Intro to the RR Universe - The drabbles in this collection belong to the same universe, which I named Reedfilter Rules AU after Rani Reedfilter (the Head Pixie who preceded our H.P. here). Not all drabbles focus on the Pixies or take place while Rani is actually ruling, but I didn't have the heart to change the name after four years of calling this 'verse that. Drabbles won't always be chronological and they mostly (though not always) center around the three classes of Fae: Fairies, Anti-Fairies, and Pixies. Mostly pixies. I like pixies.

This universe sticks closely to show canon, so the worldbuilding is less complicated than my Classic universe (There's no Wolbachia pipientis, Anti-Fairy zodiac culture, honey-lock, gynes, drones, preening, or Refracts here). Insect DNA is played down, so the Fae are pretty much just "small humans with magic and wings."

Thanks for reading, and enjoy my drabbles!


.: Reedfilter Rules :.

And in that paradox we live

As in the aura of a crime

That we regret but made us rich

Too conscious of a truth for which

There's always or never time

- Excerpt from The Grey Among the Green, John Fuller, 1988


Simply Complex

Winter of the Yellow Clouds

Inkblot City - Capital of Pixie World - Evening


Rani 3699924 Reedfilter ruled 903 years as Head Pixie, though Fairies and Anti-Fairies agree her political skill went under by year 715. In her 715th year, she brought a good luck charm - a winged pig carved of genuine dogwood - in her pocket to what was meant to be a peace meeting. Her role was to witness his exchange with Jorgen in silence as a neutral party, but when High Count Anti-Robin accused her of favoritism, Reedfilter panicked and engaged in accidental arguing. These conflicts snowballed until they prompted the war in which Anti-Robin lost his life, forcing Anti-Cosmo's coronation at the tender age of 290,008. Reedfilter disliked the new king immediately, perhaps due to his rather forward flirtatious nature, which likely dragged up the same bittersweet memories of her former partner that led to the affair with Whimsifinado and eventually her downfall. A frumpy Anti-Cosmo hosted dinner at his castle as a show of amends, but when Reedfilter never arrived, a bitter seed fell between the rift in two races and began to grow. Jorgen von Strangle, with infinite patience, half-smoothed their rivalry by welcoming Pixie and Anti-Fairy to Bridge night at Mama Cosma's, but even he (especially he) couldn't help maintain peace for long.

High Count and Head Pixie kept their cold truce for a century and a half before Anti-Cosmo was denied his New Years invitation the last day of the Winter of Yellow Clouds. The rest of that tale, like Reedfilter, soon became history. By her 866th year, her career had evaporated into smoke. Reeling back in desperate shock, teetering on the edge, Rani found more acceptance in Whimsifinado than she could in herself. Spoiler alert: she drowns. Whimsifinado is the only one who sees, the one who waits on glittering sand until gentle waves wash the Head Pixie's hat ashore. It takes an hour, but he waits so he won't soak his shoes. It had to be drowning; he can't leave a single thumbprint or trace of his magic signature behind. He plotted almost four decades to kill her. Another hour was merely a long, patient blink.

Our story begins 37 years before she dies.

Once upon a time, on a perfectly trim, square cloud filled with sparkling skyscrapers and unwrinkled paperwork, there lived a pixie who was neither as dull nor as gray as he could have been. He wrote his name in thick blue ink. He floated a little higher than his peers, his black hair gleamed a little brighter, and if you took a protractor to his wingtips, you'd find the corners suspiciously lacking in angled points.

You wouldn't tell him this, of course. At that time in his life, you were surely a pixie if you knew his face, which made you master in the delicate art of shutting up. The only one who ever addressed his little imperfections was Pag-sün d'eskel (often called "Anti-Cosmo," though that's technically impolite), but that comes a few turns of season later.

You see, the Fairies a hundred cloudlengths west of here may not mind the occasional ruffle in their neighborhood, the occasional taint in their bloodline. Half-gnomes and half-elves are nothing new to them. Stay a while and you might cross paths with a half-Anti-fairy in line to buy a fro-yo. But Pixies track their crossbreeds as obsessively as they track everything else. Tonight is March 14th, the transition to the Fairy New Year. The numbers had been announced this morning, again. Stocks. Population. Crossbreeds. A few subsidiary companies might have higher rates, but in Inkblot City - the capital of Pixie World - there were only two. Always. Only. Two. Fergus still didn't know the Sanderson child's first name, only that Kalahari had been punished. Both fathers had been punished. He only prayed their mothers weren't the same will o' the wisp.

So you wouldn't tell Fergus of his heritage when you spoke to him, because he already knows. If you brought it up, he wouldn't even respond. Eskel is the only one he's ever poked directly in the eye. BUT… this comes seasons later. It's summer then, up north in Silverclaw Lake, fashion capital of the cloudlands. They still don't speak of Silverclaw.

For now it's late winter, even in the realms above the Earth. Three seasons in Pixie World look alike, with only one thing marking the turn of the fourth… that being the inevitability of snow. Oh yes, they have weather even here. Pixie World could choose to mimic Fairy World and project a magic dome above its cities to keep the cold away, but the fee for wishowatt usage has shot since the stock market crashed and it wouldn't be cost-effective. That, and the Pixies are a proud and noble people. Ha! They'd sooner swipe a leaf from Anti-Fairy World than copy anything their rival Fairies had ever done.

Can you keep a secret, dear? The Head Pixie should be in tonight juggling the stocks, but, well… She never could turn down an eve of making mischief wing for wing with Jorgen. They'll throw back their heads to gush a few sugary drinks and remember why they're fae; Jorgen won't use his staff for kindly reasons and people will probably get hurt. Keeper of Da Rules he may be, but he's allowed one night, one little night… give him this. And H.P. won't track the numbers like she's meant to, especially his (he's buying drinks, after all). Tonight, you must remember, marks the first year Pag-sün d'eskel was not invited to their merrymaking, so do forgive his pining sighs.

And thus it is that on March 14th, final night of the Winter of Yellow Clouds, Fergus Whimsifinado and his scrawny, bright-eyed son could be found building snowpixies out in Lavender Park, scraping the edges square with rulers. "Son" is a relative term, for they aren't related by blood. No one doubts this; Fergus prides himself on not bumbling into interspecies temptations (though he's allowed to size them up; he knows this and can't resist an occasional glance, which you really shouldn't fault him for). With one exception, Fergus had been careful all his life to keep the Pixie equivalent of 'passions' within his marriage, and in the same way his co-workers know he isn't fully pixie, they've never asked if his son started life as his. No. Talon may hate the undeniable truth, but he is wholly anti-fairy.

"I want to get my wings changed for pixie ones," Talon said, placing a coffee cup atop his snowpixie like a hat. The snowpixie had pixie wings. He'd crushed the cup into a triangle.

"We can discuss this when you're 200 millennia. Black magic is expensive and I'd rather you be sure." The crushed cup began to slip. Fergus channeled a simple spark of magic through his body to levitate it above the snowpixie's head, just like a real hat. Talon watched, mittened hands folding away behind his back.

"I want to be recognized in Pixie World for my school and workplace achievements, not who my father is. Roran said it's okay with him if you say yes. And Anti-Cosmo doesn't care." (Frankly, Roran had been more than "okay" with Talon's request, and 'Anti-Cosmo' would care about the surgery immensely.)

"Urn d'eskel." ("Talon" was a nickname.) Fergus leaned around the snowpixie and stared the boy down very hard through his shades. "You should call Pag-sün d'eskel by his proper title. The Fairy media may not respect Anti-Fairy culture or the Vatajasa language, but I would expect you of all people to use his real name."

Talon didn't say anything for a moment after that. He was still a young anti-fairy, just a squeak under 4,000. Fergus made a mental note that he needed a haircut more than he needed surgery; his black curls tumbled over his eyes, squishing between his forehead and his glasses frames. Perhaps in another life he'd be known as a boy who lashed out and snapped back, but not in this one. He tried a different approach, drawing every persuasive trick he knew from his Pixie education.

"I really don't feel comfortable in this body. I'll be in middle school next millennia and I want to make new friends… I don't have any. It's not my fault I'm drawn to bad luck, and I don't want to be an anti-fairy anymore."

Fergus reached out to brush a chunk of ice from Talon's hair. "Even after an alteration, you'll always be an anti-fairy. You'll only look like a pixie."

Talon stared glumly at the snowpixie and Fergus followed his gaze. The child had attended Spellementary School most of his life, his classmates ranging from trolls to leprechauns. Against all odds, there was even one genie. But no Anti-Fairies. The Anti-Fairies weren't banned from Spellementary, but they were a private people steeped in tradition, preferring to educate their offspring with skills they would use in Anti-Fairy World, not the other realms of the cloudlands. Fergus admired that- the fact that the Anti-Fairies had never allowed themselves to be bullied into what the Fairies considered "modern" and "correct." The Fairies might think their people backwards, but let them. That was the Anti-Fairy way. Less prideful people than the Pixies were, he thought… Pixies who always, always had to prove they were best, even if it cost them secrets or lives.

"You're Spriggish," Fergus said. "Pixie or not, you've spent your life in Pixie World. That's your nationality. Never forget you're an anti-fairy, but do with that information what you will and decide what kind of anti-fairy you're going to be."

"Am I interrupting?" asked a voice behind him. Soft but firm, her firmness fading fast. "Er, I have a… task to assign you to. It's Wizeldorado, isn't it?"

"Whimsifinado, H.P.," a second voice chimed in, this one slightly higher pitched. "He's better known as Thirty-Seven."

Ah. The Head Pixie. She asked it as though it were an honest question, the middle part hitching with near concern. Too many of her sentences were like that, more and more in recent years. It's worth noting that at the moment, there isn't a thought in his mind to kill her. He has but one priority: keeping Talon outdoors until Roran finishes baking the New Year sun cake. Pixie custom dictates it should be white, but Talon can't resist the urge to shower it in skull sprinkles and bones.

Fergus turned to face her, grateful at least that he hadn't removed his shades even this late at night (They were regulation, after all). The Head floated there above the fresh, flat snow, wings aflutter but the rest of her snuggled tight in a gray coat. It had wool, but no lace or frills. Each silver button had been shaped like a maple leaf. A second, larger figure floated beside her, arms crossed. Alapin Wilcox, her personal escort. Fergus glanced at them briefly, then brought his attention to the Head again.

"Never interrupting, dame," he replied, not moving. "It's always a delight to speak with you in person; I know you're very busy. My only plans for tonight were to spend the holiday with my match and son. Can I assist you with anything?"

"The Chamomile Casino," she said, prim and to the point. H.P. always spoke like that, always quick and direct like she expected to be cut off if she waited any longer. "An anti-fairy's been reporting snooping there. I want him out."

Oh. Fergus paused, mittens pressed tightly to the snowpixie's side. His stiff fingers chilled a little stiffer. "Tonight, H.P.? My son's with me now and he isn't old enough to follow me in."

H.P. shook her head, meaning yes. "Er… It's important. I need you there. It isn't confirmed, but I believe it's Anti-Cosmo. He's been lingering for half an hour and doesn't seem inclined to leave. Wilcox and I are on our way to meet Jorgen. Security's been increased in the file rooms and around my penthouse, but the anti-fairy himself has yet to be located, and you're the fastest tracker we have. Lucky for me."

Talon flinched at the mention of his father. He'd been born illegitimate and dumped in Pixie World young; Fergus didn't yet know his other parent and didn't particularly want to. The High Count hadn't said, though he did appear in Pixie World at random from time to time and when he did, he often asked to see his son. Fergus's admiration for the Anti-Fairies themselves paled only in comparison to his admiration for two individuals: the first being the High Count, who laughed in the face of scornful media and bragged of his affairs with damsels and drakes alike instead of shunning those who reported on him. Oh to be so self-confident (and if he only knew the truth).

The second individual he so admired? That one pixie who opened the donut shop every morning at five. Smoof, she could bring order to a rowdy crowd.

Fergus cleared his throat. "He isn't joining you and Jorgen tonight, Head Pixie?"

(It's the first year the High Count wasn't invited. Do remember this; it's very important.)

H.P.'s face remained expressionless, but quietly, in the back of her mouth, Fergus heard the slight clench of her teeth. "No," she murmured, "not this year. We had a falling out." Then, blurting, eyes briefly skimming to the sky, "When I met with him in Silverclaw, he asked if he could paint me. He called me his muse and suggested we rent a boat for the lake, alone. I, er… I said no."

"The High Count lacks tact, but it's possible he meant it as an honest compliment. You genuinely have a symmetrical and pretty face."

"I don't know why I told you this," she said then, running her fingers through black hair. "It was unprofessional of me."

And why ask this of a lone drake in Lavender Park this late at night? Simply because he was outdoors? Pixie World was largely empty for the holiday. So many of his peers would be frequenting the bars in Fairy World where they were less likely to be judged when they sugared themselves up. Too much money was spent in Fairy World. They needed to attract the Fairies here. But that was a thought he didn't bring up quite yet.

"Am I the right pixie for the task, dame?"

"You stand against my judgment?"

Fergus lifted his hands, palms out. "My relationship with the High Count is simply complex. I'm raising his son; he considers me more friend than threat."

"Look." H.P. fluttered closer to their snowpixie, her little wings humming. Another thick crease etched across her brow. "You know every square centimeter of that casino, right? And you know Anti-Cosmo. You were on the path between me and the Bridge, so you're the one I'm asking. Do as I've instructed or I'll mark you as disloyal. I'm going to be late."

"But," he started to say, one final feeble attempt. "H.P., I'm in my snowsuit." Can't you do it? he asked internally, a bitter, sulky violin string twanging in his chest. H.P. could clear a room - or a building - of anyone she didn't want to be around. All the Fairies and Anti-Fairies were scared of her. After all, she was the boss. H.P. had a hundred and one companies under her command, the allegiance of 200,000 pixies dancing at her fingertips. One whiff of her pheromones and the lone anti-fairy would scatter.

H.P. spun her head, the tail of her hat whisking like a whip. The star at its tip glinted its points like a dozen daggers and shone moonlight directly at his eyes. H.P. stared across the park in the direction of the casino for a moment as if she were legitimately weighing the pros and cons of going herself… then looked at him again. She tilted down her shades until green eyes flashed above their rims.

"If I discover the slightest fingernail of that anti-fairy in the casino when I return, you'll find it lying on your desk with a pink slip and a library card so you can start searching for a new job. Escort him out or escort yourself. No excuses."

Fergus cast his eyes to his boots. Though her words lacked venom, he heard the threat more clearly than air. "Yes, dame. Come on, Talon. You'll have to wait outside."

Snowpixie abandoned, the pair left the park and trailed deeper into Inkblot City. Fergus kept in front with Talon bumping into him every several wingbeats like a bumblebee. The Head Pixie flitted off in the other direction with Wilcox on her tail.

The Chamomile Casino sparkled like starlight amidst the falling snow. Two large, very muscled pixies stood outside the revolving door (the third and most imposing was no doubt inside, making the rounds). Fergus floated up to the pair with hands clasped behind his back and nodded at each one in turn. "Hamilton, Faust. A pleasure. The Head Pixie ordered me inside to shoo an anti-fairy out. I trust you're just as capable of watching my son as you are watching those doors. I don't expect to be long."

Faust glanced over as if he felt swayed, though Hamilton remained expressionless and only exhaled through his nose. "Sorry chief, but noooo candy cane. This is a five-star establishment and you're required to dress up during active hours."

"It's my casino." Well. Not in terms of ownership, exactly - cOlUmBiNe LoNgWoOd held the deed to that - but he had designed it. Every break in the path, every freckle on the carpet print, every undetectable scent released by the slot machines, that was all him. And the one-way mirror of a ceiling, allowing those on the catwalks above to peer down at every table… That little detail was one he was most proud of.

"Rules are rules, sir."

Fergus narrowed his eyes. Briefly, he considered - (not "played with") - the idea of using his pen to ping his suit and tie down from his closet in Building 6, Room 314. But that would have to be listed on his report at the end of the month, and Vice President Hawkins would raise his eyebrows across his desk, silently demanding why Fergus considered an outfit swap worth the expense. Particularly with Pixie World's busiest holiday, Gray Tuesday, just around the corner. Magic was not an infinite resource, no matter what the Fairies wanted to believe. People like you are why our energy supply strains, Hawkins would say, and I'm sure H.P. will be very interested in your report this month. Or worse… Are you frivolous because you're half-will o' the wisp?

His loyalty to Pixie World could not afford to be questioned. And arguing was not an option. No other pixie should even hesitate to correct an error that prevented them from moving forward.

"My apologies," said Fergus, floating back with his hands in his pockets. "I'll be on my way then. Let it not be said that I don't follow the rules." And again, "Come on, Talon."

Down the streets by wing. Through the doors by hand. Up the elevator without a wand wave. This was the simplistic Pixie way, the frugal way, that had built their people into the richest realm in all the cloudlands. He unlocked the door to Room 314, then stopped halfway in. He cocked his head. The long gray couch, which had once faced a chair, had been moved to the left so it stared down the TV with no coffee table to be seen. Low-hanging lights hovered like punching bags above the kitchen table, which looked so much farther away now than it once had. The waterfall rug had been pulled from the loft stairs, making the silver steps shine a little brighter over on the right. How long were we gone? Fergus wondered, checking the doorplate to be sure he hadn't opened the wrong room. And…

"Roran?"

The pixie dusting the loft railing, a dusky purple apron tied around his waist, didn't look like Roran. He'd taken more than a little weight off his form, but distinctly widened out his hips. The scruffy spikes in his black hair looked a little softer, rounder, and even his bare feet didn't seem so rough. Fergus blinked. But when the bobbing pixie spun around, those were Roran's bright blue eyes. He stayed up where he was, one hand on the loft rail, as Fergus and Talon came in and shut the door.

"I see you've rearranged the paintings and sofa," Fergus said lightly. "How's the sun cake?"

"Cooled and frosted. We can celebrate any time. Do… do you like it?"

'It' was the new form. Fergus looked it over again, mentally slipping his match into a close-cut black dress with the ruffled sleeves tumbling off the shoulders. Roran liked those sorts of things, and if Roran was comfortable with the new look, so was he. He said as much and Roran nodded.

"We're both due for magic license renewal soon, and I've decided to take a more feminine identity for the next few centuries, so call me 'she' again. Switch things up, you know? New year, new me, spring cleaning and all that…"

"It looks good on you. What name will you be using this time?" The appearance change he could accept without batting an eye; they were Pixies, neutral to their cores. It was the name switching that almost put salt in his voice. Names were important. Names were always important. His match changed his (well, hers) more often than she changed the password to her bank account. Security against Fairy tricks and all that… which was a perfectly valid reason, although Fergus wished she wouldn't act quite so… into it. Names were everything in the realm of Fae, and each time he finally felt himself falling for his match, he - she - stripped her whole identity away and started from the ground up again. She seemed to revel in that, in forcing him to reset and learn to want her all over again… The timing was too on the nose to be coincidental, because she always made such changes mere days after he managed to incite her passions in bed, like she lived for being chased…

"Sapphire. To match my eyes. Even if no one aside from you ever sees them, I think their glisten and color should be known."

"That's a powerful name."

Sapphire huffed through her nostrils and set a hand to her waist (which tapered now, unfamiliar, clothes tight to accent the curves… would have to get used to those again). Releasing the rail, she fluttered lower. "I'm not going for powerful. I'm going for lovely."

"Yes, of course. It's lovely, then. You look very lovely."

Sapphire flicked a finger his direction. "Tuesday, the 17th. They're taking our license photos. Don't forget."

"I won't. It's in my day planner."

Talon clenched his elbow then. "Um, Roran? I mean, Mr. K.… Mom- I mean… Uh…"

"Mrs. Kerning."

"… Can we have the sun cake now? I didn't even have lunch."

Sapphire looked at Fergus, prompting Talon to swivel in turn. "I need to go," he said, holding up his hands. "Enjoy it without me."

Talon bobbed his head and flicked off to the kitchen. "That boy," Sapphire muttered, bobbing closer, "I swear. Sometimes it's hard to wrap my head around the fact that he's Anti-Cosmo's child."

"On the contrary," said Fergus, floating past her towards the stairs. "As a bratty ball of anxious energy, he's exactly what I'd expect of the High Count's son. Speaking of which, he wants to see Talon two weeks from now at the dinner theater. Well. I don't know if he really wants to see him, but he did send an invitation with my name on it and I will be bringing Talon. Will you accompany me?"

"Of course. I find Anti-Cosmo's entertainments most endearing."

"And I appreciate your company." He reached the loft level where they kept their bed, stripping off his hat and gloves. Sapphire kept behind him, one finger tapping at her chin.

"Are you also planning to stick with that form another five centuries?" she asked. He opened the wardrobe to hang his snowcoat and checked back.

"Probably. Is something wrong with it?"

"You look old," she pouted, gesturing to her own form for emphasis. She'd kept the same short black hair, but had gone for an especially young and thin look this time. Though he longed to, Fergus didn't have the heart to tell her there was such a thing as too young and thin for him to find attractive. They were Pixies. At the end of the day, it didn't matter whether they liked each other so long as they obediently reproduced when the Head Pixie asked them to. It had been millennia since their breeding cards had been stamped Yes, and if that day DID somehow come again these next five centuries… Well, perhaps then he'd gently ask Sapphire to tweak her form to something else. She'd no doubt request the same of him. Otherwise, beyond the bed, it was none of his concern what form she chose to take. Pixies simply mated. Genuine feelings of attraction were for the Fairies.

She was still waiting for an answer to the 'old' comment, lips flared. Ha. Such emotion, so unbecoming of a pixie, and HE was the one with half-wisp blood…

"Sapphire, we're immortal. Excepting death by a non-magical weapon, there's no cap to how 'old' we'll ever be. Besides, I'm old at heart. Let me choose a form I like." He took a nice suit from the hanger. Gray, of course. This would do.

"It's weird," she spat. "I'm older than you by nearly thirty thousand years. I want to look young and pretty, but next to the current you I feel like… like I'm a gold digger or something!"

Fergus sighed and looked at her again. "You read too many Fairy tabloids, my dear. Stop counting years after high school. You'll be happier for it."

"Would you…?" Sapphire hesitated, pressing a knuckle to her chin. "Would you at least change your hair?"

Instinctively, Fergus touched behind his fluffy white curls. They clumped like clouds around his ears, and he liked them that way. "Into what?"

"Black. Like you used to wear it."

Black? The black made him look young. And a younger appearance made him feel young. And, well… He WAS young, if you counted years by a literal calendar, but that's not how the cloudlands do things. Time can be altered and age is measured by the soul. Fergus never liked presenting himself as a younger adult than he'd prefer to be perceived, because switching his appearance will switch his brain's self-perception, as all Fae know.

Fergus doesn't like to learn from the past, but he does know this: he doesn't like himself when he's "young." Fergus loves his dry experience and witty banter, but these traits come more naturally when his mind believes it's "older." His younger self is just as calculating, just as cruel as he's always been - just as cold - but in his personal perception, it has more weaknesses. He struggles with the urge to act in mischief, embrace his instincts as a fae, and finds it so much harder to keep his impulses in check than it needs to be. The last time he presented himself to the universe as "younger," he once left a pen in his shirt pocket before a meeting with Hawkins and it leaked like a bullet wound. He lost out on that promotion. How embarrassing. Totally beneath him; he should have known better, but wisdom had been locked away with his patience. Far better to be old.

And still Sapphire stood waiting.

"All right," he conceded, lifting his magic pen. "For 500 years, I'll portray myself as 'young' again. On one condition. Would you go back to longer hair?"

"You like it that way?"

"I always have. It sparkles like the tail of a shooting star." He actually didn't care. He only knew she didn't like brushing it when it reached that long. It was a petty thought, but petty is who he was.

"Long hair," Sapphire agreed, lifting her pen in turn. With a fluttery ping, they both changed their looks. His body thinned very slightly, wings strengthening just a titch. Even his vision seemed to sharpen. He frowned. He hadn't noticed it fade when he last aged his form.

"Thirty-Seven?"

"Yes?"

"I've… I've been thinking. About this new year, new me thing. And I think you should know that I filled my half of the paperwork to request a new match."

He stiffened, marble in his veins.

"I don't know if I mean to go through with it," Sapphire cut in, crossing and uncrossing her arms in an X. "I did it sort of on an impulse, and it just… kind of felt right. Like one of the changes I need to make. But I won't submit the papers if you say no. It's just that if you want to say yes, your half is on the kitchen table. I already checked the boxes. It just needs your signature."

Fergus turned around, face completely blank. "I see. Can we talk this out some before we make our final decision? I'd like to actually be part of a discussion that determines such changes in my life. What exactly about our current arrangement bothers you?"

Sapphire cocked her head. "When you don't come home, on the nights you're out drinking, I lie awake and wonder why I'm staying in a place where I feel so alone. I ask the ceiling if I'm being true to myself or if I've projected an image for you all this time. I need some time to discover the real me."

He stopped himself from gritting his teeth. Instead, he cast a swift glance at the stairs to be sure Talon wasn't sneaking close, then leaned in. Sapphire leaned back. "And what about… bed? Two or three nights ago, you ran your hands down my cheeks and whispered that you enjoyed the feel of being 'conquered,' you called it. You implied you wanted more. I…" Curse the lack of thick loft walls; curse Talon in the kitchen instead of his bedroom down the other hall below with the door securely shut. "We're Pixies. We don't drop hints like Fairies do. We're direct, and I've responded accurately to your every bedroom command for sixty thousand years; miscommunication can't be the issue. I enjoyed two nights ago. It was the first time in millennia that I recognized our souls were in sync. What was that to you?"

(It's dangerous, what he's asking. Pixies don't acknowledge love except to exploit it in the Fairies, and certainly don't admit to such feelings in themselves. They can't. They won't. He can't say the word and she won't return the challenge.)

"Pleasure," she said, blue eyes emotionless. Pleasure doing business with you. Fergus turned sharply before she could sense the heat leaking into his face. Most pixies don't share a bedroom with their match. When matches can change quickly, it isn't always wise to forgo your personal space. Sapphire then added, "Sharing a room was your idea" and Fergus took that bullet in his chest.

Was it?

He straightened his hat. "I need to head out, Saff. There's an anti-fairy hiding in the casino and H.P. ordered me to remove them, or else she'll remove me. Can we talk about this later?"

"Of course," she said quietly. "Any time. Just… soon. Maybe tomorrow. Tonight's a holiday."

He couldn't help but think the whole conversation could have waited until after the holiday. But he told her that sounded all right.

Now dressed up with somewhere to go, Fergus flew from the balcony to the casino again. Hamilton and Faust let him pass without speaking. He pushed through the revolving door with his fingertips, breathing the gentle scent of baked goods and hot chocolate in the air. They hugged him, actually hugged him like they cared. As he stepped into the black and white lobby, he tilted back his head.

"Daddy's home, baby…"

Pixie World favored its purple and gray aesthetic, with lights and darks as an accent. The casino was different. Every inch, every color, every sound, was tuned to attract the Fairy gaze (and the Fairy wallet with it). The lobby ceiling danced with bright umbrellas, which swished and folded in and out like paper birds. Spotlights seared from the other side, casting translucent beams across the floor. Golden flecks dotted the marble. The pillars were corinthian, expertly carved. Even they sparkled with pixie dust. He ran his finger down one of them, admiring the sight of glitter without dirt. He was a simple man, Fergus. Glitter made things pretty.

The main restaurant and quiet card rooms were down the left hall. The decorative fountain and indoor garden straight ahead. He turned right, drifting toward the machines where an anti-fairy seemed most likely to prowl. The lights were lower here. Plush carpet glided beneath his shoes like mosaic stained glass. Reds, blues, and greens in shimmery floral…

The biggest and flashiest machines would be found in the back, ever luring you deeper. Appropriately, the Oyster was the biggest and flashiest of them all: a game of his own design set inside a fountain that spurted water in delicate, colorful arcs. Sending your avatar across the lily pads and up the mountain to reach the oyster was only half the battle. Crossing back weighed down by treasure, trying not to trigger the traps or sink your icon, was where the real skill lay. Difficult to play and even more difficult to cheat, but the fountain reached from here to the third floor - a grand centerpiece - and everyone knew the oyster's call. The whole casino cheered when the Winner bells dinged. This happened just often enough to keep the crowds invested, perhaps two or three times a year. The Oyster nearly brought in more coin than all the bars combined.

"Thirty-Seven!"

… Newman wasn't part of the design. Fergus turned anyway, arching a brow. "You recognize me? Even in this form?"

"It's the spiral cowlick, my friend." Newman skimmed forward, his wings puffing with the effort but barely able to lift his large body from the ground. "No matter what color hair you have, it whisks behind you like a tail. I suspect it'll stay even when you're bald. You haven't come to gamble, have you? I thought you were spending New Years with your son."

"I'd planned to, until H.P. intervened. She ordered me in here with no excuses. I'm looking for an anti-fairy."

Newman shrugged, his rough suit squeaking. "So am I, but you were always our best man when it came to piercing magic veils. Come on, Whims." Though pixie-stiff, he nudged Fergus with his elbow. "What do I have to pay to get you on my team again?"

"Tracking Anti-Fairies is a hobby of mine; being paid for it would spoil me." Fergus delivered the line in monotone, then smiled thinly with eyes half-lidded like crescent moons. "I left doorman duty in pursuit of bigger game. You know that."

"'Doorman duty,'" Newman scoffed. "Name your paycheck and I'll tuck you into any job you want here, any floor, any schedule. With half-price drinks on the daily."

"I'd love to, Newman, but I'm a family man now. My son needs me at home." The smile faded, business again. "Ror… Sapphire doesn't tend to him. When I'm not at the office, I have to be four parents in one."

"Can't say I agree, but I do understand. Good luck finding your anti-fairy. You know who to call if you need back-up." Newman offered a small wave, then puttered down the hall towards the lobby. Fergus watched him go, hands in his pockets. Luck. Yeah. Right.

Now, where exactly might he find the High Count? The casino was three levels tall with a bar on each floor, sprinkled with card tables and machines. The room lights were kept dim and the neon signs hummed at just the right frequency to throw off his focus. This wouldn't be easy.

"Ooh la LA, you rascally snake-charmer of a devil! Can I interest you in joining me over at the hotel? I use these fangs for biting more than animal skins, you know~"

Sigh.

The voice came from the west side of the casino, near the back where the slot machines thinned out to a few of the smaller card tables. The moron hadn't even snuck up to the second floor. Fergus whirred in that direction, slipping between the patrons and trying to move slow enough that he didn't attract too many curious eyes. Though Reedfilter suspected the anti-fairy had come alone, that was no guarantee. Half the patrons here could be Antis in disguise, and Newman blind enough to let them through.

There. Near the steakhouse door. One lean, scrawny pixie fluttered hopelessly on the spot, a crumpling smile on his face; he'd just been rejected by whomever he was flirting with, it seemed. Several other guests looked intent on giving him a wide berth, shaking their heads and turning full attention on their card games. The pool glimmered on the other side of the back windows, glowing a dull but lively purple.

Fergus drifted slightly closer, slipping one hand inside his coat to feel around for his wand. For effect rather than intent to harm, of course- he knew that and so did the High Count. "Sir," he said, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Heads of state are asked to alert us in advance if they plan to visit Pixie World. Especially on the holidays."

The not-pixie tilted down his shades, green eyes glimmering. "Oh, well done, darling! However did you figure out it was me?"

"How could I fail? You're always the most attractive one in the room, High Count, in any form you take." Sarcastic answer, of course, with emphasis to underscore it. Fergus certainly wasn't going to give away the fact that the anti-fairy always, always forgot to change his socks when he shapeshifted. A pixie wearing blue was such a blatant giveaway, it was cheaper without coupons.

"You flatter me, child! Don't stop. Tell me… What do you like about my eyes~? Wait, where are my manners? Let me buy you a drink. Look at you, working hard on holiday! I hope H.P. is paying extra."

"'Child,'" he repeated, vaguely amused. "Far be it for me to dictate who you flirt with, High Count, but you have the right to be warned it's me. Talon's caretaker."

"… Oh." A slight pause. Then, "Oh my gods. Really? Oh, I'm terribly sorry." With a spin of his wand, the 'pixie' poofed himself into an anti-fairy again (and a shocked one at that, jaw hanging open and bat wings spread wide). The shades in his hand flipped to a little red lollipop. He blinked twice and shook his head. "Bloody smoke, it IS you! You still have the spiral cowlick."

"My signature, I'm afraid. Can't seem to shake it no matter what form I take. High Count, if I may be so bold, what are you doing here? It's New Years. Shouldn't you be on Earth with H.P. and Jorgen?"

The golden laughter in those emerald eyes faded to a sulking grimace. "Evidently not. I'm afraid they no longer care for the pleasure of my company. I was uninvited."

"That surprises me. Reedfilter always speaks highly of you, aside from all the bad luck you've caused the stock market."

"I don't cause bad luck, darling. I consume it. You went to school, did you not?" The High Count gestured around the casino with his lollipop. "Some of the worst bad luck this side of Fairy World can be found right here amongst this rigged Pixie World machinery. I figured that if I wasn't welcome down on Earth, I'd at least drown my sorrows in a gourmet meal tonight."

Fergus folded his arms. "The games aren't rigged. They're statistically unlikely."

The anti-fairy batted this away with his hand. "For you, perhaps. It's just as well anyhow… I'm on a diet. Good luck goes straight to my love handles these days. Have you ever tried- AH?" He broke off mid-sentence, attention flicking somewhere beyond Fergus's shoulder. The lollipop fell from his hand, and he only caught it with a swift fumble of fingers. He popped it back inside his mouth. "Well, shoot me full of holes and sink me out at sea! Now there's a drake with a neck I'd nibble on in bed! Really, you have some of the most handsome folk roaming around here instead of prancing down runways where they belong… You know, despite having two anti-fairy parents, it was here in Pixie World that Talon was conceived."

"Not in my casino, I hope."

"No, no, not here…" Still, the High Count's eyes turned a bit misty. "How is Talon anyway?"

"Nearly 4,000 and still resents you."

"Same old, same old, then. You know, I'll never understand why you did it… Take in an anti-fairy child. Did Rani request it of you?"

Fergus considered his words for a moment, his memories drifting back to the day he'd found the infant chewing the cables of a second-floor slot machine. He had brought the child home for a shower in the sink, regardless of his species. No baby deserved to be left abandoned and caked in crumbs and soda like that. Ror- Sapphire's reluctance had been palpable, but Fergus hadn't hesitated. Ambrosine had kept a half-pixie, half-wisp baby even knowing he'd be punished and separated from his proper match. Innocent, defenseless babies didn't ask permission to be born and taking care of them was simply what you did.

"No," was all he said.

"I suppose I shouldn't expect any less. Of course you'd keep the child. You're a pixie. By your very nature, your actions are the most probable result in any circumstance. That's precisely what makes you all so boring." He enunciated the word, but especially the "buh."

"Better boring than absent, Pag-sün d'eskel. Talon will tell you so."

The anti-fairy paused. He slipped the lollipop from his mouth and turned his head. "Did you just call me Pag-sün d'eskel?"

"Yes. That's your name, isn't it?"

"In Anti-Fairy World it is." He looked away again, grazing the lollipop against his lips. "It's just… impressive that you remember. No one ever does. H.P. and Jorgen both call me Anti-Cosmo."

Fergus arched a brow. "You always sign your Vatajasa name on your paperwork. That's what I call you in my head."

"Call me Eskel out loud. That's the proper way to shorten it. It translates to 'Willow Trees'… My full name is actually 'Second-born child, conceived under willow trees' but I think you'll agree it's best to leave the middle part out, hm? Between friends."

He ignored the 'friends' comment. "Eskel, then. And Eskel, I'm still going to ask you to leave."

"Oh, yes." Flippant. "We've been here a dozen times before and I know the drill by now. But fair is fair… I offered my name, and as a proud member of the Unseelie Court, I expect one in return. What do they call you when you're at home?"

"Thirty-seven-oh-oh-three-oh-seven."

"Really now? That's no name, darling."

"We're Pixies. We know how your kind play with names, and I'm not allowed to speak mine to anyone beyond the company." Fergus paused then, watching as the High Count pulled a face. "You can call me Thirty-Seven. Everyone does. Even my match."

Eskel braced his elbow on the wall. "I sense a story there."

Hm. Fergus leaned back his head, rubbing his mouth. "Well. My match just told me half an hour ago she wants to file for separation. I don't understand where this came from. It's for the best, I suppose. She made no secret that she dislikes Talon anyway. Maybe I'll be matched with someone new who actually cares."

Silence. Several machines dinged nearby. Dice rattled across tables and cards shuffled back and forth. A few voices cheered.

"I sense you're more disappointed in losing her than you pretend to be," Eskel finally said, latching the lollipop behind one fang. "You certainly don't smell as if you've been afflicted with good luck."

"If you expect to be my rebound, don't hold your breath. I'm on the clock until your butt is across the border and then I'm going home."

"Don't flatter yourself, darling. I came here to satisfy my stomach, not for pleasure. I'd spoil my appetite if I agreed to let you have your way."

"Spoil?" Fergus repeated. "That sounds an awful lot like you'd consider me getting 'my way' to result in more good luck than bad."

"Oh, yes. You'd be simply delicious." He licked the lollipop again. "But since you're on the clock, I see I'll have to cast my line elsewhere tonight. It's nothing personal, you understand."

Fergus rolled his eyes.

It was hardly his first time shooing the High Count out of Pixie World. As mentioned before, Eskel did drop by on occasion to visit H.P. or see his son. More frequently these days, he'd been caught creeping around the casino or the power plant. Fergus couldn't speak for Newman or the rest of the bounce guard, but every time it fell to him to escort the High Count to the Bridge, they cycled back through similar motions. A bit of laziness, a bit of banter… the High Count was more likely to ooze away without complaint if you entertained him with a little conversation, and that was a lot less work than physically dragging him to the edge of Pixie World and throwing him off to Fairy World below. Fergus had the strength to do that even without Newman's help, but he did so enjoy taking the easy way out. Let him have his little… fun.

Sapphire used to join him at the casino when he worked on Newman's team. He made his rounds by circling the bars, she tossed her dice and hardly ever lost a gamble. Counting cards was her speciality, and since the day they'd been matched, the only one she'd ever let herself lose to was the Head Pixie herself. On nights she wasn't playing, Sapphire would conspire by the windows, sipping sparkling soda and silently keeping watch. She'd make a signal with her tie or scarf if she suspected a tourist of cheating the house; together, she and Fergus were a flawless team. Their breeding card had been stamped more often those days, and neither match had complained.

Then he'd found Talon. It became much harder for them both to go out after that. Oh, sure; on occasion they still shared time at the casino, but with him off the security force and she with no reason to watch, it wasn't the same.

Maybe Newman was right. Maybe he should take that job again. Talon would be whisked off to boarding school when the holidays were over. Newman had said he was good at spotting trespassers. If he grasped at this straw now, perhaps their matchship could be saved. Sapphire wouldn't leave him then. Who else would twirl her behind the Oyster when business was less busy, pressing soft kisses like knives against her throat?

"How about a wager?" Eskel suggested then, breaking the pixie from his thoughts. "This is a casino, after all."

… Ah. Now, that was not one of the familiar motions. Fergus pressed his shades closer to his face. "I don't think so. After all, I have a job to do."

"Precisely my point, darling. You hope to keep your job, and I'm happy to let you so long as you make this fun for me." Eskel's eyes skimmed the room before he finally pointed to an empty card table around the back of the Oyster: a booth with silky green seats. "How about fidchell? Now if you win, you can have your way, and I'll exit the building in your custody without complaint. Should I win, we do things my way instead. Now now, don't protest. Fidchell is a game of skill and we're in a casino, as I already pointed out. I'll put a twist on it." He breathed into the air as though blowing out a cloud of smoke, twirling the lollipop between his fingers. "Our every move is based upon the roll of dice. Your natural magic pitted against mine. Likelihoods and luck. Pixie et Anti-Fairy."

"Seelie et Unseelie is the correct phrase, actually. Look it up."

"Whatever."

"A board game based on dice?" Could that work? Fergus had never heard of such a thing. "And what, exactly, do you plan to do if things go 'your way,' High Count? Why should I risk your wager when I can just as easily mark you for removal myself? It only takes a wand twitch to set off a sonar flare."

"My way? Nothing to cause alarm; simply a little information. Perhaps a name." He smiled. "And why? Because my strengths play to luck and yours to skill. We're at the perfect crossroads and neither one of us can resist showing off. I'm the worst outcome of every situation, Mr. Probability. It's in my blood. Now, how about that wager?"

Very, very slightly, Fergus tilted his head to one side. Oh yes, he was a pixie… and as a pixie, his instinct to calculate the situation bubbled in his ears like hot cheese on nachos in the break room. A wager, the High Count said. That promised to be enjoyable without technically being 'Fun.' A difficult offer to resist.

And better than slinking home to Sapphire. He'd yet to prepare his defense.

"All right," he said at last, sliding his arms from their crossed position. "As we say in my industry, deal me in. I'll attack."

"Ah, so I'll defend the High King and his right to do as he pleases, just as I defend myself and my right to linger here? Very well, then." Eskel twirled his wand and an enormous fidchell board materialized above their booth. Six times larger than the standard type exactly. Fergus watched it settle on the table with narrow eyes. This would take a good brain.

"My board," Eskel said, gesturing to it with his hand as he released it from his wand. "You supply the dice, hm? We have to be able to trust each other."

"Of course. There's a tray between those two tables there. Pick any color. They're unique to our casino. I'll know if yours don't match." Fergus removed his jacket and flapped it once, then draped it over the booth. A game of dice. It didn't sound impossible. Simply… complex.

"See something you like?" he asked over his shoulder.

"What?"

"Remember, I'm of the Seelie Court. I can sense you staring."

Eskel sighed, the sound barely carrying above the chirp and clink of the game machines. He snapped the rest of the lollipop in his teeth, then flicked the stick to the trash can nearby. "I see something I hate, yes. That ladybug tattoo just above your collar there. Is that new?"

"Yes. It's good luck. Keeps the Anti-Fairies from breathing down my back."

"I know," Eskel hmphed. "Though frankly I'm not sure why you bother. You Pixies are awfully good at doing that without help."

"And yet you came."

Shaking his head, Eskel slipped off to find the dice. He returned several minutes later with two handfuls of the sparkliest ones, which made Fergus quietly roll his eyes. So predictable: an Anti-Fairy with a hoarding instinct. Nonetheless, he accepted half and lay his pen beside the board. Eskel did the same with his black wand, hands off. At least back here, behind the Oyster, it would take Newman time to find them.

"Your move," said the High Count, placing his chin on interlocked fingers. "Do you often play the attacking side, Thirty-Seven?"

"Whenever possible," Fergus answered, picking up one die. He closed his hand around it, quietly smearing its dots with the sweat and dust from his skin.

"Interesting. You know, that says a lot about you."

"I imagine it does." He rolled the die and it bounced across the enormous board, directly into Eskel's palm. The anti-fairy held it up, pinched between two fingers.

"Why so assertive, darling? A far cry from the stereotype of your passive, gentle race."

"Do you really believe in stereotypes, High Count?"

Eskel examined the die for a moment, then returned it to the table. "Rani plays defensive," he said. "So does that cute little guard of hers. What's his name?"

"Their name is Three-Six-Nine, for short."

"All pixies play defensive if you let them choose, but all Fairies choose the attacking side. Whole studies have been done on this in Anti-Fairy World, though because it's us, you wouldn't have heard anything about it. Isn't that interesting?"

"Not all pixies, clearly."

"All full-blooded pixies."

Fergus rolled a four. He advanced one of his small, beaded pieces closer to the High King's throne at the center of the board. It was still an awfully long trip away. Much more biting than the usual rule that you could slide a piece as far as it could reach in one turn. But perhaps that's what he liked about it.

"I don't see your point," he said. "Research can't claim certainty. And if it does, it's a scam."

"Funny. I'd have thought you'd find my talk of probability riveting, being what you are." Eskel rolled a six with the golden glitter die. "Perhaps you aren't as clever as I suspected."

"High Count, I won't engage you if you're falling back on simplistic insults." Two.

"Have I offended you, darling?"

Five. "You're trying my patience. Is that why H.P. and Jorgen didn't invite you to Earth this year?"

Eskel's hand quivered above the dice. "Rani," he said then, "is blaming me for her own wandering eyes." He rolled a one.

"Wait a second. She's been gazing at you? You're kidding."

"Don't act quite so disbelieving," he hmphed. "But no, I'm not joking. She's been almost a millennium without her old flame, hasn't she? In your culture, your leader is expected to drop their partner, right? Well, between you and me, I do believe she's starting to crack."

"Is she?"

"Oh, indubitably. That's why she can't stand to look at me: my body attracts the eye, even hers. As if that's my fault. She's punishing me for simply being who I am, for enjoying my own body, and her 'impure thoughts' she considers a thing of my own making. And this when I've done nothing to incite her anger; my people believe in lying low and I'm not one to break tradition unnecessarily." Eskel spun his hand, summoning a new lollipop between his fingers (this one grape). He slipped it between the gap in his fangs and began to suck unhappily. "I say, if mating ever became illegal for the High Count, I'd vanish from the throne by dawn."

"I'm certain you would," Fergus replied, only half listening now. The Head Pixie? Starting to crack? Though he'd questioned Reedfilter's leadership time and time again since year 715, he hadn't probed deeply to find her hidden flaws. His job was to sift through paperwork, visiting with godparents and combing through reports of their godchild's wishes; though not in charge, he'd worked his way quite high up in the Amity Angel program (It had come so naturally, as if the role was meant for someone so similar to him who just wasn't here to play it herself). He did his work, he kept tabs on his son, he stared wistfully at his casino (Columbine Longwood's casino) and that was his role in life. Pixie World didn't need him anywhere else, so he didn't care much for its politics. The Head Pixie's rule was absolute, after all. It wasn't as though Pixie politics were very interesting. They weren't even boring enough for a pixie to enjoy. There was simply nothing. Nothing to hold an opinion about, nothing to change.

Nothing to change…

Hmm…

"I'm not confirming I'd blitz her if she asked," Eskel defended himself, still prattling on with his hands now raised protectively at his chest. He flipped the lollipop to the other side of his mouth with his tongue, brows all scrunched down over tight eyes. "Goodness no, I'm not saying that; accounting for consequences may not be one of my strengths, and I know my personal flaws include an inability to resist playing along when someone so dominant pins me up against a wall with the threat of a long and unforgettable night - I know this, I know - but I do have some sense of self-restraint. I favor drakes to damsels anyway. I'm only saying that if I were Head Pixie and couldn't bed a pretty passerby when I want to, then whatever is the point of being king? … Do pardon my language- I mean no real offense."

"None taken. I see you're passionate when it comes to your dreams." (Eskel rolled his eyes.) Fergus rolled a three and nudged a guard to the right. "You know, the Fairies say 'May all your wishes be granted except for one so you'll always have something left to strive for.'"

"Yes, yes… I suppose that's our lot in life as fae, isn't it? The universe's power at our fingertips, but our true desires always, always out of reach." He crushed the ruby red die in his hand for a moment, then rolled a six. The High King piece slid dangerously close to the edge of the board. Fergus watched this silently, chin leaning on one fingertip.

"And what is it you desire most, Eskel, that all your magic and riches and power can't give you?"

"The admiration of the people, of course. Who cares for the opinions of a few close individuals when further fame and fortune lie just out of reach? I want gifts mailed to my doorstep 'til the delivery carriage explodes. I want eager hands tearing chunks from my hair the moment I float into the city. I want every station tuned in to hear my voice all hours of the day. I want desperate civilians flinging themselves at my feet so I can have my pick of them any time I'm passing through; I envision six or seven in my bed every night I'm touring towns. I long to be irresistible: the absolute dream lover of all who ever fantasize. Once my people are released from the lockbox von Strangle has shut us in, I'll soon impress the Anti-Fairies with my achievements and then I'll come for the Fairies and you all next." He rolled six again, chuckling darkly. "And your dream, Thirty-Seven?"

The pixie gave a lazy smile. "What else? Love."

"Cut from the same cloth then. Gods, I'm sorry for you. That's illegal here, isn't it? Or am I misremembering?"

"Depends on your definition. My people sneer at the media portrayal of romance, and public displays of affection are grounds to get you fired. You have to be creative in your phrasing to sneak it past the sensors. I define love as the unwavering devotion of those who'll follow me anywhere, who'll continue liking me no matter how I change myself or where I spend my time. I don't care about 'the people'; constantly changing myself to impress them sounds exhausting. Sell me true friendship any day. That's love."

"Tut, tut. You attach too closely to what's real, darling, and you're too comfortable sitting on your hands. Being down-to-earth is for the gnomes and trolls. You've got to stick your neck out to make progress in this world. You're Fae, after all, and a shapeshifter. Where's your sense of imagination? Cunning? Adventure?"

"Meh."

Eskel clicked his teeth again, casting his eyes to the Oyster. They played their game in silence after that, hands rapidly clicking pieces up and down. Though defending, Eskel made constant headway towards the corners, keeping the High King moving faster than his guards. Luck and probability- was that really all fidchell came down to when you tied movement to the rolls of dice?

Fergus captured the King just before Eskel could whisk it to the corner. The High Count smiled coldly, one hand still laced below his jaw, never having moved. He reached to take his wand. Fergus gripped his pen.

"Very well, darling. You win." The anti-fairy rose to his feet, then paused. "Because you were so willing to play my little game, I find it prudent to warn you about the place you chose to sit." He flicked a finger to the ceiling. "That lovely Oyster of yours is about to come crashing down; didn't you hear it groaning? The 'worst outcome' of our situation tonight was never that I'd stay… but that someone here would be hurt in the process."

"No," Fergus said, not even glancing up at the game (his game). "The worst outcome here would be if it came crashing down without you warning me first."

"Possibly," Eskel mused. "But perhaps I, the sole anti-fairy here tonight, would be blamed for the death of your pretty little fountain? Perhaps it benefits me to forgo this tasteful snack of bad luck I see before me and vanish while I can. And perhaps you just missed your chance to drag the High Count himself before your queen; I don't doubt she'd have drooled over my chest in this shirt I have tonight. Ah, well. Tell Rani I await her excuses for why I was uninvited to our romp around the planet, and I'll take my apology as a gift basket. I expect to join them next year, whether I'm welcome or not. Good night, Thirty-Seven. I might visit you and Talon again."

With a flick of his wand, he disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Fergus only just whipped his pen up in time to catch the Oyster halfway to the floor. The anti-fairy got away.

The Oyster was repaired; he stayed twenty minutes to see to it himself. Then he took his coat and went outside. For a long time that night, the pixie stood in the snowy street, staring blankly (as pixies do) up at the sky and watching snowflakes melt against his shades. No more excuses. Time to go home. Sapphire would be waiting with a pen and pad, more than ready for that separation conversation. Could he convince her to stay? Surely he had a chance. She wouldn't have asked him to change his looks before their license photos if he didn't have a chance.

Softly, Fergus bit one side of his lip. Even if Sapphire asked him to list what flaws he'd found in her company, he could never. Directness was his nature, but not with her. With Talon, yes, but never her.

"I love you," he murmured there on the sidewalk, holding his elbows with fingers curled. Some pixies bounced from match to match all their lives, constantly shuffled about at the Head Pixie's whim until they either cracked or learned to keep their mouths shut. It was calculated, of course. All calculated. Genetics were a fickle mistress even with magic, and perfect couples were so very rare. And when they were discovered, the Head's stamp never hesitated to smack their breeding permission card… There was a reason Sapphire had twelve siblings and he'd always been an only child. On his father's side, anyway. Who knew how many will o' the wisps were out there half similar to his own genetics…

Until tonight, Fergus had always counted himself among the lucky ones: he'd never had another match before. All his life (since he was a few centuries out of high school, more specifically), he'd been partnered with Sapphire. Through all her experimentations, all her body types, every haircut, every name and pronoun change… he was there. Because that's what keeping your mouth shut gets you in Pixie World. Consistency. To a pixie, that was everything. Apparently silence only took you so far.

"I love you."

How funny, really, that snarky banter with the High Count himself came so easily to him. Or- or how even conversations with H.P. sprang neatly off his tongue. But Sapphire? … Even after thousands of years, he hardly knew where to start a conversation with her.

No, that wasn't true. She'd been as delighted with his wit as the High Count once, and thrown her own quips in return. They'd been playful once, nearly smiling. They'd lain in bed together hour after hour, fingers wrapped around wrists as they whispered about the little nymphs they hoped to raise someday. He'd carry the first, they'd decided, because she was working towards a promotion at the time and neither wanted pregnancy held against her (She'd gotten that promotion now, and the next and another). The second nymph, if they were allowed, would be Sapphire's pregnancy. They had a notebook of childcare ideas. The spare office would be remodeled as the nursery.

That was long ago. Something, somewhere, in their relationship had shifted. And like roots pressed in a sidewalk crack, that shift had strengthened like a canyon. He could have stopped it, probably. If he hadn't kept waiting. Waiting with his mouth shut… too uneasy to ask questions in case he turned out to be wrong. He tended to procrastinate; it was a flaw he knew well and battled with every day.

This was his fault.

The pixie pressed his shades a twitch closer to his eyes. What he wouldn't give for the expected bickering tonight to be as lighthearted as his banter with the High Count in the casino. That sort of thing was fun… in a dull and boring way, of course. The High Count wasn't real. Nor was he, a simple pixie, "real" in Eskel's eyes either. They were strangers… strangers whose paths crossed only when willed by Powers That Be to argue like a game. Every taunt and tease… all of it was fake. "You attach too closely to what's real," the High Count had said. Did he? How strange. He'd fallen in love with a version of Sapphire that didn't wholly exist, and he appreciated his little bantering "friendship" with Pag-sün d'eskel the exact same way. Could that happen? Becoming attached to your dream of a person rather than who they really were? Maybe that's how Eskel managed all his one-night affairs…

His relationship with Sapphire wasn't a painful one. Simply complex. He'd talk to her tonight. They'd work it out. He had no real complaints against her, and whatever she asked for, he would give. Far better to repair a relationship spanning almost sixty millennia than risk rough waves with someone brand new. Who would H.P. match him with, anyway? The thought almost made him laugh. He was Fergus 3700307 Whimsifinado. He kept his head down and did his work and no one asked him any questions. He had "friends," but no one particularly liked him. Even Sapphire called him Thirty-Seven. Everybody did.

Oh what he'd do, though, for a friend. For unwavering devotion. For love.

Shaking frost from his wingtips, Fergus skimmed into the air, course set for Room 314. Distant fireworks pierced the stars to welcome a brand new year.


A/N - Please keep in mind that this is a collection of casual one-shots I whipped up as far back as 2016. Compliments are welcome, but I'm not looking for serious critique on any of these. There's no set schedule for these drabbles and they'll be posted whenever I get them up~ Thank you!