Author: Relentless Bibliophile PM
[One–shot: COMPLETE] Reflections by the Christmas tree, sixteen years after the boys met. Michael and Paul talk about their family, their relationship, and just how lucky they are. [slash]Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 2,302 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 2 - Published: 12-24-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2076108
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: All characters within this story are mine, and I'm protective of them.
A/N: My Christmas offering to you all. Those of you who read my storyblog have already seen this, but for those who haven't, Merry Christmas. Watch the sap; it's kinda sticky. ;)
"If we had a fireplace, I wouldn't have to sit here shivering to death."
Michael really did look miserable, ensconced in a fluffy duvet stolen from the bed, and peeking out with the face of a spoiled child. Seeing as he'd just hit 33, Paul couldn't help but laugh, though he tried to smother it with a well-timed cough. The flattened eyes Michael gave him indicated that he'd fooled no one; Paul just snickered.
The brunette set two mugs of hot chocolate on the coffee table and fisted his hands at his waist, staring down at the lump of blankets to whom he was married. "If we had a fireplace, it would be a lot harder to keep clean," Paul pointed out. "Are you going to let me in, or should I find the girls and beg for entrance into their blanket fort?"
"Unless you can get in here in less than three seconds,"the blob moved, a cotton pseudopod extending to push glasses up Michael's nose. "Aren't you freezing?"
Paul glanced down; fluffy sweater with a mandatory winter theme – a snowflake picked out in sequins and glitter – an ankle-length skirt, and slippers. "Not really," he giggled a bit, recalling what Michael was wearing under there; long underwear, a turtleneck, two sweaters, two pairs of sweatpants, and Paul had lost track of the socks. "C'mon, you big baby, let me in. Or at least drink your hot chocolate before it goes cold."
Michael made a "hrmph" noise and shifted, opening his arms and raising an eyebrow. Paul snatched up the cups and curled up next to Michael, letting out a happy sound when his husband's arms closed around him. "Drink up and you'll feel better," Paul instructed, taking his own advice. They drank in silence, not needing to talk; they'd passed that point years ago.
Afterward, Paul braved the cold of the living room air for the few seconds it took to put things back on the table, then nestled closer against Michael's side, squirming until he half sat on the other's lap. Michael's hand crept beneath Paul's sweater to stroke his side, and Paul smiled.
"How many Christmases is this now?" Michael asked at one point, his breath warm on Paul's ear.
"Mm, like you haven't been keeping track," Paul snorted, rubbing his cheek against Michael's shoulder like a cat.
"I just asked a question," Michael's fingers twitched and jabbed in a brief tickle, but smoothed out again when Paul squealed and threatened to leave. "I wanted to see if you knew."
"Sixteen Christmases," Paul said promptly, "Not bad, I'd say."
Michael nuzzled Paul's hair. "Not bad at all."
"You realize," Paul said, finding Michael's hand and twining their fingers, "In two years we'll have been together longer than we were alive before we met each other?"
He could almost hear Michael's eyes cross. "You and your math. Ugh," but he squeezed Paul's hand.
"We've been together almost three years longer than my parents were," Paul said quietly, "Isn't that weird?"
"We've been married twice as long as my parents were happy," Michael added, his voice low as though he was afraid of jinxing it. A year ago, Paul would have felt the same, grateful for their relationship but always fearing for its future; now, he only felt soothing warmth, a confidence that he never would have dared encourage before.
"It doesn't seem that long, does it," Paul rubbed his thumb over Michael's, watching the soft glow the Christmas tree lights cast upon the ceiling, broken by the spiky shadow of pine boughs. "And, oh, I know this is random, but bringing up Mom made me think of it."
"She's lonely, isn't she," Michael kissed Paul's hair, "Since Shannon graduated."
"Really lonely," Paul said noting for a few moments, just glad Michael understood. "It's funny . . . when we were little and we were loud and messy and always breaking and eating things, Mom would say she couldn't wait until we were all grown up and she could have some peace and quiet. We knew she didn't mean it, but I don't think she did. Not . . . not until now. I think she misses the chaos."
From upstairs came the sound of something crashing to the floor, then twin voices in unison, calling, "We're okay! We've got it!"
Michael ran his free hand up and down Paul's back. "Plenty of chaos here, I'd say."
Paul caught his breath and raised his head. "You think so?"
"Mm-hmm," the redhead's mouth quirked. "Enough to share, I think, and we really don't need that many guest rooms."
This was, of course, what he'd hoped Michael would say, but it didn't stop the bubbling feeling from starting up in Paul's stomach. He braced himself against Michael's shoulders and listed himself high enough to kiss him, tasting cocoa and vanilla powder. "I love you," Paul cupped Michael's cheek and brushed their noses together, "Not just for that. For everything."
Michael's glasses reflected the tree and its multicoloured lights, and he leaned forward to catch Paul's lips. "Love you, too," he said against Paul's mouth, not bothering to pull away, "Even though you're letting in the cold."
Paul bit Michael's lower lip but sat back down again, despite being almost uncomfortably hot in the cocoon of quilts. Michael wrapped his arms around him. "We really are lucky," Michael said after a while, hands having once again slid up the back of Paul's sweater and were now tracing patterns on his skin.
"Yeah," Paul shifted a little, mostly to keep from falling asleep.
"Sometimes I wonder, you know," Michael's voice was thick with drowsiness and comfort, "Why us? Why not our parents, why not all those other people whose relationships fell apart? Why did we get it so easy?"
Paul had never been one for cosmic questions like these; he believed in God, fate, choice, and love all at once, and figured that between them, those forces had everything under control. But this wasn't how Michael reasoned. "Easy?" Paul twisted a bit; dislodged Michael's hands so he could trace his fingers over the scars on the other's wrists. "Michael, honey, our marriage has been a lot of things, but I wouldn't say 'easy' was one of them."
"I guess not," Michael's hand found Paul's hair, once cropped short and ragged and just now growing long enough that he could pull it back in a stubby ponytail. "But sometimes it feels like it. Is that bad?"
"I don't think so," Paul reached up to stroke the side of Michael's face. "I think it just means it was worth it in the end."
"Except," Michael turned and pressed a kiss to Paul's palm, "It's not the end."
Paul smiled. "Nowhere near. But I think what happened with us is . . . it's not that we were particularly luck or strong or that we had a better foundation. We're both just really stubborn."
"You can say that again," Michael flopped sideways, landing on his back on the couch and pulling Paul with him. "That, and I love you an awful lot."
"That could be part of it," Paul's eyes crinkled, and he looked down at Michael from his new vantage point. "But then, I love you a heck of a lot."
"Hmm," Michael wrinkled his nose, "I think I love you more."
A short burst of laughter escaped Paul, and he bent to place a soft bite on Michael's neck. "You're not allowed to start an 'I love you more' fight until we're at least seventy-five. Honestly!"
Michael's breath hitched a little, and his fingers came up to tangle in Paul's hair. "You started it."
"Oh, so now we're five," Paul grinned, tweaking Michael's nose, then kissed him, tugging the blankets up over their heads. It was stuffy and almost scratchily warm, but Paul was far from caring.
"Are Daddies kissing or can we come cuddle?"
Paul grinned and pulled back, squirming until Michael slid his hands up from Paul's backside to a more decorous position at his middle back. "Kissing?" Paul scooted upwards a bit and Michael flipped the duvet down again. Twin blondes stood next to the couch, holding hands and giggling. "When do Daddy and I kiss?"
"Only ALL the time," Cassie snorted. She was wearing one of Robbie's jerseys over her pyjamas, sleeves bunched up around her elbows, and Paul held out a hand to her.
"You are pretty affectionate," Rory agreed, tugging at the belt of her housecoat before climbing up to join them. It took some shuffling and several limb tangles, but the four of them eventually managed to cuddle together.
"Well, you know what they say," Paul ruffled Cassie's hair and winked across Michael's chest at Rory, "Kids whose parents are affectionate in front of them —"
All three of them finished the sentence, and Paul rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on! I do not say it that much, do I?"
"Yes you do, yes you do!" the girls called in unison, then Rory waved frantically at something out of Paul's eye line. A few moments later, Robbie appeared, dusting flour off his hands, and sat at the end of the sofa.
"Was Dad using the 'well adjusted kids' line to justify him and Dad making out again?" the teenager grinned, then, when Paul pouted, threw up his hands. "I'm kidding, don't worry."
"None of you have any respect for me," Paul mock-scowled, though signing was somewhat difficult with his daughter sprawled across him.
Cassie's eyes sparkled with her characteristic mischief, and she sat up a little. "I know what would make me respect you more; if you let us open our presents early."
"No," Michael tugged on a dirty blonde lock and affected a look of fatherly sternness, something he wasn't particularly skilled at doing. "I know it feels like forever, but you'll thank us on Christmas morning when you have that many more gifts to open."
"Just one?" Rory protested, clasping her hands in front of her face and staring at them with wide eyes.
Paul laughed and thwacked her with the corner of the quilt. "No! Not even one. You can join your father at two in the morning when he thinks I don't know he's up shaking the boxes."
"You're making that up," Michael said loftily, but all the kids laughed, and Paul stole a quick kiss above the girls' heads. "You're all horrible liars and I think I'm going to make a whole batch of cookies and eat them myself."
"I've got one in the oven," Robbie winked at him, "You can eat all of those, if you want."
"Don't encourage him," Paul shook his head, "And for heaven's sake, you know he doesn't need any more sugar today. Or for the next month and a half, really."
"Robbie's a good boy and made them without sugar, didn't you?" Michael signed, his face hopeful and eyes shining like any of the kids with a pile of presents in front of them. When Robbie nodded, the thirty-three-going-on-two-year-old cheered and clapped his hands.
Paul rolled his eyes. "Sometimes I think I've got another kid, not a husband at all," he pronounced, and Michael protested while the children giggled and chuckled. Robbie stretched out at the other end, working his way past legs and arms until he twisted himself into a semi-comfortable position. He stuck one foot in each of the twins' faces until they made gagging noises and shoved him away; then he just grinned and laced his fingers behind his head.
"I'm glad you're happy again, Daddy," Rory said, some minutes later. They'd all been watching the tree and drifting a little, and her words sounded loud and almost jarring.
"Me too," Cassie snuggled closer, one fingertip playing with the swirl of sequins on his sweater. "It was kinda scary when you were angry. Even if it wasn't at us."
"I'm glad too, munchkins," Paul passed a hand over their hair, braids and ringlets respectively, and beeped each of their noses. He curled his toes against Robbie's leg, and his son patted his knee. "But things are okay now."
It had taken over half a year to get him here, together with his family and able to smile and relax again like this, but he was here nonetheless. And when Michael reached over and toyed with Paul's hair again, Paul just caught his husband's hand and kissed the knuckles.
Whether luck was just the ability to make the most of opportunity, as Paul had heard somewhere, or whether it really was something arbitrary and beyond people's control, Paul couldn't help but admit that he was, indeed, quite fortunate. As Cassie started singing a silly Christmas carol she'd learned at school and Rory translated it into sign, Paul smiled, closed his eyes, and soaked up the sensation of family.