Mistletoe '05: Bright Future Any Way You Look

The fire crackled, wood popping and singing as the flames danced on radiating heat. The room, lit only by the Christmas tree lights and other decorations and the fireplace, was bright enough to read by; Buck Wilmington didn't do anything by halves.

Chris smiled, slouching a little lower in his partner's loose hold. Buck, his back braced against the front of the recliner, sat spread-legged while Chris leaned back against his chest. Long arms had wrapped immediately, naturally around his chest and belly, and hadn't moved much save to stroke or soothe him now and then. Buck was good at that, did it without even noticing really, like most people breathed. He smiled at the fire, using the pad of his forefinger to trace the veins and tendons that ran the back of Buck's hands. Staring at the brilliant yellows and golds of the flames, Chris felt more grateful, more hopeful, than he had in a long time.

The day had been easy, smooth, filled with enough booze and food to lubricate the Christmas cheer of seven close men and their varied relatives, spouses, partners and friends. They'd only chased the last of them away an hour or so ago, just after the kitchen duty had been finished. Everyone took their turn, just like everyone brought food and took food away, so the party got easier each year.

The party seemed to get bigger each year too, even with the drop-off that had happened after he and Buck had. Some people. Other people had surprised them. Orrin Travis, who never would have deigned to mingle with the riff raff before some idiot had found out about him and Buck and made it his personal mission to feed grist to the office gossip mill, had dragged wife, daughter-in-law and grandson out here every year for post-dinner eggnog. Back at work, Orrin would make a point of thanking him, or Buck for their hospitality in the most public place he could find. Leave it to Orrin to force something that was technically out of bounds down the throats of his peers just as he'd shoved Team Seven down their throats four years before.

A lot had happened in those four years, and in the two preceding them right after Sarah and Adam had passed. A lot that might never have happened….

"I ever tell you what I saw when I died?" he asked. Admirably, only Buck's hands stiffened, and only for a second. Startled then, not scared. Chris patted the hands, using both of his own to drag Buck's hands securely down to his stomach.

"Didn't know you saw anything," Buck finally said, then, "It doesn't matter, Chris."

But it did. Back when he'd been drinking so hard, back when he'd decided nobody's pain could touch his, and nobody's grief had ever been greater, he'd done exactly what Buck had warned him he'd do: he'd gotten so shit-faced he didn't remember falling onto the bed, vomited while he was still passed out, and aspirated in it. He remembered none of those details, nothing at all of what had happened to his body until he woke up in the hospital, oxygen canula under his nose, IV in his arm, and Buck, standing tall and dark and furious at the foot of the bed.

Buck had recounted every detail, from the mess of his own bodily fluids to the way Buck's adrenalin-heightened senses wouldn't let him forget the taste of alcohol-diluted bile on his lips from the CPR, to how the EMTs shook their heads and followed the same protocols for Chris that they would have for a skid row lush. And finally, Buck had told him flat-out, "Decide what you want Chris, and stop fucking up everybody's lives around you. Decide what you want, you son of a bitch."

That day in the hospital marked an end, and a beginning, and for some reason he'd kept his damned mouth shut all these years, maybe because it was Buck who'd saved him, and maybe because Buck's lecture had been so quiet, and so heartfelt. Ultimately thought, the words hadn't been necessary, but maybe Chris had kept quiet because he'd wanted to give Buck that, to let Buck know that <> mattered even if the words didn't.

He'd already made his decision.

The tunnel had been there, more like a wide hospital corridor with doors on both sides. Everyone's back was to him: his father's, his grandmother's, Sarah and Adam, limned in the wash of white just like all the stories of near-death experiences said, bright light at the end of a tunnel that Chris's rational brain easily excused to the release of chemicals in the brain and the failing power of optic nerves when assaulted with the end. Everyone was turned away, turned toward the white light that didn't blind, their arms stretched behind them, hands reaching out for him.

It didn't matter if it had been real. It only mattered that he'd turned and kept turning, slowly, never dizzy and never doubting. At one end of the corridor, his dead relatives. At the other end, an open field where the green of the grass looked like something colorized from a movie, too green, too bright, too perfect to be real. People stood in that field, far in the distance: his mother, his sisters. Buck. He'd turned again and reached to touch Sarah's hair but her body was further away in the vision than his eyes had told him. He'd turned again, reached again. He didn't take even a step toward her, some instinct warning him that his wife's way was death. He'd cried, in the death dream, realizing that he wasn't ready to follow her—

"Was I crying?" he asked suddenly.


"When my heart stopped. When you were giving me CPR."


So that had only been in his head, too. "I saw Sarah, Buck. And Adam, and my dad."

Behind him, Buck had grown preternaturally still.

"It looked like a hospital corridor. I always figured I opened my eyes in the emergency room or something." He waited, staring into the fire, but Buck neither moved nor spoke. "I saw them, and that stupid white light people talk about was there. You were behind me, way behind. And mom, and Cathy and Beth. Couple other people I couldn't make out. I knew," he said, settling a little deeper and squeezing Buck's hand a little tighter, "that if I took one step toward her, it'd all be over. And that I didn't want it to be over yet."

Movement now, and Buck's mouth pressed hard into the skin of his neck. "Good for me."

"Good for me, that you were there to drag my scrawny ass back off the edge."

"Good for both of us."

He waited for a minute, but Buck seemed to have settled back down. "You aren't gonna ask?"

"Ask what?" Buck said. "We're here, we're happy. She'll still be waiting for you when your time comes, I reckon."

"Or you'll go first," he said, thoughtful, "and I'll have a whole party ahead of me."

"Awful morbid, for Christmas, ain't it?" Buck asked.

Chris shook his head, tilting further for the brush of Buck's mouth and finally squirming around, to greet that mouth with his own. Silk and spit, softer than breath. He pushed a little more, opened Buck's mouth with his tongue and spent a long moment mapping hard teeth and smooth gums. "Nah," he said, pulling back enough to meet confused blue eyes. "Just, I'm feelin' pretty grateful to be alive."

Buck smiled, disarmed and disarming. "Yeah?"

"Yep." He slid a little further, and put his hand on Buck's inner thight right near the junction of leg and body. An inch further and he'd be rubbing Buck's lax balls through denim. He smiled with the knowledge that he'd be doing that and more, within the next couple of minutes.

"Well," Buck said, the smile Chris fully expected when he'd reached to grope Buck's groin springing out, "you know what I do when I'm feelin' grateful…"

Buck did a lot of things. Buck saved people's lives and watched over them in a fury. Buck stood by people and found ways to make fun of those closest to him. Buck held and cuddled like a high school girl, and Buck fucked like a porn star. "I know what I do," he countered, bending forward for another deep kiss.

"Yeah?" Buck asked, grinning, his eyes telling clearly enough what—and who—he hoped was coming next.

"Yep. Anything you want."

It wouldn't be pornographic tonight. It would be slow, and lazy and intimate, and so warm beside the fire. Chris glanced over his shoulder at the bright crackling light, then back to Buck. Any way he looked at it, the future looked bright.

-the end-