily as he gave the prince a nasty glare. "Mortals. Touch them and die a horribly painful screaming death at the hands of your maker."
He despised strangers. Still, he was hardly in a place to complain, given the slight pout that curved the Puck's lips, not to mention the devilish look in his eyes. Such a pleasant Child, all sweetness and light.
Oberon grinned. This would prove to be most interesting. Even if there were intruders on his mother's - the Children's island.
* * *
David Xanatos did not like waiting. He wasn't used to waiting.
"Odds he's talking to the overgrown smurf?" he questioned off-handedly.
"Enormous, David dear. Enormous."
Waiting for someone he hated was even worse, yet here he stood, scowling out at the camp and grumbling under his breath about fey royalty. He glanced at his wife, realized he'd married into the fey royalty, and grumbled interesting ideas to himself about just what Oberon could stick where and when.
Fox was watching the fey closely, analyzing their behavior as much as she could. As far as she could tell, it was completely random. Joy.
"Isn't it though?"
To her credit, she didn't jump at the unexpected comment, though it came from beside her, where no one had been standing for the past half hour. David tilted his head to see past her. "Oh. It's you."
"Who else here speaks English? C'mon, time for you to meet big daddy Oberon."
Oh, how fun. Xanatos scowled. He sniffed, straightened, and held the fabric back gallantly to allow his wife to sweep into the tent in grand form. "After you, my dear."
* * *
The court was becoming restless. The Lady watched her followers with the lazy patience of a predator in her element. Privately, several of her children thought of her as a spider in a golden web. A poisonous one.
"You realize," she commented to the child at her feet, "That there are intruders on this isle?"
He blinked overlarge blue eyes in her direction. "Were you speaking to me, gramma?"
She wrinkled her perfect nose. "Certainly. I trust you." Delicate fingertips stroked his pale face. "Don't you trust me?" Her voice had gone beyond ice, and everyone in the court froze in place.
"Mmmhmm." He hugged his knees to his chest and stared out over the great hall. "You're nice."
Her pretty face hardened, voice dropping to a snarl. "Nicer than your papa."
"Papa?" He turned and tugged on the spiderweb silk of her gown, his voice rising. "Is papa here?"
"No," she snapped. He retreated, and silence fell like a shroud onto the gathering.
* * *
Oh no, not another acid trip. He thought in dread, staring at the gleaming blue light illuminating the shadowy interior of the tent. The corners were velvet-deep, piled high with things he couldn't see and didn't want to. For the first time in his life, David Xanatos could confess that he felt little interest in whatever magical objects might be lying around.
Then his gaze wandered towards where his wife was staring. He felt his eyes widen to roughly the size of dinner plates.
Remember. Fainting bad, consciousness good. Holy shit. Holy shit. That's creepy. Holy shit. Holy shit. This is way too freaky, even for me.
Fox's thoughts were remarkably similar to her husband's. Oh. My. God.
* * *
He squeaked as he was snatched off the step at her feet. Ocean-dark hair fell over her sapphire eyes as she tilted her head. A few curious heads turned in his direction, and he could feel their gazes bore into the navy silk on his back. He hated the court, hated it with an intense, burning passion that he could never express.
~You know, intruders are evil.~
He frowned, confused. There wasn't anyone he didn't know here.
~You know, you have a brother.~
"Lots," he said, glancing back, puzzled, at the other Children. They all stared back, resplendent in their finery, beautiful faces expressionless.
She smiled coldly. ~No, you have a brother. An intruder. Evil. But very pretty.~
He bit his lip. "Oh. Him." He knew him, even if the other courtesans didn't. They were stupid like that, he knew, for his little brother was... "Why?"
When she smiled like that, he could see her fangs. ~Because. Your papa wanted him. Not like you.~
Aliel blinked, startled.
* * *
With some slight difficulty, he managed to stop gaping. It didn't stop him from casting a quick, incredulous glance at the Puck, who only shrugged in return.
He would have fidgeted under the somewhat disgusted yet penetrating glare that the prince leveled in his direction, but fidgeting was something that David Xanatos Did Not Do. Instead, he returned it. Damned if he would freak out in front of Oberon, of all people.
But hell, if anything else could surprise me today...
It wasn't that he looked that different. Tall, slender, wearing what was obviously armor, heavy boots, a cape, his head tilted slightly as he regarded them with unconcealed hostility. His brows were furrowed slightly, arms folded elegantly, entire demeanor aloof.
It wasn't that any of that was creepy. Not even the unruly snow-white braid that tumbled over his shoulder and wound up somewhere near his knees was that freaky.
But the posture, the tilt of the head, the expression, and gleam of the eyes; those he recognized. How could he not?
His best friend wore them often enough.
* * *
Fox felt a bit disconcerted. The Oberon that she Did Not Like At All was dangerously attractive, almost frightening. His carriage only re-enforced the remote, commanding image. Now he looked kinda... cute. Rather like that violet-eyed boy in that cartoon Lexington adored, the one with the big robots. And he wasn't near as haughty as he would grow to be, despite the reserved stance. In fact... she risked a quick glance to the side. Oh yes, quite easy to see the resemblance now. She half-wondered why she hadn't realized it before.
Then she caught a glimpse of Puck, eyes narrowed, lips thinned, utterly beautiful and deadly, casting a cool look her way.
Oh. He didn't want us to realize it.
Just like I didn't realize who he was. Or, she thought with a frown, or about my mother.
* * *
Oberon said something in that soft, strange language. The reply was quick and most likely sarcastic, judging by the rolled eyes and elaborate weaving motion of long fingers that accompanied it. Oberon raised an eyebrow, and Puck chuckled, low and crystalline.
David had always wondered why Puck didn't laugh. Evidently it was to prevent those around him from becoming tipsy. His mind buzzed pleasantly, a rosy flush suffused his wife's face, and a soft smile curved the prince's lips.
Damn, he thought dazedly, he should bottle that stuff.
* * *
Within the safety of Titania's grasp, Puck looked up suddenly, startled.
"What is it?" she questioned, loosening her grip. He slipped out of her arms like water, tilting his head curiously as he regarded the heavy drapery that made up the walls.
"Thought I heard..." he mumbled, frowning, "'m not sure."
She idly plucked up a shimmering comb and ran it through her hair. "What? Is Oberon done with the warriors?"
His distraction was a far cry from his usual intensity. "Think so, but...can't you feel that?"
She tugged on a tangle. "Feel what?"
He bit his lip. "...s'me."
Titania stared at him. Even if he was still a boy, he was the most confusing of all the Children.
"What do you mean?"
"I dunno." A wide, wicked grin spread across his cherubic face.
"Puck..." she began warningly, flipping a lock of hair over her shoulder.
But he was already through the door.
Titania sighed and continued brushing her hair.
* * *
Fox barely suppressed a delighted squeal.
He, himself, merely gaped. Then he shut his jaw and smirked. "That's you? You're just darling."
David Xanatos found himself being whacked upside the head by his very annoyed best friend. The one that was standing, er, hovering, next to him, not the one that was currently attached to Oberon's chest and babbling a mile a minute in that peculiar silvery tongue.
The prince merely stared at the boy bemusedly, though he was sprawled out on the ground and seemingly unmindful of his visitors. Some things had to be universal, even hyperactive magical children with the tendency to run into their fathers and knock them over. A silver-topped blur had come flying through the door and landed dead center on the prince's chest. Unsurprisingly, Oberon landed square on his back on the middle of the floor. Something as familiar and sweet as Alex's smile, a position he found himself in almost daily.
It made him miss his son terribly.
The boy finished off on a singsong note, light and sweetly expectant. Oberon chuckled and tapped him under his tiny chin. Then he leapt easily to his feet, tossing the boy up in the air, where he remained lounging comfortably on nothing.
He's so tiny! Xanatos marveled. Then he glanced at the fully grown version that was giving him a look of death. Then again, he's five foot zilch.
In some vague corner of his mind, he realized that at one point in his very long life, Puck had to have been a child, not just a Child. He just hadn't given any thought to it. Facing the actuality of it was enough to give him a headache. He'd have to be blind not to notice how... well... disconcertingly pretty the Puck was, but hadn't thought that as a child he'd be gorgeous.
His hair was shorter and slightly wavy, falling just to his shoulders. He was very small, chubby-cheeked, and his ears poked haphazardly from the ivory mess of his hair. His eyes were very large, brilliant and slanted in his delicate face. At a guess, he was barely four or five.
He was cuter than hell. Xanatos glanced at his wife, who looked tempted to snatch him out of the air and cuddle him.
As it turned out, his mother-in-law did that.
* * *
Golden fire exploded in midair, a not uncommon occurrence these days. A shining talisman fell from the inferno, dropping lightly into a rather delicate hand.
Titania traced the familiar outlines of the Phoenix Gate with a fingertip, suddenly drowning in deliberately erased memories.
...light darkness gold black stars rushing water a child a red gold girl warm summer nights green/purple pure blue trembling earth screaming stars toppling in exhaustion singing in exultation amazed wonder fear love worry hate death fighting crying running hurry their baby! mother too late gold under starlight...
A deep sigh sounded behind her. Oberon leaned heavily on the wall of the castle, a deep frown marring his perfect features, and she knew he remembered. For the first time in centuries, he looked tired, his eyes blank and drained.
He lifted a slightly trembling hand out, grasping hers tightly. She clutched his hand tighter. Had they been of mortal stock, the scrape of her nails would have drawn blood. She brushed against his mind, lighter than the touch of a butterfly's wing, and felt his welcome.
...bright eyes a dazzling smile colder than ice death heaviness fault to blame mother so many so much perfection flawed diamonds falling from the sky plunging into the raging ocean their baby! red gold black deep forest amethyst deeper than night against crackling emerald flashing obliterated...
~An unfortunate occurance,~ he whispered, and she knew his guilt as her own.
She blinked dizzily several times before regaining her equilibrium. ~We didn't know...~
~A fair excuse, but unnecessary.~
~What good are excuses, my lord? We know better...~
Oberon closed his eyes and sighed. She wrapped both arms around him, rested her chin on his shoulder, and sighed. It was always high summer on Avalon, but the night suddenly seemed much colder.
* * *
- Avalon, the past -
The queen had shouted at them all. Two casualties and a Child who would never shapeshift again, and others who were trying to disentangle themselves from the clinging grasps of the trees.
And all because of an innocent question, a soft hesitant inquiry as to the nature of their plans. That was the worst part, they all knew, for she was more volatile and violent than any of their kind, high strung to start with.
"All of mine children! Those whom I have raised! Traitors, every one! What thinkest thou of this, my dear stupid boy? Think that I am no mother? Think that because of an insolent brat and his worthless lover," she spat the word as though it were vulgar, "Thinkest thou I am no mother?" Her voice raised to a shriek, and the island responded, sudden winds blasting down the corridors and screaming through the windows.
Her Children were sent flying again, tumbling along like gauzy seagulls trapped in a hurricane. The silver chairs shattered, spilling across the polished stones, while the tapestries shredded to streamers of jewel silk. Heavy, carved doors splintered and fell smoking beneath the onslaught.
Aliel huddled in his corner, drew his knees up to his chest, and fought hard not to cry.
* * *
The winds bore down on the island, slashing at the waters, ripping through the forests and slicing down the valley. In the camp, a sudden hush went unheard beneath the shriek of the winds.
* * *
The walls were rippling. No, they were waving, and the sudden cold tore through his body, leaving him aching and empty. His hair flew free, stinging in his face as he swore and the words went with the wind. Fox, her eyes panicked and huge, lunged towards him, and he could only be grateful as she managed to knock them both to the floor. He clutched to her warmth, blinking the tears away, trying to catch a breath and failing miserably.
A pale green something - Titania? - raced through the flapping doorway, darting over to catch a small silver blur in her arms and leaping forward. She jumped easily over the upturned table, the wind lending her speed, and flung herself at another blurry shape.
God, it was cold.
Fox's fingers dug into his jacket, and he held onto her tighter as the gale grew stronger. It felt like the flesh was being peeled off of his bones with a butter knife. He choked, tried to breathe, to cough, to do anything. Futile. Fox shivered. He buried his face against her neck, wound his fingers in her thick hair, and silently begged whatever deity there might be for the chance to see his son again.
* * *
She had left in a great swirling cloud of ice that burned, coating everything in the room.
Alone in the darkness, Aliel sobbed. His tears, pure fresh dew, froze the instant they left his eyes. He scrubbed vainly at the ice on his lashes with a frostbitten hand.
In the death still silence, he pressed his face into his arms, uncaring of the ice that slowly slid up his body.
* * *
The cold...warmth touched it, drew back, touched again, feather light but insistent, and she clung to it desperately.
When she forced her eyes open, she saw white. Death-ice-cold? No, her mind whispered, warmth. Soft, pretty, almost silvery. It rippled, and then two sky blue eyes latched onto hers. She stared, startled - how clear, how bright, how very strange they were...
And then a delicate fingertip brushed against her forehead, and her vision cleared.
The winds were still whipping through the room, though not nearly as strong. David still hung onto her, his expression faintly horrified, while Puck sat in front of them both, looking unusually concerned.
And there was her mother. Her mother, her impossibly beautiful and regal mother, long pink hair drifting over Oberon's arms, clinging as tightly to him as David held her. Her mother, so unlike Anastasia Renard, wrapped in the arms of someone who was not her father, her mother with her head tilted up, lips pressed thin, her hands firmly around his waist.
Her mother. Oh God, it was.
How could Anastasia be anything like this creature, this slender, beautiful girl dressed for battle, her skin a soft green, her eyes just as bright, who pressed her forehead against her now-husband's, seeming to speak without words to him as the winds softened still more.
Momma? she whispered silently.
How could this girl be Titania, the sly, mysterious queen? How could Titania be Anastasia?
Her head tilted just slightly, and clear, endless eyes flitted in her direction. She held what little breath she had - don't you know me? - but the girl looked away, her mouth curving, following her husband's gaze. And there, right between them, a small, light creature, wrapped in two pairs of arms, his face pressed against Oberon's chest.
...and sometimes when she was still very small she got scared of the dark, and ran to her parents, leaped between them, curled up in their arms and the nightmares that hid in the shadows ran away, scared off by her daddy and frightened by her mommy...but later on mommy left, and daddy got quiet, and sad, and they told her they'd be with her separately, and she'd screamed and shouted and swore she would never trust them to save her ever again...
For the second time in a day, she felt like crying.
And Puck's smile was heartbreakingly bittersweet as he reached over and pushed back her hair, sending a wave of shivery tingles down her spine.
You know, don't you? You know...
He brushed a hand against her husband's arm, and she watched David straighten, his dark eyes widening. She could feel his shiver against her skin, realized she was not alone in her reaction.
The wind finally stilled, and she realized with a start that it was warm again.
The tent looked much the worse for wear, she knew she looked a mess, and the camp probably wasn't much better.
But the air smelled of spring and autumn and spice and tasted like a summer storm.
Like her mother had, one sleepy heat drenched summer night, flowers in her hair, strange jewelry at her throat as she'd shooed her daughter off to bed. And when early early morning came, she woke up, peered outside her window, and saw her laughing beneath the trees, a young man at her feet. She'd raced down the stairs, burst into the yard, and tumbled to a stop at her mother's side. The light drifted slowly through the trees, a lovely melting gold that caught on the young man's earrings, and danced off the gold around his neck. Her mother had laughed and kissed her hair, and the boy had leaned over and tucked a delicate purple blossom behind her ear. She'd giggled and blushed, embarrassed and pleased, and his eyes had sparkled like jewels. Her mother had said something, and he grinned, wide and a little bit frightening, kissing her cheek before grabbing his flute and racing away, his long hair flying behind him as he leaped over the fence and was gone. Her mother had swept her up in her arms, told her it was a secret, that she must never tell. She'd promised in return for the boy's name. Robin, she'd said softly, tucking her daughter back into the bed, sweet Robin. And she'd fallen back asleep, thinking of the honeyed breath that had brushed against her ear, and the delicious, wild smell that had lingered on her mother and the boy.
David rested his chin on her shoulder, wrapping both arms around her. She nuzzled against him, though the cold had gone.
And Puck just gave her a lazy look, almost sleepily smug.
* * *
~So who are you?~
And the child and the Child exchanged a single, brilliant, devilish smile.
* * *
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