GARETH BLEW on his fingers to warm them. As a druid, he’d learned to respect all the seasons, but he had a higher esteem for some seasons than others. He didn’t really mind winter. He liked it, even, but on humid days like today, the air felt particularly frigid. Gareth felt out of sorts for completely irrational reasons, not just the weather. He had plans on pretty much the opposite end of the country for Alban Arthan, but here he was, in Cardiff.

It wasn’t his father’s fault he needed help. That was laid at the doorstep of the drunk who had slammed his car into Dad’s. Usually Gareth’s sister, Cerys, helped out until Dad was on his feet again, but she and her girlfriends had taken a holiday shopping trip to London for the weekend. Gareth had worried his boyfriend would be upset over the slight deviation from their plans, but Warun was okay with it. Things had been strained as of late, thanks to their unrelenting schedules, and it was making them both a little mental. Warun had stayed in Aberystwyth, since his vacation hadn’t started yet. What mattered most was their big plans for the holiday season wouldn’t change. Gareth hoped it would be just the thing to bring them back into harmony.

Gareth knew he shouldn’t complain too much. It was nice to spend some alone time with his dad, and today he had the chance to get some shopping in, plus pick up something for his sister from Dad. He didn’t really enjoy shopping much, but it felt good to get out without having to worry about grading anything or wondering if he was working too hard and ignoring Warun in the process. At least Dad was easy to shop for. He’d given his kids a list of books and magical supplies to divvy up. Good thing too, because Gareth was at a loss as to what to get an aging, widowed druid who had most everything he wanted.

Gareth stayed overly long in the bookstore but was glad this one had escaped the wrath of Amazon. Dad said e-readers were awkward to hold, and every time he ended up putting his fingers on the screen, only to get unintentional consequences. Gareth agreed. Something about real books made reading more organic. He found e-book content slipped out of memory almost immediately. Of course, toting around a canvas bag filled with his purchases made him have at least a few stray thoughts about the benefits of e-books.

Even though his whole family celebrated the solstice and not y Nadolig, Christmas, Gareth did like how festive the city looked under her holiday trappings. Cardiff had its pluses too. He took the time, as he often did, to stop by Mermaid Quay to spend a geeky moment with Ianto Jones’s memorial plaque. Geeks knew all too well what it was like to lose their fictional heroes, but Gareth really hated Ianto’s death. Not only was he bisexual, he was unapologetically Welsh. It didn’t hurt that the lucky bastard got to kiss Captain Jack Harkness.

By the time Gareth returned to his father’s home, he felt more exhausted than he did after a long day of lecturing to kids who didn’t want to learn. He’d never understand what made students major in a subject and not want to actually study it. Lately they all wanted to skip to the end to get the prize without earning it. He swore students were more willing to work when he was coming up. At thirty, thoughts like that made him feel like a grumpy old man. He needed his vacation to recharge his batteries. If he didn’t meditate, Gareth was half convinced he’d have killed a couple of the most entitled students. At least twice a week, Warun and he vented by trading Warun’s dumb patient tales for his stupid student stories.

His father’s cottage nestled on the outskirts of town, a bit rural so he could have a green space to practice his druidism. All the flower and herb beds were fallow at this time of year, but the long, low stone altar that most people thought was a bench stood out starkly in the far corner of the yard. Garth let himself into the house. His father smiled at him from the living room as Gareth shut the door.

“How did it go?” Dad asked, looking fairly comfortable in his recliner, parked in front of the telly. Gareth knew his dad was in pain after the knee surgery. He was lucky to keep his leg after the car accident. Still, Dad looked pretty good, all things considered.

“Good. I’ve got something for everyone. How are you? Need anything?”

“I’m good. Your man called.” Dad beamed.

“Did he leave a message?”

“Yes, turn your bloody mobile on.”

Shifting his packages to one arm, Gareth dug his mobile out of his pocket. “Forgot to charge it.” He continued into the spare bedroom to drop off the gifts, feeling foolish. What if his father had needed him? He’d have to be less absentminded. He added today’s purchases to the growing pile of gifts in the corner before sitting on the bed to take off his shoes. The guest bed was pretty rubbish. Gareth wouldn’t be sleeping there much longer, but he’d be back in this room the day after Christmas when his family got together for the holidays. He was tempted to let Dylan and Mary have this bed while he and Warun went to a hotel, but after the trip he had planned for Alban Arthan, money might be tight.

He picked up the bed-stand phone and dialed Warun, hoping he recognized the number. Gareth smiled when he heard Warun’s voice saying hello. “Hi, sorry about that. I forgot to charge the phone.”

“Trying out for the absentminded professor cliché?” Warun sounded amused instead of annoyed.

“I’m already there, you git.” Gareth laughed. “What’s up? Not having a bad day, are you?”

“It’s the holidays. It brings everyone into hospital for some reason.” It sounded like Warun was stifling a yawn, and it was only midday. “I can’t wait to get away. But I was just calling to see how you were holding up playing nursemaid. How’s your dad? He sounded good but pained. I think he had just come back from therapy when I called.”

“He’s doing good. I finished the y Nadolig shopping, and I even have the caleniggs made for my niece and nephew to give away,” Gareth said, referring to the holiday charms made of almond-studded apples with their little evergreen twig feet. The custom of giving them predated Christianity, but the Welsh Christians had bundled it into their traditions. His older brother, Dylan, had converted to Christianity when he had met his wife, Mary, and his kids liked to gift friends with caleniggs. “It’s good here, but I miss you.”

“Miss you too. It’s good to hear your voice, but I have to get back to it before the nurses hunt me down. I’ll call you back when I get home,” Warun said with another short yawn.

“I’ll be here.”

When Warun had said his good-byes, Gareth felt a little better. Warun was as ready for a holiday as he was. Gareth worried what he had planned might just be the wrong thing. It was a risky trip, but he hoped the high-end hotel he’d chosen would offset the rest of his planned surprise holiday gift for Warun. He’d be nervous about it until it happened. There was nothing to do for that. Even if he and Warun hadn’t been so waspish lately, he’d worry about this trip.

Gareth walked to the kitchen to put on the kettle. He could use a little warming up. While the water heated, he joined his father. “Did you get any good news from the therapist?”

“After all the bad news, it was great to get a little good news today. She was impressed with the range of motion I have.”

Gareth patted his dad’s shoulder, sitting down on the couch. “Tell me all about it.”

His dad smiled and did just that.