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the fireplace is burning bright (shining all on you)

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“One more house?”

Seb shrugs. “If you want to.”

He loves singing. He really does, and singing carols together with Carlos tonight had been more than fun, even if they’d stumbled through some of their verses at the start of it.

An elderly couple from four doors down the road had patiently listened to their bickering until they settled on a compromise – Seb starts the first line of the song, and Carlos takes the second. But something hadn’t felt right about Carlos giving in so easily, and Seb had let Carlos have the first line of the song for the next door – it’s practice, Seb supposes, and it might help with Carlos’ hesitance of performing in public.

The snow is falling faster, though, and he –

“Seb?”

“Yes?”

“Are you alright?”

Shoving his hands deeper into his coat pockets, he gives a quick nod.

“Yes.”

The word puffs out of him in a fog.

His pockets aren’t really helping him now. He’d grabbed one of his sister’s old coats in his rush to meet Carlos on time earlier in the evening, and the thinning fabric of the coat was starting to dampen from the light snow falling around them.

But singing one last carol wouldn’t make too much of a difference, so he musters up his brightest smile and raises his hand to knock on the door, right beneath the garland hanging –

Carlos’ hand wraps around Seb’s wrist, stopping his hand in midair. “It’s alright if you’re tired, you know?”

“I’m – ” Seb sneezes, “fine,” he finishes weakly, smile fading.

“Come on,” Carlos huffs. He hooks his other hand around Seb’s back, ushering him away from the door. “Mrs. and Mrs. Lee won’t mind if we don’t sing Silent Night for them this year.”

“Are you sure?”

“Let’s walk to my car?” Carlos shoves Seb’s hand into his own pocket. “You’re freezing.”

It’s awkward, walking with his hand in Carlos’ pocket, and it forces Seb to lean slightly to the side, steps stumbling as their shoulders bump each other, but it’s also sweet in its own way.

There was something to the way Carlos would notice things: sometimes, the biggest hints would fly over Carlos’ head.

Somehow, Carlos knew Seb’s favorite snack bar, but didn’t remember that Seb needs to sleep early so he can do his morning chores at the farm. Carlos remembered that Seb had wanted their clothes to match for Homecoming and decided to give Seb matching sweaters for Christmas to make up for their mismatched suits.

Things would’ve gone much better if the sweater hadn’t been cashmere, but the gesture was sweet, even if Carlos had forgotten that they’d agreed on a budget for their gifts.

Seb is going to have to go searching for Carlos’ birthday – he might not be able to get Carlos anything too expensive, but Carlos always appreciated a performance, and Seb knows Gina would be willing to help him arrange a dance number, or Ashlyn would be happy to write some music with him if Gina can’t stay.

But that’s for him to worry about later, and he lets himself focus on his footprints in the snow, lining up beside Carlos’.

“It’s snowing,” Seb settles on pointing out the obvious. “Everything is freezing.”

Carlos glances at him, smile quirked up to one side. “All the more reason for us to get you out of the snow. I can’t have you get sick.”

Seb sneezes again. “I’ll be fine.”

“If you get sick, I have to take care of you, and let’s face it,” Carlos glances both ways before leading Seb across the street to the car, “I’m horrible at taking care of people and I’d probably make you even more sick if I tried to take care of you.”

That isn’t very true. And Seb is familiar enough with his own fears that he sees right through Carlos’.

“I won’t get sick of you,” Seb tugs them to a pause under a streetlight, “if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

The hazy light lets him see the way Carlos’ smile dims into something more thoughtful. “That’s nice to know,” Carlos pushes his glasses up his nose, shy.

“And you’re good at taking care of people,” Seb adds.

They’re both still new at this, and just because they sometimes speak different languages in how they show each other they care, doesn’t mean that Carlos is bad at it.

He leans his head on Carlos’ shoulder for a moment, his nose nudging Carlos’ cheek until Carlos pulls away, frowning.

Ugh, you’re cold.”

Seb pulls Carlos back in, pressing his cold lips right under Carlos’ ear, kissing him until he squirms.

“I know,” Seb whispers, pleased with himself.

He grew up with too many older siblings to count, and it’s not his fault that one of his love languages is simply being a pest.

Carlos scowls at him, but there’s too much fondness for there to be any heat to it. “Why didn’t we wear gloves?” he mutters under his breath to Seb.

Humming, Seb shrugs again. “You said they didn’t match the aesthetic.”

“Okay, that wasn’t very smart of me,” Carlos pauses, eyeing the bright red reindeers on Seb’s sweater, peeking out from under his coat. “But gloves really didn’t match the aesthetic.”

“What aesthetic?” Seb teases. “The icicle aesthetic?”

“No more of that,” Carlos huffs, pushing him forward to the car. “You’re not allowed to throw shade on Christmas.”

“It’s three days before Christmas,” Seb points out, “you insisted on early presents because you were too excited to wait for Christmas.”

“I loved the picture you drew for me,” Carlos opens the car door for him, “and if you keep throwing shade, three days is enough for Santa to put coal in your stockings.”

Grateful for the warmth, and for once not minding that Carlos’ car was fancy enough to have heated seats or worrying about ruining the leather seats, Seb sinks in with a sigh, ignoring Carlos’ quip.

“This is better,” he blows a breath over his hands, fingertips still tingling from the cold.

Carlos slips into the driver’s seat beside him – Seb is pretty sure that Carlos isn’t allowed to drive alone yet, and Carlos deserves the coal in his stockings for breaking the law, but it’s a ten-minute drive to Carlos’ house. His mom hadn’t wanted them to be stuck in the snow and forced to walk home.

“I told you,” Carlos locks the doors, smirk turning into a frown. He squints at Seb. “You’re shivering.”

Was he? Seb scrunches his nose, another sneeze threatening to come up.

“It’s warm enough,” he waves off the concern, but his hand hits a lump of… he squints back at Carlos. Why was Carlos handing him another wrapped gift? It’s dark in the car, the streetlight outside casting long shadows, but Seb can see small white cows dotting the green wrapping paper instead of reindeers. “What is – ”

“Open it,” Carlos shoves the gift into his hands.

Seb traces the outline of one of the cows. His fingers are shaky from the cold, and maybe shaky from being this close to Carlos. “You didn’t have to get me another gift.”

“Well, I was going to make it a surprise, but you need it right now, so,” Carlos nudges at him to open it, helping him peel the wrapping paper carefully to keep it from ripping. “I spent a bit too much time with Gina doing choreography.”

A knitted blanket spills out onto Seb’s lap.

It’s a soft pink, almost a peach color, and it’s warm over Seb’s shaky hands.

“You didn’t have to,” Seb breathes out, even as he holds on tight to the blanket.

Seb doesn’t think he’ll ever understand Carlos.

This boy who had pulled Seb out from behind the audition line, out from behind the piano and into the spotlight.

Now, in the dark, in the small space of the car, he wants to fill Carlos’ name in his songs, in his music, and in the unsteady hammering of his heart –

“I wanted to make you something,” Carlos says, earnest.

“You didn’t have to,” Seb repeats.

How many hours had it taken to make? The blanket is big enough that it easily stretches over Seb’s knees.

“It was either knitting with Gina, or drawing you something,” Carlos admits. He pushes up his glasses again, as uncertain as before. “And your drawing of us at Homecoming is a masterpiece compared to my stick figures.”

The blanket smells like crisp pine leaves, a Christmas tree of his own, and if he looks under it, if he brushes his hands beneath the soft tangles of yarn, he’d find his gift wrapped up in uneven stitches and loose threads – Carlos’ love, an invisible string pulling Seb on, closer and closer until his lips brush over Carlos’ smile, a wildflower searching for its winter sun.

“I love you,” Seb confesses, and again, “I love you.”

Six months ago, he would’ve been too scared to say the words out loud. Six months ago, he had been standing in line for auditions when Carlos had told Miss Jenn, “I think he’d rather play Sharpay,” because Seb had been too scared to say it himself – because gay was a word to be whispered to his sister in the darkness of his barn, gazing up out of the small window into the stars dotting the night, feeling impossibly small and unimportant.

But Carlos had made Seb fly, had helped Seb put on his glitter and shine center-stage, had taught Seb how to raise his voice, loud and proud – and when Seb says ‘I love you’, he thinks he’s also saying ‘thank you’ because Carlos makes him brave enough to love all the parts of himself that he’s spent so long hiding away.

Because Carlos makes him feel safe enough to love all those parts of himself.

The blanket settles warm over his shoulder.

“You’ve got snowflakes in your hair,” Carlos smiles at him, smoothing away the folds of the blanket.

“You do too,” Seb whispers back, and when he reaches out to brush the snow off the gentle waves of Carlos’ hair, it melts on his thumb.

Carlos glances up. “Do I?”

“You usually notice everything about your hair.”

Flashing an exaggerated wink at Seb, Carlos flicks the car’s wipers on, clearing the windshield. “I guess I was too busy focusing on you.”

“Oh?”

“My boyfriend is sick and freezing in the cold,” Carlos rolls his eyes at him, “excuse me if I was distracted.”

“I’m allergic to cashmere,” Seb blurts out before he can stop himself.

Carlos freezes. “What?”

He ducks his head, pulling the blanket tighter around his shoulders. “I’m just really glad this blanket isn’t cashmere.”

“You’re allergic to cashmere?” Carlos presses on.

“To be fair,” Seb hedges, “I didn’t know I was allergic to it until this morning.”

Carlos gasps, swatting him in the shoulder. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You ordered the sweater for me!” Seb feels his voice rise, defensive. “It’s – special.”

“Not if it gives you a rash!” Carlos gasps again, wide eyes aimed right at Seb, “oh god is that why you kept scratching?”

“At least I can wear this blanket? It’s really very comfy.”

Hands now gripping Seb’s shoulder a little too tightly, Carlos shakes his head. “I’m going to need you to give me that sweater back.”

“It’s mine.”

Seb can be stubborn too if he wants to be, and he stares Carlos down in silence until Carlos throws his hands in the air.

“I’m going to exchange it for a sweater you’re not allergic to.”

“You can get me another sweater next Christmas,” Seb argues, then pauses.

Had he really already been thinking of next Christmas?

He’s never had a boyfriend before – will they even be together next Christmas?

But it’s too late to backtrack, because Carlos’ smile is back, wider than ever.

“Only if you draw me another picture,” Carlos grins.

“Don’t you want something – I don’t know – ” now that the cold isn’t bothering him too much, Seb’s becoming aware again of how expensive the car’s leather seats are, “something more special than a drawing?”

“It’s how you see us,” and Carlos leans across the space between them again, fiddling with the edge of the knitted blanket. “Holding hands, together,” he shrugs, clearly stumbling over the right words. “Of course I like it. I love it – also, you gave me great hair in that drawing.”

A laugh bubbles out of Seb, unbidden. The hair.

He comes from another world than Carlos, but there were days when Seb thinks they might come from the same stars – too bright and too full of fear and too different from the rest and too filled with dreams bigger than themselves.

“Well, I suppose if you love it,” Seb pretends to consider it, “I could make you another drawing.”

Carlos chuckles, finally holding the steering wheel. “Do you think you can stay the night at my place?”

“As long as you drive me home in the morning – I have to help muck out the barn.”

“You’re the only person I’d wake up before seven for.”

It’s Seb’s turn to grin, indulgent. “Me, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.”

“I need my beauty sleep, honey,” Carlos starts to drive the car down the road.

With Carlos driving, Seb’s given the chance to stare at him freely, appreciating the way the dim streetlights cast brief flashes over Carlos’ easy smile, catching over the lens of Carlos’ glasses to make them brighter, over the messy waves of tangled hair, the wind and snow ruining the neat combs from earlier in the evening.

“Maybe next time,” Seb thinks out loud, “I’ll draw your hair less perfectly.”

“Don’t you dare,” Carlos glares at him from the corner of his eye. “I’m driving – you can’t bully the driver.”

“I can still tease the driver.”

Carlos sighs. “Why do people think you’re innocent?”

“Because Sharpay’s pretty cute, too,” Seb laughs, adjusting the blanket around his shoulders.

“I must be pretty brave then,” Carlos shoots back at him, “to go around kissing a mountain lion.”

The bravest, Seb wants to tell him, because maybe love was brave. But there was more to courage than love, and more to love than courage.

“Brave,” he settles on saying, “or very, very misguided.”

Carlos huffs. “There’s nothing misguided about kissing a smile like that.”

“Eyes on the road,” Seb chides, smiling even wider.

They pause at the red light, and Carlos winks at Seb, as if Seb was the right road, the right path forward.

It’s near Christmas. A time for him to count his blessings.

Seb takes one of Carlos’ hands, counting off the colors of Carlos’ painted nails – light blue for his ring finger, and pink for his pinky – as he presses his palm over Carlos’.

There’s so much he wants to say, but he thinks he’s said it already.

He doesn’t know what he’s promising with this, his hand splayed on top of Carlos’.

He only knows that this, this is something he’s going to remember.

Even if they one day broke up, even if one day Seb wasn’t the right road for Carlos anymore, Carlos would always have this part of Seb, these minutes stretching into hours of Seb’s life.

The lights turn green.

“I need my hand back,” Carlos says, more quiet than usual, “I can’t drive one-handed yet.”

“You shouldn’t drive one-handed,” Seb lets go of his hand.

Carlos smiles, looking out at the snow falling over the windshield. “I know.”

And Seb knows that Carlos means more than just driving one-handed.

They were promising something to each other, even if they couldn’t quite figure out yet what it was they were promising.

Maybe they were promising another year together.

Maybe they were simply promising to be here, the two of them sitting in Carlos’ car with no one else – maybe Seb was promising to Carlos: you aren’t alone.

Maybe Carlos was promising it back to Seb.

Or maybe, he was promising something else entirely.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

“Give me your coat,” Carlos says as soon as the door swings shut behind them.

Only the hallway lights are on, which means his parents aren’t home yet. Perfect, Carlos thinks, taking the damp coat from Seb and hanging it up on the rack by the door.

He’ll have to convince Seb to borrow one of his thicker coats tomorrow morning – he really doesn’t want Seb to be sick – but for now he smiles to himself, watching how Seb holds on tight to the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders.

“Shoes off,” Carlos scrunches his nose at their wet boots, rummaging underneath the coat rack for some indoor slippers, fluffy and warm, and when Seb frowns, ready to argue, Carlos cuts him off with a finger over his lips. “Wet socks are going to make you sick. You’re going to be wearing these in here.”

Luckily, Seb doesn’t argue much, and it isn’t long until Carlos manages to wrangle Seb out of his damp sweater into a dry hoodie – a blue one that Carlos had chosen to match his eyes – all the while not letting go of the blanket.

He also convinces Seb to borrow his new lip balm and hand lotion, making very sure not to hint at how much they had cost. The dry winter air wasn’t doing either of them any favors, and if, perhaps, he has the chance to properly kiss Seb tonight, he’s doesn’t want Seb to be pained by cracked lips.

“You’re sure your parents won’t mind me staying?” Seb glances around Carlos’ walk-in closet.

“Mom knows you’re my friend,” Carlos assures him again. “My dad doesn’t really care.”

Every time Seb comes over, he always seems antsy.

It might be because Seb is a horrible liar and Carlos hasn’t told his parents yet that they’re dating – if he told his parents, he doubts they’d let Seb sleep in the same room as him for sleepovers, or spend any time alone in the house together.

But his parents aren’t here tonight, and Seb is still antsy, so Carlos takes his hand, leading them back to the living room, flicking on the lights and turning up the electric fireplace.

“Sit,” he points at the couch.

“Why?” Seb asks, settling into the loveseat nearest to the fireplace, looking up at him expectantly.

Carlos picks up the cushion from the armchair and throws it at him. “Because I promised to take care of you.”

He’s used to taking charge, to snapping out orders and getting people to follow his directions. He’s not used to people believing in him, to people giving him a chance and trusting him.

“By starting a pillow fight?” Seb aims the cushion right back at him, and it lands right on Carlos’ face, smacking against his glasses.

Ow!” Carlos yelps, tossing the cushion aside. “I’m trying to be nice!

Seb winces, standing up to check on Carlos’ nose, pecking a kiss right under his glasses. “Sorry.”

A small shiver runs down Seb’s arms, and Carlos realises that somewhere in their mini pillow fight, the blanket had fallen off him, pooling over the armrest of the loveseat.

“You can apologize by staying warm,” Carlos huffs.

“And where will you be going?”

“To the kitchen.”

“Then I have to follow you,” Seb sneezes again. “You can’t be left unsupervised in the kitchen.”

“No, no,” Carlos tries to push him back down on the couch, but Seb pushes past him, stronger than he’d expected – did all that farm work give Seb muscles? “You’re cold and you need to rest,” Carlos argues.

Seb glares at him. “I can’t just sit down.”

“Let me take care of you just this once, honey?” Carlos sighs, giving up. He turns the kitchen lights on, taking out a pair of mugs. “You’re my guest.”

“You’re my boyfriend,” Seb fires back.

“Precisely why you should let me take care of you.”

A gentle hand wraps around Carlos’ wrist, moving it away from the mugs, and when Carlos looks up, Seb smirks at him. “You’re pouring salt into that mug, not sugar.”

Carlos blinks, groaning at the saltshaker he’d accidentally taken. Had he really messed up this quickly?

It’s just that Seb is usually so good at taking care of him: Seb knows how to make him smile when he’s feeling stressed, knows how to make him laugh when everything feels impossible.

And soon enough, it won’t be enough for Carlos to simply shower Seb with all the gifts he deserves. He’s seen how Seb skitters around mentions of his trips around the world – and the cashmere sweater.

How had Carlos not noticed? He prides himself to be a gifter, because it’s what he can do. Notice the things Seb wants, and get them for him.

It’s terrifying to realise that Seb wants Carlos. Not the fancy cashmere or the expensive souvenirs – just Carlos. What happens when just Carlos isn’t enough anymore? Or if it becomes too much?

Why can’t Carlos take care of Seb the way Seb makes everything better for Carlos?

“Hey,” Seb nudges him, “a little salt in hot chocolate can make it taste better.”

“If you say so,” Carlos swallows back the lump of helplessness.

He’s made this recipe countless times – his grandma had taught him, back when he’d been too small to question what love was. The first time he’d tried to make it alone, he’d spilled some hot water, scalding the back of his hand. His mom had chided him, his dad had told her to give him space to grow, to be independent.

This time around, Seb’s hand is warm over his wrist, a soft balm over his burning worries, and Carlos wonders when he had mistaken independent for alone.

He doesn’t have to be alone to be strong.

Reaching up into the top cabinet to take the jar of chocolate powder out, he freezes when he touches something rough instead. Slowly, he brings it out, staring at the green and red –

“Mistletoe,” Seb frowns.

Carlos frowns too. It is a sprig of mistletoe, with a red bowtie curled around its branch, and a small note that he flips over, skimming it quickly.

The lump in his throat comes back.

He blinks quickly.

“Carlos?” Seb asks.

“My mom left it there. She says that – she knew I’d be making chocolate, and the best Christmas gift for her is me being happy.”

Seb offers him a smile. “That’s nice of her.”

After all, Carlos knows that family was important to Seb, and Carlos would be lying if he said he never felt a wistfulness whenever Seb’s sisters pulled them both into a group hug.

This was more than nice, though. This was –

“She says that, well,” Carlos puts the note away on the kitchen counter, “I hope you’re not allergic to mistletoe.”

Seb tips his head to one side. “Your mom hopes I’m not allergic to mistletoe?”

“No,” Carlos holds the mistletoe up above their heads, “she hopes this might help us be more than friends.”

“More than friends?”

It’s ridiculous for Carlos to feel nervous. They’re already boyfriends – but this feels like another step, another thing they won’t have to hide.

Carlos nods. “If we wanted to.”

A small laugh spills out of Seb. “Your mom is trying to set us up?”

“I guess we’re all trying our best this Christmas.”

In the end, that’s all they can do. Christmas wasn’t supposed to be perfect, it was about celebrating what they had, so they’d remember not to take things for granted. And maybe Carlos’ family was messy, but wasn’t love always a little rough around the edges?

What mattered was the heart inside those edges, and Carlos takes a step closer towards –

“I guess we should’ve told your mom we’re already dating,” Seb grins.

Even now, Carlos still feels his stomach flip whenever Seb smiles at him, because when Seb smiles, he smiles like Carlos is worth all the stars in the sky. Like all of Carlos’ rough edges could be forgiven, could be loved too.

How can Carlos not kiss him?

Seb tastes of the lip balm that Carlos had made him wear earlier, he tastes of hope and second chances and the giddy rush of a miracle.

He feels Seb’s hand settle over his waist, and he lets go of the mistletoe, settling his own hand over the curve of Seb’s back, right above his center of gravity. He dips Seb into another exaggerated kiss, smiling against Seb’s small laugh.

When Seb’s hand tightens around Carlos’ waist – a dance move that Carlos had taught him – Carlos lets himself move with Seb as Seb dips him in return. In the breath that Carlos spends staring up at Seb, his body held up only by Seb’s careful hands, he thinks that maybe all along he’s gotten it wrong.

Maybe it wasn’t about people not giving him a chance, not trusting him. Maybe it was also about him trusting someone enough to hold his cracked pieces together, to let go of his fears.

He straightens up, and he pulls Seb’s arm up into the air, spinning him in a twirl, a little dance of their own for an audience that was just themselves, just their two hearts drumming out a happy beat in the silent kitchen.

“Can we keep this a secret for one more night?” Carlos asks into the space between them.

“One more night?”

“My mom is going to hoard you if she knows we’re dating – and we’ll have to stay in separate rooms whenever you have a sleepover here.”

“Oh.”

“She’s not – she just doesn’t want us to get too rowdy by ourselves.”

Seb’s smile tips up to one side. “We can always be rowdy over at my place.”

“I want to have you to myself for one more night,” Carlos tells him, pulling away to actually grab the jar of chocolate powder this time. “And we are not getting rowdy in your barn.”

“Why not?”

“I have standards,” Carlos winks at him.

He’d kiss Seb anywhere – he hopes Seb knows that – he just prefers kissing Seb without Milky White interrupting them.

They eventually manage to finish making the hot chocolate.

Some of the milk spills on the floor, Seb picks up the mistletoe to keep it safe, slipping it into his hoodie pocket while Carlos finds a cloth to clean up the spill.

The sprinkle of salt in their mug does end up making the chocolate taste richer, and when they wind up snuggling on the loveseat by the fireplace, the knitted blanket draped over their tangled legs, Carlos watches as Seb takes a deep gulp of the chocolate.

“It’s delicious,” Seb hums, eyes falling closed.

“Hot chocolate is the only thing I can cook,” Carlos reminds him. “Don’t expect me to cook anything else, or we’ll be calling fire services.”

Seb opens one eye, peeking over the edge of his mug. “Oh, I know.”

“I made you chocolate,” Carlos protests, “I don’t deserve any shade.”

“You also nearly gave me food poisoning last month when you tried baking with Ashlyn. You deserve some shade.”

Carlos rolls his eyes, fond. “Nearly,” he emphasizes.

“Thankfully, E.J. was there to stop me from eating your cookies,” Seb teases.

“For the record, you’ve never made me any cookies, so I think I deserve a free pass.”

Seb hums another soft tune, putting his mug of chocolate down on the small table beside the loveseat, right next to Carlos’ mug.

“I can teach you how to make Christmas cookies next year,” he promises Carlos.

The light from the electric fireplace flickers gold. Christmas, Carlos thinks of the wish list he had made last year.

A new pair of tortoiseshell glasses, a vintage set of Broadway memorabilia, custom-made headphones.

He still wants all that and so much more. But he’s happy here.

He has all that he needs.

“Want to watch HSM on my laptop?” Carlos suggests.

Seb leans his head on Carlos’ shoulder. “Only if we watch HSM 3.”

“Alright.”

Neither of them move, though, too warm and too tired from the evening out.

Carlos counts the steady sounds of Seb breathing. It makes sense – Seb usually sleeps far earlier than Carlos does, used to a routine of morning farm work.

But they’ll both regret if they fall asleep like this, so he prods Seb awake.

“Let’s move to my room?”

Seb nods, eyes still closed.

They stumble up the stairs, Carlos supporting more than half of Seb’s weight. He’s a dancer, he has to be able to carry weight, but he knows his limits. He can’t carry Seb.

And, he supposes, he doesn’t have to. All they need is to lean on each other once in a while.

By the time Carlos closes his bedroom door, Seb is sprawled on top of his covers, too drowsy to care about anything else.

Carlos smiles, moving his elephant doll to the other side of the bed.

He takes the sprig of mistletoe out of Seb’s pocket, careful not to wake him up. It won’t do for the mistletoe to poke at them while they sleep, and Carlos places it on the desk beside his laptop.

There’s only one last thing to do.

He goes back downstairs, shoving their leftover chocolate into the fridge and he grabs the knitted blanket before rushing upstairs again, skipping the creaky third stair.

Knitting was numbers, dance steps with sticks, looping yarn over and over again until his hands ached, and knitting with Gina had taught him something about patience, about finding patterns in lost places and weaving threads to make patterns of your own, to make something out of all the boiling, roiling doubt and worry and want threatening to burst out of them.

He wraps the blanket of Seb’s shoulders again, the light pink soft over his smile.

I love you, Carlos thinks, and because he doesn’t have to hide it anymore, he whispers it out loud too.

“I love you.”

There’s no response from Seb – already too deep in sleep.

But he doesn’t need Seb to say it back.

He just wants to hold onto tonight for a little longer.

Slipping into the bed beside Seb, he stares up at his ceiling, thoughts too loud to go to sleep.

The thrill of singing together with his boyfriend, of Seb liking the knitted blanket and of his mother liking Seb enough that she’d arranged the mistletoe – it fills his chest, swirling warm and light.

“I love you,” Carlos whispers again, to Seb and to himself.

A promise of his own.

Loving Seb had taught him how to love himself more honestly, without too much glitz and without too much judgement.

Well, it’s Seb, so of course he still judges Carlos, throwing little quips along the way with a dazzling smile to distract everyone else from the fact that he's far from innocent.

But he makes Carlos believe that it's alright to forgive himself, that even the cracks and scars around his fears were worth loving, and when Carlos says I love you, he means a thousand different promises.

I’m going to take care of you.

I’m going to give you the world.

One day, I’m taking you to see Into the Woods on Broadway, and you're going to know all the lyrics because you're such a nerd and I love you for it.

Most importantly, one day I'm going to see you star in Dear Evan Hansen, in an original Broadway play, and I'll bring you flowers to your dressing room.

He thinks that when he says I love you, he's also saying I want a future with youI want forever with you.

It should feel impossibly vast, all the tomorrows stretching out in front of them with too many twists and turns that he should be scared of.

And yet, his hand brushes over the uneven stitches of the blanket on Seb's shoulder.

They're going to fight and disagree and bicker about the smallest things, and they're going to try to avoid the big things until it builds up and becomes an even bigger mess.

But at the end of the day, they have each other.

He lets his eyes fall shut.

Tonight, he knows he’ll have the best of dreams.