This is almost unheard of from me, but I wrote this as a 2020 Christmas Eve short pretty much on a whim. This takes place (sort of) in the Alkimia Fables canon, and features characters from Ghosts in Quicksilver, just after the projected end of the book. It’s not entirely canon, but close enough.
TW: alcohol use (not alcoholism, but not entirely healthy easier), past child death, past drug use, past homelessness, queer community issues discussed in abstract incl. in-community deaths. Surprisingly, it is less dark than this would make it sound, although it is referencing VERY dark content within GIQ itself.
It was Christmas Eve, and Willow Moray – as had become a deeply unfortunate and not altogether unexpected custom – was drunk off her ass.
To be fair, there were worse drunks out there. She’d lived with one, for starters; and that was before you counted the people who were sweet and just really couldn’t hold their liquor. But she’d timed it wrong, and she stared at the darkening sky above her, bad mood worsening as she quickly went from “fun happy tipsy drunk” to – well, the other part.
“Why am I not surprised?” came the comment from behind her.
Will flopped backwards onto the packed snow of the field. “Averyyyy. My hero,” she drawled.
“You’re being sarcastic, but you wear it so well.” Avery walked up to Willow, avoiding the sprawl of her long hair with their snowboots and clearly trying not to snicker. “Isn’t it a little cold?” they asked. They were bundled up against the cold. Not massively; late December hadn’t brought the worst cold yet, but they had a mid-calf jacket on, and a tuque pulled over their locs.
“For what, getting drunk on the curb like a hobo, or the outfit?” Will wriggled a bit on the snow. It was bizarrely comfortable, once you got past the cold. She wasn’t technically on the curb, but it was the principle of the thing.
Avery shook their head, clearly entertained. One of the nice things about being a Sulfur, Will thought, was that she could tell when she was in for a lecture and when her sense of humour was actually working for her. Even if the wry little grin on Avery’s face hadn’t given it away, a smile sneaking onto their face despite themselves, the echoes of their mood behind them were surprisingly warm. “I, personally, wouldn’t be wearing a tank top in below-zero, but you don’t look like you’re dying of frostbite. And at least you have something with you,” they added, although they gave Will’s hoodie a somewhat cautious glance.
“Relax. Frostbite is so last year. Besides, there are so many better ways.”
Avery raised an eyebrow. “…I feel like you take advantage of the fact that I can tell you’re joking.”
The older person gave up the fight with themself and snickered. They eased themself down into the snow, pulling a face. “Merde. My jeans aren’t going to be happy with me.”
Will gave Avery a long look. She wasn’t prying, even if she’d wanted to. Other Sulfurs were sometimes the best company she could ask for; she could teach other people how to shield their thoughts to some degree, but other Sulfurs were the people best at keeping her out. Intention got through, more or less, but that just eased some of the usual communication barriers and threw up others. But taking away the headache of knowing, or thinking she knew, or trying to predict, what the other person was thinking – it helped.
“I thought you’d be picking up exhausted carolers and overindulging partiers by now,” Will said quietly. “Please don’t tell me you’re skippin’ work on my account.”
“I set my own hours. And I decided I needed a Christmas off.”
“Even though it’s one of your most profitable nights?” Will eased herself up on her elbows, shook some snow out of her hair, and took another sip of the bottle she had in her paper bag. It wasn’t nearly as trashy as she’d managed to make it look; it was one of those strawberry-wine coolers, with probably just as much sugar as ethanol in it.
“By the time I clean the upholstery, it definitely isn’t,” Avery teased, but then a more somber look settled onto their face. Will knew that look. It meant Avery wasn’t having a great night either. Not a bad night – a bad night for Avery meant nobody was going to see hide nor hair of them. It was something Will almost, but didn’t quite understand. No, it was just one of those nights. Much like with her. Not a good night, not an average night – just kind of vaguely, but mundanely gross.
“C’mon. What’s on your mind?” When Avery looked hesitant, Will narrowed her eyes. “You have literally, and I mean literally, hauled me out of the gutter during an OD. If you don’t want to, that’s fine, but you can tell me anything.”
Avery stuck their legs out, still thinking. “I’m just sad, I think.”
… Fair enough. Although, to be honest, Will was so used to terrible things that the concept of “just sad” was a little weird. Will nearly took another sip of wine, then thought about their night so far, sighed internally, and put the cap back on. Fool me once… “Do you know why?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe I just think too much.”
“I mean, this last year has been a shitshow. We lost a lot of people.”
Avery’s lips quirked. “I think that’s kind of what’s on my mind. Not – really the losing, exactly? I mean, sort of that. I don’t know who wouldn’t be bothered by that. But the… ‘we’, I guess.”
Will nodded, kind of following – not completely, but a bit. It was weird. She didn’t think much about the Great Big Idea of community a lot on her own. But everybody around her seemed to – which had everything to do, she grumbled, with the fact that she kept attracting big thinkers. Jamal and Avery and Cassandra. Stupid big-picture thinkers. And now she was thinking about it more. “Alright, so what’s your big take?”
“Not really a big take. I just miss my family.”
Ah. That was simpler than she’d expected. “Your dad’s in Montreal, right? Not so far.”
Avery shrugged. “Not that far. And he means well. But he doesn’t get it, he never will, and I’m okay with that, but my family here is a mess too.”
“Present company included, I imagine.”
“I mean, you have an apartment, you have actual work, and you’re seeing a therapist in the new year-“
“Don’t remind me,” Will groaned, nearly flinging herself back onto the snow. “You had to remind me.”
“-You’re doing better than a lot of people.”
“That sounds fake, but okay.”
Avery snorted. “The fact that you insist on drinking wine from a brown bag in the middle of a field even though you’re not homeless anymore is more of a quirk than anything.”
“I crave my days of freedom.”
“Bullshit,” Avery deadpanned back. They did look a little better already, though.
Will contemplated her navel, chewing on the inside of her cheek. It mostly sounded like Avery was lonely. The other stuff was true, too, but hell, their community wasn’t going to get fixed overnight. The problem with elementals was that half of them were queer, half of them were crazy, all of them were traumatized, and nobody had written any of the old stuff down for the obvious reasons. Or at least, if they had, it wasn’t anywhere obvious. Avery was chewing at the same bit that they’d been chewing at for a long time, just with more stuff to worry about – they just didn’t have anybody to break them out of the cycle.
Which, Will reflected, was something she could fix. It wasn’t that Avery didn’t have friends. But Avery’s other friends weren’t Sulfurs. They were elementals, sure, but if Avery said they were fine, it was accepted, or at worst prodded at once or twice. There was, regrettably, an upside to Will’s disaster-zone status being public knowledge. Nobody expected her to be an adult.
“C’mon,” Will said after a moment, hoisting herself out of the snow. “It is…” She checked her phone. “Jesus jumping jackerel christ it is five o’ clock. I hate Canada.”
“…Jesus jumping what?”
“I’m trying to swear less. It’s practice for the therapist. Anyway, come on. At least one store is going to be open.”
Avery raised an eyebrow. “What are we doing?”
Will tried to be flippant – then sighed, grimacing. “I am trying to learn how to be a real person and not a walking… thing of knives and sass. And you need company.”
“That wasn’t an answer.”
“It was, just not a useful one.” Will felt embarrassed now that she had to say it out loud. “…Half of us don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. Those of us who, you know, bother celebrating it to begin with. And I bet people have thought about doing something for it before, but the thing is, we all suck at planning, and everybody’s too nervous to actually do it. So let’s.”
“Let’s do it. At least for Jamal and Jaylie – and Cass, yeah.” She felt herself wilt a little at the surprised look on Avery’s face. “Oh come on, she lives in a fucking school, who do I look like, Satan?”
Avery eased themself out of the snow. “You know nobody’s going to have any food.”
“Nobody ever has any food. We’ll make it work. Besides, I can –“
Avery shot them an icy glare.
“…It’s Christmas,” Will complained. “What’s a little theft between friends and convenience store clerks?”
“I really hope you paid for that wine.”
“I did,” she grumbled. “I wasn’t going to. And then your voice showed up in my head and made me feel all guilty, you jerk.”
“That’s my girl,” Avery laughed, passing by and ruffling Will’s hair. Will stood there for a moment, scowling after Avery and fixing her hair – and trying to make the flush of pride fade just a little. Maybe Cassie wouldn’t be interested. Maybe Jamal was asleep. Maybe Jaylie was busy with her parents – she actually had a home life, it was just a little patchy at the corners.
But, hell. You never knew until you tried, right? And it was better than drinking wine on her own, trying to make the night pass faster, and missing people who were gone.
Maybe his ghost was still hanging around. Maybe he’d done the smart thing and moved on and left her and Cassie to sort out their own crap. And god knows the “Christmas is for family” thing had been a weapon more than anything comforting, when they’d been a family, when he’d been alive – but he’d loved it anyway. Kids, right?
“Merry Christmas, Alex,” she murmured, feeling just a little stupid as her voice hung in the December air.