Cory

Ou’e’hm & Due’alle

 

“I’VE MADE calls and put a compulsion on all of your paperwork to make sure it goes through,” Green assured me earnestly, the planes taking off overhead making it difficult to hear. He was dressed in classic business sidhe—crème-colored wool suit, a dark green brocade tie, and a darker crème-colored trench coat to keep off the steady rain that made this mid-January day just a little drearier. The only thing that wasn’t plain and classic about Green’s outfit was the green and gold scarf I’d knitted him for Christmas and, of course, Green’s hip-length braid of butter-yellow hair. As for the scarf, what else would I give an immortal sidhe lover who ruled all of Northern California and the central coastlands to boot? And maybe because he had enough magic and power at his disposal to make concrete jungles erupt into fantasy gardens, he lived simply, with clean bare wood and homemade quilts and few decorations in his room. In fact, I thought wretchedly as he searched my plain human face with his fantastically large and wide-spaced green eyes, the only indulgences Green seemed to have in his life right now were that raggedly hand-knit cashmerino scarf and me. He touched my hair restlessly with his long fingers, interrupting my thoughts. The inhumanly beautiful, clean, anime-perfect and heartbreaking lines of his face were marred by worry. I reached up—way, way up, because he was in the top half of six feet and I was in the bottom half of five—and stroked the pointed curve of his elven ear. Nobody else could see those pointed ears—only the preternatural, or me, a human with preternatural gifts—and I felt an ownership of this part of him that the rest of the world couldn’t have. But he was leaving, and the rest of the world was going to have him, and right now all I could do was try very hard to smile and let him know I would be all right.

“You should get right in,” he was saying. “You’ll be able to register by phone tomorrow, but you must take the classes we picked out or it won’t work.” Including Renny, Nicky, Mario, LaMark, Bracken, and me, there were six of us from Green’s hill enrolling in classes at Sac State. The commute from Foresthill was over an hour—so, in the best interest of time and gas, we scheduled ourselves through the early afternoons Mondays through Thursdays, with breaks in between to meet. Before I’d begun dating a vampire, I had been alone—a mean-spirited punk-goth bitch who hated the world. But once you’ve truly loved another, as I had loved Adrian, and once his family has taken you in as theirs, well, you’re never truly alone again. My family and I were planning to stick close, out in the big bad human world.

I nodded to ease Green’s worries, and tried to keep my face from crumpling. I’d assured Green that I’d be able to handle his traveling, because his traveling kept our people consolidated, and it kept enemies from descending on us like nightmare plagues from hell, and I didn’t want him walking into those strange sidhe and faerie halls (or human boardrooms) worrying about me falling apart. However, I’d just spent four months living in another city, and it had—in a very physical, magical, and literal way—almost killed me to be apart from Green for that time, in spite of our visits back and forth. Now I was back in the foothills and I had two other men bound to me by supernatural and emotional ties, and watching him get out of the SUV and unload his luggage was still like watching my right lung rip itself out of my body to go toddling off among the vampires in play. It was excruciatingly painful, and it just plain felt wrong.

“What name is it under?” I asked, trying to be practical. My full Christian name was Corinne Carol-Anne Kirkpatrick. Since I was essentially a super-magically charged human, the elves were afraid that I was as susceptible to preternatural influences as the fey but without enough experience to know what was hostile and what was not. The general assumption was that anyone who knew my full name would have way too much power over me. Mostly, I agreed. Unfortunately, which name I was supposed to take had been a big fat meaty bone of contention.

“Whatever name you like,” Green said gently, knowing exactly where my thoughts were headed. A part of me wished he had stepped up and claimed me, writing “Cory Green” on my paperwork with absolute authority, because he did things like that sometimes when my health or my safety was at stake. But the more grown-up part of me was glad, very glad, that he trusted me to follow my heart, and trusted that my heart would always beat for him. Still, I had never been good at lying, and my misery and indecision must have been written plainly on my face.

“Hey, Cory luv…,” Green said tenderly, “I’ll be back. Bracken will keep you safe, right?”

I looked over my shoulder at Bracken, my other sidhe lover, who was standing by the family’s big black SUV under the rainy sky. He was a darker-haired, darker-eyed, darker-spirited, insanely tall and beautiful counterpoint to Green. Right now, in spite of the fact that I was in Green’s arms and had shared Green’s bed the night before, Bracken was looking at me like I was the only star in his dark-night sky and he was afraid I’d lose my gravity and fly into cosmic dust, and his entire focus was on keeping me whole.

I looked back at Green with a sad, weak parody of a smile. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your left lung or your right lung, ou’e’hm,” I said after a fraught moment while I’d twisted my face trying not to cry. “It’s still a part of you that you need to live, and you miss it.” And with that, I lost the battle and the tears spilled over, and Green stood for a moment, stroking my shoulder-length mud-red hair and allowing me to mess up his lovely off-white coat with my mascara and my weakness and my humanity. Ou’e’hm, I’d called him—my leader and lover. On days like today, I wondered what in me had given me the right.

“I’ll be back in two weeks, ou’e’eir,” he reassured, making me wonder all over again, and kissing my face in a dozen places and licking the salt off my lips. “Two weeks—it’s nothing, right? It’s a moment. It’s a heartbeat….” His words trailed off and he looked at Bracken helplessly, because his plane left in an hour and he barely had enough time as it was. Bracken came behind me and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, and Green disentangled himself from me with one last frantic kiss. In the end, it was Bracken who had to endure my miserable sniffling on his shirt, and Bracken who had to spend the next fifteen minutes in the car putting my little tiny anguished pieces back together after Green disappeared inside the airplane terminal in a flash of crème-colored coat and shockingly bright sunshine hair.

 

AN HOUR later, we were all standing in the lobby of the Sac State administration building, wishing we were back at Green’s hill drinking hot cocoa instead. The building itself had a bright ethnic mural on its front, but inside it was as dreary and as sterile as any state building on the planet anywhere. I huddled in Bracken’s oversized Sacramento Kings sweatshirt, shifting uncomfortably as my hair, still soaked by the run from the parking structure to the building, dripped steadily onto my shoulders, and tried not to look any more uncertain than I actually felt. Bracken was about a hair’s breadth away from tucking little ol’ me under his arm and bolting out of the building as it was.

I had to sigh. Another semester, another school, and as much as I had wanted to leave San Francisco, and as much as I had business here in Sacramento to attend to, I was remembering once again that the bureaucracy of education sucked large.

The student in front of me—a boy a little older than me, dressed just like Bracken in a sweatshirt, denim shorts, and flip-flops on this soggy day—moved forward, and I heard Renny behind me sighing. “It’s about time.”

I turned my head toward her and Nicky and grinned. “What’s the matter, Ren—spoiled?” The previous semester we had both been enrolled in CSUSF. Green had paid our tuition, called a few people, pulled a few strings, and voila! Instant enrollment. But Renny and I had both been grief stricken and traumatized by the deaths of our boyfriends, and coping with the day-to-day mechanics of our lives had consisted of ordering pizza we had no intention of eating so we could leave it for the sprites. Those little tiny domestic housekeepers adored Green, their leader, and doted on Renny and me. But this semester, Green was forced to travel extensively to consolidate the preternatural holdings he’d expanded (to put it mildly) at Christmas, and I’d assured him that we could take care of our own enrollment.

Nicky rolled his brown-yellow eyes—he turned into a bird in his off-hours—and his grin under his rust-and-black colored hair made him look younger than Renny or me for a moment when, in fact, he was nearing twenty-four. I’d turned twenty the past summer, after Adrian died. I’m not even sure if I had remembered the day when it passed.

“Not at all,” Renny said loftily, her piquant little face assuming an easy air of superiority. “I’m just accustomed to being treated according to my status.”

Nicky and I laughed, and so did Mario and LaMark, who were standing behind Renny and Nicky. Mario is five feet eleven inches of Hispanic sex appeal, LaMark a scant five feet eight of sweet dark-chocolate intelligence. They had met Green after trying to attack his people—in fact, Mario’s mate was accidentally killed in the attack itself. After four days of watching Green take care of his people, mentally and physically, they had sworn to defend us all to the death—and since they could both turn into big predatory birds just like Nicky, it wasn’t an idle threat. That’s just what kind of leader Green was—and the way we stood together, like a group of tourists in a foreign country, said something about how much of a family you got to be when you were of an age and not exactly human.

Bracken moved restlessly next to me, breaking my thoughts, and I reached out a hand to touch his. His fingers, long and rough and warm, wrapped around my hand, and I tried not to wince. He saw it anyway and pulled my wrist up for inspection.

“Ellis has no fucking finesse,” he growled, glaring balefully at the two nasty rips over my vein, and I was forced to agree.

“He’s young,” I said mildly, defending the overzealous vampire in spite of my pain. He had been young when he died, around seventeen, when Adrian—my first love, my beloved, my dearly departed—had brought him over as a fellow vampire, and it had been barely a year since. Ellis was still learning that life as a vampire was, in spite of the violence of death and the bloodletting that sustained him, still much gentler than life on the streets. He was also learning that taking the blood of his queen could not, by necessity, be as rough as the games he played with his kiss mates. I was, after all, only mortal.

But Bracken was possessive, and angry at having to share me night after night, even when the sharing was bloodletting and not sex. I wasn’t a vampire myself, and in order to bind the others to me, they had to know me by taste and by smell. Before Adrian had died, he marked me three times by blowing his soul through my own. I could still see a multidimensional mark on my neck glowing in Adrian purple when I looked at my reflection with power in my eyes. When the vampires took my blood, they knew what I felt and what I needed, and vice versa. And what they needed was a queen, a leader, someone who could give them a character and a personality as a group. I was their old leader’s girlfriend—and when he died, I’d inherited his kiss of children.

I wouldn’t have minded adopting the kiss, per se, but Bracken was bound to me by magic. If I was ever unfaithful to him without his permission, the binding would break his heart and then his body. My infidelity would mean his death. This meant that, just to be on the safe side, he was forced to watch night after night as another creature—man or woman—sank teeth into the tender, sweet flesh of my wrist. Elves as a whole are nonmonogamous, nonpossessive sorts. Green himself got his power and earned his loyalty from sex—he could arouse and heal nearly any boo-boo, physical or emotional, with a big, sexual kiss. He and Adrian had fallen in love when he had tried to heal Adrian of a miserable childhood, and they had been nonmonogamous lovers for a century and a half. That was when Adrian stumbled upon me and the three of us became….

Well, mostly we just became.

Bracken is also a sidhe, an elf with serious power, but he had been raised by lower fey parents who had loved for several hundred mortal lifetimes. He and Adrian had been brothers of the spirit and lovers of the body, and loving his best friend’s girl was not a thing Bracken took lightly. And blood was, to Brack, what sex was to Green—it was the element he controlled, the element he got his power from. Having to sit and watch as others took my blood was like being aroused to the point of blue balls for him, and he worried about the drain on me as well. Bracken was not so willing to excuse the rangy, young, jumpy, undead kid who had visited my room two nights ago and asked to be bound by blood.

“He should have fed before he came,” he grumbled, placing a delicate conciliatory kiss on my scabbed-over wounds. I should have asked Green to heal them, I thought mournfully—but last night we’d been making love because we loved each other, and healing had been the last thing we’d been thinking of. Besides, Ellis didn’t just drink my blood, I got to taste his. Very often there were magical consequences in the bond, and something about the power exchange of the blood sharing had made the vampire bites harder and harder to heal. I ran my other hand over Bracken’s face, soothing him, and smiled to lighten his mood.

“He did feed before he came,” I said drolly, and my other beloved, my magically wedded mate, had to smile at that. Feeding is extremely sexual for vampires, and as a sorceress—albeit a rookie one—my blood is apparently the equivalent of eating a chocolate éclair soaked in almond liqueur and flavored with sex hormones. Watching the dark-haired, poignantly featured, beautiful vampire shudder, moan, and spill in his jeans at the simple taste of my blood had made Bracken…. Well, the vampire hadn’t been the only one to come in my room that night.

Bracken’s smile faded, and his eyes darted nervously around the beige tile and dirty white walls of the admin building. The actual offices, to our left, were recently remodeled and a little less depressing, but we had another half hour to go, and Bracken was getting edgy. Enrolling in college with me and the others had not been his idea—it had been Green’s.

“For one thing,” Green pointed out reasonably, after Bracken had spit up trail mix all over himself when it had been brought up, “at the moment, the only people besides Cory and myself with any knowledge of human business practices as well as extensive knowledge of the workings of the hill are vampires and can’t function during the day, and you’re third in line to lead this place.” Green had told me that he’d put other creatures—nymphs, sylphs, half-elves, etc.—through school as well, but even I knew the difference between going to school for a degree and going to school for the good of the hill. Green was talking about going to school for the good of the hill, and he wanted Bracken to do just that.

Bracken’s eyes had grown so big I wondered if he was choking and thought frantically that it wasn’t possible to do the Heimlich maneuver on someone a foot and a half taller than you. “Am not!” he gasped in complete disbelief.

I’d stared up at Green from my place on the big white couch (between Bracken and Green, as usual) in complete surprise. “I thought Arturo was next in line,” I said on a squeak, referring to Green’s second-sidhe-in-command and best friend. Last summer, before Adrian had been killed, Green had showed me a list of people that his property was deeded to. It had gone from Green to Adrian to Arturo to Grace—Arturo’s vampire girlfriend—and then to me. A lot had happened since then, but I was as surprised as Bracken that this change in succession was part of it.

“He was,” Green said softly, “until we blew touch, blood, and song through every preternatural creature in Northern California. The touch you and I used was sex, Cory, but Bracken added blood. The power spill goes from me, to you, to Bracken, to Nicky.” You’d think it would go from Green to me to Nicky, because Nicky shared Green’s bed too—but the Goddess favored the powerful, and Nicky just wasn’t.

“To me!” Nicky squealed from his place on the pillows at our feet. We’d been watching movies at the time, and one of the other high elves had just put in the last disc of The Return of the King, the extended version. “Somebody had better boink Grace and Arturo, then,” Nicky blurted, “because I’m just set decoration….”

“Oh, please,” Bracken snapped. “You’re like fourth in line. By the time it came down to that, you’d be dead anyway.” He looked at Green sharply. “So would I,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m bound to Cory—if she goes, I go.”

“Yes,” said Green patiently. “And then Arturo would lead. But if I go, she’s going to need someone she’s bound to by magic to help her keep things running. And if you go, she stays and that’s why Nicky—yes, Nicky, you do have some responsibilities to this hill besides sharing Cory’s bed—and this whole discussion is beyond depressing! Bracken, you don’t have any hard and fast duties besides taking care of Cory; your father is hale and hearty and will be taking care of the lower fey for many hundreds of years to come, so you don’t need to worry too much about that right now. Really, the only thing you have to worry about is our beloved. And since she’s going to be at school four days a week, this is the best way to take care of her.”

A year before, I would have fought like hell for the right to go to my own goddamned classes. Since then, I’d been attacked, mind-raped, heartbroken, and Goddess knew what else. If Green said I needed a bodyguard to attend college, I was soooo there.

But now I looked at Bracken with sympathy. He hated the human world. He could deal with locals up near the hill with the use of glamour and in the company of other elves or vampires, but from what I’d gathered (both from Bracken and the other elves at Green’s hill), Bracken’s primary reason for coming out and being with the humans had been to get laid. Of course, now that he was welded to me for life, that wasn’t a consideration anymore—and the idea of using his, well, limited communication skills on an almost full-time basis was as anathematic to Bracken as trying to not love the world would be to Green.

“You’ll like it, due’alle,” I said softly as we moved up one more person in line. I used his Elvish title—it meant “male equal of my heart”—to make him happier. Green kept his people safe by using sex to bind them, so he couldn’t be my due’alle, and I knew it made Bracken happy to have his own specific place in my life. “We can study together.”

Bracken grunted, a sound that could best be described as noncommittal.

“You can come running with me!” I tried again, trying to keep my voice light. Cheering Bracken up beat the hell out of pining for Green.

Bracken looked at me as though I’d sprouted a second head that was now lecturing him on quantum physics. “I can come what?”

“Running,” I said brightly. “You, me, and Renny are going to have a two-hour break between our morning and afternoon classes. I was going to go running before lunch.”

Bracken blinked at me, then scowled. “You’re too skinny and you have no breasts,” he growled. “Why would you need to go running?”

I grimaced. I had been sick earlier in the winter—more than sick, actually. For a week I had balanced on the fine tensile nylon line between life and death, sometimes dangling so precariously over the edge that Adrian himself had offered to catch me if I fell. My body had yet to fully recover, and Green and Bracken would carry the scars of almost losing me so soon after losing Adrian for a long time.

“I need to go running for precisely that reason!” I answered back. “I got winded walking over here from the parking lot. If I started exercising, I’d get my strength back faster.”

Bracken looked sideways at me, a crease forming between his eyebrows as though he were deliberating the subject.

“It’s not like you can tell me no, Bracken!” I burst out. “I just thought you might like to come with me, that’s all.”

“You could walk with me,” he said. “In the mornings.”

I was so surprised I almost tripped over my own sodden sneakers. As I had discovered this last month while sharing Green’s and Bracken’s beds, elves needed to walk their land—to touch their (usually bare) feet to the land of their hill, to the place where they, or their leaders, drew power. It was comfort and nourishment, both physical and magical sustenance to them. When we shared a bed, Bracken often disappeared at dawn to walk the earth around the thousands of acres that made up Green’s land.

I smiled softly at him, absurdly touched. It was a generous offer, and I didn’t take it lightly. “It’s your private time, beloved,” I said, my voice rough. “I couldn’t intrude on that.” I tried humor. “Besides—you tend to move in hyperspeed, and I couldn’t keep up.” All of the Goddess’s creatures could do that—it was what happened when the will of the Goddess to keep her creatures alive in God’s world overrode the electricity that normally fired the synapses.

“I could carry you,” Bracken replied with dignity. But he had a slight smile of his own, and I could see that he knew the impracticality of the solution.

“Someday you must,” I told him seriously, bringing his big, graceful hand to my lips to kiss. “But since that wouldn’t help make me stronger, for now I’ll just run the track during my break.”

Bracken sighed. “I’ll have to watch you, then,” he said fretfully. “Because if I try to run in the human way, I’ll still outdistance you four laps to one.”

I looked up at him—way, way up—to his carelessly cut hair and the curved points of his ears that only those of us from Green’s hill could see, and to the inhumanly beautiful, stormy, and dark features of his face. “Why, Bracken,” I noted. “That was almost a joke.”

“Bracken made a joke?” Renny asked from right behind me.

“All things are possible,” Bracken said loftily, looking down at Renny with affection in his eyes. She was fairly presentable today in black jeans, tennis shoes, a fitted white T-shirt, and a hooded jacket the color of mustard. After Mitch had died, she ran around wearing mostly one-piece dresses and nothing else because it made morphing into a ninety-five-pound tabby cat just that much easier. The fact that she was dressed in regular clothes, with her hair pulled back into a perky ponytail, meant that she had found a measure of self-possession that we had all been afraid she’d never get back.

“I’ll believe it when I wet my pants,” Nicky said dryly, and that did make me laugh.

“We were just talking about going running,” I said brightly, making sure Mario and LaMark knew I was speaking to them too. “I wanted to start during that long break we have between classes and was wondering if anybody wanted to join me.”

Four pairs of inhuman eyes regarded me silently, the thoughts behind them clearly puzzled. Of course, I thought, shaking my head. When you spent part of your life running or flying around in animal form with an insanely high metabolism, staying physically fit was a given.

“Never mind,” I sighed. “I’ll go by myself.”

“But not out of my sight,” Bracken said firmly, and I resisted the urge to put my face in my hands. I was young and mortal, and in spite of the fact that occasionally I shot brilliant light and tremendous metaphysical power out of my mouth or my hand or various other parts of my body, I was still much more human than the people I lived with.

“No, Bracken,” I said with humor, “I’ll never be out of your sight.”

His arm fell lightly around my shoulders, and it seemed there was a peace in the breath of our intense and restless relationship.

And because he was Bracken, he had to completely fuck it up.

He bent down, blowing my hair away from my ear, and all I could think of was being with him, warm and dry and skin to skin. “Have you decided,” he asked softly, “what name you’re going to put on your forms?”

“Oh, Goddess,” Renny snapped from behind me. “Not this fight again!” Elves were not the only ones with preternatural hearing.

Bracken regarded Renny with irritated indulgence. “This isn’t your fight.”

“It is when your argument takes over the hill,” Renny grumbled, and even I with my mortal senses could hear Nicky say “Amen.”

“Hush, you two,” Mario said behind them, and I looked at him gratefully. He was a steady young man, and he had loved his mate with everything in him. I knew the signs of grief so well in myself that I could detect the signs of attempting to hang on to logic and sense and order so he didn’t lose himself in the chaos of his own heart.

“Now see what you’ve done?” I asked Bracken, determined not to raise the same ruckus here in public that we’d raised at home. “You’ve upset the children.”

“If they were our children,” he grunted, “I could see why they’d be so interested in your name.”

“They’re interested because we screamed at each other for an hour in the middle of the living room with Green in the middle trying to break up the argument!”

“We didn’t scream,” Bracken denied. “We discussed.” His lips quirked up. “Loudly.”

“It’s only for the human world,” I said after a moment. “I hardly live here anymore.”

Bracken sighed, and I saw his eyes dart back and forth among the tan tile and beige stucco walls. “It’s your world,” he said unhappily. “I want to be a part of it.”

“The whole point in changing my name was to keep me under the radar,” I explained patiently, unsure if I’d been able to articulate this to him rationally after he’d jumped all over me during the first discussion. “And I love you, Bracken, but I don’t think Cory op Crocken is going to make me any more nondescript.”

Bracken frowned and looked at me, hard. “We had that hellacious fight,” he said after a moment, “and I still don’t think you understand why we’re changing your name.” He shrugged, waving vaguely at our surroundings. “The humans can think whatever they want. They wouldn’t know your value if you stood on top of that big glass building in the middle of the campus and changed the shape of the campus with a whim. And any supernatural being can see you glow from a mile away—mostly because they’ve had our blood pass through their skin. We’re not changing your name to keep you ‘under the radar.’ We’re changing your name so that nobody with power can call your name and make you do their bidding.”

“But…,” I trailed off unhappily. I looked ahead and realized that there was only one more person in the line—the good-looking kid in the shorts and sweatshirt—and my time to actually make this decision was rapidly coming to an end.

“Bracken,” I said after another brief, echoing second. “Any name I take here, that’s going to be my name.”

“But not all your name,” he said reasonably.

“It’s a human tradition, not an elven one!” I exclaimed, since it was the one argument I hadn’t brought up during our first “loud discussion.”

“And you are human,” he said calmly. “And I am tied to your mortality.”

I rubbed my face with my hands. “Cory Green is the perfect name for me,” I said, almost to myself. “It’s plain, it’s quiet—nobody would notice a Cory Green or give a shit if she passes or fails.” And maybe this was the root of the whole argument in the first place, not whether or not Green had prior claim to me and my name.

“You are not a plain person,” Bracken said, and for the first time since he brought it up, I heard the beginnings of anger in his voice. “You have people willing to die for you—including me. It is an old name, a good one, and it will protect you when you need it. If you don’t give enough of a shit about yourself, would you at least wear my name for me?”

I felt the beginnings of tears in my eyes. I turned toward him, standing on tiptoe. “Bracken…,” I whined, “I don’t like to be noticed….”

“Too goddamned bad.” Bracken’s language was growing foul, I thought wretchedly. Not that he didn’t swear, but the word he used was usually “fuck,” and it was usually a verb. Here he was, swearing back at me—I was having a bad effect on him.

“Next.” We had been standing close, locked in intimate conversation, and the next available registrar had apparently been trying to get my attention for some time. I sighed, touched his smooth cheek with my small, rough hand, and turned to the vacant chair at the far end of the room. Bracken, disregarding all line protocol, went to follow me, and I turned and waved him back. His face took on a thunderous look, but another registrar opened up, and we were holding up the line for everybody else, so he grudgingly turned to the window right next to mine.

The woman helping me could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty-five. She had her extension braids pulled back into a bun, and a sweet, wry smile split her mocha-tinted face in two. She looked to where I was looking as I sat down, her gaze taking in Bracken, discomfort and unhappiness making his back ramrod straight and his beautiful face—even with the glamour to make him more human, he was beautiful—stormy and grim.

“Mmm hmm…,” she harrumphed. “That is one good-looking piece of pissed-off man.”

I shook my head at him and turned back to my business. “And he’s all mine,” I said, and even from her place on the other side of the Plexiglas, the woman could tell that there were equal parts good and bad in that statement.

“Well, you hold on to him,” she said wisely. “You never know when life is going to rip a prime piece of man flesh like that right out of your hands.”

An image of Adrian crossed my mind, his face sober and excited as he lowered his head for a kiss, followed by the memory of Green’s profile as he turned away, swinging his yellow, yellow hair behind him. “You’re right about that,” I sighed, casting one last look at my intense beloved. He looked frustrated and uncomfortable, sitting in the human-sized chair that was, undoubtedly, too small for him and answering questions that were either personal or completely irrelevant to an elf who didn’t even have a legitimate social security number.

The clerk—her name tag said “Liz”—smiled at me again, and then got down to business. “I’m sorry,” she said apologetically, “I can’t seem to read this here….” She pointed to a blank space on the registration sheet I’d handed her. Green’s compulsion probably had her seeing a blur so I could decide what my name was going to be—but dammit, I hadn’t come up with an answer in line.

I looked at the space with deer-shot eyes, took a deep breath, and opened my mouth, praying the name that would solve all my personal problems would just magically issue from my throat. Restlessly I touched the third finger of my left hand, where a ring would be if we’d been married the human way, and then I spoke. “Cory,” I said, and I swallowed. “Cory op Crocken Green.”