“You’re going to be fine, baby,” Erik said, rubbing a circle on John’s back.
John took a deep breath, then exhaled. Erik wasn’t dumb. ‘Baby’ wasn’t just a pet name for him. It centered him, made him feel okay even when he wasn’t. It made it easy for him to do things that were hard. It was a strong word for John.
Calling Edwin ‘little brother’ had used to have a similar effect. Erik didn’t know if it still would, even if they did manage to patch things up and get back together. The swim meet had gone well, which was a good sign.
But Edwin couldn’t be the only thing Erik worried about anymore. John needed his help too. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for coming with me.”
They were leaning against Erik’s car in the airport parking lot, waiting for John’s dad to get back from vacation. John had agreed to pick him up at the airport but he’d been so nervous about it that Erik had refused to let him take the car.
It was weird, doing something like that. It was the kind of thing he’d been trying to teach himself not to do. But he’d made sure to take a deep breath and think about why he was insisting on it, and this wasn’t one of the times Erik wanted control for its own sake. He didn’t need John to be his. John needed him to be himself. For nearly a year, Erik had thought nobody needed him, but John was teaching him. And so he was learning. He was learning, for John. “Anytime,” Erik said. He spotted a guy he recognized as John’s dad coming towards them. “There he is. You’re going to be fine, I promise.”
“I believe you,” John said quietly, pushing off the car to go meet Kyle. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hey, John, thanks for coming to get me.”
“It’s no problem. How was your trip?”
“It was great. Wish you could have come with me, some time on the island always does us good. Oh, I didn’t realize your roommate was coming with you. Sorry to put you to the trouble, Erik.”
Erik smiled, took Kyle’s bag for him. “It’s no trouble, Mr. Kamaka,” he said, putting it in the trunk.
“That’s not the fun kind of mouthful. Just call me Kyle, please,” Kyle said, like they were meeting at a bar. “John, do you have the keys?”
Erik smiled back, waving the keys as he went around to get in the driver’s seat. It was a second before the back door opened and Kyle slid in. John got in behind him. “John was a bit nervous about driving my car in case it snowed.”
Erik watched Kyle frown in the mirror. “I told you that you could use mine while I was gone,” he said to John, tone a little stern.
“I, I know,” John said, voice a little quieter than it had been. “But your house is far away from our apartment, and Erik would have had to drive me there to pick up your car anyway.”
Erik couldn’t help but smile as he paid for the parking. John had practiced saying that, but he made it sound like he hadn’t.
“I guess so,” Kyle said, leaning back in the seat. He hadn’t put a seat belt on. “Well, you’re a grown-up, if that’s what works best for you, then it works for me.”
Erik wished John was sitting up front with him, because he saw in the mirror how John shifted uncomfortably at that. But Erik didn’t say anything, just started driving. “Tell me about your trip,” John said, changing the subject really well. “How are Uncle Benjamin and Uncle Keaton?”
He idly listened to Kyle tell John about his brothers and their kids while he got on the highway, trying to remember which exit he needed to get to Kyle’s end of town. As he found it, Kyle was saying, “You’d have really liked it. You remember that dance I taught you? We did that all night, and there was maybe a little bit of drinking, but it was so much warmer than here.”
“That sounds really nice,” John said, and Erik knew he meant that. He’d grown up here, but felt really strongly about his island heritage. “I’d have liked to have been there.”
“I invited you,” Kyle said, tone just a little accusatory.
“I know. I’m sorry. I couldn’t get the time off work.”
Erik tried not to wince. He and John had practiced John not apologizing. But it was okay, even if he could see John getting upset at the slip-up. “It gave us time to watch all of Assassination Classroom,” he said, to distract John from being upset. “Which isn’t a fair trade-off, but we had fun.”
“Yeah!” John agreed, smiling. “We did. Maybe I’ll be able to come next time. Maybe I could even bring Erik.”
“Maybe,” said Kyle, shrugging. “So the roommate thing is really working out with you two, huh?”
Erik didn’t say anything, just made a left turn. John took a breath. “We’re boyfriends, actually,” he said. And unlike when he’d practiced it, it didn’t sound like a question.
“Oh,” said Kyle, looking at Erik in the mirror for just a second. He smiled warmly. “Congratulations, then. I hope you guys are happy together. And that you won’t forget about Dad.” He winked.
John smiled at him. “I’ll never forget you.”
“Good.” He slid over in the seat a little, moving closer to John. “Well. I was going to get you to come to my place for Christmas,” he said, the tone of his voice changing, going a bit lower. “Get you away from your roommate in that little apartment. But I wouldn’t want to tear my baby boy out of his boyfriend’s arms.”
“So how about you both come over?” Kyle asked, not letting John finish. “We can all spend Christmas together.”
John swallowed, shifting in his seat. He looked a little uncomfortable. But mostly turned on. Erik knew what his and Kyle’s relationship had been. He knew what Kyle was offering. And Kyle knew he knew, he had to. He had his hand on John’s leg. “Well…” said John.
“It’ll be fun,” Kyle promised, nudging John. “It’ll just be the three of us. I can show Erik how to take care of my baby boy.”
Erik wanted to gun the accelerator at the stop sign he was waiting at, but didn’t. He could picture it. John squished between him and Kyle. On the floor in front of them. Just wanting to make them happy. Just needing them to make him happy. It was hot. It would be hot. It would be fun.
“You wouldn’t even need to pack a bag,” Kyle went on, hand moving up to the zipper of John’s jeans. “You’ve got everything you need right here. And I’ll get you so many gifts for Christmas you won’t be able to take them all home. We’ll have a great time. What do you say?”
“I, uh, it sounds fun…”
John couldn’t say no to his dad. He’d talked about that to Erik at length. He couldn’t say no to anyone, really. Erik had to be really careful with him because of that. The boner in John’s pants was obvious, too.
John liked fucking his dad, Erik knew that. He always had a good time when they were together. He loved his dad, and he loved spending time with him. He’d spend all day and all night in his daddy’s arms, if he could. But he couldn’t, and Erik also knew how Kyle made John feel about himself the moment he left.
“Great,” Kyle said, smiling wide. “Sound good to you, Erik?”
Erik pulled into Kyle’s neighbourhood, the small houses mostly evenly spaced. He took a breath, and shifted his view from Kyle to John. It was so hard for John to feel good about himself. Erik couldn’t be another person making him feel bad.
“Is that what you really want, baby?”
Kyle frowned, and John went tense, for just a second. Then he visibly relaxed. “No,” he said, in a quiet voice. “It’s not.”
“Excuse me?” Kyle asked.
“I’d rather spend Christmas with Erik, Dad,” John said, voice gaining strength. “We’ll come see you, maybe on Boxing Day for supper. But I don’t want to spend Christmas with you.”
Erik pulled into Kyle’s driveway, putting the car in park and popping the trunk. Kyle didn’t move, looking from his son to Erik. He looked stunned. “Are you sure? You get so lonely on Christmas.”
“I’m not going to be lonely this year,” John said. “I’m sure.”
At a clear loss, Kyle slid away from John and undid his seatbelt. “Okay. If that’s what you want, son.”
John just nodded. Kyle opened the door and got out, going around to get his bag out of the trunk. He came back, leaned in for just a second. “I’ll be here, when you decide to come back.”
“I know,” John said. He looked up at the mirror, and he smiled just a little. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Kyle nodded once, curt now. “Thanks for the ride, Erik.”
“See you, Kyle.”
“Bye, Daddy.” It came out as a whisper, but Erik was sure Kyle heard it as he shut the car door.
Erik pulled out of the driveway before John could let guilt change his mind, but he smiled at his boy in the mirror. “I’m proud of you, baby.”
“Th-thank you,” John sniffed, wiping his eyes. He started crying, and Erik drove four blocks to a gas station parking lot so he could hug John and tell him it was okay, because John needed that. And Erik wanted to give John what he needed.
Because Erik loved him, and John deserved it.