No Absolutes

Spring of the Frozen Planet


"You owe me a new alibi," the Head Pixie muttered as they watched Jorgen shake the filing cabinet. Anti-Wanda plopped her chin in her hands.

"Golly, I dunno. Maybe ya just didn't use it right."

"I used it fine." He hadn't moved a whole twitch, still curled in his squarish sort of ball in the chair: arms folded, chin tucked, glaring up his big forehead at the Keeper of Da Rules. He had one leg crossed over the other, foot ticking with every second on the clock in his dry, predictable way. "It was sucky to start with."

"Then why'd ya agree?"

"Because the success rate of your alibis is statistically significant, duh. I wasn't going to miss that party." He thought for a minute, then sharply turned his head. "I'm getting my deposit back, right?"

"Nah, I gots a policy on butt covers. All sales final."

"That's probably what your dad said when Anti-Cosmo paid your dowry too."

Jorgen kicked the lower drawer shut and brought a stack of papers down - hard - on his desk. "Must I separate you two during my interrogations? AGAIN?"

The pair fell silent, eyeing the tall fairy as Jorgen plopped into his enormous padded chair. It was a very worn chair, lined with spikes along the top and long-marked with deep scars. Anti-Wanda wanted a cool chair like that, only she didn't dare foop one up for her office herself. She'd introduced a great many things to the Blue Castle, but her 'nickety husband would draw the line at her shenanigans one of these days and she sure didn't want it to be over this. When she exasperated that man, she preferred to exasperate him in style. She leaned closer to H.P.'s ear (he leaned away on instinct, never taking his eyes from Jorgen), and said, "I actually paid his mama the price to marry him, see."

"Neat," he whispered back. "Just get us out of here. You still have one left, don't you?"

Anti-Wanda exhaled and swung her legs. "Well yeah, but it's a real special alibi. For emergencies only."

"High Countess, I left Sanderson in charge of Pixie World. This is an emergency."

"Six hundred fifty bucks tomorrow night."

"My mere respect's worth more than that. Take it instead."

"Nah, I need coin. I got bribes ta pay. That party weren't cheap, Mr. Forehead Pixie."

Again, they broke off their whispering when Jorgen clapped his hand against his desk. She straightened her spine and H.P. dropped his crossed leg to the floor. Hands went into laps all nicely folded. Wings tucked away. The clock ticked again on the wall. Anti-Wanda still thought it was weird to keep clocks in a world of clouds where the sun never rose or set, but you know.

Jorgen pressed his thumbs against his temples and rolled them in a circle. "Okay. I may have been unclear in what I was saying earlier. Using each other as your alibi is totally ineffective AND EXTREMELY PATHETIC when you were caught working together at the scene of the crime. Let's go through this again. Where were you tonight, Head Pixie?"

"Committing a crime, I guess," he deadpanned. Anti-Wanda didn't try to stifle her snort. The Head Pixie's lips twitched just the tiniest, tiniest bit in an almost-smile, even though he didn't even glance her way. Calling H.P. her best friend would be a liiittle over the top, but golly if she didn't love the guy. He got all the jokes that Anti-Cosmo didn't and even snickered at her puns instead of groaning, and he always complimented her on the stickers and badges down her jacket. He spent most his days trapped in Pixie World… not because paperwork kept him super busy exactly but 'cuz his pixies weren't too bright and looked to him for guidance. He got tired pretty quick of all 'em suck-ups droning on about how amazing he was (One thing that set him and her so far apart), and she'd never really known him to turn down an invitation to hang out with her. Anti-Cosmo preferred his quiet office and the stuffy castle library, but H.P. liked outside. Some days she and him met up to jump and dance at a Fairy club he liked that'd horrify her poor husband, and some days they just sat on a nice roof eating sandwiches and talking politics 'til her head swum home. She and him got along real well, mostly. His mean banter was only for fun and Anti-Cosmo trusted him enough to let H.P. keep an eye on her while he stayed at the castle himself, so they all got along swell. Actually, maybe it was the Head Pixie's fault their pranks had gotten caught tonight. Wasn't he supposed to be the one steering her out of trouble?

"Yes," Jorgen said. "You were. Which crime was it, for my record book?"

The Head Pixie looked at Anti-Wanda. "Where did I commit a crime?"

"Hmm… Probably Fairy World. That's where we mostly do crime, h'yuck."

"Probably Fairy World," he relayed to Jorgen.

"Stop playing games, Head Pixie. Where were you at 9:00 this evening?"

"I don't know. I'm making stuff up. Drinking, most likely. I can't resist orange soda."

This time, Anti-Wanda did snort. "Nah, he sure can't. He sold Fairy World for it this one time during the war, remember?"

"I did not do that."

"Some guys died 'cuz of it. There was all these wily crazy revolts after."

"I refuse to engage you in this, High Countess."

She kicked his chair leg. "Don't engage a married woman, ya skink. Plus y'already proposed to coffee the last time I threw a party. I ain't letting you cheat on her, 'cepting you got a license."

"That also did not happen."

"I gots pics."

"You do not have those."

Heavy fingers tapped the looming desk. Anti-Wanda watched with distaste, definitely not liking how it was made of wood. Much too easy to accidentally knock on, and then she'd be nursing a migraine the whole flight home. Jorgen's attention swiveled to her. He looked dirtier today than usual, kinda bruised and ragged around the edges. Most the running water in Fairy World had magic healing chemicals mixed in with it. He sure musta been busy today if he hadn't even splashed a little on his face 'fore he dragged them to the barracks here, or wherever this here office was. He'd told her twice, but she'd forgotten both.

"High Countess Anti-Wanda. What's your pathetic excuse for not being the anti-fairy I saw flitting around the ruins of the Fairy Fro-Yo with my own two eyes? You bumbling idiot! WHERE WERE YOU AT 9:00 TONIGHT?"

"Golly, that's easy! I was out havin' an affair with my ex-boyfriend." She batted her lashes just so, and even twisted a finger in her ear to look all cute. "I got the deets if you want 'em, yep. Anti-Cozzie don't mind me none if he don't know. Y'all can ask him if I do this every six Wednesdays every other summer and he'll swear it's truer than I will. Look." Anti-Wanda flipped her hands forward and back. "Don't gots my wedding ring. Didn't need to wear it tonight."

Jorgen's eyes narrowed like a creek with a real fat bullfrog plop in the middle. Or like, a whole darn bull. He'd stuck a pencil in his hand, but sure weren't taking any notes, and he'd gotten up to lean across his desk and show off his muscles nice. "I assume you are kidding. WHAT WERE YOU DOING AT THE FRO-YO TONIGHT? OR RATHER WHAT REMAINS OF IT SINCE YOU AND THIS POINTY-HEADED FREAK BLEW IT UP?!"

"I prefer the term 'silver fox,'" H.P. drawled.

"I ain't kidding no satyrs! My whooole tail end's covered in bruises tonight. Got some nice bites on there too. Anti-Cozzie's fangs are too big to leave these li'l gashes, so y'all just gotta measure 'em against Anti-Juan to see I'm the truther here."

"Please stop talking."

"No really, I gots proof! I do!" Anti-Wanda jumped up and dropped her pants to her knees. "See?"

"Augh!" Jorgen shouted, blocking his view with an enormous hand. While he was thus distracted, Anti-Wanda lunged across his desk to snatch her wand and H.P.'s phone from the 'Things I Stole From Puny Weaklings' basket. She threw one in H.P.'s lap and giggled at his stunned face. His jaw had really gone and hit the floor today, even if he were the big boss pixie. What a great night! What a rush!

"Your plan was mooning Jorgen?" he demanded, yanking her from the desk by her foot. She didn't get to answer, 'cuz he lifted the wand she'd tossed and pinged them both out of there real fast. Jorgen's roar echoed as they disappeared, but it didn't stop 'em both from showing up pretty deep inside a white and yellow forest. Insects made soft noises and animals rustled through the leaves, but it was real nice and quiet out here all alone. H.P. let Anti-Wanda drop to the ground and averted his eyes from her rear end.

"Aw," she complained, sitting up on her knees. She hiked her pants back up. "Couldn't ya poof us to the tram station? I ain't never tried the cable-trams since they added cotton-candy there."

"If you want von Strangle to inform his Keepers there to shut down all the cars and lock us in, then yes, you can go. Or if you'd like him to crush us inside one and use us like a gumball, then yes is also the answer." He patted his chest a few times and grimaced. "Anti-Fairy magic always wrinkles my shirt."

"Yeah, your socks don't match anymore either."

He lifted his pants leg, clucking his tongue in mild annoyance when he realized she was right. Instead of his usual gray pair, he'd got an orange one with stripes and a lime green one with checkermarks. "Well, it also tied your boots together."

Anti-Wanda checked her own feet. "Huh. Extra-quinta-times knotted. That looks fun." She went to work wrestling with the laces. H.P. wasn't easily bored, so he watched her tangle her hands up to the elbows for maybe like an hour before finally taking pity on her and untying them with a tap of her wand. With a dark ping of silver dust, the laces straightened themselves to normal. "Yes!" Anti-Wanda said, punching the air with both fists. "I did it!"

"Good job. Well, it's been a successful evening all around, High Countess. Have a lovely night."

"I'm gonna," she said, springing back to her wings with a little roll and flip. "Anti-Cozzie's home today, and now I know I might get arrested any minute, so I gots to take advantage while I can. It's gonna be wild. Aw crud, Jarhead took my man-bag!"

"I believe it's called a satchel."

"Not the way I use it, h'yuck!" Her smile faded. She looked away, ponytail bouncing against her neck, and scowled at a tree stump nearby. "Aww, I had plans for that tonight! H.P., y'all studied more magic levels in school than I did. Can't ya sense where it is and poof it out here for me?"

"Von Strangle would notice my probe and poof over here immediately, so no."

"And what's so bad about that?"

"We just ditched his party, A.W. I don't want him to think I changed my mind and accepted the jailhouse sleepover offer after all."

"Yeah, but you don't got a husband waiting for you to pleasure him like I gots. C'mon, take one for the team! I got you out of there, didn't I?" When the pixie remained unmoving, Anti-Wanda collapsed dramatically against him, kicking up her legs and squeezing his shoulders with her claws. "Puhlease fetch it back? It's a matter a' my bedroom life! Be a pal, huh?"

"What part of 'Von Strangle would poof over here immediately' did not get through your head?" H.P. pushed her face away with one hand. "He'd arrest us both on sight. Again."

Anti-Wanda's smile slipped. "Oh… Huh. Why's that? You's the only one who'd be stealing from him. I didn't do nothing."

"Let's not test that brilliant theory of yours. How is Talon, by the way? I haven't confirmed whether he's spending Autumn Turn in Pixie World or with you. He'll come with me after the masquerade, I hope."

"Dunno, Tally's not too happy about a lot of stuff. He got denied from school again so he's putting in extra work to sell 'em on the idea and it's driving him to fits. I try talking to him, but…" She dropped her eyes to the pixie cell phone in her hand. Her thumb slid across a crack. "I ain't his mother in his brain. So he don't wanna talk."

"If you were my mother, I'd talk to you. I didn't have one. You'd think he could be a little grateful."

"It's hard for him. Anti-Cozzie's hard on him. You act hard on him."

"I do not. I'm the fun uncle. I print him the highest quality memes. I wish I had someone in my life who taped memes to my forehead when I fell asleep at my desk… Does he know you and A.C. are expecting a baby?"

Anti-Wanda hesitated. "We been talking about when to tell him. It's gonna be hard. I mean, we always said he was gonna be our heir, since fairy babies was illegal so long, but now… It's hard for everyone."

H.P. sized her up with pity. "I hope you break the bad news with cake. He deserves cake. I'll buy him another bakery. Remind me to do that if I don't."

They exchanged an awkward handshake, half stiff Pixie in nature and half traditional Anti-Fairy slap. "If Big J's still mad, I guess I'll see your butt in jail next week," she said, and he quipped, "My dear, what would you tell your husband if he found out you were looking?"

He traded her wand back for his cell phone and they left for their respective home worlds. It'd probably be morning before Jorgen came after her. Sure, li'l Timmy Turner had fought with the Fairy Council to get the Barrier between Fairy World and Anti-Fairy World lowered after he'd gotten so upset about them being stuck in a butterfly net inside a magic box, but the crossing station still stood where it'd always be and there were passports people gotta check. She could slip into Anti-Fairy World nice and easy, being High Countess and everything, but paperwork would take Jorgen whole hours if H.P. didn't give him any help, and ain't no way the guy was gonna do that after bedtime. That was long enough to at least tell Anti-Cozzie "Hi."

Maybe she should get a snack. She'd eaten nachos at the party (and split a milkshake with the Head Pixie, though she wasn't gonna repeat that out loud), but snacks were always good. Surely they had at least one bag of mealworms left in the castle kitchen, and aphid-topped pancakes just lit up her world… Nah, too late tonight for pancakes. Maybe tomorrow. Since she always forgot where the secret servant tunnels were, she took the long way around through the great hall. Soft red light poured in through the windows, and Anti-Wanda basked beneath one for a moment, hands stretching high above her head. In the daytime no one paid attention to the pretty lights, everyone so loud and busy as they bolted down their meals and ran off to cause a bit of mischief 'fore brunch. It was the nights in the castle she liked best. Everything quiet and soothing and still. Anti-Wanda drew her hands along sooty stone, not caring if it dirtied them. Maybe, she thought, someday soon I won't be doing this alone. It was good for Anti-Cozzie to get his sleep (Bless his busy, dizzy brain), but their new child… Maybe the pup would want to walk with her after evening starlight sometimes, pressing dainty feet to cold floors and drinking the wonders of the night.

She wandered towards the kitchen, still drawing loops in the dust along the walls. The servants all had gone to bed, dishes scrubbed with both water and magic until they sparkled on the rack. But it wasn't dark, because a single candle burned by a pale blue hand. A child no more than 50,000 (or at least no more than 50,001; she never could remember) hunkered over an open maths book at the food prep counter, one hand buried in his black hair. A pen rested against his lips, a tiny cobweb spun between it and his cheek. The spider scuttled off at Anti-Wanda's approach.

There was still food out, too, he'd pulled out for study snacks. Anti-Wanda kissed the child's cheek and ruffled all his many curls a bit, then waved her wand. Everything on the counter lifted in the air and swirled above her head, then split off to its assigned cabinet or cupboard or drawer or fridgey. It wasn't often Talon fell asleep at all, especially not in the kitchen, so he must've been real comfy. Still, Anti-Fairy World was so cold. He'd want a quilt to keep the frostbite away. Poor kid forgot that too much since he didn't grow up here, not all the time. Anti-Wanda floated back into the great hall, trying to figure the layout of the castle and the most likely place to find one.

"Clarice?"

She turned, hitching up her hair. A very particular anti-fairy stood with his hip braced against the great hall's archway. He'd squished his cheek against the frame, which knocked his floating hat just a little out of place. He obviously hadn't thought she'd get home tonight, 'cuz he wore the stripey nightshirt that went down past his knees instead of his usual cotton top and pants. Anti-Wanda's eyes wandered down his chest. One hand rested on the curve of his stomach. Protective of the lump, even around her.

Thirteen days. That's how long the daddy anti-fairy carried the baby before transferring it to its mama's pouch. Anti-Cosmo's middle didn't bulge the way hers would in a li'l while, but even she knew there was something growing in there. Her husband had been carrying himself in a different way lately- a little more hunched, a little more careful. His shoulders stayed sloped, chest tucked in, not all thrusting and raging about. Sure he was smart, but babies made him thoughtful. He'd wanted this so long. Pity they didn't ever figure out if it'd be a damsel or a drake. Anti-Wanda sort of wanted a damsel after Talon. It was only fair. But to be real, she didn't care either way. It was her baby, her baby to raise with Anti-Cosmo, and she wasn't going to lose this one. Her claws tightened, just for a moment. Then she shook her head.

He smiled up at her in that dumb, cute way of his. Aw, shoot. Her husband may be brilliant beneath the daylight stars, yet when the monocle and cravat came off, his dainty delicateness took her words away. Anti-Wanda had planned to scold him for not tucking Talon in his warm casket upstairs, but in the face of that innocent smile, her resolve began to melt. She adjusted the strap of her imaginary man-bag against her shoulder.

"Hi, sugar."

"You're back," Anti-Cosmo said simply, blinking drowsiness from his eyes. Then the smile faded. His gaze went misty, a long finger sliding up to tap his chin. "Hm…"

Anti-Wanda drooped forward, sizing him up in silence. The silence went on for a bit, so after scratching a scab on her ankle, she said, "Whatcha thinkin' about, hon?"

"I think I shall have to change my pyjamas again. I didn't expect your return this gorgeous night, but now that you're here…" He gestured to the nightshirt, conjuring up the mental image of such cloth flopping around his face the moment he swished upside-down. "Well, it certainly wouldn't be proper for me to claim the couch and leave you abandoned up at roost. So I think I ought to change, and I've changed thrice tonight alone thanks to all the cobwebs and grime Talon left lingering in the corridors. I swear, that dratted boy will clean everywhere except the places I ask him to."

Anti-Wanda toyed with two options, then tucked thoughts of Talon away for later. Instead, "You don't gotta wear nothing at all tonight if you don't wanna."

"Perhaps," Anti-Cosmo said absentmindedly, but she knew his focus wasn't in it. His big brain had picked itself up and started wandering away, thinking big thoughts about styles and colors and cloth and buttons and snaps. He hated dressing himself and always had- "Too many layers," he would complain, pouting in the stupidest adorable way, and his wife would spin her wand and foop him into a nice shirt and jacket that was almost put forwards more often than it was backwards.

Now, Anti-Wanda lifted her foot to his cheek and turned his face to hers again. His attention flicked up, the same finger still picking at his mouth. She said, "Y'know, when my favorite hunky guy is naked at roost with me, sometimes I like to do things with him."

Her husband recoiled beneath her touch, those deep jade eyes swimming with incredulity as he looked at her. "What? Tonight? Without making you a sandwich first? Ha! Who are you and what ransom are you demanding for my actual wife, you witch? Give over."

The question was play and she knew it, so she shrugged instead of answering for the moment and let go of his chin. He stood very still as she drew away, eyelids flickering, and heckin' smoke if he wasn't the most precious bundle of fruit juice and candy corn the cloudlands ever knew. Anti-Cosmo was all strange, not the usual Anti-Fairy type of pretty. His snobby pickiness and constant gloating put off a whole lot of folk, and dadgum was he ever shorter than a couple of cement blocks in quicksand. His feelings forever got all mixed and crazy inside his head. He couldn't keep his desk straight if universal domination depended on it. Sometimes guys just gave her the strangest looks in public, thinking it funny how such a wild gal ever fell for a twitchy weirdo like him.

'Cuz he's interesting. Anti-Wanda brought her foot to his face again, this time running it through his hair. As her toes glided across his scalp, he closed his eyes and poked out the tip of his tongue. One foot lifted in the air behind him. Heh. Despite the calculating way Anti-Cosmo studied the world, twisting and tugging to drizzle his own influence across the universe like frosting on a cake, there was something raw and honest and endearing about his ambitious nature that always made her words hitch and her lips dissolve like magnets dropped in flame. Maybe he really weren't the prettiest man from a public standing point, but his passion rivaled slaps of ocean waves. He had beats inside his brain that only he could hear, and she got the good luck to be the only guy or gal in the universe privy to his kooky inner mind.

(Uh… Don't tell him she was thinking thoughts about good luck.)

Play or not, Anti-Cosmo watched her with a fond smile, anticipating a response in kind. The smile swept her up too. Good golly, talking with him was always so different when he paid attention- really paid attention. Most days he spoke to her as though she could be anyone, explaining plans and spitting rants while he waved his hands about and grew more and more purple in the face. Anti-Wanda took those days with patience, 'cuz he'd grown up with a mama who didn't let him speak his feelings long and a brother so goody-goody that he'd told on every evil plan. Some days were about Anti-Cosmo and Anti-Cosmo's needs, and she was okay with that. He was a good guy, that Anti-Cosmo. Never blamed her when she interrupted to ask what something meant, and if she cut in at the right times then she could plug up his anger and force him to breathe, and often their china vases and delicate furniture would be saved a ton of expensive repairs. She'd gotten pretty good at redirecting him after all these years together.

Yes, her Anti-Cosmo had an easily distracted soul. His emotions flipped very quickly and with his temper he shouted things he often regret. Regretteted. Edded? Bah. Thing was… there were some days when Anti-Cosmo actually talked to her like she was Anti-Wanda. Not the Anti-Wanda who stood in the hall with a plate of cold breakfast, blinking tired blinks as he explained how his latest funky doohickey gadget was definitely gonna change the universe as soon as he sat down to draw up the plans for it. Not the Anti-Wanda who went hiking up a hill to fish his unconscious self out of the jet after he accidentally crashed it into the Big Anti-Wand again like he always did, and who listened while he screamed at her the whole way down about how she'd thrown off his whole schedule for a year. Not the Anti-Wanda who cringed when her impulsive nature sprung up and she said something stupid that ruined plans she hadn't understood. Nah. Sometimes her Anti-Cosmo really made her feel like the Anti-Wanda she used to be… The one who knew how to weave electricity out of crushed devil's backbone plants, the one who danced with the grace of morning dew, who'd spent her days skimming the sky and stopping by every town she saw, who once hadn't wanted to get tied down to nobody for nothing, not ever.

Still waiting with a curious smile, the offer of engaging him in his own witty turf respectfully on the table for her to accept or deny. Anti-Cosmo tugged one sleeve over his hand. How cute. Oh, how he hated her puns, but he always set her up so beautifully. Anti-Wanda stretched her arms behind her head.

"Don't need a sandwich to start the foreplay off tonight, spicyfangs. Y'already gots me a bun in the oven."

"Anti-Wanda!" The shout burst from his chest like a foghorn, and Anti-Wanda dissolved in giggles before she could stop herself. "You're so crude!" he wailed. He puffed his cheeks, turning murky mauve in the face. "Good smoke, woman! Always have I desired to tease your mind before your body; is that still unclear? Can we never exchange poetry without you veering from tender romance into lustful passions? We stand in the great hall, within the public eye in a matter of technicality. Someone will hear you." His eyes sharpened on her shoulder. "Perhaps you've brought home a bug. Why, you absolute dunce!" He flung himself on her instantly, yanking her to his level and scouring her wings. "Oh, that would be just like him… What if I'd begun explaining to you my latest ideas, and we gave the Fairies an edge? What then, Anti-Wanda? Jorgen interrogated you tonight, I heard."

"I dunno," she said, idly watching the impatient bob of his spiffy hat. "But I gots home fine and here I am now. Gee, you sure worry a lot. Maybe it's hornytoads in your guts that got you riled. Anti-Cozzie, are you nervous about the baby?"

She reached her hand towards his middle. Anti-Cosmo slapped her wrist - hard - and she jerked it back. "Don't touch."

Anti-Wanda twisted from his grip and hovered a few yards away. "You hit." On occasion he hit her if his temper flared especially high, but such reproach was awfully rare. She held the stung hand to her mouth, biting softly at the skin. "I was just feeling."

"Darling, I meant no offense."

"Y'all owe me a nectar kiss," she spat back.

Hands clasping- "Anti-Wanda, you must forgive me. I meant nothing by it. I'm on edge, simply. You understand."

"You hit. Tonight I get a nectar kiss. That's the rule."

Anti-Cosmo floated there, toes nearly scraping the ground, tipped very slightly forward as though the baby in his pouch weighed like a rock. His teeth bit into his lower lip, and he shot her another of those pitying looks he was so, so darn good at working.

"Anti-Wanda, I withdraw my unintended slap. Please show the same kindness in return. You know I detest that particular attempt at intimacy… Have mercy on an expectant father tonight, won't you?"

Silence.

"I don't care. You hit. I want my kiss. That's our rule. It's silly to have a rule if we ain't never gonna use it."

He tugged his collar, glancing off with uncertain trembles in his wings, and a thin needle sliced her in the chest. Anti-Wanda copied his lip bite as guilty flushing overtook her face. Anti-Juandissimo had never permitted nectar kisses, shoving her off any time she tried 'cuz they was too unladylike for a good girl like her to try. To a point, she knew, Anti-Cosmo held similar thoughts about the right behavior expected of well-bred Anti-Fairy women (though he had the good sense not to speak them too often in her earshot, or else she'd nip his ear). He had his views of nobility and etiquette, and sometimes his wife simply didn't fit in his plans anywhere but where he believed she ought to go.

And deep down… that's why Anti-Wanda prayed the pup would be a damsel. She planned to raise the girl right, teaching her that kisses were fun, kisses were okay, even if Anti-Fairy society at large denied such feelings could live inside a woman's brain. Good Anti-Fairy women were playful, respectful, obedient. They were so lovely and wonderful that good Anti-Fairy men oughta keep five or six at a time and raise all the li'l puppies as his own. Good Anti-Fairy women were everything except what their High Countess was.

Maybe that's why she liked H.P. so much. The Forehead Pixie had gotten bred and brought up intimately familiar with Fairy World, where they believed wives had the same rights to bedtime passions their husbands did. Even if he himself belonged to an asexual race, the guy taught his pixies that women could run businesses just as well as any man could. Their society treated girls like people instead of decoration, another name on the same long list, another happy customer just like anybody else. Repeated polls even ranked Pixie satisfaction with the Anti-Fairy High Countess above the High Count, and even though she'd never ditch Anti-Cozzie for one of those guys, that meant something. Something nice.

If she and Anti-Cosmo had a little girl, Anti-Wanda knew she'd have her chance. She was High Countess. She had money. She had plans. She would scrub her daughter's face on every reporter, every film crew. She'd show her books with cool girls in 'em, or were even written by cool girls to start. If Anti-Cosmo tried to bring that poor kid down, Anti-Wanda would slam her foot in there so fast his fangs'd rattle in his head. And if her daughter liked that world of covered ankles and averted eyes and paper fans, then heck, let her have it! Her mother just wanted to fight to make sure she got the choice.

But if they had a son, Anti-Cosmo would want one molded like a mini him. Anti-Wanda loved her husband fiercely (more than he sometimes knew or let himself believe), but just one of him was handful enough. Sweat always trickled into her eyes when she pictured a future where husband and son might just maybe both mock her for the dimwitted thoughts and unladylike ways she'd grown up taught she had. If this pup was another boy… maybe that might break her for good, at least 'til the end of the week.

Anti-Wanda thought about her moonlit greenhouse in the gardens, where her devil's backbones and jatican citruses and blindweed lay tucked away. She'd always hoped to pass the place to a daughter who loved it as much as she did someday. Would a boy pup tolerate her teachings if'n she tried to educate him the best way she knew how? Or would he see her as a useless woman who fritted away her time with pointless flowers and ugly weeds? Did boy pups even like gardens? She wasn't sure, and was much too scared to ask around.

Nonetheless… despite his flaws, despite his hesitation to acknowledge her deep desires as anything more than incorrect blips which occasionally popped into his dumb wife's head… Anti-Cosmo did love her. He complied to her lust-filled cravings a whole lot amount of oftens and without a bunch of whining, never making it out to be a big dumb chore. He'd nectar kissed her before and he'd do it again today, because he had to get her pleasure-happy to feel like he deserved her at all, and that's just how it was.

But even if he gave her nectar kisses, sometimes she didn't want Anti-Cosmo to see her as his wife. Sometimes she wanted him to see her as Anti-Wanda.

"Are ya nervous about the pup?" she asked again. This time she didn't try to touch.

"Please, Anti-Wanda," he scoffed, fluffing the back of his hair. "It's far from my first romp around the bend. Let's not forget I've raised a dozen genies to full adulthood; I am regarded as the best, after all, being the founder of their conservation program like I am. And before this pup I had Talon, and I daresay you'll be so much more enjoyable to discuss childcare and parental guidance with than H.P. was… Rhoswen knows he's a good man, but he did argue terribly every day we raised that lad, I swear. Did I mention Talon didn't clean the rooms along the central corridor to my specifications?" He clicked his tongue and played with the empty space where his monocle normally sat against his eye. "It's the Pixie values he was raised with; every anti-fairy knows the proper way to clean is to sweep through each room in a row and wipe down the most notable features therein before you circle back to get the rest, but the pixie in him confines his scrubbing to a single room until it exceeds standards before he dares to leave. The new pup will never stall like that, no, my dear. We'll raise a genuine anti-fairy this time, through and through."

"Yeah," she said, 'cuz that all sounded right.

Anti-Cosmo bobbed his head and dove into a lengthy talk about… Uh, something or other. It was all real full of politics and Pixie contracts and Fairy laws, and she caught his ex-wife's name somewhere in the mix. Anti-Wanda listened for a while, twirling a curl of hair against her lips and watching him float back and forth across the floor. He was real cute when he talked, even if she didn't always understand all the stuff he said. When Anti-Cosmo got excited, the natural glow of his eyes always lit a little brighter, turning from their usual lime to like, gemeralds or something. Not that something was wrong with limes, because they were much tastier than olives were and really, Anti-Wanda counted herself lucky that she caught a husband whose eyes made her think of tangy fruit instead of the sour kind. Were olives sour, technically? She considered herself an expert taster of food, but olives were one of those tricky kinds with a description that eluded her at every turn. That and avocado smoothies… She rifled through her memories, trying to remember what ingredient she'd added to the blender that had made her last one so delicious. Maybe it was strawberry. Strawberries on oatmeal was secretly Anti-Wanda's favorite breakfast, or maybe her sixth. Her daddy could make a mean stack of roadkill crepes, though…

With a sudden jerk of his wings, Anti-Cosmo spun around. "Oh, what a fool I am, Anti-Wanda! Here you are back from your trip to Fairy World, and I'm gallivanting off on wild stories!"

"They's good compliments," she told him honestly. "You oughta say 'em again later."

"Yes, yes… You really must stop me when I get like this, darling. I rely on your patient strength to keep me grounded in this world."

"Guess so." Anti-Wanda tipped her head. "Did ya put the bottom creche to roost before I got here?"

"Oh yes, I sent them off after we ate a snack. That was two hours ago by now."

Her eyebrows lifted. "Did ya read 'em any stories or check the buttons on their li'l pj shirts? Diamond needs her snuggle cat and Cory's got a blister on his thumb."

He turned to her with a plea for pity in his eyes, his lower lip sticking out just so. "Anti-Wanda, I'm busy. You understand. The pups are old enough to put themselves to bed, and besides, their mothers can help them brush their teeth. I say they ought to worry about their own pups and leave me to worry about mine. That's how it's done in Fairy World," he added at the end, but winced instantly when he did. They always tried not to compare their lifestyle to their counterparts'. They fought too much when they did.

"Hey. I get you're busy. Y'all love keeping busy." Anti-Wanda floated a little closer, bringing both hands behind his neck. "Our pup's more exciting, and I know that. But you's still creche father of this colony, Anti-Cozzie. It's kinda your job to look after the kids like they's all your own. Y'all can't just ditch 'em for their mums to raise by themselves."

Anti-Cosmo's arms slid behind her, encircling her waist below her wings. He leaned his forehead to her shoulder in a silent sulk. Anti-Wanda breathed the scent of his hair, clutching him in the hug. He smelled like the pine needle soap he'd brought home a few months back from a particularly long stay in Pixie World (stolen from the Onyx Hotel, probably, though she hadn't asked).

"They like you better anyway," he muttered.

"Who what?"

His mouth stayed buried in her shirt, but his eyes slid up to hers. His fingers crawled along her spine, edging closer to her wings. "The other pups, darling. They went asking after you yesterday, wondering when their High Countess would be coming home. They prefer your parenting to mine. As do their mothers. You're more fun, Anti-Wanda… You understand them better than I ever will. I'm facts and figures. You're a graceful dancer on the stage of childcare. I fumble where you fly free. I punish where you praise… It's no surprise I'm the unwanted one around here."

"Oh," she said. The two were silent, half-embraced. Wingbeats rustled in the dark.

"Clarice?"

She knew her nickname and answered to it. Anti-Cosmo's eyes turned liquid like the moonlight, his fingers playing between her wings like the whole grand canyon piano. He clung to her like a monkey, holding so tight it nearly pulled her down, his eyes stretched so big they looked good enough to eat.

"Do you think our pup will like me, though?"

"You're the daddy," she said, combing at his hair. "She's gonna be wild as a hog for ya."

"She?"

Anti-Wanda shrugged.

"Talon doesn't like me. I raise that brat as my heir for over 50,000 years and he still begs for the streets of Pixie World! He wants a new stapler for a present at the turn of the season! What are we going to do with him, my darling?"

She took his face in her hands, smiling as he closed his eyes and melted into it, his busy thoughts disappearing for just one precious moment. "This pup ain't Talon. This one'll like ya, if you treat her right. If you don't treat her right, she ain't gonna like you much. That's how it goes."

Anti-Cosmo mused over her words, stroking her shirt. "I suppose you could be correct on this sole matter, darling. I know I'm a far cry from the ideal man in any society that walks these cloudlands, but I appreciate and shall adopt your genuine response regardless of my shortcomings. You've always been so truthful, my dear, and I learned long ago that even when my cruelest thoughts trick me into seeing the inevitability of my failures, the worthlessness in myself, your perspective as an unbiased figure beyond my destructive mind serves me very well. You know, perhaps I am not quite as unremarkable or undesirable as I often let myself think I am, seeing as somehow I stole your affections long ago and hold them even now. Perhaps it is my brilliance which charms even you of all supposedly unobtainable- MMM!"

He screamed that last part in a muffled manner, because Anti-Wanda lost interest in his roaming fingers and simply kissed him. It was not a long kiss, but it quieted him for a moment and all was nice and good in the best kind of way.

"You worry a lot," she said. "This time it won't be like Talon. You got me. No offense to the Boss Pix, but y'all fight too much and living apart sure didn't help that. I'll be here. We're gonna raise this one right." Drake or damsel. Even if she didn't like gardening. Even if he turned out like a mini Anti-Cosmo.

Anti-Cosmo blew his bangs from his face, shiny eyes glinting like emerald chips… or guacamole on those chips. Guacamole was nice. "Ohh, think of it, Anti-Wanda! A genuine heir at last! I'm in love with the creature already. Should a hair on his head be damaged, I shall make the whole of Fairy World repent for this crime!"

"She's only the heir if she gots the colored eyes," she reminded him. "Talon's still gonna be first if she's born red."

"This one has the iris virus," he said, so stubborn and sure. "He's my heir."

"Think it's a drake, then?"

"Oh yes." Anti-Cosmo smoothed his nightshirt. "He's no larger than a pinta bean at this stage of development, for only once I've transferred him to you will he begin to truly grow, but he does wriggle from time to time with purpose and strength. He snuggles against the ridges of my pouch with the utmost contentment, never startles or flaps those tiny wings. Brave child. He's a drake."

"Could be a strong damsel though," she said, and he chuckled and kissed her beneath the ear. His stomach pressed to hers when he leaned in. Anti-Wanda felt her saliva dry. Her husband's middle wasn't that much rounder than was normal… it shouldn't be so inviting, so tempting to brush her fingers over, but…

Like an instinct, Anti-Cosmo slapped her probing hand again. Anti-Wanda huffed, and he groaned pityingly the same moment he devoured her lips.

They played beneath the great hall's mural of Anti-Fairy history a moment longer, tugging at cloth, scratching skin, roaming their eyes and hands and toes every place. It was Anti-Wanda who pulled their mouths apart.

"I'll check for buggies in the bath so's we can continue our private talking someplace else." Her fingers slid through his soft blue hair, jerking here and there where it had caught in tangles. Two claws plucked out a clump of cobweb. "Maybe you oughta join me. I'll brush your hair."

"That would require me to change from my pyjamas," he pointed out, exasperated by the fact she hadn't understood this from before.

"I'll undress ya, pumpkin."

He fixed her with a cross look. His grip tightened round her torso. "Must you move to physical teasing so quickly, woman? I took advantage of your absence this week to plan an entire serenade, and you know how your melodious temptations tie my tongue to ribbons once you go too far."

He meant his lisp, the darling. Anti-Cozzie's lisp always kicked in when erotic fantasies possessed his wicked mind, and although Anti-Wanda found it hilariously cute, it embarrassed him like nothing else in the universe ever could. A moment passed as she considered the pros and cons of turning him fully on before he drank his fill of clever wordplay, while the object of her thoughts waited with a hand on his gentle stomach. He'd enjoy himself with or without his eloquence, and Anti-Wanda wasn't in the mood this evening to be patient.

"I want you in my bath," she said, and his eyes flashed to the thinnest slits.

"You're ungrateful. No other woman in the universe would deny the whispers I'd thought to tickle your ears with, the way I'd intended to make love to your mind like otters dancing in the river, like grasshoppers springing through the summer fields."

"I'm Anti-Wanda. I deny ya that bit, just today. Today is bath day. Tomorrow's talk day."

Anti-Cosmo curled his lip. "Frankly I am disappointed, beloved, and intend to take advantage of my own desires when it's my turn to pull the strings of ludus and eros. Come that day I shall strip you like a branch and devour you like a fox feasts upon a round hen. I shall explore your every crevice and torment you with a thousand kisses down your spine, tear you limb from limb and pleasure each part as an individual for an hour or more before I piece you together again and take you all."

The promise of her husband's preferred wild, dangerous intimacy in her future didn't seem like much punishment to her, and she told him so. Anti-Cosmo rolled his eyes with great exaggeration, expression stern. "I remain stunned and offended by your rejection of my careful poetry, but nonetheless I find my soul chained in your servitude this humble night. I am not one to break our tradition of allowing you to rule me as a dog the night your many travels bring you home, so I shall delight you with your every spoken wish." Further frown, two fingers coming to press against his chin. "Although it's terribly strange to do this without feeding you a sandwich in the process. Are you sure you don't want one?"

"I ate at the party," she said, snuggling briefly at his chest, and she was the monkey clinging on this time. "H.P. got me an entire stack of nachos for myself."

"How good of him. I shall thank him with a taunting reverie of the sweet love your pleasant self gave to me upon your arrival home." He went to kiss her nose. She wiggled away, drinking in the irritation that flashed across his face. His arms stayed extended, hands opening and clenching empty air.

"Yeah, let's do that bath thing. But 'cuz we're talking food, I saw Talon sleeping in the kitchen. I wanna get him to bed before he catches frost; smoke knows how bad your feet got when you was his age and slept alone. Ain't much I hate about the castle, but when we gonna get a heater in this place? These kids would die if we was Fairies."

"Mm."

She started for the servant hall that led to the kitchen. Anti-Cosmo drifted after her, movements tired, all quiet now. Anti-Wanda flitted on, paging through her daydreams, when a sudden anxious word brought her head around again.

"Anti-Wanda?"

"Huh?" He'd paused behind her, one hand braced against stone, his eyes a fit of honest concern.

"When do we tell Talon we have a real heir?"

Talon… Sweet Talon, that strange child. Talon with his grubby fists and snotty nose and all the thousand black curls bouncing around his face…

"'Real' is hurtful," she finally said, leaning forward. "Hon, you've told that kid for 50,000 years he was gonna be High Count someday. That was real."

"I told him he was heir presumptive," Anti-Cosmo corrected, leaning to one side in the air. "That's different from heir apparent. He always knew he might be replaced."

Itsy-bitsy as the unborn child was, even a tiny shift in weight could affect an anti-fairy's balance. Anti-Cosmo flapped his wings a little differently now. Anti-Wanda closed her eyes as strong beats blew soft air across her face. It carried that new baby small, mixed in with pine needles and strawberry. It was a new smell for him… Usually Anti-Cozzie was copper and rust, ocean salt on the side. Lavender when he wanted to feel particularly frisky that day.

"Still," she said, jerking her thoughts back to Talon, "it felt real to him. We gotta be gentle when we break it down."

Anti-Cosmo nodded with soothing patience, and Anti-Wanda's stomach trickled to her knees. She knew from the scan of his gaze along her chest that he was imagining her bare body slipping through the bathwater instead of listening to the politics she wanted to discuss.

"Yes," he said anyway, bringing his eyes down her leg. "I'd better invite H.P. for dinner when we tell him, then… I think the lad shan't take the news well, but the Head Pixie's presence alone will help quell the anger. As much as it burns my tongue to admit such a thing aloud, even in the private company of my sweet wife, H.P. is the one he respects as his disciplinary figure, not I. While you prepare the bath, I shall contact him and see what can be arranged. It's still afternoon in Pixie World, is it not? Let me recall. He has his exact routine, you know: dinner at eight, shower at nine, fawned over by Sanderson at ten. Hm."

A soft frown tugged at Anti-Wanda's lips. That was so like him, she thought, floating inside the kitchen where Talon still slept unaware. Push responsibility off on some other guy, ignore that his wife could maybe say something smart, shove Talon out of their lives and brush his hands clean like future goals mattered far more than the past…

"Talon's still my son," she said, quite loudly. Anti-Cosmo swiveled in surprise, and she crossed her arms. "Even if we gets a new heir, I love him. I want him to know that. I want him to know his daddy loves him too."

"I do love him," Anti-Cosmo said defensively. "He was my first; I haven't forgotten that."

Love. First. Haven't forgotten.

Ex-High Countess Anti-Saffron was unrelated to this discussion, but when he said those words, Anti-Wanda went all stiff and every fleck of magic froze inside her blood. Normally it didn't bother her two spits that she hadn't been her husband's first anything. Not his first friend, first crush, first kiss, first mate, first wife, first ruling queen. Anti-Wanda hadn't entered the playing field 'til later. Even li'l Talon had snapped one day in the library, yelling how he still saw Anti-Saffron as his mother before he thought of her. She'd frozen then, tears leaking, even though she lived her life trying not to cry anywhere Anti-Cosmo might hear, anywhere he might treat her as a fragile little thing…

Nah, Talon sure weren't the only factor, but he'd put strain on that first marriage and broken her Anti-Cozzie down, leaving him to crumple on H.P.'s doorstep in tearful desperation. Anti-Wanda had no particularly bitter feelings towards Anti-Saffron, because she'd worked with that woman in political affairs for years and still saw her as strong and kind… even if she had flown off and left her husband (their husband) to raise a baby like that. No. She held no ill will towards Anti-Saffron herself, even though Anti-Saffron prob'ly still hated her…

But did Anti-Cosmo still daydream of the woman he'd once loved, even now? Sparks fizzled in Anti-Wanda's cheeks as she remembered those gliding eyes tracing curves along her body, calculating and comparing most likely. He ignored her thoughts too much to be on accident, like a damsel's mind didn't matter as long as she had a chunky bun to squeeze and a stomach pouch for him to shove his babies. She twitched suddenly, clutching her shoulders in her hands and curling her legs in tight.

Anti-Cosmo plucked Talon's glasses from his workbook. "Let's not wake him with poofing, darling. He's still lagging behind from time zone changes."

"I'll get him." Her voice came out like a little pony. "You ain't s'posed to lift 'cuz the baby." With a flick of her wand, Talon's book and glasses went to his room without him. The child stirred, but slept on.

"Then I shall draw your bath. I will await you upstairs in a matter of moments, sweet Clarice." He kissed her chin and reached for his wand, only to blink in surprise when his hand found no pocket or sheath. Anti-Wanda handed hers over without emotion, and Anti-Cosmo vanished in a foop of dark smoke. She trailed her hand along the kitchen counter, tormenting herself with memories before her wedding day, when she'd been a mere financial advisor and a man she hadn't yet started loving used to spin his first High Countess around the castle, both of them gasping with laughter, foreheads pressed and souls weaving into one…

With a great head shake of resolve, Anti-Wanda decided those thoughts were best saved for another day. She didn't think too good with night coming on, and she wasn't one to let worries bog her down all night. If Anti-Cosmo ever imagined another woman when they kissed, that was his own thing to work out. He'd tell her if he chose to and she wouldn't accuse him of nothing if he didn't, no way. I mean, she still sometimes thought of Anti-Juandissimo or Elvis when they went out dancing, right? That was her life, not his. She'd give her husband's private thoughts the same respect. Lifting Talon in her arms, Anti-Wanda floated from the kitchen in search of the little darling's room. It hurt her brain to think how big he'd be when he grew up. The new pup was gonna be fun, but Talon was her first. She wasn't gonna forget that.

Talon had entered Anti-Fairy World with "special allergies" that had a real complicated name Anti-Wanda could never remember. To her face, Anti-Cosmo had told her it happened 'cuz how he'd spent his early years among pixies. Behind her back, she'd once heard them in a screaming fight over something else, something about his counterpart… Whatever the reason, Talon refused to roost upside-down with the other juvenile kids, and had his own tiny room on the third floor. Sometimes Anti-Wanda liked to wander in there, just to look at how nice and orderly it always was. All the shelves held nice scrolls and pretty ribbons, and instead of posters on his walls, he had maps and prayers to the nature spirits. He'd gotten his cleanliness from H.P., and anyone who knew either her or Anti-Cosmo agreed. Anti-Wanda lowered him in his casket of a bed and fumbled with the heavy blanket. Her claws left two gashes, but she got it over his shoulders in the end. Talon twitched, rubbing his eye with the fat part of his hand. Softly glowing scarlet eye.

"Mom?"

"Hey baby," she murmured, resting her hand against his chest. "You's up in your own room now. Keep warm and get some rest. And help Daddy lots if I go back to jail."

The child rolled over, mumbling nonsense words. Anti-Wanda closed the casket lid and put out the torch on his wall. One boy taken care of. Now to see about the other one.

On her way up to the fourth-floor bathing chamber, Anti-Wanda started shedding her clothes. Maybe it was a silly habit 'cuz someone would have to go and pick them up again, and that someone was Anti-Cosmo more often than not after they left the bath pool, but it was sort of their thing. Other families lived with them at the castle (sleeping though, by the sound of it), and it put a delicious tang in her mouth knowing she and she alone could drape her socks and underthings out in the open when she was with her Anti-Cozzie. Even if he lectured her a hundred times on how inappropriate that was for a woman of her status, shrieking about a guest who might show up without warning to find rats nibbling on her bloomers, Anti-Wanda simply couldn't resist staking her claim a little. It worked for them somehow.

She took a quick naked puff on the balcony, lingering several minutes below the stars with the sugar powder holder dancing in her hand. Huh. She'd prob'ly have to kick that habit in a couple days when Anti-Cosmo transferred her the baby; sugar weren't good for baby brains. She'd done a good job hiding her addictions from Talon, but that was easy 'cuz he spent half his life in Pixie World… and Anti-Cozzie spent too much time in jail to scold her for it much.

But what about the new baby? It was prob'ly gonna grow up here at the castle, right? Anti-Wanda brought her sugar stick to her lips and frowned. Talon hadn't slowed her husband's ambitions. In fact, it'd driven him to overdrive. After the baby was born, it wouldn't be long 'fore he and his friends were in jail again. He wouldn't let her come even if she wanted, huh? "Nah, Clarice. You gots ta stay home with the baby…" And her hand clenched the balcony rail. Anti-fairy babies couldn't never die if their fairy counterpart stayed alive. Anti-Cozzie figured she'd mess up his plans like she usually did, and this was gonna be his solution, weren't it? Lump her at home with an immortal something that for once in her life she could play with and not break. Raise his heir and that'd keep her out of the way as a bonus blessing to his cause.

"I did want another baby," she murmured, sliding her gaze to one of the lava rivers oozing down a nearby mountain. "But I sure don't want it growing up without its daddy's love. I seen how hard it's been for Talon, bounced 'tween us and H.P., one a pixie, one in jail, and me who ain't a mama in his brain… I want our baby in this world with a ma and a pa who's both there a bunch, dang it!" And she dumped the remnants of sugar powder into empty air.

She opened the door to the bathing chamber, where all seemed dark except the candles and the underwater lights. Anti-Cosmo knelt beside the long pool, swirling the water gently with his hand. It was sudsy water, not the spicy lava like was her favorite, but Anti-Wanda didn't protest. She did, however, touch a finger to her lips. Anti-Cozzie didn't see too good without his monocle. After a moment's hard thought, she decided not to tell him he'd set a pretty table plant on fire instead of one candle. But she did move the towels away from it.

"You undressed yourself," he noted dryly, turning his head. He still wore the nightshirt, drawing circles on his middle part with the sleeve folded over his hand. With a few flaps of his wings and an awkward fumble of his arm, he rose to his feet. "I'd planned to peel your clothes away, you know, building up the anticipation. Why the devil would you undress early when you knew we'd planned a sensual bath?"

"Because I wasn't in the bath yet," she pointed out. Reasonably, she thought, though Anti-Cosmo still snapped a nasty glare in her direction. He waved her wand and fooped her clothes on again- teal shirt, navy traveling jacket, dark boots and all.

"I don't care! We're going to do this right, darling. Smoke, Anti-Wanda, do you never think?"

"I left my hair up for you. I know ya like taking it down. Didn't think you'd care about the clothes." You only look at me when you're make-believing they're off anyway. What's the difference?

"I have to be toyed with, Clarice. Unlike you, little peeks at places the moon doesn't shine isn't enough to turn my brains to pudding. I need temptation. Allure. Not… whatever this is."

Okay, that was just rude. Anti-Wanda rolled her eyes. "Yeesh, hon. You sell your other parts short, talkin' up your pretty buns like that. But okay, you're the creche daddy with the baby hormones. Do as you want, I guess. Lemme know if you need help reaching the high buttons."

"Anti-Wanda," he snapped. "I am perfectly capable of undressing you without the use of magic. Now come here."

"Cannonball!"

"NO!"

Too late. Anti-Wanda sprinted past him and sprang across the pool in a flying leap. Well, maybe not so much flying considering how she crashed into the bubbles, but you get. When she popped up again, Anti-Cosmo hovered by the poolside in horror, clasping and unclasping his hands. His cheeks puffed up. His hands went to his hips and he tapped one foot in the air.

"Anti-Wanda, are you daft? Your boots are filthy! It took me twenty minutes to arrange those flower petals properly. And what if your hooting wakes the castle? Well?"

"Then we all have a dance party, and you show me off for everyone 'cuz I'm your queen and you love me farther than Yugopotamia is, and we'll have a real good night all around."

"That is true," he said. "That is very true."

She belched and coughed a bit of water from her nose, and Anti-Cosmo shook his head. He grasped the hem of his nightshirt and pulled it off, fooping it away somewhere. Gingerly, he slid into the water. Oh, this was gonna be interesting. Anti-Wanda watched him go under. He didn't come up again. After a minute, she went down to grab his arm and hoist him higher. He broke the surface hacking, swiping furiously at his face.

"Did you forget you was sitting on the deep end?"

"I'm not that short!" he wailed. "And I can swim! This baby weighs too much, that's it."

"Aw, you're cute." Anti-Wanda pressed a kiss to his cheek, blowing a raspberry as she did.

He gripped her arm, eyes downcast. "Anti-Wanda? Do… do you truly respect me? Even though I'm short and I'm not much of a traditional anti-fairy?"

Her smile slipped. "Why ya gotta ask that? You's creche father of our colony here. You's High Count of the Anti-Fairies. Heck, even H.P. likes ya, and he don't like anyone. Of course I respect you."

"Never mind," he mumbled, but tightened his fingers in her hand and plunged on with, "I can't tell sometimes. It's so, so confusing inside my head, Anti-Wanda, with all my thoughts and doubts swirling and plaguing my every part every wingbeat of the day… Darling, do you even love me?"

"Duh. I don't let just anybody see my hair down like you do."

"But I'm not pretty! My own hair never stays flat and my legs are too short and I always fly crooked and my office is a wreck and I'm constantly landing myself in jail because those stupid, stupid plans I spend my days poring over never seem to work and I'm an awful father for Talon who's about to drop this horrid bombshell on him and rip his inheritance away, and I haven't even hit on what's below the belt yet- Gods, Anti-Wanda; I'm a disaster. A hurricane with a high libido and we all know it. We know it! Not that I can satisfy you anyway, even when in all my passions, I try." And he broke into crying. "Anti-Wanda, we're anti-fairies! We mate upside-down! But we'll forever have our fumbles at roost and you literally have to lug my weight, clutching my pathetic body to yours all through the night because I'm too short!"

She knew that wild look in his lime-emerald eyes. The jerking of his wings, the flapping of his hands as anxiety spiraled up his throat. She listened to him babble on, stroking his hair as he clutched her shirt and got all his crying out.

"That don't bother me none," she whispered. "That ain't never bothered me."

"YES IT DOES! You always go wandering off on your own, you never talk to me if you don't expect rewards, and someday you won't come back at all- Smoke, Jorgen arrested you today and I wouldn't have known if H.P. didn't scry my crystal ball when he got out. Were you going to send word at all? I didn't even know you'd left the castle until yesterday, let alone Anti-Fairy World! Does it not bother you we converse only for the sake of bodily desires? Do you even CARE? Venus," he whimpered, her middle name so foreign on his lips. He buried his face in his hands and tried to kick her away. Anti-Wanda didn't care if he kicked her. She wrapped her arms around him and brought him real close, except closer still. She closed her eyes.

"Anti-Cozzie, we've been married more years than I can even dream to count. Would I give myself to ya tonight, and every night before, if I didn't love you? Would I cuddle up to ya and play with your hair and sing my silly songs inside your ears?"

"Maybe," he spat. "You never banter with me unless you want it that night. The only time you ever pay attention is when you're squealing in my arms."

"Oh."

"Get off me, you numbskull. You're crushing my head."

Silently, Anti-Wanda unwound her arms. Anti-Cosmo paddled to the other side of the pool and gripped the edge. He didn't haul himself out, only clutched it like the only solid thing in the world.

"I wanna be part of politics," she said, drifting towards him. "Sometimes… I don't understand the big way you talk, and I feel like you don't respect me neither. That's why I stay out of your way until you come looking for me. But if you wanna talk more, teach me politics. I'll talk every minute of the day if we get a smart conversation going, and if you stay patient when it's hard for me."

"I don't want to talk politics around you," he mumbled into the floor. A shuddering hand pressed back his bangs, sticking them sideways across his head. "All I ever do is talk politics and plans, woman. Must you ensure I never rest?"

"All I ever do is get shoved to the corner," she snapped, and he glared.

"And what? You think I don't feel abandoned when you flit off on endless tours around the same country over and over and over again?"

"I'm High Countess! One of us should be making rounds to keep up with our people and make sure they's happy, and it ain't gonna be you."

"Have you been having affairs when we're apart, woman?"

Her fists clenched. "That sounds like you don't trust me none! Why? Have you?"

"Don't flip this around on me, Clarice!"

"So you have been! I knew you was a liar."

"I DIDN'T LIE!" he exploded, splashing water across her face. "Good smoke, you know what I am, Venus! I have needs! Maybe you should think about that next time you go flitting off."

"You're such a darn wishy-washy two-bit," she shouted back, splashing him too. "Who with, huh?" Anti-Saffron's face flashed again through her mind. She threw the image out, but it didn't go.

"I'm sure you'd like to know, though I fail to see why it's your business. Ooh, you're such a nosy little spider!"

"You're such a secrety secret-keeper!"

"Is that the best insult you can think of, you ignoramus?"

"You's such a meanie-face," she spat, accenting it with a raspberry.

"You're such a dolt!"

"You's such a big fat jerk! Oh wait, I meant li'l tiny jerk! And that goes for another certain part of ya too."

"You drive me wild with your taunting, woman! You're such a twit!"

And they froze again, hands and faces wet from all the angry splashing, and she was trembling. He launched himself at her an instant later, body pressing close and fingers tearing off her shirt.

"Oh, I adore you, Anti-Wanda. Even when you're out traveling Anti-Fairy World. Even when you turn the Fairies' heads. Even when you banter with H.P. instead of me. Smoke above, there are days I wish we'd never been apart since we were married, and sometimes I say so aloud, but you know I never mean any of it. Your absence fills my soul with aching and I scream beneath my softest tears. I progress further on my plans those nights than any other- not because I miss your distractions, but because I weep without them. I throw all my anger and worry and fears and affections into my projects, and I name them after you. The one I made when Anti-Wanda was away again; the one I built from the wreckage Anti-Wanda left of my stability; the one I wish I never designed because I wouldn't have gotten to it yet if my darling hadn't gone… Gods, you could distract me every day for the rest of our immortal lives and I wouldn't mind it for a moment. Your charm steals my words away. You inspire my brain with a thousand views I've never thought. Your creativity is unmatched within my castle and all the land beyond. You're the muse of my dreams and waking life. You're the everything my little world revolves around." He pressed his head against her neck, smashing her wings in his hug of arms and legs. "Even if you are a boob sometimes."

"I love you lots," she said simply. He waited, expecting more, then lifted his head when she didn't go on. Anti-Wanda kissed his nose. "Even when you go fooling with other women."

"It's just fooling, my dear."

"I know."

They played with one another's patience, walking fingers down shivering limbs. He pulled her by the hair and she gripped him with her toes. Silver threads of magic swirled from their breath, taking little shapes in the steam of the warm pool. He wrapped his tongue with hers, pressing every nectar kiss against her teeth until even she couldn't stand it anymore and begged he sweep her off to roost so their game could end the proper way. They heaved themselves from quiet water and curled together on the drying mats to rest their wings. Anti-Wanda kept her hand to his stomach, feeling for both the itty-bitty baby and the rise and fall of her husband's graceful panting, and he didn't try to stop her.

All of a sudden, she cried out with sharpened thought. Her chest heaved in wordless wails.

"Anti-Wanda?"

"I still love you when y'all get mean with me."

Anti-Cosmo gazed at her, utterly silent. Like a good li'l turned on anti-fairy, his fangs must've retracted when his insides went steamy. That meant he'd lisp his big words and get all upset and lisp a lot more, and since he hated the lisp, he wouldn't say nothing much now. Just lie there damp and quiet, just look and listen.

"I like it when you's mean to me," Anti-Wanda whispered. She sat up, even though it made her hair drip down her back the way that got her mad. He sat too, combing his bangs to one side. She reached over and flopped them back in front of his eyes, then with a great burst of energy jumped to her feet and scratched his hair all over everywhere, pressing on his head, pushing it down, shaking that hair all over and messing it up and making it hers-

"Mm!"

"I like it when you calls me names! Because you don't talk much anymore unless you're mean. And if you ever stop talking to me anymore then I know I've lost ya to another lady, and that's the day I turn all dead." With her arms tight around his neck, she leaned her body into his. "You can call me all the mean names in the world if it means you don't never leave me long. I don't care about the affairs. I don't care you've prob'ly got three mistresses out there. Just always come back. You can be mean all day every day forever if you always come back."

"I don't have a mithtreth, Clarithe," he told her softly. His hand roamed through the back of her damp hair. It was all down now instead of tied. Anti-Cozzie always got all funny twitchy when she brought it down, like the little scrunchie alone barred him from a wild night in her arms- that and his rapidly dissolving sense of self-restraint. But he didn't look at it. He only watched her eyes. "And even one thouthand affairth would never pleathe me like a thingle night with you. Planning how to woo a damthel is not eathy when you're as buthy and dithtracted ath I am. Why, I barely have time for you, let alone time to wathte on other women who don't underthtand the complex requiremenths of making love to my brainth ath your thkilled and practithed mind so eathily doeth. Good thmoke, woman… Ith that where you think I go all day?"

"You're cute," she said, booping his nose. "Golly, Anti-Cozzie… I don't always know what you're talking about, but you always make me feel better when ya start saying stuff. And 'specially with that lisp," she added with a wink. "I like me a guy who ain't ashamed of it."

Anti-Cosmo hesitated, fingers tapping along her sides. He didn't say anything else, but Anti-Wanda knew he was thinking it over. Maybe he hated the lisp like nothing in the world, maybe it kept his mouth glued shut after a certain point more often than it didn't… but maybe, just maybe, she could get him to loosen up one of these days. Maybe he'd whisper those poems he'd practiced and sing serenades in her ear even if his words came out kinda stiff and blended…

"Or," she said, cheerfully scooting closer, fluttering her lashes, "since you don't like lisping and I like hearing my own voice get loud, I guess I could have the whole conversation for us. It looks like we gots some alone time. Ya wanna talk about me and my needs?"

With a rapid, horrified shake of his head, Anti-Cosmo pulled her on top of him and smashed his lips to hers. Anti-Wanda rolled with giggles, and he ran his hands over every part of her. He stabbed her with burning kisses and tore her hair to ribbons in his fists. He grasped and snarled with the flaring fire she alone brought to the forefront of his mind. Anti-Wanda responded in kind, embracing him with skimming lips that danced too fast and left him sobbing as he shook. He dissolved like a mess beneath her, flailing for her back, fumbling against her beating wings for a solid grip on her spine. He clung more tightly than a monkey. He clung like he wanted her. Monkeys had never hugged her before (at least not without being chained to her), but even if they did, this would still be better. And she liked monkeys. At one point after Anti-Cosmo rolled them over and crashed her shoulders hard enough on the floor to almost make her head break open, Anti-Wanda grabbed his cheeks and held his face in frozen awe. For just a couple seconds, she gazed gasping up at him while he hung suspended over her, wings drooped in a tent, desperate tears raining from his eyes. They burned her where they fell, acid all hot and so, so familiar.

"This is nice tonight," she said. "Even if Jorgen took my man-bag and I might go to jail tomorrow and my husband ain't the best example of the Anti-Fairy kind of pretty and even though I don't got any sandwich. Why didn't ya make me a sandwich, Anti-Cozzie? You know thinking makes me hungry. 'Course, so does not thinking… Talking makes me real hungry too, and flirting, and kissing, and-"

"Shut up and let me fling what little ith left of your brainth to the realm beyond," he growled, and she did.


A/N - Thanks for reading! I don't normally write romantic pieces, but this one just rolled off my fingers this week and it was fun. Happy Friday the 13th!

While it's not a direct sequel to this piece, if you're interested in checking up with Anti-Cosmo one week before Foop's birth, visit Chapter 32 ("Think Positive") of my one-shot collection 130 Reasons Why I'm Fairy Trash. It's about Anti-Cosmo being dragged to a party in the middle of trying to mourn the assumed miscarriage of his unborn heir, and answers the question "Why does Anti-Cosmo know about baby Foop and/or potential Anti-Wanda pregnancy in this piece but not know it during the 'Anti-Poof' episode?" Just in case that was on your mind while reading this. Maybe it wasn't. You do you.

Talon is meant to be the anti-fairy baby H.P. and Anti-Cosmo apparently raised together, if you take Jorgen's "Fairly Odd Baby" slideshow presentation at face value (i.e. Jorgen showing a photo of Anti-Cosmo and H.P. with an anti-fairy child between them while explaining why anti-fairies and pixies shouldn't raise children, key word being 'raise'). Talon also appears in a few of my other writings (Frayed Knots especially) if you want to learn more about him… I was iffy bringing a quote-unquote OC side character into a one-shot focused on romance, buuut it didn't feel true to Anti-Wanda's character to leave him out if she's going to wax poetic over Anti-Fairy politics. So there you go.