400 Years Ago

Julius can hear the sounds of the crowds, only slightly muffled by the wooden door between him and the parade. He turned back to his wife.

"I'm sorry, Mapel. Almost everyone's on duty today; everyone Underground organises an illegal jaunt Above for Beltide night. We need the entire force just to keep the fairies under control."

"You said almost everyone."

"Only those who were on for the last shift yesterday are exempt. Otherwise…" Julius spread his hands in submission.

"You said that you had applied for the day off."

"Yes, along with every other fairy on the force."

"You have seniority, you should have gotten preference."

"No one got preference. No one got the day off at all. We've gotten a few threats lately and they point towards some kind of rebellion or terrorist action that might take place today. You can go to Tamarind and Brice's place for the party by yourself. All your friends and family will be there, you won't even notice the fact that I'm not there. Execpt when the meat turns out to be properly cooked."

Julius grinned at his wife.

She didn't grin back.

"I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do."

"The Beltide parades were Sally's favourite."

Julius' bit his lip. "I know. I remember.  Don't pretend that I don't, because I do.  Don't think that I'm not grieving, because I am.  Don't think that I want to be in there, keeping the faux peace, when things are just all so Al'ahgei messed up!  And, frankly, you don't let me stay.  You don't let me keep Sally close, or even let her go, because I have to be here, the strong one, staying normal, for D'Arvit's sake.  Because you are the center of the world.  You can't give her up, so how can I do anything?  I'm here, for you.  I can't be off in the land of fairy-tale grieving for a hundred years, because I have to be here to make sure you put your shoes on the right feet."

Maple said nothing; there were tears in her eyes.

"You could pretend that this world is real once in a while, Maple, you could pretend that you know where the ground is, that you know it will always be there, under your feet.  Know that I'll always be here for you.  That would help me.  And it would help you.  You need to go on, join your old friends for a day out.  You need to come back here, back to me, Maple.  Sally can't come back, you can.  I can, I can be the man you married.  I'm sure I can be him again, although he seems a long way off."

"Things have changed, Julius.  We can't go back to that.  You talk about reality, but this is the reality.  The us of then in gone.  Us is gone, Julius."

Julius sighed.  "No, we aren't.  See that.  Please."

"You don't understand.  You never did!  Go, go off on your little patrols, pretending you are doing something for the good of the city ect. ect. blahblahbullshit!"

She slammed their bedroom door behind her.  Julius pulled his hat onto his head.  It felt the same as it always did.  It smelt the same as it had yesterday.  It made him just another copper, another idiot with a badge and a power trip.

While directing a crowd of youngsters away from the area where fireworks were set up, he saw Maple across the street.  She was walking fast, her arms barely swinging.  A heavy suitcase, the tag swinging of it that still proclaimed the destination of their honeymoon, weighed her down.

Julius sank to the hard cold street, tears streaming down his face.

One of the young fairies asked him what was wrong, but there was no answer.  The others pulled her away.

Now

"You know that too, don't you, Simon? You know that moments and lives are fleeting things, and you never know when someone's life might end. Abruptly. Unfairly. I know that. Oh, God, do I know that?" Root drew in a shuddering breath, sucking the air from the room hoping that it would give him courage. It didn't. He opened his mouth to say something more but the words wouldn't come and he took a swig from the whiskey bottle instead.

"I know that. Of course I know that! We all know that. For everyone, it's somewhere within them, the knowledge, deep down at least. It's a criteria of mother's everywhere to say 'always wear clean underwear because you never know when you might be hit by a troll'? And you think I don't know that from experience, Root?" Simon spat out the name, not respecting his friend or his mourning anymore. "You sit there in your nice, big chair and act like you're the injured martyr. You're not, Julius! You're not the only one! Don't ever think that you're the only one! I've been closer to death, more often and more recently. Don't act like this with me, Julius! Don't. Please. I don't want to hate you but…"

Root glanced down at his desk and felt twinges of guilt stream through his body, tugging at the nerves and heightening the senses. "I… I'm sorry, Si. I'm sorry. It's just… Sometimes it all seems to be so out of control. And there's the irony right there. I've spent my entire life trying to keep things controlled, keep them stable and safe – for myself and for others. I never wanted to be anything other than a policeman. Never. That was my dream. To be The Plucky Officer that Saved the Day that were the major characters in my childhood stories. There was nothing in my childhood but stories, really. Stories of happiness and righteousness and feasts every second day. I guess it was like that for most of the kids, though. We lived off fiction because there wasn't enough food to go round."

"It wasn't the best time to be born. There were the few of us on the hill with rich feasts and social superiority, but they were scared as well. And they were – we were - even more scared. They were scared that people would rise up against them – which they did. I'm going to specifically ask to not be born into a revolution next incarnation. And I'm going to ask to not go bald. And to have a better nose. And to be an inch or so taller. That's my dream."

Root snorted out a pathetic, ironical laugh. "Believing in reincarnation? How very pagan of you, Simon."

"Well, it works for me right now. Another life would be good since this one seems to be dragging itself along at a snail's pace. There are good bits, don't get me wrong, there are bloody fantastic bits – but the stress of those years does get me down sometimes."

"I'm tired too… Always tired. It takes me half an hour to get out of bed now, because I'm just scared of what the day will bring, the stresses that shall take over for the next 10 hours."

"I know. But we shouldn't. You were right - we do take life for granted because of the time which we are given. But that doesn't mean that we can't make more of our lives, that everyone does this. Do you know anyone like that? Any of those awe-inspiring people who do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it? And don't give a damn if the entire universe is saying they can't. Do you? Because if you do, watch them. And even if you can't learn anything, you can have a hell of a time observing their living."

"Holly. She's like that. Captain Holly Short." Root's tone was slightly mocking, but not as self-degrading as it had been only a minute ago. "She does that all the time. Everyday. You tell her she can't do something, and she does it. Even if you've got pages and pages of why she shouldn't be able to do it. If any of the Council could comprehend the idea of a female in a higher position of power, I'd be out on the pavement singing until people payed me to stop."

"You sound like you respect her. As if you even like her. I thought you were immune to emotions such as that. Should I be worried about finding revealing pictures of her hidden somewhere in this very office?"

Root coughed, half laughing. "I'm old enough to be her grandfather! But I do respect her. It's almost impossible to know Holly and not respect her – if only for the admirable way she handles Chix Verbil. And yes, I do like her. She's hard to like, but she's harder to hate. It's not in her personality to be likable, but she's got such confidence – most of the time anyway – that I just wish I was like her. It's admiration. You can't help feeling that she's a better person than you are, and always will be. Anyfairy would. And… well, she's saved my life more than once. More than once a year since she's been here, actually. I couldn't hate her if I tried. Even if I had a reason to.

"She's saved my life. And she… Isn't that an irony, Simon?"