Emmett would probably never know why Brendan had thought spending their six months anniversary in the Bronx Zoo was a good idea. It was loud, crowded, with kids oohing and aaahing over tigers and polar bears like those couldn't be watched in every provincial zoo with fifty animals upwards, while most adults stood around looking bored and blasé about the whole thing. The monorail was virtually beleaguered by people too lazy to walk their way through the vast park-like scene, as was the Skyfari, a silly cable railway he'd only managed to get Brendan away from by threatening to kiss him in public. The subsequent pout had been very pretty and enough to make Emmett hide a smile.
Of course, Emmett didn't actually know if this whole Back to Nature thing was about their anniversary. For someone with an eidetic memory, Brendan was remarkably bad at remembering birthdays and other related dates. In fact, Brendan was remarkably bad at relationships, period. He was weirdly shy in some situations and quick-tempered in most others, avoided touching and displays of affection unless they were about sex, and he never volunteered any information about himself. Emmett found himself having to work constantly to keep their relationship going. It was tiring at times, but Brendan was well-worth the effort. Dorky, loyal Brendan, with his weird habits and easy smile and addiction to Saturday morning cartoons, who made stupid jokes during sex and was beautiful when he came. All that, and more, was the reason why Emmett was trying his best to hold on to that man, even if he occasionally wanted to bash his head in.
And they were both guys; they were expected to have emotional IQs that barely reached double digits. No mushiness needed. But sometimes one of them slipped, like Brendan paying the extra admission fee for the Butterfly Garden as if it were the grandest romantic gesture ever. As someone who worked with snakes and was used to sudden movements equalling a potentially quick and sometimes messy death, the constant fluttering at Emmett's peripheral vision had been driving him crazy. When he'd told Brendan as much, that pout, too, had been very pretty. Not that he'd ever tell the man, of course.
The zoo did have some advantages, though. One thing Emmett hated about New York was the lack of green, and the zoo had a few areas that almost felt like real woods. Walking simply for walking's sake without New York's ever-present smell of car exhaust or suddenly finding oneself stuck in a cluster of businessmen at rush hour, was a relief. Some of the exhibits were actually rather interesting if you ignored the people gathered around them, and Brendan's whole face was lighting up when he spotted a particular building just a few minutes after they'd left the Butterfly Garden. Emmett let himself be ushered to the doors, so caught up in Brendan's delighted grin that he didn't pay attention where they were actually going. But inside…
"'What if the glass breaks'?" Emmett asked incredulously, staring at the warning sign in front of them. "Are they for real?"
"They're just concerned about their visitors." Brendan sounded amused, and Emmett threw him a dirty look. The World of Snakes was rather dimly lit – naturally – but not too dark to glare properly. Brendan grinned back in that smug little way he had, and Emmett rolled his eyes. They did that particular routine a lot. Emmett had always prided himself on being a good-natured and well-balanced person who wasn't easily driven to distraction, but Brendan regularly set out to prove him wrong. The habit was as annoying as it was familiar, and Emmett took the usual deep breath to regain his calm. The air inside the exhibit was humid and a little musky, like Betty's habitat back in Virginia. For a brief moment, Emmett felt homesick. He suppressed the notion as ruthlessly as usual.
"Yes, and that's why they have safety glass. This is a King Cobra, not a bulldozer." They walked a few steps further. "And they're actually calling their Emerald Tree Boa a giant snake. Now, Betty's a-" Emmett's rant stumbled to a halt when he felt Brendan's fingers touch his wrist, hesitant, barely there. He blinked, trying to find his words but failing, throwing Brendan an uncertain glance. Brendan was pointedly studying the sleeping boa, his tongue flicking out to sweep nervously across his lips as he slowly slid his hand into Emmett's, the pads of his fingers gliding rough and warm over Emmett's palm.
Emmett's heart was hammering against his ribcage by the time their fingers were entwined, held by Brendan in a loose clasp. He looked down at their tangled hands. Brendan's was pale and smattered with dark hair, all bony wrist and long fingers. His index finger and palm bore the calluses that came with his job, reminding Emmett that they were more used to firing a gun than to reaching out and simply touching something. Or someone. Emmett's own hand was of a slightly darker tone from all the time spent outside; it looked broad and sturdy. His fingers were blunt and scarred from when he'd scratched them on wood and rocks, testament of years spent evading irritated snakes.
They fit surprisingly well.
"Six months," Brendan said quietly, his eyes still on the boa, his fingers lightly squeezing Emmett's.
"Hmm." Emmett felt like he might melt any second now, dangerously close to saying something incredibly mushy that would probably embarrass them both. But he decided to offer a gesture of his own, especially after misunderstanding Brendan several times in a row. He snuck a quick glance around, saw no one looking in their direction, and raised his hand to press a kiss to the back of Brendan's, the soft dark hairs tickling his lips. From the corner of his eye he saw Brendan's mouth curve into a cautious smile. Feigning nonchalance, Emmett made a show of gazing longingly at the exit. "Come on. I hear they have a dancing crane."
"That's a café, Emmett."
"Well, good. I could eat."
"You always can," Brendan said slyly, and snorted when Emmett elbowed him in the ribs.
Brendan's smile widened and he started towards the doors, handsome and happy, causing Emmett to allow himself a brief moment of pure, mushy glee as they zigzagged their way out of the gloomy World of Snakes, avoiding kids and parents and still managing to hold on to one another's hand.
Perhaps the zoo wasn't such bad idea after all.