Shelter, Shaun/Zach, "it was a mistake, she didn't mean anything."
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
It Was More Than Just A Mistake
They both know that Shaun is pretty easy going, laid back and not easy to anger. For the most part, Zach is too. They've worked out the pitfalls in their relationship and the few disagreements they had early on have virtually vanished.
Shaun knows that occasionally Zach overreacts when he's feeling defensive and vulnerable, when he's reminded too much of being the outsider, the poor kid in the rich kids' school; when he thinks someone sees him as being Shaun's kept boy. They both know it isn't true, Zach more than pulls his weight, even if Shaun does still cover the larger portion of the financial burden. Zach is the one to keep their home together, everybody organized and in the right places with the right things.
He'd been doing it for years at home with his Mom being sick, looking after his sister and Cody and his Dad, if and when he was around. After his Mom passed, he'd taken over completely. They'd have been out on the street long ago if it weren't for the way he worked to keep them all. Now it's him and Shaun and Cody and he doesn't work any less hard, even if he does get more recognition for what he does.
Jeannie is a bone of contention between them. Somehow Shaun figures she probably always will be. She's stopped pretending they're just looking out for Cody 'for now' unless she wants something and to be honest, Shaun is sick to death of that attitude.
Cody is not something to be bargained with; he's not something that should be held over Zach like a threat. Jeannie doesn't see it that way. Shaun hates the way she calls and says she's thinking of maybe having Cody back, because she's not sure that leaving him with Zach is a good idea. She doesn't want her son to grow up a fag after all.
That's the first thing that makes Shaun sick, that she still thinks it's okay to insult them both, despite the fact they've looked after her son now for nearly two years and to hold their relationship over them like that. Add to it the fact that Zach doesn't call her out on it, doesn't tell her where to stick her prejudice or that she's a lousy mother and if she really thought they were so bad at looking after him, they should have done something before now. Two years, for Christ's sake, two years is not a few days in which she could have reconsidered her choice. It's negligent whichever way you look at it.
Then there is the fact that she's always appeased by the offer of money, if she hasn't already come out and asked for it. And Zach always coughs up; he always gives her all she asks for, even when it means he's going to have to struggle to work more hours in the diner to get more money now. They both know he gets more for each successive painting that he sells, but the money is irregular, dependent on someone wandering into the gallery where his work is displayed, liking it and wanting to buy it on that day. The diner pays less, but pays for the hours he puts in when he does them. As far as Jeannie is concerned all he has to do is ask Shaun and there's a limitless supply of money available.
It isn't true, Shaun's comfortable that's all. Sure he could afford to look after the three of them, now he's got another couple of books under his belt, but Zach won't ask and Jeannie should know her brother well enough to know that. Like Jeannie cares enough to know anything about anybody but herself.
So now they're arguing again. About Jeannie again and Shaun is sick of it. He's sick of the toll it takes on the three of them and the way she doesn't give a damn. He wants it over, finished. He wants to stop her having contact with Zach or Cody because all it ever does is hurt the two people he loves most. So they're standing here, him and Zach and arguing again over money for her and access to Cody for her and her insults that do nothing but cut Zach to pieces as he knows he isn't accepted by her and as he then deals with the questions that Cody always asks afterwards.
He doesn't want to hear Zach ever defend her again, telling him it was hard for her when she got pregnant so young and their mom was ill and their dad wasn't around. He won't deny any of that, but Zach was there, Zach did more than pull his own weight through it all and he wasn't the one pregnant or getting anyone pregnant, but he got himself through school on a scholarship and he worked at the diner to bring home more money to take care of Cody and Jeannie was the older one and, to be honest, Shaun isn't sure there was ever a time when she looked out for Cody.
Shaun doesn't know how to get through to Zach, that 'it was a mistake, she didn't mean anything by it' can't keep being an excuse. There comes a point at which she has to grow up and face up to her mistakes or they have to just stop accepting them. It's beyond him how to explain that to Zach though.
The door opens and Cody walks in, face somber and not the laughing little boy they're both used to. Cody takes a deep breath before he says, "Do you love me?"
The argument stops instantly, all attention focused on Cody now. Zach is the first to answer, tone definite, "Yes, absolutely. Why do you ask?"
"Jeannie said you don't. Jeannie said you think I cost too much money and you don't want me anymore."
"That's not true! It would never be true, Cody." The horror in Zach's eyes is clear and Shaun finds himself forgetting the argument and moving to stand with Zach determined that they'll present a united front on this.
"Jeannie said I was convenient for you before and now I'm not. What does that mean?"
"It doesn't mean anything. Jeannie is – Jeannie is . . . she doesn't know what she's talking about! We love you."
The conversation continues and Shaun is as horrified as Zach at the things that come out of Cody's mouth as what Jeannie has just told him. It's all hurtful and nasty and untrue but they're going to have to deal with the explanations and the reassurances that will be needed to heal the damage she's done.
Cody's in bed and he's fast asleep when Zach comes to find Shaun in his office. "I'm sorry," he says as he leans in the doorway. Shaun looks up and stands up immediately to move closer, to take Zach in his arms because he's looks wrecked. "I'm so sorry, Shaun."
Shaun hates the way he says it like all of the hurt was his fault. "I need you to help me . . . please." Shaun didn't need the please, or the almost begging quality it holds to know that anything Zach asks for he'll be willing to help with. "When you said earlier about Jeannie and about formalizing Cody being with us and putting an end to the calls for money . . . I know I said no but . . . I was wrong. She can't do this to Cody, she can't keep treating him like this, so I – I want to do something about it, but – but I can't afford a lawyer."
There's no question in Shaun's mind that the answer is yes. He didn't need the apology, he didn't need Zach to beg or to say that he was wrong, he didn't even need him to admit that it was more than a mistake on Jeannie's part. All he needed was permission to start to change things and even if Zach won't fight for himself, he will fight for Cody.
And Shaun will fight for them both.