The bullmastiff’s head lifted from the couch cushion at the sound of the car pulling into the graveled driveway. He waited, his massive head cocking to the side as he listened to the two familiar voices and the sounds of doors closing. With a small groan, Toast picked himself up off the couch and walked to the front door. He sat on his haunches, his tail wagging slowly back and forth, as the voices got closer and closer until the door finally opened.
It wasn’t the familiar faces of his humans that he saw however, but a bushy burst of green with his human’s feet.
“Toast, hi!” Will said enthusiastically, his voice muffled by branches. “Back up. Go on, back up.”
The dog walked backwards into the room, his great tongue hanging out of his mouth as the two men maneuvered the tree into the living room. They carefully secured the Spruce into the stand and stood back to admire their work.
After a moment, Hannibal looked at Will with a smug smile.
“What?” Will asked. “Honestly, it still looks the same as most of the others you were considering.”
Hannibal’s smile quickly fell as he observed all the needles that at fallen to the floor as they had corralled the tree into place.
“I can assure you this was by far the best available,” he said as he moved to get a broom.
On his way to the closet, he stopped by the couch and laid a flat hand upon it. Finding it to be slightly warm, he looked towards Toast who was cautiously approaching the tree.
“Toast,” he said, waiting for the mastiff to turn and face him. “You were on the couch.”
The dog snorted once, his eyes darting quickly towards the floor before he turned his attention back to the tree.
Hannibal sighed and set about to picking traces of the dog’s fur off the leather.
“He confounds me,” Hannibal said. “Clearly he is capable of understanding that he isn’t supposed to be on the furniture and yet he does it anyway.”
“Yeah, well, he’s a dog,” Will offered simply as he fussed with the branches. “Did you want to decorate it now?”
Hannibal returned from the other room with a broom, clasping it in his hands as he swept the fallen pine needles into a neat pile.
“I was planning on after dinner,” Hannibal said as he bent to sweep the little green needles into the dustpan. “Which should be started soon provided you’re available to sous chef.”
Will looked over and placed his hand on the top of Toast’s head as the dog came closer to investigate the tree. He gently moved his fingers back and forth over Toast’s brown fur as his mind slipped back to their last hunt.
After dinner they set about to decorating the tree, wrapping it with small white and gold lights before carefully hanging colorful glass spheres on the branches. Toast lay nearby, eyebrows darting back and forth as the two men worked around the tree. His attention piqued as Will climbed the nearby stepstool to place a silver star on the top of the tall Spruce.
Will jumped down with a small hop and handed a dark green cord to Hannibal.
“Care to do the honors?”
Hannibal took it from him and knelt to plug it into the nearby outlet, his peripheral vision immediately lighting up. He came to stand straight and joined Will who had stepped back a few feet to admire their work. The air around them hung warm and silent as Hannibal wrapped his arm around Will’s shoulder and pulled him close, his nose finding the space behind his ear.
Toast made himself as small as he could, crouching forward and shoving his head under the bottom branches, his tongue lapping at the woodsy water until Will pulled him back by his hips.
The snow had fallen all night, light and airy; it had coated the vast expanse of their property in a malleable white blanket.
As soon as Will opened the door early that morning, Toast happily trotted out into it. He shoved his snout into the snow and reared his head up quickly – turning his nose into a sort of shovel – and watching as the snow flew all around him. He ran himself around in circles, stopping frequently to launch his upper body down into the cold.
Will smiled as Hannibal came up behind him, a strong arm around his waist.
“Merry Christmas,” Hannibal said into his ear.
Will hummed and leaned into him.
“It certainly is.”
They watched silently as Toast’s pace slowed, his body yielding to all of the excitement.
“Hey!” Will yelled as he clapped his hands.
Toast’s ears perked up as Will came towards him, bending to pick up a large handful of snow as he did. The dog’s tail slowly wagged as Will reached him, turning his head towards the movement of Will’s hands as he pretended to mash the snow into different parts of the dog’s body before finally making contact on his flank.
Toast curled around himself as Will rubbed the cold into his fur, laughing and encouraging him to play.
Will ran around him in a slow chase, waiting for the massive dog to catch up before jumping out of reach. Their hunt culminated in Will grabbing Toast around his middle and carefully tackling him to the ground, nearly submerging them both entirely in snow.
Will yelled at the cold, laughing as Toast attempted to wiggle his way free. His tail swung back and forth as he mashed his face into Will’s, licking at every exposed bit of skin he could find. Eventually, Will got to his feet and brushed the snow off his legs before doing the same to Toast’s head and neck.
He looked back towards Hannibal who remained on their porch.
“Come here,” Will said.
“I am quite comfortable right where I am.”
Will licked his lips and bent to gather snow in his hands, slowly packing it into a ball.
Will took a step forward.
Will shot a questioning look towards Toast before pulling his arm back and hurling the snowball forward.
To Will’s utter lack of surprise, Hannibal dodged it. Quickly, he bent to rearm himself and launched a second snowball has Hannibal got closer but again swiftly moved his body out of Will’s trajectory. Before Will was able to create a third, Hannibal was on him, dragging them both down into the snow.
Toast barked as legs and arms exploded in white before Hannibal came to straddle Will’s hips.
“I win,” Will said breathlessly as Hannibal pinned his wrists down.
“A strange conclusion,” Hannibal grinned.
Will strained up and kissed him quickly.
“You’re in the snow.”
Toast slept soundly in front of the fireplace as Hannibal refilled both glasses on the table with more mulled wine.
“Thank you,” Will hummed as he took a large sip.
Hannibal had told him in great detail about the spices he’d selected for it, how they would compliment each other while retaining their own uniqueness and Will had listened, watching Hannibal’s hands work over the small pot. The wine had filled their home with a spicy, satisfying scent that translated to a similar feeling of contentment in his belly.
As Hannibal joined Will back on the couch, Toast’s lips started to bubble with the force of his snores.
They drank and exchanged gifts – a finely crafted scarf and pair of gloves for Will and a new sketchpad and set of pencils for Hannibal. They sat comfortable in each other’s company, recounting the events of the previous year and plans for the next. Will got more drunk than he intended but was pleased to find Hannibal indulging more than he normally did as well.
Eventually, they emptied their glasses and their gentle conversation stopped.
Toast opened his eyes when the fire at his back started to die. He lifted his head to look at the two humans sprawled together on the couch. Hannibal was pressed into Will’s back, his face buried in his neck and his arm wound tight around Will’s chest.
Neither of them moved.
Both of them breathed softly.
With a small groan, the mastiff came to his feet and padded over to the couch. He sniffed at them, his eyes moving with debate, before he rose to his hind legs and jumped up onto the two of them. Immediately, there were groans beneath him and half-hearted attempts to dislodge his weight. The humans spoke to each other and maneuvered Toast down to the end of the couch. The three of them shifted until Toast’s upper body was draped over Hannibal’s hip, his head resting on his waist.
The dog sighed as Will’s sleepily tucked his bare feet under him.
“Good boy,” Will mumbled. “Stay.”