Love in the Tundra by Astrid Amara
This vignette features characters from the Irregulars Anthology.
Kirkenes, Norway got zero daylight hours in December, and only a smidgen of dawn between nine in the morning and one o’clock in the afternoon. So Silas August fully expected the walk to the cabin he rented with Deven Shaw to be in utter darkness. What he hadn’t planned on was a snow storm presenting whiteout conditions and making each step cold and cumbersome.
As he trudged through knee-deep drifts and pulled his scarf tighter around his wind-burned face, he could hear Deven’s voice in his head: “What did you expect from a winter vacation in the Arctic Circle?”
But Silas had picked Kirkenes over other tourist destinations in the Laplands because he’d read its location on the coastline leant it a more temperate climate.
Temperate was clearly relative.
The worst was that the blizzard obstructed the few landmarks of the outskirts of town, and he discovered he was on the wrong road only after walking a good quarter mile down it. His feet ached; he had blisters on both soles thanks to not properly breaking in his hiking boots before the trip. Honestly he hadn’t expected to do much walking. They’d taken a dog sled ride, driven snowmobiles to a traditional Saavi tent for Christmas dinner, and were transported to an outcropping where they could witness the most incredible display of Northern Lights he’d ever imagined.
But Deven had wanted to walk back. And while the long trek through the ice had been breathtakingly beautiful, it had ruined Silas’s feet and contributed to Deven’s cold symptoms. By the time they had reached the cabin Deven had a fever, a sore throat, and was coughing incessantly.
Romantic getaway, indeed.
But Silas really couldn’t complain, since the idea of spending Christmas in the Laplands had been his, after all.
The previous year, Deven and he had traveled to the Caribbean for the holidays. And while Silas had appreciated the opportunity to work on a tan and get in some warm ocean snorkeling and locally prepared conch, it didn’t take all of his detective skills to recognize how the constant sunlight hurt Deven’s eyes.
After the holiday they’d even seen a specialist in NIAD about the spell that altered Deven’s eyesight all those years ago. The ophthalmologist had told them Deven’s dark-adapted eyesight had been enchanted too long ago, and was so much part of his vision now he risked going blind entirely if they attempted to reverse the spell.
It was then that Silas knew their next vacation couldn’t be anywhere as relentlessly sunny as the Caribbean, or Mexico, or even Hawaii, all of Silas’s favorite destinations.
Instead, he’d started researching the darkest places on earth.
The gesture had been well-received and Silas was grateful to see his lover in such obvious high spirits. And he was surprised himself how stunning this stark, frozen landscape could be. But moments like this, trudging to a simple cabin with swollen feet and a frozen face, made him really long for a good beach palapa and a drink, preferably served in a coconut.
At last he spotted the cabin, and hurried inside. He hoped Deven was in bed resting with a hot cup of tea.
“I come bearing some suspiciously Swedish wine and ice cold arctic char, and a Norwegian coleslaw that the store owner promised does not contain ludevisk.” Silas dropped the packages on the carved wooden counter that separated the small cooking area from the main room of the cabin. Deven had created a roaring fire and had pulled the heavy comforter off the bed and laid it beside the fireplace.
Candles were lit around the cabin as well, emitting a sweet beeswax smell.
“Are you feeling better?” Silas called out as he tore off the layers of cold-weather garments.
There was even a bottle of wine already chilling in a pot full of ice. And Mozart’s Requiem Mass played from Silas’s laptop.
“You like it?”
Deven stepped from the bathroom, completely nude. While Silas liked to think this was his Christmas present, he knew that Deven spent his time naked whenever he could. The only kind of clothing he wore growing up in Aztaw had been enchanted corn husk armor, so if given the opportunity to eschew garments, he usually did.
Silas took a moment to simply admire the planes of Deven’s beautiful body. His handsomeness seemed all the more remarkable for Deven’s utter lack of self-consciousness about it. He’d learned to feel many things in the three years since returning to the human realm, but his unconventional upbringing permanently affected the awareness of his own appeal.
Deven’s muscles were less pronounced than when they first became lovers – two years of working as a consultant for the department meant Deven spent more time at a computer than chasing down demons, and he’d allowed a thin layer of flesh to cover his sinewy frame.
If anything, it added to his beauty. His long, dark limbs moved like shadows in the firelight, only the glints of old scars catching the light.
Silas took in the bouquet of flowers, the rose petals leading to the bed, the smell of beeswax melting from the candles, and choked back a laugh.
“I’m going to take one guess. You read a magazine article on romantic getaways.”
Deven’s anxious expression immediately collapsed. “Shit. I got something wrong, didn’t I?”
Silas laughed. He stepped out of his snow boots and moved closer. “Not wrong exactly. What was the name of the magazine?”
“Thought so. It’s a magazine for women.”
Deven glanced at his efforts. “Oh. So all these effects are…”
“Sort of a feminine version of a fantasy getaway, is all I’m saying. Except for the music, of course.”
Deven frowned. “It said soothing classical music would create a romantic mood.”
“They probably didn’t have a funeral mass in mind.”
Deven looked disappointed, and Silas chastised himself for enjoying it so much. The truth was, Deven did a pretty damn adorable pout when he screwed things up, which happened less and less frequently these days. So Silas took a moment to savor it, told himself he was being a dick, then moved in to make amends.
“I love it all, Deven. Thank you.” He put his arms around Deven’s warm body and drew him in for a kiss. Deven returned the kiss, but pulled back.
“No shit, Sherlock. I just walked a mile in the snow.”
Deven sighed. “I should go blow out the candles and pick up the rose petals.”
“It’s the thought that counts.”
“You always say that,” Deven complained.
“I always mean it.” Silas kissed him again, and Deven responded more this time, moving closer, his hands reaching around Silas’s back and down to gently stroke Silas’s ass.
“I’m also supposed to give you a back massage with soothing oil by the fire,” Deven mumbled against Silas’s lips.
Silas continued to kiss him, mouth lifting in a smile. He pulled off his shirt. “Oh yeah? What kind of soothing oil did they recommend? Lavender? Chrysanthemum blossom?”
Deven smiled. “I couldn’t find anything in the airport gift section so I just went with our Bodyglide anal lube, since it claims to also serve as a massage oil that won’t block pores.”
They kissed again. Silas ran his hands up Deven’s neck to cup his face, surreptitiously feeling for fever.
“I’m fine,” Deven insisted. “Whatever was ailing me was gone by this afternoon. Come sit by the fire with me.”
“I feel a little overdressed for the occasion, but all right.” Silas followed Deven, admiring Deven’s backside as he knelt down to sit cross-legged by the fire. Deven sat close enough to burn the average man, but growing up in the human equivalent of hell, he had an impressive tolerance for heat and discomfort.
Deven clearly wanted Silas to sit across from him, but the sight of Deven’s genitals within touching distance changed his plans. Instead Silas curled around Deven, removing his own clothes awkwardly while trying to maintain their embrace.
Deven laughed as Silas ineptly attempted to pull a sock off his left foot without removing his arm from around Deven’s waist.
“Want some help with that?” Deven offered.
“All I can get, thanks.”
Deven removed Silas’s socks, then frowned at the blisters under his toes. “That looks painful.”
Silas was busy nuzzling the warm, masculine smelling skin of Deven’s neck. “Hmmm?”
“Why didn’t you tell me your feet were in such poor condition? You need a foot massage more than a back massage.”
“It’s no big deal.”
“I would have gone to the store instead of you,” Deven said.
“With a fever of a hundred? I think not.”
“I’d be fine.”
Silas snorted against Deven’s neck. “Of course you would. You will always be fine, until one day you are dead. You don’t get it, do you?”
Deven turned in his arms to stare at him. His green eyes were always beautiful to Silas, but in the firelight they seemed as mythical as the northern lights that, the previous day, swirled above them in such dramatic majesty.
“Get what?” Deven asked.
Silas swallowed. He’d thought of many ways to have this conversation, and he wasn’t sure this was the best time. But it had been nagging at him all day, as Deven forced his sick body through the motions without even once pausing for a rest.
“You don’t get how much this pisses me off,” Silas said.
Deven frowned, and made as if to speak, but Silas put his hand over Deven’s mouth.
“Shut up. I’m not done,” Silas said. “I love you. I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. I love you at work, and I love you when I’m shooting my load, and I love you when we’re fighting, and I love you when you’re snoring into my arm pit.”
“I don’t snore—“
“Shut it. But the thing you don’t get is that I don’t get to love you, I don’t get to have you, if you are dead.”
Deven scowled. But he didn’t say anything.
Silas’s heart beat faster. He had to get it out now or never. “You take crazy chances. You dismiss aches and pains. You even ignored it when your hand caught on fire at that one bust, telling me it wasn’t anything a little ice and ibuprofen couldn’t cure. And now this – ill, in the middle of the fucking north pole, and you have a complete disregard of your own health.”
“I’m not going to die of a cold, Silas,” Deven started, but Silas shook his head.
“Not this time, but some time you will!” His voice was rising. “You take shitty care of yourself. I can’t make you improve for your own good, but I can beg you to take care of yourself for me. Don’t fucking make me imagine what my life would be like if I lost you now.” Silas glanced at the fire angrily, hating his own weakness, his own desperate need for a companion.
Because between them, it might have been Deven who was the novice when it came to life in San Francisco, sex, and being in a relationship, but it was Silas who was the more dependent, that had been obvious from the start. He hadn’t known the depths of his own bitter loneliness until Deven entered his life. Now that he had someone to share his time with, Deven was all he thought of. And the idea of losing him, like he’d lost Jake all those years ago…
No. He wouldn’t let it happen. He’d summon death gods and hunt up vampires, do whatever it took to keep Deven beside him.
Silas didn’t look at Deven, still too emotional. Deven gripped him by the jaw and forced him to make eye contact.
“Look at me,” Deven demanded.
Silas looked at him. Deven appeared frustrated.
“I’m trying. I’m trying as hard as I can. And trust me – I don’t want to die any more than you don’t want me to.”
“I doubt that—“
“I’m serious.” Deven caressed Silas’s face. “I know I still make a lot of mistakes. But I’m not going anywhere.”
“Well, good, because I bought more than just char at the store.” Silas felt foolish now, but he’d already made a spectacle of himself, he might as well go all the way with it.
He hunted through his discarded trouser pockets and fished out the Sami reindeer leather and silver ring he’d purchased at the tourist trap on his way into town. It wasn’t very traditional as far as rings went, but it was simple, and dark brown, and Silas thought Deven might like it.
“I got this for you, but then realized giving you a ring might be suggestive of some other meaning,” Silas explained hurriedly, noting Deven’s blank expression. “So then I almost didn’t give it to you, and then I realized I didn’t care if it had another meaning. In fact I wanted it to have another meaning. I wanted it to mean what a man giving another man a ring should mean.”
Deven blinked at the ring, then up at Silas. “I understood 10 percent of that.”
Silas laughed, despite himself, amazed at his own nervousness. “I guess I’m… fuck. You can put the rest of this together, can’t you?”
“I grew up in Aztaw. I know nothing of human traditions.” Deven said it convincingly, but the smirk in his expression told Silas that Deven knew exactly what the gift of a ring meant, and was torturing him.
“You bastard,” Silas said. “Here, take this goddamn ring and marry me, will you?”
“Well, when you put it that sweetly…” Deven took the ring and slipped it effortlessly on his middle finger. Then he frowned. “That’s wrong.”
“Correct hand, wrong finger,” Silas said gently. He grabbed Deven’s left hand and took the ring off and slipped it onto Deven’s ring finger. It was a little big, and would need to be adjusted, but it looked good against his dark skin.
“Your hand is trembling,” Deven said softly. Silas stared at his hand on Deven’s. Indeed it was.
“It’s negative five out there.” He swallowed. “And I just proposed, for fuck’s sake. Cut me some slack.”
Deven didn’t get emotional, or cry, or mock him, which were all the reactions Silas imagined normal men might engage in when presented with such an awkward proposal. Instead, Deven simply smiled his natural, careless grin, the kind that stole all the light from the room, the kind that banished the awful marks on his neck and the unnatural glow of his eyes and left behind a young, beautiful man, brilliant and brave and charming, and Silas felt as though the breath sucked from his lungs.
“I accept your marriage proposal,” Deven said solemnly. Then he laughed. “See? Women’s magazine or not, I knew that article wouldn’t lead me astray!”
Silas breathed out a sigh of relief, and gripped Deven to him. They simply held each other by the fire for a long moment before he said, “so that was your plan all along? With the rose petals and the beeswax?”
“Actually, no, I was just trying to seduce you into trying that sex toy you brought along, but the proposal is even better.”
Silas grinned. ”Let’s have both then. You know I’m wild about ass play. Just as long as we have enough lube left for this foot massage you’re promising me.”
Deven held his hand up for examination. They both stared at the silver of his ring, catching the firelight. What had seemed like a cute idea, then a terrible idea, then a stupid one, now seemed like the best decision Silas had ever made. The ring looked like it belonged on Deven, and the idea of it symbolizing the two of them made him feel, for the first time in years, content.
“Hey, what’s a traditional proposal in Aztaw like?” Silas asked, curious.
“The male soldier kidnaps the female he’s interested in and sells her into slavery, usually forcing her to work for the House of the Lord he serves. He later buys her freedom on the assumption she’ll marry him. Then he slits his penis with a razor and bleeds it on a bone of an enemy soldier he has killed and presents this to her to wear around her neck.”
Silas winced. “Fuck. There is nothing good about that place.”
Deven shrugged. “After a wedding ceremony they make hot corn popsicles? That’s a good thing.”
“Hey, it was your idea to try and find the good parts of my past, remember?” Deven complained.
“Right, right, I’m sorry.”
“So what first?” Deven asked, resting his hand on Silas’s aching foot. “Massage or sex toy?” Deven grinned. “Or a massage leading to sex toy? Or, less appealing, sex toy tapering disappointingly into a foot massage?”
Silas snorted. “Come on. After all these years you should guess what my answer would be.”
“I’ll go get the condoms then.”
Silas rubbed his hands together enthusiastically. “That’s my man!”
Deven solemnly held his hand over his heart. “For now, and for a long time to come.”