As Liam stood beneath the lightly falling snow waiting for James to answer his call, he couldn't deny the view was absolutely stunning. The traditional Alpine chalet in front of him was blanketed in snow, the eaves and windows tastefully adorned in Christmas lights, and an elaborate wreath made up of pine cones, berries and a large red bow, hung from the door. And while the chalet struck him as being on the small side compared to the others he'd seen in the vicinity, it only added to its appeal; appearing cosy, intimate and thoroughly charming.
It was a complete cliché but it looked like something off a Christmas card.
Determined to shake off the strange sentimentality that had overtaken him, Liam cleared his throat and tugged on his bobble hat in an effort to further cover his ears, just as the flirty tone of James's voice finally reached him. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this call?"
It was good that James sounded relaxed after just a few short days away from the stresses and strife of Hollyoaks. What a shame he was going to spoil his festive mood, Liam thought, his lips curling mischievously. "I'm here!" he singsonged.
In the silence that followed, Liam made his way down the snow-covered path, dragging his suitcase along behind him. In his mind, he could see James's puzzled face on the other side of the door as he tried to wrap his head around Liam's announcement – then the look of apprehension and disbelief as realisation suddenly dawned.
"What do you mean, you're here?" James asked slowly. "Where are you?"
Liam knocked solidly on the door with gleeful determination. "Why, Val-d'Isère of course! When you failed to invite me along, I took it upon myself to book a flight and surprise you."
Liam's phone beeped to signal the end of the call and the door opened to reveal a barefoot James in a silk, burgundy dressing gown. Liam gave him a once-over and nodded his approval.
James stiffened. "I came here for some peace and quiet," he ground out, and Liam almost—almost—felt guilty.
He had to admit, it had stung quite a bit when James had announced he was going off on his jollies alone after they'd only just got together, not to mention leaving him to deal with the aftermath of his recent discovery. He might have chosen not to tell Mercedes who'd shot her but it didn't mean he was a hundred percent okay with his decision; after all, he and Mercedes had a lot of history and he didn't think things would ever be straightforward between them.
However, he was certain he'd picked the right person and he knew what would happen if he allowed James some time alone with his thoughts; he'd no doubt come to the conclusion that he'd made a massive mistake in getting involved with him and it would only be a matter of time before some French ponce impressed him with his intellect and his skiing prowess and got his grubby little hands on him.
In the end, there'd only been one option, and Liam wasn't about to give up on his plan now, not after coming all that way, so instead of turning around and leaving James to his solitude, Liam brushed past him to the inviting warmth inside. "I know what you mean. What with everything that's been going on lately with Mercedes and Grace, it'll do us both good to get away from it all."
Abandoning his case in the middle of the living area, he pulled off his hat and shed his coat while James secured the door. The interior of the chalet was just as impressive as the outside; with its high, wooden beams and large windows, it gave a magical view of the picturesque village and undoubtedly, come dawn, the mountains beyond. A real Christmas tree stood in the corner and comfy-looking couches surrounded a roaring log fire.
"Nice!" Liam declared, turning to face James. "Couldn't you have picked somewhere a bit warmer though? Ever heard of the Maldives? Mauritius? Magaluf?"
James curled his lip in distaste at the last one and Liam chuckled. "How did you know where I was staying?" James asked.
"I had a rather enlightening conversation with your mother, who took great delight in telling me how far you'd gone to get away from me. Considering how hostile and protective she can be, she was surprisingly forthcoming with your exact location."
"Mother would never tell you where I was," James said with confidence.
"No, you're right. I had a little snoop on your laptop when I told her I'd left my watch in your room. You know, you really shouldn't leave personal information just lying around like that—anyone could see it."
James hummed. "I'll try to remember that for next time."
Liam's attention was soon caught by what was on the decking outside. He walked towards the French doors for a closer look, leaving small puddles of water behind where the snow had melted off his boots. "Oooh!" he exclaimed. "There's a hot tub big enough for a football team out there."
"And what makes you think you'll be staying long enough to experience it?"
Liam turned back again. "Come on, James. I've just spent 6 hours travelling to spend Christmas with you," he said, advancing slowly in James's direction. "And the last thing I wanna do is play third wheel to Jesse and Courtney, or deal with Grace and the Incredible Sulk giving me evils over the sprouts." He stopped just in front of him, kind of hating and loving at the same time the fact he had to lift his gaze to look into his eyes. "We could spend Christmas together, just you and me, see how we rub along without all the usual distractions we get at home."
James looked far from convinced so Liam inched closer. "Just think about it. We could ski by day and cuddle up together under the blankets by night. Drink hot chocolate and toast marshmallows in front of the fire."
When James simply continued staring at him, Liam gave him his best puppy dog eyes and pouted. "Sing Christmas carols and play charades?" he proposed. "Bake cookies and drink eggnog." He was being ridiculous now but he didn't know what else to do. He didn't think he would get thrown out on his ear but he also didn't know James well enough at this point to know for sure.
James raised his eyebrow ominously and Liam huffed in annoyance. "Are you seriously gonna send me home?" he asked, looking at his watch. "It's past midnight on Christmas Eve."
But James remained unyielding so Liam tugged gently on the belt that was holding his gown together, lowering his voice seductively. "I'll let you pull my cracker."
The corner of James's mouth twitched and Liam couldn't help the smug grin that appeared on his face at the knowledge he'd finally won him over.
James officially conceded with a put-upon sigh. "Fine."
"It's a big one," Liam warned in jest.
"I said fine."
Liam made as if to kiss him but stopped just before their lips touched. "Fancy a trip to Lapland?"
"Right, that's it," James said, stepping around him. "I've changed my mind."
"Wanna roast your chestnuts on my open fire?"
James made his way towards a door on the opposite side of the room, ignoring Liam in the process.
"Is that a candy cane in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?"
James slammed the door behind him and Liam hopped over the back of the couch, landing in a seated position.
"Guess who's coming down your chimney tonight!" Liam yelled before making himself comfortable with a self-satisfied grin.