For the fourth time that morning, Lee Nicholas’s nephew crashed a toy helicopter into Lee’s kneecaps, squealed and took off running.
Lee grimaced and rubbed his leg and reminded himself not to swear. It was Christmas morning and Nate was already so hopped-up on sugar that his parents had palmed him off on the rest of the family as soon as they’d arrived.
Lee’s mom was in the dining room, playing cards and drinking wine with his grandparents, his step-dad was poking at the turkey and swearing under his breath, and various other relatives were scattered around the house, talking loudly and laughing while cheesy music piped out of the tinny iPod speakers that someone had just been given as a gift.
This was the kind of thing that Lee usually loved. He got on great with his family, his nephew was (usually) an awesome little kid, and they were about to have all the food in the world. Which was why it made no sense that he felt disconnected and lonely today, sort of cold inside as though there was usually a woolly sweater around his heart and he’d forgotten to put it on this morning.
Okay, so that wasn’t a great metaphor, but Lee was an actor not a writer, so he figured he could be excused.
“Hey, hey,” said someone, poking Lee in the ribs from behind. “Why so emo? It’s Christmas. You fucking love Christmas.”
Lee turned around, raising one eyebrow at his brother. “Swear jar,” he said sweetly.
David made a face at him. “Nah, that’s just for you guys. He’s my kid, he can learn to curse from me.”
“Pretty sure Rachel wouldn’t agree,” Lee warned since David’s wife was around somewhere and liable to thwap him around the head if she overheard that.
“No,” David agreed sadly. “She should probably be the one to teach him; she knows better curse words than me, anyway.”
Lee laughed, which, come to think of it, had probably been David’s aim. Big brothers were tricky like that.
David caught his wrist and pulled him down onto an empty sofa. “Come on, before the aunts get it.”
Lee slumped next to him, resting his feet on the edge of the sofa cushion and wrapping his arms loosely around his drawn-up legs. He knew he wasn’t being his usual life-and-soul of the party self, but he felt empty, right in the middle of his chest; it was weird and disconcerting.
David leaned in close, knocking their arms together but not then moving away. “You could just call him,” he said quietly.
Lee turned his head to face him, aware that is eyes were telegraphing panic, panic, panic even as he tried to stop them. He could not talk about that here, not where a million relatives might overhear.
“Who?” he asked. He knew he deserved the deeply unimpressed look David gave him for that.
David sighed. “You could invite him around, play footsie under the table, makeout a little under some mistletoe. Tell me that’s not what your tragic heart is pining for.”
“Fuck you,” Lee said mildly. “You know I can’t.”
“I know you can,” David argued. “Mom and Lloyd aren't going to care. Mom keeps asking me if you have a girlfriend and then looking sad when I say you don’t. She’d be thrilled to know you have a boy-”
Lee didn’t mean to react, but the next thing he knew, his hand was clamped over David’s mouth, thumb holding his jaw shut. They hadn’t done that since they were kids, and David’s eyes went wide, surprised.
“Sorry,” Lee said, snatching his hand back.
There was a red mark on David’s chin where Lee had pressed too hard, but David shook his head, shrugging it off. He dropped his hand to Lee’s knee, squeezing reassuringly. “Wow, you’re really scared,” he said, sounding surprised.
Lee was, but he still felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” he repeated.
David shook Lee’s leg a little. “Go upstairs and call him,” he said. “You’ll feel better then. I’ll cover for you.”
Lee bit his lip. He was twenty-six years old, he hated having to hide away in his bedroom to call his boyfriend like a teenager. But however much he hated it, it was nothing on how terrified he was of coming out to his parents. Telling David about Tony had been hard enough and David had known Lee was queer since he was seventeen.
“Thanks,” he managed, grabbing his phone from the coffee table and heading for the stairs before things could get anymore embarrassing.
Just as Lee reached the bottom step, a toy helicopter came rolling down, crashing into the wall and then bouncing onto the carpet.
“Oops,” Nate called from upstairs.
Temporarily distracted, Lee grinned, picking it up and straightening a battered propeller.
“Maybe try it from a lower step,” he advised, handing the helicopter back to Nate and tugging lightly on the end of one flyaway piece of dark hair.
“It doesn’t fly,” Nate told him mournfully, trudging halfway down the stairs and regarding the helicopter mournfully. "The box said it'd fly."
If Tony were here, he could magic it to fly properly, a really unhelpful part of Lee’s brain pointed out. So now not only was Lee a coward and a bad boyfriend, he was also a bad uncle.
“Keep trying,” he said before stepping into what used to be his bedroom, closing then locking the door behind himself.
He sat down on the bed, checking his emails (none), the Facebook account that he had to claim not to have when asked by fans at conventions, and the Darkest Night twitter account before pulling up Tony’s number.
Tony probably wouldn’t even answer the phone. He had his own plans for Christmas Day; it wasn’t like Lee had left him alone. Tony wasn’t even expecting to hear from him – they’d done their own Christmas thing yesterday.
Tony answer on the forth ring.
“Hey,” he said, sounding pleased. At least, Lee thought he sounded pleased. “Merry Christmas.”
It wasn’t that Lee felt instantly more relaxed or anything stupidly cliché like that, but he did feel better just from hearing Tony’s voice.
“Yeah, you too,” he said, flopping backward onto the bed. “Are you busy? Can you talk?”
Tony laughed quietly. “I am definitely not busy,” he promised. “I fixed the pause button on my DVD player and the Pizza Pocket isn’t even in the microwave yet.”
Lee frowned up at the ceiling. “Wait, what? I thought you had plans with Henry today?” Which Lee had been fine with, totally fine. Lee wasn’t free so it was fine that Tony was going to spend Christmas Day with his ex instead.
“Oh, yeah, I – ” Tony stopped, sounding shifty.
“Tony?” Lee prompted.
“I’ll be seeing Henry later,” Tony said brightly, “He’s not exactly free during dayli- I mean, he’s busy during the day, but I normally see him Christmas evening.”
“Are you all on your own?” Lee asked, feeling ridiculously guilty. “I didn’t know; you didn’t say you would be.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Tony told him. “Honestly.”
“It does.” It did. Lee was a terrible person. “You shouldn’t have to spend Christmas alone, just because I’m – ” scared.
“Lee,” Tony said firmly. “I swear, it doesn’t matter. If I was that cut up about it, I could’ve called Zev. Hanukkah’s over, he’d be free.”
Awesome, another ex-boyfriend option. “No, I’m - .” Lee sat up suddenly. “I’m going to come over.” Yes, that was what he should do; that felt right.
Tony squawked “No, what, you can’t. It’s your big family day, don’t be stupid.”
Ignoring the arguments in his ear, Lee dug around in his pocket for his car keys; he found them, thank god. He’d never get out of here if he had to wade through aunts and uncles to find where he’d dropped them.
“I’ll be there in a half hour.” His heart was hammering and his fingers were tingling. He wanted to see Tony; David had been right, that was why he’d been feeling off all day.
“You’re insane,” Tony laughed. “It’s snowing, you can’t just – ”
“I can,” Lee told him. He really could. “I’ll see you soon.”
He ended the call before Tony could object anymore, pocketing his phone and slipping down the stairs in the stealthiest way he knew how. He reached the front door without anyone stopping him, grabbing his boots from the pile and sliding out onto the drive with them in hand.
The front door made a louder sound closing than he’d hoped, so he sprinted for his car, sliding inside and dropping his boots on the passenger seat while he started the engine. He pulled his seatbelt on one-handed, switching the car into reverse gear with the other hand.
He backed out carefully from between his mom’s Clio and some random relative’s butt-ugly Honda Pilot then put his foot down as soon as he hit the road. As trees and suburbia sped past outside the window, Lee laughed, something unclenching in his chest. Finally, he could breathe again.
He didn’t care.
He took the steps up to Tony’s floor three at a time, because he’d been in the elevator enough times to know that he never wanted to get into it again.
There was soft music coming from one of the other apartments on Tony’s floor and his neighbour’s cat was curled up at the head of the stairs.
“Hey, kitty,” Lee said, because no matter what Tony claimed, she wasn’t a devil cat, just misunderstood.
The cat hissed at him and stretched out one leg, claws bared threateningly.
“Happy Holidays to you too,” Lee told her pleasantly and moved on quickly.
Tony’s door was ajar and he was leaning on the frame, watching. “At least she didn’t bite you,” he said mildly, “I think that means you’re making progress.”
“She loves me,” Lee told him confidently and then pulled Tony forward, kissing him right there on the doorstep.
“Woah,” Tony said but kissed him back, which was all Lee wanted, all he’d been wanting all day, apparently.
They stumbled into Tony’s apartment, Tony pushing the door closed, and then Lee up against it, while Lee scrabbled at the hem of Tony’s sweatshirt, just wanting skin.
Tony laughed into his mouth, tugging his shirt over his head and dropping it onto the floor. He was wearing a t-shirt underneath, but that didn’t stop Lee and pretty soon he had his hands fanned out across Tony’s ribs, holding him tight and pulling him closer.
“Woah,” Tony said again when they had to pull apart to breathe. “You should have said you were stopping by for a nooner; I could of gotten a head-start.”
The idea of that, whatever it would have involved, made Lee shiver, but he shook his head. “I’m not, this isn’t,” he said, because he’d worked hard to make sure Tony knew Lee wanted him for more than sex and he wasn’t about to fuck that up now.
“It’s okay,” Tony said, still smiling. “I’m teasing.”
Lee nodded jerkily. He finally took the time to actually look at Tony, his hair all dishevelled and his shirt pushed halfway up his chest. “I missed you,” he said, even though that was a feelings word and they were both really shit at knowing what to do with those.
“You saw me yesterday,” Tony said, rolling his eyes, but his cheeks went pink and pleased. “I haven’t changed.”
“Good,” Lee said. He smoothed Tony’s t-shirt back into place, looping his arms around Tony’s waist instead. Tony was a couple of inches shorter than him, just enough that he had to bend a bit to rest his head on Tony’s shoulder. He didn’t care: Tony was warm and stable and he touched Lee’s back tentatively, like he wanted to be reassuring, but wasn’t sure what Lee needed rescuing from this time.
“Hey,” Tony said softly in his ear. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Lee sighed, because it was now.
Tony’s touches became more certain, his hand stroking along Lee’s spine, fingers warm on the small of his back. “Are you staying for a while?”
Lee shouldn’t. He should put his game face on and go back home. He wanted to be back home; he just didn’t want to be there without Tony.
“I need to come out to my parents,” he mumbled, hoping if he said it quietly enough, the universe wouldn’t notice.
Tony went stiff. “You do?” he asked tentatively. “You don’t have to. You know I don’t – ”
With a tired groan, Lee straightened up. “I mind,” he said firmly. “I get that this is new and, and maybe we’re not going to last.” He didn’t really believe that – if there was one thing he was sure of it was that they were good together – but it felt like he should say it; they hadn’t been together all that long, after all.
“Maybe,” Tony agreed quietly, like maybe he thought the same way Lee did. God, Lee hoped Tony thought the same way he did.
“But either way, I want to be able to spend holidays with you and I want my family to stop asking if I have a girlfriend and I want you to be able to make my baby nephew’s helicopter fly and - ”
“What?” Tony asked, laughing. “You’re not making any sense.” His eyes were bright and wide, like he couldn’t believe Lee was saying what he was hearing. Lee thought that was awful; Tony should somehow know how Lee felt about him, even if Lee was still building up the nerve to tell him.
“I know,” Lee sighed. “I mean it though, if that’s any help.”
“Good,” Tony agreed, nodding and still laughing. “I’m so glad you mean your incoherent ramblings. And, assuming the helicopter thing wasn’t a euphemism then yes, I want that too. As long as you’re sure?”
Lee nodded. He expected to feel more terrified, but instead, he felt calmer somehow. If his family took the queer thing badly then Lee was going to be miserable, but at least he’d know. Otherwise, this not knowing thing was going to give him an ulcer.
I love you, he thought, wishing that Tony’s magic extended to telepathy, but relieved that it didn’t, all at the same time. “I'm sure. I can’t do it today, the house is full of relatives, but I’ll tell Mom and Dad tomorrow, I swear.”
“Okay.” Tony didn’t look so much reassured as really nervous. Lee definitely understood how he was feeling. He reached out, snagging Lee’s dress shirt by one buttonhole. “Don’t go back yet?”
Tony leaned up and kissed Lee hard, hands sliding into his hair and holding his head still while kissing him like the world was ending (and Lee knew from end of the world kisses; that’s what you got for dating a wizard).
This time, there was no more meaningful conversation and shirts followed shoes onto the floor. Tony’s foldout groaned when they both landed on it at the same time, but they’d put it through worse than this and it had stood up to that just fine.
They shifted around, slotting together, pressed hard and warm and close together, hands everywhere. It was always warm in Tony’s apartment and pretty soon they were sweating, but Lee didn’t care – he liked the way his hands slid easily up Tony’s back; everything with Tony was easier than it should be.
They weren’t even trying to get off, just touching everywhere. It was different and a little strange and Lee couldn’t get enough of it. He found himself making questioning sounds in the back of his throat, pushing forward until Tony was pressed to the bed under him, Tony's fingernails digging hard into the place where Lee’s neck met his shoulders.
They’d had a lot of sex and Lee was finally getting over the need to push them up to a point and then rely on Tony to tell him what to do next, but he still didn’t know what exactly he wanted now; he just wanted more. He wanted this to last all day and all night and the rest of their lives so he’d never have to deal with the real world again.
“Hey, wow, this is much more fun that the Degrassi marathon I had planned for today,” Tony told him, sinking back into the bed and hooking his legs behind Lee’s thighs so Lee couldn’t move away even if he wanted to, which he didn’t.
“I’m probably missing pre-dinner cocktails,” Lee said thoughtfully.
Tony’s eyebrows climbed. “Seriously?” he asked, like he wasn’t sure if that was cool or concerning.
Lee shrugged. “My real dad’s parents hate my mom for remarrying so quick, my mom’s parents and my step-dad’s parents hate my dad’s parents for hating her. It’s the kind of thing that can only be improved by booze.”
“Wow,” Tony smoothed a thumb along Lee’s collarbone. “And that’s what you want to be able to invite me to?”
Lee smiled down at him, nudging his mouth back against Tony’s. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I do.”
“Thanks,” Tony said, but he didn’t sound as disgruntled as he was probably trying to.
Lee was seized with the urge to kiss his forehead but Tony tipped his head back, catching Lee’s mouth before he could. Lee was glad; that would have been weird, probably.
Tony shifted, getting comfortable while they kissed and his hard-on dragged across Lee’s hip through the thin material of his sweatpants. Even after this many times, it was still shocking how very there and real it felt to have another guy’s cock up close and personal with his.
Lee loved it.
“Tony?” he asked, pressing his hips down. “How long until you’re meeting Henry?”
Tony pushed back against Lee, cocks fitting together as well as they could through two layers of pants. “Not until four seventeen,” he said distractedly then cleared his throat. “Approximately.”
“Approximately,” Lee echoed, hands going to his fly. Lee had a sneaking suspicion that Henry had some kind of supernatural thing of his own going on - there was definitely something weird that Lee wasn’t supposed to know and it had to do with daylight so Lee had theories - but he wasn’t going to ask yet. He was kind of hoping Tony would tell him without prompting first.
“Yep.” Tony pushed his hands up under Lee’s, fingers catching his zipper and tugging it the rest of the way down. He dragged the tip of one finger up the front of Lee’s boxerbriefs, sliding through the slit and touching Lee’s cockhead.
“Fuck,” Lee groaned, toes curling.
Tony grinned up at him. “Yeah?” he asked. “You want to?”
Lee hesitated. The answer was fuck, yes, obviously, but – “So much,” he said honestly, “but I can’t stay much longer.”
Tony shrugged, still smiling. “Dude, trust me, we can be quick.” He pushed his hand into Lee’s underwear and rubbed his cock teasingly.
“Hey,” Lee protested, laughing. “I’ve never had any complaints about speed.”
Tony’s smile turned softer, less teasing and more focused. “Yeah? Gonna show me?” he asked, voice sinking into something deeper.
Lee groaned and pressed his forehead against Tony’s. There was no way he was going to pass up a dare like that.
“We can be quick, huh?” he asked, scratching his fingernails down Tony’s chest until he got to his hips. “What if I want to be slow?”
“We can, um, shit.” Tony twisted like he wasn’t sure if he wanted more of Lee’s nails or less. “We can do that too.”
Lee grinned and lowered his mouth back toward Tony’s. He could be late for dinner.
His mom had nothing on the supernatural when it came to ESP.
“I had to go help a friend,” Lee told her. He got paid to lie and he was very good at it. “Car trouble. I told David.”
“Car trouble?” Mom repeated, flicking her eyes over him. She sighed and handed him her half-full glass of wine, pouring herself a fresh glass.
“What?” Lee asked. He knew he should leave well enough alone, but she was giving him sad eyes.
“What’s her name?” Mom asked.
Lee frowned, trying to think up a name, any name, he could even say Tony; that was a girl’s name too. “My friend with the broken car?” he asked to stall for time.
“Lee,” sighed Mom. She reached over and poked Lee under the jaw, where Lee knew there wasn’t a hickey. Tony was always careful about that. “I raised two boys, remember? I know when one of you is pretending not to have just had sex. Also, your shirt’s misbuttoned and you’ve missed two beltloops.”
Lee froze, not sure which to check first or whether to check at all, since maybe she’s double-bluffing. He glanced down. Yep, he'd definitely missed out a button when he was putting his shirt back on.
“I – ” he started then couldn’t think what to say. He was so tired of lying.
Mom shook her head. “Who is she? You have to tell me; you skipped out on Christmas, so you owe me.”
The thing was that Lee could tell her the whole story and not mention Tony. He was fucking fantastic at the pronoun game – so good that there was a whole tumblr dedicated to arguing over whether or not that was what he was doing in interviews – but if he started that, he’d never get to stop.
He tipped up the glass in his hand and downed the wine. “Not a ‘she’, Mom,” he said. “I skipped out to see a guy.”
Mom blinked. Then she picked up the wine bottle and silently refilled his glass. “A guy you know?” she asked slowly, after taking a minute to think about it.
Lee had pictured this conversation a million times, but he’d never predicted that question. “I… What? Yes.”
Mom held up her hand. “Sorry. I’m flustered. You hear about these sites where men find other men and – ”
Okay, that hurt. “Fuck. Mother. I didn’t hook up with a guy from fucking Grindr on Christmas day.”
Mom didn’t say anything about Lee swearing. She’d given up on that many years ago. “I’m sorry. I don’t.” She put down her glass and her hands shook. “What are you telling me?”
Lee swallowed hard. “There’s a guy,” he said, lowering his voice because he couldn’t cope with anyone other than Mom hearing this right now. “There’s been a guy for a while. I’m, you know. I’m in love with him.”
Mom’s hand grabbed and tightened around Lee’s so hard that he winced. “Okay,” she said, nodding slowly. “Okay. That’s… You’re in love with him? Really? That’s great.” She didn’t sound like she knew if she meant that, but he liked that she’d said it.
Lee didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. He wasn’t sure he could breathe, so he focused on that, on making air go in and out of his lungs and not on whether he was still going to have a mom after she’d finished processing everything.
“What’s his name?” Mom asked eventually. “Do I know him?”
Something happened in the living room that made everyone scream with laughter. Lee leaned in closer before answering. “Tony. You met him when you came down to visit the set. I don’t know if you remember, but.”
Mom nodded, slowly at first, then with more certainty. “Cute kid with an eyebrow ring? Looked at you like you hung the moon?”
Lee blushed and wrinkled his nose. “He doesn’t do that so much anymore?” he tried. He had a lot of residual guilt about how long Tony had been into him before Lee had given him the time of day.
“Well, he should,” Mom exclaimed. She was smiling all of a sudden. “I remember I liked him. You should invite him over tomorrow.”
Lee went from being ridiculously pleased by the first half of her sentence to ridiculously terrified by the second. He gulped. “Why?”
Mom rolled her eyes. “So I can meet him again,” she said firmly. “Properly.”
Fuck. “Okay,” Lee agreed uncertainly. “I mean, I’ll ask.”
She patted him on the hand. “That’s good. Ask in a way that makes sure he’ll come.” She glanced through the open door behind Lee’s shoulder. “Your grandfather is falling asleep on the dog. I should go and untangle them, but we can talk more later. Please?” She waited, looking like she was waiting for something.
“I promise I don’t have any other life altering revelations for you today,” Lee said. He tried to laugh and it probably didn’t work, but Mom smiled back and kissed his cheek, so it’d do.
As soon as she was gone, Lee pulled out his cell and texted Tony.
Told Mom. She wants to meet you tomorrow.
Tony’s reply took five seconds to come. Which meant he’d been waiting by the phone. All he wrote was: fuck.
A minute later, he sent another message.
OK. I can do that. Can I do that?
Lee smiled, stroking his thumb over the screen and feeling horribly, stupidly fond.
You can do that. Love you.
He shoved his phone back into his pocket before Tony could reply, deciding that he’d had more than enough of being brave for one afternoon.
In the living room, Nate and Rachel were murdering Don’t Stop Believing via SingStar on his cousin’s new Wii. David was watching them and laughing his head off. Over on the other side of the room, Mom had rescued Granddad from the dog (or the dog from Granddad) and sat herself down in Dad’s lap.
Lee let himself have sixty seconds of imagining Tony right here with them all this time next year, then threw himself into the fray to show them how karaoke should be done.