Author's Note: It's here! It's here! It's finally here! The last chapter! Before I get into this I just want to say a very special thanks to all of you who read and reviewed; to all of you who read Legal Matter and followed along afterwards to this story, and to all of you who discovered that story while this sequel was being written. Thank you all so much for being part of this wonderful experience and for making this possible.
I do want to say, because people have already started asking me if I'll do another Legal Matter story continuing after this, that nothing is currently in the works but that a threequel is very possible.
With that taken care of, here's the last chapter and I hope you enjoy it!
"If I loved you, time and again I would try to say all I'd want you to know.
If I loved you, words wouldn't come in an easy way—round in circles they'd go.
Longing to tell you, but afraid and shy—I'd let my golden chances pass me by.
Soon you'd leave me—off you would go in the mist of day, never, never to know
how I loved you—if I loved you."
Chapter 12. Putting a Name to It.
The clamor in the room was muffled, his peripheral vision an inconsequential blur of business with the only clear point being Filia herself, everything in the world quieted to give prominence to the one thought that filled Xellos's world: Why?
Why when they were so close—so close to getting past this monumental event with everything that they were to each other intact did she feel the need to say that of all things? She knew how they… how they worked as well as he did. Why would she sacrifice all that just to say something that they both already knew?
A last, shuddering jolt took Filia. She clung to his hand and then the pain subsided. She lay back in bed breathing heavily. Marzipan appeared by her side with a cloth to wipe her forehead.
For goodness sakes, Xellos thought, she was in labor. Couldn't she have gone for the old stand-bys? What about 'you're the one that did this to me! Stay away! Never touch me again!'? Why did it have to be an 'I lo…'
…Well, what could she possibly expect him to have to say in answer to that? This was Filia. She wouldn't just say it and be satisfied by a flippant response—no 'I know.' She wouldn't say it unless…
…There was crying. He hadn't heard it before, though he felt it had been going on for awhile, but he heard it now.
Filia, who only a moment ago had looked like she hadn't the energy to blink, sat bolt upright in bed. "Is—?" she demanded fearfully. She only needed one word to make her case clear.
"She's fine," the voice of Mrs. Duffy broke through the haze. She was turned around with the other witches, wrapping a towel around… something.
"She?" Xellos heard himself say.
"Yes," Mrs. Duffy said, turning around with a bundle in her arm. The towel that made up the wrappings was blue because witches don't color-code gender. "She."
And without any ceremony whatsoever, Mrs. Duffy walked over to Xellos and gently but firmly placed the baby in his arms.
There was a panicked moment as Xellos hastened to more securely hold the delicate creature in his arms. Mrs. Duffy adjusted his arms to cradle the head. The crying dampened slightly. It ceased to be bawling, but didn't quite fade altogether. Xellos didn't look down at the bundle, turning all his helpless perplexion on Mrs. Duffy, but he could feel the warmth of the little living thing that had been unexpectedly dropped into his arms.
"Now," Mrs. Duffy said in a steely tone that seemed to suggest that she was waiting to finally see what he was made of. "Name her."
Xellos was too gobsmacked to speak for a moment. If the baby being passed over to him had seriously upset his balance then this request—this order knocked his mental state flat on the floor. "What?" he finally managed to say.
"Name her," Mrs. Duffy ordered again.
Xellos stared at her, then revolved, very slowly as people tend to move when they're holding something one-of-a-kind and fragile, to face Filia. He didn't say anything, but looked at her for… for something—for an answer.
Her face was flushed and she was still breathing heavily. She did not look back at him either. She wasn't avoiding his eye, she was simply focused in an inextricable way on the child in his arms. She looked at her daughter. What was in the watering of Filia's eyes? In the breath rushing in a frantic rhythm past her bottom lip? In the indentations on her forehead as her brows curved? Was it fear or longing? Despair or love?
She nodded—just once.
And Xellos knew then that this moment was no coincidence—it was rigged. It didn't matter if it had been the witches' plan or Filia's. It had been their intention from the start to do things this way. No interruption, no distance—an immediate and permanent connection between him and the child. What better way was there to say: this is your child, your little girl, your trap. He saw that moment for what it was and yet…
He tilted his head, resting his chin on his shoulder so he was looking directly at… that face. It was the only thing visible in the tightly wound cocoon of the towel. The form was human in appearance, as Sangoma had predicted. If Xellos had been thinking of it, he would've noted her energy type, and more importantly her level of power—he would've been able to look beyond the blameless, helpless, immediate creature in his arms to the rising star of war hawks of both the dragons and the monsters that had been spoken of many a times lo these past nine months. But he couldn't. He was stuck.
The face was reddened and shiny, crumpled together in one lip-puckering expression of infantile displeasure. She let out one more half-hearted little cry and then quieted—seemingly content at least that she would no longer be pushed through any more small tunnels. But she still held her eyes scrunched shut—discontent with this world so different from the warm, quiet chamber she had known all her life. The outside world was too bright, too noisy, and yet desolate without the constant reassurance of a heartbeat close to her.
She smacked her lips together as she tuckered herself out into a relative calm. She lolled her head around in the cradle of Xellos's arm and managed to work herself just free enough from her tight wrappings to curl the teensiest, tiniest fingers Xellos had ever seen around the edge of the towel.
And as Xellos looked down at her, for the first time in his long and varied existence, he felt completely and utterly beaten.
When he spoke next it was as though his voice came from far away. "…Filia," he said. It was the only thing he could think to say.
Filia… the little one, that is, was much more satisfied some time later after she'd been fed, washed and put to rest in her crib. She didn't seem much bothered by the fact that the crib in question was nothing more than a wicker basket previously intended for displaying fruit with the addition of a cushion and a blanket. She was blinking sleepily, but Xellos could tell, as he watched her, that part of her wanted to stay awake. She reached out to grasp any hand that meandered toward her reach. Xellos had been unaware up until this point that babies had kung-fu grip. She was also cycling her almost brutally adorable little baby-feet in the air—enjoying the freedom of space that the world outside the womb provided. Her activity slowed though as the events of the day took their toll. She blinked like a drunken kitten and then seemed to fall asleep.
Her eyes… well, Filia… the big one, that is, said that the baby had his eyes. He wasn't about to argue. She mostly looked like her namesake from what he could see. There was that familiar bone-structure, the elfin ears, and even a few thin wisps of blonde air. But there were traces of him there. Certainly in the eyes, the nose, and maybe a little in the brows. Form… what a funny thing it was. Here was a child who seemed to be everything but human, appearing in a human form simply because she had been born to someone taking a human form—because human form was an option for her and a fairly simple and useful one at that. She'd have a dragon form, obviously, and surely something beyond that, but for now… change would require effort. It always did.
"Filia," Xellos said softly so as not to wake the sleeping baby, "how are you feeling?"
Filia, the one that was somewhat larger than the nineteen inches of no-holds-barred cuteness one, sat up in the bed she'd been resting in. "Which one are you talking to?" she asked.
Xellos broke his gaze away from the child and back to his wife. "You," he said.
Filia didn't answer his question. She was frowning, not in displeasure but in thought. "This could get confusing," she said, crawling across the bed to get a better look at her child, asleep in the basket at the foot of the bed. "I never thought of myself as the kind of person who'd name their child after themself," she said thoughtfully. She inevitably leveled her gaze back up to Xellos, confusion creasing her forehead.
"Why did you…?"
"It was the only thing I could think of," answered Xellos, who'd been expecting this question and knew he wouldn't have a satisfactory response when it was asked.
Filia looked at him quietly for a moment. She wasn't about to fault him for not being able to think of anything but her. She turned back to her daughter, adjusting her blanket so it better covered her. "Why don't we call her Lia for short," she suggested gently.
Xellos looked at the little girl in the crib who was now and forever 'Lia.' He nodded.
Xellos sat on the edge of the bed, keeping one eye over his shoulder where Lia slept. "Her energy… you recognize it don't you?" he asked.
Filia nodded. "I suppose it makes sense."
Fusion magic… it did make sense. In a strange way, Lia herself was fusion magic.
"It's a very unstable sort of power," Xellos commented. "Who can say what sort of use she'll put it to?"
"It's kind of…" Filia began, trying to describe the way she'd always thought of the power, "a neutralizing force."
Xellos smiled wryly. "It's certainly an argument ender."
"Then let's hope she ends arguments instead of adding to them," Filia answered firmly.
"Someone to keep both the peacekeepers and the warkeepers at bay?" Xellos asked. "I'm afraid that's easier said than done."
Filia shrugged. "Most things are. That doesn't mean it's not worth reaching for."
Xellos couldn't argue that. "I suppose you're right…" He remembered the moment he'd held Filia's hand… that moment just before Lia was born… what she'd said to him. "Most things are," he repeated to himself. "But some things," he said more loudly, "are much easier done than said."
Filia looked up at him and fell back into the exact same moment. "I think I know what you mean," she said.
"Personally," Xellos said in a high-minded voice, "I think some things are better left unsaid."
All traces of empathy were wiped off Filia's face by the downward sweep of angry eyebrows. "That's just an excuse," she retorted.
"Oh, but Filia, haven't you heard?" Xellos asked innocently. "'Actions speak louder than words.'"
Filia simmered slightly. "That is true. However," she added, crossing her arms, "I don't think it's too much to ask to have both."
"Don't you?" Xellos asked. "It seems to me that you're asking for quite a lot."
Filia could see that Xellos wanted to negotiate and she was having none of it. "That's the only way I'm going to get a lot," she answered.
"Or nothing at all," Xellos reminded her. "Are you really willing to gamble what we already have on what's really nothing more than a formality? Aren't you satisfied with what we have?"
"Satisfied?" Filia exclaimed incredulously, remembering only at the last minute to keep her voice down in the presence of her sleeping daughter. He just… he couldn't honestly believe that something as significant as confessing one's feelings was just a formality! "Look," she said, lowering her voice dangerously, "I meant what I said to you before and I really meant it. You know that. I don't see why you're acting like if we look too hard at what we have together it'll all fall apart. I think we can be better than that."
"How very like a dragon to demand everything she wants," Xellos commented, but his heart really wasn't in it.
Filia wasn't about to fall for such an obvious deflection. "That's weak and you know it," she told him.
"I do know it," Xellos was forced to admit with a grimace. "But you must understand, Filia, that even I have limitations."
"I know that," Filia came back. "And I'm not asking you to do anything outside your limitations. I'm just asking you to lay all your cards on the table for once."
"Oh, and are you sure you really want me to, Filia?" Xellos asked with a grim and threatening smile. "What if you find out that I've been bluffing this whole time?"
Filia sucked in a breath. "At least I'd know."
"Would you?" Xellos challenged. "I thought even a failed dragon priestess would know better than to trust a monster's word. Come now, Filia, you'd always have doubts no matter what I said."
There were tears welling up in Filia's eyes, but the chances of her crumpling into a sobbing fit were significantly lower than the chances of her getting physically violent. "You know what, Xellos? You're the one who thinks he can demand everything he wants! You want me to stay with you, you even want me to love you, but you don't want to admit it or even hear me admit it! And why? Because you're not supposed to? That's a lie and you know it. We wouldn't be here today if you couldn't get away with something like that." She pointed a shaky finger at him, though he was looking away from her. "You think you can just shrug all this off and pull your 'that is a secret' line—that stupid mystique you think you have, but it's just your excuse for opting out whenever things get difficult just like you always do, you miserable, miserable coward!"
A shriek made up the exclamation point of Filia's tirade, but it wasn't from her. The volume of the exchange had gotten too loud for Lia and she made her dissatisfaction at being woken up known. Filia drew in furious, gasping breaths while Xellos looked off in another direction and quietly gnashed his teeth.
"For heaven's sake, Xellos," Filia said when she caught her breath. "You have a daughter now. Are you telling me that you're honestly going to refuse to even tell your little girl that her daddy loves her?"
For just a moment Filia felt almost sorry that she'd gone there. It was a knife-point that had driven deeper than she'd thought it would and she could see that in the way his face froze. But that moment passed.
"Xellos," she breathed with a note of finality in her voice, "do you love us?"
Xellos cupped his hand around his jaw and dragged it down the length of his chin. With his other hand he reached out for the basket and gripped the edge of it, rocking it back and forth until Lia's sobbing calmed. He opened his eyes and looked at Filia. With his hand still covering his mouth he bobbed his head at her once.
He lowered his hand and lowered his eyes. "Yes."
It became clear after a few days' time that the witches were as anxious to relieve themselves of their guests as Xellos and Filia were to leave. They'd done their job and they'd done it well—but it was finished and they were no longer as willing to oblige themselves to a demon (not that they'd ever been that obliging to begin with). Filia wanted to get Lia home too—she knew Val, Jillas, and Gravos would be worried about them, and would, besides that, want to see the latest addition to their family. Xellos too was eager to leave this site of miracles and humiliation. Filia joked that they should vacation in Avoch next summer. Xellos didn't find that one particularly funny.
The only problem with leaving right away was their carriage. They'd taken it on the way there to avoid any mishaps the astral side could wreak on a multi-form creature in utero. Now that Lia was born and there was no danger of Filia's entire reproductive system changing over and upsetting things, the carriage was not only now unnecessary, but not the best mode of travel for a newborn. Filia didn't like the idea of taking Lia on that long and bumpy trip while she was so young, but she didn't want to leave her new carriage or luggage there either. In the end, Xellos teleported the carriage home before them, popping back after that task was done in order to take himself, Lia, and Filia more directly into the house (the idea of teleporting the carriage with them into the middle of Filia's living room had occurred to him, but he resisted on the grounds that he'd be the one who'd have to clean up the mess).
The closest they got to a good-bye from their witchy hosts was to hear Mother Hazel mutter something about what an 'unnatural' way to travel they were using right before they disappeared. When Xellos let go of Filia as they reappeared in their bedroom he noticed that Lia, suspended in Filia's arms, didn't seem the least bit impressed by her first trip through the astral side. It wasn't that surprising. She probably had the power to teleport them home herself—though he'd hate to see where they'd end up if he gave the infant the reigns.
Filia let out a contented sigh and meandered toward the door. "Val!" she called. "We're home!"
"They don't seem to be here," Xellos commented, looking around.
Filia peaked through the shutters of the window. "Oh, looks like they're just out in the field playing soccer." She looked down at the baby in her arms and gave her a smile. "We'll just have to go get them then, won't we?" she cooed.
She was about to go out and do so when she stopped. "Wait," she said thoughtfully. She turned around and gave Xellos a careful look. "Why don't you hold her while I go get them," she said, holding Lia out.
Xellos took the child gingerly, looking down at her as Filia turned to leave. He hadn't had a lot of experience holding babies—they're not usually the sort of things given to monsters. In an odd way he'd never even expected to hold his own that much. Filia was making a point, he knew—one that she trusted him. No, not that she trusted him, but that she was entrusting him. The message went like: I have no choice but to trust you, so be trustworthy.
Still, he had to admit that holding Lia made him feel uncomfortably mortal.
"Well, well," Xellos said quietly, sitting down on the foot of the bed. "I suppose it's time for you to meet your family."
Lia gave him a wide-eyed look.
"Oh, don't be anxious," Xellos said. "They'll like you. Certainly they will."
Xellos looked back at his daughter. It had been… an eventful time. Much had happened that had fallen outside of his predictions—some of which he hoped never came up again. He preferred to think of it this way: formalities had been filed. Thinking about it any other way was rather wounding, which he supposed was Filia's point. Vulnerabilities. My, but he'd acquired some. He would have to make sure that they didn't prove fatal.
"Well now, little Lia," Xellos commented, "do you know that everyone who knows of you or has even heard rumor of you wants to know what you'll be when you grow up? Hmm?"
He looked to the left in thought. "Now Filia—your mother that is—will probably want you to squander your magical power doing something hopelessly ordinary like… oh, I don't know… birdhouse-making or something like that. Something disappointingly safe."
"Of course," Xellos added, "if arts and crafts don't appeal to you then I know for a fact that the dragons are desperately hoping you'll join their ranks."
Lia yawned massively.
"Oh, I quite agree," Xellos answered with a smile. "I can't really see you finding much reason to join up with them. They're not a very inclusive bunch and such an alliance would be very uneasy. The only way I could possibly see you making such a choice is if you were doing so particularly to upset your mother and me. …But… you wouldn't be that willfully disobedient, would you?"
Lia gave him a cross-eyed look on incomprehension. The resemblance in their eyes made it all the odder looking.
"…And then there's the monsters," Xellos went on. "I must tell you that if you don't join up with them I will probably be in a great deal of trouble. But," he added reluctantly, "if you do join up with them then I will definitely be in trouble with your mother."
There was a thoughtful pause. "…Perhaps birdhouse-making could be an interesting career after all," Xellos said finally.
"There she is!" Val cried, bursting into the room and launching himself toward the bed with Filia and Gravos following close behind him. "What's her name? What's her name?" Val demanded, jumping up and down excitedly.
"Her name is Filia," Filia said, smiling, "but we're calling her Lia for short."
"Hi Lia," Val said, looking wide-eyed and joyfully at his new baby sister, "I'm your big brother—Val."
Lia violet eyes went plipping back and forth between the newcomers in the room. She giggled slightly.
"She's so little," Gravos said, peering down at her.
"Another boss Filia," Jillas said almost rapturously. "There's the boss, Boss-Gravos, Lord Val, and now Lady Lia!"
Xellos noticed that he appeared nowhere in this list of worshipped authority figures. "And?" he prompted helpfully.
Jillas looked at Xellos the way he always looked at Xellos, like he was carefully trying to erase him from his reality. "That's all," he said simply.
"Am I to have no authority, even in my own family?" Xellos asked.
"Absolutely not," Filia answered him, leaning over and giving him a little peck on the cheek as she smoothed down the little hair Lia had. "But isn't it worth it just to have a family?"
Xellos tutted, wagging a finger in her face. "That is a secret," he answered giving her his best 'you wouldn't hit a man with a baby, would you?' smile.
"And I don't mind that," Filia replied, taking a seat beside him and tickling Lia's tummy, much to the child's delight, "because this time I'm in on it."
Xellos, Lord Beastmaster realized, was chattering. He was ostensibly giving a report on his daughter—and it had started out that way. He'd let loose the interesting fact that the child had ample quantities of both black and holy magic, and not separately either; the magics were fused. He'd shared some of his suspicions over the forms that the child could take, but it was around that point that he seemed to have derailed himself in describing the girl.
Lord Beastmaster couldn't help but imagine him on a job now. He'd stare down his prey, ready to make the final strike, then he'd say 'Before I kill you…', reach into his pocket, take out a wallet and finish with: 'would you like to look at a picture of my kid?'
And then they were pretty much off to the races. Xellos had shared the surely irrelevant tale of their trip to the market place to buy some clothes for the baby, a treatise on the disadvantages of cloth diapers, and a gloating account over the civil war he and Filia had been engaged in to buy the baby's favorite toy. Apparently he was winning that last one.
Lord Beastmaster held up a hand before he could babble any further. "Has the child actually been using any of her powers?" she asked.
"Well…" Xellos tried, endeavoring to get back to the point, "when she doesn't get what she wants things occasionally do blow up."
Lord Beastmaster leaned forward. This could be promising. "A flare for destruction already?" she asked. "That is good news." She thought for a moment and smirked. "I'm sure your dragon must be horrified by that."
"Not really, Lord Beastmaster," Xellos answered. "According to Filia, Val used to set his crib on fire fairly routinely at that age. Mostly what Lia does when she's upset is cry and let her tail pop out. She's only blown up her mobile and a few unimportant knickknacks. Speaking completely relatively, she's fairly well behaved."
Xellos and his dragon wife's questionable concept of 'well behaved' aside, Lord Beastmaster was intrigued. "The child's name is Lia?" she asked.
"Um… yes," Xellos admitted somewhat uncertainly. "It's short for Filia, Lord Beastmaster."
Lord Beastmaster was dangerously quiet for a moment. When she spoke next is was in a deceptively light tone: "Filia, hmm? I suppose that's a good enough name. Though," she added, "I'm sure some people might like Zelas better."
"That's her middle name," Xellos answered, recovering as quickly as he could.
"Is it, now?"
"Oh yes," Xellos said, nodding vigorously. …As of five seconds ago, at least. Filia will not be pleased about this…
"Well, now," Lord Beastmaster said contemplatively, "Filia Zelas Metallium. An appropriately contradictory name for such a contradictory creature."
"I think Filia was considering having her hyphenate," Xellos put in.
Lord Beastmaster waved a hand. "Even more so." She took a drag from her pipe. "Hmm… I think it only right that I find some time to meet my granddaughter before too long."
Xellos scratched his cheek. The notion seemed especially precarious to him, but there didn't seem to be much chance of stopping it. "Filia actually thought you might say that," he admitted.
"Oh really?" Lord Beastmaster asked, amused. "And what exactly did she have to say about that?"
"She…" Xellos began, putting his hand behind his head and giving a would-be casual little laugh, "she told me to tell you that ours is a non-smoking household."
Lord Beastmaster grinned. Her canines dug into the stem of her pipe. "It's cute that she thinks that," she answered.
"Now," Lord Beastmaster changed gears, blowing a smoke infinity symbol with careless grace, "I suppose the question is… are you back to work? Or have you come to request more paternity leave to keep the dragons at bay?"
"I do not think that the dragons intend to attack," Xellos replied. "They're too afraid."
"Yes, but if you're not there to threaten them then perhaps that fear would vanish."
"They're not just afraid of me, Lord Beastmaster" Xellos clarified. "They're afraid of Lia. They don't know what she's capable of and they're quite right in worrying that they wouldn't be able to control her. At her current state of development she's not much use to them, but yet not in their power to destroy. I think they will wait and see what happens before they act. I think they will try persuasion before violence."
Beastmaster smiled. "And they're so very terrible at persuasion."
"True," Xellos admitted. "But they are getting better."
"So," Beastmaster summed up, "if the dragons aren't poised to attack or kidnap then you are prepared to take the full share of your duties once more?"
A pained expression crossed Xellos's face. "I… would be, however…"
"Well, if I'm not around on a very regular basis to perform my role as a father then I can't have very much influence over Lia. That would solely be left to Filia."
"And that does not bode well for us," Beastmaster mused, mildly annoyed, but not in the least surprised. "Someone like that would probably set the girl to something frivolous like… basket-weaving or some such nonsense."
"I thought birdhouse-making," Xellos piped up, "but basket-weaving works too."
"So…" Beastmaster said, giving Xellos a knowing sort of look, "part-time then?"
"I thought that would be the best option," Xellos answered, oozing professionalism.
Lord Beastmaster tapped her fingernails against her throne. "I don't suppose it's that different from your activities when following Lina Inverse's group. You've never had a problem multi-tasking." She appeared to reach a decision. "Very well then. You may go—and continue your reports to me on the subject on a regular basis."
"I shall, Lord Beastmaster," Xellos said with a bow.
He was just about to leave when Lord Beastmaster added: "Oh yes, and there's just one more thing."
Xellos stopped. "Yes, Lord Beastmaster?"
"For just how long," Lord Beastmaster began, pointing idly at him, "have you been wearing that ring?"
Xellos looked at the almost indentation of a ring on his finger, almost completely hidden by his glove, as though he'd never seen it before. "Oh, you mean this?" he asked as though it was the most inconsequential of things. "It seemed like such a small thing that I thought I'd indulge Filia's whims."
"How very obliging of you," Lord Beastmaster answered with an ironic smile.