by Annie

She had been watching them for over an hour, discreetly, taking peeks over the top of her paperback spy novel. She wasn't close enough to hear their conversation, but she could occasionally hear laughter filtered by the warm breeze.

They were both impossibly beautiful, contrasting images of light and dark. The blond had his hair, tips bleached by the hot sun, cropped short and spiky. His skin had taken on a dark golden sheen and even though she couldn't see them, she would bet his eyes matched the brilliant cobalt blue of his swimming trunks. He was slender yet toned, one bright white scar crossing the firm muscle of his right bicep. Even from her distance, she could see his frequent and open smiles, teeth gleaming.

The other one had an unruly mass of dark curls, which he kept pushing out of his eyes. He was slightly stockier than his companion, skin paler as well, but compact and graceful in his movements. He punctuated every comment with a gesture, his hands weaving in the humid air like he was conducting a symphony. His features were guileless and warm as he talked animatedly with his companion.

She tried to concentrate on her book, but her eyes kept being drawn back to the couple. For that was exactly what they were: a couple. They were utterly wrapped up in each other, exchanging lingering touches and affectionate looks. She watched the brunet kiss the blond's shoulder. The blond put sunscreen onto his partner's back, fingers alternately rubbing the lotion in to the skin and tracing lingering caresses.

She envied the pair their shining beauty, their lack of self-consciousness, their undeniable love. They were two halves of a circle made whole by each other and she sighed wistfully, wondering if she would ever have anything like that. Once upon a time, she dreamed of such a thing but time and circumstances had brought her to this place, sitting alone on a Florida beach on new year's eve.

The couple stood up, brushed the sand off and walked hand in hand towards the ocean. She watched them go, then shook her head and turned back to her novel, determined to push her melancholy away.


Blake stumbled as a vigorous wave pushed at his legs, clutching Ethan's hand until he regained his balance. They walked through the water until they were past the breakers and into calmer seas, gentle waves lapping at their waists and the sun beating down on their shoulders.

Ethan lifted Blake's hand to his mouth and kissed it, smiling. They looked around at the crystal blue-green waters and the ships anchored in the distance, but their gazes kept returning to each other. This was their first vacation together and although they had to return to their mundane lives in two days, they didn't mind because they would still be together.

It had taken them two years to save up for this trip; Ethan busked on street corners and played studio gigs while Blake worked two jobs and went to law school at night. After their first holiday season together, they promised themselves that one day they would leave snowy, frigid Pittsburgh and have a new year's kiss on a warm, tropical beach. Blake wanted Fiji and Ethan voted for Crete, but they knew both were out of their reach so they compromised on Key West, and promptly fell in love with the beautiful, eclectic, embracing island at first sight. Ethan joined in with a couple of street musicians one night, playing everything from bluegrass to tejano, and Blake spent hours one afternoon talking to a pair of activist lawyers working for the island's large gay population and tourists.

They would be sad to leave when it was time to go home, but they knew they had found a place they would want to return to every year. They each loved Pittsburgh in their own ways, but Pittsburgh had so many ghosts from their pasts. Key West was completely theirs, a place where there was no "before-Blake-and-Ethan."

Blake leaned into Ethan and nuzzled his shoulder, inhaling the warm musky scent of his lover. They were almost exactly the same height and fitted together in such a perfect way that it was impossible to find a visible space between them. The first time Blake had held Ethan like this was three years ago, when they made love in a cheap airport hotel. Both had been flying back to Pittsburgh one December, both coming from New York. They had struck up a conversation in the bar while waiting for a snow delay to pass, and ended up in that cheap hotel room two hours later.

One week after that, they flew home.

It wasn't until then that they discovered how small their world really was, that it was more than chance and attraction that brought them together that snowy night. Ethan talked about his brief affair with Justin Taylor, how they burned bright and hot for such a short time but it wasn't meant to last and how eventually Justin left to find his own way in the world. They were still the best of friends, he told Blake, and Justin was the first one to wholeheartedly endorse Ethan's new lover.

Blake told Ethan about Ted Schmidt, how he had loved Ted and then broke his heart. They were cordial and Blake was happy about Ted's relationship with Emmett, but it would take a long time for Blake to earn Ted's friendship and trust. Ted was less enthusiastic about their relationship but still supportive and made an effort to keep in touch with Blake, despite Emmett's protests.

Blake and Ethan stayed up all night talking about their pasts, about Ethan's failed attempt at being a world-class classical violinist because he hated the rigidity and snobbery in that world, about Blake's downward spiral into drug addiction, until he hit rock bottom by trying to steal from a dealer with a long memory and an even longer knife. Ethan had stroked the scar on Blake's arm, left over from that terrifying yet sobering ordeal, and Blake kissed the callouses on Ethan's fingers, caused by endless hours of busking.

Three years later, Ethan still found loveliness in that scar and Blake shivered at the raspy feel of those callouses whenever they brushed against his skin.

The silky waters embraced them as they held each other and released mutual sighs of contentment. Ethan was the first to break the comfortable silence.

"I think we should stay."

Blake looked shocked. They had joked about it during their vacation, of course, but Ethan sounded serious. He opened his mouth to reply but Ethan held up a hand, pressing it to Blake's lips.

"Hold on -- hear me out. You only have one semester of law school to finish and you can do it by correspondence. And you know once you take the bar, Danny and Oswald would hire you. As for me, I can busk here as well as I can in Pittsburgh - probably better since the 'burgh isn't a exactly tourist mecca - and the local music scene is astonishing for such a tiny island. Neither of us would lack for work, at least enough to live on and we're not the 'living large' type."

"Where would we live?" Blake breathed out, getting excited at Ethan's enthusiasm but trying to control it.

"We have enough saved up to stay where we are for another couple of weeks, maybe three, and we can ask Danny and Oswald for help finding a good apartment."

"But...our...our friends back home--" Blake stammered.

"We can visit them," Ethan said with assurance. "Furthermore," he continued with a saucy wink, "I bet those friends would love to have a place to crash if they came to visit us."

Blake couldn't contain himself any longer. "Let's do it!" He pulled Ethan close and planted a long, wet, ferocious kiss on him. When he pulled away, they were both breathless and grinning from ear to ear. "Happy new year," Blake said.

"Yes, it is," Ethan replied, and their joyous laughter echoed off the glassy water.


She raised her head from the book when she heard the laughter and felt a delighted smile cross her lips in response. She didn't know what they were laughing about, only that they sounded so happy and their bliss was infectious, melting away her earlier self-pity.

She slipped a bookmark in her novel and put it in her bag. She had brought a slinky black dress with her, thinking she wouldn't need it but it was better to be safe than sorry. She was going to go to her room, take a hot shower and put on that dress, then find a new year's party somewhere and starting living in the world again.

She took one final look at the couple, sent them a silent wish of good luck and continued happiness, and walked away smiling. It was going to be a happy new year.


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