‘Just a kid,’ he thought, ‘should still be home with his parents.’ He’d outlived many of his peers, and knew well enough what the world could do to you if you just jumped into it and weren’t ready. Maybe humans could do it, but then they had to. They live shorter, mature faster… They don’t have the time to wait around for the right opportunity. But most elves had to learn that the hard way one of the failings of immortality. Racing to keep up with those you’d pass by eventually.
He saw Wyl shiver hard and reached over to turn up the heat in the cab. If he hadn’t come along, the youth probably would have just frozen to death. The nights this time of the year could be deceptively, dangerously cold, especially to the soaking wet and underdressed. He reached out and touched the pale hand close to him. Like ice.
The big black pickup rolled into what could only be described as “the wrong side of the tracks.” Even in the torrential rain, he could see people milling about in the increased shadows, making various deals. This wasn’t the kind of place for any young person, human or elf.
Pulling up outside of the hotel, Grenn grimaced. Without even getting out, he knew from other similar places that this place had to be breaking at least an even dozen fire codes. He didn’t want to get into health codes. He could hear people screaming and yelling from inside, and thought he heard a gunshot from somewhere. Police sirens screamed in the distance through the din of falling water.
He felt a weight against his side and turned his head to see Wyl’s head resting on his shoulder. He’d curled up against him and was sleeping fitfully. His fingers and legs jerked and twitched, and he mumbled and trembled constantly. Grenn put an arm around his shaking shoulders and pulled him closer, attempting to comfort him even a little. Wyl settled against him, quieter now, but still cold and wet. Grenn sighed and turned his vehicle away from the low area and head back towards his own house.
It was a dream. It had to be. Only in a dream could Wyl play a violin. The sounds he was able to produce from an instrument, any instrument, in the waking world could be used to torture information from prisoners. He knew this from critiqued experience. Now, however, he stood in quiet darkness, violin tucked under his chin, feeling the reverberation of the notes as the bow glided over the strings. The music that filled the dream world was silken sweet. Behind his dream-eyes he saw a sleek spotted form slink in the shadows in tandem with one of ebon. So long as the song continued unbroken, they continued to swirl around him, just out of clear vision save for green-gold eyes.
The notes began to falter, creaking like old wood, and the shadow-walkers slowed in their dance, moving closer in on him. He could hear the purring of their voices through the music, growing ever louder. A string strained, broke, curling back against his face. He played faster, trying to drive the forms back into the shadows, feeling the eyes closing in on him. Another string parted with a snap. Now he could feel the brush of muscles beneath fur against his legs. The purring had risen to a rough growling that made his hand shake and falter. Whiskers brushed his cheek, the rough sound shifting from organic to mechanical, a purr to a grating growl of metal gears. That was when the fangs sunk into his shoulder, the violin dropping from his hands to shatter on the unseen floor.
Wyl’s started, bronze eyes fluttering open, fighting the dream back despite the exhaustion still resting on his shoulders. The grating hadn’t ended with waking. But why…? And where was….? Oh, right. Grenn. Truck. Going home. But what was that sound? Oh. He looked through the water-spattered windshield, and wondered when the hotel got a garage with an automatic door. His frozen mind muddled through the fact that it didn’t. He struggled to sit up a little, trying to find the energy to be more concerned than he somehow was.
“Where... This isn’t...”
“Shush. This is my place. You can stay here the night; at least it’ll be warm. You can’t tell me that hole you’ve been living in is heated well enough to keep you from getting pneumonia by morning.”
“It’s not so bad...”
“Right. Keep telling yourself that.” Wyl started to say something in response, but was silenced by a hiss, “No argument. You’re staying.”
No argument. Got it.
Wyl wandered around the living room with the dull curiosity of a new pet. One just coming out of anesthesia. Part of his investigation seemed to be half-crashing into things as he explored. His parents’ home wasn’t so nice as this one that was well furnished with leather sofas, nice wood furniture... And a big red brick fireplace blazing hotly. No wonder it felt so comfy in the room. How nice. He ambled over to it, and collapsed into a heap on the carpet in front of the hearth.
“The sofa’s more comfortable, you know.” Grenn smiled, waiting for a response, but got none. He walked over to the young elf soaking his carpet. Dead to the world. Again.
Grenn told himself that it was common sense. Wyl’s clothes would dry faster if he wasn’t in them, and on top of that, it would prevent the elf from getting a chill worse than he had. He also told himself over and over again that he was taking no pleasure in this as he began unbuttoning Wyl’s jeans.
He threw his guest’s clothes in the drier and sat down on the sofa with a glass of dreamberry rum to watch him sleep. That Wyl hadn’t woken through the entire process of being stripped told of his level of exhaustion. And he’d slept through it in that boneless way that only the young or the inebriated seem to be able to master. Wyl didn’t look old enough to drink, really. He looked barely out of childhood curled up under the blanket the way he was. Sweet and innocent. But elves in their early years were difficult to age sometimes; harder than humans. He’d known elves half a century old who barely looked out of their teens, still seeming awkward in their body. Wyl wasn’t awkward, just young and in dire need of rest, Grenn thought, flipping through Wyl’s wallet. It had survived the drenching more or less; most likely due to being made of black vinyl. The flames along one side of it was an interesting touch.
Grenn flipped through the contents while sipping his drink. The picture on the driver’s license looked more like a mug shot. From the look on his face, Wyl must have been at the MVD for quite some time before getting his picture taken. But at least he’d been told the truth. Wylhaen A Yves. Brown hair, brown eyes... what an understatement there. More like polished mahogany and burnished copper. But the MVD never got that descriptive. Date of Birth…. Grenn squinted a little closer at the card, then looked over at the ID’s owner, curled up in a ball like a kitten. Twenty years. Adult, at least by legal statutes. Legal ages, he knew, were all based on human lifespans. For fairness sake they applied to elves and trolls alike. Twenty, as far as he was concerned, was still too young to be out on your own outside of school, at least as some elves went. Especially one from as small a town as this one was. That entire part of the country was known for nothing but farming communities, small towns, and friendly people. He wondered what wild aspiration could have driven the young elf from what was obviously a happy home given the photos he was carrying.
He looked for a long while at the last picture. Wyl sitting in the grass besides a beautiful buckskin horse. The animal was lying down, as horses do, and chewing on the elf’s black-streaked hair, which he seemed endlessly amused by given the broad grin on his face. Who’d taken this picture, Grenn wondered, mother or father? Maybe another relative or a lovemate...? He felt a sudden pang of jealousy that someone may have had the chance to share intimacies with the happy creature in the photo that seemed miles away from the wreck sleeping on his floor. The barefoot youth in the photo wore a faded band t-shirt and torn jeans, but bore no dark circles under his eyes, and seemingly had no worries. He flipped it over and read the date scrawled on the back below “Wyl and Sunpiper.” Sixteen at the time the picture was taken. Sixteen. There was a chance that if it was a small enough town that he hadn’t been with anyone yet...
‘Stop,’ he told himself forcefully, putting down the picture, feeling obscenely guilty at being excited by the thought that the lad sleeping on his floor might be... Besides, there was at least four years between the innocent rural boy and his horse in the picture, and the young elf before him.
To try to deny that he was attracted to Wyl would be a blatant lie. He’d frequented the restaurant before, but it wasn’t until the new waiter started that he made it his regular lunch spot. The first time he saw him, Wyl was diving between tables as if on skates, still fresh, still enthusiastic. There was a day he watched him move with such ease and grace, he would have sworn the boy had the old floating powers. No, he was just that quick, that deft on his toes.
Grenn kept coming. Watching. Fascinated by him for a reason he couldn’t place. He wanted to talk to him, get to know him. But he sensed the time had to be right. So every day he came in hoping Wyl would come to his table. Somehow a full month went by and Wyl never was assigned to take his order, no matter what booth or table he chose. But that was okay. He enjoyed watching him work. Then he noticed the gradual slowdown. The darkening of the expression. The way the light steps became trudging. His eyes darkened. By the time Wyl approached him that day to take his order, gone was the bright youth, replaced by a scowling cynic as indifferent to the customers as the rest of the staff.
In retrospect, Grenn cursed himself for not taking a different approach with Wyl. The playful flirting was a mistake. And had sunk like a boulder dropped in a lake. Wyl had brought him back his food with cool indifference, dropping the plate in front of him with a short send of **Enjoy.**
But he still kept coming. Wyl served him a time or two after that. But they didn’t speak, really. Not beyond the basics needed to place an order. And he watched Wyl further decline. One day the boy was practically useless on the floor, taking orders to wrong tables, getting them wrong initially for the cooks. He should have stepped in then. But he let it go on, and Wyl seemed to get better over the next week. . Occasionally he’d even catch the youth watching him, eyes glowing in the fluorescent lights.
Then he started to slide again. Worse than before. This time he wouldn’t let it just pass without saying something.
He’d never have come across him on that bench if he hadn’t been attempting a “coincidental” meeting. Grenn had intended to maybe catch him on his way out of the diner, maybe walk up beside him and offer to buy him a drink. Unfortunately, he’d met with the rainstorm, which slowed down his drive. He arrived after the restaurant had closed, and had simply been heading home. Coming across the young elf lamenting at the bus stop was a fortunate accident. He wondered what would have happened if he hadn’t tripped across him.
Grenn sat the wallet down on the living room table next to his now empty glass, letting his own eyes close. Wyl was best off by the heat of the fire, he thought. He’d take a quick nap himself, wake later, and put more logs if needed. Make sure to keep the boy warm. Maybe add another blanket or two if necessary. Yeah… yeah, that’s what he’d do. He faded into his own sleep, aided by the warming of the alcohol, and the soft crackling of the fire.