The Reindeer Clause: Part 8

By Nocturne13
published March 23, 2021
11765 words
Summary

It’s Twelfth Night, and Comet’s final fate will be determined.

January 4: The Eleventh Day of Christmas

The Feast of St. Seton

Monday morning came far too early. The blare of the alarm woke Gary and Comet up, and Gary regretted the habit he’d gotten into of staying up to midnight or sometimes later over the holiday. Out of concern for Comet, he silenced the alarm on his phone on the first ring. Comet babbled some half-awake gibberish at him as he squirmed out of Comet’s grasp. Gary came around to Comet’s side of the bed, smoothed the covers, and tucked him back in with a kiss. He nimbly dodged out of the way as Comet suddenly flung back the covers, reached out, and tried to draw him into a snuggle. Grumbling at the successful evasion, Comet rolled over and pulled Gary’s pillow over his head to resume sleeping. Gary deftly drew the quilt back up to his boyfriend’s shoulders and slipped away.

Gary washed up quickly and dressed in anticipation of multiple video conferences. He whipped up breakfast – making enough for Comet to enjoy later – wolfed it down, and headed upstairs with a full coffee mug.

He actually hadn’t had a chance to run up to the finished attic in advance of starting to use it as a home office. He just knew Comet had assembled the furniture they’d bought and had stored some of his summer clothes upstairs so Comet had room in the closet. Comet actually did a great job of prepping the office space. The desk was in a place with a view out of the window over the back yard, and Gary’s laptop and charger were already set out on the new desk. Comet had brought an old desk chair from the garage – actually Gary’s old one from work – upstairs already. The morning went by in a blur other than a quick chat message from Comet confirming the scrambled eggs, potatoes, and sausage links which Gary had left in the rice cooker on warm were “yummy.”

Shortly after noon, Gary came rushing down the stairs intent on making lunch for he and Comet, only to find his boyfriend in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on sandwiches. Comet had also defrosted some soup from the freezer and reheated it.

“Wow this looks great!” Gary enthused.

Comet beamed. “You sounded super busy all morning,” he said.

“Were you hearing me talk down here?” Gary said, worried work talk was disturbing Comet enjoying TV or a book.

“Not really, just a hint of voices. I snuck up to check on you,” he said with a grin. Gary was surprised, and impressed Comet had been able to climb the stairs without his weight causing echoing thuds throughout the house; the thought of Comet dressed up like a ninja brought a grin to his face.

Comet set out the plates of sandwiches, served up bowls of soup, and also produced a nice tossed salad from a bag of mixed greens. Everything looked prepared with care. In Gary’s thinking, someone intimidated by cooking or unfamiliar with it often produced results that looked sloppy or amateurish; in comparison, this food looked neatly made. Even the diagonal slices on the bologna sandwiches were sharp and clean, and the tomato wedges topping the bowl of salad greens looked perfectly cut.

“Wow this is so good, so precise,” Gary said after finishing his first bite. “I should get you reading The Way of the Househusband.” He savored the sandwich and took a second bite. Comet was chewing also, but made an expression of interest. “It’s this funny Japanese comic book I’m reading. It’s about a former Yakuza boss, he meets this woman who has an office job, and quits the gang to be her husband and take care of the house. He uses his killer swordsmanship to make super perfect sushi and tidy lunch boxes. He is completely intense about it, and that makes it hilarious.”

“That sounds funny!” Comet glibly replied as he pulled his salad bowl closer. “I was in the Mafia not the Yakuz–” at which point he turned sheet white with his mouth open and a forkful of salad not quite in it stopped in midair. His expression went beyond alarmed to close to wide-eyed panic.

Gary didn’t react for a few moments at the sudden, but not exactly completely unexpected, bombshell. He grabbed a swig of water to wash his half chewed bite down with. “It’s not a big deal,” Gary said as soon as he could talk. “It’s not like I didn’t have a guess you might have done something like that,” he said simply. “It was a long time ago.” He leaned back and looked at Comet with what he hoped was a nonjudgmental gaze. “I admit, I’m a little shocked to hear it confirmed, but it’s not exactly unbelievable.” Comet set down his fork and sighed. Gary couldn’t tell if he was at a conventional loss for words or unable to frame a response to the situation because it required too complex a thought. “Seriously, Comet, for a while I’ve just felt the best way to deal with this part of your situation is to just consider you someone who basically just got out of jail after a long sentence. I’ve only ever known you as you are now, so anything in the past is just not something I’m thinking about.” Comet leaned back in the chair, his hands in his lap. He seemed embarrassed and dejected at the same time.

“Are you sure it’s ok?” he finally said, still looking rattled.

“Sure. I mean, I probably have a romanticized view of it but, that’s more reason to just leave it alone. I don’t watch true crime shows. I’ve never even watched The Godfather… which is a famous Mafia movie made a few years after you were taken by Santa so…” Gary began to explain.

“The Mario Puzo book?? A movie??!” Comet said excitedly, perking back up.

“Yeah. Oh? Was the book it was based on already out?” Comet nodded. “Well, it’s an almost legendary film, but I always heard people talking about it, but I just never wanted to see it. I’m not sure what’s going on there, I love action flicks and some forms of organized crime show up a lot, and some of them can be pretty brutal. But something about The Godfather or its sequels just makes me not want to see them. If you want to watch it without me, we can rent it for you. This afternoon even, or whenever.”

Comet sat there considering, barely blinking. Gary made a show of nonchalantly resuming eating his sandwich, which was actually quite delicious as Comet had loaded it up like a sub sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, mustard, and a splash of Italian dressing on the otherwise ordinary bologna. Comet eventually resumed eating as well.

They ate in amicable silence for several minutes as Comet’s mix of excitement over the discovery of the movie warred with his trepidation about Gary having discovered his criminal past. Finally he broke the ice again. “Are you baking tonight?” he asked.

“Yes! I have to bake that panettone I told you about.”

Comet’s eyes grew large and his lips parted. “I want panettone and good coffee,” he said wistfully. He returned his focus to Gary. “How can I help?”

“I just need moral support for this.” Gary paused and thought about it. “Now that you mention it, are you interested in helping with meals in general? I’m trying to plan things out. Maybe you could do things like chop veggies in advance; when the weather is nice we should grill a lot, and you can probably just handle all the grilling work, including seasoning the meats and barbecuing it.”

Comet nodded enthusiastically. “Mmm, summer grilling. Good hot dogs,” he gushed. His eyes nearly closed in bliss.

“Chicago style!” Gary said lightly, which elicited a grin and a nod from Comet. “Of course that would be your favorite because … you’re from Chicago. Right?” Comet’s eyes blinked open and he stared at Gary, then slowly nodded his head. He picked up his utensils and resumed eating.

“How can you tell?” he said a few minutes later, after finishing his bowl of salad.

“Well, as you’ve begun talking more at a time, I started detecting a Chicago accent. It’s subtle, but if you’re from the Midwest you can tell.”

Comet set down his fork, looked puzzled for a moment, then turned to Gary. “Where are we?” he asked.

“We’re in Fort Wayne, Indiana, about three hours from Chicago. I’m originally from Ohio so…” Gary shrugged. Comet seemed to need a few minutes to take that in.

“Oh. I see,” he said. Gary couldn’t tell if he was excited, bereft, or worried. They finished lunch mostly in silence, and Gary went back to work.

In the middle of the afternoon, in the short time between two video conferences with work, Gary leaned back in his chair. He was very comfortable in his new office setup, and his old desk chair actually worked better for him than the one that replaced it at his office. Despite its age, it just had a tear in the side of the back cushion, and it was a hideous honey mustard color that only existed in stale condiments and certain kinds of vinyl. It was so ugly and old it actually looked like a good vintage piece.

“Mafia. Nineteen Seventy. Chicago. Why the Hell does that sound … familiar?” Gary whispered to himself. “Mafia, 1970, Chicago, and CHRISTMAS?” he slowly leaned forward, and before he realized what he was doing, he opened up a search tab and put the terms in.

While the first few results were the usual ads and trash, one result a few entries down caught his eye. “Famous Midwest Disappearances of the 1970s.” The result was someone’s amateur webpage that looked like it was ten or fifteen years old and possibly hand-coded it was so basic. The entire site was just a single page writing out the details of several mysterious disappearances. While the most notable entry on the top of the site was Michigan’s Jimmy Hoffa, halfway down Gary hit an entry he vaguely remembered hearing about long ago that suddenly made his heart leap into his throat.

“The Christmas Eve disappearance of Dante Rinaldi, capo of the Sorrento crime family of Chicago,” the entry read. Gary quickly skimmed the text below the heading. He told himself that since Santa covered his abductions up with identity-trading magic, there was no way this could be related to Comet.

But the date was right. How many people had vanished from Chicago on December 24, 1970?

Skimming over the article, Gary was disturbed by how well it all fit. The disappearance was sudden, and it took the man’s semi-estranged family some time before they got the police to believe that he was missing. When the team working on their missing persons report finally began checking, they discovered that he hadn’t been seen since visiting a corner liquor store on the afternoon of December 24, 1970. It was at that point that police realized his disappearance might be wrapped up on a bigger case the organized crime task force was already working on: the Christmas Eve death of the older son and heir apparent to the Sorrento family.

Gary’s heart beat in his chest like a hammer. He opened a new tab and searched on Dante Rinaldi and found a few results. Thanks to true crime buffs, a fairly poor black and white photo of the man had even been scanned out of an old newspaper and enhanced. As soon as Gary saw it, he was sure it was Comet. He didn’t look exactly the same, but allowing for the low resolution newspaper reproduction as well as the change in Comet’s muscle and fat composition from being hunk-ified, it was definitely a possibility. Almost a certainty, Gary felt.

Dante Rinaldi.

“Dante, Dante, Dante.” Gary tried the name in his head. It felt right. Comet looked like a Dante, he thought. A calendar pop-up reminded him that he had another Zoom teleconference in ten minutes, and he needed to prepare for it. But he couldn’t help but go through a few more search results, hoping for solid information about the related events. Gary wished he could have directly accessed the newspaper articles from 1970, but instead the internet contained a handful of speculation and historical summary articles, and he found the results inadequate.

He did learn that the headlines at the time truly had been lurid. Once the Rinaldi disappearance had potentially been connected to the Sorrento death, the speculation was rife. Many investigators assumed Rinaldi died too, but another contingent thought he fled town to avoid the wrath of the Chicago Mafia. But was the Sorrento heir’s death a suicide, an organized crime-related hit, a more personal murder, or an accident? The motivations were also the subject of intense theorizing, with a number of plausible sounding ideas offered up. Unfortunately, across the pages Gary looked over, solid details were greatly lacking.

Gary returned to the first page he’d found and read the rest of the entry. The armchair historian who had written the page had apparently gotten his hands on copies of the original newspapers archived on microfilm, and spent the time sifting through the articles. His summary included details that the other pages Gary had browsed found inconvenient to go into. When the investigation had actually been going on, it had brought up things that people didn’t like to talk about back then unless they could whisper about them with perfect self-righteousness to their neighbors. Apparently the Don’s son and the capo had been, as they used to say, “really good friends.” Gary stopped reading, took a deep breath and tried to remember the little hints Comet had dropped, as well as his own inferences. He found it hard to concentrate, he was so shocked.

Reading on, Gary discovered that Sorrento had not been an openly gay man, but his sexuality was one of those things “everyone knew.” A number of women social acquaintances of his had described the young Mafia prince as “very sweet but obviously that way, you know.” The rumors had swirled around him more than once; it wasn’t unusual for him to be referred to as “a fairy” in certain circles. It was the kind of speculation that inevitably spilled over onto acquaintances; surely if Sorrento and Rinaldi had been that close, they were both that way. Or was it something one-sided?

It seemed Sorrento’s father had actually kept him out of the family organization, though he was always around it growing up; the reason for that was unknown. Sorrento had just completed law school a few months before his death, and had passed the Illinois bar exam. His death on Christmas Eve had been a complete shock to all, and the police had tried to use it to press the mob on multiple fronts. In fact, the page’s author theorized the police dragged out the case so they could investigate the Sorrento organization aggressively under the pretext of investigating the death.

In the end, the police had ruled the death of Antoni Sorrento a suicide after receiving unspecified insider information, and closed the case. Dante Rinaldi’s disappearance had never been solved, and was one of the most notable cold cases of the time until Jimmy Hoffa. Despite the finding of suicide, the speculation that it was actually a murder continued on. One of the most popular theories was that Sorrento and his shiny new law degree were going to join the Mafia in a high position, and various people did not like that. Depending on who made the move, people speculated Rinaldi could have done the hit and made it look like a suicide, or that he was collateral damage killed in the hit and disposed of neatly. Another theory was he’d simply ended things after his good friend died.

Gary realized he hadn’t taken a breath for a few moments and forced himself to breathe. He found every hair on his arms was standing up, and he was shivering. It felt like someone had punched him in the gut without him realizing it, and the feeling of the impact was just starting to pierce the fog of distraction. He read the entry over again, but he hadn’t missed anything. And if Comet was Dante Rinaldi, his disappearance was actually supernatural. The timing though …

Gary’s next conference call did not go well. After a half hour of being unfocused and unable to answer questions or follow along, he begged off, claiming severe stomach cramps, and promised to watch the recording of the discussion later. He shut off the Zoom teleconferencing service and went and laid down on the floor below the window for a half hour to just let the tension work its way out. His mind was in chaos, and he didn’t have anyone to turn to for clarity. Even if he could somehow obfuscate the supernatural elements, it was just not something he had anyone who he could talk to about it. He definitely needed to avoid arousing his GranDa’s suspicions about Comet to keep things smooth in the future. Would he have been able to talk to Benny about it if he hadn’t been sleeping with Miles? Rather doubtful, Gary realized. Gary was certain of one thing: he absolutely didn’t think Comet had killed his boyfriend. But had he made some kind of horrible, tragic mistake? Plausible. Likely. But, that was fifty years ago.

The problem was that right now it didn’t feel like fifty years ago.

Dinner was strained. Comet chalked it up to Gary being rattled by finding out he had been in the Mafia. Actually, Gary was terrified he was about to blurt “So I found out your real name is Dante, and basically what happened to your boyfriend, and also would you tell me what really happened to him, and why did Santa not erase your identity?”

The evening was somewhat saved by focusing on the intricate steps for baking the panettone. Gary borrowed Comet’s new tablet and propped it up to show the YouTube cooking video he was following. Comet sat nearby and quietly watched him work. Comet was much more worried than he let on that Gary was deeply repelled by his criminal past. Gary’s entire demeanor had become a little bit cold and distant and he couldn’t imagine any other reason. He tried to keep a neutral face, but inside he was starting to panic. They had just reached the moment when everything seemed to be going perfectly and suddenly there was something off with Gareth.

January 5: **TWELFTH NIGHT **

Tuesday began on a slightly sour note. Comet was lying awake when the alarm rang, and eschewed playful sleepiness. Instead he tossed back the covers and bolted out of bed with exaggerated enthusiasm, and offered to fix Gary some breakfast while he was getting ready for work. Gary mildly agreed to the suggestion.

After eating, Comet tried to be affectionate and send Gary upstairs with a hug and kiss but he could tell Gary was not feeling excited by it. Gary said he was being sweet and appreciated it, but seemed cold.

Mid-morning, Comet texted and asked if Gary wanted another coffee. The response was an excited yes and featured an animated gif of a cat drinking a pot of coffee. Comet put together a mug and balanced it on a small serving tray and headed upstairs. Gary was on another video conference call but perked up when he heard Comet open the door and enter the upper floor. He waved Comet over and Comet walked quietly across the floor, actually using his levitation power at a fraction of an inch height to cancel out the noise from his footsteps. He handed Gary the steaming mug which received a grateful mouthing of “thank you.”

“Wait wait wait, where is this mystery arm delivering coffee coming from?” one of Gary’s coworkers broke in. It was a team meeting and not a formal conference, so Fred just interrupted the speaker, Florenz, who had in fact repeated himself twice and was about to belabor his points a third time.

“Oh, well,” Gary said, his camera taking focus for the meeting automatically. “Uh, my boyfriend moved in with me over the break and he just brought me some coffee.”

“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” his coworker Trish demanded. Trish was holding her older cat on her lap, petting it, while her newest kitten was sitting on her shoulder trying to chew a lock of her curly brown hair. Trish was only twenty three, but she had professional cat lady vibes on lock since the pandemic had started.

Gary looked at Comet questioningly with an expression that said “are you ok with this?” Comet shrugged, took a deep breath to make sure he was calm and not radiating sex appeal, and stepped forward. Gary scooted out of alignment with the laptop and Comet walked in front of it. From the view point of Gary’s coworkers, the screen was suddenly covered by a gray T-shirt clinging to 6 well-mounded abs. “You have to bend down, the camera is aimed at about the spot where my face was,” Gary clarified. Comet gracefully kneeled down, in the process treating Gary’s co-workers to the cascade of three rows of abs, the full height of his pecs, as well as his manly shoulders and finally just barely got his face and the start of his forehead into frame.

Trish made squeaking noises, which alarmed her cats. Florenz, who had aspirations to become an Instagram hunk once he was able to use the gym again, simply sat there staring. Fred, always free to shoot from the hip, nodded once in approval. “Hi.” Comet said simply to them, looking over the multiple small tiles on screen to see people waving, boggling, or being stunned. Nobody else said anything, so he smoothly slid off to the side.

“And that’s my boyfriend. He usually goes by his old football team nickname, Comet,” Gary said smoothly as he rolled back into the frame.

“Oh I can’t wait until we have a cookout after the pandemic,” Monikka said dryly. Notably, Monikka was a lesbian and had transferred from the foundation’s Detroit branch. She was always ready to watch things get stirred up and drop some comments about it. She had gone to Drag Bingo with Gary a couple times before the pandemic when she was between girlfriends; she was pretty cool in Gary’s book. “You’re all gonna be drooling over that big tall boy, I can tell already.” Fred, who was Very Straight but Pretty Cool made a confused face, but the rest of the coworkers mostly looked shook or guilty.

Conveniently, Florenz just didn’t say much at all the rest of the call.

Dinner was a little less jubilant than Gary had anticipated. He had put together a playlist of music that combined Christmas with wintry feels, and brewed up a small batch of wassail to bring out the last of the Christmas spirit. For the meal, he had marinated ribeye steaks and served them well-seared but medium. They also had fully loaded baked potatoes and a medley of vegetables tossed with olive oil and typical Italian seasonings and then gently braised in the oven. It was all good food, but each of them had things on their minds. They had moments where they were laughing and enjoying the food, and then moments where they got real quiet. Gary had moved past the part of worrying about Comet’s past, and was now trying to figure out how to break it to him that he knew about it. He was sure it was going to be traumatic.

The highlight was dessert, the small panettone which Gary baked. He was unsure how the candied orange and dark chocolate would go over so he also prepared a thin vanilla glaze under the assumption that everything tastes better with frosting. The cake-like bread didn’t need the icing, but it took it up to ridiculous heights of deliciousness. Comet had two generous slices, but Gary had to stop at one.

“Oh I’m going to have to nap this meal off before going to bed,” Gary moaned. “I really should have baked myself a smaller potato, I ate almost as much as you did.” Comet started to reply but decided to just lean back and pretend he was in a food coma.

After a while they did start moving and Comet insisted on cleaning up. Gary turned off the music and then went to the living room to find a movie. When Comet came in after doing the dishes he saw Gary looking at the tree and thought he hastily stuffed some papers in his pocket. Comet looked down and realized the blue box that Santa’s letter had been in was right by Gary’s foot. He remembered that the letter could be burned to summon Santa and send him back to the North Pole if things didn’t work out, and suddenly he felt a boulder drop into the pit of his stomach. He felt his right hand start to tremble and his breath became short; he was suddenly filled with worry that his Mafia past, and perhaps other things about him, were actually a problem for Gary. He silently took a few steps back out of the living room doorway and took a few deep breaths to calm down. Gary had been weird off and on since lunch the previous day and Comet focused on that. His attempts to calm down weren’t successful, he felt his mind spinning with worries and assumptions.

The panic was rising very fast now and he needed to get out of the house so he could breathe. Spying his coat on the wall behind the door, Comet darted forward. “Going for a run! Work off food!” he yelled as he sailed past the living room archway. He grabbed his coat, darted out the front door into the cold night, and let the door slam behind him. Outside he looked up at the black night sky scattered with pinpoints of light. The air around him steamed from his hot breath, and his jacket was held in his right hand, unneeded.

Inside, Gary was stunned by the sudden exit. “But I’d go for a walk with you,” he thought to himself, wondering what was going on.

Outside, Comet had already shrugged on his jacket to keep up appearances and headed down the street. He was already past the nearby neighbors and moving at a brisk pace. House after house sped by as he strode through the frigid Indiana night with panic-fueled haste. The past several days had been so blissful after such a long period of time in Santa’s domain in the Otherworld, in Faerie. He was just starting to come to grips with his own humanity again, as well as the parts of him that were not-quite-human anymore. Returning now would be, well, unbearable. Could Gareth really not want him? Would Santa put the ring back on him and make him nearly mute again? Could he live with that? Would Santa punish him and make him be the Ninth for being returned, defective? Was he really so bad? What did he do wrong? Unfortunately, he could think of answers to the latter questions.

He stopped, unsure where he was, and clasped his hands to the top of his head. Had he really fucked everything up? Was it over? There was a mild bump feeling in his pocket, and a faint buzz. After a couple moments, he realized it had come from his phone. He pulled it out and there was a text message from Gareth. “Are you ok?” It was such a simple question, but it cut through the panic. Gareth was worried about him. *Gareth was worried about him and he was running away. * He spun around. The houses were not familiar to him. He realized he had been walking fast a while at random, and now he was lost. The panic that had just started to subside began to rise again. How far had he come? How long had it been? How many streets had he crossed? He hadn’t kept count, he hadn’t stayed to the block right by Gary’s house. He felt stupid, stupid, stupid.

A porch light went on as the door of the house he was standing in front of opened and an unfamiliar man wearing a face mask opened the outer storm door a crack. He stuck his head out the most minimal amount; Comet couldn’t really make out any details about him with only his head and shoulders edging around the door and the mask covering his face. “Hey man what’s wrong? You look like you’re having a freak out.” The man seemed very wary. Comet realized what he must look like; and he was also out walking without a mask. Not a problem if he didn’t meet anyone, but an issue if he did.

“I, I’m lost.”

“Where do you live?” the man asked.

“I’m not sure,” Comet replied.

“What’s the street address?”

“I don’t know,” Comet said. “Friend’s house” he added, thinking he sounded suspicious and panicky.

“What street?”

“I – I didn’t look,” he said. Why didn’t he even learn Gary’s address?

The man looked very wary and even a bit suspicious. Comet considered giving Gary’s usual excuse that he’d been concussed recently, but thought it might go awry. He didn’t want the police or an ambulance taking him away, and he didn’t have his wallet. “Well what’s the house look like?” the man asked finally.

“It’s a little cottage. OH! It has Christmas decorations!” Comet said, realizing the distinctiveness of the décor.

“OH! That cute Tudor Revival brick cottage with the gonzo icicle lights and the wrapped mailbox post and all the lights on the shrubs and everything?” the main exclaimed. Comet nodded vigorously. “It’s seven blocks back that way, then hang a left and follow the curve of the street, you should see it then.” The man paused. “My kids LOVE that house, they were so excited to find it decorated Christmas Day! How did you guys get it all done at the last minute?”

Comet swallowed. “Santa Claus did it” he replied warily. The man looked at him, looked at him closer like he thought Comet was deranged, then comprehension spread across his face.

“OH! OH RIGHT! Of COURSE. Santa Claus did it! Haha oh my God yes, I’ll tell the kids that Santa did it because…?”

“My boyfriend is really nice. It was an extra gift.”

“Boy – oh.” The man said somewhat taken aback, his tone audibly cooling. “Oh. I don’t really understand you people’s lifestyle, but the house is nice. Seven blocks, turn left.” He drew back inside and closed the door.

Comet stared at the door a moment and decided that could have gone worse. He turned and hurried back the way he came, relief growing as some of the houses seemed familiar. He was also relieved he could still count to seven. If he’d gone just a little further, he’d have never found his way back.

Meanwhile Gary was growing increasingly worried. Something was wrong, he was utterly certain. Comet – Dante – had been acting so strange since he blurted out his Mafia connection. Gary was afraid to even start hinting that he knew his name, or to ask why his identity had not been erased. There was some even bigger mystery going on he was now certain, but Comet was not in any state to deal with it head on. Not for the first time, Gary reminded himself that Comet was a survivor of massive trauma, and if he could possibly find a psychiatrist who believed in magic he’d get him in therapy immediately. Gary’s thoughts whirled around uselessly as he paced the living room, considering going outside after Comet, but thinking he should probably wait at home. Comet had read the text, but hadn’t answered it. He needed to be patient.

The sound of the front door drew Gary’s attention immediately and he headed toward it as Comet came in and threw his arms around Gary. “What’s wrong, Big Guy? You look like you’ve been crying and … and you feel cold! You never feel cold!” Gary yelped in alarm.

“I got lost. I got scared, panicked. Neighbor gave me directions,” Comet said quietly.

Gary threw himself into the strongest hug he could deliver. “Oh no, there’s an app on your phone that has maps in it. It can locate you on it. I’ll show you how you use it tomorrow. You don’t have to worry about ever being lost while you’re outside.”

“Oh,” Comet sighed in relief. The tension drained out of him and Gary could actually feel his rigid body softening.

“Come inside and let me shut the front door. We should get you showered up and tucked into bed,” Gary said.

“A– alone?” Comet said hesitantly.

“Yeah,” Gary said quietly but earnestly. “I’ll help you wash up and tuck you in, but I need to stay up for a little while longer. I have to do something before I came to bed.”

Comet stared at him a few moments and blinked. “OK,” he finally said quietly. Gary got the front door shut and hung up Comet’s coat while the larger man stepped into the bathroom and stripped. Gary got the shower quite hot and Comet stepped in. Comet seemed tired, he leaned against the wall with his hands over his head and braced himself so Gary could use the hose-mounted shower nozzle to wash him down. Gary used a back brush to scrub all the parts he couldn’t reach like the top of his shoulders. Even slumped against the wall, Comet was like a sculpture. Gary kicked himself for noticing how amazing Comet looked while trying to take care of him. Gary wanted to join him, but he was already trying to pull his focus back together for what had to come after. Comet turned around and washed himself with Gary managing the spray of water.

The hot shower did seem to improve Comet’s color and Gary fussed over him and used a jumbo bath sheet, two of his fluffiest towels, and the blow dryer to get him completely dried so he could go to bed comfortably. He had Comet put on some shorts, nominally to sleep in, but actually to help Gary regain his focus.

Comet laid stiffly in bed, his head cradled by the pillow as he looked up at Gary, who was carefully and neatly tucking him in. Gary bent over and kissed him gently on the forehead and as he stood up Comet suddenly said in a small voice, “I love you Gareth.”

Gary stopped in surprise, then smiled warmly and replied, “I love you too.” He bent over and kissed Comet on the lips, gently stroked his hair once, and left the room shutting the bedroom door behind him. In the bed, Comet sniffed once then closed his eyes, ready for whatever to happen next.

In the living room Gary quietly sank to the floor in front of the fireplace, put his face in his hands and tried to sob as quietly as possible. At a guess, something triggered Comet’s PTSD; he had gotten lost; and because of the curse, got confused and even more scared. It was horrible. Gary had seen him start to panic when he asked him about Santa the first couple days they’d been together and had taken care to avoid triggering it, so he wasn’t sure what had set Comet off. Regardless, seeing such a wonderful guy in such a shaken state ripped at him. He took several deep breaths, and when he thought he was ok another wave of sadness and anger jolted through him and made his eyes sting freshly.

Gary felt overwhelmed and scared for the both of them. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said to no one, but needing to hear it said aloud. “I know I’m out of time, but what if I get it wrong? What if I make it worse? What if I’m just imagining things and there aren’t clues I’m supposed to follow?” He sobbed into his hands, pressing them tightly against his face to muffle the sounds and not let Comet hear. He made tiny animal squeaks. “I wish I could tell GranDa. I wish Mom were here. I wish Dad was still alive. I have to believe someone wished us well in the first place to give us this chance. Maybe Comet’s grandma is up in Heaven saying some prayers for us. I don’t know… but I have to pull it together.” Gary’s quiet sobs were interrupted when he choked a little and he realized his nose was stuffy from the quick, intense crying he’d just done. He dragged himself to his feet and took a few breaths through his mouth. He went to the kitchen, splashed some cold water on his face and filled up a glass to drink quickly. He began to feel the release from crying spreading through his body and draining some of the fear and anger. He still felt shaky, and a little overly full from dinner, but adrenaline was seeping through him and banishing the emotional exhaustion. The clock on the microwave said it was well past ten, and the hours of Twelfth Night were almost gone.

Steeling himself, Gary returned to the living room and pulled a bag out from the far corner. In it he had prepared the various twigs and trimmed branches he had collected into neat bundles tied with scrap fabric.

In his pocket he felt the rune cutters and the letter from Santa. On the mantle rested the box of fireplace matches the elves had filled. He slid it open and dumped out the rune-marked nipple ring that had originally bound Comet’s mind. Its solid existence proved it still had malign power, even though it had been cut open. Gary repeated the high points of his deductions aloud in a very quiet but determined voice.

“Santa’s letter was misdirection, I’m pretty sure, but also full of hints. He gave me rune cutters but suggested I use them to cut the rings off, if I really wanted to. But rune cutters should cut runes, right? Why can’t they? Because the runes are too powerful, I think. To really undo the curse on Comet, well, you need a spell to break a spell, right? The tree is plastered with Celtic symbolism of druids, faeries, even knights. Hints about holiday rituals. Santa’s instructions even referenced Twelfth Night, and thinking about this night, I think that’s a clue too. The Seelie court has been in this house, they reopened the fireplace and brought oak and holly, the two major sacred woods I didn’t have growing in my back yard. But, they didn’t bring mistletoe, a Yule log, or stockings. I think that was because the fireplace had a role to play; Santa even wrote that burning his letter in the fireplace was a spell to summon him back to take Comet away. But I am not going to burn his letter. I am going to burn the sacred wood. Since we made love on New Year’s Eve so intensely, I’ve been carrying a huge charge of magic in me. I think that Santa’s bonus gift was a hint that I could tap into Comet’s magic that way. I just hope it’s enough.” Gary sighed, having heard his logic out loud firmed up his confidence a bit, but he still felt like he was walking on thin ice.

Gary set the rune cutters on the mantle beside the cursed ring. He then pulled the first bundle of wood out of his bag and set it in the metal base of the small fireplace. It was similar to a Victorian era cast iron bedroom fireplace, so instead of a large opening with andirons, it had essentially a low pan to hold smaller pieces of wood. It would barely have held a single medium-small Yule log, but it was the perfect size for the bundles Gary had prepared. He picked up the box of fireplace matches, and with a deft and deliberate gesture, struck one alight. The long wooden stick flared and he held it a moment, observing the spluttering flame grow and steady and begin to burn up the length of the eleven inch wooden stick. He bent to one knee and stabbed the match into the center of the first bundle of wood: Oak from Miles’s house, where everything began. With a crackle, the tiny twigs in the center caught flame. Gary barely breathed, watching the fire begin to take hold. Gary began reciting the litany he’d prepared as he reached into the bag and drew out each bundle of wood in turn.

“Oak, mightiest of the trees; who brings the lighting from heaven to Earth and rules over the light half of the year;

Holly, crown of the winter and ruler over the dark half of the year, who protects us from the darkness;

Ash, tree of life and world tree, who keeps the worlds in check and opens the passages between them;

Ivy, protector of homes, who binds and seals away evil and strengthens fidelity;

Hawthorn, tree which blesses love, who is in turn loved by the faeries;

and Rowan, Lady of the mountain, whose power can break all evil magic sent against us;

Six sacred trees of the ancients, I call upon you now:

Kindle, ignite, glow

For ‘tis Twelfth Night

and my heart will show.”

As the twigs and small branches caught fire, Gary could feel something inside him resonate with the growing flame. The sense of infusion that he had carried since New Year’s Eve that he’d thought of as a feeling of ‘being tempered and made more manly’ began to soften and flow within him, like a candle softening and beginning to release its fragrance. Deep within him there was a core of determination to set things right for Comet. For Dante. Because he loved him. He loved Comet, whether he was Dante Rinaldi or not. They were each other’s. Like fuel and air mixing to produce a powerful jet of flame, Gary felt the ancient forest power that had settled in him from Comet’s lovemaking resonate with his emotions and blossom into something vital and powerful; a sense of nearly electric potency swept through him. He was going to do this.

Though he had gathered the wood carefully, there was not a great deal of fuel, so Gary knew he must act quickly. He took a deep breath and stood up. He picked up the rune cutters set out on the mantel and carefully picked up the ring and placed it in the palm of his left hand. In his heightened state, he could see the mystic runes glowing slightly on the ring. They were cruel and powerful and cold, and he could almost tell what they meant; it was as if he had once known their meaning, but it was long ago and he had forgotten.

Carefully Gary slipped the blades of the rune cutter under the band of the ring and applied force. It was not just the strength of his grip which drove the tool in his hand. He could feel the stream of energy awakened within him flowing into the cutters as well and energizing them. He squeezed and the first rune was severed. As it was, a pulse of force was released, stinging his hand. Gloves probably would have been a good idea, but it was too late for that; determination would have to suffice for preparation. He moved the cutters along the ring and carefully cut through each symbol in turn, a similar shock of force being released with each one cut. His hand was beginning to sting as if he’d slapped it against a brick wall several times, but he continued until the last symbol was cut and the ring was in pieces from snipping each rune in half.

The ring still didn’t disintegrate like the other one had, and the pieces of metal in Gary’s palm felt distinctly wrong. There was something malign and oily starting to seep out of the bits of metal and he was reminded of the unclean and nauseating feeling he’d had for a few moments in Miles’s back yard. He looked down at the fireplace with its small metal pan that held the wood.

Be thou unmade; I consign thee to the flames,” he said and in one fluid gesture flung the pieces into the fire. He cast the fragments with more force than he intended, some instinct driving him to get the loathsome bits away from his skin as quickly as possible.

For just a moment, nothing happened. Then, the fire exploded, and Gary staggered back in surprise. With a roar, tall flames of multicolored balefire shot up in the fireplace, threaded between the normal flames: funereal purple, jet black, brackish green, and bone white. Gary surmised the fragments of the ring were releasing their magic, and as those ominous flames reached up to the top of the firebox, heavy, black, oily smoke began to gather and form a cloud.

The metal fragments burned with supernatural fire for a few minutes and the black smoke continued to build up. It didn’t spill out of the fireplace and into the room; instead the normal colored flames from the sacred woods below seemed to be pushing it upward in a column. “Oak and ash and thorn; holly and ivy; rowan; woods sacred to the ancients, help me now!” Gary whispered, trying to will strength into his sacred fire. The natural colored flames from the wood roared more brightly and pushed upward, fighting with the rivulets of thick, cohesive, coal-black smoke that almost seemed to be fighting its ejection from the house. The wall creaked as if the force within the chimney flue was stressing it. The light from the fireplace began to diminish as the pillar of oily black stopped rising and began to slowly press down. With alarm, Gary realized there was nothing actually containing the evil miasma within the fireplace other than the flame below. It was smoke, why wouldn’t it just go up the damn chimney? What would happen if the smoke snuffed out the ritual flame? He was standing right in front of it.

“What the Hell? Gareth what the Hell are you doing?” Comet said from the living room archway. Gary glanced over at him and saw he was wearing the shorts still but was otherwise undressed.

“I’m trying to break the spell on you!” Gary yelled. “I think I screwed up, I broke the ring but I can’t get the residue to vent! I think … I think it’s going to backfire! Get out of here!”

Comet gaped at him for a second than looked down at the floor and around the room. “Gary, where’s your protection? The house staff elves would draw a circle of protection sometimes, for the big spells!”

Gary’s face whitened in shock. “I … I didn’t think to cast one! Get away now! I think there’s only seconds!” Comet looked at the fireplace and saw the pillar of black smoke pressing down on the weakening flame, threatening to snuff it. His face hardened and he strode forward and swept his arms around Gary from behind.

“Then I will be your circle of protection,” He said with finality as he encircled Gary’s waist with his arms and clasped his hands together.

Gary howled. He knew he could never break Comet’s supernaturally strong grasp. “No! No! I didn’t do this for you to end up taking the curse right back!” he gasped out, his hands fumbling to try to pry Comet’s apart, to no avail. The flames diminished further, there was barely an inch of fire between the black smoke pillar and the remains of the branches.

He felt Comet’s protecting arms draw his back against Comet’s chest. “You tried this… it means so much. But I will not fail you. I failed Antoni, I will not fail you.” Comet said in a voice full of devotion. More quietly he whispered “I love you, Gareth, please never forget that, no matter what happens.”

Tears flooded through Gary’s eyes and streamed hot down his face, threatening to choke him again. “Nooo, I fucked it up! Nooo!” he cried, uselessly thrashing in Comet’s grasp which pinned him at the waist with strength of a steel bar. Comet’s grasp would protect him, but taking the full brunt of the released dark magic would probably cost him everything. Gary wracked his brain trying to think of some angle. He’d fed what strength he could into the flame and it wasn’t enough; he’d destroyed the ring but he hadn’t thought of needing to clear the air. The fireplace chimney was open, but the smoke was actively fighting going up into it. As it was, the scents of burning wood and metal were leaking into the room and assaulting his nose. They needed to get the smoke away and vented, but there was almost no wood left at this point. They needed to vent the magical toxic smoke. Venting. Smoke. Wind.

Inspiration and desperation crystallized in a moment. Gary ceased thrashing in Comet’s unyielding grasp and used his support to stand up. Gary shoved down his panic and drew on all the sense of strength that he felt flowing within him, both the magic he’d absorbed from Comet and something else: a desire to be strong for him. Gary felt like there was a raging storm within him and he grabbed on to that power. He pushed past the tightness in his throat and the stinging in his eyes, and with a voice like thunder called out:

O ye powers of the Wind and Air! I conjure and invoke thee to complete the work this conjurer cannot! Boreas, wind of the North! Euras, wind of the East! Notus, wind of the South! Zephyrus, wind of the West! I entreat and call ye, oh mighty winds, please sunder this evil and disperse it to the cardinal directions!

In that moment, Gary desperately believed he could be a strong enough man to protect Comet. As he called out to the winds, he sent every scrap of strength he could muster into his invocation. All his sense of rediscovered confidence, all of his sense of enjoying being outdoors in the fresh air and in nature, the memory of snow and thunder storms, the memory of fresh breezes, even his memories of the wind rushing past him as he fell over and over in his recurring nightmare. All the strength Comet had given him, all the strength he’d found for himself, and all the passion that now filled him, rang out in his words. There was an abrupt change in the air in the house, as if everything suddenly became perfectly still, and even the crackling of the last dying flames became quiet.

A moment later, there was a very distant rumble in answer to Gary’s call, and then a sound like a huge airplane causing a sonic boom directly over the house unleashed a shockwave from above that shook the house to its foundations. Gary and Comet felt the force of the thunderous blast move through them. With a whistling sound disturbingly reminiscent of a shriek, the black pillar of smoke was sucked all the way up the chimney by the sudden vacuum caused by the four winds converging over Gary’s house and then rushing apart, each wind carrying a quarter of the curse essence which had been released from the binding ring. The air in the living room and much of the house imploded toward the chimney, sending papers and small objects flying, frames hanging on the walls flapping; even the TV remote launched itself through the air. Gary felt himself swept off his feet as his legs and arms were sucked toward the fireplace by the intense vacuum, but Comet held him steady by the waist. It still felt like Gary was being gut punched by a balcony rail as he was pulled against Comet’s encircling arms, but without him, Gary was certain his head would have rammed directly into the mantle with deadly force. The glass in the picture window behind them flexed ominously and made creaking sounds, and Gary was unsure if he heard the sound of glass beginning to crack. After just seconds, his legs dropped to rest on the floor and Comet spun them around and bent over Gary, shielding Gary’s body with his own broad frame. An explosion of wind blasted out of the fireplace, scattering the ash and tiny remaining scraps of wood with bullet-like velocity as the pressure in the house equalized with the outside. And then, the house was silent except for the sound of the alarms on several cars in the neighborhood blaring.

Comet and Gary slumped to the floor together and gasped for breath. “Are you hurt? Oh my God are you cut? Are you bleeding?” Gary panicked as Comet released him.

“I’m fine,” Comet said with apparent relief. “Tiny cuts like that are nothing, they’ll be healed within minutes, an hour at most.” He looked at the front window behind the couch. “I think you need a new window, that one’s about to shatter,” he said. Gary looked over and saw a number of large cracks going through the pane.

“Yeah, ok, I don’t care about that now, let’s just get your wounds cleaned ok? You don’t need them to close up over any splinters or dirt.” Comet nodded and got to his feet and helped Gary up.

“You were trying to break the spell,” he said still somewhat in wonder about it.

Gary nodded. “Yeah, but let’s get you cleaned up, I am gonna pass out pretty soon, and we can,” he gestured at the wreckage of the living room “we can deal with the fallout tomorrow.” Outside, the car alarms were silenced one by one.

Reports that night claimed that the Northern Lights were briefly visible over parts of Indiana, but the National Weather Service was unable to confirm the sightings. Local news also reported that a number of people claimed to have heard the mysterious phenomena of a “skyquake” in a local neighborhood, which the NWS also had no comment on. The closest military base issued a statement that no planes had gone supersonic, and the local airports confirmed there were no commercial flights in the vicinity of the reported noise at that time.

**EPIPHANY: The morning after **

At 7 AM Gary woke up at the sound of his shrill alarm blaring. He was being spooned as usual and felt warm and safe, though tired like he’d been exerting himself all day long. “Mmm, good morning,” he murmured as he slapped at his phone to turn off the alarm.

“It’s always a good morning when I wake up with you in my arms,” Comet said, his warm tones washing over Gary. Gary’s eyes flew open wide as he remembered the events of the previous evening. He grinned so wide he thought his face would split, and his eyes felt misty.

“This is the best morning,” Gary said, his voice catching. “You can talk and think freely, right?” He felt a happy tear hit his cheek.

“Hey! Enough crying!” Comet insisted, wiping the tear away. “Yeah, I even did some math in my head, I can hardly believe it. You pulled off a freaking miracle last night!” He punctuated the words with gentle squeezes.

“It was only a miracle because you showed up in time to make up for my blunder. Oh my gosh drawing a circle before you do a ritual is so basic most fantasy novels even get that part right! And how are your wounds?”

“They’re fine! They were healed up before I even fell asleep,” Comet assured him, as he released Gary and sat up in bed, leaning against the carved wooden headboard. “Gary, Gareth, I gotta admit, I thought a dozen bad things were going on with you acting funny the last day or two. Never in a million years did I think you were planning to attempt to break Lord Kringle’s spell! I thought I saw you reading his letter last night, and I panicked. I thought maybe knowing about my Mafia past had turned you off and you wanted to send me away. Or you know, something else was wrong with me.”

“Oh no, never!” Gary protested, aghast at the misunderstanding. He scooted up in bed and propped himself against the head board; Comet threw his arm over Gary’s shoulder and pulled him close. “I did look at the letter again last night, I was just reading it one more time to make sure I had all the details right. I was getting out the rune cutters. I was already thinking about the ritual I was going to do.”

“You took a huge risk. It almost hurt you! I can’t believe you thought you could do … what you actually did,” Comet finished, off balance. “Why didn’t you tell me what you were trying to do? Why did you think you could go against a spell cast by Santa Claus?”

“Well, I didn’t want to get your hopes up. You’ve been doing great but still, it’s been killing me seeing you struggle when it’s all because of a literal curse. But the thing is, there were clues.”

“Clues?”

“Yeah, just things out of place that don’t make sense. Everything from the weird way Santa described things in his letter to the pagan ornaments on the Christmas tree. Several ritual elements were all suddenly lined up like low-key guideposts. And I just thought, maybe it’s all a test.”

Gary wiggled to indicate he wanted to be released and Comet reluctantly lifted his arm. Gary awkwardly turned to face Comet. “Do you know what the oldest kind of magic is?” Gary asked, looking up at Comet with happy, shining eyes.

“No… Spirits? Herbs?”

“Good guesses, but not quite. The oldest magic is a story. A story is a way of describing the reality you want to see. A story is the foundation for all ritual magic. And the more a story is told, the stronger it becomes, even when there are variations. So I had all these pieces of a puzzle, or so I thought, and I was able to put enough of the pieces together that I constructed a narrative. I figured as long as I could reason my way through an explanation, that was good enough. The main thing is, I don’t have any kind of magic power. The world in general doesn’t anymore. So normally, there would be no way to cast a spell. But mister? You are magical. New Year’s Eve was amazing, and I felt so connected to you and not just to you, I could almost touch the source of your power through you. I could feel a connection to something ancient and natural. The more you made love to me, the more you shared some of your magic with me. So I felt like I had the fuel to power a spell. As to the rest, Twelfth Night, specifically, is the night where servants and masters change stations during the final Christmas partying; so there is symbolism there that I thought could fuel the idea that you, a, a slave, basically, could be released. I really went all out, there was actually a dried bean baked in that panettone and I was hoping you’d get the slice with it in it. Then I could have proclaimed you the Lord of Misrule and that might have been more ammo for my curse breaking ritual.”

“Oh a dried lima bean? I did get that, but I thought it just fell in so I discretely spit it out. I thought it was a mistake,” Comet chuckled.

“NO! It’s like a King Cake at Mardi Gras.” Gary scoffed in disgust and slapped Comet’s bicep playfully. “Ok I guess that aspect of Twelfth Night was a little medieval. My family doesn’t celebrate it, so I had to do research. But the point remains. Our story unfolded here, in this place, surrounded by the trimmings of the holiday, nature, and the feelings we brought together. And then I came up with a ritual that let me borrow that power and tell the story I wanted. I used the rune-cutters to sunder every mark on that ring that bound you, and cast it into the fire. Breaking a cursed object by casting it in to a sacred fire? That resonates! But even beyond that, I was retelling one of the grandest and most powerful stories ever. A story that people tell over and over and believe in.”

“What…” Comet asked, stunned.

“I was telling the story where true love breaks a curse, and the lovers live happily ever after,” Gary said with heart aching sincerity. “The binding is off now. You’re free.” Gary sniffed and looked Comet in the eyes. “You’re completely free.”

Comet’s shook his head. “When I woke up I knew something was different, then I smelled something strange burning. I didn’t even realize what you had already done by the time I got in the living room. When you told me, I realized why my head felt, like, wide open. I really thought I was just going to have a moment to speak freely, but here we are. I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Yeah,” said Gary. He stiffened at a thought. “Hey uh, Serious question. There IS something else I need to tell you about, but it could wait until you’ve had a chance to get your bearings.”

“Oh?” said Comet. “There’s more? You really seemed very weird after I let slip I was in the Mafia. Whatever it is, I’ll face it,” Comet said. “Tell me now.”

Gary took a deep breath. “Last night you said you failed Antoni. You were talking about your boyfriend, Antoni … Sorrento, right?”

“WHAT!? But– how did you know?” Comet spluttered in surprise.

“For some reason, Santa didn’t erase your identity or give it to someone else. There’s a historical record of you disappearing after Christmas Eve, 1970. You’re Dante Rinaldi, aren’t you?”

Comet was dumbstruck for several moments with his jaw hanging open. “I can’t even say Dante Rim… oh I guess I can?” Comet said, extremely puzzled. Concern flashed across his face. “Wait, so you know about Antoni?”

Gary nodded. “Yeah I know a little. The internet doesn’t have the newspapers from 1970 where I could just read them, but your disappearance was a big mystery so there’s some history articles I could read.” Gary looked sidelong at Comet. “Really we can put off the details until later. I know that was a very different time, and the bits of information were, well, not good; very gossipy. We should talk about it, when you’re ready. When we’re both ready. Right now though, I’m not ready.”

Comet nodded his head in relieved agreement. He had so many things he wanted to say that he couldn’t even figure out where to begin. After a couple minutes, he sighed in exasperation. “So much I don’t know where to start,” Comet grumbled.

“Hey I’m more excited to find out my boyfriend’s named Dante. That is a sexy name, mister.”

“Yeah I’m named after a really old poet, I don’t quite see how that’s sexy, but as long as you like it,” Comet said.

“Well I’ll… show you a videogame later and we can evaluate again,” Gary smirked. “But seriously Comet is … well, you could call it a slave name. I thought you might want to dump it and take your old name back, but I don’t think we can do that. Not exactly. Fifty years seems long ago, but a few people might actually remember Dante Rinaldi. I think we could get into trouble if you went back to your old name, but maybe we could change your name legally from Miles Pierce to something else. Dante Pierce maybe?”

“Or Comet Pierce?” Comet replied. He sighed. “Well I guess losing my real last name doesn’t matter. It’s not like I could marry you and make you Mister Gary Rinaldi.” He sighed again and looked a little glum. “I saw last night what you mean about how two guys being together is a bit more accepted, but some people are still put off by… Gary, why do you look like you’re about to crack up?”

Gary finally did lose his self control and cackled briefly. “I know this shouldn’t be funny, and I wasn’t going to bring this up so soon and all. So let me stress I’m just telling you it’s on the table, I’m not trying to rush anything. I mean, after all you may decide you need to go off and find yourself again with it being a new century and all…” Comet’s increasingly puzzled face set Gary off on a fresh round of laughter. “Ok I know this is going to sound unbelievable but I swear I’m not lying to tease you. Just a couple years ago in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that marriage is not limited to a man and a woman. Mister Rinaldi, it is entirely legal for me to make an honest man out of you.”

Comet’s jaw dropped and he did not say anything for several minutes. Gary couldn’t help himself, he giggled happily while Comet did an impression of a fish opening and closing his mouth.

“Seriously though we need to not rush anything. You have to catch up on history, and get in touch with yourself. I love you, you big lug. But I’m also the first human being you met after years in Faerie. Maybe there is someone better out there for you –”

“Like Hell there is,” Comet interrupted him. “But I do take your point about having things go slow. I have to get used to myself. And Gary, you know I’m not entirely human anymore, right? Is that really ok with you?”

“No problem. Truthfully, I kind of find it a turn on sometimes. But it’s just a perk. And ah, speaking of you getting magical during sex,” Gary said. “That nice feeling I’ve had since New Year’s turned out to be the sensation of a magical charge in me, which I think you kind of had figured out. Most of it’s gone now, but there’s a residue still; I like it. It’s the spiritual equivalent of wearing your boyfriend’s shirt and smelling him on it,” Gary grinned slightly wickedly. “So we don’t have to worry about playing too much, as long as we don’t get ridiculous like we did that one time.”

Comet’s response involved warm breath on Gary’s neck and more nibbles. “That’s good because I kind of… really enjoyed it.” He pressed his forehead against Gary’s. “I want to be a wild beast for you,” he whispered. “I want you to tame and ride me.” Gary shivered with arousal and he felt his nipples harden.

“I have to go to work now!” he hissed in protest. “You’re awful, I’m so horny I could scream now, and I’m tired and drained, but I have to put on pants!” Comet laughed throatily.

“No, just stay here in my arms as long as you can. I’ll make your tired feeling go away,” he growled, flexing one of his pecs. “Just throw on something five minutes before you have to sit down at your computer. I’ll make you breakfast and coffee and bring it up.”

Gary moaned. “That will help, but it’s still going to be a long day.”

“Well, it’ll be worth the wait,” Comet said. “I don’t feel like I need to hold back tonight. I’m going to make love to you, over and over. I’m going to kiss you so much, make you climax explosively, and do it again. I’m going to help you ride me, and I’m going to show you a little trick that reindeer can do. I think you’re going to love it.”

To be concluded in the final part

The Reindeer Clause: Epilogue

v 1.61 3/23/2021

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