Ben leaned against the side of his motorcycle, suffering winter’s chill and looking morosely around at the vibrant decorations lining the busy street. Christmas was fast approaching, and the people of Dublin were bustling around in the shops, arm in arm with loved ones, laughing merrily away. He sighed, his breath releasing in a bright white cloud before being quickly picked up by the wind’s eager rush.
He envied these nameless, faceless shoppers whose biggest concerns were finding the right present, preparing the evening meal, and purchasing tickets for the winter wonderland carriage rides through central park. None of them had to deal with lovable but irritating blood brother werelions with horrible timing that sweep in and destroy any potential for romantic holiday dates with their beloveds.
He winced at the memory resurfacing unbidden from his mind, the look of utter disappointment on his Fran’s face when he had told her of David’s call and the subsequent demolition of their plans. She had been angry, of course. She and Imogen had both tried to convince him to postpone the mission, arguing that the holidays should be a blood-brother-crisis-free zone. But David had insisted that it was urgent and that he did not have anyone else that he could call on with such short notice. The girls had huffed at that, feeling that this was definitely short notice. Benedikt, however, felt that he could not reject the urgency in David’s voice for something so trifle as holiday fun.
Looking back, he wished that he had not come to that conclusion. David had needed him to play mediator with another group of Dark Ones that had settled in Dublin to negotiate an alliance of sorts. As this group was known for their mistrust in those of the shape-changing persuasion, David had enlisted Benedikt’s help. Something that made Ben want to punch him hard in the face for.
When he had asked David, struggling to contain his anger and frustration, why there was such a necessity now, when he could be snuggling with Francesca by the Faire bonfire, David had stated that his people were struggling to find homes in the city because of the Dark Ones’ interference and some were even camped out in tents on the outskirts of Dublin in the cold.
Ben had acquiesced, feeling like a heel for complaining in the face of the werelion’s problems. David had apologized for the trouble and thanked him multiple times and had brought him along to some of the pack’s holiday festivities, which while fun had not been even close to the time he could have been having with Fran.
His beloved had become so beautiful in the past few months, having grown into her height and the long length of her legs. She had grown her hair out, the long dark curtain of black hair now reaching her shoulders and upper back, giving a feminine softness to her tall, slender frame. Her violet eyes, rimmed in thick black lashes, still held that same independent fire they did upon their first meeting, something that drove Ben wild with frustration and desire. She had taken to wearing knitted caps in these cold winter months, her favorite of which was a black beanie with curling purple vines along the edge. She still maintained her Goth trend but had finally bended to Imogen’s constant attempt to pick out her clothes. Her wardrobe now consisted of various stylish gothic articles that had lace trimmings and smooth blends of blue, purple, dark green, and black, instead of her old black t-shirt, black jeans, and don’t-give-a-crap attitude.
He had supported this quietly, encouraging the new style that enhanced his Beloved’s beauty as opposed to hiding it. He had done so quietly because he knew that even the suggestion that he was trying to control what Fran wore would have induced a long separation between him and Francesca’s luscious curves, and that was something he was not willing to risk.
It hadn't been until one night after the Faire opened in northern France when Francesca had worn a new form-fitting black dress with a purple silk bodice and a black lacy skirt, with matching tights decorated with rose patters and buckled leather boots with a two inch heel, that he had discovered a possible problem with Fran’s new look.
Where before he had been the only one to see how beautiful his Fran was, the rest of Europe’s male population was now tuned in on the hot gothic chick that worked at the Goth Faire and read palms throughout the night, under the flickering golden light of torches that accentuated the shadow her eyelashes cast on her cheeks and the length of smooth black hair that draped over her ample chest.
Brought back to the present, he swore quietly, feeling that now familiar burn of possessive jealousy eating away at his thoughts. Ever since he had ridden away on his motorcycle from the Faire, he had been unable to focus on much else apart from his Beloved now seemingly available to the circling , hormonally-charged teenage wolves without her Dark One to keep them at bay.
The loud squeal of a child broke him out of his ruminations. Ben turned his head to watch a cheerful little boy, barely able to toddle around on his small boot clad feet, laugh and play with his father, a middle aged man with bright blonde hair and laugh lines around his eyes. He smiled at the scene, feeling a brief moment of holiday cheer, before it quickly passed as the cold seeped into his leather jacket.
He had not expected to have to wait half an hour for David to show up at their rendezvous point, so he was wearing only his customary leather jacket, tight black jeans, and a deep read cashmere sweater. His long mahogany colored hair was tied back by a leather thong, leaving his ears open to December’s ferocity.
His phone began to vibrate in his back pocket, the ringtone muffled by the denim and the buzzing of hundreds of other conversations taking place around him.
He whipped it out, saw Imogen’s name on the screen, and answered, irrationally worried for a moment that something had happened at the Faire.
“Imogen?” He asked quickly. “Is something wrong? Is Fran alright?”
His older sister’s smooth voice could be heard from the small cellphone, as well as a considerable amount of background chatter.
“We’re perfectly alright, Benedikt. Well, disappointed, certainly, but physically we are unharmed.” She replied, her voice becoming a little icy toward the end.
Benedikt felt a sharp pang of guilt cut through his chest, before he answered back rather defensively, “Then what is it, Imogen? It is rather childish of you to attempt to guilt trip me. You know as well as I that I would rather be with you both.”
When she answered, Imogen sounded rather chastened. “I know, Ben. I apologize. That was rather mean spirited, I admit. And anyway, it's been a couple of days now. We're both getting over our anger and enjoying the holiday spirit."
“That’s great,” He was relieved that he hadn’t put a damper on their holidays as well. “I’m trying to finish this mission as soon as I can so I can come back, but I’m afraid I might not make it back before Christmas.” He said nothing for a moment, chest unusually tight at the prospect of being alone on Christmas. “She won’t be too disappointed, will she?”
Imogen was silent for a moment, and Benedikt could almost feel her own disappointment through the cellphone. “Oh, I imagine she will be quite disappointed to hear that. But her friends and family will cheer her up, myself included. You know, I saw her earlier today before I left on a shopping trip. She seemed in better spirits. Soren is a great friend to her, after all."
Benedikt’s thoughts stuttered to a halt for a moment at the name, a strange white noise filling his mind. “Soren?” He inquired of Imogen softly, his voice sounding strangely far away.
“Yes," she replied cheerfully. "They were sitting on one of the stone benches near the Faire center, sucking on candy canes and talking. There's nothing like sucking on a candy cane, very delightful shock of peppermint. Fran seemed to really enjoy it. I never knew she liked them so much."
He knew, in that moment, exactly what Imogen was doing. She was playing him like a fiddle, but damn if he wasn’t falling for it, hook, line, and sinker.
Because he could see it. He could see his Beloved sitting on one of the stone benches that were a typical addition to an old Irish town. He could see her bundled up in sweaters and a winter coat, a black knitted beanie protecting her ears from the cold, with her gloved hands holding the curved red and white handle of a candy cane. She sucked on the minty holiday treat, her lips red and lightly chapped, innocently oblivious to the hungry hormonal eyes of that thrice be-damned son of a whore hovering over her like some wolf slavering at a baby deer-
Stop thinking about it, He fought furiously with his instincts, the Dark One blood running hot through his veins, turning nearly boiling in the intensity of his jealousy.
He forced himself to reply, his stubborn pride unwilling to admit defeat to his sister’s machinations. “Really. I didn’t know that either.”
"Well, of course you would not,” Imogen simpered, though she was unable to contain a slight hint of smugness from her voice. “I mean, this would've been your first Christmas together. Anyway, I believe they decided to help the others decorate the giant Christmas tree in the main tent. It will probably look amazing when it's finished. It's an incredible sight at twenty feet tall. They traditionally do not use ladders to put up the ornaments except for the very top of the tree."
His momentary confusion distracted him from the call of his blood to slaughter Soren into a million tiny chunks of gory-
“Then how do they put the majority of the ornaments on? I mean, some of the men are tall, but none tall enough to reach even half that height." He asked quickly, focusing on her reply.
"Well, that's one of the best parts about decorating the tree. The women and children will sit, and sometimes even stand, on the shoulders of the men so that they can reach higher. It is also great fun and—"
“Sounds unsafe.” Benedikt said shortly, hoping to derail her from some long-winded explanation of a banal tradition.
"No, no, it's completely safe! Usually when that starts happening, there are other people behind the ones adding ornaments to the tree on another's shoulders. Like the trust fall exercise, yes? Very secure, Ben, I assure you.” She paused and seemed to take a sip from a drink, before continuing, “ I'm sure Soren will lend his shoulders to Fran in your absence. He's grown pretty tall lately, gained some muscle. It would be no problem for him to carry her on his shoulders. After all, she seems rather petite now by comparison."
He would have rather listen to a long detailed explanation on the importance of postage stamps than the torture he was envisioning now. His mind provided this image for him as well: Fran perched atop Soren’s shoulders; his blonde head nestled between the apex of her thighs-
The expression on his face was so thunderous that people were actively avoiding even walking near him, creating a large radius of space as though it would protect them from his anger. He was worried for a moment that he was going to lose control, rage like nothing before surfacing at the mere suggestion of another male touching his Beloved, being near enough to touch parts of her that were strictly his. An animalistic urge surfaced, making him want to drive his motorcycle back to Swords, Ireland, beat the last living breath from that little bastard, and lock himself and Fran in the cabin of Imogen’s trailer and have utterly satisfying sex until one couldn’t stand a yard from Francesca without being able to smell his claim on her.
Francesca. Was. His.
“Yes, she is.” His voice echoed what his instincts were asserting, not noticing the rough rasp to his words.
“So, you said you might not make it back before Christmas?" She questioned innocently.
Benedikt struggled to follow her words. “No, probably not.” He heard his own voice as if from a great distance away. He gripped his phone hard enough to hear a slight fracturing of plastic.
“That's a real shame. You see, Benedikt, the GothFaire has this lovely Christmas Eve tradition, wherein they light this great bonfire and everyone gathers around it." She talked excitedly, sounding eager.
In a striking moment of premonition, Benedikt could hear his destruction in her anticipation.
"We roast marshmallows, drink hot cocoa, and sing holiday songs, all huddled together by the fire for warmth. The couples present usually share one of the smaller logs, doing all sorts of affectionate things," She chuckled. "I remember this one time, I brought my current lover—you might remember him. Victor? Anyway, I sat in his lap and we—"
"I don't particularly want to hear about your lovers, Imogen. What's your point?" Benedikt asked agitatedly, unwilling to let her sit there and leisurely build-up to her big finish.
"Humph," she sniffed. "Well then, before midnight, there is a great countdown to Christmas day, much like what Americans do on New Years. Everyone will kiss their significant other to celebrate the holiday cheer."
Kiss their significant other.
Damn you, Imogen.
It was finally too much. He knew exactly where she was leading with this, and he could withstand no more. White rage now held dominion over his thoughts, her next words registering in his ears in fractured segments, as though she were driving through a tunnel with bad cell reception.
“I mean, I will… be with Fran so that…alone, but…new friend Byron…Though…Fran won’t be alone…She’ll have...mother, me...and…Soren.”
The phone crumbled easily beneath his hand, broken pieces of glass and plastic cascading to the ground in tiny pieces. People were now crossing the street just to avoid walking in front of him. His eyes, now frightening black pools that promise death, were blazing with anger. The streetlamp near by short-circuited and exploded in a surprise showering of bright sparks and electricity.
He threw his leg over the seat of his motorcycle, started up the engine with a deafening roar, and sped off in the direction of the next rendezvous point with the city Dark Ones, leaving David to acquire his own ride. This mission was going to be finished. Now.
Hold on, baby. I’ll be there.