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Guests for dinner

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players only. takes place shortly after this. the boys have Alfonso's brother and his girlfriend over for a meal.

"What can I help with?" Alfonso asks, watching Christos move around the kitchen, his nerves weirdly getting the better of him as they wait for his brother and his girlfriend to arrive for dinner. It's not Pablo and it's not meeting Verónica that's getting to him. It's more being open about his relationship with Christos with someone who is not family - at least not yet - and in his home country. He knows she has a brother who is gay but what if her openness only applies to her family or what if she can't trusted? Maybe his father is right and she is a gold digger which would make her even more dangerous. But even considering his father might be right only confirms his belief he's letting paranoia take hold.

"It's time to cut the feta into squares," Christos answers over his shoulder. "Cubes, I mean. And then they can go into that bowl," he points with a wooden spoon. The strips of lamb are sizzling nicely on the broiler, and he pulls them from the oven before they get overdone.

Alfonso grabs the feta from the fridge and slices it into cubes on the cutting board, dumping the finished product into the bowl Christos indicated. "Do you want me to open the wine?"

"Sure, let it breathe. We'll save the ouzo for dessert," Christos adds. He gives the tzatziki a stir, and surveys the rest of the menu with a critical eye. "Are you nervous?" he asks, looking up at his lover.

Alfonso stops what he's doing, corkscrew in hand. "Si. I have not spent much time socializing with my brother, and meeting his girlfriend, someone outside our circle..." he shrugs, not entirely sure how to explain his fears.

Christos's brow furrows as he tries to sort that through. "You're not nervous about meeting her, you're nervous what she'll think of us," he says quietly, studying his lover's face.

Alfonso nods. "And whether we can trust her," he adds softly.

Frowning in thought, Christos considers. "Do you trust him?" he asks finally.

Alfonso thinks about that for a moment. His relationship with his brother is so unusual compared with other families. They didn't really grow up together, they hadn't seen each other in years before this, and there's ten years between them, but... "Si," he nods. "I trust him."

"Take some comfort in that, then," Christos suggests. "They've been together a long time, he must feel that she's trustworthy."

"True," Alfonso nods, breathing a small sigh of relief. "Gracias," he says with a smile, leaving the wine for a moment to press a kiss to Christos's mouth.

Christos smiles a little in return. "Did I really help?" he asks, astonished that it might have been that easy. He throws his lover a wink and pulls out a plate to arrange dolmas on.

"You always help," Alfonso says, opening the wine. "Especially when I'm worrying over stupid things."

"They're not stupid things. Just things you maybe don't need to worry about," Christos replies. He washes his hands at the sink then reaches for Alfonso. "I love you," he whispers against his lips. "Everything will be fine."

"I know, and I'm not usually like this," Alfonso says, which Christos knows. It's only since coming to Mexico that his anxieties have been playing up.

"I know. You're a badass," Christos murmurs, stroking his fingers through Alfonso's hair. "Being nervous around family certainly doesn't change that."

"Thank you," Alfonso says with a smile, pressing in close, Christos's embrace soothing him in a way nothing else ever does.

A knock sounds at the door and Christos smiles, then kisses Alfonso again. "I'll get it," he says, and crosses the length of the penthouse to swing open the front door. "Pablo, it's good to see you again," he says, holding out his hand to shake. "And this must be your lovely girlfriend."

Pablo shakes Christos's hand. "Si, this is Verónica," he says, taking his girlfriend's coat from her. "This is Christos and there's mi hermano, Alfonso," he adds as Alfonso joins them.

"It's such a pleasure to meet you both," Verónica says, shaking Christos's hand and then Alfonso's, her English softly accented. "I'm a huge fan," she tells Alfonso.

"Gracias," Alfonso replies with a deferential nod.

Christos's glance takes in the pair before he smiles at his boyfriend's modesty. "I'll take that," he tells Pablo, taking the coat over his arm and heading down the hall to lay it on the bed. Giving the guests a little time to get settled with Alfonso.

"Your place is amazing," Verónica says, taking in the views. "You can see so much of the city."

"Thank you," Alfonso says. "I bought it a while ago but this is the first time I've really been able to spend time here."

"Do you have a place in the States?" Pablo asks.

"No," Alfonso shakes his head. "I have a rental in Vancouver, where The Exorcist shoots, and I stay with Christos in LA when I'm there but I haven't bought anything."

"This is my first chance to spend any time in Mexico City," Christos tells Verónica. "I'm enjoying keeping house for this one while he works."

Verónica smiles at that. "Do you like it here? Has he shown you around?" she asks.

"Very much," Christos answers. She's tall, just a couple inches shorter than he, and startlingly pretty. He wonders absently if Alfonso is attracted to her. No matter. "Please, sit," he invites them into the dining room. Glancing at his lover. "Do you want a beer?"

"Si, gracias. Pablo? Verónica? We also have wine and a full bar," Alfonso tells them.

"Can you make a Paloma?" Verónica asks, obviously hopeful as she takes a seat.

"You're in luck, I learned how last week," Christos answers. He grabs a few beers from the fridge and sets out triangles of toasted pita bread, along with baba ghanoush, hummus, and the dolmas. "But forgive me if I don't get it exactly right, Verónica," he says, turning away to the bar.

"I will definitely forgive you," she promises. "I'm not a fan of beer though," she adds, making a face, checking with Alfonso before she reaches for a piece of pita and dips it into the hummus. "Ay dios, this is so good," she says. "Did you make it from scratch?"

"Yes. I wanted to give you an authentic Greek experience," Christos answers, selecting a grapefruit to squeeze from a large bowl of fruit. "Alfonso didn't mention you had any diet restrictions, so I'm hopeful you'll be able to enjoy all of it."

"No diet restrictions, no food dislikes, I'll eat anything," Verónica announces gleefully, trying the baba ghanoush with a low groan of pleasure. "Unlike this one," she adds, pointing at Pablo.

"I'm not that bad," Pablo protests. "I don't like sushi and I hate raisins but I eat most things."

"What about eggplant and zucchini?" Verónica says with a smile.

"I'll eat them when they're done certain ways," Pablo points out, reaching out to slap Alfonso on the arm when he sees his brother laughing at him. "Pendejo."

"There's meat coming," Christos assures Pablo. He hands the lady her drink and takes a seat next to Alfonso, stretching out his long legs and popping open a beer.

"Thank you," Verónica says to Christos. "Try the baba ghanoush," she adds, pushing the dish towards Pablo, knowing he won't be familiar with it.

"What is it?" Pablo asks, eyeing the dip suspiciously.

"Just try it," his girlfriend insists. "It's not raisins."

"I promise, no raisins," Christos agrees, reflecting that it's a good job he decided to forgo a traditional octopus dish this evening. He smiles a little at his lover in amusement.

Alfonso smiles back, rubbing his foot against Christos's under the table and watching his brother try the eggplant spread.

"It's good," Pablo says, taking a second bite. "Mm. Very good. What's in it?" he asks, suddenly concerned.

"Eggplant. It's harmless," Christos assures him. "Alfonso, could I get a hand?" he asks, standing up.

Pablo makes a bit of a face before realizing that he's enjoyed it after all. He shakes his head in amusement at Verónica and watches Alfonso move to help Christos in the kitchen.

"What can I do?" Alfonso asks, smiling at his lover.

"You didn't warn me he was such a baby," Christos whispers once they're safely out of earshot. He grins and lays the skewers of lamb on a platter, centered around a bowl of tzatziki. "Grab the salad? It's all ready, in the fridge."

"I didn't know," Alfonso says with a laugh. "That's being brought up by our mother, I guess." He gets the salad and the wine.

It thrills Christos to see that brilliant smile. He can't help checking out his lover's ass as Alfonso heads back into the dining area. "This is lamb," he tells Pablo, before he gets any weird ideas, setting out the feta cubes as well for the salad. "Please, help yourself to wine."

"I'll get it," Alfonso says, filling everyone's glass. "And there's more beer and Palomas as well if anyone wants either."

"This is delicious," Verónica says, holding up her glass. "You make a very good Paloma."

"Excellent, I'm glad to hear it," Christos replies. He piles salad onto his plate, tops it with sauce and feta and lamb by way of demonstration. He doesn't want to step on his lover's toes, but he's dying to learn more about them. So after a pause he says to Verónica, "Pablo said you're training to be a doctor?"

Verónica nods. "I'm a undergraduate intern," she says. "I have one more year after this - where I have to work as a general practitioner in the country - and then I'll do my Examen Nacional de Residencias Médicas which determines whether I can train for a specialty."

Half of what she says passes Christos in a blur, but he can focus on the end. "And do you know yet, what you want your specialty to be?" he asks, pouring himself some more wine.

Verónica nods. "I want to be a surgeon," she says, making a soft sound of pleasure with the next bite. "So good."

"What kind of surgeon?" Alfonso asks.

Verónica smiles. "Cardiotorácico, so I'm a long way from being done."

"Cardiothoracic," Alfonso translates for Christos. "That's incredible. And a lot more years of training."

Pablo nods. "It is, but she's amazing and I'll be able to support us both in the meantime."

"That's excellent. Your family must be very proud of you," Christos says, saluting her with his wineglass.

"Thank you. They are, but my whole family are doctors and surgeons. They didn't leave me much choice but to follow in their footsteps," she says with a smile, one that makes it clear she doesn't really mind.

"That's a lot of pressure," Christos says, blowing a breath out. He glances at his lover, checking in. Usually Christos is the quiet one.

Alfonso nods. "What would you have done if you felt you had a choice?" he asks, curious, hoping she won't take offense.

"That's a good question," Verónica says, smiling at Pablo this time. "I paint, and I think I would have liked to have pursued that."

"She's really really good," Pablo says, smiling back, the two of them lost in each other for a moment.

Alfonso's thrilled to see his younger brother so obviously in love, the way the two of them look at each other making him confident in their match. He nudges Christos's foot under the table and gives him a smile.

Christos smiles back. It shakes him, to be here, to be part of this family moment. To have been welcomed into his lover's life after everything he's done, everything he's gone through.

"Do you have a portfolio?" Alfonso asks. "We'd love to see your work."

"No portfolio," Verónica answers, shaking her head. "But I have a lot of paintings. I could bring some of them to Pablo's and you could come for dinner, see them then."

"We'd like that," Christos agrees. He eyes the serving dishes and gets to his feet to bring more lamb from the kitchen.

"This is so good," Verónica tells him when he returns, popping another piece into her mouth. "Do you always cook like this?"

"I try to, yes. Alfonso is a very appreciative eater," Christos answers, shooting a grin at his lover. "But I admit, I wanted to impress you. It's our first time you are guests here."

Alfonso grins back, both proud of and happy for his lover.

"It's delicious and my brother is very lucky to have you," Pablo says, helping himself to more lamb. "Neither of us cook like this, which I hope you'll forgive when you visit us."

Christos shrugs lightly. "Someone has to feed the world. We all have our talents. For example, this one," he nods towards Alfonso, "has been working his tail off preparing for the big show."

"So I've heard," Verónica says. "That's so exciting. Do we get to attend?" she asks, still eating her dinner, the wine perfectly paired with the meal.

"Yes, but not on opening night," Alfonso says, flashing another smile at Christos. "Only he gets to come opening night."

Christos damn near melts under that smile. "I think he'd prefer I weren't there, either," he explains to their guests. "But I told him I'd be there anyway, so he might as well be okay with it." Like he'd miss Alfonso's big opening night.

"Why don't you want anyone there opening night?" Pablo asks, curious, sipping at his wine.

Alfonso gives a half-shrug. "Nerves, and opening night is usually the worst night. Anything that's going to go wrong goes wrong then."

"So you'll work all the bugs out, and it'll be brilliant," Christos tells him, his smile softer now but no less proud.

"I hope so," Alfonso nods, nerves starting to act up again. "Let's talk about something else." He gestures towards Pablo. "What about you? You said you're almost ready to practice?"

"Si, I'm finishing my internship and I'll be able to practise in the fall," Pablo says. "I just have to decide if I want to stay with the law firm I'm working for or if I want to go out on my own."

"Surely it would be a risk to set out on your own when you're brand new?" Christos murmurs, one eyebrow quirking.

"It could be," Pablo says, "but I would make more in the long run and quicker than I would with the firm - there I'm looking at a good six or seven years before I'd make partner." He takes a drink of his wine. "And I would have a leg up if I went solo because of the Herrera name and our family connections." Which pains him to admit but law - at least the kind of law he wants to practice - is all about who you know.

"Ah, I see." Christos nods. Smiles at Verónica. "What's your opinion?"

"I'd like to see him set up his own practice," Verónica says, finally sitting back from her plate. "It would make for more flexibility, I think. Or join a practice where he could make partner more quickly."

"You're a real power couple," Christos says, saluting them with his wineglass. "And very busy, I'd imagine. Thank you for taking the time to share your evening with us."

"Thank you for having us," Verónica says. "I've been wanting to meet Alfonso for a long time and I was so excited when Pablo told me you were here too. I wish my brother would find someone and settle down."

"Is he out with your family?" Alfonso asks.

"No." Verónica shakes her head. "My parents would -- I don't want to say disown him, because I'm not sure they'd go that far, but it wouldn't be good. Still. Because he can't be out he takes more risks than I'd like."

"I understand. My family was not understanding either," Christos says, thinking about how risky those risks can get.

"Do they know you're with Alfonso?" Verónica asks.

"No. I haven't had contact with my family for more than twenty years," Christos admits. "But my friends know all about him."

The fact that Christos is estranged from his family makes Verónica sad and she glances at Pablo, trusting he'll know what she's thinking. "Did you come out to your family? Is that why you're not in touch?"

"I never came out to my family. I figured I didn't need the beating," Christos says with a shrug and a shake of his head. "My mother died when I was young. Then my grandfather was the only one I was close to, so once he passed..."

Pablo reaches across the table to take Verónica's hand and give it a squeeze. "I'm so sorry to hear that," he says. "I imagine in your culture, like ours, that family is very important. Hopefully you'll consider all of us your family."

Christos blinks, touched beyond words by the unexpected wish. "Thank you."

Alfonso reaches for Christos's hand and brings it to his mouth, lips pressed to his knuckles. "Si, gracias," he says to Pablo and Verónica. "It means a lot to us."

Well hell, that little move right there? It blows every gesture of Pablo's right out of the water. As far as Christos is concerned, anyway. And it sounds like Alfonso is thinking to keep him around, which... is something Christos wonders about, in the darkest sleepless hours of the night. "Who's ready for dessert?"

[feedback welcome. comments screened.]