Rating: PG-13 to R [Lina uses naughty language] this part, "Adult" next part
Summary: A year after the events in “Gifts,” Xelloss goes to visit an old friend.
Xelloss walked up to the front steps and smiled. The girl sweeping them eyed him carefully. She had beautiful green eyes. That faintly suspicious look was endearingly familiar, especially coming out from under such burning, brilliant hair. He smiled wider, and it was surprisingly sincere.
“Hello, Lara.” She kept sweeping, glaring at him. How sweet. “I see you don’t remember me—that’s all right. I believe you were three the last time I saw you. Is your mother in?”
“LARA, IF THAT’S SOME PURPLE-HAIRED LOON, YOU MIGHT AS WELL SHOW HIM IN.” Xelloss was charmed. The girl led him to the kitchen, where Lina was bossing a dark-haired young man into chopping massive quantities of vegetables “properly.” He had her eyes.
“My goodness, Matyas, how you’ve grown!” he chirped. “And do you remember your uncle Xelloss?” The boy frowned, trying to place him.
Lina rolled her eyes, up to her elbows in pastry dough. “For crying out loud, Xelloss, they only met you once, ten years ago!” She glared at him. “It’s about bloody time you came back. Officially, and all,” she snarked at him. Aw, she’d known he’d been checking in.
“It’s wonderful to see you too, Lina-chan!”
Lina had let her hair grow when she’d stopped traveling. Now it hung down her back in one fat braid, tapping against the back of her knees. He itched to see how it would have looked free, alive with chaos and golden with possession. He itched to see it free anyway, as it was now. Lina had always had incredible hair—even confined, it crackled with the force of her personality, the braid snapping and swaying as she moved.
She’d become the hero and the terror of the local children, alternately teaching them tricks to circumvent their parents and scaring the ever-loving daylights out of them, and sometime in the ten years since he’d last visited bandits avoided everywhere within a twenty-mile radius of her home. It probably disappointed her—he couldn’t imagine her ever losing her taste for mayhem and righteous destruction. It delighted him. In all the important ways, she was still seventeen… or maybe… it was just that she was Lina.
“I remember you,” the boy said suddenly. His mother “nudged” him with her foot to remind him to keep chopping. “You came to my fifth birthday.”
“Yes, that’s right!” Xelloss leaned against the counter, and stole a carrot. Lina thwacked him sharply with a spoon, so he licked it and put it back. She hit him with her rolling pin. It was a nice one- solid marble, and she had excellent reflexes with it.
“You gave me a dragon egg,” Matt continued carefully. He glanced sideways at his mother, who was giving the hapless dough a very evil look. “Mum got rid of it.”
“It was FIRIA’S FUCKING SON, Matt.” She transferred the look to Xelloss. He rather thought that if he’d been human his hair would have caught fire from it. “Frankly, Xelloss, I’m surprised you’re still alive.”
“Oh, it was touch and go for a number of years,” Xelloss admitted cheerfully. “But I really think she’s forgiven me by now. It’s been quite a while since she tried to summon me just to beat me up. Still,” he beamed at Matyas, “it isn’t every boy who gets a dragon on his birthday.” Matyas just shook his head and finished chopping the potatoes. Lara hadn’t gone back outside; she was standing near the window, watching the three of them from under her bangs.
“Lara!” Lina snapped, turning the dough into pie-crusts.
Lina’s eyes softened a little, and she smiled. “Make us some tea, please,” she said in a gentler tone of voice. Lara smiled back. “How is Firia?” Lina asked, turning back to him.
“Whatever makes you think I’ve heard from Firia more recently than you have?”
Lina gave him a Look.
“She’s fine.” He smiled cheerfully. “Miss Firia has expanded her shop into selling antimacassars.” Lina gave him another Look. This one said ‘I don’t know how, but I know you’re involved in that somehow.’ Xelloss continued. “And little Val is tall enough to reach the register now! Firia has him helping her.” He smiled fondly. “I was wondering what to get him for his next birthday.”
“If you try to give him Matyas,” Lina said lightly, “I will kill you and make certain you do not enjoy it.” Gold gleamed momentarily in her eyes. It did funny things to him when that happened. Matyas and Lara glanced at their mother.
“Mum?” Matyas said carefully, watching Xelloss.
“You know he’s a Mazoku.” Lina looked at her son, for a moment, brow furrowed. Xelloss looked interested. Then she shrugged.
“Yes, Matt. Keep chopping.”
“I’m finished.” He looked between his mother and Xelloss, looking slightly confused. “I thought-”
“You gave Mum her talismans,” Lara interrupted calmly, setting the tea down in front of him. She filched a handful of chopped vegetables, deftly avoided her mother’s reflexive smack, and settled to eat them on the opposite side of the counter from him, watching him. “The ones she thinks she hid from us.” She ducked the dishcloth Lina chucked at her with the ease of someone who did that very thing very, very often. “You resonate with them.” Matt suddenly looked interested.
Xelloss looked faintly surprised. “You-” he started to say.
“That’s IT.” Lina attacked them both with another towel. “Out!” SNAP! “Out, both of you!” SNAP! “Go wreak havoc somewhere else,” SNAP! “before I seal both your mouths shut!”
The door slammed behind them, the sound of their running footsteps, and what sounded suspiciously like snickering. Xelloss shook his head, and poured himself a cup of tea.
“Agile, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” Lina said, both proudly and slightly irritated. “They get it from their dad. I can never catch him to hit him either, unless he’s asleep. AND YOU’D BETTER BE BACK FOR DINNER!” she bellowed out the kitchen window.
“And where is their father?”
Lina stopped putting pot pies together and put her fists on her hips. Motherhood and nearly three decades hadn’t changed her figure at all, so the gesture was hardly impressive. “He’s away this month, not that it’s any of your business.”
They were silent a while, Xelloss drinking tea and watching Lina put together her family’s dinner. It was different, watching her be domestic.
Plates rattled in the cupboards. Dust sifted down from the ceiling. Lina smirked a little, a tiny light in her eyes as she sealed the pies. Xelloss raised an eyebrow. “You’re not going to take care of that?” he said, and she cackled. The sound was delightful.
“They need to learn to clean up their own messes. Actions have consequences.” Her grin practically showed fangs. “That sometimes aren’t immediate. I’ll nail them after they’ve eaten.”
He laughed. “There’s the Lina I know and love.” She rolled her eyes, and checked a little bowl of water. He saw she’d dropped her rings into it, probably when she started cooking. It tingled with magic. Snickering, Lina visibly added another mental tick mark. Xelloss raised an eyebrow again.
“Little brats still haven’t figured out that I have a set-spell scrying on them.” Her smile had everything it had when she was frying bandits for her ill-gotten gains, but her voice was fond. “Well, almost. They’ve been experimenting with shields,” she snickered harder, “for external spells.”
“And the spell is set on them,” he continued for her, “and thus already inside their shields.” He chuckled, stirring his tea. “Tell me, whatever did you use for an anchor?”
“Their birthmarks,” she said. He’d have blinked if his eyes were open.
“I didn’t know your children had birthmarks.”
She grinned, and tossed her head. “Neither do they.” If she got any more full of herself she’d break something. He hoped it’d happen while he could watch. He chuckled harder.
“You’ve had a set-spell scrying on them since birth?”
“And all this time they’ve thought I had eyes in the back of my head,” she said smugly. There was a dull BOOM in the distance. Lina stilled for a moment, then shrugged and shoved all three massive pies into the oven.
“If that was what I think it was, they’re going to have to pay for that themselves.”
“Lina,” he chided. “There aren’t any bandits that dare raid within twenty miles of here.”
“I know.” Her voice was smug, because that little detail was entirely her doing. “So they’ll have to go farther to find some. If they can’t deal with this on their own, they’re not ready to go off on their own.”
“If memory serves, you were fourteen when you left home.”
“If memory serves,” she said archly, “I was fleeing for my life.”
“Which was your fault.”
“Exactly.” She sat down across from him. He poured her a cup of tea. “I hate to admit it, but they’re smarter than I was at their age.” She made a face. “They’re not about to piss off their aunt Luna. Not even for money. Still, they’re not smart enough yet to figure out why I know everything they’ve been up to, so they’re not-”
“Smart enough to get out from under your thumb,” he finished for her. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“I happen,” she said haughtily, “to have the best thumb to be under on this continent. You know that. Why, when I was Lara’s age I barely knew what magical resonance was, let alone how to trace it, and Matyas knew you for a Mazoku when he met you, before he even really knew what a Mazoku was-”
“Unlike you,” he put in, amused.
“Right,” Lina acknowledged, “My children are better right now than any magister twice their age-”
“Then why are they still here?”
She lowered her eyes and watched her tea. “I… They’re my children, Xelloss. Even you know what that means. Even you. They’re fantastic, geniuses, and in my mind they’ll never be ready to be without me.” She sighed, and looked up at him. Those gorgeous ruby eyes held humor at the situation. “Until two months after I’ve kicked them out.”
“You’re not going to kick them out.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I might if they pull another stunt like they did last week.”
“Why, Xelloss, you mean you don’t know? I thought you’d been spying on me,” she said coyly.
Xelloss made an annoyed face. “Maybe your wards are better than I’ve led you to believe.” She snorted, a smug sound that conveyed both ‘of course they are,’ and ‘HA, you cheeky bastard!’ She gloated a few more seconds before letting it go, and sighing.
“They both suck at swordsmanship,” she confessed. “That’s what worries me.”
“I seem to recall that someone else was only passable with a sword, and she got along just fine.” He didn’t mention Amelia. Amelia had always had guardsmen or Lina.
“Not always,” Lina said pensively. For a moment Xelloss wondered if his estimation of what her life was like before he met her was entirely accurate. She shook herself off, and sighed. “Honestly, though, they suck more than I ever did, and it scares me. I try not to worry too much; Lara carries a knife in her boot and another in her bodice-”
“Yes, she does have a much better figure than you ev-” Lina cut him off by slamming his head into the table.
“I hadn’t noticed,” she said airily, sitting back down with her own cup. Lina smiled a little while Xelloss pried his face out of the tabletop. “Matt is much better with the knives than she is, though… what is she going to do during that time of the month?”
“Hide behind her brother,” Xelloss said sagely, rubbing the back of his head. Lina winced, and it had nothing to do with Xelloss.
“I hope so… well, yes, probably. She’s sneakier than I ever was, anyway.” Xelloss stopped smiling and put his cup down. His eyes opened.
“If anything,” Lina grinned, “I’m understating.”
Xelloss put his forehead on his hand, covering his eyes. “L-sama have mercy.”
Lina laughed maliciously. “I hope she doesn’t. Just to keep the world on its toes.” They finished their tea in companionable silence for a while. Lina got up and came back with a jug of ale. She dumped a fistful of cloves in his mug, smirking. “Hard cider,” she said by way of explanation, and he nodded, pleased.
“Your children favor you heavily,” he said into the comfortable silence. Lina nodded. “Your eyes and that dark hair… Matyas looks like Lei Magnus, you know,” he mused a few moments later, and Lina’s eyes grew hard.
“Why do you tell me these things?”
He shrugged, watching her levelly.
“He is not a Mazoku seal.”
“No, he’s not.”
Lina relaxed minutely, still glaring at him. “And neither is Lara.”
“No, not her either.” She relaxed a little more. Xelloss fondled his cup. “I thought of something, a few years ago… you’re a little like Lei-sama, sometimes. How your personalities get, when you’re being serious. And yet… you’re so completely different that I never realized it before. It’s enchanting.” Lina was giving him an odd look, and he smiled at her. “Really, it is.” His grin grew dark. “He and Luna-chan are very alike too, when they’re being nasty.” Lina paled a little, and muttered something into her mug. “I’m sorry, what was that?”
“I said, ‘no wonder he was so fucking terrifying.’” She glared at him, and Xelloss chuckled.
“Well, no one ever put an image of Lei Magnus showering on the side of a barn.” He smirked. “Probably would’ve gotten a decent profit off it if they had—he had a great ass.” Lina muttered something at him he didn’t care to have her repeat. It was cute how her ears went red, though, even after all this time. Xelloss swirled his drink, watching the cloves dance. “He had some cousins, I think. Lei. I don’t know what happened to them.”
Lina sighed and sat back. “Ironic if he’s related to Luna and me.”
“I find that irony is the binding force in this world. It proves that the Mother of All has a sense of humor.” He tilted his head to one side (it made his hair fall around his face attractively, and part of Lina took the time to appreciate it). “Balance, too, actually. Lei, your sister, and you. Ruby-Eye, Flare-Dragon, and L-sama herself. It makes me wonder about the future.” He balanced his chin on his hand and studied her until her cheeks reddened.
“You’re being creepy,” she snapped at him. He smiled. Lina’s ire was always so sweet.
“Have you ever had to deliver two and a half thousand live rabbits?” He could feel her mental gears grind at the shift, and he felt her smile.
“No. Have you ever had to explain why playing ‘show me yours’ in the temple of Ceipheed is a bad idea?”
Xelloss laughed. “They did that?”
“They most certainly did.” Her eyes sparkled at him again, amusement and irritation making a heady cocktail. “Amelia was scandalized.” She wrinkled her nose. “Then Phil went on about the natural actions of children. The only thing funny about that was how red Amelia turned.”
He shook his head, and wiped tears from his eyes. “You too, I imagine. I wish I’d been there.”
Lina rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. “Yeah. You could have made it worse.”
They looked at each other, and after a while Lina scowled. “Don’t you dare be coy with me, Xelloss.”
“I hear an ‘or else.’” He was still smiling. Lina slowly smiled at him, and it was not nice.
“Or else I’ll make you buy my family dinner. Feeling rich, fruitcake?” Xelloss stopped smiling. He stood up, set one hand on the table, and kissed her. Xelloss sat back, regarding her with open eyes, a tiny smile on his face. Lina blinked at him.
“You’ve been waiting twenty years to do that again, haven’t you.”
He smirked. “Probably. I wasn’t sure until I did it.” Lina looked irritated.
“You and your fucking Mazoku patience. It’s a good thing I’m irresistible or I’d be dead by the time you finished thinking about it.” Xelloss blinked at her. “Honestly,” she went on, stalking around the table, punctuating herself with sharp gestures. “All this time without a word: popping in, spying on me, giving my children ideas, startling the shit out of my husband, pissing me off…” She held his face in both hands, eyes glittering. “I’m an impatient woman, Xelloss.”
“You’d better have. I was starting to think you’d finally gone senile, you great fruity bastard.” He looked at her, still smiling. “Well?!” she said. “Impatient!”
He laughed then, low and deep, and kissed her again, deep and sweet. “Here?”
Lina bit his lip, then licked it. “You’re out of your mind as always. Like I want to give my neighbors something else to complain about.” They kissed again, nibbling at each other. Xelloss smiled into it.
“I thought you didn’t care what people thought.”
“I care when I have to listen to it.” She kissed the corner of his mouth. “And my husband won’t let me Fireball anyone to shut them up.”
“Your husband again,” he said, his arms wrapped loosely around her waist. Lina gave him another Look.
“Yes,” she said archly, as if it was a dare. “My husband. The man I married, because I love him. The one who puts up with me. You know. That man I see more than once a decade?” He frowned at her, and she frowned right back. “It’s nobody’s fault but yours, Xelloss.” They looked at each other for another moment, then she tugged his hair and slipped out of his arms. “Come on then.” He followed, bemused.
He didn’t think he’d ever fully figure out Lina. He loved that about her.
Part Two is community-locked for pr0n situations