So This Is Christmas
It was a modest tree, short and thin. The needles weren't as abundant as they could have been and they certainly weren't as vibrant a green as the trees in other homes. It was nothing fancy, nothing to brag about but Skittery thought maybe it could be. It made their whole apartment smell of pine, vibrant and sneeze inducing if he got too indulgent about crushing the pale needles between his fingers. Somehow it made the bare front room of the apartment seem more lived in, bare as it was. With the little tree nestled up against a grimy window the snow swirling outside didn't seem nearly so cold and invasive.
Skittery's hair and shoulders were wet where snow had settled and melted as he wrestled the tree into place by himself. His palms and favorite hoodie were sticky with sap and grungy where dirt from the bark had smeared on his skin. It itched uncomfortably where he'd scratched up his forearm on a broken branch and he was sweating and a bit achey from dragging it up four flights of stairs.
The elevator had been out since before they had moved in. That was the sort of building they lived in, bare walls and water you maybe didn’t actually want to bathe in. But, like the tree, it was theirs and that was what mattered, ultimately.
The key rattled in the door, the creak of rusty hinges.
Skittery didn’t turn, just sank his hips back against the edge of their table. He crossed his arms over his chest, admiring his handiwork. Even if the tree leaned ever so slightly in the not as secure as it could have been base. The floorboards in the hall creaked, he listened for the sound of keys being dropped onto the kitchen counter and socked feet padding through the kitchen.
"Skits?" it was only at the sound of his own name that he turned, looking back over his shoulder into hazel eyes. Mush raised a single eyebrow as he stepped into the room, shedding a second hand store peacoat as he came. There were still a few white flakes melting in his hair and on the curve of his lashes.
"I dug out your box of decorations," he offered, jerking his head back in the direction of an old microwave box. Mush’s round, precise writing had marked up the sides years ago. Mush’s hands settled on the curve of his jaw and he relished the warmth of Mush’s thighs between his legs as his lover bent to kiss him gently.
His mouth was delightfully cool, sweet as if he’d been sucking on peppermint.
"You hate Christmas," Mush reminded him, voice warm and low, as if to speak too loudly was to ruin the moment. Nothing he said was untrue. Skittery was not the Christmas sort, even if they’d met on Christmas Eve in a silent greyhound. One of them running away from things too big too handle and one returning home, to put up lights and put a star on a tree, all because it was tradition.
Outside his window Skittery could see the world go past in blurs of streaking, buttery orange light and the dizzying swirl of falling snow. The bus was quiet, apart from the soft sounds of a dozen or so people shifting to get comfortable with not enough leg room. It was a world unto itself, insulated from everything else by the hum of the motor. There was the discreet silence of people who did not want to get to know each other, who were busy with their own lives and concerns. A greyhound on Christmas Eve was like that. Skittery could see his own reflection in the window, insubstantial and ghostlike but real enough that he could see how tired he looked, how ground down. As if he might blow away.
Across the isle from him, the artist – his hands smudged with charcoal – recline in his seat, sprawled his legs out into the isle. He let his head fall back and watched nothing with admirable intent, arms folded casually across his stomach. Every now and again their eyes almost met but Skittery turned his face away. He turned his head back to his own window and pressed his forehead against the cool glass.
"Are you going home to family?" the seat beside him shifted as someone dropped their weight into it and Skittery turned. The artist grinned over at him, arranging himself once more into a too casual sprawl. When Skittery didn’t say anything he continued, "like, for Christmas. Tis the season, right?"
"I’m not really a Christmas person," he shifted in his seat, pulling himself more up right as the other man just watched him. His skin was rich and dark, the writer in Skittery wanted to make some coffee flavoured comparison which he valiantly tried to suppress.
"Well, then you can come and help me decorate my tree," it wasn’t a suggestion, it was said as matter of fact as anything could be. He flashed a smile that was all blunt white teeth.
"I’m Skittery," it took him a second to realize that he was actually agreeing to this and a second later to realize that the other man was shaking his hand, thumb brushing across his knuckles. Skits cocked his head to the side, "Sebastion."
"Skittery’s fine," he smiled again, dimples forming in his cheeks and making him look younger than Skittery’s 24, "I’m Mush."
"Hate’s such a strong word," he reached up to burry his fingers in the dark curls of Mush’s hair, drawing him down for another kiss before he let him pull away. Mush brushed the back of his hand against a few days worth of stubble on Skittery’s jaw. Skittery smiled and it was lopsided, he could feel one corner of his mouth lifting before the other, "I prefer the term can’t fucking stomach it. But."
"There’s always a but with you," Mush rolled his eyes and pulled away by inches, his attention turning to the box of lights and little glass ornaments that he kept stashed in the back of their closet. Skittery had watched Mush dig them out that first night and used it as an excuse to enjoy the way his pants stretched across the curve of his ass.
"But you love it," Skittery concluded, peeling off his sticky sweater and heading for the kitchen to wash his hands. When he spoke again he had to yell over the sound of running water, "Christmas is a thing that I can do for you and really martyr myself over."
"Which one of us is the artist again?" Mush was facing away from him when Skittery rejoined him but he could hear the edge of laughter in his voice. He had already dug out a strand of lights and was busily wrapping it around their little tree, already plugged in. Skittery hoisted himself up onto the table, feet resting on the seat of one of their thrift store chairs and he set to untangling a second strand of lights.
It was short work for the two of them to untangle lights and haphazardly weigh their tree down with gaudy baubles all the shades of a box of Crayola crayons. It was almost uglier with the ornaments on it, some of them with paint scratching off and their colors not bothering to co-ordinate. Only one thing remained: the blonde angel in Mush’s hands, her little brocade gown crumpled with a year’s worth of storage. Skittery plucked it from his hands as he did every year and stretched up onto his toes to settle her at the top of their tree.
Warm calloused fingers slid across his stomach where his tee-shirt rode up and a shiver went through him that had nothing to do with the cold. Mush settled against his side, arm around his waist under the hem of his shirt and Skittery once more indulged himself in the silky strands of Mush’s hair. They were silent for a minute, watching the play of light on their Christmas tree. It was Mush who broke the silence.
"I love you," for a space of heart beats Skittery was going to respond but then he closed his mouth over Mush’s and there really wasn’t any need.