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you build it up (just enough)

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Two days later , Nolan’s in the shop mopping the floor to get rid of the puddles of snow people have dragged in. Business has already started picking up this week leading up to Christmas as family members flood into town and people look for an excuse to leave the house. He’s constantly being introduced to people’s cousin’s boyfriend’s brothers and aunt’s sister’s friends. It’s frankly exhausting, but Nolan can’t make himself ask his employees to work more than one shift a week with all they have going on, so he bears the brunt of it. Jim stops by and scolds Nolan for working too much, but they both know Nolan’s not going to stop. He might as well prepare for the lecture from his parents now.

He ordered everyone’s Christmas gifts online so he wouldn’t have to venture out into the crowds alone. He promised himself not to go overboard- not that he could afford to anyway- so he found small but hopefully meaningful gifts for everyone. He got Stacey two certificates to her favorite spa that she raves about all the time, along with a brand new fancy tackle box for Haysey. He checks out Sanny’s goodreads and finds some books on his to-read list for him. A charm bracelet for Maddie that has a charm for each member of the pack.

Shopping for Travis is hard . Nolan knows he likes fishing and camping and hockey, but he pretty much already owns everything he needs for that. And besides, getting him something from his own store seems pretty stupid. He’s down to the last few days and he has nothing to show for it. He’s a fucking bad boyfriend.

He’s ripped out of his thoughts when the bell over the door jingles. He sighs a little and works a smile onto his face before he turns to greet the customer. And freezes. The mop falls out of his hand and clatters to the floor.

“Hey Pat,” TK says, grinning so wide that it looks like it hurts. Nolan’s just… stunned. Before he processes what he’s doing, he’s across the room and sweeping TK into a crushing hug. He smells all wrong, like strangers and the stale air of being in a car too long, and Nolan doesn’t even try to stop himself from burying his face against TK’s neck, sliding TK’s coat off so he can run his hands up and down TK’s back and arms and shoulders. TK melts under the touch, a hand slipping into Nolan hair with a pleased little purr.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have to see this,” someone says off to the side. Nolan raises his head and sees Chase watching them, somewhere between amused and disgusted. He starts to unwrap himself from around TK, but TK holds on like an octopus.

“You can go, then,” TK says, voice muffled where his face is still buried in Nolan’s shirt. “Thanks for the ride.” Chase sighs dramatically and rolls his eyes.

“I’ll drop your bag off at Nolan’s house. See you at Christmas,” he says pointedly, nodding at Nolan before he’s out the door, muttering under his breath about ungrateful brothers. Nolan ducks back down and breathes TK in, feeling himself settling. He’s happy to have his missing pack member back, safe and sound, but he’s also just… happy . He missed TK more than he thought it was possible to miss someone he’s only known for a few months.

“I didn’t know you were coming back,” Nolan says when he’s finally able to pull himself away. TK doesn’t let him go completely, resting his hands on Nolan’s shoulders with that stupid grin still on his face.

“I wanted to surprise you,” TK laughs. “And it was worth it. You should’ve seen the look on your face.” Nolan flushes, embarrassed, but TK presses up and kisses him, just like that, easy as if they’ve been doing it for years. It’s just a peck, barely long enough for Nolan to feel it, but he feels himself grinning back.

“Did anyone else know you were coming back?” Nolan picks up the mop and the coat and pulls TK back behind the counter in case any customers decide to come in. He definitely doesn’t complain when TK tucks himself up to Nolan’s side.

“Yeah I made a side group chat so you wouldn’t see. They’ll come by the house at some point.”

“Did Chase drive you all the way back here?” It’s a 6 hour round trip drive, a long way for Chase to come drop TK off and drive back home.

“Yeah, I got my license back but there’s something wrong with my car,” TK explains. “We took it to a mechanic and he said something I totally didn’t understand but basically means that the engine broke and I’d have to get it replaced.” While he talks TK hops up to sit on the counter facing Nolan, and Nolan can’t resist the draw to step between his knees and rest his hands on TK’s thighs. “So I decided just to sell it as-is and get a new car down here sometime. So Chase drove me back here and I’m supposed to ask you to drive me back there for Christmas but I think that’s pretty bogus so I’m just going to make him come get me if he wants me to be there so bad.”

Nolan’s grinning at the familiar rambling, letting his hands trail up TK’s thighs to rest on his hips, his eyes caught on TK’s mouth.

“Patty, my eyes are up here,” TK chirps. “I’m all for making out in the middle of the store, but if someone comes in, you know you’ll never live it down.”

“You won’t live it down either,” Nolan grumbles, reluctantly meeting TK’s eyes. TK leans closer, like he’s going to tell Nolan a secret.

“I have no shame,” TK whispers. “You could strip me naked in the middle of the store and I wouldn’t care. As long as we don’t get arrested for public indecency,” he amends. Nolan lets himself think about it, lets his eyes trail down TK’s body and actually think about the things he wants to do to him. TK leans back a bit, tilting his head to bare his neck to Nolan and Nolan thinks about biting him just a little.

“Not in the store,” he finally says firmly, despite being unable to pull his eyes away.

“So this is an option now?” TK asks. “You’re finally convinced that I’m here because I wanna be? That you’re not holding me captive or whatever?” The word kidnapper flashes through Nolan’s mind and he tenses, trying to pull his hands away, but TK grabs them and won’t let go. “Nolan.”

“I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t wanna be,” Nolan concedes. “And I know Chase wouldn’t have brought you back if he thought I was doing anything against your will.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Nolan admits. “I guess I just don’t understand why you would…” want me , he doesn’t dare say, but it’s there. Nolan’s nothing special. He runs a fishing and camping supply store in a small town in Canada that no one has ever heard of. He doesn’t have a college degree or a fancy house, and his pack is awesome and they’re his family and he wouldn’t trade them for the world, but they’re the most ragtag pack Nolan’s ever seen. He’s selfish and works too much and never has anything interesting to say. It doesn’t make sense for TK to want to stay. TK’s frowns at him, opens his mouth, and Nolan is quite literally saved by the bell.

“You’re back!” Sherri cheers as Nolan backs away to let TK hop off the counter. She walks over, smiling brightly at both of them.

“I couldn’t stay away too long,” TK teases, rounding the counter to hug her. “I’d miss you too much.” 

“Oh, I’m sure it’s me you’d miss,” she laughs, looking between the two of them. “Nolan always looks a little grumpy, but you could practically see the storm clouds swirling around his head the whole time you were gone.” Nolan glares at her but he’s distracted when TK comes back to him, looking up at him so fucking happy that Nolan forgets to be mad.

“Good thing I’m sticking around then,” TK finally says. “Can’t get rid of me now, Pat.” Sherri coughs, sounding suspiciously like she’s covering up a laugh, but Nolan can’t be bothered to drag his eyes away from TK’s face.

“Right, I’m just gonna have a look around,” Sherri says. “Just don’t forget you’re in public, boys.” As soon as she’s far enough away, TK takes Nolan’s face in his hands and pulls him down so they’re eye to eye.

“I’m choosing you, Pat,” he says, quiet but sure. “I chose you all those months ago, and I’m choosing you today. I’ll choose you every day, and I’ll remind you every day if that’s what you need.”

“But why?” Nolan can’t help but ask. TK pauses to consider the question, letting Nolan stand up straight again but looping his arms around Nolan’s shoulders.

“Because I love you,” he says easily. “Because you’re kind and grumpy and you care about people more than you like to show. You’re a great alpha and your pack loves you. You work too much because you don’t want to make your employees work too much, and you care about the store. You’re stubborn because you care.” He flashes Nolan a grin. “You have awful taste in music and movies, but you let me pick what we watch and you don’t care when I talk through the whole thing.”

“I like listening to you talk,” Nolan says.

“You like listening to me talk,” TK adds to his list. “You showered me and shaved me and got me a haircut and held my hand when I was scared when it would’ve been so much easier to turn me in.”

“That doesn’t seem like a very good reason to stay,” Nolan argues.

“Those are just things that make up who you are,” TK explains. “I like the whole package, even in the mornings when you’re grumpy and growl at me.”

“I’ve never growled at you.”

“I think you were just too tired to remember,” TK laughs. “But you definitely have.” Nolan ducks his head, hiding his face against TK’s neck.

“And what if you get tired of me and decide to leave?” he voices the question that’s been plaguing him. TK thinks about it.

“I’d like to say that’ll never happen, but I’m not psychic. I don’t know what will happen,” TK admits. “But I know right now that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be and I mean it when I say I’ll choose you every day.” TK breaks off when a couple people walk in and they step apart, Nolan greets them and then makes eye contact with Sherri, who looks pointedly toward Nolan’s office door. Nolan nods at her gratefully and pulls TK in, closing the door behind them.

“I know it won’t always be this easy,” TK continues. “Right now we’re in the honeymoon phase I guess, but I know we’ll probably have times where we’ll get mad at each other and fight or whatever. I just think that it’s worth it to see where this goes, and I’d rather give it a shot and have it not work out than to not try at all and miss out.”

“Me too,” Nolan sighs with relief. He feels better about it, that they’ve acknowledged that it might not work out. He wants it to, more than anything, but their relationship had a weird start and maybe a part of him is worried that time will draw them apart. But TK’s right, all they can do is try, and Nolan would hate himself forever if he didn’t give them a chance. “Sorry to be such a drag on your first day back.”

“I kinda just kissed you and left,” TK says. “We didn’t really get a chance to talk about it, but I didn’t wanna leave without at least letting you know where we stood in my eyes.” Nolan wants to kiss him again, and then realizes there’s no reason he can’t. He hooks an arm around TK’s waist and pulls him in, letting himself relax into the rightness of it. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but he thinks he’s going to enjoy the ride.

~

Nolan doesn’t think of himself as overly sentimental, but having the pack crowded in his house the last few days before Christmas makes him feel just a little soft. He may have put off decorating, to TK’s absolute horror, so Kev and TK go pick out a tree that night while Maddie drags Nolan to pick out some ornaments and lights. Sanny and Stacey stay back and make dinner, which they all devour as soon as they get back.

“You look pretty pleased with yourself,” Maddie says from behind him where he’s standing back watching everyone crowded around the tree stringing lights. Nolan shrugs.

“Nothing to complain about,” he says, grinning when TK drops a pack of ornaments and they scatter everywhere. Good thing they got the plastic ones. He abandons Maddie to go help him pick them up and then gets dragged into hanging them up. Afterwards, they all curl up together to watch a movie, and the empty space Nolan had been feeling next to him is filled perfectly. Nolan has his head on Kev’s arm, TK sprawled across his chest, and his pack all tucked together smelling like family .

And when it’s time for bed, TK follows Nolan into his bedroom.

“We’ve never shared a bed before,” Nolan observes, laying on his side facing TK.

“I’m gonna snuggle the fuck out of you,” TK grins, reaching out a hand to pull at Nolan’s arm until Nolan moves, propping himself up on one arm so he’s hovering over TK. “We’re not in the store anymore.”

“No,” he agrees, confused.

“Earlier you said not in the store,” TK continues. “We’re not in the store. In fact, we’re in a nice comfy bed in a room with a door.” And, oh , he gets it when TK slips a hand in Nolan’s hair and tugs him down. Sure, they’ve kissed before, but not when Nolan could slip his hands under TK’s shirt, trail biting kisses down his jaw, kiss every inch of skin as he peels TK’s clothes off.

Sex with TK isn’t as frantic as Nolan always pictured. Really, TK’s pretty happy to just lay there and let Nolan do what he wants, occasionally pulling Nolan up for a kiss or guiding him with a hand in his hair. Nolan’s never heard better sounds in his life than when he makes TK spill over his hand, and the grin on TK’s face when he gets his own hand on Nolan is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. When they’re both spent, snuggled back up together, Nolan leans down and kisses the flush on TK’s cheeks, knowing it’s mirrored on his own.

“That was fucking worth the wait,” TK mumbles once they’re settled back down, lips brushing Nolan’s skin where he’s sprawled across his chest.

“I’m-” Nolan starts and then cuts himself off.

“What?” Travis asks, raising his head so he can look at Nolan’s face.

“I’m really glad you found me,” he mumbles. “And that I found you.” When he risks a glance at TK’s face, he looks a little misty eyed and Nolan continues before it can get too emotional. “But I haven’t gotten you a Christmas gift.”

“Pat,” TK laughs, properly distracted. “You don’t have to get me anything.”

“I had no idea what to get you,” Nolan admits. “Everything just seemed so shallow and I wanted to give you something meaningful.”

“You already gave me something meaningful,” Travis argues gently. Nolan bites his lip and avoids his eyes, which earns him a heavy sigh and a poke to the chest. He shimmies up until he’s sitting on Nolan’s thighs and tilts Nolan’s face up with both hands on his cheeks. “I’m serious. You gave me a home and a family when I felt like I didn’t have anyone. You gave me clothes and a phone and a bed and made sure I never needed anything. That’s worth more than any Christmas gift.”

“Yeah but that’s not, like, the point,” Nolan argues.

“That’s exactly the point,” Travis says. “Christmas is about spending time with the people you love, and nothing you could’ve given me would’ve meant more to me than just being here with you. Because I love you. And you love me. And that’s all I really want for Christmas anyway.”

“You’re so fucking sappy,” Nolan grins, heart full.

“And I didn’t get you anything either.” Nolan laughs and pulls him down for a kiss.