Awsten wakes to Otto sliding out of bed. It’s still mostly dark in their room, but the first rays of December morning sun leak through the curtain; Otto’s silhouette stands out against the light, lean and muscular, as he stretches and starts to get dressed. “Morning,” Awsten sighs, admiring the view.
“Morning.” Otto pulls a sweater on and leans over to kiss his forehead. “I’m just going out to do chores, you can sleep in.”
Awsten smiles and stretches lazily, yawning as he watches Otto leave the room, then hears the front door open and close a few seconds later. He lays there for a moment longer before missing Otto’s warmth and slipping out of bed himself, shoving his glasses on his face and tugging on his usual oversized hoodie and skinny jeans.
Downstairs, Awsten takes yesterday’s gingerbread dough out of the fridge and begins rolling it out. Homemade is more work, but he’s pretty sure it’ll be better than any store-bought kit, and besides, they’ve got a month off from touring; this year, he has the time to make it himself. He cuts out a tray of gingerbread people and a tray of triangles and rectangles to assemble into a house (with a few misshapen blobs from the leftover dough), and it’s satisfying somehow, to make it with his own two hands. And when the oven dings at him to tell him it’s finished heating, he slides the cookie sheets inside, then cleans up the flour all over himself and the counter. By the time the front door opens again, everything’s more or less clean and the kitchen smells like cookies.
Otto sneaks up behind him, wrapping his arms around Awsten’s middle and resting his chin on his shoulder. “Smells good, babe.”
“You’re cold,” Awsten whines, because he is, but doesn’t pull away.
“It’s cold out. Coffee?” Otto asks, kissing his cheek.
“ Fuck yes.”
“Thought so.” Otto lets go and makes to turn the kettle on, but Awsten grabs his arm and hauls him back.
“What?” Otto grins, like he knows exactly what.
“Get back here and kiss me for real, asshole.”
“Well, if you insist,” Otto says, and then he does, pressing their lips together. Awsten leans against the counter and opens his mouth, letting Otto set the pace. It’s slow, lazy, even--a kiss suitable for before nine o’clock in the morning. Awsten’s hands find their way up the back of Otto’s shirt; Otto lets him pull him closer until their chests are pressed together. The countertop digs into Awsten’s back, but he can’t find it in himself to care, not when it’s Otto holding him there, Otto’s tongue in his mouth, Otto’s hands on either side of his hips...
The timer on Awsten’s phone goes off, cutting through the relative silence of the morning. Awsten jumps and pulls back, slightly out of breath. “Guess I should…” He nods toward the oven.
“Yeah, probably,” Otto says, leaning in to touch his lips to Awsten’s once more before stepping away. “You still want coffee?”
“ Duh .” Awsten puts on the oven mitts and takes the cookie sheets out, then groans softly. “ Damnit. ”
Otto turns away from the kettle. “Hm?”
“Fuckin… oven heated uneven again. Look, they’re all burnt on this side.” He holds out one of the trays, and sure enough--an entire row of gingerbread people are blackened on one side.
Otto glances at the other tray. “At least the house pieces are alright.”
“Yeah…” Awsten sets the tray down and rather forlornly bites the head off one of the burnt cookies. His expression brightens. “They still taste alright, I guess,” he says around the mouthful.
“Well in that case…” Otto takes a cookie for himself, and Awsten gasps, “You monster. ”
Otto pauses. Looks down at his now-footless cookie. “What?”
Awsten giggles. “You eat the feet first?”
“...Guess so.” Otto shrugs.
“Of course you do. Cookies for breakfast?”
They eat side by side at the table, dipping the burnt cookies in their coffee. Awsten bumps his knee gently but repeatedly against Otto’s, until Otto sets his cookie down on top of his mug and grabs Awsten’s leg. Awsten grins. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Otto sighs in exasperation, but he’s smiling too. “Are you trying to annoy me?”
Otto raises his eyebrows.
“...Okay, maybe. You love me anyways.”
Otto kisses him lightly and downs the rest of his coffee. “Yeah, I do.” He stands up. “Think it’s cool enough yet?”
“The house?” Awsten does the same and follows him back to the kitchen. “Probably.”
It’s an A-frame house. Otto glues the pieces to each other and the cookie sheet with icing, tongue poking out between his lips in concentration, while Awsten gathers up bags of candy (and a few other things) from the cupboards. He dumps them in a pile on the table and goes through them one by one. “Okay, we’ve got gumdrops, Skittles, licorice, those mint things you like, these mint things I like, these silver ball things that’ll break your teeth--why do we even have these? Seriously, they will fucking break your teeth and I don’t have dental” --he shrugs, then continues-- “Halloween sprinkles, red, green, blue and yellow food colouring, Mentos, M&M’s, those ‘gay Skittles’ that are actually white, chocolate chips, caramel chips, mint chips, snowflake sprinkles, not sure what the fuck these are but they’re probably edible, Oreoes, aaaaaand a shit-ton of mini chocolate bars.”
Otto glances away from the house and huffs a laugh. “We really gonna use all that?”
“Mayyyybe.” Awsten grins, swiping a finger through the icing at the base of the house and licking it off. “Mmm, that’s good.”
Otto swats his hand away. “Maybe so, but you’ve gotta let it set, Aws.”
“Fiiiiiine.” Awsten plops into the chair next to Otto and stares at the house. “How long?”
“Just a bit. We can do the people in the meantime.”
“Alright.” Awsten takes an unburnt cookie from the other tray and starts piling candy on it--artfully, of course. And if it looks to be naked and...er, rather well-endowed, well…
Otto laughs and hands him a plastic bag of icing with the corner cut off. “Here.”
“Thanks.” Awsten takes the bag and glues the candy on the gingerbread man. They both decorate a couple (Otto’s perpetual shaky hands lending themselves better to more wavy patterns) before Awsten squeezes a glob of icing onto his finger and places it deliberately on Otto’s nose. Otto shakes his head and smiles, and oh, it’s on. “Glasses!” Awsten yelps, and Otto pauses to let him set them aside before retaliating. Soon both their faces are covered in icing and they’re laughing so hard they can barely breathe and Awsten gasps, “You think the house is set?”
“Probably. You surrendering?”
“Fuck no. I’m calling a truce.”
Otto runs his thumb through the icing on Awsten’s cheek and licks it off thoughtfully, effectively stalling Awsten’s brain for several seconds. “Well...alright. If that’s what you wanna call it.”
“That’s what it is .”
Otto kisses him quickly. “Whatever you say, babe.”
Awsten smiles and licks the taste of sugar from his lips. He pulls the house toward himself and gets to work walking the fine line between making it look good and using up all this candy so we don’t have it sitting around the house until next year, Otto. Otto rolls his eyes and laughs, “Okay, but don’t blame me if it collapses.”
“Because it won’t.” Awsten smiles smugly, handing him a package of peppermint patties. “You wanna make a path out of these?”
So while Awsten works on the house itself, Otto constructs the landscape around it, complete with hills of white-Skittle snow and M&M trees that could arguably be called bushes but are definitely plants of some kind. Awsten tiles the roof with Oreo cookies (after licking the frosting out of the middles), frames peppermint windows with licorice on the front and back walls, glues on a single tooth-breaking silver ball for the doorknob, and hangs icing icicles from the eaves.
“Looks good,” Otto says when Awsten declares he’s done.
Awsten grins and shoves his arm lightly. “I told you it wouldn’t collapse.” He grabs his phone and swipes to open the camera.
Otto smiles. “You did,” he concedes.
“Fuuuuck, this looks so good,” Awsten mutters, crouching to get a better angle as he snaps another picture. Then, louder, “Hey, Otto, if we were gingerbread, would you live in this house with me?”
“‘Course I would.”
Awsten turns to see Otto smiling down at him with an expression that seems to say, I’d go anywhere with you, and he stops for a moment with an almost painful feeling in his chest, like his heart is trying to escape his ribcage. Tamping it down, he asks, “So... d’you think we’d be made of house, or would the house be made of us?”
“C’mere,” Otto laughs and pulls him up into a kiss. He tastes like pure sugar.
After lunch, they’re sitting on the living room floor between piles of wrapping paper and cardboard boxes, and Awsten has strips of clear tape stuck on the ends of all his fingers. Otto spends a good five minutes wrestling a roll of wrapping paper around a particularly uncooperative (read: enormous) box before determining the piece is big enough and slicing it off the roll with a smooth swipe of scissors. He folds the edge up over the box. “Tape?”
Awsten tapes the paper to the box, careful not to fold the tape over on itself--then tapes the paper to itself when Otto folds the other edge over, and so on. It’s a joint effort, Otto folding and Awsten taping, and the present almost cooperates (as much as a present can). “I’ve seen worse,” Awsten shrugs when it’s done.
Otto laughs. “I’ve seen better.”
“Hey, we tried.” Maybe it’s a little lumpy. Kind of uneven. But it was wrapped with love, and that’s what counts. “Besides--” Awsten waves to the boxes around them-- “by the time we get all these done, we’ll be fucking professionals.”
Otto snorts and grabs the next box. “Better get to it, then.”
Awsten re-tapes his fingers. Wrapping presents is serious business.
Or, it is until the first roll of wrapping paper runs out. Because then there’s a long cardboard tube in the room with them, and long cardboard tubes are universally known to be good for one thing and one thing only: war. Awsten grins as he snatches it up from the floor and hits Otto gently over the head. “Bonk!”
“Hey!” Otto belatedly ducks out of the way before reaching for the tube. Awsten holds it above his head, giggling--then swings it toward Otto. “This isn’t fair, Awsten,” Otto says, but he laughs as he grabs at (and misses) the tube.
“Finders keepers.” Awsten shrugs, bonking him again. Otto’s fingers close around the tube and he tugs it away. Awsten puts on his best ‘scandalized’ face. “Otto!”
Otto laughs and bops his forehead. “Finders keepers.”
“That’s my line, you can’t--”
“Sure I can. See?”
Awsten shrieks and scrambles away from the onslaught, getting to his feet and throwing his arms up to cover his head. He giggles as Otto swings the tube, teasing, “I’m gonna get you!” and jabbing him lightly in the back. Awsten dances to the side, sock feet slipping on the hardwood; “Careful,” Otto says, reaching to steady him, and Awsten takes advantage of his distraction to make a grab for the tube. Otto dodges, then shakes his head and chases him around the room until he’s out of breath from laughter.
“Okay, okay, you win,” Awsten gasps, sinking back onto the floor.
“Whatever you say.” Otto sits down across from him and takes the next box from the pile. Awsten grabs the next roll of wrapping paper, grinning at the amount (or lack thereof) left on the roll as he sets it into Otto’s outstretched hand. Otto measures it out, cuts a piece off, folds it over the box. Then, just as before, “Tape?”
Otto’s addressing Christmas cards at the kitchen table while Awsten (in his own words) serenades him from the living room--which basically amounts to him sitting on the couch with an acoustic guitar singing every sappy love song he can think of. Otto sings along under his breath, smiling at the way Awsten perks up when he notices--then groaning, “Ah, shit,” when he accidentally writes half of a lyric instead of someone’s street.
Awsten pauses and looks over. “What’s up?”
“Just wrote the wrong address.” Otto pushes the envelope to the side and starts over on a fresh one.
“You wanna take a break?”
Otto shrugs. “I’m almost done.” There’s only a handful of names left on the list in front of him--people too important to ignore completely, but not close enough to warrant an entire gift.
“Alright,” Awsten says, setting his guitar on the stand in the corner and rifling around in a bin of leftover decorations. He hums as he assembles… something… out of bits of ribbon and sticky bows; Otto crosses another name off the list and glances toward him, but the object in question isn’t immediately identifiable as much more than a tangled mess-in-progress. Awsten turns away when he catches him looking. “It’s not ready yet!”
“Okay,” Otto chuckles and goes back to his envelopes. Whatever it is, Awsten will show him when it’s done.
Sure enough, not five minutes later, Awsten wanders over with his hands tucked behind his back and a suspiciously innocent smile on his face. “Hey, Otto,” he says.
Otto finishes the last envelope and places it to the side. Looks up. “What’ve you got there?”
“Mistletoe,” Awsten grins, holding up a bouquet of curled green ribbon and bows.
Otto smiles and shakes his head. “That’s not really--”
Awsten shakes the tangle insistently in the space above his head. “Trust me.” He points to it. “ Mistletoe. ”
“Ohhhhhhh, okay.” Otto nods, pushing the chair back and getting to his feet. “Mistletoe. Meaning...”
“Uh-huh.” Awsten’s smile grows as Otto leans in--gentle at first, barely more than brushing their lips together, until Awsten murmurs, “Tease,” and tangles his ‘mistletoe’-free hand in Otto’s curls to pull him closer. Otto laughs into his mouth, cards his fingers up through the hair on the back of Awsten’s neck, grabs at his hip then slides his hand lower. Awsten gasps and drops the tangle of ribbon; it lands squarely on top of Otto’s head on its way to the floor, where it stays as Awsten wraps his free arm around Otto’s shoulders, kissing him breathless.
Time passes--minutes or hours, it doesn’t matter, but eventually the light changes in the room, darkening from bright afternoon to the beginnings of evening, and Otto sighs. “I gotta do chores.”
Awsten laces their fingers together as he pulls away. “I’ll help.”
“Alright, but it’s pretty chilly out.”
Awsten follows Otto to the door. “I have a coat!” he protests, pulling it on. It’s black and puffy and hangs down to his knees. When they get outside, he stands huddled in it, hood pulled down to his eyebrows and zipper done up to his nose, breath fogging up his glasses. He shivers in the wind and glares at Otto’s jean jacket as Otto forks hay over the fence to the horses. “How are you not freezing?” he demands.
Otto shrugs. “I’m actually doing work? You can go in if you want.”
Awsten shakes his head. “I wanna help.”
“Go get the eggs, then. It’ll be warmer in the coop.” Otto smiles to himself as Awsten marches defiantly toward the chicken coop. It’s not even below freezing, although he has to admit the wind today is brutal. Even so… He chuckles and hefts another chunk of hay off the bale--then splutters as a cloud of dust blows in his face. The black mare in front of him whinnies. Otto sighs. “What are you laughing at?”
The horse, of course, doesn’t answer.
Awsten comes out of the chicken coop a moment later. “There’s eggs in my pockets!” he calls, crossing the yard toward Otto.
Otto throws the last of the hay over the fence and turns. “You look frozen.”
“Maybe because it’s fucking cold out!” Awsten stands right next to him, shivering visibly.
“Alright, let’s go in,” Otto smiles, rubbing his gloved hands up and down Awsten’s arms as they walk back up to the house.
Awsten takes the eggs out of his pockets and sets them in the basket near the door, then shakes his coat off, wipes his glasses on his hoodie, and cuddles close to Otto. “Warm me up, warm me up, warm me up,” he chants. Otto keeps rubbing his arms all the way to the kitchen, only pausing to flip the kettle on.
Awsten turns so they’re facing each other, wraps his arms around Otto, and grins.
Otto nods. “Thought so. Are you warming up at all?”
“Mayyybe,” he smirks without letting go.
“Thought so,” Otto says again, stretching up to kiss the tip of his nose. Awsten sneaks his (still very cold) hands up Otto’s shirt; Otto shivers slightly but doesn’t pull away. “You are cold.”
“I told you.”
Otto rubs his hands rapidly up and down Awsten’s back. “The water’ll be hot in a sec.”
“Good.” Awsten snuggles closer, resting his forehead on Otto’s shoulder and just breathing. The wind whistles outside, but it’s warm where they stand, wrapped around each other, sharing body heat in comfortable silence. One of them--it doesn’t matter who--starts to rock from side to side, and then they’re dancing, sort of, swaying in the middle of the kitchen to a song neither of them can hear. It could be years; Otto running his fingers along Awsten’s back, holding him as close to his chest as physics will allow. But the kettle comes to a boil within minutes and clicks itself off, and reluctantly, Otto lets go.
“Go sit down, I’ll bring it to you,” he says, pressing a kiss to Awsten’s forehead before taking a pair of mugs from the cupboard. “You warming up at all?”
“A bit.” Awsten shrugs. Smiles. Unravels himself and goes to sit on the couch. “It’ll go faster once you get your ass over here.”
Otto chuckles. “I’m sure.” He pops open the jar of homemade hot chocolate powder and dumps a spoonful into each cup, then pours in the water and-- “Cream?”
“Candy cane?” Otto doesn’t wait for Awsten’s answer (a resounding “ Duh. ”) before unwrapping the candy and using it as a stir-stick. It leaves a thin red trail through the light brown of the hot chocolate, which Otto does his best to shape into a heart. It ends up looking more like a wonky swirl. He sighs and carries the mugs into the living room
Awsten grins up at him as he nears the couch. “C’mere,” he says, sitting up and lifting a corner of the quilt.
“Here you go.” Otto hands him a mug and tucks himself in, putting his free arm around Awsten’s shoulders.
Awsten nestles against him. Slurps at his hot chocolate. Hums, “‘S good.”
Otto presses a quick kiss to his temple. “Good.” Takes a sip from his own mug and nods to himself--can’t go wrong with chocolate and peppermint. “Warm yet?”
Awsten scrunches his face up and wriggles closer. “Almost. You’re warm.”
“I’ve been told.”
Awsten’s laugh rings through the house, bright and clear, and he turns his head to touch his sugar-sticky lips to Otto’s jaw. “It’s true.”
Otto leans down to catch him in a proper--if short-lived--kiss. The angle is a little awkward, but Awsten tastes like candy canes, and when he pulls back, the reflection of the lights on the tree twinkle in his glasses. Otto stares.
“Is there something on my face?”
“No,” Otto chuckles.
“Then what’re you looking at?”
Otto shrugs. “You, I guess.”
“Oh,” Awsten says. He watches the tree contemplatively for several seconds, though Otto is pretty sure he’s looking more through it than at it. He takes a long drink of hot chocolate, hiding his face in the mug. Then, “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
“Good,” pause, “I’m very lovable.”
“I know.” It might be the truest thing he knows.
They’re quiet then, Otto slowing his breathing to match the rhythm of Awsten’s against his chest, Awsten swirling the dregs of his hot chocolate around the bottom of the mug. The remains of the candy cane clack against the sides as he tips them into his mouth. Otto runs his hand absently up and down Awsten’s arm. “Warm?”
Awsten sets his mug on the floor and stretches his legs along the length of the couch, using Otto as a pillow as he yawns, “Yeah...”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Otto assures him--not that he could if he wanted to. (He doesn’t want to.)
“Good.” Awsten yawns again, and soon his eyes slide shut. Otto lays as still as he can, careful not to disturb him, alternating between watching the lights on the tree and smiling down at Awsten’s face. He’ll have to wake him up to get him into bed eventually, but for now… For now, he holds Awsten close and lets him sleep.