A/N: So, this is the epilogue, set eight years on. Gratuitously smushy and fluffy I know, and beautifully idealistic, but I'm a sucker for knowing what happens next…
Thanks to all of you, again, for reading this.
"Cody!" Shaun bellows again up the stairs, to no avail. He tuts and pulls out his cellphone, tapping a number in and holding it up to his ear.
"What?" Cody answers, the music in the background becoming quieter.
"Get your butt down here. And bring your sister."
"What? Why me?"
"Just do it. Your dad's gonna be back soon."
Cody sighs, flicks off his stereo and gets up, shoving the magazine back on his shelf before walking to the next door and stepping over the baby gate into Annie's room. She sits, surrounded by toys, chattering away to her doll.
"Come on brat," he says gently, reaching his arms out to her. She smiles and twines her arms around his neck, and he presses one of his hands against her back, feeling her baby warmth through her dress.
"Alright now, quick check. Balloons?"
"Less attitude from you, kid. Cards?"
"Check, sort of."
"What do you mean 'sort of'?"
"Well, I packed my shorts…"
"Is that it? Jesus, Cody, I asked you to do one thing..."
"Pop, relax! I was just joking."
"Oh, ha ha. Very funny."
"Presents are done, if that's what you were gonna ask next."
"Good. Right, well, I think we're just about…"
They all turn at the sound of the key in the lock, Annie wriggling from Shaun's grip and getting to her feet unsteadily. She wobbles, and Cody automatically grips her hands, walking pigeon-steps behind her as she pads toward the door, burbling her baby talk.
"Hey, anybody home?" calls Zach, and Shaun grins as he pulls out the matches and lights the candles on the cake.
"Hey Codes, how was your day? Hey beautiful!"
Zach walks into the front room, Annie on his hip, and smiles that gorgeous smile as he sees the coffee table decorated with the cake and cards.
"What's all this?"
"Happy Birthday!" Cody and Shaun chorus, and Annie squeals, waving her hands in the air.
Zach rolls his eyes affectionately and lowers Annie to the floor, leaning over to give Shaun a quick kiss.
"Guys, stop!" Cody grumbles, and Shaun shoots him a withering look.
After the cake is finished and wiped off Annie's face, they sit down to watch Zach open his presents. Cody has bought him a new set of paintbrushes and a blank canvas (one of the good ones from the art store) that Zach runs his hands over, a smile on his face.
"It's great, thanks Cody."
Annie has 'bought' him a new case for his iPad, after he spilled coffee all over his last one the week before.
Angela and Larry have sent him a picture of their house at night, taken from the beach; all the lanterns brightly illuminated, casting multicoloured shadows across the building. Zach and Shaun smile at each other, and Cody can't help but stare at the picture. They go back to visit Larry and Angela a couple of times a year, and though Pop moans that it's going to be awful, Dad makes them go anyway.
The last present is from Shaun, who hands Zach a small, thick rectangular package. When he opens it, Zach finds a copy of Shaun's new book. He looks at him questioningly, but Shaun just nods.
When he does Zach finds, on the second page after the publishers information, a small dedication inscription, written in italic lettering.
To my children, Annie and Cody, for bringing such fulfilment into my life. And to my husband, Zach, for being patient when I'm barely aware of what's happening around me, and loving me all the same.
Zach runs his fingertips over the letters and can barely speak, murmuring a thick-sounding thank you. Shaun breathes a sigh of relief and grins, running his hand over Zach's knee.
They go out for a family dinner later that evening at the Pancake House, and though Cody rolls his eyes, they all know he loves it there. He even distracts Annie and helps her eat her cut up pancakes while Zach and Shaun have a little 'grown-up' time.
"So, thirty two now, huh?"
"I feel old."
"Watch it, I was thirty two when we got married!"
"Really? Jeez, that feels like a lifetime ago. What are you now, a hundred?"
"Ha freaking ha. Watch that mouth or you'll get nothing when we get home."
Zach looks quickly at Cody, making sure he's distracted, and then winks at Shaun, who grins at him. He lowers his voice, reaching out his hand to touch the skin on Shaun's arm.
"Nothing? It is my birthday though…"
"Keep it PG, we got kids here."
"Hey, I'm keeping it clean. I was talking about cake; what did you mean?"
Cody makes a face at Annie when he hears the voices behind him lower; he knows what that means.
"I think I'm gonna come watch cartoons with you when we get in, brat." He says, guiding Annie's spoon toward her mouth.
Zach's sitting up in bed later, writing feedback on a piece of artwork as Shaun brushes his teeth in the bathroom. He can't seem to muster up much emotion for this watercolour; it's nice enough to look at, but he doesn't feel any kind of emotion toward it.
Shaun walks in; his pyjama pants slung low around his waist. Zach's breath does that momentary hitch it does whenever he sees Shaun like this, even after so long.
"Hey, pervert, keep your eyes to yourself," Shaun says, and Zach shakes his head as if in resignation.
"What do you think of this?" he says, turning the painting round to show Shaun. He peers at it, squinting a little.
"Can't see it that great from here. Jesus, pass my glasses will you?"
"It isn't even that far away."
"Yeah, a great perk of being old. Now give them to me."
Once the frames are on his nose he blinks and frowns.
"It's kinda boring."
"I know. I don't get it; this guy is normally a real ball-buster; so much of his stuff is really great. This is just…"
"I heard you the first time. I dunno, I'll talk to him tomorrow."
Shaun sits next to him on the bed and takes the picture from him, placing it carefully on the floor.
"I'm gonna put this away, because it's your birthday, and you've got to let your old grandpa husband pay you some attention."
The sight of Shaun's muscles as he leans down is still enough to drive Zach kinda crazy, and he breathes in when Shaun looks over the top of his glasses and winks. Shaun takes them off and puts them on the side, gently pulling Zach down so he's lying on his back, and swings his own weight on top of him. Moving his mouth down past Zach's hairline and down to the base of his throat, he hums, and Zach shivers as the vibrations ripple through him.
"Now, c'mon good looking, let's have a little fun before your husband gets home…"
Zach's eyes widen.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"If you don't wanna go, I'll take your place."
"Cody, butt out."
"You guys are no fun."
Shaun looks over at him, a comically threatening look on his face, and Cody holds his hands up in defence and walks out of the room.
"What about the kids?"
"What about them?"
"We can't leave them here."
"Can't we? Damn, the plan is ruined."
"You're such a smart ass today, aren't you?"
"They can go stay with my mom. And yes, before you say it, I have asked her."
"This is really a break, with just you and me there?"
"I can ask someone else if you want?"
"You know what I mean." Shaun rubs a thumb comfortingly over his knuckles and squeezes his hand gently.
"Babe, we deserve a holiday, don't you think? It's been a hell of a year…"
Zach nods; he's right. They had finally got Annie last March, after over two years of negotiations and arguments and pleading with the child services agency, who couldn't seem to organise their way out of a paper sack. It was the icing on the top of their cake; in the September after New York the news had come through that Cody's adoption was official. After Zach's graduation in October he had been offered a paid (barely) internship at one of the tutor's design firms. Shaun can still remember him sitting there in shock as he was told, and Shaun having to repeat what had been said to him.
They got broody without even realising it. They had never really sat down and discussed adopting another child specifically, but when everybody about them started doing it, Zach had dropped it into conversation over a date night dinner one Thursday about three years ago, and it had started from there.
Last September they had got a rare call from Jeanne, who'd told them that she and Zach's father had died of a stroke. Zach hadn't known how to feel, and had gone almost silent for three days, sitting in their room, and not eating. Shaun had never been so worried about him, and had been going in to ask him to go and see someone about it, when Zach had had a bit of a delayed breakdown over it, shedding a few tears and alternating between anger and guilt that they'd never reconciled.
Jeanne had come down for the funeral, playing the devoted, heartbroken daughter, and as usual treated Cody like a polite aunt, kissing him on the cheek and asking how school was going. It always affected him when she did that, and he'd gone straight up to his room after, playing his guitar and refusing to talk to anybody.
In December, Annie had been playing in the front room, and had somehow pulled the tablecloth down on top of herself, along with a decorative bowl that had left her screaming and bleeding from the scalp. Zach had nearly had a heart attack when he had arrived in a panic at the emergency room to find Shaun white as a sheet, shirt spattered in blood.
Of course, there had been a child services investigation, and they'd received two visits in a month to make sure they weren't abusing or neglecting her.
It had been a horrible few weeks, and they'd nearly got a black mark against their names when Cody had got so wound up with the tension and upset at home that he had sworn rather vocally at the woman who had come round to check up on them. They'd apologised profusely and sent him to his room, and Zach had gone upstairs once she'd gone and got madder than Cody could ever remember him.
Shaun, ever the peacemaker, had come in later that day with a plate of food, gently chiding him for getting so angry.
"You gotta come and talk to us if you're mad, Cody. Don't just keep it all bottled up, it doesn't help anybody."
Cody had slunk into Zach's study later and stood there, hands in pockets, not knowing where to start, and Zach had sat with his back to him, still as a statue, turning round after a full minute, standing up and grabbing him for a fierce hug. They'd had a good talk about it, and Cody got a little choked up, while Zach had looked away, blinking hard.
It was only in mid-January that everything had settled down, and by the end of the month both Zach and Shaun were looking considerably older than they were.
"Actually, yeah, a vacation would be great."
On the Friday evening after Cody finishes for Easter ("School blows. I love Easter.") they drive the kids down to Angela and Larry's, who greet them all with open arms. Angela whisks Annie up into her arms and coos at her. Cody and Larry have their manly handshake, and go to look at how Larry's latest car restoration project is coming on. Shaun and Zach look at each other.
"So, that's it then? No 'bye guys, see you next week!" or anything?"
"Maybe we should go in and say something to them."
"Maybe." Shaun grins wickedly at him and leans his head into the house.
"Mom, we're gonna head off now, okay? Call us if you need anything."
Angela's disembodied voice floats back to him.
"Yeah, sure thing. Have fun."
Zach whistles at Cody's back, bent over as he looks under the bonnet.
"Code, we're off now."
He awkwardly raises a hand behind him in a half wave and shouts something that could or could not be a goodbye. Zach shuffles for a second, unsure.
"Zach? Come on. They're gonna be fine." He nods, but looks in the direction of the house. Shaun grabs him by the hand and pulls him firmly toward the car.
"We're on vacation Zach. Let's get started."
They pull up to the cabin just after midnight, Zach snoring softly in the passenger seat of the rental car. Shaun takes the bags up before rapping on the window and smiling at Zach's grumpy face.
"C'mon, let's head up."
"But we just got here." Shaun grabs his hand and squeezes it.
"Zach, we're on vacation, we can do stuff we want to do tomorrow. You need sleep." Zach murmurs assent before tottering up the stairs and stripping his clothes off, falling into the bed.
Downstairs Shaun stands for a moment looking out over the valley below. They haven't been away alone for at least four years, what with work, and Zach's exhibition, and Annie, and he can't help but feel that this has come at exactly the right time.
He waits until Zach has stopped shuffling around upstairs, and turns out the porch light, heading up to join him.
The week passes in a blissful wave of peace, with no kids, no hassle from work, nothing. They spend the time laughing their asses off, having a lot of sex and talking about the future.
One night, they sit outside under a blanket, sharing a bottle of red wine and looking up at the stars.
"Imagine, in like, ten years we could be at Cody's wedding."
"And in twenty five, we could be at Annie's." Shaun looks at him in horror.
"What? Who said anything about her being allowed to get married? I haven't decided if she can date yet!" Zach laughs and elbows him gently, bringing his head to lean against Shaun's shoulder.
"They're alright, aren't they?"
"The kids? Yeah, they have their moments."
"No, I mean, happy, doing well at school, that kind of thing."
Shaun looks at him, smiling fondly, because even after all this time and two children, Zach can't ever be one hundred percent sure that he's done something well.
"Yeah, they're good."
Zach's phone buzzes, and he winces apologetically at Shaun, who is about to open his mouth to say something, before the text tone on his cell also goes.
"Shit!" Zach says, holding the phone up to Shaun, whose eyes go wide when he also reads,
"Tori's pregnant!" They both laugh and shake their heads.
"Who'd a thought it, another one?" Shaun says, rubbing his forehead. "Do you wanna ring him, or shall I?"
Zach puts the phone on speaker, and grins when it's answered by a jubilant sounding Gabe.
"Gabe, another one?"
"I know, right? I'm just a freakin' stud." They hear Tori tut in the background, and Zach winks at Shaun.
"Hey Tor, how you doing? Congratulations!"
"Thanks guys, I'm fine, still slightly surprised, but fine. Hey, I thought you two were going away for Easter?"
"We have, we're calling you from the cabin." Zach hears Gabe groan.
"Are you guys on a dirty weekend? That's nasty."
"Shut up, Gabe."
They finish the phone call, after more congratulations, and promises to visit bump number three, and the other two as soon as they can get away.
Settling back down on the log, they grin at each other.
"I can't even believe it."
"I can't believe they let Gabe reproduce."
"Tell me about it. Three times, too."
"You know," Shaun purrs seductively, settling a hand on Zach's knee. "Even though I couldn't technically get you pregnant, I wouldn't mind trying…"
Zach shakes his head in disbelief.
"Still can't keep your legs shut for me, can you?" Shaun shrugs unapologetically.
"What can I say? You just get better with age."
"Oh man, just…get upstairs, will you?"
Jeanne sits on the bed in the new house in Portland. She hears the sound of Alan singing tunelessly to the radio as he lights the barbeque; the first of the year. As she does every time she sits here, she flicks through the pictures on her phone to see the most recent one of Cody, taken at Christmas last year, wearing the Abercrombie shirt she'd sent him, a forced smile on his face.
She knows he doesn't care that much for her anymore, and deep down she knows it's for the best; he's had more stability and love from Shaun and Zach than he could have got from living with her and Alan. Somehow that doesn't stop the pain when she remembers him being little, hanging on every word she said, burying his baby soft face into her shoulder when he was tired.
To look at the teenage boy now, fringe swept over one eye, muscles visible from the surfing and basketball he plays, she barely recognises him. A twinge of jealousy starts when she sees the face of the baby; Annie, Zach tells her, holding on to his jeans to keep herself up. Cody's hand rests protectively on the back of her head, and he's clearly just posing long enough to make everybody happy before he's allowed to get back to his family.
His real family, she thinks, and her heart squeezes sadly. She's forced herself to withdraw over the years, only ringing on his birthday and Christmas, and occasionally Thanksgiving. He's turned into a good kid, polite to people and trying hard at school; Shaun told her a little smugly when they last spoke that he's headed to be top of his class in Math and Biology this term.
Now in her mid-thirties, she knows she still looks good. She'd tried to reinvent herself when they moved up here, and she worked damn hard to keep Alan still interested. On her day off in the week she went down to the gym and worked herself until she shook, scowling at the women that seemed to do everything so effortlessly.
They bought the new house three months ago, and it's the best house she's ever lived in; there are three bedrooms, a garden and a massive double garage, so they can both drive the big cars they love. Her job is alright; work in an insurance office, but better than when she was back in Cali.
"Jeanne?" Alan hollers up the stairs, and she quickly drops the phone on to the bedside table, checking her face in the mirror and tutting when she sees her eyes red and watery.
"Just give me a sec!" she calls, and Alan grunts.
"Can you get me a beer on the way past please?"
"Yeah, sure thing."
Taking her make-up wipe and expertly neatening the liner and mascara that's a little smudged, she smooths her hair down and walks out the door.
The display on the phone with the picture of Cody dims after a few seconds, before fading to black completely.
Cody stretches out in the sun on the lounger in Angela's back garden, one eye open behind his sunglasses to keep an eye on Annie, who toddles around faster and faster on the soft grass, gripping onto flowers and low hanging branches as she tries to keep her balance.
When they'd told him they wanted to adopt another kid, he hadn't known how to feel. Part of him wanted to get pissed and ask why; wasn't he enough? But the other, only child bit, had been so excited at the thought of getting a new brother or sister. Things hadn't been easy, and more than once he'd heard Dad and Pop arguing about it, with one or both of them saying they might as well give up, because it was never going to happen. He'd cross his fingers when the other one dropped their angry voice and tried to soothe the other one into submission, and then things had gone that weird quiet that Cody knows means you can't go downstairs, because they're probably kissing or something weird.
When Shaun had first carried Annie through the door, just six months old, and with her big blue eyes, Cody fell almost instantly in love with her, and Shaun had met his eyes and asked if he wanted to hold her.
He'd given Jean-Pierre at school a black eye when he'd said something nasty about living with two guys, and Annie being the only girl, and had been suspended for two days when he refused to apologise. He'd been grounded for two weeks because of it, but still couldn't bring himself to feel any remorse.
After that Jean-Pierre had kept away from Cody, and nobody said anything that mean to him anymore. If anything, it had made him more popular with the girls, who cooed over him sticking up for his little sister, and thought it was so cool, and super chic that he was being raised by two guys. More than once he'd heard them talking about his dad like he was some super hot piece of ass (which he totally isn't), and Becky Sullivan had asked him if Pop would sign her copy of his book. He sighed, but she said she'd give him her number if he did. After that he was only too happy to oblige.
Annie falls to her knees, hands reaching out to clutch the grass beneath her palms, reaching for the worm that pokes its head out of the ground. Cody narrows his eyes, trying to make out what it is, and bolts off the lounger when her hand got nearer to her mouth.
"No, come on, you can't eat that, it tastes like crap." Annie looks up at him, eyes watery, and he groans and picks her up, balancing her on his hip like Pop told him.
"C'mon, don't cry."
"Aw, isn't that sweet?" Cody swung around, startled by the voice from behind him. Uncle Gabe was stood there, a daughter in each hand.
"Hey bud, how you doing? How's this little cutie, huh?" He lets go of the struggling girls, who break away and run to Cody, telling them in excited voices all about Mommy's new baby. He responds as best he can, nodding and acting like he totally gets what they're saying and looks gratefully at Gabe when he took Annie from him, tickling her under the chin.
Tori comes through a second later, a glass of water in her hand, looking just as beautiful as Cody always remembers her.
"Hey Cody, how you doing?"
"I'm good, yeah. You having another baby?"
"Yeah, insane, right?"
Gabe notices his blush and grins; Cody's crush on Tori is well known, and long-standing. He can't blame him – she is one hot chick.
"Come on, let's go in and say hi to Grandma properly, okay?" Tori says, and like the Pied Piper and his band of rats they follow her inside.
On the final night of their trip, Shaun cooks a romantic dinner for them both, while Zach dozes in the armchair in the front room. This last night of calm before they get back into the madness of homework and publishing deadlines and marking and freaking baby ballet classes has to be relished.
He fishes the plates out of the oven with tea-towel, wincing as the heat seeps through to start burning his skin. He slides them onto the kitchen worktop and starts serving out the pasta, moving the bowl of salad to the table and brushing a kiss to Zach's forehead before he goes back to the kitchen.
Zach stirs, stretching out and blinking. It was times like this, when they didn't even need to speak, that he and Shaun reconnected the best.
Sitting down at the table he grins.
"What time we heading off tomorrow?"
"Ergh, ten? We gotta pick the kids up and get everything unpacked before Annie needs to go down."
"Yeah, guess you're right."
"Hey," Shaun says softly, stroking one finger down the sensitive part of Zach's wrist, "we'll come back next year, for sure. And we do have the break booked in summer too."
"Yeah, I know. We just never get time together anymore."
Shaun looks at him tenderly.
"This is what we signed up for, isn't it? Two kids, a mortgage, a marriage." Zach grins.
"Yeah. And hey," he grabs Shaun's finger and rubs it with his thumb, "I wouldn't change any of it for the world."
A/N: So yeah, I did say it was sappy, but I had to see everyone right.
I hope you've enjoyed reading 'Getting By' – I know I've enjoyed writing it.
See you all soon.