I pulled up to an intersection, revving the engine on the old motorcycle. For the first time in my memory, I was impatient for the light to change. Three hours into my morning, the Metroplex was going to hell, and I was separated from the rest of the Scooby Squad by half an hour of Dallas and Mid-Cities roads.
My musings were interrupted by a voice calling to me from the curb. I turned to see a short, lithe woman with jet black hair waving at me from the curb. “Going my way, preacher?”
I blinked. How had she… oh. Not like I wasn’t wearing my collarino and clerical collar, and there was a cross prominently on the side of my helmet. I raised the visor and shook my head. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I’m in a bit of a hurry – I can’t give you a ride.”
She got a cockeyed grin. “I know. Bedford.” I blinked in surprise, but before I could say anything, she continued. “Besides, I didn’t ask for a ride,” she stated as her form wavered slightly to my vision, briefly revealing a pair of dragonfly wings extending from her back. “What I asked was,” she paused for effect as she faded from sight, but her voice was still clear, “Going my way?”
Things haven’t exactly turned our way this year.
I mean, sure, we kicked the Korean fae out of K-Town – but we’re still counting the cost. I attended the funeral for the two Fort Wolf Posse members that died (most of them being Catholic, I wasn’t asked to officiate), and the chilling effect on the pack is still being felt, from what I’ve heard.
Then there was the whole debacle with the so-called “Loser’s Club” and the White Court vampires. I’m still kicking myself for not being able to fully interpret the Witch of White Rock Lake’s warning, which caused us problems at the Presidential Library opening and caused 4 of the 5 living Presidents to fall under the sway of House Camposso. Don’t get me started on getting drugged by Barb’s “friend” – I’m just glad we had nothing worse than a headache after that.
With that run of bad news, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised the morning after Conor’s housewarming to find news of 5 torched churches, all bearing “Matthew” somewhere in their name. The film of ectoplasm and the word “Go’el” painted in blood on my newspaper’s pages just cemented that Erlking’s daughter was at work, rearing her head up at last. The remainder of the morning’s events – meeting with the Reverend and the head of the modern Inquisition, Belle’s entrapment in a fairy-tale curse, and the systematic targeting of the Scooby Squad through our loved ones – only sent me in more of an emotional spiral. All of which left me unprepared for an encounter on the way to Jamie’s house.
The light changed and I crossed the street, pulled over into a vacant lot, and looked around. Not seeing the fae immediately, I just spoke. “You’re going to Bedford?”
She appeared next to me, standing on the ground, voice raised to be heard over the rumbling motorcycle. “I am, because you are.”
As she crossed her arms and waited for me to respond, I turned off the ignition and got a good look at her. Since we were behind some cover from the street, she appeared in what I assume was her “normal” form – short, but still tall enough to be taken for a human if you ignored the dragonfly wings on her back; long black hair done in a braid, and a diaphanous white gown. Her skin had a bronze, sun-kissed tone to it that led me to assume she was of Summer. “And why is that?”
She just stood there quietly; face neutral, tapping a foot as her wings fluttered slightly.
I sat back. “I’m confused. Since you know where I’m going, you’ve been spying on me, yet you chose to reveal yourself. I’m guessing you want something from me, and I’m smart enough to tell you that’s not going to happen until there is some give and take.”
She got a satisfied smile on her face. “Well spoken, priest. In exchange for your answering my questions, I shall answer yours as best I can, so long as such answers don’t conflict with my mission or my orders.”
“One other possible problem. If you’ve been spying on me, you know I don’t have time to sit here and chat.”
She nodded in confirmation. “If you’ll allow, I can project my visage and voice into your helm. I can hear you just fine, even over the noise of your ferromantic steed.”
“If I have your word on the conditions of our conversation and that you’ll do me or cause me no harm while we converse.”
Her smile widened, apparently pleased by my knowledge of dealings with the fae. “I shall exchange questions and answers fairly, and truthfully, so long they violate none of mine feal oaths, and my projections to facilitate shall do or cause you no harm.”
I waited for a moment. “Twice more, if you don’t mind.”
Her voice held some laughter as she did so. Satisfied with that, I started up my cycle again. Suddenly a pin-up style image of her filled my visor. I looked over at her. “Cause me no harm?”
She winked as the image shrunk down to the side, zooming in to show just her face. “Better?”
I straddled the cycle and nodded. “One other thing before we start. I’m sure you know, but I’m Matthew. And you are?”
As she took off and faded from view, her voice answered in my ear. “You may call me Baptisia.”
I blinked. “Really? Baptisia?”
“My lord found it amusing as well. Shall we go?”
With that, we roared off into midday downtown traffic.
“So tell me, Christian – why don’t you hate us?”
I nearly drove off the road at the blunt question posed by the sylph. “I’m sorry?”
Baptisia’s face was serious in her projection. “The followers of the White God have hunted and opposed fae-kind for centuries, not to mention the inquest against those supernaturally gifted in general. Yet you,” she paused as I dodged around some traffic to get on the freeway, “freely associate with one of us, and have allied with some, even as you contest others.”
I understood her question a bit better now. “I don’t hate-” I cut short as I noticed a touch of a grin on her face. Whoa… careful. Think about what you’re saying and don’t lie to the fae. “That’s not quite right. I try not to hate. Not persons or individuals, at least.”
She snorted delicately. “That’s a fae-worthy evasion. Explain?”
I rolled my eyes a little. “It’s a more modern Christian philosophy that hasn’t caught on as much as it should – ‘Hate the sin, not the sinner.’ I don’t like some of the things that the fae do – manipulation, imprisonment, and the like – but that doesn’t mean I have to hate the fae themselves.”
“Not even the Daughter of the Erlking?”
I blew out a steadying breath. “I struggle more with her. But again, it has more to do with what she does – kidnapping children, burning down churches – than who she is.”
“That seems a semantic argument. For fae, what we do is who we are.”
I cocked my head to the side in lieu of shrugging so that I could keep control as I was passed by a semi. “I suppose that distinction is more relevant with mortals than with fae or other residents of the Nevernever – but it’s a distinction that’s relevant to me.” I paused, considering that. “Of course, it also doesn’t mean that I don’t plan to mete out retribution for those actions.”
I flicked my eyes to her image. “Just how long have you been watching me?”
She smirked again. “Now what kind of spy would I be if I told you that?”
“The kind that reveals herself to the person she’s spying on to ask probing questions about his beliefs,” I shot back.
She laughed – not an unpleasant sound. “Touché. Not a long time – it was between Samhain and Midwinter when I was given this assignment.”
“Ok, you’ve been observing me for the better part of a year.” I paused, unsure if I wanted to use up my give and take on this question, but it would nag at me if I didn’t. “Why appear to me now?”
Her answer was disconcertingly matter-of-fact. “Because your current course of action presents a high likelihood of your death. Continued observation would not garner me the information that I need in that case.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I quipped as I swallowed nervously. Like I needed a reminder of what I was facing.
Baptisia resumed her questioning as I pulled off 35 into the lighter traffic on westbound 114. “So, this philosophy… sin versus sinner. That is why you can associate with the were-raven?”
“Pallas?” She nodded, and I continued. “Sure, that’s a good example. Homosexuality is a no-no for most Christian faiths, although some interpretations say it’s more about sexual immorality than actual homosexuality, but that’s beside the point. Pallas – he’s pretty much a jerk in addition to his lifestyle, but he also has what we call redeeming qualities, including his relationship with Belle.”
“Relationship? But he has no interest in females.”
“No sexual interest. But he’s as loyal a friend to Belle – and others – as anyone I’ve ever met. He nearly tore himself apart trying to rescue her this morning. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’” Modern translations aside, I always went with the King James Version of John 15:13.
“Ah. And that is why the White God answered your petition?”
“More or less.” Her continuing knowledge of my activities was still disturbing.
“And yet he is still a sinner in the eyes of your faith.”
“We all are. That’s the challenge of human existence. To rise above the frailties and weakness of our human flesh, to exercise our ‘free will’ to act for good – against the leanings of our base nature.”
She was quiet for a while at that, and if her image hadn’t remained on my visor, I would have thought she’d left. A few miles passed in silence, and I made the transition to 183 on the south side of the old Texas Stadium site.
Her image shifted, warning me that she was about to speak again. “This rise above your base nature,” she asked, “ is this why you have not consummated your relationship with your mate?”
Once again, I nearly swerved off the highway at the direct question.
“How could you possibly know that?”
“I did not, until now.” She grinned a little. “But it is a standard for those of your profession, so I assumed that you would wait until formally bonded in the presence of your God.”
“You mean married?”
She nodded. I settled down a bit and took my time answering. “You’re correct. For Christians, marriage is a sacred union, and,” I paused, blushing a bit, “consummation is part of that union. Sexual relations outside of marriage is the very definition of sexual immorality.”
“Yet you are aware that she has done so?”
I grimaced, even as I blushed. The topic was uncomfortable under normally circumstances, but today it only served to remind me that her life was at stake. “I am. Her past is just that – past, and between her and God. She hasn’t done so since we started dating, and that’s enough for me.”
Her image raised an eyebrow, but she didn’t press the issue any further. “Why have you not formalized your relationship with the pledge of betrothal?”
She didn’t take me as much by surprise at this point, but it was something that weighed on me. Why haven’t I proposed to her yet?
“It’s partly that I haven’t found the right opportunity.” I paused, finally giving voice to the rest. “But largely, it’s fear. Fear that our paths will continue to take us into danger. Fear that I won’t be able to protect her. Fear that I’ll lose her.”
She seemed confused. “Are those not current concerns for you?”
“Sure. But there’s an opportunity now … if I break up with her, she’ll be less of a target… force her away from me, and possibly this area…” I trailed off as I considered the implications.
“So you would end your relationship in the hope of protecting her?”
I paused. “Yes.”
“Because you feel that her current predicament is the result of your actions?”
That was just twisting the knife. “Yes!”
“Has she not been exercising her own free will during your relationship?”
My mouth was already open to respond again, but Baptisia’s question cut right to the bone, catching me off guard. Suddenly, I remembered things Barbara had said to me:
“Matthew Consprite. Just because I’m not a member of your little Scooby Squad doesn’t mean I’m an idiota.”
“Matthew Consprite, if you came across one of the Freakshow looking like you do, what would you do?”
“I said, I’d help.”
“Then please allow me to do the same.”
“Worries, Matthew? Doesn’t the Good Book have something to say about that?”
Barbara was Barbara – and relationship with me or not, she’d be out doing the exact same things she has been. She’s strong and independent – both qualities that had drawn me to her. Heck, she’d let me have it if she knew even half of what I’d just been thinking – free will wouldn’t start to cover it.
I finally responded quietly. “When you put it that way, it sounds pretty arrogant.”
She smirked. “One could argue that it is very arrogant. Or very fae.”
That snapped me back fully into the conversation, and my hackles went up. Of course, that only lasted long enough for me to fully process my realizations and see that she was dead on the mark.
We zipped under the interchange with the George Bush Turnpike in relative silence. Finally, I asked, “Is that all of your questions?”
“For now. I seem to be far ahead on our question trading, so please, ask. I would not leave in your debt.”
I shook my head. “I don’t have any right now, but you’ve allowed me to see something more valuable. I consider the bargain fairly fulfilled.”
She blinked. “You have no more questions, but consider that an even exchange?”
“Let’s just say that in the course of our conversation, you gave me answers to questions I didn’t know to ask.”
“Interesting.” We raced along again in relative silence, and she finally. “Then fare you well, Matthew Consprite. I hope we have the occasion to speak again.”
I pondered that for a moment. “Thank you, Baptisia.”
Her image nodded once and then faded out.
Something that hadn’t come up in our conversation about why I don’t hate the fae crossed my mind as I finished that journey to Bedford. In some circles, there are those who believe that during the war in Heaven, when Satan and his followers were cast out, there was a third faction – those that took neither side. They, too, were cast out of Heaven, but were sentenced to reside on the Earth, rather than in Hell. These, according to this particular legend, became the fairies. Knowing that Baptisia was likely still spying on me even though our conversation had ended, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of an angel watching over me.
Inadvertently, she helped me start to come to terms over what had happened to Barbara. We needed to talk about the ramifications of our relationship in light of recent events, but it was more likely to be a conversation now than me trying to railroad what I thought was an appropriate course of action. Now all that remained was to join up with my allies and rescue her…