Green’s Hillwas a magical faery commune that rested in an unspecified location in the Northern California foothills. Green was the leader, a beautiful high sidhe (or elf) with hip-length, butter-colored hair, a penchant for mortals, and what should have been a minor gift that he’d parlayed into a major one. He had the gift of sex and the ability to gain magical power from the sharing of flesh and the whisper of skin on skin. Using this power, Green managed to gather every supernatural being—shape-shifters, vampires, lower fey, high sidhe—all of them, under his aegis and protection. Everybody loved Green and his vampire consort, Adrian, including Whim.
Whim was the second-youngest high sidhe on Green’s Hill, and possibly the least powerful one.
Smaller fey reproduced like rabbits—pixies, nixies, sprites, gnomes, goblins, trolls, brownies—they were everywhere, hiding in the corners of houses like dust, but high sidhe, the big elves did not, as a whole, procreate a lot. They had sex frequently (for them it was as natural as eating or breathing) but they didn’t actually produce offspring. Whim’s parents were both high sidhe, and in the tumultuous, terrifying (for them) trip overseas in one of the vast sailing ships of the 1800s, they had lost control of their will and their power. Will and power were a sidhe’s birth control. Whim was the result.
The youngest sidhe on Green’s Hill was Bracken. Bracken was (as most elves are) exactly like his name. Fierce and sturdy, prickly, somber, and strong. The terrible, beautiful, painful story of Adrian, Green, Bracken, and Cory—the very mortal sorceress who loved (and was loved by) them all—was the stuff of songs. Whim, however, was not the type of elf that songs or stories were written about. He was beautiful (as were all of his people) with triangular, perfect features; wide, limpid eyes; a full, wide mouth; a clean, proportional nose; and pointed ears, but other than that, he was perfectly average. His hair, which hung (like most of the immortal sidhe’s) down to his waist, tended to change color according to his mood, like one big silky mood ring, and he tended to have the attention span of one of the lower fey, but that was why he was named “Whim.” He was as insubstantial as the breeze and as reliable as a bumblebee in a hurricane.
At least, that was what everybody believed about him, with the exception of Green and Adrian. Adrian, who, as a vampire, had once been mortal, not only told Whim that there was something of substance, of passion inside his mild, mercurial self, Adrian also introduced Whim to the world of mortals.
Mortals were Whim’s secret passion.
Most of the sidhe (including Whim’s parents) avoided the mortals, including the mortals-that-had-been, like the vampires and the were-creatures. Sidhe traditions held that their shorter life spans made them incapable of understanding what true life and love and beauty and sacrifice were all about.
We’re sidhe, Whim. I know we’ve relocated to this wild place, but that is because our leadership in England was corrupt. We need to maintain all of the mystique and magic of being sidhe. Try to remember that as you see the other elves running wild with the rabble.
Whim didn’t care. Adrian had been a mortal once, and so he thought there must be something beautiful and amazing about mortals. It was that simple. Whim hadn’t loved Adrian as a lover (although they’d shared flesh on occasion). It had been Adrian’s friendship that Whim had loved. Adrian, quick with a joke, quick to blush if he’d just fed, quick to listen, to understand, to forgive. He had forgiven Whim for being an elitist snob, and Whim had ceased to be one. He had forgiven Whim for being afraid to go outside the hill, and Whim had ceased to be afraid. He had forgiven Whim for once forgetting that they were in the middle of sex and starting to sing a bawdy song that Adrian had taught him, and Whim tried very hard to pay attention during sex after that, because he learned that mortals-that-had-been, especially, got a little irritated when their partners forgot that sex was being had.
It had been Adrian’s influence that had sent Whim outside the hill for Litha, the time of the vampires’ greatest weakness and of the elves’ greatest strength:
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, mate, get the hell out of here.” Adrian had been born in the poorest stretch of London, or so his accent still proclaimed even ’til the day of his second death. He always claimed not to remember. “Your parents will be doing what your people do during this time. I’ve taught you how to drive; we have plenty of cars that have been treated so you can drive them. Your glamour is solid, and unlike Bracken, you can keep your temper for more than two and a half seconds at a stretch.”
Adrian and Bracken were together at that time, almost exclusive with the exception of Green. As he talked about his lover, his brother of the heart, his best friend, Adrian’s fine-boned face arched wickedly, and he smiled. He loved Bracken—he’d die for him—but that didn’t mean that he and Whim couldn’t appreciate the vagaries of such a young sidhe. At thirty-five, Bracken often lost control of his glamour in front of humans. He was practically too young to be let out of the hill. Whim, at sixty, should have no trouble. The Goddess’s children all looked young and beautiful, but they had an eternity—if they chose one—to learn about the world. Whim was just old enough to cut loose on an unsuspecting human populace and just young enough to appreciate an adventure.
But still, Whim looked at Adrian, who, at almost six feet tall, was tall for a human and short for a sidhe, and felt a pucker at his brow. Adrian had moonlight-pale hair and sky-spangled blue eyes, and he was almost more beautiful as a vampire than most sidhe—a thing Whim’s parents would have said was impossible. Adrian was different than mortals. The world could not possibly offer everything Adrian said it did.
Adrian saw Whim’s adoration and shook his head. “There is somebody out in the big world who will give you back that look full measure, Whim. Don’t you want to see who that is?”
“Yes,” Whim sighed, “but if I do find them, I will probably forget who it is I’m looking for as soon as I see their face.”
Adrian laughed then. Whim’s attention span had never been very faithful, it was true. Most of the other sidhe concentrated on some sort of art or science and mastered it. But as soon as Whim picked up a book of poetry, he was singing a ballad he’d made up himself. He’d tried to master the harp and ended up suspending paper birds from harp strings. Once he’d instituted sex with a female vampire on the cusp of dawn, forgetting that they died with the birth of the sun. The woman hadn’t minded, especially because Whim had forgotten what he was supposed to be doing at sunrise and rolled out of her bed and went to find something else to occupy himself—it was considered a case of no harm, no foul. Even among a species considered eccentric in its proclivities and belief system, Whim was an anomaly. To say he was cursed with a butterfly mind was to say cow shit was cursed with methane gas. The two simply went hand in hand and that was the nature of things.
“Don’t worry, Whim,” Adrian said then, kindly. “We will know it’s for real when you can remember a name.”
So Whim had done it, had gone outside the hill to experience full Litha magic, just for Adrian. That first night he had met a mortal woman—an unwary mortal woman, to be outside her husband’s home and wishing on the shortest night of the year. Whim had spoken softly to her, had heard her heart’s desires, and had touched her bare skin freckled by starlight. He had taken her sweet body in the country quiet. When the morning came, he’d dressed her and put her to sleep next to her husband, with nothing but a pleasant yearning to convince her it had been anything more than a dream.
The experience—the flesh, the power of the solstice night, the mortal woman’s sweetness and painful want—had been exquisite. Whim resolved to do it again, and so he had. Every Litha, he had gone into the mortal world and found a mortal who wanted him and only him, even if it was only for the shortest night of the year.
One night, nearly thirty Lithas later, he was wandering along the railroad track in a deserted backfield in Auburn. It was there that he met Charlie, and Litha changed for Whim forever.
He started out his wander in a fit of melancholy. The little clearing was on top of a rise, on the other side of a graffiti wall that separated the railroad tracks from the small, low-rent suburb on the other side. Suburb, graffiti wall, even the glaring spaceship of lights below the rise, all of them were new. The area had changed, humans had become more prevalent, and this great, cold-iron track cut less and less through areas of field and forest and more and more through the backs of suburbs and horse pastures, and Whim missed the emptiness. He’d seen the great rabbit warrens of large homes on small plots of land that the humans had been building, and he hated them. Soon, he thought unhappily, Green’s Hill and the surrounding protected forests would be the only place his kind could walk the earth.
Then he saw a youth in tight jeans and a tank top under a flapping great trench coat, balancing on the cold iron beam in the starlight, and he forgot his private vendetta against progress and remembered why he was out in the Litha dark.
Litha was the cusp of light and dark, the crux of life and death, the longest day and shortest night of the year. The earth was in full burgeoning strength, and the Goddess’s shining ones literally—and with no help from their own magic—tended to shine like beacons of sex and touch. Litha was the night Oberon could seduce Titania with a commoner who had been partially turned into an ass.
As the youth on the railroad tracks looked up and caught sight of Whim walking toward him wearing nothing but jeans and a cloak of color-shifting hair, the boy’s mouth curved into a plump little O and his eyes, so dark a chocolate brown as to be opaque in the moonlight, opened as wide as the sky.
Whim looked at him and felt his lips curve into a smile. The boy was like Litha itself: on the cusp of things. He was not tall, certainly not as tall as Whim, who was in the middle of six and seven feet, but not even as tall as Adrian. His chest and jaw would be broad when he filled out, but now, in his late teens, he was all shoulders and elbows, collarbones and angled jaw and bold, assertive nose. His jeans were torn and bleached on purpose, and his tank top was tight to show off the rebellious rings in his nipples and his navel, but that look….
In spite of the sneering of the teenager and skepticism of the nascent man, the look on his face had been all joyful child, and Whim was charmed.
He drew nearer.
“Be careful you don’t get stuck,” Whim said gently as the boy played with his feet in the railroad ties. The boy rolled his eyes, and Whim rolled his back. “I am only saying that the train is due very soon, and I cannot touch the rails or the spikes to help you.”
That brought the boy up short. “Why can’t you touch the rails?” he asked, and Whim looked down at his bare feet and wiggled his toes. The boy’s eyes followed.
“The cold iron burns my skin,” Whim told him honestly. It was true. Here on Litha, Whim was caught in all three of a sidhe’s vulnerabilities: They drew power from the earth and hence detested coverings for their feet. They were allergic to the cold iron of the humans (the reason all of Green’s cars were treated with a salt and herb wash before the sidhe were allowed to drive them) and they could not lie. They could if they really wanted to, but they ended up afflicted with nausea, cramps, and a blinding headache until they burst out with the truth, and Whim had never been tempted to test that particular weakness.
“And don’t believe what you hear about foot size and penis size,” Whim added for good measure.
“I’m sorry?” There was a curious blink, and Whim felt he should explain.
“Humans believe that foot size is proportional to penis size. You were looking at my feet. They are very large. In fact,” Whim said as he held up a forearm, “they are the exact length from the crease of my arm to the edge of my wrist, and so are yours. I know, because I have a friend who makes socks.”
“Burns?” asked the boy curiously, and it was Whim’s turn to blink. “You said the cold iron burns,” the kid enunciated patiently. “That’s why I was staring at your feet.”
Whim nodded and shrugged and made a very rash decision, which would have surprised no one who knew him. It was Litha. If he breathed in deeply, he could set a shield between himself and this man-child that would deflect bullets and keep even the subtle, warm breeze at bay. With such a shield, he could stand on the railroad tracks and let the train batter him like a wave batters a beach ball and walk away without a scratch or even a blister from the iron itself.
On such a night, with such power brushing his skin, what could this boy do to him, even with the truth?
“My people are allergic to the iron,” Whim told him, and his glamour, which hadn’t been very firm in the first place because he’d been caught unaware, dropped completely, on a whim. The youth looked up into his triangular-shaped features, his wide-set eyes, and saw what he was ready to see.
He must have been ready to see the truth, because his arm raised and his fingertip moved immediately to Whim’s curved ears, and he stroked gently, like a child stroking a rabbit’s nose. Whim shuddered sensually and purred. The ears of most sidhe were sexually sensitive; his were no exception.
“You’re real,” the boy whispered, his voice barely audible in the night quiet. In the rushing darkness, the shushing of the freeway could be heard. It was nearly three miles away.
“You’re taking liberties I haven’t given you,” Whim told him, but he cocked his head and moved his body sinuously anyway. It was his ear. It just felt so damned good. “Of course I’m real.”
The boy dropped his hand reluctantly, and Whim sighed and straightened his body. “It is dangerous out here for unwary boys. I’m an elf, and even I know that not all strangers mean well.”
The boy shrugged, pulled his foot from the space between the two railroad ties, and hopped off the track altogether. “Folks don’t care much where I am,” he said.
“Don’t you care where you are?” Whim was there under the moonlight because this was his holiday, a treat to himself. He wanted to feel the warmth of the lingering sun and the faint cooling breeze. He wanted to smell the new-mown hay, brown grasses, and burgeoning green orchard smells that permeated the Sierra foothills in June. He wanted the absolute aloneness to seep into his bones, because it was so very different than the masses of family that beat in his blood from life on the hill. He cared very much where he was.
“I care that I’m not at home,” the boy said on a bleak sigh.
“Well then,” Whim said, feeling a little disappointed that he would not be sharing flesh with someone this night—the boy was too young, after all, “for tonight and tonight only, I will care where you are, and this roof of darkness can be ours.”
The boy looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Do you want me for sex?” he asked suspiciously, and Whim gasped a little. He forgot that with the changing of the years, human children had become more like sidhe children about these matters.
“I don’t even know your name,” Whim replied, affronted. “And you are too young, even if I did.” The two of them began to walk together through the darkness, using the tracks as a guide but staying well away from them.
“My name is Charlie,” the boy supplied with a gratifying readiness, “and I’m eighteen.”
“My name is Whim, and I’m… well, shit… how old am I?”
“You don’t know?” the boy asked, and Whim wrinkled his nose at him.
“Our days pass so ordinarily,” Whim replied, wondering. “We sit and we do whatever we want… there are the solstice celebrations, of course, but no real way of marking our days… what year is it?”
Charlie told him, and Whim nodded, pretty sure. “Yes, I was born on the cusp of the last century. I am nearing one hundred, but not quite.”
Charlie shook his head and stuck his hands in his pockets. “Man, that’s messed up. If you live a hundred years, you’d think you’d have something to show for it. Pain, laughter, you know. Something.”
Whim looked at the young human with wondering eyes, seeing every feature perfectly with his better-than-human vision. Charlie had fading acne scars and the awkwardness of the young but… but in that moment Whim saw something special about him, something indefinable. It was a quality that never left.