SUMMARY: Esca McConnell and his roommate Ciaran Mac Rònan observe the winter solstice, as best one can in a city flat. (Rating is about PG-ish, mainly for swearing.) Modern AU.
RATING: K+ for language.
NOTES: A fill for my own prompt for riventhorn's Tis the Season comment fest, because every day is Fill Your Own Prompt Day in Carmarthenland. To my surprise it came out as a modern AU. I tend to change names in modern AUs to better fit the setting, and of course the Seal Prince has no name in canon anyway.
Thanks to seasight for Scotpicking; if anyone else spots any Americanisms/non-Scottish bits in this, please let me know so I can fix them (I do know Scarborough is not in Scotland!).
I am only posting some of my fanfiction to this site, due to FFN's content restrictions; the rest can be found at archiveofourown DOT org SLASH users SLASH Carmarthen. Also, if anyone here is looking for more Eagle or Eagle of the Ninth fanfiction, ninth-eagle DOT livejournal DOT com is Ninth Eagle, where there is a whole lot of stuff by a whole lot of people.
Come the Day
One of Esca's earliest clear memories was of his dad lifting him up to see the fire better, back when Gran and Grandad still had the farm near Scarborough and winter solstice meant all the aunts and uncles and cousins gathering together to feast and sing and light the fire against the longest night.
He thought he must have been only two or three years old, but when he closed his eyes he could remember the smell of the woodsmoke that had curled into his lungs and made him cough, and the dance of the sparks rising high into the moonlit sky until they burned out and disappeared.
He'd started shivering then, and Dad had swung him down and handed him over to Mum to wrap up in her coat, safe in the warmth of her arms. She'd always smelled like home to him, peppermint soap and clean laundry.
Even after his grandparents had died and the farm was sold, solstice still meant Esca and his brothers going camping with their parents somewhere they could light a fire. It meant the three of them packed together too close in a tent built for two sweaty boys and their winter clothes; the smell of wet wool socks drying by the fire; laughter and shoving and tinned food, the off-key but sincere singing. But for all that it lacked the gravitas of those celebrations when he was a boy, that was when Esca had begun to truly feel the power behind the ritual, to feel that here was a new beginning, a time to put the sorrows and failures of the past behind him and look towards the sun.
This year he didn't have the heart for it. Fionn was backpacking in Mongolia; Conn was at university in America. Esca had thought about joining one of the local pagan groups in their celebration, but the idea just made him think about his parents. He'd never see them over a solstice fire again, never see Dad ruffle Mum's hair, never hear Mum yelling at Fionn and Conn to take their boots off before they tracked mud all over.
"You," his roommate Ciaran said, neatly taking the beer out of his hand and setting it out of reach, "need to stop feeling sorry for yourself." He thrust a notebook and a pen at Esca. "Write them down. All of them."
Esca stared at him blankly, halfway to angry. "And then what? We don't have a fireplace, you wanker. And give me back my beer."
"Not until we're done," Ciaran said. "Write." He leaned over, one hand on each arm of Esca's chair, effectively cornering him. For a short bloke, Ciaran was pretty good at looming.
"Fuck off," Esca said, but he looked at the paper. Maybe it would help. At least it would get Ciaran to leave him alone.
He started with the little things:
Landlord's a wanker.
Underpaid lecturer position.
That curator at the British Museum who keeps denying access to collections.
Half a page later he was out of little things. Well, they weren't all little, but none of them were the thing. The Thing.
He couldn't quite bring himself to write it, not straight out, so finally he just wrote
His parents were—had been—war correspondents.
"I'm done," he told Ciaran, and told himself his voice was only scratchy because his throat was dry. "Happy?"
"Come on, outside." Ciaran grabbed his hand and more or less bodily hauled him outside, where there was a pie tin balanced in the slowly-accumulating snow on the porch railing. It was half-full of crumpled paper—Ciaran's own troubles, Esca supposed. He pulled out a lighter. "Let's set that shit on fire."
So Esca wadded up his sheet of paper loosely and set it in the tin.
"Do you want to do the honors?" Ciaran asked, holding out the lighter, and his voice was oddly gentle. They'd known each other a long time, and this was about as close as Ciaran got to a hug and cry.
Esca watched the paper catch light at the edges, glowing red and blackening. Little flecks of burnt paper flaked away and caught on the sharp winter breeze, sparks dancing up into the sky, and Esca watched them in silence.
It wasn't anything like solstice with his family, but as the paper crisped to ash and the ashes blew away, he felt a little lighter, the tightness in his chest easing. Maybe that was what he needed now, a new beginning.
"You want to wait for sunrise?"
Esca found himself smiling, without thinking about it. It almost hurt: his face felt stiff, unaccustomed to the expression after these last months since he'd answered the phone and known, just from the "Mr McConnell?" that something had happened to his parents. "New beginnings are all very well, Mac Rònan, but if you think I'm going to turn into someone who's awake at dawn, you've gone daft."
Back inside, Esca's hands tingled as blood rushed back into his fingers. He tucked his hands into his armpits. "It's fucking cold out."
Ciaran snorted. "No shit. You going to be all right?"
Esca thought for a minute, remembering the sparks rising up, across the years since he was a little boy sitting on his dad's shoulders, remembering the last time his parents had said goodbye before getting on that plane to Iraq.
"Yeah," he said quietly. "I am."
Not tonight, not tomorrow, but someday the sun would rise and Esca McConnell would be all right.