Being There

Written for the Shelter Extravaganza for the prompt : After his mother dies Zach is broken and lost; he needs to get away and finds himself on Shaun's doorstep. (pre-movie)

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.

Being There

The last thing Shaun was expecting as he drove up to the house was to see a figure curled up, leaning against the front door stoop, before he even had chance to see a second vehicle in the drive. He recognized Zach straight away; how could he not, but the timing wasn't great and Shaun knew it was going to cause another argument with Michael.

"Seriously, man! I know your house is empty half the time, but to have drunken idiots curling up on your doorstep. You need to improve security around here! That's just disgusting!"

Shaun was seething before he'd managed to get the car in park and the door open. "Just go inside and get some sleep and I'll deal with this," he said, wishing he'd been here on his own, wishing he'd dumped Michael's obnoxious ass weeks ago. He slipped the key in the lock, opened the door and looked pointedly at Michael until he entered, not wanting to have Zach deal with him as well as whatever had brought him here.

With a sullen glare and a "Whatever!", Michael positively flounced into the house and Shaun was certain that he really didn't need Michael's drama anymore. Shaun pulled the door closed behind him and then sat down beside Zach on the step. He barely resisted the urge to touch, to put his arm around Zach and pull him into his side and promise to never let go. He knew he must never do that, because whatever Zach felt for him was a far simpler feeling than what he had when he looked at Zach. Shaun had grown used to ignoring the feelings he carried inside for Zach, because there was no damn way he wanted to spoil the friendship Zach had with Gabe, or the fact that he was certain that sometimes Zach visited just for a respite from his own home. He cared too deeply to risk denying Zach any of that with a foolhardy attempt at declaring his love for someone who was straight.

"Zach," Shaun called his name softly. "Zach, wake up, come on, dude, you can't spend the night on the porch."

Zach jerked sharply, looking round startled and Shaun could see immediately just how exhausted he looked and that his skin was pale and sallow and his eyes red-rimmed as if he'd been crying. Shaun reached out to rub his hand reassuringly along Zach's arm, surprised when before he could do or say anything, Zach had actually moved into an embrace and was sobbing with huge gut wrenching breaths that were enough to break Shaun's heart. He folded Zach in his arms and rocked him gently, one hand coming up to cup the back of his head and keep him close.

The sobs finally slowed and Shaun began to think about what could have happened to bring Zach to this point and his doorstep. Last he'd heard from Gabe, Zach was in an on again off again relationship with Tori, a girl from his neighborhood. If it was as on-off as Gabe seemed to imply, Shaun doubted it would reduce Zach to this, unless maybe . . .

Zach was pulling himself back together, pulling a tissue from his pocket and muttering apologies. Shaun just wanted to pull him close again and take away whatever was hurting him so badly.

"Hey," he said gently, "Is this about T-" his words cutting off as Zach began to speak.

"Mom – Mom's gone," Zach barely managed to get the words out. Shaun pulled him closer because that was more than anyone should go through alone, and that was the thing that Shaun could be sure of now, without his Mom, Zach was alone. "'m sorry," Zach mumbled into his shoulder. "I didn't realize anyone was here. I wouldn't have come."

And that made it worse, to know that Zach had come all the way up to the house and curled up on the doorstep expecting there to be no one here. "You're coming inside," Shaun said, not leaving any room for argument, any chance for Zach to leave and be alone with this. Shaun could be the friend he needed, the support and with that he was standing and pulling Zach up to his feet, hand out ready to steady him, if he was as shaky as he looked like he might be. But Zach already had his hand out to brace himself against the wall and Shaun knew he couldn't step in yet.

He led the way into the house, closing the door behind Zach and then moving through to the sunroom. He ushered Zach onto the couch before pulling a blanket over his shoulders. It wasn't a cold night, but this was about the warmth of comfort, of someone alive caring enough to pay attention.

In the years that Shaun had known Zach, he had learned a lot. He'd learned that not everybody who he thought of as poor was a waste of time or energy, that some of them were talented and hard-working and loving; that some of them cared more for the people around them than many of the parents of his rich friends. Zach and his mother were among the best. He wouldn't say the same for Jeanne or Zach's father. Zach had always been a good influence on Gabe, fun to be with, but not materialistic or demanding. He knew the importance of his school work, something few of Gabe's other friends ever did, but then none of them were at the school on a scholarship, none of them knew what a chance they were being given. If he were honest with himself, Shaun had never considered it himself until Gabe had brought Zach home and his mother had fallen for Zach's innocent charm and sincerity. Shaun remembered the way she had sat both he and Gabe down after Zach had gone home and talked to them about fortune and life's paths, possessions and money and how they had to be careful not to make Zach feel that he didn't belong in their circle of friends because his family didn't have money, because she assured them, he would find plenty of other people who would do just that.

She'd been right, Zach had at times faced a hard time at school, but it was only as the boys got older that any of them had realized what difficulties he'd faced at home as well; the anger and resentment from his sister and the indifference from his father. It was another reason why Shaun had spent so much time thinking of him, and why he'd been determined to keep his distance in every way but friendship.

But there was only him here now, his own mother away on a cruise and Gabe at school. Zach needed someone now and the only person there was was Shaun.

He heard movement behind him and turned to see Michael glaring at him from the bottom of the stairs. He stood quickly and crossed to him, hoping to divert the inevitable impending argument. "Mike, he's a friend of the family. Please just go back to your room and I'll deal with this. I need to deal with this on my own."

"My room? Go back to MY room," he sneered. His eyes settled on Zach. "Pretty young thing."

Shaun felt the urge to lash out and punch Michael, but a glance at Zach and he knew he had to think not of himself, not of Michael, but of what Zach needed. The one thing he really didn't need was Michael's drama. He turned Michael forcefully and pushed him towards the stairs, "Leave us alone, please."

Michael hissed, eyes narrowed, "We're through. Tomorrow, I'm out of here and you're on your own again."

Shaun shrugged. "Fine. Go now if you want. I'll call you a cab if you need it."

Michael just turned and stamped back up the stairs. He wouldn't go now, something in him would want a showdown, a real argument. For the minute, Shaun was just glad that he was decent enough to not do it in front of Zach tonight, that he actually recognized that Zach really did need him.

He turned back to Zach; saw his tired eyes and the apology ready to fall; saw the way he was poised ready to move and he moved quicker. He was back at Zach's side, reassuring him, urging him to stay, to not be alone, not that night when he needed someone to be there for him. Shaun knew, if he hadn't gone straight to Tori, then there was no one else to be there for him.

Despite Zach's best efforts to hold them in, tears began to fall again and Shaun pulled him closer. Zach was nineteen and his world had fallen apart. Shaun promised himself there was nothing to it when he sifted his hand through Zach's hair, when he coaxed him into laying down with his head resting on a cushion on Shaun's lap and there was nothing to it. In that moment, everything was genuine, everything intent. Zach was his focus with no endgame. What lay in the future he could never tell and it didn't matter at all. If Zach walked out of the door in the morning and never said another word, Shaun would know he'd done the right thing for Zach and for his own heart.

If he were to get a chance later, it would be a gift, but the time would need to be right, Zach would need to . . . Shaun wasn't certain what Zach would need to do, but something, some tiny little thing that made him think he'd have a chance. But in the meantime and forever if it was all the chance he got, he could be Zach's friend.

As Zach fell asleep, Shaun's thoughts wandered. This was what he wanted with Zach. He wanted the closeness and intimacy of truth, the friendship and trust, the honesty and acceptance. If he ever got the chance, he didn't want it to be a fling, a brief sexual encounter, there and gone in a flash. He wanted depth and time and meaning and inside he clung to the belief that one day he would find that with someone, someone who like Zach would be worth it; someone worth the effort and the real love.

Looking down at Zach's relaxed features, complexion still pale, eyes still reddened, Shaun could live with the hope, the dream that his someone might be Zach. At least for now.