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“Did you not hear anything I told you last night?”
I dodged Dy’s death glare, ducking into the kitchen. I didn’t really need my chai tea, but what I did need was a plausible reason to avoid taking Dy’s energy straight on. It was the fourth time we’d had this conversation after I tried to offhandedly mention to her that she would need to take public transit to the airport because I was going to be gone – with Caleb.
As if to prove a point, she had woken up at 7 am to pester me about it. I think I could count on one hand the number of times I’d seen Dy conscious before ten. She was serious.
“I heard you,” I tried to speak a patiently as I could. “I heard you the first time, and the second time…” well, maybe not quite as patiently as all that.
“There’s something not right about that guy,” Dy continued as if she hadn’t heard me at all. Peering around the corner I could see her perched on my couch the way she liked to do, hands motioning to her own private audience. “You know I’ve never seen him fly? It’s just weird, Lee. The motorcycle thing doesn’t make any sense.”
“I saw him fly,” I said, barely able to censor my initial defensive response. I didn’t need to defend him so much as I needed to defend my own rationale for agreeing to this escapade. Of course, I wasn’t doing a great job of convincing myself to begin with. “He flew inside the bar.”
“Flew? Or did he just do that fluttery thing?”
“How well do you know him, again?”
“Word gets around, Lee. I’m still a muse. We talk.” She swooped around the bar area to stand next to me.
I glanced up at her only briefly before diligently stirring a dust of cinnamon into my travel mug. “It’s not like I have a choice. It’s my job – the IFA wants me to show Caleb around the Willamette, so I will. That’s all it is.”
She was looking at me. I knew she was doing it. I frowned and walked out into my living room, sitting on the edge of my chaise.
Undeterred, Dyana knelt at my feet where I couldn’t evade her wide, silvery eyes. She was childish like that when she was riled – it was actually a little concerning. I’d rarely seen her so hellbent on changing my mind about anything. Then again, when we were doing the activist thing we very specifically agreed on almost everything. That was why we worked so well to begin with.
“We always agreed that we were non-violent,” she began again in earnest. “You still believe in that too, don’t you?”
“What would make you think-” I worked my jaw, but the words weren’t coming out. “How could you… of course I’m still non-violent, Dy. I’d never-”
“I just needed to hear you say it.”
“Dy, is there something else going on that you’re not telling me about?”
Dy quieted, her full, pale lips downturned. Her wings clung tight to her body. “With all that’s been going on… I don’t know, alright? There are rumors about something big going down, and I promise you, if I knew any more than this I would tell you everything. With you being up in the IFA these days I figured it could go one of two ways…”
“Just be honest with me Dyana. We’ve always been straight with each other.”
“I don’t know if ‘straight’ is what the humans would call it,” she struggled to put on a joking smile, but it died a quick death. I narrowed my eyes. “If you were sympathetic to his cause, it would explain-“
“We don’t know that he has a cause at all.”
She blinked at me a couple times, and her eyebrows shot up into her hairline. I shook my head, my fingers working the ties on my boots. Boots would be appropriate for motorcycling. The internet told me so.
Never in my life did I think I’d have a need to look up motorcycling footwear.
“You like him,” Dy accused, leaning in somehow closer.
“I do not like him. I… the very opposite of like him. It’s like you said, he’s strange-“
“And he’s got one hell of a set of wings on him, doesn’t he?”
Her wings – which were still just as gorgeous as the day we met – flexed long and languid, almost suggestive. “I know your face, Amelie Fletcher. You think he’s a pretty bit of stardust.”
“That’s not the issue here-“
“You of all people!” her hands covered her face, and at that moment I could imagine no more uncomfortable a feat than discussing attraction to another Fae in front of my former partner – which wasn’t entirely accurate, I reminded myself. Attraction required both the physical and mental aspects for me, and I had yet to find anything about his mind that would be considered desirable. I hardly knew him at all… the problem was, Dy was partly right. He was a pretty bit of stardust, but that wasn’t the point. “I never thought you would be the kind to get distracted by a pair of fancy black wings.”
“Dy,” I grabbed her wrists and pulled them away from her face, planting my now-booted feet on the floor. “Remember who you’re talking to. I’m not as shallow as all that. If he’s in with the Elementals then I want no part of him,” I paused, flashing her a smile. “And besides, what better way to figure all that out than to spend a little extra time with him?”
Dyana sighed, tugging her wrists from my grasp. She rose, kissing the top of my head on her way up. “Take care of yourself out there. Not all the muses are as clean cut as me.”
“You’ve never been clean cut.”
Her lopsided grin warmed my soul – if I had one – the way it always did. “What I do in private notwithstanding.”
I almost had a good reply in mind when there was a knock at my door. Right on time. I had every intention of getting the door myself, but Dy beat me to it.
The wide-eyed, huge-mouthed smile she managed to achieve when she opened it was so comical that I had to laugh. My laughter was drowned out by her overly enthusiastic “Hello!”
I watched their interactions as I finished zipping up my backpack, filled to bulging with a couple changes of clothes and basic essentials on the assumption that we’d be spending a night in Eugene. Landsong would insist.
“It’s nice to see you again, Dyana,” said Caleb, the essence of cool. I was certain that most people would have shrieked or at least looked startled at Dy’s theatrics. Not Caleb. Caleb acted as if she’d answered the door with a polite how-do-you-do.
“Isn’t it though?” Dyana stood in the entryway without the slightest movement to indicate that he could come in.
“You’ve been well? Down in… Reno, as I recall,” he continued, stuck just outside the door.
“The Tahoe glade is a real trip. I love it down there. I hear that you’ve been awfully busy these days.”
“Professional hazard,” he inclined his head, glancing at me over Dy’s shoulder for the first time since he arrived. “Do you need a little more time?”
“Not at all,” I swung the bag over my back, taking another sip from my mug. The sun shone brightly behind Caleb’s figure, the glowing Oregon greenery a sharp contrast with Caleb’s (apparently customary) black attire. He looked rather out of place against the backdrop of a vibrant, sunny day. He was more of a night Fae, for certain. I hugged Dy briefly before I passed her by. “Lock up on your way out, and have a good flight.”
She squeezed me with pressure enough to approximate my ribs together. It was very Dy of her. “I’ll call you.”
I nodded once more before managing to escape, the click of the door a sure sign that I was all alone with Caleb.
His dark eyes swept me head-to-toe before he made a soft sound of what I assumed was approval. “You’re appropriately dressed, at least.”
I had on my sturdiest pair of jeans and a long-sleeved purple shirt underneath a jean jacket. My hair was held out of my face by a flowery headband. Game enough, I made my own visual sweep of him, passing over his zipped-up faux leather jacket and dark jeans. With skin so pale he was all darkness and light.
“I suppose you’ll do as well,” I raised an eyebrow.
The barely-audible chuckle in his throat could hardly be called a laugh. “I have some gear for you.” He began walking down the stairs – a little odd, I noted, since I usually just glided down from the railing, but I went with it anyway. There was no need to show off.
I was on the second story of the ‘hotel,’ a catwalk connecting my room to all the others with an open-air staircase. To my knowledge I was the only one in a suite for the time being. Most of the time other Fae traveled to the Northwest in the summer when it was less wet. This day was a special day in that regard. Sunshine in an Oregon winter was near-blinding, all the dampened grass and leaves sparkling emerald-green. It was absolutely breathtaking, if a little jarring compared to the usual grayness. The road was mercifully low-traffic so far.
“Where are you staying, anyway?” I asked, filling the silence.
“Family business associate keeps a house down here. They don’t use it much, so I generally have free reign over it.”
“Here in Portland?”
He nodded absently, approaching his very shiny – very pretty – motorcycle. It was all curves, a body that reminded me of smoothed agates. I restrained myself from touching it out of fear that my fingertips would smudge its perfect black sheen. Caleb started handing me a few things from his saddlebag – another one of those things I had to google in preparation for this adventure. My analysis of motorcycle schematics told me that “saddlebag” was an accurate, if somewhat silly term for the storage device.
“The helmet is where all of the PPE comes in,” he said, referencing ‘Personal Protective Equipment.’ “You’ll need that, the jacket, a scarf and gloves. I think these should fit alright, maybe a little on the large side.”
I handed him my bag in exchange. “You can smash it in there. Nothing fancy in my stuff.”
“Not even a computer?”
“The glade doesn’t have wireless anyway.”
“So I take it we’ll be staying there.”
“Is that a problem for you, fancy Fae?” I was swimming in the jacket he handed me, but it was a nice combination of lightweight and warm. My heart was racing as I handled the helmet, an enclosed unit with a filter near the mouth when the shield was down. I was about to ride a motorcycle.
Why did I agree to this?
“Your stunningly poor opinion of me aside,” his lips twitched the way they liked to twitch just before he settled his own helmet over his face, “no, it won’t be a problem.”
Stunningly poor opinion. It was the first real rise I’d managed to get out of him, if you didn’t count the passive-aggressive sparring in the conference. He didn’t seem angry, exactly, or even hurt. I wasn’t really sure what he was, and that was the entire problem.
I swallowed against the – guilty? – lump in my throat and put on the helmet myself. The filter was cumbersome, my breath fogging the shield almost immediately. There was no way this was going to work-
Until he tapped the switch next to my jaw and the tiny motor whirred, circulating the air. I blushed behind the mask.
“You ready?” I jerked at the sound of his voice, loud and clear in my helmet. He had some kind of radio system in the damned thing – I supposed, though, that with the cost of the filter and the jackets, a radio system was pocket change.
I couldn’t tell if he was smiling at me with the mirrored shade over his face. It made him even less readable.
Gods of the old continent, I was certain I was about to die. My mouth was totally dry and my stomach was clenched with fear. It occurred to me that humans would probably feel the same terror about flying. Anything that is new and seemingly uncontrollable is scary the first time you try it. I could only hope that I would survive to try it a second time, when it would be less horrifying.
“Yeah, sure.” My hands trembled in the gloves which were at least a size too large. At least the helmet fit alright. None of the outside air brushed my face.
He settled down on the bike and craned around to look at me, just waiting. I slipped in behind him and realized, quite stupidly, that there were no safety devices to hook into. I swallowed, and with the radio system there was a good chance he heard me.
“Mind the footholds,” he told me, indicating them with the flick of his wrist. He steadied the bike upright while I positioned myself. “You’ve ridden a bicycle, haven’t you? I regular one.”
“Just relax,” he crooned. “Hands on my hips. Easier to steer that way. We’re taking 99 down to Corvallis and then the 5 from there. It’ll take longer but it’ll let you get used to things before we’re on a real highway.”
If this is going to take so long, why are we bothering with it at all? With weather so nice would could have flown the whole way. Then I realized it – he was toying with me. The only way this made sense was if it was some kind of test. Test of what and why, I wasn’t sure. It was too late to turn back.
Hesitantly I placed my hands as he asked, reminding myself that such hand positioning was necessary to ride properly, and nothing more. I could almost hear him grinning. “Okay,” my voice cracked without my permission. “Okay, you can… make it go.”
“Hang on tight, Ms. Fletcher,” in his voice I heard mischief; another flicker of life in his heretofore inscrutable personality.
When the electric motor revved and the contraption took off, I learned about an entirely different form of flight.