A/N: THIS IS MY CHRISTMAS SWEATER IN JULY!

Okay, sorry, couldn't help a little bit of Dane Cook in there. :) Either way, this is a companion piece to that little Christmas one-shot I had up here, and since I didn't finish it until about May, I was going to wait until next Christmas to put it up.

But since I SUCK and WRITING and generally at LIFE I figured if I had something completed I really should put it up. (Even if it's the exact same story from a different POV.) And even if it's July and 105 degrees where I live (and in most of the US, apparently).

There is actually a third part to this story (really, I failed at a one-shot this time). These first two can stand alone really, so I'm posting them separately, but the third part is a continuation. So I'll be confused when I get to that. But that's for later. And this part is a little more angsty than the other, because Cole is a little more bitter. A lot more bitter. Yes.

Time to end this obnoxiously long author's note and get down to a real story. And it's unbeta-ed as always.

Title: Comeuppance

Author: Alyn Drasil

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Mine, sadly, still.

Warnings: some language, and some of that slash too


Cole Moer hated the holidays. He hated the shopping, he hated the rushing people, the lights, the weather, and the excessive amount of "good cheer" that seemed to hit everyone like an infectious epidemic. He hated being forced to spend time with his family, when he had specifically moved out six months ago to avoid that very thing. And he really hated being used as a messenger boy to pick up the millions of obnoxiously useless gifts his parents had ordered at various places around town. It was fucking Christmas Eve and he'd been out since eleven that morning, fighting the crowds and trying to pick up everything his parents had sent him to get. It was fucking ridiculous.

And now he was packed into a tiny candy shop, with screaming children and Christmas-crazed adults, trying to pick up the final things on the list, the people his mother didn't know well enough to spend name-brand money on. These people were getting chocolate. Fucking expensive chocolate, but still just chocolate. His mother had apparently ordered in by phone, and now Cole was relegated to standing in the bunchy, children-garnished line, impatiently waiting his turn to be able to pick up whatever massive order his mother had placed.

When he finally got up to the counter, he couldn't help but snap impatiently at the clerk, a boy who was probably a few years younger than Cole and looked stressed enough without Cole berating him. But Cole didn't care, he felt deservedly bitter and grouchy. And then he felt even more so when the clerk deposited a small mountain of gaudy, shiny boxes and bags on the counter—all the ridiculous gifts his mother had ordered.

"Jesus," Cole muttered, digging for his wallet. "How much is all this?"

"It's been pre-paid for," the clerk told him, and Cole replaced his wallet with relief. One thing his mother had done right, at least.

"So I can just take all this?" he asked, and the clerk nodded emphatically, like he really wanted Cole to take the stuff and leave. "Can I get a bag or something?"

The clerk fished under the counter and emerged empty-handed, shrugging. "Must be out," he said, with no trace of apology in his voice. Cole scowled darkly, and grabbed the pile of gifts, managing somehow to balance them all with a modicum of success. The clerk watched him apathetically, and Cole sneered at him.

"Thanks for nothing," he muttered, and turned away, nearly losing a little gold box from the top of the pile as he did. A child screamed loudly behind him, a wailing needy cry, and Cole flinched, the sound cutting right to his nerves. He couldn't stand kids. And the fucking store was full of them.

As he was shoving his way towards the exit, seeming to trip over even more children left and right, someone behind him stumbled and pushed him. Cole caught his balance badly, bumping into a display and clutching at the boxes piled in his arms.

"I'm sorry," a guy's voice said from behind him as Cole steadied himself, straightening. "Sorry, crowded in here."

"Yeah," Cole said vaguely. He could see the guy out of the corner of his eye as he tried to shift the boxes in his arms—a slim, worried looking boy with a mess of dark brown hair. Probably about Cole's own age. Fairly attractive as well, but at the moment Cole didn't care about how good-looking anyone was. He just wanted to get the hell home. "S'ok, don't worry about it."

He dodged past the display case and pushed out of the door without hanging around for any further conversation. Leila's rain-lashed Celica was waiting by the curb, headlights glaring into the dimness of the afternoon. When she saw him coming she leaned over and pushed the door open from the inside.

"Thanks," Cole muttered, dropping into the seat, his lap full of bags and boxes. The cramped backseat of the Celica was already filled with other Christmas boxes and things they had picked up previously. He reached out awkwardly and pulled the door shut. "Let's get the fuck out of here."

"Sure thing, lil' bro," Leila said, shifting the car into gear and pulling away from the sidewalk. Cole glared sullenly into the rearview mirror, watching people behind them struggle down the sidewalk against the wind and rain.

"Are we done?" Leila asked. "Got everything on the list?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, then we're heading to mom and dad's."

"What? No, wait, I'm going home first."

"Nope, you aren't. Mom called me when you were in the store. She said she wants us there early to help set up and stuff. So we're going there right now."

"Shit," Cole hissed, slouching down in his seat. "Shit, dammit, and fuck."

"If you're going to swear, at least do it sensibly," Leila chided him. "And be nice about our family."

"Our family can just suck it," Cole muttered. Leila took her eyes off the road for a moment to scowl at him.

"Stop it. I don't care what problems you're having with mom and dad, you're not going to fix it by acting like this."

Cole growled and turned away from her, hunching up under the window and staring out at the rain and buildings flashing by. Leila would never really understand his so called "problems" with their parents. She was normal. She was twenty-seven years old, engaged to a wholesome, upstanding young man, with a strong career as a magazine editor, living in a nice apartment just outside of town she paid for herself.

While Cole was twenty-two, gay, jobless, just out of college with a degree in nothing useful, leeching money from his grandparents for a small, shabby speck house in a less than favorable part of town. It was no contest at who was, and had always been, the favored child between the two siblings.

"Hey, buck up," his sister said, poking him in the shoulder. It was an annoying expression she'd picked up from her fiancée, who was from the Midwest or somewhere equally as desolate enough to formulate the expression buck up. "Have some Christmas spirit."

"Christmas spirit this," Cole muttered, jabbing his middle finger in her direction without turning around. Leila snorted—he couldn't tell if it was in amusement or disgust—and was finally quiet. An oppressive silence fell between them inside the cramped interior of the car, but Cole welcomed it.

The rest of the drive continued in the same silence. Cole watched raindrops race each other in a diagonal course across the window, squiggling thin silver paths. His parents lived in a nice, older part of town where the houses weren't carbon-copied from the same four floor plans and actually had individual looks to them. It was just about the only thing Cole missed about living at home, since in his new neighborhood his house seemed to be the only style that existed, and sometimes he even had trouble telling his apart from his neighbor's. He started considering some sort of hideous lawn ornament, just to keep from getting confused any longer.

Leila parked in the driveway, getting out and covering her head with her jacket as she ran for the front door through the rain. Cole took his time, leaving all the packages in the car to retrieve later, and ambling through the downpour to the porch. Leila gave him an exasperated look, already pushing the door open and scooting indoors. She quickly took off her wet coat and hung it in the atrium, but Cole didn't bother and moved past her, ignoring the fact that he was dripping all over the carpets.

"Lila, Cole! Sweethearts!" Cole and Lila's mother Marian suddenly bustled out of the kitchen, already adorned in her nighttime party gear—a shimmering, silvery shirt that hung low on her slender shoulders, and white pants that Cole instantly thought shouldn't be worn after Labor Day, let alone age fifty. But their mother had always dressed far younger than what her age permitted, and never seemed to care. As always, Marian's hair was large and styled and a mix between silvery and peroxide blonde, and when she enveloped first Lila and then Cole in a thin-armed hug, Cole could smell the harshly floral perfume she always wore.

"Hi, mom," he muttered, watching as his mother reached up and brushed some of Lila's mussed blonde hair back into place and flicking lint off her shoulders.

"You look wonderful, dear," his mother said, nodding in improvement at Lila's outfit—a crimson-colored silk shirt with a low—but not exposing—neckline, black pants and a simple silver necklace that rested along her collarbone. Lila always knew how to make herself look effortlessly beautiful with the simplest things. Something Cole had never been good at—he was wearing nice khakis and a black knit sweater, but it didn't really make him look any classier. And they were probably the nicest clothes he owned.

"Thanks, mom," Lila said, smiling. "Is that a new outfit? It looks great on you."

"Oh, thank you, sweetie," Marian said, taking Lila by the wrist and guiding her towards the kitchen as Cole withheld a snort at the untruth of the statement. "We have some champagne in the kitchen…a little bubbly, what do you think?"

"Sounds great," Lila replied as the two of them disappeared into the kitchen. Used to being mostly ignored by his mother when in Lila's presence, Cole sneered in their general direction and went in the opposite direction, to the living room. Apparently he wouldn't be missed.

His mother's house-keeper, a slender dark-skinned girl whose name was something like Cordelia, was lying out cocktail napkins on the coffee table around platters of hors d'oeuvres. She was looking slightly frazzled, and Cole could only imagine how much work his mother had put her through in preparation for this party. When Cole sidled into the room she glanced up, and offered him a timid smile.

"Uh," Cole said, not sure exactly what to say. "Hi?"

"Hello," the girl replied shyly, through a fairly thick accent. Cole wasn't sure exactly how much English she spoke, and he rummaged around in the forgotten areas of his brain, trying to bring forth some of the Spanish he'd mandatorily taken for four years.

"Uh, la palabra para esta día es 'nochebuena', yeah?" he asked, and the girl's smile brightened.

"Sí, sí," she said, nodding and looking pleased.

"Well, feliz nochebuena, then," Cole said, and the girl nodded again.

"Gracias, Cole, y para tu también," she said, and Cole felt somewhat guilty that she knew his name and he only knew hers was something like Cordelia. He smiled somewhat apologetically at her, and retreated to a chair in the corner of the room, still wearing his wet jacket and not caring. Cordelia busied about the coffee table for another few minutes, and then left the room, leaving Cole alone.

Cole sighed and rested his chin on the palm of his hand, slouching over the arm of the chair. He wondered how many minutes he would be safe in here, before his mother remembered he was here too and shanghaied him into doing something for the party. He could hear the two high female voices of his mother and sister wafting down the hall from the kitchen, as well a deeper-pitched one—his father. If possible, Cole was going to avoid being in the same room with the man, let alone speaking to him. Since the man had found out his son was not going to be the heterosexual baby-making golden child that Lila was promising to be, Cole's relationship with his father had been, at best, unpleasant.

"Coo-oole!" A voice suddenly caroled down the hall, and Cole heard the click of high-heeled shoes on the wooden floor. "Where did you hide yourself, sweetie?"

"In here," Cole replied lackadaisically. His mother's bad hair poked itself around the corner before she herself did, holding a champagne flute and plucking at the collar of her shirt, adjusting it.

"Champagne?" she offered, holding the flute towards him. Cole shook his head.

"No, thanks," he said. As much as getting tipsy would normally have appealed to him, he didn't think he could make it through this night unless he was sober.

"Then, come—come help," Marian said, beckoning to him with manicured nails. "Your father wants help with the turkey—"

Cole resisted the urge to say he doesn't want help from me,but offered his mother a smile and stood up, letting her catch him by the elbow and lead him back down the hallway. Halfway there, he finally thought up an excuse.

"The stuff I picked up for you is still all out in the car," he said, unthreading his arm from hers. "Let me go get that first."

"Oh, yes, of course," his mother said, plumping up one side of her hair with her fingers. "You can put it all…" she swiveled, looking around, "…on the hall table, here. Thanks so much, sweetie."

"No problem," Cole said, just thankful for an excuse to stay out of the kitchen. His mother turned and wobbled back to the kitchen on her ridiculous heels, and Cole went out through the front door. The rain was starting to let up, but the sky was still as dark and angry-looking as ever. Lila had left the doors unlocked—stupid of her, but lucky for Cole—and he started making trips between the car and house, shuttling armfuls of gifts back and forth. By the time he was done, the entire surface of the hall table was cluttered with shining ribbons, wrappings, and bows. Rolling his eyes at the excess of it all, Cole shrugged off his waterlogged coat and scarf and hung them in the atrium next to Lila's. He hoped he had wasted enough time to be able to avoid "helping" his father with anything to do with the dinner.

The hall clock chimed suddenly, marking six o'clock, and Marian bustled back out of the kitchen, now with two champagne flutes in her hands.

"Cole, Cole!" she trilled. "Guests are coming soon—can you take coats when they come in? You can put them all on the guest bed, even if they're a little damp. I would have Cordelia do it, but she wanted so badly to go home tonight….that's a dear, thank you so much."

"Sure," Cole said. Anything to avoid the family. And he was glad Cordelia—that was her name, he didn't feel so terrible now—had the opportunity to go home and be with a family she apparently cared about. It made Cole feel jealous.

And then, a few minutes later, guests started to arrive. And arrived more. And kept arriving. And never seemed to stop.

His mother always had the habit of inviting every single person within a thirty mile radius of their house to any party she held, along with the barrel of friends she'd accumulated over the five years they'd lived in this city. It was because of this that Cole had no idea who half the people eventually in the house even were although his mother was intent on introducing him to each and every one. After he had played coat-taker to all of them, of course. The mound of coats on the bed looked like a small mountain of fleece and flannel and corduroy.

He had no idea why his mother did this; she couldn't introduce him as her college-going son anymore, seeing as he'd graduated in May. That had always been her best source of pride for him, and now that she was only left with him being her gay son, Cole had assumed she wouldn't be so hasty to show him off anymore. He'd been wrong—now she simply glossed over any attributes Cole possessed, and relying, Cole was starting to think, on the mere fact that he wasn't half-bad looking. Some of his mother's younger friends seemed to be quite interested in talking to him for absolutely no other reason at all, especially once they'd had a few glasses of wine.

For the past ten minutes Cole had been pinned into a corner by a youngish-looking woman named Monica, apparently someone that his mother had struck up an acquaintance with at her nail salon. Or so Cole had been told a couple of times by Monica herself, who had been getting consistently more and more pink-cheeked through their conversation as she kept drinking more wine. She kept touching Cole's sweater and moving closer to him, and finally Cole excused himself hurriedly and escaped out of the drawing room into the hallway, where he found his mother.

"Cole, where's the gift for the Gearys?" she asked instantly. She was standing in front of the hall table, piles of shining and shimmering boxes in front of her. Cole rubbed at his face tiredly.

"The who?"

"The Gearys," his mother repeated, now counting the gifts with sharp flicks of her finger. "There was something for them, from the candy store. It should have been a little gold box."

"Fuck if I know what happened to it," Cole muttered. He vaguely remembered the described box, but it wasn't like he'd memorized each gaudy present. His mother turned a stern eye on him.

"Cole Edward Moer, you will not use such foul language in our house!"

"Yeah, whatever. I mean—sorry," he amended quickly when he caught his mother's murderous gaze. "Look, maybe I dropped it or left it somewhere. You had me pick up about four tons of crap, after all."

"Why are you being so disagreeable today?" his mother asked, shaking her head of puffy hair at him. "This is a family holiday, Cole. You should be displaying a lot more Christmas spirit. Look at you—you're not even smiling!"

"Maybe I have nothing to smile about," Cole replied petulantly, feeling distinctly bitter for a brief moment. "Anyway, can't you just wrap up something else for them? It's not like we don't have enough sh—stuff lying around."

"Oh, go help Leila in the kitchen," his mother snapped, obviously at the last of her patience with him.

"Fine," Cole said, and drifted away, moseying sullenly towards the kitchen. Monica was loitering in the drawing-room doorway, talking to a man clad in a hideous red and gold sweater, and she tried to catch his eye as he passed, pursing her lips over the rim of her champagne glass. Cole sped into the kitchen so quickly that he slammed directly into Leila.

"Cole! Shit!" she yelped, fumbling at the bottle of wine she'd been uncorking and barely catching it. "What the hell?"

"Sorry," he muttered, steadying her. "I was escaping."

"What from?" Leila groused, wrestling with the cork of the bottle, which only wriggled back and forth, squeaking petulantly at her and refusing to come undone. Cole took the bottle out of her hands and prized the cork out, then handed it back.

"My hero," Leila deadpanned. "I heard mom yelling at you—what'd you do this time?"

"Misplaced a gift," Cole replied. "Think I dropped it at the candy store."

"For who?"

"The Geadies, or something like that."

Leila turned on him. "The Gearys, you mean? Our godparents?" she asked sharply, and Cole blanched.

"Our who? We have godparents? And they're those people?" he demanded, pointing wildly as though the illustrious Gearys were lurking just outside the portico.

"Cole, my god, you are hopeless," Leila said. "Are you kidding, or just truly being an idiot?"

Cole sneered at her. "The second one, it must be," he said. "I had no fucking idea we had godparents."

"They've also lived a street down from us for about five years," Lila added. "You moron."

"Shut the fuck up, Lila," Cole snapped, too irritated now to even make it sound joking. Lila gaped at him and Cole stormed back out of the kitchen, into the hallway, past the clusters of holiday-makers that were leaking into the hall from other rooms. He was heading for the stairs, maybe to go brood in his parents' room for a while, when a hand caught his arm firmly. He whirled, drawn up short, and found that his mother had reached out from a gaggle of guests and snagged him.

"Cole, daaahrling," she said, drawing out the word in a completely insincere manner. "Come have some family time with us."

Oh God, Cole thought, revulsion rising quickly in him. That was the last thing he wanted, now or ever. Over his mother's shoulder he could see into the living room, and saw with a heavy sense of dread that his father and uncle were already there, as well as a few random cousins and other people he thought he might be related to in some way. Looking the other way for an escape, he saw Lila coming down the hall with the bottle of wine, her face darkening when he met her eyes in panic.

"Yeah, Cole," she said. "You know you never spend enough time with the family."

Jesus, Lila, you're supposed to be on my fucking side! Cole thought frantically. So maybe he'd gone overboard with the swearing at her. But it didn't mean she had to become a co-conspirator in their mother's plan to hurl Cole into domestic hell. His mother was already pulling him towards the living room—he stiffened in the doorway, nearly digging his heels into the carpet. He felt like a cat trying to resist being put into a bathtub, and it was an actual effort to keep from throwing his arms out and wedging himself against the doorframe. But then his mother and sister poured in behind him and seized his elbows, dragging him to a couch and pulling him down between them. He cringed back into the velvet-lined seat, firmly trapped between the two women, who were determinedly ignoring Cole's less then enthused mannerisms.

"Hey, welcome, Cole," his uncle Theodore, Never-To-Be-Called-Ted, said, lifting a wineglass in Cole's general direction. "Haven't seen you for a while." By the way his uncle's cheeks were already tinged rouge and his voice several decibels louder than needed, Cole knew this could only be an unpleasant conversation. Like his father, Theodore was a raging homophobe, and wasn't shy about it. Cole just hoped this wouldn't be a night where the subject would come up. Glancing around the room, he identified several more family members—his cousin Darren was leaning up against the mantel, a beer in his hands—Cole wasn't sure where he'd gotten that from—and Darren's two sisters, Sylvia and Victoria, were sitting by the window. His aunt Karen, Theodore's wife, was on her cell-phone in the corner of the room, muttering away to it.

"Haven't seen you either," Cole replied lightly. "School, you know."

"Marian here was just telling me—" the man paused to roil his neck and make an odd, smothered burping noise, "—that you graduated in the spring. Your degree, what's it in again?"

"Graphic design," Cole muttered. Another thing—no one had ever taken his major seriously. And granted he hadn't been able to get a job yet from it, his professors had always praised his work. He had just been feeling unmotivated—and unsupported—about it since his graduation.

"Mm, yes, that," Theodore drawled. To his right, his mother swallowed the rest of her wine compulsively. Cole shook his head slightly—he couldn't believe what a madhouse he was trapped in. "Now what can you do with that? Not like Lila here, with a strong career already going for her. And a fiancée to boot—when are you planning the wedding for again, Lila?"

"Oh, uhm, spring," Lila said. 'We haven't set a date yet—"

"When are you going to get yourself a girlfriend, Cole?" Theodore interrupted, smirking at Cole, who clenched his hands in his lap. The question was, of course, a loaded one, and was pretty much meant to bring up his uncle's favorite subject—Cole-bashing.

"I think you already know the answer to that," Cole replied carefully, making sure his voice was neutral and calm. His mother still had her arm linked firmly through his and he couldn't escape the room yet.

"Yeah, dad, you know Cole's a faggot," Darren said from where he was leaning against the mantel. Cole jerked his head around to stare at him—he'd never heard anything like that come from Darren's mouth before; as far as Cole had thought, he and Darren were on fairly good terms.

"It must be so disheartening for you, Marian," Theodore continued after downing another gulp of wine, "to have raised your first child so successful as the lovely Lila here is—" he gestured to Lila, who was starting look uncomfortable—"and then to have the second so unsatisfactory."

Cole clenched his teeth together, staring hotly down at his knees. He couldn't believe this was happening—again—he had thought the family had come to some sort of general consensus not to do this to him. Usually Theodore lead the charge, with his father coming in close second, and—depending on how much she had had to drink—his mother either backed them up or shut them up. But she couldn't be relied on for a consistent opinion, and by the way she let out a sudden, high-pitched laugh, Cole knew she was out of it enough to be joining in.

"Oh, I still think it's just a phase he's going through. Isn't that right, Cole dear? It's always natural to be curious, humans are of course, always curious…" she trailed off and hiccupped, then suddenly came back with a vengeance. "You'll shake this off in a few months, and find yourself a nice girl. Of course you will. " She patted his arm with her thin fingers. "I've always told you, Kellye down at the salon is such a nice girl, about your age and I'm sure I could set up something…"

Darren laughed, loudly and obnoxiously. "Something with her brother, maybe," he said. Cole slid his tongue between his teeth and bit on it, retraining himself from spitting out a retort. It was from Darren that Cole was feeling the most betrayal; he had no idea what had gotten into his cousin tonight, besides the beer. Lila suddenly seized his hand, hidden between them, and squeezed it. He wasn't sure if this was a warning, a comfort, or an apology, but it didn't console him.

"It's not a phase, mother," Cole said quietly. "This is just the way I am."

It was their father's turn to let out a sudden, barking laugh, making both Cole and Lila jump.

"It's an unnatural way to be," he said harshly. "You could change if you wanted to. It's all just a state of mind…no one's been able to prove that homosexuality isn't just a mental condition. Cole just has a weaker mind than others…can't take control of his own body…"

Jesus Christ, Cole thought, watching his hands actually shake with rage as he held them tightly in his lap. Do I really have to listen to this shit?

Leila laid a hand on his shoulder. "Cole," she said softly. Cole shook her off sharply, his nails biting so hard into the palms of his hands he was sure he was drawing blood. Or at least bruising himself. But he couldn't stop.

"It's absolutely disgusting," his uncle drawled in agreement, toasting himself another gulp of wine. When the man then directed his gaze directly across the living room towards Cole, it was the breaking point. Cole stood up abruptly, clenching his teeth together to avoid spitting out some sort of retort, and walked out of the living room. He didn't care that most of the family was watching him, or that Leila had tried to catch at the hem of his shirt to keep him in place.

In the hallway, Cole retreated to the stairwell and sat down, hanging his head between his knees. His was shaking, his body wound and tense, his head filled with a hot, cloudy anger that he couldn't even vocalize. He dug his hands into his hair, trying to breathe evenly, calm himself down. He could still hear the conversation continuing in the den, like he hadn't even left. Like no one had noticed.

Assholes, Cole though shakily, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. I fucking hate them all.

A pair of nylon-clad legs suddenly stopped in front of him, and Cole looked up warily, heart sinking when he saw Monica standing above him.

"Tough time?" she asked with a sympathetic, glossy-lipped smile. For a moment Cole thought she had overheard the conversation in the living room, and almost felt grateful to her. But then, she spoke again. "I always overindulge myself on the holidays, too. See?" she asked, giggling and holding up a nearly-empty glass. "I can't even remember what number this is!"

"Sure," Cole answered coldly. "Sure. That's it. Overindulgence." He stood up abruptly, startling Monica who tottered back a few paces. He was so furious he almost couldn't think straight, and it wasn't alleviated by Lila pushing her way out into the hallway, coming towards him.

"Cole," she said miserably, "Cole, I'm so sorry, I didn't think—"

He whirled on her. "Yes, yes you did fucking think!" he growled at her. Monica made a little gasping noise from his right, which he ignored. "You just wanted to get back at me for acting like a jerk. Well, you did. So are you fucking happy now? Does seeing the family rip me a new one make you fill up with fucking holiday joy? Are you bubbling over with Christmas goddamn spirit?!"

"You know I didn't mean for—" Lila started, starting to sound angry herself. Cole didn't let her finish.

"Shut up. You knew it. And you probably think I deserve it, too. Because I'm not familial enough for everybody. Well, goddammit, our family fucking hates me! Can't you see that by now?" Cole stalked into the atrium, grabbing his coat off the hanger. He was leaving, and he was doing it now. No one was going to stop him and he wouldn't even feel bad about it. In fact, he would feel great about it. He should have left the fucking party before it ever started.

Lila had followed him, now sounding torn between concern and frustration. "They don't hate you—"

"Oh, oh right. How could I forget? They only hate homosexuals, which happens to be what I am. As well as the sole disappointment to this entire family. So this fucking black sheep is going home."

"Oh, Jesus, Cole, don't leave. Look, they're drunk, they probably don't even remember what they've been talking about—"

"Stop being such a goddamn fucking optimist!" Cole hissed, finally getting both his arms through the damp and resistant arms of his coat. "You're perfect to them, you have no idea what it's like to have them do this to you. I'm pretty much the opposite of perfect—the opposite of you. I can't be you, and I can't be straight for them, no matter how much they think I can."

Cole threw his scarf around his neck and wrenched the front door open, stalking through it. Leila was close behind him, stopping at the doorjamb and leaning out into the night.

"We don't need to have this argument right now!" she shouted pleadingly after him as he marched defiantly down the front steps. "It's Christmas Eve, goddammit!"

"I don't care!" Cole yelled back, pausing briefly to turn and face her. The fact that she had sworn at him did absolutely nothing to affect him. "We'll have this goddamn argument any goddamn time I want, since I'm never going to be accepted until its goddamn settled!"

He whirled on his heel and took off down the sidewalk, ignoring whatever it was Leila was screaming after him. He didn't need this right now—he didn't. He didn't care if it was Christmas Eve and he was disappointing his mother by leaving—he was already a disappointment, and either way, he was only in the second tier compared to Lila. She could go back and be the shining star of the party.

"And it's never going to be settled, either," he muttered to himself. Lila was an eternal optimist—somehow she thought that one day the entire family would wake up with nothing but praise and love for Cole. Cole had never allowed himself to be disillusioned like that.

It wasn't like he wanted to be gay, either. It had just sort of…happened. In high school he'd never found himself attracted to girls, and the idea of kissing his best friend Michael had been much more appealing to him. Although, following through on that idea had gotten him a punch in the face and the result of Michael never speaking to him again. That had hurt, in more ways than one, but it had also been about seven years ago. He was over it.

The rain had completely stopped now but the wind had risen, whipping harshly at his face and hair. He struggled with the zipper on his coat, which momentarily stuck, before wrestling the foot all the way up to his chin. He jammed his hands into his pockets and bowed his head against the wind, heading for the nearest bus station. He had no other way of getting home. It was probably only seven o'clock at this point, so the lines would still be running frequently. He could be home within forty minutes, hopefully.

His eyes were burning and prickling, and it just made Cole even more angry that his body was trying to do something as useless and weak as crying.

Don't fucking cry, he told himself furiously, scrubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. I don't need this.

He managed to control himself until he got to the bus stop, where he sat on the edge of the damp bench, his hands jammed under his arms for warmth, his breath being drawn harshly out of him by the frigid air. He tried to maintain that control by telling himself any tears that came out of his eyes would probably freeze to his skin in this weather. He stared into the gutter on the other side of the street, illuminated by the yellow-orange streetlamp, and tried to focus on nothing. Blanking out his mind—a white wall. A white nothingness. Just don't think…don't think at all…

It worked, well—too well—and when the bus pulled up at the curb with a screech of brakes, Cole nearly jumped out of his skin. The doors jerked open unevenly, and Cole climbed up the wet rubber stairs into the bus, waving his pass half-heartedly at the driver who looked as though he didn't care if Cole was a paying customer or not. Cole made his way to the back of the bus and slumped down into one of the seats, wrapping his hand around one of the support poles as the bus groaned into motion.

He was alone under the greenish-yellow artificial lights of the bus. Everyone else in the world was probably busy having happy Christmas Eves with their families. And Cole had….nothing. He didn't even have a boyfriend. He hadn't had one for years. Not since he'd come out to his parents and consequently gotten a steady stream of abuse for it. He didn't think he had enough self-esteem left to try and scrounge himself a relationship. His family had knocked all sense of pride for being who he was out of him.

Most of his anger had ebbed out of him by the time his journey was half over, just leaving him feeling exhausted and unhappy. His mental adrenaline had all drained off, and it had left the vestiges of a headache in its place. Cole rested his forehead against the back of the seat in front of him and tried to will it away, thinking of his bottle of aspirin at home and how many of them he could possibly take without overdosing. He stayed that way until his stop, when he dragged himself to his feet and got off. The doors of the bus closed sharply behind him and nearly caught his jacket—Cole had to leap onto the curb.

"Asshole!" he muttered as the bus pulled away again. So much for himself not having any Christmas spirit—apparently no one in the world did today. Hunching up against the wind again, Cole started down the sidewalk, towards his house. It wasn't a great neighborhood, but it was okay, and his house wasn't terrible. He did try at upkeeping it anyway. Sometimes. When he felt like it. His grandparents were lending him the money to rent it, and he wasn't sure when they would stop doing so, but for the moment he was enjoying the free ride. His grandparents also lived in Florida and he hardly ever saw them, and he thought that just that alone might be one of the reasons why they seemed to actually be fond of him. They certainly hadn't raked up their own list of Things Wrong With Cole.

His house was dark and unwelcoming-looking as he shuffled up the front walk, but nevertheless he was just glad to be there. The key nearly froze to his fingers as he fumbled it out of his pocket and unlocked the door, pushing into the front room and knocking the light switch up with his elbow. He shut the door behind him and wrestled out of his jacket, hurling it across the room. He stalked back to the bedroom—there were really only four rooms in the whole house—combined kitchen/living room, a bedroom, a bathroom, and one more room that was supposed to be a study but Cole mainly used it for storage. He didn't mind the smallness of it, as it wasn't like he had that many belongings, or other people, to fit into it.

He pulled off his dressier clothes and put on a pair of old sweats and a worn t-shirt instead, and visited the bathroom to gulp down a couple of aspirin. He went back to the living room and turned the heater on full-blast—fuck the bills, he'd just ask his grandparents for more money later—and threw himself down on the couch. He fumbled his hand onto the coffee table for the remote, and the television clicked on, something mindless glowing across the screen. That was all right—Cole didn't want to focus. He just wanted the sound and the distraction and the hope that he could get away from his own thoughts by drowning them out. He thumbed the volume upwards violently. Let the neighbors complain—fuck them too, and his headache.

He wasn't sure how long he lay, spaced out and miserable, on the couch. Occasionally his eyes pricked hotly with the threat of tears, and he pressed his face into the pillows until the urge subsided. He flipped the channel every time something came on that showed happy couples, beautiful and shining and gazing lovingly at each other. The house got too hot, almost stifling, but he didn't get up to turn down the thermostat.

The sudden sound of the doorbell startled him, jerked him roughly out of the half-doze he'd been drifting him. His limbs flailed without his permission and a brief surge of adrenaline shot through him, leaving him feeling prickling and uncomfortable. He dragged a hand through his hair, matted to one side of his head, and just barely remembered that it had been the doorbell that had woken him, and therefore there was most likely someone at the door.

Who the fuck could it even be? he wondered. His body felt too heavy to move, and he was actually warm and comfortable for the moment. The only thing that got him swinging his legs off the side of the couch was the pure curiosity of who would be ringing his bell at nearly eleven at night.

It had been a few moments, and the buzzer hadn't sounded again. Cole was pretty sure the person at the door had gone away, and so he was surprised when he opened the front door and found someone there.

It was a young man, probably about his own age, looking both anxious and embarrassed. His cheeks were rubbed raw from the wind, and strands of dark hair were falling haphazardly into his face. He was pretty good-looking, but Cole instantly slapped that thought out of his head.

"Do I know you?" Cole asked, and the young man made an awkward noise in the back of his throat.

"I, um…I found this, tonight," he said in a rush, holding out a black, puffy lump towards Cole. He was shaking a little—probably from the cold. "It's yours, right?"

"I—" Cole paused, not recognizing the material until he had pulled it from the man's hands, seeing the red and green stripes on the ends. It was his scarf, the one he'd been wearing earlier. He hadn't even known he'd dropped it—he'd assumed it had come off with his jacket. "I didn't realize I'd lost it," he finished. "How did you—"

"It's—your address is on it," the young man said, sounding even more uncomfortable now. "I didn't know what else to do with it."

"I—oh. Right." Cole blinked, slowly. It was a little odd that some guy he didn't know had come all the way out to his house just to give him a scarf, but…he was grateful for it. He really liked this scarf. And now he was feeling uncomfortable, too. He didn't know how to react to this. "Yeah. I, uh—well, thanks. You didn't have to."

"I wanted to." The young man said, and then grimaced slightly when Cole glanced up, surprised. "I mean, it wasn't really a problem."

The worried, apologetic look the boy was wearing now seemed familiar to Cole, as if he'd had a conversation somewhat like this with him before. The young man didn't look that familiar, but… "What's your name?" Cole asked suddenly, and the man looked startled.

"Uh, Gavin. Gavin Ross," he replied.

Cole hesitated. For some reason this guy was seeming more familiar now. Maybe he'd been at his mother's party earlier. He had the feeling he'd seen this guy somewhere, and recently. "Do I…know you?" he asked again, meaning it this time. Gavin shook his head.

"No, I…don't think so," he said quietly.

"Oh. Huh." Cole rubbed nervously at his face. He was actually…a little disappointed. This guy was really good-looking, Cole couldn't even ignore that anymore. And he seemed nice—nice enough to bring him his scarf back when they didn't even know each other. There was something about this open awkwardness that felt like an opportunity he couldn't just let go. "Well, I'm, uh, Cole. But I guess you knew that—scarf and everything."

"Yeah, kind of." Gavin glanced away, blinking rapidly. His hand was sliding into the pocket of his coat. "You, uh…might recognize me from this afternoon—I kind of ran into you in the candy store."

"You, in—oh." That's where he'd recognized this guy from. The same tousled, worried look. Same politeness. Cole leaped on the opportunity. "Yeah. You shoved me."

"On accident!" Gavin said quickly, and Cole smiled both at the misused grammar, and that fact that the guy was just kind of endearing. He was actually making Cole feel better, a feat Cole thought would have been impossible, tonight.

"Yeah, I know," he replied. "You made me drop something though."

Gavin blushed this time—actually blushed, it wasn't just windchill—and fumbled with something in his pocket. "Uh, this?" he asked, taking his hand out and revealing the little gold box with the shining ribbon. Cole stared at it, his voice momentarily leaving him. He hadn't even expected to see that box again, and he hadn't cared either, but…

"Holy shit," he managed to say. "Fuck yeah, that's it. You picked that up too?"

"Yeah, I—I thought I could catch you and give it back, but you were gone and I—just kind of held onto it, and then I was at my sister's tonight and she lives right next to…uh, wherever you were. That's where I found your scarf." The guy was stammering, and still blushing, and one hand was clenched in the material of his heavy coat, and the other was trembling, the little box shaking too. Cole wondering why in hell Gavin was so nervous, until he realized that he was equally as nervous. He just had never had a problem with stammering when he was—too many years of mandatory public speech class. But he thought he might be blushing, at least a little.

He made himself reach out and take the box before Gavin accidentally crushed it, or something. "That's really…weird," he said slowly. "You picked up everything I lost. That's gotta be some sort of coincidence." Or something else, he wanted to say. Like you were meant to be here.

"Yeah, I…I guess so." Gavin stuttered. He'd taken a tiny step back, like he was already trying to get away from this. Cole felt a surge of panic—that couldn't happen. There was something here—goddammit, why couldn't this guy feel it? "I think I should, uh…go, now. Yeah. I'm sorry to have…bothered you, or…anything."

No! Cole thought in alarm. No, don't leave!

But he didn't make himself speak in time, and Gavin turned away, jamming his hands into his coat pockets and moving down the walk. He was really just…leaving.

Shit, Cole though to himself, his mind racing. No, I can't let this—there has to be something I can do. This can't just be over.

He ducked away from the doorframe, looking around frantically for something—anything. The pad of paper and pen that he kept next to the phone to write messages down caught his eye, and he leapt to it. He wrote as fast as he could, just getting something out before Gavin got away from him. He wasn't even really sure about what he was doing—he didn't allow himself to stop and consider that this weird feeling was only on his side, because that just couldn't be. He didn't even look over what he was writing.

He was folding the paper nervously in his hands as he ran out the door, shutting it behind him just because it was fucking freezing outside and he didn't need that in his house. Gavin had reached the sidewalk now and was turning to the left, probably towards the bus stop, by the time Cole made his mouth yell out.

"Wait! Hey, wait a second!"

The man stopped, turning in a jerking, surprised motion. Cole got to him, his fingers clenched determinedly around the note, now feeling just as awkward as Gavin had looked on his doorstep.

"Look, I—" He started, and then didn't know what to say. Did he just hand this guy a note? That would be even more weird. And he didn't even know if Gavin was feeling this same strange pull that he was. "Thanks, really. I mean it. Sorry if I…was rude or something, I just…why did you even bother? You don't even know me."

"I needed to," Gavin said, and that was really all Cole needed to hear. It was enough. "I just—I wanted to. I guess. I have this bad habit of being too nice to people, and I—"

He stopped when Cole reached out and touched the sleeve of his coat. The fabric was heavy, and had the feel of being very slightly damp. Cole could tell Gavin was staring at him, but he had stopped caring.

"I guess I'm not used to that," he said quietly. "I don't know very many genuinely nice people any more. So I—I'm really glad you…whatever. Christmas spirit, right?"

That hated phrase. He wasn't exactly sure why he had said it, but when he risked a glance upwards, Gavin was smiling. "Yeah. Christmas spirit."

"Uhm," Cole muttered, his face heating. The note…he just had to remember the note. That's all he wanted to do, was give Gavin this fucking piece of paper. "Can I just—um—"

His hand seemed to move on its own accord, reaching up to take Gavin's shoulder, and Cole found he was surprisingly easy to pull down. Only he hadn't meant to do that but now that they were face-to-face, and suddenly it seemed like the best idea…

Cole let himself fall forward those last few inches, pressing his mouth carefully against Gavin's. He felt a sharp gasp against his lips and knew that the next thing that would happen was Gavin pulling away—but it didn't. Instead he felt a hand on his shoulder and then he was pulled forward even more, causing him to step up directly to Gavin's warm body. He let his eyes fall closed because he'd probably never get to experience this again, and it was so fucking nice that he was aching from it. He'd spent so much time convincing himself he didn't need human contact that when it finally happened, it was almost overwhelming.

The whole thing was chaste, close-mouthed and so innocent feeling….but just so damn nice. When he started to pull back, feeling humiliated and idiotic, Gavin pulled back at the same time. Cole's face was flaming, his whole head felt like it was radiating heat waves. Gavin's mouth was still open, and his eyes were slightly unfocused.

"You don't even know me," he choked out, his gaze suddenly clearing and locking sharply onto Cole. He couldn't even tell if that was good or not—hell, he didn't even know if Gavin was gay or not—and he figured he'd done enough damage already.

"If you ever wanted to—" Cole started, not sure exactly what he was saying or why, just that words were coming to his mouth and he was saying them into the freezing air. He took a numb step backwards, putting distance between them. "Know me, I mean."

Cole kept backing up, unable to pull his gaze from Gavin's wide, dark eyes. He only realized he was nearly at the door when he felt the rise of the doormat under his socks. He felt behind him blindly, caught the doorknob in a shaking hand, turned it, and nearly fell backwards through the door. There was something thick and choking in his throat and he didn't know what the hell had just happened, or what would happen now. He still couldn't look away from Gavin, motionless at the end of the walk, and he had to shut the door firmly before his body would finally relax and loosen.

Cole leant on the back of the door, pressing his forehead again the wood. He'd just kissed a near stranger. And—the note!

"Fuck!"Cole muttered bitterly. After everything—after that—he hadn't managed to give Gavin the fucking stupid paper! He glanced down at his closed fist, his stomach roiling, and saw…

Nothing. There was nothing in his hand. He quickly checked—in either of his hands. He tried to check his pockets, but his hands slid interrupted over the material of his sweats—he didn't have pockets.

What the fuck happened to it then? Cole thought, no longer feeling panicked, only faint dismay, and numbness. It probably hadn't mattered anyway. Gavin was probably the straightest of the straight and had fled in pure homophobia once Cole had escaped into the house. Still, where had that stupid paper gone? If he'd dropped it, it would be outside. And he wasn't fucking going out there again.

Cole pushed himself off the door and ventured over to the windows, the curtains still drawn. He pushed one aside and peered out, and stiffed instantly.

Gavin was still there. He was just standing on the walk…doing something. Looking at something. Something small and white in his hands. Cole swallowed again the thick, sick-feeling lump that rose again in his throat. He had dropped the note, and he dropped it right in front of Gavin.

His hand started shaking where it gripped the edge of the curtain, and Cole dropped his arm, but there was still a thin slit where he could see out. He was just about to force himself to walk away, to start making himself forget about this whole ridiculously stupid situation, when Gavin suddenly moved.

The dark-haired boy refolded the note, and slid it into his coat pocket. Cole's heart jolted. As he watched, a slow smile spread over Gavin's face, and then he glanced up, towards the window, where Cole was petrified in place. He didn't know if Gavin could see him but he felt like he could—he was caught in the young man's dark gaze again, unable to look away.

Cole finally wrenched himself back, falling against the wall next to the window. He had no idea what anything that had just happened meant. He had absolutely no idea.

It took a few minutes to rouse himself from his temporary paralysis, and when he finally moved away from the wall, the first thing he saw was his scarf, lying crumpled and lumpy on the floor near the door. He'd dropped it, as apparently his habit was tonight. Slowly, Cole crossed the room, bent down and picked the scarf up between his fingers—his fingers that were shaking slightly. He didn't know why that was, either. Nerves, or…something.

It was his scarf, but it hadn't been with him for most of the night. It had been with the other boy, with Gavin, and Cole felt a simultaneous disconnection with the piece of clothing, and a connection with the boy he barely knew. He pressed the soft cashmere to his face, the familiar textures that no longer smelt familiar, but something like cloves and extinguished matches and a boyish, windswept smell that Cole found himself clutching his fingers against desperately. Heat prickled sharply at his eyes again, and this time, he didn't resist. Tears ran from his eyes and smudged into the scarf, and he no longer cared if he was crying.


OMGUH, ANGST. That really turned out a little more bitter than I meant it to. Well, Gavin's an optimist and Cole's the biggest pessimist EVER, so…

No offense to the Midwest. That particular anecdote was taken from real life.

And GEE, there's a THIRD part. I have no idea what will happen there; if I'll post it with one of the one shots, or on its own, or if maybe I'll combine all of these into one story, or…well. That'll get figured out when the third part gets completed, which will be in, oh, say….ABOUT A YEAR IF MY UPDATING HABITS ARE ANYTHING TO GO BY. I am disappointed in myself. Self….you shame me. weep

Thanks to all the people who reviewed the first part of this, er, three-shot: Prisoner-11, An Unwanted Accesory, Dorkie, TheSeer, chibicherrychan, pneumothorax, merchante fille, ddz008, Fancy Ultra Fresh, Jak Refynae, DH L'Orange, DishMesser, and Serialcode A. Thanks awesomely!

Now for a further A/N that is completely unrelated: I'm actually going to start putting something new up here in a few days—and something that isn't mine. le gasp! It's a story a friend of mine wrote for NaNo '05, but she doesn't have anyone to get feedback from (except for me, and she says I don't count) and she hates since they kicked her off 5 years ago. So I'm going to put it up for her since I know a few people pay attention to this account, and hopefully people will give her feedback. It's probably against some rule, but she's giving me her permission, so blah. But I'll talk more about it when I start posting chapters. But hopefully people will be nice and read it for her?