• As far as sun rises went, this wasn’t one of the greats. It’s didn’t break suddenly in a riot of colours, there was no symphony of birds songs to accompany it. It simply crept into the sky slowly with baby pinks and powdery blues. While it promised a crisp and clear winter day, it was unimpressive and was barely cause for Kess to grunt in her sleep and roll over to face away from the window. She had finally settled, Bustifur had stretched to occupy still more of the bed when the pounding on the door started.

    It wasn’t a polite knock. It wasn’t even an authoritative pound. It was incessant, demanding pounding that seemed to say, “I’m not going away until you get up, so you may as well just get on with it. Don’t even think about putting the pillow over your head because I’m too loud. Just get up.” Kess swore from beneath the pillow and then threw it at the door. The pounding continued. Grudgingly, Kess rolled out of bed and shuffled to the door. She flung it open and stood in all of her wrinkled, bed headed glory glaring blearily at Jack.

    “We’ve got work to do!” he beamed.

    “Fire,” she croaked. “Go die in a fire.”

    “Can’t, we have too much work to do decorating. C’mon, you promised and it’s already Christmas Eve.”

    He was already showered and dressed. His hair was still damp, and Kess could see the wet line along the collar of his flannel shirt. She marveled for a moment at how he managed to do it, how he managed to get up with the sun and radiate joy so infuriatingly. She knew he did it on purpose, just to get under her skin.

    “Go put the tea on,” she sighed. “I’m going to shower.”

    She shut the door without waiting for an answer and waited until she heard Jack’s footsteps go down the hall. She then looked at the ball of fur that had settled itself where she had so recently slept, pressed tightly against the folds of the discarded blankets. Kess pulled the blankets down and off the bed.

    “You could have thrown them over me,” came Bustifur’s muffled voice. “It would have been warmer.”

    “Yes, and then you’d have never gotten up. You’ve got fifteen minutes.”

    “You always take half an hour!” Bustifur called after her as she stepped into the bathroom. The shower was soon gushing water and Bustifur could smell the soap and shampoo as Kess lathered up and rinsed off. Rather than wait, Bustifur lept down from the bed, managed to open the bedroom door and padded out to the kitchen where Jack was already pouring tea into mugs. Bustifur jumped up onto the counter and watched with displeasure.

    “You really haven’t gotten the hang of the morning routine here yet, have you?” Bustifur asked indignantly as Jack took a careful sip of his tea. Jack looked at him in confusion and Bustifur sighed. “First one up feeds the cat!”

    “So then wouldn’t that make it Mag’s job, or one of the other Brownies? They’re up before anyone else.”

    Bustifur thought about this. “Just open the can Jack.”

    Jack chuckled and began to rummage in the cupboard for the cat food. As he unceremoniously dumped it into Bustifur’s bowl, Kess trudged into the kitchen still toweling her hair. She spotted the steaming mug of tea and picked it up, holding it between both hands.

    “Good morning sunshine!” Jack crowed happily. Kess glared at him. “I made you tea! That makes up for waking you so early, but you did say last night we needed to get an early start.”

    “Yes you made tea, but where’s breakfast? That would have guaranteed forgiveness. Tea just means I can’t hurt you.”

    Jack rolled his eyes and set Bustifur’s bowl down while Kess examined the fruit bowl critically. She selected a large orange and pulled a small container of yogurt from the fridge, and leaned against the counter to eat them. Mag would have had a conniption if she had seen it, but the kitchen was thankfully a Brownie free zone this early in the morning. Jack wondered if they’d be working somewhere else in the house at this hour or they’d still be sleeping. He wondered if they slept at all most days, but they were happy as long as he put away his clean clothes.

    “So what’s the plan for today?” he asked.

    Kess took a moment to swallow her mouthful or orange and spit the seeds into a paper towel. “We’ll have to go and get a tree, get it decorated. Wayland has lights that he’s been playing with for us so we can decorate outside and around the windows. We’ll likely have company swinging by all day, but most of them will be here tonight for the food. They always come for food,” she muttered. “We’ll have to keep the Piskies out of everything, because I’m not going to start baking again today.”

    “And we’ll have to put the presents out, right?” Jack prompted eagerly.

    “Yes,” Kess rolled her eyes. “We’ll put the presents out after the tree is done.”

    “Great! Once you’re done with breakfast I’ll go grab an axe and we can go pick out our tree!”

    Jack hesitated when he saw the look Kess was giving him. Even Bustifur had come up from his bowl to give him a look that seemed to scream “Oh no you didn’t!” Jack looked from one to the other in concern, waiting to be corrected.

    “What?” he asked. “What did I say?”

    “We don’t cut down trees, Jack. It makes the fae very upset to kill a tree and its fae for the sake of festivities. We don’t bring in dead trees at all,” Kess said slowly. It was the kind of tone one would expect to hear an expert use when telling you why you shouldn’t have hit the shiny red button on an atomic bomb. It was low, calm, and above all seemed to avoid the use of any sudden movement or changes in pitch.

    “So then what do we do for a tree?”

    “We go dig up a live tree. We’ll keep it in for the rest of the winter and replant it in the spring. Its our way to reminding the dryads how lucky they are to have us as neighbors, otherwise they’d be freezing their pine nuts off all winter.”

    Jack snorted into his tea. “Pine cones, Kess. I think you mean pine cones.”

    Bustifur snickered. He loved these moments where the sexual tension in the room became a physical, tangible thing. If faeries were created by the first laugh of the first baby, he’s love to see what would be created by a moment like this. Jack had invariably put his foot into his own mouth, failing to improve the situations. Nuts or cones, Bustifur could positively feel the innuendo and Kess remained oblivious. She just licked the last of the yogurt off her spoon and shrugged her shoulders. Jack gazed down into the depths of his mug, waiting for the blush to fade.

    “Okay,” said Kess, completely ignoring Jack’s discomfort. “Let’s go get our tree. I’ll meet you out back in five after I go get a jacket and boots on.”

    It was closer to ten minutes when Jack met her outside. He had taken the extra time to finish his tea, quickly and guiltily wash up the mugs and the spoon, and try to recollect himself. He had also stopped by the shed to get a shovel, some burlap and some twine. The snow crunched and squeaked under foot on this picturesque winter morning, but it was wrong. There hadn’t been any snow the day before.

    “They take the ‘white Christmas’ thing pretty literally,” Kess explained. “We’ve never had a green Christmas here and we never will. I’ve seen us be the only property in the county with snow. It really confuses anyone out after rabbits if they wander onto the property by mistake.”

    “They can do that?” Jack asked, mystified.

    Kess looked around the snow-covered yard. “All signs point to yes,” she said simply. “You wait until they really get into it. It rarely storms here, it just flurries perfectly this time of year. Then you’ll wake up with snow up to you Mustn’t* the next morning.”

    Jack followed Kess into the trees, his eyes scanning the branches for familiar darting figures. It was strangely still and the snow made it even stranger, creating small mounds to trick the eye. He wasn’t sure if they actually moved or it was the play of light and shadow. It may also have been squirrels and small birds making the branches bob and sway.

    Kess lead him in deeper and deeper and was unusually silent. Her head turned from side to side as they walked down what seemed to be a game trail. She paid special attention to the trees they were passing, often pausing to look more closely or listen. It seemed to make no difference whether the tree was an evergreen or a mass of dormant branches. Finally she stopped in front of a small spruce tree.

    “This one,” she said definitively. “We take this one this year.”

    Jack nodded and took the shovel in hand. He was ready to drive it into the snow when Kess began to laugh. He hesitated and looked back over his shoulder. “What?”

    “Not like that, Jack. Watch.” She leaned forward toward the branches and called softly. “Connie.”

    Despite the stillness of the day, the bows on the tree began to rustle and sway, gently at first but becoming more pronounced. Suddenly, a face appeared among the bows. Jack stared and took a step back. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. It wasn’t so much that a face emerged from the bows as it formed out of the bows themselves. There was a distinct mouth and a pair of small spruce nuts swiveled around like eyes. The “face,” for lack of a better term, watched them with and air of annoyance. “Well?” it demanded. “What do you want?”

    “Merry Christmas, Connie!” Kess chirped.

    The bows bristled. “What’s so merry about it? It’s cold, it’s wet, and my sap’s freezing! Do you have any idea how bloated that makes me? Months I’ll be like that! And here you come, waking a body up to say ‘Merry Christmas’!”

    Kess saw with some satisfaction the way Jack’s jaw hung open and smiled to herself. She then turned back to Connie, her hands spread in a supplicating gesture. “I didn’t think you’d mind the waking, Connie, since we’re here to invite you in. But I don’t want to inconvenience you, so we’ll just - ”
    “No no no!” Connie said quickly. “Hasty of me, that was hasty of me. Of course I’ll join you! It’s been ages since I’ve been inside, you sainted grandmother – rest her soul – was running the business then. I’ve been trying so hard to grow straight and full, just in case I ever got asked in again. There aren’t any holes on me, no sir! Why, I - ”

    “You look lovely, Connie. But we’re kind of in a hurry, so if you don’t mind?”

    “Oh! Of course, of course!” As Connie spoke the face faded away, and there was a slithering sound as the roots writhed and drew themselves out of the earth. Kess reached up and held the tree, and it fell lightly against her hand.

    “Want to wrap her up?” Kess asked as she slowly lowered the tree to lay it on the snow. Jack stared at her.

    “What just happened?”

    “Connie’s the tree’s fae, or guardian spirit.” We woke her up so that she could take up her roots, and we’ll carry her back to the house.

    “Jack nodded numbly as he wrapped burlap around the few stubby roots that remained. “Where did the roots go?”

    Kess shrugged. “Up inside the trunk maybe? I dunno. I never really paid much attention to it. They just know they won’t need them, so they just take care of it.”

    Jack and Kess each took an end of the tree and started to walk back to the house.

    “Kess?” Jack puffed.”


    “Why Connie? That doesn’t sound like a very fae name.”

    “It’s not,” Kess replied. “But she wouldn’t give Gramma a name, so Gramma called her Connie because she’s a coniferous tree spirit.”

    “Har har,” Jack said dryly.

    “Hey, I didn’t come up with it.”

    Connie was quickly carried to the house and potted in the parlor. As Kess poured water over the soil, there was a sigh and the bows fluttered lightly. She stood and shot Bustifur, who had been watching sedately on the sofa, a warning look.

    “I don’t want anyone in the tree, Bustifur.”

    “Don’t look at me! I have no claws!”

    “It goes for you and the Piskies, Bustifur. They’re your little minions, and I don’t want any surprises when we go to decorate the tree.”

    “I make no promises,” Bustifur said haughtily. “I have more important things to do that watch over Piskies.”

    Then the Piskies can feed you if anything happens to the tree.” She turned back to Jack. “Ready to go over to Wayland’s and get the lights?”


    Jack tried to avoid the forge if he could manage it at all. There was something about it that made him very uncomfortable. Kess has told him it was part of the ward to keep people away who weren’t supposed to be there in the first place. It was the same with powerful faery sites the world over: there was something about the area that discouraged lingering. There was the busy sound of hammering from within, and thick smoke curled from the chimney, meaning that Wayland was in. Outside the door, hanging from a hook were coils of lights and a staple gun.

    “Ooo, he’s outdone himself this year. We’ve never had a staple gun before. What do you think he made it from?”

    Jack took up the tool and studied it. “Nickel, maybe? Or silver, knowing Wayland. So long as it works, I’m not going to worry.”

    “That’s the spirit Jack! Apathy all the way!”

    Jack grinned and slung the lights over his shoulder. They were heavier than he expected them to be, but any time in Wayland’s forge seemed to do strange things to any object. Kess strolled along with him to the tool shed, her hands in her pockets. A light flurry had begun and she watched the falling snow absently.

    “Which of these are yours?” Jack asked as they reached the shed.

    “Hmmm? Oh, none. We’ll do something a little bit different for the tree and we’ll put candles in the window. The lights are all yours!”

    Jack felt his spirits sink. “Oh goody,” he managed to mumble.

    “I can probably send the Piskies or some of the Brownies out to give you a hand if you want some help. I asked Wayland for enough lights to frame the house and to coil around those two beams on the porch on either side of the steps.”

    Piskies. Jack hated the idea of having Piskies underfoot while he was twelve feet up a ladder. He also hated the idea of being out past dark trying to string Christmas lights, so he nodded.

    “I’ll need them. Can you give me a hand taking them up to the house? I’ll carry the ladder.”

    With a grunt of relief Jack handed over the light at Kess’s nod. Rather than wait, she began to slowly amble towards the front of the house. Jack had no trouble catching up to her, even carrying the ladder.

    “So what are you up to?” he asked as the reached the porch as Kess set the lights on the steps.

    “I’m going to go in and get supper started, do a little last minute baking and then tackle the tree. Mag and her crew are going to lay the able so long as I have everything ready for them.”

    Jack cringed. The few days had seen Kess slaving in the kitchen. The smell had been exquisite, with all of the cakes, cookies and other confectionary dainties. She had been preparing fruit, dicing and balling and arranging. Today she’d be preparing the main meal itself and he and Bustifur had both been hungrily eyeing the ham in the refrigerator, the plates of hors d’oeuvres for days. There was also the promise of roast bird of some sort with stuffing, cranberries, and the usual fixings. It had been years since Jack had had a proper Christmas dinner, and this promised to be spectacular.

    “Good luck,” Jack offered.

    Kess just smiled. “I’ll have some lunch for you whenever you’re ready. Have fun with the lights!”

    As Kess slipped into the house, Jack set up the ladder and stepped back to survey the task ahead of him. The deck ran along the front of the house, and it was roofed over to create a covered porch. He reasoned he should be able to run lights all along that roof, and then along the deck rail and all of the posts rather than try to do the upper levels of the house. Kess shouldn’t mind, he hoped. If he had enough lights left over, he could string them on the trees and shrubs.

    Right, he thought.

    He grabbed the nearest coil of lights, rethought the placement of his ladder and dragged it over to the far left of the porch. Tucking the trigger of the staple gun into his pocket, he carefully climbed up the wobbly ladder. In ones and twos Piskies began to appear as he worked, eager to help. Jack set them to work uncoiling lights and holding them steady so that he was free to crawl along the roof and staple them into place. There were two drawback to working with the Piskies, Jack was soon to discover. Well, two that were worth thinking about – Piskies were Piskies an had no attention span, so Jack expected the acrobatics and tussles, the snowball fights and the making of snow Piskies. The Piskies were simply being Piskies, and Piskies in high spirits at that. What Jack hadn’t thought about or anticipated was the chatter or the limited nature of their helpfulness. They were Piskies, and therefore the tallest of them was still less than a foot tall; they were all of them far too small to be able to climb down the ladder and bring up the lights, which meant that Jack had to do this. Mostly, however, it was the chatter that got to him. Their voices were high, almost shrill in their excitement, and they never shut up!

    “Oooooo! Wassat wassat wassat wassat wassat?” trilled one of the Piskies. “Maethle ! His mitties has no fingers!” The Piskies tugged at the fingerless gloves which left Jack’s finger tips exposed.

    “It’s so I can work,” Jack said simply. He wiggled his fingers. “See? Makes it easy.”

    This drew a crowd.

    “But isn’t it c-c-c-cold? Your fingers are all out in the wind!”

    “If they get cold then I just cover them up.” With the shrip of Velcro, Jack pulled the woolen flap over his fingers that transformed the gloves into mittens.

    The Piskies cried out with delight. “A trick! A trick! A clever little pocket!” They danced and cartwheeled in their excitement, laughing and whooping. It must be great to be a Piskie, Jack reasoned. The smallest things are exciting. A pair of Piskies clambered onto Jack’s arm to test transforming the mitts to gloves and back again and the process met with tremendous approval.

    Jack smiled and shook his head. The two small Piskies had crawled into the flaps and made themselves cozy, one to each flap. Deciding it might be easier to leave them there, Jack began to climb back down the ladder again for more lights. It lurched, tipping back away from the roof alarmingly. Jack muttered an “Oh shi-“ before the ladder was pushed back into place and held firmly. He looked down into the grinning face of a dark haired man.

    “Close call, friend!” he called up.

    Jack climbed back down and shook the hand he found extended. “Thanks,” he replied. “I was worried that might happen.”

    “Worrying often makes it come to pass, friend. Best think happier thoughts from now on. How are you called?”

    “Jack. Jack Andrin.”

    “Well Jack-Jack Andrin, tis a pleasure to meet you. You may call me Connor if you like, Garconor if you must. May I inquire as to what has you working on the roof? With Piskies?” he added, spotting the two in the mitts for the first time.

    Jack looked Garconor over and bristled inwardly. He was too pleasant, too smooth, and Jack wanted to wipe the winning smile from his handsome face. It was unlike him to react so strongly to one of the fae, to dislike one so intensely at first sight. There was something about this one that made his blood boil in his veins.

    “Kess wanted me to hang lights for her, and she sent the Piskies out to help me.”

    “Ah Miss! She wants the house as beautiful as she, no doubt, for tonight.” Garconor’s eyes lit up as he spoke. “Miss is within, then? And still ‘Miss’ I hope…”

    There it was. Jack recognized Garconor in that moment as the Irish rogue he was, notorious for his abductions of beautiful young women. That was why he disliked him so much: Kess! He was jealous.

    “Yes she is,” he said shortly. “Not planning to whisk her away, are you friend? That might upset some people.”

    Garconor laughed and slapped Jack on the back. “Took you a moment to place me did it, friend Jack-Jack? I thought you’d know me sooner, after all I’ve heard of you. No worries, friend, Miss is safe from me. I offered to take her away once but she refused me. Alas, it was truly my loss so I come to visit as often as I can to make up for it.”

    Jack nodded, feeling moderately better. At least Kess has seen Garconor for what he was and had been strong enough to resist his glamour.

    “So you’re making the house beautiful for Miss?” Garconor continued.

    “Yeah. I wish I had a garland of some kind, though. Something green to run along the railings, but I don’t think Kess thought of that.”

    Garconor thought for a moment and snapped his fingers with a rakish grin. He beckoned Jack to follow him over to a brightly painted covered wagon that made Jack think of gypsies. Pots were hung on the outside from small hooks and they rattled as Garconor climbed up inside. The Piskies twittered excitedly, reminding Jack that he couldn’t shove his hands into his pockets, and Garconor could be heard to mutter and root about inside until he emerged carrying coiled garlands of holly.

    “Will this do the trick friend Jack-Jack?” He held it out.

    “It’s perfect! Thank you!” He looked past Garconor and into the wagon. “What all do you have in there?”

    Garconor winked. “Everything and anything I might need to please a lady.”

    With a laugh at Jack’s stunned expression and another friendly slap on the back, Garconor excused himself to go pay his respects inside.


    The ham was in the over, the turkey was soaking in the sink, and the bread was torn into small bits and was sitting in a bowl. The breakfast sausages were sitting beside the bowl, ready to be squeezed out, and the onions were on the chopping block. Guests were arriving early, and she had put Bustifur on the desk. With the Piskies busy helping Jack, she felt reasonably sure that the tree would be safe. She hoped. Mag had taken a tray into the dining room for Jack, laden with the first tastes of tonight’s treats, but that had been some time ago. In another hour she’d be able to put the glaze on the ham and then it could be placed aside while the turkey cooked.

    She brushed some hair away from her face with the back of her hand. “Mag, love, how’s Jack getting along with the lights? Did he say?”

    “Kettle-kettle, black black black. Shoulda worn a tea cozy, I says I says,” Mag babbled. Kess nodded.

    “Oh good. Glad to hear it,” she replied.

    “Kess!” Bustifur called from the desk. “Connor just checked in and we’re almost full! How many are you expecting for tonight?”

    Kess sighed and dried her hands on her apron before leaving the kitchen to join Bustifur at the front desk. She peered over at the laptop’s screen, then picked up the log book and updates it. She sucked on the end of her pen thoughtfully. “Three rooms,” she mused. “We’ll fill those, no problem, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few guests end up doubling up for the night. It usually happens.”

    She put the log book down on the desk and glanced at the clock. Three o’clock. She’d be able to leave the rest of the kitchen work to Mag and her army of Brownies that seemed to have come out of the walls. That would give her time enough to decorate the tree and get changed for the party. As she thought this, the lights outside flicked on and Jack poked his head inside.

    “Oh good! Kess, do you want to come and take a look at these lights and let me know what you think? We’re just getting thing tidied up and I want to put the ladder away before it gets too dark.”

    Kess followed him out the door and down the yard. She hadn’t bothered with a coat, so she wrapped her arms tightly about herself. Jack stopped halfway down the yard and turned, Kess turning with him to look back at the house. The porch and cedar shrubs glittered like jewels, the lights on the rails glimmering between the vivid green holly leaves. Kess drew in her breath.

    “Oh Jack! You changed it!”

    “Garconor gave me the garland. I thought it would be easier than trying to get lights strung on the upper levels.”

    “It’s beautiful, Jack. Thank you.”

    Jack shrugged. “Don’t mention it, boss. It’s good enough, though?”

    “It’s perfect. Just throw the ladder against the side of the house and come in out of the cold. The ginger cake should be cool enough to eat now, and there’s some fresh whipped cream to go with it.”

    “With a cup of something hot, that would be perfect.”

    Jack jogged up to grab the ladder as Kess walked up more slowly to enjoy the sight of the lights. She lingered a moment to lightly finger the red holly berries before the cold prompted her to move inside. She was stamping the snow from her shoes when Jack came in behind her. He was bending over to untie his boots when Kess went rigid.

    “What? What’s wrong Kess?”

    He watched as anger and horror chased one another across her features, each seeking dominance on her face. She simply stared until her lips pressed into a thin line.

    “BUSTIFUR!” she bellowed. Jack looked into the parlor and stared.

    The Piskies had been busy. Every inch of the tree was decorated with undergarments. Boxers, panties and bras were hung festively from every bow, all unfolded and draped or stretched for maximum effect, and the bras were linked to form a chain. If Kess hadn’t been trembling with fury right beside him, Jack would have laughed. The Piskies had really outdone themselves on this one, and the fact that his underwear had been used so irreverently didn’t phase him – he had to give credit where credit was due. But Kess was furious and the Piskies had wisely made themselves scarce. So had Bustifur.

    “There’s no use shouting, Kess. Let’s just get the tree cleared off quickly before anyone sees it.” Jack stepped into the parlor and began to gather boxers into his arms. He made a point of not looking at the bras and panties, and tried very hard to avoid touching them. It was childish, but Kess was also in a towering temper. Kess joined him and did the same, albeit more angrily. The only good thing about underwear on the tree was that they came off quickly.

    Kess stomped off to her room and Jack meandered down to his own. The kitchen smelled delicious, and the tempting aromas wafted down to the basement with him. His first instinct was to dump the laundry on the bed for later and to go see what he could sneak upstairs, be he knew this would cause an uproar with Mag. He quickly folded the boxers and put them back in their drawer.

    Kess was in the kitchen when he returned upstairs. She was just adding a big dollop of whipped cream to a warm piece of ginger cake, which she held out to him. He tanked her and pulled a fork out of the drawer, then leaned against the counter to eat.

    “The kettle’s on for hot water, and there’s tea and hot chocolate in the cupboard,” Kess said as she began to squeeze sausages into a bowl. “Think you can manage?”

    “Sure. Can I get you anything or do anything to help you?”

    Kess shook her head. “Nah, I’ve got it from here. The Brownies are going to take over decorating the tree so I can work in here and to make sure the Piskies stay the hell out of it. I’ll just need to stuff the bird, throw it in the oven and put the veg on. The glaze is done for the ham, so I just need to pour that in and baste.”

    “Honey glaze?”

    “Pineapple mustard, actually, with brown sugar. You’d think honey would make more sense, and that’s what we used to have. But they seem to like this one better, so I make it now.”

    “Sounds good,” Jack agreed, pouring water into a mug. Among the other smells in the kitchen, Kess couldn’t tell what it was he had made.

    “Kess?” Jack said suddenly. “I know you’re angry and I know they shouldn’t have done it, but it is Christmas and they didn’t mean anything by it.”

    “I know, Jack. I just really wish they’d keep out of things for a while, especially when there’s so much to do.”

    “No fun in that,” Jack smirked. “What’s the sense in trying to cause trouble when it’ll only cause minimal chaos? Any way,” he drained his cup. “I’m going to go shower and get ready for tonight if you don’t need me for anything.”

    “You’ve been a doll, Jack, thank you. Enjoy your shower.”

    Jack put his dishes in the sink and left Kess to her cooking. He felt guilty about it, but he had offered to stay with her. Maybe she just wanted some time to calm down before she saw a Piskie of Bustifur. He smirked as he began to undress. Bustifur was going to be in a world of trouble over this and he didn’t doubt Kess would find all manner of subtle ways to make his life a misery. As the water began to pour down his body, Jack was very relived to know that he wasn’t Bustifur.


    By the time the big grandfather clock struck eight o’clock, the house was packed with fae of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Some Jack knew and recognized and others were a completely new experience. He moved among them as though in a dream. It was the glamour, he knew, and with so many of them in so small a place it wasn’t surprising for it to be this strong.

    The tree sparkled with tiny live fae who glowed and flitted among shimmering ornmanets. Mag and her Brownies had done their job well, and the floor beneath was piled high with gifts. On the back of the tree there was also a pair of half-hidden panties that Jack hoped Kess hadn’t seen.

    Somewhere amid the mass of bodies a piper and a fiddler played their strange and wild faerie music. It had no melody to speak of, just notes that mixed and mingled in varying tempos. It seemed to have a life of its own, and moved bodies in dance. He moved between them, trying to find Kess and eventually saw her in the dining room.

    She was standing by the table talking with a large fae covered in long ginger fur. He had a contented, benign smile and a flowing mane like a lion, and he moved on as Jack approached. Kess beamed and embraced him.

    “Merry Christmas, Jack! Have you had anything to eat?”

    “Yeah, I’ve tried a bit of everything, it’s all wonderful. I’ve never had stuffing like that before, and I think the ham would make a great cold sandwich.”

    “The stuffing’s an old family recipe; there’ll be more tomorrow, but I don’t know how much of the ham will be left…”

    Jack waved his hands. “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine! I’ve had plenty tonight, and that’s what counts. You’ve really outdone yourself tonight.”

    Kess blushed. It’s Christmas. We need to have a good feed for the holidays.”

    There was a moment of awkward silence where Jack and Kess looked anywhere but at one another. Jack cleared his throat and Kess fingered her necklace. Faeries, thank goodness, have no regard for such human foolishness and Garconor came to the rescue.

    “Jack-Jack! Friend! Leave it to you to corner the most beautiful woman in the room under the mistletoe!”

    Kess and Jack looked up to watch as the last of the leaves unfurled on a mistletoe plant that hadn’t been there moments before. This did not bode well.

    You’d best give her a kiss,” Garconor called loudly. The music stopped and curious heads were turning to watch them.

    “No, I shouldn’t - ” Jack began, but was silenced by an admonitory “Ah!” from Garconor.

    There was a ringing as silver forks were tapped against crystal glasses, and a pounding as those with no glass to tap banged their flat of their hands against whatever flat surface was handy and obliging. The noise became louder and more demanding with each second that passed. Jack searched the for rescue amid the sea of watching faces that smiled knowingly at him, but none was to be found.

    He turned back to an equally embarrassed Kess and lightly placed his hands around her waist. He swallowed as she draped her arms around his neck and, as the room watched, leaned in to lightly press his lips to hers.

    The Kiss lingered a moment or two longer than it really should have, and then they drew apart awkwardly. The room, which seemed to have been holding its breath, now exploded in cheers and applause. Jack wondered if this might count as sexual harassment in the work place. As he backed away, Garconor stepped in to place a quick kiss on Kess’s cheek.

    “Merry Christmas, maeven ,” he whispered and added devilishly. “I hope you enjoyed my gift. I’m sorry it was a touch early.”