Chapter One

 

“WHEN ARE you going to bring a girlfriend home? You’re thirty-three already. You have to start thinking about having a family.”

Deacon sighed heavily into the phone. Why did he even bother to pick up these days? He always knew what every single fucking conversation would be about.

Ignoring the “girlfriend” comment—which his mother probably expected him to do—he said, “It’s not like I’m not looking. It’s just hard to find a guy who’s interested, given the hours I work.”

“You’re looking in the wrong place,” his mother replied with a huff. “Come home this Saturday. Marissa will be here. You were so close once and she’s such a nice girl, good Catholic upbringing. Her father’s in our country club, you know, and….”

Deacon tuned her out at the words “country club.” He could already picture how such a meeting would go, and the nightmarish images made him shudder. And yes, he did remember Marissa, and he knew that even if he hadn’t been as queer as a three-dollar bill, he wouldn’t have been interested in her. He just didn’t see her that way. She would never be more than a childhood friend.

“Sorry,” he said. “Can’t make it. I’m very busy with a new account.”

“Deacon Samuel Hearst, we already told them you’d be here,” his mother insisted.

Well, that’s not my problem, Deacon wanted to say. Instead, he took the wise road and told her, “I have to hang up. I’m driving home, and at this rate, I’ll get a ticket for talking on the phone.”

His mother must have taken his words as agreement because her tone grew smug. “Sure, Deacon. We’ll be waiting for you.”

Deacon felt tempted to toss his phone out the window, but instead, he ended the call and shoved the device into his glove compartment. He hadn’t been lying when he’d told his mother he’d be busy at work. Some accounts simply refused to wait, and even on the weekend, Deacon ended up going to work.

In a way, he preferred living like this. At the very least, he would be doing something he enjoyed instead of enduring a meeting with a girl who’d once been his friend and now thought she could cure him of his “sinful” alternative lifestyle. He supposed he might be judging the situation without actually knowing whether she would treat him that way. Maybe she would be more open-minded than his family.

Yeah, right. Snorting to himself, Deacon focused on the road. He looked forward to settling down on his couch for a quiet evening. The simple pleasures were vastly underrated, and he valued them all the more because he had so little time for them.

It happened suddenly, as these things always did. Deacon was musing over what he had in his movie collection that he hadn’t watched—he might have purchased some DVDs in the past months that he’d forgotten about—when….

Splat!

Something hit his windshield with a sickening sound. Deacon cursed, his incipient good mood forgotten. The impact it had made suggested the victim might be a small bird rather than a bug, which annoyed Deacon even more. He didn’t look forward to peeling bird guts off his windshield. Deacon tried to identify the creature, but the only thing he could distinguish appeared to be particularly large butterfly wings. Mutant butterflies? Shit, Deacon had to remember to recycle more because the planet was getting seriously fucked up.

With a disgusted sigh, Deacon activated the windshield wipers. Whatever the thing was, it had gotten stuck to the windshield. As the wipers started to move, the being twitched and tried to roll away. It ended up grabbing hold of one of the wipers, although for the life of him, Deacon couldn’t imagine how it did that. The angle was all wrong for him to distinguish the details of the creature’s anatomy.

Just the same, it seemed obvious that the being was still alive. More worryingly, Deacon swore he heard a tiny voice screaming, “Stop! What are you doing? Stop!”

Deacon had no idea why, but he complied. As the wipers came to a halt, Deacon finally managed to get a good look at the creature. He gaped and almost lost control of the car at the sight that met his eyes. It was probably his imagination. It had to be. All the overtime must be short-circuiting his brain, especially since his most recent account involved creating an ad for a fairy doll line for little girls. It seemed the only rational explanation for why he was seeing something torn out of a fantasy book clinging to his windshield wipers with all its might.

Brilliant silver eyes fixed him with a mix of fear and anger. “Help me!” the creature said. “It hurts.”

Whether this was some sort of dream or not, Deacon couldn’t just ignore it. Distantly wondering if he’d fallen asleep in his office while designing the fairy doll ad, Deacon parked the car on the side of the road. Courtesy of the fact that Deacon had purchased a home outside the city, they were practically in the middle of a forest—a good thing, since Deacon had no idea how he’d explain the “I think I ran over a fairy” tidbit to a wandering police officer.

Once he got out of the car, he peered closer at the windshield, half expecting to find nothing there. No such luck. The silver-eyed creature remained on the wiper, breathing hard, violent tremors shaking its small body. Deacon could now see that it did indeed have butterfly-like wings, but one of them hung at an awkward angle.

It had been an accident—and shit, how could he even consider this whole thing real?—but Deacon still felt a little guilty. It certainly didn’t help that, other than the wings and its minute size, the creature had a humanoid look, just like the fairies he’d been researching. Now that he could see better, Deacon distinguished the tiny legs, the small, slender arms, and the long flowing hair, which, unfortunately, had tangled in the windshield wiper.

Deacon winced. No wonder it couldn’t detach itself. Slowly, so as not to startle the being, he freed its hair from the wiper and took the little creature in his palm. Deacon’s actions must have startled it, since it released a yelp and its wings twitched like it was trying to take flight. The attempt obviously earned it a fair amount of pain, as it released a pathetic little whimper. “It’s all right,” Deacon said. “Don’t be afraid, and please, stand still. You’re just going to hurt yourself further if you try to fly.”

“I didn’t hurt myself,” the being pointed out morosely. “You attacked me, human.”

“You flew straight into my windshield,” Deacon replied, not too offended. “It wasn’t my fault.”

The creature scoffed. “I’m sure you say that to all the things you kill.”

Deacon arched a brow. “Mouthy, aren’t you? Well, I suppose you’re not hurt too badly if you can glare at someone who’s what… thirty times your size?”

The being went silent and very pale. “A-are you going to step on me?” it stammered.

“Step on you?” Deacon repeated in horror. “Of course not.”

This conversation felt surreal, and Deacon had no intention of continuing it. “Look, I’m sure your home is nearby, right?” He set the being down next to a bush. “You can make it there on your own even with your wing injury?”

“Of course,” the creature said. “Of course I can.”

Deacon suddenly wasn’t convinced, but what could he do? This had to be some sort of dream, and if he left the creature here, maybe he could wake up and return to his real life. And even under the unlikely circumstances that this might be real, he had no idea how to care for an injured fairy. He couldn’t exactly take it to a hospital, and if there were ways to mend butterfly wings, he didn’t know them.

Besides, the creature didn’t seem too enthralled with the idea of staying with him either because it immediately disappeared into the bush. Resigning himself to the fact that he might never know the truth about this strange event, Deacon got back inside his car and left.

He must have driven a mere couple of miles when it started to rain. It was one of those sudden summer storms because one moment, everything seemed fine, and then the wrath of nature exploded overhead. The rain came pouring down almost angrily, striking Deacon’s windshield with violent force. The visibility became next to zero, and in spite of his headlights, Deacon knew it would be very dangerous to continue driving in this weather.

And yet, all he could think about was the little creature he’d abandoned in the middle of nowhere, at the mercy of the elements. How would something so fragile hope to survive such a tempest? Answer: it couldn’t.

Just like that, Deacon made his decision. He turned the car around with a maneuver that could have easily killed him if he hadn’t been such an experienced driver. Hoping against all hope that he’d be able to find the strange being before it was too late, he turned back the way he’d come.

It soon became obvious that things wouldn’t be so easy. Three times, he thought he spotted something silvery glittering outside, but it turned out to be only his headlights making the raindrops glow. Finally, in spite of the thick curtain of water, his eye for detail helped him recognize the bush where his quarry had vanished.

Deacon hastily parked the car and pulled on his coat. He stumbled from his vehicle, cursing as he was forced to take on the furious storm. God, if he’d just been imagining the whole thing and he earned himself pneumonia for his trouble….

For all his doubts, Deacon still went through with his original plan. He scanned the bush but found it empty of any life-form. That didn’t necessarily mean he had the wrong place. The being could have taken refuge elsewhere.

He realized for the first time that he had never asked for the creature’s name, which was inconvenient to say the least. He couldn’t exactly call out to it by saying, “little being” or “creature” or “thing” like he’d been identifying it in his head. So, he settled for a “Hey! Are you out here? It’s me.”

He had no reason to believe the creature would want to have anything to do with the human who’d hurt it, but he advanced through the forest, continuing to shout the words. He felt ridiculous, wet, and increasingly fearful that he wasn’t looking in the right place. He kicked himself over the cruelty of abandoning such a frail creature to its fate.

Just as he was about to surrender to the obvious, a weak voice reached his ears. “D-down here.”

Deacon peered closer to the ground, and indeed found the creature right there, a few feet away from him. It was hiding under a leaf, wet to the bone, and shivering violently. It obviously couldn’t fly away, and its lips had gone blue from the cold. Deacon cursed. If he hadn’t returned, it could have died of hypothermia—its anatomy seemed similar enough to that of a human for Deacon to determine that much. Hell, some sort of animal could have come out to eat it. Just as alarmingly, if it hadn’t said anything, Deacon could have stepped on it and not realized it until it was too late.

Shaken, Deacon reached down, picked up the creature, and made a decision. “You’re coming home with me.”

The little being nodded. Deacon hid him—because by now, it seemed obvious the creature was male and Deacon couldn’t call him “it” forever—in his shirt pocket and made his way back to the car. He didn’t think he’d ever felt more relieved in his life.

 

 

MOON SNUGGLED close to his rescuer’s chest, rubbing his face against the material of the human’s garment. It was a little wet, but otherwise nice to the touch, a little like Moon’s own clothing. Not that Moon would have complained either way. Right now, the human’s solidity and warmth kept him from going into a desperate panic.

A few minutes ago, Moon had been struggling to resign himself to his fate. All alone, lost in the forest, unable to shift into his second form, with the icy storm coming down, he had realized he would soon die. He hadn’t dared to pray to the Goddess for a rescue, not after he’d been so rash as to abandon his home. And yet, rescue had come, in the form of the strange human.

It was absolutely forbidden for one of Moon’s kind to come into contact with humans, but Moon couldn’t be bothered to care. Exhaustion and comfort brought lassitude in his limbs, and he might have fallen asleep if not for the enduring ache in his wing.

The human didn’t say anything after his proclamation that he’d take Moon with him, and Moon began to feel a little restless. “What are you going to do with me?” he asked.

“I have no idea,” the human answered. “I kind of feel like I’m losing my mind. But I couldn’t just leave you out there to die. So for the moment, we’re heading to my place. We’ll decide things as we go along.”

Moon liked the “we” in that latter phrase. It showed that the human had respect for Moon’s will, in spite of their current circumstances. He took in the rest of the information provided by the kind human and inquired, “Your place? Is that like… a mound?”

“Kind of,” the human replied after a small pause. “A mound is where you live, right?” He must have felt Moon nod against his chest because he added, “Yes, I was referring to my home, although I imagine it must be different from your mound. It’s not very far from here. You’ll see.”

Suddenly, the human stopped and fumbled with something metallic. Moon tried to peer through the space between the human’s coat buttons, but he couldn’t distinguish much. Had they reached the human’s mound already?

That didn’t seem to be the case. After some more fumbling, the human opened a door and in a few careful motions, he slid into a chair of sorts. He reached into his coat and took Moon out, settling him down on a nearby leathery surface.

Moon realized the human had carried him to the vehicle he’d collided with earlier. He’d have been a little frightened, or at least wary, but he had to admit the inside of the peculiar vehicle felt far more welcoming than the outside. The human’s scent was everywhere, and Moon’s current location—easily identifiable as another seat—felt quite comfortable.

Without the human’s heat, though, he was a little cold. Apparently, the human realized this, because he pressed or pushed something to Moon’s right and a scorching wind exploded in Moon’s face.

Moon screamed and tried to roll away. He jarred his wing in the process, and all of the relaxation that had accumulated disappeared in a flash.

The human cursed. “Damn it. I’m so sorry.” He fiddled with the device again, and the hot wind turned into a pleasantly warm breeze. “Are you okay?”

“It’s all right,” Moon said as he sat back down on the seat. “My skin is more sensitive to temperature than that of humans. You couldn’t have known.”

“What about your wing?” the human asked, shooting him a concerned look.

“It still hurts,” Moon admitted. “I think it’s broken. But it’ll heal on its own, given time.” Or at least, so Moon hoped. He didn’t have any healing abilities, so he couldn’t tell for sure. Moon needed to have faith that the injury to his wing wouldn’t impede the natural accelerated healing of the fae.

The human breathed an audible sigh of relief. “I see. Thank God.” Another pause. “So what’s your name? What do I call you?”

It was a simple enough question, but one that made Moon even more aware of all the rules he’d already broken. After a few seconds of hesitation, he threw caution to the wind and decided to trust his heart to the kind human. “Mooneyes,” he said, “but my friends call me Moon.”

“Mooneyes, huh?” the human repeated. “That’s a nice name. It suits you. I’m Deacon, by the way.”

The human offered Moon his hand, and Moon blinked in confusion before he remembered it was the way humans greeted each other. He hesitantly took it. The difference in their sizes made it so Moon could only grip one of Deacon’s fingers. Still, he shook that digit, respecting his rescuer’s customs. In turn, when he released Deacon’s hand, he sketched a bow, according to the manners of his kind. He couldn’t quite do it properly because his wing ached, but he managed just the same.

Or so he thought, until Deacon started chuckling. Moon stared up at the human, scowling. “What’s so amusing?”

“Nothing. It just occurred to me…. You’re kind of cute.”

Moon’s eyes widened at the comment, and he just sat there, dumbfounded. Meanwhile, still grinning, Deacon looked away and started the vehicle. Moon settled back in his seat and told himself the flaming of his face came as an effect of the hot wind.