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Baby, It's Cold Outside

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It’s cold.

It’s snowing and it would be beautiful if it weren’t so cold. Jesse is standing in front of Andrew’s newest abode, about an hour and a half away from the busy inner city of New York. Jesse knows that Andrew likes to move around because he feels that different places have different auras to draw from. Andrew described the aura of his downtown SoHo rental once; it looked like a total dump to Jesse, even though he was trying very hard not to judge. He definitely felt that Andrew could afford better and that he deserved better, though he knows he’s biased on that front. Still, after hearing Andrew’s description of the aura, he could understand the appeal. If you didn’t mind jiggling the key in the lock every single time you have to use the door—which is a lot more than you would realize. Or the ghostly sounds coming from the pipes every morning when you are forced to take a cold shower or risk getting scalded. Emma thinks it’s because Andrew likes “pretending to be a hipster-slash-bohemian artist who has to suffer for his art” and teases Jesse for being picky. Jesse doesn’t consider himself picky about how he lives; he likes being comfortable. That and being ‘picky’ is being ‘detail-oriented’ and really there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good when you’re an actor.

Andrew is different. He’s much more comfortable being out of his comfort zone. He can be really neurotic in his own way but he doesn’t let that bother him. It’s one of the things which makes him both similar to and opposite from Jesse. Jesse knows Andrew’s not really interested in getting a mortgage and settling down. He’s still “looking for his place in the world”; when it’s Andrew that says it, his brown eyes completely sincere, it doesn’t sound so trite. And if the paparazzi find it harder to stalk him because he keeps changing where he lives then it’s a bonus. Personally, Jesse would find it stressful to move around so much. You already move around enough as an actor. But that’s something that has always fascinated Jesse: Andrew’s free spirit. He could make a home out of anywhere.

And it certainly looks like he’s made a home out of this place. It’s a traditional bungalow home with horizontal wooden panels and a veranda surrounded by a peeling white fence. Andrew has lined up miniature pots of colorful cacti along the windowsill. Jesse smiles when he spots the tiny wooden chicken that Joe gave him at the end of filming. He even has the rather self-aware doormat that he knows Justin gave Andrew. Jesse got a binary welcome mat from him. (“And when you move in together, you can use one for your holiday cabin. Or the back door of your mansion,” Justin said with a wink.)

Jesse rubs his hands again. He has gloves on but he can’t feel his fingers. He tries to blow on them before tucking them under his armpits. He’s already put on most of the clothes he has with him and three different scarves. He feels like an overdressed snowman.

As it gets darker, more and more Jesse feels like this a really bad idea. He was supposed to go home but he came here with a mission in mind and he doesn’t want to give up. Originally the plan was to finish work in LA, go home and then go see Andrew. But then everything went smoothly, too smoothly, in LA and they wrapped up early and the first thought Jesse had was: I want to see Andrew. Jesse would think it through but then he knows he tends to overthink things and- he wanted to do this. It’s Christmas. Technically it’s Christmas tomorrow but that’s not the point. It’s been Christmas for over a month if the decorations he sees when he’s out are any indication. It’s Christmas, and during Christmas you give people things that they don’t want and they have to be happy and thank you anyway. And during Christmas you let yourself go a little. During Christmas, Jesse will let himself hope that his presence could be…a present, of sorts, for Andrew.

Jesse hadn’t been able to forget how Andrew tried to hide his disappointment when Jesse had said he might not be able to make it back for Christmas—because his audition had been successful and he had to do some screen tests and wardrobe fittings and get to know the crew. Getting the role is always slightly bittersweet for Jesse; generally a lot more sweet than bitter because he’s grateful, always, for the work he gets. (There are a lot of people who are looking for work, waiting for their breakout role, and he is so lucky.) No matter how exhilarating and exciting it is, it’s also absolutely nerve-wracking, and to be honest, he’s both afraid to be disappointed and to be a disappointment. Especially when it’s such a good role. (“Finally! A break from another awkward virgin role – Congrats Jesse!” Emma had texted.) So of course Andrew had been happy for Jesse. As his boyfriend, he had to be supportive: it’s like a guideline to not being an asshole. He said he understood and he didn’t want Jesse stressing over it. He also said he was sorry that he had to stay in New York for filming The Amazing Spider-Man. But Jesse knew he had wanted then to do things together. It’s not their first Christmas, but it’s their first Christmas together. And that means something. It’s not even just about that; spending time together at Christmas – it’s become…a tradition. Jesse is rather attached to routine and this is one routine he doesn’t care to pathologize, thank you very much. This is one that’s theirs and it’s good.

If he had to guess, Jesse would have thought that Andrew is the type to leave his key underneath a potted plant or something. Jesse has looked for the elusive key already under the first step, the cheeky doormat, on the eaves and ledges of the porch. That is, he’s looked as much as one can without looking like you’re being creepy and touching other people’s stuff. Jesse figures if he keeps looking over his shoulder, it’s going to look even more suspicious. The problem is, when he had given in to his desperate curiosity and the growing chill seeping into him and lifted the frozen and leafless potted plant, not only had there been nothing beneath it but someone walked past and Jesse felt obligated to offer an explanation along the lines of admiring the plant and how he is thinking of getting one just like it.

Jesse would find a snowbank to dive into but he’s just glad that no one called the cops on him. In fact, one of Andrew’s neighbors, an old lady, asked if he’s okay and if he needed her to call a cab. Jesse had cringed inwardly because it’s probably because he looks homeless, or worse, helpless. It’s too much to hope for that they will forget him so he’s just hoping really hard now that they won’t think badly of Andrew’s character for having questionable acquaintances.

It’s been a long day: from posing in front of the camera to catching a hurried red-eye on a packed plane. He rarely sleeps well when it’s the first of anything or when he knows he has to be ‘on’ in a few hours. He’s always worried he’ll oversleep and miss his alarm. On the plane to New York, he’d been put next to someone who really liked to listen to music loudly enough that Jesse could still hear it and the guy had been wearing massive red headphones. It seemed that he had only liked listening to one disturbing song which involved rapping and watching someone burn. Also the person in front of him had kept reclining; he had regretted not traveling business class, even though he generally considers that an unnecessary expense.

There’s a bench outside Andrew’s house, to the left of the door, looking more inviting by the minute. He’s been avoiding sitting down but he’s mostly halfway to frozen, enough that he thinks it really doesn’t matter if he ends up as a sitting or standing icicle. He can’t feel his legs anyway. His eyes are gritty and itchy. Pulling his hood up and wrapping his arms around himself, he closes his eyes and waits.

“Jesse. Oh my god, Jesse!”

He can hear Andrew’s voice and for a moment Jesse is confused, still struggling to tear himself from the sticky slime of exhaustion. He feels warm fingers on his face, tapping his cheek lightly.

“’ndrew?” Jesse slurs, half muffled by the layers of scarves over his mouth.

Even from his fog of sleep, Andrew still looks amazing. He’s turned on the porch light—leaning over Jesse, and his head is haloed. Like an angel, Jesse thinks, too discombobulated to critique the clichéd description. It’s true anyway, he thinks defiantly.

“Oh shit, your lips are blue, Jess. You’re freezing.” Andrew is unwrapping his scarf from himself and winding the green and red tartan monstrosity around Jesse’s neck even though he already has three on.

“I’m f-f-fine,” Jesse protests automatically, even though he’s being reminded of the cold that has settled through his bones now. As he sits up from his slumped position on the bench, his hood drops to his shoulders and the cold bites at his cheeks and ears.

Andrew is actually wringing his hands. “If I had known you were going to come, I wouldn’t have-”

“Darling, is that Jesse?”

“Yes, and-“

And that’s when Jesse spots Andrew’s parents behind him and he just wants to find a rock to hide under. “I’m interrupting, aren’t I? I knew I should have called to check, I just wanted- It’s a stupid idea. I really should go because I’m embarrassing myself and it’s awkward and now I’ve just made it more awkward by mentioning it so I should-” He’s trying to push himself up to a standing position as he’s speaking. His nose is runny; he tells himself it’s the cold, because it is cold, and his legs seem to have fallen asleep.

“Jess, please. You’re here. I’m glad you’re here, please just come in?”

“Andrew is right, you’re always welcome, dear.”

All the well-intentioned comforting makes him cringe. He tries to stop himself from thinking about how badly Andrew’s parents will think of him, because he’s a grownup now, and what is he doing sitting on Andrew’s porch like a kid trick-or-treating? He’s probably projecting. Yeah. Andrew’s parents are perfectly nice people and he still doesn’t know what he’s doing. “Oh, um, okay s-sure,” he says as eloquently as ever, already berating himself for his rudeness. Jesse has no intention to stay but he probably needs to be less frozen to run away. He lets Andrew enfold him in his embrace, hiding his face in his chest, reveling in the warmth and the soothing scent of his cologne. Andrew bundles him between his arms and shepherds him inside.

It’s dark, but it feels warm and cozy already; though it can’t possibly be because nothing is turned on. Still, it’s warmer than the outside. There’s a click and then the lights are on, revealing a modestly sized living room with a kitchen attached to it. The glint of tinsel catches his eye and he sees a Christmas tree weighed down with mismatched, multicolored baubles standing in the corner, needles sprinkled around it like confetti.

“Sit here,” Andrew says, moving Jesse onto a battered couch with a throw that looks like a rainbow vomited all over it. “Don’t go anywhere.”

Jesse just sneezes, feeling a headache press behind his eyeballs. “Um,” he says, settling for unwinding his scarves instead. He wants to keep the one that Andrew lent him because it smells nice, but he’s sick and he doesn’t want to get his germs all over Andrew’s things. He loops it and lays it over the threadbare arm of the couch a little sadly.

“I’m going to get you blankets, you still look cold. Do you need a change of clothes?”

Jesse shakes his head, trying not to speak so his chattering teeth don’t give him away.

Meanwhile, Andrew’s mom offers to make Jesse some hot tea. Jesse is so cold and tired, he accepts. He figures he can foster another cat when he’s better. She leaves the tea on the coffee table. She has a kind smile; Jesse can see where Andrew gets it from. He might have said this too. She doesn’t stop smiling, just picks up his hand, squeezes it, and tells him to get well soon. Jesse thinks she’s too kind to him; after all, he did just dump himself on Andrew. He reminds himself to apologize. Repeatedly. When he can be sure that it won’t send his germs hurtling in anyone’s direction.

As Jesse tries to talk, Andrew hushes him, saying that he has to warm him up first, his eyes twinkling.

“But-”

“When you’re all thawed out, okay?”

Jesse starts to talk again but he sneezes instead. He’s starting to feel the encroaching doom of germs attacking his immune system and he hates it, because whenever he’s sick, he’s miserable. There’s no way he can get sick this quickly, right? He swears he read in a science journal that germs needed to incubate. He has an extreme urge to take loads of vitamins, garlic and Echinacea right now with orange juice in a desperate bid to ward off the germs.

After, Andrew’s heaped the blankets on Jesse, wrapping him up like he’s a burrito; Jesse tries not to put his feet up on the couch, because that’s really rude, but Andrew lifts his feet gently with a satisfied, “There you go” before tucking the ends of the blankets completely under his feet. Jesse shrinks into his blanket cocoon but he feels something stir inside him, his fingers and toes tingling with it. Andrew drags the heater in front of the couch and flicks it on with a socked foot. He reaches for the tea. “Drink,” he says, leaving no room for argument.

Jesse drinks, letting the herbal tea soothe his dry throat. He feels like he’s swallowed a frog. Clearing his throat, he says, “Okay, you should…” he waves his hand towards his feet.

There’s no room for Andrew.

“I should go,” Jesse croaks out, putting the tea down, feeling like he’s wading through a sea of blankets. He wriggles inside his blankets feebly like a fish out of water. “I’m okay now. You should be with your parents.” They probably endured a long flight just to see Andrew and Jesse is gatecrashing their family time because of a selfish whim. They’ve been together for less than a month and he’s already overstepping his boundaries.

Andrew frowns, folding wrinkles above his brows. “They just left for their hotel, Jesse. It’s fine, I told you about this.” Andrew goes to feel Jesse’s forehead. “I think you might be coming down with something. You should definitely stay tonight; it’s too late to travel out in the cold like this. Please, Jess, for me.”

Jesse hears the first part and suddenly he can’t breathe. He pinches his nose with one hand to try and get it to unblock but “Oh my god, I just drove your parents away, I’m so sorry.” Jesse feels absolutely wretched. He does remember them talking about Andrew’s parents visiting and, somehow, in the midst of the chaos of Christmas plans, he forgot. He’s the worst boyfriend ever and any time right about now, Andrew will regret giving them a chance.

“Hey, hey, no, don’t do that,” Andrew says, kneeling next to Jesse. “I can feel you freaking out from here. I’m so lucky that my parents and you have come to spend time with me this Christmas. I’m really happy. I love you,” he says, with an ease that Jesse envies. “And I love that you’re here.” He fiddles with the blankets, smoothing out invisible creases. “Plus, I kind of wanted to spend some time just with you.”

It’s a sweet thing to say, but he’s completely useless right now; Jesse tries to say this, but then he’s coughing and his eyes are watering and it looks like he’s crying.

“Aww, Jess, let me do all the talking, okay?” Andrew says a little too brightly. “You’re sick,” he says solemnly, forehead creasing into a frown. “You should rest.”

Jesse reaches for his tea but ends up just wriggling his fingers, palms outstretched, because his blankets are keeping him pinned to the couch. The blankets feel like a weight on his chest, heavy and warm.

“No, let me do that,” Andrew interrupts, delivering the cup to Jesse with exaggerated flourish. “You should let me do everything.”

Jesse raises an eyebrow and Andrew actually giggles.

“Are you alright? Do you need anything?”

“I’m…” Jesse takes a sip of tea to stall and to try and stop the itch in his throat. When he swallows, his throat hurts and he winces. “I’ve got a headache, sorry Andrew. I’m ruining your Christmas.”

“But it’s not Christmas yet,” Andrew says with fabricated somberness.

“Your Christmas Eve,” Jesse corrects miserably, playing with the edges of the blanket so he won’t have to think about how if he stays, he’s going to ruin Andrew’s Christmas as well. “I’ve just killed all your plans with my thoughtless surprise, I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t, please, don’t be sorry. No, look at me, Jess.”

Jesse forces his gaze from the comforter and meets Andrew’s kind, brown eyes.

“You’re here. This is the best Christmas present you can give me. That is all I need and everything I want. Really. I’m really happy,” Andrew says. “Okay?”

Jesse nods, not trusting himself to speak. A curl falls into his eyes and he wishes he could hide for a moment because he never knows what to say. It’s not that he doesn’t agree but the words just don’t come to him. He wishes he knew what to say, the right words. He wants to say that he wants it too but it sounds trite and he just wants his words to be the best words to articulate that feeling of tingling warmth and gratitude.

“You are always going to be the best thing that has happened to me.” Andrew says this without blinking.

It’s impossible to disbelieve Andrew when he’s being so earnest.

Jesse feels his eyes prickle. He sniffs, fighting the urge to wipe his nose with his sleeve because that’s disgusting.

“I’m just going to get some meds. I left them in the kitchen, sorry,” Andrew says, getting up, pushing his hands off his thighs.

Jesse snags his wrist. “Hey.”

Andrew kneels down next to him, concern etched in his features. “Do you need anything else?”

“Don’t be sorry. If I shouldn’t be, you shouldn’t be too,” Jesse insists.

Andrew kisses him on the forehead. “I love you,” he says against his skin, like it’s a secret between the two of them.

Even with the pills, Jesse sleeps restlessly, feeling alternately too hot and too cold. He tries to kick his blankets off, but he feels too tired to, instead feeling the damp cold slick of sweat against his chest and back, on the back of his legs. He feels like he’s sliding between consciousness and sleep, fiery cold, freezing fire-

“Jesse, Jesus, you’re burning up and your clothes are soaked.”

Everything hurts. He can feel someone trying to turn him over because he’s too tired; everything is muffled like he’s underwater. Someone is trying to take his scarf away and he doesn’t know why they are doing that. The scarf is his, Andrew lent it to him, and he wants to hold it.

“Help me out here, Jess. Your clothes are wet. Just lift your arms. Please—yeah, okay, you can have the scarf. I’m not going to take it, just let me, oof. There we go. I’m going to take care of you.”

The next time he’s awake, Andrew is pulling his shirt up and sticking something in his armpit and he’s squirming away but Andrew holds him gently until it beeps and his hands are cool. He cranes his head to look out the window; it’s still dark outside but Andrew left the light on in the kitchen. The light spills into the living room, a soft waterfall of luminosity. Andrew’s face has creases from lying on his arm. He looks funny, like someone has taken a red Sharpie to his face.

“You have a fever of a hundred and three degrees, Jess.”

Oh. He doesn’t feel hot at all. Actually a little cold and thirsty.

“Jess, drink this. And take these.”

“Not aspirin,” Jesse mumbles, pushing Andrew’s hand away.

“I know, it’s ibuprofen. That’s it. Just rest, yeah, close your eyes. You’ll feel better soon.”

Jesse obeys unthinkingly, fatigue making his thoughts hazy. He trusts Andrew to take care of him.

It gets worse. He feels dizzy lying down, his stomach doing jumping jacks. It’s not the nervous kind but the kind where like someone is using his stomach as a trampoline. He doesn’t remember when he last ate, probably on the plane, and he feels sick. He leans over the side of the couch, trying to roll out. He needs to get to the bathroom, no, the sink, it’s closer-

A trashcan appears under his face just in time. Jesse heaves, there’s only a little. Jesse spits, trying to get the taste out of his mouth. There’s a glass of water and Jesse grabs it greedily. He overestimates and pours part of it on himself but he doesn’t care, it tastes so good.

“Slow down, or you’ll make yourself sick,” Andrew says, concern bleeding into his words. Andrew is easing him down as he lies there, hands rubbing soothing circles between his shoulder blades.

He drifts in and out of sleep, his face hurts, his head hurts, swallowing hurts and he has to breathe through his mouth. He hears voices. He’s so tired; he can hear someone—Andrew? — reassuring him and it’s nice. He just feels exhausted and he wants to sleep.

“…never seen him so sick. Or anyone. I’m really worried. I don’t know what to do, mum. Should I take him to a doctor? What if he has pneumonia? Maybe I should carry him to bed?” Andrew says to his mother over the phone. “It’s just, I don’t know if I will be able to get him to a doctor today. Yeah, I know but…I guess…I just wish I could do something to make him better…I know…” Andrew sighs, nodding even though his mother can’t see him. “Uh huh, yeah…I have....he’s sleeping at the moment…okay…”

Andrew knows that what his mother is saying is right, that there isn’t anything they can do at the moment but wait. He just doesn’t want to wait. He wants Jesse to be better. And he wants him to be better soon. Jesse shouldn’t be sick. He feels responsible. If he’d given Jesse a key, he wouldn’t have been waiting in the cold. Andrew knows it’s not his fault but it burns that this could have been prevented. It’s frustrating. He hates not being able to do anything. He wants to move Jesse to his room but trying to change Jesse’s clothes is hard enough. He finally succeeded in getting a soft shirt buttoned on and he got Jesse’s jeans off. He didn’t want to take Jesse’s underwear off because it felt creepy while Jesse is mostly passed out. He had been so tempted to take a picture of Jesse snuggling his scarf though.

Jesse dreams of his cats and the apartment filling up with water like it’s the Titanic. Except it can’t be a dream because it’s so real. He can feel his clothes sticking to him. His ankles have to push through the resistance in the water with every step he takes. Every move forward is slow and heavy. And it’s cold and wet. He hasn’t got time. The water is rising, it’s now up to his chest and he has to rescue the cats. He can see one on top of the kitchen cabinets and another clinging onto the bookcase. Jesse doesn’t even care about his maps or his books right now. He just has to make sure that his cats are okay. He doesn’t know where the carrier is but it’s an emergency so he thinks he’ll just grab them. One of them jumps onto his shoulder and digs her claws into his shoulder. It aches but he keeps going. He has to catch them all. They don’t like water and he has to make sure that none of them have been trapped. So he’s calling for them, trying to keep hold of the ones he has, and they aren’t answering. He’s afraid he won’t be able to find them all. He doesn’t even know if he’ll have time because the water is still rushing in, filling the house, and he’s calling for help—

“Shh, shh, don’t cry, it’s just a bad dream. You’re at my place. Your cats are safe. I’m sure they’re fine. You’re safe now. ”

“Andrew,” Jesse whimpers pitifully, mouth full of cotton; it tastes like something died in his mouth. He feels like clawing his eyeballs because he forgot to take his contacts out. Every blink is the scrape of sandpaper against his eyes and he just wants them out. His irritated eyes water and sting and his fingers scrabble at his left eye with vicious desperation.

“Don’t rub, Jesse,” Andrew says, batting at Jesse’s fists, settling for holding Jesse’s wrists in a gentle but firm grip.

When Jesse squints, blinking hard, he can Andrew’s ridiculously long legs tucked up next to him, folded up like a pretzel as he fits himself in the gap between the coffee table and the couch. He thinks Andrew should have gone to bed. He’s probably got a bad crick in his neck sleeping like that and it’s because of Jesse.

“Let me get your eye drops,” Andrew offers. “Don’t rub,” he repeats. “I’ll be right back.”

Andrew manages to find them, along with his wet wipes. “Wipe your hands first,” Andrew instructs patiently. “Good. Now use the drops. Where are your glasses?”

It takes Jesse a moment to think, to rewind his memory. It’s as if he knows the answer but just can’t quite put his finger on it. “They’re usually in my backpack,” Jesse replies. “If they’re not there, then the front pocket of my suitcase. I have a spare pair with my socks.” He’s very particular about where he puts his glasses because he needs to see without stumbling around half-blind. He’s uncoordinated enough without adding myopia to the mix. Jesse sighs with relief when the contacts come out even though his eyes still feel too dry. The drops are cool against his eyes, so he tips his head back and squeezes another two drops in to relish the soothing effect for a moment longer. He takes a tissue from the coffee table, wiping his cheeks as the drops spill past his eyes and down his cheeks.

Andrew hands him a glass of water. “Drink. You need to keep your fluids up.” Then he swaps Jesse’s empty cup for his glasses and Andrew swims into focus once more.

“How are you?” Andrew asks solemnly. “You’re still coming down from the fever.”

“I’ve felt better,” Jesse admits. “But it’s not too bad.” He feels achy all over and tired but Andrew’s already taking care of him and he doesn’t want to sound ungrateful. He changes the topic. “Are you alright?” He smiles tentatively at Andrew.

Although he’s stiff from having slept mostly on the floor while leaning on his forearm, Andrew suspects he’s actually more tired from the emotional strain of worrying than he is from a Jesse vigil. He rubs his face, feeling the stubble start to take over his chin and cheeks.

“I’m feeling much better now that you’re getting better,” Andrew says, feeling his energy renew with Jesse’s smile. “I’ll go and make some breakfast.” Sensing Jesse’s protest, “You’re my special guest,” he says firmly. Jesse is a little worried that if he tries to sit up, Andrew will tell him he can’t do that because it’s too strenuous but Andrew looks so happy at being helpful that Jesse doesn’t want to deny him. And he would enjoy the attention a little if he could stop feeling embarrassed about it.

Jesse flushes, scratching the back of his neck. “Okay, I’m going to take a shower.”

Andrew decides on making some oatmeal porridge because it’s easy and filling. He’s humming under his breath as he turns the stove on, flicking the sparker a few times because it’s temperamental.

The phone rings as he’s cooking and he picks it up, holding it between his ear and shoulder. “Hey, it’s Andrew.”

“Merry Christmas, son,” Andrew’s dad says.

“Oh shit, I totally forgot with Jesse being so sick and all. Merry Christmas to you too, Dad. Sorry I’ve been so distracted, could you tell mom that I’m really sorry, again, but I was so worried about Jesse being sick and-”

“I couldn’t tell with the frantic 3am call,” his mother interjects dryly in the background.

“Sorry, I just-”

“Didn’t know what to do,” his mother finishes. “You told me. And I told you it was fine. You don’t need to keep apologizing. I know you’re worried about Jesse and I know how much he means to you. I do remember what it’s like to be young and in love.”

“Mum,” Andrew objects with a whine in his voice.

“Speaking of which, how is he?”

Andrew sneaks a glance at the closed bathroom door. “He’s taking a shower so I think he’s feeling better.”

“I’m glad to hear that, honey. Make sure you take care of yourself too,” she says. “Say Merry Christmas to Jesse for me and tell him to get well soon.”

“Yes, I will, mum. Are you sure that it’s okay if I don’t-”

“Your father and I have plenty of things planned. You’re not the only person who is in love. That’s how you were-”

“Mum!”

“Andrew!” She mimics teasingly. Andrew can hear his dad laughing in the background.

“Thanks for everything, really. I love you, mum, dad.”

“We love you too, son. We’re so proud of you. We’re here for you if you need us. Now you go take care of Jesse and don’t worry about us, okay?”

Andrew stirs the oatmeal, turning the stove off. It seems a little gluggy, like the craft glue that he used when he was a kid, so he adds more milk.

Jesse emerges from the shower, his hair mostly flat, only starting to curl at the ends. He’s wearing a familiar pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt over a long-sleeved top. Andrew can see his neck, rosy and clean and he smells like his soap and shampoo.

“Did you—uh, did you change my clothes?” Jesse asks, pink staining his cheeks.

Andrew stirs the porridge rigorously. “Um, yeah. Because I,” had to, you were all wet comes to mind but it doesn’t sound quite right so he says, “I wanted to make you comfortable.”

“Oh,” Jesse says. “Thanks,” he says awkwardly, trying not to think of Andrew stripping his gross clothes off and being subjected to his pasty, sweaty body. “Sorry about that.”

Andrew puts the porridge down and goes to hug Jesse but Jesse scoots back. “I’m sick, I have germs, you should stay away, I’ll make you sick,” he babbles.

Andrew engulfs him in a hug anyway. “No, I won’t have you exiling yourself. I have immunity.”

“You are not actually Spider-Man,” Jesse mumbles into Andrew’s woolen sweater.

“Well, maybe your germs will give me superpowers. Don’t you worry about it.” Andrew wants to bury his face in Jesse’s neck but he kisses the top of Jesse’s hair chastely instead. He can’t help wanting to be close to Jesse because Jesse smells like him and he’s not cold. He’s still glowing pink from the shower and Andrew is so glad he’s feeling a little better.

Jesse squirms, arms flailing.

Andrew squeezes him hard before pulling away so he can see Jesse’s face. “Hey, I’m not letting you go anywhere.”

“But I need a tissue,” Jesse sniffs.

Andrew reaches into his pocket, one hand still hooked securely around Jesse’s waist, “I have a hankie.”

“Hankies are receptacles of germs,” Jesse quips, but he uses the hankie, blowing his nose twice, three times. Jesse wrinkles his nose. It’s itchy. He wipes his nose hard, not wanting anything gross to be hanging out. “Ugh. I guess you don’t want your hankie back,” he says.

“You can keep it,” Andrew says. “It’s a present. Because it’s Christmas.” He says the last word like it’s a magic spell, with wonder and awe in his voice.

Jesse laughs. “Thanks,” he says, blowing his nose again.

Jesse’s nose is a bit red.

Andrew touches the tip of Jesse’s nose and beams at him. “You’re my red-nosed reindeer.”

“Yeah, I would be the one no one wants to play with,” Jesse says ruefully.

“No, don’t you remember? Then all the reindeer loved him,” Andrew sings, distressingly on key. He holds Jesse’s hands, tugging him so they are spinning in the circle. “As they shouted out with glee. Jesse, my red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!”

Jesse covers his face, feeling the tips of his ears start to burn. “Andrew, I can’t believe you just did that.”

“I love you,” Andrew declares, “Even if you are a red-nosed reindeer. Especially if you are a red-nosed reindeer,” Andrew says with an infectious grin.

Jesse has gone red. “You are ridiculous,” he says finally, emerging from Andrew’s snowflake knit sweater.

“You are all of my Christmas wishes,” Andrew continues.

“You can’t mean that. You just spent most of your Christmas Eve and morning watching me be gross all over your couch.”

“You’re just sick, love,” Andrew says sympathetically. “C’mon, I made you breakfast. Let’s have breakfast in bed.” He wriggles his eyebrows.

Andrew won’t let Jesse help him, threatening to pick him up bridal style. He escorts Jesse down the narrow hallway to his bedroom. Andrew’s bedroom is simple, a double bed with brown checkered sheets and a timber bedframe. There’s another column heater in there and Andrew turns it on. Andrew practically pushes Jesse into bed, tucking the sheets around him and making sure that he’s kept company by half a dozen pillows. “Stay,” Andrew commands.

“Okay,” Jesse says, throwing his hands up in surrender. “Not going anywhere.”

Andrew brings back a tray with honey, sugar, cinnamon and the two bowls of porridge. He hands one to Jesse with a spoon. “Here you go. I wasn’t sure how you like it so I brought everything I have. Try it. If you want something else…”

“No, it’s fine. I usually have it plain. Mom used to make this for me, for breakfast.” Andrew smiles, one of his lopsided ones. He’s looking so intently at him that Jesse wants to look away but he doesn’t. Instead he dips his spoon into his porridge and eats a mouthful. It’s smooth and warm and it tastes like home.

“It’s really nice, good. Great even,” Jesse says, stumbling over his words, wishing he could find better words. After all, Andrew just looked after him, germs and all – and he cooked breakfast for him.

Andrew looks around the room. There’s a TV, but he knows Jesse isn’t really into watching it.

“Wait, I’ll be right back.”

Jesse hears some swearing, thumping and…jingling? “Are you okay? Do you need some help?”

“Don’t even think about it! Stay right there. Close your eyes!”

“Okay?” Jesse says, puzzled but he does.

There’s some more muttered swearing and there’s grunting until a thump and a rustle. Jesse is really tempted to peek like he did so he could watch sex scenes when he was a kid. He can’t help the laugh that bubbles up out of him at the thought.

“No peeking!” Andrew says, sounding out of breath.

“Are you sure-”

“I’ve got it all under control! I am Spider-Man!” Andrew yells before another thump and a rather loud expletive.

Jingle, clink, jingle. Clink.

“You can open your eyes now.”

Andrew has dragged the Christmas tree so that it’s in front of the bed. It’s listing to one side but the twinkling tree with all the tacky tinsel and glittery baubles is the most beautiful thing Jesse can see right now.

“Andrew,” Jesse breathes out.

Andrew sits next to Jesse carefully, “You are the present under my tree.”

“You just want to unwrap me,” Jesse says, turning to Andrew with a smirk.

Andrew looks so caught for a second that Jesse laughs.

“You’re a star,” Jesse says. And he could explain about the irony of that, the symbolism, the history of it and everything, but instead Jesse wipes his hand on the blanket before carding his hands through Andrew’s hair. It’s ridiculously puffy. Jesse loves the feeling between his fingers. It’s soft but springy. Smooth but strong.

Andrew gives him a lazy smile, lying back into the pillows, bouncing a few times to make himself comfortable.

“Let’s watch the Christmas lights,” Andrew suggests brightly, shuffling over so his shoulder touches Jesse’s.

Leaning over Jesse feels his heart burst with happiness like logs crackling in the fire. “I love you,” he says. And it’s not hard to say it at all. He wants to give this to Andrew; he wants to give everything he can to Andrew. It’s just right. He kisses him on the cheek, watching Andrew’s wide smile. Long fingers tangle with his and he presses their palms flush together, snug and comforting.

“Merry Christmas, Andrew,” Jesse says, feeling warm all over.


Epilogue:

“This was meant to be, well, it wasn’t a present, I just— I wanted you to have it. But you don’t have to feel pressured or anything, I just, it’s like, I just wanted to give it to you, that’s all. Just in case,” Andrew says, looking embarrassed. He’s running his hands through his hair nervously, making it stick up all over the place.

“What is it?” Jesse asks because Andrew is fiddling and it’s making him anxious. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Andrew says quickly, “Just promise me you won’t get mad.” He shakes his head at the protests he can see forming on Jesse’s lips. “I just didn’t have a chance to give it to you before you left and I feel responsible. I want you to use it, okay? But only if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”

Andrew is saying all these things and it sounds bad and Jesse doesn’t understand what he means. The anticipation is the worst part. Luckily, Andrew grabs his hand and quickly presses something warm into it.

Jesse opens his palm to see a discolored key, his eyes widening.

“It’s the key to my place. I don’t want you to have to wait outside,” Andrew explains quickly.

Jesse understands what he means. “Thank you, Andrew,” he says, kissing Andrew. “Thank you.”