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A Long Way From the Playground

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Three Years Later

“I do not know how you talked me into this,” Henry grumbles as he pulls a tie out of his suitcase. Alex rolls his eyes as he walks past him. “This is truly one of the last places I’d ever want to go.” 

Alex steps in front of him as Henry evens the ends of his tie. Grabbing both sides of it, Alex pulls him in closer, brushing his lips against Henry’s briefly. “I believe all I had to say was ‘Baby, please.’ with a big lip and my sad eyes and you caved immediately,” Alex says, a bit snarky. 

“Well it was very annoying of you,” Henry replies. He tries not to be too affected by Alex tying his tie for him. 

“It’s our high school reunion, baby,” Alex reminds him, like he’s somehow forgotten why they’re there. “Besides, you’ll have friends there. I’ll be there. You said Annabelle was going to be there and you haven’t seen her in ages. Liam and Spencer are both going to be there. It’s not like we went to different high schools and I’m making you go to mine. It’s your own reunion as well.” 

Henry rolls his eyes at Alex. “Yes, I recall. But you know, you were the only person I felt bad leaving behind when I moved to New York. It’s not like I had the best time in high school.” 

Alex frowns. “And here I thought I beat up or intimidated everyone who ever looked at you wrong.” 

“Yeah, so you can imagine why people didn’t always want to spend time with me,” Henry says. 

“I thought we had a great time in high school. Together. Best friends.” 

Henry wraps his arms around Alex as he taps the completed knot of his tie. “Of course we had a good time together. But just because I spent all my time with you and had fun with you doesn’t mean that I liked everyone in high school. A lot of them were closed minded assholes that I chose to give a wide berth.” He sighs. “There were only, what, five of us that were openly out at school. The GSA horribly under-attended if I recall.” 

Alex leans his head against Henry and groans. “How did I go to the meetings with you every month and still convince myself I was straight?” 

“I believe,” Henry says with a laugh, “you called yourself the World’s Best Ally. In fact, Annabelle often joked about making you a shirt.” 

“Do you think anyone in the GSA was surprised when I came out?” 

Henry shakes his head, thinking back on the group of them. “I think probably just me. And that was mostly because I’d told myself a million times that you were straight.” 

Alex smiles as he runs his hands up and down Henry’s chest. “Definitely not straight.” 

“I can think of some very, very not straight things you’ve done in the last week alone,” Henry says. “Unless you truly are just the World’s Best Ally.” 

Throwing his head back in a laugh, Alex steps away from him. “Yep, that’s it.” He shrugs into his suit jacket and Henry stares at him. He’s always loved the way Alex looks dressed up. Sometimes it’s a struggle not to rip it right back off of him. “So, tell me,” Alex says, quirking up an eyebrow, “am I going to need to have some words with Sean tonight?” 

“You’re an idiot.” 

“I’m just saying, Henry.” 

Henry pulls Alex in by his tie and pauses, a breath away from his lips. “If you have anything you should have words with him about, it’s about how there’s a chance he knew you were into men and he didn’t even try and tip you off.” 

Alex laughs. “Isn’t that the truth. Couldn’t even give me something that would make me spiral into a realization a little sooner? How rude.” 

“Truly.” 

A small silence falls over them. Alex takes Henry’s hand and squeezes it. “You’re not only going to this because I wanted to, right?” Alex asks. Henry can hear the tinge of nerves there. 

Henry cups his cheeks and leans in to kiss him softly. “Was it your idea? Sure. Did you really have to sell me on it? Yes. But I’m not only here because of you. You’re right. It’s my reunion too. Maybe I’m a bit curious how some people have turned out.” He steps back and grabs his jacket, folding it over his arm as he walks out of the room. “But if we have a terrible time, yes, I’ll blame you.” 

Alex sighs as he follows him down the stairs. “I guess that’s fair.” 

Ellen oohs and ahhs over them as they approach her. Alex rolls his eyes at his mother, but Henry thinks it’s sweet. “Don’t you two just look so handsome,” she says with a broad smile. 

“Thanks, Mom,” Alex says flatly. 

“Alex, you’re 28 years old,” Ellen reminds him. “I thought you outgrew the ‘I’m embarrassed by my mom’ phase a long time ago.” 

He shrugs. “I did. Maybe it’s just being back here.” 

She rolls her eyes at him. Henry’s never seen the two of them look so similar. He chuckles to himself a bit. “Whatever. You two have a nice time tonight.” 

“We will,” Henry says, heading for the door. He turns back and sees Alex whisper something to Ellen. She smiles and nods at him. Henry’s about to ask, but he chooses not to. Maybe Alex is just being nice instead of acting like he’s embarrassed by his mother. 

Henry slides into the passenger seat and Alex gets behind the wheel, immediately grabbing Henry’s hand once he has it in gear. “Ready?” he asks as they pull out of the driveway. 

“It’s just a reunion.” 

“I meant for a night of us looking hot as hell together,” Alex jokes. 

Henry laughs with him. “Well then, yes. I’m ready for that every night.” He tugs gently at the lapel of Alex’s suit jacket. “You could wear this suit more often, you know. Ever since your firm went casual, I’ve missed seeing you all dressed up.” 

“I’ll take the casual since it also coincidentally overlapped with me being able to keep better hours.” 

“You just had to not be at the bottom of the food chain,” Henry agrees. “Worked wonders once they hired some new people.” 

Alex smirks. “I was so concerned you’d grow tired of me being around so much.” 

With a scoff, Henry says, “Please. That would never happen.” He presses a kiss to Alex’s hand intertwined with his. “I always want you around.” 

There’s almost an extra gleam in Alex’s eye when he looks over at Henry. He squeezes Henry’s hand and looks back at the road. Soon enough, they’re pulling into the parking lot at their high school. “God, it’s been 10 years. How does it look exactly the same?” 

“Because schools don’t have the budget for exterior updates?” Alex suggests. 

“Not what I meant.” 

As they walk in, Alex immediately takes Henry’s hand in his. There’s a part of Henry that wonders if Alex is as determined as he secretly is to show everyone they went to school with that they finally got their shit together. Whatever his motive is, Henry squeezes Alex’s hand, grateful for the familiar support next to him as he’s flooded with memories. 

Alex was right earlier. High school wasn’t that bad. But when he thinks back on it, he doesn’t like the person he was. It’s not as bad as the person he was in college by any means, but he hates how much he let his feelings for Alex dominate his life, how he let himself feel so pathetic for so long without ever trying to change anything. He thinks back on high school and mainly remembers years of him being Alex’s puppy dog — no matter how much Alex hates that Henry thinks so. 

He doesn’t know what it would be like if he were coming to this without Alex by his side, without having spent the last three years in a relationship with him. Well, if he weren’t with Alex, he wouldn’t be coming at all. He’d have been afraid that he’d run into Alex and that Alex would hate him — just as he did when they reunited three and a half years ago. 

The halls have been decorated with a variety of commonplace party decorations in their school’s colors and pictures from their four years here stuck on the walls and lockers as they walk toward the gym. Once they’re in there, it’s even worse. More pictures, trophies, a sickening playlist of songs that were popular ten years ago, and the same fucking punch bowl they always had, hopefully spiked just as always. 

Liam and Spencer get there not long after Alex and Henry, finding them almost immediately. They were all on the same flight from New York, but haven’t seen each other since they split off at the airport. 

“How crazy do you think this will be?” Spencer asks him. 

“I can only hope for a little craziness and a lot of alcohol,” Henry replies. “There are so many people I hope forgot about me.” 

Spencer laughs, shaking his head at Henry. 

Thankfully, there’s plenty of alcohol, less embarrassing anecdotes than Henry was expecting, and a fair amount of people who seem happy to see him. There’s also a staggering amount of people who thought Alex and Henry were together all through high school. Alex laughs every time someone says that, but Henry just rolls his eyes. They were both so obvious to everyone but each other. 

Henry goes to get Alex and him more punch when — he’s pretty sure by accident — Sean approaches. He glances from Henry over to Alex and then back. “I see you got what you always wanted,” he says with a kind smile. Henry’s eyes find Alex in the crowd — it’s always been effortless — and feels a smile tug at his lips. 

He nods to him. “That I did.” Henry glances behind him, noting the man who came with Sean. “Your husband?” he asks. 

Sean beams, looking back at him. “Yep. For a year and a half. He’s incredible.” 

“I’m happy for you,” Henry says genuinely. 

“I’m happy for you, too,” he replies. “Good to see you.” 

Henry nods in agreement before walking back to Alex. He takes the cup with a kiss to Henry’s cheek. “Should I be concerned?” 

“You’re an idiot,” Henry replies easily. Alex just laughs and kisses his lips this time. 

Overall, the evening is more fun than Henry was expecting. In a way, it feels a lot like high school. He stays stuck to Alex’s side, chiming into the conversations Alex mainly dominates, and drinks, all the while knowing he’ll spend the night at Alex’s. He laughs to himself with another sip of the punch, realizing that the essential parts of him haven’t changed, no matter how much the rest of him has. He’ll always want to follow Alex around — he just feels less pathetic about it now. 

Alex fills most of the silence on the drive back to his mother’s house. Henry chimes in every now and then. Just like on the way there, he holds Alex’s hand, tangling their fingers together. Once they get home, Henry turns toward the stairs, but Alex stops him. He pulls him by the hand on his wrist and nods his head toward the kitchen. 

“What are we doing?” Henry asks. 

“Night’s not over just because we got home,” Alex insists. He leads Henry to the kitchen where he grabs a bottle of red from Leo’s collection and a bottle opener. “Come on.” He pulls Henry along, walking right toward the spot that Henry should have seen coming. 

“Of course,” he says with a smile, following Alex up the ladder. “Couldn’t miss a hangout in the treehouse, could we?” 

Alex laughs, pulling the cork out of the bottle. “Nope, we certainly couldn’t.” 

Mixed in with Henry’s memories from high school in the same spot are their fight on Christmas Eve, a week before they got together, and, more importantly, the first time they came here as a couple and Alex dragged him out here to wipe all the other memories away as he kissed him passionately. 

“Do you ever think about how crazy it’s been for us?” Alex asks. He takes a sip from the bottle and passes it to Henry. 

“What do you mean?” 

“All of it. Everything that led us to this moment,” Alex says. “I mean, next summer, we’ll have known each other for twenty fucking years. Is that not mind blowing?” 

Henry nods, raising his eyebrows a bit. “Yeah, that is a large number.” 

“It’s funny,” Alex continues, “all those people who thought we were together all that time. But you know, it’s been a while since I thought of all the what ifs.” 

“Me too, actually.” Henry smiles to himself. “It’s a nice feeling. Instead of wondering how things could be different, just… being happy where I am. I spent so long torturing myself with those sorts of questions. But, well, I suppose about three years ago I stopped doing that.” 

Alex grins. “Funny how our timelines for that just sync up, huh?” He accepts the bottle from Henry and takes a particularly long pull. “I’ve been through so much with you right by my side,” Alex adds. Henry nods in agreement. “And I don’t want that to ever change.” 

“Well, I can’t imagine that it —” The words die in Henry’s throat as he watches Alex pull a small box out of his pocket, looking up at Henry with wide, nervous eyes. “Alex?” 

He moves closer to Henry in the small space of the treehouse, popping the box open. Henry tears his eyes away from Alex’s to take in the silver band glinting up at him, catching the moonlight from the skylight of the treehouse. 

“Henry,” Alex starts, his voice thick, “You’ve been an essential part of my life for so long, standing right next to me, supporting me through anything I needed. You single handedly kept me sane during my first year of my job. You attended every dumb event I participated in when we were teenagers. You went right along with me on every adventure I suggested. So, now I’m suggesting another pretty big one.” 

He chuckles to himself. Henry lets out a wet laugh. “I love you so much and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I can’t imagine doing any part of it without you. You’re smart and passionate and strong. You even me out and keep me going. You make every day better just by being there. And I sometimes still can’t believe that I get to be with you, that I get to build a life with you.” He gestures with the box and takes a deep breath. “Henry, will you marry me?” 

Happy tears stream down Henry’s face as he nods insistently. “Yes,” he chokes out, a rasp to his voice. “God, of course, Alex. Yes. I want to marry you.” 

Alex beams, wiping away the tears on his own cheeks. He pulls Henry in by his lapels and kisses him deeply. Henry wraps his arms around him, around his future, around the love of his life. “God, I love you,” Alex pants. 

“I love you, too. I can’t even begin to put in words how much I love you,” Henry tells him. 

Pulling away just far enough, Alex slides the ring on Henry’s finger. It feels like he’s locking in their shared fate. Henry breathes out a laugh, shaking his head in awe at the sight of it. He looks up at Alex, the same man he’s loved for so long, the same man who’s stood by him through more ups and downs than he should have, the man who he’ll spend forever with. And in the same place as he came out to him fourteen years before, Henry kisses Alex. 

His love. His fiancé. His future.