A/N: Big apologies to those who have been following/reading this – I've had the busiest 2/3 months ever – work has been busy busy, and I moved into my first ever flat (so I'm properly grown-up now) a few weeks ago, so writing has more or less been at the bottom of my life, bar a couple of speedily written one-shots. I will try and focus properly now, promise.
So, I'm actually going to take it past the dinner – let me know what you think. I hope some of you still read this, and are interested in it; it's a difficult one to gauge! It's horribly out of season – doesn't help when you're trying to imagine the Christmas Spirit, does it? Still, after this I anticipate a time gap of a few months, so maybe we'll catch up with ourselves.
Christian sighed as the bowl slipped from his hands and smashed against the tiles of the floor, sauce splashed darkly across the white surface. Andrew stared at him, eyebrows raised.
"God, what's the matter with you today? You've been knocking into everything!" Christian glared at him as he reached up to grab the cloth and mop up the worst of the mess. He ignored the chef's protestation behind him and put the whole sorry mess in the bin.
"Nothing, I'm just a little edgy, that's all." Andrew stared at him again, blinking.
"Well, yeah. What's going on?"
Leaning back against the counter and sighing, Christian shrugged.
"I don't know, I just feel…tired. Like I need to sleep for a year."
Andrew nodded, narrowing his eyes. "You need a vacation." Christian rolled his eyes, easing out the cricks in his neck and shoulders.
"Right, because I've got a couple of hundred dollars just lying around and waiting to be spent."
"Don't be an ass, you get what I mean. You guys could probably do with getting away, right? I mean, you've had a weird few months."
Weird, Christian thinks, weird and stressful, but life-changing in a good way.
"Yeah, I guess."
Lila poked her head in and frowned at the sight of them standing there.
"Boys, far be it from me to dictate how you conduct yourselves, but would you mind getting back to work? I have several hungry patrons who are definitely losing their patience."
Mumbling apologies, they picked up the remaining plates, Christian taking a newly refilled one from the sulking chef. As they went to walk through the door Andrew turned to him, a strangely sincere look on his face.
"Look, my grandma has this house out not too far from Key West. Since she moved in with my mom, it's empty. So if you want I could get the keys for you. You could just hang there for a few days." Seeing the look on Christian's face he coughed and flushed slightly. "Well, whatever, it's there if you want it."
When he got home later, Aaron was showered and wearing a pair of grey sweatpants and a t-shirt, snoozing in front of the television. He'd had an interview earlier that day at a faith-based organisation specialising in raising funds for community charities. He'd been so nervous the night before, tossing and turning in bed, that Christian had finally turned the light back on and listened to him worry about it for over an hour until he talked himself to sleep, around half one in the morning.
Christian crept quietly to the bedroom, toeing off his shoes and stripping off his shirt to throw in the laundry basket Aaron insisted they used properly. The whole bedroom seemed tidier now, even with more stuff in there now. The first Christmas card, from Julie, sat on the chest of drawers, and Christian smiled at the sight of their names joined together at the top.
Christmas. The day when he normally just sat with friends and ate way too much, before getting drunk in the evening and crashing into bed like any other night. What the hell were you supposed to do when you're actually living with somebody? Somebody you're fucking.
He looked round the edge of the door to see Aaron awake, elbows on knees, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Everything alright?" Christian nodded, smiling reassuringly at him. Aaron seemed to be a compulsive worrier at the moment, texting whenever he could on the cell they'd bought him a few weeks ago.
"Sure it is, yeah. Did you want a drink or something to eat?" Aaron shook his head and stretched, exposing that oh-so-tempting toned stomach that Christian was very studiously trying to ignore. After a pause;
"What do you do at Christmas?" he blurted out, face burning in embarrassment. Aaron looked at him as though he'd lost his mind, and shrugged, face bemused.
"What do you do at Christmas?" Aaron asked back, running his hand through his hair in the way that meant he was pretty damn confused.
"I mean, like, do you have a tree and all that stuff?"
Aaron blinked at him.
"Well, yeah. I mean, we…Mormons don't believe Jesus wasn't actually born on Christmas Day, but it's a good time to have fun and reaffirm, right?"
Christian had vague, boring recollections of religious studies back at school, and as far as he could remember, the whole point of 25th December was that Jesus was born in the manger after the donkey thing in Bethlehem. Though, he recollected, I was normally staring at Shaun Peterson's ass, so perhaps I'm getting mixed up somewhere.
"Hold on, what about the star and wise men and all that?"
Aaron shrugged, the passive, slightly pained half-smile he got when religion was brought up spread across his face.
"I'm not sure. Can we not talk about it now?" The voice so like his father's spoke up, cold and firm; You gotta talk about it sometime, Aaron Davies, it said, because he has a right to ask, and you can't go on trying to pretend like none of that stuff ever happened. You've fallen by the way, boy. Dust is gathering on the copy of the Holy Book you can't bring yourself to look at.
"Sure, sorry." Aaron's heart sank when he saw Christian feeling bad for bringing it up.
"No, it's cool. Forget it. Did you have something you wanted to do for it?"
Christian shrugged a little, adorably dorky looking, and Aaron's heart did a little squirm of delight.
"It's stupid, don't worry."
"No, c'mon, tell me." Aaron got up, walked closer to him and wrapped his arms about Christian's waist, tugging him a little closer until they were pressed torso to torso, almost sharing breath. Christian relaxed a little, bringing his arms around Aaron's neck and twisting his mouth to one side.
"I…uh…Chris' grandma has a house near, uh, Key West." Aaron thought for a moment, thumb stroking the fabric of Christian's t-shirt. "Florida?"
"Well, that's great for her, I guess." Christian rolled his eyes and tapped him on the shoulder. "No, idiot. She's had to move in with Chris' mom or something, and he says if we wanted to, we could crash there for a few days."
Aaron blinked, mind processing what Christian was saying.
"Hang on, you mean a vacation?"
"That's normally what you call going away, isn't it?"
Aaron pinched him lightly, grinning. "Yeah, thanks for that, smart mouth."
Christian leaned forward and brushed his lips over Aaron's, relishing the small breath he let out at the touch.
"Well? You wanna go?" Aaron smiled, the shape of his mouth just right for Christian to trace with his tongue. He hummed pleasurably and nodded, sliding his hands underneath Christian's shirt, dipping just below the waistband to feel the very top of the curve of his ass before tugging him in the general direction of the bed. Christian grinned; gotta make this one freaking awesome Christmas now…
Aaron walked around the department store, eyes glazing a little as he tried to take in everything. The money in his wallet wasn't going to be nearly enough to cover an expensive bottle of cologne, or some beautiful piece of clothing. His mom and dad had always said that they didn't need expensive presents or material things; they just wanted him hardworking and happy.
Happy. Such a simple word for such a complicated emotion.
"Can I help you, sir?" a smiling, pretty shop assistant said, unconsciously straightening her shirt and stepping just a little too close to him. Aaron shifted awkwardly. What could he say to that? Sure, just stop me from feeling like an idiot all the time. I've never bought somebody I'm sharing a bed with.
"I, uh, I'm looking for a present for someone." She nodded her head as though, duh, that was obvious.
"For your wife, girlfriend, mother?" she prompted when he wasn't forthcoming with details. Aaron blinked at her, the temptation to lie almost too much.
Just who are you lying to? There's nobody around here that cares, and God can already see into your heart; you have no secrets from Him.
"Uh, no, no. I'm looking for something for my…my…"
The girl looked vaguely disappointed for a second, but smiled ruefully at him.
"Boyfriend, sir?" Aaron nodded.
"Well, what kind of thing does he like? Aftershave? Cologne? Golf? Computer Games?"
Aftershave was a no-go; Christian was forever complaining that he had sensitive skin, and liked to use a moisturiser. Golf? The idea of him holding a golf club and wearing the chequered pants was enough to bring a smile to Aaron's face. As for computer games…Christian had recently busted his latest laptop by dropping orange juice all over the keyboard.
"Uh…he likes…the sun, and, uh, dancing, and…movies."
The girl looked at him, non-plussed.
"Has he mentioned anything he wants? Anything at all?"
Aaron sighed; This was going to take longer than he thought.
"Hey girl!" Christian exclaimed when he threw open the door to the apartment. Julie grinned, arms automatically wrapping around his neck as he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close. "I thought you were going up to see your mom?"
"Flight doesn't leave till nine thirty, so I got a couple of hours to spend with my best friend." Christian grinned and kissed her firmly on the cheek before letting her go and turning to walk to the kitchen. "You want a beer?"
"Sure thing, if you got some."
Settled in the front room Julie gazed about, eyebrows raised at the sight of the magazines neatly stacked on the table, the dust from the top of the television removed, and the cushions neatly laid against the back of the couch.
"Man, he really has you whipped, huh?"
"Fuck you!" he said, without any heat, and she giggled, taking a sip of the cold beer.
She knew things would change a little, now that Aaron was here; things always did when relationships were involved. She realised, with not a little amount of shame, that she had always relied on Christian's shallow nature to make sure things stayed the same. He'd never had a relationship past a week in all the years she'd known him, and she thought he'd been happy that way:. Fabulous, easygoing Christian, always up for a laugh, a drink, a joint, and never one to pull you down with the serious shit.
"So, how are things with you? Enjoying being one half of a couple?" Christian thought about it for a second, a small smile playing about his lips. Eventually he looked back at her, a little abashed.
"You know what? I never thought I'd say this, but I actually am. I don't mind that he forever reminds me to do my freaking laundry, or that he won't have a beer with me. I don't get pissed at him when he doesn't want to put out all the time; I don't know, it's just…good, I guess."
Julie nodded. "Got it pretty bad then, huh?"
"Yeah, I really have."
The day before Christmas Eve Christian hit the stores again, hoping beyond hope that today would be the day he finally found something suitable-but-not-too-shallow for Aaron.
So, I need something for my sweet, guy-next-door boyfriend who's been living with me for nearly three months. Something not too materialistic (no jewellery), sexual (no dirty toys), or super gay (no rainbow coloured t-shirt). Huh.
His eyes flicked over to the Starbucks sign glowing warmly in the corner of his eye, and with a sigh headed inside to think a little more over a large black Americano.
Aaron folded his clothes neatly; socks paired and tucked into the corner, underpants folded twice and laid on top of each other. After that the jeans, sweaters and shirts went in alongside his wash bag. Sitting next to the case on the bed he frowned. These clothes probably weren't what Christian would term 'vacation clothes'. He rarely wore shorts unless it was for sports or running, and tight t-shirts had never really been on his agenda.
But perhaps it was time for something a little different. Maybe with his new life should come material change. Closing the case, he picked up the clothes Christian so carelessly threw on the floor and surveyed them thoughtfully.
At four am on Christmas Eve, Aaron elbowed Christian gently in the ribs and chuckled to himself when Christian made it quite clear what he thought of the wake up.
"C'mon, we gotta get up. Flight leaves at 7.00 remember?"
Christian groused and stuck one foot outside the bed clothes, groaning at the cool air against his skin.
"Why the fuck are we going so early?" Aaron rolled to lie against him, lips pressed against his shoulder, hand going lower beneath the covers, enough to make Christian sigh and stir a little to lie on his back.
Aaron dropped a gentle kiss on his nose, smiling when Christian offered his mouth up willingly. Aaron looked through his eyelashes in the way he'd found Christian couldn't resist, lowered his head again, brushing against those tempting lips, until he hovered by his ear.
Christian pouted all the way to the airport in the back of the taxi. Aaron snickered softly as he was shot sulky looks occasionally, reaching out and squeezing his knee semi-apologetically.
"Hey, I'm sorry, okay?" he laughed, and Christian relented reluctantly.
"Fine. I forgive you, but only because it's Christmas."
They pulled up at the drop-off area and Aaron dragged the cases from the trunk while Christian paid the fare.
"Have you got rocks in here or something? These are crazy heavy."
Christian preened dramatically, grinning at the affectionate eye-roll Aaron gave him.
"You should never ask a lady what's in her bag." He said coyly, and Aaron huffed out a laugh and pulled the handles of the suitcases up until they were extended, and began to drag them into the main concourse.
The first flight to Key West was quiet; just a couple of students and single people travelling home for the holidays. Aaron put the bags in the locker and sat down, taking out his headphones, book and bottle of water to spread out over his lap.
Christian sat as close as he could to the window, flicking the hood of his jacket up around his ears to cushion against the cold plastic. Aaron took a moment while he was preoccupied with the jacket to gaze at Christian.
Three months of freedom and support deserves more than any present I could ever give him. Weeks of being myself, of not having to pray constantly to be changed or improved. Weeks where I could wake up and actually look forward to what lay in store for me throughout the day.
"What are you staring at? Have I got something on my face?" Aaron smiled at Christian so tenderly Christian's pulse started racing and am I blushing? God, I'm thirteen again.
"Nothing, you just look…cute."
Christian scoffed a disbelieving laugh, biting back the smile twitching the corners of the mouth.
"Whatever. I need a nap or I'm gonna be super pissy later."
As the stewards went through the safety routine, Aaron reached over and brushed the backs of his fingers over Christian's hand that lay against his leg as he dozed. The fingers twitched and entwined themselves with his, holding them loosely against the warmth of his skin. Aaron smiled and put his head back against the seat, breathing in deeply.
Key West Airport was pleasantly warm and busy. Really, really busy. Christian made a face of irritation as he was elbowed out the way by a rushing family going toward passport control.
"What the fuck are all these people doing here? It's Christmas; shouldn't they be sitting at home having family time or something?" Aaron shrugged, eyes scanning for the exit and bus station.
"Guess they're going on vacation too. C'mon, let's find the bus."
The bus was similarly crowded, and Aaron found himself wedged up against a heavily muscled man wearing a tight wife-beater and a thin cardigan. He winked lasciviously at Aaron when he grabbed Christian round the waist to stop him from falling.
"He's cute. So are you actually. Doing anything later?"
Christian whipped his head round when he heard the voice and glared at the guy; freaking creep, hands off!
"Hey, asshole, stay the fuck away from my boyfriend!" The guy raised his hands in mock-defence, eyes dragging the length of Aaron's body as he smirked.
"I won't lay a hand on your man, don't worry gorgeous. I'll be down at Bar Med later if you wanted to pop in."
Aaron sighed as Christian's eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to retort.
This was going to be an uncomfortable journey.
Christian fumbled with the keys to the door, swearing as he gave it a shove. He'd fumed all the way from the bus stop and up the road. Aaron had kept quiet, doubting he could say anything helpful.
The door finally swung open, and Christian stumbled across the threshold, case skittering in behind him. Aaron followed behind him, appraising the surroundings. For an old woman, Andrew's grandma sure had taste: the wallpaper was a neutral pale gold and the carpets an inoffensive pale green. It didn't even have that musty…old person smell he associated with visiting his own grandmother in the nursing home.
"It's great." He said aloud, and Christian grunted as he pulled the case into the nearest bedroom and dumped it unceremoniously on the bed. Aaron found the little kitchen, neat, pristine and nearly empty, and thanked his lucky stars that there was still a kettle. Coffee, he thought, and remembered the small pot he'd brought with him for exactly this eventuality.
Walking into the bedroom he found Christian pulling clothes from his case with far more force than was necessary and throwing them into open drawers. Aaron leant against the doorjamb and cleared his throat. Christian looked up, a scowl on his face.
"Do you want a coffee?"
Aaron rolled his eyes and walked the short distance between them, reaching his hands out to rest on Christian's hips.
"Alright, what's got your panties in a bunch?" Christian shrugged, and Aaron leant round him to take the clothes out of his hands, trapping them between his own.
"Is this about the guy on the bus?"
Christian tensed; Aaron felt it from the set of the shoulders braced against his chest, and turned him round to face him.
"I'm an adult you know. You don't need to wrap me in cotton wool." Christian let his shoulders drop and huffed an irritated breath out.
"Yeah, but he was all over you, and I don't know…I just, didn't like it."
"Are you jealous?" Christian made a non-committal noise and looked away. Aaron gently grabbed hold of his chin and bought his face round to look at him. "I don't need to be protected, Christian."
Christian pulled his head away and frowned again.
"You don't get it. You don't know what guys are like, and I should know; I used to be one of them. They "equate sex with a handshake," remember?" Aaron let out a realisatory hmm at the memory of their first almost-encounter.
"I'm not gonna go home with any of them, if that's what you're worried about." He said softly, and Christian didn't reply.
"Is that what this is really about? You think that because I did stuff with you, I'm going to jump into bed with some other guy?"
Christian realised how it sounded and winced.
"Not like that, I don't think you'd cheat. I just…know how these guys are, and I don't want anything to happen to you. This whole thing was my fault; I pulled you away from your family and your friends, and I couldn't stand it if you got hurt because of me."
Aaron looked at him; saw the guilt and doubt in his face, and leant in to brush his mouth against the stubble on Christian's jaw.
"I swear to you, nothing is going to take me away from you. You didn't cause any of the stuff that's happened…well, not the bad stuff anyway. If it wasn't you I kissed it would have been somebody else, and my parents made their decision about what I should do. You wouldn't have sent me to that place, would you? You gave me a home and something to live for, so I don't wanna hear any of that junk again, you understand?"
Christian blinked, irritated at the stupid tears that threatened at the back of his eyes. He nodded and leant his head against Aaron's, tilting his nose until he could breathe in the scent of shampoo and travel.
"Sorry." He said into Aaron's hair, and Aaron shook his head carefully, bringing a hand up to his waist and pulling him in closer.
"Nothing to be sorry about. Now, did you want that coffee or not?"
Christian nodded and instantly felt the loss of the warm body as Aaron gently pulled away and walked toward the door. As he walked down the hallway he called back;
"Stop looking at my butt, pervert."
"I can't believe we're going for take-out on Christmas Eve." Laughed Aaron, and Christian looked at him in surprise.
"What? You've never done this? It was a tradition when I was a kid, and I think I've done it every year since I left home. Well, except for one year, but that wasn't my fault. Got mugged coming back from the Christmas Party at OUTrageous in town on the 23rd; had my jaw wired for like two weeks. Not so great."
Aaron stared at him.
"What?" Christian shrugged, "It was like four years ago now. Jaw's fine, I promise." He said, wiggling his eyebrows provocatively at Aaron, who went as pink as the shirt on the guy that walked past.
"Wanna say it any louder?" Aaron said, and Christian laughed.
"Sweetie, look around. We're in Key West, not Ohio. We're pretty conservative compared to some of them. I spent a year here when I turned eighteen. There's not really anything I haven't seen. Or want to see again, actually."
They stopped at a Chinese in the middle of town, and Aaron pored over the menu. He'd had it once before, and that was when he'd moved into the house with the guys. His dad never went for foreign food, always preferred good solid American home made stuff.
"What're you having?" he said, trying to buy time. Christian cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips, grinning when he saw it.
"Oh god. Definitely having Satay Chicken. And maybe some Chow Mein. I can have that, right? It's Christmas. Christmas is for carbs. What do you want?"
"I…uh…I don't know. I've only had it once." Christian gaped at him.
"Is that a Mormon thing?"
"Not strictly, no, it's a 'my dad' thing. Didn't like food that wasn't American." Christian snorted.
"Right, as if half our food doesn't originate from somewhere else anyway. Come on, I'll order you something."
Aaron stared at the plate on his lap.
"What did you say this is again?" Through a mouthful of chow mein, Christian mumbled expressively, gesturing.
"What?" Aaron chuckled, brow furrowed.
"I said," Christian swallowed his mouthful and grinned, "It's beef foo-yung. Egg."
Aaron poked it dubiously.
"I promise, it's good."
Wrinkling his nose, Aaron speared a small piece and bought it to his mouth, chewing slowly and concentrating. After a moment he opened his eyes and smiled.
"Not bad, actually."
Christian winked before flicking over the channel, to find 'White Christmas' playing. He grinned and tucked his feet up onto the couch, wiggling his toes behind the cushions as he quickly finished the last mouthful of food and put the plate on the coffee table.
After it had been playing for nearly half an hour Christian tore his eyes away to look at Aaron.
Yes, of course I'm okay, Aaron wanted to say, watching you give something your full attention is one of my favourite things to do. I'm okay because you have made me okay. You're everything I thought I'd never have, and shouldn't want, and I want to show you that I can adapt to your world too.
"Yeah, just remembering the movie; I've not seen it in years."
"Well, why don't you come and remember it over here? I got room on the couch and I swear I won't perve on you. Unless you want me to."
Aaron laughed at him; a proper you're such an idiot but I don't care because I love you laugh, and after a moments hesitation, pulled his t-shirt off over his head as he walked over to insert himself in the space remaining on the small couch. Christian opened his mouth, a comment on his lips, but closed it tight, instead moving over so he could feel Aaron's heat through the back of his thin shirt, and breathed out languorously through his nose as he felt a hand brush the skin at the base of his spine, twitching the material out of the way. He snuck a look at Aaron and his heart beat faster as he saw the colour of Aaron's cheeks intensify a little, and the set of his jaw get a little squarer as he pointedly did not look at Christian.
A-ha, I get what you're doing. Two can play at that game, Davies, he thought, and flashed a wicked smile in his direction as he let his foot creep awkwardly out from behind the cushions and into Aaron's lap, twisting his body to face him fully.
Aaron cleared his throat at the new feeling, but kept his eyes transfixed on the screen, humming along to the songs occasionally. The fingertips that brushed Christians back pulled back from their position and skimmed up the skin on his ribs, rewarded by an almost inaudible gasp and shiver.
"I just love this movie, don't you?" Christian purrs, using the heel of his foot to grind seductively into Aaron's crotch.
"Mm-hmm, a holiday classic, definitely." He replied, getting the familiar flickering in the base of his stomach. His hand moved to the top of the rib cage and paused for a moment, waiting for what he knew was coming. Christian stayed absolutely still for a moment, until he swallowed and looked across at Aaron, pupils blown and lips parted.
Aaron didn't say a word; just removed Christian's feet from his lap, stood and held out a hand to him.
When Christian awoke the next morning at eight he found the bed next to him empty. Groaning, he flicked the covers back and reached for a sweater, reaching his glasses. Aaron had been horrified when he said he hadn't been to get his eyes checked out for at least four years. He'd made the appointment himself, and gone with him to make sure he didn't back out or cancel. The optician had said he was slightly short-sighted, and wearing glasses would help. He and Aaron argued about it all the way home, and they finally compromised when Christian begrudgingly said he would wear contact lenses during the week and glasses at the weekend.
The sound of carols drifted out of the front room, and when he poked his head in he saw Aaron, wearing knee-length fitted shorts and a t-shirt that definitely flattered his figure.
Well, it looks like I've been a good boy this year…
"Hey sleepy," called Aaron, bowl and whisk in hand.
"How long have you been up for Pete's sake?" Christian groused, and Aaron shrugged.
"I don't know, maybe two hours. I can't sleep on Christmas."
"I'm dating a kid. Seriously? You're like, what? Twenty four?"
"Twenty three, actually."
"Have you been to the store?"
"Yeah; 24 hour mini-mart round the block. Pancakes, in case you were wondering."
After a cup of hot chocolate and the pancakes ("what? Don't look at me like that; we don't have a coffee machine, and I am not buying instant.") Christian went to shower, and Aaron pulled Christian's gift out of the case and laid it by the small fireplace, grinning.
Christian came in from the bedroom, hair still damp, a package in hand. His eye was caught by the new object in the room, and he walked over to investigate it curiously. Aaron tensed slightly, feigning distraction in the form of his sci-fi novel.
"What's this?" Aaron looked up from his book and grinned.
"A sock. Looks like Santa's been, huh?"
Christian stared at him in disbelief as he clutched the brightly coloured fabric in one hand and the small, wrapped parcel in the other.
"I haven't had a sock since I was eight, Aaron."
Hmmm-ing vaguely, Aaron hid his face with the paperback, grinning behind it.
The gentle thunk on the couch told him that either Christian had discarded it or laid it there to get a better look. When he heard the first rustle and tear of fabric he breathed a soft sigh of relief. Daring a peek over the top he saw Christian gazing at the small nutcracker toy he held in his hand.
"Where did you get this?" he murmured, and Aaron put the novel down and walked over to him, wrapping his arms around his waist.
"That's my secret. Do you like it?" Christian nodded mutely, and Aaron squeezed him gently.
"I had one of these as a kid. My grandma gave it to me before she died." Aaron nodded into his neck and kissed the soft skin there.
"I know, I found the picture of you holding it when you were little."Christian gripped Aaron's hands tightly and swallowed the lump in his throat.
"Thank you. Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Christian."
I hope you enjoyed it, as unseasonal as it is!
Next chapter: Aaron starts a new job.