* * *
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer:  Don't own most of them.  Don't sue me.  Just having fun.

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- Chapter Five -


Cobweb summoned her power and flung it protectively around them both, wincing as the overwhelming torrent of wind-water-energy battered against it.

Aliel's face had gone completely white, but he made not a sound.  Even if he had, it would have been inaudible beneath the crash of waves and crackle of destructive magic that swept mercilessly against the soap bubble fragility of her shield.

Roar, light, crash.

They ran as though pursued by all the legions of hell.

* * *

Flashes of emerald and orange still flared beneath the boiling ocean.

They stood untouched by the chaos, long hair streaming behind the elder like a silvery banner, a mockery of surrender, his eyes a smoldering, unforgiving green.  The child in his arms was absolutely still and quiet, his face ashen, his arms curled against his chest, sound asleep.

He tilted his head, a strange smile twisting his pretty face into something much more sinister.  "Give me your hands... if we be friends."

A delicate touch, the brush of butter-soft leather against a raging sea that settled reluctantly beneath him.

"And Robin..."

A breath of a sigh as he knelt, suspended in eternity, "shall..."

Long, slender fingers dragged slowly through the inky black ocean.

"Restore..." He raised his hand, watching the dark sapphire droplets slide languorously down his hand and return to the silent waters.

Petal-soft lips brushed delicately against the violated tears of a dead civilization.  "Amends."

The moon shone mournfully on an empty sea.

* * *

Avalon.  Home.  Soft warm breeze, caressing and welcoming, tasting of magic and goodness, tainted only by the sour flavor of the queen.  Quiet and shimmering in the moonlight, glittering here and there with armored Children, prowling the darkness of the forests and combing the mountain peaks.  Home.

She touched ground gratefully, thankfully, amazingly.  A petite royal clung to her sleeves, struck with horrified silence - Cobweb ran a shaking hand through her windblown hair and felt sick.

Aliel turned somber eyes up to her and said only, "Didn't you know?"

Cobweb said nothing.

* * *

He let the icy water slide through the child's hair, streaming like froth as he brushed away grease and dirt and injury.  Robin Goodfellow was no healer, he reminded himself as he propped the child in his lap, but to save his own life?

Puck cupped his hands, absentmindedly watching the moon shine down as he tugged here, just pushed a little there, till drops of clear silver light started to stream down his arms.  Then he tilted them above his other self and let the pure liquid splash over him.

The healing properties of moonlight worked wonderfully on mortals, but the children of the night were the only ones who could use it.

And if this little one wanted to make it home again- if he wanted to...  He would have to return to normal.  He shook his head with a little giggle.  This was so much better!

He suddenly swayed, intensely dizzy, nearly fainting, as the child in his grasp shuddered violently.  Of course, if this little one died, well then...

Life and Home.  Not much of a choice then, was there?

He closed his eyes, tried to grasp for some normalcy, and forced himself to remember who he was.

* * *

Cobweb could tell she wasn't who they had been expecting.

The prince and his princess scowled at her, and she took a nervous step back.  The two mortals were glowering at her, and the dark-haired one reserved an icy look for the little one cringing behind her leg.

"Where is he?" Titania demanded, her voice as cold as an arctic wind.

She floundered.  "I... he... well-"  Shit.

Their angry glares silenced her.  She bit her lip and folded her hands respectfully, fearing that one of them might go off on a rampage as their queen was so fond of doing.

The two conferred for a silent moment, then the prince snapped, "You are of no use to us then.  Get out of our sight."

What the hell?  "But... I... your son?"

Titania raised a disdainful eyebrow.  "Who?"

Cobweb grasped Aliel's cold hand and dragged him out in front of her.  He visibly trembled, staring up at his parents with wide-eyed awe and more than a little fear.  One small hand twisted the hem of his cloak anxiously.

The parents, in turn, looked coolly down at him.  "And what of it?"  Oberon asked levelly.  "Why should he be allowed to stay with us?"

What of it?  He's your child!  "Well... he... I mean... what happened was... we found him... well, I did, that other guy..." She repressed a shudder with difficulty.  Like fucking hell that guy was a servant.

The bright-haired human snorted and said something to her mate.  He answered lowly, his angry eyes narrowing unpleasantly in her direction.

Aliel slipped back, cringing against her.  ~Why are we here?~ he questioned nervously, watching his parents with trepidation.

She shrugged helplessly.  ~Your parents are.~

He glanced up, his confusion clear in his eyes. ~But... grandmother says...~

Cobweb frowned deeply. ~She's lying.~

Their conversation was interrupted by the strange look that spread across the prince's face.  Without a word he darted from the tent and into the night, his wife and those little beings at his heels.

Cobweb picked Aliel up uneasily and followed.

* * *

Oberon knew as soon as he felt it that something was wrong.  And when he raced into the forest and saw it...

The Puck stood unsteadily, his blue eyes cloudy, pale as starlight, something clutched in a death grip against his chest.  His lips twisted in a strange expression when his gaze fell onto the prince.  "Hi," he said dazedly, tilting his head in greeting, his long hair slapping wetly silver against his crimson shirt.

The two mortals darted forward almost as fast as the prince. The boy turned a bleary gaze up at Oberon, blinking drowsily. "I'm not having a good day," he murmured softly.

"Where were you?"

He smiled then, soft and pleasant but wrong somehow. Then he pushed the bundle in his arms against the prince's chest and collapsed.

The two humans yelped in surprise and caught him between them, fussing and muttering darkly to one another. Their anxious chatter faded when they saw the expression on Oberon's face.

His child lay limp in his arms, cold as ice, pale as moonlight, still and silent and shivering, his arms tucked protectively against his chest, the pale skin on his hands a sharp contrast to the twisted and melted flesh of his once-delicate wrists.

My baby!

He gritted his teeth, seething. ~Mother...~

Mab laughed at him.

* * *

Splish splash.

She giggled.

Pretty city was gone, funny little critters were gone, and all because of a little grown-up trickster with a penchant for destruction.  Beautiful - she'd known he would be marvelous.

"How much shall he help you, dear one?" she questioned to her empty throne room, the sound reverberating strangely through the hall. "How much can he help you when he's made for so much more?"

She really should have kept him to herself, but that didn't matter now.  It might take millennia, but eventually the child would fight his master - and if not win, at least be free.  And what would he do then?

Mab kicked her feet and giggled again, just like a little girl.

* * *

They had fussed and worried and cursed his mother roundly several times over, but it was obvious that was all they could do.

The elder Puck was quite soundly asleep, his two companions hovering constantly at his side.

The younger was also asleep, his eyes squinched shut, nose scrunched, looking very unhappy.  He gave little yelps of pain when Titania touched his mangled wrists, her voice low and melodic as she caressed and spun her magic, careful to set the balm without causing him to wake.  He kept trying to burrow back against Oberon's chest, away from her feathery touch.

For his part, the boy who would be king held his child tightly, almost as though he feared he might slip away.  So much of his strength had been drained away that it was all he could do to bolster it.  Fortunate, then, that Puck had accepted it - or rather, seized it with a desperation not often found in one so young.  With that first contact, the boy had instantly begun pulling at the energy Oberon gave freely, almost dragging it out of the prince's control.

Titania sat back with a sigh, brushing her hair away from her face with a tired hand.  "He should be all right now," she murmured, regarding her handiwork with a critical eye.

"You should rest, love," he said, casting a halfhearted smile in her direction.

She smiled back at him and took her leave, padding silently into the other room.  He stared after her for a moment, considering.  Is it worth all this?

Titania peeked her head out from behind the thick velvet, her ruby lips curved into a sly grin.  She winked alluringly, her sky-blue eyes glinting with mischief.  And then she was gone again.

Oh.  Yes.

Oberon sighed somewhat dreamily and turned his attention back to his son.

The little face scrunched, and he wiggled.  Oberon loosened his hold, letting the child squirm.  One tiny hand came up to rub at a thickly-lashed eye.  "Papa?" he whispered drowsily.

~Shh, my little one.  Just hush,~ he murmured in reply, tugging the tangles out of his rumpled clothing.

Puck bit his lip.  ~But..!~

~Shh.  You need to sleep now.~

He pouted.  ~But...~

~Sleep now,~ the prince admonished, leaning down to rest his head against his child's.  ~We'll talk in the morning.~

His little boy smiled sleepily and cuddled into his chest, nodding off to sleep instantly.  He reached down and tweaked his nose, watching as the boy snorted and giggled.  Soft, crystal-chimes, delicate and sweet.

~You lose, mother,~ he Sent smugly.  ~He's mine.~

Her reply was swift.  ~That's what you think, my dear child.~

* * *

Those pain-filled little whimpers were the worst thing ever to happen to him.  What good was being royalty if he couldn't even give his son a night's peaceful rest?

"It lets you cheat, lie, and steal, all while being highly respected by the populace.  Hmm.  Scratch that last bit."

Oberon looked up to meet the bright eyes and smirking grin of the eldest Child on the island.

"Yo," he greeted, raising a hand in a lazy wave.

Oberon raised an eyebrow.

Puck popped out of existance only to reappear at his side and pluck himself out of the prince's arms.  He closed his eyes for a long moment, rocking the child against his chest, a worry line puckering his forehead.  After a moment, he leaned back, staring down at himself with a blank expression on his face.

"A dream, nothing more.  Not important.  He'll have nightmares for the rest of his life, that's all," Puck whispered, long fingers trailing down his other self's tiny cheek.

He gave a halfhearted chuckle, soft and spine-chilling.  "And did you know..." he continued, his head bowed, "That no matter how hard we try, no matter what we do, no matter how much we fight it," his eyes closed in silent pain, "We can't escape it, because it's who we are."

Oberon opened his mouth to speak, but found himself incapable of it.  The boy's face held such an expression of incomprehensible sadness that it hurt to watch.

The little one was quiet again, his features twisted in anguish, but silent.  The Child sighed, softer than a summer breeze, and handed the boy back.  Oberon tucked him protectively against his chest, sending a questioning look to the trickster.

"He's your son," he said quietly.

He looked down at the soft silvery hair, the thick lashes, the unhappy twist of the mouth, then back up into solemn blue eyes that were a mirror of his own.  And you aren't?  "Can you do nothing for him?"

"How could I?  His nightmares are mine."

The prince frowned, troubled.  "You still have them?"

The Puck looked away, his pensive gaze falling upon the two mortals curled up together in the corner.  "How could I not?  I know what I did."

He cradled his son closer as the boy stirred restlessly.  His heir, his little prince - barely tall enough to reach his waist, so easily carried, so easily tossed over his shoulder... "No."  Not this little one, the one he'd thought he could protect.  How could his mother mar such an innocent thing?  For the love of Avalon, he was naught but a baby...

The smile Puck gave him was sad.  "It's got nothing to do with you.  Really."

Except he knew the boy's existence was due only to-  "My mother..."

Irritation flashed in those blue eyes. "Do you think you caused this?"

Oberon looked away.  Why else?

"If this hadn't happened, things would be no better.  They would be worse," Puck continued, his annoyance clear and bright in his words.

"How can you know?  You were but a babe when we left."  And despite that he was an adult, despite that at this age he was older than Oberon himself - despite all that he still seemed a child.

Puck linked his fingers and rested his chin thoughtfully on them.  "I remember enough," he countered coolly.

This from he who protested he could recall almost nothing.  "Do you?" Oberon questioned icily. What was is hiding?

"My lord," he sighed, "Isn't the fact that I'm here enough?"

He looked down at his baby and didn't reply.  Silence reigned for several long moments, until -

"Arrgh!  Stop oozing angst.  It's contagious, and I don't want my mortals infected."

Oberon looked up sharply and gaped.

Puck stuck out his tongue, reached over, tugged on his braid, and said only, "Cheer up!" before backflipping neatly away and landing on a pile of cushions, instantly asleep.

He stared over at the strange creature in bemusement, before addressing the smaller in his arms, "You know, little one, sometimes I wonder about you."

Puck mumbled something incoherent and snuggled deeper into his father's embrace. Oberon smiled fondly, ruffling his hair for good measure, boosting the power of the cocoon of healing magic around the boy.

Mab had tainted him.  Somehow, it didn't come as a surprise.  Never accept gifts from the fair folk, the mortals whispered, and they were right.  Never trust anyone.  He winced in pain.  Not even your own mother.

Oberon cast a concerned glance over at the elder.  Quiet, still, almost fragile in appearance, an exhausted breeze that had once been a whirlwind.

He's still my son, he thought fiercely, No matter what he does, he's still my child.

* * *

"Y.. you called, my lady?"

The Queen lifted her head slowly, delicate fingers pulling her long hair into a thick braid.  "I did," she said evenly.

"What is your desire?"

"Rally the troops."

"My lady, our forces-"

"All who still live shall do battle."

"Of... course, my queen.  But why?"

Mab tied off the braid with a flourish and stepped forward, sliding off her throne like liquid.  "Because," she said simply, "We advance at dawn.  Mine child will not expect us then."

"My lady?" he gasped.

Gossamer sandals crossed the blank stone, melting into high boots as they went.

"Dost thou question me?" she hissed sharply.

He straightened.  "No, my lady."

Her fangs flashed in a razor-sharp smile.  "Good."

* * *

Fox Xanatos stirred uneasily in her sleep.

She dreamed of fire and light and darkness and a little boy with eyes that shone like diamonds.

* * *

Cobweb rocked Aliel to sleep, perched high in a thickly flowering tree.

He'd kept asking why his parents didn't want to see him.  What could she say?  So she hadn't said anything.  He had cried for a very long time.

She shivered as a cool breeze swept down the mountain and tried to think of nothing.

* * *

They were asleep.

She tiptoed out, past her dozing husband and his child, and crossed the room to crouch at the side of her stepson's companions.

Shyly, almost hesitantly, she reached out a hand to caress the thick red-gold hair of the woman.  She stirred in her sleep, then setted back down again, curling against her mate.

Titania swallowed uneasily, reluctant to leave the mortal woman, though she didn't know why.  She almost thought - but no.  That was absurd.  It was unheard of.  And she loved Oberon.  She did.  It was not possible for her suspicions to be correct... was it?

She frowned, troubled.  It was going to be an uncomfortable night, and for some inexplicable reason, she dreaded the dawn.

* * *


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