It was a stupid argument.
Not least because it served to bring about the very thing Archer did not want. Now he was on his own for Solstice AND Christmas. And perhaps for the foreseeable future.
“You’re not an Irregular anymore,” he had protested, when Rake first brought up the subject of the Christmas party.
“I served with the Irregulars for four decades.”
“But you’re not an Irregular now.” This was an important point for Archer because he hated the Irregulars. Rake excepted. It was the only thing about Rake he didn’t like. His past with the Irregulars.
Rake, who understood him very well, had started out trying to be patient. “I still have friends there. Good friends. I’d like to see them again.”
“Good friends like Sergeant Orly who tried to have me thrown in prison for thirty years? Can’t you see your good friends another time? Does it have to be Solstice Night?”
“It’s a party. Everyone will be in one place. That’s the point of inviting me.”
“It’s Solstice Night!”
“I know, sweeting. And I’m sorry for that. But we’ll have Réveillon and Christmas together.” Rake nibbled delicately on the upswept point of Archer’s nearest ear. He teased, “And Boxing Day and Feast of St. Stephen and New Year’s and First Footing and Three Kings Day. We’ll celebrate Chinese New Year, if you like. We’ll spend every single holiday you please together. We’ll spend them any way you choose.”
Archer pulled his head away. “None of those mean as much to me as Solstice!”
Which was quite true. Solstice was the festival that mattered to the Fae. The Solstices and the Equinoxes. And yet…and yet… He wasn’t five years old, after all. Archer had spent plenty of Solstices on his own -- and without the promise of sharing every other holiday on the calendar with someone he loved -- someone who loved him. He knew he was being unreasonable. Even --
“You’re being childish,” Rake had said.
And the conversation had gone from precariously balanced to a headlong plummet into the abyss.
“Is it childish to expect loyalty? Is it childish to expect that I would come first with my-my chosen consort?”
“It’s childish to imagine I would abandon all other alliances and obligations simply because we’re now together.”
“Alliances and obligations to people who are my enemies.”
“Enemies?” Rake had laughed.
The laughter was a grave mistake because Archer already knew he was being foolish. The laughter stung him on the quick, and he had reacted accordingly.
At one point -- the point where Archer had said, “I oppose everything Irregulars stand for. If it was up to me they’d be disbanded and destroyed!” -- Rake’s demon side had shown briefly in red eyes and very sharp incisors. He had ended the conversation, conversation being a polite word for what was now a slanging match, and gone for a walk, slamming the door to the cottage so hard Mikhail Alexandrovich Vrubel’s painting of the demon surrounded by green moths fell from the wall, landing face first in front of the stone fireplace.
An hour later Rake had phoned to say he was in San Francisco and that Archer should expect him back in Saint-Malo when he saw him.
Seven long and lovely months they’d had together, but now it appeared to be over.
A stupid, pointless, useless argument.
Archer was alone again, the thing he dreaded most. And not just for the holidays.
Disconsolately, he wandered through the crowded winter garden inside the Château, investigating the chalet-style stalls of the Christmas market. There were holiday delicacies to sample, handmade toys and old-fashioned ornaments to admire, choirs to listen to. The wet grass glittered, the cobblestones were dark with rain, and the fairy lights gleamed in the bare bones of the trees, like fireflies flickering through an army of skeletons. The scents of wonderful cooking mingled in the frosty air with jovial French voices and music. Much of the music was traditional Breton and French folk songs, but Archer recognized a familiar melody. “Song for a Winter’s Night,“ made popular by Sarah McLachlan during the years he’d lived in Canada. The choir sang in French, but he knew the words and they made his heart ache.
If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
On this winter night with you
He was homesick, that was the trouble. But he not homesick for Canada. Nor any place he had lived in his much-traveled life. No, he was homesick for Rake.
Why had he said such stupid things to Rake? Why had he gone out of his way to make Rake angry? He didn’t even mean most of it. He didn’t agree with some of the aims and some of the tactics of the NATO Irregular Affairs Division, but he knew they were a necessary evil. Not even an evil, really. Nuisance? He didn’t wish any Irregulars harm. He didn’t wish anyone harm. It was just…
Archer walked on through the merry crowd. The Christmas market was packed this night, and so it would continue to Christmas day. He stopped to buy a bag of roasted chestnuts and drink a cup of Christmas coffee. The strong coffee hinted at cinnamon and allspice and cloves and peppercorns, reminding him of Rake’s kisses. You wouldn’t expect a demon to taste so sweet. Sweet and smoky, that the flavor of Rake’s kisses.
Archer’s eyes blurred, his breath catching in his throat as he realized he might never taste Rake’s kisses again. Demons weren’t famous for their steadfast affections, after all. Wasn’t this sudden decision to go see his old comrades proof that Rake was growing bored with sharing Archer’s banishment?
Archer sniffed miserably and walked on past laughing people in folk costumes performing traditional folk dances.
Very pretty and festive in the lantern light. If you liked that kind of thing.
The real festivities, for Archer at least, were outside the walls of the city. Solstice celebrations would be held up and down the coast and on the small island of Grand Bé. There would be bonfires in isolated coves and fields and the Fae would gather to drink and feast before the Procession of Light began. Archer would not attend the festivities. He was not generally welcomed by the local fée. Not because he was half-blood, but because he was an foreigner. A foreigner with an ancient Sumerian demon for a boyfriend. But even if he didn’t attend the feast and the procession, the holiday was still important to him. He had looked forward to spending his first ever Winter Solstice with Rake. It would be the first time he’d belonged to someone, that someone had belonged to him.
But in fact, what was Winter Solstice but a celebration of the shortest day of the year? And the sooner this one -- and all the rest of them without Rake -- were over, the better.
Archer stopped at another stall. It had been a busy day in the shop and he had not found time to eat. He bought galettes, a kind of buckwheat pancake, spread thickly with honey, and washed them down with two beers.
It was starting to rain again. The crowd didn’t seem to mind, but Archer suddenly had no heart for it.
He finished his beer and left the winter garden and the Christmas market, walking back through the narrow cobbled streets. The rain was in his eyes the whole way, blurring his vision.
This was all his own fault for being insecure and jealous and possessive. Of course Rake had no patience for such nonsense. Even if it was typical faerie behavior. Well, the jealousy and possessiveness. The insecurity was all human.
Archer reached the cottage he shared with Rake. He hoped against hope the door would swing open and Rake would be there.
But no. The door was still fastened with its protective wards, and when it opened for Archer, the rooms were dark and cold.
He stood for a moment, struggling to contain all the emotion threatening to tear out of his chest. He was not a child and faeries, despite the cute pictures and YouTube videos, did not cry.
He took off his scarf, his Burberry, and hung them by the door. No point in building a fire or fixing supper. He’d eaten enough at the Christmas market and no fire would warm him now. Instead he went upstairs, undressed, and climbed in the enormous bed he shared with Rake. The green glass beads were draped over the tall headboard post, and he slipped them free and looped them around his neck. They were cool against his hot face, glimmering mysteriously in the darkness and whispering comfortingly to him.
The beads spoke of green things, of soft moss and silky grass and sparkling jade and glittering emeralds and spicy pines and splashing water and hopping frogs and rustling leaves and celadon bowls and smiling waves…
They had done delightfully naughty things with these beads, things that made Archer blush and shiver now as the beads reminded him, reassured him that all was not lost.
When Archer woke a few hours later the room was alight from the gentle glow of dozens of floating will-o’-the-wisps. He blinked sleepily as they drifted down around him, landing on the velvet coverlet and disappearing. He sat up. He was alone but the bedroom door was open and he could see by the way the shadows moved in the hallway that the fireplace downstairs was lit.
Archer threw back the blankets and stumbled downstairs.
A small feast for two had been set out before the blazing fire. There were apple tarts and blackberries and cream, mince pie and little amber cakes that looked exactly like butter and honey cakes from his favorite bakery in Vancouver. Brown bottles of honey ale glistened in the firelight.
“I was beginning to think I would have to jump up and down on the bed to wake you up,” Rake remarked. He sat in front of the fire wearing only a pair of scarlet Paisley silk pajama bottoms. His chest gleamed like bronze in the golden light. His eyes were black and unfathomable.
Archer chuckled uncertainly and wiped the sleep from his eyes. He approached the little feast hesitantly. “I didn’t think I would see you so soon.”
“Disappointed?” Rake was smiling.
Archer shook his head.
“No? You weren’t looking forward to a nice long undisturbed night? A few days peace and quiet?”
It was such a lovely little feast -- and yes, the cakes were the very ones he used to love.
Archer’s eyes filled with tears. Through the blur he saw Rake’s strong face change, grow aghast. “Archer?”
“I thought you weren’t coming back. I thought I’d spoiled it all.”
Rake rose and scooped him up, returning to his place by the fire and cuddling Archer against his broad chest. His eyes glowed red with emotion, his incisors showed very white as he delivered little punishing love bites over Archer‘s throat and shoulders. His silken wings folded protectively, creating a little cocoon for them.
“Not coming back! I said I was coming back!”
“You said I would see you when I saw you.”
“But…then you would be seeing me, right?”
“Maybe a century from now.”
“A century! But it’s only four days till Christmas.”
Archer gave a watery chuckle and wiped his eyes. Rake’s kisses tasted of vanilla tonight. “You’ve been eating cookies.”
“Yes, I have. I brought you some. And Barry Littlechurch sent you those little cakes. He said they were your favorite.”
“You saw Barry?”
“I stopped in to say hello. He’s thinking about coming out here in the summer for a visit.”
“Is he really?”
“Yes. He misses you.”
Archer sighed and rested his head on Rake’s chest listening to the boom of his eight-chambered heart. “I miss him too. Did you have a nice time at your party?”
He felt Rake’s smile. “I did. It was nice seeing old friends. And it was nicer still coming home.”
“I’m sorry I was so bad tempered.”
Rake laughed. “It was pretty frightening.” He kissed Archer and nipped his lip.
“Ouch.” Archer touched his mouth, but there was no blood. Rake never drew blood.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t come back?”
Archer closed his eyes. “I thought you might not.”
The wings folded more closely about him with a heavy rustle. Rake bent his head closer and said softly, “But I’ll always come back. Do you know why?”
Archer opened his eyes. Rake’s eyes glowed red gold into his.
“Because I love you.” Rake teased gently, “Better than stars or water, better than voices of winds that sing, better than any man's fair daughter, or your green glass beads on that silver ring.” He wound the green beads around his fist and drew Archer’s face to his for another kiss. “Happy Solstice, sweeting.”