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Patrick Brewer looked up from restocking at the sound of Rose Apothecary's door bell. Alexis Rose swanned in, zeroing in on his position immediately.

"Pah-triick," Alexis called out, like she wasn't the only other person in the building. (Patrick didn't know when she's started adding that little lilt to the way she said his name, but he liked it. Somehow very few things made him feel more comfortable in his relationship than the fact that she half-whined his name with the same cadence she called for David).

"Hey Alexis. What can I do for you?” He smiled. “David's not here. He went over to Heather's to pick up -"

Alexis got very close, hovering at the edge of his personal space. "Hey, yeah, so... I know David's not here. That's actually, specifically why I'm here. See, I wanted to touch base with you about something." She looked around conspiratorially, petting her hair with a happy, nervous energy and studying the candles in the shelf over his shoulder. "Umm... So Ted was talking... And I agreed... That maybe, umm... Third time's a charm?"

Patrick looked at her blankly for a moment while she widened her eyes, trying to convey her point.

"Third...oh, oh wow!" He’d taken a moment to get her meaning, but now gave her a bright, genuine smile. Alexis bounced excitedly, heels making a delighted clomp-clop on the store's hardwood floors.

"I know, right!?!?" She squealed. She abruptly shifted to her best genuine-seriousness face and grabbed Patrick's hands. "So I just need to know your plans so I can get back to Ted on the best timeline."

Patrick, still smiling but now vaguely bemused, blinked back at her. "I'm sorry, I - I don't follow. We'll be happy to help with... Wedding stuff? If you want?

Alexis smiled conspiratorially and hit his bicep playfully. "Oh my God, Patriiick," there it was again, that sibling lilt. "You don't have to be coy, I won't TELL him, OBVIOUSLY. I just need to avoid a stealing-each-others-engagement-thunder situation, because that would just be... cringey. And I don't want this to be one of those he-thinks-you-did-it-because-of-me-and-Ted things either, because literally everyone knows this is full endgame for you guys so I'm not going to put that anxiety on him over a sure thing.” Alexis' face got a soft, faraway look for a moment before she shook her head, bright smile slipping back into place. "He'll never let me hear the end of it, anyway. And he deserves..." She pursed her lips, then smiled again and gestured vaguely. "Well it's not like he's ever gonna get engaged AGAIN, so. He should have a solid three weeks to gloat and be disgusting before Ted is allowed to do it."

Something equal parts nerves and delight twisted in Patrick's stomach at Alexis's casual statement.

Like it was a given.

Well she wasn't wrong . But...

"Alexis, I'm serious. I'm not planning anything. We really haven't even discussed it." He looked around at the store, hoping against hope that no customers chose the next few seconds to come in. He suddenly found he was having a hard time looking at his boyfriend's sister. "I, uh... I'm not even sure that's something David would even really be, be interested in, y'know?" He stole a glance back at Alexis's face. She was staring at him like she couldn't tell if he was serious, and blinked rapidly when he stopped talking like she was trying to process the information. They stared at one another in silence for a beat. Then Alexis laughed, throwing her head back and hitting Patrick again in the chest. "Oh my God, don't do that! You nearly had me, oh my God!” She howled, tears forming she was laughing so hard. “You’re so mean! I'm crying, and this mascera is not NEARLY as waterproof as advertised, oh my God!" Her laugh turned into giggles and the bell over the shop door rang as a gaggle of ladies that looked like they were on a day trip from Elmdale walked in, ooh'ing and ahh'ing at the decor. Both Patrick and Alexis glanced at them, Patrick smiling professionally.

"Good afternoon ladies! I'll be over to help you in just a moment."

Alexis, laughter still hovering at the edges of her smile, grinned at him. "Well, I'll let you get back to it. Thanks for that, I needed it." She delicately dabbed her eyes, still smiling, and turned to go. "But seriously. Patrick? Like, you don't have to tell me your plans but, like, do you think you could get a move on? Because if I have to wait more than like 3 months, it's gonna be Christmas, and I do NOT want to be in one of those your-engagement-ring-is-your-christmas-present situations. Because Ew."

"Sure, I'll get…” he sucked on his teeth. “...right on that." He finished with a nod and a tight smile.

Alexis shot him a grin over her shoulder as she opened the door. "Thanks! Oooo I'm so excited!!" She squealed as she swanned out.

Patrick shook his head and slapped on his customer-service smile, walking over to the ladies. One in a green visor smiled maternally.

"Friend of yours?" She asked, raising her eyebrows towards the closed door of the shop.

Patrick's smile shifted to genuine. "Uh... S-Sister-in-law, actually," he corrected, trying out the term.

"Oh," the lady replied warmly. She turned back to the scarves she'd been thumbing through. "Do you have something like this but more summery? I don't want to wait until it starts getting colder to have to wear this."

Swallowed his glee, as well as the feeling he was getting away with something scandalous, Patrick cast about the store. "You know, there's nothing knit, but we did just get some hand-dyed scarves in from a new vendor. Let me grab some for you to look at."

 

And just like that, he fell back into the rhythm of the day.

 

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    That is, until David got back just before close and greeted Patrick with a familiar kiss on the cheek and a cup of tea. The unexpected appearance, along with his favorite beverage, brought that knot of nerves and butterflies back full-force.

"I thought you'd go home after dealing with vendors all day," Patrick had prompted, elbows leaning on the counter, tea clasped in both hands. David waved his hand dismissively and floated around the skin care products. "Well, I was coming literally right past the store. It would have made me unreasonably and unjustifiably anxious to drive by and not check in to make sure you haven't put those fugly baba yaga brooms out by the candles again."

"You mean the brooms we agreed you'd let me put out for Halloween two days ago?"

"...Mmhmm" David bit his lips and continued studying the moisturizers.

"Ah. And the tea?"

David pointedly ignored him.

Patrick sidled his way around the counter and made a show of looking David up and down until his boyfriend broke and, flustered, turned to him. "What."

"Just, ah... Where your coffee?"

David made a face like he was smiling through a lemon. "Ok, so maybe I didn't get a coffee. Maybe I decided I didn't need caffeine at 445 on a Tuesday, ok?"

"Wait," the overly-sincere tone betrayed Patrick's straight face. "Are you saying you just... Brought me tea? Out of the goodness of your heart?"

David preened a little, swinging drastically from avoiding the admission to over-confidence. Which meant he no longer felt self-conscious about making the excuse to come into the store.

"What can I say, I'm incredibly generous,"

Patrick lightly grabbed his boyfriend's face with both hands, enjoying the mischievous sparkle David's eyes got whenever he did that, and brought the taller man down to meet him for a gentle kiss.

"I missed you too," he admitted quietly. "I always miss you when I don't see you all day."

David made a dismissive noise, but couldn't hide his delight. "Ughhh, ugh! How'd we become these people?" He stood up and shook his head and upper body like he was shaking water off. "I thought moving in together was supposed to make people want to spend LESS time with each other! Blech."

Patrick screwed up his face in over-the-top concern. "Uh oh, you think you'll survive my conference next month?" The familiar tease came easily, as did David's radiant, faux-tragic response.

"I'm seriously considering checking myself into rehab for the entirety. I hear Lindsay Lohan's back in again, we'd have SO much to catch up about. I'd probably barely miss you."

Patrick crowded into David's space, the taller man taking the cue and draping his arms over Patrick's blue dress shirt, playing with the collar.

"Well, I mean, you could always come with me," he suggested casually. "We could leave Alexis to run the store-"

"Hard pass."

"-stay in a hotel with actual room service. You could learn about tax exemptions and human resources."

"Hawt," David replied sardonically, leaning in to steal a kiss.

"We could learn how to overhaul the online ordering system together. Maybe even hold hands in the liability and osha regulations seminar," Patrick continued, grin sneaking in against David's mouth.

"Hot sexxxxy sex," was his boyfriend's response before they left off the banter for a minute to carry on with the more important task of kissing one another thoroughly. As it was, Patrick could feel David's laughter on his tongue and both men were still smiling as they pulled apart.

 

   Eventually, David floated away to finish restocking while Patrick locked up and closed the register. He was bagging up the deposit before he had convinced himself this conversation would be completely normal.

Which... Yeah. Sure. Totally casual.

Totally casual to bring up marriage.

For the first time in their three years together.

 

"So speaking of Alexis-" he started.

David turned and pinned him with a critical squint/head-tilt combo.

"Were we, though?" He asked pointedly.

"Well, she came in today," he charged on, pointedly keeping his eyes on the deposit slip he was filling out. Totally natural. Very casual.

David sighed dramatically. "She didn't come in scamming for more free stuff, did she? I told her, 10% off is my final concession. It's not like we didn't pay her for-"

"Apparently she and Ted are talking about getting married."

Patrick looked up in time to catch David's cascade of expressions. Surprise melted into a pained look, which was chased off by a kind of bemused internal self-assessment Patrick mentally referred to as his boyfriend's Whadda-huh face, which melted into a what looked most like disbelief. The smaller man pretended he hadn't been watching intently when David turned to face him fully, blinking rapidly like he was struggling to process the information.

"Alexis and Ted?  Broken-up-with-twice Ted? Married. Wow, ummm... Okay," he processed aloud. He squinched his eyes shut and struggled valiantly to mask a level of emotion that appeared to be a surprise. "When, umm, whennn, when, okay," David shook his hands like he was trying to disperse all his disparate thoughts, took a breath, and tried again, striking a casual pose and smiling brightly. "Married?!" He almost completely masked the hysterical bent to his voice.

Patrick gave David an indulgent smile and continued his closing paperwork. "Yeah, she came in... It's not a done deal or anything. She was just excited, I guess."

David rolled his eyes. "Yeah. Sure. That sounds like Alexis. Definitely. Just excited, that's why she came in here to tell us. Personally. That it's even, even, even on the table again." There was an unexpected, nervous frustration Patrick couldn't quite parse radiating off of David, but he carried on as though he hadn't noticed.

"I mean, it's nice for them. That they're back to that place. Where they can talk about spending the rest of their lives together." Patrick shrugged, trying so hard to be casual but only barely succeeding.

David heaved an exasperated sigh. "People don't have to talk about getting married to know they're going to spend their lives with a person, I mean... Ugh!" He spun out like leaning on the counter was restraining him somehow and started gesturing wildly in the way he tended to when a simmering issue had come to a full roiling boil. "I mean, look at you! You were engaged and look how THAT turned out. Traumatic. I'm not going to, to... foist the idea of marriage upon you simply because it's what we’re supposed to do. It doesn't change anything. I don’t need to peer-pressure a ring and a ceremony into your life simply to prove our relationship is just as real as the one you almost… almost… guh.” He shook his head. “No. No, she’s just dangling a potential 5th engagement in front of me because she found my private pinterest boards once." He crossed his arms in front of his chest and started worrying the sleeve of his sweatshirt between finger and thumb. His body language was closed and tense, and - like always - Patrick’s nerves evaporated in the face of David’s anxiety. Because David had thought about this. Like, a LOT.

It sounded like he wanted it just as much as Patrick did, and was just as nervous to bring it up. Possibly more. A beaming grin escaped before he bit it down, broadcasting fondness but choosing to undercut the tension with a joke. “I’m sorry - Foist marriage upon me? What do you think this is, Little Women?”

David’s eyeroll was so hard it took his whole head with it, but his arms dropped and he returned to the counter so Patrick counted it as a win. “You know what I mean. I never wanted to… I’m the first man you’ve ever been with. I didn’t want to come off as some desperate Bachelor-reject type.”

“Oh, so you just assumed I’d never want to get married and we’d somehow avoid the discussion until we died.” Patrick couldn’t fully hide his amused smile, but he didn’t really want to either. He reveled in the sparkle David’s face had for a moment at his casual acknowledgement of forever. The taller man leaned further across the counter, mirroring Patrick and getting into his personal space. He looked unreasonably smug. “Yeah, basically.” He leaned in to kiss Patrick and they both melted into it for a moment. Patrick pulled back first, face serious.

“You know, for a long time I didn’t think I’d ever get married,” he told David softly, anticipating his boyfriend’s soft, sad smile and understanding nod. “But now? I find the idea isn’t something I’m terribly adverse to. One might actually say I’m solidly a fan. But I figured you…” He looked down at the counter for a moment,  retroactively embarrassed. “Honestly I figured marriage might be something you wouldn’t be interested in. Too… traditional? I dunno.”

David’s smile brightened until it was almost too much to see so close. He screwed up his mouth, trying and failing to keep his expression at least marginally schooled. (He failed miserably). “Well, I could probably be convinced it’s not the worst idea, given an adequate venue and budget,” he replied, tracing a ringed finger through the hair behind Patrick’s ear.
“I hear doing it with the right person is pretty important too,” Patrick snarked back, diving in for another quick, light kiss. David smiled against his lips.

“I mean, I guess.”

There was a beat, then Patrick put on an exaggerated look of skepticism and pulled back. “Did you just-”

David looked aghast and flailed a bit helplessly. “Oh! God! No! No no no, this is NOT how I ask you to marry me, no. No.”

Now it was Patrick’s turn to light up the room with a smile. “So you want to?”

“No! I mean, I mean… oh god,” David ground his palms into his eye sockets. “This is not the engagement story I wanna tell the kids.”

Patrick about swallowed his tongue. “... kids?” As much as he hated how small and vulnerable he sounded, he needed to be sure he’d heard correctly. Because David had just casually dangled an entire, perfect life in front of him and he needed to be sure.

David’s loose fists floated down in front of his mouth, eyes terror-wide and eyebrows high. His shoulders were up around his ears, tension having pinned him to the spot.

“... oh god,” he whispered nearly inaudibly. “Patrick, I didn’t… we don’t… it’s just, I’d just have the thought… sometimes… it’s so stupid, I’m sorry…”

 

That was the moment. He’d been sure for months, maybe even years at this point, but that was the moment he saw everything so clearly he was concerned he’d hallucinated. They were on the same page, crazy as that sounded. They wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. David wasn’t just ok with the idea of getting married - he’d thought of them having a family.  Patrick was looking at his future, packaged in black and white and standing in the middle of the life they’d already built together.

 

   But first he had to short-circuit the panic attack he could see brewing in David’s body language. He rushed around the counter and gently but firmly brought his boyfriend’s hands down from in front of his face. Then he pulled him forward and down with another hand on the back of David’s neck, and wrapped him up in a solid, steady hug. David clutched Patrick with only a hint of the panic he’d had a moment ago and buried his head in Patrick’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean, I mean, it’d be… I’d be okay with… I’m not-”

“Hey, hey, breathe.” Patrick rubbed a soothing, steady hand up and down David’s back until he felt the tension melt. “You calm enough to listen to me?” he asked with a smile. Feeling David nod and hearing the huff of laughter against his neck, he allowed the taller man to stand but not back up. He caught David’s eyes and held them. “I wanna marry you too, David.” Patrick found himself on the receiving end of one of David’s incredibly rare, hyper-focused, entirely open stares. A distant part of him wondered if there was a way to bottle this feeling. “I wanna live with you and get annoyed with you and bug the shit out of you and spend all day every day working for a great life with you. I wanna have a family, and I don’t care if it’s kids or dogs or just nieces and nephews, as long as it’s with you. You’re my Mariah Carey, remember?”

“Okay, that’s not fair, I’m already emotionally compromised,” replied David archly, unable to hide his overly-dewy eyes when they were this close. He fluttered his eyelashes and smirked at the smaller man in his arms, trying to diffuse the tension. “Mr. Brewer, did you just…”

Patrick smirked. “Oh, no. No, you’ll know when I’m officially asking. It’s gonna be a great story. The kids’ll love it.”

David sighed and patted Patrick’s shoulders, making a put-upon, sour face that couldn’t really hide his laughter. (Could it ever?) “Okay.” He pulled away, making a show of gathering his things.

“I’ll make sure it’s in front of your whole family… maybe even the whole town?”

“It’s time to go, I’m leaving!” David grabbed his things in a flourish and made his way towards the door. Patrick grabbed the deposit and turned off the lights, making his way to where his boyfriend was holding the door for him with theatrical impatience.

“Why thank you, Mr. Brewer,” he replied just to get that last needle in. It landed perfectly.

“Oh, you KNOW we’re both going to be Roses, right? Because I am NOT changing the name of this store.”

 

The debate over last names continued all the way to the car. Patrick couldn’t help but think “Brewer Rose” had a nice ring to it. Not that he’d admit that until just before the paperwork was signed. Maybe he could convince David that “Brewer” would make a good middle name, considering he was pretty sure nobody remembered what his real middle name was. Maybe Alexis could help convince him. Wait, speaking of Alexis...

They got all the way to the apartment before Patrick’s curiosity got the better of him. “Wait, FIVE engagements?”