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love too, will ruin us

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There are many moments in Matthew Mason’s life in which he considered himself to be truly, deeply, and irrevocably in love. If asked, he would not be able to pinpoint these exact moments. There are, after all, infinite tidbits of time within Matthew’s life, each holding their own individual space within his heart. But if asked, he will try. He will always try.

If asked he would chuckle at you, with a loving twinkle in his eyes. The way he always does when he gets to ponder these things. Then, when he believes he’s got it, he’ll lean back in his chair and begin to think, starting a rambling tangent of thoughts that always begins something like this:

Was it the beginnings of a sideways glance maybe? Then, he’ll think a little more. The sound of laughter, perhaps? The bump of knee against knee? Or perhaps it was a direct stare, right into his soul; eyes that said, “I’ve got you,” and lips that said, “Anchor me.” He’ll keep searching, digging through each memory in the same manner one would uncover a fog-enshrouded grave.

A hand in the anal cavity of a dead man. The glint of metal slipped carefully on his husband’s ring finger. Kisses beneath moonlight, the smell of a home-cooked breakfast shared between two lovers… The list goes on for Matthew.

And as he’d think, as he would search for these moments that he finds so dear, he’ll know. He’ll know deep within his heart that one singular moment will remain forever within him.

 

The early Winter temperatures bring a serene dusting of snow over the area. Matthew thinks that perhaps if they were under any other circumstance, he would find it peaceful. The way that the branches of the trees around them seem to hold just enough snow to fill in the gaps of the twigs, the way the entire world looks like it’s just beginning to awake. It is a complete contrast, he thinks, to the absolute chaos of their current situation.

Clayton’s warm breath hits Matthew’s ear in a worn-out pant. Clayton’s already been shot twice, and yet he fires two shots back at their assailants, calm and composed as ever. One of the shots hits its target square in the back, and Matthew hears its direct impact. The other one thunks sadly into the trunk of a nearby tree.

Shit.

Clayton ducks down, reloading with a hurried whisper. “What’s our next move?”

Matthew shrugs and peeks over their makeshift barricade. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s not looking good. We’re outmanned and outgunned, backed into a corner.” He gives Clayton a long, hard stare. “I don’t think we’ll make it.”

Their enemies on the other side of the barricade must hear them, then. Must hear the tired defeat in their voices because they have the absolute gall to giggle and send a lazy, teasing shot over their safe walls.

Clayton grabs Matthew by the shoulders.

“Listen, Matt. I think it’s time.”

His eyes go wide, face aghast. “You don’t seriously mean the M’Lady maneuver?”

Clayton’s nod in return is solemn, serious.

“No. No, I won’t let you do this for yourself.”

There’s a kiss pressed lightly to Matthew’s cheek, another gently to his lips. “I’m not doin’ this for myself, darlin’. I’m doin’ this for us.”

Of course. Matthew sighs, breath turning to steam in front of him. It wasn’t supposed to come to this. It was supposed to be a simple rescue mission, wasn’t it? Matthew wrings his hands together and wonders where exactly it went wrong. Wasn’t there a plan? A strategy?

(There was, of course, a plan. A five-step plan, in fact. Written up by Miriam herself, each course of action strategically pinpointed and marked down.)

They were so prepared, so ready…

Until they weren’t.

Clayton takes this brief moment of peace to brush snow off of his sleeves and prepare his weapon. Matthew thinks there is something fascinating about this; the way he steels himself, pulls his hat down low to cover his eyes. The way his entire body tenses and focuses.

It almost makes him forget where they are.

But the worried look in Clayton’s eyes pulls him back to reality, makes him remember how wrong it could all go down if they don’t get this right. “Please, Clayton. Don’t do this.”

Clayton only shakes his head. “I have to, darlin’. You know that.”

A nod. “I do.”

“Then it’s settled.” Clayton raises his head above their barricade to look up at the enemies surrounding them. There are too many of them, both men know it. But if there’s a chance that either of them will make it out alive, Clayton will take it. Of course, he’ll take it.

He stretches his legs, moves to stand, before-

“Wait.”

A tug on his coat brings him down to meet Matthew’s worried gaze.

“Yeah?”

“Before you go, I-” Matthew swallows, words stuck within his throat. “I want to let you know that I- that I love you. I love you; I have loved you and I will continue to love you still.”

Clayton grins. “I know, you goof. I love you, too.”

He hears it immediately; to the left of them, a groan. And to the right, shouts of, “Get out here so we can kick your ass!” and “Language!”

Clayton squeezes his husband’s hand, rises from behind their barricade, and the rest happens too fast for Matthew to keep track of.

A shot to the side that Clayton dodges, just barely, before launching one right back. The sound of snow against cloth as it pounds against arms and legs and chests. His hand wraps around the waist of their rescue mission target - a teddy bear that Arabella had lovingly stitched - and hurls it towards his husband, who catches it with only a small amount of fumbling.

Their assailants begin to close in on him now, and Matthew can hardly watch.

Aly, behind a snowy barricade not unlike their own, grins menacingly. The walls of his hideout are piled with snowballs of varying sizes, lined up and ready to go.

The kids – their kids, Matthew and Clayton’s very own children - circle Clayton with a ferocious glare.

Behind the barricade, Aloysius calls out, “Alright, kids! Are y’all ready to kick ass?”

There is a resounding roar of “Yeah!” mixed in with Arabella’s “Language, Aly!” and Matthew grips the snow wall tighter within his fists. Come on. He thinks. Come on, sweetheart.

“Three!”

Abby and Amos, with as much ferocity as a six and four-year-old can muster, bare their teeth at their own father, snowballs in hand.

“Two!”

Clayton inhales, exhales, and stands his ground.

“On-”

“Wait.” As soon as the words leave Clayton’s mouth, the world stands still. Snowballs are lowered in confusion. Commands are dropped entirely.

Abby doesn’t buy a single word of it. “Surrender!” she says. “Surrender now, Dad! Or. Else!”

Clayton grins and turns back to send a sly wink up to his husband. Matthew sends a quick thumbs-up back. “Of course… m’lady.” With one swift movement, he removes his wide-brimmed hat, (now packed tightly with snow) dumping the contents of it onto his children, coaxing squeals and yells of “That’s cheating!” Clayton chuckles heartily, but his smile immediately turns sour when he spots Aloysius with his arm held back in a throwing position.

It’s too late.

A snowball hits Clayton directly in the chest, and the children use this moment of chaos to tackle him to the ground. He’s bigger and stronger than the two of them, but still he collapses dramatically and clutches at his shirt. “Ah. It seems I have been. Defeated… Matt. There is no choice but for you to avenge me in my honor.” With a final “Bleghh” he closes his eyes and sticks his tongue out.

Matthew shakes his head at his husband’s antics, but still runs forward to pelt Aloysius – who is still busy celebrating his victory – directly in the face with a handful of snow. He walks over to his family and extends a hand to Clayton, still being viciously attacked by their children.

“Come on, let me help you u- don’t you dare.”

Clayton, for what feels like the hundredth time that day, winks at Matthew before using his extended hand to pull him down to the snow-covered floor. The children cheer at this newest addition to the family pile as Clayton shifts to pull his husband closer.

“Now, darlin’,” he says. “How did we manage to lose that?”

Matthew laughs, quiet and loving. “I think you’ve gone a bit soft, there, Clayton.”

He watches Clayton take a look at their family, at the flakes of snow in the hair of their children. “Impossible. How did that happen?”

“I believe you fell in love.”

“Is that so?”

“Mhm.”

A beat of silence. Clayton intertwines their fingers and presses a kiss to Abby’s head. Matthew does the same to Amos, who wriggles away from it and giggles.

“I think love’s ruined me a bit. Made me weaker.”

“I don’t think you think that at all Clayton. I think it makes you every bit stronger, would you agree?”

“I guess I would.”

He kisses Matthew, then, earning a “Gross!” from Abby and an “Ew!” from Amos. And as the four of them lie there in a blanket of white, staring up at the slowly-cascading snowflakes, they know, deep within them, that they are loved and that they love each other deeply in return.

 

So, if asked, Matthew Mason may tell you this story. But within his lifetime, and the lifetime of his children, he will have many more to tell.

Many more, indeed.