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“Dude, seriously, why not?” Gabe takes his dish towel and drapes it over his head, then bats his eyelashes at Shaun from underneath it. “Don’t you think Zach will be beautiful enough as your bride?”

Shaun just shakes his head. Gabe’s been bugging him about this the whole visit. “Leave it.” Even he can tell his voice comes out curt.

“There’s no trouble in paradise, is there?” Even though Gabe’s been drinking steadily all night, his eyes are surprisingly knowing on Shaun.

“No!” Shaun washes the last cup a bit too forcefully, soapsuds spraying all over.

“Then why don’t you make him an honest boy? You know you want to.” Gabe waggles his eyebrows at Shaun infuriatingly over his beer. “Or would that make the hot gay sex not as hot?”

“That’s probably it,” Shaun deadpans. Sometimes Gabe gets bored if you just don’t react.

It doesn’t work this time. Gabe shakes his head. “Probably not, actually. Dude, I was reading this forum and they were talking about how once they got married, the hot gay sex got even hotter, which, like, I dunno, sometimes I wish I batted for your team, because the stories they were telling--”

“Gabe,” Shaun warns, in his sternest tone.

“Yeah, yeah, okay, whatever, I’ll stop.”

Shaun wipes off the counter and hangs up the towel on the fridge. The front of the refrigerator is covered with Cody’s artwork, his elementary school’s schedule, emergency numbers. He can’t help brushing his fingers over the latest addition: a picture Zach made for him recently.

“Okay, no, not stopping,” Gabe says. His voice is gentler. “You’re crazy about him. He’s crazy about you. Not sure why, but...”

Shaun just shakes his head.

“Is it the age thing? It’s the age thing, isn’t it? Because I gotta tell you, aside from the fact he probably thinks that’s insanely hot, you know, the older, experienced man who he always crushed on when he was, like, thirteen and who bought wine coolers for him, and who probably lusted after his nubile young--”

“Okay, that’s it. Stop! I would never--”

“Chill out, old man,” Gabe laughs, then turns momentarily serious. As serious as he ever gets, that is. “You’d never. I know that. You’d kill anyone who so much as looked at a kid, I get it. Stereotypes, blah blah. “ The twinkle comes back into his eye. “So obviously Zach finds all of that insanely hot, but anyone who isn’t an idiot or blind can see that he’s madly in love with you, so...”

He stops and looks at Shaun’s crossed arms, sighs. “Okay, different tack. Is it the thing where you don’t want to buy into mainstream society’s values? Since they’re premised on a heterosexist point of view and medieval and all that? I mean, I could be down with that.”

Shaun gapes at Gabe.

“I went to college!” Gabe says. “I went to class once in a while!”

“More like, you joined the LGBT organization to seem cooler to girls,” Zach says from the doorway. His hair’s all mussed up and his t-shirt has grass and paint and miscellaneous other stains on it; there’d been an epic wrestling match earlier involving Cody, the lawn, water balloons and some Kool-aid.

“There was that,” Gabe agrees easily. He gets a dreamy look in his eye. “Man, the chicks who are into the whole rights thing? Uber hot. All passionate and smart.”

“Says the man with a dish towel on his head,” Zach deadpans from the door. He heads for the refrigerator. “So catch me up. We’re reviewing the sordid tale of your college years because...?” he asks, pulling out a beer.

Shaun darts his most quelling glance at Gabe. Of course it doesn’t do anything.

“Because he’s being a pussy and not asking you to marry him,” Gabe answers, crooking his thumb at Shaun.

Zach freezes for a moment.

It’s hard to breathe.

“Um,” Gabe says. “Sorry? It’s none of my, you know, business?”

Shaun takes a careful breath. “Gee, really?” It must come out a little wobbly on top of the buckets of sarcasm, because Zach un-freezes and darts a glance over to him.

Zach looks away quickly, swallows some beer. “Yeah, Shaun’s already got enough going on with getting an instant family all up in his space.” He scuffs at something on the floor with his soaking-wet shoe.

“That’s not--” Shaun starts, but stops himself. He clears his throat. “Look. Zach doesn’t need to be tied down any more than he already is.” He laughs, or tries to. “I remember when I first came out, I was like, party on!”

Zach makes a noise like he’s going to say something, but he doesn’t.

Gabe looks back and forth between them and whistles. “I thought guys of the homosexual persuasion were supposed to be more, like, evolved or something. You guys are so fucking clueless.” He draps the dish towel over Zach’s head and heads out of the kitchen. “I’m going in with Cody. We’re going to read stories until we both fall asleep. See you in the morning.”

There’s silence when he leaves. Zach still isn’t looking at Shaun. “Don’t mind him, he’s an idiot,” Shaun manages. “Obviously it’s too soon for you to even think about--”

“What!” Zach’s looking at him now. He’s got a line between his eyes.

Now it’s Shaun’s turn to look away. “You know. I mean, we haven’t really talked about it, but. Sometime you’re probably going to need to sow some gay wild oats. “ It makes his chest hurt just to say it, but.

Zach snorts, but it’s not a happy sounding one. “Are you fucking kidding me now? How could you think I’m someone who wants to sow wild oats?”

Shaun sets his bottle down and walks over to where Zach is standing. He reaches out and touches his t-shirt where it’s stained. “It’s just. Your whole life you’ve been taking care of other people. Sometime you’ll want it to be just about you . And it should be! You should get that.”

Zach shakes his head. “Gabe’s right. You really are clueless. I do that stuff because that’s who I am. If I’d wanted to fuck around, I would have. I didn’t. Don’t use me as your excuse. I know it’s a ton to take on, all of this, me and Cody and the whole thing. You don’t need to come up with reasons.”

“Reasons?” Now Shaun’s seriously confused.

“Reasons you don’t want to, you know.” Zach tips his head in the direction of the refrigerator.

“Don’t want to... go to the refrigerator?” Shaun feels like they’re speaking different languages.

“The thing I gave you,” Zach mumbles. He looks up at Shaun’s face. “Wait a minute. You didn’t see?”

“See?” Shaun’s confused, but there’s something hurt in Zach’s eyes and that just kills him. He doesn’t ever want to see that look there. He reaches over and grabs the card Zach gave him a couple of days ago. It’s beautiful, and he’d spent a lot of time admiring the amazing colors and shapes, the design. He hadn’t thought about it, though. Not other than as abstract art, but--

He breathes out, hard, because he sees it. It’s right there in the design, but all mixed up with shapes and colors so it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.

Just like Zach. Like how Zach’s heart is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, if you don’t watch, and listen carefully. He’s not someone who says things in words sometimes so much as--

A painting of two people, their hands joined, and around them, overlapping like an infinity symbol, two circles --- rings. He gasps, breathy.

Zach’s looking at him closely. “You didn’t see, before.”

“No.” Shaun’s voice is all raspy. “I’m sorry. Wait here.”

Shaun goes to the drawer in their bedroom where he’s hidden the package under his socks. He brings it back into the kitchen. His hands are shaking and all he can think to do is hold it out to Zach.

Zach looks at him with a question in his eyes, but opens the bag silently and pulls out the box from inside. He looks up at Shaun when he sees the black velvet, like he’s searching Shaun’s face to tell him what’s going on. Shaun bites his lip and nods and Zach opens it. There are two plain silver bands nestled there, exactly the same.

Shaun clears his throat. “It’s a placeholder set. We come in and pick the ones we really want. I mean, you’d deserve something unique, you know? It’s the guy, remember, the place we found that time, near Chinatown?”

Zach nods slowly, like he’s in a daze. He looks up at Shaun. “Were you planning on ever, you know?”

Shaun grabs onto Zach’s t-shirt again, rubs his thumb over the stains. He swallows. “I’m terrified,” he says, into the quiet space between them.

Zach puts his hand over Shaun's. “It’s okay. It’s really okay. I don’t need anything like that to be with you, you know that.”

“No. You don’t get it.” Shaun bites his lip, catches Zach’s eyes. “I want it so much. I just don’t ever want to be the thing that’s hemming you in.”

“You’re not the thing that’s hemming me in.” Zach says it in his serious voice, the one he uses when he’s really thought something through. Zach is younger, yes, but he’s got the maturity of a much older guy. “You’re the thing--” Zach’s voice breaks a little and Shaun’s eyes sting. “You’re the thing that lets me be free.”

Shaun makes a choked off sound that is definitely not crying. He curls his hand around Zach’s cheek and pulls their foreheads together. “I’m an idiot and I would--I would be so very happy, so--” he searches for a word -- “so honored if you, if you would--”

Zach’s hand comes up to Shaun’s cheek and Shaun turns into it instinctively. “Yeah. Yeah, I will.”

Shaun’s lungs are all tight and his throat is closed up but he smiles.

“I still haven’t heard from you, though.” Now Zach’s voice has a teasing edge to it. “My one of a kind artistic invite hasn’t been replied to.” He cards his fingers through Shaun’s hair.

“I’ve never been good at interpreting art.” Shaun keeps his voice as level as he can. “That’s why I need you around, I guess. So yeah, I’m answering your invite, yeah. Yes, please. Please may I marry you.”

Zach’s lips are very close. He brushes his thumb over Shaun’s face. Shaun strokes Zach’s hair and kisses his forehead. Zach pulls his face down and leans in and their lips brush. “Baby,” Shaun murmurs, overcome.

“I know,” Zach whispers, up against his lips. “Me, too.”

The kiss deepens and they wrap their arms around each other. The same heat that always sparks when they touch lights up Shaun’s nerves like the Fourth of July and he’s suddenly desperate.

“Bed. Now,” Zach pants.

They make it to their bedroom in record time, undressing as they walk in. They shove the sheets down and tangle together.

“Jesus Christ,” Zach says a few minutes later when Shaun’s fucking him, slow and deep.

Shaun pants over him, trying not to come embarrassingly quickly. “Maybe Gabe was right,” he manages to say.

“Right about what--ohhhh.”

Shaun thinks about his English teacher in sixth grade who wore nursing shoes and smelled of cats. It takes the edge off just long enough for him to pant, “Said gay married sex might be even hotter.”

“Married,” Zach says, reaching for the headboard and hanging on, using it as leverage to arch up harder into Shaun.

“Nnnngh,” Shaun says.

Zach looks up at him through his eyelashes and smirks. It’s a good look on him. “You’re so beautiful,” Shaun blurts.

“I love you,” Zach says, clear and proud, looking right into his eyes.

Shaun’s toes curl and his hands clench and it’s all heat and light and Zach’s beautiful face and his body, welcoming Shaun in, just like he welcomed him into his whole life, his whole heart...

His final thrust sends Zach over; he arches, head back, neck a gorgeous line.

Aftershocks ripple through Shaun even as he leans down, peppers kisses all over Zach; face, neck, shoulders, until he reaches his mouth. Zach grabs him behind his head and holds him there and they kiss and kiss.

After a while he pulls out carefully and they just hold each other, pulling each other in tighter and tighter.

They fall asleep like that, breathing each other’s breaths.

~ ~ ~

They wake up still wrapped in each other’s arms.

“Gabe’s going to be unsufferable,” Zach whispers.

Shaun laughs.

Pretty sweet way to start a day, he thinks.

Pretty sweet way to start a marriage.

~ ~ ~

Sure enough, Gabe smirks at them when they walk into the kitchen. He leans back in his chair and crosses his arms, taps his foot. He raises an eyebrow. “Well?”

“You were right, okay dipshit? Right. Right, right, right.” Zach drapes the dishtowel over Gabe’s head and leans in close to his ear. “We’re aiming the bouquet straight at you, just so you know.”

Shaun’s standing by with a camera. Gabe’s look of horror is immortalized forever. The photo goes onto the fridge. Right where it should be. The place things that are important go. The things that are important in their life.

Their life together.