52. Not All the Same ("Balance of Flour")
Year of Soil; Autumn of the Frozen Planet
Alas, poor Julius! I know the bitter tang of defeat well; a fellow of infinite ingenuity I was, and at times of the most excellent fortitude. But lacking within me still was an internal fire department trained to quench the flames of wrath, so all too often such fiery tongues spring up to consume me whole, and leave me with sharp stinging eyes and a throat blazing sore and raw.
I've found my evening tonight one to tempt swears from even my proud tongue. From tight-fitting costumes and flailing squids to a kidnapping and the taste of Mother Nature's fury electric through my lightweight bones- Nuada Airgetlám, what a bothersome week this has been. If I were the type, I'd clock out on my roost with a soda bottle in hand, and drink my woes away upside-down. Oh, it's been so bloody irksome tonight. The constant crick in my right plagiopatagium throbs in time with the boiling of my blood. When I float beneath the portcullis of my castle, I remove my faintly-cracked monocle and trace my claws through a light navy swirl of thick bangs and sweaty, static hair.
Consider: To fall so short so near the finish marker, the hare to the Fairies' tortoise and still without a subsequent deadly blaze to sweep the forests and fall nipping upon their nonexistent tails. Their rewards reaped without a hint of irony. No drawbacks, no fallbacks, no injuries sustained. And wherever does that leave us? Stung and soiled, groveling for our scrappy meals in the ashy mud- bruised and animalistic. Ah, but such is the Anti-Fairy lot in life.
The estate quiets down with the wearing on of evening; I push through the main entrance, and down some distant hall hear a wooden door shut with a rough yet tired slam. For a time I linger in the foyer, tracing my eyes up the staircase on the left. All its barred windows are set in stone at the proper intervals. With a final squeeze of my hand and a kiss to my cheek, Venus flits up the steps to drag Foop from the library and tuck him into his coffin for the night.
I rather suspect she's going the wrong way; on my right side, two halls away and three doors along, I can hear the television cycling through commercials in the den. The volume is much higher than necessary for a castle regularly lived in by twenty-seven sharp-eared Anti-Fairies, so I know what night it is. The noise carries. To his room especially, seeing as he sleeps not far above it. That snot-nosed spawn of mine loathes the flickering screen and the pops the speakers make, so on a warm night such as this one, he's undoubtedly snuck out to the gardens. He won't start school for… awhile yet, but he has discovered a recent fascination for edible plants. Perhaps the excitement of the annual bake-off has brought him into that spirit, hmm? And Anti-Elliot dotes on him so, which would explain where and how he came across the key to my private greenhouse.
Glory, Foop. How old is he, again? It shames me how I can't remember precisely… Forty-four. He's forty-four, yes. Yes, isn't he? Or not?
Wait a moment; hold the phone. Surely not, or he would have shed his exoskeleton by now. Where does that put him, then? At under a year? Hm. Oh, he's old enough, anyway, that perhaps in a week or three, we'll make a father-son project out of it, and I'll gift him a small greenhouse of his own.
After Venus disappears from my sense of hearing as well as sight, I replace my monocle and take the path to the right of the stairs. So many damaged cinderstone statues line this curving hall, and out of habit I hit each one with my echolocation as I pass. Their carefully-chiseled features light my mind in sharp detail. Flash. The seven sons of Tarrow the Luck-Twister (Artist's rendition, and I can't help but give Sunnie a respectful bob of my head as I pass). Flash. Jay Rhoswen, Faedivus cherub he may be with the tails of his lab coat (the first lab coat) caught billowing behind his feathered wings forever. He holds tablets of stone, a flustered expression across his face and one hand up behind his ear. Of course, Anti-Shylinda kneels at his feet. Naked, once, but after Foop was born, Venus and I made no small handful of choice adjustments to our castle's decor.
Generations of High Counts and Countesses blur together as I skim along. I skip over Anti-Bryndin hand in hand with Anti-Elina. Anti-Phillip (pieced mostly back together following one too many irritated afternoons of target practice) waits patiently at his father's right, out of his step-mother's spiteful gaze. The polished horns beneath his broken winged hat gleam brighter than the white-tinted shades which balance on his nose. Oddly dressed for an anti-swanee with his pressed shirt and tie, but when one flees the Blue Castle as a refugee and thrives under H.P.'s hand until in a moment sickeningly kind, High Countess Venus Anti-Wanda Anti-Fairywinkle summons him back to take his place as the Soil seat on her camarilla, it's understandable. I can almost hear the word 'elephant' springing from his tongue. On a second whim, I double back to kick him in the chest. His stone face doesn't flinch, even when I blow a raspberry at him and turn my tail. Good riddance to him, and a dash of spice upon his nonexistent grave.
At the winding hallway's end, facing me as guardians to the great hall on their left and the next corridor on their right, stand a cluster of three, captioned with Braille dents large enough to pick up on even from my distance as I sweep by: The Anti-Fairywinkle Family, Year of the Red Dirt to Present. A cubular child stands between his two parents, carved with a calmer face than the one he actually wore that day. Foop hated having to dress up in his smart vest and cravat, and oh how he squirmed when one hour turned into two and then more. In his defense, he was hardly half a day old. He's in for a nasty surprise when we take him back to have his figure updated after he leaves his puppy stage behind for good.
His mother's hand, though clawed, rests softly on his small right shoulder. Even as a statue, she carries herself in a manner gentle and airy. Free and compassionate. Understanding. Obviously a traveler, and the cloak and satchel she was chiseled with make that distinction obvious to those who don't know her quite as well as I do. The detail is incredible, down to the wrinkles pressed into her lips, her large jutting teeth politely straightened so she might appear more distinguished here than I know she looks to most. The swirl at the front of her hair and the one down her back were brought to life by a steady hand.
And of course, holding Foop's other shoulder is Anti-Cosmo. Unlike Venus, whose features are exaggerated somewhat in the direction of smoothness and infinite patience, little needed to be altered in his statue, except the cinderstone version of myself looks taller beside his wife than the real one. Everyone knows him by the blue morning coat with the unusual slight tails curling from the ends, because he makes a point to wear it beyond the castle door at all times (Exception being one night that Hap, Jorgen, and the Head Pixie had kidnapped me so I might spend a last night out on the town trapped in one of those ghastly parties that H.P. so enjoys before Foop would be born to tie me down with parental duties, but that's a story for a coming day). His small hat with its upturned brim balances perfectly on his head. The look he wears is knowing and smug, and although the hair falls heavily over his face, it doesn't quite cover the famous monocle balanced on his right side. The artist did her best to let both eyes show so that the careful features of at least one might be touched with echolocation, but in actuality, his bangs are welcome to conceal the other one in their typical swirling way all they want. It won't see more than darkness either way.
A single chirping pulse and twitch of my ears is enough to relay all such details to me at once. I don't even pause beside that family of three, and instead pass on into the corridor. One branching hallway continues forward, but I take the sharp left and follow that path for a moment until I reach a propped-open door.
The television commercials end as I skim in. Cheering erupts from ten voices as the game tonight returns. Every owner of said voices is dressed in their nightwear, and several cradle bowls of popcorn or nuts in their laps. Some are crammed together on the couch, and others lie on their stomachs on the floor. Anti-Sylvester, Anti-Scarlett, and Anti-Kathy dangle from a well-worn ceiling rafter, groping for slices of cheese and pineapple pizza on an anti-gravity platter between them. When they point at the large screen on the wall and shout, scraps fall from their fangs onto Anti-Kyler's head, though the anti-brownie takes it in stride.
I interpret what's happening by sound more than by the picture. The Talauds are playing the Duskies and the Egyptian Fruits in saucerbee, and winning by a faint margin. Anti-Scott, the lone supporter of that last team, has been relocated to the far side of the overturned coffee table. The next round of tea-saucers is launched. Scrambled voices tumble over one another as the camera splits into four. With my arms folded, I take my place in front of the screen and watch my shadow play threateningly across Anti-Edmin's and Anti-Phillip's faces. That shuts them all up.
"I believe I've uncovered the reason why none of you came to support Anti-Wanda and I in the bake-off tonight," I say dryly.
Wings shift. Claws scratch behind necks. Eyes avert. Most of the the ten figures present attempt to peer around me as the game plays on, and I fight the urge to blast the top of the screen clean off.
In slow motion, still craning his neck from his place on the partially-eaten non-leather couch, Anti-Kanin points the remote control at the television and switches it off. No one protests except Anti-Tanner, behind his fangs, and Anti-Elliot knees his calf. Then Anti-Kanin turns his heavy-lidded gaze to me. "Aye, ye know they specifically picked this weekend, this time, to celebrate the anniversary a' the truce, cap'n. The game's on in our time zone. We's not exactly welcomed in Fairy World, are we? And the whole a' the contest's rigged for the Fairies anyway."
I clench my fists. "But this time I had it. Don't you understand? Oh, we were so close. One bake-off. Just one! A single one! That's all we ever need - just one stupid bake-off - and the entire universe shifts in our favor!"
"And I betcha think the Fairies will roll belly-up and hand it straight off to us too, huh, big boy?" Anti-Scott mutters.
I whip out my pumice wand and aim it at the place between his unibrow and that ridiculous bellhop cap he wears. He flinches, pressing his stomach against his pillow. "Anti-Scott," I snarl, "Anti-Wanda may be the only one with the power to rrreplace you as the Seat of Breath on her camarilla, but I remain High Count, and your superior, and you will treat me with respect. And that goes for all of you!" I look around, my temper flaring colder in my chest. "What might any of you have to say for yourselves? Come on, speak up."
Anti-Edmin rises to his feet, holding to his tall pointed hat with his right hand. "Boss, it's USC weekend. End of the outdoor season, and you know Anti-Fairies can't play regulation saucerbee indoors, so this is-"
"For smoke's sake, I don't ask all that much of you! But at the least could you support me and the rest of our people?" I jab my wand back into the hallway. "Anti-Wanda and I were solely alone! When I told you all your presence at the bake-off would be appreciated but not required, I wasn't expecting absolutely all of you to rrrefuse!"
Visibly suppressing a sigh, Anti-Kanin shifts on the couch again. "We get that yer upset, skipper. Let us make it up to ye later. But fer now, our game's on, so if ye-"
"You represent the year of Love on my camarilla court," I snap at him. "You could at the very least act like it sometime."
"I'm sorry, fine," he mumbles. "Aye, we'll be there next year, cap'n."
"See that you are." Demonstrating incredible self-restraint, I flip my wand back to my left hand and shove it in its silver sheath. The shiing! of it makes each one of them wince. After I leave the room, Anti-Kanin switches the television on again. At first, the only sounds come from the screen. Yet even when I turn into the next hall, I can hear the whoops and hollers starting up again. How different they were from I.
('Me'. H.P. would want me to say 'me'. However, I reject him.)
"Perhaps Foop had the right idea tonight, heading outside," I murmur. This was what came of selecting a camarilla comprised entirely of red-eyes. I still hold to my careful decision; with two courts of Anti-Fairies whose eyes would keep their default color thanks to the genetics of their counterparts, not sending Venus off to transmit the beloved iris virus STD and its resulting halo effect (or doing the deed myself) was well worth it in runs both long and short.
However, when it happened, I didn't discover my son out in the gardens. Rather, I run across him just outside the painted white archway that leads to the connected observatory, standing near the corner of the hall with his head to one side. His hearing isn't yet as developed as an adult's, but clearly he can pick up on the cheers of the camarilla carrying from here. "Good night, Father," he greets me pleasantly at my approach, placing his two small palms together before him.
"Hello, Foop," I reply. I saw the hands. It's more of a struggle to keep my voice steady than I typically like to admit.
The pup's square face twists in a despondent way. "A-actually Father, it's Hiccup."
I bop him sharply over one corner with my wand as I pass him by. The automatic torches flicker in their sconces. "Your given name is 'Foop', your legal name is 'Nebula', and when you have your coming of age ceremony once you turn 150,000, we will call you 'Anti-Poof'. 'Hiccup' is not among your registered names and does not exist."
"But I'm Hiccup!"
I turn back with a sharp twist, wand clenched in my left hand. He shrinks away. "Nebula Anti-Poof Anti-Fairywinkle. I am in a ravishingly rotten mood and I absolutely do not have either time or patience for this. Do you understand? I'm looking for your mother. I need your mother. Go to your room."
"… No. No, please, Father…"
"What?" My fangs barely separate as I speak. I take a flap closer to him, and he reaches for the curve of the arch behind him. My wand shifts to my right hand, the way it always does when I slip into my most serious self. The transmitting tip glows pale blue like an ember. "Did. You. Say?"
Foop draws in a shuddering gulp of air he doesn't need. "I- I… said 'No'. Y-you have to call me by my name. Please."
"Go to your room, boy, and stay there."
"But I get awfully nervous when I'm left enclosed in small spaces-"
"Now, child." I blast a beam of blue into the stone floor between us, shattering the rocks and making him flinch. Singed chunks of grit fly up into his face. "And for Tarrow's sake, don't fall asleep on me. We will talk about this later and have this 'Hiccup' nonsense cleared up for good."
His violet eyes brim with despair. He holds his place, his fists shaking beside him. That wounds me internally, a slight amount. I won't hit him- I could never hit him. I smacked his corner with my wand, sure, but that's the most I could ever bring myself to do. Mentally he's already inherited the limp in my right wing, though vaguely in my fury I notice he appears to be flying straight for now. I tweak his wing with a yank as I swoop past him, too fed up to look at him a moment longer. I've always been the type to threaten more than I do, and to shy away in the face of that two-letter 'N' word and a stubborn jaw. It's my fault- I let him get away with too much, and I never punish him enough. The way you parent, the way you parent… With our pups expressing their personalities so immediately after birth, it's the Anti-Fairy way to believe in the effects of nature over nurture. Yet H.P. has toyed with psychology and child-rearing and sometimes he disagrees, and he's so smart and I'm far younger, and maybe he's right, and it's all my fault. Oh, pity me. I could have raised a pawn, and yet I ended up with a non team-playing little rrrebel instead.
I find Venus in the kitchen after another five minutes spent storming through the halls and gnashing my fangs. She's hovering above the island counter, piecing together a sandwich with her feet, and appears rather engrossed in her work. Still, she drops the bag of corn she was eating (To clarify, she ate the bag, not any of the corn) when she detects the bitterness seeping from beneath my bristling fur.
"Well, you jist look more ruffleder than a fruit bat on a unicorn's carcass. Didja talk ta the cammies durin' their saucer show? I thought Ah heard shoutin' down da stairs."
"Ohh, Anti-Wanda." I push both hands through my hair, nearly lifting myself further from the ground in the process. "Another dratted summer has passed us by, and still yet again we come away from that wretched bake-off empty-handed."
"We had our wands an' our clothes though, yeah, so we wasn't quite all that with th'empty hands like the human kids."
I whirl on her, my bangs flying in front of my good eye. "No, allow me to amend myself! Not even empty-handed! Look at me! Look at us, Anti-Wanda! I'm still dripping static and soot from that lightning bolt dear Mother Nature found it humorous to slam us with! Oh, cruel fate, to smack us lower when we are down and unarmed. Is that how she would have treated her prrrecious Fairies? I ask you, who obliterated Hy-Brasil? Who uprooted our flora and cursed our beloved world? Who tore the planets apart when we sought only to protect them?"
"Aw, you did your best t'day, hon-"
"My best!" Piece by piece, I'm splintering as I speak. I bring up a hand to cover my small and fake pointed nose, squeezing shut my eyes. My best! Of course I'd tried my best! Doesn't she get how that's exactly the problem? "Good smoke, woman! When is it that my best is ever going to win us anything? Have you seen how bloody pathetic I am when it's meant to rrreally count?"
Venus tilts her head to the right with a rustle of thick fur. "Don't fergit we won us some gold-metal medals afore, in the Fairykind Games…"
"You won those medals!" I scream, slamming both palms against the counter and leaning over. "Every year you take gold in no less than thrrree events, and I have to fight tooth and nail to even win myself the chance at claiming silver! And you're the reason I even managed to infiltrate Jorgen's heavily-guarded bakery yesterday, and you're the reason we managed to capture and tie up Timmy Turner at all!" I look up at her, my eyes only a tad blurrier than my running nose. Stretching further across the counter - hovering over it with my legs held behind me, really - and with wings beating rapidly and swirling with pink magic to keep me up, I take her cheeks in my hands and squish them inwards. "Ohh Anti-Wanda, you don't understand. You don't! You're so beautifully elastic, you could never know what it feels like to fight with your absolute all and still fall so short! Over and over in an endless loop of fate!"
"Anti-Cozzie," she murmurs, never breaking eye contact with her soft cloud-pink eyes.
"Oh, and the people love you, darling, for the way you travel among them without fear whilst I fritter at the castle over useless project after useless bloody project. They love you for the way you treat every commoner as though they were a member of your camarilla, the way you listen to their ideas and relay them back to me. Gods, how do you do it? From what blessed soil sprouts your infinite patience? They like you best, and of course they have a right to. You're incredible- they ought to like you. Jimmy Neutronic Krisday, why don't I think, Anti-Wanda? Why do I always, ridiculously, allow my impatient mania to take advantage of me when I'm too weak to fight it? I'm s-so stupid, why am I so stupid…"
She takes my wrists and, with the calm of a monocarp, slides them downward and wraps my jittery hands in hers. "Shh, Anti-Cozzie, you're shakin' so. Are ya still flailin' like you're on energy-high again? D'ya want me ta find you some meddy-sin?"
"No, no- For smoke's sake, don't be daft- there's no time for that. I have to use my energy, have to channel it, this manic bloody energy… Work harder, work faster… I don't know how to cook, Anti-Wanda!" I use her wart-flecked knuckles to wipe at my eyes. "If I j-just knew how to bake brownies- If I just had gingertie caffeine like the Fairies do- If I could just barter more effectively with the anti-pixies- If I were only smarter- If I were taller, people would take me more seriously- If I were a tad stronger- Plumes and ashes, I couldn't even beat the Head smoking Pixie in a footrace, sugarfur, and he's over seven hundred and forty thousand years old, a-and you won your race, and you win all your races because you're so tough and wonderful and amazing, and I c-can't even beat him, and good cinders, you're better than me at everything. Ohh, no one respects me… Smoke, did you hearrr what the camarillas had to say to me today? They'd listen to me if it were you telling them off- they always listen to you. I d-don't know how you do it. And Foop always talks back, like he did when I was in the hall just now- Anti-Wanda, no one respects me- They don't listen to me- They think I'm a joke- They hate me- Everyone hates me- Smoke, I hate myself…"
"Shh, shh, aw, nah, don't hurt yourself that way, Julius. Words hurt so much… Lots. And it's just silly ta hurt yourself, y'know? Where ya gonna live if ya hurt your body? And how's your body gonna feel if it's gotta carry a sad soul? Aw, that don't make sense, 'less ya got another body in ya're pocket thatcha can slip inta, like a spookster ghost fella! Here. Here, Anti-Cozzie… I respect ya." Her claws trace their way behind my back. "Guess what. Know what I know, honeyfangs? I love ya. Did ya know that? I love ya so much. You're so important to me. More'n the world. More'n all th' worlds. You're special. You're worth so much to not jist me, but e'eryone else too. I love ya, y'know. Y'know? Yeah, you know. I know it too."
"I shouldn't yell," I sigh into her shoulder. I've pricked my finger with my clenched fists. Fairy-Cosmo must be in a rather gay and chipper mood, because a bead of cheerful yellow blood glistens on my claw. I ought to be secreting a miserable shade of green, but my magic is borrowed from his core and it taints my colorful borrowed blood. What a cruel joke; I'm a cruel joke…
"S'okay. You talk so fast when you're mad, I don't really catch most of it anyway."
We're kneeling there on the counter, surrounded by torn slices of bread and bits of lettuce and tomatoes and three types of cheese. Not a trace of meat. Not because my beloved Anti-Wanda won't eat it, but because she knows I don't like it when she does, and that means so much to me and just makes me begin to shake again. I wrap her more tightly, my ears drooping down my back, as I choke out, "Rhoswen, dear Rrrhoswen, Venus. S-sometimes fools poke fun at you - even our own camarilla courts - and I loathe that. I need you, my choicest little lilac, my bright lily in the swamp. Smoke, I need you sooo much…"
She squeezes my wings in a soft way. "Aw, thankie, ripplewings. That's real nice ta hear. Yep, I think the secret ta love and happiness is two people thinkin' the other one is better'n 'emself. 'Cuz you always sit there tellin' me I'm so great, but really… Ah'm not crazy special, Anti-Cozzie. You knows this. We's been married fer nearmost fifty thousand years now, and ya know this. All Ah'm doin' is coverin' for ya where you need me. You're doin' all the hard work. You jist forget ta see it."
That helps. It doesn't cure, but it heals. I leave my chin resting on Venus's shoulder for a long time, just holding her and pretending that I'm okay, that she's fixed me, that it won't happen again, that I'm not shriveling up inside and always have been, and I j-just want to stop this downhill spiral… She turns her head as I'm kneeling there and catches me in the mouth with hers. My eyelids always flicker up for a moment before they fall shut when she does that. Even so, I wish my monocle hadn't fallen off during my sobbing episode, because I'd have liked to get a good look at her pretty face.
Or perhaps I don't need one. Having her beside me these last ten thousand years, infinitely prepared to drop whatever she's doing and rush to comfort me, that makes up for my poor vision. Her kiss is beautifully cold, like a snow-covered tree branch that dumps pleasant ice crystals down your back as you pass. Perhaps it doesn't matter that the camarilla didn't join us at the bake-off. My wife and High Countess was there to support me. Often that's enough.
One more thing that Venus has always been superior than me at is being so delightfully skilled with her kisses… I don't really mind that one.
"Did I hear you was fightin' with Foop?" she murmurs as we ease apart.
My ears twitch in turn. "Ohh, he rrrefuses to answer to his given name, though I simply cannot fathom why, unless it's the appearance of it in the tale of the three little fairies that irks him so. Translated literally in the ancient surviving Genie tongue, it means 'wolf which rrruns across the blue moon'. I find that it suits him well. And yet more and more nowadays he always wants to be called blasted 'Hiccup'."
"Huh." Venus's head goes sideways again, and her claws move from my shoulders down to the crooks of my wing joints. "Ah think that's Hiccup that goes and wants ta be called 'Hiccup', hon. Foop's none too likely ta answer ta that, h'yuk."
All I can do then is stare at her. We're still kneeling, still holding one another, but our moment is over and my pleasure is lightly fading with it. "Oh. Oh. So you believe him, then. You believe that rubbish about the two different personalities."
"Course Ah do. They's mah sons… Shoul'n't Ah believe 'em?"
"Sons." My temper is rising again, burning cold on the back of my neck, but I try to bite it back. Not in front of Venus, not in front of Venus… "I say, so we're referring to him in plural now."
"Ooh! That reminds me, Ah made oyster chowder fer dinner fer us! Ah was jist waitin' 'til you came in hungry."
I sigh. "What's this about oysters, then?"
"'Cuz ya said 'pearl', see."
"Back to Foop, dear." I close my eyes and bring the knuckles of her left hand up to my forehead. "It's the way he insists he isn't always in control of himself that I can't stand. Why, I have my manic episodes and my low ones too, but even with the honey-lock instinct ever drrriving me to pair with you three months after our counterparts do, I would never say I lack control of myself. It's always me. I simply can't believe him."
Venus withdraws her hands and sizes me up with a half-reproachful look. That hurts. For a moment her eyes, so often crossed or pointing opposite ways, are both able to focus on my face. "I'll get din out," she said. "The bowls and spoons too. But you gotta go talk to Foop. That's what I want."
"That, Julius," she says, beginning to pack away her sandwich ingredients with her feet as I wilt on the counter on my knees, "is how ya can show me 'I love you' too."
Typical stubborn woman.
That's how I find myself, then, sitting on the floor just outside Foop's bedroom door, with one leg curled beneath me and the other stretched out. I lean my head back against the wood and merely listen. He's fighting in there- talking to himself again, as he does nearly every night. That was my job, Venus told me. If I wanted her dinner, if I liked her hugs, if I craved her kisses beyond the occasional moments of honey-locking, then I needed to do this.
"I hold ya when you cry," she reminded me when I complained. "Please jist talk ta your son. Jist listen ta his stories. Stop runnin' and hidin' from him. He's got a lot ta say."
So I would. I would make the attempt. For her.
On that first day, I confront him as promised. I scold him for his disobedience as much as I can manage to without losing my temper too far, and he sits there in his coffin of a bed holding his silly red and white bear toy in his lap and begs me to call him Hiccup, until I refuse too many times with my "Now, Foop"s until he eventually gives up, and his disgruntled eyes wander, and he doesn't say anything more.
I spend each evening after that beyond his bedroom door, holding a notebook against my knees and jotting down notes. I write everything- what he says, and how he says it too. That was my idea. I don't bring that up with him- the babbling. Foop was ridiculous, Venus (though I treasured her) was wrong, and I was going to prove my point.
But as I listen for weeks on end, sometimes with my wife at my side but mostly on my own, I start to turn my head. I lean more intensely to the door, my tall pointed ear pressed flat against it.
Because I can't believe what I'm hearing.
That's not Foop in there. Not always. That's not my son.
"I want to help him," I explain to Venus the first time I begin to doubt myself (Well, not the first time I doubt myself, but I imagine you know what I mean).
Venus caresses my chin with her soft hand, shifting closer to me along our perch with soft steps so as not to wake the camarilla clinging upside-down in the roosting room around us. "Not 'him'," she says, so gentle and knowing. "Them."
"Hm." I lean an arm behind my neck, and I wonder about that. With a pregnancy, it would be easy to prepare for another anti-fairy pup tearing through the castle with a splashing bottle and whirring wings. But the splitting of one child into another… I'm not sure I'm strong enough to be a father of two. I had collapsed into a furry blue puddle after finding out my wife hadn't baked me brownies, after all.
Their squabbles grow more bitter, their personalities more distant every passing day. A word begins to show up more and more frequently throughout my notebook, until I nearly exhaust my limited space and wonder if I ought to pry a fresh one from the messy stack on my desk. A six-letter word that begins with an 'H'.
"Anti-Wanda," I say one day, catching her hand in passing as I head to the den to begin my usual afternoon reading routine, "would you terribly mind pulling out all our nicest clothes for our appointment tonight?"
"Ah don't have a terrible mind, ya codfish," she retorts, feigning offense with both hands to her hips.
"Oh, but nightshade! Darling!" So I twirl her forward, wrapping my hands around her stomach. Since she's taller than me, her shoulder blocks my face. I hold her from behind nonetheless, my arms sliding beneath the knobs of her leathery wings. My claws join together at the front. "It would mean so much to me, dearest. We ought to look our best, and you know I do ever so want to get this done before you head out on your fortnight of travels again tomorrow morning."
She unfurls her wings and moves them backwards to hug me (a tad awkwardly) in return. "Ah'm sure there's lots ya wanna do 'fore I head out on my travels in the mornin'."
"Mm… I won't deny that." I kiss her hand before I go off, my book resting beneath one arm. I've only been sitting for five moments when a small square figure, not showing any sign of a limp in his wing, drifts through the room past me.
"Hello, Father," he mumbles, holding his hands loosely together in front of him.
I sigh carefully through my nose. After placing a marker in my book, I turn my head. "Hello, Hiccup."
It takes him a wingbeat. Even two. But then he spins around, both hands clapped to his cheeks. When he blushes faintly purple, his pink pilot freckles begin to show. "Mercy me! Y-you called me Hiccup. Father, you talked to me!"
"Of course I talked to you, you simpleminded buffoon." I roll my eyes. "You're my son, are you not? What sort of father would I be if I rrrefused to acknowledge such a polite greeting in my own home?"
Hiccup floats there, stunned as though stupid. I fix him with a hard stare and, when he still doesn't move, flick my wrist. "Well? Get off with you, lad. Don't you know your mother's upstairs in your room waiting for you?"
"Good smoke, were you not informed? We're having your statue made today! I won't stand for having any offspring of the Anti-Fairywinkle family without an accurate statue in the front hall! Tally ho now, Puck, and don't dawdle. Oh, bother it all, chap- You're going to make us late!"