The Third Day of Fic-mas …


Ghosts of Yuletide Past

Aife made her way silently down the stone path leading to her family home. She couldn’t stop smiling. It felt like she’d been away forever. The chance to see them all again was such a precious gift. She could hardly credit the peace and contentment that had settled into her chest the moment she’d started recognizing the landmarks that said she was on the road home. She’d never dared hope to feel this way again.

Her breath caught in her throat when the squat little grey field stone dwelling came into view as she crested the final hill. A lazy tendril of smoke curled up from the chimney. She imagined she could smell the mulling spices in the kettle on the hearth. She could almost hear the crackle of the warming stones at its edge that would sizzle when they were dropped into full mugs to warm hands when everyone came inside.

She paused to watch her grandchildren for a moment. They were playing in the light snow that had collected in front of the house, darting in and out of the nearby woods, engaged in some sort of game. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was they were playing. It involved a lot of running, flinging bits of snow at each other. They screamed like it might be the end of the world, then laughed themselves into tumbling, breathless, onto the ground. She laughed, too, but, of course, they paid her no mind. The smallest of them seemed to meet her eyes for a moment, but then she squealed and ran back into the trees after one of the boys.

Aife hugged her elbows with a fond sigh. Being lost in play, why do we lose that as we age, I wonder.  She knew at least one soul who seemed to have kept that irreverent sense of finding fun wherever he went, but then again, she supposed he was quite young, too, in his own way. Humming softly to herself, a tune she couldn’t quite place, Aife went inside, leaving the children to their games.

She took a deep breath of the heavy warm air inside the cozy little home. A pot of what was likely cider bubbled merrily, hissing and spitting as steam condensed and droplets hit the logs below. It sounded like home. It smelled as good as she’d imagined, too, maybe even better, with the added savory aroma of a nicely roasting rabbit over the flames.

Her eldest daughter, Rowan, chided one of the younger siblings, about how she was turning the spit. “Ye want te keep it even, don’t ye, now?” When the turning didn’t improve, she huffed a little in frustration, and stopped what she was doing to demonstrate the proper way to turn the spit. “Like this, Morag, before you burn the back an’ leave the belly raw!”

Aife laughed quietly, feeling no small amount of pride at how Rowan was handling overseeing the Yule feast preparations for the first time, like the captain of a well-run ship. All those years at Aife’s elbow. She’d clearly attended to every lesson. She’d be a right terror in battle if she was ever called to it, Aife thought. But like her mother, and her mother before her, she commanded her household troops with warmth and a light amusement dancing in her green eyes. Aife’s admiration for Rowan’s skill didn’t stop her from wanting to help.

Instead, Aife took a seat next to the holiday fire, stretching her hands out to warm them in the comforting blaze. The Yule log burned merrily, the coals dancing in their familiar ashy red glow that never ceased it’s mesmerizing movement. She felt the flames warming her face pleasantly as soon as she sat down. A moment later she was almost startled as a shawl brushed her arm and a thin hand patted her shoulder.

She glanced at her new companion. “Hello,” she greeted softly.

“Ah, Aife, mo leanbh, I hoped you’d be able to come. It’s good to see you, child.”

“It’s good to see you too, Mama. I hope you’ve been well.”

“Passably well, child. How’s it with you?”

Aife swallowed. “It hasn’t been easy …” She swallowed again. She was not going to talk about that now, not here. “But just look at our family … growing, thriving. Strong and happy.” She sniffed a bit, but she was smiling again.

“They are that,” her mother agreed. An’ yer Liam did such a fine job with the Yule log. ‘Tis the finest fire I’ve seen in many a year. It’s so lovely to come here and be warmed by it, enjoying my family. I’ll bless this fire that it brought you here for a chat, too, lovie.”

Aife gazed into the fire. It was a good one, and the log looked to burn for days. She’d never been much of an enthusiast. She’d always been more of a practical cook-fire sort of woman (and flaming arrows certainly had their place) but today she appreciated the Yule fire, more than she could ever have known. She felt the same sort of pride she had seeing how Rowan was handling her role as matriarch when she looked at the fire her boy had kindled. She’d probably never admit it out loud to anyone, but Liam and Rowan had always been her favorites among her large and well-loved family.

A crackling pop from the log brought Aife back to the present. “Where’s Da?”

“Ach, you know how he is. Has to pop in on everyone’s fire today. I expect he’s at Diarmuid’s hearth just now. You know how he always was about his baby brother.”

“Mmm. Do you think he’ll be by soon?”

“Ye have other plans, do ye?” her mother asked gently.

“I …” Aife began, but was interrupted by the loud crash of shattering pottery. Rowan let loose with a string of words that Aife was quite certain she had not learned from her mother (since she’d never had to follow her into battle). “Rowan! Such language!” she snapped, not really thinking.

Rowan continued to mumble random curses and wishes for the feast to be on someone else’s shoulders as she drafted another one of the younger girls to pick up the shards little Donal had scattered, running through the house, in through the front and out the back.

“I bet you’d like to jump in and sort that all out for yer girl,” Aife’s mother smiled knowingly. “It’s hard, love. Believe me I understand. Letting go is the most difficult part of sitting at the fire each year, but … She’s rising to the occasion. She is. And she’ll continue to do so. She’s her mother’s child through and through.”

“I know … I just wish …”

A large warm hand settled on her other shoulder. “Hey, Aife. I let myself in.” She glanced up and bit her lip. “I’m sorry, but we’ve got to be getting back.”

“And who might this handsome and strapping lad be,” her mother asked, raising one of her grey brows.

“Not now, Mama,” Aife mumbled. She protested, “You said … The feast hasn’t started, Ben … And my da’ …”

He squeezed her shoulder. “I know and I’m sorry. But we’ve got to leave. Like five minutes ago. Gareth can only keep up appearances for us for so long and … We need to go.”

She sighed. “Alright. At least let me say goodbye.”

He hesitated, but then he nodded. “Of course. But be as quick as you can.” He nodded at the old woman by the fire. “A blessed Yule to you, ma’am.” She smiled at him. He touched Aife’s arm. “I’ll be outside.” He left the house to give her the moment free from the demands his presence implied.

Aife squeezed her mother’s hand. Then she moved around the house to each of her children in turn, uttering promises to return whenever she could, patting the heads of the grandchildren who were starting to crowd into the house to warm up and try to sneak bites of food. She stood in the doorway for a moment, giving a last smile and a fond wave, taking one last look at the frantic, but homey, pace of her family.

She stepped outside into the cold that no longer touched her, wiping absently at a tear and suppressing the others that were trying to fall, not that it mattered. She turned to Ben, torn between gratitude that he’d given her this opportunity and fury that he was now snatching it away before she’d seen everyone. “Why?” she asked, her unshed tears constricting her voice. “Why give me this and then cut it so short?”

“I said I’m sorry,” he began. He put an arm around her shoulders and started leading her away. “I thought it would help, seeing them, I mean. Knowing they’re well and your family is … still here and still growing. Carrying on for you.” His voice sounded momentarily tight, too, but though he’d released her shoulders and was now just walking next to her, she detected no change in his face or posture.

“I appreciate it, Ben. I do … I don’t mean to seem ungrateful, it’s just … I would have liked more time.”

“Wouldn’t we all?” he said so quietly she almost didn’t hear it. “And I wish I could have given it to you. I meant to … But we’ve been summoned. As annoying and incompetent as the King of Hell is, he’s still the king.” He held out his hands like he’d try to explain more. This was all still new for her, still a fresh wound. Unable to think of anything adequate, he shrugged.

“Why Yule though? Of all the times, Ben …” She trailed off, near tears again. “I didn’t get to see all of them,” she finished after a minute.

Another shrug. “I knew we couldn’t be away for long, even at the best of times, and I just thought more of them would be here for you. Especially the kids. I know that’s important to you.”

He sounded so bleak. He’d tried to do something so truly wonderful for her, she wanted him to know that even in her disappointment, she was still grateful. “Seeing my mother was such a lovely surprise. I didn’t expect it. It’s been so long.”

“The Yule fire is a funny place,” Ben mused.

“It … I felt so strange, Ben. Every sensation, every smell. I felt I could have picked up a cup and tasted the cider. We’re not really totally even on this plain of existence. I shouldn’t have been able …”

“Did you not think our own traditions and stories had at least a kernel of truth, Aife?” he asked, smiling a little. “It’s half of why our people light the Yule log every year; so our ancestors can come and warm themselves by that fire, if they like.”

“Always seemed made up to me,” she said managing a small chuckle.

“I always believed, or at least, I wanted to. I had a bit of a mind for the magical side of things though. I have Daira to thank for that. She was the wise woman in my village. Took quite a shine to me,” he smiled. “And then, you know, demon, so … I’ve definitely embraced my more whimsical side.”

As he hoped, she chuckled again and her smile stayed in place. “It was wonderful to see them. It does help. It does.” She stopped walking and turned toward him. “Have you ever visited your family?”

Pain sparked briefly in his eyes, but he just gave the barest shake of his head. “Nah, never managed it.”

Aife realized too late why that might be. Oh, the poor boy. All of them. No wonder he struck her as such a lonely soul. “Thank you, Ben. For everything.”

He nodded, his jaw tightening for a moment, before flashing one of his dazzling distracting smiles at her. “Happy Yule, Aife,” he said simply.

Quite unable to stop herself, she pulled him into a hug. “Happy Yule, Ben.”



The Second Day of Fic-mas …


Eat, Drink, and Be Miserable


Author’s Note: For readers of Always Darkest, in case you were wondering why Ben couldn’t spent Christmas Eve with Mal, this ought to clear things up. For those of you new to our universe, this is what happens when Hell throws a holiday office party.

“Ben! You made it!” the graceful hostess called with enthusiasm and more than a little surprise. She hadn’t seen him come in, and her two assistants had been taking bets on whether or not he’d show up. She eyed him up and down. “You’re looking … very … um …”

“Save it, Aife. I’m in no mood for games or pleasantries.” She thought he might be frowning or glaring at her, but at present it was difficult to tell. “Besides, we’re fighting.”

“Fighting? Over this? Come on, it’s not that bad.” She reached down, clapping him on his uncharacteristically meaty shoulder. “And it’s traditional!”

The eye roll was more obvious than his previous expression. “Yeah, that’s me. Mr. Tradition.”

He started shouldering his way through the crowd, toward the decorative seat on the raised platform at the center of the room. The sooner he sat down and got this started, the sooner he could change and get the hell out of here. He was glad going home no longer meant just the hundred feet or so to his old apartment above the bar. Soon this would be over and he could catch a cab across town to his new digs.

And shower.

For about a week.

Undeterred by his sour mood, Aife followed, trying to pull him out of whatever was behind his current funk. She knew he wouldn’t be happy about this, but she hadn’t expected his near total silence since she’d reminded him of the obligation.

To be fair he’d kind of bared his soul to her, at least as much as Ben ever did with anyone, and when all was said and done she’d said, essentially, ‘Thanks for trusting me with all this, but, by the way, I need you to do a thing you’re really going to hate in a few days’.

But it wasn’t like Ben to pull the silent treatment bit, even if he was furious. Something major had to be happening. Still, he had an obligation here tonight, no matter what else was going on with him. In fact, based on the little he’d revealed of what he’d been up to over the last year, and especially the last few months, keeping up appearances, keeping his cover intact, was especially important. She decided to subtly remind him of that in a way that would be safe if someone happened to get close enough to eavesdrop.

“You, of all demons, know how important it is, for those of us saddled with peripheral, less important Offices, to stick to the regulations,” she admonished. When he rolled his eyes at her a second time, she started quoting the rule book. “At the time of year when all earthly eyes are on the heavens, it is critical that Hell do its part to stay a presence literally and figuratively to advance our mission. The senior ranking noble or Agent will act as ceremonial host on the eve of …”

“I’m familiar with the regs,” he interrupted. “Why the hell do you think I’ve avoided being anywhere near an Office on Christmas since … always?” he groused. “How are demons even supposed to celebrate Christmas?” came out as more of a growl.

She grinned, hoping an attempt at humor would relax him a little. “Ironically, I think.”

He sighed. “Ironically?” He tugged at his coat awkwardly, unaccustomed to clothes not fitting exactly the way they were meant to.

Aife looked him over, letting her gaze linger like she was about to flirt. Then she cocked an amused eyebrow. “Yeah, definitely ironically.”

“Oh, screw you, Aife,” he snapped, then started laughing in spite of himself, though his amusement was short lived.

He was glad The Pit wasn’t one of those bars with mirrors everywhere. He didn’t need to be reminded what a ridiculous figure he cut in this crowd of demons and humans decked out in their finest, or at least their most festive. Since custom demanded that he appear in his demonic form, say nothing about the ubiquitous Santa suit, he wasn’t interested in the visual. This was a form he avoided at all costs; he hadn’t been forced into it in centuries. And the suit was about as awful as he expected. But it was kind of funny. Probably. From the outside.

He fidgeted in discomfort again and the pat Aife gave him this time was less amused and more genuinely consoling. She led him to the bar and gestured for Ciara to pour them a couple of their usual drinks. She knew the short, round, hairy appearance (forget the goat legs and cloven hooves that came with the package) didn’t exactly match up with how Ben saw himself. She really should have expected this reaction.

When he’d first come to her over a year ago, looking for a place to stay, they’d been sitting in his apartment flipping through channels one night and had come across the Disney version of Hercules. She’d made the offhand comment that he reminded her of a character in the film. He’d grinned and said he’d always thought he was decent enough in the looks department, but he’d never have given himself Greek god status. Aife had smiled wickedly and told him she meant Hercules’s friend, Philoctetes. Because of, you know, the whole goat-y thing. “He’s the spit of your demon form, lovey.” He’d glared for a while, then stomped off to bed, leaving her to let herself out.

She knew how miserable he had to be tonight with that bumpy, lumpy, short, asymmetrical body crammed into a cheap Santa suit. It wasn’t quite as bad as a rental, but very nearly. She’d never seen anyone fit into it properly and that was definitely true tonight. Ben pulled at some part of it self-consciously every time he moved. It was somehow both too big and too small all at once.

The arms had to be rolled up with fabric bunching awkwardly at the wrists. His demonically-shortened stature also meant, even rolled up, the pants trailed under his hooves so he kept treading on the cuffs and half tripping.

Despite its length, the breadth of the suit wasn’t proportional. Or adequate. The buttons strained across the considerable girth at his midsection in an over-taxed effort to contain him. She nearly laughed at the thought of them putting out someone’s eye if they let go. She’d never let him live it down.

Ben stretched the stiff fabric on the waist of his pants yet again, wishing he could breathe properly. He was trying to find real humor in this, but was just too damned uncomfortable. His sour tone belied the amused smirk he was trying on. “Honestly Aife, I look like Tim Burton got tapped for a reboot of The Grinch and decided to cast Danny Devito in the lead role.”

Given her memory of just a moment ago it took a herculean effort not to burst out laughing. Oh, that nearly did it. She snorted a little giggle, but clamped down on it. “You only look about half as ridiculous as you think you do. Besides, I thought I’d be the one wearing the costume this year. No one else has been around and you’re usually so good at avoiding this stuff.”

“If you’d reminded me sooner, I would have again,” he said, shooting her a dark look.

“Maybe I mentioned it back when you were still showing up for work here. Not my fault you’ve been off …” She stopped when his brow creased. She had promised not to mention school, or his other job, or the fact that he had apparently made friends with some humans. Not where anyone else might overhear it anyway. She’d have to get the rest of the story out of him at some point, but tonight was not the time for it. “And maybe this finally makes us square for Boston,” she said archly.

“Boston? Are you serious? This is about Boston?” he asked incredulously, gesturing at his horror-inducing appearance. “C’mon, Aife, that was literally centuries ago! And it was not my fault!”

“It was a little your fault,” she said with a smirk.

“How can you ..? I didn’t do …” he sputtered.

“You set the mince sniffers on me. You have to own that part at least.”

He sighed. “Okay, maybe … so that part could have been my fault, but …” His whole face became a frown. At least she thought it did; it was tough to tell with all those bulldog worthy wrinkles. “But we’re even?”

She tipped him a wink. “I said maybe.”

Ben rolled his eyes. He picked up the generous shot of her best scotch off the bar, downed it, then closed his eyes for a couple of seconds, setting the glass down with a thud. “Fine. Hand me the beard, would you?”

Mirth danced in her green eyes as she passed the finishing touch for the Santa suit to him. He fixed it over his ears, using her reactions, rather than the mirror over the bar, to decide if he had it arranged correctly. He could deal with this, so long as he didn’t have to look at it. Her nod told him it was on straight, but … what was that ..? Ugh.

“Aife … um … why does this smell like … I don’t know … bad?” he asked when he couldn’t come up with anything to compare the aroma to.

Aife’s eyes went round and innocent. “I can’t imagine,” she said sweetly. “It’s natural fiber. Wool, I think.”

“Okay, sure, but from what part of the sheep?”

She laughed. It was such a normal Ben thing to say. She took a step closer and sniffed. “Oh, oh honey, I’m … About that …”

“Aife,” he warned, an almost imperious note creeping into his voice. “What is it? What am I ..? Just … what?”

“You may have heard about … last year Stolas was the lucky noble in town.”


“Well … he had quite a bit to drink, and got spectacularly ill …”

“How does a demon get sick from drinking unenchanted Earth booze?” he demanded.

“How should I know?” she returned indignantly. “Maybe giant demonic raven’s have fussy stomachs! Besides … I did wash it …” she assured him.

“In what? Musk ox urine and broken dreams?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad, Ben. Just a little musty.” She patted him again. “You’re just crabby.”

Ben decided to let it go. He was crabby. Downright pissy even. And it wasn’t Aife’s fault he couldn’t just leave town. He would have last week when she’d reminded him about this little shindig, but he’d promised Mal he’d be there for Christmas, promised he’d meet her dad and uncle. Shit. What was he thinking? Meeting a couple of angels after all this … He almost wished he could get sick-drunk tonight. “Yeah,” he sighed.

Ben finally hazarded a look in the mirror and finished adjusting his beard. He pulled the tasseled hat back on as far as it would go over his abnormally round head, and walked wordlessly past Aife to take his place on the raised dais so the formal part of the evening’s festivities could commence.


The party was, as Ben expected, a vulgar and garrish affair, featuring a who’s who of Burlington’s damned, and their guests. The crowd was mostly made up of connected, and more importantly, contracted, souls, not to mention a handful of local-ish demons, mostly in human form, or wearing a human body. At least the Fallen hadn’t shown up. That was a small consolation, but as the smelly Santa suit started to itch in addition to being aromatic, Ben decided he’d count his blessings where he could find them.

“Ah, Lord Ronoven, I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure before.”

He glanced up from where he’d been staring at the ice in the bottom of the glass Aife had kept full all evening. He found himself faced with a woman of early middle age, wearing too much make-up and a smart red dress. “Good evening, Margaret,” he greeted mildly.

“You know my name?” the woman asked with a startled laugh.

He dipped his chin in a nod that was as close to dignified as his demon guise allowed. “It’s my business to know. I trust your son is doing well under the new arrangement.”

“Oh yes, quite well, my Lord,” she gushed. The form of address and her tone made him twitch. He forced the cringe inward and continued to meet her eye as though he were really interested in her answer. “He’s just been made the youngest partner in the history of his firm … and more importantly, his name has been coming up a lot in certain political circles, just as promised.”

Another semi-regal nod. “Very good. I like to know the contracts made in my territory are being adequately kept up. How are you finding the party, Margaret?”

“Nice,” she hedged. “But confusing. I keep wondering how demons celebrate this sort of a holiday.”

“Ironically,” Ben returned with a smirk. She gave the appropriate polite laugh, but still looked out of sorts. “Although I suppose that’s not what you meant.”

“Well, no, actually … Why does Hell have a Christmas party?”

“This isn’t really a Christmas party, Margaret.”

She laughed again. “Could have fooled me.”

Warming to the opportunity, Ben sat forward a bit. “And apparently we did,” he observed. “You see, Margaret, the invitations may have said Christmas, but those who are more informed know it is that in name only.” He paused letting that sink in for a moment. “Here we honor the old holiday of Yule, after a fashion. The traditions we hold harken to a time before the Church co-opted it for their own purposes. We celebrate Earth’s longest night,” he said, laying on an ominous tone and forcing his expression to stay serious even as he wanted to crack up at the fear behind her eyes. “Of course, since we’re from Hell, we like to put our own spin on things.”

“W-what sort of spin?” she stammered.

“Oh, about what you’d expect. There’s the fire in the hearth there with logs stolen from groves some people still hold sacred. The fertility celebrations that will come later. I’m sure you’d enjoy those.” He winked mischievously, glad for the first time that that he looked as grotesque as he felt tonight. “And there’s the traditional pig roast that ought to get going sometime soon …”

“Oh, I do enjoy a good pig roast,” Margaret said, trying to get back into the spirit of the evening.

Ben raised his shaggy eyebrows. “Ever had long pig?”

He nearly broke out laughing as Margaret blanched paper white. She knew what that was. But she regained her composure and assumed a game faced expression. “I … um … no, but I suppose I might try …”

Good grief. She probably would too. Fortunately, this was Aife’s Office and the worst thing on the menu tonight was probably the weird Vienna sausages the local state congresswoman favored. “Yes, indeed,” Ben grinned. “Things should get very interesting around here come midnight.”

She cleared her throat and squared her shoulders, pretending he hadn’t absolutely given her the shivers. “Well, I do need to get going shortly anyway, so I suppose I’ll miss out. You were my last stop this evening. I just had to see for myself.”

“Pardon?” he asked with feigned polite interest.

“My friend Nancy said you’d know my name and about my arrangement, just like you knew me personally. And you did! What do you do, study up before these things?”

“I read minds,” he lied smoothly. “And not that it’s any of my business, but when good ole Nance dropped by a little bit ago, it became pressingly clear that the reason your young Dale has been visiting so frequently these last few months is she’s been playing Mrs. Robinson to his Benjamin Braddock. Enthusiastically.”

Margaret turned very red, and without another word, but with a very loud huff, she stormed off, probably to look for her “friend” Nancy. Judging by the crashing from one of the back rooms that followed a few minutes later, Ben guessed she’d found her.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Aife chidded, appearing at his elbow.

“I didn’t like her. Didn’t care much for Nancy either.” Ben put down his glass on the small side table Aife had provided for drinks and whatever little gifts the humans brought as tribute. He’d passed the latter on to other demons quickly, rather than having to touch or look at the items much. He fished a small button-shaped receiver out of his ear. “Was that everyone?”

She squinted around the room. “Just about. You might want to leave that in for a bit though.”

She raised her eyebrows at him as he dropped the earpiece into the glass and handed it to her.

“No need. It’s just about midnight. My ass is sore from kissing and there’s no obligation to stay for anything else once the hour chimes. I’m done.” He did manage a smile. “Nice work with the radio. Made me seem informed, like spooky informed. That’s always good for making an appropriately hellish impression. And making some of them squirm was more fun than I expected to have tonight.” He got up and unhooked the beard, dropping it into the chair, along with the hat, and tried unsuccessfully to yank the coat down. “I’m out of here.”

“You can’t go. You have to come out to the private party room. We’re just about to break out the baby oil and start the …”

“Nope.” He shook his head emphatically. “I don’t have to anything. Especially that.”

“You’ve been living like a monk for months now. What’s going on with you, Ben?” she asked critically. She knew he was working on that prophecy, knew he’d made human friends, but he’d been so out of character lately. “You used to live for the more Bacchanal aspects of these little get togethers.”

He shrugged. Something told her, without even being able to see it, that he was blushing. “Yeah, well, not tonight.”

He didn’t hang around for her to say anything else, just made his way to her small office out back where he’d changed when he arrived. With his back to the door, he performed the spell to call back his human form. He wished there was a shower here, but also just wanted to get the Hell out of Dodge as fast as possible. He shucked off the Santa suit and picked up his boxers off the neatly folded pile of clothes he’d left on Aife’s desk.

He was focused on getting home as quickly as he could manage. So he didn’t hear the door open and softly close behind him. “You just have to tease me before you leave, don’t you?” Aife asked lightly, raising her eyebrow when he startled and half turned.

His ears were almost as red as the Santa suit as he finished pulling on his underwear and hastily grabbed his jeans. “Aife, please.”

She leaned against the desk, smirking. “Okay, but one of these days, you’re going to have to really tell me about her.”

“Who?” he asked absently, donning the grey thermal henley he’d practically been living in every time it was clean lately. Damn, he couldn’t seem to get used to the cold.

“The woman who’s making you want to miss an orgy. You love a good …”

“Good night,” he interrupted. He plastered on his fakest, most obsequious smile. “It’s been a terrible evening and fuck you for having me.”

“Ben, why don’t you stay for a bit and …”

“Aife … just … Okay?” She grinned at how flustered he seemed, but didn’t say anything else. He zipped his heavy hoodie, and pulled the hood up for good measure. She couldn’t see his face, but he sounded a little friendlier when he turned to the door and added, “Maybe I will tell you about her. When I’m speaking to you again.”

“Suit yourself,” she chuckled. Then she called out to him as he let himself out into the back alley. “We’re definitely even!”

“Even?” he called back, trying to remember what she was pissed off at him about. Tonight had been too stressful to keep much in his head for long.

“Yeah, for Boston. Asshole.”

Aife’s laughter followed him into the cold winter’s night.

“That was not my fault,” he mumbled under his breath.






The First Day of Fic-mas …


A Case of the Mondays

The light respectful tapping at his door sounded of potentially broken monotony. With a deep relieved breath, Ronoven called out, “Enter!”

Gareth, his most trusted servant, bowed as he entered the office, careful not to knock over any of the man-sized stacks of forms, advertising the office’s location in Hell, currently surrounding the disgruntled blond behind the desk. “Pardon me, my Lord. I hate to disturb your fun,” he offered with wry amusement that elicited a rueful head shake. “But you have an unexpected visitor.”

It was only years of schooling his features in front of other nobles that kept Gareth from chuckling at the relief on his master’s face. A second later Ronoven’s own training kicked in and he traded the openly amiable expression for looking politely interested. He couldn’t help grinning just a little at the prospect of an excuse to set aside the mountain of reports, charts, directives, and incidents currently cluttering up his office though. “Excellent. Show them in!”  

Gareth silently excused himself for a moment and Ronoven rearranged some papers, so he could see over his desk. Prophecy and King Castor’s wishes be damned, he was ready for any excuse to be somewhere else. And not just because this was one Hell of a lot of paperwork. He was so fed up with life Below, he’d almost consider trying the whole soul collection thing again.

Any break was welcome right now, even if the visitor was Lucifer. Hell, even if it was Bhaal. Well, maybe that was pushing things too far, but right now, he’d have to experience the visit inorder to determine if the paperwork was an attractive alternative to a visit with Hell’s Inquisitor General.

The work was tedious, pointless, andmaddeningly repetitious. He supposed that was the point of a lot of it. Hell was still, well … It was Hell. Even for the nobility, and especially for fairly low-ranking nobility like him. He barely had a spot at the Council table. That was based more on his personal charisma than it was on rank or accomplishments, if he was being honest with himself.  

Gareth returned a moment later. “May I present Krampus.” He bowed slightly and stepped aside as their guest entered.

Not the demonic hulking beast he was expecting, a slight bookish man, with short dark hair greying at the temples,entered on light feet clad in shiny leather shoes that matched his beige tweed suit. Ronoven blinked in surprise. Covering his bewilderment with practiced ease, almost before his visitor noticed it, he rose and walked around his desk.

“Krampus … you’re looking … well,” he managed, still extending a warm greeting despite being a little wrongfooted. “Thank you, Gareth,” he nodded, dismissing his servant with a friendly wave.

“Lord Ronoven,” Krampus bowed.

Uh oh, that felt awfully formal. Krampus was one of the few demons he considered a … friend wasn’t exactly the right word. But he liked Krampus, traded resources and shirked responsibility with him from time to time, and in Hell that was good enough. In fact, in Hell, that was about as good as it ever got.

His discomfort must have shown. As the door clicked shut behind Gareth, Krampus gave a low chuckle. “Just keeping up appearances, old boy,” he said with a wink.

A perceptible drop of tension preceded Ronoven’s reply. “I’m surprised to see you. On Earth, it’s … yeah, almost the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Shouldn’t you be … you know … reporting for duty, or whatever?”

Krampus shrugged and dumped a pile of papers out of one of the guest chairs, sending them scattering to the four winds. “Sorry about that,” he said belatedly, making a half-assed attempt to gather up the nearest of the mess and plopping it onto the smallest paper tower on the desk.

Seeing that his guest was reluctant to come to a point, Ronoven contemplated Krampus. “What’s with the new look?” seemed like a good place to start, since the only form for Krampus anyone in these parts had ever seen was his demonic one.

“Well, actually, that’s why I’m here.” Krampus finally sat down in the spacious leather chair he’d just denuded of its paper stacks, his smile obscured by a cloud of worry. No, that wasn’t simple worry. It was more grim certainty.

He liked Krampus, but only trusted him as far as you could trust any demon, which was to say, not far at all. He abandoned his casual posture and stood straight in front of his visitor. “I see. So, this is a professional conversation?” he asked, already imagining the addition of another mountain of paperwork on top of his already considerable pile that would come with any kind of formal arrangement with Krampus, especially at this time of year. He didn’t heave a sigh, but only just.

Krampus waved an unconcerned hand. “No, please, this is just between the two of us.”

Attempting to recapture his more relaxed demeanor, he leaned against his desk again, swearing quietly when at least a thousand forms fell off the back of his desk and into his chair and onto the floor around it. “Alright then. What can this humble demon do for the one and only Krampus?”

The smile flashed again, shy and almost embarrassed. “Well, first of all, you can call me Eugene.”

He felt his eyebrows climb entirely against his considerable will. “Hooookaaaay … What can I do for you, Eugene?”

The smile grew more confident. “Well, Ben … I can call you Ben, right?”

He felt himself nodding, but he was glad the light in here was poor because he’d probably just paled three shades. No one in Hell called him Ben. A few knew he preferred it to the name Hell gave him, but no one openly acknowledged it or, Satan forbid, used it out loud. “Sure, why not, Eugene?” found its way out of his mouth. To his own hopeful ears, it sounded appropriately cocky.

“I need a favor, Ben. And you’re the only one I can trust to accomplish it.”

“Trust?” Ben’s eyes widened. “Trust is kind of a strong word in this place.”

“But I do, all the same.”

After a long thoughtful pause, Ben narrowed his eyes and softly demanded, “Why?”

Eugene shrugged his narrow shoulders. “Well, you’re not actually evil, and around here, I think that’s reason enough.”

“Excuse me?” Ben sputtered, sounding offended, and almost feeling it. He put on a damned good show and he thought that Krampus, of all the beings in Hell, would have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.

Krampus’s lips quirked into a small smile at Ben’s evident shock. “Don’t worry, Ben. You’ve been doing a fine job with the whole … demon thing. A better job than I have, actually.” Ben’s tension visibly decreased. “My power, my curse as I’ve come to think of it, is to see into the soul.”

“Anyone sent to Earth is given that power, Kr … Eugene,” Ben hedged, somewhat confused.

“To be sure. And some of you use it contrary to Hell’s intended purpose, too.” Ben’s head ducked for a split second, his neck warming and color spreading up to his ears. Krampus continued like he didn’t notice. “But none of you see like I do. So profound is this vision, even the gods do not go there for fear of what details they might glean in some tiny human soul. Heights so dizzying Heaven would be jealous. Depravity the depth of which would give even Bhaal the bends. And in your case, I see you. The being behind your careful mask.”

Ben nodded, his judicious practiced nod from centuries of council meetings, performance reviews, and general bureaucratic bullshit. “I believe I understand,” he said, his brow furrowing outside his notice. He didn’t particularly want to discuss what it was about him Krampus might see and have noted.

Krampus sensed his reticence and bulldozed past it. “In you, Ben, down in your soul, carefully kept, and all too often hidden through sheer necessity, is a true and beautiful humanity almost entirely absent here in Hell.” Ben shifted from foot to foot in his discomfort,observed his own fidgeting, and stubbornly crossed his arms over his chest to help himself keep still. “Sitting here, accessing none of my usual powers that go with the more accustomed guise, I sense your unease, the conflict within you.”

Ben forced a more casual posture, once again leaning on the desk like he hadn’t a care in the world. “C’mon, Eugene,you can’t be serious,” he scoffed.

“Ben, this will be quicker and easier for both of us if we skip over the pretense that you’re satisfied with your life as a demon and that any of it makes sense. But if you want to waste time pretending you’re a gung-ho member of Team Evil, and have someone mark our meeting, by all means.” He opened his hands in a broad, ‘Your move’ gesture.

Ben sighed, but managed not to fidget. “Okay, you trust me because I’m good. Fine. I’ll humor you.” It took every speck of his control to keep his face neutral as he spoke.  

Eugene laughed. “I never said you were good. Just not evil.”

Ben smirked. “Good. And point taken.”

A slender eyebrow climbed fractionally. “Or perhaps I should say that at the very least you play the game quite well. Your goodness has, through sheer talent and persistence on your part, gone unnoticed by all but a few.”

Ben wanted to ask who that few might include, but he already had a fair idea. Instead of acknowledging the thought making his skin crawl like he’d woken up covered with ticks, he asked, his voice very cool, “How long have you known?”

“Since I first met you. I told you; I see the truth of a soul. That’s my job. I’ve seen the real you, therefore I trust you. Let’s accept that and move on, shall we?”

Ben couldn’t let it go. “In all this time … you never thought to say anything?”

“I’ve never needed anything from you before.”

Ben’s eyes darkened, his whole face becoming a frown. “More than any supposed goodness you’ve seen, you trust my sense of self-preservation.”

“Something like that.”

The momentary silence was broken by a terse sort of sigh. Ben didn’t like being blackmailed. But, he reasoned, it’s not exactly like he was in a position to protest. The fact that he’d managed to get reassigned from Reaping after the Hollywood debacle a few decades ago spoke more to his ability to play the game than to any real luck or clout. Bhaal was still itching for a reason to target him, if only to take him down a peg. Ben couldn’t afford to give him any ammunition.

“What’s the favor?”

“Well, Ben, I’ve decided that it’s time for a change.”

“A change? Couldn’t we all use that?” Ben forced a smile, a creeping unease settling into the pit of his stomach.

“I’m sure we could. You’ve successfully changed jobs once, if I remember right.” The statement had a bit of an edge, a little reminder of a very public failure in a long line of less than stellar soul collecting. When Ben didn’t rise to the bait by getting defensive or anything else, Eugene continued. “In any event, whether there is precedent or not, I’m going to retire, Ben.”

Ben was nearly startled into a laugh. “Retire? Did I miss something at Orientation? Because from everything I’ve heard, the retirement plan in this place pretty much sucks. Like no condo in Miami. Just death; the final death. When they finally decide to let you have it. Which from what I hear isn’t exactly likely to be until a long while after you start begging for it.” Krampus shrugged. “You can’t retire, Eugene. And no amount of you holding an accusation of humanity over my head is going to change the fact that I’m not remotely high level enough to make so much as a vacation happen for you or anyone else.”

“Orientation,” he chuckled. “You are funny, Ben.” Ben shifted uncomfortably but met Eugene’s eyes. No one spoke lightly of what he was proposing, but he seemed so committed, so self-assured,Ben’s curiosity was almost stronger than his sense that he was up to his eyeballs in a bad situation. “But as amusing as you can be, the situation just isn’t. I’m done with all this, Ben. My work doesn’t matter. Kids are just … jaded. They see so much horror, are expected to live with so much unaddressed pain, that even the worst of them cannot be corrected by a single visitation. Too much has been broken for too long for me to make a difference anymore. Not only has the job become depressing, what this place adds to it, well, it’s just too much.”

Ben’s forehead creased even more deeply. “Wait … what are you even talking about? You torment children for a living. Like you used to be pretty dedicated to it. The torment, I mean.” Honestly, it was one of the things that had made Krampus difficult for Ben to like at first, but the guy had unexpectedly grown on him.

“I was only ever meant to torment those who deserved it, Ben. There was a time when I saw it change hearts, turn lives around. I was meant to correct those who strayed from the path of goodness and act as a deterrent to those who considered it. I’m no longer able to do that job. The world gets worse, and so, too, do the children, because they have nothing to lose in that place. Not anymore.” His shoulders slumped in obvious sadness and frustration.

Ben’s eyes glittered with real wonder.“You don’t want children to need correction and if they do … you really want it to work … You want kids to be good.”

“Of course I do. Despite my usual appearance, I’m not a monster.”

Ben finally found his cocky grin again. “No, but you are a demon.”

Eugene returned the smirk. “No, actually I’m not.”

“Well, what in Hell are you then? Because you’re not Fallen and you’re not one of the old gods. I’d be able to see it,” Ben protested.

“Quite right. But still, not a demon.”

Ben refused to take a step back, but something in him sort of wanted to. He didn’t like encountering beings for whom he had no explanation. He’d learned long ago, even in his human life, if something didn’t belong on a particular plane of existence, things were bound to get complicated. Fast. “What are you then?”

“That’s not really important at the moment.”

“Disagree,” Ben answered flatly, starting to be more annoyed at the double talk than he was worried about any suspicion Krampus might throw his way.

“Alright, Ben, what I am is in control of my exit strategy and long-term survival. As I’ve mentioned, you are integral to that plan. If it all goes smoothly, I may have occasion to explain myself more fully at a later date.”

The hard stare coming from those dark eyes caused Ben to just swallow and nod slowly. “Fine. But why now? I assume you could have left before this. And … if you’re not an old god, not Fallen, not one of us … Why are you in Hell at all?”

“You’re not wrong. I could have left before. As to why? Like the reasons I’m in Hell, it’s complicated and not relevant.”

Ben shook his head, briefly wishing he had pockets to jam his hands into. The urge to fidget was strong and this was not the time or place to give that side of himself free reign.  Instead, he opened his hands. “You’re not giving me much, man.”

“I suppose not.” A slow, almost menacing smile spread over his narrow face. “But it’s not exactly like you’re in a position to demand information, is it?”

“Yeah, well, story of my life,” he grumbled, running a hand through his hair. “But why? I’ve got to know. And don’t give me that tired crap about the state of the world and the kids and whatever.”

Ben couldn’t argue that the circumstances of even the most privileged nobles in Hell were depressing, but that couldn’t be the all of it. There would be real consequences to this play of Eugene’s, and Ben needed to wrap his head around why someone with such a cushy situation would willingly take such a risk.

Eugene supposed someone like Ben could not be persuaded to act, even out of a finely tuned self-preservative instinct,if there was too much he didn’t know. Ben was known far and wide as a voracious consumer of information. It made him useful, and dangerous.

“Ben, I think you’ll understand … When I thought I was doing good, making a difference, protecting souls from what we suffer here in Hell … I could tolerate a great deal. But now, the world, the children, what that looks like … No one is afraid anymore. No one is deterred.They live in a place so close to Hell sometimes, I’m more than half certain they no longer see any difference between mortal life and what might wait Below. Or to put it in a way Hell’s own Master of Expression might find more palatable, Earth has become ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.”

Ben shook his head but couldn’t help the small smile that lifted one corner of his mouth. Picturing Eugene as he’d seen him in the past quoting Shakespeare was something he was going to keep with him for a while. “And?”

“And I just can’t talk myself into another Krampusnacht.”

“Alright, I get it. You hate your job and find Hell pointless. Welcome to the club.”

He paused, waiting for Eugene to offer something further. When he didn’t, Ben sighed. This was not a situation he wanted to touch with a ten-meter cattle prod. He finally had a pretty decent assignment. He wasn’t wildly interested in screwing that up for something difficult and dangerous.

“Since you’ve already told me you can walk any time you want, I’ve gotta ask, what do you need me for?”

“I need you to turn in my letter of resignation.”

Ben went momentarily cold. “The who with the what now?”

“I crafted an appropriate missive to inform Lucifer of my impending departure. I need you to deliver it. Because obviously I can’t do it.”

Ben started to pace in front of his desk, picking up a random form to fold, spindle, and mutilate. “You don’t need to do it at all. You already said you can just leave.” The form took the shape of a paper airplane and Ben tossed it across the office in confused frustration.

Eugene smirked. “Well, yeah, sure. Could do. But why would I pass up the opportunity to twist the Devil’s tit?”

Ben shoved some papers off the corner of his desk, heedless of the cloud of them as they scattered, just so he could sit. Ben was liking his guest less and less by the second, and already picturing what being caught in Krampus’s exit could mean for him. “So I take it the letter is … colorful?”

“That’s one possible adjective. I prefer to look at it as an apropos and timely scathing indictment of the company mission statement and, of course, of the upper management.”

Oh. Oh, good. Delivering that sounded like a good way to find out what beheading felt like. “Have I offended you in some way?”

“Not at all, Ben,” Eugene replied, looking almost sympathetic. “It’s just, nobody is going to take on this errand willingly. You happen to be in the unfortunate position of being the easiest noble with access to compromise.”

Ben swallowed hard, but his voice held none of his trepidation, only thinly checked anger. “Yeah. Thanks for that.”

Eugene laughed. “It’s not personal, Ben!”

“It will be when the Big Guy rips my spine out.”

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

Ben’s nimble mind searched with a bit of desperation for an out. “Couldn’t you send a messenger instead?”

“I am sending a messenger,” he replied. “Just one that I’m certain can deliver the message into Lucifer’s own hand.”

“When?” Ben asked with a sigh.

Eugene pulled a heavy envelope from his jacket pocket. It was addressed and dated in ostentatious silver ink, the same shade as the enchanted stick he’d used to whip children for centuries. Ben made himself take it. “Krampusnacht? Seriously?”

“It’s the only night of the year my absence will really mean anything to him. And I want him to feel it.”

“He’s going to skin me.” There wasn’t any anger left. Ben sounded more of tired acceptance.

“I have every confidence in your singularly persuasive ability to stay alive.”

“Great. Thanks.”

“Look, Ben … You’ll be fine. And … tell you what … I’ll owe you a favor.”

“I’m sure that’s a treasure beyond compare,” he grumbled.

“A big favor.”

“How big?”

“Bigger than you could possibly imagine.”

“You seriously underestimate my capacity for whimsy, Eugene,” Ben replied with some of his signature dry wit.

Eugene smiled at that and got to his feet. “Well, then. That’s settled. You’ll be my messenger and someday you’ll be glad you did it. Time for me to get going.”

“When are you leaving Hell?”

A quick flick of one eye that Ben had just enough time to process as an almost roguish wink accompanied the answer. “Right about now.”

Before he could even blink, Ben found himself alone, holding an envelope that grew heavier with every thought about his unwelcome task.

He contemplated it for a long moment.Then he put it in one of his desk drawers. He looked around at the office full of scattered documents and stacks of paperwork he was almost certain he’d never live to complete.

He passed through the main living area with a purposeful stride. “Gareth!” His servant came over immediately as he pulled on his cloak. “If anyone comes calling, I’ll be at the tavern on the other side of the River of Lost Souls.”

“Doing what, my Lord?” Gareth asked, looking at his protector with real concern.

“Seeing if it’s possible to get black out drunk if the liquor is enchanted. Don’t wait up.”


Ben clutched that cursed envelope and approached the dais, noting an almost smirking black clad angel … yeah, definitely smirking … who announced, “Morning Star, Lord Ronoven reporting with your permission.”

The anger lining the chief fallen angel’s face like heavy ink, not to mention the silent presence of the bigman’s second in command, made it difficult to keep up his cool facade, but Ben thought he sounded passably confident when he bowed and opened with the expected reverent reserve, “Thank you for seeing me, Lord Lucifer.”

He didn’t even nod an acknowledgment, just bit out, “I understand you have information.”

Ben dipped his head in an approximation of another deferential bow. “I do, sir.” Ben handed the envelope to the footman who brought it directly to Lucifer. “When I heard the news that Krampus was missing, I took it upon myself to search his tower.”

Lucifer turned the envelope lazily over in his hand. “Did you now?”

He nodded. “Krampus and I had occasion to practice magic together from time to time. I’m familiar with the layout, and I was concerned given the date, Lord Lucifer.”

Lucifer broke the seal on the envelope. “Where did you find this?” he asked softly.

“In his library, Lord. He did most of his work there.” Ben kept talking, his face impassive, as his words went unheard. He didn’t seem able to stop. Hellfire and flame, he needed a break from this place. At least he still sounded on top of things. “It was on his desk. Right on the blotter. The seal was cold.”

Lucifer’s eyes scanned the contents of the letter, growing a deeper more glowing red as his lips moved and he mumbled, “Unhinged … discount prince … Daddy issues … Quitting … Lovely.” He scanned it from top to bottom again. “Huh.”

He snapped his fingers, the paper between them. It was gone in a flashing puff of smoke. He raised his eyes to let them bear down on Ben, dissecting him. Ben returned the eye contact, respectful, ready to answer questions, perhaps slightly bored in appearance. His posture was straight, relaxed. He blinked.

In the space of that involuntary movement, Lucifer was in front of him, his nose almost touching Ben’s, deep purple-red eyes doing his angel’s best to see into the depths of Ben’s soul. Ben just held the gaze as was expected of him. He remained visibly calm. In his own head he’d been almost expecting to panic, but he found lying openly to these beings easier every time he’d done it. He thought perhaps this was the day he crossed the threshold into a place where it was as automatic as breathing here.

He was unexpectedly comfortable with Lucifer rifling through his thoughts today. The memory of searching Krampus’s tower he’d constructed was about as perfect as he could have made it without tapping in another spellcaster to plant it in his mind.

Satisfied, Lucifer stepped back. “Leave me, Ronoven. Say nothing to anyone of the letter. It never happened.”

“Yes, my lord.” Ben bowed and made his retreat.

Lucifer watched him go and was joined by his second in command. “Who was it that informed us of Krampus’s absence again?”

“One of our Agents, my lord.” Bhaal appeared smug.



Lucifer’s expression hardened further. “Who sponsored the Agent?”

A broad smile divided Bhaal’s face.“Why, by some random happenstance, my lord, I do believe it was our own Lord Ronoven. What an interesting coincidence,” he observed, widening his eyes for dramatic effect.

Lucifer considered the information carefully. “I detest coincidences,” he said as he mounted the stairs to his throne.

“Shall I summon him back, Lord?”

“I … no. After looking into his thoughts, I believe he said everything he has to say on the subject.”

Almost smirking, Bhaal offered, “I could bring him in for interrogation. That might inspire him to be more forthcoming.”

Lucifer shook his head. “Nonsense. That would draw unwelcome attention to the Krampus situation.”

“What are we planning to do about that, Lord?”

“Oh,” Lucifer gave a casual wave. “Send Lilith, she likes eating the little monsters.”

“I thought improving their behavior was the aim of this observance, Lucifer.”

“Same difference.”

Bhaal chuckled. “I suppose. Are you certain you don’t want to ‘speak’ with the Lord Ronoven further?”

“Let it lie this time. I saw nothing concerning in his head. Besides … There’s a reason King Castor has assigned him to those new apartments with the largest library in the realm. The demons are up to something.”

“The demons are always up to something.” He contemplated Lucifer’s expression. “Are you worried they dug up that scrap of parchment from your brother’s last visit?”

Lucifer gave a dismissive wave of his fingers. “No idea. But rumor suggests Ronoven has been assigned a promising research position with access to some of their most treasured documents. He seems motivated to have us kindly disposed. It could prove interesting.”

“As you say, my lord.”


Down the corridor, Ben was almost giddy with relief. Head still attached, spine and skin intact, all his insides still inside, and he’d been walking away for long enough that if they were going to send the hounds after him or summon him back, they already would have. Things could have gone a lot worse.

He exited Lucifer’s stronghold and headed down one of Hell’s busiest streets. He hadn’t taken a hundred steps when Oriax, one of King Castor’s secret police, gaped at him. “Ronoven! You’re still alive!”

Well, now, that is interesting. Either Castor had heard something was up and had him followed,or Oriax was one of the demons Lucifer deigned to keep on his quasi-secret payroll. The compensation for going full cloak and dagger for either side was always good, or so Ben had heard, but if you got caught, you certainly wouldn’t be walking out of a private audience grinning from ear to ear like he was now.Ben kind of preferred nobody knowing what side he was on. Mostly because he was on his own side.

Almost selling that he was just headed toward the high-end tavern mostly frequented by the Fallen, Oriax called out, “I heard you got called to an audience with the boss’s boss. But here you still are! It’s been forever since we had one of our talks. Buy you a drink?”

Ben didn’t break stride. “I wish I could. I’ve got to get back to work. Problem with having more than one supervisor. King Castor has given me a deadline for the Council coming up.”

Oriax just nodded. “Maybe another time.”

Ben waved pleasantly. He kept his easy pace for a little while, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Oriax was still dogging his steps. He was headed home anyway, but just for fun, he melted into one of the market crowds, did a quick bit of obfuscation magic, and left Oriax wondering just where his mark had disappeared to. The idea of him having to report, to either the king or to Lucifer, that he’d lost Ben and gotten no information about what had taken place in the throne room was almost too funny.

Ronoven made it about halfway home before he started laughing. And not just about still being alive, or even giving Oriax the slip to amuse himself. It was quiet laughter. No one he passed marked it, but it was a genuine, happy sound.

Krampus pulled it off. He flaked off right out of Hell. Ben didn’t have high hopes that he could ever figure out how to pull off the same thing, but it did make his idea that maybe it was time to get himself a longer vacation than the old soul collection gig ever afforded feel more doable.

Besides he’d been forever without a break from this place.

He sat back down in his office buried in reports and conjectures about the prophecy the king was in such a lather about with something that felt almost like anticipation. There had to be something here that would give him a good reason to take a break. Before too long he found something. Everyone here could call him a bookworm all they wanted. He’d just tumbled to the words that were going to be his ticket out of here for months, maybe even years if he played his cards right.

It was time to get himself some time on Earth.

Yeah, a vacation; just a little trip where he couldn’t possibly get himself into trouble.

Merry Fic-mas Eve!


It’s that time of year again. Our favorite holiday tradition is here.

Can you call something you’ve only done once before a tradition?

Sure. Why not?

We had so much fun challenging ourselves with last year’s Twelve Days of Fic-mas, we decided to make it a thing. Which as our favorite Time Lord will tell you is like a plan, but with more greyness.

So, the Twelve Days of Fic-mas is back! Twelve original stories (we are literally writing as you read this) that celebrate the festive spirit of the holidays, hearth and home, and occasionally the darker side of the season. This year you’ll see familiar faces if you’re a fan of the Always Darkest Universe, some friends returning from last Fic-mas, and maybe a few surprises. We hope you’ll join us on this year’s fictional adventure.

If you’d like to check out last year’s Twelve Days, the rough drafts are still up here on the blog, or you can pick up a copy of our polished up collection (lovingly beta read by some of the universe’s biggest super heroes and best friends) over on Amazon at

New readers, welcome! Old friends, welcome back! And Merry Fic-mas!