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"This is ridiculous," Rust says flatly. "All of this." He's glaring at the balloons like they have done him a personal wrong. Marty doesn't know why he is being like this about balloons. 

"They're just balloons," he points out, knows that the calmer he is, the more reasonable, the more annoying it will be.

From the way that Rust's eye twitches, he knows he has succeeded. Mental scoreboard reads 1 to Marty. 0 to Rust. This is better than watching football. Rust pulls at the tie around his neck. "Just balloons or not, why do I have to wear this stupid thing. It's not even tied right."

"Aww," Marty says. "Let me fix that for you." He fusses with the knot. The tie is definitely ugly. He couldn't have done better if he had picked it himself. Rust is looking at him with murder in his eyes, but Marty isn't scared. He has seen worse. Like the things in the woods, the kids at the compound, every crime scene photo that had passed his desk. Compared to that, Rust is a beaut. 

"Dear, can I talk to you in the kitchen," Rust says, every word of it sounding strangled.

"Sure thing sweetheart," Marty says. "Anything for my husband." 

The hostess of the party hands him a drink. "You know," she says. "I wish my husband would say cute things like that to me. Mostly he just says things like honey, you are blocking the TV screen."

Rust and Marty both laugh politely, this is part of their characters for the party. They are the fun new gay couple of the neighborhood. It's not a role they would have necessarily chosen, but it had been evident since the beginning that every key thing that happened in the neighborhood was for couples only. Rust had suggested that they pretend to be newly together. Marty had shot that down.

"We are too old for that," Marty had said. The words might have sounded harsh from someone else, but they sounded just fine from him. "We need them to trust us. That means we are not fly by nights. We are married and stable. This also means that we need wedding rings."

If it had been up to Rust, those rings would probably have come from one of the machines where you put a quarter in and got a candy ring. Marty on the other hand had a great touch with detail. He had been tormenting Rust for days by not telling him where he had got the two cheap gold bands at such short notice without spending any money or at least no money that he had added to the expenses.. 

If someone had asked Marty after hospital if he would ever have imagined this could happened, he would probably have laughed at them and then possibly punched them, depending on how much beer he had drunk. He can't speak for Rust but he suspects that he would feel the same way. After everything that had happened between them it had been a very long path to this day. It had taken them so much time to get to this point, but now they worked together, drank together and had slowly repaired their relationship.

Still, even with that, he could never have imagined that being a PI would involve a scam as involved as this.

Following Rust's requests, he followed him out to the kitchen. Rust downed his drink in one and turned to him. "Don't you think you're overplaying it with the tie thing?"

Marty played innocent for a second and then grinned. "Method acting is important," he said. "We want them to believe we're exactly who we say we are, and that means giving them what they expect to see. In this case, your tie is fucked, they'd expect me to fix it. Eyes on the prize Rust."

There's a lot of money riding on this infiltration. Two different kinds - the kind that goes into their pockets at the end of it, and the money of the people who've hired them to investigate whether the hosts of this party are really what they seem. It's taken seven weeks of moving in, seven weeks of pretending to give a damn about what the people around them think, to get to this point. In another world, another time, he'd have broken through the door, flashed a badge and demanded answers. Here and now, with bone broken from past adventures, like an old dog, he's been taught new tricks.

Rust is sitting there, eyebrows high and straight on his forehead, but he isn't disputing it, and Marty feels the usual, complicated surge of affection for him, mixed up with all the ways they've done each other wrong in the past. When he looks at Rust, he sees all the mistakes he's ever made, wonders if his partner feels the same way. It's been some kind of a path to get to this point.

Rust shrugs, pulls at the knot of his tie. "Baby shower," he reminds Marty, voice flat. "You never mentioned this bit." Both of them have bad memories, Rust maybe more than most. But it's been years, and Rust has learned to take things like this on the chin. It's part of what makes Marty like him, like him enough that amongst the detritus of their last job, amongst all the bad blood between them, he's searched out the opportunity to have them work in tandem.

It's been weird watching really. Rust with a ring on his finger, when the lines on his face only come from laughter and age, they don't pull down at his mouth in an endless longsuffering self denial. Marty wants to see it more, has grown accustomed to the sight of Rust with a smile on his face, even if it's just to convince nosy Mark-next-door that the geraniums he's planting can take the acidic soil.  He finds himself, even in the moments when they should be acting, looking at Rust, hoping, in some vague way that pretending happiness can create it. 

They work to push back the dark, surely they can take a little light, Marty thinks. It's the kind of thought that Rust might have, he wonders if even in their separate rooms, they've rubbed off on each other. He sometimes thinks of Rust in the night, a wound up figure in cheap cotton sheets. There's a certain tenderness to it that surprises him sometimes. After everything that has happened between them, he shouldn't feel like this, 

"Hey," Marty says, watches Rust tug again. "Baby shower or not. Which do you want to take?"

Maybe many of years ago, he would've demanded, ordered. Now after everything they've been through, he asks, waits for Rust's reply.

It's hardly a surprise. "I'll take upstairs," Rust says. "Check out his office. You good making sure nobody comes up for a little while?"

Marty's more than good with that, he has a plan in mind. To that effect, as Rust slips up the stairs, destined for the study and the documents that are contained within the desk, he sets out to make sure nothing can interfere at all. Easier said than done. Herding rich visitors is like herding cats. They want to go upstairs, they want to look at the cute little bathroom installation Emma told them about. Marty's holding them off as best as he can, until he gets the inspiration of a lifetime.

"I don't like to hijack an event," he said. "But I'm here with my husband and we are celebrating a vow renewal. If you'll gather around I'll tell the story of how we first met."

It's a highly edited story, in fact it is probably more lie than truth. It involves an edited version of their eyes meeting from across a room. In the story, they work at an insurance firm instead, writing out waivers and filing complaints. But the details are true and the emotion is real. It's not a surprise that the audience remains gripped throughout it.

At some point Marty looks up during his rendition and Rust is standing there watching him, clearly having done with searching the upstairs for secrets. Marty can't stop. There's been too years, too many decades, where he hasn't said exactly what he feels. Here, in front of a crowd, pouring his heart out, he has finally found the words to say what Rust means to him, even if Rust is the only person who would understand it.

"You see me," he says into the room, "you see us for what we are, bulwarks against the darkness, small beacons of light. But light is stronger when it's together, when two bulbs shine out into the night and reflect and enhance what they have to offer."

The crowd think this is a renewal, only Marty and Rust know that it's a proposal, that it's an open manifesto of everything they are and everything they can be to each other.

Their helpful hostess hands them another drink. "That's beautiful," she says, smiling, unaware that in the next two weeks her life will come crashing down around her ears. "Now kiss!"

They take her word as command, and kiss, and even though it should be the 100th, the 1000th, it isn't. It's the first.