When Jean-Pierre came home the next day, having finally finished the last of his exams, neither Aimé nor Asmodeus were there to greet him home. The fire was built and ready, but not lit, and Jean-Pierre could see that Asmodeus had evidently unpacked his already impeccably wrapped gifts, because each of them was neatly stacked in the corner of the room, all of them wrapped up in pieces of coloured, patterned silk and ribbon that Jean-Pierre would take for his sewing pile, if no one wanted theirs.
He knew that Asmodeus always did the same thing, went to the haberdasher’s and picked out nice pieces of patterned silk that would do for lining or little cushions, and Jean-Pierre reached out and stroked his fingers over a black silk with white spots, and read the carefully appointed tag, which read in Asmodeus’ perfect handwriting, To Bedelia, with love, from Asmodeus.
Moving through the living room, he opened the fridge, and saw fruit already chopped ready for him, the plate enchanted instead of covered with clingfilm as Colm did, and although Jean-Pierre was aware it had likely been Asmodeus’ idea, he could see from the way the fruit was cut clumsily in places that it had been Aimé who had prepared it.
He didn’t like it when the house was empty.
It made him feel sick to his stomach and very alone, as though the house were hollow and he were hollow also, and when he looked to the kitchen window and saw that Asmodeus was outside, sitting back in a chair and reading his book, as Aimé worked in the greenhouse, a desperate relief flooded through him.
Keeping his coat on, although he resented having to go outside at all, Jean-Pierre stepped through the porch and into the garden, and Asmodeus reached back for him, taking his hand in his own as soon as Jean-Pierre put his hand out. Asmodeus’ skin was warm, and he wrapped his fingers gently around Jean’s, squeezing slightly.
“There’s a meal for you in the fridge,” Asmodeus said lightly.
“I saw,” said Jean-Pierre. “Thank you. I thought you weren’t here.”
“We went to the allotment already today,” Asmodeus said, marking his page and setting his book down on the patio table, stroking his thumb over the back of Jean-Pierre’s hand as he tugged his reading glasses down his nose and looked up at Jean-Pierre’s face. “Colm texted Aimé a list of everything he needed done – I didn’t realise how much Colm had diversified his crop. He didn’t do anything nearly so complex in Texas.”
Jean-Pierre looked out at Aimé, who had his headphones in, and was bobbing his head as he misted the plants in the greenhouse, lost in the focus of his task. Aimé liked outside labour, although Jean-Pierre imagined he preferred the warm air of a French vineyard to today’s wet freeze, and although he disliked Colm asking Aimé to do his work for him, when by all rights Aimé’s time was Jean-Pierre’s to requisition, if not his own, it pleased him that Aimé should be satisfied.
“He was somewhat nervous of the cellar crop,” Asmodeus said.
Jean-Pierre felt himself frown slightly. “The cannabis?”
“The cannabis,” Asmodeus said, “but the cacti, too, and he didn’t know what to do with Colm’s mushrooms, either, the ones in his bedroom or the ones he’s been growing on his land. But he learns quickly, as you know.”
“Is Colm in Berlin?” Jean-Pierre asked tightly. He felt tired, but not tired enough that he might go to bed, and his stomach gave an uncomfortable growl that might have been hunger or anxiety.
“He touched down early this morning,” Asmodeus answered, with a neat nod of his head. “He’s staying with Gunther and his wife – by all accounts, Gunther isn’t very pleased with his sister’s actions either, but he doesn’t have the money to step in, and nor do they have the space to invite Heidemarie to live with them. It’s not only an issue of money, of course – Heidi has savings, she has her own money, she could no doubt rent somewhere decent enough for herself, but she’d need to hire assistance, a carer, or have Gunther or one of the grandchildren visit every day, and Heidi’s incredibly like Colm. She doesn’t like to ask for help if she can avoid it.”
“She called Colm.”
“That’s different, he’s her daddy. You know this.” There was a sternness in Asmodeus’ tone, a sort of commanding hardness, and Jean-Pierre dragged his hand out of Asmodeus’ grip, crossing his arms over his chest and folding his hands under his armpits so that they weren’t quite so cold.
His chest felt twisted and hot, and he grit his teeth together, crossing his arms more tightly across his chest, but something in him softened when Aimé, dressed in jeans and a jacket that today were stained with mud as well as paint, stepped out of the greenhouse, saw Jean-Pierre, and smiled.
“Hi, ange,” Aimé said, wiping his hands off as he stepped closer. “How were your exams?”
“Good,” Jean-Pierre said shortly.
Aimé raised his eyebrows. “What’s with the sourpuss?”
“Yes, Jean,” Asmodeus said pointedly, leaning back in his seat and folding his hands over his belly as he looked up at him, his eyebrows raising. “What’s wrong?” Asmodeus’ tone was entirely innocent, but Jean-Pierre could hear the trace of mockery in it, and it didn’t matter that De was only teasing.
“We don’t have a Christmas tree,” Jean-Pierre said sharply. “Colm was going to get one from his friend and he hasn’t and now he’s in Berlin and we don’t have one, and Christmas is going to be ruined because we’ll just have to go without!” It all rushed out of him at once, more loudly than he meant for it to, and Aimé leaned back in surprise, but almost immediately afterward, he reached for Jean-Pierre, touching one hand against the side of his shoulder.
“Okay,” Aimé said soothingly. “Well, Colm said he was going to get one, right, that he’d already organised to get one? Where from?”
“I don’t know,” Jean-Pierre snapped, hearing the crack in his voice and hating himself for it, his skin feeling incredibly hot under his clothes, his hands clenched almost into fists, his fingernails digging crescents into his palms. “He just said he had organised to get one, but he’s done this on purpose, just abandoned it because he never wants a tree in the first place—”
“Now, that’s not true, is it?” Aimé asked. “Because he said he’d organised to get one, and you know it’s not on purpose, Jean, but—”
“He’s done it on purpose,” Jean-Pierre said, more loudly this time, so loudly his ears hurt.
“Jean,” Aimé said, as though Jean-Pierre were being unreasonable, and he knew he was being unreasonable, he knew it, but he couldn’t stop, could feel his blood boiling in his veins and threatening to tip over, threatening to well up within him and make him burst. “Jean, how many decades did you go before they were a thing without having a Christmas tree at all?”
Jean-Pierre’s answering sob caught him by surprise himself, and Aimé crumpled immediately, looking at Jean-Pierre in absolute horror.
“Oh, Jean, sweetheart, come—”
“Jean,” Asmodeus said as he stood to his feet, and he grasped Jean-Pierre by the shoulders and dragged Jean-Pierre to face him. Jean-Pierre looked down at the grass, knowing he was going to be scolded, but Asmodeus pressed his fingers up underneath Jean-Pierre’s chin and forced his gaze up even as Jean-Pierre tried to keep himself from crying. “It’s alright,” Asmodeus murmured, dragging his thumb over the wet corner of one of Jean-Pierre’s eyes. “We’re going to text Colm and ask where he’s getting the tree from.”
“And if he doesn’t answer,” Asmodeus said smoothly, “we’ll pick up an artificial tree. And we’ll only have it until the 19th when Colm comes back, and it will be a placeholder.”
“And if all the nice ones are sold, we’ll get a smaller one.”
“And if we can’t get a tree at all, we’ll all have Christmas at Pádraic and Bedelia’s.”
Jean-Pierre bit the inside of his lower lip, looking at Asmodeus’ distantly understanding expression, and then he nodded, although he couldn’t stop crying, and Asmodeus took a handkerchief out of his breast pocket, wiping his face.
“Calm?” Asmodeus asked softly. “The world isn’t ending?”
Jean-Pierre shook his head.
“Good,” Asmodeus murmured. “Eat something, Jean, that you’re hungry is making you more upset.” He gently cupped the side of Jean-Pierre’s cheek, and tapped his thumb against the bone. “Aimé and I have a quick errand to run and then we can all sit down together, if you’d like to watch something.”
“You’re going out?” Jean-Pierre asked, looking between the two of them. “But I just got home—”
“Just a few minutes,” Asmodeus said briskly, drawing away from him, and Jean-Pierre’s stomach did an anxious flip.
“Aimé—” Jean-Pierre said imploringly, and Aimé hesitated, his mouth half-open, but Asmodeus clucked his tongue.
“I need Aimé’s hands,” Asmodeus said shortly, leading the way into the house. “We’ll be quick, Jean.”
“I can come—”
“Eat,” Asmodeus called over his shoulder, and Jean-Pierre looked desperately to Aimé, who was looking between the two of them with anxiety writ on his ugly features.
“We’ll be quick,” Aimé repeated, glancing after Asmodeus, and he brushed his lips quickly over Jean-Pierre’s before rushing after Asmodeus.
Jean-Pierre wrapped his coat more tightly around himself, and picked up Asmodeus’ book, taking it and himself inside. Miserably, he opened the fridge to pick out his plate, but as the door shut behind Asmodeus and Aimé, he heard a familiar “mrow” of greeting, and looked to Peadar as he toddled in, his thick tail straight up in the air.
“Hello, Peadar,” Jean-Pierre said, unable not to smile despite his tear-sticky cheeks, and when he sank onto the sofa beside the fire, which Aimé had evidently lit for him on the way out, Peadar hopped up to sit beside him.
* * *
“What do you need me for?” Aimé asked as he pulled the seatbelt across his chest, leaning back in the seat as Asmodeus fiddled with the car seat, adjusting it for a man of his height instead of Colm’s much lower one. “Where are we going?”
“Oh, to get the Christmas tree,” Asmodeus said. “I meant to get it before Jean came home, but you were enjoying yourself, taking your time in the greenhouse, and I didn’t want to interrupt.”
Aimé turned to stare at him. “The Christmas tree?” he repeated.
“Yes, Colm’s getting it from a fae couple who grow them – they grow a wide variety of them, actually, including singing pines, and they also sell boxes of pixies. One has to feed them, of course, but they’re remarkably good for the garden, and I thought—”
“Shut the fuck up about the garden,” Aimé said sharply, cutting through the bullshit before Asmodeus could keep talking. “Explain what you just did. We just left your brother, crying—”
“My brother is fine,” Asmodeus said crisply, as he adjusted the rear view mirror, and gave Aimé a serious look over his glasses. “He wasn’t upset about the tree – he’s upset because Colm has gone to Berlin unexpectedly, because he’s tired, and because he hasn’t eaten for a great many hours, because he was always anxious and forgets to eat when he has exams.”
“So?” Aimé asked. “If you’d just said about the tree—”
Asmodeus shook his head as he reversed the car onto the road. “If I had told him the tree was sorted out, he would have felt unfairly scrutinised, like I was trying to discount his feelings, and then he would have pivoted to something else – he’d say he was upset that I had let him worry about the tree, or that you were concentrating on the garden instead of him. For now, he’s eating something, he has Peadar to keep him company, and the tree will be a nice surprise.”
Asmodeus was an exceedingly precise driver. Where Colm was a ridiculously good driver, did a lot of stuff easily, could take the car through surprisingly narrow gaps and could even reverse and slalom through things at speed, Asmodeus did things with a sort of frightening accuracy, all of his turns occurring at perfect angles, his stopping distances all textbook-correct.
“It isn’t that you shouldn’t comfort my brother when he’s upset,” Asmodeus said evenly. “But there are times when he needs to cry or let out his anger or, in your case, fuck it out, and then there are times when it needs to be neatly nipped in the bud before he can spiral further. He’ll be alright once we’re back, even before he sees the tree. He’s anxious about being on his own, but he’ll be complaining about all the people in his house within the week, I bet. He’s tender at the moment.”
“’Cause of Heidemarie?”
“Jean-Pierre doesn’t like the idea that someone might matter to myself or to Colm more than he does,” Asmodeus said, and Aimé leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest and looking out at the road. “He’s jealous – he’s possessive. This doesn’t extend only to yourself.”
“She’s his daughter.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Asmodeus murmured, with a rueful smile, but the smile faded from his face then, and he exhaled. “Don’t mention to this to Jean, but it is possible than in the new year, Colm will make the move to Germany, or that Heidemarie will come to Ireland.”
“She shouldn’t have to be in a home if she doesn’t want to,” Aimé murmured. He tried to imagine Mémé, old enough to need that kind of help all the time, and being forced into a home, and the idea made him stick to his stomach. “Did they seriously do that on purpose? Get her house so they could force her into a home?”
“I doubt that was their train of thought,” Asmodeus said softly. “At the time, I expect what concerned them was that she was an old woman alone in a fairly big house, three bedrooms, two storeys. They checked in on her fairly often, of course, but once her arthritis began to get worse and she was considering a motorised chair to help her up and down the stairs, and she needed to have the bathroom refitted, and so on. And it’s far worse now, far more advanced. They were worried that she’d slip and hurt herself, or fall down the stairs, and she was worried about that too. Whereas living with her daughter, she could still have her own space, but without any unnecessary stairs, and she could be close to them. And if they were going to take the old house, they might as well rent it out – and it would be easier tax-wise to have the house in their name.”
“Bullshit,” muttered Aimé.
He thought about the young woman beaming out of Colm’s photos, often with a knife or a wrench in her hands, oil streaked on her face, and invariably with a much smaller, mousy man beside her, looking at her with visible adoration in his eyes. That had been her type, Colm had said. She’d gotten married to her first husband while wearing dungarees.
“Yes, Colm said so at the time,” Asmodeus murmured. “She did resist at first, but they rather badgered about it over the course of a few months, I think. And now… Gunther and his wife, Frances, they genuinely don’t have the time. They’re in their late fifties and they work full time even now, and I don’t know about any of her grandchildren. Quite a few of them live abroad, or are still in university, or they work fulltime themselves, you know. Colm asked me if I could loan him some money, one way or the other.”
“Loan him?” Aimé repeated. “He’s got a lot of his own money, doesn’t he?”
“Mmm, but not his own bank accounts. He pays for everything in cash, and does a lot of things under the table if he can, but he’d want to have a proper bungalow for them, and other things, too. There’s a reason that I typically set up the house for them and purchase the land they want. Colm hates all the paperwork and bureaucracy, and Jean-Pierre is perfectly capable of doing it himself, but…” Asmodeus sighed. “How do I put this nicely?”
“He picks the house just for him?”
“Oh, no, it isn’t that,” Asmodeus said. “When he’s working, he isn’t home all that much – no, Jean-Pierre very much does see the house as Colm’s domain. But Colm gets annoyed with him – he’ll berate Jean-Pierre for making the wrong choice, the wrong area, the wrong sort of house, or paying too much, or not knowing enough about the house, and then Jean-Pierre gets upset because he tried his best and Colm is being ungrateful, and then they start breaking each other’s bones.” Asmodeus said all this in such long-suffering tones that Aimé couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s easier if I do it.”
“I bet,” Aimé murmured. “I didn’t realise they could fight like that. Scared the shit out of me last night – I’ve seen Jean go crazy like that, but I’ve never seen Colm match him for it.”
“All brothers fight,” Asmodeus said. “Unfortunately, mine can do a great deal more non-lethal damage to one another than human brothers do to theirs. And Jean-Pierre makes up for being more fragile by being twice as vicious.”
“He said they weren’t always like that,” Aimé murmured, thinking of the way Jean-Pierre had talked last night, holding Peadar to him. “That Colm used to be way angrier, and Jean used to pussy out of fights.”
“I wouldn’t phrase it precisely like that,” said Asmodeus, with a low, resonant chuckle. “But yes, they used to be quite different. Jean-Pierre was never meek, but he used to run out of options once he found his opponent couldn’t be soothed with words or sex. When he learned how to wield a knife, he became something of a force to be reckoned with.”
Aimé was quiet for a second or two, one part of that catching in his mind, turning over and over again, and he drummed his fingers against the top of his knee. He opened his mouth, but then he hesitated, looking to Asmodeus’ face, which was as neutral and unrevealing as he ever was.
“Colm calls him a slut a lot,” said Aimé. “Jean.”
“We’re all sluts in Colm’s eyes,” Asmodeus said, with a shrug of his shoulders, and although there was nothing revealed in his face, no hesitation in his voice, Aimé could hear the hidden catch.
“Not like Jean is,” Aimé said.
Asmodeus’ nostrils flared as he inhaled, but it was a subtle movement, something that Aimé probably wouldn’t have noticed, if not for the fact they were sat right next to each other.
“And Jean said Myrddin raped him. When he was in prison.”
They stopped at a traffic light, and Asmodeus glanced at him, his eyebrows furrowing just slightly. “He called it that?” he asked.
“No,” Aimé said, although the distinction made something pull and catch in the base of his gut. “No, I did. He just said Myrddin fucked him.”
“Hm,” Asmodeus hummed as he watched the light change to amber. His hands were on the wheel at a perfect ten and two – Colm changed his hands position a lot, but usually kept his at the lower half of the wheel instead of the top half.
“He uses sex,” Aimé said. “To get— get what he wants. Right?”
“Right,” Asmodeus said.
“But— so before he knew how to fight, he’d just…?”
“Sex has always been a useful currency, in Jean-Pierre’s eyes,” Asmodeus said musingly, but there was an edge of concern in his voice, Aimé thought. “He enjoys having sex, of course, but I think, for him, there’s almost something more appealing in being desired than being had – and he very much enjoys when someone desires him and dislikes that they do.”
Aimé thought of the mostly-straight guy in Jean-Pierre’s choral society, and felt abruptly uncomfortable, dragging his thumb loosely over his lower lip, scratching at the chapped skin there – it wasn’t as chapped as it had used to be, although whether it was from kissing Jean’s glossed lips or just that he was eating and drinking better these days, he didn’t know.
“He isn’t a baby, Aimé,” Asmodeus said. “He doesn’t need you to decide for him what sex is healthy and what isn’t – he makes his own choices.”
“Isn’t that a shitty thing to do?” Aimé asked. “Take advantage of him being traumatised?”
“Jean-Pierre was free with his body long before any trauma he experienced,” Asmodeus said bluntly. “With Jules, with other men, even a few women, when he was still working out what it was he liked. And if you would forgive me for stating the obvious, Aimé, we’re all traumatised in our house. If you make a habit of avoiding anything that might be connected to our trauma, you’ll not be able to walk from one room to the next.”
“All of us?” asked Aimé.
“All of us.”
“What kind of trauma are you carrying around? Got fondled by a priest?”
Asmodeus laughed. It was a deeply exciting but chilling sound, one that made Aimé shudder as he felt it rumble uncomfortably in his own rib cage, like a heavy bass at a rave. “Not exactly,” Asmodeus said.
“You seem well-adjusted compared to the rest of us.”
“Do I? Very kind of you to say.”
For a little while, they drove in silence.
“Would he freak out? If I was possessive?”
“No,” Asmodeus said. “But if you were, I expect he’d fuck other people to spite you. My brother both craves and resents that other people might control him – Manolis used to be incredibly possessive, would be furious when people flirted with Jean-Pierre even if Jean started it, even if it were Jean flirting just to access something, or to distract. But Jean-Pierre only escalated – he’d make sure Manolis caught him mid-kiss, mid-seduction, mid-fuck. And Manolis was hot tempered and a little dim – he never learned that Jean was only provoking him for the reaction he got.”
“Benoit didn’t mind,” Asmodeus said. “He was a very gentle man – he was easy-going, and it didn’t bother him one way or the other what Jean did. He had a very liberal view of relationships that didn’t really include monogamy – he thought to be jealous would be to encroach on Jean-Pierre’s liberty. I think it frustrated Jean a little bit, truth be told, that Benoit so respected him, at times.” This was said with a rueful smile and a huff of laughter. “Bui would be catty, sarcastic, but I think a part of him was excited by it, too. He wasn’t a passionate cuckold so much as a glutton for punishment. Farhad never knew that Jean slept with other people, or if he did, he never let on. With Rupert, he… Well. He didn’t sleep with other men, those years – he was a little frightened to be alone in a room with unfamiliar people for a while.”
“And Jules?” asked Aimé.
“Oh, Jules,” Asmodeus said softly. “He liked to encourage Jean to try new things, to broaden his horizons, and after one threesome, Jean-Pierre wanted a few thousand more. They explored a lot, in those times – I remember the first time Jean-Pierre told me about it, with a sort of… Brilliant innocence. “Two at once, Asmodeus, can you imagine it?” he asked me. Different indeed to the version of my brother you witnessed at Doros’ orgy this Halloween.”
“Colm told you about that?”
“Doros did,” Asmodeus said. “Our paths crossed some weeks before I saw you in Grenoble.”
“You know every angel on earth?”
“How many are there?”
“Twenty-three thousand, eight hundred and thirty six,” answered Asmodeus, without hesitation. “They used to fall less regularly, but these days we typically see two to four falls per year. This year, four. Next year, two. Six-hundred and seventeen angels have died, since the Great Fall.”
“And you just… you go around and pick them up and help them fill out their new birth certificates?”
“Ideally,” Asmodeus said. “Not every angel adjusts to their Fall as well as George did – as well as Colm and Jean and Benedictine did. Winged angels typically have it easiest, actually, although don’t say that to Jean-Pierre, because he’ll be unbearable about it.” Asmodeus spoke softly, thoughtfully, and although his face was as blank as ever, his voice was quiet and had a lot of feeling in it. Tenderness, Aimé thought. “But when Raphael Fell he couldn’t contain his cleansing fire – he didn’t just smoke but burned, was a walking pyre. I couldn’t get there in time – he burned out his eyes. Other angels have Fallen and not fit into their skins, have burst out of them, have been consumed with agony and not known how to set themselves right; others have Fallen into crowds and like Jean-Pierre at times, have been so overwhelmed by the power of the feelings and emotions of those around them that they have all but come undone. Many angels command or channel some form of magic, but when first they Fall are overfull with it – they crackle and hum like livewires, or drown in the water they would conjure.”
“I’m sorry,” Aimé said, not knowing what else to say.
“Birth, for humans, is an exceedingly messy ordeal,” Asmodeus said softly. “But they don’t remember it. Angels remember their Falls, and creatures whose first recollection is agony expect more agony. I wouldn’t have that for my siblings, so much as it could be avoided. The Fall is pain enough.”
Once more, it wasn’t so much as a falter in what Asmodeus had said, or any kind of emotional reveal, but just the absence of something.
“Did it hurt for you?” Aimé asked.
“I think that it will,” said Asmodeus. “This is the place.”
The air thrummed with magic, smelled sweetly of pine even though the windows were closed, and as they looked out over the rows of pine trees potted ready to go, Aimé saw the soft glows of pixies as they flowed freely through the air, like coloured balls of light.
“Aren’t they— sentient? Pixies?”
“Oh, yes,” said Asmodeus. “Although they have their own language – I think it might be pitched a little too high for your ears. Like mouse squeaks.”
“So you’re saying we should buy a jar of sentient little people as Christmas decorations?” Aimé asked, and Asmodeus huffed out a laugh.
“With how magical households are scattered amongst mundie ones these days, rather than being concentrated in communities, it’s often a useful way to self-propagate,” Asmodeus explained. “If they come to a household and don’t like it, they just leave. They usually have a contract with the fae selling them to check on them a certain amount of time after their sale, to ensure they aren’t unduly trapped or constrained in their buyer’s home, to ensure they’re satisfied with the arrangement. They’re tremendous pollinators, which is why I suggested them, but people often buy them for their children – they create lovely lights shows, and so long as food is available, they take very little active care. They’re often quite happy to pass themselves off as pets – it means a good deal of free, unconstrained territory away from other pixies and small fae, a regular food source, even free entertainment.”
“That’s fucking weird,” said Aimé. “Why do fae always do shit like this?”
Asmodeus laughed, and patted his shoulder. “When humans remark to me the inscrutability of fae cultures, it is ever my instinct to remind them of the reverse. Come on. I’ll heft the tree onto the car – you pin it to the roof rack. The ties are in the boot.”
“Gotcha,” said Aimé, and got out of the car.
As Asmodeus was paying the woman, Aimé put out his hand, and one of the Bokeh balls of colour landed on the tips of his fingers. He had to lean in and squint a little to see properly – apparently, pixies had a sort of field of magic around them to make themselves impossible for mundies to see clearly, but if you used magic you could concentrate and see past it – but he saw a little person with two legs, four arms, and a softly furred body, but it looked less like hair and more like the texture of moss. Its wings didn’t look like an insect’s wings – they looked crystalline, almost like quartz, and spread away from its body like dragonfly wings.
It was a uniform colour, a kind of blueberry shade.
Just like Aimé was looking down at it, inspecting it with interest, it was peering up at him, its many eyes shining in the light.
“I like your wings,” Aimé said experimentally. “They’re a nice colour.”
It was impossible to judge the change in the pixie’s expression, although Aimé was fairly certain it did change – he saw its mouth move, but even straining his ears, he couldn’t hear a thing coming off it.
It flew off, and Aimé turned to Asmodeus. “I couldn’t hear it,” he said. “But somehow, I feel like it called me a homo.”
“You’re not far off,” Asmodeus said. “But I don’t know what else you expected. Let’s go home.”
* * *
When Jean-Pierre woke up, it was slowly, to the feeling of Aimé’s fingers stroking through his hair, and the quiet rumble of Peadar purring on his chest. His eyes opened slowly, and he looked up at Aimé’s indulgent smile as he sat on the side of the sofa.
“Hi, baby,” Aimé said. “Feeling better?”
Jean-Pierre felt a guilty twinge, and he bit the inside of his lip, but nodded his head even as he sank his hand into Peadar’s thick fur, idly scratching between his shoulder blades. Peadar raised his chin, purring louder and smiling, his eyes closed.
“Yes,” Jean-Pierre whispered. “I’m sorry for being so upset earlier. I think Asmodeus was right – I was hungry, and tired.” He had slept for an hour or so on the sofa, he thought, with Peadar on top of him, and he felt far better than he had earlier – but for the lingering embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” Aimé said, shrugging his shoulders. “I just don’t like seeing you cry. We brought you something back, though.”
“Strawberries?” Jean-Pierre asked.
“Uh, no,” Aimé said. “Do you need some?”
“I finished the ones we had.”
“Oh,” Aimé said. “Well I can go to the shop and—”
“Not now, Aimé,” said Asmodeus, and Jean-Pierre looked past Aimé, and gasped in delight.
The Christmas tree was nearly seven feet tall, its tip almost brushing the very top of the ceiling, and it had wonderful, wide branches and a heavy, black pot. It was incredibly verdant and green, and now that he was paying attention, Jean-Pierre could smell its fragrant aroma.
“I’ve enchanted the tree blanket,” Asmodeus said. “So that it collects the needles properly and stops them going into the rest of the carpet. We’ll buy decorations tomorrow.”
“Can we get pixies?” asked Jean-Pierre.
Aimé stared at him.
“What?” asked Jean-Pierre.
“Come on, Peadar,” said Aimé, heaving the weight off of Jean-Pierre’s chest and carrying him, purring up a storm, into the kitchen. “We’re better than the likes of these two.”
Jean-Pierre furrowed his brow, looking up at Asmodeus as he pulled himself to sit up, and Asmodeus reached for him, stroked a thumb over his cheek.
“Better?” Asmodeus asked softly.
“Yes,” Jean-Pierre said softly. “I’m sorry for earlier.”
“You needn’t be sorry,” Asmodeus said. “Aimé and I understand. Why don’t you pick something for us to watch?”
“Are you going to watch it,” asked Jean-Pierre, “or just read your book while Aimé and I watch it?”
“I’ll listen to some of the dialogue,” Asmodeus promised. “Will that do?”
Jean-Pierre laughed, and reluctantly nodded his head, turning to look at Aimé, who was rocking Peadar in his arms and crooning a vaguely worded lullaby. Peadar, baffled but not displeased by this behaviour, was purring intermittently and allowing himself to be danced around.
Although a part of him was still anxious about Colm’s absence, Jean-Pierre felt full to the brim with warm affection, and allowed himself to relax back in his seat.