Authors: Amy Crook
Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Romance, #Fantasy, #Gay Romance, #One Hour (33-43 Pages), #Genre Fiction, #Short Stories
For the Holidays
Copyright © 2014 Amy Crook
All rights reserved.
Everyone who's encouraged me to keep writing about Julian and Alex,
thank you. This story is for you.
But especially you. You know who you are.
The morning of December 1, Julian St. Albans made his sleepy way out of the bedroom he shared with his grumpy – and still asleep – lover, Alex Benedict, only to find their flat had been transformed overnight. Evergreen boughs were festooned above the mantel and around all the doorways, entwined with fairy lights and red velvet bows. Pomanders made of clove-studded oranges hung here and there, along with pinecones tied with more rich red ribbon. There was a centrepiece on the coffee table made of holly and ivy entwined around a glass-sheltered lantern with a thick red candle burning in the middle.
"Wow," said Julian, stepping out and looking all around. Paper snowflakes as fine as lace were strung along the walls, and there was a sprig of lucky mistletoe nestled in among the pine branches above the front door. Everywhere he looked, Julian saw some new celebration of the season. "So, you guys really like Solstice, then?"
A tinkling laugh came from the kitchen, and then Alys strolled out with a tray bobbing along behind her. The house-brownie came up to Julian's waist, but she'd always seemed to have enough authority for someone three times her size, as far as Julian was concerned. "It's an important holiday for the earth," said Alys, "so we decided to go all out, especially since you're having that party later this month."
"Oh, right, this will be perfect," said Julian sitting on the couch so the tray could settle. There was a small pot of tea and the attendant accessories, plus two fresh scones, jam and cream, and a glass of juice. "It's beautiful."
"It's good you think so. We'll see what his nibs says," replied Alys tartly, but she was grinning. "I'm thinking an omelet for your proper breakfast, all right?"
Julian smiled, hands busy slathering plenty of jam and cream into the first scone. "Sausage omelet?" he asked, making puppy eyes.
She laughed. "Yes, that's what we've got. You're lucky it's not ham."
"Nah," he said, "I like ham, too." He took a big bite of the scone and made very happy sounds at the way it melted in his mouth. "Did you make this jam?"
"I did, aye," said the brownie. "We've laid in a store of things for you lads this winter, made from the bounty of both your lands."
Julian grinned. "That's quite clever." He went back to eating, knowing he wouldn't have too long before there was more food, and after that he'd have to dress and head out to work. He'd have to catch a cab; Jones had begun the long process of teaching both him and Alex to drive, but it was slow going with all their busy schedules.
She vanished back into the kitchen – though not literally, apparently she wasn't in an invisible mood – and Julian poured some nice strong tea and added sugar and milk before attacking his second scone.
Julian ate the hearty breakfast that showed up quickly enough: fried potatoes and onions snuggled up on the plate with the omelet, along with two more scones and a bowl of fruit. He'd almost grown used to the demands on his body that being a magic user required, but it still seemed strange sometimes to eat what felt like endless huge meals every day. Julian's work was even busier now, with his mornings spent in the nursery and afternoons split between the Agency greenhouse and Geoff's tutoring, and the various Temples and the priests there who could give him lessons in exchange for his assistance. He got to see Alex for lunch almost every day, too, since Alex often had work at one or the other place as well.
He finished up and got ready to head out, pausing to switch out the fairy-bread offering. "Oh, this is nice," said Julian, seeing that she'd added a touch of seasonal spices to the bread. "Our local fairies must feel quite spoiled by now."
"It's good for them to be pleased with you," said Alys. "I'll send lunches along with Alex, he says you're doing something together this afternoon that'll need energy."
"Yes, ma'am, we're going to work on the wish tree. It's still on city land, even if Fenway's house isn't, and they've moved the fence and now we're doing some landscaping and warding on the little mini-park they've set aside for it to live in," said Julian. "We might have people by for after, too. I think some people from the Temple were going to come and bless it."
"If it's that nice Father Stephen, he's more than welcome," said Alys, pleased. "You go on, now, and give these to Mary Margaret." She handed him a tin of biscuits, and then vanished into thin air to encourage him to stop dawdling.
Julian laughed and headed out, bundled up warm against the winter chill and feeling very much in the spirit of the season.
~ ~ ~
Morning work done, biscuits gifted, and lunch eaten, Alex and Julian headed to the wish tree together in a cab. All the plants and supplies they'd need had been sent ahead of time, so they just had to bring themselves and their magic, not to mention their willingness to work. After 3 months of proper wishing, the tree was starting to regain its health, though of course in the winter its branches were bare of leaves for a different reason. The cab let them off by the little turnoff onto Shaftesbury, which was pedestrian-only. They went through the very same gate that Horace had unlocked, which was now invitingly open, and across the cracked parking lot to where the wish tree was nestled in one corner in a little cul de sac of fresh-tilled soil reclaimed from the asphalt.
There were curved stone benches waiting to be installed in their final spots, and people waiting on those benches – not only Father Stephen, but James and Jacques, as well as the acolytes Raj and Roger, and even Officer Tiny and Detective MacLean.
"You managed quite the roster of volunteers!" said Julian, heading in to give Father Stephen a hug first.
"Tiny and I are getting our community service credits for helping," said Thomas with a grin.
Tiny huffed. "Not that we wouldn't help anyway, but that let us take the afternoon," he explained.
Julian hugged everyone, while Alex shook hands mostly. Horace wriggled his way out of Alex's coat and began chirping happily and hopping from person to person, getting little pets and blessings and praise. He'd grown quite lively in the past few months, his personality becoming more firmly established as Alex added to his spells and Julian his energy. He could tell time now, so he often served as their alarm clock, and he'd been given an interesting ability to ferry power from one person to another. Or, mostly, to the tree – once the fund for the park had been established, people's money went into that instead of hung atop the tree, and Horace instead took the energy from the person to the wish tree in some manner that Julian never did quite understand.
"Your little pet gets smarter every time I see him," said Father Stephen cheerfully.
Julian paused in hugging Jacques to reply, but Jacques distracted him with a blessing-kiss to his forehead that Julian suspected was also a little bit diagnostic. "He's getting all sorts of energy now, and he helps out nearly every day."
"A very useful pet," said Father Stephen, giving Horace a little kiss on his metal head. "He'll watch over us well while we're here."
"At least it won't be as much work as the luck garden," said Raj.
Roger chuckled. "You like the luck garden," he teased.
"I like it now, doesn't mean I wanted to plant it," replied Raj, unperturbed.
"Speaking of work," said Julian, "why don't we get started and catch up while we make progress?"
They all agreed, and Julian handed out the tasks, which was mainly each person evenly distributing grass seeds and some wildflower seeds into the tilled soil. They wouldn't plant anything living with winter on the way, but the seeds would be safe until spring. They talked as they worked, catching up on James and Jacques' last Charge, Raj and Roger's studies, Father Stephen's pet projects, and everyone's various work and personal lives.
They got the grass and flowers seeded and the benches moved into place, and then each of them sent up a wish, paid for in labour. Alex broke out the big thermos of tea he'd been given by the brownies and poured everyone a warm paper cup.
"It's actually quite nice here, if a little chilly," said Alex, lounging on the bench tucked furthest behind the tree. The benches made up three-quarters of a circle, mostly going along the line of the fence, and once the grass grew there'd be just enough space under the tree for a couple to have a picnic, or for someone to lounge against the tree itself and read.
"We'll definitely have to visit more," said Julian. He got up and went over to the tree, hesitating only a moment before touching the rough bark. He sent careful tendrils of power into the tree, finding the grumpy personality waiting, its thoughts like the creaking of branches in the wind. He could tell it was already happier, though, that it craved more humans around it, not just Horace's welcome transfers of energy. Julian promised they were working on it, and felt a little wave of dubious hope back.
"How's it doing?" asked Tiny.
Julian smiled warmly. "It's doing all right, it's still a little grumpy but I'm used to that." He shot a teasing look at Alex, who stuck his tongue out. "It wants people around more, so we'll have to walk over here ourselves until word gets out and people start visiting again."
"Mother Greta tells me they're working on a design for a collection box that will take pound coins and dispense paper and string," said Father Stephen. "They've had some success with them at other locations, but this is quite urban and isolated."
"They're going to work on getting patrols by here more often," said Tiny, "but you know we're always spread thin."
"More businesses going in will help, too," said Thomas, looking at the abandoned parking lot. "One thing at a time, I guess."
"Ooh, speaking of which," said Julian, "Are you all coming to the holiday party?"
"We can't," said Raj, looking hangdog.
"We're confined to the Temple, today was an exception 'cos you asked for us," added Roger, perking up hopefully.
"Only because he wanted your labor," said Father Stephen. "Parties are still out."
They both deflated, and Alex laughed. "Why do I get the feeling there's a story behind that restriction?" he teased.
There was, and after everyone else assured Julian that they'd at least drop by the party, Raj and Roger took turns telling their tale. It involved a live chicken that had been donated by one of the farms, one of the Mothers in charge of potions training for those so inclined, and a botched batch of student projects, none of which had been compatible with chicken feathers.
There was much laughter after that, and all of the adults agreed that Raj and Roger had earned their restriction, especially after hearing it would be lifted for family visits on the Solstice holiday itself. They all finished their tea and gathered up the detritus of their work, Julian and Alex taking the cups while the Acolytes took the tools and seed packets away. As they walked home in the gathering dusk, Julian leaned into Alex and then yelped when Horace snuggled down between his scarf and neck.
"Cold bird?" asked Alex with a chuckle.
"Cold bird," said Julian, laying a hand over the snuggling lump and sending a bit of energy into him to help facilitate fast warming. "I was thinking, maybe we should do party favours of some kind, like little pots of magical rosemary with bows on, or something."
"I think that's a generous and lovely idea," said Alex. "You should see if Mary Margaret has enough of everything for you to make a project of it with Nat, I'm absolutely certain he'll want a hand in decorating the pots."
Julian giggled and pulled him down for a kiss. "Will you be able to make those charms for the pots, that say when to water it and things?"
Alex thought about it. "Yes, but I'll have to do some shopping, which is fine since I still have to do some shopping for a number of Solstice gifts as well. I got us out of boring Solstice at Victor's, but I still have to send along presents or I'll get everyone's ire."
"Especially since they're all coming to the party," said Julian innocently.
Alex stopped. "You didn't."
"I did," said Julian, sticking his tongue out. "It's a party. They behaved at the last one."
Alex resumed walking, arm slung across Julian's shoulders. "I suppose," he said, but he was pouting rather magnificently.
Julian laughed again and snuggled him. "Look at it this way, we want to keep getting gift boxes from Victor's estate, which means being nice to Victor."
"Not to mention that he doesn't charge me for borrowing Jones," said Alex with a sigh.
Julian decided to call it a win.
~ ~ ~
The day of the party was a pleasant sort of frantic, with Horace waking them for a big breakfast and then both humans drafted to help set things up. They took the big box of sprouts into Alex's work room so that Julian could repot them. Then Nat could add big red bows to each pot, followed by Alex putting in a green thumb charm to finish them off. Alex took them out in lots to arrange on the special tiered table that Nat had assembled just for the occasion. It was cheerful work, especially with Alys delivering a taste of this or that from time to time, and they were nearly done when the doorbell rang.
"Oh, no, someone's early!" lamented Julian, holding up his dirty hands. "Can you get it, Alex?"
"I'll have to whistle them in, anyway, I haven't changed the wards yet," said Alex. He headed out to find that not only was Alys expecting their early company, but they didn't even need to be added to the wards.