I wanted something to write and, forgetting I still had a stack of prompts, I asked for prompts on the FediVerse and @Milouchkna linked me to this prompt. What came from it is definitely interesting. Little dark – content warning, blood mention, alcohol mention, some violence.
Allen O’Dale’s was the sort of place you didn’t walk into twice if the clientele didn’t want you there.
You’d think that the proprietor would complain when someone walked up to a stranger, looked them over once or twice, and said “find another place, friend,” but not the eponymous owner of the little tavern on a side road just outside a small town that itself was on the borders of a medium-big rust belt city. No, O’Dale would just tut and say “that’s good money you sent away,” not really sounding like it mattered, and the jar on the counter would fill up with coins and bills.
Any other place, someone might complain about the antecedents of the money, but not here. After all, if anyone was going to know where to spend those strange iridescent bills or the weird hexagonal coins, it was going to be O’Dale.
And nobody else was going to complain about what their change got made in. For one, you complained at Allen O’Dale’s, you had to find someplace else to drink, to play pool, to shoot darts, and to find… friends.
If you’d been a fly on the wall that Friday night, if you’d seen what’d happened the week before (the bikers!) or three weeks before that (the college girls!), then when this particular man walked into the bar, you’d probably have expected the same thing to happen. Someone would look him up and down. Maybe someone would sniff him. There was a lot of sniffing at O’Dale’s, and it was the most neutral smelling bar you’d ever walk into. O’Dale did a lot of work, making it that way.
He walked in like he was new there, like he was curious. In the back, way in the shadows, three people froze. Near the front, someone sniffed the air. You’d have missed the next movement even if you were staring at that particular weedy bar patron, but if you played it back in slow-mo, you might almost see it: sniff, slorrrrp, hiding-behind-the-bar.
O’Dale didn’t stop the patron, just tossed a bar towel over the scraggly head and went on wiping down the bar.
The man was gorgeous, this new guy, dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt like he was an extra on a James Dean movie, his hair tousled like it was windy outside (It was a still night, the full moon clearly visible in the cloudless sky). His eyes were green like the middle of a forest and his beard was carefully braided in two branching plaits.
He looked around and made his way slowly to the bar, still eyeing the other patrons. One very tall man began to walk towards this new one, only to be stopped by a very short woman, her hand pressed against his chest in clear warning.
The new one sat down at the bar and nodded at O’Dale. “I’m here.”
His voice was a rumble and a laugh all at once. It was joyous and it was dangerous and it was smokey, and this bar being what it was and why it was, five people were nearly to the bar before someone stopped them.
“You’re here,” O’Dale agreed. The bartender grabbed a glass from the shelf some people – some of the people who’d been there a while, at least – recognized as the special shelf, a bottle from the locked cabinet, and one hipster-perfect sphere of ice from the freezer. A splash of something in a flash nobody saw went in first, then the thick liquor which could have been whisky, or mead, or maybe the tears of gods.
By this point, three people had made it to the bar despite the objections of their friends and, in a couple cases, of their foes. A woman who looked like Marilyn Monroe’s dark shadow hopped into the stool to one side of the newcomer.
“Welcome, stranger,” she cooed, before a man who smelled like an ocean breeze and looked like Poseidon’s nightmare interrupted while claiming the stool to the other side.
“Haven’t seen you here before.” He leaned in close to catch the odor of the new one, but before he could say anything else, before Dark Marilyn could complain about the interruption, a voice like the song of drunken angels murmured behind the now-gathered three.
“And yet you clearly know what you’re doing here, don’t you? Now that’s an interesting situation. Usually-“
“Usually people are either here or they’re not,” Dark Marilyn interrupted. Her hand landed on the stranger’s arm lightly. “Buy me a drink and tell me all about it?”
“Or,” Poseidon’s Nightmare chuckled, “let me buy you a drink-“
“-or breakfast, since O’Dale isn’t charging him,” Drunk Angels cut over all of them. “And tell us the story.”
“Children,” O’Dale warned, to three who had, to anyone’s knowledge in the bar, seen at least two centuries turn to the next with at Allen O’Dale’s, one of which at least had a kill count higher than some nations.
But it was O’Dale saying it and O’Dale’s bar, so the three of them backed off, at least by an inch or two, and did not complain.
Dark Marilyn – if you were watching, you’d likely know her name was Phoebe, or at least that was what she chose to call herself – left slightly more space between herself and the stranger. “I’d like to hear your story,” she offered, slightly more demurely. “If you’re willing to tell it. Some of us like that, some of us don’t. Marion here has told us twenty-seven different stories about where he came from, and as for Ezriel, we’ve heard nothing at all. But perhaps you’d like to be left alone?”
The stranger sipped his drink and sniffed the air. He looked at Phoebe and sniffed, then repeated for the other two, then sniffed the air again and finished his drink.
“No,” he told Phoebe.
She blinked at him and waited. O’Dale watched from nearby, other customers ignored. The currents of the room shifted and turned, some people trying to maintain conversation, a very few completely missing what was going on in the corner, some trying to determine what the success or failure of the three around the stranger would mean for them.
“No,” the stranger repeated. He stretched and departed the bar stool. “The agreement stands,” he assured O’Dale, who did not stop watching like a hawk. “No.” He looked at Phoebe, at Marion the nightmare of Sea-gods, at Ezriel who sounded like a drunken angel’s song. “I don’t like to be left alone.”
It sounded like an invitation and a threat and something else, something like the answer to a prayer. Ezriel, who might know what those sound like, took a step backwards. Marion, who was one of those indeed, took a step forwards, abandoning his bar stool.
“I don’t prefer to be left alone. And sometimes that is forgotten in this time.” He strode across the room, leaving all three to watch him go. Phobe, the quickest of the three, followed after.
“What-” Ezriel hissed to O’Dale.
O’Dale, in turn, smirked. “You’re not the oldest thing around here.”
“I never thought I was,” the being answered primly. “The bar is older than me, for one.”
O’Dale chortled. “You have a point there, friend, you do. That one, that one doesn’t come around often at all. But when he does, mmm. He comes here for the same thing all of you do.”
“The drinks,” Ezriel filled in, with a raised eyebrow daring O’Dale to say differently.
O’Dale was, unsurprisingly, not intimidated. “The company. Watch.”
The stranger seemed to be following a scent trail, sniffing the air, working his way through the people and people-like beings. Some groups slid away from him; some even bowed. A few got in his way, looking him in the eye, before moving just as quickly out of his way with no challenge shown.
Ezriel took in a breath as three did get in his way and stay there, three tall, muscular sorts, all showing a little extra fur and a little extra tooth. It was, after all, the full moon. They blocked the stranger’s way and showed no signs of being willing to back down.
He sniffed all three of them, considered, and picked up the middle one, moving the half-wolf out of the way with apparent ease, turning him to face Phoebe, who was still right behind the stranger.
She looked at the half-wolf and smiled. The half-wolf looked at her and growled.
Neither Ezriel nor the stranger paid that interaction any more heed.
The other two tried to get in his way. He looked between them.
“I mean no harm to you,” he informed them.
“That’s great,” the one on the left snarled. “On the other hand, we do mean harm to you. You don’t need to go here.”
“I’m afraid I do. You have a choice between getting out of my way and being moved.”
The thing was, he sounded very calm. As if whichever way they went mattered not one biit to him.
The two in front of him were definitely not calm. They were also not moving.
Ezriel made a noise. It was a very soft noise, but everyone within a good 12 feet of the being moved further away or froze.
Even Phoebe moved a little further away.
The stranger and the half-wolves did not move.
The half-wolves’ ears went down and they got a little more tense, but they were staring at the stranger, who seemed to be ignoring everything except them. Everything.
“This,” Ezriel complained to O’Dale, “is going to get messy. I thought you didn’t like messy.”
“You know as well as I do that I make exceptions for old friends.” O’Dale poured two drinks, shoved one across the bar, and downed the other. “And this one is an old friend indeed.”
“It’s going to be bad.” Ezriel took the drink but did not dip from it.
“No. Probably not, at least. Watch.”
Ezriel watched. Almost the entire bar watched.
The stranger picked up the half-wolf on the left. In the space of time it took for him to get the creature a hand-span off the ground, the half-wolf had twisted, transformed, and chomped down on the stranger’s arm with a full mouth of very lupine teeth. The second half-wolf, in that moment, dove in and got a similarly large jaw around the stranger’s throat and bit down.
“O’Dale…” Ezriel’s voice was making animals outside look for shelter.
O’Dale held up a hand. “They get a pass, because of this. He gets a pass, because it’s him. And you get a pass, because you’re you. Any more questions?”
There was blood spurting across the bar floor. “Well, what are you going to do about the vampires?”
“The vampires?” O’Dale’s smile was unkind. “Pity them.”
“That – well. Ah.” Ezriel moved closer to the bar, bumping up against Marion, who was unmoving, petrified.
The stranger, who by all rights ought to be dead, even if he were a vampire, shook himself and then shook himself again as one of the aforementioned vampires attempted to bite him. He carefully removed first one half-wolf and then the other from him. His wounds healed up.
“That is enough,” he told the half-wolves. “You are – you are not such as can harm me.”
“Not such as can harm me,” Ezriel mouthed. The being stole a glance at O’Dale, who merely continued to smirk.
“You can go no further,” the leftmost of the two remaining half-wolves warned the stranger with more bravery than sense. “You cannot go further.”
“I can and will.” The stranger’s voice was gentle. He walked forward. This time, when the half-wolves bit at him, they drew no blood at all. “O’Dale,” the stranger called. “Were they always this young?”
“We were that young once, too,” O’Dale called back. “Don’t you remember?”
Ezriel and Marion, startled, stared at O’Dale, who looked innocent, still, always, smirking.
“Were they always this – Ah.” The stranger gently removed the half-wolf from him again. “Persistent?”
“No. But you know where you’re going, don’t you?”
“I always know where I’m going.”
They had this conversation across the length of the bar as if the others in between were nothing but shadows on the wall. From the look on their face, Ezriel, who had seen those two centuries turn here and more before, was suddenly wondering if they, too, were no more than a shadow on the wall.
They looked as if they found the thought terrifying.
From your hypothetical viewing point, you might, too, knowing how old Ezriel might be.
O’Dale’s speaking had quieted the last of the conversations in the bar, those that hadn’t been silenced by the spurting blood, the suddenly-large half-wolves, or the vampires snarling and hissing and lapping up blood.
The half-wolves were determined, but they were also shifting their posture, staring at this being they could neither beat nor intimidate. One of them sniffed at the air and began to howl. The other joined in.
From behind them, a few people stepped forward. They looked human, for as much as that might mean here. In the center of them stood a man who was slender and beautiful and fragile-looking, a sort you would not, generally, expect to see around a gathering of wolf-people, or possibly around any of the other sorts here. He lifted his chin as if he weren’t nervous.
There was not a soul (or a soulless being) in the bar who’d hold it against him that he was nervous, but he appointed himself well.
To either side of him, a couple others, also human-seeming, also somewhat fragile-looking, also stepped up, but the stranger’s attention had turned to this one and thus so did everyone else’s.
The stranger stepped in until his chest was nearly touching this man’s chest and sniffed, not just the man’s hair but his neck and his throat, his chest and his forehead. “Yes,” the stranger growled. “You.”
A clearing of the throat from behind the bar drew very little attention, but the stranger did nod his head faintly. “If you will?” he asked the man politely. “It is often considered an honor,” he added.
Someone who was not overwhelmed by the scents, the magic, and the noises coming from the bar – the soft keening Ezriel was making, the loud howling of the half-wolves, the sounds Phoebe and the wolf with her were making, and that was only the beginning – someone who could watch this all from a distance, as you can, because you are a hypothetical fly on the wall, they might notice the way the stranger suddenly sounded a little awkward and a little nervous.
Certainly O’Dale noticed. The man the stranger was looking at, who suddenly had a half-wolf pressing against either side of him, he might not have. But he did smile.
“I’ve heard it’s an honor.” He stepped forward. Anyone could see his nerves now. “I’ve also heard, ah. I’ve heard it’s lonely, being you.”
He tapped the half-wolves on the arms and they growled at him. He did it again, and they stepped back. “I’m not like them,” he told the stranger. “I, ah.” The throat clearing made his Adam’s Apple bob up and down. “I’m not like any of them. I will,” he paused, cleared his throat again, and paused a little longer. “I break if you play too rough,” he decided.
One of the half-wolves growled loudly. This time, both men, stranger and the fragile one, ignored the growl.
“Can-” Marion whispered. O’Dale nodded. Can he do that? Can someone who ‘breaks if you play rough’ survive that one? Can that one just – just pick who he wants?
It didn’t matter what the question was, the answer to all of them was yes.
“I do not play rough,” the stranger assured his target. “Unless it is called for. Will you. Will you come with me?”
“To the forest, yes?” The man made a noise somewhere between um and a question. “I mean, ah. I mean-“
For a heartbeat (a human heartbeat), the entire bar could see the rack of antlers above the stranger’s head. They seemed to take up the whole space of the bar. THey seemed to take up space in some other world. They seemed to go on forever and encompass the night sky as well.
“Yes. To the forest. Will you come with me for seven years?”
“I’d be an idiot not to. That is, I mean. Yes.”
The man took the stranger’s hand. The bar cleared a path for them and they exited much like the stranger had entered.
The door shut.
Somewhere a glass clattered and broke.
Somewhere else someone sobbed.
Ezriel looked at Marion. Marion looked at Ezriel. They both looked at O’Dale.
“Seven years?” They might not come to the bar every night. But in all the time they had been coming there… “Seven years?” Marion repeated.
O’Dale, of course, merely smirked. “Seven years. That’s the contract, isn’t it? But what is time, in the middle of the deep forest?” For a moment, O’Dale looked philosophical. A shot of vodka chased that look away. “What’s time, here in Allen O’Dale’s?”