The Substance of Trust

‘That loud human keeps looking over here,’ commented Misha, carefully picking up his beer glass. Caela watched the way the yellowish light of the pub shone faintly through his fingers.

‘Yeah,’ she said, not looking around. ‘I know him. His name’s Telor. We used to work together.’

‘Another monster hunter?’

She winced slightly at the word. Technically, Misha was a monster. But it hardly seemed a fair choice of word these days, and she wasn’t sure she entirely wanted the job title any more, either.

‘Yes,’ she acknowledged, sipping her own drink. Behind her there was another burst of raucous laughter.

Misha studied her with unblinking, amber eyes. He looked broadly human at the moment. Close enough, anyway, that he wouldn’t raise eyebrows so long he stayed sitting at the table and didn’t go wandering around. He said he liked the occasional beer. Something about electrolytes.

‘Should I be concerned?’ he murmured.

‘I doubt it. He’s obviously drunk. And he’s showing off. And flirting. He does that. A lot,’ Caela added darkly.

‘Oh? Did he… with you…?’

Caela inhaled, noticing the yeasty scent of beer mingled with the faint citrus of whatever the staff must use to clean the tables. She had to hand it to them, this place was near spotless. She let out a long breath. ‘Not exactly. Well, not at first. He made a big thing about being friends, you know. How I should trust him. We could work together, he said. Colleagues. And then he did start flirting, and it was hard to draw lines, because… because…’ she tailed off.

Misha chuckled and pressed down on the rim of his glass. The hard edge slid through his finger, glass clearly visible through his – for want of a better word – flesh. He pulled it back before the fingertip was severed, and the pieces rejoined seamlessly. ‘Oh, believe me, I understand the dangers of not maintaining one’s boundaries.’

‘It’s a bit different, Misha.’

‘Is it, though? There’s still a risk of losing a part of oneself, no?’

Caela scowled. There was more laughter from behind her, and then someone started singing. ‘Damn him. Perhaps we should go. If he gets drunk enough, he might decide to come over here. I don’t want to put you at risk.’ She reached out and touched Misha’s finger. The outer surface was cool and slightly damp.

Her companion looked over her shoulder. ‘He looks occupied,’ he observed.

Caela risked turning around. Telor was kissing a woman, his fingers tangled in her long hair, his dark, wiry beard making a sharp contrast against her pale skin.

She shuddered. ‘Ugh. But you’re right, we’re probably okay for the moment. Look, I did draw firm lines, eventually, and he never did anything that awful. I don’t want to imply he did. But he started not turning up, or turning up too late to be any use. Lying about where he was and what he was doing. And it wasn’t so much that he was lying that bothered me, more that I knew he was doing it because lying was just quicker. All his talk of trust and friendship, and in the end, I wasn’t even worth the energy of an explanation.’

She sighed. ‘Actually, remember the night we met?’

Misha nodded. Scarlet, pink and gold rippled briefly along the top surface of his shoulders and up his neck. Then the colours were gone again, and his flesh settled into something that vaguely resembled the neckline of a T-shirt.

‘Yeah, well, Telor was meant to be working with me that night. But he hadn’t turned up, which was to be expected, at that point. You appeared from under that bridge—’

‘The little one in West Mestham! Yes. I like that bridge. It’s quiet, and there are some very tasty crayfish in the stream there.’

‘Hah, yes! Well, I was going to attack. I had plenty of salt. And then I saw you were only watching the water, minding your own business, really, and I thought, why? Why am I attacking you, just because you’re made of slime?’

‘And you decided to talk, instead. A wise move, really. Slime is very hard to destroy, even with salt, and my hugs can be positively deadly,’ Misha’s mouth curved into a smile.

Slime creatures did, in fact, feed by enfolding and absorbing other lifeforms. Still, Caela mirrored his grin. ‘You know what’s funny? You’ve never asked me to trust you. But I do.’

‘Mm. Not that I’m an expert in humans, you understand, but it seems to me that if someone has to tell you to trust them, you probably ought to think twice about it.’ He looked over Caela’s shoulder again. ‘He’s managed to decouple his mouthparts from the other human, and he just looked this way again.’

‘We should go,’ said Caela decisively, pushing her glass away. ‘There’s a door behind you. It’ll save us having to get too close.’

Moments later, they stepped into crisp night air. Misha looked across the road to the river. ‘I’ll head that way, in case he decides to follow. I know you’ll be all right, but, you will be all right?’

‘Yes, yes, don’t worry. You go.’

He nodded, and in a few strides had crossed the road, leaving faint, silvery footprints behind him. He dropped, silently, into the black water.

Caela stood under the streetlamp for a moment, before glancing back to the lit windows of the pub. ‘Imagine a human so slimy,’ she muttered to herself, ‘that an actual slime creature turned out to be a better friend.’

With that, she giggled, shook her head, and turned for home.

Author’s notes
A little something that seemed to suit the cold November air.

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