“What the hell are you doing?”
Adahy stood in the apartment doorway surveying the room. Riasg remained sitting shirtless in the center of the floor, the exposure of white skin making his dark hair seem all the blacker. He had pushed the meager furniture against the walls. Every inch of the cleared space was littered with remnants of a Christmas tree. Everything except the neatly cleared center where Riasg sat, hand holding the silver knife still poised above a thick branch.
Riasg pushed down the heat of embarrassment. He flicked a glance over Adahy before returning to his task, running the blade through the resistance of the wood until a curl of bark fell to the small pile below. The air disturbed by Adahy’s entrance filled once again with the sharp smell of balsam pitch.
“Buying a tree was the easiest way to get an evergreen. All the holly in this friggen city was fake. I won’t tell you what I had to do to get real mistletoe.”
As Riasg whittled another thick curl, the door smacked closed behind Adahy.
“Do you really think the sun is going to stand still for twelve days without this?”
“Huh, no. But it doesn’t hurt.”
Riasg resisted the urge to turn or fill the thick silence. He had enough shavings now. Hesitating, he finally scooped them toward the south side of the cleared circle. He glanced at the empty eastern portion, toying with a few curls in his fingers.
“Where is October?” Adahy asked over the thuds of unpacking the contents of his pack. Metal and the smell of gunpowder mixed with pine pitch.
“She’s in the kitchen. I gave her a recipe for oat cakes and told her they were pivotal to the ceremony.” Riasg grinned at the ploy, not caring Adahy’s wide shoulders had not unstiffened since Riasg’s first glance.
Adahy gave Riasg a double take, his deep hazel eyes flickering for a moment before he scowled. With his straight, dark-brown hair tightly pulled back, the look on Adahy’s usually warm face appeared threatening, which was a look becoming rather common.
“You should watch that expression. Your mom would never let you get away with that back home,” Riasg said as he set a cup of water on the eastern side of the circle. He stared at it for a moment, head cocked.
“I don’t have a home. And neither do you. It is gone. We will never see it again. This, all of this,” Adahy kicked at the tree remnants, sending needles scattering through the circle. “This is meaningless. Don’t you get it?”
The muscle in Riasg’s jaw twitched. Warmth rose in his gut, sending tendrils down to his hands. Oh he wanted to fight. It was what he knew best, not this, not the old traditions. Ever so slowly, he reached out and picked up a fir needle and flicked it out of the circle, then another.
When the circle was cleared again, he finally looked up at Adahy. Ice blue, he knew his eyes were ice blue with the anger. He was all winter and cold, destruction and fight to Adahy’s warm tones, family upbringing, and knowledge of the true ways. Somewhere though, they had switched roles since they’d left Swift River.
“Tell me, what did you think the first time you realized you couldn’t cross? No, what about the moment you realized you’d been unlucky enough to be born to see the Caillte Rè, that it wasn’t just a story?”
Adahy didn’t answer. His face remained a stone mask of bitterness. Riasg looked down to the items before him: silver knife, dish of pure sea salt, mistletoe, balsam chips, four candles, and a bowl of water.
“I remember,” Riasg whispered. “It is funny, I barely remember before, what it was like to have power. But I remember so clearly the first time I could not cross the veil. It was closed and I realized this was the Dubharach.”
“You started to fight. You joined the Unseelie.”
Riasg shook his head. “Nah, that was later. I was scared shitless then. It was the first time when I realized being born with a long life did not guarantee you would live it.” He looked up at his friend. “I’m starting to think there has to be more to us than fighting. Why survive if everything we are is gone?”
Some of the anger left Adahy’s face, softening the lines of his mouth to something noble. It was the first time in weeks Riasg had seen some semblance of the young Manitou he had met that spring.
“I brought you some sage to use instead of the pine.”
Adahy snorted, glancing over at Riasg through his long lashes. “Great, but you know water goes in the west?”