Tannenbaum Schmannenbaum


“If I wanted to sleep under a fucking tree, Sunshine, I’d live in a fucking forest.”

So much for the “lure him with the idea of sex under the tree lights” approach, Justin thought to himself, marking that one off the list of ideas on how to get Brian to agree to a fucking Christmas tree.

He discarded the idea of playing the “Gus” card – it would probably work, it always did; but just because of its power he knew he needed to use it sparingly, and there were more important things to save it for – things that were actually in Gus’s best interests, not his. He sighed heavily.

Brian, knowing full well that Justin wasn’t going to give up at the first refusal, gave an exasperated huff of frustration. Then he had an inspiration on how to deflect him – at least for a while. “Besides,” he went on without allowing his partner to say anything, “your fucking allergies would kick in and you’d have a nose red enough for Rudolph by the end of the holidays. Not a good look, Sunshine.”

Justin sighed again. Brian was probably right about that. His mother had had to give up on natural trees because he’d had one too many asthma attacks around Christmas time. But it was a pain in the ass because he’d had a secret fantasy about him and Brian heading for the tree lot and watching while Brian did his manly man thing chopping down the tree. Images of Brian stripping off an entirely imaginary flannel shirt to reveal his perfect abs all gleaming with sweat swam through Justin’s head for a moment, and then he got a flash of himself sneezing loudly just as he started to lick the sweat away from Brian’s nipples and the fantasy faded.




On the outskirts of town, Lindsay who’d had a similar fantasy about her own partner wondered if she was out of her mind as she watched Melanie struggling to chop the tree they’d chosen. She’d already tried to suggest to Mel that they get one already cut down, but Mel, inspired maybe by fantasies of her own, or else driven by the need to prove that they didn’t need fucking Brian to chop down a damned tree, had insisted that she was perfectly capable of playing lumberjack.

By the time the tree came down and they got it wrapped and safely stowed on the roof of their car, both of them were close to tears and tantrums. Lindsay had had to cope with two kids who’d quickly become bored watching Momma trying to stay out of the way of her own axe, and Mel had something close to a sprained wrist and burgeoning blisters on both hands.

Mel vowed yet again that next year there wasn’t going to be any Christmas shit and wondered why on earth she had ever gotten involved with a shiksa; while Lindsay for once thought fondly of her WASP childhood where whatever battles there had been they certainly weren’t over whether they should even celebrate Christmas and the tree had magically appeared and disappeared at the appropriate times with no apparent effort and definitely without all this unpleasantness and fuss.




‘Okay’, Justin thought to himself, ‘buying a plastic tree was just plain dumb. You might have known Brian would just laugh himself silly over the very idea of having “that plastic shit” anywhere near his precious designer furniture.’

But Ted and Blake had just moved into a new place, so Justin bought a few tasteful baubles, found a box big enough to hold the lot, wrapped it and gave it to them as ‘an early Christmas present’. They might have been a little puzzled, but when he and Brian stopped over there a couple of nights later to drop off some papers for Ted that had to be filed with the bank the next morning, the tree was sitting in the corner, fully decorated and actually looking not all that bad.

“It’s great,” Blake enthused to Brian’s obvious amusement. “And it doesn’t leave needles everywhere, which Ted kind of hates.”

Brian snorted and Justin elbowed him in the ribs – not sure if the snort was in response to Ted’s anal houseproud tendencies or if the reference to ‘needles’ had triggered in Brian’s mind memories of Ted’s crystal queen days, but not intending to let him get away with either.

Brian snorted again and in the car on the way home made some reference to the ‘fucking garish monstrosity’ that led Justin to put on his thinking cap.

Maybe a foil tree … if he got a simple blue one for instance and decorated it with only silver baubles …



He spent a while online looking to see if he could find something that might pass muster with his anal, label queen partner and had actually made up his mind just what to get when they got corralled into heading over to Emmett’s place for an “emergency” tasting session. Emmett had a big Christmas do coming up, and wanted their input on the appetizers he was planning to serve. Brian might pride himself on being immune to flattery, but his ego couldn’t resist Emmett’s insistence that he was the only “big businessman” of their little group and that his opinion on whether these new dishes would be suitable for a big corporate function would be invaluable. So they arrived at the premises Emmett had leased on the first floor of a building not too far from Kinnetik only half an hour later than the time Emmett had stipulated. They might even have made it on time if a sudden need to check out Brian’s personal bathroom at Kinnetik hadn’t delayed them a little.

Emmett’s business domain consisted of a small office, a slightly larger reception area and an industrial kitchen. From here, he was continuing his quest to become the acknowledged Party Planning Queen of Pittsburgh.

The food was actually really good. Justin consumed quite a few of the different appetizers and even Brian had tasted each of the different kinds and given his verdict that ‘the salmon things are fine, the mini blinis and those pumpernickel things are fine, but can the fucking beetroot gizmos – if someone gets a drop of that shit on their damned Armani or Prada they’ll fucking sue”.

What struck Justin though was that in the window of the reception area Emmett had set up a foil tree that was a similar model to the one Justin had been looking at. Of course, Emmett’s was gold, decorated with baubles, tinsel and lights in all colors of the fucking rainbow, but the actual tree was really similar to what he was planning to buy.

Brian of course, had just closed his eyes in a pained sort of way when confronted with the tree, but it wasn’t till they were all about to leave together, and Emmett was actually pulling the door closed that Justin’s hope that he’d found the solution to the tree thing got pretty much dashed.

“Fuck it, Emmett!” Brian snapped. “You can’t walk out and leave that fucking thing with the lights still on. Those things are a fucking fire trap!”

Despite Emmett’s protestations that it was fine, he insisted that Emmett go back and not only switch the lights off, but disconnect them from the socket.

Emmett grumbled a little, but when they were saying goodbye, he gave Brian a quick hug and a little peck on the cheek, being very well aware that his friend’s brusque words revealed genuine concern for him.

That night Justin did a little research and discovered Brian was entitled to be concerned; the foil trees were highly flammable and if there were any sort of problem with the electrics, even just with the light bulbs over-heating through being left on too long … well, more than one Christmas had been ruined by a fire that started with that combination.

He sighed. Maybe not a good idea then.




Feeling that he was fast running out of options, Justin reluctantly headed for the mall. He was delighted when he came across the store with the window display of fiber optic trees. They were totally untraditional, made from the latest technology and could be presented to the stubborn asshole he lived with as being both avant-garde and sophisticated. As long as he could find one that wasn’t too gaudy, Brian might actually let one of these through the door of his precious damned loft. He spent some time looking at the different types and finally decided on one that he thought maybe Brian might even like.

He was about to make the purchase when he realized that as Brian was waiting for him at home, it might not be the best time. The store agreed to hold it for him till the next morning, and he headed off, confident that he’d found a way to win the battle that had been waging for weeks over whether they’d have any kind of Christmas tree to sully the stark minimalist spaces of the loft.

He gave a little jig as he walked down the street. It wasn’t even that he actually felt like Christmas would be ruined without a tree, or any of that shit. It was the principle of the thing. It was his home too and if he wanted a tree he should damned well be able to have one. He grinned to himself. There’d been a number of these little battles between them over the years and he figured he’d pretty much won most of them. Being both honest and perceptive, he also figured that Brian pretty much wanted him to win them – if Justin “forced” him to do certain things that fell outside the Kinney-myth, that was somehow okay. Which in one way was kind of fucked, but overall things worked out okay and the battles themselves definitely kept things interesting.

Even the knowledge that they were committed to going to Ben and Michael’s for a “pre-Christmas” meal didn’t dim his good mood. Deb, of course, was insisting that she host the annual Christmas Day feast, and they were all going to Linds and Mel’s for Christmas Eve because of the kids. But Ben and Michael had wanted to share in the holiday hospitality, so they’d decided to invite everyone for a meal the Sunday before Christmas – in other words, today. Or at least tonight.

It probably meant some weird-assed combination of Ben’s tasteless health food shit and Michael’s own high fat, high carbs preference, but that was okay, he and Brian could amuse themselves and each other by bitching about it in sign language – a raised eyebrow here, a sly grin there – and pick up some Thai or maybe Chinese on the way home. It was easier than dealing with all the bitching and pouting they’d have to put up with if they didn’t show.

His mood wasn’t harmed any by the fact that his partner was apparently suffering from a severe case of Justin – or at least sex - deprivation by the time he got home so they arrived at Michael and Ben’s late, but in a pleasant state of post-coital torpor. Which was just as well, because they walked in on the sort of domestic chaos that was inevitable when nine adults (one of whom was Debbie) two small kids, and a teenager were piled together into a relatively small house. The relentlessly cheerful hubbub would once have sent Brian straight off to the Baths; and Justin would have been tempted to join him.

But Brian for once seemed content to go with the flow. Within minutes of entering, he’d found a glass of hot spiced wine (one of Ben’s specialties that actually did find favor with the Kinney tastebuds – especially on a cold evening), a space on the couch between Emmett and Lindsay and simply observed all the chaos around him with a gleam in his eye that told Justin he was more amused than annoyed by everyone’s antics.

Justin, on the other hand, was far from amused.

Mainly because Michael was showing off the “fantastic” Christmas tree that Debbie had apparently supplied them with earlier in the month. Ben, having apparently wanted a boring “real” tree, was less enthusiastic, but Michael seemed totally captivated by the rippling lights in all colors of the rainbow.

Justin simply ground his teeth in frustration. Somehow he just knew that his wonderful idea of getting Brian to accept a fiber optic tree into his home had totally been blown out the water. There was no way that Brian would regard something Debbie, of all people, had bought, as suitable for the sacred precincts of the loft. No argument that Justin could mount that the tree he’d planned to buy was completely different from the garish monstrosity Deb had given Michael would overcome the appalling prospect of having the same type of tree as their admittedly taste-challenged friends.

Fuck it.




Persistent (or stubborn, depending on how you looked at it) as he was, by the next morning Justin was just about ready to throw in the towel.

When he found himself unsuccessfully googling for somewhere to buy a damned pear tree sapling he had to admit that he’d just about run out of ideas. He planned to make one more excursion to a specialist Christmas shop right across town, and if he couldn’t find anything there he might actually have to fucking give up.

He was getting ready to leave when his cell rang.

Brian - who apparently had organized something to be delivered to the loft without first checking that Justin didn’t have any plans other than to sit around and wait for some fucking delivery that might not arrive till fuck knows when.

Justin made his displeasure quite clear and Brian huffed down the phone at him.

“Fine! Fuck it! I’ll get them to deliver it here then. Though how the hell I’ll get it home from here who the fuck knows.”

Justin sighed.

He supposed it didn’t really matter. He would still be able to go out to the Christmas store tomorrow. And they probably wouldn’t have anything anyway.

“No, it’s okay,” he said resignedly. “I’m sorry – I was just being a twat. I can wait here till it comes. There’s nothing urgent I have to take care of.”

Brian huffed a little more and then disconcertingly changed tack and started doing the whole “Are you sure? Maybe I can get Emmett to come over …” thing.

Justin gave a ghost of a laugh. “Good luck with that – he’s in party hell all this week. Remember what he was saying last night about not knowing when he was going to find time to sleep.”

Brian snorted. “You don’t think I was fucking listening to all that shit, do you?”

Justin found himself grinning. Sometimes the fact that Brian was still unrepentantly Brian struck him as something for which he should be profoundly grateful.

“Seriously, it’s okay,” he said. Then a glint of mischief came into his voice. “I might even do some baking – make some of those Christmas cookies you like so much.”

He was laughing when he hung up, having responded to his partner’s threats about ‘not filling the fucking place with those fat-bombs’ with a sweet, “Buh-bye now.”

Brian really did love the cookies. He just hated the fact that he couldn’t resist them.

Justin checked the cupboards, found all the ingredients he needed and set to work. He had one lot half-decorated and was just getting the second batch out of the oven when the buzzer sounded.

He pressed the release to let the delivery man into the building and slid back the door.

For one moment he wondered if maybe Brian was planning a surprise – maybe the guy would turn up at the door with the biggest fucking tree that could possibly fit into the loft and he could spend all afternoon decorating it and …

Yeah, right.

When the elevator arrived, there were two men inside, manhandling between them a trolley on which sat a box maybe a little over three foot tall.

They seemed to take inordinate care getting it out of the elevator and wheeling it the few feet to the door. And even more care removing it from the trolley.

Not surprisingly, he supposed, since it was plastered all over with “Fragile” stickers. He supposed it was some new damned toy Brian had found for Gus and “just had to get” to add to the already immense pile that was waiting to be transferred to the Munchers on Christmas Eve.

He signed the delivery sheet, tipped the guys and was just sliding the door shut when he heard impetuous footsteps on the stairs.

He was more than a little surprised when Brian appeared around the bend in the stairs, and wondered what the hell he was doing home so early.

“Is it here? Has it come?” Brian asked, with a kind of childlike excitement that Justin had never seen him display before.

“Well, there’s a fucking huge box with “Fragile” stickers all over it. If that’s what you’re expecting, then yes, it’s arrived.”

Brian grinned, and seemed to slow down a little, becoming more like his normal, sardonic self, although there was still a gleam in his eyes, and his expression slid into the tongue-in-cheek smirk that usually meant he was up to mischief of some kind.

Justin found himself getting exasperated all over again.

“Brian, if you’ve bought Gus some damned personal computerized robot or shit, Mel is going to go ballistic, and I wouldn’t blame her.”

Brian shrugged, moving past him into the loft and heading up to the bedroom to change. Because heaven help it if he might actually get a crease or two from sitting around at home in his latest damned Prada or Armani or whatever the fuck it was.

Justin slid the door shut, leaning against it for a moment to get himself together and not let some stupid damned bad mood spoil what might be a fun evening. It wasn’t often Brian came home early; he wasn’t going to let the fact that he felt ridiculously fucking disappointed over not being able to manage to get a damned Christmas tree of all things spoil the fun they could have.

The thought that he could at least torment Brian with the cookies crossed his mind and cheered him up considerably, so he went to fetch some from the batch that he’d been decorating just before the delivery arrived.

As he put the coffeemaker on and brought a plate of cookies in from the kitchen, Brian came down the steps looking good enough to eat himself in a pair of worn jeans and a slinky black silk knit sweater that had seen better days but which Brian had kept because (although he would probably have denied it at the stake) he knew Justin loved him wearing it.

Brian grimaced when he saw the cookies, but still made a grab at one on his way to the kitchen, which Justin fended off deftly. While Justin returned to the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee, Brian spent some time rifling through a couple of drawers. By the time Justin was placing the cups on the coffee table, Brian had joined him, triumphantly waving his find – a razor sharp utility knife that usually did duty for helping Justin trim canvases.

Brian sat on the couch and handed him the knife, handle first.

“Have at it, Sunshine,” he said, picking up his coffee in one hand and snatching a cookie with the other. “But be fucking careful. You might not know it, but the contents are … um .. fragile.”

Justin pulled a face, acknowledging the sarcastic reference to the proliferation of stickers all over the damned box and then sat and stared at Brian for a moment.

What the fuck was he up to this time?

Brian just smirked and took a slow, teasing bite of his cookie.

Justin weighed his options and then slowly advanced on the box. Carefully he slit along the top edges and then, even more carefully, slit down the corners of the box from top to bottom on one side. Gently, he folded that side of the box right down to the floor and, kneeling, looked inside; but he couldn’t see much because the contents were swaddled in sheet upon sheet of bubble wrap.

Then Brian was beside him, drawing out the bubble-wrapped bundle. He handed it to Justin who set it carefully on the coffee table, not quite knowing where to start with freeing it from its cocoon, and then Brian drew out another small box which had been nestled under the bundle. Then he sat back on the couch and, waving a slightly impatient hand, said, “Well, go on. Unwrap the fucking thing.”

Sighing, wishing that for once his fucking partner could just tell him what was going on and not have to turn every single moment into some fucking production number in a more than usually cryptic Stephen Sondheim musical, Justin picked up the knife and started slicing carefully through the tape that held the bubble wrap together.

As he started to peel the stuff away, he began to get a glimmer of an idea of what was inside, but it seemed so ridiculous an idea that he tried to tell himself he was delusional.

Finally, however, there was no doubt; gradually, as he removed the wrapping, a Christmas tree emerged.

Not a normal tree.

Well … not one made from pine or plastic or foil or even fucking fiber optics, anyway.

This one - elegant, graceful, exquisitely beautiful - was made from hand blown glass.

The glass was almost clear with just the faintest sheen of green where the light caught it at just the right angle.

It was almost three foot tall and Justin didn’t think he’d ever seen anything so delicately, perfectly, wrought in his whole damned life.

He sank back on the couch beside Brian and simply stared at it.

Brian, smirking smugly, handed him his cup of coffee and picked up the small box that had come with it.

He opened it, tilting it towards his partner and Justin saw inside, again nestled in foam, a range of equally delicate ornaments. Looking more closely at the tree he realized that many of the “branches” included small, subtle hooks from which the decorations could be suspended.

“Well, Sunshine, will it suffice to satisfy your craving for a damned tree?”

The words held all of Brian’s usual snark, but there was something in the tone, some touch of anxiety, that caught Justin’s breath for a moment.

Oh my fucking God, he realized. This is so not something you could just go into a store and buy over the counter. He’s had this fucking made for me. He must have ordered it fucking weeks ago. Months maybe. And he didn’t even give me a tiny hint. Just left me fucking spinning trying to come up with something he’d let in the door, while all this time he’s had this planned. For me.

For us, he amended, as his eyes met Brian’s and the brilliant smile that had earned him his nickname spilt over his face. He saw a glimmer of relief in Brian’s eyes before his partner got his own trademark smirk back in place and he gave a happy laugh. “I’ll make do,” he said.

Brian, who after all was pretty much onto him as well, gave his own laugh and took another cookie which he munched with avid enjoyment while all the time muttering threats to throw “those damned evil things” into the trash.



Of course, Brian and Justin being who they were, the next tussle was over where to place the tree - not an easy choice given that it had to be given appropriate prominence and still kept safe - especially from excited little hands that could so easily damage its fragile beauty.

But once that argument was also sorted, Justin found some very pleasurable ways to ensure that his partner knew how suitably grateful he was for his gift.

Santa isn’t the only one who gets to reward good boys at Christmas.


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