“OH MY GOD, would you please remove the stick from your ass and stop fucking ruining all the fun?”
Lyra looked up from painting her high chair with green frosting. Next to her in his own chair, Griffin froze, his expression almost as terrified as it had been when Quint turned on the hand-mixer. Both of them stared at the two men in the kitchen.
Dropping the sponge on the counter, Quint reached for Theo’s arm with the intention of turning him around and swatting his rear end. A bit of flour on the seat of his pants wouldn’t make much difference to the overall untidiness.
But Theo, seeing it coming, twisted away and bolted for their bedroom.
Quint was steps behind. “Theodore William!” He caught the bedroom door as it was about to slam in his face.
“NO!” Theo screeched, darting to the other side of the bed. His hands clenched into fists. “You are so anal! Why does it matter if the kitchen is a little messy? We can clean it up later! What did you expect baking with one-year-old twins to be like?!”
“Messy, yes,” Quint said. “However, if we clean up as we go along–”
“You’re too busy cleaning up to even decorate a cookie! You missed Lyra’s attempt at dipping one in sprinkles because you were sweeping the floor, which’ll have to be swept again when we’re done.” Theo paused a moment, his chin trembling, and when he went on, it was in a marginally quieter, much glummer tone. “I just wanted to start a Christmas tradition with you.”
Quint’s breath caught. No matter what the circumstance, it hurt to see his angel so obviously upset. And he was the cause of it? He thought back on the afternoon, considering his own actions, as well as Theo’s.
Then he met his partner’s eyes and sighed. Shaking his head, he said, “Alright. I should have gone with the flow more. I didn’t mean to spoil your experience. For that, I’m truly sorry.”
Theo crossed his arms. “Good. You should be.”
“I wasn’t finished,” Quint said, mild as a cool breeze.
Shit, thought Theo.
“Come with me, please. I don’t want to leave the babies alone.”
Cautiously, Theo edged around the foot of the bed and then scooted through the door in front of Quint, his butt clenching until he was safely out of reach again.
The twins peeped over the backs of their high chairs. Griffin now had icing on his nose. Entering the kitchen, Quint found himself reaching for a washcloth to clean it off. He stopped and draped it across his shoulder instead. “I know that I am… fussy,” he said.
Theo came to lean on the peninsula. “I wouldn’t say that.” With things now going his way—he hoped—he was willing to make concessions.
Quint’s eyebrow rose. “You just did. In rather harsher terms.”
“That wasn’t– I didn’t mean it that way,” Theo tried to explain. He could feel his ears going warm.
“Whether you meant it or not, it… it hurt me,” Quint admitted softly. The accusations echoed criticisms he’d heard over the years from well-meaning friends and mean-spirited acquaintances. At their worst, they went hand in hand with remarks about his sexuality.
Theo was stricken in almost the same way Quint had been in the bedroom. “I’m sorry. I got frustrated.”
“Did you consider talking to me before you were at that point? Perhaps when you began doing mocking impressions of me for Lyra and Griffin?”
Oh, ouch, Theo thought. His head hung. At the time, he’d found it funny to imitate Quint making sure the space between the cookies was exactly even before they put the tray into the oven.
“Yes, I saw you,” Quint said. “I let it slide, which was possibly a mistake, since you now seem to believe it’s alright to disrespect me to the point of swearing.”
“I don’t,” said Theo, almost in tears. “I should’ve spoken up before and… not done any of that, or said those things. I’m sorry, too.”
Quint studied Theo’s guilty face and felt his heart twinge. All this had stemmed from his own faults. If he hadn’t been such a clean-freak, Theo wouldn’t have been annoyed into uttering those lashing words. Was it right to punish him when Quint shared at least half the blame? He wished sometimes he had another Top, a friend, to talk with about these conundrums. He could only hope it would get easier with time.
Consistency is key, he told himself. No matter what inspired it, Theo knew better than to speak that way. Still…
Lyra dropped a sprinkle on the floor and giggled. Theo glanced at her, but didn’t smile as he usually would. That settled it. They needed to draw a line under this so they could get back to the festivities. Quickly and efficiently.
With a heavy sigh, Quint reached for the utensil crock and removed the only wooden spoon not currently coated in flour and dough. “Come here, angel.”
Theo gaped. A spoon?! “What happened to washing my mouth out?” he demanded.
“I assumed you wouldn’t want the taste of the cookies to compete with soap.”
Finding no argument for that, he simply stood where he was, eyeing the wooden spoon. Quint tapped it against his palm twice, which was just wholly unnecessary. Then he pointed it from Theo to the tiles at his own feet.
“Theodore, if you aren’t over here by the time I count to three, your pants will be coming down. One.”
Whoever taught him that trick ought to be belted, in Theo’s opinion. The first time Quint pulled it out, he had let him hit ‘three’, and then, a short time later, vowed to never let that happen again.
Barely had he reached the designated spot when Quint tucked him under his arm so he was both bent at the waist and lifted onto his toes. The spoon popped against his sit-spots, making him squirm.
Quint found he had to hold onto his Brat tightly while he delivered a half-dozen sound swats to each cheek. To his relief, though, the pleading wails Theo usually gave were muffled into a few small “Ouch!”s. He wondered if that had to do with their audience. Lyra and Griffin were watching the proceedings with great interest and no hint of distress. As Quint allowed Theo to stand up, Griffin began to clap his tiny palms together.
Theo rubbed his bottom and eyed his nephew with a narrowed gaze. “Are you giving Uncle Quint a round of applause for spanking me, monkey?”
Lyra giggled. “‘Pank.”
“Let’s not teach them to describe what they saw,” Quint said, putting the wooden spoon into the sink. “It’s over, and there’s no hard feelings between us, right?”
Theo searched his expression carefully for signs of anger or hurt. “Does that mean you forgive me?”
“Oh, angel, of course I do.” He pulled Theo to him, wrapping him up like the Christmas gift he was. “Do you forgive me?”
Theo’s hair brushed Quint’s chin as he nodded. “Can we go back to making cookies now?”
“Yes,” said Quint. “I want to see Lyra dip one into the sprinkles.”
“Lyra, hon, do you want red sprinkles or green sprinkles?”
“Both! And icing sugar, please, Uncle Quint?”
“Of course. Here you go.” He took the plastic lid off the sugar shaker—it was tricky for the kids to remove—and held it out to her, along with two bottles of sprinkles.
Lyra tried to use one hand to grab all three. Her fingers weren’t quite long enough for a secure grip, though. The sugar shaker rolled away across the countertop, leaving a trail of white powder. “Ooops! Sorry!”
“It’s alright,” Quint said. He caught it before it fell onto the floor and set it down next to her plate of cookies. “Show me how you’re decorating them.”
“I want the trees to look like they just had snow, see?”
“That’s pretty,” he said.
At the table, Seb finished his tutorial in putting stripes on chocolate-covered graham crackers and passed the piping bag to Griffin, who promptly squeezed a giant glob of icing onto a placemat. “Whoa! That comes out fast!”
“Maybe we should’ve started you with a smaller tip first,” Seb said.
“Nah, this is for taste-testing,” said Theo. He reached over with a freshly-covered graham cracker—more chocolate dripped on the table—and scooped up the icing with it. As he took a bite, he caught Quint’s eye and grinned.
Quint smiled back. The kitchen was covered in flour and dirty dishes; Jagger had snuck under Griffin’s chair, ready to catch any fallen morsels; carols played from the entertainment center, and everything smelled of cookies. His holiday season had officially begun.