Under the mistletoe

I neither own the Coldfire Trilogy nor ‚Amazing Grace', one of my all-time-favourite songs. Wish you a merry Christmas season!

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Damien sighed wistfully into his glass of stout, once again pondering the revelations that had been sprung upon him on Black Ridge Pass a few months ago. For a moment he had believed that spoiled black-haired brat, had believed because he had wanted to believe with all his heart that the ridiculous fairy tale told by the pretty youth contained at least a small grain of truth. But right now he wasn't so sure anymore. Only God knew who the stranger actually was, but certainly not Gerald Tarrant. No, Gerald was dead, he had to come to terms with that painful truth and find a life again, something his deceased friend against all odds would certainly expect from him.

Damien closed his burning eyes and tried to pull himself together. Tears came so easily to him the last few months, another change that had been wrought by the strange events that had forever closed the path to his old life. Sometimes Vryce wondered if his whole life nowadays solely consisted of mourning and regretting the grave mistakes he had made, the worst of them most certainly deserting Gerald in the bowels of the Hunter's keep. Up to his dying day Damien wouldn't be able to forget the dead, empty eyes staring at him in wordless accusation, a memory that haunted him in his waking hours and in his fitful sleep alike.

Shivering in spite of the heat of the blazing fire Damien downed another large swig of his beverage. Try as he might he couldn't get warm these days, and sometimes Vryce wondered if ice water instead of warm, living blood was running in his veins, a ridiculous shortcoming for a man who had battled deadly snowstorms beyond the limits of human imagination. He was pushing his forties now and his hair was greying rapidly, a jarring nuisance that made the former priest feel even more like an old dodderer. After Tarrant's meaningless death and the loss of his vocation not much had remained of the vigorous, faithful warrior knight he had once been, and he was still drifting aimlessly, coping by means of an odd job or two if his money got scarce.

The merry customers of the ThreeHorseshoes erupted into another cheerful yuletide song while heavy plates with steaming meat and spirits were served by overworked, sweating barmaids. Apparently not all ancient Earth customs had been forgotten, and in the wake of the taming of the fae they were regaining ground. The dae's common room was festively decorated with garlands of evergreens and wooden bowls containing nuts and fruits, and the rich, spicy smell of mulled wine was thick in the air. Some well-meaning soul had even hung an Ernan substitute for good old Earth's famous mistletoe above the door, and if his heart wouldn't have been so heavy Damien might have smiled about the blushing, giggling and kissing that took place under the much too innocent looking devious little plant.

Obviously the 'mistletoe' hadn't lost any of the matchmaking proficiency it had once supposedly possessed on their home planet, and Vryce didn't doubt that unlike him most of the inebriated guests would spend the freezing night in a warm bed and an even warmer embrace. The thought was surprisingly painful, and his chest constricted around the forlorn scream he'd been fighting down for months now, along with a tangled knot of feelings he didn't dare to explore too closely.

At the limits of his endurance Damien got up to pay his bill at the bar, desperate for some solitude. Self sufficient by nature he'd never felt as alone before, but annoyingly the feeling of loneliness and alienation from human society was even stronger when he tried to mix with a crowd. The wrong company, Vryce, an irritating and rather insistent voice whispered inside his head. Why don't you just admit that you miss that vulking, arrogant bastard much more than it's good for you? But it was too late to sort out his feelings, too late for declarations or endearments. The one thing left for him was to pray for the redemption of his companion's immortal soul and for God's forgiveness.

A smaller man might have waited till doomsday to clear a path through the bustling crowd yelling for drinks and snacks, but his warrior built and the sword hanging at his side were clearly an advantage, although Damien was very well aware that he had lost a lot of his bulk over the last months. Nagging remorse and sorrow weren't a great appetizer, after all…

When Vryce had at long last gotten his change he headed for the door, too deeply lost in thought to realize that it had already been pushed open from the outside. Before he could stop himself Damien bumped right into the newcomer who entered the dae along with an icy gust of wind. Instinctively the stranger gripped his shoulders, and when his snow-covered hood was pushed back by the impact Damien couldn't help but gasp in surprise, for once at the loss of words.

Eyes as dark as the freezing winter night were staring up at him, wide with shock, and the young, olive-skinned face framed by black hair was still as pretty as Damien remembered it from Black Ridge Pass. A stab in the guts with a red hot dagger couldn't have been more painful, and for a moment Damien had to close his eyes to get a grip on himself.

Damien? Ever so carefully a presence touched his mind, utterly familiar and yet so different that Vryce could barely grasp what was happening. Faint remnants of darkness were still lurking in the hidden recesses of the ancient soul linked with his own by a bond that had been forged in hatred and revulsion, but had changed over time to deep-rooted caring and affection.

Darkness, yes, but none of the vile, repulsive corruption Damien had learned to associate with the Hunter. Instead of the usual inhuman, icy chill their special bond revealed stark panic, mixed with a small flicker of hope and, to Damien's amazement, a desperate longing that matched his own.

The wild surge of relief welling up inside him very nearly swept Damien off his feet, and slender hands were closing more tightly around his shoulders to steady him. Gerald? However improbable the youth had to be Gerald, the reactivated link left no doubt about it. Maybe he should have taken into consideration that Tarrant usually had an ace or two up his sleeve and had dragged his cunning butt out of more than one tight spot in his long existence.

"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; 'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home."

Apparently the atmosphere inside the dae had changed from cheery frolicking to a more contemplative mood, and hearing the words of that old, powerful Earth song, praising God's mercy on a wretched sinner, the barrier inside Damien that had somehow shielded him from the true reason for his despair crumbled into dust. He pulled the adept into a tight embrace and sobbed into the black strands as if his heart was breaking.

Gerald froze in his arms, his breath catching in his throat, and for a split second Vryce wondered if he had just made the most foolish mistake in his whole life. Then Gerald yielded with a small, resigned sigh, his breath puffing warmly against Damien's wet cheeks, and returned the hug gingerly, like an uncat testing the waters with one tentative paw. Damien smiled through his tears.

"Stop crying, Damien. Please." That was so unusual that Damien pulled himself together and dared a glance at Gerald's face. The adept looked distinctly touched, an expression Vryce had never before witnessed on him, and although the single drop on his right cheek might as well have been the last remains of a melting snow flake his eyes shone strangely in the candlelight, ablaze with emotions that made Damien's heart leap with joy. Maybe, just maybe…

Gerald's eyes darted upwards and then back to Vryce's face, and by now they contained a very familiar trace of sardonical humour. Following his glance Damien realized that they were standing right under the 'mistletoe', whatever its Ernan true name. He'd never been good at botanic, and Damien had no intention of delving into that matter any further. Especially not at that precious moment when he was much to busy registering how the firelight caught in Gerald's hair and how the black eyes sparkled with joy and no small amount of mischief.

"Don't you think it's about time for us to honour a dignified Earth tradition, Vryce?"

"'Just so', somebody I knew well would have said", Damien murmured huskily. "I've always been a traditional guy."

If Gerald had a fitting retort in mind it was forever lost, his mouth sealed with a passionate kiss that seemed to last for a small eternity. Somewhere in the process Damien heard some bells ringing and wondered dimly whether it was already midnight or the bells were just a side effect of lack of oxygen combined with a bad case of hormonal overkill, but all in all he couldn't have cared less.

At long last they separated and regarded each other solemnly, well aware that a new link had been formed that Yuletide evening, a link between hearts, sealed not with blood this time but with desire and love. Hand in hand they stepped out into the cold winter night and a new beginning.