Three hours earlier….
“You’ve lost your damned mind,” Ash growled. “Get your crazy-ass up here before I kick it!”
“Hold on. I just need to angle Rudolph a little more to the right.” All Dex had to do was stretch a couple more inches and he’d have the pesky reindeer right where he wanted him. “Just don’t let go, Ash. No matter how tempted you might be.”
“Can we please not discuss you falling to your doom while you’re dangling from my hands by your fucking belt! I’m going to kill you,” Ash growled. “I knew this was a stupid idea.”
Yeah. Yeah. So what’s new.
“Better yet, I’m going to tell Sloane on you,” Ash said, sounding smug.
Dex snorted. “No you won’t.” Just one more inch. Come on you holly-horned, red-nosed bastard.
“You think,” Ash challenged.
“I know,” Dex replied, the tips of his fingers grazing Rudolph’s front hoof. “You want this for Sloane as much as I do. We both know how much he loves Christmas. Both of you do. You might not bounce off the walls like little kids—”
“Like you, you mean.”
Dex wrinkled his nose. “Whatever. Don’t knock my childlike wonder.”
“Is that what you call it? I call it—”
“Anyway, what I was saying is that Christmas means a lot to the both of you because neither of you had that growing up. You didn’t even have a childhood for crying out loud. You missed out on so much. Which is why I’m going to make sure that every single year Sloane has the best Christmas ever.” There. Yes! Perfect. Santa’s sleigh and his reindeer were now at the perfect angle looking as if they were taking off from the roof of their house. “Pull me up.”
Ash tugged with his usual finesse, and Dex flailed. He twisted his body so he wouldn’t hit Rudolph, and Ash growled at him.
“Stop fucking twisting, you ass!”
Dex felt Ash’s grip loosen, and he panicked, throwing an arm out to grab Ash, catching his sweater’s sleeve. The knitted Christmas sweater gave way, the sleeve tearing completely off, floating down like a giant red snow flurry. Dex yelped as he hung over the side of the house, swinging precariously as Ash held on to his belt with one hand, and grabbed a fistful of his sweater with the other, cursing him out.
Cael jerked at Dex’s distressed cry, his head shooting up to see Dex, and Dex’s eyes widened as he watched the chaos unfold before his eyes, as if it were happening in slow motion. Cael reeled back, slamming into Rosa who had a screw driver in her hand that she was using on one of the light fixtures. The tray of mugs containing hot chocolate in Cael’s hands went flying in the air, and something fizzed and popped, sparking a large flame while Rosa jerked, her hair smoking and standing on end. The hot chocolate came cascading down all over Hudson who spun to get out of the way, and slipped on one of the mugs, the rest hit the sidewalk, the ceramic shattering into hundreds of tiny projectiles and spraying Letty who let out a slew of curses to rival Ash’s. At the same time, Seb dove to catch Hudson, his boot snagging on one of the rows of garland, and over three hundred pounds of tiger Therian barreled into Letty, and Calvin who’d run out with the fire extinguisher. He cursed as Seb landed on him, his hand involuntarily squeezing down the handle, and white smoke bursting out all over Hobbs who’d rushed to help his boyfriend.
“Shit! Pull me up!”
Ash yanked at Dex, and he went slamming into Ash. They stumbled back, and Dex landed on one of the bags of dirt for the front garden. The bag burst, spewing dirt all over Ash who slipped on the melted snow and Dex’s jaw dropped as Ash soared through the air, and landed on his back in the middle of a huge puddle of snow and water which was now mixing with the dirt.
“I’m going to fucking kill you!”
Dex scrambled to his feet, and made a run for the door, Ash his heels. He hurried downstairs, and out the front realizing his mistake.
“Um, hey, guys.”
Everyone stood slowly, their narrowed eyes on him.
“Good job, everyone.” He slowly inched back toward the door. “It um, looks amazing. Sloane’s going to love it.” His back came up against something hard, and he could all but feel Ash’s laser eyes burning into him. Dex’s watched beep. “Oh, look at the time. Sloane’s going to be on his way over in five minutes. We should wrap up, and get inside.”
Everyone marched forward, and Dex knew he had about thirty seconds to live.
“I just want to say thank you for helping me with this. It really means a lot to me, and just so you know, I really appreciate you guys.” He let out a sigh, and pouted. “I’m sorry. You know Sloane means everything to me, and all I wanted was to give him the kind of Christmas he should have had as a kid.”
His friends stopped. They exchanged glances before all looking up past him to Ash who whirled Dex around to face him. He grabbed Dex by the collar, and thrust a finger in his face, opening his mouth to no doubt tear him a new one.
Dex mumbled quietly. “I’m sorry, Ash.” He shrugged. “He just means everything to me, you know?”
Ash let out a groan, and released him. With a sigh that told Dex he was the most annoying thing in Ash’s life, Ash turned toward the door.
“Everyone get inside. Sloane’s on his way.”
Dex stood to one side, his heart full of love for his friends. His family.
Dex blinked, his eyes refocusing on the beautiful face looking down at him. He gave Sloane a sheepish smile. “So that’s what happened.”
Sloane looked from Dex to their friends, and back. His expression softened, and he pulled Dex up against him to kiss his brow. Then he turned to their friends, his expression filled with so much love and pride.
“Thank you. Thank you for,” he motioned to the house, “taking all this on, just for me. It means so much. You all are the best family a guy could have.” Sloane left Dex to grab Ash in a big hug. “Thanks, Ash.”
Ash grunted, but he wrapped his arms around Sloane, squeezing, his voice rough when he spoke. “You deserve the best. Even if your husband is a menace.”
Sloane chuckled as he pulled back.
“Okay,” Ash said, clearing his throat. “Let’s all get cleaned up and get this party started.”
Dex hung back as everyone headed in, and Sloane pulled him into his embrace again. The flurries turned into a beautiful snowfall. The street was quiet, Christmas carols playing while the lights of their house twinkled. Sloane put his hand to Dex’s cheek, and Dex all but melted against him.
“Merry Christmas, baby,” Sloane said softly, his amber eyes filled with so much adoration for him.
“Merry Christmas,” Dex replied, his heart feeling as though it would burst from all the love he felt for this amazing man. “I love you.”
“I love you.” They kissed sweetly until it got too cold to stay outside any longer. When they pulled apart, Dex gave Sloane a mischievous wink. “Wait until you see what I have planned for next year.”
Sloane stared at him before he threw his head back, and laughed. He laced his fingers with Dex’s, and as they headed inside to spend Christmas surrounded by their little makeshift family, Dex couldn’t think of a time he’d been happier. He was so very lucky, and blessed. His family had grown over the years, and even though they had their differences, and they drove each other crazy, they all loved each other, and Dex wouldn’t change that for anything.
They stepped inside, and Dex stopped just inside the living room watching his friends and family laughing, joking, and chatting as they helped clean each other up. Letty and Rosa were in hysterics as Tony helped them attempt to tame Rosa’s frizzed mane. Seb stole a kiss from rosy-cheeked, somewhat tipsy Hudson as he wiped the hot chocolate off his husband’s face. Ash had a dopey grin on his face as Cael fussed over him. Hobbs and Calvin had their heads together, big boyish grins on their faces as Calvin murmured something to him, making Hobbs laugh softly, happiness twinkling in his green eyes.
“So what did you ask Santa for?” Sloane asked, kissing the top of Dex’s head.
“Nothing,” Dex said, his eyes getting a little teary as he smiled up at Sloane. “I already have everything I ever wanted.”
Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.