A/N – Dark/violent themes in future chapters. There's your warning.

"Oi, Coops, chuck us that bag of cement over there, would ya?"

Aaron Cooper sighed as he stretched painfully, stopping his own work and reaching over to pick up the heavy bag. He lugged it to his workmate, Robin (or Robbo as he was more commonly known), grateful when the overly burly man relieved him of the weight. Pushing sweaty brown hair out of his eyes, he wandered back to his original spot, tripping over an abandoned cordless drill and skinning his knees in the process.

And it's only fucking Tuesday.

As he drowned out the various apartment construction sounds around him, Aaron thought, once again, of his life. It was common for him to do so while he worked. He liked his life, okay. There were certainly things he would change, and that could do with improving, but there wasn't a whole lot he could do about that. He supposed his family would be the main thing he would change. Their behaviour towards him when he tried to explain his choice of job, his reason to move eight hours away, his sexual preference and even the car he bought, left a hell of a lot to be desired. All his life, the entire twenty-three years on this planet, he had tried to make his parents proud. Whether it be studying really hard to win a spelling contest in Grade Two, or pushing himself to be competent in most sports events at school carnivals, or going on to learn (and become fully qualified in) a trade. It was never enough for them, though. Oh, he was sure they loved him. They had to, right?

A sour noise escaped his mouth as he scoffed to himself. Who was he kidding? The moment he told them he was gay, he may as well have given up on them right then and there. Oh, they were always so accepting of 'alternative lifestyles' before they knew they had a gay son. They would coo with sorrow if they heard of yet another gay bashing, and shake their heads at chronically homophobic people and slurs. Before.

Aaron shook his head before the thoughts could consume him entirely, as they had so many other times, and got back to work. Thankfully, the day was almost over. He looked around the site, somewhat amused at the lack of work that had been getting done by the others. It was to be expected though, being mid December. Although, really, the productivity should have increased three-fold, for approaching deadlines. It would be Christmas soon. Yet another holiday designed to bring friends and family together and laugh over stupid gifts and eat until they throw up. Usually.

He hadn't celebrated Christmas since he was fifteen. His family had, of course, but they would send him to his room before their 'co-worker' guests arrived, as per tradition, and he'd be lucky to get some leftover chicken to eat. It wasn't uncommon for him to be 'disowned' at holidays, birthdays, special events, or whenever his parents were entertaining guests. Being somewhat well-known criminal defence lawyers meant that they had an image to uphold to their colleagues. An image that certainly couldn't be tainted with such a thing as homosexuality. They couldn't have a faggot sharing their table now, could they? Even between these periods, he was still treated as the outcast of the family. The runt, if you will. And his dad. His dad was the worst…

Realising that he was being overtaken by his wandering thoughts – again, Aaron stopped what he was doing and took a swig from his water bottle. He chanced a glance at his watch, hoping that more than two minutes had passed, and he could go home soon. It wasn't that he disliked his job, quite the contrary, but it was stinking hot in Yeppoon and he just felt drained. It had been months since he'd taken time off to relax. Great Keppel Island was less than a half-hour ferry ride away, it was a whole different world, and he rarely went. A small smile flittered over his face as he made a decision to apply for annual leave. Why not? He deserved it as much as the next guy. And the other men here often took days off for various reasons.

For the hour and a half left of work, Aaron's mind quickly passed the time by entertaining thoughts of the Island, the relaxation, and the men. He was in the mood for a one-night stand. And being a Contiki Resort Island, with only 18-35 year olds allowed to stay, there was bound to be a young gay man or two that he could bed. He didn't feel guilty for his thought. In fact, he'd only had five sexual partners in his life, so he wasn't afraid of being labeled. His last boyfriend, though, had left Aaron relishing the single life when their relationship ended. Aaron never was one to get clingy to another.

Five o'clock came and with it, the ritual sounds of sweaty shirts raised to sweatier brows, lunchboxes being snapped shut, and tools carelessly thrown into metal toolboxes. A few of his mates passed by and slapped him on the back, giving him toothless grins; a typical Australian goodbye gesture. Robbo said he'd wait "like a good mate does" (meaning, of course, that he wanted a ride home). Aaron smiled back and wandered to his boss' trailer.

"Coops, mate, come in! It's hot out there, huh?"

"Sure is, Joe. But you wouldn't know, would you? Working in air-conditioned comfort in this trailer. Man, you've really got the life." Aaron winked, to punctuate his joke to his boss.

"Hey, I'd be careful what ya say there, mate. Wouldn't want a good worker like you being downgraded to shit-kicker, would we now?"

The cool air was permeated with the sound of the two men chuckling at their playful banter. Joe, a 35-year-old married man (with an eye for the ladies, regardless), didn't know of Aaron's sexuality. No one at work did. It wasn't something he struggled to keep quiet, but it wasn't something to brag about either. He worked with some tough guys.

"Anyway, Joe, I was wondering if it'd be okay if I took some time off? I just think I need some time to recharge and shit like that. " He raised an eyebrow at the man opposite him. "Maybe even get laid –"

"I hear ya there, mate." Joe scoffed.

"- So I was thinking of maybe taking next week off? My last day would be Friday, and then come back Monday week. Do you think that'd be okay?" Aaron stood to get a drink from the dispenser next to Joe.

Joe sighed heavily.

"Well, ya know, it's pretty busy at this time of year, what with everyone wanting everything finished by Christmas. And you're one of our best workers…"

Aaron's heart sank as he made his way back to his chair. He really needed a holiday. His disappointment must have been evident on his features, because Joe sighed heavily and straightened in his own seat.

"Look mate, do it. Take the time off. You deserve it more than those bastards out there, and there's enough of 'em to get the job done. Come back after Christmas, okay?" A smirk smothered Joe's face.

Aaron started. "A-after Christmas? But that's almost three weeks! I only need a week. That way I can come back and finish off what needs doing before the units go on display."

"No, no. There's probably only another week or so until our work is done, and the electricians come in. Finish off this week and then go. There's no need for you to be here just for the cleanup. You go and have your holiday, get some ass and come back to tell us all about it next year." Joe stood and maneuvered his large form around the desk, and gripped onto Aaron's hand in a firm handshake.

Smiling gratefully, Aaron returned the grip before making his way out the door.

"Oh, and Coops? Tell Robbo that it's time he went home, and to stop scratchin' his ass in plain view. He's scarin' away the chicks."

Oh, how Aaron loved that crude, overweight man.

Aaron thought Robbo would just about talk his ear off on the way home. Whining about how 'nothing will get done with you gone, mate' and 'I'll be the fuckin' shit-kicker now, you watch' and 'I bet ya they cut back our lunch hours, too, just to make sure shit gets done'. He sped up a bit, just so he could get rid of his friend sooner. All he wanted was a hot shower and some quiet. After Robbo had been dropped off, and he'd made a stop to the store for cigarettes, Aaron headed home, looking forward to his vaguely planned evening.

Just as he parked his car in the garage, his neighbour came out of the duplex next door.

Aaron had a fair bit of money saved, so why he was living in a duplex eluded most people who knew of his reasonable wealth, but Aaron liked it. It was small, yes, but there was only him and his cat. He didn't need anything bigger. And so what if he drove a ten-year-old Ford ute? He thought it a bargain at five grand, with relatively low kilometers and in good condition. He was never one to waste money on expensive objects, when one can save money by spending less and have equally functional belongings. Come to think of it, this holiday would be the first time he'd 'wasted' more than $500 on something that wasn't absolutely necessary. The last thing was the tattoo of the dragon that snaked down one side of his calf muscle.

He was snapped out of his thoughts by the incessant whining of Sheryl, the neighbour.

"Aaron, that bloody cat of yours was at it all day, today! The mongrel thing kept poor Petey up and I didn't get a wink of sleep either! I swear Ron was about to break in and wring its neck himself!"

Forcing down his temper, he looked pointedly at the one and only reason he had considered moving from his home.

"Hi, Sheryl. Yes, I had a lovely day, and you?" An eyebrow was raised on each face. "Look. I'm sorry about Meg, but she's in heat and I haven't had time to get her to the vets. It will be over in a couple of days, so I'll take her on the weekend, okay? And tell Ron if he breaks in and hurts her, I just might have to whisk his lovely wife away for a naughty weekend, leaving him all alone to care for your beautiful little boy." Insert a wink and a flirty grin, and she was putty in his hands.

"Well… okay then, Aaron. As long as she's fixed by the weekend. Somehow I don't think Ron would be too happy if I up and left him with little Petey." She proffered a horrific giggle, fluffed her peroxide-yellow hair and sauntered inside to a wailing three-year-old and a dropkick husband.

"Christ, I wish they'd hurry up and move out." The muttered curse was wasted on the family next door. They were likely to stay until they either died, or were removed forcibly.

Locking the garage and going inside, Aaron kicked off his muddy boots, threw his keys on the table and headed straight for the shower. Allowing the water to burn his skin, he finished his cleansing and got out, tying a towel around his waist rather than drying completely. The Venetian blinds on the front sliding door and the curtains on the windows throughout the unit were always drawn, offering him complete privacy. The darkness was a comfort to him. Feeding Meg (and giving the Persian crossbreed a ritual pat), Aaron was about to cook his own dinner before his phone rang. Groaning, he almost chose to ignore it, until caving and he answered.


"Aaron! It's me. How are you? I tried to get you all day but the phone kept ringing out. Have you heard of an answering machine? Or even Telstra 101? I know it's annoying but it's free! You'll never miss a call and then you can reply straight away. So anyway, I wanted –"

"Bec! Stop talking."


"Right. Now, the reason you haven't been able to reach me was because I was actually working all day. It would be pointless getting an answering machine because you're pretty much the only person who calls me. I don't want that stupid Telstra thing because that would require spending 3 hours on the phone with someone who easily demonstrates that English isn't their first language. Now. What can I help you with, dearest sister of mine?"

Aaron smirked through the brief ensuing silence, preparing himself for the onslaught that was to come. He loved his sister. She was 3 years younger than him, and was the only member of the family who didn't ostracize him when push came to shove. Leaving her was hard for him to do when he moved. She seemed to be doing okay on her own, though he knew she was long overdue for a visit from him.

"Aaron Christopher Cooper! Don't you dare speak to me like that. Have some Goddamn respect!" Aaron chuckled to himself as she calmed down. "Okay, I wanted to talk to you about something important, brother."

Immediately Aaron's slight smile diminished. He knew what was coming.

"Rebecca, before you -" His words were cut off as his sister spoke over him.

"No. Listen to me, Aaron, please. Mum and dad are putting on a big Christmas lunch this year. There'll be garlic prawns, I know you love those, and lobster and crab and ham and roast beef and chicken and cake and trifle and… just… heaps! Don't you think it's time you came home for Christmas?"

Her breathing was coming harsher now, as she awaited his reply. She was trying so hard. Aaron knew she desperately wanted his company at Christmas. The family had snubbed her, too. Only slightly, though. They still housed and fed her; still gave her a hug when she was sad; still laughed at her stupid antics. However, there was always something slightly off with their affection towards her since she kept in such close contact with her fag of a brother. She just wanted someone there who would be normal around her. Someone who would treat her as herself, by being themselves.

Yet, at the same time, she was dependant upon them. A car accident at the age of seven involving her best friends' parents left her with permanent spinal cord injuries. It resulted in her relying on a wheelchair for mobility and dealing with the loss of a close friend. Aaron knew she'd never visit him herself. He had asked her numerous times, always with a mumbled reply in the negative. She never quite got over her self-consciousness, and the fact that she needed the money their parents supplied.

He started to weigh up his options and the pros and cons of such a trip, until his mind was assaulted with the last words spoken by his parents at his forced departure. It was all so fucking cliché. He'd spent too long trying to heal the gaping wounds left by his family that he would never allow them to see. No. It wasn't going to happen.

"I'm sorry, Bec. I just can't. I know it hurts you that we can't hang out at Christmas, but it would hurt me more to have to put up with them. I'm sorry, but I just can't do it."

"Fine." Her words were pushed through clenched teeth. "I suppose I'll just have to wait another three years to see you then, shall I?"

His ears were assaulted with her receiver being slammed down. He sighed deeply and put his head in his hands. He hated hurting Bec like this. She was the only family he had. Aaron wasn't too worried though. They'd fought about this often and had always gotten past it. Standing, he made his way to the kitchen, stumbling over Meg in the process, and cooked his dinner, polishing it off with relative speed. His gaze washed over the pile of dirty dishes. He grimaced.

"Tomorrow. Or something."

Locking the front door, Aaron checked the kitchen window that lead to the back yard, making sure it was open enough for his cat to come and go as she pleased. Satisfied, he climbed into bed, his tired mind already planning his holiday.