Oz Reid was attending the symphony. He was not, in fact, much of a classical music fan. But this was the third time he’d heard selections from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio performed live, because it contained some fantastic violin parts, and Oz happened to know a fantastic violinist. More specifically, Oz was in love with a young virtuoso violinist named Noah Norman, who had a very bright future in front of him. A future, Oz told himself sternly, which did not include himself, except as a friend and audience member.
Oz and Noah had been neighbors growing up in their small town. Oz was four years older than Noah, who was an only child, bright and sweet and lonely, and something about him had always tugged at Oz’s heart. Oz’s brothers and sisters hadn’t had much patience for Noah trying to tag along on their adventures, but Oz had never minded it much.
Oz’s bedroom had faced Noah’s across a stretch of lawn between their two houses, and one evening when Oz was ten and Noah was six, Oz had heard a tremendous, horrendous screeching noise coming from Noah’s bedroom. Oz had stuck his head out his window and found a very excited Noah holding a very tiny violin. The smile on Noah’s face was blinding, and he held the instrument as if the bow and violin were wings that could carry him off the ground.
“VIOLIN!” Noah exclaimed to Oz, the triumphant call of a king who’d just conquered the world.
“I can see that,” Oz said. “Can you play it?”
Noah frowned in concentration— he still made that same face as an adult and it was just as adorable— and coaxed out a few screams of protest from the instrument, that Oz finally recognized as Hot Cross Buns.
“You can play a whole song?” Oz said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Noah beamed at him. That was another look he still wore, and he still directed it at Oz, and Oz had never quite learned how to deal with all that happiness and gratitude coming his way.
It became a routine. Noah practiced every night at seven-thirty, and Oz would lean out his window and yell something nice, and Noah would beam at him, and then one day Oz realized that Noah’s music actually did sound nice.
The compliments stopped being a lie by the time Noah was eight. Oz would sit on his windowsill and watch Noah’s fingers dance over the strings with astonishing speed. Noah’s bow arm would move gracefully (“Keep your elbow up!” Oz would shout, because Noah had said once that he kept forgetting), and his whole body would sway with the music. Oz still couldn’t do math equations in his head without hearing violin music in the background, because he’d done homework to that soundtrack all through school.
At twelve, Noah developed a crush on Oz. It was inevitable, probably, because Oz was sixteen and thus very cool, and he was someone safe, who didn’t make fun of Noah out of envy of his talent. Oz did not return Noah’s feelings, not then. Noah was a good friend, but he was still a kid.
Two years later, Oz graduated from high school. He’d done okay in school, but it had been a struggle to make himself sit behind a desk and concentrate when he could be out doing something with friends. Oz, to his confusion, was one of those people whom everybody seemed to like. He got along well with his entire graduating class, as well as a couple of classes ahead and behind him.
Oz loved school, Noah had opined once, except for the education part. And so when the job of janitor at their local elementary school had opened up, Oz had applied. He loved the kids and their fearsome approach to life. He loved the noise and mess and the friendships just beginning. He went to all of the school’s orchestra concerts, listening to the screeching violins with a nostalgic fondness.
Meanwhile Noah, in high school now himself, was living a life that Oz could only squint at from a distance. Noah had started traveling for violin contests and concerts all over the country. He won prizes, including college scholarships and invitations to make recordings with orchestras as a guest artist. He was terrified before every one of those, of course, so Oz would come over and critique the performance (“I don’t care how fast you can play that part, slow it down, you sound like you hate the piece, and relax your shoulder when you go into the fourth position, it’s a fine line between high notes and screeching”).
Noah would respond to this caring advice with a flipped up middle finger, but at least he’d laugh. And when practice was over, they’d watch movies and eat candy and Noah would gaze at Oz with intense feeling whenever he thought Oz wasn’t looking.
When Noah was a senior in high school, Oz finally realized that Noah was not a little kid anymore. And the problem with that wasn’t so much that Oz feared he might start developing romantic feelings for Noah himself, but that Noah was not losing his. He’d had a childish crush. Oz had assumed he’d outgrow it. He’d hoped he’d outgrow it. Because there was no way that a brilliant virtuoso violinist should be dating a janitor.
After graduation, Noah accepted a full ride scholarship from a big-city college about five hours away, and now he began traveling the world to play his violin. He still got anxious, though, so he and Oz would do video-call critique sessions. And because Oz knew how nervous it made Noah to travel to a faraway place and play to an audience that contained no one he knew, Oz would make the trip to see Noah perform anywhere that could possibly be considered local (so within eight hours drive), and sometimes even farther. And then Oz would sit in the audience and gaze at Noah with intense feeling whenever he thought Noah wasn’t looking.
Oz had fallen in love. He hadn’t meant to, but to be fair, he wasn’t sure anyone could watch someone beam at them continually for sixteen years and not get addicted to it. Oz was determined not to act on his feelings, though, and for the most part, he was able to keep to that. Except that Noah suspected. And Noah was delighted. And one night after a concert, Noah kissed him.
The cruelest thing Oz had ever done in his life was to the man he loved. He hadn’t kissed Noah back. He’d pulled away. And Oz’s punishment was that he’d had to watch the expression on Noah’s face, beginning with an honest confusion, and then slowly, step by step, turning to a blindsided heartbreak. Noah’s face paled, and his dark eyes grew brighter, as the beginnings of tears were reflected in the light. He’d dropped Oz’s gaze, his body rigid with tension, and mumbled some apology.
Oz hated himself for what he’d done. But it was best for Noah. Noah had worked so hard to get where he was, and Oz could not let him risk it by tying himself to a man with a high school education, who’d traveled out of state only to attend concerts, who could play no music himself. Noah had left a few days later for a tour of Italy and Spain, and when he’d gotten back, their friendship continued largely as it always had. But always, there was that undertone of Noah’s saddened pining.
Oz still went to all Noah’s concerts. That was why he was here tonight on Christmas Eve-Eve, as Noah called it (December 23). Noah’s college had dismissed for the semester, but he’d stayed around to perform the Christmas Oratorio with the city orchestra. Noah would graduate from that college in the spring, and no doubt move to New York or Paris and have a fantastic career. The kind he couldn’t have if he was with Oz, stuck in their tiny hometown.
Noah was magnificent in the Oratorio, and also in the silly bits that the orchestra threw in here and there, like Jingle Bells and Let it Snow at intermission. And then, of course, Noah, their star, took the stage at the end. He started to perform a solo version of Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but somehow along the way it morphed into Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Noah producing violin sound effects, and singing by the orchestra behind him and the audience in front. Oz so loved to see Noah laugh on stage.
Noah looked even happier backstage after the concert. “Oz!” he exclaimed, as he always did, and he threw his arms around Oz, as he always did, with that same beaming smile that meant everything.
“Fantastic gig,” Oz said. “I liked how you tweaked the dynamics on the aria around the vocalist. And the tuxedo is nice.”
“I hate it,” Noah said, because he did. Oz, on the other hand, was (secretly) very appreciative of the way Noah looked in a tuxedo. It made his every move seem that much more elegant, even when joking around backstage. Noah had grown into a very attractive young man. He had large brown eyes and he wore his dark hair rather long in front. He had fine features but broad shoulders, and he was as tall as Oz now. And Noah had the most graceful hands Oz had ever seen.
Noah liked for Oz to join him backstage, so Oz knew almost everyone in this orchestra and many others besides. He was introduced to a new oboist, who said, “So this is the famous Oz,” on shaking his hand, but before Oz could respond to that, one of the percussion guys smacked Oz on the back (percussion guys liked to hit things), and said, “Oswald. Good to see you, man.”
As others came to greet Oz and everyone put their instruments to bed in their cases, someone asked Noah if he was coming out to dinner with the group.
“Well,” Noah said. “I’m afraid I promised Oz dinner at my place to say thanks for the ride home tomorrow.” He seemed to blush lightly. “You know, we thought since Oz was going to be here tonight, why not drive home together for Christmas?”
This was true. Noah had asked, and Oz had of course said yes, even though it meant he’d have to drive Noah back to college later. And though it meant that they’d be spending the night together tonight, which was not a common thing. But Noah had asked, and that was all Noah ever needed to do.
But for some reason the entire orchestra seemed extremely amused by the idea of Oz and Noah having dinner and sharing a car ride. There was a lot of laughing and winking and a bit of elbowing.
Noah was no help. “Yes, well,” he said, still blushing. “Happy Holidays, everyone!”
The first thing Noah did when he got home was to change out of his tuxedo. That should probably have made things easier on Oz, but when Noah emerged from his bedroom wearing black athletic pants, a red sweatshirt, and fuzzy socks with Christmas trees on them, he looked so soft and warm that Oz wanted to pull him into his arms. Especially because it was actually a little cold in the apartment.
Oz felt that he needed to make fun of the socks, though, so he did, and Noah made some sort of half-fond and half-annoyed noise in response as he started dinner. “I hope you don’t mind spaghetti with sauce out of a jar,” he said. “It’s quick, and I’m starving.”
“Of course not,” Oz said, and he got up to grab a package of noodles from the cupboard. Noah had decorated his apartment for the holiday, although he didn’t have a tree. Instead there were some whimsical garlands strung up in the kitchen, one of plastic candy canes, one of ceramic gingerbread men, another of tiny golden orchestra instruments that jingled lightly when Oz moved the cupboard door.
Noah broke open the package and dumped the noodles into boiling water. “The other day, Janine— you know, our harpist— came over and taught me to make some fancy rice and beans thing with acorn squash.”
“That’s great, I’m glad you’ve got so many friends,” Oz said.
Noah got a bit of a smile on his face as he stirred, and he said in a low voice, “Now, Oz, you know very well I’m gay.” But before Oz could respond to the teasing, Noah’s smile faded. “That’s why I’m glad to have so many friends,” he said. “Can’t say I’m altogether thrilled about another family Christmas, to tell you the truth.” Noah’s voice fell low enough to be just audible over the boiling water. “It’s really too bad it couldn’t just be you and me.”
By the time dinner was eaten, the chilly temperature of the apartment was becoming quite obvious. “I’m sorry it’s a little cold in here,” Noah said, rubbing his arms. “The landlord’s always messing with the heater, to no avail. He doesn’t have your talent, I’m afraid.”
“There’s not much talent involved in boiler maintenance,” Oz said.
Noah made a scoffing noise. “If that was true, it would be fixed. Let me check the thermostat again. It’s in the bedroom.” He disappeared for a moment while Oz washed dishes. “No luck,” Noah said, coming back out. “I have it set to 80. Well, we could share a blanket and watch a movie.”
“Sure,” said Oz, pretending the idea did not panic him.
“A Christmas movie,” Noah said.
“Not from Hallmark.”
Noah narrowed his eyes. “Not Die Hard.”
“What about Black Christmas?”
Noah looked like he thought he should object, but didn’t really want to. “Fine.”
“You love a good slasher movie,” Oz said, grinning.
“There’s no such thing as a good slasher movie,” Noah argued, pulling a blue blanket out from under the couch. “Ergo, I love a bad slasher movie.”
“Ergo,” Oz repeated.
“Ergo. You might not know, that means I’m a very snooty person who speaks Latin and you don’t.” Noah sat down in the middle of the couch, not leaving a terribly large space for Oz on either side.
“Is that what it means?”
“It does. Oh!” Noah said, as Oz sat down. “You’re so warm. Would you mind if I—”
With the little space left, Noah was already pressed up against Oz’s legs. Oz managed to shake his head, and Noah curled up against him, arranging the blanket over them.
“Did you make this blanket?” Oz asked, in the most normal tone he could manage with Noah practically in his lap.
“I did. On the tour of Spain.” Noah pulled on the blanket until he found a solitary yellow piece. “Except for this bit. There was someone on one of the buses making a scarf and we traded a square.”
“You’ve had the most wonderful experiences,” Oz said.
Noah somehow managed to shift even closer to Oz as he rearranged the blanket. “I have,” he said quietly, looking up at Oz with intense fondness, quite as if he thought watching a terrible movie on the couch could compare with touring Spain.
The movie was torture. Not the movie itself, actually, it wasn’t that bad. The torture was sitting curled up with Noah so closely that Oz could feel Noah’s heartbeat in his chest. It was a blessing that Noah wasn’t fully on Oz’s lap, because Oz was more than a little aroused by the situation. And then Noah fell asleep. He’d rested his head on Oz’s shoulder and Oz noticed when his breathing evened out and became slow.
Oz watched Noah as the changing light from the TV flickered over his face. Noah’s mouth was slightly parted, and those talented hands lay motionless for once. He felt soft and warm and Oz began to have fantasies of his own.
If Noah was his— if all of Noah’s brilliance and passion and beauty were Oz’s to have, he could have pulled Noah into his arms. He’d wake him with gentle kisses to his throat and slide his hands beneath that sweatshirt. Eventually they’d warm enough to shed their clothes, but Noah would stay in Oz’s lap, open and wanting, and Oz could give him any pleasure he desired.
Noah woke up when the movie ended and Oz turned off the TV. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Noah said. “It’s been a lot, getting ready for the holidays. And you are far too comfortable.”
“It’s okay, I almost fell asleep too,” Oz lied.
The light in the room was very dim with the TV off, but Oz could see Noah clearly as he raised a hand to Oz’s cheek. There was a bit of stubble there, and Noah rubbed a thumb across it. His eyes were moving slowly from Oz’s eyes to his lips.
“I should get to bed,” Noah said softly. “I’ll find another blanket for you for the couch. Unless— unless you want to share the bed with me. It would be a lot warmer that way.” His eyes flicked up to meet Oz’s gaze and stayed there.
There was no way, Oz knew, that such a sharp, clear, fragile moment like this was not going to break. He wanted to draw it out, to live a little longer on the couch, with Noah soft and warm and close. But the longer the moment stretched, the more brittle it became.
It broke gently, at least. Noah saw the unspoken answer and didn’t look heartbroken. Just sad. He stood up and their contact was lost.
At least, Oz noted, a few sleepless hours later, the heater seemed to have rallied. It was no longer so cold in the apartment. But Oz was nowhere near as warm as he’d been with Noah in his arms.
“Oh, my goodness,” said Noah, when he emerged from his bedroom the next morning, looking sleep-rumpled and adorable. “You made your terrible donuts.”
“It’s Christmas Eve,” Oz said. “Tradition.”
Noah sat down at the table and picked up a donut cooling on a paper towel. “These are horrendous,” he said, with his mouth full.
The apartment was still warm, and Noah’s cheeks were slightly flushed. The TV was on low in the living room, and strains of Christmas music occasionally drifted in from commercials. The kitchen smelled of cinnamon sugar and fry oil.
“The dough’s not even sweet,” Noah complained, reaching for another donut already. “It’s plain biscuit dough out of a refrigerated tube.”
“That’s why I put the cinnamon sugar on them. If you hate them so much—”
Noah grinned. “I don’t hate them. But they’re still awful.”
“Like the last bars of Hoedown?”
Noah looked gratified by the comparison. “Copland should have been smacked for writing that ending. How the hell did he think people were going to play it?”
“But you love it.”
“I love it.” Noah reached for a third donut. In his defense, they were fairly small.
They fell quiet as the weather report came onto the TV. Oz had seen the forecast of snow yesterday, but it had not been as dire as this.
A winter storm warning has been issued for the entire state as officials are saying it’s definitely going to be a white Christmas. Not too much to worry about if you’ve got a sleigh and reindeer, but the rest of us are being advised to end the holiday travel by two p.m. to make it home before the snow.
Oz glanced at the clock. “We’ll just make it if we leave soon.”
Noah hurried to get dressed with a mouth full of donut.
The tire on Oz’s truck blew about an hour down the road. It startled them in the middle of a conversation about the holiday concert at the elementary school where Oz worked. The kindergarten had worn little headbands they’d made out of construction paper colored to look like candy canes. But some of the children had apparently thought the traditional colors of red and white were boring, and so there were black, purple, blue, and rainbow candy canes as well.
“You’d’ve had red,” Oz said. “Traditionalist.”
“You’d’ve had rainbow,” Noah said, which was probably true, and then he made a surprised little squeaking noise when the tire blew. Oz steered onto the shoulder and brought the truck to a stop.
It had gotten very cold already, but the skies were still clear. They fixed the tire easily enough, as soon as Noah agreed to keep his hands away from anything that might damage them. So Oz worked with the wrench and jack, while Noah, somewhat disgruntled, stood by and made disparaging remarks in retaliation. (“I’d have had that fixed by now. For goodness’ sake, my grandmother would have had that fixed by now. You know, I think even her cat would have.”)
Oz spared a moment to flip up his middle finger, and Noah laughed.
They only lost about twenty minutes to the tire, but quite a bit more to lunch. They had a favorite cafe on this route, just off the interstate, and just as they finished hurrying through their meal, the power went out. Without power, there was no credit card machine available, and neither Oz or Noah were carrying much cash. Oz had one blank check with him, but it was from out of state.
So they stood around for a while, joking with the now-idle cooks about washing dishes to pay for their lunch. When the power finally came back on, Oz looked out the window to see the first snowflakes falling. “We can still beat it,” he said.
About a half hour down the road, it became clear that they couldn’t. Oz got off the highway at the next exit, barely visible in the thick snow that was falling over the truck like a blanket. It happened to be a small town with one hotel, according to Noah’s phone, a little family-run inn.
“Well,” Noah said, as they pulled into the parking lot, “if we keep having a run of this kind of luck, we might get stuck here, just the two of us, for a few days. Have to have our own Christmas.” His voice was light with a sort of fragile hope. “I’m— I’m not sure I’d call that bad luck, honestly.” But he didn’t look at Oz, just reaching into the back seat to grab his suitcase and violin.
Contrary to Christmas tradition, there actually was a room available at the inn. It had two beds. Oz was honestly not sure whether or not he was grateful about that. They phoned their families to say they’d be late, and Oz didn’t like hearing the tension in Noah’s voice as he spoke to his mother. Noah looked relieved when he hung up.
But Noah looked even happier when the sound of a piano drifted up the stairs. He glanced up from checking the humidity in his violin case with that excited expression he always got when he heard someone performing music.
The piano was in the lounge, they learned, and there was another stranded guest playing. The inn had put out a pot of hot apple cider, and other guests were joining in with Christmas carols. Noah dragged Oz to the piano so they could sing too.
After the fourth verse of Jingle Bells, Oz said, “You should go get your violin.”
Noah made a bit of a face. “Okay,” he said quietly, “but not a word about tours of Spain, all right? If everyone finds out what I do, they’ll stop playing. They’ll think they aren’t good enough or that I’ll look down on them.”
“But you can’t pretend to be less than you are,” Oz said.
Noah looked amused. “I’m just a musician, Oz. It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.”
The violin caused a bit of a stir when it was produced. Various people said they played or had played once, or had tried out some other instrument in a school orchestra. “Do you play often?” someone asked Noah.
To Oz’s eyes, Noah had already given himself away as a master violinist because he was tuning his instrument by ear to match the inn’s piano, while people were talking to him. The violin was on his shoulder, and Noah’s hands fluttered about making adjustments, often leaving the instrument entirely. The violin sat still, snug between its shoulder rest and Noah’s chin, like the extension of Noah’s body that it was.
“I’ve been playing a lot lately,” was Noah’s non-answer. With the instrument tuned, he reached for his bow. “What are we doing?” he asked the pianist. “Angels We Have Heard on High? And sounds like you’re in C.”
“I’m sorry,” the woman at the keyboard said. “Everything’s easier in C.”
“Well, really, C’s the most natural key for the piano,” Noah said. “I personally don’t think there should be any shame in playing what the instrument is built for.”
The piano player looked heartened, and she started into Angels We Have Heard on High. After a moment, notes began to come clear as glass from Noah’s violin, perfect and pure. Sometimes Noah played the tune, sometimes an embellishment or harmony. He closed his eyes at the Gloria sections, his body swaying gently while his fingers danced rapidly, and the notes fell over the crowd like snowflakes, soft and cold and crystalline.
Christmas had so long been this in his memory, Oz realized. Not presents or turkey or ornaments, but whatever holiday concerts Noah was playing, the performances and the practicing. Christmas was watching Noah’s bow arm dance carols in space, hearing the old familiar music come out more beautifully every season.
When the song ended, there was wild applause and praise. “I’ll tell you my secret,” Noah said in a stage whisper, veteran performer that he was. “It’s the violin. I finally found one that doesn’t have very many wrong notes in it.”
There was laughter, and then Noah and the piano player took requests. There was a great deal of singing (somebody knew all six verses of The First Noel, and someone else could sing O Christmas Tree in German). Oz noted more than one person filming Noah with their phone. A few asked for his name and he gave it somewhat hesitantly, always glad when they didn’t recognize it. But by then it was definitely a jam session, and not the violin recital that Noah had feared.
The gathering broke up at dinner time, and after the meal, Noah and Oz drifted upstairs. The snow was still falling very heavily outside the windows, which made the world look oddly light in the dark of night.
“What a beautiful Christmas Eve,” Noah said softly. He had his violin case in one hand and he used the other hand to stifle a yawn.
Oz was about to answer him when he glanced up and saw a sprig of greenery with white berries attached to the hallway ceiling. He hadn’t noticed it before, but perhaps the indoor lighting hadn’t been so bright this afternoon. He immediately looked away, but the quick movement alerted Noah.
“Oh!” Noah exclaimed. “Mistletoe.” A light blush rose to his cheeks. “How, ah, festive.”
“Mmm,” said Oz, because that was the only thing he could think of to say.
“Well, now, I really don’t think we should ignore it,” Noah said, with a smile, although the words ran together into a sort of nervous mush. “You know, avoid the— the tradition on Christmas Eve. We might have some real bad luck then.”
They came to a stop in the hall. Their room was two doors down, and the mistletoe was hanging just over Noah’s shoulder. He stood there, holding his violin case, his face flushed, looking at Oz with what seemed to be equal hope and dread.
Oz had no idea what he himself looked like, whether he was blushing or staring with his mouth open. The only thing in the world was Noah, his blue sweater and dark eyes, his astonishing hands at rest.
“I,” said Noah. He blinked and started again. “I won’t. Unless you—”
It was Oz who kissed Noah. Because at that moment, he couldn’t stand it anymore that his hands were empty and the world was silent, and in front of him was a man who would feel soft and warm in his arms, a man who could fill the world with music. A man who was about to graduate and move to a far-off place where Oz would never be. A man who always looked at Oz with such love in his eyes.
Noah gave a little shiver as their mouths met, brushing once, brushing again, until they caught. Oz was stunned by how incredible it felt just to share the barest touches, and he kissed Noah with growing intent, pressing against him. Oz parted his lips and felt Noah open his mouth beneath him. There was a meeting of tongues, brief at first, and then Noah chased Oz’s mouth, sliding his tongue inside.
Oz opened his eyes to position himself better and saw that Noah had his eyes squeezed shut, as if he was afraid that this was a dream that might vanish. Oz kissed him again, sliding a hand against his cheek, an arm around his waist. There was a fumbling motion as Noah scrambled to put the violin case down, and then he threw his arms around Oz and kissed him with a passion that made Oz shake.
The kiss, this first full kiss, was hungry, desperate, overdue, and as necessary as breathing. Noah tasted like apple cider and he was just as soft and warm as Oz had imagined. Those beautiful fingers of his tangled in Oz’s hair, sliding down his back and farther, into uncharted territory, Oz’s waist, below it.
Oz realized at that moment that he was erect in his jeans, and he could feel Noah’s cock against his hip, hard and hot through the fabric of their pants. One or the other of them began the stumble down the hall, barely stopping the kiss to grasp the violin, to find their room, to unlock the door. As soon as it closed behind them, Oz grabbed Noah’s rear, lifted him off the floor and all but threw him onto one of the beds, with Oz coming down on top of him.
Noah looked up at Oz with a fog of desire in his eyes that made everything so very clear. Clear enough that Oz found himself pulling back a little, involuntarily, trying to put some sort of cold distance between them, because part of him believed so strongly that it should be there.
Noah didn’t chase after him. He lay there with his face flushed red and his lips kiss-swollen, his hair mussed, and his legs parted around Oz’s hips. He gentled his grip on Oz’s shirt, letting him move back. But Oz couldn’t go far, and Noah saw it.
“Please,” Noah said softly. “Oz, I need you.”
Oz had never been able to resist those words, that thought, the idea that Noah might need something and no one would help him. Noah’s parents had paid for the violin lessons, the travel, the tuxedos ever increasing in size. But they hadn’t listened to the practicing, hadn’t gone with Noah on his trips, hadn’t consoled him in his losses, sometimes hadn’t even celebrated his wins. They stopped coming to their son’s concerts altogether after there was an article in a major magazine that called Noah an up-and-coming queer artist. They still bragged about him to their friends, talking of money and fame. But they didn’t come to hear the music.
Part of Oz knew that this wasn’t right, him and Noah, and part of him knew that the other part was wrong, and part of him feared it wasn’t, and it was all so confusing.
Oz kissed Noah anew, finding heartache and love and blinding desire in his arms. Noah had asked for him. Oz would hold nothing back.
Noah’s blue sweater was removed and tossed off the bed, and Oz pressed kisses against Noah’s bared throat, his shoulders, his nipples peaking dark against his pale skin. Noah’s hips were working against Oz, and his hands pulled at Oz’s shirt until Oz yanked it off and threw it on the floor. Their bodies moved together then, sliding and pressing, bows against strings, fingers on keys, as if they might be able to create their own music.
Noah unzipped Oz’s jeans, sliding his hand inside, gripping where Oz was hard for him. Oz growled a little into Noah’s mouth, and the rest of their clothes were quickly torn off. Naked, Noah gave a shiver, looking up at Oz, and whether it was from cold or desire it didn’t matter. Oz covered Noah’s body with his own, kissing and touching soft skin that he’d only ever dreamed of. His hands drifted low, trailing lightly over Noah’s erect cock, which made Noah moan, and then down to circle at his entrance.
“Have you done this?” Oz asked.
“Not that,” Noah said. “I wanted— always wanted it to be you.” He put his hands up to Oz’s face immediately, which is how Oz realized he’d started trembling. “It’s all right,” Noah said soothingly. “It’s all right. We’re here now. You’re with me.”
“I should— lube. I don’t want to hurt you,” Oz said.
“In my suitcase.” Noah seemed a bit embarrassed, and hurriedly added, “I— I think about you.” That, of course, only made it worse. “Don’t look at me like that,” Noah protested, his face red. “Have you seen yourself? I don’t know how I survived growing up next door to you. It’s completely your fault that I’m gay.”
Oz gave a shaky laugh as he hunted through Noah’s suitcase for the lube. He worked Noah open slowly, one hand gentle between his legs while the other grasped and stroked and caressed everywhere else. They kissed like it was the most important thing in the world, like there was something they desperately needed to tell each other and this was the only way. Kissing had never felt like this to Oz, a harmony, an act of love.
When Noah was ready, Oz wrapped their fingers together as he pushed in slowly. “Tell me if I hurt you,” he said. Noah just chased Oz’s mouth and drew him into another kiss, and they kissed with growing ardor as Oz sank deeper inside of him.
As Oz bottomed out, snug against Noah’s ass, Noah began panting, but it didn’t seem to be from pain. “I—” he whispered against Oz’s mouth. “Oz, I’ve wanted this too long. You’re so— god, you’re so—”
Oz began gently thrusting, and he wrapped his hand around Noah’s cock, wet with lube and precome, stroking hard and fast. Noah cried out, clutching at Oz’s arms, his face shining with ecstasy. Oz fit their mouths together, hard and messy, as Noah’s body seized up in climax.
When Oz released him from the kiss, Noah breathed, “Take me. Oz, don’t stop. I need you to come inside me or I—”
“Anything,” Oz said, his hips moving at Noah’s command, orgasm building in him because Noah had asked for it. “Anything, anything.” It was gentle and slow, with the tight wet grasp of Noah’s body around Oz’s swollen cock, catching at him as he pulled out, welcoming him as he pushed back in.
“Oh,” Oz gasped, and he was coming, emptying inside of Noah, perhaps the gentlest orgasm he’d ever had, but also the most overwhelming. Oz wondered if they might be like this forever, with Noah sweaty and sated beneath him, and Oz coming inside of him, kissing him as his hips worked in an easy rhythm, his own come slicking the way.
When the last pulses finally left him, Oz lay still on top of Noah, until Noah pulled him into another kiss. Even after Oz cleaned them off, Noah clung to him again, and their mouths found each other anew. They fell asleep like that, still close enough to kiss, naked and tangled beneath the blankets.
Oz had never in his life seen Noah look so happy.
Oz woke up to the feeling of being adored. He’d never experienced anything quite like it, his body seeming to sing under the gentlest of touches. Noah was pressing repeated slow kisses to every inch of Oz’s skin in a patient exploration, only moving when he seemed satisfied that he’d paid enough reverence to each place.
Oz was rock hard before he was even fully awake, and Noah had to be aware of it, with his thigh resting between Oz’s legs.
“Hi,” Noah said softly, looking up from his kisses on the front of Oz’s shoulder. He had never looked so beautiful to Oz, pale in the dim light of Christmas morning, but flushed with desire. He looked, Oz thought, like someone who’d gotten exactly what he wanted for Christmas, and Oz desperately wanted to give it to him again.
Noah was hard too, Oz discovered, as he rolled on top of him. Their mouths met, the passion from the night before reigniting into bright flame. They clung to each other, grasping and caressing, their bodies sliding together, becoming slick with sweat.
Oz began his own campaign of kisses, beginning at Noah’s throat and working down over his chest. Noah couldn’t reach Oz as well then, but he sank his fingers into Oz’s hair as he moved down. Noah was ticklish across his stomach, Oz discovered, as his moaning was interrupted by surprised giggles.
Oz licked along Noah’s hip, the jut of his pelvic bone. Noah’s cock was stiff and hot and Oz swirled his tongue around the head.
“Oh, Oz,” Noah groaned. “Oh, you— oh!”
Oz let the head slip into his mouth and then out again, tasting the precome that Noah was leaking, letting the weight of his cock sit on his tongue, heavy and perfect. He kissed and caressed, finally leaning forward to take all of Noah into his throat. And then for the next few minutes, Oz did all he could to give Noah a mind-blowing orgasm first thing Christmas morning.
He seemed to have been quite successful, because Noah’s entire body tensed and arched up off the bed when he came into Oz’s mouth, one hand tangled in Oz’s hair and the other grasping the bedsheets. He gave a glorious, drawn-out groan of pained ecstasy and then collapsed into a sort of stunned panting.
Oz pulled off, very slowly, making Noah give little mewling sounds of overstimulation, and then crawled back up Noah’s body, lying on top of him again. Their legs tangled, with Oz’s cock pressed hot against Noah’s hip.
“Fucking hell,” said Noah, who had never said anything like that before. “Oz, you’re going to kill me.” He looked delighted, and he didn’t give Oz time to reply, seeking his mouth, tasting himself there. Oz tangled his hand in Noah’s hair, kissing back, deep and worshipful.
If last night had been sweet and slow, this morning was pure passion. They knew now that their bodies were made to fit together, knew what pleasure they could bring each other. Oz turned Noah onto his side and snugged up behind him, his aching cock rubbing at Noah’s cleft.
“Please,” Noah whispered, twisting back to catch Oz’s mouth in a kiss. “Oh, Oz, inside me, please.”
Oz fumbled for the lube. Noah was still partly open from the night before and it was easy to slide into him on one slick push, until Oz was buried in the incredible heat of Noah’s body.
There was no hesitation this morning. Oz held Noah tightly in his arms and drove into him in thick, powerful thrusts, looking down at Noah’s face, contorted with pleasure. Noah had gotten hard again, and his cock was rubbing between his legs, sliding in sweat.
Every moment was bliss, the clutch and drag of Noah’s body around Oz’s cock, the tug of Noah’s fingers in Oz’s hair, the sounds of their groans and panting. Their bodies slapped together audibly, steady until they started to lose control of the beat, rutting together in a joined race to completion.
Unable to hold on any longer, Oz pressed his head against Noah’s shoulder as he exploded inside of him, thrusting even harder as he came. Noah wrapped his hand around his own cock, stroking himself furiously until he spurted over the bedsheets.
Oz collapsed down onto the bed, and Noah turned toward him, wrapping his arms around Oz like he was the most precious thing in the world.
Oz had Noah again in the shower— that had not been Oz’s plan, but it was Noah’s, and so Oz had pressed his front to Noah’s back, lifting one of Noah’s legs to rest on the edge of the tub. He rutted into Noah as he reached around to jerk him off. Noah came all over the shower wall and Oz pressed deep kisses against Noah’s throat as he climaxed inside him again.
Noah held Oz’s hand as they went down for breakfast, relinquishing it only to hold his plate properly, and Oz could not be blamed for not realizing how bright and sunny the day had become, when he was in the constant glow of Noah’s exuberant happiness.
But eventually, Oz did notice the complete lack of a snow storm, and he managed to point at one of the windows with the hand Noah wasn’t once again holding. “We can get back on the road after breakfast,” Oz said.
Noah gave the window an extremely displeased look, and he leaned his head against Oz’s shoulder. “You know, we don’t have to. Oz, the only thing I want is here. And there’s got to be a whole town, I’m sure, shops and cafes, and the inn has a piano in the lounge. What more could we possibly need?”
Oz didn’t answer, because he honestly wasn’t sure what to say. He met Noah’s eyes, afraid that he’d see pain there again, heartbreak.
But though Noah’s smile did fade, the look in his eyes was not sadness but a sort of brave determination. “Take a walk with me,” Noah said.
The storm must have ended only recently, because most of the sidewalks on the block were not yet shoveled, and some of the smaller streets had not been plowed. But the morning was dazzlingly bright, the sun reflecting off endless crystals of fallen snow. The air was cold and clear, and some hearty birds were chattering the Christmas morning news.
Noah had taken Oz’s hand again, and the fuzzy texture of his black gloves rubbed against Oz’s chilled skin. Oz could have put his own gloves on, but he couldn’t stand the thought of having another layer in the way between his hand and Noah’s.
“I have a lot of dreams in life,” Noah said.
“I know,” Oz told him.
Noah gave Oz an unimpressed look, as if Oz obviously did not know. “The main one,” Noah said, “is a small house with a vegetable garden, a couple of kids, a dog and some cats, and a husband with a job he loves. We’d have picnics, and go sledding, and cook meals together, and I’d make love with my husband after the children have gone to bed.”
Oz made a frustrated noise. “That’s— you’re meant for better things, Noah.”
Noah stopped walking. “I’m meant for things that would make me less happy?”
Oz swung his free hand to indicate the world that stretched around them. “You should be in Europe, playing for kings and queens.”
“Oh, what do I care about kings and queens?” Noah asked, exasperated. “And anyway, of course I have room in the fantasy for music. Playing in local ensembles, teaching the children. And touring from time to time.”
“That’s what you have to focus on,” Oz said firmly. “The music. That’s what you’re meant to do. And you can’t tour Spain with a man who cleans toilets for a living.”
Noah stared at him, his mouth slightly open, looking absolutely, completely lost. “But it’s our music,” he said slowly. “Oz— I wouldn’t be in Spain or on stage at all without you. Look— everyday at seven-thirty you told me my violin was good and it wasn’t, but I believed you. You calmed me down before auditions with slasher movies and caramel corn. You ran to the store to buy me black socks when I forgot to bring them to my first show with a professional orchestra, when you were all of sixteen. You don’t like classical music and you can name almost any piece you hear. You know how to care for a violin and— you know how to care for me.” Noah had tears shining in his eyes now. “And I have loved you for so long.”
Noah took Oz’s hand in both of his. “You want the best for me.”
“Of course I do,” Oz said.
“But Oz, that’s you.”
A silence stretched between them, crystal clear and cold. Oz could see Noah where he stood there in the snow, and he could see Noah where he wanted to be, in the little house with the garden and the neighbor he’d taken as husband. If Oz lived in that house, his life would never be silent. It would be filled with music.
Noah started talking quickly, apparently flustered by the quiet. “I’m not the only one who thinks so, by the way,” he said. “I mean— I think there’s a pool going in the orchestra about whether or not we’ll be engaged by New Year’s.”
Oz blinked at him. “What?”
Noah bit his lip. “Um— well, I may possibly have mentioned after rehearsal one night how desperately I love you, not that everyone didn’t already know, but also that I was planning to pretend the heat in my apartment wasn’t working to see if I could get you to come to bed with me. In my defense,” he added quickly, as his cheeks bloomed red, “I turned it back up so you wouldn’t freeze on the sofa. And, um— while I’m confessing, the mistletoe—” Noah nodded back in the direction of the inn. “I had that in my suitcase and I put it up when I went up to get my violin for the jam session. But I didn’t do the flat tire or the power outage! That was just the universe being on my side. And— and for your information, Oz, almost everybody in the world cleans toilets from time to time. You just manage to get paid for it, which is quite clever, I think, and anyway, why the fuck would I care what your job is when all I’ve ever wanted is for someone I love to travel with me, and smile at me from the audience when I’m thousands of miles from home—”
Oz seized Noah’s arms in a firm grip. “I love you.”
Noah looked quite desperately bewildered. “I know.”
There was nothing left, Oz realized, no room in his heart or soul to see heartbreak in Noah’s eyes again. No way Oz would survive feeling it himself.
Oz pulled Noah into his arms and Noah immediately reached up to kiss him. Oz was quickly lost to the kiss, that bright passion that seemed to strike up everytime they were close. Something they created together.
Oz was so spellbound that he didn’t know how long they kissed, only that when they finally drew apart, the sky had a few clouds, and here and there, a tiny crystalline snowflake drifted lazily through the air.
“Oh, look!” Noah exclaimed. “A storm.”
“It’s a few flakes,” Oz said.
Noah looked around from his vantage point in Oz’s arms. “Oh, just look at all the snow falling.”
“There’s hardly any.”
“The roads must be terrible.”
“Noah, the plow has just come by, you can see—”
Noah shook his head. “We’ll have to stay here another day, at least.”
“Maybe a week,” said Oz, grinning helplessly. “Until New Year’s. And you never know what might happen by then.”
Noah looked up at Oz with that old, exuberant, beaming smile, his smile for Oz, and this time it became a kiss.