A Fairytale (part 1)
Francis was almost nine years old when he first felt the call. It came on like a fever, swaddled him with an ache he felt down to his bones, and all he could remember was the terror. He woke up sobbing a tuneless song of heartache, and his parents had to keep him from school. They worried for him, his father with wet towels and frantic research, and his mother with soothing words and crooning embraces as he cried into her blouse.
He realized what it was the third day of it, an aged memory piercing through his confusion like a bell chime in his skull. That day, his fear swallowed up his distant grief into something worse, a worm in his mind. Francis tried to hide it. He had come so long without remembering that he prayed ignoring it would let him forget again. But his parents cared too much to let him be, and every time they asked him how he felt or said his name with so much tenderness, it was a brand of guilt on the little boy’s heart. And so, on his ninth birthday, he confessed.
Between cake and the presents, he sniffled and blinked away his tears. “Mom,” he said, tasting the sweetness of the word on his tongue before he might lose it forever. “Dad?” He looked at them both, their dark eyes bright with attention. People used to tell his parents that he had his mother’s nose and father’s smile. Francis knew they had been lying, now.
“I’m,” the boy started, but faltered. No child should have to say such words, but he took in a shuddering breath, drew himself up with a dignity beyond his years, and let the words spill from his lips. “I’m not your real son,” he said, quieter than he intended, but it was enough.
The people he called his parents exchanged a look. His mother edged closer, laying a gentle hand over his shoulder. “Of course you’re our real son,” she said, furrowing her brow. “Sweetie, what’s this about?”
“I mean that I remember— no, I feel—” and despite his best efforts, Francis was wracked with sobs again. He pulled away from his mother, rising from his chair, scrubbing the tears from his eyes with a sleeve. And then, the boy let his glamor melt away. Clumps of shed magic glistened at his feet, like the peel of a snake. His father gasped, and Francis averted his gaze, knowing that his eyes would be hopelessly, frighteningly green and his skin would be blue as pale forget-me-nots.
“I remember now,” he whispered, curling in on himself. “I’m a changeling. The real Francis was taken by the fey, and they left me instead. I’m not your real son. If you want me go away, I will.”
The silence fell over them like a curtain on a play, and Francis knew that this was the end. He hated this, hated the shock slapped across his parents’ face, and more than anything, the little boy hated himself. The thought that he had taken the real Francis’s place tore him apart. Being so slow to realize that he was a fake shamed him.
Francis had always known he was different, from the way people watched him grow. Songs had come to him years before his speech. He saw things in the sunlight that others could not, and people whispered when he laughed at nothing. But his parents had been patient and given him answers for that – something about apraxia, something about a spectrum – and all it had meant was that he was human. He was a human, a person, with all the flaws and differences that came with being one. Except somehow, somewhere in his heart, he had known that he should not have felt such bone-searing relief at being recognized as a human.
And now he felt the call, an inborn longing for a home he never knew, and he hated that too, hated himself for it. He hated himself for being selfish and clinging to his stolen parents. He loved them. He loved how his father swung him off his feet and the soft smell of his mother’s skin. He loved their pride and love for him, their comfortable city home, and how could he, how dare he be so awful as to think that this wasn’t enough? How dare he wish to be somewhere he never knew? He didn’t, not in the slightest, but he did, and when his parents rejected him for the monster he was, he wouldn’t be left with a choice.
In his distraction, the boy didn’t notice that the moment was over, missed his parents’ shared look. He was, however, startled from his desperate mourning by his mother’s soothing grip on his shoulders. “Francis Jonathan Morrow,” she said. “We did not raise a stranger these last nine years.”
“You are our son,” his father said, with a complicated twist to his face and voice, but Francis could feel the honesty warm in his words. “What happened to our baby will… It’s awful, but we have you, now.”
“We love you, sweetie,” his mother crooned, and pulled him close despite his miscolored appearance, despite knowing the terrible truth. “But thank you for being honest with us, Francis. That must have been so hard, my poor sweetheart…”
And just like that, it was okay, and so the child of the fair folk snuggled into the fold of his mother’s arms and cried and cried and cried.
As Francis was not abandoned by his parents, he eventually learned to ignore the call. It was an agonizing process, and his first years of secondary school were excruciating for everyone involved. In the beginning, his attention would drift to mirrors, his gaze distant as if looking out a window, and his parents in a fright would rush to distract him. At school, he sometimes clutched desperately at his chair, willing himself to stay when all he wanted to do was take flight and disappear into the ether. His teachers labeled him a daydreamer, and his classmates shied away when he approached.
However, by Key Stage 4, most of the restlessness had passed. His longing for the homeland of his heritage was still a deep-rooted ache, but it had dulled. As he entered his teenage years, Francis learned to recognize it as a chronic condition, and though it sucked, he learned to live with it. Dealing with the impulse just became another process, like breathing or falling asleep.
Of course, since that day he remembered his nature, other things had changed too. Francis and his parents had all read up on faerie folklore to fill in the gaps in Francis’s innate knowledge. His parents were from America, and they hadn’t grown up with tales of the fey. Even living in the London, it was hard to find the stories and even harder to separate the truth from fiction.
One truth they learned quickly was that the rashes Francis frequently acquired in childhood weren’t spontaneous but an allergy. Faeries loathe cold iron, all the folktales said, because it burned their skin. As Francis grew older and felt his magic both develop and return to him, the rashes soon grew to blistering burns. The problem was that what the stories meant by ‘cold iron’ was lost to time, and on occasion, modern steel would sting him too. He learned to wear slacks and long sleeves on nearly all occasions. He learned to carry gloves in his bag.
Fortunately for Francis, at his frankly all-too British school, all his idiosyncrasies were written off as him just being “that bloody American,” and they all laughed about it together. He was one of them. He had friends. He was accepted in school and in home. Francis was basically human. Though he longed for a home he never knew, Francis was sure that he had no desire to know it.
He was, dare say it, happy. Despite being a cuckoo bird, shoving the biological chick from the nest, a parasite, Francis was happy. He didn’t know how to feel about that, torn between guilt to his parents’ son, the boy they would never get to know, and joy at his own life as he thrived. He knew his parents weren’t completely okay with what happened to their infant, stolen away in the night. He had seen his father read the tales of changelings, pore over the ballad of Tam Lin with a frown. He had seen his mother look through the baby albums, scanning the snapshots for some indication of when their babe had been replaced.
However, he also never doubted that they never blamed him, and that was enough.
“That exam was utter rubbish!” Emma exclaimed, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “We didn’t cover Chapter 9, did we?”
“Pretty sure the substitute was supposed to,” Francis said, stuffing his textbook away. He didn’t tell his friend that his marks would be fine – he’d gone home and studied the chapter on his own. “Are you tutoring today?”
“No, not Fridays. We scheduled a crew meeting to discuss winter practice, but too many people are absent, so my mum’s picking me up,” she replied, and that was one of the little differences between Francis and his peers – despite raised in London all his life, Francis’s mother was forever Mom. This difference, however, was mere human culture, and he was fine with that. He embraced that.
“Yes, well, my mom will be expecting me to make my own way home today,” he said, snickering at the roll of Emma’s eyes. “Could I possibly catch a ride with you?”
Emma crossed her arms. “What’s the magic word?”
Hearing her, Henry peered his head in from the corridor. “Oh, I know this! Please, it’s please! Let me?” he said, earning an exasperated slump of the shoulders from the girl.
“Henry, you live an eight-minute walk away,” she sighed, and Francis grinned.
“Come on, Emma, what’s one more? It’s on the way anyway,” he said, and as usual, when faced with Henry’s theatrics and Francis’s sound logic, Emma was forced to concede. Not only did her mother drop them off, but she gave him and Henry the biscuits she had left over from some function. Of course, Francis still had the best mom, with her health and heart and unyielding love for him, but Emma’s mother was a close second.
It was all so normal, such an ordinary day, that Francis hadn’t expected anything when he walked through his front door. He certainly didn’t expect three people on his sofa, one of them a total stranger.
His mother had tears in her eyes, and his father had removed his glasses, which was basically the same thing. They looked at him how Francis imagined he had at them when caught sneaking a cat into the house for the first time. He knew in his gut, however, that this situation would not end in laughter. It couldn’t possibly when his parents were ashen with guilt and this stranger – his own age, Francis realized – stared at him with wide, harrowed eyes.
For a long moment, no one spoke, long enough for Francis to catalogue this strange boy’s appearance. Dark hair and dark eyes, just like his parents. Just like he used to have. Ever since the day of his confession, Francis’s glamor had malfunctioned, his hair burning to copper and his eyes shifting to a more human, but still striking, shade of green. If this unknown boy weren’t barefoot, weren’t wearing scraps of clothing, didn’t have eyes swollen and red with salt, the three of them might have been posing for a family picture. Francis had quite a few family pictures taken on that sofa. They were hanging on the walls.
Sniffling, his mother spoke first. “Francis, this is…” she said, and her voice wavered with heartbreaking disbelief, both like her dreams had come true and her world had shattered around her. Francis didn’t know what she meant to say, whether it was ‘the real Francis’ or ‘our son’ or ‘your brother’, and he didn’t get to find out when his mother rushed the conversation along. “Francis, he’s made his way back to us.”
Francis could see that. He had felt it in the air the moment he saw them all, but he had wanted to be wrong. He wanted to say something – I’m happy for you, perhaps – but all that came out was a quiet, “Oh.”
There was a scream in his mind, and Francis was, for a moment, terrified that it had burst from his throat. He soon recognized it as an instinct, something like a flight-or-fight response, except faeries did not flee and they certainly did not fight. Faeries, it seemed, would feel, and Francis felt a flash of terror dance across his nerves.
Light crackled around him, for less than a second, but with enough force to punch holes into his glamor. He felt the veil fall way from part of his face, and he flinched, clapped a hand to the gaping hole. He didn’t care about being outed as fey – his parents already knew – but Francis was terrified that, beneath his mask of human surprise, they would glimpse the feral fright. And the anger. He was sick with fear, but he felt the first stirrings of being drunk with rage, and he knew it to be a faerie thing. Just for that, he hated it.
“Francis, what’s wrong?” his father said, dragging over another chair. “Come here, son. Have a seat.”
Any relief at being called ‘son’ was dashed away by the look on the other boy’s face. The other boy had heard too, and Francis could see the accusation sharpen to needles in his eyes. Whereas Francis was desperate to hide his anger, this boy’s face melted into it. He was used to it. The other boy clenched his fists so hard that his arms shook with the force of it.
“Changeling,” his parents’ son whispered, and it was a slap to the face. Francis froze midway into his seat, breath catching in his chest.
“Sit down, Francis,” his father insisted, gently, guiding him into the chair. “Let’s all just talk for a while. It’s been a pretty big day.”
For them, perhaps. To Francis, it had been a perfectly normal day. Completely ordinary. And now it had veered off to become the true worst day of his life.
His mother shifted closer to this strange boy, took him by the hand, and Francis couldn’t look away from that connection. “He’s been through a lot, Francis,” she said. “The old stories were vague, but the sense of them was right. He was never treated as his own person.” Her voice broke off, and fresh tears welled. Francis wanted to reach out to her, hug her, and tell her things would be okay now. He didn’t get the chance when the other boy wriggled closer and butted his head against her arm like a lamb.
“Mama, it’s okay,” the boy said, with British inflection, words too old and tone too young for a boy of fourteen, and Francis’s skin crawled with revulsion when the boy reached for his mother’s face.
Francis had spent years now studying how to be human, so all the things others might overlook were obvious to him, bright and suspicious as neon signs. The strange fluidity to this boy’s movements. The hint of a song to the sweetness of his voice. Fey, fey, everything about this boy screamed fey, but he was being accepted as human without any effort at all. Francis could only watch with dismay as his mother crumbled into her supposed son’s touch.
“Mama, I’m here now,” the boy crooned again, and Francis grasped for his suspicions but lost hold of them. The boy was genuine. Francis could see the tears welling up from some dark corner of his heart where he had locked them up, and he could see the moment the boy dared to believe this was real, trembling fingers twisting into Francis’s mother’s long hair. Francis stood down. It wasn’t his place to intervene in this.
He was about to whisper to his father that he’d be in his room, when the boy turned sharply, with murder in his eyes, and pinned Francis like a butterfly with a look. “So you can leave,” he said, words like a winter chill.
Panic. Panic filled Francis’s lungs like static, and he could only look at this boy with disbelief. How dare he, Francis wanted to think. How could he, how dare he try and cast Francis from his home. How dare he try and come out of nowhere and take away Francis’s place in this precious family – but no matter how he wished he could, Francis couldn’t think this, because Francis’s place wasn’t his own in the first place. He had stolen it all from this boy first.
‘If you want me to go away, I will,’ he had told his parents all those years ago, and though he had never brought it up, the offer still stood. If his parents, loving and generous, ever decided he wasn’t worth it, he would keep his silence and leave, for them. But until then, until they told him to leave in their own words, Francis would be as selfish as he was allowed.
“No,” he said, and even that one word came out strangled. Francis would leave for his parents, and he was terrified, almost sure that they would tell him to now – that they had no use for him now that the lost son has returned – but for this boy? Never. The boy would have to kill him first. From the bright blackness of his eyes, it was beginning to look like he might.
Francis’s mother put a hand on the other boy’s head, and looked at Francis with a small smile. Some of the panic eased. He wouldn’t be sent off today, at least, and so he let the tension ebb away as she shifted her attentions back to her son. “Darling?” she murmured, and the boy snapped to attention like Francis had seen puppies do at a whistle. “Francis isn’t going anywhere. He lives with us, and he’s a part of our family. He’s your brother.”
It was the wrong thing to say. The boy’s sun-kissed skin drained pale, and he looked upon Francis’s mother with terrible, heartbreaking horror. “No,” he started, shaking his head. “No, I’m not that thing’s brother.”
And it was the wrong thing to do, Francis knew, he knew that he should be patient and understanding towards this child – he was a kidnapping victim, for God’s sake – but Francis felt his heart pound in his chest and heard the blood in his ears and was on his feet before he knew it. “‘That thing?’” he echoed, incredulous. Fear had its hold on him now, sinking its claws deep into him. “I’m no less a person than you are!” he said to the boy, but for his parents to hear, reminding them that he was here too. He may not be human, but he was a person too.
But the boy had stopped hearing him, instead fixing his owlish eyes on Francis’s mother. “You don’t need him anymore, Mama,” he pleaded, tugging her shirt. “I’m here now! He’s a changeling, he’s supposed to leave! He’s not supposed to be here!” And the boy started to break into hysteria, breaths too-quick, and when Francis’s mother failed to give him the right response, he turned to reach for Francis’s father. “Papa, please! You love me, don’t you? Please, please, send him back! He’s lying to you, he doesn’t care! They all lie! He doesn’t love you, he just wants to hurt you – to hurt me, like the rest of them did!”
Francis couldn’t take this. “Don’t speak for me!” he shouted, stomping one foot forward, and the rest of his glamor shattered with a crack like glass. Both his parents snapped their eyes to him as if he’d set off a gun, and their son went still in their arms like he’d been shot dead. He wasn’t even breathing, from the looks of it, while Francis gasped like he was drowning. His mask was gone. He was exposed. With his too-keen senses, he could see his reflection in his parents’ dark eyes, and he could see his face ruined with terror, his green eyes sparked with rage.
Shutting his mouth and swallowing, Francis swept an arm across his face and cast a new glamor. He willed it to look as composed as possible, but his voice was still hoarse when he said, “I’ll be in my room,” and stalked away.
He was halfway up the steps when his father crept up behind him. “There’s strawberry cake in the fridge,” he said, and Francis’s throat grew tight with tears.
“Maybe later,” he said, and tried to walk away again.
“Francis, look at me.”
His father said it like it was an easy request, and maybe it was since Francis did it so readily. He still felt like his heart was coming apart at the seams, but he saw the small smile on his father’s face, and somehow he managed a shaky one back.
“That’s my boy. Come on, I know you can’t say no to strawberry cake.” His father lilted his words in a song, and despite everything, Francis managed to laugh, just a little. It was like everything awful was slipping off his shoulders, and the pressure in his chest eased, just a little.
“No, I can’t,” he admitted, and followed his father to the kitchen. “And I’ve said before, Dad, it’s strawberry shortcake. They’re two entirely different things.”
And so when later his parents swapped places and his mother came in to assure him that he would always be beloved and dear to them, that this changed nothing, Francis could almost believe her.
His parents’ real child was broken.
The boy knew nothing of the modern world, confused by technology, and unable to do things that came so easily to Francis, such as reading. Strange things set him off, and he slammed windows shut at birdsong or the neighbor’s cat and sometimes ducked his head at eye contact. That last issue was with Francis’s parents, of course, seeing as the boy refused to acknowledge Francis’s existence. If Francis got within ten paces of him, the boy went still and silent, eyes going blank like his spirit had gone a thousand leagues away.
Awful as it was, Francis prayed that this would be enough for his parents to choose him over their son. He hated himself for it. He knew it was a terrible thing to think. Regardless, the sentiment was there.
God, Francis needed to get out of the house. He needed to get his thoughts in order, but his parents had kept him in for the weekend and now pulled him from school for the day. They were insistent, and if Francis was weak to their requests before, he was hopeless to them now. Anything to feel needed.
Worse, the call was stronger now. He could feel it like wires notched into his bones, and his unknown heritage hoped to string him along as if he were a puppet. The one upside to the disaster of the true son’s return was that it consumed Francis’s mind so much that he had no thoughts to spare for the call, and it also made Francis all the more determined to stay. Even so, he wasn’t sure that was worth the frayed nerves.
Frayed. Frey. His parents were calling their son Frey, seeing as the boy had no name he was willing to share with the class. His parents thought they sounded nice together, Francis and Frey.
To Francis, the names were too similar, and he couldn’t stop thinking how the name Frey could become Francis with no trouble at all. It was becoming increasingly obvious that they couldn’t both stay in the same home. For three days, now, they’d had to divide up the house to the living room and kitchen, Francis in one and Frey in the other, with Francis’s parents swapping places every few hours. Francis wondered if this was how Emma’s household had felt before the divorce and was immediately sorry. He had no doubt his parents loved each other. It was completely different. He wouldn’t belittle her experience out of his own misery.
It was time for another swap, and Francis only noticed when his mother set down a tray of tea and sweets. “What are you working on, sweetheart?” she asked, as always, at the wrong time, since Francis had immediately stuffed a strawberry scone in his mouth. She poured him a cup of tea while she waited. He could tell by the aroma it was his favorite, breakfast tea, despite it being mid-afternoon.
Swallowing, Francis covered his mouth before answering. “Homework,” he said, through the crumbs. “I got Henry to text me the assignments.”
“Ah, Henry…” His mother trailed off with a fond smile. That was another reason his mother was the best. She liked Francis’s friends, even the less-than-ideal ones. “Make sure he isn’t giving you the wrong pages as a joke.”
Francis pulled a face, feeling rather gullible indeed. That was exactly the kind of thing Henry would do. “I’ll ask Emma,” he muttered, and his mother laughed, and for a moment it was like nothing had changed. His mother was still his, and he was still her son, secure and happy.
But of course things had changed. “I worry about your brother, Francis,” she said, bringing her voice down to a murmur. “He won’t eat. We got him a glass of water last night, and he was so sick – I don’t know what we should do.”
If she noticed Francis go rigid, she didn’t say. She wasn’t even looking at him, staring instead at the gold ring on her left hand. And really, he was fourteen, he should have had more sense, more self-control than this, but any he had possessed in the past kept slipping through his fingers.
“Not my brother,” he said, wanting to clap a hand over his mouth as he spoke, but he kept talking. “He’s not related to a ‘thing’ like me, remember?”
The silence that followed was too long, and Francis felt his pulse jump in his wrist. He tried to pick up a pencil and finish his homework when he remembered that he was waiting for Emma’s reply and set it back down.
“I’m sorry,” he said after a moment.
“You don’t need to apologize, Francis. I’m waiting for you to look at me.”
This time, that request seemed the hardest thing in the world. If he looked his mother in the eyes, she might see the ugly hopes he was keeping close to his chest. Hopes that they would choose Francis. Hopes that they would give up on Frey.
He heard his mother sigh, and an arm snaked around his shoulders. Even when his mother pulled his head into the crook of her neck, he stared at his open textbook on the coffee table. His vision was a little blurry, and he wondered for a moment if faeries could end up needing glasses too. And then he hated the thought, because now, because of Frey, he was beginning to remember that he wasn’t human.
The call thrummed in the back of his mind.
“Francis, I know this is difficult,” his mother said, and Francis could feel the vibrations of her throat against his temple. “It’s strange and new – it’s strange and new for your father and me as well.”
Which was the problem. Soon they would realize that ‘strange and new’ were stand-in words for ‘as it should be’, and Francis would be left homeless, and the call would leave him homesick for the wrong place. He was disgusted with himself just imagining it.
“But this doesn’t change anything important, sweetie. We still love you.”
“I know you still love me,” Francis said, because that was the truth. It was whether they would continue to love him just the same that was the real question, but that was better left unsaid.
“And I know Frey is saying some hurtful things right now, but try to understand. He was trapped in the otherworld, without anyone to care for him in the ways humans need. You read the stories,” she said, and slowly pulled away from him. “He just needs time to get used to you.”
This was the part where Francis says ‘I know,’ and they would hug and make promises and things would get better. But Francis couldn’t say that because it would have been a lie. He couldn’t say that he knew when he still felt the wound from the daggers in the boy’s eyes. Francis didn’t think his mother could understand, what it felt like to be the object of someone’s hatred, to be everything wrong with someone’s world. There would be no ‘getting used to it’.
“Has he said how he escaped?” he asked, scribbling idly in his notebook. Jagged, pointless lines.
“He won’t say. Sometimes he says that it doesn’t matter, and sometimes he freezes like he’s trapped by a memory. Your father and I don’t want to push him.” His mother’s phone buzzed from the pocket of her skirt. She saw whatever message it was and, despite her growing melancholy, smiled. “Look at your brother,” she chuckled, showing Francis the screen. Her voice was tinged with relief.
It was a photo. Apparently Francis’s father had thought pancakes an appropriate 3pm snack, and his son had no concept of cutlery. Frey had taken a perfectly golden pancake, soaked in real maple syrup, and was tearing off dripping strips with his bare hands. He had his mouth open like a bird, tongue sticking out, guiding the pancakes into his mouth. Now that he was listening for it, Francis could hear his father’s boisterous laughter from the kitchen.
Francis didn’t find it funny. He found it resentful, how this boy who didn’t even know how to use a fork and knife, who looked fourteen and acted half that age, had already taken away half of Francis’s home. Fortunately, he didn’t get a chance to say any of this as his mother rose to head for the kitchen. “Your father needs some adult time if he’s laughing that hard. I’ll go clean up your brother,” she said and squeezed his shoulder as she passed.
Feeling the lingering heat of her hand, once his mother was out of sight, Francis buried his face in his arms. “Not my brother,” Francis whispered under his breath.
Henry dropped his textbook on the desk and Francis near fell from his chair. “What was that for?” Francis snapped, expecting to see a petulant grin. His anger fell short when he saw his friend’s tight twist of a frown. Francis adapted his question. “What’s wrong?”
“I should be asking you that, Fran.”
“Don’t call me tha—”
“You, my friend, have been out of it,” Henry said, pointing a finger-gun in emphasis. “And I mean worse than Key Stage 3.”
Francis flinched at that. He must have been really, as said, ‘out of it’ for Henry to bring up seventh year. He was the only other student in the school who, like Francis, had transferred to a different school upon entering Key Stage 4. As it so happened, they had transferred from the same school. Francis was glad for it, and their shared isolation in a new social setting was how they had become friends. One of the unspoken conditions of that friendship had been to ignore Francis’s strange behavior from their former school.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Francis sighed, sinking down in his desk. He hadn’t even been trying to lie, but as the words floated from his mouth, he wished he had made a little effort. That sounded pathetic.
“And winter holidays don’t start this week. Now if what you say is true, that’s true as well. Do you really want to cancel winter hols for everyone?” Henry leaned in on the desk, a glimmer of his humor blunting his concern. Francis tried to smile and failed.
It had been a week and a half since Frey’s return, and Francis felt like he’s been falling that whole time. He’d spent the first moments terrified, panicking, scrabbling for purchase so he could find stable ground, but now he was just tired. He was sick of being frightened of hitting the bottom. It would happen eventually, and now Francis just hoped he would hit hard and fast enough to break his neck. It would be painless.
“I’m just tired, is all,” Francis said, and it was convincing because that was part of the truth. “My parents have been busy,” also part truth, “and our plans for the holiday are ruined.” Truth.
“So you’re feeling a bit miserable, is that it?”
Francis rolled his eyes. “Well, when you put it that way,” he grumbled.
He didn’t want to tell Henry about Frey. It wasn’t like he couldn’t conjure a plausible excuse, omitting all talk of faeries and heritage and the call, but Francis didn’t want anyone to know about Frey. The more people knew about the whole situation, the more impossible it would be to make it all go away. It would make the change too permanent, too real, and Francis couldn’t take that.
“Well, cheer up. If you’re ready to loosen up on those morals of yours, you can swing by my house. My brother’s brought home some good beer, and he’s supposed to be cutting himself off.”
Francis, caught off guard, gave an undignified snort. “So your solution is underage drinking instead?”
“By two years!”
“In America it’s seven.”
“I’ve said it before, but your country is stupid.”
And Francis laughed, and Henry laughed, and this was fine. The normalcy of school, the human company, the unspoken acceptance – if he had this, Francis could stay sane. The call was a quiet murmur, drowning bubbles under the water of their simple humor, and it was okay.
“I’ll go, but just to make sure you don’t crack your head open while sloshed,” he said, slapping Henry on the back. Francis would get his fill of his humanity while he could, before he had to go home and confront his other nature. He wouldn’t worry about winter holidays quite yet.
((Because this story is technically going to end up novelette length, it seems, I will be dividing it into two weeks. It fits next week’s prompt anyway, so we’ll see how this goes.))