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He had made it past Halloween, past Thanksgiving. But he didn't know if he could make it past Christmas. If you thought you were a permanent fixture in a family, just wait until the holidays. Negan was probably being overdramatic, nit-picky, but damn, if he weren't those things, then who the hell was he?

One night, high and wobbly, he had asked Rick that. All legs and elbows, he draped over Rick and breathed right in his ear. Who am I?

"Someone who's gotten into my stash. I was saving that, asshole," Rick had said, giving his chest a nice pat and helping him stand. Negan didn't remember what face he was making, but Rick had laughed. "I know, don't make that face. That wasn't the answer you were looking for. You're Negan. My amazing, wonderful, fucking hot boyfriend. Was that better?"

Negan also didn't remember protesting, so he guessed that was enough of an answer for his fuzzy brain. Now, though, practically eight months later, Negan still had trouble grappling with that question. While being an amazing, wonderful, fucking hot boyfriend was great, Negan wanted more. He didn't like to dwell on it—that was a fucking lie, what are you doing now?—and he wouldn't dare tell Rick.

He wanted to be a part of something. It was hard after Lucille died, and he thought he wanted to be alone for the rest of his life. But then he met Rick, and he didn't want to be alone anymore. He wanted a family. Specifically with Rick and his kids. Judith adored him. Carl tolerated him. He thought things were good, great even, but as the months went on and holidays came, Negan found out things were not good. At least for him.

It was ridiculous to feel jealous of Rick's dead wife. Rick certainly wasn't jealous of his dead wife. The lingering specter of Lori Grimes hung heavily in the air these past weeks. Negan respected the fact that Rick and Carl kept up the little family traditions around the holidays. He expected it was for Judith's sake. She would never know her mom. Hell, though, if it didn't feel like brick wall after brick wall was greeting Negan with each little story, inside joke, that he could not, would not understand, rubbing his nose raw until it bled.

He could join in the traditions. They could, together. Negan could be Judith's mom. Let me in, let me in, let me in.

"Alright," Rick said, opening up the car door and sliding into the passenger's seat. "One more stop, then we can get the kids from school." He looked over at Negan, glanced ahead, and back at him. "Everything okay?"

Negan rubbed his palms against the steering wheel and thought about digging his teeth right into twelve o'clock. Instead, he smiled. "Yeah, Rick. I'm okay." He studied Rick, and the anger pooling in his gut melted away, replaced with a warmth that made his heart hammer against his ribs. Rick still held his gaze, that concerned look in his eyes. He had his coat zipped up to his chin, a wool cap smashed over those brown curls.

"Your nose is fucking red. Like Rudolph."

Rick shook his head and settled in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest. "Tis the season." He touched his nose, then rubbed it. "You know that weird dollar store on the edge of town?" Rick pulled on his seatbelt.

Negan glanced at Rick, tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel as he started to drive. "Uh? Yeah?"

Next to him, Negan heard Rick laugh. He didn't look at him. "I'll tell you where to go."

*

He knocked his knuckles against the store shelf, a clumsy attempt to grab the box of Jingle cookies staring him down. Negan held the box like it was made of gold. "Oh my fucking god," he said, a slight twinge lingering in his fingers.

Rick turned around, giving Negan a look. He smiled, though, at the cookies. "Hey, those are pretty good."

"I'm fucking getting them."

"Do it."

Negan stuffed the box under his arm and continued to follow Rick down the aisle. He kept his eyes on the back of Rick's head, the wool cap he still had on. "Five minutes, Rick."

"Will you… hold your horses?" Rick said, trailing off as he stopped at the end of the aisle. He tipped his head back, then dropped his gaze, looked down, around.

"I don't think I can do that." Negan stood next to Rick, trying to match his line of sight. He crouched, narrowing his eyes.

Rick reached out, shoving aside boxes of holiday sweets, and picked up a fruitcake. He held it in both hands and smoothed his thumb over the plastic wrapping. Negan furrowed his brow, nose wrinkling, and he glanced around, like he was missing something. "Please tell me, Rick, my wonderful, smart Rick, that you're not getting a fucking fruitcake."

He frowned, nudging Negan without looking. "Shut up."

"Those things are fucking disgusting. You don't even know how old that is."

At that, Rick turned it over and held it up. He shook his head. "Best by date is fine." Rick stuck his tongue out at Negan and walked down the aisle.

Negan shook his head, too, and followed. "Rick, you can't trust that. They repackage them. Change the dates."

"That's ridiculous. And too much work." Rick looked over his shoulder. His cheeks were tinged pink. Negan wanted to kiss him. "If you keep riding my ass, I'll make you put those cookies back."

"Not the Jingle cookies."

"Yes, the Jingle cookies." Rick faced forward and set the fruitcake on the conveyor belt.

Negan pursed his lips and set the cookies next to the ugly cake. He looked at the cashier. "How many of these things do you sell?" he asked, pointing at the fruitcake. "Not many, right?"

Rick sighed. "Negan."

"No, I wanna know." He raised his brows. "Well?"

The cashier paled under his stare. He looked away and wiped his palms against his shirt before grabbing the cake and sliding it across. "Um, well, I do not have the exact numbers in front of me so I'm unable to give you the correct answer."

Negan wet his lips and slowly nodded. He watched as he dropped the fruitcake into the plastic bag and struggled with getting a proper grip on the box of cookies. "Can't even give me a guess?"

"I'm afraid that would be inappropriate."

"Uh huh."

Rick picked up their bag and tied it closed. He nudged Negan, sticking a hand into his pocket to grab the car keys. Face still pink and cute, Rick didn't look at him. "You're buying." He turned and left, pushing the door open with his shoulder. Negan frowned as the bell above the door rang the saddest damn noise in the world.

Negan dug out his wallet and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. He handed it over to the cashier, narrowing his eyes. "Nice mullet. Take you long to grow that?"

The cashier, lips pressed together, was quiet as he got Negan his change. "Your tone indicates that you don't care how I acquired my mullet." He dropped the change in Negan's outstretched hand. "Have a happy holiday."

Negan crushed the bills in his hand and stuffed them into the pocket of his jacket. He heard coins fall to the floor. "Yeah? Well, bah fucking humbug." Negan pushed out of the store and marched to his car, where Rick was sitting in the passenger seat, waiting.

He slid inside and sat there, head leaned back. Negan breathed in, letting his eyes close for a moment. When he opened them, he pulled on his seatbelt. "Hey," he said, looking at Rick. "We're cool, right? I didn't fucking embarrass you, did I? I didn't mean to."

Rick picked a hole into the bag's handle. "Nah. You're fine."

"It's just, I've never actually seen anyone enjoy that shit." Negan laughed.

Rick managed a smile, looking out of the window. "Yeah."

Negan stayed still, eyes boring a hole into the side of Rick's face. He slowly narrowed his eyes, tongue prodding the inside of his cheek. Look at me, let me in, Rick, Rick, Rick. He took a deep breath and set his hands on the steering wheel. "Getting the kids, yeah? Did you want to pick up dinner after? Or do you wanna cook?"

"I was thinking we could have Jingle cookies."

Negan felt like bursting. Instead, he grinned, faked a moan, and pulled out of the parking lot. Rick laughed, and he moved in his seat, leaning toward Negan. Along the ride, he grabbed onto Negan's fingers, clutching his hand. Sometimes, Negan didn't know how Rick got the courage to do the simplest things.

*

Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, Negan moved in with Rick. November eleventh, if specifics were important, which they weren't—liar, liar, liar, eleven eleven, you remembered. The first night he spent in Rick's bed, their bed, it felt like home. He hadn't wanted Rick to leave for work in the morning, where he'd be left with Carl and Judith. The kids were fine. Negan liked them, loved them, and he had spent time alone with them before, but this was different. Before he was Negan, daddy's boyfriend who could leave when he got too annoying. Now, he was Negan, daddy's live-in boyfriend who wouldn't leave even if they tossed him on his ass.

Idiot, wanting to be a part of Rick's fucking family, and there he laid, curled in a ball, struggling to get out of bed. But Rick had pressed a kiss to the crook of his neck, right before he left, and whispered, "You look good wrapped in my sheets."

Maybe this wouldn't be all bad. Haha, or as Carl consistently texted him, regardless of what he sent first, lmfao.

Whenever they picked up the kids from school, they always passed Negan's old house. Without fail, his eyes found the spot on the front lawn where Lucille had collapsed, leaving a pile of potting soil for him to clean up when he came back home from the hospital. Only him.

And, without fail, whenever they passed the house, Rick set his hand on Negan's arm. He didn't even have to look at him. When they rounded that corner, Rick knew.

*

Carl and Judith ran inside, arms wrapped around themselves to shield from the cold. They fought to be the first through the door, and Judith shrieked with laughter. Carl grabbed and picked her up, laughing too as they spun inside.

Negan stood in front of the car, snow crunching under his boots. The bag dangled where it hung from his crooked finger. This felt safe.

Something was thrown at his back, hitting him between his shoulders. Cold, crumbling on impact, Negan narrowed his eyes. "That better not have been what I fucking think it was."

Rick laughed. "Yeah? And?"

He turned around and started toward Rick, who was already beginning to make another snowball. As Negan got closer, he laughed again, and the in-progress snowball fell from his hand. Rick backed up and then ran across the yard. Negan shook his head and set the plastic bag on the hood of the car. "Running will only make it worse."

Rick only laughed. "Yeah?"

Negan darted at him, and in the stretch of lawn, there was nothing to protect Rick. He tackled Rick, arms wrapped around him, as they fell to the ground. Fuck, the snow was cold, but Rick was warm, warm, warm.

This time, Negan laughed, looking at Rick and his pink nose. "Gotcha."

Rick, accepting his fate, looked up at the sky. "Could have just thrown another snowball."

"Where would be the fun in that? I wouldn't have you under me, all fucking warm and close. God, Rick, are you seriously—"

Rick breathed in sharply, squirming. He propped himself up on his elbows and glanced down. "I think you did something to my ankle," he muttered.

Negan frowned and looked down, too. "Oh, shit, Rick. I didn't mean, well, goddamn. I'll toss you over my shoulder"—he turned his head back to Rick, and was greeted with a handful of snow smashed in his face. Negan scrunched up his nose, squeezed shut his eyes, and listened to Rick laugh. He lifted his hand and knocked the snow off. "Thanks, honey."

Out of breath, Rick said, "You're welcome."

"So you're not hurt?"

"Nah."

"Fuck you." Negan rubbed at an eye. "Got it all over my face."

Rick giggled. He touched Negan's fingers, cold, cold. "Yeah."

Negan hooked his ring finger around Rick's middle one. "Reminds me of the first fucking time we fucked." He leaned in, noses brushing. "Got it all over my face, then, too."

Rick still had a smile. "Even in your eye."

He laughed, covering Rick's mouth. "Shh, don't fucking bring that up." Negan moved his hand and pressed a kiss to Rick's lips, short, sweet. He pulled back, and Rick tucked fingers in his scarf, pulling him back in.

They kissed again, a bit longer, a bit not-so sweet. Negan's knees were getting numb, pressed into the snow, but he didn't want to get up. Rick touched his neck, the spot where his scarf didn't cover. Negan shivered, instinctively moved closer, and Rick pulled away. He gave a small smile. "My lips are chapped," he whispered.

Negan leaned his forehead against Rick's. "I've got cherry lip balm in my front pocket. Go get it."

Too much, too much, Rick lowered his hands, and if they were anywhere else, Negan would be getting his pants undone. But they weren't, they were in the front yard, and Rick got out the cherry lip balm. "Thanks." Negan watched as Rick applied it, dragging it slowly across his lips. He hummed. "That's better."

"Looks better."

Rick quirked a brow and started to sit up. Negan moved off of him, shifting to a crouch. "You want some?"

"Yeah, I fucking do."

Negan expected a kiss. Instead, Rick glided the balm over his lips, carefully applying it. Negan imagined something else tracing his lips. Rick stuck the cap on after his thorough job and moved to stand up. "We should get inside. Snow angels are over."

Negan stood, helping Rick. "We were making fucking snow angels?"

Rick tucked the lip balm in Negan's pocket. "Oh yeah. We're pretty bad, though." He smiled. "I'll get the stuff."

He stood there for a moment, watching Rick as he walked back to the car. He glanced at the awful snow angel and took a step toward the house. "Maybe tonight we could fucking try again. But inside. In our bedroom. And like." He stuck up his index and middle finger, twisting his wrist. "Flipped around."

Rick gave him a look. "Just tell me what you want, Negan," he said, walking toward him. He leaned in as he passed and whispered, "And I'll do exactly that." Rick smiled and stepped into the house.

Negan, insides mush, followed.

*

Rick laughed at Negan when he asked him out on their first date. They were in the grocery store, buggies crashed into each other when they rounded the corners at the same time. Negan only had spaghetti noodles and a bottle of wine in his cart. Rick had stuff to feed twelve kids.

"Are you busy this evening? Let me make you some fucking dinner."

And Rick laughed, and Negan wanted to go hide in the walk-in freezer in the meat department.

"Seriously?" Rick asked, still smiling, still laughing. Fucking gorgeous idiot.

Negan gripped the buggy a little harder. "Yes, I'm fucking serious. Why wouldn't I be, Rick?"

Rick continued to snigger. Negan remembered it was April first. He wondered if he stayed in the walk-in freezer long enough, if he could get acclimated to the cold and survive. He didn't need much.

"Well," Rick said, after he was done laughing and tearing Negan's heart out and beating it in front of him. "If you're serious, you should get some garlic knots. I like those."

Negan nodded and glanced down in his buggy. "Okay. I'm not done yet, I just, just fucking saw you across the store, and didn't wanna… text you."

"So you figured you'd, what, tail me down and crash into me when I went around the corner?"

"That's not, that is, fuck you, Rick." Negan rubbed his palm against the railing, banged it a couple times. He wet his lips and stared into Rick's teasing, smirky face. "Let me… make you dinner, Rick."

Rick watched him for a couple seconds, just to make him sweat, he was sure, before smiling again. "Okay." He pushed the buggy, getting out of Negan's way. "Get those garlic knots and I'll come over."

Negan nodded, grinning. "Yes, sir."

Rick glanced over his shoulder. "I'll text you."

He only nodded again, lips pressed together in a smile. He lifted his hand, giving Rick a thumbs up. When Rick was safely out of sight, Negan whipped his buggy around and went toward the freezer section.

If Negan had thought his day would end with a sloppy, lazy, drunk make-out session with Rick fucking Grimes, he would have asked him out a lot sooner. And not on fucking April Fool's Day.

*

Rick had taken the fruitcake somewhere. Negan lost sight of him for a second and the bag in his hands was gone, the Jingle cookies stashed in the cabinet and the fruitcake out of sight. It wasn't even in the fridge. Dinner came and went, and the ugly thing was still MIA. He didn't want to think about it. He didn't want to make Rick fluster anymore unless they were behind a locked door.

Judith dragged her backpack over to Negan, unzipping it and starting to pull things out. "Look what we did at school today."

Negan sat up properly, leaning his elbows on his knees as he looked at the stack of books and paper Judith left on the couch cushion. "What'd you do today, little lady?"

"Made ornaments!" she said, lifting up a small circle of wood, painted purple, with her name written across the front in cursive and glitter.

"Oh wow! That is pretty." Negan lifted a hand to touch the edge of the ornament. "You gonna hang it up?"

"Do you think I should?"

"Of course I do. Hang it in the front so your Daddy can see it."

Hesitant at first, Judith soon smiled and walked over to the tree. She stood there for a moment, staring, deciding, and then stuck it in the front, next to one of Carl's. She spun around, grin wide and bright.

Negan gave a small clap. "There you go."

She went back to the couch, digging in her backpack again. "My teacher gave us extras." Judith emerged with a handful of blank ornaments. She looked at Negan. "Wanna make one with me?"

Negan felt his stomach churn. He looked down at Judith's hands, the offering, and roughly swallowed. "You don't want your Daddy to?" he asked.

Judith shook her head.

"Yeah, Judy," Negan said, wiping his palms on his pants. "I'll make one with you. I think we have some paint somewhere. Wanna go sit at the table while I find it?"

She beamed, practically jumping as she went to sit at the kitchen table. Negan couldn't help but smile, too. He stood and went down the hall, absently flexing fingers and chewing on the inside of his cheek. He stopped next to the hall closet and opened the door. Last time Judith got the urge to get all artsy-fartsy, he remembered Rick digging out a box of supplies from here.

There was laughter. Negan perked up his head, arm already stretched to grab the art supplies. He leaned to the side, trying to make his eavesdropping as inconspicuous as possible. It was coming from Carl's room, and sounded like Rick and the kid. Negan narrowed his eyes and grabbed the box, carefully sliding it out. He peeked inside, seeing paint bottles and brushes. More laughter, some talking. It was hushed. Negan felt so much smaller than he actually was.

He shut the hall closet and went back into the kitchen. Judith had spread out the blank ornaments, and had even gotten down a couple paper plates for them. Negan paused in the doorway for a second, realized that she must have dragged a chair to reach the plates in the cabinet, but everything was the same, so he couldn't complain.

"Lookie, Judy. I got the paint." Negan sat next to her and opened the box, picking out the bottles and setting them up. "Now, we can't make a huge mess, all right? Your Daddy will be super duper upset. Got it?"

Judith nodded. "Uh huh." She grabbed the pink paint and squeezed some out of the tube, on the plate. Negan held the plate in place for her. Once she was settled, brush in hand, Negan started making small piles of paint around the edges of the plate. Judith was a colorful child.

He grabbed a brush for himself and looked down at the piece of wood in front of him. Negan glanced at Judith's, seeing the beginnings of a snowman, and he twirled the brush in his hand. He thought of Carl and Rick, whispering in the back of the house. Negan tasted blood in his mouth.

Negan dipped his brush in blue and began to paint.

They worked in silence, the only sounds dragging Negan from his concentration were the slight creaking of Judith's chair and the movement down the hall. Negan breathed in and lifted his head. He glanced to see Rick approaching, the edges of his eyes a faint pink. Watery. Negan looked back down and added a star to the top of his tree.

"Hey, what's going on here?" Rick walked up behind Judith and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

Judith lifted up her ornament and showed him. "Me and Negan are decorating! I'm making a snowman!"

"That's really good, Judy. When that's dry, we can hang it up." Rick ruffled her hair and looked over at Negan. He smiled. "Getting in the holiday spirit?"

Negan looked up at him, biting back a smile. "I'm already in the holiday spirit, Rick. Can't you tell by my tree?" He gestured.

Rick hummed and walked over to him, setting a hand on his shoulder. He dipped down, kissing his cheek. "It looks really nice," he whispered.

"What were you and the kid doing?" Negan whispered back. He watched Rick from the corner of his eye, wouldn't dare look at him.

The hand on his shoulder was gone. Rick was by the sink, looking out of the window. "Talking."

"Yeah?"

"It's nothing."

Negan dropped the brush, a smudge of green going in the white snow. He picked it up and stared at the imperfection. "Okay."

*

Lucille died on a warm, sunny day in May. It took him hours to get the potting soil off the front lawn. What was supposed to be a quick job turned almost impossible. He'd get down on his knees, Lucille's gardening gloves on, and start sobbing. She wasn't coming home. This was it. Just him.

"You're supposed to clean this up," Negan had whispered every time he returned to the pile. "If I don't clean it up, you'll come back. You can clean it up." Negan rubbed his face, dirt smeared all over, deep in his pores. Lucille had touched it last. "You'll come back."

He saw her in that beautiful casket, dark hair curled and framing her almost-angelic face. He had stood there, saying, "She looks like she's sleeping," to anyone who would listen. If she's sleeping, she can wake up. She can wake up and come home. The potting soil, the potting soil, she can clean

"It's supposed to be comforting, but I think it can make it worse."

Negan remembered glaring. He glared a lot after Lucille died. "Excuse me?"

The man in front of him paled, blue eyes narrowing for a moment. He glanced off to the side, back at Negan. "You said… she, well." He shrugged, hands in his pockets. "I don't know why I'm trying to make conversation. I'm sorry for your loss. Should have said that first."

"Do I fucking know you?" Negan asked, continuing to glare, ignoring the heads swiveling in their direction.

He shook his head. "No, you don't," he answered, voice lowering. "I knew her, though. She was my daughter's teacher last year. Really liked her."

Negan stared and stared and wanted to scream. What the hell was this? He breathed in and looked over at Lucille, lovely sleeping Lucille. Negan rubbed at an eye, roughly swallowing. "Well, thanks. She was a good fucking teacher. A good fucking person." He turned to the man again, sniffing. "What's your name?"

"Rick Grimes."

"No fucking offense, Rick Grimes, but get the fucking hell out of my face."

With no protest, just a small nod and downcast eyes, Rick left. Negan lost sight of him as another goddamn mourner took his place.

After the funeral, Negan went back to his house, not daring to look at the spilled soil still creating an ugly stain on the grass. But it was Lucille, and Negan wasn't going to clean it up. She would when she came back.

So, he stayed home and waited. And waited. And waited. Negan waited until it didn't hurt anymore.

The soil disappeared one day. Negan didn't know who had cleaned it up. It might have been the wind, the rain, or Lucille. She must have cleaned it up and didn't bother to stop and see him. Fucking bitch.

When Negan cried, he cried.

It must have been September. Still warm during the day, sticky and humid in the evening. He was sitting on the porch, forehead pressed to the railing. His eyes felt heavy. Shoulders, too. While he sat there, he had to fight the urge to fall flat on his fucking face. Some minutes before, the glass of cherry Kool-Aid in his hands slipped and dropped down the stairs. It might have broken, but he couldn't be sure. He didn't bother to look.

A car parked in front of his house. Negan let his eyes close. He listened as the car door opened, shut, and then as someone walked up to the porch. They stopped in front of him, he assumed. He didn't bother to look.

"I'm from the Cynthiana Police Department. Are you Negan?"

Negan lifted his hands, touching his face, his eyes. Wet. He lowered them. "Yeah."

"We got a call from a concerned neighbor, so I'm just doing a welfare check. How are you doing?"

He laughed. "How am I doing?"

"Yes, standard question. Wanna answer it?"

Negan shook his head. "No, officer."

"That's fine. Take your time. Did you drop a glass today, Negan?"

"Oh yeah."

"What were you drinking?"

"Fucking cherry Kool-Aid, officer. Is that illegal?"

"No. I like the stuff myself. My daughter likes it, too."

Negan wrinkled his nose. "I don't wanna hear about your daughter." I wanna be alone, alone, alone.

"That's fine, too. Do you mind if I clean up this glass? You're not wearing any shoes. I'd hate it if you cut yourself."

At that, Negan opened his eyes, shaking his head. "No, no, don't fucking. Don't—" He had reached out, arm stretched to stop the man from acting, and then Negan saw his face. His arm faltered. "Hey," he said.

Rick had his own hand out, inches from touching Negan's. He imagined he was about to grab him if he actually lashed out. "Hey. You remember me?"

Negan pressed his lips together. He nodded. The funeral. Trespasser. Get the fucking hell out of my face.

"Good. Now, I think I should clean up this glass."

"Don't," Negan said, fingers curling into fists. He crossed his arms and tucked his hands under his armpits. He shrunk back, wanting to fold into himself. Negan closed his eyes again. "Don't clean it up."

"Why not?"

"She'll clean it up," Negan muttered. "When she comes back."

Rick kept quiet. He moved, sitting next to Negan on the porch. There were several inches of space between them. Good. Negan didn't want to be touched, to be seen. What fucking nosy neighbor called the cops on him?

"Don't fucking sit next to me," Negan said. "Leave me the hell alone."

"How are you doing, Negan?" Rick asked again.

Negan held his head in his hands and cried.

They cleaned up the glass together. Rick handed Negan the pieces to hold, insistent he not move from his spot. Negan didn't protest. He didn't think he had it in him anymore.

Sometime during, he had cut his finger. Rick was the one who pointed it out. A hissed "shit" and Rick pushed him inside. The glass tossed, Rick made Negan hold his hand under the water as he went to find Neosporin and a bandaid. The house was messy. Negan hoped Rick didn't mind.

Why should it matter what Rick thought?

Because, dumbass, he'll see how fucking trashy you are and keep coming back. Welfare check, my ass.

Rick bandaged Negan's finger, careful, slow. "I don't want to minimize what you're experiencing, but I know how you feel. I lost my wife almost four years ago."

"Small world."

Rick smiled. It seemed forced. "I'm glad you're talking. Keep doing that."

"What do you want me to say, Rick?"

Rick had looked at him, blue eyes filled with concern, and Negan felt nothing. "If you ever feel… down, alone, really zapped of energy, like you were this evening, give us a call. We'll have an officer come to keep you company."

Negan frowned. He turned away.

"You didn't want to hear that. I get it. Few months after Lori died, I didn't want to be near anyone. But I had to."

If he curled his fingers and squeezed, the cut still hurt. Negan squeezed and squeezed.

"How about this, I'll leave you my phone number. Call me when you want. Or the police station. I might be working. I'll come see you."

Negan stretched out his fingers, turning over his hand. "I don't want you to come see me, Rick."

Rick left sometime after. Negan didn't remember any goodbyes or the door even shutting. But he was gone, his phone number left on the counter. Negan kept it there, hoping it'll dissolve into the counter. Maybe Lucille would take care of it, like she had the potting soil.

*

Rick's lips were warm against his neck. Negan hummed, arching into him. He let his hand rest on the dip of his back, nails digging in. "I've been thinking about that snow angel," Rick mumbled.

Negan laughed. He tipped his head to the side, nose to Rick's cheek. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Rick laughed, too. He lifted a hand to touch the side of Negan's face. "Won't be as cold this time."

Negan turned, hooking his leg over Rick's hip. "Good." Rick kissed his forehead, the space in between his eyebrows. Negan closed his eyes and held onto the front of Rick's shirt. His heart beat against his chest, a steady ask him, ask him, ask him, making it hard to breathe.

He tugged on the shirt, opening his eyes and studying Rick. "Hey, can the snow angel hold off for a second?"

Rick nodded and settled against the pillows, a hand sliding down to rest on Negan's waist. His thumb absently rubbed into the sliver of exposed skin. "You got that look on your face."

"What fucking look?"

"Like you've been meaning to say something. Like you've been thinking."

"Don't fucking say it like that."

"How else am I supposed to?"

Negan sighed, dropping his eyes to stare at Rick's neck. He stretched out his fingers to pet at the hollow of his throat. "You gonna tell me what you and Carl were talking about?" he mumbled.

"It was nothing. Like I said."

"Yeah, but your pretty blue eyes were all weepy. I don't like that."

Rick looked down, too. Negan swallowed, cupping the side of his neck. He glided his thumb across skin, too. "We were just… talking. I don't know if Carl would want me to say anything."

"I can respect that," Negan said. Doesn't mean I gotta like it. He managed a smile. "It's cool, Rick," he added, voice softer. In his head, though, he was screaming. Rickrickrickrickriiiiiiiiiick.

Rick raised a brow. "Is it?"

Negan frowned. "Yes." He stared. "Kiss me. I'll prove it."

Slowly, Rick leaned in and kissed him. Soft, sweet. Negan wanted to dig his thumbs into Rick's temples, crawl inside, and never come out. He parted his lips, scratching fingers through his hair. "What'd you do with that fucking fruitcake?" he said. "Couldn't find it."

Rick rolled his eyes. He moved in between Negan's legs. "Can we not talk about that?"

"I just don't understand—"

"—that's right. You don't." Rick buried his face in Negan's neck. "We gonna do this?" he breathed out.

"Yeah. I'm fucking game." Negan nudged a knee into Rick's side.

Rick laughed, loud. It filled Negan's chest and cleared his head. "Don't say that."

*

Once Rick had left the house in his shitty police cruiser, it took weeks before Negan saw him again. He didn't call him. He wanted to be alone. Why the fuck would he call him if he wanted to be alone?

It was almost Christmas. Negan hadn't liked to keep track of the date anymore. He just knew it was seven months after her. That was enough.

He couldn't remember what he was doing. It required him to be on his porch, with a broom—knocking off snow, that was it.

A car had parked in front of his house. Not a police cruiser, but Rick did come out of it. Negan stood there, clutching the broom. He pulled his scarf closer, tipping his head to cover his nose. Rick left his car running.

"Hey," he said, stopping at the bottom of the porch, some inches away from the snow pile. He stared at Negan, hands in his pockets.

Negan narrowed his eyes. He pushed some snow off, watching as it fell on Rick's shoes. He didn't move. What a fucking trooper. Negan nodded his head back. "Hey."

"You doing okay? I haven't heard from you in… a while."

"Yeah, that was intentional." Negan knocked more snow off.

"Oh. Well, I just… thought I'd stop by. You have my number, but I don't have yours." Rick wet his lips, glancing over his shoulder. "I can't stay long. I was on my way to pick up my kids."

Negan turned on his heel, twisting the broom in his hands. More snow, more snow. He'll bury Rick before he gives him the time of day. I wanna be alone, Rick. "Bye."

"What have you been up to?"

"You really trying to pull me out, huh?" Negan looked at Rick. "Want me to be honest, Rick?" He leaned on the broom, quirking a brow.

"Yeah."

"Most of my day, I try to get off. Can't seem to anymore. Got any tips?"

Rick didn't blush. He didn't look away. Didn't even blink. "Don't think about your wife."

Ouch. Negan let out a laugh. "Okay." He glanced down at the porch, pushing snow onto Rick again, just to be a spiteful dick. "Damn."

"It's true."

"Work for you?" Negan's ears were warm.

"Yep."

Negan held Rick's gaze. "Huh."

"Gonna keep trying to make me a snowman?" Rick lifted a foot, shaking off the snow.

Negan dragged the last bits off the porch. "Dunno what you mean. I thought you were leaving."

"What are you doing for Christmas, Negan?"

"Being alone. Like I fucking want to." Negan gave Rick a pointed look.

Rick nodded, taking a step back. "Alright. I gotta go."

"Bye." Negan waved.

He went back in his car and drove off. Negan stayed on the porch, squeezing the broom handle. He thought about digging his teeth into the wood.

Negan went back into his empty house, back into his empty, cold bed. Don't think about your wife.

Who then?

Not your wife. Not your wife. Not your dead fucking wife.

He had thought of blue eyes, a sharp tongue, and careful fingers.

On Christmas morning, Negan came and cried. A fucking Christmas miracle.

It still took a couple weeks for him to call Rick. Didn't want to come off desperate. How would he know, asshole?

Rick didn't pick up, and Negan didn't leave a voicemail.

A week later, Negan called again and hanged up when Rick answered.

Two days later, Negan called again and Rick said, "Hey, Negan."

Negan felt like his body was drained of blood. "Uh."

Rick laughed.

They talked almost every day. Occasionally, Negan went over to Rick's house after a bad day. He met his kids. They seemed to like him, or they put on a good front. Probably that. Didn't want to be rude.

Rick stopped by Negan's house when he hadn't heard from him in a few days. Negan didn't apologize. Rick didn't chastise. They mostly sat on the porch those nights, sharing a cigarette, whispers.

Negan told Rick about the time Lucille first pegged him. Rick told Negan about the time Lori first did the same to him.

When Rick left, when Negan left, when they hanged up the phone, Negan wanted him back, wanted to go back, wanted to call him again. He didn't want to be alone. Fucking interesting.

He took a chance, asked Rick out, and, well, you know.

Fucking gorgeous idiot.

*

Negan looked down at the tray of gingerbread men, their perfect cookie-cutter faces looking back at him. He smiled, a bit triumphant. I did good! Lookie here, Rick! Look what your fucking amazing boyfriend did—

"What are you doing?"

He turned around, eyebrows raised. In the doorway to the kitchen were Rick, Carl, and Judith. Carl was grimacing. Negan frowned and stepped out of the way. He gestured to the tray of gingerbread men. "I made cookies for everyone. No big deal."

Judith smiled and went over to him. She stood on the tips of her toes to stare at the tray. "Can we decorate—"

"—I only have white icing," Negan said, showing her the tube. "But we definitely can."

She smiled again. God, Negan lived for that smile. He looked back over at Rick and Carl. They were still hanging back, bringing his mood down to the ground, attempting to bury it with a rusty shovel. Negan roughly swallowed and looked away. Rick glanced at Carl before taking a step forward. He stood behind Negan, touching his back, lightly scratching. "It smells good, Negan," he murmured.

Negan handed a gingerbread man to Judith. "You can eat that one plain." He leaned into Rick's touch.

Carl moved. Negan couldn't see him, but he guessed he was near Rick, whispering, whispering, "Mom used to—"

Haha, what the fuck. Negan arranged the gingerbread on the tray, trying to make up for the extra space. "Kid, she ain't here. I'm your mommy now."

The hand on his back was gone. When Negan turned his head, Carl was down the hallway with Rick close behind. It was like he was dunked in ice-cold water. Negan breathed in, unscrewing the cap on the tube of icing. He tipped his head back and squirted some into his mouth.

Negan worked on swallowing his mouthful as he looked at Judith, who sat at the kitchen table, eating away at her gingerbread man. She was staring. Negan showed her the tube. "Want some? It'll rot your teeth out."

Judith scrunched up her face.

He deflated, sighing. "It was a joke, Judy."

"You're my mommy?"

There it was again. Ice water. Cool! Negan picked up two gingerbread men, carefully stuck the tube under his arm, and sat next to Judith. "Your new mommy. Well, technically, daddy but. I don't know why I said mommy. You know what, I did know. But I shouldn't have said it." Negan looked at Judith, who was still chewing thoughtfully on her cookie. "I'm sorry, Judy. I hope I didn't upset you."

"Carl seemed upset. He didn't get any cookies."

Negan scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, well, I dunno if he'll want any."

"Why not? They're good."

He laughed. "They are? Thanks. I tried really hard. You guys had no idea what I was doing in here." Negan pressed his lips together, resting his chin on his palm. "It's easier to talk to you," he muttered.

Judith grabbed the icing, scooting to sit on her knees. "How do I do this?"

Negan brought his chair closer. "Lemme hold it too this time. Until you get the hang of it." Out of the corner of his eye, Negan saw Rick go back down the hall.

*

Rick's fingers were digging into his arm. Negan tried to shake him off. He swatted, Rick smacked, they glared.

"Hey, fucking quit—"

"—you don't have to—"

"—Riiiiiiiiiick—"

"—he wants to be left alone—"

Negan blew a raspberry in Rick's face. Rick crossed his arms over his chest. Negan wanted to do the same, but he didn't want to drop the plate he was carrying. Instead, he frowned, glancing toward Carl's closed bedroom door. "Let me… do this, Rick. I crossed a line. I wanna, shit, fucking try and make up for it."

Rick pressed his lips together and looked between Negan and the door. "Fine," he muttered. "Still think it's a bad idea."

"I never have bad ideas, Rick."

He loosely gestured. "The whole cookie thing was one in the first place."

He frowned again. "What the hell do you mean? I can't be fucking nice and festive and make cookies for my, my…" Family? Rick was quiet, looking away, and Negan stared at the plate, the single cookie on it. "Nah, fuck it. I'm doing it. Talking to the kid." He turned away from Rick. "Wish me luck."

Rick said nothing, only reached over to give his arm a squeeze. He left him in the hallway. Negan watched him for a moment, feeling a bit encouraged but still alone. Go, go, go. Negan knocked on the door, two taps of his knuckles, and when he heard Carl's semi-annoyed "what", he opened the door and stepped in.

"It's me." Negan walked further in, standing next to his bed. Carl laid on his back, in the center of the bed, phone in hand, television on low in the background. He stared at Negan, tipping his phone to his chest. Negan cleared his throat. "Hey."

"What do you want?" Carl asked, glancing back at his phone.

Negan looked around the bedroom, shrugging, sighing. "Wanna apologize."

"What."

He sighed again, louder. "I wanna fucking apologize. I crossed a line when I said the mom thing. I shouldn't have." Carl sat up, setting his phone aside. "Your mom was your mom. That's that." No matter how hard I wanna replace her.

Carl watched him, eyes narrowed. "It's fine. You're just trying to feel… included."

Negan felt like a popped balloon. "Yeah." He looked away, squinting at the television. Damn, I will not be fucking read by a kid. "Judy said these cookies were pretty good, and. I don't know. Here." Negan held out the plate, pulling back the napkin covering the gingerbread man. "I wrote dumbass on it. I'm the dumbass, if that wasn't clear. Uh, you can fucking eat it or smash it into little pieces. Whatever, I don't care."

"You don't care." Carl reached out, taking the plate. He stared at the cookie, the white cursive "dumbass" written vertically down it.

"Yeah, I don't." Negan chewed on the inside of his cheek. Carl must keep his room warmer than the rest of the house. He didn't know how, but that must be why his skin was prickling under his clothes. His heart jumped into his throat when he saw Carl break the arm off the gingerbread and pop it into his mouth. Negan swallowed the lump. It hurt, but it was good.

Carl watched him, carefully chewing. "Looks like you did care." He shook his head. "It's good. Doesn't beat Mom's though."

When was the last time you had hers, kid? Like five fucking years ago. Spiteful little shit.

Negan held his tongue, breathing in, out, cleansing, cleansing. "Nothing's going to beat your mom's cookies, Carl." He took a step back, then turned around. "You can go back to whatever you were doing. I just wanted to, yeah." He waved a hand.

Carl broke off a leg. "You're okay, Negan. I think you're cool." He paused. "Sometimes."

He looked over his shoulder, hoping he didn't look as gleefully-crazed as he felt. "Sometimes," he repeated.

"Don't let it get to your head," Carl said, leaning against his pillows.

Negan scrunched up his face. "It won't," he said, voice cracking. Negan frowned and hurried out of the bedroom. It will!!!

He walked down the hall, rubbing his palms against the back of his pants. Spotting Rick in the living room, Negan stood in the doorway. "That went fucking better than I expected."

Rick, lounged back on the couch with his feet up on the coffee table, gave him a small smile. He tipped his head to the side. "I love you."

If Negan could fly, he would. He smiled, too, crossing his ankles as he rested against the wall. "Have you had one?" he asked, nodding toward the kitchen.

Rick shook his head. "No. Not hungry for any of that."

Negan perked up his head. Rick quirked a brow. He turned around, heading to the bedroom, with Rick close behind.

*

Half-asleep, Negan had his face pressed to Rick's side, warm skin, an arm wrapped around him. He shivered occasionally, with the absent brushing of Rick's fingers across his shoulders. Staying like this would probably lead to him drooling on Rick. Negan held on tighter. "Gotta try one of those gingerbread men, Rick."

"Not now," Rick mumbled. He ran his fingers through Negan's hair. "Sleeping."

"Breakfast," Negan said. "There are some me and Judy didn't decorate."

Slowly, Rick turned away from Negan. He pulled the covers closer. Negan, groaning, searched for the warmth. He draped his arm over Rick's waist again, face to his hair, eyes never opening. "Stop moving."

Rick grunted, patting Negan's arm. Negan grunted back.

Somehow, in the morning, Rick had managed to wiggle out of his hold. It took a few minutes, quite a few actually, for Negan to realize this. He felt Rick's lips in the crook of his neck, waking him up like he had done countless times before, and whispered, "I'm taking the kids to school and then going to work."

Negan rolled onto his back, reaching out to grab onto Rick. He got his fingers. "What?" He lifted his other hand to rub his eyes, blinking away the sleep. Negan looked up at Rick, furrowing his brow. Rick looked back at him, and yeah, he was wearing his uniform, coat already on. Negan dropped his hand, tipping his head against the pillows. "You're all fucking dressed and everything."

"Yeah."

"You must have been really fucking quiet."

Rick let out a small laugh. "Yeah." He zipped up his coat. "Kids are waiting," he added, softer.

Negan stretched out, rolling his head on his shoulders. "Hm, yeah. Did my little working man have breakfast at least?"

"No."

He scoffed. "Rick." Negan rubbed his face again. "Eat one of those cookies," he said behind his hands.

Rick was quiet for a moment. He gently squeezed Negan's leg before turning around. "I gotta go."

Negan lowered his hands, frowning. "Rick," he repeated, pulling the bed covers close. He felt like he was submerged in ice again. "Please don't tell me I fucking pissed you off, too." Rick sighed, facing Negan. He held out a hand, mouth open to talk, but Negan did first. "Why didn't you fucking say anything? You could have, could have, fuck. You, you changed the subject. Last night. You fucking distracted me with sex." He kept the covers under his nose. "You're a monster."

Rick rolled his eyes. "Shut up. Don't be so damn dramatic." He scratched the back of his head. "This is ridiculous. You're ridiculous. It's just… fucking gingerbread men."

"Yeah, that you and your son are boycotting."

"Negan. Can we talk about this later? The kids are gonna be late."

Slowly, Negan narrowed his eyes. He wanted to protest, scream, throw a fucking fit, but he was a better man, so he didn't. Instead, he tried to control his breathing and looked away. "I'll make it up to you," he mumbled.

"You don't have to do that."

"Yeah, I do. I made up, probably, with Carl. And now I will with you." Negan closed his eyes. "Let me try."

Rick didn't move, and didn't say anything.

"I'm taking your complete silence as, 'go ahead, Negan! You try your best!' so thanks. I will."

"Negan, open your eyes."

"I'm good."

He listened to Rick move, walk back to the bed. Negan even held his breath when he felt Rick lean over him, cup the side of his face, and kiss his forehead. "We'll talk later," he said. "I love you."

Negan opened his eyes, looking into Rick's blue ones, and wanted to soar. Instead, he smiled—he imagined he looked incredibly stupid—and touched Rick's wrist. "Love you too. Now get outta here, officer."

Rick gave him a wink and left. Negan heard chatter and the front door opening and closing. He listened to Rick's cruiser start, but his mind was miles away.

Gotta make it up to Rick. Rick, Rick, Ricky, Rick. Puts on a good fucking front. Didn't get pink and flustered. He told me they smelled good. Scratched my fucking back. Was that a distraction so I couldn't look at him? What was it, what was it, what was going through his head? Let me in—later, he said. What to do, make Rick pink in a good way. Food? Food? Food! No, that'd be ridiculous. So?

Negan buried his face in Rick's pillow, and had a wonderful, awful idea.

*

Shit, when did it start snowing? Negan stood on the porch and pulled his scarf a little tighter. He shook his head and got into his car, carefully walking so he didn't fall on his ass and ruin his plans.

He started down the road, to the edge of town, to that weird dollar store, to get Rick a fucking fruitcake. Negan remembered Rick's face. He'd make it up to him.

The parking lot was nearly empty, a couple lone cars the only company he had. That was fine. He was on a mission. Step aside, fuckers.

Inside, Negan tugged off his gloves with his teeth. Mullet was working the register, and Negan raised his brows at him as he passed. He didn't get a particular warm welcome. That was fine, too.

Negan slid into the aisle, stopping where Rick and he stood weeks earlier. He held his hands up, scanning the shelf. There were fruitcakes, fucking bookoo of fruitcake, but not the kind Rick liked. He wiggled his fingers, crouching, stretching on the tips of his toes, shoving aside desserts and other boxes. "What the fuck," he breathed out.

It wasn't here. He couldn't just grab another brand. It wasn't the same! Rick liked that one!

He turned his head, narrowing his eyes at the front register. Negan spun on his heel and walked down the aisle, shoving his hands into his pockets to stop fidgeting. He stood next to the rack of candy, watching Mullet ring up a woman, and waited. It was almost like things were being deliberately slow.

Once she left, Negan slid over to him. Mullet narrowed his eyes. Negan sniffed, waving a hand. "Hey, so like, I was looking at your fucking fruitcake selection, and you don't have the kind I need."

Mullet stared at him.

Negan let out a laugh. "They all look… delicious, don't get me wrong, but like I said, the kind I want isn't there. And trust me, I looked all over."

Mullet leaned back, glancing down the aisle. His face remained an unimpressed mask. He looked at Negan. "And what am I supposed to do about it?"

"Well, hell," Negan started, catching the name tag pinned to Mullet's shirt. "Eugene, I thought you could help me."

"How and why should I help you?"

Negan paused, pressing the side of his fist to his lips, an effort to not blurt out what was on the tip of his tongue. You fucking fuck— Negan shrugged, slowly pulling his hand away from his mouth. "You should help me because it's the holidays. Christmas is in, like, a week, and it'd be… nice if you did."

Eugene seemed to consider his words, but his demeanor stayed the same. He looked down at the register, picking at a spot on the number pad, and then looked back at him. "If I recall correctly, and I should say I do, last we saw each other, you told me 'bah fucking humbug'. Right now, I would like to relay the same message, so, bah fucking humbug."

The anger didn't rise all at once. It was slow, and Negan could only imagine his plastic smile dropping to a grimace. Eugene held his gaze, and Negan wondered what exactly the guy was compensating for, holding a grudge like that. He took a step back, nodding. "Alright, that's cool." Negan walked backward to the door, lifting his hand and sticking his middle finger up. "Fuck you, Eugene. Have a Merry fucking Christmas." He pushed the door with his shoulder before Eugene replied and he would, inevitably, have to turn back around and deck him.

Negan sat in his car, hands on the steering wheel and eyes ahead. He clenched his fists periodically, breathing in, then out. He tried to clear his head and not completely throw a fit in the car. If the store didn't have the fucking fruitcake, then… then… he'd make one. Next best thing.

"Rick, you have the best fucking boyfriend ever," he said, digging his phone out of his pocket. Negan rested his forehead against the steering wheel, scrolling through search results upon search results of fruitcake recipes. He stopped and clicked on one, eyeing the list of ingredients. "Kentucky bourbon fruitcake," he murmured. Negan locked his phone and tossed it in the passenger seat. "When in fucking Rome."

*

It was too easy, going through the grocery store and dropping everything in his basket. He deserved this, though, something easy and straightforward to give Rick. He could bake it and hopefully finish before Rick and the kids came back. Carl and Judith would be home until the new year. Everything would be okay. This would be—

"A fucking month?" Negan stood next to his car, one hand on the door handle, the other holding his phone. His bags were hanging on his arm, the bottle of bourbon cradled close to his chest. "Why didn't I… fucking scroll down?" he breathed out, shaking his head. "Nope, no. That's not going to work." He yanked open the car door, dumping everything in the passenger seat. "Watch this. A fucking month." Negan slammed the door and walked around the car, getting in. "I'll show you a fucking month."

*

There was flour, sugar, something, on his face. He figured the bourbon by itself would be better than this. No, gotta stick with it. For Rick. Always for Rick.

Negan grimaced and wiped his face with the back of his wrist. "God, Rick, you should be fucking pleased I have fucking abandonment issues or you wouldn't be getting shit from me."

The front door opened, and Negan stopped, tightening his hold on a bowl. He leaned back, widening his eyes when he saw Rick coming his way. "Rick! You were, uh, I thought you'd be at work still." He looked down at the counter, at his mess, and frowned. "You should be at work," he told the whiskey bottle.

"Slow day. Station said they'd call me if I'm needed." Rick stood in the kitchen doorway, hands on his hips. "What's going on in here? Baking again?"

Negan dragged his hands down his face and turned to Rick. "This was supposed to be a surprise."

Rick smiled, walking over to Negan. He raised his hands and cupped Negan's face, smoothing his thumbs down his skin. "A surprise for me?" he asked. He pulled his hand back, licked his thumb, and rubbed at a spot on Negan's cheek.

"Yes," Negan said, staying still as Rick coddled him. "For you. I was, you know, making it up to you."

"I told you, you didn't have to do that."

"Now, Rick, we both know how that was going to fucking go."

Rick pinched Negan's nose. "I know." He looked around him. "So, what were you making me? I see some bourbon."

Negan studied Rick, his soft expression, and sighed. How did I get so fucking lucky? He set a hand on Rick's side, pulling him closer, and glanced over at the counter, too. "A fucking fruitcake, Rick. Kentucky bourbon fruitcake, to be specific." Negan looked down at him. "The recipe said it'd take a fucking month to make, which is ridiculous. I didn't know it takes that long to make a Kentucky man orgasm. You sure you're from here?"

Wetting his lips, Rick took a step back. He still had his eyes on the counter. "Negan."

"I'm not that good at math, Rick, but I think I managed to adjust the recipe so I can knock this out in a couple hours."

"Negan."

"I just hope it still tastes good."

"I hate fruitcake."

The earth stopped turning. Everything was still, frozen, except for Negan and Rick. In his ears, Negan heard blood rush. He blinked, and Rick blinked back. "You… hate fruitcake."

Rick nodded, biting his lower lip. "Uh huh."

Negan stepped back, too, leaning against the counter. "But I saw you fucking buy one."

"Just because I bought one doesn't mean I like them." Rick scratched his chin, closing his eyes for a second. He waved a hand. "It was for Carl. He likes them."

"That… one specific kind."

"Yeah, he and Lori liked them. I never understood it, but." Rick trailed off, looking away. He shrugged. "After she died, I didn't want to stop getting them for him, so I didn't."

"Your wife." Negan ran a hand through his hair. "I'm a fucking idiot," he breathed out. "I thought I could, we could, what the fuck—"

"—hey, stop that." Rick went over to him, touching the side of his neck. "No need for that mopey face."

Negan shook his head. "Yes, there's a need. I wanted to do something right."

"What makes you think you haven't already done something right?" Rick asked. "You said it yourself, you made up with Carl. I've lost count how many times I've seen you and Judith with your heads together. She adores you, Negan."

He sighed, pressing his forehead against Rick's. "I guess you're right, but—"

"—no buts." Rick lifted his fingers to Negan's lips. He smiled softly. "You have crazy high expectations."

Negan looked away.

"See? You already said I was right." Rick lowered his hand, touching Negan's shoulder. He rubbed, squeezed. "This is our first Christmas together, so you're trying hard to… to fit this idea you crafted in your head. But that's not realistic." Rick poked at his chest with a finger. "Wanting to replace Lori will do you no good."

"Rick," Negan started, shaking his head, eyes widening. "I'm not—" he stopped himself. There was no use lying. Fucking pathetic loser.

"Stop being so hard on yourself," Rick added, like he could see into Negan's mind. "It isn't fair."

Negan blew a raspberry. Immediately, Rick did, too. Negan covered Rick's mouth. "You need to eat my gingerbread, then. Stop being a petty bitch." Rick rolled his eyes. Negan pulled his hand back, pointing at him. "You know I'm right."

Rick lifted his hand, shoving Negan's face away. "Stop." He moved around him, looking down at the fruitcake in progress. "I do appreciate the effort you've put in, Negan. To make me happy." Rick smiled, glancing at him. "It's cute."

"Thanks. Almost got in a tussle with the fucking cashier at that weird-ass dollar store."

"Excuse me?"

"Yeah, he was… pretty rude." Negan caught Rick's still-smiling face out of the corner of his eye. "So, um, what do you want to do with all this shit?" He gestured to the counter. "We could keep the bourbon."

"No, let's try and finish this." Rick nodded. "Yeah, it'll be fun. And we can eat it. Together."

Negan stared at Rick, roughly swallowing. "Together," he repeated.

"Carl and Judith can't have any, obviously."

"No, they can't."

"We can have something else with them, as a family."

Negan's ears were burning. "As a family."

Rick slid his arm around Negan's waist, reaching out and picking one of the cherries out of a bourbon-filled cup. He popped it into his mouth, chewing. "Holy shit." Rick coughed, shaking his head. "A little strong."

Negan laughed. "I bet."

"We can salvage this." Rick pulled back from Negan, rubbing his hands together. "Yeah?"

"Oh yeah."

Rick found a better recipe, one that only took a couple hours to make. They saved what they could, which wasn't much. Negan had tried. Rick had to leave during the last of it to pick up the kids, entrusting Negan with the crucial task of finishing.

Later that night, after Judith and Carl had gone to bed, Negan and Rick sat at the kitchen table, each with a slice of fruitcake on their plate. Negan watched Rick fidget with the fork in his hands. "You really don't like this shit, huh?"

"Couldn't stomach it," Rick admitted. "But I'll do it, since you are."

"Honey, I'm taking a bite only if you do."

Rick gave Negan a look and cut into the slice. He lifted it to his lips, and Negan kept his eyes on him as he got a piece, too. Negan raised his fork in a faux-toast.

Rick ate his bit, and when Negan was sure he was chewing, he ate his.

"Definitely fruity."

"Does the bourbon help? Who fucking knows."

"This isn't… bad."

Negan laughed. "If we keep eating it ironically, we'll start to enjoy it. Is that how it works?"

Rick dug into his slice, wrinkling his nose. "Well, here's to a new tradition. We still have a whole cake to eat, though." Negan groaned. Rick laughed and kicked him under the table. "We can get through it together."

He stabbed his fork in the cake, right in the middle. Negan looked at Rick, watching as he took another bite. His wrinkled nose was still there, the careful chewing. He smiled. "Thanks for letting me be a witness to this, Rick. To everything really."

Rick stuck up his middle finger, a slight blush on his cheeks. "You're welcome. Now you take a bite. That's how this works."

The smile on his face was permanent, nothing could wipe it away. Not even a fucking fruitcake. Negan took his fork out and waved it. "Will do, Rick."