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Christmas Gay Romance

Dan was really regretting wearing a Santa hat to work.

Most of his colleagues had smiled upon seeing it. Chief Collie had even complimented him on it, and she was a notorious grouch. Feeling adequately whimsical and jolly for the twenty-third of December, Dan slung his bag over the back of his chair at the desk he shared with his partner.

“You know there’s a dress code, don’t you?” Detective Liu said without looking up from his computer.

This reaction wasn’t entirely unexpected, but put a damper on Dan’s good mood anyway. “I’m aware, yes. One that allows, on cold days, for a hat or beanie.”

“That’s not a beanie.” Liu’s lips pursed when he glanced up to glare at him.

Dan smiled sweetly. “It is, however, a hat.” He already knew what Liu would say next: that a Santa hat was not in the spirit of what the police dress code was referring to. Dan would respond with, well, that sucks, but a Santa hat still doesn’t technically break the rules. The two of them would then be sufficiently annoyed with each other to start their morning, like they did every day.

Tony Liu was probably realizing the railroaded nature of this conversation at the same time. He narrowed his eyes, snorted with derision, and returned to his desktop. The projected conversation had not been had, and yet it had its effect nonetheless: the two of them were annoyed with each other, and they could start their morning.

So, Dan was regretting wearing the hat. Liu’s gaze (usually delivered from an infuriating two inches above his own) had a preternatural ability to make someone feel exceptionally stupid.

Police work around the holidays consisted largely of investigating robberies. Two had happened in Dan’s district just last night; understaffing guaranteed that one of them would be assigned to Liu and him.

Sure enough, there it lay in his inbox. Liu hadn’t said anything about it, though he’d certainly already seen it. For all his pomp and pretense, he could be a stubborn ass sometimes.

“Gripe about my hat all you want, but these interviews aren’t going to conduct themselves.” Dan tapped his pen to the side of his monitor.

“I’m driving,” Liu gritted out.

That was fine by Dan.

#

It was exhausting, being Liu’s partner, though not unproductive. Liu, though prickly, was efficient and thorough. He had the tact of a bulldozer, but Dan had the requisite charisma to pick up the pieces afterwards.

“You didn’t have to insinuate that the robber was her son-in-law,” Dan pointed out when they climbed back into Liu’s car.

“The robber is her son-in-law, Nuñez,” Liu replied, unaffected. “She was going to find out sooner or later.”

Dan sighed and looked out the window. He agreed that the son-in-law was the best suspect, but it hurt him to think about family conflict around the holidays. He wished the world could live up to the harmony and goodwill that his childhood nostalgia implied.

“You buy into the whole Christmas thing?” Liu asked, gesturing to the Santa hat. It had been tastefully discarded on the dashboard before they’d gone inside.

“So do about three billion other people,” Dan pointed out. Stubborn, he put the hat back on.

“You know what I mean.”

Dan was not strictly Christian– “raised Catholic” was what he said when people asked, and that got his point across. But he still cherished his Christmastime memories: picking out a tree with his sisters, making tamales with his abuela, caroling around the neighborhood. 

Things were different now. He and his siblings were grown up. They couldn’t recreate the family Christmases of old: most of them had their own families to tend to. Dan wouldn’t even get to see his family this Christmas: he was working the twenty-fifth. It would make no sense to make the twelve-hour drive round trip just to see his parents for dinner and leave again. He had been trying to convince himself he wasn’t bothered by it.

Finally, he said, “I guess I do, sure.” Liu, in the corner of Dan’s eye, executed a perfect hand-over-hand left turn. “You don’t?”

Liu shrugs. “It was never that much of a thing for me.”

“Oh.” That could mean any number of things, Dan thought, but he felt to ask for clarification would be to pry. “But it sounds nice, in concept.”

Dan hadn’t been expecting that admission. He wasn’t sure how to respond. “It is,” is all he could manage.

Liu’s distaste for things (eg. uniforms worn without ties, small dogs, being called by his first name at work, and Dan’s existence in general) tended to be quite unilateral. No exceptions or concessions would be made. Dan had been expecting him to be the same way about Christmas, and this surprised him. Maybe (only maybe) there was more to Liu than the dismissive autocrat Dan took him for. It would require further investigation.

They drove the rest of the way to the station in cautious silence.

Liu had been right: the son-in-law was the robber. Larcenist, technically. Dan didn’t enjoy arresting him. Detective Liu did it with vigor, as if he had been personally wronged by the crime. Both he and Dan had paused when they saw the perpetrator’s daughter, wide-eyed and afraid.

“Call your wife,” Liu said brusquely and shoved the man towards the squad car waiting outside. He turned away, jaw set.

“Took your sweet time,” Liu spat when Dan finally left the house.

Was he insane? “She was barely four, we couldn’t just leave her.”

“It’s not our job.” His voice dripped with something acidic.

“It was twenty minutes, quit acting like I shot your dog.”

“That’s not the point.” Eyes locked ahead, Liu turned the engine over with more force than necessary.

“Then what is?” Dan turned to face him. “Tell me, Detective, what is the point, since you’re so much better at your job than I am?”

“The point–” Liu, affronted, met his gaze– “is that you don’t take any of this seriously. It’s all a big joke to you. Oh, let’s wear a costume to work! Let’s play babysitter! It’s not like there are actual crimes happening right now that are our responsibility!”

Dan opened his mouth, but Liu wasn’t finished. “You are so fucking embarrassing. I wish to God I didn’t have your dead weight to drag around.”

The silence that followed was oppressive. Dan swallowed, trying to calm the furious tremor in his hands.

“Well,” he said finally, “you can quit dragging me around, then.” He took one last look at Liu. The detective’s face was stone-solid. Dan tore his gaze away and climbed out of the car.

Later, when Dan was washing his face before bed, he thought back on the argument. He hadn’t allowed himself to before; not on the cold, livid walk home, not while he sat at the kitchen table afterwards, staring at the wall. It only served to confirm everything he thought about Detective Liu. Stuck-up, frigid, and focused on all the wrong things. A miserable hermit.

Dan rinsed the soap off with cold water, because he was getting angry about it again. Whatever. Tomorrow was Christmas Eve, and he wasn’t working, and he wouldn’t have to see Liu.

#

The next morning brought for Dan peace, merriness, and the Great British Bake Off. He was working up the nerve to attempt his own angel food cake– a doomed endeavor– when the doorbell rang.

Dan frowned. He wasn’t expecting anyone. Could it be, perhaps, that his parents had decided to make the drive up to Chicago after all? Had they even convinced his sisters to come, too? He muted the television and dared not to hope. Maybe it was another package, or a bouquet of flowers, or something to indicate he was being thought of, though in absentia.

He opened the door to his apartment.

It was no relative, postman, or caroller. Dan’s brain took a second to process.

“... Liu?” he said, dumbstruck.

“Hi. Dan.” Liu stood at the threshold wearing only a t-shirt and jeans, which was as casual as Dan had ever seen him. He looked apprehensive, but not in the critical way he usually was. Something about him felt off. Liu never called him by his first name.

“How… can I help you?”

“I– can I come in?” Liu asked, and Dan didn’t know how to say no. Normally, the two of them got on like a cat and a bathtub, and Dan was unprepared for the day the cat showed up in a swimsuit.

“Sure,” he supposed.

Liu walked in, taking in Dan’s apartment like it was a tourist attraction. His gaze, when Dan met it after shutting the door behind him, was vulnerable.

“I think something happened to me. Maybe I fell or something.” Liu fidgeted with the hem of his shirt.

“You think? What does that mean?”

“I… have a bruise.” Liu indicated to his temple. “And I can’t… I’m confused. I know who I am. I’m not crazy. But I can’t… remember anything else? I don’t know what I do for work, or who you are, or the password to my phone.” He held up his cell, which, as stated, was locked. “You’re the only person whose address I could find in my house. It was on an envelope or something. Could I maybe stay? For just a little bit?”

Dan crossed his arms, trying to take in what he was being told. If this was an act, it was stone-cold and convincing. But Liu certainly wasn’t the type to pull practical jokes. “Sit down,” he said eventually.

He checked Liu’s head, and there was indeed a nasty bump there. Dan had a little bit of medical knowledge: he checked Liu’s eyes, his nose, his breathing. Everything seemed normal, but he was no expert.

“We should get you to a doctor.”

Liu shook his head. “I don’t want to.”

“This could be serious.”

“I–” he looked on the edge of panic. “I will. But not yet. Please?”

Dan stopped in front of the freezer, where he was en route to secure an ice pack. Liu had never, in their entire careers together, said please to him. He had to admit: despite the circumstances, it was a bit intoxicating.

“Tomorrow, you will go to the doctor,” Dan decided, settling on a pack of frozen peas. “Today, you can stay here. Just today.”

Liu– get this– smiled. “Thank you,” he said in a rush of breath, and Dan just about keeled over. Normal Liu said thank you even less than he said please.

Dan applied the ice pack to the injury. “Hold this here. Are you hungry?”

Later, Dan was cleaning up the last remnants of breakfast when he noticed Liu lolled to one side. Panic struck him. 

“Hey, hey, are you with me?” he said, already opening his phone to dial the paramedics.

Liu’s eyes opened. “Yeah?” he replied. “I was just tired. I’m gonna take a nap, I think.”

“Not a good idea,” Dan said grimly. “Not after a head injury.”

“Oh.” Liu frowned.

“I was… going to make some cookies. If you want to help.” Dan had not, in fact, been planning on making cookies, but it being Christmas Eve, it was the first brain-stimulating activity he could think of. He probably had the ingredients for it. Probably.

“Oh. Sure.” Liu smiled, astonishing Dan for a second time. It was blinding. “My parents and I used to do that every Christmas.”

“That’s good! That you’re remembering. And also that you made cookies,” Dan tried. It didn’t make sense, though. Liu had said Christmas was never “a thing” for him. Why would he lie? Just to keep anyone around him at arm’s length? And why wasn’t he with his parents now, if they all celebrated Christmas together. Maybe for the same reason as me, Dan thought with a grimace.

Liu was not very good at baking, although it was hard to tell if that was him or the head trauma. There were only two of them, so Dan wanted to halve the recipe, but Liu kept forgetting and putting in the normal amounts so they just made a full batch. Dan wondered what the hell he was going to do with thirty-six sugar cookies.

As he was adding the wet ingredients to the dry, Liu frowned. “My parents are dead,” he announced.

Dan froze where he was setting the oven temperature. “Oh,” he replied, because what the hell do you say to that?

“No, it was a long time ago.” Liu drummed his fingers on the counter thoughtfully. “Still sad. But at least I remember.”

At eleven in the morning, Dan hadn’t expected that level of profundity. He nodded dumbly and started shaping the dough into balls.

Well, it made sense that Liu didn’t want to talk about Christmas. Dan wondered reproachfully if his Santa hat shenanigans had been rubbing in what Liu lacked. Under Dan’s observation, Liu put the sheet pan in the oven with fighter-pilot concentration.

“Do you want me to tell you about the things you don’t remember?” Dan asked once the timer had been set. “Or would you rather come to it on your own?”

Liu shook his head. “I’d rather do it myself,” he replied.

There’s the Detective Liu I know, Dan thought wryly. “Fair enough.”

“Am I a… police officer?” Liu asked after a beat.

“Close. Detective.”

“Oh, good.” Liu grinned and squinted at Dan. “I’m going to remember how I know you, too. It’s just at the back of my brain.”

“I know you are,” Dan replied, and he believed it. If there was anyone he knew who could mind-over-matter their way through a brain injury, it was certainly Tony Liu.

Liu fished something out of his coat, which had been discarded over the arm of the sofa. A festive green envelope.

“I was writing you a card,” he said simply, examining it.

Dan failed to hide the shock on his expression. “You were?”

Liu handed him the envelope to see. On the back, sure enough, was his address, and inside, a card featuring a cheery cartoon reindeer. ‘Happy holidays!’ the card read. Opening it to the inside revealed that Liu had only gotten past the first two words: ‘Detective Nuñez.’ Very Liu-typical. No greeting, no first name, ended with an authoritative period.

Well. Liu was planning on sending him a holiday card. Somewhere, pigs were flying.

“That’s where you got my address,” Dan reasoned. 

Liu nodded. “And why I remembered I’m in the police, too. No other reason I’d be writing a detective.”

Sharp as ever. Dan shook his head, impressed. “Not bad,” he admitted, more willing to stroke the ego of this newer, nicer Detective Liu. Liu still puffed up a little, self-satisfied.

“I swear I remember you,” Liu said again, chewing his lip, looking into the middle distance as if the answer would be written on the seventies-chic wallpaper.

“You will,” Dan promised.

Liu rewarded him with a small, trusting smile, and Dan’s heart melted a little more.

#

This isn’t so bad, Dan mused to himself while he dried the dishes. Liu was washing, scrubbing the bowls with the same attention to detail that made him such an effective officer. And an annoying-as-hell coworker. All things considered, Liu was a pretty good houseguest. Meticulously clean and quiet. When he had his own condition to focus on, he spared less brain power on criticizing others. At least, that was Dan’s running theory. Plus, it was nice to not be alone on Christmas Eve. He felt like he was actually helping someone.

The lack of water noises from beside him drew Dan out of his train of thought. Liu was staring intently at something on the corner of the counter, just out of eyeshot. When Dan moved to get a closer look, he caught the expression of consternation on Liu’s face. In his hands he held Dan’s wallet– no, not his wallet. His badge.

Liu tore his gaze from the wallet and stared wide-eyed at Dan. Then back to the wallet. Then back to Dan. Pure horror on his face. “Oh, my God,” he whispered.

If Dan was honest with himself, his vindictive side had secretly been waiting for this moment. “Do you remember?”

“I’m– Nuñez, I’m– in your–” he looked down at himself– “dressed like– oh, my God– I’m so– oh, my God.”

And honestly, maybe Liu was right to be embarrassed. He and Dan were not exactly on “care for each other when sick” terms. But the whole situation was so… ridiculous that Dan couldn’t contain himself. He laughed, hard.

Liu instantly drew into himself, defensive. “I didn’t– I’ll–”

“Liu, it’s fine, I’m not laughing at you,” Dan placated, tears in his eyes. “It’s just funny.”

“What’s funny?” Liu demanded.

“You’re so… I had no idea you could be so nice.

“I’m sorry?

“You’re nice! You’re really polite, and you–” Dan burst into another fit of giggles– “you were writing me a card, Liu! A Christmas card!”

“I am perfectly nice–”

“No! You’re a controlling, hypercritical asshole! Right up until the point when you get clocked in the dome, and then you start baking cookies!”

“The cookies were your idea–”

Dan held up a hand to stop him. “Fine, yes, fine. Just, can we– can we be cool? I’m sorry I was an ass about the Santa hat thing. You’re a good detective, Liu. Can we just work together?”

“We do work together.”

“You know what I mean.”

Liu sighed. “Only if we never talk about this again.”

Grinning, Dan extended a hand. “Deal.” Begrudgingly, Liu shook it. His hand was surprisingly warm. Dan wondered why that stood out to him.

“If we’re going to actually work together,” Liu relented, “You should probably start calling me Tony.”

Dan’s smile widened. “Then let me give you a ride home, Tony.”

December 19, 2023 21:01

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