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The Holiday Exchange Program

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David Jacobs is not, by nature, an impulsive person. He has always been the most cautious of the Jacobs children, a middle child who generally played the voice of reason between his two more adventurous siblings. He always had good grades in school, graduated with honors, and never caused trouble. He found a decent, respectable job, bought a practical little house, and dated a good, regular guy. Everything he had done with his life fell in line with The Plan.

He's still thinking about how much he never does things like this as he climbs out of the taxi on the first Friday of December, his suitcase in one hand and the emailed instructions from the home exchange website in the other.

The apartment complex where Katherine Plumber - his exchange partner in this adventure - lives is enormous, fitting in well with the towering Manhattan skyline. Davey's heart hammers in his chest as he walks into the lobby, where a guard behind the security desk gives him a curious look. Part of him still expects this to be some vicious prank, but the passcode he was given works on the elevator. It lets him out in a little foyer outside the penthouse, and the door key is hidden below the large potted plant exactly where he was told.

Taking a deep breath, Davey unlocks the door and lets himself into his new home for the next two weeks. It is somehow even more incredible than the photos; the open floor plan is nicely arranged so that the row of wide windows illuminate everything. The appliances in the kitchen are all pristine, and a small balcony gives a spectacular view of the city.

It would look like a photo from a brochure were it not for the scattered personal touches that show someone lives here. There's a snowflake-patterned throw blanket folded over an arm of the sofa, and an end table by the front door holds a bowl full of pocket detritus. A large mug with the logo of what he assumes is a local bar sits on the desk, filled with an assortment of pens. As Davey moves down the hall toward the bedroom, he can see a collection of photo frames tacked to the walls on either side.

All in all, the place is a hundred times better than he expected. He once again can't imagine why on earth a girl who lives like this would be interested in staying in his boring suburban cottage for a week. That being said, it is precisely what he was looking for when he half-drunkenly Googled ways to have a cheap vacation escape. Now he gets to spend two weeks exploring the Big Apple from the comfort of a glamorous apartment instead of a lousy and expensive hotel room. 

And more importantly, he's a couple hundred miles away from home and everything that comes with it.

Depositing his things in the bedroom, Davey takes a quick moment to freshen up and then heads back out. He's still got the evening left, and there's plenty to see in the big city.

By the time he makes it back to the apartment, it's night, the city illuminated by cascades of brightly colored neon and festive Christmas lights. 

Davey settles down in the living room with dinner that he picked up from a nearby kosher deli, sitting on the floor at the coffee table because he's conscious of making a mess in someone else's home. He manages to find a vaguely interesting documentary about holiday traditions in America on television to play in the background. It doesn't really matter to him what he's watching; it's purely to keep his brain busy so he doesn't think about why he's in New York in the first place.

The documentary thankfully ends up being reasonably interesting, and he winds up absorbed in it by the time he finishes his dinner. Davey migrates up onto the sofa - even comfier than it looks - and curls up under the throw blanket to watch the rest of it. It doesn't take long before the combination of travel and walking around the city catches up to him, and he gradually nods off.

A pounding at the door jerks Davey roughly from his sleep, and he spends a disoriented minute trying to figure out where exactly he is. Once he does, he glances at the clock on his phone: 1:47 am. Who's knocking at the door at almost two in the morning? Does Katherine Plumber have some angry ex-boyfriend that she left the city to hide from? Is Davey about to get murdered in the crossfire of some insane domestic dispute?

"Kat? Ya forgot to put the key back again," a voice calls from the other side of the door. It's decidedly male, but he doesn't sound angry. Inebriated, maybe, but generally amused. It doesn't change the fact that Davey has no idea who this person is or what they want. "Kitty Kat?" the voice says in a slurred sing-song. "C'mon, please, I let Race pick drinks. Ya don't lemme in, I'mma puke on ya flowers."

Davey has no idea what's happening, but he really doesn't want to have to explain to Katherine Plumber that he let someone defile her potted plants. Whether his anxiety likes it or not, he knows the best option is to just tell the guy that Katherine isn't home. Davey leans in to peer through the peephole on the door. It's difficult to make out any details because the guy is leaning against the frame, but the edge of his face that Davey can see doesn't look all that intimidating. Hopefully.

Bracing himself, Davey opens the door just as the person on the other side raises their hand to knock again. Davey ducks, startled, and the guy flails a bit before he catches his balance against the doorframe. "You ain't Kat."

"No, I'm not," Davey agrees as he straightens up, and then he finally gets a good look at the other man and promptly forgets how to talk. The man in the doorway is devastatingly handsome, even while clearly drunk, casual confidence behind his well-cut jaw and vaguely disheveled clothes. He's broad-shouldered and almost as tall as Davey, although he's leaning heavily into the door frame at the moment. Davey has to take a step back before he feels like he can breathe.

The man's brow furrows suspiciously, and he scowls, even though he looks like he's about to fall over. "'Kay, so who the hell are you then?" he says, bright chocolate-brown eyes narrowing.

"Oh, uh, Katherine and I did a home exchange," Davey scrambles to explain; while the guy doesn't look like he'd put up much of a fight in his current condition, Davey isn't inclined to find out. After all, there's a reason New Yorkers have a reputation. "So I'm staying here, and she's staying at my house for a couple weeks."

"Home exchange?" the guy echoes uncomprehendingly, and then, abruptly, he laughs. "Christ, Kat."

"I'm sorry, I'd assumed she'd told people," Davey says, hovering awkwardly in the entryway.

"Yeah, well, that's Kat for ya," the guy says, amused. He winces and lets out a slow breath, and Davey can't stop himself from wrinkling his nose at the heavy smell of alcohol. The guy is looking distinctly unsteady now, and he swallows, grimacing. "Look, I don't wanna intrude, but I ain't-" He makes a vague gesture in the direction of his stomach, and Davey understands immediately.

Any self-preservation instincts that Davey might have about letting a stranger in are completely outweighed at that moment by his desire to not be vomited on by said stranger. Davey hastily steps back, and the guy staggers passed him with a grateful nod, heading straight for the door to the bathroom. It's only shut behind him a few seconds before Davey can distinctly hear the sound of someone being sick.

Ducking into the living room where he can't hear the sounds, Davey busies himself with cleaning up the last of the empty food containers from his dinner. It's as he's passing the fridge that something catches his eye, and he pauses. One of the photographs stuck to the surface features the mystery man from the hall with his arm slung across the shoulders of a pretty redhead that Davey recognizes as Katherine from her account photo. Actually, on closer inspection, the drunk guy's in quite a few of them. 

At least now Davey knows the guy is actually a friend of hers and he wasn't just scammed.

Davey has resorted to methodically refolding the throw blanket by the time the bathroom door opens, and the other man comes around to prop his weight against the wall. He's less pale than before but still doesn't look very steady, eyes bloodshot and heavy. "Sorry, 'bout that," the guy says and gestures over a shoulder sheepishly. "An' all this, really. Musta woke you up."

"Actually, you might have saved me from an awful crick in my neck," Davey admits, trying to break the tension. "Fell asleep on the sofa. That isn't as comfortable as it was when I was a kid."

The guy snorts, a quick smile flashing over his features. "Well, I can say from 'sperience, as far as sofas go, Kat's is cush," he says. Davey feels something drop in his stomach; is this guy Katherine's boyfriend? But then why wouldn't she have told him she was going out of town? The guy shuffles and rubs the back of his neck nervously. "Oh, uh, anyway, I should pro'lly go. Letcha go back to sleep."

"You can barely stand," Davey says, noting the way the guy hasn't shifted his weight off the wall. "Are you sure you're okay to get home?" 

The stranger makes a dismissive hand wave, but Davey's warring with himself. Every logical cell in his body is telling him to get this stranger out of here, but there's something in him that wants this man to stay. And it's not (just) because he's the most attractive guy Davey's met in a while. There's something deeper to it. This guy intrigues him, somehow, like one of those optical illusions where he can see more than one image and isn't sure which one's right.

On top of that, a rational part of his brain says that it's probably not safe for a guy who can barely walk to try and get home on his own, especially when it's below freezing outside.

Clearing his throat, Davey draws himself up. "Look, it's not fair to make you leave just because your friend didn't tell you she'd be gone," he says. The guy lifts an eyebrow questioningly like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. "At the very least, you should sit down and have some water, sober yourself up a bit before you go anywhere. I think Katherine will be angry with me if I let one of her friends freeze to death in some alley."

"Ya sure you don't mind?" the guy asks. He's looking so desperately hopeful toward the sofa now that Davey doesn't have the heart to deny him. When Davey nods, the guy beams. "Youse a saint."

"Just don't be a serial killer who'll murder me in my sleep, please," Davey says, prompting the guy to laugh, a loud, unabashed explosion of mirth. Davey slips into the kitchen and checks a couple of cupboards until he finds a glass, then fills it from the tap. By the time he goes back into the living room, the guy is slumped on the sofa cushions, his head tipped against the back and eyes half-closed. He cracks one eye open further at the sound of Davey's footsteps. "Here, this'll help."

The guy sits up and accepts the glass. "Thanks. Really, youse great," he says and promptly drains the glass in one go. Davey turns and heads for the hall, but he's stopped when the guy raises his voice. "Wait, what's ya name 'gain?"

"Davey," he supplies.

And the guy on the sofa grins, a warm, heart-stopping smile. "Nice ta meetcha Davey. I'm Jack." Then, without another word, the guy flops over to stretch out across the sofa, flinging an arm over his face.

Davey is fighting a smile as he goes into the bedroom and starts getting ready for bed. It's an unexpected turn of events, and he's still not entirely sure what's happening, but there's just something about this guy - Jack. He makes Davey want to know more, and this feeling of the unknown and intrigue is something Davey's uneventful life hasn't had in a long time.

However, since he's not completely insane, Davey still makes sure to lock the bedroom door before going to bed. Just in case.

Davey wakes to the smell of fresh coffee, and he grudgingly drags himself from beneath the blankets out of curiosity. In the main room of the apartment, he's greeted to the sight of his mystery guest Jack at the stove, carefully prodding something in the frying pan. The coffee maker in the corner - a contraption fancier than Davey's computer, honestly - is bubbling cheerfully, two large blue mugs sitting next to it in waiting. At the sound of the door, Jack looks over his shoulder and fixes Davey with another one of those lazy grins.

"Mornin'," he says and nods toward the stools at the breakfast bar.

"You're surprisingly chipper for someone who couldn't see straight a few hours ago," Davey says, amused despite himself.

Jack bites his lip, a hint of self-consciousness slipping across his features. "Yeah, about that," he says. "Wanted to apologize. I didn't 'xactly make a great first impression."

Davey chuckles under his breath. "Memorable, though."

"Yeah, I s'pose so," Jack agrees. He's distracted for a moment by the frying pan, then turns and presents a plate to Davey with a still-steaming pancake on top. "So, this's me sayin' sorry."

"With pancakes?" Davey asks, surprised.

"And coffee," Jack says, nodding toward the machine. "Soon as it's finished. When I drunk-crash someone's vacation in the middle the night, least I can do is make a fella breakfast." He emerges from the fridge with a bottle of syrup before going back to the stove.

Smiling, Davey sets about preparing his pancake. "Do you do it that often?"

Jack snorts. "Nah, this's a first for me, ach'lly," he says. Without the slur, his distinctive New York accent is still strong but much easier to understand. It lends a slight brogue to his words that Davey finds far sexier than he probably should, considering the situation. "Normally when I show up middle the night, I just get Kat's stink-eye. Don't much find, ya know," Jack glances over his shoulder and smiles, "you."

Something lurches in Davey's stomach, and he busies himself with the pancake to hide the heat that blossoms in his cheeks. Is Jack flirting with him? "So, um, you and Katherine are close?"

"Been best friends since high school," Jack says conversationally, going over to pour the coffee. "Only reason she's nice 'nough to let me crash here when I been drinkin' with the fellas, 'cause it's way closer than my place." He moves around the kitchen with the ease of familiarity, clearly accustomed to spending time there. In a matter of moments, a mug of fresh coffee is deposited in front of Davey. Jack holds up a sugar bowl questioningly, and Davey shakes his head. 

"Oh, she says hi, by the way," Jack adds, propping a hip against the countertop. "Texted her to make sure you weren't some serial killa with a weird story."

"Fair enough," Davey says, nodding. "I was going to do the same thing, but then I saw you're in the photos on her fridge."

Jack glances over at the fridge door and chuckles. "Ah, nice catch," he says, nodding. "Anyway, she says she loves ya house, and you have a great - bathtub?" 

Davey smiles into his coffee. "I've got one of those old-fashioned claw-footed tubs," he explains, and Jack makes a noise of comprehension. "It's probably my favorite thing about my house." 

Laughing, Jack shakes his head. "I gotta say, this tradin' houses thing, I didn't even know that was a thing people did. Ya just up and move into a stranger's house for a bit? How d'you get into somethin' like that?"

"Honestly? Too much wine and Google," Davey admits self-consciously. "Was just lookin' for a way to take a vacation on a budget, and I found the site. Katherine messaged me, and here I am."

"Huh. That's wild." Jack sets up his own plate and coffee, and he comes around the breakfast bar to take the other empty stool. Neither of them says anything until Jack is finished doctoring his coffee with a rather ungodly amount of sugar. "So you're just up here by ya'self?" he asks curiously. "You just had some impulse to spend Christmas in New York?"

Davey can feel the heat starting on the back of his neck again. "I'm actually going home the week before."

Jack blinks and frowns. "That makes even less sense then," he says. "I mean, just spending the weeks between Thanksgivin' and Christmas? Kinda random, ain't it?"

"It was just the way the timing worked out," Davey says with an anxious shrug, his voice taking on a defensive edge. "I was just looking to get away for a bit, and Katherine said she needed to be back by the eighteenth. It was an impulse thing, I just sort of took what I could get."

Jack draws back, obviously caught off-guard, and then he lifts a hand in a sign of surrender. "Right, sorry, ain't my place." The silence stretches, uncertain, between them before Jack clears his throat. "You wanna be alone? 'Cause I can go, I didn't mean ta-"

"No, it's fine," Davey says quickly, and then blushes when he realizes how fast he said that. Jack, on the other hand, looks pleased. "Sorry, I didn't mean to be snippy. I just - I needed some time away from home, that's all. And I'm actually Jewish, so I don't care about missing Christmas. I've just always wanted to see New York."

"You never been before?" Jack asks. When Davey shakes his head, Jack's face breaks out into an eager smile. "Oh, you're in for a good time. This city's got all kindsa great things to see if ya know what you're lookin' for. In fact," he pauses, and there's something almost daring to his expression now as he meets Davey's gaze, "ya got plans or ya down for a tour from a real local?"

And Davey, who's never risen to a dare in his life, finds he really can't say no to a challenge like that.

For someone who's struggled to make friends his entire life, it amazes Davey just how easy it is to be around Jack. He still has moments of awkwardness and nerves, but for the most part, there's no pressure when it comes to Jack. It might have something to do with the fact that he knows there's no permanence to it, that after this vacation is over, he's never going to see this guy again. Still, Davey feels more comfortable being himself than he has in a long time.

It also doesn't hurt that Jack is an incredible flirt, and even Davey isn't resistant to the guy's charm.

The tour turns out to be great as well, a far better time than Davey could've had on his own. Jack is a lifelong citizen of New York, so he knows all of the secret ways to get around and avoid the worst of the traffic or tourists. Davey still gets to see a lot of the usual sightseeing spots that every tourist wants to see, but for the most part, they do it from a better vantage point up the side of a building or a less crowded spot further down the road.

On top of the tourist traps, Jack also makes it a point to show Davey what he considers to be hidden gems in the city.

A neighborhood mural that's been painted by several generations of residents in the building, decades of art layering through each other.

A nondescript office building that still bears the signs of having once been the home of a Prohibition-era speakeasy.

A spot in Grand Central Station where Davey can hear Jack talking to him from the opposite side of the crowded station as if he was right next to him.

An actual piece of the Berlin Wall, casually on display in the plaza of a business skyscraper.

They stop at midday for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall deli called Jacobi's that Jack insists has the best sandwiches on all of Manhattan Island. The place is charming, with wood paneling and high windows of stained glass that cast jagged shapes of color over the booths and tables. There are framed photographs all along the walls, snapshots of the deli over the years and the famous patrons that visited. Davey is staring at the one above their table when Jack returns with their food.

"Is that Teddy Roosevelt?" Davey asks in awe.

Jack glances up at the photo and hums. "Yeah, I think Kenny says that's back when he was governor," he responds. Davey looks over in surprise. "Family business," Jack explains. "Guess it was Kenny's grandad owned the place back then. Or maybe great-grandad, I can never remember. Place is more 'an a hundred years old."

"That's so cool," Davey says. He looks down at the plate that's been deposited in front of him, and his stomach rumbles eagerly. Jack wasn't wrong, the food looks delicious. "So, do you do this tour guide thing full-time?" he asks curiously.

"Nah, just in special cases," Jack replies, grinning cheekily. Davey fights back a blush. "I'm an artist, ach'lly." Davey raises his eyebrows, and Jack's smile turns self-deprecating. "I know, New York cliché, huh, doin' the starvin' artist thing? I did that for a while, but now I got a gig doin' the political cartoons at the World."

Davey coughs, choking on his drink slightly. "The World? You're kidding. You work at one of the biggest newspapers in the city?"

"Yeah, although it doesn't normally get that kinda reaction," Jack says with a questioning look.

"Sorry," Davey says, and this time, he knows he's blushing for real. "It's just - I'm a journalist, back home. It's just a little local paper, nothing exciting, but I remember dreaming about writing for some big paper back in school."

Jack laughs. "You should talk to Kat some more, then," he says. "Youse two gotta lot in common. She's a writer for the Sun." Davey makes an incredulous noise that propels Jack into a fit of giggles. "Hey, now I know youse into papes, I can show ya some more stuff in the city. Know where all the paper offices are. And can show ya the site of the Newsboys' Strike and stuff like that. Did a big school project 'bout it, so I know all kindsa nerdy facts 'bout it."

"That would be so great," Davey says eagerly.

Before he can say more, the moment is broken by a phone ringing, and Jack digs his cell out of his pocket. Davey's eyes catch the faintest glimpse of the name 'Charlie' on the caller ID as Jack lifts the phone. "Oh, sorry, I gotta take this," Jack says, and he stands to move away from the table. 

Davey tries not to stare, but he can't help but sneak glances at where Jack is hovering near the door. He's too far away to make out any of the conversation, but there's a soft, genuine smile on his face as Jack talks to whoever is on the other end. A boyfriend? Or girlfriend, even; Charlie is a girl's name these days too.

Determined to distract himself from the rise of questions in his head, Davey pulls out his own phone - which he's deliberately left on silent - and checks his notifications. There are two texts from his little brother, Les, telling him about his plans for the winter break with his new girlfriend. A text from his dad, telling him to call his mother soon because she's starting to fuss and it's getting annoying. And then two missed texts under the heading of 'Darcy.' Scowling, Davey swipes those ones away without reading them.

"Hey, sorry 'bout that," Jack says as he drops back into the chair opposite. Davey jumps and hastily puts his phone away. "So I was thinkin', once it starts gettin' dark, we should swing by Rockefeller. I know youse Jewish so you pro'lly don't care 'bout the big Christmas tree thing, but they got this garden on the roof, and the view is a beaut."

"Sounds great," Davey agrees, and Jack smiles. He doesn't need to be thinking about Darcy, not when he's got a guy like this right in front of him and no responsibilities or obligations. Then what Jack said really sinks in, and Davey frowns. "Wait, there's a garden on the roof?"

Davey's never been much of a drinker, and he knows he's already more than halfway to drunk by the time he and Jack collapse onto the sofa in Katherine's apartment, both of them giggling for a reason that Davey can't quite remember. When Davey mentioned that he wasn't a beer drinker, Jack insisted that it was just because he'd never had a proper New York brew and set out to prove him wrong. 

Davey still doesn't like beer, but he can at least say he's given it a good college try.

Jack settles into the cushions with a contented sigh, draping his arms across the back of the sofa. Davey can feel an electric tingle where Jack's arm is almost touching the back of his neck. "Ya know what, I don't get it," Jack says abruptly. Davey raises an eyebrow in question. "You. You really don't got someone back home? It just don't make sense, a fella like you on his own. I mean, what ain't to like?"

Despite the burning in his cheeks, Davey scoffs. "I've been told I'm socially awkward," he says dryly.

Jack blows a raspberry, his hand waving dismissively. "Medda, my foster ma, she always says if folks think youse weird, they're just the wrong people." The thought puts a smile on Davey's face. "So that ain't it, then. What else ya got?"

"I can be a know-it-all."

"So's Kat, and she does fine," says Jack.

"Apparently I'm boring."

The sudden thickness in his voice catches Davey as much by surprise as it does Jack. Davey swallows against the lump in his throat, determinedly trying to force those feelings back. He's not thinking about it; he's not going to let it ruin his night. 

Jack obviously misses that mental memo because he twists to face Davey better, frowning. "Who says that?"

"Nothing, it's stupid," Davey says, shaking his head. He tells himself that if he doesn't think about the itch at the corners of his eyes, it doesn't exist.  

Jack snorts skeptically. "Clearly it ain't nothin'. Hey, c'mon," he puts a hand on Davey's knee, warm and reassuring, "talk ta' me."

"It's my boyfriend," Davey admits. "Well, ex- now, I mean. I dunno. I thought everything was fine. We were together two years, and it wasn't like it was a fairy tale or anything, but we were good together, you know? I thought we were good. Then outta the blue, he breaks it off. A day before Thanksgiving, first time I was supposed to go join his family for it. He up and says I'm too boring. That he needs someone with dreams and ambitions, that he can see himself working toward a future with, and apparently, that's not me."

The silence falls heavy in the apartment, the white noise of the city distant, until it's finally broken by Jack scoffing loudly. "Fuck him, I ain't buyin' it."

Davey laughs weakly. "I dunno, maybe he was right," he says. "I mean, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I am kinda boring. I'm just this guy with a normal little house and a normal little job. I go to work, and I go home, and that's about it. I can't remember the last time I ever did anything exciting, at least when I was the one to choose it. Normally it was just me getting dragged along by my sister or something."

"What 'bout this?" Jack asks. "Spur'a the moment vacation in the big city, stayin' in a stranger's place. That's excitin'."

"An anomaly," Davey says with a glib gesture. "Out of character moment. And I was like super drunk when I made the account."

"Nope, still ain't buyin' it." Davey opens his mouth to argue, but Jack stops him by squeezing his knee, giving him a pointed look. "Tigers don't change their spots, yeah?"

Davey can't stop the giggles. "Tigers don't have spots."

Jack frowns. "What? Oh, yeah, I meant stripes. Or cheetahs. I dunno, I heard it both ways. Anyway, what I mean is, you doin' this, that ain't you suddenly getting spots instead'a stripes. That's gotta be somethin' that's always been there. So maybe ya ain't used it a lot, but it's still there.

"'Cause see, the Davey I know, he ain't borin'. He goes to New York 'tween two big holidays but don't stay for neither, just because. And he lets a handsome stranger sleep on the sofa, even afta he's been pukin' his guts. And he runs 'round New York lookin' at it like it's magic, 'cause even if he don't wanna admit it, he's still that kid who studied newspaper in school and dreamed of writing for the Times or somethin'. That Davey, he ain't even close to borin'."

As they stare each other down, Davey can feel his heart hammering so hard he can barely breathe. There's something humming, wild and electric, in the air. Something new and passionate and tentative in the way Davey's only ever heard of in books and movies. Jack meets his gaze, strong and sure like he actually believes, with one hundred percent certainty, every word he said.

And Davey, who has never felt so reckless, decides to do one more impulsive thing: hooking a hand around the back of Jack's neck, Davey drags him up into a kiss.

It's messy and frantic, an abrupt clash of teeth and tongues that taste like hops and bar pretzels, before they finally settle into something of a balance. From there, things spiral. Jack pulls Davey into his lap, and then two minutes later seems to decide that's not enough because he flips them to press Davey down into the sofa. Fingers tangle in fabric and hair, desperately trying to get closer, grasping at whatever they can.

"Davey," Jack groans, and his name has never sounded so deliciously sinful. "This is - are you sure? 'Cause I can't-"

"It's fine," Davey breathes because somehow he just knows exactly what Jack's trying to say. He's not looking for a relationship; right now, at this moment, Davey just wants to know what it feels like to be cherished the way Jack's eyes are promising. To feel needed the way Darcy never made him feel. "I don't do long-distance." 

Jack moans and pulls Davey closer, meshing their lips together again. And this time, when Davey breaks the kiss, it's only long enough to pant one word against Jack's jaw. "Bedroom."