On Christmas Eve Martin arrived two hours earlier than expected. Of course he thought that it was something he needed to apologise for, as if James could ever mind getting to spend more time with him.
“They cancelled the delivery at the last moment,” Martin explained, taking off his woollen cap which left his hair standing up. “I tried calling you to ask if I could come earlier, but your phone’s turned off.”
“I’ve told you that you can come any time you want,” James reminded him. “That’s why I gave you the key. I always want you here.”
Martin smiled at him sheepishly, the gentle surprise at being wanted less pronounced now than it used to be but still present. He tried to hide it by turning to Lancelot, who’d been trying to attract his attention ever since Martin opened the door, but James still noticed it. Martin was getting better at accepting affection, at asking for it, without feeling like it was something he had no right for, but they still weren’t quite there yet. It was a good thing that James was a patient man.
He watched his lover talk nonsense at his dog, and he took a moment to just feel content. It had been a long time since he had last spent Christmas at home, with someone to wake up next to on Christmas morning. He was looking forward to it more than he was willing to admit, especially since he knew that Martin's past Christmases had been far from festive, and he planned to make up for it.
Martin turned his attention back to him (to Lancelot’s obvious dissatisfaction), and he stepped closer to wrap his arms around James’ waist. He said nothing, just burrowed his face between James’ neck and shoulder, the tip of his nose cold against James’ skin.
“Something the matter?” James asked, pulling Martin tight against his chest.
Martin shook his head almost imperceptibly. “I just missed you,” he murmured, kissing James’ shoulder.
“I missed you too,” James said, and not for the first time he felt that he could stay like this forever, with Martin in his arms, and never want anything else. “I’m glad you could come sooner. You’ll just have to wait a bit for dinner.”
Martin lifted his head at that to look at James. “You’re cooking? You never cook!”
“I cook sometimes,” James corrected him. He wasn’t very fond of cooking, but he found it was better when he had someone to cook for.
“I’m not hungry,” Martin said.
“You don’t have much faith in my culinary skills, do you?”
“It’s not that! I’m sure you – I just – I was hoping we could… I mean, we don’t have to, of course, but if you wanted, we could…”
“Cuddle?” James prompted him, smiling. He knew Martin well enough to understand what he didn’t say.
“Yes,” Martin breathed, relaxing a little. “If you don’t mind.”
“I think you should know by now that I really don’t,” James said, taking Martin’s hand and leading him to the living room. He was more than happy to put the cooking off for a bit. If Martin wanted a cuddle, a cuddle he would get.
They stretched out on the sofa, Martin half next to James and half on top of him, which had long ago become their favourite position. Martin settled his head on James’ shoulder with a sigh, and James could feel him melt against him almost instantly. For a moment he felt almost absurdly proud that he could provide this feeling of comfort and security for Martin. Lancelot let out a low grunt that clearly meant, “Oh no, not again,” when he realised that he was going to be ignored and went off to the kitchen, presumably to take a nap under the table.
They stayed like that for long moments, saying little, and shifting only to kiss.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” James said after a long, comfortable silence. He’d planned to wait until tomorrow, but now – with Martin soft and pliant against him – seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“Hmm?” Martin hummed, nuzzling James’ jaw.
James kissed the top of Martin’s head and steeled himself for Martin’s reaction. “Would you like to move in?”
As expected, Martin jerked so hard he would have fallen off the sofa if James’ arms weren’t wrapped around him.
“M-move in?” he stammered, lifting his head to stare at James with wide eyes and looking more than a little adorable. “You mean – with you?”
“No, of course not,” James said. “I’d move into your attic, obviously. You know, home exchange? Yes, with me. Wouldn’t you like that?”
“I – yes, of course – I would, but I – can’t,” Martin said, a violent blush creeping up his face. “You know that I… I couldn’t pay half of the rent, I…”
Just as expected. James ran his hand up and down Martin’s upper arm soothingly, trying to stop him from panicking needlessly.
“I’m not asking you to pay half the rent,” James said quietly, and when Martin opened his mouth to say something, he placed a finger on his soft lips. “I know what you want to say, and I understand. I know you earn less than me and that it makes you uncomfortable, but how many couples do you know where both partners make exactly the same amount of money?”
“Martin, look,” James interrupted him gently. “I’ve thought about this, and I’m sure we could come up with something that would work for you. I could pay the rent and you the utilities, or we could decide every month how much you’re going to contribute depending on how much you make, or…” we could set up a joint account, he almost added, but he mustn’t present Martin’s nerves with too many shocks at once. “Of course I’ll understand if you don’t want to, but it’s just that I already miss you horribly when you’re gone on trips, and I hate to be away from you for longer than necessary. And this house is too big for one person anyway.”
“Not for one person and a small zoo,” Martin pointed out with a small smile. He had relaxed now, which was a good sign.
“True,” James agreed, “but there’s more than enough space for you, and my zoo and I would be delighted to have you here for longer than just a few days.”
Martin hesitated for a moment, his fingers running up and down James’ chest, and then he moved to press a kiss to his lips.
“Okay,” he whispered against James’ mouth.
“Okay?” James asked. He had expected Martin to resist for longer, and possibly negotiate a precise financial plan.
“Yes,” Martin smiled. “I – want that. My hurt pride will recover in time, I hope.”
“I was half expecting a tirade about how you’re not going to be my kept man.”
Martin withdrew a little and said seriously, “I’m not going to be your kept man, James.”
“Oh, what a shame. I’ve always wanted a kept man… dressing him in expensive clothes, feeding him caviar and champagne… buying him model aeroplanes…”
Martin laughed, thus providing James with his favourite sound in the world. His favourite sight, too – there really wasn’t anything better than seeing Martin happy and relaxed. It didn’t happen nearly often enough for James’ liking, as Martin was always worrying about something, but he liked to think that the frequency increased the longer they were together.
“You haven’t bought any, though, have you?” Martin asked, suspicious – he knew James well too, after all. “We said only non-expensive presents.”
James had suggested that after he’d seen Martin obsessing about what he was going to buy for his family, and quite possibly considering not eating for a month in order to have enough money.
“No, I haven’t,” James said. “But it was a near thing.” His impulse control when shopping was terrible – he knew he was quite probably every shop owner’s dream customer, buying anything that was nicely presented to him.
“Maybe you should let me do all the shopping from now on,” Martin suggested as if he could hear James’ thoughts, kissing him again. “So we don’t have to worry what to do with a – curling iron, or whatever silly thing you’d decide to buy next.”
“It was a straightening iron, and Anna was very happy when I gave it to her, I’ll have you know,” James said defensively. “But perhaps I should have kept it – you could use one, I think,” he added playfully, ruffling Martin’s hair.
“No, you don’t. You think my hair is adorable. For some reason you insist on reminding me of it about once a week.”
“What can I say? It is adorable. But if you mind so much, I could say that it’s lovely. Or irresistible when you come out of the shower. Or that it smells amazing.”
“It smells like Tesco Value shampoo.”
“Or I could compliment your eyes instead. Or your nose.”
“Stop it,” Martin said, blushing charmingly once again.
“Or the way you blush.”
“Come on, Martin. Don’t tell me you don’t know what to do to make me shut up.”
Martin chuckled, clearly thinking that James was being ridiculous, but he took the hint and kissed him, slow and deliberate, tangling his fingers in James’ hair. James pulled him closer to deepen the kiss, relishing in the way Martin gently coaxed his mouth open. When Martin kissed him like that – like he could do it for the rest of his life and never tire of it – James found it hard to believe that he’d ever doubted Martin’s feelings for him based on a bit of overheard conversation.
“Isn’t it a Christmas tradition to make love by the fireplace?” Martin asked in a low voice, moving his lips to James’ jaw and neck.
“We can start our own tradition if it isn’t,” James said, tilting his head to give him better access. It wasn’t often that Martin took the initiative when it came to sex, which was more than fine by James, but he did enjoy the role reversal from time to time. “If electric fireplaces count.”
Martin’s hand that had found its way under James’ shirt stilled suddenly and he lifted his head to look at James, slightly awed, as if it had never occurred to him that James might wish to spend many, many more Christmases with him.
“They do,” Martin whispered, and kissed James again.