It had been a hectic shift, interrupted now and then by brief moments of peace and quiet. Christian preferred it when it was busy. It suited him, acted as a dampener to his emotions, fitted in with his need to be distracted; in short, he didn't have time to think. And no time to think meant no time to register just how desperately he missed Aaron.
Gradually, as late evening morphed into night, and the quiet moments linked themselves together to create longer intervals, Christian felt a strange mood come over him -- an odd mixture of weariness and restlessness. He grabbed a drink from the cooler and downed it in a few short gulps, then went to the bathroom, splashed his face with water, and prepared himself for the last sixty minutes or so of his shift.
As he walked back into the kitchen, Traci slouched towards him, carrying someone's order on a large tray.
"Where did you get to?" she asked.
"Bathroom. What's with you?"
"Trust me, you don't wanna know!"
"Are we taking that tray somewhere?"
"It's for that guy at the corner table. Fuck! Talk about indecision. He scanned the menu like twenty times. Could you take it, Chris? He doesn't like me. And don't say he does. I can sense these things."
"Okay, okay!" Christian replied, taking the tray from her. "I'll do it."
It wasn't heavy. Christian must have carried the same load a thousand times or more during his time at Lila's, but what he saw as he stepped through the double doors and into the restaurant caused his hands to lose their grip on it entirely...
The clatter of the tray as it hit the floor echoed about him, but he barely heard it. The world seemed to stop spinning as his body stood stock-still and his brain tried to adjust to what his eyes appeared to be seeing.
He'd recently begun to believe in ghosts, had always believed in angels. But was this a miracle?
Lila spoke, and Christian replied, but afterwards he couldn't quite recall what they'd said. Then reality collided with a waking dream as the vision before him spoke to him too, and he made his way towards it. He felt real arms wrap themselves around him, pulling him close, holding him tight; the fabric of Aaron's sweater was sweetly soft and comforting, the pounding heart beneath it so real, so alive! Then everything around them seemed to disappear, and all Christian could see and hear was Aaron, all he could feel was Aaron.
They stood together for what seemed like an age, there in Lila’s restaurant, holding on to one another for dear life, tears wetting their cheeks.
“I--I thought you were dead,” Christian said at last, and he felt Aaron's hold on him tighten. "Are you real?"
Aaron nodded, as though needing to prove it to himself as well as to Christian, then he murmured something that Christian didn't quite catch; his breath felt warm against Christian’s neck.
A voice from outside their circle of two partially burst their bubble, and then gradually seeped through.
“Why don’t you boys go through to the office?" Lila suggested. "Christian, we can manage without you for the rest of your shift.”
"Are you sure?” Chris asked, already hurriedly taking off his apron.
Lila’s eyes were warm with compassion as she looked from Christian to Aaron and back again. “Quite sure, darling.”
“Thanks, Miss M. I'll make up the time.”
"No need," Lila replied. "What's an hour on the clock compared to a lifetime?"
Chris nodded, and smiled his gratitude, then he took Aaron's hand and lead him through the double doors and into the calm, russet-hued haven that was Lila's office. Once the door to the office was closed behind them, he took Aaron in his arms again and hugged and kissed him, breathing him in like fresh spring air. Then they sat down, close together with their knees touching.
“Are you okay?” Christian asked.
Aaron didn’t answer him, just held out his hand. Christian gratefully took it. He leaned forward in his chair, Aaron mirrored him, and their interlaced fingers settled against Christian's thigh. Aaron's hand felt soft and cool, and Christian felt sure his was clammy in comparison.
“Are you hungry? Thirsty?” he asked. “Shall I get you some water?”
“No. Thanks. I’m fine. Lila got me a coke.”
"You've met before," Christian said. He smiled. "I had no idea."
"When I was out proselytizing with Ryder, delivering pamphlets. She was at the hospital, and she was upset, and I just... talked to her. I'm not really sure how much I helped her, but she gave me her card and said I should come by sometime, so I did."
"Oh god, Aaron. I'm so glad."
Aaron nodded, seeming to frown and smile all at once. As he shifted in his seat, his sleeve rode up enough to reveal a raised scar marking the skin beneath. Christian saw it, and then pretended he hadn't. That could wait. Everything could wait. Discussions, questions, decisions, plans... Everything. Everything except his love for Aaron. Christian took a breath, and held on tighter to Aaron’s hand.
“Okay," he said at last, sitting up straight, resolving to be upbeat. He ran his free hand through his hair and continued: “All right. Well… I guess I should get changed. Then we could go. I have a new apartment. It’s small, but pretty cool. You know, I could squeeze you in, if you'd like…” He smiled, tapped his knee gently against Aaron’s. “What d’you say?”
Aaron smiled back. It was a small, beautiful smile, with no frown this time to darken it; Christian felt himself ache with longing. “Okay,” Aaron said.
"Okay. Let's see if this'll work.” Christian turned the key in the lock, and pushed the door open. “It sticks a little sometimes,” he explained. “But not tonight! And we're in. You set your bag down. I’ll get the lights on, so we can see what we're doing in here.” He flicked the light switch, then tossed some magazines off the couch. “The bedroom and the sitting room are pretty much the same thing here. Well, I did warn you it was small!"
"It's nice," Aaron said, looking around him.
"Well, it'll do... I couldn't stay in the other place, not after--"
Aaron looked down at the floor, his fingers playing with the hem of his sweater. Christian continued, and his voice sounded monotonous to his own ear as he tried to keep his wits about him.
"It's quite close to work, and it's reasonable rent for this side of town; it's pretty small, but it's an okay size for one -- or two -- so..." he swallowed, and then cleared his throat. "Anyway... Can I get you something to drink now, Aaron?”
"Maybe a glass of water?"
Aaron shook his head.
"Well, I need a coffee. I won't be long. You make yourself at home, okay?"
Aaron nodded, his fingers still pulling at the hem of his sweater. “Thanks.”
Christian made his coffee with trembling hands, in spite of his best endeavours to be cool. He leaned against the tiled wall of the kitchen while it brewed, his eyes closed, and all the while his mind reeled with the enormity of the situation.
Aaron’s alive. He came back to me. He’s sitting on my bed. Right now. Aaron isn’t dead. He’s alive. And so am I. So am I… God, I love him so much…
“Aaron, are you hungry yet?" he called out as he opened his eyes, his steady voice belying the fact he was wiping a tear from his cheek.
“Maybe later, huh?”
"All righty," Chris said, as he brought in his coffee and some water for Aaron. "Here you go."
Christian placed the mug and glass beside the bed, then he sat down and took Aaron's hand in both of his. Once again, the world seemed to come to a standstill as the room fell silent around them. Chris had never been lost for words before Aaron came into his life. He’d always been so sure of himself, so full of easy chatter. But now, sitting here with love held in both hands, he felt the words just slip away from him. It was some time before he found his voice again, and even then it was almost a whisper.
“I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am right now, Aaron. This… It’s… It’s totally amazing. It’s-”
Chris nodded. “Yeah.”
Aaron returned the smile Christian gave him, but Christian saw the shards of pain and loss in Aaron’s eyes, and his own heart hurt with the knowledge of it.
“Do you want to tell me?" he said, the question coming out before he had a chance to stop it. "What happened. When you went home."
Aaron looked down into his lap, to Chris’s hands enveloping his, and the beginnings of a frown etched its way across his brow.
"I talked about... parts of it. Earlier, with Lila. I felt like I was burdening her with it. Of course she said that I wasn't. I'll tell you about it some day, but not tonight. I just want to be with you. Is that okay?"
Christian nodded. “Yes, it's okay. Whatever you want, Aaron,” he said, and reached up to caress Aaron’s cheek, letting his fingers stray up into his fair hair, to brush against the scalp beneath. It can wait, he reminded himself. Everything can wait, except...
He leaned closer, then closer still, bridging the gap between them as their lips met in a kiss that spoke for both of them, finding the words they themselves couldn’t find.
Memories of their one night together came flooding back, fuelling Christian's emotions. He longed to ease Aaron down against soft covers once again, to touch him, to make love to him. He recalled how beautiful it had been to hold Aaron’s naked body against his own, to feel his touch, to hear him softly moan...
And now Aaron was pulling on Christian's belt, tugging at the buckle as they kissed. Christian pulled away, taking Aaron’s hands between his own again and kissing them. Aaron looked back at him with eyes that hinted at those memories too. Weary with travel, but so alight with warmth, and need, and yearning. Once again, Christian felt himself ache with love for him.
“Are you sure you want to, Aaron?" he said. "We could just slee-”
His words were silenced by soft, eager lips against his own, and the buttons on his shirt being tugged. He closed his eyes, relishing the feel of Aaron, his Aaron, here with him now, with him in body and soul, wanting him, needing him, loving him, and he almost wept with relief. A few more awkward motions later, wriggling out of clothing and underwear and kicking it all away, they were lying skin against skin, their naked bodies connected all the way from lips to toes.
They broke away from their kiss, taking a moment to gaze at one another in mutual trust and admiration before Christian began to move, tracing a tender, sensual path across his lover’s body. His lips followed where his hands lead them, covering Aaron's soft skin in open-mouthed kisses, from lips, to neck, to chest. Aaron writhed and moaned as Christian enclosed first one nipple, then the other, with his lips, then gently tugged with his teeth before swiping a hot and eager tongue over each one until they peaked, hard and flushed and ripe.
The desire was almost overwhelming, and it brought with it a caring diligence that Chris had never really known before Aaron. He’d always put sex in a carnal, physical place, chasing the end result: the sweet and sticky climax, one more conquest jotted down in his journal. But now, with love attached, there was a new element involved, one that happily mixed with the familiar, primal need to come. It was the need to make each moment last, to keep Aaron in his arms for as long as he could have him, watching the changes in his lovely face, hearing the murmurs of pleasure on those pretty lips, that let him know he was doing it right.
Their lips met again as they moved against one another, building up a beautiful and delicious friction, their cocks held firm and hard between them. Aaron’s hands settled on Christian’s upper arms and he dimpled the flesh there with his fingertips, as his tongue sought out Christian's in the wet heat of their mouths. Christian thrust against him, creating more friction, bringing them both closer to orgasm. He imagined how it would feel to be inside Aaron, to feel his heat and his tightness. He imagined all the things he could do to make Aaron feel good, all the ways he could love him... But, tonight, this was enough. This was perfection. And the tiny gasps coming from Aaron's mouth, the low moan and the sudden silent shot of fluid, warm against Christian's belly, told him it was enough for Aaron too. Christian came soon afterwards, with Aaron still enveloped in his arms. As the waves of pleasure subsided, and he lay his head against his new lover’s chest for only the second time since they met, Chris knew that he’d never known such peace.
They lay like that for a while, letting their hearts slow and their minds clear. But soon a movement began, and then it was Christian who was holding Aaron, with the soothing warmth of Aaron’s steady breathing against his chest. When a sigh broke the rhythm, Christian placed a kiss against the fair hair he was stroking.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
"Are you sure?"
"I didn't... Nothing hurt, did it? I didn't do anything wrong?"
A wet trickle ran slow and warm across Christian's chest; Aaron was crying.
A sob came then, from somewhere deep inside; it made Aaron tremble.
"My sweet Aaron," Christian whispered, as he rocked Aaron gently in his arms. “It’s okay. I’ve got you... It's okay..."
Christian felt hot tears welling in his own eyes once more, and he let them fall.
“I’ve got you,” he said again. “And I’m not going to let you go.”