A/N - Butch said once that Poof's concept name was Dusty. I loved the name too much to let it go to waste, so I gave Cosmo and Wanda a second son. We met his counterpart in "You'll Never Know": Smoky, the technologically frustrated computer geek turned pianist, who's next in line for the High Count seat if Foop fails to measure up. They'll show up a few times throughout the 130 Prompts, but mostly in the background since they don't have story arcs of their own.
(Also, shout out for that date jump from 2019 to 2021 between updates, oops! I kept trying to write short pieces for filler between this and "You'll Never Know," but the heart wants what it wants, I guess! Hats off to future readers facing them back to back, I am very sorry)
Summary: After Poof begs to drive his car halfway across Fairy World, Cosmo struggles to master the art of letting go.
Characters: Cosmo, Poof, Dusty, Wanda, Foop, Jorgen, Schnozmo, Mama Cosma, Blonda, Westley, Timmy, Sparky, assorted background characters
Prerequisites: "Rain Dance" (Yes I'm serious) and "77 Secrets of 'The Fairly OddParents' Revealed" (Also contains references to several Origin of the Pixies and Frayed Knots chapters, but those aren't required as long as you're willing to roll with what you get)
Posted: March 16, 2021
70. Repeat (~2,000 years after the "Shadow" Prompt)
First Thursday of September; Aurora 8047
Year of Breath, Summer of the Shift in Thought
Cosmo Julius Cosma was not normally a possessive person. Really, he didn't mind sharing his snacks, his money, his friends, his PJs, his time, his dog, his kidneys, or anything else like that, and he'd gone into the godparenting business for a really, really good reason… I mean, playing with kids all day, duh! And that usually involved sharing some of his godkids' toys sooner or later. Hopefully way, way sooner than later.
And it seemed so rude not to share his own toys in return. Cosmo had never cared for action figures as a young fairy, much preferring squishy stuffed animals and board games with oodles of intricate pieces, but whenever a child came to him with a request for a toy, he always snapped to attention and tried his hardest to get it right. Sometimes all he had to do to grant a wish for toys was poof one of his own from the castle, already having been wished up or purchased long ago. He'd kneel beside his godkids in fascination as they designed new adventures for all his favorite toys, and half his mind would wander to all the ways he could incorporate these stories into their existing pasts as he knew them (It seemed a shame to let all that imagination go to waste). He forgot a lot of things, but he could usually remember details of people's pasts, even if they were just his toys.
Then, each night when plushes and cards and games were returned to him, Cosmo would hold them to his chest and float through the tiny underwater castle that made up his and Wanda's field work home… He'd place them gently down somewhere in the giant playroom filled with all sorts of poofed-up bits and gizmos from over the years. Clown-colored. Carpet thick enough for taking naps on, and a snack closet that always stayed empty 'cuz he never kept it locked. Once, he even hung a piñata for two of his godkids (twins back then) to take turns hitting it with balls while he poked it with a bat. Sometimes a godkid became so attached to one of his toys, Cosmo would even sneak back to their house some Midsummer's Night when their memories had long been wiped away, just to leave it quietly among their things. He hoped that made them happy.
Gosh, the memories… Sharing could be fun, you know. Against all the odds, all the traditions, all the stories… even a Fairy could give without asking a thing in return. Sometimes. Rarely. Unexpected gifts were still so frowned upon even in modern day… And Cosmo, actually… didn't mind if sharing his toys placed him in some human child's inescapable debt. Everyone gives and everyone takes.
But the car was his.
"Dad, pleeeaaase?" Poof scooted a little to the left, blocking out the artificial garden lights on purpose, just so the sprouts at Cosmo's knees would die away. "Just to the school and then Fairywood and back?"
For all of Mama's smothering, she had allowed him the car so long ago. And with it (Perhaps foolishly) had come her son's one precious glimpse of free will in a lifetime of being ordered around. Once he'd tasted that life, he'd never gone back. Cosmo had begged and bargained with her for decades before she gave into him, never, ever allowing his short attention span to forget how badly he longed to drive. In a way, driving seemed like the safer of two travel options. At least then he knew where he was going. Poofing into a distant location he couldn't see could be dangerously hit or miss. He'd made that mistake before. Too many times.
So he and Mama made a deal. If he wanted a car so intensely, then he'd have to prove it by getting a job to help her afford one. He'd started work at the diner the next town over that same week and never let a complaint about his mama leave his lips again. Every tough customer, every minimum wage paycheck, every night of tired wings only left him walking on air. They brought him that much closer to the one thing in his life that was completely and utterly his.
And the car that had chosen him was beautiful: sleek as a whistle with a shiny white coat and a gray stripe along her sides. All both of them, actually! Roofless. Cushy. Sure, she'd needed work in the beginning, but Cosmo had spent weeks tuning her up, and continued to year after year. It was fun, like a puzzle, and he never tired of it. Every Season Turn, he used to buy her a little dangly for his keyring or a sticker for her butt. Her name was Darla Twinkle and there wasn't a single aspect about her he didn't know and love.
It's funny, but he'd actually met Wanda because of Darla, slamming right in her on his way home from a very awkward dinner with Anti-Cosmo up at school. All the laughter had plunged from his wings a heartbeat later. He'd hit a person! A real person. Unprotected by a car herself, just plowed straight into her side. He'd raced her to the hospital and hadn't slept for days, a heavy core sunk low in his throat. She wasn't dead. But she had been hurt. After hours of tears and determination to do the right thing, he'd finally sold Darla to one of Wanda's roommates. The careless, destructive roommate. But it had to be done.
That's how he'd paid off Wanda's medical bills, sputtering apologies each time he visited her (which was a whole bunch). That should have been the end of it. They were supposed to go their separate ways. Really, she should hate him for life.
But she didn't.
And somehow, with a few strings pulled on Wanda's end, dear Darla Twinkle made it back to him one day. That seemed like a secret and she still hadn't told. And for the entirety of their dating life, Cosmo had made a point to drive Wanda around in Darla as much as possible. Not because he meant to show her off (Well, not JUST because of that)… But Wanda came from a family where poofing from room to room (or even out of bed) had always been her norm. The outside world seemed strange to her in the same way it was strange to him. He had a smothering mother (Yeah, he knew it… even if he kinda liked it most the time). And Wanda? Well, she had a big, huge, MEGA controlling father.
But their parents couldn't touch them when they were with Darla, driving so fast that it ruffled their hair and carried their laughs halfway across Fairy World and up to the moon. Nobody could tell them stop. Outside was like this new world they shared together, his hand on the stick shift and Wanda's on its back.
Oh, sure, there were newer models on the market nowadays. Some with mirrors for safety, some with cushy seats, some that could hover or leave rainbows behind… but Cosmo wouldn't trade Darla for any car in the universe. Wanda respected that. After all, they had history between her worn, tearing-open seats. Darla had swept them off to the place they'd had their first kiss (the Starglint Town rosewater station… Uh, maybe it doesn't sound romantic out of context, but I promise, it totally was). He'd serenaded Wanda with his tractor song from Darla's seats. He'd even proposed while his to-be wife sat on Darla's hood, tackled her when she said yes, running his hands along her sides and tugging at her shirt-
"Dad, c'mon! I'll be careful, I swear!"
Cosmo blinked. Hard. His fingers traced up behind his neck to pull on his tied-back hair. "I just… Ah…"
Countless smooching sessions they'd hidden from their parents had only happened because they'd had Darla Twinkle to steal away to. And when they road-tripped to Fairy Falls on their honeymoon and found out Cosmo didn't know he was supposed to book a hotel in advance, Wanda wasn't even mad. They went on a drive instead, laughing at the pretty pink and purple leaves and gazing down the mountain at the curves of Anti-Fairy World's border weaving against Evadne River. They parked at the bottom of a cliff and used Darla's headlights for shadow puppets. They'd, uh… Well, since the hotel didn't work out, they'd… kinda spent their wedding night in Darla's care. Oh, and then they ate so much candy! Wanda got sick and threw up the whole next day, so Cosmo just drove in circles and chattered just to keep her mind off the pain… Good times. Gooooood times.
And if wishes were for fairies, there was no question Cosmo would wish his son had a few more millennia to go before moulting into his adult wings. He wasn't even 150,000 yet, but Fairy law was Fairy law, and anyone with adult wings who passed their driving test was authorized to drive in the cloudlands. Who was he, a fairy himself, to protest Da beautiful Rules?
Yet Cosmo sat there. Frozen in the garden of the little pink house at the corner of the street, gripping the worn handle of his trowel with all his might. His fingernails curled in the dirt even through his gloves. Despite his trembling lower lip, he couldn't quite bring himself to look away from the tall purple fairy who floated on his knees above him. Tongue the taste of gravel under Darla's wheels.
"Pleeease, please? I aced the test and everything. I won't be reckless! I'll keep my eyes on the road at all times, except when I'm looking back to check my blind spot. Because then I'll be watching the road behind me, so I can be safe while backing up."
Safety was a good thing. Cosmo dropped his gaze to the weeds again. Well, the ones that Sparky hadn't sprawled himself over while he half napped and half digested lunch, anyway (Half-digested lunch sounded pretty gross, come to think of it). Cosmo prodded the trowel in the sparkling white soil between the fairy dog's forepaws. The brim of his hat tilted down over his face.
No one else's hands had ever wrapped tenderly around Darla's wheel before.
"Uhh… I don't really know, Poofy. Your Mama and I are finally getting the chores done today. There's busy adult stuff to do around here and I don't like you and Darla driving off without me."
"Dad, come on!" Poof floated a little lower to scratch Sparky behind the ears. "I'm 145,300 now. I've done all my homework for the whole week, I already took my morning shower, and I'll only be out for a few hours. She'll be in good hands, I promise! I'll feed her and wash her and change her oil, and I won't let her drive on the teleport pads in anybody's yard. Please? Anti-Cosmo never, never, ever lets Foop steer his racing boat, even for a second. Shouldn't I get to drive your car since I'm his opposite?"
"I mean," Sparky said, pushing his head into Poof's hand, "you can't argue with that logic, dude. Not unless you want the Universe Herself to smite you down."
"You're making a lot of sense. But…" Cosmo's stomach twisted in two directions. He could practically feel the soft poofs of an angel and a devil appearing on his shoulders. Darla Twinkle was his, his, his! He'd worked his wings off for her. Why should he hand Poof her keys just because he'd received his learner's permit that very morning? If he wasn't going to make Poof earn a car of his own, then shouldn't he at least make Poof work to earn the money for car insurance before he took her on the road?
Then again, Poof was his own son… His sweet, precious baby puffball who really wasn't much of a baby anymore. Weren't good fathers supposed to pass things down to their kids? Like, Poof was pretty careful, he was good… Sure, he did plenty of dumb things sometimes (usually while showing off for his friends). But his friends wouldn't be in the car with him today… and it was just one little trip to school for saucerbee practice, then to Fairywood to visit Blonda and Westley…
"I'll bring you back some fancy candles and a treat from the fly-thru FroYo," Poof wheedled.
"Well…" Slowly, Cosmo pulled off one gardening glove. He reached into the front pocket of his overalls. His hand closed around the familiar ring, with its half-dozen colorful keychains flashing bright (His last godkid, Aima, had picked out three of them). He always kept Darla's keys nearby, even when he was out on active duty and she was back here at their Fairy World home. After all, Darla was his car. It just made sense.
Poof held out his cupped hands. Cosmo held the keys out at arm's length, watching the beads and feathers and metal springs and tiny plastic monuments swing and twinkle. They bopped forward… then back. Even Sparky lifted his head and pricked his ears.
This was so weird. Wanda had never even driven Darla before. Not even once. Of course she hadn't. Because Darla was his car!
"Just to visit Westley and Blonda?" Cosmo asked, unable to tear his eyes away.
"Yeah, right after saucerbee practice. You've gone with me ten dozen times. I know the way. I'll be fine." Poof's fingertips grazed the keys. Cosmo jerked them back.
"Waaait a minute!" His eyes slashed flat in a suspicious squint. "How do I know you're not going to sneak off and get kissy with that wisp girl you like?"
"Um… Because Dusty's coming with me?"
Cosmo continued to squint at him all suspiciously. Sparky raised a hind foot and scratched behind his ear, scattering flecks of white mud across the garden.
"Yeah, Puff-Pants. How do we know you won't just sweep her out of her house and take off for Yugopotamia without us?"
Poof bit his lip and tried again. "Uh, because Goldie lives in Pixie Woods and cars can't drive between the trees?
"I buy that!" Cosmo started to reach out with the keys, only to jerk them back once more. Poof's hands clenched empty air (Cheeks went pink, brows drawn, garden lights shifted through his wings and into Cosmo's eyes). "Now, don't forget this. She's a bit rough around the edges and sometimes she shudders when she brakes. She's old and wearing out, but she's still reliable, just like your mama. Her gas pedal might stick a little if you push too fast when going up a hill. Make sure you only feed her good stuff at the rosewater station. The cheap kind makes her tummy all wobbly down the road."
Poof's fingers wiggled all over the place. Did he have sprites in his underpants? He fluttered back and forth like he's forgotten he had legs. "Dad, I know! I've watched you a million times. I'll be fine, seriously!"
Cosmo shut his eyes. Swiftly, he brought Darla's keys to his lips. "Be strong for Daddy, baby girl," he whispered. "Don't make this harder than it is."
The keys twinkled like her name.
"Aw, don't be like that, baby. We always knew this day would come… Be strong." And throwing one arm across his eyes, he fought to choke back his sob. "No, fine! If that's how it's going to be, then go! Just go already!"
Two thick arms wrapped around his stomach. "Thanks, Dad." The keys vanished from his hand… and with them went a little piece (or two) of Cosmo's heart. Poof bobbed towards the house's front, where Darla Twinkle waited in all her pristine glory at the curb. "I'll be back tonight! Pretty late. Don't worry, though. There won't be a scratch on her when you see her again."
Ha. Darla was old enough that she'd had plenty of scratches before… but if Poof could keep that promise, he really would be a real man, huh? All grown up. Cosmo meant to smile, but his lips stretched like candy wrappers instead of face. Sparky tried to imitate it, but it just left both of them stifling their laughs. Ah, well…
The front door of their Fairy World home swung inward. Wanda floated over the front steps, still fluttering the feather duster along the frame. When she saw Poof dancing around like a lottery winner, she paused long enough to open her arms for a hug.
"Dad said yes!" Poof cheered, rocketing into her embrace.
"Have a safe trip, sweetie."
"Love you too. Don't worry, we'll be back tonight." Into the house, he called, "Dusty, let's kick it!"
Rapid wingbeats sang through the air. Less than two seconds later, or probably less than one, a blur of puffy green hair and crisp black clothes shot past Wanda like she wasn't even there. "Haha! Guess who gets out of chores early today! Not you, Mama! Aaadagio!" Dusty dove headfirst into Darla's passenger seat, then flipped himself upright again just as fast. "Okay, okay, let's go, let's go! Quick, before somebody makes me take a bath!"
Stifling a laugh, Poof waved a final good-bye to both of them. "See you guys later. Don't sweat it. This'll be like feeding chocolate to a baby."
"Be safe," Cosmo mouthed at nobody. He clenched the dirty trowel in both hands. Sparky lay down his head and rolled to his other side.
Wanda waved the feather duster. "If we're awake, we'll all have cherry pie when you boys get back. If we're asleep, you'll find it on the counter."
"Sounds good, Ma," Poof called back, probably only half listening (Cosmo only ever half-listened too when he was bringing Darla to the waking world). Poof dropped into the driver's seat, then plugged his wand into the ignition drawer like he'd been preparing for this every day of his life. Dusty started pressing buttons and turning knobs on the radio. Ah- the heater blasted. Music blared. Two birds exploded from a nearby tree with startled squawks (Not really exploded). Cosmo cringed, wings shuffling around. NOT the way Darla liked to be woken after a nap. He sat back on his knees to watch as Poof pressed on the gas and eased the car onto the road.
"There they go," Wanda said softly. She brought the feather duster below her chin. "Our two big boys."
Cosmo scratched a few times behind his neck. Clumps of cloudy soil tumbled down the back of his shirt. "Aha ha… Do you think we should be worried about how much time Poof always wants to spend with Darla?"
"Mm… Should we be?"
"I dunno. But, um…" It was still early. He was still tired. His eyes wandered up the road. "Poofy used to watch so much human TV as a kid, y'know? Human people used to be his favorite kind of people. Do most Fairy kids want to drive cars this much? It's like he's forgotten he can poof even though that's his name!"
Wanda sighed, giving in to a soft smile. Eyes on him, she leaned against the doorframe. "Oh, Cosmo… Are you nervous to see our growing boy take Darla out without you?"
"Yeah. No! Maybe… Sort of a little. Or I guess a lot. Maybe I'm jealous." The word only lasted in the air a second before Cosmo tensed his wings. "I mean, I mean-" With a twitch of his hand, he poofed himself into the first rodent to pop into his head. "Look, I'm a flying squirrel!"
Only, he'd forgotten to add the gliding flaps. Cosmo plunged straight into a puddle at the tip of the leaky hose. Sparky yawned and pawed his nose, smearing mud across the gray fur around his muzzle.
"Nice try, sweetie." Wanda floated about 500 hairs closer and nudged the flightless squirrel with her foot. "But you still have to finish the weeding."
Cosmo squinted past his forepaws at the purple shoots jabbing up through the dirt. Oh yes, he well remembered how annoying weeds had been down on Earth from centuries of pulling them out alongside his godkids, but Fairy World weeds were the absolute worst. They got everywhere. They mostly only grew from patches of stale fairy dust, which made them magical weeds, so magic couldn't kill them faster than a sprinkle of weedkiller pellets could. He prodded one large leafy-looking vine thing with his knuckle. It curled away. "Huh. I guess I do."
No use stalling. He poofed into a fairy again. Wanda smooched his cheek and floated back inside to finish undusting the place… Leaving him alone. Well, not alone, but definitely with Sparky and without Darla, which was basically as alone as alone could get. The empty space in his pocket left him feeling like some other guy named Cosmo in some other wide-brimmed hat… one who stood in a rolling wheat field that stretched on until tomorrow.
Cosmo frowned at the largest weed in front of him. He gave it a long, solid tug. No go. Huh… It was really stuck in there, wasn't it? Maybe a little water would loosen the soil. He sprinkled a few droplets from the end of the hose, mostly shaking it. They dribbled like drool.
Oh, great. Sooo, this should just take about forever. Cosmo brushed sticky cloud dust from his overalls. Ehh. Well, while the hose was leaking, he may as well go inside and clean something else. Maybe the bathroom? Poof's wisp friend had brought over a whole suitcase full of shampoos for Poof to try on his curls, and Sparky had gotten curious and spilled at least half of them. Some of the suds and streaks were still smeared across the counter, tangled with Poof's loose clumps of hair. Or maybe he could start with the living room. Dusty's game group had come over for Corporations & Con Artists last night, and when they'd left there were digiboards and styluses all over the place.
Cosmo pushed himself up to his feet, even though the mud made him wobble. "Hey, watch the water for me until I get back, okay, Sparky?"
Sparky waved his tail like a fan in response, not opening his eyes. The hose dribbled on, soaking the dirt into mud.
The pillow felt wetter than it was dry. Cosmo clutched it to his cheek anyway in a pathetic attempt to drown all his 188,000-year-old woes. To say his Mama and big brother were arguing in the kitchen wouldn't be totally true. The only voice echoing up the stairs was hers. Although it wasn't directed towards him, Cosmo couldn't help but flinch each time it snapped against his skin.
"So that's it, then? You disappear with your brother's car for a week and a half without the slightest explanation, then expect you can come crawling back here - at this time of morning - without batting an eyelash?"
"Put. The cereal. Down, Junior. Look at Mommy when she's talking to you."
No reply. Cosmo turned his head, still sniffling into the sleeve of his pajamas.
"Robin Augustus Cosma! Do you think this is funny?"
No reply. Only the sound of cereal spilling into a bowl. The milk splashed after it a moment later.
No reply. This pause was longer. Unable to stand it anymore, Cosmo slipped out from under his bedsheets. He hugged his stuffed train to his chest and crept over to his bedroom door, tiptoeing even though his feet didn't scrape the ground.
"Half-smashed and egged, Junior. You brought your brother's car home smashed and egged, its engine gutted for spare parts and wires like a fish, one tire flat and the other missing completely. To say nothing of the hubcaps or how little you left in the tank. Oh, I'm fuming so hot, I can hardly stand to look at you. Have you nothing to say for yourself?"
No reply. Cosmo's door was already open a crack. When he pushed it further, he did so quickly to give it less time to realize it was moving and squeak at him. It squeaked anyway. Cosmo's wings tensed up. His toes brushed the carpet.
"Junior," Mama snapped again.
No reply. Robin's spoon clanged against his bowl.
"What drew you back at all, seeing as you were out so late? Where did you go, and who were you with?"
A reply: "Like you care."
Cosmo flattened a hand over his mouth. He'd reached the top of the stairs, and he didn't want to go much further. Maybe just a bit. A very little bit. Just enough to peer between the railing bars.
"You've become a disrespectful pig, Junior. And this after I've fed, clothed, and sheltered you all your life. As your mother, I'm astounded. When your brother wakes up, you're going to slather him with your sincerest apologies, and it will be entirely up to him whether he forgives you for- for- this disgrace."
"What's the big deal?" Robin muttered into his spoon. "You'll just buy him a brand spankin' new one."
Mama's hand dropped like a shot bird on the table's edge. "Your brother worked hour after hour for long, honest years to afford that car. It means the world to him. And you and your no-good friends had it destroyed in one reckless weekend!"
Without looking at her, Robin lifted his cereal bowl from the table and let it crash to the floor. Glass scattered every which way. So did the milk and the rest of what he hadn't eaten. Cosmo flinched back behind the wall, curling his knees around the stair he sat on. Mama gasped, her hand smacking to her chest. She staggered in the air.
"A-all right! If that's how it's going to be, then go to your room at once, and don't float out of there again until you're ready to apologize to your brother."
Robin oozed from his seat, stretched his arms above his head, yawned, and drifted to the front door. He reached for the knob, but before he could touch it, Mama poofed him back to the table.
"Junior, I'm surprised at you. I- I'm flummoxed! Why, look at the selfish brat you're becoming. Is this how you want your future to turn out? Is this what your father would have wanted you to be?"
"Say no," Cosmo whispered, inching forward once again. Cold floor, cold blood, cold soul. "Please, Robbie, just do what she says… It's okay, it'll be okay… I'm not mad. I promise I'm not mad."
Robin did not say no. As a matter of fact, he didn't say anything. He didn't try to get off the chair he'd been poofed to, either. His hands gripped its sides. He turned his attention to a point on the wall just behind Mama's shoulder and began to stare. And stare. And stare, even when she trembled and argued and pleaded with him. It was like her anger wasn't even there, that's how little effect it had on him. And as her protests drew on, Cosmo found himself staring too. Staring, fingers plugged in his ears, at a brother that even his slow, young mind realized he was about to lose. Because Robin had been argued and pled with so many times, he'd forgotten he was supposed to ask if Mama even loved him anymore.
The maildame had poofed by an hour ago, bringing a tall stack of letters and a box shaped like a cookie jar. Cosmo gathered an armload and carried it down the hall to his and Wanda's office. He only dropped one thing on the way. That one thing was, uh… (the box), which apparently had something breakable in it. Maybe a cookie jar? Hopefully a cookie jar. Wincing in secret, Cosmo flicked his wand at it and mended it the way he assumed it was supposed to look under all the brown paper. He may have dropped the rest of the letters in the process of unsheathing his wand, but hey- it was still a good morning.
Day 2 of spring cleaning and he and Wanda hadn't gotten to organizing the office yet. There was a good reason for that, and it sort of had something to do with how little they used it with the careers they had now. It was a big room too. Wanda had her half of space by the only window across the room, and you could tell so a glance because she'd picked a fuzzy white rug to tuck beneath her desk chair. He'd borrowed her old plastic mat. Cosmo came in with the letters, pushing the door open with his shoulder, and sniffed at the dull tang of near-nothingness in the air. This place hadn't been used in at least three decades, or thirteen, or thirty-three. It didn't smell like either of them. Not even a mouse whisker. Maybe this was how many non-magical species felt walking into old ruins or cemeteries, unable to read any electric signals in the air…
The sun-shaped clock Cosmo kept above his own desk had run dead while they'd been away. All these millions of years of magical technology and they still hadn't evolved past the need for batteries. Should he bother fixing it? He wasn't in here enough for it to matter. A new portrait would look nice on the wall too. How long had it been since they took photos as a family? The ones in the hall had been there forever. Maybe literally. No, that's weird.
But MAN, was it dusty in here. Not Dusty as in his son's name or dusty in the way a Fairy called someone who had died, but the natural kind that creeps up your spine like moss and leaves dirty prints across your hands. Cosmo dumped the letters on Wanda's tidy white desk, but kept the sheet of summer restaurant coupons for himself. Those were more fun to surprise her with than letting her see them in advance. Hm. A little dark over here, though. He licked his hand and rubbed some of the grime off her window. Then he did it again. Yeah. Perfect.
Tongue gross but starlight shining, Cosmo drifted farther and farther back to admire his handiwork. His bum bumped into something solid, like a table. "Oh," he said, remembering his own desk. It was a good desk; always behaved. Solid chesberry wood. It sat quietly against the rocky wall that had the bookshelf. Displayed on the desk he had the fancy blue shoebox that held his ribbon scrap collection, then one of his ties, a timestream photo of him, Westley, and Nixie, and…
… Oops. Somewhere along the way, he'd completely forgotten to feed Carlos, his dippy bird, who leaned sadly over his empty water dish. He and Wanda both had one, hers pink and his (obviously) bright orange. Cosmo searched the drawers around his desk and found a jug of water. Carlos liked the sparkly kind. After pouring and then putting the jug away again, Cosmo leaned against his desk on folded arms to watch the bird guzzle his first meal in years. He smiled.
"Do you have any kids, Carlos?"
Yes, the bird nodded in response.
"I have a few boys. Poof and his brother Dusty went out in my car today… It's their first time without me there. Do you think I did the right thing letting them go?"
Yes, the bird promised. Huh. You know, that actually did make Cosmo feel better… like he was the one to give permission for them to leave his life this time, and Wanda would be right there with him hugging his shoulder until they came back. And, well… How can you argue with a glass bird in a top hat? He probably graduated from the Academy to wear that.
With the bird fed and happy again, Cosmo straightened up and brushed his fingers through his hair. Actually, he really did like the office. Sometimes it was kinda boring in here, filling report after report about his godkids (and digging through old reports he'd poofed here from the fishbowl), but… it actually wasn't that boring. It gave him and Wanda something to do together. Maybe it just needed a little more light. Wanda liked to play piano music when she worked, and maybe she'd like a self-playing piano for their anniversary. It would probably fit in here as long as he pushed her desk into the hall. Hm. Eh, he could get started on that tomorrow. Maybe he'd just buy her a very tiny piano. Or at least a key. Pianos had keys.
Wanda's half of the office always balanced between bright white and pink, with flowers and frills dripping from every surface. A little prism by the window made a rainbow on her desk in the same place she liked to put her hand. In contrast, like a cloud, Cosmo sat in the opposite corner. It stayed dark back here until he lit the candles… but he had the books at arm's reach, and that made it all worth it. Yes. Cosmo flew to the highest shelf and danced his fingers along the rugged spines, which weren't as bony as the name suggested. Kids' books, grown-up books, picture books, Da Rules… An empty space at the end of the shelf had already been labeled Reserved for Aima, the note probably poofed there months ago when she was still his godkid. Oh. Yeah. Aima wanted to write about the stars someday, just like him.
The dancing fingers tripped and fell off their stage. His palm fell against his knee. "Wow. I love the stars. And I loved writing. Why'd I give it up?"
… Well, he knew why. Even if Wanda didn't. She thought she did… but no one really remembered or understood, even him. The books on this shelf were written a long time ago, way back when he was a different Cosmo. He'd even had a 'stache back then.
Ooh. When the sharp memory bubbled up, Cosmo tapped his wand against his head. A flash lit the office. Only for a moment, like a needle in his temple. Like a jab. Then it faded into dark again, leaving dust motes twirling in the starlight from the window and visible nowhere else. A wooden key shimmered into existence in his hand. Cosmo tossed it on his desk without looking back. Oh, sigh-
Crash? Cosmo shifted his focus to the corners of his eyes, studying his desk with a big frowning lip. He hadn't thrown the key at Carlos. So what would have made that smashing…?
His eyes snapped wide; he spun around. "Nixie!"
Cosmo launched himself across the desk. The picture had toppled, pointy glass shattered on the floor. No, no…! He grabbed the shards anyway, even when they bit his hands. They glittered like snowflakes made of, uh… Well. Glass.
Okay, okay. Uh. Was that all of them? He poured them on the desk and tapped the wreckage with his wand. With a poof, the pieces mended together again. Cosmo watched, clutching his teeth, until they were all back where they were supposed to go. Every last one of them. Then he breathed out a cloud of silver magic shaped like tiny stars. Phew.
… This was the only picture he had of her. Nixie had glowered at him her whole high school graduation, shoulders slumped and streaks of blonde hair drooping around her face (this was before she'd dyed it black). She'd blatantly been taking peppermint; had the holder in her hand and everything in this picture, little wafts of sugar powder swirling upward from its end. Nixie didn't believe anyone who said that stuff was bad for her. In the picture, Cosmo hugged her shoulders, laughing despite her frustrations… and crying, mostly. Because Jorgen hadn't let him see her in a long, long time. And since she hadn't asked to see him since she was a little kid, Cosmo… sort of wanted to respect that space. Even when it really hurt.
She was grown now. She didn't need him anyway.
The glass remained dusty despite shattering on the ground. With his thumb, Cosmo unsmudged the third face in the picture. This wasn't his only picture of Westley, but it was the only one he had of the young celebrity smiling. Westley stood with arms swung back and one hip leaning out, just as he looked on almost every fancy candle advertisement he'd ever posed for. His blond hair tumbled across his blue eyes, and he almost didn't look disinterested to be there. Like he actually didn't mind Cosmo barging in on that moment with his not-quite-sister.
Cosmo's fingers… tightened with his teeth.
Really, what's the use of having magic if it doesn't save you from the bigger pains in life? No matter how many times he wiped his memories, it never worked. There were too many of them and they always crept back when he was alone. Maybe it would be best to get rid of the picture entirely, but… it was the only one he hadn't yet torn apart.
No. He could handle keeping one picture in the office, right? Because what would Nixie think if she ever came to visit and saw he'd erased her for good? And even if Westley acted like he didn't want anyone besides Nixie to be friends with him… today was far from Poof's first visit to his and Blonda's place. Westley probably liked the pictures that showed him smiling more than ones that didn't, too.
Life is like that sometimes. Gingerly, Cosmo replaced the graduation picture on his desk and wiped off his tears with that same dirty thumb. Then he closed the office door and flew down the hall. You know, he liked the recent addition of skylights for most of the ceiling… The starry sky felt so open, free, and chased away more of his internal shadows than artificial light bulbs ever could. Y'know? Like…
… living in hamster cages, cat trees, and fish bowls one godkid after another was always a fun change of scenery, but Cosmo would never, not ever get bored of the stars. Ha. What a relief to walk freely as an adult beneath their twinkled light! He inhaled their touch even through the ceiling glass. After a lifetime holed up in his mama's house, in the war camp, in hiding when his books came under fire, under Aunt Potter and Uncle Harold's stairs… Oh MAN, and he'd had to FORCE himself to give up the observatory and all his favorite lookout locations when they eloped and he thought the Fairywinkle family would hunt him down…
… He really missed that observatory. And the rooftops, and the hills. Blonda's rooftop had an especially good view of the northern stars, and she'd always let him use it during their Academy days. Oh, such a simple life so long ago. Hmm. Maybe he should take Wanda back to that cliff they had their second date at, an hour's drive from their old high school…
The swoosh of a feather duster dragged him back to reality. Wanda still floated around undusting the portraits hanging in the hallway, though she was on the last one in the row: the one that showed them and their boys all together for the evening chasing firefly-foxes. Portrait-Cosmo had a scruffy, glowing baby fly-fox in his hands while a startled portrait-Wanda had been caught in tug-o'-war with the little thief that had wriggled off her shoe. Okay, fiiine… Pretty pictures, even if they were covered in dust.
Real-life Cosmo called her name, picking up speed. Wanda swung to face him, too late. He engulfed her waist in a top-speed hug and twirled her like a hurricane.
"No reason," he said, blinking up at her with the dopiest eyes he'd ever had, and… he liked Wanda a little bit better than the stars. "I just tried to clean the office until I remembered I can't keep my hands off you." Not untrue… He HAD cleaned up that broken glass…
Cosmo tightened his arms around her waist. His wings began to thrum; he swallowed back a sob. You know I really love you… Right, Wanda? No matter how many stupid things I do? … Or all the stupid things I did before our love was sealed?
Wanda gazed down at him, her petal-soft lips twitching in a maybe-smile. She set her hands, feather duster and all, to her hips. "How's the weeding coming?"
"Sparky's watching it, because boy, did I work hard enough to take a break! A looong break."
"Sparky alone in the garden, huh?" Wanda touched her hands to the back of Cosmo's wrists, the skin-to-skin contact of magic making his blood tingle. A flush crept along his nose. He let it spread without complaint, and her exhaled magic grazed his cheek like the feathers on her un-dusting stick. "And you're taking responsibility to check up on him?"
"Mm… Nah." Not today. Cosmo squeezed her somehow tighter, pulling her chest right up against his ear, and listened to the soft rush of magic swirling through her veins. I love you, he thought when her energy signals flickered in response. And, I love you. I love you more than anyone, Wanda.
Then he drew back. "Uh, I think I'm gonna start mopping the floors now. It's way more interesting than weeds. Wanna help?"
She wrapped a frizzy curl in his hair around her fingertip. "I can in a bit, sweetie. I'm going to jump in the shower first."
"Why there? We have a diving board."
Wanda just. Stared. Then her shoulders loosened up and she shook her head, an utterly beautiful, perfectly familiar crease forming above her upper lip. "I want to wash up before I start any more chores. Undusting this place for the first time after six months of living with a godkid sure can be a gross job." She inspected her fingernails and stuck out her tongue. She probably stuck it at her fingernails. Probably, but it still made him drop his eyelids, leaning forward on his toes.
"Ooh, that sounds fun! Can I shower with you?"
"Really? What for?"
"So I can get clean?" he offered innocently.
A small, sweet honk of a laugh. Wanda placed her hand over his cheek, trailing her fingernails up towards his hair again, lips soft and parted… then pushed him backwards so hard, he did a whole flip in the air. Cosmo didn't try to hide his grin. He shrugged, sheepish without guilt. "You do need to wash up," she said. "There's dirt behind your ears."
"Nag, nag, nag," he pouted, pressing out his tongue. "That's all I ever hear."
"Sweetie, you married me. That's on you." When Wanda turned and floated away down the hall, hips swaying with her wingbeats, Cosmo lifted his wand. Snap! went the camera. "I heard that," she called over her shoulder. Kind of the point, you know, and he was half surprised she didn't turn around to pose.
Hmm… Cosmo tapped his wand against his chin for a moment. He poofed down the hall and reappeared in front of Wanda, forcing her to pull up mid-wingbeat. This time he'd pinned his wand between his teeth. When she lifted a brow, he leaned sideways with one hand on the doorframe. "You know, snooky, I missed you every single minute we've been apart since breakfast. Pulling the weeds all by myself was such a bore…"
"I realize that," she said in her absentminded way. Giving him two pats on the cheek, she slipped past him and continued on her way to their bedroom. Oh Wanda… He did love her so, but since she was raised so good and proper, sometimes she could be such an oblivious tw…
Poof! Cosmo popped in front of her again, this time making a more direct appeal. "You know what's reeeally silly, love bug? That you made our bed all nice and straight before I had the chance to roll over this morning and kiss you in it. Man, and I thought you were supposed to be smart!"
FINALLY, Wanda blinked at him. Her eyebrow hovered, partially surprised and partially hesitant. Cosmo flipped over on his back, wings whirring, and shrugged at her upside-down.
"You're loco," she told him, folding her arms. It was all the invitation Cosmo needed. He pressed his hands against her cheeks and delivered just one little kiss. Wanda melted like a snowman, skimming her lips like his skin was too hot to handle. She pressed back against him. The instant she looked distracted, he lunged for the wand in her sheath. Ha ha! She went to smack his hand, but before she had the chance, Cosmo poofed himself to the other end of the hall. Neither spoke for a moment… Silent in the hallway with its portraits and skylights. A shadow flicked across the floor.
"Cosmo," Wanda called after him, but he merely twirled her wand between his fingers.
"Snooze you lose, sugarpie! Better come and get these from me before you decide to shower. I might accidentally turn the water reeeal cold if you don't."
His elbow went back to the wall, the tip of her wand tapping at his teeth. Wanda steamed, cross-armed, at the far end of the hallway. When he laughed, her scowl only deepened. Even so, he touched his lips over the transmitting point.
"Cosmo, stop it! That's disgusting. I can't even remember the last time I cleaned that off."
"Definitely not after the time you used it as a pizza slicer," he mused, tasting it again. "Or is this lasagna?"
"Well, I'm definitely taking those in the shower with me. I don't want to ask what you've been licking lately." Wanda set her hands on her hips, drifting forward. "Sweetie, please. I feel sticky and disgusting and exhausted and I don't have time to play around."
"Oh reeeally? Then why are you yelling at me? You only yell when you like it, naggy-nag."
"I don't nag! Give me those." Without her wand, the farthest Wanda could poof was just a few wingspans down the hall. Cosmo kept that thought firmly in his mind as he watched her gather her bearings. If he let her get too close, then she wouldn't have a problem poofing behind him and disarming him while his back was turned. Almost… there…
He'd always had a knack for being quick on the draw. The moment she turned to dust, Cosmo poofed closer to their home gym, right around the corner. Just far enough away that he had the chance to steady his wings, but close enough to hold her attention. Wanda spun around. The promise of competition lit her eyes, and she chased after him on foot. Poof! Poof! Poof! Each time she closed in, fingers nearly brushing his arm, Cosmo jumped to the next doorway over. But their Fairy World house wasn't as large as their underwater castle, and it was only a matter of time before Wanda pinned him in the corner.
"Gotcha!" She poofed just below him, literally sweeping him off his feet, and flipped him against her shoulder. Cosmo wailed and kicked his legs, but Wanda threw him on the reading nook bench at the end of the hall. His wings flickered at his back. He tried to sit up, only to find her hands slapping down on his chest.
"No fair!" he protested, struggling to look mortified. He banged his knee against the cold window. When Wanda leaned over him, her hair floofs uncurling, he couldn't hold back his snickers. "Wow, you look like a dragon tried to make a nest on your head. And to think you're the one who cares more about hygiene!"
"Hygiene?" she repeated, waggling her lifted brow (Man, she always was good at that). "I don't think that's the best thing to say to someone who might kiss you just now. Did you brush your teeth today?"
"Ye… eeeeees? Come on, baby." He stuck out a pouting limp, trying a second time to sit up (she pushed him down again). "You know I can't think back that far."
"All right. I believe you." Wanda leaned forward, her lips pressed out… and gently kissed his hair. Cosmo groaned, wings flapping again as he tried to get up.
"Nnngh… Do you know what it's like to be jealous of your own hair? You're so much meaner than I am."
"May I have my wand back, Cosmo?" Wanda asked, dripping sweetness. She leaned a little closer, her knobby elbows sticking out to the sides… Pointy, knobby elbows with classic fairy spirals marked out on their tips as bold as tattoos. Swirly, swirly…
Cosmo pretended to think about it, brushing the wands' stars across his mouth from one side to the other. "Maaaybe… If you'll kiss me first."
Wanda walked her fingers from his chest towards his neck. "How about twice? One for each wand."
"Y-yeah… That works too! But, uh…" Though sweat drops had started forming on his upper lip, Cosmo tore his attention from Wanda's dancing fingers. He studied her cool, calculating face, one eye squinted. Expressionless as a pixie, that one. She liked to play that card, even during board games. From his uncomfortable pinned position on the bench, Cosmo tried to stuff the wands up his shirt, behind his back. "What do you want my wand for? I've gotta refill the rosewater anyway."
Wanda's fingernails crawled like spiders up his cheek. They crept into his hair. Wanda wound a few strands around her thumb, staring at his face the whole time… even though Cosmo had slid his eyes sideways, watching those fingers. "Well. I just think your hands can find something better to do without them…"
"That sounds nice…"
And it was nice, once she let him up again. Her thin hand slipped so well in his, like soap in a thing that holds soap, but holds it so tight and doesn't want to let go. Cosmo tried to tug her down the hall to their rooms, but Wanda resisted. She shoved. He hit the wall, right beside the pointy light switch. Her arms looped around his shoulders. Long nails scraped behind his neck. The wands slipped like that same soap through his fingers, clattering softly to the runner rug. Cosmo started to protest, then let his hands fall back against her head, tangling his fingers in her hair in time with the flushing of magic in his veins. He hadn't really expected all this weight on him, and when Wanda leaned closer, he started sliding down the wall. She kissed his nose, his lips, his cheeks, his neck- just- all just kisses. One batch up and another batch down. Finally, Cosmo took her cheeks, squeezing them in like a fish until it made her stop.
"That's not very traditional," he scolded, bonking her forehead on his own.
"What's not?" she asked, cheeks still squashed.
"You know!" Releasing her face, Cosmo made a butterfly with his hands… or something that would have been a butterfly if someone shown a flashlight on it. "16,000 years and we always do our dance before you start going nuts like that! C'mon, Wanda- you're the smart one!"
"160,000," she corrected, taking his hand again. Though it wasn't exactly a spin, she sort of swung him from the wall, fluttering her wings just enough to lift them both off the ground. "Guess I'm a little impatient today~"
"You can't rush art, Wanda. Kissing's the only thing I'm good at."
"That's true," she acknowledged. "That's true."
"Hey! I can write, too! Though what I really want to do is direct. I like all kinds of stars, you know- I don't judge."
"I meant," she said, lifting his arms and wrapping them over her own shoulders this time, "that with you, I could never want to rush. Let's go."
He let her take his collar, tugging him towards the yidreamu bedroom with the wands left discarded on the floor… and with Cosmo more than a little thrilled that this end of the house was as far as they could get from Sparky still lazing about in the yard. Well, yeah, like… the hose was still going and Wanda had probably put lunch on the stove or however it went, but…
… The world could wait. Even the stress. It all could.
"You have a real problem, rando," Saffron told him in the driveway checking her make-up in the reflection of her wand. She was a lot like Blonda that way - always had been, right down to the yellow hair (even if hers was a glossier golden sheen) - and that comforting comparison gave him enough strength to lift to his wings. Cosmo gestured at Darla's passenger seat, but Saffron ignored him, choosing instead to settle herself alone in the back. Oh. Uh. He tightened his fist on empty air. But… so it was. He walked around the car in slow motion, climbed over the door, and took his spot behind the wheel.
Saffron glanced up as he settled in. "Well?"
"Yeah, I kinda thought you might say that. But I… I don't want you waiting for me to pay you back forever. I mean, I'm still paying off my dad's debts to my girlfriend's family, and I owe you… so much."
"Whatever, sure." Saffron made a scoff from the back of her throat, then tucked her wand away in her purse instead of her sheath. She swung a leg over her knee. "Is lunch going to take long? That wing-flexing appointment you're paying for starts in forty minutes one time zone away."
"You'll be on time. I promise. Thanks for, uh… agreeing to meet up with me." Well. If Saffron didn't plan to move upfront, he wasn't gonna make her. Cosmo plugged his wand in the ignition drawer, then eased Darla down the road and away from the shadow of the looming estate. The car rattled beneath him a though she were just as eager to get past the golden gate as he was. Yeah, couldn't blame her; this yard was so green and trim around the edges, even a fairy felt it looked a little overdressed.
"Thanks for letting me pick you up."
"You already said that."
"Oh." Cosmo fixed his stare ahead. He'd promised himself he could ask questions over lunch and all he had to do was keep his mouth shut until the restaurant, but as they neared the end of the very, very long serpentine driveway… "So, when can I meet Nixie?"
Saffron frowned in the rear-view mirror. "Oh, did I not send the letter? You sounded like you'd read it over the call. You seemed fine with it."
"I changed my mind about adopting her out. Jorgen said he'd waive my file at the station if I trade her to him instead of you."
He slammed so hard on the brakes, Saffron's glossy lip tube flew past the windshield. It spun three turns down the drive before Darla crunched it beneath a rolling foot. The brakes quickly shifted to gas again. Saffron twisted to look back, but Cosmo pretended he didn't see.
In the yidreamu, Wanda released his shirt to light the candles pink. Cosmo closed the door with his shoulder. He still had his shoes on.
"What do you think?" Wanda asked, squinting at the candle labels. "'Lotus Paradise' or 'Kiwi Mountain?'"
"I like mountains! But don't pick that one. Kiwi makes me hungry." The socks could stay, he decided once he'd kicked his shoes off (Not much of a decision, really; the socks always stayed). His toes sank into thick red-brown carpet. "Hey… Wanda? Why don't we use this room more often?"
"I don't know," Wanda said, sounding… actually surprised by his question. She raised her head, and when he stared back at her, both of them wide-eyed, loose hair falling slightly over her eyes, it froze and melted him all over again. Wanda had always been the messy-on-purpose sort of beautiful, the kind of stylist who pulled off looking classy even wearing nothing but a sweater in a dull color against too-bright pants, who liked bandanas and oversized scarves around her shoulders, who made sticking a white flower in the middle of a strawberry cream cheese bun look like she'd just smoothed icing on a wedding cake. Her ancestors had nailed those genes into her like a lightning strike on water. Cosmo gazed a little longer and Wanda pursed her lips. "I suppose we should schedule more time for it. Between all the godparenting lately, we've just been…"
"Busy," he finished for her. She hadn't lit the candle yet, but the whole room smelled like wood and flowers (At least… he hoped that was flowers and not mold). "Yeah. I mean, I guess it's true. Aima really kept us on our toes with the wishing this transfer, and that was WITHOUT Jorgen breathing down our necks. Not even once!"
"Sounds like we should do this more often."
"Do what more often?" he asked, awfully liking the sound of that.
"Mm… Untie your hair and why don't we find out?"
He did find out, dissolving into the pillows when her warmth closed in around him. Wanda fit against him with a snuggle, even if she had some REALLY pointy knees. Kind of like elbows for her legs, though one of them had a scar from an encounter with some human guy that had never healed. It marred the swirl etched naturally across her skin… He liked those swirls. Cosmo pinned his tongue between his teeth. Briefly. Reaching up, he pressed his fingers through the back of her hair. Wanda hadn't grown her hair long for several millennia, but she also hadn't cut it lately either. Sometimes she kept it up in a bun, but she wasn't that good at tying them. Loose hairs were part of their reality again, the same way they'd been back when he used to stare at her crooked ponytail bouncing up and down beside her sister's perfect elegance in the school hallways. Blonda was beautiful, but she was… untouchable, like a blue whale (and it wasn't like she'd ever be interested in him anyway).
But Wanda… Hair always clean and neatly pinned or freshly tied, even if she did struggle centering it all behind her neck. Short fingernails, sometimes broken… but always painted. She'd decorated her backpack with enamel pins featuring landmarks from both Fairy World and Earth even when they were young, and nowadays the purse she often carried looked just the same. Wanda knew her way around make-up even better than he did back then, and she shook hands like a real dame who knew everything about money and business and would kick you to the floor if you tried to cheat her even by mistake. Cosmo had always been fond of the way her brown hair showed in the roots of pink at about the same time the amorous season hit, and sometimes in the yidreamu, before taking things any farther, he'd sit and pluck at those just to make her squirm. Even back when she'd dated Juandissimo and he didn't have a unicorn's chance in a dragon den… Wanda said hello to him in the halls at school. When her boyfriend couldn't be around, she sometimes sat with him at lunch. He'd once made milk squirt out her nose.
Then that tongue-pinning thing he was doing had to go, because Wanda was there, swooping in like a moth. He didn't try to fight her lips. Not today. She'd hardly started and already had him hooked; man oh man, when was the last time they'd kissed like this? Two hundred years? Three? He hooked his fingers more tightly in her curls. Wanda, kneeling above him, clutched and unclutched the front of his shirt like a life preserver. Her wings sliced back, then forward with a snap. She always kept her wings back when they kissed- every time. It made them so difficult to touch. Which kind of worked out, really, since he was way more interested in catching her mouth…
Pulse by pulse, fleck by fleck, Cosmo let his anxieties tug away from his core like low tide, snaking all the way down his legs to his feet and out of his soul for good. And it was good. Real good. But when Wanda shifted too sharply down his stomach, he flashed to stop her hand.
"Wait- I don't… I can't. I can't today."
"Oh. I'm… I'm sorry." Her fingers trailed back up his side to his cheek, pink eyes softening like bubblegum ice cream left under the beach sun. Wanda brushed his hair sideways with the back of her hand. "Are you all right, Cosmo?"
Was he all right? Hft… What wasn't wrong with him? Cosmo closed his eyes, letting them roll back in his head. The memories, even those he'd tried deleting for good, bubbled up so strongly in moments like these… My dad is dead. My mama controls me. My mama hates you. Your daddy hates me. I gave up my writing. I was sent by the Fairy Council to fight a war against people who look like my family and friends, and they turned on me as soon as I opened my mouth. My counterpart smears my face across every sin he commits. I have to live with the consequences of his choices… and with my own. Every single day, it's… it's this again. And I look at the low numbers of the forget-a-cin tank in my wand and I know that I messed up, that I slipped and wiped myself again yesterday and can't remember a thing. Jorgen wants me to train as Keeper of Da Rules, but the Fairy Council want his heir to be Juandissimo. Westley doesn't want me. Nixie REALLY doesn't want me. Our godkids can't stay for long. Poof and Dusty are growing up. Poof has my car. You're too perfect…
"… I broke Nixie's picture. I mean, I got it fixed, but only after it broke."
"Oh. Oh, hon…" Wanda seemed unsure for a moment, a little lost with him even though she knew everything in the world, every thought of his heart. Everything, and the tears welled up in his eyes. "I'm so sorry." She sat farther back on her knees then, her wings fluttering back against his own. Shadows from the candlelight painted splashing mermaids across her nose. "Should I take that shower now? I didn't mean…"
"Don't go!" he protested, starting to sit up himself. "I don't want the shower to see you naked before I do!"
Wanda sighed… but with a smile in there. "Cosmo, we've been married for almost 160,000 years. You'll have your turn."
"Well, I called dibs the day I put that pen cap on your finger. Dibs don't expire, and no shower's gonna stand in my way." Cosmo slid his hands to Wanda's waist, holding here there so he could keep those bubblegum eyes on him. He forced their eyes to meet, even when they shook. Because… being left alone like this, with the memories… That would be the worst.
He dropped his head back to the pillows, but this time he let go of her and pressed both palms deeper, deeper against his eyes. Right into the sockets, at least maybe. "Wanda? Uh, you know there's no one else in the universe I'd want to be snuggled up in a bed with. I mean, you do. I know I tease and flirt and try to make you jealous sometimes, but… That's just joking, right?"
'Cuz if you don't believe me, he thought, drawing a circle on her shirt with his thumb, then I don't want to wake up again. You can let me die here… in this exact poofy bed. And you'll have to bury my dust in the garden and tell Sparky not to dig me up, and Poof and Dusty will be sad and Jorgen will probably ask you why you murdered me and then you'll go to jail and find Anti-Cosmo there… His fingers clenched, bunching fabric in his hand.
"You said that out loud, sweetie. And you aren't one to lie." Like a feather, like a fishing line, Wanda drew the backs of her knuckles down his cheek. "I'll believe anything you tell me. You're my husband and that's what wives do."
And that's what got them into this tangled mess of love and war and politics and family ties, wasn't it? Because Wanda always believed him… even when he lied. Which he did. More than she'd ever want to believe. Wanda saw the good in him, which killed him more than he could say. Cosmo suppressed a groan, sinking his wings and shoulder blades into the spongy mattress at his back.
"Yeah, that's true. Along with giving the best kisses, I guess. Hey, Wanda? Are you… happy?"
Her brows arched up like they belonged on a restaurant billboard (which just made him hungry for chicken and fries). "Happy with what? The doting husband I chose over all other men in the sky, and would choose a thousand times again? The sons we fought the Council for and will cherish far past the end of time?"
"No, happy with…" Cosmo searched for the next word, but couldn't quite find it. He took Wanda's hand and began playing with her fingers, spreading them back and forth and touching the chewed pen cap she wore atop her ring. It was a long few minutes before he spoke again, and since he'd started to mumble about how lovely her painted fingernails were, Wanda probably thought he'd forgotten the question completely. But really he was just… thinking.
"My memories," he finally said. That seemed… like an easier topic than breaking open the walnut and asking about "everything." Wanda knew, just… so much about the world. He didn't want her to go off on some tangent about not liking sports or parades or how much she hated being a fish. Not here.
"What about your memories?" She'd moved so she was no longer sitting on his middle, now kneeling on the sheets with her legs tucked beneath her, and she'd never lifted her eyes from her hand as he toyed with her knuckles. Her ring. She had little spirals on her knuckles too. They swirled in the opposite direction his own did, or maybe he was just upside-down. Cosmo stared and stared at the swirlies, because it was easier to trace them with his eyes than it was to focus on unclenching his teeth.
"I don't… I don't know. I just… I just know… I don't remember all the stuff that happens to me." And that was a stupid answer- one that tensed his wings, fluttering them against the cushions until he leaned so far forward, his hands were in his stomach and he wanted to throw up. "A-and… it's important stuff. Wanda, I'm- Th-this isn't a joke! This isn't, like… It's not one of those talks where calling me 'Moron' will make me laugh and feel better. I think it's… big. But then I don't think. I try, but it's like… I just… It's the ceiling, falling like clouds, and the things I say don't make sense. That's why we… That's why I don't ask if we can snuggle more. You know that?"
"Is there anything I can do to help you, Cosmo? I'm here for you… And I won't make jokes about it."
He thought about telling her then… Telling her he'd used so much forget-a-cin over the years that it wasn't working anymore. That it hadn't worked for him in a long time, and he'd been ramping up the doses ever since Poof was born and the memories started stinging worse. That he'd never gotten over Westley or Nixie or how Saffron had treated him or any of that. That having Dusty pushed him over the edge… That Poof could drive now, that Poof loved Darla and school and wanted to get a job, and was so much like he used to be.
Not even Wanda knew every detail about him, and where should he begin telling stories of his past? The words clicked inside his head, but when he tried to string them into sentences, they were nothing more than macaroni bracelets. It's that corner of his brain. Facts and figures, math equations, political science, the universes and aliens and stars…
"I… I'm not happy, Wanda. Poofster's all grown up, Dusty too… and I'm still here. I'm still being a godparent even though we've raised two kids now. Doesn't that seem silly?" Was it immature to stick out a pouting lip? Maybe so, but Cosmo couldn't hold it back any longer, or any softer. "I wanna go back to the Fairy Academy and get my professorship! I want to teach."
"But… Uh…" Wanda chewed just the right side of her lip.
"We have the money saved-"
"I can still live with you in the castle, I just can't interact with your godkids if it's past a lunch date or game night-"
It was gushing through his nose- "And Jorgen doesn't really need me to be Keeper of Da Rules someday; I mean, he's already got-"
"No." Wanda's palm hit his cheek. Not like a slap. It wasn't a slap at all, just the gentlest of touches, but it pierced him like an arrow down the throat. He looked at her, half-blinking and mouth an 'O' shape, which made Wanda's face crumple like someone had brought a vacuum to her nose. "Let's… Can we keep your writing to ourselves a little longer? The kids are growing, our life is just beginning. Why throw it all away so young?"
"… You're right." She wasn't, and Wanda seemed to sense the hurt dripping from his wingtips. She brought both hands to his cheeks, holding him gently until he lifted his eyes to hers again. She forced him to smile by smiling herself, lips thin and quirked.
"We knew it wouldn't be easy, not following the old beliefs… but we're on enough thin ice with the Fairy Council as it is. Let's… not tip the scales by making wild claims about the stars. But if it's any consolation… You can tell me about astrophysics any time of week."
"Mm…" He didn't even know what 'consolation' meant. He did once, though… Didn't he? When he read his old diaries, they made no sense because he used to know so many words. His handwriting. His memories. But not all the words made sense anymore. Robin Cosma would be so disappointed in his son. How funny that your father can be a poet known across the cloudlands… and you can't remember how to spell "tinnitus."
Mama had tried to crank the brains out of him by sending him to train under Jorgen young, but before the war hit Fairy World, he was on course to be an Academy professor. He used to name constellations. He'd twenty times painted perfect stars on Anti-Fairy temple walls.
One eyebrow arched up. She was good at that look of hers, and his smile turned softly genuine. "We at least need to get Poof and Dusty through school. After that, we'll re-evaluate your position as Jorgen's successor, we'll see what you want to do about it… and we can consider if an Academy return is really something you want to do."
"That's fair… Should I stop being a godparent? We pay extra for me anyway…"
"Do you want to stop being a godparent?"
Cosmo closed his eyes. The saliva boiled inside his mouth, torn up and finicky. "I forget. But give me some time and it'll come back to me, Wanda."
Wanda traced her hand up his leg, cupping it over his knee. "It's okay to want something different in life than I do, sweetie. And if you're not happy… You don't have to join the next assignment with me."
"I guess… I'll just think about it. I do like Delk, and we do have the cabin there… Life is just moving so fast. Sometimes I wish time would just freeze, and I could spend another million years with you."
"That's sweet, Cosmo…"
"You'd support it?"
"No. Using that much magic sounds dangerous, even with a golden time key in your pool… but I like the sentiment all the same."
Cosmo blew air and wisps of golden magic through his mouth, leaning his head sideways. "Wow. I ruined the moment by bringing up all that, huh Wanda? I'm sorry, sweetie."
"No." On this, Wanda was firm, tightening her grip around his wrist. "You will never ruin the moment. Have you got that, Cosmo? These moments aren't worth having if I can't be with you. The real you and all your hesitations. I wouldn't have them any other way, you moron. I love you."
"Mm," he said. He grinned. "If that's true… Can we just right back into smooching again? I didn't want to ruin that."
With a laugh and a shake of her head that absolutely meant Yes, Wanda blended herself against his his skin. Cosmo fell back in the pillows with his wife wrapped in his arms, and this time, he didn't need the forget-a-cin to chase bad memories away.
Wanda was finally the one to end their messy kisses by slowly easing back. Cosmo flopped on his stomach, considerably more sweaty and disheveled than he'd been just a moment ago. "Aha! Phew! Ha…" He pushed up on his elbows, beating his wings to shake the crinkles away. "You know, maybe having the boys out of the house now and again won't be so bad after all."
"That's true. After all, I'm at least as fun as the boys all on my own."
And he broke back into laughter at that understatement. "Man, you sure are!"
Wanda stretched out her hand and tickled him beneath the chin. "Okay, Cosmo. This has been fun, but I do need to shower now."
"Yeah, I know. You really stink."
"Ha! If you think my breath is bad, get a load of my feet!" Wanda shoved her heel against his cheek, toes waggling. "Ooh, here comes the pain! You've woken a spectacular sleeping stink, sweetie."
"Ah!" With a dramatic swat of his wrist against his forehead, Cosmo fell back on the pillows. "The odor! The wrinkles! The emotional scarring! I've been hit. The light, it blinds me. Mayday, mayday, I'm going down. Tell our future godkids… I would have loved them!" He stretched flailing fingers towards the ceiling, letting them grope at nothingness, before his whole arm fell like it was dead. Cosmo closed his eyes and poked out his tongue. With a soft poof, he summoned a scroll that read "Will" at its top and began to doodle pictures on it with one hand.
Wanda rolled her eyes. Crawling through the ruffled covers to him, she pressed a light kiss between his lips. "I love you, you big idiot. Let's do this again sometime."
"Yeah, we can make a date of it. I'll see if I can squeeze you into my calendar… I'm gonna need a bigger calendar for that. Hey Wanda, can I borrow money for a calendar?"
She shook her head and lifted away from the bed. Raising her wand, she poofed off into the bathroom. Cosmo sat up, blankets twisted around his legs, and shook out his wings again. Usually, he hated the few weeks he and Wanda always had to spend in Fairy World between godkids. Their home here wasn't too big, and hanging around here all day waiting for news of their next assignment got boring. There was nothing to hang from, and they were always having to clean it up. But this year, everything had lined up perfectly so at least they had the chance to spend some time with their boys.
Their boyS, with a little squiggly mark on the end that meant there was more than one. Wow. Both Poof and Dusty, their sonS, were in high school already. Time had smacked them in the butt and thrown them off a cliff.
A twitch tugged at the corner of Cosmo's mouth. Downward. Most of the time, when he and Wanda were off with a godkid and the boys were up at school, it was easy to forget that they were all one big family. Maybe when he finished cleaning the kitchen, he'd have to look for some old board games the four of them could play tonight. Even if Fairies did live most of forever, he didn't want to miss a moment… no matter how poor his memory was.
As he tied his hair back again, he wondered if… maybe they should have gone with Poof to saucerbee practice, even though they'd seen him shoot clay pigeons that weren't actually clay or pigeons out of the sky thousands of times before. Of course, Poof had Darla Twinkle with him today… He probably didn't want his funky old parents hanging around and cramping his style. I mean, duh, that's what any kid would think. With Darla at his side, he'd be the coolest kid on the field in an instant. Who was Cosmo to get in his way?
Wanda turned the shower on, and Cosmo decided not to join her. Wanda liked space to move her elbows in there, and he liked lying down to feel water rush across his wings. It didn't always work. So after dressing (every now and then he DIDN'T bother with the tie, you know), he floated through the hallway, still brushing fingers through his hair. Poof and Dusty had to be at the saucerbee field with Darla by now. Did they make it safely? His fingers itched in all the creases. Why didn't he make "Call me when you get there?" part of the deal? Or maybe he should have sent Sparky after them. Sparky could drive better than most Fairies Cosmo knew, and in a pinch, he could take the wheel.
Of course… Poof and Dusty weren't babies anymore. Poof had his adult wings. Dusty, only a thousand years younger, wouldn't be far behind. Maybe… it was time to invest in a second car. Or three cars. Oh, that was a lot to think about.
Halfway across the house towards the garden, Cosmo's eyes strayed to a small, battered-looking door with a long zigzag down the wood. He brightened. "Hey, maybe I should clean the basement. I'll bet there's loads of fun games and toys and stuff down there!"
He lied when Wanda asked if the baby had started kicking. Only Timmy knew, because Cosmo made the mistake of flinching with a small yelp while Wanda fetched a throwing disc. Timmy always claimed Cosmo was the faster one between the two of them, winning every race by a nose and a half, but Wanda was no slacker either. Her paws kicked up the thin snow in sheets, and she'd shot halfway across the park in two seconds flat, like a charcoal-pinky-gray lightning bolt on wheels.
"Whoa." Timmy pushed his hat back with one finger, squinting those big blue eyes. "Was that the baby?"
Cosmo lowered himself onto his stomach. "It's, um… got a foot."
Wanda bounded back across the grass with the disc in her mouth, crunching wet frost beneath her paws. When Timmy went for it, she danced away in a half crouch and made him chase her in a circle. Cosmo stayed where he was by the picnic table. On the walk home, when Wanda sniffed at his cheek and gave him a gentle lick, Cosmo only focused on plopping one paw in front of the next on the icy sidewalk. He barely registered anything she asked.
Maybe Jorgen found out about Westley and Nixie because… he had been too happy. Fairies could read each other's emotions through signals in the energy field… and it was totally stupid to assume technology to emphasize that skill long-range had never been invented. Cupid could do it, right? Everyone knew pixies needed their joy levels artificially induced before they could reproduce, and those had to be tracked in some way… So was the Fairy Council spying on him even now, every single day, just waiting for his core to light up yellow?
Jorgen gave consent. Before he and Wanda granted Timmy's wish for them to have a baby, Jorgen had made it sound like… this would be okay. But thousands of years ago, when Anti-Cosmo had laid down enough charts and spreadsheets to slipknot the law, Jorgen and Cupid had both been very clear: You can't handle it. The rules we bend for Anti-Cosmo are not the rules we'll bend for you. Get lost.
… What if Jorgen stole this one too? Cosmo could lock the baby in the deepest, most private rooms of the underwater castle… but even if he did, Jorgen could so easily snap Wanda away with just a thought. No Wanda… no milk. He could offer liquid magic from his pouch, but what kind of parent can't even feed his own starving baby?
This was all moving so fast, too… The baby could kick already. It would never be smaller than its foot ever again. Even the morning sickness would pass in the next two months… Then one month. Then the birth. Sooner than soon, it would be born. How would he even take care of it if Jorgen didn't swipe this one away? He'd never had the chance to learn with Westley or Nixie. You could run through the woods with a baby in a backpack. You could sign all the papers. It didn't matter what you tried. In the end… Jorgen always won.
"Hey." Wanda pressed her nose again into his neck. Cold. Wet. It jolted his skin and he flicked his eyes to hers.
"What are you thinking about, dummy? Look alive!" She bounded twice forward then, hiking her forepaws so high, she looked like she was jumping hurdles. "We're having a puppy!"
It was a game they'd long played throughout his pregnancy… Calling the baby by whatever it would be called in whichever species they were, or sometimes silly things like little hook instead of umbrella. They'd called each other the gendered terms for animals like a term of affection too, but that had stopped when they ended up as dogs and Timmy spun around like Cosmo had committed murder.
This time… Cosmo didn't return Wanda's enthusiasm. He raised his head. "Are we going to be able to do this? What about Timmy?"
Her pawsteps slowed, but didn't stop. Cosmo kept moving because of that. Not trotting, but it kept his head up and eyes forward. That was something. He tried to wag his tail.
"What if we get careless? I wasn't at my best when we started talking about the baby… Timmy needed us and I didn't pay attention. Then he got hurt. What if… we don't hide when Timmy's parents come near his room? They don't always knock and we might not hear their steps. Wanda, I don't want to be stupid and make him lose us!"
"He's not ten anymore, sweetie. Timmy can take care of himself, and the high school is across town from Crocker's place. That's one less thing to worry about."
"That's true… But we can't both be at school with him and leave the baby home. What if there's an emergency and he needs us both? Or what if when you leave, I don't know what to do? What if I'm alone when it's born and I don't remember how to let it breathe? What if I forget about it, and it starves?"
Wanda slipped past him, pushing first her head and then the rest of her body beneath his chin. Her nails clicked across the ice. As she moved away, she flicked his muzzle with the tip of her tail. "You worry too much, idiot. You won't forget our baby… You don't forget Timmy, do you?"
That didn't help. Cosmo brushed a paw across his muzzle. "Wanda? Do you think the baby will even like me?"
She stopped bouncing, and he realized then that they'd fallen quite far behind Timmy and his long teenage legs; he stood waiting at the crosswalk, the throwing disc in hand.
"Why wouldn't the baby like you, Cosmo? You're its daddy."
Cosmo swallowed. Wasn't all of this - being married to Wanda, playing with their godkid, bringing in enough money for their family, having a baby together - everything he'd ever wanted? After losing his father, the bumps of his childhood, saying good-bye to his brother, the war, Anti-Cosmo… Having his own baby to love and adore and find something to focus on besides himself was supposed to make it all better.
But it didn't. And how could he expect the baby to like him anyway?
"Wanda, I don't even like me…"
You know, he'd always found it a little funny that Fairies actually had basements in their houses. If you nabbed a good enough career, then you could really do a lot of poofing without running out of money, and sometimes the company even paid for some of the poofing you did. Since he was a fairy and fairies were magic, Cosmo thought the best plan to keep your house organized was to shrink everything you didn't want and stick it in a dollhouse you kept somewhere. Maybe in your bedroom, or in a place of honor like some kind of high shelf. See? With a little imagination, there was no need for basements at all. In fact, as Cosmo flew down the stairs (which were also quite a silly addition to a Fairy house, since they could fly), he twirled his wand. Poof, poof, poof! A dozen large shapes in the dark turned small enough to fit in his hand or a jar in an instant. Storage problem, solved!
The smile dropped from his lips when he heard the clatter of several items falling to the floor: Tiny and lost. Cosmo lowered his wand. "Uh-oh."
He flew over to the place he thought one of the larger shapes had been. After setting his wand aside, he took to patting down every inch of space within reach. Then he moved over and patted the spaces that were in reach over there. Sometimes he bumped into boxes of old clothes, and some books that hadn't made it into Wanda's personal library in their travel castle.
"If only there were a way to make it brighter in here." Cosmo placed the tip of his tongue to his nose, as he often did while he was thinking. The thinking part came less often. "Hmm… If only there were a way… Nothing comes to mind. Well, I guess it's back to work in the pitch dark for me."
He searched the floor a little longer, checking inside buckets and feeling small items one by one. He found the mop, which was lucky since he'd need that in a bit. This… was the mop, right? Cosmo tugged its strings. It looked like a wig stuck to a pole, leaning against an old chair, but yep, that was the mop! He poofed it up to the kitchen sink where he'd have an easier time seeing it and switched the faucet on from here.
"Great!" Cosmo sat back on his knees. He was proud for about seven seconds, and then his body tensed all over. He glanced around. "Not great! What happened to my wand?" His hands tightened. "It must have been stolen. Probably by wild koala people again. I will find you, koala people! Stay off my lawn!"
Despite the fact that this was supposed to be the basement (therefore undercloud), there was a little window on the far side of the room. It let in a crack of light from above. See, that was another weird addition to a magical house- a fire escape. I mean, why would anyone want to let a fire escape? Wouldn't that be dangerous? Nonetheless, Cosmo crawled dutifully over to the window since it was the brightest place in the basement. Although that really wasn't saying much. If he was going to begin a search for his wand (or koalas, or escaping fires), then starting from the place where he could actually see seemed like a good idea.
"Let's see…" Able to make out the ground in front of him by the dim light now, Cosmo rose to his feet. To his left was an old filing cabinet stuffed with information from past godkids, if he was remembering that right. Plus, the label on the top drawer read, 'Old filing cabinet stuffed with information from past godkids.' And underneath that was a second label that said A - G. Cosmo rubbed his nose, squinting at the other labels. Well. 'Wand' was an 'H' word… or maybe that was 'Hand.' Or was it 'Rh'?
Maybe he'd better start from the beginning of the alphabet, just to be safe. He cracked his knuckles and yanked open the first drawer. Wand… wand… Maybe it was organized under 'K' for 'Cosmo's wand'?
Cosmo checked every paper in the cabinet he could find. Just to be sure he'd already looked at them so he didn't have to check his work twice like Santa did, he threw each paper over his shoulder when he finished it. After a while, he finally made it to the end of the bottom drawer (which had gotten quite hard to pull out, because some slob had left a bunch of papers all over the floor, and they were really piling up).
His wand wasn't here. Cosmo stuck his lip out in a pout. He slammed the filing cabinet drawer and floated two flaps back. Great. Now where was he supposed to find his wand if it wasn't organized alphabetically? The floor? Ha! As if a bunch of koalas would go through the effort of stealing his wand just to go and leave it on the floor beneath a thick layer of messy papers! He hadn't even been near any papers when he'd dropped it.
So the filing cabinet was a no go. Cosmo turned, brightening when he saw something that looked like a large cardboard box in the corner by his old skating stuff. It probably looked like that because it really was a large cardboard box. Who invented cardboard anyway? Wasn't that stuff made of papery material too, and didn't Fairies start using paper like, only after some of the other races in the universe invented it? Instead of using cardboard, shouldn't they be using boxes that Fairies had actually invented?
What kind of box would a Fairy invent anyway? Maybe some kind of music box that set off fireworks instead of playing music. Yeah, that sounded like his people. Oh well! Where there were cardboard boxes, there were bound to be peanuts! Cosmo dove into the box headfirst, hands pressed together above his head.
There weren't any peanuts in the box. Cosmo sat up, shaking his head hard, and spat out the cobwebs in his mouth. Ugh. Hey, where did cobwebs come from, anyway? Cobs? He didn't really know, but that seemed like a really stupid addition to their house. Hopefully they weren't being charged for those. He made a silent note to ask Wanda if cobwebs were tax deductible… though he almost preferred not having cobwebs at all
The box felt like it was full of books. Real big, heavy books like binders from school. Cosmo beat his wings and lifted into the air again, sending up a cloud of grime. When he looked down, he found himself staring at one of these huge books coated in dust, except for the prints where his face and butt and hand had been. And it wasn't the good kind of dust. But… it also wasn't really the bad kind of dust either.
Cosmo scrunched his eyebrows. Taking a deep breath, he blew the dust from the cover. Unfortunately, he sucked the air inward, and spent the next two minutes hacking and trying to dislodge a tiny pinch of it that had caught itself on the very back ridge at the roof of his mouth.
The book turned out to be an ancient photo album. Cosmo held it at arms' length and stared blankly at the cover. Who used photos anymore? Fairies already had perfect mental storage for their picture memories called 'time lockboxes' (which was a dumb name- they should be called 'memory banks' and be shaped like cows so they could be farm friends with piggy banks. Maybe they should be meMOOry banks). Cosmo had had a time lockbox once, until he'd forgotten where he put the key. Several keys. Maybe he accidentally ate it… He did that to something. But now he couldn't get into his box anymore, and he had to keep all his memories only inside his brain like a poor non-magical person. And after way over 300,000 years of life, there wasn't a whole lot of room in there.
Cosmo held the photo album up to the light of the window and opened the first page. Maybe it would give him a clue about what happened to his wand. But when he saw the first picture, he stopped and slammed the book shut. He threw it to the floor. Slap.
"Uh-oh," he mumbled. He rubbed his shoulder and looked back and forth in search of Jorgen. It was probably a silly thing to be worried about, since Jorgen spent all his time on TV now getting pestered about why he and the Tooth Fairy didn't have any heirs yet, or bothered about his friendship with Binky, but Cosmo couldn't help himself. Jorgen usually poofed in when he'd done something stupid. For centuries now, Cosmo had tried really hard not to be as stupid as he once was. After all, he could cook over an open stove on his own. He looked after Sparky. He could take care of the chores and the house and his family. He had Wanda! He was doing okay!
But the stupidest thing he'd done since Nixie had to be owning illegal merchandise of Timmy Turner. That was almost as bad as owning Remy Buxaplenty merchandise. In the eight years he and Wanda had had Timmy for a godson, he'd gotten into more trouble than almost any godkid ever had; his time with them had finally ended with his reveal as the Chosen One just before he turned eighteen. And… then Jorgen pointed out that the Chosen One didn't need them. They had the best party of Timmy's life, no one speaking a word to him about his godparents' impending departure… and only in their final moments did they say good-bye.
Owning something related to Timmy would probably get him fined a billion dollars (and in this economy), but at least it wouldn't get him banned from all the fanciest restaurants in Fairy World like owning something related to Remy would. Cosmo knelt down to pick the photo album up again, but never had the chance.
Hm? Cosmo twisted on his heels, still in a crouch. Wait a sec. That was the ringing sound his wand made when someone tried to call him. That was Dusty's ringtone. Why would Dusty be calling? Had Poof scored a winning goal in saucerbee? That'd be pretty impressive since they were only practicing today, but hey- it could happen. Or… Had Poof left his gear at home? Had they run out of gas? Had they made it to Blonda's already?
… Did Westley want to talk to him? At that thought, Cosmo's tongue dried faster than old printer ink. Blonda always said he could talk to Westley whenever he wanted to. Cosmo had tried to stay out of the young celebrity's way.
Vrrriing, his wand wailed again. This time, he picked out a dim yellow glow on the far side of the basement. Cosmo fumbled towards it (tripping on every other item on the way over, even the bubble wrap and cotton balls… and unfortunately the barbells and hanging swordfish decoration too).
Cosmo snatched up his wand on the ninth and a half vrrriing. When he gave it a shake, the screen swam into focus to reveal just a slice of Dusty's face. A single wide green eye.
"H-hi, Dad. Can I talk to Mom?
"Sure, Poof! Gimme just one sec so I can get into character. Wanda, the wand's for you!" Cosmo held it away from his body. He'd called just loudly enough that Dusty would think he was serious about calling Wanda, but since she was in the shower and all that, she wouldn't mind if he answered for her. With a pop, Cosmo poofed himself into Wanda. Or, well… He had Wanda's head on his body, anyway. Hopefully he'd gotten her eyes right. And extra hopefully, Dusty wouldn't notice if he hadn't.
But Dusty didn't even look at him. His hands lay plastered against his eyes, pressing them… covering them… Why did he look like he was hiding from…?
"Mama?" Dusty croaked between his fingers.
"Yo, Duster Bunny Boy. What's loose, skate-dog? How ya hanging?"
Dusty lifted his face, blinking twice. He picked up his wand, and the picture jolted slightly. Cosmo, as Wanda, felt his smile fade. Those were city buildings behind him. The Artemis Lounge. Wha… what were his sons doing in the city of Serentip, down on Plane 5? Trying to get away with gambling? Checking out the ladies?
No. Not Poof; Cosmo rolled that thought aside with a shrug. Poof wouldn't lie about visiting Blonda just to drive out and buy a little peppermint. Not in two million years- which was exactly how grounded he'd be if Cosmo found out he'd slipped behind Darla's wheel while sugarloaded.
"Okay!" Dusty gasped out. "Please don't tell Dad about this! I'm sure you can fix it. You have to be able to fix it."
The Wanda disguise slipped a little further, and the first thing to go was his voice. "What's wrong? Are you hurt? Where's Poof?"
Dusty's eyes fluttered shut again, either pretending not noticing the voice slip or so shocked that he actually didn't. "Ahehheh… See, we, um, Mom… We kinda got into a bit of an accident with Darla over by Serentip. Poof freaked out- He thought you'd be mad- See, he went off and… and… He was talking about going back in time to stop you from ever buying Darla in the first place but I think Foop talked him out of it, but now they're fighting and Jorgen's here and- Don't be mad! I tried to stop them."
Back in time? Foop? Jorgen? Dusty?
Jorgen following Poof back through Cosmo's own secret timeline?
Clatter, clatter went his wand across the basement floor. Its light zipped out in the dark. Forgetting it completely, Cosmo took for the stairs like a bird shot out of the sky.
In the Year of the Dogged Foop, Fairy World put out its first A.B.B. since one of the ancient royal babies had crawled through an open window and no one could find her in the gardens. The distant siren roared like… like a siren much closer than it was. Cosmo scrambled from the stream, brushing water from the backpack he wore against his chest, and flattened his back against the nearest milbark tree. Wait. Did standing around make him MORE suspicious than swimming in the stream had? The long tendrils would shield him from the sky, but not from hunters on the ground. He pressed the back of his wrist to his teeth, biting stretchy skin. A single figure flashed through the clouds a 33-degree angle away, but it was another five minutes before he remembered how to blink.
That was the last obstacle between him and Blonda's mini-mansion. Well, that and the rest of the hill (Blonda was the type of person to have a stream running between her place and the rest of the world, even if it flowed sideways against gravity).
Blonda's house didn't look like anybody else's Cosmo knew. It was big, rectangular, and had lawn chairs and fake grass lining half of the lower roof (she had two roofs: one on the second floor and one on the fourth). And she had a pool beside the chairs. To be honest, it looked a lot like the Anti-Fairy architecture style, except painted white and covered with huge glass windows instead of bars. But if anyone was going to like Anti-Fairy things, it would be Blonda. After all, she was… Well, you know. Blonda was deviant in many ways, and that's what drew him here tonight in the first place.
Okay. Cosmo squeezed his eyelids and knuckles together, counted to three, then took off running from beneath the milbark tree. Cold air stung the droplets on his skin. The pack thumped against his chest. His wings strained at his back, but they hadn't finished drying and the force of movement nearly knocked him over. Should've wiped them down with his dripping sweatshirt sleeve. He'd have to take the hill by foot. Which was fine. If it meant staying under Jorgen's nose… then anything was fine.
At the gate, Cosmo punched the passcode in faster than he'd ever punched it in his life. When the gate swung open, he sprinted up the pebbled path and thumbed the bell four times in a row. On the fifth, the locks clicked away inside. Blonda cracked the door wide enough to fit an eye and her wand arm. She'd dressed down to a mint green bathrobe, it seemed, and the scent of cucumbers flickered through the air. Oh. Oh, good… She was probably home alone tonight. I mean, she usually was because nobody really liked her, but Cosmo wasn't going to be the one to say that. He stared back at her, still heaving magical overload from between his teeth. When Blonda didn't move, Cosmo cocked his head to the left, funny bone gripped so tightly, it's a wonder it didn't shatter.
"C… can I come in?"
"What. The blitz?" Blonda swung the door the rest of the way, revealing a brightly lit room with real tile floors… and forgetting for half an instant how low her bathrobe lay against her chest. At least, probably forgetting. Maybe. Her eyes stretched like elastic hoops. "Pancake Face and Blush Boy from the hospital? Where have you been the last four months, you stupid clown?" She spiraled into a list of sharper insults after that, which Cosmo took without speaking, before she blurted, "Hey, you ditched my sister, you know! She's been worried up the wall for you. Do you have any idea how clingy she's been since you disappeared? How many slimy, weepy noses I've had to be there for, or how many of my wands she's snapped in rage?"
"It wasn't all my choice- It was times tables or something, I don't know the word, and I didn't want her to stop me when I went to the Eros Nest-"
Then Westley started crying in his backpack. A tiny hand patted his ear. Cosmo winced and Blonda jerked away.
"No… No, no…"
"He's breathing," Cosmo assured her, untangling his arms from the backpack straps. Blonda hovered forward, and Cosmo untied the backpack's flap the remainder of the way. "He has lines. I made sure before we started running. H-here, look… His name is Westley."
Westley. He'd picked the name himself, even if it wasn't the name Jorgen had planned to give the baby. Westley's pale brown hair sprouted between his ears like grass already. Cosmo had wrapped him in a yellow towel because that was all he'd been able to gather without arousing suspicion. He cradled the chubby infant to his shoulder and Blonda backed away again.
"That crown… That exoskeleton… That's… that's a common fairy. But how-?"
"But it's not what you think! I didn't-"
"Oh my dust. Oh my dust." Blonda grabbed his forearm and yanked him into the glaring white hall, then slammed the door and flipped all five locks back into place. Only then did she release his skin. "Pancake, is that… Did you take a changeling?"
"Oh, dust no. I'm gonna go to jail, I'm gonna get fifty years, I'm gonna be thrown on probation, I'm gonna-"
"No, I didn't! I didn't do anything wrong!" Cosmo tightened his arms around Westley's back, beneath the baby's tiny fluttering wings. "It's not me or my fault, okay? It's just… just… Look, it wasn't supposed to happen this way!" Holding babies left him breathless, and Cosmo tried to shift his weight to hold him a little better. Westley kicked him in the chest. "I know I can't keep him, but you can't let Jorgen take him away."
"Oh heavens, that's a real baby. There is a fairy baby in my house right now. I'm gonna be sick." Blonda floated backwards, one hand on her stomach and one on her mouth. The sleeve of her robe slid down to her elbow, dangling like a fish fin. She turned a full circle, pacing in the air, then swept back and grabbed him by the shoulders. "The A.B.B.'s been out for weeks. How hasn't Jorgen found you yet? Tell me you haven't been on the run alone. At least say you have another friend in the world besides my sister and me."
"O-okay… Uh, we haven't been by ourselves all this time. Is that the right answer?"
Blonda leaned her head back against the whitewashed wall. "Oh, Darkness devour me…"
Cosmo bit his lip. "We were staying under my aunt and uncle's stairs for a while, b-but I know they're getting close…" As the breathing lines clenched up around his throat, his fingers curled into the yellow towel a little tighter. "Please, Blonda… Can we stay? And can you help me find milk without showing my face at a store? I ran out, and Jorgen wants to take him away so he can teach him to fight and bully everyone. I can't watch that happen! And… and Cupid will just throw him in a cage for the rest of his life. And I'm scared! If Jorgen takes Westley to his fort, then Anti-Cosmo will waltz straight in and waltz out with him again. A-and babies can't waltz!"
"What… Where did you even find…? Babies are illegal in our subspecies without Eros consent. And the Eroses never consent outside the exhibit stock. Did you break into the Nest and take one of their kids?"
"Blonda, I… couldn't just let them…"
"Never mind; this is a fool's errand and I don't care." She was arrow-straight again then, waving her pompous sleeves and clenching her eyes deeper and deeper into slits. For that, Cosmo was grateful. Not looking at her eyes sure had its perks… because they were Wanda's eyes too. And he didn't want to see them. "Look," she went on, "why don't you ask my sister to help you with this? Remember? The one you ran out on? Your girlfriend?"
"Please," he whimpered as Westley poked fingers at his mouth. The towel couldn't twist any tighter beneath his hands, and if the magic ran any faster through his veins, he was going to burst apart. "Don't make me tell Wanda about Westley."
"So you think she won't find out."
"I don't know. I'm not thinking about that yet. I just… couldn't let her stop me. I know her. She would've tried. And I couldn't let Cupid and Jorgen have him. They won't love him, and for some reason I thought… I thought…"
"That Cupid won't absolutely murder you over this?"
"I DON'T KNOW!" The yell shocked Westley into crying, and Cosmo pinched his nose immediately. "I just… thought I could handle it. But I can't do this alone either. Please help me…"
Pause, accented by an infant's wails. Then Blonda threw out her arms.
"Pancake Face, we've talked, like… six times ever. Including now. You're ordering me to… What, exactly? Hide an illegal, possibly kidnapped baby from the Head Fairy himself? And from the Triplet of the Morning? Are you staying too? That's asking a lot. I don't even know your name."
"Ow! Stop that." Cosmo held Westley as far away from his body as his arms could stretch. His heaves had definitely lightened up since his spring up the hill, but his nerves still left him shaking to his wings. "You don't have to let us stay more than one night, but can you buy us the milk with hormones from the grocery? … Look, how many times did I share my emergency make-up with you back in school? No seriously, how many was it? I don't remember. But I know it added up to a lot… Does that ring your bells?"
Blonda's eyes went down his body, then up again. "I don't owe you anything. Times have changed, Pancake. I don't believe in the old ways, and you can't claim your old gifts keep me in your debt."
Westley, growling through his whimpers now, took Cosmo's bangs in both hands and yanked them down. Cosmo blinked past the wide-eyed baby at the stiff actress beyond. Blonda, arms folded, rolled her eyes.
"Please… Don't make me go to Wanda about this. Big Daddy probably won't believe me if I tell the truth about where Westley came from. He won't let me marry her and he'll tear us apart and… and then Wanda will be sad! Can't you do something? For your sister?"
"… Okay. You can stay the night… but I SWEAR, we are working out a better plan in the morning."
Why was Jorgen at the Keepers station.
Why. was Jorgen. at the Keepers station? Jorgen's size made him visible the whole way down the road. And he was just… standing there outside the door, his staff of a wand in hand. No tacky shirt or lemonade to suggest he was on vacation. Actually, it looked like he had a struggling Foop held in place by the nape of his jacket collar, the Anti-Fairy pulling and arguing but making no real attempt to get away.
"ARE THEY HURT?" Cosmo screamed, barreling towards him. Too fast, too fast. "Dusty? Darla? Poof?" He swerved his wings up, skimming to a stop but gasping all the same. Jorgen grabbed him by the arm.
"Calm down, cousin. No one will let you in if you're screaming your head off that way. Any more of that and you'll draw the pooferazzi."
"It's still attached," Cosmo shot back, but tightened his hand around Jorgen's thumb. Inhale… exhale… He and Jorgen hovered outside the Keepers station. Well, Jorgen stood. Uninteresting building, really. Angled roof. Pale blue walls, just like the uniforms. Had a little sign poking sideways from the door. No grass around its base. He could pick up the hum of a magic bubble around his skin, the shield strong enough to deflect against most of the basic wand-based attacks. Right. He tried to speak again. "Are Poof and Dusty waiting for me inside? Are they hurt?"
Foop bristled, still fighting to untangle his sleeve from Jorgen's grip. "Before or after we left the saucerbee field? Poof took a direct hit and skipped the nurse's office."
"Shaken up like smoothies, but they're all right, cousin. Can you float?"
"Y-yeah… I think so."
Jorgen removed his fingers from Cosmo's arm, slowly. "Would you like me to poof Wanda out here?"
"N-no…" There really was a crowd just starting to gather along the opposite sidewalk. Across the station sat a lot for cars, and in that lot a snack truck. People were looking over, paper triangles crinkled in their hands. Of course. Between his screams and Jorgen's presence, word would soon get around. I mean, if it hadn't already. Cosmo licked his lips and glanced at Jorgen's eyes. When the Head Fairy inclined his head, Cosmo drifted to the door of the station and pushed his way inside.
"Darla!?" How badly was she hurt? Jorgen had promised that the boys weren't more than shaken up, but car crashes tended not to be good on cars. Darla had never been in one in her life- they probably had her in a back room, alone and scared, poking her and running tests…
Glaring white lights. Pale pink counter. People to talk to. Insurance to call. Papers to sign. Someone poofed a three-dimensional model of his car on the counter desk so he could evaluate the damage, and it stabbed him through the shoulder blades. Cosmo opened his mouth, then shut it again. His fist came slamming down on the counter before he thought to stop it. Darla, once roofless and low and free… had become a minivan.
… Was this even Darla anymore? It took him a moment of staring before he even realized which side of the car was the front now, since the bumper had been smashed up and peeled away. Cosmo could see traces of Darla in the curves above each wheel and in the preference for left-tilted tires. Her colors were right, but nothing else. He… he had a minivan now. Everyone would think he bought her like that on purpose… Like he would ever want to rip out a piece of his soul and replace it with something slow, blocky, and probably gonna turn heads for all the wrong reasons. He hadn't bought a minivan. They made enough money with godparenting work that when they traveled as a whole family, they normally just poofed. He wasn't that kind of fairy, clingy towards Da Rules and moaning on about the good days when the local communities were bigger and people hadn't gravitated out of Faeheim since the spirit beam blew it up…
Cosmo clenched the front of his hair between his fingertips, dragging his palm slowly down his face. Gods, he'd forgotten the war… They weren't on mandated magic ration anymore, but could he afford to deconstruct Darla's outer magic-touched shell and replace her with some cleaner, fresher parts? The humans were long gone and they'd been better at fixing things than any race Cosmo had ever known.
She just had to be okay, even if it did take him years to replace pieces one by one. He couldn't just leave her like this. Otherwise, no more wind-in-the-hair joyrides. No more loading quilts and boxes in the back trunk and leaning against it while chatting with Lotus from the office on his wand. No more smooching Wanda in the seats beneath the stars. Not if he didn't want to itch every time he put back his head like there were sprites in his underpants.
"Sir," the Keeper behind the desk said again, and Cosmo muttered, "I'm sorry, what?" and refocused his attention on the questions. Darla had been hurt, but not killed. No one had been. He could take comfort in that.
He skimmed through the paperwork as quickly as possible, which wasn't hard since Fairies didn't care for much beyond checkmarks and names. With about forty seconds to go before he finished his reading, he noticed Poof creep into the far end of the room near the hall. No one could miss the misshapen waves pulsing off his body. His scent ran thick with more sweaty, cherry tang than almond trees.
What did his own signals give off in the air? Dread? Pain? Disappointment?
No reply. The Keepers behind the desk stopped talking, noticeably, and pretended to be clicking away on their devices. Cosmo returned the pen to the desk, even though he liked to collect the ones with chains.
"Hey, Poofster. Come out where I can see you. You know I'm no good at hide-and-seek."
Poof slunk around the desk, and Cosmo drank him in for the first time. His whole face had brightened pinker than a plum. He clenched Dusty's wand between both hands, knees curled almost to his chest. Where had Dusty gone off to, even? Odd. With slow beats of his wings, he drifted over to where Cosmo floated above the tile.
"I'm not really sure what happened here, but I'm kind of broken up about this, Poof. Darla was handmade and perfect. Replacing her parts year past year was super expensive for me. Now she'll have to be a magical car, and that's gonna cause a lot of problems on magical roads. We'll have to pay extra fees because of that and get extra license restrictions now. We can't drive her some places in the cloudlands, even to her favorite mountain spots. And never, ever take her to the lakes. How are you gonna fix it?"
"I'm sorry! I won't drink your chocolate milk again for a century. I won't hang out with friends and I'll do all my homework and I'll do my exercises and shower every day and I'll never ask for extra curfew time for the rest of my life! And… and I'll give up eating meat forever! Even pepperoni!"
Cosmo's eyebrows lifted. That seemed a little harsh, even if he had crashed the car. But when Poof ducked his head, he said, "Gee. Well, I guess I have no choice except to forgive you if stop snitching my chocolate milk. But how did this happen? I thought you were going to practice, so why were you in Serentip?"
"It was an accident! S-someone ran right on in front of me, and I had to spin the car so I wouldn't hit them."
Pause. That hadn't been in the report. Cosmo glanced sideways at the three fairies behind the desk, who all averted their eyes and pretended to be working again. "And… you ended up in Serentip on… accident."
"Dad." Poof lowered his voice to something like a hiss. "This is embarrassing… Can we talk about this somewhere else?"
But the paperwork. Even Fairy paperwork had its sluggish annoyances, and he had no pixie here to lend a hand. Cosmo massaged the small space between his eyes. Maybe he shouldn't have. After all, they were still in public and Poof had already asked he tone it down… but when the thought struck him, he couldn't choke it back.
"Are you okay? Were you… buying peppermint?"
"No! No way, Dad! I don't take mint; I'm a good kid." Poof's eyes filled with wetness, their saltiness stinging the energy field like dandelions whapping window glass. "It was just an accident!"
Cosmo dropped his gaze to the papers again, but he didn't know what to say. His wingbeats filled the silence between them. "But then, how'd you and Darla get to Serentip when you were supposed to be at the practice field? And where's Dusty?"
He could sense Poof staring up at him, mute and teary-eyed. He twisted the cap of Dusty's wand.
"Was there even saucerbee practice today? Poof? Did you… lie to me so you could borrow my car?"
Ugh. Lousy parade… At least they were out of it now and back into open space. When Poof glanced back and started to shift lanes, he said, "You're supposed to be watching the road."
In the passenger seat, Dusty popped out one of his starbuds. "Huh?"
"The road, buddy. Keep your wand on hand."
"I am watching the road. There's a bunch of Fairies and godkids getting ready for Remy's deathaversary parade. They're over on the sidewalk. You can see them too."
Poof pressed down on the gas pedal. The edge of the cloud was coming up fast. Most of these little jumps throughout Fairy World were nothing more than speedbumps. This one was a little wider, with the edge of the next cloud several yards away. Poof slid his good hand down to the gear shift, preparing to switch it into 'spring mode.' He'd have to time it just right. If he made the jump, the rest of their trip to Fairywood would be smooth sailing. And if he missed, well… He just wouldn't miss. Not with the city of Serentip on Plane 5 just below them. To Dusty, he said, "Hey, Dad's nervous enough about me driving to Westley's by myself. Don't ruin this for me."
"You're the one who wanted to drive with that arm you hurt at practice."
"And as long as you're watching the road, we'll be fine."
Dusty huffed up his forehead at the scooping tuft of green hair lying across his eyes. Dad's car didn't have a roof, so it blew into his face again. He unplugged his other starbud and dropped both in the pocket of his coat. Poof still didn't understand why his brother insisted on dressing like he'd poofed straight out of an ancient oil painting (What 140k-year-old kid actually wants to wear a bola tie every day?) but for some reason, Dusty loved his black suit with all its buttons and fancy green trim. Uncle Schnozmo would be proud. "I don't get it," Dusty muttered. "The road's not that great. It's not even pretty and nothing interesting ever happens."
Exactly then, something interesting happened. A swirling vortex of glowing pink energy snapped open just in front of the car. Out of it shot a figure on a silver scooter, max speed. Poof spun the wheel to the right. The gasp left his lips a second later. Dusty grabbed his arm. The car barreled past the boy on the scooter and flew straight off the edge of the cloud. Darla nose-dived downward. Hazy city lights glittered far below. Not far enough.
"Poooof!" Dusty's wail turned into a hiccup at the end.
"I've got this, don't worry!" Poof unclipped his seatbelt. Leaning forward, he flared his wings. Since Dusty was in a panic, Poof undid his buckle for him. He grabbed his brother around the stomach and kicked away from the car. His wings hitched. He hadn't been expecting to fly, and now his frantic emotional state was messing with his magical abilities.
Foooop! he thought, shoving his fears through the bond they shared. It didn't exactly work like that, but maybe his counterpart would at least pick up on his signs of distress.
They were still falling. He beat his wings again, and managed to flip the two of them onto their backs. Poof stared up at the undersides of the clouds just above them. Air whistled through his teeth. Well, since they'd technically stepped down from that level of Plane 6, they couldn't get back up to it without taking a Bridge. But at least when they hit the ground, they weren't likely to break more than one limb each.
"Ha… ha…" He shook his head. "Oh wow. My wand's still in the ignition. Dusty, give me yours."
"Wait! I can do this!" Dusty twisted in his arms, jabbing his wand towards the city lights.
Poof grabbed for his hand. "Dusty, give it to me!"
"I can do it!"
"Don't! I'm trained for this!"
As they fell, they flipped over again. Dusty lashed his arm back and forth, sprinkling fairy dust in all directions. Flakes blurred Poof's vision. Poof! An enormous stack of pancakes erupted out of thin air between the city streets. White dust scattered in all directions. The pancakes shoved the buildings all around them partially over. Syrup rushed down the sides and began to flood the streets. Fairies screamed and flew away. The car hit the stack first. Poof had just enough time to sputter, "Dusty, you moron," before the two of them crashed after it.
Not only were the pancakes huge, they were also dry and flaky. And Poof had just gotten a whole mouthful of them. When he sat back on his heels, slobbery chunks fell from his stuffed cheeks into his lap. He brought two trembling fingers to each eye and wiped at the syrup clinging to his lashes. "Oh my dust, this feels sooo wrong. Gross, gross, gross."
Dusty popped up from beneath a square of butter the size of a small couch. Streaks of it drizzled through his green hair and down his shoulders. His arms flew up. "Haha, bottomless breakfast! Best idea ever!"
"Give me that." Poof snatched the wand from his hand. Poof! The stack of pancakes disappeared. Oops. Poof, Dusty, and the car plummeted towards the street once again. Dusty snapped his wings out in time, but Poof hit the ground right in the flat of his butt. He bounced, backflipped, and smacked face-first against the cloudstone road. Syrup swelled in his nostrils and unrolled the curl in his hair. The tails of his bandana clung together like velcro. Poof unstuck his arm from the syrup and raised Dusty's wand in the air. With a few more poofs, overturned cloudcars flipped right-side-up again. Stone by stone, the street began to mend itself. The buildings straightened themselves like dominoes in a row. Shame about their foundations, though. Only an architect would be able to confirm if they'd been damaged.
"You okay?" he asked Dusty.
KRRSH went Darla right then, smashing bumper-first on the road. She balanced on her front for two seconds, then tipped upside-down with another thump. Poof jerked up, grabbing his curls in both fists.
"Oh man, Deedee! Dad's gonna flip when he finds out we crashed his car!"
"It's official. My social life is dead. Dead, dead, dead, I am SO dead…"
"Uh, hang on." Dusty flailed his wand. "I can fix it!" With a poof, the car began to pull herself together again. Except when she was done, she had a thick roof and her front didn't exactly, uh… look the way it should.
"Minty," Poof said, dropping his hands to his sides with a snap. "Now he'll flip when he sees you turned Darla into a minivan. Fritz, I can't believe this happened. What am I gonna do!?"
"You're so dead."
"I'm not just dead, I'm super mega ultra dead."
"Dad's gonna kick you outta the house."
"And probably slice off my wings! Who is that guy?" Poof gave Dusty's wand a lash through the air. The culprit and his silver scooter both materialized on the sidewalk a wingbeat later. "Hey!" Poof shouted. "You got a problem with the streets or something?"
"Uh, sorry," said the boy, massaging behind his neck. He wore a pink shirt and smelled like someone regularly up to their ears in magic, but he hardly registered in the energy field as more than a handprint. "I didn't realize I was gonna zoom right out in front of you. Do you need me to poof your car or anything? I can wish for that. I'm Cosmo and Wanda's godkid."
… Oh. Poof floated a pace back and bumped his wings into Foop, who materialized from the saucerbee field right then, one hand gripping Poof's shoulder and a sparking wand in the other. But when he saw who Poof was staring at, it fell with a clatter. Yeah, Poof couldn't blame him.
It was Pink-Hatted Boy…
"I skipped saucerbee practice to make out with Goldie," Poof said, lying through his teeth as plain as strawberry sauce. His wings flickered up, head low, eyes lost somewhere else. He'd never been a very good fibber, and Cosmo felt a kiss of sympathy shoot through his veins. Why would Poof hold out on him like that? Something about the cold room of the station? The peering eyes and sharpened ears?
"No," Cosmo said, folding his arms. "Where were you reaaaaaaallllllly? You can tell me, even if it's a secret."
Poof shook his head, blinking at bright hot tears. One hit the ground. A thick weed pushed up through the tile, weeping for sunshine and better soil. No one made a move to crush it out again.
"Do… do you still love me, even though I'm really stupid and I can't do anything right?"
Cosmo's arms dropped to his sides. He tilted his head. "You're not stupid. Who said you were stupid?"
"I… did something I really shouldn't have done." He craned his neck, possibly looking around for Jorgen, and bit his tongue like he didn't think he should say any more.
The pieces were all coming together, very slowly, like a puzzle underwater and upside-down. Cosmo floated one pace back, putting extra distance between himself at the desk. This time, the Keepers seemed to pick up on it. Cosmo waited until he heard them speaking again, then asked, "So where were you?"
Poof glanced away. At first, Cosmo thought he wasn't going to answer. But then he whispered, "There's a friend I haven't seen in a long time…"
Cosmo sighed. "Oh, Poof. Was this a playdate? Was Foop there? Why didn't you just tell us you wanted to go?" Fishing for information felt like engaging in an archaeological dig. Boy, was this how Wanda felt talking to him at home?
"I don't know. I didn't think about it. I just thought… I'd be quick…" More quietly, "Don't be mad… I just knew you would say no if I called you right away."
"But it's just a friend. Why would I say no? I said yes to Blonda and Westley, didn't I?"
Poof lifted his eyes. "Dad, this wasn't exactly… a friend from this timeline."
"But… Who was it, then? I'm guessing not a car mechanic. Because boy, that would be great if it it really was."
The tears tipped out from either side. Poof blinked and didn't answer that. He didn't need to. Every ounce of silence stabbed Cosmo in the core with a barbed needle.
"Oh. Wait, you mean… Was it one of your godsiblings? Was it Aima?"
"You didn't feel safe telling us you met someone?" he asked, quietly. He slid his fingers through the back of his hair. His other fist… trembled at his chest. "You're not breaking Da Rules to see them again, are you, Poofster? I mean, I know it's Remy's deathaversary, but… Hey, it's okay to miss them. We can still visit on Midsummer's Eve, but I thought… you said you never wanted to go. Is something wrong, and you didn't want to tell me? I try so hard not to be a scary parent… I try so hard. There's a lot I'm not good at, but I always thought I was good at that… I'm getting better at this…"
"You called the car's name before mine when you got here," Poof muttered.
Cosmo glanced sideways at the window. Then he reached out and took Poof's cheeks in his hands. He brought his son's forehead against his own.
"Hey. It's not, uh… Well, it's not 'Okay,' but crashes happen sometimes when you drive. I can fix Darla, or even get a new car, but I only have one Poof, and one Dusty. I'm glad you're both okay. Is Dusty here? Are you hurt?"
"No… I hit my arm at practice, but it's better now. And I screamed when we were falling so Foop came to check up."
"Good. If you're not hurt, that's what matters most. I love you, Poofster." Cosmo kissed his head, but not in a weird way. "And you're grounded 'til the next Aurora Fairyalis."
"It's okay if you hate me for this," Poof whispered, closing his eyes. "I'm not mad. I hate me too. I always hate me. Everyone hates me. That's all they talk about. I deserve it." He pulled away, wrapping his arms around his skull and wrinkling his nose, making absolutely no attempt not to cry. "D-don't tell Jorgen, okay…?"
"Poof? What do you…?"
"December 31st, 2002," Pink Hat recited when Foop demanded when, not where, he had come from, and Poof knew then that all three fae before him had their lives balanced on a razor thin edge. He touched one hand to Dusty's chest, pushing the smaller fairy back. Foop did the same thing, immediately placing himself between Poof and Pink Hat. In Timmy's time period, Poof hadn't yet been born. The fairy baby ban hadn't been lifted. One mistaken word, one "Don't worry, you'll have kids in the future" thought planted in young Pink Hat's brain, and maybe it never would be. Foop blocked the way and Poof didn't blame him in the least. My life, your death as the saying goes.
Timmy. Timmy Turner. That was his name. Why did he ever forget?
"Where are your godparents?" Foop asked, one hand on the wand sheath at his hip. Oh, please… Now he was just showing off.
"You mean when are they," Timmy teased back, as if Foop hadn't avoided this exact sarcastic quote in his original question. His buck-toothed smile faded. "They're back home… I've had Cosmo and Wanda for almost a year and six months now, and they already feel like family. I don't want to grow up and lose them forever… so I'm taking some time to think. I won't stay here very long. Sorry about driving through the road. Is there anything I can do?"
"You've done enough," Foop told him, firm and cold. "This isn't a good time for us, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. I tell you what: let's plop you back on your scooter and send you back through the hole you came from."
Standing right there.
And he didn't know who any of them were. Poof bit his lip and tightened his fists at the same time, fighting back the urge to say Foop's name aloud. When Timmy looked at them… he saw three strangers. Oh, that stung. Was that stupid? After all, he'd forgotten Timmy's name over the millennia… but it still hurt.
What would Timmy's reaction be if they HAD been familiar faces to him, even 140,000 years grown? A huge grin maybe, a laugh. Some sort of snarky, "Foop, is that you?" comment that would make every mouth quirk up at one end. "Hey, no offense, but the preppy nerd look really doesn't suit you." Actually, yeah- Poof could see it now, Foop rolling his eyes with great exaggeration: "Ha, ha. And this from a dead man who ought to be heap of ashes in the urn above Jorgen's mantel right now."
None of that now. No joking around. No catching up. No confessions. Only stares and wondering…
… and that felt like an even bigger kick in the face than never getting to say good-bye at all.
It was very, very lucky that day that Fairies didn't breathe the air. Because Cosmo couldn't breathe right then. And if he'd needed to, he would have died on the spot. He stood there. He… he just stood there, like an idiot, I guess? Like that. Because… no. No. Not even he was that stupid, so how could Poof mess up so badly?
"Timmy Turner came here? To the future? Did you interact with him?"
Poof's hands flew up instantly, shaking back and forth faster than his tears could fall. "Dad, I just… I'm SORRY! I swear, he didn't know who I was-"
It's funny, isn't it? How he hadn't felt a shred of anger when Darla fell apart, only love and fear and worry for his sons. Yet when Poof said those last few words, Cosmo Julius Fairywinkle…
"Why didn't he know? Was this before you were born?!"
Poof shrank back, both arms wrapped around his head now. "Please don't hate me! I never said good-bye…" He choked on the last word. "I couldn't… I couldn't help talking to him."
"Poof! Messing with the Chosen One's timeline is explicitly against Da Rules! Even if I wouldn't be the one to know, I would know that!" Cosmo grabbed his shirt, yanking him forward, and smashed their foreheads like banana cream pies. His stomach lifted, only to smash down hard. Oh stars and dust and gods above… He'd eaten bricks. Bricks, bricks, and he wanted to throw up. Cosmo gripped his son tight, scanning every fleck of his face over and over and over again. He wanted to shake him like a bank robber, and only just managed to keep his gasping in control. "What did you tell Timmy Turner?"
"Nothing! But h-he's still here in Fairy World, Dad! He's running away from the past or I guess the present or the future, and how am I supposed to stop him? Dusty went after him, trying to talk him out of it… I'm sorry!"
"Sorry about the car," Timmy said, peering over Poof's shoulder. Poof stared at the ticket the officer had scribbled for him, then looked up and pressed a fake smile on his face.
"It's no big deal. No one got hurt and here in Fairy World, the damage can be fixed. We may have turned Dad's car into a minivan, but at least we can drive away from this. Hey, you wanna, like… get some FroYo? We can talk."
Foop grabbed Poof's arm - the bad one - and squeezed until Poof let out a yelp. "What do you think you're doing? He's off limits!"
"Then what should we do? When people notice he's human, everyone's gonna want to talk to him."
Poof clenched his fingers in Cosmo's shirt, burying his nose in his father's neck. "There was so much I wanted to tell him. But I… we shouldn't! Like, yeah, I know we shouldn't. He's from the past, so it could change time, duh. But I wanted to. I wanted to tell him all about me. I wanted… to say good-bye. He's the kid who wished me up in the first place, and I basically didn't even know him until it was over and we were on the other side of Midsummer's Eve. I don't think I ever said thank you, and then I always forget his name. But I can't say that…"
Cosmo pressed his arms more tightly against Poof's back, brushing the younger fairy's fluttering wings with his hand. He squeezed him so, so, so close that it felt like Poof melted straight through his skin. He sniffled, Poof did, and rubbed his eyes.
"You had eight years with him, Dad… And I only had two. But even though I'm stupid and I forget a lot of things, even his name sometimes… I remembered his hat. Even after all these years, I still have his hat on the shelf in my room… Please, you're supposed to be the next Keeper of Da Rules. Can't you just… look the other way, for just a sec? So I can spend a day with him?"
"Timmy has to go back to his own time now, Poof… Before Mama gets here." Cosmo withdrew, holding Poof at arms' length. "I'll take him home, but you aren't even born in the year he stepped out of. Don't say anything that could change that. Okay? He's the Chosen One… The Fairy Council would have your wings. And… if he never wishes for you because he thinks Wanda and I will have you in the future…"
"Then wouldn't I have already disappeared by now?"
"I can't risk losing you too."
Cosmo called Wanda on Dusty's wand, left Poof in the station to finish paperwork, and rejoined Jorgen outside. He and Foop were still arguing, Foop loudly protesting that this was a violation of his rights as son of the High Count and refusing to answer Jorgen's questions while Jorgen threatened and jabbed his staff at him, and basically overall was clearly trying to avoid making their discourse into a bigger scene. Cosmo floated up the sidewalk to them, hands clasped behind his back. Foop was stalling. Stalling to give Dusty more time. Stalling for Wanda to arrive, maybe? Not anymore.
"Hey, I'll take a turn grilling him, cousin. You just have to make these guys think you have the power to negotiate, that's all."
"No one negotiates with me!" Foop declared, thrusting up an arm. "I'm unchangeable! Bad to my boiling bruiser bones! And I shall never be bought by some cheap Fairy's wallet."
Jorgen frowned at Cosmo, like he wondered if he should admit more details of the situation. What yarn had Foop fed him? Not scarves, hopefully. Maybe that bit about Poof's arm getting injured at saucerbee practice? Cosmo could guess Foop had been playing it up; his own limbs seemed perfectly fine, and irritation had practically been written on Jorgen's forehead.
"I have a mess to clean up at the crash site," he finally said. "Remy's parade brings nothing but trouble every cycle. If the Council would unleash me at maximum potential, I could end the arguments before they begin!"
"Didn't the Purple Robe okay the use of punching this time?" Cosmo asked, innocently taking Foop's arm. That brightened Jorgen's mood at once. He released his grip on the anti-fairy's jacket.
"They did! If you join me there, I can teach you how to knock a few skulls together!"
"Ooh, that sounds fun! But… I should stay behind to look after my sons, ha ha… Same time seven years from now?"
Jorgen waved a dismissive hand, though it was more like punching a fist into an open palm. He dropped a few more instructions about escorting Foop to the border lest he find the need to wring Cosmo's neck (which Cosmo only half listened to and didn't believe for a second anyway), then slammed down the butt of his staff and vanished in an enormous POOF!
Once the dust had dispersed, Cosmo swiveled on one heel to Foop. He lowered his voice enough to avoid the suspicion of lingering eavesdroppers, but maybe he lowered it a little too much. When he leaned forward, Foop's eyes widened and his arms went over his face like he expected to get whapped on the head.
"I- What?" Foop parted his fingers enough to show one eyeball. His mustache twitched up at one end. "Uncle, Timmy Turner is dead. He's been dead since before the war began."
"Where is he? You were stalling to distract Jorgen from going after him, right? And waiting for Poof to come out again? … Take me there."
For several wingbeats, Foop bobbed up and down in silence with his palms facing out against his chest. His gaze flicked left and right in turn. Cosmo didn't change his expression, and after squirming too many minutes beneath his stare, Foop relented.
"Fine. Fine! Let the records show, however, that I told them not to. Maybe you can talk some sense into them… Poof's original plan was to travel back in time and prevent you from ever buying that ugly car in the first place."
Unsupervised time travel… Good one. Cosmo barked a laugh at that, withdrawing Dusty's wand from his sheath. "Yeah, that sounds like Poof. I know I make it look easy, but I have a secret weapon in my pocket… I swallowed a golden time key years ago and it dissolved into my magic pool. You two didn't get that lucky."
"I have time keys too, Uncle! I stole them! From a child!" Foop flung his arms up as he said that, then slowly brought them down again. "From… a teenager. Okay, a grown drake. Who was looking the other way and left his bag open on the sidewalk. But in my defense, he WAS scouting out a fancy cheese shop that he had planned to rob, probably! … Also, my mother lets me borrow her keys for a week on my birthday every Breath year, which is this one."
Cosmo patted the young anti-fairy behind the shoulders. "Thanks for looking out for my sons, Foop. You're a good kid."
"I am NOT!" This time, Foop swung his arms down like axes, his wings arched and back hunched over. "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, but I only showed up to ruin their day! And that purple idiot very nearly broke my arm during practice this morning, if he didn't mention that. The only reason the snap didn't carry into my body was because Hiccup was out front. I hate your son with the raging fires of the stormiest sea depths, which I'm well aware is an oxymoron but is the only metaphor acceptable to underline my rage! … Ah, we should go find Turner before Dusty Prime babbles something stupid to him and inadvertently wipes us from this timeline. One visit to the Hocus Poconos in my childhood nightmares was enough to scar me four hundred thousand years, thank you."
"Can I come?"
"Can you keep your mouth shut?"
"Fair enough, Uncle. Now plug your nose or the Anti-Fairy magic will get under your skin. Not that I care what you do to my father's body, mind you." Foop unsheathed his wand and raised it high. Blue sparks danced across its tip, crackling against the natural resistance of Fairy World's energy field. Not his country. Not his legalized magic source. He had to pull from Anti-Fairy World's battered tower. When Foop's jaw tightened, fangs gritting visibly beneath his lips, Cosmo gripped his twitching hand. Palms flat. He pushed his own magic down his arm and directly into Foop's.
They reformed somewhere in the central part of Fairy World. Tall grass, thick with weeds, brushed nearly up to his armpits, which made perfect sense once Cosmo realized where they were. Glassy Falls. He coughed on the smoke fading away around them. "T-Timmy is… here?"
Had he and Wanda ever taken Timmy to Glassy Falls? Maybe once… the memories blurred together. Glassy Falls hadn't been 'glassy' in a long, long time. Multicolored liquid gushed down the waterfall not far to their left, thumping and pattering, loud and quiet, flashy and dark all at the same time. Far across the lake, Cosmo could make out the edges of a single tourist building, which was the nice way of saying "teeny tiny museum that no one ever visits." Glassy Falls got its name from what it used to look like in the old days, and its current smell from the stinky magic that ran down the rocks in place of water. This was where Timmy had come to hide from Jorgen's prying eyes? … Well, fair enough.
Foop dusted a few flecks of grit from his sweater vest, then pointed with his wand higher up the rocks. Cosmo turned. A boy crouched on the rocks beside the flashing liquid, his head between his knees. Dusty leaned back on his hands behind him, probably saying something that Timmy probably wasn't hearing. A silver scooter had been caught crookedly between his perch and the ground, balanced by little more than one wheel. "When did he come from?" Cosmo murmured to Foop, giving his wrist a shake. It still stung from when he'd passed a small stream of magic into Foop's wand.
"The day before they celebrated New Year's back when Dimmsdale was around, I think. It was the end of December, 2002."
The date itself meant nothing to him; Timmy had wished so many times for so many years that Cosmo couldn't remember the details. He knew the name, he recalled the hat, but Timmy was one godkid in a thousand of them. The two most memorable things about him were his status as the Chosen One and the fact that he'd been the one to wish Poofster to life.
Poof had been born in 2008, so Timmy was maybe… eight? Back then? Eleven? … Young, in any case. 2002 felt a million years ago. "Keep an eye out for Jorgen?" Cosmo murmured in Foop's ear. He had to lift his voice to be heard above the waterfall, but Timmy didn't raise his head.
"I'm not as dumb as you are, Uncle. Don't mess this up."
Right. Cosmo spread his wings. As he flew close to the two boys on the rocks, Dusty raised a hand to wave. Cosmo lifted his hand too.
"Hey, Timmy… It's time to go home."
"Cosmo?" Timmy snapped up to his feet so fast, it shattered Cosmo's core. Nearly a hundred and fifty thousand years had passed since he'd last heard Timmy speak… but Timmy recognized his voice immediately. He spun around, his hands sort of hovering near his chest like he feared a ghost might punch him in the neck. But when his eyes met Cosmo's, his mouth hitched into a perfect upside-down U shape. White tears sputtered from his face like ocean waves. "Oh… Oh wow, you look… so… different in the future… Your hair is so…"
Huh. The little tail would be unfamiliar to him, wouldn't it? Foop leaned his head forward, shooting Cosmo a warning look with butter knives in his eyes. For almost two seconds, Cosmo believed him.
And then… he didn't care.
"Timmy!" Cosmo spread his arms, flying forward to engulf Timmy in a hug. Timmy had always been way taller than he was, even back at age ten. "Watch the rocks," Timmy grunted, but he hugged right back. Cosmo buried his face in the soft squish of Timmy's pink hat, digging his fingers into Timmy's hair. He didn't remember all his godkids or all their adventures or even how long they'd spent together… but he didn't need energy signals to tell that Timmy had missed him. He squeezed a little too tight. This was Timmy's hug. He wouldn't end it unless Timmy said so first.
"Is Wanda not coming?" Timmy mumbled into his shirt. His head had gone so deep in the fabric, Cosmo was half afraid his buck teeth would chew a hole through it if he talked. Cosmo glanced at Dusty, and Dusty hopped obediently down from the rock to give Cosmo some room to land. The rocks had been slicked with stinky magic, and Cosmo braced his feet with extra care. The falls sounded more like growling than like water splashing down beside them.
"Nah, Wanda's too far from here to make it in time. But Jorgen's nearby, and he won't be as nice when he sends you home as I will. Playing in the future is a great way to get your memory wiped. I should know! Hey, did I mention I'm training with Jorgen now? Yep, you're looking at the assistant Keeper of Da Rules!"
Timmy snorted. "What? No. How did THAT happen? You still mix almonds up with alimony. And radishes with race cars!"
Foop made an mm-hm noise in his throat, kicking a stone at the back of Cosmo's leg. Even Dusty was leaking anxious signals in the air, and usually only a company meeting in Corporations & Con Artists could make him feel that way. Timmy leaned back his head, not seeming to notice either one. He lifted one arm to wipe his tears away.
"And you and Wanda will always love each other, even when you fight?"
"We do our best! And when you're older, we even-"
Foop made that noise again, this time more pointedly like he had a sharp stone in his throat. Or maybe an umbrella with the little wire points on all the ends. Right. Hinting at Poof's birth, even if he didn't say his son's name, was probably cutting too close. He knew that. Cosmo leaned his head away too, still holding his fingers behind the curve of Timmy's head.
"You shouldn't stay here for long, Timmy. You might see or hear something that will mess up the timeline back home."
"Yeah…" Timmy rubbed his forearm up his face again. "I… kinda thought you might tell me something like that. But can you tell me if you and Wanda are still together? Living… happy…? Crocker doesn't catch you?"
"He can't answer that," Foop butted in, zipping forward. His snapping tone made Timmy start and break from the hug. Foop blocked Cosmo from moving forward again by throwing an arm across his chest. "What if he says yes? Then once you return to the past, you may not try as hard to protect or rescue your godparents as you otherwise would, assuming in your naïve brain that everything will turn out okay when the day is done. But it WON'T! And what if he says no? You risk plunging into panic or despair at every corner, which could be disastrous for your sense of reality and lead you into foolish acts that reveal your fairies too soon. In fact, the very act of seeing him, confirming he lives up to here in your current timeline, could endanger life as we know it already!"
"Uh…" Timmy took a step back, shoulders lifted to his ears. "You're friends with an anti-fairy?"
"Huh? Oh, right!" Cosmo pulled Foop forward by the elbow. "This is my nephew, Foop! Though he hangs around us so much that I don't know why he doesn't just move in with me and Wanda already. He's the prince of Anti-Fairy World, so maybe that's it."
"OH MY SMOKE, UNCLE, I CAN AND WILL END YOU IF YOU PUT MY EXISTENCE AT RISK!" Foop whipped out his wand again, pointing it directly at Timmy's head. "Wrap it up and send him back, or I'm taking him out now!"
"Foop," said Dusty, "that would definitely wipe us from this timeline."
"… Fine. But I will tattoo something awful across his forehead if you let me."
Timmy laughed… A little nervously, but he laughed. He backed two steps closer to the edge of the cliff, tucking his hands inside his pockets. "Nephew? So, like, does that mean you have a brother or something you haven't told me about? A cousin?"
"NO! I WAS SPAWNED OUT OF THE PITS OF TORMENT AND DESPAIR! … I'm just adopted." Foop stabbed his wand back in its silver sheath with a SHING sort of noise, but his wings and teeth remained tensed up. He straightened his back and shot Cosmo another of those jabbing looks. This time, the knives in his eyes had leveled up to swords. "You've said your good-byes… Now, he really needs to go. If Jorgen or the Council find us interfering, we'll both be in hot water. And not," he cut in, clearly guessing what Cosmo was about to say, "as in a bubble bath."
He didn't have to turn around to know they'd finally come for him. I mean, the splintering of his studio apartment door kind of confirmed that. Only one single fairy could possibly be that level of destructive. It wasn't even locked. But he didn't run. No. Cosmo remained at his desk, slumped with one hand on his cheek. How dull, all this waiting; he'd even begun to drool.
His chair faced a window. Outside was purple-black, his reflection painted on the glass with the help of a pale pink candle at his elbow. Jorgen's reflection too. Candle color notwithstanding, the dark room lit with yellow when Jorgen aimed his staff at the back of his neck.
"Cosmo, you have been summoned by Adelinda von Strangle to plea for safe passage away from Plane 5. You must come with me if we wish to catch her, and quickly."
"Oh? Is that how the story ends?" Cosmo rose to his feet, hands braced on the desk, but still didn't turn around. Didn't need to; it was only Jorgen. He lifted his wings. "That's not the way I planned it out. Am I not good enough for the Fairy Council anymore? Gee, Jorgen… I mean, you know I didn't publish more than three political commentaries this year, right?"
"I would sooner say it is them who are not good enough for you! The revolution is in full swing, and eggheads like you are prime target for their rampages! It's like double Gray Tuesdays out there." Jorgen lowered the tip of his staff again so he could make a come hither gesture with a few large fingers. "You number among their final targets only because the Cosmo name is the most common in the cloudlands; do not assume for a moment that they consider you the smallest threat. You must come with me if you wish to get out of this city unscathed. I will escort you to the Pink Castle. It's protected best."
Cosmo dragged his wand from the desk and let it slap against his knee. Only then did he swing halfway around. "Why are you doing this? You already have Westley and Nixie. I've burned all my books. I've switched my major from Astrophysics to Godparenting. I sat there and watched you and Cupid bend the rules for Anti-Cosmo, but sneer that I'd be no better father than a piece on a Fidchell board. Haven't you taken enough? Why can't you just leave me at the mercy of the wolves this time? At least they can only kill me once."
Jorgen's eyes were pitying, but not emotional in the least. "Do not waste my time, Cosmo. I serve Da Rules, the Fairy Council, and the Elder herself. And today, I am under orders to escort you to safety no matter how you protest. My muscles are far superior to your puny biceps! How would you even begin to stop me if I dragged you off by force?"
"Let them come for me." Cosmo raised the point of his wand against his temple. "These memories are all that I have left. Look, it's simple. You don't want my insights on politics and religion leaking any further into the world, and I don't want you in my life ever again. So if you take one step forward, I'll blast them out here and now. You can tell Adelinda that you were left to scrape my time keys off the floor."
"So I am the bad guy now? We've opened the castle for refugees like you! Art, history, all the science you could ask for… The charts, the maps!"
Cosmo bobbed gently up and down, but otherwise didn't move. He didn't even blink, the wand still pressed thumb-deep into his head. "Yeah, right! You've von Strangled every scrap of success I ever had out of my hands. Why would this be any different?" A scowling Jorgen shifted forward then and Cosmo threw out a hand. "No further! Or I'll wipe my memories here and now!"
Jorgen braced his staff against a jutting piece of the wall, leaning beside it with folded arms. "The revolutionaries are out there hunting for those who threaten society with radical ideas, Cosmo. Your stories of gas balls and tongue lashes towards the Council are the reason you've landed in their sights. You can burn your books, but erasing private memories hurts no one but yourself. Plus, I can still take you to the Pink Castle anyway. It seems a very foolish trade you are fighting to make."
Cosmo narrowed his eyes. "But when you get me behind those walls, you're going to scramble my mind up anyway, right? Because you work for the Fairy Council? At least if I blast myself, then I don't let you get to have the satisfaction…"
Cosmo turned his head to the ten-year-old at the edge of the cliff again. Purple starlit sky. Rainbow water in a quiet lake. No crowds around to watch. He traced his tongue along his lips. "Timmy… You really need to go. And you probably shouldn't drive your time scooter into the future anymore."
"We almost ran you over, and that was the LEAST of it!"
"… Okay. I get it." Timmy folded his hands behind his head, leaning back to taste the scents wafting through the air. Did this place even smell like pheromones and magic to a human? The hairs standing on his arms suggested he could feel the electricity, but… the deep inhales he took after every sentence only reminded all of them that the oxygen was so much thinner on this plane than it was on Earth. The world of fairies was only for a human to borrow, never live in. He had to let it go. "I… I'm glad I got to see you, Cosmo. I hope we really do get eight more years together. I can't imagine how I'll ever be ready to grow up… You and Wanda are like my family. I don't want to forget you."
I barely remember you, Cosmo almost returned, but bit his tongue. No one wanted to be told to their face that they were "just another godkid." Just another job. Only eight years in a blip of near infinite time. Instead, he blinked away the mist from the falls and forced himself to smile. "I guess you'll have to wait and see. Bring me back some cheese!"
"Anywhere! Now, what color do you want your time portal home to be?"
Timmy stared at his shoes without replying. "There really is no avoiding it. Is there? I… I kinda hoped… I mean, it was stupid, but… I dunno. Today I found out that I'm going to lose you and Wanda when I'm older, and I just thought that maybe, if I traveled forward in time and looked around… maybe it wouldn't really happen. But it does."
"Felt that," Foop muttered, and Cosmo tried to make his smile wider as he drifted back. The air glittered with spice and a mild sweaty stink, like old sausages and peppers and window cleaner on his tongue. The lake had long been polluted by stinky magic. It wasn't the most pleasant location to say a last good-bye, but at least from a human's point of view and mild nose… the rainbows might look really pretty. At least they still had rainbows.
"Even Fairies grow up, Timmy. Everyone has to forget, but even when you do… just remember that Wanda and I loved you very much. You have your mom and dad and your friends in your world… We were just there to help you learn your way around."
"I guess so. But…" Timmy scratched behind his neck. "My life is just… so much better with you and Wanda in it. I have so much fun with you, and I really thought… we'd be together for the rest of my life. I wanted you guys to be at my high school dances, my graduation, my wedding, and stuff like that. Finding out that I'll only have you guys around for just a few more years when at first I thought you'd be here forever if I never messed up is… kind of scary to think about. I wish time could just, like… freeze. You know?"
Automatically, Cosmo raised his wand. But he brought his hand down again before sending out any sparks. It was a beautiful, innocent 10-year-old kind of wish and his smile thinned with just a bit of pain.
"Sorry… If I did that, even we Fairies wouldn't be able to move again and undo it. I'm pretty sure Father Time wouldn't allow that." He flicked his wand low to the ground. Poof! A blue spiral of a portal appeared in the purple grass. At first, it stretched no bigger than a coin. Very soon, however, it swept open until it could have fit all four of them and more in the same jump. Grass blades whistled in its whipping energy like little flags. Timmy took the bill of his hat in two fingers, pulling down over his eyes. He wasn't smiling anymore.
"I just… I don't want to say good-bye to you guys. You're my family. I don't want to forget that. I've been fighting so hard so Jorgen won't take you away, but… it's going to be really hard to let you go, even if I did my best." Timmy let go of his hat. Once more, his hand flicked against his eyes, pressing the tears away before they bubbled over too strongly. "If I can't freeze time itself, then I wish I could stop aging and just stay ten years old forever. But I doubt that would be legal in Jorgen's eyes either."
Cosmo… stopped. Timmy didn't want Jorgen to take them away…
If Fairies could have their wishes granted… wouldn't he have wished a thousand wishes on a thousand shooting stars for more time with Poof and Dusty? Or longer than a few weeks with Westley before Jorgen caught Blonda with him in her home? Or time with his brother before Schnozmo ran away, or with his dad before Robin bit the dust trying to pierce a magic bubble to stop his son on a rampage of Terrible Twos? Or any time with Nixie at all? Or with so many of his and Wanda's godkids over the years?
Timmy's foot froze above the blue spiral in the long grass. "What are you doing?" Foop breathed, barely moving his lips. Cosmo stared down at his wand. His fingers tightened around the handle. Was that the roaring of the falls behind his back, or the pulsing magic in his blood?
"Let's do it."
"Wish for time to freeze." Cosmo raised his wand, floating higher in the air. "Timmy, when you were ten, I was your fairy godfather. After you grew up and didn't need your fairies anymore, Wanda and I never had Dr. Rip Studwell sever the link between our appendixes. If you're right here, and I'm right here, and you make a wish, then we might still be bonded like in the good old days."
"That would make Jorgen so mad," Dusty put in at exactly the same time. "I'm down for that."
Timmy blinked. He hugged his shoulders against the spraying water and rubbed his hands up and down his skin. "You can grant that? Even in the future?"
"It can totally work like that! I should know. I'm Jorgen's assistant Keeper."
Foop plastered his ears to the side of his head, his eyes swimming wider than the lake far below. "Are you KIDDING me? This is a THOUSAND TIMES illegal! The Fairy Council will throw all resources into finding the thief who stole King Nuada's sword, then run up and split us all through the cores with it so hard, we won't even reform in the Hocus Poconus! Don't drag me into this!"
Timmy looked from Cosmo to Foop to Dusty to Cosmo again. Then he took a step back from the portal. The grass whispered innocent things with every little move. "Are… are you for real about freezing time? This isn't a joke?"
"I've never been more real since my wedding day!" Cosmo spread his arms and legs in a star shape, his grin splattered ear to ear. Magic whirled inside his head, especially up and down his arm. His fingers tingled hot… Ohhhh YES, it had been much too long since he'd granted such a thrilling wish. "Can we try it, Timmy? I can't promise it'll last forever, but when it all has to end, we'll know that we squeezed out every year together that we could! Can we? Can we?"
Foop threw his arms in both directions. "What is happening? You can't DO that! That's… stupid! What if that wish is too much for you, Uncle? What then? It could consume you like THAT!" He snapped his fingers for emphasis as though this were the scariest notion in the world.
Dusty, however, clapped his hands just once. "I wanna see time get frozen! Then I'll never have homework deadlines again."
Cosmo only shrugged. "It's worth trying, right?"
"Uh…" Timmy fidgeted with the brim of his hat, scratching his hair beneath. "But won't you be in trouble? I don't know if I should… I mean, the Fairy Council really didn't like it when I wished for it to be Christmas every day…"
"I'm always in trouble for little stuff like this, Timmy. Let me grant this one. It'll be fun! We're magic, remember? There's nothing we can't handle if things get tough."
"You'll be devoured by Tarrow for this," Foop seethed, poofing up a yellowed scroll of parchment. "I'm writing this down. How I ever ended up with YOU imbeciles as relatives, I haven't the foggiest."
Timmy bit his lip. Never once did his eyes leave Cosmo's face. "Okay… You're from the future. And you're freezing the past, right? Does anyone ever find out about this?"
"I dunno!" Cosmo answered cheerfully, flipping himself upside-down in the air. "It hasn't happened yet. You can't know the past is changed until after it's been changed, right? And even if we do still have to leave someday… we're going to make the best years of your life last as long as we can. Hey, maybe they'll be SO good that you'll actually say good-bye to me and Wanda if, and only if, you're ready to grow up, and not just because you turned eighteen-y weeny human years. Jorgen's never gonna take us away!" Why hadn't he ever thought of this before?
Timmy stared at the portal, which had started dragging at his shoelaces. "Should I be worried that you made it sound like my 'best years' are only when I have you and Wanda as my godparents?"
Dusty raised a finger. "Don't worry too much about what happens when your godparents leave. I did a project on you in school once, and you end up with three kids and a really cool wife!"
"Oh. So my love life doesn't suck when I'm older?"
Dusty put his finger down again without responding.
If Foop could spit fire, he'd already be belching. "Oh my gods, you're crazy. Uncle, do you have ANY IDEA what powers you're messing with?" He held both hands over his mouth, flailing with his wings. "Time is powerful and dangerous! There's a REASON you Fairies discard your memories in boxes separate from yourselves and we Anti-Fairies don't- you're the ones who can die from playing with them! Do you WANT to EXPLODE?"
"Foop, let it rest. I have this golden time key dissolved in the magic that I breathe. I can do this."
Could kids start going gray even in their teenage years? Because Foop looked an awful lot like he'd be getting streaks in his thick black curls. "But what if pausing time is too much for you? I didn't believe even Jorgen could do that! Seriously, isn't this against Da Rules? Interfering in the spirits' domains? I want the throne, Uncle, but I don't want to earn it because I stood here and watched you become an inverted piñata!"
"Uh…" Timmy looked… more than a little uncomfortable, linking his forefingers together. Cosmo flew over and gave his shoulder a pat.
"Don't worry about it, Timmy! It'll work out in the end. Things always do!"
"I… don't know. I mean, freezing time so I can stay ten sounds great, but… is it safe?"
"Absolutely not!" Foop yelled, somehow louder than the falls this time around. He clapped a hand over his forehead. "My life isn't the best. I've been abused by clones of my parents, I've developed an alternate personality, and I ran away to live with my grandnana when I was a pup. But how can the sequel be any better? What can a few more years really grant you… What friends, fun, or life experiences could you possibly gain in mere mortal months that will change the way our lives are laid?"
"Hey, don't listen to him," said Dusty, tucking his hands in the pockets of his suit. "Foop's a total groove wrecker. Uh… I was born way after you and my parents went separate ways, Timmy, but… I think if you're sad, and you want to stop being sad, then you should change something about your life. I think you should go for it."
Foop gasped and yelled and waved his arms again, while Timmy's fists tightened at his sides. He raised his head, and Cosmo met his gaze again. "I… I want to try. I can always ask you to unwish it if I change my mind, right?"
"I don't see why not! Wish away, Timmy! And pack some punch into it."
"Okay. Uh… I wish I could stay ten years old forever, so I can spend as much time possible with you and Wanda."
Deep in the magic pool he and his counterparts shared… that long-ago time key began to burn bright. Would this use up what was left of it? Possibly. But if it meant Jorgen didn't take anyone away, if it meant that no one lost and no one cried and everyone loved… then what could be a better use for it?
Pure, hardly-filtered magic crackled down his spine and leapt through his pores. The wind began to whirl. It flapped his tied hair like a victory banner on a race track. Blue sparks flew from the end of his wand. Cosmo punched it in the sky, laughing right along with it. Dusty sprang backwards and tripped over his own feet. Foop flew behind Timmy, yanking him away from the electricity crackling around Cosmo's arm.
"I'm going to die," he muttered, squeezing Timmy's shoulders in something like a hug. "Oh my gods, he just killed me… for you. We're so, so dead."
"Ha… ha… What?" Cosmo's laughs began to falter. Wait. No, no. He hadn't just erased Poof and Foop and Dusty. Things would work out… Things HAD to work out. After all, Poof was thriving in school. And Dusty had friends, and Wanda had godkids, and… and his life was so great, it really couldn't be slipping through his fingers. You can't screw up so badly that… everything you've worked for in life just…
… fades… away… in one single moment…
As his concentration slipped, blue fire leaked down down his hand and raced towards his armpits, scorching skin. Cosmo yelped, jerking his hand, and the portal in the grass swelled a little larger. "Dad?" Dusty yelled. Timmy grabbed Foop, and he grabbed him in return.
"Quit messing around, Uncle!"
"T-Timmy?" Cosmo tried to shake the fire from his arm, but it wasn't letting go. Why wasn't it letting go? Deep inside his gut, inside his head, inside his core… something that was burning began to burn a little hotter. Cosmo pulled in his wings, staggering back to the ground. "Timmy? I, uh… I… My throat i-is…"
Timmy hugged Foop like they'd been friends forever, and Cosmo didn't hear his following words, even shouted. The blue fire flared hotter, brighter, taller up and down Cosmo's arm. He grabbed his elbow, but that didn't cut off the pain.
"Foop, it's too much! Help me channel it!"
"Oh gods, oh gods… Are you being burned?" Foop shoved Timmy sideways, sending him tumbling across the grass and halfway into the portal. "No no no no no, not again!"
"DAD!" Dusty shouted from a safer distance away. "Turn it off!"
Don't stop the wish. Stop the wish and it really will explode; nothing this powerful could possibly be stopped by the simple block mechanic in a cheap wand. Cosmo kept his wand pointed at the stars, even when his knees and then his shoulder hit the grass.
"Uncle, I can take it!" Foop lunged forward, stretching out his hand, and their skin collided. Electric bolts and flames raced like lava from Cosmo's arm to his. Foop screwed his face into a ball, jerking back his elbow. Cosmo's vision blurred over, but he could see enough to watch when Foop's wings and shoulders both seized up.
"Foop?" Cosmo flashed his wings, trying to lift back onto his knees. He reached his other hand to the anti-fairy, but didn't complete the movement. He'd seen his arm. Oh, that ripped up skin seemed a little… that, uh… Cosmo stared at the bright red-white marks, his mouth open and shaking at the edges. That looked… bad. Even for a fairy. His vision swam with black and red.
"F-Foop, get away from me! Dusty, GO! Is Timmy through the portal?"
Every spark leapt between his skin and Foop's in flea circus waves. Foop twisted his arm in Cosmo's grip, a half-howl silent but contorted across his face. He raised his eyes to Cosmo's, and the purple dots had shrunk so small, all Cosmo could really see in his blurry haze was white, white, white.
"Foop, you're getting hurt! Let go of me!"
"But you'll burn! Not you too! Not you too… AHHGH!" Foop unsheathed his wand, aimed the transmitter at zero degrees direct up, and unleashed a massive bolt of blue and white. It arched its back like a screeching cat. Then the bolt burst in fireworks shaped like skulls, one after one after one. His knees gave out beneath him, and Foop toppled over Cosmo with a yell of pain.
"Foop? Foop, let me see. Where does it hurt?" His own skin sizzled from his elbow to his wrist, but that would heal in time. If it didn't, then it wouldn't… but Foop was just a child. Any light healing magic Cosmo could bestow upon him, he'd do so in a wingbeat.
"Hh… hh…" Foop braced himself on crumpled palms, his chest seething up and down. "I taste colors no one in a sane universe should ever have to taste. I think I ascended to Plane 23. And I'm almost certain I just fried like, eight of Poof's breathing lines to do that."
"Where does it hurt?"
"Right HERE, you dolt!" Foop jabbed two claws straight into Cosmo's forehead. "WHY? Why would you DO that? For a human no one even bothers throwing a deathaversary parade for?"
"Get away from me." Foop held a hand to his temple as though it throbbed, and Cosmo caught a better look at the spiraled burn wrapping like a lightning bolt down his forearm. "I need… a moment alone now. I'm going to scry my mother. Tell her I love her… and try not to think about how you probably just… you just signed my death away. The rest of us would have gone to jail if we pulled that stunt, you know. I hope the memories are worth it, Uncle." He hovered a moment with curled lips like he wanted to say more… then said it with his foot instead by delivering a sharp kick to Cosmo's back. Cosmo winced, pushing himself up a little straighter.
"If Poof and I are even lucky enough to be re-wished for, will I even still be me? Or have I just lost my one chance to exist in the grand scheme of the cosmos at all?"
"Don't apologize if Tarrow doesn't bring me to the new timeline. I warned you of the consequences ten times over. You chose to go through with this anyway." He turned swiftly then and marched away, deeper in the violet grass.
Nothing but the flick of an obscene gesture over his shoulder with a hand.
"I didn't… I didn't kill anybody, Foop! It'll be okay! It has to be!"
That was Dusty, laying a soft hand on the back of his neck. At least, it was probably Dusty… He'd said "Dad" and he seemed to have green hair through the spots scuttling through his vision. Cosmo clenched his eyelids tight.
"I… I need more time, Dusty. Jorgen… can't take them too… He can't have everything…"
Maybe Dusty said something profound after that. Maybe he asked if he'd been hurt, or pointed out how Poof and Wanda hadn't had the chance to say good-bye, or he just yelled. Cosmo couldn't be sure.
Sharp pains. Loud falls. Thumping panic in his core. His eyes rolled back and he slumped into the grass, choking half to death on little sobs that never came.
A/N - In case you're a fan who never made it to Season 8, "Timmy's Secret Wish" is an episode where Timmy reveals that he wished for time to freeze fifty years ago so he would never have to grow up. I've always loved the idea that Cosmo egged him into it a bit…