Stephen took a careful sip of the mulled wine, not sure what to expect. His parents were hot cocoa and whiskey people in the winter, but Geoff had assured him that he would like it. The spicy aroma tickled his nose and the heat of the wine made him tentative. Still, the first sip tingled on his tongue and made him smile.
Geoff caught the smile as he was coming back into the room, his arms full of beat up old boxes. He grinned. "Didn't I tell you?"
Stephen lowered the mug and nodded. "You were right," he said.
"Good." Geoff put the boxes down on the floor and sat on the couch beside Stephen, one leg folded under him. He took the mug gently from Stephen's hand and put it on the coffee table, and then leaned in to press a kiss to Stephen's wine-warm mouth. "Not that I'm not thrilled you're enjoying it, but these Christmas lights are not going to hang themselves, and if I get you wasted first I'll lose my opportunity to use you for your height."
"Fair enough," Stephen said.
At five foot seven, Geoff wasn't exactly a small man, but he did seem to have a bit of a complex. Or possibly a kink. Stephen came from a tall family, and at six foot one was hardly worth mentioning among his brothers and uncles. Besides, the Christmas lights were the pretense on which Stephen had been invited over to Geoff's apartment. Stephen hoped he wasn't deluding himself by expecting that to be only the beginning of the evening.
Geoff got up again and offered Stephen both his hands. Stephen took them and let himself be pulled to his feet. Geoff grinned up at him for a moment, and then turned back to the boxes on the floor.
Stephen wondered if he had ever seen so many Christmas lights in one place. All over a house, maybe yes, but for a one-bedroom apartment?
"Um," Geoff said, seeming to sense his amazement, "I inherited some when my parents downsized. We don't have to hang them all."
"I came over to hang lights," Stephen said, slapping his thighs. "By God, I will hang lights."
Geoff snorted and handed him a roll of lights on a flap of cardboard. "Challenge accepted," he said, pointing towards the outlet between the kitchen and the balcony doors. "Get going, spirit of Christmas energy consumption."
Geoff didn't have a tree. He thought fake trees were awful, and real trees were too big to get up the stairs to the apartment, so every year, he explained, he settled for as many lights as he could manage. They started along the edge of the balcony doors, Stephen reaching and holding, and Geoff handing him plastic hooks that stuck to the wall with sticky backings.
"It's not classy," Geoff said, when they had rounded the doors and moved on to the upper reaches of the living room, above the television and over the media center, "but it gets the job done."
"It's efficient," Stephen said, pushing the latest hook against the wall with his thumb and going up on his toes to hook the light strand on.
"Thanks for doing this," Geoff said, giving him a squeeze with one arm. "I'd be up and down the damn step stool for hours. It's better that no one see that kind of bullshit."
Stephen grinned. He could picture Geoff doing his best and cursing the whole time. He turned to look at Geoff, to tell him it wasn't a problem, and was caught fast by the pleased and frankly affectionate look on Geoff's face. His blue eyes were sparkling, and his lush mouth was quirked in a fond smile. Stephen hesitated, leaned towards him, and hesitated again.
Geoff solved the dilemma by meeting him in the middle for a soft kiss. It was chaste and unassuming, and it made Stephen's stomach flip over. He wanted another, and Geoff gave it to him.
"Wine break?" Geoff offered, his voice almost a whisper.
Stephen's wine had cooled somewhat in the interim, but Geoff poured him more and they toasted on the couch, tapping mug rims together carefully. When Stephen sat back against the couch he stretched his arm out along the back, hoping. Geoff took the hint and tucked himself in against Stephen's side, warm and comfortable. His hair tickled Stephen's cheek.
"The wine's not the only reward for your hard work," Geoff said, sliding a hand up Stephen's thigh. The pressure and the promise sent a thrill down Stephen's spine, and he felt his heart rate pick up. He snuck his hand down off the back of the sofa onto Geoff's shoulder. Geoff's sweater was cashmere and good for petting. Geoff turned to smile at him, but his attention was caught by something beyond and he said, "Oh!"
Stephen turned to look. Despite the morning weather team's assurances to the contrary, it had begun to snow. Fine white flakes were falling past the newly lit balcony doors. They were not yet sticking to the cement beyond, but Stephen was grateful for a warm mug and an armful of cozy boy and the assurance of a good night ahead of him.
"Let it snow," he said, feeling cheesy. Geoff snorted.
"It's not frightful yet," Geoff said, snuggling a little closer against Stephen's body, "but baby, it's cold out there."