e didn't realise he'd said anything wrong at first. He said it absently, in answer to a question, and then nobody responded, and when he turned around, all three of them were gaping at him. Ryan blinked back at them and raised an eyebrow.
"What?" he asked, and their eyes managed to get even wider.
"I don't – what?" Jon seemed to be having trouble getting coherent sentences out. Ryan scratched behind his ear and waited, until Jon finally said, "How can you not like Christmas?"
"It's not really a matter of liking it," he explained. "In Faerie we have Yule and the Winter Solstice, but that's all, and they're not a huge celebration like over here."
"But you've been living here for years!" Spencer protested.
"Well, yeah," Ryan said. "But, you know. I don't believe in Jesus." He blinked around at them, bewildered, and then added quickly, "I mean, I know he existed. I just don't think he was the son of God."
He chanced a look at Brendon, wondering, but Brendon's face was expressionless, and Ryan couldn't tell what he was thinking.
"I – so you don't celebrate it at all?" Spencer asked, and Ryan made an apologetic face. He didn't really understand.
"Um, no," he said. "I didn't think you believed in Jesus either, Spence. Why do you celebrate it?"
Brendon snorted softly at that and Ryan kind of agreed with him – he couldn't see Spencer believing in any kind of religion. Spencer hardly believed in Ryan.
"I – but people who don't believe in Jesus celebrate it all the time!" Spencer told him. He was waving his arms around kind of wildly, and Jon was nodding frantically behind him. Ryan slid a curious glance over at Brendon, who was leaning back against the wall with his arms folded, half-smiling. "It's not just about God anymore—"
"It's about family," Jon told him earnestly. "And friends!"
"—and receiving, and—"
"—finding the one time of year to be caring and forgive faults and fights—"
"—and lots of food!"
"Um," Ryan said. "I don't know."
"Right," Spencer said decisively. "That's it. Me and Jon are going to go get our TV and DVD player, and you have to sit and watch Christmas movies with us."
"Sure," Ryan said.
TV, Ryan decided, was amazing. For some reason he had never really settled into it before, though it had sometimes been playing in the background when they spent time at Spencer and Jon's house, but now – it was brilliant. He had squirmed around on the couch until Spencer had finally whacked him hard on the arm and made him sit still for the credits, but it was easy to pay attention to it after that. He slipped to the side until he was half-sprawled on Brendon and stared wide-eyed, only vaguely aware of the others laughing at him.
TV then, was definitely cool. Ryan wasn't so sure about Christmas. It seemed to involve a lot of greed (even though mostly it got fixed, Ryan had a feeling that there was some glorifying of things going on) and chopping down trees and other things that made Ryan want to turn back to his humans.
When they finally switched it off after Love Actually at some early hour of the morning, Jon looked up at Ryan expectantly. "Well?" he said.
Ryan shrugged. "I don't know," he said, uneasily, and Spencer and Jon looked a little taken aback but determined.
They stood to leave. "We'll be back tomorrow," Spencer said, and whispered something in Brendon's ear that made him laugh.
Ryan raised an eyebrow at him after the door shut quietly from the front of the shop, and Brendon shook his head. "Nothing," he said. "Spencer just thinks he's going to be able to convince you through the mighty power of Christmas carols."
Ryan sat back on the couch next to him, yawning, and pushed lazily at Brendon's shoulder until he slumped down to the side, leaving room for Ryan to curl up behind him. They wouldn't be able to sleep like this; Brendon would roll off the couch, and then wake up Ryan with his complaining. Still, Ryan was comfortable, and didn't feel like moving just yet.
"Christmas carols won't work?" he asked, breathing against Brendon's neck, and then lifted his head a little. Brendon had his eyes closed, and the corners of his mouth were turned downwards, tiny, unhappy little lines. Ryan drew in a breath. "Brendon, what—"
"If the movies didn't work, the carols won't," Brendon said, cutting easily over the top of him. "It's alright, they'll get used to it. I think it was just a surprise."
Ryan bit his lip. "Were you surprised?"
"A little," Brendon said, low and sleepy-honest. "But it's not a big deal. I don't believe in it, either."
Ryan twisted and peered over the top of Brendon's hunched shoulders again. "You want it, though," he said. "Don't you?"
Brendon shrugged, shoulders rising and falling against Ryan's chest. "Yeah," he said. "It reminds me of being home."
Ryan walked over to Spencer and Jon's house for decorations the next morning.
The decorations were actually pretty cool, and Ryan started reading up on Christmas the next morning, to find that it had origins in Faerie, and things like holly and protection and snow associated with it, which was, after all, pretty cool. He liked the big tree Thornton Hill erected in the middle of the town, too, and the fairy lights on all the windows, and the cardboard Father Christmases on the rooves of the houses. The town felt all lit up at night, and Ryan liked it more than ever.
And he liked bringing it into the shop and their home, too, although it was still hard to remember what was acceptable in this world and what wasn't. Spencer and Jon walked into the kitchen one day and took one look at him before they burst out laughing.
"What?" Ryan asked, peering over his shoulder and wobbling a little dangerously on the ladder. "What is it?"
"Mistletoe?" Jon said. "Really, Ryan?"
Ryan blinked at him. "Mistletoe protects the house from fire and lightning. I should have hung it here before but I forgot."
Then he had to sit on the bottom of the ladder steps and feel a little stupid while Jon and Spencer explained and Brendon leaned against the doorway, looking amused. To be honest, Ryan didn't entirely understand the whole human phenomenon of kissing and such – in Faerie, couples were rare and children even rarer, and people in Faerie were usually fiercely private about such things, anyway. Ryan knew all the mechanics of things, and he'd been a teenage boy once, too, but most of that time had been taken up by a fierce longing for magic and power rather than having someone to kiss. Jon and Spencer both had girlfriends, though, and Brendon had mentioned, vaguely and only very rarely, people he had been with in the past, though Ryan got the feeling that there hadn't ever actually been a sort of relationship there.
Which was good, Ryan thought, and then felt a little bad for thinking it, and not entirely sure why. Instead he listened to Jon tell a story about getting trapped under the mistletoe with Sara Marshall from Geometry class one time, and tried not to smile the way Spencer said was "stupidly condescending and makes me want to punch you in the face, I swear to God". He still didn't really get it. Kissing was a weird, wet thing, and he didn't see the appeal.
He laughed in the appropriate places of the story and glanced quickly over at Brendon, who ignored them all in favour of making himself a sandwich on the kitchen counter, biting his lip, hair curling slightly where it had just started to reach his collar. Ryan looked away, cheeks oddly flushed.
Ryan fell through the doorway and huffed, all the breath knocked out of him. He was covered in scratches and feeling a little bit pissed, and when he got his breath back he yelled, "Spencer!" because it was all Spencer's fault, anyway, for insisting on a goddamn Christmas Tree.
Footsteps rang down the hall, Spencer calling something amiably to Brendon over his shoulder, and then stopped suddenly in the doorway.
"Um," Spencer said weakly. "What's that?"
"Her name's Ygraine," Ryan said, picking himself up crossly from the ground. "She's our Christmas Tree."
Spencer stared. "I kinda – I thought we'd be getting a normal one," he told Ryan, still sounding a little faint.
"If we did, it would be chopped down and look nice for a month and then it would die," Ryan said blankly. "Is that what you want?"
"Good," Ryan said. "Then help me move the table so she can stand in the middle of the room."
A few minutes later, Ygraine had settled quite comfortably, digging roots down through the floorboards and looking as if she had been there all her life, growing with the house. Ryan waved his hand and the box of fairy lights that Jon had brought over last night skidded across the floor towards them.
Jon and Brendon came in to help, and after a moment of bewildered staring – really, Ryan thought, a little annoyed, you'd think they'd be used to it by now – they set to decorating her, stringing lights across the branches, and Jon clambered up onto Spencer's back to fix the golden star to the top.
"Uh," he said, afterward. "Is it just me, or does it – she still look kind of. Lonely?"
"I promised her company," Ryan said, scratching his chin. "I thought we'd be enough."
Then Brendon laughed, warm and delighted, and crossed to the windows, throwing them open for the snow and the birds.
"Guess they didn't fly south, after all," he said.
The days sped up, leading to the 25th. The town hummed in a low-level continual sort of excitement, and the younger kids who trooped in and out of the store after school and on weekends would lean up against the counter and confide in low, earnest voices exactly what they wanted best, and what they knew they were getting (Alex and Cash, to no one's particular surprise, were apparently the best at finding hidden away presents).
Time passed quicker than Ryan had expected, taking away the slow, lazy crawl of days that they'd had all through November. It seemed a little like some of the comfort of that November was lost, too, in the bustle and hurry of Christmas, and Ryan couldn't help but notice Brendon being quieter than usual, and slipping out of rooms more often to be on his own.
When he asked, cautiously, twisting his fingers in the hem of his t-shirt, Brendon shook his head.
"I just get a little homesick," he admitted, half-smiling. "It's no big deal."
"I'm sorry," Ryan said, stricken, because he hadn't thought of it like that, that Christmas here couldn't be the same for Brendon as with his parents.
Brendon shook his head. "It's not a big deal," he said, and then he gave Ryan a hug that didn't last long enough, like all his touches were too short these days, and turned away.
It was maybe a reason why at first Ryan ignored Jon's catcalls later that day for a moment. Instead he was just glad that when Brendon bumped into him, he didn't immediately leave, was still there, in Ryan's space, lingering uncertainly. Then Ryan tuned into the situation properly and realised that Jon was laughing and Brendon looked flushed and angry and Spencer just looked exasperated. Ryan had been on his way to the fridge when he'd bumped into Brendon; now he blinked down at him, confused, and said, "What?"
"Mistletoe," Jon said, delighted.
Brendon's eyes got bigger and then narrowed, shooting a glare across the room, and Ryan said, "Hmmm?" He had forgotten the significance again.
Brendon shook his head and went quickly to move but Jon said, "Dudes! No cheating!" and he stilled.
"Uh," Brendon said, and Ryan turned to him, opened his mouth to ask what was going on, and somehow managed to time it at the exact moment that Brendon went up on his toes. Their mouths banged awkwardly for a split second and then Brendon stepped away, cheeks pink, and he laughed without it reaching his eyes. Ryan just stared and, after a moment, Brendon hurried out of the room.
"Um," Jon said, looking regretful, and Spencer had folded his arms and was tapping his foot the way he did when he was actually seriously pissed. "Maybe – we should go."
"We have to catch the bus up to the city," Spencer agreed, still sounding annoyed. "We're going to see Haley and Cassie. Look, we'll be back tomorrow in time for lunch, okay?"
"Okay," Ryan said. He touched his lips tentatively. He still didn't really see what all the fuss was about. More than anything, Brendon's teeth had hurt.
"Jesus," Spencer said, shaking his head, and then he grabbed Jon's arm and hurried them out of the house. Ryan only just remembered to call out for them to have a good trip.
Ryan felt strange for the rest of the night; a weird, aching, expanding feeling in his chest and a strange sense that things would be better if Brendon would just come out from wherever he was hiding. Brendon didn't, though, and Ryan felt pretty bad about it, wondering what it had done. He didn't think it had anything to do with that odd, awkward moment under the mistletoe. It was uncomfortable, and it had hurt a little, and it lasted less than a second. Ryan had put it in his head as some bizarre human thing, a little like how Spencer would punch them lightly in the arm sometimes, affectionate but not world-altering.
Brendon, though, was notably absent, and quiet when he was actually there. After he spent nearly ten minutes with his eyes fixed on the wooden grains of the table that he'd been wiping down, Ryan frowned at him and said, "Brendon?"
"Sorry," Brendon said, in a rush, as though he had been waiting for Ryan to say something, storing up the words all evening. "Sorry, I shouldn't have – I totally didn't mean to, like, do that, I didn't corner you on purpose or anything, I promise. Fucking Jon just – sorry, Ryan, I'm sorry."
"Wait, what?" Ryan blinked at him, feeling a little out of his depth. "What are you talking about?"
Brendon looked horrified for a second, and then just kind of miserable, and finally he turned and walked away, out of the room.
That night, his bedroom door was firmly closed, and when Ryan tried it, he realised that for the first time ever Brendon had used the lock.
Brendon came out the next morning looking pale, with smudges under his eyes. They weren't rimmed in red or anything particularly horrible like that, but he kept putting his hand up to his nose and then taking it away, quickly, and then doing it again, and he always did that, Ryan knew, he always did that when he'd been trying not to cry. Something awful twisted in Ryan's stomach, and he wondered if it would be a betrayal to ask Spencer for help.
"Umn," he said. "You okay?"
Brendon rolled his eyes. "Sure," he said. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Ryan didn't answer, and Brendon didn't meet his gaze. After a moment, Ryan took a breath and said, "Hey, so – the birds aren't keeping Ygraine company or something, I think she's lonely. You want to come give me a hand?"
"Oh," Brendon said, and brightened a little. "Yeah, hang on, I just need a shower."
He emerged a little while later dressed in the brightest clothes he owned, that pink hoodie that Ryan knew he only wore when he needed cheering up, and Ryan felt kind of sick but choked it back in the face of Brendon's determined cheeriness.
They went to the room with the tree in it together, and Ryan opened the windows and started to hum a melody, closing his eyes and reaching out for the threads of magic in the freezing air and the snow on the ground outside the window and especially the green, glowing centre of the tree. After a moment, he heard Brendon join in, singing nonsense words, and Ryan smiled and felt the room grow warmer, and then the sound of birds singing.
He opened his eyes, stopping, and Brendon stopped too, smiled at him, clearly cheered up. "I guess it's warmer for them now," he said, and Ryan nodded, feeling suddenly shy.
"Thanks for helping me."
Brendon flushed red. "I didn't do anything," he mumbled.
Ryan shook his head and smiled tentatively. "You sang with me," he said, and Brendon looked up at that, met Ryan's eyes and smiled a little tiredly. Ryan thought no, come on, I thought I fixed this.
"Brendon," he said, very softly, and Brendon almost flinched. Ryan swallowed hard and said, "Are you – are you mad at me?"
Brendon shook his head, but then he turned to go and Ryan reached out instinctively, catching his wrist and saying, a little desperately, "Want to come watch TV with me?"
Brendon hesitated, but then after a moment he said, "You're lucky you get distracted so easily, or you'd just watch that all the time," and then, after Ryan smiled, "Yeah, okay."
Ryan led him into the lounge and forced him down on the couch, switched around until he found an episode of the show with the catchy theme song that Jon loved, Friends or something. He squirmed around in front of Brendon until Brendon stopped being so stiff and let Ryan sprawl half in his lap, threaded fingers absently through Ryan's hair and didn't draw back when Ryan tilted his head enough to murmur in Brendon's ear and marvel over the ads.
It was a cute kind of show, anyway, and Ryan liked it, settled into it. There was a lot of shouting and hugging and funny comments, and after a while he could even keep the names of them all straight, curled between the back of the couch and Brendon, half-resting on him. Brendon laughed, too, and seemed to be feeling better, which in Ryan's head was a pretty awesome thing.
Eventually came an episode set in London, and Ryan watched, half-frowning, as Monica and Chandler kissed for the first time, the way Monica's arms went round Chandler's neck. Brendon turned his head and said, "They were always my favourite—" and then he froze, because Ryan turned his head, too, and their noses brushed.
Ryan looked at Brendon, and his eyes darted to the screen, and then back to Brendon. Suddenly his pulse felt very fast, and as he stared, uncomfortable doing so but unable to look away, Brendon's gaze dropped slightly, and then lifted back to Ryan's eyes, cheeks flushed.
Ryan whispered, "Is that what it's—"
"What?" Brendon said, sounding a little breathless.
Ryan dropped his head, just slightly, but he lost his courage at the last moment and their noses just brushed again, foreheads bent together. Brendon was staring at him, eyelashes fluttering closed a little and then opening again, and Ryan shivered and moved to the side, kissed Brendon's cheek a little timidly. Brendon closed his eyes properly at that, sinking backwards into the cushions and Ryan shifted around until he was more comfortable and kissed beside the corner of Brendon's eye, and then the bridge of his nose, and then over Brendon's other, closed eyelid, and he thought that maybe he was trembling, but he couldn't be sure over the wild beating pattern of his heart.
Then Brendon moved, fingers curling in Ryan's shirt and tugging him back and their mouths touched, so soft that it was barely there, but lingering, the opposite of yesterday under the mistletoe. For a moment, Ryan stayed there, eyes open wide and staring at Brendon's smooth, closed face, and then he pulled back a little, changed his mind and kissed Brendon again, and moved once more, wanted to know what was going on in Brendon's head.
When Ryan had pulled back enough, Brendon didn't say anything, but he did open his eyes and look up at Ryan, and Ryan's heart thudded almost painfully. "Oh," he said, and then he leaned in and Brendon's grip tightened in the material of Ryan's t-shirt, and he twisted around properly, putting most of his weight on Brendon, knees bracketing Brendon's hips. Brendon pulled him down and Ryan kissed him again, pushing one hand through Brendon's hair, and then he opened his mouth and Brendon did too, and it was suddenly hotter and wetter and oh, oh, yes.
Ryan thought blearily that he was probably going to have to revaluate his position on kissing, because this wasn't weird or pointless at all, this felt like something he'd be happy to do for the rest of his life. There were no teeth this time, just Brendon's mouth and his hands clenching and unclenching in Ryan's shirt, and then sliding around, up underneath to glide over Ryan's skin and leave a trail of goosebumps, and then Brendon's tongue, and Ryan was breathing harshly, the wet sounds of their mouths and their ragged breaths loud in the quiet room.
After a while, Brendon pulled away and Ryan opened his eyes, stared at him. Brendon's mouth was red and swollen and his pupils were kind of blown, and he looked, more than anything, overwhelmed.
Ryan began to speak, and his voice came out embarrassingly husky. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Why'd you stop?"
Brendon laughed a little bit, like he couldn't help it, and with an impressive display of flexibility and strength, rolled them both over until he was on top, and kissed Ryan again, harder than before, fierce, and warmth spread through Ryan's chest. Then he pulled back and ducked his head to press his face into Ryan's shoulder.
He said, quickly, words tripping over each other, "I thought, I thought you didn't, or wouldn't—"
"I didn't," Ryan said, feeling a little bewildered himself, but still sure, terrified and sure and stupid, and happy. Brendon raised his head and looked frightened and determined at the same time, like he was going to ask if Ryan really wanted this, but Ryan took advantage of it to prop himself up on his elbows and kiss Brendon again, twisting one long leg out from under him to wrap it up around Brendon's waist.
"I didn't know," he clarified, and kissed him again, and Brendon laughed quietly and then tilted his forehead against Ryan's and didn't kiss him, just breathed.
It didn't take long, then, before they were kissing again, and Brendon rocked his hips down against Ryan's, which was pretty much beyond any definition of good that Ryan had come up against before. Ryan clutched at him, wondered how he had been so stupid, how he hadn't just done this to Brendon the first time they'd met, forget adventures and finding friends and looking after the shop (Ryan decided he was never going to open it again. Or at least not for a month), how they hadn't just skipped all the stupid dancing around each other and done this. Ryan bit tentatively at Brendon's lip because he thought that maybe teeth could be alright, after all, and Brendon groaned and twisted his hips down against Ryan's again, and Ryan's mind was mostly just a blur of desire, caught between a thousand things that he couldn't quite name just yet, and the only thing, which was Brendon.
Then footsteps clattered down the hallway and Jon and Spencer started to call out to them. Brendon jolted up and then, in his haste to get away, managed to roll right off the couch, which left Ryan blinking with his hair in a mess and his lips swollen and Brendon peering from behind the couch looking similarly dishevelled when Jon and Spencer appeared in the doorway.
For a moment, there was silence, and then Jon started beaming. "You guys," he began gleefully, but Spencer elbowed him hard in the ribs and he shut up. Ryan bit back a sudden urge to giggle.
"Did you know it's snowing?" Spencer said. "Just nicely. We wondered if you wanted to go to the park."
Ryan didn't want to go to the park. Ryan wanted Spencer and Jon to go away and Brendon to come back on the couch and kiss him some more, but when he looked over at Brendon, he was smiling and looking hopeful, and Ryan sighed and stood upright.
They got their scarves and hats and coats and gloves, because Ryan seemed to have developed a habit of getting sniffly at the slightest breeze, and trudged out the door. Jon and Spencer filled the silence with talk about the girls in the city and their plans to maybe take a year off college and move down to Thornton Hill ("They've kind of accepted that we're not going anywhere," Spencer said, grinning) and Ryan was glad for them, he was, but he couldn't stop looking at Brendon.
Brendon's cheeks were still flushed, and he wouldn't look directly at Ryan. Ryan frowned and then, after a moment, took his hand. They walked like that to the park, and Brendon still wouldn't look at Ryan properly, but Ryan didn't mind so much, especially not when Brendon turned his smile into Ryan's shoulder, pressing his face against the warm cloth.
Brendon did reach out and bat at the snowflakes, though, and said, "Ryan, hey, Ryan," in this slow, warm voice, and Ryan flushed and tried to stop the snowflakes from twirling in flurries around Brendon's head, though to no avail. The walk through the park was a little embarrassing, Brendon torn between blinking and blushing and Jon smirking, while the trees lit up as they passed by, illuminated by a thousand glowing fairy lights that no one had actually installed.
Spencer didn't say anything, just kept tugging on Ryan's scarf and pulling both his feet back to the ground.
On Christmas Eve, it was just them. Spencer and Jon had promised to be back as early as possible the next morning for presents, but they really did need to be with Haley and Cassie for part of Christmas. Ryan and Brendon didn't mind. They spent an hour trying to get the fire going without magic ("It's cheating," Brendon insisted) and succeeded, albeit with smudged faces and sore fingers, and then made food side by side in the kitchen, hips bumping, with the radio turned up loud to sing along to.
After dinner, they curled up on the lounge together. The plan was to watch some TV but they ended up making out lazily instead and Ryan thought, just like this, just like this, and apologised when odd sparks of magic made Brendon gasp at something like an electric shock now and then. Brendon shook his head, eyes dark, hair falling all over his face, and told Ryan that it was okay, that he liked it. He flushed a little bit and Ryan stared at him, eyes wide, unable to completely understand it, this whole thing, but glad anyway.
They did put the TV on after a while, but Brendon fell asleep sprawled on top of Ryan, and after a moment Ryan stretched for the remote and switched it off. Then he closed his eyes and lay there, Brendon heavy on top of him, and waved a blanket from across the room over to drape on top of them. Brendon would fall off in the night, probably, and if he didn't, he'd crush Ryan's bladder unbearably, but all Ryan wanted right then was to stay.