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Portraits: Holiday Advent 2017

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After nearly two full seasons, Noah has carefully evaluated all the different days of the week against his and Kurt’s schedule, Finn’s schedule, and the overall obligations of life. The consensus in his mind is pretty clear: Thursday nights are the worst night. Almost every week, there are projects due on Friday morning. Finn always flies out on Wednesdays, assuming he doesn’t have to fly out on Tuesday late. It’s not that he and Kurt don’t have a full life without Finn there, but the sense of something missing and not by choice is present.

The first Thursday night in December, then, is a perfectly valid time to be a little morose as he walks home after finishing an assignment, Noah thinks. Hanukkah starts in less than a week, and all he can think about is how much things have changed since a year earlier, not to mention two years before. There had been part of Noah in 2015 that thought Finn might not go into the NFL, Heisman win mid-Hanukkah be damned. In 2016, Noah’d at least felt like maybe they were creating a new normal.

Noah laughs bitterly out loud as he rounds the corner a few blocks from home. A new apartment, Hannah in one bedroom, Noah’s pretty sure Finn’s drinking most nights in Chicago, and the hell of it is he can’t even really tell himself they’re almost halfway through the contract.

“The fucking contract, the almighty millions, the bane of my existence,” Noah mutters to himself. He wants to look around at the dark city, to think about latkes and blintzes and candlelit menorahs. He’d like to pretend about a lot of things, and he feels like sometimes he mostly manages. His life is good, and he knows that, most of the time. Nothing about their life is permanent, there are multiple lights at the ends of multiple tunnels, and he can say that he genuinely loves the stuff they’re doing in grad school. “I just don’t feel very Hanukkah-y,” Noah says when he reaches their building.

Noah stops outside their door and listens. He can’t hear anything, which is a good sign. He loves his sister, and he’s beyond glad they didn’t leave Hannah in Lima to finish high school under the auspices of Burt and Carole, but music or laughter would have meant she wasn’t in her room, doing homework. Considering the amount of homework Noah did as a freshman in high school, sometimes he feels more than a little hypocritical telling Hannah to do her homework. Sometimes, too, it’s easier to pretend when he gets home. Pretend that the reason they have a bigger apartment isn’t because his mother’s dead, because whatever else Rina was, she was still the parent that stayed. Pretend that he and Kurt don’t have to figure out how to parent a high schooler when they can remember their own high school experience so vividly. Pretend to Hannah that despite what she knows about the two of them and Finn, he’s fine, really.

When Noah thinks of it that way, he spends a lot of time pretending, when he’s not got enough other things to think about.

He opens the door and drops his backpack under the coat rack, dumping his hat and gloves onto the small table in the entryway before draping his coat and scarf on the hooks on the wall. He rubs his hands together briefly before leaning down to pull off his boots, and Kurt appears as he’s getting the first boot off.

“Thursday night?” Kurt says sympathetically. Kurt’s contention is that Monday night is actually the worst night of the week, but neither of them tries to bring the other around to their way of thinking. It’s better that they’re each able to sympathize, not empathize.

“Last time I checked the calendar,” Noah says wryly.

“Wallow or distract?”

“Oh, I think I’m already mid-wallow,” Noah says, and they both laugh for a moment before Kurt nods. By the time Noah gets his second boot off and walks into the living room, Kurt has music going and the overhead light off.

“Seemed like time for our new favorite album,” Kurt says, nodding at the speaker playing The Killers’ latest as he takes Noah’s hand.

We’re just in a rut?” Noah says, then nods as Kurt shrugs. “Close enough.”

“We’ll climb, and we’ll climb, and we’ll climb,” Kurt says. “No one ever said this was going to go perfectly smoothly.” They sit down on the futon, and Noah briefly laughs in his head about how it directly contradicts the idea of climbing.

“Three people is already a whole extra person than most people figure in,” Noah agrees. “I wish I felt more in the holiday spirit. Hanukkah’s supposed to be celebratory, you know?”

“And yet there seems like very little to celebrate?”

“Well, yeah.” Noah gestures in the direction of Hannah’s room. “I think I’d gotten used to a lot of things. Actually seeing Beth during Hanukkah most years. FaceTiming with Hannah and Mom and Nana. Finn even usually had more flexibility in December than the rest of the fall, back at Wisconsin.”

“You’re allowed to grieve any and all of those, you know.”

Noah snorts. “Maybe. After finals, maybe. After Hanukkah.”

“You’re giving yourself a raincheck on grief?”

“None of it’s going to change,” Noah says. “The earliest date of change is still two years out. I can probably put it off and get through Hanukkah and the rest of the holidays.”

“You’ve done your best pretending,” Kurt says, sliding his arm around Noah and pulling him closer.

“Don’t give up?”

“Don’t you give up on me,” Kurt agrees. “Maybe slightly differently than the meaning in the song.”

“None of us are giving up,” Noah says firmly. “That’s one thing I can promise.”

Chapter Text

Kurt hums under his breath as he arrives at the garage, and even after he’s removed his earbuds and put on his coveralls, he keeps humming as he heads into the main part of the shop. The two other mechanics on duty with him are two of his favorites, which makes an early and chilly Monday morning shift a little less arduous.

“Christmas music?” one of them, Carlos, asks when he hears Kurt humming, and Kurt shakes his head a little sheepishly.

“Hanukkah, actually.”

“I didn’t know you were Jewish,” Akoni says, sounding surprised.

“I’m not,” Kurt says. “I mean, personally I’m somewhat atheistic, but Noah’s Jewish.”

“So you celebrate both, then?” Akoni says, nodding a few times. “That makes it more fun.”

“More fun, more expensive,” Kurt says wryly. “We’ll do Hanukkah here at home, and around Christmas, we’ll head out to Chicago and then to Ohio.”

“Your brother lives in Chicago, right?” Carlos says, winking at Kurt. Kurt has never been sure how Carlos realized that Kurt’s brother was the same Finn that played for the Bears, but one day when it’d only been the two of them on duty, he’d casually brought it up before promising not to tell anyone else.

“Yes, and then we’ll travel to Ohio for Christmas Day,” Kurt says. Part of him had wanted to argue with his dad and Carole about the convoluted plans, but after some persuading, he’d worked it out where he, Finn, and Noah weren’t expected in Lima until nearly noon on Christmas Day, giving them time on Christmas Eve for some public exposure with Rachel in tow, as well as a little bit of private time before sacrificing all privacy in Lima. He’d voluntold Hannah she was traveling on to Lima alone, but she’d been delighted with the idea of flying to Toledo and then hiring a Lyft driver to take her the rest of the way.

“You’ll be back in the city for New Year’s Eve, though, right?” Akoni says.

“Yeah, you have to be back for New Year’s,” Carlos agrees. “That night has the best tips.”

“Oh, I’ll be flying back in just in time to ring in the new year in the city,” Kurt agrees. The three of them had agreed they’d fly from Baltimore as soon as Finn can slip away from the rest of the Bears’ team after the game, and their plan is simple: hole up in the apartment for hours.

“So you get two out of three holidays in New York,” Akoni says. “Not bad.”

“No, not bad,” Kurt says. “Maybe one year soon we’ll all be in New York, though. The traveling is hard on everyone.”

“You have to have the best food here,” Carlos says, and Akoni nods.

“Make sure they can’t be wanting the food you always have in Ohio, because it’s so much better tasting, what you’re feeding everyone on Christmas,” Akoni says, pausing before continuing. “Better get it catered.”

Carlos bursts out laughing. “I think he doubts you and Noah’s ability to make good Christmas food!”

“I have a sister-in-law who wants to be a professional chef,” Kurt says, “so I think she can manage, but if not? I’ll hire you, Akoni.”

Carlos laughs even harder, but Akoni nods and shrugs. “It’s always good to have career options. Maybe I’ll start a side business for myself.”

“‘Impress your midwestern family with Akoni’s Specialities’?” Kurt suggests. “It has a ring to it.”

“Akoni had better bring some of his specialities to the staff holiday party on the twentieth is all I’m saying,” Carlos says. “Even if you’re the only midwesterner here.”

Chapter Text

Finn and the Monday night red-eye to New York are already well acquainted. He’s flown out from Chicago almost every Monday night since he started with the Bears, and he expects he’ll continue to do the same until his contract is up. He has his little ritual down by this point: spend the first ten minutes pounding down as many cocktails as he can, then the remaining two hours sleeping. Two solid hours of sleep in first class seating feels like a luxury, one he can afford to indulge in regularly, so he does.

Finn’s plane lands in the wee hours of Tuesday, December 5th, and he loses more time taxiing and catching a cab to Manhattan than he actually spent on the flight itself. Before the sun rises at 7:05, he’s naked and in bed with Kurt and Puck, who don’t really even rouse as he squeezes between them under the covers. They just roll towards him, Puck’s leg and Kurt’s arm draping over him, and the three of them sleep through Hannah’s alarm and the quiet sounds of her getting ready for school and leaving the apartment.

Tuesday is Tuesday. Hannah goes to her friend Ana’s house after school, so they have until dinner before they have to put on clothing like decent people. The best part about Tuesdays is how completely indecent they are, in fact, so the three of them all put in their fair share of grumbling as they pull on clothing and assemble some sort of dinner from frozen and refrigerated components. Before Hannah, they would have just ordered in on a Tuesday, but Puck and Kurt are still in full-fledged new parent mode, so they try to put a meal that involves vegetables, protein, and at least some degree of balanced nutrition on the table for Hannah. And by “table,” Finn means that Hannah sits at the table and the three of them sit on the futon.

“I need to shop tomorrow,” Finn says, as he alternates bites of Trader Joe’s Indian food and salad. “Holiday shopping.”

“It’s a pity we’re in a very small town with no stores,” Kurt says.

“I mean I need help holiday shopping,” Finn says, elbowing Kurt gently.

“There’s definitely no one here who can help,” Puck says, sighing very dramatically. “You could outsource it.”

“You guys are the worst, you know that?” Finn asks, this time gesturing at Puck with his fork. “I need your help in shifts, is what I meant. I know it’s two-person time, but that’s really the only way to shop or whatever.”

“Yeah, wearing blindfolds out in public is frowned upon, I guess,” Puck says. “Even if it’s not a kink.”

“It’s definitely not fashion,” Kurt says.

Finn sighs loudly. “Or I’ll just spin the wheel and take my chances with your Hanukkah and Christmas presents, I guess.”

“You’re always taking a chance with us, darling,” Kurt says. “Where do you need us?”

“I just need one of you for a couple hours in the morning, and the other one of you for a couple hours in the afternoon. You can pick whichever works best,” Finn says.

Puck pauses eating, looking up at the ceiling like there’s a calendar printed there. “Probably you should do morning, blue eyes,” he says. “You have that meeting in the afternoon for your group.”

“Ugh, yes,” Kurt says, making a face. “I still hate group work.”

“I’ll take morning-shopper to breakfast and the afternoon-shopper to lunch,” Finn says.

“We live very hard lives,” Kurt says, smiling. “And you’ll keep me warm?”

“Don’t I always?” Finn asks.

“It’s always nice to anticipate,” Kurt says with a small shrug.

Hannah makes a loud gagging noise as she stands up and carries her empty dishes to the sink, repeating the noise after she turns the water off.

“Yeah, I love you, too, noodle nose,” Finn says, loudly enough to follow her as she heads back to her bedroom.

“You’re gross!” Hannah calls back.

“Not grosser than you!” Finn shouts, giving Puck a big grin. “She loves me,” he tells Puck. “Don’t worry.”

“Do I look worried?” Puck says.

Finn glances down at Puck, who is leaning against him, eyes half-closed and pretty decidedly content-looking. “Yeah. You look super-stressed, baby,” Finn says.

Puck nods, his eyes closing more. “It’s the mention of shopping. Super worked up.”

“Lucky for you, you don’t have to shop until the afternoon, plus you get lunch first,” Finn says.

“We’re both winning,” Puck says, and Kurt nods.

“As always, such a hardship.”

Finn laughs. “Well, finish your dinner and I’ll show you both some extra hardship, ok?”

 

On Wednesday morning, after Puck and Kurt get Hannah out the door for school, Finn and Kurt leave for breakfast and shopping. Finn can’t deny he’s glad he can ease into the shopping with Kurt, who is at least pragmatic about the Bears money and doesn’t look both slightly disappointed and slightly disgusted when Finn slides the waiter his credit card to pay for a meal or steps forward at a store counter to pay for both their purchases. Kurt may not like the source of the money, but he doesn’t argue about it like Puck does.

They eat at Viand, because Kurt likes to create his own omelet, plus Viand has good coffee and the waiter doesn’t talk too much, which is just one more in a long, long list of pluses in New York’s column versus Chicago’s. Finn can’t eat at most places in Chicago without somebody talking to him, usually to ask for selfies or whatever. Finn’s happy enough with two eggs and turkey bacon, though he’s looking forward to the off season and eating bacon that doesn’t have ‘turkey’ or any other word in front of it that isn’t ‘crispy’ or ‘lots of’.

“Do you think we should go to American Girl, or should I do that with Puck later?” Finn asks Kurt, as they wait for the check.

Kurt pauses, considering. “Maybe save that for later with Noah,” he says.

“Any ideas for him?” Finn asks. He picks up his coffee cup and drinks the last sip. “You guys don’t really have enough space for more instruments, do you?”

“Piccolo, maybe,” Kurt says. “Anything smaller, so up to a clarinet or viola or something.”

“I could get him a tiny Schroeder piano,” Finn says.

“Hannah’d trip on it, let’s be completely honest.”

“See, bonus entertainment!”

Kurt laughs. “Maybe we skip the Schroeder this year.”

“What about that music store that sells records? Want to swing by there and see if you can help me pick something out?” Finn asks. “All those Russian composers’ names sound like they’re spelled the same to me.”

“Downtown Music Gallery? That’s a good idea,” Kurt agrees.

The waiter brings the check, and the total is low enough that Finn can pay in cash with a generous tip on top of it. Finn helps Kurt back into his coat before they head back out into the cold, Finn’s arm around Kurt’s waist. Another plus in the New York column, getting to put his arm around Kurt, Puck, or both of them out in public.

They take the 1/2 to 34th, transfer to the F, and ride it to East Broadway, which puts them close enough to walk to the record store, even in the cold. Finn puts his arm around Kurt again, anyway, because even though he doesn’t need an excuse, the cold is still an excuse to hold him extra tightly.

“We could probably find some nice-looking but useless things a few blocks away, if we don’t want to go far after the music store,” Kurt says. “I know you have people on your list that are dying for useless but tasteful gifts.”

“You can help me with those, too,” Finn says. “You sure I can’t just buy records for everybody?”

“Only if we find a vintage Rick Springfield for your mother.”

“Oh, I know what Mom expects, and it’s not a record,” Finn says, with a long sigh.

“Then we can find something else for Dad, and you’re set with records instead,” Kurt says. “It’d look thematic.”

“And who doesn’t like a theme, right? Probably should wait for American Girl for Aud, though.”

“She’s a little young for the really avant-garde recordings, yes,” Kurt says, smiling. “And the ones she’d like would get confiscated.”

“We’ll have to sneak her the MP3s of the good stuff,” Finn agrees. “Oh, if we see anything from Barbra Streisand, we should get something for Rachel as a thank you gift.”

“If we don’t, there’s always ebay,” Kurt says. “Or forcing her to expand her horizons with other classic Broadway.”

“I’ll tell her you recommended it, whatever I end up with,” Finn says. As they reach the record store, Finn hustles a little to open the door for Kurt.

“What can we say, I have impeccable taste,” Kurt says with a tiny shrug.

“As long as your impeccable taste includes Russian composers I can’t pronounce, I’m good!” Finn says.

 

Finn tucks his packages from the morning round of shopping into his carry-on bag when they get back to the apartment, and the three of them make good use of Hannah being in school to get a little loud and, as Kurt likes to put it, messy. Before Finn is really ready to put on clothes, though, they all agree it’s time for Puck and Finn to do their shopping so Kurt can get ready for his afternoon group meeting. Kurt gives each of them a long kiss before sending them out the door.

“Where do you want to eat lunch?” Finn asks Puck as they step out into the cold early afternoon.

“If we’re going down to Rockefeller, we could pick one of the places near there,” Puck says. “They’re always changing out a few of those.”

“I could go for a sandwich,” Finn says. “We can see what’s open, then brave the new American Girl location. I hear it has fewer flights of stairs, at least.”

“Yes, you’re dreadfully out of shape,” Puck says dryly.

“Oh, I was thinking about you,” Finn says, elbowing Puck in the side and then turning it into an arm around Puck’s shoulder.

“Sure, turn it around, make yourself out as thoughtful,” Puck says, grinning at Finn.

“Yeah, that’s me. King of thoughtful.”

“Did you want me to crown you?”

“Nah, I’m keeping it on the downlow,” Finn says. “Can’t let too many people find out.”

“Didn’t say it was a public ceremony,” Puck says, still grinning.

“Then absolutely. You can crown me however many times you want once we get back to the apartment tonight,” Finn says.

“See, something we can all enjoy.”

“We just have to suffer through some shopping first.”

“Hey, a king has kingly duties and all of that,” Puck says. “That’s just the way the world is.”

“I kinda like the American Girl part of it,” Finn admits. “That’s not weird, right?”

“If they’d had anything like American Girl for boys, or even somehow gender-neutral, we would have been all over it,” Puck says. “Our moms would have thought it was weird if we’d wanted Samantha and Felicity, though.”

“Well, I don’t know if you saw the latest catalogues, but there’s a boy one now. An American Boy, I guess,” Finn says.

“I think we’re too old.”

“Maybe we’ll get one for Aud or Beth some time.”

“They’ll be so confused,” Puck says.

“Aud would love it. She can pretend it’s one of us,” Finn says.

Puck looks thoughtful. “No, she’d have to pretend it was K. There’s no way they make a doll with curly enough hair for me, and your doll’d have to be taller than eighteen inches.”

Finn laughs. “Yeah, and probably it would be easy to make a doll have excited hair.”

“Plus an American Boy doll would be very stylish.”

“Exactly! I bet you can find fancy clothes for him on that site with all the jewelry. Etsy.”

“We’ve got a great concept here. Too bad American Girl won’t let us help develop the dolls. Could you imagine the boy from the 50s?” Puck says.

“I’ll get in touch with their main office, see if I can’t get a job lined up for when my contract ends,” Finn says.

Puck rolls his eyes. “Yeah, the last thing we need is you staying in the Midwest.”

“The main office is near Madison, though, so it’s not the worst place in the Midwest,” Finn says, holding back the desire to sigh. “Besides, you know I’m just kidding. I’m moving here when my contract ends.”

“Yeah,” Puck says flatly. “I know. When your contract ends.”

“You know, let’s not, ok?” Finn says. “We’re eating lunch and shopping.”

“You brought it up,” Puck says with a shrug. “Sorry I was trying to stay in the nice fantasy world.”

“It’s not a— no, you know what? Fine. Lunch. Shopping. Do you have any ideas for Kurt? I feel like I buy him too many clothes for holidays now,” Finn says. He stubbornly tightens his arm around Puck’s shoulders. “He never should have explained the different kinds of shirts to me.”

“You know, he could probably pull off having a throw blanket he takes to class with him. Something warm and soft,” Puck says. “Like a good soft wool.”

“I was thinking of maybe replacing his laptop, or getting him one of those tablets with the keyboards.”

Puck sighs. “You make it really hard, you know that?”

“What? He was complaining that his was taking forever to boot up!” Finn says. “He could give the old one to Hannah.”

“Yeah, I know the laptop’s dying,” Puck says, looking frustrated.

“We could go in on it together instead, if you wanted,” Finn offers. “You can help me pick out the features it needs or whatever, too. It would be from both of us, if it bothers you too much for me to give it to him.”

“It’s—” Puck waves his arms around in the air, looking more like Nana than anybody else. “You… there’s this and then that and how can we not do this when you turn around and want to drop over a thousand dollars?”

“But he needs one, and I have the money. I know you don’t like the money, but I have it. It’s there, and I would rather spend it on you guys than anything else. I like to give you guys nice things. I love you, and buying you nice things because I can makes me happy,” Finn says.

“And you just assume—” Puck cuts himself off. “Fine. Buy whatever you want to buy.”

“Fine. I will,” Finn says. “Now can we go eat a goddamn sandwich and try to pretend to be in the holiday spirit?”

“Sure, but I’ll let you eat the cursed sandwiches, and I’ll go for the ordinary ones.”

“And here I was hoping we could both get the corned beef of the damned.”

Chapter Text

When Judy meets Quinn by baggage claim, she looks nervous. Her eyes are a little overly bright, and her voice is pitched higher like it does when something is worrying or exciting her. She gives Quinn a tight hug, compressing the puffy coat Quinn’s wearing.

“Oh, Quinny, I’m just so happy you’re home!” Judy says as she releases her, smoothing the smooshed front of Quinn’s coat until it re-puffs. “How is the weather in New York?”

“A little warmer than here. We’ve had a few snow showers, but nothing has really stuck yet,” Quinn says. She spots her red suitcase on the baggage carousel and grabs it by the handle. It matches the red carry-on she has hanging from her shoulder and the red boots with sensible heels she’s wearing over a pair of warm tights. Quinn feels tastefully fashionable, like she’s making a good impression as a put-together adult coming to visit her mother.

“That’s nice,” Judy says. She tries to take Quinn’s suitcase, but Quinn waves her away with a smile.

“I can handle one bag, Mom, I promise!” Quinn says.

“Of course you can, honey,” Judy says. “You’re so successful and independent!’ Her eyes get even brighter, with pink points on her cheeks.

“Is something going on?” Quinn asks. “You seem…”

“Excited?” Judy asks.

“Sure. Excited,” Quinn agrees, because ‘weird’ isn’t a very nice thing to tell her mother she’s being.

“Well, I’m just so excited to have my baby home,” Judy says, “and, well… I do have something to tell you.”

Quinn instantly starts mentally chanting please don’t be that you got back together with Dad, please don’t be that you got back together with Dad while she tries to smile as brightly and encouragingly as possible. “Oh? Is it a surprise?”

“Not exactly. Well, I suppose it might be, a bit,” Judy admits. Her cheeks get even pinker.

“Go ahead and tell me,” Quinn says. Please don’t be that you got back together with Dad.

Judy presses her lips together tightly like she’s holding back a huge smile. “I’ve started dating again.”
“Oh, really?” Quinn asks. Please don’t say it’s Dad. “Is it serious?”

Judy nods. “I think it might be. I really hope you’ll like her, Quinny.”

Please don’t say it’s Dad. Please don’t— “Wait. What?” Quinn says, stopping in place. “Her?

Judy keeps walking, and has to turn around and take a few steps back towards Quinn to answer. A hint of the huge smile curls up just the corners of her lips. “Yes. Well.” Judy puts her hands up in a ‘who knew?’ sort of gesture. “Surprise?”

“You’re dating a woman?” Quinn asks, not entirely sure she’s hearing this correctly.

“I know it seems strange, and I really hope this isn’t going to make things uncomfortable for you to stay with me,” Judy says, talking rapidly, like she’s afraid if she doesn’t get all the words out immediately, Quinn will interrupt. “And I know you’re so much more open-minded than your sister and your father, but I know this is a big change, and if it’s going to be too uncomfortable, I wouldn’t want to make you feel like you couldn’t be comfortable in your own home with you own mother, so I can—”

Mom,” Quinn interjects. “It’s fine, okay? It’s fine.”

“Oh. It is?” Judy asks, sounding so hopeful that Quinn’s heart feels like it’s going to explode.

“Of course it is,” Quinn says. “Are you happy? Does she make you happy?” Judy nods, the big smile finally making its way to the surface. “Then I’m happy for you.”

“Oh Quinn,” Judy says, grabbing Quinn into a tight hug. Quinn can hear a soft sniffle, the kind of pretending-not-to-cry sniffle that Quinn heard so often growing up, only this time it’s a happy sniffle. Finally, it’s a happy sniffle.

“I’m so happy for you,” Quinn says, hugging her mother back. “Now, tell me all about her!”

Chapter Text

Mike is frowning at Tina as they walk through the aisle at Morton Williams, and Tina adds yet another bag of decorator gel to her basket. “What?” Tina says. “I went to Mondel for the candy decorations.”

“What kind of decorations?” Mike asks, then shakes his head. “No, hold that thought. I thought you said it was a gingerbread house competition.”

“It is,” Tina says, nodding again. “It’s a big deal. The rumor is that the winner sometimes gets first pick of summer internships, but I don’t understand how that works, especially since we can all have one non-law student help.”

“But this isn’t a house, Tina,” Mike says, looking genuinely worried for her, and Tina reminds herself not to laugh.

“It’s a metaphorical home, it’s large, it’s a New York icon, it’s a shoo-in,” Tina says. “I just need to do a practice run this weekend.”

“It’s a performance venue.”

“It’s the home of the Rockettes!” Tina argues. “A gingerbread Radio City Music Hall should win, especially if you can figure out the fondant Rockettes for the stage.”

“Wait, I’m doing fondant figures?” Mike asks. “Tina!”

“You love YouTube, and there are tutorials for them on YouTube,” Tina says. “It’s perfect! You said you’d help and to just tell you what I needed.”

“I love YouTube for choreography videos,” Mike says, starting to protest, and then he laughs. “You’d better get more of those silver decorations, then.”

“Why?”

“We can use the paper sticks and small pieces of gingerbread with frosting to group them in circles, make them look like rigging and lights,” Mike says.

“Ooh, that’s genius!” Tina says. “We can put some colored sugar-glass over some of them for gels!” Mike is giving her a familiar look—one that suggests Tina might be slightly insane, but also a genius of sorts and lovable—and Tina goes up on her toes to kiss him. “I mean it, Mike. I’m going to win this,” Tina says determinedly.

“Oh, I know you will,” Mike assures her. “I’m just worried about how many practice runs there might be. I can only eat so many gingerbread Music Halls.”

Tina laughs. “Surely you can take them up to Purchase if there’s more than one?”

“And risk your genius idea getting stolen?” Mike shakes his head and pats his stomach comically. “I’ll take one—or more than one—for the team.”

Chapter Text

Thursday, December 21st, 2017: Reagan National Airport, Arlington, Virginia

Miles took his last exam for his first semester at GW Law at 7:45 on Wednesday night, which means he’s right on time for his 7:30 a.m. flight out of Reagan to Columbus, Ohio. The long line slowly makes its way through security, and surprise, surprise, Miles gets “randomly” selected for additional security screening. This makes Miles three for three on “random” additional screenings flying out of D.C., but for once it doesn’t bother him. He’s heading back to Lima a proud man, a law student who has successfully completed his first semester.

The Lyft driver is only a few minutes out from the Columbus airport, and Miles only flew with a carry-on, because his Ma didn’t raise any fools, and only a fool would try to fly with luggage during the holidays. Miles stops by the Starbucks on his way through the airport to the pick-up area. His heart still gives him a little twinge—more nostalgic than painful—at the sight of the Starbucks sign. He logged a lot of hours in Lima’s Starbucks, but since then, both at Clemson and at GW, he’s always found a local coffee shop to frequent instead. New locations, new lives, new memories – Miles reinvents himself along the way, and he’ll keep reinventing himself until he lands on the version of Miles Brown that gets him what he wants.

Miles flirts a little with the barista, leaving her a few bucks in the tip jar, and gets a slightly-more-than-polite smile for his trouble. Peppermint mocha in hand, he heads for the exit, where Giorgio, his Lyft driver, is waiting for him in a white, newer model Honda Civic.

“In town visiting family?” Giorgio asks. The traffic is heavy merging onto the highway from the airport, and Giorgio honks as another car drives up the shoulder and cuts ahead of him.

“Yeah, my folks, my sister, and her knucklehead boyfriend,” Miles says. “Might see a few old friends if I get the chance.”

“Always nice to come home for the holidays,” Giorgio says pleasantly, then honks at another car attempting to merge in front of him, swearing under his breath.

“Nice to visit, yeah,” Miles replies, stressing the ‘visit’ part.

“Yes, this happens a lot, I think,” Giorgio says. “Your life gets big, and you outgrow your small town.”

“Exactly,” Miles says. “I love my family, but I sure don’t miss living in Lima, Ohio.”

“A big life is good, as long as you call your mother. You should always call your mother. I call mine on Sundays, always, every week,” Giorgio says.

“Yeah, I should probably call Ma a little more than I do, but I email her sometimes, too. She likes to send me texts with pictures of my dad sleeping in chairs. He falls asleep in chairs all the time. Waiting rooms, changing rooms, you name it. I have a whole album of pictures of my dad asleep in chairs,” Miles says, laughing a little to himself.

Giorgio laughs loudly along with Miles. “See? This is good. You get both things: a big life, but also still your mother. Friends come and they go. Your mother will always be there for you.”

“That’s true,” Miles says. “Some friends stick around, though. Friends can be like family.”

Giorgio shrugs as he accelerates and passes a slow pickup in front of him. “Only family is family. You maybe don’t know this now, but you’ll see one day. You’ll have a family, and you’ll see.”

“Maybe,” Miles concedes.

“You’ll see one day,” Giorgio repeats firmly, and who is Miles, really, to argue with that strong of a statement? Maybe he will see one day, but he can’t picture what shape his family, a family where he’s something other than the son or the brother, would take. For now, his family’s his Ma, his dad, Alicia, Rick more-or-less, and he likes to think it includes his friends, too, the handful of good ones that have stuck around. Most days, it feels like enough.

Snow starts falling as the white Civic zips towards Lima. His family’s waiting for him at home with Ma’s famous Christmas cookies and a tree to decorate. He’s a successful law student, coming home to make his family proud. It’s enough. Right now, it’s enough.

Chapter Text

The best thing about playing a game on Christmas Eve, or possibly the only good thing about it, Sam decides, is that the Dolphins are in Kansas City, and Sam is sure that it’s faster to get back to the family from Kansas City than Miami.

He’s sure of that until he starts trying to find flights into Canton-Akron airport, or into Cleveland’s airport. It’s only after he finds himself looking at flights into Columbus that Sam accepts the inevitable transfer of planes at O’Hare. Still, the total time is going to be less than four hours, which means he’ll be at the house in time to fill Stevie and Stacey’s stockings – even if they don’t believe in Santa anymore.

And even if the house isn’t anywhere near Lima, which is where he still thinks of when someone asks where he’s from, despite the earlier years in Tennessee. Canton’s still in Ohio, which means he didn’t have to catch himself in the few interviews around the draft and when the season started, especially after Tannehill was injured before the preseason games even started. It’s the first Christmas he’s had in Canton, though, and only the third time he’s been to the new house.

Sam isn’t expecting everyone to be awake when he gets there, but he isn’t expecting everyone to be asleep except Stevie, either. Stevie’s the one in the living room, though, opening the door and telling Sam to sit and he’ll get fresh hot cocoa for them in a few seconds. Stevie is also, by the looks of things, the one that ate the cookies left out for the Santa Claus that no one in the house believes in.

The stockings are empty, though, and Sam gestures to them when Stevie returns. “What gives?”

“I told ’em you wanted to do the honors,” Stevie says. “Mostly ’cause they wouldn’t believe me if I said I wanted to.”

 

“Probably because they’d figure out you wanted to prank fill them.”

“Which I considered,” Stevie concedes. “But really I thought Mom needed a break, and Dad’s too tired, and having Stacey do it is way too stereotypical and gendered of us.”

“You are way ahead of where I was as a freshman,” Sam says.

“You were a boarding student at that weird all-boys school in Chattanooga in ninth grade,” Stevie says. “Of course I am.”

Sam laughs and drinks his cocoa. “Well, luckily for both of us, I did bring gifts in my carry-on to help fill those stockings.”

Chapter Text

Audrey stands up straight and puts on her most serious face and uses her most serious voice, because that’s the best way to get Mom to take her seriously, and it’s important for her mom to take her seriously for something as important as Christmas presents. She clears her throat like they do on television to make sure people are paying attention, so that she can be sure Mom and Dad are paying attention to her.

“Mom, I need Kit Kittredge for Christmas,” Audrey announces to her parents. “It’s very important, and she’s what I want the very most.”

“The most, Audrey,” Mom says. “She’s what you want the most, and I thought you wanted Rebecca Rubin.”

“The most. And I do want Rebecca Rubin, but I think Noah and Kurt are giving me Rebecca Rubin, so Kit is who I want the next most much,” Audrey explains.

“Audrey, you don’t need two American Girl dolls, especially not at your age!” Mom says.

“But I do, Mom! I really, really, really do!”

“Two American Girl dolls for Christmas is a little bit greedy, Audrey. Don’t you think so, Burt?”

“Hmm,” is all Dad says.

“No, Mom! Because Rebecca Rubin is for Hanukkah!” Audrey says. “And Kit is for Christmas. That’s two different holidays. Not the same one!”

“Audrey!” Mom says.

“What?” Audrey asks. “It’s the truth! They’re different holidays, because Noah is Jewish, just like Hannah is, and Hannah has Rebecca Rubin, and that’s how I know that Noah and Kurt will buy me her for Hanukkah.”

“Burt,” Mom says to Dad.

“That is a lot of American Girls, Audrey,” Dad says.

“But they’re my most favorites,” Audrey says. “And my Finn will buy me all of Rebecca Rubin’s clothes and Kit’s clothes, so you or Santa doesn’t even have to. My Finn will get me her desk. It’s a real desk so she can write her reporter stories!”

“He does dote on her,” Dad says to Mom.

“I love my Finn best. He always gets me the best presents, and he gives the best hugs, and he still upside-downs me even though I’m big now, and also he smells like eggnog every time,” Audrey says excitedly, because her Finn is one of her favorite subjects to talk about.

“Audrey! Don’t say that!” Mom says, sounding horrified.

Audrey frowns. “Why not? And which part?” Maybe Mom doesn’t want her to say her Finn gives the best hugs because it hurts Dad’s feelings.

“Eggnog is a seasonal beverage.”

Audrey nods her head like she understands. “But Finn smells like eggnog even when it’s not Christmas time.”

Mom takes a deep breath like she does when she’s about to be really angry. “Burt?”

“Audrey, sweetheart, that’s not a polite thing to say,” Dad says, giving Mom a weird look. “It’s not polite to talk about how people smell, right, Carole?” He nods a little at Mom like he’s trying to make her nod, too, and eventually she does.

“But it’s nice,” Audrey says. “I like eggnog. Finn smells like the grown up kind. It’s a nice smell.”

“That is not the kind of thing that little girls should talk about,” Mom says. “Especially not to other people.”

“Ohhhh. Because it’s the grown up eggnog, so kids aren’t supposed to talk about it,” Audrey says, nodding her head like she for sure, definitely knows what Mom means now.

“It’s like some of the stuff on the news,” Dad says. He sounds like he agrees with Audrey, but she doesn’t get what the news and eggnog have to do with each other. Still, if it gets her Kit Kittredge, she’ll agree with it.

“Okay, Dad. I won’t talk about eggnog anymore,” Audrey says. “So can I have Kit for Christmas? Please? Pleeeeeease?” She clasps her hands in front of her to beg. “Please, please, please?”

Dad laughs the kind of laugh that means he thinks Audrey’s funny, then he ruffles her hair. She wrinkles her nose at him, because Kurt says she should always protect her hair. “Maybe we can talk to Santa about it, don’t you think, Carole?”

Mom sighs heavily. “I suppose we can. Audrey, I think it’s time for your bath now.”

“Can I have bubbles?”

“Of course,” Mom says, even though she still sounds upset.

Audrey claps. “Yay! You’re my best Mom and Dad ever!”

Chapter Text

“Burt!” Carole says in a harsh whisper once the door to Audrey’s room is closed.

“Calm down, Carole,” Burt says in what he hopes is a soothing voice. “She doesn’t know what she was talking about. She’s only five. She didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Plenty of other people will know what she means, and she loves to talk about him,” Carole says.

Burt pats Carole’s back reassuringly. “She understands now that it’s not an appropriate thing to say. Audrey’s a smart little girl. She’ll remember and she won’t bring it up again.”

“But what else might she say, that we don’t know about? I can’t take more looks, Burt.”

“Now honey, we’ve talked about this. I don’t think anybody in Lima’s talking about you or judging you,” Burt says. “They all think you’ve done a real good job with Finn, and Audrey’s so well-behaved.”

“They pity me, the way he manages his money now,” Carole insists. “And no one will think Audrey’s well-behaved if she talks about her brother drinking and how she wants two American Girl dolls!”

“Every little girl wants a dozen of those things. You’ve seen the catalogues!” Burt says.

“I should start throwing them away before she sees them,” Carole says.

Burt chuckles as he shakes his head. “Now, you know she’d see Beth’s even if you threw the ones that came to our house out. And Finn’s doing exactly what we told him he should do with his money. He’s saving it for graduate school. It’s sensible of him, even if he does go a little overboard with Audrey sometimes.”

“He has enough money to pay for at least four PhDs, Burt.”

“He’ll need to set himself up long-term, though. He’ll have cost of living, maybe a family to worry about. When we’ve got a bunch of grandkids who can all afford to go to really nice schools, we’ll be glad he was so smart with his money.”

Carole sighs. “I hope you’re right, Burt. What else should we tell Audrey? I still don’t want people talking.”

“They aren’t talking,” Burt says, “and besides, I was gonna mention a few ideas to Finn for Christmas this year for you, so I bet he’ll get you something real nice. Audrey’ll be fine. She’ll focus on the dolls and won’t even think about the eggnog thing. I doubt she’ll remember it by the morning, let alone a few days from now.”

“I really hope you’re right, Burt. I really hope you are.”

“Besides, it’s not like Finn ever drinks too much. So he likes a drink or two when he’s home for the holidays. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Burt says.

“I know, but other people sometimes mistake frequently having one or two drinks for drinking too much,” Carole says. “I just don’t want people to talk.”

Burt shakes his head. “I don’t think anybody’s gonna get the wrong impression just because Audrey says her brother likes eggnog. Now can we stop worrying about this? Our show’s coming on in ten minutes.”

“I’ll stop worrying for now,” Carole concedes.

“That’s my girl,” Burt says, giving Carole a kiss on the cheek. “You go get the TV set up. I’m grabbing a beer. You want anything?”

“Just a diet pop.”

“You want to go wild and have two?” Burt asks, waggling his eyebrows at Carole to make her laugh.

“Oh, you,” Carole says, finally laughing.

“See? Nothing to worry about. It’s just you, me, and our show tonight. No worrying allowed.”

“Only thing I’ll worry about is if I’m going to drink so much pop that I have to make a midweek grocery run.”

Chapter Text

Santana can’t help but smile to herself and hum as she enters the street from the Tube. “The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, so go downtown,” she sings under her breath.

There are a million and one reasons why Santana’s thrilled to be doing a graduate program in Europe, and one of them is how easy it is to take trains across the Channel and into London. Santana had never figured herself as someone who would enjoy London, but she’s made the trek at least once a month since she took the transatlantic flight.

On the flip side, there are fewer reasons why she’s less than thrilled to be overseas for months at a time, but one of the big ones, she has to admit, is being the only one in her program who even knew it was Thanksgiving, and now she’s facing the idea of the holiday season alone. She doesn’t mind the alone part, even; she’s used to doing things on her own, and she knows she’s not forgotten by people back in the US. It’s more that everyone around her in Europe has plans, and all she has is a plan to drop a lot of money in London via shopping.

The city is gorgeous, and Santana can feel herself vibrating a little with excitement. She’s been in the city since the day before, checked into her hotel, and earlier that morning she’d gone out for breakfast and a little bit of shopping before going back to the hotel for a massage and a nap.

Now the sun is setting, even though it’s barely 3:30 in the afternoon, and all of the holiday lights are turning on. Santana checks her phone notifications and smiles. Empty, the way she more or less likes it. In a few days, after she leaves London, she’ll check in with Brittany, and with her family a day or two after that. For now, it’s just her and the city, the sunlight fading fast, and Santana resists the urge to twirl, Mary Tyler Moore–style. The lights are so bright, and no one in London knows her. Maybe once all of the holiday lights come on, and after she’s had a drink.

“I love Europe,” Santana says quietly to herself as she heads into the next shop. “Happy, happy Christmas.”

Chapter Text

The best way to avoid the awkwardness of finding a date for the 3L holiday formal, Syd had quickly realized, was calling her best friend and having him attend as her date. The formal is on a Friday night, not a Saturday, which means no team hotel in Detroit to get out of, just a couple of flights, O’Hare to LaGuardia, then LaGuardia to Detroit, all explained to Syd in the email Kurt sends after he books the flights as well as Finn’s train ticket from New York to New Haven.

Syd checks the time on the email and decides it’s time to get a Lyft driver to take her to the train station to meet Finn. If she likes the Lyft driver, she’ll ask them to wait and drive them to the formal; if she doesn’t, she’ll try her luck a second time. The Lyft driver that arrives ten minutes later looks like she’s probably a graduate student at Yale, and definitely straight, because she only looks at Syd’s dress and not the rest of Syd.

“Oh, navy’s such a great choice for a formal!” she says. “Much easier to wear again at another time of year.”

“Exactly my thought,” Syd agrees. Other than that brief exchange, the ride is quiet, and Syd decides to ask her to wait for them at the station.

Syd has to wait for exactly four minutes before the train arrives, which means they may actually need to tell the Lyft driver to take the long route, to avoid being early, depending on how long it takes Finn to disembark. Even though he’s in the middle of the crowd, he’s easy to spot, tall and gleaming thanks to the silvery suit.

Despite that, he apparently still feels the need to raise his hand and wave, while loudly calling out, “Hey! Syd!”

Syd shakes her head, smiling a little as she walks towards him. “Always with the entrance?”

“I had to make sure you could find me,” Finn says. As soon as Syd gets close enough, he holds out his arms for a hug, raising and lowering his shoulders in the physical embodiment of ‘get in here’.

“Haven’t misplaced you yet,” Syd says as she steps into the hug.

“But it could happen,” Finn says, enveloping her with his arms and suit jacket. “It’s always a possibility.”

“I’ll talk to Kurt and Noah about getting one of those Tile things for you,” Syd says. “We’ll make sure all three of us have the ability to find you.”

Finn gives her a dubious look. “Like… microchipping me?”

“Of course not! We’d never put anything under your skin.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t,” Finn says.

“Electronic devices adhered to the skin, though, that’s a possibility.”

“As long as it matches my cufflinks, Kurt’ll probably sign off on it,” Finn says, holding up one hand and giving a parade wave, ostensibly to show off the aforementioned cufflinks.

“Tasteful Tile, got it,” Syd says. “I had the Lyft driver wait. Sadly, I’m not her type.”

“Straight, huh?”

“Lamentably so,” Syd says as she nods. “Also, my classmates are under the impression that my ‘best friend’ is surely a small, very feminine straight woman, so prepare to disappoint.”

“Hey, at least I can spend the night being mostly anonymous,” Finn says, offering Syd his arm as they walk back to the Lyft car. “That’s always a fun change of pace.”

“Anonymous in Connecticut. New television hit,” Syd says.

“Ooh, you two match!” the Lyft driver says when they climb in. “I like it!”

“Thanks,” Finn says, sounding legitimately cheerful about the compliment. “We try to keep it classy like that.”

“This is possibly the beginning of a joke,” Syd says quietly to Finn. “A lesbian and a pansexual climb into a Lyft…”

“If the punchline involves a threesome, I think everybody’s gonna be really disappointed,” Finn whispers back.

“I know the threesome doesn’t happen in New Haven.”

“I mean, it could happen in New Haven, just not with the people in this car.”

“Unless you made New Haven explicitly off-limits,” Syd says. “One place in the world that it doesn’t happen.”

“Why would we do that, Syd? That’s crazy talk. Don’t talk like that. One place in the world that it doesn’t happen.” Finn makes a scoffing pfft that sounds more like something Noah—or his Nana—might make.

“Someone has to keep you grounded,” Syd says as the Lyft approaches the hotel. “And someone has to escort me in like the law school princess I never was.”

“Hey, Leia was a princess, too, before she became a general,” Finn says.

“General Beckett. Acceptable,” Syd says as they wave at the Lyft driver and walk towards the doors. Finn offers Syd his arm again. She takes it and grins, following the signs to the appropriate ballroom. “Ready to disappoint?”

“Syd, I was born to disappoint Yale.”

Syd is still laughing as they enter, but she can tell maybe half the class is already there, mostly mingling near the food tables, and she steers them in that direction too. Finn turns up his television interview smile, the light practically glinting off his white teeth with a ding. Syd notices a few odd looks, and she stops at the first grouping, most of them people she knows from the Law Democrats.

“Like I said, just bringing my best friend,” Syd says when one of them points at Finn and then at Syd.

“They’re startled by how not a small, straight, feminine woman I am,” Finn whispers.

“Three strikes, you’re out,” Syd says.

“Aren’t you the guy from Starbucks?” Alexandra says.

“Uh,” Finn says, glancing down at Syd. “No? That’s Puck.”

“The ads, Finn,” Syd says. “They haven’t met Noah.”

“Ohhhh. Yeah, that makes a little more sense, probably,” Finn says.

“How did you…?” James says, making almost the same gesture as Alexandra.

“Get so tall?” Finn asks.

“Miracle-Gro, they pass it out in Ohio,” Syd says.

“Are you really the guy from the Starbucks ad?” Alexandra asks.

“Well, yeah,” Finn says, “but I was Syd’s best friend first.”

“It’s true,” Syd says. “He walked into the QSA and into one of my classes, and life as I knew it was changed.” She leans forward conspiratorially. “He’s Finn Hudson. He plays football.”

“I am, and I do,” Finn says affably.

Syd laughs, mostly at the expression on James’s face. “Let’s go get some food, Finn.”

“I’m gonna need a dozen shrimp cocktails and a scotch and soda, like, five minutes ago,” Finn tells Syd, under his breath. “I thought I was gonna be anonymous.”

Syd shrugs and heads towards the bar. “I guess those ads had more reach than we knew.”

“I just never think about the Starbucks ads!”

“Don’t worry. We can probably find at least one person who hates coffee and football.”

“Awesome,” Finn says, sighing in relief. “Oh, and who doesn’t wear sweat-wicking athletic apparel.”

“So we find the anti-Kurt, and you’re set for anonymity,” Syd says. “Got it.”

“Yale’s absolutely got to have at least one or two of those,” Finn says.

Syd nods. “New Haven: Home of the anti-Kurts.”

Chapter Text

Hannah drops her backpack on the bed closest to the hotel room door, then flings herself on the second one. Having her own hotel room is cool, especially since there’s a kitchenette and she’s in charge of making a Hanukkah meal and hosting it for herself, Finn, Noah, and Kurt, but she’s less thrilled with traveling during Hanukkah in the first place.

“Chicago, ugh,” Hannah mutters to herself. “It’s colder here than New York. Why did the stupid Bears have to take Finn? And why didn’t he get a say? Is the draft some kind of fucking slave auction?” She pauses, making sure she’s really alone, then says “fucking!” even louder. “Ha, take that, big brother.”

After a few more minutes, Hannah turns the heat up a little before going to evaluate the kitchenette. She sent her list of groceries to Finn the day before, so she expects he’ll arrive with them soon, and she knows Noah’s gone out to get dessert so she didn’t have to try baking in a hotel. She’s pretty sure Kurt is picking up some last minute presents, which means that the knock on the door ten minutes later could be any of the three of them.

Any of them, that is, until she hears Finn’s voice. “Hello? Room service.”

“You’ve got to stop putting us up in places with personalized room service,” Hannah says as she opens the door.

“Hey, only the best for you, chicken-legs,” Finn says. He holds up a ridiculous number of grocery bags for one person to be carrying. “Where do you want these?”

“It’s chicken fat we need, not legs,” Hannah says, gesturing to the hotel-provided ‘dining table’.

Finn unloads his load of groceries, then drops into the chair at the ‘desk’, which is actually a part of the dresser. “I got everything on the list, but you’d better double-check so I don’t have to do a frantic middle-of-cooking run for anything extra.”

“You got stock and not broth, right?” Hannah asks as she starts unloading the bags. “It’s cheater-matzoh ball soup, since we don’t have all day.”

“Yeah, it’s stock. I made sure to read the label carefully. S-T-O-C-K, not spelled like ‘broth’ at all,” Finn says.

“I’m going to send a tweet to my friend, let him know I’ve got a scoop on a football player.”

“No scoops in the hotel kitchenette, string bean.”

“Mike’s a nice guy,” Hannah says, “and you like Bleacher Report. Probably not as much as you like my latkes, though.”

“Is your scoop that I like your latkes?” Finn asks.

“‘Bears quarterback reveals he can read, may have basic understanding of culinary arts’,” Hannah says, laughing. “I can upgrade my evaluation of your cooking if you act as my sous chef.”

“A chef named Sue,” Finn says. “Yeah, ok. Can I slice?”

“Latkes are more about peeling and grating,” Hannah says. “Don’t tell me you’ve been languishing latke-less since 2011.”

“I’ve had latkes. I just assumed there was something in this meal I could slice.”

“No slicing,” Hannah says. “I—” Hannah stops and shrugs, then hands Finn the bag of potatoes.

“What?” Finn asks.

“It’s just different. That’s all.”

“Yeah,” Finn says. “I know it’s a lot different this year. Just assign me whatever jobs you need me to do.”

“None of this is fair, either.”

“I know,” Finn says, with a long sigh. He takes a sideways step to Hannah and pulls her into a one-arm hug.

“I don’t hate any of it. I just want it to be different than this,” she says, leaning into the hug for a moment before straightening. “Even if the cheater soup is the same.”

Finn lets his arm drop after one more squeeze. “See? You can still give us that awesome Puckerman family tradition of cheater soup and potatoes you won’t let me slice.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Hannah says. “I tell Mike you’re an excellent cook, and you can slice potatoes on Christmas. I’ll make scalloped potatoes.”

Finn nods. “Deal accepted.”

Hannah grins and starts to open the stock. Nobody knew she was going to make scalloped potatoes on Christmas anyway. “Then peel away, sous chef.”

Chapter Text

Rachel looks absently through her planner, then checks it against the open webpage on her laptop. If she can convince Finn to come to New York for even an night or two, the two of them can make appearances at several different holiday gatherings, a win for both of them. Rachel knows he’s reluctant to travel much during the season, but surely he’ll see the wisdom in appearing publicly. Maybe she can even get Noah to assist her in convincing Finn.

List made, Rachel carefully plans where to sit—Bryant Park—and how loud to talk when she places her phone call to Finn. If they can get additional attention from a mere call, why not?

The bench Rachel finds is an excellent place, she decides, and maybe they won’t get media attention, but she gets several smiles from college students who look envious of her, and that’s almost as good, if she’s honest.

Finn answers on the second ring with an upbeat, if slightly out-of-breath, “Hey, Rach! What’s up?”

“Do you have time to discuss our social calendar for December?” Rachel asks. “I think it’s important we be seen.”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” Finn says. “I’ve got a couple of minutes. I just got in from a run, though, so I’ll need a shower soon.”

“Oh, of course, your workout schedule is so important,” Rachel says, making sure to flash a smile at the people walking past her bench. “Now, I know it’s hard for you to travel during the season, but I really think we should attend the lighting of the giant menorah here in New York. It’s the night of Tuesday the twelfth.”

“Yeah, sorry, Rachel, that’s a no-can-do for me. I’ve got a thing.”

Rachel sighs, trying not to let her smile falter. “Is there any night you can make it to New York? Maybe we could do one event in Chicago, and one here.”

Finn is quiet for a few beats, and then says, “Well, the youth center has a holiday shop. Do you want to come out here for a day?”

“Just let me know when, and I’ll book a flight,” Rachel says. A small child skates past and Rachel waves at it, imagining herself being photographed. “What’s the dress code? Festive but casual?”

“Do you have one of those ugly sweaters? It can be a Hanukkah one.”

“It’s a very tasteful ugly sweater, but yes,” Rachel says.

Finn laughs. “Mine is super tacky. It’s great. You’ll hate it.”

“I can find you a more tasteful one,” Rachel offers, “but I suspect the tackiness is deliberate.”

“Oh yeah. I got it to wear for Audrey. She’s gonna love it. It has actual lights that light up,” Finn says. “There’s a little plastic wire-thing that goes through the sweater on the inside, and it’s connected to Christmas lights on the front. They blink!”

“Oh. Oh, my,” Rachel says. “Well. Send me the details about the event, and I’ll be there with perhaps a single jingle bell on.”

“A big jingle bell, I hope. I could get you an elf hat.”

Rachel winces a little. “I’ll stick with the sweater and a jingle bell.”

“It’s a missed opportunity, Rach,” Finn says, laughing again. “That’s like People magazine, ‘stars are just like us’ stuff.”

“If you promise me People, I’ll put it on.”

“Wellll, maybe just InStyle. I don’t think I’m quite at People level yet, even if you’re in an elf hat.”

“Oh, Finn,” Rachel says, laughing a little. “Okay, go take your shower. I’ll see you soon.”

“Yeah. Have a good one, Rach.”

“Bye.” Rachel ends the call and sighs. She still wishes sometimes that the engagement were real. It would be so easy and mutually beneficial, and there’s not really a good reason why they couldn’t make it work. Finn rebuffs any and all attempts to make that happen though, at least so far, and she doubts the holiday shop will be any different. Still, Finn’s right. They might end up inside one of the December magazines.

Chapter Text

First Night of Hanukkah
Sometimes, Noah and Kurt bring in even more shiny things than usual. While I like my regular food, the shiny things are alluring. This is one of the times, bits of shiny things scattered around the residence before one of them remembers, and curses! Puts them into the trash. I will prevail one day.

Second Night of Hanukkah
No luck today. The shiny bits were ripped and then immediately placed into the trash. Worse still, Noah distracted me from my pursuit with a well-timed fish treat. I am a failure amongst cats.

Third Night of Hanukkah
One small, thin piece of shiny adornment escaped their notice initially. I had several satisfactory moments of batting it about before the smaller one noticed, took it from me, and scolded me. There was no fish treat.

Fourth Night of Hanukkah
I have been led astray by the promise of fresh chicken liver. When I raised my head from my meal, the shiny bits had already been ripped and discarded. I feel as if this were done purposely to thwart me. Humans!

Fifth Night of Hanukkah
Noah and Kurt and the smaller one are gone. There are no lights. No shiny things. I am despondent.

Sixth Night of Hanukkah
At last! I have acquired a long length of shiny red, and I have hidden it away to thoroughly enjoy after everyone is asleep. I plan to kill it at least thrice before consuming it.

Seventh Night of Hanukkah
Pain. All is pain. I mew pitifully, and with each noise, there is increasing panic on their faces. I cannot enjoy it. What is happening to me? What foul curse is this?

Eighth Night of Hanukkah
I have travelled far. The veterinarian was involved. Noah and Kurt discovered the depths of my crime with the shiny bit two nights ago, and I have a dull ache and lost time to show for it. I fear there are no chicken livers or fish treats in my immediate future, nor shiny bits to even look at. Oh, foul alluring bits! You have tricked me this year. I will not forget it.

Chapter Text

“I know what you’re thinking, Tyler Davis,” Mercedes says as she watches Ty look over the very full dining room table at her grandmother’s house. “I’m sure there’s something you have on Christmas Eve that’s missing, though I don’t know how.”

“I wasn’t thinking that,” Ty says, but Mercedes knows his tone of voice well, and she snorts.

“You were so.”

“I was imagining when you and I would be the ones cooking,” Ty says. “Years from now.”

“Uh-huh,” Mercedes says. “Trying to get me to let down my guard with your romantic daydreams?”

Ty grins. “Only if it works.”

Chapter Text

Zachary exhales a long plume of smoke and relaxes back in Victoria’s Poang. “This,” he declares to Tori, savoring the feeling of the words in his mouth, “was the best idea we have had since college, madam, and you cannot deny that fact. An Orphan’s Christmas is ab-so-lute-ly the ticket to health, wealth, and general happiness.”

“You’re saying that because of the gift exchange,” Allison says from the loveseat.

“Mmmmhmm,” Zachary says. “And the company, of course.” He gestures expansively at the room and its contents, which are Tori, Allison, and furniture. With the lazy ease of someone who always knows where his next joint is coming from, Zachary hands his extant joint to Allison. Allison shakes her head but takes it.

“And the largest apartment?” Tori asks.

“The only way to fit three people into my apartment is with determination. And butter. A tremendous amount of butter.” Zachary smiles at the mental picture.

“Zachary. Butter is not an appropriate lube for any activity, at any time,” Allison says, looking vaguely disappointed with him.

“Allison,” Zachary huffs, “you know I have a strict condom policy, and I am well aware that butter and latex are non-complementary. That is to say, they do not bring out the best in each other.” He smiles again. “The butter’s for the rest of the body.” He gestures for Allison to pass the joint to Tori.

Any activity,” Allison says. She hands the joint to Tori, who is laughing.

“Butter stays in the kitchen,” she agrees.

“Smoke that,” Zachary says, pointing at the joint. “I like it when you smoke. Your old money accent comes out.”

“You’re from Arizona,” Tori says. “You wouldn’t know an old money accent if it bit you.”

“Victoria! I am in Harper,” Zachary insists, one hand to his chest at the affront.

“Zachary!” Tori says. “The lead is being played by a Canadian woman!”

“And it’s set in Alabama,” Allison adds. “Should we go on?”

“Oh, please do,” Zachary says, as he gestures for his joint to be returned. “Make the circle, ladies. Make the circle.”

Tori passes the joint back to him. “You’re not even in the theatre nightly.”

“I have other occupations.” He takes a long, slow drag from the joint.

“Besides gossip?” Allison asks.

“Gossip isn’t an occupation, Allison,” Zachary says. “It’s a calling. Ohhh, and that reminds me… did you hear about Grizabella’s understudy? Or should I say old understudy?”

“Tell,” Tori says.

“Went on a bender—she didn’t know Mamie had contracted rotovirus—and had to perform that night.” He pauses for effect. “Couldn’t hit the E♭ five.”

Tori shakes her head. “Can’t do that.”

“How do you get rotovirus as an adult on Broadway?” Allison asks. “Does she have kids?”

Zachary shrugs. “Signed a program for a fan with poor hand-washing skills?”

“That’s why Gojo invented hand sanitizer for performers,” Tori says.

“Which we all need to invest in heavily, clearly,” Zachary says. He stubs out the tiny, burnt nub of joint remaining. “Hmm. So what are you up for right now, Lady V?”

“In dreams or in reality?” Tori says. “I’d like to be up for a Grammy.”

Zachary taps his lips and then points up at the ceiling to indicate from Tori’s lips to god’s ear. “Any auditions coming up? Callbacks?”

“I want to try out for the musical about lesbians at prom, once they announce the auditions,” Tori says. “Opening date’s next November, though, so that’ll be a bit.”

“Sounds fun. I’m waiting on a few calls. We shall see,” Zachary says.

“This is the part where I gloat about no auditions, right?” Allison asks.

“Ugh. Killing the mood, Allison,” Zachary says. “Can we order our Chinese now?”

“Best Christmas tradition,” Allison says. “Let’s order extra.”

Chapter Text

If a guy in a wheelchair and a fat girl fly out of LAX together the Friday before Christmas, how many jokes will the douchey surf bros behind them in the two-hours security line make before said fat girl starts a fight and gets herself ejected from LAX by the TSA and/or the LAXPD? The answer, luckily, turns out to be one joke shy of Lauren’s limit, as she and Artie reach the screeners just seconds before she’s about to turn around and break the nose of the closest Chad (or Brad or Chet or Brett, but surely it’s one of those). A TSA agent teetering on the fine line between burnt-out and mind-numbingly bored takes one look at Artie’s chair—not at Artie, of course, but directly and exclusively at the chair—and waves him to the side for the individual wand-screening-and-pat-down combo that Lauren knows Artie has been subjected to on every flight to and from L.A. since they first moved out there.

“You want me to—” Lauren begins, because she always offers, before Artie cuts her off with a, “No, you go on through,” because he always declines her offer. They’ve taken variations of this flight a few times, though typically with at least one layover.

She puts their bags, her purse, complete with phone, and her shoes into the bins for the conveyor belt into the X-ray machine, and then she walks herself through the invasive-but-unavoidable scanner, where she goes through the required motions to be deemed safe enough to fly domestically. By the time Lauren picks up the bags and purse and is slipping her shoes back on her feet, Artie is done with his own screening and has wheeled over to meet her.

“You get his number?” Lauren asks Artie as she hands him his bag. He positions it securely on his lap before he begins propelling himself in the direction of their gate, Lauren walking next to him.

“Nah,” Artie says. “I let him get to second base, though.”

“He buy you a drink, at least?”

“He said he can’t afford that kind of investment on a TSA salary.”

“Oh well,” Lauren sighs. “That’s the TSA for you. Love ’em and leave ’em.”

“It was still faster than the Uber,” Artie says, which is true, because it took them forever to get an Uber, so long that even with an extra hour built in for padding, they barely made it through the security line in time.

“The movie Titanic was faster than the Uber,” Lauren says. “The actual Titanic literally sank faster than we got to the airport from your place.”

“But we’re twice as sexy as Kate and Leo,” Artie says.

“Accurate,” Lauren says. It’s true. They are, at least by Lauren’s standards. Leonardo Dicaprio looks like he has a giant baby head on an adult man’s body.

Despite the hurry up and wait of the security line, and the fact that Lauren knows the flight is completely booked, their waiting area is surprisingly empty when they arrive. Artie speaks to the attendant at the Delta desk to remind her that he will be stowing his chair once seated and will need access to Delta’s on-board wheelchair for bathroom access. He seems pleased when he wheels back to Lauren.

“Only wheelchair on the flight, so I definitely get the storage area,” Artie says. He offers Lauren a fist, which she bumps.

Twenty minutes after arriving at their gate, Artie and Lauren get called to board. They have a row to themselves, with Artie by the window and Lauren in the middle and aisle seat. Delta doesn’t require it, but it’s more comfortable for her and also means she and Artie don’t have an annoying third wheel for four plus hours. Once Artie is seated, the flight attendant stows his chair and quickly walks him through the now-familiar protocol for using the flight’s on-board wheelchair. After that, they have a few blissful minutes of silence before the next round of passengers begins boarding.

“Remind me to kiss your dad for paying the difference to get us on a non-stop flight. Changing planes is such a pain in the ass,” Artie says, leaning his head back against the seat and closing his eyes, letting out an audible sigh of relief.

Lauren snorts a little laugh. “He’ll probably pass on the kiss, but we’ll go by the liquor store and you can buy him a nice bottle of tequila.”

“You know it, girl,” Artie says. “Next time I’ll plan ahead and get him a bottle of that Herradura Reposado we had at that party in Echo Park. Maybe he’ll upgrade us to first class.”

Lauren laughs again. “Keep dreaming, Artie. Keep dreaming.”

Chapter Text

“After I got Rebecca Rubin from my dad and Kurt the first night of Hanukkah, I got a lot of her clothes and books from Finn,” Beth says. “My mom made latkes over the weekend and I ate them while I FaceTimed with my dad.”

Beth is more than halfway through her recitation of her Hanukkah so far before she realizes that most of the class is looking at her oddly. She likes that her teacher, Miss Sloan, asked all the kids what holidays they celebrated, and after the new year, everyone who celebrates Christmas will talk about that holiday, too. Still, no one looked odd when Leah or Caleb were talking.

“What?” Beth asks, interrupting herself mid-recitation of the night before, the sixth night of Hanukkah. “What is it?”

“Who are all these people?” Isabella asks. “Why do you celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas?”

“My dad’s Jewish,” Beth says matter-of-factly. “And he’s married to Kurt, and Kurt’s brother is Finn. Also Finn is my dad’s best friend since they were our age. And Hannah is my aunt, and—” Beth stops again, looking at everyone’s confused faces. “They’re my family,” she says instead, and most of the class nods.

Beth sits down while Benjamin goes up to the front to talk about Hanukkah in Toledo with his Uncle Jacob, and she looks around the room. No one is looking at her anymore, so she mostly tunes out Benjamin and thinks about what Leah and Caleb both said, and what her other friends have said about Christmas, and she still can’t figure out why everyone looked at her so weirdly.

She’s getting on the bus that afternoon when it hits her, and she sits down heavily in her regular seat. She plays with the bracelet around her wrist while her eyes widen. “My family’s weird!” she whispers to herself. Even the people in her class that have a mom and a dad who live in separate places don’t have all of the different people that Beth does.

“Mom, is my family weird?” Beth asks as soon as she gets off the bus. Her mom startles and gives her a curious look.

“Why?”

 

“Most people don’t have a Kurt or a Finn,” Beth says, “and I have a biological mom somewhere, too, and a lot of different grandparents.”

“We’re nontraditional,” her mom says after a few beats. “It’s not weird, it’s just different from most people in Lima. Are you happy with it?” Beth nods rapidly. “Then that’s all that’s important. It doesn’t matter what other people might have or not have, or what they think. You have a big family that loves you.” Her mom smiles. “And that sent you rugelach for tonight!”

Chapter Text

Taylor reaches the counter, orders an eggnog latte, and rattles off his ID number for the discount for the first time that day. He’s sure he’ll do it more often as time goes on, since he found the very cheapest way to get to his parents’ new place for the holidays. It starts at the Cleveland airport, after a very early Lyft ride from the Oberlin campus.

The Starbucks there is efficient, even if the latte is a little cooler than Taylor’d like. Less than ninety minutes later, Taylor is in Columbus, ordering a grande Pike Place with room. Not because he’s planning to add anything other than sugar and some nutmeg, but because sometimes the black coffees are too full, and they leak. He always tries to avoid that when he’s filling them.

At O’Hare, Taylor gets a peppermint mocha and a fifteen minute wait, plus envious looks when he reveals that he works near a college campus, not in an airport. Much to Taylor’s surprise, he’s almost looking forward to his Starbucks run when he lands in Denver, and he gets a sandwich to go with his macchiato. The layover isn’t too long in Denver, and before long, he’s heading to yet another airport.

Salt Lake City’s Starbucks is the most deserted of all the Starbucks in airports that Taylor’s seen, despite the large sign that says they have plenty of decaf and decaf options on the holiday drinks. Taylor laughs to himself, orders two holiday drinks just to give them more to do, then heads for his gate.

When he lands at St. George Regional, he spots his dad almost immediately, and laughs out loud. His dad is clutching two Starbucks cups, one of which he hands to Taylor immediately.

“I thought you’d like some coffee, after all those planes.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Taylor says, swallowing his laughter.

“So tell me: which was the worst leg of the trip, son?”

Chapter Text

Brittany doesn’t tug at the Duke blue scarf tied around her eyes as a blindfold as Danny drives her to whatever mystery location contains her Christmas present. They’ve been enjoying her brief break from the Cirque, even if Danny does still have some of his time being taken up by his algorithm, and he promised her the best Christmas present ever this year.

“Are we almost there?” she asks Danny.

“Another eight minutes,” Danny says, “give or take.”

“Do you want to tell me more about your progress on your algorithm?”

Danny does want to talk about his algorithm, and he does so for the next eight minutes, give or take, only needing a little feedback occasionally from Brittany, who does agree that applied mathematics lacks the purity of theoretical mathematics, and that older versions of his algorithmic model are worth keeping for their simple, if flawed, beauty.

“Now we’re here,” Danny announces as he turns off the car. “Are you ready?”

“Can I take off the blindfold yet?” Brittany asks.

“Sure,” Danny says.

Brittany removes her blindfold and still has absolutely no idea where she is. They’re parked in the driveway of a very nice-looking house that appears to be surrounded by absolutely nothing else but trees.

“Did you buy me a house in the woods?” Brittany asks. “It’s a little far from Duke.”

Danny shakes his head. “It’s inside the house.”

“Did you buy me a room in a house?”

“Not a room, either. It’s a lot smaller,” Danny explains as they walk up the driveway.

When they get to the door, Danny knocks, and an older white lady dressed like a librarian opens it.

“Oh, you must be Danny and Brittany!” the librarian says. “Come in. She just here in the back.”

“Did you hide Santana here to surprise me?” Brittany whispers to Danny as they follow the librarian through her house.

“I must say, this was such good timing. If you had waited another day, she wouldn’t be here. I received a call from a woman in Boise about her. All the way in Boise!” the librarian says, as she opens a door into a room that seems to be filled with cat trees and a wall of large cages, some of them containing Persian cats.

Brittany gasps. “Danny. Did you buy me a cat?”

“A little girl kitten,” Danny says as he nods.

“For me?” Brittany asks. “To keep?”

“Here she is,” the librarian says, picking up a small cream-colored Persian kitten with an exceptionally flat face.

“She’s beautiful,” Brittany says.

“She can keep you company. You know, while you’re traveling,” Danny says.

“She can be a little Cirque kitty!” Brittany says, accepting the kitten from the librarian. She speaks directly to the kitten. “Yes you can. You can be a little Cirque kitty, little kitty girl.” Her phone suddenly buzzes.

“That’s the pictures I just took,” Danny says.

Brittany takes her phone out of her pocket and looks at the pictures of herself holding the kitten, then shows them to the kitten. “Aren’t you just the most precious thing? Yes. Yes you are!” She promptly sends all eighteen pictures to Santana while Danny and the librarian do something with the kitten’s paperwork, which involves Brittany signing her name.

What kind of small dog is that? Santana sends back after a few minutes.

She’s your new half-daughter. What should we name her? Brittany texts back. “Danny? Do you have any cat name suggestions? I’m asking Santana, too.”

“Oh, you should name her,” Danny says.

Bechdel is what Santana sends back. Or Ellen.

“Santana says Bechdel or Ellen. Maybe we could combine them,” Brittany says. “Though I think she probably needs a title, too. Countess Bechdellen.”

Danny nods, then looks concerned. “Can I call her El for short?”

“Countess Bechdellen is her formal name. El is fine for short,” Brittany says, then texts Santana Thank you! I named her Countess Bechdellen. El for short. “I love her, Danny. She’s the best Christmas present ever.”

“You’re welcome,” Danny says.

Santana doesn’t text back until they’re walking back to the car with the kitten, and her response is only one word: Bitchin.

Chapter Text

Emma blows her nose once, then twice, then a third time. She throws the tissue away, because now it’s been used three times, then uses three pumps of hand sanitizer from the big bottle that Will thoughtfully relocated when Emma decided to stay in bed. She can’t get up to wash her hands after every tissue, after all, not with this severe of a cold. She takes a drink of water and decides to nap until she can take her next dose of medicine.

She feels as if she’s barely closed her eyes—and a look at her clock confirms it—when Will taps the doorframe of the bedroom, looking more disheveled than usual.

“Hey hon?” Will says softly. “Do you know where the boxes are?”

“In the recycling, where they should be,” Emma says promptly.

“The gift boxes? For Christmas presents?”

“Oh, second shelf from the top in the hall closet,” Emma says. “Under ‘G’ for Gift.”

“Thanks hon,” Will says. “Love you.”

Emma nods sleepily and closes her eyes. She dozes for longer than before, but not very long, before she hears another tap.

“Hey hon?” Will says quietly. “Where’s the wrapping paper?”

“Spare room closet, in a tall Rubbermaid container,” Emma says, already half-closing her eyes.

“Thanks hon,” Will says. “Love you. Get some rest.”

Emma nods. She can tell she sleeps a little longer this time, before there’s more tapping on the doorframe.

“Hey hon?” Will says, in the softest whisper. “I’m out of tape. Do we have another roll?”

“Kitchen junk drawer number two,” Emma says, this time without opening her eyes.

“Thanks hon. You’re the best.”

“Best at colds,” Emma says to herself, repeating her nose-blowing and hand sanitizing without really looking. She drifts off to sleep again, and when she wakes up, she knows she got her full nap at last. After taking a fresh dose of medicine, she decides that she should really get some juice, and maybe see if Will will heat up some soup.

When she enters the living room, Will is tying what appears to be the final bow on the last present, and Emma stops short.

“Hey hon!” Will says. “Did you have a nice nap?”

“Is that the ribbon from my sewing box?” Emma asks.

“I ran out of the Christmas ribbon, but I still had a few boxes left, and I didn’t want to wake you up,” Will says sheepishly. “Again.”

“Oh, my,” Emma says, looking more closely at the gifts. They are wrapped, though not neatly, and Emma notices there are some with gaps in the paper.

“But look at all the time I saved you! Now you can just spend the rest of the weekend resting,” Will says.

“It was a very sweet thought, Will,” Emma says, continuing towards the kitchen. She’ll have to rewrap them all, of course, and replace the paper, ribbon, and tape, but she’ll try to come up with a long errand for Will to run while she rewraps. Maybe he won’t even notice.

Chapter Text

Friday, December 8, 2017: Atlanta, Georgia — Casey

It’s less that Casey isn’t allowed to prepare food than it is that Casey still has a somewhat complicated relationship with food that he has a tendency to take out on the food he’s attempting to prepare. That, and David says that he “seasons too creatively”. David’s silent addition of a fire extinguisher to the kitchen when they moved into their new apartment didn’t require any commentary, either.

Still, Casey certainly can cook if he has a mind to do it, because he is an adult, a very capable adult who will be graduating from Georgia Tech before terribly much longer. Cooking is really just a lot of math and science, both of which Casey is good at. Besides, he’s starting with bagged cookie mix, so things can’t go too far awry. While David goes about the more physically challenging task of hanging Christmas lights, the least Casey can do is bake him some gingerbread cookies.

Of course, the mix they have is for sugar cookies, and Casey thinks that gingerbread is probably the better choice for Christmas cookies. He finds the ginger in the spice rack and adds a tablespoon to the dry mix, sniffs it, then adds another heaping tablespoon. The mix still looks sugar cookies colored, but maybe adding the liquid will change it. Casey adds the recommended amount of water to the dry mix and stirs it, but it doesn’t turn significantly darker as a mixture than it did as a powder.

Gingerbread is supposed to be brown. Truthfully, Casey has eaten very little gingerbread in his life, but he recalls that it tasted quite spicy, with a strong flavor. Cinnamon is both the correct color and more or less similar to the flavor he remembers, so he adds a generous tablespoon of cinnamon to his mix and works it through until the mixture achieves dough texture. Casey pinches off a small amount of dough, and while it doesn’t taste like the gingerbread he remembers, he does accept that his memory could be slightly suspect, and also that raw foods taste differently than their cooked counterparts.

Casey follows the instructions of the cookie mix bag and uses their rolling pin—David’s purchase, since it had never occurred to Casey before today to roll anything—to roll the dough to the correct thickness. They don’t have gingerbread man–shaped cookie cutters, but they have circular biscuit cutters, so Casey uses those to cut out gingerbread circles with three different circumferences. When he’s done, he lays them out on a cookie tray and pops them into the oven. As they bake, the kitchen fills with a pleasantly spicy smell.

“Nailed it,” Casey announces to the empty kitchen, and possibly to David in the living room.

 

Friday, December 8, 2017: Atlanta, Georgia — Dave

Dave smiles to himself as he goes up on the extra-sturdy step-stool. The associate at Home Depot had looked at him skeptically, but Dave figures that said associate never met a tiny chair he couldn’t use. Casey’d called him a twink; Dave thinks ‘twig’ is a better term. It’s funnier, too, since they were all at Home Depot.

The sturdy step-stool means Dave is fine stretching out to place lights in the Command hooks they placed around the living room two nights ago. They should have decorated sooner, but time got away from them, and there’s still time before the holiday really gets started, anyway. It’s lucky they got the stuff they needed at Home Depot and Target before the weekend, since they’re more or less stuck in the apartment while snow keeps falling outside.

“Twenty-four hours of snow,” Dave mutters to himself. “Did Ohio feel the need to come visit us in Atlanta?” The snow outside the sliding-glass door doesn’t answer, just keeps piling up, and Dave shakes his head.

Twenty minutes later, the lights are strung all around the top of the living room, evenly spaced throughout. Dave tugs on the strand in one corner to make the lights fall just right before the cord snakes down the wall. His dad, Beiste, and Monty won’t arrive until the twenty-first, but everything’s ready now, and anyway, they should be decorated for a snow weekend in December.

“Case?” Dave asks as he sniffs the air. “Did you buy one of those wax things after all?”

Casey pops out of the kitchen, a dusting of white powder on his shirt. “No, I’m baking,” he says, as though that somehow makes sense.

“Baking… what?”

“Gingerbread,” Casey says. “It’s a test run.”

“What are we testing, Case?” Dave asks, feeling confused. “I didn’t sign us up for dessert at the potluck.”

“For when our families are here for Christmas. I thought it would be nice if I baked something for them. You know, so they don’t worry about us,” Casey says.

“I didn’t know they were worried,” Dave says.

“Not worried-worried, but every time I talk to Monty on the phone, he always asks, ‘And you’re eating enough?’ at least once,” Casey explains. “If they see that I can bake, then they’ll know we always have plenty of food.”

“We could take them to Trader Joe’s, Case. All those healthy frozen meals.”

“Full of protein and vegetables.”

“Exactly.” Dave pauses. “What did you bake?”

“Gingerbread cookies,” Casey says, sounding very proud of himself.

“From scratch?” Dave asks. He’s pretty sure they don’t have any molasses in the apartment, for starters.

“I started with the sugar cookie mix,” Casey says. The oven dings, and Dave internally cringes.

 

Friday, December 8, 2017: Atlanta, Georgia — Casey

As Casey carefully removes the cookie pan from the oven, he has to acknowledge that the cookies don’t really look very much like gingerbread. It’s entirely possible that regular gingerbread has brown food coloring in it to make it look that way, though, so maybe his version is healthier. He uses the thinnest metal spatula they have to pry the cookies from the pan. Some of them stick and lose part of their underside, which reminds Casey that he didn’t use the non-stick pan or put any of the non-stick spray on the pan he did use.

“They’re done,” Casey calls out to David, sniffing the stack of cookies he’s piled up on a plate. “At least, I think they’re done. Do you want one?”

“Sure,” David says, looking somewhat dubious as he picks up a cookie that looks like a three-quarters moon.

“Would you like me to pour you a glass of milk to go with them?” Casey asks.

“Give me a second,” David says, nibbling on the edge of the cookie before nodding vigorously. “Yes. Milk.”

“Is it good?” Casey asks, as he gets down a glass and then retrieves the milk from the fridge, pouring it into the glass as he watches David’s face for a cookie-related reaction.

“They taste like the ornaments my dad and I made when I was nine,” David says finally. “I broke off one corner and tried them.”

“Oh,” Casey says. He picks up a cookie and takes a bite. It definitely tastes nothing like gingerbread. Mostly it tastes very strongly of cinnamon and ginger. “Oh. Oh dear. Oh that’s bad.” He spits the bite of cookie into the sink and runs the water.

“It’s festive,” David says.

“It’s terrible.”

“We can buy some gingerbread cookie mix next time we go to Publix,” David says. “And Case?”

“Yes, David?”

“Don’t forget that random spices aren’t always the best way to leave your personal stamp on a meal.”

“That was one time!” Casey protests.

David lifts the rest of his cookie up. “This is at least the third time.”

“Okay, two times,” Casey says.

David shakes his head with an almost-hidden smile. “Whatever you say, Case.”

Chapter Text

Saturday, December 23, 2017: Lima, Ohio — Rick

The Browns own an impressive collection of Christmas ornaments, including a full set of Santa’s reindeer, from Dasher all the way to Rudolph, made out of blown glass. Rick hangs the first glass reindeer on a branch about two-thirds of the way up the tree, then looks back at Alicia for approval.

“A little higher,” Alicia says. “Maybe just two branches.”

Rick raises the reindeer two branches. “How about there?”

“That’s just fine, Daniel,” Alicia’s Ma says.

Rick picks up the next reindeer and starts to hang it on the branch to the right of good ol’ Dasher, when Alicia’s Ma makes a throat-clearing noise. He raises his hand slightly, looking back at Alicia, who shakes her head. He raises his hand slightly higher, so Dancer’s about a branch higher than Dasher.

“Dancer goes lower,” Alicia whispers.

“I went low. You shook your head,” Rick whispers back.

“I can take over the reindeer if Rick can’t handle it,” Miles offers. Rick doesn’t think Miles really wants to take over the reindeer or any other ornament hanging, though, because he’s lounging on the sofa in candy-cane-print fleece pants, drinking hot chocolate that is actually mostly Kahlua.

“The last time you put the reindeer on, Miles, you put them in a ring around the tree topper,” Alicia says.

“Because they were all in a row pulling the sleigh, Alicia,” Miles says.

“Is this low enough?” Rick asks, holding Dancer against the tree a good four inches lower than Dasher.

“That’ll do,” Alicia’s Ma says.

“Hmm,” Mr. Brown says.

“A little lower?” Rick asks.

“It’s fine, Dad!” Alicia says quickly.

“Are you sure?” Rick asks, this time looking at Alicia’s Ma.

“It’s just fine,” Alicia’s Ma says, nodding at him.

Rick gets Prancer from the box and makes a half-hearted movement towards the tree, though he’s really waiting for Alicia to direct him. “Here?” he asks, holding Prancer vaguely near the tree.

“Hmm,” Mr. Brown says again, actually looking up from his crossword this time and giving Prancer and Rick a critical look.

“Robert, stop giving that boy a hard time!” Alicia’s Ma says.

“Don’t listen to her, Dad,” Miles says. “It’s okay to have standards.”

“Not that you would know, Miles,” Alicia says, glancing up and down Miles’s candy-cane-covered legs. “You forgot to take your standards to the store when you bought clothes.”

“I’m in a holiday spirit!” Miles protests. Ricks takes advantage of everyone’s attention being on Miles to hang Prancer and pick up Vixen. Alicia looks over at him and grins.

“Just wait for the nativity set,” she whispers.

“I’m good with a nativity,” Rick whispers back. “I do ours every year.”

“What are you two whispering about? Hope it’s nothing inappropriate,” Miles says.

“Miles, you leave that boy alone,” Alicia’s Ma says.

“I’m just looking out for my sister’s virtue, Ma,” Miles says. “It’s because I just love her so much.”

“Your sister’s nearly twenty-one,” Alicia’s Ma says. “She’s probably protecting her own virtue, and more capably than you.”

“I don’t know about that. Rick here’s not always on his best behavior. I think it’s about time you had The Talk with him, Dad,” Miles says.

“I’m just doing my crossword,” Mr. Brown says, not looking up from it this time. Rick hangs Vixen on the tree with just one quick look at Alicia, who winks.

“It’s real nice of y’all to have me here for Christmas this year, what with my folks and them all going down to Texas,” Rick says, in an attempt to change the subject. He wasn’t spending a Christmas without Alicia, but bringing Alicia to Texas was just plain out of the question. When she finally says yes to one of his proposals, his Texas grandpa and aunt and cousins aren’t getting an invitation to the wedding.

“I still can’t believe they had snow down in Texas,” Miles says, shaking his head. “I bet it hadn’t snowed down there in a hundred years.”

“See, Miles?” Alicia says with the air of someone bringing up a long-running argument. “Miracles do happen.”

“Long as Rick realizes a miracle’s happening to him every damn day he gets to be with my sister,” Miles says.

“Aw,” Rick says. “Yeah, I do. I’m the luckiest guy in all of Ohio right now. Shoot, probably the whole United States.” Miles makes a dramatic gagging noise, then smiles at Alicia and bats his eyelashes like he’s being so charming, which he sort of is, in his Miles Brown sort of way, Rick figures.

Alicia’s Ma smiles at Rick approvingly, patting his shoulder briefly before stopping to say “Oh shoot! We didn’t hang Rudolph!”

“I figured he probably went on last,” Rick says. “Since he’s the most important one.”

Miles snorts. “What is it you people say? ‘Oh bless his heart’?”

“Miles?” Alicia says. “Bless your heart.”

“It’s just like in that Tiny Tim story,” Rick says. “God bless our hearts, every one.”

Chapter Text

The night before Christmas Eve and their game against the Packers, the Bears front office books the entire restaurant of Alinea for the Bears’ annual Christmas dinner. Everyone on the team brings their wives, girlfriends, kids, and any extended family they happen to have in town. Much to Finn’s chagrin, the Bears front office considers Rachel, Hiram, and Leroy to be part of Finn’s extended family now, so they get invited to dinner along with Kurt and Puck, Carole and Burt, and Audrey, who Kurt is at least able to get into a decent-looking dress and not a “midwestern monstrosity.”

The restaurant itself is the most pretentious place Finn has ever been, and considering the foodie that Puck’s turned into, that is definitely saying something. He realizes within two minutes that it’s a terrible location for children, and, within about two more minutes, probably a terrible location for any normal human person who doesn’t really need a “multi-sensory dining experience” with about a hundred-fifty people.

“This place is nuts,” Finn whispers to Kurt. “I can’t believe I’m having to eat here. With the Berrys.”

The Berrys all seem to be exactly the kind of person the restaurant is designed for, as Hiram is pointing at some art piece loudly and explaining something about it to Leroy, who has a glass of white wine in each hand. Probably one of them belongs to Hiram, but it’s also possible that Leroy has the right idea and is double-fisting his drinks tonight. Rachel, who is watching Hiram with a studied intensity, glances up briefly at Finn and smiles. He smiles and nods at her in return.

“I think it’s almost time for me to monopolize Rachel and take one for the team,” Puck says from Finn’s other side.

“You know I love you, right?” Finn says.

“Just think about what you want to do to me tonight at the hotel,” Puck says as he grins and then walks towards Rachel. Finn reviews his plans for Puck for that night, and then mentally adds at least two extra blowjobs to the list. He watches as Puck says something to Rachel, and then steers her towards one of the photographers hired for the event.

“He’s right about the perfect excuse,” Kurt says quietly. “Two Jews at a Christmas party.”

“I wish I were Jewish, so I didn’t have to come to this Christmas party,” Finn says.

“Don’t say that too loudly near either of them, they’d love to help you convert,” Kurt says, bumping his shoulder against Finn’s arm.

“Oh, I’m sure,” Finn says. “I think I’m fine being a religious nothing, though.” A waiter passes by with a tray full of wine glasses, and Finn snags two from the tray, handing one to Kurt. “Here. I bet it’s expensive and tastes exactly the same as cheap wine to me.”

“Or it’s how they make money at this place. Two-buck Chuck at vineyard prices,” Kurt says. “The Bears probably get a kickback for helping cover it up.”

“They’ve got to have a guy with scotch in here somewhere. Help me find the scotch tray.”

Kurt scans the room, frowning a little when he looks in the direction of Burt and Carole, then shrugging. “They may have put away the liquor until the players leave, darling.”

“Cheapskates,” Finn mutters, drinking his definitely-indistinguishable-from-cheap wine. Audrey must notice Kurt looking in their direction, because she suddenly breaks free from Carole’s grasp and runs in their direction.

“Finn! Kurt! They have balloons with smells in them!” Audrey says excitedly. “You can’t eat them, though, you just smell them, and don’t you think that’s funny? Balloons just for smelling, but they’re for dinner, too!”

“That’s funny, alright, Audie-Aud,” Finn says, scooping her up and holding her so she’s at eye-level with Kurt.

“Kurt, do you want to smell the balloons? Can you guess what they smell like?” Audrey asks.

“Hmm,” Kurt says. “Probably tea or oranges.”

Audrey shakes her head. “Apples. They smell like apples!”

“Yeah, that’s weird,” Finn says. Audrey nods.

“It’s sooooo weird,” she says. “And I saw one plate that just had little tiny squares made out of meat. I think it was steak, but it wasn’t cooked. It was just raw squares of steak. I don’t want to eat that. Can we go to American Girl tomorrow before I have to go home?”

“If they aren’t open before you leave, one of us can stop in for you,” Kurt tells her.

“Mom says I’m greedy about American Girls,” Audrey says.

“Did you ask us to buy one of everything in the store?” Kurt asks.

Audrey shakes her head. “I just want the special yellow dress. The one that looks like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. I don’t think Santa will bring me that one, because I didn’t tell him about it, because Mom said I could only tell him one doll and two other things.” She holds up the small purse she’s been carrying since they arrived. “I have my own money for it and everything. I have fifteen whole dollars.”

“Your mom said that because Santa has to spread his money out for everyone,” Kurt says, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask other people for gifts. Does it, Finn?”

“Nope,” Finn agrees. “You can ask me for the yellow dress. Do you think I’d recognize it if I saw it?”

“Kurt can find the pictures of it on his phone. Kurt, show my Finn the yellow dress pictures, please, please?” Audrey asks.

“I will show him the pictures,” Kurt promises. “And don’t worry about being greedy.”

“Thank you, Kurt!” Audrey says. She points at a passing waiter, and loudly announces, “That woman has fish on that tray. Whole tiny fish! With their eyes and everything!”

“This was not a good restaurant choice,” Finn says under his breath to Kurt.

“I say we encourage her,” Kurt whispers back. “Let them truly regret it.”

“What do you think those fish taste like, Aud?” Finn asks.

“Gross!” Audrey says, even louder. Carole’s head snaps in Audrey’s direction, and she gives Finn an all-too-familiar disappointed look.

“Uh oh,” Finn whispers. “Incoming.”

Carole strides towards Finn and Kurt, narrowly avoiding a collision with a waiter carrying something that looks like flower-shaped crackers standing upright in some sort of paste spread on thin strips of meat. “Finn,” Carole says, “Audrey. This is a party that requires decorum.”

“She’s just telling me about the food, Mom,” Finn says.

“I would think you would understand the importance of a good impression here, Finn,” Carole says through a clenched smile.

“Of course he does, Carole,” Kurt says too blandly. “Just like Rachel.”

“It’s just really not a good restaurant for families,” Finn says. “None of this food is stuff a kid would want to eat. Collier’s got a two-year-old. What’s she supposed to eat here?”

Carole’s head whips back and forth between the two of them, looking confused and then concerned before settling back on slightly annoyed. “I’m sure his wife packed her some food, Finn.”

“Well, I hope you packed something for Aud,” Finn says.

“Oh, look,” Kurt says.

Carole glares at Finn, then turns to look in the direction Kurt was glancing. Kurt nudges Finn in the opposite direction. Finn starts walking away, Audrey still in his arms and Kurt next to him, and he doesn’t stop until they catch up with Puck and Rachel.

“I saw whole tiny fish,” Audrey tells Puck, ignoring Rachel entirely like usual. “I’m not gonna eat them or the meat squares.”

“If you get any whole tiny fish, I’ll eat them,” Puck tells her. “I’ll even pretend to be a seal.”

“Ewww! They still have their eyeballs!”

“Seals eat eyeballs,” Puck says. “Ask your Finn.”

“It’s true, Audie-Aud,” Finn says in his serious voice. “Seals can’t use knives to get the eyes out.”

“He might bark like a seal,” Kurt says.

“Kurt! Noah can’t bark at the party!” Rachel objects.

“Of course he can’t,” Finn says. “Barking’s my job.” He makes what he thinks is a passable seal bark, which sends Audrey into a fit of loud laughter. The photographers snap a few pictures. Rachel preens. Puck leans into the frame, making sure he’s in the pictures next to Rachel.

“Finn, I’m famous now!” Audrey says. She turns a big, teeth-baring grin at the photographers. “Again! Take my picture again! Smile, Finn, we’re gonna be on the TV!”

Finn smiles on command, then makes eye contact with Puck on the other side of Audrey and smiles for real. “Aud, you know they don’t put still photographs on television,” Finn tells her.

“Maybe they were videoing, too,” Audrey says. “Puck, you did a nice smile. I bet you’ll be on the TV for sure. They didn’t get Kurt, though. Kurt, you come over and smile for the camera guys, okay? Big smiles!”

“Of course, Audrey,” Kurt says, clearly holding back a laugh. “We’ll do our best big smiles.”

Finn realizes then that Audrey is bumping Puck with her leg to move him to the side, little by little, until Rachel is most likely entirely out of the shot, leaving only Finn, Audrey, Puck, and Kurt. Finn smiles even wider and makes a note of which photographer took those pictures, because he wants to make sure he gets a copy afterwards.

“Good job,” Audrey says. “Can we go find some real food now? I want a grilled cheese.”

Chapter Text

The hotel room is dark and quiet, despite the relatively early hour, and Kurt sighs and turns his face against the pillow. A white lie about how early their flight is in the morning, and Carole had been happy—well, less unhappy—to send Finn, Noah, and Kurt off to the hotel with dessert packed in Gladware containers. Kurt feels like he could go to sleep easily if he let himself, but there’s something pleasant about lying in the dark, listening to the quiet sounds of Noah and Finn making out next to him.

“How many candy canes did you eat?” Finn asks Noah in a low whisper. “You taste like you ate about a million.”

“That’s how I count candy canes. One, two, three, a million, a hundred million,” Noah says.

Finn laughs softly. “Maybe you had a hundred million, then. So minty.” He kisses Noah again, or maybe kisses his neck, since Noah’s soft laugh is unmuffled.

“Aren’t you glad I don’t like licorice ones?”

“You’d never do that to me,” Finn says, sounding sure of himself. The sheets make a rustling noise as Finn moves his arm, probably slowly jerking Noah off.

“Mmm,” Noah says. “Or to myself.” His weight shifts, and the mattress squeaks a little.

“Yeah, you’re not that much of a masochist,” Finn says. “Nobody would eat licorice if they had any taste. Maybe people who eat licorice don’t—fuck, baby, that feels good—realize how bad it is.” Finn breathes a little louder.

“Maybe they’re sad, lonely people,” Noah says, and Kurt smiles to himself as he hears the two of them kissing. “Causation and correlation in one.”

“Yeah” Finn says breathily. “Yeah, totally. Shit, baby.”

“You have no idea what I just said,” Noah says, sounding pleased.

“Something really smart,” Finn says. The mattress squeaks again and vibrates a little.

“That’s me,” Noah says. “The smart one.”

“Yeah,” Finn breathes. “It was a good Christmas, right? It was good?”

“Yeah, no one got upset or anything, I guess,” Noah says.

“Yeah. You liked your—yeah, like that, just like that—your present?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Noah says, followed by the sound of more kissing. The kissing goes on for a while, the bed squeaking more, with neither of them talking, just breathing heavily and making little sounds.

Eventually, though, Finn says, “Kurt liked the laptop.”

“Really?” Noah says, sounding genuinely surprised. “We’re doing that?”

“It wasn’t a big deal, is what I’m saying,” Finn says. “He didn’t think it was too much, is all.”

“You could have given him the Hope Diamond and he wouldn’t have let on it was too much, not in front of everyone.”

“Maybe because it isn’t too much.”

“The fucking Hope Diamond would definitely be too much,” Noah says with a sigh. “Can we not?”

“It doesn’t have to be like this, Puck. It doesn’t have to always be such a thing,” Finn says, his whisper getting a little sharper. “Not everything has to be a thing. I love you, both of you, and not everything’s a thing.”

“You brought this up,” Noah says. “I didn’t.”

“You seemed… I know you’re thinking about it. I can tell. You know I can always tell.”

“I wasn’t fucking thinking about it, but now I am,” Noah says, and the mattress squeaks again as he rolls slightly.

“Hey. Hey, don’t. Come on,” Finn says. The back of his hand brushes against Kurt’s skin as he’s obviously putting his arm around Noah and trying to roll him back. “Puck. Baby. Come on. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry makes people change things,” Noah says, but he does roll halfway back.

“I’m doing the best I can, ok? You and Kurt are the only people I wanted to spend Christmas with. I’m here with you now, it’s just us,” Finn says.

“Then stop talking about the rest of it,” Noah says. His voice is tired, with an edge that’s almost a whine.

“I could tell you were mad at me still,” Finn says. “It’s better if I talk about it so you can just tell me how pissed you are, and then we can just— I’d fix it all right now if I could, ok? I’d fix all of it, but I can’t. All I can do is show you that I love you.”

“I’m trying something new. It’s called, nothing changes, so why bother mentioning it,” Noah says, his voice even quieter. “You don’t want to change anything.”

“I do, I do, Puck, and we’re halfway there, we’re halfway to it,” Finn says.

“You just like being the martyr. The one who suffers and can’t change things,” Noah says. “Halfway to when they pressure you to sign again.”

“You know I’m not doing that. I’ve told you a hundred times. I’m not signing again. Two more years, and I’m out, and we’re done with it. I’ll have enough for school and for the three of us, and I’ll never play again,” Finn says. Kurt can hear the sound of Finn kissing the side of Noah’s neck, his words slightly muffled against Noah’s skin. “What do I have to do to make you believe me?”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can do,” Noah admits softly. “I don’t believe you.”

“Puck. Puck. I don’t lie to you.”

“You avoid. You… it doesn’t matter,” Noah says. “It doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t do it.”

“What?” Finn asks. “What wouldn’t I do? What doesn’t matter?”

“Walk away,” Noah whispers.

“What?” Finn repeats, a little sharper.

“You heard me,” Noah says. “But you’ll never do it. You’d rather disappoint me, us, than them.”

Finn sighs a long, sad sigh. “I’ve got a contract. I have a legal obligation.”

“And the money to hire lawyers. A law student best friend.” Kurt can feel something like a breeze, and he knows Noah must be gesturing. “You could find a way.”

Finn doesn’t answer right away, just taking a few long, shaky breaths. Eventually he says, “What if I could find a way to do it? A way to do it without breaking my contract.”

“Pretty sure that’s what you just said you couldn’t do.”

“But if I could find a way,” Finn says. “You’d want that? No matter what the consequences are?”

“I never wanted the money. You’re the one who acted like we did.”

Finn exhales slowly. “It wasn’t about that. But if there’s a way out, I’ll find it, ok? I’ll find it.”

“It was always about that.” The mattress squeaks again. “Don’t worry. I’m not holding you to anything.”

“I love you, Puck,” Finn says. The sheets rustle again and the mattress vibrates slightly. “You and Kurt, you know I love you more than anything.”

“I know. I know,” Noah says. “I love you.”

Kurt doesn’t know what the next day will look like, not really, and he really doesn’t know about 2018. There’s nothing Finn could do to get out of his contract, short of the legal maneuvering, and a small part of Kurt wants to be a little angry, holding out false hope. Most of him says it’s Christmas, though, and that Noah didn’t grab onto it anyway, so maybe it was mostly for Finn himself. No real harm done. Kurt sighs a little, letting his eyes fully close as he hears the two of them kiss again.