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Have YoursELF a Merry Little Christmas

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The cat wound around Patrick’s legs as he walked from room to room in his new cottage, watering the plants.

“You’re going to be the death of me,” he told her, picking her up and depositing her in a fluffy white chair. “Now stay there until I’m done.”

She meowed and curled into a ball, looking for all the world like someone who was not trying to murder him. He couldn’t stay mad at her.

He finished with the watering can and put it away, surveying his little home as he did. “I think we’ll like living here,” he told the cat. “As long as the new job goes well tomorrow.”

He was only a little nervous about the new job. It was a promotion, to be sure, but he was ready for it. He’d worked at the satellite office for a few years now, and he knew he was ready for the responsibility of headquarters. He just hoped his coworkers would be nice.

Patrick settled down in the other fluffy chair to review his employee handbook one more time. Best to be prepared, that was his motto.


David Rose woke up late in the room he shared with his sister. She was nowhere to be seen, probably already at work. He whined internally that she hadn’t even woken him up. Wednesday was usually his day off, but it was already December 23, and this close to Christmas no one got days off.

He hurried to put his uniform on and get ready to go with only a few minutes to spare. Just like every day since he’d started this job, he sighed sadly as he put the required hat on over his hair. Someday maybe he’d get a job where he was in charge, and he didn’t have to wear a hat. Maybe.

David got to work on time through some sort of tiny almost-Christmas miracle. He steeled himself for the smell as he walked past the barns, then steeled himself for the noise as he opened the door and entered headquarters.

At this time of year it was always controlled chaos, but controlled chaos was still chaos. Voices rang out from every direction, supervisors making sure everyone was keeping up and employees encouraging each other. The little smiling lady who ran the hot chocolate stand by the entrance called out the specials of the day. In the back, workers banged their tools, conveyor belts shuddered along, and the chimes of bells kept time.

Luckily, his own workspace wasn’t on the main floor. He pushed open the door to the design office and sat down just as the bells rang for his starting time. Thank Christmas he wasn’t on the earliest shift anymore. He’d never been on time back then. It was a good thing it’d been recognized that he was better suited elsewhere. David had to admit it was a good place to work; lots of places, he figured he’d simply have been fired for tardiness rather than shepherded into a better fit.

At this time of the season, the design department was pretty well finished for the current year and was into ideas and brainstorming for the next year. But David had a few small things to clean up on his last design for Christmas and needed to get that done today.

As he opened a drawer to take out his red and green pencils for some final touchups to his drawings, he noticed someone he didn’t recognize in the hallway, looking a little lost. This happened sometimes; the offices were like a warren, with centuries of additions and expansions to the buildings all having been added on wherever they could fit. And it was always at least a little cold, so no one wanted to go outside, so everything was connected.

This particular stranger was interesting. He was a little shorter than David, with an open, almost innocent-looking face, and beautiful eyes. Even in his confusion he was smiling a little bit, and David felt strangely warm. The stranger was, to use a word not suited to this climate, hot, and David found himself hoping he was a new employee he’d get to see regularly.

The old David Rose wouldn’t have cared. The old David Rose might even have been amused to watch the new guy wander around for a while. But he wasn’t that guy anymore.

“Do you need help?” he called.

 

Patrick was mortified. He’d read the employee handbook three times, he’d been here for his interview, he’d looked up the floor plan online, and he still got lost on his first day.

When he heard “do you need help” from a nearby office, he sighed. There was nothing for it but to admit he was wandering aimlessly.

“Yes, I suppose I do,” he answered. “Hi, it’s my first day. Do you know where the finance office is? I read the handbook three times and looked at a floor plan and I’m still lost.”

The guy who’d offered help came out into the hall, and Patrick got his first good look at him. Damn, he thought. Headquarters really did get the cream of the crop. He was taller than Patrick, with a gorgeous, expressive face, and hands that never stopped moving as he explained where Patrick needed to go.

“No one can find it on their first day. It’s okay. This place is a maze, and even maps don’t help much. You have to go through the design office to get there. Come on.”

“Thank you. I’m Patrick. Patrick Brewer.”

“David Rose. Are you just transferring here? We don’t usually get new staff this close to Christmas.”

“Yeah, I think I got promoted because someone retired or something?”

“Oh, I bet you’re replacing Jocelyn. She just started her maternity leave.”

Patrick hadn’t known this detail. “Nice timing, a Christmas baby!”

David Rose was very put together. He didn’t look like a guy who’d appreciate a Christmas baby, or any baby, but he smiled a little. “Yeah. She’s really excited.” He sighed, and looked around in a conspiratorial way. “I just hope her annoying husband takes some time off too.”

“Her husband works here too?”

David chuckled. “Everyone works here.”

Patrick supposed this was true. Competing employment opportunities in this tiny town were not exactly prevalent.

 

David showed the new guy—Patrick, he’d said his name was Patrick—to the finance office and wished him luck. Then he screwed up his courage. “So. Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of each other, considering you have to come through my office to get to yours.”

Patrick smiled a smile with a little smirk to it. “I suppose we will.” He didn’t look like this was upsetting. Good.

“Well, since you don’t know anyone else, and I’m the most interesting one here anyway…” David took a deep breath. “Have lunch with me?”

Patrick really smiled, and the world sort of flipped over. The noise from the main floor seemed to go quiet as their eyes met, and neither of them looked away.

Eventually, after a few seconds or a year, the feeling cleared, and David felt like an understanding was reached. “I would like that very much,” said Patrick quietly. “Thank you.”


The morning went quickly, with Patrick learning the ropes of his new job. It was pretty much the same as what he’d done at his old office, just with much, much larger numbers. He couldn’t believe the scale of things here at headquarters. He’d known it was a worldwide operation—literally everyone knew that—but it was still surprising and impressive.

Surprising and impressive. Like the very first coworker he’d met. Like the first silent conversation they’d had in the few seconds their eyes had held over that lunch invitation. He was certain it had been an invitation to more than lunch.

Patrick was used to being the only out employee at his old office, and he’d known to expect more diversity at headquarters. He’d been looking forward to it. But to be flirted with on his first day, by the first guy he met, and for that first guy to be quite such a tall chimneystack of a smokeshow, was a delightful surprise.

His computer beeped. It was the internal chat program, Stocking, with a message from David Rose.

  • DRose: Morning going okay so far?
  • Patrick smiled. This guy was an early Christmas present from someone. Had to be.

  • PBrewer: Yep! Lots of numbers and spreadsheets. I’m in heaven.

  • DRose: You’re inexplicable. Spreadsheets are no one’s idea of heaven.
  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Patrick took a little risk.

  • PBrewer: Oh? What’s your idea of heaven?
  • There was a long pause.

  • DRose: Ask me later and I’ll tell you in detail.
  • Patrick laughed to himself. Clearly flirting with this guy was going to be fun. He turned his focus to the numbers. Even large numbers were still just numbers. He was in his element.


    When the soft bells chimed for the lunch hour, David had already turned over the final design changes to production and had just been marking time until he could see Patrick for lunch. He went through to the finance office to find him. There was no use hoping the new guy would have any idea where to go, so he’d have to take the lead.

    “How are your spreadsheets doing?” he asked.

    Patrick smiled again, and David’s heart grew a size and a half.

    “Really good. This is an unbelievable operation.”

    “Well, yeah,” David answered. “Everyone knows that. But I guess in here you get to see a bigger overall picture than I do.”

    “Something like that,” said Patrick. “At the satellite office where I used to work, we only saw numbers for our own region. Seeing the big picture is really something.”

    David had no eyes for the big picture at that moment. He felt like his world was narrowed to just the two of them. Careful, Rose, said his inner voice. He’d fallen this fast for the wrong sort before and been hurt. He needed to be cool.

    “Umm lunch, then? We can eat here if you just want, like, snacks and pastries and cocoa, or we can go across to the cafeteria.”

    “Let’s go to the cafeteria?” said Patrick. He winked. He winked. “I want to see more of this place while I have my own individual guide.”

    David liked the sound of that. “I’m very happy to be your guide.”

     

    David led the way through the hall, out onto the main floor, and past the entrance to an arched doorway with a sign over it reading Cafeteria, another sign nailed next to that one reading Custodial, and yet another sign next to that one reading And Also Tunnel No. 6.

    “You’re not kidding about this place being a maze,” said Patrick. “How do you not get lost?”

    David sighed. “You do. Everyone does. Eventually you figure out you only need to go a few places—I’m in design, you’re in finance, so we don’t need Tunnel Six, it goes to the barns and the boiler rooms—and you sort of filter out all the hallways and tunnels that go places you don’t need to worry about.”

    “I expect it’ll take me a while,” said Patrick as they passed a set of double doors, one red and one blue, with a sign saying Tunnels No. 3 and 18. It obviously wasn’t their destination, but he couldn’t hide his curiosity. “Where does that go?”

    David laughed. “That goes to old-season storage and ER. You won’t need to go to storage—I do sometimes, and I’ll show you if you want—and you were probably already in ER for your interview, though they would have brought you in the other way.”

    Patrick supposed this was true. His transfer paperwork had been done at a meeting with an ER manager. But he hadn’t gone through any tunnels, as far as he remembered.

    Soon they reached the door to the cafeteria. Small circular tables with red and green wooden chairs filled the space. Along the back were steam tables and refrigeration units with all sorts of sandwiches, snacks, soups, salads, and drinks. It was crowded, but he saw a few tables where he and David could eat alone. Not everyone had lunch at the same time, so while there was a constant buzz of conversation, it wasn’t a roar.

    “This looks nice,” Patrick said. “What’s good?”

    “Literally everything,” came the answer. “It’s almost annoying how good the chefs are. I guess it’s a pretty desirable place to work, and they really do a great job. Plus it’s all free, I guess you know that?”

    Patrick did know that—he’d read the handbook three times—but it was nice to be reminded. He’d had to pay for restaurant lunches or bring a sandwich from home at his old office.

     

    They each got a tray. David chose a salad, thinking he should make a good impression. Someone as cute as Patrick clearly took care of himself, and while David had cake and cocoa for lunch sometimes, maybe today wasn’t the day for that.

    But when Patrick picked up half a sandwich, a bowl of chili, two chocolate chip cookies, and a glass of sweetened tea, David figured the hell with it and added a tower of fried chicken breast, croutons, and creamy dressing to his salad. Better for Patrick to see the real him. And if Patrick’s smile was any indication, he wasn’t the type to judge anyway.

    They sat at an otherwise empty table from which all but two chairs had been stolen for other tables. A lucky break. No one would be joining them. He could put his plan into motion.

    They ate companionably. Patrick offered a bite of his chili. David declined, saying he’d actually had the chili yesterday, then regretted it, thinking it probably would have been possible to take a bite from Patrick’s spoon in a way that made his outside-of-work interests clear. Missed opportunity.

    Soon, though, he felt Patrick’s foot come to rest against his under the table, and his warm smile never went away. When they finished their food—David ate all the chicken and croutons but left a lot of lettuce behind—Patrick bit into a cookie in a way that definitely said outside-of-work interests. David thanked his Christmas angel for this early present.

    “You must have known they’d be good cookies. You got two.”

    Patrick winked again. “The second one’s for you.”

    David was completely smitten. Deep smit.

     

    Patrick watched David eat the cookie, licking crumbs off his lips and chocolate off his fingers. Damn. This was the best job in the universe.

    “So, David, we have plenty of lunch hour left. Tell me about yourself.” Patrick swallowed, hoping he could make this sound like he didn’t care. “Are you married? Have any kids? Do you live nearby?”

    David laughed. “I am not, in fact, married, never have been. Not even close. And no, I don’t really like kids. Never really wanted them. My sister and I weren’t close with our parents until recently. I don’t really think they knew what to do with us until we were adults, so I have no idea how adults and kids handle each other.”

    Patrick thought this was kind of sad. The part about David’s childhood, anyway. He was decidedly not sad that David was single.

    “What’s your sister’s name? Does she work here too?”

    “Alexis, and yes. She’s the assistant to one of the veterinarians. But I think she doesn’t do a lot of assisting. He’s also her boyfriend, and I think he just hired her there so they could be together all day.”

    Patrick thought this was adorable. “I think that’s adorable.”

    David shrugged. “I guess it is, if you ignore the nepotism. They seem happy.”

    “And yes, we live nearby. My whole family. We had sort of a financial issue a few years ago, and we ended up all living together, and I guess we got used to it. My sister and I actually share a room, if you can believe it.” He looked embarrassed.

    Patrick was glad for the first time that he’d splurged on his own place rather than accept the room he’d been offered in his boss Ray’s house. He’d been nervous about living alone and not knowing anyone, but his mind was already racing to the advantages of not having a roommate.

    Patrick looked around. David hadn’t moved his foot—if anything, he’d rubbed it against his—and he was sure he wasn’t wrong about the vibe. He leaned closer across the table.

    “David, I don’t actually want to talk about your sister.”

    David smiled a beautiful, crooked smile.

    “Me neither, Patrick.”

     

    David couldn’t believe how well this seemed to be going. His internal plan had formed in a flash, but even with it he hadn’t seen himself flirting this openly until at least day three of them knowing each other.

    He laid his hand on the table a few inches from Patrick’s, and then he laid his cards on the table too.

    “I know we just met, but do you by any chance have plans for dinner? I’d love to take you out,” he said softly.

    “That’s a great idea,” said Patrick, sliding his own hand closer to David’s. “If you’d like, we could hang out at my place after.” He paused. “And, David? I don’t even have a sister.”

    David had not been out-flirted since he was practically a child. This was his specialty. But he was getting his sparkly ass handed to him by Patrick Frigging Brewer.

    “We’ll have to go home and change after work. I’m not going out to dinner in uniform.” David had few hard-and-fast rules, but this was one of them. He would not be wearing this hat on a first date with someone this promising.

    “Absolutely. I can’t wait to see what you wear when you have a choice.”

    Patrick was a menace. David was thrilled.

    “Um, I don’t actually have a car today. We share one. But I live at the Rosebud. You would have driven past on your way through town. Pick me up around eight?”

    “Again: Absolutely.”

     

    Patrick floated through the rest of the afternoon, sending little Stocking messages to David now and then, introducing himself to folks, asking and answering small questions with his coworkers in finance, and successfully pulling together a report with predictions for flight times and associated refueling costs. He hadn’t taken weather into account, but Ray told him they usually did that on the 24th, when forecasts were the most reliable. Patrick was a little nervous. He wished he’d been able to get settled here more than a day before Christmas Eve.

    At six o’clock, he put his computer to sleep and packed his travel mug, employee handbook, and a few useful printouts into his bag and said good night to Ray and the others. They all filed out through David’s office, but the design team was already gone.

    At home, he changed into tight jeans and a blue sweater he’d been told brought out his eyes. He fixed his hair a little. He thought about shaving, but figured a little stubble wouldn’t hurt. He fed the cat, and while she ate he told her about his day, and about David.

    “I think he’ll probably come over later. Be nice to him, okay? I only really talked to him for like an hour, and I know I just met him this morning, but he’s so cute, and I really like him. If you ruin this for me I might never give you treats again.”

    She looked up at the word treats, which was part of her four-word vocabulary, but did not seem to make any commitments as to whether she’d be nice to David.


    At seven-thirty he went out to start the car. It would not do to pick up a date before the heat could kick in. At a quarter to eight he pulled out of the driveway and made the short drive to the Rosebud.

    It looked like it had once been a rundown roadside motel, but those days were gone. Bright lights illuminated each door, and a welcoming red sign glowed over the office. Just as Patrick pulled up, a green door with a gleaming number 7 on it opened, and out stepped a vision in black and white.

     

    David saw Patrick’s car pull up—at least, he assumed it was Patrick, because he’d never seen the car before, and he knew everyone else’s—and gave his hair one last fluff. He’d chosen black jeans and the leather-trimmed sweater with the stars. He liked the touch of red at the sleeves, his one concession to Christmas coloring, and it was nice and warm. He also thought it would stand up well to being ripped off him later if that came to pass. Most of his sweaters couldn’t take that risk. They were better suited to being removed carefully.

    When he opened the door and got into the car, he was pleased to find it nice and warm. Patrick must have idled for a while before coming over. It was really thoughtful, and David was touched.

    “Hi. It’s so warm in here. I hate getting into a cold car.”

    “Hi. I do too. You look great, by the way. I love that I can finally see your hair.”

    “You have no idea how much I hate wearing that hat every day. I file complaints about it every month. There is no reason I should have to wear a hat to work.”

    “If my hair was as amazing as yours I’d do the same thing.”

    David blushed. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “You’re no slouch yourself.” He wanted to reach over and run his fingers through the tiny curls at the nape of Patrick’s neck. He wanted to lick Patrick’s neck. But he didn’t. This was already such a rush.

    “Where should we go for dinner?” asked Patrick. “I assume there’s not too many choices.”

    “There’s the Cafe Tropical, which is the most ridiculous name for a restaurant in this climate ever,” answered David, “but I don’t really want to go there. The girl who runs it is the biggest gossip ever, and everyone at work tomorrow would know immediately that we went out.”

    “Is that a problem?” asked Patrick. “Is it … I mean, do they not know you date guys, or…”

    Oh, no. “No! No no no. It’s no secret I’m not straight. But I’ve dated … not just guys … too, by the way. I date everyone. I’m into the eggnog, not the label, if that makes any sense?”

    David realized he was saying the wrong thing. He was being an idiot. Patrick hadn’t asked about his orientation. He’d only asked if he was out. And he’d said I date everyone like some kind of babbling fool. Or, worse, someone who wanted this to be casual.

    “I mean, I only date one at a time. And I’m not dating anyone right now. Except you. Because we’re on a date. Right?”

    Patrick grinned and nodded. “You’re adorable. I get that you’re not gay. I am. Yes, we are most definitely on a date. And it’s going swimmingly, in case you were worried. This part where we sit in the car and don’t go anywhere is my favorite part so far.”

     

    Teasing David was so much fun. Patrick couldn’t wait to see where this went. But he was genuinely hungry, and reminded David they did need to go somewhere.

    “So. Dinner. Did you want someplace with eggnog?” He winked, knowing full well it wouldn’t make David less flustered.

    “You are a complete troll,” said David. “Let’s go to Elfdale, the next town over? They have a good burger place.”

    This sounded great. Licking ketchup off his fingers, sharing a plate of fries … burgers sounded great.

    “Burgers sound great. Left on the main road?”

    David nodded, and they were off.

     

    David took the last French fry off the plate in the middle of the table, and ate it slowly, holding Patrick’s gaze.

    “You would be the kind of savage who takes the last fry,” said Patrick. “I should have known.”

    “You knew.”

    David smiled. He hadn’t been on a date this promising in years. Patrick was beautiful. He was smart. He was funny. He teased and flirted at least as good as he got, and he had already invited David back to his house after dinner. David felt like he had won some kind of contest he didn’t remember entering.

    “Are you done? Should we go?” He hesitated. “Or we can hang here a bit longer and talk.”

    “It’s kind of noisy here,” answered Patrick. “Do you still want to go talk at my place for a bit? Or we can just find a place to park and talk in the car if that’s better.”

    David had no problem with parking, but why bother when Patrick lived alone?

    “I’d love to see where you live.”

    “You should know I have a cat.”

    David gasped in delight. “Do you really? Alexis is allergic to cats and dogs, so we could never have pets. Except her stupid ponies, and my dad’s tropical fish. I would love to come hang out with your cat.”

     

    Patrick was relieved at David’s reaction to him having a cat. He loved her, and the last relationship he’d had had definitely suffered because of her. Rachel hadn’t been allergic, but she’d hated cats anyway, and he’d had to lock the poor thing in the bathroom every time Rachel came over.

    Of course, the cat had nothing to do with why the relationship had ended, but still. David’s opinion was far preferable.

    When they got to the cottage and pulled into the driveway, David gasped again.

    “You live here? You. Live. Here?

    “I do. I rented it from a nice retired couple who moved to a smaller place. Why?”

    David was positively glowing. Patrick was confused. It was just a house.

    “I love this house. I’ve been by it a hundred times, and I always imagine what it’s like inside. Please tell me it’s full of soft chairs and smells like gingerbread.”

    Patrick laughed. “I can promise two soft chairs, though the cat usually takes one. But I also have a sofa. And it probably doesn’t smell like gingerbread, but I could get a candle for next time.” He knew there’d be a next time. He already knew. God, what an amazing day.

    They went to the door, and Patrick felt David’s warmth close behind him as he opened the door.

    They were greeted by a sort of mrow! sound, which clearly meant you come home, you leave, you come home again, make up your mind, and David was on the cat at once.

    “Oh, she is adorable. I love her already. What’s her name?”

    “Okay, before I tell you, you should know she came with a name, I didn’t pick it.”

    David shook his head. “Don’t care. I love her. What is it?”

    Patrick sighed. “Mrs. Claws.” He hated admitting it.

    David laughed loudly. “You are kidding me. Did you steal her from a child?”

    “No, she’s a rescue. She was one of a litter at the shelter, and they named them all Christmas names with cat puns. You’re just lucky I didn’t pick Fur-osty.”

    “Yes. Or Kitzen.”

    “Or Mew-pid.”

     

    David was delighted with every aspect of Patrick’s house, but especially its occupants. He tore himself away from Mrs. Claws and took a step closer to her owner.

    “Or Lixen,” he said, lowering his eyes to Patrick’s mouth briefly.

    When he looked back up, Patrick’s eyes were dark, and he was breathing heavier. He didn’t look away. But he didn’t make the first move. So David slowly placed his hand on Patrick’s shoulder and slid it up to the back of his neck, feeling the little curls that had tempted him before. He pressed his hand forward the tiniest bit, communicating what he wanted but delegating the decision, and then the decision was made. Patrick’s mouth was on his.

    Kissing him was a revelation. He bit Patrick’s lip gently, and Patrick breathed come here into his own yes and kissed him harder, tilting his head and licking deeply. His hands were around David’s waist, David’s arms were around Patrick’s shoulders, and they fit together so well.

    “You are ludicrous,” Patrick whispered, lowering his head to suck gently at David’s neck, just below his ear. “Lixen isn’t even a cat pun.”

    David laughed and pulled Patrick’s mouth back to his. He’d never kissed anyone before who he actually liked this much, and their smiles and laughs made it so much better.

     

    Patrick was in some kind of space where time didn’t exist, and where even if it did there’d never be any other option for passing it than by kissing David. He dug his fingers into David’s side, harder than he would have dared with Rachel, and David only came closer. They were pressed together from knees to chest, and he could feel that David was getting hard against his stomach. He knew he was too, and he pressed his hips forward so David would know.

    David shifted one leg to be between Patrick’s, and the friction felt so good they both pulled away from the kiss to gasp heavily.

    Patrick wanted to be the responsible one and slow things down. He really did. But he couldn’t quite remember how. All he could remember was how good this felt.

     

    David relished the feeling of Patrick’s hands holding tightly onto him, even the tiny pinpricks of pain from his fingertips digging in. The last time he’d made out with someone she hadn’t been this strong, or quite as tall, and the feeling of strength he got from Patrick was something he had missed. He loved the feeling of Patrick’s stubble on his cheeks and on his neck, and he pulled away from Patrick’s mouth to lick across his chin and his throat, sucking gently, not wanting—this time—to leave a mark.

    “Do you want to sit down? Or go somewhere else?” he asked against Patrick’s beautiful neck.

    “I do, David, I really do, but—”

    David was nothing if not a stickler for consent, and he had long since trained himself to listen for words like I do, but. He stopped kissing Patrick and unwrapped his arms, keeping them on Patrick’s shoulders and caressing gently so he’d know he wasn’t being rejected.

    “Go on.”

    “We literally met this morning.”

    “I know. It’s my favorite day ever.”

     

    Patrick was genuinely touched by this little line. “I think it’s my favorite day ever, too. I’ve never had Christmas come early before.”

    “Christmas always comes exactly on time,” said David. “I think that’s actually in that employee handbook you read three times.”

    Patrick laughed and tucked his head into David’s shoulder. David’s arms came back up around him, and he enjoyed just being held for a moment. He envied the cat her ability to purr.

    “I think maybe we should say good night before we can’t. I don’t love saying it, but I think it.”

    David pressed a kiss to Patrick’s forehead.

    “I think you’re probably right.”

    “Let me drive you home.”

    “Thanks, I didn’t want to walk.”

    “Of course I wasn’t going to make you walk.” Patrick would have driven David home even if nothing had gone right. But everything had gone right. Was going right.

    It was hard to pull out of his arms, and he couldn’t resist reaching up for one more lingering kiss.

    “Plans tomorrow?” he asked. “Christmas Eve with your family?”

    David shook his head. “No, my parents are already out of town, and Alexis already said she’s spending Christmas with Teddy after he finishes getting everyone ready. That’s the vet,” he added. “You?”

    “No, my family’s far away. It’s a bummer, but I did spend Christmas with them last year. My dad usually has to work anyway. He’s in operations for their region.”

    “It’s nice that we’re in design and finance. We get the night and the whole day off while operations busts their butts.” He chuckled. “They always say we’d just be in the way anyway.”

    Patrick took David’s hand and started for the door. “Spend it with me?” he asked.

    “You didn’t even have to ask,” came the answer.

     

    David couldn’t resist leaning in to kiss Patrick again when they pulled up to the Rosebud. “That was a fun night,” he said, intentionally minimizing its effect on him.

    “I’m really glad I took this transfer, David.”

    David said nothing, just sort of smiled.

    Patrick answered for him. “And I’m glad you did, too, Patrick, because I had nothing to do all day except show you around and send you chat messages.”

    David laughed. “Sorry. Was I bothering you?”

    “No, not at all. We hardly used Stocking at my old office. I bet it’s really useful, not just for flirting.”

    “It is, yes, especially when you need to talk to someone who’s two tunnels and six doors away. You’ll see as the year goes on.”

    As he said this, David had a small and unpleasant epiphany.

    “Patrick. You’re staying, right? You’re not, like, a temporary hire?”

    Please let him not be temporary. Please let this not be temporary.

    “No! No, I’m here for the long haul. Even if I hadn’t met a great guy on my first day, I’d stay. This is a huge promotion for me and a really great opportunity.”

    “That’s good. That’s really good.” David leaned in again, and as he kissed Patrick good night, he whispered, “Tomorrow is another really great opportunity.”

    Patrick smiled and blushed a little. “Talk tomorrow?”

    David got out of the car and leaned down to answer before closing the door.

    “Stocking has an iPhone app. We can talk any time you like.”

     

    Patrick watched David walk back into room 7, and drove home letting his feelings shine through the huge grin on his face. He turned on the radio and sang along at full volume when he got lucky and All I Want for Christmas Is You came on.

    When he got home, he showered, fed the cat again, because the cat was a filthy liar who made it clear she wanted him to know she was starving, and curled up on the sofa with his book.

    He dozed off a couple of chapters in, and stirred when the cat batted at his bookmark and pulled the book out of his hands.

    “Oops! Thanks for waking me up. And losing my place, looks like.” He set the book down, picked the cat up, turned off the lights, and went to bed, where he dreamed about Christmas roses.


    On the morning of Christmas Eve, David was up early. He had woken up before his alarm and been unable to get back to sleep. He’d thought about his plans for the day, and, knowing he was probably jinxing his own luck, packed an overnight bag with his skincare and hair products and two changes of clothes, including pajamas. He was thankful uniform rules were waived for non-operations employees on Christmas Eve, and he dressed in his favorite black pants and a sweater with lightning bolts on it. He hoped someone had told Patrick he could dress as he wished today.

    In the car on the way to work, Alexis sang along with Last Christmas on the radio as though it was a good song, which it was not, and giggled and teased when he told her he had plans after work and wouldn’t be riding home with her.

    He was too excited even to tease back.

    Activity around the barns and at the main entrance was at a fever pitch, it being the most important day of the year. He was glad yet again that he didn’t work in a different department.

    He grabbed a hot cocoa from the stall, a rare treat for days when he had time to spare, and asked the lady for “as many marshmallows as you can fit” on top of it. She was in fine Christmas form and delivered a heaping pile of them. David decided this was an excellent start to the day, and went to his office.

    Where he found a Christmas present on his drafting table. A small box, wrapped in silver paper, with a red tulle bow. No tag. Was it even for him? Best not to open it until he was sure, maybe.

    He set it aside and checked his email and Stocking messages. There was an urgent request from manufacturing for more detail on a color he’d requested for a new product, and he took care of that first. They were really down to the wire, and he was surprised his opinion even mattered at this late date. But it felt good to know it did.

    Actually, it felt really good, and he wanted to tell someone. He switched to Stocking to message Alexis, but there was already another new message waiting.

  • PBrewer: Sleep well?
  • David smiled. Messaging Alexis had never been a real option, of course.

  • DRose: I did. And I woke up early enough to get here in time to get a hot cocoa with what seems like 652 marshmallows on it and STILL get to my desk in time to put out a small fire

  • DRose: I was just going to message you to tell you about it, it felt really good to have manufacturing need ME to help with something on *DEC 24*!

  • PBrewer: I am so relieved. For a second I thought you meant an actual fire.

  • DRose: not this year

  • PBrewer: ???

  • DRose: kidding! … mostly. Couple years ago there was an oily rag left out in the barn and it lit up a pile of hay. Luckily no one was hurt, but the guy whose fault it was got super extra fired

  • PBrewer: yet another reason to be thankful not to work in operations. Like not having to wear red today!

  • DRose: Totally. I did not need more reasons. You busy today?

  • PBrewer: not yet, but I will be when the weather forecasts are ready. But Ray says we should be able to leave on time, maybe 6:30 at the latest.

  • PBrewer: You?

  • DRose: I’m mostly just here on the 24th for things going wrong, I expect I’ll be playing a lot of solitaire and reading today. Maybe let me know if there’s anything I can help you with. Sometimes Ray asks me to color code shit for him when I’m free

  • PBrewer: Will do. Have lunch with me again? I don’t want to get lost on my way to the cafeteria.
  • David knew full well Patrick had memorized the way to the cafeteria yesterday.

  • DRose: Try and stop me.
  •  

    Patrick’s day turned out to be kind of hectic. The weather forecasts for North America were fine, but in Australia and New Zealand the higher-than-expected temperatures meant all his fuel-cost predictions were out the window, and he spent the whole morning looking up exchange tables and wholesale prices for Southern Hemisphere tubers and grasses.

    When he realized David was standing next to his desk, he looked up for the first time in at least an hour.

    “Oh! I’m sorry, David, I was in the zone.”

    “I can see that. Your brow is all furrowed. What is this, fuel costs? They have you doing fuel costs for Christmas Eve on your second day here?” He sounded impressed.

    “Well, yeah. At my old region I invented a formula for it that they ended up using everywhere … and they needed me to extrapolate it … you do not care about this.”

    David feigned offense. “I care! This is vital … hay … information. Or something.” He sighed. “Look, Patrick, I know it’s important, I do, but you’re right. I can’t look at a spreadsheet and see anything but a sea of numbers.”

    “It’s okay.” Patrick lowered his voice. “Actually, it’s cute. I bet if we were at my place, I could talk about this until you were so bored you passed out, and then I’d get to watch you sleep.”

    David flushed. “If you like.”

    “If I like?”

    “I, um, packed an overnight bag.” He started to backpedal. “But of course I don’t mean to presume, and it’s fine if that wasn’t your plan for the evening—”

    Patrick was utterly charmed and a little turned on. “That fits beautifully with my plan for the evening. We both have tomorrow off, right? And you still have no plans with family?”

    David shook his head. “My plans are with you, if you’re okay with that. I know spending Christmas together is a really weird second date.”

    “Let’s talk about it over lunch. I am dying to think about food that isn’t grass and, like, lichens, or whatever.”

     

    David got a steak sandwich for lunch, and Patrick chose tuna. David made it clear this was somewhat incorrect—“Are you really going to eat fish at work?”—but Patrick just took a big bite without blinking or dropping his gaze from David’s, and he figured he was out of his league, trolling-wise.

    And in other ways. If the conversation in his office had proven anything, Patrick was very smart and very good at his job. David was thankful for his own moment of competence that morning. Otherwise he’d be feeling very insecure about it.

    “So there was a present on my table when I got in.”

    Patrick looked confused. “A present, just waiting for you? At work?”

    David nodded. “It’s weird. Never happened before. We get Christmas bonuses, but there’s never been gifts before. I guess I was wondering if it was from you, or if not, if everyone got one. It doesn’t have a tag or anything, so I’m afraid it’s a mistake otherwise.”

    “I have no idea,” said Patrick. “It isn’t from me, though I wish I’d thought of it. And I didn’t see any in our department. Maybe you have a secret admirer.”

    David was pretty sure he had a not-so-secret admirer, but he could tell Patrick wasn’t teasing or trolling this time. The present wasn’t from him. Odd.

    He looked around the cafeteria. There were a few friends exchanging gifts here and there, but it wasn’t like everyone had a small red-and-silver box. Maybe the gift really was for him, from a secret admirer.

    “Do you think I should open it?”

    “Wait until tonight, if you can? I’m super curious, and I won’t have time to see until we’re done for the day.”

    David thought this was sweet, and nodded. “Of course I can wait. It’s too small to be anything really good, anyway.”

    “You never know,” said Patrick, taking another bite of his sandwich. “Good things do come in small packages.”

    He was clearly referring to himself, and David rolled his eyes (but couldn’t hide his smile) before turning back to his own lunch.

     

    When Patrick got back to his desk, he was confused. Sitting on his keyboard was a small silver-wrapped box with a green fabric bow. Ray was nowhere to be seen. He carried it back through to David’s office.

    “Is this the present you were talking about? It was on my desk this time.”

    David looked at it, then shook his head. He held up a box the same size but with a red bow. “No. This one is mine. That one must be yours.”

    “But no one else has one. There isn’t one on Ray’s desk, anyway.”

    David got up and walked out into the hallway. “Come on.” Patrick followed.

    The next office down the hall had a sign reading Acquisitions, and of course another sign next to it that said This Way to Tunnel No. 1A. Patrick thanked his lucky stars he worked in the main building. He’d be wandering tunnels for years, the fabled Lost Numbers Guy, otherwise. Parents would tell stories about him to scare their children. “He haunts the workshops on Christmas Eve, calling out David, David, David…” they would say.

    David poked his head through the door. “Hey, is Stevie in today?”

    “Oh, hey, Dave,” said a slightly disheveled-looking older fellow at one of the desks. Patrick saw David prickle at the nickname and made a mental note never to shorten his name.

    “She’s in Region C for the big day this year,” the guy continued. “There’s a new building—”

    David cut him off. “Okay, never mind then, thanks.”

    Patrick followed him back toward their offices. “That was a little rude.”

    “That’s Jocelyn’s husband, Roland. If you let him say four words he will say four thousand, and your day will be gone. Also, he’s completely un-offend-able. Don’t worry about it.”

    Patrick still thought David had been rude, but he let it go. If nothing else, there hadn’t been any gifts on the desks in Communications either.

     

    David sat down at his desk. “Is it possible there was a present for you, and a matching-but-not-too-matchy-matchy present for me, and that’s it? No presents for anyone else?”

    It seemed impossible. But all of this was impossible. Meeting Patrick on his first day. Kissing him last night. Spending Christmas with him. It was all impossible.

    “I think we have to assume the presents are for us. Do you want to open them?”

    David thought for a moment. “Do you?”

    Patrick shook his head. “No. Let’s go with the plan and open them at home later. I, um, invited you to spend Christmas with me, but I just realized I don’t have a gift for you, so maybe this way it’ll be like we have gifts for each other?”

    It had not even occurred to David that he should have gotten a gift for Patrick. Everything was going so fast, and he hadn’t had a moment to consider that. Maybe this was the universe just solving their problems for them.

    “I don’t have a gift for you either. So I guess that works out well, then.”

    “Okay. I gotta get back to work. Sorry I don’t have a slow day like you do.”

    David nodded. “Of course. Sorry for interrupting.”

    “I’m the one who came in here. You’re fine.” Patrick looked around, presumably for Ray or another interloper, and, finding none, leaned down until his mouth was right at David’s ear. David felt his soft breath and closed his eyes. It was all he could do not to reach out and grab him.

    “We can unwrap … things … later. See you at six-thirty.” He brushed a tiny kiss on David’s ear and walked into the finance office without looking back.

     

    When Patrick got back to his computer thirty seconds later, feeling quite pleased with himself, he already had a new Stocking message.

  • DRose: you are a menace. completely dangerous.
  • Patrick laughed. Oh, this timetable was fun. All the flirting with none of the waiting, all the early tension with none of the doubt. He had himself a sure thing, and he was a sure thing in return, and it felt amazing.

  • PBrewer: work related messages only please. I am BUSY.
  • To emphasize the point, he turned on Do Not Disturb and went back to his forecasts.

    And the afternoon passed quickly.

    Around five, Patrick got up to get a drink. He wanted something cold, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to go all the way to the cafeteria. Maybe the hot cocoa lady had iced coffee or something. David wasn’t there when he passed through his office, and Patrick fought a small spike of disappointment. How strange, he thought, that someone he’d known for less than forty-eight hours should already have such a place in his life. It was like someone all-powerful had noticed Patrick Brewer had a particularly shaped hole in his life and had placed a being exactly that shape in his path. It was a gift. He just wished he knew who to thank for it.

    As he stepped out of the hallway onto the noisy main floor, he almost ran into the gift himself. David was on his way back toward their offices, holding two drinks, one hot and one cold.

    “Oh! I thought you might want something, and I didn’t think you could take a break. Do you want iced coffee or hot tea?”

    Patrick couldn’t credit his luck. There was definitely something at work here.

    “Iced coffee, please,” he said. “You’re not going to believe this, but I was just coming out here for one. Does the cocoa stall have these, or did you go to the cafeteria?”

    “The cocoa stall has anything you want, as long as it’s a drink and vaguely brown,” was David’s answer. “I guess that sounds disgusting. And no Coke. But yes, she has coffee and tea and cocoa and chocolate milk, and hot or cold or whipped or foamed or whatever. She can do lattes and cappuccinos, but they take longer, and I try not to order them when she’s busy. It’s just her.”

    Patrick was touched at this latest example of how thoughtful David could be. He took a sip of his iced coffee and moaned in pleasure. “This is exactly what I wanted. You’re a godsend.”

    David smiled his crooked smile, and Patrick loved it. “I didn’t make the drink. I didn’t even have to pay for it.”

    “Even so. You’re exactly what I wanted.”

    “The drink is, you mean?”

    “The drink too.” Patrick winked and went back to work. Another hour, hour and a half, and he’d be done. Things were already well underway in Europe, and he just needed to wrap up forecasting for the Pacific.

     

    David sat down at his drafting table and doodled a bit while he sipped his tea. He had the germ of an idea for something new, with a cute face and a blue body and a sort of warming element, but he wouldn’t need to flesh it out until well into the spring if it was going to be manufactured. He had time to toss ideas around on paper and on his computer, and he found himself scribbling nonsense.

    Hot tea, brewing tea … PBrewer, TeaBrewer, TBrewer … DBrewer … David Brewer

    Jiminy.

    He crossed out all of that with his biggest black marker and looked around, even though he knew he was alone. His face felt bright red. Here he was scribbling his own name with his crush’s last name like a little girl. Hell, like he himself had. He remembered writing David Rose-Raine on his notebook in middle school, surrounded by drawings of umbrellas and roses. Not for the first time, he shuddered and was glad that hadn’t gone anywhere. Sebastien had been nothing but a bully, despite his beautiful face and his artistic eye. Besides, rose rain? Ridiculous.

    Rose-Brewer didn’t make a lot of sense either, but at least he stopped himself before he started drawing teakettles full of flowers.

     

    At six-twenty-five, Patrick filed his last cost forecast, and switched back to Stocking to log off for the holiday. He hadn’t seen Ray in hours, but there was a message.

  • RButani: You can head on home as soon as that last file is checked in. Thanks so much for your hard work, Patrick! I’m really glad we have you here this year, and I’m going to make sure my boss’s boss knows how much your formula helped!
  • Patrick beamed. He’d been disappointed at first to see no messages from David, but this was maybe even better. Ray’s boss’s boss was, of course, the boss, and to be singled out like that was a pretty big deal. He couldn’t wait to tell David.

    He laughed to himself. Usually his mom would be the first one he thought to tell, now that it wasn’t Rachel. But suddenly it was David. Not even two full days, and it was all David.

    Was this normal? Did couples fall together this quickly, really?

    He packed his bag, including the mysterious present, and left the office.

     

    David was waiting for Patrick when he came through the connecting door.

    “Ready to go? I’m just screwing around online, I can wait if you need to stay longer.”

    “Nope, I’m all set. Let’s head out.”

    They wished a few coworkers a merry Christmas on their way to the big doors. The chaos in the main room had died down now that things were truly underway, and David marveled, as he did every year, at the operation and how lucky he was to be a part of it.

    Patrick seemed to pick up on this. “We’re lucky to work here, I think,” he said quietly.

    David just nodded. “It’s kind of priceless. Christmas Eve is when it really strikes me. This floor is never as quiet as it is when everything is done for the year and out the door. Everyone works hard, but these guys work hardest.” He raised his hand in a wave to acknowledge the last few workers on the shipping lines in back, and called out “Merry Christmas, guys. Thank you!”

    “Merry Christmas,” came a chorus back. It took a special kind of soul to do that work and still be cheerful. David was glad he knew himself well enough to know it wasn’t him.

    And they walked out the main doors, into fresh-fallen Christmas snow.


    It took a little while for the car to warm up, and Patrick apologized. “It’s not exactly a new car. It used to be my mom’s. I’m sor—”

    “Nothing to apologize for. It’s not like we don’t have our coats.” David put his hand on Patrick’s leg and spoke quietly. “It’s a short drive, and it’s warm on the other end.”

    “It is, yes,” said Patrick, putting his hand on top of David’s, lacing their fingers together, and pressing David’s hand harder into his thigh. He loved this. Enough that he was glad to have a longer commute than he had at the satellite office. “Definitely.”

    David made an mmm sound and leaned closer. “Do you want to get dinner? Or just…”

    He didn’t finish the sentence, but he didn’t need to. Unfortunately, Patrick was hungry.

    “I could cook, or we could order something? Do you want pizza or Chinese food or something that delivers?”

    David perked up. “Chinese food actually sounds amazing if you’re serious. My family used to get Chinese at Christmas all the time when I was a kid. I haven’t done that in ages.”

    “So be it, then. Can you look up a place on your phone? I just moved in, I don’t even have a drawer full of outdated menus yet.”

    “Got it,” said David, reluctantly taking his hand back. “I can order now to save some time. What do you like?”

    “Surprise me. Nothing with sweet and sour sauce, though. And maybe not shrimp, I had tuna for lunch?”

    “Beef and broccoli? Sesame chicken?”

    “Those are fine. Maybe some fried rice? And get, like, a shitload of spring rolls.”

    David was already dialing. “And crab rangoon?”

    Patrick’s mouth watered. “Yes. If you do not get crab rangoon, I will put you out into the snow and lock the doors.”

    “No you won’t.”

    “I might. I bet you look amazing when you get all rosy-cheeked and flushed.” Patrick knew what he’d said, and smirked to himself. This was going to be a fun night.

    David was clearly attempting to look unfazed.

    “Shhh. I’m on the phone.”

     

    David ordered the food and gave his long-since-memorized credit card number in a sort of haze. I bet you look amazing when you get all rosy-cheeked and flushed.

    Patrick had no idea. He knew from experience that he flushed easily; it was part of the reason he wore his beard stubble, to hide it. He could not wait to show Patrick how easy it would be to get him to that state.

    Crab rangoon first, though. And a shitload of spring rolls. This guy was fucking perfect.

    When they pulled into the driveway of Patrick’s adorable little house, which David still couldn’t believe he was going to get to sleep in after fantasizing about living there, the car had finally warmed up, and it was hard to convince themselves to get out.

    It was the look in Patrick’s eyes, the look that clearly said, in the car or the house or wherever, I’m starting to not care, that motivated David to open the door and step out into the snow.

     

    Patrick was pretty sure David’s sudden decision to flee the warm car was due to the look he’d given him. The look he’d intended to say get in the house or we’re going to do stuff right here.

    He wasn’t really planning to jump David right there in the car, of course. He was a grownup and could control his baser impulses most of the time. But maybe David didn’t know that.

    He got out and walked slowly to the door. He could tell at a glance that his shoes were better suited to the snow than David’s, and his feet weren’t cold or damp at all.

    “Come on,” came the whine from his date.

    “You’re in a hurry to see Mrs. Claws again, aren’t you?”

    “Yes. That cat is the only reason I want to get my freezing cold ass into your warm house right now. Right now. Please.”

    Patrick took a long and obvious look at David’s freezing cold ass and relented, unlocking the door and letting them in.

    They were, of course, greeted by a petulant little furball who knew full well that Patrick was supposed to get home half an hour earlier. She let it be known that she was, in fact, starving to death, again, and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.

    “Drama queen,” said Patrick, affectionately, as he refilled her food bowl. Which wasn’t even all the way empty.

     

    David took off his shoes at the door and watched Patrick with his sweet cat. He was the best kind of pet owner, attentive and caring but taking no bullshit. David thought Patrick would probably do pretty well with a dog, too. Something suited to this climate, but not a huge one, too big for the little house. A smallish Samoyed, maybe, or a Lab mix. David had wanted a cat and a dog his whole life, and as a kid he’d researched all the breeds that would like the snow. He’d imagined dogsledding, leading teams of huskies across the tundra, before he realized how much actual work that was.

    “Patrick, did you know dogsledding is a real sport that takes actual physical fitness and really tires you out, and it’s not just riding a sled?”

    “I guess I never thought about it, David. Why are we talking about dogsleds?”

    “I was just imagining what kind of dog would be best for this house. I used to dream about having a whole team of sled dogs when I was little, but not since I found out it’s hard work.”

    “Am I getting a dog?” Patrick’s face was open and happy, and David took a moment to appreciate that he didn’t seem suspicious or creeped out at David fantasizing about a dog for a house that wasn’t his.

    “I was just thinking. I always wanted a cat, and here you are, and you have a cat, but I also always wanted a dog. Stupid Alexis and her stupid allergies.”

    Patrick stepped close to him and put his arms around his waist, where they fit so naturally. “If I get a dog, I’ll never get rid of you.”

    He leaned in and kissed him, and David didn’t even get to ask if Patrick wanted to get rid of him. He was pretty sure he knew the answer, but still.


    When the food came, Patrick started to get out plates and silverware, but David looked offended. “Surely you’re joking. We can just eat with chopsticks out of the boxes, right?”

    Patrick laughed. “If I were alone I absolutely would, on the sofa, with the television on, but I thought this was a date, and we should be fancy.”

    “You won’t be such a fan of ‘fancy’ things once you see how long it takes me to wash my face and do my hair in the morning. Let’s sit on the couch.”

    Patrick couldn’t wait to see how long it took David to do his skincare or hair gel or whatever. It all seemed completely charming.

    “Don’t you love the first few early days of a relationship,” he dared to ask, “when even the most annoying and selfish habits someone has seem endearing?”

    David blushed. Probably the word relationship had struck a nerve. But Patrick was in this thing, and the sooner David knew that, the better. His days of going hiking every other day to clear his head while he wondered endlessly, does she like me back, or I think I might be gay, were gone. Now it was just this. Just I love the way he makes me breathe and I want to take that sweater off, fold it carefully, and destroy him.

     

    David closed his eyes as he enjoyed every bite of dinner. So salty and saucy and good. Even the broccoli was perfect, bright green and just slightly crunchy. The spring rolls were still lightning-hot in the middle, and he drizzled duck sauce onto one and caught Patrick’s eye with almost the whole thing in his mouth.

    And they both burst out laughing.

    “I swear,” said David as he recovered from a fit of giggles, “I was not trying to fellate a spring roll and look lasciviously at you.”

    “Good, because it did not work. For one thing…” and Patrick paused and looked away, as though collecting his thoughts. Then he came back and looked David in the eye. “For one thing, I am already on board with whatever you want to do tonight. And for a second thing, and I’m only saying this because I am a big believer in ‘if you can’t talk about it you aren’t ready to do it’ … you should know that my cock is a lot bigger around than a fucking spring roll.”

     

    Patrick watched as David’s face went red. It was exactly as hot as he’d thought it would be. He figured they’d both had enough to eat, and as he put his chopsticks down on the coffee table David did the same.

    Patrick stood up and held out his hand, and David took it. Patrick pulled, and David came happily into his arms.

    “Kiss me, Patrick,” he whispered, “or I’m going to combust.

    So Patrick did. David tasted of duck sauce and MSG and broccoli, and it was all just fine. He slid his hands up under the lightning-bolt sweater, and moaned as he felt David’s skin. “Can I take this off?” he asked into David’s mouth.

    David pulled back and took it off himself. Patrick swooned. David’s darker skin, his chest hair, the shape of him, were all just exactly right. So different from his own body, and so gorgeous. Patrick felt intensely and viscerally attracted, and once again counted himself lucky that he didn’t have to spend weeks in the agony of wanting. David was right here. He took him back in his arms and felt him practically melt against him.

    “David,” he started, “you are the hottest thing I have ever—” and here he had to stop and take David’s face in his hands to get him to look him in the eye, “—the hottest. Thing. I have ever. Seen. I will repeat it until I think you might believe it.”

    David whispered, “thank you,” and leaned forward to take Patrick’s mouth again. Patrick pulled him along, both of them gasping and stumbling, until they were on the stairs to the bedrooms.

    “I don’t want to stop kissing you, but I also don’t want to fall down the stairs. My room is the first one on the right. I’m going to stop in the bathroom for one one-hundredth of a second, and then I’ll meet you there?”

    “Yes,” came the reply, and David ran up the stairs.

     

    David couldn’t believe this day. A professional boost, a great dinner, laughter and conversation, and now this. He was so hard he decided he might actually get hurt if he waited for Patrick to come in before taking off his tight jeans, so he started without him, but by the time he had them off, Patrick was there.

    He was holding a bottle of lube, and held it up to explain the brief detour.

    “I don’t mean to imply that we need this, I just thought we might need this. And it happened to be in the bathroom.”

    “Your foresight is admirable. Now come and catch up. I’m mostly not dressed here.”

    Patrick unbuttoned the first few buttons of his blue shirt and pulled it off over his head. He had a t-shirt on underneath, which he peeled off as he stepped out of his socks. Before David knew it, there was a bare chest pressed to his own, and he was being pushed back onto Patrick’s bed.

    “Okay?”

    “Yes. Very okay. Don’t stop.”

    They were horizontal, and David loved the feeling of Patrick’s body on top of him. He reached to undo Patrick’s fly, and together they got his sensible khaki pants off.

    “Goodbye, sensible khaki pants,” laughed David.

    “You don’t like my pants?”

    “Let’s just say I think they look better on the floor,” said David, flipping them over.

     

    Patrick relished the feeling of being flipped. His favorite thing about David was that David was male, that David was bigger and probably stronger than him. It turned him on like crazy to be moved around like that.

    He figured maybe David ought to know that. He slid his mouth away from David’s lips over to his ear and suckled at the soft skin just behind it, then whispered, “I love that. How you just flipped me over. You’re so sexy, so strong.”

    David just sort of whimpered and slid down to kiss Patrick’s chest. Excellent.

    “Can I take these off?” asked Patrick quietly, a moment later, with his hands on David’s ass. He felt consent, rather than heard it, as David’s mouth was busy, but the nodding, the frantic nodding, was clear enough.

    They sat up a bit and divested themselves of the last of their clothes. David’s eyes were practically black, and he was panting a bit, breathing through his mouth.

    Patrick reached up and ran his hands through David’s hair, sighing in delight at the feeling. “I just want to destroy this,” he said quietly. “Take your pretty façade apart and turn you into a complete mess.

    “This is me, naked in your bed, not objecting,” was David’s reply. He straddled Patrick’s body and lowered his head to lick gently at Patrick’s nipple. Patrick arched up and threw one arm across his face, moaning into it.

     

    David was having fun discovering which parts of Patrick were the most fun to lick and kiss. He loved his mouth so far. He loved his neck. He loved his ears.

    But Patrick turned out to be one of those guys for whom nipples were very definitely an erogenous zone. David licked softly at one with a pointed tongue, making sure Patrick would feel every moment as his nerves lit up. He ran his thumb over the other in little circles, keeping the timing different from his tongue, keeping Patrick on edge.

    He could feel how hard they both were, and he could feel Patrick’s cock leaking slick precome against his hip. He wanted to just lower himself down and slide into that beautiful friction, but he also wanted this to last. He wanted this to last forever.

    He placed a path of wet kisses across Patrick’s chest and took the other nipple into his mouth. He felt one of Patrick’s hands tighten in his hair and raised his face just enough to say “I like that, the pulling my hair. You don’t have to be gentle,” before going back to what he was doing.

    Patrick was making a keening sound, and David was starting to worry he was going too fast.

    “You doing alright?” he asked quietly. He was nowhere near done, but he didn’t want to miss it if Patrick needed him to change what he was doing.

    “I’m … outstanding. You’re amazing.”

    “I feel like you could come just from this,” said David, squeezing one nipple while softly running his thumbnail over the other.

    “I don’t think so. Don’t worry. Don’t stop. Do that more.”

    “Bossy.” He squeezed again, and just as Patrick bucked up again underneath him, David left his chest behind and started kissing down Patrick’s side.

     

    The kisses on his side tickled, and Patrick tried and failed not to wriggle away from David’s hot mouth. “Sorry! Sorry sorry, ticklish, I’m sorry, please don’t stop,” he babbled.

    David didn’t stop, but he started kissing harder, biting a little, and the tickling went away, replaced with soft little pains just the right side of too much. Before he knew it, David’s face was buried in the crook of Patrick’s hip, and he felt he might possibly die if David didn’t move his mouth just a little bit to the right. Just a little.

    He tried to turn over a bit, shamelessly aiming his aching cock at David’s mouth, but David was too fast for him. He laid his forearm across Patrick’s hip and held him down while he kept suckling and nuzzling at the skin everywhere but where Patrick wanted him so badly.

    This was even worse and even better. Being held down hit that same magic button as being flipped over. He was a wreck. He was helpless faced with this. “Wait, I don’t want to come yet. Let me see you … let me up…”

    David looked up to meet Patrick’s eyes as he took his cock into his hand and pressed a soft, wet kiss to the very tip. “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll let you up if you really want. But I’ve got this. You’re not going to come yet.”

    Patrick wasn’t so sure about that. He took hold of David’s arms and pulled him back up to his face. “Let me see you,” he panted into his mouth. “I’m fucking falling apart and I haven’t even hardly touched you.”

    He reached for David’s cock and was happy when he wasn’t stopped. David’s face was buried in his neck, and his hand was fondling his nipples again. It felt amazing, he loved it, but he really did feel selfish.

    Patrick sat up and turned David over again. David went willingly, lying back and putting one arm under his head so he could look down his body at Patrick. He raised one knee and reached out with his other hand to stroke Patrick’s cheek. The position was so provocative, so easily seductive, that Patrick wanted a painting of it. He was astonished yet again at his own preposterous luck.

    David just smiled, which made Patrick want to take him apart even more.

     

    “You are so fucking beautiful. I can’t even think of the right words for you. There might not even be the right words for you.”

    David was trying to look sexy and cool and relaxed while he heard these things.

    David was not cool and relaxed. David was dying. No one had come yet, not even close, and this was already the best sex of his life. The talking, the laughing … all he wanted was this. All he wanted was Patrick. It had never felt like this before.

    He tried to muffle his gasp as Patrick suddenly licked all the way up his cock, base to tip. His tongue was soft, wide, and wet, and his hot breath made it feel like he was covering more than he was. David moaned. There really were no words.

    Patrick’s warm hand surrounded his cock, stroking gently, as his mouth sank lower, kissing and licking at David’s balls. He arched his back, trying and failing to lie still and enjoy. Patrick was magic.

     

    Patrick chuckled against David’s skin as he carefully pushed him down with his arm. “Fair is fair,” he said. “Be as loud as you want, but stay down.”

    David turned his head and muttered something into the nearest pillow that sounded like “kung fu” but was probably “fuck you.” Adorable.

    Patrick was memorizing the feeling of David’s cock. It was longer and thinner than his own, and he was already in love with it. He stroked the velvety skin gently with one hand and squeezed David’s lovely ass with the other.

    He swirled his tongue over David’s balls, doing his best to keep his eyes on David’s face. He pressed kisses and little licks here and there, never establishing a pattern. David was practically starting to sob, and it was hard not to feel pride.

    “Patrick. Please. Oh, my god, Patrick, please.

    “Please what, baby? What do you want?”

    “Your mouth, oh, my god.” David had one hand clapped over his eyes, and his neck was stretched back. His other hand was in his own hair, pulling harder than Patrick had dared. He looked completely wrecked in pleasure.

    Patrick moved his tongue up to the base of David’s cock and hummed, knowing he could feel it. He stroked the slick, leaking slit with his thumb as he slowly, slowly moved his tongue, his kisses, up the shaft. He could feel David shaking apart.

    “You ready to come, baby? Do you want to come down my throat? Do you want me to swallow you down, put your cock in my mouth and swallow it all?” It was gibberish, but it was exactly where David’s brain was.

    “Yes, yes, yes, your mouth, oh my god, Patrick.”

    The humming turned to laughter for a moment as Patrick realized he’d somehow reduced David’s vocabulary to about half a dozen words. But there was no time for laughter. He kept stroking with one hand as he reached up with the other to pull David’s arm away from his eyes. He laced their fingers together, squeezing tightly and feeling so beautifully connected.

    “Look at me, baby,” he said, and he carefully kept the eye contact as he licked his lips and took as much as he could of David’s cock into his mouth. He let spit leak out of his mouth, sloppily suckling and using the wetness to make his hand slide up and down as he bobbed his head.

    David whimpered and twisted his fingers with Patrick’s. He still had his other hand on his head, but he’d stopped pulling. He just left his hand snarled in his beautiful hair as he panted through his mouth and shook. His eyes were wide open, and he seemed riveted, unable to look away from Patrick’s face.

    Patrick hollowed his cheeks and sucked harder, concentrating less on technique and more on sensation. He wanted David to come hard, and he wanted to see it. He moved his hand to pull gently at David’s balls and lowered his head until he felt the tip of David’s cock hit the back of his throat.

    And then David was coming. Patrick swallowed around the head of his cock, but it still leaked out the side of his mouth, and he used it as lube to continue caressing whatever he could reach with his free hand until David batted him away, oversensitive.

     

    David was a fucking shambles. He could feel how filthy dirty he was. He reached down for Patrick, frantically pulling him up by his shoulder and one hand. He felt like there was come everywhere, and it was all his.

    “You are a sex magician, I don’t know if you have a blow job spreadsheet or what, but oh my god, you are unlike anything I have ever had. I’m going to make you feel so fucking good right now.”

    Patrick’s eyes were wide. A steady stream of slick little droplets was leaking out his beautiful thick cock. David knew it wouldn’t take much. He laid Patrick down and straddled his hips, sliding their bodies together, sharing the mess all over him as he slithered his way downward.

    Their hands stayed clasped, their fingers tangled tightly together, as David started in on Patrick’s cock again with his hand and his lips. It was bigger than his, and David had to close his eyes for a moment as the thought of having it inside him crashed through his imagination.

    But not today. Today was this, and this was everything.

    “David. David, get the lube. Put a finger in me. God, I’m gonna come so fucking hard for you.”

    David thought this was an outstanding idea, and he let go of Patrick’s hand to cast about for the lube bottle on the nightstand. He flicked the cap open while the bottle was upside down, and of course it spilled all over his hand. Patrick laughed, but it came out as a sort of desperate, choking sound because David glided his newly slick hand from the tip of Patrick’s cock all the way down to the base, squeezing harder than he’d have dared without all that lube.

    He flattened his hand and ran it over Patrick’s balls, hefting them gently in his fingers, before reaching back and pressing one slick fingertip over his hole. He made little circles, and he could feel Patrick opening up for him already. God, it was going to be amazing to fuck him. David could barely stand to think about it.

    “Yes, yes yes yes.

    It was so much easier to concentrate on what he was doing now that the pressure of his own orgasm was gone, but David didn’t want to be cruel and tease. Well, he did, but he decided not to.

    He continued circling Patrick’s hole with his finger, pressing in just a little, while he slowly, slowly lowered his mouth over his cock. The lube didn’t taste great, but it was a small price to pay for the way Patrick’s face was screwed up in pleasure. David could tell he was struggling to keep his eyes open, but they were closing of their own volition.

    “Close your eyes if you want to, baby. It’s okay. I’ve got you.”

    He sucked at Patrick’s tip, laving the slit with his tongue. He made the fingers on one hand into a tight ring at the base of Patrick’s cock, sliding gently up and down, and an eternity later—or a few seconds, no one could tell—he felt Patrick stiffen and pressed his slick finger inside up to the second knuckle just as Patrick cried out in a wordless wail and his mouth was flooded.

    He swallowed what he could and relished the filthiness of what he couldn’t. He slid his finger out of Patrick’s ass and laid his body down off to the side of Patrick’s, pulling him over with him.

     

    Patrick felt turned inside out. He wanted to tell David. He wanted to tell David never to leave, that he was a Christmas miracle, a winter wonderland, a goddamned pine forest of sex secrets, but the words wouldn’t come.

    He slowly came back to himself to find David’s nose nuzzling at his, their foreheads nearly touching, and David’s hands rubbing his back as he held him.

    “Merry Christmas, Patrick,” came soft words, just as the evening bells rang out outside.


    Patrick thought maybe he dozed off for a bit, but it looked like David hadn’t. He was still gazing at Patrick’s face, lacing their fingers together, caressing his skin.

    He sat up and looked around his bedroom for a towel. Eventually he just picked up his discarded t-shirt to wipe the worst of the drying mess off of them as they got off the bed. “We are a disaster. We should shower.”

    “I agree. Do you want to share? Is there room in your shower for both of us?”

    “There is, but keep in mind I’m a little wrung out right now. If we shower we’re just going to shower.”

    “This time.” David winked at him.

     

    The hot shower felt heavenly, and David couldn’t remember ever feeling quite so good in quite so many ways. He washed his hair first, then just sort of leaned his head against Patrick’s shoulder and let the water cascade over them.

    “You feeling good?”

    David didn’t know how to answer this.

    “I feel so good. I feel like I’m in a song.”

    Patrick turned his head to kiss him under the water. “Is it a Christmas song?”

    “It’s a love song.”

    David regretted saying it as soon as he heard it come out. He stiffened and took half a step away from Patrick, but Patrick just pulled him back in and kissed him again.

    “I know it is. I feel it too.”


    Patrick changed into boxers and a t-shirt and put on his bathrobe. He offered David something cozy to wear, but David had brought his pajamas and his slippers, so he was covered. Patrick liked the idea of David wearing his clothes someday, but that could wait. There was so much to look forward to.

    They went downstairs and heated up some of the leftover food, then curled up on the sofa, debating quietly whether to watch a movie or just talk. Patrick ate a spring roll, and they both giggled. Spring rolls might have been ruined. Or maybe they were better now. Hard to say.

    The cat jumped up onto the sofa and curled up in a tiny space between them, forcing them to sit farther apart than Patrick would have preferred.

    “You are a demon,” he told her. “You can’t just sit on the other end of the sofa, or on the chair you think is your chair?”

    “Leave her alone, meanie,” said David, giving the cat little scritches with the clean end of his chopsticks. “She has a hard life.”

    “Her life is effortless,” countered Patrick, because it was. “We should all be so lucky as to be taken care of, all our needs catered to, just because we’re furry.”

    “You’re not furry, so you’re on your own.” David seemed to think for a second. “Come to think of it, I’m kind of furry, and you seem to cater to my needs pretty well too. Maybe you’re the problem.”

    Patrick just said “hmmph,” which he knew David knew meant you’re right, but shut up, and turned on the television.

    There was a Christmas concert on, with a huge choir singing traditional songs. “This okay? I don’t really feel like I have a movie in me.”

    “Yeah, it’s nice,” said David, carefully curling into his side while avoiding inconveniencing the cat even slightly.


    When the concert ended and the reheated leftovers were gone, David remembered the gifts. He got up to get his out of his bag.

    “Where are you going?”

    “We have presents to open, remember?”

    “Oh! I actually did forget. Grab mine, would you? It’s in the outside pocket of my work bag.”

    David found it and sat back down on the sofa, one of the presents in each hand. They seemed to weigh the same, which was practically nothing. And they were exactly the same size. They rattled a little when he shook them.

    “So who do you think they’re from?”

    David was just as mystified as he’d been earlier. “I have no idea. But I guess there’s only one way to find out.” He handed Patrick the one with the green ribbon and untied his own red one.

    At the same time, they tore the paper away, and they were each left holding a small white box.

    David grinned. “Here goes. One, two, three!” And they both opened the boxes.

     

    “Puzzle pieces.” Patrick was surprised and confused. “Someone gave us puzzle pieces.”

    Judging by the look on his face, David was clearly also surprised and definitely also confused. He might also have been disappointed. “What the actual hell?”

    Patrick bumped their shoulders together. “Have some Christmas spirit, David. Here, clear off the other half of the table. You see what yours make, and I’ll see what mine make.”

    They both spent a moment laying out the pieces and making sure they were all flipped right side up. Patrick started looking for edge pieces in his pile, while it looked like David was sorting by color. Patrick thought this was a charming demonstration of how their personalities approached things, and he smiled.

    “I think we have the right jobs,” he said. “The way I sort puzzle pieces fits my job, looking for good starting points to a problem, and you’re matching things up, looking for patterns.”

    David nodded. “That, and searching for all the edge pieces first is just a chore. I think it’s much more interesting to start with what goes together and see what happens from there.”

    Patrick couldn’t really argue with his logic when it was put into those words.

     

    It only took a few minutes for David to realize something was wrong. He had six red pieces and four green pieces—the rest were white, with silver snowflakes—but half his red pieces didn’t connect to any of the others.

    He looked over at Patrick’s side of the coffee table and saw similar problems. There weren’t nearly enough edge pieces.

    “Patrick? I think this is one puzzle.”

    Patrick looked over at David’s pieces.

    “I think you’re right. Okay, give me your edges. Who the hell gave us this?”

    “There’s writing on these pieces, see? Right here, but it’s fancy script at an angle so you can’t tell what it says until it’s together. Maybe it says who it’s from.” He sighed. “This would be clever as all hell if it wasn’t so annoying.”

    Patrick already had one full edge and most of the adjoining one put together. “It is definitely all one puzzle. You had half the pieces, and I had half the pieces.” He paused, then repeated himself. “Who the hell gave us this? You don’t have any idea? Any friends at work who would do this?”

    David shook his head. He had casual work friends like everyone did, a few he might go get a drink with as a group a couple of times a year, but no one except Stevie he’d really call a friend. And Stevie was out of town almost all the time working on real estate acquisitions. He’d hardly seen her in weeks, and except for a few brief text messages he hadn’t talked to her since Patrick started working at headquarters.

    “No,” he said. “I only have one close work friend, not counting you, and she’s out of town all the time. She doesn’t have time for thoughtful little things like this. And I don’t think she knows you even exist yet. It can’t be Stevie.”

    He smiled, thinking about how well Patrick and Stevie would get along. They would have so much fun teasing him. He couldn’t wait.

     

    Patrick had the full frame of the puzzle put together. It was only about eighty pieces, more like a puzzle for a child than for an adult, but David seemed impressed anyway.

    “You’re done? Here, take this red chunk. I think it goes in the corner; see the little red dot there on your pieces?”

    Working together, they soon had the puzzle completed.

    It did have fancy script writing on it. But it was upside down, so Patrick reached out and spun the whole thing around to face them.

    And they both gasped.

     

    The snowflakes in the white background were moving. They rotated slowly, as though snow was really falling. The red candles had flickering flames, and the green pine trees swayed in an invisible wind. David reached for Patrick’s hand, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the impossible image.

    Gradually, the silver writing became clearer, and the letters started to glow. And David held Patrick’s hand tighter, and decided he’d never, ever let go.

    Because the words on the puzzle said:


    David and Patrick:

    You were always meant to find each other. Sometimes it just takes a little magic to speed things up a bit.

    Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

    Your always appreciative employer,

    S. Claus