Rating: PG-13.

Prompt: 091. Birthday.

Disclaimer: The show's not mine. Sadly I wasn't clever enough to think of it first.

Summary: In an impromptu bid to cheer Maxxie up and get him out of his slump, Rupert decides to throw him a birthday party. A mistake, as this shortly leads to an unexpected trip back home and an encounter with someone Maxxie was sure was out of his life for good.

Another Year Older

For twenty minutes, Maxxie had been sat in the front window, his chin resting in his hands as he watched snowflakes flutter down past the stained glass. He wasn't entirely sure how long it had been snowing for, although the street outside now lay beneath a dusting of icing sugar white and the houses opposite looked like they'd been plucked straight out of a Christmas card, strings of multicoloured fairy lights wrapped around the wrought iron gates and the first signs of snow banks building at the bottom of the steps.

Six months ago, just two months after Rupert had landed his dream job and taken over as the head chef at Rules in Covent Garden, they'd moved to a 2-bed house in Notting Hill. Maxxie still wasn't sure whether he liked living there or not, half of the time he felt like he'd been trapped inside a scene from Love Actually, especially at this time of year.

He couldn't help but miss the flat in Battersea. They'd been there for almost four years after all, he'd become emotionally attached to the place.

The house, of course, practically mirrored the old flat. With two beaten up leather couches in the living room, terracotta throws tossed over them in what was supposed to seem a casual fashion and Rupert's array of trinkets he'd purchased from holidays in Morocco scattered over the mantelpiece, if felt exactly the same. Naturally the kitchen was the room Rupert spent most of his time in when he was home, pawing over recipe books and cutting fresh herbs from the pots on the windowsill, spreading himself out across the island.

Contrary to what his friends (and boyfriend) said though, the past year had been pretty damned rubbish, in Maxxie's opinion at least.

Not long after Rupert received his promotion, Maxxie had broken his ankle in a show, taken a tumble during a routine and been put out of commission for almost four months. It had been the worst four months of his life, and moving in the middle of it hadn't helped, so now, in an annoyingly sickly sweet kind of way, Rupert had been on a mission to cheer him up by any means possible.

Not that it would help, Maxxie had received one last blow a couple of weeks ago, his physiotherapist telling him there would be no way on earth he'd be able to tap dance again without risking further damage to his ankle.

Unashamedly, he'd cried himself to sleep that night…

Rupert's latest idea was a party (well, more of a gathering if Rupert was organising it, he didn't have a clue how to throw a party) for Maxxie's 24th birthday, to be held that night at the house. So naturally, Maxxie had spent the afternoon avoiding his boyfriend, who was busy in the kitchen and listening, incessantly, to old Spice Girls songs. All in all, it had been pretty easy really, occupying himself with stringing up recently received Christmas cards, finishing off the decorations, and then spending a good hour attempting (in vain) to light a fire in the grate. He wasn't exactly practised at it.

Upon finishing with that, watching the snow had been a welcome distraction, up until now at least. But it was time for that to come to an end, he had just spotted Emma's car turn into the street and several moments later, she'd pulled up outside and he could see Luke waving from the backseat.

Moving out of the window with a soft sigh, Maxxie made his way to the front door, opening it just in time to see a heavily pregnant Emma trip over her own feet and stumble up the front steps. 'I'm fine!' she declared before he even got around to asking, waving a hand idly in front of her as if to shoo him away. 'You go back inside, Max.'

Emma had been behaving that way for over a month now. All Rob's fault of course, he got overprotective when she was pregnant, he'd been exactly the same when she'd been expecting Luke. So now, each and every time, she felt the need to announce her ability to take care of herself even when it wasn't necessary.

Spotting the cake tin in her hands, Maxxie took a step forward and began to ask, 'Do you want me to-'

'No!' Emma's shout echoed down the street and he stopped dead in his tracks, his arms falling down limply by his sides.

The cry seized Rob's attention rather abruptly and he looked up from the snowball fight Luke had instigated with him, making a move towards the steps. Luke, it seemed, had other ideas, and took his dad's distraction as the perfect excuse to run up and shove a handful of snow into his face.

He smiled mischievously and then came gambolling past them both, arms outstretched, shrieking, 'Uncle Maxxie!'

Maxxie laughed and then scooped the 4-year-old up in his arms, responding with a grin, 'Hello, monster, what are you doing here?'

'Sorry, Max,' it was Emma who spoke, reaching the doorstep at last and looking apologetic. 'Mum couldn't have him tonight, so I had to bring him along with us. I'll put him to bed in an hour or so though and then he'll be out of our way.' She reached a hand out, playfully ruffling Luke's hair and he scowled at her, the perfect mirror image of his father.

By the time Rob joined them in the doorway, he had succeeded in getting the cake tin off Emma, as well as several brightly coloured gift bags and he followed everyone back into the house.

A brief kerfuffle took place, coats, hats and scarves being removed and tossed around the hallway, Luke generally causing havoc before finally announcing he needed the toilet. Rob took him upstairs without objection, leaving Maxxie and Emma in the hall, and she took a step closer to him, placing a soft kiss to his cheek, murmuring, 'Happy birthday, Max.'

'Thank you,' his reply was gentle as he hung up her coat on the rack, and then led her into the living room.

'God, I need to sit down, my feet are killing me,' she said, lowering herself into the nearest armchair with a heavy sigh. A second later she spotted a bowl of Quality Street on the coffee table and leant forward to pluck out several orange creams. 'Today's been manic; we went Christmas shopping on Oxford Street. I told Rob we should have just stayed here to do it, but no, he wanted to get something for his mum from Selfridges.' She shook her head. 'Bloody woman, she better appreciate it.'

Maxxie perched on the arm of the couch nearest to her and offered a sympathetic smile. 'Finished now though?' he asked, reaching for a chocolate himself and unwrapping it.

'Thank God,' replied Emma, rolling her eyes. 'Sometimes I think that husband of mine forgets I'm eight months pregnant!'

Her final words were more pronounced as if she wanted Rob to overhear them and, sure enough, a moment later he poked his head around the door, a slight frown on his face and asked, 'Did you shout me?'

'No, dear...' She beamed at him.

He shrugged, disappearing back upstairs, and Maxxie had to stifle a laugh when Emma stuck her tongue out at his retreating form.

A minute later, the childish banter was forced to come to an end and Rupert joined them in the room, placing a tray of glasses down on the coffee table. He made a killer mulled wine, using homemade wine of course; something Maxxie had discovered a few years back. The trouble was the number of glasses on the tray and that unnerved Maxxie somewhat. He cast a sidelong glance to his boyfriend. 'Rupe, who did you invite tonight?' he asked.

Taking a seat on the couch, Rupert returned his gaze with a frown, picking up a glass. 'A couple of guys from the company, few of your friends from back home.' He paused and took a sip of his wine. 'Why? What's the problem?'

'Nothing,' he responded with a shake of his head, expression turning sullen. He could feel Emma's eyes on him, but ignored it and reached forwards for a drink, sinking down onto the couch beside Rupert instead and leaning into him.

Rob and Luke joined them in the room several minutes later, Luke jumping up onto his mum's chair straight away and curling around her, his head dropping down onto Emma's shoulder. She simply smiled, stroking his hair and laying a kiss to his forehead. 'Sleepy yet, baby?' she murmured.

It was a stupid question; they all knew Luke wouldn't be going to sleep anytime soon, especially with so much going on. So Rob ploughed on regardless and handed over the gift bags to Maxxie. Apparently he'd already discarded of the cake in the kitchen somewhere.

'Oooh presents!' Luke's curiosity was peaked again and he sat up, bright and alert, watching.

Maxxie cast him a sidelong glance and then smiled, quickly patting the empty space beside him. That was all in took, within seconds Luke had joined him on the couch to help him open up the brightly wrapped parcels, tossing pieces of ribbon across the living room in feverish excitement. The five of them were more like a family than Maxxie ever thought they could be. In fact, he probably spent too much time with his surrogate family these days than he should have, ignoring his real one. He rarely went home; he had no reason to anymore.

When the presents were done with, the group fell into comfortable silence and it wasn't long before Luke dozed off sprawled across Rupert's legs. Rob whisked him off to bed quickly, not giving him chance to stir again, tucking him up in the guest room with his trusty Action Man in his arms.

Shortly afterwards, the drinks began to flow and Maxxie found himself halfway to a drunken stupor when Emma pointed to the window, her eyebrows lifting.

'Who's that?' she questioned curiously.

He sat bolt upright, gaze moving immediately to the path outside and the silhouette of someone hovering at the bottom of the steps – a someone who was looking a little lost. He'd know that face anywhere.

Jumping up from his comfortable spot on the couch, Maxxie raced into the hall and threw open the front door, startling the figure stood only a few feet from him. 'Chelle?' he asked, the surprise apparent in his tone.

'Max!' Michelle beamed, facing him now and then raced up the steps, throwing her arms around him in a tight hug. 'I wasn't sure if this was the right house or not, my taxi driver barely spoke English and I didn't have a clue where I was going,' she babbled on, pulling back from the hug slightly. 'Nightmare.'

She laughed and he couldn't help but pull her close again, enjoying the familiarity of having her there.

It took five minutes to get back inside the house again and by that time, the shoulders of Michelle's coat were dusted with a fresh sprinkling of snow. He took it from her, along with her hat and scarf and then showed her into the living room. There wasn't any introducing that needed to be done, they had all met before, quite a few times actually. Catching up though, there was plenty.

Michelle had moved to the South of France 18 months ago for work, met some guy there and then refused to move back home again, setting up house and playing happy families instead. She often came back to visit though, spending a week or so in Bristol with her mum and latest stepfather (a business tycoon by the name of Carl Davis), and getting round to seeing her friends whenever she could.

Before moving away, Michelle had spent a good year in London training and Maxxie had seen an awful lot of her. You could almost say they'd been close. It was probably the most unlikely friendship he'd ever had or expected. She was also the only one who would ever talk to him about Tony and what had happened between them, everyone else pretended like he didn't exist these days. It was a weird situation to be in.

Once some much needed catching up had been done, Maxxie set off into the kitchen to fetch Michelle a glass of white wine and she followed him without hesitation, leaning back against the island as he uncorked the bottle.

'I spoke to Tony last night,' she said tentatively, her gaze firmly fixed to her nails as she picked at the pink polish. 'We went out for a drink.'

This surprised him and Maxxie had to get a better grip on the bottle in his hands before he replied. 'That's nice.' He didn't offer anything more and turned his attention to pouring a large glass for her, sliding it across the surface so that it was within her reach.

Michelle sighed, in frustration, her eyes narrowing as she ignored the wine. 'Why do you have to be so stubborn?' she questioned.

It was Maxxie's turn to sigh then and he blew his cheeks out in annoyance before responding again. 'Fine,' he muttered. 'How's he going on?'

'Better.'

That one word held a lot of significance and they shared a brief look.

'You should go and visit him, you know, go home for a couple of days.'

It wasn't a suggestion, it was a request.

There had been an incident involving a teenage girl drunk driving and smashing into the back of Tony's car six months ago, or so Maxxie had heard on the grapevine anyway. For a few weeks there, things hadn't looked too good for his old friend.

He stared at Michelle in disbelief before deciding he could do with a glass of wine himself and poured one, sloshing the clear liquid all over the counter in the process. He cursed and then dropped his head forwards in defeat, raking his free hand up into his hair.

'I'm not stupid, Max,' said Michelle hesitantly, finally picking up her glass and taking a sip from it, her gaze now drawn to her feet. 'Tony's probably the biggest wanker I've ever met, aside from my dad perhaps, but at least he's trying.' She laughed lightly. 'He's grown up, believe it or not.'

'I'll believe it when I see it,' Maxxie replied hotly.

Michelle was about to respond but they were forced to end their conversation there as the doorbell rang. Several minutes later the house fell into chaos once more. In addition to numerous people from his dancing company, Chris and Jal had shown up as well, bringing along more alcohol and even more presents.

Luke woke up five minutes later, disturbed by all the noise downstairs and by the time midnight rolled around Maxxie found himself sprawled out in front of the fire playing army with Rupert, Rob, Chris and Luke. They may have gotten a little carried away, the living room now resembled a bunker and the girls were getting pummelled with cushions at regular intervals, Chris and Luke being responsible for most of the pummelling.

After standing it for ten minutes, Emma had decided to take advantage of the bed Luke abandoned earlier and tiptoed upstairs out of the way, sneaking an open bottle of wine up with her.

Michelle and Jal on the other hand were giving as good as they got, picking up cushions from the floor and hurling them back just as quick. It could have been worse though; Michelle was wearing a very vicious looking pair of heels and Maxxie thanked the Lord for small miracles when she slipped them off in favour of running around barefoot instead.

It may have been childish, but as far as things went, it was fun and this birthday had been one of the best he'd had in a long while.

Now all he needed to do was forget about Tony again and resist the urge to do what Michelle had said. He did owe a visit to his dad though; the temptation was most certainly there.