* * *
Shadows
by Edmondia Dantes

Disclaimer: Not mine.

* * *
- An Interlude -

He awoke in the earliest hour of dawn, eyes wide and searching. Quiet, only the faint rustle of soft breath and steady heartbeat to disturb the silence. They were there, all of them, his flame-haired wife sleeping with a furrowed brow, his best friend completely dead to the world. At least, he thought he was, but it was difficult to determine the expression on the trickster's face.

The morning air was unnaturally still, calm and expectant. David Xanatos wandered over to the opening in the tent's velvet walls and frowned into the grey-silver dawn.

Something was not right.

* * *

The girl awoke with the dawn, not out of any concious choice, but because something kept tickling in the back of her mind, itchy and abrasive and...

Cobweb shook her head sharply.

Only morning on Avalon.

A child dozed on the brach across from her, his little nose scrunched, blond bangs drifting over his cherubic face. Below, the tent of royalty, shimmering a dark sapphire in the dreamy light.

A shiver worked its way down her spine as she leapt to her feet, eyes scanning the horizon with an anxiousness she couldn't place.

Beside her, the child whimpered.

* * *

Her husband was sound asleep.

Titania bit her lip thoughtfully, considering.

Then she knelt by his side, carefully so as not to wake him, and rebraided his hair. Whenever he did it, it wound up loose and sloppy, frizzing and tumbling every which way save where it was supposed to go. He couldn't even fix it up with magic, and always balked at the thought, claiming that all attempts to fix up his hair when he was an infant had caused it to rebel. He had a little control - if he sat down and lectured it for an hour or more, it would flop down. It was the silliest thing she had ever heard.

He never lectured his hair. Instead, he let his hair run wild because his mother positively loathed it.

A minor rebellion begun at age seven.

A major rebellion begun at age seven thousand, six hundred, and two-ish.

Children.

They were children.

She tied of the braid with quick, expert fingers, noting with a smug smile that he hadn't stirred even once. A testimony to her skill, or was he just exhausted?

Titania sighed.

She never had liked mornings.

* * *

How long had it been since last he dreamed? A century, more?

Only on the rarest of occasions, to be sure - their kind needed little sleep, and he thought nothing of his past deeds when playing the part of the human Owen Burnett.

And yet now, millennia into his past, he dreamed.

His mother (was she? no, she could not be) stood before him (though standing was beneath her, instead she simply was) in a familiar blank nothingness (his playground of illusions swept bare before her) a smile on her lips (which were not hers, nor was the delicate form she wore) and she spoke (but she did not speak) to him as one would to a child (which he was but he was not).

"Where hast thou been, o weary traveler?" she asked, but there was no welcome in her tone.

He folded his arms and refused a reply, yet she only scoffed at his childish silence.

"Wherefore hast thou forsaken me?"

He muffled a sardonic snicker. "Wherefore hast thou condemned me?" he questioned in arch reply, the formal speech flowing as smoothly from his lips as if he had not abandoned it in the dust of centuries past. (Or were they yet to be?)

Her cold eyes sparkled with an arctic twinkle. "Need ye not restrain thyself. We fear thee not."

He raised an eyebrow. "Ye have not the need," he remarked blandly.

She nodded unashamedly. "Wherefore hast thou killed thy brother?" she continued, with an odd, innocent curiosity lightening the icy set of her features.

He repressed the urge to squirm. "I slew him not."

She laughed then, high-pitched and sparkling, yet the sound grated on his delicate ears. "Yet he dies by thy hand nonetheless!" she chortled merrily.

He set his jaw and looked away. I did not, he thought petulantly, but allowed no such childishness to slip through his words when he spoke. "Wherefore hast thou summoned me?" he bit out through clenched teeth.

"Thou art the last of mine children," she replied, arch amusement ringing in her dulcet tones.

His head snapped up, eyes slitting, quite unconsciously bristling. "I am not." She shook her head chidingly. "Thou art. I crafted thee with mine own hands," she said in a tone of fond nostalgia. It made his stomach twist. But he curled his lips in a sneer and spat a cold reply. "You snatched an armful of your son, gave it breath, and then tried to pacify him with your gift. I am not anything belonging to you." Her perfect sapphire eyes (an inheritance even he could not deny) narrowed in cold contemplation. "But I am thy mother."

"Thou art nothing, my lady," he drawled mockingly, "and mean less to me than that."

Her expression melted into a disconcertingly warm smile. "Why dost thou despise me so?" she asked in a tone of warm indulgence.

Oh, he had been favored once, he knew that tone. And it could go to hell for all he cared. "Perhaps because my self lies tormented because of you?"

"Mind thy insolent tongue, child."

He flicked her off, annoyed. "Mind thy actions, my lady, lest they return to bite you in the ass."

A faint hint of her massive power tickled at his senses. "Tell me child, who was it that raised you?"

The barracuda bares her teeth to smile at her children and sweetens their arsenic with sugar. He was unimpressed - another thousand threats of death or worse meant little to a trickster of any renown. But now she burned for knowledge only he could give, and he relished in that need. "Fear not, t'was one of the royal blood," he said airily. Ah, good old family snobbery. There it is, the aristocracy - aren't we an annoyingly smug little lot?

"But who?" she said, letting more venom seep through the candy coating in subtle warning.

He reflected back the angelic smile she had tossed his way a moment before. "Go to hell," he invited pleasantly, and released the power he had been crafting since the dream began.

She seemed vaguely taken aback as he hurled her violently out of his mind.

* * *

The child blinked in dazed confusion, his slumber interrupted by the faintest pressure brushing past his young mind.

~ What? ~ he questioned groggily, latching on to the most familiar energy he knew.

~ Go back to sleep, kiddo. ~

~ Who...? ~

There was a certain bleakness in his elder's tone that frightened him. ~ 'Twas her, of course. Who else could it be? ~

~ She? ...mother? ~

~ She is NOT our mother. She's... she's just... ~

~ But she made us, didn't she? ~ The question was remarkably innocent coming from himself.

~ It doesn't matter! We're nothing like her, nothing, you understand? Model yourself after Oberon for all I care, but don't ever make the mistake of thinking she did it out of love for us! ~

~ I's not that silly. ~

He let a soft, musical chuckle slip past his lips and flow into the younger boy's mind. The effect was considerably dampened when turned on itself, and so the reply came in the form of a sleepy giggle.

~ How's come it don't hurt any more? ~ the little one asked, metal voice sleepy.

~ Your papa. ~

He was asleep, so he couldn't see the elder's expression change to one of shock, nor could he see the slender hands that abruptly clapped themselves over his mouth.

I did not just think that. No fucking way did I just think that.

...aw, crap.

* * *

He awoke with a pounding headache that strongly reminded him of the hangover he'd had during the Depression.

Slender hands clamped over his mouth as he swooped past a startled David and out into the morning.

Breathe, breathe, breathe, wait, you don't have to breathe, but breathe anyway because it makes you feel better, breathe...

He flopped into the long grass, digging his fingers deeply into the earth and letting a heartfelt sigh escape his lips. Hullo, sky, he greeted silently, staring up into shifting shades of gray and honey. Pretty, of course, but...

He made a sound more appropriate for a small child than a grown man and flipped over, pounding a clenched fist against the inoffensive ground.

"Nyanti fashilta karuki daneb!" he shrieked through clenched teeth, burying his head in his arms to muffle the sound of the violent cursing.

The scent and feel of Avalon stirred slightly, sensing its child's distress - few held such a link, but he had been raised the son of a king, and even an exiled Child was still a Child in the eyes of his Home.

Was he such a child that he would stoop to this? The mortals had named him Youth...

He sank his consciousness into the conflicted not-quite-sentience of Avalon, letting it wash into him like a splash of soothing water, a flow of magic to ease an infant's wound. I'm tired, he whispered to the all-Mother that was his Home, just as a small child would tug on a parent's clothing and beseech them for aid.

Warmth wrapped snugly around him, a gentle gift bestowed upon a favored one - and still the tears did not come. They would never come - and it only made him want to weep all the more.

I'm tired and I've got an Antigone complex and I got kicked out and left all alone and I forgot how much they loved me and I'm still too crazy for my own good and I just blew up an island full of defenseless humans and I don't like wars so why am I good at them and why in the world am I here?

The answer, of course, was silence. Their Home could not understand emotion - an accusation that had fallen upon himself more than once. Perhaps it was ironic - or perhaps his sense of humor was too far gone for his own good. It would be easier, he supposed, to simply have a lengthy talk with a psychiatrist, but none could be found among his own kind, and talking to a mortal was out of the question.

There are times when I wish I were normal... he sighed, and watched the sun rise slowly into the sky.

His eyes narrowed in thoughtful concentration. Something strange was in the air.

* * *

And the troops assembled as the sun slipped into the sky, fidgeting and nervous as their goddess swept by, a terrible smile on her lips.

They looked down into the valley - brothers and sisters and lovers and strangers still drowsing in the early light.

The queen raised her arm to the sky, and they swept down into the valley, leaving emptiness in their wake.

Under it all they could hear her laughter.

* * *

Notes:
1. Oberon's psychotic hair brought to you by Nemi and Dia's insane IM conversations.
2. No, I'm not going to translate what he said. Make up something. Use your imagination!

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