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nor no man ever loved

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Charles sits down amid a storm of laughter, failing entirely to hide his shit-eating grin behind his floppy hair and not making much of an effort to. Matthew catches his eye, shakes his head, mouths "Bastard." Fucker. Worst best man ever. He loves him.

Anthony leans over to murmur, "Sheep, really?" in his ear, breath gusting warm and familiar against his neck.

"Lies, outrageous lies," Matthew assures him, and inclines his head; the kiss, when it comes, is champagne-light, fizzing faintly with the promise of the suite they've got waiting for them upstairs.

They're cut off by the clear, insistent ringing of metal against glass; Fiona's cake fork brings the room to order. She stands up, tilts a smirk at Matthew from under the wide brim of her hat. It's a good hat for a wedding, he thinks, almost adversarial; armour-plating against the mothballed aunts and their quavering inquiries as to Fiona's marital status and/or possible lesbianism. There is a man, he's almost certain of it, but he doesn't know because she won't tell him. She just taps her cigarette out into her ashtray, infuriatingly, says, "Matthew, darling."

"He must be someone horribly important," he muses every few months, generally while he's elbow-deep in washing-up suds, and Anthony rolls his eyes but he always plays the game.

"Maybe he's an admiral," he'd said last week, coming up behind Matthew to wrap warm arms around him.

Matthew had wrinkled his nose. "Do we still have admirals? Ones under eighty, I mean. I hear the word 'admiral', I think white hair and a silly hat. Feathers and gold brocade. Besides, I don't think Fi would be with someone old. Distinguished, yes. Rich, obviously. Old, no."

"You're old," Anthony had said, chuckling, rubbing at the thinning hair at Matthew's crown until he received the almighty splashing he so thoroughly deserved.

He's the same age now that Gareth was when he died.

He snaps back to himself at the sound of Fiona's voice, trying to smile past the cold washing over him at the realisation.

"- a hugely important day," is what she's saying. "For Matthew and Anthony, this has been a very long time coming; for the rest of us, it's an opportunity to drink a lot of champagne we haven't had to pay for. And I find, in the face of this truly momentous occasion, that my own words seem entirely inadequate, and that someone else has already said it far better than I ever could. So, without further ado, and before any of you can ask why I didn't go to similar lengths for your nuptials -" she holds up a graceful hand "- let me just say that Matthew is my favourite, so there."

There's a pause, a smattering of good-natured laughter; Tom, seemingly unaware of the slight just bestowed on him by his sister, looks as unconcerned as ever he does. Fiona allows it, then clears her throat, holds their attention for a few seconds before she starts to recite.

It's Shakespeare. Sonnet 116.

She's good, of course she is, capturing the cadence of the lines with public-school clarity.

Anthony turns to him, smiling, widens his eyes as if to say, Did you know about this?

Fiona had come to him, said she was planning something, would it be too embarrassing if she read a poem? Obviously she would try her best not to make everybody cry but she could make no firm promises.

Matthew had swallowed hard, kissed her cheek, said thank you, that would be lovely, you'll have the room in hysterics.

"Only, don't - just no Auden, okay?"

He looks at his husband, who is tilting his head expectantly, whose tie is beginning to come undone, whose left hand is resting on the table, wedding ring glinting in the light, and the half-shrug he offers doesn't seem like nearly enough, not for this, it doesn't even begin to cover it. He covers Anthony's hand with his, with both of his, and squeezes; no impediments.

Later, when they're dancing, when his cheek is on Anthony's shoulder, he doesn't think the one thing he never thinks, because it isn't fair to anybody. He doesn't think that if Gareth was alive, if Gareth was here and not twelve years underground, that they'd be dancing like this, that after so many years of other people's weddings it would finally be their turn. He doesn't think this.

If he thinks about Gareth at all today, it's in frustration - frustration that he could be so careless as to miss this. Matthew's very careful, nowadays; Matthew swims, and he buys spread that's supposed to lower your cholesterol, he goes jogging and he owns two pairs of trainers, because there's no grey in Anthony's hair yet, and Matthew wants to be there when there is.

Three glasses of champagne later, he's dancing with Fiona. Over her shoulder he can see Anthony with his arm around Carrie's waist, both of them laughing. He's glad the two of them get on, glad for Carrie now that she has someone slightly outside the Charles-Fiona-Matthew triad of university memories and decades-old in-jokes, lives overlapping like some sort of drunken patchwork. He must be drunk now, he thinks; his tongue feels thick in his mouth. He's getting old.

"I'm glad I'm your favourite," he tells Fiona, and if he's slurring she doesn't seem to notice. "The poem was wonderful, really. Thank you."

She smiles up at him, says, "Matthew, darling," and then, quieter, "He'd be so happy for you."

He says nothing, just holds her a little closer, watches Anthony and Carrie across the room. When Anthony looks up, catches his eye, smiles softly, he thinks, Yeah, he would.

Later still, when they've stumbled up into their suite, the rhinestone-studded cowboy hats Scarlett gave them half-hanging off their heads and Tom having faithfully sworn to run them to the airport in his seemingly-invincible Land Rover in time for their flight, they press their mouths together, laughing.

"You know," says Anthony, fiddling with buttons, "I think I was onto something with my admiral theory."

"What are you talking about?" asks Matthew, distracted, because Anthony is fiddling with buttons.

"Fiona's mystery man. The sonnet. All those seafaring metaphors, 'wandering barks' and what have you. Clearly -" he breaks off for a moment, lips hot against Matthew's neck, trailing up under his ear "- she's shagging a naval officer."

"Much as I love Fiona -"

"Fiona's great," Anthony agrees, tugging at the knot of Matthew's tie.

"It isn't really her sex life that I want to focus on right now."

"Right," says Anthony, breathy, and presses his forehead against Matthew's.

"On our wedding night," Matthew says, and wonders at the hoarseness in his voice, at the truth of it.

"Aye, aye," says Anthony, and pushes the waistcoat from his shoulders.