A Slayers Fanfiction
By Amber S./ "AmberPalette"
(Five years after the end of "The Slayers TRY")
It is late and dark and quiet in the Outerworld. In this farthest region of the farthest corner of the Red World, a cobblestone path meanders down to a cottage. The residence rests at the edge of a fishing village. It is a humble dwelling. Yet a floral forest cocoons this home. Lavender, roses, hydrangea, lilies, daffodils, pansies, peonies, ferns, and an ocean of ivy crawl up the cottage and its nearby pottery barn and kiln, rendering the walls themselves teemingly alive. This verdant house lies facing a field of tall grass that leads to the sea.
A single light glows in a single bedroom window, on the second floor. Two voices, one sly and raspy and male, one indignant and clear and female, harmonize just above the hum of the breeze.
It is a kind of spoken lullaby to their child, a little boy of four or five.
The child knows it.
For Val is used to the sound of his adoptive mother teasing or softly quibbling with her long-time boyfriend. That boyfriend is a shadowy, enigmatic person who takes human form but who claims to be a thing called a "mazoku." A thing that eats bad feelings and lives in shadows. But Val just knows this creature as his favorite playmate, and the person most integral to his daily life next to his mother.
And so, to Val, their two voices are the most comforting and consistent sound in the world: that of his mother, and the man he longs to call his father.
Their banter slows to the occasional playful snip.
Gradually they both turn to Val and tuck him in.
Mom calls dad a moron. Or, if in a particularly foul humor, mom calls dad "rotting garbage."
Dad calls mom "predictable" while dimming Val's lights.
Mom glares while fluffing Val's pillows.
Dad giggles in a slightly off-kilter way, and does something like tickling mom under the arms or kissing her on the nose, or calling her hair "fresh daffodil blossoms."
Mom blushes and forgives dad for saying something irritating or rude a few minutes earlier.
Dad pulls Val's covers up over him, halfway up, just as Val likes it. Dad grins at Val.
Dad usually keeps his eyes closed, for some reason.
But when Val looks at dad the way he is looking at him right now, dad always opens his eyes and looks directly into Val. Not at him—INTO him. Dad has eyes like a cat's, with slit diamond pupils. His irises are a hot, pale purple. Val thinks dad's eyes are neat. "She's not really mad at me," dad reassures Val, ruffling Val's hair. He does not look away until Val smiles back, and nods.
Mom sings Val a lullaby. Mom is a little tone deaf on the high notes, but it's the most wonderful singing in the world, because it is sweet and pure, even when she hits a sour note. It is nurturing and it makes Val feel warm.
Sometimes, if dad has not already gone to bed, if dad is still doing things like putting away toys Val might trip and get hurt on, dad joins in singing. Dad has a voice that flirts and lilts, and winks. Dad has a voice like a person who is ancient with seeing and knowing many things. Exhausting things, and wonderful things too. A raspy, soft, arresting, dark tenor, and a little tired, like the song of a very old and very wise bird. The sound of experience and yet, for all that experience, of dedication to one person. Protectiveness of one person. Protectiveness of Val.
Oh, Val wishes he could call this man dad, for real.
Well….maybe he'll ask. Maybe soon.
Tonight is like many nights that Val can recollect.
Mom kisses Val on each cheek, twice, on each eyelid, once, and on the nose, once. It is custom. Val's toes curl, his ears droop, and he smiles sleepily up at mom.
Ordinarily, dad has already left the room by now.
But on some nights, as tonight, dad also kisses Val goodnight—once, on the forehead.
Val jolts from his sleepy trance. No. He really hates this.
A feeling like his stomach is sinking into his intestines. Being left behind. Val remembers his biological parents in dreams. He remembers how they died. Falling from the sky that was jeweled with black and gold. Long sharp things through their ebony scaled and feathered stomachs. A stomach dropping into intestines. Lots of red.
Pain tastes like red cinnamon sticks…Val remembers… it's a good dessert…
No. Val hates this. Dad is the one who understands why pain tastes like cinnamon sticks. Dad is a mazoku. Dad is the one Val tells…dad is the one that doesn't get scared or uncomfortable when Val says this stuff. Dad eats pain too. Who can Val tell when he dreams about pain and cinnamon sticks and red and guilt?
Fear tastes like almonds. It fills you up fast. Val remembers. Val won't eat almonds anymore.
"You're leaving in the morning," he murmurs, resentfully, at dad's back. "You're leaving me."
Mom gasps. Both mom and dad stop midstep and turn.
Dad looks, for the first time in Val's recollection, troubled. Rustled. Caught in the act. "How did you know that, Val?" he asks, mustering gentle amusement. He is smiling—but Val knows that doesn't really mean much. Dad always smiles, no matter what he is feeling. Val looks to dad's eyes when dad tries to deflect and deceive with that stupid smile. Val sees strain and concern in the purple cat eyes. Good. Dad deserves to worry, if he's going to leave Val behind. Dad deserves to hurt if he leaves Val behind!
Val loves dad. He misses him.
Hurt tastes like lime juice. Loneliness tastes like peppermint. Val remembers.
Mom has her hand on dad's arm. She looks terribly torn.
"You always kiss me goodnight when you leave the next day." Val glares mutinously at his dragon-covered quilt pillows. He feels like crying. His face is hot.
"I do, don't I?" Dad doesn't argue or belittle. Dad never talks down to Val. This makes dad very hard to understand sometimes, but Val would rather ask lots of questions than be talked down to. After all, dad always answers every question that Val asks.
Mom is the same way.
Val loves mom and dad for that.
But right now, Val is so mad at dad. So mad.
Anger tastes like meat that's been charcoal-broiled too long. Val remembers.
"You'll be gone before I even get up. I hate that. I hate that stupid Zelas woman. She makes you leave me. All the time. Mommy cries. I hate that."
Peppermint and a touch of almonds. And lots of charcoal.
Dad sighs, hands on hips. He takes a pensive stance, gazing at the floor. His legs in his green silk pajamas with XM embroidered on the breast pocket swish apart. He looks ready to do verbal battle. But then he glides over to Val.
Dad always looks so confident and graceful when he walks. He reminds Val of a panther on a high tree branch, or a wolf on a rocky ledge. It always looks perfect when he walks next to mom, because mom stomps around so fiercely. They look right together, they're so different.
More peppermint. Val hates candy canes. At Christmas, he never eats a single one.
Dad squats on his knees next to Val's head. "What if I kissed you goodnight every night? Would you like it better then?"
Val shrugs. His vision is blurry and his cheeks feel wet.
"Val, I leave because I have to. Because if I don't do my job, I won't be allowed to see you and your mom anymore. Normally, someone like me isn't allowed to be friends with people like dragons. Heh. Actually, most dragons don't like me at all."
Val always gets the feeling, when dad says stuff like this, that there are many things dad has done and seen that Val has never been told. Some of those things might even be a little scary and bad, but Val knows dad is protecting him from those things right now.
Dad keeps talking. Dad has a funny voice, it's nasal and husky. It always makes Val feel better, though, for some reason. "Try to see it logically. Isn't it better for me to go away a little while than forever?"
"I just miss you," Val squeezes out through trembling lips and clenched teeth. "Last time I had a nightmare about the big bad bogey lady with red hair under my bed, you went and got me warm milk and stuff. And you chased her off with a flashlight. What am I gonna do if she comes back tomorrow night and you aren't here?"
"I know, buddy, I know." Dad turns to mom then. "Could we have a minute?"
Mom purses her lips, but she nods. She steps out of the room reluctantly, but leaves the door open.
Dad opens a palm. A little pulsing red light glows, and grows. It becomes a soft coral colored orb of light. "Nothing in the whoooole universe," dad explains quietly, wriggling his fingers to nurture forth the twinkling magic, "scares off red-headed sorceresses who eat too much and swear a lot and cast Dragon Slaves, better than a night light."
Val is transfixed. "Really?"
"Yep." Dad bends down under the bed and places the night light there. "So now, whenever I have to go away for a few days, you can use your night light to scare off the bogey lady."
Val waits for dad to come back up from under the bed before he leaps up and hugs dad around the neck. Dad has cobwebs and dust bunnies in his silky purple hair from the space under the bed. Val doesn't care. "Come back. Please?"
"Xellos," Val croaks dad's name, because he is afraid to call him dad just yet.
"Are you ever gonna leave mom and me forever?"
"No." The reply is instantaneous.
"Why not? How do I know?"
"I dunno. I guess I just don't feel like doing that to you. I don't like to do things unless I feel like doing them. I do what I want to do. And I don't want to hurt you."
"You mean you love me."
Dad doesn't say anything. He looks like something is choking him back from replying, like a chain collar. But he nods. Emphatically, and twice. His eyes are calm and Val feels like they are trustworthy.
Saying "love" feels like peeling off skin like you peel off a bandaid, with a sharp knife. If you are someone who knows how anger and fear, pain and loneliness and hurt, taste, saying that word is excruciating. It is forbidden. Val remembers.
Then dad sees how Val's face crumples with troubling thoughts, and so he adds, wryly, "Anyway, I am certain that if I did leave forever, your mother would chase me down and castrate me with a rusty spork. "
There is a bubbly, abrupt giggle from just outside Val's bedroom door. It's mom.
Val blinks. "What's castrate? Why's mommy laughing?"
Dad averts his eyes and clears his throat. "Time to go to sleep, Val."
"Nuh uh! What IS it?"
Dad chuckles throatily. "Some other time. When you're older." He hovers up over Val's bed, parallel to it, arms folded. "I'll stay right here till you're asleep."
"Promise." Dad winks.
"Kay." Val rolls over on his side, towards the coral glow of his night light. His sleepy smile returns. The warmth of dad's body hovering a few feet over him, standing guard, is like a thermal blanket.
Val is asleep before mom comes back into his bedroom. He does not see how mom and dad kiss and hug and cling to each other, while mom laughs and cries at the same time into dad's shoulder, while dad whispers "shh" and calls mom's tears precious and kisses each one, and tells her to store them up and save them, and not shed so many. He does not hear dad telling mom that he meant what he said to Val.
He does not hear mom say that if anything happened to her, it is dad that she would want to take care of Val.
But that day is coming.