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Quid Pro Quo

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Gwyn ap Nudd, War General to the Oak King of the Seelie fae, had picked the human bar based on its name, The White Cow. Fae that could turn into white cows were considered auspicious amongst the Seelie, and while he didn’t normally pay any mind to superstition, if he was going to get drunk in the human world, it might as well be in a place that had an ephemeral connection to the fae realms he understood.

The bar itself was busy, larger than he’d expected. He didn’t blend in – he never did – even wearing brushed buckskin pants and his linen shirt, fashion had moved along. He would use his fae glamour to help himself blend in, but unfortunately he could mostly only use it to make himself more impressive in the battlefield, or to appear engaging and electric and full of light. Both of those things would draw attention to himself – more attention – and he didn’t want that. He wanted to drink strong ale on his own, without anyone knowing who he was or interrupting him.

He just wanted to be alone, without...being alone.

Bars were perfect for that.

He only did it rarely, visiting bars in the human world for company-that-wasn’t-company. Sometimes he had to get away from the constant expectations that he behave like a member of one of the Seelie noble families. Fae everywhere knew him or knew of him. His appearance was distinctive. If they didn’t approach him, many watched him. He was tall and broad and stood out in a crowd, not possessing the lithe and lissom grace of many of the fae. His mother called him a brute, only suited to the skirmishes and violence of combat.

At least in the human world; even if they stared, even if they could sense something eldritch about him, no one knew who he was.

He could escape.

It was late, he was onto his fifth ale – much to the bartender’s amusement and a single raise of the eyebrow – when he sensed it. His eyebrows furrowed when he felt the crackle and warmth of another fae entering the bar.

He turned on his stool, but there was a crowd of people between himself and the entrance, and he could see nothing out of the ordinary. He hoped the fae was one of the lower classes, underfae or Icturiel; then they might not be able to sense him.

Minutes passed, his shoulders were tense, but aside from the bar livening up significantly, becoming filled with more laughter – perhaps a jester or trickster fae of some kind? – he was left alone.

Hours passed until it was well past the witching hour. The bar was popular enough that he wasn’t the last one in there, even when the small clock on the mantle underneath the bottles of whiskey and bourbon showed that it was past two in the morning.

Gwyn stiffened when he felt the fae energy approach, and was already turning, looking up, filled with resentment at the idea that even here in the human world, he couldn’t get away from it all.

He could tell the fae was Unseelie and a waterhorse straight away. He had waterweed in his hair, wasn’t even bothering to hide it. But unlike most waterhorses, his hair was short and curly, a mix of red, brown and even streaks of blonde. His hazel eyes glittered with a predatory warmth, and he brought over a snifter of what smelled like high quality whiskey. He wore human clothing, he fit in, in a way that Gwyn could never hope to. He was shorter than Gwyn – many fae were – but he was muscular, fit. He had the upper arm strength of someone who wrestled. Gwyn could tell the man wasn’t skilled with a sword or an arrow, but he looked like someone who could fight.

Gwyn thought he looked familiar, and then at once realised he knew of an odd-looking Unseelie waterhorse who frequented the human world.

‘Glashtyn?’ Gwyn said, eyes narrowing. The Glashtyn and the Each Uisge were – in this incarnation – brothers who once lived in the same lake, not that far away from where Gwyn had grown up in his family’s An-Fnwy estate in Wales. He’d had almost nothing to do with them growing up. They were predators; they fed on humans, and they were Unseelie. Gwyn had, that day, killed about fifty Unseelie fae with his sword.

But he had no quarrel with the Glashtyn – as long as he could get some space.

‘You’re that General, aren’t you?’ the Glashtyn said, sliding onto the empty stool next to him and sipping at his whiskey. ‘You know, the one they all talk about? All golden and light and shit? What on earth are you doing over here? Or does the fae world get to you as well, sometimes?’

Gwyn smiled at his own drink. The Glashtyn’s glamour was incredibly strong, but it was also warm and soothing. Normally Gwyn refused to let himself be gulled by the glamour of another fae, but this was...pleasant. He indulged.

‘Also, I’m Ash,’ the fae said, holding out his hand. Gwyn stared at it, and Ash grinned at him, a toothy, charming expression that transformed his face. He radiated friendliness. ‘You’re supposed to shake it.’

Gwyn reached out and his hand was immediately grasped, shaken firmly, and then Ash let go and gestured to the bartender for another drink.

‘Get him another ale, would you?’ Ash added.

‘No, it’s-’

‘Come on,’ Ash said, even as Gwyn wondered how he could politely indicate he just wanted to be left alone. Maybe he could find another bar. It was – somewhere in the world – early evening, he could find one opening up again. ‘Keep a guy company, will you?’

‘You know,’ Gwyn said, finishing off the rest of his ale in a gulp, ‘I’ve heard of you. Ash Glashtyn. You’re either hunting food or sex in the human world. I have no qualms with you being here, and I certainly haven’t called this bar as my own – I have no territorial claim on it. I’ll just leave you to your-’

‘Hey, woah,’ Ash laughed, placing a warm hand on Gwyn’s arm like it was easy. Gwyn stared down at it. Most of the Seelie fae were frightened of him, and touches like this were hardly ever extended to him. ‘Jesus, don’t bail. You can’t just hang out for a little while and chat? Come on, man, just...stay a while.’

The hand on his arm moved up and down. It was a single movement and it could have been thoughtless, but Ash moved his hand in a way that caressed Gwyn’s arm through the linen sleeve of his shirt. He withdrew contact immediately afterwards, resting his hand on the bar, but Gwyn could feel the sensual imprint of the touch on his skin. He wasn’t exactly drunk yet, but his harder edges were starting to get smoothed out by the ale.

He took the new pint of ale and turned it in his fingers, then looked over when Ash tinked his snifter of whiskey against Gwyn’s glass.

‘Cheers,’ Ash said, on a charming half-smile. ‘Man, you are the serious type though, aren’t you? So which came first? Were you all serious and dour and then became a killing machine? Or did killing everyone make you look so grim?’

Gwyn sipped at his ale for something to do. Casual conversation. He hated it.

Although this wasn’t exactly like some of the casual conversations he’d had in the past.

‘It doesn’t go down well,’ Gwyn said. ‘I was a serious child. The Seelie prefer-’

‘-Leisure and being charming and shit, yeah, which isn’t so bad really. I mean it’s good to place a premium on having a good time. That being said, I have a brother who’s pretty serious? Like, quiet and stuff, and-’

‘The Each Uisge?’ Gwyn said, brow furrowing.

‘Oh yeah, you’ve heard of him? Man, everyone has heard of him. It’s awesome. Anyway, yeah, he’s really serious and pretty quiet, and he gets by okay. So you’re here to escape then? Not fun enough for your Seelie brothers-in-arms came here?’

‘Something like that,’ Gwyn muttered, amazed at how easily the Glashtyn made conversation, given that Gwyn had a reputation for shutting other people down simply by his very nature. He certainly wasn’t trying to be reciprocal tonight.

But his glamour was pleasant. It rolled over him in waves. Energy would prickle through him, warm and grasping, almost like an embrace, then recede like the tide. Then, slowly, it would sweep back again. Gwyn almost found himself leaning towards it, waiting for the next wave. He had no doubt that Ash would have been a very effective hunter. He couldn’t imagine that any human could withstand his glamour.

‘And now it’s late and you look kinda sad,’ Ash said, sighing. ‘Why, though? You’re like this big deal, and, well, I guess that on its own can be kind of a problem, yeah?’

‘I only want to do my job. I don’t want to be a big deal.’

Ash laughed, and Gwyn could tell he was being laughed at. He stiffened, even as he knew that it was likely good-natured.

‘You shouldn’t have been born into that family then, huh? What, isn’t your Da practically a god of the navy or the sea or something? And you’re the War General, like, bloody hell, man. What did you expect? If you wanted-’

‘It’s late,’ Gwyn said abruptly, pushing the pint of ale back on the counter. ‘I shall leave you to your-’

‘Oh man,’ Ash said quickly, his face shifting from its bright spark of humour to something far more serious. ‘No, hey, I was out of line.’

‘No, you are correct,’ Gwyn said, pausing, even as he was half off his stool.

‘Nah, honestly, we got off on the wrong foot. Come sit down again. Please? I just wanted to talk. I come across a certain way, I know, but’re free to do whatever you want. And I know it can’t be easy being born into the noble set. I mean, there’s a reason I spend so much time in the human world, you know? There’s a lot of pressure in the fae world to be certain things, and it gets tiresome. It really fucking does.’

There was something in the fervency of Ash’s voice that made Gwyn get back on the stool properly. He briefly traced the scuffed, marked wood-grain of the bar. He watched the bartender at the other end, talking quietly to a couple of patrons.

‘Is that waterweed ever a problem?’ Gwyn said, turning back to Ash.

‘Nope,’ Ash smiled, the expression softer. ‘I tell everyone it’s just like...a prop; like I’m an actor and I’m trialling it out for the night to make sure it stays in – a lot of people buy that, especially in England and the States where most of the big theatre is. Or I compel them to forget about it. A lot of humans are too polite to ask. The drunk ones normally accept anything I tell them anyway.’

Another wave of Ash’s glamour washed over him, and Gwyn found himself wanting to reach out and touch the waterweed, to see what it was like. He looked at it for a long moment, and then turned back to his glass, taking a long draught of ale.

‘You want to touch it?’ Ash said, leaning forwards.

‘No!’ Gwyn said, and then realised he must have given himself away somehow. ‘No, I only-’

‘I don’t imagine you get many opportunities to know what it’s like though,’ Ash said, ‘what with most of us with waterweed like this being Unseelie. Go on, it’s not going to bite you.’

Ash shook his wet hair – perpetually wet, the curse of the waterhorse – like a dog, curls and waterweed bouncing. Gwyn huffed out a breath of amusement.

Ash’s waterweed felt, unsurprisingly, like waterweed. It was wet but not slimy, a little rubbery, and Ash hummed as Gwyn touched it.

‘Can you feel that?’ Gwyn said as Ash straightened, a pleased light in his eyes.

‘Yeah,’ Ash said, nodding. ‘It’s weird. I don’t know what the follicles are like or anything, but I can feel that. Sometimes if it’s really sunny, I can actually feel like...the waterweed absorbing the sunlight. It’s hard to explain. It’s definitely not like the rest of my mane?’

He ruffled a hand through his hair, resettling it.

‘Yours is like a good luck charm, isn’t it? I once heard some folks talking about it, fae-side. Like, you don’t wear a helm in battle, right?’

Gwyn shook his head, smiled a little.

‘It’s superstition, and that’s all. It’s not a good luck charm. We win more than our fair share of battles because we strategise and train harder than most. But it has its own reputation now, so I leave it out. Some of my men and women actually touch it before battle. For luck. If you can believe that.’

‘Yeah,’ Ash said, his voice smoothing out. ‘It’s pretty enough, all white-blond like that. Hey, I could do with some luck, can I touch it?’

‘It’s not lucky,’ Gwyn said, flushing.

‘Fair’s fair, though. I let you touch mine.’ Ash winked at him and Gwyn rolled his eyes, turning his pint glass nervously in his hand.

‘Fine,’ Gwyn said, grimacing.

‘Oh, well, I mean if it’s only reserved for Seelie fae,’ Ash said, grinning at him. Gwyn opened his mouth to protest, and Ash laughed. ‘I’m kidding, Jesus. Come on, lean over. Let me see what this good luck hair is like.’

‘It’s just hair,’ Gwyn mumbled. He lowered his head a little, and waited.

Fingers came and rubbed at one of his white-blond curls, and Ash hummed under his breath.

‘It’s soft,’ Ash said. ‘Really soft. A helm would ruin your hair anyway, huh? Wow, though, it’s kind of nice to touch, hey. Maybe your soldiers are just touching it because it’s got this nice texture to it.’

Gwyn’s eyes flew open when confident fingers buried into his hair and smoothed a firm, long line over his scalp, almost like a massage. He stiffened, turned his head towards Ash, even as Ash stroked his fingers over Gwyn’s skin.

‘That’s very nice,’ Ash said, his voice deepening.

Gwyn moved his head back, stared at Ash in shock. Ash only returned his gaze, something sparking in his hazel eyes, leaning closer to Gwyn. He could still feel the drag of Ash’s fingers in his hair. It had sent gooseflesh across his skin.

‘I don’t know what you think you’re doing,’ Gwyn said, his voice cold, ‘but I’m not-’

‘Yeah,’ Ash said, drawing the word out. ‘Yeah, you kind of are. You’re lonely, and you want to be alone. It’s a bad combination, you know. Besides I’m not looking for anything with strings attached. It could be nice, you know? A night where someone could take care of you.’

Gwyn swallowed, stared at him.

‘The rumours about you say that you only fuck humans,’ Gwyn said, turning to the blunter language of his soldiers.

‘That’s why they’re called rumours,’ Ash purred. ‘It’s mostly true, yeah, but I make exceptions.’

Gwyn stared at him suspiciously. Ash’s glamour was rolling over him more persistently now, and he realised that he may have been getting worked over from the beginning.

‘What do you want from me? Do you want blackmail material? Because I can assure you that-’

‘Seriously?’ Ash tipped his head back and laughed. ‘What, I’m gonna tell everyone I fucked you? Why? Is that the kind of shit you have to expect? Can you trust anyone? I thought Seelie fae had honour.’

‘You’re not Seelie,’ Gwyn said, flustered.

‘I also don’t give a shit about blackmailing you. I like my life, I don’t need anything else. I’ve got money, I’ve got places to live, I’ve got my family and I’ve got my lifestyle. I’m happy, man. If I was the kind of fae to kiss and tell about who I’d fucked, that would probably be one of the rumours you’d heard, huh?’

Gwyn swallowed. He couldn’t deny that Ash was attractive, if overwhelming. Couldn’t even deny that there was a measure of appeal in losing himself in physical sensation for an evening. But he usually only did that while drunk, or while high on bloodlust, and he was neither. He needed to consume a lot of alcohol to even be close to drunk.

Not only that, but he hadn’t let anyone fuck him for a long time. He wasn’t about to let himself be taken by some waterhorse that he hardly knew, just because he was lonely.

‘It’s just a bit of fun, yeah?’ Ash said, his voice still richer than before. ‘You can call the shots. I mean you’re a war general and you’re a higher status than me, of course you’ll call the shots.’

‘You move fast,’ Gwyn said.

‘I move when I see an opening,’ Ash said. ‘Sometimes that’s fast, sometimes that’s not at all. I’m putting my cards on the table. And you’re cagey as fuck. You just seem like someone who could do with a night with someone who didn’t give a shit about what your job description is.’

‘And you? What do you get out of it?’

Ash’s eyes narrowed, he looked confused for a few seconds, and then he grinned broadly.

‘Really? Look at you. You’re fucking glorious. Look, I can tell you don’t do this kind of thing. Okay? You can leave whenever you want. You can leave now, if you want. But it’s late, the bar’s gonna close in an hour, and then you’re gonna have to find another bar, or go back to the fae world and face up to whatever you don’t want to deal with. Come home with me. It’s not like you’re gonna encounter me much in the fae world, right? We’re not on the same side, I’m hardly ever there, and I don’t care about patriotism and warfare and shit. You’re a pretty guy in a bar, and I’m hitting on you. It’s actually pretty simple.’

Gwyn was blushing so much he was certain it was visible even in the dim lighting. No one called him ‘pretty.’ Not only that, but whether it was Ash’s glamour or his personality, he sounded genuine when he spoke. Every word infused with a level of sincerity that inspired trust. It was dangerous. But Gwyn had never minded a little danger.

He flinched when he felt fingers in his hair again.

‘Easy,’ Ash said, scooting his stool closer. ‘You’re curious, huh? Tell you what, we’ll stay here a bit, keep chatting, and then you can make a decision when I walk home. I have an apartment nearby anyway.’

‘You live...human-side?’ Gwyn said, desperate to keep the conversation going to hide the effect Ash’s fingers were having. Ash stroked at the side of his head with long, hypnotic movements. When his fingers cupped the back of his head, Gwyn licked at his lips, nervously.

‘Yeah,’ Ash said, after a beat. Gwyn got the odd sense that he was being examined. That usually only happened when the enemy was sizing him up, it set his nerves on edge. ‘Yeah, I have a few places, and a lake on the fae-side. I like to travel. You? Where do you live?’

‘Usually I’m wherever my tour has me,’ Gwyn said, swallowing when fingers dragged down behind the curls at the back of his neck. Ash’s fingertips were blunt, his claws filed short. They pressed between the spaces of his vertebrae, rubbed as though it was almost a massage. ‘I have...a cabin.’

‘Not an estate?’ Ash laughed softly.

‘That’s my parents,’ Gwyn said, staring down at his glass of ale. What was he supposed to do? He wasn’t used to this. He didn’t flirt. Hardly anyone dared. And those of his soldiers who tried were quickly rebuffed. There was a very clear understanding there about how things were supposed to be.

‘Gwyn ap Nudd, War General, has a cabin and drinks in the human world to get away from it all. You’re kinda interesting, you know that?’

Gwyn cleared his throat as Ash leaned even closer. Gwyn could feel his breaths on the side of his face. Any moment now, Gwyn knew, he would move away from Ash. He would excuse himself and go back to reality.

Every wave of glamour was increasing in strength, a spell was being woven around him. Gwyn should have been scared, worried, it never ended well when his mother had used glamour against him like this.

But it was so warm...

Gwyn’s lips parted, his exhale was shaky.

‘That glamour of yours should be banned,’ Gwyn said, and Ash chuckled, massaging his fingers at the curve of Gwyn’s shoulder and neck.

‘It’s strong,’ Ash acknowledged. ‘You want me to stop?’

Gwyn had a perfect opportunity to call everything off, he knew he did. Ash even reeled back the glamour so that his senses came back to him, and he found he missed the enveloping warmth of it. Cursing himself, he shook his head. He could practically feel Ash’s smile of satisfaction, even if he couldn’t see it.

They both startled when a glass was slammed down on the bar at the opposite end of the counter. Gwyn’s head shot up. The bartender was glowering at the both of them, disgust on his face.

‘Oi!’ the bartender shouted. ‘We don’t allow any of your kind in here.’

Gwyn’s eyes flew open. He could tell they were fae? But that was-

‘Fuck you, you homophobic fucking twat!’ Ash shouted back, flipping him a rude hand gesture and tugging Gwyn off the stool. ‘Come on.’

Gwyn stared at the bartender in shock, at the disapproving expressions of the other patrons in the bar. Ash was pulling him towards the door, even as the bartender started to come around the bar. Gwyn turned, ready to defend himself if necessary, but Ash abruptly let go of Gwyn’s wrist and turned back.

‘Oi, mate, you wanna fucking go?’ Ash said, pushing his sleeves up. Gwyn stared at him. Ash was fae, he could clean up in here easily using glamour and compulsions alone. But Ash was a predatory Unseelie fae; he was no stranger to physical violence.

‘Get the fuck out of here,’ the bartender snarled. He stopped moving, stayed behind the counter.

‘With pleasure, asshole.’

Ash’s eyes met Gwyn’s briefly when he turned back, the hazel in them glowing brighter. He gestured for Gwyn to leave ahead of him, almost as though Gwyn was under his protection. The idea was laughable. Gwyn could raze the entire street if he wanted to, and it felt strange to have Ash at his back as he took the stairs down to the footpath, stars almost completely blotted out overhead due to light pollution.

‘The humans still care about that?’ Gwyn said, bewildered, looking back at the closed door of the bar as Ash started walking towards – Gwyn assumed – his apartment. He followed when he realised that Ash wasn’t waiting for him. ‘Do they?’

‘They care about all kinds of fucking things,’ Ash snarled. ‘It’s not like it’s perfect here either. I mean, far from it. I just – most of the time – would prefer human problems over fae ones.’

‘But you eat them. Doesn’t it get confusing?’

Ash’s steps faltered and then he offered Gwyn a winning smile that held no trace of the rage and insult that was upon it only a minute ago.

‘Now you sound like my brother. And no, it’s not confusing.’ Ash’s eyebrows rose suddenly and he laughed. ‘I messed up your hair.’

Gwyn’s hands came up to his hair automatically. He hadn’t noticed. He started combing it out, but Ash backtracked and took one of his wrists, encouraged his arms away.

‘I like it,’ Ash said on a half-smile. ‘Leave it.’

‘How far away is your apartment?’ Gwyn said, wanting the company, but not sure if he should be spending a night with a strange fae.

‘Aw,’ Ash grinned. ‘It’s not that far away. You getting impatient?’

‘No, that’s not-’

It wasn’t possible that Ash should be able to make him feel crowded when they were alone on an empty street, when Ash was shorter and had to rise up on his feet in order to press his mouth close to Gwyn’s. And Gwyn kept telling himself to step back, to move away, but one of Ash’s hands had curled around his shoulder, and the other had splayed against his waist.

‘You smell good,’ Ash said against his lips, nostrils flaring, eyes narrowing. The scrape of stubble was faint, but there. ‘It’s weird. Like...a metalworks.’

‘That doesn’t sound flattering,’ Gwyn grumbled, and Ash smiled against his mouth, rubbed his lips against Gwyn’s playfully, then rubbed the stubble of his chin on Gwyn’s cheek. Gwyn kept his mouth closed, his arms stayed awkwardly by his side. People didn’t do this. He either fucked his soldiers immediately after a battle, or he got so drunk he couldn’t remember his name anymore and he-

Ash licked at his mouth. He smelled of water and whiskey, rain and alcohol. His skin was cooler than Gwyn’s, but his palms were warm, his tongue warmer.

‘Open your mouth, Gwyn,’ Ash said, his voice taking on a faint, dark edge.

Gwyn opened his mouth, shivered, his breathing stuttered in his lungs when Ash slipped his tongue into his mouth easily, painting over Gwyn’s tongue, thrusting slowly over it. A heavy wave of glamour powered into Gwyn and he couldn’t stop the sound he made, muffled in Ash’s mouth. Ash hummed back, rubbing Gwyn’s arm with one hand, digging fingers into his waist with the other. Gwyn’s eyes closed, light sparked through his body. He leaned forwards and down, made it easier for Ash to kiss him.

Ash let go of his arm and burrowed his fingers into Gwyn’s hair again, holding him in place as he pushed up with his feet and slanted his mouth firmly against Gwyn’s, sliding his tongue beneath Gwyn’s playfully, mapping his teeth, giving the roof of his mouth a single, firm lick. One of Gwyn’s hands came up automatically, bracing himself by palming Ash’s shoulder.

Ash withdrew, smiled against his lips again, bit his lower lip and dug his teeth in just enough that there was a pinprick of pain, before lapping almost apologetically at his skin.

‘You taste good, too,’ Ash said.

‘Let me guess, more metalworks?’ Gwyn said, eyes opening slowly. He felt like he was waking up from a dream.

‘No,’ Ash chuckled. ‘Not a metalworks. A little of that, and some ale, and something else. You taste like static feels.’

‘Doesn’t sound pleasant,’ Gwyn said, making a face.

‘Well, you’re not kissing you, so you don’t know. Anyway, come on, my place is only five minutes away.’

Ash let go of him abruptly, skippingfor a few steps before resuming his jaunty walk of before. Gwyn told himself that he didn’t sway, and he certainly didn’t feel unmoored. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his pants and followed, licking repeatedly at the taste of Ash on his mouth. He didn’t do anything like this, he kept trying to tell himself that was reason enough to not do this. Ash could betray him. If his parents found out they’d be livid.

But a part of him wanted that. A part of him was tired of always being the dutiful son. It didn’t suit him, anyway.

Gwyn’s eyes widened when Ash started singing loudly into the street, regaling the apartments around him with a song he didn’t recognise. His voice was bold, the kind that got fae roused before battle, and it stamped its way up and down the night, until someone called from a dark window:

‘Shut up!’

Ash laughed abruptly and stopped.


‘How drunk are you?’ Gwyn said, and Ash turned back to him, walking backwards on tarmac and spreading his hands.

‘Not actually drunk at all? I mean I had a bit of whiskey, but, Jesus, you don’t need to be drunk to sing, do you? I’m enjoying myself. You don’t really seem to do much of that, huh?’

‘I enjoy myself just fine,’ Gwyn said defensively, and then winced. He definitely sounded like someone who didn’t enjoy themselves at all.

‘Oh, yeah, so convincing. Tell me another convincing truth there, War General,’ Ash said, tone teasing.

Gwyn’s lips lifted in a smile, shaking his head at Ash, who had turned and looked quickly over his shoulder before continuing to walk backwards, his eyes on Gwyn.

‘I’ll tell you what,’ Ash said, ‘I’ll tell you something truthful about me, and you tell me something truthful about you. Quid pro quo.’

‘You speak Latin?’ Gwyn said, excited.

‘I watched The Silence of the Lambs,’ Ash said, and then made the sign of a cross over his shirt. ‘Okay, cross my heart and hope to die, or something, I once ate so many apples and drank so much beer in a single night that when I threw up the next morning, I thought I was throwing up cider.’

‘By the gods,’ Gwyn laughed, the sound surprising him. Ash laughed and shrugged.

‘Could’ve been worse,’ he said. ‘Okay, your turn.’

Gwyn cast his mind around for something to say. He didn’t have many funny stories, but it was meant to be about truth, wasn’t it? There were a lot of things he couldn’t say, but some he could.

‘When I was a child, I wanted to be a scholar,’ he said.

‘Why weren’t you?’ Ash said, and Gwyn shook his head.

‘Military family. Perhaps if my mother had more children, I could have become a scholar. But as I am their only child, expectations were that I would follow in my father’s footsteps.’

‘Uh huh,’ Ash said, pursing his lips. ‘Makes sense, I suppose. Still, I can see it. You have that kind of scholarly vibe about you. Alright, let me think. Okay, I don’t really like killing people.’

Gwyn walked faster to catch up to him.


‘Oh yeah. I’m like a card carrying member of the worst Unseelie fae ever, for real. Not that I really care. I mean a man’s gotta eat, right? I just eat less than I probably should, and I have to eat a lot of fruit and stuff to make up for it.’

There was a hint of sadness in Ash’s eyes that came and went so quickly that Gwyn was sure he had imagined it. After that, every other one of Ash’s truths were genuinely light-hearted, and Gwyn was able to match with his own, finding humorous truths from the battlefield. He found himself warming to Ash’s company, enjoying his eldritch glamour as Ash paced the human streets like they were his own.