Before And After

B. K. Willis wrote:

>Write a story in which someone is in love. That's all. Any style, length, or setting.
>Unrequited, mutual, or polygonal. Chaste, sweet, or perverted. Whatever you want,
>as long as somebody gets skewered by one of Cupid's armor-piercers.
>So, any takers?

How's this?


Mentally, he divides his life into the time Before and the time After.

Before was - correction, _is_ - embarrassing to who he is now.

Which isn't to say he didn't _enjoy_ it.

There were the minions, and the succubi, and the billowing capes, and the succubi, and the throne, and actual arms, and the succubi...


And yes, he enjoyed it.

But it's also embarrassing - it's like someone remembering the 70s, remembering the bell-bottoms, platform soles, disco, remembering how _kitsch_ it all was - and yet still getting an unapologetic thrill from it.

After is...

After is waking up with wings where there should be arms. After is flying through the air, feeling the wind on his wings. After is the chance to cheerfully insult anyone who ticks him off. After is the opportunity to maul any demons who cross his path.

After is...

After is _her_.


He worries about her whenever he leaves. Worries he won't be back before she wakes up, that _she'll_ get worried about _him_, wonder where he's gone.

He perches on the chair when she watches the "Harry Potter" movies, and makes snarky comments. That Malfoy kid gets right up his beak...

He hops on her shoulder when she comes back from school, gets himself settled in, listens as she and Xeffy chatter about their day.

When she's quiet about it... it's been a bad day. He watches to see if she won't mind him, hops on, snuggles up against her, lets her stroke him, lets her tell him the things she won't tell anyone else, the quiet things, the private things.

He remembers the time after the Carnival.

Had it been Before - had it been Before, when his power was at its height - the Tods would have known what it was to face the rage of a demon lord - a _true_ demon lord - and nothing, *nothing*, would have been left...

But it was After - and it broke his heart, it _broke his heart_, to see her oh so small, so quiet, so frozen...

And then, when she cried, when she wept, shining tears running down her grey skin... to know she was still _alive_, still _here_... it was the greatest mercy, the greatest relief, he could imagine, more than he ever dared to believe he deserved.

May the Outer Darkness swallow their souls, he thinks. Oblivion would be too kind for them.

But they are _gone_, now, gone and gone, never to return - and should they ever do so, they will find they have been anticipated, with terminal prejudice.

He shifts on his perch, settles into a new position.

He's sweet on her. Cares about her. Dotes on her.

They know that, they _all_ know that - but he suspects they don't know what it means. That they think it's like a dog's loyalty to its 'master', a pet's affection for its owner - and even then, he has a feeling that most of them don't understand quite what that means, the full depth of that feeling, of the lengths it can drive a 'pet'...

He is _hers_, and willingly so, though she never know it.

He would give all he could to see her happy.

He wants her happiness, cherishes it. Wants to see the brightness within, shining through...

She likes it when he's happy, enjoys it - but he doubts she cherishes it as he would.

She values him, values his presence, enjoys having him around, talking to him... but she doesn't love him, not as a friend, not as he'd wish... after all, who falls for their _parrot?_ Even here, Outside, that's a bit _too_ surreal...

But he has _her_, and he cherishes that.

He listens, as she and Xeffy gossip about shopping, about school, about boys, about chatting them up, teasing them, fighting them off...

And, oh, she's beautiful, body, voice, and soul...

No matter how damaged she's been, how hurt, the beauty still shines in her.

And he can well understand why the boys would clamour for the chance to dance with her.

That she's _attractive_, she would accept. That she's _beautiful_... she would not.

And that, he thinks, is both a blessing and tragedy.

Blessing, because to become aware of it would turn it from what it was, turn it into something else, something different.

Tragedy, because she will not accept she's beautiful, _can't_ accept it, does not _believe_ she's beautiful...

He half-chuckles.

Listen to him. Moping over a girl who doesn't even know he loves her. Yeah, like that's original...

...but just because it's not original doesn't mean it's any less _true_, does it?


But still, he can chuckle to himself about it, in a way he couldn't Before.

Oh, he had a sense of humour Before, but no sense of being self-aware, of self-mockery. Took himself entirely too seriously. Bought right into every 'demon lord' cliche, without being the least bit aware where it came from, without finding it even the _least_ bit ridiculous.

But finally, he's starting to get the joke, and he actually appreciates it.

Never too late to learn, even for him. Never too late.

He strode forth from his domain, seeking a new realm to conquer, annex to his own - or perhaps annihilate, if he was feeling ticked-off, stopped to pose dramatically...

Then he got clonked on the head by a zaqqum-fruit, turning him into a parrot.

And then, when the other demons and Dwellers Beyond were drawn back to their domains...

...he remained.

He idly wonders which of his 'loyal minions' has managed to claim his throne in his absence.

Not that it matters - none of them could run a pet shop, let alone a domain... and given _he_ managed to rule a domain, that's saying a lot.

He reaches into 'elsewhere' with one claw - it's the only way he can think of it, 'elsewhere' - snags hold of his licence, pulls it back.

His licence, spattered with dried zaqqum-juice - he considers it an effective invalidation, even if the Records Office wouldn't agree.

He reads it over.

Aballon, Demon Lord First Class, Unlimited Licence.

The zaqqum-fruit burned what was demonic in him away, leaving only that last divine spark - the spark both Light and Dark share, the spark that makes a Divinity divine.

Burned Aballon to ashes - and from those ashes came Kari.

A parrot, from the ashes of a demon lord who'd parrotted the forms.

Frankly, he prefers Kari. In more ways than one.

He pushes the licence back into 'elsewhere', resettles himself on his perch.

He pulls himself up a bit, straightens.

He notices the dreamy-eyed look she gets when she thinks about Harry Potter. She's thinking about Harry, dreaming about him - _what_ she dreams about him, he doesn't know, but it looks happy.

And he's ever so slightly - okay, maybe not so slightly - jealous of that.

He grins to himself at that. Jealous. Heh.

Nah, make it envious. He's envious of whatever she's thinking about Harry, whatever it is that's making her happy, even if she's just thinking about him.

Just the smallest, tiniest, bit envious - but it makes _her_ happy, and for that, he can live with a bit of envy.

Of course it's ridiculous. That's the whole point. If you can understand how ridiculous it is, appreciate it, laugh about it, and yet still care - then to his mind, that gives you a better view on things, makes it all the more worthwhile.

A parrot - an _ex-demon_ parrot - falling for a Harry Potter fangirl?

Yep, that counts.

Before, he doubts he would have seen her as anything more than an audience - maybe a tool, what with her Siren gift. Might have been useful for all those summoning rituals...

After, though... after, with the loss of all the demonic baggage, with the shift in his nature, and most importantly of all, with being a parrot, falling for her came easily.

He doubts it would have come so easily, without the rebirth - without the transformation into a creature even close to her position, into a creature who wasn't a threat. Into a form without the years Aballon bore.

That... would have been wrong, by any standard he could imagine, can now imagine.

She's a _girl_ - she deserves the chance to enjoy her childhood, the childhood she's discovered.

And it is not something he wishes ever to take from her.

He finds it ironic he's likely more intelligent, more _aware_, as a parrot than he was as a demon - perhaps the stupidity came with the whole 'demon lord' package. Would certainly explain a lot...

Or maybe he'd risen to the level of his incompetence as a demon lord, and the only way was up.

Or maybe it was getting a sense of humour. Maybe that was it.

Who knows?

He grins to himself again. He can imagine... but for now, he's happy just wondering.

He shakes his wings out, and reassumes his position.

Ah well...

Nothing will come of nothing.

She'll never know, never know just how much he cares about her. She can't - and wouldn't - return it - how _could_ you react if your parrot told you he loved you?

No, she won't know. He wouldn't tell her, wouldn't do that to her.

They'll go on thinking he's sweet on her, and he can live with that. So long as she's alright, so long as she's happy, he's content - and when she's not, he'll be there, if she wants him there.

That's what matters.

I should have been a lovebird, he thinks.

Then again, maybe not. Would've triggered massive cognitive dissonance...

He's too much aware, too much aware of any of this, to take it at all seriously - yet he does. The contradiction at the heart of it all, what helps keep it going.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

And he knows she wouldn't see it like this, wouldn't see how ridiculous and how serious it is for him - it's only from where he stands that it looks anything like this. She sees a parrot who's sweet on her, and sees it as both serious and ridiculous - serious in that the feeling's true, and vaguely ridiculous in that, well, he's a parrot.

But she doesn't see it quite the way he does, not his way. Wouldn't think that way.

And that... that, he can accept.

So long as she's happy...

...and it _matters_ that she's happy, he _cares_ that she's happy, truly happy.

No comfortable lies.

Uncomfortable lies, lies with some value of truth, he can live with. Comfortable lies, just to make her happy... no. She deserves truth - and if not that, then an uncomfortable lie.

And if not _that_, he'll tell her he can't tell her. Tell her why, if he can.

He'd rather she were comfortable with the truth than comfortable with a lie, with something that didn't earn whatever truth it had, with something that made her less real than she was.

He wants her happy, but most of all, he wants her real, in everything she is.

A beautiful, broken, girl...

And, oh, he sees the fractures in her beauty, and the beauty in her fractures, and wants so much to help her set it _right_...

She doesn't know, doesn't _know_ he knows...

And it breaks his _heart_... breaks it, and he can't tell her...

Broken, beautiful, and how could he not love that, and love her?

To love her, love her beauty, her fractures... and wish she had never been fractured...

He would give whatever he could to see her rebuild, make herself complete once again.

Whatever he could.

And so he's there, through thick and thin, when the breaks show, when the light shines through... there for all that she is, and all that she'll reveal of herself.

And what she doesn't... he knows that some things are private, but also that some cracks are deep-hidden.

That _she_ knows them, that's what matters.

And he knows how operatic, how melodramatic it sounds... and yet how true.

That streak of melodrama he had Before, something he still has After. Tempered now with awareness, with a little wry humour - a little more bearable, a little more tolerable, so at least he hasn't written himself off as a lost cause yet.


Just what they'd need. An overwrought parrot, working himself up over a girl; then again, that's normal for parrots, or so he's heard... but he doubts he's getting worked up for entirely the same reasons a 'normal' parrot would.

But like a normal parrot, he gets worried, gets concerned, sensitive to Ayna's moods, and can't help but respond... maybe he's not all that different after all.

Wouldn't be /that/ much of a surprise...

But still... he _does_ worry, _does_ fret... and it gives him a strange comfort to know that, to know he _is_ worried, that he's concerned about her. He'd worry if he _weren't_.

He grins again. Can't win either way. He'd worry if he _were_, and he'd worry if he _weren't_... so he might as well just get on with just worrying, with just being there, waiting, worrying... and snarking at everyone in sight.

He notes the clock, settles down once again.

She'll be home soon, and he wants to be ready for her.

Before and After... and he wouldn't give After up for the world, not if it meant she wasn't there.

Not for the world.




Author's note: Hopefully, this counts for the challenge (without being too ick-making). Given Ayna's a girl, and Kari's an ex-demon parrot, it's a bit tricky to handle.

I think this'd count as one of the more off-beat relationships in TTR - and given that 'off-beat' is the /norm/ for a TTR relationship...


The demon lord was created by Paul Andinach in 'Goodnight, Sweetheart', as was the idea he was from a particularly cliche-ridden realm. His naming as Aballon, and his rebirth as Kari, were the products of my own twisted imagination.

Summary: Some prices are worth it.


Copyright 2003 Imran Inayat