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Christmas Lights

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Title: Christmas Lights
Fandom: Donald Strachey Mysteries (movieverse)
Pairing: Donald and Timothy
Rating: R
Word Count: about 5100

References/Spoilers: Just the senator's mysterious name change from Glassman to Platt, as heard in Ice Blues.
Disclosure: I wish they were mine. Alas, they are not, so I'm just taking them out for a spin.
Summary: Timothy muses about Christmas, Donald, love, passion, and the meaning of life.




Candy Apple

I know how much Donald hates the cold. He's not much fonder of heights, but for me, he dutifully climbs atop our rather tall roof on a blustery Saturday in early December, with snow lightly falling on him, sticking to his coat and his hair and even his eyelashes. And he's not just tacking some lights up with a sour look on his face. He's meticulously arranging them so they're perfect. He wants them to look like they look on the house pictured on the box. More specifically, he wants them to look the way I want them to look. He'll gladly be too cold, too wet, and too far from the ground for his tastes, just to make me happy.

When I give him the thumbs up, and the best smile I can muster, he positively beams back at me, returning his own thumbs up. He knows I hate heights even more than he does, and I just haven't done much work on rooftops in my life. I'm convinced if I went up there and ran around the way he does, I'd come down the hard, fast way. When we were first married, he used to grumble more about the light project, but he mellowed pretty fast, and now he takes on the job with all the cheer of an elf who's dipped into the schnapps one too many times. (Yes, we have a bottle of peppermint schnapps in the kitchen, and the level goes down right before the lights go up. I suppose that's risky - - drinking and getting up on the roof - - but for Donald, a little light drinking seems to make getting up on the roof and freezing to death a lot more palatable.

We spent most of the morning working on the shrubs together, stringing the lights. I put out the manger scene figures and connected them all, pleased with myself when they all lit up the way they were supposed to.

I offered to have our office staff Christmas party at our house this year, and Donald took it in much better humor than I expected. He even patiently listened to all my ideas for what we should do for extra decorations, and then braved the discount stores with me to find exactly the right ones. They were still in bags and boxes in the foyer, on our to-do list for this evening, after all the outdoor lights were done.

While it really was coming around to being my turn to offer to host something at the house for our office staff, I was glad for the chance. I feel so lucky and so happy with my life with Donald, and so content in our home together, there's this little part of me that loves to show off just a bit. If I told him that, he'd probably make some joke about being my "trophy wife" and go about his decorating chores, unfazed.

As he manages to make it to the ladder and back down to the ground in one piece, I'm waiting at the bottom for him. I know they're just Christmas lights, and he's just being a good partner, doing the scary part of the job that I don't want to do, even though I want lights on the roof line. Sometimes it just overwhelms me how much he does for me just because he loves me. Just stuff that makes me happy. It goes without saying he's there for me no matter what, for the big, serious stuff. But he loves to make me happy, and he'll go through a long, cold, ugly job like this just to make me smile and give him a thumbs up from the ground.

Why does he ever worry about what to get me for Christmas? Every year, I tell him I have the best present in the world, and I don't need anything else. Every year, he cocks his head and gives me that look, as if to say, "That's not going to help me out at the mall."

Okay, so I can always stand clothes, some nice cologne, a book or two. I like presents, who doesn't? So I tell him about a few things I've seen that I wouldn't mind having, if Santa brings them. When the shoe's on the other foot, and I ask him, he always shrugs, and says he always likes what I get him so just surprise him. I tell him to make a list, and I love that he does. It's like this one thing left of the child in Donald. He'll sit somewhere - - at the counter in the kitchen, or some day when he has a few spare minutes at work, or while he's sitting in a cold car watching someone for one of his cases - - and he'll write out this little list on a scrap of whatever paper he has handy, and give it to me.

He never asks for anything really expensive. Usually a couple clothing items, maybe something for his car (knowing that I love him enough not to remind him that sinking any money into that car is like tossing it down a rat hole), maybe some food items. He got a big Hickory Farms box from a client one year and he and Kenny ate off it for months at the office. I'm not sure if they followed all the refrigeration and storage instructions, but they did enjoy it, and both lived to tell, so I guess that's all that mattered. His list will be neatly written and carefully thought out, items ranked in the order of importance.

I bet he doesn't know that I have a special envelope at the bottom of a dresser drawer that has six Christmas lists in it, and after this year, will have a seventh. It also has about a dozen notes on scraps of paper that he's left me over the years. Almost always, he signs his notes "Love You, D". Not "Love", but "Love You". I treasure that. I never want to say anything because it's so spontaneous and natural, I don't want him to feel self-conscious about it. But my heart dances just a little every time he scrawls those two words. Even if he's in a hurry, I know he means them. Even if he's standing me up for dinner or movie night again, those two little words often make me wait up when I shouldn't.

When he finally steps down on the ground from the ladder, I hug him, putting all the sappy romantic thoughts I've been having into that hug, kissing a chilled cheek, rubbing my nose against his, sharing his chuckle, feeling like I could cry because I'm so happy, and I love him so much.

"So do you feed the help around here? What does a guy have to do to get lunch, anyway?" he jokes.

"How about we go to Angelo's? My treat."

"Ooh, that sounds good," he replies, grinning. Angelo's is a little family-run Italian restaurant that serves monstrous portions of homemade pasta and equally enormous pizzas. They also have nice, dark, private booths where you can sit for a long time and enjoy your overdose of food, and each other's company.

"Dessert will be served at home...upstairs," I add, and his playful look changes to sultry, sexy, at a moment's notice.

"You've heard that is uncertain, eat dessert first?" he teases, and suddenly, I can't think of a single reason not to go inside, peel off his layers of clothes, like opening my favorite gift of all, and spend the afternoon making love instead of sitting in a restaurant. We've got some leftover chicken in the fridge if we get light-headed by dinner time.

I grab his hand and pull him along with me, hurrying inside, locking the door behind us. We know it would be easier to just take a breath, pause, and take off our own clothes, but that would take all the fun out of it. We're getting tangled up with each other, getting frustrated by the occasional button that's not unbuttoned, laughing at our clumsiness as we take way longer than we should just to get our coats, boots, and gloves off.

We hurry up the stairs like a couple of horny teenagers trying to get in a little screwing around while we have the house to ourselves. But when I get him in the bedroom, it's not screwing around. I really want to make love to him, and I want to spend a long time doing it, savoring him, indulging him in all the little touches I know he likes, and indulging myself in being with him.

We're still undressing each other, but it's not rushed or silly anymore. We're taking our time, hands and lips caressing exposed skin, making love to each other like it's our wedding night, and not just a chilly Saturday afternoon playing hooky from the rest of the decorating. The snow's coming down harder outside now, and we're in here, together, warm and dry and in each other's arms.

Donald's lying on his stomach, looking relaxed and utterly content to let me kiss every inch of him, to let my fingers skim over the smooth expanse of his back and down the swell of that perfect rear of his. There's no reason to rush this. I can't think of a better way to spend my time than making love to him, or anywhere I'd rather be than in our bed, with him, with the rest of the world held at bay outside.

When he's relaxed, and I know we're both ready, I slide gently inside him, blanketing his body with mine. It feels so good, but it's not just the union of our bodies. We're kissing, nuzzling, saying all kinds of little love words to each other. I'm tracing the contours of those perfectly defined muscles in his shoulders and arms, letting my fingers move lightly over his skin that feels so soft and smooth under my hands. I let my hand move up to his hand, and our fingers lace together.

We're moaning, gasping, making the spontaneous sounds in response to what we're feeling. It's so utterly natural, so us, no pretenses. Just the warmth between us, and the safety and intimacy that lets us be completely ourselves.

Coming is like a little explosion of intensity, of happiness, joy, passion, and a little disappointing at the same time, because the exquisite journey that led us there has come to an end.

But not quite. He's in my arms, turning over to face me, and we have nothing better to do than to spend the drowsy afterglow kissing, holding, touching each other. I feel his belly rumble a little with hunger, and I pull back far enough to smile at him, to see the mischief in his eyes.

"Let's order a pizza," he suggests, his fingertips skimming my cheek. "Eat it in bed."

"I could fix us some finger food," I offer. I'm thinking of the cold chicken, some cheese, fruit, other goodies I can put together for us.

"Then you'd have to spend all that time in the kitchen cutting things up, when you could be in bed with me, instead," he objects, kissing me again. Pizza it is.

He orders it from the telephone on the night stand, and then turns back to look at me.

"I bet I can make you come before the pizza does," he teases. I know I'd lose that bet. I'm already getting hard again when he climbs on top of me and puts his tongue to work on my nipples. He's kissing my chest, but he's licking it, too. He knows that drives me crazy, even though I turned about four shades of red the first time I admitted that to him.

Donald gave me a very wonderful gift very early in our physical relationship. He taught me how to be myself and not be afraid of looking silly or kinky in asking for what I wanted, or showing that I liked something nice boys aren't supposed to like. I know part of me was always a little uptight, self-conscious about really letting go in bed. I was a late bloomer, and I was a good Catholic boy. Almost a priest. I used to be kind of shy and uncertain about sex when I was so new at it, and it didn't help that the first couple guys I was with thought that was funny. Andrew used to tease me mercilessly, do things he knew would turn me just the right shade of red. He kept saying it was his way of loosening me up, getting me to enjoy myself without censoring myself so much. I could never shake the feeling he was laughing at me, not with me.

It shouldn't have surprised me that Donald had another theory about what he affectionately called "unlocking my full potential." He was gentle and understanding, and just openly...adored me. If he did something that made me uneasy or if I did or said something that embarrassed myself (which, trust me, I used to be good at), he'd tell me how beautiful I was when I blushed, kiss me, tell me he thought whatever it was I was doing was sexy, or he'd whisper something in my ear about how great it would feel, or how gorgeous I'd look, doing whatever it was that had me feeling a little shy or self-conscious.

He never, once, laughed at me. Unless I started it, and we laughed together. And he didn't think it was silly that making love meant...well, making love, to me. That I felt things for someone I was physically intimate with. That sharing those feelings and those touches drew out emotions in me. That I didn't sleep with men I didn't care about, and that I always ended up caring about the men I slept with. Probably too much. Ending relationships always hurt me, a lot, no matter which one of us ended it. I just don't distance love and sex as much as I should.

With Donald, I never held anything back. I didn't worry if I made a funny sound, screamed too loudly when I came, or liked something so raw and primal as having my mate licking me, especially in a few significant places. I've never trusted anyone the way I trust him, and it's never been so easy to give and take what I want and need in bed as it is with him. We're like two parts of a single body. I was in love with him before we made love, but after? I think I would have died of a broken heart if he'd dumped me. I know that sounds corny, but I don't know how I would have gone on if he didn't want me. I never had to worry. He told me he loved me while we were making love, and he held me afterward, and told me again, just so I knew it wasn't a heat of the moment thing. It was like he knew all the secrets of my heart and my mind without being told. He knew what I needed, and he made sure I got it. That I felt safe and loved and wanted.

He still does.

Ten minutes before the pizza arrives, I'm coming for all I'm worth, just from the work of that skilled tongue and a little artful humping.

He dons his robe and goes downstairs to take in the pizza. I smooth up the bed a little, make a run to the bathroom and think about smoothing myself up a little when I see my hair is sticking every which way, I smell like sweat and sex, and I have no clue where my glasses are. He's thoroughly debauched me, and I couldn't be happier. I ruthlessly stifle the little voice that suggested a freshen up and go back into the bedroom.

There are a couple beers on the night stand, the pizza box is in the bed, with Donald, who is naked again, and sprawled across the mattress. In the shadows of gathering dusk, I can see something is It takes me a moment to see that he's stuck two pieces of pepperoni over his nipples.

I tackle him on the bed, and we're both laughing. That's another thing Donald taught me. Sheets can be laundered, and even if the occasional pepperoni grease stain just doesn't come out, think of it as a reminder of a good time, not a stain.

Eventually, we curl up with the pizza box between us, the cold beers, and find one of the dozens of versions of A Christmas Carol on TV. We're getting cold now, so we figure out how to put a shared blanket around our shoulders while we finish eating. Donald makes a beverage run downstairs, and comes back with some bottled water and two dishes of ice cream. We have dessert and replenish our depleted fluids with the water. Then he asks me if I want to take a ride and check out the competition.

Ah, the other lights in the area.

We bundle up in warm clothes and turn on some Christmas music in his car, trying to ignore the fact the heater isn't feeling up to fighting the night chill. I make a mental note to steal his car between now and Christmas and get the heater fixed. He must be freezing to death when he's on a stakeout these cold winter nights. And I won't even ask him why he doesn't just get another car, since fixing the heat is probably worth more than the car is. Someday when he feels like it, he'll tell me why this car is so much a part of him. Just like he finally told me about Kyle. Donald is a complex puzzle, but with a little love and some patience, all the pieces eventually will fall into place. Putting him together bit by bit keeps my life interesting.

We agree our lights are among the best on the block. And they are. He did a lovely job on the roof lights, we both did ourselves proud on the shrubs, and the manger scene does look nice all lit up, if I do say so myself.

We aren't even trying to compete with the guy who puts out the illuminated Santa, sleigh, and full regimen of reindeer on his roof. The day I put Donald on the roof that long to hook up lights, I think he should leave me.

As soon as we get home, we've got our second wind (and fear bed sores if we go back upstairs this soon), so we crank up the Christmas music and do the rest of the indoor decorations. You just wouldn't expect Donald to have such great taste in Christmas decorations, but he's really good at it. He wrapped the bannister with pine and threaded white lights in it, painstakingly put little gold decorations on it - - little harps, bells, horns, all music-themed - - and accented it with these big gold mesh bows on the corner posts. I was skeptical when he started gathering supplies in the store, but when it was finished, it was beautiful. Creative, one-of-a-kind, beautiful.

Just like my Donald himself.

He shrugged off my gushing about it. I know he wanted to impress me, even though he wouldn't admit that. I'm his for the rest of my life, but he still likes to impress me. Be my hero. Even if it's just proving that he can come up with something utterly unique and elegant for our banister.

Knowing he's mine impresses me enough.

When we finally do host the Christmas party, he puts himself out, helps greet our guests, turns on the charm, is a festive bartender while I work the room. We set up our strategy ahead of time, and he decided I needed to be free to work the room, since that's what I do best. He'd worry about keeping everyone's drinks full and the snack trays replenished. As long as I made all the snacks, that is.

Everyone compliments us on the decorations, and while I know that's what you're supposed to do when you go to a Christmas party at someone's house, they seem sincere. More than a few comment on Donald's handiwork on the bannister. I love telling them he did it. I'm so proud that he was that interested in making the house look beautiful for a party he knew meant a lot to me. If designing a bannister decoration seems far flung from his persona as a tough private eye, I'm glad they're confused. He confuses me all the time in the most wonderful ways, and I want them to know what kind of amazing, complex, surprising, delightful, puzzling creature my husband really is.

I don't have to sell the ladies on Donald. If we weren't gay, I suppose I might be jealous, I don't know. It amuses me that a harem is gathering around the counter where we have the bar set up. Either all my female co-workers are alcoholics, or they have an interest in the bartender. They're laughing, having a good time, and Donald is flirting with them, shaking some other mixed drink, because it's definitely not the waltz tempo he insists on for his martinis. His hips are moving right along with the shaker. The ladies are giggling. Before long, a couple husbands and a boyfriend make their way over there and reclaim their dates. It's subtle, and yet...not. I have to laugh. Donald's openly gay and married to me, and they're getting uneasy?

He might shake his hips to amuse the ladies but the only one he's shaking the sheets with is me. I can live with that.

Senator Platt and her husband make their appearance mid-party, and stay a respectable hour. They have a jammed social roster, and I'm flattered they're here that long. My boss and Donald have always hit it off famously, and tonight is no exception. They're trading their usual little quips, sparring with each other, as she expresses disdain at his colorful tie that features the Grinch, flashing one of his most sinister smiles. He could wear a $500 designer tie, and she'd tease him about it. It's their thing.

We decide to leave the disarray from the party for morning, and go up to bed around two in the morning. We're both tired, and we settle for a little kissing and cuddling before dozing off to sleep. At least, I doze off, but Donald apparently doesn't, because when I wake at four, he's not in bed with me. I wait a few minutes, but he doesn't emerge from the bathroom, so he's not just making a pit stop. He's somewhere else and, for some reason, can't sleep.

Curious, I get up and pull on my robe, and stick my feet in my slippers, and go to the stairs. I see him sitting at the bottom of the steps, just...well, sitting there. I start down the steps, and he looks behind him to see me coming. It's shadowy, but in the glow from the banister lights, I can make out his smile. Even if I'm disturbing his solitude, he won't show it. He'll smile at me, make me feel like he wants me with him, even if he was looking for some alone time. What bothers me is the way he brushes a hand past his eyes, in a gesture so smooth he doesn't think I caught it. I almost didn't, but I thought his eyes were just a little too bright when he turned to look at me.

I fit myself next to him on the step. I wait a minute, and then I hold my hand out, palm up, and in a heartbeat, his hand is in it, holding on. We sit there in the glow of the Christmas lights for a few minutes. If he wants to tell me what's eating him, he will. Getting Donald to open up isn't much different from feeding a fawn in the woods. You have to be still, just hold the food in your hand, and let him come to you. Advance on him too much, and he'll sprint away emotionally with the same agility as the deer sprints through the trees.

"My parents gave me the car for Christmas when I was sixteen, right after I got my license. It was used even back then, but it was still nice, everything worked," he adds, smiling. "My parents weren't poor, but they were never rolling in the dough, either. That car represented some saving and some planning for them. My brother was already enrolled in a four-year college right out of high school, and he got some scholarships, but they had to foot some of his bills. He was the brainy one in the family."

"I think it might be more accurate to say that he liked school better than you did. I'd wager he wasn't any smarter."

"I like the way you look at things," he says, joking a little, and a little serious, as he puts his head on my shoulder. I kiss the top of his head.

"You're probably the smartest person I know. But I can see you being very bored and unchallenged by school."

His head comes up off my shoulder for that, and he looks me in the eyes. "I'm sure you've met a lot of guys smarter than me. In the seminary, in college..."

"I've met a lot of guys who have a different background of formal education. That's not innate intelligence. Add to that your military intelligence training, and you don't have to take a backseat to anyone. But I'm interrupting your story."

"Yeah, but you're cheering me up," he says, grinning, slipping his arm around my waist, and now I can put my arm around his shoulders, and we can cuddle a little.

"The car you have now is the same one your folks gave you for Christmas that year?"

"Yeah," he replies, smiling. "I keep fixing the damn thing enough to keep it running. I know I should get rid of it, but...I can't. The heater's shot, and I have the feeling the transmission isn't far behind it."

"So we'll fix it."

"Transmissions are expensive."

"I know that, Donald. I may not be able to pop the hood and put one in, but I know what they cost."

"Sorry," he says, smiling. He's quiet a few moments, before he adds, very quietly, "It was the last time my dad said he was proud of me. The last time he'll ever say that. When that car finally dies, it's like the last tie I have to my family goes with it."

"I always wondered why you were so loyal to that car," I admit, and he chuckles. I'm glad he's smiling, laughing a little. If that car means so much to him, I'll have the damn thing bronzed and mounted on a marble base and displayed at the Albany Museum of Modern Art. Or find a way to pay for a new transmission, whichever is cheaper.

"It was acting up a lot tonight when I made the last run to the liquor store before the party, and I know it's on its last legs."

"No one can take away from you the memory of your dad giving you that car, even years after the car calls it quits." All these years of hating that horrid little car, and now I feel as protective of it as I do of Donald. I actually feel a lump in my throat at the notion of seeing it hauled off to the junkyard, when that thought used top make my heart leap for joy.

"I know. It's just...I know it's stupid and sentimental."

"Sentimental, but not stupid. Love, sentiment, family ties...those things aren't stupid."

"The party was good, I think," Donald says, and the change of subject leaves me a little dazed. I catch up quickly.

"It was great. Thank you for making it so much fun."

"You're the host, honey. I'm just the bartender."

"Just the bartender? You had groupies, Donald."

He laughs out loud at that, amused and a little guilty at the same time. He knew he'd put on a bit of a show for the ladies, and he'd had fun doing it.

"I was making strong drinks," he says, still grinning.

"It wasn't the drinks they were checking out, honey." I pause, then add, "I know, because I was checking out the hip action myself."

"You were, huh?" he asks, and now he's flirting with me.

"You were flirting, honey. Don't be so coy."

"Were you jealous?"

"Of what? They can look all they want," I reply, smugly. "At the end of the day, I'm the only one who gets to touch the goodies."

"Then let's go upstairs and I'll let you touch my goodies," he replies, his melancholy mood lifting, that little twinkle back in his eyes.

As we climb the stairs, I think about his poor old car out in the icy temperatures. This winter, we'd have to work on clearing out the part of the garage we're using for storage and make room for the bedraggled little hunk of metal to come in from the cold. And start searching junkyards for a used transmission. As easily as that, the foul little car had extended its hold from Donald to include me. Oh, well, everyone's spouse comes with baggage. Donald's just happens to weigh a ton and have some rust on it.

As we doze off to sleep again, spooned together under the covers, I realize I've been given another puzzle piece, and I feel it slip into place. I know a little more about the love of my life. He's given me a little more of himself, trusted me just a little more with a very private, personal piece of his soul.

How could he give me a better gift than that?