“Of fucking course we’re not cutting down a tree! What is wrong with you.”
Ronan’s voice was loud and cranky. Judging by the lack of response, Adam was betting that Ronan was on the phone. And if Ronan was on the phone then…
“Tell Gansey I said ‘hi,’” Adam told Ronan, smiling cheerily at Ronan’s pissed off expression.
“Parrish says ‘hi,’” Ronan said into the phone. He paused, listening, then looked to Adam. “Gansey, Blue, and Henry also say ‘hi’ and want to be on speakerphone.” There was a burst of shouting on the other end and Ronan sighed. “They want to do a video call.”
Adam plucked at the sheets draped over his lap and gestured at his bare chest. “I’m not decent.”
“Ah, perfect.” Ronan grinned and then said into the phone, “Adam’s not decent. Try back later. Bye.”
He punched the phone screen with a wickedly delighted grin and Adam laughed.
“You really didn’t need to tell them that.”
“Oh, I really did,” Ronan replied. He flopped down on the bed and pressed his face to Adam’s belly.
Adam stroked Ronan’s stubble rough scalp and giggled when Ronan kissed the ticklish skin below his ribs.
“What did Gansey want?” he asked.
Ronan turned his face so he was looking up at Adam.
“Blue wanted to make sure that we weren’t butchering any trees for Christmas. I assured Gansey that we were not those kinds of people.”
“Ah.” Adam traced the shell of Ronan’s ear, down his jaw, his neck. “Did you tell them what we’re actually doing?”
Ronan shook his head, his prickly hair chafing Adam’s stomach in a way that called up memories of that sensation but in a more intimate context. Adam swallowed a low moan.
“I figured we can call them back once we’re finished. Maybe do a virtual tour of the Barns.” Ronan’s eyes were shaded with sadness. “Gansey said he’s missed visiting.”
“Mmm,” Adam hummed in agreement. He didn’t know what he would have done if he hadn’t been able to spend the last nine months with Ronan in such a homey environment. “Sounds like a plan.”
It was half an hour before they got up and dressed and joined Declan in the kitchen. Matthew was napping on the couch and Ronan roused him. They each grabbed a box and trooped across the snowy fields, making for a large fir tree near the edge of the forest.
Chainsaw flew down to join them, perching on Adam’s shoulder and tugging at the pom-pom on top of his knitted hat. Adam laughed and petted her sleek, black feathers before giving her scratches under her chin. Chainsaw made happy gurgling sounds.
Opal, not to be outdone by her rival, pranced around Adam and lobed miniature snowballs at the raven. Instead of scolding her, Adam scooped her up and twirled her around in circles until they both fell into a snowbank, laughing and spluttering. Matthew joined them, doing a dramatic face plant into a deep snowdrift and making snow angels.
“Matthew!” Ronan grabbed the back of Matthew’s jacket and hauled him to his feet. “Save that for after or you’ll get frostbite before we even get started.”
Declan was staring up at the tree, his brow furrowed. “Ronan, how do you propose that we get to the top of the tree?”
Ronan pointed at Chainsaw. “Aerial battalion.”
“I see.” Declan looked away, shaking his head.
Adam held in a laugh. This was so typical of them, and every day he was thankful that they could now exchange words without it becoming a fight. He’d had enough yelling and fighting from his own family to last a lifetime.
“Should we start at the bottom and work our way up?” He asked, opening his box. “Or the other way?”
Ronan had Chainsaw perched on his forearm and they were both studying the tree, heads cocked to the side.
“At the top,” Ronan said decisively. “That way we can be sure to get it all spaced out properly.”
“All right.” Adam didn’t say it, but this was his first time decorating a tree. Maybe he’d tell Ronan later, when they were alone. But for right now he didn’t need the Lynch brothers giving him sad looks or remembering his depressing childhood. This moment was for joy.
Each box contained different decorations. Most of them were handmade but the lights were special, dreamt fairy lights that required no power source; as soon as the sun set they would light up and glow steadily all night long. They were multicolored and lovely; Adam hoped that Ronan would dream some more for their room.
There were paper chains made out of Matthew’s old school work and ornaments made from cut up cardboard boxes. There were the huge pinecone ornaments that Matthew and Opal had made, coating them with glue before showering them with environmentally friendly glitter. Adam had taken a big jar of miscellaneous parts and screws and nails and made strange ornaments and figures from them; they were slightly too eerie for the Christmas tree but Ronan assured him they were fine. Declan had baked seed cakes for the birds and squirrels; each had a unique shape from stars to hearts and they hung from brilliant red ribbons.
Getting all of their creations on the tree – and to Ronan’s unexpected exacting aesthetic – took the entire morning. Matthew, as Ronan predicted, soon caught a chill from rolling in the snow and had to be sent in for a while. Declan took a break after that to check on him but returned shortly with a thermos of hot chocolate that they passed around and shared.
The hot drink warmed Adam right up, just as the easy camaraderie and connection he shared with the brothers warmed his heart. He couldn’t stop smiling as he hung ornaments, adjusted paper chains, and listened to Ronan and Declan bicker and tease.
Matthew, fortified by his time indoors and a fresh change of clothes, returned. At some point Ronan started humming a carol under his breath and Matthew and Declan were quick to pick it up. In a matter of moments, the three of them were heartily singing about Good King Wenceslas and snow and fires. Adam didn’t know the carol but he enjoyed it, appreciating the way their voices blended together and rang out across the snowy landscape.
He applauded once they finished and Ronan grinned at him. “Any requests for the next carol?” he asked.
Adam pretended to consider before answering with, “Surprise me.”
The brothers sang the rest of the time as they decorated, with Matthew confusing the lyrics half the time to hilarious results. Declan made plans to bake cookies. Matthew happily agreed to frost and decorate them. Ronan suggested they watch ‘White Christmas.’ Adam, tongue in cheek, asked if they were planning to roast chestnuts on an open fire and Ronan looked like he was absolutely considering it.
When they had finished, they stepped back, admiring the tree. The fir looked handsome and regal, decked out in the ornaments and lights. Chainsaw had been a willing if somewhat inept assistant, but she had managed to do justice to the top branches and to get the crowning star in place. Ronan had given her an entire seed cake for her trouble. Opal, the unruly imp, had stolen several ornaments and Adam was sure they’d unearth them in some unlikely spot months for now. She’d also eat several paper chains and seed cakes.
“It’s beautiful,” Matthew said softly. He pressed against Ronan’s side and Ronan wrapped him in a firm side hug.
Declan stood at Matthew’s other side and squeezed his hand. “Good job on the ornaments, Matty.”
Ronan waved Adam into the hug and they all stood together, faces burning from cold, staring up at the tree. It was by far the best holiday moment Adam had ever experienced, and they weren’t even done. He’d had days and days of quiet, cozy preparation leading up to Christmas, and they still had several days to go.
“Come on,” Declan said. “Let’s all go warm up around the fire. I can make soup and grilled cheese for lunch. How do you all feel about another chapter from The Dark Is Rising?”
“Yessss grilled cheese!” Matthew charged towards the house, leaving the rest of them to follow behind.
“Thanks, Declan,” Adam said, “lunch and another chapter sounds perfect.”
Declan smiled and went ahead, giving Adam and Ronan a moment.
Ronan took Adam’s hands and tugged him close. The stood in the snowy field, the festive tree on one side, the warm and welcoming house on the other, surrounded by winter magic. They leaned in, noses touching, breath steaming in front of their faces, and kissed.
Adam thought, It really is the most wonderful time of the year, and kissed Ronan again and again.