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Rules of Engagement

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After the key thing Rhys ends up spending more and more time at Jack’s place. Jack can’t decide which he likes better: being at Rhys’ apartment and making himself at home among the things Rhys chooses to surround himself with, or seeing Rhys doing the same at Jack’s. Fortunately Rhys doesn’t make him choose.

(Rhys never makes him choose.)

In fact, the only complaint Jack has about the whole arrangement is that the apartment suddenly seems emptier when Rhys isn’t there, which is absurd. Jack scowls at the couch whose only crime is to sit vacant. This is fine, this is fine – there’s no reason at all he shouldn’t enjoy stretching full length as he flips through the channels on the TV. It’s just that he can’t get comfortable – first the cushions are too soft, then he shifts and they’re too hard, and when he realizes he’s trying to make room for another body that’s not joining him tonight he throws his hands up in disgust and stomps out the room.

(There was nothing on anyway.)

Frankly it’s pissing Jack off a little, the way he suddenly can’t sleep as well in his own bed unless Rhys is there next to him. The way he picks up the heavy cream he knows Rhys likes in his coffee at the store without even thinking about it. The way he wants Rhys to be there , whether it’s at big events like Angel’s graduation or just to come baby him when Jack gets sick.

(He might have to do something about this.)

 


 

When he thinks about it, Jack isn’t sure if he’s more afraid that Rhys will say no or that Rhys will say yes. The no , well, that would be devastating, he can’t lie to himself about that. Jack knows how lucky he is to have Rhys. His breath catches sometimes to think that if it hadn’t been for that ad, if it hadn’t been for some stupid fucking joke he might never have known what it was like to have Rhys rolling his eyes at him while Jack complains about Rhys’ cooking skills, or to wake up to a pile of tousled brown waves that have somehow taken more than their fair share of the blankets.

The yes , though…

Look, it’s a big commitment. Jack knows - he’s given it a shot once already, and look how that had turned out. This is different, though, if he’s being honest with himself; back then there had been Angel to think about, and, well, Jack fucked up a lot things in those years. His marriage had only been one of them.

After that Jack had sworn never again , but god, he never thought he could feel this way again about someone who wasn’t Angel, like Rhys doesn’t even need to ask because Jack will say yes anyway, whatever it is.

Jack props his head on his hand, watching Rhys sleeping next him. The sun is breaking through the window, and as it edges up over Rhys’ eyes he frowns and blinks awake. He focuses on Jack blearily.

“Were you watching me sleep -” Rhys interrupts himself with a yawn “- like a creepy old man?”

Jack huffs. “Good morning to you too, sunshine.”

“I knew it. Creeper,” but Rhys is smiling. Jack thinks about waking up to this every day, and in this moment, with the sunlight painting everything gold and Rhys all soft and warm in his bed, Jack thinks he might be able to see his way to yes.

 


 

Jack finds himself stopping and looking at the window display of the jeweler near Hyperion. He’s not - he’s not ring shopping , he’s not even ring looking, he’s just...he’s just pausing on the sidewalk, that’s all, and if it happens to be in front of a display of wedding bands he might as well look at it. And if he happens to come to a stop one day when the display changes, if he detours inside to ask about one particular item - classic but with a modern twist, the sales associate assures him, very stylish - he’s just doing research, okay?

(Just like it had been research when he had asked Vaughn - extremely casually, of course, and not at all in a weird, awkward exchange - if he knew how big Rhys’ fingers were. Vaughn had looked at him for a long moment, then said “Look, good on you man, I’ll be first in line to congratulate you, but I have absolutely no idea. Also, terrible way to phrase that question.” So that had been a bust.

Except that it hadn’t been, because Vaughn had texted him two days later: Size 9. You owe me for this. )

It’s platinum edged with rose gold, and it looks warm, like Rhys. He stares at the thing for a long time - rolling it in his fingers, weighing it in his palm - long enough that the associate tells him to let her know when he’s ready to make a decision.

When he signs on the line it feels like a foregone conclusion.

 


 

The thing is. The thing is . The thing is that once he has the ring he still can’t quite figure out how to do it. He can’t just ask - there are rules to this kind of thing, a script, right? A romantic dinner, a stunning sunset overlooking the city - it has to be perfect , because Rhys deserves perfect. But the perfect situation never quite seems to arrive; dinner dates come and go but the ambiance is never right, or they go hiking and Rhys walks into a patch of poison ivy because that’s apparently something he does. Meanwhile Jack remains hyper-aware of the ring, whether it’s burning a hole in his pocket or sitting in the safe in his office, and every time he looks at Rhys he chokes on the words.

This is the key situation all over again, Jack thinks angrily, but he still can’t bring himself to do anything about it.

 


 

Weeks go by and Rhys starts acting...a little weird . Rhys has his own brand of weird, sure, but this is different. Jack will turn and find Rhys looking at him intently, but when Jack asks what the matter is - “do I have something on my face?” “Is my hair more handsome than usual?” “Come on, pumpkin, give me something.” - Rhys shifts his eyes and mutters that it’s nothing. It’s an obvious lie, and it makes Jack uneasy.

Jack thinks about the ring box sitting in his safe and wonders if he’s running out of time.

(Wonders if this is it, if it’s the beginning of the end.)

It comes to a head one otherwise unremarkable evening when Rhys is at Jack’s place. Rhys hasn’t cooked - he’s not allowed to anymore, except under Jack’s supervision - but he has brought over a truly excellent tart from the bakery that Jack likes, the one near Rhys’ apartment. Jack has already wolfed down his half and is trying not to eye the half-eaten slice on Rhys’ plate too obviously when Rhys laughs and pushes it over.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” he says, a small smile on his lips, and Jack doesn’t need any more encouragement than that.

“Aw, sweetheart, this is why I keep you around,” he says indistinctly around a mouthful of buttery crust.

“Is it,” Rhys says. It sounds playful, but something in his tone makes Jack look up, and the half-smile on Rhys’ face has gone wistful.

All of a sudden Jack thinks that this might be a moment, might be the moment, with Rhys’ laughter still in the air and a smile on his face. But Jack’s hands are full of fork, and the ring is in his safe, and he didn’t think it would happen like this -

Jack is about to tell Rhys to stay right there, don’t move when Rhys unfolds his arms and sets his palms on the table.

“Okay,” he says, “okay,” and the second one sounds like it’s more to himself than to Jack. “I didn’t plan to do it like this but I just - I can’t wait any longer. We need to talk.”

We need to talk. Jack’s stomach goes cold. He’s heard that one before - and when he sees the almost defiant way Rhys is looking at him the last few weeks rearrange themselves in Jack’s head.

Rhys’ changed behavior, the way he’s been staring at Jack like he’s on the verge of saying something and then swallowing it at the last minute - Rhys is breaking up with him , and god dammit , he was always afraid this day would come but he’s not ready for it, he’s never been ready for it. Especially not now.

Maybe it was a good thing he had never found a moment, Jack thinks numbly. At least then he’s spared Rhys telling him no.

Sure enough, Rhys stands and moves over to where his jacket is lying on the breakfast bar, and he’s saying something but Jack can’t hear it over the ringing in his ears. Jack almost stays where he is, but if this is it, if this is the end, then he wants to capture every last bit of it before Rhys walks out of his life.

Even if it feels like it’s ripping him apart.

When he turns, he sees Rhys pulling a small black box out of the inside pocket of his coat. Rhys’ voice filters back in slowly.

“...has been the best part of my life, really, and I know this is sudden, we haven’t talked about it, but I just.” Rhys swallows. “I want to know if you’ll - if you want to - oh, fuck it, here.”

Rhys opens the box in his hands and thrusts it toward Jack. It’s hard to look away from Rhys’ face, but when he tears his eyes away to look at what’s in Rhys’ hands he sees -

A ring, brushed gold surrounded by platinum. It’s simple but stunning. It looks - it looks like a wedding band, but that doesn’t make any sense.

Nothing about this makes any sense to Jack at all.

“What-” Jack’s voice doesn’t even sound like his own.

“Jack,” Rhys says slowly and distinctly. His voice is steady but his hands are shaking just a bit. “I am asking you to marry me.”

Jack stares at him as the world upends itself for the second time in as many minutes, something expansive and bright unfolding in his chest. It hurts to breathe.

“Jack? Jack, say something.” Rhys’ voice cracks a little, and that jolts Jack into action. The ring. He scrambles out of his chair, toppling it in the process, and Rhys has to step back as Jack practically sprints from the room. The only thought in his head that he has to get to that ring, to Rhys’ ring, as fast as he can. He tears down the hall and punches in the code to the safe - gets it wrong the first time because he’s moving too fast ( too slow, too slow, hurry up ) - and when he grabs the box it feels weighty for its small size, like it’s the most important thing in the world.

In this moment, it might very well be.

When he comes back Rhys is standing in Jack’s tiny kitchen staring at the box in his hands with the worst look on his face, and only then does it occur to Jack what a monumentally shitty thing he has just done to Rhys - he must have been so nervous, and Jack up and left him - but now is his chance to make up for it.

Now, and possibly for the rest of his life. That thought doesn’t scare him at all anymore, and that’s how Jack knows he’s making the right decision.

Jack marches up to Rhys, who actually flinches back from him, and Jack has handled this terribly, this is not at all how it it was supposed to go, but there’s no way out but forward. He snatches the box in Rhys’ hands out of unresisting fingers and shoves his own box into them.

“There,” he says. His voice sounds like he’s just run a marathon. “That’s my answer.”

Rhys looks at him and then looks down at the box in his hands. He opens it with fingers that Jack will tell him later were only shaking a little, and then he gasps and his hand flies up to his mouth. He looks back at Jack and there are actual tears in his eyes.

Jack beams at him. This is more like it. Things got a little off-script for a minute there but Jack fixed it.

Then Rhys balls up the hand in front of his mouth and punches Jack, hard , right in the shoulder where he knows it’ll hurt. “You asshole ,” and now Rhys is laughing and crying at the same time, which is - well it’s not on-script, exactly, but it might be better , because now Rhys is pulling him in for a kiss, and Jack has kissed Rhys hundreds, thousands of times before but this feels new. It feels like he’s re-learning the shape of Rhys’ mouth for the first time, and he’s grinning into it even as his free hand settles on Rhys’ hip to pull him closer.

Pretty soon, though, Jack starts to get impatient. “Here,” he says in between pressing his lips to the corner of Rhys’ mouth. “Here, let me -”

He pulls back and takes Rhys’ left hand in his own, and Rhys sobers a bit as Jack slips his ring over Rhys’ knuckles and settles it on his finger. Rhys spreads his fingers to inspect them, and he must like what he sees because when he looks back at Jack his smile is blinding.

“Okay,” Rhys says, “my turn.”

Jack finds himself holding his breath and watching as Rhys slides the ring down his finger, and he forcibly exhales when the ring comes to a stop at the base. He can feel it resting on his hand, but it doesn’t feel nearly as heavy as he thought it might.

Rhys brushes his fingers over Jack’s knuckles, grazing the ring as he does, and chuckles slightly. “You have the largest fingers, you know that?”

There’s only one thing he can say to that. “I didn’t hear you complaining when I had them up your-”

“Oh my god, stop ,” but Rhys is laughing.

Jack flexes his fingers to feel the ring on his hand, and he’s not really aware of it, just thinking out loud when he says, “Christ, you nearly gave me a heart attack with that ‘we need to talk’ line.”

Rhys frowns. “What did you think I meant?”

Crap. “Nothing. It’s not important.” Jack goes to kiss him again but Rhys pulls back, still frowning.

“No, seriously, what did you-” Jack can see the exact moment Rhys gets it, because his eyes go wide and his mouth parts on a soft little oh . Then he grins sheepishly, fondly, and pulls Jack in with a hand on the back on Jack’s neck. The metal is cool but Jack's skin feels heated, and Rhys' touch is a relief.

“I’m not going anywhere, Jack.” Rhys rests his forehead against Jack’s and with his free hand he rubs his thumb over Jack’s new ring. “Not now, not later. Not ever.”

And when he closes the distance between them, lips warm and and firm and sure on Jack’s, Jack finally, finally lets himself believe.