Grey – a Short Story

It could have been a tableau on a wall, a scene of defiance and judgment: a dark throne room with knife-sharp shadow, sourceless light, angulate shapes and writhing, dark gold, and one sharp being leaning over a child like an axe.

The Fey child was sweetly silver—pale skin, pale hair, bright blue-gray eyes and ears longer than his forearms—but he was far from polished. “I won’t!” he said, and stamped his foot.

The sound crashed jaggedly around the room. The constant slithering from the throne rattled as though agitated, a metallic sound, unearthly.

“John,” said the king like an axe, his a nearly human shape but for the long, thin ears. “This is inappropriate. This is shameful. You will let him go.”

Normally, disapproval was enough. Shaming, especially got results; but for some reason, they did not work today. “You can’t make me,” said the feyling, his long ears pinned back like an angry mule’s.

The king sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Behind him, old gold roiled, tendrils rising and undulating before the sharp, stygian shape of the Throne. We do not fraternize with the grey. The voice was not sound, but else, tremoring through bones and long, delicate ears, ringing behind eyeballs like words stamped on the brain.

John was not afraid of Mab. Or, well, he was; but this was too important to back down now. He clenched his fists. “He’s my friend. No!”

The king opened his mouth.

A golden tendril from behind had touched his shoulder, and the King of the Unseelie Fey fell silent. The grey do not survive, nor do they deserve to, for they have abandoned all that we are, said the Throne. Learn at your peril.

The feyling’s ears flicked up. He’d won? “I will, then!” And he ran before his father or great-grandmother could say anything else.

When John (who did not call himself that, not for at least a month) finally exited the Throne room, he wore the look of a hard-won battle, striped with dried tears, rosebud lips pinched, pointed chin raised.

It all sat funny on round-cheeked face. It also didn’t last. Identity was easy before the age of ten, wrapped around self like a robe freely given, and now that he was not actively being yelled at, he walked with joy. Who would stop him? Nobody, that’s who; he was the heir. He had the right to go where he pleased.

And he’d won! They’d backed down. This was a pretty big deal. As subtle as a spring storm, John glanced around for spies, and then stepped off the main path.

The city of Gleam was his home, a bronze fantasy in art nouveau. Filled with flying machines and magic tech for sparkle and effortless power, it rose into the perpetual night sky in rounded and terraced glory, living up to its name. It always had good scents, good music, good laughter; every inch of it was beauty, perfection, polished.

Except it wasn’t.

John (he wasn’t John) had found the places less polished. Places adults did not go—weird places that had grown wrong, or developing odd cracks, or just lying empty for reasons no one explained. One of these was his favorite place in all of the Silver Dawning world: Matt’s hidden home.

It was a crack in the thick wall of the palace, an impossibly deep fissure leading to hidden space. The entry was narrow, its edges sharp; stars shone through the crack above, and the passage was not smooth. It was jagged, as though onyx had somehow been cut with pinking shears, and John (who did not call himself that anymore) had to exhale and angle himself carefully to slip through.

Distance meant little here. Magical dwellings rarely followed laws of spacial scale or dependence, and the light behind him dimmed long before Matt’s tiny, tended fire appeared.

From up ahead: “Spark! You made it!”

Spark (the name John had chosen most recently, after a bout of Oranges, which he still thought was brilliant even if nobody around him got it) squeezed faster, even knowing it would leave the pale skin of his little chest red under his fine shirt. “Matt! I won! I did it!” And like some kind of prize, he popped out into the wide-open space in the center of this crack, and there found his friend in the dark.

Matt was a year older, three inches taller, and significantly less silver. He grinned, soiled hair and soiled nails and soiled skin-creases exposing his homelessness, but his eyes were still bright, and he’d kept his clothes from stinking. “You’re alive!” he whispered.

“Of course I’m alive,” Spark said with an eye-roll. “I’m the heir. They can’t get rid of me.”

“They could make another heir,” Matt pointed out reasonably.

Spark shook his head. “Can’t. The poison-thingy. Dad can’t have any more. I’m it.”

Matt looked quite surprised. “Oh,” he said, and made a face. “So what did they do to you, then? Did they yell?”

“Oh, yeah.” Spark raised his chin. “This is beneath you, and his father’s erased, and blah blah blah. Stupid.”

Matt swallowed and looked away.

To Spark’s credit, he noticed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I couldn’t get them to make you not grey, though.”

Matt sighed. “It’s okay. Thanks for trying.”

Grey was bad. Cut off from the magic that sustained Fey life, unable to find food, or work, or housing. It wasn’t even fair; Matt hadn’t done anything wrong. It had been his father who’d tried whatever it was that got labeled sedition, but the Throne never let family off easy. After all, without a cost, people might do it again.

Matt had managed so far with Spark’s help, but he wasn’t looking great. He was skinny; his eyes were dull. His ears never rose to full happy-Fey angles, but always hung down, back and low, suppressed.

Spark sort of hoped that if they ignored it, it would get better. “Sorry,” he said again.

Matt shrugged one shoulder and changed the subject. “I got the costumes,” he said.

Spark gasped, ears flipping back up, and his silvery hair briefly rose around him like a cloud of joy. “Show me!”

For the first time all day, Matt smiled.

Spark loved Matt’s home. It was like human camping; drying clothes hung on a spindly contraption of ropes and sticks. A crackling fire (fed with wood) burned in the center. Supplies of canned food (clearly human, definitely not Fey) sat in small piles.

Mat lifted two bulging totes, rainbow-emblazoned and badged with C&As. “Ta-da!”

“Yes!” cried Spark, lunging. The bags disgorged disparate articles of clothing, utterly incongruous, riotous in color and size and shape. “I want this thing,” he said.

“I think it’s called a bikini,” said Matt.

“Are these shoes?” Spark held up the items in question. “They’re so tall!”

“Humans are weird, right?” Matt exhaled slowly—as if already tired—and picked through the items, too.

The two feylings walked out of the palace, uncharacteristically stoic, every step measured as if to an unheard tattoo. Human department-store bags hung from their swinging hands.

Absolutely nothing suspicious was happening here.

Four times, guards in form-fitting, magic-arc armor began to approach. Four times, some unheard command stopped them, and they let the boys pass.

Neither boy noticed.

Around them, the city of Gleam rose like a dream brought on by absinthe and Fitzgerald. “We don’t have to go all the way to Earth,” said Matt for the thousandth time. “We can just go to another city. This isn’t… I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

“I’ve been to Earth loads of times,” said Spark, honestly enough. “And only the humans do this right. anyway.”

Matt gave him an odd look. It was a look he’d sent Spark’s way a lot lately, and Spark did not know how to read it. It scared him. It was too much, too serious, like some kind of monumental and world-shattering choice was taking place.

“What?” Spark said

Matt took a slow breath. “No, you’re worth it,” he said.


“Here.” Matt gestured to an alley. “This’ll be a good place for your portal. You have it, right?”

“Of course.” Spark patted his pocket. “Hey. What do you think of the name Steel?”

“Steel?” said Matt, at a loss. “It’s… metal?”

Grey looked around with exaggerated caution. “He’s a vampire-killer.”

“He’s a what?”

“In the comics. He’s a half-vampire, and he hunts vampires.”

“Hunts Night-Children?” said Matt, baffled. “How can you be half a Night-Child?”

“I don’t know!” Spark said proudly. “I like the name.” He pulled a coin from his pocket—thick and heavy, just a little too big to fit comfortably in his palm—and flipped it into the air and caught it without looking.

This had gone beyond Matt’s limited understanding of human entertainment. “I… you can’t be a half-vampire.”

Spark huffed.

“And nobody kills Night-Children. That doesn’t happen.”

“It’s just a story,” said Spark (who could have been Steel), deflating, and tossed the coin to the ground.

It landed with a thud they could feel in their feet. It did not bounce, did not roll or wobble, but lay flay and hard as if bringing gravity of its own, and then it activated. White rays of light like something out of Spark’s comic books shot into the air, bifurcating Gleam’s night-gloom with blinding blades of light.

A cry of surprise from outside the alley was their warning someone had seen.

“Go!” hissed Spark, and because he was the heir and Matt was his responsibility, he waited until his friend went through before jumping in after.

Riding a Fey portal was a wild time, and the only dignified way to do it was to pretend you were skiing.

Crouched down, ankles taut, elbows in—what a rush! Speed meant nothing, and nor did time and space; if you looked too closely, you could see something like distant stars and whirling galaxies, something like rivers of souls and twinkling screams, something like morassed thoughts of old and congealing pudding. It was light-speed and glacially slow at the same time, and Spark had learned some time ago it was simply better not to look too closely.

Landing was fun. They pitched out and tumbled onto rough and sparkling cement, scraping themselves with small wounds and roughing their clothes. Spark leaped to his feet, already healed, laughing, and dusted himself off.

Matt rose more slowly, and pretended he’d stopped bleeding. He picked up the bags.

“Costumes,” said Spark with great authority, pointing.

Matt held them over his head. “Get them yourself.”

A brief wrestling ensued, all the usual fun, and both feylings were panting and laughing by the time the goods had been dispensed. Matt held the bikini. Spark held the astronaut helmet. They swapped.

A bit of rustling quickness in the bitter cold later, and they emerged onto the human street beneath a sodium-orange light to survey their handiwork. Spark could charitably be called some sort of mermaid construction worker. The bikini, the oversized hardhat, suspended jodhpurs, and five-inch-heel black boots certainly made some kind of statement.

Matt had opted to just approximate a human form as a space priest: a cassock down to his toes, and his long ears hidden under the bright pink astronaut’s helmet. The cassock was too long. He tripped over the hem. “Is this really what humans do?”

“We look amazing,” whispered Spark, longing his only reply. “Come on, come on!”

Groups of human children raced from one door to the next, sporting white sheets, or crinkling plastic superhero uniforms, or sweaty-looking firemen’s coats. Spark and Matt trailed behind, carefully mimicking what they saw. Hardhat and helmet made them look human, so all was well. It was a cold night, this October’s eve, and no one opening their doors cared to linger too long.

The pace of trick-or-treating was one Matt could handle, and soon the C&A bags were filled with goodies neither feyling had ever seen.

“Americans are so weird,” Matt said, and spit the Styrofoam-like peanut onto the ground, not quite hungry enough to swallow it.

“Maybe it’s the principle of the thing?” Spark licked a candy-corn triangle, unsure. He wrinkled his nose. “Wax?”

Matt laughed. It didn’t sound right, that laugh; just a little too wild, a little too sharp, like he wanted to cry instead of laugh.

Spark stared at him. “Are you all right?”

Matt pulled it in, wiped at his face. “Sorry. I… sorry.”

“I command you to tell me what’s wrong,” Spark said in a whisper.

A moment of stillness, broken only by the skitter of leaves, caught in cold breeze. Matt sighed. “We’re… here. Doing this, halfway across the world. For terrible candy. I could die any day, and we’re doing this.”

Spark shivered. “No you’re not!” he said, and flung himself onto Matt, clinging, gripping his own wrist around the other’s slim back as if determined to keep Matt from falling apart . “I’m the heir! I have magic! I can fix this! You’re not… it’s going to… you’re not going to die, you’re not, I said so, and nobody… they wouldn’t…”

Matt clutched him.

They sank to the street, clinging, breath uneven. “It’s okay,” Matt said into Spark’s shoulder, muffled. “I wanted to do it with you. Last day, or… or whatever. I don’t want to be alone. You’re my friend.”

“You’re my best friend,” Spark vowed, and they sniffled, and wept a little, staining their mismatched, stolen clothes. “I’ll fix it.”

“You can’t,” said Matt.

“I can,” Spark snarled, and the clop of a hoof pulled them both up short.

Neither had noticed the street lights going out, one after the other, from both the top and bottom of the hill. Neither had noticed that they sat now in a single pool of visibility, houses and hedges both erased from view.

“Uh-oh,” whispered Spark.

“Well, well, what have we here?” rumbled a deep brown voice.

Spark looked. Spark saw. Spark knew. He’d gone to school, and he knew. “Shadow’s Breath,” he whispered.

“What?” whispered Matt, and followed his gaze.

The being looming just outside the light was tall, made taller by the curling black horns that pierced the new fog swirling overhead. His skin was dark red, covered with cracks—canyons, flickering with deep lights as if far away. Muscle corded his nude form. His hooves, shiny as his horns, shiny as his claws, clopped again as he took a step closer. “Here, I thought I’d just catch humans for my pantry tonight, but now there’s you.”

Shadow’s Breath: the deadliest of the People of the Darkness, whose magic not only countered Fey power, but ate it somehow, draining—the stuff of frightening lectures and late-night warnings for all their feyling lives.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was no territory of the dark. Spark scrambled to his feet. “Stay away!” he shouted, stumbling as his boots slipped, trapping his feet in the loose, leather ankles. “I know the Accords! This is not neutral ground. You aren’t allowed to harvest us!”

The being laughed. As he did, the light in the deep cracks of his flesh flickered, and he seemed to swell, thicken, with the promise of whatever came next.

Matt stood, slow, shaking, his heartbeat visible in his throat. “Run.”

“No, that should have worked,” Spark said in a small voice, because he’d been trained in all the decorum, because he was the heir, because no one defied the Accords.

It hadn’t worked. The being must have fed already that night, because he seemed inclined to monologue rather than simply grab. “Neutral ground? You’re on Earth!” He laughed again. “You think this land is claimed? You think it’s protected? It’s Ever-Dying!”

“There are laws,” Spark said.

“Run,” said Matt again. “Just run. I’ll distract him.”

Spark gave him a look reserved for clutching bombs and leaping out windows. “No!”

“I’m done for anyway. Run!” snapped Matt.

“Yes, run,” murmured the being, taking another cloven step toward them. “Go on. I’d like to chase you. I like your hearts when they beat too fast.”

This couldn’t be happening. The human world had never been unsafe. It wasn’t like humans could do anything to them, magicless as they were, and this could not happen. Spark did the only thing he could: he opened his mouth and sang.

It was a clear note, bell-like, distinctly not a human voice, and with it came a wave of power not his own—from the Throne, directly siphoned and aimed as a club.

The being staggered back (less of a response than hoped), but that was enough: Spark grabbed Matt’s hand and bolted.

The Shadow’s Breath roared laughter after them, fading away and then louder, echoing, bouncing around the fog from all directions and none, and the sound of cloven hooves bore down on them from all sides.

The monster had his own terrible magic. It had a feel, oily and penetrative, slick and sticky and slimy and smooth, and it slowed their movements as if they crawled through mud. Spark still gripped Matt’s arm, but he suddenly could not see him.

“John!” Matt’s shout sounded so far away.

Spark didn’t care what name was used right now. “Matt!” And then he felt so… tired.

His grip weakened. He tried, oh, he tried to hang on, whimpering as he clung to that thin arm with both hands, but sweat or slide-slick darkness took it from him, and the arm slipped through his fingers. No, no, no, Spark thought, panting on all fours, his head so heavy. Get up, he told himself, but he could not.

He’d never known weakness. Never known a moment of separation from the magic that flowed from the Throne, and this felt so bereft, so gutted, that he had no idea what this horrible feeling was. Death? Was this dying?

Was this how Matt felt all the time?

Spark sobbed for more reasons than he could verbalize, and then he heard bad sounds—shouts, scuffling, the Shadow’s Breath’s roar and Matt’s cry. Licking, dark mist (violating, horrible, sick) distorted those sounds, confusing their direction. The mist was pushing inside him, down his throat, twisting his stomach. Spark got one foot on the ground and tried to stand, but sank down again. “Matt,” he breathed, and put everything he had left into one final shout. “HELP!”

The mist vanished.

His magic took a moment to return, rushing to fill his empty spaces, bringing color and sound and sensation (Spark hadn’t even realized how much it had all dulled), and as he blinked in the suddenly bright sodium light, he saw a good and terrible thing.

The good thing was the Shadow’s Breath was very, very dead. Beheaded, literally torn in two, blood seeping onto the sidewalk even as it began to vanish in black smoke. Beside him lay Matt, propped on his elbows, gasping, blood on his arms, his chest, his face. It had to be his own; Shadow’s Breath blood was black, burned like acid, and this was red.

Above Matt stood the terrible thing. A man with tousled brown hair in a sort of professory garb including patches on his jacket elbows, and his eyes glowed green—glowed it, emitting their own creepy light, and Spark knew what this man was.

“Night-Child?” he whimpered, because this was far worse than Shadow’s Breath, this was more dangerous, this was unstoppable, and technically the Earth was theirs.

The vampire looked at the body, apparently bored, then at them, and something in his eyes was wrong.

Cold. Detached. Broken? thought Spark in a sort of panic, and then it got worse because there were two of them.

“The fuck, Marshall!” said the other, forming out of the night like dust made solid. This one was tall and lanky and very orange, as redheaded as anyone Spark had ever seen, covered in freckles and glowing green from the eyes, too. “Track him! Track him! What’s this? How the fuck are we gonna question him now?”

Marshall, the one with something wrong, shrugged.

Though the orange vampire was so much more feral and foul (and he’d said the f-word), he lacked that something broken in his eyes. He gesticulated wildly, paced a few steps, ran his hand through his hair. “Fuck this,” he snapped. “I am done. Da’ can get some-bloody-else to teach you.”

“I see no problems here,” said Marshall, the broken one, far too calm, as if violent death simply didn’t have the weight to move him.

Matt coughed. They looked his way.

“Leave him alone!” shouted Spark.

The vampires turned their gazes on him and he froze, not weakened like with the fog, no, not drained, but simply held there in an invisible grip stronger than his will.

“Ah, feck, they’re just kids,” muttered the orange one, and a flush rose between his freckles.

“Does that change the scenario?” said the wrong one, Marshall, who finally smiled, a wrong smile, like he found all the wrong things funny and very well knew he did.

The look the orange one gave him could melt steel. “You stay out of this. Caused enough damage for one night. Hey there,” he then said, louder, and crouched in front of Spark.

Spark, who was frozen, one hand reaching for Matt, trembled. “Don’t eat us.”

“Not gonna eat you,” said the orange one, who seemed unused to speaking gently, but also seemed to be trying. “Hey, you’re safe now, yeah? We killed the monster.”

“They’re not human,” said Marshall.

“I know. They’re still kids,” said the orange one in his naturally sharper tone.

“Feylings are not human children,” repeated Marshall, weirdly pedantic.

“Child’s a child’s a child.” The orange one would not be budged. “Kid. You need help? Can you get home from here? Look—I can get you there, if you can’t do it on your own.”

“What… why are we alive?” gasped Matt. “Who are you? What happened?”

The orange one looked at him. “This thing’s been hunting humans in our territory. Your friend’s shout helped us track his ass down. Never a good idea to poach on Notte’s land.”

Spark groaned. This was insane. Earth was not watched, and everybody knew it. Sure, it belonged to Notte, but not really, because it was the Ever-Dying who lived here, and everyone knew Notte had all but abandoned the place, and—

Matt swallowed. “Thank you. For what it’s worth. I… thank you.”

Spark didn’t like how weirdly intense this was. It felt scary, too big, an iceberg in a cupboard. “We can get home on our own, but our candy…” He felt idiotic even as he said it, but that had been the whole point of this adventure. (Not supposed to be dangerous it wasn’t supposed to be dangerous—)

The orange was was peering at Matt, frowning, but at this, he stirred. “Oh, uh. Some of it got squashed. Um.” He began patting his pockets. Like Marshall, he wore a suit, but his jacket was unbuttoned, his shirt wrinkled, his tie gone. “I got a few bucks, if you want to go buy some candy.”

“They don’t want to buy candy,” said Marshall. “They wanted to earn it.”

It was the only thing Marshall had said that Spark could agree with. “We’ll take the squished stuff. It’s fine. This is fine.” He crawled toward Matt and began picking up scattered sweets, disregarding any fully outside the wrappers, but he figured the rest would be okay. Probably.

Matt was staring at the orange guy. “You’re the knife.”

Spark froze. Slowly, he turned. That guy? he thought, incredulous.

The vampire assassin. The hand of death. Notte’s knife, taking lives in the dark. That guy? Lanky and orange and rumpled?

The orange one looked at him. “How’d you know that, kid?”

Matt gulped. “They threatened me with you. They said if I got uppity, you’d come and kill me. Like that mattered anymore.”

The orange knife blinked.

Spark bristled. “Who did that?”

Marshall laughed. It wasn’t a right laugh, not quite, but this one doesn’t seem so cruel. “You’re the bogeyman!”

“Shut it, you,” muttered the knife. “Why the hell would I do that? I don’t obey the feckin’ Throne, may she rot forever in a junkyard, amen. Among the Mythos, I’m Night-Child, called Terrance, and I’m not gonna hurt you, so calm your tits.” He frowned again, peered closer. Took a long, slow inhale.

Matt remained still, eyes huge.

Spark crawled over (he’d lost one boot, but wasting time removing the other so he could stand felt dangerous), and positioned himself between them. “You can’t eat him!”

“Sure,” murmured Terrance, studying Matt. “Hey—you got a place to go?”

What kind of a question was that? “Yeah, home with me,” said Spark, sharp.

Matt didn’t look at him. Why wouldn’t Matt look at him? “Why?” he said.

“Because I know a place grey Fey go to survive,” said the orange one. “They do pretty well, long as they got a skill. You make music? Anything like that?”

Matt stared.

What was going on? “Hey! He’s not going with you! You can’t just… have my friend!”

Marshall looked at him, and that lizard-gaze choked him as surely as a fist.

“I can Shape,” said Matt slowly. “Good with my hands. Carving. Stuff like that—but I don’t have magic anymore.”

“Yeah,” said Terrance, almost gently.

“Hey!” said Spark.

“Why would you offer that?” said Matt.

Terrance shrugged. “You see a guy drowning, you wouldn’t offer a fucking hand?”

He’d said the f-word again, and all of this was insane. “Matt, he’s just gonna eat you,” moaned Spark.

Matt was silent.

“Going soft, Terrance?” said Marshall, looking around, hands in his pockets as though lives weren’t on the line.

“You know damn well Da’ would’ve offered this,” said the orange one, apparently named Terrance, and turned back to Matt. “I’ll take you there, you wanna go.”

“No!” shouted Spark. “He’s going with me! That’s where he goes! I won’t let him die!”

Mat looked at him.

It was a sister to the looks of before, the ones he couldn’t translate, but this one, Spark suddenly understood, felt, knew in a flood of adult understanding, and it was as if he’d taken a cannonball to the gut.

He couldn’t keep Matt from dying. Matt had been cut off from the Throne because of something his father did; Fey without magic died. That was that. That was their punishment. And still, Matt had chosen to be with him, to spend his last days knowing they were his last with him, and Spark couldn’t carry this, couldn’t bear the weight of such love and responsibility, and fell silent, holding his breath so he would not cry.

The Night-Children waited, which was one of the things they were good at—hunters, predators, killers in the night.

“I don’t want you to die.” Spark couldn’t recognize his own squeezed voice.

“I know,” said Matt, and there was forgiveness in it, which Spark couldn’t fully comprehend but desperately wanted.

Terrance sighed. “He don’t have to die, kid. He don’t. That’s what this is. It’s a chance, yeah?”

“I’m scared,” said Matt.

“Mm-hm,” said Terrance, reasonably.

“Where would you take me?”

“Canada,” said Terrance. “Ontario. Good place. Safe place.”

Marshall sighed. Visibly impatient, already bored, but not quite daring to interfere.

Still plummeted in that horrible adult knowing, Spark struggled. A tiny part of him wanted to order Matt to come home, because Matt couldn’t argue, not really, and then they’d make it all right, somehow, but…

But he couldn’t.

If he did that, he would be forcing Matt to drown, ignoring that offered hand.

Spark pressed his fist into his mouth, swallowing a traitor sob, twisting inside as though his heart was about to tear like that Shadow’s Breath head from its body.

Matt considered. Sat up, plucked hopelessly at the bloodied cassock, stared at the ground. When he looked at Terrance, he’d aged, or so Spark felt; that wasn’t the look of a child, wasn’t the look of one who hadn’t even reached his teens. “You promise I’m not going to die?”

“Can’t promise that,” said Terrance. “But I can promise a chance.”

Matt closed his eyes. “I’ll go.”

“No,” moaned Spark, and that same part that wanted to order Matt was pleased that Matt flinched. The rest of him, however, was sick. He sobbed, crawled forward, and all but threw himself onto his friend.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Matt.

“It’s okay, don’t die, it’s okay,” said Spark, and with those words, the unpleasant part of him fled, leaving only relief that Matt would not die and horrible, growing grief that he had to say goodbye. They clung again, a mirror of earlier, but dirtier and bloodier and less sweet.

Marshall sighed again, bored and dramatic, but nobody paid him mind.

Terrance waited until the cries had quieted, until the hitching breaths had calmed to occasional sharp gasps. “Ready?”

“Yeah.” Matt stood, or Spark stood, or they helped each other. “Thank you, Mister Terrance.”

“Eh.” Terrance shrugged. “It’s nothing. Meanwhile, this utter dickhead has to clean up the mess he made, doesn’t he? Don’t you, Marshall?” The glare was fire, disapproval in scowls, but had no effect whatsoever on its target.

Marshall shrugged, not even looking at him.

Terrance rolled his eyes. “Your friend can get home all right on his own?”

Spark huffed. “I have a portal,” he said, and—missing Terrance’s double-take—pressed one of the bags of candy into Matt’s chest. “You… you better… you better not die, because you’re going away, and that’s too big a cost if you don’t live.”

Matt exhaled, a slow sound too old for him. “I don’t have to die anymore.” His eyes filled. He wiped them on his sleeve. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Spark wiped his face furiously and backed off, only holding one candy bag now.

“I’m ready,” said Matt.

“Good enough. See you, kid,” said Terrance to Spark, then touched Matt’s shoulder. They turned into dust, exploded in silent particles that whirled, swirling in the air in what Spark just knew was some kind of goodbye, then flew away too quickly to follow.

Spark stood, bereft. His lungs had stopped working. Maybe all of him had.

The wrong one, Marshall, looked at him then, terrifyingly emotionless. “Always wondered what Fey blood tastes like,” he said.

Spark choked. Threw his portal down. Leaped into it, but not quick enough to miss Marshall laugh. Apparently, the broken vampire thought that was funny, too.

Spark hadn’t considered that he had no other friends until he realized he had no one to tell about what happened.

It’d been the two of them forever, Matt and John, John and Matt, as long as he could recall; he hadn’t needed any other friends, had he? No, of course not. Matt had always been enough.

He had no idea what anyone would make of the news that Shadow’s Breath were hunting on Earth, and that Notte’s people were hunting Shadow’s Breath. This felt big, volatile, the kind of thing that lead to intense council meetings and shouts from scared advisors. They’d want to know. He was sure—but the tiny, mean part of him returned with one thought: Serves them right not knowing for what they did to Matt.

This felt like a bad and good decision at once, but Spark had already made it. No, John had already made it. He no longer felt like a Spark, now.

John wandered. He ignored bedtime. Guards eyed him, but nobody dared point out the lateness of the hour, or his weird, ruined clothes, or how far he was from his bedroom. Nobody dared confront him. He was the heir, after all.

He wished someone would.

If this was what adulthood was like, goodbyes and decisions with costs and silent revenge, he wanted no more of it. He almost threw away the bag of candy. It was a poor price for this evening, but no—Matt would want him to enjoy it. If he was alive. If the Night-Child didn’t eat him.

If Marshall had been the one to take him, Matt would, John was sure, be dead. But it wasn’t. It was the other guy—the one who felt dangerous and wild, like a thrown axe, but who seemed like he was telling the truth.

John should feel good that Matt had help. Grateful. Joyful, even, that his friend would not die.

He did not feel good.

He squeezed into the interstitial space where Matt had been living. The small fire still burned, but barely; and there, walled in by cans of human food and dirtied by old smoke, he cried for a very long time.