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Cultural Differences

by AJ

Cultural Differences

Author's note: This is another story set in the universe of my story 'Afterhours'. Please read that tale before this one, because I think it'll make more sense if you do. I am indebted to D'Artagnon for the concept of the Redcap motleys. If you haven't read his tale 'Coupé', I strongly recommend it.

It was another Friday night at the bar. I was flying solo tonight because Sandy was doing his regular gig over at the dance bar-a little variety show thing where all the dancing queens sat on the floor and watched him dance and sing his ass off. In the six weeks since I'd met him, he'd become the latest and greatest talent to hit the drag circuit. How he managed to dance in 8"stiletto heels was beyond me, but he did it as well as he did everything else. The boy could have given the fabulous Miss Turner a run for her money. And instead of the usual lip-synching, he sang everything he performed in a voice that would have made Maria Callas flush with envy. He'd promised to come over when he was done "entertaining the troops" as he called it.

So I was hanging out by the wall, just taking in the view and enjoying a little cold beer (yes, even I enjoy a little microbrew on occasion). Jack and George were beating the pants off a young college boy at darts, Ted was behind the bar chatting up a cute young thing I saw come in with the college boy, and all the regulars were playing pool. Except, I noticed suddenly, John. Usually it would have taken a pool cue to the head to have made John quit playing, but tonight he was sitting off to the side, drinking beer after beer and not even signed up for a table. I could almost see the black thunderclouds gathered over his head. Most unusual.

So I sauntered over to where he was seated on a stool next to the wall. I noticed he was a little wobbly on the stool. John isn't usually much of a drinker.

"Hi John. You look like someone just ran over your cat. You ok?"

I saw him stiffen up, and then he wheeled around on the stool and grabbed the front of my shirt in both hands and jerked me up close to his face.

"What do you know about my cat, asshole?" he growled, the beer on his breath blasting me in the face.

"Whoa, easy big fella. I don't know anything about your cat. Did something happen to it?"

His face went from snarling hatred to sad and pathetic little boy in a split second. He grabbed me and hugged me hard.

"Oh Ralph (that's me, by the way, and it's pronounced "Rafe" thank you very much) some son of a bitch killed my cat!" And he broke down in my arms, sobbing his heart out into my shoulder. To say I was a little surprised doesn't even touch it. John is always a lighthearted, easygoing kind of guy. I'd never seen him even annoyed, much less as utterly heart-broken as he seemed to be. I held him and let him cry for a little while.

"I'm so sorry John...why don't you tell me what happened?"

"I can't talk about it here...nobody here cares about anything except goddamn pool and their next lay. You're the first person who's even come up and asked me what's wrong all night."

"You know everyone here cares about you, John. Maybe they're just a little preoccupied with what they're doing."

"Yeah, some friends," he said bitterly through his tears.

"Come on then. Let's go to Mike's and get a booth in the back and you can tell me what happened, ok?"

"Aw, I don't want to ruin your night with my problems..."

"John. This is me. I'm your friend, and I have been for a long time. You know I don't play pool and I don't get laid. What else do I have to do?" I smiled at him and got a wan little smile in return. He nodded and slid off his barstool, his arm still around my shoulder. I picked up his jacket, balanced him with my other arm as he swayed dangerously, and then steered him to the door.

Outside, I sat him at one of the little tables on the sidewalk that get used when the weather is warmer.

"I need to call Sandy and tell him we're going to be at Mike's," I said. "Is it ok if he joins us?"

"Umm, yeah." He put his head in his hands and sat while I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my cell phone-handy little devices they are, too; One of the best things about this day and age.

"Hi Sandy, it's me. You all done over there?" I could hear the thumping of dance music over the cell.

"Yup. The kids are back on the floor shaking their groove things. What's up?"

"John's feeling a little under the weather over here, so we're going to Mike's for a cup of coffee. You wanna join us?"

"Sure, that'd be great. My legs are killing me. If you get there before I do, order me a red apple martini, won't you? I'm parched." Sandy had just discovered the red apple Martinis at Mike's and they'd become the drink du jour.

"You got it. See you up there in a few minutes." I hit the 'end' button and put the phone back in my pocket. It was a little walk to Mike's, and I figured a little fresh air wouldn't hurt John a bit.

"Hey, what's up with you and Sandy, anyway? You two have been awfully buddy-buddy since he showed up." John seemed to be doing a little better once we started walking.

"Oh well, you know, just good friends and all that. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride-that's me."

"That's fucked up, Ralph. You're the nicest guy I know...just like tonight, you taking time to take me to coffee. A nice guy like you shouldn't be alone."

"No-one should be alone unless they choose to be John, but lots of us are. It's the way of the world."

"That is so true! No one ever falls in love with me. They just take me home and want to screw me, and then it's out the door before their boyfriend gets home. I'm too old for that shit," he said drunkenly.

"You have no idea," I muttered, and kept walking with his arm looped through mine. I hoped desperately he wouldn't remember this conversation tomorrow.

At Mike's, the lights were low and oldies were playing on the sound system. When I say 'oldies' I don't mean eighties disco, I'm talking big bands here. Everett saw us come in and hustled over to greet us, and led us to a booth in the back. Not many people know it, but I'm a partner in the business. Years ago, there wasn't an all night diner on the Hill, so I'd approached Mike about starting one. He ran the show and I pitched in the financial backing. If you live as long as I have, money usually isn't an issue.

I poured John into the booth and slid in on the other side. Everett gave me a warm smile.

"Right," he said, "One giant black coffee for your friend and the usual mocha for you. What else can I get you Ralph?"

"Bring us one of those red apple martini thingies, Ev. Sandy will be joining us in a few minutes, I think."  Everett made a comical face of distaste and rolled his eyes. He shared my disapproval for calling anything that sweet and...well, red...a martini. 

Sandy showed up a few minutes later, gorgeous as always in a chocolate brown burnt velvet gown with an asymmetrical hemline and his trademark heels. He flopped into the booth and looked at John trying to sip his coffee without burning his lips.

"Hi John...been dipping your head in a barrel of beer? You look like hell, man."

"Thanks," he grunted sourly and continued to nurse at his coffee.

"Drink your martini thingie and hush, dear. John is going to tell us what happened to make him try to drown himself in a pint glass."

"I'm all ears," he said and grinned at me. I think I managed to stifle my laugh...mostly.

"If you two are through clowning around..." John was looking a little irritable. Neither one of us answered, just gave him our undivided attention.

"Well," he said miserably, "it started early this week, on Tuesday. I came home from work and my landlord mentioned that her dog was missing. She told me that the neighbors on each side had complained of the same thing. I told her I'd keep an eye out, but that Kitsura, it's one of those Japanese dogs that looks like a fox, y'know, would probably be home soon and not to worry too much. I didn't think much more about it. Then I got home on Wednesday, and I found out what happened to Kitsura and the neighbors' dogs. When I got home, I found their heads on my front porch, stacked in a perfect pyramid. That was pretty horrible, guys. I called the police and my landlord was devastated, and it was really bad."

"Yeah, I could see that being a pretty bad thing. So what did the police say?"

"Not much. No suspects, no evidence of any kind...just three dog heads on my front porch."

"Mmm, freaky. I'm so sorry John. That really sucks." Sandy looked at John with real concern in his eyes.

"Then, I came home on Thursday, and....and..."he ground to a stop and sobbed. "I came in the house and Gilly didn't meet me at the door like she always does. I started looking for her, and I looked out the window and something was hanging on a branch outside. I looked closer and it was...oh god...Gilly. Someone had pulled her skin off and left her hanging on a branch outside my window. Why Ralph? She was just a little cat, but I loved her. Why did they do that to her?" Tears ran down John's face as he stared at me, demanding answers I didn't have.

Sandy got up and slid into booth beside John, wrapping him in a tight hug. "Jesus honey, I'm so sorry that happened to you. It's horrible..."

We left shortly after that, took John home and put him to bed. When he wasn't looking, Sandy wove a sleep spell over him to exclude all dreams and to last 8 hours. He was snoring before we let ourselves out the door, locking it behind us. Sandy set a ward spell on the door, also to last 8 hours. If anyone tried the door before then with malicious intents, they were in for a big surprise. I've always envied elves their magical abilities.

"So what are we going to do?" Sandy asked. "Don't look at me like that. You know we have to do something."

"Did you happen to notice the smell in John's apartment?" I asked. "I thought I smelled a very faint odor in there. I think one of our kind is involved."

"It wasn't an elf. None of us would do that. If John had somehow offended one of us, he'd have been challenged to a duel."

"Right. And another vampire would have just killed him and made a snack out of him. So it wasn't either of our kind directly. But I'd bet anything you'd care to name that something fey is behind all this."

"Tempting offer, but I think that's a bet I'll turn down. But we can't do much till we know what we're looking for, and I'm fresh out of inspiration. What should we do?"

"I think," I said slowly, "as much as I hate to do it, I think we need to talk to Gideon."

"Who's Gideon? What would he know about all this?"

"Not as much a 'who' as a 'what'. He owns a bar downtown. Really nice guy, but he makes me a little nervous."

"Whoa. Pretty big mojo if he makes you nervous," Sandy teased.

"Absolutely. The biggest. Not many of our kind walk into his bar at all, and even fewer leave without pissing their pants along the way somewhere."

"Ah. So what makes him such a big cheese?"

"He's an angel."

"Oh. Oh, I see. Umm, what's he doing owning a bar in this little burg?"

"He tells me he got sick of it and retired."

"I didn't know they could retire."

"They can't."

We didn't say much else till we got back to my place and picked up my beat up old Volvo wagon. A few minutes later we pulled up in front of Gideon's Spirits, a bar just off Second on Battery Street. It looked pretty much like any other dive along this street, to the mortal eye-neon beer signs lit up, and there were bars over the tiny windows. Drunks hate sunlight almost as much as I do.

But to immortal senses, the place fairly radiated power. The windows shone with blue radiance and there was a deep sense of peril that permeated the air around the whole place. Sandy took one look and paled. I simply nodded grimly and parked the car.

"We're there?" Sandy squeaked.

"Uh-huh. Don't worry; I'll pay the cleaner's bills. Oh, by the way - your glamour won't work in there. Don't sweat it - they'll all see what they're supposed to see. But I'd take it off right inside the door. Gideon thinks it's discourteous to come in disguised."

With that I took his hand and we stepped into Gideon's Spirits.

Now unmasked, we walked down a short hall and into the main bar. There were a number of people sitting at the bar, and more at the tables. Inside it looked like a dive too, except for the omnipresent waves of power that radiated through the room. Sandy, being of Seely Court, wasn't as bothered by it as I was. I just wanted to howl and run out of the place as fast as I could, but I held on and walked to the bar.

Gideon looked like a biker. A really big biker, I might add. He stood at least six inches over six feet, had long black hair pulled into a pony tail and a big beard. His arms were as big as my thighs, and his neck almost as big. Of course he'd seen us come in.

"So Ralph, welcome back. You don't come see me nearly often enough. Who's your friend? Wait, let's see if I can guess: Sir Sandellifer, late of Mistweave Hame. Not your usual type, Ralph. What brings such an odd couple to my bar?"

"Hey Gideon, how you been?" I keep my comments to Gideon as short as possible, for fear that I'd blurt out just how nervous he made me. Truth was, he made me want to confess all the terrible things I'd ever done, and I'd have ended up being here all night: Sins of a misspent youth and all that.

"So what can I do for you boys?" Gideon was always pretty direct, which made this whole thing a lot easier. Visiting him is still the hardest thing I ever do, but at least he doesn't prolong the agony.

Sandy glanced at me and saw how pale I was looking, and launched into our tale. He kept it short and sweet and to the point. I could have kissed him.

"Hmm.... interesting. And this John doesn't ever remember ever doing anything that might piss someone off? No-one who might be interested in hiring a little fey muscle as paybacks?"

"No sir," Sandy stated. "He's the nicest guy on the planet. I don't think he's had an enemy in his entire life."

"Let me think a minute. There's something about this that sounds familiar...let me go get that guy down there a beer. Be right back."

The pressure of his presence dropped a little as he walked away down the bar to get another patron a beer. I sighed and slumped, dropping my head into my hands, my elbows braced on the bar.

"Are you going to be ok?" Sandy asked.

 I swallowed a throatful of bile and nodded without looking up. Every evil thing I had ever done played across my vision on the back of my eyelids, some almost enough to make me throw up. I'd changed, dammit! I wasn't the person who had done those things. I gathered myself and sat back up as Gideon came back down the bar toward us, a thoughtful look on his face.

"Ok gentlemen, I think I've got it. But let's talk price first."

Sandy glanced at me and I nodded. There was always a price for information from Gideon. Always worth the price, of course-his tips were always right on the money.

"Here's what I need from you two. Since there are two of you, you're each going to pay, got it?"

I nodded. It was the way Gideon worked.

"Ralph, I've got a situation that has come to my attention that I think you could help me with. There's a young man that lives in the north end, up along Lake City Way. He's not a nice boy, Ralph. He lives a few blocks away from a junior high school, and he's gotten some of the kids there hooked on drugs. First he gives it to 'em for free, and then he starts charging 'em. When they can't pay, he starts 'em on a barter arrangement. Know what I mean? No kid should have that happen to 'em. I think a visit from you might help him see the error of his ways. Don't kill him, but don't be afraid to get a little rough with him. I don't think a little blood loss would hurt him either. His name is Seth Harrelson. Don't worry about reporting back when it's done. I'll know. I'd like this expedited, if you don't mind."

I nodded. It was the kind of payment I didn't mind making.

"Now, as for you, Sir Sandellifer. I hear you're quite the chanteuse. I hope that voice of yours isn't all glamour, because I'd like to beg a couple hours of your time and talent. It's been a very, very long time since I sang duets with anyone that could keep up, and even longer since I sang with the sidhe. That's what I need from you."

Sandy was clearly taken aback, but his years of court training stood him in good stead. He stood and bowed, deeply and formally.

"It would be my honor and my pleasure, Gideon. Pray, where and when shall this most welcome event occur?"

Gideon laughed. "Oh, very prettily spoken, Sir knight. Never fear, I will contact you within the week on time and place. I think we'll make some very pretty music together."

"I am at your service and shall strive to my utmost, Gideon."

He smiled and nodded. "Now, as to the information you needed. I shan't tell you who is responsible or why these things have happened to your friend, but I'll tell you where you may find the answer. You are correct in thinking that this is a problem involving a fey being. I wouldn't be surprised if you were to find the answers you seek in a buried garage on Twelfth avenue east, just south of Republican. Look on the north side of the street behind a large, beige house. I leave the means of resolving the problem to the two of you, for I think you are uniquely qualified to understand and resolve it. I advise mercy in dealing with what you shall find-this is a misunderstanding, nothing more."

I nodded, thanked Gideon and started for the door as quickly as I could without being impolite.

"Oh Ralph, one more thing." I turned and looked at the enormous man behind the bar. "You are indeed a changed being. The past is the past, and shall not be held against you. Go in peace."

I nodded, and walked quickly down the hall, followed by a bemused Sandy. There was a gray light in the east when we hit the street, so I dropped off Sandy at his apartment, and after agreeing to meet the next evening to explore the answer we had gotten from Gideon, went home and slept like the dead.

The next evening, a couple hours after sunset, I paid a visit to a certain apartment on Lake City Way, and had a little chat with a certain someone there. I acquainted him with a few facts concerning his continued survival, and obtained his promise to lead a blameless life from here forward. It was a most satisfactory discussion, and when I left, this someone was looking a little pale and shaken. I understand that being a pint or two shy of blood can have that effect though. I made sure he understood that his actions would be monitored in the future, and thoughtfully advised him to drink some orange juice and eat a few cookies before I left him.

I later heard that certain parents of children who attended the nearby school received anonymous phone calls informing them of some rather disturbing activities on the part of their children, and several children were said to have started in drug rehab and counseling sessions as a result of these calls.

It was just about Midnight when I met up with Sandy. He was looking pretty casual in worn blue jeans and a tight black tee. I was wearing pretty much the same thing, except I had my favorite black leather jacket on.

"Why Sandy, I didn't even know you owned boy clothes," I teased.

"You're looking pretty butch yourself tonight, big boy. Expecting trouble?"

"You know what I know, darlin'. I think we'll be able to handle whatever it is, though. Gideon wouldn't send us into a situation he didn't think we could handle."

"Shall we walk?" Sandy smiled and looped his arm through mine, and we walked up Twelfth Avenue that way, a short pudgy leather daddy and a tall, beautiful twink. No one paid us the slightest notice.

Just south of Republican, we found the house as described. It was one of those old, giant houses that has been partitioned into apartments, and it butted up against a tall embankment in the back...a brick wall covered with ivy, it turned out. The smell of something fey was strong back there, and I noticed a couple of windows about eight feet up from where I stood on the sidewalk. When I looked back from the windows, I saw that Sandy had dropped his glamour and was standing beside me in full Sidhe battle array: silvery armor and greaves, a light helm on his head and dripping with chain mail. An enormous sword was sheathed in a baldric on his back. Pretty imposing, I have to say. I nodded in satisfaction, but couldn't help but needle him a little.

"So you actually know how to use that pigsticker?"

He looked at me down his nose-not especially difficult for him, as he had about three inches on me.

"I have some passing knowledge of its use. You do your part and try not to get in the way, right?" His voice was deeper and more formal than I was used to from him, but I heard the laugh behind the words. I nodded, and turned to look at the windows again, and noticed that a pane was missing in the left hand one. I pointed it out.

"I'll go in through there, and open the window from the inside. I won't be able to see anything when I get in there, so I won't know if anything is in there with me. Be ready to get in there quick if I get jumped. Got it?"

Sandy nodded, and I did one of the best tricks a vampire can do. I dissolved into a thin, white mist and drifted up to the window and through the missing pane. It was a good thing it was a still night...I'd known more than one of my kind that has been permanently dissipated by an unexpected breeze.

I reformulated right below the window in a crouch, which was a good thing, because something big and solid came flying out of the dark right through where I would have been standing. It crashed into the wall opposite and bounced back to it's feet and was on me in a heartbeat. I punched hard for where I hoped its nose was and it grunted and grabbed me. I managed to hold it off, but the damn thing was trying to bite me, so I tried to push it back, but it was too strong. Then the glass in the right hand window blew inward and Sandy cannonballed into the room, with that giant pigsticker in hand and glowing all over like a Christmas tree. The point of his sword snaked past me and ended up about an inch from the face of my opponent and he froze.

"Yield varlet, or your life is surely forfeit." Sandy's voice was icy cold and full of menace. I was glad he wasn't talking to me. In the light of Sandy's armor, I saw what I'd been wrestling: big, solid muscle, with an enormous mouth and wearing a red hat. Shit! No wonder I'd had so much trouble... I'd been wrestling a Redcap.

"I yield, knight." Its voice was deep and gravelly, but I sensed an uncertainty in its voice. "My life is yours till you depart this place, on my word of honor." I was a little rusty on the forms, but that sounded unusual to me. Still, it seemed to satisfy Sandy, who withdrew his sword and sheathed it in a single move. The Redcap let go of me and just like that it was over. Yeah, I know: kind of weird but that's how business is done between Seely and Unseely.

"I would know the name of he to whom I have yielded, Sir knight. It is my right," the Redcap stated a little defensively.

"Know that I am Sandellifer, lately knight of Mistweave Hame and now of this place. Whom is it my privilege to address?" A little formal, I know... but this was all part of the ancient forms.

"I am called Undone, for I am dead though I breathe and walk."

"Wight, where is your motley? Wherefore are you in this place alone?" Sandy's voice had warmed a little, and he seemed genuinely curious.

"I have no motley, noble sir, for I have been cast out and my life is over, though to my shame I cannot end it myself. If I may ask a boon, honored knight: please, kill me. I must die but I cannot perform this act myself, to my eternal shame." And the Redcap burst into tears and threw himself on the floor at Sandy's feet.

I looked at Sandy's face, and he looked even more astonished than I felt. You see, Redcaps are pack animals, much like dogs or wolves, and their family group is called their motley. Their total devotion is to the motley. A lone Redcap is a contradiction in terms. They're tough, they're mean, and it's a damn good thing I didn't let this one bite me, because he'd have take my arm off at the shoulder and come back for three more bites to get the rest of me. So to see one groveling and crying was a bit of a shock. What had bothered me about his oath of peace earlier, I realized, was that he hadn't sworn on his motley's honor, only on his own. This was getting weirder and weirder.

Sandy knelt next to the miserable Redcap and spoke gently. "Come, good Wight. Let us speak of this crime that has so precipitously ended your life. Know you that my good companion is Ralph Von Aarenstadt. We would hear your tale and know what has brought you to this pass."

"You would be kind to me, whom you have vanquished? But I am Unseely, and you are of Seely Court. Why do you not slay me, good sir?"

"I do not slay without reason, and wherefore have I reason when all you have done is defend your hold against invaders? Surely that is your right?"

"I no longer know what is right, good knight. I have lost all ability to reason. I am mazed and whelmed by what has befallen me, and I know not where or to whom I may turn."

"Tell me your name from before you were exiled. I shall not call you Undone, for I do not believe it to be true. Let us talk of this thing."

"I was called Slider, of the Holly Park motley before my shame, sir."

"Good. You may call me Sandy, and my companion Ralph. So, tell us how it is that you come to be here alone."

"Sir Sandy, I was taken with a kind of madness. I cannot explain it. My life was turned upside down. I cannot eat, my stomach flutters like a butterfly, and I feel great happiness and then deepest pain and sadness almost on top of one another. I watched him from afar for so long, and I was happy that he was alive and in the world, but I knew I could not be with him and I felt a terrible pain like a bite in my chest." He was gasping and crying a little as he spoke, and I could feel his misery. This poor thing was in a world of hurt.

"Slider, if we leave here, can we agree not to fight each other?" I asked. "I think you need a chance to tell your tale to us, but I'd kind of like to hear it over a nice mocha. What do you think, Sandy?"

"I will accept Slider's word of honor on it, Ralph. I think he is honorable. What say you, Slider? No harm to each other till we agree otherwise? You have my honor as a knight upon it."

"I have nothing to lose, Sir Sandy. If you will it, it is done on my word of honor."

"Excellent. C'mon then, let's go to Ralph's place. It's closer than mine."

Back at my place, I made myself a mocha, passed on of my 'guest beers' to Sandy and knowing Redcaps as I do, put some ice in a pint glass and poured a full glass of Windex over it. I could have given him Drain-O, but I didn't want him drunk.

When he saw the glass I handed him, Slider looked a little puzzled, then sipped it and smiled for the first time since I'd met him.

"This is wondrous brew, Ralph. What is it called?"

"Umm, we call it Windex. I'm glad it's to your liking."

"So, let's hear it, Slider. What happened to you?"

"There is a man, Sandy. A human, who lives not far from here. I first saw him three months ago, when I was out foraging. It was the first time I was allowed out by myself. He walked by the alley where I was hiding, and never saw me. I have seen many humans in my life. My motley even keeps some to help with chores and things. So that was nothing new. But there was something different about this one. He walked proudly, with his head up and looked strong and powerful, though I know humans are weak things and easily broken. I watched him pass and I went about my business, but something about him called to me, in some strange way. I ignored it and found food and went home.

"That night I dreamed of him. He strode through my sleep like a storm, carrying all before him. I saw him defeat the motley, and when it came my time to fight him, I could not. Instead I swore myself to him. But this was just a dream and I ignored it and went on about my business. Only I began to forage only in this neighborhood, and found myself watching for his comings and goings, and I learned where he lived and watched him. Soon I forgot to forage and only watched him. He never saw me, but I knew him. And I fell into this strange madness, as I told you before."

"How old are you, Slider?" Sandy gently asked.

"I turned thirty a fortnight gone."

"That's very young for your kind, isn't it?"

"I am a man, full grown. But yes, I am almost the youngest in the motley."

"I see. Have you been with a woman of your kind?

The Redcap blushed. "No sir. There was a woman of a different motley that had spoken for me, but I didn't..." his voice trailed off.

"I understand." Sandy looked at me, and I shrugged. He seemed to be doing fine. "So what happened then?"

"The Alpha got very mad at me. He beat me and told me I must find food while I was out foraging or the motley would starve. So I worked hard and I brought food back, but I suffered because I didn't see this man. It was very hard, because I knew I had to work for the motley, but my mind was only for this man. And then..." Slider stopped and slumped in the chair. He blushed again and took a deep breath, and then went on. "I realized that I wanted this man for my mate. I know... it is very sick and I am a verminous thing for wanting it, but it's true."

I was astounded, though I guess I should have seen where this story was going. I gaped at the Redcap, but Sandy didn't seem phased.

"Allow me to tell you something, Slider. There is a reason why I am in this place and not in my home Underhill. I, too, desire the love of males, and I think you are not sick at all."

An elbow in the ribs from Sandy snapped me out of my shock and I joined in.

"Me too, Slider. There is nothing wrong with loving another man. Some of us are just like that, you know. It's part of who we are. But continue your story. What happened next?"

"Well... once I knew this, there was only one thing to do. I went to his hold and left him a promise gift. Isn't this what everyone does when they want someone to be their mate?"

A horrible thought hit me at that moment. Oh God, please tell me it isn't so!

"Umm... so what kind of gift did you leave, and where did you leave it?"

"A promise of food, of course. I left him the heads of three animals in front of his door to prove to him that I would be a good provider, and that he would never go hungry if he were my mate. This is how it is done... even I know this." He was giving me a look like I was a total idiot for not knowing.

"Anything else?" I choked out.

"Yes," he said proudly. "I went into his hold, and found a small animal he had captured and skinned it out and hung it where I knew he would see it, to prove that I was skilled at preparing food as well as hunting."

Oh shit. I looked at Sandy and saw that he'd figured it out as well.

"Slider, I need to talk to Sandy in the other room for a moment. You stay here and enjoy your drink and we'll be right back, got it?"

"All right, Ralph." He had a puzzled look on his face but relaxed back into his chair and sipped his drink.

I grabbed Sandy and hauled him off to the bedroom and shut the door. We looked at each other in total panic.

"Jesus Christ on a fuckin' crutch, Ralph! I thought you said Gideon wouldn't send us into a situation we couldn't handle?"

"Yeah, that's what I thought," I spat angrily. "I can hear that bastard laughing all the way up here from downtown."

"What the hell are we going to do, Ralph? He's just a kid, and he's in love with John. He'll die if we don't help him."

"What the fuck do you want us to do, Sandy? This kid could eat a car for dinner. He thinks a sharpei is a snack, for Christ's sake."

"I don't know, I don't know.... I have to think. What can we do?"

"Okay, okay. So we've decided we're going to help this kid? This means we're responsible for what happens, right? So we have to do this right."

"Right. So what are you thinking?"

"Well. If we didn't help this kid, he would die. Why?"

"Because he doesn't have a motley. Why? Are you going to find him one he can join? I don't think it works that way. They're family based... oh."

"Yeah. Oh is right. You really want to help this kid? Okay then. How far are you willing to go?"

Sandy turned away and walked to the window, and stared out for a minute. When he turned back, I saw that he'd made up his mind.

"I'm in if you're in."

"Okay then, let's go tell him."

Back in the living room, Slider was sitting in the chair and looking sad and dejected again. He looked up when we came in, and the look on his face was enough to break my heart, which I'd thought long past the breaking stage. Sandy and I walked up in front of his chair and he slid forward onto his knees in front of Sandy.

"Please sir...Sandy. Now you know why I begged a boon of you when first we met, and now I must ask if you will grant it. I must die, and I cannot kill myself. You must do this for me... please."

"No. I deny you that boon. I will not do it."

The Redcap's face fell even further, if that was possible. He got wearily to his feet and spoke simply.

"Very well. I shall go back to my cave and die there. At least I will be close to the man who has brought me to this when I die. I thank you for your kindness Ralph. I will take my leave."

"Slider wait. We have something that we'd like to ask you. Sort of a counter boon if you will. You see, Sandy and I are a motley. We look out for each other, and take care of each other. Only we're not very strong with just two of us. We need a strong third man with us to be strong enough to survive. Someone we trust to watch our backs, and uh... help us gather food and things like that. We want you to join our motley."

It stopped him in his tracks. He looked like someone had just hit him in the middle of his forehead with a twelve-pound sledgehammer. He gaped at us for a moment, then managed to get a few words out.

"But... but motleys are family. You can't have a motley... you're not even related."

Sandy cut in. "But we are. We're brothers by adoption. Only we adopted each other, instead of someone else adopting us."

"Slider," I said, "Sandy and I are both outcasts too. Our kinds don't like us much because we want other men to be our mates. So we pulled together a motley of our own, because we care about each other, even if we're not related by blood."

"And... and you want me to join your motley? You would adopt me and make me your brother too?" The look on his face went from confusion to joy and back in seconds.

"But where would we have our camp? I've been all over this hill and there is no place for us."

"Well, Slider, we do things a little differently than your old motley. You know that I live here, in this place. And Sandy has a place where he lives too. It's not very far away. So we don't live together like your old motley did."

"But that's not right. A motley lives together, Ralph. I don't see how this works."

"We plan on finding a place where we can live together, don't we Ralph? A house, right Ralph? And we were planning on doing that real soon and we want you to move in and live with us, right Ralph?" Sandy was laughing at me with his eyes, daring me to disagree.

"Umm...right! That was the plan. We're looking for a house..."

"It's strange to me, but I think it will work. So we will be a motley." The smile on Slider's face was worth all this sudden change. Did I mention that I hate change? Well, I do.

"But what shall we call our motley?"

"The Three F's motley of course."

Slider suddenly reached forward and swept us into his arms, hugging us close against his enormous chest. Redcaps are not known for the quality of their personal hygiene, and the smell this close to Slider was fairly breathtaking. In between gasping for breath, I managed to ask a question.

"Sandy...the three F's? What does that mean?" I winced, almost hating to ask the question.

"Freaks and Fags Forever, baby!"

It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Imagine housebreaking and training a 230lb, intelligent dog...that was raised by wolves for the first 2 years of its life. The first time I came home from work and found him butchering a small animal in my kitchen sink with my 12" Danish steel chef's knife, I had to call Sandy over for help. In about 3 weeks we moved into a big, old house on the Hill. We worked on his civilization lessons for two months. We found out that under the naïveté, Slider had a keen intelligence lurking. He learned the rules very quickly, usually only having to be told once. Sandy would cast a glamour over him, making him look like a hugely muscled young man with a handsome face and a long red ponytail. He loved it. With this in place, we took long walks and pointed out the ways that humans interacted, and he picked it up very quickly. He was basically a predator, and this was just a new kind of camouflage for him.

Eventually we went to Gideon again, and it wasn't as hard for me this time. The singing session with Sandy had gone so well that it had become a regular thing, and he gave us an amulet that would cast the glamour over Slider as long as he wore it, and he did so nearly all the time. We renamed him Peter Avery, and soon he was a regular on Broadway, and attracting his share of admiring glances.

He broke down and cried like a baby when we told him how John had reacted to his promise gifts. It was almost the end of us, but we pulled him through it and he recovered. Eventually he started to ask if he couldn't meet John while wearing his glamour amulet. We knew it had to happen and had been dreading it for months.

Poor Slider was a mess the night we agreed to take him to the bar. He was nervous and anxious and almost backed out at the last minute, but we drug him to bar anyway. I could see him trembling as we walked in the door together, and he was asked for ID. He pulled out the driver's license I'd had made for him. It passed inspection and we were in.

"C'mon, Pete. The action's all upstairs, boy-o. Just follow me."

"Oh God, Ralph! What if he doesn't like me? What will I do?"

"He'll like you, Peter. You're gorgeous. This will be a cakewalk." I crossed my fingers, and hoped I wasn't lying.

John had been getting over his trauma for the last three months. He was smiling again, and handily beating just about everybody at pool like he did before. He'd never gotten another cat, but seemed to be pretty ok. Following the incident, he and I had become sort of close friends. Now he saw us come up the stairs from the other side of the pool tables, and started over with a big smile to greet me. I felt Slider stiffen and gasp when he saw him. Yup...still head over heels. He just understood what was happening to him now, was the difference. And he knew how to act.

I enjoyed a long hug with John, then stepped back. I wanted him to notice Pete. And he did.

Ok, at 6'4" and 230lb of solid muscle, Slider is a little hard to miss. But John definitely took time to appreciate what he was noticing.

"So, who's your friend, Ralph? Don't think I've seen him around before."

"John Shea, this is Peter Avery--but everyone calls him Pete. He's just moved to town, and he's rooming with Sandy and I."

"Nice to meet you, John. How you doin'?"

"Doin' good, Pete. Nice to meet you too. Hey, you play pool much?"

"Nah man...never did. But I always wanted to...I watch those pool tournaments on TV sometimes, y'know, and I think 'how cool is that?'"

I smiled at Sandy as John led him over to an unoccupied pool table and started teaching him the game of pool.

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