On Tuesday, when Jean-Pierre went off to his lectures, Aimé stayed in the angels’ house and worked in the yard with Colm between sitting down with his books. There was something familiar about the way, in the angels’ house, there was always work to be done, the easy way Colm, and Asmodeus when he was home, would see that he was idle and ask him to come with help or one thing or another.
It reminded him of work on the vineyard.
It wasn’t quite the same, no – the weather was colder here, and the work was more difficult, more varied, but there was something nice, comforting, in the way that Asmodeus and Colm always trusted him to do something, and taught him how to do it if he didn’t know, got him to actually do stuff with his hands.
It was easier here to do things than to not do them, and that was how it had felt in Montauban – motion felt easier than stagnation, and he was genuinely grateful.
“You doing anything?” Colm asked at ten or so, and Aimé looked up from his book. He hadn’t been seriously studying it, just rereading, so he marked his page and shook his head.
“I’ve got time,” he said, and pulled on his jumper before following Colm outside. It was a cold day, but not wet, and Aimé looked up at the anemic grey skies, his hands loosely in his pocket.
“I need to bring in the last of the apples and pears,” Colm said, “before the cold snap comes.”
“Going to make cider?”
Colm glanced at him, looking thoughtful as he pulled a wood barrel out from where it had been pressed against the side of the house. “We have enough, you think?”
That was like Montauban too, the way the angels looked at him like his suggestions were worth listening to, like he might know as much as they did, even though Aimé knew damn well he didn’t know shit about anything. That was nice – he liked that.
Looking up at the big apple tree that dominated one side of the back yard, although he’d noticed, for whatever reason, that its shadow never seemed to land on Colm’s greenhouse. There were a great many apples still on the tree – at least enough to half-fill Colm’s barrel, Aimé thought, or fill it three quarters.
“I think so. You know how?”
“We used to make it every year,” Colm said softly, “the village I lived in. I never used to be involved – I’d help collect the apples if I was on land, and the women would make it. But we can learn. There’s space for it in the cellar – I’ll ask around and see where I can get a press. You want to help me get them down?”
“You gonna climb that tree?”
Aimé scoffed. “No.”
Colm laughed at him, but he held up his hands, giving Aimé a good-natured smile, and he pulled a netted bag from inside the barrel, slinging it over his arm like a satchel.
“Those potatoes ready to come up?” Aimé asked.
“The roosters? No, not yet, they need another half a week – you can start on the weeds, if you don’t mind.”
There was something cathartic about being on your knees in the dirt, regardless of what the soil felt like. It was good earth, Colm said, but Aimé was vaguely curious as to whether it had been good earth before the angels had arrived, because in the street, no one’s flowers grew so well as Colm’s vegetables grew, but it was hard to tell what was magic and what was being a green thumb, when you didn’t know much about the intersection yourself.
As Colm clambered through the branches of the big apple tree, tugging apples loose and dropping them into his bag, not fussing and fidgeting over pockmarks or beak marks on the apples like Aimé had known some people to, Aimé worked on his hands and knees, dragging the weeds out from in amongst the vegetable beds.
“Don’t you have enchantments for weeds?” he asked as Colm emptied his bag into the barrel, and Colm looked thoughtful for a moment before he started hauling himself up into the tree again. His shirt rode up, and Aimé saw the shiny, slick burn scars on his side, and for the first time, he almost wanted to ask about them.
“We have enchantments for pests,” Colm said. “But that’s… It’s complicated stuff – so Jean and De are pretty great between them, they can do pretty subtle stuff. Our fence will let hedgehogs and badgers through, for example, but not squirrels, not rats, nor mice – that’s fucking fiddly, and I know it is, ‘cause it took Jean-Pierre decades to get it just right, and he had to do a lot of tweaking coming home to Ireland, too. We’ve been living in the US the past while, and it’s different there – we still want to keep out rats, sure, but there’s also bigger omnivorous mammals we want to keep out, like possums or racoons, but we still like for cats and dogs to be able to come in and out.”
Colm spoke very casually for a man currently shimmying upside-down from a tree branch that barely looked thick enough to support his weight, but Aimé decided not to comment on this as Colm crossed his legs over the beam’s thickness and started to reach for apples with his arms, supporting himself with abs of what could only be made of galvanized steel.
“A lot of the enchantment symbols are either hyper specific – for a single animal that you have to somehow mark – or more vague – animals with this many legs or that have this speed of heartbeat or this sort of diet. You can’t really explain to an enchantment what makes an animal good to have in the garden and what makes it bad – and we’ve given up trying to keep birds out entirely, because the last time Jean really tried, a friend of ours, Doros, tried to visit and couldn’t cross the threshold, and he was another winged angel.”
Aimé sniggered, and Colm grinned, moving further along the branch.
“Glad you find it funny,” he muttered. “Doros fucking didn’t.”
“I’d guess insects are even harder,” Aimé said.
“They are,” Colm agreed. “You see we have bug hotels scattered around the place, and I like to encourage bees in and out, butterflies, et cetera. That’s part of why we replaced the ivy with honeysuckle and why I have so many beds of flowers at the garden edges – those pollinators are very useful to us, and they keep the plants healthy. We use the flowers too, of course, in tea or whatever else – De can actually make an incredible ice cream with the hibiscus – but it’s hard to put into symbols the difference between a beetle or a caterpillar that’ll munch away on the lettuces, and a butterfly or a bee that will just take nectar and pollen. Especially because a lot of individual insects are both harmful and helpful to the garden – it just depends on what stage of their life they’re at.”
“Now you’re sounding like a philosopher,” Aimé said, and Colm laughed. He made it look easy, the way he hung down from the branch by one hooked leg for a moment, twisting to turn and shimmy the other way on the branch before leaning against the main body of the trunk and reaching higher. “Colm.”
“You wash those bloody clothes?”
Colm didn’t flinch at the question, or even look at him – his tone remained casual, although he wasn’t at all trying to shy away from the question. “Not just yet, they’re soaking at the moment – I was pretty tired last night and didn’t wash them right away. I still need to scrub at them. I know Jean already cleaned our rifles and blades and put them away last night after you’d fallen asleep, but he left our boots to soak too.”
“The rifles got blood on them?”
“A little, from our hands,” Colm said. “I had a handgun as well – Jean-Pierre doesn’t like to use pistols, though, because his hands are a little too delicate for it. He prefers a rifle he can brace properly. Mostly he was just cleaning them before we put them away – you have to clean the barrel and the mechanism of residue, make sure they run smoothly later on. You ever fire a gun?”
“You want to? I’m gonna drive out to the allotment after this, check on the plants there, if you want to come along. I can bring a rifle too.”
Aimé’s grandmother had had a gun. He remembered that – she’d kept it in a locked cabinet in the kitchen, unloaded. Every year she’d shoot ducks during the season, but once, when he’d been a little boy and him and his mother had been on the vineyard, a wild boar had strayed onto the property, and one of his cousins had had to haul his arse up an oak tree.
His grandmother had fired off two warning shots before she’d actually shot at the boar itself, and even with four bullets in its side, it had just kept running. It had dropped dead in the village, and one of their gendarmes had hauled it into the butcher on a trailer on the back of his motorbike, and they’d eaten the steaks the butcher had sent them later in the week.
“No boar in Dublin,” Colm said. He was looking directly at Aimé now as he emptied his apples into the barrel, and for a moment he leaned his elbows on it, looking at Aimé seriously, his eyebrows raised.
“Can Jean do that?” Aimé ask. “Skim the thoughts off the top of someone’s head?”
“Oh, I like that imagery,” Colm said. “Like cream on the top of a bucket of milk.”
“Ugh,” Aimé said, and Colm laughed, rapping his knuckles on the barrel.
His expression got more serious, then, a little more thoughtful, and he said, “He can – he could. Jean gets a little overtired with other people’s emotions. He draws an enchantment on himself to keep it dampened down most of the time.”
“That doesn’t sound like him,” Aimé said. “Giving up the upper hand.”
“It doesn’t, does it?” Colm asked, his voice quiet. His expression was fond, but his tone wasn’t, exactly. He shrugged his shoulders, and then said, “He didn’t use to dampen it down as much as he does now. He was in prison for a while in the forties, solitary confinement, and he had a bad experience with it getting out again. Now he keeps it tabbed down almost all the time.”
Aimé tried to imagine Jean-Pierre being in prison, tried to imagine him in solitary confinement, and it didn’t really work in his head – Jean-Pierre didn’t even like to be in a room on his own, would come downstairs and sleep in the living room with Aimé and Colm if Aimé was taking too long to come to bed. He wondered if he’d been like that before prison – and then wondered if it was fucking crazy that he wondered that before wondering what he’d been in for.
“I’ll help on the allotment,” Aimé said. “But I don’t, um. I don’t want to touch a gun.”
“Scared?” Colm asked.
His grandmother’s gun had frightened him, he thought, in a vague way. It had been frightening that they had something in the house that had to be kept locked away, that was too dangerous to be out in the open – as a child, he’d never quite understood the difference between a gun and a knife, why one had to be locked away and the other left on the countertop, and he’d created vivid ideas in his head of what a gun could do to a person, to an animal, before he’d seen it in his grandmother’s hands.
He knew it was silly.
People used guns all the time – they used them to hunt, they used them to defend themselves. People should be able to have guns, he thought, so long as they were trained to use them, and so long as they weren’t going out and killing people with them.
Like Colm and Jean-Pierre.
“I don’t think so,” Aimé said. “But I just… I don’t know. I don’t want to.”
Colm was watching him, Aimé realised after a moment, quiet, expectant, and Aimé looked up and he met his gaze. “You ever killed anything before, Aimé?” Colm asked when Aimé looked at him.
“No,” Aimé said.
“Never even tried?” Colm asked. He was smiling slightly, and there was nothing mocking in the smile, Aimé didn’t think, but there was something uncomfortable in it, something that made his skin crawl. “Not even a spider, or a fly?”
“No,” Aimé said. “There’s only one living thing I’ve tried to kill, and other people intervened. You want to tell me why you’re smiling like a creep?”
“Oh, nothing,” Colm murmured. “It’s just rare to meet an atheist that believes in the sanctity of life like you.”
Aimé pulled a face, shaking his head. That wasn’t it. He didn’t think so, anyway – he’d never liked the idea of killing anything, didn’t even like to think too hard about where meat came from, really, tried to put it out of his mind. He thought eating meat was fine, he did, it was just…
He didn’t want to kill anything. Not himself. It wasn’t about sanctity, it was just…
Colm grinned at him, and hauled himself up into the tree again.
Aimé focused on the weeding for a while.
He helped Colm take in the pears off the tree in the front garden – Jean-Pierre and Colm had already taken all of the plums off the other tree, and he knew that they’d frozen some batches of them, and that others were being kept in the cellar.
He knew things were in the cellar, and he knew that the hatch was in the pantry, but he’d never actually been inside until today.
Coming down the stairs, he stopped on their stone surface, staring at the stone-floored room he was looking down into, at the stone tables laid out inside it. There were floor-to-ceiling dark wood cabinets against two of the walls, and the other walls were plain stone.
Axes and heavy weapons hung from the long walls, and against one wall was a row of rifles in a specialised wooden frame. The angels’ bloody clothes were soaking in a steaming barrel of soaped water that had turned a dark pink, and their boots were soaking likewise alongside.
As Colm stepped through the other door in the cellar, rolling the barrel of apples inside, Aimé followed after him, and he followed Colm’s direction, setting the crate of pears on a particular shelf. It was very cool down here, and he reached out to touch one of the cabinet doors, but Colm stopped his hand.
“It’s not fruit,” he said. “I keep the nitro down here – cold temperatures are safer for storage.”
“Nitro,” Aimé repeated uncomprehendingly, and then wrenched his hand back. “Nitroglycerin!?”
“It’s fine,” Colm said, waving his hand in a nonchalant fashion.
“No, it’s not!”
“Temperature is carefully controlled down here,” Colm said as Aimé took several steps back from the cabinets, standing in the open doorway into the other room in the cellar. This part of the cellar was a smaller room – as well as the cabinets on one wall, which now he looked at them were neatly labelled in Colm’s spidery handwriting with a mix of chemical terms, Irish, and distressingly blunt labels in English like DYNAMITE in all caps, there were a few other barrels, and here was Asmodeus’ tall rack of wine bottles, separate to the rack he tended to keep ready to go in the pantry.
The chemical smell on the air he’d put down to Jean-Pierre’s poitín still, but now he inhaled again, he realised it wasn’t just the smell of poitín, but a burnt, metallic scent.
Aimé looked down at his hand, which he realised was resting on a barrel neatly marked with a label that said Púdar.
He slowly retracted his hand.
Despite Colm’s less than comforting assurance as to the strict temperature controls and the strong enchantments writ onto the walls, which Aimé was fairly certain must have some dampening effect on any potential explosive power, the knowledge that for the past several months he’d been living overtop of a cellar filled with explosives was seeping under his skin like a splinter.
“I like explosives,” Colm said.
“That does kinda contextualise the scars on your body,” Aimé said blankly, stepping into the—
Fuck, what, the armoury?
Colm closed the door to the powder room with a neat little click, and Aimé didn’t look back at him right away, instead looking at the mannequins against one side of the room. He saw Kevlar vests and utility belts packed with knives and medical equipment and ammunition, but on the central mannequin, shined to a polish, was a set of shining gold armour.
“Is this Jean’s?” Aimé asked, staring at it. It was plate armour, the shimmering gold pieces creating a rounded set of shoulders, a flat breastplate narrowed at the waist, and underneath the greaves and coming up to the neck, he could see chain mail, also made of the same golden metal.
“You’re really asking if me or De would fit into that?” Colm asked, and Aime reached out, touching the back of his knuckles to the breastplate so that he wouldn’t smudge its polished surface with his fingertips. The metal was slightly warm to the touch, and it made him shiver. “You coming?”
“Yeah,” Aimé muttered.
He imagined Jean-Pierre in this golden armour, his hair loose around his shoulders, the sun glinting off it, and he pulled surreptitiously at the waistband of his jeans, adjusting them.
When he turned, Colm was looking at him in disgust. “Really?” he asked. “The armour does it for you?”
“It’s your brother that does it for me,” Aimé said.
“As if that’s not worse,” said Colm, and Aimé laughed, following the angel up the stairs.
* * *
When Aimé had come downstairs in the morning, a ghost of terror had been clinging to him like a dressing gown, and Colm had found it interesting, the way he thought about Jean, felt genuine fear, and yet it didn’t push away any of his other feelings about him: affection, amusement, attraction…
Jean’s smug aura had been palpable before he’d left for school, but for all the complicated feelings Aimé seemed to have bubbling away under the surface, he didn’t seem that conflicted about Jean.
It was funny, really.
Jules had died of old age by the time Jean-Pierre first picked up a rifle, from what Colm knew, but of the boyfriends that had come after, Manolis, Benoit, and Bui had known exactly what Jean-Pierre was; Farhad had never come to know what sort of person Jean-Pierre was, only ever knew him as a medical man; and Rupert…
Colm had never met Rupert.
His and Jean-Pierre’s relationship had been very strained those few years, until they came back together in the fifties – whenever he’d seen him, Jean had been curt and sharp and acidic as anything, and admittedly, Colm had been far too busy with Heidemarie to worry about him.
He remembered how Jean-Pierre had been in those years, remembered how sensitive he’d been, how almost everything would make him flinch, how overwhelming everything was for him – and every time Colm had spoken to him, he’d mentioned Rupert as something comforting, sweet.
Colm had got the impression that Rupert was simple, somehow, and that had to be the case, or he wouldn’t have been crowned right in front of Jean-Pierre and expect to walk away with crown and angel both.
But nonetheless, it seemed to Colm that most of Jean’s boyfriends had known what Jean was and liked it, had supported it, or had been ignorant to it and never known – none of them, so far, had come to find out what Jean really was, and been like Aimé, been frightened, been uncertain.
It was interesting.
Colm hadn’t expected for Aimé to have so many actual beliefs buried in his sarcastic soul.
“You smoke weed?” Colm asked.
“Sometimes,” Aimé said. “Coke was more my bag.”
“I’ve never seen you do coke.”
“Haven’t really needed it,” Aimé said. He seemed to think about it for a moment, his lopsided brow furrowing, and he tilted his head to one side. “I never did it every day, I’ve never been addicted to it like I am nicotine, or whatever. I’d just have it on a night out.”
“I’ve never seen you on a night out,” Colm said, and Aimé huffed out a low, amused sound.
There was a rush of feeling in him, a sort of eager anticipation, before he said, “Wait for Halloween, I guess.”
Colm’s allotment, as he called it, wasn’t actually an allotment. It was really a whole plot of land on its own that Colm had bought in its entirety – when he’d bought it, it had had an old, condemned cottage crumbling away at its corner, and in the past few months, he’d restored the cottage into a shed for tools with a hatch going down into the basement, and built a long greenhouse alongside it.
As Aimé stepped out of the car, he put his hands in his pockets and stared over the big yard, at the rows of cabbages and potatoes and carrots, the squashes, and finally, the pumpkins.
“Are we going to have these for Halloween?” Aimé asked, leaning down and touching one of the larger of the pumpkins, his fingers brushing over its hard, orange skin.
“Yeah, but they’re not ready to come up just yet. I’ll take these up in a few days, on the twenty-ninth – Jean will want to pick one to carve, and you can pick one yourself, if you like. The rest we’ll give out at the community centre, let the kids do their own carvings and take them home, and I’ll use the left over pumpkin for soup.”
There was a strange sensation in Aimé as he stood straight again, looking around the plot, at the vegetables both uncovered and in their polytunnel, at the long greenhouse where far more vegetables were growing inside – cucumbers, mostly, but also the chilli peppers and the tomatoes, and all the other crops that needed more light to get by.
It wasn’t guilt, exactly. It was more a strange sense of confusion, of surprise, like he couldn’t really make sense of what he was looking at.
“You don’t have to give me a pumpkin,” Aimé said. “I wouldn’t know how to do it, I’ve never carved one before.”
“You think Jean wouldn’t jump at the chance to teach you?” Colm asked, his hands on his hips, and Aimé turned to glance at him, the hesitance showing on his face. The day was cold and for a moment, sun shone down through a gap in the clouds, which made Aimé lean down slightly, so that the messy fringe of his curls hid his eyes from the bright light. “One for Jean, and one for you too. It doesn’t matter if you’re shit at carving it – we eat the bits you carve and compost what we don’t eat either way.”
Aimé smiled, and Colm felt a genuine burst of affection for him.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t ugly.
Colm had thought he was ugly from the outset, and he thought he was ugly now, but there was something about Aimé’s face, about his uneven mouth and his mismatched eyes, that was growing on him. Maybe it was just that Aimé was smiling now, smiling his lopsided smile, and Colm had never seen that at first.
“You come out here every day?” Aimé asked softly.
“Yep,” Colm said. “I help out in some of the community gardens too, but that work isn’t really hard – I do the necessary work out here and on the garden at home, but in the city, most of the time I’m just answering questions and giving advice to people, maybe helping them with awkward stuff, like trellises and canes, or fiddly sowing.”
“Is that what you do all day?” Aimé asked, again with that strange, not-quite-guilty, empty feeling emanating from him, a kind of blank, heavy bafflement.
“Uh, sometimes,” Colm said. “I fix things for people – put together furniture, fix plumbing and electrics, set up routers and do a bit of IT troubleshooting for the auld wans that can’t do it themselves, give people lifts, teach people how to do their own repairs, paint walls, it’s… You know. Odd jobs.”
“Odd jobs,” Aimé repeated, and as Colm led the way into the stone shed, he felt Aimé’s interest deepen. “And do people— They pay you?”
“Sometimes,” Colm said, shrugging his shoulders. It only figured that that’s where Aimé’s head went, to the money, because where else would it go? “Mostly not, though. I normally get paid in kind – I do a favour for someone, and then I have a favour from them. Trade goods and services for goods and services.”
Aimé obviously picked something up in Colm’s tone because he frowned, scrunching his nose up slightly, and looked at him in bafflement. “You have something against money?” Aimé asked.
“I don’t like how it can be tracked,” Colm said. “If I take a bag of tomatoes and two heads of cauliflower, and say, a crate of apples, into Ruadhrí G’s and give them over to him, and take home a carton of eggs and some lamb chops and whatever, there’s no receipt, no VAT, nothing. Just goods for goods.”
“Jean-Pierre thinks taxes should be high,” Aimé said slowly, “but you… think taxes should be low?”
“It’s not taxes I’ve got an issue with exactly,” Colm said, kicking aside the rug in the shed and pulling up the hatch, descending the stairs with Aimé behind him. “I s’pose I just don’t like government oversight. I don’t want some cunt in an office being able to scroll through his computer and know what we’re eating and drinking, or where we buy our clothes, and follow us around based on our debit cards. I pay for everything I pay for in cash, but whenever I buy groceries I get them from lads I know in the witches’ market, where I can have orders down and swap for what we want.”
Colm realised that Aimé wasn’t paying attention, and he looked up at Aimé where he was standing on the stairs.
“You said you smoked weed,” Colm said, after about a minute of feeling the surprise and horror radiate from Aimé like waves of heat.
“Yeah, Colm, but smoking a joint from time to time doesn’t mean I’ve ever been in an industrial fucking grow room,” Aimé said. “Christ.”
“This isn’t industrial,” Colm said. He put his hands on his hips again, looking out over the rows of cannabis plants on each table, although Aimé winced a little at the light, and Colm frowned at the twinge of pain he felt, quickly grabbing a set of sunglasses out of one of the tool drawers to the side of the room and handing them over to him.
Aimé put them on, and although he relaxed, he was squinting a little.
“You okay?” Colm asked. “You’re normally okay with the greenhouse lights, but these ones are stronger. Headache?”
“I’m okay,” Aimé said, shaking his head. “Do you— Do you sell this?”
“About half of it, yeah,” Colm said. “The rest I trade here and there, or put aside for friends.”
Aimé stepped slowly into the room, down the rows of plants, looking at each of them in interest. “You know this is illegal, right?”
“You think I care about that?” Colm asked. “Besides, it’s only mundie law that has cannabis criminalised – magical law doesn’t have a problem with it.” Colm watched Aimé for a second and then asked, because he thought it might be funny, “You want to know how many cops I’ve killed in my life?”
Aimé opened his mouth. Closed it. Made eye contact with Colm. Looked away. “No,” he said, his voice cracking slightly. “No, I don’t think so.” The funniest thing was, Aimé didn’t feel scared in the least. Overwhelmed, disapproving, still confused – but not frightened.
“You’re a funny fucking guy, Aimé,” Colm said.
“Thanks,” Aimé said without enthusiasm, and came to a stop at the end of the basement Colm had built, staring at the table that was separate from the cannabis plants, but still kept under grow lamps, taller than Aimé and Colm were and towering over them a little, were Jean-Pierre’s pitaya plants.
Aimé reached out, touching one of the bright pink fruits at the end of one of the succulent’s arms, touching it, and then he turned back to Colm. “Dragon fruit?” he asked.
Colm spread his hands, and shrugged his shoulders. “The things we do for love, lad,” Colm said.
Aimé started to laugh, then, and it was a sweet laugh, a laugh full of warmth, and for the first time, looking at him, he really seemed like his own person, not just Jean-Pierre’s current hobby, and not just an alcoholic punching bag filled with daddy issues, either.
“Do you hate me?” Aimé asked. “You and De?”
It took Colm by such surprise that he laughed. “The fuck gives you that idea?”
“I’d hate me,” Aimé said. “If I had a brother like Jean-Pierre, and he took up with someone like me.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Aimé,” Colm murmured, his hands in his pockets, his lips pressed together as he considered how to respond, “I think you’re kind of a scumbag. “But you’ve realised by now what kind of man my brother is, right? I wouldn’t fucking wish him on anyone.”
“How long have you known Jean-Pierre?”
“Two hundred nears or so,” Colm said softly. “We Fell the same day, you know – April 22nd, 1732. Me, Jean-Pierre, and another winged angel, Benedictine, you’ll meet her at Christmas. We Fell on the same day – hit the earth at the same time, if you believe Asmodeus. At the same time he was hauling me out of the Atlantic, Jean-Pierre was lying on his back in a wheatfield in Chartres, and Benedictine was sitting at the base of a big tree with a hutia in her lap.”
“A hutia?” Aimé repeated.
“It’s a big rodent. She fucking loves them. She has that in common with Jean.”
It took him a second. Colm could see his little frown, his furrowed brow, as he tugged one of the dragon fruit of the tree, but then he abruptly froze up, and turned back to Colm. “Hey.”
They worked on the allotment for a few hours before they went home, packing away what needed to be harvested into crates to bring it into the church in town, but they didn’t stick around. Aimé had made to get out of the car and come into the church with him, but Colm had waved him off – he’d kept the sunglasses on the whole time, and when Colm had experimentally turned the radio on at the highest volume, Aimé had nearly jolted all the way across the car with the pain the sound sent through him.
“You want help with anything else?” Aimé asked as they crossed over the threshold into the house.
“Nah,” Colm said. “Mr Delaney up the street’s got car trouble, asked me to have a look at it, and no offence, but you won’t be any help.”
“No offence taken, I wouldn’t be,” Aimé said, and with a slight squint of his eyes as Colm shut the door, he pulled the sunglasses off.
“You know where the paracetamol is,” Colm said. “Maybe take a nap.”
“Yeah,” Aimé muttered. He got all the way to the top of the landing before he stopped for a moment, rubbing at his sore neck, like it had only just occurred to him, and then glanced back at Colm. “Thanks,” he said.
“Ná habair é,” Colm said, and went into the other room for his tools.
COLM, 14:22: Your boy have headaches often?
JEAN-PIERRE, 14:23: Only when hungover. Is he running a fever?
COLM, 14:23: Don’t think so.
JEAN-PIERRE, 14:23: Hm.
* * *
He’d gone to bed very early last night, because Colm and Jean-Pierre had been watching some animated film with a lot of flashing lights, and although Colm had made to change the movie over twice, Aimé had been able to tell that he and Jean were enjoying it, and he’d insisted they leave it on.
The sleep hadn’t helped much.
Nausea was washing over him in waves, and he’d woken up twice to be sick – Jean-Pierre had pulled the curtains right across the windows, drawing a few arcane symbols on the fabric to transform them into complete blackout curtains, because even the mild light from the bathroom made his head hurt.
At seven AM, and then at eleven, Jean-Pierre took his temperature, sliding the thermometer neatly under his tongue before examining it.
It didn’t occur to Aimé, lying on his side in misery as Jean-Pierre sat on the other side of the room, his face barely illuminated by the turned-down brightness of his phone screen, that Jean-Pierre hadn’t gone to class, until he woke from a vague nap to the sound of Jean-Pierre talking on the phone.
“… the flu, no, his temperature is normal, his sinuses and chest are clear. It’s just a migraine, but it’s quite severe, and I’d rather not leave him alone – I’ve sent you my assignments due on the weekend, and I’m happy to sit the in-class tests at your convenience. You know I know the material. Of course. Ouais. Okay, slán. You’re awake, Aimé?”
“This is a migraine?” Aimé asked hoarsely, and Jean-Pierre slowly climbed onto the bed, putting his phone aside. Before he answered, he brought a mug of tea up to Aimé’s mouth and made him drink a little of it.
“Yes. You have had headaches like this before?”
“A few times the past few years. I thought they were normal.”
Jean-Pierre stroked his fingers through Aimé’s hair, very gently, looking down at him. “This was after you were hospitalised with your jaw?”
“After a trauma to the brain, to the head and the neck, a person is far more likely to experience exacerbate symptoms of headache, and of migraine. The photosensitivity was the big red flag. You’ll be alright – darkness and rest for a few days and it shall pass.”
“What, and you’re just gonna stay and watch me?” He sounded too angry when he asked it, too defensive, but Jean-Pierre didn’t flinch or look angry in return. He began to stroke through Aimé’s hair with firmer motions, gently massaging his throbbing scalp, and it genuinely did give him a small amount of relief, made him hiss and close his eyes.
“I do not think the world will end if I nurse you these next few days,” Jean-Pierre whispered.
“It’s definitely a migraine?” Aimé asked. “You didn’t poison me this time?”
Jean-Pierre chuckled, cupping his cheek. “Désolé, my darling, but no poison this time. I will send a doctor’s note for your lecturer tomorrow if the migraine lingers so long.”
Aimé slowly moved to lay his head in Jean-Pierre’s lap, and Jean-Pierre put his fingers in Aimé’s hair, beginning to massage his scalp in smooth, easy movements – he obviously knew exactly what spots to press on and palpate, because it felt incredible, and Aimé felt himself go boneless across Jean’s muscular thighs, wrapping his arms loosely around l’ange’s middle.
“I forgot you could do that,” Aimé said.
“The benefit to our relationship,” Jean-Pierre said mildly. “You need never pay for medical treatment again.”
“It’s not the only benefit,” Aimé said. “I have my face buried in another of the big pros right now.” He breathed heavily out through his mouth, and Jean-Pierre squirmed and giggled, shoving Aimé in the head and pushing his face out from Jean-Pierre’s pyjamaed crotch.
It made Aimé’s head throb, but he supposed he did deserve it, and Jean-Pierre settled a pillow in his lap for Aimé to lay his head back on, tucking the blanket more solidly around him.
Aimé couldn’t really get his head around it, Jean-Pierre calling into his own lectures and saying he couldn’t make it, sticking with Aimé in a dark room, doing nothing but sit in silence all day with him, just so, what, Aimé didn’t have to be alone? The idea made Aimé’s eyes sting. It didn’t make sense. “Will you massage my ears too?” he asked.
“Anything you want,” Jean-Pierre promised him.
Aimé wondered, feeling as though he was on the verge of some ground-breaking discovery, if that was true.
“Does it get you off? Taking care of me when I’m sick?” Aimé asked, and Jean-Pierre thought about the question, humming.
“Your vulnerability is appealing,” Jean-Pierre admitted, “but you are vulnerable whether you have a migraine or not. I hope you will forgive me for saying I do not find you particularly appealing in this moment. But it is very lonely to be in one’s sickbed. I would not have you lonely, Aimé. Alone, if you wished it, but never lonely.”
“Because you love me?” Aimé asked.
“Yes,” said Jean-Pierre. “Because I love you.”
Aimé laid like that, Jean-Pierre massaging his scalp and his neck and his shoulders, for a long time. It was the longest time, Aimé thought, anyone had ever held him like this for something other than sex.