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The Misadventures of the Secret Anonymous Gift Exchangers

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~

“Gather round, bitches,” Race announced, as people began to migrate into the living room and settle on the ground or on couches or chairs.

“There are children in the room, asshole,” Spot said, throwing himself onto the couch beside him.

“Sorry,” Race said, with a nervous look at Les, and then at Sarah and Davey, both of whom were looking at him with murder in their eyes. “I meant, um, assholes.”

“That’s not any better,” Davey grumbled, but Sarah shrugged.

“I’ve heard worse,” Les volunteered, and about half the room developed a sudden interest in their shoes as Davey’s eyes seemed to ignite with rage.

“And just where-“ he began, but Jack cut him off, clearing his throat loudly.

“So!” he said, with a terribly obvious smile that no one bought for a second (Hell, Jack had probably taught Les all those words). “Race, what time is it?”

“Alright, it’s time for us to draw names for our Annual Secret Santa Gift Exchange,” Race said. He looked around. “Jack, gimme your hat.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

Grumbling and complaining, Jack passed over his baseball cap. Race then looked inside the hat, as if disappointed that it didn’t come already with their names inside. “I’m gonna need some paper to write all your names down and stick them in here…”

“Already done.” Katherine handed him a piece of paper. “All our names are on there. You just need to rip it into individual slips.”

“Hallelujah,” Spot said dryly. “At least someone’s on top of their game tonight.”

“Hush, you,” Race snapped. “What would I do without you, Plumber?”

“Crash and burn,” she said cheerfully. Across the room, Sarah snorted loudly.

“Alright, you all know the rules,” Race said, as Spot ripped the paper into little slips and placed them in Jack’s hat. “No switching names with anyone. No complaining. You’ve got to get a gift for your Secret Santa over five dollars, Finch, and… um, what am I forgetting?”

“Don’t tell anyone,” Crutchie added, and, possibly without meaning to, all eyes shifted to Snitch.

“I’m getting better at the whole secret-keeping thing,” he grumbled defensively, looking at his lap.

“You certainly are,” said Romeo cheerfully, for whom the surprise had been spoiled last year when Snitch had revealed that he had no idea what to get for Romeo.

“And you’ve got to have it ready by  New Year’s Eve,” put in Jack. “That’s when we’ll all meet at Race’s apartment for our New Year’s party.”

“Any questions?” Race asked, as the last of the pieces of paper was put into the baseball cap.

Davey raised a tentative hand. “Um, why are we doing this now? Shouldn’t we have done it during, like, the Christmas season?”

“We don’t all celebrate Christmas,” Spot grumbled.

“Amen to that,” said Sarah.

“And yet why we kept the name Secret Santa when Santa is a Christmas-related figure, I’ll never understand,” Romeo said.

“Because Secret Santa sounds a hell of a lot better than Secret Anonymous Gift Exchangers,” Race snapped.

“I dunno,” Spot mumbled. “I sort of like that. Kinda sounds like a boy band. Who wants to form a boy band with me and name it Secret Anonymous Gift Exchangers?

“You’re drunk,” Crutchie observed.

“Very,” Race agreed, taking the hat from Spot and shuffling the names inside. “Who wants to go first?” ~

As soon as he opened the little slip of paper containing the name of his Secret Santa, Crutchie knew he was screwed.

So completely and utterly screwed.

Because the name, written in Katherine’s messy scrawl, was Jack Kelly.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself upon seeing the name, and beside him, Jack himself snorted.

“Got someone good, ay Crutch?” he asked.

“You have no idea,” Crutchie mumbled, refolding the paper and placing it carefully in his pocket.

~

“Kath, I have no living idea what to get Jack,” Crutchie whined over the phone.

It was the next day. Two days before the New Year’s party and the gift exchange, where he would be required to give his crush of three years a gift and pray he didn’t hate it.

And Crutchie was panicking.

He’d enlisted the help of Katherine, who, despite the rules against it, had told him that she had her girlfriend as her Secret Santa, although she had no idea who had her. Right off the bat, as soon as he’d called her in a panic, she’d been sympathetic- after all, it was Crutchie that Katherine had pined to for over a year before finally getting together with Sarah.

“Well, you of all people know what he likes,” she said reasonably.

He sighed dramatically. “But it’s got to be special, Kath. It’s Christmas.

“New Year’s.”

“Whatever. You know what I mean. It’s got to be good.”

“So think,” she said. “What does Jack like?”

I don’t knoooow,” Crutchie whined.

“You’ve been friends for, what, six years?”

“Seven,” Crutchie murmured, almost glumly.

“Surely you can come up with something. Seven years of friendship? You could write an entire book on his life.”

“I’d have to get him to draw the illustrations, though,” Crutchie said. Then something lit up inside his head. “Oh, man, that’s it!”

“What’s it?” asked Katherine, sounding distracted.

“Jack loves painting! I should get him paint supplies!”

“Now you’re onto something,” Katherine said. On her end of the line, someone said something, and she replied to them, then spoke into the phone. “I’ve got to go- Daddy’s hosting another fancy luncheon or some shit.”

“Call me when it’s over?” Crutchie knew how much she hated Pulitzer’s fancy get-togethers.

“If his big important friends and their sheer stupidity hasn’t killed me by then, yeah.”

“Talk to you later, Kath.”

“Bye, Crutchie.”

She hung up, and Crutchie set his phone down.

“When are you two going to get your shit together?”

Crutchie whirled around to find Spot lounging on the couch, flipping lazily through a magazine.

“How long have you been there?” Crutchie demanded.

His roommate smirked. “Always check your surroundings before pouring your feelings out over the phone.”

“You little shit. How much did you hear?”

“Enough to know that you aren’t my Secret Santa, which I didn’t need. I already know everyone’s. Figured it out with Race last night.”

“You stayed at Race’s last night?”

“Sure. Once everyone else was gone, he let me have the couch. I was… too drunk to make it home safely.”

Crutchie couldn’t believe he was hearing this. “His apartment is on the floor directly above us. Race literally lives upstairs.

“What’s your point?”

“And I’m the one who needs to get my shit together,” Crutchie muttered.

What?” Spot hissed, closing the magazine and sitting up.

“Nothing. Nothing at all. Why do you two insist on figuring everyone out every year? Doesn’t that ruin the fun?”

“Maybe.” Spot had his trademark scowl on his face. “But I hate surprises.”

“Why do the Secret Santa at all then?”

“It’s tradition.” Spot stretched. “But don’t worry, Crutch. I won’t tell Jack.”

“About the fact that I have him for Secret Santa or the fact that I like him?”

“Was that a direct confession I heard?” Spot crowed.

“Dammit,” Crutchie sighed. “Neither. Either. Whichever. Don’t tell Jack. Please.”

“You’re fine, Gruccia.”

“Groocha?”

Gruccia. Means crutch.”

“Oh,” said Crutchie, catching on. “Race has been teaching you Italian, too.”

“Damn right he has. And I’m getting pretty  good at it, too.”

“Sure, Spot,” Crutchie said, turning back to his phone. Hypocrite. Spot had no right to tease Crutchie when he and Race had so much romantic tension between them that even Davey had started to pick up on it.

Davey.

“Hey, Spot.”

“Present.” Spot had reached for his magazine again, but at Crutchie’s call, he looked up.

“Could you give me a ride into the city?”

“What for?”

“I need some… things.” Crutchie bit the inside of his cheek. He supposed there was no sense in hiding it, since Spot had heard his entire conversation with Katherine, but it was still nice to have some secrets.

“Things for Jack?”

Well, damn. Never mind.

“Yeah, things for Jack. But you don’t have to take me anyplace. Just drive me down into the city?”

Spot sighed and stood up. “You’re lucky I love you, Crutch.”

~

“Come in, come in and join the party!” Race cried as he swung the door open.

“Aren’t we the first ones here?” Crutchie asked.

“Course we are,” Spot said. “We’re here to help set up.”

“Wonderful, wonderful.” Race had a beer in his hand and Crutchie was willing to bet money that while it might be his first, it certainly wouldn’t be his last of the night. “Secret Santa shit goes on that table. Beer- you did bring beer, right?”

“Who the hell do you think we are of course we effing brought beer.”  Spot hoisted the case of alcohol into the air to show Race.

“Good. It goes on the kitchen counter.”

There was an angry yell from the living room. Race continued talking.

“Crutchie, go help my poor confused roommate in the living room.”

I can hear you, ass!”

“Spot, you’re on food duty with me. C’mon.”

Crutchie obediently set his carefully wrapped gift on the hall table and made his way into the living room, where Mush was looking about ready to kill someone. The television remote was clenched in his fist and he was angrily stabbing at random buttons.

“Are you trying to turn it on?” Crutchie asked, settling beside him on the couch.

Mush nodded, not taking his eyes from the screen. “I’m having some trouble.”

“I see that. Have you, um, tried the power button?”

Mush gave him his classic please tell me you’re kidding. “Contrary to popular belief, I do know what the big red button that says power means. That’s the first thing I tried, numbnut. What now?”

“When was this TV used last?” Crutchie asked, thinking back to his old foster home, where they had always called him in to fix the television. He tried to recall any useful information that might have stuck with him.

“Spot and Race had a Star Wars marathon last night. I think that’s it.”

Of course they did. “So, the DVD player? That’s what was last used?”

“…Yes.” Mush looked unsure of where Crutchie was going with this.

Honestly, Crutchie didn’t have a clue. He was going completely on a whim here, guessing that this television was somewhat similar to his old foster home’s.

“So we have to switch modes,” he said.

“What the ever-living hell does that mean?”

“It means that all you’re doing by pressing the power button right now is turning the DVD player on and off, because it’s still set on the DVD mode,” Crutchie said. He took the remote from Mush. “See, now you push the TV button because that’s what mode we want it to be on, and…” He pressed the power button again, and the television screen came to life, displaying the crowds of people flooding Times Square for the ball drop.

Mush cheered. “You’re a genius, Crutch! Didn’t know you had it in you!” He grabbed Crutchie’s head and kissed his cheek.

Someone cleared their throat behind them, and both whirled around to find that Jack and Davey had arrived.

“You got the TV to work!” said Davey happily.

“Crutchie did. He’s an absolute whiz, ain’t that right, Crutch?” Mush cried.

“That’s right,” said Crutchie, but he was watching Jack closely. Jack had an odd expression on his face, like he was confused about something.

As Mush and Davey fell into easy conversation, Crutchie got off the couch and picked up his crutch. He hobbled behind the couch to stand next to Jack. “You alright?”

Jack faced him, and even this, when they weren’t even touching, was enough to send Crutchie’s heart into cartwheels.

Get a grip. He’s your best friend.

“Yeah,” said Jack, dropping his gaze from Crutchie’s face to the ground. “Yeah, I’m great.” He held up the wrapped present and bag of food. “Where do these go?”

“Food goes to Spot and Race in the kitchen, present goes on the hall table,” Crutchie said.

Just then, the apartment door opened once more and several of their friends spilled into the hall, which of course just meant that Crutchie had to repeat Race’s instructions for the food and gifts eight more times.

When Katherine and Sarah arrived with Les, Katherine sought out Crutchie and whispered, “All good?”

“All good,” he agreed, only half believing it. “I mean, I got him a present.”

“Then you’re fine,” she said, and hugged him before running off to join her girlfriend.

Once everyone was there, Race gathered them all in the living room, declaring that the party games were about to start. Crutchie managed to grab a seat on one of the couches, which put him between Romeo and Jack, which he wasn’t necessarily complaining about.

Still. With Spot and Race at the controls, party games could escalate quickly, and Crutchie wanted to be nowhere near his crush when they were both drunk. Alcohol made everything seem like a good idea, and he didn’t want to start off the New Year with any regrets.

“We’re opening our Secret Santa gifts first,” announced Race, “because we’re all greedy shits who love getting presents. I’ll go get them from the hall table. Spot?”

Spot stood. “Alright, bitc- witches,” he said quickly. “You’re going to take the present you bought and hold it until your turn. On your turn and only on your turn, you personally go over and hand it to the recipient themselves. Say something sweet, explain your gift, plead for forgiveness, whatever. Just make it fast so the rest of us can have a turn.”

Race appeared from the hallway and dumped his armful of gifts out onto the coffee table, and everyone took their own and returned to their seats. Crutchie shamelessly asked Romeo to get his so that he wouldn’t have to get up, and as the smaller boy was bringing it back, he tested its weight.

“Damn, Crutchie, this is heavy,” he said. “Your Secret Santa is one lucky person.”

“Unless he got them rocks,” teased Jack, from Crutchie’s other side. “Did you fill a box with rocks, Crutch?”

Crutchie laughed nervously. “You’d better believe it,” he said, with a feeble attempt at a troublemaker’s grin.

“Who’s going first?”

“I will,” Jack volunteered, and Crutchie couldn’t help the way his heart hammered madly as Jack didn’t even bother to stand. Was it possible…?

But no, Jack passed the gift to Davey, who opened it to find a new journal and a set of beautiful ink pens.

“Oh, this is wonderful, Jack!” Davey cried, and slung his arms around his friend. “Thank you so much!”

“Anytime, Davey,” Jack said with an easy smile.

“Dave, you’re next,” Race said. “Go forth and give your gift.”

And so it went. Davey gave a present to Specs, who signed thank you thank you thank you so many times Crutchie thought his hands might fall off. Specs then gave to Katherine, who gave to Sarah, who gave to Itey, who gave to Snitch, who then gave Les a delivery boy hat, which the kid proudly put on for all to see.

After that, Crutchie lost track, safe in the knowledge that he would be giving his gift to Jack last.

But with each present opened, he grew more and more nervous. All these gifts were well-thought-out, beautiful or funny or sentimental, capturing each recipient’s personality and making everyone nod in understanding after the gift had been opened.

What if Crutchie’s present wasn’t good enough? What if Jack didn’t like it?

He needed to stop worrying. Jack would love it, and even if he didn’t, he would fake it, because he was just that awesome of a person.

Which did nothing for the fluttering in his stomach that had started as soon as he sat down next to Jack and hadn't stopped yet.

He started to pay attention again when only a few people still had their presents. Romeo gave a present to Mush, who gave one to Blink (who gave Mush such adoring eyes that at least six people groaned, “Get a room”), who then gave to Spot.

After opening his present, Spot took a deep breath, then passed a tiny wrapped box over to Race, who looked at him in astonishment.

“You son of a bitch,” he said. “You didn’t tell me you had me!

“I thought you had it all figured out, Race,” called Finch, and Race flipped him off in reply.

“Can I… open it?” he asked hesitantly.

“That’s typically what presents are for, yes,” said Spot, but the sentence was lacking in its usual sarcasm.

Race tore off the wrapping paper and opened the box, an unreadable expression on his face.

“Shut up,” he breathed.

“What is it?” asked Jack.

“Shut up,” Race said again, instead of answering. He looked at Spot in awe. “You didn’t.”

Was it Crutchie’s imagination, or did Spot look… bashful?

“Yeah… I had to get them super early. They sold out fast,” he said.

How did you…” Race looked, for once in his life, at a loss for words. “These are tickets to the races. As in, the Races. How the hell…

“Are they alright?” Spot asked, once more looking unsure of himself.

“You… Of course they’re… are you kidding me?” Race growled, grabbing the front of Spot’s shirt.

“What?” Spot looked utterly lost and slightly terrified.

“Nothing,” he grumbled, and released his shirt. He tucked the tickets back into the box, gingerly, as though they were about to blow up. “Thank you.”

“Who’s your present for, Race?” asked Itey.

“Me,” said Crutchie, who had cleverly deduced this, seeing as he and Jack were the only ones left without presents. “Pass it over.”

Upon first glance, it didn’t seem to be all that impressive- a badly wrapped box stuffed with tissue paper. Crutchie wouldn’t put it past Race to give him a box of tissue paper. He’d done it to Davey last year, simply for the fun of watching Davey’s expression become more and more bewildered as he pulled out more and more tissue.

But no, there were stickers hidden in Crutchie’s tissue- small stickers of motivation and animals and dots and things. Crutchie couldn’t help grinning despite himself. He loved stickers. He’d have to find someplace to put these.

“They’re special,” Race said, seeming to have cheered up considerably. “They’ll stick to anything- wood, metal, walls, anything.”

“So I can stick them to my crutch?” Stickers never stayed on the crutch, much to Crutchie’s disappointment. It remained empty and stickerless, a cold reminder of his condition that, try as he might, he couldn’t put a happy spin on it.

And he hated it so much. No matter how many cheerful stickers he stuck on the thing, they just came right back off.

“So you can stick them to your crutch.”

Crutchie laughed. “This is perfect. Thanks, Race.”

“Anytime,” he replied.

“Which leaves us with our last present,” said Crutchie. “I’m sure you’re all wondering who it’s for.”

Everyone laughed.

Jack reached for the present and opened it carefully to reveal-

“What the hell, Crutch,” Jack breathed, looking at the set of paints he’d just unwrapped. “What the hell.

“Do you… like them?” Crutchie asked, nervously scanning Jack’s face for any sign that  he’d messed up. Maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe Jack didn’t like them.

“Holy shit, Crutchie these are absolutely amazing how did you know?

“When we were out shopping,” Crutchie said. “You pulled me over to the art shop so you could admire this in the window display.”

Jack frowned. “Crutch, that was over three months ago. You seriously remember that?”

“Do you still want them?” Crutchie asked.

Hell yes I still want them are you kidding?” Jack cried. “I could kiss you, Crutchie! Thank you so much!”

Then he froze. “I mean, I won’t. Kiss you. But thanks.”

Crutchie hoped that the slump of his shoulders wasn’t obvious. Of course not.

Race groaned. “Just when it was getting good.” He glanced at the television. “We’ve still got a few hours till midnight. What do you want to do now?”

“First,” said Spot, rising and making his way into the kitchen. He came back with several cases of beer, which he deposited on the coffee table. “We need more alcohol in all our systems.”

“Amen to that,” said Race, grabbing for either his second or third of the night.

“And I’m taking you home,” said Davey, pointing to Les.

“Ah, can’t I stay?” the boy whined.

“No,” said Sarah and Davey at the same time.

“What goes down on New Year’s is not for children,” Spot said, popping open the top of his beer and taking a long sip.

“I’ll be back,” said Davey, grabbing Les’ coat and wrestling his brother into it. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”

“Sure thing, Davey,” Romeo called as Davey closed the door behind them.

“So what should we play?” asked Spot, taking another sip of beer.

~

It inevitably ended up being Truth or Dare that they played, because, as Race put it, “We are stereotypical. Also, we’re all secretly middle schoolers.”

Well, that and the fact that when they attempted Never Have I Ever, Spot was drinking every single round. He was being truthful, too (the guy was a bucket list’s dream, having done everything from surviving a car crash to jumping off a cliff to kissing Jack), but it was just getting him more and more drunk, and soon it became What Else Has Spot Done, excluding everyone else, and it was finally Sarah that suggested something else.

So they went with Truth or Dare, which Crutchie was personally terrified for. Truth or Dare was bad enough as it was. With his roommate and his roommate’s best friend running it? They were all in trouble.

“I’m going first this time,” announced Race, and glanced around the circle. “Specs. Truth or dare?”

Specs shrugged and signed, Truth.

“Boooring,” sighed Spot. Specs shot him a sign that none of them needed to know sign language to understand.

“Okay… What was your first kiss?”

Specs made the sign for cafeteria, then behind.

“What grade?”

Specs grinned and held up eight fingers.

“That was your first kiss?” Romeo cried.

Specs went red and nodded.

“Damn, you’re good. I figured you’d kissed before.” Romeo took a sip of beer.

Specs shrugged.

“So I guess none of us have to ask who it was, then?” Jack asked.

No.

Spot snickered. “It’s Specs’ turn to ask now.”

What? Specs hadn't looked up in time to read Spot’s lips.

Romeo quickly signed it to him. They had all learned sign language when they’d met Specs, but Crutchie would be the first to admit that his ASL was not the strongest. Romeo, however, had thrown his heart and his soul into learning the language, discovering new ways to talk to his friend (and eventually boyfriend). Sometimes it seemed like they could communicate through looks alone, like they didn’t even need the sign language, which Crutchie would be eternally jealous of.

Specs nodded in understanding at Romeo’s explanation, and pointed to Finch.

“…Truth,” said Finch, looking like he already regretted it even as the words came out of his mouth.

Specs signed something rapidfire that Crutchie couldn’t even hope to understand, and Finch looked just as lost. Luckily, Romeo was on top of it.

“How many people have you kissed?” he asked.

“In my life?”

Specs nodded.

“Cripes, I don’t know.” Finch scrunched up his face in concentration. “Maybe… five? Couple people at parties. Jack, a few times. Six? Possibly?”

“Interesting,” Spot said. “Finch, ask away.”

“Snitch,” he said, and the game went on. Davey came in eventually, settling once more on Jack’s other side.

“Crutchie.”

Crutchie snapped to attention. He hadn't even noticed, but it was Sarah’s  turn.

“Yeah?”

“Truth or dare?”

“Dare?” he asked, figuring he didn’t want to answer any unwanted questions about his crush on Jack. But oh, that probably wasn’t the best choice, because Katherine was whispering in her girlfriend’s ear and suddenly the huge mistake he had made came crashing down on him.

“I dare you to…” Sarah listened to Katherine a bit more. “Kiss Jack.”

Shit. “What?” he yelped. “No way!”

“No,” agreed Jack.

“You’ve got to, idiots,” said Spot. Despite the inhuman amount of beer in his body, he still seemed to be functioning fine. “You were dared. Can’t ignore the summons of the dare.”

Crutchie scooted away from Jack on the couch, which maybe wasn’t nice, but he didn’t feel like doing this now. Or ever, for that matter. “Sorry, I can’t.”

“Why not?” asked Race.

“Yeah, Crutch, why not?” Jack asked, looking at him with a hurt expression on his face, and oh he could not deal with this right now.

“Screw it,” he mumbled, and, grabbing Jack’s face, crushed their mouths together.

It was messy and fast, and their teeth clashed several times, but it was still the most amazing kiss Crutchie had ever had.

Because it was Jack. He was kissing Jack. And he never wanted it to end.

But when Jack pulled away, he returned to himself, and shook his head.

He pretended not to notice Sarah and Katherine whispering, or Spot and Race giving each other incredulous looks, and instead picked Spot.

“Dare,” he challenged, and Crutchie didn’t have to think very hard about it.

“Kiss Race, then,” he said, and if it hadn’t been the person he had lived with for over two years, Crutchie wouldn’t have noticed the way that Spot swallowed hard before shaking his head.

“Gladly. C’mere, Higgins.”

Their kiss was longer, and less decent, but when it was over, neither of them scooted away. Neither of them looked at each other awkwardly, or made a bad joke. They seemed fine with it.

So why wasn’t Crutchie? Why couldn’t he just write it off as a kiss and leave it be?

Maybe he was just a terrible person.

After a few more rounds, where Sarah was dared to chug what was left of her beer, and Blink had to admit how many people he’d slept with (he didn’t know; but the estimate was a helluva lot), the game started to wind down. People migrated to the kitchen to eat and drink and chat. Others formed their own little games of What Are The Odds and Chance. Jack got up as soon as Truth or Dare ended and moved to the kitchen to talk with Mush and Sarah, and as Katherine stood to join them, she stopped at Crutchie’s couch.

“Crutchie, I’m sorry,” she said.

He shrugged. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But something’s not right between you two. You need to talk to him. Tell him the truth.”

Crutchie snorted, getting out his new stickers. “And have my heart stomped on? No thanks.”

“Crutchie, you don’t know he’ll reject you. Maybe he’ll say yes,” she said, trying for a light tone.

“Thanks, but no thanks. He doesn’t like me back. We learned that much during that kiss,” he snapped.

“Oh my gosh why are you both so stupid,” she sighed, and stalked off to the kitchen.

Crutchie rolled his eyes and began applying stickers to his crutch.

~

It was half an hour before midnight when Cards Against Humanity was brought out, and while Crutchie originally elected not to play, he was eventually roped into it. He was pretty good at it, too, and had Spot and Race’s sense of humor not been so unique, he might have been winning, but as it was, Spot seemed to have a super sense that let him pick Race’s card every time. They seemed to have their own inside jokes that no one else understood, which was great and all, but it was costing Crutchie his victory.

It was five minutes before midnight when people began to grab their drinks and partners and watch the TV expectantly, waiting for the iconic ball drop and the moment when it was the next year.

It was two minutes before midnight when Jack slid onto the couch beside Crutchie and opened his mouth like he wanted to say something, then closed it again. Crutchie shrugged and continued decorating his crutch. He probably wanted to talk about the horribly awkward kiss. Oh well. It could wait until next year.

It was one minute before midnight when Crutchie was satisfied with the amount of stickers on his crutch and set both the box and the crutch on the ground, then reached for his bottle of beer, ready to toast to the New Year.

It was ten seconds before midnight when Spot and Race planted themselves on the couch beside Jack’s and Crutchie’s, laughing and talking loudly. Specs and Romeo were sharing Race’s huge armchair, signing things slowly and lazily to each other in between short kisses. Mush and Blink were looking into each other’s eyes, something that may have been weirder if they weren’t both drunk, and it wasn’t New Year’s, and they weren’t hopelessly in love with each other and just refusing to admit it.

It was only a few seconds to midnight when Mush seemed to get impatient and dragged Blink into a long kiss. Crutchie couldn’t help smiling despite himself. It was about time those two got it together.

Midnight.

The television blasted music and cheering as the New Year began. The hall clock chimed. The group assembled in the living room cheered. Sarah and Katherine exchanged a quick kiss on the mouth before giggling and throwing back more sips of beer. Mush and Blink seemed to be connected at the mouth. Nothing about Specs and Romeo’s posture had changed, except instead of small kisses there were longer ones.

A beer bottle smashed to the ground, and Crutchie whirled around to find Spot’s bottle in pieces on the floor, its owner otherwise occupied with Race, who was desperately kissing Spot like the world was ending, one hand tugging at Spot’s hair and the other on his cheek.

Crutchie laughed aloud at that, because finally. He’d called that since the beginning.

He turned around to point it out to Jack, but his words died as a warm mouth found his.

Jack was kissing him.

Jack was kissing him.

Jack Kelly was voluntarily, not by the influence of friends or because a dare demanded it, kissing Crutchie.

And Crutchie kissed back.

Not caring about the consequences, for surely there would be consequences. Not caring what his friends would say. Not caring what Jack would say.

Jack was an amazing kisser.

He’d gotten a vague idea of this during their first kiss, a few hours ago, but now he was experiencing it in full, as those gorgeous lips he’d wondered about so often now slid against his own, as that mouth he had envied for its singing talents now made soft noises into his own. It was exhilarating, kissing Jack, and he never wanted it to stop.

When they eventually pulled away for oxygen, Jack searched Crutchie’s eyes desperately.

“Crutchie,” he whispered urgently. “Tell me this was okay. Is this okay? Was it alright?”

Yes, you idiot,” said Crutchie. “It was amazing please do it some more.”

“Oh, good,” Jack laughed, the nervousness gone from his face, but honestly did he really think Crutchie would reject him?

“I didn’t think … I wasn’t sure you liked me,” Crutchie confessed. “I mean, you acted so weird after Truth or Dare and I couldn’t help but think that maybe you had… hated it?”

“Oh my god no, Crutch. I thought you hated it, because of how hesitant you were to kiss me in the first place. I thought you hated it, so I didn’t say anything.”

“Jack Kelly, I’ve had a crush on you since the seventh grade do you really think that I hated what was quite possibly one of the best kisses I’ve ever received?”

“Only one of the best? I’m insulted,” Jack laughed.

“Well, taking into account that beautifully stereotypical New Year’s kiss you just gave me, I mean…”

“Point taken,” Jack said, and flashed one of his most disarming smiles at Crutchie.

Crutchie couldn’t help himself. He dove forward once more, and Jack met him in the middle. They kissed as, around them, people cheered and clinked bottles together in a toast to the New Year.

“Ay, lovebirds!” Spot cried. Jack and Crutchie broke apart to find him grinning from his seat in Race’s lap. “Happy New Year, you filthy animals!”

“That’s not even the right holiday, Conlon,” Jack shot back.

“Shut up, I’m hilarious,” he laughed, and turned back to Race’s lips.

“Couples getting together all over the place,” said Crutchie, having to shout to be  heard over the noise of the room.

Jack nodded in agreement. “So are we a couple?” he asked thoughtfully.

Crutchie’s heart pounded. “Only if you want to be,” he said quickly. “But it you do, then yes, but if not then I mean-”

Jack’s lips on his effectively shut him up. They kissed for a long moment, then Jack began talking, fast and quiet, against Crutchie’s lips. “Oh God, Crutchie, I do, I want this so much. I’ve wanted this for as long as I can remember. I want to take you on dates and introduce you to people as my boyfriend and be sickeningly domestic and kiss you whenever the hell I feel like because you’re mine, and Crutchie I want this so badly.”

“Good,” breathed Crutchie, and kissed him hard.

“And those paints…God those paints do you know how much those mean to me, Crutch?” Jack asked against Crutchie’s lips.

“A lot?” asked Crutchie.

“A lot,” Jack agreed. “So this is a thank you for those,” and he kissed him again, opening his mouth against Crutchie’s and making him gasp out loud into Jack’s mouth.

“Damn, Jack,” he said. “I’ll buy out the freaking art store if this is my reward.”

Jack hummed. “I’d like that.”

“I know you would. Happy New Year, Jack.”

“Happy New Year, Crutchie.”

~