December 23, 2006

As the holiday season wore on, Priestly kept his word. His second date with Tish was at an upscale seafood restaurant perched partly over the water. The dress she wore for the occasion was longer and more modest than others he'd seen her wear. He found that even sexier than her normal clothes and told her so. As for himself, he forced himself not to tug at the cuffs and collar of the button down he wore, thankful that the place wasn't so upscale it required a tie.

The funny thing was, the more he insisted on showing her he wasn't just any guy she'd dated, the more determined she seemed to conquer him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, it worried him. Consciously, however, he just enjoyed her attempts at seduction and then struggled hard to put the brakes on before things went too far. And sometimes, those brakes were really, really hard to apply. He did everything he'd told her he would do: the fancy dinner, the sappy movie, more than one walk on the beach, and most recently, two nights earlier, he slept next to her in his bed without laying a hand on her.

That last one had nearly required medical intervention, given that they were both so sexually charged from Tish's latest attempt to defeat him. He was true to his word, however. He kissed her deeply, his hands all over her, and then he flopped on the bed next to her with a rakish grin. She'd tried to engage him, but he just laughed, rolled away from her on his side, and joked,

"Not tonight, honey. I have a headache."

Sighing heavily, she'd said, "Fine. You won't lay a hand on me, but I didn't make the same promise." With that, she'd spooned him from behind. Luckily for him, he supposed, she fell quickly asleep. He, on the other hand, thought he was going to need half a bottle of sleeping pills in order to do the same. Finally, however, he dozed off and, surprisingly, slept without waking until the alarm went off. He fully intended to give in and let her ravage him sometime soon now that his promises had been kept.

He was pretty sure she was losing her patience with him, but he wasn't sure whether she understood his reasons for waiting were not just about her, about showing her he was different. It was also about asking her to show him he wasn't just another random guy she planned to have a good night or two with before moving on to the next random guy.

If there was anything darkening his mood, it was the issue of his appearance. Tish made it clear at every turn that she preferred the serial killer look, a point she kept reinforcing. When they were out, she'd window shop for him, pointing at various things she'd like to "see him in". It was all the preppy, weekend-on-the-sailboat crap he hated. She'd finally accepted that he wasn't going to dress nice at the grill. She understood it, or at least he thought she did. It was messy work, and it had taken a miracle for him to stay clean the day she'd accepted his invitation to dinner. So she put up with the snarky t-shirts and the pants or shorts with the wallet chain when he was at the grill. Whenever they went out after work, however, she asked if he needed to go home and change, which he took as her way of saying she wanted him to go home and change.

He didn't really get it, actually. Tadd wore jeans and t-shirts, but when Priestly wore something similar, Tish would look at him and roll her eyes a little. Truthfully, it probably wasn't the jeans. It was probably the slogan shirts. She didn't complain or give him looks when he wore concert shirts. It was really just the others. Unfortunately, he still had more of the stuff she hated than stuff she approved of. He was starting to get irritated.

And forget trying to reintroduce a Mohawk. Hell, no. She gave him such a dismayed look that he felt a little hurt, actually. Was he really so unattractive to her like that? And forget about facial hair, too. The moment he got a little stubbly, she told him to "go shave", claiming it irritated her skin. That much was actually true. He'd spent enough time kissing her to see the results of that. She quickly showed burns if he was more than just the barest hint at stubbly. She flat out threw away his eyeliner, and she rolled her eyes when she'd caught him considering his labret one evening.

He probably would have stubbornly insisted on reverting completely to his preferred appearance, actually, if it hadn't been for the insight he'd gained the previous Monday when he happened to meet her mother. It certainly hadn't been something Tish had arranged. Her shock that afternoon when they were hanging around her apartment and someone knocked on the door made it obvious she hadn't planned for her mother to be on the other side of it.

"Mom!" Tish's surprised face was almost comical, given that she'd just been doing her damnedest to open his fly.

Priestly, still breathing a bit heavily on the couch, grabbed a throw pillow for his lap as Tish stepped aside to let her in. Tish glanced at him with a knowing smirk. He felt his face grow a little hot.

"Oh, hello," her mother smiled charmingly at him before giving Tish a curious look. Then she looked back at him and announced, "I'm Tish's mom, Mona Madison."

He nodded at her, unable to stand up like his manners said he should. "Priestly," he said, gently clasping the bejeweled hand she offered. The woman had serious rocks on both hands. An older version of Tish but with slightly darker skin and a few more lines, Mona was aging well. Perhaps with help or perhaps merely good genes. She showed no sign of gray hair, what lines she had were very, very fine, and her figure was like her daughter's.

Mona handed Tish an envelope. "These are the certificates I was telling you about. I can't use them, so I thought you'd enjoy some pampering."

"Thanks, Mom," Tish smiled.

"Honey," Mona said, grabbing Tish's head with both hands. She proceeded to fluff her daughter's hair. "Are you using that shampoo I got you? Because your hair's still looking dull."

Tish looked a little embarrassed. "Yeah, Mom, I am."

"And what are you wearing? You look like you're still in your pajamas. Go get dressed, honey, you have a guest."

Tish was wearing a pair of yoga pants and a tank top. Priestly thought she looked fine. More than fine. The throw pillow was hiding the still fading evidence of how fine he thought she looked, in fact.

Priestly pretended to be absorbed in the show on TV, which happened to be some garden show. Another time he might actually have been interested in it, but right now he could only listen to Mona nitpick over every aspect of her daughter's appearance, from hair to clothes to the very slightly chipped nail polish.

"I'm planning to fix it tonight, Mom," Tish rolled her eyes. "Thanks for the certificates. Priestly and me are going to be late for our movie," she said, grabbing the TV remote and flipping the set off. They actually were planning to go to the movies, but not for another half hour.

"Priestly and I, darling," Mona corrected over her shoulder. "Take his name out of the sentence, change the verb to the singular, and you'll realize it's incorrect."

Tish sighed heavily as Priestly wondered if her mother was an English teacher. She seemed too….flashy for that. But then, he was going by what his teachers in Latimer looked like. He'd long ago learned that in California, people had whole different standards for appearance regardless of age, occupation, income, or anything else.

When Tish closed the door behind her mother, Priestly saw defeat in her posture. She quickly covered it up, or tried to, by returning to her spot beside him on her roommate's lumpy old sofa. He allowed her the distraction, stopping her only when she tried for his fly again. They really did have a movie to get to, it just hadn't been as urgent as Tish led her mother to believe.

And then there was now. Priestly was just putting the icing on his Christmas gift to her: a lemon cake with a light layer of lemon cream cheese frosting. Tish would be arriving at his place sometime in the next hour. They were going to go the boardwalk to catch the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train, which would take them through Victorian Santa Cruz to check out the holiday displays. After that, they'd probably come back to his place and exchange their gifts. Tish had actually been the one to insist upon homemade gifts only, which surprised him. She didn't strike him as the crafty type.

He was just putting on a clean shirt, having gotten frosting on the one he was wearing, when he heard her knock. Tugging the plain blue v-neck pullover down, he opened the door. Tish smiled at him.

"You look sexy," she purred at him, going up on tip toe to kiss him. Her words dug at him a little. He sighed inwardly, knowing he was going to have to learn to live with it and let it go or else have their first argument over it.

Remember her mother, he told himself. Mona Madison was all about appearance, and she'd convinced at least one of her daughters to be all about it, too.

Priestly just smiled at her and scooped his keys out of the little bowl by the door. "Ready?"

"Sure. Let me just put this down, though," she said, putting a small gift-wrapped box on his dining room table. He cocked an eyebrow at it. "Don't worry," she said, "I stuck to the plan. It's home made."

He looked at it dubiously.

"Well, the box and the wrapping aren't," she laughed at his face. "I'm not talented enough to wrap anything, so I went to a store and had them wrap it for me."

He smirked at her, guiding her out the door with his hand gently at the small of her back. As always, he opened the door of the Nova for her, closing her inside before making his way around the car. They drove the short distance to the boardwalk in easy silence, the radio tuned to metal but turned down low. When he finally found a parking spot nearby, they walked to the pickup area for the train, watching kids run around hyped up on too much sugar.

The ride itself was fun but chilly. The train cars were open air, so Priestly and Tish cuddled together in the car which was adorned with holiday lights. She teased him, of course, about the fact that they were sure to run into Santa Claus along the way. Would he be ok, or did she need to protect him?

He smirked at her. "I was eight, Tish, give me a break."

She just laughed and snuggled deeper into his warmth.

There were tons of families with kids, but now that he wasn't wearing the Mohawks and crazy shirts, he wasn't getting the same sort of distrusting stares as he would have before. Priestly wasn't sure exactly why Tish had wanted to go on the ride at all, other than the fact that it was the holidays and the whole thing was all about the holidays. He didn't mind, really, it was just another surprise to him…not something he would expect Tish to be interested in.

It was that fact that had him questioning himself. Who was he to assume who she was and what she was into? He realized with not a little guilt that he was doing the very thing he made a point of fighting: judging someone. He was assuming things about what Tish would be interested in based not on her looks exactly, but on her behavior. And more than that, he was guilty of "approval issues" of his own. Hadn't he told her he thought she looked sexier in the more modest dress? Wasn't that the same thing as Tish finding him sexier as Banana Republic man?

Priestly sighed heavily, grinning at Tish when she gave him a questioning look. But then he went right back to his thoughts. She was flirty and sexy and, yeah, she was the scorpion queen. Or she had been, anyway. So he was wrongfully assuming things about what she would and wouldn't want to do and what she'd be interested in based on nothing more than her…dating history.

Priestly frowned as he thought about these things even while holding her firmly against him. She looked up at him, her face flushed from the cold, and she elbowed him a little when she realized he wasn't singing along to the Christmas carols the other passengers were singing. He joined her in between sips of the hot spiced cider they'd passed out earlier. She looked…happy. And he felt like an even bigger ass as her face made it clear once again that he'd been making baseless assumptions. It was time to put that shit aside and just forget about what came before and focus on Tish right here, right now. Just take her at face value until or unless she gave him a reason not to.

December 23, 2006

"That was fun," Tish smiled drowsily as they made their way up his stairs. She was warm and relaxed from the train ride and the hot cider.

The first half of the train ride was rowdy and raucous, full of chatter and caroling and lots of ooohing and aaahing. The return ride was relaxed and…sleepy. The kids in their car wore out and just sort of slumped against their parents, awake but content to just watch everything go by with droopy eyes. By the time they reached the beach station again, many were out cold against their parents.

Priestly grinned at her. "You up for the gift exchange, or do you want to wait? We could always meet up tomorrow or Christmas for a little while. I mean, I know you're meeting up with your family, but–"

She shut him up with a kiss, sliding her hands around his waist under his army jacket. She smelled good and tasted like cider and cinnamon. He plundered her mouth, savoring the taste of her and the cider, inhaling the sweet smell of her skin. He wasn't sure whether it was soap or perfume, but it was a vanilla-y, flowery smell and it made him half crazy every time he got close.

Tish made a little satisfied sound, curling her hand around the back of his neck as he drew her closer. He heard the rumble of his own voice letting out an involuntary sound somewhere between a groan and a growl. She tugged at his army jacket, and he obligingly shrugged it off, not caring where it fell. She danced him backward, easing out of her own jacket. He stumbled a little as she continued moving backward, taking off her shoes so that he tripped on them, catching himself before taking them both down.

She pulled back long enough to draw a breath. "Tell me you're not going to stop me again tonight," she gasped against his throat as they both gathered air with the intent of going back under.

"Mmmm," he answered noncommittally, using her hips to pull her closer to him so that she let out a little sound as she felt his arousal.

The gift exchange postponed again, he let her tug him toward his bedroom as their mouths met again as if magnetized. He remembered the way the wind whooshed around them in the open air train car, and he felt like he was back there with her from the airy whoosh of their breath as it grew quicker and more ragged. They hit the bed blindly, or she did. They tumbled backward. Her cry was sharp as he jolted against her, hard against soft.

"Too many clothes," she gasped, tugging at his pullover until she pulled it right off. He found the hollow at her neck as she pushed him onto his back and sat up to let him slide her blouse up and over her head.

Heat. That was what stood out. Heat and breathlessness. Everywhere he touched she was on fire, burning under his fingers. Tiny bits of lacy fabric tossed aside, he tucked her beneath him again and tried to cool the burn of her with his mouth, her voice mingling with their panting breaths and his own voice sounding foreign to him. Wordlessly, her voice urged him on, her body undulating beneath him, rising and falling like a boat on the ocean.

He lost himself in the disorienting swirl of sight and sound, skin and heat. Searing dampness. Vanilla flowers. Her heels digging, her fingernails like tattoo needles. Her breathless sounds as he took her over the edge before teetering on the precipice, himself. Her satisfaction took him over.

January 1, 2007

Santa Cruz in January was generally cold, often reaching only 60 or 65 degrees. But on this New Year's fate seemed to be smiling down on Trucker and Zo. It was around 70 degrees, which was some kind of record considering it was sunset in January. Still, Priestly watched them approach, stark naked and on horseback, and even fully dressed he felt a little cool as the breeze swept in from the ocean.

Priestly stood beside Tish, with Piper, Noah, and Julia to their left. Just past them, Leo stood with an arm around his mother. Jen and Fuzzzy (he still had trouble remembering to think of the guy as Jeff) to their right. Just past Jen and Jeff were Lucille and Mr. Julius. And Bam Bam. He watched Trucker and Zo approach. If it was a little weird to see the guy who'd been like a father to him riding a horse in his birthday suit, well, it was what it was. He was grateful the horse's head covered his view of everything important. The same was true of Zo. But he wouldn't have missed this moment for the world, slight discomfort or not.

Priestly glanced over at Julia as she protested Noah's hand over her eyes,


He felt for the guy, but he smirked a little at the Oh, Dear Lord! expression on the guy's face, hoping his own face wasn't that obvious. Trucker and Zo halted their mounts, Zo's hair blowing across her face in the breeze. Priestly looked away from her in case her hair was about to blow away from anything else. He felt Tish's elbow nudge him softly in the gut. When he glanced at her, her expression was one of thorough amusement. She found his situational modesty very funny, often razzing him about it. He could trade innuendos with the best of them, but at the end of the day, when it came to the actual actions, especially in public, he was a private sort of guy. There. He admitted it.

Trucker's voice cut into his wandering thoughts.

"We ask you here today," he said as Priestly heard Piper telling Noah it was okay, gently lifting Noah's hand from Julia's eyes, "in this most sacred and beautiful of places to witness our dedication to each other."

Priestly glanced down at Tish, sensing she'd turned her face up toward his to see how he was handling things so far. He gave her a smile.

"We start our new lives as we started the last," Zo added. "Naked. And needy. Dependent on those we love," she said, turning to look at Trucker, "to care for us."

Tish gave him another smirk, so he said the first random thing that came to his mind.

"Hell, yeah!" Priestly shouted over the wind, clapping. The others joined him.

"Congratulations!" Jen called over the wind.

"Rock on, man!" Priestly encouraged as Zo and Trucker nudged the horses close enough, he assumed, so that they could kiss once they finished the brief promises they made one another.

He had the right idea but the wrong ending. After a few more words to close their makeshift ceremony, instead of another kiss to seal the deal, Zo switched horses in a startlingly graceful move, symbolizing their becoming one. Clutching Trucker, she laughed into the wind and admitted she was freezing and wanted to put her clothes back on. Everyone laughed. Priestly smirked down at Tish, lifting an eyebrow at her.

They moved the party to Trucker's place, to his favorite room which spilled out onto the back deck. Somehow, a sort of impromptu reception line formed, with Lucille and Mr. Julius being the first to congratulate the newly dedicated couple. It was like a wedding without the wedding, which he knew wasn't exactly what Trucker and Zo intended. Still, they were gracious and accepting of the situation.

"Congrats, man," Priestly said as Trucker pulled him in for a hug. Everyone else was already milling around the deck or in the yard. Priestly eyed Tish talking to Jen and Jeff.

"Thanks," Trucker said, releasing him.

"Zo," Priestly said as she took her turn, embracing him.

She looked at him carefully. "I wish you nothing but peace and happiness," she told him.

Priestly grinned. "That's my line," he joked.

Still just looking at him in the unnerving way she had that always made him feel like she was staring at his naked soul, Zo took his hands in both of hers and squeezed them. "You've made some changes," she said softly, studying his face as she'd done many times before recently. He glanced past her at Tish, who was laughing at something Piper was saying. When he met Zo's eyes they were gentle as always, but he felt like her words accused him of something. He shrugged.

"I guess. It's just superficial, right?"

Zo smiled and nodded. "Just don't lose sight of yourself, Priestly," she urged. "Be true to yourself. You've come a long, hard way to get here. You've earned the right to be your authentic self."

He nodded as she leaned forward and kissed his cheek. He glanced at Tish again, still absorbed in her conversation. He tugged at his collar, suddenly finding it snug.

A/N: Ok. So a tiny departure from canon by adding in Leo and Priestly's mom at the dedication ceremony. I thought about writing them off somewhere traveling but that would NOT work. Leo's like a dad to Trucker (even though he isn't technically old enough to BE his dad, unless he started VERY early...) so having him go out of town or something ...nope. Couldn't do it. If there are any purists out there, I apologize. I had to take a liberty!