Chapter 1

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By all accounts, it started off as an ordinary Friday night, the trio of best friends taking their usual shortcut to the only queer bar in town. As they walked across familiar streets and narrow alleys, Leithan Blackfeather wondered if his boyfriend would show up tonight.

Then his friend Shaylan asked him, "Is Nix coming tonight?"

Leithan shrugged. "Don't know. I was just asking myself that."

"Are you gonna take his Yoxai drugs again?" she asked with a sidelong glance.

"Klar," Leithan corrected.

Shay frowned. "Klar means drugs in Yoxai, no?"

Leithan waved it off. "Yeah, but there's a nuance, Shay."

As she rolled her eyes at him, the moon peered through wispy clouds and cast reddish light over Shay's hair. Examining the fresh crimson dye that brightened her tight black curls, Leithan said, "Your hair looks cute tonight."

She glanced up at him. "Yours too."

Capturing a strand of his straight hair between two fingers, Leithan lifted it to admire its dark violet color.

"Actually," Shay said, "could you ask your boyfriend for more red dye? I'm running low, and that Yoxai shit is the best."

Their friend Rami, who'd been trailing quietly behind them, now made his first contribution to the conversation through an exaggerated sigh, "You guys and your precious fucking hair."

Shay shot him an over-the-shoulder look. "You're just jealous."

"Nah," Rami said, "I don't have time for long hair, man. I got things to do."

Leithan zoned out as they bantered, walking with his hands in his pockets. Before they got to the bar, Rami paused to drop a coin in a homeless man's waiting hand. As the old guy flashed a smile under his sad hat's brim, Leithan's chest tightened. Homelessness in this part of town was an issue dear to his heart, and there would be an election tomorrow, which seemed like the best opportunity to actually do something about it. Except Leithan had been coerced into voting for an asshole who only cared about himself and his equally wealthy friends. He sighed – so much for his plan not to think about the election tonight.

Shaking it off as best he could, Leithan followed after his friends as they slipped inside a nondescript abandoned workshop to get to the Hive. They stepped under iron chandeliers that hung from low wooden beams, casting a cozy glow across tables and dance floor as a massive gramophone blasted jazzy music from one corner.

First stop was the bar. Leithan leaned against the polished wood surface, still immaculate this early in the night. A panoply of wooden casks rose in pyramids to either side of the long bar counter, and up on the wall, the shelves held an extensive collection of delicious liquid poison.

"West Siders," the bartender greeted them. "You guys playing tonight?"

Leithan shook his head. "We're short a guitarist."

"All right." The bartender shrugged, and Leithan and Rami exchanged a sheepish glance. Clearly their band wasn't good enough that anyone would be disappointed if they didn't perform.

They ordered their usual: strong bitter ale for Leithan and Rami, and a litchi cocktail for Shay. Drinks in hands, they spotted Nix and his friends at a table between the empty stage and the terrace door.

The trio went to join the other gang, and when Leithan sat down Nix draped his arm around his shoulders in greeting, making him flinch involuntarily. Fuck. He'd promised himself to be chill, but he hadn't slept in a while and it was starting to take its toll. Last night had been rough and gross, for reasons that were completely unrelated to Nix, and yet Leithan didn't feel like being touched right now.

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