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An unexplored appreciation

Chapter Text

Three months after the events of “House of Earth and Blood”

Tristan Flynn wanted nothing more than to be anywhere other than his current location. His current location being, of course, the study of his father, Lord Hawthorne. Not that his father had a whole lot of use for the sumptuous array of books lining the walls. Lord Hawthorne did much of his research and learning at the bottom of a bottle of wine.

Tristan’s mind drifted as he considered his options. He could use his Earth magic to create a powerful earthquake that would shake the towering shelves of books in the room to the ground. He could send vines twisting through the foundations of the room pulling it apart from the bottom up. Or, he could open a mawing hole in the Earth itself and swallow the room and the surrounding villa whole. He even wished that he had his father’s Valbaran fire magic so he could simply torch the place.    

Instead, he stared at his feet like a child, scuffing his shoe against a carpet several millennia old, as his father tucked into both a bottle of wine and one of his favorite pastimes -- scheming.

“With so many of Lunathion’s factions decimated by recent events, it’s time for the Fae to resume their rightful place at the top of food chain,” began Lord Hawthorne steepling his hands about his wine glass. “The wolves, the strongest power in the city, were already mere shadows after what happened with Danika Fendyr and the Pack of Devils. And, after the gates opened...well, Moonwood is more like a Moontree now.” 

His father paused to laugh at his own joke. Tristan rolled his eyes at the floor.

“The Autumn King and I have spoken --”

Tristan looked up sharply at the mention of the Autumn King, because now he knew this was more than just the usual half-assed drunken grandiosities his father spouted. If the Autumn King was involved ...

Tristan’s stomach twisted.

“And, we sense there is an opportunity for the Fae,” continued Lord Hawthorne after another sip of wine. “Few know what actually transpired the night the gates opened, but the Asteri do … and so do we.”

Tristan couldn’t help but shudder at the mention of the powerful rulers of Midgard, who even though far away in the Eternal City, could -- with the merest absent thought -- end Tristan and his father’s existence where they stood before either could pass another breath.

“Even with the truth obscured, they will have a difficult time finding an Archangel willing to take on Lunathion after what happened with Micah and Sandriel. Especially with Hunt Athalar, who nearly rivals the Archangels in power, free from his bonds and roaming the City … with our princess.”

Tristan was still reeling from the events that occurred during the Summit three months ago. The knowledge that his best friend Ruhn Danaan’s cousin, Bryce Quinlan, was really the Autumn King’s only daughter, Starborn and a princess of the Fae. And, that her Ordeal and Drop into immortality the night the gates had opened had resulted in her being even more powerful than the father that had all but ignored her. Tristan already hated the Autumn King for how he treated Ruhn, but his blood screamed with rage at the thought of how his King had tossed aside and ignored his only daughter. His princess.

“As you can imagine, the Autumn King does not relish the idea of Bryce and ... that Malakim … together.” 

Cthona’s tits. Tristan knew where this was going.

“And, as the Fae look to solidify our standing and power in the city, it is important we present a united front. A union of the Autumn King’s only daughter and the future Lord Hawthorne would be the beginnings of an unrivaled dynasty,” Tristan’s father paused to take another sip of wine. “And, would further demonstrate that when it comes to Lunathian, the Asteri would be best served to let the Fae manage the city’s affairs. Of course, it would be better if Bryce was a full-blooded Fae instead of harboring that tainted human blood. But alas.””

Tristan swallowed the bile rising in his throat after his father’s display of bigotry. If he wasn’t horrified, he might be impressed by the scope of his father and the Autumn King’s scheming and the sheer balls and stupidity it took to devise a plan that hinged on him successfully wooing a female who had told him to “go fuck his little lordling self” as much as she said “hello” to him. The Autumn King and his father had come up to the line of treason against the Asteri and were teetering on its edge, drunk on the promise of power to come. 

“Has anyone bothered to ask Bryce about this plan?” Tristan knew the answer before he even asked the question, but he wanted to buy some time as his mind raced. If this topic had been broached with Bryce, the Five Roses neighborhood where they stood would have already been levelled to the ground by her rage.

Lord Hawthorne waved his hand dismissively.

“These are matters of state, boy.”

“You’d think that hitting 70 would at least mean you could stop referring to me as a ‘boy.’”

“Why don’t you put that smart mouth to work winning your princess from that angel scum.”

Tristan looked his father in the eye.

“You’ve never actually fucking met Bryce Quinlan, have you, Dad?”

Chapter Text

Bryce Quinlan sat at her kitchen counter, absently clicking her nails against the screen of her cell phone.

No messages from Hunt. No messages from Ruhn. No messages from Juniper. Definitely no messages from Fury. And, just a text message with two leg emojis and the sweat droplet emoji from the mer Tharion Ketos. Gross.

Her first thought was that she needed more friends. Her second thought was that she was bored out of her gods-damned mind. 

You would think that three months after the events of the Summit she would be busier than ... this. She had finally solved the murder of her best friend, got revenge on the killer -- who happened to be a powerful archangel, revealed her Starborn gift, made the Drop, saved the fucking city, told Hunt how she felt, let Ruhn back into her life and what did she get for all of that? Alone on a Friday night. Typical. 

She looked resignedly across the kitchen counter at Syrinx, who was busy cleaning his chimera bits. A rerun of a reality show blared in the background. Half-eaten take-out was strewn across the counter-top, abandoned.  

The phone vibrated. Her mother. Bryce wasn’t that desperate. Yet.

Hunt had left, mid-dinner, half-heartedly protesting all the while, to assist Isaiah Tiberian on some matter in the hopes of keeping the tenuous peace of the city. With no archangel sent to replace Micah, Isaiah, if not explicitly filling the role of governor, was certainly acting as sheriff. And, with the city’s factions jockeying for power, there was a restless energy coursing through Lunathion. Isaiah had found that nothing seemed to de-escalate tension better than the presence of Hunt Athalar, lightning contained in human form. 

However, Isaiah wasn’t asking Hunt to resume any of his previous assassin duties or resume the mantel that had earned him the nickname, the Shadow of Death. Isaiah was instead relying on the former general’s counsel, as well as Hunt’s connections throughout the city. Contributing in this way gave Hunt a sense of pride and Bryce could see his self-worth, long reduced to just a kernel buried so deep and for so long out of self-preservation, unfurling and reaching for the light. Hunt was again appreciated for more than his brutal effectiveness at killing and able to use his considerable power, or at least the threat of it, to protect those that were weaker, valued as Shahar had once valued him. Bryce grabbed Hunt’s unfinished glass of wine and gulped it down, trying to avoid falling down that mental rabbit hole. Hunt may be sharing her apartment, sharing her bed, but why pick at the scab when the wound was so freshly healed? 

Bryce turned her thoughts to her brother, Ruhn. Ruhn was on Aux duty tonight. One of Isaiah’s first adjustments had been to disband the Aux divisions that had long been organized as either strictly fae or strictly shifter units and integrate the different groups. Now, Ruhn headed an Aux division with shifters, malakim and even witches training and fighting alongside the fae. While the Autumn King and Sabine Fendyr had raged at the idea, Ruhn had confessed to Bryce and Hunt that the potential benefit of creating some sort of coalition between the groups far outweighed any pains of adjustment.

“It feels like the beginning of a new Lunathian,” said Ruhn.

When Ruhn had told them, Bryce could see Hunt’s eyes shining as he looked down at his wrist, which formerly bore a tattoo that had marked him as a slave and was now stamped over with a “C,” indicating his freedom. Any plan that strengthened the city’s defenses against the might of the archangels and Asteri was something Hunt could get behind.

Bryce could see the logic as well, but a dark seed had taken root in her mind. In fact it had been planted there three months prior during her phone call with Rigelus, the Bright Hand of the Asteri, when he had given her and Hunt the Asteri’s blessing, on the condition that they live out their life quietly and normally and in Hunt’s words, “keep their mouths shut.” 

Each time Hunt left to help Isaiah or leaned in closer to hear Ruhn’s dreams of a new Lunathian, Bryce could hear Rigelus’s bright voice chirping deadly threats in her ear. Against her. Against Hunt. Against her mother. But, each passing day seemed to pull Hunt closer and closer to whatever the opposite of living their life quietly or normally was.   

Another rabbit hole Bryce was trying to avoid. What other mental mine fields could Bryce stumble into tonight? Her continuing employment with Jesiba Roga? Didn’t want to touch that one. The ache in her heart for Lehabah? No gods-damned way. Her refusal to explore the depths of the powers she had inherited during her Drop? Cthona’s tits.

She looked around for more wine. She was out. After discovering the truth about Danika’s murder, Bryce had relaxed. A little. She wasn’t planning on resuming her party girl ways any time soon, but she wasn’t opposed to a nice glass of wine. Or two.

“Fuck this,” said Bryce. Syrinx stopped cleaning and looked up at her.  “Fuck this straight to Hel.” 

Bryce snatched her phone, purse and Danika’s leather jacket, texting as she went out the door, slamming it behind her. Syrinx went back to licking his bits.

To: Hypaxia Enador
Message: Hey witch, up for a hang sesh tonight?

Chapter Text

Drugs. That’s what Tristan needed right now. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Maybe not in that order.

He had escaped his father’s study at last, grateful that the Autumn King hadn’t been there to order him to follow through on this plan. There would’ve been no getting around a direct request from the King. Tristan knew he was on borrowed time.

He shouldered his way past the villa guards, shoved his hands in his pockets and tried not to let the Earth rumble beneath his feet as he walked his frustration and unhappiness off in the direction of his home near the Old Square.

Burning Solas. He was used to his father’s stupid schemes, which mostly circled the drain a few times before disappearing like another bottle of wine. Involving the Autumn King was another matter. This was his life. His friends. His fucking heart.

Tristan didn’t want to go home. He wanted to disappear. He didn’t want Ruhn to see what the Autumn King and Lord Hawthorne had been plotting etched across his face. He ducked into Sibylline, an upscale wine bar, known for its soft lighting and hushed conversations. It was a date spot -- and Tristan didn’t date -- so it was also the last place anyone would recognize the Aux’s best sharpshooter, legendary partier, and future Lord Hawthorne.

He knew it was the training drilled into him that had him sliding into a seat at the end of the bar, back to the wall, eyes scanning the rest of the room for any threat before he would allow himself to relax. But, relaxing wouldn’t be enough tonight, he needed the intoxicating emptiness of oblivion.

“What can I get you,” asked a pretty daemonaki with a curling pixie cut twining around her horns. Well, here’s one route to oblivion, thought Tristan.

“Something strong,” he ground out.

“Not the usual request we get around here,” she responded as she gave him a once-over. “I wouldn’t be a good bartender if I didn’t ask -- do you want to talk about it?”

“Hel no.” 

She blinked and turned away, returning moments later with a green shot on a cocktail napkin that also had two pills on it. 

“One to make you forget,” whispered the daemonaki leaning in close. “One to make you feel.”

“Which is which?”

“Where would the fun be in that?”

He nodded at her and scooped the pills into one hand the shot into the other. Fuck it. He downed them all together and leaned against the wall behind him, waiting for them to do their work.

Tristan had spent the last seven decades avoiding getting caught up in one of his father’s messy plans. He wasn’t hypocritical enough to deny that being the future Lord Hawthorne held certain perks, but he was also smart enough to realize that inheriting wealth and power meant nothing without a solid foundation behind it. Tristan had long ago come to the realization that the only thing to be found in his father’s foundation was probably a wine cellar.

So, he threw himself into his work with the Aux, never missing a training session. He visited the Fae Archives to understand more about his Earth magic, which hadn’t been seen in generations, and he practiced his magic so that he could wield his gifts with expert deadliness. All done under the guise of leading a life of utter dissolution and irresponsibility -- which if he was honest, wasn’t a terrible burden. Drifting through his days with Ruhn and Declan Emmet, had yet to get boring after all these decades. If his life seemed aimless to an outsider, it was by design, because he was motivated by a singular aim -- avoiding his family responsibilities.

Tristan stared at the twinkling Fae lights above the bar and felt the drugs begin to take hold of his mind. Thank fucking Urd. He relaxed for the first time in hours and let himself be carried along on wherever this high would take him. Perhaps, he thought languidly, into the arms of the pretty daemonaki bartender. 

He barely registered the sound of the door to Sibylline opening, bells merrily tinkling. But, panic cut through the burgeoning haze of the drugs and gripped his heart as someone with a familiar sheet of red hair and an unforgettable figure walked in with the Queen of the Valbaran Witches. He couldn’t tell if the drugs were making him hallucinate the person that had been on his mind all evening. But, then why would Hypaxia be in his hallucination? Tristan melted into the wall and wished for Ruhn’s shadows to hide him further.

His mind racing, he focused on the twinkling Fae lights, pulled along by the effective drugs into the current of a memory he thought he had pushed down deep inside him. A memory he hadn’t dared examine closely. Or soberly. A memory from years earlier … when he had run into Danika Fendyr and Bryce Quinlan at the White Raven … and he’d almost ruined everything.

Chapter Text

“I must admit, I was a little surprised to get your, uh, invite,” said the recently crowned queen of the Valbaran witches, Hypaxia Enador, as she settled into a plush velvet banquette in the dim wine bar she had agreed to meet Bryce Quinlan at over text.

“Well,” began Bryce, drumming her nails once against Sybilline’s soft leather menu, “I would have picked someplace closer to you, except, I have no idea where you live?”

“Hmm,” replied Hypaxia with a smile. She opened her menu and began intently reviewing the offerings.

Bryce narrowed her eyes. Well, she did love a fucking challenge.

“My real reason for inviting you out was to get to know the woman that has got my brother’s panties in a twist,” said Bryce. 

Hypaxia blinked. “I’m not sure, uh, I know what you...” she faltered.

“Don’t worry, there’s nothing I detest more than talking about Ruhn,” said Bryce flippantly. “Crown Prince of the Valbaran Fae. Starborn. Chosen One. His head doesn’t need to be any bigger than it is.”

Bryce gave Hypaxia a genuine smile before continuing. “I’m just teasing you. Let’s start out with something easy? Like ordering some gods-damned wine.”

Bryce caught the eye of their handsome panther shifter waiter and proceeded to order a bottle of lux vinum -- a sparkling wine aged in containers that previously housed fae light when it was captured during the Drop.

“Hope you don’t mind...bubbles always make me think of beginnings,” said Bryce. “And, I do hope to be friends with you. It seems I’m a little in short supply of them these days.”

“Well, how could I resist that?” 

“That sounded terrible, didn’t it,” Bryce laughed and took a sip of wine. “Let me try again. After everything that’s happened, I feel like my life has finally been -- unpaused -- and I’m not quite sure where to begin? I thought maybe you -- after being away from Crescent City for so long and after Queen Hec ... your mother … well I thought you might have some idea of what that feels like.” 

Hypaxia took a long drink. “I think I might have some idea of how you feel.” She smiled shyly at Bryce, “I, too, while surrounded by advisers, am also a little short on … friends.”  

Bryce clapped her hands together and wriggled happily. 

“Great! Now that we are officially friends, let’s just recap what I know so far -- where you live? A mystery. What you’ve been doing for the last quarter of a century? A mystery. If you find my brother half as appealing as I think he finds you? A mystery. What are your plans in Lunathion now that you are queen? A mystery.” 

“That seems to be a lot of mysteries,” responded Hypaxia drily. 

“Haven’t you heard? I’m fucking great at solving mysteries,” said Bryce.

“Well, here’s another one that I’m hoping you might be able to solve,” said Hypaxia. “I have a new friend that recently came into -- shall we say -- a rather large inheritance. Totally unexpected. Life changing. Not just for my friend, but for the people around this person, the people that my friend loves. Because, my friend is a good person, with a strong will and a pure heart and would make good use of this inheritance. But, my friend has shown no interest in touching this legacy left to her. What do you make of that?”

“That doesn’t sound like a particularly fun mystery to solve,” retorted Bryce. 

“My theory is that my new friend isn’t the type of person that asks others for help often,” said Hypaxia. “My new friend has had to be tough and rely on herself for so long, that maybe she is  a little scared?”

Bryce signaled to the waiter for another bottle, avoiding Hypaxia’s eyes.

“Bryce, look at me.” Though little more than a whisper, the steel in Hypaxia’s voice was more commandment than question. “My time spent with my tutors taught me much. I think some of those lessons might benefit you now.” Hypaxia reached across the table and squeezed Bryce’s hand. “I would be honored if you would let me help you understand and wield your new power.”

Bryce stared at Hypaxia, eyes wet with unshed tears and broke into a grin.

“Well, how could I fucking resist that?”    

Chapter Text

Four Years Ago

Tristan Flynn and Declan Emmet had just finished up their patrol with the Aux, leaving Ruhn to deal with all the administrative bullshit and report writing that came with being the leader of their elite Fae unit.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” shrugged Tristan as he and Declan walked out of Aux headquarters. Ruhn had responded by flipping them off.

The two made their way to the White Raven, climbing the stairs to the VIP section where they could drink, talk shit and scan the crowd below them in relative peace. They had just finished their first drink when Tristan’s eyes snagged on something familiar -- a burning red shade of hair that was the mark of the Valbaran Fae. 

But, that didn’t hold his attention for long. How could it? All thoughts skittered out of his head when his eyes moved to the outfit that the redhead was wearing -- a jumpsuit cut from neck to navel, shimmering silver and revealing a figure that he was sure he’d be able to remember in his dreams a millennia from now. Then it was the companion. White blonde hair, streaked with teal, pink and black, leather jacket. 

Fucking Hel. 

“Fucking Hel,” Declan said, echoing Ruhn’s own thoughts. “Is that Danika Fendyr with Ruhn’s cousin? When was the last time we saw her? She must be here for college now.”

Tristan’s brain had stopped working. The last time he had seen Ruhn’s cousin Bryce, she had been a sort of gawky, shy girl, obsessed with dancing and music and frighteningly good at assembling and disassembling firearms. She adored her cousin Ruhn and he was sweetly protective of her. 

Now she was here. Looking like that. In the White Raven. With Danika Fendyr who was already known around town as the “Party Princess.”

“Should we call Ruhn?” Declan asked. But Tristan was no longer beside him, moving like a man possessed and already making his way down the stairs to the main floor.

Tristan wove through the crowd and found Danika and Bryce at the bar, hoisting shots and oblivious to the admiring looks of … everyone.

“Bryce?” Tristan internally cursed himself for the little hitch in his voice that escaped as he said her name. Bryce’s eyes momentarily widened in surprise and recognition and then the cool, confident mask of a woman who knew her own mind -- and assets -- dropped into place.

“Tristan Flynn, my favorite little lordling,” she said with a smile.

Tristan was momentarily surprised at Bryce’s greeting. The last time he had seen Bryce, she could barely be in the same room as him, let alone meet his eye, without her face turning the same shade of red as her hair. But, he returned her smile easily. He knew how to play this game. Usually all it took was one look from him and he had his pick of whatever nymph, dryad, shifter, or wraith -- truly he wasn’t picky -- had caught his fancy. 

“Bryce, tell me -- are you still doodling our names together in your diary at night?”

“No, alphahole, she doodles mine,” interjected Danika. Bryce shrugged, her eyes twinkling.

“Danika, always a pleasure,” replied Tristan. He was familiar with Danika and her Pack of Devils. Danika was impressively powerful for being so young and without completing the Drop and her pack was making a name for themselves in the Aux circles. Tristan was glad that half-human Bryce had allied herself with such a strong friend. Even if that friend was known to ingest any drug that crossed her path and party for days on end. Work hard, play hard -- it was a motto Tristan could certainly get behind.

“I wish I could say the same about you, Flynn,” answered Danika, who turned to make her way over to some wolf shifters at the other side of the bar. Almost as an afterthought, she tossed her long blonde ponytail and called over her shoulder, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, Bryce.”

Tristan turned his attention back to Bryce, who during that exchange had attracted and was in the process of repelling the attention of a tipsy vampire. As she removed the vampire’s hand from her ass, Tristan bared his teeth and the vampire quickly scuttled away back toward his friends.  

“If I wanted a possessive male, I would have let the vampire stay,” said Bryce. “I know how to handle myself and I don’t need any fucking Fae male to piss all over me and mark his territory.”

“I have no doubt you can hold your own,” said Tristan coolly, hiding his surprise at the bite in her words. “I’ve seen you put together a gun faster than most of the members of our Aux division.” 

Bryce rolled her eyes and sipped her drink. 

“Don’t patronize me, Flynn.” 

Who was this strong, delightfully opinionated female in front of him? How much trouble would he be in with Ruhn if he took her to a dark corner of this club and showed her just how much he appreciated her delightfully opinionated mouth? Tristan swallowed. That was a dangerous train of thought.

“How’s school,” he asked, lamely trying to get himself on solid footing. “You haven’t been around to the house to see Ruhn since you’ve started? Must be hitting the books hard, I see.”

“I have better things to do than hang out with Fae losers like you,” retorted Bryce as she brought her drink to her lips. Her lips that Tristan could not stop staring at. Bryce’s eyes flared in recognition of Tristan’s thoughts and she drank deeply, never breaking eye contact with him.

“Are you going to ask me what my fucking major is next, little lordling,” sighed Bryce. “Or are you going to ask me something more interesting?”

Hel. Tristan swallowed.

“Do you want to dance,” asked Tristan. Bryce placed her drink down on the bar and trailed her finger down Tristan’s throat, across his chest and down his arm. Tristan silently thanked the gods for the extra time he spent at the gym that day. Bryce grabbed his hand and led him to the dance floor. 

As they made their way, Declan, finally heading down from the VIP area, passed Tristan, grabbed his free arm and leaned in close.

“What the fuck do you think you are doing, Flynn? Ruhn will kill you,” hissed Declan. Now it was Flynn’s turn to shrug. He was having an out-of-body experience. He was possessed by the beautiful woman holding his hand and wanted nothing more than to lose himself in music and her body.

Tristan knew that Bryce loved to dance, but on the club floor, with the driving beat of the music pulsing so loudly that all other thoughts, but one -- Bryce -- were driven out of his head. He watched Bryce unfold like a night-blooming flower. Her body was a sultry evening under the stars, winding about Tristan, filling his senses until there was nothing but her. His hands moved to worship this goddess before him, pulling her back flush against him, his fingers skimming the exposed skin of her jumpsuit, beginning with the delicate, soft skin of her neck and moving toward the beating warmth between her breasts. She arched her back, twinning her arms around Tristan, her fingers lightly brushing the hair at the nape of his neck, curling it around her fingers and tugging. The stab of pain set Tristan on fire and he bent his head toward Bryce’s neck, inhaling her sweet smell of nutmeg and lilac and scraping his tongue and teeth across the exposed skin.

At that, Bryce turned to face him, her body still flush against his chest. Tristan moved his hands into the silken sheet of her hair, combing gently downward until his hands rested on her ass. The tempo of the music all but forgotten, Bryce moved slowly against Tristan, grinding against him roughly. Tristan’s breath hitched.  

“Bryce, do you…”

Bryce looked up at Tristan, pupils blown out, full of the same desire he felt. The mask she had worn all night was gone. In those eyes, he saw the young girl that had first shown up at Ruhn’s doorstep, full of hope and eagerness at meeting family and her first time in the big city. He remembered her awkward first attempts at flirting. He felt the shock of seeing her handle one of Ruhn’s guns like a sharpshooter. He felt his laughter as she tried to teach Declan the latest dance moves. He swam in the memories of her eyes and hesitated. Just a second. But, that was all it took to break the spell. Bryce put her hand on his chest and stepped backward. 

“We can’t do this.” 

Later, Tristan wouldn’t be able to remember which one of them had said this. Both, her, him, neither. It didn’t matter. Bryce turned and melted away into the crowd. He didn’t see her for the rest of the evening. He didn’t see much for the rest of the evening as he proceeded to drink and ingest everything that crossed his path. 

He didn’t remember Riso, the butterfly shifter who owned the White Raven, calling Danika Fendyr over to where Tristan had passed out at the bar, left to his own devices by Declan. He definitely didn’t remember Danika hoisting him off the bar and half dragging him back across Old Square.

They had only gone a few blocks, when Tristan suddenly pulled himself up and stopped. He turned to Danika and grabbed her face between his two hands. 

“Usually a male buys me a few drinks before touching my face like this,” said Danika archly.

Tristan blinked. For the first time in forever -- maybe even since he had made the Drop, he felt that he had glimpsed something real inside of himself. He wanted to tell someone, to scream it, that dancing with Bryce had touched something inside of him and it had been honest and terrifying and beautiful and it made him feel alive and like he wanted to throw up. Like, he really wanted to throw up. 

And, that’s when Tristan threw up in Danika’s face.

“Fucking hel, Tristan,” yelped Danika. “What the fuck is your problem?”

“I’m in love,” Tristan said plainly. He looked at Danika or tried to look at Danika, because there were now two versions of the wolf shifter appraising him disdainfully. It was overwhelming and he felt the world sliding sideways, or maybe it was just him sliding sideways and then his Earth magic pulsed and the ground came up to meet him, almost cradling him, and the twinkling stars in the night sky were the last thing he saw before his eyes closed.

“You’ve got a long way to go before you deserve her, you prick,” said Danika as she nudged his leg with the toe of her boot and sighed.

***

Present

Tristan opened his eyes and for a moment thought he was back in the street, looking up at the stars. Then he blinked and his eyes refocused on the twinkling Fae lights of Sybilline’s bar. He looked around, dazedly. The restaurant was nearly silent. In fact, there were no other lights on, other than the bar lights. No patrons remained, just the daemonaki bartender that had served him. At his movement, the pretty daemonaki looked up from the book she was reading behind the bar.

“Well, you’re back.”

“That was not the trip I was hoping for,” sighed Tristan, running his hands through his hair.

“Yeah, sorry, about that,” she said, pushing a glass of water toward him. “I just pegged you for being another rich alphahole that I could slip the cheap stuff to and then charge you the good stuff prices.”

“Seems highly unethical,” he paused to take a sip of water. “I approve.”

“Well that’s good to hear, because after I went through your wallet and saw that you are a member of the Aux, I thought for sure you were going to haul me in to the Comitium.”

“First of all, bilking rich assholes out of their cash isn’t really a Comitium-level offense. Second, you went through my wallet?”

“I know, I know,” she said blushing. “How about I make it up to you?”

Tristan looked up. One route to oblivion or another. It didn’t much matter to him. Anything to forget the memory of Bryce’s skin under his mouth or her scent of nutmeg and lilac that haunted him still.

“Well, how could I fucking resist that?”