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Citrus and Powdered Sugar

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Nate finds out they need a new roommate at the worst possible moment.

It’s a Thursday night in November, most of the way through a hell-week. He’s got a stack of papers to grade that covers their entire dining room table, he’s been sleeping terribly, and Gabe’s out late for the fourth night in a row, covering some horrifically dull corporate get-together for his “great on my resume” unpaid internship. Nate feels like he can’t be blamed for getting upset when Matt corners him while he’s eating reheated Chinese food standing up at the kitchen counter and informs him he’s moving to Ottawa for grad school.

Nate likes to imagine he’s a reasonable, level-headed person, which is why he cringes relaying the story to Gabe later. “I told him grad school’s a terrible idea and he’d make more money if he just stayed here and kept working at that car dealership,” he whispers to Gabe as they lay in bed. “I was probably shouting. I’ll have to ship an apology cake to goddamn Ottawa.”

Gabe pets him on the arm sympathetically. “Sorry, babe. When did he say he was going?”

“He left already!” Nate groans. “Fucking coward. He paid his rent through the rest of the month, but he’s already loaded up his damn minivan and gone to Ottawa. How are we gonna get someone to rent his room? We can’t cover the rent on this place by ourselves, that’s the whole reason he’s here in the first place!”

Gabe sighs. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get a paid internship. Nobody wants some unproven marketing grad who’s not even American covering all their authentic American sports, you know?”

Nate hears the bitterness in his tone and cringes. Gabe’s brilliant at marketing, had graduated near the top of his class, but he’s been having a dismal time trying to turn that fancy marketing and PR degree into an actual job.

“I could always quit the internship and go get a real job—” Gabe continues, and Nate’s face hardens.

No, c’mon, Gabe, we talked about this. I know how bad you want to work in sports marketing and you need an internship like this to get in the door, right? Isn’t that what you told me? And I promised you we’d make it work! We’ll find a new roommate and you won’t have to quit, okay? I swear.” He reaches out and wraps a comforting hand around Gabe’s wrist. “I promise, babe.”

Gabe sighs, but he leans over and kisses Nate, softly. “Okay.” He cuddles closer, tucking his head under Nate’s chin to lie on his chest, and Nate presses a kiss to his hair. Gabe, exhausted from endless hours of running around at the beck and call of fancy marketing execs, falls asleep quickly; Nate lays awake much longer, staring at the ceiling.

“Don’t any of Nate’s teacher friends need somewhere to stay?” Colin asks Gabe the next morning as they get in line to buy coffees for their managers. Gabe sighs as Colin smiles charmingly at the barista and swipes the company card he’d somehow been entrusted with, even though he’s an unpaid intern just like Gabe.

“It’s too late in the year, I guess, they’ve all got somewhere,” Gabe shrugs. “He’s asking in case there’s anyone, but teachers kinda have to be organised early, y’know?”

Colin nods as he hands two coffees to Gabe to doctor, then starts meticulously adding cream and sugar to the other two. “That makes sense.”

“It’s just so frustrating, you know?” Gabe says, ripping the top off a sugar packet with more force than necessary. “We had everything sorted, you know, Nate’s salary isn’t much but we really thought we’d got it figured out so we could afford for me to do this internship this year, and now I don’t know what we’re gonna do. God knows we can’t afford the rent on our own.”

Colin frowns at him as they make their way back to the office. “I’m so sorry, Gabe. If I knew of anyone at all who might need somewhere, I’d – wait!”

Gabe freezes. “What? What? Did we forget someone’s caramel syrup again? I cannot have a repeat of last time, Colin, she yelled at me in front of half the department—”

“No, not that,” Colin says, laughing. “I think I know someone who might want the room!”

Gabe lets out a breath. “Jesus, you scared me.” He laughs softly. “You really think so? Who is it?”

“One of the guys in my book club was talking about his old college friend who’s moving to town,” Colin says. He balances the coffees deftly in one hand and swipes his swipecard to let them back into the office with the other; Gabe watches in faint awe. “He’s… a chef, I think? Just finished culinary school and got a job at some restaurant downtown.”

Gabe hurries to get in front of Colin so he can turn to face him, stopping them both halfway across the lobby. “Colin. Colin. My friend Colin. Can you please, please see if this guy needs somewhere to stay? Please? I’ll do anything. I’ll overlook that you’re apparently in a book club. I’ll make you dinner!”

Colin laughs. “I’ll sit out your cooking, Gabe, thanks. How about this: I’ll call Jamie, see if I can get his friend’s number for you, and you promise not to cook for me ever again.”

Gabe’s so relieved he doesn’t even react. “Colin, you’re a damn hero.”

When Gabe finally, finally makes it home from the office that night, Chinese takeout boxes under one arm, he finds Nate building a catapult on the coffee table in the living room.

This, in fact, isn’t unusual for a Friday night in their home, so Gabe just ducks the ping pong ball that comes flying at his head, waves off Nate’s “sorry!”, and goes to get a pair of beers from the fridge.

He flops down onto the couch next to where Nate is making some kind of adjustment to the throwing arm, and nudges a pile of elastic bands out of the way to make room for the takeout. He shoves a forkful of food into his mouth, then waves the fork vaguely towards the catapult. “What’s this for?”

“Trying to teach eleventh graders about projectiles,” Nate says, and snaps a rubber band into position with a satisfied little ha! noise. “Thought this might be more fun for them than the diagrams in the textbook.”

Gabe pokes him gently in the ribs with his socked foot. “Eat something. Your weapon can wait.”

Nate turns to him and grins brilliantly, and Gabe realises what he’s just said a split second before Nate goes, “My weapon, huh?”

“That was terrible,” Gabe groans. “You’re a dork.”

“Dude, I’m a physics teacher, it’s in the job description.” Nate abandons the catapult to sit next to Gabe, picking up one of the beer bottles and taking a long swallow.

“Pretty sure dick jokes aren’t in your job description,” Gabe points out, but Nate just shrugs and makes a what can you do motion with his fork. Around a mouthful of spring rolls, he mumbles, “How was your internship? Any caramel syrup meltdowns?”

Gabe laughs. “I had Colin’s help with the coffee today, and he never forgets anything ever, so I was saved from the syrup nightmare today, thank god—oh!” Gabe exclaims, smacking Nate in the chest.

Nate looks up with an injured expression. “What?”

“Colin knows someone who might want our spare room!”

Nate frowns and rubs his chest. “Well you didn’t have to injure me about it.”

Gabe rolls his eyes, then leans over and plants a smacking kiss right where his hand had hit. “All better. Now. Listen to me.”

“You call me lame. Okay, I’m listening, who is it?”

Gabe takes a swig of his beer. “Some friend of a guy in his book club. He’s a chef, apparently, just got a job at some place downtown.”

Nate’s eyes light up. “A chef! Gabe, I wanna live with a chef! D’you think he’d cook for us? Can we take home-cooked dinners as rent payments?”

Gabe frowns. “I don’t think we can make him cook for us, Nate. Besides, we need that rent, that’s the whole point, remember?”

Nate scoffs. “I know, but just – just imagine. Imagine if a real chef made us dinner! Imagine someone actually cooking a real meal in our kitchen!”

“Hey!” Gabe exclaims. “I’ve cooked you plenty of meals in our kitchen, thanks very much.”

“Reheating a frozen pizza does not count as cooking a meal, Gabe.”

“It does too, and anyway, that’s not all! Remember when I made you breakfast the first time you stayed over—”

“Okay, firstly, that wasn’t this kitchen, that was your dorm room, and secondly, toasting a Pop Tart is not the same thing as making breakfast.”

“There was coffee too!” Gabe says hotly, and he’s really gearing up now for a rant about this, so Nate cuts him off.

“Tell me about chef guy, Gabe.”

Gabe deflates a little. “Colin gave him my number, told him to call us tonight or tomorrow and ask about the room. Honestly, we’re probably gonna have to give him the room either way or we won’t make rent this month, so at least he’s sort of Colin-verified instead of some rando off Craigslist or something.”

Nate sighs. “Sorry teachers make so little. I wish I could afford to rent this place just for us.”

Gabe stretches an arm around Nate’s shoulders, pulling him into his side. “I know, babe. Sorry marketing interns make nothing at all. We’ll figure it out.”

The guy ends up calling them at ten on Saturday morning, which is a perfectly reasonable and respectable time for someone to call, Gabe supposes, but it’s still a Saturday morning, and they’d been up entirely too late – they’d decided that since it was Friday, they could justify having a couple more beers each, which led to them tipsily testing out different things from the apartment in the catapult, which led to Nate trying to catapult a dildo across their living room, which led to Gabe smirking and saying he had better ideas for what they could use the dildo for, and that devolved into a different kind of evening altogether. Suffice it to say, Gabe is not in any way awake enough for a phone call.

The guy on the phone is so friendly and cheerful, though, that Gabe starts to feel a bit less grumpy about having been woken up. He sounds genuinely desperate for the room, too, half tripping over his words trying to talk to Gabe about it. “Dude, you’ve no idea how grateful I am you guys are even thinking about letting me have this room, I’m so glad Jamie – that’s my friend Jamie, you know who he is, right? He’s the one who like, told your friend I needed a place? And he’s been saying he’d help me find somewhere but he’s not always the greatest at actually following through on stuff where he has to like, talk to people, and so I was surprised, y’know, when he said he might know somewhere, and I’ve been freaking out about it because I’m supposed to start work on Tuesday and I’m crashing on Jamie’s couch still and him and his boyfriend have three dogs and not that I don’t love dogs but it’s kind of squished and—”

Gabe lets the guy – Tyson, he said his name was – ramble into his ear as he pokes at the coffee machine, roots through the cupboards to see if they have anything remotely resembling breakfast food. Finally, Tyson seems to run out of steam, and Gabe takes the opportunity when there’s a break in the conversation to say, “Honestly, we’d be glad to rent you the room, we need someone to move in right away so it works for us.”

There’s a beat of silence, then a half laugh from the other end of the phone. “Shit, dude, really? I realise I kinda just talked your ear off, I ramble when I get nervous and I was really freaking about getting a place and – um, anyway. Thank you so, so much.”

They hash out details while Gabe makes toaster waffles one-handed. After they agree that Tyson will come over later to start moving some of his stuff in, Tyson thanks him another half-dozen times. Gabe hangs up and carries a plate of waffles and two mugs of coffee into the bedroom.

Never one to pass up extra bed space once it becomes available, Nate is starfished across the middle of their bed on his stomach, snoring loudly. Gabe can see that Nate’s even drooled a little onto what – Gabe squints – yep, that’s actually Gabe’s pillow, Nate’s own having fallen off the other side of the bed somewhere. He’s a disaster. Gabe loves him so much he aches with it.

Gabe sets the mugs and plate down on his nightstand, then nudges Nate over and sits on the bed. A moment later, Nate’s eyes flutter open, and he glares with open contempt at Gabe.

“Gabe, what the hell time is it? Why are you awake?”

Gabe laughs. “Morning, sunshine! We have a roommate!”

Nate, clearly not quite awake yet, frowns up at him. “What?”

“Colin’s friend. Or Colin’s friend’s friend, I guess. The chef. He’s coming around tonight and if he doesn’t totally despise us he’s gonna take the room.”

Nate squints. “Don’t use words like despise before I’ve had coffee.”

Gabe stretches around and gets a mug to hand him, and Nate makes a sound of pure joy as he reaches for it. He takes a huge gulp, then closes his eyes in bliss. “Okay, if this new guy coming over is the price of coffee in bed, I’ll take it.”

Gabe chuckles and pulls the plate of waffles onto his lap. “Whatever it takes, babe.”

Their buzzer goes at precisely 7:59pm, just as they’re finishing the last of their takeout and half-heartedly arguing over an episode of Property Brothers. Gabe, with the sudden sinking realisation that this guy is a professional chef, shoves their takeout containers into the very back of the fridge on his way to buzz Tyson into the apartment.

A couple minutes later there’s a knock on the door, and Gabe swings it open to reveal the guy who, hopefully, will be their new roommate.

He’s a little shorter than Gabe, with curly brown hair and a smile that immediately puts Gabe at ease. He also, Gabe realises, is wearing a polo shirt that shows off some very toned forearms. Gabe blinks, and is suddenly aware he’s just been standing here staring. He snaps out of it and extends a hand. “Hi! I’m Gabe.”

Tyson shakes his hand with a laugh. “Hey, nice to meet you, I’m Tyson!” Gabe ushers him inside and shuts the door, and when he turns around Nate’s shaking Tyson’s hand and introducing himself.

They sit on the couch, Nate in the middle. Nate immediately turns to Tyson and says, “Bro, you’re a chef, right? Will you cook for us when you move in?”

Gabe smacks him on the arm and hisses, “Nate!” but Tyson’s already laughing.

“I wouldn’t have been a chef if I didn’t love cooking for people. But I’m usually out super late at the restaurant, so I can make you dinner at like eleven in the morning, or else at 2am.”

Gabe leans over Nate to say, “Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to cook for him. Believe it or not, Nate really can make his own food. Well… he can make things to keep himself alive, I’m not quite sure it counts as food.”

“Hey!” Nate exclaims. He turns back to Tyson. “I’m a perfectly competent adult, Gabe’s just an asshole.”

Tyson just laughs. “I get the feeling this is a long-standing argument. Not much of a cook, huh?”

“Neither’s Gabe,” Nate mutters, pouting.

“We, um… we order a lot of takeout,” Gabe says sheepishly.

Tyson shakes his head sadly, but he’s still grinning when he meets Gabe’s eyes. “How dare you, honestly. Shame on you.”

Gabe laughs wryly. “I work stupid hours, I usually run out of time to do anything else.”

“Oh yeah, you work at that marketing company with Jamie’s friend, right?” Tyson says, leaning forward in interest. “What’s it like? Do you get to go to fancy parties and meet celebrities and stuff?”

“I’m just a lowly intern,” Gabe sighs. “No celebrities for me, just lots of coffee runs. I really want to work in sports marketing, but you’ve gotta start from the bottom, and I’ve only just graduated so I don’t have the experience to get a real marketing job yet.”

Tyson frowns. “Man, that sounds hard.”

“It’s not great,” Gabe admits, rubbing the back of his neck. “We’re lucky Nate’s got his job or we’d be screwed for sure.”

Tyson turns to Nate. “Ooh, do you have a fancy marketing job, then?”

Nate snorts. “God no, nobody’d trust me to sell them anything. Nah, I teach high school physics.”

To Gabe’s surprise, Tyson lights up at that. “Aw, man, that’s so cool! I loved physics, I had this awesome teacher and we did all these cool experiments.”

“Really?” Nate’s interested now, and Gabe recognises his teaching-nerd voice. “What kind of stuff? I always wanna know what kind of stuff stays with people, y’know, that’s always so helpful when we can make something memorable enough to stick in your head after you leave—”

Tyson starts enthusiastically explaining some kind of Bunsen-burner-related adventure he had in high school, and Gabe sits back and smiles. Sometimes even the best of Nate’s friends just tune him out when he talks about physics stuff, and Gabe himself admittedly has a hard time following along with it sometimes, but Tyson looks just as enthralled as Nate is. Gabe watches as Nate gets louder, hand gestures getting wider, and feels like having Tyson live with them could be a very good thing.

Tyson ends up staying until almost midnight, and agrees enthusiastically that he’s going to take the room. He leaves in a flurry of bro hugs and backslaps, promising to be back bright and early to start moving stuff in, and Nate and Gabe fall into bed with smiles on their faces.

The next morning, Nate’s woken a little after nine by the sound of Tyson’s brand-new key in the lock. He lays there, warm and comfortable, Gabe a solid line of heat against his back, and listens to Tyson shuffle in and out with what sound like boxes; eventually, guilt forces him to slip out from beside Gabe, slip on sweats and a t-shirt, and go to see if Tyson needs help.

When he leaves their room, he finds Tyson not in his own new bedroom, but in their kitchen. He’s humming softly under his breath and shoving something into one of the cupboards; what looks like every piece of cooking equipment Nate and Gabe have ever owned is out on the countertops.

Nate knocks gently on the doorframe and says quietly, “Tyson?”

Tyson swears loudly and drops what he was holding: it turns out to have been several oranges, which roll away across the kitchen floor. He turns with a hand over his heart, breathing heavily like a shocked Victorian lady. “Jesus, Nate, you gave me a heart attack!”

Nate laughs softly. “Sorry, bro. D’you need any help with your, um, oranges?”

To Nate’s surprise, Tyson blushes bright red. “Oh, um, I was… I was gonna make breakfast for you and Gabe. To thank you for renting me the room, you know?”

Nate blinks. “Oh! Oh, man, you don’t have to do that.”

Tyson turns away to start gathering up the oranges. “I wanted to, though. Unless - oh man, are you guys not breakfast people? Or is it too early? I shoulda been more careful, it’s a Sunday morning, maybe you guys have plans--”

Nate smiles at him, watches Tyson’s face relax when he sees Nate’s expression. “I think it sounds great. Can I help?”

Forty-five minutes later, Gabe wakes to find the other side of the bed cold. He stumbles out to the kitchen to find Tyson dusting powdered sugar over a mountain of French toast, laughing, ducking his head because of something Nate’s saying; Nate, who is using those beautiful strong arms that Gabe loves so much to press oranges in an actual orange juicer.

Gabe stands unnoticed in the doorway for a moment and just watches them. He wonders if it should feel weird, to wake up and find his boyfriend missing, for Nate to be laughing in their kitchen with someone else on a Sunday morning when they normally spend Sundays in bed together, having lazy morning sex, kissing under the blankets, napping on and off well into the afternoon. But he looks at their kitchen, warm and inviting even with the Denver snow falling heavy outside the windows, and sees Nate’s face crinkled up with happiness, and how easily Tyson moves around their space already, and he can’t feel anything except warm.

Tyson notices him, eventually, and smiles that big smile Gabe’s already starting to recognise as Tyson’s genuinely delighted smile. “Morning, Gabe! I made French toast! Nate did absolutely nothing to help.”

Behind him, Nate cries indignantly, “Hey! Who juiced all these damn oranges, huh?”

Tyson splutters, turns to him to say, “Who had to give you three separate demos on how to use the juicer? ‘Tyson, it doesn’t work, Tyson, I can’t do this, Tyson, why don’t you just buy a carton--’”

“But I did it, look!” Nate exclaims, and waves a big jug of orange juice at both of them. It sloshes dangerously against the sides, and Gabe moves over to take it from him and set it on the table.

“Yes, babe, your juice is fantastic, I’m sure,” Gabe soothes. “Tyson, this looks amazing, you didn’t have to make breakfast.”

“I thought it might be nice, y’know?” Tyson says, turning to put the plate of toast on the table. “I wanted to thank you guys for letting me rent the room, and, I dunno, everyone loves breakfast.”

Gabe grins and slides into a seat at the table. “Well, thanks, then. I love French toast.”

“I bet I could make French toast, if you wanted me to,” Nate grumbles, but he brightens when Tyson puts a jug of real maple syrup in front of him, and a plate for his French toast.

Tyson comes to sit with them a moment later, bringing with him a full coffee pot and a bowl of cut up strawberries. Gabe gapes at him, and Tyson shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “What?”

“This is by far the fanciest meal anyone has ever made in this kitchen,” Gabe tells him. “I thought we managed okay, but this is just - this is amazing.”

Tyson blushes. “It’s just breakfast.”

Nate, who has helped himself to some French toast, moans around his fork. “Oh my God, Tyson. This is not just breakfast. This is a miracle. Gabe, try it, try it!”

Gabe dutifully puts a slice of French toast on his plate, then cuts some off and bites into it. The noise he makes is one he’s never heard from his own mouth before. “Tyson, this is unbelievable.”

When he looks back at him, Tyson is bright, bright red, not just on his face but all the way down his throat and disappearing under the collar of his plain blue t-shirt. He clears his throat before saying, “I like cooking for people.”

Nate leans over the table to stare straight into Tyson’s eyes and says, very seriously, “Tyson, I need you to cook for us all the time. I will die if I do not eat your food for every meal.”

“Nate, we talked about this--” Gabe begins, but Tyson’s already burst out laughing.

“Learn to juice oranges all by yourself and we’ll see, buddy,” Tyson says, clapping Nate on the shoulder. “C’mon, don’t let your toast get cold.”

Nate flicks half a strawberry at him, then cuts the world’s biggest bite of French toast and stuffs the whole thing in his mouth.

Gabe can’t get the smile off his face, even as he turns to pour syrup and strawberries over his own French toast.

They fall into a routine faster than Nate could have imagined. Nate and Gabe get up together like they always have, moving around each other in the kitchen in a practiced dance of coffee maker and toast and suit jackets and shoe polish. Tyson gets in late from the restaurant, but still often stumbles out of his room a little before they leave, to drink coffee lazily at the kitchen table and watch Nate try to wrangle whatever cool experiment he’s devised this week into the back seat of his car.

When Nate gets home at night, Tyson and Gabe are often both still out, but by the time he’s changed into sweatpants and made his way through some grading, Gabe’s usually home, arriving in a flurry of paperwork. More and more often, when they go to poke through the fridge, Tyson’s left some kind of meal from the restaurant for them to eat - at first they have notes on that just say things like, “Help yourselves, we had extra! - Tyson”, but once they get to know each other better, Tyson’s notes get more interesting. “Gabe eat this damn turkey and stop telling me it’s only a Christmas thing, you are wrong and I hate you, Tyson xoxo”, “NATE here is a BURGER I told you I can make things that aren’t super fancy shut up”, “This is from our fancy couples menu!!! for you two LOVEBIRDS WINK WINK.”

The man himself usually isn’t home until close to midnight, but chances are one or both of them is still up, grinding through paperwork or marking assignments or, occasionally, yelling at a west coast hockey game with a half-dozen empty beer cans littering the coffee table. Tyson’s always tired when he comes in, but too wired from the restaurant buzz to sleep yet, so he tends to curl up on the couch and talk to them. He asks Gabe so many questions about his internship and the parts of marketing he wants to work in and what his plans are and what college is like that Gabe sometimes feels like Tyson’s as qualified for his job as Gabe himself is; he asks Nate all about school, cajoles him into telling stupid stories about the funny things his students say, or sometimes just asks him to talk about the things he teaches, and nods off against the back of the couch as Nate explains gravity or electromagnetism or something.

It’s all much more comfortable than Nate imagined it ever could be.

A couple of weeks into the New Year, Gabe arrives home from work early with a giant stack of papers and an angry expression. Nate’s at the school late, something about a PTA meeting, but it’s one of Tyson’s rare nights off and he’s already sprawled across their couch in sweatpants. When he hears Gabe come in, he dives for the remote and yells, “I’m watching sports!”

Gabe snorts in his direction. “Yeah, okay. What were you actually watching?”

Tyson sighs and wordlessly flicks the channel back again, to the episode of Say Yes to the Dress he’d been halfway through.

Gabe throws himself down on the couch next to Tyson, drops his pile of papers onto the coffee table, and runs both hands through his hair. “Honestly, I think I’m having the kind of day that needs Say Yes to the Dress.”

Tyson prods him with his toe. “Okay, firstly, all days need Say Yes to the Dress, so none of your judgment, please. Secondly, what happened?”

Gabe waves a hand angrily towards the pile of papers. “We have to come up with a full marketing campaign proposal. Which, y’know, you’d think, fun, right? Okay, well, firstly, we have to sell bottled water, which, there’s nothing interesting to say about it, and secondly, we have two days. We - have - two - days!” He jabs his finger at Tyson’s face. Tyson goes slightly cross-eyed trying to look at it. “Two days for a whole campaign! Leaflets and online marketing and TV ad concepts and everything. Two days!”

Tyson blinks at him. “So… what I’m gathering here is that you’ve got two days.” Then, when Gabe looks at him with genuine murder in his eyes, Tyson adds hastily, “Okay, okay, I get it. Big scary project, bottled water is boring. Gotcha. What are all the papers for?”

Gabe frowns at them. “Research, I guess. I basically panicked and printed out every bottled water advertisement I could find on google.”

Tyson picks up the pile and starts shuffling through them. “These, um… kinda all suck, to be honest.”

“Yeah, I know,” Gabe groans, and buries his face in his hands. “I’m fucked.”

Tyson bumps his shoulder against Gabe’s. “Nah, c’mon, you can do it! Okay, step one, research, right?”

Gabe waves a hand at the pile on the coffee table without looking up. “I did that, remember? Lots of terrible posters and flyers and things. All dull as shit.”

“Nah, let’s do more fun research than that. Let’s, I don’t know, let’s go to Whole Foods and buy all those weird infused waters and you can mix them together and see what it tastes like.”

“How does that help me?” Gabe snaps. Then he winces and looks up at Tyson. “Sorry. I’m kinda freaking out.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Tyson says wryly. Then his face softens, and he sits down next to Gabe on the couch, tentatively putting a hand on his thigh. “Look. Whenever I’m trying to get some new dish just right at the restaurant, I always end up making it a whole ton of times over, trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. But half the time it’s only after I go do something totally different that I can come back and actually see where I was screwing up, y’know? It’s like… getting out of your own way.”

Gabe’s silent next to him, and Tyson sighs. “Nevermind, maybe it was a dumb idea. We can just google some more ads, or--”

“No,” Gabe says suddenly. “You’re right. Let’s go do the Whole Foods thing.”

“Really?” Tysons says, in maybe a smaller voice than he quite means to. “You sure?”

Gabe nods. “Yeah. Let’s do it.”

An hour later, they’ve covered the whole kitchen counter in bottles, including coconut water, maple water, six different kinds of La Croix, several flavours of vitamin water, and something called “blood rose wellness water” that has a dreamcatcher on the front of the bottle. Tyson has produced, seemingly from nowhere, a full cocktail-making set, complete with shaker, martini glasses, and several tiny drink umbrellas he says ‘add sophistication’.

“Why do you even have this stuff?” Gabe laughs, watching Tyson make what he’s ambitiously calling a ‘water martini’ with two cans of La Croix and some of the weird dreamcatcher water.

Tyson shrugs. “I dunno, it’s funny at parties. I used to bartend a bit in college, to pay the bills, you know? Before I got any actual cooking jobs.” He adds a tiny pink umbrella to the glass and slides it along the counter to Gabe. “Ta-daa! Your water martini.”

Gabe looks down at it. “I don’t think umbrellas really match the martini vibe.”

Tyson points the cocktail shaker at him. “Shut up and drink your water martini. Someday I’ll make these famous and you’ll be telling everyone you had the world’s first water martini.”

After a moment, Gabe just shrugs, picks it up, and takes a sip, narrowly avoiding stabbing himself in the eye with the umbrella. He purses his lips, puts on the poshest voice he can manage, and says, “Subtle notes of oak and cherrywood, with a rich core and high tones of vanilla and florals.” At Tyson’s gaping mouth, he winks and says, “I went to a wine tasting one time. This actually tastes like nothing at all, to be honest.”

Tyson bursts out laughing. He doubles over, one hand clutching the edge of the counter, and just loses it. Gabe looks at him, red-faced and shaking with laughter in a kitchen full of water bottles, holding a cocktail shaker that just contains Vitamin Water and La Croix, and can’t help but laugh too.

When Nate comes home, finally, bone-tired and determined to somehow find a way to never attend a PTA event ever ever again, he finds them on the couch, both flushed red and giggly, trying to decide which La Croix flavour makes the best mixer for gin. Tyson has a cocktail umbrella in his hair; Gabe has another in one of the buttonholes of his work shirt. They watch as Nate takes in the vast array of water bottles in their kitchen and lose it all over again, howling with laughter, clutching at each other’s arms.

Gabe sits down at his desk the next morning and finds he has several great ideas for the project. He also, it turns out, has a bottle of blood rose wellness water tucked into his briefcase, with a sticky note on it that says “please serve with a minimum of three tiny umbrellas”, and he smiles helplessly looking at it.

One dreary Tuesday night in late February, Nate’s still awake and blinking blearily at his pile of grading when Tyson stumbles home from the restaurant a little after midnight. Nate hears the quiet click of the front door closing, Tyson slipping off his shoes, and then there’s a soft knock against the open living room door.

“Hey, Nate, why’re you still awake?” Tyson says softly.

Nate runs a hand over his face, rubs at his tired eyes. “Grading.”

Tyson frowns. “You sure? You look a bit too emotional for grading. I mean, I know you love physics, but this seems excessive even for you.”

Nate looks at him quietly for a moment, then sighs and pushes the papers away, gestures for Tyson to take the chair beside his.

“Okay, I’m not really doing much grading, I just couldn’t sleep,” he admits. “Something happened at school that kinda… I don’t know. It wasn’t a bad thing, really, I just can’t stop thinking about it.”

Tyson makes a sympathetic face at him. “I’ve had days like that. Do you wanna talk about it?”

“I don’t want to keep you up--” Nate starts, but Tyson just waves a hand.

“Nah, I’m always too awake after the restaurant anyway. Hey, I know, I’ll make us hot chocolate! Nothing can be that bad if you have hot chocolate.”

Fifteen minutes later, they’re on the couch, and Nate’s sipping contentedly at one of Tyson’s signature hot chocolates. It’s amazing, he thinks, how a chef can make an ordinary thing like hot chocolate so special - Tyson puts a little bit of cinnamon in it, and chocolate syrup drizzled over the spray cream he’d squirted on top, and even though Nate watched the whole process he knows it tastes twice as good as it ever would if he tried to do it himself.

Tyson takes a giant mouthful from his own mug, licks the whipped cream off his lips, and says, “Okay, out with it. What happened?”

Nate sighs, sets his mug down on the coffee table. “Okay. Like I said, it wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily. There’s this girl, Emily, in one of my senior physics classes, and she’s a good kid, kind of quiet but always does her work, you know? And she’s always been great, but she’s seemed really distracted lately. She forgot a homework assignment for the first time ever today, and I asked her to stay back and talk to me - I figured, if there’s something going on at home or whatever, I don’t want her to think nobody will help, you know? So I wanted to see what happened, ask her if anything was wrong.” He pauses to sip at his hot chocolate, and Tyson nods encouragingly. “So I asked her what happened with her assignment, right? And I’m always nice to them - Gabe makes all those dumb jokes about me being a super strict teacher but I swear I’m not, I just want to help them out, you know? So I asked her super gently, honestly I did, and she burst into tears.”

Tyson makes a sympathetic face. “Sounds like it wasn’t really about homework, maybe?”

Nate nods. “Yeah, turns out it wasn’t, really. I got her to sit down with me, got her some water, and she ended up telling me she’s gay and she’s been thinking about coming out to her mom.”

Tyson winces. “Oh man, I remember how that feels. That’s rough.”

“Yeah.” Nate scrubs a hand through his hair. “I told her a bit about when I came out, how it was scary but worth it. I tried to be encouraging, but at the same time, I don’t know her mom, you know? So I don’t know how much it helped.”

Tyson laughs. “When I came out to my mom I was too chicken to do it in person. I baked her a batch of cookies and left a note with them. I guess I thought if she had something nice to eat it might make her feel more positive about the whole thing.”

Nate snorts. “Better than mine. I had this grand idea to make a speech at dinner, get the whole family at once, you know? But I panicked and choked on a potato halfway through, and then everything got so messed up my parents somehow thought I was trying to tell them I was sleeping with my best friend.”

Tyson raises an eyebrow. “Were you?”

“No!” Nate exclaims, then deflates. “Well, not at the time. I did later.”

Tyson giggles into his hot chocolate. When he looks back up at Nate he’s got whipped cream on the tip of his nose. Nate decides it looks too adorable to point it out just yet.

“Hey, seriously though,” Tyson says, calming down a little, “it sounds like you did great with that girl in your class. When I was in high school I would’ve loved to have someone older to tell me from experience it can turn out okay.”

Nate smiles at him gratefully. “Thanks, Tyson. I just… I want her to know she’s not alone, you know?”

Tyson looks at him, more serious than Nate’s ever seen him. “I know how that feels. I’m sure she’s glad she talked to you.”

“Thanks, Tyson.” Then Nate replays Tyson’s last words in his head and frowns. “Tys, you - you know you’re not alone now, right? You’ve got me and Gabe.”

Tyson’s smile seems to Nate like it could light up the whole room. “Thanks, Nate. I know - and nothing bad even happened to me back then, you know? I came out and it was fine and my family were great and my friends were great and everything turned out fine. I was just… I waited a long time to do it, and I was really scared, you know? And I felt so alone. So it’s nice, now, knowing I’ve got you guys. And I’m glad you can give your students that.”

Nate smiles at Tyson. “Me too.” He goes to take another mouthful of hot chocolate, but is interrupted by a jaw-cracking yawn.

Tyson laughs. “Go on, go to bed. I’ll put the mugs away.”

“You sure?” Nate asks, and Tyson nods, making shooing motions towards the bedroom.

“Yeah, go, go, I got this. Goodnight, Nate,” he says softly.

“Night, Tys,” Nate says, and makes his way down the hall to his and Gabe’s room. Just before pushing their door open, he pauses and looks back, to where he can just about see Tyson still sitting on the couch. Almost all the lights are off, so Tyson glows in the golden circle of lamplight from the lamp on the end table. Nate watches him taking a sip of hot chocolate, here in Nate and Gabe’s apartment, surrounded by all their things, their books and pictures and throw blankets. He’s glad Tyson gets to be here, with them. He doesn’t want Tyson to ever feel alone again.

It’s late at night and Gabe can’t sleep. He spent all day running around trying to get things ready for a product launch at work: they had the interns doing every annoying little task they could think of, mailing press packs and arranging gift boxes for influencers and writing Instagram captions and ordering flyers and calling advertisers and a thousand other things, and Gabe’s beyond exhausted, but he knows tomorrow will be just as stressful, and his brain won’t stop going.

Eventually he gives up and wanders out to the kitchen to get a glass of water, thinking maybe by the time he gets back to bed he’ll actually feel tired enough to sleep. He stands leaning against the counter to drink it, barefoot and bare-chested in plaid pyjama pants, the room dark except for the snow outside reflecting the moonlight.

He hears a noise from the living room and frowns. Putting his glass down, he eases the living room door open, and finds Tyson sitting with just the reading-lamp on, legs tucked under him on the couch, poring over some giant book.

Gabe clears his throat and Tyson jumps, then looks up at Gabe with a betrayed expression. “Jesus, Gabe, you gave me a heart attack.”

Gabe steps into the room and turns to close the door behind him. From the couch, Tyson makes a tiny squeaking noise, and when Gabe turns back around Tyson’s blushing bright red and staring at Gabe’s chest.

Gabe feels himself flush and folds his arms over his chest. “Sorry, I - I didn’t think anyone would be up.” Then he frowns. “Why are you up? It’s like two in the morning.”

Tyson sighs, then folds his legs down and pats the couch beside him. When Gabe sits down, Tyson leans over to show him the book he’d been reading.

“I’m trying to figure out the perfect dessert to match with this new set menu we’re doing at the restaurant. I have all these ideas, but nothing seems to have everything I want, so I’m going through all my cookbooks to see if I can find something that might even work as a starting point.” He gestures to the end table, where, sure enough, there’s a stack of books.

Gabe looks at the page Tyson has open now. “What’s a… cremeux?” he asks, wincing, knowing he’s butchering the pronunciation.

“Cremeux,” Tyson says, nowhere near the way Gabe had. “It’s a kind of creamy pudding. I’m thinking about doing it with really good Valrhona chocolate and maybe a whipped ganache on top, but I’m not sure if it works quite right with the rest of the menu, you know?”

Gabe nods, says, “Sure,” even though he has basically no idea what most of that means. There seems to be an awful lot of French involved in making desserts. He wonders idly if maybe he should learn some.

“Anyway,” Tyson says, suddenly sheepish, and snaps the book shut. “Sorry, I don’t mean to keep you up.”

Gabe sighs, runs a hand through his hair. “Nah, don’t worry, I was up anyway.”

Tyson frowns at him. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just… we have this launch at work, and everything’s super busy, you know? And it’s really insane for everyone who works there, but the interns get all the most annoying jobs to do, and - and they’re all watching us to see how we’re managing under the pressure, you know? So it’s even more pressure, and it’s just - it’s frustrating.”

Tyson winces. “Yeah, I get it. That sounds horrible, I’m sorry.” Then he smiles. “Wanna look at pictures of super-fancy chocolate pastries with me? Always makes me feel better.”

Gabe laughs under his breath. “Yeah, you know what, I really do. Show me the - the cremeux thing again.”

When Nate gets up to head to work in the morning, he finds Gabe asleep on their couch, tucked in under the fuzzy blanket they keep on the back of the couch, a giant stack of cookbooks on the end table beside his head.

Nate stumbles out to the kitchen one Saturday morning and discovers they are, somehow, horrifyingly, out of coffee.

Gabe, who had been at the office so late Nate was asleep before he got back, is still curled up and snoring in their bed, but Tyson’s already in the kitchen, standing mournfully over the coffeemaker. When he hears Nate, he looks up and says gloomily, “We’re out of coffee.”

Nate frowns at him. “We can’t be.”

“We are.”

“Let me see.” Nate elbows Tyson out of the way to look in the press above the coffeemaker where they usually keep grounds, but somehow the shelf really is completely bare. He turns to Tyson with a look of abject horror. “What do we do now?”

“Breakfast?” Tyson suggests, and goes to look in the refrigerator. He opens it and immediately makes a sound of pure frustration and slams it shut again.

“Nate. Nathan. Nathaniel. We have nothing. We have no food.”

“We can’t have no food. Gabe and I went grocery shopping last - um--”

“Exactly!” Tyson throws his hands up. “That was like, two weeks ago. All we have now is--” he swings the refrigerator door open again “--two cans of Miller Lite, a mostly empty ketchup bottle, and - half a lime? Gross, how long is that even there? It’s gone all shrivelly.” He turns back to Nate, and this time he’s got a sort of manic gleam in his eyes. “Nate, we are going grocery shopping. We are going grocery shopping right now.”

“Right now?!” Nate tries to protest, but Tyson’s already on his way down the hall, banging on Nate and Gabe’s bedroom door and yelling, “Wake up, Prince Charming, it’s shopping time!”

A moment later, Gabe opens the door, sleep-rumpled and squinting. They make quite a picture, Nate thinks: Gabe shirtless and yawning and looking at Tyson like he’s lost his mind entirely; Tyson, shorter but broader, hands on hips, all flushed cheeks and enthusiasm, telling Gabe authoritatively to hurry up and get dressed because there is no food and he is going to starve to death and it will be all Gabe’s fault, Gabriel, I swear to God, if you do not hurry up I’m going to waste away right here in your hallway.

Gabe evidently gives in rather than try to debate with the tornado that is Tyson Barrie, and disappears back into their room, reappearing a moment later in sweatpants and an old Avalanche hoodie Nate’s pretty sure is actually his. Tyson grins triumphantly and turns to Nate. “C’mon, Nate, hustle! Time to go! Get that beautiful ass in gear!”

Tyson, wisely, herds them into his own car rather than trusting either of them to drive. Gabe’s still grumbling, so Tyson pushes him into the front seat, then slides into the driver’s side and fiddles with his phone; a moment later, Dancing Queen by Abba comes over the car speakers.

Tyson starts singing along; in the back seat, Nate does too, grinning and poking at Gabe’s shoulder, until Gabe finally relents and joins in, a reluctant smile on his face.

Tyson takes pity on them and hits up a Starbucks drive-through before anything else, even dutifully reciting Gabe’s complicated almond-milk hazelnut latte order into the microphone, and they’re all a bit more awake by the time they pull into the King Soopers parking lot. Tyson commandeers the shopping cart, then starts reeling off a list of things they need that, apparently, he’s been tallying up in his head for just this moment.

“Tyson, what do we need sixteen avocados for?” Gabe exclaims. He’s still holding his Starbucks cup, and getting said avocados into the cart with one hand is proving difficult.

“I’m gonna make chocolate avocado pudding, keep up, Gabe,” Tyson says, while simultaneously pointing out specific nectarines he wants Nate to add to the cart. “If you use avocado it - no, Nate, no, the one beside that one - it makes it super creamy, I’ll show you.”

Gabe sighs, but dutifully stacks the avocados one by one at the bottom of the cart. “Okay, what now?”

Tyson’s face lights up in a rather worrying grin. “Now onto the bread aisle, Gabriel!” He waves officiously onward.

In the end, they have to get a second cart. Tyson found four different types of artisan breads he wanted, as well as some kind of fancy French cheese, a giant bag of special rice for making risotto, European salted butter, and a more expensive bottle of wine than Nate thought had any right to be for sale at a grocery store. At least Tyson pays for most of it, and does his share of carrying the bags - Nate was wondering whether he and Gabe would be directed to lift those too, while Tyson checked and re-checked his imaginary shopping list.

When they get home, Nate insists on fishing out the new bag of coffee and brewing some before he unpacks a single other thing. Tyson just shrugs and starts unpacking bags himself, humming what Nate’s pretty sure is All Star by Smash Mouth under his breath as he stacks things in the pantry.

Nate stations himself at the kitchen table to drink his coffee, scrolling Instagram on his phone, but Gabe gets up and pokes around the groceries. Nate’s halfway through catching up on Insta stories - yet another video of a horse, thanks, EJ - when he hears Gabe make a soft, surprised little noise from the other side of the room.

“What is it?” he says, curious, and gets up to join Gabe. He smiles when he sees what Gabe’s found amongst Tyson’s boxes of weird pasta and cartons of coconut milk: two bottles of hazelnut coffee syrup.

Gabe looks up at Tyson where he’s arranging jars of spices, and asks, voice unusually soft, “Tyson? Are these for me?”

Tyson glances over and the now-familiar blush reappears across his cheeks. “Oh, well, you know. You’re always complaining how expensive hazelnut lattes are. I figured you should be able to have them at home.”

Gabe blinks at him, then his face breaks into a grin. “Hey, thanks, Tys!”

Tyson turns away, laughing about how Gabe better go easy on that syrup for the sake of his precious abs - but Nate sees the tiny pleased smile on his face.

Later, much later, when everything’s been put away and Nate’s sprawled on the couch pretending to grade quizzes while actually watching hockey highlights, Gabe wanders in and drops a kiss on his head. “Tyson’s looking for you in the kitchen.”

Nate raises his eyebrows quizzically, but Gabe just shrugs and flops down into the armchair, so Nate levers himself up and goes to see what Tyson wants.

The kitchen is warm and bright and smells heavenly, like sugar and fruit, and reminds Nate suddenly and fiercely of home, of his mom’s kitchen on Christmas Eve, his mom making pies for the holidays, letting him lick the spoon. He swallows an unexpected lump in his throat and knocks gently on the doorframe. “Tyson?”

Tyson, who’d been studiously bent over something on the counter, turns and smiles when he sees Nate. “Oh, Nate! C’mere!”

Nate obediently wanders over, only to have a forkful of something unceremoniously shoved in his face. “Taste this!”

He blinks at it, but then dutifully opens his mouth and lets Tyson feed him whatever it is. He recognises it instantly once the taste hits his tongue, and his eyes widen. He swallows quickly and then exclaims, “Tyson!”

Tyson smirks at him. “What do you think?”

“Tyson, oh my god, is that my mom’s citrus cake?”

The smirk softens into a gentler smile, and Tyson’s cheeks flush. “Did I get it right?”

“Did you - I don’t - Tyson! This is incredible, how--”

“I asked your mom for the recipe, that weekend she came up to see you,” Tyson says. “I remember you talking about it, and, I dunno, I thought you might like it. That’s what all the clementines were for, earlier.” He looks suddenly unsure. “Did I - is it okay?”

“Is it okay,” Nate says incredulously. “I don’t - thank you, Tys.” He grabs Tyson into a crushing hug. Tyson squawks, but after a moment hugs back. He’s warm, and smells like oranges and cinnamon. Nate feels so full of a feeling he can’t even name.

When they pull back, Tyson’s bright red, but smiling. “I made some coffee too. Wanna have some citrus cake with me?”

Nate grins. “Of course I do.”

Their anniversary sneaks up on Nate. Of course he knows when it is, the end of April, when Denver is finally starting to thaw. It had been a terrible time for them to start dating, honestly, near the end of their freshman year. They’d barely started getting to know each other before their lives were consumed by finals, and then Gabe had gone back to Sweden for the summer and Nate had stayed in Denver to work a terrible minimum-wage job at the ice rink concessions stand and help out with hockey summer camps. The beginning of their relationship had formed over Facetime, really, with one of them usually only half-awake because they could never quite get the time difference right.

That was almost five years ago now. He realises when it’s only a couple of weeks out - he keeps track of it on the same giant wall calendar where he marks all the assignments and exams he’s going to give his students, but he still feels blindsided when he realises it’s suddenly so close.

It falls on a Friday this year, which is convenient insofar as it means they’ll both have the next morning off, but Nate’s got a sinking feeling it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass trying to get a decent dinner reservation for a Friday night with less than two weeks’ notice.

He dedicates an evening to planning it, one where he hasn’t got much grading to do and Gabe’s out late at the office editing some horrifically long press release for something Nate hadn’t quite understood when it was explained to him. He feels super organised, too, sits down with an actual notebook and pen, and his laptop, and methodically calls every nice restaurant that’s even remotely close to their apartment.

Every. Single. One. Is booked.

“Okay, no, thanks anyway,” he’s saying down the phone to restaurant number seventeen when Tyson crashes in the door, whistling some song Nate half recognises. “No, thanks, okay, bye.”

Tyson drops his bag inside the kitchen door and slings an arm over Nate’s shoulder. “Whatcha doin’ there, Nate?”

Nate sighs. “Trying to plan something for Gabe for our anniversary, but every damn restaurant is booked for that night.”

Tyson looks at him, drops his arm from Nate’s shoulders. “Your anniversary?” He sounds fractionally less bright and cheerful than he had a moment ago, but Nate can’t spare the energy to dwell on it right now.

“Yeah, April twenty-seventh. It’s next Friday, and normally I have something sorted out way in advance, but I guess I just was extra busy this year or something, and now everything’s booked--”

“What about my restaurant?” Tyson blurts.

Nate looks sideways at him. “What?”

“I mean - not my restaurant, exactly, but. The restaurant where I work. Why don’t I get you guys a table there?”

“I already tried there,” Nate sighs. “I called them. They said there’s absolutely nothing left for that night.”

Tyson scoffs. “C’mon, I’m the chef. I can get you guys a table. Swear to God.”

“Are you sure, Tys?” Nate says. “You can really, honestly get us a reservation? You swear?”

“Yes, I swear!” Tyson laughs. “I’ll sort it out.”

A moment later he has Nate’s arms flung around his waist in a crushing hug. “Bro, you are the absolute best ever, oh my God, I adore you!”

Tyson smiles down at him, expression a little tight. “Anything for you guys.”

When they get to the restaurant and give their names to the hostess, they’re expecting to be led to one of the couples’ tables that line the edges of the vast dining room. Instead, they’re brought through a heavy wooden door to a small private room, a table for two set up in the middle. There are a couple of glowing lamps, but most of the light comes from a giant, ornate fireplace on one side of the room, filling the room with cozy warmth and the gentle flickering of firelight. One wall is all windows, giving a spectacular view of the snow on the Rockies in the distance, and the lights of downtown Denver spread out below.

Nate and Gabe stare at each other, awestruck.

Nate’s the first to find his voice. “Man, when Tyson said he’d get us a table, I didn’t think--” he trails off, looking again at the dining table, with its two precise place settings and a small vase of perfect white lilies.

“This is--” Gabe says, but he can’t find the words either. He just looks around.

They’re interrupted by their hostess softly clearing her throat behind them. “If you’d like to take a seat, gentlemen, the first course will be with you shortly.”

They move toward the table at that, but Gabe turns, confused. “But we - we haven’t ordered yet?”

She smiles softly at him. “Chef Barrie has designed a special menu for you both this evening. He asked that we keep it a surprise.”

They both gape at her, but she just winks and walks back out the door.

They sit down opposite each other, not quite sure what to say. Nate clears his throat, then reaches across the table for Gabe’s hand. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

Gabe smiles helplessly back at him. “It’s perfect. I don’t know how he did all this.”

“Happy anniversary, Gabe.”

“Happy anniversary, Nate. It’s been a good year.”

Nate smiles at him, then raises Gabe’s hand to his mouth and kisses his knuckles gently. Gabe shivers.

Behind Gabe, he hears the door open quietly, and turns to see Tyson carrying two plates.

“Hi, guys,” Tyson says quietly, and smiles at them.

“Tyson, this is - why are you - how did you --” Gabe rarely feels lost for words, but he can’t quite seem to get a sentence out.

Tyson grins at him, setting a plate down in front of Gabe. “It’s your anniversary, right? You guys should get to do something special.”

Gabe smiles helplessly up at him. Nate, at the other side of the table, is smiling too, but grabs Tyson’s wrist as he sets Nate’s plate down.

“Tys,” he hisses in Tyson’s ear, “this is incredible, but - how expensive is this gonna be?”

Tyson winks at him. “Don’t worry, I got you covered.”

Nate sputters at him, but Tyson’s out the door before he has a chance to protest, throwing a last smile over his shoulder.

“Everything okay?” Gabe asks, a tiny frown between his eyebrows, and Nate looks up hurriedly to smile at him.

“Everything’s okay, babe. Promise. Eat your, um -- any idea what this is?”

They both look suspiciously down at their plates. Gabe, remembering something he read once about fancy restaurants, takes the fork furthest from his plate and eats a careful bite of whatever it is Tyson’s served them.

“Oh my God, Nate, you have to try this,” he says breathlessly, eyes closed. Across the table, he hears Nate take a mouthful and moan.

“I knew Tyson could cook, but this is--” Nate starts, but can’t seem to find words.

Gabe nods quickly. “It’s unbelievable.”

When Tyson comes in with their next course, they basically trip over each other to tell him how good the food is.

“Tyson, we knew you could cook, like, obviously, but this is just the most amazing--”

“--I can’t even believe how good--”

“--what even was it, I just know it tasted like magic--”

Tyson laughs, hands full of new plates, which he effortlessly switches for their empty ones. “I’m glad you guys liked it.” He’s gone before they have much chance to say anything else, throwing them both glowing smiles over his shoulder.

He comes back a little later with silver-edged dessert plates, full of something that smells like chocolate and strawberries and magic. This time, when he takes their new plates and turns to leave, Gabe and Nate grab a wrist each. Tyson looks blindsided, staring down at them with wide eyes.

“Tyson,” Nate says, emphatic. “Hold on a sec.”

“This is the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for us,” Gabe tells him, looking at him with such a glowing look of sincerity it makes Nate’s stomach flutter.

Tyson goes bright red, looking anywhere but at them. “Oh, well, I thought - you guys have been so good to me, and - and you should have the most special anniversary, you know? I just - I figured I could do this much for you, at least.”

“Tyson, thank you,” Gabe says. He’s still got his hand on Tyson’s wrist, Nate realises - and, looking down, Nate’s own hand is still there too.

Tyson’s blushing still, and smiling a little pleased smile, and he’s wearing tight black pants and a black button-down rolled up to the elbows, and Nate suddenly can’t stand to watch him walk back out the door again.

“Tyson,” he says urgently. “Stay and have dessert with us.”

Tyson’s eyes fly up to his face, mouth open on an o of surprise. “What?”

Nate looks at Gabe for confirmation, who’s nodding. “Yeah, Tyson, stay. Please?” Gabe makes those big eyes at Tyson, the eyes Nate has never, to date, been able to say no to.

Tyson looks more shocked than Nate’s ever seen him. “But - but it’s your anniversary, and I don’t - I can’t --”

“Stay,” Nate says, emphatic. “We want you to.”

“Well, I - um - I - are you sure?” He looks between the two of them, wide-eyed and confused.

But Gabe’s already up out of his chair, ushering Tyson into it before sticking his head out the door to ask someone for a third chair. Nate slides his dessert plate to be halfway between the two of them and hands Tyson his spoon. At Tyson’s bewildered look, he says, “Gabe and I can share. C’mon, Tys, I know you love chocolate.”

Tyson silently takes a bite of the chocolate thing - Nate hasn’t a clue what it actually is, but it has delicate rosettes of cream on top and a ring of perfectly halved strawberries around the outside. Gabe slides his new chair into place on Nate’s other side, so they’re sitting all together around one side of the small round table, and he and Nate take turns using Gabe’s spoon.

Tyson hardly looks at them at first, seems to be so unsure about being here he doesn’t know what to do. Then Nate jabs him in the ribs and makes some dumb joke about how Gabe’s not wearing a tie because he couldn’t get one over his big head - it barely makes sense, but it makes Tyson laugh nonetheless. After that it’s just the three of them, like it is every day. Gabe smiles and says soft sincere things and the occasional bitingly witty remark that makes them both crack up; Nate sings off-key and tries to convince Tyson to make an entire bowl of the chocolate creme icing on top of their dessert; Tyson makes jabs at both of them, and trips over his words, and laughs and laughs and laughs.

There’s a moment, just as they’re finishing their dessert, when Nate sits back in his chair and just looks at them on either side of him. Tyson’s flushed and glowing, making some horrible joke about Gabe’s hair, waving his spoon around dangerously close to his face considering how much chocolate ganache is still on it; Gabe’s laughing, top buttons open on his shirt, one hand on Nate’s thigh and the other toying with his wine glass. He realises, with a rush of warmth, that he can’t remember ever being this happy; he feels suddenly certain that neither of them should ever be anywhere else but at his side.

Then Tyson aims directly at his face with the spoon, trying to make him pay attention to whatever he’s saying now, and Gabe half-chokes on his wine, and the moment passes; Nate loses himself in their conversation again. But he keeps remembering that feeling, as the night wears on, through getting their coats, and trying (futilely) to get Tyson to let them pay for something, and Ubering home, and rolling into bed with Gabe warm and wine-drunk next to him.

Nate wakes early the next morning: it’s a Saturday, and they’d gotten home so late, but he still finds himself blinking at the pale morning sunlight a little before seven in the morning. He feels absolutely wide awake, full to the brim with a nervous, excited energy, the memories of last night crashing like waves against the inside of his head. He remembers their beautiful dinner, eating spectacular food by the firelight, watching the snow fall on the mountains outside, of course - but more than anything, he remembers Tyson. How it had felt to have Tyson there with them, in the very heart of something so special. How it had felt right, had made more sense than he ever imagined it could, how he felt as sure about Tyson’s place between them as he did when he first asked the golden-haired Swedish boy in his freshman communications class on a date.

He wonders, for a moment, whether Gabe will disagree. He wonders what he would do if Gabe said no, if Gabe didn’t feel the same thing Nate did; he’s not sure how it would feel to walk away from this, and which of them he’d choose to walk toward instead. The whole idea of choosing between them feels so absurd he can’t even imagine having to attempt it. Then he remembers Gabe’s face in the warm light over the dinner table last night, his hand resting on Nate but his eyes on Tyson and his expression so, so soft. He’s had countless arguments about ridiculous nonsense with Gabe - whose turn it is to do the dishes, who forgot to turn on the washing machine, where to order takeout from - but they’ve lasted so long because they’re always in sync when it matters. Nate’s pretty sure they’re in sync now too.

He considers being reasonable, patiently waiting for Gabe to wake up, discussing things calmly over their morning coffee; then he throws that idea out the window and prods Gabe in the ribs.

“Gabe,” he hisses. “Gabe.”

Gabe snuffles in his sleep, rolls over away from Nate’s fingers.

“Gabe!” Nate says, louder, and aims a kick at Gabe’s shin.

Gabe jolts awake, cursing, and stares at Nate like he’s grown an extra head. “What? Oh my god, Nate, what even time is it?”

“I have to talk to you,” Nate says urgently.

Gabe narrows his eyes at him. “Are you okay? Did something bad happen?”

“No, it’s not bad, I don’t think,” Nate says, “it’s just--”

“If it’s not bad it can wait ‘til an actual human hour of the day,” Gabe tells him, then rolls over and pulls his pillow over his head.

Nate sighs in exasperation, then bodily shoves Gabe out of bed and onto the floor.

Gabe lands with a squawk, arms and legs flailing, then pops back up over the edge of the mattress looking wide awake and furious. “Nate! What the fuck?”

“Gabe, this is important,” Nate says urgently. Something in his tone must catch Gabe’s attention, or maybe it’s finally registered that Nate wouldn’t be trying so urgently to wake him if it wasn’t necessary, because Gabe’s anger fades to concern.

“What is it?” he asks, clambering back onto the bed to sit opposite Nate.

“We need to talk about Tyson,” Nate says.

Gabe’s face goes very still.

“It’s not bad!” Nate hurries to explain. “It’s not - I don’t think there’s a problem, or anything like that. We just - we have to talk about it.”

Gabe nods slowly, his eyes locked on Nate’s, but he doesn’t say anything, so Nate barrels on.

“Last night,” he starts, and Gabe almost flinches opposite him. Nate stretches out a hand, rests it on Gabe’s thigh. “Gabe, it’s not bad, I promise you. Listen to me.”

Gabe looks hesitant, but gives Nate the ghost of a smile, nods his head for Nate to continue.

Nate considers for a moment trying for a long explanation, but in the end it’s simpler to just --

“I love him,” he says simply. “And I love you.”

Gabe gapes at him. His mouth opens and closes uselessly, like a beautiful golden fish.

“And I think maybe you do too,” Nate finishes.

He waits, but Gabe says nothing, just keeps on staring. Eventually he taps his fingers where they’re resting on Gabe’s thigh. “Gabe?”

Gabe jumps, a little, and looks at Nate like he has no idea what’s happening. Quietly, slowly, he says, “You… you love him too?”

Nate doesn’t know whether he means you love him like I love him, or you love him like you love me, but both are true, he supposes, so he just says, “Yes.”

“And - and you want…”

“I want him and I want you. All three of us, together.”

Gabe’s still for another moment. Then suddenly, he flings his arms around Nate and buries his face in his neck, clinging tightly, breathing like he’s just run a race. Nate wraps two arms around Gabe’s waist and holds him.

Right into Nate’s ear, voice rough, Gabe says quietly, “I thought - I thought either - I couldn’t figure out if you were going to leave me because you were angry I loved him, or if you were going to leave me to go be with him because you loved him, and - and I didn’t w-want to lose either of y-you--” Gabe’s breath hitches, and Nate just holds on tighter, brings a hand up to tangle loosely in his hair.

“It’s okay, Gabe. It’s okay.”

Nate doesn’t know how long they sit there. Eventually, Gabe pulls back, scrubs a hand roughly over his eyes, and laughs ruefully. “Sorry.”

Nate smiles at him, then leans over and kisses him on the forehead. “Don’t be sorry.”

Gabe laughs, then his face turns serious again. “Nate, we have to tell Tyson. What if - what if he doesn’t want the same thing?”

Nate sighs. “We’ll be okay, no matter what. But - but I think he wants us too.”

The raw hope on Gabe’s face is so bright it feels like it should hurt Nate’s eyes to look straight at it. “You really think so?”

Nate remembers the hazelnut syrup, the citrus cake, the plates from the restaurant in the fridge. “Yeah, I think so.”

They decide, in the end, that they shouldn’t wake Tyson, they should wait until he gets up himself and talk to him then. They’re too antsy to stay in bed, though, so they make coffee and bring it to the couch. Nate turns on last night’s hockey highlights with the volume down low, and they watch together - peacefully at first, until the TV shows a beautiful William Nylander overtime goal, and then it devolves into a whispered argument, Gabe’s passionate defence of any and all Swedish players up against Nate’s purebred Canadian skepticism about any signs of Leafs success. Gabe is listing Swedish Stanley Cup winners while Nate tries to beat him with a couch cushion when they hear a noise from the doorway.

“Hey, guys,” Tyson says cheerfully, “what’re you doing?”

They both freeze. Nate sets the cushion down slowly, and they both turn to give Tyson identical wide-eyed stares. The smile slowly slides off Tyson’s face, and he stares confusedly back at them. “What? What is it?”

This time it’s Nate who sits frozen and wide-eyed, and Gabe who scrambles upright and says urgently, “Tys, we need to talk to you.”

Gabe doesn’t think he’s ever seen anyone go so pale so quickly. He reaches a hand out to Tyson, and a sharp edge of hurt digs into his ribs when Tyson reflexively flinches away from him.

When Tyson speaks he sounds devastated. “I - I’m sorry, okay? I never - I never meant to - I don’t want to hurt anyone--”

“Oh, Tyson,” Gabe says, suddenly understanding. “Tys, it’s all good things! Okay? I promise, everything’s okay.”

Tyson still looks terrified, but a little less like he’s about to make a run for the door. “I don’t understand,” he says slowly, quietly.

“Come and sit with us?” Gabe pleads. “Just - just to talk to us, okay?”

Tyson’s eyes flick from Gabe to Nate and back, and whatever he sees on their faces must be somehow reassuring, because he nods cautiously and goes to sit on the armchair opposite the couch.

Gabe sits down beside Nate, who’s sitting forward, elbows on his knees, to get as close to Tyson as he can while still technically sitting on the couch. Gabe thinks of all the times he’s seen Nate sit just like that, leaning toward Tyson like a flower to the sun, and wonders at how long it took them to understand what was happening.

“Tyson, I - we - there’s something we have to tell you,” Nate says, but then he seems to lose his nerve and glances back at Gabe, looking panicked.

Gabe leans forward next to him and picks up the conversation. He remembers how Nate had spoken to him earlier, how much easier it was once everything was just - clear and obvious and out in the open. He takes a deep breath, looks Tyson right in the eyes and says, “We’re in love with you.”

Tyson’s eyes go impossibly wide. “I - what?”

Nate seems to suddenly find his voice again, because he bursts out, “We’re in love with you, Tys! Both of us!”

Tyson looks a little like he’s been hit by a car. “I don’t - that’s not - how is that possible?”

Gabe spreads his hands helplessly. “How could we not be? You fit with us, Tys. You’re part of our home, part of our life. You make everything so much better when you’re with us.”

“I don’t - is this some kind of - of mean joke?” Tyson says bitterly. “Look, I know you guys know how I feel about you, okay, if you want me to move out you can just--”

Nate gives up the pretense that he’s actually sitting on the couch and goes to kneel directly in front of Tyson, taking Tyson’s hands in his own. “Tys, we’d never joke about this. I love you, and Gabe loves you, and we want you to date us, to be with us, all three of us together.”

When Tyson looks up his eyes are red and teary. Gabe’s heart wrenches and he hurries to kneel next to Nate and put his hands over both of theirs. Tyson looks down at their hands, all three pairs together, and laughs a tiny, choked laugh. “I just - I don’t understand. You two are perfect. You’ve always been perfect. What do you need me for?”

Gabe aches to hold him. “Tyson, you - we were always good, okay, but with you everything is better. You - you fill in the spaces, somehow. You’re incredible. You moved in here and turned our whole lives inside out and you make me laugh and you always listen and - and everything feels warm since we met you.”

Beside him Nate’s nodding vigorously, but Gabe only has eyes for Tyson, who finally looks at them with something close to hope on his face. “Really?” he whispers.

“We’re yours if you’ll have us,” Nate says simply.

At that, Tyson’s face breaks into the biggest smile Gabe’s ever seen on him. “If I’ll have you. Are you crazy? Of course I’ll have you. I’ve spent months trying to pretend I didn’t want you.”

Gabe’s grinning so hard his face hurts, and next to him, Nate honest-to-god punches the air and whoops. Then Gabe’s reaching for Tyson, and so is Nate, and the three of them end up falling backwards in a pile on the floor, tangled together and holding each other as tight as they can manage. Gabe gets to Tyson first to kiss him, a fierce open-mouthed kiss like they’ve both been starving for it, and after he gets to sit with one hand holding each of theirs and watch as Nate kisses Tyson so, so carefully, like Tyson is something precious. Tyson melts into it, soft and pliant in Nate’s arms, and Gabe squeezes both of their hands tighter and decides he’s never letting go.

Epilogue: Four Years Later

When it comes down to it, Tyson turns down every offer, suggestion and semi-threat and insists on making their wedding cake himself. He’s head chef at his own restaurant by now, and definitely has more important things to be doing with his time, but being head chef and owner also means he has the authority to lock everyone out of the back kitchen after the restaurant closes and work on the cake late into the night.

When he finally lets Nate and Gabe into the kitchen the day before the wedding to see the finished product, all three of them cry. It’s three tiers, white with tiny bunches of perfect sugar flowers dotted all across it - some clusters of yellow and blue for Sweden, and some red and white for Canada. The bottom tier is Nate’s mom’s citrus cake, taste-tested by the woman herself to make sure Tyson had the recipe perfect. The centre is a hazelnut coffee cake for Gabe, layers of cake sandwiched together with thick buttercream that Tyson infused with actual hazelnut coffee syrup. And the top is Tyson’s signature chocolate cake, complete with layers of sliced strawberries and a rich chocolate ganache centre.

“I know none of them really match with each other, and it was a bitch to get white icing to cover the chocolate properly so it’s about an inch thick on the top tier, and--” Tyson’s saying. Nate and Gabe meet each other’s eyes over his head and, as one, lean in to kiss each of his cheeks. Tyson stops talking with a tiny squeak.

“It’s perfect,” Gabe says.

Nate nods, then smiles. “Just like us.”