Oh, The Places You'll Go

Advent

Notes: I wrote one drabble a day for the period of Advent, based on prompts that, to me, related to the holiday season, as a present for my Sports Night f-listers. Here they are, collected into one neat package for easy Christmas consumption. Happy holidays!


1975: Lights

Casey's dad didn't believe in ostentatious displays of wealth. Casey didn't understand what ostentatious meant. Something to do with having a Christmas tree only half the height of the room instead of up to the ceiling like Kevin's.

He didn't care, because a smaller tree meant this year he got to wind on the lights all by himself for the first time. He studied the tree for a while, trying to figure how many times the wire would loop around the branches.

Eventually done, he switched on the lights and was transported to another world.

Something was coming. Something good.

***

1979: Loneliness

Danny walked slowly home from practise. The street sparkled, a tree in every window. Every window but one. Why had he never noticed? A silver Chanukah menorah didn't seem much of a trade.

His friends were buzzing with excitement and it all meant, well, less than nothing to him. And nobody cared to hear about gelt or the miracle of the oil. Danny's feet dragged.

A door opened; a small figure tumbling out.

"Come on, Danny. I want to light the candle. We can't do it without you."

Danny's head went up. He smiled.

"I'm right with you," he said.

***

1982: Awe

Christmas Eve. Casey was out on the back porch with Cousin Tina.

"Look after her," his mom had said. "She's all alone this year."

Casey was pretty sure his mom's definition of looking after didn't involve being backed against the wall with her tongue down his throat. Not that he was complaining. Nu-uh.

"I have a present for you," she murmured into his mouth. "Seeing as how you're all grown up and so —" she rubbed against him, "big."

She slid downwards, unzipping his fly on the way. Casey's mouth fell open in synchrony with hers.

Best. Christmas. Gift.

Ever.

***

1985:Shepherd

It was all their idea — he'd just gone along for the ride. Someone had spiked his joint. This was. Not normal. He tried to focus, watching his fist rap on wood. Disconnected.

It seemed an hour or a second until the door opened. A man in black, something shining silver round his neck looked at him, startled.

"Oh, son," he said. "You'd better come in."

"I. They. They left me. I was lost."

"And now you're found. God's on your side tonight."

"Really?"

"Must be." The man smiled.

And for a brief moment Dan let himself believe he was right.

***

1987: Angels

It was dark and the ice sculptures were a ghostly presence in the park. Dan didn't pay much attention, scuffing the hard ground as he walked. Perhaps it was a noise that made him look up and find himself face-to-face with an angel; shimmering, blue-haloed.

The angel's face was serious, brow furrowed in a way that Dan found unbearably familiar. He couldn't help reaching out, touching the cold cheek, loss freezing his bones.

"Hey," he said. "I miss you."

And then. "Come back."

Nothing.

Dan hunched his shoulders. Alone. He'd better get used to it.

He headed anywhere but home.

***

1989: Joy

She sat cross-legged by the tree, hair tousled and cheeks flushed as pink as her flannel pyjamas, unwrapping the present deliberately.

Casey waited, his leg jiggling. He wasn't a natural gift-buyer and this had either been inspired or a huge mistake.

Slowly Lisa opened the box.

"Oh," she breathed and turned big, shining eyes on Casey.

"D'you like it?" Casey asked, suddenly shy.

"I love it!" Lisa launched herself at him, covering him in kisses.

Surrendering to the attack, Casey grabbed her and hugged.

If this was what being married was about he couldn't wait for the next fifty years.

***

1990: Carols

A light dusting of snow had fallen, sprinkling powdered sugar over the tall tree in the middle of The Green.

The silvery sound of bells rang crystal clear through the frosty air. Dan felt the notes drop perfectly into his head. Ding, dong, ding, dong. He stopped; hands shoved deep into pockets, and listened.

The music seemed to circle round, unceasing, insistent, pushing its way into him. Words joined the bells, weaving an intricate melody.

"Hark how the bells,
Sweet silver bells,
All seem to say,
'Throw cares away.
'"

It was the message Dan had been waiting for.

He laughed.

***

1991: Greetings

Who needs Jesus? thought Casey, watching Lisa's family cooing and gurgling at Charlie, faces shining with worship.

Casey knew his was exactly the same. Every single day since Charlie's birth Casey had felt the same exhilarating mixture of surprise, pride and adoration as he greeted his son in the morning.

It had been a time of firsts. First smile, first gurgle, first unbroken night, first solids and now first Christmas.

Passed around, Charlie arrived back at his father. Casey inhaled the sweet baby scent.

"Merry Christmas, Charlie," he muttered. "Welcome to the world."

"This," he said. "Is just the beginning."

***

1992: Faith

There was a buzz, Dan decided. A definite buzz and tingle in the air. And it wasn't just the low hum of last-minute shoppers scurrying about their business, or the jingle of cash registers. No, it was more than that. Like something was on its way. Like Santa Claus.

He thought about all the children across the city tucked up tight, desperately believing and impatient for morning.

He thought he understood that. Because the buzz was coursing right through him. Because whatever was coming, was coming for him. He believed it. He had faith.

And he was impatient as hell.

***

1993: No Room

Chanukah was badly timed this year. Too early. Not that Dan wanted to go home particularly — or at all really — it was just that, well it was the holidays. Even with only one day off everyone had Christmas plans. Dana was going to her brother's in Houston: the whole tribe was gathering. Casey was spending the day with Lisa and Charlie, of course. Their first Christmas alone.

It wasn't Dan's. But usually he was alone around other people. This year he'd be entirely without company. Solitary. Isolated.

He told himself it would be great: time to kick back, relax.

Liar.

***

1993: Charity

"So what do you think?" The warm, friendly tone took Dan by surprise.

"Lisa, I ..."

"Look, Dan. I don't know why you think I don't like you. You're Casey's partner. You're his friend. He wants you to come for dinner. Charlie wants you to come for dinner. I want you to come."

"That's so ... thank you. I'd love to." Dan's heart beat a little faster. He wasn't sure why.

"Good. Nobody should be alone at Christmas. Who cares if it's not your holiday? We'll expect you around two." She hung up.

Dan blinked; stunned. Lisa being kind?

Must be Christmas magic.

***

1994: Gold

He watched the boy-turned-man across from him, gesticulating wildly as he told stories of how people used to dance to beg the sun-god to return and banish the dark. How the bright glow of candles was a tiny piece of sunlight in the bleak mid-winter.

The warm lights of the bar and the fuzziness alcohol lent his sight cast a soft, buttery halo around his companion.

"Wait. The Franciscan monks wore what?" he asked, roused by disbelief.

"False noses."

"Oookay. Tell me more."

He leant forward, drank him in: warming, fierce, medicinal, golden spirit.

He wasn't expected home for hours.

***

1995: Frankincense

Casey watched Charlie building a fort from empty boxes. It wasn't quite ... who cared? He was enjoying himself, which was what mattered.

Casey loved to look at his son — sometimes though, sometimes he had to. Had to remind himself why he was still here and not where he wanted to be. Had to watch Charlie smiling and playing to remind him that the sacrifice was worth it.

It wouldn't be forever, he told himself. One day, Charlie would be grown-up and gone.

He offered up a prayer to whoever was listening.

"Please, let there be time. There has to be time."

***

1996: Myrrh

The candle had been a joke Chanukah gift from Dana.

"Enhances visualisation," she said. "Who knows? Could help improve your diabolical golf game."

Dan had refrained from telling her where to shove the candle and accepted it graciously.

It had sat, squat and unloved on Dan's bookcase for a while. But tonight he was bored: edgy and restless. Why not? He placed the lit candle on the coffee table, kneeling in front of it.

He watched as the wax began to melt and the bitter aroma rose, then closed his eyes.

There was only one thing he wanted to see.

***

1997:Winter

New York was built for Christmas. For hustle and bustle there was no beating 5th Avenue. It didn't even matter that the window displays were so damn multi-cultural you'd barely know it was holiday season.

And so what if it was so mild that a scarf was an accessory, not a necessity, and the Rockefeller Plaza ice-rink had trouble staying frozen?

It was Christmas. The birthplace of electric Christmas lights sparkled like nowhere else.

It wasn't bleak, it wasn't even what constituted vaguely cold, but hell, it was wintertime in New York City and Dan knew that here was home.

***

1998: Remembrance

He could go back to Minnesota, but it seemed like admitting defeat, walking backwards into a childhood long gone.

No, he'd stay in New York, suck it up. And it would be fine. Better than fine. No being woken while sane people still slept by a bouncing ball of can't-take-no-for-an-answer; no toys that needed half a morning fiddling with batteries and then beeped headache-inducingly for the rest of the day; no face the exact shade of pale that says 'I ate too much and I'm going to throw up'.

It would be quiet, relaxed and calm.

It would be hell.

***

1998: Giving

He'd said no. He'd said it over and over. He'd listed reasons but Dan had stopped listening.

Dan knocked on the door (the doorman let him by without blinking), singing the Little Drummer Boy, David Bowie style.

"Danny?"

"I come bearing gifts. Lots of them. You wanna grab some bags?" Dan bustled past, ignoring Casey's surprise.

Later, full and sacked out in front of the TV, Casey smiled at him.

"You didn't need to, you know."

"You mind me gate-crashing your party of one?"

"No. I ... Thanks, Danny, it means a lot."

"We're friends."

It was as simple as that.

***

1999: Alienation

He was in his room. What used to be his room. It was bare now — whitewashed walls, guest bed, chair, drawers. No signs of the boy that used to live here. Not like Sam's room. Sam's museum.

Not like David's room or Sarah's room, both now kitted out for grand-children.

Dan's room was different, because Dan was different. How was it possible to belong to a family and yet be completely separate; alone?

He'd watched the lighting of the first candle with strange detachment. Like he was slowly disconnecting from everything and everyone.

He was disappearing.

And he didn't care.

***

2000: Gifts

"You know what I'm thankful for?"

"Thanksgiving was weeks ago, Danny. Aren't we done?"

"Maybe I'm extra thankful this year."

Casey spread his arms in magnanimous gesture — it was Christmas, he could stand to hear Danny ramble.

"Go on."

"I'm thankful for this."

"For Anthony's?"

"No, doofus. For hanging out with you. Good beer, good company. It was almost gone. Being here still — it's a gift and I'm thankful for it."

Dan's smile was an arrow pinning Casey to his seat. Casey felt dizzy with the sudden realisation of his near-loss.

Reaching out for Dan had never been so terrifying.

***

2001: Journey

Year's end: time to take stock.

He'd travelled far from the stuttering, geeky, gymnast teenager to the cool, confident anchor of today. OK, strike cool, but still — a long way.

And he was happy with who he was; with what he had. Everything was good — nothing need change.

But.

The road he had journeyed all his life was straight and clear. Now Casey saw a fork ahead. The one way was smooth, paved, dull; he knew it by heart. The other was a muddy, rutted track, brambles obscuring the path, the end unknown, enticing.

Did he even have a choice?

***

2002: Hope

"Let's rent a cabin for Christmas, just the two of us," Casey'd said.

Just another in a long line in this year's pod-Casey moments, thought Dan.

Like the stammering disclaimers when caught zoning during run-downs or in the middle of conversations.

Like the way Dan felt Casey's eyes on him all the time and the way he flushed when he was caught staring — which was often: Casey sucked at surreptition.

Or the taps, pats and almost-strokes becoming a welcome part of the daily routine.

Or the secret smiles.

"Yeah, sure," he'd replied, nonchalant.

He was brimming over.

Was this it?

***

2002: Love

It came in different disguises, thought Casey, watching a rosy-cheeked Dan building Snow-Charlie. ("He can be here in spirit," Dan said.)

It came with trumpets and showers of gold. It came with fire and velvet. It came with a gunshot and blood.

And sometimes it came quiet in the night, creeping into dreams, a magnificent forest growing and growing until it was all you could see. Until all you could do was open up and let it fill you.

Casey let his head fall back and breathed deep.

"I'm ready," he said. "Bring it on."

He opened the door.

"Danny!"

***

2002: Alleluia

Dan lifted his head.

"What?"

"Come h ... Ah, screw it." And Casey ran through the snow towards him.

"Casey, your feet!" yelled Dan, concerned. Then he saw Casey's face and all thoughts of appropriate footwear vanished.

Dan's heart, already quickened by exertion, pounded out an exhilarated rhythm.

Casey reached him and grabbed his arms.

"I'm a slow learner, Danny. I'm sorry. And I had this whole speech planned — I was going to tell you, to let you know, but I don't seem to ..."

And then his warm mouth found Dan's cold one.

High in the heavens Dan heard angels sing.

***

2002: Birth

There were two choices. Either he wasn't Casey any more, or he was more Casey than he'd ever been.

Brand new and blessed.

Because here was Danny, naked and open, smiling in the way that reached down deep into Casey and made him want to laugh, to recite poetry, to touch, to grab hold and never let him go.

If this was where his life had been leading, to this perfect moment of distilled happiness — this bright, spotless beginning — then every hard lesson learnt, every spark of joy meant a thousand times more.

Finally he was exactly where he belonged.

~

It was hard to believe in the reality of it — hope made flesh. Dan twined his arms around Casey, pulling them close, burying his face in the crook of Casey's neck, grounding himself through the familiar scent.

He fought the urge to lick Casey's warm skin then realised he could do this now; he could have what he wanted. It was almost too much — Dan squeezed his eyes shut and gripped harder, terrified and elated all at once.

"I know," whispered Casey.

And, "Listen."

Dan held still in Casey's arms.

In the distance, the bells rang out for Christmas Day.


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