At school on Monday, she isn't entirely sure how to act. Yes, she and Austin agreed to keep their 'relationship' a secret, but does that mean they should be acting like they hate each other? Because she isn't sure she can do that anymore.

Austin doesn't seem to be having any trouble at all. He shuts his locker without a care in the world as she and Trish approach her locker.

"Ladies," Austin greets them with a nod. "Where's Dez?"

"Home sick," Trish replies. "Which you would know if you weren't so…busy over the weekend."

Ally's heart pounds as she tries to open her locker coolly. "What?" she chokes.

Trish rolls her eyes. "Ally, sweetie, that's what a hickey looks like." She gestures to Austin's neck. "You know what a hickey is, don't you?"

Ally swallows, while Austin not-so-subtly smirks at her. "I know what a hickey is," she says.

"So, Austin, who's the poor girl this time?"

He shakes his head. "Sorry, Trish. I don't kiss and tell."

"What are you talking about? That's all you do," Trish argues.

"We should probably get to class," Ally tries.

"We have time," Trish says. "Aren't you curious, Ally? I like to know which girls in our class are dumb enough to get caught up with this horndog. Especially when they're all over him like this one clearly was."

Ally coughs to cover up her surprise at Trish's statement, while Austin watches, way too amused for her liking. "I really don't care about Austin's love life."

"That hurts, Ally. In here," Austin says, pointing to his heart.

"So you're really not gonna tell us? Not even for bragging purposes?" Trish asks.

"Nope," Austin says, shaking his head. "Gotta have a few secrets, don't I? If it helps, Dez doesn't know, either."

"That doesn't help," Trish replies. "Whatever. I'm sure she'll be talking about it and we'll find out that way."

"Good luck with that. Now, I think Ally was saying something about getting to class, and I am nothing if not punctual."

"Shut the fuck up," Trish says, rolling her eyes. "Fine, I'll see you guys later. But I will find out who she is, if it's the last thing I do."

She walks off down the hall towards her class, and Ally shuts her locker as she tries to calm her heart rate.

"Very smooth," Austin teases, leaning against his locker with a smirk.

"Rot in hell," she mutters through gritted teeth. She starts walking to class, and she hates that Austin's laugh as he follows her calms her down.

She has two classes with him in the morning, and she wants to kill him in both. She can feel him looking at her with that stupid smirk on his face while she tries to pay attention to the lessons, and Trish's words from earlier keep ringing in her head.

She isn't dumb for liking Austin, is she? This is different from all his other hookups. Right?

Come lunch time, Austin stops her in the hallway before she can walk to the cafeteria to meet Trish.

"Hey," he says, catching up to her and grabbing her wrist to make her look at him. "You know I was just teasing you, right?"

"Yeah."

"And you know Trish was just messing around with me, right?"

"I don't think it was all a joke," Ally says.

"Ally, come on, if she knew it was you—"

"She obviously wouldn't say that because I'm her friend. But she'd probably still be thinking it. Hell, if it wasn't me, I'd be thinking it about whatever girl you were hooking up with, too."

"Okay, but the difference is that it is you," he tells her. "We have a different relationship."

Ally crosses her arms. "Because we didn't have sex the first chance we got?"

Austin rolls his eyes. "Ally, you're arguing just to argue now."

She hates that he's right. But she isn't in the mood to get along with him right now. Not after what Trish said. Not if it's going to feel like she's letting him win. Not if she's going to feel dumb because of it.

"I just don't like feeling like an idiot," she says.

"Yeah, welcome to my world," he replies, holding up a graded test from their last class with a big 'D' written on it in red ink. He smiles at her, clearly trying for a joke, but she doesn't find it very funny. "Besides, who gives a fuck what they think?" Austin asks. "That's why we're hiding it, right? So we aren't influenced by what other people think?"

"Yeah…"

"Yeah," Austin says with a nod. "So please don't let Trish's dumb comment ruin your day, or ruin us."

Ally sighs. "You teasing me and making me feel even more like an idiot doesn't help either. Even if I know you're just messing around."

"I'm sorry," he tells her. "I'll cut it out. But you know I don't think you're dumb, right?"

She nods. "We should probably get to lunch. Before Trish gets suspicious."

Austin looks like he's about to say something else, but he decides against it and simply nods, following her when she walks to the cafeteria.

As soon as they sit down with Trish, she looks at them calmly and says, "It was Ally."

She chokes and starts coughing, and even Austin's eyes go wide. Before Ally can start spluttering, Austin asks, "What?"

"The mystery girl," Trish says. Then she looks at Ally. "It was you, wasn't it?"

"Why would you think that?" Austin says before Ally can try to deny it.

"Power of deduction," Trish tells him. "It was weird that you didn't immediately brag about your 'conquest,' especially when I was the one who brought it up. And Ally's reaction was weird. We all know she sucks at hiding things. Plus, I know you two were at that Christmas party thing together on Saturday night because I asked Ally why she couldn't hang out, and you two being mysteriously gone only to walk into the cafeteria together for the first time ever just confirmed it."

"Well, fuck," Austin says, leaning back in his chair.

"We didn't—" Ally tries, but Trish interrupts her.

"So I'm right?"

"I mean…I don't know how to argue with all that," Austin says.

"I do," Ally pipes up. "I was not his 'conquest.'"

"Why didn't you tell me?!" Trish exclaims, turning on her.

"Hey," Austin says, "maybe we should just forget about this."

"Can it, Moon," Trish snaps at him.

"Trish, I don't want to talk about this," Ally says, stabbing her fork into the salad she brought for lunch.

"Why not?!"

"Because you think I'm dumb. Because we didn't want anyone to know. Because—"

"Hey, I don't think you're dumb," Trish says.

"Then what about this morning?" Ally asks her.

"Ally, you know I was just teasing Austin. I don't actually think anyone who hooks up with him is dumb. Especially not you."

Ally rolls her eyes. "You say that now."

"Guys, I really don't think this conversation is going anywhere good, so maybe we should all just move on…?" Austin suggests.

Ally doesn't say anything, and Trish looks at him with her eyes narrowed. "Stay out of this," she tells him.

"Trish, please just drop it," Ally says. "Austin and I kissed. It's not as big a deal as you're making it out to be."

"You're the ones making it into some big secret," Trish points out.

"Yeah, because we don't even know what we're doing, and our relationship has been so complicated that if people knew, they'd have questions we don't even know how to answer yet."

Trish crosses her arms. "Seems like you know exactly what you're doing."

"Trish, I don't have to tell you every little thing in my life as soon as it happens! Especially not when I know you're gonna give your input whether I want it or not!"

"I'm sorry for caring about my best friend," Trish says. "We don't hide things from each other."

"Well, maybe I wanted this one thing for myself." Ally stands up from the table, her appetite gone, and throws her food away. "Without you worming your way in and trying to analyze every little detail to figure out whatever it is you think is going on and try to convince me of something you know nothing about."

"Ally—"

Ally walks away before Trish has a chance to say anything back. Logically, she knows that all of the stress and emotions she's been feeling today have built up and she was just taking them out on Trish, but for now she's seeing red.

She hears Austin say, "Stay here," and then she can feel him following her out of the cafeteria.

"What," she snaps once they're outside, not stopping.

"So…what was that?" he asks her. She expects him to be accusatory, or angry, or even to tease her. What she doesn't expect is for him to talk to her calmly, with concern in his voice as he keeps up with her quick pace to a corner of the courtyard where there aren't any people around.

"I'm sick of Trish trying to live my life for me."

"I don't think that's what she was trying to do." Once they stop and she finally faces him, he shoves his hands in his pockets and tilts his head at her, his eyes soft.

"Thanks for the input," she says.

"You usually tell her everything," Austin says. "And you know that this is a big deal, especially to her, because she knows how we've been for the past four years and you're her best friend."

"Did I ask you to analyze Trish's feelings?" she asks him.

"No." He's still so calm, and not even a flash of annoyance crosses his eyes. She needs him to react, needs him to stop looking at her like that, because it's getting harder and harder for her to stay angry without anyone to fuel the fire. "But you already know everything I just told you, so I just said it out loud because I know you won't."

"I didn't ask you to do that either," she says, clenching her hands into fists at her sides. "Or to follow me, for that matter."

"I figured you could just take the rest of this out on me, since I'm the problem more than Trish is."

"Not everything is about you, you know."

"I know. And I don't think this is about me. But it's kinda hard to blame your own feelings, so I thought I might be an easier target."

She meets his eyes. "What do you want, Austin? Do you want me to yell at you, give you the attention you need, argue with you so you can play your fun little game?"

He shakes his head wordlessly, and the anger she's desperately trying to hang on to continues to dissipate as he watches her with those eyes void of judgment and full of care.

"Because I'm not giving that to you," she continues when he doesn't say anything. "So you can just run back inside and tell Trish, tell everyone whatever you want because clearly I can't handle this on my own." He still doesn't say anything, so she keeps going. "I need everyone else to tell me what choices to make and how to live my own life because I don't know enough about anything to make my own decisions and understand my own feelings, right? Especially not when it comes to you."

"Ally," Austin sighs. "Nobody thinks that."

Ally crosses her arms. "You don't know that."

"Yes I do. Trish is your best friend. She cares about you and your life."

"Doesn't mean I have to just be okay with her trying to live my life for me," Ally says.

"I really don't think she is. Especially now that she knows you and I have a thing." He shoots her a smile and nudges her with his elbow, and she rolls her eyes. As much as she tries to stay angry, she can't fight the tiny smile that makes its way onto her face.

"Shut up," she mutters, shoving his chest as he grins victoriously.

"Let's go back inside and make up with Trish."


The first day of winter break, she's snuggled in next to him in his bed after a long day hanging out with Trish and Dez and pretending (because Dez still doesn't know) their relationship hasn't turned upside down. They went ice skating and built gingerbread houses and made Christmas cookies because that's what they do every year. The only difference this year was that their bickering was a lot more flirtatious than it used to be, and Trish kept pretending not to notice. Dez, being sweet and oblivious, didn't seem to have a clue, but it was exhausting nonetheless.

So when Trish and Dez finally leave Austin's at midnight, after Mimi and Max have already gone to bed, Ally immediately accepts Austin's invitation to just sleep here. The less standing between her and a bed, the better.

Plus, she'd never turn down using the soft spot between his shoulder and his chest as a pillow. Or him rubbing soft circles with his thumb on the exposed skin between where the t-shirt she's borrowing from him is riding up and the waistband of her underwear. Or glancing at the muscles on his free arm, which he has bent with his hand behind his head. Or…well, you get the point.

She pats his chest where her hand is resting on it. "This is definitely not a Christmas movie," she whispers to him as they stare at his TV.

"Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas movie," he whispers back. "Now shh, I can't hear."

"Did you just shush me?"

"Mmm." Not a yes or a no, but he does tilt his chin down and kiss the top of her head.

"Well, I'm going to sleep," she whispers, shifting under the covers and moving her leg on top of his. Then she moves her hand off his chest and drapes her arm over his stomach, snuggles a little closer to him, and closes her eyes.

"Comfy?" he asks when she stops moving. She hears the amusement in his voice.

"Mmhm. Goodnight."

She feels the shift of his muscles as he shakes his head and chuckles. "Night, Ally."

He moves his hand from her waist farther up her back under her shirt and scratches her skin lightly. She sighs as her body relaxes, but her mind is way too awake to let her fall asleep.

All she can think about is how this isn't technically real. Yes, it's actually happening, but this is more just a trial run to see if they want to have something real. Now that she knows what she could have, she can't even think about what'll happen if the end of winter break comes and they're on different pages.

She tightens her arm around him, as if that might ensure that they can stay like this forever. His chin brushes against the top of her head as he looks down at her. But when she doesn't say anything, she feels his head move again as he goes back to watching the movie.

After a while, she's still nowhere near falling asleep as every possible worst-case scenario flashes through her mind. She sees him realizing that he never actually had feelings for her in the first place, only a physical attraction that fizzles once he's had enough. She sees him getting frustrated when she still isn't ready to have sex with him and leaving her for someone who is. She sees them going back to school in January and him realizing that he doesn't want to be tied down to one girl. She sees a million ways this could go wrong, and she wonders if maybe Trish was right about her being dumb for falling for him.

She sighs in frustration, tilts her head up, and starts kissing his neck, if nothing else then to distract herself from her intrusive thoughts. He tenses up in surprise, his hand flattening against her back.

"Whoa, hey. I knew you weren't asleep, but—oh…kay," he says, his voice changing a little when she hits a sensitive spot and stays there. "Ally…? Everything okay?"

"Mmhm," she says against his skin as she moves up to his jaw.

"Okay, it's just…you said you were going to sleep and I'm worried you got in your head again."

She props her arm on his chest and presses her lips to his, and he doesn't hesitate to shut up and kiss her back. He moves his hand out from behind his head and wraps his arm around her before flipping them both over so he's bracing himself on top of her.

The voice in her head telling her all the ways things could go wrong with him still doesn't shut up, so she starts trying to tug his shirt over his head as if that might help. He sits up and tosses it to the floor before leaning back over her again, but he hesitates, his face inches away from hers.

"Ally, why don't we both just go to sleep?" he whispers, his breath tickling her lips.

"Why?"

"Because I can tell something's bothering you and sleep will help more than making out with me will."

"You've never rejected me before."

"You've never come onto me in order to avoid your problems before."

"You have no business acting like you know me so well."

"But I do know you well."

Before she can argue, he presses a gentle kiss to her lips. "Go to sleep," he tells her, and then he rolls off of her, turns off the TV, and pulls her into him until her back is against his chest.

She hates when he's right, but she already does feel better just feeling how tightly he's holding her, how close he wants her. His lips brush against the back of her neck as he buries his face in her hair and takes a deep breath, and she feels his body relax. She feels herself start to relax, too.

"If you wanna talk about it, I'll be here," he says quietly, and then kisses the back of her neck where his lips are already touching. "Whenever you need me."

She wonders if he means that, or if that offer will disappear if he ultimately decides he doesn't want to be with her. She shivers, and he must think it's because of the cold because he pulls her legs between his.

"You should really wear pants," he teases her.

"I'll remember that next time I spontaneously decide to sleep here."

"You could've worn mine."

"Give me some and I'll wear them. But not tonight, because I'm not getting out of bed."

"Next time," he says, smiling against her neck.

"Next time," she agrees.


The next day, three days before Christmas, her parents drop a bombshell on her.

"Surprise!" her mom exclaims, presenting three plane tickets. "For Christmas this year, we're going to a ski resort in Colorado for a week with the Moons! And we leave tomorrow, so get to packing!"

Ally blinks once, twice, three times. Constant close proximity to Austin (well, closer than their houses being right next door to each other) with their families breathing down their necks the whole time. They haven't hung out together with their families since the night they decorated the Christmas tree, and it'll be a lot harder to hide their semi-relationship from them than from their friends. Especially not when her Christmas gift for him is an expensive leather jacket he's been wanting, and she doesn't know how to explain why she went from buying him nothing to spending so much on him.

"Oh, wow!" she says, feigning excitement. "How fun!"

Her mother sighs and sits next to her on the couch. "Look, honey, I know you and Austin don't really get along. But could you at least try for this trip? As a Christmas present to us and Mimi."

Ally swallows. "I mean…I'll try. I don't know about Austin, though."

Her mom chuckles. "I'm sure he'll try if you do."

As soon as her mom walks away, Ally sprints up to her room and calls Austin.

"Has your mom told you yet?" she asks as soon as he answers the phone.

"About what?"

"The ski trip."

"Oh, that? Yeah, she told me and Max this morning. It was almost right after you left."

"How are you so calm about this?" she asks him.

"What do you mean? It'll be fun," he says. "Especially seeing you fall on your ass every five minutes."

She clenches her jaw in frustration. "Austin! They're gonna find out about us!"

"Nah," he says. "You wanna know what's gonna happen? We'll probably be sent off alone while your parents hang out with my mom, and we can do whatever we want with no one knowing."

"What about Max?" she asks him.

"He'll probably be with my mom the whole time so she can keep an eye on him. Ally, take a breath and think about it. We've been on vacations together before, and every time you and I get stuck hanging out alone while our parents do their own thing. I mean, sometimes we get Max too, but I doubt my mom will wanna leave us in charge of him doing something like skiing," he tells her calmly.

She hesitates. He's not wrong. "Well…what about when our families are together?"

"I think we can manage. And if it's that difficult, I promise to piss you off right before we see them so it can be authentic."

She can hear the teasing smirk in his voice. "Piss me off like you're doing right now?"

"Exactly!"

"Screw you."

"C'mon, Ally, you know you're blowing this out of proportion. And besides, would it really be so bad if they found out?"

She hesitates. She already knows she wants to be with him, and that question seems to imply that he knows he wants to be with her. But she isn't exactly keen on spending her Christmas answering their parents' intrusive questions and listening to her dad give them both the sex talk.

When she doesn't say anything for a few seconds, Austin sighs. "Just try to remember that this trip is supposed to be fun. And don't forget to pack pants," he teases her.

"Dumbass," she tells him.

"Ouch," he says with fake seriousness. "I'm wounded. Talk to you later, okay?"

She sighs. "Yeah, okay. Bye."

When she hangs up, she collapses backwards on her bed. She knows he's right, but that doesn't help her stress levels. If she had known that this relationship test-run was going to be this painful and difficult, she wouldn't have suggested it.

He said he'd talk to her later, but they don't actually talk again until they meet up at the airport the next morning and get sent on a Starbucks breakfast mission by their parents. Of course, the line is about a mile long, and Ally is about ready to jump out of a plane without a parachute because she is not a morning person.

"Who poured orange juice in your cereal?" Austin asks her when she crosses her arms impatiently after a few minutes.

She shoots him a glare, and he raises his eyebrows and laughs a little, which makes her even more annoyed with him, which makes him laugh more. It's a cycle almost as vicious as the one where they hated each other for hating each other.

"Not a morning person," he notes, and then he drapes his arms over her shoulders and pulls her back into him, resting his chin on top of her head. "You can sleep on the plane, you know."

Her annoyance with him dissipates as the comforting warmth of his arms and body engulfs her, and she closes her eyes. His chest moves as if he's taking a breath to say something, but then he decides against it and stays silent. Then he pushes her forward a little as the line moves up, but he keeps his arms around her.

"You keep knowing exactly what to say and do when I'm stressed or angry or in a bad mood," she tells him. "It's really annoying."

She likes the way his chest vibrates against her back as he laughs. "I'm sorry I know you better than you thought I did. Not gonna stop doing it, though."

"Good," she says. "I don't want you to."

By the time they bring the food and coffee back to their families, they barely have time to eat it before they board the plane. And just like on their other vacations, the kids get stuck together in one row while the parents sit in a different row. This time, though, the parents end up closer to the front of the plane, and Max insists on a window seat next to the wing.

"Hope the plane doesn't crash," Max says absently, staring out the window when the plane starts to taxi towards the runway.

"That's a weird thing to say," Ally says, leaning forward to see Max over Austin in the middle seat.

Max shrugs. "Kids say weird things."

Austin laughs a little. "Well, I'm glad you're so self-aware."

Max doesn't respond to that, and he puts headphones in and falls asleep before the plane is even off the ground. Austin waves his hand in front of Max's eyes a few times to see if he's actually asleep, but Max doesn't stir.

"That kid can sleep anywhere," Ally says, leaning back in her seat.

"It's a gift," Austin agrees. "You should get some sleep too, since you're so grumpy."

"I'm not grumpy," Ally argues.

"You're right," Austin says. "You're very grumpy."

"Go to hell," she says, narrowing her eyes at him.

"I'll meet you there." Ally rolls her eyes, and Austin grins. "If you aren't there in the first place, you'll come down after two days because you'll miss me so much."

"Shut up." She shoves his shoulder. "I don't even like you that much."

"If you lie like that, you really will go to hell. It's a sin, you know."

"You piss me off."

"It's part of my charm."

He's grinning down at her, clearly loving every second of this. It's probably a good thing that he does, though, since they bicker so much. But if she wasn't so tired, she'd probably be loving it, too.

She huffs in frustration and crosses her arms, leaning her head on his shoulder and closing her eyes. He kisses the top of her head, and she can feel the smile still on his face.

"Sweet dreams, Ally."

He rests his cheek on her head, and she drifts off to sleep.


On Christmas Day, Austin and Ally manage to get some time alone together when Max and all three parents want to go skiing. The two of them promise to head out later, but everyone got up early to open presents and, as teenagers who never sleep, they really are both planning on napping for a while.

But first, Austin knocks on the door of the Dawsons' hotel room, and Ally opens it immediately.

"What's up?" he asks her, walking into the room with his hands not-so-subtly hidden behind his back.

She smiles at him and, for his sake, pretends not to realize he obviously brought something for her. "Merry Christmas," she says, picking up the gift bag on her bed and handing it to him.

He raises his eyebrows, a grin breaking out on his face as he takes the bag with one hand. "You didn't have to get me anything, Ally."

"I wanted to."

"Well, I got you something, too."

He produces a smaller gift bag from behind his back and gives it to her. She takes it and looks at him warily.

"If this is lingerie, I swear to God I'll strangle you with it."

"Kinky." He laughs at her reaction, which makes her laugh, too. "I promise it's nothing like that. Open it!"

"You first," she tells him.

"Same time?"

Ally nods, and they open their gifts together. Inside her gift bag is a small box, which she opens and finds a gold bar necklace with her name engraved on it.

"You got me the jacket?" Austin asks, and when she looks up at him, he's grinning even wider and already trying it on. "Thank you!" He leans over and hugs her tightly, and she smiles and hugs him back.

"You're welcome," she says when they pull away. "And thank you. It's beautiful, Austin."

Now the grin fades into a sheepish smile as he shrugs. "I'm glad you like it."

She smiles and kisses his cheek. "Now, can we actually nap? I'm really tired."

Before she pulls away completely, he turns his head and bumps his nose against hers. "We could," he says quietly. "Or…"

She closes her eyes, smiling slightly. "Or…?"

He leans forward until his lips just barely brush against hers, but then he pulls all the way back and sighs loudly. "No, you're right, we should probably sleep."

"We can sleep when we're dead," Ally says.

He smirks at her. "I thought you were tired."

"Not anymore."

"Eager."

She narrows her eyes at him. "Am not."

"Okay. Then let's get you some sleep so you aren't tired and cold on the slopes. That'd be miserable for everyone." He lays down on his back, his hands behind his head, and closes his eyes with that stupid smirk on his face.

"It's Christmas, asshole," she says.

"Can't hear you. I'm napping."

She exhales in frustration. Why does he have to be so difficult? She knows he's just messing with her, and that she's giving him exactly what he wants, but they don't have much time to be alone together on this trip and he's completely wasting it.

She crawls on top of him, her nose almost touching his. He doesn't even have the decency to open his eyes, but that smirk on his face grows. Then he starts fake snoring.

She sighs again and sits up, crossing her arms. "Are you serious?" she asks him. "You're wasting our precious alone time just to piss me off."

"Bold of you to assume pissing you off is a waste of time," he hums, that ridiculous smirk practically taking up his whole face.

"You know, I'm starting to remember why I hated you all these years."

"Are you, now?" he asks, completely unbothered by the comment. He does open his eyes though, only to look at her with an amused expression.

She wishes he kept his eyes closed.

"Yeah, I am. I hope you don't think pissing me off like this is making me want you more, because it's doing just the opposite."

"Really?" he asks, sitting up a little and propping himself up on his elbows. "Because from where I'm sitting, it looks like you're on top of me, begging me to give you attention." His eyes glint in a way that makes her want to both smack him and rip his clothes off.

"Well…you started it!"

"'You started it'? Ally, I thought you were better than this."

"Oh…fuck off." She gets off of him and lays next to him, glaring at the ceiling, while he laughs beside her.

"Ally Dawson cursing? I must really piss you off."

She feels him shift onto his side to face her, and she crosses her arms again, refusing to give him the satisfaction of even looking at him.

"Yeah. You do."

"Aw. I'm sorry."

When he leans over and starts kissing her neck, she knows he's got her exactly where he wants her. But more importantly, she knows that she doesn't really mind it, because he's exactly where she wants him, too. And honestly, she just wants him here, whether that be pissing her off and teasing her about it or sucking at the skin on the sensitive part of her neck like he's doing now.

She closes her eyes and exhales, tilting her head away from him to expose more of her neck, a silent concession to him. He won this round. But she really doesn't care.

He smirks again, his lips still trailing kisses up her neck, and he uses one arm to grab her waist and pull her into him. When he reaches her lips, she sits up a little to deepen the kiss immediately, which makes him laugh and pull away. When she looks at him to pout, his eyes are sparkling.

"This is the best Christmas present you could've gotten me," he says.

"What is?" She frowns at him, and he grazes his fingertips over her cheek.

"Wanting me."

"Okay, I get it, me wanting you turns you on. If I say I want you will you stop ruining the moment?"

He laughs again, and she can't keep pouting after that. He sounds so genuinely happy, she could listen to him laugh like that forever. He cups her cheek and kisses her softly.

"That's not what I meant," he says quietly after pulling away again. "Although you're right." He pecks her lips again, and she can feel him smiling. "Ally, you know how I feel about you. I never imagined you'd ever know, much less feel the same way."

Is he admitting he likes her? And is he implying that he thinks she likes him? He's right, of course, but she was sure she was doing a good job of hiding it. Although looking back on it, she isn't sure why she was trying so hard.

"You were even more annoyed with my existence after we kissed than before," he explains, as if he can read her mind. "But I know you, and I know you wouldn't keep coming back and spending time with me if you didn't want to, so I used my big brain and realized you're just majorly overcompensating."

He kisses her again, as if that'll soften the blow.

"You're overcompensating," she mutters grumpily, which makes him laugh again. Her mouth curves into a small, involuntary smile at the sound.

"I really like you, Ally," he says, kissing the corner of her mouth. "And no matter how hard it is for you to admit it…" He kisses the other corner of her mouth. "I'm not gonna leave you alone until you honestly tell me how you feel about me."

"Joke's on you," she tells him, meeting his eyes. "Maybe I don't want you to leave me alone."

He sighs and sits up, pulling on her hands so she sits up with him. Then he leans back against the headboard and pulls her back by her waist before draping an arm over her shoulders and pulling her into his side.

"These things tend to be easier when you don't have to look at the person you're admitting your deep, dark secret to," he says. "Although it's not really a deep, dark secret. Or a secret at all."

She sighs too and leans into his shoulder, closing her eyes. "I thought you hated me for three and a half years. I keep thinking I'm gonna wake up and this'll all be some really weird dream, and it'll turn out that you really do hate me."

He pinches her arm. "There. See? Not dreaming. Besides, if this was a dream, we would've had sex already."

"You're not helping," she tells him, although her laugh betrays her words.

"Sorry. I'll shut up." He kisses the top of her head and then rests his cheek against it, and she imagines him staring at whatever random objects in the hotel room are in his line of vision as he waits for her to speak up again.

"I just worry that all this…with you, isn't real. That if this isn't a dream, maybe you'll wake up one day and realize that you never had feelings for me and it was all just sexual attraction or something and things will go back to the way they were. And I can't go back to the way things were."

He doesn't say anything, and she wonders if it's because he isn't sure how to respond or if he's just waiting for her to keep talking. But he draws soft, reassuring circles on her shoulder with his thumb, and she finds herself feeling less and less skeptical of the whole thing the more time she spends just sitting here with him.

"I like you," she finally says, although it comes out a bit rushed and panicked. She takes a deep breath and lifts her head to look at him, and this time he looks at her without any smirk or amusement in his eyes. "I like you," she says again, slower this time, calmer.

His face softens, as if even though he said he knew she liked him, he wasn't really sure of it until she said it out loud. She smiles a little.

He presses another soft kiss to her lips, and then pulls away. She's about to get irritated at him, but he pulls her onto his lap and wraps his arms tightly around her before kissing her deeper, so she decides to forgive him.


By the time New Year's rolls around, they still haven't figured out how to tell their families and Dez that they're together. So they've continued to hide it, but now, it somehow feels more real. Everything is out on the table, and she's pretty sure they've come to a silent understanding that they're definitely going to be on the same page by the end of winter break.

But tonight is the annual New Year's Eve party at the Moons', where the entire neighborhood (plus Trish and Dez) comes over, gets drunk, and counts down to midnight. And since it's such a huge party, Ally's family always helps to prepare for it.

"Austin, Max, the Dawsons are here!" she hears Mimi call before she opens the door to greet them when they arrive. "Thanks for coming to help out!" she says cheerily, even though this has been a tradition for the past four years.

"Of course," Ally's mom says, giving Mimi a hug and walking inside.

Mimi hugs Ally's father and Ally as well before shutting the door behind them and following them inside the house.

"Where are the boys?" Ally's mom asks.

"I told them to come down, but they're caught up in one of the video games Max got for Christmas. Ally, honey, would you go see if you can get them to come help? Unplug the TV if necessary," Mimi says.

Ally laughs a little. "Yes, ma'am."

While the parents get situated to start making all the food for tonight in the kitchen, Ally walks to Max's room. She can hear the sounds of the game and Austin and Max yelling at each other even through the closed door.

She knocks twice and opens it, but the boys must not hear her because they're still fully engrossed in the game, facing the TV with their backs to her. She crosses her arms, trying to think of the best way to scare them while they continue yelling at each other and the TV. She also takes this time to admire how cute it is that Austin gets so into playing games with his little brother. She's always appreciated the way Austin is with Max, even when she and Austin 'hated' each other. He's always been sweet and supportive towards Max, and he genuinely seems to like spending time with him, even though they have an eleven-year age difference. She supposes that since their father left, that bond has become more important to both of them than ever.

"Hey!" she finally yells over the noise of the game and their yelling.

Both of them yelp in surprise and jump, dropping their controllers and turning to look at her.
"Ally!" Max whines. "That was mean. And we're playing a game!"

"Your mom said it's time to reenter the land of the living and help set up for the party," Ally tells him.

"I'm only seven! I can't help!"

"She said by any means necessary."

"Any means necessary, hmm?" Austin says, raising his eyebrows.

She reaches over to smack his shoulder and he laughs. Max sighs and turns off the game.

"I won," he says.

"Did not," Austin argues.

"Did too! I get extra points because I'm little."

Austin rolls his eyes. "You do not get extra points."

"Yes I do! To make it fair!"

"Guys?" Ally interrupts before Austin can argue back. "It's a game. Let's go."

"But—" Max tries to continue, but this time Austin cuts him off.

"No, Ally's right. We should help Mom. You go ask her what you can do, and me and Ally will start putting up the decorations outside."

"Fine," Max grumbles, crossing his arms. Then he looks up at them with a mischievous smile. "But you better be careful, in case there's still mistletoe out there."

"I think we took all of it down," Austin says. "But if not, maybe you can bring some when you go back to school for Mia."

"Gross!" Max exclaims, scrunching up his face and then running out of the room.

"Ah, to be young and believe in cooties," Austin sighs, draping an arm over Ally's shoulders.

"Bold of you to assume you don't still have cooties," Ally says, shrugging his arm off her.

Austin laughs as they leave Max's room. "Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but if I have cooties, they've definitely spread to you."

She whacks his shoulder lightly, following him to the garage. He laughs.

"You know, the last time we were in a garage like this, you—"

"You," she corrects him.

"—kissed me for the first time." He scrunches his eyebrows together. "I kissed me? Ally, that doesn't make any sense. You kissed me. Remember? The desire was just building up inside you for so long until you just couldn't take it anymore," he says dramatically, his hand over his heart. Then he drops his arms to his sides, looks at her, and matter-of-factly says, "And then you jumped me like a die-hard One Direction fan would jump Harry Styles."

She rolls her eyes. "Yep, you're right. That's exactly how it happened," she deadpans.

"It's very mature of you to admit that," he says with a nod. "Thank you."

She narrows her eyes at him and shakes her head, but he simply grins back at her. Then he opens the garage and pushes a cart with folding tables on it into the driveway. She follows him with a cart of folding chairs through the gate to the backyard.

"You are incredibly annoying sometimes," she tells him as they start setting up the tables and chairs in the grass. "Actually, scratch that. It's all the time."

"Ally, you're doing it again," he sing-songs.

"Doing what again?"

"Overcompensating."

She frowns, and then she realizes that he's definitely right and she didn't even know she was doing it. Has she even said one nice thing to him since she got here?

"You know you don't need to do that anymore, Ally," he tells her. "I know you like me," he whispers loudly, as if it's a secret, with a grin and a wink.

"Sorry," she says as they start on their second set of a table and four chairs.

He shrugs. "It's okay. Just figured I'd point it out, since you don't seem to realize you're doing it."

"You're very patient with me," she notes.

"It's taking a little longer for you to get used to this," he says. "Plus, I know you do like me, a lot, so it doesn't really bother me."

"Whoa, I never said—" she starts, but then he raises his eyebrows at her. She stops and clears her throat. "Right." Then she sighs. "I haven't told you how much I appreciate you, have I?"

He shrugs again, a small smile on his face. "You don't have to. I know you do. And you show it in your own way." She tilts her head, and he chuckles a little. "You're very easy to read, Ally. Whenever you're thinking about me, you always hug me a little tighter or squeeze my hand or anything like that. I know you like being with me."

"I do appreciate you," she tells him anyway. "A lot. And I don't think you're annoying. I just get frustrated because I love everything you say and do, even when you're teasing me or we're bickering and you're winning. But I know I shouldn't be frustrated about it, and I especiallyshouldn't be taking it out on you, so I'm sorry. And thank you for being so…"

"Hot? Sexy?"

She rolls her eyes. "Sweet. But those, too."

He smiles at her, and it's one of his genuine, non-teasing ones, even though he was just teasing her a second ago. She can't help but smile, too. Any time he looks that happy, she gets a warm feeling in her chest that she never wants to go away. "Ally, I think that's the nicest thing you've ever said to me. And it's the longest string of non-bickering sentences you've ever said to me. Thank you. And you're welcome, for being so sweet and hot and sexy."

She smiles more, despite his teasing, mostly because of what she's about to say next. "And you're right. I do like you, a lot."

His face gets brighter, and his smile grows. "Yeah, I know you do. I like you a lot, too. And I like when I make you smile."

This cute, affectionate, almost innocent side of him has been coming out more and more in the time they've spent together, and she likes to think that this is 'boyfriend Austin.' She quite likes it.

Later that night, when the party is in full swing, she and Austin are inseparable. It isn't any different than it has been since they kissed in that regard, but they hardly bicker at all. Even Dez takes notice.

"Are you guys feeling okay?" he asks as they head to the living room a few minutes before the countdown. "You're…smiling at each other."

"New year, new us," Austin says with a shrug.

"I hate when people say that," Trish says, rolling her eyes.

"So you guys don't hate each other anymore? After three and a half years?" Dez asks incredulously. "Just like that?"

"I dunno," Austin says, draping his arm around Ally's shoulders and looking down at her. "Do you hate me?"

She smiles up at him, at his sparkling eyes and that dumb smile on his face, and shakes her head. "I don't hate you."

"Good. I don't hate you either."

She knows they must be looking at each other with the gooiest smiles the world has ever seen, but she doesn't care. And it doesn't seem like he cares, either.

"Ugh," Trish groans. "This is gross."

"What's gross?" Dez asks obliviously.

Before anyone can answer, Mimi speaks up over the crowd of people talking in the room. "The countdown is about to start!"

As everyone starts chanting, Austin raises his eyebrows at Ally. She mimics his expression. No better way to tell everyone than to just show them, right?

"Five!" they chant.

"Hey," he says to her. "I know we said we should wait until school starts, but how would you feel about just cutting the bullshit and being my girlfriend already?"

She grins up at him. "God, yes. I thought you'd never ask."

"Two! One! Happy New Year!" everyone cheers.

He moves his arm off her shoulders and wraps both arms around her waist, kissing her for the first time as her boyfriend. She wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him back immediately, although they're both smiling like idiots, so it doesn't go very well.

"What?!" Dez exclaims when they pull away. Meanwhile, Trish downs a glass of champagne.

"Surprise…?" Austin says. "We're—"

"Did you just kiss again? With no mistletoe?!" Max interrupts, pushing in between Trish and Dez to look up at Austin and Ally.

"Shouldn't you be in bed?" Austin asks.

"No! It's New Year's!" Max exclaims. Then he grins and runs into the kitchen, but before Austin or Ally can say anything else, he comes back with their parents.

"They just kissed with no mistletoe!" Max tells them.

"Someone's a little snitch," Austin says, but Max just laughs.

"What's going on?" Mimi asks.

"Okay, I guess this is happening," Austin says, taking a deep breath. "It feels really weird just announcing it like this, but here goes—"

"You always make things so much more painful than they need to be," Ally interrupts him. Then she looks at their parents. "We're dating." She holds up their intertwined hands to prove her point. "Please, no questions until at least tomorrow."

Max, their parents, and Dez all blink a few times, but none of them look all that surprised.

"You made it official?" Trish asks.

"Did you not just hear me ask her?" Austin raises his eyebrows.

"I was doing the countdown." Trish shrugs. "Well, congrats."

"I knew it," Dez says.

"No you didn't." Ally rolls her eyes at him.

"I knew about the sexual tension," he argues.

"Mom, what's sexual tension?" Max asks.

"And I think that's our cue to put you to bed!" Mimi replies. Then she smiles and gives Austin and Ally an excited thumbs up before walking away with Max.

"Aw, I'm so glad you guys got together," Ally's mom says. "We hoped you would."

"Congratulations," her father adds. "I can't imagine anyone better for my little girl."

Ally raises her eyebrows. She definitely was not expecting that.

"Thanks," Austin says.

Then Ally's parents walk away, and Trish and Dez decide that it's time for them to go home. So Austin and Ally decide that they're done partying too, and they go to his room.

"Think your parents will let you sleep here?" he asks her when he shuts the door behind them.

She shrugs. "Better to ask forgiveness than permission. But I doubt they'll mind."

"I've taught you well," he says.

She rolls her eyes and stands on her tiptoes to kiss him. "Yeah, yeah." Then she pulls away and digs through his closet and drawers for a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.

"Aw, but you look so good in that dress," Austin whines.

"But I don't look good when I'm tired and grumpy," she says, turning around and moving her hair so he can unzip her dress.

"You always look good," he tells her as he complies.

He laughs at her as she struggles to get the tight dress over her head.

"Shut up," she tells him.

"Can I help you?" he asks.

"Yes please."

She lifts her arms over her head and he pulls the dress off of her. He doesn't even make any comments or innuendoes as she changes into his clothes, and it all feels so normal that the officiality of their relationship hits her like a ton of bricks.

She doesn't say anything again until he's in pajamas too and they're in his bed, him on his back and her snuggled into his side with her head on that perfect spot between his chest and his shoulder.

"Hey, Austin?" she says into the darkness, closing her eyes.

"Yeah?" He turns on his side and wraps his other arm around her, pulling her closer to him until their noses and foreheads are touching.

"I'm gonna say something, and it's probably gonna sound like a lot, but when I get tired I get honest."

"I know you do," he says, and she wonders what she's admitted to him before when she's been half asleep.

"I can't imagine myself being with anyone else," she tells him. "Nobody's perfect, but I think you're perfect for me, you know? And even though I'm still getting used to all this, I'm really excited to be your girlfriend and I'm really happy it all feels so real now."

He tightens his arm around her, and she doesn't have to open her eyes to know that he's smiling. She smiles a little and rests a hand on his chest and feels his heart pounding.

"I'm really happy, too, Ally," he says quietly.

"And thank you again for being so patient with me. About everything," she continues. "You're so sweet, and you make me laugh, and it's like you can read my mind all the time." He laughs a little, and she does, too. "What I'm trying to say is that I just really love being with you, even just being around you."

He kisses her lips softly, and she feels his smile. "You're almost there," he tells her, that goofy teasing tone in his quiet voice. Of course he already knows where she's going with this.

"Don't ruin this," she says, but the smile in her voice gives her away, and he has to lean his head away from her to laugh.

"If you don't want me knowing you so well, don't be so damn easy to read," he giggles.

"No, no, I want you knowing me well," she says, feeling too tired and mushy to bicker with him. At that, he presses another kiss to her lips and rests his forehead against hers again. "I love you," she tells him, and even though their relationship only became official tonight, she absolutely means it.

He kisses her again, grinning so wide that she has to pull away because it isn't working. She laughs a little, getting that beautiful warm feeling in her chest again.

"I love you, too," he breathes.

She kisses him one more time and then turns so her back is facing him. With his arms still wrapped around her, he pulls her into him as close as possible and nuzzles his nose in her hair. She falls asleep in her boyfriend's arms, smiling like an idiot and never wanting this moment to end.


ah fuck it was midnight a second ago and now it's 4am but hey i'm finally done w this

anyway happy new year! (march will be my seventh year on this dumbass site writing fanfiction about this disney show holy shit)