This morning we have more fiction--this coda for The Darkling Thrush was written by reader-friend Brenda (if you're in my Patreon group or my Goodreads group, you know Brenda, so say hi!) It's her first time contributing to the calendar, and I'm so thrilled to have her!
‘Tis the Season
Septimus Marx, Magister in association with the Societas Magicke, London bureau, was having a crisis. It had been 4 months since he’d almost had to murder his lover to protect humanity, and he hadn’t thought anything could ever be more difficult than that, and truthfully, this wasn’t anything like that, but still… the next few hours were likely going to change his life to a similar extent. And he was terrified.
To all outward appearances though, no one looking at the smartly dressed man walking briskly down St. Markland Street deftly dodging last minute Christmas shoppers, would have known that his insides were in a roiling turmoil.
Snow was beginning to fall, and the sidewalks were starting to become slick, and Marx hoped that Colin would be careful on his way home.
He had a proposition for Colin. One he hoped would appeal to Colin’s keen sense of adventure, but also give them an opportunity to test a true partnership between them. Marx tried diligently to reign in his excitement at the prospect - with only middling success - since there were no assurances here that Colin would see the same potential that Marx did.
And if Colin did accept his proposal, it would come with a significant professional cost for Colin. If he took the path Marx was finally ready to offer, it would be almost impossible for him to go back to the more traditional - and more lucrative - side of the Societas’s advancement track.
Things had worked out astonishingly well for them after the debacle in Scotland. Colin had needed care after his run in with Basil and the surgery he underwent to remove the bullet from his shoulder, and it had seemed natural to everyone that Colin should stay with Marx during his convalescence.
They were colleagues, after all. They had just been through a harrowing ordeal together, successfully mind you, and Marx had ample room, as well as much coveted privacy, in the rooms he occupied not far from Leslie’s Lexicons.
It had been a point of contention between them, however, that Marx had wanted to keep their personal relationship private, particularly from those at work. But Marx knew his reputation, and he didn’t want Colin judged by anything other than his own merits, especially after how that business with Antony had impacted him.
Antony had taken over for Basil. It had been done quietly; they had made no official pronouncement, just made an unofficial explanation that Basil had resigned and relocated to the colonies, and that his duties would transition to Antony. The rumor was that he’d met someone, it was a common enough occurrence, and no one disabused anyone of that idea.
Once Colin had returned to work, he had flourished. The new lessons he qualified for were challenging him and he even made friends among his fellow librivenators. And Marx believed that they had only scratched the surface of what Colin would be capable of with more training and experience.
But therein lies the problem, Marx thought, as he sharply turned the key to his flat and strode into the front hall. He had ideas himself about what he wanted, from Colin and for himself, but would Colin still be happy with what Marx could offer once the world began to open up for him, as Marx knew it eventually would? He would soon find out.
Marx set about laying out a light luncheon for when Colin returned. Marx knew he was working with Magister Clemens today, and the two of them often forgot to eat. Fiona purred at his feet, periodically rubbing her head against his trouser leg to remind him she had performed her duties admirably today and that she deserved a treat. He tossed a bit of ham to her and she delicately picked up her prize and headed off.
Eventually he followed her to the parlour, meaning to check how the weather was progressing, but he found her intently staring at something outside. He settled on the sofa behind her, peering over her shoulder and finally picked out what had captured her attention. A thrush sat on the stair railing leading to their stoop, making a lovely picture as it sang its tune, framed by the flurry of snowflakes falling around it.
Marx picked up Fiona and brought her close, scratching her favorite spot behind her ear, “It’s alright my love, they’re just keeping an eye on us.”
She rubbed under his chin in return and leaped off his lap, heading upstairs no doubt to settle in for the evening in the middle of their bed.
The snow continued to fall. It didn’t seem to be sticking yet, but by the look of the sky it was only a matter of time. It appeared they would indeed have a white Christmas and Marx smiled to himself as he knew how much that would delight Colin.
As if conjured by Marx’s thought, Colin appeared at the corner and made his way to their home. By the time he came through the door, Marx was there to meet him and Colin smiled brightly in greeting as he dumped his overcoat and scarf on the hall chair.
“You won’t believe what happened,” Colin cheeks were flushed with excitement as they often were when he spent time with Clemens. They were two of a kind.
“I have news as well, “Marx said as he absently picked up Colin’s coat and hung it on the coat stand so it would dry, “and something to ask you, but tell me your news first.”
“Antony offered me the sponsorship for the position in Constantinople!”
Marx froze. That was… unsettling. Marx stood there, his body suddenly rigid, but Colin didn’t seem to notice.
Colin squeezed his arm then headed down the hall toward the kitchen, calling behind him as he went, “I must eat first though, before I tell you. I’m famished.”
“Yes, of course,” Marx replied automatically, moving stiffly down the hall after him. “There’s luncheon set out in the kitchen. Come join me in the sitting room when you’re ready, I laid a fire when I came home, so it should be warm in there now.”
Normally he was quite adept at reassessing his strategy on the fly when unforeseen things occurred. Normally he was extremely good at it, but apparently not in this instance.
Antony’s offer was… not entirely surprising. After Colin had published his article on his experience looking for the Faileas a’ Chlaidheimh, he had received quite a bit of celebrity and acclaim, even though significant parts of his adventures were changed or omitted. They had decided that it was best that he publish something, or Irania Briggs might begin to wonder why he didn’t, and the article was also a way of further obscuring what they had eventually done with The Sword’s Shadow.
The position Antony was offering was a prestigious one, and one that would set Colin on a very fast track to promotion. There was no doubt in Marx’s mind that Colin would be an ideal candidate. But it would mean an end to their current arrangement.
As much as the idea hurt, Marx did not in the least begrudge Colin the success he deserved. But Marx had become accustomed to having Colin’s things strewn about his house. In fact he’d been quite surprised at how easy it had been to accommodate Colin’s presence in his previously solitary life.
But Marx knew he had no talent for wooing the way that Antony did, he could only be honest which didn’t always serve him very well with his peers.
“What were you going to ask me?” Colin’s appearance at the doorway startled Marx.
“Oh, it can wait.” Colin came to sit next to him on the couch, the flickering light from the fire brought out the red highlights in his hair, but Marx curbed the urge to touch him.
“No tell me, you were excited when I came in.” Colin’s voice was soft, encouraging. And also stubborn. They had learned a lot about each other over the last several months, and Marx knew Colin would wheedle it out of him eventually anyway. But uncertainty was still singing in his ear.
“Well, it turns out I had a proposition for you as well.”
Colin raised an eyebrow, waiting, but not so patiently now.
“Alyssa called me into her office this morning. Apparently that Unseelie encyclopedia has popped up again and this time the potential danger is much greater. The Seelie Court would very much appreciate the Societas finding it and dealing with the issue. And,” Marx kept his eyes downcast, it might be cowardly, but he didn’t want to watch Colin’s expressive face, if he was going to turn him down outright, “So I was given leave to ask for your assistance in the matter, since your talents would be an enormous help in this endeavor. You wouldn’t have to decide right away, of course. I’d need to explain the ramifications to you, both professionally and personally, and especially in light of Antony’s offer, you’ll need to take time to consider… mmmhhhfff.”
Marx’s carefully chosen words were interrupted by suddenly acquiring a lap full of fairly vibrating senior level librivenator, who appeared to be trying to eat him alive. Marx raised his hands to Colin’s head, threading his fingers through the mass of unruly curls, urging him to gentle the kiss.
Eventually, they both needed to breathe.
As Colin leaned back, he narrowed his eyes, “You bloody fool. You weren’t going to tell me about what Alyssa said after I told you of Antony’s offer, were you.” It was a statement rather than a question.
Marx felt guilt pinch his expression, “Your news did… give me pause. Antony is offering you a tremendous opportunity.”
“What am I going to do with you?” Colin sighed and climbed off Marx’s lap to sit next to him on the couch, pulling off his wet shoes and nestling in close. “I know we haven’t had an opportunity to talk much, especially lately with the increase in my studies, but… you have become very important to me. So important in fact, that I can’t even seem to entertain the idea of not having you in my life. I was flattered by Antony’s offer, but I never considered it for a moment. Because I’d been hoping I could convince you that we should work together. That’s partly what Magister Clemens and I have been working on, figuring out how you and I can both use our talents to collaborate. What you do is vitally important, and I want to help you, but more than that… I love you.” Colin paused, maybe to try and gauge Marx’s reaction, but all Marx could do was stare.
A hint of steel crept into Colin’s voice, “I understand the ramifications of working with the Vox Pessimires, and I understand the ramifications of Antony’s offer. He feels guilty, he’s trying to make amends in his way, but I don’t want it. It’s not what’s important to me. I choose you. And I will choose you every time. But I want people to know that I am yours and you are mine.” The intensity with which Colin spoke staggered Marx.
“I want that too,” Marx said quietly. “I just… needed to make sure that you had a chance to be just yourself for a while, to the others. So you could see how things could be and make an informed choice.”
Colin turned his whole body on the couch to face Marx, “There is no choice at all for me. If these last few months have shown me anything, it’s that our place is together, and I have a very strong feeling,” Colin looked meaningfully into Marx’s eyes, no doubt seeking to remind him of what Colin’s occult test scores had revealed about his Talent, “that it always will be.” Colin leaned in again, this time the kiss was slow and deep, and when Colin had drank his fill of him leaving Marx a bit dazed, Colin pulled him close and spoke softly into his ear, “So, Magister Marx, I accept your proposal. I am at your disposal, is that agreeable to you?”
Marx smiled, he was completely under Colin’s spell now, and he was willingly enthralled, “It is very agreeable, yes.”
With a triumphant gleam in his eyes, Colin sat back and pronounced, “Alright then.”
But Marx could tell there was something else on his mine and he nudged Colin’s shoulder, “Okay, now it’s my turn… spill. You have something else on your mind, what is it?”
“Well, now that that’s settled, I know we agreed not to exchange gifts and really, this is more of a professional tool that might come in handy on our upcoming travels, but…” Colin suddenly seemed to deflate a little becoming uncharacteristically shy. Marx waited and eventually, Colin retrieved a small, flat box from his coat pocket, “I have something for you.”
Marx took the parcel from Colin’s hand and immediately felt the pulse of Old Magicke in his fingertips. Intrigued, he undid the thin twine and lifted the lid. Nestled in delicate cotton wool was a beautiful amulet, vibrant green in color and a design that was very clearly fey in origin.
“Where did you find this?” Marx took it from the box and rolled it between his fingers. It was warm to the touch, it felt alive. And if he concentrated even a little he could feel… connections, threads... that he could follow. He looked at Colin quizzically, realizing he hadn’t answered his question.
Colin hesitated a bit longer then said, “Well, it’s a funny story really. I was looking for protection amulets, something that would… help keep you safe.” He cleared his throat before he continued. Marx was fascinated; especially after the confidence he had shown just moments ago, he had rarely seen Colin at a loss for words. Finally he continued, “And as I was looking, your, um, faery lady friend approached me and, we spoke for a bit. She knew what I was after and told me of a place. This is… there is more to it. She said you would understand and we can talk about it later, but I wanted to give it to you tonight.”
That last words had come out all in a rush and Marx beamed, he hoped what he felt was apparent in his eyes, because he knew exactly what Colin meant about there being more to it. And he truly didn’t mind that the fey had taken an interest in them again, that’s what family did after all.
The artifact was a sort of protective talisman, but there was a great deal else it could do. It allowed a link to form between the giver and the receiver. And it could be especially powerful between two whose magus resonated as symbiotically as theirs did.
“Thank you Colin, this is extraordinary.” This time it was Marx’s turn to lean in, deciding to only lightly brush his lips against Colin’s, because he now had his own admission to make.
Slipping the gold chain around his neck and tucking the amulet under his shirt, Marx reached beneath the pillow behind him and drew out a small package of his own, “I did also forgo my own advice and I got you something as well.” Marx felt his stomach tighten, but especially after the gift that Colin had chosen for him, it felt right and it was something from his heart, so he handed the package over to Colin without regret.
Colin tore the wrapping with enthusiasm, and looked at the book in his hands, turning it this way and that. Marx knew what he would see. A beautifully bound new volume of poems - Marx knew quite a few very talented book binders - freshly pressed with only a single word title on the first page, but no evidence of an author’s name.
“Is this a puzzle?” Colin’s eyes twinkled with interest.
“Of a sort”, Marx tried to smile reassuringly, but he couldn’t be certain how well he pulled it off, or who exactly he was trying to reassure.
“Beloved”, Colin whispered the title to himself, clutched the book to his chest and closed his eyes. Marx watched as his brows slowly rose in wonder, “You wrote these poems…”
“… About me.”
“And you know I can…”
“And you don’t mind…?”
Colin took an unsteady breath, reached out and pulled Marx into a tight embrace, guiding Marx down on top of him as they stretched out beside each other on the couch. Marx felt Colin tremble and pressed a gentle kiss to the soft skin below his ear. Colin wiggled underneath him, maneuvering to intertwine their limbs. Eventually they were linked together almost as one.
Marx wasn’t sure how long they stayed that way, just holding each other. It could have been moments or it could have been hours. The fire still crackled cheerily when they finally sat up and settled back into the cushions, shoulders pressed tightly against each other, but he would definitely need to add another log soon.
“So… where do we begin our search for this wayward tome of yours?” Colin’s voice was still thick with emotion.
Colin turned to him sharply, eyes widened into an expression Marx could only describe as mischievous glee. Oh yes, this was going to be quite the adventure indeed.