by cerine Love8
“All right,” said Malcolm, drawing his knees up to his chest, “who’s first?”
The bottle of brandy set in the midst of them had been pilfered from the dean’s private stash, but since he wasn’t strictly supposed to have it there in the first place, Reginald had argued, there’d be little chance of his making a commotion upon finding it gone. Of course, he’d made this argument only after showing up in the dormitory’s small third-story common room with the purloined spirits, at which point old adages about begging forgiveness and asking permission suddenly seemed quite relevant. He was the most rakish of the lot, and indeed of the whole college; he was here on scholarship, on account of his brilliance at engineering, which covered steep tuition the other young men’s parents coughed up every semester. The other lads never let him forget it, but he in turn never let them forget how his name looked listed above theirs when exam results were posted. He was there because his parents couldn’t afford the train ride home from more than once a year.
Gautam tossed another log on the fire, though it didn’t stop his shivering. “I don’t understand why we are doing this again.” He was there because by the time he’d traveled all the way home to Madras, he would have had only enough time to remark on how he didn’t celebrate Christmas anyway before turning on his heel and starting the journey right back to his volumes of poetry.
“It’s tradition, yeah?” Izzy was another non-celebrant, though Hebraic where Gautam was Hindu. He was also an American, though, and thus had similar reasons for remaining over the winter holidays, his nose in his books of anatomy. “Read about it. Dickens and the Ghosts of Christmas What-Have-You. Not such a thing back home, so far as I can tell, but hey, when in Rome, right?”
Malcolm was a pedant by nature, but nevertheless refrained from pointing out that they weren’t in Rome, but in Sheffield. He himself had no family to return to. “It’s a tradition,” he confirmed, reaching for the brandy and taking a swift swig. It burned inside him, sending warmth spreading out to the farthest reaches of his extremities, even though he knew it made his cheeks flush and all the freckles dotting his fair skin that much more visible. “It’s just what you do on Christmas Eve.”
They say tea is good for the soul. Natalie hoped so, because she needed to save her soul from the Devil.
She was meeting the Devil for tea in an hour.
There were three windows open on Freddie’s computer screen. He would classify them as unsatisfactory, terrifying, and baffling, respectively. The first was the spreadsheet where he recorded all the finances of the Woodcross Gilbert and Sullivan Society. The second was an email from his father’s colleague Dudley Baxter, which he had flagged and banished to the depths of his email inbox some days previous. The third was another email, from the Honourable Robin Lionel Coffrey Montgomery-Wells, asking if there was a time when Freddie would be free to have lunch.
Robin Montgomery-Wells. It had been a long time since that name had popped up in his inbox. He clicked the window and dragged it around the screen before dropping it back roughly where it started. The email had been sent to the generic inbox Freddie used for matters relating to the Woodcross Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Well, it had been six years since they last spoke. How was Robin to know Freddie still checked his old Hotmail account?
The scrabbled grass and damp earth had not yet seen battle today, but it had felt the tear of war-boots upon it many times since spring’s dawning, felt the scars of swords’ dropping to it, bore the bruises of mens falling on their knees upon it. Sir William kept a hand on the hilt of his own blade as he looked out over it. He knew in his heart that the earth would taste blood once more before the sun settled, but as yet he drew in breath, tasted the air that was warming as the height of the year came upon the world, he savored these few moments of peace. He had not yet had to draw his sword against another warrior in any of the constant skirmishes as of yet, but he knew that his time would come. He would be ready. He could fight with honor and serve his king with pride. He would lay his life on the line, he–
“You look hot.”
“Just, you know, thrash about a bit. Moan some.” Jake lit one of the candles and placed it at a precarious angle on the side of the bureau. “I’ll go downstairs, see if the old woman’s got some baking powder.”
Will shot him a look so sour it could’ve curdled milk. “I know you are not going to leave me tied up here.”
“Got no other choice. And you ain’t that tied.” After that time in Amarillo (a string of bad circumstances Will referred to collectively as ‘that time I should have killed you’), Jake had learned that no matter how important authenticity was, you never tied a body up with an inescapable knot unless you were real invested in that body’s being unable to escape no matter what the circumstances. Jake reached over and patted his friend’s knee. “Back in an hour, give or take,” he grinned, and headed for the door.
“I swear to Jesus, I will wring your–” Neck, Jake supposed, was what came next, but the old farmhouse was a well-built fortress, and once its heavy wood doors closed, you couldn’t hear a peep from the other side. Putting on his best grimly resolute face, but smiling inside, he walked down to the room where the household had been told to stay put.