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The Finale: Kriss and Cody

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who stuck with me through this story. It’s finally here, the end, and I hope you enjoy. 🙂 At some point, probably close to next Christmas, the entire thing will be compiled into a free PDF for your e-book readers. I’ll let you know when I have more (or, well, any) info on that.

As always, here are hte links to the previous installments, if you are just coming on board.:

Christmas Story Continued; Oct 27, 2010: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Christmas Story Con’t Part III Nov 9, 2010: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Christmas Story Part IV;Niv 23, 2010;   https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Christmas Story Part V; Dec 14, 2010:https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

Christmas Story Part VI: Jan 3, 2011:https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Christmas Story Part VII: Jan 11, 2011:https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/christmas-story-continued-part-seven/

Christmas Story Part VIII:https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/christmas-story-continued-part-viii/

Christmas Story part IX: Feb 8, 2011:https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/christmas-story-continued-part-ix/

Bchristmas story Part X: Feb 22, 2011: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/507/

Christmas Story Part Eleven:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/christmas-story-cont-part-ten-eleven/ >

Christmas Story, Part Twelve: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/santas-elf-nearing-the-end/

Cody drew in a deep breath. He studied the door before him. It wasn’t much of a door. Just an ordinary, black-painted wooden door with three bevelled glass panes across the top and a Christmas wreath on a hook. It was a nice enough door. He wasn’t sure that he felt the same about the man on the other side of it.

His father had been very accommodating. He’d expected more reticence on the old man’s part, but Peter had been forthcoming with a hard hug and a smile the moment he was within arm’s reach. He’d listened to the explanation of Jack’s partner being shot, the funeral services to be held the day after Boxing Day, and the Boyfriend, rescued from his empty house after hearing the news of his lover’s death.

Part of him wanted to be angry that his family had reached out to this stranger, accepted his place in the dead cop’s life without batting an eye. Even invited him into Jack’s home like he was an old friend. Part of him couldn’t help the sigh of relief that maybe, just maybe, he no longer had to walk on eggshells around his own family. He had this stranger to thank for that. And he would have, too, if the stranger had been there. But Jack had taken him home and it had taken all evening to get the story out of him as to why.

Now he stood, outside this door, staring at the embedded brush strokes of the thick paint and wondering what on earth he was going to say to his erstwhile lover.

“Can I even call him that?” After all, Kriss had only been in his life for a week. The best week he could remember in a long, long time, but still. Only a week.

Then he’d left.

Jack’s explanation of why made no sense to Cody, but then, Jack had maintained that Kriss’s explanation to him hadn’t made a lot of sense, either.

Cody would just have to get the reasons from the man—elf—himself.

“Fuck.” He breathed the curse into the winter darkness, wishing it had more vehemence behind it. He should be mad. He should be furious and on a plane back to Anchorage.

He touched the cold, black paint. Kriss was just on the other side. So close.

The door moved from under his hand and he started, jumping back and nearly toppling backward down the steps.

Kriss’s hand shot out, gripped his downy parka and hauled him forward. They met, chest to chest, breath mingling.

“You going to stand out here all night?” Kriss asked, his voice airy and tenuous.

“Maybe.” Cody peered up at him. The golden glow of the porch light revealed a face thinner than he remembered, more care-worn. Sadder.

“You are sad,” Cody whispered, realizing for the first time that whatever else had happened in the interim, he hadn’t stopped caring about this creature. His hands came up to clamp over Kriss’s and hold them in the tight grip on his coat. “So sad.”

Kriss only nodded, blue eyes locked on his. “So much happened.”

“And all you remember is that someone you loved just died.”

Kriss twisted a hand free. “Not all.” He backed up a few paces and Cody was forced to move with him, their hands still clasped over a fistful of his coat. “Come inside.”

Cody nodded, still captured by the lost expression on Kriss’s face.

Once inside, the door closed and coat hung in the closet, they gravitated to the warmth of the kitchen where Kriss had a kettle on the stove and a mug with powdered soup in the bottom waiting.

“Still drinking this stuff?” Cody pulled the mug round by the handle and snorted at the picture of a jolly, happy Santa face on the other side.

“Michael loved Christmas. He pulled this mug out December first and used it every morning.” Kriss’s finger traced along the rim. “I thought I’d get sick of seeing it every year…”

The breakdown was like a stop action photo series. Kriss’s face crumpled. Tears spilled and his head bowed, and Cody could stand the distance between them not a moment longer.

He pulled Kriss close and held him as tight as he dared, feeling the boney form shaking in his arms. “I’m here,” he whispered. “I’m here.”

Like he had the first time Kriss had walked into his life, Cody patiently cared for the man’s needs, soothing his tears until the kettle whistled, then stirring the hot water into the mug and encouraging him to drink the liquid.

“You must think I’m insane to like this stuff,” Kriss sniffled as he sipped the drink.

Cody just shrugged and settled beside him where he was sitting on the couch.

“It reminds me of you. Even while I was with Michael, and I didn’t know what the memory was, it felt…like something important.” Kriss lifted his face and caught Cody’s eye. “I didn’t leave on purpose.”

“Tell me what happened?”

Kriss explained everything, his memory coming back more and more quickly as he talked, as he settled into the story. “Now you’re here,” he said, peering at Cody over the rim of hi mug, “It’s like it all happened yesterday and Michael is the dream.” He frowned, his brow knitting into a tight whorl of wrinkles. “But not a dream at all, because he was my Michael. He loved me.”

“And you loved him,” Cody said quietly, examining what saying that out loud did to his insides.

Kriss nodded. “But I didn’t…it wasn’t…I didn’t remember you. If I had, I would have found a way to contact you, to come back…”

“No.” Cody shook his head and touched Kriss’s hand where it worried at the rim of his mug. “No, it happened this way for a reason. If you had come back, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t have talked to Jack today.” Cody dropped his gaze, picked at a loose thread dangling from the cuff of his sweater. “I haven’t talked to him like that since we were kids. Since…”

“He told me about the accident. About your…friend.”

“Boyfriend,” Cody grated through clenched jaw and years of calcified pain. “He was my boyfriend. The first guy I ever kissed. Ever…” he felt the heat ride up into his cheeks. “I loved him.”

“With all the fierceness if a fifteen year old heart,” Kriss agreed softly.

Cody nodded, but didn’t look up. “So I know how you feel. About Michael.”

“You’re not mad.” Kriss’s voice was filled with quiet shock.

“I was.” Cody felt it only fair, after all his companion had been through, the truth he’d risked telling knowing how dangerous it was to take that kind of risk with a cop, that he return the favour. “I was so angry. And hurt. But some part of me knew you couldn’t have just…disappeared like that. Not without something I didn’t understand going on to take you like that. So suddenly. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. I told myself every day I was a fool to believe you. That you were just bored and gone, not wanting to deal with my issues. But I wanted it to be real. I wanted you to be everything you said you were. I wanted there to be that kind of magic in my life.” He leaned across the space separating them, cupped Kriss’s face in his hand. “And look. Here you are, and here’s the magic.”

Kriss giggled slightly, sniffled and his soup sloshed out over his fingers. “Oh.”

Cody took the mug from him. “You need something a little more substantial than that.”

Kriss nodded. “I do. I’m hungry. Tired.” He sighed. “Not magic any more, I think.”

“Wrong again.” Cody moved closer, touched his lips to Kriss’s. “This is where the magic really begins.”


Santa’s Elf: Nearing the end!

I know, I know. I keep saying that. But I mean it this time. In fact, this could be the last installment. It all depends on what you all thing I should do next : So let me know!!!

Christmas Story Continued; Oct 27, 2010: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Christmas Story Con’t Part III Nov 9, 2010: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Christmas Story Part IV;Niv 23, 2010;   https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Christmas Story Part V; Dec 14, 2010: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

Christmas Story Part VI: Jan 3, 2011: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Christmas Story Part VII: Jan 11, 2011: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/christmas-story-continued-part-seven/

Christmas Story Part VIII:https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/christmas-story-continued-part-viii/

Christmas Story part IX: Feb 8, 2011: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/christmas-story-continued-part-ix/

Bchristmas story Part X: Feb 22, 2011: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/507/

Christmas Story Part Eleven:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/christmas-story-cont-part-ten-eleven/ >

 

 

“I said…” Kriss took in another deep breath and looked Jack in the eye. “I’m an elf.”

“An elf.”

“I’m not crazy.”

“And I’m Santa.”

“Technically, there is no Santa.”

“No shit.”

“There are workshops. Foremen. Workers.”

“And elves.”

Kriss felt his face heat, right to the tips of his ears that seemed to grow points to accommodate the growing embarrassment. “You see why I thought telling you I had amnesia would be easier to believe.”

“You don’t really expect me to believe this?”

Kriss sighed and sank to the welcoming cushions. “I don’t know. If I were to be completely truthful, I’m not even an elf. I’m an elf’s construct.”

“How is this getting easier for me to believe?”

“It isn’t.” Kriss leaned his elbows on his knees and rubbed hard at his palms. “How it works is that the old man takes the wishes, sorts them out, hands out assignments to his elves and they make us. We’re supposed to go out into the world and fulfill these wishes. We have a year to do it.”

“And, let’s just assume I believe any of this, what happens after a year if you haven’t fulfilled your assignment?”

“I’m deprogrammed.”

“You get another assignment?”

“Something like that.” Kriss didn’t bother to explain the difference between deprogrammed and re programmed.

For a long minute, Jack just stood over him, watching him. Kriss didn’t dare meet his eye. He knew how insane his story sounded.

“The craziest part is,” Jack whispered, that I want to believe you.”

“After all the kindness you’ve shown me, do you really think I would lie to you?”

“I don’t even know you. I know Michael found you on the street.”

“Actually, he found me volunteering in the soup kitchen. He only found out the I didn’t have a home later. After we…” Kriss hung his head. “I never wanted him to know, never expected him to help me like his did.”

“What about falling in love with you? Did you expect that?”

Kriss shook his head, his gaze still fixed on the floor. “I didn’t expect to love him, either. It just happened.”

“And Cody?”

Kriss pulled his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out a well-worn piece of paper. He unfolded it and handed it to Jack. “This was the only thing in my wallet when I came here last winter. After I left Cody.” He bit his lip and the sharp pain made his eyes water. “After I forgot him.”

Jack took the paper from him and read it aloud.  I want someone  to understand.

The couch bounced slightly as he plopped down beside Kriss. “Fuck me,” he muttered.

“What?” Kriss glanced at him to find most of the colour had drained from the other man’s face.

Jack just shook his head and fished out his own wallet. He removed a much-creased piece of lined paper and held it like it might bite him.

“That accident I told you about.”

“Yes.”

“Cody was fifteen. I was seventeen. It was about three weeks before Christmas. I saw him write that note, you know. Saw him deliver it to the mall, like he thought it actually might work.” Jack shook his head. “I realized then what an ass I’d been.” He smiled ruefully. “And I wrote my own note. I always meant to tuck it into his stocking, or something. I did.” Blinking hard didn’t seem to alleviate the glassy look in his eyes. “The accident happened. Everything went tits up. I never got a chance to show him…to tell him. And he left.”

“When he was fifteen?”

“Day after he turned sixteen, actually. He went to live with our aunt for a while. Came back to visit once in a while, but…it was never…we never…” He shook his head and Kriss had to reach out, place his own hand over Jack’s shaking fingers. “I never told him that I did understand. That I didn’t care hew as gay, or any of that. I let him go, let him be angry and think we didn’t care.”

“But you do,” Kriss said softly.

Jack nodded.

“Then tell him when he comes home. Talk to him.” Kriss took a deep breath, swallowed his fears and smiled. “Ask him about last Christmas. If you want, you can tell him where to find me.” He stood and Jack hurried to follow him to the bedroom.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“Wait..”

“No, Jack, this is how it should be. I came here to make sure you and you family healed. That was my assignment all along, and hopefully, I’ve done that. If I haven’t, I don’t want Cody to go through losing me again. If I have, you can send him to my house tomorrow and I’ll be there.”

Jack nodded, looked thoughtfully at the note in his hand before holding it out for Kriss. “Then maybe this is for you.”

Kriss took it, opened it, and read.

I understand. I’ll always be here for you. No matter what.

He smiled and looked up at his friend. “Thank you.”

Back in the tiny house he’d shared with Michel for the past months, Cody found it easier to breathe, to open the curtains and let in the bright, Christmas Eve sunshine. He’d done his best. If it was enough, Cody would come to him this time. If it wasn’t…He sighed and went to the kitchen. He was starved. In his experience, being hungry was only a pre-curser to better things.

 

 

 

 

 


Christmas Story Con’t Part…ten? Eleven.

All right, before anyone reads this and goes all….”waaahhh! She said this would be the alst one!!!!!’ You’re right. I did say that. It wasn’t a lie at the time. I really thought…I guess I just don’t understand how little story I can fit into 1000(ish) words. SO I asked my blog mates, and they might be okay with me posting more often until I get this sucker done. I hope no one gets too mad at me 🙂 *ducks*

Here are allt eh previous links, for anyone new:

Part One:   Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html

Part II: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Part III: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Pat IV: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Part V:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

Part VI: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Part VII: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/christmas-story-continued-part-seven/

Part VIII: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/christmas-story-continued-part-viii/

Part IX: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/christmas-story-continued-part-ix/

Part X: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/507/

And today’s offering:

Both men watched him like hawks all through breakfast, offering him more food than he could possibly eat. They refused to let him help with cleaning up, even suggested he go back to his bed and sleep. They subsided when he took to the couch and sat quietly, flicking through television channels. He didn’t even realize he’d nodded off until Jack was shaking him gently.

“Kriss.”

Kriss blinked into the afternoon sun flooding the great room. It glowed warm across the hardwood floors and beamed brightly into his eyes. He sat up and rubbed at his face. “Mrf.”

Jack chuckled. “I just wanted to let you know that Dad and I were off to pick Cody up at the airport. You can come if you like, but we won’t be long.”

Kriss stilled. See Cody? Sooner if he went with them to pick him up from the airport. But did he want that to happen in a public place? He wasn’t even sure he wanted to see his old lover again with Jack and Peter there to look on.

“Kriss?”

“Um. Yeah.”

“Maybe you need some more sleep. You look pale still.”

“Maybe…”

“No maybe about it. Look at you. You’re sweating. Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?”

“no!”

Jack’s face took on a look of alarm.

Kriss nestled back into the couch, clasping a cushion against his chest. “I’m fine, really.”

“It’s been a stressful few days,” Jack agreed, though he still had dubious tone in his voice. “You know…if you need to, you can talk to me. To dad. We’re here for you. To listen. If you need.”

That was awkward. Kriss almost had to grin at the poor man’s discomfort. The last thing Jack really wanted was to sit and listen to Kriss’s problem. Kriss glanced up at him and was caught in the net of concern in Jack’s eyes. “That’s kind of you—”

“I mean it,” Jack tapped his leg. “Scoot.” He took a place on the couch next to Kriss. “I understand what you’re going through. Michael was a good man. Confused, maybe, and I didn’t make things easier for him, but he was my friend.” He wrapped his fingers together and leaned forward on his elbows. “Besides, we’ve all been down this road a couple times in the past. Back in high school, there was this huge accident. After a party. My girlfriend was killed so was Cody’s…” Jack scrubbed  hand through his hair. “His boyfriend and a couple other kids. It was horrific. You don’t expect something like that to happen. Before that, I suppose I knew Cody was gay. We never talked about it. When he lost David, he…I don’t know. No one wanted to acknowledge what he really lost. It was hard for him, and we didn’t make it any easier. Eventually, he just…snapped. It’s never been the same between us, and I miss him.”

Silence settled into the rays of sunshine and the soft cushions, taking a warmth and gentlness that was almost soothing. Jack stared at the floor and Kriss watched him.

“Have you ever told him how much you miss him?” Kriss asked at last.

“I don’t really know that he wants to hear it.”

“He does. He misses you, too.”

“It would be nice to think so, wouldn’t it?” Jack looked up at him. “But you can’t know that. Not for sure.”

Kriss drew in a deep breath. It was the perfect opening. “Actually, I think I do.”

“How?”

It was easy to imagine there was suspicion in Jack’s voice. Wariness. But nothing Kriss could do short of disappearing now could circumvent what would happen when Cody walked in that door. Best to meet it head on. If he failed, he failed. He already knew the consequences. Drawing in a deep breath and letting it out, he steadied himself and plunged in. “I think I know your brother. Or…knew him.”

Jack’s eyes narrowed. “How?”

“Last Christmas. I met him. We…”

Jack’s brows drew down into a deep frown.

“The thing is, we kind of had a falling out. I walked out and…something happened.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not sure, exactly. But I wound up here. Michael found me. It’s really hard to explain.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure and you ‘wound up”? You don’t remember?”

“Not exactly, no. I wish I could explain better. I wish…Cody is going to see me here and wonder what happened. He probably thinks I just walked away and never looked back. But I didn’t know I had anything to look back on. I didn’t remember. Until now. Until you started talking about him and things, half-memories, started clicking into pace.” Kriss stopped talking.

Jack was staring at him like he had pointy ears and a bell on his hat.

“That’s a fucking load of coincidence, isn’t it?” he asked. His voice had turned harsh. Suspicious.

“I guess.” Kriss didn’t dare try to explain why it wasn’t coincidence at all. Jack was already looking at him like he was crazy. Or a criminal.

“Jack?” Peter’s voice carried from the kitchen. “Son, you ready?”

“I think you better go on your own. Dad. I’m going to stay and keep an eye on Kriss.”

“He okay?” Peter’s voice dropped as he poked his head over the rail. “Kriss, you all right, son?”

Kriss looked up, thankful Jack had his back to his father. “I’m fine, Mr. Stanton. Jack is just being cautious.” He managed a smile. “And I appreciate it.”

“Go on, Dad. I’ll take care of everything here.”

“All right. If you’re sure. Does he need a doctor?”

“No.”

“He’s fine.”

They spoke in unison and Kriss’ smile faltered.

“If you’re sure,” Peter said again.”

“I am Dad. Get going or you’ll be late. You know how much Cody hates airports.”

“Al right. Al right. I’m going. You boys try and relax.

Kriss nodded.

Peter disappeared again and the back door opened and closed. A moment later, the sound of a car motor rumbled to life and dwindled down the street.

“I’ll get my things,” Kriss said, rising to his feet. “You won’t see me again. I’m sorry I took up your time.”

“Wait.” Jack’s hand closed about his wrist. “Sit.”

Kriss sat.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“I don’t understand.”

“Amnesia?” Jack frowned. “Really? You expect me to believe that?”

“I—” He didn’t expect him to believe it. Who would? But he wouldn’t believe the truth, either.

“You have five seconds to tell me the truth before I arrest you and toss your ass in jail.”

“I didn’t do anything!”

Jack rose. “You are in my home under false pretenses.” His eyes narrowed, his nostrils flared. “Were you in Michael’s life under a cloud of lies, too?”

“No!” Kriss shot to his feet. “No! I swear. I loved him.”

“And what about Cody? Love him too?”

“Yes.” Kriss wobbled, swaying on his feet. “I still do. I—”

“Oh no you don’t.” Jack grabbed him by both arms. “No more fainting. The truth. Now.”

“I need to sit.”

Jack shook him. “Talk.”

“You wouldn’t believe me.” Kriss sagged in his grip. He felt nauseous, weak, and the feeling angered him because he couldn’t combat it. He didn’t know what to do. Cody had known what he needed, whenever this happened.

“Try me. Because if you think I’m going to let you upset my little brother, think again. Either you tell me the truth, or you can go the hell back to your empty little house and rot there.”

“Please.” Kriss gave in and crumpled, trusting his weight to Jack’s strong hold and his mercy. “I didn’t do any of this on purpose. I tried my best. I’m just an elf.”

A strained silence filled the room for the space of a heartbeat. “A what?” Jack asked, trying to right Kriss and look him in the eye. “What did you say?”


Santa’s Elf Part X: Love is Messy.

Sometimes, remembering the past is a way to keep the ones we’ve lost close. Sometimes, it’s just a con of worms that’s going to make a mess on the carpet…

Part One:   Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html

Part II: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Part III: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Pat IV: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Part V:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

Part VI: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Part VII: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/christmas-story-continued-part-seven/

Part VIII: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/christmas-story-continued-part-viii/

Part IX: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/02/08/christmas-story-continued-part-ix/

 

“Jack, that you?” The slightly over-loud, rusty voice of Jack’s father dropped over them. “There.” A hand patted Kriss’ shoulder. “Now.” A gruff harumph followed by another pat. “I’ve made coffee.”

Kriss pulled himself together. Obviously, his tears were making the older man uncomfortable. He pulled from Jack’s arms and straightened, managed to wobble to his feet and hold out a hand.  “Hello, Mr. Stanton. I’m Kriss.”

“Just Peter, please. It’s nice to meet you, Kriss. I’m sorry for…your loss.”

Kriss nodded. So much lost. Michael, and his half life with the man who’d sheltered and cared for him was just a part. His heart ached for the empty space there. He ached. And when he thought of the year past with Cody thinking he’d left, imagined how he would take the news Kriss had been living with another man. It made him light headed to envisage the mess he’d made of everything. He deserves to be whisked away by  Clive to some back-room dressmaker’s shop to be pin pricked for all eternity.

“You all right?”

Two sets of hands were holding him steady, one on his left and one on his right. Kriss blinked the hallway back into focus.

“You need to sit down, son,” Peter took a firmer hold on Kriss’s arm and ushered him into the kitchen. The bright, overhead light pierced Kriss’ vision and he blinked again.

“I don’t feel so good,” he admitted. His stomach churned and his head wobbled, at though its connection to the rest of his body was precarious.

“Some food,” Jack suggested. He had followed them into the room and now he headed for the refrigerator.  “That toast last night wasn’t much. You probably haven’t had a proper meal since yesterday. Sit tight.”

Kriss couldn’t bear to tell them what was really going on. And the way his stomach roiled, maybe Jack was right. Maybe food would help.

“So, dad. You were on the phone.” Jack pulled eggs and butter form the fridge while his father found some bread and dropped a few slices into the toaster. “Talking to Cody, no doubt.”

Kriss tried to discern what Jack was feeling, but there was no inner vibe telling him if the other man was upset. He had only the flat tone of voice and carefully neutral expression on Jack’s face.

“I asked him to come down and spend the holidays.”

Jack’s hand stilled in the act of cracking an egg. The liquid insides dripped down the side of the hot pan and onto the stove. “What did he say?”

“That he’d think about it.”

“Where does he live?” Kriss asked. Realizing that though he’d been in Cody’s house, details like what city that house had been located in had fled his memory.

“Anchorage,” Jack said, shaking himself back into motion, discarding the empty egg shell and fetching a cloth t clean up the mess. “He moved up there four years ago for work. Mechanics who want to live that far north are hard to come by, apparently.”

The toast popped and Mr Stanton busied himself with butter and adding more to the toaster. “He moved up there to get some distance between himself and a couple of narrow-minded fools,” the older man said. He and Jack exchanged looks.

“What?” Peter set his butter knife down with a clatter and faced Jack. “I miss him. I should have tried harder to understand him. We both should have.”

Jack just nodded and turned back to the eggs he’d cracked into the pan. “I miss him, too, Dad. Doesn’t mean he’s going to drop his life and rush down here because of this. Michael was just a work colleague.” his voice choked and stopped.

“Son, you spent ten hours a day with the man. Sometimes more. No one was closer to you than he was, and I dare say, aside from Kriss here, the same was true for him.”

Jack nodded. “I should have had his back.”

“Don’t blame yourself. No one is responsible for Michael’s death but the one who pulled the trigger.”

“I know that.”

Kriss couldn’t sit by and watch the man in so much self-loathing pain. He got up and put a hand on jack’s shoulder. “He knew the dangers, Jack. And so did I.  Don’t blame yourself for what happened.”

Jack just nodded without looking up from the sizzling eggs. It felt like there was something on the air he wasn’t saying. Kriss couldn’t pry it out of the man. If there was something else he wanted to say, he would say it in his own good time. Kriss would just have to be patient.

“Does anyone else want coffee?” he asked, hoping to fill a bit of the strained silence.

Jack nodded and Peter held out his half empty mug.

“Thank you, son.”

It warmed Kriss’s heart to hear that title from the older man. He hoped he wouldn’t lose the esteem of all the men in the Stanton family once his truth came out.

As he was pouring, the phone rang and Jack took the pan off the burner to go answer it.

“Hello?”

Kriss handed him his coffee, and the act brought him close enough to hear the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Jack! Hi. Sorry the connection sucks. I’m at the airport. I managed to book a flight right after Dad called. Be home soon, bro.”

“Cody.” Jack’s cheeks paled. “You’re really coming home?”

Kriss heard the hearty laugh on the other end of the line, a balm to his tattered heart. A sound so familiar it was rooted in his memory and came back to him now like the cool brush of snow on his cheek. It brought a whole host of other memories; flashes of sight, sounds, the tingle in his flesh every time Cody touched him, the smell of his lover’s skin and the way his soft curls framed his dimpled, smiling face. The memories crowded in on more recent ones of Michael and the cop’s big, soothing hands, his gentle voice, everything Kriss had loved about the man.

His head spun. The room spun.

“Kriss!”

The phone clunked to the floor and Kriss realized it had landed beside his head. How had he ended up on the floor?

“Jack?” Cody’s tinny voice called down the telephone line and Kriss turned his head, focused on the sound.

“Cody,” he whispered.

How soon would his lost love be here? The world faded in and out. Hunger no longer seemed a huge issue. Something more dire was going on. And before it took him out completely, he needed to see Cody one last time.

“Cody,” Jack’s voice now. “Get off the phone and on the plane. I have to call an ambulance.”

“No, nothing like that. We’re both fine. It’s Michael’s boyfriend. He’s collapsed.”

“I’ll explain…Cody, please! I need the line. Just…” There was a pause. “Please, bro, just come home. I need you.”

The broken sound of Jack’s voice, the pleading, sank into Kriss’s awareness and he managed to haul himself to sitting. “No ambulance,” he croaked as Jack hung up the phone. “I’m fine. Just help me up.”

“Kriss,” Jack eyed his dubiously.

“Please.” Kriss stretched a thin smile onto his face. “This is embarrassing enough. I just want to sit and just be. I’m fine. Better once I eat.”

“Does this happen often, Son?” Peter asked.

Kriss accepted Peter’ help getting to his feet. “No. Well. Sometimes. I forget to eat. Or I don’t sleep enough.” Understatement. The only consolation Kriss had at the moment was that needing to eat and sleep meant he was close to his goal. Maybe there was hope Clive wouldn’t snatch him away at the last second this time. Hopefully.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Christmas Story Continued: Part IX

In which things finally start to come full circle.

Part One:   Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html

Part II: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Part III: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Pat IV: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Part V:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

Part VI: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Part VII: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/christmas-story-continued-part-seven/

Part VIII: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/christmas-story-continued-part-viii/

Jack’s home was a small side split with long, narrow rooms and the warmth of wood and stone and care that wrapped around Kriss the moment he entered. The kitchen opened onto a cozy great room with stairs leading to a second floor at the far end. The second floor housed an office, spare room and second bathroom, and Jack’s own ensuite nestled under the eves of the third floor. He gave Kriss the grand tour before showing him to the spare room to deposit his bag.

“You can sleep here.”

Kriss nodded and placed his bag at the foot of the bed. “Thank you.” He’d lost himself in the careful niceties of politeness. Jack was being so kind, helpful. He couldn’t reconcile this kindness with a man Michael hadn’t wanted to share his truth with. He didn’t understand.

Jack leaned against the door frame. “What is it?”

“Why?” Kriss wasn’t sure what he wanted to ask. He felt like a secret. Something Michael had kept in the dark from everyone including this man with whom he’d shared every other aspect of his life.

“You said yourself, he was private.”

Kriss nodded. He found he was crying again. He didn’t know why. He sank onto the bed, hands dangling between his knees, lost without the comfort of Michael’s presence.

Jack shuffled, came to sit beside him. “He was trying so hard to do right for everyone. He wanted tot protect my feelings. My career. I’m sorry, Kriss. I let him hide you away in that little house. I should have…”

“It’s fine.” Kriss sniffled and looked up. It wasn’t fine. There was nothing he could do about it now.

“I’ll let you sleep.”

“I don’t–” Kriss almost told him he didn’t sleep. If Michael had kept their relationship quiet, he certainly wouldn’t have told anyone about Kriss’s oddities.

“I don’t really want to be alone either.” Jack stood. “I can make some tea.”

“That’d be good.” Kriss wiped his face and followed the other man out of the room.

They made tea and toast in silence. Kriss ate and drank slowly, surprised to find the tight knots in his stomach loosening as he did. He hadn’t thought he’d be able to stomach much, but he felt better for the food. Another mystery he didn’t have the heart to solve.

Jack showed him to his room again afterward. They hadn’t spoken much, just kept one another company.

Kriss folded himself into the small bed after Jack left him and listened to the other man’s footsteps pad away. The stairs creaked under his weight and the floorboard above sighed as he passed. Kriss lay still listening, following the progress of Jack’s movements through his room, to the bathroom and back again. For a while, all went quiet. Outside the bedroom window, the snow continued, a silent shroud hiding the world under it’s perfect curves. Every once in a while, he heard the creak of floorboards and smelled the cloying scent of cigarette smoke.

Eventually, the sun came up. Kriss waited until he heard sounds in the kitchen and then waited a little while longer. When the smell of coffee drifted up to him, he rose, dressed and went down. He was still at the foot of the stairs when an unfamiliar voice could be heard in a one-sided conversation from the kitchen.

“I know. But he’s your brother, and this is a big deal…It’s Christmas…Please…He needs us. Needs family…And Michael’s boyfriend is here. Maybe this is the best time to settle this, once and for all. We miss you. Come home.”

A wave of weakness overcame Kriss and he found he had to sit. He plunked onto the bottom step, arms wrapped around his middle. How many strangers knew about him and he had no clue about them? Did he even know the man he’d been living with?

“That will be my dad.” Jack had come up behind him on silent feet, and he joined Kriss on the steps. “I forgot he’d be in this morning. So much else going on, you know? He’s probably talking to my little brother.”

“It’s almost Christmas.”

Jack nodded. He had a pack of smokes in one hand and an unlit cigarette in the other.

“Your family is here. I’ll be in the way.”

“I wish you would stay.”

Kriss watched as little bits of tobacco fell from the tip of Jack’s cigarette.  “Why?”

“My little brother is gay, you know.”

Kriss shook his head. “I didn’t know you had a little brother.” he looked up to Jack’s haggard face. “I don’t know much about you at all.” his gaze drifted back to the cigarette. “Does he know you smoke?”

Jack glanced at his smoke. “Sure. And he knows I’m a cop and a jerk.”

“You’ve been nice to me.”

“I should have been nicer to him.”

“Michael?” Kriss frowned. “He always said very nice things about you. He admired you.”

“No. Cody. I should have listened to him. Accepted what he was trying to tell me.”

A million tiny details tumbled into place. Kriss gasped. All the vague memories he’d tried to make sense of, the feeling he’d been in the wrong place, the wrong time, like Michael had not filled the gap he couldn’t quite identify came down in a crushing weight. He groaned.

“What is it?” Cigarette and carton fell forgotten to the floor as Jack turned to him and gathered him into a firm embrace.

“I missed him so much,” Kriss whispered.

“I know. Michael loved you…” Jack’s hand roved in little circles over Kriss’s back.

But Kriss wasn’t thinking about Michael. Poor, lost Michael who hadn’t ever managed to break free of his self-imposed exile. There was nothing Kriss could do for him now. He was thinking of Cody. Of the perfect week spent in the man’s bed, of the smell of chicken noodle soup in a cup and of sunlight on the worn carpet. The soft feel of Cody’s hands, his smooth skin, over hard muscle, his loneliness and fear of letting his family back in.  Tears dribbled down his cheeks at the ache in his chest.

How was he ever going to explain to Cody where he’d been? Or to Jack…

How was he going to fix this before Clive fetched him away, a failure?


Christmas Story Continued: Part VIII

It always gets worse before it gets better…

Previous installments:

Part One:   Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html

Part II: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Part III: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Pat IV: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Part V:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

Part VI: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Part VII:

https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/christmas-story-continued-part-seven/

 

 

Snow drifted lazily out of the indigo wash overhead. Kriss watched at the picture window, long arms wrapped around his middle. Behind him, the lights on the Christmas tree winked on and off, a random pattern of illuminations and shadows that changed his reflection in the window with every flash. His stomach rolled over itself. It couldn’t be because he was hungry. He never got hungry. That fact weighed on him heavily every time he sat down at the dining table with his lover, Michael and forced himself to eat. If he was succeeding in his quest, he’d get hungry and tired. There wouldn’t be the thin membrane of other between him and the world.

No. He wasn’t hungry, so why had the sharp twisting in his gut woke him and hauled him out of bed in the middle of the night? Why was it keeping him up, pacing the small living room and making him sweat, something else he hadn’t done in the year since he’d been back in the human world?

Clive had made short work of reprogramming him. He’d arrived back just a week after he’d left, he eventually figured out, in a city far south of the tiny house he’d been stolen from. For the first month after his arrival, Kriss had volunteered at a homeless shelter in the city where he’d found himself, oblivious to his previous life. He’d worked closely with young police man, Michael Bridges, to patrol a secluded park frequented mostly by gay homeless men looking for safety in numbers. A month into their association, when Michael had discovered Kriss himself was one of those homeless, he’d had a small conniption.

“Why didn’t you tell me!” Kriss remembered the fury on Michael’s face, his tight grip on both Kriss’s arms as he shook him slightly, and he remembered the visceral feel of the fear behind the words. Fear Michael had been unable to voice. The shock of realizing Michael’s words and actions didn’t match his inner emotional state–knowing that they didn’t–had rocked Kriss. He couldn’t have explained how he knew. He just did.

Kriss had a flashing image of Clive ram through his head in that instant. He didn’t understand it. At the time he didn’t even know who the miniature man in his mind was, and it had thrown him off. “You didn’t ask,” he’d snapped, not sure where the angry response came from, unable to stop the random flashes of what he now knew had been memories. At the time, he’d thought he was going mad as those images overrod the artificial memories Clive had installed in him.

“I didn’t…” Michael had stared at him. “I didn’t ask? Kriss. I thought…” Michael’s inner confusion had battled the anger off his face. As Kriss righted his thoughts from the knife sharp flashes of memory he didn’t recognize, all of Michael’s agony hit him like a wrecking ball. “I thought we were friends,” Michael had said, voice dropping to soft, liquid emotion. The young cop was just too soft on the inside for his own good, and Kriss had stepped close, touched him, needing to comfort him.

“We are. I’m sorry. That wasn’t fair. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think it mattered. I helped the others. I have everything I needed.”

“A home? You don’t think you need a home?”

“Home is…” Kriss had frowned, unable to answer. He could only see an vague shadow of a small, white kitchen, a ragged living room with faded brown carpet. He didn’t know the house in his mind. He couldn’t have said where it was, who’s it was, or that he’d ever been there. But he couldn’t shake the indistinct images away, either, and they left him dizzy and uncertain. Michael had taken him off the street, then and there, brought him to his own small, cramped house on the outskirts of the city.

At the time, confusing memories had assailed Kriss, leaving him disoriented, even a bit frightened. It had taken days to sort them out. Images of Clive’s workshop had overlapped with sweet memories of a man who’s name Kriss couldn’t, to this day, remember. A lot of quiet, lonely hours curled in the only bed Michael owned passed as he sorted out what was happening to him.

In the end, he gathered up the memories of Clive, sorted them into order and figured out who and what he was. Whatever Clive had done to him, however he had tried to reprogram Kriss, it hadn’t worked. The reality was, Kriss knew he was meant to be somewhere else, with someone else, but he couldn’t remember where or who. He also knew, instinctively, that Michael needed him here. He’d been sent to help him overcome his debilitating fear of persecution and loneliness, and he knew this was his quest, because Michael was the only person who’s heart Kriss could understand.

In remembering what Clive had done to him, Kriss also understood he could no more leave Michael searching and alone than he could get back to the place he thought of as home. This was his life, now, and if he was going to keep it, he had to solve the puzzle of Michael’s fear of coming out. It would be wrong to say he was resigned to it. He did love his partner. Michael was a good, kind man. He treated Kriss well. If Kriss had to be stuck somewhere, he couldn’t really complain about it being here.

Michael cared about people, possibly too much. Kriss suspected that care was what held him back, prisoner inside himself, afraid to hurt people by telling them things they didn’t want to hear. Michael’s beat partner, Jack Chance, was one such person. Kriss had asked many times to meet the man Michael spent ten hours a day with. He wasn’t jealous. He wanted to know what the guy was like. But Michael’s response had always been that Jack wasn’t comfortable with their relationship. Michael didn’t want to rub his face in something that upset him when there was no reason to. All Kriss could do was accept that for now, Michael wanted to live this half life. Kriss just hoped he could help him understand people could be accepting if he was brave enough to try.

In truth, he felt most sorry for Jack. He had a partner who would move the ends of the earth to protect him, to do right by him, and he didn’t get the full benefit of Michael’s warmth and love. He was resolved to do his best to meet the man and talk to him, find out if he really was that uncomfortable with the idea of working alongside a gay man, or if there was something else going on.

Except, now, as Kriss watched the night and the snow, and tried to reach for the comforting warmth that was his lover’s heart and soul, he found nothing. Only the churning in his gut. The empty feeling kept him company as he gazed out at the first snow fall of the year. Three days to Christmas, Michael’s last shift before a week of holidays, and Kriss knew, on a gut-deep, bone-chilling level, the warmth he searched for had been taken from him.

A half hour passed. The snow accumulated on the front porch. Kriss moved from the window to turn on the outdoor light above the front door. Someone would be there soon to tell him what had happened. It wouldn’t be Michael. Damp warmth curled it’s way down Kriss’s cheeks.

It was Jack Chance who finally knocked on his door. Though he already knew the news the other man carried, Kriss invited him inside and showed him to the couch. People needed to talk, he’d learned. They needed to say things to make them real. The look on Jack’s face said he was trying very hard to hold back the reality he’d come to tell Kriss.

Jack sat, lighting on the very edge of the couch cushions, skin pale against the dark wrinkles of his uniform. He turned his hat around and around in his hands. He said nothing. His lips parted, like he might speak, but closed again on empty air.

“Where’s Michael?” Kriss was surprised how flat his own voice sounded.

Jack met his gaze, and they both knew Kriss already sensed why Jack was here. “There was a shooting,” the police officer said, finally. Mechanically, he described the freak riquochet that had entered Michael’s body on a downward trajectory , just missing his clavicle, his flack jacket, his ribs to shear straight through his heart.

Kriss nodded. That had been what woke him, what set his stomach roiling. Michael had died instantly, and Kriss had felt it, even the quiet trance-like state that passed for sleep for him.

“I’m sorry,” Jack said, his voice a dull throb. “Is there someone I can call for you? Family? A friend?”

Kriss shook his head. “There’s just me. Me and…” his gaze drifted to the photo sitting on the mantel of himself and Michael at a party. He shifted to look at the shining tree. “Just me.” He hadn’t ever cried. Ever. But his cheeks were damp again, his heart empty. His only consolation was knowing, in three days, it wouldn’t matter. In three days, his expiry date would arrive, and there would be no Michael to save, no puzzle to solve. No wish to grant.

“You can’t stay here by yourself,” Jack said. There was something in his voice, something strong and resolute that made Kriss look up to where he was now standing. “Christmas is in three days.”

Kriss nodded.

“Since Michael had no family…no one but you, that is, and he never filed anything official about you…” his brows drew down. “And I’m sorry that he didn’t. I tried to get him to, but he wouldn’t. He was afraid it might affect both our careers.”

“It’s fine.” Kriss managed a fake smile. “He was private…”

Jack just nodded. “The department is arranging his funeral. Please.” he drew in a deep breath. “Please don’t stay here by yourself.”

“Where would I go?” Kriss rose, suddenly needing to be alone. “There was just us. Me and him. This is my home.” That hollow feeling, that vague, thin memory of another house, another, worn but welcoming living room flashed through his mind and he ached as much for never having found that memory as for the loss of his life now. He found himself leaning heavily on the door handle as the memory faded.

“You’ll come to mine,” Jack said, reaching and supporting him by the elbow.

“You don’t even know me.” he tried to pull away. His motion was weak, though. He couldn’t free himself even of that gentle touch.

“Michael loved you, Kriss. He talked about you…I’m sorry we never met before now. You can’t spend Christmas sitting here alone. Michael wouldn’t want that.”

Unexpected, Kriss felt a heavy twinge of regret. It twisted it’s way through his heart and he winced. It wasn’t his emotion. He looked up into Jack’s eyes and saw it there, a deep sadness the man was holding in a tight grip of control. He nodded. “You’re right. He wouldn’t.”

Kriss didn’t know for sure if that was true. He realized he’d relied heavily on his ability to just know what Michael was feeling and now that the feeling was gone, he couldn’t say for sure what his lover would have wanted. But he could see in Jack’s eyes that he wanted very much to fill the void for both of them that Michael’s death would leave.

Sighing, he left Jack in the living room and went to pack a few clothes into a bag. He’d told Jack this was his home, but without the warmth of his lover, it was nothing to him now, just an empty shell. The last thing he did before following Jack out the front door was unplug the Christmas lights. They winked out and the room sank into darkness.


Christmas Story Continued Part Seven



So, I figured it was time to see where Kriss is really from. What he’s meant to do, and you know, maybe shake things up a bit.

Previous installments:

Part One:   Santa’s New Line: http://dontkickmycane.livejournal.com/146309.html

Part II: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/a-christmas-story-continued/

Part III: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/a-christmas-story-cont-part-iii/

Pat IV: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/a-christmas-story-part-iv/

Part V:  https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/christmas-story-cont-part-iv/

 Part VI: https://sixdreamweavers.wordpress.com/2011/01/03/christmas-story-continued-beyond-christmas/

Kriss stood on the doorstep for only a second before wrapping his arms around himself and stepping down. He glanced up at the sky. It had been overcast, now it was snowing, and the stuff was falling thicker and thicker by the second. The temperature dipped so fast he thought he could feel it stripping away all the warmth left over from his trysts with Cody. He shivered.

“Screwed that one up right good, didn’t ya?”

He looked down to the source of the sharp, stinging words. “Clive.”

The little man, elf, actually, pixie-perfect with his curly brown hair and almond-shaped eyes glared up at him. “Come on, then. Let’s get you back to the shop and re-tuned. Maybe you’ll get the next one right.”

“What?” Panic flashed through Kriss. “Wait! No. I did. This was right.”

“Sure.” Clive reached up and grasped Kriss’s arm. “That’s why he kicked you out.”

A bright searing light cut across Kriss’ vision. The ground dropped out from under him, and the world tilted him, churning his gut. Bile rose and spewed out, then he was stumbling back onto his feet and almost to his knees. The bitter taste of vomit clung to his tongue. “Geez, Clive. You could warn a guy.”

Clive snickered. “Just be glad you didn’t get any on me.”

Kriss yanked his arm free of the elf’s hold and glanced around. They stood outside the little man’s shop. The bright red walls rose up three stories above the snow-covered ground, a patchwork of windows, gears and pulleys and chimney stacks protruding from the walls. A large satellite dish swivelled to and fro on the green-shingled roof.

“What are we doing here?” Trepidation crept into Kriss’s voice and he hung back when Clive took a few striding steps forward.

Clive stopped, looked back. “I told you. Reprogramming. We’ll give you another project. This one was obviously too much for you.”

“No.” Kriss planted his feet firmly. “No, I can do it. Send me back.”

“He tossed you out on your kister, there big guy.”

“It was a misunderstanding. I can fix it.”

“Through a closed door?” Clive lifted one finely tapered brow. “For an emissary of the season, you kinda suck at your job.” his eyes glittered. “Or did you not suck and that was the problem.”

“For an elf, you’re jackass,” Kriss shot back. “It’s his family. He’s scared to let them in. Let me go back. I can help him.”

“You’re lucky the Old Man let me bring you back here, Kriss. He could have had me exile you to The Island. Or worse.”

Kriss flushed. There was worse than The Island? “I’m not a toy, misfit or otherwise.”

“No. You’re a construct.” Clive turned and headed toward his shop. “Come inside. It’s freezing out here.”

“What do you mean ‘a construct’?” The slip of information was just enough to get Kriss curious, make him want to know more, and he inwardly cursed Clive for dropping it and walking away, practically forcing him to follow if he wanted answers.

“The Old Man had this idea,” Clive explained as they reached the door. He opened it, held it for Kriss who had to duck to get inside, and followed him in.

Inside, the cold winter cast its white-blue glow through the many windows. The large main floor was cavernous, the ceiling rising, open to the rafters. Balconies and platforms at various levels around the outer walls explained the gears and pulleys. They served to lift and lower the huge creations being constructed up there down the outside of the building when they were done.

“Wow.”

“You were born here,” Clive told him, his voice dropping from the high, digging tone to something a little huskier, maybe even with some fondness in it.

“I was?”

“You don’t remember?”

Kriss shook his head. “No.” He moved further into the building and craned his neck to look up at the glassed in laboratories on the upper-most level. “Not really.” Though as he gazed up, he did have something like a vague recollection of the endless view down into the winter-lit workshop below.

 “The Old Man decided a while back he needed to branch out. Too many people were forgetting, too young, what the season was supposed to feel like. He thought he should find a way to remind the grown-ups.”

“A new line,” Kriss whispered, still gazing up, memories slowly filtering back through his more recent recollections of life among people.

“Yes, exactly. He picked older kids and young adults to try out the first prototypes.”

Kriss lowered his head and blinked at Clive. “Is that what I am?”

“Aye. One of the very first. In fact, all the other units sent out same time you were have already been recalled.”

“Why wasn’t I?”

A wry, grudging smile twisted one side of Clive’s mouth. “Because you seemed to not only be working, but improving your skills as you searched for your target. Since you were spreading the feeling even to people who weren’t your problem, we decided to let you go and see how long you’d last. The others, when they didn’t find their targets after a few years started losing it. Went a little ballistic, some of them. We had to bring them back before they did more harm than good.”

“Ballistic? What do you mean?”

“You ever see the movie “ELF”?

Kriss nodded, a grimace pulling his lips off his teeth. “Bad movie.”

Clive nodded. “Made by one of your contemporaries who was sent to a young man who wanted to find his birth father. He took the kid’s wish on as his own, convinced himself this was the way to get the Old Man’s attention.” He winced. “It worked. Took a lot of doing to convince him to let me keep you in the field as long as we did after that. He wanted the whole lot of you brought back, tweaked, fail safes put in.”

“Fail safes?”

A long sigh escaped Clive and he leaned on a nearby workbench. “The new unites have one year from their release to find their target and get the wish sorted. If they fail, they convert to static.”

Kriss’s eyes narrowed. “What does that mean?”

“You notice an increase in the number of slightly disturbing, realistic-looking mannequins in the past few years?”

A chill ran just under Kriss’s skin. “That’s…” He studied Clive and for the first time, saw an emotion other than cool indifference.

“That’s the way it is, kid.”

Kriss backed a few steps toward the door. “You’re going to do that to me?” He was still shivering, felt thin and vulnerable.

Clive looked decidedly unhappy. “Orders are orders, Kriss. I’m to give you a new assignment and reset your parameters to shut down after a year if you don’t finish.”

“What happens if I do finish?”

“You never have to come back here. You get your own life. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how that would go. The theory is, you’d slowly take on more and more human traits, your magical ones would fade. You’d be human.”

Kriss frowned. “Theoretically?”

An uncomfortable shrug lifted one of Clive’s shoulders and he dropped his attention to a fascinating hang nail. “We’re still working out the kinks.”

“So none of the prototypes have worked?”

“It’s an issue,” Clive admitted, still not looking at him. He chewed on his inner cheek and picked at a callous.

“An issue.”

Clive didn’t look up.

“Clive, send me back. I was working. I got it right.”

“What do you mean?”

“I got hungry, Clive. I needed to eat, sleep, piss. I…”

“You what?” Clive was looking up at him now, interested, excited, even.

“Uh.” Telling Clive he’d had the best orgasms in all the fifteen years he’d been out there suddenly didn’t seem all that pertinent. Heat flashed up Kriss’s neck. “Just trust me. I know I was almost there.”

There was a long pause. Kriss held his breath, sure Clive would agree he had to go back. Then the elf shook his head. “Sorry.”

“Please!”

“Can’t. Orders.”

“Clive

“Sorry, kid.” The little elf raised a hand, palm out and Kriss felt the same flash of vertigo just before he crumpled. He was out before the quickly rising workshop floor hit his face.