I Know What's Happening Here

This is chapter three of the Battlefield series of fics. It is recommended that you read the chapters in order.

John's first instinct is to book a large, extravagant party for their one-year anniversary. After all, he'd done more for less... he and his last girlfriend had lasted only 5 months, but he'd thrown her two huge bashes in that time.

But Alex isn't his any of his ex-girlfriends, not just for the obvious reason, but also because John's money actually made him uncomfortable.

John still isn't sure what he can do about that in their day-to-day life -- moving to a different apartment would probably make the situation worse, because Alex can't afford to move at all at the moment and it would just be another reminder of John's wealth, and it wasn't like he threw money around too casually anyway -- but not throwing a huge party seems like a good place to start.

"What do you think Alex would like for our anniversary?" he asks Patrick instead, one day at work.

Patrick looks up at him blankly, finishes typing something on his keyboard, and blinks. "Say again?"

"What do you think Alex would like for our anniversary?" he repeats. "And, for that matter, a Christmas present."

"Oh, right," Patrick says, grinning. "You two made out outside of the holiday party last year and then..."

John coughs, not needing Patrick to finish that sentence. "You're his best friend, right? Any thoughts?"

"And you're his boyfriend," Patrick says, crossing his arms. "So. Any thoughts?"

"Should I... not be here for this?" A voice asks from somewhere beside him, and John turns to see Alex there, standing at a cautious distance, and John thanks whatever deity there is that Alex had only overheard the last bit.

"Probably not, but if you have work talk, that's more important," John says, taking the opportunity to quickly kiss Alex.

Alex blushes, and John thinks it's adorable how he does that every time they kiss in the office, which he had taken a liking to ever since they'd officially "come out" as a couple at work.

"Work question for Patrick, actually," Alex says. "But I can..."

"I'll text you," John says to Patrick, who just winks at him.

"And I won't respond," Patrick says with a grin.

John shakes his head.


"Well, this is a surprise," Stephanie says, grinning up at John from her desk.

"I have a question," John says. "A non-work question."

"Even bigger surprise," she says. "Shoot."

John isn't sure why, exactly, he was talking to her. But she's probably the person he's the friendliest with in the office, and she also tends to hear a lot of things relating to office gossip.

Which maybe meant that this was a mistake.

"I don't know what to get Alex. For Christmas." That feels like a safer question, and he's pretty sure she wouldn't go blabbing about a Christmas present to others.

"Uh huh," she says. "By which you mean an anniversary present, right?"


"A bit of both? I got him a bottle of whiskey for his birthday," John says, not mentioning that he'd maybe aimed too high, and Alex had freaked out when he'd looked up the cost of the bottle. "I want to get him something more... personal, this time."

"Dinner is always a good suggestion," Stephanie says. "And maybe some..." She pushes her tongue against her cheek and mimes a particular motion with her hand.

"We go to dinner a lot already," John says, trying his hardest to ignore the second part, even though he's blushing slightly now.

Stephanie rolls her eyes. "At a nicer place, John. Geez."

"Right." John's pretty sure this isn't helping at all, and cuts his losses. "That's... a good idea. Thanks."

"Uh huh," she says, obviously not believing him. "I don't know. He's your boyfriend, right? Shouldn't you know what he likes? What he enjoys doing with his time?"

For some reason, that does pop an idea into his head. "I... I guess I do, actually."

"Well, there you go," Stephanie says, turning back to her computer. "Good talk, Kensington."

"Thanks, Stephanie."

"Are you free this Friday?" John asks that night over dinner, wondering he should have checked sooner. It wasn't the non-refundability of the tickets as much as the available slots filing up that he was concerned about.

"Yes?" Alex says. "Why?"

"I'll drive you to work on Friday," John says, even though he fully plans to call a taxi instead. "And to... afterward."

"Should I be concerned about this scheduled kidnapping?" Alex asks, a slight smile on his face.

John chuckles and shakes his head. "Wear what you wear to work."

That seems to reassure Alex, and he nods. "Got it."

John really hopes Alex likes the gift.

"So where are we going?" Alex asks as the two of them climb into a taxi outside the office. John swears he sees Stephanie watching them from one of the windows.

"Do you really want me to say?" John asks.

Alex seems to consider for a moment. "It's clearly not somewhere fancy if you didn't tell me to dress up. Which, yeah yeah, that doesn't matter, but you're not dressed up either, and I know you care about that, at least."

"That's true," John says. He can't imagine what his mother would say if he ever showed up underdressed at an upscale restaurant. He knows she'd find out, somehow.

"I don't see any items on you, so if there's a gift attached, it's either very small or it's not here... wait..." Alex looks concerned suddenly. "You didn't get me a car, did you?"

"I didn't get you a car," John says, half wondering if he should have.

"Thank god," Alex says, sighing in relief. "I know I've been complaining about mine, but it runs fine. Really. Please don't get me a car."

"I promise I won't get you a car until after we're married," John says with a grin.

"Um," Alex says, looking a combination of surprised and touched, and even though John had intended it as a joke, he thinks he honestly can see the two of them married one day.

But it's still a little too soon for that.

"Or engaged," John adds, because he wants to hedge so he can make sure to keep his promise.

"I hate you," Alex says, but he's grinning now too. "Okay. I'm done guessing, because I'm going to keep giving you ideas otherwise. Where are we going?"

"So you want me to say?" John asks, only mildly disappointed that Alex doesn't want it to be a total surprise.

"I want to know so I can jump out of the taxi at a red light if I need to," Alex says, still smiling, and John's pretty sure he's kidding, but doesn't want to risk it anyway.

"We're going to a cooking class," John says. "Not because there's anything wrong with your cooking! But because you said you were interested in trying to make some new dishes. And because I want to pick up some skills so I can help you in the kitchen, since I had never cooked in my life before trying to help you."

"John..." Alex says, his face full of affection now. "That's really thoughtful."

"The place provides wine to go with the food afterward, hence the taxi," John continues. "And because I'm spoiling it now anyway, there's also a gift card to one of those meal box services. I figured it'd help you experiment some more, and I didn't want to just start the subscription for you when we're leaving for the holidays soon."

"That's... that's perfect," Alex says, leaning over and giving John a deep kiss. "Thank you."

John feels relieved that the gift went over well. "They're, um... intended as an anniversary present. I know it's early, but I didn't want this to really start interfering with the holidays."

"I, uh..." Alex looks a little guilty. "I haven't gotten you anything for our anniversary yet."

"And you don't have to," John says before he can think better of it. He's found out over the past year that Alex feels guilty accepting one-sided gifts. "But, um... if you want to, you can pick up some ingredients you wouldn't normally get, and we can make dinner together some evening. I can't think of anything better than an evening in with you."

Alex smiles, then blushes, and John's pretty sure Alex is thinking the same thing he is now. "I... I can do that," Alex says. "And thank you. For... for you, I guess. For the gifts, of course, but also for you."

"Happy anniversary," John says, leaning in for another kiss.

And Alex seems more than happy to oblige.

"Hello, boyfriend," John says as he walks up behind Alex in the kitchen. "Something smells good."

"Hi," Alex says, turning around and kissing John quickly. "You seemed to like the, uh... anniversary Bibimbap, I guess it was. So here's Christmas Kalbi? We had some of the sides left over anyway."

"Looking forward to it," John says. "And good timing, too. Merry Christmas." He puts a small wrapped box down on the counter and Alex stares at it.

"Did that cost over $100?" Alex asks, and John can't help but chuckle, thinking back to Alex's reactions to the whiskey and the Valentine's chocolates over the past year.

"It did not," he says. "Should I take that as your threshold for acceptable gift pricing?"

Alex gently punches John's arm. "That is not what I meant. But... thank you. For the gift and for being considerate." He turns back to check the food quickly before walking out of the kitchen. "The food isn't actually supposed to be your Christmas present," he calls back to John. "I got you an actual present too, but you should probably open it... them before you leave for the holidays."

John grabs his box and waits by the dining table, and Alex reappears with a couple wrapped boxes.

"Don't shake them," Alex warns. "Also one of them is more of a gag gift, I guess."

"Thank you," John says, kissing Alex again, and setting Alex's gift down by his chair. "Should I open them now?"

"You can if you want to," Alex says. "Uh... but let me grab the food first. And no, you don't need to help. Find a drink and sit down."

"Yes, sir," John says with a smirk, and Alex laughs and heads back into the kitchen.

Alex returns shortly with the food, and John picks up the taller of the two boxes. It feels lighter than he'd expect for the size, and when he tilts it, something seems to shift inside and there's a dull thudding sound.

"Don't turn it, either," Alex says. "Also this rice is from the rice cooker you got me last week, so you shouldn't have gotten me another present."

"The rice cooker was an extension of the anniversary present," John says, honestly a little proud that he'd been able to stretch the excuse this much. "And I'm going to open this now, because I have no idea what it could be, and my curiosity is killing me."

"That one's the gag gift," Alex murmurs, blushing slightly anyway as he sets some plates down on the table and returns to the kitchen.

John rips the paper open and finds himself looking at an empty hard lemonade bottle inside a large plexiglass container. It takes him a second, but then he can't help but laugh. "Alex!"

"I know you said you didn't want any more art," Alex says, blushing again as he returns with a plate of side dishes. "But I figured that Gabriella would appreciate the clearer indication. The case opens, so you can change out the bottle. I just... wanted to include a placeholder in there."

"Boisson Au Citron," John reads from the label on the front of the case. "John Kensington, Glass and paper, 2024." He looks over at Alex as he sits at the table, still grinning. "Alexander. This is the best present I've ever received."

Alex blushes deeper. "Then that one's the real present. And the other one is the gag gift."

"Uh huh," John says, stealing a kiss as he grabs the second item. "Then I'm opening the gag gift now, too."

The second gift turns out to be a bag of cat treats and a tin of M&M-topped cookies that John recognizes as the ones Alex had brought to the office a few days earlier.

"This is a new batch," Alex says, as if anticipating a question. "You... said you really liked these, and I wanted you to have your own. And I think those are the kind that Roberta likes?" He shakes his head. "Sorry. I'm... not good at gifts."

"You have nothing to be sorry for," John says, putting the items down and kissing Alex. He actually really appreciates the items. "I'm impossible to shop for, but you somehow you managed. More than managed. These are perfect. Thank you. And yeah, this is her brand, picky bastard."

"I... I'm going to open your present now, if that's okay," Alex says, grabbing the box from the table.

"That's definitely okay," John says, watching as Alex gently unwraps the gift, and then frowns at it.


"Hey," John says, feeling the need to defend his gift. "You were complaining about having to carry your phone while we run since it's awkward in your pocket and gets sweaty. Or while you exercise, in general. I was going to get you a smartwatch, but settled for this, instead."

That seems to work, because Alex smiles, turning the fitness wristband box over in his hands. "That's really thoughtful. Actually I'd been wanting one of these, ever since I saw yours, but I couldn't justify it. Thank you."

"I'm glad you like it," John says, honestly relieved that it had gone over well. "And if you want, we can test out your present after dinner," he adds, smirking.

Alex frowns. "It's too cold to go running right now, and the gym isn't very close. What do..." Then realization sets in, and he blushes. "Oh. Yeah. I... I think that's a good idea."

"Merry Christmas, boyfriend," John says, holding up his water glass.

"Merry Christmas," Alex says, smiling affectionately, and clinking his glass with John's.

"Hey," John says, walking into Alex's apartment and being surprised to find him sitting at the dining room table with his laptop.

"Oh," Alex says, looking up. "Shit. Sorry... I got so distracted with this that I forgot to start dinner."

"It is definitely not your responsibility to cook for us all the time," John says, standing behind Alex and gently rubbing his shoulders. "Also, what is 'this'?"

"It's nothing," Alex mutters, closing his laptop. "Just... budgeting for this year. Rent's going up again, and I really don't want to move, so I'm trying to figure out whether I can cut something else or live with a less-comfortable rainy day fund." He leans backward so he's looking up at John. "And before you ask, no."

"You didn't even know what I was going to ask," John says, an idea popping into his head.

"The answer's still no," Alex says, sitting upright again and putting his hands on John's. "Also that feels nice."

John considers, but only for a moment. Even though he had literally just come up with the idea, it feels right, somehow. "Do you want to move in together?"

"What?!" Alex cranes his neck again, frowning up at John. "Into..."

"Into a new place," John says. "A place that's ours. You hate my apartment. I hate my apartment. We spend most of our nights together these days, so it doesn't make as much sense for us to have two separate places anymore, anyway."

Alex sits upright and turns so he can look at John more properly. "It was the closest place I could afford," he says, staring at John for a second. "You're serious?"

"Am I that difficult to live with?" John asks, trying to make a joke, but Alex shakes his head.

"You know that's not it."

"I can't tell if you're asking whether I'd be happy in a less-extravagant apartment, concerned about the financial aspect, or think it's too soon."

"All of those," Alex says, his serious expression giving way to a slight smile. "Uh... except the last one. You're right that you're over here a lot, and spend the night most of those evenings. And usually when you're not here, we're at your place. So I... don't think it's too soon, if you don't."

"I wouldn't have asked if I did," John says, smiling as well as he pulls out the chair next to Alex and sits down next to him. "First of all, I think you know how comfortable I am with you, and here. I'd ask that we get an apartment with two bedrooms, just so we can each have some space that can feel like our own, if we need it."

"That makes sense," Alex says, looking a bit less concerned now. "But the price..."

"We can set your portion of the rent to about what you're paying now, if that'd make you comfortable," John says, even though he fully intends on just purchasing whatever they decide on, if he can. His family seemed to appreciate real estate investments. "And I don't want to hear about how that isn't fair. Half of a shared two-bedroom should cost less than your rent here, and anyway, I think this is a case where I really need to insist that you let me help out a bit, financially."

"It'd be nice to be closer to the office," Alex murmurs. "Fine. But... not that I think it won't work out, but what if it doesn't work out? They're raising rent here, but it's still cheaper than just about anything else I could find. I don't want to move even further out if I... end up needing to."

"You have a couple months still before you have to sign a new lease, right?" John asks, and Alex nods. "Then let's do this sooner, rather than later, as a trial run. If it doesn't work, you can keep this place. We could start looking tonight, if you wanted."

"We should figure out dinner first," Alex says. "But then... we could do that."

"Let's go somewhere tonight," John says, standing and holding out his hand as he grins. "Pre-emptively celebrate moving in together."

Alex takes his hand, blushing slightly. "Yeah. That... that sounds good."