For the Man Who Has Everything
The loudest sound in the room was that of the fire crackling in the fireplace. There was almost always a fire burning in the Schroider castle at any time from September to April. Despite what generations of renovators had done to try to keep the residence in step with the times by installing insulation and central heating, the castle still had a dismaying tendency to behave like a castle, and turn chilly and damp given even the smallest opening. The coolness was a blessing in summer, but in the depths of December, a fire was a must. This one was burning in Siegfried's private quarters, and the pleasure-loving CEO refused to be cold and uncomfortable at any time. There was enough wood piled in the grate to build a small shed.
The only other sound in the room was the soft clatter of fingers pressing briskly against a keyboard, and occasionally the soft click of a mouse. Siegfried was working. He had been trying to work for most of the day, but people kept pestering him with questions: did he want the presents put under the tree now, or should they wait until tomorrow? What about the arrangements for dinner - why hadn't he approved them yet? He still needed to sign all the gift tags, and had he remembered to send flowers to Great Aunt Clothilde? No? Why not? Didn't he remember what had happened last time he'd neglected his venerable great aunt? If Siegfried hadn't needed his servants to be able to come in and keep the woodpile stocked, he would have locked his door to keep them all out. That, and he hated to bar his own family from his rooms this close to Christmas. It wouldn't have been decent, and it would make Leonhard unhappy. The boy loved Christmas so much that it made Siegfried feel a bit guilty to be playing the Scrooge. Still, it was very late now, and nearly everyone else was sleeping, so perhaps he'd finally be able to get something productive done...
Then there came a new noise, the sound of someone rapping briskly and cheerfully on his door, followed by the soft click of the handle being pressed. There was the faintest rush of air as the door swung open.
"I'm warning you," said Siegfried, "the next person who interrupts me, I will break something over their head."
"Oh, come now," said the new arrival, "you wouldn't hit a man with glasses, would you?"
Siegfried whirled in his chair. "Pegasus!"
Sure enough, Pegasus was leaning casually against the doorframe, waiting to be noticed. He held a pair of wineglasses in one hand, their stems crossed between his fingers, and the other held the neck of a wine bottle.
"You sound so happy to see me," said Pegasus airily. "It makes me wonder why I don't drop in more often."
"What on earth are you doing here? And at this time of night! I wasn't expecting you until sometime tomorrow," said Siegfried, attempting to collect himself. It was true he had extended an invitation to come visit him for the holidays, as Pegasus himself had no family worth mentioning. Siegfried was beginning to wonder if perhaps he should have been more careful to take into account Pegasus's abilities to cause chaos.
Pegasus set his bottle aside to free his hand, and then plucked a pocket watch from an inner pocket and made a show of inspecting it.
"According to my calculations, it will be tomorrow in approximately thirty-five minutes. Consider me early. So, are you going to sit over there and look indignant, or are you going to share some Christmas spirit with me? Because if you won't join me, I won't guarantee I'll save it for later. I've been looking forward to opening this one so long, you're lucky I'm offering to share it with you."
"I'm working, Pegasus," said Siegfried, a little plaintively.
"Yes, yes, I knew you would be," Pegasus replied, dropping casually onto the sofa that was pulled up close to the fire. "Working, at eleven twenty-five, on Christmas eve. In your bathrobe, no less - which is quite becoming, by the way. You should wear it out more often." Pegasus set the glasses and the wine bottle on a convenient end table. He contemplated the cork for a moment. "Do you have anything to open this with?"
Siegfried decided to ignore the remark about the bathrobe; he refused to let Pegasus bait him. Not right now. Besides, he wasn't ashamed of being seen somewhat less than fully clothed. Modesty had never been one of his virtues. Pegasus, on the other hand, was of the sort whose concession to blazing summer weather was to wear short sleeves, and that only when he was safely at home away from prying eyes. It was a fault, to be sure, but one Siegfried had been trying to gently steer him away from. He decided to tackle an easier subject.
"There's a corkscrew in the cabinet over there," he said, waving vaguely at a slightly ominous-looking piece of furniture lurking in a corner.
"You're going to make me get up and get it myself? But I'm comfortable here. Some host you are."
Siegfried sighed tiredly. "I don't see why you find it so hard to hard to understand that I am busy."
"I do find it hard to understand, I'll admit. You make yourself busier than you ought to be. There is no earthly reason why you ought to be busy at this time of night. Not with work, anyway."
"It's Christmas! If I can't sell toys at Christmas, when can I?"
"Exactly my point, dear boy! Do you not think that I don't keep an eye on what my partners are doing? Already you've made three times more this month than you did last holiday season. It is not all going to disappear just because you took your eyes off it for a few minutes. Now, be a good boy, put your toys away, and come over here and join me."
"I will not. You aren't going to tempt me tonight, just because you don't have anything better to do than bother me."
"Well, if you don't want to be sociable, that's fine. I'll just sit here and enjoy my drink and the fire while your people get my room ready, and then I'll leave."
Siegfried turned back to his laptop. Pegasus got up, found the corkscrew, and set about pouring himself a drink. He leaned back in his seat, appreciatively breathed in the bouquet, and began sipping thoughtfully. He made no noise, so it should have been easy to pretend he wasn't there. Siegfried felt his gaze continually drawn back to him. He looked, as always, completely at ease with himself and the world, as if he'd never worried about anything in his life. Siegfried knew him well enough by now to know that this wasn't true, and that he'd only learned to affect that air of unruffled calm after years of experiencing more pain and difficulty than Siegfried ever had. Still, there was a certain calming air about him, something that said that all the troubles of worldly things didn't matter, really, in the long run. Siegfried gave up and turned off his computer. He sat down on the sofa next to Pegasus.
"Well, hello there!" said Pegasus, feigning surprise. "Fancy meeting you here, my dear. What brings you to this far-flung place?"
Siegfried rolled his eyes a little. "You knew I couldn't hold out forever."
"No, you held out for..." Pegasus consulted his watch. "Approximately three and a half minutes. Either I'm getting better or you're more worn out than you appear. Which is it?"
"I wasn't getting anything done anyway," said Siegfried. "Besides, it would be ungracious of me to ignore a guest."
"Now you're thinking sensibly," said Pegasus.
He reached for the bottle and poured a bit of its contents into the waiting wineglass. Siegfried accepted it without thinking much about it. He wasn't quite the connoisseur Pegasus was, but he knew the routine by now, and he'd come to expect that there was going to be a drink or two involved when the two of them were spending any long span of time together. Not that he really minded; his most favored companion had good taste. He took a sip of what was in the glass and was pleasantly surprised.
"This is good!" he exclaimed.
"You were expecting it to be otherwise?" answered Pegasus with a wink. "But I know what you mean. There's a reason I've been saving this for a special occasion."
"You weren't joking when you said I should feel lucky you're sharing with me."
"Only the best for you, dear boy."
Siegfried was quiet a moment, giving the wine the reverence that was its due and enjoying the companionable silence. He gradually relaxed, imperceptibly tilting to one side until he was resting against Pegasus's shoulder. Pegasus draped his arm drape around Siegfried's shoulders, idly toying with one of the short locks that cupped the young man's face. Siegfried smiled, enjoying the feel of fingertips gently brushing his cheek. When his glass was empty, he set it aside, and contented himself with pressing himself against Pegasus's side and enjoying the warmth of the fire and the comfort of a human presence. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He never would have imagined he would love such a basic thing as a human scent until he'd come to know Pegasus. He smelled like comforting, comfortable things: old books and red wine and faint tang of oil paints, and just now, a hint of roses from where some of Siegfried's own scent had rubbed off on him.
Pegasus smelled like all the things he loved.
"So what made you decide to come here so unexpectedly?" Siegfried asked.
"Well, it's like this," said Pegasus. "I found myself thinking that I needed to do something for you for Christmas. So I asked myself, what do you give a man who has everything?"
"So what did you give me?"
"Ah, ah! You're not supposed to get your presents until Christmas morning!" said Pegasus teasingly.
Siegfried gave his best heartrending look. "Please?"
"Keep looking at me like that and you'll get more than you bargained for," said Pegasus slyly. "But as I was saying, I thought about it for some time and decided there are very few things you need that I can give you. So I decided to give you a moment of peace and quiet. Which you have apparently had. Was it acceptable?"
"Quite," said Siegfried. He snuggled contentedly against his partner's side. "Entirely."
"Good." Pegasus began twining his fingers through Siegfried's hair again. "Always glad to know I've made someone happy. It takes some doing to come up to your standards, you know. It's lucky for you I enjoy a challenge."
Siegfried looked up at him, watching the fire cast lights and shadows across his face. From this angle, he could just barely see the place where Pegasus's missing eye should have been. In full daylight, it would have been less than pleasant, but in a room lit only by firelight, it was only visible as a shadowed place. Pegasus didn't talk about it very often, and when Siegfried had asked bluntly what had happened, Pegasus would only say that he had done something foolish, and that this was the result of his foolishness. It had shocked Siegfried, at first, to see it. Part of what had attracted him to Pegasus in the first place was that he was one of the few people in the world who came up to Siegfrieds standards for physical beauty, and seeing any flaw in him at all had been unsettling. It was only after he had managed, through a series of overheard comments and dropped hints, to piece together some of Pegasus's past, that he had begun to see it less as a deformity and more as a burden that he had to bear. It was only an outward sign of something else that had been lost, something more painful than a physical wound.
"Sometimes I'm surprised I come up to yours," he answered candidly.
"You mean, because you aren't her? It surprises me too, at times," answered Pegasus. "You've heard it all before, of course, in the movies and books and things – the old spiel that goes, 'She was the light of my life, and now that she is gone, my world is dark.' That's how I saw her: bright and innocent as spring sunlight. Perfect."
He gazed dreamily into the fire, and Siegfried felt his previously romantic mood turning sour. He'd always considered it the height of bad taste to ask how he stacked up to Pegasus's first lover, and he didn't much care for the idea now.
"But you see," Pegasus continued, "I'm not perfect, or innocent. Maybe I was when I was younger, but not any more. I think that even if I could bring her back with a wish, I wouldn't, because I'm not who I was before. You suit me as I am now. If she was the sunlight that held back the darkness, then you are... like firelight. More dangerous than sunlight, perhaps, but see! It holds back the darkness, and even the shadows are rose-tinted." He turned to smile at Siegfried. "Some might call it evidence of a dangerously twisted mind, but for myself, I choose the fire and the night."
Siegfried was silent for a moment. It would have been dreadfully maudlin to say, That was the most beautiful thing anyone's ever said to me, and he had more class than that. He settled for expressing himself nonverbally, and soon the two were locked in a kiss heated enough to rival the fire.
It took some time before they separated again, so perhaps it was only natural that when Siegfried finally spoke, what he said was, "What time does that watch of yours tell you it is?"
Looking slightly puzzled, but always willing to go along with an erratic line of thought, Pegasus dutifully fished out his pocket-watch.
"Five minutes to midnight. Why?"
"My mother always told me that Santa Claus wouldn't arrive unless I was asleep by midnight," he replied.
"Is that a fact? Mine used to tell me much the same story," Pegasus replied. "I suppose it must be true."
"In that case, I suggest we both should be thinking of heading in that direction."
Pegasus smiled. "Indeed we should."
The servants of the Schroider house were used to their young master's rules, one of the most ironbound being that no harm should ever come to Siegfried's clothing. Nothing was ever simply wadded up and tossed down a laundry chute. Everything was hung carefully back on its rack, or folded neatly and tucked in a drawer, and even the things waiting to be washed were treated delicately. Siegfried had never simply tossed anything into a hamper, much less over the back of a chair. Therefore, when his servants arrived to awaken him for the Yuletide festivities, they were surprised to see various articles of clothing and one fur-lined angora bathrobe lying on his bedroom floor.
Almost as surprised, in fact, as they were when they saw what was in his bed.