Masterpost on AO3 (Not yet complete)
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter, El; Gen-ish
Word count: 650
Notes: While uploading this series to AO3, I realised that I'd never posted a few of these fics to my journal.
The Feast of the Exceptional Rose falls around Valentine's Day, and is a time for celebration in the Neath.
Summary: Masks are not required for the Feast of the Exceptional Rose, but they are expected.
"I wasn't aware it was compulsory," Peter said, slightly put out. Especially since Neal's expression was completely hidden behind the tarnished silver of the frost-moth mask he wore.
"Well, it isn't if you want to reject the whole spirit of the festival," Neal said, annoyingly cheerful. He bounced a little on the balls of his feet. "Are you ready?"
"Coming!" El called, testing her tigress's lead. Satisfied, she stepped up behind Peter. "Hon, don't you have a mask?"
Peter sighed. "Oh, you too?"
She laughed, and patted him affectionately on the arm. She was wearing a lacquered butterfly mask in bright colours that matched her dress, and as she pressed Neal's hand in greeting the two of them looked very much like a matched set.
Peter swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat. Not jealousy — never that, they would never leave him behind — but a sadness. Regret, rather, that he never seemed to fit the Neath the way both Neal and El did, wrapping it around themselves and wearing it like a garment, or a perfume.
"Come on," Neal said, with another slight bounce, and took Peter's arm.
"Even though I don't have a mask?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Neal said, and pulled him into motion. El fell into place on the other side of Peter, and with her tigress padding along a step behind they strolled down the Hill in the light evening breeze. His companions looked beautiful, and he felt slightly shabby in comparison.
His melancholy lingered as they mixed into the crowd, masked people and things-that-were-probably people swarming around them. Neal and El tipped their hats to half a dozen passing representations of animals and mythical creatures. Peter didn't recognise any of them, but gave an encouraging smile to a rather dejected-looking Rubbery Man, wearing a mask of a Rubbery Man, and was rewarded by it twitching its tentacles with renewed confidence.
"So what's happening at the Carnival?" he asked.
"There's an Oriental Pleasure Garden," Neal answered, eagerly
El gave a disdainful sniff. "Or rather, what Mrs Plenty thinks an Oriental Pleasure Garden might have been like, based solely on research from Penny-Dreadfuls."
"Well, yes," Neal acknowledged. "But I hear they've got a false Rose so good it's fooled several experts."
"How can you be an expert in something that blooms only once a year, only a handful of people have ever seen in person, and is surrounded by more superstition than even the urchin-gangs can keep track of?" Peter asked.
Neal and El looked at each other. "Quite easily," they said, at exactly the same time.
Peter chuckle. "Somehow, I was expecting that answer."
"I admit to nothing, hon," El said, and touched her hand to his cheek in lieu of a kiss.
They paused just before the Carnival gates, just out of the flowing current of the crowd, while El fished for the roll of tickets in her bag. Neal eyed some of the stalls, and cocked his head to one side. "Peter," he said, "Are you sure you don't want a mask? I'll buy you one if you like, a really nice one, as a Rose-gift."
"The cat was enough," Peter said. "And I quite like being one of the few people not wearing a mask, actually." It occurred to him that if he wasn't quite part of the flow of the Neath, he might as well embrace that. Besides, outside the flow was a clearer position from which to watch the ones he cared about.
"Are we ready to go in?" El asked.
"Definitely," Neal said, doing his endearing excited-bouncing thing again.
"Ready," Peter said. "Let's go and see this Extraordinary Rose."
"Exceptional," Neal stage-whispered.
An excellent feature of the masks — Peter couldn't see the despairing expressions he knew he was being subject to. Grinning, he led the way.
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