Despite all evidence to the contrary, this is not a fairy tale. While it’s impossible to deny the presence of (at least) one fairy in this story, he simply isn’t the kind of fairy you might be used to encountering—in any sense of the word. It’s also rather impossible to deny that this story may (spoiler alert!) have a happy ending. And, okay, while there is a fair amount of magic—both the very earthly (but no less astonishing) magic involved in falling in love and the kind of magic that enables people to fly, become invisible, and live in a supernatural realm—I can assure you that no one is galloping off into the sunset at any point in this story, there will not be any magic curse-induced sleeping going on, nor will there any frogs, crowns, capes, or other fairy-tale paraphernalia.
A line has been drawn.
So, we have established that this is not a fairy tale. What is it, then?
A story about learning to admit the truth about yourself.
A story about figuring out your life’s purpose.
A story of heartbreak.
A story about two people having the best sex of their lives.
A comedy (okay, this might be a bit of a stretch, but there are jokes).
And, most importantly, a love story.
Still interested? Okay, then.
Once upon a time in a land far, far away….
BERO dangled his long legs over the side of the cliff and stared down over Asgard, his eyes sweeping across the frozen land and over the Vindlings, the crystalline spires that marked the center of his homeland. Whereas humans would be blinded by the wintery sunlight reflecting off every surface, Bero didn’t even need to squint, his purple irises almost engulfing the pinprick of black pupil at their centers. Lately he’d been coming here almost every day to think or, as his friends suggested, to mope. None of them could understand why he insisted on spending so much time alone. Why waste so much time thinking when your path in life was so clearly laid out?
His people, the Felan, were a race of fairies sent to Earth periodically to serve as protectors or aides to individual humans. They could be likened to fairy godmothers (or godfathers), but most Felan bristled at the implication they were anything like the sprightly old ladies described in human fairy tales.
The Felan were generally a happy people, content to spend their free time in the sulfurous baths that dotted the countryside or drinking ice wine until the Landsting (the council of twelve who ruled over all of Asgard) called them to enter into a Behovet. The Behovet, which translates roughly to “need binding,” was what every Felan lived for; it’s why they existed in the first place, or so the founding mythology told them….
The problem was that Bero didn’t want to enter into a Behovet. Not this time. Maybe not ever again.
Bero sighed as he spotted two small dots approaching though the air. He hadn’t been able to hide for long. He knew who it would be: Luka, his lifelong friend and occasional thorn in his side; and Rilke, Luka’s… well, hanger-on.
Rilke was much younger than either Bero or Luka. Though she was roughly thirty-five in human years, she was still considered a teenager by the Felan, since they aged at half the rate humans did. Rilke had just finished her training in the Anstalt, the institution in which all Felans had to undergo a grueling process of initiation before they could enter into their first Behovet with a human. Rilke had done spectacularly well there, passing through each simulated binding with flying colors. She’d almost matched Bero’s record for time spent bringing each simulation to a successful dissolution. Despite her stellar performance, Rilke refused to discuss her initiation. In fact, she avoided the topic so studiously Bero and others had quickly taken the hint and stopped asking her about it. After graduation, she’d latched onto the handsome and charismatic Luka almost immediately, despite the fact that his inclinations clearly ran elsewhere.
“Still moping?” Luka asked as he landed next to Bero with a graceful flourish of his wings.
“He’s not moping, Luka,” Rilke said, swatting the raven-haired man next to her. “He’s just… contemplating things. Right, Bero?” She shot him a sympathetic look.
“Right, yeah. Contemplating things. Not moping. What’s to mope about? I mean, life’s good. My last few bonds have gone really well. The council’s happy with me. The weather’s great…,” Bero said unconvincingly.
“Seriously, man. What is your problem? You’ve been like this ever since you returned from your last binding. Did something happen?” Luka asked, a note of real concern in his voice.
“No. It’s not… well, it’s nothing like that. My last bond went well. I mean it was tricky. Kathy, my bond, she had a rough time of it.” He allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction as he considered the positive changes he’d been able to help Kathy make.
Kathy had been diagnosed with cancer, and then when the medical bills stacked up, her husband—already prone to depression—had killed himself, leaving her and her two teenage children alone. Bero had provided the emotional support she needed as she was transferred back home, allowing her to, in turn, be the support system for her children. He’d lent her small amounts of energy and helped her find meaningful employment. He’d also kept the house clean, done the cooking, and generally kept things running smoothly for her so she could concentrate on getting better. He was genuinely proud of that.
“It’s just, well, don’t you ever want anything different? Anything, I don’t know, for yourself?” Bero knew he was going out on a limb as he said this. It was the first time he’d tried to vocalize what it was that was bothering him. It had taken him a while to figure it out himself.
Luka and Rilke looked at him blankly.
“What do you mean?” Rilke said wonderingly.
“I mean that maybe it would be nice to… take a break. Have some time on my own. Reevaluate things. Sometimes it just seems so tiring to always be thinking of other people’s needs, other people’s desires. What about my needs and my desires?” he said, his voice rising in frustration.
“You mean you don’t want another binding?” Rilke squeaked incredulously.
“Yeah, actually, that’s exactly what I mean. I just want some time on my own. Why is that so crazy?” Bero replied.
“Bero, you’re just tired. You can’t mean that. You’re the best, man, I mean, you’re my hero! You’re amazing with people, you always know just what to say, what to do. Shit, man, your bindings are always the examples the council uses when they cite success stories. You probably just need a break. Maybe it’ll be a while before you’re called to the council to enter into another binding,” Luka said, laying a reassuring hand on Bero’s shoulder.
“Yeah, maybe.” He’d known they wouldn’t understand what he was going through. He barely understood it himself. All he knew was that he was burned out and tired of giving himself over entirely to making other people happy, over and over again. He wanted to figure out what it was that would make him happy.
It had been a few weeks since he’d brought his binding with Kathy to a close and been re-entered into the “pool” again. He knew that, despite what Luka said, it wouldn’t be long before the council called him to make another binding. The world had been undergoing some serious troubles these last few years, and there was an overflow of needy humans. Then he’d have no choice but to bond again, start the cycle again, commit himself to someone else’s needs while ignoring his own needs again. He sighed.
“C’mon, dude. All this solitude isn’t good for you. Let’s go do something—it’ll take your mind off all this crap. There’s a special on sweet mead and apple dumplings at The Ice House…,” Luka said hopefully. He knew that sweet mead was one of Bero’s few weaknesses.
Bero laughed. “Twist my arm, why don’t you? Okay, let’s go. You’re probably right. I just need to get out of my own head.”
As he said this, Bero’s stomach twisted. He knew that no amount of sweet mead was going to change his mind or soothe his soul. Finding out that his friends couldn’t relate to his feelings at all wasn’t surprising, but it made him feel alone and isolated.
Was it possible he was the only Felan with individual desires?
For the first time in his life, he felt like he himself could use a little help. He supposed he’d just have to get over it—time heals all wounds, right?
Or, if not, the Felan do. He chuckled to himself.
The Ice House was packed when they arrived, but Luka managed to charm his way into a corner booth the owner had been reserving for another party. Bero looked around the crowded room once he took his seat against the wall. Animated, smiling faces greeted him at every angle. The Felan were a beautiful people. Though they looked entirely human at first glance—a group of them walking down the street could pass as a posse of Nordic supermodels with their high cheekbones, luminous skin, and flawless physiques—if you looked a little closer, subtle differences could be detected. Their skin was slightly too flawless, their eyes were almost always an unusual shade of purple, and their pupils were practically nonexistent. The wings were also kind of a dead giveaway. Thankfully, since they often had to “pass” as human on Earth, their wings collapsed upon landing and were reabsorbed into two small slits in their backs.
“Better?” Rilke asked, patting Bero’s arm.
“Yeah, this is nice. Thanks, guys.” He forced a smile. “So, what have I missed? What’s the gossip? And no, Luka, I’m not interested in hearing about your latest conquests,” Bero said, cutting Luka off.
Luka scowled in mock anger. “Well, a lot of people have been gone lately. You know, it’s been really busy, so not much local news. But… I did have a particularly enjoyable experience with my last bond.”
“Your last bond? The Iranian lady?” Bero asked.
“No, man. I’ve had a bond since then. Where have you been?” Luka sighed. “I mean, it was quick, obviously. Record time, you might say. It was this guy, see, he….” As Luka launched into a long story involving himself, an older Spanish gentleman, and some sort of marvelously healing nudist colony, Bero’s thoughts wandered.
Luka was often paired with humans who needed, well, more physical healing than emotional, though the two often went hand in hand. Bero’s bonds were generally longer and deeper. The nature of Felan-human bonds varied greatly, and it was natural that some were closer than others. Some were more parental in nature, offering advice, comfort, or wisdom, and perhaps a little tough love or disciplinary action. Others were more like BFFs, filled with long confessional chats, confidence-building sessions, and constant encouragement—while still others were more formal or authoritative, with Felan acting as unbending drill sergeants or stern headmistresses. And some, and these were often the kind of bonds that Luka formed, involved that most mysterious of all healing powers: sex.
The humans who were selected for a binding varied just as much as the bonds themselves, though there were a few simple rules governing which humans were chosen for a Behovet. First and foremost, they had to have some problem or issue they couldn’t deal with on their own (hence the “need” part). These problems or issues had to be personal in nature. The Felan were more like therapists or counselors than magicians; they couldn’t solve the debt crisis or end childhood obesity, but they could help heal a broken heart or work to repair the strained relationship between a father and a son. Small wonders in themselves, and often no simple matter. The humans selected also had to be deserving of help. This second part was tricky to establish, but the council was confident in its abilities to tell the good apples from the bad. The choices were often overwhelming. However, there was a third criterion that helped to narrow down the potential selections: the human had to ask for help. Directly.
Bero knew from many years of experience that most of the people staring at the ceiling in their bedroom and rambling about the hopelessness of their lives, or collapsed on the floor in their kitchens begging for someone, anyone, to help them with the mess they’d made of everything had no idea that their entreaties were being carefully evaluated.
Once the human was selected, he or she was matched with a particular Felan through a careful process that took many factors into account: personality, gender, sexuality, sense of humor, age, occupation…. The process was pretty complicated, but it worked, and it was a rare thing for a binding to be unsuccessful.
Bero admired the spirit in which the Behovet was formed. He admired the precision and simplicity of the matching process. He understood that the Felan—powerfully intuitive, inherently good-hearted, and blessed with a variety of gifts and powers—were uniquely called to this sort of work. Over the years he’d enjoyed a powerful sense of fulfillment and satisfaction whenever binding had successfully been dissolved. He felt proud that he had been able to leave all of his bonds happier, healthier, and more self-aware than before, and equipped with the mental and emotional tools to live their lives in a fulfilled manner.
Lately, though, it just didn’t seem like enough to him.
As the third round of mead appeared before him and Luka launched into yet another story, with Rilke hanging on his every word, Bero tried to think of a way out of his dilemma. He couldn’t avoid the binding—once you were called, it was like a magnet pulling you toward the council; there was no way to resist it. So what choice did he have?
Then it hit him.
What if I really botched, like royally fucked up, my next assignment? They’d have to give me a break then, right? Take me out of the pool for a while?
He smiled at the thought. Plus, he mused, it might be fun to work against my instincts, my training… but is it even possible?
He knew deep down that if his next binding was someone like Kathy—someone in a situation that was desperate and heartbreaking—he wouldn’t be able to do it. But they weren’t always like that. Some bonds were simply people going through a bad breakup. He knew that could be excruciating, but it wasn’t a cancer-suicide whammy.
Just having this kind of selfish thought felt wrong to Bero. So, so wrong, which meant it kind of felt… good?
Bero smiled for the first time in weeks.
“There we go. I knew that story would cheer you up!” Luka said, clearly pleased with himself.
“You’re right. It did. It really did. You’re a good friend,” Bero said, laughing and wrapping his arm around the other man’s shoulder.