They’d only just ordered drinks and already Birch was swearing she’d never go on a blind date again. Dammit, she really should have known better. Aster was always trying to set her up with minor heroes so the dryad would leave her six brothers alone. Birch sighed, thinking about the youngest, the one who still had that swan’s wing. How great would that be in bed, those soft feathers trailing up—
“Tough choices, huh?” The melodic voice broke into Birch’s daydream. Right. She still had to get through this date. Tucking her short silver-green hair behind her ears she cast a glance at the menu, searching for something polite and empty to say.
“Oh, y’know, choosing something at a new restaurant is always difficult. It’s so easy to be disappointed.”
“That is so true.”
Birch looked up at the face across from her. Gods, he was so earnest. With his golden hair pulled back, the late summer sun glowed shell-pink through his pointed ears. She could imagine him at Midsummer, wreathed in flowers and winning all the archery contests. He was too pretty, she decided. That was always the problem with the Sidhe.
Nonetheless, Birch figured she might as well pretend she had a mother who’d instilled her with manners. Conversation. If she could get him talking then maybe he’d get to rambling and then she wouldn’t have to actively listen. Okay, ask questions. Right.
“So, have you decided on anything?” She sipped her water and tried to look receptive to whatever heartfelt thing she was going to have to hear.
“Not yet, I always have some trouble with unfamiliar menus because I’m vegan.” Birch tilted her head slightly to the side and kept her face neutral. Abraham’s beard and Athena’s tits, she was not prepared for that. Aster must actually hate her to have set this up.
“Oh really?” He nodded confidently and Birch watched him fill with goodwill and purpose.
At least she’d got him started on a monologue. Birch relaxed back in her chair and let his river of words drift alongside as she idly built fantasies about the sixth swan brother. At some point their drinks arrived, the lecture on animal rights flowing smoothly into his order for a complicated modification of some dish.
When their food was served, he began gesturing at Birch’s plate and she started listening again.
“. . . That itself is at least two kinds of horrific and a perfect example of animal cruelty.” She glanced down at the roasted miniature unicorn and cut a slice.
“It’s not as though they spit and cook it alive.” Birch slowly chewed the bite, letting the flavour melt across her tongue. The meat was softly marbled with fat and infused with pear and a touch of garlic.
“But it’s an abomination—“
“Untrue and unfair, if they were they wouldn’t have found the loophole to the flood.” Birch took another bite, first swirling the piece through pearly gravy.
“I don’t mean the species, I mean those bred for consumption. Modified to be even smaller than a natural miniature unicorn, they’ve amplified the health risks inherent to that deformity. Worse, more genetic tinkering keeps the horn nearly the same as that of a full-size, so the animal can be spit on it and fit in the standard rotisserie. The poor things go about horribly front-weighted, ruining their joints and putting them in a constant state of neck strain.” Birch nodded and gestured with a glistening forkful for him to continue. He picked at the root vegetables on his plate, fair eyebrows drawn together in a perfect arrangement of concern.
“The poor things live crammed in cages with no room to move around. Tennis balls stuck on the end of their horns so they can’t hurt each other and tails cut off.”
Birch raised an eyebrow and began cutting another slice, watching the Sidhe fork leafy salad into his perfect, symmetrical little mouth. Bringing her slice to eye level, she admired the colour, juice and blood beading on it from the pressure of her fork.
“I suppose you’re right. It’s terrible for a being to be farmed against its nature, crammed along others in an attempt to cultivate the maximum product in minimum space.” She took the bite and chewed, looking up to meet his deep topaz eyes. “Say, the potatoes on your plate, for instance. They were never meant to grow so many, so round and even, or in that colour. They’re what they are through applied science. I suppose it’s ‘horrific’, I know I wouldn’t like feet like that.” She wiggled her sandaled toes at him from the edge of the tablecloth.
“Of course, my cousin Apple has it worse. I’m all for birth control, but to have ones’ fertilised wombs plucked off, shellacked with wax and displayed in markets? That is extreme.” Birch affected a dramatic shudder and signalled the waiter. Her date was staring at his plate, probably matching each root and leaf to a corresponding part on his body. Setting her napkin on the table, Birch leaned back and fished money from her purse. “I mean, my family and those close to us don’t have big, expressive eyes like unicorns—“ she laughed and batted her lashes. “well, not always—but we do share a predilection for virgins and we’re also farmed badly.” She slipped bills into the padded folder the waiter handed her and stood up.
“I figure, outside of the Gods’ ambrosia you’re always going to be eating somebody.” Stopping by his chair she patted the sullen Sidhe on the shoulder with a silvery hand as she left.