December 26, 2009: Yes, I know... I wrote another one. *sheepish grin* I know that most of you aren't even vaguely interested in reading Party of Five fanfiction, much less bromance slash, but... *shrugs* I have a whole page full of other stuff for you. ^_^ I write this stuff for me. See, I absolutely adore the character of Bailey and the chemistry between he and Charlie, well... they're what the term "bromance" is all about. ^_^ And since no one else seems to be writing it for me, if I want to read it, I'll just have to write it myself.

Merry Christmas to me! ((Yes, I know I'm Jewish -- what's your point? ^_~))

Warning: Obviously, this fic is slash. There are boys kissing and doing other unmentionable things to each other. I wouldn't call it any worse than a rated 'R', but on a further note: Said boys are brothers. If that squicks you, don't flame... just don't read. ^_^ However, if you enjoyed, don't hesitate to let me know -- it'd be nice to know that I'm writing these things for someone other than me and that nice person who keeps leaving me all those lovely comments. *_* *waves* ;-D

Deja Vu
by Renee-chan

It feels good to have everyone home for the holidays. We haven't all been together under one roof in far too long. Granted, with spouses and friends added into the mix, we'll be a bit short on space... but I wouldn't trade it for the world. It wasn't all that long ago that I was afraid I wouldn't even see another Christmas, much less enjoy one so thoroughly. So, I'm willing to live through a little overcrowding to have everyone together.

Looking around at the happy faces of my family spreads a warm feeling through me. I don't think I've seen them all look this happy at the same time since before mom and dad died. Julia and Griffin, surprise of surprises, have found one of the sprigs of mistletoe and are taking advantage of it. I don't really blame them -- they are newlyweds, after all. They've had a rocky go of it, but it seems like things are finally starting to even out for them.

Claudia and Ross pulled out their violins at some point in the afternoon and started engaging in some playful duets. The ease of their partnership and the joy in which they share their music is a wonderful thing to behold. It's no wonder that Mary is thoroughly enraptured by her father and his protege.

Kirsten and Owen are over by the Christmas tree, examining all the old ornaments. It's amazing to me that in spite of not being officially part of the family, she can give the history of each special ornament as if she were. It's equally amazing to me that in spite of all the history and bad feelings that have been between us, she still loves my family enough to put that aside and spend the holidays with us. And Owen, with her being the only "mother" he has ever really known, is delighted to have her sole attention focused on him. Although, he will occasionally wander over to check on Mary and see that no one has usurped her company in his absence. Only five years old and already quite the ladies' man. Fortunately, at this age, it's cute.

Only one person is missing from this family mix and I'm a little surprised that I didn't notice it earlier. His presence lights up the room and the entire family gravitates towards him whenever he's around. But... he isn't around. Sometime in the midst of all the celebrating, he managed to sneak away from everyone. He's been doing that a lot, lately, now that I think on it. Doing a little sneaking of my own, I leave the room to go look for him.

The first place to look is, obviously, the kitchen. Being the best cook of all of us, Bailey was long ago relegated to doing the cooking for the major holidays. I know I saw him duck in here a few times earlier in the day to check on various and sundry things. Not so, this time. He isn't here. A brief but thorough search of the rest of the house proves equally fruitless and I find myself getting a little worried. I find I've been a little worried about Bailey a lot recently. He hasn't quite been acting like himself and his decision not to invite Sarah for Christmas was a shock to everyone.

Finally figuring out that my little brother is not in the house, I shrug into my coat and head outside to look for him. I shouldn't be surprised when I find him hunched in on himself, head down, swinging dejectedly on the porch swing. I can't help a flash of unbidden and unwelcome dj vu. Unsure of what my welcome will be, I step up to the swing and quietly ask, "Hey, Bay... What are you doing out here by yourself?"

Bailey's head jerks up at my approach, eyes wide and startled, "Charlie?"

Putting as much reassurance into my smile as I can, I step closer, "Who else would it be? Now are you going to answer my question?"

Turning his eyes away from mine, Bailey shrugs, "Just didn't feel like being cooped up inside anymore, you know?"

With a queasy feeling growing in the pit of my stomach, I realize that I do know. It isn't that Bailey didn't want to be cooped up inside, it's that he's avoiding me. I first noticed it when I got out of the hospital. He'd spent so much time with me while I was there that his subsequent absence was extremely suspicious. I was just too preoccupied to call him on it then. Not so, now. It's with a small shock that I realize that in the four hours that everyone has been at the house, this is the first time I've spoken to my brother. Leaning myself back against the porch railing, I let my lips fall into a frown, "What's up with you lately, Bay?"

He hunches further down into his coat, voice as defensive as his posture, "I haven't been drinking, if that's what you're asking."

With a sigh and a swift wish for patience, I shake my head, "It wasn't." At his distrustful look I elaborate, "You've been avoiding me, Bailey. The others haven't noticed, but I have. Ever since I got out of the hospital, you've been avoiding me like the plague. So, what gives?"

With that last he flinches like I've hit him and, if I'm not mistaken, his face pales, "It's nothing, Charlie. Don't worry about it."

I can't help but snort at that, "Sorry Bay, it doesn't work that way. Like I told you once before when we were standing in these same spots, I love you. I'll always worry about you."

It might be my imagination, but somewhere in that last speech of mine, his breath definitely caught. What the hell is going on here? Dropping down next to my brother on the porch swing, I wrap an arm around his shoulders, "Talk to me, Bay."

For one precious instant he relaxes against my arm, then he seems to recollect himself and yanks himself away from me and off the swing. Breathing a little ragged and eyes more than a little wild, he stares at me. As our gazes lock, I can't help but see the anguish in his. Bailey has always been special -- he's been special to all of us for as long as I can remember. I know it's awful to admit this, but he's always been my favorite. I'd feel worse about that, except that I know that Julia and Claudia feel the same way. For that matter, Owen does, too. He's never stated it explicitly, but he says it in his every action. Every scraped knee, every bruised emotion, every joy and every accomplishment all get shared first with Bailey and only second with anyone else. It's a feeling I understand all too well... and maybe that's why I feel the sudden absence of Bailey in my life so keenly. It's as though someone took the sun away. And now he's hurting. He's hurting and he's keeping it to himself. Good G-d, it's just like that other time. And just like then, I can't stand it. I don't know what's wrong and I don't know if I can fix it, but damn it, I'm going to try.

Standing up, I deliberately corner him against one of the porch columns and pull him to me in a gentle embrace, "Bailey... please, whatever it is, talk to me about it. Maybe I can help."

He's trembling in my arms, breath coming in terrified little pants. Eventually I realize that those desperate little whimpers are words: "Letmego, letmego, letmego... Please, letmego..."

The thought that I may have caused this little breakdown makes me want to cry, too, but I don't let go, "No, Bay. Not until you tell me what's wrong. And don't you dare try to tell me that nothing is -- I'm not blind."

A small keening noise emerges from Bailey's throat to be cut off in a choked whimper. I continue to hold him, rubbing circles around his back and murmuring whatever soothing nonsense I can until he starts to calm. Finally, he slumps against me, exhausted by whatever emotional storm it is that he's suffering. Defeated, he whispers against my neck, "I was terrified that I was going to lose you."

I nod, unsurprised by that revelation. He'd hardly left my side the entire time that I was sick, and of all of us, he's suffered the most losses in his too few years. It makes sense that he'd try to pull away again, just like he did after he lost Jill, "I understand, Bay--"

Before I can finish, he cuts me off, "No, you don't, Charlie. You really don't." He takes a deep breath and only then does he allow himself to wrap his arms around my waist in return of my embrace, "I thought I was going to lose you. I thought you were going to die, Charlie. I've never been so scared in all my life."

Still rubbing his back, I encourage him to continue. There's more to the story than this, I just know it...

Another deep breath and he plunges onward, "I wrecked your whole life, Charlie. You and the others can try to let me off the hook as much as you like, but I know the truth. I forced you into a life you didn't want. I used your own insecurities against you and trapped you into raising a family that wasn't yours. I prevented you from fulfilling your dreams and then you almost lost the chance to do it ever, Charlie."

Again, I'm not really surprised. This is a new verse to a song that Bailey's been singing since he was eighteen. He told me then that he felt like he'd stolen the life and freedom that should have been mine and no matter how I try to reassure him that that isn't the case, he still persists in that belief. Now isn't the time to argue with him, though. I need to keep him talking, because there's something bigger here... much bigger. This much emotion, this much pain... there has to be something else. So I just nod and pull him a little tighter, "It didn't happen, Bay. I'm still here and I'm going to be fine."

In answer to that, there's an almost hysterical sob/giggle. I dont really know what to make of it, except to worry even more. Getting himself back under control, he mutters, "I know, I know, I know... It's why I didn't say anything, why I can't tell you. You're going to live, you're going to be fine, you're going to have a life! I'm not going to screw it up for you. Not this time. Not again."

Leaning back a little, I worm a finger underneath Bailey's chin and tilt his head upwards. Meeting those anguished blue eyes with as sincere a look as I can muster, I say simply, "Whatever it is, I can handle it. Tell me."

Something about those last words finally did it. Bailey slumped in my arms, head falling to rest on my shoulder as he exhaled three simple words, "I love you."

Lips stretching up into a gentle smile as I pull my little brother tighter against me, I answer with, "I love you, too, Bay, but that's not going to get you out of telling me what the problem is."

Suddenly, his hands are up between us, pushing against my chest as he fights to get some personal space back. I let him go, concerned all over again that I'm losing ground in this not-quite-argument. Looking down into his now frustrated face, I can't help the feeling that I've missed something. As I watch him, his eyes take on a resigned cast and he mutters, "So be it," then does something so completely unexpected that I freeze. Fisting his hands in my shirt, Bailey leans up and presses his lips to mine.

To say that I'm stunned is such an understatement that it's not worth making. The minute that my little brother's lips touch mine, my thoughts come to a screeching, grinding halt. On the one hand is a voice screaming that this is my baby brother, this is incest, this is wrong. The other half of me is a 29 year old man that just narrowly missed dying and can't help but appreciate that the person who is kissing me is very skilled... and is turning me on, a lot.

A few precious minutes later, my brain finally kicks back into gear and I realize that not only am I standing on the front porch being very thoroughly kissed by my baby brother, but that I am also kissing back. The shock of that thought forces me to break the kiss and stumble backwards a few paces. Both of our chests are heaving as we fight for air after that intense kiss. Bailey's eyes reflect pure horror as he realizes what he's done and I know that in just a minute, he's going to bolt. If that happens, I'm going to lose him for good. That forces me to analyze my feelings far faster than I would have liked, but we don't always get everything we want in life. Bailey has no way of knowing that in the deep, dark hours of the night, I've had my own share of fantasies. This guilty pleasure of mine is one I keep closely guarded and have done for years, ever since Jill's death. But never in a million years did I imagine he might be harboring the same feelings. It's one thing to obsess about it in the quiet of my own room, in the still small hours of the morning when the brush of fantasy makes everything possible. It's another thing entirely to trot that fantasy out into reality and try to imagine if there is a way, any way at all, that you can make it happen. I can't believe I'm even seriously considering this...

I'm taking too long, I can see. Bailey is turning away from me, gathering his legs under him to take off -- into the house, down the block... only he knows. Before he can, however, I finally come to a decision. It may be the wrong one and it will cause us both no end of grief, but it's the only way that I can see to bring either of us any measure of peace. Grabbing Bailey's hand, I pull him back to me in another crushing embrace, this time lowering my own lips to capture his. His mouth is slack under mine, his eyes wide. For one panicked moment, I think that I have grossly misinterpreted something. Then his arms wrap around my neck in a stranglehold and he's kissing me back with all that passion he had been trying so desperately to hold in check.

It's wrong. I know it's wrong. He knows it's wrong. But it feels too right to stop. My head is spinning and dizzy from the sheer overwhelming force of these kisses and Bailey is clearly faring no better. Stumbling, we fall back onto the porch swing and a tiny portion of my mind has a brief moment to be thankful that Ross and Claudia are playing yet another rousing number as the chains rattle and chime above us. The rest of my attention is focused solely on the lithe body under mine on the swing.

He's wrapped a leg around one of mine and seems to be trying to press as close to me as he possibly can. Every time we pause for breath, another broken "I love you" tumbles from his lips. For my part, I am completely overcome by the depth of feeling in those broken words. No wonder he's been avoiding me. How could he have felt this deeply for me without my ever knowing? But then, I know the answer to that, too... for I've felt just as deeply as he has without ever uttering a word.

What feels like hours later, but can't have been more than minutes, we finally manage to stop our frantic kisses. The need is banked for now, both of us more than exhausted by the maelstrom of sheer emotion we've been centered in, but I can feel it ready to fan back into a flame with every minute shift of my brother's body under mine. Bailey lets out a relieved huff of a laugh, "Well, Charlie... In all honesty, I can admit that I never dreamed that would be your response."

With a groan, I bury my face in the hollow of his neck. I'm not ready to deal with all that this is going to mean. On some level, I can't divorce myself from the thought that this is my baby brother. I was there when he took his first steps. I helped him learn to tie his shoes. I gave him his first lessons in how to pick up girls, for crying out loud! But by the determined look in his serene blue eyes, I just know that I'm not going to get away with tossing out some pathetic excuse -- not now that he knows I feel for him as deeply as he does for me. And on a completely different level, I don't even want to try to push him away. That side of me is busy turning cartwheels and pumping its fist in the air as it realizes that while all of the Salingers love Bailey best... he loves me best. That's when I know I am really and truly lost, consequences be damned, so I lift my head to smile down at him and answer him with a light, "You could not have picked a worse time for this, you know?"

Those eyes sparkle up at me, shining with happiness, "Oh? How so?'

I sigh melodramatically, "We have an entire house full of guests and no way to arrange to be alone."

His quiet laugh and the leer he tosses me out of the corner of his eye nearly drive me to lose control and I have to fight the urge to bend my head downwards to ravish his mouth again. With a knowing wink, he says, "Oh, I don't know, Charlie. Dont the currently planned sleeping arrangements involve us sharing your bed, tonight?"

Those words drive home to me that this is real, not some fantasy, and suddenly I am terrified, frozen by the import of this decision we are teetering on the edge of. It's bad enough making out with my brother on the porch, but the idea of going to bed with him... my mind suddenly gibbers in panic. I don't care how many times I've played out this exact scenario in my head, the bald reality that I am considering having sex with my little brother nearly causes my heart to stop. What am I thinking? What is he thinking? How can we even be considering doing this?

Some of my sudden panic must have shown on my face, because the look in Bailey's eyes gentles and I find myself gazing down at the solid rock of our family on who's strength I have always relied. One of his hands threads into my hair and pulls my head down to rest against his chest. The steady, unhurried thrum of the heartbeat under my ear is as reassuring in its way as the next words that Bailey speaks, "It's OK, Charlie. We don't have to take this any faster or any farther than either of us wants to." There is a pause and a hitch in his breathing as that beloved heartbeat speeds up a notch, "I'll take whatever you're willing to give, even if that's nothing... So long as I don't lose you."

The sound of that anguish reappearing in his voice is more than I can bear. I lift my head from his chest and reposition my hands so I can bracket his face with them, rubbing gentle thumbs across his cheekbones. I say with conviction, "You won't lose me. As long as I have anything to say about it, you won't ever have to worry about that again. That I can guarantee you, little brother. I love you, more than I thought possible." That brings a smile back to his face. I bend down and press a chaste kiss to those already swollen lips, then answer his smile with one of my own, "As for the other... let's just take that one step at a time, OK?"

A frenetic nod is his only answer to that. With a heartfelt sigh, I disentangle myself from Bailey and we both sit up on the swing. Almost shyly, I settle an arm around his shoulders and pull him up against me. This time, he tucks himself into my side as though made to fit there. For the first time since I came home from the hospital... maybe even since mom and dad's accident, it finally feels like everything may be all right. Dropping a kiss down onto my brother's forehead, I add, "Merry Christmas, Bailey."

With a glowing smile the rising sun would envy, Bailey returns my kiss with a gentle one planted on my cheek, "Merry Christmas to you, too, Charlie." And as for all the problems this may cause... we'll sort it out next year.


Questions, comments, coconuts?

Bailey: *stares* Really? It just... it just stops there?

Nuriko: *snickers* Get used to it.