"So what do you think?"
Nathan hates that question. When Audrey asks that question as a detective, then he knows that she's really asking what he thinks, but when she asks that question as his girlfriend (he wants a better word that sounds less like they're in high school), she seems to expect some mind-reading trick where he perfectly reflects back at her what she's really thinking. Worse yet, it's clothing-related; she's trying to find a last-minute Hallowe'en costume at a costume store for a party Duke's throwing tonight at the Grey Gull.
"Earth to Nathan? What do you think?"
Nathan looks over at Audrey, who has donned a "Faerie Princess" costume. He starts to respond but realizes after a moment that he's not successfully making words come out of his mouth, although he's pretty sure the expression on his face speaks for itself. He stops, clears his throat, and makes a concerted effort to speak coherently.
"Won't you be cold in that?" It's true; the ephemeral costume of green silk leaves and gossamer wings leaves most of Audrey's arms and legs bare, and Nathan doesn't imagine that the sheer stockings provide much warmth.
Audrey grins mischievously. "Probably. You'll just have to warm me up then." And Nathan is back to not remembering how the English language works.
Nathan adds a headband sprouting glittering alien antennae to Audrey's purchase as she gives the shopkeeper her credit card for her enchanted wardrobe. "Nathan, that is not a costume," Audrey looks at him accusingly.
"I'm not really a costume kind of guy," Nathan informs her. "Besides, you're wearing little enough costume for both of us."
Audrey exaggerates a frown as she finishes paying for their costumes. "But you'd be so pretty as a cowboy or a gladiator." She reaches up to cup Nathan's cheek as though she's picturing him in a cowboy hat.
At her touch, Nathan almost changes his mind. For that touch ... no, for the woman behind that touch, he's willing to make a fool of himself. If it's important to her ...
But Audrey twirls around, grabs the bag with her street clothes, and starts heading for the door. "Come on, my favorite Martian. We skipped lunch, and I want to make it to the Gull for dinner before the kitchen closes and Duke's party starts."
"You know that you live upstairs from the Gull, right? You have your own kitchen," Nathan reminds Audrey as he trails after her.
"Do you want ketchup sandwiches for dinner?" Audrey asks, the bell above the door jingling cheerily as they leave the costume shop.
* * *
"Ahoy, me hearties!" Nathan doesn't even need to turn around in his seat at the dinner table to know what Duke is dressed as. "Audrey, you look ... fetching. Actually, you look really hot."
"Why, thank you, Duke." Audrey smiles as Duke appears at their table in full pirate regalia, more Errol Flynn than Johnny Depp.
"Are you sure you don't —" Duke starts.
"No, I don't want to. Yes, I'm sure. No, I won't reconsider." Audrey interrupts.
"You don't even know what I was going to ask!" Duke objects.
"Am I wrong?"
Duke considers it. "Insightful wench," he admits. He turns his attention to Nathan. "Nice costume."
The antennae are on the table. Nathan doesn't want to put them on until he has to. He closes his eyes and sighs. "Duke ..." He's not going to let Duke get to him.
Duke grins, apparently counting Nathan's reaction as a victory. "They say that every Hallowe'en night, when the curtains between our world and the world of faeries and ancient magic are opened, then those closest to the magical lands are drawn to the costumes that best personify their wearer. Or, at least, that's what that guy says." Duke points to a short man at the bar with a pointed mustache and goatee, dressed like a jester in some medieval court. "And you have always seemed pretty alien to me."
"At least you don't have those crazy contests where people dress their pets up in Hallowe'en costumes." Audrey remarks. "Because what would that costume personality profile mean for a dachshund dressed as hot dog?"
"No, we don't have them anymore," Duke agrees.
"What, you mean you had them and you stopped? People couldn't take cats dressed as Cinderella or pugs dressed as fire hydrants?"
"You didn't tell her," Duke observes, looking at Nathan.
"Of course not! I don't want Audrey to think she's completely surrounded by crazy people," Nathan replies.
Audrey looks between Nathan and Duke. "Too late. Why did you stop the costumed pet contest?"
"Dore Anderson," Duke responds, while Nathan simultaneously says "Maisie Wallace." Duke raises an eyebrow at Nathan. "Maisie? Really? You think Maisie's crazier than Dore?"
"She made a cat costume," Nathan says, as though that explains everything.
"What's wrong with a cat costume? Other than, you know, dressing your cat up in a costume," Audrey wonders.
"Maisie didn't dress her cat up in a costume. She was allergic to cats. So she dressed her rooster up in a costume to make it look like a cat," Nathan clarifies.
Audrey blinks, several times in succession. "Really? How ... on second thought, I don't want to know."
"It was actually quite cuddly," Duke observes. "Unlike Dore's fish costumes."
Audrey closes her eyes in mock pain. "Please tell me you're not saying ..."
"Half a dozen sea bass in an aquarium, each with a unique costume. One was a ballerina," Duke says in a cheerful "placate the crazy person" tone.
"I'm not even ... I don't know what to say to something like that," Audrey replies.
"Neither did anyone else. And now you know why we stopped having pet costume contests," Nathan concludes as Duke nods.
"Well, kids, I've got a Hallowe'en party to start. Make sure you leave a good tip for Sharon. I don't pay her enough," Duke tells them as he wanders off in the direction of the kitchen.
* * *
Nathan catches Audrey's eye before stepping out onto the balcony, hoping for a respite from the noise and the crowd. She recognizes his exit with a glance and a brief smile, just for him, before continuing a friendly argument that, while Nathan can't make out the details over the din, apparently involves adamantly shaking her glitter-covered wand to make a point.
The air smells sharp and salty. Seeing the way that his breath immediately fogs up when he exhales, Nathan guesses that it's pretty cold, so he's not surprised that there's only one other person out here, a woman in an elaborate old-fashioned gown sitting by the railing. She's beautiful and elegant, and Nathan's hard pressed to put an age to her. She gestures to the seat across from her and nods graciously when he accepts her wordless invitation.
"It's quite a party," Nathan says politely.
The woman looks mildly surprised. "Is it? It seemed fairly dull to me. But festivities are much wilder in my realm."
"Where are you from?"
"Not far. And yet, compared to Haven, it's a completely different world. I would not have chosen to come here myself, and yet, my daughter has made this town her special refuge away from her own people. She's fallen in love, you see, and I came here to ... how should I put this?"
"To make sure that he's good enough for her?" Nathan offers.
"Yes, precisely. There are so many questions I wish to ask of him. The same sort of questions I'm sure that young woman's mother might ask of you given the opportunity."
Nathan looks in through the windows as Audrey says something that has Duke shaking his head and raising his hands in protest. "She doesn't have a mother."
"Everyone has a mother, dear boy."
"What kind of questions will you ask him? What would you ask me if you were Audrey's mother?"
"I would start by asking if you love her."
"Is it the love of ages? Or will you be in love with someone else next summer, both of you forgetting the other like yesterday's supper?"
"I can't speak for Audrey." Nathan hesitates, choosing his words carefully. "But this feels real to me. Right now we're just taking things one day at a time. We haven't really talked about the future yet. But I don't think I could ever feel this way about anyone else, and I think what we have will be ... more than it is now."
"If that happens, will you love her if happenstance leaves her unsound of mind or body? Will you care for her, stay by her side when you could be out finding some suitable replacement?"
"Nobody could replace Audrey, no matter what happens to her."
"What if you find that she is descended from monsters?"
"Then we'd have one more thing in common."
The woman smiles, apparently pleased with his answer. She pauses a moment, apparently thinking about her next question. "Would you stand by her if you got her with child? Would you stand by her if she proved to be barren?"
"Life ... that kind of thing never goes the way you think it will. But a family's a family, even if it's only two people or you find out you were adopted. Having kids of your own just makes it a little more interesting." Nathan pauses. "I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I'm not usually known for oversharing."
Nathan's interrogator smiles. "That's my doing. I have a knack for getting people to tell me the truth about what I need to know. Just a little glamour in the way I ask. I must say, your answers speak well of you."
"Thank you?" Nathan's not quite sure how to take that.
The door to the deck opens, and Audrey steps outside, shivering as she closes the door behind her. "Nathan! It's freezing out here!"
"And much quieter," Nathan counters.
"I'm pretty much partied out. I was thinking we could say our goodbyes and you could take me home. If your friend doesn't mind," she sits on the arm of Nathan's chair, cheerfully acknowledging the other woman.
"I must be away soon myself," the regal woman declares. "It would not do to be here when the bridge closes. That would be most inconvenient. However, I've accomplished what I came here to do."
"Did you enjoy your stay in Haven? Nathan make a good impression?"
"You've chosen your consort well, my dear," Nathan's companion tells Audrey, giving her a smile with just a hint of sadness. "So I shall grant you your wish."
"I didn't know I had one," Audrey responds, puzzled.
"When this night is over, you shall be a fairy princess ..." and the woman gestures at Audrey's costume, "... no longer. You shall grow old and die the way ordinary mortals do. The only part of your royal heritage that you shall retain is your immunity to magick. That, at least, I can give you." The woman draws Audrey forward, and kisses her on the forehead.
"Who are you?" Audrey asks.
"You know who I am, my child," the woman responds kindly. "And now, I think it's best if you invite me to your wedding now. You may not remember me later."
"But we're not getting married!" Audrey tells her.
"I suspect you will in time. And I do want to be there. Invitations have more power than you know."
Nathan rests a hand on Audrey's knee. "I don't mind."
"Okay, then, if we ever get married, you're invited," Audrey tells the woman, smiling as though it's a joke of some sort.
"I'll take your word at that. And now, I must take my leave. The curtain between the worlds begins to fade, and I shall away to home before mischief decides to play games with me. Live well, my children," she tells Audrey and Nathan, and then she rises and moves in the direction of the parking lot, or possibly someplace much further than that.
Not too much later, Duke appears from inside. "Who was that you were talking to?" he asks, looking around. But it's only the three of them on the patio.
Nathan shakes his head briefly, as if to dislodge the cobwebs that suddenly appeared there. "Nobody out here but us. Not that I remember ..." He shakes his head again, feeling like he's missing something.
"I thought I saw someone. Must have been a reflection in the mirror. I was looking for Sharon; I can't find where she put the extra eyeballs she made for the snack table," Duke explains.
"I saw her sneaking off with Zeke Austin before I came out here," Nathan offers.
Duke sighs, shaking his head as he heads back inside.
"Brrrrr!" Audrey hugs herself with an exaggerated shiver. "Nathan, if you take me home, I'll let you help me get out of this costume and into a warm bed."
And without another thought about the events of the evening, Nathan does exactly that.
* * End * *