The list was itemised and numbered, and several parts were underlined; it was written on the yellow legal pads Rodney favoured for writing. It had taken him six hours and forty three minutes to compose, and seven minutes to read out loud to a silent John—the two of them sitting at their scrubbed-wood kitchen table, a bottle of Sam Adams apiece at their elbows and Rodney's mouth so dry that his throat made a crackling sound when he tried to swallow. When he finished speaking, the sound of the wall clock marking out the seconds of the November afternoon was loud in the little room, and John's expression hard to read, though Rodney would have sworn that he knew the lines of John's face better than his own.
"It's just that..." Rodney paused and searched a way to start again. He had no ready words but what he had written down in front of him in carefully legible block capitals, but the enormity of what he was asking of John seemed to owe nothing to logic, to reason and the laws of settling. Rodney looked back down at the page and hoped that John hadn't noticed how Rodney's hands were trembling. "If we go back to point three," he began, "I think you'll realise that what I have to say about shared tax credits really is the most sensible option, I talked it over with my accountant and she—"
Rodney looked up, startled from his train of thought by what John had said and how he'd said it: his voice wire-tense, as if it carried a strain about to be set free. His eyes were very dark, his jaw working the way it always did when there was too much he didn't want to show. And Rodney had known this was how it might be, had known it from the beginning—that their house might truly be founded on Nantucket sand, impermanent and shifting—but there was such a difference between readying for a disappointment and feeling the blow, and Rodney knew that if he tried to stand up from the table just then, he wouldn't be able to.
John blew out a long breath and said, "Rodney, no, jesus, that means yes, you—all you ever had to do was ask."
Rodney could feel his jaw fall open, the unexpected for once leaving him speechless for a long moment, his heart beating painfully in his chest. "You—you're saying yes?"
"Yeah." John's grin was lopsided, fond, and the fingertips that he reached out to brush over the back of Rodney's hand were callused and dry and so dearly familiar.
"Oh." Rodney sat back in his chair, and stared blankly out the kitchen window for a few seconds. Beyond the clear, clean stretch of sand, the sea was the deep blue-grey that Rodney had come to associate with home: with their small house that clung to the edge of the Atlantic's wide curve. "I have... absolutely no idea what to do with that."
"No, I mean it." Rodney blinked and looked back at John. "I was absolutely expecting you to say no or, or to laugh in my face or check if I was running a temperature or, really, half a dozen other things. There's a second list, you know—'One Hundred Reasons Why John Shouldn't Find Fault with the List of Twenty Entirely Logical and Socially Progressive Reasons Why We Should Get Married', and I was fully expecting to have to use it. You were supposed to say no and this, this completely unexpected acquiescence—well, you've completely thrown me off stride."
John buried his head in his hands. "McKay."
"No, seriously," Rodney said, and flipped to the next page in the legal pad. He held up one index finger to aid in his exposition. "'Item 1A. Cash and Planck need the security of a stable and legally recognised marriage which will fully nurture their—hey!"
But John had stood and was around the table quickly, more quickly even than Rodney could speak. He tugged the pad of paper from Rodney's hand and tossed it to the floor; pulled Rodney to his feet with such sudden force that the kitchen chair toppled over and fell against the tiles with such a clatter that Cash, two rooms away, yelped irritably at the interruption of his nap. "Rodney," he said, close enough that even with his glasses, Rodney had to blink to focus on John's face—to truly see the affection that existed just for him, to see the network of fine lines around John's eyes that had begun with fear but were deepening now only out of love. "Rodney. Yes."
"Oh. Well, then. I do, too." Rodney tilted his chin upwards, just enough so that he could look John in the eyes—so that John could see that Rodney could be brave, too. "John, I—I do." And John smiled, and kissed him: a kiss that had nothing of the rationality of tax credits or house insurance, none of the level-headedness of shared Medicare benefits or visitation rights, not a single equation that Rodney could pin to paper and say this is it; this is why. For it was clumsy and familiar, a scrape of stubble at Rodney's jaw line and the sharp sting of teeth on his lower lip; was one of John's big hands curled around the nape of his neck to pull him closer when body was suddenly urgent for body; was the culmination of three months of unlikely-he'll-love-me, four years of improbable happiness.
"I do," Rodney whispered when they finally pulled apart—forehead resting against forehead; his arms looped companionably around John's waist, unwilling to let so much as an echo of space between them—and John's low laughter shook them both.
"Idiot," he said. "Just marry me."