Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kai Cover

Kai Stubborn

by Nix 'Nick' Winter
all rights reserved
copyright 2006

Note: This story was published by Thunder Mouth Press in 2006, in the 'Zowie, It's Yaoi!' anthology, but the rights have reverted to me now.

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Summary: Kai withdrew from the realm of the Fae, leaving behind the man he loved and all his friends. He'd been injured in a mission. With a ruined hand, a broken heart, he thought he was completely retired. Then Dorian came for him. They both have secrets. These secrets are going to drag them into the middle of a war of succession for the throne of the Fae. Love and war can be very hard on fragile new love, even for a dragon and his elf prince.

There were two of them, standing by the ocean, a lone bed and breakfast in the distance. One was tall, wearing a black trench coat, jeans, bare feet. His blond hair lifted, dancing tangled as the breeze danced lightly down the beach. Cigarette smoke curled back and around him, lazy and yet also tangled on the breeze that promised the world had not yet really stopped for them. He drew his hand slowly to thin piles, the white filter of his cigarette tucked between two bent and stiff fingers, to pull a slow drag of smoke in. Green eyes, half-closed, watched the weak wave as it broke down to nothing. “You shouldn't have come.”

The man next to him was younger, perhaps, but not by much. In a suit and tie, polished shoes that left their own imprint in the sand, he stood with both hands in his trouser pockets, short dark hair untouched by the breeze. He could have been a samurai or a yakuza, a ghost of some of the things a man does for his country that are never spoken of, but when he leaned forward a smile lightened him and hew as just a man. “I had to come, as soon as I knew where you were. Kai, I have missed you so much.”

Surf came closer to them, leaving little bubbles unsaid of the ocean's soul. Kai touched the back of his wrist to his forehead, pushing suicide blond back, smoke trailing over the dark roots. “And now you've found me,” he said, in English, voice mellow, a playboy's voice that could never quite give up on the lazy sensual being. “You're going to miss the ghost I was.”

“I missed the man much more,” Dorian said. It wasn't a Japanese name, but it had been his name for as long as he could remember.

Kai pulled another moment from his cigarette, then tossed what was left into the encroaching ocean. “You should go away and pretend like you didn't find me. I can't work with the team anymore. Even Spades acknowledges that. I could never do intelligence only. I'm just not that smart.” He held out his hand, the mangled remains of a skilled weapon, three fingers broken so badly in an interrogation, left to the ravages of infection and damage. The other two fingers were better only because they'd been broken for less time when the rest of his team had found him. The problem with being an undercover terrorist hunter was that it was sometimes hard to tell the good guys from the bad. “I'm finished, Dorian. Done. Ruined. You have always been smarter, kinder to the world and yourself. You can make a place for yourself in the organization, to do something more than hunt and strike.”

One hand came from the warmth of Dorian's pocket and reached fro the twisted hand, but Kai turned way from the guilt in his friend's face, to the reaching touch. “I didn't find you to invite you back to the team, Kai. I know that's done. If we'd rescued you sooner... if you'd just told her who you were.”

“If I'd started talking, I'd wouldn't have ever shut up, and how was I to know she was really a cop like she said? Terrorist lie too, you know.” Kai pushed his foot in the sand, plowing up a small trough that water slipped into. “I couldn't give her anything that might have been used to hurt you.”

There were so many things that might never rise to the surface, like a soul dragged down to the bottom of the ocean. Usually, things that one hadn't meant o think or do. It didn't stop a person from wanting someone to love them, wanting to believe that someone could, not a ruined hand or a ruined soul.

Kai dropped then, to a squat, then down on his ass in the sand. Salt water and sand weren't going to ruin his faded-out jeans and he'd had about all he could stand of pretending he didn't care about Dorian being there. “Just get out of here. Or are you planning on breaking my fingers to make me talk?”

“Don't be a goddamn ass, Kai,” Dorian snarled, dropping to one knee, a hand reaching cautiously for Kai's t-shirt, to grab hold.

Cautious or not, he had him, a fistful of black t-shirt and Kai looked up, not so cocky, more vulnerable and afraid. “Dori, you want to kick my ass, fine. But I can't go back to being who I was. I learned things about myself, too. It's not just my fucking hand.”

“I understand,” Dorian said, holding Kai's green eyes locked with his gaze. “I learned, too. I learned that I love you. I love you, Kai. You're the only person I've ever really let get into me that deep. You know me and I now you, maybe better than you think anyone can. It's more than just knowing you, it's something so primal. You're the only person I'm attracted to, and I don't make it out like it's some kind of fucking joke. 'Dorian's a fag.' Whatever. I....” He paused, his eyes finally letting go of their hold as his power rolled back out like the tide, leaving little bubbles of feeling that he couldn't quiet put words to. “I love you,” he whispered. “I love you so much.”

Kai's other hand had healed much better and with it, he reached to touch Dorian's cheek, caressing smoothly shaved skin, his thumb moving over soft lips. It had always been that way between them, words of foam, but deep moving emotion that pushed the current of their lives. Kai's other hand, his mangled one, rose, the side of his little finger smearing away a tear and he leaned close, shifting to one knee, smashing sand against Dorian's expensive trousers.

Their kiss was a tentative brush, a passing of spirits where there should be none, Kai's chilled lips against Dorian's blush-swarmed lips that opened back with a willingness of a Christmas just one day delayed, hunger, need, roaring back from the oblivion of a soul which knows it's banished. Deeper into each other, tongues dancing nervous, afraid to touch, needing to touch, until dorian took the kiss, his fingers combed into Kai's hair, holding to him as if he were the only breath. Cigarette smoke, salty ocean air, heat of needing the touch of someone you love and respect and redemption.

Kai moaned into the kiss, his heart and body both waking. Panting, Dorian pulled back, dark eyes dancing with hope and happiness. “And you love me, too. I know you do.”

“I do,” Kai said, lips full of color now, a crooked smiles forcing it's way into being. “I'm not any good for you.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Excerpt: Kai Stubborn

Kai Stubborn
by Nick Winter

Copyright 2006
all rights reserved

This story was originally published in 'Zowie, It's Yaoi' by Thunder Mouth Press. The rights have reverted to me though and here it is.


Kai and Dorian have loved each other for a long time. They never consummated anything though. Each has secrets. Some of those secrets might be deadly as a fight for the throne of Underhill forces them out into the open. It's an erotic thriller with warring elf princes, dragons, well intended peace corps workers, and the fate of lives in the balance.


Their kiss was a tentative brush, a passing of spirits where there should be none, Kai's chilled lips against Dorian's blush-swarmed lips that opened back with a willingness of a Christmas just one day delayed, hunger, need, roaring back from the oblivion of a soul which knows it's banished. Deeper into each other, tongues dancing nervous, afraid to touch, needing to touch, until dorian took the kiss, his fingers combed into Kai's hair, holding to him as if he were the only breath. Cigarette smoke, salty ocean air, heat of needing the touch of someone you love and respect and redemption.

Kai moaned into the kiss, his heart and body both waking. Panting, Dorian pulled back, dark eyes dancing with hope and happiness. “And you love me, too. I know you do.”

“I do,” Kai said, lips full of color now, a crooked smiles forcing it's way into being. “I'm not any good for you.”

“I'm a grown up. I'll make up my own mind on that. Make love to me?” Dorian asked, the breeze now moving his hair, tousling it forward against his cheeks.

“If that's what you want,” Kai said, swallowing. “Dorian, don't call yourself a fag anymore, ever, or I won't do this with you. Understand? I'm not going to do anything that would hurt you, not even you hurting you.” He stood then, good hand on one knee as he pushed himself upright. It had been more than his hand that had been hurt and he would not have been fine even if he'd healed faster. There weren't anymore bruises or open wounds. Those had been gone a long time. Now it was as if he'd aged twenty years, as if his soul didn't quite believe he'd survived and was waiting for him to just fall over.

“I want,” Dorian said, eyebrows drawing down. He'd found Kai standing on the beach and he hadn't been briefed on the stiffness Kai was moving with. “I want to make love to you. Why are you stiff? What happened?”

“You don't want to know, Dorian. Just let it go. I can't go back to the company for many reasons and maybe they wanted to make sure I didn't go to work for anyone else either.” Kai said. Where he'd come from, before the company, had been a permanent group, not the kind you walk way from, but the company had taken care of that for him. The company had take care of everything, until he couldn't take care of problems for them anymore. “Dorian, are you sure this is what you want?”

“Do you know how hard you are to find Do you know what kind of favors I pulled in to find you, and once I had, to make sure that the company left you and me alone? Kai, I don't want you to do anything you aren't interested in, but I'm not just going to go away. We have been friends. I want to be more, but you if you don't, even after that kiss... come on, that was a good kiss, wasn't it?”

“It was the best kiss I've ever had,” Kai said, wishing he had another cigarette. “That kiss, it just happened, Dorian. I can't say I haven't had my hand wrapped around my cock thinking about you plenty of times, because I have. God, you're so beautiful and watching you work is like watching one of the gods. You're just perfect. You're kind and you're human and I'd give anything to kiss you again, and if you want that, I want that too, but listen to me,” Kai demanded, watching as the sunset settled over the distance with the most striking of violets, storm clouds and sun, as if the two had anything to do with each other. His thoughts were a run on sentence and his soul a train wreck. “Dorian, I'll come back if you want, run the shop, be there when you come home. You don't have to suck my cock to make me come home.”

“Kai, what if I want to? And I've wanted to for a long time, but you're such a stubborn fucking bastard that you wouldn't take a hint.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lady Harwood 1

The Lady of Harwood

by Beth Heart
aka Nick Winter

copyright 2009
All Rights Reserved
Do Not Archive

She sat bolt upright, green eyes dancing with angry fire. Long red hair framed her face and drew back into a braid that disappeared under the thick royal blue cloak. Ermine from her hood brushed against flawless cheeks. She glared down at the man reaching for her reigns. “Do not dare,” she commanded. “I will see your commander or no one.”

The man arched an eyebrow.  “We lay siege to your castle, Mistress. We can not allow you to pass.”

“I am Lady Harwood and I will see your Commander, Sir.” She danced her mount a step away from him, while glaring down at him.

He crossed his arms, lifted his chin stubbornly. He wore only dark fabric pants that tucked into black knee high boots. A phoenix lined his right shoulder, black ink tattooed into his skin. His hair touched   the same shoulder, the pony tail resting, clinging to firm muscle. “Lady Harwood have you come to sue for terms?”

“I will speak only to the Commander.”

Amusement colored his pale blue eyes. “Very well, My Lady. Gaius!”

Another man moved forward at a quick jog, from where he'd been holding back. He bowed quickly.  “Yes, My Lord!”

“Fetch the Commander. He is obviously working at something other than his job.”

“My Lord,” Gaius said again, bowing a couple more times before he scurried off. 

Another solider brought a thickly woven towel to the man and a bucket of water.  He set about washing his face, chest. Water ran over hard muscle.

She turned her head to look away. Nervous gloved fingers stroked her mount's mane.

“Your Majesty,” a rumbly voice growled. “Ohhh! At arms!”

“Do not be ridiculous,” the blond man said, waving his hand at the soldiers rising at the commander's orders. “She is unharmed. There are no warriors hidden. My team would have found them if there had been. This is why there has been little progress!” Now clean, he held a hand out to the Lady Hargrove. “My Lady.”

Much paler, she took his hand and dismounted into his strong hands, as he lifted her down to her feet. “You are King Roland.”

“I am,” he said firmly. “What terms does My Lady wish for?”

“I wish,” she said, recovering her nerve as she stepped back from him slightly. She lifted her chin and stared right into his eyes. “I wish that all my people are allowed to live and to be given governorship of my lands. For this, I will faithfully pay reasonable tithes and be loyal only to Your Majesty.”

“What I require, Lady Hargrove, is your unconditional surrender. I will unite all of Alish. All people will be one people.”

“What of my people?”

He reached out, a strong hand brushing red hair back from her face. “I want you. Will you serve me to protect your people?”

“Do I have your word?”

“You have my word.”

“Then, Your Majesty, I surrender and I give you my loyalty and service.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

the full cover :)

Cover for The Art of War, a Jewls story

Jewls Line art

I'm working on a manga, back to working on Jewls.

Pic of Dr. Patrick Black

A Great Review for Muse's Vacation

I did the cover for this one :) It's a very sweet and loving Christmas story.

Patrick is pretty new to the idea of having a Dom. When Leo gets trapped in that endless cycle of word-lock, and the inspiration just doesn't come for his writer Dom, Patrick decides discretion is better than taking his needs and frustration to Leo and asking for what he wants. Leo is not pleased to find his sub trying to satisfy his own desires, but even giving Pat what he needs doesn't break through the block, and Patrick knows drastic measures are in order. He has to drag Leo half way around the world before the writer realizes it's time to put his muse, and his sub, in their places

Check out what Dark Diva Dakota had to say about Muse's Vacation: "Ms. Samms has brought us another tale which strikes home even if you’re not gay."

She liked it enough to give it five Divas and a recommended read!

London Heat 1

London Heat

by Nick Winter

copyright 2009
all rights reserved
Do Not Archive

Professor Cummings titled his head, smirked. "So, Miss Allen what you're saying is that gender is little more than a self-selected social group?"

Miss Allen sat up just a little bit straighter. Her red hair was trimmed scandalously short, but her blue eyes were sharp and unyielding. "Yes, Professor, that is exactly what I'm saying."

"Really?" Professor Cumming's rubbed his chin with thumb and forefinger. The classroom held no empty chairs and even though only five of the hundred some odd students were female, it was a graduate level class, and not a person had the nerve to snicker at Allen's outlandish idea. "You probably think that being French or English is simply a self-identified social group as well."

Cheeks bright as her hair, black hardback notebook held firmly to her chest, she cleared her throat, swallowing visibly. "Actually, yes. It's easy enough to find people who will change their allegiance."

He moved to the front of his desk, hands resting on the polished wood behind him, ankles crossed casually.  For a professor, he was dressed well enough in a crisply pressed white shirt, a worn black brocade vest that probably won't have been fitting for less than a formal dinner, even if it had long since passed any semblance of ideal condition. The silver chain that hung from his waist to the pocket watch concealed shone nicely against the black. His slacks were pressed, creased well even though the class was late afternoon. The ephemeral spring sunlight hardly made a dent through the classroom's many windows, though it was enough to bring out highlights in his sandy blond hair.  "So exactly how do you plan on putting this idea of yours to the test, Miss Allen?"

"Sigmund Freud has the answer for you," a dark haired student snarked from the back of the class.

"Oh and what would that be, Mr. West?" Professor Cummings asked, head tilting in the other way, after just the slightest pause. He hoped no one noticed he was being very careful not to look out the window.  Nervously, his thumb rotated the ring on his left pointer finger, around and around, noting the carved roses under his fingers. Daily had really left him, made it permanent, gone off to Asia like a fool. It was not possible that the clumsy brunette could be standing outside his classroom widow. "Well? Share with the class, Mr. West."

"It's just," Sojourn West, an American student, said his own cheeks suddenly bright, "I understand that Sigmund Freud believes that when a woman wants to be a man, it's just penis envy."

"Is that what it is," Professor Cummings asked, looking to the rest of his class, spreading his hands. "Penis envy?"

Muttering went through the class. Professor Cummings went back to rotating his ring. "Come now. None of you are virgins, I hope. The word penis should not be shocking to graduate students studying in London. Perhaps if we were all from Boston. I understand people are a little repressed there, but we're in London, boys and girls."

"Professor," another male student started, "It's just a little bit delicate to discuss with the fairer sex present."

"So you're a gentlemen?" Professor Cummings turned then to look at the window, forgetting in a moment of pique that there was something in the reflection he didn't want to see. Why Jonathan was so much more beautiful in his memories, in reflections of memories than he had been in person certainly had to be something for poets more than minds of science. That did not mean he wasn't there, in the reflection, so real he could almost just step through the glass, brown hair tousled by the sunlight, collar undone, a smile on his face that sent emotion to places, evidently, unmentionable in mixed company. His favorite specter reached out for him and his heart skipped, just simply forgetting life in favor of the sweetness that obviously wasn't really reaching out for him. He made a decision.

"We," he said firmly, "Are anthropologists. We study humans. We should not be bound by human myths to the extent that we fear studying what actually is. So many prefer to study that which supports the dogma of the day. I have been offered an expedition to the Valley of the Kings. I had been of a mind to reject it, I must confess. Egypt is rather hot and inhospitable. Now, I feel duty must compel me to accept. Miss Allen, Mr. West, I would invite both of you, as you seem to be able to form opinions, to accompany me.  The rest of you will be reading my recent book and completing a project on a subject that I must approve. You have one week to get your proposals to me. Class dismissed."

If that wanker, Jonathan, could run away to Asia and never come back, well, a better man could go to Egypt for two months. That would solve everything.



"Certainly not," Jonathan Daily said, closing his book with a page subduing thwap. "Isn't it hot enough here for you? Mr. Whitehall hardly needs 'Pharaoh's Treasure'. He's doing quite well, as it is."

Leaning back against the thin wicker lounge chair, Jonathan closed his eyes and titled his head a little more into the shade. The Bejing summer trickled slowly down his temple, turning neatly trimmed brown hair to a darker color.

Perversely the advent of June seemed to have lightened London's hair to a very pale blond, pulled the blue from his skin until he seemed nearly a normal man. Elbows propped on Jonathan's lounge chair, his blue eyes sparkled with mischief and eventual triumph.  "It's 1928. Do you know what that means?"

Jonathan rolled a bit.  His book, an olive linen shape of solidity against his chest, grounding him even though the summer had long since defeated his tie and the top two buttons of his shirt.  "It means we live in a remote part of the world where time does not pass and no one cares a fig for who I live with. It means that I get to see you every day, sleep with you held close at night, and lie around all summer reading books that wash up in China like the flotsam of the world. Here in Bejing, my dearest London, 1928 means nothing at all."

"I have a car," London confessed, smiling brightly. "It's not my car.  I think I may have broken it, just a little, only one part, really."

Eyes wide, Jonathan sat up, upper lip between his teeth as he set the book down on his lounge, keenly aware that he might not get to pick it back up again. Such a lovely story. Fingers templing, he licked his lips and asked, "Whose car is it, London?"

London's cheeks filled with air, ruining any attempt at innocence.

"Come on," Jonathan prodded, "Where did you get the car?"

"So, before I saw you," London started.

"Christ in a biscuit," Jonathan hissed.

"It was my job," London protested. He stood, backed away just a step, hands in his pockets, "That if a human killed another, I was to visit bad luck on them for the number of years that the murdered person had lost."

Jonathan ran a hand over his hair. "I hardly expect they'd live that long with that kind of bad luck."

London touched the tip of his finger to the curve below his lip, blue eyes thoughtful. "Few people ever received the full measure of the bad luck they had coming."

"But that's not your job anymore," Jonathan said firmly. "You're a human being now."

"Yes, yes, but the temptation was so strong."

"Did you see someone kill someone," Jonathan asked, worry in his voice.

"There were two of them. They went into Mrs. Long's Tea House and opened fire. I just happened to be bringing out a pot of tea for Mrs. Long. Her son hasn't been feeling well and so she was short a waiter."

"You're working in a tea house? Two men came in with guns," Jonathan asked. He told himself he was not confused.

"The guns suddenly got quite cold," London admitted.

"Why were they in the tea house with guns?"

"Mrs. Long said they were gangsters."

"And how did you get a car?" Jonathan coughed, patting his chest for a moment, before asking, "Does the car belong to the gangsters?"

"Mrs. Long said it was very unseasonable that there should be ice on the floor. I suppose that's why the gangsters didn't see it, before they slipped. I could see right into their souls that they had killed people before and that they were the ones that broke Mrs. Long's son's hand."

"I thought you said he was sick."

"A broken hand makes one feel very unwell."

"Yes, I suppose it would do." Jonathan laid a hand on his book.

"It was terrible luck for their car to get stolen while they were trying to run from the police."

Jonathan nodded. "Now that I am utterly sure would be the case. One of the problems with gangs is that they tend to be made up of more than two people. Let me see if I have this right. Mrs. Long is your friend. You were helping her out in her teahouse. Gangsters broke her son's hand and then they came to cause more trouble."

"I'm sure they were going to kill someone."

"I think that is one of the things that makes gangsters so scary," Jonathan said.

London hid his face against his shoulder, blue eyes watching his lover. "So you're angry?"

"I'm not angry with you for doing what it is in your nature to do, London." Jonathan rose and reached out. Normally clumsy fingers took on a soft grace as he brushed blond hair back from London's face. "I don't think I could ever be angry with you. You are too wonderful, my dear."

"I knew you'd understand," London said, throwing his arms around Jonathan's neck. "So that's why we should go to Egypt with Dice and Dr. Black."

Holding him close, Jonathan gave into laughter. "I think it should be very hot and unpleasant in Egypt." Jonathan kissed London's forehead, then his temple. "Why don't we just stay here. They'll bring us back some sand and bones."

Shivering, London pressed closer to Jonathan, fingers slipping under the back of his collar. "Well, you see, I'm human not a sprite of winter and fate anymore. You've always been a human. Both the police and the gangsters are looking for that car and it doesn't go anymore."

"Just exactly which part was broken?"

"Hey boys," Dice yelled, letting himself into their backyard, "You know there's a car out in your front yard with a cracked engine? Broke right through?"

Jonathan fastened his collar, stood up a touch straighter. "You don't say. I expect that's not a good thing," he said, without much confidence.

"Yeah," Dice said, hands in his pockets, vest undone, tie possibly never even put on in the first place. Emile 'Dice' Whitehall had repaired his standing with his family a great deal since Christmas. He was no longer just a clerk employed because his father had asked. Now he was an archivist first class, working towards his PhD in archeology. "A busted engine is a bad thing. Whose car is it, London?"

"I didn't know them," London admitted, "But their intent to kill was seething all over them."

Dice ran a hand over the back of his head, ruffling black hair. "That's a very useful thing to know, London, but I got to tell you that if you know a couple of guys with machine guns are murderous, it's just not a good idea to steal their car."

Jonathan nodded. "I fear that in this case, Mr. Whitehall is spot on.  What are we going to do with the car?"

"Did you take the car with some more tricks from your village?" Dice asked, "Do you think they know who took the car?"
"Of course we know," a very elegant female voice said.  Bai Lian, tall woman, with dark hair pulled into a bun, pinned with jade spikes, silk dangles swaying very slightly as she entered the garden.  She held out her hand, gloved in thin black leather.

Dice swallowed, violet eyes instinctively searching for an exit. Jonathan stood up straighter, as if that were possible.

She smiled. "The god of winter passes me by and I must notice or I shall count my skills as nothing."

"Bai Lian," London said cheerfully, taking her hand with both of his, and kissing her knuckles. "Those men were mean. You should teach them better."

"Yes, my dear," she said, laying her other hand over his. "Those men are my responsibility.  This city is my responsibility. "

Dice fidgeted. Jonathan took a step forward.

"So you're not going to let them go around murdering people," London asked, looking her in the eye.

"Xiàxuě, I will take care of what I need to. You take care of your love and your friends. Mrs. Long has graciously allowed me to buy her teahouse. I will be taking care of all her son's medical bills. Is that not gracious of me?"

Still holding her hand, even though little snow crystals aura'ed around their hands. "It's in you too, murderous intent," he spoke in Chinese, lips darkening to blue.

"Oh dear," she said, dark eyes glittering. "You've seen through me. The age of gods is over, Xiàxuě.  You have given your heart to a Christian and a man at that. I do not fear you. You can't be with him all the time, now can you, my dear."

Ice grew over London's hair, traveling as fast like a growing crack. "If Jonathan comes to harm bad luck will follow your line for a hundred generations."

Elegantly she pulled her hand back so that she could pull off the frozen leather, a finger tip at a time. "That is why you no longer frighten me, Xiàxuě.  You are no longer the god of snow and justice, but only just a man. Your desire for this strange little man and his books and his foreign ways has stripped you of power. I suggest you get him out of China before I introduce you to mortality in a much more personal way."

London's smile chilled the air around him. "You are going to be remembered for such a long time."  Behind blue lips his teeth had sharpened into tiny blue diamond razors. "You are going to have such bad luck, Bai Lian."

She dropped her frost-damaged glove and rubbed her fingers. "I don't believe in magic, not even the magic of a petty little snow god. Your time is over."

"Just exactly who do you think you are," Jonathan snapped, coming up next to London. "Madam, you may not come into my home and threaten either me or my partner."

Dice coughed, but stepped up to London's other side. "Your gangsters were threatening his friend, so of course he did something. He's a man after all!"

"That's everything that makes China weak right now. A creature that was a god is taking it up the ass from a skinny, cowardly Westerner."

Jonathan's right eye twitched. "Now you see here," he growled, a finger thumping right between her breasts. "I don't care a fig for your nationalistic ideas, Madam.  You've let yourself into my home uninvited and displayed the lowest level of grace. I expect you are little more than a thug yourself and probably a woman of low moral standards in all ways. Take yourself hence, Madam!"

London, blue gone from his face, teeth a nice normal square shape, smiled with complete adoration at his lover.

"You have no idea little man," Bai Lian snarled back, her red lips curving in a dangerous smile.

"Oh? I have every idea," Jonathan continued, finger still jabbing at her chest. "I know a bully when I see one. What would be best for you would be for justice and the rule of law to settle firmly around your heart!"

"Poetic." Her smile had gone though. In it's place she'd produce a small pistol from the small reticule at her wrist. "Do you know the Arthur legends of your people? I think you should be the lady of the lake. I know just where to plant you, foreigner!"

London's hands raced through symbols. Her finger squeezed. Ice exploded around him, latticed in front of Jonathan. The bullet hit, ricocheted, hit the very small sundial on the side of the house, came back and hit Bai Lian's hand. She dropped the pistol, one hand clutching the bleeding one. Cursing in Chinese, she took a cautious step backwards.  "One day! I will give you one day! Then I'll be back and I'll put you all at the bottom of the lake."

"I like lakes," London said softly, motioning the small, swarm of ice butterflies back to his hand. "I bet I know more lakes than you do."

"Crazy magician!"

"You better go get that looked at," Dice said. He shoved his hands in his pockets, lifted his chin dismissively. "Be bad luck if it got infected."
"I am going to kill all of you."  She lunged forward, grabbing her pistol, then backed away with it aimed at them. "Tomorrow!"

The three of them stood there, in the suddenly chilled garden. Dice eyed the icicles hanging from London's hair. Impulsively, he reached up and caught one, breaking it off. "I need a drink. Jon, where's the scotch?"

"I'm not sure now is a good time!" His attention was very much on London, his hand caressing a blue cheek, leaving tracks of flesh tone behind it.

Smiling, London broke off another icicle and held it out to Jonathan. "You're not hurt, right?"

"Of course not," Jonathan said, slightly indignant. "No such scoundrel shall ever cause a proper man any harm."

"Here it is," Dice shouted from inside the house.

London leaned into Jonathan though, arms going around him, face hiding against his neck. "I don't want anything bad to ever happen to you."

Jonathan held London tight, protectively. "I have never been loved like you love me. We can go back to the village where we met, if you want. I'll come with you back to your people. I'd rather be ice than live without you. I want to give you anything you want or need, London, forever."

"I don't care where we go. China is the whole world. I will go with you to England."

"Now there's a crap idea," Dice said clinking his ice and scotch around. "I'm thinking Egypt. Let's go to Egypt."

"I'd like to see Egypt!" London said cheerfully. "I hear they have giant buildings where kings live forever."

"Now," Jonathan said, brushing soft blue hair away from London's face, "I won't believe everything you hear."

"So, Jon my man, Egypt?"

"Egypt it is," Jonathan agreed.

Note: Just wait till they all get to Cairo!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Health Care

The Senate passed the health care reform tonight.  Just a couple more huge tasks and maybe I'll have health care. If I had lots of money, I could go buy whatever health care I wanted tomorrow, but I am neither smart enough nor conventional enough to be able to have either made my millions already or hold a job that would give me health care.

I think the divide on this debate really comes down to if one trusts the government or if one trusts big business. Make no mistake, insurance companies are big business. They exist to make a profit, not to make sure you're healthy.  They can take your health care away when they want, charge more when the want, and they don't really care if you die or not. If they did, they'd be putting a very lot of profit at risk.  Now let's see..what do we call people who put other people's lives at risk for profit... ~thinks~ Oh yes, pirates!

Now I know the government isn't perfect, but if we don't like the government, we can protest, we can vote, we can impeach. If we don't like what big business does, we can go home and cry.  Sure, you can sue, but money influences that a lot too.

I believe the health care bill will do what the President says that it will. I want to live. I want to have good health. I want you to as well.

London Christmas

London Christmas
by Nick Winter
copyright 2008
all rights reserved
Do Not Archive

An ebook of this story is available. There's a link up above.

There were three of them: a disgraced younger son, a soft-spoken doctor with a too pretty face, and a young man from the wilds of Asia who proved science didn’t know everything.

“Well, I guess it doesn’t matter,” Dice said, hands in his pants pockets. A clerk in the British Embassy, he should have been at work, his hair should have been shorter, and his violet eyes shouldn’t have lingered on the face of Dr. Black nearly as long as they did.

Standing in front of the store window, Dr. Black hardly seemed to notice his attentions. A slight man with ordinary brown hair, whose eyes only stood out for the keen intelligence and sarcasm that lingered there, the doctor was not usually the center of anything.

The third of the friends wore mittens and scarf, but was most comfortable in the Beijing mid-December. Skin slightly blue, if anything the snow brought more color and an easier smile to his face. Even his blond hair had a blue tint to it. Another of their friends, London’s lover, Jonathan Daily, had assured everyone that London was not unusual for the village he’d come from, and London, not fully understanding the forms and patterns of human speech, had failed to understand why such a seeming lie might benefit anyone.

“So,” Dice said, shoulders a little hunched against the cold he’d sworn wouldn’t bother him at all, “London, what are you getting for Daily?”

“I still do not understand why the lack of a present will cause him distress,” London said. “I asked him. He said that he needed only my company and for the influenza to leave him well enough alone.”

“Here, here,” Dr. Black agreed. “What a sensible man.”

London pulled his cap down a little more, afraid it would blow away, hoping it would. He liked the cold, longed for it with a strength that could only compare to what Dice had called ‘homesick’ when once he’d drank more than his share of rice wine. Jonathan Daily pulled harder though, and now his friends, Dice and Dr. Black. He very much wanted to see them happy. “Gifts cost money,” London pointed out the obvious.

Dice sighed. “We’re a perfect trio. The wicked, the good, and the beautiful.”

“Daily’s right,” Dr. Black said. “Each other is all we really need. I have a ham and some potatoes. Daily has a kitchen, and we can cook there, can’t we, London?”

Before London could reply, Dice leaned forward, those wickedly knowing eyes sorting through Dr. Black. “So you’ll cook for us, Blackie?”

“Sod that,” Dr. Black grumbled, “What makes you think I can cook?”

“You’re…,” Dice said slowly. He bit his lip and whatever word might have been about to present itself. “Irish. I thought all Irish could cook.”

“And you’re English Ton,” Dr. Black said, nose wrinkling. “I thought you lot had money.”

“I guess we’re all the odd man out then,” Dice said with a smirk.

“How so?” Dr. Black gave him a good shove to the shoulder.

Dice skidded on the snow-dusted wooden sidewalk. They might have been the only ones there for all the people around them paid any mind. Two Europeans and an elemental spirit posing as a European didn’t get much notice from Chinese going about their day. It was too cold for the wives of the diplomatic core to be out, and almost everyone else had serious work to be about, with only three days until Christmas.

Dice dodged the second push, a grin on his face. Dr. Black caught up a couple handfuls of snow and threw them at a laughing Dice. London ran after them, feet sure and steady on the building snow. His hat flew off, freeing long silky pale blue hair to dance in the breeze. Snow picked up, swirled in greater density. Laughter, light, and sparkling seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.

Dice and Dr. Black froze, stumbling over the now thicker ice. Down the street, onto the bridge, they ran together, acting more like boys than the men they were supposed to be. Dr. Black made it to the top of the arch of the bridge first, turned and made a face, until, quite without warning, ice overcame traction and he slid perilously backwards. Dice lunged and reached for one flailing hand, his boots much more suited to the now thick ice. Within time too small to count, the good Dr. Black was held close to the very wicked Mr. Emile ‘Dice’ Whitehall. Color flashed over bright on Dr. Black’s face, and he looked down, struggling lightly to get out of the arms that held him. “Really, you can let go now, Mr. Whitehall.”

“I suppose,” Dice said through a grin, “But it’s cold out here. I won’t want either of us to catch ill.”

“Not at all,” Dr. Black said tersely, blush bright as summer blazing.

The ground hit London’s feet hard, as if it had jumped up to find him.

Immediately the snow flurries subsided, the ice ran off, dripping over the side of the bridge. He grinned, not at all sure that there should be pale blue sakura blossom petals flitting through the air, but there were, and he was happy.

“I wish to give presents to both of you,” he said, loving them both, though the feeling was quite different from what he felt for Jonathan. He turned to look down the street for his hat, which would keep him warm and keep him from
being seduced by the cold air back into the world from whence he’d come.

Filling his blue eyes with an innocence rare, a perfect treasure, he grinned a little brighter and pulled off his mittens. Slender fingers wiggled, expressing happiness at being free of the mittens, very slightly blue fingers, just like the rest of him, but fluid and comfortable in the snowy cold air.

“What are you on about,” Dice complained, still standing too close to Dr. Black, but he shoved his hands back in his pockets again.

“It’s just…,” London said. It was hard to come up with the right words. “It’s just that with you as my friends, I’m not homesick like I was. I’m sure I’ll be able to stay and I want to stay. I love Jonathan very much and I never want him to be sad.”

Dice and Dr. Black looked at each other, then back at London. Grins broke out on both their faces at the same time. “Of course,” Dr. Black said, moving to slide an arm around London’s waist, “we’re your friends and not just because it’s Christmas either. You’re a brilliant chap.”

“Don’t go all mushie,” Dice said and slid his arm around London’s shoulder, fingers just happening to be close enough to accidentally touch Dr. Black. “London’s a decent enough chap. No one I’d rather see the city with, except
maybe the fine Dr. Black, but I still won’t go so far as brilliant.”

London held out a mitten to each one of them. “Here then, Christmas presents.”

Dice rolled his eyes. “You can’t give someone one used mitten for a Christmas present.”

Dr. Black took it and gave it a good look over. Handmade, certainly, a nice variegated blue. “I think it’s a very nice gift. Thank you, London.”

“Always a new take on things,” Dice said, pulling the single mitten onto one hand. “Does it mean something, you know, where you come from?”

Walking between them, London leaned his head back to watch the few falling white fluffy flakes. “Where I come from, it’s always cold, always in snow. Everything is ice and rainbows. The sun shatters through the palace walls so
brightly that it’s like walking inside a diamond. There is dancing all the time. Everything is clean and bright. There is no money, and no one has to do anything they don’t wish to do, not like Jonathan having to work so hard to make money so that we have a place to live.”

“Sounds like a sodding fine place to me,” Dice said. “Why’d you leave?”

“I saw Jonathan the very day he arrived at the village below where I lived. He was a new kind of light, and I had to have him.”

“I bet your family was hot over that,” Dr. Black said, sounding like the voice of experience.

“My family wasn’t happy, but I knew I couldn’t leave him. I hear from my family a lot. They want me to come home, but I know I will stay here. That’s why I gave you the mittens. Just because my hands can feel the call of home, does not mean I’ll go home.”

“That’s deep, London,” Dice said, head down a little. “At least your family wants you. Where’d you get the name London?”

“It was a word I got from Jonathan. I thought it was the most beautiful word.”

“What’s your real name?” Dr. Black asked.

London slipped away from them, just at the foot of the bridge. Naked hands danced in the air and formed crystals, rather like Chinese written characters, except more complicated, three dimensional, and gracefully intricate. “It can only be written like this,” London said.

The other two studied the delicate and already fading ice sculpture that hung in the air. “London ain’t nearly as pretty as that, but it’s a damn sight more practical,” Dice pronounced.

“It’s very strange and lovely,” Dr. Black said. He pulled off a glove to reach out and touch the ‘word’. “How do you make it hang in the air like that?”

“It’s just the way it’s done,” London said, not at all sure how to answer.

“It’s like the boxers, you know? Breaking boards with their faces and stuff,”

Dice said, bare hand back in his pocket again. “What is that stuff called? Chi gong? I’m sure it’s like that.”

“I’m certain I could never learn to do that,” Dr. Black said firmly. “What would my name look like in that…language?”

“You,” London said, tongue between his lips, “Um…this.” The ice swirled, spider webbed, made a complex, inside-out structure that seemed to beg to be unwrapped, but really communicated not a thing in any language spoken in

Beijing. Still, it seemed very telling, intimate, in some unspeakable and magical way.

“Do Dice?”

“No,” Dice said, slipping past them both, both hands again in his pockets.

“Hey!” Dr. Black yelled, running along.

All three were brought up short by Mr. Allen Albright, a bent and hawkish man who was eighty if he was a day. With Dice out front, the three of them had the good sense to look a bit abashed by being caught out on the town.

“So here we have it,” Mr. Albright started, his onyx-colored walking stick tapping rhythmically on the ground. “Mr. Whitehall, the never-do-well, that I had the good grace to take in and give a job to. You have brought me poor returns, Mr. Whitehall. Our trickster doctor, who thinks we’re all denser than lead and, yes, as I would expect, the mysterious master of the oriental arts, Mr. London Daily. Allow me, please, to ask if there is any good reason whatsoever that any of you should be gadding about instead of attending to whatever duties I may presume you perform for my school? A school devoted to serving Her Majesty’s diplomatic core deserves the utmost in service and respect.”

“Well,” Dice hedged. “It’s nearly Christmas, and I—we—needed to find some presents.”

Mr. Albright tapped his walking stick hard against the stones of the street. “That, Mr. Whitehall, is what you should be doing during hours when you are not at work for the embassy.”

“It’s just….” Dice stood up straighter, looking much more like a diligent employee all of a sudden. “I know that you wanted Irish whiskey, and as clerk second grade it is my job to procure needed assets at optimal times. With substantial snow predicted, I thought it would be an excellent idea to get needed supplies while we still can.”

“Odd that no one mentioned this blizzard to me,” Mr. Albright said suspiciously. Then, like a cat with feathers between his teeth, the old man smiled, tight-lipped and well too pleased with himself. “I’m sure your sources are very reliable, Mr. Whitehall, but I shall still compose a telegram to your father. Should your blizzard occur, I’m sure I shall be unable to post the letter, and your foresight in caring for the embassy’s needs will certainly soothe my discontent with your service. Otherwise, I’m sure Lord Devon will find some comfort in knowing that his son is as he most feared and there can be no further disappointments. Indeed, I expect that would be quite the holiday celebration for your brother, who would find his own estate no longer to be divided with a wastrel such as yourself.”

Calm as the pretty, fluffy flakes of snow, Dice gave a polite bow and smiled. “I look forward to earning your good opinion of me, sir. Reputations can be frightful things to defeat.”

“Be that as it may,” Mr. Albright said, still grinning as he turned to walk along his way, “If I were you, I’d pray for snow. I hope that you have not become so degenerate that such an act of piety is lost on you.”

“I, sir,” Dice complained loudly to the back of his employer, “rely on science! I shall have no need of prayer to be exonerated in this matter!”

As soon as he was a few steps away, Dr. Black said, “I think you’re good for his health, Dice.”

“How do you come to that?” Dice growled, murder in his voice.

“I’ve never really seen such a spring in his step.” Dr. Black’s head cocked to the side. “He must hate you. What are you going to do, Mr. Whitehall?”

“Buy Irish whiskey and hope for snow.” Dice leaned back to look up at the sky, which now seemed very stingy.

“It’s Christmas,” Dr. Black offered. “It always snows for Christmas.”

“Just what is this Christmas again?” London asked, running to catch up with the other two, who already strode forward.

“It’s a made-over holiday,” Dr. Black said, lecture mode on full. “Mithras done over by the emerging Christian population won over the Pagans with a little holiday redecoration.”

“Uh?” London rolled his eyes. “Jonathan gives me books to study, but English is so hard to pull meaning from.”

In front of the luxury provisions shop, Dice and Black both turned to stare at him. Dice tilted his head a bit. “What do you mean English is hard?”

Thumbs and pointer fingers making a diamond, London squeezed his eyes shut. “The characters are so small and stubborn. It’s an unexpressive language.”

“Maybe compared to yours,” Dr. Black agreed. “I can help you with history studies sometimes. I can teach you Latin.”

“Egghead,” Dice teased, grinning. “Latin, ancient gods, that’s not what Christmas is about. It’s about a whole lot of nice stuff that happens to good people.”

“What kind of good things?” London asked, fingers tapping against each other, eyes wide like a little kid. “We’re all good people! So good things will happen for us.”

“Speak for yourself,” Dice shot over his shoulder. “I am a very bad man and deserve everything I get. Besides, as soon as I’m gone, you know he’s going to go after you next, my dear Dr. Black.”

“Then we shall have to keep you around, won’t we?” Dr. Black held open the door. “Come on. No more bleak belly-aching. You’re not gone yet. It’ll snow.”

“I can make it snow,” London offered and followed them inside. “Do you want it to snow a lot? Would that make everything okay?”

“Don’t be a fool, London,” Dice said, throwing a friendly arm over London’s shoulder. “Parlor tricks are one thing, but stirring up a blizzard is out of reach of any man. You’re just a human, a little blue, but just a human, like the rest of us.”

London looked back over his shoulder for a moment, at the white fluff falling towards the ground. “Thank you.”

“Of course, silly,” Dr. Black said, “it must be really hard to be with strange people, but we’re all a little unusual, so we all belong together!”

* * * *

“Jonathan! I’m home,” London shouted. He kicked the door shut, arms loaded down with brown paper wrapped packages.

“Good Lord,” Jonathan cursed, “where did you get all that…stuff?”

“Dice’s father,” London said. He looked back over his shoulder as he set the stack down on the table. “We have ham and apples, sugar, some fancy tea for you, all the things to make a feast. Dice and Dr. Black are coming for dinner on Christmas.”

“You don’t say,” Jonathan said suspiciously. “Mr. Whitehall is not exactly the most reputable of persons, my dear London.”

Starched shirt unbuttoned at the collar, black tie hanging around his neck, slacks tailored and smooth against lean legs, draped in nice curves where slacks should, Jonathan blushed. He pulled his glasses off and glared sternly at London.

“Why are you looking at me like that? It is afternoon, not quite tea even, not the middle of the night.”

Hands under his chin, London’s blue eyes twinkled with mischief, tearing after Jonathan’s blush and very proper sense of timing like a cat after the end of a piece of string. “But when I look at you I feel very happy and I want to unbutton your shirt and I feel desire to hear you make contented, happy sounds.”

“Now, see here,” Jonathan said, fingers buttoning up his shirt, glasses hanging hooked over a finger, “Even with the fact that we’re in Beijing, gentlemen do not engage in certain pursuits until certain hours of the day. I have work yet to do, and London! Gentlemen do not lick their lips in that very, very, um, suggestive manner!”

The elemental bit the tips of his pointer fingers lightly while grinning in a very ungentlemanly manner. “Jonathan, I am not a gentleman.”

They were of a similar height, and with London now improperly close, his hand on Jonathan’s tie, another somewhere unmentionable, Jonathan fell tumbling into to the blue eyes of winter. “Yes, yes, well, now, what if, now…. Oh my lord. Perhaps it would be best to take some private exercise prior to tea.”

“Dr. Black tells me that exercise is very good for the body,” London agreed. “I want to lick you. I like when your face gets so warm and bright. You’re very beautiful, Jonathan.”

For all that he was an English teacher and had never given himself much authority, his arms were strong enough as they wrapped around London and pulled the magical man closer. “I am too common to be beautiful. You are
beautiful and rare. I am lucky to have met you.”

Hands sliding under Jonathan’s shirt, London hooked his leg around Jonathan’s. “Well, if I’m beautiful, it’s because you are, because you drew me into this world. You seduced me into staying in this world where I am a stranger, yet your presence makes me long to be here above all places. Make love to me, Jonathan,” London pleaded, eyes full of genuine feeling, unclouded by any concepts of culture and propriety. “You’re hard for me. Just a little hotter and the kettle will give off steam!”

“You are a wicked,” Jonathan growled, kissing pale blue throat under a silken curtain of blue hair, “wicked, wicked man, and I love you.”

“Say it again!” London jumped a little, easily lifted by his lover, to wrap his legs around Jonathan’s waist. “I love you too! Loving you is so happy! I feel so happy!”

“London,” Jonathan said softly and held him close, face hidden against London’s shoulder. “You are so bright, so full of life. When you’re not here, I slip back into books and verbs, vocabulary, and my red pencil can feel like the most powerful force in my life, but then you come back and it’s like a rolling avalanche swirling around my boring little life. Where is your hat?” Jonathan asked, suddenly concerned. “You didn’t…?”

London touched both hands to the top of his head. His eyes rolled up to look kind of to the side at the ceiling. “The other called me, but now there’s not only you, but Dice and Dr. Black too. I have friends here. I don’t want to go back.”

Jonathan touched a fingertip to the end of London’s nose. “You don’t sleep with Mr. Whitehall or Dr. Black, do you?”

“Am I supposed to?” London asked, pulling away a little, hands on his hips. “I don’t want to.”

London peeled his shirt off as he walked towards their bedroom. “I want you to rub my back and rim me!”

“Is that so,” Jonathan said loudly, smiling though, eyes watching London’s ass sway. For one tiny second, David’s memory grayed out the world, but London’s laughter glittered brighter than any gray could ever manage. With a very fast stride, Jonathan followed his lover down the hall, caught him, and took them both over onto the bed. The bedroom was meant to hold one single bed and a small desk, but they’d need a larger bed, and well, now it held the bed and many good memories.

Jonathan shivered when London’s fingers caressed his cheek. Both of them lay on their sides, so close, legs entangled, clinging to each other.

“It is so,” London nodded slightly. “And then I want you to penetrate me and fill me with heat. I like your heat.”

“I still can’t believe you like me, that you want to be with me,” Jonathan whispered. “I am sure I’m drab in the extreme.”

London smirked. His blue eyebrows rose in an arch as he rolled so that he straddled Jonathan. “English still confuses me sometimes. Does drab mean comfortable, addicting, something that makes a person feel giddy, something that
makes me hard and in need of gentle attentions? Does drab mean that you inspire people to kiss you?”

“Take your pants off,” Jonathan begged. “I want you to ride me, like this.”

“Umm-umm,” London agreed, slipping his pants off to shove them over the edge of the bed without ceremony.

While London was getting rid of his pants, Jonathan took his and his boxers off, hanging them both over the mahogany stand with a minimum of neatness. The brief separation gave a chance for both of them to look each other over again. Coming back together in the center of the bed, now on their knees, chests together, Jonathan ran his fingers through London’s wild blue hair. “You’re paler than you were,” he observed.

“The more I let go of my home, the more I become a man of your world,” London said. His slender fingers took a teasing hold of Jonathan’s nipples, twisted them gently. “I want to be a man of your world. Then you can marry me.”

“We must discuss that,” Jonathan said, voice thin, his thoughts much more centered where their bodies touched. “The intimacies of physical touch are making more prosaic thoughts less possible.”

“I don’t understand,” London said and moved lower with kisses whose trajectory were obviously meant for Jonathan’s hardened manhood. “But the intimacies of physical touch make me want to touch you more!”

“Yes, quite!” Jonathan managed as London nudged him over. “More!”

Jonathan spread his legs, letting the avalanche who was his lover have control. Laying there, naked before tea and waiting for the touch of another man, he knew London had left everything of his old world behind. He wanted very much to believe that London was always going to be with him, would always value him. Like no one Jonathan had ever imagined, found somewhere in the wilds of Asia, from a tribe that held strange ideas, London had more energy and curiosity about the modern world than maybe the entire university that had been Jonathan’s home before. Love filled him, glowed warm, made him feel that he must be as happy as London looked sometimes.

“Your smile is like light snow that swirls in the light,” London said. “Reach the oil?”

“Oh yes, of course,” Jonathan said. He scooted up in the bed a little to reach out and pull over a bottle of very nice olive oil. “Is this for rubbing your back?” he teased.

“Later.” London took the bottle, poured a bit in his palm, then handed it back. “Want something else now.”

“What,” Jonathan started, just getting the stopper back in the bottle when London’s hands encircled his penis, igniting every nerve a British man wasn’t supposed to have. He clenched his eyes shut. “Damn!”

London slid down around him, stealing whatever might have been left of his mind, sheathing his most private self in heat and pleasure.

“Oh certainly,” Jonathan gasped, making the words into a blaspheme, an expression of uncontrollable intensity, then softly rising from love and connection, “London!”

Touching, hands clasped, they moved together, pleasure building and cresting, sweetly braiding them into one person. With a possessive growl, Jonathan rolled them over, an arm around his slighter lover, and held him close as if he’d never let him go. Friction of movement caught London between them, carrying him up into the spiral of pleasure with Jonathan. London wrapped his legs around Jonathan’s waist, head tilted back as he moaned. His breath frosted the air around it, making little dancing rainbow crystals in the air.

“Jonathan,” he cried out; the rush of air disrupted the lingering crystals, surprisingly warm.

“Deeper!” Jonathan groaned, fingers tangled into London’s silky hair. “Fuck,” he swore softly, the word very intimate and loving, as his peak grabbed him. Deeply inside his love, he hid his face and held tight as the milk of life shot out of him in spasms. “Oh, London!”

London’s own release followed very quickly, with only a few strokes of Jonathan’s hand, and they curled there next to each other, the extra blanket over them for a bit. Jonathan combed his fingers through London’s just-past-shoulder-length hair. “You’ll never leave me, right?”

“I want to be here with you,” London promised. “This is my home now.”

“Being with you is my home too,” Jonathan agreed.

* * * *

Home and Christmas equate to turkeys and hams.

“You’re a doctor,” Dice said and stared at the pale, flaccid bird that was their turkey. “You take babies out, you can put stuffing in.”

“Idiot,” Dr. Black said before smacking Dice with the bubble end of the baster, which only managed to shoot white wine and melted butter back. “Ick!”

“Now, really,” Jonathan said, a finger in the now stained and tattered recipe book, “I don’t think that stuffing the turkey is completely mandatory. We could just leave it empty.”

“Now what man leaves such a cavity empty like that? You want the bird to die happy, don’t you?” Dice picked up an almond and popped it in his mouth.

“This bird is well and truly dead,” Black pronounced. “It’s going to be rotten before it gets cooked. Where’s London? Maybe he knows how they cooked it in his village.”

“I don’t really think ‘cooked’ would be the right description,” Jonathan said. He turned the page and squinted through his glasses at the slightly archaic French text. “What, exactly, is a caper?”

“Yeah, where is he, Jony?”

“He’s gone out on the back steps to talk to his family,” Jonathan said crossly.

“Like ancestor worship or something? I hear the Japanese do that.”

“Must be,” Dice said. “Will the turkey fall in on itself if we don’t stuff it?”

“I don’t think so,” Black said, dark eyes peering into the cavern. “The ribcage is intact, so I think that should hold it up.”

“It’s cold out there. Did Idiot Boy take a coat?”

“You know it’s not going to snow, don’t you?” Black said.

“Why is it so important that it blizzard?” Jonathan asked, closing the book
with a loud clap.

“Because Dice told Mr. Albright that he was out, avoiding his job, because he had to get things because there was going to be a blizzard. If there’s no blizzard, then Dice gets fired and his father is going to disown him.”

“Thanks! Thanks for bringing that blackness to the holiday. Mr. Albright hasn’t shown up to fire me yet, has he? He might forget what with that whiskey I got for him.”

“I doubt it,” Black said, arms folded, mouth tight. “What will you do?”

“Disreputable gambler in Beijing,” Dice said, looking up at the ceiling, “I’ll think of something. At least I won’t just be waiting for the old man to tell me how he really feels. Jonny, where are you going?”

“Hey, get a coat!”

Jonathan was out the door, though. The other two followed just as fast.

London stood in the middle of the yard, wearing only his pants, hair now much longer, flowing around him with a life of its own as it danced with small flurries of snow.

“London!” Jonathan called and ran across the yard, right into more fierce winds. “Don’t you do this!”

Turning, London smiled, but ice glittered over his cheeks, clung to the ends of his eye lashes. “But they can’t hear me. I have to go closer.”

“The hell you do,” Jonathan shouted against the wind, trying to force his way through.

“Stay back, Jonathan! They don’t like you,” London yelled back, skin much bluer now.

“I don’t like them either!” A strong gust of wind threw Jonathan back, landing him hard on his ass. “London!”

Strong arms caught Jonathan up to his feet, Black and Dice to either side of him.

“That is one hell of a ritual,” Dice said.

“He’s going to go away!” Jonathan cried. “He’s going to leave us so that he can make it snow for you.”

“Sod that,” Dice grumbled.

Together the three of them pressed forward against the swirling winds, until Jonathan drew close enough to lunge and grab hold of London, wrapping him in warm arms. “Stay with me!”

“I’m gonna come back,” London sulked, head resting on Jonathan’s shoulder.

Dr. Black draped a thick black coat over London’s bare back. “You’re freezing! You must be hypothermic. We should get him inside!”

“Damn fool,” Dice growled. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Making it snow so you don’t have to go away!”

“I won’t go away,” Dice promised. “Unless Jonathan kills me for costing him you, uh?”

“But you’ll get fired!”

“It won’t be the first time,” Dice said with a wink.

“Speaking of fired,” Dr. Black said meaningfully.

The wind and snow had abandoned them, but Mr. Albright strode forward purposefully, a look of satisfaction in his eyes.

“So I’ll take it like a man,” Dice said. He moved to stand between his friends and his soon-to-be former employer. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Albright!”

“Umn,” the old man said, holding out a telegram. “From your father.”

Dice’s hands shook as he reached for the folded sheet of paper.

My dearest son,
I always knew that you would find your place in the
world. I am deeply grateful that Asia has had such a
wonderful influence on you. Your mother and I send
our love. Merry Christmas, Emile!

Father and Mother

Dice read it over three times. “I don’t understand.”

“Frankly, it’s Christmas. Miracles happen. As he’s buying me a new Bentley and funding five more scholarships, I would be an ungrateful lout to discharge his son, however questionable the quality of his work may be.”

“You’re not firing me?” Dice said, blinking. “Why?”

“Probably has something to do with your spending spree. Merry Christmas, Misters Daily and Whitehall, Dr. Black.”

“Merry Christmas, sir,” they all chirped.

As soon as he was out of sight and hearing range, Dice turned on London. “I said you could buy anything you wanted on my father’s line of credit. What exactly did you buy?”

Still held in Jonathan’s arms, London recited, “Fifteen hams, one for each of the teachers, 193 scarves for all the students, new shirts for them all as well, and the carriage driver said that his horse was old and couldn’t keep working, so I bought him a new one, and the two horses seemed to like each other quiet a lot. I paid Xi Hua’s medical bills so she won’t worry anymore about her daughter. I bought shiny copper tea kettles for all the work staff at the school. The woman at the carving shop said that the yellow fat man would be a good gift to send to the Emperor and that there couldn’t be good Christmas unless the Emperor got nice

By that time they were just about back inside, Dice covering his face. “Anything else?”

“I bought Jonathan some shiny clear rocks to go in his cuffs and Dr. Black a long red dress.”

Dr. Black meeped like a frightened mouse. “Why on Earth?”

“Most women wear them,” London said. “I thought maybe if we weren’t working tonight, maybe you might like to wear that kind of clothing.”

“Well, Merry Christmas,” Dice said, surprise coloring his voice a little. “It’s just us.”

Dr. Black looked out the window. “I do believe it’s really going to snow. That’s amazing. How about stuffing that turkey now?”

“Are you a woman?” Jonathan asked, working on buttoning London’s shirt up. “Would it matter if I was?” Dr. Black challenged.

“Not at all,” Jonathan said. “We’re about as far from Britain as we’ll ever be. This can be a world as we choose it. Especially on Christmas.”

“Seems like a fair option to me,” Dice said, his smile encouraging.

“Fine. Then I’m a woman.” She crossed her arms. “But I’m a doctor first.”

“I think we’re all in good health, except for the turkey,” London said, face even paler, hardly looking blue at all.

“A toast then!” Dice opened the claret, poured it easily into flutes. “To Christmas and a world of our own!”

“To Christmas and a world of our own!” They all toasted, glasses clinking. Jonathan heard something as they all drank the toast. It was just a moment for him to glance at the window, to see eyes, narrow and jealous, teeth, so tiny like icicles. He shivered, sure completely that such a face had not been pressing hard against the glass of his kitchen window.

London took hold of his hand, and really, it was Christmas, and nothing else mattered.


I was a bit of a coward during the Bush Administration. I was afraid to speak my mind. Afraid that religion would be imposed on me.  Fear is a crushing thing, diminishing the spirit, innovation, hope, and growth.

I wonder how much that fear and control contributed to our current financial issues. Humans thrive with hope and opportunity. I'm way more of a socialist than a Republican, but people don't put in effort without the hope for reward.

And now I'm side tracked... God I love science!

So global warming is bad. I was talking to this bus driver the other day and he says to me, "Global warming could be natural."

And I replied, "Humans evolved here. We're natural. Of course global warming is natural. Extinction is natural too." *smile*

Brings to mind a line from a Bruce Campbell movie, "You had a case of terminal stupid and I've just cured you."

So.. back to global warming... and there is this guy, Nathan Myhvold! He's got this brilliant idea how to stop global warming!  A bit of geo engineering! So brilliant. So volcanoes explode. Yes, yes they do. Laki when Ben Franklin was alive and Mount Pinatubo exploded in 1991, they had a cooling effect on the planet. 

Nathan Myhvold has a way to do that without the exploding and falling rock!



It's still morning here :)

I am feeling like I'm going to go by Nick.  I wish I hadn't had to change my name before I was really ready to do it. I think I would have picked Nick.

I had an experience recently where some information that I won't have released about myself was released to a broader audience. It took a couple of days for this to really kick in for me, but I didn't like it. I really didn't like it. So I step back a little and think how much I want of public life anyway. There is something enticing about being a recluse. Crazy old writer guy, and a rich recluse. *laughs*

Well, I could do part of that. The rich seems to be out of my grasp.

This is our public square, isn't it? You are my fellow villagers.

No man is an island. Woot!

*temples fingers* Now, I'm thinking about being a street performer. I've always loved card manipulators. I don't know if I could get good at that. Maybe I should think about some other form of street performance. *considers*

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A sketch of Faith :) My blond hero from Timeless, which is out, btw :)

aka Nix

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This journal is more than just a place for me to put my stories.  I'm thinking about also putting my own personal journal here too.

I worry that its too personal.

I don't know.

I'm reading this great book called, 'The Testosterone Files'. It's so personal, so real. It's very meaningful for me to read that book.

Some of you know that I'm transitioning to being seen as male in the external world.

I'm such a gay boy. Pink shirt, black tie, and poetry orbiting my fingers...

Yeah :)

It's a good day.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Loud mouth rant on the nature of art

My Loud, Mouthy Opinion on Art

by Nix Winter

copyright 2009

I am reading this book. It's a book gotten on from the back shelf at a thrift store. For a $1.99 can see into the academic thought of a couple decades ago. I can see the sweet little students sitting in class swallowing these ideas down like lead based cough syrup. Sure, the Greeks had a 'Middle Ages' and it was just like ours. Everything in the history of Humanity relates back to our own experience of culture, which is, of course, the pinnacle of Human endeavor and experience.

The first anthropology class I ever took taught me a very useful concept. Ethnocentrism. I think that a deeply imbedded belief that our culture is really and truly the very best and everything else is just trying to grow up to be our culture is at the root of the idea that everything is art.

Humans make judgements. That's what we do. It's at the heart of being able to survive in a physical world. Back in the day when 'Do I eat this?' was a life or death question, we got pretty good at making choices. Even as recently as a hundred years ago a cut could kill you, ice boxes were for the rich. A little more than a hundred years ago some doctors thought that being a gentleman meant your hands were clean... that they couldn't pass disease. What has this got to do with humans making judgements? The world is historically a very dangerous place. Making the right choices keeps body and soul together, gets one's spawn old enough to reproduce themselves. Making choices, practicing this skill with logic, authority, and skill is like eating. We need to do it to stay alive.

We also need inclusion in our tribe. Exclusion, banishment, isolation, loneliness, abandonment... these are all very dark words to us, words that whisper of death and misery. We want to say true things, right things, that get us respect and make us look like the good guy. Old text books on art and history... they drip with how Western Culture is the pinnacle, how the bible is actual history, how Dick and Jane are real people.....

Dick and Jane are so familiar. See Jane run. When I'm in that place where I'm safe and comfortable in my culture, my sweet culture that surrounds me and obviously represents the height of human achievement, and then someone shows me a basket that looks more like a hairball my cat might have puked up than something Little Red Riding Hood could have carried, well.... It doesn't look like the height of civilization. It doesn't look like art. Now, not wanting to be like those people who wrote those ethnocentric books that are now considered so rude, I don't want to say it's not art. Even if I think that my cat could kick out better from her litter box, I can't say that.. if I can't say it.. I can't very well be thinking it and lying, now can I? Someone might actually think that basket is art. Who am I to question the intent of the creator?

Along that line of reasoning, I get to a place where if I draw a line and say anything beyond this is not art, then I'm going to find exceptions and I'm going to offend people and risk banishment. I can't make a choice like that.. so Everything is Art.

Refusing to choose, refusing to embrace the messiness of our world is asking for the world to give us unpleasant results. It's not safe to say “Everything is Food” just because we have the ability to grind up lead and put it in our cough syrup. Not everything is art. Not everything nourishes the soul.
Now, granted.. it is a little easier to understand that live cockroach is a source of protein that might even be better for the world than beef. We know what happens now when you eat lead.

The insult to art when 'Everything is Art' - is that saying the artifact that a bear craps out in the forest, that this is art the same as Japanese calligraphy, or a Rodin, or an O'keefe. An O'keefe painting does not have the same value as a pile of excrement in the forest, or anywhere else for that matter. The creation of art objects marks a kind of intelligence, a need to express, to leave a record of one's existence. An animal's scent marking comes closer. A fence is not art though. If someone comes along later and sees art in it, makes that fence into something in their own mind... that's a different event.

For all of our shared history, human life has been brief, too brief, a flick of aware and then a drizzle away into maybe just the very slight echoes of remaining artifacts. While I very much want to see an end to involuntary death, the present truth is that I'm probably going to die. You are probably going to die. That probably is the kindest modifier we've ever been able to put in such a sentence. In this moment, I love the word probably.

What little whispers our bright sparks of intelligence can leave behind, these things we call art, they are invaluable. They are the imprint of life. Everything in the world is not the imprint of a life, of a consciousness.

So art must be an artifact of human creation. Found art, photography, objects from nature or civilization that are compounded together, set apart, somehow underlined by the intent of a person's desire to use them as an expression... the person's intent to express is the art, the manifestation of that could just as well have been unwashed dishes in a diner. An unwashed dish is not art. The unwashed dish preserved with the rest of a meal, like a frozen moment in time is art. I actually saw a piece like this at the Seattle Museum of Art this year in their Art Attack exhibit. It was stunning to be able to nearly reach to touch this frozen moment in time. That the human mind can conceive of such a freezing of time, this expresses human experience, whispers at our desire to exist behind the fleeting moments we know we have.

Now... Other species may make art. I don't mean to be rude to any species that may read my words in the future. Dolphins, elephants, other primates, they might all have art in some way. I don't know. I think there's a good sign that they have language, culture of their own. Good for them. I wish them all the luck. With the way we run the world – they're going to need it. I'm a human though. That's the only thought process I can really speak to.

Next time... let's talk about Color Field paintings...

good morning!

The rain has stopped for a moment, this morning. I start the new job today. At the theater.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Live, Love, Laugh

This is just a pretty rock and feather I got. 



by Nix Winter
copyright 2005
all rights reserved

notes: This is an older story. I'm going to be working with Jewls again soon, but an older Jewls.

There were six bards, cloaked in black with gray fur, lush wool and leather, like a bad omen against the icy barren plain which wound slender up into the mountains.

They were the same mountains that Jewls had struggled over to find the village of the bard guildmaster. They'd been in fall then and nuts and grasses had been plentiful and he'd been alone. If he could have, he would have quietly wandered away from the other bards, found his own path over and been free.

He had their mark now, his mark, burned and colored into him so that it would never leave. He was a bard in the house of fire, a house made up of road bards and considered the most volatile of the houses, so much so that the master of fire was a permanent guest at the bard village. Jewls had learned though that while bards do not lie, ever, they do create many illusions, misdirection, and they don't always tell the most helpful things. He had no idea what his house had done to gave such an honor as to have their master, Nirese the Pine, be a permanent guest with the guildmaster. Jewls had spend some time with her, and she was very good at everything. She'd taught him more in the month she'd worked with him than in all the years he'd been singing. If it hadn't been for her, he wasn't sure the guildmaster would have let him leave at all.

The way the guildmaster looked at him was unsettling... as if he were looking at a ghost. He didn't know who his father was. He didn't know someone named 'Johara the Forever' and from the way Erin the guildmaster talked about him, Jewls was pretty sure he didn't want to. The man had to be ancient now, if he could even sing at all. Jewls shuddered under his sweater.

Ice crunched under his steps as they doubled back on the path, moving to a steep incline, and he paused, being the last one in the line and looked back at the guild village. It was like him, in a lot of ways. It didn't look like much, from a distance, just a few houses, a town square, the guildmaster's house built right to the edge of a great cliff, surrounded by forest. Having spent a month in the house and the secret places beyond it, Jewls thought it was the most dangerous place in the world. But he was that way too, a little, looked like nothing on the outside, less than nothing, but inside.. he'd be the most dangerous bard at tournaments! He'd steal all the golden leaves.

“Boy!” Berean yelled. “It's too late to run back to a warm bed now!”

Jewls' lips tightened, and slender black leather gloved fingers reached through is muff and pulled his cloak tighter around himself. Deep his thoughts, as subtle as the wind in the trees he could hear his master's voice, “Pride will trip you. You should have stayed home with Sarah.”

“Shut up,” Jewls muttered under his breath, lips brushing against the soft ermine fur at the edge of his hood.

No one came to this part of the world, except bards. Jewls had been convinced of his belonging when he'd arrived. Under his sweater and coat, still wrapped in gauzy bandages, was the proof of that, branded and tattooed was his mark. He was of the bard guild and would be until he died, even after if the keeper of the gate found the measure of his braid long enough to admit him to the great bard hall.

If he earned enough gold leaves, he'd use them to barter his master's wandering soul in with him when he died.

Hours must have passed, trudging up into a mountain path that was full of twists and turns and bridges that were hard and solid, but looked like years old logs. It would be a ruinous path without someone who knew it.

“Are you thinking about how you managed to cross these mountains by yourself,” a girl asked, her voice startlingly loud in the sullen quiet of the frozen path. “Did you really do that? By yourself?”

Jewls glared at her around the fluffy white fur on the edge of his hood. She was pretty, pale blue eyes, healthy skin with a smattering of freckles over her nose. She'd gotten her bard mark as well, but she'd been already healing when he'd ventured out into the bard palace. She had a ring of gold piercing her nose and she was just slightly taller than he was.

“I did come across the mountains by myself. It wasn't that hard. Go up. Go down.” he said shrugging his shoulders, more to feel the weight of his pack's straps and know that his new violin was in there than to really answer her in any way.

“You know it's a death crime to lie, right?”

Jewls shoved his hood back, and she jumped back from him as white flakes of snow settled with false calm over bright red hair. “I don't lie! I did too come over the mountain by myself. It's only hard to believe because you're just a satin slipper!”

She wrinkled her nose and leaned forward, drawing close as if she weren't afraid of him at all. “Oh did the little blood hawk learn a new word?”

“Children,” Marias called back over her shoulder, “Argue if you will, but keep walking.”

“I'm not a child,” they both shouted, then glared at each other.

She broke the glare first, with a giggle. “I'm sorry! I behaved badly! Please forgive me.” She bowed to him then watched him with those pale blue eyes.

They were too pale, made him think of ghosts and he didn't want to think of ghosts. So he pretended he was a great bard, with dozens of gold leaves woven into his hair. He bowed in return, as sweep of his arm, as elegant and gracefully as he could, sweeping back his thick black cloak. “My Lady-Bard, the offense was all mine and I do beg your forgiveness, for I am only a hawk of little training and can not compare to the obvious quality I see in your demeanor.”

She giggled wildly and before he could even come out of his bow. “I like you! You must be a royal bastard,” she pronounced proudly.

They were both walking again, side by side now, the more mature bards keeping a bit a head of them.

“Royal?” Jewls rolled his eyes, as if to say how could such a thing ever touch him. “I am the son of Barri, Goddess of luck, born with,” and he demonstrated by raising his now ungloved hand with a pair of glass dice between his fingers, “dice in my hand and silver on my tongue. I'm sure that does not compare at all with my Lady-bard's parentage, but it shall suffice for me.”

She giggled more and slipped an arm around his, pulling him close, completely missing the look of scared rabbit on his face. “I'm Anila the Dove, the last dove was a princess in the castle in which I was born, but she disappeared about sixteen years ago and her braid was never recovered. I, alas,” she said, laying a gloved hand over her chest and staring at the grey and unimpressed sky, “am the daughter of a laundress and the last dove's brother. I was merely saved by my wit and my tongue, and perhaps the pique of Salia the Claw. She was my master, though she died just last spring.” At this the fair Anila dropped her gaze from the unforgiving clouds to the edge of the ravine with a great sigh. “So it was given to me to make the journey here to get my bardmark. I was brought to the barding pass by six knights and a dozen men at arms. It was very grand as I walked away from them, my white dress fluttering in the wind!”

Jewls swallowed, pulled just a little bit back into his hood, and allowed himself the luxury of winkling his nose. A moment later though, he pushed his hood back a bit and gave her an honest look, an opening for friendship, even if she were a bit more like the froth on milk and less like the milk. “Such things make for very good songs,” he admitted. “Do you go to tourney now?”

“No, no,” she said, not bothering to hide her wrinkling nose, and still pulling him closer as she spoke. “No one is to know it yet, but I return home to be the bard house keeper of the Shining Butterfly Gate house, the bard house near my home.”

The park of hatred was sudden in Jewls, like he'd swallowed a sharp sided gem and was sliding down into his heart leaving red behind it. “You'll win not a single tourney and you'll be the bard house keeper?”

“Well, it isn't as if I'd win against you anyway,” she said, smiling shyly. “But I write very fast with a very clean hand.”

“How can you say you wouldn't win, if you don't try,” Jewls asked. “Don't you like being on stage?”

She almost let go of his arm, but them gave him a squeeze and laid her head on his shoulder instead. “I'm just a girl.”

Jewls shook her off then, pale eyebrows drawing down. “Oh and that means what? I haven't ever known a girl who couldn't do anything I could do.”

“But you weren't raised with proper people! I was raised in a castle and I know the difference between a maid and a knight! You are a fine man! Don't you feel the burning urge to protect me?”

There was no hiding the wrinkling of his nose now, nor the rolling of his eyes. “No. I don't feel a burning need to protect you! You're a bard, same as me and you can fight your own wolves.”

Her mouth dropped open. “I can't fight wolves! Have you ever fought wolves?”

“I killed a wolf once,” Jewls said, moving forward again, glaring at her sideways. It had been a wolf, a very old wolf. “Why did you even want to be a bard? Maybe you should have just married one of those knights and wandered around after him or her saying, 'Oh, can I get you more ale?'”

“Women can't be knights! Not where I come from!” She said.

“I beg your pardon, Lady-bard! I mistook you for a bard who came from the heart of song with a soul of poetry.” He made to bow again, but lost the grace as he dodged her open handed slap.

He giggled then and ran a couple paces ahead of her “I'd think you just tried to hit me, but ladies don't do that, do they?”

She growled and grabbed a fist full of snow to fling at him. “You! I can too hit you!”

And then he was off, making for the bards ahead of them. She wasn't far behind him, throwing snow at him every chance she got. The path was wide enough to allow for them to weave between the other bards, mostly, until he got to the end and ran right into the largest among them, the lead bard, who delivered a solid cuff to the side of Jewls' head.
Jewls lost his balance and hit one knee on the icy path, spinning until one of the other bards grabbed him by the collar. “Don't mind Barean,” she said, with a smirk. “He's always had a fascination with red hair, makes him behave like a bear.”

“Stupid children without a care for their safety or the safety of the distinguished bards in their company, that makes me act like a bear.”

Anila peeked out from behind the bard pulling Jewls back to his feet. “Well, that's no cause for hitting anyone! He's going to be a great bard, so you better be nice to him.”

“I wouldn't be nice to the guildmaster if he had blood red hair like that, and that's the truth!” Barean growled, leaning over just a little to glare at her eye to eye.

“Now Barean, may it be that you're upset that such a sprightly apprentice could make it over your mountain without breaking anything.”

Jewls pulled back a little from the woman who'd helped him back to his feet. All his life he'd felt like a bard, as if someday he'd have his home and he'd belong and it wouldn't matter what color his hair was or how pale his eyes were. The hatred he'd felt for Anila a moment before grew up into a roaring need to beat the bearish man before him, to steal the gold leaves from his reach, to traipse here and there on this man's mountain. “It wasn't so hard to cross the mountain,” he said, sounding as humble as he could.

Barean's eyes grew larger and his temple throbbed. “If one is touched by demon blood, it probably was easy!”

Anila and Jewls looked at each other, then Anila looked back at Berean, “His mother was the goddess of luck.”

“Children,” Berean snarled, spun on his heal and strode up the hill. “Should stay home and drink their milk.”

“I'm not a child,” Jewls yelled, and much to his surprise, the bard nearest him wrapped an arm around him, and then around Anila and drew them close.

“Of course you're a child, don't go stiff on me, little mouse, nor you either Jewls the Lucky,” she said, leaning over in a little conspiratorial way, “Any bard worth their melodies is still a child. If you can not see the world in colors and light and joy, you have nothing to put in your stories. Only by holding onto the eyes of a child can you ever give anything to your audience and the audience is everything.”

The rest of the day passed slowly, in companionable chatter between Jenel, Anila and Jewls. Berean kept his distance, as he lead the way, muttering about roadbards and children and fornicating demons, and Jewls wasn't terribly sure which he wasn't talking about at what time as it all tended to blur together.
Their shelter turned out to be a cabin that Jewls hadn't even seen until Barean opened the door and walked into it. It was set into the side of a hill, or had had hill built over the top of it after it had been built.

Having spent the better part of the last couple of years sleeping outside, as far away from people as he could, the idea that they might sleep in cabin almost felt claustrophobic.

So he was the last one at the door, leaning at the edge, pack still on as snow started to fall again. “Do we need fire wood?”

“Have,” Berean yelled, his voice thunderous in the small place. “Shut the door.”

“Jewls, come inside,” Anila pleaded. “I'm making tea and I have dried strawberries.”

“Those would be big red berries with seeds on the outside,” Berean smirked.

A couple of the other bards gave him stern looks and Jewls slipped back outside. He longed to find a place to himself, some tucked up place where he didn't have to deal with people's looks or the growing fear that he wasn't enough to be a bard, no matter what Erin said.

Erin was looking for a ghost and Jewls knew he wasn't what Erin was looking for. So much company, at the palace, here, he hadn't been really alone in weeks and he wasn't sure he could make himself go into the hidden little cabin.

The door slammed shut and a weight lifted off of him. Alone. He drew a deep breath and covered his nose with a gloved hand. It was that moment, the gauze of his bandages catching at his sleeve, his breath a tendril of white against mixing with the falling snow that he really felt it. He'd gotten his bard mark! He had it! He'd won!

And then he was dancing in the falling snow, hands out, heart pounding for all the repressed excitement and fear. In his mind he relived the last day coming down off the mountain, buying that shirt with the last of his money, taking in his only pair of singing pants. The next image in his mind was of Erin, white brocade, satin, huge feathers from no bird Jewls had ever seen, the sword, and gods, the fear, the absolute certainty that he would have his head removed from his body. His flight from the audition circle did not feel as if it had been cowardice, even now. He was alive! The energy of that sent sparkling tingles over his shoulders, down his arms and he stomped and danced in the darkness, hardly moving, for not knowing the area well.

Jewls the Lucky was alive! And he was free and no matter what came of the world, he was in it to see where the road would go and what songs he might sing. Tears burned down his cheeks and he wanted to scream and cry out to his master, scream so loud that Sarah could hear him all the way from where he was, but stayed silent, just a shadow of things which couldn't be said in front of other people.

He was a bard. The bard houses would be open to him now and he would travel from one tournament to another and gain enough gold to buy Sarah and her son's bard kin price! He'd get a new violin and ribbons to braid into his hair so that he looked like a bard of great renown! Black ribbon to show off his red, or green, and he wouldn't care that he was a blood hawk, because he was a hawk even still! He'd show them the meaning of it!

The door creaked behind him and spun. Crouching down, gloved finger tips resting on the ground, hood pulled forward to hide the pale white face and the hair that would catch any light near it, he watched for any movement.

“Jewls,” Anila called, “Please come inside? There's a private section just for you. There's pillows and a bed, and there's parchment to have if you want to write out your day. I have made cakes and there's tea.”

He had the sudden unpleasant image of the little cottage being set on by robbers and all of them being trapped like rabbits in a warren. So he held still as she looked for him, her eyes, used to the well lit cabin, passed him right over.

Ronnyn, an older male bard, lean as a ferret, who'd been silent all day, stuck his head out and said quietly, “There's two other exits, both secure and hidden. Barean's already passed out, and I shall teach you a new song.”

Hunger exerted itself then, and cold, and maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be inside. He pushed down fear, and stood, his hood falling back. His sudden 'appearance' startled Anila and she gasped. He sucked his cheeks in between his teeth, and felt oddly small, when he'd meant to stand up and make with the grace and eloquent bard roll. Ronnyn's bony hand beckoned him forward and he slipped into the warmth, passed a still disconcerted Anila.

Inside, the place was like a sea shell, chambered and polished. As soon as the door closed, Jewls had the feeling that he was inside something much bigger than he had anticipated.

Anila had recovered though and held out a wooden bowl of strawberries and a mug of steaming bard tea. “I made pudding too, with the bard tea. It's just a sweet, to celebrate our first night as road bards!” She smiled, right at Jewls, but he avoided looking her in the eyes.

“Thank you,” he mumbled, really not sure at all what to do with a princess type bard looking at him like she had butterflies in her stomach.

There were just the three of them left, Ronnyn, Anila, and Jewls. The rest had disappeared into behind the curved walls that seemed to go all the way around the central area, like flower petals in a way.

Ronnyn patted a spot on a bench next to him and Jewls sat, setting his bowl and mug on a ledge built against one of the curving walls. They said nothing to each other, but Jewls took the leather bound book that Ronnyn offered him and reverently opened it.

The script was neat, measured, all the letters of the same size, except the capitals which swooshed and morphed into illustrated animals, swans, the night sky. It was written in an inland language that Jewls knew only in passing, which made him need to read more than once to get the meaning, and then the meaning drew him back for the humor. When he looked up, he found the older man watching him with a smile, which summoned a grin from Jewls.

“Here,” he said, tugging the book back, and turning to a page mid way through. “Sing that.”

The music was notated in a style Jewls didn't know, but the words seemed to be a simple rhyming song about the beauty of the moon and creature of the forest who spoke only the language of moonlight. Nonsense, but pretty nonsense. He pointed to one of the marks he assumed would be a note on a scale. “Give me that note? I don't this way of marking notes.”

“Not surprised. Only mine,” he said, then sang the first five notes, pointing to each as he sang them.

Jewls mimicked him, repeated it again, then sang through the rest of the page, not the words, just the notes. It was a very lovely song.

“Do it again,” Ronnyn said quietly, “Just the song.”

“That's beautiful,” Anila whispered.

Jewls blushed, muttering that it was just a song, but then rang through it again, embellishing the very end with a modification of the main motif.

Ronnyn pulled the book back, keeping a finger between the pages. “Again.”

Jewls closed his eyes and he could see the page in his mind, so singing it was very easy.

Ronnyn handed him the book back, and picked up his mug. “Take the words,” he said, taking a long drink of his tea, “And know that I give you my word as a bard that I shall always have your best interest at heart. So take this advice with the good will that it is intended. Not every bard can do as you just did. People will look at you and see that you are beautiful and assume you are nothing more. It will do you no harm if most people continue to think so. Now eat your food and don't let Barean worry you over much. He's like a mosquito, all nose and irritating bite.”

Jewls straddled the bench and handed the book back. “Do you want me to sing the song with words? I don't know how to pronounce that language well.”

“No, keep the song till you know how to do the words. I wrote it. I just like the way the words seemed to flow. I can't speak that language well either. Eat your food, uh?” Ronnyn tucked his book away and leaned back against the wall.

There was a quiet between them, comfortable, and Jewls could almost think he was somewhere safe tucked among tree branches. The strawberries were sharp a little, sweet, slightly porous against his tongue and got lost in licking and nibbling them.

“How old are you, Jewls,” Ronnyn asked.

“Old enough,” Jewls said, glaring menacingly at the older man, which only got him a laugh, to which Jewls narrowed his eyes and glared harder.
Before he knew it the older man had grabbed Jewls' free hand. The hair stood up on the back of Jewls' neck and he must have looked as if he were going to bolt because Ronnyn released him quickly.

“I knew Wicked Smile. He was a good man.”

Jewls picked up another strawberry and sucked on it, remembering how he'd wanted to have Wicked Smile for his barding name. Now he knew that wouldn't have been possible while his master lived. Ignorance made him feel unsure, and he wasn't sure how how many things he didn't know about bards. Before he could really get angry though, he remembered his master's face, smiling, the blond hair in wispy ends around his face, a smirk that Jewls had always felt was proof that his master could take on the whole world. He didn't say anything back to Ronnyn. He could have said how much he missed his Master. He could have said it felt like a part of his voice had died with his master, but there wasn't any point in telling the bard any of that. It didn't matter to anyone except himself. It might have mattered to Sarah. “I can buy bardkin price for anyone, right?”

“If you want,” Ronnyn said, cautiously. “It's not like you're buying parchment though. A person would need to win a dozen tournaments to buy a bard kin price, work a dozen years.”

“I'll do it,” Jewls said.

Ronnyn made a small sound, then pulled a small harp from his bag.

“Who are you wanting to buy bardkin price for,” Anila asked, her voice curious, and almost edged with hurt.

Jewls almost regretted eating her strawberries. He wasn't about to explain anything to any of them. He'd just kept the company of trees too long.


The morning found them all quiet. A storm had left them with snow to their ankles, which wasn't bad, but it would only be a harbinger for more. Jewls harbored a secret hope that it would snow enough that the rest of them would want to stay in one of the little cabins until it stopped and he could press on by himself. It was naggingly unpleasant that the ghost of his master had chosen to come back and make comments on his intelligence over that plan.
It was all well and good to not be bothered by other people if you were a ghost and didn't have to be seen if you didn't want.


It was the third day. High in the mountains, the air thinner, and the six bards trudged on with thinner conversation to go with it. Two days of light storm had left enough white on the ground to make their path look innocent of guides ahead of them and the white fluttering down was quickly making the path behind them forgetful of the present. Single file in long black wool cloaks, there was yet too much disharmony among them to mistake them for forest spirits.

The leader held the point position mostly due to the breadth of his side. He was not soft, but large in shoulders and a territorial aura of ownership over the path, even over the bards behind him, as if they were his while they were in his forest. Berean was of the forest as most bards are of words.

Easily in his path strode the tall and winter souled Ronnyn, who would follow along not for need of guidance, but simply because it was the easiest path. Marias also followed along quietly for similar reasons, though for her it was more of a territorial need to be shown the path for that was a service owed to her. Madryn simply wanted to keep up, huffing and grabbing at the thin air in fear of being too far behind, of being spoken of harshly later. Anila did not follow Berean. She fluttered around the path because she was more interested in someone else who couldn't quite find his way around Berean.

The sixth bard was the smallest, slender and darting, keeping the path only because the sides were too steep to give him an easy escape. His hood fell back as he turned to look back they way they'd come, displaying sacrilegious flame red hair to the gray sky. There was no missed escape just behind them though and he turned back to the slow moving foot trudging caravan. White melted against his hair as he watched them walk on. It clung in places, slow melting damnation against what had always set him apart. Violet eyes narrowed and he resisted turning back to look one more time before he started the slightly steeper climb of the next part of the path.

This would be his fourteen winter, his fifteenth year, and he was unused to having anyone point his path to him, find him a bed in the dark, tell him what pace to keep. With a jerk he pulled his hood up. Snow dropped from the gray fur at the edge to his face, scattering across a small pointed and freckled face. His nose was curved, lower lip full, eyelashes pale as sunlight, and he wished he was a fire demon to be able to burn his way along the path and make Ke'sedra before the rest.

“Jewls! Come on! Are you tired? Do you need a rest?” Anila asked, her own hood back as she called to him. She was lovely enough, dark hair, pale eyes. She had not a cursed freckle, which Jewls found highly unfair,but she smiled open and broad, the smile of her laundress mother, not the bard that the daughter had become. “Well? I'll sing you a song! Come on!”

Worse than having someone else chose the path, Jewls hated having to try to be nice. He could do it. He had done it. He was going to get better at it, but just then, maybe, maybe it was that he did kind of like this girl. She was trying really hard to be nice to him, to be his friend and, he was sure he didn't have anything she wanted in return.

“I'm coming,” he said, surprised by the surly tone. He rubbed at one wrist in the secrecy of his muff. “I was just thinking, that's all.”
“Odd time to pick to think,” she said, tilting her head. “I have some more strawberries.” This last was said with a whisper, just for his ears.

“I thank you, but not just now.” He studied the side of the hill as they rounded.

“Is it so dreadful just to walk along with the rest of us?

“I'm used to being by myself,” he admitted, and under that he felt the lie. It wasn't really a lie. He had walked from one coast to the other by himself in the two years since his master had died. He'd talked to more trees than he had people, and he was comfortable with the sound of his own thoughts. The lie was more subtle than that, deeper. It wasn't that he didn't crave the company of other people. It was that he distrusted bards in general and the more he walked with them, the more he felt disconcerted with a path that he'd started before he'd even known enough of the world to make a choice. Even then, kicking snow as he walked, he couldn't see that there had been another choice.

The goddess of luck had given him to a bard to raise and that's just who he was. He'd get taller and he'd be just like Ronnyn, Marias, Erin. He'd bow and sing and lie with the truth, because that was what he was born to do. It made him long for the trees and a path of his own more than he could explain to a girl who simply wanted to return home to what she'd been told awaited her.

“It must have been hard, coming across the mountains by yourself. Weren't you scared?” she asked, as she put a dried strawberry slice into her own mouth.

He had been scared. Terrified. Lost. He bit his lip and worried at his wrist, tugged at the bandages on his arm, covering the still scabbed over bard mark. The fear beckoned him, as if he were afraid he'd also have hope, as if he didn't know how to just walk forward without the constant fear. “I was afraid,” he admitted.

Shouldn't it have been better without the fear? Shouldn't it have all been all better now? “Have you ever been afraid?”

“I was afraid to face the guildmaster. I had to sing just for him. All by myself.” She held out faded strawberry to him. “Come on. You didn't each much for breakfast.”

“I don't like eating other people's food,” he admitted. That was true. Food wasn't free.

“Fine.” She took her whole small silk bag of strawberries and shoved them into his muff.

His eyes went wide, his breath stopped, and she grabbed his arm with both hands to keep him from falling off the side. “Sorry! Sorry, Jewls! I just wanted you to have them. Now they're yours! You can share with me!”

Mouth dry, he gave a quick nod. He wanted so much to just slip into storyteller mode, to just be something for her, give her a nice story, a few smiles, slip away, but there on the path there was no where to slip to. He'd looked. “Thank you.” He pulled te small back free and opened it for her. “Please, let me share my treasure with you, Bard.”

“Why thank you!” She smiled and pulled a couple of the larger ones for herself. “See? You can be gracious and elegant. Why aren't you that way all the time?”
“Trees only have flowers in spring,” he said, closing the bag. If it was his now, well, he'd save them. They'd last a while.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Means I say flowery things at the right time.”

They walked along then, for some time. It wasn't until after lunch, and many longing glances from her at his muff where her berries were safely conserved, that she asked, “Do you like being mean?”

That he hadn't been expecting and he held one lip between his teeth for at least twenty steps before he replied. “I'm sorry. Do you want your berries back?”

“No. I want you to smile at me.”

“But I don't want to smile. Can't I just walk by you here?”

“I guess,” she said, pulling out a small wooden recorder. “Well, see this?”

She held it out, but pulled it back when he reached to touch. “This was owned by Elsit the dove. She was a princess and a bard,” Anila said, her voice conveying that she expected him not only not to know, but to be impressed by the wooden thing in her hand. “My master said Elsit had the most beautiful voice in the world and that I must strive hard to live up to being a dove worthy of the name.”

Jewls looked away, feigning disinterest, then back at the pale wood thing, the unfamilar characters carved in the side of it. “Can I hold it, please?”

“No,” Anila said, but she began to play. The little thing had a lovely sound and her bare fingers danced away from falling snow as she played. It made lovely clear notes that lingered and flowed with each other and Jewls was as a small animal entranced.

It was a song he didn't know, and then another song he didn't know, exotic and lovely and he would have followed her around for days listening if they had not reached a lake to be crossed. It was a simple thing. Walk across on a log, that was really three logs, and only meant to look accidental. Jewls held his tongue and was quite pleased with himself.

The day, on the whole, was looking much better. One thing Jewls did very much like about bards was that they knew a lot of music. As they waited to cross over the illusionary bridge, Jewls moved closer to Anila and gave her the smile she'd been wanting, almost, friendly, brotherly. “Can I play it, just until it's your turn to cross?”

“No,” she said, but gave him a smile back and blew softly on the mouth piece.

He had the distinct feeling that she was telling him something, but he didn't understand it, so he stood there, chewing on his lips, imagining the notes that could be made by blowing harder, or softer and fluctuations that could be had, and how long he could hold a note. “Please?”

“Kiss me,” she asked.

“Uh? Why?” Jewls asked, thinking, maybe they would be able to play it together, somehow, share breath as they kissed it.

“How old are you?”

“Fifteen. Is kissing a sharing custom where you come from?”

“No. It's the same everywhere. You kiss someone because you like them.”

“Well,” Jewls said, suddenly understanding, “I should never steal such valuable treasures from the person who is destined to cherish your heart.”

“Did you read a lot of old text somewhere? Sometimes you sound like a great bard from the past, and sometimes you sound like a little kid.” She tucked her recorder back into her muff with very chilled fingers.

Jewls wrinkled his nose. “I read a lot when I studied with the master of earth. She had a lot of scrolls and books, and just loose papers. Very old.”

“You're not a hawk. You're a parrot.”

“Please let me play with the recorder. You're not playing with it now.”

“It belonged to a princess,” she said, lifting her chin.

“And? It's yours now, right? Please? I'll teach you a poem.”

“I have quite enough of my own, thank you,” she said, stepping daintily out on to the log, head held high as if she were a princess.

“Good,” Jewls yelled. “I hope their good ones! They're not as good as the ones I read!”


“Watch where you're going! Put your arms out if you need the balance,” Berean called.

She was half way across when she started to sway, just a little, a miss-step on the log, or something and she threw both arms out wide, stabilized, and the recorder hung, half out of her muff.

Jewls blew his cheeks full of air and didn't exhale. If she dropped it, it was going to be his. A breeze blew snow passed his chapped lips and he resisted licking them again, waited. The cousin of the first breeze blew over Anila, and the recorder slipped. It hung there on her muff for a moment, her arm outstretched, her body as ridge as she could get it, eyes on the decorated little bit of wood.

“Let it go!” Berean snarled, commanding as any bard ever could have been. “It's just a toy.”

As much as Jewls had been waiting for it to fall, he suddenly put the puzzle together. The bridge. The lake. Ice.

The recorder hit with a crack, bounced, rolled. Anila held her place, frozen in a different kind of way.

“I'll get it, Anila! I have a rope and I can throw my cloak on it, drag it over,” Jewls said, already slipping out of his cloak.

“No! I don't want you to have it!”

“I'll give it right back, wouldn't play it at all,” Jewls promised, on his knees slipping out of his pack. “I wouldn't even touch it. Just get it to the edge and you can come get it.”

“I can get it myself!”

“Stay on the bridge! Let him get it for you!” Berean growled. Really growled, and maybe it was that he was on the other end of the bridge now, headed her way, but she jumped. She wasn't very heavy, even with her pack and cloak.

Barean's face went pale as the lake. Jewls blindly fished for his rope in the fore part of his pack.

It was two steps to her recorder and she reached for it. Jewls reached behind his head to take hold of his braid, just to hold it for good luck for her. In his mind, he could almost feel his master's hand on his shoulder, could almost see his master's hand pointing, towards the smallest crack, just hair dark fracture that grew from where she'd set her foot. “Jump to the bridge!”

Anila turned and looked at Jewls, lifted her chin, seconds, being the princess that she imagined the dove ought to be, and then.. she dropped. The ice tilted and she slid down cloak dragging behind her, into the dark water.

Jewls' head snapped from where she'd disappeared to where Berean stood, watched him back away from the bridge. The other three bards stood where they were, watching, and it echoed terribly to other bards that had simply watched.

“Help her,” he screamed, standing now, rope in hand.

Berean gave him a confused look, then pitying. “It is her story. We can not interfere.”

“It would dishonor her,” Marias said. “She chose her path.”

Seconds. She. Chose. Tears were the hottest thing Jewls had then, burning the edge of his eyes. He'd followed along, been good, followed the path they'd lead. He'd become a bard because that was his path, and he would chose. He would chose not to be like them, when to interfere and when not to and he would chose!

“Oh pig fuckers!” Jewls yelled, a curse he'd learned on a barge he'd been on once, when someone had gone overboard and it just felt right to curse at something. He knelt on the log, pulled his eating dagger from the sheath at his boot, then laid down, on it feet light on the ice behind him, as he broke at the ice nearer the log. Her head broke the water, and he knew he'd get her out. She gasp at air and bobbed, down back up, and reached for his hand only to slip back, wet gown against the wet ice, the weight of her pack and cloak pulling her back.

With a hard stab, Jewls broke the nearer ice and when she bobbed again, lunged at his hand he caught her hand. The weight of her pulled at him, but he caught them both with his knees, holding against the log bridge. Blue lips, terrified eyes, and he held her with on hand as he slipped his dagger back into the other sheath at his belt.

“I've got you,” he said, and he'd never felt so heroic, like all the stories he'd ever sang were alive in him now. “I'm going to unfasten your cloak. Slip your arm out of your pack. It's too heavy for me to pull you up.”

“It's cold!”

“I know. It's cold. We'll make a fire,” he said, gripping her wrist strong enough to leave bruises later.

As he worked to undo the soaked and frozen frog at her throat, she hit at him with her recorder. “No. I need my cloak. I'll freeze.”

“I'm trying to help! You can have mine! Okay?”

Then it was free, and she was so much lighter! The clouds broke above them. The meager light of day bright on her pale face. “Help me,” she begged. “I'm going to run the bard house.”

“I am helping you,” he said, confused about the loosening of her fingers on his arm as he pulled her closer to the little illusionary bridge. “I am helping you.”

“You have red hair,” she said, eyes half closed. “I didn't know red hair could be pretty.”

“Anila! It's not that cold! Wake up!” He snarled and gave her a hard jerk, pulling her half way up out of the water, towards the log bridge, but her head tilted hard back, exposing throat, and she felt back into the water, limp. Under the cloak, she'd had her braid out.

Hand frozen, Jewls fumbled for his dagger again. He'd cut it. Her braid, her link between the great bard hall of their ancestors, the proof of her bard hood, her honor, cut it and pull her free. His head was light, and even though he hadn't been afraid to run from the bard circle, hadn't really believed they could steal his soul, part of him was terrified he'd cut off her soul if he cut her braid.

Her eyes snapped open in the water, just inches below the surface, the weak sunlight making them shine and he lay there, dagger in hand, her mouth open in the water as if she were to say something, as if the words were on her tongue, and he knew, suddenly that this was death. She neither sank, nor bobbed back up, the branches of the tree the bridge had once been ensnared her braid, her pack. He didn't know.

Her eyes watched straight up, pale as moons, the lashes dark. Intelligence was there still, but not, and he lay there, feet numb on the ice behind him.

“You've got to move, Jewlie,” Craylish whispered in the back of his mind.

Then he was putting his dagger back in the sheath at his waist, pushing himself up.

Numb, he walked easily back to his own things, stripped off the wet gloves and considered making himself a fire, right there. On that side of the log. Warming himself. Making tea. Crying alone. He could make that choice, if he wanted.

Death was not honor. Death was just death. Craylish's ghost was quiet for once. Jewls wished the other bards would just walk on. Go about their path. He'd take his chances with the forest and finding his own way. As he blinked, it wasn't her pale eyes in the water, but his violet ones, lifeless.

“Death's not the end,” Craylish promised.

“But I have no family to listen to my ghost,” he said. End of song. Alone. Such an intense feeling, that any company was better than that. Quick, he shouldered his pack and grabbed his cloak.

As he walked over the bridge, ice had already made a thin glass over what lay below. The pale eyes of a laundress' daughter.

He lifted his head just a little, having an easy balance on the log bridge, an easy comfort with his own body, even with the chill. It was not violet eyes in the water, and even when the day came that it was, between this day and that, he would honor his own song, make his own choices. Not wanting family of the guild, nor any other thing. Only his own choices.

He was Jewls the Lucky, of the House of Fire.