by Constance "Eilonwy" Cochran
Part of "The Party on Avalon" series
Disclaimer: Gargoyles is the property of Buena Vista/Disney. The character of Cupid has been around for a long, long time, but I borrowed his current persona from Kellie Fay. Jeremy and Allison are from the fanfics co-written by Kellie Fay, Batya "The Toon" Levin, and myself. Anything that happens in this story is my fault, not Kellie or Batya's (although they did give their blessing ;)
A gust of spring wind shook the sparse blossoms of the trees lining the sidewalk. The air filled with petals; they fell like snow around the girl seated alone at one of the outdoor tables of the coffee bar on Columbus Avenue. She was dressed in a floral skirt, a white t-shirt, and a jean- jacket. A half-finished cappuccino rested before her on the table, holding down a napkin. At her feet a floral-print knapsack leaned against the chair leg. The wind playfully pulled at her long, loose, light blond hair. She pushed it back with one hand. Then Allison Michaels sighed, pushed up the sleeve of her jacket, and checked her watch for the fourth time.
"He's late, isn't he?" A knowing male voice said.
Allison jumped in her seat, and turned. There had been no one at the table behind her a moment ago. But there was someone there now.
He sat cross-legged, dressed in khakis and a muscle-molding blue t-shirt with some sort of logo on the breast pocket -- it looked like a bow crossed by two arrows. His skin was a rich bronze, as if he spent a lot of time in the tropics, and his hair was curly, golden wheat-colored, a bit long in the back. It was difficult to guess his age -- he might have been anywhere from twenty-four to thirty-six.
As Allison studied him, one hand holding back her hair, the man grinned with a hint of mischief that had a familiar flavor to it. Bright white teeth flashed in his tanned ace. Then he raised his ceramic mug to her as if in a toast.
To her embarassment, Allison found herself flushing.
"Let me guess," he said, his voice an easy drawl, not unpleasant. He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward on the white plastic chair. "He's terribly gallant, passionate, and sweet when you're alone. When you're with others, he's about as romantic as a brick. Probably the brainy sort -- computer geek, glasses, that sort of thing."
Allison choked on her next sip of cappuccino. The Greek-god look-alike chuckled.
"Pegged it right, didn't I? Believe me, sweet-face, I've seen it all. Hm." He tapped one finger on the table top, the wind ruffling his curls. "And you haven't told your friends, either. Made a mutual pact not to. Afraid they might tease you? Ah..." He nodded as Allison blushed again.
"You're awfully nosy about a stranger's private life," she said hotly, reaching down for the strap of her knapsack. "If this is some sort of imaginative pick-up line, it's not working." She started to shove her way past the tables, but the man reached out and lightly touched the sleeve of her jacket. The contact was no more than a feather-weight, yet for some reason, she stopped and stood looking down at him, her backpack over one shoulder.
"I'm not trying to 'pick you up.' Well, not in the sense you mean it, anyway. And as a matter of fact, we are not total strangers, you and I. We have acquaintances in common, you and I." The man raised his hands and moved them, palms flat, in a fluttering, wing-like motion. He kept his eyes on her face, one eyebrow raised.
Allison felt the adrenaline shoot up from her feet and into her heart. She froze as if her keds had just rooted to the sidewalk.
"That's how you two met," the man said soothingly, warmly. "Those...mutual friends. And out of such unusual circumstances something happened neither of you expected. I've been keeping an eye on you two for quite a while." He slowly got to his feet and faced her; Allison realized he was shorter than she'd thought. "Actually," he continued, "I am here to offer you, Allison Michaels, an invitation." He made a sweeping gesture with one arm, and with the other hand took her hand.
Allison suddenly realized that in the cool spring day, her hands were cold, while his were warm.
"You can visit a place only a handful of mortal humans have ever seen. As my guest, out of all the mortals in the world I choose you to attend the party of the millenium. To come to Avalon."
"Avalon?" Allison squeaked weakly.
Before she could remove her hand from his grasp, the man began to recite:
"For the celebration wild
I choose this girl, no longer child.
To Avalon transport us now,
And her entrance do allow."
A wind of more than natural origin swirled about them, bringing loose blossoms in clouds. Allison's skirt whipped about her legs as light joined the blossoms.
There was a flash of light, the wind died, and the sidewalk stood empty, save for the petals that littered the ground, decorated the table stop, and floated in the luke-warm remains of a cappuccino.
Several minutes later a young man with sandy hair dressed in jeans and a Columbia University t-shirt approached the coffee bar, a red knapsack slung over one shoulder. Pushing up his wire-rimmed glasses, he scanned the empty tables, then went inside to look around, but didn't find what he was looking for.
He stepped back out into the sunlight, looked at his watch, and sighed. "Aw, Allie..." he said aloud. "I'm sorry..."
Allison closed her eyes. Tightly.
When she realized she was standing on solid ground, and was herself still in one piece, she opened them.
She was in a large room that looked as if it were in a castle. Strange beings -- figures that reminded her of her readings from a Myth and Literature class -- were busy decorating. Some simply hovered in mid-air, stringing garlands of headily-scented flowers along the walls. Others stood on ladder. A giant -- or close to it -- held up a small, dwarf-like creature so he could dangle greenery from a chandelier. A boy dressed in green hose, green tunic, and a jaunty green cap raced around in the air up near the vaults, turning somersaults, hand in hand with a young girl of 12 or 13 who appeared to be in her nightgown. She seemed filled with wonder at everything. A tiny, furiously glowing spot of yellow light bobbed after them.
A few other oddities had gathered in a corner and were playing scattered riffs on various archaic instruments -- pipes, lyre, drums, harp, accompanied by a group of humans in jeans, leather jackets, and spiky hair cuts holding electric guitars. Allison blinked; the humans were vaguely familiar, and she realized they had been splattered all over posters in Tower Records for weeks.
Allison reached for the arm of the curly-haired man and gripped hard. Then she abruptly let go of him and gaped. His clothing had mysteriously changed to a white tunic and sandals, a bow and quiver slung over one arm. But most extraodinary of all were the pair of feathery swan-white wings that sprang from his shoulder blades.
Her fingers reached out and lightly brushed the down-soft feathers. Then she quickly pulled her hand back. "You...are you...what are you?" She asked breathlessly.
"Relax," he told her. "Enjoy." Suddenly, he seemed to spot something. He extricated her fingers from his arm and gently guided her forward ahead of him, brining her face to face with the three most breathtaking women Allison had ever seen, even including fashion magazines. They were positively intimidating, and made her feel like she was six years old with a runny nose and grubby fingernails. They were identical except one had long, white hair, one black, and one golden.
"Phoebes!" The winged man called out warmly. "Lune. ‘Lene. Take charge of this one for an hour, will you?" The bronze-skinned man flashed each a dazzling smile and chucked the black-haired woman under the chin. "Take her upstairs, find something nice for her to wear to the festivities. You know, flowers in her hair, a gown, that sort of thing."
The black haired woman frowned. "Very well, Eros."
"We will see to her," the white-haired one intoned.
"Come, mortal child," the blond finished.
They placed their hands on Allison's shoulders, and she found herself being borne away.
"Wait!" She protested, trying to catch sight of Cupid, Eros, whatever he called himself, who had seemingly vanished. "But I..."
"We have lovely raiments here unlike anything in the mortal world."
"We think the results will be...pleasing. Sisters," the white-haired one added with an eager note creeping into her voice, "This one has potential."
Jeremy raced up the last flight of stairs and unlocked his apartment door. Kicking aside a discarded pizza box, he pounced on the answering machine, whose light was blinking. One message from his roommate Christopher, one message from Ricky, looking for Christopher in her habitual bossy yet oddly charming way. None from Allison.
Slumping into his computer chair, Jeremy stared at his After Dark screen saver without really seeing it. He closed his eyes and grimaced. "Man, she must be really mad at me..."
Automatically, he glanced up at the window to check the position of the sun. The light was creeping towards afternoon. Not that you could tell, anyway, in that apartment, it faced onto the wall of the next building.
And why did it matter how soon the sun went down? It wasn't as if he could talk this over with the guys. He could aleady hear the trio whooping it up and whistling..."Way to go, lover boy!"
There was a knock at the door. Jeremy was out of his chair like a shot and heedlessly flung the door wide without peering through the look hole first. This was usually a mistake in a city like New York; but never for the particular reasons of this instance.
His voice stopped with a strangled sound of surprise. It wasn't Allison standing out in the hallway under the dim bulb, or anyone he'd ever seen in his life for that matter. It was a man with tanned skin in his twenties, with blond curly hair. He was dressed in khakis and a t-shirt, and looked like something out of a J. Crew catalog.
"Uh, hi," Jeremy said. "Can I help you?"
"No, but I can definitely help you. Come on, can't keep the lady waiting." Without warning, the stranger grabbed him by the shoulders in an iron grip.
In a panic, Jeremy tried to twist free without success and yelled for help. The man began to chant:
"I bring this lad to our jamboree
Whose heart is timid and needs to see.
To Avalon transport us now,
And his entrance do allow."
By the time Jeremy's neighbor in apartment 4G timidly opened the door to see what the disturbance was, the hallway was empty, save for a few lingering sparks of light.
In wonder, Jeremy found himself consumed in a flash of light. The stuffy hallway of the apartment building vanished, replaced by a windy, grass-topped bluff.
It was just after sunset, and a burnished red glow burned beyond the lush green hills. In the distance, he saw a castle, aglow with torchlight. Dark, winged shapes dove and glided over its towers. Jeremy caught his breath.
He turned, looking for the blond man, and was startled to see he had changed. Instead of the khakis he now wore a short white tunic. The outfit would have made Jeremy look like a reject from "Animal House"; it made the man look like a statue in a museum. A bow and quiver of arrows was slung over his shoulder, and from his back rose a pair of white feathered wings. Yet this was no gargoyle, but a human who happened to have wings. No. Not a human.
"Do you know where you are?" The winged man asked.
"Avalon," Jeremy said promptly. He let out a long breath, his eyes travelling over the hills and back to the castle. "Cool."
"Do you know who I am?"
Jeremy looked at the man in the tunic and considered for a moment. "Cupid."
"My, you are the learned one," the man...no, the fae...smirked. "Well, m'boy, let's go down to the castle. There's a little party under way, and I think you'll find this a most...interesting...night."
Jeremy stood alone by the wall of the great hall of Avalon's castle. The torchlight flickered off the old stones and surrounded the humans and fae in a warm glow. They danced in the flower-graced room, to music that sounded like a strange mix of the medieval and the modern. It had no words, but pulled at Jeremy, making him want to join the dance.
A couple particularly in sync tangoed past, no space at all between their bodies. The human -- a young woman with short dark hair, honey colored skin, and vaguely familiar facial features, laughed up at her partner, a man with dark, straight hair, dark skin, wearing jeans and a leather jacket. If he was a fae, he didn't look like one, except for the glint of mischief in his expression.
Others had gathered at a long table festooned with flowers and foods, half of which Jeremy failed to identify. There were breads and cheeses, piles of unfamiliar fruit, cakes, huge glass bowls filled with punch made of colors so bright he was hesitant to try them due to possible radioactivity. Rising in the midst of this was an ice sculpture depicting a pointed eared fae, a gargoyle, and a human, standing with wraiths of ice twisted around them to represent mist.
A chubby, red-cheeked, balding fae in a white tunic and laurel about his forehead sat cross legged at the busiest end of the table, flanked by giggling, scantily clad nymphs. The plump fae hiccuped, then poured out some sort of ale from a barrel stopper into several wooden cups, which he thrust as various figures who bounded past in the dance.
Eros stood before Oberon and Titania, trying to look solemn and not doing a very good job of it. Jeremy could just hear them over the music and laughter.
Oberon sat back easily in his chair, palms curled around the ends of the arm rests. "Eros, we are most seriously put out. The terms of this affair were that the Children could each bring one human of choice. You brought two."
The golden haired fae smiled charmingly, then winked at Lady Titania before answering. "Your majesty, given the nature of my...work, it just would not have done any good to bring only -- er -- one _half_ of the equation."
Titania put a finger to her chin. "He has a point, my lord. For Eros, to bring only the female or only the male would be like bringing half of a mortal."
Oberon sighed. "Very well. And upon thinking it over, we have decided that under certain circumstances, some of the Children may bring more than one mortal." The long-legged, blue skinned king of the faery rose to his feet and turned to his Queen. He extended his hand gallantly, half-bowing. "My Lady Titania, would you care to dance?"
The queen's eyebrows went up in some surprise. "It would be my pleasure," she said, and allowed Oberon to pull her to her feet and lead her down off the dais.
"Will wonders never cease," Eros said drily. The fae spotted Jeremy watching him, grinned, and then whistled innocently up at the ceiling vaults.
Then his eye caught something over Jeremy's shoulder and the innocent whistle segued into a long, low, appreciative wolf signal.
Slowly, Jeremy turned.
Through the dancers he saw Allison. Three willowy fae females, one with white hair, one with black, one with gold, were just stepping away from her with the air of artists revealing a masterwork.
Allison's light blond hair had been pulled up. Tendrils hung loose over her slim shoulders, and a cluster of violets nestled over her left ear. She wore a dress of unidentifiable fabric, of some indefinable azure color that brought out her gray eyes, making them brighter, like sterling silver caught by candlelight. The dress itself caught the light of the room, and the fabric seemed to shimmer as if it were made of light itself. The girl's face was pink with a flush.
Jeremy became aware that his jaw was hanging open. He closed his mouth quickly, blinked, and swallowed. As he stepped over to her, he caught the faint scent of the flowers.
"Hi," she said awkwardly, smiling.
"Hi," he said.
Descending upon them, Cupid put an arm about each of their shoulders and guided them towards the massive wooden double doors. "The party's just warming up," Eros said over the joyful din. "Why don't you two kids go take a walk on the beach, come back when things are more lively."
A cluster of wood nymphs raced by, giggling, pursued by several men in jeans and flannel shirts. The music rose several decibels, and the fae with the bubbling ale began to waltz on the banquet table with a woman who might have been a stern executive at home, but at the moment was in her stockinged feet, her blouse unbuttoned just this side of decency.
Eros shoved the girl in the light-made dress and the boy in the jeans and the Columbia University t-shirt out into the corridor, then slammed the doors shut behind them, leaving them alone.
Through the doors came the muffled sound of music. Allison laughed softly. "I think he was trying to give us a hint."
"No, really?" Jeremy grinned at her and felt giddy, as if he'd had too much champagne.
"Should we take him up on it?" Allison looked at him sideways.
"Absolutely," Jeremy answered, feeling positively drunk. "But only if you promise me a dance later, milady."
"I never dreamed I'd ever get to visit Avalon." Allison, seated next to Jeremy on the sand with her skirts tucked neatly beneath her, looked out over the dark sea. "It's -- it's indescribable."
Above them braziers burned atop the cliffs. The sand seemed to glow from within under the starlight -- from stars too numerous to count, in a night sky of frightening clarity. The waves sighed onto the beach, and faintly the music played on, reaching the far corners of the island.
"Yeah," Jeremy said, turning to look at Allison. "Indescribable."
She turned her face towards him, and they kissed. Activities of an exceedingly pleasant nature began to progress for several minutes before Allison suddenly turned her head, startled.
"Jeremy, look at that!" She pointed, her face alight with wonder.
Nearby, framed by the rocks several yards down the beach, was a seal. It had a shining dark coat, slick with water. Its eyes were large, round, and bright.
"Isn't he amazing?" The girl moved away from Jeremy and crouched on the sand, holding her hand out to the creature. When the seal didn't shy away, she gently touched its head, and was surprised to find it felt furry.
The seal snuffed at her palm and looked at her with the large, deep eyes -- and Allison, looking into them, suddenly went still, the sea wind ruffling her dress.
Jeremy got to his feet and shoved his hands in his pockets. He frowned at Allison and the seal. "Avalon's waters are too warm for seals, they like water to be at least --"
"Jeremy!" At his voice, her head twitched, and now she seemed capable of movement again. "You sound just like Christopher," she said accusingly.
"So, what's wrong with that?" He said angrily.
Allison stared, and turned away from the sea creature. "What's gotten into you?"
"Nothing," he muttered. "C'mon, let's go back inside." He took her hand and, a bit rudely, pulled her up the beach.
As Allison protested, her voice growing fainter as they moved away, the seal shook his coat and slid back into the dark waters of Avalon.
"Back so soon?" Eros mused aloud, standing with arms folded near the dais. He watched the fair-haired girl and the bespectacled boy dance. At first, she had seemed put out with him, stiff. But then the young man had asked her to dance, and she had relented like the snows in spring. Eros knew the signs. His hunch had been right.
He became aware of one of his kin standing nearby, Roann. His dark eyes, black almost., were fixed on Allison.
"She is lovely, Roann," Cupid said, leaning towards his cousin's pointed ear. "But off limits for you."
Roann turned, and curved his lips in an incredulous smile. "Off limits, Cupid? I think not."
"She is spoken for -- you have eyes."
Eros' cousin flicked his gaze back to the couple. "That pup? Ha. He might as well try to hold starlight -- he hardly knows what to do with her."
"Perhaps," Eros answered non-commitally. "Right now. But even so, she has a father, and brothers in the mortal world -- and some who are like father or brothers to her, who hold a piece of her heart. You do not want to anger _them_, believe me."
"But they are not here," Roann said smoothly. "They are on another island. Only _he_ is here. She will be mine."
He started to move off, but Eros took his arm. "Beware of crossing 'that pup,' cuz. When riled, he has the soul of a warrior."
Roann snorted contemptuously. His eyes travelled back to Allison, who was now standing alone, watching the movement all round her with gladness in her eyes. "Ah, look, I see the young swain has moved off for refreshment -- or new entertainment," he added suggestively. Before Eros could stop him, the dark-haired fae had moved into the crowd.
Allison felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned.
"I hate to see a beautiful woman like yourself alone at a dance. If you will permit...?"
The one who had spoken was a tall fae, slim and well-muscled, with pale skin and silky, thick black hair falling to his shoulders. He was dressed in black breeches, and wore a vest over a loose-sleeved, white shirt. His face was handsome, melancholy, his eyes so dark brown they seemed to be black. They were warm eyes, deep, compelling -- looking into them, Allison felt swallowed up, delightfully entranced.
The fae took her wrist gently in one hand, while his other arm encircled her waist. As they began to dance, Allison felt a strange sensation sweep over her. She felt the heat radiating from his body, and began to feel languid. Looking up into the fae's eyes, she felt a summoning, a longing so intense it physically hurt her, somewhere in the pit of her stomach. Behind that was a dull ache, but it was not her own -- a horrible loneliness. The rest of the room seemed unimportant, dull, the colors less radiant.
"Come with me," the fae whispered to her. Allison was unaware that he was guiding her towards the doors. She would not have cared if she did -- she had to follow. Anywhere.
"Mind if I cut in?" A voice said, and then another set of hands gently took her.
At first, she almost cried out in anger and loss.
The moment Jeremy touched her, the ache vanished, and room sprang into light and life again. The dark-haired fae moved off.
"Oh, my god..." Allison suddenly felt shaken, as if she'd come too close to the edge of a cliff and had suddenly been pulled back. She put her face against Jeremy's shoulder, her fingers twining into the cotton fabric of his t-shirt.
"Allie?" He said in surprise. "You okay?" His arms tightened around her. "Who was that?"
She heard the note of resentful accusation in her voice, and irritation spiked her relief. "An extremely courteous and interesting fae," she said, pulling back to glare at Jeremy.
"You know, you've been acting awfully weird," he said, still holding her.
"Me!? You're the one who was jealous of a _seal_."
"What would you call it?"
"I think the air of this place is going to your head." He dropped his hands from her shoulder and waist. They stood with a foot of space between them, a gaping chasm.
"Really." Brushing a stray tendril of hair back from her cheek in a haughty gesture, Allison deliberately turned her back and pushed her way through the dancers. The party swallowed her up.
Jeremy turned and kicked a stone pillar that happened to be nearby. "Damn," he said. "Damn, damn, da--"
Eros appeared on the other side of the pillar, his eyes searching. "Where's Allison?"
"Oh, who knows," Jeremy said, waving his hand.
The winged fae took Jeremy by the shoulders. "You left her alone again?"
"Hey, she wandered off and left _me_."
"Oh, no." Cupid shook his head. "This is not good, my mortal friend. We have to find her -- now."
Alarmed, Jeremy followed Cupid through the crowded hall. "What? Why? Is she in trouble?"
Eros/Cupid turned to him. "You might say that. You are in danger of losing her, my boy. Not just to a rival -- but permanently."
But Cupid didn't seem to be listening. With his bow over one shoulder, he surveyed the room. "They're gone. And I can do nothing -- no fae can interfere with the practices of another, not directly -- save Oberon. But he won't intercede in this case, not if Roann hasn't broken the rules. We'll have to split up -- at least if I can find her, I can lead you to her. And even that is cheating. Get his skin, Jeremy. That's the only way to get the upper hand. His skin."
The fae gave a twitch of his wings, and rose up above the party. With a soft beating sound, he flew out of an open window as if on the hunt.
Jeremy ran down the corridor towards the castle entrance, Cupid's words echoing through his mind. ~Get his skin, Jeremy.~
As he neared the main portal, he slowed for a moment, reached up, and grabbed down a burning torch from its bracket on the wall. He was unsure what, exactly, he planned to do with it.
Jeremy ran across the castle drawbridge, and stopped. He looked doubtfully up at the castle battlements. The offspring of Goliath's clan were here -- he had met Gabriel and Ophelia earlier that night. If someone needed protecting...
And while he wandered about the battlements, calling for gargoyles, where did that leave Allison? There wasn't time. The sense of urgency, dormant until now, roared out at him in full force.
An image came to him, of the seal framed by the rocks, of the way the creature had nuzzled Allison's hand. Jeremy turned down the path leading to the beach, the flickering torchlight illuminating his way.
He stumbled on the rock, slipped, regained his balance. The spray crashed against the stones and dampened his face. He held the torch high to keep it from going out. To his left curved the pale glow of the sand, empty. To his right the rocks continued, around the corner of the headland.
Unsure of what he was looking for, the dagger belt threaded through the waist loops of his blue jeans, he leapt from one rock to the next. Closer to the cliffs, he saw a triangular shadow. The beach was out of his line of sight now.
Drawing nearer, he saw that it was a small hollow, almost a cave, although too small for any larger creature to fit inside. But it was dry, high above the tideline. The torch threw the cave into dark shadow, but he thought he saw something inside. Adjusting his glasses, he wedged the torch into a crack in the rocks, took a deep breath, and began to climb. His fingers and the toes of his sneakers clung to the rock as though they would dig into it.
At last his eyes drew level with the cave. Cautiously, he put his hand inside, and touched something thin, and furry, so soft it was like silk. He jerked his hand back, then put it in again. This time, he drew out a dark pelt.
Wonderingly, he turned it over in one hand, steadying himself against the rock with the other. The sea boomed in the silence. It was against all logic. But Avalon was against all logic.
Jeremy's fingers tightened around the pelt. A small, disbelieving suspicion dawned into wondering, horrified awareness.
He heard the beat of wings above him, and looked up eagerly. But it wasn't a gargoyle, just Cupid, who settled onto a rock nearby.
"Good boy!" He crowed in a whisper-shout. Then he added, "He's taking his time -- went through the orchard. You can still cut them off -- they're going to come out half a mile down from here. He'll probably come towards you for the skin."
Cupid flexed his wings.
"Wait!" Jeremy called.
"I'm sorry," the fae said, shrugging. "I told you, I'm not allowed to interfere. My lord Oberon and his queen are nowhere to be found. You are the only one on this island who can save her -- even if Oberon intervened." He leapt from the rock, beating his wings, and rose up along the line of the cliff and disappeared.
Jeremy turned and grabbed the torch, wondering what the fae had meant. He scrambled over the rocks as fast as he could.
As the beach came into sight, he saw two figures in the distance, near the water. With the seal pelt clutched in his hand, Jeremy began to run, splashing through the tideline.
Allison leaned against the dark haired fae, a dreamy, sleepy smile on her face. Her eyes looked vacant -- not Allison -- and they were fixed on the fae's face. The selkie slid his fingers into her hair, loosening it so it tumbled over her shoulders. The violets scattered on the wind and landed on the waves.
"Stop!" Jeremy yelled. "Allison!"
Insolently, his fingers still twined in the girl's hair, the selkie turned, and pulled Allison against him.
"It's too late, mortal." He looked down with something like fondness at Allison. Her eyes slowly closed, and her face went slack. "Only one out of a generation..." the selkie said softly. "The humans, they become so confused with their legends. By some accounts, the males of my kind are murderers -- that we choose a woman to keep with us, and she drowns. But this one -- she will not drown. She has the right spirit -- she will change, alter her shape, merge her being with my being, and spend her life in the sea. Eventually, being mortal, she will die of old age," he said sadly, touching the girl's cheek. "But until then..."
"No," said Jeremy.
The selkie laughed, a sound that had all the joy, and the relentlessness, of the ocean. "'No?' That is all your argument?" He bent slightly, and gathered Allison up limp in his arms. Then he turned towards the water.
"Let her go," Jeremy said, voice low.
"Or what?" The selkie said, the surf now swirling around his ankles.
Jeremy raised the pelt above his head like a flag, and moved the flame of the torch closer to its soft folds.
Fear crossed the fae's features, anger. "That was bold. But stupid. Release my pelt. Drop it to the sand."
"Not until you let Allison go."
"Drop it," the fae said. "Or I can see to it that she will drown."
Slowly, still holding the flame near the pelt, Jeremy moved closer to them. "If she's so rare, you won't kill her," he said, a catch beneath the bravado of his voice. Allison's hair, draped over the fae's arm, stirred in the wind. She looked as if she were peacefully asleep.
"Yes, she is rare," the selkie said. "But not worth losing my powers." The torchlight tinged the ebb tide red and played over the selkie's black hair.
Jeremy realized he was now standing with the water up to his ankles. The sea hissed and swirled, while the wind seemed to beat at him. The fae had moved out to his waist, and now the skirts of Allison's dress floated on the waves.
"All right," Jeremy said. He drew back his arm, and threw the pelt as hard as he could out to sea. The wind caught it, bore it along, until it settled a dozen yards off shore, bobbing on the waves.
The selkie watched the skin until it fell. Then a tiny smile crept to his face. "I admire your guts. But I can swim out to it -- can you? She will come with me. You lost the contest."
In horror, Jeremy watched as the selkie stepped farther out, holding Allison's head up above the water. She would drown, he thought. There might be such a thing as Avalon, as fae, as selkies...but he was wrong, Allison would drown...
Jeremy pushed through the resisting surf, up to his waist. He flung the torch into the water, where it extinguished with a hiss. Taking a deep breath, he dove and swam out until he was parallel to the selkie and Allison. Treading water, he called out, "You can't take her, selkie!" His voice was pleading, without command.
Still holding Allison's nose and mouth above the waves, the selkie turned to him. "Why? Because _you_ claim her?" He shouted over the sound of the waves. "How typical of human males, to stake a claim, as if she were property."
"She doesn't belong to me, or you, she doesn't belong to anyone." A wave dashed over Jeremy's head. He held his breath until it had passed. Droplets of water and particles of sand clouded his glasses, but he could still make out the two forms in the water several yards away. "Back at home...in the...mortal world...she has a family, friends --" he felt the current pulling at his legs, and kicked out at it viciously. "People who care about her...she's got...finals, next week," Jeremy added desperately, feeling ridiculous.
The selkie treaded water, looking at him disdainfully yet almost as if he seemed to be waiting for something.
"You can't take her away from all that...from me," Jeremy added in a whisper. Another wave slapped at him and he spat sea water.
"You speak for her?" The selkie asked, with a note of surprise.
"S--speak for her?" He took in a mouthful of briny water and coughed, his eyes on Allison's slack face. "Yeah..." He raised his eyes to the selkie's face. "I love her. You don't have any right at all," he added slowly, suddenly knowing it was the truth. All of it.
The selkie said nothing, only rose and fell with the swell of the waves. Then annoyance, resignation, and finally, loss, flickered over the fae's damp face. "I see." His fingers slipped from Allison body, allowing her to sink beneath the waves. "Then that is how it must be." The selkie turned with a sinuous, graceful motion, arched his back, dove under the water, and was gone.
Jeremy swam hard to Allison's side, dove under, and came up with his arm across her shoulders in a life-savers' grasp. Her eyes were still closed. Fighting the current, he swam for the shore.
At last he felt solidity beneath his feet, and was pulling Allison onto the dry sand. He sank to his knees beside her.
"Allison? Allison!" He checked her pulse again. It was strong, but he couldn't detect the rise and fall of breath. "Oh, please, no, oh please..."
As he tilted her head back, trying to think calmly, remember CPR, she suddenly coughed, her body jerking. Jeremy raised her to a sitting position as she coughed again and doubled over, spitting up sea water.
The convulsions ceased, leaving her gasping for air. She looked up. "J -- Jeremy?"
He let out a breathy sigh that had a note in it just this side of hysterical laughter, and sat back hard onto the sand. "Allison, you're okay?"
She coughed faintly and put her hand to her face. The shimmering dress hung heavy around her, weighed by sea water, and her hair was bedraggled. She shivered, glancing out at the sea. "I -- I don't know. Yes." She looked up at his face.
Jeremy let out the breath he had been holding, and helped her to her feet. "We need to get inside...find a fireplace. H-hypothermia."
"Not exactly how I wanted to spend our first big date," Allison murmured, leaning against him.
"Do you...do you remember anything that happened?" Jeremy asked. "Just now?"
The pause before she answered seemed to last forever. "No." Then she shook her head and said, more firmly, "No, I was kind of out of it..."
"Oh," Jeremy said flatly.
As they ascended the beach together, headed inland, a seal raised its head from the water beyond the breakers. It regarded the pair on the shore, then dove and swam away like dark quicksilver.
Dawn on Avalon. Up on the battlements, the gargoyles had turned to stone. Some prankster had come by and draped their statues with streamers of brightly colored cloth and paper; they looked like lawn ornaments after a particularly rowdy halloween.
In the great hall, the band had fallen asleep. Oberon and Titania were nowhere to be seen. The banquet table was stripped clean, save for a few scraps. The young fae in the green hose, tunic, and cap, had curled up, asleep, on the steps of the dais with his head on the knee of the girl in the nightgown, who, like the other humans should have been delivered home hours ago. She, too, was asleep, her back leaning against the stones, her fingers stilled in the middle of brushing back the boy's forelock of hair. The spot of light twinkled resentfully from the crest of Oberon's chair.
Up in the gallery, two fae leaned against the railing, looking down at the confetti and flower-strewn aftermath of the grandest party in 2,000 years, in or out of the mortal world. Someone had gotten carried away with dimensional spells, and a purple unicorn was chewing on a tapestry while three small, pink pigs with wings fluttered up near the ceiling, holding croquet mallets.
"Well, that was quite a party," Eros said, in immense satisfaction.
His cousin Roann scowled. "Quite."
"Oh, come on, cuz. You're not still upset about your little loss, are you?"
Roann studied the flying pigs. "It was more than a little..." he said thoughtfully. "I would have enjoyed spending a human life span with that one." His voice brought an eternal note of sadness in. He turned accusingly to Eros. "And you helped him. I could report you to Oberon for that."
"I'm sorry, Roann. But...I already had plans for those two. And all I did was give him a teensy, weensy hint. That's all."
Silence. A dozing fae below them stirred sleepily, noticed the purple unicorn, and lazily zapped it back where it had come from before drifting off again.