4. Mama's Boy (Pre-series)
Summer of the Red Rabbit - Spring of the Early Groundhog
"You idiotic pup!" She shoved him into the ground and planted her high-heeled shoe at the place where his throat blended into his collarbone. Suppressing his startled sniffle, he braced his palms against the stone floor, and she leaned down to tweak his nose and went on. "How it is that you can be so brilliant one moment before turning around and proving yourself so completely daft is beyond me."
"I love you." She took his hand and brought him to his feet. Giving into his thick snifflings, he buried his nose in her chest, and she leaned down to push her fingers through his green hair and went on. "No matter what those scoundrels spit at you, you'll always be my precious snookypop. How it is that you fail to understand how much you mean to Mama is beyond me."
"Proper form," she scolded, hitting her rod against the base of his spine another several times. "Sit up straight. Only commoners slouch. Honestly, you know better than that. You're a proper color-eye, and I expect you to act like one."
"Would you like a third cookie, love?" she persisted, drawing the bed covers up to his neck and fluffing his pillow another several times. "Lie down a little more. You'll freeze your neck stiff. Honestly, there's no need for you to be this tense. You're having a sick day, and you ought to rest your pretty head now."
Just as he was ducking through the doorway, she swept down, caught his wings in her claws, and slammed him flat against the hallway ceiling. His right wing twisted beneath him in an awkward way and with an unfamiliar pop.
"You will roost upside-down like a proper Anti-Fairy, and you will do it without complaint. Do you want to end up goody-goody like your brother?"
His wing sagged when she replaced him on the floor, but though it stung, he hastily lifted it before she could notice.
Just as he was ducking through the doorway, she swept up, caught the nape of his neck in her fingers, and yanked him back on her side of the threshold. His whole body drooped beneath him, and after another courageous second, he landed on the floor and lowered his wings.
"You'll only be causing trouble for the whole town if you go chasing after the Fairywinkle girl. Do you want to end up disappearing like your brother?"
His tongue burned as he reached to rub his left arm, but though it stung, he swallowed his protests before she could notice.
"You shouldn't be loitering about the manor reading these daft books all night and day. You'll ruin your pretty eyes. Go on, get out."
"You shouldn't be this far from the house without telling Mama. Dear, why would you want to set foot out there in the cruel world? Come on, step inside."
"You have to present. I asked you to clean up. What happened? And however did you get that limp in your right wing?"
He frowned. "I'm afraid I must confess that I don't know, Mother. It's simply always been that way."
Truthfully he didn't know, even when he thought hard. On occasion when he did dwell on it, Anti-Cosmo had passed the injury off as something the Fairy-Cosmo had left him with. However, if fairy wings were so thin, boneless, and fragile, was that possible?
"And while I'm waving for wishes, blast your damaged eyesight t'boot. What are we going to do with you? They sell special tinted rocks you can wear over one eye, don't they? That will have to do. With your frivolous brother tossing cash to every satyr and redcap to cross his path, we can't afford those newfangled double 'glasses' like some red-suited nellypodgers I might mention."
"You're a dashing young drake, Cosmo. I wish you didn't have to do this. Drag us out here to war and that rubbish, why I oughta…"
He smiled. "I don't know, Mama. I think it's nice to get out of the house for a change."
The line to the washrooms thinned in front of him. After mother and son had each finished, they parted. But as he said his goodbye and skimmed across base camp to join Schnozmo in their bunker, Cosmo squirmed inside his stomach. He didn't like this fighting business and wanted to see its end.
"And while fishes swim," he sighed, watching a certain tan-skinned drake and a damsel with a single pink curl spun in the front of her hair gab and giggle, "just blast me with muscles and dark hair like that."
His big brother, sewing a white button to the heel of his sock, shook his head when he came scampering up. "What is she gonna do with you? They sell leashes for mamas who wanna keep tabs on their silly nymphs all along the days, don't they? Ha ha…"
"You can't just overthrow an entire government in one morning."
He snarled. "Just watch me."
"Thirty percent on an exam isn't so bad, baby. You'll pick up on it eventually."
He sighed. "Just watch me."
"But we can't let my mother find out, you dimwitted twit," he groaned as he weaseled (literally) through her window. Fooping back to normal, adjusting his monocle, he held out his hands towards hers. "Show me the transformation homework and let's get on with this."
"I can't wait for you to get to meet my mama tonight," he crowed as he rocketed (literally) down the cherry-colored street. Poofing back to normal, weaving between startled passersby, he tightened his grip on her hand. "She's really going to love you so much!"
Anti-Cosmo watched in dread as brown dots of warm tea bled down the vertical bars over his bedroom window. Replacing the cup on its saucer with a clink and setting the both of them up on the mantel, he turned around. "My dearest apologies, Mother. What was that?"
"Exactly what you heard. I don't care how you protest. The arrangements have already been set in place. You are to be marrying Anti-Wanda come Friday. No arguments."
Cosmo pulled down his upper lip and sucked on it as refracted orange rays of the neighboring sunlight disappeared from his window glass. Nudging the curtains open with a rustle and then bringing both shut again, he turned around. "Do you really mean it, Mama?"
"Every word. I don't care how many times she's told you she thinks she's ready to begin your courtship dance. You are not marrying that Wanda girl. No arguments."
"Your respective counterparts obviously tied their knot three months ago, seeing as only last week you went and paired with her."
According to the shiny surface of the fireplace, his entire face had flushed purple. He shielded his neck and mouth with his hands. "That's not my fault, Mother. I know you and Father were wed long before the Divide was in place and you knew of your inevitable pairrring in advance, but this is the way most Anti-Fairies do it. Simply put, I haven't done a thing wrong."
The stick- he dodged- explosion of expensive glass objects that had once belonged to Anti-Bryndin. "I won't have her be your mistress, son of mine. I will have her be your wife."
"Well! Look who thinks he's big enough to leave the mound. Where are you going, punk? I thought your mommy didn't let you out after stars-out. Or during daylight."
Cosmo pulled the hood of his white sweatshirt further over his head, covering most of his signature green hair tuft. Gnass was one of his old bullies. Bullies the War of the Angels had taught him to ignore- Anti-Fairies were much scarier. The imp leaned against the side of the dirty brown stone wall around the town of Emper, just owl-eyed and tapping his antennae together in musical rhythm.
"Got milk in the bag there?"
"Whatcha gonna do when you run out, dweeb?" Gnass made a spiral motion around his ear. "I thought fairies with mutations like yours couldn't channel magic without it. Didn't think of that, did you? Maybe you would've if you'd gone to Spellementary with the rest of us, huh?"
Anti-Cosmo stamped his foot. "I won't do it."
Her palm snapped against his cheek, sending him recoiling towards the fireplace. He might have toppled straight into the rippling flames if he hadn't been swift at beating his wings. As it was, he singed the tails of his coat.
"Mother, this is my castle, and you have no rrright to impose yourself upon me any longer."
Then her staff came down hard against his right wing, fixing him to the stone wall. "You're going to marry Anti-Wanda, and that's final."
He held her gaze. Through grinding fangs, he managed, "Yes, Mama."
"And that's what I do ta guys who pick on my li'l bro. Two words: Scrambled. Beet. Surprise."
While Gnass bolted, holding his singed behind, Cosmo took his shaking wrists from over his nose. The other green-haired drake swung down from the wall. "Sch-Schnozmo? Hey, what gives?" The hands came down. "I could've handled that."
Schnozmo crossed his arms. "Two words: I liked seeing you try. I just zipped by home to grab something for an old friend, and I'm off again before you can say 'Throw down your wand and put your hands behind your head'. Does Mama know you're out here?"
Hesitation- stuttering- wincing-
"What's in the pack?" he asked with a nod.
"Just my milk?"
"Ha. Ha ha." Schnozmo held up a white tuxedo and a wedding boutineer flower. "Two words: I think you might have dropped this."
The day of his wedding, supposedly alone in his bedroom, Anti-Cosmo whipped around and fired a bolt of blue electricity. The older Anti-Fairy deflected it off the handle of his wand and evaporated the blow in a shower of pale, harmless sparks. Flint, then- only flint wands could do that, or ones of gingertie wood among the Seelie.
"Soft, easy." The newcomer tossed his wand with a clatter at the ground by Anti-Cosmo's feet. "If I had brought myself to injure you today, I would not have tipped books from your shelf to alert you of my presence before. You and I, we both know my greatest strength is silence. I only visit to talk. Your mother knows I've come here."
Anti-Cosmo grimaced without lowering his own wand of pumice. Quite the recharge time on that material - longer than any other - and he fretted silently that his opponent would remember and come back with a sharp strike before he himself was prepared to retaliate. He very much wished he'd thought to bring along his slingshot. "Anti-Bryndin. What a surprrrise to run across you here. Had a lovely flight, I hope."
The previous High Count licked a clawed finger. He touched it first to his nose, then his goatee. Finally, running it down each of his long, sharply-bent horns, he pushed himself up from the desk. Anti-Cosmo shifted away, wings spread in a leathery umbrella, not turning his back.
"I can't go back," Cosmo pleaded as Schnozmo half-carried and half-dragged him up the front porch steps. "I'm getting married, and I'm running away forever- Wanda won't like it if I'm late to our secret meeting spot at the west entrance of Fairystone Park!"
Anti-Schnozmo pointed at the backpack. "Two words: You're a moronic idiot. I'm not letting my brother go anywhere without packing food and plenty of milk. The only thing in there is that fancypants suit of yours."
"Ah! You can't sell it! I need it!"
"But you could chip a fair buck tooth on that rag. Did you drain your whole life savings on it, smoof?"
When the only response was a choking gasp, Schnozmo shook his head and shoved the younger fairy back into the Cosma household.
"This castle is no longer yours. You stepped down after your maggot-drrrizzled pound cake lost us the first bake-off after the war, old friend."
"You came and have threatened me with an outright coup."
"I did have the support of the people at my heels," Anti-Cosmo admitted. His wand shivered in his hand, alerting him that it was ready to perform another blast, if it was a small one. He refrained.
Anti-Bryndin replaced the blue teacup on what had formerly been his mantel. "Have you the thought, Anti-Cosmo, that our people become supportive of your High Countess who has this tiny marble-sized brain rolling around between her unpointed ears? I thought your mother did raise you better than that."
"She's my pair. I have no choice."
Lazy shrug from the anti-swanee. "Of course you have choices, if you can be willing to play very dirty. Wed someone else. Keep her as your mistress upstairs, or outside in silo for grain. This is what I did with mine."
What? And imprison her? That wouldn't be very fair- Anti-Wanda almost certainly wouldn't understand what was happening, really. She'd been delighted the night he'd shown up at her father's house to ask for her hand. She'd kissed him, and meant it, even when the honey-lock instinct had faded away. Nobody ever kissed him. Anti-Cosmo leveled his wand, and the end glowed a deep sapphire.
"My mother raised me quite right. My wife deserves better than that. Get. Out."
The day of his wedding, supposedly alone in his room, Cosmo flinched at the sound of his window swinging open.
"Hey Schnozmo, why didn't you just come through the front door? Is the doorbell broken? I can make doorbell noises. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuck-"
Schnozmo pinched his lips. "Two words: I don't want Mama knowing I'm here yet." Letting go, he flew to the trunk at the end of his brother's bed and began hurling out various shirts. "Let's get you packed. Then I'll show up and distract her, and you can slip out the door, eh?"
Cosmo scratched his collarbone. It had been difficult enough earlier just catching a moment when she wasn't fawning over him. "Uh, and- and what if she asks where I went? I don't think she'll forget about me."
"I'll tell her you went to get milk from the market or something. Now, why don't you poof us down to the kitchen, brother? Two bonus words: Schnozmo needs a bite."
"Um… No problem. One carton of delicious, creamy, milky goodness, coming right up."
Anti-Cosmo peeked between the two tall curtains. Cobwebs coated every dark corner, just the way he'd wanted. Adelinda and Jorgen von Strangle were there in the back row of the pavilion. The Head Pixie and one of his underlings sat up front right beside Anti-Schnozmo's empty seat. And, for the ridiculous reason of, "He wanted to", his soft brother had unlocked the gate to Anti-Pixie Isle and allowed Anti-Sanderson (Terribly sorry- the not-quite-official-but-supposedly-soon-to-be Head Anti-Pixie) to join them.
Anti-Schnozmo himself floated above Anti-Cosmo, finishing a touch here, one there, one there. Anti-Cosmo wore a dark flowing cape made from crows' feathers, lined on the insides with the pale skin of dead rodents. He tilted back his head and breathed it all in. Ready or not.
He never forgot. Cosmo made his deliberate way down the stairs, walking and not flying. The small backpack thumped against his wings, painlessly crushing them. When he reached the bottom, then on cue, Schnozmo rapped his signature knock all over the door.
His mama stiffened.
Cosmo realized too late that it wasn't going to work. He slipped on the bottom step, then whipped around and fled back to the safety of his bedroom as quickly as he could. Plugging his ears blocked out almost half the screaming and the ranting.
He pushed open his window and looked down. It wasn't a long fall, but he hesitated nonetheless. He'd never jumped from a place this high before. Not when his wings were left useless like this. Not when it meant he had to hit the hard purple grass.
Wanda was waiting. Squeezing shut his eyes and keeping his mouth clamped, even when he could predict the way his landing might twist his leg, he took the plunge.
He never forgot. Anti-Cosmo made his deliberate way down the aisle, walking and not flying. The tails of his cape flipped and spun around his ankles. His presence alone hushed every whisper. As he strolled along, he skimmed his eye over each and every face, catching gazes and holding them. Not everyone looked away, but enough.
His mother relaxed.
Anti-Cosmo forgot that it was a trap. He forgot that he didn't want to be there in that pavilion. He forgot that the whole thing hadn't been his idea in the least. He kept walking, chin tipped back, the muscles around his right eye twitching around his monocle.
He briefly removed it from his face and looked around. Hundreds of millennia spent poring over books had taken their toll, and the blurry faces made him uncomfortable. He replaced it, cleared his throat, and jumped up onto the platform at the end of the hall. He almost fell backwards on his rump.
Anti-Wanda was waiting. Blinking rapidly and licking his lips, even when he knew exactly what it made the onlookers think about him and his true feelings towards the ceremony, he held Anti-Wanda's hands submerged in the offered glass bowl and said all the necessary, binding words.
Earlier, Cosmo had turned the doorknob with his hand, and the door had clipped shut behind him. It was weird, somehow, to be standing at the back of the house to say his good-byes, and without the sense of touch when he gave his last farewell.
But as sentimental as he wanted to be, he was expected someplace else. Cosmo, swallowing, straightened the tails of his bowtie before flipping his white hood back over his hair.
"I love you, Mama."
And then. He turned. And ran.