The midsummer solstice arrives on the twenty-first of June, a day as butter-bright and beautiful as any Hank’s ever awoken to. He hasn’t seen Connor now in nearly three weeks but he can feel him in the warm soil while he works in the garden well into the afternoon, that thrumming magic distant and faint at times depending on which way the wind blows, but ever-present all the same.
Hank brings a few flower cuttings into the house—fragrant gardenia, wild roses, a sunflower he intends to dry and use for roasting seeds later—and in return leaves out a humble offering on the small stone pedestal near the chimes at the heart of the garden. He doesn’t take much stock in old pagan beliefs, but then again he didn’t take much stock in fae folk, either, until he met Connor.
And so there’s no shame in his shallow dish of rock salt, fresh lavender, rose petals, and chamomile. He adds a drop of wildflower honey and the tiniest dash of brandy in an old thimble for good measure, leaving it there with some small hope that it may lure Connor out long enough to visit for a spell, even now at the peak of summer. But his offering stays untouched throughout the long afternoon, and by that evening the chimes begin to tinkle and spin in the breeze as they herald in an incoming storm. Daylight is swallowed up into an ironclad maw and the blue sky turns black as thunder rumbles in the distance, lightning already splintering across the horizon.
Hank ushers Sumo into the house and stands there in the center of the sprawling, wild garden, hair and shirt whipping in the strengthening wind. He cups his hands around his mouth as the first few drops begin to fall, feeling only a little foolish through whatever frantic thing is fluttering in his chest, calling out Connor’s name for the first time in weeks.
There’s no answer, of course. The garden’s magic seems to buzz around him as it awaits the storm’s arrival, though, crackling with something that makes the hair on the back of Hank’s arms stand up. Lighting flashes again, this time so close there’s no counting seconds until the thunder rumbles overhead, and then the sky opens up into a torrential downpour.
Hank stands there until he’s soaked, watching the water ruin his simple solstice offering. He calls Connor’s name a few more times to no avail, the sound of his voice getting swallowed up by the gale. At long last he turns and heads back inside, sodden to the skin but still reluctant in a way—if only Connor had sipped some of the brandy or left tiny footprints in the honey, he’d feel so much better about leaving him out in the storm.
It rains, and rains, and doesn’t stop. Water runs off the gutters and the sides of the house until Hank’s sure his flowerbeds would be flooded if it weren’t for the stone runoff paths he’d dug out in the spring. He takes a scalding shower and changes into night clothes before going to check on his dandelions in the window one last time, slightly sleepy now that the sun’s gone down but still lovely and yellow as can be. Their seasonal tenant is nowhere in sight, though, despite how much Hank had hoped otherwise.
He—he misses Connor. All the time, always, every day, even if he’s ashamed to admit it. The enduring guilt of wanting to know Connor’s safe and keeping him close and then genuinely wanting him to be wild and free plagues Hank most of the night. Sometimes feeling his presence in the garden isn’t enough, and Hank wishes he wasn’t so selfish. People aren’t meant to lay claim to the wilder magic sprung forth from the earth, especially not lonely old men who have nothing better to do but dig in their overgrown vegetable patch and talk to fairies.
Connor and his magic will always be there, Hank knows, but there’s no use in waiting around for things to be any different than they are. He’s thankful for what he’s got, make no mistake about that—but maybe he should think about getting a weeknight hobby somewhere else for a while. Try new things, meet new people. It seems both necessary and impossible all at once.
Hank stands by the dandelions and looks once more out the rain-streaked window before he pulls the curtain and goes to turn off the light. It’s late but the storm still carries on outside, shaking the house with the groan of thunder. He hopes Connor’s alright. It’s all he can really think about as he folds himself under the covers and into his empty bed, distractedly yearning for something he has no real business wanting.
Part of Hank wants to fight sleep but in the end it overcomes him anyway, gently pulling him below the drape of consciousness into a deep, peaceful slumber.
It’s still raining when Hank opens his eyes. Darkness shrouds his room, but it’s not so dark that he can’t see. He’s not sure what time it is—he might’ve just slipped off ten minutes or two hours ago—but his heart kicks in his chest like a snared jackrabbit when he blinks awake enough to see a tall, slim figure standing by his window, silhouetted there when a bolt of heat lightning branches across the sky outside.
Hank nearly shouts and reaches for his gun but his tongue feels stuck to the roof of his mouth, numb and uselessly silent. There’s a surreal but familiar feeling in the air, like the garden’s magic steeped strong and heady all around him, and when he watches two fine-fingered hands touch the dandelions in his window box, he understands he’s dreaming.
He stands, slowly, knees creaking as he climbs out of bed and walks over to the window. The figure before him is nearly as tall as Hank is, perhaps two or three inches shorter at the most. A far cry larger than typically being no bigger than a field mouse.
“Connor,” he says, finally able to speak again. His voice comes out in a rough but gentle sound, still a little hoarse from sleep. “What are you doing here?”
Connor turns and smiles, close enough that Hank can feel the warmth rolling off his skin, like he’d just been out lounging in the midday sunshine. Standing here in the flesh, larger than life and almost eye-to-eye with Hank, he’s pleasantly sun-kissed and freckled along the bridge of his nose. Hank’s eyes prickle in some phantom feeling when he catches the delicate scent of lavender and chamomile lingering between them. Maybe his small gift hadn’t been overlooked after all.
“I wanted to see you,” Connor says, and the soft, raspy sound of his voice makes a pleasant chill crawl along Hank’s spine. Connor reaches up and tucks a loose wave of silver hair behind Hank’s ear, palm cupping his jaw. It’s so warm, only slightly calloused from working outside, and painfully tender.
“I’ve missed you, Hank,” Connor says, smiling softly through a gentle sort of sadness that pulls around his eyes. God, he’s beautiful like this—ageless in such a peculiar way, where Hank doesn’t know if he’d be 25 or 45 in the waking world. Barefoot, wearing nothing but what looks like one of Hank’s old ratty t-shirts gone threadbare from being spun around the dryer for two decades. None of that matters, though, when Hank’s sleeping away his borrowed time.
“Come back to bed with me,” he murmurs, reaching up to touch Connor’s wrist where a pulse beats beneath his fingertips, gentle as moth wings. Hank may be dreaming but he wants this. There’s no reason to not give in to whatever small gift his mind wants to hand him, so he tips his face into Connor’s hand, leaving a crooked kiss between his ring and pinky fingers. “Please.”
Connor steps forward and folds himself into Hank’s arms without hesitation, mouth resting somewhere near the hinge of his jaw. Soft and so solidly real it makes Hank’s throat ache. Connor’s spread hands press against his lower back and drag up to his shoulder blades, drawing them closer together. His tight little belly flush against Hank’s gut, narrow hips seemingly made to fit just-so in his hands. Hank sighs in relief and sags against Connor, not wanting to cling out of any sad desperation but doing it anyway.
“Don’t worry,” Connor says, as if he can read Hank’s mind, and because that is where they are, Hank supposes he can. “I’m with you now.”
Connor turns and falls back into the unmade bed, watching as Hank presses a knee between his parted thighs and lowers himself down for a kiss. It’s sweet, almost chaste, but Hank doesn’t want it any other way. He slips his fingers beneath the hem of Connor’s shirt and feels the warm skin on his belly, the jut of both hipbones, a raised vein above the muscle that tracks toward the soft crease of Connor’s thigh. Just touching to touch for the sheer indulgence of it.
When Hank lies beside Connor and kisses the smooth column of his throat, the sweet sound Connor makes leaves him dizzy. Nothing about this is surreal despite it being a misfired figment of Hank’s lonely imagination. His bed, his room, the rain, and Connor’s soft, breathy sighs all accounted for, right there in his grasp. Nothing is slowed down or sped up in that uncanny, dreamlike way. It all simply…is.
Connor’s dark eyes find Hank’s through the dim light, shining there as he smiles again. He reaches out and touches Hank’s mouth, running the tip of a middle finger along his bottom lip in his own private moment of wonderment. And isn’t that strange, Hank thinks, feeling his neck flush warm and rosy. As if Connor had his own yearning questions, too.
“I’ve wanted this for a long time,” Connor says, soft, eyes cast low under the fan of his lashes. He looks up without shame so their eyes lock and it steals some of Hank’s breath away. “I’m sorry it took me so long to find you here again.”
Hank closes his eyes and nods, listening to the rain slide down the roof above them. Draws in an easy breath, waiting until his lungs hitch and fill before he finally exhales. There’s no reason to be nervous here, hidden away in this place only he can see. The only thing he needs to do is focus on Connor and let the rest unfold as it may.
“You don’t have to be sorry, baby,” Hank says, thumb making tiny circles on Connor’s bare hip. “I’m just dreaming.”
“Are you?” Connor asks, mischievous in a way, and then closes the small distance between them to brush their lips together again.
Thunder rolls like a drum full of stones outside, making the window panes rattle in the old house. Connor whispers his name between kisses and Hank remembers what he wants to do, how he wants to hold Connor for as long as he’s given. Not in one gently cupped hand, as he always did when Connor was so small and fragile in the box by his bed, but with two—this new shade of the tiny thing he loves spun out into a man who Hank can physically feel along every line and plane of his body. They’re so different, but still somehow one in the same.
“Show me,” Connor whispers, more urgent now as he presses himself against Hank and twines their legs together. What he wants goes unsaid, but Hank can feel it brimming in the room around them, tendrils of magic unfurling along the walls like climbing ivy. “Please, Hank.”
How do you make love to something—someone—as old and wild as the earth itself? Maybe it’s intuitive in a way, Hank thinks, as he lets Connor work his sleep shirt over his head and all the rest of their clothes fall together on the floor. Maybe he’s always known, deep down, keeping the truth of his own magic locked away where he couldn’t find it until the day he found Connor.
They’re still strewn diagonally across the bed, nestled there in the rumpled blankets, neither cold nor wanting to move. When Hank goes to reach for his bedside drawer Connor touches his hand and shakes his head, a lovely spark of knowing brightness in his eyes.
“Touch me,” he says instead, body unfolding beneath Hank like some deific flower, smooth skin dappled with a thousand moles and russet freckles. Hank slides his hands up Connor’s sides, feeling his ribs expanding as he draws in each new breath, and then tweaks a pink nipple between two fingers. Connor lets out a tiny sound and watches under heavy-lidded eyes, lips wet and parted, curls already a delightful mess where they fall over his forehead. There’s an endless expanse of him here and Hank doesn’t know where to begin, momentarily overwhelmed with wanting.
“There’s so much I want to…” he tries, the line of this throat bobbing in place. “You deserve so much more,” he rasps. He hopes Connor understands what he means.
“I know what I deserve,” Connor says, reaching up to take Hank’s face in his hands again. “It’s all right here.”
Hank bows over for another kiss so he doesn’t have to speak, feeling for a moment like he’s knelt there before Connor in silent prayer. He slides a gentle hand between his legs and reaches behind his balls to brush a fingertip against what he’s looking for, and when he finds it Connor gasps against his mouth, one knee already drawn up to bracket Hank’s hips in some mindless instinct.
Because this is a dream, and Connor is perfect, there’s no real resistance when Hank pushes two fingers into the divine heat of his body. His cock is heavy where it hangs between them, pressed somewhere against Connor’s hip, so close and yet so far from where he wants to be. They pant softly through a handful of stolen, heated kisses, Connor clinging to Hank’s shoulders as he’s stroked from the inside.
When Hank finally takes himself in hand and pushes in to the hilt, he goes quite still where he’s wrapped in Connor’s arms, overwhelmed, face pressed into the crook of his neck where he smells that wild lavender and damp, clean earth. He doesn’t cry, not really, but he makes a wounded sound that wells up from deep within his chest. Hank muses that he should be the one holding Connor, but somehow it’d wound up being the other way around.
The way they fit together is far better than any dream. Connor presses a kiss to the warm skin between Hank’s neck and shoulder and runs his fingers through his hair, tucking him impossibly closer so they’re chest to chest, breathing against each other in harmonized time. If Hank could look up he’d see the tears in Connor’s dark eyes, clear and bright as morning dewdrops.
“I love you,” Connor whispers, tracing old runes and invisible constellations across Hank’s back with a fingertip. He turns his face into Hank’s hair and closes his eyes, listening to the rain. “I always will, Hank. No matter what.”
“I know, baby,” Hank tells him. It’s so hard not to ask him why things can’t always be this way. So hard not to want more than just tonight, locked here inside his own mind. “I know.”
Hank steels himself, finding the strength within to move again. He hitches Connor’s other leg up around his waist and holds their faces close enough that the tips of their noses skim when he rolls his hips, swallowing up the moan that falls from between Connor’s lips.
Chills crawl up Hank’s calves and prickle along the backs of his arms as they fall into some mindless, rocking rhythm, the whole of it made more electric and intoxicating the longer it goes on. Hank imagines the garden outside as it shivers and trembles in midnight’s warm summer rain, spindly roots pushing deeper into the soil, leaves unfurling while tiny flower buds open like a baby’s fist. He can’t see it, but he can feel it with every cell in his body. Wherever he and Connor touch seems to bloom, too, hidden behind these same four walls where he nursed magic back to life.
When Connor’s close he wrap his legs around Hank’s waist, head thrown back, fingers pressing crude forgot-me-nots into Hank’s broad shoulders. He says something in a language long since forgotten and the veil between worlds grows as thin as sheer muslin. Thunder groans again in a primal sound and when Hank closes his eyes he swears they’re outside for a moment, wound together in the wild grass between everything he and Connor grew together.
They crest within moments of each other, sweat-damp and trembling, fingers laced and bodies so wonderfully ruined where they lay in the mess of blankets on the bed. When Hank’s breathing slows he pushes the curls off Connor’s forehead and kisses his face wherever his lips land—forehead, temple, and the ridge of one fine brow.
Gone soft but still inside Connor’s body, he thinks he can feel a second heartbeat thumping on the right side of his own chest, steady as a metronome. Connor’s searching hands squeeze the sides of his belly and then his ass, cheeky as anything, though his eyes still gleam with nothing but pure adoration. Hank wants to look into them forever, all the rest of it be damned.
When they finally pull apart it’s only long enough to tuck themselves under the covers and for Hank to pull Connor into his arms, content with that dark head of curls pillowed against his chest. The storm outside seems more subdued now, all the rain quieted to a whispering drizzle.
“Stay,” Hank says, just one word slipped free before he can stop himself. It comes out unbidden, a little shakier than he’d intended. He doesn’t want this night to end, but maybe that’s something he doesn’t trust himself to say aloud right now.
Connor scoots up and kisses him, soft lips warm at the corner of Hank’s mouth. “I never left,” he says, and even as Hank’s eyes slip shut again, he thinks that he really does believe it.
A long time ago somebody told him that if you truly love something, you’ll learn to let it go. So he’d opened his hands and let the thing he loved disappear into the garden, but maybe Connor never departed—he was there, everywhere, merely hidden out of sight.
All his love where it had always been, surrounding Hank wherever he walked on living soil under the wide open sky.
* * *
When Hank opens his eyes for the second time, full daylight is streaming in through the curtains, spilled through a crack in the drapes where it falls across his planted dandelions. The storm is over and Sumo pants happily at his bedside, apparently having nosed into the bedroom sometime during the night.
Hank’s alone in his bed, but he’d expected as much. It still doesn’t make the pang of something lost any less, even if whatever he’d had and felt was only an elaborate figment of his sleeping mind. He would never tell another living soul, but he’s thankful for the memory nonetheless.
After a mid-morning meal of soaked oats and rinsed fruit plucked from the garden, he walks outside, barefoot on the damp wooden deck. Everything is still wet and glistens under the rising sun, verdant and beautiful. If Hank were to put his ear down to the ground he imagines he could hear the soaked earth singing.
He cleans the ruined offering off the stone pedestal and watches water drip off the still chimes. There’s an urge to call Connor again, to see him in the flesh, but he bites his tongue and goes inside to tidy the kitchen and start his day. There are errands he can run in town, and even if he wanted to work in the garden, part of him wants to distance himself from it for a few hours. If he dwells too long on last night’s dream, he feels as if he’d linger long enough to get lost in the wilderness there.
The day wears on until the western sky begins to burn violet and fuchsia in dusk’s descending wake. Hank walks outside again, barefoot once more, and steps down off the deck to walk through the narrow paths he’s worn into the soil. When he’s bent over tidying around a clutch of auburn marigolds, he feels something painfully familiar tickle his neck, and then the tiniest pinch of laughter and magic thrumming behind his left ear.
Connor is dotted with dewdrops from walking amidst the flowers but presses a pinprick of a kiss to Hank’s jaw, resting his cheek there for good measure. When Hank reaches a hand back Connor stays where he is but hugs his thumb, his whole body no taller than Hank’s little finger.
The rush of relief Hank feels is enough to knock him flat on his ass in the dirt, sitting there surrounded by plants and foliage so high he can’t see the house from here. Perhaps this is what Adam felt like in the first garden, shielded away by the throes of untamed paradise.
“I’ve missed you,” Hank says, rough around the edges. He wants to hold Connor so badly, and cups his hand around him to press him closer up into the crook of his neck where Connor can’t see the wetness in his eyes. “I made some goddamn hippie Litha offering and everything.”
“I know, darling,” Connor says, pressing another little kiss against Hank’s throat. His whole body vibrates for a moment like a hummingbird shaking off rainwater, and then that tiny voice is back in Hank’s ear, tinged bashful but hopeful all the same. “Did you dream about me last night?”
If Hank were standing he’d have fallen over again, struck dumb. Perhaps he’s dreaming again, or in some fugue of a fever dream where all this was in his head from the start. “Yes,” he whispers anyway, holding Connor there in the dip of his collarbone while his heart thuds like a war drum in his chest.
“That was our magic, you know,” Connor says sweetly. “Yours, most of all.”
Hank nods dazedly, drawing in a ragged breath. He doesn’t really know what to say, or how to process it in full just yet. He simply runs a fingertip down Connor’s tiny back and says, “Thank you. I—I needed that.”
The sun sinks ever-lower in the sky and soon it’ll be dark again in the garden. Crickets chirp in the trees and where they’re hiding in the high grass, struck up in a twilight symphony. Sumo still hasn’t eaten supper and Hank will need to go inside soon to fill his bowl.
“We both did,” Connor says, a bit wistful himself, and maybe there’s nothing they can do to change things as they are, but Hank doesn’t think he’d give all this up for the whole world.
“Can I sleep with you again tonight?” Connor asks, quiet as a church mouse. Hank almost doesn’t hear him over the buzzing cicada song. “Like this—like we usually do.”
“Of course, sweetheart,” Hank says, a content rumble of warm laughter bubbling up from his chest. His shoulders sag under the weight of so much love and delight he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stand, but in the end that’s exactly what he does, Connor still sitting in the carefully cupped palm of his hand. “Anything you want.”
They head back inside together, guided home by the golden light shining from Hank’s windows. He grins when Connor dives off his hand and straight onto Sumo’s head, the two of them dancing around the kitchen, two dear friends reunited once more. Connor sits on Hank’s knee while they read aloud that night, enraptured by whatever story Hank draws from the pages of his book. Thunder rumbles somewhere far-off in the distance but rain never falls or touches down.
When they go to bed, Hank pulls his reading glasses off his face and settles down against his pillows before he turns off the light. Connor is there in an instant, quite comfortably snuggled in the loose waves of his hair, curled up and yawning in the little nest he’s made.
It’s good, and Hank’s whole heart feels soothed and contentedly full. Connor will be there this time when he wakes again in the morning and that’s all that truly matters. That’s all he can really be bothered to ask for.
Litha may be over for now, but there’s still so much summer left to be sown.