My Kind of Christmas by Romeo Alexander
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. All resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Editing by Jo Bird
Beta Reading by Melissa R
Pausing before heading outside, Matt grabbed the hat stuffed inside his jacket and pulled it over his head. He contemplated putting on the gloves too but decided against it. Port Dale wasn’t exactly known for its freezing weather, even if it was the beginning of December. It was plenty cold for the residents, but that was expected when people lived in a consistently warm climate. Then again, as someone raised in Arizona, stationed in desert or tropical climates, and living out of Fort Dale, Matt wasn’t a whole lot different.
Tucking his bags under his arm, he stepped out of the store, leaving the cheery music behind. It was quickly replaced by the murmur of the crowds as they passed to and fro on the sidewalks, and traffic picking up as rush hour approached. Sighing, he checked his phone, hoping his ride showed up soon. It was going to take forever to get back to Fort Dale, and he’d prefer to just sit in a cab and get the trip over with.
No sooner had he tucked away the phone than it started buzzing in his pocket. The headset in his ear immediately began to jingle, blaring the Mission Impossible theme song he’d programmed in. Everyone of any importance on his phone came with their own respective ringtone and he smirked as he tapped the device, connecting the call.
“Hey, Aidan,” he greeted his friend, former teammate, and second in command.
“Good God, where the hell are you, a club?” Aidan asked.
“I’m downtown, was doing a bit of shopping.”
“Shopping, isn’t it like...rush hour there?”
Matt huffed as someone bumped his shoulder roughly on their way past. “Sure is.”
“What the hell are you doing shopping?” Aidan asked. Matt heard muffled conversation in the background followed by Aidan’s wry, “Right, of course. Christmas shopping again?”
Matt listened to the trill of holiday music drifting from a nearby store. “Hey, not everyone waits till the last second only to buy a bunch of gift cards, like you,” Matt shot back.
“I do not,” Aidan said. Once more there was muffled conversation, and then deep laughter.
Matt smirked. “That Sean?”
“Yes,” Aidan huffed.
“Am I allowed to say hi?”
“He’s being an ass, so he doesn’t get to talk to you right now.”
“Put me on speakerphone, Aidan.”
Matt grinned. “Or I’ll program your phone to play gay porn with every alert...again.”
“Jesus,” Aidan grumbled, and the background noise on the call increased. “There, happy?”
“Hi, Sean, I hear you two are having fun,” Matt said, reaching into his pocket when it buzzed again.
“Well, I am,” Sean’s deep voice replied, sounding amused.
“He thinks he’s funny,” Aidan told him.
“And someone doesn’t like a taste of their own medicine,” Sean shot back.
Matt shook his head, checking the message from his Uber and scanning the crowd for the indicated car. Sean and Aidan continued to bicker back and forth, but Matt had been there when the two of them had been introduced. He knew all too well what genuine animosity between the two of them looked and sounded like, and he hadn’t seen or heard it in quite some time.
It was funny to think about how it had only been three years since Aidan had been introduced to Team Maelstrom, an elite fighting force headed by Sean. It had happened a few months after they’d lost one of their own on the field. After Clint’s death, the remaining members of Team Maelstrom had been dropped at Fort Dale and told to wait until the spot could be filled. Aidan had been the answer the leader of the fort, General Winter, had come up with.
There was a thump from the other end of the line as Matt slid into the car, repeating the address to the driver. From the sounds of it, Aidan had tackled Sean and the two men were rolling away from wherever the phone had been set down. They might not hate each other as they had in the beginning, but the two still enjoyed wrestling and sparring with one another, though usually for fun. Matt knew full well he didn’t have to worry about them injuring each other, but he might have to worry about it becoming foreplay.
“Guys?” Matt called loudly, hoping to interrupt them. “C’mon, I haven’t talked to either of you in a couple of weeks. Please don’t ruin it by fucking while I’m on the phone.”
“We aren’t fucking,” Sean called, sounding annoyed.
“Not for lack of trying on my part,” Aidan added.
Matt sighed. “You are full-grown men, in charge of other full-grown men. Can you please act like it?”
“Hey, we’ve got the privacy of a room, we can do what we want,” Aidan contested.
Not strictly true, but Matt knew better than to argue with Aidan. Trying to verbally spar with a man who spent most of his military career on the field as an intelligence officer was just asking for trouble. He might have become an officer a year before, just as Sean had, but that didn’t negate his experience in the slightest. It also didn’t change the fact that while the two of them were no longer working on the same team, they did work together closely. Which meant a relationship between them was just as forbidden as it had been before.
Sometimes Matt found himself wondering how the two of them managed it. He hadn’t been in a relationship for a few years, but he didn’t think he could manage a three-year-long relationship completely hidden from all but his closest friends. Yet Aidan and Sean had been doing it, devoted to their job, even as they stuck together with a tenacity Matt found impressive.
“Nick there with you?” Sean asked, voice closer to the microphone.
“Naw,” Matt said. “He had a meeting with the General and a few other people earlier. Probably still stuck there.”
Seemed like everyone on Team Maelstrom had gone on to do something else after the team had been officially disbanded. Sean and Aidan were working overseas, managing various teams themselves. Ricardo had left the military after his contract had run out again, having been snapped up by a private security company somewhere in California. Nick and Matt had been offered a place back at Fort Dale, but Nick had been the one offered the post in charge of all the combat training on the base.
While Matt? Well, Matt had been offered a role in communications. He supposed General Winter had thought it the best place for the tech-obsessed man, but Matt found himself wishing he’d been given any other position. Communications were boring as hell, and it didn’t exactly open up any doors career-wise.
“Ah, going over the training schedule some more?” Aidan asked.
“I think so. Nick said the last time he talked to General Winter, the guy was tense.”
“Tense? Does General Winter get tense?” Aidan scoffed.
“Huh,” Sean grunted. “Guy always seemed so unflappable to me.”
“Well, apparently he’s going to be doing some big Christmas thing this year and the planning isn’t going too well for him.”
“Oh yeah. Things really weren’t the same for him when that cute blond went and left,” Aidan added.
“Cute blond, huh?” Sean asked wryly.
“You and I both know that little twink was cute.”
“Not the point.”
“I mean, it was my point.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “You guys remember when you gave me and Nick shit for constantly bickering back and forth?”
“You were,” Sean pointed out.
“Yeah, well, you guys have taken the cake, the title, and destroyed any competition that might have stood in the way,” Matt told them.
He was leaving out that he and Nick could probably still occasionally give Aidan and Sean a run for their money. Both Matt and Nick had been together on the same bus to boot camp, and that was all it had taken for the two men. Matt had been drawn to the taller man’s inner quiet and steadiness. Nick? Well, Matt had no idea what had drawn Nick to him.
The end result, especially after years of fighting, bleeding, and nearly dying together several times, was a bond that was part unbreakable fellowship, part brotherhood, and according to Aidan, part old bickering married couple. Sean, Aidan, Ricardo, and even the late Clint were all his brothers in Matt’s mind. But they paled in comparison to his relationship with Nick. They’d known one another longer, and there’d always been an element of something subconscious, some quiet but essential part of them that pulled them closer.
“You know,” Aidan piped up, breaking through Matt’s thoughts. “When you get quiet, I get worried.”
“I’m sorry,” Matt grumbled. “Did Aidan Rider just make a joke about someone talking too much?”
“I take exception to that,” Aidan said.
“More like resemble it,” Sean added.
Matt heard another thump, followed by Sean’s laughter as he hit the floor. Matt shook his head, leaning out the window to show the front gate his ID so they’d let him onto the base. For all his grumbling, Matt liked hearing Sean laugh again. After Clint’s death and up to a certain point in time when Aidan was around, Matt had begun to believe that he’d never see his friend smile again, let alone laugh.
Then again, they had all suffered after losing their teammate. Looking back, Matt was amazed at how bad things had been. He had thrown himself into everything technological, to the point of ignoring the world. Sean had become nothing but a ball of barely contained rage, and poor Ricardo had grown so quiet and withdrawn, they could have counted the number of times the man spoke in a day on one hand.
Worse, at least in Matt’s opinion, had been his best friend. Nick had always had issues sleeping, though point blank refused to get himself diagnosed for his insomnia. After Clint’s death, Nick hardly slept at all, except for dropping off randomly during the day whenever there was the slightest lull. He’d retreated from the whole team in a way that even Ricardo hadn’t managed, and worse of all, he had retreated from Matt. It wasn’t until Ricardo had dragged the man over to Matt’s apartment that something had finally given.
“Should I let you two have a moment alone?” Matt asked as the car coasted into the housing section of the base.
“Uh, we’re fine,” came Aidan’s somewhat distant reply.
Matt frowned at the guilty tone in his voice. “I don’t like what I’m hearing. Please tell me what you called for before...whatever is getting ready to happen actually happens.”
“You mean other than the fact that we haven’t spoken to any of you in a couple of weeks?” Sean’s muffled voice asked.
Matt smiled as the car came to a stop. “Aw, aren’t you guys just the sweetest?”
“Oh God, I can’t tell if he’s being mushy or sarcastic,” Sean grumbled.
“You say that like they’re mutually exclusive with Matt,” Aidan said.
“True. I don’t think he knows how to be genuinely affectionate.”
“Ignoring the hypocrisy of what you just said, you’re right. With one exception.”
“Ah yes, the disjoined but still conjoined twin of his.”
Matt listened to them long enough to thank the driver quietly and tap out a tip on his phone before interrupting. “You guys know I’m still here, listening to you, right?”
“Duh,” came the in unison reply.
“Right, well, when you two are done sharing a brain,” Matt said, grinning at the cry of outrage from each of them.
Sean’s voice grew closer. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just put me on the same mental and maturity level as Aidan.”
“Hey!” Aidan protested.
Sean continued unabated. “But we also called because we found out we’re not going to make it to the States for at least another couple of months.”
Matt tried not to let his disappointment show. “Keeping you guys busy, huh?”
“Something like that,” Sean replied, being as cryptic as ever about what they were up to.
Matt wasn’t surprised. Whatever the two of them had been up to had kept them busy. It might have been a couple of weeks since he’d last heard from them, but he hadn’t seen them since their impromptu visit at the beginning of the year. Matt had been hoping that maybe they could squeeze some time off somewhere into their schedule, but he hadn’t been clinging too tightly to it.
Growing up, holidays had been an odd and not always great time. He tried not to make a big deal of being one of those kids constantly cycled through various foster homes, but he couldn’t deny that it had affected him. Matt honestly hadn’t known what family truly meant until he’d been placed on Team Maelstrom. Sure, it had taken a little while for them to find their footing and bond with one another, but every personality clash and argument had been worth it.
When they’d been a team, they had spent just about every holiday and birthday together. Either in the field or on their time off, the team was rarely separated for celebrations. For people like Aidan and Matt, who didn’t have relatives to visit, it also meant they always had family. And when push came to shove, they would be taken along with a team member to join their family celebrations.
He had really been hoping he would get to celebrate Christmas with his old team.
Fishing his keys out, he managed a casual tone. “Can’t say I’m surprised. Though you should probably let Ricardo know, he was asking if I’d heard from you guys about the holidays when I talked to him the other day.”
“Yeah, we figured we’d call you first. That way we know Nick will hear about it. Ricardo is next on the list, if the bastard can bother to answer his phone,” Aidan grumbled.
Matt laughed, opening the door to his apartment. “Aww, is someone feeling a little neglected?”
“No,” Aidan grumped.
“He’s pouting,” Sean informed him.
“I am not.”
Matt flipped on the hallway light, smiling as red, green, and blue lights spilled across the floor and ceiling. The rest of the house came to life as well, created on a system he’d spent at least a week setting up at the beginning of the month. The small tree in the tiny living room lit up, and the music box he’d set up at its base began to softly tinkle a carol.
Over the years, he’d managed to collect quite a few Christmas decorations and was always trying to find a way to decorate even better than the year before. It had required bigger storage units to store his things, but that didn’t matter much to him. The blowup Santa on the small porch outside the living room’s sliding glass door, the strings of lights all over the place, the stockings he’d hung from the entertainment system, the various figurines and statues he’d lined the apartment with, all worth it.
“Well, I’ll just say that it sucks we won’t spend Christmas together,” Matt said, tossing his keys onto the red tablecloth with green trim draped over his dining room table. “But you guys had better call on Christmas.”
“You bet your ass we’ll call. We just wanted you to know in case you have to make other plans,” Aidan told him.
“Mm, yeah, sounds like I’ll be seeing what the base Christmas party turns out like,” Matt said.
“Yeah,” Aidan said with a slight hint of mischief in his voice. “Maybe you can take Nick as your plus one.”
“It’s hardly a plus one when he’s going to have an invite too,” Matt said with a roll of his eyes.
“I was just thinking of the principle of the matter.”
“That makes zero sense.”
“Sure it does, if you think hard about it.”
Matt opened his mouth to argue, thought better of it, and let out a long-suffering sigh. The rest of the team, even Clint, when he’d been alive, had always liked to make jokes about how close he and Nick were. Never mind that as far as the rest of the world was concerned, they were both straight men who had absolutely no interest in one another.
Which in Matt’s case, save for one little incident of drunken shenanigans before he’d shipped out for boot camp, was completely true. He didn’t understand why Nick hadn’t opened up to the rest of the team as being ‘sorta bi.’ Even after years of friendship, Matt still wasn’t sure just how far that went. He did know he’d never seen his friend date another man before, though he knew for a fact Nick hadn’t avoided sexual contact with them on the odd occasion.
It still struck him as odd that Nick had never brought it up. With their two friends and former team leaders in a relationship, there was no way anyone else would have had a problem with it. Hell, he was fairly sure even he wouldn’t know if he hadn’t accidentally literally stumbled upon the truth years ago.
“Well, I’ll let Nick know, but you guys should still call him anyway,” Matt told them, dropping his bags on the counter.
“Well, yeah, we’ll shoot him a message so we don’t end up interrupting his super important base party meetings,” Aidan said with a snicker.
“God, don’t. He’s been grumbling about garlands and twinkling lights under his breath when he thinks I’m not in earshot,” Matt said.
“Which means you’ve been going to his apartment to visit,” Sean said wryly.
Matt scowled. “You guys can tease all you want, but just because you’re Scrooges doesn’t mean I have to be.”
“He says, as if it doesn’t look like a Christmas store exploded in his apartment,” Aidan muttered.
“You haven’t even been here to see my apartment!”
“We don’t have to,” Sean piped up.
“It’s almost like we know you,” Aidan added.
Matt scowled. “And on that note, it’s been good talking to you guys but would you look at that? Something’s on fire.”
Sean laughed. “We actually do need to get back to it. So you go back to adding even more decorations to your apartment and we’ll talk to you later.”
“Boy, do I look forward to our next conversation,” Matt grumbled.
“Yeah, we love you too, bud,” Aidan called.
Matt sighed. “And I miss you both like Europe misses the plague.”
It took another couple minutes of verbal sparring, which mainly involved Aidan trying to be witty before Matt finally got off the phone with them. By the time the conversation was all said and done, he was left scowling at his bag of Christmas decorations and the microwavable burrito he’d grabbed from the store.
With a sigh, he tried to ignore the ache in his chest in the shape of his absent teammates and pulled out his phone. He knew Nick was undoubtedly busy, but he tapped out a quick message. It popped up on the screen, right below Nick’s latest message, asking when the base had gotten enough gay men on it to need so much mistletoe. Matt still wasn’t sure what that was about, but he was sure he’d find out later.
Humming a carol to himself, he tucked the phone away and began unbagging his latest purchases. His apartment door was positively aching for a big, gaudy wreath.