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Short story: Halloween

I started on this a bit before actual Halloween, but then school and NaNo got in the way of me finishing it, but after I successfully made it through November and this years novel draft fun-times I finished this!

It’s kind of a sequel to Water Dance in that it introduces two of the characters there, so might want to read that first.  (And oops, this one is even longer than Water Dance was.)

But now, without any more babbling…Have some way overdue holiday stuff with quirky characters (two of which I don’t own and I will always be grateful to her for letting me use them).

*

*

Like how the lightning was the herald of thunder, so the ghostly visage waiting for Cassandra when she entered her cabin was the herald of worse things to come.

“Hello”, said Douglas, fading slowly into view. “My brother will be here shortly.”

“How wonderful”, she said, willing the smile to stay on her face, hoping it didn’t appear to be forced. It had been some time since she’d last seen the strange brothers Zouriel had so kindly decided to relocate to her vicinity, so she’d hoped they’d found a better place to while away the hours than here. Apparently she’d been wrong.

Like his brother, Gil also decided to skip the whole idea of using the door and instead slithered under it, damn those cracks. The surlier and considerably less polite of the two, Gil started off by grunting and demanding coffee. Douglas looked apologetic enough (and more visible than last time, she noted) that she actually went to make some. She was about to make herself a cup anyway.

If there was one thing she had learned fast, it was that it was best to keep Gil content and silent, or else there would be trouble. In some ways he was like a badly behaved pup that wasn’t properly socialized…Or cabin-trained. She let out a mournful sigh as she noted the state of her carpets, already looking quite sodden and sad.

“I’m sorry if my brother is a bit of as ass”, Douglas said, clutching his own mug of coffee in his semi-transparent hands. “He always took care of me when I was little though.”

“That’s nice…” Cassandra said, eying the big elephant in the room as he ingested his own caffeinated beverage with a surprisingly content look on his face.

“We went to see the Niagara Falls”, Douglas supplied. “The Canadian side was especially lovely.”

“Feh…it was all a bunch of falling water, big whoop”, Gil mumbled, flicking the watery tendrils of hair out of his eyes. “People are idiots for paying money to go see it.”

“Well, yes…That is the advantage of being…Like this”, Douglas said, almost appearing to blush a bit. “Borders and customs don’t apply for those who can just…sneak past.”

He lowered his voice slightly, whispering in Cassandra’s ear. “I felt pretty naughty, if I am to be truly honest.”

She found herself returning the smile on his face. There was something endearing about Douglas. He had his heart in the right place, something she had actually been able to confirm and seemed to balance out Gil and his rougher edges quite nicely. She had never had siblings herself, so she could only imagine what it had been like growing up with a brother. Zouriel felt a bit like a brother to her, but it wasn’t quite the same, was it?

Oy’s eyes went wide when he shoved up the door, walking inside with his arms full of fall apples.

“It’s the ghost guy and the blob guy!” he said, dropping the apples in a messy pile on the floor.

“Oh, look…Its….child…thing”, Gil said, tilting his head to the side. There was a hint of fear in his eye as Oy came running for them and he seemed visibly relieved when the boy ran up to Douglas instead.

“Are you going to stay here for Halloween? Cause that would be pretty awesome! We’re going to carve pumpkins and apples and all sorts of things and make monsters! And then we’re going to dress up and we’re going to have candy and tell scary stories and I get to stay up all night!”

“Whoah, Oy…Breathe…” Cassandra said, raising an eyebrow. Yet the boy plowed on, telling Douglas about every minute detail about their Halloween celebrations. Oy couldn’t go Trick or Treating like she had when she was little, but she still wanted to boy to have a nice time.

“Maybe we could, brother?” Douglas gave Gil a look. “…If that’s alright with you, Miss Cass?”

Yes, Douglas was definitely her favorite of the two. Maybe she could coax Zouriel into taking Gil home with him. It really would be like having a puppy, complete with creating nasty stains on carpets and upholstery.

Gil looked mostly bored when he turned around from his close study of a spider which was nesting in the ceiling. He shrugged. “Whatever.”

“Oh, maybe if it gets cold, we could make him into a snow man!” Oy said, daring a poke at Gil. The water being definitely flinched and in an instant he’d transported himself from the table to the couch that Zouriel normally slept on when he stayed the night.

“You should put a leash on that”, he told Cassandra, his eye narrowed.

“Oh, brother, he’s just a child!” Douglas said.

“Yes…And he’s full of germs, all of them waiting to invade me.”

Cassandra smirked. Perhaps this could be entertaining after all.

“You two are welcome to stay for Halloween”, she said, the smile she offered possibly a bit too pleased.

 

***

 

Cassandra  peered up at the sky, big bellied clouds on the horizon, cold winds blowing from the north, she really wouldn’t be surprised if the New England weather gods decided to give them an early batch of snow, the kind that caused power lines to collapse and snap. Turning her mind to more immediate matters, she found that while Gil seemed more sullen in the colder weather they were experiencing, Douglas seemed to be enjoying it. Tumbling around outside with Oy, it seemed effortless for him to shift from near perfect solidity to invisibility. It brought to mind her high school chemistry, about the properties of matter. Freezing gas becomes more solid, liquids freeze

She didn’t exactly feel sorry for Gil, she was not one to pity anyone and certainly not someone as much of an ass as him, but she couldn’t be completely indifferent to his sulking, especially when it went hand in hand with him lashing out. Though Zouriel had been a bit of a jerk too when she first met him. At least she felt relatively safe having Oy interact with them, though it was mostly with Douglas. Gil seemed to be doing what Zouriel could be partial too as well; sulking.

So, while Oy kept the chemical brothers outside, she could enjoy her alone time, just her and the two by three feet of blank canvas, just waiting to be filled out.

 

***

 

“Ready or not, here I come!”

Oy quickly turned around from the sturdy tree and surveyed his surroundings. It was time to hunt! When Oy stalked he liked to do it on all fours. He could sense things better like that, see things better, so he quickly slid down into his animal form, leaves crunching under his paws.

His eyes quickly picked out some movement beyond a tree and he ran. Then suddenly, right as he was running a large pile of leaves erupted into the form of Douglas. Whatever he’d seen was quickly forgotten as he began to pounce and dance around Douglas legs, as they slowly solidified.

“Man, oh, man! I never would have found you, that’s so cool!” he said, running in a circle, dancing like a kitten who just found a new toy.

Douglas just smiled, but it was kind of a sad smile, which dampened Oy’s enthusiasm somewhat. He knew those kinds of smiles. He’d seen them on both Cass and Zourie. He settled down among the leaves, licking one paw thoughtfully.

“It’s fun playing with you”, he offered to Douglas. “Zourie doesn’t like to play much, but he does it sometimes anyway. When Miss Cass bullies him.”

Douglas smile seemed more like a proper smile now and Oy was happy to reciprocate with a feline grin. Then a loud cracking sound quickly reminded him of the movement he’d seen before and the cat in him took over.

Slowly, slowly he crawled closer; there were more sounds now, crunching and cracking…Some grunts too. Wiggling his behind he pounced.

Gil yelled as several pounds of feline smashed through his legs mid throw and the rock he’d been about to lob at the tree flew astray, to a sound of cracking branches and rustle of dead leaves.

He took one step back, then another.

“Brother, are you alright?” Douglas asked, while Oy was cleaning Gil out of his nose and ears.

“I’ll be great when you leave me the hell alone”, Gil muttered, picking up another rock and hurling it at the tree he’d picked as target practice, adding to the crater forming in its trunk.

“You taste funny”, Oy said, peering up at the liquid man.

“Hahah. I bet you taste real funny too, maybe I should try!” Gil snarled.

“Brother…Be nice”, Douglas said. “He really is just a kid. He’s just a little different…Just like us.”

“Not like us…Not at all”, Gil said, squaring his jaw and this time he used a branch for a bat, when he drove another rock at the hapless tree. This rock got stuck in the ravaged trunk of the tree.

“You shouldn’t hurt the tree”, Oy offered. “It’s a good tree for climbing in the summer. It’s really fun.”

“Well, I’m having fun now”, Gil said, as he walked up to the tree and then slammed a fist into the hole he’d made. He did it once, twice, three times. Every time his fist hit the tree it made a disturbing smacking sound and Oy winced every time. He wondered if that hurt and it was somewhere there the realization came to him.

“Douglas?” he said, peering up at the younger man. “Can you hurt?”

“I can’t speak for my brother, but I know there are things that are…unpleasant. Painful even, yes…Probably not quite the same things that hurt you, but still.”

Oy took this in and watched Gil and he tried to massacre the tree and not actually doing a very good job of it now that he’d resorted to punching it.

“I think Gil is hurting right now”, he said, as he nuzzled Douglas hand slightly. It felt kind of ticklish, like playing in the snow.

“I think so too”, Douglas said with a sigh, as he ran his semi-solid fingers through Oy’s fur.

 

***

 

Zouriel pulled the worn army jacket closed against the howling of the wind, much too cold for this time of year. It seemed rather likely that New England was going to play another one of those weather tricks on them. He wondered idly if he should turn around and head back into town; call Cassandra with some lame excuse so he’d not end up trapped in her cabin by another blizzard. The first time had been quite enough. He shifted the weight of the duffel bag from his normal hand, which was cramping rather unpleasantly, to his left. Well, he’d made it this far, there would be a waste to turn around now. And hell, Halloween was just one day. Zouriel was sure he’d survive it. Maybe he’d even play along with Oy, no matter what crazy game he wanted to play.

There was something off about the whole scene when he finally arrived at Cassandra’s. He’d expected to be run down by an overexcited Oy, begging him for something or other, but things were actually fairly peaceful. Further into the forest he heard sounds, which he attributed to Oy’s mischief and while he felt a small sense of relief that he was not faced with that energy right now, it also felt…Odd. Odd and strange to not receive that customary welcome wagon.

He nudged the door open and was hit by a mouthwatering smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla. Cassandra’s easel was unoccupied for once, but he could hear her puttering about in the kitchen.

“Hey, Zourie!” she said poking her head out of the kitchen doorway, a dusting of flour painting a white streak across the bridge of her nose. “You’re not late for once.”

“Late? When have you considered me to be “late” in the past?” he said and frowned.

“Well, when a person informs you that it would be quite nice if you arrived before sunset and you arrive after…”

“Like I had any control over that.”

“Well, you could have let me now”, she said and arched an eyebrow.

“I’ll remember to call the next time I have to be here and I’m trying to avoid evisceration”, he said dryly and dumped the duffel bag on the floor with a thump.

Cassandra immediately forgot whatever she had been working on and pounced on it.

“Ooooh, is that it? Did you bring the things I asked for?”

“I tried my best”, he said and yawed widely enough that it pulled slightly on the scar tissue on his cheek and he winced slightly.

He pulled off coat and boots and slumped into one of the chairs and watched Cassandra unpack the bag, one item at a time.

“Candy corn, candles, fake blood, Reese’s cups…A big bag too!” Cassandra’s smile was not unlike what you’d see in those sugary commercials around Christmas time. Those with the ridiculously happy families which always made Zouriel roll his eye until he feared it would fall out of its socket.

“I assumed you were set when it came to pumpkins, what with your garden and all”, he said, running his fingers through his hair.

“It wasn’t the best weather this summer for pumpkins, but I managed to save a couple of really nice ones”, she said and looked up at him with those impossibly dark eyes, putting aside the candy she’d unpacked. “I told Oy we’d carve one of them for a lantern when you got here.”

“Where is the kid anyway?” he asked peering lazily around the room, as if he was expecting the kid to jump out from behind the ratty old couch and yell “boo”.

Zouriel knew something was up, he was too good at reading people to not see how she tried not to avert her gaze, how she seemed to mull over her answer one second too long. How she bit her lip ever so slightly in the way that told him that she debated whether she could get away with lying. Somehow the idea that lying was even on the table hurt him ever so slightly.

“Well…” she began, then fiddled with the bag of gummy worms she was holding. “We…Might have some more guests this Halloween.”

“Guests?” he said, immediately straightening in his seat. He wondered if his eye was flashing, her startled expression made him suspect as much.

“Zouriel…It’s no big deal, they’re just staying for a little while”, she said, her mouth set into a thin line. “Besides, you were the one that brought them here in the first place.”

And suddenly he knew exactly who those guests were.

“It’s the freak show duo, isn’t it?” he said, perhaps a little more harshly than he’d intended. As long as the water bucket didn’t try to strangle him he wasn’t that horrible to be around. But still not his favorite company in the world, besides…Cassandra and Oy were *his*. He didn’t feel too happy about sharing these kinds of events with them.

“Now, that’s not a very nice thing to say, Zourie”, Cassandra said, her voice cooler than the air outside. “Especially coming from someone who knows what it’s like to have been made different by outside forces.”

“I guess so”, he grunted and leaned back in his chair, wondering again about those sounds he’d heard outside.

“Oy likes Douglas”, Cassandra said. “And Douglas is a very good babysitter, considering his…State. I was glad when he took Oy off my hands for the day, while I waited for you to get your ass here.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that”, Zouriel said and folded his arms across his chest. If his voice was a bit too caustic then that was out of his control.

The feelings that bubbled up inside him confused him. He’d not felt like this since Marcus, when he got it in his head that he had a thing for the captain of their squad. Marcus had set him straight and made him feel very dumb when he realized that not only was the captain taken, he was engaged to a woman. “Straight as they make them, that one, you dumbfuck” had been Marcus exact words. Then he’d showed him in a quite…thorough way that there was only man in his life. Incidentally, that had been the last night they shared before…Before it had all ended. The night when Zouriel was pulled out of that bunker half-dead and the rest of them in bodybags. He shuddered and tried to dispel the horrible imagery that flooded over the barricades he’d built around that particular memory.

“Ow!”

He nearly jumped a foot out of his seat from the sharp poke in his side. Cassandra looked down on him with a quirky grin on her face and a knife in the other.

“You had your weird face on, so I thought I’d snap you out of it”, she said and playfully ruffled his hair. “You don’t have to be jealous, you know. Oy is probably on his way back by now to see if you’ve arrived here.”

“That’s because I have all the candy”, Zouriel said with a barely contained smile. He wasn’t going to sulk, hadn’t he moved beyond that?

As if he’d sensed them talking about him the door slammed open and there stood Oy, leaves in his hair and behind him Douglas hovered, looked every bit the spitting image of a ghost and behind him was the brooding form of Gil.

“Mister Zourie!” Oy yelped and leaped straight for him, nearly knocking Zouriel off the chair.

“Now that you’re here we can carve the pumpkin and then we can help Miss Cass make dinner and Douglas agreed that we should make the pumpkin look like Gil cause he’s all scary looking and stuff!”

Zouriel let him talk uninterrupted, though he noted the slight look of betrayal on Gil’s face as he glared at his brother and peered up at the guests Cassandra had warned him about. He nodded stiffly towards them in greeting.

“My brother was finding the forest a bit too cold. So we thought we’d impose a bit and warm ourselves up for a day or so”, Douglas said to explain their presence and nodded politely, nearly bowing and scraping himself through the back wall.

Gil merely glowered at him, nodded once and making a show of tossing his watery strands out of his eyes (surely they weren’t growing, that would be a physical impossibility) and then elbowed himself past his younger brother and slithered inside the warmth of the cabin.

“Zourie! Zourie!” Oy continued from his newfound perch on his lap. “Douglas is really nice, you should talk to him and I bet you’d get along a lot!”

Zouriel grinned at him then gently lifted him up and plopped him down on the floor so he could get up from his seat. “I see…Well…If he comes with your recommendation…”

Douglas gave him a shy nod and bowed again for good measure. “We never got to talk much last time…After you helped free me. I’m still terribly grateful for your help! And so is my brother, though he’s not very good with words.”

Zouriel glanced over at Gil, who’d slid into the kitchen and was now rummaging through the cabinets in a rather noisy way. This did not escape Cassandra’s notice.

“Jesus Christ, Gil! If you want something, just tell me instead of just…Throwing half the kitchen around!” she yelled and stalked into the kitchen. Watching a woman with all the strength of a 500-something pound hoofed mammal behind her wrestle a man looking like a moving jello mold was quite the spectacle.

It involved a lot of grunting, things being squished and a lot of slipping around inside and outside each other. He wasn’t entirely sure how that was possible, but suddenly he saw the appeal of those brain-dead reality shows that involved scantily clad people wrestling in some messy substance. It was enough to make him steer Oy in the other direction.

“Cass! I thought we were carving that pumpkin!” Zouriel yelled from the side of the room where he could not see the goings on in the kitchen. At least he could feel fairly certain that he could bat for both teams now, though thinking of Cass in that manner felt all kinds of wrong. It felt quite a lot like being attracted to your sister. The weird feelings aimed at Gil he didn’t even want to think about.

Finally Cassandra emerged from kitchen, messy and wet, but looking rather satisfied. In her arms she cradled a large and well-shaped pumpkin.

“That should teach him”, she said smugly, plunking the large vegetable down on the table.

“Can I ask you what you did to him?” Zouriel said and eyed the state of her clothes, how they seemed to…dribble.

“Oh, I shoved an entire container of cayenne pepper inside him”, she said with the widest grin he’d seen in quite a while. “He’s positively miserable.”

They all had their hands full of pumpkin guts when Douglas emerged with Gil from the kitchen. True to her word, Gil really did look like a small bit of hell warmed over, quite literally. His one eye was watery and runny, his gait more hunched over than usual, as if every step was painful.

“I hate you”, he whimpered and tried to fire off a glare at Cassandra. This was quite hard and instead it looked like a nearsighted man trying to read a sign too far away. The end result was that it was her bosom that received the brunt of that rheumy eyed glare.

“I should slap you for that”, Cassandra said playfully and added another handful of pumpkin seeds to the bowl on the table. “But it seems like it would be a bit too much.”

“I got some grown up chocolates for me and Cass”, Zouriel said and peered over at Douglas, who really did seem like the pleasant sort. Maybe that was why he felt like extending a proverbial olive branch to the unexpected company. “I think some of them were coffee flavored. Maybe he’d like that.”

Douglas smiled and quickly found the square box of chocolates amongst the more colorful Halloween treats he’d brought. “Thank you, mister Zouriel.”

With Gil somewhat placated with coffee liqueur bonbons they were able to more or less successfully replicate his frowny visage on the large pumpkin in front of them. Zouriel suggested adding fangs and horns, but that was immediately shot down, though a somewhat flustered Douglas let slip that his brother had “acted rather scary sometimes”. Gil had sluggishly tried to poke an elbow in Douglas direction, but had slipped down into a more reclining position where he kept sucking the filling out of the bonbons.

“I used to wonder as a kid if you could get drunk off of those things”, Zouriel said sorting through the pumpkin guts for more seeds that Cassandra could roast up for a snack. Gil squinted angrily in his direction and tried to toss the empty chocolate husk of a bonbon at his head. It missed and clattered against the wall behind them. Oy leapt for it and immediately popped the thing in his mouth.

“Oy! You don’t know what kind of germs is on that!” Cass said.

The boy just tilted his head to the side with a puzzled expression. “But Gil is all water, there are no germs in him, I’d be able to see them!”

“Meh…That kid’s got more germs in him than I do…” Gil mumbled from his puddle-like position at the table. “I bet he’s immune to ev’rything.”

They left Gil there on the table, though Cassandra cast some wistful look at the dwindling supply of bonbons, while the rest of them took the newly carved lantern outside where the sun’s slow descent behind clouds building up over the horizon had made twilight come earlier than usual. After a fair amount of begging and pleading, Cassandra let Oy light the candle inside their pumpkin creation. With a whoop he shifted to his ocelot form and bounced, ran and galloped across the clearing to get himself a good view of the lantern from every possible position.

“It looks so awesome, oh my god, Douglas and Zourie you should come look!”

Slowly and a little hesitantly the older men did as Oy had suggested and took a few steps back to get a better look at the flickering shape of the pumpkin carving.

“It does bear a striking resemblance to my brother”, Douglas mused. That he seemed to almost solidify completely did not escape Zouriel’s attention, while his own breath misted over quite heavily in the cold air outside

“It certainly looks grumpy enough”, Zouriel said and grinned, then let it slip off his face for a second.

“So…I’m thinking you didn’t come looking for warmth for your own sake”, he said and let his glowing red gaze fall on Douglas, who managed to fidget slightly despite being made out of gas.

“I feel…More here when it’s cold”, Douglas just said. “But my brother was suffering so much…I had to think of him.”

“Hey, I thought you were the younger brother. Shouldn’t it be the other way around, older brothers looking out for the younger?”

Douglas flinched. “He…Gil, he always had a certain way of looking out for me. He always protected me when we were little, even when I didn’t need protecting. Then when things got out of hand for him in his life…I think he blames himself for how things turned out for us. It’s not fun to see him obsessed with that and when he’s uncomfortably aware of how his body has changed, it gets worse.”

Zouriel frowned, trying to puzzle it out for himself. “So…By helping him…You are kind of looking out for yourself.”

Douglas laughed; it was a queer, breathy sound that left no visible mark on the frosty air.

“I suppose it might seem like that!” he said. “But we need to look out for each other now, it’s no use thinking about who should look after who all the time.”

“Sounds sensible enough”, Zouriel said and wished he had a cigarette. Certain habits die harder than others.

Oy’s voice brought them back to reality.

“Hurry up, hurry up! We’re gonna make dinner now!”

Perhaps having those two freaks around wouldn’t be all that bad, Zouriel mused to himself as he made his way back to the cabin with Douglas trailing behind him, as if he was trying to suck as much chill from the air as possible.

After weaving through a small maze of paper skeletons and orange colored streamers that had been hung all over the main room they found Cassandra in the kitchen, fussing over a hissing pot, while Oy chopped vegetables with his child-safe knife; onions, garlic, bits of pumpkin, carrots and potatoes. Gil had recovered enough from the spice attack to have moved to the kitchen with the other two. He sat perched on a chair in the corner, glaring at Cassandra over the back of the chair.

“It is soup weather, don’t you think?” Cassandra said and peered over her shoulder at Zouriel, before supplying herself with chopped onions and garlic, tossing them into the spitting oil in the pan. “And for dessert there’d both pumpkin and apple pie.”

“It all smells very nice”, said Douglas with a rather forlorn look on his face. He hovered up to the stove and inhaled the evaporated smell of onion and the spices Cassandra had tossed in to bring out every single bit of the flavor in them. “Very nice…”

Douglas sighed with his entire body, almost folding up into a cloud of vapor himself before he moved to his brother’s side.

“I’ll pay her back for that cayenne one day”, Gil muttered and narrowed his eye.

“Don’t…Just don’t”, Zouriel said and grinned crookedly at the water man. “See, Cassandra always fights dirty.”

“I heard that”, she said, without turning away from her cooking, instead she continued to plop chopped vegetables in the pan, adding water and some cream. In one fluid motion she produced a chunk of carrot which sailed through the air at Zouriel’s head. He only just managed to dodge it, making the piece of root vegetable bounce off his metal arm making it sink slightly into Gil’s head.

“Gyaaaah!” he wailed and pawed at the offending piece of vegetable and managed to shake it free like a dog drying off after a bath. He was positively shaking now, but after Douglas whispered something in Gil’s ear he calmed down enough to sink back into his sulking, stalking pose. Zouriel tried to sneak a piece of pie, thinking he could catch Cassandra off guard now, but now her swift backlash hit home and he retreated with stinging fingers. Gil seemed a bit cheered at the sight of him sucking on his fingers.

Oy, having finished his chore bounced off the chair he’d been standing on and trotted off to the candy stash. Gil huffed and peered at the boy. When Oy noticed he was being watched he turned around to look at Gil and with a smile on his face he waved at him, with his mouth full of Reese’s.

“Isn’t he going trick or treating or something”, Gil said and winced. “Keep him outside for a bit…”

Oy tilted his head and turned to Zouriel, mindful not to bother Cassandra during this critical phase in the dinner making process. “What’s trick or treatin’?”

Cassandra’s back stiffened where she stood at the stove, Douglas looked surprised, Zouriel arched an eyebrow, but Gil looked more than a little incredulous. “Seriously, you’re having a Halloween thing and the kid doesn’t know what trick or treating is? That’s the entire point of Halloween when you’re a kid.”

“Wow, that mental image of you two begging for candy I just don’t…So not right…” Zouriel muttered and pinched the scarred bridge of his nose. “…Can’t really think of either of you as innocent kids.”

Douglas shifted nervously. “Gil wasn’t…Gentle even back then, but he made sure I got to do all the normal things as a child. Even when our parents…”

“Isn’t that precious”, Zouriel said and grinned widely, sneaking over a finger to try and poke the water man. Gil grabbed the finger and fired his customary sear-a-hole-in-your-head glare in response.

Oy came up and started tugging at Zouriel’s shirt. “I want to go trick or treating, Zourie. Please, can I go trick or treating?”

Cassandra turned around from her cooking with a stern look. “Oy, we don’t exactly live near anyone else and I won’t have you walk through the forest to find people to beg for candy.”

She then stalked over to Gil and hissed in his ear, just loud enough for Zouriel to pick it up. “And thanks for telling him about that. Maybe that cayenne wasn’t enough.”

“Aw, man….” Oy said and his face fell, slumping to the floor in a sulking position. “I really wanna…”

Douglas gave Cassandra a pleading look. “Is there no way Oy can try it out in a safe way? Surely…it’s not that big of a problem…”

“I’ll think about it”, Cassandra said and stirred the soup again with a bit more energy than it actually needed. Oy looked up at Cassandra again and pouted, before he sank into his ocelot form and retreated to the main room, where he curled up in front of the fireplace.

Zouriel sat down in the empty chair next to Gil and began to rock in it thoughtfully.

“Maybe we could…stage the basic candy begging part of it…” he said out loud, lightly scraping his claws against the back wall.

“Do you have an idea then?” Douglas asked, as he hovered a little closer. Zouriel chewed his lip thoughtfully before he spoke again.

“Douglas…Can you and Gil wear costumes?”

“Oh hell no…” Gil grumbled.

“I think I have just the thing for your body shape, Gil dear”, Cassandra said and grinned like the cat that had finally cornered the canary. Zouriel had a moment when he felt glad that Cassandra had someone else to tease for a change. Then she turned her wicked gaze on him too and he hated himself a little more. Because he knew he’d not be able to turn down whatever she suggested and it was his idea. And it was all for Oy’s sake too. Damn it all.

Dinner was an uneventful affair, simply because the older males in the room knew what awaited them. Tensely they sampled the fragrant autumn vegetable soup Cassandra had produced. Well, most of them ate, though Douglas did it with significant more care, ingesting the vapor coming off their steaming as much as the liquid itself and Gil…It always made him think of biology and single-celled organisms. Cassandra tried to cheer up the still sulking Oy with promises of something fun to come, but the boy didn’t seem to respond to her coaxing, not even when he was allowed extra helpings of pie with whipped cream. When he was told to head outside for a little bit after dinner he complied without much protest, he put on his heavy coat, boots and scarf in a way that made it look like he was getting ready for a funeral.

“Wow, that kid sure overreacts…” Gil said and tilted his head to the side.

“Brother! He acts just like you did!” Douglas exclaimed and floated in front of Gil’s face.

“I did not!”

“Did too, brother!”

“Not…That much!”

Zouriel chuckled and then laughed, until Cassandra poked him in the side and reminded him that it was time to get things ready for Oy’s return, putting up some more decorations…And for him to change into his costume. He tried one last time to plead with Cassandra to change her mind about the whole dressing up part.

“Nonsense, elaborate costumes is a part of Halloween, remember?”

“Well, I didn’t have this kind of outfit in mind!”

Gil offered him a mocking laughter until he got to see what he’d be wearing. To his credit he actually went along with it, but Douglas might have had a small part in that.

 

***

“Hello, miss Cass?”

Oy opened the door slowly, the hinges creaking slightly. The inside of the cabin had been transformed, with strips of fabric hanging from the ceiling in some places and black candles burning in others, casting a spooky glow. Suddenly Cass, wearing a cape and dark make-up was at his side and took his hand.

“We’re going to let you try some trick or treating, Oy”, she said and smiled, putting a crudely made paper crown on his head, then tying a similar, but smaller sized cape around his shoulders, finishing off his princely outfit by putting on a child-sized sword-belt. She looked a little scary in the dim light, but it was a good kind of scary, a fun kind of scary even. Disguising yourself without changing into the animal was a lot of fun.

Cassandra gave him a small bucket and sent him into the kitchen where a sheet hovered spookily in the air. At first he stood frozen to the spot filled with a mixture of shock and awe, then the sheet waved and Douglas hand poked out from under it.

“Just say “Trick or treat!”” Douglas whispered and Oy remembered himself.

“Trick or treat!” he parroted and rushed up to Douglas the sheet ghost and held out his bucket. A soft laugh emerged from under the sheet and a couple of foil wrapped chocolate shapes dropped into the bucket.

Swiftly a smiling Cassandra steered Oy out of the kitchen, spun him around a couple of times and next thing he knew he was in Cassandra’s bedroom. When he saw there made him stare.

On Cassandra’s bed, which had been covered by a tarp to protect it from its occupant, lay Gil, his lower body wrapped up in tinfoil to make it look like a fish’s tail, a dainty seashell bikini top covering his chest and someone had managed to tease his watery locks into a fancy shape using a fork-shaped hairclip.

“Just say the damn words already”, Gil said between gritted teeth. Oy had to step a little closer to make sure, but it did look like Cassandra had managed to put some make-up on his face too. The boy’s face split open in a huge grin.

“You’re really pretty looking, Gil!” he said.

“Say. The. Damn. Words”, Gil repeated, apparently making an effort not to chew off his own lip. It might have been the candles burning in the room, but the water man looked a little reddish.

Finally, having seen his fill Oy held out his bucket and said the expected “Trick or treat”, holding out his bucket.

Gil fumbled behind him and finally produced a handful of candy corn which he dropped into the bucket. “Now get the hell away and forget you saw anything.”

Despite the squinty gaze he sent his way Oy didn’t think Gil sounded very scary.

He was back in Cassandras care now, turned around and around until he thought he was going to be sick, but then he was moving again and then he was back in the main room. From behind the couch someone emerged with a groan and a cough. Oy’s mouth dropped open even more at the sight in front of him.

Zouriel had been squeezed into Cassandra’s Nice Summer Dress, the one with the fluffy skirt and flowers. His exposed left arm glinted in the candlelight, enough stuffing had been shoved into the dress to give Zouriel a comically large chest and there was no question that he was wearing girly make-up, judging by how his lips glistened almost as much as his arm. His hair was put up in a multitude of bows and was holding a fancy umbrella in one hand.

“Cass, you owe me so much for this”, he mumbled, while making a clear effort to keep a smile plastered on his face. Oy’s chest felt all warm and happy at the sight. Realizing that they’d do this much for him made him run over behind the couch and hug Zouriel’s legs tightly. Zouriel almost tripped over the high heels he was wearing but managed to pat the boy on the head.

“Trick or treat, mister Zourie”, Oy said and looked up at him, all smiles.

Zouriel’s smile turned genuine then and the bucket clattered with the sound of candy being dropped into it.

Cassandra came up behind Oy and scooped him up in her arms. “Are you happy now, Oy?”

He nodded and wrapped an arm around her, taking in that smell which was as safe to him as any mother’s smell. “We can share the candy if you want, miss Cass.”

“It’s your candy”, Douglas said, as he emerged from the kitchen with the sheet hanging off his shoulders. “That’s the whole point of trick or treating, eating all the candy you got in one go, even if you feel sick.”

The vapor man smiled and his eyes even seemed to twinkle in the light. Oy was about to see if he could hug Douglas too, when a screech split the air.

“I can’t get this fucking tin foil off me, oh my god get this off me!” A pause then “Holy shit, is this make-up WATER PROOF? I’m going to kill you, woman!”

“Should we help him?” Zouriel asked, plopping down on the couch so he could pull off the torture devices that were the high heels he’d crammed his feet into. Cassandra elegantly sat down next to him, poking him in the side.

“I think we can wait a little”, Douglas said and hovered over to the couch too. “Oy should have some candy first.”

Oy squeezed in between the others on the couch and upended the bucket on his lap. He grabbed a handful of candy corn and stuffed it in his mouth.

“Aren’t any of you going to help me?” Gil shrieked and there was a loud and wet thump from the other room.

Oy peered up at the others, unable to speak with a mouth full of sugar, because Cassandra had taught him that speaking with his mouth full was Not Nice.

“Counting down”, Zouriel said and stretched out on the couch as much as possible without disturbing the others.

“Six, five, four…” Douglas continued.

“Fuck you all!” came Gil’s voice, followed by a slithery sound.

“Already?” Zouriel said and peered over at Douglas, who sighed.

“My brother was never all that patient.”

 Gil emerged into the main room, dragging his fish-tail covered rear, spitting and hissing as he went. His bedraggled appearance actually made him look even more like a stranded mermaid than before.

“I’m going to…I’m going to…” Gil hissed, panted and then slumped to the floor, pillowing his head in his arms, mumbling to himself. “…Assholes.”

“I’ll help you later, Gil”, Cassandra said. “Have some candy in the meantime.”

She tossed a handful of chocolates at the huddled shape on the floor. First there was no movement, then after a while a hand emerged, snatching the chocolates off the floor and disappeared again. There was a soft chewing sound emerging from where Gil’s head was.

Encouraged by this, and perhaps a little emboldened by Gil’s not so intimidating appearance Oy scooped up his candy, hopped off the couch and ran over to Gil, crouching down next to him.

“You should try a sour candy too!” he said helpfully to the water man. “It melts in your mouth and goes all fizzy!”

Oy held out one of the candies and when the hand reached out to grab it he squealed in delight. As expected the hand returned to its former position and after a while Gil raised his head enough that he could look up at Oy where he sat. Some moments passed in silence.

“It…is fizzy”, Gil finally said before letting his head drop down again. With a sense of accomplishment and a huge grin to go with Oy returned to the couch and doing just what Douglas has suggested, stuffing his face full with the candy he had in the bucket.

“Halloween is the best!” he offered to the others.

“Your dress is chafing me”, Zouriel said sullenly and tried to pull at the offending piece of fabric.

“Lose some weight, fatty”, Cassandra said and poked him in the side again.

“This is so much like Halloween when we were children, isn’t it, Gil?” Douglas said.

Gil just mumbled incoherently, punctuated by the occasional smacking sound.

 

***

 

After Cassandra had felt charitable enough to free Gil from his tinfoil prison they’d collectively sunk into comfortable heap on and around the couch. It seemed that sugar had a slightly sedating effect on Gil and he was being fairly mellow for once. Cassandra began the scary story telling that had always been a part of their Halloween, but Oy who had grown successively sleepier eventually fell into a light doze, using her lap for a pillow, with the bucket still clutched firmly in one hand. Zouriel had shot Gil a threatening look when he began to complain about the lame entertainment, Cassandra had never quite seen the point of a television, the radio was quite enough for her. Douglas had excused himself and gravitated towards the windows with the excuse “it’s nice and cool over there”.

Douglas had been almost daintily perched on a chair by the large window for a while, long enough that Cassandra and Gil had started telling each other successively scarier and creepier stories, when he suddenly shot up and approached the window, almost smearing himself all over it. And for once, his breath actually misted in contact with the cold glass.

“Oh, wow…It’s actually snowing out there!” he exclaimed, forgetting himself for a moment.

Oy stirred from his slumber and sat upright, rubbing his eyes. “…Snowing…Is it, miss Cass?”

She managed to disentangle herself from Zouriel and the blankets; narrowly avoiding tripping over Gil’s stretched out frame on the floor. She approached the window and peered outside, seeing what Douglas had already spotted.

The forest itself was dark, but the sky seemed almost white, lit up by the flakes of snow twirling through the air. There was a thin dusting of snow forming on the ground, lit up by the light still coming from their jack-o-lantern.

Soon she found herself joined by both Oy and Zouriel, eventually even Gil slithered close enough to see.

“Oh, my gosh snow, how awesome!” Oy said, making it hard to tell that he’d been napping only a few minutes ago. It was like that nap was the only recharge he’d needed to be full of energy again.

“Looks cold”, Zouriel said and shivered slightly.

“It looks horrible”, Gil said and made a disgusted face, wriggling away a little.

“I wanna go outside and play in it!” Oy said and began to tug at her shirt. “Please, please, pleaaase can be go outside and play!”

“Oy, you should be going to bed, not head out in the snow”, Cassandra said and tried her best stern expression. It quickly wilted under the intensity of his blue-eyed gaze however. She sighed and ran a finger through her unruly locks, made even more tangled by the horror-make-up.

“…Alright, but only for a short while”, she said in defeat.

“Come on Douglas!” Oy chirped and dragged out his warm boots and pulled out both hat and mittens from the winter clothes pile in the closet. “You gotta come too, Zourie!”

Zouriel fidgeted visibly, obviously going through an intense mental struggle, but finally he folded as well. “Fine…”

Coats were pulled on, boots were laced and hats pulled down. Douglas seemed quite at peace with the whole situation, but took the matted, old scarf Oy offered him. Gil however, tried to steal much of the winter clothing for himself.

“You’ll get it all wet!” Cassandra barked in annoyance, trying to get a grip on his slippery body to stop his thievery.

“And I don’t want to freeze”, he growled and pulled a second hat over his strange hair.

“Brother…” Douglas sighed, but found himself distracted by Oy pulling him outside.

The world outside was quite transformed, as if a white and fluffy blanket had been draped all over the slumbering forest, tucking it in. The lantern had gone out, so Cassandra made sure to have the candle replaced and lit again. The flickers from that, with the light streaming through the windows of her cabin was the only thing enabling them to see outside.

Oy had run straight into the first mound of snow, laughing happily as he emerged with his face all covered in snow. Douglas seemed delighted himself, so solid in shape that Cassandra had to remind herself of how he normally could walk through walls and reach through objects. Now he seemed almost…normal. His smile nearly lit up with the same fire as the lantern.

Zouriel was still huddled by the door with Gil, both of them hunched over in abject misery.

“It sure is cold”, Zouriel muttered.

“Come on, it’s only this once”, Cassandra said and smiled. Then she made a snowball and dropped it down the back of his shirt.

“Hey!” he yelled and immediately bent down to make his own retaliatory snow sphere. Cassandra stayed safely out of range however. Sulking, Zouriel turned on the one thing that was standing still right now: Gil.

“What the fuck’s your problem!” Gil spluttered, wiping the snow off his face.

“…How could you even feel that, you’re…wet”, Zouriel said and raised his eyebrow, but he took a step back, just in case.

“I’m not as ‘wet’ anymore…And why wouldn’t I feel things, you asshole?” he snapped. “Let’s see if you can feel anything with those metal bits on you!”

Gil swiftly made a snowball and threw it at Zouriel.

And thus the snowball fight began.

The passage of time was soon lost to them, all that existed was the snow, helping them replenish their ammunition and the dodging and weaving between trees to avoid being hit. Cassandra began to build a protective wall out of snow, while Oy shed his human form and chased after them in his ocelot form, laughing with them. Laughing…Yes, at some point the deadly seriousness of the fight had been replaced by a playful happiness. Even Gil didn’t appear as glum anymore, though Cassandra had to admit that it was entirely possible that his face had started to freeze from the cold.

The fight ended when the light of the lantern went out, leaving them standing in the dark.

“Well, I guess that’s that”, she said, wiping snow off her clothes, shaking it out of her hair, hoping her make-up hadn’t smeared too much.

“Can we go inside now?” Gil said stiffly, his movements even stiffer as he penguin-shuffled back towards the cabin. The clothing he’d pilfered had frozen on him, making him look like a snowman. Naturally Oy picked up on this, remembering his train of thought days ago.

“Gil needs a carrot for a nose!” he said, pouncing on a nearby snowdrift, sending up clouds of white in the air. He wiggled his behind and then bolted for Gil, thumping into his half-frozen legs.

“…I hate carrots”, Gil muttered and peered down at the ball of fur by his legs.

“We can make a Gil double and give that a carrot nose in the morning”, Cassandra offered and ushered the others back towards the cabin.

“I got snow in my underwear, thanks to you, woman”, Zouriel huffed and wriggled his behind in a very bothered manner.

She grinned and pondered how he’d react if she paid any special attention to it, but decided to be nice for the rest of the night. Tomorrow was a new day however.

“I’ll…join you in a bit”, Douglas said and smiled, stopping outside the door. “…If…That is alright?”

Cassandra gave him a puzzled look, but nodded. She supposed he was the one she could trust to get in late without causing a lot of noise and waking Oy.

She made hot cocoa, topped with marshmallows and spiked Gil’s cup with coffee liqueur. While it was not surprising to see Oy nodding into his cup, it amused her more than she could say when she saw Zouriel struggling to stay upright too. Gil was the only one who looked alert, practically shoving his face in his cup with delight.

“I think it’s time for bed”, she finally said and got up, the legs of the chair scraping against the wooden floor. Despite the sound, Oy remained half-asleep by the table. Yes, it was time to put her boys to bed. Both of them.

Oy was tucked into his small bed, while Zouriel was ushered over to the couch and given pillows and blankets to keep him warm and comfortable through the night. After her duties were fulfilled she returned to the kitchen and checked up on Gil. She found him sucking up every last bit of cocoa that had been left behind in the other mugs; he had the decency to look embarrassed about that at least.

“It’s…A shame to let it go to waste”, he grumbled and sunk into a pile perched on his chair.

“Don’t worry about it”, Cassandra said with a yawn and a stretch. “Just remember to put them all in the sink when you’re done.”

She turned around to leave and then stopped, peering over her shoulder back at the water man.

“I can trust you to behave while we’re asleep, right?”

Gil snorted. “If I fuck anything up, you’ll just do something horrible to me again.”

Shudders rippled through his frame, in obvious memory of the cayenne incident.

“Good night then, Gil”, she said, waving lightly as she left him to his own devices. “Make sure your brother gets back inside soon.”

“I will”, he said gruffly, then returned to the mugs.

Despite the concerns she’d had, she found her bed to be untouched by Gil’s…peculiar constitution and when she fell asleep, not long after she curled up under the covers she dreamed of being a little girl again and making snow angels with her mother in the park.

It was one of her good dreams.

 

***

 

When Zouriel woke up with Gil hovering a bit too close for comfort he told himself that he shouldn’t be too shocked, considering past experiences. He kept his eye half closed and wondered what the water man would do now that he noticed he was awake. The answer: Surprisingly not a whole lot.

“You’re fucking creepy…Anyone ever tell you that?” he mumbled, while savoring the warmth of his blankets. The room was too bloody cold this morning.

Gil sneered, but kept huddled too close for comfort. “You’re warm, that’s all.”

The water man shrugged and wriggled a little closer, staring hungrily at the bundled up blankets.

“Hey…I’m not the only one with body heat”, Zouriel said with a whine and pulled back slightly, still hugging the blankets to his lithe frame.

Gil raised an eyebrow. “The woman is scary.”

“That she can be”, Zouriel had to admit and sat up, wrapping the blankets around himself.

As if she’d been able to sense their mentions of her, Cassandra emerged from her bedroom, wearing a worn but still very fluffy bathrobe and gave the pair an odd look.

“I’d think two grown…men…would be able to make a fire”, she said with a sly grin as she began to putter around the fireplace, placing wood and kindling in a nice orderly heap.

Gil seemed terribly pleased, as if he’d just received a compliment and he seemed to puff out slightly.

“Zouriel’s the lazy ass”, he offered. “I’d just put the fire out.”

He held out his hands to demonstrate, letting the water drip slowly from his fingertips.

“Lazy ass yourself”, Zouriel muttered cocooning himself in the blankets to suck up all the warmth that remained in them.

“Gimme those”, Gil suddenly demanded and started tugging at the edge of the ragged blankets.

A short, but intense struggle followed, which was eerily familiar to shower room fights with wet towels, until he was finally able to shove Gil and his grabby hands away with a well-placed kick. Gil didn’t have time to sulk for long, for Cassandra had managed to get the fire going and it was already sending off pleasant warmth, quickly spreading through the room.

“That’s more like it”, Gil said with a smug grin on his face. “Good job, woman.”

Then he made the mistake of reaching out to touch her rear and found his hand crushed in her strong grip.

“If Gil does not keep his hands to himself I will cut them off and use them to pickle vegetables in”, she said, still smiling, though it was an expression that chilled Zouriel to the bone.

Gil shrunk back and satisfied himself by making rude gestures at her retreating back, as she headed towards the kitchen to start on breakfast.

While Zouriel was doing his manly duty and putting another piece of firewood on the fire, Oy appeared, with the kind of bounce in his step that seemed impossible for this time of day. His enthusiastic demeanor immediately changed when he reached the window.

“Oh, no…The snow is melting!” he cried, shoving his face against the glass as if he was hoping he’d seen things wrong.

“Well…It is a little early for winter”, Zouriel offered, poking at the fire with the long metal poker.

“But we were gonna make a snow Gil! The boy cried even harder and stomped on the floor, as if it was to blame for the change in weather.

Zouriel chewed his lip, while trying to assess Gil’s reaction to “snow Gil”. “Maybe there’ll be enough snow to make one after breakfast?”

Oy’s face brightened visibly and he ran off to fetch his coat. “We should go make one now then!”

“Hold on…Cassandra might not like that”, Zouriel attempted. He wasn’t quite as keen on the idea of heading outside and getting wet and cold again.

“Pleeeease?”

“Oh, hell…”

“I can tell Cassandra”, came Douglas voice and true to his appearance he seemed to phase though the door like a specter. “It’s not that bad outside, not as cold as it was last night.”

The look he gave his brother made Gil pull himself away from the fire and join Zouriel in this monumental task which they now knew they’d have to do together.

“Maybe we can just coat you with snow and be done with it?” Zouriel offered, but Gil glared at him and shoved him through the now open doorway, enough that he nearly lost his balance and fell into the melting snow outside.

Knowing it would take far too long to get this done if they wasted any time on snowball matches or wrestling each other to death in the snow, they bit down their annoyance and went to work. Oy assigned himself to rolling the head, while Zouriel had the bottom bit and Gil got the middle, even after the water man tried to explain that the snow would stick to him just as much as the snowball. Gil quickly reassigned himself to be Zouriel’s coach “since you’ll be making two of those damn things”. It helped in that Zouriel’s bubbling temper made him work faster, despite slipping in the snow and mashing his face in the growing snowball several times. When Gil laughed he decided it was worth the time lost to shove an icy, slushy snowball at his face.

Finally it stood there, lopsided and ugly and already melting under the heat of the autumn sun shining down through the dripping skeletal trees of the forest. Zouriel made sure to give it Gil’s weird ass dreadlocks and sulky mouth, while Cassandra appeared at the right time with a nice, fat carrot for a nose. As a finishing touch, Douglas wrapped a scarf around its neck.

They took a step back and admired their handiwork.

“My nose isn’t that big”, Gil said and crossed his arms over his chest.

“You sure ‘bout that?” Zouriel teased. “Have you actually looked in the mirror since…You know, *that* shit happened?”

Gil seemed thoughtful and a little nervous as they headed back inside to dry off and finally have breakfast. The Snow-Gil making had taken a bit longer than expected, but Cassandra had humored them and kept breakfast warm for them. They could smell the fresh pot of coffee brewing as they entered the cozy warmth of the cabin again. Yet Gil seemed rather preoccupied and vanished for a while as the rest of them gathered around the kitchen table. The oatmeal had been seasoned with cinnamon and there was both honey and raisins stirred into it. Just as they were staring in on it Gil appeared again with a very wide grin on his face.

“I so do not have a nose like that!” he said triumphantly and shoved a finger in Zouriel’s face.

With a pleased as punch look on his face he went and supplied himself with a large mug of coffee and slithered into a seat, every so often shooting Zouriel a smug look.

After breakfast came the dreaded clean up part of this whole event. Zouriel accepted it like much else Cassanda made him do while under her roof. Yet there was also something sad about it, the end of a holiday always had something melancholy about it. At least…It did now.

Holidays had not been anything he paid any mind when he was still alone, but now that he had people to share them with he found himself going back to those old childhood memories, trying to recreate something lost and precious. Feelings he’d long since forgotten.

It also meant returning to work and he was sure his work-phone would be beeping with missed messages containing whatever task they wanted him to do now. Going back to chipping away at what remained of his soul.

In the middle of his moody ruminations, Douglas sighed and peered over at Cassandra.

“I suppose we should take our leave soon”, he said. “We are very grateful to you for letting us stay this long, but we shouldn’t impose anymore.

Gil looked like he’d bit into a lemon, but nodded silently.

Cassandra paused, dropping a paper skeleton and some orange streamers in a box. “Well, it was…Actually nice having you, in a strange…But not in a bad kind of way?”

“It was super fun playing with you!” Oy offered and he shoved the last of the Reese’s cups in his mouth.

Douglas smiled lightly. “I enjoyed myself too, Oy. And Gil had fun too.”

Gil spluttered out an “I did not.” but received a surprisingly hard elbow to the stomach from his brother. Then there was a look exchanged which said something about “the kid is nice, be nice to him”. And there was something else there, barely hinted in Gil’s eye.

“Well, you’re welcome back when it gets too cold again”, Cassandra said and almost looked a little surprised herself. Zouriel did his best not to mirror her expression. Though he no longer felt as threatened by the brothers muscling in on what he thought of as his ‘family’, as queer as it still felt to think of them as that, it did still seem odd to leave an open invitation for them to return. But then…They didn’t have anyone else, no other warm haven to escape to when it stormed outside. For once in his life, he had to admit to himself that he was luckier than some. And if there was something he still remembered from church it was to be gracious and kind to those who were in need.

“Try not to be killed by someone in the meantime”, he offered.

Gil snorted and nodded gruffly at him. Like hell he’d allow that to happen, that gesture seemed to tell him. It felt like the closest they’d ever come to a friendly understanding so far.

 

***

 

“You got to come back from Christmas!” Oy called from the door, not just to Zouriel, the deflated duffel bag weighing almost nothing now, but also to the brothers who were heading off in the other direction. Heading deeper into the forest.

Zouriel waved back, promising to return sooner than that, if he could. Cassandra’s cooking was enough motivation to make him trudge through the cold and wet woods to visit, even if there was that risk of being trapped there when the weather got really bad. He’d been cultivating an idea as of late, an offer that Cassandra and Oy might spend the cold months with him. It was about time Oy started school like any other kid and it would not do to have him wander through the forest to get to school every winter morning. Yes, maybe he’d bring that idea up at Christmas. Cassandra was always more likely to listen with some spiked eggnog or hot mulled wine in her.

And maybe that could benefit the brothers too. They could keep the cabin safe and sound, though how safe it really would be would depend on how much control Douglas had over his more destructive brother…Still. It was worth asking about, because, as loath as he was to admit it, those brothers really weren’t half bad when you thought about it.

If Cassandra had been able to let his sorry as into his life…Why shouldn’t he extend the same courtesy to them?

 

 

Finis

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