A/N: "That was the start of new beginnings." This was the closing sentence two chapters ago and it basically says it all. We are at the start of a new beginning in this tale and as you all know, you can't have a beginning without an end.

The thought has me close to tears because this story has been a genuine part of my life for years, but sadly it has naturally found its end.

I want to thank you all for sticking around and supporting my work even though it always rode in on the snails back. I never knew I'd get so attached to a simple tale, but this story truly has pieces of me wrapped around every word and I honestly appreciate all the love you've shown it so thank you.

Also, I'm not sure if many or any of you remember this but nearly SIXTY chapters ago I said that the fourth and final installment of my Neliot series would be Aaron and Ashlee's wedding.

At this point I'm not sure if anyone is still interested in it but I've jotted down jokes and scenes for that story that didn't quite fit into this one and I will be piecing all of those ideas together. Originally, I had decided I'd keep that one to myself and not post it, but I realized for some that may be unfair. If you have read the nearly 300K words of this series than you truly love it like I do, and you deserve to see it to its complete end as well. So, for those of you who are interested the story is fittingly called, 'New Beginnings' and will be posted soon.

Thank you all for the journey we've shared and now, on to the last chapter of Resurrected Secrets!

Chapter Seventy-Nine

"Ya' Nasties" was their greeting as they descended the stairs.

"Honestly Hardison" Nate stared at him blankly. The man was sporting an irritatingly smug grin.

"What are you even going on about man?" Hardison's tone was taunting but his expression was approving, and it had Eliot genuinely confused.

"Don't act like you don't know." It was written all over Nate's face.

"Know what?" Eliot challenged. He knew Hardison wouldn't say it outright; he just might get punched if he did.

"What y'all were doing upstairs." His grin widened despite the glare Eliot was casting on him. He could honestly say that it looked like things might finally be getting back to normal for everyone.

"You ever heard of this thing called having a private conversation?" Eliot knew he was being baited but he didn't plan on admitting a damn thing. Even with the shitty poker face Nate was exhibiting.

"I bet it was private alright."

Aaron's snort and Parker's giggle had Eliot stressing, "Boy" as he cracked a few knuckles.

Hardison raised his hands in mock surrender as he swore, "There's no reason to get uptight about it." Clearly Eliot was not in the mood.

"Parker you need to help this kid clean up his dirty mind." Eliot resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Apparently, the stupid speculations were unavoidable.

"Will do. Can we eat now?" Parker stood from the couch, but she didn't wait for an answer, she just pulled Hardison with her to the kitchen. Nate was right behind them; he didn't need any coaxing to walk away from the remnants of that awkward conversation and soon Aaron was following.

"You're something else." Aaron fell back a bit until he was next to Eliot who was dragging behind.

"Not you too." Eliot sighed exasperatedly.

"You brought it on yourself." Aaron reminded.

"Honestly, we were talking!" And they had said plenty.

"That's not what Nate's face said." His feathers definitely seemed ruffled.

"I never mentioned the topic." Eliot provided slyly.

"You're a dog." Aaron laughed.

"But seriously," Eliot decided to mess with his brother. "We were just talking about shoes and feet, how Nate's always an ass to me, and a couple of debts that we owe."

"Really?" Funnily enough, Aaron seemed disappointed.

"Really" Eliot nodded in agreement as he suppressed a smirk. "We're honestly pretty boring people."

Aaron stared suspiciously at his brother for a long second before admitting, "You know, I almost believe that." Eliot just laughed as they entered the kitchen.

"What's so funny?" Sarah wondered as she passed them each a plate.

"Nothing nosey." Aaron teased as he moved to the makeshift buffet his sister had setup.

"Well aren't you nice." She rolled her eyes as she turned her attention to Eliot who simply shrugged as he spooned fried rice onto his plate.

"Where are the guys?" Aaron asked as he moved to Ashlee's side.

"I sent them out for extra chairs so we can sit in the dining room." Even as she said it she was lifting one from her kitchen table.

Eliot didn't hesitate in putting his plate down as he helped her out by lifting two more.

"Come on y'all" Ashlee coaxed the kids to grab their food and follow as Aaron grabbed the last chair with one hand, his food still in the other.

"Babe, I grabbed the card table too." Pete announced as he brought it into the dining room. Their table only sat six but there was ten of them.

"Where's Parker?" Eliot asked Nate as he took one of the folding chairs he'd been carrying and opened it.

"Stacking a plate as high as her head." Hardison beat Nate to the answer as he walked in with his own dinner.

"Anyone need something to drink?" Pete offered as he settled the folding table on its legs.

"Me" Aaron announced shamelessly as he pulled his fork from his mouth.

Eliot rolled his eyes at his brother as he volunteered, "I'll help" Nate unsurprisingly following him.

"I've got regular beer and root beer" Pete announced as he took out a pitcher of juice for the kids.

"It works" Eliot shrugged as he grabbed the cases from the fridge, Nate sneaking behind him to pull two waters from the door.

"Sarah, where'd the plastic cups go!" Pete shouted in her general direction. They weren't in the usual cabinet.

"They're where they always are!" She shouted back.

"No they're…" but he didn't bother to finish as he face palmed, they were a shelf higher than usual. "Never get married" Pete grumbled as he grabbed the cups and pitcher, leaving Eliot (who had just returned from the dining room) thoroughly confused. "What was that all about?" He asked Nate as he watched Pete leave which made the kitchen just theirs for the moment.

Nate shrugged as he turned his attention back to fixing his plate. "Apparently the topic of the night is our wedding."

"Wait a minute, you're getting married too?" Ashlee's excitement had Eliot choking on his chicken. Why had he turned his back to that door?

"No" Nate laughed at Eliot who was trying a little too hard to clear his throat. "Not in a million years."

"Jackass" Eliot growled as he grabbed his water from the counter and left.

"Asshole" Nate shook his head in humor as he grabbed his own things and left Ashlee on her own. That wasn't a conversation he'd touch with a ten-foot pole. "Scoot over" Nate nudged Eliot as he dragged his folding chair closer to the main table.

"Not in a million years." Eliot tossed Nate's insult right back.

"Then don't" Nate shrugged as he pushed his chair as close to Eliot's as possible and took a seat at the very corner of the table. The only other spot available was between Aaron and Hardison and he sure as hell wasn't sitting there.

"Why don't you just sit on me!" Eliot whispered harshly even as he moved his chair over.

"Well, if I'd known it was an option" Nate goaded as he readjusted his seat.

"Dude" Eliot's laughter gained him the rest of the table's attention much to his dismay.

"So Aaron," Nate decided to help his boyfriend out. "How'd suit shopping go?"

"It was fun."

"I missed the game." Pete's interjection had Sarah immediately saying, "Shut up!" Her husband was ridiculous.

"I'm sure Eliot told you all about it though." Aaron shrugged a little too innocently as he took a swig of his beer.

"Is it national pick on Eliot day or something?" Though Eliot couldn't quite understand them, there were definite undertones in his brother's statement.

"Someone's triggered." Hardison observed amusedly as he lifted the pitcher and poured himself a glass.

"Are you going to say something?" Eliot turned to Nate who seemed a little too intent on stuffing his face.

"Pass the napkins?" It got him a few chuckles and one fierce glare.

"Appreciate it" Eliot replied sarcastically as he leaned back in his chair.

For some odd reason, Sarah of all people decided to take pity on her brother. "So how was the pumpkin fest?"


A little while later and Parker, Hardison, and the kids were still adamantly sharing their day. The room relaxed as everyone listened in and added on to the conversation. Eliot however was oblivious to most of it as he focused on the warm hand resting on his thigh, Nate's thumb just barely ghosting a pattern back and forth. The action didn't seem to be deliberate though, Nate's attention appearing to be far from him actually, and it had him wondering if seeking closeness to him had become second nature for Nate. He wouldn't admit it, but he kind of liked the idea.

"…except there was this weird old couple that kept following us." Parker offered dissatisfied.

"That was probably their parents." Nate's words pulled Eliot back to the conversation as he clarified, "Dad said he saw y'all earlier." The words hadn't been exactly that, but the message was the same.

"I still can't believe he came over here." Sarah was still having trouble wrapping her mind around it.

"Or that you talked to him." Aaron just couldn't imagine Eliot sitting down and having a conversation with their father. The man was too unreasonable.

"OR" Sarah stressed. "That you told him about your relationship." She thought he would've taken that to the grave.

"There was no reason not to. It's not like Nate's going anywhere." He had said it almost offhandedly, but the way Nate squeezed his leg told him that Nate approved, and it had him looking over with a smile.

"Eliot and Nate sittin' in a tree…"

"Really dude?" Hardison was thoroughly amused but he was not.

"Hey, I'm not the one all googly eyed." The two of them had only shared a brief glance but it had painted a clear picture for the table.

"You're lucky we're in mixed company or else I'd show you a googly eye." Eliot threatened even as he turned his gaze back to Nate. The man's expression was a little too neutral to be believable and it really did have him wanting to kiss him. Oh damn well if Hardison wanted to point out that little fact.

"Y'all gonna catch a case of cooties." Hardison continued unfazed by the clearly bogus threat.

"Did you ever finish elementary school Hardison?" Nate directed his attention to the overly childish taunts as he looked away from his boyfriend. Eliot was honestly getting it from all ends today.

"Do you even remember elementary school Nate?" Even Eliot laughed at that one.

"Whose side are you on anyway?" Eliot was suddenly looking at Nate mischievously but that was okay, he'd get his.

"See" Hardison pointed a finger. "You're always trying to tag team me."

Eliot and Nate spoke nearly in unison as they said, "So" and "Get used to it".

"If you don't mind me asking," Pete interrupted with curiosity that could no longer be tamed. He had been watching Nate and Eliot all night and it was now almost insultingly obvious that they were a couple. "How did you guys get together?"

"Well" Nate rested his thumb under his jaw as he met eyes with nearly everyone at the table.

"Well?" Eliot of all people stressed. He could see the discomfort creeping up on Nate and he couldn't wait to hear what kind of line he was concocting.

"Well" Nate nearly strained the word; Eliot was asking for it. "I was drunk, he's just stupid."

Eliot couldn't be mad, he just couldn't. Instead he dropped his head in laughter as he covered his eyes. He had that one coming.

"Is that so?" Sarah was genuinely surprised. "That's not what you told me."

Nate was looking absolutely smug and oh how he wanted to wipe that look off his face, but as it was Eliot was just too amused. Instead he cleared his throat as he swore to his sister that, "It wasn't that simple."

"Mhmmm" Sarah hummed sarcastically as Aaron swore with an almost hellish grin that, "It's always that simple."

"I swear" Hardison and Aaron were both staring at him knowingly from across the table and it had him rolling his eyes as he really did swear that, "I'm never telling you two anything anymore!"

"Hold up" She couldn't let a comment like that slide. She wanted to know exactly what it was that he had been telling them. "Now you really do have to explain!"

"No, I don't." Eliot laughed.

"You told me you got together because of an argument, you never said anything about being drunk and stupid." Sarah recalled.

"I wasn't drunk, and he was the one that was being stupid which is what started that argument." Eliot jutted a thumb at Nate who just shook his head in amusement.

"I don't think Nate agrees with you there Eliot." Aaron pointed out. He was thoroughly entertained with the idea of hearing Nate's version of the story his brother had shared that very afternoon.

"I'm not disagreeing," Nate corrected. "But I don't think I'd say it was an argument."

"You wouldn't say that was an argument?" Eliot raised his brow with that question as he stared at Nate in honest disbelief.

"As far as our arguments go I'd say that was more of a difference of opinions." Nate shrugged as he took a sip of his water.

"Are you kidding me!" Eliot laughed. They clearly weren't remembering the same night.

"You wanted to talk, I didn't want to listen. If anything, it was a misunderstanding, but it was far from a knock down, drag out." They'd had plenty of those and that night was nowhere near making the list.

"There's still a whiskey stain on the wall!" Eliot laughed at Nate's choice of words. Had the man forgotten he had literally been dragged out of the bedroom that night?

"And Parker's pancakes are still on the ceiling." Nate offered something he found as equally irrelevant.

"What do those damn pancakes have to do with anything?" Eliot's laughter continued.

"Exactly!" Both incidents were beside the point.

"Am I the only one who's dying to hear this?" If she hadn't been curious before she sure was now.

"Then listen" Aaron shushed his sister as they all continued to snoop.

"Okay, I was being an antagonist." Nate admitted. "But I wasn't purposely trying to start a fight. I just wanted to provoke you into leaving."

"So, then why when I started leaving did you start provoking me into staying?" It was something he had yet to figure out.

"Change of plans" Nate joked, but the seriousness that Eliot was displaying had him soon confessing, "I honestly don't know." Still he wondered, "Why did you stay?"

"Who knows" Eliot shrugged off dishonestly. He had an actual answer, but it was personal and too weighted for this casual dinner. Instead he shared a separate thought that had crossed his mind. "You know, that night was pure domino effect. Had either of us said a word more or made even one move less we probably wouldn't be sitting here right now."

"Maybe, but chain reaction or not, here we are." The possibility of them not being "them" wasn't one he wanted to imagine. They had been through too much for him to wonder about whether they would've gotten together had he gone to the kitchen instead of the bedroom that night.

"Who would've thought you being an ass would've turned out to be a good thing."

Nate smirked at Eliot's scowl as Sarah reprimanded, "Language!"

"You're still an ass" Eliot leaned in to nearly whisper.

"What can I say" Nate grinned at the insult that had somehow become their own twisted term of endearment. "Some things never change."

"Well, tha-" Eliot's comeback was cut short as Nate settled a warm hand atop his leg once more and he did his best to repress a smile. Instead he said, "You're something else" as he tenderly slid his fingers over the hand resting on his thigh.

"That's one way to put it." Nate carefully flipped his hand in Eliot's and couldn't help but squeeze the stealthy fingers that settled between his own.

"Sarah wouldn't like the others" The glint in Eliot's eye had nothing to do with teasing his sister and it had Nate forgoing a response as he stared into a gaze that was reflecting pure happiness. It was a happiness he could easily mirror and for a moment it had dinner and its conversation forgotten as Nate lost himself in a whirlwind of wants that had been growing since that morning.

"You're staring" Eliot barely stated, but he didn't break eye contact and soon he was enthralled by the sheer amount of emotion on Nate's face.

Easily they claimed this instant as theirs. An unspoken conversation lighting both their faces as they ignored their surroundings and focused on the serenity of the inexpressible. It didn't matter that they were showing the others a fraction of what they felt for each other or that the teasing would very likely continue because of it. Right now, all that mattered was this moment. A feeling of complete ease as he was gazed upon in true adoration. A look that was saying so much more than words currently could. It was pure, and he was mesmerized by it, by Nate, and it had him gripping steady fingers just a little bit tighter as he silently demonstrated his approval.

"Earth to Eliot" Sarah called out; she was starting to feel like an intruder.

"He's not hearing a word you're saying." Aaron smirked. Dumb love was shining bright on his brother's face.

"I've got this." Hardison offered excitedly.

"Annoying them is his specialty." Parker rolled her eyes.

"Hey" Hardison leaned toward them with a loud clap. "Get a room already!"

"Dammit Hardison!" The sudden noise startled Nate into swearing.

"Language!" Sarah yelped.

"Wasn't me" Eliot laughed.

"This time" Sarah chastised.

"Why am I getting in trouble even when I'm not the one that's getting in trouble?" Eliot was offended.

"Because they know you." Hardison sniggered.

"Boy" Eliot growled. He was still annoyed with having the man's hands clapped in his face.

"I'm just callin' it like I see it." His name might have been Eliot, but they all knew it spelled out T.R.O.U.B.L.E.

"You're not going to have to worry about seeing in a minute." Eliot threatened.

"Be nice" Sarah uselessly warned for her children's sake. With these men in her family the kids would have the art of intimidation, cursing, and cussing down before they even finished elementary school.

"Yeah Eliot," Hardison looked to Brian and Becca who were both staring at something playing on Parker's phone. "be nice."

"Alright, let me politely get out of my chair and polit-" "Let's not!" Nate cut Eliot off as he stuck a hand on his shoulder to keep him in his seat; Aaron's laughter loud as he barely managed to ask, "How do you politely beat someone?"

"You don't want to know." Nate promised.

"What I want to know," Ashlee finally made her voice heard. "Is how you all actually got together? You've yet to say!"

"Well" Nate sighed.

"Here we go again" Hardison shook his head.

"Wait for it" Aaron laughed.

"Shut up" Eliot glared at them both, but he couldn't quite hide his own amusement.

"Well?" Pete still wondered. If anything, he now had more questions.

"We don't know." Eliot jokingly admitted, though he was only partially kidding. He still didn't quite understand Nate's actions and the more he learned about himself the more his perceptions of his own actions evolved. All he knew for sure was that night had been an emotional overload and he had expressed himself in one of the few ways he knew how.

"How do you not know?" Aaron prodded curiously. Eliot's words had been vague at best that afternoon and he knew he'd only received the highlights of the story. Now though, he was interested in hearing the complete tale; especially Nate's perspective on it.

"It's…" Nate tried again to start, but once more he trailed off. What was the proper way to explain an alcohol-fueled, ego-filled, attitude-laced, completely unintentional, one-night stand?

"It's complicated." Eliot finished the statement for Nate. Sure, in its simplest terms, the night had been a hook-up and he didn't deny it, yet at the same time, that honestly wasn't what the night had been. In fact, the intentions had started far from there and he still couldn't quite explain the unlikely turn things had taken.

"If you don't want to tell us just say so." Sarah stated. She found it hard to believe that things were as complex as they were trying to make them seem.

"It doesn't matter one way or the other." Eliot shrugged even as he admitted, "I just don't know how to properly explain it." He'd yet to find the right words.

"It really is just one of those things where you would've had to have been there."

"No, it's not!" Eliot nearly fell off his chair in laughter. Nate had clearly lost his damn mind because his family did not need to be anywhere near that situation!

"That's not what I meant." Nate dropped his head in his own embarrassed laughter.

"I'm so confused." Pete almost regretted asking the question.

"Well, according to what they've said so far," Ashlee spoke up to try to clear Pete's confusion as she looked to Nate and Eliot for clarification. "Drunken stupidity caused an argument over a difference of opinions which somehow led to a whiskey stain on the wall. Then Eliot was antagonized until he decided to leave, yet for some reason after that you both decided he should stay though neither one of you really knows why because it's complicated. And somehow this argument is responsible for you becoming a couple although you can't properly explain that either."

"Damn girl, did you take notes!" Her summary had Hardison impressed.

"Language!" Sarah tossed her head back in exasperation.

"But what I don't understand is," Ashlee spoke over Hardison's apology. "How do you start a relationship with an argument? Unless it was like the adult version of pulling a girl's pigtails to let her know that you like her."

"The only thing I wanted to let him know was that his stubborn ass needed to get the hell out of my house." Nate recalled.

"How'd that work out for ya'?" Eliot snarked.

"I think I got a pretty good deal." Nate spoke proudly.

"Aww" Ashlee hummed.

"And here I was waiting for a wisecrack." When it came to joking with Nate, Eliot couldn't be sure if his words would be met with a quip or compliment.

"You've got the smart mouth not me." Nate needlessly reminded.

"Cruel" Eliot accused before retorting, "You might be more quick-witted with your words, but that doesn't mean you don't dish it out just as good."

"This man can tear you a blue streak if he gets the mind." Hardison backed Eliot. Nate was as good at handing out a verbal lashing as Eliot was a physical one.

"I am not that harsh." Nate denied despite their snickers.

"If you say so." Eliot smirked.

"Now who's being cruel?" Nate returned the accusation a little more seriously.

"No one" Eliot appeased. Apparently, he had struck a nerve. They had their moments, sure, but Nate was good to him, so he always tried his best to pay it forward.

"Remember when you said you were gonna skip Nate off the marble floor?" Hardison sniggered at the memory. That night was more than proof of just how cruel they both could be.

"That sounds cruel to me!" Sarah looked accusingly to her brother.

"It wasn't even like that" Eliot laughed. "That's the friggin' middle of the story."

"Well start at the beginning then" Aaron requested.

"There's not a whole lot to tell." Nate informed as he looked back on an almost forgotten night. Things had drastically changed since then.

"Basically, we were all arguing over how to go about this job we were working. It was getting late and my patience was gone. Nate was in a mood, I was in a mood, and it just wasn't a good mix. He ended up tellin' me that I talked too much and suggested that I ought to go skip some rope and I just lost it."

"This kid hopped out that chair so quick he even scared me." Hardison remembered.

"He was going to deck me, and I had it rightfully coming." Nate admitted.

"You're lucky Sophie saved your ass." Eliot grinned.

"That's it, I'm starting a swear jar." Sarah shook her head as she grabbed an empty cup and set it in front of the boys.

"Eliot's going to be broke before this conversation's over." Aaron snickered.

"You ca-"

"Ahhh" Sarah interrupted to say, "It's $20 a word."

Eliot paused for a moment to reach for his wallet, though the money he retrieved wasn't placed in the cup. Instead he divided it in two and set it in front of the kids before turning to Aaron and saying, "Bite me."

Variations of laughter echoed around the table which had Eliot's stern expression faltering as he cracked a smile.

"I give up" Sarah shook her head at her brothers. They were who they were and clearly, she wasn't going to be changing it.

"But wait a minute" Pete called attention to himself as he steered the conversation back to his original question. "How do you go from being on the verge of trading blows to dating?"

"Who hasn't wanted to punch their boyfriend?" Parker finally tossed in her two cents as she excused herself and the kids. There was a board game in the other room with their names on it.

"I'll punch yours for you." Hardison glared at Eliot's all too eager offer.

"Seriously though?" Pete continued as they left. He was looking for an explanation that actually did some explaining.

"Truthfully, we only ended up dating because of the fact that we were always so close to swapping blows." Nate admitted. This he could easily answer. How they started dating was nothing compared to how they got together.

"I don't understand." Ashlee's confusion returned.

"When I first met Nate, he was as mean as a mule. He didn't sugar coat a damn thing, it was infuriating at times, but I respected it." Eliot continued the explanation of their "normal".

"Eliot was the same way. That's just how we always interacted. He was blatantly honest with me even if in that moment he knew I was going to be angry with him for it."

"That authenticity kept us toe to toe. We challenged each other all the time but it brought us closer together because suddenly we had someone forcing us to be accountable for our actions. Those arguments really tested our boundaries and changed the expectations we had for ourselves and for each other." He'd been a brute, Nate a drunk, but now here they sat two truly changed men.

"I suddenly had someone that understood my stubbornness, because Eliot was just as stubborn, if not more so and because of that he actually knew how to get me to listen. He pointed out things I normally wouldn't have seen through my own ego and in seeing that I also saw that I suddenly had someone watching out for me."

"Unintentionally, we had already become a duo. We already had each other's backs and we already had each other's best interests in mind."

"And we already bickered like an old married couple" Nate smirked.

"All that was missing was the "couple" part." Eliot agreed. "But we kind of just slid into that one day."

"So, neither of you ever actually asked the other out?" Ashlee wondered as she continued to place the pieces together.

"No, not directly." Nate shook his head.

"Not indirectly either." Eliot laughed.

"So, what was your first date?" Pete wondered. He was beginning to understand but was slightly confused by that last bit. How did you begin dating someone you'd never asked out on a date?

"Did we have a first date?" Eliot turned to Nate in sincere wonder. Nate was the one who usually remembered things like that.

"Have we actually had a date?" Nate laughed at the ridiculousness of those words, but the question was genuine.

"Umm" Eliot paused to think, but soon he was asking, "What qualifies as a date in your opinion?"

"Oh my…" Aaron let the words drift off as he face-palmed, Sarah shaking her head in disbelief.

"They're not lying either" Hardison snitched. "I'm telling y'all, I try all the time to get them to do things, but they never want to. Didn't nobody even know they were together for the longest because they never go anywhere! They honestly sit around the house all day like that old married couple they were just talking 'bout."

"Mentioning married couples," Sarah easily placed her disbelief to the side as she pounced on the newly gained opportunity.

"Don't even." Eliot immediately protested with a warning glare. He knew his sister and with the luck he'd been having today, "Just don't."

"What?" Sarah objected. "I'm just curious."

"Me too" Aaron agreed with a smirk.

"Too bad" Eliot stressed. He didn't like the topic and they damn well knew it.

"Come on Eliot," Aaron tried. "Don't you have any plans to make things a little more permanent between the two of you?"

All eyes were on Eliot until Sarah turned the question to, "Nate?"

Nate sent a mischievous glint Eliot's way to break the sudden tension that had settled around the table as he swore, "I don't think there's enough whiskey in the world to get me THAT drunk."

Ashlee nearly spit out her root beer as Eliot dropped into a ball of hysterics.

"Man, that's cold!" Hardison shook his head as his own laughter added to the chuckles suddenly echoing around the table.

"I think you broke my brother!" Aaron snickered as he glanced at a breathless Eliot who was nearly doubled over and clinging to his sides.

"I'd say it's an improvement." Sarah joked as Eliot cleared his throat a few times in an attempt to control himself. She'd take the laughter any day over his normal grouchiness.

"Babe," Nate placed a hand on Eliot's back as he stared in amusement at a face that was now three shades of red. "You good?" He hadn't expected that reaction, but it was more than welcome, and it left him grinning ear to ear as Eliot attempted to cover a flushed face.

"I…" Eliot kept his face half hidden in embarrassment, and although he did his best to clear his throat, humor still tangled around his words as he swore, "I fuckin' love you."

"Bruh! Are you kidding me!" Aaron laughed as he shook his head in complete disbelief. "He just said there wasn't enough liquor in the world!"

"Had you told me that, I would've been pissed!" Sarah informed Pete. She certainly wouldn't have found it funny and no way in hell would he have gotten an, I love you, out of it.

"Hearing that doesn't bother you?" Ashlee sincerely wondered. Eliot's reaction had been funny, but the words certainly weren't. They spoke of massive rejection and if it wasn't for the honest declaration of love Eliot had made, she would honestly be feeling bad for him right now.

"No," Eliot denied calmly as he turned his attention back to Nate. They didn't understand, but he did.

Marriage was an opportunity that had been tainted and lost for them. It had inadvertently been turned into a huge paver on their own personal paths to self-destruction. It was a foundation pitted with pain, a union of loss and suffering. A betrothal that kept them bound in agony. It was a time in their lives that would always be remembered though they often wished it could be forgotten. It didn't grasp excitement, it gripped grief. It wasn't an idea of something fresh and exciting, it was a memory of misery and despair. It was hell and Nate knew he refused to go back there. So, though they heard Nate's words as an insult he heard them as a corny punch line to a perfectly placed promise.

There wasn't enough whiskey in the world… It was Nate's way of saying that the door had been firmly shut on an angry drunk and that no amount of alcohol would carry him back to being the broken man he'd been. That the liquor-soaked pain of the past had no place in this new chapter of hope and sobriety that they shared.

He couldn't help but smile at the thought. He shared the sentiment.

For them marriage wouldn't be a step forward, it would be backpedaling into a dark and distant nightmare. There'd be no joy of what would begin, instead it would be resentment over what could've been. It'd be the start of another tragic end and Eliot knew he just didn't have the strength to go through that again. He wouldn't risk putting Nate through it again.

It was with this understanding that they had forged their relationship and it had him sliding calloused fingers between sturdy ones as he made a promise of his own. "It doesn't bother me because even if he could get that drunk, I know I CAN'T get that stupid." Once more the laughter echoed around the table, but Nate didn't join in. Instead he squeezed the hand in his own as he nearly whispered, "Don't."

The plea tugged at Eliot's heart. Nate wanted the man he knew not the monster he'd once met.
Without thought Eliot leaned into Nate's ear to offer the reassurance needed, to swear he'd never get that reckless again. With a barely murmured "I won't" he pressed the softest of kisses to smooth skin.

It had Nate turning into him with a grin and an obvious question twinkling in his eye.

Eliot stole a sideways glance of the table before he simply shrugged. The noise of his family around him fading out as Nate leaned in.

With this kiss he felt loved, and with the cat calls and whistles he also felt supported. His heart truly bursting with happiness as Hardison once more sang, "Eliot and Nate sittin' in a tree!"