Author's Note: Well, it's been nine months since the original ended, but I'm finally getting to start the sequel to Legal Matter. Legal Matter will always be a very special story to me so I am both excited and terrified to be continuing it. I regret to say that unlike Legal Matter, From Now On will not be written on a schedule. Between school and working on my novel there's just not as much of me to go around as there used to be. But I'll try to update as regularly as I can.
To new readers, welcome! I'm sure this story will make much more sense if you check out Legal Matter first. To readers of Legal Matter, welcome back! I hope you'll enjoy this new story.
Legal Matter: From Now On
"You think I'm crazy, I can see,
It's you for you and me for me.
That's the way it's got to be,
From now on."
~"From Now On" by Supertramp
Chapter 1. Morally Reprehensible Bedding.
…And they said it wouldn't last.
Well, actually they said it shouldn't last. But more often than not, they just wanted to know how the hell it had all happened in the first place.
There was talk of unholy seductions by night. There was talk of two beings trapped in the middle of a war that was bigger than both of them. There was talk of eyes meeting across a crowded room on some enchanted evening. There was talk of irony. There was talk of karma. But what it all really came down to was a mistaken minister and a language barrier.
Yes, a mutual desire to see a certain magic book was all it took to join Filia, former dragon priestess, and Xellos, monster and all-around bad dude, in the bonds of wedded bliss (minus the bliss). Well, it didn't take long for the dragons to find out and they were righteously enraged. After all, a dragon can't go around marrying the creature whose claim to fame is dragon slaying. Not if they're a good dragon… or a sane dragon for that matter. So, they noisily, with a great deal of fuss and indignation, ordered that Filia be killed for her crime. The monsters weren't far behind. After all… …Xellos did what? Seriously, that Xellos? …Okay, if you say so. So they quietly, with some confusion but a resolution to follow orders, set forth to eh… kill Xellos.
Naturally, since Xellos and Filia still harbored ambitions to extricate themselves from their mistaken vows, the unfortunate newlyweds were forced to stick together; battling against their assassins side by side as they tried to fix their situation and to not get in any more trouble than they were already in. That plan went up like a lead balloon when, through a series of circumstances that Filia would blusteringly describe as 'extenuating' but refuse to go into further detail about, they consummated the marriage.
Deals were struck, deals were struck down; intense battles were fought and much of Seyruun's great hall had been left in disrepair. Xellos and Filia consummated their marriage for a second time, perhaps just in case the first one didn't take. Their allies found out about them and debilitating embarrassment followed. In the end, they parted from the great adventure with their matrimony intact and the prices on their heads lifted. Filia was excommunicated from her entire species after the dragons realized that they weren't going to get the blood justice that they felt they so richly deserved. Xellos escaped more or less unscathed by agreeing to spy on Filia, though his subsequent reports on the subject mostly involved pottery.
And maybe it would've all gone back to approaching-normal if Xellos hadn't come back; if he hadn't kept coming back.
Filia sat on the swing on her front porch watching as the last throes of sunlight colored the horizon orange and pink. The thaw had long since passed, but there were still enough traces of winter in the air that proclaimed 'I'll be back' to keep Filia's hands wrapped around her mug of tea.
The thing about Xellos was that he was… unexpected. He might show up for a few weeks or a few days or three minutes, and the same could be said about his absences. And he didn't use the front door. Why would he? He could just pop into existence whenever and wherever he wanted to, usually when Filia was carrying something heavy and breakable. Given that, it seemed pretty unlikely that he'd be walking down the street the next time he showed up. So in that case there was no way that Filia could be waiting for him.
And anyway, why would she wait for him? Whenever he was around he caused problems! 'Shenanigans' if you wanted to be light-hearted about it and 'calamities' if you wanted to be honest about it. Although, perhaps she was being unfair. After all, it could be worse; at least her house hadn't blown up yet.
…It had, however, been filled with toxic fumes and had to be evacuated and aired out. She didn't know how he'd managed to create a miasma from the innocent ingredients in her cupboard, but dammit: he found a way. It was probably her fault for thinking he could boil water without causing a catastrophe.
And while working in her shop with him around didn't involve quite as much broken pottery as she'd expected, she still had to contend with his long-running agenda to goad her into looking like a psychopath in front of her neighbors. Oddly enough, this never caused her to lose customers. In fact, there were always people milling around in her shop waiting for a free show. In a town with no stage productions or public hangings, watching Filia half-transform and chase her husband around with a mace was as near to theatre as most of them were going to get. While they waited, they figured they might as well pick up that nice looking vase. It would be a lovely gift for mom. As for moving the maces, well… her customers actually got to see their use demonstrated.
What was really unfair was that in the relatively short time since they'd been married it seemed like everyone in town liked him better and would always take his side. Oh, that poor Xellos has to contend with Filia's nasty temper.
Xellos had once told her, cheerfully as you please, of a time when she'd been busy getting Val out of a jar he'd gotten stuck in (that was another story that was Xellos fault, but one thing at a time…). Filia had, of course, been out of her mind with worry trying to get Val out… and save the jar if at all possible. Gravos had been helping her and Jillas was left to man (eh… fox) the cash register. Xellos just watched the whole thing with that smile like he was watching something mildly enjoyable. Of course, he'd been the one to suggest to Val that the jar in question 'might be a really good hiding place' so he should've been the one getting him out, but, surprise of surprises, that didn't seem like it was going to happen.
Old Mrs. Pripps was browsing the shelves that day for a vase to keep her teeth in at night, when she approached Xellos and tapped him on the shoulder. "Psst," she'd said.
"I don't mean to make trouble or pry where I'm not wanted," the town's second biggest gossip had begun, "but… have you noticed that your… son there… doesn't really bare much resemblance to you?"
"Oh, uh…" Xellos had responded, too surprised for any of his usual comebacks. "I suppose now that you mention it, he—"
"Completely different hair color," Mrs. Pripps said in a vindicated tone as she nodded. "First thing I noticed. Something's amiss there, I said." She'd patted him on the hand. "Poor thing."
Xellos had smirked when he'd told Filia about this. Smirked. So according to the townsfolk, she was the rampaging adulteress with a hair-trigger temper while he was the saintly, patient husband raising another man's son? How was that even remotely fair? He was the monster in this equation! Just because Mrs. Pripps couldn't understand the concept of a blended family was no reason for her reputation to be tarnished!
Miss that? Ha! He's trouble incarnate and barely does any work when he's around. And now he's been gone for nearly two months without so much as a word. That's hardly a husband at all!
…Except that… he was. It was still awkward to think it because their marriage had come about in such a strange way. Neither of them had decided from the beginning; neither of them had asked. In fact, if one of them had asked, the answer probably would've been: 'Have you completely lost your mind?' They hadn't picked marriage… they'd just sort of fallen into it. But they were married. Husband and wife legitimately. Filia still had her copy of the marriage certificate in the bottom drawer along with the letter from the temple declaring her an anathema. She was pretty sure Xellos had kept his too. It wouldn't surprise her if he'd even gotten the thing translated. He was disgusting detail-oriented that way. And they… did things that married people do…
And that was another thing that got whispered about by anyone who lived through the scandal. The dragon elders had been absolutely shocked that such a thing could've happened. There weren't even real laws against it. It was something so terrible that no one thought they'd needed a law. So the council of elders reacted to the incident in the only way they knew how.
They made a new law.
Oh, and that wasn't all. Since they were convinced, as elders often are, that this was all the result of a corrupt youth, they launched massive educational programs into temple training. Yes, hundreds of young dragons would now be lectured on why they shouldn't make the same mistakes that that awful Filia Ul Copt had made. 'She was once a priestess. Yes, this abomination was once part of the sacred clergy that you now seek to join. Do not stray as she strayed! Do not fall to the depraved temptations of the darkness and sinful sheets!'
Of course, the problem straight away was that it was likely that none of these young dragons would have even considered the possibility of falling to depraved temptations/sinful sheets if they hadn't been told straight out not to. Bedding up with a monster is not at the top of a priestess-in-training's list of secret desires; in fact, it's not even on the list. But forbidding things is dangerous….
And, personally, Filia thought the whole 'sinful sheets' thing was very melodramatic. It was true, however, that horrible noises could be heard from their bedroom occasionally. But according to Jillas, whose job it was to light the candles in the halls every night, the horrible noises usually went something like this:
"When did you get these pillows?"
"Last week. Why? Don't you like them?"
"…They have kittens on them, Filia."
"What's wrong with kittens?"
"If you think adorability excuses arrogance, then there's nothing wrong with kittens. But why must everything you buy have kittens on it?"
"I like kittens."
"Yes, but the decorative plates, handkerchiefs, and more tea cups then we probably need—"
"That's only three things."
"But we don't even have a kitten."
"Maybe we will when Val gets a little older!"
"What I'm saying is that there should be a limit."
"Well, if it bothers you so much then maybe you should try to be home more often so you can be part of bedding purchasing decisions!"
"You should've waited and consulted me first. After all, Filia: I am the man of the house."
Snort. "Oh please. In terms of actual helpfulness and contributing to the household, Gravos is more the man of the house than you."
"…We shall see."
But at this point, Jillas would always stuff his ears with wax, hum very loudly, and run as fast as his feet would carry him—not stopping until he reached the other side of the house, leaving the question of the sinful sheets more or less unanswered.
But no matter how much minor mischief he caused when he was around, or what the townsfolk thought of her, or the freak-outs from the Golden Dragons, or the moral quality of their sheets, Filia couldn't help but admit that it all… more or less worked. Her life had plenty of discord but… it had almost become play. It was alright… it was mostly alright. It was probably more alright than her situation had any right to be.
She had her health and… a family of sorts. Xellos had worked his way into it as though he belonged there. Val was in awe of him of course. And though the little ancient dragon had more or less accepted that Xellos wasn't really his father (Thank you, Mrs. Pripps), he still seemed to, well… benefit from having a father-figure. Even if that father figure had to be Xellos.
As for Filia herself, well, that worked too, strangely enough. Sure, the two of them had the kind of dysfunction that in another time and another place would've had them in front of a studio audience throwing chairs at each other; sure, she never would've expected Xellos of all people to be her companion, but well… he was.
And it was only at times like this when he was gone for so long that Filia realized just how fragile their domestic situation was; that something that at times started to feel normal (at least for her) was only the result of bizarre circumstance, a great deal of diplomatic balance, and the elegant art of leaving things unsaid.
Forget an 'I love you', neither of them had ever even admitted that they wanted to stay married to each other. Filia had made the rather questionable claim that, while she was ready to bypass the 'so forbidden we didn't even think we had to forbid it' marrying a monster thing, she was dead against breaking the 'no divorce' rule. Xellos had shrugged and said that a divorce wouldn't change the past.
Who knew? Maybe one day he just wouldn't come back. Perhaps eventually the novelty would just wear off for him, or maybe the tide of the monster race's politics would change. More than their union could be put in danger if the latter was the case.
It all just made her very uneasy…
"Lovely night, isn't it?"
After getting snuck up on repeatedly, Filia was learning to modulate her reactions. For example, she no longer screamed, jumped three feet into the air with her tail sticking out, and dropped what she was holding whenever Xellos made one of his surprise visits. The thin china of her teacup chimed against its saucer as her hand shook.
She knew he'd be there next to her, but she didn't turn to look yet. "It's still a bit too cold if you ask me," she said evenly, once she'd regained internal balance.
"Really?" Xellos said with a frown. He reclined back against the cushion (which didn't have any kittens emblazoned on it, since you asked). "Then I have to wonder why you'd be out here, gazing over the horizon as though hoping someone would gallantly appear over it."
Filia bit her lip and cursed mentally. "It's a pretty sunset, that's all," she said with a determined swig of her tea, which had gone disappointingly cold.
"It is," Xellos agreed. "One you could easily see from your window."
Filia glowered over at him, resting on the other side of her porch swing looking utterly at home. Well, she wasn't going to let him win a coded argument. He couldn't win logically if he actually spelled out what he was thinking. She shouldn't let him get away with this kind of thing. "If you think I'm not telling the truth, then what nefarious motive do you think I have for sitting on my front porch in slightly chilly weather?" she demanded.
"Hardly nefarious," Xellos said dismissively, and this was someone who knew nefarious. "I merely thought you might be waiting for me."
"You?" Filia asked, in a way that she hoped made the very idea sound ludicrous. "Not likely. And even if I was," she went on, moving towards her logical out, "why would I wait out here for you? You just pop up wherever you want to. Case in point!" she finished, gesturing to him on the porch.
"True," Xellos admitted, wagging a finger at her, "but you've always had a rather ridiculous romantic streak."
Filia had no real counterargument for this. So she just crossed her arms and fixed him with the most piercing look she could concoct. "Where have you been all this time?" she asked.
Xellos shrugged. "Do you really want to know?"
Filia froze for a moment. Put it that way, she probably didn't, but he'd never before even hinted at the possibility of giving her a straight answer. "…Would you tell me if I said yes?" she asked carefully.
"Then just forget it."
They sat in silence for awhile. The pinkish hues of the sun were fading to darkness, and already Filia could make out a few twilight stars in the gloom. She knew all their names; she'd been taught when she was training up as a priestess. She had to wonder if nowadays the astronomy program had been cut to allocate funds for the 'For the love of all that is holy don't marry a demon' seminar.
"Are you just popping in?" she finally asked. "Or will you be sticking around for awhile?"
Filia grimaced. Xellos should've understood better than anyone the uncertain nature of their relationship and the fact that if the status quo was disturbed that they might not have a relationship to be uncertain about anymore. Apparently feeding his ego took a higher priority.
"Val will be really disappointed if he finds out you were here and didn't stay to see him."
Xellos leaned forward and rested his chin against one hand as though giving the matter some thought. "Unless something major happens, I should be mostly here until the end of the month."
Ah, 'mostly here'. That was a state she often found Xellos in. Even when he stayed with her for weeks at a time, he'd still occasionally disappear for hours on some dark and unspecified errand. Filia happened to know that most wives wouldn't tolerate such behavior, so how did she manage to get a reputation as a shrew? It was probably the 'trying to crush his skull' thing.
"I see," she said noncommittally.
The porch swing let out a creak as the once balanced weight on the seat was redistributed to one side.
"So how about it, Filia?" Xellos asked, leaning over her. "Did you miss me?"
To his intense delight, she blushed. After all this time she still blushed. Maybe this whole thing would get old the minute she stopped blushing. Though… put it another way… that might be when things got more interesting than ever…
She set down her tea cup and did not look him in the eyes. He wasn't going to abandon this line of questioning, she knew. "Sort of," she decided on.
Xellos raised an eyebrow. "Sort of?" he repeated.
"I think I missed you, but then again, I always think I miss you," she clarified. "But then after you're here for awhile I realize that you're nothing but trouble and I never missed you and I can't wait for you to leave."
"Then… I should leave?" Xellos asked, eyeing her with the same perplexed expression.
Filia opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. She looked away and said, "…But then I'd think I miss you again."
"Hmmm," Xellos hummed thoughtfully. "Then I suppose I will have to stay awhile, if only to keep you from deluding yourself."
"Yes," Filia breathed.
He leaned in closer until his lips were almost touching hers, but then pulled back. "Aren't you going to ask whether or not I missed you?" he asked, sounding would-be wounded.
"No," Filia said firmly.
"Because the only reason you want me to ask is so you can try to hurt my feelings by saying you didn't," Filia said guardedly.
Xellos looked taken aback. "You really think so?" he asked. "You never know, you might be surprised."
She kissed him almost exasperatedly. "I don't want any more surprises."
…Because I already depend on things I shouldn't depend on…