by Daniel Ginn

I still can't believe I'm doing this," he said as they drove down the avenue.

"Doing what?"

"Going on a date with you. I mean I don't even like you."

She laughed. "If you didn't like me, you would have refused."

"Yeah, right. And then where would I be?"

Her diamond glare made him wince. "Do you really want to know?" He shook his head. "Then stop whining. Look, it's just one date. You'll get your boon, so relax! And besides, if you don't have any fun, it'll spoil my evening," she pouted coyly.

He snorted. "Humph, if you wanted a good evening, why didn't you get one of the satyrs to take you out? I'm sure that they could show you a good time!" He rolled his eyes.

"I wanted you, young nocker, because you are a Scion of Dán. You should feel privileged."

"Great. Just great!" Another rolling of the eyes accompanied his sarcasm. His position had thrown him into another mess yet again. "So am I on-duty or off tonight?"

"Hey! Stop that! No intimate touching!" He fought to concentrate both on driving and on pushing her away. "I have a True Love, you know."

"But you have sworn no oath," she countered. "Anyway, what about that time I kissed you? During your Chrysalis, remember? You didn't squall like a wet cat then! I think you even liked it!"

"That was different, and you bloody well know it! You weren't coming on to me then! And I didn't agree to this in order to be seduced by you trying to be a slut!" he retorted.

"You are mine," she snapped, her voice cutting with icy power, "and you had best show me some respect! I tolerate my servants only as long as they are still useful to me."

He hastily tried to redeem himself. "I apologize for my lack of manners, my lady. I'll try to do my part." He paused briefly and then smirked. "But won't your sisters be jealous of you claiming sole ownership of me?"

"My sisters? They're scrying the whole event through our big black cauldron. You didn't think that they'd miss out on the fun, did you?" she folded her slender arms under her breasts.

"No, I guess not. So, what, we've got a 'third and fourth wheel' along for the ride?" he laughed.

"We're never really ever apart."

"Okay," he said. "Then I guess I'll try to be good and give you a nice date. I wouldn't want to inflict the wrath of you and your sisters upon myself."

"That's the first intelligent thing you've said all evening." She smiled at him.

"We're there," he said as they pulled into the parking lot. "Now I have to find a place to park." He scanned the grounds. "Man! This place is packed! Everybody and his dog must be eating here tonight! Can you see an open place?"

"What about that one?" she pointed as the headlights of a parked car near the entrance lit up. The driver carefully backed out. Then he shifted gears and went on his merry way.

His jaw dropped in amazement, and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. Then he shook his head. "Did you do that?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "Do what? Hey, maybe it's fate. Must be your lucky night!" She lightly punched him in the arm. That smile of hers was really unnerving!

"Har-dee-har-har!" He could take a joke, though an ironic one at that. His whole life had seemed to him to be one gigantic irony. "Fine," he said as he pulled the car into the empty space, "but no more funny stuff. I'm going to be paying for this, understand? I don't want to magically find a one hundred dollar bill on the street or anywhere else. Just let me play by the usual rules. If I'm getting a boon out of this, I should have to put forth some effort."

"I only do it because I love you." She was sly. Oh, she was sly! "If it really means that much to you, I'll do it your way."

"Good. Please do." He got out, shut his door, and walked around to open her door while she waited expectantly.

"Thank you, kind sir."

"Right. C'mon, let's go." He started to walk toward the entrance of the restaurant, a thousand things on his mind.

"Ah, ah, ah, ah!" She waggled her finger at him. "Get back here! A gentleman always escorts his lady into the building."

He smacked his forehead in exasperation. He would forget that! "Astarte had better not see this. It was hard enough to convince her of my love to begin with. I think she really only left because she was bored of the circus."

"I thought you didn't want me to exert any direct influence." She was all innocence as she hooked her arm around his. He glared at her. "Kidding! I'm kidding!" she giggled. "You are so uptight! Can't you take a joke? Anyway, you should think of this as good practice for when you get a date with her."

"Ugh," he groaned. "I'd rather not think about it. Settle down, okay? Man! I get you away from your sisters, and you get all playful on me."

"Old grump!" she shot back at him, and she stuck her tongue out at him as they walked to the front of the hall.

"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response." He lifted his nose into the air and pretended not to notice her still clinging to him.

A waitress greeted them. "Hello, and welcome to Olive Garden. Table for two?" He nodded. "Alright, smoking or non?"

"Non-smoking, please."

"Thank you." The server checked her little clipboard. "If you'd just walk this way, please." The nocker and his date followed her to their table and sat down.

"Alright," said the waitress. "Here are your menus. I'll be back in a little bit to take your order. Would you like anything to drink while you wait for your food?"

"I'd like a pitcher of root beer, please," he answered.

The serving girl looked toward the lady. "And you?"

"Just water for me, thanks," she replied.

"Okay, I'll be right back with those." The waitress walked off to do her duty.

The reluctant escort reached for a breadstick from the complementary breadbasket and began munching on it. "Wanna breadstick?"

"No thanks. Let's talk."

He swallowed the morsel. "What about? You already know everything there is to know about me! I daresay I'd rather avoid knowing any more of your little secrets than necessary. I'm already as tangled in your web as I want to be and then some!"

"Talking would help you feeling better, and it would set the mood. This is supposed to be as close to an authentic date as you can make it. That was part of the agreement. Couples usually communicate, don't they? It's the basis of all relationships."

He sighed. "Alright, what do you want me to talk about?"

She lightly touched his left hand as it rested on the table. "Tell me about your grandmother."

"Oh, okay. Grandma yeah, she was great. Died when I was seven. She used to make these wonderful oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Boy, did I love those!" He looked off into the distance, the memory brightening his face. "I'd try to sneak into the kitchen to get a few when nobody was looking, but so did everybody else. They were so good that they were addicting! In fact, one day I even caught Falme?"

"Fhengal!" a friendly voice interrupted. "As I live and breathe! It's been so long since we've last met! What brings you to the Olive Garden this evening?"

The nocker looked up to see a black man, an old eshu, looking down bemusedly on him. "Oh, hi, Ethan. Just on a little outing here." He was guarded. Meeting an eshu. This could be bad. If word of this got out.

"I see!" declared the eshu with great interest. "You are entertaining a lady-friend! Would you care to introduce me to this lovely young creature?" His charm and grace were practically sickening.

It was too late. Fhengal now had no choice. He could have lied, but that was not his way. Besides, he very much doubted that his date would like that. He resigned himself to the inevitable. "Oh, Ethan, this is?"

"My LADY!" Ethan exclaimed, bowing down upon one knee. "It is YOU! Oh, how many centuries it has been since you have been seen in the waking world! I had hoped there had been rumors and stories among my kind, I can assure you but to actually have SEEN you with my OWN EYES! Well, this is just too much! Whoever would have guessed? Dán has brought me here tonight!" he gushed.

"Indeed." She smiled wryly. Fhengal rolled his eyes.

"How can I serve you?" Ethan begged. "Give me a quest so that I may gain a reputable story to share around Balefires everywhere!"

"As you wish," the maiden replied. "Tale-spinner Ethan, this is your quest: I charge you to reveal no one of what you have seen or heard of me tonight. Tomorrow you may speak of it, but only after you travel to another city. There and only there will you tell of me for the first time to those in that place that will listen. Now leave us and go," she commanded.

"Your wish is my command," he breathed. He looked a little crest-fallen, but he was not about to argue. "A final request will you give me leave to kiss your hand?" She offered, and he took it. "My thanks, Lady. I am gone!" Ethan stalked away, smiling blissfully. The few onlookers that had noticed his outburst watched the eshu leave with puzzled expressions on their faces. An affected old gentleman had recognized a couple on a date. He had razzed them a little. Big deal. The watchers resumed eating their meals.

"Whew!" Fhengal gasped. He tried to regain his composure. "Now, why did you have to let THAT happen? Couldn't you have made him not see us or maybe wiped his mind of the memory?"

"That would hardly be fair, would it? I know how little you like to be mentally controlled. Would you wish something on someone else that you would not endure yourself? How uncharitable of you! He is an eshu; I only gave him leave to follow his nature. It was as he said. Dán brought him here."

"This is nuts! What if Astarte finds out?"

She smiled sweetly. "Well, you'll just have to deal with the consequences of your actions, won't you?"

The server chose that moment to return. "Here you are! Your root beer and your water! I'm terribly sorry that it took so long! Are you ready to order?"

"No problem. I'll have the Pasta Primavera," the young lady looked up from her menu.

"It figures," the nocker grimaced.

"Oh, hush, you!" she giggled.

"And you, sir?" The waitress turned to him.

"The Spaghetti Plate with meatballs."

"Would you like a soup or a salad with that, sir?"

"How should I know?!! I'll let you decide."

"Ooookaaay," The waitress sucked in some air. Some customers could be so difficult!

Fhengal's date spoke up. "He'll have the salad, with bleu cheese dressing."

"Hey!" the indecisive faerie choked, irked at being robbed of his mind-game with the server.

"That's right," the young lady spoke up. "You'll eat it, and you'll like it, or else." "Is that alright with you, sir?"

"Fine, whatever." He waved her away. The waitress fled to the kitchen, grateful to be spared the need to make the customer's choice.

"You didn't need to do that," the lady reprimanded. "You've been rude all evening. It's unfair to me and the mortals, and it's very unbecoming of you."

Fhengal flashed a wicked grin. "I'm sorry, mommy," he quipped in a whiny voice. "Call it my nature."

The diamond glare turned on him full force, and there was an almost imperceptible rumbling in her throat. "You, my child, are beginning to anger me."

"Sorry." He was more contrite this time.

The time until their meals came passed uneventfully. They ate in peace, making small talk. "How's the job?" she wanted to know. This pretense was killing him, but he tried to play along. "Oh, could be worse at the moment, I guess. Took care of some nasty business last week. Some ignoramus decided that he'd try to screw around with a chunk of ana-klaven and got himself frozen in time. He also inadvertently opened a portal to the sixteenth century. I restored the situation, thanks to your investment." She nodded. He was silent for a moment. Then the young man said, "You know, you really are beautiful. That pink shirt suits you well. It nicely compliments your red hair. The blue jeans are understated but tasteful, and I really like that perfume."

She blushed "Why, thank you. I had almost forgotten that you could give compliments. The perfume is Escape. I wore it just for you because I knew it was your favorite."

"Hmmm." He inhaled the rich fragrance.

Things progressed nicely from there. They soon finished eating, and the wilder was feeling so generous that he left the server a seven-dollar tip. From there, they went to see "The Sixth Sense" in the Lindale cheap theatre. It was just as good as the last time he'd seen it, but having her around made it even more special somehow. She even jumped a little in her seat and squeezed his left arm a little tighter during the scene when the character of the young boy Cole was in the bathroom and a visible ghost passed him for the first time. He couldn't figure out what that gesture out. She couldn't have been scared by the movie, could she? Surely, she had seen far worse in her time. His date had even been the direct cause of things that could turn even his solid stomach. It was within her power to feign such a thing, to be sure, but that little intake of breath that marked a gasp of fear and the feel of her racing pulse in her fingers excited him the same way any other girl would have. It felt so real. He indulged himself a slow smile at her display of innocence and touched her hand with his right in an attempt to give comfort.

When the film was over, he draped his arm over her shoulder, and she snuggled up to him. They walked slowly back to his car. There was magic in the air, just as he had wished there to be in that same parking lot many years ago. The headlights seemed to wink at him briefly, but it could have merely been a reflection from the passing vehicles on the main drag. As they drove out past the city limits in a homeward direction, he said, "It's been a pretty good evening. I guess I did have a good time."

"Of course you did, silly," she said. "I enjoyed it immensely. In fact, I liked it so much that I'm considering ordering you to take me again."

This caught him off-guard for a moment. Then he thought about it. "Well, maybe. It was my first date, you know. Maybe we should do it again, and next time you could lecture me on some of the finer points of etiquette."

She smiled and patted his knee. "That's my boy. Here, stop the car."

He did, and they got out. She grabbed his hand and practically dragged him through the trees and up a small rise. "There," said his date. "A perfect way to end a perfect evening." The young woman looked up, and Fhengal followed her gaze. A full moon shown down upon them, and they held hands. A clock in town began to strike midnight.

"Give us a kiss," she said.

"Hold on," he protested. She looked at him strangely. "Alright, but no lip-lock. We exchange a peck on the cheek only, and no more. I'm not down with this whole intimacy thing, remember?"

She sighed and flopped down onto the hillock. "Well, I guess that when one deals with a nocker, one must expect a few flaws in a good date."

He laughed and knelt down to kiss her. She cocked her head, and he kissed her right on her perfect cheekbone. At that moment, a breeze full of the springtime air stole over them. It tickled him with her long hair. The feeling was pleasant.

Then she kissed him. The blood roared in his veins and the heat of her lips was matched by a slight burning feeling in the birthmark on his forehead where she'd kissed him for the first time eight years ago during his Chrysalis. It evoked a sensation just as powerful in him now as it had then. He held her head and pressed his cheek up against hers.

"Well, will you go now and take up that mantle of power once again? How was your brief sojourn in the world of men unescorted by your sisters?" he asked.

"Very entertaining," she responded. "And yes, I'll leave you now, but we'll meet again."

"Of that I have no doubt," Fhengal returned. "Goodnight, Clotho."

"Goodnight, Fhengal, and thanks for the date. You've earned your request of a branch from Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree," she said. She stepped back and waved, and suddenly she was gone.

He stood for a moment longer, soaking up the moonshine and the hoots of an owl. Then, he turned slowly and walked back to the car. "You ought to consider yourself lucky, my boy," he said to himself. "After all, it's not every day that you get a date with the youngest Norn."