“Incoming!” Pete bellows approximately half a second before the snowball explodes all over Brendon’s face.
He wipes slush out of his eyes and yells: “You are a dead man, Wentz! Dead!” The impact of the threat is somewhat lessened by the fact that Brendon is unable to hold back his laughter. It’s difficult being menacing when you’re having this much fun.
“Protect me, Patrick!” Pete squeals and tackles them both into the nearest snowdrift, Patrick’s indignant protests muffled by what Brendon assumes is Pete’s mouth.
There’s a brief lull in the snowball fight and Brendon tips his head back, basking in the December sun. The sky is a brilliant blue and all around him the fresh snow sparkles in a way rarely seen outside Disney movies, transforming Jon and Tom’s backyard into a magical winter wonderland.
Brendon grins at his own cheesiness. It’s his favourite time of the year – close to Christmas – and he’s spending the day with his favourite people. The city had seen its first snowfall last night and Brendon had woken up to a phone call from Jon, inviting him over to enjoy it in a proper house with a garden, instead being stuck in his tiny student bedsit.
Brendon looks around him. It seems that the hostilities have been suspended indefinitely. Pete and Patrick are still wrestling on the ground, Patrick’s hat discarded next to them. Under the nearby tree Spencer is fastidiously swiping snow off Ryan’s coat, while Ryan stands and lets him, lips curved in a small smile. Their changed relationship is still new and Spencer is not prone to public displays of affection. Brendon’s guess is that even a small thing like this counts as a private victory for Ryan.
Brendon sighs, turning his eyes away. He’s genuinely happy for his friends, he is, but sometimes it’s hard being the only single one surrounded by couples. There’s a hollow feeling inside his chest, kind of an almost-jealousy; an aimless (except not really) bittersweet longing.
An arm settles around his waist before Brendon gets any deeper into his introspection.
“Hey,” Jon says, his breath warm against the side of Brendon’s face. “You’re shivering. Come inside, Tom’s making hot chocolate.”
Brendon hadn’t noticed quite how cold he was until Jon pointed it out. “Mmm, hot chocolate,” he licks his lips in anticipation and twists around, somehow not dislodging Jon’s arm. “Jon Walker, you know a way to my heart.”
Jon grins at him, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Do I now?” he asks, and the question sounds oddly serious for all that he never stops smiling. “That’s good to know.”
Brendon blinks, suddenly unsure about the shift in mood, but then Jon pulls him toward the steps, telling him to hurry up before Tom gets worried.
“What about the others?” Brendon asks, waving vaguely in the direction of Patrick and Pete, Ryan and Spencer.
“They’ll follow us soon enough,” Jon says, opening the door and pushing him inside where the warmth and the delicious smell of chocolate and marshmallows wrap around Brendon like a welcoming blanket.
In the kitchen Tom is pouring steaming milk into three mugs. His hair is too long, falling over his eyes as he leans forward.
“You need a haircut,” Jon says, tucking a wayward strand behind Tom’s ear.
He passes one of the drinks to Brendon, casually hooking an ankle around his once they all sit at the table. “Don’t you think he needs a haircut?”
Brendon shrugs, ducking his head a little. He kind of likes Tom’s hair like this, it looks like it would be soft to touch and Brendon’s fingers itch to follow Jon’s example and brush it off Tom’s face, just to see if he was right. Instead he takes a careful taste of his drink, letting out an audible moan when the hot liquid hits his mouth like molten heaven.
Tom laughs. “I take it my hot chocolate meets with your approval?”
Brendon can only hum appreciatively, eye half-lidded with pleasure, the warmth hitting his belly and spreading slowly outwards.
“Brendon here has confessed to me that hot chocolate is the one true way to his heart,” Jon says.
“Well damn,” Tom says, considering. “We should’ve tried that before.”
They sit quietly for a while, sipping their hot chocolate. It’s cosy here in Tom and Jon’s kitchen, in their old sprawling house full of second-hand furniture, bookshelves and framed photographs lining the walls, and Brendon wishes – not for the first time – that he didn’t have to leave at the end of the day.
From the corner of his eye he can see Jon and Tom exchanging what can only be described as meaningful glances. There’s a silent conversation going on there and Brendon thinks he should be feeling awkward about being in the middle of it, but somehow he isn’t.
“Brendon,” Tom says.
Brendon makes a distracted sound, focused on fishing out the last of the marshmallows.
“Hey Brendon,” Tom repeats, and there’s a catch to it, something in the tone that tells Brendon that this is serious and makes him look up and pay attention.
Jon and Tom are holding hands across the table, Jon pressed right against Brendon’s side, warm and solid. He watches Tom take a deep breath, his fingers tightening around Jon’s. Brendon almost thinks he’s nervous.
“What else will it take?” Tom asks, his eyes never wavering from Brendon’s. “To get into your heart?”
The moment hangs, suspended like a falling star on a night sky. Brendon feels something uncurl in his chest, something frayed and cautious and a lot like hope, but before he has a chance to try and find his voice there’s a loud bang from the hallway.
“You fuckers hiding the good stuff?” Pete demands, grinning widely as he bursts into the kitchen, closely trailed by the rest of their group.
There’s a flash of real annoyance on Jon’s face before he hides it, turning to greet the others. Brendon lowers his eyes back to his drink but not before seeing the way Tom sighs, his mouth turning down at the corners.
Soon the room is full of chatter and good-natured ribbing, everyone jostling for the biggest mug and grabbing the cookies Tom pulls out of the oven. Amidst the chaos Brendon isn't sure whether to be disappointed or grateful for the interruption. He doesn’t know how to answer Tom’s question, how to tell the truth.
Because there’s nothing more it will take for Jon and Tom to get into Brendon’s heart. They are already there.