I Only Go With You

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Nick had hated Christmas for as long as he could remember. A month of trying to scrape enough money together, then agonizing over the right things to get at the very last minute, standing in line for half an hour at each store - all of which culminated in one evening of disappearing behind all his siblings and their begging to open the presents, eating food that would make him feel like he was walking around with a bowling ball in his stomach for days after, and adding more plastic toys to the shelf of things he didn't really need. For some reason Christmas had always made him more mellow, more jaded, more grown-up than any other time of the year.

It was his twenty-fourth Christmas and the setting was different. Instead of an overly decorated house with shrieking kids that ran back and forth between their rooms and the kitchen where his mom would be cooking, he was in a small apartment slaving over the stove himself. Instead of the radio being turned on to whatever radio station played the most Christmas music, he'd put an instrumental compilation CD in the CD player, and it was on low volume so the sound didn't go past the kitchen. Instead of the TV being turned on to the fortieth viewing of It's A Wonderful Life, there was his own dark blue reflection in the window every time he had to get back to chop vegetables. There wasn't snow outside, but it was drizzling rain very lightly, like an airy, refreshing blanket being laid down so carefully you barely notice it.

Instead of his mother's voice constantly drilling through his skull to call him to whatever chore she needed done, there was an arm slinking around his waist and a warm body pressing to his back. Nick smiled and said, without turning around, "It's about time."

"Sorry." Brian pressed his lips to the nape of Nick's neck - not really a kiss, just soft contact. "The last customers wouldn't leave. They kept saying things like, 'but it's the holidays' so I'd let them stay longer."

Nick snorted. "You're the manager," he said, as Brian hooked his chin over Nick's shoulder. "You get to kick their asses out whenever you want."

"I know." Nick could feel Brian's grin against his cheek. "Which is why I finally told them, 'look, I've got a really hot guy making a Christmas dinner for me at home, so I'm not exactly sorry to say that I need your butts to be out of here in approximately two seconds.'"

Nick smiled again, hitting the next slice to the carrot unevenly. "It's not anything fancy," he said, exhaling as Brian's fingers spread out on his stomach. "Just - you know, some kind of stew, I think."

"Exactly what I'm in the mood for." Brian's hands settled on Nick's hips, and he turned Nick around to face him. Brian had dark circles under his eyes and his hair was flat with lingering rain drops, but the smile was there and Nick almost leaned down to kiss him mid-conversation. "Is Howie asleep?" he asked.

Nick nodded. "He's in the living room." He couldn't resist adding, "you must've really wiped him out this morning."

Brian looked scandalized. "Me? I was just taking care of my duties. When you leave that early someone's gotta take care of your boyfriend for you." His smile changed, slipping into a mix of mischief and childlike excitement. "Let's go wake him."

He was already moving before Nick could agree, so Nick simply said "wait" and reached for Brian's arm to tug him back. Brian looked up at him questioningly, but Nick simply kissed him, backing him slowly up against the wall next to the kitchen door. Brian kissed him back, his fingers fanning out against Nick's cheeks before settling in his hair and tugging him further down. It was a soft kiss, a 'hello' kiss, but Nick couldn't resist brushing his tongue gently against Brian's lower lip, just so he could feel Brian tense in delicious anticipation.

When Nick pulled back Brian followed him, his fingers massaging the back of Nick's neck as he kissed him one more time. "Nice to see you, too," he murmured, and Nick could sense the stretch of his grin again even with his eyes closed. It was his favorite way to see Brian smile, when he could hear it in his voice or feel it against his own skin.

Nick smiled back, a tad sheepish, and reached for Brian's wrist. "C'mon," he said.

It only took three steps for Nick (four for Brian) to get down their tiny hallway to the living room. Inside Howie was sprawled out on the couch, sound asleep. Nick leaned against the doorframe and watched him, the steady pattern of his breathing and the worry lines on his forehead that were almost smoothed out when he was this relaxed. Nick always had a hard time making himself wake Howie; he was always so stressed out working on the stock exchange that when he came home, he usually looked dead to the world and Nick got crazy notions like tucking him down with comfy blankets and making him hot chocolate.

Brian had no such qualms. He didn't even hesitate in walking over to Howie and lying carefully down on top of him, fitting into Howie's every groove and line like nothing Nick had ever seen. He tucked his head under Howie's chin and brushed slow kisses along the slope of his neck. "Howie," he murmured in a sing-song voice, and Nick watched as Howie slowly started to stir. "Howie, Howie, Howie. Can you wake up now? Nick made us a really great dinner."

Howie made a rumbling sound low in his throat and stretched as much as he could with Brian on top of him. "Brian?" he asked, sounding so confused and sleepy that Nick had to bite back a smile.

"Yeah, it's me." Brian raised himself up on his elbows so he could lean down and kiss him. "Hi," he said, smiling against Howie's mouth.

Sometimes Nick would catch himself getting jealous. Of which one of them, he was never really sure. Maybe both of them. They had something together that he'd never seen anywhere else, something that could make him feel incredibly small and abnormally large all at the same time, like a pebble in your shoe that you can't get out or an annoying doorstep that you keep stumbling over for no reason. He suspected they all got jealous occasionally though, so it was okay. And then there were moments, like now, where he didn't feel anything but lucky that he got to be a part of something so intimate and loving and private.

Howie seemed to be waking up, because his hands were trailing slowly up and down Brian's back. "Hi," he muttered right before another kiss. "Nick missed you."

Brian laughed softly. "Yeah, I know." His next kiss lingered, and his fingers hesitated on Howie's neck, like for a second he didn't know how to stop, before he sighed and rested his head on Howie's chest. "We already said hello."

Howie shifted to accommodate Brian's weight and tilted his head to the side. He still hadn't opened his eyes. "Nick?" he asked.

"I'm here," Nick said, and pushed away from the door. He walked over and crouched down in front of the couch, right beside them both. "Did you sleep okay?" he asked quietly, smoothing Howie's hair away from his forehead.

Howie opened his eyes a tiny sliver and smiled as he nodded. He looked so warm and cozy that Nick felt a tiny ache deep in his chest, a selfish need to close that last bit of space between them. But Brian looked so comfortable right where he was, his breaths matching Howie's and his index finger drawing idle circles on Howie's arm, and Nick wouldn't trade this image for anything.

Howie touched his shoulder, and Nick tore his gaze slowly away from Brian to look back at him. Howie's smile was still drowsy-warm, and when his touch drifted to his cheek Nick felt like a tool for wanting to lean into it, but not enough to actually stop himself from doing it. "You cooked?" Howie asked, voice still a little slurry. "You hate Christmas dinners."

Brian turned his head to press a kiss to Howie's chest through the fabric of his shirt, and Nick smiled to himself. Everything was so quiet this time. He rested his head against the arm of the couch, right next to Howie's, and let himself listen to the sound of their breathing and nothing else. "This one'll be okay, I think," he said, after a while.

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