“I hate and love. And if you should ask how I can do both,
I couldn’t say; but I feel it, and it shivers me.”
Chapter 2. Impossible.
There were many things that Filia couldn’t depend on in Xellos, their relationship was full of uncertainties and, no matter what she wished, surprises probably waited just around the bend. But there was one thing, she thought as she lay next to him in the cozy darkness of her bed, that, strangely enough, she could count on from him.
She always knew that whenever she went to bed with him that he’d be there when she woke up. Maybe he’d leave shortly after that—probably without telling her that he was going or when he’d get back—but he’d be there just as he was before she fell asleep.
It was a bizarre thing for him to make a stand about in their marriage, and he’d certainly never promised to do such a thing. He rarely promised her anything. But nevertheless, that was the way things were. She never woke up to find that he’d gone away on some demonic mission, or even that he’d gone downstairs to scramble some eggs (this was a good thing because she was tired of her house smelling like noxious smoke). He’d always be there with her.
It wasn’t something she’d ever have expected of him. The fact that he didn’t have to sleep would make it almost… acceptable if he teleported away after she’d gone to sleep to conduct some business. But he didn’t. She’d woken up in the middle of the night many times, only to find that she was reassuringly still in his arms. She would’ve asked him about this, but she was afraid he’d stop if she pointed it out.
Come to think of it… she wasn’t sure if he slept or not. Maybe he couldn’t sleep and just pretended to while she slept, or maybe he didn’t have to sleep but slept beside her anyway. Either way it meant something.
It all meant something. There were so many things that she’d never experienced in her married life that she thought a married person should. She’d never been proposed to; she’d never been told ‘I love you’; she’d never gotten a ring; she’d never had a ceremony or bridesmaids; she’d never been carried across the threshold. Though that last one was probably a good thing considering that Xellos would’ve likely accidentally-on-purpose knocked her head into the doorframe. Despite the things that she and Xellos didn’t have, she and he still had meaning together. She knew that they did.
But… even though it meant something now… she knew it couldn’t last. It was amazing that it had lasted for as long as it did. But in their circumstance… well, sooner or later he would say something or she would say something that would make them unable to continue. Maybe the war would start up again, maybe a power shift in the dragon race would mean than she was in danger once more, maybe he would just leave and not come back this time. Summer would be here before she knew it, and so would their… anniversary. The anniversary of a mistake they’d just decided to stick with. Would they last until then? If they did, what would happen?
She sighed. She’d asked all these questions the last time that he came back too. In some ways it was a mercy that this horrible uncertainty always left her. That in the rigmarole of ‘life with Xellos’ she’d somehow forget all those questions—almost feel that such questions had no place in her life. And she’d just go from moment to moment feeling angry and frustrated and happy and busy. Then he’d leave and all the uncertainty would come crashing down on her once again.
She reached over him in the night and took his hand. Will I really be foolish enough to take all this for granted again? she couldn’t help but ask herself.
“Filia,” Xellos murmured from next to her, “go to sleep. You’re thinking too hard.”
Maybe he was right. Maybe it would all end someday, but she certainly wasn’t coming to any useful conclusions with this line of thought.
“Not that that’s an ailment you usually suffer from,” he felt the need to add.
She let go of his hand and elbowed him as sharply as she could in the stomach before turning over and shutting her eyes.
…Will I really be foolish enough to take all this for granted again?
Of course she was, of course she was. Maybe this had something to do with Xellos repeatedly making comments of the kind he’d made that night. Maybe it had something to do with him suggesting to Val five minutes before dinner that one could conceivably reach the forbidden cookie jar on the top shelf by pulling over a kitchen chair. Or maybe it had something to with the fact that he’d insulted her taste in clothing when they’d gone shopping together—and then, when asked what he thought would look better, proceeded to prove that his taste was worse than hers… or at least more tasteless. Maybe it had to do with the fact that he felt the need to play devil’s advocate with her every thought, command, feeling or opinion. Maybe it was all the chaos he caused on a daily basis in both her shop and household. Maybe it was because he had ruined her attempt to start a women’s book club.
She had so much to do and she couldn’t get any of it done with him around, so before long she couldn’t wait until he’d leave her alone again so that she could…
…not do any of it.
She leaned over her vanity in tortured spirits. There were always things to do… supplies to be ordered, forms to fill out, bills to pay, pottery splinters to extricate… and that was just in the shop, not to mention all the things she needed to do to keep her household running. But there never seemed to be time set aside for brooding. Well, time or not, she would brood now. She didn’t feel like she had much choice in the matter.
He’d left again the previous week and she’d been slowing down ever since then. It always went like that when she… when she thought she missed him, but this time was worse. Today she’d been sleepwalking through her vital chores, and was now putting off quite a few other ones. The rest of her household was busy. Jillas was handling the laundry and Gravos was helping Val construct a pinewood derby car. She was the only one twiddling her thumbs and she had the most responsibility.
She gritted her teeth and glared at her reflection in the mirror. It wasn’t that she was too… crippled by loneliness or anything. She wouldn’t say that she was pathetic enough to need him to get through her daily life without tearing up. She’d been holding the household together both with and without him. She didn’t need him for that.
It wasn’t even that when he was gone she had… oh, call it nostalgia. Things weren’t really better when he was around. In fact, if her average exasperation level around him was any indication then things were worse. But things were more… eventful; eventful, of course, meaning dangerous and unpredictable. But it’s easy to sort of… miss that when your days are so packed with uneventfulness that you’re struggling to remember what you had for dinner last Wednesday.
Things were admittedly livelier when he was around, and her life felt more… complete. And yes, she did miss that. She truly did.
But whether she missed him or not she ought to be able to get by. She shouldn’t have been sitting moodily in her room over that. She should’ve been keeping busy. It was just that…
It was ironic, really. So much of the worrying that hounded her concerning Xellos had been about uncertainty. What will we do? How long will he be around this time? What’s he thinking? When will this all end for us? But now there was a certainty that plagued her just as much, because now she knew.
Forget her situation. Forget his. Forget the utter madness of her life at the moment and all it meant and might mean. She knew.
It wasn’t as though it came as a surprise or anything. For goodness sakes! The two of them had been wrapping their lives around each other from the very start, even back in the good old days when she’d hated him, or at least just hated him.
It was comforting, in all this turmoil, to at least know that she still hated him. But that wasn’t all that she felt. And now she knew.
She could’ve known earlier, goodness knew she’d had her worries, but she’d always pushed it away, ignored it. She didn’t want to think it. Even after all they’d been through together she still didn’t want to think it.
Would it really be better if you just wanted him instead of loving him? she asked herself. If all that kept you with him was a sort of… fascinated attraction and not something deeper?
Yes, she answered herself. Yes. She ran an index finger under each eye, willing herself not to cry. She knew she probably would cry eventually, but she was determined to keep it under wraps for as long as she could. It’d probably make me a worse person… but I’d be better off.
Because knowing forced her into a horrible confrontation. She absolutely had to tell him eventually. If she put it off forever she’d be nothing but a coward, lying with her silence day by day for fear of losing what she had. She knew she couldn’t stand to be that person. She couldn’t stay with him if she had to be that person. But if she told him…
That would spell an end for them too. Maybe he’d just leave. Maybe the idea of her attaching an emotion that… positive to him would be almost intolerable. Maybe he’d see it as an end to feasting off her negativity.
Or maybe he would just laugh at her. Maybe that would be his idea of a complete triumph over her. Maybe he’d say that that was very “sweet of her” but that obviously it would be “impossible” for him to return such a feeling.
A twisted, pained smile crossed Filia’s lips. Impossible. Oh, she dearly hoped he’d say impossible if it came to that. It seemed to her that impossible was consistently being revised.
But if she confessed to him and he flaunted his lack of love for her there was no way she could let things be as they were. Her need for him did not outweigh her self-respect. How could she possibly stay with someone who would brag about not loving her?
So it seemed like everything was all steering toward the same point now. If she didn’t tell him then she’d have to slink away and end it with him to avoid living a lie. If she told him then either he would end it or she would.
And why should that be a surprise? Hadn’t they been thusly doomed from the beginning? Maybe after this whole thing blew over she could guest speak at one of the dragon race’s don’t-marry-a-monster seminars. Goodness knew she could give a firsthand account of why it was a terrible idea. It would’ve been a fabulous career move if not for the fact that they’d sooner stone her to death.
And even if she managed to sort out this whole… feelings thing… there was still the other thing. The thing that had started this entire…
She ground her fist against her forehead. She didn’t know what to do. Nothing in her experience told her what to do. She needed help, but unfortunately the person she needed help from was… well, not only did she not know what to say to him, but he wasn’t even there for her to say it!
And she had no idea when he’d be back. He’d never gotten the hang of being accountable to her for anything. Maybe if he stays away long enough, she thought bitterly, I won’t even have to tell him.
She looked around self-consciously. She’d often wondered… if even when he was away he kept one sinister purple eye on her. How else could she explain his penchant for popping in at exactly the worst times, i.e.: when she was carrying something one-of-a-kind and breakable, when she had a lot of work to do and only a little time to do it, or whenever she accidentally said anything nice about him.
It was kind of a… nice thought. Like maybe he cared enough about his life with her to look after it. But it was just a thought.
“…Xellos?” she whispered. Nothing happened. “Xellos?” she tried louder. Nothing.
Well, that was it then. He had more important matters to attend to. He couldn’t be bothered with whatever petty irritant was troubling her. He didn’t care, he didn’t even know.
Eventually came and she folded her arms in front of her and let herself cry.
“Harboring delusions of missing me already, are we?”
“You!” She whipped around and glared at Xellos, who had appeared in one of her frillier chairs as if he’d been there all along. That stupid, stupid bastard! He’d known she was calling for him! But Xellos doesn’t come when he’s called, now does he? He just had to wait until she’d completely broken down before deigning to make his presence known! That weasely little—
He tilted his head to the side. “‘You’? Who were you calling for if not me?”
“Well, you certainly took your time!” she snapped. As far as snaps go, it wasn’t a very good snap, but she was trying to wipe away her tears and sternly instruct her tear ducts that their attentions were not appreciated.
He wagged a finger at her. “You know I have other duties to attend to. Your problems may be the center of your world, but it’s a bit selfish to assume that they’re the center of everyone else’s.” He leaned forward a bit, resting his chin in his hand. “That said, I do hope that this goes somewhat beyond pining as I’m a bit too busy to be giving out hugs to needy dragons.”
Oh how she longed at that moment to just blurt it out. It would certainly have slapped that smirk off his face. In fact, she was pretty sure it would strike him dumb if only for a moment (you couldn’t ask for more than the occasional snark-free minute from Xellos). But she couldn’t… she just couldn’t. It needed to be said, and she wasn’t sure how yet, but it was definitely something that she needed to build toward.
She turned around again, not facing him but still able to see him reflected in her mirror. “I’ve just…” she began, not sure at all where she was going, “I’ve been thinking about… you know, taking a break from running the shop for a little while. Gravos and Jillas can handle it, and it wouldn’t be right away or forever… just a couple of months maybe.”
He lounged back in the chair. He was a first class lounger. “So does this mean you’ve finally gotten bored with selling chintzy pottery to tourists?”
Filia glowered. Nothing she sold was chintzy. “No,” she said patiently. “I was thinking it might be necessary for… for my health.”
Xellos raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean ‘your health’? You’re not going to tell me that stocking shelves and dealing with customer complaints has gotten to be too taxing for you. You’re a dragon, you’re not quite that fragile.”
“No,” Filia said in much the same tone that she had before. “But I will be soon.”
“Yes,” Filia said, watching him through the mirror. “I’ll have to start taking better care of myself, watching what I eat and so on. And I’ll need plenty of help around the house. At least I can count on Gravos and Jillas for that,” she spat, just to remind him how almost entirely useless he was. “And I’ll have to find a physician…” she ran a hand wearily through her hair, “but I’m damned if I can think of anyone who’d be suitable.”
Xellos actually did her the courtesy of sitting up and at least looking like he was paying attention. “Filia, what are you talking about?”
She turned around and gave him a hard look.
That tactic must have worked because after a moment he responded with: “You’re not serious.”
Filia had been prepared for that one. She threw her hands up. “You’re right!” she shouted with a sour kind of vigor. “This is all just some hilarious joke I made up! Can’t you just feel your sides aching from laughing so hard?”
The vast tidal wave of sarcasm did not crash over Xellos’s head unnoticed. He stared at her for a moment with his mouth slightly open. “Filia… that’s impossible.”
And that really did it. Before she’d even thought about it she reached over to her vanity and gripped her jewelry box. She’d bought it because it was a pretty thing, but she’d never managed to fill it or find much used for it. It would have a use now. She hurled it at him with all her might. “Impossible?! Impossible! Well, I feel much better now! Since Xellos says it’s impossible then none of this is actually happening! Morning sickness? What morning sickness?!”
Impossibility aside he must’ve really been thrown for a loop, because he didn’t even dodge when the wooden box smacked straight into his face. It fell to the floor and it was almost like he didn’t even notice he’d been hit.
The moment the jewelry box hit the ground, Filia suddenly felt very tired. She sank back into her chair and said: “…What are we going to do?”
She worried, the moment that the question had left her mouth that the retort would be that it was not about what ‘we’ were going to do, but what she was going to do. But he opened his mouth and eventually formed the words: “I’m… not sure.”
‘I’m not sure.’ It seemed a little more in control than ‘I don’t know’. ‘I’m not sure’ seems to imply that there are many possibilities but that the person in question just hasn’t decided on which one they’re going to choose yet. ‘I don’t know’ just means ‘I’m utterly lost’.
But Filia knew that he didn’t know. He didn’t have any more of a clue than she did.