Another Round

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Summary

An unsuspecting bartender who thought she was just a mortal becomes embroiled in a biochemical plot using her rare blood to decimate a supernatural population. She has to prove she didn't plan the attack to gain the aid of her distrusting new companions and stop the next phase before it's too late for everyone, while trying to navigate a power she never knew she had and mitigate the damage she's unwittingly caused to the world around her. *Not edited at all, this is a NaNoWriMo work in progress, apologies in advance for mistakes I'll find next month*

Genre:
Fantasy / Mystery
Author:
masquedxangel
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
15
Rating:
5.0 2 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter One

The idle hum of conversation was broken by the cheerful clinking of the two shotglasses I palmed from the chiller as I nodded to the man at the end of the bar top. He dropped the pair of fingers he’d been holding up with an answering nod and spoke quietly to the man seated next to him as I tipped whiskey into both glasses. “Hey there, Lane. Keep going or close out?”

He tipped a silver coin from his palm and it clattered on the quartz. “Close me out, and keep the change.” He winked and slid the glasses over to himself, downing the first and palming the second as he continued chatting with the man beside him. The other man, with hair as pale blonde as Lance’s was dark, took another swig from his beer and leaned back in his seat. They were both impossibly beautiful men with features that would make a sculptor green with envy. They were also far from the first beautiful men I’d met and the effect was less impressive with prolonged exposure. Not to say I didn’t take an eyeful when it was offered, but I wasn’t about to get suckered by a pretty face anymore.

“Thanks, let me know if you want anything else.” I responded as I swept the coin away to the cash register. I’d have to swap that out later for money the mortal world would recognize. I didn’t think my landlord would be apt to accept a Cu Chulainn coin. The story went it had been an unpopular minting a hundred years ago and most of the coins had been taken out of circulation. What had actually happened was the fae thought it was a cute commemoration of an uprising and they’d snapped them up to use as currency. Near as I could tell, the fae did a lot of things that made no sense to me for their own amusement. In another hundred years Lane might have been handing me a golden goose’s egg. The silver coins were rare but not exceedingly so, not like the gorgeous Irish ECU coin that was worth thousands. I’d only seen one of those come out during a wedding party.

I was by no means an expert on coinage. There were dozens I still had to rely on my boss to value, but the Irish ones seemed more popular in our area and I’d started to get the hang of them over the last couple of years.

“Tilly!” Bellowed a familiar full-bellied voice. I tipped my head to the side to catch a glimpse of my boss’ massive form across the bar.

“What’s up?” I called back.

“Need a double round of Bohdi pitchers to table ten, I gotta switch a keg, make it happen will ya?”

If it meant I didn’t have to haul one of the massive drums of booze around, I’d take that trade. “Gotcha boss.” I snagged a pair of pitchers and popped the right handle, holding first one then the other under the amber stream. Bumping it with my elbow to cut the flow I headed to the table. My skin started to crawl the moment I got too close and I slowed my pace slightly. At first I assumed I was picking up on whatever flavour of supernatural they were. But from the broad shoulders and the rowdy roughhousing, they were either a college football team or werewolves. Either way, nothing I couldn’t handle and hadn’t handled before. Most of the non-supernatural community didn’t touch this place but nothing was actively preventing them entry beyond their own instincts. Instincts I hadn’t shared when I’d applied for a job here without knowing the place wasn’t just the average dive bar.

My skin was still crawling and I cut a gaze to my right and then my left, trying to assess who was watching me. That had to be the answer here. I wasn’t likely to be unnerved by a group of werewolves who currently didn’t seem to be doing anything but having a good time over a few pints, but someone staring daggers through me? That would get my attention. I couldn’t tack anyone off so I finally just plastered on a smile and shouldered my way through the group to the table. “Someone order another round?” I called, voice loud enough to cut through their conversation. They cheered and jostled and I spared them a laugh as I put the pitchers down on the table. “We got a tab going, boys, or do I need to get some coin out of you?”

The wolf to my left grinned, a boyish smile that almost made me ask him for his ID just in case. He still had a bit of chubbiness to his cheeks and sparkling blue eyes that made me smile back despite myself. “I got this one.” He responded cheerfully and pulled his wallet out, offering a hundred.

“Back with your change in a minute.” I responded, feeling a little more relaxed as the burning between my shoulder blades let up a little. Maybe I was just tired and imagining things; although given my clientele it was better to be overly cautious than very dead. Just because nobody had figured out that I was just a mortal yet didn’t mean they wouldn’t take a bite if I was stupid enough to leave a hand too close. To many of the creatures in this room a mortal like myself was little more than a passing amusement with little to no long term value.

The register clanged as I tapped the amount in and pulled cash, returning to the table after tucking it into a billfold with the receipt. A woman sitting near Lance held a hand up and I offered her a smile, “with you in a second, just gotta drop this off.” She nodded and settled back in her seat. We weren’t chaotic by any means, only a few tables full, the evening still fairly young given quite a bit of our demographic was of the creature of the night persuasion. I returned to the table and dropped the change in front of blue-eyes. “Here you go. You boys let me know if I can do anything else for you.”

As soon as the words left my mouth I regretted it. Get you anything was my usual go to. Maybe I was still more rattled than I thought. No sooner had I realized what I’d said than a hand clapped on my ass over my jeans and a boisterous laugh came from my right. At least blue-eyes had the decency to look affronted on my behalf. “Plenty of stuff a little lady like you can do for us!” Laughed the owner of the offending hand.

I crossed my arms as if my first reflex wasn’t to try to break his arm. I wasn’t going to win a battle of strength with a werewolf and if I tried it was going to be a bad look for me. I didn’t need to advertise that I wasn’t in their league and if I started throwing punches someone was going to get wise. “I’m gonna pretend you just got a little too in your cups there, buddy.” I said using my best very disappointed babysitter voice. That tone had a remarkable number of crossover from children to drunk adults. “And that you don’t in fact want to find yourself on your ass on the sidewalk.”

His eyes widened slightly and then narrowed and he puffed up. Fuck. He was one of those types who got a little too invested in how much of an Alpha he was. Eyeroll. “You always go around mouthing off to people who’re bigger than you?”

I bristled, “you always go around putting your uninvited hands on people you think are weaker than you?”

“Vik,” blue-eyes spoke up in a voice that was trying to be calm, “this is one of the last bars in this fucking city that’ll serve us when you’re with us. You gotta knock this shit off; c’mon man, stop being an asshole and let her go. Nobody but you thinks it’s funny.” Blue-eyes reached an arm out and tried to shove Vik’s hand off of me.

I was moving before I realized what was happening. One moment I was trying to pretend I wasn’t itching to break a pint glass over Vik’s head, and the next moment I was hitting the floor on my back and trying to uncross my eyes. It had been only a split second and Vik was half shifted, with teeth too massive for his mouth showing through a twisted snarl, long claws curving from his fingertips, one of his hands wrapped around blue-eyes’ neck.

I squeaked as the other wolves at the table exploded into motion, shouting and jostling and at least one managing to step on me as I tried my damndest to get my bearings enough to crawl out of the melee. There was a sudden explosion that rocked through the room and the din went dead still as quickly as it had begun. I blinked as I managed to push myself up on my arms, blinking slowly.

“I know you didn’t come into my fuckin’ bar and put your hands on my bartender. I know you didn’t do that, because you know damned well I’ll make your hands a gift to her in a pretty blue box if I think that’s what you fuckin’ did.” Vik’s face twisted in a new way and his fangs and claws receded away. Blue-eyes had managed to avoid transforming which was frankly impressive when he’d had an alpha at his throat in a literal sense. I liked Blue-eyes a little more and decided maybe he had a boyish charm but that didn’t mean he was a kid. “Tilly,” Mal strode forward, the shotgun still in his hands. I hadn’t seen one quite that big before and I idly wondered what he’d just destroyed. “You okay kid?”

“Oh,” I realized belatedly I was still languishing on my ass on the floor like a gawking pigeon. I pushed myself up, trying to hide the sway as my knees argued that we didn’t want to be up we wanted to be having a heart attack on the nice safe floor. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Mal nodded slowly and rested the muzzle of his shotgun on the ground now, disapproving gaze returning to the two werewolves. “I’m thinking your evening is over, gentlemen. I would consider making an effort to be scarce for the next week or two, just a friendly suggestion.” There was nothing friendly about his tone or the look on his face. Even I felt chagrined, and I hadn’t done anything wrong. Mal barged ahead, pointing at Vik who was starting to look red in the face in a way that I assumed didn’t have anything to do with the amount of booze he’d had. “And you in particular, Vikram Hale, should be ashamed of yourself. Your father raised you better than that. You aren’t going to be leading shit if you don’t get your temper under control. That shifting bullshit is for toddlers having a tantrum, you’re a grown ass man.”

Vik crossed his arms awkwardly and avoided making eye contact, looking exactly as rebuked as I would have expected. I was quietly a little shocked he was letting himself be spoken to that way. But then again, I still hadn’t been able to figure out exactly what Malcolm was. He hadn’t offered the information and I’d learned early on that it’s weird to ask. If the preternatural want you to know what they are, they’ll either be very obvious about their behaviour – like the wolves – or they’ll outright tell you. If they don’t, it’s not your business, so mind your own.

Mal wasn’t done yet, “let’s have it, boy.”

It took me a moment of confusion to realize what he meant when Vik begrudgingly turned his face toward me, not making eye contact although I suspected that was to hide the fact that he was pissed he had to do this at all, “I’m sorry, ma’am, it won’t happen again.”

I weighed my options for a moment. If this whole mess hadn’t escalated to throwing hands in the first place I wasn’t entirely sure what my next step would have been. It probably still would have ended with Vik standing on the sidewalk nursing his wounded pride, but nobody would be half-deaf from a shotgun blast in an enclosed space and I wouldn’t have a bruised tailbone. “See that it doesn’t.” I landed on, trying to keep my voice steady and firm as if I weren’t still having a small private heart attack at the realization of how close I’d come to getting between wolves in a full-on brawl. I was very, very vulnerable to teeth and claws. Vikram could have torn me apart in only the half-shift he’d forced without realizing he was doing it.

“Okay, you’ve harshed my chill enough for one night, out.” Mal pointed to the door, “all of you.”

The other wolves in the group grumbled, shooting irate looks toward Vik and blue-eyes, but didn’t argue with the large man holding the gun. Blue-eyes stayed behind as Vik stomped from the bar behind his group and offered us an embarrassed smile and shrug, “I’m sorry about him. He’s got a God complex the size of Wisconsin, one of these days he’s going to get handsy with the wrong woman and she’s going to rearrange his attitude for him.” He shrugged, “I can only hope I’m there to see it.” With a wink he pulled his wallet out and dropped another hundred on the table. That’s when I noticed one of the untouched pitchers of Bohdi had been upended and had found its way to the floor. Very numbly, in between groaning about having to mop up that mess, I marveled at the fact that the glass pitcher hadn’t shattered. I wondered if Mal had paid someone to spell them for strength. We did have a fairly small number of broken glasses every week.

“Not your job to apologize for someone who’s meant to be in line for Alpha.” Mal responded for me, making me realize I’d just been standing there staring at the pitcher on the ground for an awkwardly long time while blue-eyes patiently awaited a response from me.

“Eh, I’m in line to be his second. I’ve been apologizing for his dumb ass since we were in elementary school.” He hesitated and then reached a hand out toward me, “I’m Graham, by the way. He said you’re Tilly?”

I accepted his hand and shook it momentarily before pulling free and putting a half step of distance between us. “Yeah.” I said simply. I didn’t like to hover too close to the supernatural for too long, they started to pay attention and notice I seemed awfully…normal. “Hope your friend doesn’t go for round two once you guys are clear of Mal’s shotgun.”

He scoffed, “right now he’s got his tail tucked. He’ll be right as rain by morning.” Graham shrugged a shoulder, “sorry again about the disturbance. I’ll be on my way now. See you when we’re welcome back again.” With another charming smile that seemed shockingly harmless for someone who had just been about to throw down in a bloody fangs-claws-and-fur battle. His gaze didn’t linger, stayed on my face, and he didn’t seem confused which meant he hadn’t paid enough attention to realize I was just human. That was the convenient thing about alcohol. Even for the supernatural it dulled the senses enough to let small inconsistencies seem unimportant enough to just shrug off. I relied on that, given that I had no business being here in the first place.

As the heavy carved oak door that marked the entrance to Mal’s place closed, I let out a long breath and felt my shoulders inch away from my ears. “Fuckin’ werewolves.” If there was anyone who was going to get too rowdy, it was them. Everyone thought it was Vampires or the Fae who got to be the biggest nuisance but other than the now-and-then attempt to thrall someone it was the wolves. Those and the Incubi/Succubi that thought they were irresistible and weren’t often wrong. There was a pretty firm absolutely no hookups rule in the bar for a reason.

“It’s a little close to the full moon. But he still should have been able to hold it together.” He turned and headed toward the bar. I trailed behind after grabbing the dropped pitcher and the still untouched one. For a moment I considered taking a healthy swig of the full one, and then dismissed the idea. Tempting though it was, and Mal wouldn’t care, it would make it hard to keep my wits about me if something else threatened to out my lack of innate magic. My job was fairly low stress except for the mortals cannot know about the supernatural rule that was pretty strictly enforced. I didn’t want to have anyone rearranging my head for me to knock a few years of memory out of there. If they even could.

“How much damage did you do with the gun?” I asked, glancing around as I emptied the beer and popped both pitchers into the dishwasher on autopilot. “I didn’t even know we had one.”

“What kind of idiot hosts the fair folk and werewolves and doesn’t have weapons?” Mal muttered churlishly, slipping the shotgun into a slotted opening I’d never seen before that he snapped shut and sealed with an absent wave of his hand, a ward shimmering on the edge of my vision before it vanished. Anyone could technically see a ward if they looked hard enough, but there was no chance of me breaching or setting one. If I needed that gun I was shit out of luck.

“I guess that’s true.”

“Nothing was damaged. I keep salt rounds in the shotgun.” He looked amused, “makes a hell of a racket but just needs some sweeping up.”

“You menaced the wolves with a gun full of salt?” I hissed.

Mal cocked a brow, “you think I need a gun?”

No I don’t know what you are or what you can do. I bit the retort back and shrugged noncommittally.

“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice broke our hushed debate and I jerked, looking up. It took me a moment to realize we still had several customers in the place and one of them had been waiting through the chaos of the last few minutes very patiently. “Do you suppose I could order now?”

“Oh!” I wiped my hands quickly on the bar towel that had somehow managed to hold on in the loop of my pants. “I’m so sorry. Little bit distracted.” I laughed, even successfully hiding the grimace at how strained it sounded to my own ears, “what can I get you?”

The woman shifted in her seat, looking slightly disgruntled – which made my hackles raise a little, since it wasn’t like I was getting tossed around like a ragdoll by a cranky werewolf for fun – and smoothed her brown ponytail back behind her shoulder. “I’d like a Martini. Extra dry – very extra dirty.”

Well, at least it wasn’t a plain shot. Speaking of which, I flicked a gaze toward Lance and his companion to check their glasses as I smiled toward the woman and nodded, “coming right up; any preference on the Vodka?”

“Grey Goose.” The woman seemed somewhat more mollified now and even returned my smile as I nodded and started the process of scooping ice into the shaker, running a glass-wash of Vermouth, and adding Vodka and nearly as much olive juice to the ice. A firm shake and shimmy later and I strained the drink and popped a toothpick full of olives into place, scooting the stemware across the bar top. “Appreciate it.”

“No problem,” I figured she must be one of the fae even though her severe features weren’t as delicate and stunning as I would have expected. Thank you was a touchy subject among the fair folk. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to care much if I used the word myself. I figured the rules weren’t quite the same for service industry peons. “Close out, or open a tab?”

She reached into a small clutch next to her right elbow and withdrew a shiny silver card. “Tab, if you would.”

I took the card and paused for a moment, squinting at it hard. It had taken me a few embarrassing tries to catch when one of the fae was trying to swindle me with a ‘credit card’ that was actually a very pretty stone or a neat leaf. When it remained innocently shiny with a bundle of numbers that didn’t move and the name KENDALL GREY stamped on it I nodded and turned to the register, tapping rapidly while barely looking at the actual keys. I’d been doing this long enough to have memorized the locations of every button. Mal knew not to add anything new unless he tacked it on at the end. If he screwed up my system customers got very confusing bills and their irritation flowed right on through me to him. We had an understanding.

“Here you go, Kendall.” I smiled again as I handed her the card back and accepted her nod.

I paused to refill Lance and his friend – noting that they studiously didn’t mention what they’d just seen although I couldn’t hide my smile when the pale-haired man asked for a pint of Bohdi. After checking with the rest of the room while pretending I had nothing else to do, I finally had to face the music, heaving a soft sigh as I turned toward the table. Time to clean up the disaster that was waiting for me. At least it wasn’t a terrifically busy night; Mal would keep an eye on things from wherever he’d walked off to while I was making the world’s saltiest Martini.

The mess I was expecting was nowhere to be seen. I blinked a few times, furrowing my brow. The table was set aright, the floor was tidy, glassware was stacked on a tray to be delivered, the chairs were all exactly where they belonged. “What the fu—”

“You don’t listen to a word I say, do you?” I jumped at Mal’s voice over my shoulder and turned.

“Not usually, so you’ll need to be more specific.”

He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, “I hired a Hob last week.”

“Pretend I have no idea what a Hob is.”

“A Hob,” another voice, this one to my left and sounding very disgruntled, “is who just made that terrible mess that you just left there go away.”

I turned and blinked, shifting to look down. For someone to be shorter than my barely five feet had thrown me off guard. Sure we got the occasional pixie in, I kept a set of custom made dollhouse stemware in a special box for them, but it still threw me off every time I had to look down instead of up. “Oh,” I said and blinked, “I mean, thank you, but I don’t get it. I was going to take care of it after I made sure the customers were taken care of.”

The man glaring up at me had a pair of glasses thicker than I thought they even made glasses perched on a bulbous nose. He looked to be in his seventies, which I knew meant absolutely nothing to the supernatural although most of them usually looked like college students for several thousand years. Heavily lined face framed by long loose white hair. He was dressed in a full three-piece suit, I half expected him to produce a top hat and reveal the suit had tails. His golden tie was a perfect match to keen golden eyes that watched me from where they were slightly magnified behind those silver-rimmed glasses. “Well you took your sweet time.”

“So…did Malcolm hire you to come berate me for things I didn’t do, or is there something more to your position here?” I muttered, crossing my own arms to match his.

“I’m the dishwasher.”

That caught me off guard. I frowned at his suit, and then glanced at Mal to see if they were actually just fucking with me. He wasn’t laughing. So I looked back at him. “Well…okay.”

“And housekeeping.”

“Oh, so I don’t have to mop by myself anymore?”

He wrinkled his nose, “I’d rather you don’t at all. I’m sure you don’t do it correctly.”

How was he somehow making it so I had less work to do, while also insulting me enough that I wanted to tell him I’d handle both things by myself thanks very much? I tried to temper my frown. “I guess I don’t understand still. What does being a Hob have to do with it?”

“It’s what they do,” Mal interjected, “they keep house. I know how much you treasure your time spent trying to run the bar and clean the place, but I figured I’d do us both a favour and bring in a professional.”

“Like a Brownie?” I wondered.

Horrified sputtering came from in front of me and I winced. “We’re nothing alike! How incredibly rude!”

“You’re right,” I hastened, “I apologize. My knowledge is limited, I was only trying to understand what Mal was trying to tell me.” Looking less murderous the smaller man huffed again and unfolded his arms, reaching into his suit jacket and withdrawing the billfold I’d left on the table earlier. He held it out and I took it automatically. Tucked inside were the fifty-six dollars in cash that I’d returned to the table and the hundred Graham had tossed beside it. Even the money looked tidier, crisp like-new bills. I marveled at that for a moment before I looked up again. “I’m Tilly.”

“I know.”

He didn’t elaborate further and I fought the urge to sigh. Some of the fae didn’t even like to give a nickname, especially the older ones. I still couldn’t understand how they knew who they were talking to. “Fifty-fifty okay?”

He blinked, the frown less severe. “fifty what?”

“Fifty…percent?” I shot a look at Malcolm, confused. “You helped me out and now I don’t have to deal with that disaster area. I know you’ll get tipped out with everyone else, but I’m willing to split the inconvenience fee the wolves paid with you specifically.”

The Hob looked around me at Malcolm and then back, “oh…okay, sure.”

I nodded and tugged the fifty free, holding it out to him. He slipped it from my fingers and tucked it into his fancy jacket. I pulled the hundred and dropped it into my pocket. Then I pulled the six and popped it into the communal tip jar.

“Okay, that’s taken care of,” I clapped and glanced at the clock. Malcolm kept a massive grandfather clock against one wall. On slow nights I could hear the pendulum whispering back and forth. It sang the hour exactly as accurate as any phone clock I’d ever seen so I knew I could rely on it. “It’s eleven so the kitchen closes in an hour. Everything else is back aboveboard. Are we good Mal?”

I glanced back at my boss who looked bemused. “Yeah, we’re good. Go ahead and get back to the kitchen,” he nodded to the Hob. After the man made his way through the door he chuckled under his breath. “You’re a strange one, Tilly. It’s why I like you.”

“How so?”

“He’d have done it for free. They can’t help the compulsion. You could trash this whole bar right now and he’d fix it up.”

I blinked, “you are paying him right?”

“Of course I am.” He sniffed, “I can’t believe you’d ask me that. I’ve always paid my staff fairly. It’s how I keep you idiots working for me despite the clientele.”

I rolled my eyes at that, “well you just said it was weird that I split the money with him.”

He clapped his hand on my shoulder and met my eyes full-on which was an unusual move for most of the people who walked through the door of the bar. “And it was. But it’s also why you’re still working here. There’s a lot of shitty behaviour in the world and I won’t have it in here.” The skin around his eyes wrinkled for a moment and then he stepped back as the door swung open and a group of rowdy girls scurried in, squealing laughter, a silver-haired girl with a horn in the middle of her forehead and a silver circlet weaved through her hair wearing a sash across her chest emblazoned with the word Bride. Oh, great.

“Ladies,” I greeted as jovially as I could, “pick any table, what can I get started for you?”

The predictable rush of Margaritas! brought a sigh to the back of my throat but I didn’t let it pass my lips, keeping my smile in place. “Just regular Margaritas?” I asked as I started pulling liquor. “Or are we spicing it up?”

There were six of them in total, which could have been worse, and they flooded into a nearby booth with the silver-haired girl boxed into the center. She looked slightly familiar, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how. It was a motion out of the corner of my eye that brought my attention two a pair of men in dark clothes with darker expressions on their faces who had slunk in while I was distracted by the rowdy group that made it click. I may not know the girl directly, but I knew the look of a security detail. That screamed some variety of fae royalty. Which meant very little to me, the fae had quite a few lower-level royals running about, but it did mean my every movement was being scrutinized by the two brutes who took up a four top together and between their linebacker shoulders made the space look too small. For fae they were surprisingly unhandsome and I idly wondered if I they were wearing a glamour, which made little sense in this bar but was their right. The rules were pretty relaxed as long as nobody was trying to use magic on someone else sans their consent.

Waving to acknowledge the request for Peach Margaritas I leaned to tug a container of sliced peaches from the freezer and pulled the blender from the back of the bar. Ice, triple sec, tequila, handful of peaches, a bit of sugar and lime juice, and brrrrrrrrzzzzzt. Over the rambling blender I scanned the room. Other than our new set of guests we still had two tables with varying stages of full glasses, the woman with the ponytail who was nearly finished with her Martini, and Lance with his friend. Nothing I couldn’t handle.

Pulling six glasses and salting the rims with quick twists of the wrist I filled the set, arranged them on a tray, and grabbed a stack of menus. Menus on the table first I passed out glasses as they cheered. My voice was more hopeful than I wanted it to be when I asked, “anything to eat for you?” If they’d already been celebrating before arrival, I wanted to make sure to get something in them.

“Not yet,” came the imperious response from the smiling silver-haired fae. “But do leave the menus.” She took a sip from her glass and nodded, “this isn’t bad.”

I stifled the urge to roll my eyes, “I’m glad. I’ll check in on you in a bit and see if we can’t get some appetizers going for the table. Congratulations on your wedding, miss.” Several of them tittered as if I’d made a great joke and I chose not to ask what I’d missed. I assumed this was one of those don’t you know who I am types of situations, and I probably would if I’d had any possible way to know.

Swooping back to the bar I grabbed a pair of pint glasses and filled them with ice water, dropped a lemon wedge on the edge of each, and headed to the guards posted up nearby. They both looked up in surprise as I approached and put the glasses in front of each of them. “I assume we’re not getting anything harder today, gentlemen, but you might as well not go thirsty. Anything else I can get you while you babysit?”

The one closest to me chuckled, his voice about as deep as I would have expected from the barrel he kept in the place of a chest. “Not very subtle.”

“Nope, you’re not.” I willfully misinterpreted. “Let me know if you change your mind.” The other of the pair just stared around me toward the group of girls without speaking, but did idly nod his head and lift the glass of water to his lips. Good enough acknowledgement for me. It was far from the first time there’d been a security detail in here although I couldn’t imagine Mal ever letting violence get professional hired hands level before intervening.

Making my way back to the counter I smiled at the woman with the ponytail as I passed behind her, “another?” Her nod brought my attention to her shawl, which I hadn’t paid attention to before, and I nearly tripped over my own two feet. I’d only seen one a single time before, despite the fact that we were near the Pacific, and it took a second glance at the smooth shawl before I felt relatively certain I was looking at a pelt not a shawl. Suddenly her drink order made far more sense. “How was the dirty level? Should I ramp it up a little or you good where you were?” I managed to continue as I finished my circuit back behind the bar without falling flat on my face. I hoped my gawking hadn’t been too noticeable.

“A little more if you would.” The Selkie in front of me requested, pushing her empty glass to me.

I nodded and dropped it in the dishwasher rack in front of me before grabbing a fresh chilled glass and making another, this time being more than generous with the olive juice. There wasn’t much chance I could make it saltier than the literal ocean.

“Here you go, Kendall.” I passed her the new glass after dropping a fresh toothpick of olives into it and headed to Lance and his blonde companion once more. “Gentlemen, how are we doing?”

“I think we’re set for the night, Tilly.” Lance smiled and tipped the last of his whiskey into his mouth before sliding out of his seat. His companion mimicked him and the two left with a casual over-shoulder wave. I’d see Lance again tomorrow. Who knew if I’d see the unnamed companion again. He’d been perfectly pleasant but very much not interested in engaging with me.

I turned as I heard a whistle from behind me and saw one of the bridesmaids waving at me with her empty glass clutched in her hand. Biting back another sigh I slapped a smile back on my face and headed back their way, ready to remind them that the kitchen closed when the massive clock said it closed and not a minute later. The half-orc chef who ran back of house would quite possibly literally tear apart anyone punching in a ticket after he got his cooktop cooled and my customer service skills weren’t worth pissing him off.

The massive tones of the grandfather clock lurking against the wall of the bar reverberated through the room as I dropped the last glass from the dishwasher into place on the drying mat. The bridal party had left an hour or so before, the massive guards nodding at me as they ushered the wobbly but not belligerent group through the carved oak door. They’d ended up splitting a platter of fries and buffalo-style fried cauliflower. Which had seemed like an interesting choice but they seemed happy with it, so I didn’t question it too hard. The other two tables had filtered out slightly behind them.

Now it was between myself and Kendall, who was finishing the last of her final Martini and nibbling at an olive as I worked my way through my closing routine. I didn’t mind the company. She wasn’t intrusive and I was still marveling at the fact that I’d actually seen a Selkie for the second time and even witnessed the pelt so close I could have touched it. If I wanted to lose a hand. I damn well knew better than to try.

“Tilly?”

I glanced up from labeling a container with the date. “Hm?”

“Do you enjoy this place?”

I hesitated, frowning up at her, and then looked down and finished writing the date before popping the container in the fridge. “That’s an interesting question,” I responded cautiously, “Why are you asking?” It was always a toss up with the fae. Either she was just curious and deciding if this was going to be her new watering hole, or there was something hidden under the innocuous question.

“I’m curious. It’s a simple enough question, your boss isn’t lurking around the corner.” Kendall cocked her head. Now that I recognized what she was I wondered how I’d missed those glittering black eyes. There was just a little too much dark iris to make sense if I didn’t look away from the almost predatory way she was observing me. Which I very much wanted to. The bridal party might have been vegetarian but I knew damn well seals ate meat without the same compunction. I hoped my Martini skills were enough to keep me from having to find out if I could get ahold of that shotgun under the bar.

“Yes, I enjoy this place.” I responded stiffly as I picked up the knife I’d been using to prep garnishes, rinsing it again casually as I tried not to be too obvious about wanting something I could defend myself with. As if I thought I had a chance against a preternaturally strong nearly invincible fae. If I was lucky I might inconvenience her slightly. I became acutely aware of the fact that the ambient music had been cut which meant Mal was still in his office.

“That’s good,” Kendall responded softly as she tipped her glass back and forth between her fingers. Her gaze flicked to my hands. “I’m not here to hurt you, Tilly.” She added calmly, as if I were the one being weird right now.

“That’s good information to have. It’s usually pretty shitty manners to show up on neutral territory and hurt the staff.” I responded with a nod, now polishing the knife as if it were a priceless artifact and not a half-dull paring knife I was pretty sure someone had found in the back of their kitchen drawer one morning.

“It is generally quite frowned upon,” Kendall smiled as if the strange mouth-only smile that never seemed to reach the eyes of a Fae was meant to be comforting in some way. “Goodness knows manners maketh man.”

I blinked, and after a moment’s hesitation I finally lowered the knife back to the cutting board. “Did you just quote The Kingsman at me?”

She cocked her head to the side, “I’m unfamiliar with that text. I was referencing the Vulgaria.”

Of course she was referencing an actual literary work, not a silly action flick. I tried not to feel as stupid as I felt as heat crept up my neck. “Oh, right, of course.” I chose not to compound my ignorance by pointing out that she was in no way man. Down to the fact that she was a seal currently wearing human skin. “Well, source notwithstanding, you have a point.”

Kendall smiled again, sliding from the barstool and offering the glass. When I reached for it her other hand came up too quickly for me to notice until she had hold of my wrist. I yelped, startled, and she frowned and looked down at my hand as if absolutely thunderstruck. After a heartbeat she let go and took a step back, her face suddenly ashen. “How?” She breathed.

The glass clattered on the bartop as I snatched my hand out of her reach and took a matching step back, “how what?” I blurted warily.

“There’s nothing there,” she breathed.

“Is this one of those Fae riddle things? What the hell are you talking about? Why did you grab me? You seem like a nice enough person but lady that’s a great way to get 86’ed even from here.” I spoke deliberately loudly now, hoping Mal would overhear and come to see what the fuss was.

“I’ve never met something like you.” She mumbled, arms crossing tightly in front of her as she ignored my ramble. “You shouldn’t exist.”

“I’m not feeling comforted,” I shot back, feeling oddly hurt by that statement. Damn, I knew I was a just a human and the Fae weren’t big fans but that was rude.

“Nor am I.” She shook her head, looking around as if she hadn’t noticed everyone else in the bar had long since left. “This isn’t good at all,” Kendall drew a shaky breath and turned abruptly, storming out the massive door as my jaw hung slack. I didn’t think to chase her until the tone of the grandfather clock ringing ten startled me from my reverie. And by the time I got through the door, the street was deserted.

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