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Christmas Party, 1991

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"I told you I'm not cooking any bloody sprouts."

"It's not a request. It's an order."

It's also an argument they have every year; James doesn't want to put the sprouts in the pan because no-one ever eats them, Fiona wants them on the table anyway to retain some sense of tradition. Eventually James gives in, complaining all the way, and they end up foisting the damned things off on Tony because he's the only one who'll eat the bastards.

Adil doesn't actually care whether they end up with sprouts or not- Christmas is more than a little defunct for him. He refuses to try them, and it's not like they were ever a staple of his December season. Though he supposes since he's blutacked his Advent calendar next to James and Fiona's on the fridge he could give up and finally throw himself into the spirit of Christmas with everyone else.

Could. Probably won't. Wouldn't want to give the other pair the satisfaction.

Well. It looks like Fiona's now assaulting James with a salt-and-thyme water coated rubber spatula. Adil goes back to lazily eating the tray of dates on his stomach while the ruckus carries on in the kitchen over the sound of the old black and white Christmas Carol film. He's not exactly worried. It'll blow over, it does every year, nor will he get roped into helping. The last time Adil was involved in Christmas dinner he may have cheated. Slightly.

He chuckles at the thought of Fiona's face when he brought out a crispy Peking duck instead of a turkey. It genuinely looked like she was ready to steam at the ears.

Adil sneaks a look at the clock. It's their turn to host the '83 History class Christmas party, so they're desperately trying to get all the cooking pre-done because they won't have any time during the afternoon or evening. He curses Tony slightly, it's because of his stupid job that they had to hold the bloody Christmas party on the Christmas Eve. Of course he keeps his pub and his dry cleaners open all the way through the season. Admittedly, David, Adil and Fiona only finished on the twentieth, but it's not exactly their fault that the school term ran so late. Tony could easily close the pub for a Wednesday night if he wanted.

It's getting close to five, someone'll be turning up soon. David and Don, probably, or Pete. Thank god the sprout fight means cooking's almost done. He slips into the kitchen. He might not be allowed to cook, but he'll be damned if he's going to be cussed out on Christmas day for not knowing which shelf in the fridge the cranberry sauce is on.

James is reluctantly salting his sprout-water and is looking for a lid. Fiona is triumphantly mashing carrot into turnip with rather too much vigour, with a sexy little smirk on her face that only slightly curls the corners of her mouth. Adil sneaks his arms around her waist, locking her into him, and he buries his face into the crook of her neck as she leans to one side to let him. He nuzzles his nose in her verifiable rats-nest of hair- she's on holiday, she couldn't care less what she looks like- and softly mutters next to her ear.

"Want a brew?"

Fiona moans and twists round to face Adil. "If you're offering."

He grins and retreats to the other side of the kitchen to the kettle, and waves it at James, who nods and gives him a thumbs up. Adil fills the kettle and put it on the boil,  then reaches up to the top cupboard for the mugs. He passes James' favourite one over to him- it's an Everton mug, Adil's disgusted whenever he sees it- and receives a tired smooch in return.

"Thanks love."

Adil grins. "Only too happy to provide sustenance for the workers."

Fiona mutters darkly from the mashing station. "You could have been helping yourself if I could be sure you wouldn't order in Pad Thai instead of steaming the runner beans."

"I'm not going the lie to you, Fiona. Probably."

Fiona whacks him lightly on the arm with the potato masher and James laughs.

"Every man has his faults, and honesty is his."

Fiona scowls. "I don't need either of you twats to quote Timon of Athens at me."

James gasps in mock-horror, Adil just grins. "But you love us."

"Unfortunately."

She's glaring at them, sending as much fake-hate as her five foot tall self can muster. She might have been intimidating if she wasn't wearing a pair of James' pyjama pants and bunny bootee slippers and a tank top covered in a failed batch of turkey gravy. James is trying his best not to piss himself giggling at her. Adil's trying his best to ignore, because if James starts laughing then he'll start and they won't be able to stop.

The doorbell chimes; they can hear voices outside- one of them is nasally and neurotic, the other is aggressively northern to the point of parody. It's Donald and David. Fiona looks down at herself, mutters "Shit," and speeds off to the bedroom to put n something halfway decent. Adil grabs a tin of Quality Streets of the kitchen counter and looks pointedly at James, who looks offended.

"What?"

"Babe. You're not wearing any pants."

James around behind his apron, it seems like he genuinely forgot. "Oh. Yeah."

 


 

"Are you joking? He never turns up."

It's about nine in the evening and Chris has cracked open the Merlot, sprawled out full-length on the shitty little two-person couch. Tony is sat on Chris' legs, and everyone else has given up on shoving Chris off and is spread out over the floor. Adil is sandwiched quite comfortably between James' legs with Fiona draped over his knees. It's gone better than last year's party, which turned into a right festive piss-up in the upper room of Tony's pub.

One notable absence though. There is every year.

Fiona shrugs. "I gave an invite for his mum to send. She said she'd pass it on to his PA." She drains the last of her glass of wine, and crawls off Adil's legs to get a refill. "Doesn't know exactly whereabouts in the world he is, though."

Chris provides an utterance murmured into a sofa cushion that sounds vaguely like the word 'Mexico'. Adil assumes this to be correct- Chris and Stuart are technically in the same vein of work. It's not like any of them have any better ideas.

David rolls his eyes. "Bloody Dakin."

Donald raises an eyebrow at him. David splutters in indignation.

"It has been eight years since I have even so much as entertained the idea of Stuart Dakin, so don't give me that look, Donald Scripps." Don doesn't look convinced, so David boops him on the nose.

Fiona comes back in with her wine. "Honestly, you weren't missing much, darling."

Tony chokes so hard that wine drips out of his nose and James shoots off into the bedroom to grab a box of tissues. Then the doorbell begins to ring with alarming frequency. Adil curses, it's probably carollers again. They're surprisingly resilient around the town despite the fact that they must know they are universally despised.

Adil stumbles over to the front door, nearly tripping over Pete, who's spread-eagled on the floor. He wants the bloody bell to shut up, and he's ready to make some carollers feel awkward for turning up at the door of a man who does not look like he celebrates Christmas.

He half-drunkenly swings the door open, ready to be confronted by a group of children in knitted hats guided by an overly-enthusiastic Sunday school teacher. But it's not.

Adil stammers over his words. "We thought you were in Mexico."

Dakin looks affronted. "Who the fuck told you I was in Mexico?"

He's holding a bottle of wine, but it's not open. He looks sober. His coat's a bit too big for him- a big black thing with straight buttons and a mass of pockets on the front, but it looks expensive. He looks like he's trying to be cool and casual at the same time, but isn't succeeding at pulling off either. He just looks nervous instead.

Stuart coughs, and tries to reset the conversation. "So, is this yours and Pos's place?"

"What?"

"Well I always assumed-"

Adil cuts him off before he can dig himself a bigger hole. "No. It's mine, Lockwood's and Fiona's. Pos and Scripps have a house over the bridge on Desmond Street."

Stuart's eyebrows shoot up at that. "Sorry. Didn't expect that. And I'm not exactly caught up."  

"That's because you disappeared without a trace after pissing off to London five years ago, you twat."

Stuart at least has the grace to look ashamed. "Yeah. Well. There was a reason for that." He avoids the topic. "Also, who gives out invitations to parties without putting which house you live at?"

"Generally when we hold the Christmas party it's only attended by people who know where we live."

He grimaces in embarrassment, Adil's a little too pleased with himself. "I had to ask at all the houses which one was yours."

Adil blanches. He knows maybe two people who live on this street. "How'd that go?"

Stuart scratches his head. "Well, no-one on the street actually knows who you are, but the lovely lady at number fourteen asked if I meant 'the young people living in sin' so I said 'Probably.'"

Adil groans. He knows that one. "Janice. Delightful woman, isn't she?"

Stuart chuckles. "Reminds me of old Felix, a bit."

"Probably related. All you lot from round here are inbred anyways."

Stuart snorts down his nose, and for a brief moment they're eighteen again, young and stupid and desperate for Oxford. But then there's an uproarious round of laughter from the living room, and it suddenly feels very cold and lonely out on the doorstep. Adil sighs. "If you come in I hope you know you're going to be interrogated to the nth degree."

"Chris is a magistrate. I'd be disappointed if I got anything else."   

Adil smirks, and nods his head inwards. "Come on then."

He doesn't move- Stuart stays rooted to the spot, looking like he was staring into the void. Suddenly he breaks out, "I hope you don't mind, but well... I brought someone else."

Adil hears the clacks of the crutches before he sees the man, and raises his eyebrows at Stuart, who looks half embarrassed and half ready to sprint of of the doorway. Adil slowly realises- the reason Stuart distanced himself, the reason he ran away, the reason he had never been in contact- all the same reason. All the same person.

Adil looked at the new- well, not new, newer, but still familiar- man, and decided to extend the hypothetical olive branch.

"Come on in, sir. I suppose it can technically be your party too."

Irwin cringes. "Please don't. I'm not you're teacher anymore. It's Tom. Just Tom."

Adil looks at Stuart, who is actually pleading with his eyes.

"Well then. Merry Christmas... Tom."