Hi! I've gotten some requests for epilogues and continuations to Synthetic Bonds, and it's one of those things that I've wanted to do but have never known what to write. But this year has been one extended writing funk, and two days ago, I finally forced myself to wonder what Harry and Draco's first Christmas would be like. I know this is kind of almost too late to really count as a Christmas story, but as Harry says somewhere in here, it's still Christmas somewhere (well, only for a few more hours).
Also, huge apologies to any chemists out there. Every reference to chemistry in here is me frantically trying to remember what little chemistry I learned or trying to fit how I do lab work with how I imagine chemists do lab work. It's probably not a very accurate view.
I hope you all enjoy this, inaccurate chemistry aside. And thanks for all the wonderful comments and recs and kudos/favorites! For those of you who are reading the Blaise/Oliver side story, I promise that I haven't abandoned it, and we will return to them soon!
Draco was resting his chin on the workbench. The only sound in the lab was his work, brewing directly in front of him. He probably shouldn't have his eyes level with the bubbling reaction taking place only one inch away from him, but he was a grad student, damnit-he lived life on the edge.
"You could just take a break, you know," came Hermione's voice from the end of his bench. The sound of something not related to science shook Draco out of his reverie. "You've already been here since five, and you've probably got fifteen minutes until the next step."
Draco rested his head back down on the bench. "I know, but I want to make sure I can get that step started as soon as possible."
"Why are you even here? I thought you did this stuff last week specifically so you wouldn't have to come in on Christmas."
"I did. But that undergrad who claims to be working for me is apparently part of some giant conspiracy to deplete my life of all happiness." Draco looked at Hermione, but she didn't seem to follow his conspiracy theory explanation. "He accidentally dumped all my samples down the drain three days ago."
"I'm sure he's not in on some giant conspiracy to deplete your life of all happiness."
Draco glared at her. "It's Christmas, Hermione. I should be at home my husband right now, but if I don't take care of this today, I won't have data in time for my next group meeting presentation. Meanwhile, Mr. Undergrad is off on some tropical paradise-"
"You mean his home? In Maine? Hardly seems tropical to me."
"The point is that I'm the one who has to stay in lab all day on Christmas instead of being at home getting fucked in front of a fireplace."
"You don't have a fireplace."
"I've been here for five hours. I can have a hypothetical fireplace to get fucked in front of if I want to."
"So Harry knows you'll be in lab all day?"
Draco's upper body tensed at the question. "I told him I'll be home by six."
Hermione bit her lip. It looked like she was struggling to reign in her skepticism. "You know you'll only be home by six if absolutely everything goes the way it should, right?"
Yes, Draco did know that. And every time he thought on that fact, a little knot formed in his stomach. At this point, he wasn't sure there was space for any new knots to form. Today was supposed to be important. He and Harry had both been looking forward to sharing their first Christmas together as a married couple, but they had been so busy that they'd barely been able to spend any time together. They had set aside a weekend to put up the tree, but then Harry got stuck in a meeting in London, so Draco did it himself. That small tree and its modest ornamentation was the only evidence of holiday cheer in their apartment.
Draco would rather die than admit any kind of sentimentality over a holiday where he'd once thrown a tantrum over a train set, but he still felt like he owed it to Harry to make today a good day. When Draco had realized that the only way to get his work back on schedule was to go in on Christmas, he'd dreaded telling Harry. And even with all of Harry's assurances, Draco couldn't help but feel that he had already ruined Christmas.
So basically, he had to be done by six, and his stomach knots could go fuck off.
"Are you suggesting that I'll be making a mistake today?" Draco asked the question so sharply that Hermione's face paled.
"No, no, of course not."
"Good." Draco turned his attention back to the beaker in front of him. Adjusting some knobs on the stirrer, he watched the dark blue liquid slowly turn clear. "Don't you have a boyfriend or a party or something to go home to?"
"Yup," Hermione said, far more chipper than anyone who was in lab on Christmas should be. "I just wanted to clean my bench and look over my lab notebook, you know. Make sure I have everything written up for the year."
"You came in on Christmas to check up on your lab notebook? Wait, you know what, never mind. I don't know why I'm acting like that's a surprise."
Hermione smiled sheepishly. "If you need help, I can do something."
"As much as I would love to make you do all my work," Draco started, and he paused a moment to wonder how wrong it would really be to keep Hermione away from her plans for the sake of his Christmas. Then he shook his head and continued, "The holidays have a way of inspiring good will and benevolence in even my cold, dark soul."
"I guess there is such a thing as a Christmas miracle then," Hermione noted, though she sounded sympathetic.
"Have fun having a life," Draco said as he waved her away. On his bench, the clear liquid stirred away.
Draco was almost surprised that it took two more hours for the first crucial error to occur. It wasn't his fault, mind you. No, some enterprising asshole had mislabeled the water, and Draco's solution was now much more dilute than it was supposed to be.
Fortunately, it was a quick fix. All he had to do was quickly rescue that little batch of sample left at the bottom of his beaker. It wasn't ideal, but it would have to do.
Crucial mistake number two was a bit harder to deal with. Apparently, basic arithmetic was also part of the giant conspiracy to ruin Draco's happiness. And the problem with basic arithmetic was that even if one was to say, forget how to double the volume of sodium hydroxide stated in a protocol, even a minor error could become a serious, "this solution is not supposed to bubble and turn magenta" kind of issue.
By the time Draco managed to control the bubbling and return the solution to its expected color, he was thirty minutes behind schedule.
That thirty minutes became a full hour when he realized the lab had run out of seals, and he had to run from floor to floor to find some other unfortunate soul working on Christmas who could give him one.
A full hour became two hours when it became apparent that whoever was supposed to clean glassware had failed to do their job that week, and Draco was forced to sift through a pile of dirty beakers to find the ones he needed and then clean them out.
By the time it was 5:30, Draco had given up altogether on the notion of making it home by six. During a short break, he made a call to Harry that coupled long-winded explanations of everything that had gone wrong so far interspersed with apologies and promises that the next step would only take twenty minutes.
"Don't worry," Harry assured him. "Just get home when you can. I'll make sure dinner is taken care of."
The step that was supposed to take twenty minutes had decided to take an additional fifty minutes to complete. The solution dripped slowly, as if to punctuate beats that said, "Fuck. You. Fuck. You." Fortunately, there was no one around to hear Draco's litany of curses in response.
Draco was now resorting to cursing in as many foreign languages as he could. There was no appropriate emoticon to convey his feelings via text, so he sent Harry a message that combined German, Russian, and Portugese.
"Hope the science is going well!"
Draco could kill Harry for being so optimistic.
The end was in sight.
The end was no longer in sight. Apparently, Harry's optimism was infectious and inspired delusions of accomplishment.
Things were just getting sloppy at this point. Mistakes were happening left and right, but Draco's ability to care was almost zero. He'd called Harry at least three times over the past hour, each time promising that he would be done in ten minutes. He had been in lab for sixteen hours, and all he'd eaten was a microwaveable burrito and two Pop Tarts. Harry had mentioned that dinner was ready-probably ordered from their favorite Thai restaurant. The thought made Draco think of a table stocked with fried appetizers, curry, and noodles. He could swear he could smell the spices until he realized that he was actually just smelling flaming lab equipment.
A mound of purple crystal was sitting on his bench. Draco was done, and no one could tell him differently.
He wiped down his bench and swept aside the dirty equipment, slowing down just enough to make sure nothing broke. Now that the end was actually in sight, Draco's willingness to make mistakes had gone down tremendously. His stomach was growling, and worst of all, he knew Harry had to have gone to bed by now. He'd called Harry to let him know that he was finally done, but no one picked up the phone.
Well, he told himself in an admission of defeat, there would always be other Christmases.
Draco had just barely missed the previous bus. At this point, he was resigned to the set-back. When he'd left in a hurry at 4:30 that morning, it hadn't occurred to him to wear a hat or gloves, so now he was shivering on a cold bench. He had about fifteen minutes until the next bus, but he decided it was best not to risk missing it, even if that meant sitting outside in the cold. He sent one last text to Harry to let him know he would be getting on the next bus. Then, clasping his hands between his legs, he watched his breath form clouds in the air. Draco's head tilted forward, and he closed his eyes, giving in to an overwhelming urge to rest. Just a second of rest before his mind returned to counting all the ways he could have made it home just a few hours earlier-if only he hadn't made those mistakes.
The emptiness of his surroundings was periodically interrupted by the sound of cars speeding through slush. In his state of half-sleep, he didn't quite process that one of those cars had slowed down to a stop before him.
He must have entered some kind of dream state where Harry's voice was serving as the manifestation of Draco's conscience-laden with guilt for this whole Christmas debacle.
"Shut up, Guilty Conscience Harry," Draco mumbled to the distant voice, "I'm trying to sleep."
He heard the sound of a car door opening, then closing. Then someone was poking him repeatedly-frustratingly-on the shoulder. Draco tried swatting the hand away, but the finger kept poking him.
"Draco, it's me," the poking finger said. "I got your message. Let me take you home."
"Fingers don't have voices," Draco protested.
"You really have been working too long," the voice said gently. A kiss brushed along Draco's cheek, followed by a warm hand. "Come on, it's me, Harry."
Draco leaned into the palm of Harry's hand and looked up. The bright green eyes were staring back at them, and they seemed filled with a paradoxical sense of worry and amusement. "Well, why didn't you just say so?"
Draco wasn't sure how Harry had gotten him home, let alone into the car, but he was sure that he'd called Harry his knight in shining armor at least seven times. He would never hear the end of that. Draco stumbled up the stairs, and when they were standing outside the door to their apartment, he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes while Harry unlocked the door.
As soon as he passed through the door, Draco's exhaustion was temporarily forgotten at the sight in front of him. The first thing he noticed was the smell: the sort of cinnamon and pine scent that felt warm. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that the meager decorations on the tree were now surrounded by a hodgepodge of ornaments that Draco hadn't seen before. Little carousel horses and angels and bows adorned the branches, interspersed with little flickering lights and paper garlands. There were lights strung up around the rest of the apartment too, along with garlands of holly and thin branches that came from manufactured golden trees. Unlit candles were sprinkled around the living room, along with little glittery snowflakes and at least fifty different types of Santa figurines. There were even a few poinsettias on various settings and a wreath above the door.
The apartment looked like Christmas had vomited on it, and Draco loved it.
He turned to Harry. "You did all this today?"
"I was just going to do the wreath," Harry explained, "but then you ran late, so I thought I'd put up some garlands. And then you were going to run even more late, so I decided to get a few more things."
"It looks like you bought out every Christmas left in any store that was still open."
"I wasn't sure what you would like, so I thought I would get everything," Harry said sheepishly. "I know your parents usually go all out with the decorations."
"You mean they go all out with paying people to put up decorations," Draco clarified softly, his attention diverted by the flickering red light on a little ornament reindeer's nose.
"Sure. I mean, I've never really put up decorations before," Harry started speaking faster, "and I wanted to do it right for you, but I haven't had any time and I thought today would be my last chance to get it right this year-"
Draco cut him off with a soft kiss and wrapped his arms around Harry. It wasn't until he felt Harry's shoulders relax that he realized that Harry had been nervous. "It's perfect." He looked at the objects on the living room table. "Is that a Santa cookie holder?"
"You should look inside."
Draco walked to the coffee table and skeptically scanned the rotund red object. He lightly lifted Santa's hat and peered inside.
"Cookies!" Draco eagerly grabbed one and happily ate it.
"If you're hungry, I also made dinner." Harry pointed to the kitchen, where there was an array of food had somehow escaped Draco's attention earlier. "We might need to reheat some of the things though."
"I can't believe you did all this," Draco sighed as he walked over to the kitchen, taking in the aroma of herbs and spices. "You're like a Christmas miracle."
"So, you liked it, huh?" Harry smiled at Draco's empty plate, which has been laden with huge helpings of food just minutes before. A piano playing Christmas carols sounded softly in the background, intermittently interrupted by the loud rendition of "Jingle Bell Rock" carried out by a dancing snowman.
Draco nodded as he finished swallowing the last bit of pie. "Who knew you'd make such a good homemaker?"
"Maybe you should get me a frilly apron for Christmas." Harry winked, which had the immediate effect of making Draco wonder what Harry would look like wearing just a little lacy apron. It was a more intriguing image than he'd expected.
"I didn't want to spoil the surprise," Draco started coyly, "but I did get you a French maid uniform."
"No, you didn't," Harry replied, his voice wavering between worry and interest. "Did you?"
"Oh no, of course not." Draco threw in a reciprocatory wink. "I figured that would be more of a Valentine's Day gift."
Harry leaned across the table, claiming Draco's lips in a warm kiss that brought a flush to both their cheeks. "I'm looking forward to it."
The bed felt even more amazing than usual. Draco hadn't even realized how tired his feet had gotten from standing all day until he stretched the length of the mattress. He wrapped an arm around Harry.
"I'm sorry I was working all day."
"It's okay." Harry kissed Draco's forehead and hugged him tighter. "I couldn't help you put up the tree, so at least I got to make that up to you."
Draco nuzzled the crook of Harry's neck, enjoying the warmth that was so particular to the way Harry's body curved around him. "You more than made up for it. I wish I could've helped you with everything today. And you know, not missed all of Christmas."
"It's Christmas still somewhere in the world," Harry noted. "You were just operating in a different time zone."
The excuse pleased Draco, not because it really fixed the way the day went, but because it was nice for Harry to pretend that it did. "We didn't actually open our gifts," he realized.
"No, we didn't."
"You peeked, didn't you?" Draco accused.
"Maybe." Then a moment later, "So did you."
Harry laughed, and the sound faded away into a silence that was filled with a calm that promised rest. As the comfort of sleep overtook him, Draco felt Harry's lips against his forehead and heard somewhere, "Merry Christmas, Draco."
I apologize for the lack of smut, but maybe one day we'll find out if Draco really did give Harry that French maid uniform for Valentine's Day ;-)
And with that, happy holidays and happy new year!