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Winter Song

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With his love far away in a warring sea, Breakdown swore the winter went on forever. Even by March, the rivers were still clogged with ice and snow still fell every other day. It was a rough winter by all accounts, the only shining grace of it all being his new son. Yet he couldn’t even enjoy that at times. Rough waters meant fearful sailors and that meant he had plenty of extra work being asked of him. Truly he didn’t need the money even with the extra burden of a child but these were good people that he knew well and Breakdown couldn’t deny them protection. He’d been able to take his son on the short trips upstate, and around the shores but late February he’d been asked to go even further. One he couldn’t deny considering it came from the gang. The payoff for him Onslaught promised would be amazing, but the risks were far too great for Breakdown to dare tempt fate by bringing along his son. Onslaught offered him whatever he needed, the best nannies, bodyguards, extra payment, anything to give Breakdown peace of mind for his trip so he would go. Breakdown didn’t need any of it from the man despite his rage at first being given the assignment...at least he said he didn’t but as the time of his trip grew close Breakdown panicked. Already worked to the bone Breakdown had honestly thought he’d find an arrangement but instead, he just came home exhausted night after night.

Luckily Swindle saved him, him and Lady Windblade. Realizing he had no time for anything else Swindle less than happily showed up in the morning and took Wildbreak and Fang off to the meeting house for the morning. It wasn’t until about a week later when he received a hefty scroll from a seabird that Breakdown learned he’d taken him to the fae wilds. The news nearly gave him a heart attack till he saw the large stamp seal of Lady Windblade’s court. Three beautiful deep red and orange leaves encircled by gold brambles. Breakdown didn’t know how or why Swindle had thought to take his son there or that he was even comfortable with the situation…..but there was little he could do about it and the fae Lady had seemed truly nice. Breakdown just worried about the stories, fae seemed to have weird obsessions with children in them all. He spent the rest of the trip with frequent nightmares of returning home and never getting his young boy back, lost in the fae wilds for the rest of eternity searching for him in vain.

As February blustered into March and Breakdown’s ship finally landed home the young father braced the bitter winds as he rushed up the gray streets to Swindle’s apartment. Hopefully knowing Breakdown was meant to return home around the time the fae would be there instead of his fancier apartment in the city. He’d only been to either place once but being Swindle’s they held a sort of magic film around them so Breakdown had no trouble remembering which one was the fae’s. He had little restraint as he pounded on the lightly gilded black oak door, hollering on the man’s step like the world was ending.

“Swin! Swindle! Please for the love of the gods open this damn door! Swindle!” It took what felt like forever but Breakdown managed to pull himself back when he heard the creaking of distant stairs from inside. The door swung open and a shirtless exhausted looking Swindle waved limply at him.

“Welcome home back to our shithole, how was the trip?” Breakdown felt a little bad about bothering the man so early but this was more than important.

“Where’s my son?” Swindle sighed loudly as he retreated back into his home, leaving the door open for Breakdown to follow. “He’s still in faelands. Might be with the Lady or he might be with Lockdown. I suckered him into keeping a good eye on the little one for ya.” Again that didn’t make Breakdown feel better. Lockdown may have been close to Swindle but...he was some sort of monster fae, some ghoul that haunted the shadows! Still, he followed Swindle inside to the small kitchen.

“Swindle why did you take him there? When you said you were gonna take care of things for me I thought you were gonna go to Onslaught.” The fae turned and gave Breakdown a long look, then pat a spot on his table. Nervous Breakdown took a seat. “Swin?”

“I didn’t just take him there for no reason…..couple of reasons in fact. There were a few hits on our businesses, your place is fine but you know it started getting us worried an’ then,” Swindle paused again with a sigh and turned to tug his kettle off the shelf and toss it into the sink to fill up. “One day Starscream’s pounding on my door screaming for ya, swearing like it’s the goddamn end of the world! Turns out Knock Out and the rest of his team got ambushed and torn to shreds.With the rest of the healers in the deep sleep, there wasn’t a lot they could do. So Starscream wanted you to take him to a human doctor. I told him to take him to the woods. So what was supposed to just be a weekend visit turned into what we got now. I haven’t had the chance to even pop by so when we head over there we’re gonna both be surprised.”

Breakdown felt thorns climb into his throat at Swindle’s words. He couldn’t believe anything the man was saying. It was insane! It was impossible. “Th-that wasn’t in the letter I got.”

“Yeah well, maybe she was smart enough not to tell you that.”

“Or maybe you’re lying! You know more than you’re letting on Swindle!” Breakdown jumped from his seat, knocking it back roughly to the floor as Breakdown’s fists made too impressive dents in the thick wood of the table.

“WHAT WERE YA GONNA DO SWIM ALL THE WAY BACK? It wasn’t good alright, it didn’t look good the couple of times I went to make sure your kid was alright. No one’s sent me a letter telling me he’s dead though so there’s that!” Breakdown fell heavily to his knees. The burdens of his strange life all weighing him down. How had this happened? How had he let this happen?

“Where’s my dog?” Swindle scoffed as he slammed the kettle down on the burner of his oven lighting a fire under it with a snap of his fingers.

“He’s with the kid.” Crossing the sort distance Swindle took a seat, running a thin hand through his hair as he held his head. “I didn’t do that bad really. You wanted the kid safe and there ain’t no place safer than Lady Windblade’s court. The Lord there is a paranoid fuck so nothing gets in unless he wants it. Lockdown’s even worse. I know I didn’t talk him up too well but he’s got a protective streak that goes deeper than his bloodlust.” Swindle could still feel a dark foulness coming off the other man. He wasn’t all that surprised his words hadn’t done any good. A hot cup of coffee and scotch would though.

After a strong hot drink and a change of clothes, the two men were trampling up the snow covered hills into the deep woods far outside the town. Breakdown had taken Knockout to the very same ones a few times to hunt for mushrooms and visit the few waterfalls that were hidden away inside. He’d never expected them to hide any bigger secrets save for a few lost souls. Yet as he followed Swindle through the twist and turns of the hidden path they were soon flanked by an ornate wall of carved sticks that slowly grew thicker and more closed off till they formed more of a long hall. At the end was a high arch made of stone, white and stained red and dull blue-gray. It hummed faintly to him, whispering nothings and drawing him near. Swindle grabbed at his hand and pulled him back from it.

“The wilds are a big place. You gotta think about where you’re going. You wanna see Knock Out or your son first?” Breakdown stalled, unsure. He could get Wildbreak and they could go see Knockout together but if it was as bad as Swindle had said it was that might not be the best idea.

“Knockout. If he’s well enough we can go together.” Swindle nodded in agreement.

“To her Lady’s then. That’s on the Seelie side if you just think of her you should be good. We ain’t gonna get close but we’ll get close enough.” Swindle made it sound so easy, just think of the Windblade, but he had nothing to really go off of and the whispering from the arch was getting so loud. Telling him so roughly to go home, and here Breakdown thought the wilds fae liked company. So instead he just thought of Knockout, thoughts, and worries of the mer easily drowning out anything else. He was so terrified, so sick. What was he going to come across, what horrible state was he going to find his poor lover in? Breakdown had figured that would be enough but as Swindle went through the arch, pulling him along, the moment he crossed the threshold himself the fae was gone and Breakdown was in a misty wet wood all alone.

Despite being separated Breakdown wasn’t afraid. The place didn’t seem threatening just….sleepy. The sky was dim with thick clouds and the trees were so close together that Breakdown could barely see anything but them, their slick black wood shining like mirrors. “Well...that might’a been a shit mistake.” Kicking at the shimmering pale gray path Breakdown sighed and kept walking. Slowly the woods started to spread out around him the branches overhead forming a sort of ceiling that dripped with dangling flowers of all shapes and colors. It seemed peaceful and even more calming than before and smelled of foreign markets and expensive apothecaries.

In the distance surrounded by a cage was a deep pool, Breakdown spent far too long looking at the thing and anytime he tried to will himself away his feet always pulled him back around. Something inside begged for help, something inside begged to be set free. Breakdown told himself to run, knew something was wrong but still his fingers reached for his knife, his knife aiming for the large padlock made only from crystal and purple-gray wood. He could easily cut it off. He knew that he could. It was his nature. He was a man who got things done after all.

He didn’t quite find his senses till there was a tiny ginger man tackling him to the ground and pounding on his shoulders. Mind clear for the moment Breakdown just picked the strange up by his middle and held him away like an unruly child throwing a tantrum. “Hey! What was that for? I haven’t done anything to you.” The small halfling blinked before groaning.

“Hey, idiot human go back to wherever the pit you need to be! I don’t need your weak will setting calamity on my neck of the woods! How did you even get here? Humans never wind up here!”

Breakdown looked over to the cage where his knife was stuck in a thick branch of the lock. Funny, he was usually so good at not being fooled. “Calamity?”

“Yeah! Calamity! The slaughter of millions! The destruction of this entire oasis! So go!” Wriggling free the halfling dropped to the floor and plucked Breakdown’s knife free, tossing it threateningly at his feet.

Gods whoever he was he was a strong little thing. Rubbing at his wrists Breakdown tried to look further off into the distance to get a better idea of the place. It didn’t help much, the woods still far too thick. “Listen, I’m looking for someone. I came here on purpose. You got any Merfolk here?”

The halfling stalled a little stunned but took a stern doubtful stance. “What’s it to ya?” Humans were dumb they didn’t know the different fae courts and he wasn’t going to just help some human because of a lucky guess. Getting a batch of Mers was rare and the last thing First Aid was going to do was turn them into oddities for sick humans. First Aid watched the human stutter and turn red. Bingo. What a liar.

“I’m…we’re in relations of a sort. He’s my partner.”

“Unseelie fuckfriends don’t come looking for them. They’re usually too drugged out or dying to do anything. Consider this me doing you a favor, go back home and forget about whatever pretty fish you’ve happened to be entranced by while you’re still in good health.”

“Hey now! You don’t know anything about Knockout! Will this prove to you I’m not lying because I sure as hell ain’t leaving till I see him?! I got a strong feeling that he’s here and that you’re a little ass who I’m gonna punt off into the distance if you try to stop me!” Breakdown flashed the halfling his ring the sight of it clearly throwing him. The fae’s eyes slowly narrowed at him.

“Who are you? You’re not just some human.”

“I’m the guy whos gonna find a hollow tree to shove you in if you keep this up! Is this the place I wanna be or not?” The halfling pouted, puffed out cheeks on their thin face making them look like a terrifying rodent than a human.

“Fine, but I warned you.” The fae didn’t wait for Breakdown to get his knife but it wasn’t like he could walk that fast...or if he could he chose not to.

As they walked along the wide path the two passed more pools. Nearly all of them locked or covered in a shimmering film, Breakdown made sure to keep his distance from them not trusting his own resilience to fae will. Eventually, the halfling pushed him through a heavy black iron gate that he had to unlock and relock, the fae even casting a spell over the area before urging Breakdown onward. No wonder the creature had been so rude, it was pretty obvious he shouldn’t have been there.

After a long walk the halfling finally stopped at a large building and headed inside Breakdown made to follow but as he tried to get past the door some force all but rammed into him. It certainly sent him stumbling back a few inches, his arms flailing a bit as he caught his footing. The fae only smiled slyly and let the door shut behind him.

Confused and irritated Breakdown was about to do something stupid when a portly white satyr in bright red trousers caught his attention. He was at a pool sprinkling dark blue leaves over it. Breakdown slowly wandered over to him.

“H-hey? Can you help me? Can you tell me what this place is?” The satyr turned his icy blue eyes feeling as if they were staring right through him.

“You injured? Your master not play nice with ya?” Roughly dumping the rest of the leaves into the pool the satyr abandoned his bucket and sternly clip-clopped his way over. “I swear to the pit they’re supposed to have you marked! Who do you belong to?”

Breakdown was getting fed up by this. Maybe if he was a fucking crab right now these demons would actually take him seriously. “I don’t belong to anyone! I’m looking for a mer. I was following some little prick but he went into that building and I can’t get in! Can you help me or not?”

The satyr gave him a long hard look, just like the halfling had. “How d’you know we have merfolk here?” Breakdown ran his hand down his face, just trying to keep calm. He flashed his ring at the fae.

“I’m friends with Swindle. D’you know him?” The satyr rolled his eyes as he grumbled.

“Light forsaken bastard, gonna get me killed. You’re the human who asked for the blessing.” Breakdown nodded curtly, he wasn’t expecting much from fae being what they were and him being a stranger but he at least expected some of them to be normal. If this place was…., who even knew, some fae clinic then they why were they being so shady with it all! “Give me a second.” The satyr too headed off to the large main building Breakdown made to follow him but he pointed a firm digit at him. “You stay.”

Like a bitter child, Breakdown threw himself to the ground too frustrated to do much else. He certainly wasn’t proud of it but it at least felt good. He was tired, terrified, and sick and just lying in the soft grass was the smallest of comforts. Breakdown swore an hour went by before someone finally came out of the building. A tall tiefling woman with long white hair done up in a fanciful mess. She moved elegantly and swift as she kneeled down next to Breakdown and placed a clawed hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry for the frustrations Mr. Dent. We were expecting you with your companion but I just got word from the Lady that you two were separated. We must take precautions I’m afraid humans have grown so smart over the years. Not everyone is always who they seem at first glance as I’m sure you can understand.” Breakdown sat up with a groan and a huff.

“I didn’t expect you to know or care who I was but I figured Knockout could’a at least been the judge on if he wanted to see me or not. Who do you think is gonna try and run around as me just to hurt him? I’m nobody.”

“Well that may be and I couldn’t tell you Mr. Dent but we have orders from Lord Megatron’s command to keep a good eye on his fae while they heal. Not only that but because of them warring themselves to near extinction merfolk are rather rare. Even other fae have taken to turning them into pets or decorations because of it. Privately…. breeding them. Your partner is quite beautiful and Swindle is a merchant of many dealings. I do not know how well you should trust him.” Breakdown waved her concerns away.

 

“Ah, I guess you know Swindle better than I thought. He couldn’t cross me and get away with it though, not without risking everything he’s got. ‘Sides I know he actually enjoys Knockout’s company too much to do anything. Can’t promise about the other mers though so…...no hard feelings I suppose. Can I see him now?” The tiefling nodded solemnly, standing smoothly she held out her hand to help Breakdown up. As he took it a flood of dread chilled him to the bone, not coming from her pre say just the sudden reminder of why he was there in the first place. Knockout had been injured he might be dying in there. The fae healer hadn’t told him much of anything to ease his nerves. “I-i-s he alright?” The fae smiled weakly at him.

“He’s alive. All fae of the summer waters are brutal and bloodthirsty as they are beautiful. Even the gentle ones have a seed of madness thanks to the war. It’s hard to imagine a right or wrong side and being of both courts I aim to weigh in as little as I can on our cousins' civil war. Their Seelie are not like us. They are truly deserving of all their stories, all their warnings.”

“So it’s bad?” Breakdown walked in time behind her as they once again headed back to the large main building. It was an awkward time, unlike the satyr she was elegant but...slower than Breakdown would imagine her being with such long legs. At least the Satyr seemed in a hurry.

“Yes. However not nearly bad enough. With most of their lineage from darkwater, the Unseelie are vicious and unimaginably tough to kill. He may have earned himself a few new scars but they will be nothing but trophies should he choose to return to battle. They may even fade away to nothing in a short time.” As they reached the door Breakdown again felt the wall of energy blocking his entrance. This time he stopped before being thrown back. The fae looked back at him. “Are you carrying any iron on you Mr.Dent?” Breakdown’s thoughts turned to his pockets. His steel blade, the specific dusters Swindle demanded he carry, his small bag of coin. They likely all contained the stuff. He made sure his thoughts didn’t show on his face.

“No.” He’d give up the things if he truly needed to but he certainly didn’t want to just toss his belongings. The healer just hummed quizzically.

“You must have more of it in your blood than most humans then.” Waving her hand over the door a bright orange film suddenly appeared then split open before Breakdown’s eyes. Well...he felt a little dumb. Of course, they would have some sort of protection. Breakdown….never really thought about iron though. Sure he knew from lore that fae folk didn’t like it but being around the docks and boats and machines Knock Out didn’t seem to mind. Even the ring he’d stolen was mostly iron even if it was copper plated. He never took that thing off. Breakdown had just chalked it up to fairy tales but now….he felt horrible. Had Knock Out been living in misery with him all that time? Sick and in pain? Part of him refused to believe it. Swindle did fine and despite a coughing fit whenever he tracked in dust from the machine shop he never complained and he complained when the other boys wore colored shirts he didn’t like. Maybe it was just worse for weak fae folk.

Following in a daze the two passed through a few different rooms. Front rooms with colorful chatting fae mixing potions and salves, quiet rooms filled with soft music and swings, halls and halls with more private hidden ones with thick heavy doors till they reached the end of one, standing guard a tall green glass door that was gilded in gold and copper. Just beyond it, Breakdown could see something that looked a lot like a public bath, just a large fancy pool. Like the strange pools with cages it too had a lock on it but this one the tiefling healer easily undid with a swipe of her fingers. She caught it before it could fall to the floor. “Hopefully Ratchet is already inside taking care of him.” Breakdown didn’t know how that was possible considering the door had been locked from the outside but he wasn’t going to doubt the healer.

Inside the portly satyr was indeed inside tending to the large pool. Looking closer Breakdown could see beneath the crystal clear waters was, in what looked like a comfy pile, about ten mers all asleep. Ratchet was prodding them apart gently with a broom. When he caught Breakdown staring he tried to laugh it off. “Damn things clump together like weeds. Can’t have them all piling on top of each other when they got wounds that could rip open.” For such vicious creature, it seemed like such a cute sleeping habit. It sure explained why Knockout liked sleeping right on the middle of his chest so much. He didn’t spot his mer as the slowly drifted apart.

Noticing the sorrow in his eyes, the tiefling grabbed at his hand and pulled him over to the corner of the room. “We took him out and put him in a viewing pool for you. We were even going to set him up in one outside to get him a little air but you surprised us Mr. Dent. He’ll be groggy I’m afraid but if you can get him lively you’re more than welcome to take him for a walk. Despite how bad he looks he’s past the worst of it. He’s got quite amazing regeneration. We just don’t get enough sun this time of year for them and spells make the room too hot.” As she cleared the top of the water of a thick woven blanket of poppies Breakdown saw firsthand what she was talking about. Knockout was so drab he looked like a pile of mud at the bottom of the water. Breakdown swore as he fell to his knees. Carefully he plunged his hands into the water and tugged Knock Out gently to the surface.

“Oh gods what did they do to him?!” Knock Out was covered in sickening black scars: encircling his arms, crisscrossing over his neck and shoulders, large black bores that went straight through his chest and deep furrows that looked like they had sliced clean through his tail. Breakdown kissed desperately at limp claws as he squeezed Knockout as close to him as could tears threatening to overwhelm him.

“Woven iron ropes and nets. Pikes and knives. Weapons they can get from humans. Healers of either side are too precious to kill so they’re captured and tortured till they comply. Sometimes they don’t ever comply so they leave them to die at sea. I told you Mr. Dent, not to let your human tales sway you. Here in the fae lands there is no good and evil there are only thoughts and wants and who has the power to make them happen.

Breakdown seethed through gritted teeth “I want to go the damn fuckers who did this and flay every last one of ‘em!” The healer placed a hand on his shoulder.

“That surely is your right. All you need is strength to get it done.” Breakdown’s voice caught in his throat. He buried his face in Knock Out’s neck and lined his skin with kisses. “I for one agree and think that is a much better idea. I must leave you now. Ratchet will be in here for a while so if you need him or myself just ask..” Not even thinking Breakdown just nodded, his throat too tight to speak and his frame still heaving with rage.

Without the spell from the blanket Knock Out slowly awoke from his drug-addled sleep. The feeling of strong familiar hands holding him making it easier. “ Mmhmm ‘s it fd time y’old goat?” Primus he hoped it was, he was starving. Whoever was there only laughed at him.Knock Out knew that laugh anywhere. Breakdown couldn’t help but smile with relief when the end of Knockout’s frilly tail fanned out and started slapping weakly against the ground. Vibrant splotches of color flaring to life in spots thanks to the mers excitement. “Breakdown~ How was your trip?”

“How was my trip? How was my trip?! Oh gods, you insane little monster!” clutching at Knock Out’s gaunt face Breakdown assaulted the mer with sloppy kisses wherever he could. Knock Out groaned groggily, clutching at the collar of Breakdown’s shirt, slowly returning whatever affection he could muster.

“What’s wrong?” Breakdown usually only said things like that to him in jest and exasperation. Usually when Knock Out failed to understand som nuance of human culture that he feared was going to get the mer in trouble.

“Y-you were almost killed, you look like death, and you’re asking about my trip across the coast? It doesn’t matter! Only you matter right now.”

“Mhmm. That’s stupid.” Despite what he said it was hard to ignore how the mer’s tail flapped just a little harder, his color returning all over ever so slightly.


 

Swindle eventually made his own way to the oasis. Outside sitting on a warm comfortable seat Breakdown and Knock Out watched him ride in a massive deep ruddy brown horse. Rearing the panting, snorting creature back to a halt with an expert’s hand. Knock Out clapped weakly as the dullahan dismounted and stormed over. “Use the whip, use the whip, use the whip!” Swindle cast off his blush with a weak snarl.

“Don’t you patronize me. You know I haven’t gone out on a real hunt in ages, but I should have! What in the fuck is wrong with you! I told you to go the palace!” His anger swiftly turning to Breakdown the man couldn’t hold the fae’s gaze for long.

“Sorry Swin. I hope I didn’t cause you much trouble.”

“Trouble my ass! You nearly killed me when I stepped through and found you absent! Nice to know it all worked out sweet and easy for you while I did all the runaround.” Swindle stopped himself before he could ruin his image further. He weakly motioned at Knock Out, his voice just clear of a stutter but only just.“You, look like shit by the way. I don’t even think a starving cat would take a sniff at you.” Knock Out did his best at a wink. Despite spending less time Knock Out knew the fae better. Concern was cute on Swindle.

“You’re honesty is appreciated if certainly unwanted. If I had the energy you’d have no face right now but I don’t.”Swindle laughed.

“Good. You two get the all clear? I got Lady Windblade to summon Lockdown so we don’t gotta make the trip. Don’t-eh Don’t worry I got another horse. The ruddy one is for you.” Breakdown looked around unsure. The healers said he could take Knockout for a walk, not a trip.

“I think I gotta ask about that. They seem real protective here.” Swindle scoffed as he looked around as well. Finding no one just like Breakdown.

“Well they fucking should. Starscream paid them in gold and pearls to fix his lot up. I’ll go get this settled.” Breakdown leaned back against his seat with a relieved grunt, Knock Out settled back against his chest, pressing his cold face gently to the underside of Breakdown’s teasingly.

“You alright?”Breakdown took a deep breath as pressed a kiss to Knock Out’s forehead, running his fingers through soft frills. They were already getting too dry. After another lingering kiss Breakdown brought Knock Out to the small pool.

“Just tired. Nervous. It’s been a long few months and things haven’t really gone where I wanted. You off at war had to leave Wildbreak in the hands of strangers, gangs getting hammered from all angles. I just feel like I let you down. I- I don’t know what to do but I just don’t want this to happen again.” Knock Out did a few small laps in his pool before returning to Breakdown’s side. Resting his head on the ledge on Breakdown’s arm.

“I wish I could tell you.”

They weren’t alone long before the tiefling healer came out, Swindle in tow. She didn’t say much just placed a thin gem-studded necklace around Knock Out’s neck and informed the pair that Knock Out would be expected back by sundown unless there was word from the Lady that he was staying with her. Under their protection, if he wasn’t he would be teleported back for his safety. Knock Out wasn’t fond of the coddling but Breakdown assured him, swayed him into considering his time at the oasis as a well-deserved break. Getting a good treatment of thick salve and cream that instantly faded his scars a shade and helped seal his skin for the trip certainly swayed him too.


 

Horse riding was a surprise for the both of them. Breakdown hadn’t raced since he was a younger man, with his mother when the caravans were parked for the week; when he was a jockey for the tracks. They were good memories but definitely fuzzy ones. Knock Out did not like the horse at all. It wasn’t surprising with his tail and sore arms he didn’t really have the stability so he ended up riding with Swindle. The Dullahan’s massive black and silver manned stallion like a racing void as it arrived for its calling master.

Breakdown had to admit it was a bit humorous watching the two, considering Knock Out was a fair bit taller than the other fae. What wasn’t was listening to the poor mer's screeching cries as they raced over the landscape. About halfway when Breakdown got the hang of things and Swindle was tired of all the tears he was getting in his nice shirt they switched Knock Out back over. His tense claws sinking right into the skin of Breakdown’s collar. Breakdown whispered warmly into his love’s back as he tried to calm his racing heart. “It’s alright Knockout I got ya.” That didn’t stop the claws or the slap of the mers now spiny tail at his back but at least the mer was more comfortable. Swindle while being the better rider didn’t really feel as safe as Breakdown’s massive arms around him.

“I-I’m alright. I’m alright. I- I’m sorry about being difficult. Legs would really be better for this.”

“It’s just your nerves. This would be scary for anyone their first time, these horses are massive. You can try again at the Lady’s when there’s no pressure. I wouldn’t mind carrying you if you were in perfect health.” Breakdown couldn’t help but smile at the cute humming whine that he got out of the mer, “I used to be really good at this when I was younger you know. Maybe I can get better and we can rent a pair and caravan. I can take you on a nice long trip. Across to the isle like we planned or...to the valley lands. They’re beautiful in spring.”

“Well considering Megatron likely thinks I’m dead I think we could swing that. Starscream gave the healers all those riches though….so maybe not.”

“I’m sure after what you’ve been through you can get him to vouch for you for a little while.”

“Maybe.It sounds too much like a dream to be possible.” Breakdown kissed the top of Knock Out’s head and held his face in the soft frills for a time as he let his horse rest at a nice trot.

“Don’t let your sorrows get to you. You’ll lose what little color you’ve got left.”Knock Out slapped at him lightly for his teasing but settled against the man’s chest with a new ease. It didn’t last long as Breakdown brought the horse back up to a speeding gallop to catch up pace with Swindle.

They were almost at the Lady’s palace when a cold sense of foreboding came over Breakdown. The forest had gone silent and a chill had dropped in the wood. It wasn’t until it was too late that Breakdown heard the clattering of someone behind them. All at once Breakdown heard a triumphant shout then Swindle screaming as something lunged at him from the trees, seconds later a large chariot pulled by a team of five impossibly massive black hounds forced Breakdown’s horse off the slim path and nearly down a steep slope to a waiting river. If his horse wasn’t much more familiar with the land than he was they would surely be soaked and bruised. As soon as he recovered Breakdown quickly jumped off, knife already free from his pocket. He sent it flying and it struck home in the massive creatures neck but whoever had attacked them was utterly unfazed. Rushing forward to help his friend Breakdown was suddenly stalled by the sound of soft deep whispers and overdramatic smooches. Swindle was lying limply in the creature’s grasp taking it all, an unamused frown on his face.

“Did you really need to hunt me down Lockdown? Did you really! I’m escorting precious cargo here you idiot!” Lockdown stalled in his kisses, looking back revealed a face with empty sockets that were half rotted away and half taut gray skin and a crazed smile.

“Oops.” Getting to his feet with a swift easy motion Lockdown stood at his full height and planted Swindle on his shoulder. Plucking the knife free from his neck he handed it back to Breakdown. “Good knife that is. That’ll surely leave a mark on me for at least a week. Where’s the fish? Are they as wild as I’ve dreamed.” Lockdown had the tone of a man who knew what he was and what he was doing at all times. Deep and confident and yet without any airs. A monster who had seen too much and took pride in it. Breakdown couldn’t help but retreat back to Knock Out at his comment though. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect he wanted. Lockdown’s gaze followed Breakdown’s path before he could even make it. A mystical green twinkle flashed in his hollows as he took in the sight of Knock Out on top the horse, his fins flared out in full display and sharp fangs bared and dripping. “Oh now if that isn’t a sight. What you wouldn’t look like mounted on my wall.”, barely moving he looked at Breakdown,“What a hunter you must be to have captured him with words alone.” Swindle promptly kicked him roughly in the chest.

“Stop bein’ a creep! The healers put a tracker on him because of our reputation so who knows what they might do if that thing can hear us.”

Breakdown stiffened as the situation settled in on him.“Hey, Swindle where in the hell is my kid?” Another twinkle flashed in Lockdown’s sockets. He laughed deeply as he grabbed at Breakdown’s shoulders and dragged the man forward. Behind him, Breakdown could hear Knock Out hissing but this didn’t seem to ruin Lockdown’s mood.

“Stand here, wait. It’ll be worth it.” Confused Breakdown looked to Swindle who just shrugged his shoulders. So he waited. Lockdown whistled loudly. “Cry havoc child! I need your aid!” At his call the clattering of wheels filled the silent wood, a familiar barking followed. In a similar turn, Breakdown watched as Fang burst through the shadows of the trees and race past, a small chariot trailing behind him.”Now child, now! Take him down! Show him your strength tiny hunter!” Breakdown only a had a moment to work through that confusion before something landed on him with a tiny snarl and weak hands grappled him by his neck.

“Ragh!” All Breakdown needed was to take in was a flash of blue hair to know who his tiny assailant was. “Hi, daddy.” Weak hold turning to more of a hug Breakdown quickly embraced his child. “Did I do it right?” Lockdown was still laughing like an accomplished madman and despite the scare, Breakdown had to admit it was a little humorous. Still, it left him stunned. Breakdown had left Wildbreak barely a thing, stuck in nappies and waddling around their small apartment and now here he was talking and taking orders. Knock Out had warned him when they had gone out that their son would grow fast in the fae lands. That he wouldn’t be a normal child, but Breakdown hadn’t been listening. A little too caught up in the excitement. It was a bit sad knowing those important times went by him like the wind. What was he going to do with all of the supplies he just bought, what if his relationship with his son would never be the same, what would happen if Knock Out took him back to the wetlands? How much time would they really have together? Breakdown quickly pushed his racing thoughts away. They weren’t for right now.

“Good one kid. You having fun?” It felt strange talking to his child a bit, still expecting nothing more back than a happy burble or reaching hands. Wildbreak nodded happily into his shoulder.

“Tired.” Breakdown laughed as he ruffled Wildbreak’s now fluffy mess of hair.

“That makes three of us. You wanna say hi to your dad? You miss us?” Wildbreak nodded again, his tiny grip sure helping to get his feeling across. It eased Breakdown’s mind a bit. “Nice to know, we sure missed you.” Helping Knock Out off the horse Breakdown settled him and Wildbreak in the grass before taking a seat next to them. Knock Out was already chirping happily as he plastered his child with kisses.

“Oh, gods! Look at you! Already figured out your glamours! Your such a big pup now!” Exhausted from his trip and having spent his last burst of excitement Wildbreak was too overwhelmed to do much more than cling and smush his face against Knock Out’s in greeting but that certainly seemed enough for the mer.

“Yeah, no kidding. When you said he’d grow fast I didn’t think it would be this fast. I- heh- I should of listened to you. Guess I’ll have to call in another favor from Elita eh?” Knock Out leaned against Breakdown as the man put his arms around him.

“He would have grown slower if he’d stayed beyond the veils. I..when Swindle first met me at the oasis he told me Wildbreak was here, said he would be taking him back because things had calmed down. I...didn’t think I would make it so I told him to let him stay. I didn’t want to leave you alone with that….I... are you upset with me?”

“Can’t say I’m not a little disappointed….but I can’t say it was the wrong decision.” Knock Out nuzzled at Breakdown’s face. Breakdown reassuringly returned the gesture.

“Don’t be disappointed. He’s a halfling. No matter where he is now time will slow for him. Fae love children after all not bairns. You’ll have your time with him, love.”

“You fae just don’t like the hard part. ‘S why you're always dropping your children off on mortal mothers?” Breakdown’s teasing earned him a blush from the mer even though Breakdown knew full well merfolk weren’t fond of the practice. Still with that off his mind Breakdown was only left with worse worries on his mind. “You mean to tell me your Lord expects wee ones like this to fight for him? I don’t know if I like that. I’m liking letting you go less and less I don’t even want to think about sending the both of you off.” Knock Out shivered against him.

“Train certainly...but I don’t want him to go either...it’s our home but...maybe I need to move on.”

The two were interrupted by a deep “gwuff” as Fang stepped over both their laps and settled himself. Taking turn licking the two of them as his tail happily kicked up dust; Breakdown buried his face in the dog’s fur equally as happy to see him.

“Well look at the happy family. I told you, you can trust Lockdown. Swindle had abandoned his partner for the moment, letting Lockdown tend to his dogs as he made sure everything was alright. “I hope he didn’t put you off too much. He’s a loon but he lives alone in the fuckin’ woods so what do you expect.”

“I’ll get back to you on that later. He wasn’t being serious about that shit he said right?” Swindle swiftly tossed his gaze to the side.

“Well…..yeah he’s totally serious but he’s not an idiot. Besides he doesn’t go for easy prey. He wants to go to the actual wetlands and hunt down a mer because like I said he’s a lunatic but he’s my lunatic. You don’t gotta worry. Sorry if he taught your kid something weird though. He gets sort of attached ya know. Back in the day, he used to do a lot of training for Lady Airachnid’s guard. He definitely misses it no matter what he says.”

That was probably the only thing Breakdown wasn’t worried about. As much as he didn’t want to think about it, life with the gang had its dangers too.“What happened?”

Swindle sneered, “She found out he was training them how they could kill her and the Lord. Like, that’s an important thing! None of the other Unseelie Ladies or Lords cared! How else do you expect to be kept in line?! It was bull.”Breakdown nodded not surprised in the least. Dropping to a crouch Swindle looked up at Knock Out. “How about you, you fine? I don’t like sitting around in the woods no matter what side we’re on.”

 

“I’ll get back on the horse.” Swindle waved him off.

“Na,na, na. You three are gonna ride in Lockdown’s chariot. He’ll take the horse.” Wildbreak suddenly objected.

“I want dad to ride with me. My chariot.” The three paused in shock unsure what to say.

“I thought you were tired. You were telling Lockdown you wanted a nap.” Wildbreak just whined loudly. “Why don’t you just help your dads out in Lockdown’s ride?”

“I wanna do it! Lockdown promised!” Swindle just shrugged his shoulders, he couldn’t contest that. He’d have to leave it up to Breakdown and Knock Out.

He flicked his gaze up to the mer. “You think you can handle some dogs if your kid passes out?” Knock Out quickly looked to Breakdown who was trying not to laugh. It definitely sounded a little dangerous but the last thing either of the two wanted was to disappoint their child right away.

Breakdown rubbed the back of his head sheepishly as Wildbreak started looking lively again. “Are you sure you don’t want to help me, kid. You and your dad have been through a lot.” WIldbreak nodded confidently as he tried to stand and get out of Knock Out’s lap.

“I can do it, daddy.” Free, he grabbed at Knock Out’s hand and gently tugged him. Knock Out still didn’t look sure.

“Oh, baby I don’t know.” Breakdown rubbed at Knock Out’s shoulder as he tugged at the back of Wildbreak’s little harem pants to get his attention.

“I think your dad’s a little scared. Maybe you could give him a little ride when we get to the palace instead.”

Wildbreak shook his head and pat Knock Out gently on his tail.“Don’t be scared dad, it’s fun.” Then went back to his tugging.

With a sigh Knock Out caved and gave Breakdown a small nod. As Breakdown situated Knock Out in Wildbreak’s tiny chariot Lockdown hooked up two of his own massive hounds, letting Fang rest happily on the back of the bigger cart. With his tail tucked in safe and sound and Wildbreak standing with the reins Breakdown gave the two a long hug, his voice dropping to a whisper as he gave Knock Out a kiss. “I’ll be right behind you on the path. Everything’s gonna be okay.”

Aside from a sore butt, everything was okay. For being so young Wildbreak was an amazingly adapt little charioteer and despite taking a few improvised detours off the path scaring Knock Out to death he had no reason do to worry. At the last stretch though Wildbreak did falter a bit, after the hours already on his feet he was sore and tired so Knock Out helped prop him up so he could sit on his tail and made sure to take the reins every time his little one would yawn and rub at his eyes for too long.

Breakdown didn’t ride according to plan either. Without having to worry about Knock Out Swindle had been taunting the man into a race, a taunt which Breakdown eventually fell for. The man was quite the rider and with a horse that was built to handle him the two were zig-zagging between trees and jumping over rivers and ridges like they were putting on a show.

As they passed into Lady Windblade’s private woods Wildbreak had fallen asleep and was warmly nestled against Knock Out’s chest. The group had slowed to a trot as they passed through gate after gate. In the distance, two massive creatures caught everyone’s attention.

Breakdown and Swindle both brought up their horses to flank Knock Out just in case.“What in the world are they Swin?”

Swindle’s gaze swept over the scene before returning to Breakdown.“Victorion and Devastator.Titans. Amalgamations of past Royal guards’ souls after they died in battle. They were an Unseelie creation but that didn’t last long. Even Devastator used to be one of ours but they followed Lord Prowl over after the last tithe. Pretty cool huh?”

“What do they do?” Swindle laughed under his breath.

“Smash the shit outta stuff. Mostly each other. That was back during our own wars. Now they’re just guards. They’re nice fae if you don’t mind cryptic weirdos.”


 

At the palace, Lady Windblade was out waiting for them with her entourage. It was strange to see her dressed so plainly in a pair of black suede trousers and red wrap shirt, barefoot with wings pinned back as she ran towards them. “Mr. Dent!” She threw her arms around him warmly as soon as he dismounted his horse. Breakdown tried not to act too surprised. She seemed very friendly at the blessing but Breakdown had figured she was just drunk.

“Uh….hey your..um ladyship?” Breakdown didn’t know how to feel with all of her other maidens staring at him.

“I’m sorry to have you over like this but please, let’s go in, let’s talk and be merry!” Breakdown watched as she ran off towards Knock Out’s cart. He had to hide his smile as the mer squeaked when the Lady plucked him from the cart and pulled him and Wildbreak into a tight hug, her thoughts leaving her mouth a mile a minute.

They ended up spending some time at the palace under Lady Windblade's pleading request. Breakdown sure didn’t mind especially considering she’d called Red Alert from the oasis to personally take care of Knock Out while he was there. With the tiefling's skills and the calm environment, the mer was looking better every day. With Onslaught happy to cover him thanks to a job well done with the shipments Breakdown was free of his worries. Just enjoying the strange land and time with the ones he loved.

Knock Out had finally healed enough to take his skirts off so they were taking a nice long morning walk for the occasion. While Wildbreak had nothing but boundless energy as he ran from spot to spot picking them flowers and shiny almost gem-like stones Knock Out needed frequent breaks. His legs getting sore rather quickly. Breakdown was carrying him up a small hill so they could stop and enjoy the light meal one of Windblade’s staff had sent them off with. Breakdown knew he shouldn’t but he almost felt a little bad for the Lady. She orchestrated so many outings for them, chatted with them from dawn till dusk, prepared them fancy meals, showered them in luxuries and fine clothes. Breakdown just didn’t understand it. So it felt so rude to leave her behind on anything. Luckily she had been dealing with a matter and he was certainly allowed to have private time with his partner and child but it still felt rude after everything.

Knock Out suddenly interrupted his thoughts. “How do you feel about this place Breakdown? Answer me honestly.” Knock Out’s tone threw Breakdown for a moment, he sounded so somber, so serious.

“It’s...uh nice. The Lady is a little strange but she’s been more than welcoming and I’m glad you have a place to heal up that’s better for you. I know you like our apartment but….I never thought how bad the city was for you.” Knock Out laughed softly as he idly curled a strand of Breakdown’s hair. It was so long now that he kept it tied back in a messy ponytail.

“Those of us who like to wander have gotten used to it. As for the Lady...it’s quite obvious she loves you.” Knock Out felt Breakdown’s laugh before he heard it.

“Does that make you jealous?”

“She doesn’t love you like that. She loves you like she loves her favorite color, her favorite day, her nicest memory. She wants to bottle you and keep you safe forever. At first, I thought it was because the rumors Swindle told me about her. That like the new Seelie Lord of the Wetlands she’s a changeling. Half human, half fae by whatever standards. Human turned fae even because a long time ago when the old fae Lady died the land called her and she answered. She misses humans so she wants to hold onto you..just like she does the other humans that have wandered here. It’s why she keeps a list of them. She keeps them safe as they pay back whatever debts they’ve incurred. Now I think it’s something more.”

“Why do you say that? Breakdown could just see the top of the hill, his eyes quickly found his son lying on the sloping grass as he tried to give a strange colorful bird an acorn.

“The Lord spoke to me privately one night. Has he talked to you?” Breakdown thought of the brooding strix. His gaunt eyes ever watchful over his home.

“No. What did he want.”

“He wanted me to stay. Here. Forever. The wetlands were not always separated as they are now. We were closed off. Abandoned to our own madness. Our Seelie were not always “nice”. They were vain and cruel elitists. We were seen as feral vicious beasts only fit to be dogs of war when the humans got too out of control. We were beneath them, served them, till Megatron. He rebelled. He freed us from the dark waters. Helped us rise up. Somewhere along the line, we all went mad. Even as the Seelie lost more and more of their kind that made them such, even as they tried to compromise, to have peace. After so long being used and slaughtered for their gain, their entertainment even….we held no trust for any of their words and Megatron rallied for their total destruction as our only means to ever be truly free from their oppression. So the new generations of Seelie grew up seeing us as their forebearers warned, feral vicious monsters. Since back then the wilds Seelie thought us right and the Unseelie thought them, things grew snippy till their own war broke out. In a means to stop it, they cut us off like a dying limb...but not really. They kept slight contact. There are certain things that can only be found in the wetlands. Luxuries of course. So there were representatives. The one the Seelie court had has just died a few months ago. Lord Prowl asked me if I wanted to take his place. Said he’d write me a convincing story to Lord Megatron. Say that Starscream brought me here to save me, say that because of my wounds I am now crippled and unfit for battle and that, of course, he wants me to continue to serve old agreements. Would you want that Breakdown? Would you want me to stay here?”

“I-” Breakdown was too stunned for words, it took him time to find the right ones. “This place does seem a lot nicer...I wouldn’t worry about you so much...we could be together more….Wildbreak could have both sides of his life here...but…..I get the feeling that you wouldn’t be asking me like this if it was something you wanted.”

Knock Out had his face buried in Breakdown’s chest, his claws gripped so tight Breakdown could feel the blood slowly slipping down the pinpoint wounds they caused. “I….heh- Is it selfish to say I’ll miss my tower? I don’t know what will happen to my friends, the other healers. They’re all more invested in the war than I am. I’ll be abandoning them. I still want to say yes. I don’t know which is more selfish. Serving my kind….or you and Wildbreak.”

Breakdown held Knock Out close, running his fingers through his choppy hair. “You wanna know my feelings on it?” He felt Knock Out nod. “Fuck the bastards love. They left you to die. At least here….you’ll be alive for the fae that need you. They can rely on you to always be here, you may even be able to get these fucks to give half a thought about you again, and we can finally have what we want. Is that still what you want? To be with me?”

“More than anything.”

“Then….if it’s a push you need...I’ll tell Windblade to start making you a nice lake and send Swindle to get your things.”


 

It took another two weeks to get Knock Out to an acceptable condition but while he was healing Lord Prowl was already busy taking up his time the moment he told the Strix he’d stay. Wanting to know everything he didn’t about the wetlands, the war, and those fighting it. Breakdown had to return to the city leaving his partner and child to a new land full of strangers. Spring would be over soon hiding the veil but Windblade had promised him a way around it. So he didn’t worry.

The months continued to slip by from spring to summer all the days busy, a nightly letter reaching him every day he couldn’t make it over. One day the letter came with a package, a fine pocket watch. Breakdown was almost embarrassed to admit it took him asking Swindle to figure it out. The fae’s look of stunned jealousy more than made up for it. Some nights Breakdown would make the long trek to the fae lands every night just to get a few hours of their company but most of the time he’d find Knock Out and Wildbreak in their bed, the smell of warm food still lingering in the kitchen. He’d always wake Knock Out up by accident, no matter how quiet he was or how tired the mer. Stay up far past what they should and whisper sweet nothings to each other so not to disturb their snoring child. Some days Knock Out would leave Wildbreak. Breakdown would wake up as early as he could, make the two of them a good breakfast and then head down to the docks. His boys had their suspicions before but even with Wildbreak coming home a toddler when he’d just been a babe they said nothing and treated him no different. Giving the boy small bags of wild rice or soft piles of linens to carry when he demanded to help. Spending the rest of the days with Fang when he tuckered himself out. He brought a brightness to the Docks like Knock Out had, indescribable and yet so familiar.

By late summer Breakdown had gone to Onslaught and wrote to Lady Windblade and had blocked off two and a half weeks for the both of them. He surprised Knock Out with the news that night and with a perfectly stocked caravan and two silvery draft horses. The valley lands were just as pretty as they were in the spring. The river keeping the days cool, and the lingering sun the nights warm. Festivals and traveling merchants dotted the more public roads and small cities. It was a dream seeing his son run around with the other excited children, sticky from sweets, and exhausted from his games. In the nights they’d build fires and eat whatever Breakdown could stew. The memories of his old childhood rushing him in those quiet moments and making him tear up. He hadn’t known how much he truly wanted this till it was right in front of him.

Some mornings Breakdown would find his family in the deep river that ran through their camp. Private and clean the two mers could forgo their guises and enjoy the cool refreshing waters. Breakdown loved watching them, Knock Out racing along with the currents, teaching Wildbreak to hunt and dive for huge purplish gray crayfish, fat opal salmon, and lighting fast furry eel. Most of the time he’d join them but there were times when he got caught up in the peace of it all...the sorrows too. Not all of Knock Out’s scars had faded so well. The ones on his arms were still prominent, streaking greyish red against his beautiful slick crimson and even the ones that were healed left invisible marks. Tripping Knockout when he stepped the wrong way or sending sharp pain through his body if he twisted too sharply. Red Alert had promised those too would heal in time but….Breakdown hated seeing Knock Out fight back tears when he fell halfway through racing with his son, or beg Wildbreak to stay in bed with them for just a few more minutes because his hips were too sore for him to move.

Luckily they had the peace of mind that Wildbreak could run around by himself or for that morning go roast his dads some wild plums, corn, and toast for their breakfast. Breakdown planned to get out there long before the boy got to the fire part but he could certainly skewer some plumbs and corn by himself. Pulling Knock Out close he buried his fingers in his love's untidy mess of bed hair and rubbed circles into his sore hip, kissing newly tan shoulders to distract his partner from the pain.

“What should we do today hun, what would you like?” Knock Out just groaned into Breakdown’s chest. He’d gotten the Mer started on coffee thanks to their late days and now it was a vice to the two of them. “A warm drink? Maybe I’ll go to the shops and get us a sweet ale? I can take some bedding from the caravan and set you by the fire, Take Wildbreak with me and find you a nice gift. They have a bathhouse. We can go later in the night, take Wildbreak to watch the play.”

“As long as it’s not dirty. I already had to come up with some clever explanations for the few jokes they dropped in the plays meant for young ones so I can’t imagine what they put on at night. Knock Out felt Breakdown laugh, he’d certainly found it a lot more amusing than Knock Out had.

“Got it. Can I buy you something naughty though?” sliding his hand down Breakdown firmly groped Knock Out’s bare bum. “There are some very unique merchants here at night?” Breakdown swore he could feel Knock Out’s face heat up, he certainly felt the shiver in the mer’s spine.

“Enjoying this life, are you? Now that you’ve finally domesticated me?” The first time Knock Out had teased like that Breakdown had worried all day, feeling guilty and selfish that he really had swayed the mer into doing something he hated. He knew better now.

“Yup. I can’t remember a time I’ve been happier in fact.” Knock Out lazily rested his head on Breakdown’s shoulder as he twirled Breakdown’s hair loosely around his fingers.

“Good.’ The two of them had started off as such wild creatures when they met and Knock Out worried every day that one of them would falter and miss their freedom, but that day refused to come for them.

Breakdown quietly returned the question,“Are you happy like this?”

“It’s a life I never imagined, now I can’t imagine it being taken from me.” Breakdown hummed softly in agreement as he placed a soft kiss to Knock Out’s temple.

The two had no idea how they had come to live in such a fairy tale but both of them knew that they never wanted the story to end.