"Shaaaaaun, we're home," Cody yelled gleefully as Zach let them into their cramped, homey apartment.
"In here, buddy." Shaun's voice drifted down the hall, presumably from the corner of their bedroom that he'd claimed as his office after the second bedroom had been sacrificed for Cody.
Cody took off at a run, kicking off his shoes and dropping his backpack along the way.
"Slow down, Codes," Zach called, but it was too late.
By the time Zach had collected the debris left behind in the five-year-old's wake, stored everything properly and joined his nephew in the bedroom, Cody was ensconced firmly on Shaun's lap. He was busily replaying the kindergarten gossip that Zach had already heard on the ride home, and Zach paused in the doorway to watch, fingers itching for his sketchpad. Cody had opened up so much since they'd moved to L.A, even more so since he'd started school, and Zach had no doubt that Shaun was the reason why. He burned the image of the two people he loved most in the world huddled together and swapping secrets into his mind for later, and went inside.
"Hey babe," Shaun greeted as Cody climbed off his lap to bounce around on their bed. Shaun tipped his head up to accept Zach's kiss. "How was the first day?"
Zach shrugged. "Okay. It was all ice breakers and syllabi reviews."
Shaun grinned. "Ice breakers, I love those."
"You would," Zach said with a grin. "I hate them."
"Come on," Shaun wheedled, "they're fun. Just make up something outrageous when they get to the 'tell us something interesting about yourself' part. I borrow stories from Gabe."
Zach laughed. "That's the easy part. I just tell everyone that I'm sleeping with a gorgeous…" Zach paused to lean in for another kiss "… and talented published author."
"So you make shit up too," Shaun said with a smile.
Zach cuffed him around the head. "Learn to take a compliment," he scolded, earning him another fond grin from Shaun.
Cody gave one last big bounce and slid off the bed. He turned back to look at it and then climbed onto Shaun's lap again. "How come you and Shaun sleep together?" he asked Zach, looking between his guardians curiously.
Zach stiffened and straightened up slowly, but before he could answer Shaun asked a question of his own. "What makes you ask, buddy?"
Cody shrugged, mimicking his uncle. "Dunno. Jenny Milton says her mommy and daddy don't share a bed anymore. And I said my Uncle Zach and Shaun do, and she asked why and I didn't know. So how come?"
Shaun snickered behind his hand at Cody's rambling, and Zach kicked him. "Um…" Zach had known that someday this was going to come up, but he'd thought - hoped - he would have a little more time. Say, thirty or forty years.
"Didn't you used to sleep with Uncle Zach back in San Pedro?" Shaun asked while Zach was still floundering in his own despair.
Cody nodded solemnly. "But not in the same bed."
"Yeah," Zach agreed, stepping in to take over, "but why did you want to sleep in my room with me?"
Cody's little face scrunched up in concentration as he thought about it. Finally he shrugged. "It was lonely in my room all by myself."
Shaun shot Zach a stricken look this time. "Are you lonely in your room now?" he asked, and Zach wanted to kiss him for the honest concern in his voice.
Cody gave Shaun a withering look only a five year old could manage. "I have Bear now," he explained with exaggerated patience, referring to the giant stuffed labrador Shaun had insisted on buying him when they'd first moved. Then, "And you guys always come if I call."
Zach blinked rapidly, eyes suddenly burning. He gathered his nephew close to him for a hug. "Right, buddy, and we always will."
"Because we love you," Shaun added, gathering a hug of his own. "And we never, ever want you to be lonely."
Cody returned the hug and turned back to Zach, "So you sleep with Shaun so he doesn't get lonely? Because you love him?"
Shaun met Zach's eyes for a brief moment then looked away, staring at his cluttered desk like it held the mysteries of life. Zach knew exactly how Shaun felt about him. Shaun told him everyday with pancakes and coffee, little notes and gifts, the press of his lips to Zach's; and, just lately, words whispered in the dark after he thought Zach was asleep.
Zach took a deep breath, and answered his nephew truthfully. "Yeah, buddy, I sleep with Shaun cause I love him." Zach waited for Cody's answering nod before he turned back to Shaun. Shaun, who was now looking back at him like the sun shone out of his ass. Zach could feel himself flushing under his summer surfing tan. It wasn't how he imagined telling Shaun how he felt for the first time, but that didn't make it any less significant or true.
Cody interrupted their staring contest. "Okay," he said.
Shaun cleared his throat. "You know, buddy, we don't love you any less just because we don't sleep with you." Zach's urge to kiss him was almost overwhelming. It was just so Shaun to think through the implications and rush to reassure.
"I know," Cody said with a shrug.
"You sure?" Shaun asked, skeptically.
"Yeah," Cody said, "You just told me, duh." Cody's nose wrinkled when he said it, and Shaun was clearly on the verge of losing it. Cody continued. "And my teacher told us all about love when Dean's new baby brother was born. She said we love everybody differently, but different doesn't mean better or more."
"Smart teacher," Zach said.
Cody nodded again and then stood up suddenly. "I almost forgot to show you what I made in class today!" He took off down the hall toward his room. "Wait here. I'll be right back."
Zach moved to the spot on Shaun's lap that Cody had just vacated. Shaun's arms came up to circle him automatically. "I love you too," Shaun whispered, nosing at the hair over Zach's ear.
Zach's heart beat overtime. "I know," he answered with a grin. "It was kind of obvious what with the giving me a home and forcing me into college and helping me raise a five year old."
Shaun shook his head with a laugh, and Zach felt a rush of affection that he had to share. "I love you," he said again, needing Shaun to hear it directly and in private.
"I know," Shaun teased, "It was kind of obvious with the agreeing to move in with me and giving me a family and putting up with my weird writer ticks."
Cody came barreling back into the room with a paper clenched tight in his hands. "Look what I did," he proclaimed proudly, handing the rumpled sheet of paper to his uncle.
Zach smoothed it out and held it so Shaun could see it as well. It was a crude drawing of the three of them, holding hands and standing on the beach. "That's great, Cody!" he said, "It's going right on the fridge."
"What's that?" Shaun asked, point to something small and brown in one corner of the picture that Zach had missed.
"A puppy," Cody said earnestly. "Like Bear."
Zach exchanged a quick look with Shaun. "A puppy, huh?" Shaun said, "you really think we need one of those?"
Cody nodded. "He could sleep in my bed. So Bear and I don't get lonely. Can we get one?"
Shaun threw back his head and laughed, and both Zach and Cody knew the answer was yes.