Shaun looked around the living room at the mess surrounding him as he listened to the splashing and low murmur of voices coming from the bathroom down the hall. He’d moved into dorm rooms, spent more time than he’d like to admit living out of suitcases in hotel rooms, and vindictively left a mess when he moved out of the condo he’d shared with Victor, but this, Shaun couldn’t help thinking, was a special brand of chaos. For a moment, panic filled him, and Shaun wondered what he’d gotten himself into.
There was a maze of boxes – empty boxes, taped boxes, boxes open and spilling their contents out onto the floor. The boxes had all been properly labeled, but for now were being stored in the living room. They’d tried to stack them against the wall so they had room to walk, but packing up the lives of three people, including art supplies, books on writing, and toys, in addition to the normal detritus of kitchen supplies and clothing, made for a lot of boxes.
Shaun heard Cody giggle from the bathroom where he was having his bath at his normal time, despite the fact that they’d spent the morning driving and unloading boxes from both their vehicles and the U-Haul trailer, and the afternoon setting up Cody’s room so that he would feel at home while they unpacked the rest of their lives into the apartment that had appeared almost too large for one person when Shaun first viewed it, but which now suddenly seemed too small to accommodate three people.
Zach planned to settle Cody on the bed in their room when his bath was over – the first thing they’d actually done was put both beds together so they had somewhere to crash when their bodies gave out – with Shaun’s laptop and a DVD so they could make some headway on their room. Zach had claimed that Cody would be asleep before they found one of the alarm clocks they’d packed.
Once the beds had been set up and made, they’d started to unpack Cody’s boxes in the smaller bedroom that was originally going to serve as Shaun’s office before he went home for a few weeks and ran into Zach, fell in love, and found the family he hadn’t realized he’d been missing. It was important to both of them that Cody feel comfortable and settled even though the apartment might still look like a construction zone.
It wasn’t the chaos that was bothering Shaun. Or rather, not just the chaos. The fact that he was responsible for someone else now was just hitting him. Being with Zach had been, Jesus, it had been everything, and Shaun wasn’t talking about the sex, and the way Zach was so fucking eager to learn everything Shaun could teach him. It had been so easy – Shaun didn’t think anyone had ever understood him the way Zach just got him.
Shaun liked to think that he had been the same for Zach. Which is why their break-up had come as such a shock, and why it had torn him apart. It shouldn’t have surprised him, though, because Shaun had been Zach’s first relationship after he’d admitted to himself that he liked guys, and that was a precarious moment, straddling the closet door, wanting, but being afraid to reach out and take what you wanted. What you needed. It had been the same with art school.
Just when Shaun thought he’d lost everything, Zach was there again, reaching out with both hands to take what he wanted. Cal Arts. Shaun.
Things had moved quickly after that, because Jeanne was already packing up for Portland, planning to abandon Cody for another in a long line of crappy boyfriends. In a matter of hours Shaun had gone from alone, one more failed relationship behind him, to being part of a family that included a young child. Things had kept moving fast – they’d needed to reassure Cody and pack up their house so they could get to Valencia before the semester started.
Cody was a pretty amazing kid, and the way he smiled at Shaun and said his name, like he was always happy to see him, made Shaun’s insides melt. He was resilient, and in Shaun’s opinion, better off with Zach than he’d ever be with Jeanne. Now that things had started to slow down and Shaun had time to think, he wondered if they weren’t screwing Cody up. He had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t know how to be a parent.
Shaun stroked the fuzzy towel that hung over the side of one of the boxes labeled ‘bathroom’ as he walked past it to the boxes stacked in the designated office area in one corner of the living room, and started going through them to find the one that contained his laptop and computer accessories. The first thing Shaun saw when he opened the box was the teddy bear that had fallen out of one of the boxes of Cody’s toys.
Shaun picked up the stuffed animal that was worn from being held so often. He reached out to gently touch an ear that had started to come loose. It reminded him of the way Zach had been drifting, at Jeanne’s beck and call, before he’d started believing in himself, realized that taking what he wanted didn’t make him a bad person. Shaun snorted. At least he’d be a better parent to Cody than Jeanne had been. Though that wasn’t setting the bar very high.
By the time Zach and Cody came into the bedroom trailing a cloud of steam behind them, the laptop sat on the bed, waiting for whatever movie Cody had chosen, and the bear leaned against the pillows. Cody squealed when he caught sight of the bear. He jumped on the bed to grab it – Zach moved fast and put a steadying hand on the wobbling laptop – and then launched himself off the bed at Shaun.
Shaun managed to brace himself so they both didn’t end up on the floor. He caught Cody in his arms and pulled him in close. Cody wrapped the arm not holding the bear to his chest around Shaun’s neck, and pressed his face against Shaun’s. Shaun winced when Cody yelled, “You found him!” so close to his ear, but he just tightened his arms around Cody and breathed in the clean, little boy scent of him.
“He was hiding in the box with my laptop,” Shaun said.
“Speaking of . . . ,” Zach said, waving the now-empty DVD case.
“Thank you, Shaun,” Cody said, even as he started to scramble away, lured by the movie.
“You’re welcome, buddy.”
Shaun watched Cody climb up onto the bed and snuggle into the nest of pillows. Zach got the movie started and set the laptop on a pillow, and then he took the comb he’d hidden in one hand to Cody’s hair while he was half distracted. Once he was done, Zach joined Shaun on the floor.
Shaun had carried the boxes labeled ‘Z bed’ and ‘bedroom’ (Shaun had packed and labeled his boxes before he knew he’d be sharing space with two other people) and had already started digging through them. Clothes that needed hanging were in the closet, while the others remained boxed until they set up the dresser. An alarm clock already sat on the floor on one side of the bed.
Zach caught sight of it and grinned. “Cheater,” he said, but he leaned in for a quick kiss before they quietly went about putting the dresser together. They divided up the drawers and loaded them with items they wanted immediately at hand, and stored the rest in a couple boxes stacked in the closet to await the purchase of additional ‘storage solutions.’
“Uncle Zach,” Cody said, waving his fingers in Zach’s direction while his eyes stayed glued to the movie. “It’s getting to the part you like.”
Zach gave Shaun a look and went to join Cody on the bed. “Oh, this is my favorite part,” he said.
Without looking away from the screen, Cody patted the empty space on the other side of him. “You, too, Shaun.”
“Yeah, you, too, Shaun,” Zach said, smiling at Shaun over the top of Cody’s head.
Shaun looked at the as-yet untouched boxes and decided they could wait until they put their night stands together. He picked up the laptop and slipped onto the mattress next to Cody, then set it on his legs. Shaun rested his arm on the pillow above Cody’s head so he could place his hand on the back of Zach’s neck as they watched the movie together.
“Is this your favorite part, too, Shaun?” Cody asked sleepily.
Shaun glanced at the wet mop of unruly hair, despite the comb Zach had pulled through it, then looked at Zach, who was looking back at him. “Yeah,” Shaun said with a lump in his throat, “this is absolutely my favorite part.”
Zach ducked his head, but not before Shaun caught the small smile that turned up the corners of his lips, or the hint of pink that colored his cheeks. He relaxed back into the pillows and stroked his thumb against Zach’s neck as he returned his attention to the movie.
Shaun opened his eyes when the mattress dipped.
“Sorry,” Zach whispered. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I’m just going to put Cody to bed.”
Shaun glanced at Cody, who lay heavily against his arm and snored softly with every few breaths, and then at the blank screen of the laptop that Zach had somehow turned off without Shaun realizing.
“I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” Shaun said, wiping his face with the hand not attached to the arm trapped beneath Cody’s head.
Zach just smiled as he lifted Cody from the bed, cradled him in his arms, and carried him out of the room. Shaun listened to the sounds of Zach putting Cody to bed as he closed the laptop and set it on one of the boxes so it didn’t get stepped on. He was surveying the bedroom when Zach returned.
“What are you doing?” Zach asked.
“I was going to unpack some more boxes,” Shaun said, but he felt as confused as he sounded. He’d gotten just enough sleep to shut down his brain and it was having a difficult time rebooting.
“Tomorrow,” Zach said. “We were up early for the drive and it feels like we’ve been unpacking for a week. There’s nothing in those boxes we need tonight.”
“I guess you’re right,” Shaun said. He stumbled to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, only after he’d dried his face on the towel realizing that Zach must’ve gotten the items out of the boxes when he’d gotten Cody’s bath supplies.
Shaun kissed the tip of Zach’s nose when they traded places in the bathroom, merely saying, “Because,” when Zach gave him a questioning look. He looked in on Cody before returning to the bedroom he was going to be sharing with Zach for the rest of their lives (or until one of them made enough money for them to move into something large enough to have an office for him and a studio for Zach).
Shaun had stripped down to his briefs and was under the covers, leaning back against the pillows when Zach returned. He knew that Zach had detoured to peek in on Cody on his way back, as well. Zach turned off the overhead light switch near the door, since they hadn’t yet unpacked a lamp to plug in beside the bed, and tread carefully across the floor, though Shaun was sure they’d moved most of the boxes out of the way.
Zach stripped down to his boxers, then slipped under the covers and slid across the mattress to lie pressed up against Shaun’s side, his head resting on Shaun’s shoulder. Shaun brought his arm down to curl around Zach. He closed his eyes and sighed, the remnants of his minor anxiety attack fading away when Zach pressed a kiss to his collarbone.
“Are you having second thoughts?” Zach said softly.
Shaun picked up his head and looked down at Zach. “About what?”
Zach shrugged without looking at Shaun. “Today’s been pretty crazy.”
“It absolutely has,” Shaun agreed. “I might be having second thoughts about ever moving again, or about whether three people can live in an apartment this size and not get on each other’s nerves,” he admitted. Shaun reached for Zach’s hand and brought it to his mouth, pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist. “But not about this, not about us,” Shaun said.
Shaun felt the tension ease out of Zach. “Okay, good. Me either, in case you were wondering.”
“Good,” Shaun said, closing his eyes again and relaxing into the pillows.
“But you weren’t expecting Cody,” Zach said softly, fingers moving nervously against Shaun’s.
“Cody’s an amazing kid,” Shaun said, staring at the ceiling as he remembered the first night Zach had brought him over to Shaun’s house.
Zach smiled. “Yeah, he is. But it’s a big adjustment, and I just sprang it on you; you didn’t even really have a chance to think about it.”
“I didn’t need to think about it,” Shaun said, and he knew to the deepest part of himself that it was true. “I love you, and I love Cody. You two are the best thing that’s happened to me in . . . probably ever, okay?”
Zach looked like he thought it was too good to be true. Shaun felt the same way.
“I just . . . what if I’m not good at this, at being a parent?” Shaun said, letting some of his own insecurity show.
“Hey,” Zach said, raising his head. “Nobody thinks they’re going to be any good at this. But the fact that you’re worried about it at all means you’re steps ahead of some. And, if it makes any difference, I think you’re going to be pretty awesome at it.”
Shaun couldn’t help feeling buoyed by Zach’s faith in him. “Thanks.”
Zach smiled. “You’re welcome.” He lowered his head to Shaun’s shoulder and Shaun let his eyes drift closed again. Warm breath feathered across Shaun’s skin when Zach whispered, “Hey, Shaun, how tired are you?”
Without opening his eyes, Shaun said, “How tired are you?”
Zach pressed his groin into Shaun’s hip. Impressed, Shaun opened his eyes a crack. “Wow, really?”
“I don’t think I can,” Shaun said, though it came out whinier than he’d intended.
“Aww,” Zach said with fake sympathy, “are you getting too old to keep up?”
“I’m very tempted to say something like, ‘I’ll show you who can’t keep up,’ but I’m actually afraid it would be me,” Shaun said, earning a chuckle from Zach.
“So, is that a ‘no’ or an ‘I would if I could’?” Zach said. “Because I don’t want to pressure you if you’re not interested . . .”
“Hey,” Shaun said softly. “I may be . . . incapable,” he finally said with distaste, “or even unavailable for whatever reason, but I cannot imagine a day when I will never not be interested.”
Zach gave Shaun a shy smile, like he still couldn’t believe that anyone would say something like that to him. “Okay. So if I did all the work . . . ?”
“I don’t want you to have to do all the work,” Shaun said, “but I might need some help getting started.”
Having Zach lying against him and talking about sex had garnered a twitch of interest from Shaun’s dick, but that was all. Maybe he was getting old. He could clearly remember getting turned on – and being able to do something about it – just from watching Zach wax his surfboard not too long ago.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Getting old,” Shaun said morosely.
Zach chuckled. “You’re not getting old. You’re just not young anymore.”
“I’m not sure how you think that’s helping,” Shaun said, the last coming out more moan than anything resembling an actual word when Zach shifted enough to take Shaun’s nipple into his mouth. Shaun liked to have his nipples played with, and Zach had turned out to be a quick study at discovering the ways to touch Shaun and turn him into a quivering wreck.
Zach brushed his fingers over the inside of Shaun’s thigh, then stroked his hip when he got up on his knees to pay attention to Shaun’s other nipple. Zach dragged his lips across Shaun’s chest as he moved from one nipple to the other, taking his time with both, teasing them with his tongue, grazing them with his teeth.
Shaun moaned when Zach’s hand finally settled between his legs.
“Not so old, after all,” Zach teased in a whisper.
Shaun wanted to protest, but Zach squeezed him just right and took the sounds of pleasure Shaun couldn’t help making into his mouth.
Shaun finally got with the program and stopped letting Zach do all the work. He slid one hand down Zach’s back, fingers dipping beneath the waistband of his boxers to curl around his hip. He touched the side of Zach’s face with his other hand, then slid it around the back of his neck and urged him to deepen the kiss.
Zach made a needy sound that Shaun captured as he complied with the silent request. Shaun pushed at Zach’s boxers, and Zach got up onto his knees and used the hand that had been braced on the mattress to help push them down so he could kick them off. Zach helped Shaun with his briefs, and then climbed between his legs and lowered himself so their hips were flush. Zach made a sweet sound when his dick rubbed against Shaun, and he couldn’t resist raising up enough to kiss lips that had gone slack.
Shaun curled his hands over Zach’s shoulders, then slowly slid them down his back and around his hips, urging Zach to move against him as Shaun pushed up to meet his thrusts.
“You know what we do need out of those boxes?” Shaun said, voice strained.
“What?” Zach said, voice sounding just as rough as Shaun’s.
“Lube,” Shaun said.
Zach glanced in the direction of the boxes they could see the outline of from the street lights (curtains were definitely going on their shopping list), but he didn’t stop moving his hips. “You know what you need to do?” he said.
“Think . . . outside the box,” Zach said, and then he did stop moving.
Shaun groaned – more for the bad joke than the lack of pressure he thought. “That was bad.”
Zach grinned. He pressed a quick kiss to Shaun’s lips, then a succession of them down his chest and belly as he moved down the bed, placing a final kiss to the crease of his thigh before licking a stripe up the length of Shaun’s dick, and then taking the head into his mouth.
Shaun’s groan at the wet heat on his dick came out louder than he’d intended, and they both froze, listening for any sounds from Cody’s room. When a few seconds passed and they heard nothing, Zach gave Shaun a suckle, then released him to say, “Keep it down, old man, or I’ll have to gag you.”
Zach swallowed Shaun down again before he could formulate a reply, and then Shaun couldn’t remember why he’d even wanted to.
As Shaun pushed up into Zach’s mouth, he couldn’t help remembering the first time they’d done this, Zach equal parts eager and tentative. Zach had stared at Shaun’s dick for so long even after Shaun assured him that he couldn’t do it wrong, Shaun had been forced to admit to Zach that if he didn’t do something soon, he just might come all over Zach’s face anyway.
Zach had flushed, but he’d laughed, and when he finally put his mouth on him, Shaun had come embarrassingly quickly. Tonight, Shaun thought it might take longer – it had been a long, tiring day, not only physically, but emotionally, and Shaun was spent. He didn’t think that even the sight of Zach’s bent head, the wet heat of his mouth, would be enough to . . . Shaun hadn’t even finished the thought before his body proved him wrong – muscles tightening, toes curling as he spilled into Zach’s mouth.
After he’d emptied himself, Shaun slumped into the mattress. He felt like he’d gone a few rounds with Ali. Breathless, he said, “I thought that would take longer.”
Zach smirked as he licked Shaun’s come off his lips. “It’s okay.” He patted Shaun’s leg. “I hear it happens to everyone when they get old. Older, I mean.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Shaun said. He waved his hand. “Get up here so I can return the favor.”
“It’s not a favor,” Zach complained at Shaun’s word choice, but he didn’t waste any time crawling up Shaun’s body.
Shaun lapped at the head of Zach’s dick, holding his hips so he couldn’t push into Shaun’s mouth, then took just the head onto his tongue. Zach tipped his head back and closed his eyes, fists clenched at his sides, body taut from being forced to hold still and just let Shaun suckle him.
Shaun released Zach’s dick so he could speak. “Fuck my mouth.”
Zach groaned, but he leaned forward and grabbed the headboard as he guided his dick back into Shaun’s mouth. Zach came embarrassingly quickly after that.
“I’m going to blame the move,” Zach said breathlessly when he lay beside Shaun, recovering. “We’ll never speak of this night again.”
Shaun laughed. He thought about what it might have been like, the first night in his new apartment. He could’ve been alone, instead of sharing it with Zach and Cody. “I’m going to remember this night forever,” he said. “The first night in our apartment.”
“Sap,” Zach said, but his eyes were suspiciously bright.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Shaun said.
“I’m glad I’m here, too,” Zach said. He rolled to his side and snuggled up with Shaun again. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
Shaun combed his fingers through Zach’s hair, then pressed a kiss to the part of his forehead he could reach. “I believe in you, grasshopper.”
Zach huffed a laugh. “Let’s go surfing before school starts.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Zach sighed. “There’s still so much left to do.”
“It’ll get done. Sleep now; we’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“You’re here, everything else is cake,” Shaun said, then reconsidered. “Or you’re the cake, and everything else is icing. I don’t know anymore, I just confused myself.”
Zach snorted. “You must be tired if you can’t remember how to word. Sleep now; we’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
“Sounds like a great piece of advice,” Shaun said wryly. “Wish I’d thought of it myself.”
Zach had to stifle a giggle. “Oh god, we’re overtired now.”
“Shh,” Shaun said in a loud whisper. “We don’t want to wake Cody.”
“You better not have jinxed us,” Zach said as they both listened intently to see if Cody had been roused by their giggles.
They both breathed a sigh of relief when there was no sound from the hall, and then giggled again.
“Shit,” Zach said breathlessly, “shit, stop that.”
“You stop it,” Shaun said, “I’m too tired.”
“Oh god, me, too.”
They were both quiet for a few seconds, and then one of them giggled, which made the other giggle.
Shaun rolled Zach to his back. “Alright, I know how to shut you up. Shut both of us up, actually,” he clarified, then disappeared under the blanket.
“Wha–?” The word ended on a moan when Shaun took Zach into his mouth. “I’m not sure you realize just how much noise I make when you’re doing that.”
Shaun’s response was to take Zach down to the root. Zach’s muffled groan meant he’d either shoved his fist or a pillow into his mouth. The image of Zach forcing himself to be quiet turned Shaun on, and by the time Zach came down his throat, Shaun had spattered the bottom sheet with his own release.
Shaun dragged himself out from under the covers and flopped onto his back on the mattress next to Zach. “There, that’ll teach you to be quiet,” he said.
Zach hummed in response. “Yeah, you sure showed me. Actually, I think I could sleep now.”
“Me, too,” Shaun said.
“Wait, no I can’t,” Zach said.
“Because I’m in the wet spot,” Zach whined, which made Shaun giggle. “It’s not funny,” Zach said.
“No, I know,” Shaun said through his snickers. “Not funny at all.”
“We should’ve sixty-nined,” Zach said woefully, which set Shaun off again.
“Looks like somebody wasn’t thinking outside the box,” Shaun teased.
“How did this become my fault?” Zach said, poking Shaun in the chest.
“Because I, out of the goodness of my heart, and at no benefit to myself, gave you head so you wouldn’t wake Cody up.”
“So I wouldn’t wake Cody up? And you got nothing out of it?”
“Any pleasure I received was incidental,” Shaun said seriously.
“I’m gonna show you incidental,” Zach said.
Shaun remembered the towel hanging out of one of the boxes. “Wait, I have an idea!”
Shaun slipped out of bed and tiptoed towards the bedroom door.
“You’re sleeping on the couch?” Zach guessed.
“The couch hasn’t been delivered yet,” Shaun said. Which was a good thing; there was nowhere to put it right now.
Zach was sitting up, watching the doorway when Shaun returned and triumphantly held up the towel.
“My hero,” Zach said dryly, but he moved into Shaun’s spot so Shaun could lay out the towel over the wet spot.
Instead of switching back, Shaun slid under the covers where he was.
“What are you doing?” Zach said.
“So you’re gonna lie in it?”
“Something like that.”
Shaun got settled and opened his arm for Zach to curl up against his side.
“I can’t believe we already have to do sex laundry,” Zach said.
“Good thing we got laundry in the apartment,” Shaun said, smiling when Zach let out a soft snort.
“Planning on doing a lot of sex laundry, are you?”
“As plans go, I’ve heard of worse.”
“The time you and Gabe surf-skateboarded behind a bike,” Shaun said promptly.
“We were, like, eight,” Zach said.
“Down hill,” Shaun added.
“Still a bad idea.”
“Why didn’t you stop us?”
“I tried to stop you! You said, and I quote, no Shaun, this’ll be totally rad!” Shaun mimicked.
Zach laughed. “I never said ‘rad’.”
Shaun held up a hand. “I solemnly swear, your exact words.”
“Liar,” Zach said. “Are you telling me you never did anything stupid?”
“Hell no. You were there, you saw enough of them.”
“Not really,” Zach said. At Shaun’s look he said, “You were Gabe’s cool older brother, you were, like, a god to me.”
“Dennis Cameron,” Shaun said, wincing at the memory of that awful summer.
“Dennis Cameron was an asshole,” Zach said heatedly.
Shaun gave Zach a look. “Exactly how long have you known about me?”
“Gabe’s tenth birthday party. I saw you kiss Paul Kenny.”
“Wow,” Shaun said. “I had no idea. Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
Zach shrugged. “Can you think of a more awkward topic for a ten-year old boy?”
“You never acted any different,” Shaun said. “About me, I mean.”
“You were still my hero,” Zach said. After a pause, he admitted, “I was the one who let the air out of Dennis’ tires.”
Shaun laughed. “He blamed me for that! Probably still does.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“That’s okay,” Shaun said, then added, “Thanks.”
Zach held his fist up and Shaun bumped it with his own, then he pressed his lips to Shaun’s chest. “You’re welcome. Any time. Gotta take care of my boo.”
Shaun flushed with pleasure. “Boo?”
Shaun chuckled. He threaded his fingers with Zach’s and just breathed. It didn’t take long for the rhythm of his breaths to match Zach’s, and for his brain to start drifting, shutting down. Just before he fell asleep, Shaun heard Zach ‘s sleepy voice say, “Night, boo. Love you.”
“Love you, too, babe,” Shaun said, or thought he did. Zach’s fingers tightened in his, then relaxed. Shaun’s last thought wasn’t about the boxes still to be unpacked, or the shopping they needed to do for food and supplies. It was that he was right where he needed to be, here with Zach and Cody.