Damen woke up to the sound of voices arguing. He growled as he struggled to raise himself on one elbow, fighting the fatigue back, to listen to the voices. He recognized them well enough for they belonged to the two persons who shared his life lately: his son and his boyfriend. Thinking of them that way made him smile, but reality quickly settled in. Nicaise wasn’t his son. Yet . He’d wanted to adopt him since the day he had met him at the shelter where he went to perform a little charity concert. They had talked for half an hour, about what they liked, about their families, their projects…
“You will come back ?” the boy had asked
“I don’t know, it’s not planned… maybe next year ?”
“Next year will be too late. Maybe someone will have come for me by then.”
“You don’t want to get out of here ?”
The boy had stopped for a moment.
“I want to get out of here. I don’t want to go with adults that will hurt me.”
“Not all adults will hurt kids you know.”
“I know. You wouldn’t.”
Damen had felt the unspoken request in Nicaise’s words, the yearning for a family that wouldn’t hurt him, a hope that he would, someday, be able to trust an adult. Damen had wanted to offer him that. Even more so when he had learnt that the 8-years-old boy barely talked to any adults and violently refused any foster care. Damen had been too young to adopt -and still was- but he wouldn’t let that get in the way of his decision to help Nicaise. He had become a foster parent and gone back to the shelter 6 months later. He remembered how the lady had dragged Nicaise into the room, and the surprise on the boy’s face when he had recognized Damen.
“You really came back ?”
“I promised you, right ?” Damen couldn’t contain his smile.
“You didn’t come for a concert” the boy had observed.
“They said they were going to present me to a foster parent.”
Nicaise had looked at him silently for a long time.
“How long ?”
Nicaise’s expression had dropped.
“It’s not definitive. If nothing goes… better with your family, you can stay longer with me.”
“Why didn’t you adopt me ?”
“I don’t think you can be adopted yet. And I’m too young” he had paused “but it’s not impossible” he had added with a smile.
The smile had been returned by Nicaise.
For the first time, Nicaise had accepted to go with a foster parent -to everyone’s surprise. Even after the first few months. Nicaise would usually make his foster parents’ life impossible, leading them to send him back to the shelter. Even with Damen, it hadn’t been easy at first. Even if he had developed that strange affection for Damen, Nicaise was still on the defensive. The abuse he went through, from various parts of his family, had led him to be wary of any adult wanting to be close to him, and this included Damen.
But as time had passed and Damen had proved to be the kind-hearted, caring parent his attitude promised him to be, Nicaise had started to open to him and accept him as his -future- dad. He often introduced him as such to new people, and the first time he had used the word “dad” in front of him, Damen had not been able to stop the huge smile that had spread across his face. His heart had tightened when he had to remind Nicaise he wasn’t his dad - yet . And Nicaise had understood. Nicaise always understood. The boy was smart, as smart as he could be childish. A weird mix that only made Damen love him more. He was a weird kid, different and sensitive.
Damen loved being a dad. He loved teaching Nicaise music, how to read it and how to hold a guitar, how to place his fingers on the piano keys and how to listen to the music. He loved to help him with his schoolwork, take him at the amusement park and dance for hours with him on Just Dance, eventually letting the kid win. He loved to shop for clothes with him and see him grow up. Even the scolding didn’t bother him. He applied what his father had always done with him and Kastor. Point out what’s wrong. Explain why it’s bad. Explain what to do instead. Forgive. He knew better than to scold Nicaise and raise his voice at him.
This had went on for 5 years. Nicaise was 13 now, and Damen was happy to see him grow more confident and open. Sadly, his past abuse still deeply affected him, as Damen discovered the day Laurent came to live with them.
Another sound was heard. A voice louder than previously. Damen sighed. He had gone to bed late yesterday, working on a new composition, and had hoped for a late awakening. But it seemed like the argument wouldn’t calm down until he stepped in. So, he forced himself out of bed and in a pair of pants, and went downstairs, right to the kitchen. When he entered, the argument stopped for a short instant, the time for the two persons in the room to shift their attention to him. Nicaise was in his blue pajamas -the ones with a cat print- half bend over the breakfast table, while Laurent was on the other side of the table, slowly twirling a spoon in a mug saying ‘Good morning, I see the assassins have failed’ -Laurent’s favorite.
Nicaise was the first to speak.
“He finished all the milk !”
“I’m lactose intolerant” Laurent replied in a calm voice.
“Oh, that’s new, what are you going to make up next ? A sudden cancer in the a-”
“Nicaise !” Damen cut him off.
Once again, it looked like Nicaise was the one who had started the argument. Actually, Laurent almost never started them. He wasn’t hostile toward Nicaise nor did he want things to go badly between them. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Nicaise’s case, and Laurent was quick to play the kid’s game and reply to him, not always in the nicest ways, which only worsened the situation. Damen ran a hand down his face and finally talked again, while the two others stared at him.
“I did. Finish the milk I mean. I went to make myself coffee last night and put what was remaining of milk, I thought we had spare bottles. Sorry Nic,” he ruffled the boy’s hair as he spoke.
Nicaise’s mouth turned into a pout, both from the lack of milk for his breakfast and the fact that Laurent really was innocent. Damen looked at Laurent, who was still mindlessly stirring his coffee with his long thin fingers.
Laurent was a violonist, and Damen’s boyfriend since 4 months. They had met at a concert, and Damen had immediately been attracted to him since his looks -blue eyes, blond hair, and pale skin- were Damen’s weaknesses. He had stayed for Laurent’s outstanding personality, the hidden sensitivity, and the hints of warmth behind the blond’s cold front. Damen had been single for 5 years -spare for a few attempts that never lasted-, and with Nicaise now older, he had thought he could give it a try. They had quickly clicked, and Damen was already daydreaming about the family they could form.
But it didn’t go that way. He hadn’t expected Nicaise to feel threatened by Laurent. He hadn’t expected him to fear Damen’s abandon. He hadn’t realized that the moment Laurent moved in with them was so close to the end of Damen’s contract with Nicaise. Of course, Damen had planned to renew it. Of course, he had told Nicaise. But the boy’s fear was stronger than his trust in Damen, and he was now sure that when his contract would expire, Damen would send him back to his biological family, or to another foster home, and that he’d never see him again. Just so he could be alone with Laurent. After all, “who wants a problematic kid when you can have a pretty boyfriend ?”
And that’s how the arguments had started. When Damen wasn’t here, it was constant. When he was there, there were times where they could stay civil. But Nicaise pushed himself to hate Laurent, putting the blame on him, making him out to be the worse person on earth. Laurent was torn between his affection toward children -a common point with Damen- and the tiredness of constantly having to bear the boy’s verbal attacks. As time passed, his replies became less and less civil, colder, and snarky. However, Laurent never blamed Damen or Nicaise for it. He never forced Damen to choose between the boy or him, and Damen was thankful to him for that.
“Damen” Laurent softly called the dark haired man.
Damen seemed lost in his thoughts. That afternoon, another dispute worse than the previous ones had broken out between Laurent and Nicaise, which had led the young boy to lock himself in his room, and Laurent to be on the verge of going back to his own apartment. He had only stayed for Damen, who had looked utterly broken by how things were turning out.
It was the evening now, and they were laying in Damen’s king size bed, ready to cuddle before sleep. They had just had sex, but Laurent could tell Damen was still worried. Earlier, Nicaise had accepted to come out of his room to eat with them but he hadn’t said a word and had quickly gone back to his room -only getting out for a shower. Damen hadn’t dared to go and talk to him. They had already had a discussion, and he knew scolding Nicaise and asking him to make an effort wasn’t going to solve anything. Laurent knew it too. But Laurent also knew he could probably make things better. If only…
“Damen…” he called again “I need you to let me talk to him”.
Laurent had crawled closer to Damen, who was lying on his stomach, and gently rest his head on his shoulder.
“I’m not stopping you from it…”
“You know what I mean. I tried to talk to him, but he refuses any discussion. It always ends up in an argument. I need you to help me. He’ll only listen if you’re here.”
“I can but… I doubt it’d change anything.”
“Trust me. I know what he’s feeling.”
Laurent leant forward to kiss the corner of Damen’s mouth. “It will be ok” he gently murmured. Damen smiled in return, his little dimple showing -Laurent’s particular weakness- and leaned his head against Laurent’s.
Getting Nicaise to accept to talk with Laurent hadn’t been an easy task, but as planned, Damen’s presence had made things easier, and they were now sitting on Nicaise’s bed, side by side. Damen was on the opposite side of the (messy) room, in order to give Laurent and Nicaise some space, but still there to temper any possible argument.
“What do you want with me ?” Nicaise asked, his legs drawn to his torso and his arms wrapped around them.
“I just want to talk with you. Seriously, for once,” Laurent replied calmly.
“I have nothing to tell you.”
“But I might have things to tell you.”
“I don’t want to listen to them.” Nicaise heard Damen shift behind him and quickly corrected his sentence “I mean… You don’t have anything to tell me.”
“I wouldn’t assume that so fast.” Laurent leant forward, “Nicaise… I know how you feel, I-”
“You ?” the boy didn’t let Laurent finish. “How could you know that ? You know nothing, no one does ! I hate people like you who say they understand just so we shut up and act like nice kids and suffer in silence. So adults like you can take advantage of us and hurt us. You don’t know shit so stop acting like you understand me !”
Laurent listened to Nicaise with a blank expression. When the boy went silent, Laurent shifted his eyes away and started to speak in a soft tone.
“You’re right, I don’t fully understand you. I never had to be separated from my family and placed in foster care. I had the luck of having a loving big brother and a caring father. However,” he looked at Nicaise. “I know what it’s like to be unable to trust any adult, after one in particular hurt you so much. I was 10 when my father had to leave for his work, and my brother was too busy with college. I was sent to my uncle’s home for that time. What they didn’t know what that my uncle liked children a little too much.”
Nicaise had gone very still on the bed. He knew what that meant. Damen too. They were both taking in what Laurent had just said. Laurent kept talking.
“He convinced me that my father and my brother would hate me if I told them anything. And I believed him. For way too long, I stayed silent about everything. Until one day I broke down to my brother.” He paused. “As I said, I’ve been lucky. My brother immediately took my defense, and then my father did the same. I’ve been immediately protected, and they tried their best to help me recover. It took me time. Years. And even know, it still affects me. So yes, I know what you feel.”
He paused again and looked at Nicaise. The boy returned him his gaze, with an expression Laurent had never seen from him. Sadness mixed with guilt, and a hint of compassion. They knew very well those feelings, and how deep it hurt them. On the other side of the room, Damen was fighting the urge to run to them and hug them both. He contained himself, afraid he would ruin the fragile glimpse of a bond, that he would only hurt them more.
“There’s something I learnt during those years; and it’s to quickly identify who I can trust and who I can’t. Learning to read the signs, to recognize the red flags, has been a way for me to cope, to comfort myself, and save me some energy. I can teach you, if you allow me to do so.” The boy didn’t reply, but Laurent could see he was seriously considering his proposition. “Nicaise… I want you to know that you can trust Damen. I know it’s hard for you to believe me, I know it too well. But please, don’t waste the luck you have to have him. He won’t hurt you. He won’t abandon you and replace you with me. All he wants … ” Laurent turned toward Damen “is a family.”
Nicaise stayed silent for a long moment, his legs still drawn to his torso, his face against his knee.
“And you ?” the boy finally spoke. “What do you want ?”
“I love Damen” Laurent replied in a calm voice. “I want to keep living with him, so… if you’re ok with it…” his voice was slow, unsure of how Nicaise would welcome the offer “… I can try to be a father for you too.”
Another silence followed.
“I-… could you leave me alone for a moment ?” It was the most civil thing Nicaise had ever said to Laurent.
Laurent rose and walked to the door, glancing at Damen before exiting the room. Damen hesitated for a moment, and finally walked toward Nicaise and knelt in front of him.
“You’re alright ?” he asked softly.
The boy nodded “I just need to be alone for a moment to… think.”
Damen nodded back “Ok, take your time.”
He leaned forward and kissed the boy’s head, before walking out the room and gently closing the door. He turned toward Laurent.
“Are you ok ?”
“I’m fine. It’s old, I’m handling it better now.”
“You’re tense” Damen remarked.
“I’m always tense.”
Damen rolled his eyes “More than usual I mean.” And he extended his arms in a silent invitation for a hug.
Laurent looked at him for a moment, before finally leaning in the welcoming embrace. He loved Damen’s arms. They were strong, warm, but so very gentle. His embrace was securing, something he -and Nicaise- craved desperately.
They were sitting on the couch watching a random TV program when they heard the door of Nicaise’s room opening, and the boy’s footsteps getting closer to the living room. He ignored their greeting words, and instead placed himself in front of them.
“Move” he said while pushing them apart, plopping himself on the couch between Laurent and Damen. “What are we watching ?” he asked, with a disinterested look at the program currently broadcasted on the TV.
“I don’t know… We could watch a movie ?” Damen suggested.
“The Lion King ?”
“Again ?” Laurent sighed. “You’re always watching it.”
“It’s my fave movie !” Nicaise replied, as if offended. “And Damen’s too !”
Damen gave Laurent an awkward smile. “Well he’s not wrong… But,” he added “for a change we could maybe go for Laurent’s fave movie ?”
Laurent went really still. “Don’t you dare ” he breathed.
“I mean… it is your fave right ?” Damen was smiling.
Nicaise was confused “What ?”
Damen smiled even wider “Let’s say that Laurent’s fave movie…”
“Don’t” Laurent said softly
“… is also the only one I ever saw Laurent cry in front of.”
“Oh no you didn’t.”
Damen’s smile was now mirrored on Nicaise’s face “Let’s watch it !!” the boy shouted.
Laurent grumbled and crossed his arms on his chest, sinking in the couch.
“You’ll first have to guess which movie it is…” he attempted.
“It’s Spirit.” Damen said.
The look on Laurent’s face was one of utter betrayal. “ Traitor ” he whispered.
“You like horses ?” Nicaise asked.
“I love horses” Laurent corrected through grinded teeth.
“Then let’s go for the horses movie” the boy said as he got up to rummage through Damen’s DVDs, looking for the movie.
Damen smiled in quiet happiness. Even if Laurent was grumbling next to him on the couch, he knew perfectly well it was only appearance, to try and save his cool aura in front of the boy. Laurent had this habit of wanting to show a perfect control on every aspect of his life, and hated when some emotional reactions such as tears escaped from this tight control. But Damen knew Laurent would relax soon enough. He could feel that the atmosphere was drastically different than usual. More relaxed, complicit. For the first time in months, they were really looking like a family.