No sooner had the doors closed behind them than Alfred, Feliks, and Toris found themselves greeted by the same blue-haired siren who'd escorted them to their changing room.
"This way, please." Those shark-like teeth looked even more dangerous than before. Turning, they lead the trio deeper into the dark space they'd entered.
Music and darkness surrounded them. It was muffled and distant, and not a tune Alfred recognized, and seemed to be coming from every side. There were no lights, but there also wasn't anything to see. And yet, they had no trouble seeing each other, and their escort. It was as if they were walking through a void.
"Rún is protected by very powerful magic," the siren informed them, gesturing at their strange surroundings, or rather, the lack thereof. "Without a guide, entry to the club itself is impossible."
"What about leaving?" Alfred asked, and the siren looked back at him with a quirked eyebrow. To Alfred's irritation, their attention shifted to Feliks, as if the nymph had been the one to speak.
"There is nothing here meant to keep guests in or to trap a visitor. You are free to leave whenever you wish."
All three of them relaxed a little at that.
They walked in silence for only another handful of seconds, and suddenly there were lights. Two sconces were bracketed to a wall that hadn't been there before, candles glowing brighter as Feliks, particularly, drew closer. Between the sconces, a heavy, wine red velvet curtain stretched from floor to ceiling. The sudden appearance of the entire end of a hallway that hadn't previously existed was unnerving at best, and Alfred was starting to wonder if they should have just left, after all.
Smiling, the siren drew the curtain back and stepped out of the way. "After you."
Cautious, Feliks, Toris, and Alfred walked through the newly revealed opening in the wall, and found themselves in the heart of Rún. To the left, a bar served drinks to all manner of mythicals. To the right, tables and booths provided plenty of places to sit and rest and eat. Straight ahead and down a staircase, a dance floor beckoned, a shifting mass of inhuman bodies and flashing, multicolored lights that zipped around on their own, clearly a product of magic rather than electricity. A DJ was set up at the far end, in a raised booth where a view of the dance floor helped to gauge what music to play. Right now, it was something fast with a heavy bass that vibrated through the air. Everything was burgundy, black, or gold. Leather, velvet, and silk; the height of luxury. Whoever ran this place was unbelievably wealthy.
"Would you like a table?" the siren asked them, letting the curtain fall closed.
"We're here to meet the Vargas brothers," Feliks responded, his tone guarded and formal once more.
The siren smiled widely, which seemed to Alfred to be more frightening than friendly. "Right this way, please." They lead the three visitors over to a rather large, circular booth where two mythicals already sat with drinks and a platter of fresh berries and prepared fruits. Long, powerful fingers picked at the tray, bringing the treats towards faces that were obviously not human. Pointed, slightly upturned noses sat beneath large, dark eyes—Alfred's first thought was that they must be sensitive to light, like a nocturnal creature. They both wore short, pointed hats with wide flaps out to each side, which he then realized were held that way by long, slender, pointed ears. All in all, they sort of reminded him of a weird, nocturnal monkey he'd seen on a nature documentary once. Especially the eyes and the hands.
"Feliks!" one of them called as the group approached. "I'm so glad you made it!"
The accent was unmistakable. That was definitely Feliciano.
"Ciao, Feli," the nymph replied with a warm smile as he slid into the booth and moved around to sit by the younger Italian.
Doing his best not to stare at the brothers' true forms—it wasn't often he met other mythicals, and he'd never met anything like them before—Alfred followed Feliks' lead and sat beside the smaller blond as Toris took the last space at the end, keeping him safely in the middle.
"A waiter will check on you shortly," the siren informed them as soon as they settled in, and Feliciano smiled.
"Grazie, Marinos," he said cheerfully, and the siren, Marinos, bowed slightly before leaving, vanishing behind the curtain a moment later.
"Do you know them?" Feliks asked, tilting his head curiously.
Feliciano selected a grape from the platter—100% silver, unsurprisingly—and popped it into his mouth. "No, but it's good to make friends in new places."
"No harm making connections," Romano added, taking and inspecting a strawberry before eating it.
"It's good for business, at least." Feliks still didn't let himself relax entirely, not just yet. "Have you met many others since you arrived?"
"Eh, a few. You!" Feli beamed at the three of them. "It was very lucky to be in London at the same time!"
The compliments were enough to draw Feliks into a more relaxed conversation, and he leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table and eyeing the platter. "Lucky for us, you mean. How often do I get the chance to work with someone who isn't a boring old human?"
"Uh," Alfred's face wrinkled in mildly offended confusion, "every day?"
That drew a few chuckles from the others, but Alfred didn't so much as crack a smile. Feliks had never acted like humans bored him before—he'd always found them amusing and entertaining. He liked humans. Sure, sometimes it got stressful to hide themselves so much of the time, but Feliks had never attributed that to humans being boring.
"Whatever. I'm totally thrilled that you're opening a store here. And I like the name," he gave the brothers a knowing look, "hiding in plain sight."
Romano smirked and leaned back in the booth, draping his arms along the top. "Why lie to the humans who have treated us so well?"
"So, you're monaciello, then?" Alfred asked, hoping that he'd pronounced it right. Just another example to back up Feliks always bothering him to learn more languages. The nymph would undoubtedly pester him about it later.
"Si, we are." The brothers shared a look before both leaning forward with clear interest, those dark eyes examining the bespectacled blond across from them. "And you are in incubus."
Nervous, Alfred found Feliks and Toris' hands under the table and held them tightly. "Yes."
"And he belongs to you?" Romano asked, gaze sliding to Alfred's right and landing on Feliks.
The nymph shifted nervously, his grip on Alfred's hand tightening to keep his reaction from being noticed. "He works for me. He's one of my models."
"You've collared him," the older brother pointed out, and Alfred was suddenly very, very aware of the snug strap around his neck.
"Well, I can't just let any random myth with a sex drive try and steal him, can I?" Feliks tried to joke, but his voice was strained. "I've got to protect my favorite employee."
The Vargases didn't look impressed by that response, but turned their attention to Toris. "And a faerie?"
"Laumė," the brunet specified, and the brothers nodded.
"Are you also a model?" Feliciano asked, eyeing Toris' wings.
Shyly, Toris smiled and tucked his chin, shaking his head. "No, definitely not. I help Feliks manage the company."
"He does way more than I do with it," Feliks admitted, giving his mate a fond look. "I like, never remember to order bolts or spools when I need to—I'd never get anything done if weren't for Toris."
The brothers observed the interaction with quiet amusement, then Feliciano smiled. "Are you mated?"
Both Feliks and Toris nodded, and the Italians beamed at them.
"Congratulazioni! How long have you been together?"
Toris' face turned slightly purple, his blush blending with the blue glow of his skin. "We met in 1569."
"And stumbled upon Alfie here in, what, like, 1904?" Feliks looked up at the taller blond sitting beside him, eyebrows drawn together as he tried to remember.
"1907," Alfred corrected, "in a bar in some backwater town in Michigan."
"Obviously," Feliks looked towards the brothers sitting across from them, "he was the most gorgeous creature we'd seen in ages, so we had to talk to him."
"And I never managed to escape," Alfred joked, and Feliks and Toris laughed, but Romano and Feliciano frowned a little.
"Why would you want to escape?" Romano asked.
Feliciano added, "You seem well treated."
Their smiles faded. Alfred's shoulders grew tense, his grip on Feliks and Toris' hands almost painfully tight.
Toris cleared his throat delicately. "We don't own Alfred."
Both Romano and Feliciano looked surprised at that. "Really?"
"It would be in poor taste. Both Feliks and I are from…desirable races. We know how it feels to be an object, and we wouldn't wish that on anyone else. Alfred is our best friend. He's wearing that collar for his own safety."
Feliks forced a smile and squeezed Al's hand under the table. "Times are finally changing. We don't have to follow the old ways anymore. Places like this are so old-fashioned," he gestured at the club flippantly with his free hand, "so the collar is just easier than fending off all the old hornies who'd see him as a trophy."
"There aren't many who would agree with your point of view," Romano pointed out, his focus shifting back to the platter of food. "Be careful."
As if he took offense to that, Feliks sat up a little straighter, his green eyes flashing. "We can handle ourselves."
Immediately, Feliciano's demeanor turned placating. "We meant no harm," he assured the blond, "we only want our new friends to be safe. I think you're right, the old ways are dying, and some of them deserve it." He smiled at Alfred, unsure but hopeful. "Alfred is lucky to have friends like you."
"Well," Feliks relaxed again, satisfied that he wasn't being challenged, "we couldn't just leave him in that bar. He was all alone."
"I was changed in 1781, during the War," Alfred explained, keeping his voice low. "I was a soldier, and one night I was sitting by the fire with some of the others. One of them turned out to be a vampire. Didn't know what he was back then, but." He stopped, shrugging. "Woke up the next day with a crushing headache and apparent invincibility."
"Do you know who it was?" Feliciano asked, more out concern than curiosity.
Alfred nodded. "I talk to him sometimes. He likes to call himself my dad."
"What about the other?" Romano finally chose a few blueberries.
"Drunken bastard," Alfred replied, his tone matter-of-fact to keep any bitterness out of it. "They were both soldiers from overseas who came to help with the War. I'd never met either of them before that night, but we ended up drinking together. I don't talk to him."
"I'm surprised they didn't keep you," the older Italian commented, and Alfred laughed.
"Keep me? I was just a piece of ass to them. They didn't even stick around long enough to explain what happened to me. I didn't find out who they were until over a century later, after I met Fe and Tor. We went to a bar and there was dear old dad, hitting on some poor kid, trying to score a meal."
"And you punched him square in the nose," Feliks finished the story for him, grinning at the memory.
"Yeah, well, he deserved it."
That at least, got small laughs from the dark-eyed mythicals on the other side of the booth, and Alfred finally relaxed. Feliks took advantage of the lull to lean and peer towards the bar, his expression impatient.
"Shouldn't a waiter have come to take our orders by now?"
In response, Romano lifted a hand, and within seconds, a woman with short, curly black hair and golden-brown skin appeared beside the table. Rather than a uniform, she wore a woven brown and gold scarf that barely covered her chest, and a black half-apron that revealed the short, coarse fur of her legs. She bowed slightly, the golden chains that decorated her small, twisting horns glinting as they moved.
"What can I get for you?" she asked, slanted green eyes flitting between them.
"I'll have a kiwi-blueberry fizz," Feliks spoke first, and the faun produced a notepad and pen from her apron to mark it down.
Her attention shifted to Al and she paused, blinking to finally realize what he was. Then she shook herself and smiled. "For you?"
Alfred decided in that moment that he really needed a drink if everyone was going to react like that. "Long Island Iced Tea, please."
She wrote it down then smiled at Toris.
"Just a water with lemon."
His order was scribbled down, as well, and then she turned to Feliciano and Romano. "Refills? Limoncello, right?" Nodding, both brothers slid their mostly empty glasses down where she could pick them up. The faun slipped her notepad back into its pocket, then produced three small menus from a second pocket and handed them to Toris. "I'll be right back with those and to take your orders!" Then she was gone as suddenly as she'd appeared, taking the empty glasses with her.
Romano and Feliciano went back to their platter while Toris passed along two of the menus for Alfred and Feliks to look over. They'd been sitting quietly for only a minute or so, listening to the music that drifted up from the dance floor as they perused the menus, when a tall figure approached their table.
All five of them looked up, taking in the man who stood there. Easily over seven feet tall, he had skin pale as death, and dark, sunken eyes that didn't seem to have a pupil or an iris. He also didn't seem to be wearing any actual clothes, just a black shawl that hung off his thin, painfully bony frame. Straight black hair fell past his shoulders.
"Yes?" Toris eventually answered him, and those eyes focused on the faerie.
"My master wishes to inquire a price," he said plainly.
Taken aback, Toris blinked rapidly before turning to look at his companions in bewilderment. "Price?" he repeated, looking back to the stranger.
"Yes," he looked at Alfred, one pale, long-fingered hand gesturing, "for your pet."
Immediately, Alfred stiffened, his confusion falling away as anger surged up and his face contorted in offended disgust. "I'm not—" A hand grasped his arm, too low for the stranger to see.
"He isn't for sale," Feliks spoke over Alfred, his tone polite, but firm. "Kindly tell your master that he is unavailable."
The stranger nodded, bowed slightly, and walked away towards a different booth, one set back in a corner. Silent, they watched him kneel at the end of the bench, addressing someone who sat too far back in the shadows to see, clearly the mysterious master who wished to buy Alfred.
"Well." Feliks picked up his menu again, shaking himself as if to clear away the tension. "Rather rude, that."
"He must be very old," Toris commented, still subtly keeping an eye on the other table.
"I don't care how old he is, it was rude."
"Can we leave?" Alfred asked suddenly, still tense and angry. "Before some other ancient 'master' decides to offer you a sack of gold for me?"
"But you must stay and have your drink!" Feliciano insisted, looking at Alfred pleadingly with those big eyes.
Without a word, Feliks picked up Alfred's arm and put it around his shoulders, slipping over into the American's lap. "I dare anyone to ask after you now," he said, voice low and possessive.
"Fe, I—" Alfred began, but was interrupted by the nymph hooking a finger through the hoop on his collar and pulling him down into a firm, demanding kiss. It caught him by surprise, but he didn't resist, too distracted by the little sparks of pleasure coming off the smaller blond.
Slowly, the nymph pulled away, but didn't let go of the collar. When he met Alfred's confused—and now slightly hungry—gaze, he smirked and licked his lips, green eyes mischievous. "Yes, my pet?"
Alfred almost growled, but settled for wrapping his arms around Feliks' waist and holding him close. "You're going to pay for that."
Not at all intimidated by the threat and looking rather pleased with himself, Feliks snuggled into Alfred's chest. "Sounds fun." He winked at Toris, and the faerie stifled a laugh at his mate's antics.
Rolling his eyes, Al let himself relax again, comforted by Feliks' weight and warmth, and the obvious claim the nymph had just made on him to keep the unwanted advances of strangers at bay. Clearly amused, Romano and Feliciano watched the exchange from their side of the table, then wordlessly went back to hunting through their platter for the tastiest bits. Feliks stayed where he was, picking up his menu and flipping through it idly as Alfred looked over his shoulder, rather than let go of the nymph to use his own menu. It was easier to share.
"We should dance after we eat," Feliks mused after a few minutes, scanning a list of desserts.
"Seems like a waste, coming to a club like this and not dancing," Toris agreed.
"We should all go!" Feliciano grabbed his older brother's arm excitedly, and Romano smiled fondly.
"Si, we should."
Alfred didn't add anything to conversation. Normally, he would have been the first to agree with Feliks that dancing was the only acceptable course of action. But, normally, they went to human clubs, or mixed company parties, places where no one knew what they were, what he was. Places where he didn't have to wear a collar or worry about someone trying to buy him. People always groped him when he danced, it was something he expected, and something he often did to find a meal, but he definitely didn't want it to happen here. Not where he wouldn't be allowed to refuse or walk away without someone causing a scene.
A pair of lips pressed to his cheek, drawing Alfred out of his thoughts, and he looked down at Feliks' reassuring smile.
"Don't worry," the nymph whispered, fingers toying with the hoop on Al's collar, "me'n Tor will keep you too busy for anyone to bother you."
"Yeah." Toris leaned into Alfred's side, smiling. "We'll be right there the whole time."
"You know how bad I am at sharing," Feliks teased, and Alfred managed a laugh.
"Okay, okay. I'll dance."
Just then, their waitress approached with a tray full of their drinks, and the conversation shifted to ordering their food. Feliks stayed where he was, which Alfred was grateful for. He still wasn't entirely sure he wanted to stay—this place made him nervous, at best—but he knew Feliks and Toris would do their best to keep him out of trouble. For now, they'd have their drinks and order some food, and dancing would come later.