by Whitney Prince

Going to bed so early, hmm?"

Kit started badly and whirled around. She'd been looking out towards the dark shadowy branches of the tree beyond her room, but now put the window to her back, cheeks flushing a gentle pink. In spite of her helpless blush, her voice was smooth and unruffled as she sang out, "Yes, mom. I have a test first period. Biology. I want to be all rested up for it."

In truth, Kit had never once fathomed taking biology; after all, Mark O'Connel had told her they made the students disect owl barf in that class. But she smiled sweetly, convincingly.

"Well, good luck dear," the woman smiled amiably, starting to ease the door shut once more. "I know you'll do fine." Mother, Kit had found, did not pay attention to such things. She might as well have been taking Voodoo for Beginners. At the end of a quarter Kit's mother would scan the line of grades and, upon finding a neat little row of 'A's she would nod her approval and leave Kit alone. This suited her fine.

The girl's fluffy white ears had been pressed down flat against her blond hair with nervousness but now they slowly perked up again as she went back to the open window and peered out. "Darcy...?" she called softly.

Very suddenly a girl's heart-shaped face appeared in the window, peeking up with impish black eyes through a dandelion mop of dark striped quills that sprang out wildly and fell about her face. 'I feel so Romeo," she giggled, and pressed a palm to the screen. "Come on, let's go! How does this open up?"

"Since when are you eager to go to Court?" Kit purred with amusement as her hands slid down the screen to touch skin briefly with Darcy's before finding the two latches and lifting the window screen free of the frame.

"Of course I'm thrilled to go to court," Darcy snorted, readjusting her grip on the treebranch that was currently keeping her from an up close and personal introduction with the hard-packed spring ground. "No way I might be trying to get us out of here before your mom pokes her head back in and catches scruffy little me sneaking out you the window."

"Oh, Dar," Kit chuckled, "Aren't you the one who's always telling me to relax and not to worry?"

But the little porcupine pooka was right. Indeed, Kit's wealthy, conservative mother would probably not approve of Darcy. She was a girl, for one. That probably wouldn't fly. Beyond that, she was homeless. Her way-too-big tattered jeans held together mostly by safety pins and the clunky, buckled contraptions of leather and steel that Dar tried to pass off as combat boots would probably frighten her parents to no end. Her hair fell a little past her shoulders in mousy-brown, frazzled dreds. But all this was her mortal seeming. Kit sighed wistfully, looking down at her little thistle. If only they could see her as Kit saw her, so handsome in her white cotton poet shirt flaring at the wrists, and a Victorian boy's leather riding breeches. Well... okay. Even with fae eyes, they'd probably still just see GIRL and freak. It was the way of things.

"I have no desire to be killed by your kinsman, good Capulet. Now kindly remove thyself from yonder balcony so that you might put me through all manner of courtly tortures."

Darcy was also Unseelie. This was something she and Kit were working on.

"Yes, Dar," Kit sighed softly as she delicately picked her way out of the window and shimmied down onto the treebranch with her girlfriend. She even made this awkward process seem utterly graceful. Even so, her fluffy white tail lashed nervously against the treebark. "That's why I'm taking you. To torture you. I hope you have a rotten time and never want anything to do with me again."

"Clever plan," Darcy grinned up at her. "It's sure to work." She let go of the branch and landed hard in a crouch, boots clomping softly in the dark grass and her quills rattling softly with the impact.

"One can only hope."

Black eyes peered up to where the white-clad girl still clung to the branch. "Get your ass down this tree, kitten, before I call in the firemen."

The two pooka laughed.

The girls neared the gates of the private garden where Court was being held that night. The winter had forced them indoors, but the Duchess had finally deemed it warm enough to emerge and greet the new season. Darcy's eyes flickered up to regard the shining gate. The unknown metal was worked into an ivy pattern, and silver light glinted and played up and down the rungs, even in darkness. She could feel her courage slipping.

"I can do this," Darcy finally whispered, and her fingers all tangled up in Kit's tightened just a little.

"No," Kit turned and caught up both of the dark-eyed girl's hands, looking at her seriously. "No, you can't. You didn't promise."

Darcy mumbled under her breath, dropping her eyes sadly.

Kit sighed and pulled the girl into a hug. Darcy was the type you had to embrace very carefully. Those quills were just as sharp as her tongue. But all this was catching Kit off-guard. She'd never seen Dar like this. "What are you so afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid," Darcy said after a pause, with more firmness. She pulled away carefully, inkblot gaze lifting to study the prim pursed lips and wide blue eyes of her Seelie lover. "But I said I wouldn't, so I won't. Let's go."

Darcy could feel her cheeks grow warm as heads turned to look at her. She did her best to ignore them, pouring her concentration into the ivory-white garden bench they were headed for, all the while hoping that her hand where it clasped Kit's had not grown noticeably slick with perspiration. She didn't have much of a tail, just a little stump that was more spines than fur or flesh, but even so it twiched nervously under all the unfriendly stares.

How could she explain her trepidation? To do so, she'd have to explain just why so many of these stuffy nobles and stodgy grumps were sending her glares for greetings. Oh look, there's that old Boggin wench Jonella. She obviously still clung to her grudge. What a scowl! With a half-smirk, Darcy thought back to that time her redcap buddy Scooter had terrorized a child, riding his Harley around and around, trapping the boy on the street outside Jonella's bakery. While Jonella was comforting the brat and giving the surprisingly receptive and humbled Scooter an earful, Darcy had plenty of time to sneak inside and make off with platters full of sweetcakes and brownies and other goodies for she and Scooter to share.

Oh... and Fontaine Marcus. Yeah, she could understand why Fonty was still pretty peeved at her. My, but his pretty little kinain retainer had made for a tasty snack. Her dreams were sweet indeed. Just... fragile. Too bad. He shoulda picked a Dreamer with a spine. Dar snorted to herself. If the girl couldn't handle one teensy (okay, fabulously thorough) Ravaging, she was bound for Banality anyway.

Uh-oh. Gruff old Vort. Darcy hunched her shoulders a little, as though by making herself look a little smaller, perhaps the scowling, muttering troll would un-notice her. But really, it had been so funny, at the time. She and the satyr Lionel had snatched up his newly chryss'ed ward. They took the squeamish little whelp to meet the Grim Beastie, a chimera that lived among the gloom and crumbling stones of the town's old graveyard. It was only a joke, and they hadn't realized the Beastie would gobble up little Sammy. Vort had to hack into the chimera's side and climb halfway in to pull the hollering childing free. Of course, no real harm was done. Sammy was saved. But obviously Vort couldn't take a joke.

Kit took a seat on the bench, curling her white tail around her primly. Darcy admired her a moment, biting at her lip. By the stars, she was lovely. Darcy had never been with a girl like her. And she was so obviously, entirely Seelie, Dar was still stunned that they even got along, let alone fell in love. Kit was such a good girl. Her parents cherished her. She went to every Court and never spoke one word of protest like a good little Sidhe-loving commoner. She earned her Glamour the hard way (or the 'proper' way, as these stuffy court folks would put it) through long, pain-staking sessions with her fellow students, inspiring the Drama club with her winning performances and spending her study halls as teacher's assistant in an art class.

Darcy didn't think she could live like that. She was too fond of the wild nights with her friends, tearing through the town in loud rusted cars that growled and rumbled like beasts, laughing together, drunk on too many stolen dreams. It was easy and fun, the good life. She didn't want to scrape and bow to the highborns until she went grump and forgot everything. She wanted to live for that blessed Now. It was all she had.

"Take a seat, pretty Thistle," Kit whispered, looking over at her with a sweet smile. She was either oblivious to the icy looks Dar was earning from her fellow kithain, or politely ignoring them. Probably the latter. Darcy took a step towards the white bench, then another, but stopped again. Kit's expression turned questioning, but the porcupine pooka didn't move. She was looking out beyond her lover, where a kinain attendent was pouring brandywine into crystal glasses for a pair of lofty, chatting Sidhe. Their voices spilled over the din like fine music lost to premature operahouse applause.

Troubled black eyes found innocent blue and Darcy cleared her throat softly. "Kitten," she said.

"Yes, Dar?"

"I love you enough to do this."

The cat pooka's eyes went wide, surprise that flooded into anguish. "What?" she asked softly, and sounded for all the world like a kitten's plaintive mew.

"I don't love you very much, but it's enough to... to make me want to change my whole life. To turn it all upside-down and leave behind all I've ever known. I'm not sorry!" "Thistle, please..."

"I'm not sorry."

The girl turned in time to hide her tears from the kitten. Even as her cheeks caught the moonlight in silver-wet streaks, she kept herself proud and tall. Her quills rattled gently with each brisk step, and eventually swept her past the ivy gates and beyond.