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As a Shrike to Your Thorn

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Lou’s cleaning up the detritus of the last tarot session of the night when something trips her wards. It’s been a long night and she’s distracted herself with three shots of bottom-shelf bourbon and too many thoughts about the past. The radio is set to some battered recording of an old love song, and Lou can’t tell whether she wants to turn the volume up or rip the plug out of the wall. And so she almost misses the warnings.

But there- as she picks up the dog-eared six of cups and the tower, she hears it: under the scratchy crooning of “I’ll-never-leave-you”- the quiet ping of charms in distress.

She sets the tarot cards down against the frayed velvet of the tablecloth. She swallows, the aftertaste of bourbon bitter in her throat. It’s too late to be a customer, and she already paid the local faerie gang for protection last week. She’s not expecting any visitors.

The singer on the radio pauses to take a breath, and in the silence Lou can suddenly hear footsteps on the stairs.

Slowly she eases herself away from the table, edging her feet around all the creaky floorboards as she slips towards the cabinet in the corner of the room. She holds her breath as she eases the top drawer open, but her luck holds and it goes without a sound. She reaches inside and draws out two things: a beretta for her right hand, in case the visitor is human. And an iron railroad spike, hammered to a point and bathed in salt and oxblood, in case it’s not.

She turns to face the door, holding the gun and the spike in front of her like wards. The metal is cold in her hands, the air in her lungs is just short of burning. She stares unblinking at the door, and after what feels like ten centuries, she sees it- the click of the lock, the jiggle of the handle turning.

She tastes the first syllable of a hex between her teeth; her finger slips to the trigger of the gun. No one has a key to that door. No one but Lou herself, and one other person who hasn’t come by in a long time, and never will again.

The door cracks, and as light limns the space between the casing and the latch, Lou realizes she’s hoping for a miracle with every bit of magic she has. She would give it up, every spell she hasn’t spoken yet, if only-

The door opens, the light falls in, and Lou sees her: Deb, alive and whole. She looks just like she did the last time Lou saw her, down to the same wry half-smile on her lips. “Hey,” Deb says.

Except it’s not Deb; it can’t be; Deb is gone and she’s never coming back-

Lou’s finger spasms down on the trigger of the Beretta; she feels the recoil in her gut and welcomes the hurt; it grounds her.

Deb- or the thing that looks like Deb- takes a step back and raises her eyebrows. When it becomes clear Lou isn’t going to shoot again, she raises her hand to trace the bullet hole splintered into the doorframe. “Hell of a welcome, Lou.”

That voice, those lips- it’s so familiar that Lou feels it in as an ache in the back of her throat, and damn it, whoever thought this was a funny joke is going to get rearranged six ways from Sunday if Lou has anything to say about it.

She takes a breath to steady herself and readjusts her grip on the railway spike. “In the name of Prosperpine, blessed of the damned-“

Deb rolls her eyes and lets out a put-upon sigh. “I’m not a wight, Deb.”

Lou tries again. “By the sacred mysteries of Hela, mother of-“

“Not a draugr or a lich or a gangshi either,” Deb says with a dismissive wave of her hand. She slings her coat over the back of a chair and does a slow circuit of the room, like she doesn’t care that Lou’s this close to putting six bullets and a railway spike into the middle of her forehead. Instead she goes to the liquor cabinet in the corner, rummaging through the half empty bottles like she’s looking for something.

Lou watches her, because she honestly has no idea what to do at this point other than try to shoot her again, and if she’s truthful with herself she doesn’t have it in her.

Deb has found what she’s looking for and Lou’s stomach clenches when she sees the bottle. Homemade gin in a dingy bottle; made from juniper they’d picked themselves in the last year of their apprenticeship, under a neap moon.

Deb unscrews the cap and tilts her head back to take a long sip, her eyes fluttering closed. Her neck is pale in the light as she swallows, and Lou can only watch.

“Ah,” Deb says quietly, regarding the bottle with what might be a hint of amusement. “I’d wondered.”

Lou is staring at her but her mind’s on overdrive, she’s flicking through every fae and beast she knows, but none of them, none of them could-

“Deb?” she whispers, and suddenly her limbs are no longer her own, she’s dropping the gun and the spike and then Deb’s body is warm against hers, and when she buries her head in the wild fall of Deb’s hair she can smell the scent of her, and it’s that that convinces her, more than the iron or the salt or anything else.

A minute or a year later, she draws away and looks- really looks- at Deb.  She’s exactly the same as she was the last time Lou her- no new lines or scars, though god knows Lou has gained a few. Even the length of her hair is the same. It’s like no time has passed, like Deb had just stepped out to grab some coffee, instead of disappearing under a faerie mound for years and years and years. But then, time doesn’t work the same in faerie.

Lou takes a breath and forces herself to be casual. “Last I heard the sidhe caught you trying to steal from their vaults and were using you as a living statue in a banquet hall.”

A quirk of her lips, just a hint: it’s always driven Lou mad, ever since she first saw it at the Academy. “Released early for good behavior.”

Lou pulls herself out of Deb’s arms. “Bullshit. The fae doesn’t give up their treasures lightly.”

Deb bats her eyelashes. “You think I’m a treasure?”

Lou isn’t going to be distracted like that, not when so much is at stake. Besides, she’s managed to keep it a secret that she’s been head over heels in love with Deb for this long, and she’s not about to admit it to Deb now, even flat-footed as she is. “As good as you are, even you can’t weasel your way out of a High Sidhe hall on your own. Someone sprung you. Who?”

Deb rakes a hand through her hair. “Lou-“

“Who was it?” Lou asks, eyes narrowing.

She can see the moment Deb gives it up: her shoulders slump an inch and she lets out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“It was a woman, I think.” Deb’s voice goes soft and her eyes unfocus, like she’s looking at something very far away. “She was beautiful. I can’t remember her face…” Deb blinks. “Pine needles. She smelled like pine needles. But that’s all I got.”

“You were glamoured,” Lou says sharply. She can feel her temper kindling at the thought of some fae goddess doing that, pulling at the strings of Deb’s mind. “You want me to believe a fae broke you out of hell itself out of the goodness of her shriveled, blackened little heart-“

Deb is shaking her head. “No, she- she wanted something.”

Wonderful. “What did she want? Lou asks, straining for casual. But even as she says it she can feel control slipping away like a rug from underneath her. Please say money, please say money- But of course it isn’t going to be money because what fae needs fucking money? The blood of a white mare, or the answer to a riddle- those would be the next best things. But even as she hopes, she knows it’s something else from the way Deb is grimacing and hesitating, like if she just stalls Lou will put her hands up and let the matter drop. Fat fucking chance.

“Deb,” she snaps.

Deb spreads her hands wide in a placating gesture. “A favor. To be redeemed at a later date.”

Lou feels the bottom drop out of her stomach. “Okay,” she says, even though it’s not okay at all, even though that’s the worst thing Lou could have said. “We’re going to need a safe house. Something over salt water- I can pick up more railroad spikes-“

“No.”

Lou blinks. “No to railroad spikes?”

Deb shakes her head. “No to running. No to hiding. I’ve given them this many years of my life, and they’re not getting a second more.”

Lou opens her mouth to state the obvious: the fae don’t play by human rules, and they can take as much time as they want. A lifetime. More.

But Deb is shaking her head like she knows every fear Lou has. “Not to worry,” she says, and her smile is wide and white as goblin’s teeth. “I have a plan.”

Really, that was what Lou was afraid of.

***

Lou doesn’t get to know the plan right away other than to know it’s dangerous and brilliant and involves them breaking into Faerie, so it’s with increasing exasperation that she helps Deb jaunt around Manhattan to recruit the people she needs to help them. For some reason Deb is adamant that there have to be eight.

“Why eight?” Lou manages to grit out as they fuss with a ticket dispenser in the subway. The poor thing can’t handle the proximity to their magic, and keeps on spitting out one way tickets to New Jersey. Lou tries not to take that as a bad omen.

Deb gives her a little smile that says she knows the answer but isn’t telling. “The plan just worked out that way.”

“The plan I don’t get to know about yet?”

“What, a girl isn’t allowed to have her secrets?”

Okay, considering Lou’s been hiding her deep and not at all platonic love for her best friend for the past decade, she can’t really judge.

The ticket machine spits out another ticket with a pathetic beep. Lou reads the label. “Does the subway even go to Fire Island?”

“No.” Deb scowls at the machine. “Fancy a walk?”

As they walk, Lou can’t help but sneak glances at Deb with every other step. The mere sight of her makes the air feel warmer, even though December has a bitter hold on the city.

It’s been so long. Years.

When they had last seen each other, they’d fought. They’d worked together for years up to that night. Lou had been happy enough pulling off small time hits on the unmagicked denizens of the city. As long as she’d had Deb next to her, things were fine by her. But Deb wanted bigger things, grander things. Words were said. Deb had accused Lou a lack of ambition; Lou accused Deb of delusions of grandeur, Deb accused Lou of wanting to see her fail. And Lou had kept the truth- that Deb was all she wanted, that she was terrified of losing her- closed up in her chest.

She lost Deb anyway. Deb had left. She’d gone down under the hill, to hang off some faerie lord’s arm that dressed her in gems and had eyes colder than the coldest of hearts. Deb had written about him, and about the treasures of Faerie, and Lou had read each of Deb’s letters and seethed, shouting hexes into her pillows until all the mirrors in her apartment cracked.

She never responded to the letters, and one day they stopped. Lou had thought Deb had finally given up on her, and had carried that shame in the pit of her stomach until one day some two bit glamourer in a bar in midtown casually mentioned the truth: that Deb’s perfect faerie lover had caught her stealing and had turned her into a statue to grace his hall.

Lou had shattered all the glass in her apartment that night.

And now Deb is back, and even though something is not right about the whole business, Lou can’t bear to do anything but bask in the warmth of her presence.

***

Whatever Deb’s plan is, if they’re going to pull it off right, they’ll need a ward hacker, and a good one. Deb discards all the usual suspects out of hand and insists on going to see some unknown that’s holed up in a tiny apartment in Queens.

Deb can’t help but feel antsy on the sidewalk with Lou at her side- it’s too exposed, and she half expects something to swoop down out of the sky and take Deb away from her. But there’s nothing, only strange looks from the unmagically inclined, probably because Lou is dressed in a knee length cheetah-pelt coat sewn with protective numerological symbols and lined with salt. So what that she looks like a villain from a 1940’s period piece: Lou needs what help she can get these days.

Her uneasiness mounts as they climb up a cramped stairwell to the wardhacker’s apartment. The paint is peeling and the grout between the tiles on the floor is black with age. If this woman is so good, why is she living here?

Deb seems unconcerned. She leads them down a narrow hallway and stops in front of the last door on the left, which is marked with a faded number nine in hand painted script. She knocks once.

The door opens a crack, and a wary eye peers out just above the taut door chain. “What?”

Deb offers the woman a bright smile. “We’re looking for a ward-hacker. We’ve heard you’re good.”

A slow blink. “I am.”

“Well,” Deb says after a second’s pause. “We’d like to discuss a business proposal. It has the potential to be very lucrative for you.”

Lou can tell from the way that the woman’s eyes shutter that they’re this close to seeing the door slammed in her face, and so when Deb pauses in her spiel to take a breath, Lou slides smoothly into the gap. “Look,” she says. “You don’t want money.”

The woman snorts. “Everyone wants money.”

“But not you,” Lou presses. “Sources say you’re the best in the City, maybe on the whole east coast. You could have nine penthouses by now, if you wanted them. But you don’t.” She pauses. “You don’t want money.”

“So what do I want.” There’s an edge to the woman’s voice now.

Honestly, Lou hadn’t gotten that far, but she didn’t get to where she is now by looking before leaping. She looks at the woman for a second- really looks. “You want to be the best,” she says at last. “Not for the fame or the accolades, but to know: you want to know you pulled off the job no one else could.”

There’s a long stretch of silence, and then the chain is being removed from the latch and the door is swinging open.

The woman gestures them in, and as she steps over the threshold Lou can just make out the dim silhouettes of nine seer’s balls hewn in smoky crystal on the woman’s coffee table. “Call me Nineball,” their hacker says with a smile.

***

In the old world, dragons live in limestone caves carved by millions of years of rainstorms, or in emptied lava tubes left in the wake of dead volcanoes.

In New York, they make do with the subway tunnels.

Lou follows Deb through the access tunnels, flashing subtle hexes at the security guards until their eyes slide right over the two women.

They move from the new tunnels, brightly lit and bustling, into the older ones, dingy and filled with pools of fetid water. Down, down, down: into the forgotten warrens, the boarded up and buried, the places no one ever goes. Their footsteps echo in the silence, the only noise besides the trickle of water and the distant hum of generators.

All the while, Deb leads and Lou follows. Deb never looks to see if Lou is still with her, but then again, she has to know by now that Lou would follow her anywhere.

At last they come to a door marked with strange symbols: draconic, probably, but Lou never learned to read it. Deb pushes the door open, and they step into a war zone.

Okay, maybe not literally, but it might as well be. As they enter, Lady Naheed, eldest daughter of the line of Fafnir, matriarch of the sacred fire, most esteemed are her talons, is in the process of shrieking at her daughter Amita, the one they’ve come to see. They look human as far as Lou can tell, but she’s not fooled. Both women are wearing a king’s ransom in gems, and when Naheed pauses to breathe, a plume of steam comes out of her nose.

“Lady Naheed!” Deb says cheerfully. “Do you mind if I borrow your daughter for a moment?”

Naheed’s eyes flash, and Lou can’t help but take a step back. “Take her! Keep her, for all I care. See if you can get her to learn the value of a good mate; she’s turned down three wyverns from very good families in the past year!” And with that she’s stomping away in a swirl of scarlet silk, the scent of brimstone trailing in her wake.

“Can you get me a drink?” Amita asks once she’s gone.

Deb laughs and throws an arm around her shoulder. “Help us on this job and I can get you your own hoard.”

***

Deb stares at the girl that’s just stolen their watches. “I want her.”

Lou pauses the hex she’s preparing that’s going to make the girl trip down every flight of stairs she encounters until she gives the watches back. “What?”

“I want her,” Deb repeats, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. “For the job.”

 “You can’t just adopt random strays off the street-“

“She’s a high sidhe changeling.”

Lou blinks. “How can you tell?”

Deb looks pointedly at the girl, who is now somehow doing parkour and vaping at the same time.

“Yeah okay,” Lou says, and gets her pitch ready. “Fair enough.”

***

They drive out to Westchester the next day in a rented mini-cooper. Lou, who never learned to drive a car, lets Deb have the wheel. Deb, who never learned to drive a car well, spends half the ride flicking curses at people that flick her off.

It’s a tense trip, and by the time they reach their destination Lou is ready for a drink or three.

“Who’re we seeing?” she asks as they walk up the steps of a suspiciously ordinary Tudor.

“A fence, and a good one.”

Lou files that away as evidence that they are in fact stealing something, which is good to know. “So,” she says as Deb rings the doorbell. “What is she.”

“Human.”

“Yes but what kind of human,” Lou says. “Is she a witch or a sorceress or a changeling or-“

“No, she’s human. Just human.”

Lou blinks. “You’re bringing a defenseless woman with no magic into this? Do we need to get a newborn baby as well?”

Too late she realizes the door is open and there’s a blonde woman in white jeans and a tasteful beige cardigan glaring at them. “The defenseless woman knows how to forge provenance papers for jewelry, even if she can’t make pretty lights appear when she waves her fingers.”

Lou knows better than to comment on that. “There’s going to be a lot of jewelry,” she warns.

The woman offers them a wolfish smile utterly at odds with her outfit. “I’m counting on it.”

***

“I don’t like it,” Lou mutters as they hurry to an appointment with the fifth member of their crew. “Working with one of the high sidhe-

“-barely one of the high sidhe,” Deb says with a snort.

“She could sell us out.”

“She can’t sell anything. That’s why she needs us.”

“Yes, but remind me why we need her again?”

Deb rolls her eyes. “We can’t exactly pick up the right clothes for this at Macy’s, Lou.”

Lou has by this point managed to piece together that not only are they stealing something from faerie, they’re doing it in the midst of a ball of some sort. Which is why they need a faerie couturier, and Rós is the only one in New York.

As far as Lou knows, Rós left the everlasting halls with aspirations of designing clothing for humans. But her designs, crafted with the peculiar logic that only the fae understand, have a tendency to mistreat their wearers. Satins that transported their wearers far away, silks that stole their voice, and chokers that did exactly what the name implied. She’d lost all her faerie gold on an ill-fated couture line that burned the models’ skin off, and after all the gold turned to lead in the investors’ vaults no one wants to sponsor her again.

All of which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement in Lou’s eyes. But if they try to infiltrate faerie in human clothing, the gig will be up in an instant.

Deb knocks on the appropriate door. A small woman opens it and stares at them blankly, and Lou sees that Deb was right not to worry.

Rós is one of the old fae- so old that months and years go by in a blink, and things like plots and intrigue have ceased to hold any interest for her anymore. All she cares about is her art. Okay, Lou can work with that.

“Hello Rós,” she says, keeping her voice soft. “We need dresses fit for princesses.”

Rós blinks, her interest piqued. “Oh?”

“Yes. You see,” Lou says, and lowers her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “We’re going to a ball.”

***

The next day sees all the assembled players milling around in a warehouse Lou has rented and painstakingly warded from floor to ceiling for the occasion. Their dragon and their changeling are eying each other like they can’t decide whether to fight or not. Their ward-hacker is smoking… something, Lou doesn’t want to know what.

“Hey,” Deb says, coming to stand beside her. “What are you thinking?”

“I might have failed numerology,” Lou says, staring at her nails, “but I can count to seven. Where’s our missing eighth?”

Deb smiles, too widely. “All shall be revealed shortly.” She retreats to the podium and Lou knows better than to follow. They’ll talk about this later.

With a muttered spell, Deb dims the lights, she takes a moment to smile down at them all, like she’s the wise coven-mother of their motley crew. Lou rolls her eyes.

“Ladies and… ladies,” Deb says. “Welcome.” And then with a flick of her wrist ghostly images are forming out of the air above their heads. Chief among them is the face of a man with inhumanly beautiful features and piercing eyes. “One month from now, Lord Claud of Clan Báicéir, Prince Under the Hill, King of Air and Darkness, will be holding a ball to celebrate midwinter. And we are going to rob it.”

She keeps on talking, going into detail about the plan, the roles, how all this is going to work. The other women are asking questions and Deb is giving well-rehearsed answers, answers she probably had time to think up during all those months and years she spent frozen in place in faerie halls with nothing but her thoughts for company. And this is the stuff Lou should be listening to, should be memorizing, should be writing down-

But Lou can’t hear a thing. All she can do is stare at the ghostly image of the man that Deb has conjured up. she knows that face, she knows it like the back of her hand because she spent six months hating the man who owns it. The man that deb was standing next to, crying out to, writhing underneath, instead of her.

Except he isn’t a man at all. He’s fae through and through: a murderous abomination with the power to kill them all the moment he sees them, and every reason to. Especially Deb.

Lou stalks over to Deb the second the presentation ends.

Deb’s got a small smile playing on her lips, like she’s about to pour on the charm and wipe this all away.

But Lou isn’t going to be distracted. Not from this.

“Of all the fairy mounds. Of all the petty lords.” She’s trying for casual, but she can tell from Deb’s faltering smile that she’s not hitting the notes right. She’s furious and terrified, and she can’t even begin to hide it.

“Lou-“

“It just so happens,” she presses, and she can hear the hoarseness in her own voice now, but she can’t stop, not when his face is still splashed up there like a challenge. “It just so happens that you pick this one.” She takes a shaky breath. “Tell me, and tell me truly. Do you have a death wish?”

Deb’s face softens, and Lou knows at once she’s given too much away. “No, dearest.”

“Then why?” she asks, and she hates that her voice cracks. She hates that Deb can still do this to her, and she’s still not brave enough to tell her.

“Because of what he did,” Deb says, and all the playfulness in her voice has dropped away. “He stole years of my life. He made a statue of me. I want to take away the only thing he cares about. I want to make him pay.” She swallows. “You can walk away, if you like. I’d understand.”

Lou watches the way the light catches in the fall of Deb’s hair. “No, I’m in. It’ll be fun,” she says, and even though she hates lying to Deb it’s better than the truth: that she can’t walk away, that she never could, and that Deb can never know the depths of it.

***

They all practice the parts they’re to play and the rolls they’re to take until they know them all like clockwork. The appointed night arrives.

They meet on the edge of twilight in the middle of Central Park, dressed in Rós’ glamoured finery. Deb leads them to the top of the Lord’s mound, Nineball whispers a way through the wards, and one by one they descend down into the dark of faerie.

The plan works perfectly until it doesn’t.

It’s no fault of Deb’s plan, which even Lou has to admit was a thing of brilliance. They weren’t going for Lord Claud’s vault, filled to the brim with faerie gold and protected with a lock that no mortal could ever hope to pick. No: they were going for something better.

Lord Claud decorated his halls with the frozen bodies of those who had wronged him, turned to statues of marble and onyx. For balls he would drape them in jewels and chains of precious metals. Lou would know, she had been one herself. And during those endless days, held in the same pose under the weight of icy gemstones, she had hatched her plan.

The plan is a perfect bit of clockwork, and like all clockwork, all it takes is a tiny piece of grit to ruin everything.

In this case the grit is a single woman, straying into Lord Claud’s banquet hall after all the rest of his fae guests have left for the ballroom to dance the night into dawn.

Amita, who is busy hunting the real gems out of the glamoured fakes, is the first to spot her. “Lou,” she hisses.

Lou’s head shoots up and her stomach flips at what she sees.

The woman has the preternatural beauty of the fae, ageless and ancient. She’s dressed in a gown of rose petals, and her bare neck is dripping with diamonds that even Lou can tell are real, not glamoured. This is no pixie or changeling hanger-on; this is one of the High Sidhe.

With a sweep of her head, the woman takes in the crew, and then she’s opening her mouth-

There’s no time to come up with a convincing lie, there’s only time to act. Lou raises her hands and hisses a binding charm. It’s like trying to hold together a fault line with scotch tape, but it’s all she’s got. Next to her she can hear Constance and Nineball adding their own magic to the mix.

“Hold her,” Lou grits out. With all of them working together maybe, just maybe…

Something’s wrong- Deb should be helping. But Deb’s face is blank, and her eyes are a million miles away.

Lou opens her mouth to yell, but she can barely breathe: the air is thick with the sulfur of battered hexwork, the acrid burn of spent spells…

And beneath it all, the cloying scent of pine needles.

Oh, fuck.

The faerie turns suddenly, and brushes away all of their combined spellwork like it’s mere cobwebs. “Deborah Laverna Ocean, attend me.”

Next to Lou, Deb drops to her knees. The emptiness in her eyes is terrible. The faerie smiles at her and she’s beautiful, and Lou wants to rip out every single one of her teeth.

But there’s nothing she can do. She’s got no clever spells left beneath her tongue. Her fingers are burned out of hexes, and her head is dizzy from all the magic she’s already spent.

It’s just her, alone, and the part of her that’s been there ever since the second year at the academy, when Deb smiled at her and handed her the bottle of bootleg gin they’d made and Lou realized, even piss-drunk, that she loved Deb more than gold, more than magic, more than anything in this world.

That love is all she has. It’s going to have to be enough. It worked for Tam Lin, she thinks hysterically, and before she can think herself out of it she’s falling to her knees next to Deb and kissing her, kissing her like it’s the last second she has to live. Which it may well be.

Deb’s lips are soft beneath hers, and at first they’re cool and still as stone. And then Deb makes a soft noise and like dawn cresting over the horizon life comes back to her limbs. She’s parting her lips, and she’s kissing Lou back, and when Lou pulls away for a breath there’s bewildered wonder in her eyes.

“Well,” the faerie says. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Lou braces for the worst. If they die now, they die. At least in the end she’s been honest. At least Deb knows now.

“I suppose it doesn’t matter much either way though,” the faerie says to herself. She clears her throat. “So, Deborah. I broke you out of Lord Clyde’s halls in exchange for a favor, and I’m calling it in. I want you to incapacitate me, rob the vaults of Claud down to the last cracked gemstone, and take every bit of his riches far, far away.”

She hands them a golden key with a smile on her face. “Here’s the key to his vault. I took it off him when I slept with him last night.”

“What,” Lou says.

“He said my dress looked bad at a ball we attended together last year,” she says, as if that explains everything. And maybe, in the bizarre thing that is faerie logic, it does.

Lou nods like she understands, even though she really, really doesn’t. “Lord Claud insulted your dress, so you convinced Deb to steal all his money in revenge and broke her out of fae prison, then glamoured her to forget everything but the plan. You’re our missing eighth. She just didn’t remember.”

Daphne thinks for a second. “Yes, that sounds about right.”

Lou doesn’t open her mouth, because if she does what she’s going to say will not be nice.

“For fuck’s sake,” Deb says. “You could have just asked.”

The faerie tilts her head like she’s considering how to explain something to a very small child. “You might have said no.”

“There’s a few things I might still say,” Deb mutters.

The faerie grins. “You’re welcome to try. But rob the vault first, please?”

***

The next morning finds the team scattered, everyone with a king’s ransom in stolen treasures loading their pockets down.

Lou and Deb head to IHOP.

Lou is on edge all through the pancakes, but it’s not until they get the check that Deb brings up the incident. “So true love’s kiss, yeah?” she says as she measures out the tip in golden coins the size of coffee saucers. She’s very carefully not looking at Lou. “Of course it could have been a platonic, best-friends-against-the-world kind of true love-“

Lou has been silent about this for so long. For too long. “No,” she says.

“Ah,” Deb says, and Lou can’t say what hurts more: the burning of the breath she’s holding or the hammering of her heart against her ribcage.

And then Deb is looking up at her with laughter on her lips. “Really,” she says. “You could have said something.”

“I could’ve,” Lou whispers. She can’t help but think of the faerie woman, who created a bizarre and elaborate plot because a man had hurt her, and hid it in glamours and secrets so that a mere human witch couldn’t turn her down. “But you might have said no.”

Between the crumpled napkins and syrup pitcher, Deb’s hand finds Lou’s and rests atop it so that their fingers are intertwined. “I could’ve,” Deb says. “Except I never could say no to you.”