The New Year’s Eve celebrations at Albie’s are pretty much like the Christmas ones, subdued. None of them really feels ready to celebrate much of anything. A couple of quiet drinks, a few laughs, but mainly it’s an opportunity to be together outside of the hospital. The general feeling is that everyone just wants to put 2017 behind them. Lofty’s only been there with these people for half of the year, but it feels like longer. Despite everything that has happened, in a way it’s like he’s finally found his place.
Dom arrived late, when the chairs were all taken, and he’s been perched on the armrest of Lofty’s ever since, leaning against Lofty’s shoulder. It’s not uncomfortable as such, but Lofty finds he needs to spend too much energy not thinking about it.
Essie gets up, well before midnight, claiming she needs the bathroom. Lofty notices her collecting her coat though, and he gets up after her, catching her as she’s about to head out.
”Leaving already?” he asks, and she turns around while wrapping her scarf around her neck.
”I can’t do it, Lofty,” she says, shaking her head. ”I can’t sit around here, just waiting to watch happy couples kiss each other at midnight.”
He nods, because that’s not hard to understand. The image of Raf’s smiling face pops up in his mind, as so many unbidden images do these days.
”Do you want me to walk you home?” he asks Essie. ”It’s no bother.”
She smiles. ”That’s very sweet of you, but I think I need some time to myself. Besides, I think you’d be missed.” She nods toward their table, and Lofty looks over to see Dom watching them.
”Oh,” he says. ”That’s not, I mean, we’re not.” He sighs. ”It’s nothing.”
”Right,” Essie says, understandably unimpressed. She holds out her arms, and Lofty willingly envelops her in a hug.
”Take care,” he says, holding her tight, and then he opens the door for her, and watches her pull the hood of her coat over her head against the cold as she walks away.
When he gets back to the table, Dom has stolen his chair, so he takes Essie’s empty one on the other side of the table.
”Is she okay?” Dom mouths at him, as everyone laughs at Fletch’s story of a patient who barricades himself in the bathroom to avoid his overbearing mother checking his temperature every five minutes.
Lofty just shrugs in response. They both know she isn’t, not yet.
As midnight draws close, as the other patrons count down from ten, they all fall silent. Finally, after the cheers of ”Happy New Year!” has rung out around them, Sasha raises his glass.
”To a better year, ” he says, with half a smile. ”I think we all deserve it.”
That, they can all agree with.
”To a better year!” Lofty choruses with the rest of them, glass raised. He thinks he can feel Dom’s eyes on him, but when he looks over, Dom is clinking his glass against Donna’s, smiling at her.
They disband soon after that, and Lofty finds himself hugging Dom goodbye as Dom is waiting for his taxi. He’s not sure if Dom had one more drink than he noticed, or if it’s just a long shift and lack of food taking it’s toll, but Dom is definitely a little unsteady on his feet, and Lofty ends up having to drag him out of harm’s way as the taxi pulls up.
”Jesus, Dom, look where you’re going,” he says, his heart skipping a couple of beats.
Dom smiles at him and pats his cheek clumsily. ”Always saving me, aren’t you Lofty,” he says with a sigh.
Lofty sternly tells himself not to listen, and opens the taxi door. ”Get some sleep, Dom,” he says, and turns away before he can do something he shouldn’t.
”Actually, I…” Dom says behind him, and when Lofty turns back, Dom is right there, almost stumbling into him, and before Lofty even realises what’s happening, Dom’s lips are on his. He closes his eyes, instinctively, and kisses him back, just for a second, before his brain catches up with his body. Then he takes hold of Dom’s shoulders, gently pushing him away.
”Dom, we can’t.” He carefully ignores the way Dom reaches out for him, only for his hand to fall when Lofty takes a step back.
”Why not?” Dom asks, sounding younger than Lofty’s ever heard him before. ”I like you, you…”
”You’re drunk,” Lofty interrupts, because he can’t stand him saying things he might not mean. He’s been doing such a good job of ignoring how he feels, and now Dom’s ruined it all.
”I’m not too drunk to know what I’m doing,” Dom protests.
”You’re drunk enough,” Lofty says, and when Dom looks about to protest again, ”I can’t do this again, Dom, only for you to wake up tomorrow and claim that you were drunk and that it didn’t mean anything.”
”I wouldn’t,” Dom says quietly, and he looks so hurt that Lofty wants to give in, to reassure him, to kiss him, but…
”But you did,” he reminds Dom gently.
A range of emotion flies over Dom’s face, and then he looks down. ”I know.” Then he looks up again, and there’s a new determination in his eyes. ”Will you listen when I’m sober?”
”Sure,” Lofty agrees. He’s fairly certain it won’t happen, so it’s easy to agree.
Dom nods, and Lofty watches him get in his taxi. Then he goes home, trying hard not to think about the possibility that Dom might have meant it, and failing miserably.
He barely sleeps, and when he does sleep his dreams are a mangled mess of Dom and Lenny and Alice and Fredrik. So when he wakes up with a start, waiting for a gunshot to ring out, and the display on his phone reads 7:16 he gives up and gets out of bed, heading for the shower. When he gets out of the bathroom, his phone is lit up, informing him that he’s received a text from Dom. He stares at the display, unwilling to read the actual message, which is bound to be an apology, a promise not to say anything more about it. Then he tells himself to get a grip, takes a deep breath and unlocks the phone.
”if I were outside your house right now, would you find that charming, or pathetic?”
Lofty blinks. He walks over to the window and opens the blinds, looking out. Dom is outside, sitting on the front steps, staring intently at his phone. Lofty immediately steps back, almost falling as he gets his feet tangled in his jeans on the floor. He looks around, frantically, for something to wear, before taking the easy way and just putting on the clothes from yesterday. He runs his hand through his hair as he heads toward the front door, takes a deep breath, and opens it.
Dom looks over his shoulder at the sound, and when he sees Lofty he quickly stands up. They look at each other for a moment, in silence. Then Dom takes two steps up, so that he’s standing right in front of Lofty.
”I’m sober now,” he says simply, and Lofty didn’t expect this to actually happen. So he just nods, and steps to the side, letting Dom inside.
”So, funny thing,” Dom says, as Lofty closes the door behind them and heads into the kitchen. ”I didn’t actually know your address.”
”Oh,” Lofty says. He doesn’t know where to go, or what to do with his hands, so he goes over to the benchtop and grabs the kettle. ”Tea?” he asks, for lack of something better to say.
”Please,” Dom says, and Lofty gratefully busies himself with water, mugs and teabags.
”So, how did you find out, then?” he asks, his back to Dom.
”I called Fletch,” Dom says. ”Which wasn’t popular at six thirty on New Year’s Day, but he managed to find out for me. I owe him a lot of drinks now.”
Lofty just nods. His fingers are trembling as he puts the teabags in the mugs.
”Lofty,” Dom says. ”Could you please just look at me?”
Lofty closes his eyes for a second, and then he turns around. Dom looks as if he hasn’t slept much either. His eyes are slightly swollen, and his hair, well, Lofty can’t really call anyone out on the state of their hair, but it’s less perfect than usual. He’s taken his coat off, and hung it over the back of a chair.
”Look, Lofty, if you’re not interested, then just tell me, and I’ll leave you alone,” Dom says, gripping the back of the chair with his hands tightly. Lofty wants to laugh, because he’s so much more than interested, that’s the whole problem. ”I’ll back off, and I promise I won’t try to kiss you again.”
Lofty raises an eyebrow and Dom smiles, because yeah, that didn’t work last time. ”For real, this time.”
”It’s not that I don’t like you, Dom, you know I do,” he says, and Dom lets go of the chair to take a step closer.
”Then why can’t we give this a chance?” he asks. ”Give us a chance.”
They both jump when the kettle beeps, and Lofty takes the opportunity to buy a few seconds time by pouring the water into the mugs. He hands one of them to Dom, who takes it, but immediately puts it down on the table. Lofty leans back against the benchtop, and keeps his own mug in his hands, ignoring the way it burns his fingers, to keep himself from reaching out to Dom.
”I know that I’m the one who pushed you away first,” Dom continues, when it becomes clear that Lofty isn’t going to say anything. ”After Zosia’s wedding. I just…” He breaks off, and frowns, as if he’s trying to find the right words. ”I got scared when you told me you hadn’t slept with a man before. I wasn’t sure if it was me you were actually interested in, or just the idea of a man.”
”I liked you long before we slept together,” Lofty points out, because surely Dom must have noticed that.
Dom shrugs, for the first time not meeting Lofty’s eyes. ”Yeah, I just have a hard time believing things like that sometimes.”
”Dom,” Lofty says softly. He finally puts his mug down, and reaches out to touch Dom’s arm. ”I always liked you. Even in the beginning, when you were being a git.”
Dom snorts. ”Which time?” he asks and makes a face. ”You caught me at a bad time there. Bad times, I don’t know. I haven’t been at my best.”
”I think you’ve been amazing,” Lofty says truthfully, because he’s never met anyone with Dom’s dedication, his loyalty and resilience. He only knows half of what Dom’s been through this year, but from what he knows, the fact that Dom’s come out of it as well as he has speaks volumes. He vows to tell Dom that one day, because he has a feeling Dom needs to hear it.
Dom purses his lips, the way Lofty recognises he does when he’s trying not to cry. He carefully puts his hand on Lofty’s waist, a gesture now carrying so much weight. This is it, Lofty realises. This is where they come together or break apart.
”I’m a bit in love with you, you know,” Dom says, and Lofty can feel the warmth of his hand through his t-shirt.
”Yeah,” he says, looking down at Dom’s thumb slowly caressing his side. ”Me too. Quite a lot in love, actually.”
”Then who cares what the universe thinks?” Dom says fiercely and Lofty has to look up to meet his eyes. ”Remember what we hoped for last night, a better year?” Dom’s eyes soften, and he smiles a little. ”I can’t think of anything that would make this year better, than spending it with you.”
And Lofty can’t find a response to that, other than ”me too,” which he’s already said, so instead he just leans in to kiss Dom. He’s so close he can almost feel Dom’s eyelashes on his skin, when he suddenly remembers, and quickly pulls back.
”I haven’t brushed my teeth!”
Dom stares at him in disbelief. ”What?”
”I haven’t brushed my teeth today. I just got out of the shower when I got your text.”
”So…?” Dom says slowly.
”I can’t kiss you when I haven’t brushed my teeth. That’s just gross.”
Dom bursts out laughing. ”Lofty, it doesn’t matter.”
”It matters to me,” Lofty insists. ”It’s our first kiss, and…”
”It definitely isn’t,” Dom interrupts.
”Well, it’s a first kiss,” Lofty says, because it is , in a way. ”I don’t want you to think back on it and remember how bad my breath was!”
”Lofty,” Dom says, the expression on his face inexplicably fond. ”You could have eaten an entire raw garlic and I would still want to kiss you right now.”
Lofty wrinkles his nose. ”But…”
”Fine!” Dom says. He picks up Lofty’s mug of tea and hands it to him. ”Drink some of this.”
Lofty does. The teabag is still in it, so it’s beyond bitter, but he swallows obediently. Dom takes the mug from him and takes a sip himself, making a disgusted face.
”There, now we both taste the same,” he says and puts the mug back down. ”Also, we’ve clearly established that I will be in charge of the tea-making in this relationship.”
”Hey, I make a great cup of tea,” Lofty says, because he does, and tries not to grin like a fool due to Dom’s use of the word relationship. ”You’re just very distracting.”
”I’m going to kiss you now,” Dom informs him, and Lofty just nods as Dom leans in. Then again, he pulls away at the last second.
”I may kill you instead,” Dom says pleasantly, and Lofty is so incredibly, stupidly in love with him he can hardly stand it.
”I just realised I never said,” Lofty says, looping his arms around Dom’s neck, drawing him closer, because closer seems imperative right now. ”Happy New Year.”
Dom smiles, his eyes crinkling, his hands tightening on Lofty’s waist. ”Happy New Year.”