Stepping into Alan's house after standing out in the snow comes as a welcome reprieve. Our shoes and my coat are quickly discarded, keeping the melting mess from the outdoors isolated to the small brick patio just inside his backdoor. A warm fire in the hearth assures the fact that we will both be warm soon. I do not like to see him shivering like this, even if it is his own fault. What could have possessed him to go outside without a coat in this weather?
Regardless of whatever chill he might be feeling, the look on his face is anything but cold. His skin is flushed from the weather outside. He is smiling at me. I love that smile, it lets me know that he is doing okay for now. He worries me sometimes, when nothing I do can put that smile on his face. Every once and a while, I will find him just staring off into space, looking at nothing. Some evenings, like tonight, he will be outside, watching the ever-changing clouds.
Moments like that bother me, because I know that I do not have to wonder what he is thinking about when he does so. He is running out of time. We both know it; we have talked about it more than once. I know, but I do not care. I will deal with it. Right now, the only thing that matters is the fact that I have him here with me.
With my coat hung up on the hook on the back of the door, I turn back to Alan and guide him over towards the couch. "Just have a seat and I'll fix you some hot cocoa. Won't be but a minute."
"I told you that you'll do no such thing! You are not cooking, and that is final. I remember what happened last time," Alan says, protesting. The blanket that I wrapped around him falls off his shoulders as he stands up. He does his best to look serious and commanding as he glares up at me from half a foot below my face. His hair is standing out at all different angles from where I ruffled it with my hand earlier, and his glasses are crooked. The effect is less than intimidating.
In response, I grin. "Well, you can't blame me for wanting to help you out. You have to be pretty damn cold after standing outside like that. If you'd like, I could find another way to warm you up..."
The instant the words leave my lips, his face turns a very interesting shade of pink and his eyebrows shoot up nearly to his hairline. Even before he speaks, I know that I said the right thing. Pouting, he mutters, "If you're that set on hot cocoa, I will help you fix it. Get the milk out of the icebox, please."
Grinning, I lean down and press a kiss to his forehead. "Sure thing."
Alan's kitchen is easy enough to navigate. That is partially because of the fact that it is clean, neat and well organized like pretty much everything else he owns. The rest of it is because his kitchen is incredibly tiny. While he is not far off the mark in saying that I cannot cook well, his own skills are less than stellar. Not that I am complaining or anything. Luckily, work eliminates time for meals more complex than sandwiches or very basic soups on most days.
Alan's icebox is a small model, made of a rich wood that is completely at odds with the dull blue tile in his kitchen. I pull open the door and reach inside, fishing out one of the glass bottles of milk. By the time that I turn around, Alan has already assembled the rest of the ingredients and some measuring cups on the counter. As I pop the tin lid off the bottle, he asks, "Have you ever fixed hot cocoa before?"
"Of course," I reply smoothly. "Who hasn't?"
He watches me suspiciously as I pick up the pan that he has set out, pouring the milk into the basin without measuring it. The same look stays on his face as I light the stove and begin to heat the pan, grabbing a wooden spoon to stir the liquid. I pretend not to see the expression as he turns, measuring out cocoa powder and sugar for us to use.
Once everything is measured, he slides the measuring cups closer to the side of the stove. Coming up beside me, he rests a hand on my back as he leans forward and pours in the sugar. I continue stirring, smiling when I feel his hand through my shirt. That one small touch makes me pretty happy. Whenever I am with him, I can forget the stress from work and all of my other worries. I do not get enough of these evenings spent together, especially since neither of us knows how many of them we have left.
When he finishes pouring the sugar, he gives me a brief hug, leaning his head against my chest for a moment. Leaning down, I whisper gruffly, "Give me the cocoa?"
"Please," he adds, reaching over and picking up the second measuring cup. He hands it to me, and I tilt it to pour the powder into the pan. Nearly as soon as I do so, his hand is over mine. I raise my eyebrow questioningly at the action. In response, he mutters, "You are pouring too fast. You can't go fast with cocoa powder, or it will just turn into a cloud and you'll never get any of it into the pot."
"Fine, fine." Under his hand, I slow the stream of bittersweet particles that are falling into the pan as the two of us finish adding the cocoa to the mixture.
When the last of the cocoa is in the pan, Alan smiles happily. "We're done."
"Not quite," I counter. At the look of confusion on his face, I lean down and press a quick kiss to his lips. "One moment, love. Take this."
Alan takes the spoon, slowly stirring the mixture while I pull away from him. Walking around to his other side, I open one of the cupboards and fish through the endless tins and glass bottles until I find my prize. Pulling it out of the cupboard, I dangle it so that he can see.
"Yep." Grabbing a spoon, I measure out what I need. "This is the good stuff, really makes all the difference."
Coming up behind him, I wrap one arm around his waist while I use the other to pour the thin extract into the pan. When the spoon is empty, I lay it on the counter and reach up to cover his hand with my own, much as he did when we were pouring the cocoa powder into the pot. Pressed up against me, Alan is blushing. Even so, he is still smiling, warm and genuine. I wish I could read his mind right now. I would love to know what he is thinking when he has that expression on his face. He looks happy.
As much as I love holding him like this, there is only so long that I can push it before he realizes that the cocoa has been done for a while now. I let out a sigh. "Go get the mugs."
Alan slides out from in front of me, wiggling a little to get between my body and the stove. As he goes to get the cups, I turn the range off. After dumping the dirty measuring tools in the sink, I turn around and skim the little bit of skin from the top of the pot. As soon as that is done, I pick up the pan and pour the contents into the two large stoneware cups that Alan has placed on the counter. As soon as they are ready, he moves to pick one up. I stop him. "No, don't worry about it. Go sit down. I'll bring them out."
He scoots out into the living room, leaving me with a dirty pan and two very large, full cups of hot cocoa. Rinsing the pan out in the sink, I pick up both of the mugs and head out to the den. He is already sitting on the couch, two coasters positioned on the low-slung coffee table in front of him. Both of the mugs are set down strategically as I pray that I do not manage to spill the contents all over the place. As soon as I know that they are safe, I settle into the couch with Alan at my side.
No sooner have I taken my seat then Alan is leaning up against me. He reaches up with one slender hand, running it down the side of my face and pulling my gaze in his direction. I cannot help but smile at the look of contentment on his face. Running my hand through his h air, I tell him, "The cocoa's going to get cold, you know."
"I don't mind," he says, leaning up for a kiss. Wrapping my arms around him, I pull him closer, feeling the warmth of his body up against mine as he pushes my jacket out of the way. We may not have many more evenings like this left to enjoy. Even if that is true, I will make every moment count and every kiss as sweet as hot cocoa.
Author's Notes: Happy holidays, everybody. I'm finally done with this. I know it's short, but I hope it fills your sweet and sappy quota. :) Many thanks to my wonder, amazing and very sweet beta-reader, DemonCatWithaSpork.