"I can't do this, Duke."
"What are you talking about? Everything's fine. Your parents are yelling at you again, no more of that strained civil baby talk. The still don't like the fact that you have a boyfriend, but don't worry about it so much."
Tristan glared balefully at said boyfriend. Duke smiled back at him, green eyes sly with amusement. One would have been hardpressed to tell who was less pleased to be here. Tristan wore neatly pressed slacks and a smart jacket, but slouched and jammed his hands into his pockets. A bright scarf was flung about Duke's neck, who shivered against the cold despite being heavily bundled.
"Tristan! Are you waiting for next Christmas? Hurry up, we're already late!" a maternal voice called.
"Yeah, Ma, in a minute!" Tristan slumped against the door of the car. Snowflakes melted against the hood, still warm from the long drive. He looked as though he wished for a moment he could dissolve with them. "So. Ready to meet the rest of the family?" he asked Duke.
The other boy's lips curved into a smile. "About as ready as you are," he replied.
Two unwilling participants trudged through the snow, ignoring the rough trail already forged by the Taylor parents. Neither young man was eager to be drug along to the annual family Christmas dinner. There was little Tristan could say, being part of said family. And there was little Duke could say, this being the first polite invitation he'd received from Tristan's parents. So they stamped their feet on the porch, cast a last longing look at the car, and entered the house.
The birth of mankind's savior was celebrated with cheap, tacky plastic in Aunt Gertrude's foyer. Multitudes of decorations covered every available flat surface in the foyer. Plant stands and bookshelves boasted crystal nativity scenes. Foam snowmen and random pots of poinsettias squatted in corners. Snowflake candles, drapes and coils of tinsel, and the occasional popsicle stick angel hung from the walls next to leering plastic Santa door knockers. Eight tiny reindeer hung despondently from the ceiling.
Tristan barked his shin against a Santa doorstand. He growled and muttered curses in it's direction until shushed by his mother's scolding glare.
"Martha! Henry! So good to see you!" Aunt Gertrude's voice boomed in the Christmas choked foyer. Tristan and Duke were spared for the moment while she talked to the brunet's parents.
"Interesting decor," Duke said softly. He crossed his arms against his chest and glanced about the room with a bemused air.
Tristan bristled. "She's involved with a lot of home interior sales, okay?" he hissed.
The dice duelist arched an eyebrow. "A bit defensive for someone who was muttering about the 'holiday nut' under his breath all the way here."
"I know but-- AWK!" Tristan squawked when his aunt clasped him against her massive bosom.
"Oh, my sweet little nephew!" Aunt Gertrude squeezed Tristan a bit harder. He made another interesting noise. "It's been so long! You've gotten so big!" She released her nephew, who stumbled back a few steps, clutching his chest. Aunt Gertrude turned her attentions to Duke. "I see you brought a friend," she said and eyed the boy with a raised eyebrow.
Duke took a polite step back and nodded. "Duke Devlin," he said smoothly. "Very nice to meet you." He grinned slightly at Tristan. "Your 'sweet little nephew' has already told me so much about you. You have a lovely home."
From anyone else, the words would have rung false and hung sour in the air. Yet Aunt Gertrude tittered slightly behind her hand and made a slight shooing motion with the other. "My word! Such a polite young man. Tristan, you'd do well to learn a few manners from him."
A wicked grin crossed Duke's face and he threw an arm around Tristan's shoulders. "Don't worry ma'am." He smirked at Tristan. "I think I've taught him a few things," Duke purred.
"Gertrude!" Tristan's mother called with the air of someone trying too hard to avoid an awkward moment. "Why don't we get our coats off? The boys can bring in the gifts." She offered Tristan a strained smile. "Don't forget the pound cake, dear."
Tristan stared blankly after his parents as they were ushered to the coat closet by Aunt Gertrude. "She still... You weren't even..."
"Come on," Duke tugged gently at Tristan's arm.
Once again they stamped through the snow. A deliberate silence settled about them as they walked. Tristan jammed his hands into his pockets. Duke tugged at his scarf. They stood by the car for a moment.
"She's still uncomfortable around us," Tristan said at last.
Duke tried to huddle deeper into his coat. "Maybe. But she's getting better."
Tristan snorted. "You didn't see the look on her face," he replied flatly. "Like she wanted those damned plastic Santas to come to life and drag her off somewhere."
"If I remember correctly, you said it was her idea to invite me along." Duke's breath wafted in ghostly puffs in the evening air.
"I don't care." Tristan shoved away from the car and yanked open the door. He started grabbing the numerous colorful boxes that had jostled and poked the boys throughout the car trip. A few small packages were shoved at Duke and Tristan juggled the rest. The pound cake perched precariously in the brunet's arms.
"Maybe she's not the only one who's still uncomfortable," Duke muttered under his breath as they made their way back to the house.
Taylors and guest finally found themselves sitting in delightful warmth near a lively fireplace. The living room was a sharp contrast to the gaudy celebration of the foyer, with warm colors and soft shapes giving the room a comfortable air. Aunt Gertrude passed around cups of cocoa. Inconsistent her tastes in interior decorating might have been, she certainly knew how to make cocoa. Tristan's parents and his aunt were in a proprietary huddle, overstuffed chairs pointed subtly towards one another. The two boys sat next to one another by the fireplace.
"What was that about at the car?" Duke asked quietly with an arched brow.
Tristan glanced quickly in his family's direction before turning to Duke. "Nothing. Just a momentary brain glitch, that's all." He sought out the warmth of Duke's hand. It wasn't the cold of the snow that he wanted to banish, but something deeper. Unexpected relief soothed him when Duke's fingers tightened around his own.
Duke smirked. "I suppose I can accept 'brain glitch' by way of apology." He leaned against Tristan, resting his head on the other's shoulder. "You still need to calm down."
"Yeah, I know." A frown curved his lips. He needed to calm down. His mother needed to calm down. Tristan let go of Duke's hand and wrapped an arm around his waist, tugging Duke closer. It was as much a gesture of affection as it was defiance. He heard Duke snicker.
"If you just want to piss her off..." the dice duelist whispered, nuzzling Tristan's neck, "I'll be happy to oblige." Duke's hands teased a different sort of warmth to Tristan. He smoothed away a nonexistent wrinkle from the inner thigh of Tristan's jeans.
A strangled grin stretched from Tristan's slight frown. He should have known better. Duke was never one to let a chance like that pass. He risked another glance at his parents and aunt. Still chattering away. Tristan brushed Duke's hand away. "Not here," he hissed.
Duke looked up at Tristan with a cheshire smile, wide and full of self-indulgent mirth. "You started it," he replied smugly.
Tristan glared. "Not. Here."
Slender hands darted as neat and quick as cat paws and hooked in the waistband of Tristan's pants. "You started it," Duke repeated, cheshire grin widening to mad proportions. "Just let me finish."
Panic flared crimson across the bridge of Tristan's nose and dusted his cheeks an oddly dainty rose. Duke was too close. The firm line of his thigh pressed persistently against Tristan's own, and those damned teasing fingers pushed lower and lower into his pants. Tristan surged to his feet in a single, stumbling motion. Duke tumbled back a bit. He looked up at Tristan with an expression that turned to surprise before it could become hurt confusion as he was yanked to his feet.
"Going out for air be back in a bit," Tristan said in a single breath to his parents as he dragged Duke towards the porch. The door was flung open and slammed shut behind them.
"What the hell--" Duke managed before being shoved against a wall. The cold never had a chance to reach him. He felt Tristan's lean body hot against his own, strong hands trapping their hips together, insistent lips claiming his mouth. Christ! Even through the layers of shirts Duke wore, he could still feel--
"Finished enough for you?" Tristan asked. The challenging grin smoothed out into a puzzled, uncertain smile. "Duke?"
The look in his eyes was smoldering. "Let's try that again and I'll let you know."