Part Twenty Six

It didn't seem to matter how much Jean Paul ate; there was always food on his plate. Well, vegetables, anyway. Their source was easily discovered, and Jean Paul was amused at how unsubtle Bobby was at relocating them from his plate. Apparently he hadn't inherited his mother's genes in that area, since she was having no trouble making fresh vegetables arrive on Bobby's plate as fast as the unsuspecting Bobby removed them. And she still had time to offer Jean Paul more turkey, and more ham, and more potatoes, and more everything. Bobby hadn't been joking about how much his mother cooked.

Jean Paul stayed quiet - well, he was eating - and listened to the ebb and flow of conversation around him. It was what he'd expected, he told himself, and he was as much keeping quiet for having no input as for not attracting attention to himself.

Bobby's family talked about family. An obvious choice of topic for this time of year. They talked about Mrs Drake's parents and Mr Drake's parents, about Mrs Drake's brothers and sisters and Mr Drake's brothers and sisters, about Mrs Drake's brothers and sisters' children, and Mr Drake's brothers and sisters' children, about Mrs Drake's parents' siblings and Mr Drake's parents' siblings. They talked about everybody's spouses, and the spouses' siblings and parents and children. Bobby had two uncles and three aunts (and two aunts-by-marriage and two uncles-by-marriage, and what might have been an aunt-by-lesbianism, but she was only mentioned in passing, and with some disapproval). He had seven first cousins on his mother's side, Jean Paul gathered, and four on his father's. He had twelve second cousins, and three first cousins once removed. He had two great aunts and one senile great uncle, and one surviving great grandparent.

Jean Paul knew and understood that Bobby was a family orientated man, but his head was beginning to spin. He wondered if this was normal, if this was what a normal family was like. So many generations - so manycousins - all within easy travel of each other. Every holiday carefully parcelled out each year to a different house, with everyone descending en masse. Bobby seemed to have spent most of his childhood holidays with some family or other. So many names. So many Roberts, of one variation or another. Everybody's birthdays.

And Christmas, just the three Drakes and one interloper. A lonely man, with so little family in comparison.

No, he wasn't going to get maudlin. Self pity was hardly attractive.

Not that he wanted to be attractive towards anyone here.

He couldn't stop listening. He couldn't stop cataloguing names and relationships with a greedy, hungry envy. He couldn't silence the tiny part of his mind that knew exactly how to become part of it, too. Thanksgivings and Fourth of Julys and Labour Days and New Years and Christmases and summers, huge long summers full of lakes and barbeques and campouts.

Of course, it wouldn't work. All he'd do would be cut Bobby off from it, not invite himself in. He wouldn't be selfish. He wouldn't be jealous. He wouldn't be so fucking pathetic as to prostrate himself before Bobby just to be part of this. Just because he was lonely. Because his one and only sister was too sick to speak to him, or be spoken to.

"We normally take a break before dessert," Mrs Drake was telling him. "Move to the den and watch a Christmas movie."

Jean Paul smiled at her. "Would you like some help with the washing up?" he asked.

"Oh, you can bring this one home any time," Mrs Drake informed her son, smiling back at Jean Paul.

Well, it was a start.

It occurred to Bobby that it probably hadn't been very sensitive to talk about family over Christmas dinner. Too late now, but it was going to bug him for the rest of the day. He hadn't started the conversation, and he'd been unable to stop it. He'd just been so grateful that it wasn't going to lead to his parents questioning Jean Paul about their friendship, or anything else, that he hadn't changed the subject.

Safe areas of conversation had been established the previous night, as Jean Paul and Bobby's father had tentatively made conversation about sports. Jean Paul's general disinterest in ice hockey - "That is why I have to live in this country now," - and Bobby's youthful desire to be a bobsledder. Football, baseball, a little basketball. Some soccer. Golf, surprisingly.

Safe, for the most part. Carefully not talking about why Jean Paul didn't ski any more.

Business, too, that had been good. Until his mother put a stop to all the "shop talk". Well, two accountants and a self made man probably did make rather boring listening for a dyed-in-the-wool housewife.

And family had seemed fairly safe, even if it wasn't a conversation Jean Paul could join in. Except... Jeanne Marie.

What else was there? What else was safe?

Bobby gazed at the opening sequence of some James Bond film or other in disinterest, wracking his brain for something that could not, in any way, lead to discussion of anyone's sexuality. The problem was that so many subjects seemed safe to Bobby, but he knew they wouldn't to his father. Jean Paul's sexuality was the sum of his personality, as far as Mr Drake was concerned, and though Bobby felt sure his father was beginning to grasp that there was whole areas of Jean Paul's life completely unimpacted by who he chose to sleep with, there were just as many that were. His fame. His lifestyle. Teaching at the academy. His book. His career as a superhero. His friendship with Bobby. His family, his daughter.

"Jean Paul was telling me about your trip to DC recently," Mrs Drake said, as she led Jean Paul into the room. Both were carrying trays of Christmas cookies, and despite how full Bobby was he helped himself to two.

Jean Paul sat in the armchair not currently occupied by Bobby's father, and leant towards the sofa where Bobby's mom took her accustomed seat. They continued talking in hushed tones, the cookies on the coffee table between them. Bobby, sitting on the floor, found himself shuffling towards Jean Paul's shins. When he got close Jean Paul handed him a cookie, which he ate without revealing that he'd actually been trying to hear their conversation better.

They were talking about the rest of the world now, France and Europe mainly. Bobby knew his parents were saving for a trip once his father was in full health, but hadn't decided where to go. Jean Paul was currently making Italy sound "absolutely charming" and "so beautiful".

"What about Canada?" Madeline Drake asked. "My sister is thinking of taking her brood up there."

Jean Paul grimaced wryly. "I do not know what might suit a 'brood'," he said, "but Montreal is probably my favourite city. I have an apartment there, if you ever wish to spend a holiday weekend, perhaps."

"Did you hear that, William? Jean Paul has an apartment in Montreal."

"This is a good time of year there," Jean Paul added. "Your hospitality has been so... so generous, that I would be remiss if I did not offer the little I have to you."

"Are all your friends millionaires, Bobby?" Mr Drake asked, eyes still on the television.

"Quite a few," Bobby admitted. "I don't know what I'm doing wrong."

Jean Paul snorted. "You are a very skilled accountant. The only reason you are not as wealthy is those that employ is your strange inability to charge them for your services."

"They're not going to pay me, because they don't take me seriously," Bobby said, more bitterly than he'd intended. "Warren has his own accountants, not that he ever speaks to them, and Xavier has that firm in New York keeping an eye on most of the academy accounts. I'm just... back up. A convenient source of advice."

"There is no reason it should be so," Jean Paul said. "I understand the discomfort in charging people, especially friends, for what they see as favours, but you are being taken for granted."

"That's exactly what I always say," Mr Drake said. "Bobby needs a bit more backbone."

"Bobby is too nice," Jean Paul agreed, "no matter what he thinks of himself."

"Hey!" Bobby stared back and forth between them, eyes eventually settling on Jean Paul despite the neckache. "I think of myself just fine, thank you. There's no such thing as "too nice", besides. And I don'twant to charge people like Warren and Scott, or the Academy. I get by just fine."

"Somany arguments," Jean Paul teased. "Where are you going to draw the lines, though? How do you decide between the friends you charge and those you do not? If you become friends with a client, do you stop charging them?"

"Somany questions," Bobby shot back. "Why so concerned? I don't charge you for my professional advice, do I?"

"I would pay for it," Jean Paul said mildly. "I should, with the amount you have earned me."

Bobby opened his mouth, but his mother cut into the conversation with what Bobby deemed to be the least helpful change of subject possible.

"So, Jean Paul, how would you be spending Christmas in Canada?"

There was a moment's silence.

"I do not really know," Jean Paul said. "If all was well, with my sister, I suppose."

"Is she spending Christmas with someone else?" Mrs Drake asked, smiling. Bobby shuffled closer to Jean Paul's chair, and learnt against his leg.

"She is unwell," Jean Paul said quietly. "She has Mult- she has DID. She is staying with professionals over Christmas. I was advised not to visit her."

A hand came down, and clamped onto Bobby's shoulder, as his mother made uncomfortable noises of sympathy. Bobby put his hand over Jean Paul's, and squeezed gently.

"We rarely spend Christmas together," Jean Paul went on. "Sometimes our careers interfere, and often our tempers."

"Isn't that the point, though?" Bobby said quietly. "Spending time with people whether you're fighting or not. And, you know, all that Jesus stuff." The joke was poor, and Bobby could feel his parents' disapproving eyes on him.

"My sister, Jeanne Marie, is Catholic," Jean Paul said. "I am... not. I suspect no scenario could truly please both of us."

The film broke for commercials. Bobby's mother excused herself to do something with the desserts, and Bobby's father disappeared towards the bathroom. Bobby took the opportunity to climb to his feet and perch on the arm of Jean Paul's chair. He kept Jean Paul's hand in his, rubbing his thumb across Jean Paul's knuckles.

"I'm sorry," Bobby said softly. "We've been talking about family all day. It's insensitive."

Jean Paul shook his head. "It is interesting. I had not realised how different my life was from yours." He smiled weakly at Bobby. "I admit it, I am a little jealous."

Bobby wrapped an arm around Jean Paul and hugged him to his chest. Jean Paul was unresisting, and Bobby manoeuvred himself so one foot was resting on the seat behind Jean Paul. There was a lump in his throat, chokingly large, and a craving in his heart that was almost unbearable. He wasn't even sure if it was beating. He pressed his face to the top of Jean Paul's head, nose to that distinguished hair.

"So much family," Jean Paul said, voice muffled by Bobby's festive frosty-the-snowman sweater. "And I might have parted you from it."

Bobby shook his head. "No. Things might be a little strained, but they will handle it. They might even have made you part of it, eventually."

Bobby pulled away just before his father re-entered the room. Jean Paul's eyes were a little red, but it faded quickly. Bobby stayed where he was on the arm of the chair, Jean Paul leaning against his leg. They watched the rest of the film in relative silence.

Jean Paul hadn't realised quite how much alcohol a family Christmas entailed. There'd been Buck's Fizz with breakfast; wine with every meal; sherry, port and brandy in the spaces between; and now they were onto the liqueurs. Madeline was a little tipsy, William had fallen asleep, and Bobby was trying so very hard not to look drunk in front of his parents. Jean Paul found it alarmingly endearing.

His own metabolism meant he was staying mostly sober, but somewhere in between the cherry liqueur and the "we really ought to finish off this sherry Natasha gave us last Christmas" everything had become pleasantly warm and just a little distant. Bobby was no longer sitting on the arm of his chair, but he was leaning against Jean Paul's legs and playing with his sock. Every now and then he succeeded in tickling Jean Paul, making him jerk and twitch.

William Drake began to snore, and Madeline's laugh was rather more a titter. She woke her husband up, and they said their goodnights. Jean Paul wasn't entirely sure why he and Bobby weren't going to bed too, but there was an opened-but-undrunk bottle of something standing on top of the television, and what he presumed to be one of the Harry Potter films underneath it.

Bobby hauled himself over to the television and retrieved the mystery bottle. He giggled at it, and crawled back to the chair.

"Coffee liqueur," he said, waving it at Jean Paul and spilling a little on his trousers. "Oops." He licked a finger and rubbed at the small stain, but before Jean Paul could assure him it was fine, he'd changed his mind and applied his mouth.

The shin, Jean Paul told himself sternly, does not have any erogenous zones. Being sucked on the shin was not at all sexy. Slobbered on through his trousers.

"It's good," Bobby said.

Jean Paul blinked at him, and shook his head. "Hand me your glass," he said. The tumbler had already seen a small measure of disliked brandy, a large measure of cherry liqueur, and the remains of the red wine, and Jean Paul had stopped wincing each time the latest beverage mingled with the dregs of the previous. It was quite nice not to care, actually. He remembered not caring about things like that, long ago. Before even Raymond. Before he'd learnt how his upbringing tainted him in the eyes of the judgemental more than his sexuality, more than his genes. He was just drunk enough to admit to himself that he'd built this image, these suits and this money and those manners, because he'd been tired of fighting it. Fighting them.

"Mais oui," he said softly. He had started a hundred other battles instead.

Bobby wrapped an arm around Jean Paul's legs, and cuddled him close, resting his head against Jean Paul's knee.

"Why can't I just tell them?" he asked the damp patch he'd made on Jean Paul's leg.

"You will," Jean Paul said, ruffling Bobby's hair.

"I won't," Bobby sighed. "I'm doing the exact opposite. Mom asked if you were my boyfriend, and I told her I wasn't interested in men."

Jean Paul's hand stilled. "That is a backward step," he admitted.

"I don't think she believed me," Bobby said. "I guess that's something." He looked up at Jean Paul. Leaning heavily on Jean Paul's no-longer-so-sturdy legs, he climbed to his feet and tried to take up his previous place on the arm of the chair. He wobbled rather dramatically, and slid not quite into Jean Paul's lap. Jean Paul shifted over, and Bobby settled next to him, their hips jammed together.

Jean Paul held up his glass of coffee liqueur, and Bobby obediently clinked his against it. "To a better year than the one before," he said, and drank.

Jean Paul was a little surprised by the toast, but drank to it thoughtfully. "To the best Christmas I have had in many years," he added.

"Despite-" Bobby gestured to the two of them, "-this?"

Jean Paul nodded, and quickly finished his drink. As he poured himself another, he topped Bobby up as well. He wanted to get Bobby drunk. He wanted to get Bobby so drunk he wouldn't remember anything in the morning. No, he wanted to get Bobby so drunk that there wouldn't be anything to remember. He wanted to get Bobby drunk because he couldn't himself. He wanted drunk Bobby... to get Bobby... he wanted Bobby. He wanted Bobby so badly.

"Maybe I am drunk," he said, staring at the glass of dark brown liquid closely. Something in his tone of voice made Bobby laugh.

"I would like you to be drunk," Bobby told him, resting an arm across Jean Paul's shoulders, drink in the hand at the other end of it. "I've always felt that, that the fact I haven't." He frowned. "I haven't seen you drunk," he said slowly. "And I didn't like that."

"Why not?" Jean Paul asked in some surprise.

"It made you different. Sort of..." Bobby waved his drink expansively, and spilt more on Jean Paul. They both looked at the stain, so very close to Jean Paul's crotch. There was a moment's silence. "Being drunk makes you vulnerable," Bobby said quietly. "I felt like you were never vulnerable, and it scared me."

"You make me feel vulnerable," Jean Paul said.

"It's different, when it's love," Bobby told him. "I mean, I meant vulnerable about the small things. Not... able to look after yourself as much. Dependent. I want to see you too drunk to walk. I want to see you telling people how much they mean to you. I want to see you singing like an idiot, or crying over something ridiculous, or getting angry at innocent people. I want to have to take you home and make sure you don't choke on your own vomit in your sleep and leave you water and painkillers so no matter how hungover you are you still smile, thinking of me. I want to be responsible for you, just occasionally." His voice was getting louder, cracking a little, powerful and desperate. He tightened his arm around Jean Paul's shoulders, pulling him awkwardly across for a hug.

Jean Paul pressed his head against Bobby's cheek, wrapping his arms as best he could around Bobby, obstructed by the back of the chair. When Bobby began to release him he pulled away and grabbed his glass of liqueur. It burned down the back of his throat, thick and strong, stinging the back of his eyes and making his head spin.

"You would look after me," he rasped. Bobby nodded, eyes bright and wet. Jean Paul shuddered, once, and said, "Please, Bobby."

"I want to be responsible," Bobby said. "I am responsible."

"You are," Jean Paul said.

Bobby leant in and kissed him.

His metabolism was quickly chewing through the hangover, but he was sore and bruised. He felt like... he felt like he'd had bad sex.


Jean Paul forced his eyes open, and turned his head, the headache inside it rolling over.

Bobby offered him a weak smile.

"I'm responsible," he said, "remember?"

Jean Paul nodded.

"You forfeited responsibility for your own actions," Bobby added. "You said you did. You wanted to."

Jean Paul smiled, though he didn't feel happy. "I remember." He'd given it so willingly, over and over. He'd let Bobby have complete control.

"You trusted me," Bobby said.

He had.

"You didn't... before," Bobby went on. "You know that? I hadn't realised at the time. You didn't trust me not to die."

"That would be a misplaced trust," Jean Paul pointed out, "in anyone."

"Yeah, but you let it get in the way of other trust," Bobby told him, prodding him in the chest. "Besides, you are meant to trust someone not to die. That's love. You're meant to trust in it to last forever. You were convinced I was going to leave you, one way or another."

"You did not trust me either," Jean Paul said, a little peeved. He knew Boxing Day was a traditional time for hangovers - even if he hadn't been able to explain to Madeline what Boxing Day was - but complete emotional dissection was not usually part of the agenda.

"No, I did. I just didn't trust me." Bobby said. "Nobody trusts me, not with the important stuff."

"Your parents..." Jean Paul fell silent, not sure if this was a good avenue to pursue. Not when he was in their house, certainly, and not when Bobby seemed to be getting on well with them.

"Don't trust me?" Bobby finished for him. "They do, I think, but I'm their only child. They want to baby me. I think they've always felt a bit left out, when everyone else has at least two kids, and then I went away at fourteen, and that hurt them. They've always treated me like I'm still fourteen, and I've acted up to it, and I've never known how to stop, so everyone treats me like a little kid." He paused, and added, "It doesn't make them bad parents. Just, you know, human."

He felt silent for a little while. Jean Paul propped himself up, and found a glass of water and some aspirin on the bedside table. He smiled with real cheer then.

The silence stretched out a little longer.

"We should probably talk about this," Bobby said at exactly the same time Jean Paul began, "There is a subject we are avoiding."

Bobby grimaced. "Please tell me you knew it would happen too," he said.

Jean Paul nodded. "As soon as you invited me. That does not make it a good idea, though."

"It doesn't mean it was a bad one, either," Bobby retorted. "Look, we can't keep denying that we're still attracted to each other. That we're still..."

"In love?" Jean Paul asked.

Bobby nodded. "I don't think I could have gone on much longer, feeling like that. Even just last night... If you said, now, that you still couldn't trust me and we still couldn't make it work, I think I'd be okay with it for a while. But it wouldn't last. And this would happen again, I'd find some way of make sure of it. Just to feel better, because I'm selfish that way."

Jean Paul chuckled. "I think you will find, mon cher, that I am capable of being far more selfish than you. I would seduce you far sooner than you I."

"But it's not just the sex," Bobby said. "In fact, the sex is still... it's still frightening."

"Frightening?" Jean Paul frowned at him. "I understand, alcohol does not make for the best night, but we have had-"

"We've had great sex," Bobby reassured him. "But, I dunno, I guess I'm still a bit old fashioned. I feel like I rushed it, and I want... I want some of it back. A do-over."

"We can take it as slowly as you like," Jean Paul said earnestly. He rolled onto his side and placed a hand on Bobby's bare chest. "There will be romance. Dates. There will be whatever you want." Bobby shifted towards him, taking Jean Paul's hand from his chest and holding it between his, eyes on Jean Paul's face. Jean Paul's heart leapt, and his stomach churned.

"I know that this is not how you saw your life," Jean Paul went on, hoping to persuade Bobby. "This is not what others expect for you. I... I cannot give you that life, but I will give you as much of it as I can. If you come to Canada, we will have even more freedom; we may marry, we may cohabit and 'ave all the rights of any 'eterosexual couple. We may 'ave a house, Rober', we may even adopt, if you wish to 'ave children-"

"I'm sorry, but your English seems to have failed you!" Bobby interrupted him. "Or does 'taking it slow' have a different meaning in Canada? I don't want all that white picket fence stuff. Not yet, at any rate."

Jean Paul blinked and reviewed his ramblings. The panic that had been rising in his chest as he talked dissipated as Bobby clasped Jean Paul's hand firmly. His voice was calm and patient, and his tone sincere. He was serious.

"Can we start with a date?" Bobby asked. "Say, New Year's Eve?"

Jean Paul nodded, not quite sure if he could trust his mouth yet. Bobby smiled at him.

"I promise," he said, "I'll behave better this time. I know how hard it must be for you to take me back after what I did."

Jean Paul burst out laughing. "Oh, mon cher, it has been so hard not to." He pulled Bobby close - gently, so that Bobby might pull away if this was deemed 'too fast' - and held him to his chest, Bobby's head tucked under his chin. Bobby slid an arm over Jean Paul's waist, and kissed his breastbone tenderly. Jean Paul could feel Bobby's smile against his skin. Everything... everything was Right.

"Bobby, d'you know where... Oh."

William Drake stood in the doorway of the room.

Bobby disentangled himself from Jean Paul's grasp, and sat up.

"Um. Dad," he began. "There's something I should tell you."

Well, folks, it's over. All finished! I'll probably go back and pick at some of the earier chapters, to sort out Amricanisms and geography and research and so on, at some point, but there shouldn't be any dramatic changes. Many thanks to everyone who reviewed, and who stuck with it despite the huge long gaps between updates.