Mighty Hero Force Epsilon (S2, E1)

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Season Notes: violence, magical coercion

A strange group of people huddled together in a darkened park. Each wore a distinct costume, too different to be called a uniform but clearly meant to be part of a set.

Each had their face obscured by a helmet, dark glasses, or in one case, magic.

And they all stared at a phone. The phone displayed a scene from a nightmare. An evil sorcerer’s castle straight out of an old Conan flick. In front of it stood the sorcerer themself, Lord MourningDagger. They were surrounded by monsters, grey fumbles and pink not-ostriches. But that wasn’t what held the team’s attention.

Kneeling with MourningDagger’s hand on the back of his neck was the man they knew only as ‘Mentor.’ A man who they had ‘captured,’ slowly learned to trust, and tried to free from his horrible curse.

A man they had hoped would be their teacher and guide. Someone to help them understand the magic powers they’d been ‘gifted’ with after MourningDagger had appeared.

Salem, called Speed, was in a rage. Her outfit looked like an idealized version of a runner’s tracksuit. “No. Fuck no. How the hell did we let this happen?”

“He’ll get out again,” Blade, called Heals, assured himself. “He got out once, and that was before we freed him.”

Quickmoon, called Sword, shook eir head, “How do we know it worked? He could really be trapped.”

“Then we’re the ones who are fucked,” growled Mobb, called Guns, “He knows too much. If he’s still under the curse, he’ll tell MourningDagger everything. They’ll know who we are.”

“Enough.” The calm, confident voice held a timber that no human voice could. Which was to be expected. Astaroth, called Frontman was the only one whose face was visible — sort of. A golden shimmer surrounded his head, making it impossible to identify him, but you could still the outline and general shape of his face. In fights, his shout could knock over enemies from yards away. And when he wasn’t shouting, he could still be heard across an entire city.

I know, because I was there. When MourningDagger first attacked, I’d been separated from my parents. I’d fled with everyone else and heard Frontman when he challenged MourningDagger. Not challenged them, mocked them. Called them out for the bully they were.

Frontman — the whole team became my heroes that day. I mean, they were everyone’s heroes. The whole world’s. But for a scrawny kid who was constantly being bullied and shoved around, hearing the biggest evil I’d ever even heard of called out for a meaningless bully and put in their place — yeah, I worshiped the ground they walked on.

Anyway, yeah. Astaroth shut the argument down and got them all huddled together. A minute later they had poofed how they do, and I had no idea if I’d ever get a chance to see them again. They never saw me where I had huddled under the trees to try and get some sleep.

 

They went back to their new hideout and hadn’t even put their bags down before Salem started in on how they had to go rescue him — Mentor, I mean. Mobb got in her face about it.

“One, we don’t know what happened. For all we know, he was playing us the whole time. Two, even if he was captured he is one man and we have a whole fucking planet to save somehow. And–” she raised her voice to yell over Salem’s objections, “three, we don’t have the first clue how to rescue him even if we wanted to.”

Blade was in between them in a moment which was —

No, I wasn’t there. I know because they told me. They never wanted to talk about any of the fighting — watch it on YouTube they’d tell me. But the rest of it? All the little shit like learning how to use their powers and live together. And him. Especially anything involving him, they loved to talk about. And they still called him that. Even after they gave him the title and called him Mentor to other folks, when it was just us, they’d say ‘him’ in that tone they had. No matter what else he became later, he was always just… him.

So, Blade stepped between Salem and Mobb to keep a real fight from breaking out. Which was good because it might have, but no one wanted to fight Jargon Man. Partly because he always got back at them later. Mostly because he was the only one who didn’t have fighting magic. They didn’t realize it themselves at the time, but they treated him with kid gloves. They did it even out of uniform when none of them had magic.

With Blade between them, Salem and Mobb yelled at each other. They might have gone on for a while, but while they were distracted, Quickmoon de-magicked and turned on the TV. By then, CSPAN had a sub-network dedicated to showing the castle and the wards around it 24/7. Quickmoon flipped to that and caught the tail end of the action. MourningDagger was walking back into the castle, with Mentor and a few other goons following behind.

“We need more information,” ey said. “Blade? The full video has to be somewhere, right?”

“Right,” Blade nodded. “I’ll find it.”

Astaroth moved to stand with Quickmoon, watching Mentor disappear into the castle. “If your loophole worked, he’ll get himself out. We need a way for him to find us when he does. ‘Moon, you seemed to understand him best.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“And,” Astaroth continued, “If the loophole didn’t take, then he’ll be back to playing barrack’s lawyer, right?”

“Yeah,” Mobb said slowly. “Yeah, that’s it. If he wants out, we don’t need to rescue him. Just get him an opportunity.” She was nodding, excited. “Hard to lawyer without the rule book, but some stuff is obvious. Blade, he gave you a good bit of intel, right?”

Salem was smiling. “We should get all that shit written down anyway. It’ll help us fight MourningDagger. We got some notebooks in the supplies. I’ll them out.”

“And I’ll monitor the news,” Astaroth said. “We have a plan, let’s get to it.

“I don’t think MourningDagger is going to leave us alone for long.”

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Pic of Quickmoon:  Androgynous person with light brown skin, dark coiled hair, and green eyes in 'uniform' based on modified HEMA protective gear (long padded shirt, gauntlets, etc) holding great sword/spadone in a low guard position.) Also wears x-shaped white harness with small golden shield in the center and white belt. More than half the pic is just the long-ass sword.
You aren’t getting close to Quickmoon unless ey let’s you.

 

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E13)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment, ableist language, blood, misgendering, self-misgendering

There is never a good time for anyone to come staggering in, bloody and calling for a surgeon. When a secret marriage — secret even to one of the people supposedly married! — is in the middle of tearing relationships apart and spawning screaming matches… well, it isn’t a good time, but in an odd way, everyone was a little bit relieved by the interruption.

Countess Olivia reluctantly dropped Cesario’s hand and moved toward Sir Andrew — though staying well out of reach. “What’s the matter?”

“He has broke my head across,” Sir Andrew moaned, digging out a handkerchief and holding it to the bleeding gash on his head. “And has given Sir Toby a bloody coxcomb too: for the love of God, your help! I had rather than forty pound I were at home.”

The wound was more blood than matter, for all that Sir Andrew seemed to think he was on death’s door.

The countess signaled for one of the servants to go for the surgeon and continued trying to get information out of the not-so-doughty knight. “Who has done this, Sir Andrew?”

Sir Andrew’s handkerchief was doing not much more than smearing the blood around. He fumbled to fold it, seeking a clean side. “The count’s gentleman, one Cesario.” If Sir Andrew had been less self-absorbed he might have noticed the sudden stillness surrounding him. “We took him for a coward, but he’s the very devil incardinate.”

“My gentleman, Cesario?” Duke Orsino, at his mercurial best, took two long strides to stand protectively between Cesario and the (to him) strange knight.

” ‘Od’s lifelings, here he is!” Sir Andrew jumped half a foot in the air and stumbled backward, holding up his hands in a warding gesture. “You broke my head for nothing; and that that I did, I was set on to do’t by Sir Toby.”

Cesario had had, one must admit, a very bad day. There is a point in time when one must choose: one can break down crying, break down laughing, or break down screaming. But one will break down.

Stepping around the duke, with a boldness that shocked the duke and his retinue (but was the first thing that made sense to poor Antonio) Cesaro advanced on Sir Andrew. At full volume. “Why do you speak to me? I never hurt you! You,” a finger stabbed Sir Andrew in the chest as he nearly tripped trying to get away, “drew your sword upon me without cause. But I bespoke you fair, and hurt you not.”

Sir Andrew backed away from physical confrontation with commendable speed, but his speech was as loud as Cesario’s. “If a bloody coxcomb be a hurt, you have hurt me! I think you set nothing by a bloody coxcomb.”

Before Cesario could respond, Orsino had him by the arm, pulling him away. When Olivia reached also for Cesario the duke’s expression froze, and he dropped Cesario’s arm as if burnt.

Cesario, on the edge of tears, shrugged away from Olivia and Orsino. He turned his back on the whole mess and everyone who was part of it.

Before either duke or countess could respond, Sir Toby came stumbling, clutching a wound on his side that was staining his jacket red.

Sir Andrew saw him and gestured. “Here comes Sir Toby halting; you shall hear more! But if he had not been in drink, he would have tickled you othergates than he did.”

Cautiously, still baffled as to what was going on, Orsino asked, “How now, gentleman! how is’t with you?”

“That’s all one.” Sir Toby Shrugged.”Has hurt me, and there’s the end on’t.” He turned to the Fool and asked, “Sot, didst see Dick surgeon, sot?”

“O, he’s drunk, Sir Toby,” the Fool replied with false solicitude, “an hour agone. His eyes were set at eight i’ the morning.”

“Then he’s a rogue, and a scoundrel! I hate a drunken rogue.” Sir Toby stomped toward the manor.

Oliva stared after him in wonder. “Who hath made this havoc with them?”

“I’ll help you, Sir Toby,” Sir Andrew called, hurrying after, “because we’ll be dressed together.”

Why it was at that moment Sir Toby lost all patience with Sir Andrew, who can say? But he did, calling his erstwhile companion the most wretched names. “Will you help?” he demanded, “an ass-head and a coxcomb and a knave, a thin-faced knave, a gull!”

“Get him to bed,” Olivia ordered, cutting off whatever response or defense Sir Andrew might have made, “and let his hurt be look’d to.”

The Fool and Fabian escorted the two knights away, leaving the garden much quieter.

But scarcely was the door closed behind them, when someone else can running up.

“I am sorry, madam,” Sebastian said, taking Olivia’s hand to kiss it. “I have hurt your kinsman. But, had it been the brother of my blood, I must have done no less with wit and safety.”

Olivia barely heard a word out of Sebastian’s mouth, being too busy staring at him in shock. Sebastian squeezed her hand in concern. “You throw a strange regard upon me, and by that I do perceive it hath offended you. Pardon me, sweet one, even for the vows we made each other but so late ago.”

Of course, it wasn’t only Olivia who was shocked. The Duke, looking to Cesario, spoke what all were thinking. “One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons. A natural perspective, that is and is not!”

Sebastian looked over at the duke’s words but did not respond. Perhaps he had been so inundated with confusing and nonsensical things that he had ceased to concern himself.

What did concern Sebastian was the familiar face he saw standing near Orsino — Antonio, still held between two guardsmen. “Antonio, O my dear Antonio!” he ran over to his friend and lover and embraced him. “How have the hours rack’d and tortured me, since I have lost thee!”

If he had been expecting an equally enthusiastic greeting from Antonio, he was to be disappointed. Antonio pulled away from Sebastian and looked at him as if were a stranger. “Sebastian are you?” he demanded.

“Fear’st thou that, Antonio?” Sebastian laughed, but the laugh was strained.

Gesturing with his chin to where Cesario still stood off, Antonio asked, “How have you made division of yourself? An apple, cleft in two, is not more twin than these two creatures.” Almost plaintively, “Which is Sebastian?”

“Most wonderful!” Olivia murmured, staring between the two.

Sebastian turned and froze. “Do I stand there?” He shook his head and took a step closer to the stranger, who still had not seen him. “I never had a brother; nor can there be that deity in my nature, of here and every where. I had a sister, whom the blind waves and surges have devour’d.”

If anyone had been paying attention (which of course no one was) they might have seen Orsino’s eyes narrow at this last.

Oblivious, Sebastian raised to voice. “Of charity, what kin are you to me?” Cesario turned, and his eyes widened. “What countryman?” Sebastian asked, “What name? what parentage?”

“Of Messaline,” Cesario answered. “Sebastian was my father. Such a Sebastian was my brother too.” He plucked at his suit, modeled on the one Sebastian had always preferred to wear — was wearing now even. “So went he suited to his watery tomb.” He — no, she, for if this was true Cesario must be she again, and the agony of that battled with the hope and joy in her heart. She had sworn that she never again answer to ‘Viola’ unless the dead walked the earth, and… “If spirits can assume both form and suit you come to fright us.”

“A spirit I am indeed,” Sebastian said with a watery smile, “But am in that dimension grossly clad, which from the womb I did participate.” He took a breath and another step toward Cesario, who still had not moved. His eyes moved over the figure, remembering all the times he and his sister had disguised themselves as each other. “Were you a woman, as the rest goes even, I should my tears let fall upon your cheek, and say ‘Thrice-welcome, drowned Viola!’ ”

She opened her mouth, but couldn’t bring herself to say it. But she had to say something. “My father had a mole upon his brow.”

“And so had mine.”

“And died that day when Viola from her birth, had number’d thirteen years.” There, she’d said it. She’d said the name. Sebastian’s eyes lit up with joy even as Cesario struggled to breathe.

“O, that record is lively in my soul! He finished indeed his mortal act that day that made my sister thirteen years.”

“If nothing lets to make us happy both,” Happy. How could she be so happy and so destroyed? “But this my masculine… usurp’d attire, do not embrace me till each circumstance of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump that I am,” she stopped, swallowed, “Viola.” Sebastian reached out then and wrapped her in his arms. She hugged him back, relaxing in the safety she had not known for three months or more. Her tears fell on his chest even as his dripped into her hair.

When she finally pulled away she glanced at Orsino. There was something in his eyes, something hot and hard that she could not yet face. Dropping her eyes she said, “Which to confirm, I’ll bring you to a captain in this town, where lie my maiden weeds. By his gentle help, I was preserved to serve this noble count. All the occurrence of my fortune since hath been between this lady and this lord.”

His attention once again directed to Olivia — to his wife of all three hours — Sebastian looked to see the stunned, almost horrified, look she wore. A great deal of the past week’s confusion suddenly came clear.

Giving Viola a last squeeze he turned to his lady and offered his hand. “So comes it, lady, you have been mistook: but nature to her bias drew in that.” He chuckled and leaned to whisper in her ear, “You would have been contracted to a maid.” She jumped and finally turned to look at him, a plea in her eyes. He answered that plea, bending to kiss her. “Nor are you therein, by my life, deceived, you are betroth’d both to a maid and man.” He grinned cheekily at her and she surprised herself by laughing.

Duke Orsino has a well-earned reputation for being less than steadfast. But in one thing he was true — the giving of his heart. So some might have been surprised by how he smiled at the new couple. True of heart, yes, but not hard-hearted. And with some measure of wisdom. To Olivia, he said only, “Be not amazed; right noble is his blood.” Then he looked to Sebastian and with raised eyebrows and a slight question in his voice continued, “If this be so, as yet the glass seems true, I shall have share in this most happy wreck.”

Sebastian and the duke looked at each other for a long moment. Then, Sebastian nodded. Orsino returned the nod and walked over to the one he had known only as Cesario.

In his heart alone could Orsino be relied upon, and that heart spoke true. He put a hand under a chin, urged eyes soft with tears up to look at him. And said one word. “Boy.”

Viola — Cesario — took a sudden breath, as one released from too-tight clothing. She — he — clung to the duke with his eyes, begging for something he dared not say.

In the background, one might have heard an old retainer mutter a quiet prayer of thanksgiving.

“Boy,” he repeated, “thou hast said to me a thousand times thou never shouldst love woman like to me.”

“And all those sayings will I overswear, and those swearings keep as true in soul.”

“Give me thy hand,” Orsino asked gently. Cesario gave it, and for a long moment, they clung together, like survivors of a shipwreck.

Mighty Hero Force Epsilon, Season 2 Cover

Sometimes, a magical team can’t catch a break. They thought they had gotten lucky. They thought they had found a mentor, someone who had the experience to teach them what they didn’t know. They thought they had a safe headquarters and a chance to really start fighting back.

They were so wrong. Their mentor has been captured and may betray them at any moment. Their safe house isn’t as secret as they thought. They have one thing going for them: me.

They just don’t know it yet.


At some point I’ll get actual cover images for these covers. In the meantime, enjoy the blurb.

If you missed it, or just want a re-read, here’s Season 1.

The team and I’ll see you next week. 😉

The Bargain (S2 Finale)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Mattin froze in the doorway to the lady’s office, too ashamed to face her. Finally, he forced his feet forward. One step at a time until he was before her desk. He dropped to his knees and prostrated himself. His throat was dry and wouldn’t work. Then he waited, praying she wouldn’t leave him there all day.

After what seemed far too long but was probably a few moments, she spoke. “Stand up.”

He stood but couldn’t raise his head. “I will not throw away my chance to stop my enemy because a fool boy let his fear run away with him. If you are willing to wear my collar, it will be returned to you.”

Mattin’s knees went weak with relief, “Thank you, Lady. I—”

“Quiet.”

His mouth snapped shut. He felt a chill of fear. “If I could, I would ban you from the glamourhame. Court makes that impossible. Instead, you will never again speak while in the glamourhame. If you do, I will gag you.

“You will never again speak to Jaffrey or any of my toys unless you are carrying a message for me.”

Mattin heard Brit stir, but the older man stopped when Jahlene glared at him. “You will never again speak of glamourhai in my hearing.”

“Yes, Lady,” Mattin whispered. It… he deserved all this and more. She had every right to place these restrictions on him… but…

It didn’t matter. The lady despised him now, and he couldn’t blame her. Jaffrey would feel the same… But he still had a chance to save Marta. And he had Brit, whose solid presence had supported him since the day he arrived here. Cook, Elose… he couldn’t walk away from them any more than he could walk away from Marta.

The lady had a collar ready on her desk. For all Mattin knew, it was the same collar she had ripped from him the day before. She didn’t give it to him but tossed it to Brit. The older man turned to face Mattin and held the collar up. “Does it matter what you want, boy?”

Despite everything, a faint smile tugged at Mattin’s lips. “Yes… Yes, sir.”

He reached for the collar, but Brit stepped forward and fitted the leather around his neck. It felt right. God and Mare help him, the collar felt right. “You’ll do, lad.”

After a moment, Brit stepped back and moved to his place at the lady’s shoulder.

“Clean up and return.” Jahlene ordered, “It will be a long day.”

“Thank you, Lady.” Mattin bowed himself out and headed for the washroom and a clean suit of clothes.

~~~

Jahlene watched Mattin leave and allowed herself a moment to bury her head in her hands. Brit had been right. The pain radiated off of him. How had she missed it? She had seen what she wanted to see—what she expected to see and ignored the rest.

She managed to hold steady during their interview—barely. But dear Dannu, she had never imagined hurting so much. Not since her mother died had anyone been able to strike her to the heart that way.

“I’m not sure that was wise, lass,” Brit spoke from beside her.

“It was necessary,” she snapped.

“For who? The lad’s near to breaking. In one stroke, you stripped him of the best source for answers and his closest friend here.”

“For both of us.”

Brit sighed and ran a hand through his hair, “Alright, lass. I think you’re making a mistake, but you do what you need to. Make sure you don’t destroy him in the process.”

“I’ll try not to. At least this time… this time, he actually wanted the collar. It’s more than I hoped for.” She heard the wistfulness in her own voice and squelched it. Keeping her distance would protect both of them. There was no other way.

~~~

Mattin tried to slip back into the rhythm of a normal day. The pattern remained the same as always. Only the mood changed. The lady treated him with cold formality; there was no conversation, no banter. Just orders and obedience.

Mattin tried hard to focus on his relief, his gratitude. The formality, the distance, the coldness hurt. But surely he’d hurt the lady as much, if not more. He didn’t want to make the damage worse by inflicting his pain on her. So he smiled and reminded himself how lucky he was. He brushed a hand along the collar, reminding himself how right it felt. Still, the hours passed slowly.

The rest of the household made it easier to be grateful through the long day. Gossip ran swiftly, and everyone in the manor would know of his disgrace. He expected a harsh welcome from many, yet when he passed Elose while running an errand, she kissed him on the cheek and told him she worried about him. Toerff, when he went down to the kitchen, clapped him on the shoulder and slipped him a pastry saved from dinner. Even silent Harth took a moment to grab his shoulders and shake him, saying “Don’t scare us like that!”

Cook said nothing but pulled him into a awkward bear hug.

He didn’t deserve their support and care, but he clung to it. Especially when he returned to Jahlene and faced, again, her cold distance.

Poor sleep, a liquid dinner the night before, and his hangover combined to make the day a misery. Sleep weighed on his eyes for most of the afternoon. After dinner, exhaustion and formality made his attendance on Jahlene’s bath almost mechanical.

She stiffened under his hands as he washed her hair, and his heart broke a little more. In the intimate setting, the distance cut deeper. When she was settled in her dressing gown, he requested permission to seek his own bed. For the first time since he started serving the lady Mattin wanted desperately to leave her presence.

As he crawled into bed, he called to mind his last memory of Marta. “I remember, Marta. You are the reason I’m here. I won’t forget again.”

~~~

Jahlene huddled in bed, remembering the acid bite of Mattin’s fear and desperation. His eagerness to flee.

She had tasted his desire for the collar earlier. Somehow, he craved her collar but wanted nothing to do with her. She would need to armor herself against him. As soon as possible, she’d move him to another part of the manor. Before they destroyed each other.


That… didn’t go well.

We’re going to give these two a desperately needed break and start Season 2 of Mighty Hero Force Epsilon next week.

There are certain rules a sentai team is supposed to follow. They’re supposed to have matching uniforms, and a theme. And they ALWAYS have a guide or mentor. Someone who gave them their powers and can tell them how to use those powers. Someone who tells them what their team name is supposed to be and the history of their enemy.

The rules have been broken. They have no team uniform, the have no guide. They have magic powers they don’t understand and an unknown enemy taking over random cities.

At least they get along, right?

As usual, the newsletter is ahead of the website, so if you want to read the first month of Epsilon now, go ahead and sign up.

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E11)

We’re in the home stretch, only a few episodes left. Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as I have.

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment, ableist language

The fool and a few gardeners who had the… ah… ill luck to witness Sebastian’s pain had remained behind when he and the countess left to seek the priest. It was these the newly-arrived Duke Orsino addressed, asking, “Belong you to the Lady Olivia, friends?”

“Ay, sir,” the fool replied with a mocking bow, “We are some of her trappings.”

The Duke, well familiar with the fool’s antics, laughed. “I know thee well; how dost thou, my good fellow?”

“Truly, sir, the better for my foes and the worse for my friends.”

“Just the contrary,” the Duke said, “The better for thy friends.”

The fool shook his head sadly, “No, sir, the worse.”

“How can that be?”

“Marry, sir,” the fool replied, clearly surprised at the Duke’s confusion. “My friends praise me and make an ass of me. Now my foes tell me plainly I am an ass: so that by my foes, sir I profit in the knowledge of myself, and by my friends, I am abused. So that, conclusions to be as kisses, if your four negatives make your two affirmatives why then, the worse for my friends and the better for my foes.”

“Why, this is excellent,” Duke Orsino said with another laugh

“By my troth, sir, no; though it please you to be one of my friends.”

“Thou shalt not be the worse for me: there’s gold,” and so saying, Orsino pulled out his purse and gave thrice what the fool had already received from Cesario that day.

Truly, the duke was a rarity. Most wealthy men are so stingy one would think each coin their last. The fool couldn’t resist testing how far Duke Orsino’s generosity went. Taking the coin, he managed a hang-dog look and held his hand spread wide, so the single coin looked small against his palm. “But that it would be double-dealing, sir. I would you could make it another.”

The duke laughed again. His changeable mein, it seemed, wore Janus’ happy face for the day. “O, you give me ill counsel.”

“Put your grace in your pocket, sir, for this once,” the fool said, clasping his hands in prayer, “and let your flesh and blood obey it.” When the fool opened his hands, the coin had disappeared.

“Well, I will be so much a sinner, to be a double-dealer: there’s another.”

The fool took the new coin, and then the first was beside it. The fool counted them off, “Primo, secundo, tertio.” He waved his finger over an empty spot awaiting a third coin, “is a good play; and the old saying is, the third pays for all.”

The duke shook his head but still smiled, “You can fool no more money out of me at this throw.”

The fool opened his mouth to prove the duke wrong, but Orsino held up his hand and waggled his eyebrows — a hideous sight that should never be seen again. “If you will let your lady know I am here to speak with her, and bring her along with you, it may awake my bounty further.”

Smiling now himself, the fool made the two coins he held disappear into his purse and bowed. “Marry, sir, lullaby to your bounty till I come again. I go, sir, let your bounty take a nap, I will awake it anon.”

The fool hurried off, but not so fast that he did not hear Cesario speak behind him: “Here comes the man, sir, that did rescue me.”

And indeed it was, as the fool exited — stage left, if you will — so entered the bold sailor Antonio, still in chains and escorted by two guardsmen.

The duke had, of course, heard of the matter from Cesario. But Cesario’s description had focused on the wonder of a stranger coming to his aid. The moment he saw Antonio’s countenance, all merriment left Orsino’s face. “That face of his I do remember well; Yet, when I saw it last, it was besmear’d as black as Vulcan in the smoke of war.”

The chief officer saluted, saying, “Orsino, this is that Antonio that took the Phoenix and her fraught from Candy. And,” the officer paused in emphasis, “this is he that did the Tiger board, when your young nephew Titus lost his leg. Here in the streets, desperate of shame and state, in private brawl did we apprehend him.”

Cesario watched in concern as Orsino’s face darkened with each word. The duke’s anger to his own was a fearsome thing. To an enemy? Cesario felt some debt to the stranger and stepped forward to stand in front of the duke. “He did me kindness, sir, drew on my side.” Orsino’s eyes focused on Cesario. And as they always did for one moment they swallowed all else. Cesario licked his lips and tried to recall what he had been saying.

Valentine cleared his throat. Loudly. Both Orsino and Cesario jumped, looked away. And Cesario awkwardly finished, “But in conclusion put strange speech upon me. I know not what ’twas but distraction.”

Orsino looking away, had locked eyes this time with Antonio. He gently pushed Cesario aside and advanced on the sailor. His voice, when he spoke, might have been called a growl, save that there was a note of curiosity mixed with the anger. “Notable pirate. Thou salt-water thief. What foolish boldness brought thee to their mercies, whom thou, in terms so bloody and so dear, hast made thine enemies?”

Another man might have stepped back, but Antonio met Orsino’s gaze. His only sign of nerves was that he licked his lips before speaking. “Orsino, noble sir, be pleased that I shake off these names you give me. Antonio never yet was thief or pirate.” He spread his hands, as best he could wearing manacles. “Though I confess, on base and ground enough, Orsino’s enemy.”

He paused as if daring the duke to contradict him. But Orsino, for all his faults, was honest. And after a moment, he gave a brief jerk of a nod.

Antonio returned the nod, took a deep breath, and continued. “A witchcraft drew me hither: that most ingrateful boy there by your side.” He gestured to Cesario, who shook his head in dismay. Antonio spat on the ground. “From the rude sea’s enraged and foamy mouth did I redeem; a wreck past hope he was. His life I gave him and did thereto add my love, without retention or restraint.”

Cesario listened to this recitation in the most peculiar state. For surely the man was mad — Cesario had indeed been pulled from the sea, but not by him! But also, here was a man declaring openly his love for another man, for Cesario. It fired Cesario’s hope for that thing he had not dared believe was possible. But also, another hope, a hope she had given up for dead all these months past — she! How long since he had thought of himself like that! But he would put aside all he had, all he longed for, all he was, if only…

Antonio continued speaking, but Cesario heard none of it. “How can this be?” He repeated to himself, “How can this be?”

As if in comfort, Orsino put a hand on Cesario’s shoulder and squeezed. “When came he to this town?” The duke demanded.

“To-day, my lord,” Antonio declared, “and for three months before, no interim, not a minute’s vacancy, both day and night did we keep company.”

As he finished speaking, the countess finally came out of her manner, followed by Maria and the fool.

Orsino, seeing her, sighed with longing, and it was all Cesario could do not to roll his eyes. “Here comes the countess: now heaven walks on earth.” Turning back to Antonio, the duke shook his head, almost sadly. “But for thee, fellow; fellow, thy words are madness. Three months this youth hath tended upon me. But more of that anon. Take him aside.”

The Bargain (S2, E11)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Mattin woke up and wanted to die. He wasn’t sure which was worse, the memories or the pain. After a long moment, he opened his eyes. The pain won.

Looking around, he saw a pitcher of water and a loaf of bread next to the pallet. With a whisper of thanks to Brit, he grabbed for the water. The sound of his own voice set his head ringing, and he swore he would never touch uisqe bache again.

Where the hell had Brit gotten the stuff?

He got up slowly, trying to avoid setting off any more wracking pain.

For a while, he sat, not thinking. Whenever the pain subsided a bit, he’d take a drink of water or a bite of the bread. By the time the bread was gone and half the water inside him, he felt nearly human.

Which meant he had to face how badly he had screwed up.

His dreams haunted him. Marta was right—he had forgotten her, forgotten everything he did here was for her. He’d let his own fears take over, and…

And managed to destroy everything in one moment of stupidity.

His hand came up and rubbed his neck. He wanted for yesterday to have never happened. To be up in the manor helping Cook with the bread or bringing the lady her breakfast. He felt… naked without the collar.

Mattin had nothing now. He had failed Marta and had no other chance, no other way of saving her. Couldn’t go back to his father’s inn, had destroyed his place with the lady… maybe she would give him another chance? Bloody Mare, why would she? She’d accepted his bargain in the first place as a way to hurt Oeloff. How could he be anything but a menace to her at court if he couldn’t control himself? He was useless to the lady and Marta both.

Not knowing what else to do but unable to bear his thoughts, he drank the rest of the water and started cleaning the cabin. He couldn’t stay, but as long as he delayed, he didn’t need to figure out where to go.

~~~

Mattin had just finished making up the bed when the cabin door opened. “Still here?” Mattin spun around. Brit stood in the doorway. “Good. Meant to be back earlier.”

“I wasn’t going to leave a mess for you to clean up.” His voice shook.

Brit nodded and leaned against the door frame. “Can’t say I don’t appreciate it.” When he didn’t say anything else, Mattin went back to cleaning. He couldn’t look at the older man and had no idea what to say. “So, you’ve a chance to start fresh. What do you want to do with it? You could go back to your inn, could find work in town. Lots of options if you’re willing to take them.”

“Fresh start?” Mattin surprised himself with a bitter laugh. “I failed Marta, betrayed the lady, and lost…” He picked up the broom and jabbed at the floor, blinking away the blurriness of his vision.

“Mayhap.” Brit rubbed his chin and nodded. “If all that’s true, then nothing matters but what you want.”

“I’ll figure something out.” Mattin stopped trying to sweep and propped the broom against a wall. His hands shook without the broom handle to steady his grip. “I’ll get out of your way.”

“Boy, if I wanted you to take off, I wouldn’t be standing here blocking the doorway. Now answer the damn question.”

The old man’s growl stopped Mattin in his tracks. This had the feel of another of Brit’s lessons — no explanations, just leading questions until Mattin gave him the answer he wanted. And that made no sense. “Why?” Mattin demanded, “In case you forgot, I’m not your problem anymore.”

Brit walked over and smacked Mattin on the back of his head.

Mattin tried to glare at him, but… the world blurred again, and he turned away. “You’re wrong, Brit,” he finally said, “what I want doesn’t matter.”

Brit snorted and shook his head, “Then I suppose you might as well come with me.”

“What?” Mattin shook his head.

“You gone deaf, too, boy?” Brit went through the door at a fast walk. “Hope your legs still work. I won’t be carrying you.”

Confused, hungover, and for the first time daring to hope, Mattin jogged after him, wincing with every step.

Brit spoke only once more as they jogged to the manor– when Mattin threw up a few hundred feet out from the cabin. “Alright, boy?” he asked and pulled out a clean rag to wipe Mattin’s face.

“Do I look alright?” Mattin gasped.

Brit chuckled, helped him to his feet, and they continued on.

Brit’s silence gave Mattin far too much time to think, which only added to the churning in his stomach. He was (please, Lady) going to get a chance. He had to make things right. Somehow.

~~~

When they reached the manor, Mattin had to brace himself to walk up the steps. For a moment, he was afraid the lady’s glamour would block him from entering, but it didn’t. Joth was on door guard and he patted Mattin’s shoulder awkwardly as he passed. Mattin was grateful for the support, even if he couldn’t imagine why it was offered.

Brit led him through the manor to Jahlene’s office. He remembered clearly the first time he had followed Brit down this hall, the last time he came to ask Lady Jahlene for her collar. He’d been terrified then because he had no idea what to expect, but hoping desperately she’d accept him.

He knew what to expect now, and that made both the terror and the hope worse.

The lady sat at her desk, hair bound up in a severe and intricate style. Her eyes were cold, her lips tight. Under her pitiless gaze, hope shriveled to a faint spark. Only the presence of Brit behind him kept Mattin from turning and running again.

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E10)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment, ableist language


Sometimes, fools have more wisdom than the wise, but even the wisest fool can be a fool in truth. The rest of Malvolio’s story cannot be erased, if only because he still had a small role to play in Cesario’s tale. But for all the man deserved some comeuppance, he did not deserve so far a fall and so great a humiliation.

The fool, to this day, is shamed by the role he had in Malvolio’s downfall, for some jokes are such as never should be played. Suffice to say that while all these other happenings continued, the steward remained, not seen to by a doctor, but locked in a dark house and mocked by false priests. It is some comfort to the fool that it was by his hand that Malvolio was finally able to appeal for help to Lady Oliva, but that came later.

For while Malvolio was trapped in darkness, Sebastian was getting to know the lady Olivia — his mysterious rescuer — and worrying.

Near a week after Olivia first invited him into the manor, Sebastian found himself wandering the grounds. He was trying once again to find sense in his world. Lost in thought, he did not notice the fool was also relaxing in the sunlight.

“This is the air,” he mused, “that is the glorious sun. This pearl she gave me, I do feel’t and see’t.” The pearl in question rested atop a small pin. It was not expensive, as such things go, but still more valuable than anything remaining to him since the shipwreck. More valuable than anything that should be so lightly gifted to a stranger. “And though ’tis wonder that enwraps me thus, yet ’tis not madness.”

He tucked the pin away and sat down on a bench, clasping his hands. “Where’s Antonio, then? I could not find him at the Elephant: yet there he was; and there I found this credit, that he did range the town to seek me out.” And Sebastian had ranged the town himself in return. A few folks admitted to having seen Antonio when they first arrived in town, but no one knew where he was.

At first, Sebastian hadn’t worried — with he and Antonio looking for each other, it was likely they had been victims of bad timing. But it had been several days, with no word. And while he worried, he also wished for Antonio’s advice. “For though my soul disputes well with my sense, that this may be some error, but no madness, yet doth this accident and flood of fortune so far exceed all reason that I am ready to distrust mine eyes and be persuaded but that I am mad.”

He felt foolish speaking to himself. But it at least slowed down the whirl of thought and fear. “Or else the lady’s mad. Yet, if ’twere so, she could not sway her house, command her followers, take and give back affairs and their dispatch with such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing as I have seen she does.” There was some deception here. Some answer other than that he had lost his senses or the lady who so assiduously courted him was lacking hers.

He could not find it.

It was a relief to see Olivia walking toward him, even with the priest in tow. Anything to distract Sebastian from his own thoughts.

“Blame not this haste of mine.” Olivia pleaded, reaching for Sebastian’s hands. “If you mean well, now go with me and with this holy man into the chantry by. There, before him, and underneath that consecrated roof, plight me the full assurance of your faith.”

Sebastian’s jaw dropped. He couldn’t help it. But somehow he also was not surprised.

The lady continued, perhaps oblivious to his shock, perhaps trying to persuade him in spite of it. “So my most jealous and too doubtful soul may live at peace. He shall conceal it whiles you are willing. What do you say?”

By logic, Sebastian knew he should say no, for while it would be a most advantageous match — especially in his current circumstances — the world still spun mad around him.

And yet — if he were to be thrown into a world where reason was suspended, that left him only the senses. So by them, he chose: standing and squeezing Olivia’s hands between his.

A good woman, who cared for him and dealt well with her people. An attractive woman he was coming to care for and enjoy spending time with.

A future, where he’d had none.

“I’ll follow this good man, and go with you,” he said, “And, having sworn truth, ever will be true.”

He had one moment to see how her eyes brightened and her smile beamed before she let go of his hands and wrapped him in a hug. A bone-crushing hug for all her slight frame.

After a few moments, she pulled away and turned to the priest. With a much more reserved composure, she said, “Then lead the way, good father. And heavens so shine, that they may fairly note this act of mine!”

Chance is a chancy thing. And one who paid attention might have noted that chance was working its will with abundance that day. Scarce had they passed within doors when Duke Orsino, accompanied by Cesario and more of his entourage, came down the drive.


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The Bargain (S2, E10

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

By the time Brit reached Jahlene’s door, he was in a foul mood. Jaffrey and Crait’s revelations had pushed his temper to the breaking point. He barged in on Jahlene and Parlen without bothering to knock. Jahlene sat on the couch, knees drawn up under her chin—the girl was hurt and trying to hide it. Parlen sat on the floor beside Jahlene fiddling with her blasted skirts.

Jahlene jumped up and started towards him.

The lost little girl look on her face was too much. “What, by the Mare’s Mane, were you thinking?!” he bellowed.

Parlen cleared her throat.

Jahlene froze in her rush to greet him and stared at him. “What was I thinking? What was I thinking! That… that man practically attacked me, had Jaffrey in tears, you ran off to coddle him, and you want to know what I was thinking? How dare you!”

“Excuse me,” Parlen said.

Brit was close to slapping Jahlene. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been this angry, this betrayed. He stepped towards her, hands fisted, “You have a hell of a lot of nerve, Jahlene. Jaffrey is fine, as you’d know if you even bothered to listen to him for five seconds. He was afraid /for/ Mattin. And I am about to take you over my knee like a little brat. How dare you use glamour on that boy? How dare you endanger him like that?”

“Will you both shut up!” Parlen bellowed.

Brit and Jahlene both stared at her.

“It would be very nice,” she continued demurely, “if you could sit down and fill me in on what you are talking about.”

Brit and Jahlene looked at each other, looked back at Parlen. After a moment, they both sat down and started talking.

~~~

Parlen was rather a bit shocked that Jahlene and Brit had actually listened, but it worked. By getting them to tell her what happened, she also got each to hear what the other was saying. And she didn’t want to see Jahlene—or Brit—angry again anytime soon. That would be bad.

Of course, the sheer obliviousness staggered her. “You mean you both knew Mattin was developing an interest in glamourhai, and neither one of you expected him to have some minor problems. Problems like—oh, I don’t know—thinking he was going crazy?”

Brit sighed and rubbed his head, “Thank you, Madam Obvious. You are the third person to point out our oversight this evening. Though the other two were more respectful.”

Parlen found herself rolling her eye, but at least Brit understood. Jahlene, unfortunately, was staring at Parlen like she had two heads. “That makes no sense. What in the world does liking pain have to do with being crazy? The way he was acting this afternoon—that was crazy!”

Parlen opened her mouth, then stopped, “It’s a human thing, Mistress.”

“None of my toys ever did anything like this.”

She… Parlen tried not to think of it as pouting.

Brit sighed, “Actually, Crait and Jaffrey say they went through the same thing. It happened before they came here. Bad enough Jaffrey nearly killed himself. He knew Mattin was attacking himself earlier. If you’d bothered to listen to him when he tried to tell you—or pay attention to your own bloody senses—you’d have known it, too.”

“Alright Brit, I get it.” She hunched down and wrapped her arms around her knees. “I messed up. Can we please get back on the subject?”

“Which one? I count at least five.” Parlen felt compelled to point out.

“Five?” Brit asked.

“Mattin’s outburst, the mistress’ using glamour on him, your collective stupidity, what, if anything, will happen to Mattin now, and how this mess affects our trap for Oeloff.”

Jahlene threw her arms out, “How can anything happen to Mattin now—he’s gone. Probably heading back to his father’s inn and the ‘normal’ life he’s been pining for.”

Brit shook his head. “He’s passed out drunk in the hunting cabin. Even aside from the uisqe, he’s not in good shape and is definitely not going prancing anywhere come morning.”

“Why not? Why stay if he thinks I’m a monster no different from Oeloff?”

Brit sighed, “Lass, the last time I saw you act this bratty, your mother ruled the county. Since then, you’ve put up with me, this fool, the cook, and the disasters this place throws at you without breaking a sweat. I do not believe you are acting like a ninny because Mattin opened his mouth and shoved his foot down into his stomach. Are you falling in love with the boy?”

Jahlene jerked her head up. “Fae don’t love like humans do, you know that, Brit.”

“Uh-huh.” Brit rolled his eyes. “Fae also aren’t supposed to care about humans and certainly aren’t supposed to claim one for a brother. Cut the manure.”

“By Dannu, Brit, how should I know!” Jahlene hopped off the couch and began to pace—much like Brit normally did. “I don’t know what love is. I like him, I was hoping… I want him to be mine Brit! Really mine and none of this holding back and resentment.” She stopped, and her hands groped in front of her—reaching for a missed catch. “In the past few weeks, he’s become like another set of hands I didn’t know I was missing… I can’t have him close to me if I can’t trust him, Brit. I can’t.”

Parlen bit her lip. As if all the humans in the manor didn’t need to trust Jahlene, no matter how many mistakes she might make. But not a helpful thing to say. Let Brit handle it now that he had calmed down.

“But you did let him close, and he screwed up and hurt you. Well, you screwed up and hurt him, too. Would you let him back?”

“I… Into the household, yes. For the political advantages, if nothing else. But I can’t trust him, Brit. I can’t.” She seemed to sag around herself. Parlen got up and drew her back to the couch. Once Jahlene was seated, Parlen began braiding her hair. Slowly, Jahlene’s shoulders relaxed.

“Alright.” Brit rubbed the scar on his face. “I’ll talk with him in the morning. You’ll need to be careful of him—he’s blasted fragile right now.” He sighed. “And you’ll need to fix things with Jaffrey. He’s hurting too. I can’t deal with the rest of this mess tonight. But… damn it, girl.”

Jahlene spread her hands, “I’m sorry, Brit. You were right. I promised you I’d never use glamour to control my people. I just… he wasn’t one of mine, then. He hurt me, I thought he hurt Jaffrey, and I don’t let anyone hurt the people who are mine.”

Brit accepted this with a grudging nod, “Yeah, well, check your aim better next time. And for god’s sake, use your damned senses. Tasting emotions is the one part of your bloody glamour that’s more of a help than pain, so don’t ignore it!”

~~~

Mattin slept horribly, his dreams filled with Marta. She sat on the floor next to him with her head resting on her knees. “Did I mean so little to you?” she asked, tears running down her cheeks, “Why did you forget me?”

He wrapped his arms around her, “You’re my sister! I could never forget you.”

“But you did! You did, and now it’s too late.” Her back split under his hands, and blood poured down and pooled on the floor. “You forgot me, Mattin.” A gash opened across her face, and white skull showed between the edges. “You failed me, Mattin.” Her voice echoed and split. “I trusted you, and you failed me.” She stood, and then the lady was beside her. “You made me a promise,” they said. Marta’s arm twisted and bent, becoming scarred and useless. The lady’s power blazed about her like a star, blinding him. “I trusted you. You failed me.” The lady faded into nothingness, and Marta collapsed to the ground. “Why did you forget, Mattin?” Blood bubbled from her lips. She said no more.

~~~

Jahlene missed Mattin as she readied for bed. She was used to having him with her throughout the day. A steady presence she could rely on. She had let herself forget–he wasn’t like the rest of her people. She had watched his growing interest in the glamourhame, his growing comfort at her side. Somehow she had missed the pain, the fear, underneath.

She had seen what she wanted to see, and she’d hurt him as well as herself. She had broken a near-sacred promise made to Brit. She had hurt one of her cherished toys.

She didn’t know how to help Mattin. As the night crept by, she realized any attempt she made to help was likely to hurt him more. So her initial impulse would be best for him as well. Keep a distance. Divorce him from glamourhai as much as possible while still training him for glamourhame service in court. With enough distance between them, they wouldn’t hurt each other again.

When they returned from court, he could go back to the kitchen or perhaps the stables.

She would miss him by her side, but it would be better that way.

Surely it would be better that way.

What You Will: A Queer-er Shakespeare (S2, E9)

Season Content Notes: Revenge plot, violence, boundary violations, sexual harassment

The fool was having a most exasperating day. There are fools and fools, and not all fools wear motley. Until this moment, the fool’s judgment had been out on this Cesario; it was rapidly coming to a conclusion.

For Sebastian, the day so far had been delightful. The journey’s end, the surprise appearance of his beloved, and some sightseeing make for a good day to most minds. Of course, Sebastian was the only one who’d been having a good day thus far, so it seems fair that his day was rapidly taking a turn for the worse.

For his path was now blocked by a fool (in motley). A fool who had begun dogging his steps when he passed a drive a minute back and had grown more persistent with each passing moment.

“Will you make me believe that I am not sent for you?” the fool demanded.

“Go to, go to, thou art a foolish fellow,” Sebastian grumbled, trying to step around the fool, only to find his way blocked again. “Let me be clear of thee.”

The fool rolled his eyes, ” Well held out, i’ faith!” He pulled out an imaginary scroll and opened it up to read down a list, “No, I do not know you,” he made a check mark, “nor I am not sent to you by my lady, to bid you come speak with her,” check, “nor your name is not Master Cesario,” a final check and he stuffed the list back in his pocket to pinch his nose, changing the sound of his voice, “nor this is not my nose neither. Nothing that is so is so.”

It was Sebastian’s turn to roll his eyes, and he did so freely. “I prithee, vent thy folly somewhere else. Thou know’st not me.” He made again to step around the fool, but this time the fool not only blocked his way but grabbed his arm.

“Vent my folly! He has heard that word of some great man and now applies it to a fool. Vent my folly!” then, as speaking to a child, “I prithee now, ungird thy strangeness and tell me what I shall vent to my lady: shall I vent to her that thou art coming?

Shaking his arm free, Sebastian did the only thing left to him, though he was loath to do it. He pulled out the small wallet Antonio had entrusted to him. “I prithee, foolish Greek, depart from me.” He held out two small coins to the fool, saying, “There’s money for thee. If you tarry longer,” tucking the wallet away, he held up his other hand next to the coins and made a fist. “I shall give worse payment.”

“By my troth, thou hast an open hand.” The fool grabbed the coins, the third to his reckoning that ‘Cesario’ had given him that day. “These wise men that give fools money get themselves a good report–after fourteen years’ purchase.”

Whether or not the fool would have actually allowed Sebastian to pass, Sebastian never learned. A hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around.

“Now, sir, have I met you again?” A foppish stranger, who the fool recognized as Sir Andrew, declared as he punched Sebastian weakly in the forehead. “there’s for you.”

It was surprise more than injury that stunned Sebastian but he recovered quickly. Sebastian then grabbed Sir Andrew’s hand before he could attack again. The fist he had offered the fool he now gave to the knight. “Why, there’s for thee, and there, and there.” After the third hit, Sir Andrew stopped struggling and dropped weakly to the ground. “Are all the people mad?”

Behind Sir Andrew, of course, had come Sir Toby, cracking his knuckles at this promise of a good fight. “Hold, sir, or I’ll throw your dagger o’er the house.”

“This will I tell my lady straight,” the fool declared but was not surprised when the warning did not slow Sir Toby. So the fool took to his heels, knowing he had no place in fisticuffs. “I would not be in some of your coats for two pence.”

“Come on, sir; hold,” Sir Toby growled, grabbing at Sebastian. But Sir Andrew shook his head.

“Nay, let him alone,” the battered knight said. “I’ll go another way to work with him.” He smirked at Sebastian. “I’ll have an action of battery against him, if there be any law in Illyria. Though I struck him first, yet it’s no matter for that.”

“Let go thy hand!” Sebastian yelled, trying to shake free of Sir Toby.

“Come, sir, I will not let you go.” But despite Sir Toby’s best efforts, Sebastian wrenched loose and looked around for an escape route. “Come, my young soldier,” Sir Toby taunted, “Put up your iron: you are well fleshed; come on.”

“I will be free from thee.” But Sebastian was rapidly losing his temper. “What wouldst thou now? If thou darest tempt me further, draw thy sword.” And so saying, he drew his own.

“What, what?” Sir Toby grinned and did indeed draw his sword with a flourish. “Nay, then I must have an ounce or two of this malapert blood from you.”

“Hold, Toby,” came a cry from across the orchard. “On thy life I charge thee, hold!”

A well-dressed woman came charging out to throw herself in front of Sebastian, glaring at Sir Toby.

What almost shocked Sebastian more was how Sir Toby stumbled backward, windmilling his arms as he cried, “Madam!”

Still not knowing what was going on, Sebastian stepped back, somewhat more gracefully, and sheathed his sword before he accidentally harmed the woman protecting him.

“Will it be ever thus?” she demanded of the knight, “Ungracious wretch, fit for the mountains and the barbarous caves, where manners ne’er were preach’d! out of my sight!”

Sebastian gaped as the knights and their follower slunk away in the direction the woman had come from — though not without a few glares in his direction.

When they were gone, she turned to Sebastian, who was still trying to find his voice. With a forwardness he had never encountered before, she grabbed his hands. “Be not offended, dear Cesario.”

He was so startled he almost missed how she misnamed him — but those others had acted certain that they knew him as well. Before he could gather wit to speak, she continued.

“I prithee, gentle friend, let thy fair wisdom, not thy passion, sway in this uncivil and thou unjust extent against thy peace. Go with me to my house, and hear thou there how many fruitless pranks this ruffian hath botch’d up, that thou thereby mayst smile at this.”

She was smiling and leaning into him. He could smell her perfume and feel the heat of her body. And had no idea what in the world was going on.

When he did not immediately respond, her face fell. “Thou shalt not choose but go: do not deny. Beshrew his soul for me, he started one poor heart of mine in thee.”

Still not able to find words, Sebastian could only nod, hoping by following he might get some answers.

As she led him through the orchard to the manor house — manor house! he couldn’t help muttering to himself. “What relish is in this? how runs the stream? Or I am mad, or else this is a dream.” But she looked back and smiled at him. And it was a soft, hopeful smile, so like the one Antonio had given him when first admitting his feelings.

This beautiful woman thought she knew him and cared for him. And he knew, for they had spoken of it, that Antonio would not begrudge him time spent with her. Even if it wasn’t a dream… “Let fancy still my sense in Lethe steep. If it be thus to dream, still let me sleep!”

“Nay, come, I prithee,” she stopped at the door to the manor and pulled him up close. “Would thou’ldst be ruled by me!”

Sebastian licked his lips and looked at this stranger who had thrown herself into danger to protect him. Who somehow cared enough to come between him and her own kinsman. Who looked at him with shining eyes. “Madam,” he said, scarcely believing his own words, “I will.”

“O, say so,” she breathed, “and so be!”

The Bargain (S2, E9)

Season Content notes: con noncon*, pain play, sexual contact, trauma reactions, verbal assault, mind control, reference to suicide attempt, coming to terms with kink (badly), avoidance as coping strategy, unintentional emotional harm, NOT a HFN season ending, mind fuck

Brit took Mattin to the old hunting cabin he’d turned into a private retreat. He didn’t know who had built it or why. It was too close to the manor to be worthwhile as a rest home for the nobles who owned the land. The huntmaster took the hounds up to it now and again for extra training. Otherwise, it was left empty.

Brit, with Jahlene’s permission, kept the place stocked with food and drink that wouldn’t go bad. It became his hideout when the memories got too bad. He hadn’t needed it in years, but he kept it ready, just in case. And the huntmaster never objected to finding good drink and fresh sheets.

Mattin settled down to drinking easily enough—trying to drown his sorrows if Brit was any judge. Neither of them said anything for the first half hour or so, but when Brit thought the boy had enough drink in him, he started asking questions. The rambling responses took a bit of work to piece together, but he was finally getting some actual information. Soon Brit had a clear picture of what happened. A damn horrifying picture, but a picture. What he couldn’t for the life of him figure out was why. Why had Mattin gone off that way? Why hadn’t Jahlene seen the boy’s pain? What by the Mare’s Blood and God’s Hammer had led her to break every promise she ever made him and use her hoof-damned glamour on the boy?

He really wanted an answer to that question.

Brit took the spirits away when Mattin stopped being able to speak in full sentences. He stuffed a half loaf of bread and a pitcher of water into the boy, got him out to the privy, and tucked him into bed. The boy would need a lot more than a night’s drunk to get through this mess, but damned if he could do anything else right now. He looked around for some way to leave a note but couldn’t find anything. He would have to be back before the boy woke in the morning. Shouldn’t be too hard. Mattin didn’t know how to hold hard liquor. He latched the door behind him and started back to the manor, praying nothing else had blown up in his absence.

~~~

An hour later, the steward was digging for the next set of answers.

The jog back gave Brit too much time to think. He wanted to go straight to Jahlene and find out what, by the Mare, she had been thinking. Damn it, even he could tell Mattin had lashed out from pain, and the girl was supposed to be able to taste emotions! But Brit remembered his responsibilities—even if a certain girl who thought she was too big to be put over his damned knee insisted on forgetting hers. So before he cornered Jahlene, he checked on Jaffrey.

He found the boy well enough, bandaged and resting with Crait and Joth keeping him company. “You’re looking better than I was afraid of.”

Jaffrey shrugged, “It’s… good to have time with her after, but not necessary. Not for me anyway.”

Crait snorted, “Not usually. Today was…”

“Time with the mistress was the last thing I needed after today,” Jaffrey said.

Brit winced. Jahlene would be a long time cleaning up the damage from this day’s work. Jaffrey took a deep breath and looked down at his feet. “If you can cover for Crait and Joth ditching work to sit with me, it would be good.”

“Done,” Brit promised. Relieved to see at least one part of the mess was in hand, he turned to go.

“How is Mattin?” Jaffrey asked.

Brit sighed and shook his head, “Not well. And that was before I poured a dram of uisqe down his throat.”

Crait winced. He’d had a taste of Brit’s special a time or two. “Why?”

“Only way I could think of to get him to open up, and I still don’t understand what set him off.” Brit paced the room as he spoke.

Jaffrey and Crait both laughed. Brit froze, then glared at them. “I don’t suppose either of you would care to share the joke?”

The two japesters tried to stop laughing, but every time they quieted, a glance or a snort would set them off again. Crait got control of himself enough to say. “It’s- Well, normally, it isn’t quite so bloody obvious you were raised among fae.”

Brit looked at Joth and found Joth looking back at him. Joth shrugged. He clearly didn’t understand any more than Brit did.

Brit took a deep breath and reminded himself that neither of them had done anything to deserve a black eye. Another deep breath. A third. “Explain.”

Crait stood, spreading his hands in front of him. “It’s a normal reaction for a human raised by humans. Especially one raised to see fae and glamourhai as evil. Jaffrey and I both went through something similar—though I think, ” he glanced at Jaffrey, “the Mountain Folk handle things a bit differently.”

Jaffrey snorted, “If I hadn’t come from a trading family, I’d have known better, but we spent so much time among you low-landers… Once I convinced myself to talk to someone, the Oracle straightened me out in a hurry.”

Brit shook his head, confused. If anyone knew the fae were evil, it was someone raised by them! What did that have to do with anything?

Crait tried again. “Glamourhai is a fae thing. Humans aren’t supposed to like hurting people. Humans aren’t supposed to like being hurt. A human who is interested in glamourhai is just as much of a monster as the fae.”

Brit’s jaw dropped.

“Enjoying fae pleasures among most humans wouldn’t be seen much differently than a fae using a child for their pleasures. It’s… that level of wrong.”

“Most humans who live around here,” Jaffrey put in. “The further you get from fae-controlled land, the more different things are from what any of you are used to.”

“Oh.” He needed to start picking Parlen’s brain. Life for humans outside the fae manors was even stranger than he’d thought. Hadn’t these boys heard of King Garel? Or the God’s ride on the Bloody Mare? He shoved the confusion aside. What he understood now threw the afternoon in a whole new light. And raised new questions. “But you came here anyway?”

“I had it easier.” Jaffrey met Brit’s eyes with a challenging look. “With the mistress wanting something from the Folk, I didn’t need to worry as much that she would be like most fae.” Brit nodded, understanding what Jaffrey couldn’t say—the Mountain Folk had their own reasons for wanting him here. The boy grinned and shrugged, “Plus, the warrior families… they call it—the desire for pain—the Mare’s Blessing. They took me in hand once I stopped hiding everything. By the time I came here, I knew there was nothing wrong with me.”

“It was a real risk,” Crait said, staring off into the distance. “I didn’t have the… support Jaffrey had. What if the mistress wasn’t different? What if the rumors were wrong? And even if they weren’t, did I want to do this? To be this crazy person? Give up everything in my life for this perversion? When my father found out, he disowned me. So I came here.”

Brit was stunned. He’d spent a lot of time with Jaffrey and Crait. Trained them the same as he’d trained Mattin and, hell, most of the household. “I never knew.”

Joth reached out and put a hand on Crait’s shoulder.

“Here, it was normal.” After all these years, Crait’s voice still held a hint of wonder, “That was the strange thing. Suddenly this horrible secret is out in the open, and no one cared.”

He turned to Joth. “Strangest thing in my life was watching you walk up to the mistress and say you wanted glamourhai the moment you were old enough. Like it was the most reasonable thing in the world.”

“But you and Jaffrey never broke the way Mattin is.” Brit started pacing again.

Crait and Jaffrey exchanged glances, “Not here, no. I came… Well, if I hadn’t heard of the mistress from a passing trader, I don’t know what I would have done when my father disowned me.”

Jaffrey held up his wrist. The scar was invisible from a distance, but Brit knew it was there now. How had he not noticed before?

“I nearly killed myself before I could admit my feelings to the Oracles. One way or another, Crait and I wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t already been through what he’s doing to himself and come out alive and heart-whole.”

Brit felt himself freeze. He’d seen Jaffrey’s scar, recognized how scared the boy had been, but hadn’t understood the fear. The thought of Mattin spending a night alone was suddenly a lot less reassuring.

“And Mattin?”

Jaffrey nodded, “I was worried. If… well, he’s not me, and you were able to find him.” He swallowed. “Is… will he be back?”

“I hope so.” Brit headed for the door. “I need to find the mistress. Thank you. You’ve helped a lot.”

He pretended he didn’t hear the murmur as the door closed behind him, “Yeah, find her and pound some sense into her.”