Bag of Old Bones
by Alethia Autumn/ Catwings 1026
DISCLAIMER: Not my characters, not my books, no offense intended to Derek Landy or his representatives. I'm just passing time until the next book comes out… please read and respond; it's been ages since I wrote fanfic, and I may be rusty.
This is a vignette, rather than a fully plotted story - an elaborated scene. I was surprised to find that so many SP fans 'ship Tanith and Ghastly, and even more surprised to find that it made perfect sense to me as well. So I decided to marry them off. This vignette would follow the wedding of Ghastly and Tanith, where (naturally) Valkyrie and Skulduggery would have taken the roles of maid of honor and best man, respectively; it begins as the reception ends. It is set some years in the future, with Valkyrie between twenty and twenty one years of age.
They had seen the bride and groom off, hurling fireballs skyward in farewell, then assumed the role of host and hostess, ushering the remaining guests to the cloakroom, to the door, calling the cab for the surprisingly few who required such service. Valkyrie made a quick detour to change from her gown to street clothing - and while part of her sighed with relief at the liberation from such feminine attire, another quieter, somewhat wistful part pored over her most recent memories, and wished they could continue for some time. The ceremony, the obligatory dancing that Skulduggery had objected vehemently to, but conceded under Ghastly's best puppy-dog eyes, the laughter...
The most decided lack of anyone trying to kill her, or those closest to her. Well, it was nice - for a change.
And finally they were alone, the door of the hall closing behind them, the night springtime-quiet all around but for the distant sounds of traffic on the highway.
"I'll take you home," Skulduggery said, and Valkyrie, still immersed in her thoughts, failed entirely to note that it would be decidedly rude of him not to, as he had brought her in the first place.
They did not speak much on that long ride back to the estate, though it was a happy, tired silence as the Bently purred along. Once or twice she thought she glimpsed Skulduggery glancing at her speculatively as she rested her head back and watched the countryside roll by. The third time, she caught him at it.
"What?" she said, quirking an eyebrow.
"What, what?" he replied, invisibly quirking the eyebrow he did not have.
"I'd hit you, but I'm too tired - and you'd probably enjoy it." She heard him snort good-naturedly, and turned her full attention on him. More softly, she asked, "What are you thinking?" A pause. "And don't say, 'Lots of clever little things.'"
"I am, but I wasn't going to say so. I was, however, pondering making a relatively pointless comment about how pleasant the evening was, simply to break the silence." His voice, too, went unaccustomedly soft. "And I suppose I was just thinking about a certain eleven year old girl I used to know. And how much things have changed."
"Just so you know, sounding that much like my father really wierds me out."
"What, you don't regard me as a benevolent father figure anymore?" That was her cue to snort, and he feigned a long-suffering sigh. "Assuming, of course, that you ever did."
"Assuming being the key word."
"Of course." Another lapse into silence, the scenery rolling past in darkness. "I'm sure it was more a brotherly regard, at any rate. I'm not THAT old."
"You're four hundred years old! And I never had a brother, so I don't think I'd know how to regard you in a brotherly way. If you're talking about how it was when I was, like, twelve... I don't know, maybe more like..."
"Mentor. Advisor. Hero, perhaps?"
"You're really full of yourself sometimes." But she smiled at him fondly. "No... more like... best friend."
"I was your best friend?" He sounded faintly amused. "And you never once invited me over for cookies and tea. I'm hurt." Then, more gently, "And flattered. It's been some time since I've been told I was anyone's best friend."
"You still are." She was blushing, though she didn't know why, and she turned her face to the window again. They were crossing the bridge over the river, moonlight silver sparkles on the water. She knew she shouldn't ask, shouldn't have to ask, but... "Am I... ?"
"My best friend? No, that would be Ghastly. I thought you knew that. Best man, and all." He slowed the Bentley to turn down her lane. Valkyrie's face burned, and her eyes prickled.
What did you expect? her mind snapped at her, angry at her body's response. Shouldn't have told him, shouldn't have asked, you know he never takes anything like this seriously.. But the casual response, the very matter-of-factness of it, stung nonetheless. She didn't know whether to feel hurt, or angry, or both - and if angry, should she be angry at herself, or at him?
It was the dancing, she thought bitterly. *The dancing, and the dress, and just seeing everyone... seeing him... happy, for once. And being together, and not having anything leaping out of the shadows or hurling death... It had been a false security, perhaps... a false sense of closeness, of intimacy. What HAD she expected, after all? Something, she'd thought... the way he'd held her as they waltzed, the way he'd been glancing at her, just now.
Snap out of it, her mind commanded, aiming a mental kick at her heart. Princess fantasies and knights in shining armor are for fairy tales, best friends are for children in a schoolyard, and a wedding is just a wedding, a ceremony. He's your partner. He's your friend... even if he's not your BEST friend. Or you're not his, anyway.
Skulduggery pulled the car into the broad driveway and stilled the motor. They did not speak for a long moment, did not move. Silence filled the gap between them.
"My given name is Lorcan." He said it suddenly but softly, as though trying not to break the stillness. When she did not reply, he continued. "You never asked, though I half expected you to. Dreaded it, really. But you never did, and quite frankly, I thought better of you for it. In our world... only one's family knows the given name of a person, particularly after a child is old enough to take a name of his own. Family, or those who become family, by marriage... or by choice." He coughed slightly, looked away. "Or, perhaps, by sheer stubborn perseverance in the face of all discouragement."
"Lorcan." She tried the name, wondering at how odd it felt on the tongue. Then, the import of his words, what they meant, worked their way through her consciousness. She turned to him, and found that he had placed his full attention to her, waiting for her response. "And... only your family knows... knew..."
"Knew." He glanced away, as if studying the architecture of Gordon's house… her house. His tone was distant. "Serpine murdered the last … official … family I had. And since that time, there has not been a single living person who knows my given name."
"Not even Ghastly?" That would be hard to believe. But Skulduggery was already shaking his head.
"Not even Ghastly. Like you, he never asked... though for him, it was courtesy, not a lack of curiosity."
"I was curious!" The words were absurdly touched with apology. "I just... well, it never seemed to be the right time to ask. And I thought you wouldn't tell me, even if I did."
"As well I wouldn't have," he agreed amiably. "You don't entrust a child with something like that, even if the name itself is sealed against misuse. But tonight... maybe it's just sentiment. At a certain point, I looked at you, and realized that you're not that terribly annoying twelve year old girl you once were."
"You're sounding like my father again."
"Sorry. Your father called you a terribly annoying twelve year old girl?" She ignored him, folded her arms across her chest, walling him away.
"So you told me because you decided I'm old enough to know," she concluded. She fixed her gaze on the streetlamp's glow, on the early moths looping about the bulb. The words were sour on her lips... it wasn't like Skulduggery to patronize, and quite frankly, she resented it. It was a lousy way for him to change the subject, anyway.
It took a moment for Skulduggery to reply.
"For a beautiful, intelligent young woman, you can be remarkably dense sometimes. I told you because you, Stephanie, are all the family I have on this world... you." He had not spoken her given name in... how long was it? Seven years? Eight? More? It sounded odd now... but he said it gently, each syllable a caress, and she realized the intimacy the choice of names implied. "Which makes you something more than a best friend, I think."
The odd tone in his voice, the unfamiliar hesitancy between each word, stirred a warmth within her, beginning in the pit of her stomach but spreading rapidly, washing over her skin and settling in her bones. She tingled all over, a feeling not unpleasant, but it robbed her of her voice. She tried to speak, to trot out the witty reply, to bring the conversation back to the familiar banter... but there was that word. Familiar. Like family. She had never noted that before, but now...
"Though honestly, I have to wonder what it says about me, that I place my only family in life-or-death situations on nearly a daily basis." His voice had gone wry, its tone false, and sounded a bit strained. He, too, was trying to rein in the conversation, turn its head to a lighter path before it ran away with both of them.
Failed quite miserably, in fact.
"It's not much of a compliment, perhaps... but as we seemed to be indulging in honesty..." he said gruffly. "Oh, hell. I'd be a poor sort of best friend, anyway, as you know all too well. I'm a bag of old bones, held together with wit and sarcasm and particularly good suits. Fairly miserable, however, at heart-to-heart chats."
That jarred her out of the warmth. Was he sounding regretful? Was he wishing he hadn't told her? Impulsively, she reached out, taking his hand. Her throat was tight, but she forced the words, and they came out in a half-tone somewhere between piteous and petulant.
"But... you're MY bag of old bones."
It happened before she could form a cognizant thought, before she could consider the consequences. She leaned in and kissed him - lips pressing cheekbone, her free hand cupping the jawbone on the opposite side so that he could not pull away. But he did not try, however startled he might have been. She was the one to pull back, embarrassment burning to the surface of her skin in a tangible heat, dropping her gaze. She'd meant it to be a simple gesture of affection, a quick peck, nothing more... but it had been too long for that, too awkward...
When she raised her eyes once more, she realized that they were still merely inches apart... that one hand still held his, that the other lingered at his jaw. When she tried to drop the raised hand, made a move away, his fingers tightened, twining with hers. He inclined his head gently, slowly, so that their foreheads brushed, then connected. She leaned into him, closing her eyes, felt his hand move to her own cheek, fingers tentative, gingerly caressing her in gesture that mirrored her own. Why did that make her tremble?
"You're MY bag of old bones," she repeated, her whisper fierce this time. And don't you forget it, her heart added for good measure, silencing her mind, singing the silent posessive: mine, mine, mine, MINE...
"Yes." His voice was softer, gentler than she'd ever heard it, layered with warmth, tenderness, and something deeper, something unspoken. "Yes... I suppose I am."
**** The name Lorcan means "silent" or "fierce" and was probably used as a nickname for a "brave warrior." Sometimes equated with Laurence, Lorcan is a name in its own right. (Source: Baby Names of Ireland)