Tiernan cleared his throat, and Kevin’s father turned away from his perusal of the framed display on the fireplace mantel to take the tumbler of ice and Scotch he extended. “Thanks.” He turned back to the frame on the mantel as he sipped. “This is very nice.”

Thomas Almstead’s nod made it clear that he wasn’t talking about the Glenlivet in his hand. The frame held a set of dog tags, and a picture of a young man who had Kevin’s easy smile, but short hair closer to blond than to Kevin’s dark brown. He wore a uniform of desert camouflage, and posed against a wall of sandbags.

“I know Kevin appreciated you giving him Tanner’s tags.” Small talk was never easy for a Fae, but his husband’s father was as close to blood kin as he was ever going to have in the human realm, so Tiernan made the effort. Besides, it made Kevin happy to see his father and his husband get along. “He talks a lot about his brother –.”

“My ears are burning.” Kevin entered from the kitchen, balancing a Waterford crystal bowl brimming with eggnog and setting it carefully on the sideboard beside the dining table.

“That’s a hell of a lot of eggnog for three people.” Thomas eyed Kevin skeptically. “I’d rather not spend Christmas morning with a hangover.”

“Since when do you get hangovers?” Kevin laughed.

“I think my warranty ran out when I hit sixty-five. I spent the day after my birthday hiding from the horrible racket the birds were making.”

“Don’t worry, Dad. You’ll be fine.” Kevin winked at Tiernan.

Did you put honey in that? Tiernan mouthed.

All the answer he got was Kevin’s best mock-angelic smile – more like fallen angelic, actually. You’re asking for it. Tiernan arched a brow.

How nicely do I have to ask?

            Depends on what you’re asking for.

Thomas snorted. “You two are worse than Gloria and I ever were –.”

The doorbell rang, cutting off Thomas’ gruff chiding. “Were you expecting company?”

The color was high in Kevin’s cheeks, but his voice was even. “Yeah, we invited a couple of friends over. They don’t have family anywhere near, so we said they could stop by here.”

“Hence the extra eggnog.”

While they talked, Tiernan went to the door and opened it. On the doorstep stood two men. Both looked to be in their mid-sixties, but that was as far as any resemblance went. One was short, broad, and very bald, and looked every bit as soft and yielding as a knot of oak wood. The other was taller, leaner, and wore his gray hair in a military brush cut. Both men looked nervous, the taller one several orders of magnitude more than the shorter.

“Mac, Lucien.” Tiernan shook the hands of his early shift bartender and bouncer. “Merry Christmas, come on in.”

The bald man nodded and stepped inside; Mac looked about to follow suit, then stopped cold, staring into the living room at Thomas Almstead, who was staring back with the air of a man seeing his own ghost.

“Sarge?” Mac’s voice was nearly inaudible.

Tiernan’s gaze flickered to Kevin; to say that his scair-anam was watching anxiously would be a gross understatement. The surprise Christmas Eve reunion between retired Marine first sergeant Thomas Almstead and the member of his fire team in Vietnam who had twice saved his life, the second time at the cost of a leg – and subsequently received a dishonorable discharge for being gay – had been his idea.

“Sweet bleeding Christ,” Thomas murmured. Carefully, he set his Scotch on the fireplace mantel, then crossed the living room to where Mac waited. Time almost seemed to stop as the former sergeant looked the former rifleman up and down, his gaze pausing for a fleeting moment on the artificial foot protruding from the bottom of one trouser leg.

Even Tiernan found himself holding his breath, rather to his surprise. Mac’s story had played a huge part in his father-in-law’s acceptance – reluctant at first, but slowly warming – of his son’s marriage to another man.

And how strange was it, that the Fae had to swallow a lump in his throat as Thomas drew himself up to attention, and snapped off a crisp salute?

“Sarge, no, that ain’t right.” Mac was blushing, shaking his head.

“Neither was what happened to you.” Thomas wrapped the other man in an awkward but fervent bear hug; when he stepped back, there was a grin on his face shining brighter than the star on the tree. “I have no idea how you came to be here, but damn, it’s good to see you.”

“There’s a story behind that,” Kevin put in, before Tiernan could open his mouth.

“I’m sure there is.” Thomas looked from Kevin to Mac, and from Mac to Lucien, and then cocked an eyebrow at Tiernan, “Why don’t we start disposing of that eggnog while you boys tell it?”



A very Merry Christmas to all, from Kevin, Tiernan, Thomas, Mac, Lucien… and me!