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Crisp, wintry air, the scents of pine and fir drifting in through the tiniest crack of a window, and the warmth of the heat filtering through their transport’s vents gave the ride a particularly festive sentiment. Something about the bitter cold at his brow and the coziness at his chest brought Tino into a state of blissful half-consciousness. The lilting cadences and jovial tunes that met his ears soon melted into the background as he found himself dozing against the door of his brother’s Rolls. Most of the brunet’s fleeting reves consisted of snow-covered pathways and a slew of merriment. It was terribly early now, to be already dreaming of the holidays, but his brother had for some reason insisted upon “getting into the spirit”. What kind of spirit is that, exactly? he recalled thinking. This was most certainly just a gathering for gathering’s sake. The only spirit he was destined to exhibit was that of a dutiful host.
The tree line whipped by at blurring speed as they took the mountainside, falling away into a snow-sprinkled oblivion that was both dizzying and awe-inspiring. As the car skipped over a fallen branch, Tino jerked gently awake, gazing down into the swell of rolling conifers. He imagined himself being swallowed up by their darkness and nestled into the snowdrifts below. Maybe he’d spend what would surely become an eternity gazing up into their boughs and breathing in the silence. It was an attractive thought in comparison to the fanfare they’d soon be subjected to. Such reminders of their impending fate triggered a clenching in his chest. Anxiety, surely, but he never took well to attributing such things to himself. There was enough worry on his head without concerns of falling into the throes of mental illness.
They rounded yet another mountain face and finally the winding road gave way to a broad, sloping last leg that would bring them at last to one of the family chalets. It was partially built into the mountain, a looming masterpiece that married both rustic and modern charm. Personally, it was one of his favourites, but that had much to do with the view of the nearby falls from the eastern face. As they came to a gentle halt, Celestino immediately unlatched his safety belt and unfolded himself from the passenger seat. Already, the delicious aromas of an already-prepared feast and music greeted them in the drive. “I guess it paid off.” The prep, that was. They had been earlier tasked with retrieving a few desserts and cakes that a friend in the nearby village had prepared for the occasion. They were unable to make it due to a previously arranged set of plans, but they had been more than happy to contribute to the festivities.
Tino moved to fetch a couple of pastry boxes from the back, striding across the cobble to the French doors with a swiftness that was indicative of the frigid temperatures. He swept into the foyer and immediately wiped his loafers before striding toward the kitchen to deposit his load onto the countertop. In the den, his ears had picked up on the sound of early arrivals being entertained and mixed laughter. Probably his parents entertaining. Shrugging out of his coat, he tossed it over a nearby stool and reached for a nearby bottle of wine. It was short work to remove the cork that had been earlier replaced, and it was followed by a generous pour. Red felt deeply appropriate for the mood he was in, but rather than indulge too much in the pull of a more solemn mood, he emptied his head of all thoughts. There would be no time tonight to wallow. He was expected to entertain.
Something about that immediately irked him, though. To acknowledge that he felt there was no other purpose for his presence did smart, but it wouldn’t have been the first time. Regardless, the façade of pleasant composure would have to prevail. Tomorrow would present many an opportunity for such machinations. Today he would put himself up and be whomever he was needed to be. It might’ve seemed like a bleak way to look at the circumstances, but realistically, this was something he was well accustomed to. Especially being the younger sibling, it was typical that he’d take on the label as so-and-so’s younger sibling. In this case, it was Matthias, but really, it applied in other contexts as well. He had been assistant, friend, tutor, pupil, brother, and son. Never just Tino. Never just himself. It was a strange way to exist, but it was easy enough. Convenient enough.
Celestino gazed down into his wine glass, losing himself briefly in the vibrant red of the vino, but his distraction was short-lived. “Hey!” came a familiar voice. “Hiding in the kitchen?” Dexter, of course. His brother’s spouse laid a soft kiss to his cheek before stealing a longing whiff of his wine. “Where’s my husband?” Her eyes narrowed as they leant this way and that. A swift turn and a small stumble brought her right into Tino’s left arm. He steadied Dex with a half-smile, endeared by the sudden panic as his foot was unceremoniously stepped upon.
“Matt’s bringing a few things in.”
“I’m so sorry, Beloved. Also, why with the shoes? Shoo-shoo-shoo, off, in the closet.”
Tino gazed down at his loafers with mild surprise. “I wiped them?”
“No shoes in the house. Slippers if you must, but nearly everyone is in socks or bare soles.” Grasping his shoulders gently, Dex guided her brother-in-law to the foyer and absconded swiftly with his glass of wine. “Come to the living room when you’re done, and bring my husband! I’m holding your glass hostage until my demands are met.”
Tino braced himself with one hand against the wall, stepping out of his loafers and placing them into the nearby coat closet on a small wooden rack Papa had built some years ago. Gazing back out through the door, Celestino squinted into the light of the mountain’s dusk. “Matthias, the mother of your children is seeking your presence.”
All he wanted to seek was a quiet place to himself, but he would have to greet their family and friends at some point. He couldn’t exactly avoid it forever. At the very least, Tino would attempt to get through the night without incident and sleep off the overstimulation.
Matthias was always one to participate in the seasonal holidays with his family. He simply loved being able to indulge in the general company of those he felt near and dear to his heart because the man definitely knew that he did not always get the chance because of work. And while the man did his damnedest to make up for it and then some during times such as these, Matthias tried to also enjoy the simple pleasures that came with enveloping oneself with the company of loved ones during get togethers.
This extended to his brother Celestino, especially. Sure, Matt knew that he was often preoccupied with work as of late. However, he was no oblivious fool. At least when it came to his younger brother. Matthias swore that his younger sibling was experiencing some kind of emotional slump. Was it a seasonal situation this go around? Or was it something more interpersonal? The man really could not tell. But Matthias was not about to potentially risk anything with Tino, hence why the younger Riedl was riding shotgun in the car. Even if Celestino more so kept to himself during the party, Matthias felt more at ease knowing that his brother was immediately nearby.
The drive up to the family chalet was ridiculously scenic and was one that Matthias would never grow tired of, personally. Upon placing the car in park amongst the pleasantly heated driveway Matthias looked over when Celestino spoke. “You know that being prepared for anything is better than getting absolutely fucked by something unexpected, Tino.” Matthias responded with the smallest of smiles cracked. Once he exited the vehicle, Matt could not help but take a small pause to soak in the already delectable scents emanating from inside the home. The taller man then went to help Tino acquire a good deal of packages containing the sweets for the evening’s desserts. Upon ensuring that Tino was securing in carrying the delicious payload inside Matthias then tasked himself with how he was going to go about bringing in the rest of what was in the trunk.
Shortly after Tino disappeared from his field of vision Matthias could hear another vehicle carefully pull up and park behind him. With a quick glance over the shoulder, the man was able to determine that it was one of his best of friends, Ryker. While notably shorter than himself, Matthias had always admired Ryker’s seemingly impossibly luscious locks of hair that normally reached far down his back. When Ryker finally exited his vehicle Matt noted that not only was he wearing one of his signature turtlenecks, but the man’s hair was also tied up in a bun. The German male always seemed to toe the line between looking like a combination of disheveled and effortlessly professional. Matt could never figure out how Ryker could pull that look off and not actually appear as an entire mess and a half.
But the man in question was nothing but smiles, though. Ryker was excited because he always appreciated being invited to such social functions, and being able to share in food and drink, but also partly because he coordinated his turtleneck of choice with his best friend Geneva. That little detail had always gotten a good chuckle out of people. However, Ryker thought it was just a pleasant gesture of affection that he shared with the woman whenever they were able to get together.
“Matthias! What do you got going on there? Let me help you out.” Ryker greeted his friend with a tight hug before coordinating who would grab what to carry inside. After splitting up the duty fairly equally the two men were walking towards and then into the beautifully decked out chalet. “Where do you want these boxes, my guy?” the German inquired before Matt had directed him to follow into the kitchen, But Matthias was quick to perk up when being summoned by his brother, particularly because it was his wife who was demanding his company.
Ryker carefully placed his set of confection boxes on the counter before patting Matthias on the back encouragingly. “Better not keep the wife waiting for you, Matthias. She shouldn’t have to ask for you more than once, I would think.” The man laughed a bit before Matt nodded and moved to remove his shoes alongside Ryker before they went to go find Dexter who so happened to be with Tino now.
“My love, why are you holding this man’s wine hostage?” Matthias cocked up an eyebrow as he simultaneously took back Tino’s wine while wrapping Dexter close to his body with his free arm. He stole a kiss from his wife before looking to bring Ryker into the party’s fold officially. “Dexter, I am confident that you know Ryker. But Tino! This is my friend Ryker. Ryker, this is Celestino.” Matthias spoke, making sure that his brother got his wine back.
Ryker had been looking at Tino with casual curiosity. “Everyone, Matt included, all say phenomenal things about you. It’s a pleasure to finally be able to put a face to the name I hear all the time.” The German nodded, not minding the pleasantries at all. “Although perhaps you could indulge me in what a good wine to try would be? I’m fairly ignorant about wines and your older brother makes fun of me far too much about it.” Ryker shot a side eye at Matt who could only roll his eyes at the accusation. “What is it that you’re having there? I would assume that if it’s being served here and that you are drinking it that it is a fair choice?...”
Giggling as her husband encompassed her in quite the loving embrace, Dexter delighted in the small kiss, punctuating it with a litter of smooches along Matthias' jaw. “It was practically begging for me to take it? I don't know, it was just so alluring.” Such an innocent tone, one might almost believe it were the truth had it not been for the impish little upturn of the corners of the ginger's full lips. “Since you're here, though, at last, come--play with us, we're playing Joking Hazard.”
In the midst of this sickeningly sweet display of affection, Celestino had turned his attentions more fully to this “Ryker” gentleman. “It's a pleasure, and thank you, that's actually very flattering. I didn't know I was such a hot topic.” He said dryly, a touch of wryness in the half-smile he offered. Gently swirling his wine, Tino gazed down into his glass thoughtfully for a moment, debating. He could very well have offered to fetch him a glass, but it truly wasn't his style. Instead, he extended his glass, ever-so-casually. “Here, why don't you see for yourself?” He wouldn't be offended if Ryker rejected his glass, but it was surely easier than soiling a glass over a potential disappointment. “If you'd prefer I can also fetch you a sample of your own.” He wasn't so terrible of a host, but how interesting it would be if he accepted his gesture?
Tino, by nature, tended to come across to most as a friendly yet enigmatic. Here and yet quite far all at the same time. Perhaps the ocean was the easiest comparison. You could touch him, experience him, certainly see him, but you might never fully grasp him. Like the tide his mood was changeable but in a quite nuanced way. It was seldom you would see a dramatic change unless there was some excitement or danger about.
Perhaps that was why others found him to be “intimidating”. “Perfect” was another adjective they'd often attributed to him, but no one was ever truly such. Apparently, it made him both attractive and terrifying. If only they knew the agony that went into such calculated perfection. Perhaps then they could appreciate what “perfection” really meant. It was not within effort. It was not without pain. It was… no, he wouldn't go there. There was no time to spiral now. Such thoughts were better saved for late nights gazing into the emptiness of his darkened bedroom. Better saved for nights spent sleeping in the weighted, cool space betwixt the floor and his wooden bed frame.
Here, he was to be the version of himself that smiled, that danced, that catered and entertained. He was on his best behaviour, and it would simply have to convincing to everyone in the room - including himself. Wasn't that right? Head tilting a fraction, he ever so patiently awaited Ryker's decision. What version of him had his dear brother's mate hoped to meet? Had he exceeded or fallen short of expectation?
Tino's assessment of him had been discreet. The brunet had taken in the effortless, tousled tresses, the sculpted physique, the smoulder of his gaze. It must have been a natural attribute as he didn't sense a conscious effort behind it. He was also quite the fan of his attire for the evening. Turtlenecks suited him. His eyes had somehow managed to absorb every small detail without betraying his intrigue. It was a skill he had inherited from Mama, he supposed.
“My brother, by the way, has mentioned you by name several times. He swears he intended to invite you to one of our open-kitchen nights, but he's yet to make good on that. I'm curious, though, how did the two of you meet?" It was likely to be quite mundane, but knowledge was never something Celestino was above obtaining, even at its base level. Quite affectionately, Tino added: “And how do you put up with him?” A wrinkle of his nose followed the query, coupled with the soft twinkle of soulful hazel pools.
The taller of the two Riedl brothers could not help himself by letting out a huff sounding similar to a shallow laugh. “So alluring that you just suddenly developed sticky fingers?” Matthias inquired, knowing good and well that his wife was playing around especially given that she was steadily growing round yet again with another child of theirs. The man had all the faith in the world that Dexter would not do anything to potentially put their child at risk, but Matthias’ sense of protectiveness never failed in him at least squinting ever so slightly while deciphering her intentions. But he blinked whilst simultaneously getting pulled into the party’s current game, one he certainly enjoyed himself. The man then looked back at his brother and Ryker. “You two should definitely join in on the game soon.” Knowing that the more was really the merrier with games like Joking Hazard.
But as soon as they had come up, the duo was gone and absorbed into the current card game round. Ryker could only look overly fondly at the loving couple and shake his head with a laugh. He loved seeing his friends relishing the sweet bliss of love and happiness. Seeing that type of warmth enveloping others did something for Ryker’s soul that the man could not quite explain. Simply put, seeing others so entirely joyous made him happy. This train of thought left a calm smile on the German’s face as he turned his attention fully back to Celestino. “You didn’t know? I always thought of Matthias being the type to tell you, of all people, everything. But you certainly are a popular point of discussion in conversational circles.” he explained, finding Tino’s expression in response to being ‘popular’ a bit amusing. Ryker was very interested to see how Matthias’ younger counterpart was different. And right away the male had a sense that Tino was more reserved than his elder sibling but was not so in the shy sense.
Upon being offered to take a sample of wine from Tino’s glass Ryker popped up a brow ever so slightly. So apparently he had options in how he wished to go about sampling the wine. Ryker did not think of himself as a wasteful man, though. He wagered that they were both in equally good health. What was the harm in sharing a glass ever so briefly? He extended both hands in response, one to cradle the wine glass, the other to support the back of Tino’s hand. “I think this is better than christening another glass without knowing first.” Ryker winked briefly before he went to test the smell of the wine out of curiosity. Was he a sommelier in any sense of the word? Absolutely not. But the man still liked to indulge in what Matthias had shown him about wines and how to handle them.
The look on Ryker’s face clearly showed that he was genuinely thinking about the wine he was testing. “I will not lie, I am definitely more of a bourbon man.,” he began before taking a sip of Tino’s wine, “But that is something else.” Ryker remarked as he processed the wine’s flavor. “I won’t insult you by my mediocrity, but this is pleasantly fruity and has a type of spice accompanying it? I actually like that a lot.” The taller of the two nodded, genuinely surprised at how appealing the taste was. Without much of a second thought Ryker had taken additional sips, thus depleting the glass. “I need to know where to find this so I can add it to my fridge.” Ryker nodded, knowing he was going to throw down money for a good crate or two. The man liked what he liked.
Upon the mentioning of Matthias, though, Ryker’s focus was diverted. “I’m surprised. I would love to attend those open-kitchen evenings. I may not look like it, but I like to fancy myself as being fantastic as cooking and cut of steak to perfection.” He boasted a bit. Ryker was not above gloating a little bit, really. Although when made to think back to how he had come to personally know Matthias, Ryker paused for a minute, looking almost like he was experiencing war like flashbacks. The male was quick to snap back to reality, though. But he let out a dry chuckle.
“Truthfully? During our graduate level studies. I met him through the Dr. Austerlitz duo. I’ve been a long-time best friend of Geneva. And by association Haans then Matthias. Do not get me wrong, I love Matt to death, truly. But the man was an absolute terrorist in university.” That was about as much as Ryker was willing to divulge. He knew Matthias from his time of rather immense debauchery. “Makes me grateful I was not involved in any of the medical programs like the rest of them. Matthias still dragged me to parties. Otherwise, I stayed in my therapist lane, although I am always tempted to attain my doctorate. Matthias is always telling me to go for it so he can call me Doctor at least once. The problem is that Hinterleitner von Koppensteiner sounds ridiculous as is without the degree title in front.”
The German man than took a thoughtful moment to pause, observing the softness of which Tino’s eyes possessed. “Regarding how I deal with him… I don’t. Or at least I try to not as much as possible at work. I predominantly stay around the psychiatric unit. You would be hard pressed to find any one surgeon there unless they’re a patient themselves somehow. He usually harasses me during our lunch if our times overlap. Outside of work, it used to be more leather bars and entertainment establishments before he got married. Still happens every now and again. But I tend to roll around with Markus and his crew when Matt is not being a pain in the ass. Contrary to what his royal eminence may tell you, I am quite a simple man. I like my bikes, bourbon, research, and peace of mind.”
Ryker then glanced down at the empty glass in his hand and quickly realized he was now the second person to rob Tino of his wine. “Call me criminal, but I do apologize for stealing your wine like this. Let’s get you a properly dedicated glass so people will stop commandeering it for themselves.” He proposed before making his way to the kitchen, making relatively quick work of finding the wine cooler. But he noticed only a few bottles had been opened already, Ryker figured that everybody was simply indulging in different tastes that evening. But the wine Tino had was a fragrant red wine and there happened to be only two open bottles of red wine staying chilled in the cooler. The man had not even bothered to inquire which bottle was the proper one, simply navigating the decision-making process via smell as the glass was darkly colored by itself.
As little as he knew about wine, Ryker did have a decent enough memory to tell what wine they had by smell alone. And armed with the bottle he carefully refilled Tino’s glass before procuring himself one as well. He was not a monster either. The male put the bottle back exactly where he found it on the cooler rack. And to make a point of apologizing, Ryker handed Tino his glass back first. “A toast to personal wellbeing and finally getting you a glass of wine to keep this time.” His tone almost comforting in its smoothness. “And people are still in the middle of arriving, and because you asked me, how do you deal with Matthias? I thought I had a time, but I could not imagine being related to the guy as audacious as he is.” And as an only child Ryker really could not relate to the bond/struggle specifically of siblings, at least on a personal level. “I know he plays piano wickedly well, though. Do you too? Although I must say you strike me as cello type if I had to guess…”
“Of course.” Dexter quipped. Could her husband have expected anything less? Dex was known for mischief, if nothing else. Well… that and an irresistible charm, but that was when a little extra spice was in the mix. Either way, Dexter was happy to indulge in a bit of misbehaviour. It was all in good fun, anyway. It wasn't long before the two of them had been absorbed into the game group, Matthias' posing his gentle warning of Ryker and Tino's belated attendance in the group merriment.
Tino offered no more than a muted hum a the suggestion of joining the game group. Something about putting that much energy into a group activity that his heart wouldn't truly be in seemed torturous. No, no, he was perfectly happy to watch on. Besides, his humour was a rather dark shade tonight - not one that would pair well with the bright mood that'd overtaken the chalet. He was most definitely an outlier among the lot. Ambiguous in his desire to engage to say the least.
Then it was back into the thick of their discussion. Apparently, he was a topic of interest; something that remained difficult to believe but mildly flattering. Yet, he would save his thoughts on that for another time. This wasn't just about him, after all. It was a matter of puzzling out his brother's mysterious friend. “Well,” began the brunet, thoughtfully. “Matthias certainly keeps me in the loop about most, but I'm sure there's much he keeps close to the chest. He's allowed his secrets.” Well, to an extent. There were some things Tino had been rather persistent about over the years, but those pursuits had paid off in the growth of a more intimate relationship with his elder sibling.
Warmth encompassed Tino's hand, drawing him out of his ruminations in an instant. It was startling to say the least, the amount of sensation that had erupted from such a small touch. Very much akin to an electrical current, while it was not so harsh as to warrant a flinch, he noted the way it triggered a sensation reminiscent of a shiver from the crown of his head that licked the length of his spine and involuntarily curled his toes. Ryker helped himself ever so graciously to the remainder of his glass and that afforded him a gentle scoff. Foiled once again, wasn't he? If everyone had it their way, he'd never see the end of a glass himself.
Still, Ryker had quite the assessment to offer. “Yes, it's very much a holiday wine. So glad you seem to have taken to it. There's a winery that sells it by the bottle or the barrel. I'd be happy to make a note of it for you. In the meantime, we can surely track down the bottle in the wine fridge.” Celestino turned then to saunter in the direction of the cuisine, easy in his graceful steps and unhurried in his movements. There was nothing nervous or awkward about the way in which he carried himself, which very much clashed with the implication that he was the shy, reserved, introverted sort. Perhaps even socially withdrawn by the definitions or opinions of some.
Pausing at the doorway to the kitchen, the brunet positioned himself ever so comfortably against the doorway, happy to allow it to accept the bulk of his weight. “Definitely, you should join us. I'll make mention of it to him. It was then that Tino offered the other man a rather open gaze. ”It's quite alright, you were simply enjoying yourself. There's plenty to be had. Mama was sure to prepare well for the evening's festivities, after all. Besides, you can make it up to me with one of your wonderful steaks at open kitchen night. I'll hold you to that instead."
It seemed Ryker was determined to look after their glasses himself, so he patiently awaited his glass' refreshment. Upon its gracious fill, Tino murmured a quiet thanks, happy to raise his glass in toast. “A glass all my own, hm? How thoughtful of you.” He quipped, gently touching the lip of his glass to Ryker's. "I would wage the answer to your question is simple, though: I love him. Nothing more, nothing less. I think there are some things that are truly uncomplicated if you allow them to be."
Taking a small sip, Tino nodded slightly. “I also play the piano, but I do have a preference for string instruments. Violin, cello, occasionally the lute. Primarily, though, I spend my time with my fiddle for its portability. Do you play any insturments yourself?” He queried, tilting his head at a soft angle.
A moment later, the younger of the two men ran the pad of his thumb across the rim of his glass, gently placing it in his mouth to indulge in the bit of wine that was there before drawing it away. Despite the lack of intention, there was certainly something--more to be observed about it. His mannerisms were… easy yet somehow came across as well reserved only for the eyes of some. Perhaps he was that comfortable in Ryker's presence? It was seldom he found he could relax at all in the company of a stranger, but he certainly made it easy. “Okay, now we trade glasses. Hand over your sacrifice.” He gently waved Ryker's glass toward himself, extending his own. “It's only fair, after all. Retribution, shall we say?”
Would he humour him? It seemed his intent thus far, so why stop here? Why stop when there was certainly more fun to be had. There was much about the man he didn't yet know, but this could certainly serve as a start, no?
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