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Life is a Game of Risks

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Tom's mind raced for a moment, he had to try and remember where he knew that face from. Was it from a movie set, a premiere or even a meet and greet, he just couldn't remember. But yet it seemed so familiar. So using some cunning and pretending to be scouring the coffee shop for something to get another glimpse of the woman sitting alone staring at a laptop screen, several sheets and folders out in front of her. Her glasses slid down her nose slightly, they were the design many people were going for these days, Tom included, large and thicker framed, the "nerd" ones. His eyes widened as he thought of it. He knew a girl, years before, who had those glasses and was called a "nerd". It suddenly came back to him, the dark hair which never seemed to be straight or wavy, just a messy combination of the two, her blue eyes and her almost tick-like chewing of her bottom lip.

 

He knew he could seem mad, but he had to check, he walked over and looked at her, her too engrossed in her work to realise there was someone next to her for a moment. But finally, she did seem to realise there was someone there. 'Sorry, am I blocking...?'

 

'Alexianna?' the woman frowned at him, confirming that it was her name and she was wondering how he knew it. 'I don't know if you remember me...'

 

'Thomas, Tom.' She seemed to realise.

 

Tom smiled brightly. 'Yes, how are you?'

 

'Good, yeah, hi, sorry.' She smiled as she shook her head slightly. 'Sorry, I am in my own world. Hi, how are you, I have not seen you in...'

 

'Fifteen years.' Tom answered, she frowned at the realisation that he seemed to know the answer off the top of his head like that. 'I thought of it to myself as I walked over, hoping it was you and that I was not about to make an absolute tit of myself to some random woman.'

 

'No, you guessed right. Yeah, wow, fifteen years, really? It's been a long time, how are you, how are your sisters, your mum?'

 

'Great, everyone is great, Emma and Sarah are both happily married now, Sarah has a little girl, Mum is great, small health scare a while back, but you know her.'

 

'It will take a lot more than that to get your mum, she was always so incredible, I was always jealous of you guys, I wish she had been my mum, she was so brilliant.'

 

'She still is, until you put a foot out of line.' Tom laughed.

 

'All the reason to behave then, wasn't it?' Alexianna smiled. 'She was always a great role model, I was thinking about her a lot recently, she was always so incredibly strong.'

 

'Yes, she has been. What about you? How are you these days?'

 

'Good, busy. I went back to school recently, so I am busier than I thought possible, but good.'

 

'Great, what are you studying?'

 

'Public relations.'

 

'Really?' Tom's brows rose, 'Well you know, I know a few people in that field, if you have any questions, I am sure they would answer you.'

 

'I wouldn't want to impose.'

 

'Please, tell you what, I have a meeting today with my publicist, give me your number and I will get him to contact you, he is a great personal friend of mine too.'

 

Alexianna looked at him warily for a moment. 'I'm...honestly Tom, I don't want to impose.'

 

'What was it you used to say, the worst he can say is no?' Tom grinned.

 

Alexianna gave the smallest attempt at a smile at that before nodded. 'Something like that.' she took a piece of paper and scribbled her email address on it. 'A compromise.' she stated as she handed it over. 'I am not one for giving out my number.'

 

Tom chuckled, 'You might need to get over that in PR.'

 

'I am not a P.R.O. yet, and I don't plan on a public role for myself, but if I do decide to, until I am, I will remain as cautious.' she shrugged.

 

'If I was to try and contact you, can I use this too?' Tom probed gently.

 

Alexianna bit her lips together, thinking about what he was asking before nodding. 'Yeah, sure. If you think of a reason. Just...please don't give it to anyone, other than you PR friend, please.'

 

Tom frowned slightly but nodded. 'I promise.'

 

'Tell your mum and sisters I say hi when you see them, if you remember to, of course, I won't be offended if it slips your mind.' She began to tidy away her paperwork. 'It was great to see you, Tom, I was so delighted for you when I started seeing you on posters, you're incredible at your work.' she smiled politely.

 

'You've seen my work?' Tom's eye lit up.

 

'Yes, Loki, Sharpe, Adam and Laing anyway. I have a few others on the Sky box I plan to watch soon, and I have the Kong DVD, but I am sort of stuck for time recently, so I will get around to it, but you are great, I cannot commend you enough, you are.'

 

'Thank you.' Tom blushed. 'You can take some credit, you are the one who suggested I look into acting.'

 

'Yes,' Alexianna smiled, recalling the memory from years before of her suggesting to a young and somewhat lost Tom of how to use his emotions in acting rather than holding them in. 'I have a lot to answer for.' She half laughed.

 

Tom beamed brightly. 'I cannot thank you enough, you gave me this life.' Alexianna's eyes began to fill with tears, 'Are you alright?'

 

'Yes,' She shook her head and wiped her eyes. 'Yes, I am. I just...I need to go somewhere.' She grabbed her bag. 'It was great to see you, Tom.'

 

'You too, do you come to London often now?'

 

'I live here now.'

 

'Really, that's great, we'll have to catch up, sometime when you are not busy.'

 

'Maybe, yeah. Bye Tom.'

 

'Goodbye Lexi.' she froze as he said that name, the look on her face something he could not read. 'Sorry, old habit.'

 

'It's fine, bye.' she did not look at him again as she rushed out the door, leaving Tom standing in the coffee shop, confused. Looking down, he realised she had left her laptop charger behind, so he unplugged it and rushed outside, looking left and right but not seeing any sign of Alexianna anywhere. But he did not concern himself too greatly, he had her email and that was enough to contact her and offer to return her charger to her, so he put it in his own satchel and decided to continue walking to RADA for his rehearsals for Hamlet.

 

*

 

 

'I'm sorry, what?' Luke looked at Tom his disbelief.

 

'One email, Luke, seriously, just to see if there is anything you can help her with.' Tom pleaded.

 

'Look, I am not going to give away trade secrets to some girl that convinced you into bed with her.' Luke stated.

 

Tom's jaw clenched. 'I've never slept with Lexi, she is an old family friend, nothing more.'

 

Luke noted the visible change in his client/friend's demeanour. 'Okay, well, that's a bit different, but still.'

 

'She is studying public relations and was clearly stressing over definitions, seriously, that's all.'

 

'Tom, if you cannot get the definitions, how are you supposed to do the job?'

 

'Please Luke, just see if she can be helped, at least save her time if she is not made for it.'

 

'You want me to tell someone whether they are cut out for this or not?'

 

'You own your own firm, you are someone she would here this from regardless.' Luke was forced to concede that that was indeed true. 'Just one email, see what it is that she is struggling with.'

 

'Can I ask why? Why this girl, what is the history?'

 

'None, there is no history, she and Emma were friends, her mother moved away and we all lost touch.'

 

'How long ago?'

 

'I have not seen her in about fifteen years.'

 

Luke stared at him in shock. 'Fifteen years? Are you serious? Tom, what is going on here?'

 

'Look, please just...' Luke kept looking at him. 'Alexianna never had it easy, her dad left when she was small and her mother was always less than pleasant, she always worked hard at everything and she deserves to get ahead in something in her life. The way she was today, it's obvious, she is still fighting uphill. I want to help if I can. This would help her, get her a career, set her up.'

 

Luke thought for a moment. 'Sure, yeah, help someone help themselves rather than do everything for them and not let them look after themselves, I understand that.' he took the email address. 'I'll put her in my contacts and get to it after this.'

 

'Thank you.' Tom smiled gratefully.

 

'Alright, but if she's useless, I cannot be nice about it, I will have to be honest.'

 

'Lexi used always say "I can be nice or I can be honest, which do you want",' Tom recalled fondly.

 

'Wait, this is THE Lexi?'

 

'Yes.'

 

'The one that got you into acting?'

 

'The one and the same.'

 

'Well, that explains the want to help her.'

 

'She is the reason I am me.' Tom smiled.

 

'Yeah, yeah, I get it, I...hmm.'

 

'What?'

 

'Her name is in our system.' Luke explained. 'She has applied here for an internship.'

 

'Really?' Tom rushed around to the other side of the desk. 'Yeah, that's her, Alexianna Hughes, aged thirty-one, well, I guess it was only about thirteen years then, not fifteen.'

 

'Jesus you really are terrible at maths.' Luke commented. 'Yes, she is applying bottom rung, she has a cover letter here.' He clicked on it. 'I let Elizabeth in HR deal with applications, these are only the ten finalists for the position, so she cannot be totally useless.' Luke commented, scanning the lines of writing in front of him. 'She has a serious mark against her though.'

 

'What is it?'

 

'She has not been working for nearly ten years, why is that do you know?'

 

'I don't.' Tom frowned, 'She was working when she was only fourteen in a sandwich company after school and weekends, she had two jobs when she was doing her A-Levels, she is not lazy.'

 

'Burn out maybe?' Luke suggested. 'Did she have any issues health wise, physical or otherwise?'

 

Tom knew what he was asking, did she have depression or any other such issue. 'She got panic attacks as a kid, she grew out of them though by the time I stopped seeing her around, the last thirteen years, I have no idea.'

 

'Well she would have been hired already if there were no blanks in the CV, she has a near perfect recommendation from the course head, her work is great and she seems to have good references, but the gap is something of note.'

 

'I can see if there's an explanation for that?' Tom suggested.

 

'Tom, this is business, don't get emotionally involved.' Luke warned. 'She is clearly hard working and because she is the something to you, I will help her on that level if she needs it, but on this,' He pointed to the screen in front of him, 'This is business and I have to think of what is best for Prosper first, not what I want.'

 

Tom inhaled deeply, 'I understand.'

 

'Good, I will allow Elizabeth do the interviews and see where that goes from there.'

 

'Thank you, I appreciate it, Luke.'

 

'I will drop her an email later and see if I can assist her in any way.' Luke promised.

 

 

Chapter Text

Lexi,

I hope you don't mind my emailing you, you forgot your charger at the café so I have it with me, I can meet you to give it back if you are free anytime, or I can drop it to you.

I promise I only gave your email to my friend Luke, he said he will try and talk to you some time.

If you want to meet regarding the charger, my phone number is underneath. This is my personal one, to prove that I trust you as much as you trust me with your email.

Kindest regards and looking forward to talking to you again,

Tom.

 

Alexianna looked at the email on her phone screen. She had scoured high and low for that charger, freaking out because she only had half battery left and needed to finish an assignment for another internship application, so she knew she would have to get it ASAP. It had been years since anyone had called her 'Lexi'. Tom and his sisters always called her it, it was nice, it made her feel good in herself, even their mum, Diana called her it. She smiled fondly when she thought of their mum, she was always so nice to her, treating her the same as Emma and Sarah, as though she had been her third daughter. She looked again at the screen, worried at how to respond. She thought to use email, but Tom had included his number, and she knew he would be more inclined to answer a call than an email quickly, and she needed that charger, so she copied the number and put it into her phone. She thought to keep her number private, but she herself never answered private numbers and considering Tom could very easily be the same, especially as a celebrity, she decided against it, inhaling deeply, she pressed the call button.

 

'Hello.' Tom answered after a few rings. 'Hello?'

 

'Tom.'

 

'Lexi, hello.' she could hear the smile on his face. 'How are you?'

 

'Better now that I know where my charger is.' she found herself smiling too.

 

'Yes, I have it with me. I am at RADA at the moment, do you want me to drop it over after rehearsals.' there was silence on the phone for a moment. 'Lexi?'

 

'I...I need it as soon as possible Tom, I have a lot of course work to do. What time are you finished?'

 

'Not until ten tonight, at least.' Tom sounded downtrodden.

 

'Damn.' There was silence for another moment. 'Are you able to leave it at the front desk?'

 

'Yes, I am, I think.'

 

'I can go there and grab it.'

 

'Perfect. I will tell the desk guy.'

 

'Thank you, Tom.'

 

'Anytime Lexi, I gave your details to Luke too.'

 

'Yes, I read.' Her voice was low.

 

'What's wrong?'

 

'I didn't realise you would give it to him.'

 

'Is there a problem with that?'

 

'Well, I applied to his company for a job, now you turn up with my information, it seems a little... "using a name to get ahead sort of thing".'

 

'I know, he was able to tell me that, but he leaves hiring to his HR person, he still wants to talk to you.' Alexianna bit her lips together. 'You don't need to worry Lexi, I told him you would never want to use knowing me for something and it was me that approached you today, not the other way around.'

 

'Thanks, Tom.' She had a faint smile at that. 'I better stop wasting your time and let you get back to more important things. Bye.'

 

'You're not wasting...' but Tom heard the line go dead. Looking at the phone, he say "call ended" on the screen. Putting his phone down, he thought to himself. Alexianna, though she had a tough enough life was never one to put herself down so much. He thought of Luke's comments regarding her career gap too, he found himself wondering what happened Alexianna to turn her into the submissive person that was convinced she was something of an inconvenience.

 

*

 

'Yes, I was told to tell you to go in.' Alexianna's eyes widened as she stared at the deskman. 'It's the third door on the right.'

 

'Is it not here?'

 

The security guard looked at her as though she was mad. 'No, Mr Hiddleston is inside and he said to allow you in, so the third on the right.' The man reiterated, bored of the conversation.

Nervously, Alexianna walked in and towards the door, pushing it slightly, she noticed most of the room was in darkness, but not the stage, on which, Tom was standing, pacing frantically. She watched as he recited the lines she knew from her own time studying Hamlet, a small smile coming to her face as she watched him perform the scene, the raw emotions involved were incredible, he was even better on stage than on film, she ascertained, but she had felt that before when she had gone to Coriolanus in 2013. She watched and found herself suddenly remembering the lines more clearly as he stated them into the emptiness as Hamlet did in his madness.

 

' To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause: there's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life'

 

He paused and smiled directly at her. 'Two minutes,' he called to the side and jumped down off the stage, running up the aisle of steps to her after grabbing a bag on route. 'Hello again.'

 

'I thought you said you were leaving it outside.' Alexianna asked.

 

'It's not that desk guy as much as I do the other two.' Tom explained. 'I know how important it is to you.'

 

'Thank you.' She smiled, taking the bag. 'You're great.'

 

'I'm not near ready yet.'

 

'You could open tonight and be deemed a hit.'

 

'That's because I have been blessed with a few die-hard fans.'

 

'Well, I think you are good.'

 

'Even if it is this play?' Alexianna frowned. 'I remember you not being a fan when you did it in school.'

 

'He was always a mopey prick.' Tom erupted in laughter as Alexianna smiled.

 

'You still maintain that?'

 

'Yes.' she stated confidently.

 

Tom realised it was the first time she seemed to be the same girl he knew so many years before. 'Have you time for a coffee?'

 

'But your rehearsal?'

 

'I have done three hours straight, I am due something, come on, there is a canteen down the hall.'

 

Alexianna paused. 'I am not sure.'

 

'Please, Lexi. Just a coffee and a catch-up.' He pleaded.

 

'Okay, but I have to be home for five.'

 

'Sure thing, Cinderella.' Tom held the door for her.

 

Chapter Text

'So, is there someone, in particular, you need to be home for at five for?' He asked, trying to not sound nosy. In truth he just wanted Alexianna to actually talk about herself and thought it a good place to start.

'Not really, no.'

'So no boyfriend?'

'No, you?'

'Not really into guys myself, no.' Tom smiled before laughing slightly, 'No, I am single these days.'

'No more pop princesses?' Alexianna teased.

'No.' The way Tom looked at his cup told her a lot. 'That is not something I would ever consider again.'

'That's your choice.' Alexianna stated, not pushing the issue any further.

'Do you talk to your mother these days?' There was a sudden tension in the air as Alexianna looked at him silently. 'I'm sorry, I should not have asked.'

'I haven't spoken to my mother in four years.'

'I would have thought you would be happier about that if she was the same as she was when you grew up,' Tom prodded gently.

'I suppose I should, it came to a head, everything, and I needed her, but she wasn't there, I was really down about it. I thought she would be there, because she knew what it was like, but no.'

Tom frowned, unsure of what to say. 'I'm sorry.'

'Not your fault.' Alexianna dismissed.

'Was it even yours?' she did not answer. 'Lexi?'

'It doesn't matter. I know it wasn't, but still, part of my brain niggles at me that if I had done this or that better, it wouldn't have happened.' she explained. Tom took her hand in his and squeezed it gently, to show her he was there, noticing that it was hot and sweaty. 'I was married.' she admitted it as though it was something dirty, something to be ashamed of. 'But he left, four years ago.'

'I...' There was nothing Tom could think of to say to that.

'I have not heard anything from him since, nothing. I finally applied last year for a divorce, but I couldn't find him to sign the papers.'

'Where does that leave you?' Tom asked curiously, knowing nothing of such situations.

'I am doing it through a solicitor that deals with these sorts of cases, but it is not easy.'

'I dare say not. How long were you married?'

'Three years.' the manner in which she said it told Tom it was not the most pleasant of times. 'I made some terrible decisions, it cost me college, everything.'

'So that is why you are back in college now?' She nodded. 'You are so strong.' he commended, smiling encouragingly at her.

'I got a bit sideswiped, but I'm getting there.' Her smile was not as big, or as confident as his, but she still meant it. 'What about you?'

'No marriages or anything, I have been so busy with work, then last year...'

'You sound like you regret it.'

'I do, in many respects, I don't in others.' he decided to be honest, she was more than so with him. 'Is that why your mother...'

'When it happened her, it was my father’s fault, he was in the wrong, he was the problem, when it happened me, it was all me, I made the mistakes, I was the reason he left.' she stated.

'How does Daniel feel about it?' Tom asked, referencing her older brother.

'Daniel wants to know where he is,' she admitted. 'So he can find him and bury him.'

Tom smiled, Daniel was only two years older than Alexianna and they were always close, she almost mothered him in many respects, cooking, cleaning, being the mother they didn't really have. 'Do you still talk?'

'He works on the rigs up in the North Sea, he is down every few months, he pays my rent and everything, he forked out for me to get back to school.' She smiled fondly. 'I just make sure he is fed and his clothes washed when he is back. He is home at the moment.'

'Good, tell him I said hi,' Tom was relieved she at least had her brother for company.

'I will.' she promised. She looked at the expensive watch on Tom's wrist. 'I have taken enough of your day.' she rose to her feet.

Tom was somewhat startled by her jumping out of the chair. 'It's no trouble, Lexi.' she gave a small grimace of a smile. 'Do you not like that name anymore?'

'It brings back some memories.' she explained.

'Bad ones?' Tom guessed.

'No, not bad.' there was a distance in her voice and a smile on her face as she said that.

'I don't understand.'

'Your family always called me that, you guys and Daniel, so it just...it can be hard hearing it, I miss those times.'

'Have you spoken to Emma recently?'

'I haven't spoken to Emma in ten years.' Tom frowned. 'She went to college and I just...I never heard from her again, I guess she got busy.'

'Did you try to contact her?'

'Yeah, for a while, but things got bad then so...' She gently took the bag off the table, 'I better run, Tom. I need to get back before Daniel, he lost his old key so we got new locks in so he doesn't have a key, he'll be locked out otherwise.'

'Of course,' he rose to his feet, noting how she never grew over the five foot three she had been when he last saw her. He realised too she lied about someone waiting for her but said nothing. 'I know this is odd, but would you mind if we met again soon?' She looked up at him, perplexed. 'I enjoyed catching up with you, not many people have time for normal talk these days, they all want to know who I know and how I can help them.'

'The joys of celebrity.' Alexianna joked before becoming serious. 'I...' Tom looked at her pleadingly. 'You have my number now, you can talk whenever you're free.'

'I promise I won't give it to anyone.' he held up his hand like he was swearing an oath.

'I know, I have far more leverage than you in this. I am a nameless no one, you are a movie star with crazy fans.' she grinned.

Tom licked his teeth, 'Yes, the ball is in your court there.'

'I would never do that Tom, you know...you can trust me.'

'I don't know you as I did,' he acknowledged. 'But the Alexianna I knew would never tell anyone anything she knew she shouldn't. I think you're still her.'

'That's a lot of faith to put on a person you have not known in years. Has that bitten your ass before now?'

'Yes, it has. I guess I am a slow learner.'

'Or the perpetual optimist,' she smiled. 'I won't give it to anyone, I have a lot of shit on teenage you and I never even uttered a word to your sisters or my brother.'

'Like what?' Tom asked curiously.

'The time you stole your mom's car and went to buy alcohol and then dinged her car on the way back.' Tom's eyes widened with horror. 'I saw you, and I said nothing.'

'Thank you.' Tom smiled. Alexianna went to extend her hand to shake his, but Tom leant forward and embraced her in a hug. Part of her wanted to pull back, but the smell of his cologne engulfed her, along with his kind gesture, making her cease her protest and embrace him back. 'You've filled out.' She noted when they moved apart.

'You too.' Tom immediately stuttered. 'Not that you are fat or anything, just that you got breasts. I mean, shit.' In a mix of hilarity and mortification, Alexianna laughed. 'I'm so sorry, I made this so awkward.'

'It's fine. I will see you soon Tom.' she turned and walked away.

When she was out of sight, Tom put his hands behind his head. 'I am a fucking idiot.'

'Do I want to know?' he turned to see Branagh behind him.

'I just bumped into an old friend today.'

'Riiiight.' the older actor asked, not seeing how that was an issue.

'I just told her she filled out, then proceeded to tell her that I did not mean to imply she was fat, but that she got breasts.' he explained. Branagh stood still for a moment, computing Tom's words before erupting in laughter. 'Yes, I have just made a tit of myself.'

It took a few moments for Branagh to cease laughing. 'Please do not tell me this "family friend" is someone you wished to pursue as something more with.' Tom did not respond, 'You don't like making life easy on yourself, do you?'

Chapter Text

'Hey, sorry,' Alexianna ran to her front door to see her brother waiting. 'I had a really weird day.'

'Sounds...interesting.'

'Do you remember Tommy, Emma's older brother, they used to live a few streets over from us.'

'Yeah, gangly guy, he became an actor.'

'He recognised me in a café today and started talking to me, then I forgot my laptop charger because I was trying to get away and well, he emailed me and then insisted I have coffee with him.' She rambled.

'Why does any of this matter?'

'I am so sorry I am late.'

'So, you are apologising for "being late" which, by the way, it is ten to five, so you are still here ten minutes before I said I would be, and you are apologising because you met someone we used to know and actually interacted with them, as adults do. Al, I love you, but you need to remember that you don't have to explain where you are all the time anymore.' She bit her lip. 'Stop that, how have you not chewed through that thing yet? You are giving yourself an uneven bottom lip.' he scolded. Alexianna said nothing in return. 'Come on, open the door, we are going to get soaked if you don't let us in.' he indicated to the sky, which was dark with clouds and threatening to open up on them.

'Right, sorry,' She opened the door and walked in. As soon as he came back from the bedroom, she handed him the key. 'Thanks, Daniel.'

Daniel pulled her to him in a one handed hug, 'Anytime, I...you smell of cologne.'

'Yeah, Tom gave me a hug.' she explained.

'Okay, I remember him being a hugger.'

'Yeah, he hasn't changed much, his hair is shorter and less young puppy chub on his face, but still the same. Better fashion sense though.' Daniel laughed. 'But still him.'

'You had a crush on him, if I remember correctly.'

'No.' she walked off.

'You're as red as a beetroot, you had it bad if I remember.'

'Shut up.'

Daniel laughed, walking after her, wanting to tease her more. 'You were smitten for him, Al.' He looked at the guilty look on her face. 'Oh Jesus, you still are.'

'Just shut up, you liked Emma.' she walked off again.

'I did, and I grew out of it.' he pointed out. 'You haven't.' she said nothing. 'Is that why you went for Jon....'

'Don't mention him.'

'They look something alike.'

'No, they don't.' she pointed at him and her face contorted. 'I mean it Daniel, do not mention him, ever. And that's not...' she swallowed hard.

'It is, isn't it. That is why you actually went with Jonathan, because he looks a little like him, blonde curly hair, taller.'

'He had brown eyes and was far bigger built.'

'That's not much of a difference.' Daniel pointed out. He looked at her sympathetically. 'I'm sorry, Al.'

'I...When I looked up today and saw him, I thought...'

'You thought it was him?'

'No, I knew it wasn't Jon...him.'

'Why can't you even say his name? Does it hurt that much?'

'Hurt, you think I am hurt, that hearing his name upsets me?' She shook her head violently, 'Hurt, no. I don't feel hurt, I feel angry. I feel so angry I want to scream. I want to spit fire and I want to hurt something.' she explained. 'I don't want that in my life, I don't want to be like that. I want to be a happy person, I want to feel good, be positive. He is not here, he will never be here again, I want to stop feeling so angry and I can't if I hear his name, it all just boils up again.'

'But...' Daniel indicated to the other room.

'No, I don't think of him anymore with all of that, I think of me, of what I have to do, what I need to do to do this right. I spent my marriage afraid, I broke, I wasn't even allowed to work, now, now I am free and I am me again and I am going to be the best possible example I can be.' she stated firmly.

Daniel walked over and hugged her close. 'Both of us.'

'I am so lucky to have you, Dan.'

'Damn right.' Her phone went off. 'Who...?' she went over and looked at the message, immediately worrying her bottom lip as she did. 'It's him, isn't it, it's Tommy?'

'He wants to know if I want to meet for coffee again sometime.' she explained.

'Look, Al, I cannot tell you how to live your life, you know that, but I am begging you, think of yourself before you answer that. If you can keep your distance and not get hurt, then go for it. You always got on with the Hiddlestons, him and his sisters, but if you are setting yourself up to get hurt, you have been hurt so much already, don't actively seek more.'

'You're right.' She put down her phone. 'I am going to get something to eat and say nothing until I think more about it.'

'Good, I just don't want you getting hurt.' Daniel watched her nod and leave to cook some food. Part of him wanted to go over and delete Tom's number from her phone, to block it, or to send a text saying to never contact her again, he had watched a few of Tom's films, he had seen his life splayed on the internet unintentionally, especially last year, especially when his niece, a minor with her face displayed to the world. He did not think Alexianna needed that in her life, he knew she didn't. But he remembered when she had been friends with Emma, that was when she was her happiest, he wanted her to grow more into herself again, to the girl before Jonathon Rice. He just hoped Tom Hiddleston did not bring trouble on them again, now that he realised the unintentional destruction Tom had brought before.

Chapter Text

'Hello again.' Alexianna looked up from her paperwork. 'I feel like I am stalking you now.' Tom sat across from her, his coffee in hand.

'It is starting to feel like it.' she smiled back, putting the paperwork to the side. 'Do you often frequent this establishment?'

'Not in a few years, but now that I am around the corner in RADA, I am here a bit more.' he admitted. 'Why do you ask?'

'I was wondering if this is going to be a regular occurrence.'

'Do I irritate you that much?' He asked, feigning hurt.

'No, you're not irritating in the slightest.' She smiled back.

'That's good to know,' Tom smiled. 'I rang my mum the other day. I told her I met you. She asked how you were, what you are doing, everything,' he informed her.

'Aw, that's nice.' Alexianna smiled politely.

'No seriously, fifteen minutes of her interrogating me on the phone about you.'

'Sorry.' Alexianna gave him an empathetic look.

'Don't be, I was only too happy to tell her everything that I thought was appropriate.' Alexianna frowned. 'I assumed you did not want to declare to the world about your personal problems regarding past decisions.' he explained without going into any specifics.

'No, I don't tend to discuss that often.' she toyed with her finger where once her wedding band rested. The day it went on, she felt like it was a ball and chain, or barbed to constantly tear at her, reminding her of its presence. 'It is not something I like to think about.'

Tom put his hand on hers, stopping her fidgeting. 'Then, please don't. Let's discuss something happier. I was talking to Emma too, she nearly shrieked my ear off when I said I was talking to you. She would not stop begging me for your number and email address, but I said I would not, not without your permission first. In fact, I was going to text you today regarding it.'

Alexianna swallowed and thought about it. 'I'm not sure.'

'She lost her phone on a drunken night out in college, she lost your number and with your going to college, she sent a letter to your home address, but it was never replied to.' Alexianna stared at him confused. 'You never got it, did you?' She shook her head. 'Do you think...?'

'Marie must have opened it and tore it up.' Tom frowned. 'She got very bad about then, trying to stop me having any friends. She rang different friends on my phone, telling them to stop talking to me, and others she texted horrible stuff to, but when I told them it wasn't me...'

'They didn't believe you.' Tom finished, nodding slightly.

'Would you?'

'I would, but that is because my sisters and I actually knew your mother, knew what she was capable of.' Tom replied honestly, 'But no, if you didn't know her, you would not believe that.'

She said nothing for another moment. 'Sure, yes. Give her my number.' she gave a small smile as Tom lit up. 'Did you tell her I tried to contact her?'

'I did.'

'I should have written. I feel so stupid for not thinking to do that.'

'Don't, you thought she was avoiding you, it's completely understandable.' Tom smiled. 'I never even asked was I alright to join you, I am not intruding, am I?'

'If I said yes, would you leave?'

'Of course.' He went to rise from the chair.

'You're not intruding, I was just asking.'

'Why would you feel the need to ask that?'

'Just did.' she shrugged.

Tom took note of her words and actions, though he said nothing more on it, he was beginning to suspect what it was that altered Alexianna so much. 'Did Luke get on to you?'

'He did actually, thank you, he was a great help.' She smiled. 'I was stuck on something that all the literature made sound so complex but in truth was just basic, he put it in an in practise scenario and it made sense immediately.'

'Good. I am glad to hear it.'

Alexianna smiled for a moment before she looked at the wall behind them and her face fell. 'Shit.' She jumped to her feet.

'What's wrong?' Tom asked.

'I'm going to be late for work.' She started grabbing her stuff.

Tom frowned. 'You work?'

'Of course, everyone works.' She scoffed. It wasn't entirely true, some people elected not to work, others were unable to, but she was somewhat too occupied with getting out the door for semantics. 'I am fucked if I don't go now.'

'Where are you going to?'

'Em, Belsize. It's not far from here, thankfully.'

Tom stared at her. 'Why Belsize?'

'I have a job there.' she laughed in disbelief. 'A few actually.'

Tom had no idea what it was she was doing. 'Look, I live there, I can drive you to the front door of wherever you need to go.' She paused for a moment, clearly thinking over his offer. 'The traffic is light at this time of day. It's faster than the underground.' He took her bag. 'Please, it's my fault you're late.'

Desperate not to get in trouble, Alexianna agreed, allowing Tom to whisk away her belongings and her with them. 'I really should say no, but I need this job.' was all she said on the matter.

'Where is Belsize is it?'

'10 Gregory Street.'

Tom paused, 'That's a house.'

'Yes Tom, most buildings, tend to be houses around there.'

'Why are you going to a house?'

'To do some work.' she said nothing more on the subject.

Tom, knowing she was not going to give him anything more decided to just help her as best he could. 'Here's my car.' he took the keys out of his pocket and pressed the unlock button. Alexianna just stared at the machine in front of her. 'Yes, it's a Jag, it's very nice, you have work, come on, let's go.'

'I can't, what if I...'

Tom realised the sheer terror in her voice. 'Lexi, are you alright?'

'I'm sorry,' She walked over and took the rest of her belongings from him. 'I need to go.'

In his shock at her reaction, Tom allowed her to take the books and watched for a moment as she walked off. Finally, he snapped out of it and rushed after her. 'Lexi, come on, it's just a car.'

'It's a fucking Jaguar, one of the most expensive cars on the market.' She pointed out.

'Lexi, you're not exactly from the tenements of the inner city, so what if it's expensive.' he ran in front of her cutting her off. 'Look, I know you are clearly after going through something that has caused you to become as skittish as a mouse,' she swallowed. 'I have no idea what, and I am not going to force you to tell me. If you ever want to, I am here, and I will listen, but until then, I will never push you, but whatever it is, it is not worth losing your job over. My car, should it accidentally become written off, is nothing but a car, you are not going to look at it and it fall apart.'

'When I was twenty-two, I was in a car accident, the owner of the other car had a Bentley, it wrote off my Focus, he claimed it was my fault, I thankfully won in court as he was on the phone and went through a red light, but anytime I see a big car now, I just...' She shuddered before rubbing her arm, 'I seize up.'

'I cannot imagine what that is like, I cannot, but you need to get to work and whether it is a Jag or a Bentley or even a Peugeot 106, it is a car and you need to get there. We are wasting a terrible amount of time.'

Inhaling deeply, Alexianna nodded and walked back. He opened it and though she hesitated for a moment, when Tom held the door for her, she got in. She looked at it for a moment, even in her terror she could appreciate the sheer comfort and class of the vehicle. But she yelped when Tom sat in the other side. 'Sorry.'

'Don't apologise, just breathe, I'll get us there.' he promised. Turning it on, he noticed that her fear was mixed with something else. 'You always liked cars.' he remembered. 'You loved the Ford Focus, you always swore you would get one.'

'I did, I was so happy when I got it, it was my baby.'

'Did you ever get another one?'

'No, I never drove after...I...my arm was pretty banged up, and when I got fixed...things happened.'

'He happened?' Tom assumed.

'Yeah, I didn't drive when he came along, and now I live in London city, a car is not something really needed around here.'

'No, it's not. I used the Tube most days myself. I was just lazy today, early rehearsals.' he agreed, indicating for a moment before going to another lane to get them where they needed to go. 'What happened with the claim?'

'He got caught for the fees, I didn't claim compensation, I just insisted on my hospital fees, of course, the judge signed off on that immediately.'

'Most people go for the "Ah, my neck" route these days.'

'I didn't want to ask for bad karma.' A moment later she laughed coldly.

'It came anyway?' She nodded. 'Should have gone for the money so.'

'Hindsight is twenty-twenty.' she commented. He pressed on the break as a person jaywalked in from of them, causing her to grip the seat and door with her two hands in terror. 'Sorry.'

'You're fine.'

'No, I'm not, nothing is worse when you are driving than a nutter acting like they are in some sort of Fast and the Furious chase scene.' Tom laughed. 'What?'

'Even with everything, you still are you under there.' He smiled fondly. When Alexianna shifted uncomfortably, he sighed. 'I'm sorry. I have no idea how to skip around this...thing.'

'After the crash, I went through a phase, I thought I was deformed, my arm was...it still is badly scarred, I had broken glass in my face, part of the medical expenses was to get my face sorted. It was all scars, I really took a hit, psychologically.' she explained. 'He smelt it, my insecurities, I thought I was deformed, never to find someone to like me, and he acted like he did.'

As her eyes filled with tears, so too did Toms, he realised then where everything stemmed from, why the girl who he adored for being witty and always smiling turned into such a meek, apologetic shell of the person he knew. 'I'm so sorry.' he voice was hardly above a whisper.

'You didn't do it.' She commented. 'I am really trying to get myself somewhere with all of this.'

'Have you tried...?'

'Talking to someone, yeah. I didn't find it helped, they wanted to focus on him, I want to focus on me. He is gone, even if he came back and begged me to forgive him, I never could, I...'

Tom gave her a smile and took her hand, squeezing it slightly. 'Good, you have no idea how relieved I am for you to hear that.'

'Hear what?'

'That you want to focus on you, think about you, not think about him or ever consider him, you don't need people like that Lexi, you have always been incredible.'

'I try to channel your mum. I mean, I know your dad never did any of that to her, they just didn't feel it was right anymore, but she always raised the three of you so well, she made sure to be everything for ye, I want to be like that, strong and able.' she smiled.

Tom swallowed, pride swelling in him at the thought that she felt that way. 'Yeah, mum was always so strong, but I remember the times she was...not weak, but faltered slightly, the days she would cry when she thought we weren't paying attention, the days where she was just a little selfish because she needed to be, to keep her going. Remember to have that too.'

'I will, when I get this, I have it planned, a new hairstyle, get rid of these greys that are sneaking in, at a nice salon, and a nice pair of boots, fancy ones.' Tom looked over and smiled, it was clear in her face, she could picture them clearly. 'When I land a proper job again, I'll get them, first pay check splurge, then be all grown up and actually do proper things.' she smiled.

'I bought the Peugeot 106 with my first big one.' Tom confessed. 'The boots are probably a better investment.' he chuckled. 'Jesus, it was a shitty little car.'

Alexianna started laughing a little. 'How did you even fit in it?'

Tom began to laugh. 'I had to push the seat all the way back, I felt like I was in the boot.' That only set Alexianna off harder, she laughed so much she failed to make any noise, unable to catch her breath. 'Remember to breathe.' That only made her laugh even harder. 'Don't die, I cannot explain that to my sister and mum when they are dying to meet up with you again. "Sorry, yes, she was alive, but I killed her with mental imagery of me looking like I was in a clown car".' Alexianna only laughed more. 'Okay, I'll stop now.' Tom said no more, instead bringing her to the address she gave him, a house less than a street away from his own.

It took that long for Alexianna to cease laughing. Looking into the mirror in the sun protector in front of her, she wiped away the tears. 'I look a state and my cheeks hurt.' she complained.

'At least it is from laughing.'

'Look at me.' she indicated to her bright red face. I look ridiculous.'

'I humbly disagree.' he smiled. 'I think you look great with a smile.'

'Get a guide dog.' Tom glared at her. 'What?'

'When you are in my presence, you are not to talk like that.' he demanded. 'I never even noticed your face.' he admitted. 'It looks exactly as it always did.'

'No it doesn't, there are fewer blood vessels in the area that is repaired, see.' she indicated to the areas of skin not as reddened as the others.

Tom looked at them, realising for the first time it was true, there was some parts of her face that were not as red as others, all on the right hand side. 'You had to point it out, you'd barely notice.' he dismissed. 'I never even noticed.'

'Thank you.' she smiled. 'I better go. See you again Tom.' she leant over and kissed his cheek before realising her actions and blushing. 'Sorry.'

'You're fine.' Tom smiled, a slight pink tinge going up his neck. 'Goodbye Lexi.'

'Goodbye.' she got out of the car and walked up the steps, a taking out a set of keys and went inside, giving Tom a small wave as she did.

When she went inside, Tom frowned and drove off, wondering what sort of profession would have her have keys to clearly well-off homes before driving to his own.

Inside the house, Alexianna groaned into her hands before turning and walking into the kitchen, 'Hello Mrs Matthews.' She smiled politely.

'Ms Hughes,' The woman replied coldly, not looking up from her paper. Alexianna rolled her eyes as she walked into the supplies closet and took out the cleaning agents to get on with the job at hand.

Chapter Text

Tom paced his kitchen for a while, thinking over everything Alexianna had said, her accident, her husband, he realised, after everything her mother had forced her to endure over the years, she never really got to be free. He paced again and just stopped when he heard his phone ring. Looking at it, he realised it was his sister. 'Hey, Emma.'

'Hey, how are you?' she was clearly in good humour.

Good, I bumped into Lexi again today, she told me to give you her number.'

'Really? She's not mad at me?'

No, she never got your letter by the way.'

'Really? I bet Marie dumped it, the bitch. She was always a wagon.'

'Yes, she was. Lexi suspects it too.'

'Honestly, Lexi was the nicest, most level headed person ever and her mother acted like she was a crack-whore.' Emma began to rant.

'Yes, well, it is always the parents that don't have to worry that act up the most.' Tom commented.

'Mom had to worry with us, we were terrors.'

Tom chuckled. 'Lexi put us all to shame. She used compare you two from time to time.'

'I remember, "Look at Lexi, in studying, you should do it too".' Emma impersonated their mother's voice, 'Did she become a vet in the end, she always wanted to be a vet.'

'No, she's not. She's studying PR now.'

'Wait, she's only in school now?'

'Yeah, apparently she hit a few roadblocks in life, but she's getting back on track.'

'Did she tell you this?'

'Yes.'

'Tom, tell me what happened.'

'No, she'll tell you, if and when she wants to.'

'She was my friend.' Emma argued.

'Meaning she will tell you when she tells you.' Tom stated firmly. 'It's her business Em, she deserves to decide who she tells it to.'

'Is it that bad?'

Tom knew he had to forewarn her. 'She's been through the ringer Em, she's not the same as she was. She's taken a few bashings, but she is still there, under everything.'

'Jesus.'

'You know nothing, Em.'

'Fine, I know nothing.' She repeated.

'Who knows nothing?' there was a voice behind Emma.

'Tom met Alexianna, do you remember her?'

'Lexi, from two streets over, yeah, I remember her, Tom used to have a crush on her.'

'I did not.'

Sarah laughed at her brothers high pitched comment through the phone. 'Yes, you did, you always went trying to act all cool and went all pink when she came around, and I swear if you stared at her any harder when she started getting boobs, honestly, you were creepy staring at her. Especially when we all went to the river that time, you refused to come near the water and hid any time we saw her after that.' Sarah commented.

Tom swallowed hard at the memory of the day in question. Alexianna had bought a surfing bikini, he could still remember the ‘Roxy’ symbol on it and her boobs, which he only realised existed a short period before, be it that she was late blooming or her love of hoodies meant he never realised them before that, resulted in him sporting a very noticeable tent in his shorts for a time, meaning he had to not reveal it by sitting down away from water. 'You're mistaken.' there was a terrible high squeak in his voice with that.

'Oh my God, you had a crush on Lexi?' Emma realised. 'She was my friend.'

Tom said nothing, all he could think about was the kiss she had given him on the cheek only a few hours before, an odd sensation boiling in his stomach at the idea of it.

'Tom?' He did not reply. 'Tom?'

'Yeah?'

'Are you alright?'

'Fine.' he dismissed. 'I am just off for a run now, I will talk to you when I get back.'

'Okay, well, text me on her number, alright?'

'Sure, yeah.' Tom hung up the phone. He had been due to go for a run, so he stretched and decided to do just that.

He had gotten to the street he had left Alexianna on when he stopped. Coming out of the house he left her at, was Alexianna, who seemed almost tired as she walked down the steps. She closed the gate behind her and walked towards him, not paying attention, when she noticed him, she froze.

'I am not stalking you, I swear.'

'I am not going to lie, this is getting weird.' she declared, walking on once more. 'Once is chance, twice is coincidence, but now.'

 

'Well, I do live around the corner and this is the way to Regent's Park.' Tom pointed out before indicating to his attire.

'Fair enough, I won't delay you.' she smiled and walked by.

Tom inhaled deeply and immediately recognised the smell of about four cleaning agents. 'Wait that's what you're doing? Alexianna looked at him. 'You clean houses.'

'Yes,' she looked to the ground for a moment, embarrassed.

'That makes a little more sense.' Tom chuckled. 'I had been wondering.' he made a mental note to tell Luke why she seemed to have no employment.

'Yeah, with how tight things got for a while and with time constraints on my day, I wasn't able to really get a proper job, so this had to suffice.'

'You're working, more than a lot of people do, so it is a proper job.' Tom argued.

Alexianna gave him a small smile. 'So you live around here? Very fancy.'

'Yeah, just around the corner actually.'

'You shouldn't be admitting that in the middle of the street, who knows who would hear you.' She suggested.

'They find you no matter what, and for some reason, it is apparently up on the Belsize Wikipedia page that I am living here, so...'

'That's weird. I don't think I would like people knowing where I live.'

'Out of curiosity, where are you living?'

'Around Archway.'

'Not too far.' he smiled.

'No, and all I have to do is take the Northern down to the university.'

'That's...wait, you're studying at University of London?'

'Yes, RADA is just around the corner, why do you think you see me at that café?'

'I am an idiot, I never put it together.' Tom chastised, which caused Alexianna to just smile. 'So are you off somewhere else now?'

'Yes, home.'

'I could drive you there, if you want?'

'No, thank you, I have pushed myself enough in a car today.'

Tom's eyes darted side to side for a moment. 'Then perhaps an undisturbed coffee before you go, your one earlier was somewhat abandoned.'

Alexianna eyed him carefully. 'Why are you wanting to be around me so much?' Tom's expression was one of confusion. 'Asking me for coffees all the time, offering me lifts, why?'

'Because I am glad to have bumped into you again, because after what you told me, I feel like I want to be there for you some bit, I enjoy your company.' Tom answered honestly.

'But you're a famous actor now, you could be talking to beautiful women not some cleaner student with a basket full of issues.'

Tom's jaw clenched at that. 'Have you met any actresses?' Alexianna shook her head. 'They are, for the most part, conceited, vain and generally not good company. You, however, I have always, since we were teenagers, actually, I think you were eight or nine when we met, I found you better company than any of them.'

Alexianna gave a small smile at that. 'You need better friends.'

'Why do you think I am trying to talk to you again?'

Alexianna bit her lip, 'Sure, why not? What about your run?'

'I was just on my way back.' Tom lied.

'So you still kept it up after the London marathon?'

'Yes, but never to that length again, that nearly killed me.'

'I remember, you were almost passed out on your mum's couch for three days after. You had that little bell, for food and what's worse is after about an hour, everyone started waiting on you.' Alexianna laughed.

Tom joined in, ‘Never underestimate the power of irritation.' they walked up to the front of his house. 'Here we are.' Alexianna paused for a moment. 'What do you think?'

Alexianna spent another moment looking at the house. 'I like it.' Tom raised a brow. 'Not overly in your face or anything.' she smiled.

Tom nodded as he opened the door. 'I wanted something nice, but not overly big.'

'Good call.' Once inside, Alexianna looked around. 'Wow.' Not even thinking, she ran over to his bookshelf in his living room and scanned the titles. When he walked up beside her, she froze, then pulled back. 'I'm so sorry, I...'

'You and Emma used always trade books.' Tom recalled. 'Do you read still?'

'Not near as much as I want, but whenever I can. I have a wall of my place, it is nothing but books, Daniel is at me to either donate some or box them away, they are a safety hazard apparently.'

Tom chuckled. 'What sorts?'

'Everything and everything, biographies, autobiographies, classics, sport, history, politics, everything. Same as you.' She pointed to the different shelves.

'The rest are in the spare room upstairs.' Tom confessed. 'I am somewhat of a hoarder.'

'You're talking to your soulmate there.' Alexianna paused, 'Sorry.'

'Stop apologising for talking, for being you.'

'You can talk, apparently, you are one that does it all the time too.'

'I confess, I used to, I trained myself out of it though, we should do the same with you.'

'What are you going to do, spray me with a water gun?'

'If I have to.' he grinned. He noticed from his height advantage, he could see down her top somewhat; her breasts, he noted, had grown since she was a teenager. His tongue darted out across his bottom lip for a moment. When he focused again, he realised Alexianna was looking at him, and though her face was neutral, he was aware he had been caught. 'Sorry.'

'I...' before she could say anything else, Tom leant down and pressed his lips to hers. 'Tom. I'm not...'

'Interested at all, or interested in going further right now?'

'Further right now.' She had no idea why she was even saying anything, let alone being completely honest.

'I don't want to push it further, I know it is fast, and I know you need time to trust me.' he promised, terrified that he had scared her off, elated when she leant up on her toes to kiss him again. They continued for a few minutes before their necks began to ache, the height difference was not conducive to their actions. Tom groaned as it pulled back. 'Would you like that tea?'

'Please.'

Tom took her hand in his and walked towards the kitchen, when he got in, he paused for a moment. ‘I just got this place done, I forget where I have things.' Alexianna giggled. 'That's a tad embarrassing.'

'No, it is what it is.' she smiled. When he got out the cups, she frowned. 'Why are your cups not near the kettle?'

'I have no idea, I just tidied everything away after they put in the cabinets.'

'I can't look, it's chaos.' her arms flailed slightly.

'You were always a neat freak.' he made the tea and let her alter it to her specifications.

'Can I ask you something?' Tom turned to face Alexianna, who had her bottom lip firmly between her teeth. He nodded, looking her in the eye as he did so. 'What just happened, it was just...did you...'

'I wanted to, for a long time, a really long time. I want to see if perhaps, we could...'

'We're completely different people, you're outgoing and public, I'm anything but.'

'I'm two different people, my job is to be public, to do interviews and such, but me, Tom; I am not, I like minding my own business, sitting in watching a good movie and reading.' Tom explained. 'I am not like that all the time, if I am honest, I hate having to do so much public stuff, but it is part of the job.' He walked over to her, 'I wanted to kiss you, I want to kiss you more.' he admitted.

'You're really good at it.' Alexianna commented.

'So are you.' she looked at him disbelievingly. 'No really, you are a good kisser.' he leant down and kissed her again, her reaction was slow, but when she did kiss him, she did so with tenderness and passion. 'You're really, really good at that.' The tea cups sat on the countertop ignored as they began to kiss once more, Tom deciding to hoist Alexianna onto the countertop so to save their necks. By the time they stopped, the pair were slightly out of breath and had dark pink lips from their actions. 'Somewhat of an aficionado really.'

'Tom.'

'Lexi.'

'I need to go.'

'I'll drive you home. I'll get you there safely, I'll look after you.' It sounded more like a promise than anything else.

'I'm sorry.' She seemed to breathe out the words rather than talk.

'What did I say about apologising?' he whispered back.

'I wish I was braver.'

'I don't want someone to hop into bed with me for half an hour and leave, I want something that matters.'

'How do you know I am the person for that?'

'Because since the moment I saw you when I came back from college that summer, when you were seventeen, in just your bikini, laughing with Emma in the river, quoting Wilde before splashing in, I knew, I knew there and then I was utterly smitten with you.' he declared.

Alexianna stared back at him. 'What?'

'When we were younger, you were seventeen, it was really hot...'

'No, I remember that Summer, that was the last time I saw you for anything over fifteen minutes.' Alexianna remembered the day in question, she was joking with Emma, cannonballing into the water because of the stifling heat. She remembered seeing Tom, lithe and in only a pair of swim trunks, she remembered blushing, feeling herself become lightheaded as he walked towards them. Emma caught her attention again and with a quote from Oscar Wilde, she ran and jumped into the water again, her swimsuit riding up in the process, her breast coming out for a moment, and with a shriek, she tucked it back in. She remembered looking at Tom, or where he had been standing, and the feeling in the pit of her stomach as he walked off. He never allowed himself around her alone or in a manner that meant they had to interact again. 'I thought you hated me.' Tom looked at her, shocked at her assumption. 'You looked disgusted.'

'That wasn't disgust.' Tom informed her. 'That was me, trying to hide the biggest...let's just say, I had to hide for a while and allow blood redistribute itself.'

'Really?' Tom nodded. 'Why didn't you just say something?'

' I thought you would be creeped out by a twenty-two-year-old thinking you were hot, I mean, at that age, that isn't normal.'

'No, I guess not. We were expected to stay closer our own ages then. It's weird how it changes, back then weird, now it's nothing of note. Anything younger than when I was seventeen...'

'Well, you looked like an adult then, with natural development and everything, I didn't have any interest in you that way before then.' Tom explained awkwardly. He cleared his throat before continuing. 'I better get you home.'

'Yeah.' she put down the cup that she had been toying with and inhaled deeply.

'You can do this.' He smiled encouragingly, kissing her forehead.

'I know.'

Chapter Text

The drive back was easier, if Tom was honest, he assumed that that was, in part, due to Alexianna having to give directions and not focus as much on her fear. But a part of him had to laugh, she reminded him a slight bit of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances when she got over nervous at a cyclist and a few pedestrians who clearly were in no danger. The comparison, when mentioned, resulted in a glare that he was forced not to react to, but he desperately wished to laugh at. When they arrived, Tom looked at the house in question, it was not a house, but a tiny flat, one he was not sure how it passed leasing laws on it was so small, he noted that though Alexianna said it was Archway, yet it scraped inside the border of Hampstead Heath. 'Safe and sound.'

'Thanks, Tom, I appreciate everything.' She smiled, he blushed slightly as he leaned over and kissed her gently. Her smile grew before looking to the door of her home to see Daniel looking at her, his face unreadable. 'Shit.'

Tom looked to see why Alexianna suddenly swore. 'What's the best way to deal with this?'

Before Alexianna could answer, Daniel walked forward, indicating that he was coming to the car. He opened Alexianna's side before looking it. 'You're in a big car?'

She nodded, 'Yeah, Tom was just helping me get over myself.'

'You've done a better job in a week with her than I have in nearly eight years.' Daniel commended. 'Then again, there are incentives I cannot give.'

'Shut up.'

Daniel looked at his sister for a moment, realising that indeed, Tom had altered her somewhat, he had not seen as much of the real Alexianna since the accident. 'Thank you.' He was sincere in his words.

Tom gave him a genuine smile. 'Delighted to have helped.'

'I suppose after how many offers of tea to Al, we should return the favour.' Daniel offered.

'I don't think...' Alexianna began to her brother as Tom got out of the car.

'Al, seriously, I know it's a small flat, but it can actually fit him, he is not a big guy.' Daniel jested.

Alexianna looked worried as Tom walked toward the dwelling, his face, though curious, was not showing any sign of judgment. Inside, he noted it was cluttered, yet clean. There were more belongings than there was space to tidily keep, yet everything seemed spotless.

'So, what is planned for the famous actor next?' Daniel asked as he threw on the kettle. 'It is so weird to think you are an actor, honestly, I nearly spat out my tea the day I turned on Wallander and you were on it.'

'Yes, it seems somewhat surreal sometimes.' Tom agreed. 'I am doing a play in RADA soon.'

'Which one?'

'Hamlet.'

'Always loved that one.' Daniel smiled. 'Got an A because of it in my A-Levels.'

Tom chuckled. He was about to respond when he noted the cartoon children's plate on the counter, as well as a matching cup. Before he could say anything else, the bedroom door opened slightly and a small pair of blue eyes peeked out at him. 'Has she had her dinner?' Alexianna asked, having seen the door move slightly.

'Yep.' Daniel beamed. 'Lily, look who's finally home.'

Tom watched as a shy child, no more than three or four, walked out of the small bedroom, some children's toys on the floor, and rushed over to Alexianna, who whisked her up into her arms. 'Hello, Princess.'

'Mommy!' the child gripped her arms and legs tightly around Alexianna, burying her head into the side of her neck. 'You were gone a long time today.'

'I know Sweetheart, but I had to go to school and work.'

'I am going to school soon too. We can go together.'

'We'll be in different schools.' the child pouted, turning to look away from Alexianna only to notice Tom. 'Who's that?'

Tom still had not moved since the girl had called Alexianna her mother. He did not know how to react to such information.

'That's a friend of mine since I was about...eight years old.' Alexianna explained.

'How come I never sawed him afore?'

'Saw and before, love. And you have not seen him because we didn't see each in a really long time, over ten years.'

That's forever.'

'Stop, you make me feel old when you talk like that.' Alexianna grumbled. 'His name is Tom, remember, I told you about his sister Emma and his mom?'

'And he is Captain Hook.'

'Yes, in the Pirate Fairy, he is Captain Hook.'

'He's a bold bad guy.'

'All bad guys are bold.'

'But he pretended to be nice and then was mean, that was the boldest.'

Tom gave a small smile before his phone went off, 'Sorry.' he checked the number, 'I need to...'

'Bedroom.' Alexianna indicated to the small room.

Tom walked into the room and answered the phone. 'Hey.'

'Hi, is everything alright?'

'Yeah, fine. What's up?'

'Mom wants everyone home, right away.'

'Why?'

'Your guess is as good as mine. She swears it's nothing wrong, but she says it's important.'

'Okay, I'll head tonight.'

'Is everything alright Tom?'

Tom was looking around the tiny room, it was smaller than his back kitchen. 'Yeah, I'll talk to you tonight, Em.' he hung up before she said anymore, his attention going to the double bed that took up most of the room, then to the wardrobe and drawers, small and full of a mix of adult and child clothing. He focused on the bed again, there were two beds on it really based on the bed sheets. One was clearly an adult, the colours suggesting a female, and the other, again, similar children's characters to the plates in the other room. On the end of the bed, folded up, was a duvet and a pillow, but no bed to go with it, suddenly, he recalled the couch in the living area seemed to be a fold out. The whole apartment was small enough to fit in his living room, and in it, it housed two adults and a young child. Realising he was staring around the room too long, he walked back outside to see Alexianna cuddling the child, he looked at her for a moment, she had her mother's blue eyes, but the curly blonde hair was not something she got from her. Alexianna's hair had, what his mother called, Celtic kinks, neither curly nor straight. But the girl's were proper ringlets. He felt someone staring at him, he turned to see Daniel was assessing him. 'That was Emma, my mom wants us all in Suffolk tonight.' He informed the room.

Alexianna rose to her feet. 'Is she okay?'

'According to Emma, it's nothing bad, but I have no idea why the short notice. I am so sorry, please excuse my rudeness, I have to get going.'

'Of course, yeah.' Alexianna tried to put the child down, but it was clear the child was having none of it. 'Lily, I have to say goodbye to Tom.' but she did not move. Alexianna groaned and walked to the door, the child still attached to her as she did so.

Tom gave a small salute to Daniel before walking after her. 'I...' he looked at the little girl again. 'Why didn't you mention her?'

'It's complicated.'

'It's not really Lexi, no.' he bit his lips together, 'I will talk to you soon.' he turned and left, closing the door behind him.

For a moment, Alexianna looked at the door before feeling herself become upset. 'Mommy, are you okay?'

'Yeah, I am.' She wiped a tear away and walked into the living room again.

Daniel walked over and took Lily from Alexianna's arms. 'Lily-pad, go into your room for a minute, I need to talk to your mum.' the child began to grouse. 'Go, or there'll be no yogurt before bed.' Lily bolted for the room. Daniel closed the door after his niece. 'What the hell, Al?'

'Just leave me alone.' She walked to the kitchenette part, putting on the boiler to wash the dishes.

'You were kissing him in the car. What part of you thinks this is a good idea, he is an actor, he is hardly ever around, he is Jaguar cars and Ralph Lauren jackets, not one bedroom bedsits and Primark.'

'Just leave me alone Dan, I...' Alexianna inhaled deeply, trying to keep herself calm. 'It doesn't matter now anyway.'

'What, so that's all it was, one quick fuck and get dropped home after.'

'I didn't...'

'Well, what the hell makes you say it doesn't matter?'

'I never got a chance to tell him about Lily.' Daniel paused. 'He...I guess kids are not something he wants in someone.'

'Why, what did he say?' Daniel stepped forward angrily. 'What did he say, Al?'

'Nothing bad, he just asked why didn't I tell him but the way he said it. He's not interested anymore.' she turned and walked away.

Daniel shook his head slightly. 'I'm sorry, Al.'

'It's my own fault, you warned me, but my brain didn't get much of a say over my...it didn't get much of a say and it's my own fault.' She walked off again, but in a small apartment, there were very few places for her to go. 'I am really shit at falling for people.'

Chapter Text

Tom stared at his niece absentmindedly. She was playing with one of her toys when he noted the little pink attired dog on her bag which was the same as the one he had seen in Alexianna's home. 'Hey.' He turned to see his sister looking at him. 'Are you okay?'

'Yes, why?'

'Because you are staring at Sophie, weirdly.'

'The dog bag.'

Sarah looked at her daughter's bag, 'What about it?'

'Is that popular these days?'

'Not that I know why you are asking, but yes, Paw Patrol is incredibly popular, in the two to five-year bracket.'

'She's six.'

'Yes, but that bag has fluffy ears and was a gift from Yakov's sister, so she loves it.' Sarah explained. 'Why are you asking about the Paw Patrol.'

'I met with Alexianna again.'

'Okay, this is the most scattered conversation ever, but you're all in a tizzy, so I'll bite and see if I can make heads or tails of this. Right, Paw Patrol and Lexi, what about her?'

'I kissed her.'

Sarah frowned, then nodded. 'I'm still with you.' Tom gave an anxious look. 'She did not want said kiss?'

'No, she was okay with it.'

'Then I am afraid you lost me again.'

'She has a daughter.'

Sarah's brows furrowed more. 'Okay?' she elongated the word as she spoke.

'She never mentioned that before.'

'Why would that matter?' Tom gave her a look. 'No, seriously, why would that matter? You are thirty-six Tom, you're getting to the age where anyone worth having has been with other people before and through some thing or another, has become single, but they will all have something, a divorce or kids usually, or both; anyone who doesn't is usually someone to worry about.'

'Hey!'

'Tom, you are thirty-six with no major previous partners, you are a walking warning, it screams there is something wrong with you that no one has been interested.' Tom gave her a hurt look. 'Where is the father? How involved is he?'

'I don't know, she never told me about the child, much less its father.'

'Tom, you told me already she's a girl, don't refer to her as an "it".' Sarah warned.

'I can only assume she is her ex-husband's daughter.'

'Alexianna was married?'

'A few years ago, yes, she is trying to get divorced for a while now but he's not around.'

'Those are difficult ones. So he has nothing to do with his daughter?'

'If she is his, no.'

'So, no awkward ex trying to pit her against you, that's never a bad thing. How old is she?'

'Lexi?'

'Her daughter, you idiot. I know how old Lexi is.'

'She is starting school next month.'

'So four then.' Sarah looked at her own daughter. 'I loved when Sophie was four, they are so cute.' she smiled in nostalgia for a moment.

'What's going on in here then?' Diana walked in with Emma in tow.

'Tom was just telling me that he was talking to Alexianna Hughes and that he may or may not have kissed her.'

Emma looked at her brother with a mix of shock and confusion, 'Wow, you really didn't waste time there.'

'I always liked that girl.' Diana smiled fondly.

'Isn't that the girl you were looking for an address for before?' Jack asked his wife.

'Yeah, Tom found her in London. So, other than making up for ten plus years of lusting after her, what are we discussing?' Emma looked between her siblings.

'Apparently she has a daughter.' Sarah's statement was met with silence.

'Okay?' Emma looked around after a moment to try and understand the peculiar atmosphere in the room, 'I don't get it. I mean, I didn't realise she had one, but she is my age so I suppose it makes sense why she is only in school now if she dropped out before to have a kid. I can see her being a good mum.'

'It won't be from Marie she got it.' Diana pursed her lips after her comment, thinking of their old neighbour, who was nothing near what her children needed in a mother. Diana looked at her son, who seemed to have an odd expression on his face. 'Is there something wrong?'

'She has a child.'

'So?' Emma shrugged. 'Loads of people do these days.'

Diana eyed her son's expression. 'If you like her, what does it matter if she has a child?'

'You're joking, right? It complicated everything. Who wants to deal with that mess?'

The atmosphere in the room went from confused to Baltic cold immediately. Emma and Sarah stared open-mouthed while Diana pursed her lips again before nodding her head. 'Sophie sweetheart, go into the kitchen and have a bun.' Excited, the child jumped to her feet and left the room, not waiting to allow her mother argue with her grandmother about getting a treat before dinner. When she left the room, Sarah closed the door. 'A mess? If having one child makes Alexianna a mess, what did me having three make me?' Diana challenged. Tom's breathing became shallow as the realisation of the effects of his words impacted on him, his mother's heartbroken expression adding to it. 'I went two years after your father and I separated worrying that no one would want to love me again because I had two teenagers and a young daughter. I felt as though I was going to never be in a relationship again where I would be happy, because of people judging me for not only my marriage collapsing, but the fact I had three children as well.'

'Mum...' Tom's voice was tight. 'You never hid us.'

'Did Alexianna actively hide her daughter, or was she waiting until a good time to mention her? The fear that your children will become attached to a partner only for them to leave is terrifying, Thomas. It took me three months to even gently start bringing Paul into this family.'

'Not every mom wants to be defined as just being a mom, Tom.' He turned to look at Sarah. 'I hate it, it's one of the first things people label me. If Lexi is trying to get jobs, she's not going to mention a daughter unless asked, that's a huge no to a lot of people, and a single mom even more so. They are associated with taking time off and being flaky, who the hell wants that assumption of them in an interview. The same with meeting someone, one mention of her daughter and look at you, you ran for the hills, you actually sound disgusted. She is thirty-one years old, what, was she supposed to stay like a nun just in the off-chance she might one day meet you again? She was fucking married. This isn't some stupid mistake she made when she was fifteen.' Sarah's rage grew with each sentence. Beside her, though silent, it was clear Emma was seething also. 'You know what, she is hard working and doing the best for her daughter, she is trying to make their lives better, she doesn't need some shallow shithead in her life. She is better off this way, who the hell needs someone like you in their lives if all you are going to do is get judgemental? At least she found someone to actually have a marriage and child with, what have you found, one night flings and a publicity relationship.' Sarah stormed out of the room after that.

As much as her words deeply stung, Tom did not reveal what Alexianna told him about her marriage, he felt he had hurt her enough in one week, revealing her information like that was not fair at all. Emma looked at him judgmentally, clearly agreeing with Sarah. 'If you are talking to Lexi, she...don't talk about her marriage.' was all he said, Emma frowned. 'Just don't, please.' Emma nodded and left the room also. Leaving him to face the person he dreaded most. Turning, he swallowed back tears as he realised his words had truly hurt his mother. 'Mum, I am so sorry, I never realised...'

'No, you didn't.' She stated sadly. 'I have no idea what Alexianna told you about her marriage, but clearly it was not good.' Tom shook his head. 'And to say she kept that little girl under wraps means does not want her to be judged for it. You have no idea what is going on in her life. You said you liked her, you apparently showed her you like her, then you run when she mentioned her daughter. You have no idea what it feels like Tom, when someone's face changes after they hear about a child, to see them suddenly not want anything to do you with. The sense of rejection...' she swallowed, her voice breaking. 'It hurt more than the divorce, that I can tell you from personal experience.' with that, she too left Tom in the room alone with his thoughts.

Chapter Text

It took half an hour of thinking through his thoughts before Tom got up the courage to bring up Alexianna's number in his phone and press the call button. At first, he thought she had seen who was calling and decided to not answer, but after a moment more, the line picked up. 'Hello?'

'Lexi, hi.'

'Hi, Tom.' Her tone told him she wasn't overly pleased it was him.

'I owe you an apology for my leaving so suddenly the other day.'

'Is your mum alright?' Her voice was clipped and to the point.

'Yeah, it wasn't an emergency at all, not really, she was renewing her vows for her China anniversary, or is it platinum, they changed it in recent years.'

'Okay, that is so cute.' Alexianna's tone became softer immediately. 'Aw, she and Paul were always so sweet together.'

'Yes, and apparently my procrastinating at getting to Suffolk meant she and Paul thought I would not come back in time for it, so they made Emma lie to me.'

'That's sort of mean.'

'I'm glad someone sees it the same as I did.' He smiled for a moment before his smile fell. 'I also owe you an apology for how I acted the other evening when I met...'

'I didn't hide her on purpose.' Tom let Alexianna speak. 'I know it is daunting, and I know some people do not want to have partners with kids from previous relationships, and I respect that, not everyone wants kids. I understand, but I never intended for us to go there at all, much less that fast, so I never got to tell you properly.'

'You never wanted us to...'

'I did not think you were interested.'

'I was, I am.'

'But when you saw Lily...'

'I was not prepared for her, that's all.' Tom inhaled deeply. 'I handled it wrong, and as a result, I acted terribly. I made myself out to be a prick of the highest order.'

'Not the highest order, trust me, you are a far cry from that.' Alexianna assured him.

'Can I ask...?'

'Yes, she is Jonathon's.' Tom assumed that to be her ex-husband, since she never said his name before. 'He left when she was born, the day she was born.'

His eyes widened. 'How...?'

'During the pregnancy, he insisted on finding out the gender, I didn't want to, I wanted a surprise. They told us we were having a boy, and everything was fine, we got ready for a boy.' Tom frowned. 'When she was born...in the delivery room, when they said they had got it wrong, it happens about five to ten percent of the time, well he just left.'

'He left the delivery room?'

'I was in theatre, there were complications, so it was a section birth, and he walked out. When I rang him a few hours later to ask him to bring in the rest of the baby clothes we had bagged for the hospital, he never answered the phone. I got a call at two in the morning, he said not to bother him again. I had clearly been cheating on him.'

'How did he deduce that?'

There was a silence for a moment before she answered him. 'Real men don't have girls, apparently.' Tom's mouth fell open at her words. 'He called me every name I have ever heard and more besides for a whore and that was the last time I ever heard from him. It's been me and Lily since. Daniel picks up a lot of the slack, he came back from abroad to help for a while and everything. Marie was no help.'

'I am so sorry.' Tom only then realised he was on the verge of tears. He thought of the little blue eyed girl, cuddling into her mother, clearly elated to see her home from her day's work and study. He could not fathom a situation where a father would abandon their child based on its gender.

'You didn't do it, he did. She doesn't know about him, she never asks and I never tell. How do I tell her that?'

'And how do you lie and say anything else because then she will start wondering why he is not there and if she tries to find him and he rejects her...' Tom added.

'Exactly.' Alexianna seemed relieved he understood. 'I did plan to tell you, I swear, but it's not like it's the first thing you say to people.'

'Hi, I am Alexianna Hughes, I am a mother, thirty-one and an Aquarius.' Tom put his voice up a few pitches to attempt a female tone causing Alexianna to laugh.

'Yeah, something like that.' Her smile was blatant over the phone. 'Thank you Tom.'

'What for?'

'Your terrible habit of making me smile.'

'I endeavour to do so frequently.' Tom grinned. 'When I get back, could I perhaps convince you to finally have a full cup of tea with me?'

'Always with the tea.'

'I am trying to get a full cup of tea before I work my way up to a dinner.' he felt someone looking at him, turning around, he saw Sarah standing behind him, slightly startled to hear him on the phone. 'Lexi, I am sorry to cut this short, but I am being called back inside. I will ring you when I get back to London, if that's okay with you of course.'

'I will talk to you then, tell your mum and Paul I say congratulations.'

'I will. Bye.' he hung up the phone and looked at his sister. 'Yes?'

'What are you doing?' Sarah demanded. 'If you are stringing her along...'

'You were right.' Sarah paused and looked at him in shock. 'You were completely right. I was being ridiculous and yes, at thirty-one years old, of course, Lexi was going to have a past. And me getting judgemental about it was wrong. Mom had three of us. Lexi only has Lily.'

'That's a really nice name,' Sarah smiled. She looked at her brother. 'What?' Tom shook his head but did not speak, his hands shaking, Sarah well able to recognise the sheer anger in her brother’s expression. ‘Tom, whatever it is, tell me, it will stay between us.’

'If you tell mum or Emma I will never speak to you again.'

‘I swear, on Sophie.'

'Lexi's husband was a prick. He was abusive and manipulative and when Lily was born and he realised she was a girl, he left and never came back.'

Sarah's hand went to her mouth. 'Did you know?'

'When I met Lily, no, she only told me that last bit of information on the phone a minute ago.' Tom revealed. 'I know I should not be talking about it but I have to tell someone.'

'Tom?'

'Who...who abandons a child because it's a girl?' he asked, his frustration finally bubbling to the surface as he paced his mother's garden. 'She is so small, she's a tiny wisp of a thing, as dad would say...and he left them. He left them in the operating theatre and never came back.' again the tears came to his eyes.

'Some people are like that Tom, I don't know what else to say.' Sarah stated, her own voice tight from her emotions on learning such information. 'We can't help the actions of others.' She touched his arm in a comforting manner. 'How did the conversation regarding the situation with Lexi go?'

'She said she understood if I did not want to have kids around, that she knew it wasn't for everyone and that she wouldn't blame me if I did not want any more to do with her.' Tom explained. 'She said she had planned on introducing her properly, that she had not intended to dump the news on me like that.'

'That is very understanding of her. And you are okay with it now?'

'It's not ideal, but I really like Lexi and you were right, she has a past and Lily is here, so I have to accept that or move on, I think I want to try and accept it.'

Sarah nodded sagely. 'Before you go any further Tom, I have to tell you this, because you need to make a properly informed decision.' Tom gave her a concerned look. 'Lily is going to be Lexi's number one priority, no matter what.'

'I know.'

'Your premieres, your jobs, your wants will always come second to her, no matter what.'

'If she was willing to drop her, I would be worried.'

Sarah smiled and nodded. 'Good, as long as you know that.'

'Why do you think like this, you and Yakov...are you alright?'

'Our marriage is fine, it has its ups and downs, they all do, but we are not planning on separating any time soon.' Sarah insisted. 'I have thought about that scenario though, after Sophie was born, I did worry that someday, I could be like mom and yes, I thought about how I would not be able to get someone if they saw I had a daughter.'

Tom was somewhat shocked that Sarah had told him such. 'I never thought...'

'No, we don't, do we? Not when it is nothing to do with us normally.' she sighed before looking back to the door. 'So you actually met her daughter, that's when you first knew about her.'

'The first mention of Lily was when she rushed out of a bedroom and jumped into Alexianna's arms shouting 'Mummy'.'

'That's a bit of a land.'

'It was, yes.' Tom nodded. 'But it explains a lot, her CV gap, her not getting back to college after the accident.'

'Accident?'

'She had a car accident when she was in college, she got banged up and then her husband came along.'

'Then came her daughter and her husband left.’ Tom nodded. ‘Does she talk to her mother still?'

'Her mother blamed her for her marriage failing.'

Sarah scoffed. 'Well, that's fucking rich.'

'I know.'

'At least you don't have to worry about the father getting involved, I bet that makes things more complicated.'

'How do I treat her?' Sarah shook her head slightly, showing him she was unsure what he meant. 'Lily?'

'Like a four year old child obviously. You remember Sophie at that age. Just make sure you don't spoil her to make her like you, that will only make Lexi's life harder.'

'The dog bag.'

'The Paw Patrol, what about it?'

'Everything in the house belonging to her is of that.'

'They focus on something. Sophie was Doc McStuffins.'

'Their home is shit.'

'What do you mean?'

'They live in a bedsit.'

'London is expensive, Tom.'

'But they are probably paying a Holy fortune for that bedsit where some other places they wouldn't have to share a bed.'

'Where is it?'

'Just inside Hampstead Heath.'

'She is playing the location game.' Tom frowned. 'You have to live in certain townland lines to qualify to send your kid to a certain school, Lexi is playing that game, Hampstead has better schools, better funded, fewer delinquency issues, she knew that and got what she could afford in that area to ensure Lily got into a good school, she is very smart.' Sarah explained. 'We did something similar, it's why we sold one house and bought one ten minutes away, it's in a better schooling zone.'

'Makes sense. She just never seems to catch a break.'

'She is not letting what happened to bother her Tom, she has accepted it and rolled with it to the extent that she is able to get up and get to college and raise her daughter right. Don't let it bother you.'

'But they share a bed, their home is tiny.'

'You do realise, a hundred years ago whole families shared beds, right? Not everyone's family could afford private schools and everyone having their own bedrooms.'

'Alexianna was privately educated.' Tom pointed out.

'Yes, she is used to more, I am sure at the beginning it was a slap in the face to her, but she is still kicking.' Sarah smiled. 'Come on, dinner's ready.'

Chapter Text

Tom smiled brightly when he saw Alexianna walking towards him. 'Hello.'

'Hi,' she toyed with some of her hair anxiously. 'How was your mum's?'

'It was wonderful, everyone was asking for you.'

'Emma texted me.' Tom smiled at her expectantly. 'She wants to catch up.'

'Are you okay with that?'

'Yes, I am, I just...I don't know how I will deal with the Jonathon thing.'

'You should be honest.'

'Oh, I will be, I just don't know how she will react and I hate the pity.'

'You don't need pity.' Tom agreed, 'Just tell her, before you mention anything that you don't want pity or other comments, that you just want to tell her and to leave it at that.'

'And Lily?'

'She's your daughter, he may have given her some genetics, but she is not his, she is yours.'

'I don't regret her. I regret him, terribly, but not her.'

I would hope not, she's your daughter.' Tom smiled. 'She looks like you actually.'

'She has blonde curly hair.' She held out some of her own brown hair.

'That's not everything, she has your eyes, your smile.'

'She has paler skin than I am.'

'She's a little English rose. With pale skin, Lily is a perfect name. Though I have to say, people associate lilies with death.'

'I named her after my nan.'

'Oh, I recall, she died when you were about...ten, was it?'

'Eleven, so yeah, about then. It drove Marie mad, she always hated Lily.'

'Anything would drive her mad, that's not a feat.' Alexi laughed. 'Where is she now?'

'Daniel has her, he is going to Scotland again tonight, so he is bringing her to the cinema before he leaves.'

'What will you do for a childminder then?'

'I will have to study more at home, obviously, so less coffee shops, but I'll have to bring her with me once a week to get all the downloading done for my coursework.'

'What about cleaning?'

'I will bring her to the houses. She just sits and plays on my phone or colours. I keep a few DVD's ready to occupy her too.'

'You're incredible.'

'I am trying, nothing more.' She dismissed.

'You are doing an incredible job, Lexi.' He opened the door of the coffee shop. They ordered, Tom insisted on paying and sat in a quiet corner. 'I know you probably don't want to rush into her and I meeting properly, but I got her something, I hope you don't mind.'

'Tom, you don't need too.' Alexianna scolded.

'Please, my niece Sophie, she loves hers so I thought it would be nice, I noticed she has everything in this at your place.' He help out the bag he had been holding. Alexianna took it and glanced inside. 'She's a Paw Patrol fan, right?'

'Fanatic is the only word for it, my head is wrecked with it, thank you, you are too kind.' She smiled, looking at the backpack. 'She is going to want that for school.'

'She is starting in September?'

'Stop, she is growing up too fast. She is going to the one just up the hill from us, I was so happy she got there, it's close and it's good.'

'You moved there specifically, didn't you?'

Alexianna shrugged. 'You have to live in certain areas to get into certain schools.'

'Good move.'

'She'll get a good education there. I mean, it's not what I had, but a normal school in a good area is everything she needs.'

'What is she like? Lily?'

Alexianna gave a small smile. 'She is a good child, honestly, she has been since the start. Happy, energetic, bossy and strong willed.' She smiled fondly as she spoke of her daughter. 'She is perfect.' Tom grinned at her expression. 'She was shy with you there, but she is actually that clingy.'

'She loves her mum, you do everything for her and she knows it.' Tom smiled. 'So she never asks...' Alexianna shook her head. 'Surely she has noticed though.'

'I think she has, but she just says nothing. I really don't know what I'll say when she asks about him. How do you tell a little girl her father didn't want her? But I don't want to lie to her either.'

'I honestly don't know.' He took her hands in his, 'But you are so strong, no matter how you approach it, you will still be the sort of mum she needs.'

'Of course, she is my world.' She bit her lip for a moment. A habit that Tom was starting to realise she had. 'When I realised I was pregnant, I cried. I felt so guilty, I didn't want a baby, I felt as though...'

'He could control you more?' Tom assumed, Alexianna nodded.

'He was happy, so much so it weirded me out. He was rarely happy with anything. I thought maybe this was a new him, that he was going to be nice again. When they said it was a boy, he became even nicer, buying all sorts of toys and clothing, soccer jerseys and everything. I was excited to meet "George" in the end, but when George was actually Lily, I realised he was far worse than I ever imagined. He changed the locks and said my stuff was at a Travelodge. He kept everything he got for the baby. I have no idea what he even did with it, but I don't care. Daniel came, helped me out, spent a fortune on Lily and has spoiled her rotten since. I think that's probably why she never asked; she hears what a dad does and thinks Daniel is enough in that role.'

'It is highly possible. I adore spoiling Sophie, if Yakov ever abandoned her and Sarah, I would be there in a heartbeat for them.'

'Yakov?'

'Sarah's husband.'

'Ah.'

'Yes, I just...I cannot believe that your husband...'

'Ex-husband.'

'Yes, that he would do that. I see Yakov with Sophie, my friends with their daughters, I just cannot understand how the hell the gender matters.'

'If you ever figure it out, please, let me know, because I can't understand it either.' Alexianna shrugged. 'It doesn't matter, because even though I didn't realise it at the time, Lily saved me.' he frowned. 'I wasn't strong enough to leave, she got him to and in doing so, stopped me from doing something terrible. She stopped me from staying. You said how lilies are associated with death, to me, it's the exact opposite.'

'She is incredibly lucky to have a mum like you.' Tom smiled. 'And Marie...'

'She sided with him, of course. It was my fault, it's not that hard to just have a boy.' Tom's brows rose. 'Yeah, as though we get a choice.'

'Boys aren't worth the trouble.' he shook his head. 'Look at me.'

'You had your rough patches, but I doubt your mother would ever say you turned out badly.'

'Not to my face maybe, I gave her enough heartache, I still do from time to time.' Tom sighed. 'We all make mistakes.'

'Who are you telling?' Alexianna laughed.

'I hope you that you feel after a while that I can meet Lily, properly I mean. I know that sometimes it is best to feel things out before doing anything like that.' he tried to not feel like he was pressurizing her.

'I hope so too. I think she would like you.'

'I love her assessment of Hook by the way, about him pretending to be nice makes him all the meaner, she is very astute.'

'You have no idea.' Alexianna laughed. 'If I'm honest, I am half worried about getting her ready to meet you, I am also worried about getting you ready to meet her. You cannot BS her or anything, she is just so smart, she notices tiny little things you never will and she will not forgive you if you lie to her.'

'That's fair enough. I want this to go well, I know she is your paramount concern, if she's not happy, this can't work.'

'So you still want this?'

'Yes, I do. Do you?'

Alexianna paused for a moment before nodding. 'Yes, I do.' her smile was faint but it was honest. 'I got a taxi yesterday.'

'You are so strong and amazing.' she blushed. 'How did it go?'

'I think I had two panic attacks, he must have realised I was insane because he said nothing to me.'

'Well good, not the panic attacks, but the fact you took it, it means you are getting more confident.'

'It's your doing. He wasn't as calm a driver as you are though.'

'I am something special.' Tom winked and laughed.

An hour later they rose from the table. 'I cannot believe we finally finished a cup of tea.' Alexianna joked.

'Yes, hopefully we can make an attempt at dinner soon.'

'You'll need to let me know, I need to arrange a childminder. Weekends are harder for me.'

'Okay, next Tuesday, seven o'clock?'

'Say eight, it would be easier if I put Lily to bed before leaving.'

'Of course, how silly of me. I'll collect you if you'd like?' Alexianna bit her lip. 'Stop that, it's not good for you.'

'You're worse than Dan.'

'Good, if we all keep badgering you, we'll get you out of it.' he smiled encouragingly before looking at his watch. 'It's my turn to dart now.'

'I'll see you on Tuesday so?' Alexianna smiled hopefully.

'If I don't meet you beforehand. But Tuesday is a definite. Let me know if you have babysitting issues.'

'I will.' she promised.

Leaning down, Tom kissed her chastely. 'Goodbye Lexi.' he whispered before turning and leaving.

Chapter Text

Alexianna - Emma, I am not fobbing you off, I swear, but I cannot get a sitter, I can't meet you today.

Emma - Bring her, I want to meet her. I am used to a young child being there, Sarah has Sophie with her all the time. Please.

Alexianna found herself chewing her lip again. She knew Emma would reference Jonathon in some way and she never liked to speak about him with Lily around, so she knew that it would be awkward. But at the same time, she knew sitting at home in a tiny house all day every day was unhealthy, she needed to force herself to talk to people more again and Emma, at least, knew a little about her. So she confirmed she would still be coming and got ready.

Emma beamed as Alexianna walked into the bistro, Lily in tow. She had barely gotten to the table when Emma squeezed her arms around her tight. 'Hello.'

'Hi.' Alexianna gave a nervous smile back. 'You look incredible.'

'How do you look almost the exact same after ten years?' Emma asked. 'Seriously, you look great.'

Alexianna toyed with some hair but did not answer the question. 'This is my daughter, Lily.'

Emma noted the timid way Alexianna spoke but as Tom had warned her, she did not reference it. She knelt down and looked at the little girl in front of her. 'Hello Lily, I am Emma, your mum and I were friends a long time ago.'

'I know, she told me, she has pictures of you in a box. I am Lily and I am four.' she held up a hand with all five fingers out.

'That's five, Lily.' her mother corrected with a small laugh.

'I'm four.' the girl repeated, not phased by the correction.

'Wow, so you are starting school?'

'Yep, in September.'

'You're a big girl so.'

'Of course I am, look at the size of me.'

Emma laughed. 'She is amazing.' she spoke to Alexianna again.

'She really is.' Alexianna looked at her daughter adoringly.

'Come on, let’s get something to eat.'

They sat and talked of different things, how Emma was now a midwife and of Alexianna's degree in PR, the whole time evading the conversation regarding Alexianna's marriage. When finally, Lily became engrossed in her colouring book, Emma looked at her.

'She looks a lot like you.'

'Yes, I get that a lot, paler skin and blonde hair though.'

'Is that from the other side?'

'Yes.' Alexianna gave a grateful smile at the way that Emma evaded mentioning certain things yet found a way to talk about them. 'Tom told you...'

'No.' Alexianna frowned. 'He just said not to mention certain things and with the way you haven't mentioned them, I assume you don't want them mentioned in front of little people.'

'No, certain people don't know anything about these things and until I figure out what to tell them, it's going to stay that way.'

‘Fair enough, but can I ask...are you okay?'

'Yes,' Alexianna knew she did not sound the least bit convincing. 'I am getting there, but I think I am.'

'Good, I'm here if you want to talk sometime.' Lily stuck her little tongue between her teeth in concentration. 'She is so cute.'

'She is.' Alexianna rubbed her daughter's head. 'She is just incredible.'

'She is so good, I mean most kids are going mental after ten minutes, she is sitting here an hour and completely calm.'

'Yes, I was lucky with her.'

'I won't be as lucky when I have one, I think I'll be punished for everything I put mum through.' Lily looked at the other woman. 'You are a great girl, do you help your mum?'

'I have chores and I help mummy with everything, don't I mom?'

'Yes, Princess.'

'See, I told you.'

'She is very confident. I wonder who she reminds me of?'

Alexianna gave a sad smile. 'Yes, it's amazing how much she reminds me of how I used...of me.'

Emma said nothing, just took note of Alexianna's choice of words, she was starting to realise just what Tom was implying concerning their old friend. 'So, you and Tom. That's unexpected.'

'Yeah, we are going to dinner tomorrow, hopefully.'

'Why hopefully?'

'I am half afraid he is going to come to his senses.'

'You know he's had a thing for you since you actually hit puberty and not the whole actual puberty, that's just weird, but the whole started getting boobs and everything.'

'So he said.'

'Really?' Emma laughed. 'Why did he reveal something like that?'

'I assume because I was expecting him to yell out it was a dare or a fleeting moment of madness at any moment.'

'Tom doesn't mess around.'

'Can I ask you something? I know I should really ask Tom, but you know last Summer?' Emma pursed her lips together. 'When he was seeing...'

'What about her?'

'What was that?'

'I have no idea.' Emma answered. 'You're going to have to ask Tom because honestly, I have no clue. We had the family week together, as we always do, the same one I was not allowed bring my boyfriend to before we got engaged and here he is with her and they only together eighteen minutes, if at all.' She shrugged. 'Tom will have to answer that for you, I'm afraid I can't.' Alexianna just nodded. 'Is that a concern for you?'

'Yes.' Emma was startled by her abruptness. 'Lily is going to be something people are going to focus on, I don't want to bring her into something if she is going to be nothing but a fashion accessory to this years 'look at me' collection.'

'Tom's not like that.'

'I can tell you what your niece looks like, do you think I ever wanted to see what she looked like splashed in a paper?' Alexianna challenged. 'I am just worried, it wouldn't be fair on Lily to have someone come in for a short while and leave. Especially when she is old enough to use Google.'

'These are the problems with someone like Tom. I can tell you he would never use her like that, and that he will always be able to think of you first, but that is not something I can make him stick to.'

'I am not stupid, I know what this entails, I am trying to do this for a living, but also I have researched his public persona, extensively and I know that entails, I am willing to try and fit into it all somehow, I am just worried about Lily. I am making an informed decision but is it something she would want if she could decide.'

'I don't know what to say, Lexi, I cannot say what way it would go, but I do not think Tom would do anything like that to her.'

'Daniel has threatened his life if he does.'

'I would believe him.' Emma recalled Alexianna's older brother, he was only five foot eleven to Tom's six foot two, but he had always been far stronger build. He played Prop Forward in Rugby and as such was as wide as he was tall, as some would say. 'Why didn't he end up playing rugby professionally in the end?'

'He took a bad tackle, did a serious number on his neck, then with all that research into repetitive brain injury in NFL players, he decided it wasn't worth it.'

'What does he do now?'

'He works the rigs in the North Sea as an engineer, something to do with extraction or some other thing like that.'

'So no doctor to plump up Marie's ego?'

'No.'

'I am sorry I lost my phone that time, I was talking to mum about it before the wedding, I wish you had been there.'

'I cannot wait to meet Jack,' Alexianna beamed in return, having heard about him in the time they had been talking.

'You'll have to soon.' Emma smiled. 'I need to tell you something, now listen to me before saying anything, alright?' Alexianna frowned but nodded. 'Tom was very concerned at first about Lily and everything, he didn't think properly, but when he did, the first thing he did was ring you, after that he went to mum and Paul and asked them, what sort of things to ask and talk about regarding Lily, and how to help her get used to him.' Alexianna swallowed at hearing the effort Tom was going to. 'He asked Sarah and Sophie about Paw Patrol, did I say that right, and went researching online for the nicest things to get her to try and apologise for how he acted.'

'He was just shocked.'

'Yes, but still, that's no reason to have blanked her.' Emma looked at Lily, who realised the other woman was looking at her and gave a childish wink. 'Okay, seriously, I am stealing her.' She picked up Lily and put her on her lap. 'Do you want to come home with me?'

'No, I love my mommy.' Lily seemed to know it was just a game and laughed playfully.

'Nope, you're mine now.' Emma declared, snuggling her close, loving the sound of giggles as the small girl laughed gleefully at the attention.

'Can I see the man again?' Lily asked her mother when she had settled again.

'What man, sweetheart?' Alexianna asked, not knowing who she was referring to.

'The man that came to our house and gave me the bag, I never said thank you.'

Emma smiled at Lily's happiness when referring to her brother. Alexianna gave a smaller smile. 'Soon love, we will see him again soon and you can say it then.'

'Pinky promise,' Lily held out her finger and Emma almost cooed at the child's innocence as she held out her index finger.

Alexianna looked at the finger worriedly. She had never broken such a promise, but she was fearful of such a one now, knowing it could be broken if things went badly. 'I...'

'Even if things don't work out with you two Lexi, let her see him again to say thanks.' Emma encouraged.

Nodding slightly, Alexianna extended her own finger and did a shake. 'I'll talk to Tom, okay?'

'I like him, he is nice.' Lily satisfied, went back to her fooling around with Emma.

'Good.'

'But why did he kissy kissy you?' Alexianna stared at her daughter silently.

'Wow, she misses nothing, does she?' Emma laughed.

Chapter Text

Alexianna stood inside her front door, having put Lily to bed and the babysitter was settled for the evening. 'Call me if there is any issue.'

'Of course.' the girl smiled, used to Alexianna's worry when she was leaving Lily.

In all her waiting by the door, the moment she had turned her attention elsewhere was when Tom knocked, causing her to jump and the babysitter to laugh. 'That would happen.' She opened the door half laughing. 'Hello.'

'Hi,' Tom looked at her oddly, 'Is everything alright?'

'Yes, I just scared myself.'

Tom gave her a baffled look before he looked down. 'Oh, hello.'

Next to Alexianna's leg was a small child. 'Lily, what are you doing out of bed?' Alexianna looked sternly at her daughter. 'Go back in.'

'No, I want to say hi to the man.'

'His name is Tom.' Her mother informed her again.

'You pinky promised I could say thank you to him for my bag.'

'Yes, but not when it was passed your bedtime.'

Tom knelt down and smiled brightly at the tired child. 'I am delighted that you like it, but your mum did want you to go to bed.'

Lily smiled coyly back at him. 'I like him.' she looked up at her mother.

'Good.' Alexianna looked at Tom, who seemed elated by the declaration. 'But we are going to go out for a while and I will be back later for some cuddles, okay?'

'Will Tom have cuddles too?'

Alexianna bit the inside of her cheeks at that, something so innocent could easily be construed as something more sexual to older people. 'No, Tom and I are just going to have some dinner and I'll be home later, okay?'

Lily eyed her mother carefully. 'I'm going to steal your pillow.'

'That is not news Lil, you do that every night.' her mother shook her head. 'Say goodnight to Tom and go back to bed.'

Lily looked at Tom, who was still down at her level and jumped forward to hug him, bowling him over onto his ass. 'Oops.' Tom chuckled, having made sure Lily was safely against him and not at risk of being hurt.

'Lily!'

'She's fine.' Tom mouthed remembering to not make Alexianna's job any harder with her daughter.

'No, she cannot do that, you could have fallen down the steps.'

'There's two, I'd have lived.' Tom dismissed. 'As long as you're alright, right Lily?' Lily tucked her head into his shoulder and refused to move it. He looked at Alexianna to ask her what was wrong.

'You are about to meet the drama queen.' Was all she said on the matter.

When Lily did pull back, Tom was forced to admit, Lily could easily be an actress and she could be incredible at it. Her eyes were filled with huge crocodile tears, and her face schooled to look as though she was she was in anguish and her bottom lip stuck out. 'Oh, you are good.' he nodded with a smile.

'Yes, she is. Don't feed it or she'll make Hamlet seem like a happy-go-lucky individual.'

Tom smiled. 'You're alright, aren't you Lily?' She nodded, keeping up her acting. 'And I'm okay, so it's okay.' Lily looked at him for another moment before inhaling deeply and skipping back inside cheerfully. Alexianna helped Tom back to his feet. 'She is adorable.'

'She's a little nuisance some days. Are you sure you're okay?'

'I'm fine, I played rugby against Dan, remember.'

'You did not get tackled by him though.'

'No, but I did get tackled, and Lily is not near as big as any of them, she's the size of their arms, what was that guy that played Scrum Half on their team, Tom...'

'Timothy Matthews.'

That guy, I was winded for a week after him.'

'I remember that game.' Alexianna nodded.

'Mommy?'

'Go back to bed Lily.' Alexianna rolled her eyes.

'Are you and Tom going to kiss again?'

'Bed!' Lily giggled and ran into her room. 'We were spotted in the car the other day.'

'Sorry, I didn't...'

'It's fine, you had no idea, I did. It's my own fault.'

'She is incredibly sweet.'

'She's been talking about you a lot.' Alexianna admitted. She turned around for a moment. 'Thanks, Elaine, I'll be back soon enough.'

'Okay.' the babysitter smiled before walking into the bedroom to settle Lily.

Alexianna closed the front door and followed Tom, who put his arm around her waist and guided her to his car. 'You look beautiful by the way.'

'Thanks.' Alexianna had decided to wear some of the only good clothes she had managed to get herself since Jonathan threw her belongings in a hotel, not including some of her better clothes that he had bought so that she "would not embarrass him" when they were married. 'I didn't know where you wanted to go so I had to just...'

'You look amazing.' he held the door of the taxi open for her, noting Alexianna's anxiousness. 'I'm here with you.' he smiled comfortingly. Nodding, she inhaled deeply and got into the car. 'Right, sorry about that.' Tom apologised to the cab driver.

'You're grand, mate, my lad was the same, no matter what time of day or night I met up with herself in the early days, he'd somehow be awake to say hi.' the man dismissed.

Tom found himself smiling at the man's admission that he had been in something of a similar situation, and the reference to the boy as "my lad" told him that it had worked out in some manner. Beside him, Alexianna seemed to be too occupied with her anxiety to take any note of the conversation. 'Hey.' he squeezed her hand gently to get her attention. 'It's okay.'

'I was told before that maybe I should go on something for this, anxiety stuff, but I dunno, I always felt that that isn't actually facing it, it's not real anxiety, it is something I put in my own head, not something else...'

'From what I gather, most people's anxiety is a result of something in their head.' Tom commented. 'But you are doing great without taking anything. I am not a professional, so I cannot say what would be best, but surely to say you are doing this yourself suggests you can do it.'

'I am such a train wreck.'

Tom kissed the side of her head. 'No, you're not. So, tell me how your lunch with Emma went. She loved it, I might as well tell you. I should warn you though, I think she plans on stealing Lily and I don't blame her.'

The meal was pleasant, Alexianna smiled as Tom talked excitedly about several projects in his future and he smiled as she discussed her plans for the next few months, there was never a lull in the conversation as they ate. Tom was delighted to see that Alexianna was not a woman to worry about macros and calories, instead, she ate happily. Several more times, Lily came up in conversation, yet Tom realised that it was not something that took over the conversation or something that Alexianna avoided, she simply just spoke and whatever came up, came up. Tom had witnessed some parents that could not hold a conversation outside of their children, Alexianna seemed to just do exactly what she had before, spoken freely, her daughter was not something she was ashamed of, but an area of her life like many others. She still loved cinema, books, theatre and even scribbled a few short stories herself apparently, though she stated they were as an outlet more than anything and refused to go too far into that conversation. When asked as to their content, she merely stated Elizabethan to the Victorian era. Tom smiled, in their youth, Alexianna had been their history checker. She had always adored history, and somehow had recalled the dates of most monarchs and their deaths when in battle, even at ten years old, that had been something Tom had abused when writing for school during the holidays or weekends he was home, his sister's friend was a handy individual on those days.

When finally the meal ended, Alexianna took out her purse. 'No.' Tom shook his head. 'I'll get it.'

'Not a chance. When have I ever let you pay for my meals?' It was true, even as a teenager, Alexianna had always paid her way, in fact, because she worked while in school, she often was the one to pay for stuff for Emma and Tom, whose mother insisted they focus on their schooling.

'Well, now that you have reminded me, how many pizzas and chips did you pay for when you were a teenager?' Tom grinned. 'I owe you about three years of food.' Alexianna could not argue that. 'So I insist.' He beamed as he took out his card. 'What day are you going to the coffee shop this week?'

'I am thinking tomorrow.'

'Can you wait until Thursday?'

'Yes, I can.'

'Then may I join you?'

'I'll have Lily with me.' Tom swore at forgetting such. 'She really likes you.'

'You have no idea how relieved I am at that.' Tom smiled.

'If you want...never mind.'

'What?' She said nothing. 'Tell me.'

'If you'd like, if you want to get to know her a little better...'

'Is that a little fast?'

'She's not really allowing us to take it slowly though, is she? She is dictating her own introduction.' Alexianna argued.

'I will go with whatever suits you and her on this, I will not impose. I am scared, I will admit, I have never had to try and get a child to like me before. Sophie just is used to me being there from as long as she can remember, I am her uncle, nothing extraordinary, but Lily is the first child outside of that whose opinion I need to genuinely fight for.'

'I'm sorry.' Alexianna swallowed worriedly.

'Lexi, please, please stop apologising for this. You cannot control this, this is my worry.'

'I am worried too though, if she decides that she is not happy, I don't know how to juggle it.'

'There will be no juggling then, if she has a genuine grievance with me, then we will have to accept that, if she just has a day where I don't fawn to her getting an ice-cream, however, I would think that different.'

'Yes, it would be,' Alexianna nodded.

'So, regarding this Thursday...'

'I need to download stuff, I won't be great company.'

'Good, it will give me a chance to ask Lily about the Paw Patrol, I am sure she will be more than happy to have someone new to educate.'

*

'The taxi was a good idea.' Alexianna smiled as they left the small Indian restaurant.

'When was the last time you drank?'

'Not since before Lily.'

'Why not?'

'I am a single mum, I need to look after my daughter, being under the influence is somewhat frowned upon in such situations and having a single glass of wine by oneself is somewhat odd at best, depressing at worst.' Alexianna pointed out as they got into the cab.

'When was the last time you went out for dinner, you and another adult only?'

Alexianna remained silent and thought hard. 'Longer.'

'Did he not...?'

Alexianna gave a cold bark of a laugh. 'No, he was not a man for such things.' she responded. 'I was to be the 'at home' wife. I was not allowed my own money and I was most definitely not allowed go out to dinner with people, unless it was a work due, and then definitely no drinking.'

'That's why you...'

'That's why I didn’t have any registered employment, I had been working cash in hand the whole time through my marriage, when he left, I went on the books then.' she admitted. 'It meant when he left, I wasn't utterly destitute.'

'Why didn't you go back to the house after the hospital?'

'Dan did, to see what the story was, but my keys didn't work and Jonathon wasn't there.'

'I never asked, but Lily, does she have his name or yours?'

'Mine. The day I realised he actually meant it was over, I swapped back to Hughes immediately, she is registered as Hughes and her father's name is not on her birth certificate because he never came to sign off on it, so she is Lily Diana Hughes.' Tom stared at her. 'Yeah, I didn't mention that, did I?' He shook his head. 'When I was sitting alone and terrified in the Travelodge with a small baby and only the few possessions I had, waiting for Dan to come and get me, I thought back to my nan, that's how I got Lily, and then I thought of your mum, who was the greatest inspiration to me, so I gave her that as her middle name, even though I had not seen or heard of Diana in what, seven years?'

'She would be honoured by that.' Tom smiled. 'She will probably cry when she is told. Though be warned, where Emma is threatening to steal Lily, she probably will outright just take her.'

When they arrived at Alexianna’s, Tom got out of the cab with her, requesting for the driver to wait a moment and walked her to the door. 'Thank you, Tom, tonight was...I actually cannot put a word on it, thank you.'

Tom beamed, and with the use of the two steps to elevate her slightly, he kissed her for a moment. 'Now that you have confessed to not getting out enough, I am going to make sure you get out more often.' He promised. 'You were wonderful company and I cannot wait to do this again.'

Alexianna bit her bottom lip, something Tom usually chastised her for, but seeing that for once, it was in joy she was doing it, he said nothing. Instead, he was left somewhat startled when she was the one to lean forward and kiss him, her kiss far less chaste than his had been. 'Thank you, Tom.' he stood and waited for her to go inside before turning back to the cab and giving the driver his own address. When he got to the house, he reached forward to be given a wave of dismissal. 'Your lady friend already paid.' the driver admitted.

'She what?'

'Yep, paid and a ten-pound tip, she told me to tell you that “it's only fair”.'

'When did she even have a chance to do that?'

'Listen, man, when a woman wants to do something, she'll get it done, and that is fact. Have a good night.'

Tom got out of the cab and walked into the house, laughing to himself that Alexianna had been so devious. 'She's still in there.'

Chapter Text

'So, what's her name?'

'Who?' Tom looked at his friend, trying to play innocent.

‘Tom, you have, what can only be called, the largest, shit eating grin I have ever witnessed on your face and you cannot wipe it off, so what is her name?'

'Alexianna.'

'Sounds exotic.'

'She's from Suffolk originally, moved to Oxford when she was seven.'

'So homegrown then?'

'Yes.'

'Tell me a bit about her so?'

'Why?'

'I want to see how serious this is?'

How serious what is?'

You're infatuation.'

Tom shook his head. 'She is thirty-one, she was friends with Emma years ago, but the went out of contact for a while, I bumped into her a few weeks ago at a café shop close to RADA because she is studying in University of London, PR if you're curious and we went to dinner last night and I can honestly say, the crush I had on her when I was twenty-two is nothing in comparison to how I feel about her now.'

'Wow, okay, so that's quite the infatuation then.'

'She is well educated, well read, quiet and all-around incredible person.'

'So what caused a change in careers at thirty-one?'

'She never got to complete it before, she had a car crash a few years back and got side-tracked by life for a while, she has two years of it done now, another one to go.'

'Good for her getting back on the horse.' Ben nodded. 'So when are you showing her off to the world?'

'Not for as long as is possible.'

'Not interested?'

'Not in the slightest. She is a quiet type.'

'So wants to work in PR yet not be public, and decides to date a famous actor?'

'I'm sorry, which of us is married to the woman that is, on every occasion I meet her, giving out that you are an actor because someone is trying to photograph the boys?'

Touché.' Ben conceded. 'I...' He looked to the side to see a small blonde haired girl rushing up to them. 'Hello?'

'Lily?' Tom stared at the little girl who stopped in front of him, beaming brightly. 'Lily, where is your mum?'

'She was looking for her Oyster Card and I saw you so I wanted to say hi.'

Tom looked around frantically, not seeing any sign of Alexianna. 'Sh...Damn.' He corrected himself as Lily looked innocently up at him. 'Lily, where is your mum?'

'I just told you.'

'Yes, I know darling, but where was she looking for her card?'

'At the bus stop.' She pointed randomly outside the window of the restaurant.

Tom looked outside at a bus stop, it was busy but none of those waiting was a short brunette woman. Thinking fast, he pulled out his phone, brought up Alexianna's number and dialed. It only rang once before she hung up on him, so he tried again, and again she hung up. 'She's trying to keep the line free.' he cursed. 'Lily, hold still, Sweetheart.' he took a photo of her and sent it to her mother's phone. As soon as it went through, his phone rang. 'I tried to ring you.'

'Where are you?'

'In Ivy Gardens.'

A moment later, Alexianna rushed in the door, where Tom waved at her and she rushed over, getting on her knees and kissing her daughter's head. 'Lily, why did you run off on me?'

'I wanted to say hi to Tom.'

'Why didn't you tell me?'

'Because you would have said he was busy and to leave him alone.'

'Because he is busy and we do not bother people all the time and we never, EVER run away on our mommies. Do you know how scared I was? I told you before, you can get lost, you can be pushed out in front of traffic, bad people could take you.' She was patting and touching her daughter's face and hair compulsively as she spoke.

Tom knelt down too, seeing that Lily was uninterested in her mother's warning. 'Lily, sweetheart, I am delighted to see you whenever I can, but you have to tell your mum and we have to make sure you are safe, alright?' Lily nodded. 'We only want what's best for you.'

'Yes, Tom.'

'Oh sure, listen to him, ignore me.' Alexianna declared as she tried to calm herself. 'I am so sorry.' She looked at Tom as she spoke. 'I didn't realise you were here, so when you rang...'

Tom pulled her to him, 'It's alright, you were worried about Lily.' he smiled, kissing her temple as he rubbed her arm.

Lily was utterly unphased by the situation, smiled happily at having gotten to see Tom again before looking to the other man that was looking at her mother and Tom curiously. 'Mommy, it's Dr. Strange.'

That got Benedict's attention on her again. 'Yes, I am.'

'Wow.' she stared at him, fascinated. 'Tom isn't Loki now, so leave him alone.' She even extended her index finger as she gave the order.

Tom and Alexianna just laughed as Benedict received a verbal dressing down from Lily, staring in concern as she gave the order. 'Alright?'

'Lily,' Tom pulled her over to him, Lily still eyeing Benedict warily. 'This is my best friend, his name is really Ben.'

'Does he work like you?'

'Yes, I am an actor too.' Ben smiled.

'He seems okay.'

'Only okay?' Tom asked with a chuckle.

'I don't want him to kiss mommy like you do.'

Alexianna buried her head in her hands as Tom licked his teeth. 'Well, if it's any consolation, he has a wife and two children so I don't think he would want to anyway.' he chuckled, looking to Ben who he realised was figuring out what Lily was saying. 'This is Alexianna, the woman I was telling you about.' Tom's arm went around her again, 'And this demon in disguise, is Lily, her daughter.'

'She doesn't even bother to disguise it, the cute exterior is part of it.' Alexianna tried to regulate her breathing. 'Hi.' She gave Ben a small smile.

Ben gave a small nod. 'Hello.' he looked to Tom, who was analysing his reaction, to which Ben glanced at Lily for a moment and back to Tom, who simply shrugged and smiled slightly.

'You mentioned me, but you hadn't mentioned Lily, had you?' He looked to Alexianna, who, though she was looking at Lily, had noticed the silent interaction.

'I was working up to it.' Tom admitted as he rose to his full height again. 'I see what you mean about broaching it.'

'It's not easy.' Alexianna nodded.

Ben eyed the pair's interactions the entire time as well as Lily's, though it was clear that Tom and Alexianna were very much interested in one another, Lily seemed utterly elated to merely be around Tom. 'No, I would imagine not.' he noticed then that was Alexianna was looking at him worriedly, as though concerned as to his reaction to her having a daughter. He tried to give a reassuring smile before Lily walked over to him again. 'You are incredibly independent, aren't you?' he smiled at the young girl.

'Yep.' She replied brazenly, her head high and her chin out, causing him to chuckle.

'But you cannot walk off on your mum.'

'Okay.'

'Has your heart started to beat again yet?' Ben smiled at Alexianna.

'I think it is restarting.'

'I have not had this worry yet, but with my two, I can only imagine it is going to be a case of when not if. Especially with Hal, he is five months old and I can tell, he will have me bald with tufts of grey before I am forty-five.'

Alexianna nodded. 'I am going that way too.' She gave her daughter a small stare. 'I am so sorry to have interrupted your lunch. We better let you get back to it. Lily.'

'No.' She gripped onto Tom's leg, he winced as she physically pinched his skin in doing so.

''Lily, you are pinching him, we will see him tomorrow, remember?'

Lily was reluctant to let go but finally conceded and did. 'Okay.' As with the night before, the crocodile tears came out.

'She is quite the actress.' Ben commented.

'I thought the same.' Tom confessed.

'Yeah, she is good at turning on the waterworks. Come on Madam, we need to get home.' She juggled the bags she had in her hand as well as lifted her daughter.

'Can we take the Tube?' The child pleaded.

'That is two changes Lil, the bus is only one.'

'Please.'

'Fine, come on.' She immediately dropped the broken-hearted persona and waved goodbye to the men cheerfully.

'I'll call you this evening.' Tom promised as he gave her a chaste kiss, Lily stealing a hug as he did so.

'Yeah, you're working until nine, right?'

'Yes, that's not too late?'

No, it's fine. Sorry again to have interrupted you both. As lovely as it is to meet you,' She looked to Ben. 'I wish it had not been under such circumstances.'

'Yes, no doubt we will meet again soon, sans missing children of course.'

'So before the youngest is crawling then?'

Ben laughed. 'Probably, yes.'

'Yes, well, goodbye.' she gave as much of a wave as she could with a child and bags in her arms and left.

When she had left, Tom sat in his seat again. 'Go on.'

'What?'

'I can see it in your face, so just spit it out. Is it Alexianna, Lily or a mix?'

'Well, you could have mentioned the kid.'

Tom pursed his lips, he realised then the concern Alexianna had about Lily and people's judgment his sister and mother spoke of. 'Does it matter?'

'Well, not if you don't let it, but it is still a big deal.'

'Why?'

‘You're kidding, right? Have you not been paying attention, the child ran away from her mother to come in here to you, she ignored her mother and listened to you, she didn't want to leave you. That is serious Tom, if you decide that this isn't working, that little girl is already attached to you.' Tom swallowed. 'Not that it is any of my business, but I don't know if this is a good idea, when her father sees she is elated that her mother has you, he will not make life easy.'

'Her father hasn't given a damn in four years, he left the day she was born.'

'What?'

'As soon as he saw Lily was a girl, he left.'

'Wait, what?'

Tom sighed. 'Alexianna was married, to what can only be described as the epitome of a horrible human being.'

Ben looked at him analytically for a moment, 'Tom, are you sure what you are saying is the truth?'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, are you sure what she told you is the truth, how do you know that is the truth?'

'Why would she lie?'

'Because of a multitude of reasons. Not least because being a single mother is frowned upon. Have a sob story so people don't judge her as badly.'

Tom sighed, 'No, you don't know the girl I knew and the girl that is there now. Even Emma said it, I believe her.'

'I cannot see a man leaving just because a baby is a girl.'

'Because you are a decent man who loves his wife and kids.’

‘I am just saying Tom, you should see if it is true.’

‘How?’

‘I don’t know, if she is telling the truth, then that is just how it is and he is the shittiest human being I have the misfortune to now know exists.’ Ben commented. ‘I just don’t want to see you being made a fool of.’

Tom frowned and said no more on the subject.

Chapter Text

Tom smiled when he entered the cafe, Alexianna and Lily were in the same corner as he came to know her to be in. Lily spotted him first and waved excitedly at him. ‘Hello.’

‘Hi.’ He noted that Alexianna was somewhat upset.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Nothing.’ She looked to the side to Lily for a moment.

Tom said no more as Lily smiled at him. ‘I have a gift for you.’ he handed her a little bag which the child took excitedly.

‘Tom, don’t feel like you have to get her things.’ Alexianna chastised.

‘It’s only a few colours and…’

‘Mommy, a Paw Patrol colouring book.’ Lily beamed excitedly. She jumped over to Tom, ‘Thank you so much.’ she hugged him tightly.

‘You’re welcome Lily.’ he smiled. ‘So, sit down now and colour me a lovely picture.’ She nodded and started. When he looked up again, Alexianna was after going to the counter to get his coffee. When she returned, she smiled. ‘You shouldn’t have.’

‘You pay for our last ones.’

‘I have to ask, how did you pay the cab driver the other day?’

She smiled and shrugged. ‘I am a lot faster than you are.’

Lily’s attention was on her colouring as the adults sat. ‘So, what is it?’

‘The solicitor found him.’

‘And?’

‘He won’t sign.’

‘What?’

‘He won’t sign. Apparently, if he did, I could get back pay for Lily and I could go after him, so he doesn’t want to sign.’

‘So what happens now?’

‘I don’t know. I need to meet with them and find out. He claims she isn’t his, so why would he pay for her?’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be. I was just hoping that I could just get it sorted and be free, I was so stupid to think it would be that easy. Nothing was ever easy with him. It will get sorted though.’ Tom squeezed her hand gently. ‘I’ll get there.’

‘You will.’ Tom reassured her. ‘Where is he?’

‘Isle of Man apparently, the poor island.’ Tom chuckled. ‘His family is from there, so it makes sense I suppose.’

‘It does.’ Tom nodded, ‘I was thinking…’ She looked at him worriedly. ‘I am finished for today, are you?’

‘Yes, I did my downloading and got that email there.’

‘So how about we take Lily to the playground in Regents Park?’

‘I…’

‘Mum promised the next time we went to Regent’s Park we could go to the zoo.’ Lily piped up.

Alexianna nodded. ‘So not today, we are going to go on Saturday.’

‘We can all go.’ Tom’s face lit up.

Alexianna bit her lip. ‘I…if we’re seen…’

Tom sighed. ‘It’s who I am, I wish I could turn off when people notice me Lexi, but if it’s not something you can accept…’

Alexianna just stared at the cup on the table for a moment. ‘Tom.’ He braced himself for her rejection. ‘I need you to be honest.’

‘I promise to be.’

‘Even if it hurts my feelings, please, be honest.’

‘I promise.’

‘Are we a publicity stunt?’ she looked at him, her face was absent of emotion.

‘No, you’re not.’ Her words stung, if Tom was being honest. It hurt that she would ever even ask that, but he understood her concerns also, his mother had warned him of such. ‘Never.’

‘Are we at risk of costing you a role?’

‘Not that I am aware of.’ scanning his mind, any role Tom would consider would not be affected by such. Most every role he had played, his co-stars were parents, in fact, Marvel seemed to be mostly parents at this stage. ‘No.’

Alexianna nodded for a moment again. ‘Please, if we do this, do not buy her anything, promise.’

‘I swear I will not buy your daughter half of the zoo’s gift shop.’ Tom held up his hand as though swearing an oath.

Alexianna nodded again, ‘I guess we’re going to the zoo.’ she shrugged. Lily shrieked with joy at her mother’s words. She looked at the two mugs the adults were drinking from silently, as though she was willing the fluids to disappear, but she said nothing. Alexianna realised Tom had noted this. ‘If she badgers someone after they say they will do something, she doesn’t get it.’

‘Good, too many people with no manners these days, this is a far better way to teach her.’

*

As Alexianna suspected, they were seen, people took photos of all of them and a lot of people rushed over to Tom for autographs and photographs with him. Alexianna was, for the most part, mostly curious as to people’s attempts to interact with Tom at first, most were polite and had nothing but lovely things to say to the actor, that the loved his work, they thought him brilliant in certain roles, that his Golden Globe was well earned, all thoughts Alexianna shared, but some were somewhat hostile when Lily went over to tell Tom that it was time to see the tigers. It came to a head when a girl, who seemed to be about fifteen or sixteen years old, physically pushed Lily away. Alexianna stepped in, seeing that Tom could not see the incident with his back turned, and collected up her daughter. ‘Be careful.’ She growled at the girl, who looked at Lily and Alexianna as though they were filth.

‘Why is she even near him?’ she scoffed in return.

‘Because unlike you, her company is something he actually wanted today.’ Alexianna retorted before walking off. ‘Are you okay?’ She checked over Lily.

‘My hand is sore.’ she sniffled as she showed her dirtied hand to her mother indicating she fell on it. Alexianna brushed off the dirt and kissed it.

‘Better?’ Lily nodded. ‘Come on, we’ll go see the tigers.’

‘But what about Tom?’

Alexianna looked around to see more people swarming around Tom, ‘Tom is busy at the moment.’

Tom, however, was starting to get annoyed. ‘Please, I am just here for a quiet afternoon,’ he insisted as the girl who had shoved Lily put a camera phone in his face. He turned to look around and noticed Alexianna carrying Lily, who was looking back at him sadly, as they walked off. ‘Lexi?’

‘Why are you bothering with some tramp and her brat?’ the girl demanded.

Tom looked at her in disgust. ‘Excuse me?’ her face fell as anger filled his features also. ‘What way is that to speak about anyone?’ he walked off and rushed after Alexianna.

‘It serves you right for pushing the kid.’ he stopped and looked around again as one of the girl’s friends scoffed at her.

Horrified at the idea that someone had hurt Lily, he ran after Alexianna. ‘Lexi?’

‘Mommy, Tom is calling you.’ Lily informed her.

‘Yes, I am not deaf.’

‘So why aren’t you waiting for him?’ Alexianna did not respond. ‘Mommy, stop, Tom is calling us.’

‘Just stop Lily.’ Lily began to squirm in her mum’s arms. ‘Lily!’

‘No, Tom wants us.’

‘Tom is busy.’ she argued. Lily thrashed, even more, meaning Alexianna was forced to put her down before she fell. ‘Lily!’

‘No, Tom wants us.’

‘He does not want us, Lily, if he did, he would be here, but he’s not, so stop.’ Alexianna declared loudly. Lily looked at her mother, her heartbreak clear on her little face. ‘I’m sorry Lil’s but…’ she shook her head. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Alexianna.’ She turned to see Tom behind her, ‘Lexi...I…’

‘Just go back Tom, this was a terrible idea, I’m sorry I wasted your time.’ she went to pick up Lily again. In her hurt, Lily did not fight her.

‘Alexianna, please.’ Tom pleaded, all too aware of the fact they were in public. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘I should never have allowed this, I don’t know why I ever agreed to this.’ she kept her voice low, but Tom could clearly see she was very much upset and angry. ‘I was selfish, I should never have put my wants before Lily’s needs. Dan was right.’

Tom frowned. ‘You’re wrong.’ she looked at him. ‘I do want you, both of you.’ he walked over and looked at Lily. ‘Lily, I am so sorry that girl hurt you. It was my fault that she did it.’

‘Did you tell her to push me?’

‘No, darling, I would never hurt you intentionally, but if I had not been there, she would not have done it.’

‘She wasn’t nice.’

‘No, some people are not nice. I told her off for hurting you.’

‘Can we go see the tigers now?’

Tom looked to Alexianna, who refused to look back at him. ‘I think it’s time we go see the tigers.’ He extended his hands to offer Lily over to him, the child accepted immediately. ‘I have an idea.’ he put her on the ground for a moment, turning her around so that she had her back to him and put her on his shoulders. Lily screeched in joy.

‘That’s not a good idea.’ Alexianna commented, looking at the pair.

‘Why?’ Tom asked worriedly.

‘She’s going to get altitude sickness.’

Tom laughed and with one arm securing Lily’s two legs so she could not fall backward, he pulled Alexianna against him with the other. ‘I’m sorry.’

‘It wasn’t your fault.’ Alexianna dismissed.

‘I do want you, if you’ll have me?’ Tom looked worriedly she would not want a repeat of earlier.

‘Warts and all.’ she leant against him. ‘But if someone touches my daughter again…’

‘I will post your bail.’ Tom promised. ‘You are so timid with a lot of things, but Jesus when it comes to Lily…’

‘I have to, I am her mum, I need to protect her.’

‘You are an incredible mother.’ Tom kissed her head before looking at a sign ahead of them. ‘Now, what does that sign say?’

‘TIGERS!’ Lily bounced up and down on his shoulders as the striped cats came into view.

*

Alexianna gently took Lily from Tom’s arms, she was bemused that though she insisted no buying Lily anything, after the girl pushing her, Tom insisted he get her something to apologise, and now Lily had a small tiger figurine which she was clinging too tightly, even in her sleep. Alexianna put her in her bed and put the blanket over her before closing the bedroom door.

‘So, crazy fangirl aside, I think today went well.’ Tom smiled.

‘Yes, it did I suppose.’ Alexianna half agreed. ‘What is being said online?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Tom?’

‘It doesn’t matter, Lexi, we know the truth.’

Alexianna ignored him and took out her phone, typing his name into the Google search bar before scanning through several headlines. He silently stood watching her reaction. ‘As good as can be expected.’ Tom frowned. ‘I’m not stupid Tom, I knew some people would accuse me of being a tramp, others a gold digger, you are trying to stay relevant and I think my personal favourite is childhood lover you married and have a daughter with and tried not to let anyone know about.’

‘Wait, they think that?’

‘Blonde, curly-haired, blue-eyed girl. She does have some traits similar to yours, so they will assume she is yours.’

‘Sadly not.’ Alexianna looked at him in confusion. ‘She is so sweet and good, she is intelligent and fun and her father wants nothing to do with her. She doesn’t deserve that, she deserves a father that will spoil her and bring to different places to expand her little mind. A father who will read to her and actually care about her. I...if she had been mine, I would have her sick of my voice by now.’

Alexianna gave a sad smile. ‘It is what it is.’

‘I wish, that summer, rather than running off, I had the courage to actually do something.’

‘I was seventeen, we wouldn’t have lasted.’

‘But she might have been mine.’ he leant down and kissed her. ‘Lexi…’

‘We can’t, she could wake up.’ she warned.

‘I know.’ Tom acknowledged, his frustration clear.

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t you dare apologise.’ Tom warned, ‘I want this to be a proper relationship, I don’t want someone only interested in sex, I am too old for meaningless flings, I want someone who wants me, who if my hairline recedes, if Hollywood casts me aside, will still want to talk to me about Wilde, Yeats, Shakespeare and many more besides, who will tell me to get over myself when I get over excited at the tennis and sit in and watch tv with me as I wolf a pack of hobnobs.’

‘Chocolate hobnobs, right?’

‘You remember.’ Tom grinned.

‘I craved them with Lily. I must have single-handedly eaten about ten packets in one weekend when I was about halfway. No wonder my belly was huge.’

‘I would wager it was not as big as you thought you were.’

‘No I was, I was huge.’ Alexianna assured him.

‘Do you have a photo?’ Alexianna looked at him appalled. ‘Sarah has a few, I think it’s nice to have.’

‘No, I don’t. I...I did not like it.’

‘Did he…?’

‘I was a whale, I was disgusting, I…I never got to enjoy it, I wanted to be happy, I went to the hospital for my check-ups and there were so many women there, they were happy and excited...I wasn’t. As I said already, I was expecting the Jonathan I knew was there under it all. He wanted his son, he was not overly pleased with how fat I got.’

‘You didn’t get fat, you had a small little human growing in you, that is incredible.’ she had tears in her eyes. ‘He took so much from you.’ Tom played with her hair, ‘don’t fret about him now.’ she kissed him. ‘You have to stop being so good at that.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I am having trouble with circulation.’

Shyly, she looked down, sure enough, the front of Tom’s pants was tenting out slightly. She bit her lip as her eyes widened. ‘Wow.’

‘You are doing terrible things to me,’ He grinned as he kissed her again. ‘I need to stop now, before I am very bold.’

‘Fine.’ Alexianna groaned, pulling back. ‘Tea?’

‘Please.’ Tom felt his phone vibrating and took it out of his pocket. Looking at the message and accompanying work, he frowned.

‘Is it about today?’ Alexianna asked from the kitchenette, seeing his brows furrow.

‘She really did shove Lily roughly.’ Tom commented.

‘I told you that.’

‘But maliciously.’

‘Yes.’

Tom looked to the bedroom door, knowing that inside, Lily was fast asleep. ‘Who could do that to a little girl?’

‘That bitch, apparently.’ Alexianna sighed.

‘What did you say to her?’ Alexianna frowned. ‘It’s clear you said something in the pictures.’

‘She demanded to know why Lily wanted to be around you, or you us, I cannot remember which and I replied along the lines of you actually wanted our company today.’

‘I am so sorry. I left you alone when I got caught up in things.’

‘It’s fine.’

‘No,’ Tom walked over to her. ‘Not it’s not Lexi, you are not something to be cast aside, you are a human being with feelings and emotions and you deserve to feel loved and as though you matter. No one should ever cast you aside.’ Tom stated firmly. ‘Not even me. I can only apologise and swear to not repeat my mistake.’

‘It’s fine.’

‘Stop saying it is. You know I heard what you said to Lily, that if I wanted you I would have been there, I saw how heartbroken the whole thing made you, stop dismissing yourself, your opinions matter Lexi, you matter.’ Tom demanded.

‘What do you want me to say?’

‘Your true feelings. That you were hurt I did not put in the effort, that I disappointed you. That I was selfish, wrong, anything.’

‘I didn’t mind for a while, but they just kept coming, and they started getting rude.’

‘Yes, I know and that is completely unfair and unacceptable. You have no idea how angry I am for what she did to Lily. if it is any consolation, by the way, there is a huge argument online about it.’

‘What scares me is there is a side arguing it is okay.’

‘Well, yes, that is a concern.’ Tom conceded. ‘They are the small group that are okay with stalking usually.’ Alexianna handed him his tea. ‘I know you think it is easier to not argue, but please Lexi, be honest with me, if you are mad, be mad.’

‘I am tired.’ she admitted. ‘I am so tired of being everything, hiding everything, I just…’ she shrugged. ‘I have been forcing myself to be more assertive recently, and I am exhausted from it.’

‘It is hard to change.’

‘I want to be more assertive, but I am just so jaded and I am worried I come across as a bitch.’

Tom laughed. ‘You need to be a bit of one in this life.’

Chapter Text

 

‘Hello.’ Tom yawned as he answered the phone to his friend.

 

‘I’m not waking you at this hour, am I? It’s what? Three in the afternoon there?’

 

‘Late rehearsals last night.’ Tom groaned. ‘I dozed off on the couch there. How’s filming?’

 

‘Coming together well.’ Chris smiled. ‘How about you, how is Paw Patrol treating you, have you a favourite yet? I like Marshall myself.’

 

‘What? How…?’

 

‘There are news outlets outside of Britain you know, and plastered on every last one of the entertainment sections, the front story is “Stepdad of the year, Tom Hiddleston” and a picture of you with an adorable little girl on your shoulders wearing head to toe Paw Patrol.’

 

‘I have not watched it, yet. But I will, I know it.’

 

‘It’s better than most other kids programmes.’

 

‘Seems like it has a thousand things for it though. Lily always seems to pull out another toy anytime I think I have seen them all.’

 

‘Is Lily the mum or the daughter?’

 

‘The daughter.’

 

‘So, what is mum’s name?’

 

‘Alexianna, why?’

 

‘They seem nice, you seem happy in the picture, like they center you, ever think of adding one of your own?’

 

‘I literally just started dating her, I think if there was talk of another this early, she would run for her life.’

 

‘A lot of guys do that if you notice? Not ten minutes in the door and she is pregnant with a second.’

 

‘Can’t say I pay too much attention to it.’

 

‘You’re part of the club now according to Renner, Evans is pissed, the only member of the original crew that isn’t a parent. He lost the bet.’

 

‘Lily isn’t mine though.’

 

‘What does DNA matter these days? I saw the pictures, she is looking at you the same way India looks at me. How old is she, she looks about India’s age.’

 

‘She’s four.’

 

‘I was right. Are you sure she’s not yours, she looks a little like you.’

 

‘Considering I have never slept with her mother, I am fairly certain.’

 

‘Really? You haven’t slept with her and you are out in public like that, how long is this going on?’

 

‘A month.’

 

‘That’s fast.’

 

‘It just sort of happened.’

 

‘Well, it’s different when there are kids involved.’

 

‘I had noticed.’ Tom chuckled.

 

‘I cannot wait to meet her when we are in London for the premiere.’

 

‘Yeah.’ Tom frowned, sounding uncertain.

 

‘You are bringing her to the premiere, aren’t you?’

 

‘I never asked her and I don’t know if that is her sort of thing.’

 

‘She seems nice. Where’s the father?’

 

‘Why does everyone ask that? It is one of the first things people are asking me.’

 

‘Well, since there's a kid, someone had to have fathered it, it is something people are going to ask, often.’

 

Tom could almost see Chris shrugging. ‘He’s not around.’

 

‘Dead or dead-beat?’

 

‘The latter.’

 

‘Too many of them around these days.’

 

‘Can I ask you something?’

 

‘Shoot.’

 

‘When you and Elsa found out India was a girl, were you happy?’

 

‘Tom, I did not even hear the gender, all I heard was that the baby was safe and healthy and that if it kept growing at that rate, it would be a little whopper, outside Elsa was the one to tell me we needed to get some pink.’ Chris revealed. ‘Why?’

 

‘Just something that crossed my mind.’

 

‘Do I want to know?’

 

‘Not really.’

 

‘So there are no more little sprites arriving?’

 

‘I just told you I never slept with Alexianna.’

 

‘If you’re sleeping, you’re doing it wrong.’ Robert shouted from the background.

 

‘You have no class, Downing.’ Renner joked. ‘And you’re wrong, Rubble is the best, or he was this morning when I left for work.’

 

‘I better go here, I have to get a shower, I am meeting Alexianna and Lily for an early dinner.’

 

‘Alright, talk to your girlfriend about the premiere.’ Chris encouraged.

 

‘I will talk to her, but I won’t force her into anything.’ Tom commented.

 

‘Make sure she sees the gorgeous dress some designer will throw at her, that usually works with Elsa.’

 

‘Not all women are enticed by designer dresses.’

 

‘Yes, they are, every woman does actually want to look good, whatever their version of good is and there is a dress designer for every version of that.’ Chris laughed before hanging up his phone.

 

*

Alexianna - Hey Tom, I cannot meet today, something came up, sorry.

 

Tom looked at the text on his phone. She had sent it only half an hour before they were due to meet, so he was concerned that she had decided against it as a result of their last outing. So he decided to ring her instead.

 

‘Hello?’

 

‘Lily?’

 

‘Hi, Tom!’

 

‘Hello, sweetheart, where is your mum?’

 

‘Giving out to the man.’

 

‘What man?’

 

‘The man that said he would fix our water.’

 

‘What is wrong with your water?’

 

‘It is very very cold. Mommy hasn’t been able to give me a shower this week and she is cold anytime she takes a shower. She said it is broken and the man won’t fix it.’

 

Tom thought for a moment. ‘Okay darling, tell your mum I rang, okay?’

 

‘I will.’

 

Tom hung up and thought to himself for a moment. Smiling, he grabbed his car keys and jacket and left the house.

 

‘Honestly, I don’t know why I bother.’ Alexianna growled as she went to her front door, wondering who could be annoying her now. She opened it, not knowing who or what to expect. ‘Tom?’

 

‘Hey.’

 

‘What are you doing here?’

 

‘I rang you about twenty minutes ago.’

 

‘Did you, I have been up the walls, I sent you a text, I'm sorry.’

 

‘I know, I got it.’

 

‘Then…’

 

‘I rang to see if I could help and Lily told me you are without hot water for a few days.’

 

‘Yes, the boiler went on Monday, the plumber is giving me excuses and fobbing me off all week and now it’s Friday evening and he’s off until after the Bank Holiday along with every other plumber in London and my daughter has screeched like a banshee because I have only been able to wash her hair in a sink with cold water this week.’ She ranted.

 

Tom held her against him and kissed her head. ‘Get a bag, put some clothes in it for yourself and Lily, and whatever else you need.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘You are staying in mine for the weekend, hot water and everything.’

 

‘No.’

 

‘I am not interested in no, you need warm water for your daughter, for yourself. I have a spare room, you both can sleep in there together, I am not doing this for any other reason but to help you both.’

 

Eyes darting side to side for a moment, Alexianna looked around to see Lily behind her, her tiger toy in hand. ‘Okay.’ She nodded, making room for Tom to come in. He walked in and looked at her boiler, which the plumber had left open, something Tom was certain was dangerous. ‘We’ll be a few minutes.’

 

‘Take as long as you need.’ Tom encouraged. When they were gone into the room, Tom took out his phone and photographed the boiler. ‘Just in case.’ He stated to himself.

 

He walked from the kitchenette towards the bedroom again. ‘Don’t forget your blanket.’

 

‘Why are we staying at Toms?’

 

‘Because I am freezing, the house feels damp and you have not had a much of a wash this week.’ Alexianna retorted. ‘You cannot bring the whole Paw Patrol Lily, be reasonable.’

 

‘Yes, she can, she will need to occupy herself somehow, there is nothing in mine, so both of you, chop chop.’ Tom smiled as he gave orders. A moment later, a scowling Alexianna peeked around the door. ‘Now missy.’  She lasted only a moment before laughing at him, Tom smiling with her.

 

Finally, with a few toys and clothes in hand, the trio made their way to Tom’s car. ‘Your car, Lily can’t…’ She silenced when Tom smiled at her and raised his hand.

 

‘Already taken care of.’ He walked around to the boot, “put in your bags.’ He ordered before taking out something else.

 

‘Why have you a booster seat?’

 

‘Sophie is under the legal height too, safety first.’ He smiled, putting the seat in the car. ‘Now darling, in you get.’ He popped Lily into the seat and tied the belt. ‘You haven’t been in many cars before, have you, Lil?’ She shook her head. ‘Well, you are not allowed take off your seat belt, no matter what, alright?’

 

‘Nope, seatbelts save lives.’

 

‘That’s right, they do.’

 

‘Just like mommy’s.’

 

‘Exactly like Mommy’s.’ He smiled. ‘So you stay sitting there, it will only take ten minutes.’

 

‘Okay.’ Lily sat excitedly in her seat.

 

Tom went to the driver’s seat and got in. ‘Don’t be nervous, if you are nervous, she’ll get nervous and you will get more nervous and there is nothing to be nervous about.’

 

‘Why do you think I am trying to not hyperventilate.’ Alexianna stated between deep breaths.

 

‘It’s fine love, just breathe.’ Tom took her hand and gave it a small squeeze before turning on the car and driving.

 

Chapter Text

Lily looked around in awe, she had never known a house so big. Tom looked sadly at her. He had been to the house her mother had grown up in, it was smaller than their house, but big enough nonetheless, Alexianna never was stuck sharing her space and she had a reading room she had just for herself, instead of a flat that was the size of his kitchen.

‘Tom,’ He looked to Alexianna to show her she had his attention. ‘She needs to know the rules.’

‘Rules?’

‘To your house.’

‘Alexianna, there are no rules, it’s a house, not a prison.’

‘But every house has rules.’

‘No, they don’t.’ he walked towards her, seeing her mind’s conflict with the words she was hearing. ‘Lexi, I have no rules in my home.’

‘But your room…your belongings.’

‘I cannot see what would interest her in my room, but there is nothing there to worry about, I am not a secret drug user or anything, I don’t have a couple of grams of cocaine in there.’

‘But she needs rules.’ Alexianna exclaimed frantically.

Tom paused, realising that the part of Alexianna's mind in control at present was basing her logic on the fact she only ever known such outlines in life. Marie was incredibly strict, as was her husband, of course, in her mind, every home had rules. ‘Okay, no at my room, no into the back kitchen because of cleaning chemicals and no climbing on the furniture, is that alright?’

Alexianna nodded, satisfied to have some boundaries for her daughter. ‘Kids need rules, Tom.’ was all she said before going towards the living room again.

‘I’ll show you to the spare room.’ Tom put his arm around her, Alexianna followed his lead up the stairs with their bags. ‘The main bathroom is across here and you two lovely ladies can have this room.’ Tom opened the door. ‘Sarah was in town for a conference last week so she was in here, the sheets were changed after she left.’

‘Thank you.’

He leant down and kissed her. ‘Lexi, please make yourself comfortable, you don’t need to worry.’

‘If Lily or I…’

‘If Lily was to take the Golden Globe and throw it through the front window, it is only stuff, it can be repaired. I would be worried why she would do it, but it’s not the end of the world, it is only for the weekend until you two have hot running water again.’

‘Any running water?’ Tom frowned. ‘The asshole shut off the mains and jammed it, that’s why he was not able to get the job done this evening.’

‘Are you serious? How were you supposed to even get something to drink?’ Tom became angered. ‘What company is it?’

‘I dunno, I just Googled them.’ Alexianna took out her phone. ‘Here’s his number, and…’ SHe got up the internet page, ‘Here they are.’

‘Those pieces of…’

‘You know that company?’

‘I don’t, but Ben has had serious issues with them in the past too. On Tuesday, we are getting the guy I got to do my kitchen to take a look at your place, alright?’ Alexianna just nodded. ‘Leaving a mother and child without water for a long weekend, the absolute…’ Tom had left the room for a moment ‘Okay, new rule, no four-year-olds on the stairs by themselves.’

‘Lily!’ Alexianna ran out to get her daughter.

*

‘Come out Lily.’ Alexianna could not be as angry as she wanted to sound with her daughter. Lily had never had a bath in a proper full sized one before and she was adoring the experience.’ She had taken a bath as her mother showered, both relishing the hot water. Alexianna's skin was pinkened from the heat she had used, not wanting to get out.

‘But it is so much fun, Mommy. I never want to get out.’

‘You have to, the water will get cold eventually.’ she smiled, patting her hair dry. ‘Lil.’ Alexianna could see there was something Lily wanted to say to her.

‘I like Tom, Mommy.’

‘I know Princess, I do too.’

‘He makes you smile and get in cars.’

‘Yes, he does.’

‘Do we live here now?’

‘No, we are just staying until we get the plumber again on Tuesday.’ Lily’s face fell, ‘Lil, this is not permanent, we have our own home.’

‘This one is better.’

‘But it’s not ours. We have a home, Lily.’

‘I like Tom’s more.’ She pouted.

‘I don’t blame you.’ Alexianna grumbled under her breath. ‘Out madame, we need to get you dried.’

After fighting with Lily to get her out of the bath, the pair dried and dressed, Alexianna fighting for a moment to get Lily to dry her hair, but she fought the process the entire time. Getting the greater wet out of her daughter’s hair, Alexianna decided to call quits on her battle and instead head downstairs again.

As soon as she opened the bedroom door she moaned at the smell that greeted her. ‘Yummy.’ Lily bounced up and down with happiness as they descended the stairs to the ground floor.

‘Hello ladies, I never asked, are either of you allergic to anything?’ he smiled.

‘Not that we know of.’

‘’How does spaghetti bolognese sound?’

‘Please Tom, don’t put yourself out.’

‘Please, nothing. I like to cook.’ He smiled.

‘Do you have garlic bread?’ Lily asked curiously.

Tom’s smile fell. ‘Oh…’

‘Mommy…’ Lily looked at her mother expectantly.

‘Have I messed up?’ Tom asked worriedly.

Not at all, you used garlic in that, right?’ She pointed to the bolognese.

‘Yes, I have more.’

‘Perfect, and butter?’

‘Fridge.’

‘Flour?’ Tom got it out for her. ‘Give me a hot pan and fifteen minutes.’ she smiled.

Tom watched as Alexianna moved around, happily making something. ‘Did you enjoy your shower?’

‘Yes,’ Alexianna sighed in a manner that caused Tom to have to calm himself, he was realising that of late, being around Alexianna was getting more difficult, their closeness and affection had made him yearn for her in other ways. ‘Thank you.’

‘Your sleeve is going to get destroyed.’ Tom noted as he watched her work.

‘It’s fine.’ she dismissed. When a splash of flour went on it, she cursed to herself.

‘Lexi?’

‘Mommy doesn’t let anyone see her arm, she thinks it looks bad.’ Lily piped up from her seat at the kitchen table where she had begun drawing, but not looking away from the drawing itself.

Tom looked at Alexianna, who looked at him guiltily. ‘Lexi, please, don’t…’ he walked over and gently took her right hand, holding the sleeve with one hand, her hand with the other. He began to pull back the sleeve, unsure of what to expect, her gaze on him as he did so. Lily’s use of “She thinks” and no ”because it is bad”, told him it was not as bad as Alexianna’s reaction would make one assume. By the time he got to her elbow, all that met him were a few silver marks of old scars on her skin, most seemed to have been shallow and small, and two large ones, where clearly a large portion of glass or surgery was performed. As Alexianna watched in terror, he lifted her arm up and gently pressed his lips to the two larger scars, not taking his eyes off hers. ‘I have seen a lot worse.’

‘I…’

‘It is nothing.’

‘I was told before by a nurse that I must have been harming myself, they look like that.’

‘Did you?’ she shook her head. ‘Well then, with all due respect, that nurse was talking out of her arse, wasn’t she?’ Alexianna gave a small smile. ‘Now, tell me what it is you are adding to our meal.’ he wrapped his arm around her.

‘Griddle bread, which we are going to add garlic and butter too, to make our own garlic bread.’

‘That actually sounds divine.’

‘It’s delicious.’ Lily agreed.

‘Yes?’ Tom walked over and looked at the drawing she was doing. ‘Well now, aren’t you the little artist?’

‘That’s me,’ Lily pointed to the yellow-haired stick figure she had drawn, ‘that’s mommy, that’s uncle Danny,’ She pointed to two other figures.

‘Who is giving you the piggyback?’ Tom pointed to the last figure on the page.

‘That’s you, silly goose.’ Lily laughed.

Tom paused, taking in the picture and Lily’s words. He looked to Alexianna, who was watching for his reaction. ‘I like how you made me taller than everyone else.’ Tom ruffled her hair. ‘It’s a wonderful picture.’

‘I’m not finished yet, I need to put in my tiger.’ she held up the tiger Tom had gotten her.

‘I cannot wait to see it all when it is done.’ He went to ruffle her hair again but pulled back and walked off. He walked into his back garden and inhaled deeply as he put his hands behind his head.

‘Tom?’ he turned to see Alexianna standing behind him. ‘Would you rather we leave?’

‘What, no.’ he walked over to her.

‘I tried to talk to her, I know she is overbearing, I am sorry.’

‘No, it’s not that...it’s...I keep thinking about what he did, leaving her, and every minute I am around her...I...I find myself adoring her more and more. She is so innocent and accepting. In two months, she has embraced me into her world unrestrainedly and without any form of resistance, she...she deserves the world.’

‘I know.’ Alexianna nodded. ‘The moment I saw her, I apologised because she was not what he wanted. The moment I held her, I fell in love.’

‘I...I am so scared that I do something wrong, that she will no longer want me in her world, or that I am not able to be there and she does want me.’ he looked at Alexianna fearfully. ‘I never…Before this, I knew what it was like to fall in love, I knew that, but that was with a woman, this time, I am falling for you more and more, and while that is happening, there is a part of me that adores that little girl more and more. I want to protect and look after her.’ he blurted out. ‘I cannot explain it.’

Alexianna just nodded. ‘She is like a little bug that gets into your skin.’

Tom chuckled, ‘She is not a parasite.’

‘You haven’t seen her eat a dinner.’ Tom’s brow furrowed at that.

Chapter Text

The meal was delicious, and Tom realised what Alexianna meant. Lily sat on her lap or on her chair for the most of it, and though there was food just for her on her plate, she ate only from Alexianna’s. Tom offered some wine, but Alexianna declined, she felt it wrong to drink even a little around her daughter, Tom merely accepted that and then declined to have some himself also. ‘You don’t have to, it is just something I do.’ but he said he was choosing to do it himself putting an end to the conversation.

Lily, though excited by her new surrounds and Tom’s company for an extended time, was exhausted and soon asked to go to bed. Alexianna readied her quickly, but when she went to put her to bed, Lily ran over to Tom, giving him a tight hug. ‘Night Tom.’

‘Goodnight darling, I will see you in the morning.’

She kissed his cheek and giggled at the feel of his facial hair before darting over to her mother. ‘His face is tickly.’ she declared.

‘Come on, or the Gruffalo will be alone for bed tonight.’ Horrified Lily bolted for the door.

‘The Gruffalo?’

‘The Gruffalo, why didn’t you know?’ She smiled, leaving the room. Tom had absolutely no idea what a Gruffalo was, curious, he followed after them. He stood outside the door of the bedroom, listening to the story taking place inside.

‘The fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked…’

‘Good.’ Lily piped in.

‘Where are you going to, Little Brown Mouse?’

He listened to the story, smiling as it continued; Alexianna, using different voices for the different characters, going high and squeaking for the mouse and low and gruff for the Gruffalo as well as the other creatures. When finally, she finished, she hugged and kissed her daughter goodnight before promising to come back into her soon and left the room. She turned and smiled, having known he would be outside the room, listening. ‘I’ve never heard that story.’

‘She loves it.’

‘It’s fun.’

‘It is.’

‘Where’s the book?’

‘At our place.’ Tom frowned. ‘Two years, I know it off by heart for two years.’ she smiled.

‘You’re an incredible mother.’ Tom slid his arms around her waist. ‘Thank you, for dinner.’

‘You cooked the dinner, not me.’

‘You added to it.’

‘Thank you for letting us stay.’

‘Of course, how could I not?’

‘We are not your problem.’

Tom growled slightly, ‘You are not a problem Lexi, do you understand?’

‘Why do you still call me Lexi?’

‘Do you want me to stop?’

‘No, please, don’t.’ He gave her a smile. ‘I missed it, I never realised, but I missed it so much.’

Tom toyed with her hair. ‘Then Lexi stays.’

‘It sounds a bit young though, doesn’t it?’

‘You’re thirty-one.’

‘I’m old.’

‘If thirty-one makes you old, what am I?’

‘Decrepit and ancient.’ She joked.

‘I’ll show you decrepit.’ he growled, gently pushing her against the hall wall and hoisting her up before kissing her passionately. ‘I could kiss you forever.’

‘Likewise.’she bit her lip as she looked at into the blues of his eyes, noting the several shades that made up the irises.

Tom spent the time she was looking at him to do the same with her, noting that her eyes were a mix of blues and greys with a small tinge of an amber or green on the edge of one. ‘Your eyes are different.’

‘I know.’

‘Unique, just like you.’ he smiled.

‘Or just odd.’

‘Unique.’ he growled. ‘I was thinking...movie?’

‘What kind?’

‘What are you in the mood for?’ Alexianna shrugged. ‘We’ll see what’s there.’

As he readied for bed, Tom thought about how the evening fared. Alexianna had fallen asleep during the film against him, her breathing soft and even. When she woke, she apologised profusely, to which Tom had to spend five minutes calming her, as she went close to having a panic attack. When she settled again, she seemed to get embarrassed and said she was heading to bed. With a kiss to his cheek, she rushed off.

He forgot his phone charger from downstairs, so he went to retrieve it, noting that the door to the room Alexianna and Lily were in was open. Thinking that Alexianna had gone downstairs, he found it odd that when he went down, the house was in darkness. He got his charger and walked back up, to see the door was still slightly ajar. He walked over and peeked in, noting the lamp was on. He felt himself smile as he looked at Alexianna and Lily asleep inside, Lily curled up close to her mother. Pulling the door closed, he left them to rest.

The next morning, Tom woke as per usual before pausing for a moment and inhaling deeply. ‘This is not going to be good for me.’ Getting out of bed, he put on a pair of pyjama pants and t-shirt before walking out of his room. Walking across the hallway, he looked into the room that Alexianna and Lily were using, noting that Lily was still asleep in the bed, but with no sign of her mother.

Going down the stairs, the smell got more and more enticing. ‘Hello.’ Alexianna turned around with a small smile on her face, which fell as soon as she saw him. ‘What?’

‘Nothing.’ her voice was high pitched and she stared at him.

Tom’s brow rose as she swallowed and her breathing hastened. He grinned and walked forward watching as her gaze went over him. ‘Nothing, you say?’ he grinned. He stood over her, his scent invading her nostrils, watching her pupils dilate as she stood there. ‘You look very beautiful in the morning.’ he smiled.

‘No, I don't.’

‘Yes, you do.’ he stated firmly ‘You are incredibly beautiful, bed head and all.’ he looked at her hair, ‘It has more defined curls.’ he noted.

‘Lily has ringlets, but I am not without my own few.’ she smiled.

‘She is still asleep, by the way.’

‘She usually wakes at about eight.’

‘She’s a good sleeper.’

‘It’s a comfortable bed.’

‘Good, I am glad you liked it.’ Tom looked at her fondly. ‘What are you cooking?’

‘Pancakes. I noticed you have only almond milk.’

‘I find it is healthier and lactose and I are not really good friends.’

‘I remember, your cousin changed your milk when we were teenagers, you were in agony for a day with cramping if I recall correctly.’

‘Yeah.’ Tom rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed she remembered such a thing.

‘Well, they are made with almond milk, so they are Tom-edible.’ She smiled.

Tom wrapped his arms around her but did not lean in against her, his lips brushing against her neck. ‘That is very considerate of you, my dear.’ his lips gently making their way up her neck, when he got to the base of her ear, he realised she inhaled sharply and her skin was covered in goose-pimples when he repeated the action, she whimpered. ‘Have I discovered a weak spot?’

‘Not exactly.’ Again, her voice went up a few octaves.

‘A erogenous one then?’ She whimpered and nodded.

‘I’ll have to remember that.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘What for now, breathing?’he chuckled.

‘That I’m…’

‘Lexi, I told you before, don’t. I am okay with this, I am happier with this. It means we have been building something, when we do finally do other things, it will make it all the better.’

‘You really believe that?’

‘I do.’ She smiled. ‘I genuinely do.’ he promised.

‘Mommy.’ There was a small voice from the top of the stairs. ‘I can’t get down.’

‘Shit…’

‘I’ve got her.’ Tom walked towards the stairs again. When he came to the bottom of them, he sighed. If he ever thought he would stop finding Lily adorable, it was gone now. She stood in her Paw Patrol nightwear and her hair sticking every direction with one of her stuffed toys in hand. ‘Good morning, Lily.’

‘Tom!’ she jumped up and down on the spot as soon as she saw him, her face gleeful.

Her sheer joy at seeing him caused his heart to skip a beat, he never realised the joy in a child seeing him in such a light, Sophie was always happy to see him, Lily was elated. ‘With only three steps between him and the top of the stairs, she began to hop up and down with her arms out, so extending his own, she jumped into them before he brought her down. ‘Did you sleep well?’

‘Yes.’ She continued to bounce up and down in his arms as he brought her to the kitchen, her mother having just put the last of the pancakes onto a plate. ‘Mommy.’

‘Hello princess,’ She went to take her daughter, but Lily curled into Tom. ‘Are you abandoning me?’

‘I am just that amazing.’ Tom grinned proudly.

‘Yes, you are.’ Alexianna handed him a plate. ‘They are healthy so you won’t have to worry.’

‘Are you implying I need to watch my weight?’ Tom asked with a grin.

‘No, no, I…’

‘Lexi, stop, I am joking, please, I know that you were not implying that.’

Alexianna bit her lip, only to have him get some water and flick it at her. ‘I warned you.’ she gave a small glare, but nothing more as they sat down to the food. Lily felt conflicted. She wanted to stay with Tom but was scared he would not let her eat from his plate, so defeated, she went back to her mother’s lap. The trio eating happily.

The day was boring overall, Tom gave Alexianna his broadband code so that she could work on her college work while he went to RADA. Alexianna felt awkward, not wanting to intrude on his home in such a way. She allowed Lily only in the kitchen and even at that, she was strict regarding her movements in there. Tom text at dinner time stating he was finishing for the evening, thinking ahead, Alexianna reheated some of the food from the night before. By the time he returned, Lily had crashed for the night and was in bed.

‘Hey, sorry I am so late.’ Tom looked around and noticed something was different. ‘Is the house cleaned?’ he realised he could smell cleaners.

‘Sorry, I just…’

‘Lexi, you don’t need to clean because I said to stay here.’

‘Sorry.’

He turned on the tap and flicked his wet hands at her, earning her a few drops. ‘I warned you.’ he grinned. ‘So, I take it the dinner and clean house were expected of you?’ she looked at him almost guiltily. ‘Don’t do anything you don’t feel like doing.’ Tom insisted. ‘What was he like when you were pregnant, did he let you put your feet up?’

‘“George” was in my stomach, not my arms and legs.’

‘Can I ask you, do you hear the name George and shudder now?’

‘There are six previous King George’s, all of which I have changed the channel rather than watch documentaries on them. As for when I see Prince George, I feel nauseous. There is a day between him and Lily.’

‘Really?’

‘She is one day older. I did wonder for a while after, if he felt the same, seeing as George is there to taunt him. I like to hope so.’

‘Poor Prince George, hated for his name.’

‘I feel bad, he is adorable and I just see him and grimace.’ she handed the food to Tom. ‘You put it in the fridge, so I thought you wanted to use it.’

‘Yes, I don’t like seeing food wasted. I went Southern Sudan and when you see children starving from a lack of food, I feel so angered at the waste there is out there.’

‘Of course.’ Alexianna agreed.

‘Have you eaten?’ She nodded. ‘Good.’ Alexianna toyed with her sleeve. ‘Your scars.’ She looked at him fearfully. ‘What are they?’

She looked unsure as to whether she should answer for a moment, before deciding to. ‘The, uh, the small ones are glass shards, the longer one is the incision to fix the multiple breaks in my arm and the odd one is where a lump of metal went in, that is why it bent in shape.’

‘Where did the metal come from?’

‘The Bentley. He tried to say it was my car, but the hospital photographed it, it was dark blue, not my black.’

‘That prick, he seemed a right asshole.’

‘I don’t want to think about it.’

Tom walked over and brought her to him, pulling her so that she was next to him at the table before pulling her onto his lap. ‘You do not deserve what has happened you over the years and yet you try not let it drag you down.’

‘What good does it do?’

‘Some people don’t allow themselves get over things.’

‘And as a result, they sit alone wondering why no one wants to be around them and their negativity.’

Tom kissed her again. ‘Very true.’

Chapter Text

Alexianna did not fall asleep the second night watching the television; instead, she found herself wondering why Tom had not ceased to stare at her every other few minutes. ‘What? Do I have food on me?’ she looked down worriedly.

Tom chuckled and shook his head. ‘No.’ Was all he said as he looked at her again.

‘Tom, you’re weirding me out.’

‘Sorry, I…’ he leant towards her and kissed her. ‘I can’t help it.’

‘Maybe you should see someone about that.’

Tom paused for a moment, smiling at the memory of younger Alexianna joking to him about something with those exact words, her face had the same mischievous smile on it as she did now. ‘Yes, perhaps I should. Or I could just continue to kiss you.’

‘Perhaps.’ she smiled, kissing him back.

Tom pulled her onto his lap, so that she was straddling him, and cupped her ass. ‘The perfect size.’

‘You have big hands, are you calling my ass big?’

‘No, I am saying it is perfect.’ They continued to kiss for another moment before he groaned. ‘I need to take a break.’

‘Have I…’

‘No.’ She looked at him worriedly. ‘I am having a bit of an issue with having my gorgeous girlfriend on my lap.’ That caused her to frown before he indicated downward. Looking down, it soon became very clear what he was implying when his erection was blatantly clear in his pants.

She bit her lips together looking at what was happening him before she looked up at him again, her pupils dilated and somewhat fearful. 'Sorry,' she removed herself from his lap and looked at him as though waiting for a reprimanding, all she got instead was a kind smile and a kiss to the back of her hand.

The evening continued with occasional kissing and many looks between the pair as well as light conversation. When a suitable time to retire occurred, they readied the house for the night, turning off appliances and such and made their way upstairs. When they got up there, there was a peculiar look on Alexianna's face. 'Are you alright?'

'I forgot my copy of the sonnets.' She commented. 'I left it at mine. I was so tired last night I hadn't noticed.'

'You read sonnets going to bed?' Tom asked, his eyes wide.

'Yes, and yes, I know I am weird.'

'That is not weird, that is incredible.' he beamed, taking her hand and kissing it. 'Hang on, I have my copy in my room.' he pulled her towards his room and opened the door. He walked her over to a pile of books next to his dresser, skimming through them until he got the book he wanted. 'There you go.'

'Wait, this is from your mum's house. I remember this.' she smiled looking at the book. 'Wow, it's really beaten up.'

'I take it everywhere with me.' Tom shrugged.

Alexianna smiled and looked around the room, after a second she scolded herself and looked down at the book shamefully. 'Sorry.'

'What for?'

'Being nosey.'

'You're being curious, not nosey, you are not going through my stuff or anything. I looked around your room when I was at yours, it is only fair you do so too. Though I apologise for the mess.'

Alexianna turned and looked around her, noting very little out of place in the room. 'What mess, I thought you said you looked around mine, if you did you would see what mess is.'

'Cluttered is not messy.'

'I suppose.' She shrugged, looking at him, noting the way he had readied his facial hair for Hamlet. she bit her lip as she looked at him.

Tom, noting the manner in which she was looking at him, tilted her head up slightly with his finger, leant down and kissed her again. They continued to kiss as they made their way towards Tom's bed, neither sure who was leading who. When they got there, both had begun to tug slightly on the others clothes. Tom pulled back slightly, looking at Alexianna to see her reaction. 'Do you want to...?'

‘I...please, I am not…’ Tom kept his face neutral, not wanting to have her feel forced into anything. ‘I don’t have a lot of experience.’ She admitted ashamedly. Tom’s brow furrowed, with a daughter, so he knew she was not a virgin, but for her to state she that startled him slightly. ‘I have obviously have....’

‘Do you want to?’

Alexianna nodded. ‘Yes, a lot.’

Tom gently kissed her, ‘If I do anything you don’t like or that hurts, promise you’ll tell me.’

‘I promise.’ Tom began to kiss her again. ‘Tom…’ He halted. ‘If I am no good…’

Tom silenced her by kissing her again. He gently moved her backwards so that she made her way to the bed before turning them around and him sitting on the bed, allowing her to take some control. Alexianna straddled him once more, though she allowed her groin to rub against his, leading to both of them to make noises of pleasure, Tom gave a light moan, Alexianna a whine. She repeated the action twice more before Tom became frustrated and gently coerced her to get off him and begin to undress her slightly. He removed her blouse and the pair of dark jeans she was wearing with little issue as she unbuttoned his shirt and pants, her hands finding their way to his ass fairly swiftly after the removal of his pants.

To Tom’s surprise, under her blouse was a cami top, which seemed to hug in against her skin, showing her ample cleavage to full effect. When he tried to lift it to remove it, however, she pushed back from him. ‘Lexi?’

‘I...please don’t.’

‘Is this another hang-up you have from the accident?’ He guessed, but Alexianna shook her head. ‘Then…Lily.’ She looked down. ‘Lexi?’

‘I shouldn’t have…’ She tried to get off the bed and leave, but Tom stopped her.

‘If you don’t want to, we won’t, but please talk to me.’

‘My scar…’

‘Yes, you told me, Lily was a c-section.’

‘But…’

‘But what? You told me already.’ She said nothing for a moment. ‘Is that all?’ She shook her head. Tom thought for a moment and came to another conclusion. ‘What else?' She said nothing. 'Stretch marks?’ Alexianna’s nostrils began to flare as tears came to her eyes. ‘Lexi,’ he pulled her to him. ‘You are aware they happen, right?’

‘But…’

‘No buts. Sarah has them from Sophie, Sophie has them from Kit and Hal, Elsa has them from the twins.’

‘How do you…?’

‘Because Sarah cried three weeks after Sophie with ‘Baby Blues’ that she now, and I quote, looked like “a child's manuscript copy”. Chris and I were working on the Dark World when Elsa came by, and their daughter informed us the babies made her mother’s bum have “crack marks”.’ Alexianna gave a sympathetic smile at that. ‘And Ben rang me when I was in the States for something else and asked me to post home some sort of miracle stuff that would work before Sophie got “anymore”. So Lexi, as much as you think you are special with your body’s methods to facilitate your growing child, I am sorry to say you are not and am also forced to remind you that many a man and woman without growing a child have them. I assume after four years, that they are somewhat faded?’She nodded.’Lexi, I know your body is not perfect, no one’s is.’

‘What’s your fault?’

‘Have you seen the scuba flippers I call my feet? Or my hairline?’

‘I like you just as you are.’

‘Yet you do not trust me when I say the same.’

‘Because you are Tom Hiddleston, surrounded by beautiful women.’

‘Many of whom are mothers, I might add.’ Tom added. ‘You are very beautiful, you just don’t see it. I am not interested in any other woman, I only want you. This.’ he indicated to the very predominant bulge in his boxers. ‘Is because of you, it is because you are here, looking as divine as you do.’ Alexianna looked at him, waiting for him to laugh at her expense, but he did not, causing her to wonder if he meant it. ‘I want you, Lexi.’ he kissed her again, Alexianna deciding to kiss him back. As soon as she did so, Tom’s hands went to her sides, enjoying being able to touch her as much as he wished. Finally, he decided to brave lifting her top again, when he did, she paused but did not push him away. He removed the garment and surveyed her abdomen for a moment. There were a few faint lines on her skin, mostly around her belly button, an interesting note, though he could not see her scar. ‘Where…?’

‘Under the panty line.’ sure enough, when Tom gently moved down the hem of her underwear, there was a white scar, reaching across like a small concave, about fifteen centimetres long.

Tom looked up to see her looking at him in terror, before he kissed her hip, then the other and proceed to place kisses up her torso before getting to her breasts and then to her jaw and then her face. ‘You are beautiful.’ he reiterated before kissing her again.

Chapter Text

 

Tom sighed as he woke, his mind going over the events of the night before again, causing him to grin lazily. When he heard another in the bed beside him, he opened an eye and his grin grew. Alexianna began to stir on the other pillow, her hair messed up in her sleep. Tom took time to look at her, since, from her experiences, Alexianna tended to not allow anyone focus on her too long She moved slightly as he realised that she had freckles along the bridge of her nose, faint and few but still there. He then was able to see the scarring on her face, it was faint, hardly noticeable, he simply knew to look for it. As he thought about the differences between her arm and her face, Tom failed to realise she had woken up.

 

‘Hi.’

 

He looked into her eyes, slightly startled. ‘Good morning.’ He smiled. ‘How did you sleep?’

 

‘Well, thank you. This bed is really comfortable.’

 

‘It is.’ He kissed her. ‘How are you after…?’

 

‘Why, did you think you hurt me?’

 

‘Well you seemed to have fun, but I was worried…’

 

‘That I was acting?’ Alexianna assumed. ‘No, I was not pretending.’ she moved slightly and hissed, causing Tom to stare worriedly. ‘Sorry, I am a bit tender today.’

 

‘Was he the last time you…?’ Tom was not asking because he was demanding a list of ex’s, but out of curiosity.

 

‘Yes.’ Alexianna did not know why she felt bad saying that, it was merely a statement of fact.

 

‘Why do I suspect he was not a giving partner?’ Tom pondered aloud, Alexianna gave a harsh scoff. ‘He never even bothered, did it?’

 

‘It “put too much pressure on him”.’ Tom realised there was vitriol in her words, more so than on other occasions. ‘I conceived a daughter without ever feeling good with her father.’ she looked at her hands. ‘I thought there was something wrong with me. I could get me...I could make me feel good, but he didn’t, he said it was my fault.’

 

‘He was lazy and useless, in every manner.’ Tom toyed with her hair before kissing her forehead. ‘I think it is safe to say, you can very much get off with someone who bothers.’

 

Alexianna blushed as she recalled their activities the night before, how Tom had made her feel incredible, more than once. In fact, the whole experience was incredible. He was not been fazed by her stretchmarks or scar, in fact, he seemed to embrace them, making her feel more confident in herself than she had in a very long time. ‘Did Lily wake up?’

 

‘I don’t know, should she have?’

 

‘It’s the first time I did not make an attempt to sleep in the bed with her.’

 

‘How do you mean?’

 

‘Well, I dozed off on the sofa bed from time to time, obviously, but she is in a strange house and I never went in to her.’

 

Tom gave her another kiss. ‘Do you want me to check on her?’

 

‘I’ll do it.’

 

Alexianna was about to get up, but Tom shook his head. ‘I need to go to the bathroom anyway.’ he rose from the bed and looked around for the sleep pants he had used the day before. Grabbing them, he put them on, only to notice Alexianna was staring at him. ‘Enjoying the view, darling?’

 

‘Can I ask you something?’

 

‘Of course,’ he walked over to her to show her she had his undivided attention.

 

‘You call Lily “darling” a lot.’

 

‘I say “darling” a lot in general, would you rather I stop, do you think it inappropriate?’ He asked.

 

‘No, I just…’

 

‘What Lexi, please tell me. I won’t be offended.’

 

‘I was just curious, she seems to love it.’ She gave a small smile.

 

Tom frowned before walking back towards her. ‘Is it that I call her that and you don’t want to have to share it?’ He grinned.

 

‘Did anyone ever tell you that you are something of a narcissist?’ Alexianna laughed, kissing him again. ‘Go check on my daughter if you are doing that.’

 

Tom chuckled and left the room to check on the four-year-old.

 

As soon as he left, Alexianna’s smile fell and she gently put her hand down to her entrance, she winced as she felt fluid on her fingers, bringing it up she inspected it. There was the white of semen and the clear of her own release mixed together, but within it was also a small reddish tinge. Terrified, she lifted the duvet and looked down, she exhaled when she saw there was only a small stain on the bed, something she could easily dismiss. She got out of the bed and went straight to the adjoined bathroom to clean herself before Tom returned.

 

Tom gently opened the door to the spare room, having noticed no other sign of life in the house. He peeked in and smiled. Lily had decided to use the space of the entire bed to allow herself sleep across it rather than the conventional method. She was still fast asleep and seemed content on staying that way. With a grin still on his face, Tom closed the door gently again, avoided the creaking floorboard in his hallway and went back into the bedroom. On entering he noticed the room was empty, but the ensuite door was ajar, telling him where Alexianna was. He smiled and went over to the bed to check his phone on the bedside locker. He glanced over the bed and paused when he came to where Alexianna has slept, noting the small off red tinge to the sheets. ‘Lexi?’

 

‘One second,’ a moment later she exited the bathroom. ‘Sorry, I think I made a small mess.’

 

‘What happened, are you alright, did I hurt you?’He looked at her in terror, noticing she had stolen his shirt.

 

‘No, you didn’t, I have just been out of service too long.’ He frowned. ‘The last time anything went near me was a cervical swab six months after Lily, and before that, was when Lily was...’ She explained. Tom looked at her sceptically. ‘I may have a slight issue with me.’ she admitted under his intense stare. ‘My...bits are not as good as they should be.’

 

‘Is that why she was a section?’

 

She nodded. ‘Yes, that’s why.’

 

‘So when you said the last time you had anything there, was “when Lily was…” what was she?’

 

‘Conceived.’

 

Tom processed what she was saying, ‘So for the entire time you were pregnant, he…’

 

‘No, we never did anything.’

 

Tom watched as she toyed with his shirt. ‘One minute.’ he walked into the bathroom, returning soon after. ‘I was not going to get much thinking done until I went to the bathroom.’ He walked over to her. ‘Why didn’t you say that I hurt you?’

 

‘Because it didn’t hurt.’ Tom raised a brow. ‘Honestly, I felt a lot of sensation last night, and none was pain. Though I do now, I think I found muscles I never thought existed.’

 

Tom grinned proudly. ‘Really?’

 

‘You love getting your ego fluffed.’ she laughed. ‘Where is Lily?’

 

‘I am male, we all love that. Lily is asleep in bed, as happy as can be.’ He smiled. ‘Now, regarding you.’ he looked her up and down again. ‘You look good in my shirt.’

 

Alexianna looked down. ‘I’m sorry, I just didn’t think it was appropriate to go around naked.’

 

‘Don’t apologise, it looks very enticing on you.’ Tom grinned, pulling her back to the bed. ‘Very well indeed.’ Alexianna bit her lips together for a moment, but stopped herself, causing Tom to grin approvingly at her. ‘Good, see, we are getting places.’ he smiled kindly. He sat on the bed but found himself looking at the small stain from Alexianna. ‘Are you sure you’re okay?’ She nodded. He put some pair behind her ear. ‘You have to tell me if I hurt you from now on, promise me.’

 

‘I promise.’ Nodding slightly, he brought Alexianna onto his lap and kissed her again. ‘I’m sorry about the mess.’

 

‘Don’t, you can’t help it, it is easily washed.’

 

‘Tom…’ He looked up at her, his eyes filled with concern. ‘I…’

 

Tom smiled at her nervousness. ‘Yes?’

 

‘I lov…’

 

‘Mommy?’

 

‘Shit.’ she got off his lap and grabbed her pants before going out the bedroom door.

 

Tom stared at her in shock at what she was about to say before they were interrupted, not because of what she was saying, but because she was about to say something so intimate to him, after such a short time. He assumed it would take her an age to say anything like that at all, much less to say it outright. Shaking himself out his thoughts, he got to his feet and followed after, seeing a happy Lily rushing for him as soon as she saw him. ‘Good morning to you too.’ He chuckled as he tried to pry her arms from around his legs so he would not lose balance. ‘Aren’t you a chirpy miss in the morning. My niece would never be so good, she is like a zombie in the mornings.’

 

‘What’s her name?’

 

‘Sophie.’

 

‘What age is she?’

 

‘She is five, so not much older than you.’ Tom smiled.

 

‘When can I meet her?’

 

Tom said nothing for a moment. ‘Well, I am not sure, she is not always around, her parents move a lot for work so I cannot say when I will see her next, but I promise, if there is a way to do so, I will arrange for you to meet.’ He offered.

 

Lily thought over his offer for a moment before nodding. ‘Okay.’ and skipped back to Alexianna happily.

 

Alexianna smiled at her daughter before looking at Tom, her face turning to one of concern. ‘Did I…?’

 

Tom just smiled and shook his head. ‘No, we’ll talk more about it later.’ he promised.

 

They went downstairs and had breakfast again, this time, Tom made an English breakfast.

 

‘Everything is ready at once, that is a skill.’ Alexianna smiled happily as she eyed the pudding and sausages.

 

‘Not just a pretty face,’ Tom winked proudly. ‘Sit down and let me look after you.’

 

Tom was in his study learning lines while Alexianna wrote and Lily was colouring when the doorbell rang out. Alexianna remained still, not knowing should she get it, but when Tom came down the stairs and opened his door, she was relieved. A moment later, Tom came in, followed by a woman. Alexianna looked fearfully at the woman behind him, looking at her with wide eyes. Tom gave her a guilty look. ‘I’m sorry. I probably should explain.’

Chapter Text

Tom knew that when Diana would see Lily, she would not be able to stay away from the little girl, and sure enough, as she drank her tea, she had Lily on her lap, talking to the little girl as though she was her own biological granddaughter. Lily, who had never had a grandmother present in her life, seemed adamant to make up for her lack of such beforehand by effectively stealing Diana for herself. Knowing it would probably seal his mother stealing Lily, Tom grinned. ‘Do you know what her middle name is?’ Diana looked at her son, ‘Diana.’ Diana looked to Alexianna for confirmation, Alexianna just looked at her hands. ‘Who do you think Lexi was thinking of when she gave her that name?’

Diana’s eyes welled up with tears. Looking to Alexianna, she put Lily down on the seat for a moment before going over to the woman. ‘You poor pet, I don’t know what exactly has been going on with you, but I never stopped worrying about you.’ She hugged her tightly. ‘We’ve missed you.’

Alexianna began to cry quietly against the older woman. ‘Not half as much as I’ve miss you all.’

‘We’ll look after you now, you’ll have us now, all of us, not just Tom.’

‘I don’t want to be a bother.’

Diana pulled back and and cupped Alexianna’s face in her hands, ‘Listen to me Lexi Hughes, you have never been a bother. Do you hear me?’ she nodded. ‘You have a beautiful little girl that needs her mum, and her mum needs others because no one can do it alone, do you think I could have raised these three if it was just me? I had my sisters and brother and it was still hard. Speaking of which, how is Daniel?’

‘He’s good, he is in the North Sea at the moment.’

‘What did he do in the end?’

‘Engineering.’

‘How did she take it?’ There was no pretending who Diana was talking about.

‘He never told her what it was that he was studying, she thought she was paying for him to study medicine in Scotland, he went and got his degree, when he got the degree, she was livid. She stopped talking to him that day, she only spoke to him again when he kicked her out of his place when I came home with Lily from the hospital.’ Alexianna had been too busy being elated to see Diana that she forgot for a moment the day she came to Daniel’s, sore from the surgery, broken from Jonathan’s cruelty and generally upset from the slump in her hormones from the pregnancy, only to be met by her mother, berating her before she had stepped in the door about how much of a slut and a disgrace she was. Daniel immediately escorted his mother out of his home and slammed the door in her face without a word, she on the other hand, proceeded to call him a bastard and a thief for not doing what she had wanted. ‘Sorry.’

‘Never apologise for your feelings, love.’ Diana smiled. She looked sadly at Alexianna. ‘Whatever was done to you, you cannot let it define you.’ Alexianna nodded. ‘Does his side have anything to do with her?’ Alexianna shook her head. ‘Well, then, she needs her Nana Diana, doesn’t she? Come on my little Lily, you and I are going to do some baking while your mother finishes her work, alright?’Alexianna bit her lips together and quickly cleared the tears from her face as Diana took her now elated daughter away.

‘Lexi?’ Tom looked over at her.

‘She always wanted a Nana, she never was bothered about a father, but a nana, she always wanted one.’ she wiped another tear. ‘Sorry.’

‘Stop apologising.’ Tom warned. ‘You have about two hours at least of quiet to get some work done. Mum has to go to the shop as well as bake the food, so come on, get back to work. Though perhaps a cup of tea while we’re at it.’ Tom smiled, throwing on the kettle.

Alexianna stepped out of the living room two and a half hours later, expecting to see Lily, but as she walked through the lower floor of the house, she realised she was nowhere to be seen. Immediately, she rushed upstairs to Tom’s study and knocked on the door, after a second time knocking with no answer, she opened it and looked it. There were different books around the room as well as paper everywhere in neat piles, but no Tom. She went through the different rooms upstairs, still not seeing a sign of anyone anywhere. When she descended the stairs once more, she was close to hyperventilating, she stopped at the bottom, her hands behind her head as she tried to think.

‘Lexi?’ she swung around to see Tom looking at her. ‘Lexi, what’s wrong?’

‘Where’s Lily?’

‘In the back garden.’ he pointed behind him. ‘Are you alright?’

‘Where is she?’

‘Lexi, Lexi listen to me, she is with mum in the garden, it is alright, she is perfectly safe.’ he repeated calmly. ‘Come on, you can go out and see her right now.’ he led her gently to the kitchen window and pointed out; there she was, in the garden, tending to some weeds with Diana, Lily was sitting, talking animatedly to her. ‘See, she is fine.’

‘I thought they were going baking.’

‘They did.’ he pointed behind them to the cooling trays that were filled with different buns. ‘Are you in such a tizzy that you never noticed?’

‘I…’

‘Lexi, she is safe, mum would never allow any harm come to her, neither will I, alright?’

‘It was just us for so long.’

‘I know.’ Tom pulled her to him. ‘But as mum said already, you have us now. We all adored you anyway, we always have, but Lily, she has captured everyone’s heart.’ He smiled lovingly as he looked out at Lily, who was yabbering away, her eyes bright and filled with love and joy. ‘She is incredible.’

‘Yes.’

‘Come on, I think you need to hold her.’ Tom pulled her out to the garden. ‘Lil, look who it is, Darling.’

‘Mummy.’ Lily ran into her mum’s arms, Alexianna holding her close. ‘Nana and I were having a great time.’

‘Did you?’ She smiled back, ‘Have you been good?’

‘Yes Mummy, I need to go wash my hands.’ she declared showing her mother her hands, before walking into the house to the small toilet in the back kitchen to do just that.

‘Lexi, you have raised one incredible little girl.’ Alexianna gave her a small smile. ‘You are a wonderful mother.’ Diana commended.

‘I am just trying my best. I always hoped to be half the mother you were to Emma, Tom and Sarah.’

‘I had three little terrors.’

‘Sarah was well behaved.’ Alexianna was all too aware of what mischief Emma and Tom had caused.

‘Sarah was smoking something that wasn’t a cigarette one night and laughed the whole way through my giving out to her.’

‘For a teenager, that’s actually okay.’

‘Will I quote you on that in fourteen years?’ Diana asked.

‘No, then it’s completely different because she is my daughter.’

Diana laughed. ‘I have missed you, Emma missed you. She found an old photo of the two of you just before the wedding, she was very upset thinking back over the good times you had had together and for you to have drifted apart.’

‘I missed her too, I often thought of her too, and you, of course.’

Lily came back out to the garden, smiling happily. ‘Nana, are you staying here tonight?’

‘I am.’

Woohoo.’

‘Lily, we are outside, be quiet and think of the neighbours.’ Her mother scolded.

‘Where will you sleep?’ Lily acted as though her mother had not spoken.

‘In the spare room.’ Diana smiled.

Lily’s face dropped, ‘But we are in the spare room.’ Diana frowned slightly and looked at Alexianna who was about to explain their boiler and water issues when Lily piped up again. ‘Or we did, but last night it was only me, Mommy slept somewhere else. Where did you sleep Mommy?’ Alexianna and Tom, who had just returned from stealing a bun when no one was looking, looked away slightly embarrassed and Diana forced herself to not laugh.

‘We have no boiler working at ours and the water is turned off at the mains, and with the Bank Holiday, Tom suggested we stay here.’ Alexianna explained quickly.

‘It’s always the long weekends that those things happen.’ Diana shook her head.

‘Where did you sleep?’ Lily repeated, looking to her mother for an explanation.

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘Why don’t we go in and try some of those buns?’ Tom suggested, hoping to sidetrack Lily.

Alexianna was usually less than pleased to allow Lily have junk food before dinner, but given the uniqueness of the weekend and the situation she was attempting to get her daughter to cease talking of, she permitted it and said nothing. ‘Thank you.’ Was all she said as she passed Tom.

‘It is half my fault.’ he commented in responded. ‘You don’t regret it, do you?’

‘No, of course not.’ She smiled.

‘Just be glad she didn’t walk in on you, Sarah did that once, I honestly think it is part of the reason there is so long between Tom and Emma, it is very off-putting.’ Tom looked to his mother, unable to disguise his revulsion at what she had just said. ‘Do you think you and your sisters just landed on the doorstep?’

‘Mum, please stop.’ Tom begged.

‘I am sorry, which one of us started this conversation?’

‘We didn’t.’ Tom pointed towards the kitchen. ‘Lily did.’ Diana just laughed at her flustered son.

*

Alexianna stood next to Diana as she stirred the contents of the pot another time. ‘Another ten?’

Diana smiled fondly. ‘You remember?’

‘I never forgot.’

‘Are we having Lancashire HotPot?’ Lily asked excitedly.

Diana smiled at the child. ‘Yes, love.’

‘Woohoo, Mommy, Nana is making Hot Pot.’

Alexianna looked at Diana apologetically. Diana instructed for Lily to go wash her hands so that she could get ready to eat. ‘You can stop that face right now, I said she could call me that, didn’t I?’

‘Yes, but I just...if this all falls apart…’

‘We are still here for you both.’ Diana informed her. ‘Tom is insane about that little girl, she is something he seems to have never realised he needed. You both are.’

‘Some of his fans don’t seem to agree.’

‘What are the little brats saying now? Honestly, he has lovely fans, but some of them...’

‘I am using him, he is using us, that Lily is his and we’ve been hiding this.’ Alexianna rambled off.

‘To be expected,’ Diana dismissed. ‘If they see him with you and Lily, if they see his happiness with you both and call foul and say negative things, they are not fans, they never truly appreciated my son and his work. They will have theories because they will want to understand what they are seeing, that is, of course, natural, but you cannot let it get to you. You know different, he knows different, we know different. Nothing you say or do will make some people see the truth, they are convinced otherwise.’

‘I know.’

‘Good.’ she nodded. ‘Now, where is my little girl?’

*

Alexianna felt incredibly awkward being in Tom’s home when his mother was there, not because of Diana, but the fact that she knew exactly what had happened the night before, and with the night coming and them needing to figure out where everyone was to sleep when the house only had two bedrooms, the third, Tom had turned into his study. When she politely broached the subject, she was startled with the suggestion she was met with.

‘It’s not too mad,’ Tom commented. ‘They don’t seem to mind. I have a little bed that folds out for when Sophie comes here with her parents.’

‘But…’ Alexianna did not know what to think. It was not overly mad, or it would not be, if Lily knew Diana more than twelve hours or if they were actually biologically related. ‘Lexi?’

‘But we…’

‘What about us, Mum isn’t stupid, Lily already told her we slept together last night.’

‘We are not doing any of that tonight,’ Alexianna stated immediately.

‘I would never force you to,’ Tom stated.

‘Wait, you would, with your mother here?’

‘She wouldn’t hear anything.’ He shrugged.

‘You’re insane!’ she shook her head. Tom chuckled and wrapped his arms around her. ‘No.’

‘I am not doing anything only giving my lovely girlfriend a hug, nothing more.’

‘That is all you are getting.’

‘Would you be happy if I apologised?’

‘What would you be apologising for?’

‘My mother invading.’

‘That is not something to apologise for though, is it? She came to see you, you're her son, I feel like we are imposing.’ Alexianna admitted.

‘You are doing nothing of the sort.’ Tom informed her.

‘It feels like it.’

‘Well, you’re not, so stop it.’

‘Do you not have rehearsal?’

‘It is the Bank Holiday weekend, back in on Tuesday.’ He smiled, ‘And opening night, later this week.’

‘How do you feel about that?’

Tom wrapped his arms around her, kissing her chastely. ‘Ready.’

‘You’ll be great.’

‘So, definitely no fun?’

‘Tom.’ he kissed her neck and along her jawline, ‘You’re making this very hard.’

‘You are making me very hard.’ Tom retorted his lips against her skin. ‘You are very enticing.’

‘You don’t have to…’ Tom kissed her, pressing against her so she could feel him against her leg.

‘Does this feel like I am just trying to make you feel good?’

‘Well, that’s what it did last night.’ she bit her lips together and looked at him cheekily.

Licking his teeth, Tom chuckled. ‘Oh, you and I are going up that stairs right now.’

‘Your mum?’

‘Went to bed twenty minutes ago.’

‘Lily is going to never want her to leave.’

‘What a coincidence, my mother does not want to leave her.’ Tom grinned. ‘Now, bed. You need some rest.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I want to wear you out.’

‘Your mother…’

‘Won’t hear.’

Chapter Text

Lily was inconsolable as her mother put her in the bedroom to calm down. She was crying when Diana went to stay with Emma for a night and when Tom dropped them home to have the boiler looked at, and she realised they were not going back to his house, Lily went into full meltdown mode. Something Tom had never fully witnessed in a child before.

‘If you run off, I don’t blame you.’ Alexianna looked at him sadly. ‘This is the flip side to smaller kids.’

‘She is...what’s a good word for this, expressive?’

‘She is, on occasion, the most horrible brat you could ever bear witness to.’

Tom pulled her to him and kissed her head. ‘I am not going to run because your daughter loved being at my home so much she is sad to be away from it.’ Tom stated factually. ‘I am not going to run.’ She looked at him in doubt. ‘Lily is human, she has a good and bad side, everyone does.’

‘Do you remember the time you yelled at the house that you were going to go live with your dad because your mum would not let you go to that concert with your friends.’

‘I was a moody teenager.’ Tom stated, only half as an answer, half as a statement to himself.

‘What are your downsides now?’

‘I do still have a temper when I am really angry, I have, on occasion, been known to be selfish.’

‘Everyone can be selfish.’

‘I have been by myself so long, I think I can be overly so.’ Tom warned. ‘What about you?’

‘You want me to list faults, really?’

‘Real faults, not ones he made you think you have.’

Alexianna thought to herself for a second before answering. ‘I am too non-confrontational, I allow myself to be taken for a fool. I am not assertive and I second guess myself.’

‘That is an accurate analysis.’ Tom nodded. ‘I need to take that into account, that you need me to remember to think of you in everything. But so too do you need to start saying “Tom, don’t forget us”.’

‘“Us”?’

‘You and Lily.’

There was silence in the bedroom again. ‘Lily?’

She came to the door of the bedroom, her face red and blotchy. ‘I have to go now darling, so I have to say goodbye.’ She started to cry again and held onto him. ‘I know, I have had such fun with you too, I cannot wait to spend time with you again soon.’

‘I don’t want you to go.’ She sniffed against him.

‘I know, I don’t want to go either.’ Tom cuddled her before handing her to her mother. Tom leant over and gave Alexianna a kiss. ‘I will see you both soon.’ he promised. Alexianna nodded before giving him a small smile, she believed him. ‘Goodbye.’

‘Stay safe and have a great rehearsal.’ she commented as he walked out the door and back to his car, waving to them both before driving off.

Alexianna went back to organising things after their few days out of the house, saddened to not be with Tom any longer, but elated to have been with him for the weekend and for their two nights which told her all of Jonathans comments regarding her being impossible to pleasure were dismissed in mere moments with Tom’s actions leaving her very happy as she thought over their escapades once more. She was pulled back to reality by Lily standing in front of her looking at her expectantly. ‘I said, there’s a man at the door,’ the youngster piped up.

‘Oh, thank you, sweetheart,’ Alexianna walked to the door, expecting it to be Tom having forgotten something. ‘Did you for…’ The smile on face fell as soon as she realised who was standing in front of her.

‘Hello, Alexianna.’

‘What are you doing here?’ She closed the door over so Lily could not see the man on their doorstep.

‘Is that any way to treat family?’ He grinned coldly.

‘We are not family.’

You’re still married.’

‘He left.’ She hissed. ‘You’re not welcome here.’

‘I don’t care if I am welcome or not, if you want a divorce, you better let me in.’

‘I don’t need him to get the divorce; if he won’t sign, then the judge can permit it anyway.’

‘It’s simple, you sign his piece of paper, he signs yours.’ Edward grinned smugly.

‘Leave it and I will read it, if it is fair, I will do it.’

‘No, here and now, or he will make life difficult for you.’

‘The only way he could do that is for him to return and I am not taking him back.’

‘He would not want you anyway after what you did.’

‘And, pray tell, what did I do?’

‘You’re kidding? You and your little stunt with that kid.’

‘“Stunt?” What stunt?’

‘He touches you, for the first time in ages from what he says, and you magically get pregnant.’

‘I remember that saying from sex ed, “it only takes once”. Trust me, no one feels more cheated by that than me.’

‘He was excited for the baby, he was the happiest he had been in years, buying everything you and it everything it could want, and for you to do that.’

‘Do what, I know Law is your thing, not biology, but here’s a lesson for you, men choose a baby’s gender, not women, if he wants someone to blame, he can blame himself.’ Alexianna was shaking with anger. ‘He is the reason she is a girl, not me.’

‘What are you talking about? You’re mad, you are. This isn’t about her being a girl, he knew she wasn’t his, and the whole world saw her on your little excursion to the zoo. Funny how close she looks to that actor when he was younger, blonde, curly haired, some would even say it is obvious to see. He found those photos you had hidden of him and his family. You are out now, showing her to the world, my brother forced to look at your indiscretions.’

‘Indis...are you insane? I never did anything out of line when I was married, I did everything asked of me, and look where it got me.’ she felt her heart pounding in her ears. ‘Get out away from my door, how dare you come here, to my home and say these things to me. I am finally getting on with my life. I am finally realising I am not the pathetic mess he made me think I was, I have someone who cares for me, who cares for…’ she paused, not wanting her former brother-in-law to know Lily’s name. ‘I am happy with my life, tell that bastard, sign the papers or not, I don’t care, I am going to be free, and that I genuinely hope to never hear his name again. She is not Tom’s daughter, but you have no idea how much I wish she was. She loves him, he loves her, he is more of a man than Jonathan could ever wish to be.’ she turned and walked back inside, going to close the door, only for Edward to push in after her. ‘Get out.’

‘Sign these papers and I...Jesus Christ.’ He looked around the house, disgusted at it. ‘You live in a hovel.’

‘Thank you for your unwarranted opinion, now get out.’

‘Sign these and I will never bother you again, trust me, and you will have your divorce papers by Friday.’ He held an envelope out to her.

Alexianna looked at the envelope, unsure as to what could possibly be inside, but she knew the only way she was going to get rid of Edward was to at the very least attempt to act as though she was considering what was being offered. Taking it, she took it out and read it, her eyes going wide. ‘You think I am going to sign this?’ She threw them back at him.

‘You say you don’t want anything from him, just a clean divorce.’

‘That is not clean, that is me accepting responsibility for the breakdown of the marriage, something I am not too bothered by, but the reason...I did not cheat on him, I did a damn good job as his wife, I kept my wedding vows, to the point of stupidity on my behalf. I am not going to lie, she is his and there is no way I am saying otherwise, so get that filth out of my home and rewrite it, acknowledging the truth and I will consider it, if not, the courts can deal with it.’

‘Do you really want to go there, Alexianna? Think about your lovely boyfriend, what will he say when it is public knowledge you opened your married legs for him and he got you pregnant, you trying to pin it on your husband, have him work to pay for another man’s child. How will that affect him in work, do you think, hmm?’ Alexianna swallowed in fear. ‘Face it Alexianna, you have no choice, you know that.’

‘I am not signing it.’ she reiterated.

‘I’ll give you twenty-four hours to reconsider, but come tomorrow evening, if you haven’t, Jonathan will apply for a DNA test on Lily, she will have to get blood samples taken, you know that right, needles, and when it is shown she is not his, he will have you shamed in a court for it.’

‘And were they to prove she is his, which is indeed fact. I can get him for four years of child support payments and I’ll add spousal support payments, because clearly, this is only about money for all of you, so I will have him paying for her the rest of her childhood and teenage years, just remember that.’ Alexianna retorted. She shoved the papers at him, ‘Now get out.’

‘If she is his,’ The look on Edward’s face told her he very much doubted Lily was Jonathan’s. ‘Then you know what that means, don’t you? Access, every second Christmas, weekends, everything, he’ll go for it all.’ Alexianna could not hide her terror at that prospect, Edward realised that she seemed more scared of that than any other threat. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ he promised, turning to the door again.

‘You know her name.’ He turned to look at Alexianna again, ‘How do you know her name?’ He did not answer. ‘How do you know her name?’ Alexianna repeated, walking towards him. ‘Or where we live?’ Edward said nothing. ‘Have you actually sent a private investigator on us?’ She remembered back to the many times she had sat to dinners with Jonathan’s family and his brother, Edward was without scruples, he would do whatever was needed to win a case, private investigators were something he used with notable frequency. ‘You have had some asshole follow me and my daughter around?’ her anger grew once more. ‘If you don’t get out of my house right now, I will call the police.’

‘And say what exactly?’ Edward smiled smugly.

‘I am not an aficionado at all things law based, but I can tell you, you being in my home without my wanting you here is not legal.’ She warned. Edward’s smile fell a little. ‘I was in Oxford before everything with Jonathan, I think you forget that, though it must be hard for you to since that is where you wanted to study, but you didn’t get in.’ She snarled, Edward’s upper lip curled up in contempt at that. ‘Get out of my house and if you ever so much as mention my daughter’s name again, I will come after Jonathan for everything.’ She swore, “Every copper penny he owes me and Lily.’

Edward kissed his teeth before walking out of the house, not saying anything else as he did, but leaving the papers by the front door. As soon as she heard the door click closed, Alexianna’s composure fell and she crashed to the floor sobbing. Lily came out of the bedroom and rushed over to her mother. ‘Mommy?’

Alexianna tried to stop the tears and crying, but she couldn’t, the anxiety, fear, anger and terror that filled her during her confrontation with her brother-in-law continued to pour out of her as she tried to deal with just happened. Instead, she pulled Lily in close to her and hugged her tight.

‘Who was that man, Mommy?’

‘It doesn’t matter, sweetheart.’

‘He made you sad.’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ she reiterated, holding her daughter close.

 

Alexianna did not fall asleep that night, instead, she stared at the ceiling until morning, Lily curled up against her. Part of her wanted to talk to Daniel, another wanted her to talk to Tom. Daniel because of his knowing Edward, Jonathan and indeed the rest of his family, and of their treatment of her, and Tom because this would affect him. Part of her wanted to just sign the papers, say Lily was not Jonathan’s, get her divorce and never hear from Jonathan and his family again, it was so easy, but her pride hurt because of it. She had been faithful when so many women would not have been, and in her opinion, she could not blame them. But she had been faithful, to a fault, she had respected her vows. It was petty in some respects, but it had been a large part of her getting over everything, knowing it was not her fault, that she had done nothing to deserve that. To sign that piece of paper, she felt she would be taking the blame, allowing Jonathan have another victory as they finally parted ways. She did not want anything from him, no money or acknowledgement of him as Lily’s father, in fact, she wanted the exact opposite, she wanted to be free of him. Alexianna felt trapped and that she had no one to talk to.

Chapter Text

Tom stared at the pictures Luke had presented to him. ‘Yes.’ He had, and he was unsure what it meant. ‘I am not sure what I am supposed to take from this, Luke?’

‘She had another man to the house, minutes after you left.’

‘And?’

‘And? Tom are you ignoring the obvious concern.’

‘No, I’m not.’ Tom growled. ‘You are not looking at them.’

‘Unfortunately, yes I am. They are here in front of us. Why do you say that?’

‘The third one.’Tom indicated to the picture in front of him.

‘What about it?’ Luke walked over to him to look at it.

‘Does that look like a woman overly happy to see him?’ He pointed to the expression on Alexianna’s face. ‘Does it?’

‘No, she doesn’t seem to pleased, but she let him in.’

‘How do we know that?’

‘We see the picture of him leaving?’ Luke pointed to a later picture.

‘We don’t know everything.’ Tom reiterated.

‘You are being made a fool of.’ Luke stated firmly.

‘I don’t think I am.’ He took out his phone. ‘I am going to see what happened.’

‘Yes, because she is going to be honest about cheating on you.’ Luke stated sarcastically.

‘She did not cheat, she’s not the type.’ he pressed the dial button. Luke gave him a raised brow that was the epitome of “yeah right” and sat still, waiting to see what the phone call would bring. After three rings, the calling ceased, but no sound came over the phone. ‘Lexi?’

‘Hi.’ her voice was cracked and small. ‘Hi Tom.’

‘Are you okay?’

‘I saw what they are saying.’

‘Who?’

‘People online.’

‘About?’

‘Tom, please stop acting dumb, I know the world is looking at the pictures.’

‘Who is he?’ Luke stared at Tom, admiring the fact he did not even pretend to waltz around it.

‘Edward Rice, Jonathan’s legal representation.’ her voice was cold. ‘The photos, I notice, did not show where I tried to stop him coming into my home. Tom…’

‘Yes?’

‘He knows Lily’s name, he found out where I live.’ her voice made it clear, she was trying to stop herself from crying. ‘What am I going to do?’

‘It’s okay.’ Tom soothed. ‘What did he want?’

‘Me to sign an agreement, in return for my divorce.’

‘That’s a good thing, right?’

‘It should be.’

‘What does he want you to sign?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’ Alexianna dismissed. ‘I am sorry, Tom.’

‘“Sorry”?’

‘It’s not fair to drag you into my mess.’

‘Are you…?’

‘I think it’s best. I don’t want…’ she took a shaky breath, ‘You don’t deserve this.’

‘What? No. Lexi!’ Tom stared at the phone before Luke caught his eye, the publicist clearly thinking it was a good idea. ‘Please.’

‘He wants to drag you into this Tom.’ She admitted. ‘I am not going to allow that to happen, you don’t deserve that personally, and as someone who wants to work in a field related to your work, I know this can very easily damage you. I think it’s best to just leave it, before it goes any further.’

Luke nodded approvingly at her decision, causing Tom to become more angered that anything. ‘What do you mean drag me into it?’ There was silence, ‘Lexi?’

‘It doesn’t matter, I...I’ll deal with it.’

‘Like hell, tell me. What did he threaten?’

‘It doesn’t matter.’

‘If it doesn’t matter, then you can tell me. If it involves me, I have a right to know.’ Tom argued.

‘If I sign, it goes away.’

‘What is he making you sign?’ Tom repeated again. ‘Lexi?’

‘That Lily isn’t his.’ she stated, tired of trying to keep it to herself. ‘That I broke-up the marriage with infidelity and Lily is the result.’ Tom said nothing for a moment, even Luke frowned at her revelation. ‘It means I cannot go after him for anything for Lily, or myself.’

‘And if you don’t?’

‘He tells people that I was married, I cheated with you and you got me pregnant and effectively, how we ruined his life.’ Alexianna broke down crying.

Luke’s eyes almost bulged at the thought of dealing with such a claim and his stared at Tom, who to his shock, seemed almost on the verge of tears. ‘Lexi…?’ Tom’s voice was tight as he spoke. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘I have no choice, I…’ she stated simply in a broken voice.

Tom looked to Luke, who mouthed ‘why is that a problem?’ to him. ‘Lexi, do you want me to come around?’ Luke gave him a disgusted look, to which Tom stared him out of it back. ‘Do you?’

‘No.’ her voice was stern. ‘No, Tom. I think we need to…’

‘Are you pushing me away because you actually want us to break up or because of what he is forcing on you? Because you didn’t mean it the other day when you said you loved me? Or because of what is being threatened?’ Tom’s voice was tight as he finished the sentence. Luke looking at him in shock that such sentiments had been said between the pair. ‘If it is the former, then I have to respect that, if it is the latter, I cannot.’

‘Tom, it’s not enough, I am not going to allow him ruin you.’

‘So you are allowing him to control your actions now. You move on, you get someone, you are raising your daughter, you study to better yourself, and he clearly is less than pleased you have the audacity to get on with your life so he threatens you so you turn back into the submissive person he trained you to be and you just accept it.’

‘I have no choice, this is about Lily, if he gets a DNA done on her…’

‘He’ll have to pay for her, how terrible, a father actually coughing up for his kid that he abandoned, perish the thought.’ Tom snarled.

‘He is going to apply to have access to her, Edward said that they will apply for everything. I can’t...I have to protect her.’ Alexianna explained. ‘I’m sorry Tom, I really am.’ her voice broke again. ‘I...Thank you so much for everything, you are incredible.’ she inhaled deeply, ‘Bye.’

‘What, Lexi no, you…’ Tom pulled the phone back. ‘She hung up on me.’

‘Tom,’ Luke rose to his feet. ‘I know you really like her, and to be honest, she seems like a hardworking and very determined individual, given better circumstances, I would think her a good match for you, but considering what are the circumstances, I think she is doing the right thing.’ Tom looked at him sadly. ‘She is a disaster PR wise.’

‘No, this isn’t Lexi, this is him, her ex.’

‘Only you could find a woman like this, Tom.’ Luke sighed.

Tom began to feel his anger rising at Luke’s dismissive manner at Alexianna. ‘What, a woman that has an abusive ex but who is intelligent, has integrity and a good worth ethic? That is something you fear your clients going for in a partner, really? So what do you prefer, tell me, Luke, is it call girls and story sellers that you rather, or perhaps a repeat of last summer?’

‘It is my job to protect your imagine, that is what I am paid to do. Even she seems to have grasped how much it matters in this business.’ Luke stated factually. ‘As I stated already, without the husband issues, she would very much be a good match for you, even with the child.’

‘What has Lily got to do with anything?’ Tom asked. ‘Why would she come into the equation?’

‘Well, she’s not yours, is she? She is added issues.’

Tom felt so angered by the situation he stormed out of the room without another word. Luke called him back but he ignored him, instead he left the building and went straight to the nearest taxi rank. ‘Archway please.’

Chapter Text


Alexianna watched Lily as she coloured another picture. ‘Look at this, Mommy.’

Alexianna wiped her tears and put on a smile. ‘What is it, love?’

Lily pointed to the different people on the page. ‘There’s you, there’s me. And there’s Tom, he is holding your hand.’

Alexianna winced. ‘Lily, I need to talk to you about something.’ she knelt down in front of her daughter. ‘Sweetie, I need to talk to you about Tom.’

‘I like Tom.’ Lily declared happily.

‘I know you do love, so do I, but...sometimes...sometimes things don’t happen like we want them to, and even when we really really like people, we don’t get to continue being around them.’ she tried to explain, but all she got in return was a puzzled Lily who had no idea what she was trying to say. ‘Lil…’ A knock on the door caused her to frown. Realising it was more than likely Edward, she sighed. ‘Go to the bedroom, okay?’ Lily tried to complain, ‘Now Lil, and I will give you some ice-cream in a minute.’ The child did as she was told. Alexianna walked to the door, terrified of what she was about to face. She opened it without paying attention to who was on the other side. ‘Come on so, you bottom feeder, let’s just get this sorted.’ She growled. Tom walked in. ‘Oh.’ she looked at him, Tom looking at her expectantly. ‘I didn’t…’

‘So he is coming back?’

‘He should be here in a minute.’ she nodded.

‘And what are you going to do?’

‘I have it signed.’

‘Lexi.’ Tom walked toward her but she stepped back. ‘You shouldn’t…’

‘I should never have allowed this Tom, I put everything you worked so hard for at risk because of a crush I had as a teenager. I could not let it affect you.’

‘I am grateful that you were thinking of me, but I am a fully grown man, I can look after myself and when making a decision like this, I think it only fair that you consider both of our opinions on the matter.’ He stated.

‘It’s just too complicated.’

‘No, Lexi, it’s not. We talk over everything, we see what is the best way forward and we go from there. You can’t just push me away…’ he looked at the table, recognising himself in Lily’s drawing. ‘I know it’s not easy Lexi and this isn’t easy, but Lily has accepted me, you said you love me, we can’t throw it all away just because he wants to control your life.’

‘I had to sign those papers.’

‘What is so wrong about signing them?’

‘You’re kidding, right? All I had in that sham of a marriage was my integrity, and now he is taking that from me.’ she cried. ‘I…’ Tom pulled her to him, caressing her hair gently. ‘It’s not fair.’

‘It’s not, which is why he is not going to do it.’

‘I need to go to the bathroom.’ She pulled away again.

‘I’ll still be here in a minute.’ Tom promised, kissing her head. Alexianna left the kitchenette for the bathroom. No sooner than she left, there was a sharp rap on the door. Causing Tom to look at it warily. A moment later, Lily came to the bedroom door. ‘Lil?’

‘It’s the bad man.’

‘What bad man, Darling?’

‘He was here yesterday, he made Mommy cry.’

‘Okay love, you go into the room, alright?’ Lily nodded and did as she was told. Tom inhaled deeply and walked to the door, opening it and looking out at the man on the doorstep. ‘Yes?’

‘I am looking for Alexianna Rice.’

Tom frowned, he had never heard Alexianna’s married name before. ‘Concerning?’

‘That’s nothing to do with you.’

‘On the contrary, considering your threats to her last night, I think it very much concerns me.’ He growled back, stepping out of the house, closing over the door behind him.

‘It’s not a threat, it’s a promise. Besides, it’s not like it’s a hard sell, our paperwork signed, for hers. Your little dirty past doesn’t need to come out.’

‘There is no dirty past.’

‘Of course not, that’s why her daughter looks like you then, is it?’

‘I am not her father, as much as you may want it to be otherwise.’ Edward frowned. ‘Jonathan does not deserve to be her father.’

‘Well, considering the evidence against Alexianna, it is very much doubtful he is.’ Edward grinned. ‘Has she that form signed or are we doing this the hard way, I don’t care either way, you, however, should.’

The longer Tom spent near the man, the more he wished he was more brutishly aggressive. ‘Just have him sign the damn divorce papers. If Jonathan wants to be rid of her, then just sign them, once they are signed, she cannot come after him, his name isn’t on the birth cert, no spousal support and he can continue his miserable existence with whichever poor creature decides to endure him next.’

‘She can…’

‘If you are so sure he is not the father, then it doesn’t matter, does it?’ Tom challenged. Edward said nothing. ‘She has not looked back once in four years, she is glad to be rid of him. Her daughter did what she never could, she got her away from that pathetic excuse of a sack of…’

‘Tom.’ He turned to see Alexianna next to him. She extended her hand to his arm, ‘Don’t bother.’

Tom felt him exhale a breath he did not realise he had been holding. ‘You’re not giving him anything.’ Tom stated firmly. He turned to look at Edward. ‘You’re a legal man, right?’ Edward nodded warily at him. ‘Then you know of Carlton, Hedges and Graham?’ Again Edward nodded. ‘Funny thing about Eton, all sorts go there, I was in the year ahead of Jeremy Carlton, I was at his wedding only last year, so when Alexianna told me your little blackmail story, I got onto him, and guess what?’ Tom grinned. ‘We have you with five charges of malpractice and intimidation.’ Tom stood tall over Edward’s five foot eleven frame. ‘Including the illegal stalking of a woman and minor.’ Edward’s face fell. ‘You are the one with an ultimatum now, sign her papers, and part ways, never to hear from one another again, or be in front of a judge, and well, you know that firms win rate, Carlton has assured me that his father will personally preside over it.’ Tom stood millimetres from Edward’s chest. ‘So, either fax his signed papers over to them in the morning, care of Jeremy, or we will see you in court, and when the DNA on Lily comes back, he will suffer for putting her and Alexianna through all of this, every last copper penny from the day she was born, for every last nappy used, he will be forced to pay back half. Every pair of shoes, every last school pencil, he will pay half on until she graduates college. And we are very much considering private education, Alexianna is a past pupil of Headington in Oxford, the fees there are eighteen thousand for day schooling alone when we checked, we, of course, are looking at all options for her schooling. We want what’s best for her.’ Tom spoke with authority. ‘But if he signs those papers, then she is no longer his concern, her or her wonderful mother. Alexianna is not going to contest maintenance, so he moves on scot-free. Alexianna keeps her integrity, he keeps his money. He will not dictate to her how to live her life for one day longer. Am I clear?’ Edward remained silent. ‘Now get away from this door, you are never to step foot here again. You are never to bother Alexianna Hughes again, or her daughter or I will make one call and you will be neck deep in paperwork for ten years.’ Tom growled. ‘Leave.’

Edward looked to Alexianna, who simply grinned back at him. ‘You heard him, Ed, fuck off.’ Tom grinned proudly at her. Edward’s mouth remained suspended between opened and closed for several moments before he turned and left, his tail firmly between his legs.

When he was gone, Tom looked to Alexianna again, she was shaking violently. ‘Have you eaten?’ She shook her head. ‘Come on, I think you and Lily deserve a nice takeaway, has she had Indian before?’ Tom put his arm around her. ‘I am so proud of you, Lexi.’

‘How…?’

‘I went to school with a guy whose father is the biggest thing in family law, he has represented everyone of note, I gave him a call on the cab over, he works for his father now, I told him your situation, he gave me the quickest rundown of what you needed and told me to have everything to deal with that guy.’

‘Why would he help me?’

‘Well, you remember when I told you and Emma about an incident at Eton where I almost lost my house captaincy?’

‘Yeah, you covered for someone.’

‘I literally saved Jeremy from being expelled, he has always owed me since, this is going to be a big part of his debt repaid, he is doing this, free of charge and if Jonathan decides to play hardball, he will ensure he is shopping in Iceland and Home Bargain for the rest of his days.’ Tom promised. ‘He thinks you’re mad to not go for the jugular.’

‘I just want to be left alone. I want him gone.’

‘We’ll get that sorted, wait and see.’ Tom promised as they went back inside. ‘So, where is the best girl, she deserves something nice for being so good?’ Lily rushed out of the bedroom and into Tom’s arms, he pulled her up. ‘Have you tried Indian before? I think you look like someone who would love a Korma.’ Alexianna smiled as she watched Tom talking to Lily and the child talking excitedly back before beginning to drift into a daydream. ‘I mean it.’ She looked back at Tom when she realised he was talking to her. ‘If you want me gone for a genuine reason, I will respect that, if you try to push me away for a non-reason, I am not going to abandon you, either of you. I am not him.’

‘I know.’ she smiled, her eyes full of tears and her voice low. ‘Sorry.’ She dried her eyes with her hands. ‘Thank you, Tom.’

‘You don’t deserve that Lexi, though, I have to ask, Rice?’

‘My married name.’

‘But that guy was Rice?’

‘He is Jonathan’s brother.’

;So he sent his brother to bully you?’ She nodded. ‘A lovely human being.’

‘Another string in his extensive bow.’ Alexianna agreed.

 

Chapter Text

Tom stretched as he woke, grinning as he felt a body beside him in the bed, but groaning as he felt his back ache slightly. Opening an eye, he was delighted to see the brunette hair of Alexianna beside him. She moaned slightly in her sleep a moment later and turned over, her eyes flickering as she woke. ‘Good morning.’ He smiled.

Alexianna groaned and rubbed her eyes. ‘This bed is horrible.’

‘It is actually.’ Tom was forced to admit, he pulled her to him. ‘The company is good though.’

Alexianna curled in close to him. ‘It is.’ she smiled as Tom kissed her head. ‘I need to get up though and go into the bedroom.’

‘Why?’

‘Because Lily might see us.’

‘We are dressed.’ Tom pointed out.

‘I don’t…’

‘Mommy.’ Alexianna swore silently before looking around. ‘Why are you on the sofa bed with Tom?’

‘We fell asleep last night after your mommy made the bed for me to sleep in.’ Tom answered, ‘Good morning Lily.’

She giggled and jumped up next to her mother. ‘Hi.’ She leant in and tipped her nose off Alexianna’s.

‘You need to brush your teeth.’ Alexianna smiled. ‘Did you have nice dreams?’ Lily nodded. ‘What did you dream about?’

‘That you, me, Tom and Nana went to a restaurant and I got a big ice-cream with chocolate sauce.’

‘Well, that was a great dream.’ Lily nodded happily at her mother before looking at Tom too and smiling.

Tom gave her a wink and she giggled. He felt a surge of sensation through his stomach, one he had not experienced before. As Lily leant over her mother and held out her hand in a fist, he could not explain it. He looked between her and her fist expectantly. ‘She wants a fist bump.’ Alexianna explained.

‘Oh right, silly me.’ Tom extended his fist and Lily bumped hers forward before pulling backwards singing slightly, startling Tom before rushing back into the bedroom. ‘What was that last part?’

‘It’s from Big Hero Six.’ Alexianna stretched.

‘Never heard of it.’

‘You will, she’ll make sure of it.’ Tom frowned at the statement, which Alexianna caught. ‘Sorry, I don’t mean to make you feel pressured.’

‘It’s not that, I just...it’s odd, I never needed to have a child like me like this before, so to have her so accepting…’

‘Tom?’

‘I am in her thoughts, her drawings, her dreams, alongside you and Daniel, her family, it feels...I feel...’

‘Pressurized?’

‘A little, because I feel I have to live up to her expectation of me. She sees me as part of all this now, I feel I could leave her down.’

‘We are all human Tom, we have to accept, even at four years old, that putting people on pedestals only causes us to be disappointed when they err because no one is perfect.’

‘How do you bear it, she idolises you?’

‘I am her mum, I will be there for her when no one else is, when Daniel moves on with his life, when you are not here, I will be.’

‘I am not leaving you.’

‘You will, be it for a movie, for a Marvel press junket, or if you decide you are finished with this, you will leave.’

‘I am not going to just up and leave Lexi, stop thinking like that.’ Tom stated firmly. ‘I have to do things that pull me away, sometimes for weeks on end, but I will return.’ She looked at him uncertainly. ‘I will, it is not always going to be easy, I am not going to lie, and there are going to be strains, but I want this, you and Lily. I love you both so much already.’ Alexianna frowned. ‘I do, I love you. You have been forcing yourself out of your shell so much in the time we have been together and you have instilled so much trust and faith in me, I cannot put into words what it means that you do.’

‘But it scares you?’ Tom looked at her guiltily. ‘Tom, I feel incredibly overwhelmed pretty much every day with raising Lily, and I am her mother, the person she has genetic links to, the human that effectively chose to allow her to exist, I cannot fathom how it is for you, but you can leave if you need to, I won’t blame you if the day comes.’

‘I feel like we’ll be doing this a lot.’

‘What?’

‘Me telling you I am not leaving.’ Tom stopped a moment later when he realised. ‘Of course, I am saying this to a woman that only knows people who leave and abandon her.’

‘I am starting to think it is me.’

‘It is not you, Lexi, your parents and your ex are not nice people. Look at my family, we are actively trying to see more of you.’

‘Are you sure it’s not you that’s defective?’

Tom chuckled, ‘we could easily be.’ He kissed her for a moment.

Alexianna pulled back after a minute. ‘I need to get us some breakfast and you need to get ready, you have another day of mopey Danish prince to train as.’ Tom chuckled and got out of the bed reluctantly.

*

‘Here you go.’ Tom extended his hand and took the envelope. ‘One divorce papers, with every T crossed and every I dotted.’

‘Jeremy, I cannot thank you enough.’ Tom beamed looking at the sealed manilla paper.

‘It’s the least I could do.’ the other man smiled. ‘So, stepdad, bet you never thought you’d play that role.’

‘It was unexpected.’

‘It makes life fun, the unexpected.’ Jeremy joked before his face went serious. ‘I need to warn you of something Tom, I am not sure you are going to like it.’ Tom felt unsure as to what Jeremy was going to say. ‘Edward Rice, the firm has had dealings with his before, effectively stalking, the whole shebang your girlfriend went through and more, they are, to say the least, bottom feeling, scrupulous scum.’

‘I have noticed.’

‘You need to be careful, he could still make good on his threats.’

Tom pursed his lips. ‘He is going to make it that she will never be free.’

‘Those type seldom do, and the force used to twist his hand into this is not going to help.’ Jeremy pointed to the envelope. ‘Just be careful.’ Tom nodded. ‘I am not the first to warn you of this, am I?’

 

‘No, and you won’t be the last.’

‘I’m sorry Tom, I just…’

Tom put up his hand and smiled, ‘You’re just looking out for me,’ Jeremy nodded. ‘Thank you, I appreciate it.’

‘Anytime, and I mean that. If he rears up again, I will deal with it.’

‘Thank you, Jeremy.’

‘I am glad she got away from him anyway, he does not seem like a nice guy, but why not get money for the kid if it is his?’

‘She wants to keep away from him, he said he would demand half custody and she decided that it isn’t worth it.’

‘That’s understandable, though I think, considering his lack of interest until now, that is just a tactic to stop her considering it. She should have gone for it. Just remind her she still can in the future, should she decide to, but I do believe he will demand a DNA test. A judge would very much be inclined towards having one too in a tit for tat situation.’

‘Okay.’ Tom nodded.

‘Good luck with it all, who knows, you might be giving that little girl a sibling soon enough.’ Tom frowned at the jestful comment as his old friend began to walk off. ‘It’d be handy actually, I need someone to save my kid’s ass in school if it’s anything like me, so if it is the same gender as mine it would be great.’

Chapter Text

Tom planned it, saying nothing to Alexianna only that he wanted her and Lily to come over for dinner, and to bring some clothes to stay overnight, that he wanted to watch a movie after Lily went to bed, when she seemed unsure, he insisted he would not force her to stay in bed with him, he simply wanted time with them. The play had taken most of his time over the few weeks, with it ended and with Thor Ragnarok and the associated madness soon to begin, he wished to spend time with Alexianna before that started.

All through the running of the play, she had sent texts and called on occasion, just to ask him how he was and did he need anything, she even came by as she was about to clean the house a few streets over, for no other reason than to drop some cooked dinners, since he had stated that one night, after a show, he was too tired to cook. She had told him she needed to give him something, then arrived with two cooler bags of cooked meals, gave him a kiss and told him to get rested for the next show, Lily, though she would have loved to spend time with Tom, seemed to realise too that it was important not to bother him and hugged him and gave the same orders.

Now he wanted to thank her, so he arranged for them to have a nice night, including ordering a movie she had mentioned she wished she had gotten to see in the cinema in passing. He cooked a roast, ensuring to have the trimmings and smiled at his handiwork. He asked her to be there for five, but by ten past, there was no sign of her or Lily. Worried, he tried ringing her, but her phone appeared to be dead or turned off. He then started to think of different scenarios of what caused her to not come, the most worrying of which was something had happened to herself or Lily, but with no way to contact her, he could not tell. It was almost half past, and with no sign of them, Tom felt his heart sink, he thought at first they were delayed, buses could get caught in traffic, or the Tube could get delayed if there was an issue with the signals; he had thought she would at least contact him, but she had not, he felt hurt. When his phone rang a few moments later, he just ignored it; when it rang again, he cursed and looked at the caller ID, frowning to see her name. Pressing the answer button, he brought it to his ear. ‘Lexi?’

‘Tom, I am so sorry, the Underground was insane, we were stopped between Camden and Chalk Farm for forty bloody minutes, and when I tried to contact you, I realised someone used my data allowance watching Paw Patrol on Youtube.’ His glower lifted. ‘I am so so sorry.’

‘Where are you now?’

‘Outside.’

‘What?’

‘We’re outside your door, the lights are on, but we have knocked three times.’ he rushed to the door and opened it, sure enough, there was a frustrated looking Alexianna and disheartened Lily standing there, rain pouring down. ‘Hello.’

‘Get in, I am so sorry, I did not hear you.’ He ushered them in.

‘I am sorry Tom, I...Oh, Jesus, you had something cooking and everything, I am so…’ He silenced her with a kiss.

‘I am just glad you came, I was terrified something happened one of the two of you.’ Tom took the small gym bag out of her hand and put it by the stairs.

‘No, just public transport.’ Alexianna groaned, ‘That smells incredible, by the way. And, this is for you.’ She handed him a small gift bag. ‘Since you’re finished the run.’ she smiled.

Tom frowned and opened the small bag, pulling out the contents and looking at them, his eyes widening and his smile growing. ‘Wow.’

‘I know you are busy with the Thor tour coming up, but I was hoping before you go that you would want to? I have Elaine booked and everything.’

‘That is why you asked if I was free?’ Tom realised. ‘Of course, I cannot wait.’ He kissed her again. ‘Now, dinner is not as fresh as it was but…’

‘Stop, I literally have not stopped today, we decluttered, so I am starved.’

‘“Decluttered”?’

‘Yes, someone is now too big for a lot of her clothes, and we don’t have the space to hold onto every last hole filled leggings, so we did, you know that game, “Kiss, Marry, Kill”, we played “Save, Donate, Dump.’

‘How did that go?’

‘One bag for the bin, one each to Barnardos, the Cancer Society and the R.S.P.C.A. and one shopping bag of really cute things to be vacuum packed.’

‘You keep some?’

‘Yes, just a few of her favourites or ones that mean something.’

‘Do you think you’ll ever…’ she looked at him, not having a clue as to what he was implying. ‘Have another?’

‘Child?’ Her eyes widened. ‘I don’t...probably not. I don't think I can go through all that again. She was an angel, don’t get me wrong, but it was too hard, going alone like that, Daniel was incredible, but I...no, I couldn’t.’ Tom simply nodded pensively. ‘Did I…? Do you…?’

‘I think it is safe to say, I am not near ready for that, I am too dedicated to work to be any use to a woman at present with a baby.’ he replied.

‘But down the road?’

‘I don’t know.’ he replied. ‘I can’t honestly say.’ Alexianna found herself kissing her teeth as she thought through his words. ‘Why don’t we discuss this another time?’ He placed his hand on her lower back, ‘You lovely ladies need some dinner.’ Tom looked around. ‘Where is Lily?’

‘I’m in the kitchen.’ They walked in to see her sitting at the table excitedly. ‘Mommy, look what Tom got me.’ She held up a plate similar to the one she had at home. ‘It’s the one I wanted.’

‘Wow.’ She looked at Tom, who clearly looked like he was awaiting a scolding. ‘What do you say?’

Lily jumped down from the chair and rushed over to Tom, hugging his legs tightly as she jumped up and down. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’

‘You’re welcome darling.’ She went back to the table. ‘I just got it because I didn’t want you worrying about the plates again.’ he explained quietly to Alexianna. ‘I know it was concerning you.’

Alexianna had to concede it was true, she had been terrified for Tom’s plates when they had stayed the weekend. ‘So, what’s the occasion?’

‘Well, after everything with Hamlet, and how incredibly understanding you were, I thought we would celebrate with a nice dinner, then after Lily goes to bed, you and I can settle down to watch a movie?’

‘What have you in mi?’

‘You’ll see.’ He wrapped his arms around her. ‘But first, how about some roast lamb, baby potatoes in garlic butter and perhaps even some veg?’

‘Tom!’ She looked at him, ‘There’s no need…’

‘No, there isn’t, but I wanted to.’

‘Thank you.’ She smiled.

‘Now ladies, please take your seats and I will get the food.’ He winked at Lily who giggled in return as he brought Alexianna to the table. He organised everything he had readied and soon the trio were eating happily.

When they were done, Tom looked bemusedly at Alexianna, who insisted that she do the dishes since he had cooked. As soon as Lily realised Tom was in anyway unoccupied, she grabbed his hand and pulled him to the living area, demanding to know about his favourite Disney characters.

‘I am not too up-to-date with so many. Why don’t you tell me?’

‘I love Moana.’

‘I like Maui.’ Tom smiled.

‘And HeiHei, he’s hilarious.’

‘He is.’ Tom chuckled.

‘I like Judy Hopps too, she’s a rabbit.’

‘The first ever bunny cop.’ Tom nodded.

Lily beamed in delight at his knowing it. ‘Yep, and Big Hero 6, Baymax is the best.’

‘I have not seen that one.’ he acknowledged. ‘My favourite is Baloo.’ Lily frowned. ‘You don’t know Baloo?’ She shook her head. He rose from his chair and went over to a cupboard and took out a DVD, bringing it back to the couch and showing it to her. ‘Have you not seen this?’

Lily inspected it and shook her head. ‘I have seen that teddy.’

‘That is Baloo.’ Tom smiled. ‘Lexi, what sort of rearing are you giving this daughter of yours, she does not know who Baloo is.’ there was no response, ‘Lexi?’ he walked into the kitchen to see Alexianna looking at him sadly. ‘Lexi, what’s wrong?’

‘I could never watch that movie after…’

‘After what?’

‘I grew up, I stopped seeing you. It literally is the one thing that as soon as I saw anything to do with it, I thought of you.’

‘Was that so bad, thinking of me?’

‘It hurt, I always felt saddened by not seeing you and Emma anymore.’

‘Well, that has been mended.’ He smiled. ‘I know she usually goes to bed at half seven, but I was going to ask, could we perhaps delay bedtime for…’ he checked his watch, then the back of the DVD cover, ‘about twenty minutes, I wish to educate Lily on the Jungle Book?’

‘I suppose once won’t hurt.’

‘Leave the dishes, join us.’ He encouraged, his arms snaking around her waist, ‘they can wait.’ his nose rubbed against the side of hers as his breath ghosted the side of her face.

Alexianna sighed, caught in the moment, the smell of his cologne and the fact that he seemed to know every way to drive her insane. ‘Lily....’

‘Come in and keep her company, and me.’

‘Is this the movie you had planned?’

‘No, actually, but it is a very good one.’ Tom chuckled, continuing to somehow use his nose as a way to seduce her, simply by running it next to or over hers. He kissed her slowly and chastely; when he pulled away, she nipped his bottom lip. ‘Lexi.’ He warned though there was a difference in his tone, lust or some other such thing.

‘Later.’ she smiled, causing Tom to look at her startled. ‘Or am I…?’ She asked worriedly.

‘No, Jesus, no. I am more than willing if you are, I just am somewhat startled you said that. I thought it would take longer to get you confident enough to do so.’

‘It was really good, when we…’ she leant in again and kissed him.

‘This is going to be a very long film.’ Tom groaned as he felt his body reacting.

They watched the film in relative silence, Tom interrupting to sing the Bare Necessities and Lily giggling whenever something was funny. By the end, Bagera gained a new lover.

‘Why him, he is so boring?’ Tom jokingly asked Lily.

‘Cause he’s asponsible. He looks after Mowgli without being silly.’

‘Wait, is your four year old actually choosing the adult and more responsible character?’ Tom asked Alexianna in awe.

‘It would appear so.’

‘She is your daughter, there was no mistake in that hospital, she is definitely your daughter.’ Tom laughed.

‘Hey…’

‘Lexi, I love you, but what used you say about Bagera, that he was “the voice of reason and the only adult in the situation”.’

‘He was, he still is.’

'And that is your daughter’s analysis too, I am telling you, you Hughes women are a lot alike.’

Alexianna smiled at him. ‘Lil, time for bed.’

‘Will you read me the Gruffalo?’

‘Of course.’

‘Actually, Mommy, can Tom read it?’

Alexianna stood staring at her daughter. ‘Lily Darling, that is something for you and your mum, and I don’t know the words.’

‘I brought my book, please Tom.’ She begged.

Tom, not used to glistening tear-filled eyes begging him, looking to Alexianna for assistance. Alexianna just looked at him to gauge his reaction. ‘Sweetie, Tom probably…’ Lily began to sniff as tears fell from her eyes. ‘You don’t get anything for crying Lily.’

‘But I want Tom to read to me, please Mummy.’

Alexianna looked to Tom again, noting the small smile on his face at being asked for. She silently asked him if it was alright, to which he nodded and she smiled defeatedly. ‘Fine, clearly I am not good enough anymore.’ She stated dramatically, earning a laugh from Lily. ‘Go, abandon me.’

‘No Mommy, I love you too.’

‘No, it’s fine, I’ll just have to get over it.’ She held her hand up like a damsel in distress. Lily giggled again. ‘Do I at least get a cuddle goodnight?’

‘Yes, Mommy.’ She rushed into her mother for a hug. ‘Sleep tight.’ She kissed Lily’s head.

‘Are you sleeping in with Tom tonight?’ She asked innocently.

‘I don’t know.’ Alexianna swallowed at that, not sure how to deal with her daughter’s questions on the matter.

‘So I don’t get the bed to myself?’ She frowned.

‘Do you want it?’ Lily nodded. ‘Well I am really been kicked out today, aren’t I? Go on, you better let Tom read to you.’ She instructed the pair to go upstairs.

After a few minutes, she went to the base of the stairs after hearing a high pitched noise from upstairs. Listening, she could hear Tom using his skills to bring the characters to life and Lily’s joy at it. Smiling, she finished the dishes. As she left the plate to drain on the draining board, she felt Tom’s hands on her sides.

‘Are you upset?’

‘A little, I have never had to share my daughter before. Daniel was never asked to read over me.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘I’m not, as long as you are okay with it.’ she turned and looked at him. ‘I don’t want her to be too much for you, it’s not fair on you.’

‘I actually loved it.’ He admitted. ‘I...I have never realised what it is like to be wanted, but not as I usually am.’ Alexianna frowned. ‘People want photos, autographs and other things from me all the time, you and Lily want nothing of me, and Lily innocently sees nothing but me.’

‘We care about you Tom, you, not the fame or the money. I love how you make me laugh and smile, you make me feel like I can do things I have been terrified to do for so long again.’

‘You wish I didn’t have the money?’

‘No, I am delighted you have the money, you work so hard at your craft, the least that can happen is you are paid well for it.’ Alexianna commented. ‘I am so happy you made it.’ She gave a genuine smile. ‘You deserve it.’

Tom kissed her. ‘I have a present for you.’ Alexianna frowned at him. ‘I planned on giving it to you later, but I think now is the time.’ He walked over to another part of the counter and grabbed a white A4 envelope before handing it to her. Alexianna just stared at it. ‘Open it.’

Still unsure, Alexianna did as he requested, worried by the odd look on his face, a mixture of fear and excitement. She took out the papers, her eyes immediately drawn to the names boldly declaring themselves on the top of the paper before looking down. As soon as she realised what it was she was holding, a sob escaped her, her hand went her mouth and she began to shake violently as tears fell from her eyes fast and heavy.

‘Lexi?’ Tom put his hands around her. He expected many reactions, but sobbing was not one of them, she began to shake more, bent over as she shook from the crying. ‘Lexi, are you alright?’ When she tried to stand straight again, Tom felt almost scared when he realised that her shaking was not from crying, but because she was smiling and giggling like a mad person. ‘Lexi?’

‘I’m free.’ She giggled between the tears. ‘He’s gone, he’s really really gone.’

Tom swallowed at her words, she was so relieved, she was unable to contain her at it. ‘Yes, Darling, you are divorced.’ she erupted in fresh giggles. ‘He cannot come after you. You didn’t have to sign his papers and you don’t have to leave him near Lily, you are free, both of you are.’

‘Thank you.’ She sobbed as she hugged him, her grip akin to a vice. ‘Thank you so much, Tom.’

Tom hugged her close to him. ‘The least I could do,’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘Just promise me you will not let him hurt you anymore. If you hear any more from him, tell me.’

‘I promise.’

‘So, was that a nice surprise for the evening?’

Alexianna looked at him in shock, ‘Wait, you did all this for…?’

‘I thought it would be nice, dinner, divorce, a movie.’ Tom smiled cheekily.

Alexianna giggled. ‘The best kind of evening. Thank you, Tom, you shouldn’t have.’ She curled in against him, inhaling deeply.

‘What are you doing?’ Tom chuckled looking down at her.

‘I love your smell.’

‘You are making me really self-conscious.’ He chuckled. ‘Now, about this movie?’

‘What one is it?’

He grinned widely at her. ‘Guess what movie you wanted to watch but did not get to see is booked on my Sky Box.’

‘What...it’s not on DVD yet.’

‘Nope, but it is on Sky Box Office.’

‘Tom...this is too much.’

Tom erupted in laughter. ‘You are going out with an actor and you see dinner and a movie in his home as “too much” God Lexi, you are incredible.’ He kissed her.

Chapter Text

Alexianna looked at Tom with a look of concern on her face. It had been over a month since he had handed her her divorce papers and in that time he has spent as much time as was physically possible with her though it was quite difficult with the Ragnarok premier and press junket that needed to be done also. Since his return, he had been adamant to bring both Alexianna and Lily to his mother's in Suffolk. The Hiddleston family had planned to get together over the Halloween break to spend time as a family. Alexianna felt that she and Lily would be intruding on their time and as such did not see it as her place to go, Tom, on the other hand, felt it was not right it to turn up to his family home without them. This led to the yet another concerning issue for Alexianna, because of the situation before we're Diana turned up to Tom's house unexpectedly, his mother was well aware that she and Tom were sharing a bed from time to time, but to turn up at his family home, for his sisters and their husbands to know the intimacy of the relationship even with the occasional being spotted by the paparazzi, it made her feel somewhat exposed and uncomfortable.

 

‘I'm not sure, I mean don't you want to spend time with your family? Just your family?’

 

‘Yakov and Jack have always been welcome at my mother's even before I married my sisters, come to think of it, they were more welcome then, because since then they have married my little sisters, well one little sister, one is older but still smaller than me so I can count for something, surely?’

 

‘So she was less inclined to like them after their married your sisters?’

 

‘No, my mother is very fond of them still, it's me isn't as welcoming considering they are my sisters.’

 

‘What if Daniel treated you like that? A tad hypocritical is it not?’ She argued.

 

‘I am aware of Daniel's opinion of me, I think you forget I was there the night that he came to the car to invite me in.  I know it was not to say hello, but the scope out exactly what I was doing and what I wanted from you. he made it quite clear how little he approved, but he is your older brother, I understand and respect him looking out for you. Same as I did with my sisters. Speaking of which, when is your brother home?’

 

‘He...I don’t think he is coming anytime soon.’

 

‘Lexi?’

 

‘He went on a holiday with a few of the guys off the rig and met someone.’

 

‘That’s nice, isn’t it?’ Tom asked.

 

‘No I am happy for him, I am. I just...Lily is asking to see him and I feel guilty that he is not here.’

 

‘Lexi, you knew he would find someone sooner or later, and with how good he has been with Lily, he was going to be taken by some girl.’

 

‘I know, and I want to be happy, but I have not heard from him in two and a half weeks and the last time I did was a “Fine” text, nothing more.’

 

‘Did you contact him since?’

 

‘Four times.’

 

Tom swallowed slightly, conceding that indeed, that was somewhat noteworthy. ‘Maybe he’s busy?’

 

‘I know he is, he has a picture of her and her kid on Facebook, he went with them to the zoo.’ Tom did not know what to say. ‘I am not being unreasonable. I am so happy he has someone, but he’s all I have left as a family now, so even a once a week “Hey sis, hope you’re okay,” would be nice. I mean, I don’t want anything from him, only to talk every now and then.’

 

Tom pulled her to him and kissed her temple. ‘I think that is fair enough. I try to contact my sisters with anything I find out that I think they will enjoy or if I have any news. I never go longer than a week without some form of contact.’

 

‘That’s all I want.’

 

‘Why don’t you send him a text or an email saying that, just that you miss talking to him, that you see he met someone and you’d love to hear about her?’

 

‘Isn’t four messages unanswered embarrassing enough?; She sighed. ‘About Suffolk…’

 

‘Please consider coming, everyone really wants to see you and Lily, in fact, Sophie hasn't stopped going on about it. Emma isn't giving her a cousin, so I think she is stealing Lily as one. she seems to think this is brilliant, a new cousin without all the baby stage where they are apparently boring and straight to the “someone to talk to about films, TV and toys” phase, while also being someone she can be older than, which apparently matters, as it gives her seniority, so she can still be the boss that she thinks she is, she is excited to have someone to play with. And the fact, of course, she is another girl, Yakov’s brother only has two boys, I think she's sick of being the only girl.’ For a man of thirty-six, Tom seemed to have perfected the “puppy dog pleading eyes” technique and was using it in an attempt to convince her into going to the event.

 

Alexianna did her best to not look him in the eye as he did it, ‘You’d think since I have a four-year-old, I would be used to this, but you were taking it to a whole other level, mister.’

 

‘Is that a yes?’ he asked, with a cheeky grin on his face.

 

‘Fine.’ she conceded. Though she looks slightly concerned, there was little denying that she had an excited look on her face also. ‘At least I know the people there.’ she laughed, ‘Well most of them.’

 

‘Yakov and Jack will know how you feel, considering he had to do this at one stage, they are very nice people.’

 

‘The difference being, neither of them came with extra baggage, did they?’

 

‘Lily is not baggage, stop that now. My family know about her and are very excited to meet her. My mum adores her, Emma adores her, Sophie is dying to meet her, so is Sarah and Yakov, and Jack is just waiting to see who this girl is that Emma has not stopped talking about and has probably told him every last Detail of what you used to do together when you hang around when your kids.’

 

‘We were teenagers, not kids.’ Alexianna stated indignantly.

 

‘You moved next door when you're eight, who started out of kids.’ Tom argued. ‘I promise, it will be a lovely time, it always is. Just make sure to pack an extra warm jacket. It's fun to walk by the sea but it can get pretty chilly.’

 

*

 

Tom looked at Daniel’s profile page in front of him on the computer screen. part of him thought it was best to not to interfere, but knowing how much it upset Alexianna to not be speaking more often with her brother. He felt, as her partner, that perhaps, since she was scared to try and contact him yet again, he could try. He was certain, going by the way Daniel acted around his sister and his niece, that this “snuff” was unintended, more than likely brought on by his own new relationship. So clicking on the message icon, Tom type a very short message to the other man, hoping to reinstate contact between the siblings.

 

Tom -  hello Daniel, I do not wish to insert myself into something that is not my business, but I feel I need to speak to you regarding Lexi. Of late, she is under the impression that you were in some manner not speaking to her. She says that she has tried to make contact with you on a few occasions but that you never responded. I am aware that this really isn't my business, but considering it is upsetting Lexi and indeed Lily, I thought I would ask if there was an issue because I am sure neither of us wants either of our girls unhappy for no reason.

 

Tom looked at the message for several minutes, wondering if it was like to send it at all, but remembering just how upset Alexianna was and indeed, seeing with his own eyes that Lily was actively asking when she could speak to her uncle again, he hoped he was making the right decision before clicking send.



Hardly two minutes later, the message symbol came up on his own screen, telling him that he had a new message. Seeing that was Daniel, he inhaled deeply and clicked on it.

 

Daniel - Hello Tom, I have to admit I was slightly confused as to you contacting me but having read why I can understand. No there is no issue between myself and Alexianna, I kept getting her messages, but if I am honest, I kept thinking to myself I would reply to them soon, but never did. Hearing how hurt she and Lily are by this, make me feel somewhat guilty. I haven't even told her about Anna or indeed when I plan to see her and Lily again soon. Thank you for telling me this, I can imagine it felt somewhat awkward contacting me, considering I am her older brother, but I appreciate it.

 

Though if I'm honest, it's weird seeing “our girls” on your message. Just goes to show, it's been me and Alex for far too long. I will contact her as soon as I finish here, I'd rather call her instead of just typing something maybe that might make up for some of my lack of contact. But other than that, is she ok?

 

Tom -  She's fine, she has some news for you actually quite a bit of news, all good. different things have been coming together for her she's incredibly happy and I think it was a little gentle nudge, perhaps with your help, I can convince her to get a slightly bigger place for herself and Lily, while still within reach of Lily's School.

 

Daniel - Shit, I forgot that she's started, what sort of brother am I?

 

Tom -  if it's any consolation, I did the same with Sophie.

 

Daniel - I'm going to assume that it your niece. It doesn't make it any better, I always promised Lily that I would do everything I could for her, so for me to not even ask how her first day of school went, that's just wrong. I can't thank you enough Tom for contacting me. I'm here spending time with Anna and her sister, I don't even spend time talking to my own.

 

Tom - You can change that now by contact with them, both of them are really hoping to hear from you.

 

Daniel - Thank you Tom, thank you for looking after them and for not using them as camera fodder, I'm not going to lie, I was terrified that you would do that.

 

Tom - I understand. Who knows, we might see you soon.

 

Tom came offline and sat back for a moment, thinking about what he had just done, hoping it was the right thing to do and that Alexianna would not feel betrayed by him contacting Daniel on her behalf.

 

*

As it turned out, Alexianna was elated by his interference, as it meant that she was finally speaking with her brother again. He told her about Anna, her age, her job, her hobbies and other bits and pieces about her. her father had remarried ten years ago and had a child with his second wife, but he had been killed in a car accident, so Anna now helped to care for her sister Joanne a lot, hence the photo of them at the zoo with her. Apparently, any guy that Anna would go with had to be ok with Joanne, that had caused Alexianna to laugh, no one would be more perfect than Daniel. He told her about where he was living now, Edinburgh. He insisted that she and Lily would have to come and visit soon when Lily was on holidays from school, but that he would make his way down to them beforehand, the end of October was apparently too long between visits.

 

Lily cried with glee at seeing her uncle FaceTime her mum. It took ten minutes to tell her uncle everything that has happened with school, and how she had loads of new friends and of how much fun she was having with Mum and Tom. For her part, Alexianna had the most exciting news. She told Daniel about her divorce, about Edward threats that Jonathan wanted her to sign. Lily, who was across the room when her uncle heard this but able to make out the swear words he was using to refer to the two men. She also told him of what Tom had his friend do, something he messaged Tom about later thanking him profusely for everything he had done. After all of that, Alexianna told him her newest news, she been hired as an intern that would give her extra learning but also a greater income that went hand in hand with her degree.

 

She has not been successful getting an internship with Luke’s company; Luke explained that her lack of experience and her relationship with Tom made it too complicated for her to work for him, but he gave her CV to a friend of his who wanted to train someone from scratch and it had resulted in her working parttime as well as studying, the HR management arranged a timeshare position for her and another intern that permission to them to both go to college and do their job. it's doubled the time that she would have to work as an intern but the income was greater than what she earned before, it was listed employment and went hand in hand with her degree, so in short, it was perfect for her.

 

Immediately Daniel did as Tom has also suggested and asked her to consider getting a bigger apartment, telling her that with her age and the fact that she was in school, Lily needed her own room. Clearly, Tom had whittled her down some bit because she listened to him before making her objections. He told her to find a place, he would pay the deposit for her, as well as moving van, and to give them the address, as well as Lily's room dimensions, because he was going to get her a bed and matching room furniture just for her. Alexianna immediately began to objective, but it was clear Daniel would not be moved, insisting that it was the right thing to do and something she had earned, reminding her of every fault and issue that she had had in the apartment she was currently in. Though she did not wish to admit it, his sister knew that he was right.

 

With promises to see them soon, Daniel said his goodbyes, leaving a happy and somewhat relieved Alexianna looking at her phone wondering what caused a brother to ring her out of the blue. It was only ten minutes later, when she was making a cup of tea for herself, that Alexianna realised he had mentioned her getting the bigger apartment in the exact same way Tom had. She needed to take out her phone and pressed the dial button.

 

‘Hello Lexi, how are you this afternoon?’

 

Alexianna immediately noted Tom's delighted tone. ‘Actually, I'm great thanks how are you?’

 

‘Good, yeah.'

 

'I actually wanted to talk to you about something.’

 

‘Okay?’ Tom was unsure by her tone if this was a good or bad thing.

 

‘I just got the most unexpected phone call,’ she began.

 

‘Good or bad?’ Tom realised she was referring to a call from her brother.

 

‘Great actually, care to guess who it was from?’

 

‘The National Lottery?’

 

‘Don't be a smartass. Why is it my brother, the brother I have not spoken to in quite a few weeks, rings me up out of the blue, asks me how I am getting on and then goes on with the exact same idea as you for me to get a bigger place?’

 

‘Because perhaps maybe it is a good idea?’ Tom suggested. ‘You know the saying “Great minds think alike”.’

 

‘You do realise the second part of that is “But fools seldom differ”? don't you?’

 

‘We both know I'm no fool.’ Tom grin was audible over the phone.

 

‘Tom did you contact Daniel?’ Alexianna asked, her tone did not give away her emotion at this question.

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘Because you were upset and personally I did not think that it was because your brother had an issue with you as to why he did not contact you, so I said I would ask myself. You had said that after your own unanswered texts that you did not think it best for you to contact him again, so I thought perhaps I could help. I'm sorry if I overstepped the mark, I was just worried for you and Lily, I didn't want to see you unhappy, especially if there was no reason for you to be. I won’t always be able to stop things from hurting you, as much as it kills me to say it, but I felt I could help with this.’

 

‘Thank you, Tom, it was a little weird when I figured out it was you, considering it is my brother and you already made it clear how awkward it can be between boyfriends and brothers but I'm really happy that you did it, thank you. It made Lily’s day.’

 

‘Anytime. Are you ready for this weekend?’

 

‘No. but it's coming anyway isn't it?’

 

‘You will love it, wait and see.’ Tom promised.

Chapter Text

Alexianna was unsure how she made it all the way to Suffolk in the car, but she succeeded. Lily got bored en route and fell asleep while Tom gave her the rundown of Sarah and Yakov, interests and jobs and other such things to help her feel as though she was not a complete stranger with his older sister and her husband. When they arrived at the house, Alexianna smiled. ‘This is your mum, this is so you mum.’ She beamed as she got out of the car and walked around to get Lily out of the backseat. ‘Come on Lazybones.’

She had woken Lily ten minutes out so that the child would not be cranky as they went into the house, hoping not to give a bad first impression. Lily looked up at the house in awe. ‘It’s so pretty, is this a hotel?’

‘No Princess, it is not a hotel. This is my mum’s house.’ Tom grinned.

In the few weeks it had been since he mentioned the trip to her, Tom had a few bits and pieces he had to do for work, but she was busier, Alexianna was juggling work and study and still managing to be a mother too, Tom watched in awe as she did it all. He had not been able to convince her to move house yet, but with her schedule, he failed to see how she could even consider it. If anything, he insisted she join him in Suffolk to get herself some R&R. In that time also, Lily went from “Darling” to “Princess” as per her own request, not liking that Tom used the word on others.

‘Nan is here!’ she squealed with joy almost elbowing Alexianna in the face as she tried to get out of the seat. Tom took their luggage as Lily dragged her ever battered two rabbit teddies and rushed to the door, Alexianna closing the car door before helping Tom with the bags.

It was Emma who opened the door, beaming brightly at Lily. ‘Hello, Princess Lily.’ She bent down and cuddled Lily who adored the attention. ‘We have someone who is dying to meet you.’

Lily showed no fear as she walked into the house with Emma and looked around. ‘It’s so pretty.’ She looked at the art and pictures that Diana had up before giggling. ‘Is that Tom?’

Emma looked and laughed. ‘Yep, he was about your age then.’

Lily giggled more. ‘Do not tell me Mum has that picture up on the wall again?’ Tom groaned as they came in.

‘But small smiley Tom is fun.’ Alexianna laughed, ‘You looked so adorable...what happened?’ Emma snorted in laughter.

‘Aren’t you funny?’ Tom stated bemusedly.

‘I like to think I am.’ She smiled, causing him to grin back at her.

‘Come on, everyone else is in the kitchen.’ Emma smiled as they made their way in. Just as they came out of the living room, there was a dart of something back into the kitchen, something smaller, child-sized. ‘Sophie.’ Her aunt warned as they came to the door.

‘You are taking forever.’ Came another voice from inside before they entered and were met by everyone.

Immediately Lily noticed Diana and rushed over to her, the older woman smiling as she hugged her. ‘Hello, Sweetheart.’

‘I missed you, your house is pretty.’

‘Thank you, love.’ They noticed another person standing next to them. ‘Lily, this is my granddaughter Sophie, Sophie, I told you about Lily.’

‘My adopted cousin.’ Sophie beamed. ‘Do you like Shimmer and Shine?’

Lily’s face lit up and she started singing the theme, which Sophie joined in with and dragged her from the room to her toys.

‘We are not going to have a moment’s peace for the weekend.’ Emma laughed, she noted the peculiar look on Sarah’s face before giving her a confused one.

Sarah just smiled when she realised her sister was looking at her. ‘Hello, little brother.’ She jested.

‘I am six inches taller than you and only eighteen months younger, you were still in nappies for goodness sake.’

‘But I am still older.’ Sarah teased as she hugged him before looking to a slightly sheepish looking Alexianna. ‘Hello, I have not seen you in years, how do you look almost the same, what are you using?’ she gave her a hug too.

Alexianna felt somewhat startled by it, ‘Em, water?’

‘Very funny, wise ass.’ Emma scoffed. ‘You know Jack.’ She indicated to her husband, who she had introduced to Alexianna one afternoon when they met for coffee. ‘And this is Sarah’s husband Yakov.’

‘Hello.’ Alexianna waved nervously.

‘Now that we are all here, let’s get dinner on.’ Diana smiled as she went to the stove. ‘Sarah, you set the table, Emma dear, make sure the meat is glazed properly, and boys, out, how are we supposed to get anything done with you all in the way. Alex darling, could you help me with the potatoes.’

With the men shooed from the room, Jack and Tom getting wood and coal in for the fire and Yakov making sure the two girls were safe, they got to work on the food.

‘Hey?’ Emma turned to see Sarah looking at her as she went to get a cushion for Sophie and Lily to sit on at the table. ‘Can I ask you something weird?’

‘’What?’ Emma remembered the way her sister had looked at Lily earlier.

‘Do you think Alexianna’s daughter…’

‘Looks exactly like Tom?’

‘So it’s not just me.’

‘No, the first time I saw her I thought it too.’

‘She’s not his though….is she?’

‘No, they haven’t seen each other in years.’

‘What does her ex look like?’

‘You think after everything, she has photos she shows people or that I would ask?’ Emma scoffed. ‘Why?’

‘Well, part of my degree, I did Psychology, you know that, and part of it as transference, if Lily looks like her father, and her father looks like Tom…’

‘Look, I am not going to think about it.’ Emma stated, ‘Tom seems happy and Alexianna is really starting to act like the girl I was friends with in school.’

‘But…’

‘No buts Sarah, she’s divorced from this Jonathan guy, he is nothing to do with her and she is happy with Tom, that’s all we could want surely?’

‘I just find it weird, I mean if she and Tom ever have kids, they honestly could not look more like Tom.’

‘It’s weird, but Lily looks like who she looks like and that isn’t going to change.’ Emma shrugged as she got the cushions and walked out again. The pair went downstairs to see Jack and Tom had finished getting the fire sorted and for Tom to be between the two girls on the floor being educated in the world of Shimmer and Shine. ‘Poor Tom.’

‘Where’s Yakov?’ Sarah laughed on seeing her brother looking confused between the girls.

‘Fled for a minute to get a tea while he still had his sanity.’ Tom joked. ‘I am being told about...these things.’ He pointed to the toys.

‘Toys can be frazzling, can’t they?’

‘Was there this many when we were kids, I genuinely don’t think there was?’ He looked around at the different things.

‘I think they came all in the one pack and not all sold separately.’ Sarah stated.

‘Parenting joys.’ Tom commented.

‘Yeah, mock me.’

Tom’s brows furrowed, ‘I don’t do anything on that front.’

‘You don’t help with….?’

‘I am under strict instruction not to go buying toys all the time and I have kept to it.’ Tom stated factually. ‘Lexi made it clear, Christmas and Birthday and birthday is not until July.’

‘Do you help with anything else?’

‘Financially, absolutely not, Lexi is crystal clear, her daughter, her responsibility.’ Tom informed her. ‘She doesn’t want anyone, myself included, to think she wants someone to raise her daughter for her.’

‘But you are involved in other ways, aren’t you?’

‘I spend time with her, I read with her, yes.’ Tom explained. ‘I am chief story reader now.’ He declared proudly.

‘Right.’ Sarah sighed, relieved her brother was not half ignoring Lily. ‘And down the road?’

‘We are not worrying about too far ahead, we don’t want to pressure ourselves.’ Tom informed her. ‘Lil’s, princess, you cannot use my knee as a mountain, it is too old and rickety.’ He smiled as she tried and failed to get a monkey character to stay on his knee.

Lily giggled in return. ‘Silly Tom.’

Sarah watched how Tom reacted with Lily, she had seen him before with Sophie, it was so natural and caring, Tom adored his niece, but with Lily, he noticed he kept just a step back, as though not allowing himself invest fully. When he realised she was looking at him again, he smiled, but she did not return the gesture, causing frown lines to knit on his forehead. Before any more could be said, the “five minutes til food” call was given. ‘Tidy up.’ Sarah ordered, surprised that Sophie did not make a show in front of Lily, as well as Lily helping immediately without being asked. ‘Thank you, Sweetheart.’ She smiled. Lily beamed back at her. ‘I bet you help your mum a lot.’

‘Mum says I should always tidy my things because they could get lost or broken, and I don’t want my Paw Patrol to get losted.’ She shook her head.

Sarah smiled at the use of the incorrect word. ‘No, that would not be nice. Come on, your mum will want you to go inside to the kitchen.’ Lily rushed off, holding Sophie’s hand, Sarah watching them.

‘What was that look for?’ Tom asked, closing over the door.

‘Why are you standoffish with her, she adores you?’ Sarah queried.

‘She is not my daughter.’

‘That we were told.’

‘I...I don’t want her getting…’ Tom inhaled deeply. ‘If this goes wrong, if Lexi and I cannot make this work, she will be the one left upset.’

‘Her, or you?’ He did not answer. ‘You have two choices Tom; accept this fully or pull back, it is not healthy for Lily to think otherwise. What if, in say five years, you are still with Alex and you have a baby with her, will you give that child everything and continue to make only half an effort with Lily, or change how you treat Lily, who would be old enough to realise there is a difference, what is the long-term plan, or is it that there is none, that you have a foot halfway out the door already?’

‘No...I…’ Tom said nothing for another moment. ‘I don’t want this to crash and burn and to have dedicated all this time and effort into Lexi and Lily and be left with nothing.’

‘What nothing?’

‘Lily is not mine, so if Lexi and I part ways, I do not have the right to see her again,’ Tom explained, his voice tight. ‘I…’

‘You holding back isn’t going to help.’

‘Lexi is keeping it very formal, not letting me get too close, she has set rules, she’s mad for rules these days.’

‘Alexianna was always a stickler for rules, that’s not new. What sort of rules?’

‘Don’t get her stuff, don’t pay attention to tantrums, don’t...why are you looking at me like that?’

‘You do realise this is Alexianna involving you in a parenting aspect, right?’

‘What?’

‘She is setting boundaries so Lily does not see you as her personal ATM and is helping you be a figure of authority and importance in her life. She is making sure you are in the same role as her, her mum, this is the exact opposite of keeping you back, she allows you do story time, she is making sure you are not just some part-time fun adult, you are misconstruing her solidifying you as a person Lily should see as an important adult in her life as her being boring and distant.’ Tom stared at her blankly. ‘She seems to really want this Tom, you can see she is terrified here, but she came, because I would imagine, you made this seem like a big deal to you.’

Tom’s face became one of realisation. ‘I think you are so busy looking for something to be wrong, you are failing to see what is going right. Swift caused you to be suspicious, you gave yourself to that and she took it and toyed with you for her personal amusement and now you think Alex’s attempts to start you off on the right foot in Lily’s life is her being cold and cruel, it’s sad really, the cruel one made you skeptical of any further nice ones.’ She patted her brother’s shoulder. ‘Alex is a good fit for you, if you are both willing to put in the effort.’

‘Meaning?’

‘Your job is hard at the best of times, how many families separate when an actor is in their prime, look at Chris Pratt, even in a recent interview, Hemsworth said it put an incredible strain on his marriage, especially after the kids, and didn’t you say Cumberbatch is cutting a lot of work away from home?’ Tom nodded. ‘If you put in the effort and Alexianna is understanding enough to realise you will be away from time to time, you could make it and be really happy, I think anyway. Seeing her in the kitchen with mum, seeing Lily and how she is raising Lily, I think she is nice and normal and someone you should endeavour to be with.’ Sarah admitted. ‘I have to say though, Lily looks so much like you it is scary.’ Tom frowned. ‘Look at that photo and tell me that little girl does not look like you.’ She pointed to a particular photo in their mother’s living room, which Tom had to concede, made him and Lily seem more similar than most could argue.

‘If you look at that picture, you’re right, yeah.’

‘You sure you didn’t sleep with Alexianna five years ago?’ Sarah was only half joking.

‘I am pretty sure, yes.’

‘Said I’d ask.’

‘Are you two ever coming to dinner?’ Yakov queried from the living room door, ‘Everyone else is at the table.’

‘Sorry, just chatting.’ Sarah grinned walking forward.

*

The afternoon went well, Sophie and Lily acted as though they had been raised together rather than having just met and as a result begged and pleaded to stay in the same room that night. The adults acted as though it had not already been discussed seeing as they needed to try and figure out how to facilitate everyone and said fine, knowing both girls would probably stay up late, but with Tom acting as storyteller, and two stories instead of one, they went to bed at an intermediate time between their usual bedtimes and were asleep by nine-thirty while the adults spoke more in the living room.

‘Are you alright?’

Alexianna turned to see Tom behind her as she washed the cup she had been using and smiled. ‘Yes, why?’

‘Just wanted to ask, I don’t want you overwhelmed.’ He wrapped his arms around her.

‘I’m fine, tired, but okay.’

‘We’ll go to bed soon.’ Her face gave away the emotions he knew she had been hiding. ‘Sarah and Yakov are in bed together, so are Emma and Jack so us being in bed together isn’t an issue.’

‘They’re married.’

‘We have spent how many nights together in bed and you never worried?’

‘Not in your mother’s though.’ He gave a small brow raise. ‘No funny stuff.’

‘I cannot promise that.’ He smiled, she gave a warning glare. 'Everyone adores you, you know?’

‘I missed your family, they are so incredible.’

‘They adore Lily too.’

‘How could you not, she’s amazing.’ Alexianna smiled proudly.

‘With you for a mum, how wouldn’t she be?’ He inhaled deeply. ‘Lexi, can I ask you something?’ She looked at him concerned. ‘Do you see me as someone of authority in Lily’s life?’ She looked at him nervously. ‘Be honest, please.’

‘I...I want you to be, but I understand if that is too much for you.’

‘But what if we part ways? Will that not confuse her?’

‘What if we don’t?’ She challenged. ‘If you don’t want to Tom, I understand, but if you want this to work, I think you need to be somewhat like that for her. You’re not her father, I know that is a wedge you cannot ignore in some ways, but with Jonathan not being involved…’

‘At least there’s that.’ He acknowledged. ‘I’m scared in some ways, but...I want this.’ He stated clearly.

Chapter Text

Alexianna smiled as Lily giggled uncontrollably, having been brought to the seaside for the first time in her life. She seemed to almost become a different child as she used a stick to draw in the sand and watched the water crash on the shoreline. Sophie was beside her, helping her draw her name in the sand.

‘Are you okay?’ Tom looked at her, noting the sadness on her face.

‘I am failing her.’ Alexianna’s voice was tight.

Tom immediately pulled her to him. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘She...this is the first time she has had something as normal as a visit to the seaside.’

‘Lexi, you had no car or the way to bring her, you are getting over this issue of yours now and she is only four, not fourteen, relax, you are not failing her.’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘Look at her, look how happy she is, don’t feel sad when she is so happy.’ Alexianna gave a small smile. ‘Take a picture, send it to Daniel, he would want to see this.’

‘I didn’t bring my phone.’ She admitted.

‘We’ll use mine.’ Tom reached into his pocket and took out his phone, taking two pictures without Lily noticing before calling her. ‘Lily Princess, we need a picture for Uncle Daniel.’ Upon hearing her uncle’s name, Lily squeaked with joy and rushed over, smiled wide, her hair every direction, the cool windy weather causing her to have a runny nose. ‘What do we say for pictures?’ He laughed.

‘Pikachu!’

Tom looked to Alexianna who was laughing at her daughter, not knowing where she got that from. ‘I was thinking cheese.’

‘But I don’t like cheese.’

‘Then say please.’ Alexianna suggested laughing.

‘How about pineapple?’ Lily suggested.

‘Just say Lily, please or even say nothing and smile.’ Her mum smiled.

‘Fine.’ Lily frowned for a moment, but seeing Tom pointing the phone at her, she smiled widely. ‘Now you and me, Mummy.’

‘No.’ Alexianna refused, stepping back.

‘Yes.’ Tom stated, ‘He’d love that.’

‘Tom, please.’ The way Alexianna looked at him pleadingly, with tears in her eyes told Tom everything.

‘Okay, it’s okay.’ He pulled her to him and kissed her temple. ‘We’ll get a picture of Mum in a minute, okay Princess, how about a big smile?’ Lily was about to complain about her mother not taking a photo with her, but as soon as Tom mentioned another photograph, she beamed widely. When he was done, she demanded to see them all, scolding him if one was blurry. Lily watched as Tom sent the pictures and a video of her saying hello to her uncle by PM on Facebook and they continued with their day, Tom making sure to reassure Alexianna with small gestures as they did so.

By evening, Lily was bleary-eyed on the couch watching Moana with Sophie, the fresh air and the hours spent outside having worn both girls out. Tom and Alexianna were the two cleaning up after the dinner since it was cooked while they took the girls out.

‘Did you enjoy the beach?’ Tom asked, looking at Alexianna drying a plate.

‘Yeah, it was nice.’ She gave a small smile.

‘Lexi…’ She looked at him in a way that told him she knew what he was going to ask. ‘Why don’t you want a picture of you and Lily?’

‘I don’t like photos.’

‘They use not bother you when you were younger.’ It was true, she never rushed into pictures, but when she and Emma used to laugh and have fun if there was a camera around, she used to pull funny faces with his sister and smile.

‘I just don’t.’ She stated, refusing to say any more on the subject.

He pulled her against him. ‘You are beautiful, inside and out.’ He stated, kissing her forehead. ‘We have had people take photos of us together.’ He reminded her. Admittedly neither had consented to it and the photographers did not seem too respectful of the clear dislike that she had for their actions.

‘In all fairness, they don’t get too close, if they did get a close-up, it is blurry, they can’t see them.’

Tom frowned for a moment and realised she was referencing her scars. He often forgot about them, knowing that they were there, he never actually paid any attention to them, but clearly, she was bothered by it. She never wore her hair up and did nothing to bring attention to her face. Even now, as she cleaned dishes in a warm house, her sleeves were down. ‘You are more than those scars, you know that, right?’ He pulled up her sleeve on her right arm, the one that took the brunt of the car crash. ‘These mean you survived. You showed me the photos of the crash, he ploughed into you at forty miles per hour in a large metal machine and you are still here.’ He kissed the healed wounds.

‘But when people find out about them…’

‘They will realise how incredibly strong you are.’

‘Or say he should have gone fifty and done the job right.’ She stated.

Tom swallowed, there were “fans” out there that wished ill on their celebrity crushes partners. He was sure, somewhere in the far corners of the internet, someone somewhere, under the anonymity of pixels on a screen would say something like that. He pulled her against him and kissed her head. ‘Don’t say that, please don’t say things like that. You are incredible and if something more happened you I would never have gotten to see you again, I would not have had the chance to tell you I love you. Jesus, without you, there would be no Lily, that beautiful, sweet, wonderful little girl is only here because you are here. If you never see anything else worth it all, look at her, think of her when she is asleep or looking up at you with that sweet twinkle in her eye of excitement as she tells you about her day in school, don’t ever think that it would have been better if he had.’

‘You can be a big sweetheart sometimes, do you know that?’

‘As long as it makes you realise how great you are, I’m okay with it. Just don’t tell anyone, I am the most mischievous God in the universes, okay?’ She laughed against him. ‘Come on, we’ll get this sorted.’ he urged her back to the dishes.

‘Hey, how are things going in here, has Tom broken any dishes yet?’ Sarah joked as she came in to get some tea not long after.

‘I never broke a dish, that was you and you blamed me.’

‘I broke two other ones that day, if dad found out I broke a third, he’d have kicked my ass.’

‘So poor Tom took the blame, why not blame Emma, she is six years younger? She’d have gotten away with it.’ Alexianna asked.

‘I said that too, but no, it had to be me. I was punished for it too, an evening without TV, and something good was on too, I can’t remember what, but it was good and I had been wanting to watch it.’

‘I’m sorry.’ Sarah stated honestly. ‘I promise never to blame you again.’

‘We are adults now; if you cannot take the blame at this stage, when can you?’ Tom scoffed.

Sarah rolled her eyes for a moment before her gaze came to Alexianna’s rolled up sleeve, which caused her eyes to widen before she could help herself. Swallowing to try and get rid of the lump in her throat, she cleared her voice before speaking again. ‘Do...do you need help in here?’

Both Tom and Alexianna had realised what had happened, Alexianna immediately pulling her sleeve down. ‘No, we have it covered.’ Tom insisted. He looked at Alexianna, who could not take her gaze from the floor. ‘Alexianna, as you know, was in a car crash and her right arm took a lot of the damage, she had glass shards and even part of a Bentley embedded in it and two surgeries to fix it, so she can get a little bothered with its appearance.’ Alexianna looked at him shocked. ‘You are so hung up on thinking you look terrible you are not enjoying being around people who love and care about you.’ She looked at him guiltily.

‘We see enough people being fake or not who they really are around us, trying to get to Tom or with Sarah with her work.’ They turned to see Diana walking into the room. ‘No one in this family is allowed feel as though they cannot be themselves in here. Wrinkles, grey hairs, scars and even high hairlines,’ Tom rubbed his forehead at that, fully aware of his ever-receding hairline. ‘It’s all normal in here.’

‘And stretchmarks.’ Sarah reminded her mother.

‘Are those a thing now, back in my day, no one gave a monkey’s about them.’

‘They are, and cellulite.’ Sarah informed her mother.

‘No wonder so many girls are starving themselves these days or caking themselves in make-up, you cannot be yourself.’ Diana shook her head. ‘So what is so bad you are risking your sleeves being dirty to hide it?’ She asked.

Alexianna looked at her scared before looking to Tom, who immediately came to her side to show her he was there for her. Shaking slightly, she lifted up her sleeve to which Diana walked over and inspected it. ‘Well, you were always a tough cookie, I bet that was not pleasant.’

Alexianna found herself laughing, ‘No, I spent a month on heavy-duty painkillers for it because of the operations too.’ She admitted. ‘My ulnar is more metal than bone now.’

Diana immediately pulled her to her and hugged her tightly, ‘You don’t have to worry about that here. You are you and we love you for who you are. Am I clear?’ She nodded. ‘Scars are proof we lived, no one gets through this life unscathed. Even this silly boy has some.’ Diana pointed to Tom, who rubbed his forehead from his accident in the Donmar. ‘Now, no more silliness, do you hear me?’

*

‘Are you mad at me?’ Alexianna looked at Tom, who was sheepishly standing behind her in his old bedroom as they got ready for bed.

‘No.’

‘You have been quite quiet with me this evening.’

‘Tom, I’m tired.’ She stated, not looking at him.

Tom, however, did not yield, having realised in their time together, she had a tendency to go into a quiet state, not saying anything. ‘I had no right to tell my family about your arm, I’m sorry.’

‘You had no right.’ She snapped, looking back at him, her face a mixture of angry and hurt. ‘I don’t want people knowing about it.’

‘I know, I thought if they knew, you would not worry and you could just get on with life without having to think to keep your sleeve down around them. I’m sorry.’ He stated sadly.

‘I decide who I tell what about in my life, you do not get to do that.’ She had tears in her eyes as she spoke. ‘I am not something to be pointed at.’

‘No, you’re not, hence why telling those around you your issues is important, we need to be able to show you that there is nothing wrong with you, that you are perfect.’ Alexianna scoffed. ‘Yes, you are perfect as you are, scars and all, or do you not realise that when I tell you that I love you, and when we are intimate. Do you think what I say and how I react when I am with you, when we are in bed together, is just bullshit?’ Tom asked, his features displaying his hurt. ‘I want you to be part of my life like you say you want me in yours and Lily’s, but you do not trust me when I say I love you and your arm does not impact on that and seeing it cause you to clam up, seeing you ashamed or repulsed by it makes me so upset, because I want you to see it and think that that car crash is not going to define you, that even though it led to a difficult time, you got through it, that you have Lily and that you are glad to be where you are today, you’re doing well in work, your daughter is doing well in school and we are doing well, is that so hard for you?’ His voice filled with heartache for her, Alexianna looked at him guiltily. Tom wanted her to get past the bad that had happened. ‘The longer you hold onto the meaning of those scars, the longer you are allowing all of that in your life. Don’t let them or him take any more of your life, you have me and Lily, we want you to be happy, we want you to get past all that. You said the therapist was adamant to talk about him and that is why you did not want to continue going, but holding onto your opinion of your arm,’ he pointed to her arm. ‘Is doing exactly that.’ Alexianna stared at him shocked. ‘Don’t stay thinking about that, please.’ he beseeched. ‘You are not those scars, he and those thoughts you have do not deserve your time. You deserve better.’

Alexianna said nothing, instead, she stewed on his words before she bit her lips together and her eyes began to water. ‘Oh God.’

‘Lexi?’

‘I...You’re right. I...I have been letting this...him stay in my head.’

Tom immediately walked over to her and pulled her to him, holding her tight as the realisation rocked her. ‘I’m here, don’t worry. You’ll be fine, you just need to work through it, it won’t be quick or easy, but you have me, Daniel, my family, we love you as you, okay?’ He kissed her head. ‘Even when I am busy, when I am working, you can text me and I will text or call you as soon as I have a chance, okay?’

‘Thank you for being honest.’ She hiccuped into his chest.

‘What do you mean?’

‘For not saying that you’ll be there no matter what, that you are being realistic.’

‘I have to be, I cannot say I will be there at the drop of a hat if it is not possible to be, that would be setting us up to fail, I don’t want to do that. It is the same for you, when I need something from this, from us, I have to wait for you to finish work or study or when you are not dealing with Lily.’

‘I know.’

‘I love you, Lexi, with your scars, stretch marks and when the time comes, even grey hairs.’ He promised, kissing her. ‘As much as I hope you don’t mind my scars, my receding hairline and the greys I know are edging in.’

‘Yes.’

‘Those scars are not you, they are just marks on your skin.’ He insisted, bringing her to the bed.

Chapter Text

Tom made sure no one of note saw him as he went into the toy store to get what was needed. He was present when Lily made her “Santa list” as well as other items that were shortlisted, but scrapped as Alexianna had a firm rule, Lily could only ask Santa for three things. As a result, he knew what other things were on the list, Alexianna had said what was going to be from her, Daniel had given her money to get one from him as he would be working on the rig for Christmas, leaving Tom with the idea to get her the other item on the list.

It was the most expensive of the items on the list, but it was still extremely reasonably priced at a meagre sixty pounds, so he saw no issue. He ensured it was adequately concealed on his departure for fear that he was seen and Lily would find out what it was before Christmas.

He was right to be cautious, as there was indeed a few fans asking for photos as he made his way through the street back to his car, Lily’s present in hand. One or two made comments about the big Paw Patrol present bag, saying their kids/nieces/nephews were the same, others seemed less than impressed, but said nothing regards it.

With that done, he went about getting something for Alexianna. He wanted to get her something fancy or even extravagant. She was working hard, juggling their relationship, being a mother to Lily, her job and her schooling in some miraculous way. Tom often found himself wondering how she did it all. She assisted Lily with her learning to read and write, while also doing work and her own schooling. He sat watching as she had Lily on her lap colouring while she wrote a shopping list to get on the way home from work before collecting Lily from school the next day. She never put pressure on him, respecting his need to work and often space to deal with it. He knew she wore little jewellery, only a necklace she had gotten herself after Lily was born to signify the two of them, nothing else and he did not want to infringe on that. Then he considered a weekend away, just them, but he also knew she would be frantic about Lily, so he contacted Daniel to ask him when he would be back their direction, since he was certain the only one that she would permit take Lily for a night was her brother, but sadly, there was no way for him to tell just yet, as he had his own life in Scotland now, leaving Tom to try and figure out something. He thought of a gift voucher somewhere, but he was worried she would take that as a suggestion that what she had was not good enough. It was a minefield, and he was terrified of insulting her in one manner or another.

One thing Tom noticed was the sheer amount of women that now made up the inner circle of his life. Between his mother, his sisters, his niece, Alexianna and Lily, he was utterly surrounded. He had a few good male friends, but it was funny all the same how many women he had around him. As he bought the rest of his presents, he felt more confident of what to get her and proceeded to do so.

By the time he got everything done, he checked his watch and realised he was late getting home, having asked Alexianna and Lily over for the evening for dinner, with no time to cook, he thought it best to arrange a takeaway when he got there and texted Alexianna to tell her he was slightly delayed.

When he got to the house, he was smiling, having just passed Alexianna and Lily, who were a mere few houses away making their way to his home. ‘Good evening, ladies.’

‘Hi, Tom.’ Lily giggled. ‘You’re so silly.’

‘Good, that means I am making you laugh.’ Tom smiled, cuddling her as she rushed to him. When she pulled back, her mother came into his view more. ‘Hi.’ He looked at her in concern. ‘Are you…?’

‘I’m fine.’ She dismissed, though it was clear something was bothering her. He had spoken to her earlier in the day and everything seemed fine, so whatever it was more than likely occurred in the afternoon sometime. But he knew she never wanted to share her worries too much, be it because she was scared that she would frighten him off or because she did not want to let Lily realise something was bothering her, but either way, she was refusing to say anymore. ‘Good afternoon?’

‘Busy, I had to get a few things sorted.’ He smiled, his glance going to the car or a moment. ‘I did not get a chance to cook, so what about a pizza for dinner?’

‘Can you have one?’ Alexianna asked worriedly, knowing that Tom’s diet was restricted by his job.

‘So long as I do not stuff myself to beyond normal.’ He smiled, putting his arm around her and giving her a small kiss.

In the time since their trip to Suffolk, Alexianna had become slightly more lenient with what Lily saw between them. She had seemingly watched Jack and Emma’s interactions, as well as Sarah and Yakov’s around Lily and indeed Sophie to gauge what would be deemed an acceptable level of interaction between adults in a relationship. It was hard for her because part of her was saying it was not right. There had been an argument as a result of her shying away from Tom with Lily present. Tom stating that such actions implied to Lily that there was a reason for Alexianna to shy away from him and in turn, that he was someone to worry about. Alexianna was forced to concede that it was true and allowed some contact, a kiss or a hug be visible in front of Lily, something Tom and Emma on another occasion, insisted would teach Lily what healthy and good adult relationships looked like, and would set her up with what to expect when she was older. Though Alexianna was none too pleased at considering her daughter as a teenager with a partner, she accepted it was true and that she needed to be more understanding of it.

‘When she is gone to bed, will you tell me what is bothering you?’

‘I am just tired, Tom.’ She dismissed again.

‘Lexi?’ She could not look him in the eye for a moment, and when she did, he could see there was indeed something bothering her. ‘Please.’

‘I just am worn out today, and then someone made a stupid comment.’ She explained.

‘Okay, thank you, Darling.’ He kissed her again. ‘We will talk more later, alright?’

She nodded slightly. ‘So long as I do not render unconscious after my food.’ She smiled. ‘Where will we order from?’ She smiled, feeling somewhat better having confessed some of her woes to Tom, and wanting to be happy around Lily.

Grateful to have gotten her to open up slightly, Tom smiled too, amazed at the lengths Alexianna was willing to go to to ensure Lily had a happy home environment, even if all she wanted to do was crawl in a corner and remain there. ‘Dominos?’

Alexianna scoffed slightly, ‘That is hardly fine dining.’

‘I never said we were going to do such.’ Tom grinned. ‘Are you against it?’

‘Hell, no. I am all for it.’

‘Then don’t complain about a delicious dinner,’ He chuckled.

‘Meateor for me please, tomato base, not barbeque.’ Alexianna asked. ‘And Madame will have some of mine.’

‘Okay, and sides?’ Tom took note.

‘As long as there are wedges, we’re happy.’

‘I will organise that, you get Lily sorted.’ Tom gently rubbed her arm in a show of affection before Alexianna did as he suggested.

With the food eaten and Tom brought up to date on Lily’s life, courtesy of an enthusiastic Lily, she was finally ushered to bed, with Tom as her storyteller, as often happened when they stayed at his before Alexianna and Tom were left to an evening to themselves again.

‘How about we sit down and watch a film?’ Tom suggested as he wrapped his arms around her waist as Alexianna dried the last of the dishes.

‘In a minute, I just want to sort these.’ She leant into his embrace.

‘What’s wrong, tell me.’ He pleased, wanting her to feel better.

She considered not telling him for a moment before conceding that he would probably badger her until she told him. ‘I am getting comments, at work, and at college.’

‘About us?’ She nodded. ‘And?’

‘I knew it would happen, but what they are saying, who thinks it’s okay to go up to a person and say these things? Do you remember when we were growing up, you never dared to speak to people like that?’

‘It is the modern day, people overuse social media and hide behind little icons on a screen and say all sorts of things that they always thought but knew to never say in public, or else they enjoy the reaction and attention they get from saying these horrible things and then forget that they are no longer behind the onscreen persona, or indeed forget that this not acceptable human interaction or that their right to say what they want excuses them from ramifications.’ Tom explained, pulling her close to him. ‘So, what are they jabbering about. You sleeping with me to get ahead? You’re using me in some other way.’

‘Among other things. I think the words “Sugar Daddy” were used at some point.’

Tom shook his head with a look of distaste on his face. ‘It makes me sound old.’

‘The other is that Lily is yours.’

‘We had those accusations a few times now, that is hardly the most insulting, is it?’ He was unsure whether or not he should be insulted

‘No, that one doesn’t tend to bother me, I mean,’ She smiled slightly. ‘Of all the men to be her father, I wish you were a candidate.’

‘Then what about it?’ She looked at her hands. ‘Lexi?’

‘Apparently, I am punishing you, for the whole Taylor Swift thing, and you are being forced to take me back and I am holding you to ransom with our daughter. I should just stop being vindictive, that you deserve a decent woman, that I was jealous of Swift and that is why I forced your break up.’ She stated, her voice low as she recalled the nasty words she had been forced to listen to. ‘I wanted to tell her to go fuck herself, but...she was actually an employee there, and if I went off on her….’

‘You look bad and get punished,’ Tom nodded, understandingly. ‘I am so sorry, Lexi.’

‘You did nothing wrong.’

‘No, but you are working so hard, for you and Lily and my part in this is why people are being like this to you, you don’t deserve it.’

‘It’s just hard because to give the same back, I am bringing myself, and in turn us down.’

‘“Us”?’

‘Well, yes. I mean, it doesn’t say much for us if I am acting like someone from Shameless, screaming at people like trash.’

‘No,’ Tom agreed, kissing the top of her head. ‘Thank you for keeping your cool.’

‘Well, I would be trying for the wrong career if I could not keep my cool.’ She laughed.

Tom chuckled. ‘That’s true.’ He kissed her again. ‘I got Lily’s Christmas present today.’

‘Tom, don’t be worrying about things like that.’

‘Hey, you said I am allowed get her something at Christmas. I love spoiling Sophie and I want to spoil Lily when I am allowed to, so please.’

‘I just don’t want you to feel like we want things from you.’

‘I don’t think that. I think you both deserve nice things.’

‘Please Tom, I don’t want anything off you.’

‘I know, that is why I want to give you something because you don’t expect it. You were always like that, I remember you giving out to Emma.’

‘Those were Spice Girls tickets, completely over the top.’

‘You went though.’

‘It was the Spice Girls, of course I went, I am not an idiot.’ Alexianna laughed before smiling at the memory. ‘It was so much fun.’

‘I still cannot Mum let Sarah take you both.’

‘We were eleven and Sarah was eighteen and we were well behaved. You on the other hand….’

‘We won’t talk about me.’

‘And your little stunt with the Drama club and getting drunk when….’

‘You know way too much.’ Tom commented.

‘Sounds like a threat when you say it like that.’ Alexianna laughed.

‘Come on, let’s relax.’

Chapter Text

Alexianna looked around the room and bit her lips together. It was as though someone asked her if she could design her dream apartment, and gave it to her, but the landlord wanted a month’s rent and another’s for a deposit and that was up on three thousand pounds, it would eat considerably into what money she had.

Tom and Daniel badgered her time and again about getting a better place, the other one had begun to get black mould and when Lily started coughing and could not shift it, Tom put his foot down.

‘It’s perfect, I’ll tell Lionel we’ll take it.’ Tom declared with a smile. Alexianna stared at him in disbelief. ‘Lexi, it is a small direct bus journey distance from the school, clean, two bedroomed, spacious, what more could you want?’

‘It is fifteen hundred pounds a month.’

‘A bargain for this part of the city.’ Tom commented.

‘Why though?’

‘Because Lionel is my cousin, he is moving to the States for two years for work and he just wants it looked after while he is gone, that fee pays for the charges of the property mostly.’

‘I cannot afford that, Tom. Even with Daniel’s contribution, it is leaving me a little tight.’

‘You will be earning more soon, you are on the ladder now. This is usually a two and a half grand place, the council tax is included, and the licence fee, you are saving huge there.’ She said nothing in response, knowing it was true. ‘It is so much nicer for you and Lily, think of it, Lexi, her own room, and he said you can decorate it for her, posters, paint….we could get someone to paint the paw patrol on the walls for her, she would love that.’ He beamed. ‘And I can stay here from time to time then, and not have you rushing off at seven am to get Lily to school and you to work on time. It’s gated, so it is safe. If Jonathon or that goon of a brother of his try to get in, they are on camera and everything.’

Alexianna paused for a moment. It was true, she was safer there, Lily was safer there. ‘I just….’

‘It is best for you, Lexi, please take it. Lily isn’t going to need an inhaler here.’

Alexianna swallowed, she still felt terrible that Lily was forced to use steroids, a nebuliser and inhaler as a result of the damp and mould. Her daughter needed a clean home, they had been all but living at Tom’s because the apartment had suffered from the wetter than usual winter. She nodded slightly. ‘Okay.’

Tom beamed. ‘This is going to be wonderful Lexi, we will get the notice to your other landlord and we will get you here by the end of the week.’ he insisted.

‘I won’t be anywhere near ready.’

‘We’ll start today, I am not working this week, so why don’t I start things by getting the place here ready, it needs a few things, nothing mad, just getting Lily’s room started. Daniel told you to let him know what you need, those will take a few days to be delivered. Think about it, Lexi, Lily is going to love it.’ Tom was excited to think of Lily’s reaction to the new place. It was technically an apartment spread over two floors, so the bedrooms and bathroom were upstairs and the living room and kitchen were downstairs, leaving an incredible amount of space for them. The living room alone was the size of the last apartment and its layout meant that Alexianna could store everything without clutter.

‘You are more excited than me about this.’ She laughed.

‘I cannot help it.’ Tom beamed. ‘By the way, I need to ask permission for something.’

‘Tom, you are a fully grown man, you don’t need to ask permission for anything.’

‘I want to get Lily a Baloo bear from the Disney store as her “welcome gift”.’

‘Are you trying to indoctrinate her? You know Stitch is her favourite.’

‘No, Stitch is YOUR favourite and you are trying to indoctrinate her.’ Tom argued. Alexianna looked at him with a guilty smile. ‘So, may I?’

‘I can hardly say no, and thank you for asking.’ She smiled.

‘I don’t want to overstep.’

‘She is going to get so much from this.’ Alexianna sighed. ‘And on top of Christmas.’

‘She deserves it, you both do. You will start the New Year afresh, divorced, happy and loved.’

‘Thank you, Tom. I feel like you do too much.’

‘I am not doing anything near it, I am helping as best I can, same as you do.’

‘It feels unbalanced.’

‘Interestingly, I never assist you with financial issues, do I?’ she shook her head. ‘Yet you actually have worked for an hourly rate as a cleaner, so there is a monetary value to the work you do and yet you clean my home when you are there.’

‘It’s us making the mess.’

‘You washed the back room floor, you don’t even go in there.’

‘I was cleaning anyway.’

‘I know you did the skirting boards too.’ She looked at him guiltily. ‘Just….don’t feel like you are obliged to do these things, you’re not.’ he looked around. ‘This is perfect. And the bathroom divides the bedrooms, and they are quite soundproof, so we can…’ his grin told her what he was thinking.

‘Please behave. I have to pick up Lily in…..shit, half an hour.’

‘Plenty of time, you are only fifteen minutes walk, and we are driving.’

‘You don’t have to….’

‘Nonsense Lexi, we have to get a few things sorted at your place anyway. It’s the fastest way.’

‘You spend as much time in traffic.’

‘We need to start, the best way to do so is to start now. You’re off for the rest of the afternoon from work, so get two hours of sorting done, then study this evening when Lily is in bed.’

‘And what about dinner?’

‘I would bet money that you have meals that can be thawed.’ Tom ventured.

‘Yeah,’ she conceded, ‘I am just dawdling because the idea of starting on everything is scary.’

‘Talk to me.’

‘I have been there for four years, it was the place I moved after everything….It….’

‘For as small and cramped as it is, it has been a sanctuary and a haven after everything.’

‘I knew there was mould, I just didn’t realise it was that bad.’ Alexianna stated.

‘It is done its job, but you and Lil need somewhere that suits you better now.’

‘Yes.’ She nodded.

‘Come on, let’s go get her.’ Tom put his arm around her and they left, Tom sending a text to his cousin to thank him for the offer, and that they accepted.

*

At the school gate, Alexianna felt somewhat awkward, there were people staring at Tom and her, though no one said anything, she felt like a museum piece. When Lily came to the door, her teacher checking who was waiting for her, she saw Tom first, due to him being taller and rushed forward once the teacher was certain she had someone collecting her. Alexianna was more than ready for the fact that Lily would rush into Tom’s arms, since he had promised with a while to come with Alexianna to collect her one of the days, but they could not coordinate it, so for the first time, he was able to do it, it was a momentous occasion for the child.

‘Hello, Demi.’ Alexianna smiled, seeing the little Welsh girl her daughter had befriended on her first day come over and stare at both Tom and Lily, who seemed to be clinging onto him with the power of a limpet.

‘Hello. Lily.’ The little girl looked up at Lily, who was in Tom’s arms. ‘Is that your daddy?’

Alexianna swallowed and Tom was slightly taken back at the question, but before either could say anything, Lily beamed and nodded. ‘Yep.’ Before turning to Tom and her mother. 'When can I have a brother?'

Chapter Text

Alexianna was unable to look at Tom as she waited, Lily’s hand in hers, for Tom to put the car seat in the car for her daughter.

Tom, for his part, did not know what to say. He found it funny that the little girl would ask such a question. It was odd that she would expect a sibling as though they were mandatory and she was overdue one.

When they sat in, Lily looked at her mother wondering what she had said to make her not ask her about her day.

They got back to Alexianna and Lily’s home fairly quickly considering the time of day, the entirety of the journey filled with silence, Tom looking at Alexianna periodically throughout the journey, but she seemed adamant to simply stare ahead for the limited time in the car. When they got to the dwelling and Tom looked at her again, she clearly avoided his gaze. ‘Let Lily in for a moment.’ He instructed. Alexianna swallowed fearfully and did as requested, letting Lily into their home before turning to see Tom behind her on the doorstep. ‘Talk to me.’

‘How do I tell my daughter that the man she thinks the world of is not her father?’ She asked.

‘I thought you were thinking I would flee at her saying “yes” if I am honest.’

‘No, I mean, I did for a moment, but you look so amused since, I realised I didn’t have to worry about that.’

He leant forward and kissed her forehead. ‘Good, I am glad I am getting that much through to you. As for the other matter, we just tell her that biologically, no, she is not my daughter.’

‘But you know what comes after that, don’t you?’ Alexianna commented. ‘That’s where “Where is my dad?” comes in.’

Tom cursed for a moment, for as much of a chance that Lily would accept their simple answer, there was a far greater chance of her curiosity making her ask about her biological father. ‘It was going to happen sooner or later, Lexi. You cannot hide it from her forever, she does deserve to know, just not all the terrible finer details.’

Alexianna looked to the sky and sighed. ‘I know.’ When she looked at Tom again, she gave a small smile. ‘You don’t have to….’

‘Do you want me here?’ He asked. ‘Or is this something you need to talk about as mother and daughter?’

‘Part of me is wanting to say yes, the other part is thinking that this does involve you.’

‘I will say nothing unless you want me to.’ He smiled, opening the door for her; when they entered, Tom felt guilty as they looked at the clearly worried face of Lily, who stood nearby as though waiting to hear some bad news.

‘Lil’s, I need to talk to you about something important for a moment.’ Alexianna stated as she sat on the sofa, Tom immediately going to her side.

‘Am I in trouble?’ Lily asked.

‘No, Princess, you’re not.’ Tom reassured. ‘Your mum just wants to talk to you about something.’

Lily came over and looked at Alexianna sadly. ‘Lil’s, we need to explain something to you. Tom…..Tom is lovely, and we love having him in our lives, don’t we?’ Lily nodded.

‘And I love being in your lives.’ Tom smiled.

Lily gave a small but genuine smile at that. ‘But today, when Demi asked if Tom was your dad, you said yes.’

‘Because he is.’ Lily stated assertively.

‘Lily, sweetheart, I am afraid that Tom is not your father.’ Alexianna felt almost upset saying the words.

‘But he is, daddy’s read stories, they tuck you in, they ask you about what you did and make sure you are happy and I thought that daddies had to live with you, but Ms Jones said that not everyone’s daddy lives with them, and sometimes they have to go to a different house for their daddy, and we do that with Tom.’

Both adults looked at her for a moment, seeing clearly, though incorrectly, how the child had made the correlation between her teacher’s words and Tom’s role in her life. ‘Lily, a father is a man that helps make a baby, they are not just defined by how they help raise one.’ Alexianna attempted to explain. ‘Sometimes, it is different, but that is when the mommy gets married or some other event happens, but Sweetie, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but Tom is not your dad. I'm sorry.’ Alexianna gave her daughter an apologetic look.

Lily’s eyes began to well up with tears. ‘But I want him to be.’

‘We know you do Princess, and believe me, I would love to be your dad,’ Tom explained, feeling his own voice becoming tight as Lily’s reaction to this conversation. She walked over to him and hugged in against him as she cried, Tom kissing the top of her head and holding her close as they did. ‘I wish it was different, I really do.’

‘I want you to be my daddy.’

‘I know, Love, I know.’ Tom found himself unable to stop the tears welling in his eyes. ‘I love you, so much, you know that, don’t you?’ He felt her nod against him. ‘You are a great little girl and I am so grateful and honoured to be in your life.’ He looked to Alexianna, who was looking at them sadly beside her.

‘I need to talk to you about something else as well, Sweetheart.’ Her mother started, hoping to get her daughter away from the idea of asking about her biological father. Lily looked at her again. ‘I am afraid you’re not getting a little brother, at least not for quite some time, if at all.’ Lily began to cry again. ‘Lily, babies are a lot of work, they need space, a lot of things, prams, cots, loads of nappies, clothes and they cost so so much.’ She explained.

‘But….everyone else in my class has brothers and sisters except for Maisie and she told us today that she is getting one.’ Lily whined.

‘Lily, babies are not like teddies, you cannot just put them in a corner of a room and they wait until you want to play with them again, they are very needy and for a mommy to have one, her belly has to grow a lot to have the baby and she needs to be able to take time off work and I cannot take time off right now, I have a new job and college, and you and well, Tom and I….’

‘Are not married?’ Lily asked. ‘You should get married first.’

Tom bit his lips together as Lily went into another subject that was not on the cards yet.

‘Oh, sweet Jesus.’ Alexianna groaned. ‘You don’t need to be married to have a baby Lils, but most people want to be because it shows they love each other and that they are old enough to know what a baby means.’

‘Oh, were you married when you haded me?’

‘Yes.’

‘So Tom and you are married?’

‘No.’

‘What?’ The child became confused.

‘I will explain it more to you some other time, but for now, all you need to know is there are no brothers happening.’

‘I would be okay with a sister.’ Lily offered.

Tom snorted in laughter as Alexianna’s face fell into her hands. ‘You don’t get to choose Lily, science does. Mommies and Daddies don’t get to choose what they have.’

‘Did you want me to be a girl?’

‘I wanted you to be healthy and I was so happy you were. When the doctor told me you were a little girl, I cried, I was scared at first, because I am not very girlie, so I was scared about how I would do your hair and when you are older, I was scared I would not know what you were talking about, but when they gave you to me, I was so so happy and I loved you right there and then and I never stopped.’ She smiled. Lily beamed at her. ‘Now, we have a lot to do today, I want to get our room completely cleared of stuff we don’t need.’

‘We did a few weeks ago, silly mommy.’ Lily laughed.

‘I know, but we need to clean it even more.’ Alexianna stated, not telling her daughter about their impending move.

‘Okay.’ Lily sighed dramatically.

‘Your mum and I are going to get a cup of tea and then the three of us are going to start, so go and play for a minute, okay Princess.’ Tom beaned.

‘Okay.’ She darted off to the bedroom.

‘You’re not telling her.’

‘About the move? No, I want it to be a surprise.’ Alexianna smiled. ‘I am sorry, about her comments.’

‘I wish she had a father she could be proud of, she is so deserving of such a thing.’ Tom commented. ‘Hearing her say she wishes it was me, I have never heard such heartache from a child.’

‘She adores you.’

‘Likewise.’ Tom admitted before laughing, ‘The sibling comments were hilarious, though.’

‘Jesus, she is something else.’ Alexianna groaned as Tom chuckled. ‘How are you not running away?’

‘Sophie asks for a new sibling every other day, it’s natural to not want to be alone, and as Lily said, most families these days have two kids by the time the first is four.’

‘I suppose.’ Alexianna conceded. ‘I could not handle a baby, college and work are hard as it is, add morning sickness, Lily, the complications it would add to us, Jesus, it would be the worst thing possible right now, we are finally able to get out of here.’

Tom said nothing but noted her words for a few seconds. ‘No, it would not even be something to discuss at present.’ He agreed. He pulled her to him. ‘You handled it well.’

‘I felt the need to divert so she would not ask about him, I should not have said I was married.’

‘It wasn’t a lie, don’t lie to her, Lexi. You need to trust one another, you have others in your life, but you and Lily, you need to be close, you need one another.’

‘You’re right.’ She rubbed her hands on her legs for a moment before getting to her feet. ‘Tea?’

‘I’ll get it, you get her changed and we’ll get started.’ Tom offered, going into the kitchen. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he thought of Alexianna’s words regarding more children, noting that she had gone from swearing off having any more to saying not for some time at the least. He was uncertain as to how to interpret it.

Chapter Text

Tom and Alexianna worked tediously on getting the apartment ready. Some of the more expensive furniture was put into storage, Alexianna felt as though having it there was too risky with a young child, the rest was all purchased as required, including a lovely bed for Lily that Tom was in trouble for buying behind Alexianna’s back. It was a raised bed with a little area underneath to store toys and clothes. Tom revealed it was not his idea, per se. Sarah and Yakov had bought one for Sophie since they were on sale and his sisters and mother insisting on getting it for her as a treat. Alexianna was annoyed, not wanting people to think she expected handouts, but as it was opened and Tom had Yakov assist him in constructing it, she could not send it back.

 

It was not easy keeping secrets from Lily, the child seemed to know there was something amiss as her mother bagged their possessions bit by bit. She seemed to be silently observing her mother as Alexianna went and placed ten recycling bags outside the wall for the council to collect in the morning, commenting to herself just how much clutter was in their home.

 

‘Mommy?’

 

‘Yes, Love?’

 

‘What are you doing?’

 

‘Tidying.’

 

‘But you are tidying silly things.’

 

Alexianna laughed slightly. ‘You’re not wrong there.’ She agreed. ‘I am getting everything we don’t need out of the house.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘Because there is so much.’

 

Lily looked around her, analysing her little world. ‘But I like our things.’

 

‘I know, Love, but you cannot hold onto everything forever, that’s not healthy. We need to sort out our home.’

 

‘Am I getting a brother?’

 

Alexianna rolled her eyes. ‘No, Lily, you are not getting a sibling.’ Alexianna grabbed her daughter and blew raspberries against her cheek, causing her to erupt in giggles before she starting tickling her. ‘Why are you so desperate to get a sibling?’ She questioned. ‘You’d have to share me if you had a brother or sister.’

 

‘I want us to be a family.’

 

‘We are a family, you and me, then there is Uncle Daniel, he is part of our bigger family.’

 

‘And Tom.’

 

Alexianna inhaled and smiled slightly, ‘Yes, he is out on another aspect of our family.’

 

‘What does that mean?’

 

‘Well, you know how you and I are related, don’t you. I am your mommy, I had you in my belly and you are my little princess, right?’ Lily nodded. ‘Then Uncle Daniel is my brother, your uncle, so he is related to us too, and he is part of our extended family. Then you have Tom, he is not related to us, but we choose, him and us, to make each other part of a family where you are not related but you want to be with. It is very special when we do that, same as with friends, when we become very close to people that we see them as our family.’

 

‘Like you and Nana and Aunty Emma?’

 

Alexianna was forced not to correct her daughter for it, knowing she would lose the conversation and its lessons if she did. ‘Yes, actually. Emma is not my sister, but I see her as being as close as one, same with Diana.’

 

‘Can I call Sophie my cousin?’

 

‘Sure, go nuts.’ Alexianna grumbled as she realised she was failing once more to get Lily to not be overwhelming on the Hiddlestons.

 

‘Mommy?’

 

‘Yes, Love?’ Alexianna was fearful as to what her daughter would ask next.

 

‘Where is my Elsa doll?’

 

Alexianna would have preferred another family question. ‘I am not sure. I think I saw it a few days ago, why?’

 

‘I want it.’

 

She pursed her lips, thinking of the doll, who was indeed safe and sound, on the cute little bedside shelf Tom had placed in her daughters' room, in the other apartment. ‘Well, I will get it for you soon, but I am trying to get things sorted here Lil’s, we need to get everything sorted.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘This place is just too full.’

 

‘But everything is going missing?’

 

Alexianna could only laugh. It was true, half the things they needed to be moved had been brought to the other place. ‘It’s where it needs to be.’ She stated before yawning.

 

‘Why are you yawning all the time?’

 

‘Cause I’m tired Lil’s.’

 

‘You should go to bed earlier.’

 

‘Oh, I wish, trust me. Soon I will. I have a lot of homework at the moment.’ She smiled as she thought of everything she had done since getting the keys. Part of her was terrified, but as she looked at the fridge and the note she put up to bring Lily for her next doctor’s appointment, she knew she had to keep going. ‘Electronics off, bed in an hour.’ She ordered as she readied a snack for her daughter. Lily turned off her mother’s phone and ate her food as instructed.

 

After a story, goodnights and hugs, Alexianna went and cleaned up before working more in the living area. She rubbed her dust covered hand across her face before cursing herself and then got back to work. With digging out all their belongings that had been stuffed in every small corner of the small area, she realised just how much dust got stuck into things as time went by since they had been placed in them. She got sidetracked by a box, one that startled her. She had forgotten she even had it. She opened it and looked inside sadly.

 

Tom smiled to himself as he half skipped up the steps to the house, he had delivered what he had bought Lily and a little present for Alexianna while he was at it, to the new house and was now going to check on her to see how she was getting on with packing and see if he could take anything to the apartment or get rid of some stuff for her. Looking at the sheer number of bags ready for collection, it was clear she had not been idle since he saw her the day before. He took out the key she had given him since he was getting things from the flat to help get everything moved while she was working and knocked on the door once before letting himself in. The place, he realised, had dust in the air, signifying Alexianna was cleaning but when he looked for her, he realised she was on the floor looking at the contents of a box. ‘Lexi?’

 

‘You had the most ridiculously curly hair.’ She giggled, holding up a photo.

 

Tom frowned and walked around the couch and sat beside her, before looking at the photo and groaning loudly. ‘Oh, God.’

 

She laughed beside him. ‘Remember this day?’ She held out another one.

 

‘Why? Why did you have to remind me?’ Tom chuckled in embarrassment as he recalled the situation of how the photo came to be. ‘That….’

 

‘You were all sad because you dumped that Rosie girl.’

 

‘I didn’t dump her, she dumped me.’ He confessed, sitting down beside her. ‘I lied and said that I dumped her because I knew the guys would get on my back that I never dumped a girl, I was always the one dumped.’

 

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ She rubbed his leg slightly.

 

Tom looked at her and put an arm her and smiled, looking at the photo again. ‘But you….you did this.’ He held up the photo. ‘To try and make me feel better.’

 

‘It didn’t work.’

 

‘Yes, it did, look at the smile on my face. You always have been there, for Emma and for me.’ Tom looked at himself in the picture again. ‘Why did I never really see it?’

 

‘Probably because we were younger and with a six-year age difference, it was weird then?’ Alexianna pointed out.

 

‘If I had not gone away that day at the river, if I had stayed with you and Emma, things might have been different.’

 

‘Or they may not have been.’

 

‘You would have had us after the accident, he….’

 

‘I would not have Lily.’ She pointed out. ‘I still feel as though no matter what happened, having Lily was the result and I cannot regret her, Tom. I love her with all my heart.’

 

‘No, of course. I just wish you hadn’t to go through everything with him.’

 

Alexianna inhaled deeply. ‘I wish I had thought to contact Emma by other means and who knows what would have happened, but I didn’t and I cannot dwell on that, since I would only get upset. I am happy now, I have Lily, Emma, you, my life is mine again.’ She smiled.

 

‘I come behind Emma, I’m hurt.’ He smiled.

 

‘Oh yeah, hoes over bros, sorry.’ She giggled, causing him to chuckle. ‘Lily and I were talking about families today.’ Tom looked at her with interest. ‘She was asking about what makes a family and the degrees of it.’

 

‘And?’

 

‘Apparently, Emma is “Aunty Emma” now.’

 

‘See, it’s official, you’re stuck with us.’

 

‘I remember when I was pregnant with her.’ She rummaged around in the box and found what she was looking for, she showed it to Tom, who studied it carefully. It was clear she was pregnant in the photo, but she looked nothing like Sarah had, or indeed Ben’s Sophie and Chris’ Elsa had looked, happy and excited and almost glowing when he had spoken with them while they were pregnant, she almost looked like someone screaming at the camera to help her. He never saw such a fake and sad smile. ‘I wished I had Emma, I wanted her to be Godmother.’

 

‘Who…?’

 

‘Well, he chose his “lovely” brother to be Godfather and told me the Godmother had to be his wife.’

 

‘But Daniel….’

 

‘Well, when “George” was Lily and I never saw them again, I didn’t give her Godparents, I did not bother with any of it.’

 

‘Why not?’

 

‘I was a little preoccupied with everything that happened.’ She stated sadly, looking at the photo again. ‘I look terrible.’

 

‘Actually, I think you look very good, as in the pregnancy seemed to suit you, but you, yourself, you looked so unhappy.’

 

‘I would have rathered she was the result of some drunken night than to have conceived her as she was.’

 

‘Hey...shhh. Don’t talk like that. She is here and we all love her as she is.’ Tom gently pulled her to him more. ‘Is there any pictures in there of her?’

 

‘About fifty.’

 

‘Show me what else is in there.’

 

They went through the box, laughing as they found dozens of photos of their teen years, more than once Tom groaned at his auburn curls. One thing he did realise, was bar the picture of Alexianna when she was pregnant and the man who seemed to be sneering more than smiling holding on to her that he could only assume was Jonathan, there was no other photo of him in the box. When they came to the end, there were a few photos that he noticed Alexianna had put to the side, including that one with him. ‘What….?’

 

‘I want to destroy them.’ She explained as she carefully put the ones she loved back in the box. ‘They are staying here, these memories, they are not coming to my new home.’

 

‘There’s a few with Marie in them.’

 

‘I know. They are from times I can remember her being horrible and like with Jonathan, they don’t deserve to be kept. I need to let go of them. I am starting something new and I want them gone.’ She pulled up the photo of herself when she was pregnant again. ‘In five years time, if I show this box to Lily and she sees this photo, she will know I was pregnant, she will know it was her in me and she will know that that is not my happy smile and I do not want her ever thinking that she is the reason I was like that. I don’t want her to know what he looks like, I don’t want her to think anything was her fault, I want her to know that as much as I did not want to be in that situation, I never once regret her.’

 

Tom gave her a loving smile. ‘That’s a good idea.’

 

‘I have never felt as tired as I have of late, but do you know what, I don’t think it is because I have been doing so much, though I dare say that has contributed somewhat to the situation. I read that when you get rid of clutter, you cause your mind to become more at ease, but when you get rid of bad clutter, the things that cause you to feel negative thoughts, your mind begins to feel a stress is relieved and you feel exhausted from it, but in a good way. How can I really move on if I hold onto things that force me to live in the past? I didn’t even know I had these, I don’t want to keep them now I know they are here.’

 

‘We’ll add new ones.’ Tom smiled. ‘I have some great photos of us and Lil’s on my phone, we’ll get them printed and add them.’

 

‘I think I’ll buy a few picture frames and put them up in the new place. There’s a picture of you, me, Emma, Daniel and Sarah from the time your Mum took us all to the circus…’

 

‘No.’ Tom shook his head violently, causing Alexianna to look at him worriedly. ‘No, don’t tell me you have a picture of that.’

 

‘Yes?’

 

‘No, you cannot let my family know. Add it to the pile.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘My hair.’

 

‘What about your hair?’

 

‘I looked like a poodle.’

 

‘Tom, you know I love you, but this may hurt, you always looked like a poodle, you had poodle hair, live with it.’ She looked at the box again. ‘Look at this one.’ She showed him a picture of him she had when they were all at dinner for Sarah’s birthday. ‘Why is this an issue now?’

‘If people see these….’

 

‘You do realise your earlier work is you with poodle hair, right?’ She laughed. ‘I am not going posting these online, don’t worry. I am not going to sell your embarrassment.’

 

‘Thank you.’

 

‘I don’t need to when I know your mum and sister will make it amusing enough when they see them.’ She giggled again as he growled.

Chapter Text

Alexianna and Tom looked at the apartment, Alexianna almost giggling as she looked at her belongings in their new home. From the pictures on the walls to the bed linen in the rooms, everything was theirs, a sign that this beautiful place was the place they would call home for some time, enough time to get themselves through the stresses of the rest of Alexianna’s course and for her to be able to work full time at the end and earn more to look after them.

 

‘Do you think she will like it?’ Tom smiled, already knowing the answer.

 

‘I don’t think she is going to know if we are joking.’ Alexianna laughed. ‘I need to get a shower and we will go collect her then.’

 

‘Go, you don’t have a lot of time.’ Tom ushered. Alexianna did as he stated, leaving Tom to smile as he waited for her return. He could hear the water running upstairs and the door to the bathroom closing, telling him that Alexianna had gone for her shower. It was then he leapt up the stairs and rushed to retrieve his gifts for her and Lily, placing them where they needed to be before going down the stairs again and hoping that with the rush they were in, she would not return to her room again before they left, leaving her to receive her surprise alongside her daughter on their return. He had just made it to the kitchen when he realised that her phone was ringing. Usually, he would not go near it, but hearing it was Daniel’s ringtone, he knew she would rather someone answer. ‘Daniel, hello.’

 

‘Tom, how are things?’

 

‘Very well, and you?’

 

‘Great. Listen is that terror of a little sister of mine around at all?’

 

‘She is in the shower at the moment. We have to collect Lil’s in a moment and she needs to clean herself off after the last few boxes.’

 

‘It’s all in?’

 

‘Every last bit.’ Tom confirmed.

 

‘Thank fuck.’ There was a definite sigh of relief from Daniel. ‘And Lily’s appointment?’

 

‘On the mend, she is off the steroids, but on the inhaler for another two weeks, if she gets better, she is off that too.’

 

‘Thank God. So no more of that dive hole?’

 

‘We are taking Lily there after school to say goodbye.’

 

‘Does she know?’

 

‘Not a clue. We are just going to walk into an empty house and say nothing.’

 

‘Tom, please, I am begging you, get Al to record her for me, okay? I need to see her face.’

 

‘Of that place or the new one?’

 

‘Both, please, I need to see my Lily-pads face at this. I am devastated I cannot get there.’

 

‘I will be sure to pass on the message.’

 

‘Cheers, Tom. Listen, about that question you asked about someone minding Lily...can I ask why?’

 

‘I want to bring Alexianna away for a night as a treat for her, but I know she will not leave Lily for that long.’

 

‘I’m off the rigs for six weeks, I was planning on spending at least two in London with her and Lily, maybe even an extra one with Anna to finally introduce them.’

 

‘She will love that.’

 

‘Actually, could you do me a favour?’

 

‘If I can?’ Tom was half scared as to what Daniel would ask of him, but when the other man began to tell him, he smiled.

 

‘Tom?’ Alexianna rushed down the stairs. ‘Tom, it’s nearly…’ He was standing there with her coat in his hand, ‘Thank you.’ He smiled as they rushed out the door, her bag, keys and phone all in Tom’s hand. ‘I would be lost without you, Tom.’

 

‘I will quote you on that.’ Tom chuckled as they got into the car and went towards the school. ‘Before I forget, Daniel called your phone.’

 

‘You answered him?’

 

‘Yes.’ She smiled in relief. ‘He said to record Lily’s reactions and that he will call tonight before she goes to bed.’

 

‘Thank you.’

 

‘Anytime.’ Tom took her hand and kissed it as they waited at traffic lights.

 

*

 

‘Come on, Lil’s, get your bag.’ Tom instructed as they arrived at the old flat, opening the door of the car to let her out. Lily hopped out carefully, Tom taking her hand so that she would be safe.

 

They rushed up to the front door, the rain was not too heavy, but enough to hasten them. ‘Get in and get your uniform off.’ Her mother ordered as she opened the door. Tom behind her, unbeknownst to the child getting ready to record her.

 

Lily immediately rushed into the bedroom to do as she was told. ‘What the…?’

 

‘Lily, do as you are told.’ Alexianna ordered, trying to hide her giggles.

 

‘Mommy, we’ve been rob-bed! Call the police!’ Came a very concerned little voice from the room.

 

Alexianna and Tom laughed to themselves as Lily became more and more befuddled. ‘Just get changed, Lily.’ Alexianna forced out, unable to hide her laughter.

 

There was the sound of drawers opening and closing. ‘But everything is gone.’

 

‘We must be in the wrong house.’ Tom stated simply.

 

‘No, Tom! This is the right one, cause the key worked in the door, don’t be silly.’ Alexianna erupted in laughter behind her hand again as her daughter reprimanded Tom from the bedroom. ‘All our stuff was here afore, Mommy where is everything?’ Lily demanded, coming out of the room looking both peeved and confused.

 

‘I guess the fairies took them away when we weren’t here.’ She shrugged.

 

‘We need to call the police.’

 

‘Okay, how about we go in the car to the police then?’ Tom suggested. Lily nodded decisively. ‘Alright, back out to the car.’ Tom instructed.

 

Lily paused for a moment and looked around. ‘Maybe it’s not our house, it was never this big. But that’s Uncle Daniel’s bed.’ She pointed to the lumpy foldout. ‘I don’t know.’

 

‘Come on, we’ll get out and get sorted.’ Alexianna encouraged. ‘Say bye.’

 

‘Why ´would we say bye to a house, Mommy?’

 

‘Because it’s polite to say goodbye to fairies.’

 

‘Bye fairies!’ Lily all but shrieked as she turned and left.

 

They got into the car again and Tom started the car. Looking to Alexianna, he waited for her to look away from it and back at him. ‘Ready?’

 

‘Yes.’ She nodded.

 

Tom indicated out into traffic and began the journey to their new destination.

 

Inside the damp and musty flat, there was no sign of the woman and her little girl that called it home for four years. Who sought refuge there after an abusive marriage came to an end, only a keyring with two identical keys on it and an envelope posted from a rig in the North Sea, containing the exact same as what was on the table.

 

*

 

‘Mommy, why is the gate doing this silly thing, who is opening it?’

 

‘They are electronic.’ Alexianna explained.

 

‘Is this the police station?’

 

‘No, love.’

 

‘But we were rob-ed. We need to tell the police.’

 

‘Lil’s, we just need to come here first, okay?’

 

‘Okay.’ Lily was less than pleased with the delay but could do nothing about it from her car seat.

 

Tom parked in the allocated spot for Alexianna’s apartment and the pair looked at one another again.

 

‘Come on Lil’s.’ her mother exited the car and opened the door for Lily to come out.

 

‘This is pretty.’ Lily commented as she looked around. ‘Why are we here?’

 

‘We need to do something.’

 

‘Like what?’

 

‘You’ll see.’ Her mother smiled as she walked up the steps and towards a door.

 

Lily watched curiously as her mother took out a key and walked into a home. Assuming it was like the other nice houses her mother cleaned, Lily stepped in and wiped her feet before stepping forward. She frowned to see her mother standing expectantly in front of her. ‘Mommy, you’re being….Mommy, that’s my Paw Patrol jacket.’ She stared at the coat rack inside the door where indeed, her favourite coat was hanging. ‘And that’s my picture.’ In the hallway, Alexianna had put her pictures from Lily’s first day at school. ‘Mommy?’

 

‘Well, that is odd, that is your picture.’ Alexianna played up. ‘What else is here?’

 

Lily rushed from the hallways into the room beyond it and gasped. ‘My DVD’s.’ Alexianna and Tom made their way in, Tom holding his phone as he recorded her reaction for her uncle. ‘Mommy, all my stuff is here.’

 

‘It is, isn’t it?’ Alexianna beamed. ‘I wonder what’s upstairs?’

 

‘Up...there’s upstairs?’ Lily rushed out the door again and ran up the stairs.

 

‘Lily, there are people below you, don’t stomp.’ Alexianna warned, but she followed her quickly.

 

‘MOMMY!’ Lily was standing at the door of the bathroom. ‘A real bath, Mommy, it has a bath.’

 

Alexianna swallowed at how something like a bathtub caused such a reaction in her daughter. ‘It’s lovely.’

 

‘There are even duckies!’ Lily looked at the set of coloured rubber ducks on the back of the bath, set up neatly.

 

‘What else is here?’ Tom asked, too excited to wait to see how Lily would react to the next bit.

 

As curiosity overtook her, Lily walked out of the bathroom and looked at the two closed doors that she noticed on either side of it. One was plain, but the other was not. ‘That’s my name.’ She pointed to the door that was decorated. ‘That...why is my name there?’

 

‘Why don’t you open it and find out.’ Alexianna beamed as she watched her daughter go to the door and open it.

 

Lily did as instructed and looked around. ‘What the…?’

 

‘What’s going on Princess?’ Tom asked.

 

‘All my toys are in this room.’ She looked around, inspecting everything. ‘That’s all mine, and that’s a picture of me and Mommy and Uncle Daniel.’ She pointed to a picture on the wall of when Daniel and Alexianna had brought her to a petting zoo when she was younger, the three of them smiling happily. ‘Why is everything here?’

 

Alexianna knelt down and smiled brightly at her. ‘What if I told you that all your stuff is here because this is your new bedroom, all for you.’

 

Lily’s confusion intensified. ‘What?’

 

‘This is our new home, Lily. We live here now.’

 

‘No more smelly house that makes me sick?’ Alexianna shook her head. ‘And this is my room?’

 

 

‘All for you, no sharing with me anymore, you get to be a big girl, with your own new bed and these shelves are for your books and everything.’ When Lily began to cry, Alexianna was terrified and hugged her. ‘Hey, what’s wrong?’

 

‘I have my own room.’ Lily sobbed.

 

‘I thought you would like it.’

 

‘I do.’

 

‘Then why are you crying?’ Alexianna asked.

 

‘I am so happy.’ Lily wailed.

 

Alexianna looked up at Tom who had been filming but was, until that stage, was wondering if he should stop. When Lily’s sobs became more powerful, Alexianna hugged her tighter. ‘Talk to me, Lils.’

 

‘I have my own pretty room.’

 

‘I know, Tom made your bed, and got the lady that painted your walls.’

Lily looked around her, noticing that there was art on the walls, beautiful fairies and flowers and even a Fairy door in the corner with a little letter with it. She walked over and took the letter. ‘Mommy, what does it say?’ She sniffed, wiping her tears on her sleeve.

‘Let’s see.’ Alexianna took it and opened the wax seal on it. ‘This is fancy, it’s like Harry Potter’s letter, isn’t it?’

 

‘Is it from Harry Potter?’

 

‘Probably not, you’re too young for Hogwarts.’

 

‘I thought she would be too young for knowing who he is?’ Tom confessed.

 

‘No, she’s seen the first movie.’ Alexianna informed him. ‘Now, let’s see here. Dear Lily, we were flying past your home and noticed the lovely painting on your wall and thought that perhaps, if you are moving in, then we could be new neighbours and stay too? My name is Delia and I live with my little fairy sister Amelia and we would love to be friends.’ She read.

 

‘Mommy, our very own fairies.’ Lily bounced with joy. ‘Tom,’ She turned to look at Tom. ‘We have fairies.’

 

‘I see that.’ He smiled as she rushed over to hug him too. ‘Are you happy, Princess?’

 

‘Very.’

 

‘Look at your bed.’ He stood out of her way so she could look at it. Giggling excitedly, she climbed up the steps and onto the raised bed. ‘Baloo!’ she giggled. ‘Tom, I have Baloo.’

 

‘Well, isn’t that wonderful.’ He beamed, looking to Alexianna who was crying and smiling as she watched Lily look around. ‘Come here.’ He pulled her to him and kissed her. ‘You shouldn’t be tearful.’

 

‘Not even happy tears?’

 

‘There are more permissible, but not too many, you need to be happy, you deserve this, Lexi.’

 

‘I never thought it possible.’

 

‘Well it is, and you deserve it.’

 

‘Mommy, look at my Paw Patrol pillow.’

 

‘I see it, Sweetheart.’

 

‘Where will you sleep?’ Lily noted the issue of one bed.

 

‘Well, I have the other room.’

 

‘Another whole room?’ Lily’s eyes were wide. ‘Really?’

 

‘Yes, and when Uncle Daniel comes to stay, you and I will sleep in here and he can have my bed, because…’ She pulled out the seat that was in the corner of the room and got it to go from a chair to a bed. ‘Or when you are older, you might have a friend for a sleepover.’

 

Lily’s eye lit up and fresh giggles ensued. ‘Do we get to have downstairs too?’

 

Alexianna and Tom looked at her and smiled. ‘Everything is ours Lils, we have a proper home, and we only need to get a small bus to school unless it is dry.’

 

‘So I still have my friends?’

 

‘Yes.’ Alexianna nodded.

 

‘I like our house, Mommy.’

 

‘I do too, Lils.’

 

‘Can I see your room?’

 

‘Sure.’ Alexianna helped her daughter off her bed. ‘Mind the railing. That’s there to stop you falling out.’

 

‘I love it.’

 

‘Good.’

 

They walked to the other room and Lily rushed in to look at it. ‘Mommy.’

 

‘Yes, Love?’

 

‘Your room is boring.’

 

Alexianna and Tom laughed. ‘Is it?’

 

‘It’s pretty but boring.’ Lily stated as she inspected it.

 

‘Well, I am a grown-up.’

 

‘Will Tom stay here too?’

 

‘Sometimes, maybe.’ Tom smiled.

 

‘Now you don’t have to take Uncle Daniel’s bed, you can share with Mommy like you do in your house.’

 

‘Okay, please tell me you have the….Tom, turn that off.’ Alexianna instructed.

 

‘I’ll edit the end.’ Tom promised, stopping the video. ‘I like it by the way.’ He smiled at her. Alexianna studied him for a moment before her eyes narrowed. ‘What are you up to?’

 

‘Nothing.’ Tom looked at her as though insulted.

‘Tom, you are up to something, I know that glint in your eye, I have known that glint since I was eight years old, don’t BS me.’

 

‘I did nothing.’

 

‘That’s a lie and you and I both know….it.’ Tom’s grin increased in size as Alexianna looked past him to the shelf behind him and to something on it. ‘Did you….?’

 

‘Do you like it?’

 

Alexianna reached up and took down the stuffed toy, smiling as she looked not only at it, but at the thing in its hands. ‘I love it.’ She whispered. Taking out the framed photo and cuddling the toy before putting it on her bed, in the centre.

 

‘Mommy, you have Stitch!’ Lily smiled happily.

 

‘Yes.’ Alexianna watched as her daughter climbed onto the bed and inspected the blue Disney alien. ‘You are not allowed steal him, he’s mine.’

 

‘Okay.’ Lily sighed. ‘I can let him play with my toys though, can’t I?’

 

‘Fine.’ Her mother grinned. ‘I need to put this over here.’ She took the photo and placed it pride of place next to her bedside lamp, unable to hide her smile as she looked at the picture Sarah had taken of her, Tom and Lily by the seaside on their trip to his mother’s, Tom with Lily on his back, all three of them not paying attention to the camera, instead smiling and laughing together. It was so natural, she had never realised Sarah had taken it, but was utterly grateful she had.

 

‘Only up here?’

 

‘It’s personal, I don’t want everyone staring at it.’ She smiled. She walked back over to Tom again and wrapped her arms around him before he did the same to her. ‘Thank you, Tom.’

 

‘You deserve it.’ He kissed the top of her head. ‘Now, who wants dinner? Let’s christen this lovely new home with a wonderful Indian, my treat.’

 

‘You have done enough treating.’

 

‘No, I haven’t, not yet.’

 

‘I am terrified to know what you mean by that.’

 

Chapter Text

Alexianna sighed sadly as she looked at the tree that was set up in her living room.

It had been a fortnight since they moved in, and already, she could see the difference it had made in their lives. Lily had blossomed with her new space and her individuality being allowed be expressed in her far larger room. Even her teacher had commented that the already bright and happy young girl was flourishing all the more after their move, much to Alexianna and indeed Tom’s pride.

For Alexianna, she felt so much better after the initial night or two without her daughter in her room. Tom had insisted that after staying the first night in the new house with them, he give them a day or two to get settled, which was indeed something they needed, but it meant Alexianna having to get used to a bed by herself. Since then, Tom had stayed twice, both times the pair locked the bedroom door and allowed themselves some privacy for whatever they chose to do. It improved their relationship also, having Alexianna not feel as though they had to go to Tom’s all the time, in fact, since then, they had not been to Tom’s as both adults agreed that with the new space for themselves and indeed Lily, it made life easier at their home, since everything that could be needed for the four-year-old was there.

But now Christmas was coming, and Tom was helping her hide the presents for Lily that needed to be ready since they had been kept at his, but he was now heading to his mother’s for the holiday.

Alexianna was slightly hurt by it. It was not that she expected to have him stay away from his family, of course, she knew he would go home to his mum, but the severe lack of discussion as to when he would come back hurt her slightly. All he said was “Whenever suits you” with a large smile on his face caused her to wonder if he was trying to get away without giving her an answer because he simply did not want to be dealing with her.

With a kiss and an insistence that he would be back soon, Tom left for his mothers, but not without telling Alexianna that there would be a package waiting for her later, and to enjoy it. Still hurt that he was leaving and was not saying whether or not he would be back before New Years, she set off to collect Lily for school, another thing that hurt her feelings, she thought he would at least say a proper goodbye to Lily before going.

She continued to think about it, allowing it fester more and more as she went to collect Lily. When she got back to her apartment, there was indeed a large present near the tree, too large, if anything.

‘Mommy?’

Alexianna walked over and pulled at the tag. ‘I have no...OH MY GOD!’ When a person came into view, she shrieked.

‘Surprise!’

‘You….evil….sadistic….’ Alexianna clutched her chest, attempting not to swear violently.

‘’Uncle Daniel!!!’ Lily rushed over to her uncle, who cuddled her close. ‘I missed you so much.’

‘I missed you too my Lily-Pad.’ He cuddled her into him tightly before looking at his sister. ‘Are you okay?’

‘How did you get in?’

‘Tom.’

‘What?’

‘He let me in and got a key cut for me so I could be here when you came back.’

‘But, he left for Suffolk.’

‘Yes, after he collected me from Stansted, he left about fifteen minutes ago, he needed to collect his sister and her family to drop them to Heathrow before heading there.’

‘So he…How long are you here?’

‘Christmas, all of it.’

Alexianna’s eyes widened. ‘What?’

‘If you don’t mind, of course, I thought we could...Al? Hey, are you okay?’ He went over to his sister, who was crying. ‘I don’t have to…’

‘You want to be here, with us?’

‘I...Al, I have never missed Christmas with the two of you.’

‘But...with everything…’

‘No, Al. Look, I know I have not been here a lot, with work and with Anna, but you and Lily, you are my family. And I cannot wait for you to meet her, I want you to like her, but this...even she insists I need to be here with you both at this time of the year.’ Daniel hugged her close, noting how tight she was holding onto him. ‘Al, talk to me.’

‘I...I thought we were going to be alone.’

‘No, never. I could see it in Tom’s face, he is in two minds about going to his Mum’s. I bet if I said I was not coming, he would be here.’

‘How did he know?’

‘I rang you one day and he answered, so we got talking and I said how I wanted to surprise you, so we planned around that.’

‘He knew all along?’

‘Yes.’

‘The prick said nothing.’

‘Language Mommy. And stop hogging Uncle Daniel.’ Lily pushed her out of the way so she could get to her uncle.

Daniel smiled and lifted her up. ‘I hear you have a cool new room.’

‘It is so cool, did you see it?’

‘No, I wanted you to show me.’

Lily jumped up and down in his arms. ‘Come on, I’ll show you now.’ She slid to the floor and dragged her uncle to the stairs.

Alexianna took out her phone and rang Tom, knowing he would not answer. Sure enough, his answering machine came on. ‘Hey, I nearly had a heart attack, I hope you’re happy.’ She half laughed. ‘Listen, I...I…’ She stopped. Alexianna wanted nothing more than to tell him how she felt, but she was scared of making herself seem too needy. She wanted to tell him that she wanted nothing more than to spend New Years with him, sitting on her sofa or just going to dinner, if he wasn’t busy, of course. But she couldn’t. She cursed that part of her mind that controlled her thoughts, the ones that struck fear into her and made her unable to voice her feelings. ‘I hope you have a good time at Christmas, bye.’ She hung up and cursed herself again.

*

‘You look different.’ Alexianna turned to see Daniel studying her carefully.

‘How so?’

‘Just...there’s something new about you. You look better than I ever saw you before.’

‘I have never been so…..it’s not even happy, because it goes deeper than that. I feel so much like….’

‘The old you?’

‘I think so, yeah. I mean, it is tiring as hell and hard, I am not going to pretend it’s not. I sometimes get only four hours sleep, but I am working on something, and Dan, it is so much more than I thought it would be. I love it.’

‘Brilliant.’

‘And college is hard, paperwork and study are exhausting, and Lily….she is taking up so much time with school and making sure she is doing okay, but I love it, more than I thought possible.’

‘That makes me so happy to hear.’ Daniel hugged his sister again. ‘And Tom?’

‘It is not always easy. He has work stuff and going out with him is hard sometimes, but...when we are sitting here, just reading, watching tv or talking, I feel so...content does not seem right, but it is the closest that comes to mind.’

‘You are quite alike, away from his job.’

‘That is Tom Hiddleston, the actor, but Tom, the guy from two streets away that leans against the counter there,’ She pointed to Tom’s usual spot. ‘With his cup of tea and talking to me about the weird guy that was tutting at the newspaper as he got the tube out from a meeting, that guy I think, is similar to how I enjoy being.’

‘You should always surround yourself with people similar to how you want to be.’ Daniel commented. ‘This place is incredible, Al.’

Alexianna looked around. ‘So much so. It just...It has added so much to my happiness. A clean and good home for Lily.’

‘She has brightened too.’ Daniel noted.

‘A proper home environment will do that to a little girl.’

‘With a Mommy and Daddy.’ Alexianna stared at him. ‘She and I were talking earlier, she is under a very clear impression that Tom is her father.’

‘Oh Jesus, not again. We already sat her down with this.’

‘Yes, and explained she is not the man that made her with you, she told me.’

‘Then why is she saying otherwise to you?’

‘Because she knows her friend Sadie has a dad just like that.’

‘She wants him to be her dad so much.’

‘What is bad about that?’ Alexianna gave her brother a look. ‘No really, Al, what is wrong with it?’

‘It’s not true.’

‘He reads to her, looks after her well being, is a father figure in her life, why fight it?’

‘He’s only been here six months.’

‘And? That’s double the time with the pop princess at least. At least you two have a relationship, there is mutual respect.’

‘Dan…’

‘Anna has her new album, she shits all over him. I heard the lyrics myself.’

‘I don’t know or care if I am honest. I know he was annoyed and hurt when it came out since he had been respectful of how he spoke of her, but we don’t talk about it, same as Jonathon, it’s nothing to talk about. It is only something that will upset and bother.’

‘Yes, well, you’re better that way. Any more from him?’ Alexianna shook her head. ‘Good.’

‘I cannot believe, after everything, we are free.’

‘You deserve it.’ Daniel commented. ‘Though, there is something else I need to ask.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Lily mentioned a baby brother.’

‘Oh for fuck sake.’ Alexianna growled in frustration. ‘There are no babies. I am nowhere near able for one right now.’

‘That’s a slight change from “Never again”, what about in the future?’

‘I cannot say.’

‘Would you have another, with him?’

‘I don’t know. I am not there now, so I cannot answer that.’

‘But you might?’

‘I am thirty-one, Daniel, I am not jinxing myself either way.’ She insisted. ‘I don’t ask you about yours and Anna’s plans to have any kids.’

‘We both want some, in a few years.’ Alexianna looked at him. ‘Well, it’s important to know if you are investing in someone that has the same wants in life as you, I think anyway.’ She said nothing in return.

*
Tom took the phone down from his ear, having listened to Alexianna’s message a few times. At first, he was elated, she sounded so happy, but the second part of her message told him that something was bothering her. He could hear her attempts to force the words from her mouth as she spoke but to no avail. Part of him wished he had been face to face with her to try and urge her to say whatever it was that was bothering her. He hoped she would want him back between Christmas and New Years for a few days together over the holidays.

Chapter Text

‘You are terrible.’ Alexianna chastised.

‘Does she like it though?’

‘She adores it. I think you are the winner of the year.’ She smiled, looking at Lily surrounded by her gifts. 'Or did you not hear the fifteen hundred "thank you's" she just gave you?'

‘Good, and what about you, do you like yours? What did Daniel get you?’

‘He got me a new laptop, apparently, my old one was haggard.’

‘It was, really.’ He agreed. ‘And my present…?’

‘I haven’t opened it.’

‘What?’

‘I...I don’t want it.’

‘Lexi?’

‘I know whatever it is, it is too much. I don’t want that, I can’t….I can’t compete with that.’

‘I don’t want a competition, if I give you something, Lexi, it is because I want to give it and I do not expect anything in return. It is your reluctance to take things that makes me want to bestow something wonderful on you on occasions such as this, because the rest of the year, I know you will not accept them.’

‘I don’t have to accept them now.’ Alexianna pointed out.

‘No, you don’t.’ Tom conceded. ‘But I hope you will on the basis of I am good the rest of the time.’

‘This is hard for you, isn’t it? Me not just taking everything?’

‘It’s not hard, per se, but it is different. Though I am not as misfortunate as others I have spoken to have been, I have come across the few that have expected a lot of me because of my profession.’

‘I don’t want that.’

‘I know you don’t, that is why you are so refreshing and why I love you so much. You care about me, not what I have.’ There was a few moments silence on the phone. ‘Please, Lexi, open the present.’

‘You want me to do it with you on the line, don’t you?’

‘Yes, actually, I do.’

‘Okay.’

He heard her rummaging around. ‘Lexi?’

‘I can’t take this.’

‘Yes, you can.’

‘But Lily…’

‘Dan has agreed to take her for it.’

‘I...you asked Daniel?’

‘Yes, I knew you would be reluctant to leave Lily with anyone else, so I checked with him about him taking her for the night, and of course, he agreed.’

‘It’s too much, Tom.’

‘It’s dinner, a show and a night away, not a cruise around the world.’

‘That would be tempting, though I would settle for a boat down the Thames.’ Tom erupted in laughter. ‘What?’

‘I love you so much. I cannot believe how much I miss being around you after only a few days.’ There was silence at his words. ‘Lexi?’

‘You….miss me?’

‘Yes.’

‘Really?’

‘I...How could you not see that? I love spending time with you, you are so smart and loving and I cannot wait to see you again.’ Tom decided as he had been outed already, he should simply admit his thoughts.

‘I….can’t wait either.’ He stared at the phone startled, thinking he had heard her wrong. ‘I miss you too.’

Really?’

‘I know we are not around each other all the time, but knowing you are only a few stops away on the Tube makes me feel good.’

‘Good to know. Though when I have to work….’

‘I’m a big girl….though I still will miss you.’

‘Likewise.’ Tom grinned, licking his teeth. ‘So, are you excited?’

‘I am.’

‘Wonderful.’

‘Thank you, Tom. So you are back soon?’

‘Well, yes, it is on in three days. And I forgot my present.’

‘I cannot believe you left it behind.’Alexianna rolled her eyes, looking at Tom’s present, which was indeed under the tree still.’

‘I was too sidetracked making sure your brother got from the airport, Madam!’

‘Thank you, Tom.’

‘Anytime, beautiful.’

‘What day are you coming back to London?’

‘The day after tomorrow, we tend to go a little liberal on the wine and whiskey here after dinner today and I am not risking injury or other things to drive tomorrow.’

‘Please don’t.’ She pleaded, ‘One second.’ He heard her talking and Daniel’s deeper voice in the background, though not what he was saying. ‘Sorry, Dan is just taking Lily out for a while.’

‘That’s good of him.’

‘It means I can start cooking.’

‘Well, that is important.’ Tom acknowledged. ‘How is it, him being there?’

‘Great actually, Anna is coming New Years Day, so we are going to get to meet her, Lil’s is excited.’

‘And you?’

‘I am worried that we won’t get along and it causes a rift that is complicated for Dan, but I think that is just me being a little neurotic.’

‘Ever so slightly.’ Tom agreed. ‘She loves your brother, she is good with her sibling and she respects you and Lily in his life, you will get on well.’

‘I know, I am just scared.’

‘Does she know, about Lily and everything?’

‘Yes, apparently.’

‘You don’t sound too pleased.’

‘I feel as though it shouldn’t really be something people spend time talking about.’

‘Because it is not their business or because you just don’t like it being discussed?’

‘Both. The more people talk, the more likely Lily is to hear things.’

‘Understandable, talk to Daniel about it.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I better help Mum here now, I will see you in a few days, Lexi. Try not to miss me too much.’

Alexianna scoffed and laughed. ‘You’re an egotistical prick sometimes, you know that?’

‘I am, I’m your egotistical prick, though.’

‘Maybe a little.’ She smiled.

‘I cannot wait to see you again.’

‘Me or your present?’

Both.’ There was a playfulness to his tone.

‘Thanks for the honesty.’

‘You deserve that at least.’ Tom’s smile was clear. ‘I will call you again later, after the joys of dinner.’

‘Sounds like a plan. I won’t be insulted if you fall asleep.’

‘I don’t make a habit of that.’ Tom went into self-defence mode. There was silence. ‘Fine, I have a tendency to doze off, but not for long.’

‘Sure, sure.’ Alexianna quipped. ‘Bye Tom, I love you.’

‘I love you too. Give lily the biggest hug from me.’

‘I will.’

Tom looked at the screen and felt the same dislike as he always did as he clicked “end call”.

‘So, how is Alexianna’s day?’ He turned to see his mother walking into the kitchen with plates from the living room where the family had been having tea and cake.

‘Good, they are loving having Daniel around.’

‘Good.’ Diana noted a disheartened look on her son’s face. ‘Tom, darling, what is it?’

‘I wish I was there.’ He confessed. Diana said nothing in response. ‘It feels wrong, missing Christmas with Lexi and Lily. I just….I feel like I should have been there for Santa, to see her excitement. It feels wrong.’

Diana nodded slightly. ‘She’s your little girl.’

‘No, she…’

‘She is. Her not being yours biologically does not take from your feelings Tom, she sees you as her father figure and you, whether you realised it or not, have had that little girl edge her way into your heart so much the idea of not being there for her today hurts.’

‘What can I do?’

‘At this stage, nothing, but that’s okay, you will see them again soon, and next Christmas, you will ensure you are not away from her.’

‘Mum?’ Diana smiled as a manner of telling her son she was paying attention to him. ‘What will I do if something divides me and them?’

‘You mean if you and Alexianna break up?’ He nodded. ‘I don’t know, Sweetheart, I hope it will not happen.’

‘I...I don’t want to be without them, they….they are everything I ever wanted.’

Diana was elated for her son to think that way of the woman their family adored and her lovely little girl who she too had come to adore as her own, but she was concerned also that he was so attached, with no biological link, if they were to break up, Tom would have no right to see Lily, and she was scared what that would do, not only to her and her son but to Lily too.’

Chapter Text

‘Hey.’ Tom pulled Alexianna to him as soon as he got over the door frame.

‘Are you okay?’ She asked, looking up at him.

‘Yes, I just missed you.’ He kissed her.

‘I missed you too.’

‘Where’s Lily?’

‘Daniel has brought her with him to the shop. She’ll be disappointed she was not here when you came.’

‘Well, I am back now. And I should warn you…’ He held up a gift bag. ‘Mum and the girls may have gone a bit wild.’

‘What….no!’

‘I also was told to tell you, that Sarah has a tonne, no really, I think it would way an actual tonne, of clothes that if you want, she would give, on loan, because Emma wants them if she has a little girl or if Sarah has another.’

‘How weird is it to talk of your sisters as mums?’

‘Well, Sarah is a mum. But the oddity is them talking about having children. It’s weird, the idea of your little sister getting pregnant.’

‘She’s not the young girl that went horse riding and read Saddle Club books anymore.’

‘Neither are you.’ Tom pointed out.

‘No, so if your happily married sister wants to have kids…’

‘It’s Lily and Sophie, she feels left out I think.’

‘That’s not a reason to have a baby. It’s more than that. She wants to be a mother.’

‘Is it odd for you?’ Alexianna frowned. ‘Them actually planning this after…’

Alexianna gave a pained smile. ‘I am at the age where people are planning their families, I am happy for anyone who is doing it. I wish I had been as fortunate, but I don’t regret Lily.’

‘Of course not.’ Tom agreed, kissing her again. ‘How could you, she is adorable.’ He looked at her nervously. ‘Did she miss me?’

‘She did. We both did.’ Alexianna smiled.

‘Not possibly as much as I did you both.’ He kissed her again. ‘I cannot wait to bring you away for a night.’

‘It will be fun.’ She agreed. ‘Tea?’

‘Please, Darling.’

They made tea and sat talking about how Tom’s family had enjoyed the holiday, Alexianna insisting on not opening anything without Lily. it was half an hour later when the door opened and there was a squeaky voice. ‘Mummy?’

The pair walked out to greet them. ‘Hey Baby. Guess who…’

‘Tom!’ Lily ran straight past her mother and into Tom’s arms. ‘I missed you so much.’ Her voice was tight.

Tom pulled her closer to him, feeling a part of his jumper begin to get a little damp. ‘I missed you too, Princess.’

‘Are you back now?’

‘Yes, I just had to see my mum for a few days.’

‘I wanted to go.’

‘You’ll get to see her again soon. I promise.’ Lily pulled back from him enough to confirm to Tom she had been crying in against him. ‘How about you show me what Santa got you?’

‘Okay.’ She darted off to get what she had been given.

Tom rose to his full height again, looking at Alexianna and Daniel as he did. ‘Merry Christmas, did you have a good day?’ He walked over to shake Daniel’s hand.

‘Good, yes.’ Daniel smiled. ‘How about you? How are your family?’

‘It was good.’ Tom nodded before looking at Alexianna .’Too quiet though.’

‘Well, it was anything but quiet here.’ Daniel commented, noting the saddened face on Tom as he said that. ‘But your arrival back will mean a lot to a certain someone.’

They walked into the living area, where Lily had lined up the presents she got before rushing excitedly over to Tom and grabbing his hand. Going through everything, one by one, showing him how they worked and explaining the present he got her in detail.

Alexianna started cooking while Tom and Daniel kept Lily occupied. When Tom rose to get another cup of tea, he smiled at her. ‘Are you staying for dinner?’

‘If I am allowed.’

‘Of course.’

‘Then, please. How can I help?’ There was a sadness in his tone.

‘Are you okay? You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.’

‘No, I want to. I just wish….I wish I got to see her face when she got these, I wish I had been here with you both.’

Alexianna’s eyes widened with his confession. ‘Well, you were busy with your Mum, you said Sarah wasn’t home and Emma left Boxing Day.’

‘Still, it felt wrong.’

‘Mummy?’

‘Yes, Princess?’

‘I need to go bathroom.’

‘Okay, come on.’ She dried her hands and took Lily out of the room.

‘It’s amazing isn’t it?’ Tom turned to look at Daniel.

‘What?’

‘How much it is possible to love them both.’

‘I…’

‘You’re not fooling anyone, I can see it on your face. You wish you were here with them Christmas Day, don’t you?’

‘Yes.’ Admitting it made Tom feel as though there was a large sense of burden taken from him.

‘I get it. I feel bad being away from Anna, I cannot wait for her to come down.’

‘But Lexi and Lily…?’

‘I wanted all three of them, I’m greedy in that respect.’

‘Do you find yourself surrounded, in your personal life, by incredibly strong women?’

‘Well, you have more sisters than me, but overall?’ Daniel nodded. ‘Yes, very much so. I never got to thank you.’ Tom frowned. ‘She is so different. So much more….back to the old her. Being away and only talking to her a little, I did not really see it, but coming back, seeing how she is now. You are the reason for that.’

‘Nothing of the sort, that was all her work.’

‘No, the confidence is back, “Lexi” is coming out again, not this meek little thing he turned her into, and it is you, start to finish, the divorce, the feeling that she is worthy of someone, that is you. You brought her back, and Lily... she is so happy now, that squirt was always cheerful, now….I never thought a little girl could be so happy, yet she is incredibly so. And the way she talks about you, the way the both of them do, I am somewhat envious. She sees you as the male figure in her life now.’

‘I am not trying to encroach.’

‘No, but that’s the thing. I have Anna now, and Al has you. The lines have changed somewhat.’ There was a clear sadness in his voice as he walked away, hearing Alexianna and Lily come back down the stairs.

When Alexianna walked into the room, he paused and stared at both men worriedly for a moment, knowing that there had been something of interest occur in her temporary absence. ‘Everything…?’

‘Of course.’ Tom promised.

‘Lils, you need to tidy all of this so that we can get ready for food soon.’ Alexianna ordered.

‘Uncle Daniel?’

‘Sorry Sweetheart, I need to make a call to Anna.’

‘Actually, I was going to ask if you saw my bag.’

Alexianna and Tom bit their lips together as they attempted not to laugh.

‘Fine, if I am not needed.’ Daniel joked as he walked off. ‘You’re getting to be a very big girl. Tidying up all by yourself.’

‘I am not tidying it by myself, Daddy is going to help me.’ She pointed to Tom. ‘Come on, Daddy.’

The adults were unsure of what to say in response.

Chapter Text

‘Daddy, look at this.’

‘I’m watching, Princess.’

Tom had stopped fighting it after a while. Lily was adamant that he was “Dad”. She knew that he was not a biological relation but it did not matter. To Lily, Tom was Dad, no negotiation. Alexianna found it difficult to accept the “Daddy” situation, mostly because she was terrified that if things did not work between herself and Tom, Lily would get caught dealing with more heartache from getting so attached but seeing Tom choose to allow it, she accepted it more. More than once in the time since she had started, he swore, that come whatever between them, he would always want to be part of Lily’s life. Daniel seemed the most unsure of it at first, but with seeing how Tom treated Lily and her perception of him, he seemed to almost forget himself that Tom was not his niece’s biological father. That said, he did have a few pointers for Tom on how to embrace the role more and to be less standoffish. For Tom, it was a steep learning curve, one that was far more difficult in his opinion than any he had encountered before. He had to call Sarah more than once to ask for her help on certain topics.

Tom had been away on the Infinity War press junket. He had travelled the world with it and was gone for a few weeks, and on his return, Alexianna was doing her exams. When there was an emergency alteration to one of their times and she could not get a babysitter until evening, he was forced to step in and assist. That is how it turned out to be him and Lily together in the park. He had collected her from school and with Alexianna currently on the Underground to their location, he thought it best to burn some of her energy before handing her back to her mother, or he hoped that that would be acceptable. To be honest, he was utterly terrified of being alone with Lily for the first time. He was scared that she would get hurt or lost and he would be at fault for it. This was not some simple request, this was Lily, Alexianna’s pride and joy, their little Princess. He had never been so scared in his life as he had been for the last thirty minutes, every person in the distance he prayed was Alexianna, but he knew she was not going to be there yet. It was only forty minutes, he could surely handle that. He hoped.

There was another child at the playground with the same uniform as her, and on seeing the child, she shrieked excitedly and rushed over to play with him. He too was there with a man. On seeing that the girl his son was playing with was with a male guardian, he seemed to take all but mere seconds to make his way to Tom.

‘You’d swear they had not just spent the day in school.’ He joked.

‘It’s a good sign when they actually enjoy each other’s company.’ Tom smiled in return.

‘Very much so.’ The man nodded. ‘Lily, is it? Rhodri talks about her a lot, smiley thing, loves to just talk.’

‘Yes, that’s our Lil’s. Her Mum puts it best, she is more like a radio really, she talks at you.’

The man laughed. ‘A perfect analogy, just like our Rhodri. I am Timothy Ainsley, by the way.’ He extended his hand.

Tom took it with a smile. ‘Tom Hiddleston.’

‘So...what is the deal with everything, were you away for a while and came back? Was that thing with the singer a rouse, how did all this come back together?’

Tom frowned. ‘I don’t quite understand you.’

‘Well, your daughter, you weren’t with her mum for everything because you were seeing that singer for a while, right? I have the right actor?’

Tom inhaled for a moment. ‘I am not Lily’s biological father, her mother and I were friends years ago, I met her again and she had Lily by then.’

‘Oh...Sorry, I….I shouldn’t have asked.’ The man seemed to realise his error and looked away embarrassedly. ‘She looks like you.’

‘So I am told….frequently. But no, she is not mine biologically.’

‘Is it hard? I don’t think my wife likes it. Rhodri is my youngest, I have two from my first marriage too, though they live with their mother. But it’s clear, she doesn’t like Jane and Jane is not fond of her.’

Tom was feeling uncomfortable with the sheer invasiveness of the man’s questions as well as his oversharing of his own life, he was trying to think of an answer when he was relieved to see Lily run over with her friend. ‘Daddy, I said I can see Mummy.’

‘Oh good, be happy now, she is probably tired and wants you to be her best girl.’

‘I am always her best girl.’ Lily giggled. ‘Rhodri, come say hi to my Mummy.’ The kids rushed to the gate of the playground just as Alexianna got there, Lily giving her a huge hug as she did, both kids shouting their day at her and Alexianna making faces of overdramatic smiles and shock as they told her.

‘Hello.’ She smiled on reaching the two men.

‘Hi.’ Tom smiled, his relief blatant.

‘Mr Ainsley, Rhodri’s father, correct? I was talking to your wife last week about Rhodri coming over to ours to play with Lily some afternoon after school.’ Alexianna extended her hand. ‘I’m Alexianna, by the way.’

‘Oh, yes, she mentioned that.’ He shook her hand. ‘She had not mentioned the child, I had assumed Alexianna was the child.’ He laughed.

‘Mommy, can Rhodri come today?’

‘Not today, Sweetie. I have to go to work for a few hours this evening, you have Elaine coming to mind you.’

‘Why can’t Daddy?’

‘Because Tom has to meet Luke this evening.’

‘I like Luke.’ Lily declared to no one in particular. ‘He’s silly.’

Tom had to bite his lips together at Lily’s perception of his publicist as Luke was utterly uncertain of kids, having been an only child himself and not having any younger cousin’s, only older ones, so his interactions with children were so limited, he came across as awkward at best, which only endeared Lily to him more. ‘Well, Luke and I will be very busy.’

‘Oh.’ Lily began the sad face.

Tom cursed. Her tantrums did little to guilt him, if he was honest, they were actually irritating, though he did not admit that to himself until Alexianna confessed that she hated them, that they made her angry with Lily more than empathetic. But when she gave the sad acceptance with no arguing look, he felt like the worst human being to ever exist for breaking her heart. ‘Your mum has two more exams tomorrow,’ He stated, getting to one knee to look her in the eye. ‘So, how about you and I go to Auntie Sarah’s and play with Sophie, yes?’ She did not change her face, instead, just nodding solemnly. ‘I know it’s not what you want Princess, but grown-ups have to do some work sometimes that is not always fun.’

She walked into him, her arms around his neck as he rose to his feet again. ‘Being a grown-up sounds boring.’

‘You’re not wrong.’ Her mother agreed. ‘Mr Ainsley, a pleasure to meet you. Unfortunately, we are being forced to rush home now. Rhodri, we will see you again soon Sweetheart, when you come over, the two of you can have a great day, okay?’ Rhodri nodded enthusiastically. ‘Say bye, Lils.’

‘Bye Lils.’ Lily stated solemnly from Tom’s arms, causing the adults to chuckle. With the goodbyes said, they parted ways.

When they got to the car, they put Lily in and got into the front seats.

‘Hello, by the way.’ Alexianna smiled.

Tom leant across the car and kissed her. ‘Hello, how was your exam?’

‘Okay.’

‘Lexi?’

‘No, I am just second guessing myself, I did not get one or two and I think I underdid a question or two but I should be okay.’

‘And the ones tomorrow? They are both your hardest and the easiest ones, right?’

‘Yes, I am so nervous, I want to go into work for an hour this evening and speak with Donna for a while regarding the legal one, she said she would help. If she can get the last two or three things I am nervous about done with me, then I will be fine.’

‘What time is Elaine coming?’

‘Five. I had Lily have dinner in school today so she will only need beans and toast in a minute and she can have porridge before bed. What time are you meeting Luke?’

‘He is coming to mine for five. I can’t give you a lift to the office.’

‘It’s fine, I will take the Tube, it will only take a few minutes at this time. How was it?’

‘Lil’s?’ Alexianna nodded. ‘Great actually. We just went to the park so that I knew she would be happy and that is it. She fought me on wearing her jacket, but we got there in the end, didn’t we, Princess?’ Tom smiled, looking into the rearview mirror to look at Lily before turning on the car.

‘Yes, Daddy.’ She beamed, having forgotten her earlier moroseness at not being able to spend the afternoon with Rhodri or meet Luke with Tom.

Tom smiled proudly as he drove into the flow of traffic. ‘I have this down.’

‘Yes, did so well.’ Alexianna smiled proudly. ‘Thank you, Tom. I appreciate it so much.’

‘I am glad to give you a hand, thank you for having faith in me.’

‘You don’t have to mind her tomorrow.’

‘I already made plans with Sarah. You’re not back until nearly six, we will have dinner there and everything.’ He smiled reassuringly.

‘Thank you.’ Alexianna mouthed, her eyes filled with tears at Tom’s allowing them to step forward more.

'And it prevents me coming across that man again.'

Alexianna laughed. 'Timothy is not to bad actually, from what I have gathered, it is his wife is the dose, she is dying for Rhodri to have acceptable friends.'

'Like Lils?'

'Lily scrapes acceptable, but only because of you, I am anything but acceptable. You, however, You are worthy.'

'I admitted I am not her biological father though.'

'You are famous and an ex-Etonian, that is all that matters, Mrs Ainsley is only interested in such things.'

'I see. Why do you want to allow such a child to your home so?'

'Because he is a sweet boy and Lily likes him.' Alexianna shrugged. 'I am not some classist cow, I don't care about who her friends are, they are four, it's not like they are going to convince her to do cocaine.'

Tom chucked. 'True.'

‘Daddy?’

‘Yes, Princess?’

‘You’re the best.’

‘Why’s that, Lils?’ Her mother asked, looking around at her.

‘Because some Daddies are the daddies that made the babies and they go away, but my dad didn’t make me and he is here being my daddy when he doesn’t have to, obviously.’ She explained nonchalantly as though it was the most obvious statement to ever be made, looking out the window of the moving car at the traffic, not realising she caused Tom to choke up at her innocent words.

Chapter Text

‘Which am I, Lexi, am I her father figure or not? Because you cannot pick and choose the parts of both you want, I am either all in or I have no part in this. It is not fair to her or me to do this to us. Pick one.’ Tom growled before getting his jacket and turning and walking out of the apartment, leaving Alexianna crying at the situation.

*

It had been, in Tom’s opinion, a good day. He had taken Lily to the park again solely because he wanted to and Alexianna was busy tidying the apartment. As far as he was concerned, it stopped Lily from getting under her feet and gave him more time with the little girl he did, on more than one occasion, have to remind himself he did not father biologically.

Lily adored him. Every time he left for work, she gave him the biggest hug and asked him if he would forget her before saying goodbye. She would not cry, she merely showed her sadness at his having to go but also her understanding that he would return. He would facetime her and Alexianna constantly. When he would return, her happiness and excitement upon seeing him again, he felt, could never be rivalled. She would rush into his arms, her legs would wrap around his waist and she would squeal “Daddy” with such elated joy that Tom could not put into words what it meant to him. She was his little girl. Alexianna’s smiles on seeing him, ones of genuine delight at his return, were overshadowed by her daughter and she knew it. It had become almost a joke between the two adults, her usual line being that if she tried doing as Lily did, she would hurt one or both of them.

When they were leaving the park, he decided to get her a treat, nothing spectacular but there was a nice toy shop only across the street from there and Lily had been so well behaved that he thought it okay to get her something small as a result. So, taking the excited child into the shop, he set the limits of what she was allowed and allowed her to choose her own present. She chose the characters of a TV show he knew her to like, so paying for the toys, they headed back to the car, Lily excitedly holding her toys blabbering on about them as they walked, her hand in Tom’s as they did so. Tied into her Paw Patrol car seat that had been gotten specifically for his car, the pair made their way back to the apartment, Lily continuing to talk incessantly the whole way.

When they got back to the house, Lily was still excited, trying to get the box open to get the toys out. Tom had barely opened the door when Lily rushed in.

‘Mummy, Mummy, look what Daddy got me.’ She jumped up and down while showing her mother the toys.

‘Oh.’ Tom immediately noticed the lack of enthusiasm in Alexianna’s voice. ‘That’s lovely, Sweetheart.’

‘We’ll get them out of the box and you can go play with them, okay?’ Tom encouraged, smiling brightly at Lily, who seemed to notice her mother’s lack of enthusiasm too. After he opened the box and got the toys out, Lily rushed up to her room to play with them. Tom smiled at her excitement for a moment before turning to look at Alexianna, who was busy flattening the cardboard box for the recycling. ‘Did something happen when we were out?’

‘No.’ She did not even look at him as she spoke.

‘Lexi?’

‘What?’ She snapped.

‘What is wrong?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I know you since you were eight years old, please don’t lie to me.’ She did not look at him. ‘Is it something I did?’

‘Why did you get her that?’

‘That’s what this is about?’

‘Why did you buy that for her, Tom?’

‘Because I wanted to.’

‘You cannot just buy her things for the sake of it.’

Tom’s brows furrowed. ‘I do it with Sophie from time to time too. Look, we had a great time in the park, she has been so good recently, I thought it would be nice to get her something.’

‘You never asked me.’

‘I was not aware I had to.’

‘I am her mum, you cannot just buy her something without asking me first.’

‘Something that is expensive, yes. That was on sale.’

‘How much was it?’

‘What?’

‘How much was it, Tom?’

‘Twelve pounds.’ Alexianna walked over to where she kept her purse. ‘What are you….no, I am not taking it.’ Tom insisted as she got out the money and held it out for him. ‘No.’

‘Take the damn money, Tom.’

‘Why?’

‘Because we are not sponges, living off you.’

Tom’s eyes widened. ‘I am well aware of that.’

‘Lily cannot think that she can just get what she wants off you.’

‘She doesn’t, this was a treat, something to happen only every so often. I suggested going in, she never once asked to get it.’

‘But now she will expect to get more.’

‘And she will learn that it is not guaranteed, but that there are days when she will get something nice, today it was this, another time, maybe an ice-cream.’

‘But you can’t do that.’

‘Why not? Give me a legitimate reason and I will agree with you.’

‘Because you’re not her…’ Alexianna did not even have to finish the sentence before the hurt consumed Tom’s face.

Tom pursed his lips together. ‘Okay.’ He turned away from her, his voice tight but after a moment, he turned around to her again. ‘What am I to you?’

‘What?’

‘You got almost perfect results in your English exams, so I know you understand what I am saying. I asked what am I to you, what do you see me as?’

‘My boyfriend.’

‘And to Lily?’ She did not answer. ‘What do you see me as to her?’ Tom repeated.

‘A father-like figure, I guess.’

‘You guess?’

‘I don’t like labelling it Tom, it makes it sound more….’

‘Real?’

‘Forced. You have no obligation to be here, you don’t have an obligation to pay for her or for anything for her.’

‘So that tells you that anything I do for her, I do willingly. I want to get her a nice thing every so often. I want to do things with and for her. I am not going to get her a pony, a box of toys that are reduced to clear is not the same as that. That I would understand you being bothered about but twelve pounds…’

‘I can’t afford to get her those sorts of things. How do you think it makes me feel to see you throwing around money on things I could never afford.’

‘So, that is what this is about? You think I am trying to outdo you?’

‘No, it’s not...’

‘Then why say that?’

‘Because I am trying to explain to you why this is so frustrating.’

‘You are frustrated because I am doing something nice for Lily and you don’t want me to because you can’t, that is what I am getting from this.’ Alexianna swallowed. ‘You are okay with me doing everything else, why not this? You don’t mind me taking her when you need to get study or cleaning done’ She said nothing in response. ‘Why are you so afraid to share her properly with me?’ Alexianna shifted uncomfortably. ‘That’s what it is, you don’t want to share her with me.’

‘I…’

‘I am the man she calls Daddy, I am who is here for her as a father is supposed to be. I love her like she is mine. I take that role more serious than I ever will an acting one. Why won’t you see that? Are you that ready for this to end and for me to leave that you won’t embrace it fully?’

‘No.’

‘Then why are you trying to sabotage this. I want to be part of her life and yours fully and entirely.’

‘You are.’

‘But you don’t want me as her father figure?’

‘No, I do.’

‘Which am I, Lexi, am I her father figure or not? Because you cannot pick and choose the parts of both you want, I am either all in or I have no part in this. It is not fair to her or me to do this to us. Pick one.’ Tom growled before getting his jacket and turning and walking out of the apartment, leaving Alexianna crying at the situation.

Chapter Text

Tom didn’t know what to think or do. He lay in bed thinking about the ultimatum he had given to Alexianna. He felt terrible for forcing the situation into a corner, but he felt it was the right thing to do. Getting Lily a small present should not have caused Alexianna to react in such a manner, to say she did so implied there was something wrong in the relationship and he knew that he could not continue as they were doing and that were he to leave it now, the same issues would arise again in the near future and they would suffer worse in the long run. It was not an option. He would not continue being everything to Lily that Alexianna wanted without the joys of parenting that came with it.

He loved being there for them both, he had no issue with the boring and mundane aspects of it all, in fact, he enjoyed them most of the time. The quiet and relaxing life of sitting in doing silly art and reading to Lily was a welcome change from the fast and hectic life he had when he was working. She saw him only as Tom, or Daddy, who was the best reader and who only expected him to do funny voices for their stories, she wanted nothing more from him. Alexianna never asked for anything of him or expected anything from him either. She accepted, without question, when he was not available, she would only give him a kiss and tell him that she would see him again when he was free and that she loved him. He could not ask for more in a partner and a child. Though, the rules that Alexianna set at the beginning of the relationship, he felt, were voided by the developments of the relationship, especially regarding Lily’s decision to make him her father figure and Alexianna not correcting it, allowing it to happen.

He swallowed. If Alexianna decided to not talk through everything, if she decided that she wanted to put an end to the relationship, he would lose them both. The fear he had when he began to develop feelings for Alexianna and Lily in turn at the beginning of the relationship and the fear that were it to end, he would lose them came to the fore once more. He was scared.

Part of him thought to send a text or call and apologise so that he could prevent such a scenario. He did not want to lose either of them, but the bigger part of him knew that he had to make himself clear, otherwise they would be in the same position again in a few weeks time. Ignoring the elephant in room would do nothing but delay the inevitable argument. The longer they left it, the more damage it would do.

But he felt guilty. He had promised Lily that he would read her a bedtime story. He felt terrible for not being there to do so. Laying back in his bed, he hoped voicing his issues was allowing Alexianna to know exactly how he felt and to allow her to see his side of things. He had sent her a text saying that he would talk to her the next day, he only hoped that she would want to and that they could work through everything. He was not a religious man but he prayed that everything would work out, that he could be a more definitive and solid part of both Alexianna’s and Lily’s lives.

In her apartment, Alexianna sighed in exhausted frustration. Lily took Tom’s leaving without a goodbye very badly. She was fussy for the rest of the evening and refused to do anything her mother asked of her to the extent that she screamed when Alexianna tried to read her a story, sticking her fingers in her ears, crying and begging for Tom. The more she fussed, the more angry and frustrated Alexianna became. By the time she put Lily to bed and got the apartment tidied, she felt terrible. She had found herself on the verge of tears more than once.

She looked at Tom’s text more than once and bit the insides of her cheeks as she did so. When she thought over his words, she sighed and rubbed her hands over her face. She had no idea how she was going to talk to Tom about everything partly because she could not even understand fully to herself what was causing her to feel as she did regarding everything, something she knew was an issue, there was no way to work past something if there was no way to articulate it. Sighing again, she just sat down and tried to make sense of everything.

Tom woke the next morning feeling almost as tired as he did going to bed. He had not slept well during the night, more than once waking to the reality that he had possibly lost the relationship he loved and may not, for a considerable time see either Alexianna or Lily and that worried him more than he ever thought it could.

Checking his phone, he was disappointed to see there had been no texts from Alexianna in acknowledgement of his text the night before. He decided to get up and go for a run in hopes to give her a chance to wake and see what time would suit for them to talk.

By the time ten o’clock came, there was still nothing from her regarding meeting and talking which terrified him. He genuinely hoped they would work through things, it did not bode well if she would not even speak with him. He knew that Lily was in school and that Alexianna was due to work until five. They had previously arranged that he would collect her, but all things considered, he did not know where he stood and it bothered him. Deciding that he needed to know if he was to collect her, and what arrangements were there for Lily, he took out his phone and typed.

“Am I still collecting Lily today?”

He looked at the text for a considerable amount of time before inhaling deeply and pressing send. Nervous of what would be the response, he paced anxiously, half doing chores as he waited to hear the tone of his phone receiving a message in response.

In the following half hour, he received four emails and two messages, none from Alexianna. Feeling defeated and downtrodden, Tom sank into his seat, unable to concentrate on anything. When the phone informed him that he had another new message, he did not care enough to check it instead he found himself remembering the first time he came home from Eton after his parents split. He was considerably older than Lily when it happened, but he knew the sensation of being forced to watch how your whole world as you knew it to be being broken apart. If anything, he felt it was harder for Lily, at just four years old, she would not understand everything as he had, and with her only having a father figure in her life a few months, he worried it would make it even harder on her and how it would affect her. That made him feel worse, he felt guilty that should they not repair things, he would be part of the reason she felt such emotions.

When another message came through, he was still too busy thinking of the ramifications of breaking up with Alexianna. He wondered how he could try to assist her with Lily if he was no longer with her. He also knew that that would do nothing to quell the rumours that he was her biological father, but he did not care, he wanted to continue being there for both of them no matter what. They deserved it.

He was a good twenty minutes thinking about it all when his phone rang. Seeing it was Luke, he answered. Overall, the conversation was mundane and uninteresting. He was due to go to Ace Comicon soon so Luke was giving him a rundown of certain dates. Tom, not able to cease thinking of the situation with Alexianna, was only half listening.

‘Tom?’

‘Yes?’

‘What will she say?’

‘Who?’

Luke gave an exasperated sigh. ‘You’re not even listening to me, are you?’

‘I’m sorry, I am just trying to sort a few things here.’ Tom apologised.

‘I don’t need to know the ins and outs of everything in your personal life.’ Luke warned. ‘Keep whatever you two get up to between yourselves.’

‘Who?’

‘Who...Tom, are you alright?’

‘Yes, why?’

‘You are not listening to me and when I reference your girlfriend, you ask me who I am even talking about?’

‘Sorry. She’s not...she’s at work.’

‘She has an incredible work ethic, you cannot fault her that.’ Luke acknowledged. ‘What did she say about the length of your press tour?’

‘I...It doesn’t matter now.’

‘What happened?’ Luke’s tone told his exasperation.

‘What do you mean?’

‘You’ve broken up with her, haven’t you?’ Luke sounded unsurprised.

‘No….I don’t know.’

‘What happened?’

‘I bought Lily a toy yesterday and Lexi got annoyed. So I told her to choose between me being a proper father for Lil’s, meaning I am permitted to choose to get her something on occasion or to not expect me to act as her father so much and to let me know what she wanted but she hasn’t.’

‘Tom, what do you mean “a proper father”? Are you her father?’ Luke asked warily. ‘I thought you weren’t her father?’

‘I’m not, biologically, but I am her father figure. I am the one she calls “Daddy” and who reads her stories and everything.’

‘You are not even together a year, I am not sure being so involved with her daughter is a wise decision.’

‘You don’t particularly get much of a choice when there are children involved, Luke. The majority of the time Alexianna and I spend together, Lily is there. Alexianna would never cast her aside for anyone, much less a man.’

‘Well, no. Of course, she shouldn’t, but to take on such a role in her life…’

‘You don’t get it, Luke, I love that little girl like she is my own daughter, she is so pure and sweet and funny and her father never wanted anything to do with her and she is so good and she is doing so well at school and…’

‘Jesus Christ, you really adore the kid.’ Luke realised, having never fully paid heed to Tom’s relationship as neither he nor Alexianna and her daughter caused the publicist any issues. As far as he was concerned, Alexianna, though divorced, was no problem. She did not cause scenes, falling out of clubs drunk, she dressed in a manner that, though it drew criticism from some, was only petty comments and not based on her being overly revealing and there was apparently no more from her ex-husband since the divorce, meaning there were no embarrassing media brawls for him to concern himself with, so in many ways, Luke simply ignored the whole Alexianna and Lily situation. There were a few pictures of Tom and the pair, but people gushed over the apparently healthy and good rapport they saw of Tom with them, but hearing the way Tom spoke about the little girl, he was forced to acknowledge just how much she meant to him. ‘I thought you were giving up on the whole kids' thing?’ Luke asked fearfully.

‘I...No, I could never….not with Alexianna.’

‘Wait, she’s not pregnant, is she?’

‘No, no, she’s not.’

‘Tom, listen, I am not going to lie to you, I have no idea how to process all of this, this is more than I bargained for. You are the same man, who told me, not two years ago, as all your friends were becoming parents, that you were not so sure you wanted to be anchored down like that.’

‘I didn’t have Lexi and Lily then.’

‘You don’t have them now.’

‘I need to talk to Jeremy.’

‘Who?’

‘Jeremy Carlton.’

‘That name is ringing a bell.’

‘I went to Eton with him, his father is big in family law.’

‘Why?’

‘I need to know if I can fight for visitation for Lily.’

‘Wait, what? Visi….she is not your daughter. You’re not even living with her mother, why in the name of anything would any judge give you visitation?’

‘But I….’

‘You are not her father, Tom.’ Luke repeated. ‘Why….why does this matter so much to you?’

‘Because I can’t lose them. I can’t abandon Lily. You don’t get it, Luke, you don’t know what it’s like, I do. And I can’t do it to her.’

‘Tom…’ Luke’s voice was softer when he spoke again realising Diana and James's separation still toyed with some part of Tom, a quarter of a century later. ‘Tom...don't do anything drastic.’

‘I am just going to ask him, nothing more.’

‘I don’t think you want to hear what he will more than like say.’

Tom felt his phone vibrate and looked at the screen to see there were three messages from Alexianna. Seeing the contents of the last message, he felt himself become fearful. ‘Luke, I have to go.’

‘Tom…’

‘She messaged me back, I have to go.’ He hung up the phone and looked again at the message on the screen. He unlocked the screen and looked at the two previous texts, in particular, the times they were received. He had not realised she had contacted him.

11:03 am - Hi, I was going to let her go to the afterschool club, considering. I thought with everything that was going on it was the only option, I would never expect you to do it.

11:07 am - I am not sure if you wish to talk about this today or another day. You said you would talk to me today, but I wasn’t sure if it would be about this specifically. If you wish to collect Lily, then, of course, I won’t stop you, but please don’t feel obliged.

11:51 am - Nevermind, I am sorry Tom, for everything, obviously you have made other plans for today.

He immediately tapped on her number and called Alexianna. At first, he was scared that she would not answer, causing him to become worried. When the line picked up, he waited for a moment to see if it was her voicemail.

‘Tom?’

‘Lexi.’

‘Hi.’

‘Hello.’ There was an awkward silence then. ‘I didn’t make other plans.’

‘Okay.’

‘I was on the phone with Luke, I never realised you messaged back, I’m sorry.’

‘It’s fine Tom, you don’t owe me explanations.’

‘No, I feel I do.’

‘It’s fine.’

‘You never make demands of me, you never demand to know where I am or why I don’t get back to you.’

‘You’re a busy guy.’

‘Please, can I take Lily afterschool? I will bring her back to yours on time.’

‘What about…?’

‘We can talk about it, later when she is in bed.’

‘But what if…?’

‘Lexi, please, at least talk to me about it. That’s all I ask, whatever you choose.’

‘I don’t want you to feel like I am using you for this. I didn’t realise you felt…’

‘No...it’s not….listen. We will talk later when Lil’s is asleep. We will air everything in the articulate manner we are so very much capable of, Ms Oxford.’ he smiled as he spoke, hoping to give her the sense that he wanted them to work through it. ‘As for Lils, I want to. I love spending time with her.’

‘Okay.’

Tom felt himself become relieved at her consent. ‘Thank you. I’ll make us dinner.’

‘Don’t concern yourself with that.’ Alexianna dismissed.

‘Not at all. I’ll see you then, Bye.’

When Alexianna said her goodbyes, Tom hung up the phone and hoped that things would be okay, her tone told him nothing of her decision.

Chapter Text

Alexianna looked at her front door, wondering what she was going to do with regards Tom and their conversation later. She was scared to know what he was thinking as well as trying to articulate her own thoughts. She put the key in the door and walked in. the first thing that hit her was the lovely smell of dinner, she knew immediately it was a hearty one, one she craved.

‘And then we put….no, Princess, not like that. Careful of your fingers, your mum would kill me if her little girl got hurt.’

‘I’m your little girl too, Daddy.’

Alexianna swallowed at hearing her daughter state where Tom was positioned in her life. She did not know what to do regarding it all.

‘Of course, how silly of me.’ She could hear the sadness in Tom’s tone. ‘Now, I think I heard the door.’

‘Mummy! Daddy, get me down.’ There was the sound of small fast footsteps a moment later. ‘Mummy!’ Alexianna smiled at her daughter. ‘Daddy collected me today.’

‘I see that.’ She smiled, lifting Lily into her arms for a cuddle. She looked at Tom who was smiling warmly at her. ‘Hi.’

‘Hello.’ He gave a faint nod. ‘Lily and I were preparing dinner.’

‘Yes, I can see. I told you not to bother yourself.’ Alexianna placed Lily back on the ground.

‘I wanted to.’ He assured her. She gave a small smile and nodded walking forward.

‘Mommy, why aren’t you giving Daddy a kiss?’ Lily asked innocently. ‘You always give Daddy a kiss when you come home.’

Tom and Alexianna looked at one another awkwardly before Alexianna bit her lips together. ‘Lils...’

‘Give him a kiss, Mommy.’ Lily insisted.

Alexianna sighed and leant forward, kissing Tom on the cheek, inhaling his cologne and natural smell as she did, hating how good he smelled. Tom for his part, gently touched her arm, his grip was light, but it was clear he did not want to let go. When she pulled back, she noticed the sadness in his features. ‘I better get washed up.’ She turned and walked up the stairs.

‘Daddy?’

‘Yes, Princess.’ Tom found his voice feeling tight, sensing that when he would talk to Alexianna would involve things he did not want to hear.

‘Why is Mommy sad?’

‘I think she is just a little tired.’

‘She must be tired a-cause she was crying last night.’

Tom swallowed hard. ‘What?’

‘Mommy cried all night last night. I heard her.’ Lily explained. ‘Why was she crying?’

Tom felt worse on hearing that. ‘Sometimes, grown-ups have bad days, Princess. Your mum is such a hard worker and she is studying and being a great mum to you, she gets worn out.’ He tried to explain, feeling terribly guilty for being part of it all. ‘How about we get the rest of the dinner on and when your mum is finished getting washed, you give her a huge hug?’

‘Okay, Daddy.’ She trotted off happily as Tom looked at the staircase, wanting nothing more than to go up and give Alexianna a hug, but knowing they had to wait until it was just the two of them to really talk.

The evening went by awkwardly. Even Lily noticed there was an odd sense in the air. Tom asked Alexianna about her day and her plans for the midterm that was coming up as she would be working and he would be away that week on a role, she was not very forthcoming with speaking to him, instead, she was abnormally quiet and seemed to spend more time thinking about something than even listening.

Tom read Lily her bedtime story, taking longer than usual. Part of him was convinced that this was going to be the last time he would ever get the honour. Lily seemed to notice there was something bothering Tom and gave him Baloo to cuddle. When Tom went to place him next to her for the night, as was her routine, Lily shook her head, telling him to borrow Baloo until he felt happier. Tom swallowed and gave her a cuddle goodnight before walking to the door of the room. ‘I love you, Princess.’

‘I love you, Daddy.’ She chimed back. ‘Forever and ever.’

Tom closed the door and stood outside it for a moment, the stuffed toy in his hands, not sure what to do or say. Knowing that he could not put off the inevitable, he went to the stairs and began his descent, every step one step closer to it all. When he entered the kitchen, he was shocked to see Alexianna had not touched a single pot or plate as was her usual routine when he did bedtime, instead, she was sitting on the sofa and frowning at her hands. ‘Lexi?’

‘I suppose we should just get on with this.’ She stated, not looking at him.

Tom sighed and walked over, sitting next to her. ‘Can we talk?’

‘There’s not much to talk about though, is there?’

‘There’s a lot to talk about, actually. We should talk about what is happening and why.’

‘I messed up, and now you want to leave.’

Tom frowned. ‘No, Lexi, no. That’s not….’ He inhaled deeply, reminding himself than in her mind, Alexianna was conditioned to think she was at fault, be it for something in her early life or her marriage. Marie and Jonathan had her trained to assume blame and never think about the situation, so he had to be patient and work through it with her. Part of him did not want to be forced to do that, but when he had chosen to be with her, he had accepted that there was a lot she had to work through too and he had accepted that these sorts of arguments would occur. ‘Did you think about what I said yesterday?’ She nodded. ‘Talk to me, Lexi.’

‘Yes, I did.’

‘And what did you take from it all?’

‘That I am a terrible girlfriend and mum, that I…’

Tom took her hand. ‘You are an incredible mum.’ He insisted, ‘And a good girlfriend, a little in need to talking more, but I cannot fault you for how much you care.’

‘But you…’

‘Lexi, I love you, I love Lily, I love you both and I love being with you. Yesterday was not me demanding we go our separate ways, that was me voicing my being angered that we are not as good as we could be and my asking why there is an issue with what I do with Lily. If you feel you do not want to work through that, I need to accept that, but if you want to try and work through it, then I do not think we should go different ways.’

‘But I can’t….’

‘Can’t what, Darling?’

‘Explain it.’

‘Try. Please try.’

‘I just…I can’t explain it, I can’t vocalise it.’

‘You are an incredibly intelligent and articulate woman, try.’

‘But I can’t, because I don’t know why.’

‘Okay.’ Tom nodded, uncertain as to what she was saying and how to deal with it. ‘Try and tell me what you do know.’

‘I don’t want her spoiled.’

‘Of course, that is why it was a treat and it is not going to happen often.’

‘I asked you before not to.’

‘Again, I understand, but a lot has changed since then. Back then I was only your new boyfriend, now I am far more involved in her life, I stay in the same house as her sometimes for almost a week at a time, she calls me “Dad” and I am one of her caregivers. Do you think then that it is fair to hold Daniel and I to different rules? He sends her gifts every so often, why is that okay but the man who is here helping raise her cannot get her a small toy?’

Alexianna could not answer for a moment. ‘He is her uncle.’

‘An uncle is not obliged to give to his nephew or niece, I know this, I am one.’ Tom pointed out. ‘Is this to do with my not being a biological relative?’ Alexianna shrugged. ‘I know it is odd, Lexi, but I want to be here, I want to do these things for her, she is my little girl.’ Alexianna chewed her bottom lip, and a small flicker of emotion came to the fore for a slight moment, had Tom not been paying attention, he would not have caught it. It startled Tom. ‘You don’t want her to be my little girl too, do you?’

‘I...It’s not that, I just…I cannot explain it. Seeing her with you, and you with her, hearing you talk together, I get so happy, I feel so good that my little girl has a father figure that loves her and treats her as a father should but this stupid part of me feels….’ her hands moved as she spoke, their actions showing her conflict.

‘Feel what?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Jealous?’

‘Maybe a little, but not that exactly.’ She tried to explain.

Tom decided to hamper a guess. ‘Do you fear what will happen if you share her, if you allow someone else in when it has always been you two?’ She swallowed and looked at her hands. ‘I am not trying to steal her from you Lexi, nothing of the sort. Fuck, I would never dream to come between you, you are her mum. I love her so much but that is not even a fraction of the ferocity that you love her with.’ He took her hand again. ‘I am not here to come between you, I just want to be part of this.’ She looked at him for the first time. ‘I want to be here, with both of you.’

‘But you want to be her father?’

‘I know it’s not a long relationship, but I think it is safe to say it is a serious one. I cannot help it, I adore her in the way I think, going by how my friends are with their children, is how a father would his daughter. I know she is not mine, I know that if this ends, I…I do not have automatic rights to see her, but I hope, all things considered…’

‘I don’t...she deserves the world.’

‘She is the most incredible little girl, you have done such an incredible job with her, Lexi.’

Alexianna bit her lip, she knew that. For all her faults as a person, she had created a wonderful child, she knew that Lily was an incredible child, but she had flourished more than words since Tom entered her life. Having his influence had made her go from a cheery little girl to an incredibly happy child with a zest for life that startled everyone around her. From when she woke in the morning to when she fell asleep at night, she was by far one of the happiest children around. She had her share of tantrums and sulks but for a four-year-old, but overall, there was no denying her way of looking at life, she made people want to smile. ‘I think it’s a joint effort.’

‘No, no, it’s not. She would be nowhere near the girl she is today if you did not give her the love and attention at the beginning. I flicked through one of Sarah’s “What to Expect” books for I think toddlers when I was bored one day, and it states clearly, a happy loving relationship with the primary caregivers from the start sets the foundation for a happy and healthy emotionally stable child. Lily is the child she is because of you.’

‘But you and Dan…’

‘We’ve added to it, both of us, but you did the hard work.’ Tom informed her, getting her to look at him. ‘Why won’t you take the credit for what you have done? You did this.’ He intertwined their fingers. ‘When there was a conflict in your marriage, what happened?’ Alexianna said nothing. ‘Did he silence you?’ She nodded. ‘I don’t want that, Lexi. I want you to talk to me, you need to tell me what you are thinking. And if that means feeling angry sometimes that is natural, but talk through the issue, tell me what you are thinking.’

‘I...I got onto the resources department in work today.’

Tom frowned. ‘What for?’

‘There’s….we have a few perks in the office, little things, discounts for gyms, yoga classes, a few other bits here and there. But they have a counsellor service.’ Tom looked at her curiously. ‘I made an appointment.’

‘Okay?’

‘I...I thought I was doing okay, but I’m not so sure now.’

‘Can I ask…of course, if you don’t want to tell me…’

‘When I went before, it was all about Jonathan and I get it, at the time, I was just out of a marriage to an abusive person, so of course, they wanted to focus on that. I get it, but now. Now I am in a healthy happy relationship and yesterday and today, I realised I….I feel things that are not healthy and I have no way of vocalising and I need to fix that. I want to fix it.’

Tom smiled and kissed her hand. ‘Whatever you feel is right for you, I support your decision. Is there anything I can do to help?’

‘No, this is me. I know it is all me. I am sorry I have not been the girlfriend you deserve.’

‘Stop, don’t dismiss yourself like that, you are still getting yourself sorted after everything, I knew there would be times it would rear up and I accepted that when I said I wanted to be with you.’ He smiled reassuringly.

‘I’m broken.’

‘You’re not. Just slightly chipped.’

Alexianna snorted a laugh. ‘Perhaps.’

‘We are all a little bit so.’ Tom stated factually. He looked at her worriedly. ‘While you are fixing the issues with you….is there room for me?’

Alexianna looked at him. ‘How can you possibly want to be around me?’

‘Because you are so incredible, beautiful and strong. You are so intelligent and I find myself at my happiest in your company. You are a partner with interests and intelligence I think to be like my own and our talks make me feel as though I have someone that is not merely someone to have fun with, but someone to have a life with. You know me and my family for so long and I trust you. I also trust that when I finally lose the fight against my hairline, you will still give me the same loving smile.’

‘I don’t care about your hairline.’ She confessed. ‘I never tend to get up past your eyes, the day will come that I will and you will be bald and I won’t even have noticed.’

Tom laughed. ‘Well, as long as it is you that is looking there, I am happy.’

‘It might not take long if you continue to be around us.’ Tom frowned. ‘Lily is causing me to go bald, so you are fucked altogether.’

Tom laughed again pulling her to him before gently making his way to lips to kiss her. ‘I love you, Lexi.’

‘I love you, Tom.’ She responded, kissing him back. ‘I don’t have the energy for…things tonight.’

‘No, not tonight. Tonight I want to curl up with you beside me and just feel you next to me.’ Tom kissed her again. ‘We can work through this with little issue Lexi, we just need to figure out how to do it. We’ll get you talking, I want you to have a way to voice this.’ He promised.

Chapter Text

For the next few weeks after the argument and the reconciliation, Tom and Alexianna were not intimate in their relationship, but they still had nights where Tom stayed over. Both tried getting Alexianna to speak about her issues, but words always failed to describe the feelings in her head and as a result, frustrated her and confused Tom.

She went for her initial therapy session, where the counsellor spoke to her about different things; her childhood, her accident, Jonathan and Lily were the major points, none were in great detail, just what happened. He said he would talk more with her when she came again, but that he was trying to get a general picture. She left that session feeling okay. Nothing overly painful was brought up and she felt he seemed to realise that the issue was not solely Jonathan as the last one had focused on, so she felt she could work more with him.

Tom was pleased that she was satisfied with her counsellor and insisted on her taking a warm relaxing bath and that he would cook dinner that night afterwards. When he asked her when she was to go again, he was not surprised when she said that the counsellor, Mr Barrows, said that she would need at least a session a week until she felt otherwise.

*

Tom was sitting down to a script when his phone rang. Seeing it was Alexianna, he smiled and pressed the answer button. ‘Hello.’ There was no response. ‘Lexi?’

‘Tom.’

Tom sat up straight. ‘Alexianna, what’s wrong?’ He asked, scared to hear her crying. ‘Lexi?’

‘I...Are you free?’

‘Of course, Darling. Give me half an hour.’

‘Please.’

‘I’ll be there soon, okay?’

‘Okay.’

‘I’m coming, just give me a little bit.’ He hung up the phone and rushed to get himself ready, wondering what had caused Alexianna to be so distraught. He drove to her apartment complex and parked his car in her allocated spot before rushing up the steps to her home. When he entered, he could hear Lily singing to a DVD in her room and in the living room, was Alexianna, crying into her Stitch soft toy that he had gotten her. ‘Lexi?’

‘Tom.’

He rushed over and held her to him. ‘What happened?’

‘I went to my next appointment today.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I didn’t want to bother you.’

‘Well, that was foolish. So what did today have that made you so upset?’

‘Tom...I am so broken.’

‘No, you’re not as broken as you think you are. You are just seeing small cracks, the same as most people have.’ He kissed her head. ‘Talk to me.’

‘When my father left, he never came back.’

Tom knew that. Alexianna’s father saw nothing of her or Dan when he divorced their mother. He paid their school fees and gave sums of money here and there for other things, but he never actually saw his children. Something that, to this day, he could not understand how Alexianna was not bothered by. Apparently, he was wrong. ‘I know.’

‘I...Why didn’t it bother me?’

‘You always said that he was the one missing out.’

‘I...then the same with Lily and Jonathan.’

‘Lexi, he is a pig, he does not deserve to be in her life. Look how happy she is, she does not need him. The same as you did not need your father, some men bring no positive to your life so forget about them.’ Tom decided to state that immediately, lest Alexianna feel any modicum of guilt in her current state and try and initiate contact with her ex-husband, a man she would never want in her life otherwise.

‘But I continued the cycle.’

‘No, Lexi, he left you did not push him, though I wish you had the honour.’

‘But am I damaging Lily, I thought I was okay…’

‘You are not doing anything of the sort to that little girl. She is upstairs singing Bryan Adams watching her horse movie and is so incredibly happy.’

‘Some people would classify Bryan Adams as failing her.’ Alexianna joked, causing Tom to laugh. ‘I just...I want her to be more than me.’

‘What is wrong with her being like you? A strong woman, who follows her own path and does not let the setbacks force her down. In one way, she will be stronger than you, because unlike you, she will have you in her corner, you didn’t have Marie. And she will have me and Uncle Daniel, not to mention my mum and her aunts and cousin, that girl will be incredibly supported.’ He promised.

‘I...I figured it out.’

‘Which part?’

‘Why I was bothered.’

‘Okay?’

‘I was jealous, not intentionally, I didn’t even think of it, it’s because you wanted her and my father did not want me, and I realise now, that I was risking her not having something brilliant because of it. I love seeing the bond between you, I love how the smile she has when she sees you. But it opened up something in me, something I have never actually thought about and repressed and then when you did that, and with everything going on with you in Lily’s life, my mind correlated it to my father not bothering with me and my brain construed it all wrong and resulted in the world’s most stupid meltdown.’

Tom held her against him more. ‘Your feelings are not stupid, and the fact you could not explain them shows this was not something you wanted to have, but something you could not control.’

‘Thank you for understanding.’

‘How was it overall?’

‘Fine.’

‘Lexi?’

‘I have never been more exhausted in my life. I feel so drained, but not in a bad way and then I felt guilty for what I did with us…’

‘Shh, it was a step in the right direction. I think you know you needed this.’ Tom commented. ‘What did he say about Jonathan?’

‘He didn’t feature much. Just asking about the men in Lily’s life because I said I needed to get to the bottom of that particular event.’

‘Okay.’

‘I...I was thinking, and I realise, that I am completely over what he did, I...I am indifferent. Not angry, not upset, I don’t care when I talk about him or anything. But I still don’t want to mention him too much around Lil’s. Not yet.’

‘Of course.’ Tom bit his cheek.

‘We will have to tell her someday, I know that.’

‘So do I, but I don’t want to.’ Tom confessed.

‘Dad’s try to protect their children, you don’t want her hurt.’

‘The idea of that kills me. Her knowing that he did not want her.’

‘Mommy?’ A voice called from the top of the stairs.

‘Shit, Tom, I can’t let her see me like this.’ Alexianna sat up properly, fully aware of her current state from crying.

‘I have this.’ He winked. ‘Yes, princess?’

‘DADDY!!!!!!!’

‘I’m going to count to five and then I am going to go up there, and gobble you up.’ There was a giggle. ‘One.’

‘Ah!’

‘Two.’

‘Run Lils.’ Her mother giggled.

‘Three.’ Tom rose to his feet and headed for the door. ‘Four.’

‘No, Daddy.’

‘Five. I’m going to get you, Lily.’

‘Mommy!’ Lily’s footsteps rushed across the ceiling above her as Alexianna smiled at the sheer happiness in her daughter’s voice.

With her day’s revelations regarding herself voiced to Tom, Alexianna dried her tears and assessed. She had been so emotional when she realised why she felt as she did, but telling Tom and having him understand too, meant she felt truly as though an immense weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She knew it was cliche, but it did. The idea of making dinner made her all but gag, so instead, she just went on her phone and ordered a delivery.

When Tom and Lily came down the stairs, Tom checked how Alexianna was before bringing Lily into the room. Alexianna had washed her face a few times with cold water to lessen the puffiness, though her eyes were still red, but she still nodded for Tom to come in. When they walked in, she smiled lovingly.

‘Are you okay?’

‘Yes. Thank you, Tom.’

‘I am here for you, no matter what.’ He promised. ‘Thank you for talking to me about it, I know it is hard for you.’

She nodded. When the bell rang, Tom and Lily looked around. ‘Who wants Indian?’

‘That sounds good, right Lils?’

‘Korma!’

‘The boss has spoken.’ Tom chuckled.

After Lily was put to bed, Tom reading her the story, he walked back down the stairs to see Alexianna reading. ‘Did she go down?’

‘Of course.’ He smiled, sitting down beside her and curling her in against him. ‘I am so proud of you, did I tell you that? Having the strength to acknowledge something was not right, and asking for help, that is an incredibly brave thing to do and I am proud of you for doing it.’

‘I am so grateful you are still here. I don’t like feeling like I am pressuring you to be, but days like today, I really am so grateful to have you and I think part of my wanting to get through all of this is so I do not lose you because of it because that would crush me. I know that there is always a chance of this failing, I am not stupid, but I don’t want it to be because I would not attempt to communicate with you.’

Tom smiled lovingly at her. ‘Even if everything were to fall apart, I would still be here for both of you. That’s a big part of this, Lexi, knowing you for so long, us having a connection more than just this, that matters.’

Alexianna contemplated his words for a moment before leaning up and kissing him. Tom reciprocated which only caused her to become more passionate. Before long, she was straddling his hips, her body against his.

‘Lexi...we...bedroom.’ He sighed, loving the feel of her body against his., but he forced her back. ‘You need to tell me you’re in the right place in your head for this too. You are going through a lot right now, if you think you have to do this for me, you don’t.’

‘I want it.’ She confirmed. ‘Not because I feel I have to.’

‘Then bedroom.’ He ordered, she did not move, instead, she began to unbutton his shirt. ‘Lexi, what if your daughter comes down the stairs?’ He asked, trying to get her to focus.

‘Our daughter.’ She corrected.

Tom paused for a moment and looked into her eyes, seeing was she just trying to sidetrack him, but seeing the way she looked back at him, it was clear she meant it. Filled with elated joy, he flipped her around so she was with her back to the sofa and he was over her. ‘Fuck it.’

Chapter Text

Tom was conflicted for a moment. Rarely did Ben call on him like this, but he had specified asked him to come over but the issue was that Tom was caring for Lily while Alexianna dealt with something at work. He let Ben know he was coming and that he was not alone before he strapped Lily into her car seat.

‘Where are we going, Daddy?’

‘To my friend Ben’s house.’

‘You mean Dr Strange Ben?’

‘Exactly, Princess.’

‘Okay.’

Tom often wanted to get down on bended knees and thank whatever Gods he could think of, as well as Alexianna for the amazing daughter she had raised that was completely okay with the idea of going to an absolute stranger’s home and not having a tantrum about it. ‘He has two little boys, but they are younger than you.’

‘What are their names?’

‘Kit and Hal.’

‘Okay. Do they like Paw Patrol?’

‘I have no idea, I think they might never have heard of them.’

‘I hope they do.’

Tom got into the car and tied his belt. ‘And if they don’t?’

‘I’ll teach them.’

Tom hoped Benedict was prepared for such events.

*

When they arrived at the house, Ben looked at Tom questioningly as Lily smiled brightly beside him, but he made room for them to come in. ‘Dare I ask?’

‘Lexi is working late and you said to come immediately. I have Lily so if you want me here, you get us both.’ Tom shrugged unapologetically.

‘How long is this going on?’

‘What? I told you about me and Lexi several times?’

‘No, I knew about that, but how long are you being left alone with her daughter?’

Tom felt his jaw clench. ‘A couple of months.’

‘And you are okay with that?’

‘Yes, I offered.’ Tom’s tone became clipped.

‘Whoa, hey, I am just asking. I don’t want to see you being taken for a fool, nothing else. I swear.’ Ben stated, his hands up slightly as though surrendering. ‘Tea?’

‘Please.’ Tom walked into the kitchen where Lily had gone naturally and was standing still. ‘Princess, why don’t you take off your coat and watch the telly with the boys.’

‘Okay.’ Lily took off her coat as requested and gave it to Tom. ‘Hello again, Mr Ben.’

Tom chuckled as he looked at his friend, seeing his reaction. ‘Hello. You remember me?’

‘From the time I was bold and ran off from my Mummy and into the coffee shop and you were there and you told me not to do it again.’ She recited. ‘I remember everything.’

‘Except where you put your shoes.’ Tom chuckled again.

‘That’s the fairies fault.’

‘Oh sure. Blame them.’ Tom rolled his eyes. ‘Now, that’s...Kit is here, Hal...?’

‘Is currently having a nap. Kit, this is Lily.’

‘Go Jet-bers.’

‘Yeah, that is pretty much all you are going to get out of him.’ Ben dismissed. ‘My head is wrecked today and I know it’s bad to slot him in front of a tv but some days, you just have to.’

‘Lily is terrible for trying to steal her mum’s phone to watch some Youtube programme.’

‘That can be dangerous.’

‘Alexianna has her phone on safety settings and specifically blocked several sites, she knows how from work. Mine doesn’t have such features and is passcode protected, so Lil’s is not allowed near it.’

‘How much of an influence are you in her life now?’ Ben asked curiously.

Tom grinned back, which perturbed his friend for a moment. ‘Lily, come here for a moment, Princess.’

There was a small noise before not one, but two little set of footfalls came to them. ‘Yes, Daddy?’

On hearing the little girl call Tom such a name, Ben’s eyes widened as he looked at his friend in shock.

‘Kit is smaller than you so be careful of him and no messing around on the furniture, alright?’

Lily gave him an appalled look. ‘Why are you saying this, I never do that.’

‘I know you don’t Princess, but I wanted to let you know regardless.’

‘I am nearly five Daddy, I am going into Year One soon, I know how to behave.’ She sassed before turning and taking Kit’s hand and bringing him back into the other room. 'Come on, Kit.'

‘She’s…’

‘Sassy is what her uncle calls her.’

‘Oh, she is that.’ Ben agreed. ‘So, “Daddy”?’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s that serious?’

‘Yes.’

‘What if…?’

‘We break up?’ Ben nodded. ‘I don’t know, Alexianna and I speak about it a slight bit, I don’t think she likes referencing it too often either, but the reality is, it could happen, and if it does, I will see a lot less of her, which would kill me. I love that little girl so much.’

‘But she is not yours?’

‘Why does everyone ask that?’

‘Because she looks like you. You do see that, don’t you?’

‘I never once slept with her mother before this relationship started, she is not mine, and no, I don’t see it.’

‘Well, you’re blind then. What does her father look like?’

‘Shorter than me, stockier built, blonde hair, like he could do with someone hitting him with something hard across the head.’ Tom growled.

‘Hey, that’s not like you.’

‘Well, seeing what he caused, seeing the damage he did to one of the nicest women I even had the honour of knowing, for what he did with that little girl, that in my PG version of the answer to that question.’

‘So he really did…?’

‘When Alexianna was fighting for her divorce, I met his brother. Ben, this man was the human epitome of a bottomfeeder, horrible, slimy, nasty, he...The way he referenced Lily. I mean you see her, she is...my family are insane about her, everyone loves her. She knows Kit for two minutes and he is following her around.’

‘Yes, usually his is desperate to get back into someone’s arms now.’ Ben acknowledged. Curiously, he walked over to the door and looked into the living area where the two kids were playing with some cars. ‘So her story checked out?’

‘It never changed, it has always been the same, some of what she said was specifically in the divorce papers. Sometimes she will remember something that she didn’t before, or something will remind her. She is going to counselling now, that is helping her a lot. I...Ben, I saw the one picture she found when she was moving with him in it; if you saw…’ Tom shuddered. ‘She was like a ghost, that was not the girl I knew growing up, I have seen pictures before that when you are looking at them, you can tell there is something wrong with it, but with hers...you can see her all but screaming internally to get away from it all.’

‘Fuck me.’ Ben gasped, looking around to see if the kids were close by. ‘I don’t know what to say, that’s a lot for you to take on, are you okay with all of it?’

‘I am a full grown man, I know what I am involved in.’ Tom stated.

‘You love her?’

‘I love them both. It’s not easy, there are things I have to remember. You cannot just say certain things to Lexi, she could perceive them differently and as a result, think she is being criticised personally, so it is important to remember that but overall, it’s fine.’

‘Criti...Tom, you are literally criticised online hourly, and probably her with you.’

‘Yes.’ Tom nodded. ‘She works in PR, she knows all about that, but for some reason, her brain is able to compute that those people do not know her, so their opinions are not relevant.’

‘Well, that’s something.’ Ben conceded. ‘So, the father has nothing to do with her?’

‘Nothing.’

‘That’s tough on the poor thing. She is a polite child, if not a little sassy and is well behaved. No child deserves that. Do you often have to look after her?’

‘Only when I am not busy. Lexi never expects anything from me, she is the first to remind me that she is not my obligation.’

‘That’s good. How is she about you contributing?’

‘To Lily?’ Ben nodded. ‘We nearly broke up because I bought Lily a toy and Lexi felt it was too much.’

‘How much?’

‘Twelve pounds.’

‘Jesus.’

‘Yes, so I get in trouble for paying too much on anything, though I stated, if I am being called “Daddy” and am doing the role of one, I am treated her like one too.’

‘How did that go down?’

‘We agreed to little treats, here and there.’

‘Where is she going to school?’

‘Hampstead Green.’

‘That’s a state school, right?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good?’

‘Better than a lot in the area.’

‘How does she feel about public schools?’

‘She went to Headington.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wow, so she is from…?’

‘Her father is big in Barclays, he divorced her mother but paid for her and her brother to go to public schools and for them to go to college.’

‘And now…’

‘She was living in a mouldy one-bed shoebox and working cleaning houses, but not now, and no, not because of me, well, getting my cousin’s apartment cheap was me, I will admit that, but her college course, her job they are all her.’

‘That was a change in lifestyle for her.’

‘She is amazing, she works so hard, she asks no one for anything. She is a good woman.’

‘I am glad you are happy, Tom. I really am.’ Ben smiled, but he noted something in Tom’s face. ‘What?’

‘Have you put Hal and Kit’s names down for a school?’

‘Of course.’

‘An independent school?’

‘Yes, why?’

‘I want to talk to Lexi about sending Lily to Hampstead Hill, but I am terrified to bring it up with her.’

‘If she thought twelve pounds for a toy was worth an argument, I don’t see how you will get her to agree to a school that expensive, it's about a grand a month.’

‘But it’s Lily’s education.’

‘I mean, I know it’s snobbery, I do, but Hal and Kit’s educations, I want them to have the best.’ Ben commented. ‘It’s not really your place either though, I mean, you shouldn’t have to pay for this.’

‘As I said to Alexianna, if I am taking on the role of a father, I am doing it right.’

‘This role does not have a contract time, you do know that. If you choose to do this, you don’t get to just stop some day. I mean, you can legally. You’re not her biological father or anything, but if you really want to do this right, you cannot just leave now, even if it did not work out for you two.’

‘I know that.’ Tom looked his friend in the eye as he spoke.

‘What caused this want to send her there, anyway?’

‘Sarah said something to me at the beginning of the relationship, how I have to choose now how I treat her and take into account what it would mean if Lexi and I have a child together, would there be a marked difference in how I would treat them.’

‘Whoa, kids? You are talking about children? After less than a year?’

‘No, but it is something to consider in the future. I mean, Alexianna and I are not there yet, I think she would have heart failure if she was to get pregnant now. She has only a year left in her course and she is talking about a permanent job with the company, taking time to have another is not on her plans right now, and being honest, I think I am the same. I took a step back to do more stuff here for a reason, to take time for me and yes, her and Lily too, to throw in a baby and everything associated with that, that would be swapping one form of full-time job for another. And for the record, you and Sophie were together for less than a year with Kit on the way and before you say "We knew each other seventeen years", I know Alexianna since I was eleven, so that is twenty-something years.’

‘Well, firstly, children of any age are a full-time job and secondly, you really are terrible at maths.’

‘There is a difference between an infant and a little girl who is able to go to the bathroom, and yes, I know I am.’

‘True, yes.’

‘So, what was so important that you called me over?’ He smiled.

‘There’s this role you have to see.’

Chapter Text

Tom was uncertain as how to approach the topic of Lily's schooling with Alexianna, so he said nothing until he could think of the best possible time and way to bring up the subject. That said, it did not prevent him from getting the curriculum and the admission's form from the school, in case she would be willing to listen.

Alexianna had flown through her exams and was currently in the chair opposite him, as the relaxed after a busy day, choosing her modules for the following and final year of her course on her laptop. 'Lexi?'

'Hmm?' she did not look away from the screen as she answered him.

'I was thinking.'

'Seldim does that statement get uttered and what follows is not something to worry about.'

'What date is Lily finished for the summer?'

'The twentieth of next month.' she replied. When there was no sound out of Tom for a few moments, she forced her gaze away from her laptop to look at him, only to see him focusing ardently on his phone. 'Dare I inquire as to why you asked that particular question?'

'I am checking dates.'

'What for?'

'A holiday.'

'Tom....'

'No, please listen. Nothing mad, I swear. Just the Isle of Wight, for a week.'

'Tom, the Isle of Wight costs a small fortune, some sun holidays are cheaper than that place. I cannot afford it.'

'I would not expect you to.'

'Tom...' There was a stern warning in her tone. 'We spoke about this.'

'Look, Lexi, I want to treat you and Lily to a nice little breakaway. You won't take well to a foreign holiday, so I am not even going to entertain the idea of such.'

'We couldn't anyway, neither of us has a passport.' She interjected.

'You are getting that fixed in the near future.' Tom insisted. 'But, after everything and all your hard work, you deserve a few days of restaurant eating, sea air and relaxing. Think about it, think about how Lily would love it.'

In truth, Alexianna wanted to argue it. It would be expensive. The Isle of Wight was always a costly destination, add to that the fact it was summer, where accommodation tripled in price, she could not condone such money. But she also thought of Lily, who would love to go on an actual holiday, it was incredibly tempting. I'm not so sure, the ferry and accommodation alone will be bonkers.'

'Ben has a house there, he is giving it to us for nothing.'

'What?'

'My friend Ben, Ben Cumberbatch, he is letting us use his place there. He needs it checked on and Sophie is busy with a production and he has other stuff to juggle, so he asked if we were interested in a few days away in return for checking on it.'

'So this is not costing us for accommodation?'

'Correct.'

'Just the ferry, food and petrol?'

'Correct.'

'Okay, yeah.'

'I...You changed your tune.'

'Tom, my only concern was the cost. If it is not going to be overly expensive, then yes.'

Relieved that he was able to convince her to say yes, Tom did not press the issue further, for fear she would back out. 'Right, tell work that you are taking from the twentieth until the thirtieth of July off. We will celebrate Lily's birthday with my mum and sisters here and then we will pack off the next morning at silly o'clock and make an early crossing over.'

'You want me to take ten days off work?'

'You were saying last week you have all your holiday days still to use, you can take ten surely? Besides, you don't work weekends so that's only eight days and one of them is a recovery day after you return from the holiday, there's nothing worse than returning and being exhausted heading into work.'

'I can, but that's literally half of my yearly holiday allowance in one go.'

'Argue with me honestly, what else do you plan on doing with those days? If you have something genuine you are going to do, fine, but be honest, what is it you have them saved for?'

Alexianna looked at him for a moment but he held her gaze and she sighed, clicking into a new tab and emailing the HR department about it. 'I mean, they can hardly say no, I have not taken a day off sick or asked for time off since I started.'

Tom smiled proudly. It was true. The ridiculous stereotype of the "single mother being flakey" was in no way applicable to Alexianna, though she argued that with the manner in which he was involved as a father to Lily, she was not really a single mother. Him taking Lily for her prevented her from having to leave work early meaning she was able to give herself over more to whatever work she was doing. 'You deserve a few days off. If anything, this will help you with work, you will come back more refreshed and more able to focus on it. With everything with college too, no one deserves it more.'

'I cannot believe that I have another year down.'

'And to achieve a 2:1 with a daughter and a job as well. You are incredible, Lexi.'

'Up from a 2:2 last year. If this continues, I am at the risk of getting a 1:1.'

'The ball is in your court.' Tom smiled lovingly. 'It's all possible to you. I am here if you need me but it's you that has to do the donkey work really.' He groaned for a moment. 'When I think back on my degree, how the hell did I manage to pass it at all, much less with a 1:1, I was drunk half of the time and acting around the other half.'

'I dare say that that is something of an over-exaggeration.' Alexianna dismissed.

'Do you wish you had gotten your course finished?'

'I wish a lot of things about that time Tom, but the fact remains, everything then led to Lily, and everything then also led me to you.' Tom frowned. 'If I had not gone through all of that, I would not have been in that cafe last sure for you to come over and say hello to.'

Tom had to concede it was true. 'Thank goodness for Hamlet.' His smile fell. 'You would have still been in that little flat.'

'Perhaps, that is going under the assumption that I would have been with Jonathan even without the car crash and honestly, I don't think I would have been.' She pointed out. 'Everything happens for a reason. Because of how things were with us, Dan did not rush back on weekend leave from the rig and that is how he came to meet Anna.'

'Perhaps so.' Tom smiled. 'I just wish that you and Lily had not been forced to suffer everything you did.'

'We can't dwell on such things.'

'How are your sessions going, are they still helping you?'

Alexianna sighed, her counsellor, Mr Barrows had gone into areas of her life she was more than happy not to face, but he pointed out that there was little point in dealing with the smaller more inconsequential issues only to let the deeper, more painful ones go without being discussed. It would be somewhat optimistic to only unload the small stuff and expect big changes with all of that still there. The only issued was, she had been forced to acknowledge some painful truths and realities. One of which was that on more than one occasion in her marriage, she had declined Jonathan's sexual advances, only for him to force himself on her after she said no, ignoring her pleas for him not to. She had herself convinced that it was her "wifely duties" but in reality, she was being raped by her husband. She wept and was emotionally exhausted by that revelation. Tom was unsure of how he could assist her with that particular part of her therapy, he merely listened and ensured he was there for her. 'Yes, there are. I just...I am not always overly happy with what he digs up.'

'I can only imagine. You would not be there if it was going to be overly pleasant.'

'He wants to move onto Oliver in more detail soon.'

Tom frowned. Alexianna had no relationship with her father since she was a small child, not that you could say she had much of one with him before that either. 'What do you think of that?'

'I don't really think anything about it. I haven't since I was a child. '

'But didn't you say the issue with Lily and I was that you had a revelation that stemmed from that?'

'It does, but as I said, to the best of my knowledge, I think nothing of Oliver. I have no idea if he is even still alive. He could have remarried and have had seven note kids for all I know. All I do know was he sent the cheques for our schools, that and whatever we needed, that's it.'

'Perhaps then, it's a good thing to talk about him.' Tom suggested with a smile. 'But remember to tell Mr Barrows that you're away those dates too.'

'Sure thing, Boss.' Alexianna smiled. I'm really looking forward to this now. I have not been on a holiday in years.'

'Did you go on a honeymoon?'

'Yes, Vegas.' Tom looked at her knowingly, Vegas was nothing like what Alexianna would call a holiday. She loved history and culture, not drinking and gambling. 'Not my idea. I was so "boring" on that trip, I was not brought anywhere fun after that, though thankfully, with where he chose as "fun" I didn't want to go anyway. When he left for the week, it was a holiday in itself for me.'

'He would leave you.....' she nodded. Thomas pulled her to him and kissed her head. 'I could never do such a thing. You know when I go that it is for work.'

'I know that and I would never begrudge you going if you went anywhere, Tom. You deserve a break too.'

'I cannot believe he did that to you. Did...When you were pregnant?'

'He went on a few then, his "Blow-out" before fatherhood apparently. What he didn't realise is I had seen him book a holiday for when "George" was going to be twelve weeks old. When I confronted him, he said that because he was working and there would be a lot of noise with the baby, he would need a few nights away to recoup.'

'That selfish....' Tom felt his anger rising. 'You deserved so much better.'

'That's why the piece of paper he wanted me to sign bothered me so much. My integrity was all I had.'

'I see now why you wanted it. I am so sorry I dismissed it.' Alexianna smiled at him. 'Can I ask, if Oliver never bothered with you both, why did he fork out for Headington?'

'I honestly don't know, but I am grateful he did.' She shrugged. 'I only wish I had done more with his investment and put it to better use.'

'Do you wish Lily was able to get that sort of education?'

'Yes, wouldn't any parent? But back then, the price was well over half it is today, seventeen thousand for a day student? No one can afford those prices any more.'

'If you had money, would you put Lily into a school like that?'

'If I had it, I would, yes. Sure there's an independent school just a stop before ours on the bus, part of me wishes she was going there, getting a good education, but where she is, we were so lucky to get her in.'

Tom took note of her words but said nothing about his inquiries to that exact school for that moment, knowing that that would be too much for Alexianna to deal with at once, but he felt hopeful that he could convince her if he broached it carefully. Part of him thought to contact Daniel, but he was unsure. Instead, he got back onto Ben regarding the house, though he did add a little comment at the end regarding it.

Chapter Text

Tom's nostrils flared and his glare remained fixed on the wall ahead. He was not an aggressive man but at that moment, he shook in anger. He had never felt so angry at a supposedly throwaway comment and the manner in which he reacted shocked everyone around him.

'Tom?’ He turned slightly to see Alexianna in his peripheral vision. ‘Are you okay?’

He knew it was a rhetorical question, he knew he looked almost like a man possessed. 'Where….where's Lily?’

'Daniel has her at the moment.’

'He came early.’

'Anna got extra time off work, they decided to come down a few days more so we could all spend some time together apparently. They're thinking of staying in the Premier Inn in Archway.’

'Why not yours?’ He toyed with his hands.

‘Because they don't want to intrude too much. My place isn't big enough for four adults and a child.’ She said nothing more for a moment. 'Do you want to talk about it?’

'Did Luke call you?’ Tom ignored her question.

'He did.’ She admitted. 'Talk to me, Tom.’

'How dare she say that.’

'Tom, don't let her annoy you any further.’ Alexianna put her hand on his comfortingly. 'I know it hurts and I know it is completely and utterly wrong, so don't let it fester anymore.’ She beseeched.

Tom sighed and rubbed his hands over his face.

*

It was an interview, nothing mad, he had done them a thousand times before. This one was on a BBC programme, it was in reference to several topics, one of which being how UNICEF use celebrities to get people to listen to the plight of others. Tom had done work with the organisation in Sudan and was available to interview along with two others involved with the group, Martin Sheen and Ewan McGregor. The interviewer made a comment regarding seeing these tragic events in different countries and how they affect the most vulnerable, especially children and how they played on the thoughts of Sheen and McGregor as fathers. That in itself, though slightly hurtful to Tom, he did not comment on, but when the interviewer specifically dismissed Tom when Ewan had answered on his personal take on it and looked to both other men for their reactions, Tom nodding in agreement and the interviewer stated “Well, this is not really something Tom can understand fully, he is not a father” that things went downhill.

Tom first very diplomatically stated that though he did not father a child personally, he had a niece he adored and was the father figure to another little girl. Which both men and the second female interviewer nodded to. But the first interviewer did not stop there, she, without a moment's hesitation added: “Well, that's not really the same, is it?”. Her fellow interviewer looked at her appalled, as did the other two men but Tom saw red. He honestly was shocked into silence for a few moments.

'Now, hang on a second here.’ McGregor was the first to find his voice. 'Not all families are cookie cutter design. Tom said that he is that wee girl's father figure, so he does know the feeling. He does not have to be her biological father to be her father.’

'But she had a real father surely.’ The interviewer retorted.

'That's no one's business but theirs. Some kids don't have the biological parents around and that is no one's business. If she sees Tom and him alone as her Dad, then that is it, end of discussion. Stepfathers are just as much fathers when they are the ones doing the heavy lifting.’ Ewan declared.

Tom finally found his voice again. He knew Luke would be livid but he could not remain silent. 'I am the man she calls her Dad. I am there to clean up when she has a stomach bug, when she has a nighttime accident and when she has tantrums, like every other four-year-old. I collect her from school, read her stories and I can name every Paw Patrol character. I may not have given her half her genes but I am her father in everything but that. Having come from a home with separated parents myself, I understand the value of a good and present father figure and never would I have thought, in 2018, that there would be such prejudice against a family situation that does not fit within the restricting confines of one particular person's definition of a family unit. Families are not always mother, father and two kids, it is often dictated by outside circumstances that prevent such a unit existing for whatever reason; death, abuse, whatever reason and to dismiss a non-biological parent as being incapable of understanding the parental bond with a child is utter rubbish and entirely offensive, both to the child and the adult involved.’ as he spoke, Tom's anger grew in intensity.

'Here here.’ Sheen commented beside him, McGregor nodding in his seat.

'Many of the children I met in Sudan are without one or both biological parents. Many of them are in the care of relatives or in some cases, they are orphaned entirely. War and famine tend to cause such situations. They are crying for their parents, they are scared and often weak and you do not need to be a biological parent to feel empathy and heartache for them, such is not a requirement but to put a personal perspective on such situations is entirely natural. I have gone there again since having my life as it is at present and yes, on a personal level, I project my situation into it, as everyone does and it made it even more harrowing. It is a natural human process. We do it all the time in any situation. These children are what we should be focusing on, not backhanded snipes at someone for no reason other than to attack non-conformist families.’

The interviewer became the one to be silenced. She scowled at Tom who held her gaze with a glare of his own. His anger growing as she tried to get him to back down.

'Now that Tom has put that matter to rest with an eloquence and decorum I would not have been able to maintain, can we get back to the matter at hand?’ Sheen asked.

The interview continued after that but there was a tense atmosphere throughout. The second and inoffensive interviewer did most of the talking and all three men were wary of anything that the first asked.

When it was done walked off the set to see Luke looking at him with equal parts concern and anger. 'I stayed polite.’ He stated.

'I could see that it was a struggle for you.’ Luke acknowledged. 'It doesn't make it any less damaging.’

'Standing up for my personal life should not have to be seen as a potential risk. I am not racist or bigoted so why should I have to worry about what other people think of my home life?’

'Because you are a public figure and as such, in the minds of the many, you are public property.’ Luke explained. 'Look, Tom, I get it, I do. In your life, Lily is your little girl and any attack on that relationship is an attack on you and her but this was not the time for this.’

Tom was about to respond when one of the BBC representatives came over. 'Mr Hiddleston, I am so incredibly sorry for the personal attack on your personal life in that segment by one of our employees. The company does not share the views of Ms Davies.’

'It's fine. Honestly, I would never have made such a correlation. Mrs Thompson clearly did not share such views either, I understand that on occasion emotions come to the fore, as they did for myself and I must apologise also for taking the focus off the cause that I came here to support.’

'Not at all, you have every right to defend yourself and your family.’ The man stated. 'Ms Davies will be subject to reprimand for her actions. The BBC is an inclusive company and though there are some areas that require some updating, we are insistent that we will not tolerate such actions.’

'Please, I don't want a big deal made out of this.’ Tom requested. 'But thank you for taking the time to speak with me, I appreciate it.’

'Of course. Thank you, Mr Hiddleston.’ the man shook his hand again before leaving.

'So, what are people saying?’ Tom asked Luke.

'Honestly, I am half scared to look.’ the publicist responded.

*

Luke called Alexianna immediately after the situation and informed her. She had been due to go to a lecture but for once, she felt she was needed elsewhere and got a taxi to the BBC to help placate the irate Tom.

After a few minutes, she realised what he really needed and messaged her brother, who rang back, Lily on his lap.

 

'Daddy?’

'Yes, Princess?’ He turned to see Lily on the phone, Baloo in her hands. 'Lily?’

'Why are you sad, Daddy?’

'I am not sad, Love.’

'Are you angry?’

Tom looked at her with incredible guilt. Lily had sensed his upset even through the device and seeing how the other adults were with Tom, especially her mother, she was trying to make sense of the situation. 'No, Princess. I am not angry, not really.’

'What happened? Did you not get a prize? I get sad when someone else gets a prize in school and I don't.’

Tom wanted nothing more than to pull her to him and onto his lap. 'No Lily, it's not that.’

'Do you want Baloo? You can have him if you want, for a while. I need him for bed. But if you are really sad you can have him tonight.’

Tom felt his gut clench at her kindness. Every time he thought it was impossible to love her more, Lily proved him wrong. 'To be honest, Lily. I need you more than I need Baloo.’ He confessed.

Confused but seeing his upset, Lily simply kissed the phone. 'I want to cuddle you too, Daddy.’

'Lil's?’ She looked at her mother. 'A lady said something to Tom today and it hurt his feelings.’

Tom looked at Alexianna, shocked she was admitting this to her daughter.

'She said that he cannot understand what it is like to be a dad because he is not one.’

'Yes, he is.’ Lily declared angrily. 'He's my Daddy.’ She looked at Tom, her indignation clear. 'She is just a silly poo poo bum head.’ She stated factually. 'Tom is my daddy. He loves me and I love him and that lady is stupid.’

'The boss has spoken.’ Daniel chuckled.

Tom felt himself fill with pride at Lily's words. Any doubt he had as a result of the interviewer and her statements were quelled by Lily's declaration.

'You told her that, didn't you, Daddy?’

'I told her that I was your dad and that being your dad means more than just making you.’ He admitted.

'You want to be my daddy, that makes you extra special.’ She beamed. Tom looked to Alexianna, who gave him a look of “I told you so” with her smile. 'Are you coming over for dinner?’

Tom looked at Alexianna, who gave a look of “up to you” before looking at the phone and the hopeful look on Lily's face. 'Yes, I'll just finish here and Mummy and I will come home soon and we can have dinner with Uncle Daniel and Anna then.’

There was an elated cheer from the phone before “I love you” and “goodbye”.

Tom looked at Alexianna. 'Thank you.’

'You needed to hear it from her, not me.’

'You missed your lectures for me.’

'You have been there for me when I needed it, what sort of partner would I be if I was not there for you?’

Chapter Text

Tom swallowed and thought over Alexianna's words. Every so often, he thought she was only placating him with the notion that he was assisting her to raise Lily but her words at that moment told him how much he mattered to their family, even if the context of how it came to happen was not a pleasant situation.

'What are we going to do for our little girl?’

*

If there was any doubt of Tom's ability as a father, it would be obliterated immediately after the chain of events that led to Alexianna asking that question as it was Tom that first noted the change in Lily's demeanour. He noted it for the first time after they returned to school after Easter. The Monday evening, she seemed unimpressed, the Tuesday her spark was quelled some bit, by Friday morning, she was quiet and seemed to have lost her joie de vivre. It was then Alexianna looked at her daughter worriedly but Tom had sensed it sooner. They tried to ascertain what it was but she said nothing. Her midterm had gone well, she spent time in the park and was even stolen by Diana and Emma for a few hours, so they thought for a moment that it was that school was not as fun as that, but that would only explain her lack of liking for school, Tom had noticed that the little girl that loved to draw her pictures and sing and dance in her home was replaced by a child who sat still and just seemed lost.

Tom was due in a meeting and was not supposed to be part of the school run that day but with her current behaviour, he sent a message to those involved and decided to assist Alexianna with the run.

Usually Lily would be ecstatic to have both drop her to school but that day, she seemed on the verge of tears. When they got to the front gate, she gave her mother and hug and then gave one to Tom. Against his shoulder, she seemed to stifle a sniffle. Normally, when Lily would act in such a manner, it was simply juvenile complaining but he felt this was different. 'What's going on, Princess?’

'Please Daddy, please let me go home.’

‘What’s wrong?’

‘Shawn is here.’ She pointed to a little boy nearby.

Tom looked at the boy in question. He was screaming and hitting his mother. 'What about him?’

'He hits everyone and screams, it is really horrible.’

'What does your teacher say?’

'To not be mean to him, he is just new but it's not fair because he is mean to all of us and all he is told is that it's okay.’

Tom clenched his jaw at the idea of his little girl feeling as though there was an inequality in her class. 'When did this start?’

'He started on Monday and he is not nice.’

'Well, do you want us to speak with Miss about it?’ Alexianna asked, having heard most of what her daughter said. Lily nodded silently causing Tom and Alexianna to straighten up and walk to the front door of the school where the teacher was waiting. 'Hi, can we speak to you for a moment?’ Alexianna smiled politely.

'I'm sorry, I really need to help one of the other students.’ She apologised before looking behind them and rushing to help the struggling mother ship her son into the school.

Lily stood in against Tom as he went by, grabbing him tightly. Tom instinctively wrapped his arm around his little Princess to show her he was there for her, that he would protect her.

The teacher said nothing to them as she went in, placating Shawn as she did so, the boy only lashing out more as she and another teacher took him from his mother who walked off and had her phone in her hand laughing as soon as she was through the gate, not even an apology for knocking into Alexianna as she did so.

The pair looked at the woman before looking at one another then down at Lily. Alexianna knelt in front of her daughter. 'Lily, you have as much right as any to be in school and no one has the right to make you feel like you cannot be happy in school. You like your school and you love being happy, don't let anyone take that from you, and if someone hits you once, tell a teacher, if they hit you twice…’

'Hit them harder.’ Lily beamed.

For a moment, Alexianna had contemplated correcting her daughter before she nodded. 'You have the right to defend yourself.’ She stated. Tom looked at her. 'You are no one's punching bag and so long as you tried telling an adult and if it persists, you Lily Diana Hughes, have consent from me to defend yourself however you feel necessary. Do you hear me?’

'Yes, mommy.’ She looked at Tom who nodded in agreement. 'Daddy?’

‘Yes, Princess?’

'You need to go.’

‘I’ll go when you're in school.’ He smiled.

'You need to stop upsetting Luke.'

Tom frowned. 'What…?’

'You're always late and it upsets Luke, so stop talking and go. I love you.’

'We love you too, now in you get.’ Tom urged.

With her demeanour a little brighter once more, Lily went in the door. It was at that moment the teacher came out looking frustrated. 'Lily, go to class now, you are going to be tardy and that is not nice for everyone else to disrupt them, go.’ Immediately, the brightness sunk again and Alexianna and Tom knew it. They watched angered and saddened as the teacher rolled her eyes and ushered Lily in briskly.

Tom brought her away from the school door. 'I think there needs to be a meeting with the teacher.’ He stated.

'If not the headmaster.’ Alexianna added.

*

As it stood, Alexianna didn't need to make a call to anyone at the school, the call was made to her. Nothing much was said, only that if she was available for a meeting at nine am the following Tuesday, to be there, that there was an issue with Lily. It took rearranging bit she was able to get the morning off work.

Tom learnt of an issue when he turned up to the school to see the teacher looking at him unimpressed with a statement that the school had been in touch with “the child's mother” and that was it. He took Lily and said no more to the teacher before bringing her to the car. 'Lil's, tell me what happened, Princess.’ Lily's facade broke. The tears started and she cried. Tom knelt down and held her to him. He cuddled her and kissed her forehead. 'Lil's, talk to me, tell Daddy everything.’

'Shawn was mean to me and I told him to leave me alone and he wouldn't and I told him I was going to tell Miss and then he hit me and I went to tell her and he pulled my hair and it really hurt Daddy, he even broke my hair tie, and I started to cry and he hitted me again and kicked me and I remembered what Mommy said so I hit him back and he told the teacher and I got in trouble and I told her he did it to me first and showed her my leg and my hair and she said that I was wrong to hit him and I said Mommy said I was allowed protect me and she got angry.’ Lily sobbed.

Tom felt his heart broke, the way Lily grabbed onto him, the way she held herself into him and the sheer anguish in her voice crippled him. It was all he could do for several minutes to hold onto her and console her as his anger grew. 'It's okay Princess, Mommy and I will deal with this, I promise. You did nothing wrong and we are not going to punish you for it.’

'Promise?’

'Lily, defending yourself is never a bad thing. You have every right to do so.’

'Do you do it?’

'I did it, with us and the mean lady, the one that said I could not be your Daddy, remember?’

'Did you hit her?’

'No, I didn't hit her, but she did not hit me either, she just said bad things. There's a difference. You cannot hit a person unless they have or they are going to hit you.’

*

Alexianna listened to what her daughter told her of the day. It took several deep breaths for her to calm after everything, especially seeing the dark bruising on her daughter's leg as a result of everything. She too told her daughter not to fret, that she was not in trouble, that she was proud of her and that she was so loved and that would never change.

For the first time that week, Lily went to bed somewhat happy. She knew her parents were on her side and their love and affection allowed her to feel it could be fixed. Down in the living area, however, Alexianna's question resonated with Tom; one because she was genuinely seeking his opinion and two because of how she asked.

Chapter Text

Tom took charge of the whole situation. He ordered that Alexianna pack an overnight bag for herself and Lily and that he would be back soon, he was going to do the same. They would be leaving first thing. Alexianna made an argument about her coursework to which she was told: “bring it”.

That night, Tom held Alexianna against him as sleep evaded him because of the day’s happenings and the same caused her to toss and turn for the night in fitful sleep. Come four AM, he had been sleeping lightly for a short time when he woke as he heard the door to Lily's room open. He listened as she rambled to the bathroom but instead of her going back into her room and closing the door, he heard nothing. Gently, he moved Alexianna to the side as she continued to sleep before getting out of the bed and over to the door. Opening it, he saw Lily sitting on the top step of the stairs, looking at him sadly. 'What's wrong, Princess?’

'I'm sorry, Daddy.’ She whimpered.

Tom didn't know the reason for her apology straight away, it was only when he put on the hall light and saw the back of her PJ's wet and the ashamed look on her face he realised what had happened. 'Okay, it's alright. This happens.’ He consoled kindly. 'Come here.’ She got up and walked over to him. 'You go into the bathroom and take off the wet clothes and I will get Mommy, okay?’ she nodded and did what she was told. Tom went into the bedroom and gently shook Alexianna. ‘Lexi, we have an accident.’

Alexianna groaned and stretched. 'Coming.’ She got up and got her nightgown. 'Where are we?’

'Lily is in the bathroom getting out of the clothes.’

'I'll deal with it, you go back to sleep.’

'You clean her up, I'll get the bed sorted.’ Tom instructed.

Tired and seeing that he was adamant that he would not be swayed, Alexianna merely nodded before going to the bathroom. 'Hey Munchkin, let's get you cleaned up.’

'I didn't know until it was too late, sorry Mommy.’

‘It’s okay, come on, we'll wash you up and get you comfy and ready for bed again.’
Alexianna kept her voice calm and relaxed and assisted Lily to get cleaned and redressed into fresh PJ's passed to her by Tom before bringing her out of the bathroom and back to her bedroom. There, Tom had redone her sheets and placed the soiled ones on the floor by the door. 'Ready?’

'Yes, indeed.’ He smiled and picked up the freshly cleaned Lily. 'You need to get back to sleep now Madam, we are going on an adventure tomorrow.’

'What are we doing?’

'Only girls who are well rested get to find out.’ He grinned as he lifted her up and placed her in her bed. 'If you have a problem, Princess, never hesitate to come and knock on the bedroom door, okay? Mommy and I are more than happy to help.’

‘Okay, Daddy.’ She sighed contently, grabbing Baloo and cuddling into it before leaning forward to kiss his cheek, then looking to her mother for one.

With her goodnight’s said and with no fuss made of her accident, the adults left and went back to their room.

‘Did I do okay?’ Tom asked curiously, having never done a night accident before.

'Tom? He looked at Alexianna curiously. ‘Thank you.’ he gave her a small smile. 'You are incredible.’

He kissed her. 'I only follow your example. Now back to bed, we are up again in two and a half hours if we want to leave at eight.’

'Yes, Sir.’ Alexianna joked with a salute before Tom chuckled and they got into bed again, holding her against him again as they tried to get some more sleep.

*

Lily inhaled deeply as the sea air entered her little lungs as the car drove by the coast. When she realised where she was going, the foul mood that had engulfed her over the past week disappearing immediately. When Diana stood on the footpath, she giggled and bounced in her car seat. When Tom pulled in, she beamed brightly out the window as Diana opened the door. 'Nana.’

'Hello, Poppet.’ Lily all but wriggled out of her car seat when Diana opened the clasp and into Diana's arms. 'I missed you.’

'I missed you too, Nana.’ She cuddled the older woman.

A moment later, Diana gave both Alexianna and then Tom hugs in turn. 'I missed all of you. You know, you don't require an occasion to come to visit.’

'Are you sure it's okay?’ Tom asked, pointing to Sarah's car, indicating that his sister was at their mother's also.

'The more the merrier.’ Diana beamed honestly. 'Sarah and Yakov left her Ladyship here last night, they had a wedding to go to. They should be back come tea time apparently.’ She informed them.

As soon as they entered the house, there was excited squeals as Sophia and Lily both realised that the other was there. The girls immediately rushed to the living room to play with their toys, giggling and laughing.

'So, what is the story? I am delighted to see the three of you, of course, but there is clearly something afoot.’

'Lily is being bullied in school.’ Tom explained. Diana's face went stern. 'She is so down in herself, both at home and out and about and yesterday she begged us not to send her in. Alexianna told her to tell the teacher if the boy bothered her again and when she went to try and do that, he beat her up.’

'The poor pet.’ Diana shook her head. 'Sure, she's the quietest little thing. I never met a child as naturally quiet as her.’ As though to make a liar of her, the very next moment, both girls screeched loudly. 'Bar when she teams up with her cousin, that is.’

‘But before she went in, I told her that should she be physically accosted by him, if she was being hurt, she has the right to defend herself.’ Alexianna explained further.

'How did that go?’

'I am going into the principal on Tuesday. I was called in because of our daughter's behaviour.’ She responded angrily.

Diana took a moment to think about it. 'I deplore violence, as well you both know.’ Tom and Alexianna nodded. 'It solves nothing. What did he do to her?’

'Tore her hair tie out, painfully and hit and kicked her.’ Tom recited.

'And she struck back?’

'Yes, just once.’

'Did she tell a teacher?’

‘She tried to.’

'So it's a "he said/she said" really.’ Diana sighed.

'Not really.’ Tom clenched his jaw as Alexianna spoke. 'Lils?’ A moment later, she and Sophia rushed into the room. 'Show Diana your leg.’

Lily's smile fell and she lifted the leg of her pants. There on her shin was a dark purple bruise. 'Shawn was mean to me, Nana, he hurt me.' She said with teary eyes.

Seeing such heartache, Diana extended her arms and Lily walked over. 'My poor little girl.’ She kissed the side of her head. 'You are such a wonderful little girl and you are incredibly loved by your family, you know that, don't you?’

'Yes Nana, I have the bestest family in the world. I have you, Mommy, Daddy, Uncle Dan and Auntie Anna, Auntie Emma and Uncle Jack, Auntie Sarah, Yakov and Sophia.’ She listed.

Diana felt herself smile at the addition of her family to Lily's view of her family. 'That's right, my dear. Now, why don't you run along now and go back to the game you were playing with Sophia.’ Lily's smile returned as she rushed off to play with her “cousin”. When the children left the room, Diana spike again. 'I see.’

'Her hair was also unkempt when I collected her.’ Tom explained. 'I thought nothing of it, I thought she was playing and the hair tie fell out but no, he tore it out and you could see the scalp was red. I took photos and have them saved, in case this needs to go further.’

Diana nodded. 'Good. State your case. You need to do right by that little girl.’ Alexianna and Tom nodded. 'And don't think I didn't hear your little piece on the TV.’ She smirked. 'I am so proud of you, sticking up for Lily like that.’

'A man defends his family.’ Tom smiled looking to Alexianna beside him before taking her hand and kissing it.

*

The weekend did a lot to brighten Lily's mood, as well as give Alexianna and Tom some time to think and plan their course of action. Sarah revealed a lot when she confessed that Sophia had suffered similarly to Lily to the extent they demand that Sophia be put in the other reception class in the school but also stating they considered changing schools because of the remarks on their daughter. The talk of changing schools made Tom consider his plan to talk to Alexianna regarding Lily going to Hampstead Hill again but he decided to say nothing until the result of Tuesday's meeting was known. He asked if she wanted him there and was met with an emphatic yes.

*

In truth, Alexianna was anxious as she sat in the office chair, even with Tom by her side as they waited for Lily's headteacher to join them. When he did, he apologized for being late as well introduced himself formally to them as her teacher sat in another chair.

'Ms Hughes, Mr Hiddleston, I am Thomas Martin, and of course, you know Ms Smith, Lily's teacher while Mrs Robinson is on maternity leave.’ They nodded in acknowledgement. 'We are here because of an incident last Friday where Lily struck another pupil. This school has a zero bullying policy, we state that clearly, so we need to discuss the procedure going forward with how we deal with this, have either of you anything you wish to say?’

'Yes, actually.’ Alexianna sat straighter in her chair. 'I wish to know what procedure will be given to the boy and Ms Smith?’

'I'm sorry, I don't understand.’ the headteacher looked at her. 'Why would they be involved in any procedure?’

'For the week of abuse my daughter endured before she finally defended herself against it. For the fact that she told her teacher about her issues more than once with her classmate and was dismissed and told to let him settle. For when I came to said teacher on Friday to ask about it only to be told that said the child was her priority and she gave no indication that she would discuss the matter with us at another point and then proceeded to snap at my daughter that she was delaying things. Where are the procedures for all of the above?’ Alexianna was seething as she listed the wrongs against Lily and her and Tom's attempts to seek a resolution. 'I am not a violent person, Mr Martin, I do not believe violence solves much in this world but I do feel my daughter has the right to defend herself when she is being assaulted by another pupil and I will fight to my last breath to defend her in this situation. On Friday morning, after a week of her becoming more and more withdrawn and unhappy, she revealed to us the reason for her depleting happiness and I told her to tell her teacher, but also that should she find that that was of little help, that I gave her consent to protect herself.’

'Violence does not solve violence.’ The headteacher began.

'Neither does sticking your head in the sand and pretending it is not happening.’ Alexianna retorted. 'Do I have to wait for my daughter comes home with a broken arm or suffers childhood depression and fears school because of one boy before I do something? No, I won't allow it and I will go all the way to the department before I let it happen.’

Tom looked at Alexianna in awe. The woman that was still working so hard to get back to herself was going full mother bear mode for her daughter.

'What does Lily say this boy did to her? I was not made aware of this.’ Mr Martin asked with intrigue.

'A few random hits and name calling through the week, she told Ms Smith who proceeded to dismiss her, then on Friday, when she was accosted by him again, she went to tell the teacher and he pulled her hair so hard her hair tie snapped and kicked her and hit her more, so she gave him a slap back.’

'I didn't see any of this.’ Ms Smith declared.

'It's alright.’ Tom stated, taking out his phone. 'I collected her and she told me what happened so I got on to a legal friend of mine who told me to document any and all marks she had, so I did.’ He showed the headmaster the photos of Lily's marks.

Mr Martin looked at them for a moment before inhaling deeply. 'Ms Hughes, Mr Hiddleston, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to you both and I will also extend my apologies to Lily.’ He handed Tom back his phone. 'It is blatantly clear that Lily has been on the receiving end of this and I will ensure that it is dealt with.’

'Thank you.’ Tom put his phone back in his pocket.

'I would ask that you ask Lily to refrain from violence also.’

'I will tell her as I did before, she is not permitted to hit anyone for no good reason, but should she require defending herself and a suitable adult is not around.’ Alexianna specifically looked at Ms Smith as she stated those words. 'Or the assault continues, she is allowed to do so.’

‘I understand, well we will make sure that does not need to happen.‘ Mr Martin stated. 'Thank you both for your time. Ms Smith, have you anything to add.’

'The boy is a good child and is just settling in. He does not need to be dragged into this.’

'Perhaps you require seeing Lily's shin also?’ Tom offered taking out his phone again. 'This is not a “boys will be boys” situation, that excuse is for grazed knees and mud not assault. If we did not document this and she showed these marks to someone outside of our family we could easily be investigated for child abuse or neglect such are her injuries.’

'I frankly don't care about whether or not he is settling well.’ Alexianna stated. 'I know new schools are scary and I feel for him on that level, I really do but if you think for one moment his way of relieving his emotions supercede my daughter's health in my eyes, you are very much mistaken. My daughter has wet herself with anxiety caused by this Shawn boy and I will not have it. Her, her education, and mental well-being are my priority, above all else.’The teacher remained quiet after such a statement. 'Thank you for your time, I think I speak for both Tom and myself when I say we are pleased that you are seeing sense here. We had to rearrange work for this so we had best go and let you both get on with your day.’ She stated. 'I really hope we can meet next time on better terms.’

'As do I, Ms Hughes. Once again, I am sorry for all of this. Mr Hiddleston.’

Tom gave a small nod and a thank you before they left the room and went back to the car. 'To be honest, I am not overly fond of that teacher, or her attitude.’ Tom confessed.

'Nor I.’ Alexianna concurred. 'I feel guilty for being annoyed at Mrs Robinson for having a baby.’

'Come September, she'll have a new teacher.’ Tom consoled.

'Still, I just really am not happy at her being stuck around this situation.’ She sighed and let her head hit the back of the seat. 'I thought I was doing the right thing getting her into that school but I just feel like it is not the right fit for her.’

'We can look into other schools if you'd prefer?’

'She was registered in this catchment area, Tom, it will be hard to get her in anywhere else. The one closest us is Hampstead Hill and unless I get a magic eleven thousand pounds in my bank account every year, it's not going to happen.’

'We can look at other options.’ He rubbed her hand. 'Let's just see what happens.’

Chapter Text

The situation with the school improved somewhat after the meeting. Shawn and Lily were kept at different tables for classroom activities and during lunchtime, the headmaster and teachers kept a close eye on how Shawn interacted with Lily. As a result of correcting him when he became aggressive, he settled a little more and Lily, as was the norm for the friendly child, was more inclined to speak with him, if only to say hello in passing.

Tom was apprehensive about referring to Hampstead Hill, he knew it could cause an issue if Alexianna was not in the right mind for it.

When they were having a lazy day together, the three of them watched Coco, and after the movie, Alexianna asked Lily to take off her jumper as it had gotten some juice on it and it had gotten stained.

“Tom, have you anything you want washed, I may as well do everything I can in one go?” Alexianna asked cheerfully.

“Actually, I have a few things in my overnight bag.” He went to get up and get them.

“I'll grab them, I have to get some of my own laundry also.” She dismissed as she walked to the stairs and up to her room. She opened the part of the bag that Tom left his dirty clothes and took them out and placed them in the basket after turning them inside out but noting there was only one sock. She checked the bag again but to no avail so she looked under the bed and did not see it there either. Going to the top of the stairs she called down. “Tom, you're missing a sock.”

A moment later he came to the stairs with Lily in front of him and walked up behind her. “Did you check the rest of the bag?”

“No, you keep contracts in that thing from time to time.” She pointed out. “Not to mention other things on occasion.”

Tom waited for Lily to rush into the room before leaning in close to Alexianna so to whisper and not let the child hear them. “Considering you use those other things with me, I cannot see the issue with you seeing them. Which reminds me, we put them in the far side bed locker, right?”

“We did.” She confirmed.

“Good, I don't think I could handle a 'Daddy, what are those’ right now. I am terrified she will think they are balloons.”

Alexianna snorted as they walked into the room before the laughter started.

“What's so funny, Mummy?”

“Nothing, Princess.” She dismissed. “Tom said we have to play sock detectives and it sounds silly.”

Lily giggled. “It sounds super silly.”

“Really?” Tom joked, grabbing her and playfully pretending to throw her onto the bed before carefully landing her on it. “I think you are being super silly.” Lily erupted in fresh giggles. “You have silly giggles too.”

Alexianna had planned on trying to find the missing sock but seeing Tom and Lily acting ridiculous, she merely sighed and joined in. “Those aren't her full giggles, these are...” She then jumped onto the bed and attacked Lily with tickles, the child becoming nothing but fits of laughter as her mother went to all of her favourite spots, Tom chuckling next to them.

“Stop Mommy.” As soon as Alexianna heard her daughter, she ceased. Lily beamed brightly loving when her mother showed her playful side, something Alexianna was always trying to balance with having to raise her daughter. “Okay, more.” Alexianna just smiled lovingly as she went to her favourite spots once more.

Tom chuckled again as he went to his bag and looked around to see if the sock was there. He pulled out a few things, including his laptop and looked around.

“What's this?” It was Lily that asked the question.

“Lily, don't go at things that are not your business.” Alexianna chastised.

“But that's my name.” Lily pointed to a piece of the paper with her first name clear on it.

Alexianna had not paid any heed to the contents of the bag until Lily pointed to the page in question, then she found herself focusing on her daughter's name before reading the heading on the page before looking back to Tom who was looking a tad sheepish. “Tom?”

“I…”

“Mummy, it's the pretty school and they have horses.” Lily had ceased looking at the cover letter she had found and was looking through the Hampstead Hill prospectus. “Are there horses at the school? Where do they run around?”

“No, Sweetie, they are probably at a stables outside the city, there is no room for them in the campus.” Her mother explained. “Tom?”

“I just asked for a prospectus.”

“But it is personalized, it has her name on it, and yours.”

“Yes, I rang them about it, they asked for her name, obviously and her she, her year, her school, all of the above and…”

“Can I ask why?”

'I want her to get the best education and with everything with Shawn and all that…” He explained. Alexianna nodded slightly but said nothing as she thought about his words. “I was going to talk to you about it later.”

“I gathered, since you had it with you.” Alexianna looked at her daughter who was looking at the pictures in the book with keen interest. “Dare I ask what your plan for it is?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, it is eleven hundred a month? You know I cannot afford that, I am stretched to my limit as...” She paused and looked at Lily. “Later.” She stated, knowing better than to say anything else in front of Lily.

Tom nodded and watched for demeanour. It was a tad stiffer than it had been before seeing the booklet, but she still remained more or less the same as she had been before.

By the time Lily went to bed, she had looked at every picture a hundred times. Both Tom and Alexianna had attempted to take it from her, but she would not leave it out of her hands, mostly because of the horse picture, her current obsession being horses.

Tom went for a shower after they put Lily to bed and readied himself for the discussion with Alexianna. He had been shocked that she had not reacted to even the idea of the school as she had to the toy those few months before. He knew that with the school situation, she would be much more receptive to such things but he had not thought she would be so calm regarding it all. He hoped that she would be willing to listen as calmly with Lily not present.

When he went back to the living area, Alexianna was looking at the school prospectus sadly. “Lexi?”

“This school is incredible.” She looked at it. “It has everything.” She put it down.

“It is brilliant, everything from the school dinner to the activities, you pay for quality.” Tom agreed.

“I can't...Tom, you know I cannot even consider this.”

“I know you are pushing yourself as much as you can financially so…”

“Tom, you can't possibly expect me to allow this. I can't. I mean, I don't want an argument regarding this but I…”

“Firstly, thank you for actually listening to me earlier.” He smiled. “Secondly, I actually spoke with Daniel…”

“No, Tom. No, I am not your problem, or Daniel's for that matter and Lily…”

“Lexi, please, just listen. Please?” She said nothing. “Dan met someone on a trip back to shore.” Alexianna frowned. “Your father.”

“What?”

“Yes, he met him and, well, I think you need to speak with Daniel about it.”

Shocked by the revelation, Alexianna grabbed her phone and rang her brother. After a few rings, her brother answered. “Hello, Al.” The manner her brother answered her, it was clear Tom had forewarned him of an imminent call from his little sister. “So, how are you?”

“Daniel, Tom just told me you met Oliver.”

Neither sibling, like with their mother, called their father by anything other than his given name.

“I did.”

“What...what happened?”

“Nothing really. Asked me was I actually me, apparently, I look like his father, I told him I wouldn't know, would I? Then he asked what I was doing with myself and if I was married, I said no, then he asked about you too. I told him the truth, that you had a bad accident in college, ended up with an abusive piece of shit and that you were thankfully divorced and raising your daughter.” Alexianna was not overly pleased by that. “He was actually curious about her and asked about her and where she was in school, I told him and he seemed somewhat insulted it was a state one, I told him if it offended him that much, he should find something more appropriate.”

“What?”

“Well, Tom and I had discussed the whole Hampstead Hill thing before that and I said that if he wanted his granddaughter in a good independent school, there was one near you for eleven hundred a month if he was willing to put his money where his mouth was. You were busy funding living in a good apartment in a good area of London and college and her biological father wouldn't pay a penny, so…”

“So what?”

“He said he'll pay it.”

“What?”

“Oliver will pay her school fees if you want her in Hampstead Hill.” Daniel stated plainly. “With all due respect, Al, I know she is your daughter, not mine, but...I really think you should do this, for Lily. I Googled the place, it's incredible.”

“I know, I just read the prospectus. I…Why would he...he never bothered with us?”

“Apparently, Marie made it too hard.” She did not respond. “Yes, I told him that was a lazy excuse. He wanted to make something of amends, I think. You know how he was obsessed with education. The idea of his granddaughter being in a state school would personal affront to him, I think. I think this is his way of starting to make up for everything.”

“I'm not sure, what does he want from this, no one funds something like this for no personal gain.”

“He remarried.” Alexianna frowned. “Yes, she never had kids, apparently they were not for her, which of course, is fair enough and on hearing about us and ..”

“I am not whoring my daughter as some grandchild for hire to him and his wife. I rather send her to the worst school in Britain.” Alexianna declared angrily.

“I said that too but no, this is not about that, apparently. He is willing to do it all legally if you want, sign over whatever she needs for education into a special bank account and never hear from him again if you want…”

“Dan, you know that saying 'If something is too good to be true then it probably is'?”

“Look, Al, meet him yourself if you want...I truly think he has realised he was a shit father and, well…I want to give him a chance, I think he realised his wrongdoings, I don’t know, I just am going to see how it goes. He gave me his number and told me to extend it to you too. I'll text it on, decide what you will for you but if you want my input, I think you should take it, for Lily. Sign his little waiver if you feel really unsettled but don't turn down Hampstead Hill. It's the opportunity of a lifetime for her. That's my input.”

“Okay, I'll think about it.”

“You'll let me know either way, won't you?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, well I better go here. Anna and I want you all to visit soon, think about that too, alright?”

“Yeah, I was thinking about that, maybe after the Isle of Wight sometime.”

“Sounds like a plan, don't leave it too long to talk.”

“I promise. Bye, Dan.” After her brother said his goodbyes she hung up.

Thomas studied her face intently. “You look like you are going to decline.”

“You know what I hated when I was growing up? How little he cared. I swore if Oliver ever came back wanting to get to know me, I would not do it. I mean, James left your home but he was always part of your lives, Oliver thought a private education was all he needed to do to soothe his conscience, that's all he is doing now too. I get why Dan wants to get to know him, but for me...I don't know. If I do, am I setting up a situation where Lily will try the same with Jonathan if he ever decides that he wanted another chance? I cannot risk that. And why now?”

“What do you mean?”

“He had twenty odd years, why now? I am just suspicious, is it for her, his wife, is it even more sinister, I mean, I get seen with you and all of a sudden, my father is back and willing to spend God knows how much on Lily's education. I mean, it is eleven hundred a month right now, what will it be when she is eighteen, what if she gets Oxford or Cambridge like us? Will he fund that too? Why? Why is he doing it?”

Tom could not answer her. He knew Oliver Hughes was big in finance and in London, then he moved to the States apparently with the company, so yes, there was little doubt, if he had been intelligent with his money that he would have earned a significant amount over the years, but calculating that Lily had at least more a decade in education before even heading to college, it was a fair question. Education was getting more expensive, so of course, her fees would rise, he had not thought of it from that aspect. “Think about it, Lexi. Take time and think.”

“Dan thinks we should take it and so do you.”

“If you do not want Oliver involved, and I can understand why, I would do it for you, Lexi, in a heartbeat, for both of you but I know you don't want this to be how we do this. I think the Hill is the place for her, that I am certain of, she will do so well there and their program is incredible. If it were up to me, I would have her start there in September.” He stated plainly and honestly.

“Thank you.”

“Whatever for?”

“Talking to me about this as you have. After the toy incident, I cannot imagine this to be something you were overly excited to speak with me about. And thank you for your honest opinion.”

“Your sessions have done so much for us, allowing us to talk more openly. I am not pointing a finger at you, by the way, I am saying that I am learning from what you say Barrows said about communication and applying it to us too.” Alexianna gave a small smile. “What do you think of it all?” she inhaled deeply and said nothing as she thought about it.

Chapter Text

For longer than she cared to admit, Alexianna considered Daniel's comments regarding Oliver.

She could not comprehend how Daniel would welcome the man back into his life after he abandoned them when they needed a father. She thought to her counselling sessions, the ones specifically regarding the male influences and indeed role models in her life, or as was brutally honest, the severe lack of said role models. There was a correlation between her lack of father figure and her subsequent relationship with Jonathan in which she had accepted abusive and negative behaviour from him. It was not the sole reason, which she knew, but it was a notable part of the overall picture.

Tom, on more than one occasion, pointed out that Daniel was simply the polar opposite of her reaction to the situation, and in many ways, also understandable. He more than likely was hoping to make up for the lost relationship with his father during childhood. Both approaches, he stated diplomatically, were completely comprehensible and neither sibling was in any way wrong for their feelings on the matter.

Daniel spoke to her a bit with regards what he and Oliver discussed when they met up, Oliver, now living in York, went to Edinburgh when Daniel was off the ships to talk with his son. Alexianna listened to her brother but never said much on the matter. When Daniel pushed her for an answer as to whether she wished to speak to their father or not, Alexianna would find a way to change the topic of conversation with him and on mentioning Hampstead Hill, she would find a reason to cease speaking altogether.

Lily was no longer having the same issues with Shawn, thankfully, but she was still not overly happy with her daughter's teacher and neither was her teacher pleased with her and it was showing. It left Alexianna in something of a predicament, she wanted Lily to have the best education but she was terrified at what Oliver would expect in return. Then she thought of Tom's offer. In all honesty, of the two, she would be more open to Tom's proposal to pay than her father's as she knew that Tom was offering out of love for Lily and genuine concern for her wellbeing and love, Oliver's motives were anyone's guess as far as she was concerned.

She spoke with her counsellor regarding it in her next session. He delved into it all with her and attempted to assist her in uncovering what was bothering her so greatly in the situation. They both knew her father's lack of being there for her growing up was a pinnacle reason for her wariness to everything, but Mr Barrow also tried to see if there were other reasons for it, noting her anger at her father's remarrying, not because she held any ill against him for finding happiness but for the fact he chose a wife that specifically chose not to have children. She respected that was a personal choice for her stepmother, a term that her therapist used and caused her to shudder such were her preconceived notions of such a title, but it caused her to wonder if her father regretted being a father and made her feel rejected even further by him. It was hurtful enough that Oliver left them and never returned due to not wanting to deal with Marie but the idea he had never wanted children, that made her feel even more rejected by him and of course, behind it all, she worried for Lily.

Tom left for a week to deal with an event he was part of, leaving Alexianna to deal with her concerns, work and Lily, something she was becoming more comfortable and confident in. Even with the increased workload of her job and college course, Alexianna was finding it easier to do everything as a result of her dealing with her past and feeling better in herself as a person. She still had doubts, her scarred arm caused her to feel some self-conscious thoughts but overall, her achievements, her loving relationship with a man that allowed her to be her own person and respected her personal space and expected the same and help to raise Lily meant she was able to grow, both personally and as a mother. She always loved Lily with all of her heart but did not show it as much as she wanted to as she tried to learn how to love herself and express it. Her happier attitude transferred to her interactions with Lily also.

While going home from work on the bus, she looked out the window. Elena, a lovely English language student who needed a few hours work while she completed her course, had become Lily's new minder while Alexianna worked. Tom spent what time he could with her also but there was a need for someone else to pick up the times they could not and Elena was perfect since Rebecca moved to Manchester. She also taught a very eager Lily some Spanish, something Alexianna was delighted about. She spoke French and Latin as well as English and Welsh so she liked her daughter embracing foreign languages.

When she arrived home, she was attacked for hugs in the hallway. “Hey, Princess.”

“Hi Mommy.” Lily cuddled into her as she walked into the kitchen carrying her daughter in her arms. “I had a silly day today.”

“Tell me about it.” She smiled as she said a quick hello to Elena also.

“We went to the park.”

Alexianna knew that already, having signed a consent form for her daughter to be allowed do so. “And what did you see in the park?”

“Ducks.”

“Very exciting.”

“Can I tell Daddy?”

“I will contact him and see if he able to talk.” She smiled, taking out her phone, frowning at the cracked screen, having been in a slight disagree with gravitational pull. She texted Tom and left her phone on the counter as she took out the few groceries she had acquired also before thanking Elena for handing her some post. At first, she scanned them, some junk mail, a “to the occupier” from the council and finally a letter for “The parents of Lily D. Hughes” letter. Alexianna looked at the letter for a moment. It was a thick A4 size one but it was the postmark that gave it away. The stamp of the illustrious girl's school told her who sent it. Opening it, she wondered why it had arrived.

Just as she was about to remove the paperwork from the package, her phone rang.

“Mommy, Daddy is calling.” Lily chirped as Alexianna placed down the letter. She lifted her daughter onto the countertop and answered the phone, placing it to Lily's ear. “Daddy.” She giggled.

“Hello, Princess. You sound very happy.”

“I miss you, Daddy.”

“I miss you terribly too. I wish I was able to give you a big cuddle.” Tom's voice was sincere. “Tell me about your day.”

“We went to the park and we sawed ducks.” She informed him. “And we feeded them, but not bread acause that is not good for them, Daddy and I sawed doggies and they were chasing each other and we had so much fun.” She informed him.

“I am jealous.” Tom declared, earning giggles from Lily. “Are you excited for your birthday next week?”

“Yes.” Lily cheered loudly. “You'll be home, won't you Daddy?”

“I am home in two days, my beautiful girl.” He promised. “So do not fret, I will be there.”

“Yay!”

“Where's your Mum, Princess?”

“She's holding the phone to my ear and making sure that I don't fall from the counter, Daddy.” Lily informed him.

“Okay, Princess, I will send you a big hug and kiss through Baloo and I will just talk to Mummy for a minute, alright?”

"Okay, Daddy. Bye bye, I love you.”

“I love you too, Lily.” His smile was audible through the phone.

Alexianna let Lily off the counter before putting the phone to her ear. “Hey, Tom.”

“Darling, is everything alright?”

“I'm not sure.”

“Talk to me, Lexi. Is it therapy, work?”

“No, I just...I think Lily has just received another prospectus from Hampstead Hill.”

“You think?”

“I was opening it when you called, but yes, I think she has, it looks like one.”

“Open it and see.” Tom listened to the sound of paper moving around then silence. “Lexi?”

“I…”

“Lexi?”

“Dear Ms Hughes, we are delighted that your daughter, Lily Diana Hughes will be joining us in Hampstead Hill at the beginning of her reception year, this coming September. We thank you for choosing our school for your daughter's education and I can assure you, Hampstead Hill will endeavour to bring out the very best in your child. Please find enclosed….Did you do this?” There was no answer. “Tom, did you do this?”

“No... I...no, I had nothing to do with this.” Tom promised, slightly startled by what Alexianna had just read to him. “Do you think Oliver…?”

“Who else could have done it, Tom?” she challenged, her anger increasing. “I am going to kill Daniel.”

“Why?”

“How else would this have happened, Tom? Oliver shouldn't know her name, I...does he have my address?” She asked worriedly, rushing up the stairs to prevent Lily hearing such a conversation, not wanting the little girl to see her stress.

“Alexianna, I don't want to anger you, Darling, but I don't think him having your address requires such panic, he is not as bad as Jonathan.” Tom placated. “If you want nothing to do with him, it's not ideal, but it's not like he can walk up to the front door; you, Elena or I have to let him in, so don't fret, my Darling. Also, remember the school hàve your address, I was in contact with them, remember?”

“But...you gave your address.”

“I gave yours also, they needed it, so he could very well not know it.” He placated. “I think when you have settled slightly, you need to speak to Daniel.” He suggested.

“Yeah, I...I'm not sure about this, Tom. I don't want to owe Oliver for anything...I don't want anything to do with him.”

“We will talk to Daniel, and see what he says, alright?” Tom urged. “But for now, relax.”

“Tom…”

“Lexi, you are annoyed and you and I know that if you talk to Daniel now, you will get angry and you love your brother, you don't want to argue with him.”

“I don't want this. I don't want Oliver to pay for this.”

“Will I send him a reimbursement?” Tom offered.

“No because I don't want anyone paying this money for her.”

“Why not, Darling?”

“Because it's not fair on you, I am not going out with you to fund Lily, this relationship is uneven enough without…”

“Okay, I am going to have to stop you there, Lexi “ Tom stated calmly. “A relationship does not have to be fifty-fifty when one is in a different financial position to another. You give me so much, I cannot put into words my happiness when I am with you, and that little girl. Alexianna, I love you both so intensely and you both give me unconditional love and respect in return and to be honest, I feel unworthy. Your additions to my life have so much more than financial worth.”

“But I don't want money from you, I want you, I want our cuddles, our conversations, our intimacy, that sort of thing.”

“That is why I am so invested in this, Lexi, because you don't want money and other such things. But is why I am so willing to do this too, I want to help Lily achieve everything she can in life.”

Alexianna sighed, uncertain of what to say. She wanted nothing more than to have Lily have the best of everything, as most parents would, but uncertain that she could take it.

Chapter Text

Alexianna found herself unable to speak with her brother. Every time she tried to ring him, her anger would bubble in her stomach and chest again and she would have to “X” off his name and number.

Tom returned as he promised two days later and tried to calm her by talking it through with her but she was too angry at her older brother, she knew he was the one to tell Oliver to go ahead with paying Hampstead Hill and the fact he had not even discussed it with her or allowed her time to think it over fully, especially when she had only gone to Mr Barrows and discussed her issues with her father the day before the acceptance letter arrived. She was livid and nothing would calm her.

She was incredibly suspect as to Oliver's motives and Tom realised quickly that she was even losing sleep to it causing him to contemplate telling her brother. He knew interfering too much was not a good idea but the manner in which Alexianna was dealing with it clearly showed her anger. As it happened, Daniel was at sea with limited access to reception so there was difficulty getting hold of him. More than once he talked her out of simply withdrawing Lily's name but only by asking her to wait until she thought it over more.

The twenty-first of July came and with it, Lily's fifth birthday. The day was too much in Alexianna's eyes. They held a party for Lily and her friends at a play centre nearby, amongst those invited were Sophia, her school friends and even Kit, who she still pleaded with Tom to allow her to play with again and to a lesser extent, Hal, who was too young to care about anything bar the colourful and soft plastic balls that seem almost irresistible to him as he waddled through the padded play area for smaller children.

“You are a natural at this.” Ben commented to Tom after Tom assisted Lily and Sophia to take off their cardigans without ruining their newly done glitter tattoos on their arms and painted faces before the pair ran off again while the two men stood outside the waddler play area where Hal was playing happily.

“It's not natural, I have failed to save the glitter a few times. It is a learned skill.” Tom responded, tidily folding the two cardigans over a chair. “I am learning all the time.”

“Look, Tom; no one is instinctively able to do everything, it's not possible, have you any idea the number of nappies I failed to do properly, from not tucking the boys down to not ensuring the leg pieces were out as they are supposed to be.” Tom looked at his friend in bewilderment. “Parenting is not easy.” Was all Ben declared in response? “But you seem so at ease with it.”

“I have to be if I want to be there for Lexi and Lily.” Tom shrugged. “It's like you said, it's a fulltime job. There's no picking and choosing what I want to be part of, it can't be like that. She needs solid structure. My being gone for work is unstable, I know, but how many parents work those sort of jobs? That's okay as long as when I'm here, I am fully immersed in being there for her.”

Ben looked at Tom blankly for a moment before chuckling slightly. “You get it.” His friend acknowledged. “That's exactly it.” Tom gave a proud smile. “So how are things with Alexianna, do you feel as happy with her?”

Tom frowned slightly. “We have the same issues as everyone else, nothing serious, just slight issues. She doesn't like that she is not as wealthy, she feels it puts an inequality in this and she feels as though it puts pressure on us but she's working through it.”

“There's a considerable difference though.”

“And that doesn't matter. She doesn't ask for anything from me. She literally looks for nothing. She refuses to let me even pay for a takeaway without her paying her share. She is incredibly independent. She pays her and Lily's way, to her, that is not my responsibility.”

“Good, for both of you. You because I don't want my friend to be someone's ATM but also for her because she clearly does not want to depend on others and to be able to do her own thing is clearly important and to hear she is in the position to do that is a good thing.” Tom nodded. “I had to ask because she seems to be forcing a smile today.” Tom chewed his cheek for a moment. “I'm not imagining it then?”

Tom sighed. “No. Do you recall our conversation before on schools?”

“Yes?” Ben answered, the single word elongated as he thought of how this was in reference to the situation.

Tom glanced to see where Alexianna was, seeing her talking with Rhodri's father and a mother he had seen at the school gate a few times. “Lexi is currently pissed off at her brother and their father.”

“What has this to do with the school situation?”

“Her father is some big guy in business, hence her private education, well her brother and father have arranged and paid Lily's fees for Hampstead Hill for the upcoming school year and Lexi is irate.”

“I thought after the bullying and all that you planned on talking about it to her and you thought she would be open to it. Surely Lily's grandfather paying is a far more acceptable situation for her?”

“Oliver left when she was seven or eight and never so much as spoke to her since, he just paid school fees.”

“And now he is swanning in and playing the caring grandfather and she's…?”

“He said she doesn't even have to have him as part of Lily's life but she is very sceptical.”

“Understandable. And what about the brother, I thought you said they were close. How does this involve him, is he siding with the father?”

“Daniel assisted Oliver getting Lily's details to pay the school and register her and Lexi sees him not giving her time to think about it as a betrayal of sorts.”

“When did this all happen?”

“In the last week. I feel as though I should contact Daniel and tell him what is going on because she is too angry to speak with him.”

“Getting involved with her and her brother's argument may not go well for you.” Ben warned, recalling a simple argument concerning his wedding Sophie and her brother had and he got involved in, causing it to flare more. “They are both adults.”

Tom sighed. “I just feel like it's a big mess over nothing really.”

“You think she should just take it?”

“I offered to pay her father back and we just send Lily there ourselves but that's not acceptable either. It's an incredible school, Lily will thrive there but Lexi is stubborn about other people paying.”

“Yes, my publicist, her granddaughter goes there. She raves about the place, swears it's the best school in Britain. Lily is a smart child, and I agree that she should be given this opportunity.” Ben agreed. “I understand Alexianna's hesitation but this is about doing what's right for that little girl and the best is the best and when that is an option, it should be taken. If her father is a prick then why not accept this if there's an option to not speak with him, they deserve this much from him if that's the case.”

Tom nodded slightly before smiling brightly. “Is it time for cake?” He asked as Alexianna came over, looking between the men warily as though worried she was interrupting them.

“Not yet, they have another ten minutes or so of playtime. I'm not walking in on a private conversation, am I?”

“No, Ben and I were discussing the situation with Hampstead Hill.” Tom confessed, deciding to brave the truth.

Alexianna bit her lips together and nodded before looking to Ben and noticing his features and what they indicated. “You think we should accept it?” She asked.

Benedict was slightly taken back at her asking for his opinion. “Honestly, for Lily's education, yes. If this was our situation, I would. I have been told some back story and all things considered because it is her education, I would do it.”

“Thank you, for your honest blunt answer.” Alexianna smiled a small smile before looking at Tom. “I got a message from Daniel, could you facetime him for the part where we sing “Happy Birthday” please? My camera has a crack through it so it looks terrible.”

“Of course.” Tom nodded, knowing it to be true with having tried to facetime her while away.

“Thank you.” She took the cardigans to bring over to the table. “If you see the Loopers, tell them how long they have only a bit of time left. Benedict, I have not had time to say much to you, thank you for bringing the boys. They are lovely and adorable.” She smiled as she looked at Hal who seemed to realise he was being spoken about and looked up at them with a bright smile.

“Thank you for inviting them.”

“Tom said that Lily enjoyed Christopher's company and she asks to see him at least once a week.”

Ben smiled proudly. “He is a great kid.”

“He is.”

“This is actually a great idea, hiring this place for a party, I didn't realise they did this.” He looked around the play centre.

“I thought it best to not have things overly public, it's a great idea.” Alexianna agreed before seeing Sophia and Lily running towards her. “Hey girls.”

“Mummy, do you know how you and Daddy said I am not allowed a little brother or sister?” Lily began.

Alexianna and Tom looked at one another, knowing that this conversation could go anywhere, Benedict looking at his friend with a mixture of shock and amusement. “It was not as basic as that but yes, I remember telling you that you won't be getting one, and I am scared to ask why?”

“Well, Aunty Sarah told Sophia she can't have one either and since we both can't have one, can we be each other's sisters?”

“Sure, go nuts.” Alexianna agreed, not wanting to deal with the madness of their innocence to how being siblings actually worked. “As long as you don't start bickering at nothing, then have at it.”

They squealed with joy before Lily turned and rushed into Tom's arms, something he was used to and prepared for. “Daddy?”

“Yes, Princess?” She said nothing but kissed his cheek. Tom looked at her and smiled lovingly before she cuddled in against him tightly.

When she got back down she looked at her mother. “Can I call Uncle Dan?”

“Daniel's at sea right now, love.” Her mum explained. “We'll send a message to him later, okay?”

“Okay.” Lily accepted, knowing there was nothing she could do to change her uncle's current status. “When he and Anna have a baby, will that be my cousin?”

Alexianna shook her head in exasperation. “If Uncle Dan becomes a dad then yes, that baby is your cousin, but that involves Uncle Dan becoming a Daddy to happen.”

Lily erupted in laughter. “Uncle Dan would be a silly Daddy.”

“I'm sure he'd appreciate that. Now, birthday girl, cake time.” The two girls looked at each other before erupting in cheers and squeals.

It took several coaxings by Tom to get Alexianna to allow herself be in video footage and pictures with her daughter but he succeeded in doing so. He reminded her of the girl of old who smiled at photos with his sister and their family and reminded her that Lily would want to see happy pictures of her mother from her childhood, to not have some would concern the child in years to come. Accepting such, she sat with her daughter. Tom was included in a few also, Ben noting that he never looked happier.

That evening, Tom took the call from Daniel and allowed Lily facetime from his phone as well as send the pictures and videos from the day to him. Alexianna chose the moment she realised it was her brother on the phone to go for a shower, something that was not missed. Dan gave Tom a small message to give his sister before saying his goodbyes.

When Lily was settled into bed, Tom looked for Alexianna, who was packing the last few things they needed for their holidays the next day. “Dan knows you're avoiding him.”

“Has he figured out why?”

“Yes, and he told me to tell you that he understands but the dates for application had been exceeded already and they had one chance to start her on time in September and he will accept your anger until you see it is what is best for her and that was his only motivation.” Tom recited.

“Do you think it is best for her?” Alexianna asked.

“If you recall, I am the one that started this particular snowball.”

“But you think I should do this for her?”

“Lexi, I understand your reasoning but for Lily, with everything that has happened, I think it the only good choice, I really do. Talking it over with Ben today, he mirrored my thoughts on it also.”

She sighed and rubbed her hands over her face. “Thank you for your honesty.”

“You keep saying that like a politician and if I am honest, it is slightly concerning.”

“I am trying to see if my thoughts are completely different from other people's to decide what to do.” She admitted.

“And?”

“I will think about it this week and decide then. Maybe the time away with some distance, I may get clarity.”

Tom pulled her to him and kissed her head. “That's a good plan I think.”

Chapter Text

Alexianna sighed and sat looking at the waves lapping against the shore, enjoying the light sea breeze and sun, watching as Lily built a castle next to her. “Are you sure you don't need my help?” She asked as Lily watched some of the sand fall.

“No, Mummy. I can do it,” Lily declared having decided she would do it alone.

“Okay, I said I'd ask.” Alexianna checked her phone for a moment as she had been in contact with the person she was job sharing with to answer a question on her work.

“When is Daddy finished talking to Luke?” Lily asked.

Alexianna shrugged slightly. Tom had a few things that had snuck up on them and had to take an hour or two to sort them, with a litany of apologies to Alexianna and Lily as he did so. “Soon, Sweetheart. And it's not just Luke, he has to talk to other people too.”

“Being a grown up is boring.”

“You're not wrong.” Alexianna had to agree with her daughter. Taking her hair out of her face from the breeze, she responded to a question from her work counterpart making sure to glance up every other word to make sure Lily was still right in front of her before relaxing again.

Tom joined them half an hour later, wrapping his arm around Alexianna's waist as he sat beside her, telling Lily her castle was good.

“Daddy! Can I bury you?”

Alexianna laughed. “How about after we go to the water?” She offered.

Lily looked at her worriedly. “But I can't swim.”

Tom chuckled and scooped her up. “How do you think Mummy and I learnt how to swim?” He asked. “Mummy and I used to go swimming together as children too, I think Mum helped your mum to learn how to swim.”

“You know each other forever.”

“Yes, we do.” Alexianna looked at Tom happily, having risen from the sand and joining them. Tom returned the look lovingly as they brought Lily to the water, each holding one hand of the five-year-old.

*

Alexianna looked at the pictures angrily, Tom silent beside her. She was studying the field, she worked behind the scenes in business PR, she knew the meaning of agenda, she knew the tactics and it angered her but she was unsurprising if she was honest.

They had been photographed on the beach and pictures published of them, but not for the three hours of endless play and interaction with Lily that they focused on, no, it was the two moments Alexianna was sorting work on her phone and making it out like she was a neglectful phone-addicted mother. Someone who was on the beach at the same time as they went out of their way to do that and it made her angered at the obsession some people had with commenting on other people's lives. It also made her realise that this person could very easily be close by and do something similar again.

Tom, however, was bothered by both that and the part he knew Alexianna was not admitting was bothering her.

There were people ridiculing her as a mother for her moment of answering work on the beach but also for her beach attire. He knew that she was very much still not able to get past her body and its marks and covered up on the beach with light clothing that allowed her to enjoy the sun without exposing her arms, stomach or thighs, the three areas of herself she had not yet accepted had been noted. Even still she tended to try and prevent him from going near them when the lights were on in any state of undress, so he knew that being deemed prudish, being accused of being pregnant and comments regarding her weight all played at her too. He gently touched her arm to ensure she knew he was there for her but did not force her to say anything regarding it.

The next day, he watched as she put on the same sort of attire again, a camisole and a linen long sleeved shirt over it, as well as light pants. He recalled the girl that used to wear shorts and vests to his home to visit Emma in the warm weather and wondered what Jonathan Rice had said to obliterate her confidence so greatly to make her hide herself as she did. He wanted nothing more than for her to see she was as beautiful and sexy as she had been before that man, if anything, he thought her more beautiful now.

*

For the week, Alexianna found herself thinking of Hampstead Hill. She could not stop focusing on what her father wanted. No one gives anything for anything was her attitude and especially not a businessman and he had just given the school over twelve thousand pounds, all business people want returns on investment, she knew that from her time studying business in school.

She only spoke to Daniel because he pressed the situation with her, stating Oliver had given over the fees out of revulsion to the idea that his granddaughter was being accosted by some miscreant in the state system. She argued that he did not care for her as a child because he left, so her daughter should not be a concern of his either, Daniel pleaded for her to speak with Oliver, she declined.

Tom stood silently at the sidelines of the debate. He gave his opinion when she asked for it but as she had not asked for further input, he declined to give it. He did everything he could to urge her to go ahead with Lily's enrollment to Hampstead Hill but regarding her own interaction with her father, he knew that without her asking, to interfere was not recommended. His concern was for Lily's education and that, he could see, was inclined to be dealt with without him overstepping as a stepfather if he just continued to voice his opinion at opportune moments in regards it. Alexianna was in charge of her choice regarding Oliver, he would support her regardless of what she chose yet saw the reasoning for Daniel's want to know his father also, which he had voiced to her previously.

*

The holiday continued without much event. The photos of them on the beach had declared their presence on the channel island which led to a few more pictures and an occasional selfie with a fan but overall, they enjoyed their time there. It was a refreshing experience for the most part and Lily seemed so proud that people liked Tom, though she did send a little possessive of him after he gave hugs to fans, something that made both him and Alexianna laugh.

On the second last day, Tom was watching Lily as Alexianna showered. He noticed she seemed to be searching her clothing bag for something. “Are you okay, Princess, are you looking for your bunnies?”

“No Daddy, they're on my bed,” she dismissed, having placed the two bunny stuffed toys she brought everywhere with her in her bed.

“Then what are you looking for?” He asked, his curiosity piqued.

“A pants like Mummy has.”

“Why so?”

“A-cause I don't want anyone to see my bum and belly.”

Tom's brow furrowed and he looked to the doorway, where Alexianna was looking at her daughter curiously, having heard her statement. “Your what?”

“Mummy is scared of people seeing her bum and belly and I don't want them to see mine either.”

The statement would have been ridiculous had Lily not mimicked an action that caused Tom and Alexianna to pause and watch. Lily leant forward and pinched her naturally occurring folds of skin of her creased stomach in her hand, just as Alexianna was prone to doing.

Tom looked at Lily, angered and sickened to see the child think herself such a way and looked then to Alexianna who was wearing an expression he knew she would, guilt and heartache. He had known her self criticism would negatively impact Lily if Alexianna did not accept herself before Lily became aware of her own body image, he had not anticipated Lily suffering from it at a mere five years old.

“Lily…” Alexianna found her voice first and walked over to her daughter. “Lily, that's silly. Look how pretty you are, you have nothing wrong with you, you are a healthy girl and you should never want to hide yourself.” She insisted.

“But you do.”

“Lil's, I am not hiding my belly because I am ashamed it folds,” She dismissed. Tom looked at Alexianna, startled at the declaration. “All bellies do that when we sit or lean forward.” she showed her daughter hers to show her it was natural.

“Then why do you?”

“I wear long tops because of my scars, they are sensitive to sunlight and can burn very easily and my arm has so many and this summer is the hottest and sunniest I can recall and I don't want to damage the skin, it's not healthy.”

“Oh, can they get sick?”

“They can get super sore and I don't want super sore arms.” She explained with a smile.

“But what about your pants? You said a-fore that your bum was big.”

“Lil's, everyone says silly things about their bum being big or small, but the truth is, that's all silly things we think because we all want to see something wrong with ourselves. I was sad and thought bad things about me when really, I should love me and I do. I wear pants because I want to wear them. I love how these pants feel and I love how they look, they make me happy, the same as I know wearing your Paw Patrol hat makes you happy, does that mean you want to hide your hair, that you don't like it?”

Lily giggled. “No, that's silly.”

“And that's the same with me and my pants. I love them, they are soft and have pockets and are a fun colour, that's why I'm wearing them, okay?”

“Yes Mummy.”

“You are the most beautiful girl in the whole world and I love you so much, if you want to wear a t-shirt or dress with no sleeves, or shorts, then as long as we lather you in factor 50 every other hour, then I want you to wear what makes you happy.”

“Even my Paw Patrol swim togs?”

“Even them...when they dry, they should be ready in an hour, they were soaked not too long ago.”

“Okay.” Happy, Lily rushed off.

Alexianna sighed as she got to her feet and looked sheepishly at Tom. “Are you angry at me?”

“No.” His voice was low.

“But you're angry?”

“A little, I am more saddened. A five-year-old should never look at themselves and feel self-conscious.”

“I made her feel like that.”

“Your actions towards yourself made her feel like that, not your actions towards her. You always tell her she is beautiful and perfect, but you don't tell yourself enough.” She avoided eye contact with him. “I hate my chest.” She turned to look at him again, her brows furrowed. “I work out for movies, do everything I am asked and I never get muscle there. I get pissed off at how easy it is for Hemsworth to be able to pile it on and yet I cannot seem to get a fraction of his size.”

“I love how you are….”

“You love me but do you love you?”

“I...that's different, stretch marks…”

“Stretch marks are natural.”

“Tom, I am working really hard on this.” There was a clipped tone to her words. “I am working really hard but changing how I see me is not easy and with everything with tasteless slag rags I know it will be a bit harder so please, just let me work on me.”

Tom swallowed, not realising the anger she had regarding the matter. “I love how you look, you know that, don't you? You're incredibly beautiful and since we ran out of our box this week, I know you know I find you attractive.”

“But?” Alexianna could see there was more to the sentence in his eyes. “What would you change?”

“Your insistence to having the light off. I know about your stretch marks and scars so stop hiding them from me. I find that you having marks from creating this amazing little human being is actually quite alluring.”

“Liar.”

“Actually, it's the truth. There's something about it I cannot describe.” He confessed.

“Perve.” She smiled.

Tom chuckled before bringing her to him. “I love you and what they're saying…”

“Tom, I don't care what these people say, I don't know them and they don't know me. I meant what I said to Lily about those pants, they're my favourite summer pants. They ridiculed Chris Hemsworth's wife for the same attire, it's just a standard attack on women, if I dressed in shorts, I would have been labelled a hussy and that I should dress more conservatively.”

Tom nodded in agreement of her statement. “And your arm?”

“No, I have been told by my surgeon not to expose the scars to too much sun. It's part of the care of such things.” Tom looked at her startled. “Trust me, I would like to get some colour this summer, I feel like I am boiling but I have to actually think if these things.”

“So you were honest with her?”

“Yes, I was. And I am being honest with you. I'm not fully able to look at my stretch marks yet and not think they have no impact on me, but I am working in it and seeing her do that…” her voice was small as she felt shame for having given her daughter her insecurities.

Tom pulled her to him. “I love you both so much, Lexi but you need to love you too.” She said nothing in response but instead leant her head to his chest, listening to his heart beating within. “She needs you to show her how to love herself but you're sending mixed messages when you tell her she's beautiful but ridicule yourself.”

“I know,” She admitted in a small voice. “And Tom?”

“Yes, Darling?”

“I love your chest.” She sighed, inhaling his smell as she did.

Tom chuckled and kissed her head. “And I love your appearance also, so don't hide yourself to suit others, wear what makes you happy.”

“I know, I've spoken to Burrows about it a few times.” Alexianna nodded. “Tom?”

“Hmm?”

“I was thinking.”

“About?”

“When I go back, about Oliver and Lily's schooling.”

Chapter Text

Alexianna sat looking at the paperwork in front of her. It was official, a bank account with an exorbitant amount of money in it and the strict stipulation it was for the education of Lily, with the annual cost of her public school fees to be taken before the start of term and there was no clause. If Oliver passed away before she completed her education, the money was still there, if Alexianna chose to never let Oliver set eyes on her or Lily, then so be it, it was still there.

She looked at the paperwork suspiciously, it could've never be that easy, surely. That's what her mind kept telling her, but when Tom had his friend Jeremy study it and he confirmed that it was legitimate.

When she passed the school on the bus back from work, she looked out the window at it. She wanted it, she wanted to give Lily the education she felt her daughter deserved, tutors that would work with her to guarantee her the best from her academics, not to mention, she knew the use of good connections in school. She had seen with herself, Tom and Emma that knowing the children of influential people, who in turn became influential people themselves. Lily would most likely make ties with people that could assist her as Tom's legal friend had assisted them, though in a different context, she knew if she got so much as a smell of a Jonathan type character from anyone Lily brought home, she would never allow them near her daughter again and should Lily become a single mother, she would never abandon her as her mother had, she would be there to assist her however she needed to...while also assisting Tom and Daniel in hiding the corpse of said deadbeat.

She bit her lips together as she thought of her brother. She had not spoken to Daniel since her return from the Isle of Wight but he had sent her a single message “ I know you are still angry, and I know why, when you're ready to talk to me, I'm still here. You're my little sister and Lily is my niece. I want nothing but the best for both of you, Al. I did it for her and I will never apologise for that. And with regards Dad, I am not going to live in the past. I know you are angry with him and I totally understand why, but this is the way forward for me. I'll respect your decision and I hope you respect mine. Love Dan”

Alexianna respected his choice wholeheartedly. She did not agree with it for her but she did respect Daniel's choice to let Oliver back into his life. Tom had made her see sense on that one very quickly when he stated that both siblings had every right to their feelings, as polar opposite as they were. Alexianna was still angered by Oliver's abandonment, Daniel had forgiven it and saw a chance for a father-son relationship at the end of it all, something he had yearned for growing up. She also understood his decision with regards Lily. His sole reason for doing that was not to spite her or disrespect her as Lily's mother but to provide his niece with the best start in life. To make sure that she had every avenue open to her. It was a love and responsibility to Lily that spurred his decision to badger Oliver and goad him into paying.

She got off the bus and walked into the apartment, collecting her post from the front desk on the way. When she got up, she was startled to see not just Tom, who she was certain had said he was not available for the day, but also Diana and Emma in her home, Lily in the middle of them, controlling the room.

When she saw her mother, she beamed brightly, running over to her and into her arms for a hug. “Mummy, guess what? Nana and Auntie Emma are minding me tonight so you and Daddy can have a McDonald's.”

For a moment, Alexianna was baffled by her daughter's declaration but on her saying that it was to go for a McDonald's made her laugh. “Okay...?”

The other adults laughed as well before Tom stepped forward, pulling Lily into his arms. “You are a little blabbermouth.” He chastised playfully before looking at Alexianna. “Hello, how was work?”

“It was...interesting. We have some sort of PR disaster based on the fact one of the companies we represent is closing all foreign manufacturing due to Brexit, so that was fun. Thankfully, that's not my area of expertise but the whole place was dragged into it. How was your day?”

“Good, yes. Mum and Emma are in town, obviously, and I asked that they mind Lily while you and I celebrate.”

“I... celebrate what?”

“Well, I am away next week so….”

Alexianna sighed. She had spoken with Tom with regards their one year anniversary already, insisting that they did not have to do anything for it, that she was not concerned with such but since he discovered her marriage anniversaries included her being forced to ‘celebrate’ at home by herself while it included a night of drinking on Jonathan's behalf to wallow for his lost freedom according to his comments to her, Tom insisted that he show her how it was actually done. She hoped he would have forgotten and when it was made clear that he would have to be away for it, she was relieved that it would not happen but now he had clearly made alternative plans. “I don't want there to be a fuss.”

“And there won't be. You and I are going to go to dinner somewhere small and nice, nothing overt or fancy and we are going to have a nice glass of wine before coming back here at a reasonable hour.”

Alexianna bit her lips together and thought of his idea before smiling. If she had to choose something to do, that did sound more pleasant than most things. “What time?”

Tom beamed at seeing her smile at the idea. “Well, reservation is for six so that gives you two hours.” He checked his watch.

“Six, isn't that a tad early?”

“Yes, but you see, I may have also got us tickets to a show in the Donmar so we need to get there by half eight.”

“You failed to mention the show.”

“I may have but it's good and you will love it so, go get sorted.”

“What sort of show is it?”

“It's a small independent group, doing a Victorian-era piece.” He informed her, elated when her eyes brightened. He recalled as a youth, how Alexianna would always go to shows when she could with Emma, Sarah, his mum and on occasion, him and how she adored the manner in which the Victorian works were done. When he was given the details of the play, he knew she would love it and acquired two tickets for it.

“I want to go to a show.” Lily declared sullenly.

“Unfortunately, my beautiful princess, I could only get two tickets for this one, l but I promise to get more tickets in the future so to take you to one,” Tom leant down to speak to her.

“Promise?” Lily held out her pinky finger.

“I promise.”

Satisfied, lily accepted his word before frowning. “So, no McDonald's?”

“No, sweetheart.”

“That's boring.”

“That's debatable,” Alexianna laughed. “I guess I better get washed and changed then?”

“Yes, shoo.” Tom ushered.

An hour and a half later, with the assistance of Emma, Alexianna was ready to go and the cab had been called to bring them to town.

Lily grumbled at being left behind, though she soon forgot it when Diana and Emma began to fuss about her. She waved goodbye to her mother and Tom before telling the two women all they needed to know about “My Little Pony” for the movie she was about to inflict on them.

“She'll be alright.” Tom placated in the cab, knowing how Alexianna disliked leaving when Lily was still awake.

“Do you think she'll like Hampstead Hill?”

Tom's frowned slightly, startled to hear Alexianna say outright for the first time what she was doing regarding Lily and her schooling options. “I think she will adore it.”

“Will they bully her, for not being as well off as them?”

“Honestly, I don't think so. You remember what it's like, everyone's the same, even the scholarship kids.”

“There was one in our class Luanda, she was so nice and always thought she'd be different, but she was genuinely the smartest person I have ever met but she was also the nicest.”

“My year had a few and they were just part of the group, so no, I can honestly say, she won't be made feel as though she doesn't belong based on wealth.”

“She'll hold you to that promise about the show, by the way.” Alexianna warned.

“Good, because I meant it.”

“Are there any shows suitable for young children?”

“Of course, the 'on ice’ shows and pantos, actually that's what we'll do, bring her to a panto.”

“Oh no we won't.”

Tom's smile widened and his eyes brightened. “Oh yes we will.”





Chapter Text

Tom held Alexianna’s hand as they walked through the gates of the school. The Head Teacher, Mr Rowland offered to show Lily and the other new students around a few days before the autumn term started. She was the only one to be joining at the start of Year One, but there were other girls starting different years, as well as the children starting Reception. They walked around, seeing the classroom that Lily would spend a significant part of the next year of her life in, the food hall, the gymnasium, the music room, all of it was state of the art and everything that would make Lily’s education all the more fun for the little girl. It was everything that Alexianna could ask for with regards Lily. She could see some of the children were looking at Lily with smiles and waves. Lily was shy and nervous but the music room and the bright and beautiful rooms caused her to come out from behind her mother’s leg and look around curiously.

“What do you think, Princess?” Tom knelt down and asked her as they looked around her new classroom.

“It’s so pretty.”

“I know, do you like your teacher?” She nodded. “I think she is lovely.”

“Can I come here tomorrow?”

Tom and Alexianna laughed slightly. “No Sweetie, you will be starting next week.”

“I want to start now.”

“We need to get you sized for your uniform next, Princess. You cannot start without one.” Tom reminded her.

“I have a uniform.”

“This one is different because this is a different school.” Her mother pointed out.

Studying the photos of the girls that were on the walls, Lily nodded. “I like this one more. I like the colour.”

“Good to know,” Alexianna smiled as they made their way through the school again. On their way out, the Head Teacher stood close to the door. “Mr and Mrs Hiddleston.” He saluted. “I am glad that you decided to bring Ms Lily here in the end.”

Both Tom and Alexianna waited a moment for the other to correct the man as to the fact they were not married but when neither said anything regarding it, it became slightly awkward and Tom decided not to let anyone focus on it any longer. “Yes, thank you for accepting her after the application date.”

“Of course, when bullying is involved, we like to assist children however possible away from such things and bring them into a more welcoming and healthy environment. Here at Hampstead Hill, we do not stick our heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that these things happen, all children are individual human beings and all human beings can do such, but as soon as it is brought to our attention, by witnessing it ourselves or a concerned parent, we take a proactive and multi-sided approach to ascertain if it is a one-off occurrence, an underlying issue, or even simply a clash of characters and we work to ensure the situation is dealt with in a healthy and satisfactory manner for all involved.”

“So no one is allowed pull my hair or hurt my leg?” Lily asked.

The Head Teacher knelt down so to be eye level with Lily and show her she had his full attention. “In this school, if violence is used against a fellow student, the pupil that does so will be punished and will not be given the chance to do it again, I promise.”

“He made my leg bruise.” She pointed to the knee that a few weeks before was mottled in purple marks from Shawn taking out his frustration on her.

“That will not be tolerated here. We want you to be happy and to like your time here with us, Lily, you are here to be as good at school as you can be so you can grow up to be whatever makes you happiest and to do that, to make you want to learn, you have to be happy and no one can be happy with other people doing that to them.”


Satisfied and liking the reassuring smile her Head Teacher was giving her, Lily smiled in return before looking to her mother and nodded. “Thank you, Mr Rowland, for taking the time to speak with us regarding any of our concerns and for reassuring Lily that her previous experiences will not be repeated.” Alexianna shook the Head Teacher’s hand as she spoke.

“Of course, Mrs Hiddleston, we want the best for all of our girls here.” Mr Rowland then turned to Tom with an extended hand. “Mr Hiddleston, I believe you are the one to initially contact us, thank you for trust in us and I hope we meet your expectations fully.”

“Thank you for your prompt replies and for your accepting Lily.” Tom smiled in return, shaking their hand.

With their goodbyes said and with a promise to be there on time the following week, the trio departed the school and went to have Lily's uniform fitted.

Alexianna and Tom had to stifle their laughs as Lily looked at her school blazer in a mixture of intrigue and dislike. “It’s funny looking.”

“I know,” Alexianna acknowledged.

“It’s like a silly cardigan.”

“That’s one way to look at it.”

“Do I have to wear silly shoes?”

“As long as they are black, then you can wear what you want, boots or shoes.”

“I want boots.”

“Maybe for the winter and when the weather gets colder. It’s lovely and warm at the moment so how about some nice flower shoes for now?” Her mother attempted to bargain. Thankfully, Lily accepted the idea. The biggest issue came as a result of Lily’s utter disdain for skirts and dresses. Alexianna merely offered her the choice with the idea of just getting whatever Lily wanted, she just did not want to assume that though Lily always disliked skirts and dresses, that it would mean she would do so here. She always felt it right to give Lily a choice on that matter. Tom always felt it a good parenting technique as he saw there were many decisions that Alexianna had to make on Lily’s behalf that Lily would simply have to accept, but this gave her a say on her life that was overall quite unimportant in the grand scale of things, yet gave her the impression she had control of it all. The issue was the sale’s assistant who very much could not get over that some little girls prefer pants to skirts and insisted on attempting to sell them the skirt, which was slightly ironic as the pants cost more, but Alexianna, Tom and Lily stood their ground, to the extent that Lily became irked by the woman and simply told her to stop trying to get her to wear a dress, she was a big girl and wanted her own pants. Alexianna felt a surge of pride at how Lily would not bow to such an idea and with the sale’s assistant finally giving them what Lily wanted, Tom insisted on paying and they left.

“You don’t have to,” Alexianna repeated for what felt like the fortieth time as they got into the car to go back to the apartment. “I…”

“Don’t expect it. I am aware, Darling, but you forget, anything I do with regards you and indeed Lily, I do solely because I wish to, not because of a sense of obligation, alright?” Alexianna nodded. “Good, with that settled, we need to go to Sainsbury’s and get some shopping.” Alexianna did not argue. Tom was going to be away with work for a few days and the offer of a car to bring home the milk, potatoes and other heavier purchases was far too enticing for her, rather than allowing her shoulders bear the weight of such after a long day at work in the coming days.

There were a few to look at them curiously as they did their shopping, partly, Alexianna suspected because Tom and Lily were like two caffeine filled toddlers playing around. She was grateful to have a shopping list with her as she would have forgotten the most of everything she had needed with the distraction they were causing, but even at that, she was forced, more than once, to return to an aisle when she realised she had forgotten something.

When they arrived back to the apartment, Tom assisted in getting the bags to the front door before he gave Lily a bone-crushing hug goodbye and kissed Alexianna. “Be good while I’m gone, no mad acts of silliness.”

“But that was all I had planned.” She smiled.

Tom chuckled. “I bet.” He gave her another kiss before groaning slightly. “I can’t believe I have to miss her first day.”

“She will no doubt regale you of her escapades. You will be home soon.”

Tom took her hand and kissed it. “Thank you.”

“Whatever for?”

“Being so respectful of my job and my need to go for periods of time.”

“It was your job before I came along, it would be wrong for me to ever expect you to stop for me. I miss you when you are gone, but you love your job and I love seeing you do it. I will still be here when you return.”

“And I will do little but wish to be back here with you both,” Tom promised, kissing her one last time before going back to his car. “I love you, Lexi.”

“I love you, Tom.” She responded, watching him reverse out of his parking space and drive out of the complex. Thinking of everything that she had to do before the start of Lily’s new school year the following week, Alexianna began to make a mental list of chores as she tidied the shopping away. She was upstairs putting Lily’s school uniform into her own wardrobe when Lily ran into the room with an envelope in her hand. “What’s that, Princess?”

“It has your name on it, Mummy.” Lily handed it to her.

Alexianna frowned before taking the envelope from her daughter and looking at it, pursing her lips as she did so, she knew the writing. “Thank you, Baby. Go play in your room.” She urged. With Lily gone, Alexianna sat on her bed and opened it. She read the few lines of the first sheet, her brow furrowed. She then turned to the next page and stared at the words in front of her, not sure what to think. She was curious as to why her brother would post her a letter, his few words were an apology for having not been in contact more, that he knew she was still annoyed but that was not reason enough and that he wanted to talk to her and Lily more and that Anna said hello and could they visit soon. But she gathered from the last line of it, something more was to come.

Please, just read the following page.

When she turned the page, she was uncertain as to what to say or do as she saw her father’s writing for the first time since she was a child. It explained everything with her mother in detail, his sincerest apologies for simply giving up, that he never should have simply left them behind. That he had not forgiven himself for it, that he reminded himself of his mistakes through the years and he knew he had little right to ask but he would like to meet her if she was willing. He wanted to know if she was okay, if she had anything she wanted to say to him. He rather she air her anger to him face to face if she felt she had to. Alexianna did not know what to think. Oliver had already made such requests and she had said nothing. Part of her thought that that should be enough, the other part recalled her father and the stern manner in which, even as a child, he demanded a straightforward answer, a yes or no, nothing else was acceptable. Clearly, that had stayed with him as time went on. She chewed the inside of her cheek as she thought over her choices.

Chapter Text

“Now, you have a great day and remember, if you have any issues, tell your new teacher,” Alexianna hugged Lily close to her, trying to steady her breathing so she would not scare her daughter, Tom beside her, his hand on her shoulder, attempting to settle her nervousness while masking his own.

“I promise Mommy,” Lily smiled brightly, looking around at all the other girls as they said their farewells for the day to their parents, some of whom were looking at her, some of the parents looking to Tom and Alexianna. “Will you collect me?”

“I will be working, Sweetheart but Tom is collecting you today.”

Lily looked to Tom who winked, causing her to smile excitedly. “Yah!” She declared, grabbing onto him for a hug.

“You’re to tell me everything, do you hear?” Tom insisted as he pulled her into him, kissing her forehead as he did so. “We love you and we know you are going to have a great time with your new friends.”

“And no Shawn!” Lily declared happily.

“And no Shawn.” Her mother confirmed.

“Actually…” Lily looked around. “There are no boys here.”

“No, it’s an all-girls school, Lils.” Her mother pointed out.

“Was your school an all-girls one?”

“Both of them were, primary and secondary.”

“So...where are the boys?”

“The girls here who have brothers are more than likely at a boy’s school close by.” Alexianna guessed. “I am not sure, what is the nearest boy’s one?”

“I think George’s Academy,” Tom tried to recall, he was basing that on Ben and Sophie placing Kit and Hal’s names there.

“Sounds about right.” Alexianna looked at Lily’s uniform, pristine and tidy. “No, stop dallying and into class with everyone else.” She ushered, giving Lily one last cuddle before she went.

“I love you.”

“We love you too, Lil’s.”

“Daddy, if I am good today, can I have the last chocolate bar when I get home?”

Alexianna frowned before looking at Tom to see the guilty look on his face and noting that he was not looking at her. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head. “You are too honest for your own good, Lils.”

“But can I?” Lily refused to be deferred from her target.

“We’ll see.”

“That’s a yes,” She cheered before turning and rushing into the building without so much as a second look at her mother or Tom.

“Bye, I guess,” Alexianna stated plainly.

“Evidently,” Tom chuckled, putting his arm around her and urging her to the gate. “Are you okay?”

“My daughter just walked into a school filled with new faces without so much as a backwards glance. I am just shocked.”

“You have raised her to be confident and outgoing, she will take this in her stride, as she always does.” She smiled back at him. “Now, we better get to our day’s work.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with getting her later?”

“I just need to do a thing or two in town now and I am free after lunch, so don’t you fret.”

“Thank you, Tom. Having you there after her first day...it is the only reason I did not call in sick today.”

“That is not to be recommended,” He chastised. “I don’t think you ever tried to skive anything in your life, and we are not letting you start now.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Behave.” He growled quietly into her ear, both of them smiling as he did so.

*

“Tom?” Due to an issue with a Brexit announcement, there was an emergency meeting in work and Alexianna was delayed as a result, leading to her being home after Lily went to bed for the night. Upon her return, Tom seemed upset. “Did…what happened?”

“Lily.”

“What happened, did she have a bad day? Were they nasty to her?” She asked fearfully.

“No, she had the day to remember, the best day ever, apparently.”

“So...what happened?”

“She is growing up.” Tom seemed forlorn at the comment

“She’s five, Tom.”

“She said today that she doesn’t like the Paw Patrol anymore, Spirit is the best.”

“She has liked that for a while.” Alexianna pointed out since Lily watched the horse movie more times than she could count.

“It has a TV show now, and she is not interested in Paw Patrol, it’s for babies apparently. She is growing out of it.”

Alexianna gave a knowing smile. “It’s weird the first time you see it.” She acknowledged. “Yes, she is getting bigger and it is scary to see but that’s great, we can introduce her to new things now.”

“I don’t want her to grow up.”

“But as she grows, we get to do more with her.” She sat beside him. “Besides, no matter how big she gets, I don’t think she’ll ever be too big to be your little girl.”

“No, she won’t. She will become a teenager, and wait and see, I’ll get the whole ‘You’re not my real dad’ treatment.”

Alexianna looked at him sadly, knowing that there would come a day when they were dealing with a hormonal and angered teenager that more than likely, that statement would be used when Tom would correct Lily if he was still around then. “I wish I could say it won’t happen but let’s face it, it probably will, and I will get the whole ‘You’re the reason my dad left, I would have him if you weren’t such a cow/bitch’ or whatever other words she can think of for me.” Tom looked at her horrified at such a thought. “And afterwards, after she realises she has been silly or unnecessarily nasty, she will know that we love her more than is possible to explain and that she is everything to us and she will see that come whatever, we are there for her and she will still call you ‘Dad’.”

“You see us still together then?” Tom asked curiously, having never thought so far properly ahead before.

“I do, I hope we are, at least.”

He sighed. “I just...I love how adorable she is, to think of her getting bigger...I am not ready to think of teenagers yet.”

“No, it’s terrifying,” Alexianna agreed.

“She won’t be like that though.” She looked at him curiously. “She won’t be nasty and call you a bitch.”

“What if she asks?”

“About him?” Alexianna nodded. “Then we tell her that he was not a good husband and was not the sort of man fit to be in someone as special as her life. That he left, you did not push him. Bar having the audacity to not have a son, of course.”

“Well, I mean, I practically forced him out the door for that.” Alexianna scoffed, causing them both to laugh slightly.

“You have come so far,” Tom commended. “Before, even reference to him would make you clam up.”

“Mr Burrows has made me realise a lot.”

“You realised a lot, even before him. Remember you are the one that refused to bow to his demand for the divorce papers.” Tom pointed out. “Don’t shirk any of the credit onto others, that was you.”

Alexianna smiled slightly and leant against him. “Thank you.”

“Anything more on Oliver?” One look at her face answered. “What are you going to do?”

“Ignore him, he did it to me for over twenty years, I am just extending the same courtesy back.” She rose from the chair. “Is there food in the fridge?”

“Yes, though I thought you said they ordered food at work because of the meeting?”

“Finger food.”

“Then let’s get you fed some actual food.” He rose from his seat and walked over to the kitchen. He prepared some food for her before realising she was looking at him curiously. “Lexi?”

“Hmm?”

“What are you thinking?”

“Nothing much?” She smiled dismissively.

“Darling?” The tone he used told Alexianna he would not desist. “Tell me.”

“I was just thinking of how much time you spend here.” She smiled. “You’re very at home.”

“Of course, my girls are here.”

“Your girls, you say?”

“Yes,” He put the pot on the hob to cook before walking over and putting his arms around her. “You are mine, Lexi, and I am not letting you go. I missed my opportunity with you when we were younger. I have lost sleep since we started dating on how different it would all have been, if I had been braver that day and continued to you in the water. How sooner or later, I would have braved telling you how I felt, how I would have kissed you, and…” He swallowed. “You would not have been so low after your crash, I would have shown you that you are still beautiful and she would be my little girl biologically.” His voice was tight.

“DNA is not everything, Tom, she adores you, you love her.”

“But she would have a biological father to be proud of, she would have a father who…”

“She has a father to be proud of, who loves her more than the sun, moon and stars.” She leant forward and pressed her lips to his. Tom, for his part, kissed her back, passionately. “You have witchcraft on your lips.”

“That was my line.”

“I know. I saw it.”

“Hearing you quote Shakespeare only makes me more irked at myself.”

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.”

“That’s not Shakespeare.” Alexianna shook her head. “I think I know it.”

“Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss.”

“I think I read that.” Tom tried to recall.

“You did.”

“And pray tell, how would you know?” He asked curiously.

“Because I stole it from your ‘read’ pile one day and read it.”

“Naughty Lexi.” He leant down and kissed her again. “I wish I had been brave.”

“I wish I had not been stupid and let someone convince me I was not as I am, but I did, and I refuse to regret it, because the reality is, without what happened, Lily-pad would not be the little monster we know her to be and therefore, she would not be as loveable.”

“Very true.”

“Thank you for today, Tom. For being there for her.”

“I always plan to be, no matter what. For both of you.” He kissed her head again, not saying anything of the turmoil he felt of regretting the past.

Chapter Text

Alexianna walked through Angel paying little mind on anything. Tom was currently working away and Lily was in school. She had just finished classes for the day and was wasting time before she would make her way to work when she realised there was a man looking at her ahead. At first, she paid little heed to him but when he stood more in her line of travel, she focused more and realised why he seemed familiar. Swallowing slightly, she said nothing and attempted to keep walking.

 

“Do not ignore me, Alexianna?”



“You ignored me for twenty-six years.”

 

“Alexianna, please?” Oliver’s tone was low, so the station would not be privy to their conversation.



“I have nothing to say to you. Nothing. Daniel can have a relationship with you but I don’t want one. I wanted one when I was eight and I needed a father but you weren’t interested. I am just extending the same courtesy.” She walked around him before stopping and looking at him again. “Why are you here?”

“I have a meeting with an old colleague of mine today, I came down for a few days to do a spot of catching up.” He answered plainly.

“Why are you at this station?”

 

“Convenience.”

“Is that the only reason?”

“Are you asking me something, Alexianna? If you are, just come out and say it.” She said nothing. “You live near Hampstead, correct?” She nodded, he would know that by paying the fees to Hampstead Hill, Daniel had promised Oliver didn’t know the location of her home and she trusted him on that. “You partner lives in Belsize, I got that from the internet.” Again, she nodded, it was on Wikipedia where Tom lived. “Your college is in the centre of London and your office, from what Daniel tells me is four stops from here, so if you think I am here to bother you, the answer is no, I did not expect to see you here of all places.”

Alexianna had to admit, he was right. She was not due to be there, she chose to get off there because she wanted to grab a white hot chocolate before going into work and just wanted to relax, it was not somewhere she would regularly be. “Fine.” She turned to leave again.
“Is your daughter liking the school?”

Alexianna licked her teeth. Part of her knew Oliver was simply making small talk but she had made her mind up years ago, she wanted nothing to do with him and did not see him as a father figure. “Yes. Excuse me.” She went to walk again.

 

“Alexianna, please. I know I made a terrible decision regarding you and Daniel but after it all…” He could see his daughter had no time for anything he was saying. “I am sorry.”

“Thank you, for what you are doing for Lily. I mean it, thank you. But I do not want it if it is only to strike up conversations with me. I don’t want to talk to you. I tried to talk to you for years and you ignored me. When I needed a father, you were nowhere to be found and don’t give me the Marie line, I was in a terrible marriage, I know how hard some people are but I would endure anyone for Lily. I endured for her so don’t pretend to actually care because if you had, you would have been there.” She hissed quietly not wanting to bring attention to them.

 

Oliver had the decency to look ashamed at her. “I am sorry.”

“Sorry doesn’t fix the nights I cried for my dad, for when I was after a car accident and I tried to call you, when I was scared and abused by my mother, then by my husband, when I was raped by him and made carry my daughter, when he left when it was a girl and not a boy, when I was struggling through it all. All of those times I needed you and you were not there, you were nowhere to be seen but you swan in now and you think I owe you my time?” She turned and left him behind her, him silenced by her saying what she endured, what he had ignored.

 

Alexianna rushed through the streets to the coffee shop she wanted. She looked at the queue and inhaled deeply. She wanted to cry but it would do her no favours. She would get her treat, she would enjoy it and not worry about her father, her ex-husband or her mother. She would think about the work she had to do, her daughter who she would see that evening, Elena collecting her from school, and Tom, who was going to facetime them at six so to talk to her and Lily. She forced herself to think of that her hands shaking slightly as she waited in the queue, trying to steady her herself as she did.

 

*

 

“What’s wrong?” Tom saw the frown lines clear on her face that she tried to hide them from him during the call. As soon as Lily went to have some supper before bed, Tom brought up the question. “Please, Lexi, no lies, talk to me.”

“I bumped into Oliver today.” Tom’s brow furrowed. “In Angel. I went to get a hot chocolate and we crossed paths, he tried to start off a conversation but I said thing things I always planned to say and I...seeing him, the anger I feel, I just...I thought I was over it, but it pulled up how abandoned I felt again. I spoke to Mr Barrows about it but it clearly wasn’t enough and I am upset because I thought I was getting better.”

“It is not an instant fix, Lexi. You need to spend time healing. If you saw Marie or Jonathon now, you would still feel something too and not something good but you are working through it.” She chewed her lip. “Hey, don’t do that, if I was there I would flick water on you now.” She gave him a weak smile. “Lexi, I love you, you are so strong. He sideswiped you today, Darling, you weren’t prepared. I can’t imagine the blow that was to you but you are so strong and you stayed calm and carried yourself well and told him all you swore you would, given the chance.”

“I told him too much, I think.”

“Don’t fret, Darling. I am so proud of you.” Tom gave her the smile that told her he meant his words. “What are your plans for tomorrow?”

“Take Lily to the park, be a Mum.”

 

Tom smiled at that. “Have a wonderful time, I wish I was there. Please, Lexi, send me a picture of you both, smiling.”

 

“I…”

“Both of you, I mean it. She needs to see you smile with you.”

 

“I do smile with her.”

“Yes but you do not go into the pictures, that’s a big part of the issue. What will happen in thirty years time when she is showing her own little monsters pictures of her and you? You need to have said pictures, and you need to smile in them.”

“I don’t want to think of my daughter as a mother.”

“The likelihood is though, that she will. More women have kids than don’t have them,” Tom pointed out. “She will want the pictures, it’s incredibly important that the two of you have time together.”

 

“You’re right.” She conceded. “Have a good afternoon, Tom, I’ll text you before bed.”



“Please do Darling, and don’t worry about Oliver, he is not your problem, alright?”


“I know.” There was a hint of defeat in her voice. “I might see if I can talk to Mr Barrows about it.”


“If you feel that that is what you need, give him a call in the morning. I am sure he will be happy to assist with all of this.” Tom agreed, knowing that there was a man in his girlfriend’s life that he more than once joked he had not met that got her to open up more than he could. He wished to meet Mr Barrows, to thank him for the incredible work he had done with Alexianna to get her to understand her emotions and to put into words what it was she was feeling with regards them. He had made his relationship with her a hundred times stronger and her sessions assisted in lifting the darkness around Alexianna and bring her back to her old self. “I will talk to you later, Darling. I love you and bye for now.”

“Bye for now.” She repeated before hanging up the phone.

 

*

The rain that fell heavily from the dark skies put an end to Alexianna’s plans to bring Lily to the park the next day. For a time, she did not know what to do with her daughter, wanting to do something to make the day a little more special before she came to a conclusion.

 

Tom looked at the picture on his phone and felt his chest swell and his face break into a genuine smile.

 

Alexianna was covered in flour, her hair dusted in it and a real smile that went all the way to her eyes, creasing the sides of them slightly, a giggling Lily beside her and both indicating to the freshly baked unicorn cookies, covered in icing and sprinkles on the counter. The kitchen was clearly a mess, the debris of their baking splattering the press doors as well as the tiles behind them. The next picture was even better. Alexianna and Lily in fleecy pyjamas, under Alexianna’s duvet and a movie on in the background as they cuddled on the couch with popcorn and sweets. He found himself envious. He wanted to be there with them. As he began to send back a message, another alert came in, this time a video of Lily, on her mother’s lap as Alexianna smiled happily with her arm around her daughter’s waist as she half cuddled her.

 

“Hi, Daddy. I miss you. Mommy and I had the second bestest sort of day. We went baking, and we watched Inside Out and had popcorn. It was so good, Daddy. I wish you were here acause then it really would have been the bestest day.” Tom choked up slightly at that. “I want you to come home soon, acause I miss you so much. I love you, Daddy, night night.”

 

As soon as the video came to an end, Tom realised his eyes were welled up. He smiled sadly at Lily’s declaration that the day was incredible but did not reach top tier happiness in her mind because he was not there. Tom knew that no matter what happened in life, the video and the big smiling faces of the two women in it would matter more than most anything else.

Chapter Text

“Uncle Dan!” Lily rushed into her uncle’s arms as soon as she saw him standing outside her classroom. “What are you doing here?”

“Well, your Mum is at a meeting and I asked Tom if I could collect you today, so he gave me the information about what time you were out and here I am.” He smiled as she went to Anna and gave her a hug too.

Elated with seeing her uncle for the first time in a while, Lily took his hand and began telling him everything she could think of. “What are we going to do?” She asked in the midst of all her rambles of every picture she drew and what she had learnt since she last saw him.

“We are going to spend some time together and then we are going to go back to your home and bring some lovely food for you, Mummy, us, and I think Tom said he was coming too.”

“Tell him I said he has to come,” Lily ordered. “He was apposed to get me from school, so he has to be there. I want to draw everyone.”

Knowing that Lily’s new fixation was drawing her family unit, however obscure it may look to others, Daniel nodded and said he would.

Because of the weather being slightly unpredictable, it was not surprising when the rain began to belt down, leading to Daniel texting Tom to inform him that they were bringing Lily to the cinema and that they would return home by six, Tom responded that he would get the food sorted and instead went to Alexianna’s and cooked a good meal for everyone.

*

When Alexianna arrived home at half six, feeling tired, drained and generally miserable after a difficult day at work, she was looking forward to hearing how Lily’s day went since she knew her daughter was doing something to do with animals in school that day, something Lily adored and which she was convinced would lead to her daughter trying to convince her mother to get some form of pet. In truth, if she had more time, Alexianna would get them a pet but with work being so hectic when added to her study, she knew at present that adding a cat or something to the house would not be ideal.

The smell of homecooked food, when she came in the door, caused her to moan in equal parts relief and anticipation, wondering how she could make it up to Tom for being such an incredible partner. When she went to place her coat on the coat hook on the wall, she paused. There were two coats there that she had not seen before, a male and female, a mere moment later, her silent question was answered when she heard a Scottish accent upstairs.

“Lily, where does your Mum put these?”

Walking into the kitchen, she knew she would probably find the owner of the male coat, sure enough, standing at the counter, looking at her somewhat meekly, was her brother. “Surprise?”

Alexianna frowned at him before looking at Tom, who was drinking tea on the other side of the counter, closer the almost ready food. His face was only fractionally less wary than her brother’s but more apologetic. “You couldn’t have called ahead?”

“I did but only after Tom answered, I realised I called him and not you and we thought it would be a nice surprise.”

“We haven’t spoken in three weeks.” She folded her arms.

Daniel looked at his younger sister apprehensively. “Tom…?”

“Sure.” Tom knew both siblings needed to talk and took his cup of tea and walked for the door, stopping for a moment at Alexianna and waiting for her to look at him before saying anything. “The food needs another four minutes and then…”

“The usual.” She nodded. Tom smiled back and walked out of the room, leaving the siblings to talk.

For a moment or two, they simply looked at one another, neither saying anything before Dan cleared his throat. “Al…”

“He’s barely back in the picture and the two of us are barely speaking anymore.” Alexianna interrupted. “I...We have always been close Dan, especially when he left and incredibly so after Lily came and I know part of the reason we were not physically close anymore was you found Anna and that meant actually putting effort in and staying in Scotland with her and I get that, I do and I am so happy for you both, she is incredible; and Lily and I have Tom here, so we are not adrift, alone but this is not healthy.”

Dan had expected his sister to be angry at him being there, or at least for her to give out about Oliver more but she seemed more focused on the issue of their less frequent talking and meeting. “You’re right. I apologise, I have not really been in contact with you much. But you never reply to me anymore.”

“Because you keep talking about Oliver, I told you, I don’t want to be involved in that. I know you do and I respect that but respect I am happier as I am now. I have my part in not replying but I’m not alone, you kept going on about him.”

Daniel looked at the mug he had been drinking from. “Have you spoken to your counsellor on it? This rift?”

“More than once.” Alexianna had no issue telling her brother such.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want me to be taking the time you go there.”

Alexianna scoffed. “I am literally there because of mother and men issues that I have, if you think you aren’t discussed ad nauseam, you’re very much mistaken.”

Daniel eyed her warily. “Am I a good or a bad thing?”

“It varies…” Her stern face fell quickly and she smiled. “No, you’re good. You’re the best brother I could ever have hoped to have. I...I never told you this but more than once, I felt that if I didn’t have you to help me, I am not sure what I would have done.”

Daniel thought for a moment that Alexianna was merely saying she had been a little confused or possibly indecisive, but when she looked slightly ashamedly at him, he realised it went further than that. “Al…” He didn’t know what to say.

“After Lily, I...I felt so broken, useless, a failure, even with her there needing me. I genuinely didn’t know what to do, if you hadn’t guided me through those first few weeks, stood by me, I cannot even pretend I didn’t….”

Unable to think any further of what his sister was telling him, Daniel pulled her to him and held her tightly, shocked at the tears he felt running down his face. He knew she was shocked and finding it hard to process everything after Lily was born. He knew she was scared, confused and lost. As much as Jonathon being gone was the best thing his sister could hope for, she was still uncertain of everything and scared. Her mother had lambasted her for being everything from a slut to being a shame on the family and she had this small baby that needed her with her not having anything but a few hundred pounds squirrelled away as a result of Jonathon’s control over her and not permitting her to work, it all was a lot, he knew it carried a toll on her but he had never realised how much and Alexianna had never said it, she had hidden it. He knew to look for dark signs, especially after Lily was born, but she hid them. “You never said.”

“I was too ashamed to. I was scared if I did, you would tell a doctor and I would lose Lily.”

“Never. I love you, Al, you’re my little sister and no matter what, even if you married Tom and you all moved to Hollywood and Anna and I moved to Australia, I would still be there for you.”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself on marriages and whatnot.”

“Maybe a little, but still.” He held her close still. “You’ve come so far, I hope you are proud of yourself.”

“I have you to thank for most of it, you, Lily, Tom and Mr Barrows.”

“I am so proud of you, Al. And I am sorry I keep bringing up Da...Oliver.”

“I just can’t forgive him. He left us.”

“I know. And that is your right but ask yourself, is it because you had Lily and Jonathon left and you are angry about that in some weird way? You weren’t too bothered growing up, you used to make jokes about it.”

“I used the jokes to make light of the fact my father left and never once cared past my education for me because it hurt, Dan. I felt hurt and that was easier than crying.” She explained. Daniel nodded slightly, realising the reason for her blase demeanour regarding their father’s leaving was to hide how hurt she was. He realised she hid a lot, even from him. “I...How do you look past it?”

It was not a comment on him being dismissive of Oliver’s past actions or anything of the sort, it was simply a question she was curious of the answer to. “I don’t forget what happened but I see with Lily, what Jonathon did, there is no coming back from that, what Dad did, his is a bit more understandable, I am not condoning it, please understand that, but you know Marie, you know what she was like, could you entirely blame him?”

“We were innocent.”

“He wanted to fight her in court for us.” Alexianna’s eyes widened. “Did you know that?” She shook her head. “He wanted to but his hours, his workload, the barristers didn’t think he could win. She didn’t work, so she could provide a better home apparently.”

“Our home life was hell and we were in boarding schools.”

“I know, but you know how it is, Al.” She said nothing back. “I think, giving my opinion, maybe you need to talk to him, properly.”

“I know your opinion on it, Dan, thanks.” Alexianna sighed. “I am not as forgiving as you, I think.”

“We are all our own people. You are stronger than me, coming through everything you did and still growing. I would have frozen.”

“I need to be strong, I don’t have a choice. There’s a five-year-old girl that needs her mother to be as strong as she can be, to give her everything our parents never gave us.”

“We didn’t want for much.” Daniel pointed out.

“We had clothes, fancy schools, gadgets, but we didn’t have love, support and respect us for who we were, did we? Look at Tom’s family, that is how you have a healthy one-parent home, not what we had. I want that to be Lily’s memories of me, smiling, happy, strong, not hateful like Marie.”

“The last thing I could accuse you of being is Marie, Al. Trust me.” He pulled her close again. “Now, I am on the rigs this Christmas because they are paying double time this year and I want to take, you, Lil’s and Anna on a holiday in the Summer, so we are going to have a great few days and then we are going to see each other after New Years.”

“Dan, you don’t have to….”

“No, I don’t, but I want to, so let’s stop having everyone hide upstairs worrying that you and I are not speaking to one another and enjoy some time together, deal?”

“That sounds like a good deal.” Al smiled, going to the food that Tom had put so much effort into and turning off the over and beginning the process of readying it to be plated.

“Good, I also want to talk to you about this place that is hiring, look at the salary and only an extra ten hours a week for after you finish your degree.” Dan pulled out his phone with a page up, showing her the advertised job for a reputable firm in London.

*

“One night, Lexi. Dan is with her.” Tom kissed Alexianna’s neck as he spoke. “You deserve to spend time as a young woman, sans daughter.”

“You mean you want to have fun without the risk of Lily interrupting,” Alexianna scoffed as Tom’s kisses became more amorous.

“We won’t get a chance to enjoy a night of just the two of us again for a few months, we may as well enjoy it.” He urged.

“I find it odd that you organised a night of fun for us with my brother, if I’m honest.”

Tom chuckled. “I can assure you, there was no talk of such but he did know I wanted to bring you out. Spending time with you and Lily is incredible, I love it so much, but you and I rarely get to go out alone and you deserve to be treated like the amazing woman you are.”

Smiling slightly, Alexianna turned and kissed him back, grateful that Tom had thought to purchase some more condoms.

Chapter Text

Alexianna was apprehensive when Tom suggested she and Lily go with him to his mother’s for Christmas. She did not want to feel like they were intruding but she recalled the previous Christmas and how miserable she, Lily and Tom felt being apart, so she agreed.

 

She had been elated to hear he had taken a role in a Harold Pinter production on the West End that would keep him in London well into May, maybe even June and that filled her with nothing but relief and joy, hating the times he was apart from them for work, though she knew that they came from time to time.

 

They arranged for Lily’s presents to go to Suffolk with Diana after a day she came to London to do her pre-Christmas shopping and she assured them that they would be suitably hidden before their arrival the week after.

 

Tom was excited as they readied for Christmas, the idea of getting to see Lily on Christmas morning, opening her presents, it made him more excited for Christmas than he could ever recall being since he was a child.

 

This year, Sophia would be arriving after Christmas, Sarah wanted to spend it with their father but promised to get there before Tom, Alexianna and Lily went back to London, as Alexianna had applied for the job Daniel had suggested as it was nearly double the pay and would allow her progress in the area she wished in public relations more than her current job, meaning they needed to be back in London in time for her to begin the interview process.

 

They were leaving London a few days before the Christmas, so Alexianna went through everything they could require while they were away, ensuring that she had her next month’s pills packed as well as the toiletries that she would need the following day since she had completed the month’s worth a day before and like clockwork, she would, forty-eight hours after, begin to bleed. It gave her comfort being able to plan her life around it, even Tom seemed to know the dates perfectly, she suspected that he had it in his calendar also as he rarely seemed interested in anything sexual at such times and always seemed to know when not to annoy her with particular issues. She placed her toiletries bag in her case, her pills included and decided to ready a few other things. Tom was due in an hour and she wanted them to have a small cup of tea before setting off with plenty of time for the Mc Donald’s she knew Tom had promised Lily.

 

*

 

“Mommy, look at this.”

 

Alexianna smiled as Lily placed her Happy Meal drink in the cup holder of her car seat and looked to see what toy she had been given with her meal as she blew into the coffee she had gotten. “Wonderful, sweetheart, who did you get?”

“I got...who is that?” She studied the character in her hand for a moment before her eyes lit up. “Mommy, I got Toothless, I got Toothless.”

 

“Tooth...I thought it was some other thing this time, isn’t that some TV show on the box?” She looked round to see that there was indeed some TV show she knew her daughter was not overly fond of designing the outside of the box, but indeed too was Lily holding the black dragon she adored so much. The one that unbeknownst to Lily, Tom had gotten her for Christmas in Build-a-Bear.

 

“Yes, it is, but I got Toothless instead.”

“Do you want me to open it for you?” Tom offered, terrified that she would try to use her teeth to open the packaging around the toy and was envisioning that she could choke on the plastic. Silently, at that moment, he realised how much of a parent he had turned into.

 

“Daddy, I got Toothless. This is the bestest day of my life!”

 

Tom chuckled at Lily’s mentality. No matter what it was, if it was positive, it turned that day into the “best day of her life”. If she was to be believed, in a month, twenty-nine of the days in it were the “best day of her life”, even in a regular February, it seemed true he had joked to Alexianna. “Wonderful, sweetheart.” He kissed her forehead. “You eat your food and I will drive us the rest of the way to Nana’s, alright?”

 

“Yep.” Lily kicked her legs in excitement before tucking into a chip that had fallen from the bag into the bottom of the box before taking out a nugget to nibble on.

 

“And be careful not to make a mess.” Her mother warned.

 

“I promise.”

 

Satisfied that Lily would do as she always did and behave, Alexianna smiled at Tom as he sat back into the driver’s seat and started the car again to complete their journey to Suffolk.

 

*

 

The evening was by far, one of the most pleasant Alexianna could recall for a long time. They simply spoke and relaxed with Diana as she asked them how they were and how their different work and pursuits were going, her main focus being on Lily and her education, having been more than a little vocal on believing that Alexianna take Oliver’s offer to pay for her schooling. She listened quietly as Lily regaled Diana of her new friends, of the class trip to a production of the Nutcracker, leading her to want to do ballet, something Tom and Alexianna said they would look into and of her progress academically, including her learning to write her name.

 

Tom looked to Alexianna and smiled, loving the relaxed look on his partner’s face. “Anyone need another cup of tea?” He asked as he took the finished cup from her hand to bring back to the kitchen.

 

“If I had another now, I’d be up half the night.” She gave a smile as she let him take it. “But thank you.”

 

“Do you need anything else?”

 

“Honestly, I’m fine, just tired.” She shook her head slightly as she continued to relax on the couch, Lily cuddled up next to her.

 

“Don’t say that I didn’t offer,” Tom said no more and headed into the kitchen where he planned to make himself another cup of tea.

 

“You seem different.” Alexianna looked worriedly at Diana for her statement. “Something seems slightly different with you.”

“You have me feeling self-conscious now.”

 

Diana said nothing more on the matter but studied Alexianna quietly for the rest of the evening.

 

At bedtime, Alexianna and Tom bade goodnight and went up the stairs. Though they had stayed there before, it still felt slightly odd to Alexianna to be staying in the same bed as Tom in his mother’s house, but as his scent entered her nostrils, her tiredness increased and she immediately settled into a restful sleep.

 

*

 

Alexianna was used to feeling tired the days of her menstruation. It was a default setting for her, she never thought much of it, she simply increased her caffeine intake and got on with it, so when she woke the next morning, having slept through the night, she was not overly surprised by the fact she still felt tired. She also placed some of the reasoning for it on being in the fresher sea-side air. She put on a pad, knowing that at any time during the day, she could begin to bleed, thought nothing more of the situation and got on with getting everything ready for the next few days as Diana preferred to have everything done before the last day or so before the shops closed. She placed a tampon in her bag and went about the day.

 

On Christmas Eve morning, Alexianna began to become concerned. She had the usual cramping that came with her bleeding, but after five days without taking any pills, she still had not bled. Her breasts were tender but that too was par for the course with her menstruation but the lack of bleeding concerned her. She was worried as to the reasoning for such but with so much to get done, she forced herself to get ready for the day.

 

By mid-morning, she and Tom were in the local Co-op grabbing olives to stuff as they were a good snack for overfilled stomachs on Boxing Day when Alexianna walked down the toiletries aisle aimlessly. For a moment, she paused at the feminine products and wondered what was delaying her cycle but something on the top shelf took her focus and sent her mind into overdrive.

 

“Do you need a few more things, Darling?” Tom’s voice startled her slightly. “Grab them now if you need them.” He smiled. “I’ll grab extra milk, you get what you need and we will be back for lunch, alright?”

 

“Sure.” She gave a small forced smile and watched him make his way down the aisle to the dairy section. For another minute, she looked at the small inconspicuous packages on the top shelf before walking off and doing small calculations in her head, trying to rubbish the small thought that had entered her mind.

 

Tom placed the basket of items on the counter and paid when the checkout teller gave them the total, noticing the slightly peculiar silence Alexianna was in but saying nothing to her. They got into the car and he was about to turn on the engine when she opened her door again. “I forgot something.” She didn’t look back as she rushed into the store, going straight to the aisle she had been in previously and grabbed two boxes and went to the counter, putting them into her coat pocket as she went back to the car and said nothing to Tom on the matter. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologise, Darling, it’s better to remember now than when we get back to the house, or worse, tomorrow when everywhere is closed.” He smiled as they drove off.

 

*

 

Alexianna sat in the bedroom and read the instructions twice. It had been six years since she read one of these packets and the instructions remained the same, so nervously, she went to the bathroom and did as she needed to.

 

As she waited for it to process, she thought of the ramifications for what it could mean. She recalled the night three weeks previous that she and Tom stayed at his as her brother and his girlfriend cared for her daughter in her home, where Tom kissed her neck and urged her to enjoy their time alone, where she remembered full well him putting on the condom, she saw him do it carefully, as he always did. She recalled him taking it off after and putting it in a tissue as he relaxed after their fun. She did not see it as he took it off, but she recalled him doing it. She knew she missed none of her pills and she had not been ill. She had felt ill, but she had not been physically sick in any manner. They had been incredibly careful, they both took an active part in preventing something like this happening, yet here she was. She tried to placate herself. They were careful, they were doubly careful, the chances were minimal, she was simply being overly fretful.

 

When the small gadget beeped to state it had done its job, she had practically convinced herself she was just being ridiculous.

 

That, she realised, only made the words in front of her on the small digital device all the more startling to look at.



Chapter Text

Alexianna simply stared at the test. This wasn’t supposed to happen. They were careful, they always used two forms of protection in case one failed. She made sure that she was safe. Jonathan had refused to wear condoms on the grounds they “didn’t feel good” but Tom was the first to agree that he had a role in preventative matters also. Her eyes widened. Tom would surely have a reaction close to her own, she had ruined everything. They were happy, he had his space and his freedom but they also had each other, and now she had ruined that. A baby, another….she shook her head slightly, she couldn’t, not again. Before she had Daniel, now he had his life and she knew that he wanted that life and she could not take it from him. Tom would not want to be tied down, not like this. How could he? He was famous, children, biological children were not the same as assisting with his girlfriend’s daughter when he was available. He had been as stern as her regarding contraception, she knew kids were not something he planned on any time soon. She put the little device in some toilet paper and into her pocket to dispose of in the wheelie bin outside so it would not be found by anyone before going back into the bedroom and taking out her phone, Googling the nearest clinics before pausing.

It was Christmas eve, no doubt most of them were closed until after New Years, also, how could she ask Tom to take her to a particular centre passed several other medical centres in the area, he was by no means stupid, so instead, she Googled ones in London, she could sort it when they returned after the holidays. All she had to do was at naturally for the few days and she would be able to fix everything when they returned to London without anyone knowing anything.

The issue became that she did not act naturally when she returned downstairs. Immediately, Tom, Diana and Lily all seemed to realise something was not alright with her. It was clear to see that she was thinking of something that was stealing her attention.

“Darling? Lexi?”

She jumped slightly as Tom spoke to her. “Hmm, what, sorry?”

“Are you alright, Sweetheart? You seem completely out of sorts?”

“Yeah, just...not feeling the best.” She dismissed, which, considering the shock she had just gotten, was no lie.

“Do you need to lie down for a while? Mum has lunch on but if you’re not feeling the best, you should have a small rest.”

“I’m fine. I’m just thinking over a few things.”

“Is it the interviews? Lexi, you will do amazingly. You have a perfect record with work as it is and your college scores, as you predicted, are on track for a 1:1 with this work...Lexi?”

Alexianna’s face blanched as she thought of her degree. In her worries about her relationship, she had forgotten the job interviews and more importantly, her degree. She could not possibly have had this happen at a worse time. “Oh, God.”

“What, what is it? Did you forget something? Something to do with college?” Tom asked, terrified by her terror.

Alexianna forced herself out of her head. She was dealing with it, she had her plan so she needed to cease her madness and get on with the day at hand. “I thought I forgot something, but it’s fine. I am just a little messed up.” It wasn’t a lie, she was feeling incredibly messed up but there was nothing she could do about it at that moment.

“Well, I am glad it’s not the terrifying thing you were worried about, but please, Darling, if you are so out of sorts, go lie down.”

“Lily…”

“Would rather her Mum be more able for Santa and associated madness in the morning, I would imagine.” Tom gently took her hand and guided her to the stairs. “Her grandmother and Daddy can look after her for a while. You have been so busy with work and college, you need a rest. You looked like if you slept twenty-four hours, you could still sleep twenty-four more.”

 

Alexianna gave a small smile. It had been the same with Lily, her biggest issue for the majority of her pregnancy was tiredness. Before she ever realised she was pregnant, she felt tired, she hadn’t realised that it was happening again. She had put it down to study, exams and work, as well as juggling her home life, she didn’t realise her body was warning her of the hormone production required to create another child. “I probably could.”

They walked into the bedroom and Tom let go of her hand as she removed her jumper. When she took it off and folded it over the back of the chair, then turned to face him again, her heart felt like it had stopped.

Tom was holding the instructions to the pregnancy test in his hand. For a moment, he was reading it before he looked at her. “Lexi?” She swallowed. “Why…?”

“I’m sorry.” She felt the tears fall.

“Sorry?”

“I didn’t mean to. I don’t know how it happened, I swear.”

“You’re…” Tom realised at that moment why she was so out of sorts since the Co-Op. “You’re pregnant?”

“I’m sorry.” She apologised again. “I never meant for it to happen. I’ll deal with it when we get back.”

Tom looked at her in shock. “Deal with it? You mean…” He realised what she was referencing. “Were you going to tell me?”

“I…I didn’t want to ruin us.”

“And you thought that keeping this,” he shook the piece of paper. “A secret wouldn’t ruin us? Secrets? Secrets are what ruin people. Ruin relationships.”

“I’m sorry.” She cried more, feeling even more guilty at what he had said.

Tom stopped himself from getting angry. He wanted to be angry at her for not confiding her fear with him. He wanted to be angry she had not said anything about doing a test or indeed making a decision on it, but it was clear she was terrified. She was sobbing as though someone had struck her with the worst possible words. He inhaled deeply and reminded himself that she had been trained to think this was the end of the world. Jonathan did his most damage and controlling of her while she was pregnant with Lily, of course, to Alexianna, pregnancy was world ending, it was what she was taught, even as a youth by her mother, the warning was “Don’t ever darken my door if you get pregnant”. As much as Diana feared her daughters getting pregnant too young, or her son getting a girl pregnant, she also instilled in them a rational approach to the topic, that altered the manner in which they saw the issue. “Lexi…” She looked at him, only for a moment. “Darling, please, try to calm yourself.” He walked forward slowly. “This is clearly a shock, I take it you only did this after our trip to the shop?” She nodded. “So you had no inkling before?”

She shook her head. “We were so careful.”

Tom had to admit, it was true. He always made sure not to tear the condom, he always made sure to hold it when they had finished their intimacy and discard it carefully. He knew she took her pills religiously. “Sometimes, these things just happen. We were not careless, so I know it makes it more of a shock, but Lexi, it’s alright.”

“How do you not hate me?”

Tom felt terrible, he leant forward, brought her to him and kissed her head. “I could never hate you for this, Lexi. You didn’t mean for it to happen and you cannot be to blame for it. I was there too. I very much had an active role in this. I am as much at fault.” He kissed her head again. “How long?”

“Nearly three weeks, according to the test.”

Tom remained quiet for a moment as he tried to calculate when they had been intimate over the month of December. “So...when…?”

“The night at yours alone, I think. That’s the safest bet as to when.”

 

Tom recalled the night and gave a slight huff of a laugh, causing Alexianna to look at him with confused and tear-reddened eyes. “Well, then I am the majority person to blame. It was my idea, I very much was the one to initiate things and I very much am the one that did the majority of the actions that put us in this position.” He chuckled. “So blame me, not you.”

“But I…”

“No, Lexi. You are not to blame for your body having the criteria to make a baby being reached. We are both adults, we both partook in consensual sex and we both took responsibility for prevention, somewhere, something did not go as it was supposed to and that happens, you alone are not to blame.” He made sure to look at her as he spoke. “I think you and I need to have this discussion away from the house. We don’t need anyone hearing this.”

Nodding slightly, Alexianna got her jumper and put it back on before following him out the door of the bedroom and back downstairs.

“Mum?” Diana came into the hallway at Tom calling her. “Mum, Lexi and I need to step out for a while, could you look after Lily?”

“Can I come?” Lily looked hopefully at Tom.

Tom knelt down so he was looking her in the face. “Not this time, Princess, Mum and I have something very important to talk about that is boring and grown up so it is best if you stay here for now. I promise, we will bring you on a spin soon, not today, maybe not tomorrow, but we will go on a spin soon the three of us, alright?”

Alexianna said nothing as she watched Tom interact with Lily. She looked at Diana who was studying both her and Tom, worried by the peculiar atmosphere that was in the air. “What about lunch?” She asked her son.

“We won’t be too long, we just need to sort something. Keep it warm.” He explained before grabbing their coats and his car keys and gently ushering Alexianna towards the door.

“Mommy, are you alright?” Lily focused on her mother’s silence.

“Yeah, I am just not feeling well, Sweetheart. Daddy is just getting me out for a while to see if that can help me in any bit.” She smiled. “I don’t want to be sick for when Santa comes tonight.”

Hearing her mother reference what Lily believed to be the greatest human being in existence, albeit a magical one, she nodded and jumped up and down. “No one wants to be sick for Santa.”

“Absolutely not, so you help Nana, and we will see you soon, Princess.” Tom smiled, kissing her head and leading them out the door.

They said nothing as they got into the car and drove off. Neither of them spoke the entire of the journey. When Tom pulled in at an all but abandoned car park facing the water, he turned off the engine and for several more moments, they remained silent.

“We need to actually talk about this, Lexi.” He began. “I want us to discuss this, so we can do what is right and not have regrets. If you want to go ahead as you plan when you get back to London, I want to be beside you, supporting you, no matter what. I cannot make this decision for us but I want to be part of it, please.”

“I can’t do this, not right now.” she looked at her hands as she spoke.

“I respect that if that is how you feel, I will not rubbish that, you are the one with the final decision here, I would never force you to do anything but can we talk through it?”

“I can’t do it again.”

“Do what?”

“Have another baby. Try and juggle it all again, this time with no Daniel.”

“Daniel isn’t here, he’s in Scotland, yes, but he would still be part of everything, you know that. And this time, if you had it, you would have me here, I would be here.” She looked at him worriedly. “You think I’d leave?” She said nothing. “Do you really think I am like him?”

“He didn’t…” She stopped when she realised how much her comparing Tom to her ex-husband hurt him. “I barely got by last time...if...I couldn’t do it again, not with two, alone.”

Tom stopped himself from speaking for a moment, he chose his words carefully so as not to upset her more, seeing she was close to tears again. “We’ll talk through the two options. If you really think it is for the best, we will go to the clinic together, a good private one where you will have the privacy to do what you wish to do and I will be there with you, a hundred per cent, but let’s talk through this. We can’t change anything today, it’s too late, everywhere is closed, if anything, this gives us time to process everything and be happy with our decision.”

“You really want to be part of this?”

Tom nodded. “I am very much part of this. As I said, I am technically the one to cause this. It was my idea, my initiating, I literally am a considerable part of this and I will play my part in owning up to the responsibility of it.” He took her hand in his. “I want to see it as you do. So, please tell me, why do you think it is the best option?”

“Everything.”

“No, come on, you can expand on it. You are the most intelligent and eloquent woman, do better than that.”

“I have not finished college yet.”

“No, you have not,a valid point,” Tom acknowledged. “You are due to finish in May. Say for a minute you went through with it, when would it be born?”

“About September? I think. I didn’t do the calculations.”

“Okay, so taking into account that, you have a few months of a window. though the morning sickness and studying for exams sound shit.” He noted. “But you are finishing your degree in May, so you don’t have any more classes after that.”

“What if I want to do a Masters?”

“You didn’t mention one before now, has that been something you have been thinking about of late?

“Not immediately.”

“Well then, that would be a bridge to think about too. If you were to do a Masters, what could we do about it? I suppose you would have to consider that. What else?”

“Work.”

“Right?”

“I want this new job, Tom. It’s better, it’s more my area of interest, I can’t apply, maybe get it then drop on them that I am pregnant.”

“They cannot discriminate against you if you are.”

Alexianna scoffed. “Not openly, Tom, but be reasonable, they can find other reasons to not choose me as an excuse.”

“Don’t tell them until after the interviews?” He suggested.

“That’s not particularly honest, is it?” Alexianna argued. “I cannot do both, a baby and a new job is not an option.”

 

Tom sighed. He didn’t want to shove her down a particular path she did not want. “Is that the only reason?”

“The cost.”

Tom scoffed. “I can afford that side of it, no matter what, I will pay for whatever you decide.”

“We are in two different houses. We are only together not long over a year.”

“We would obviously have to move in together so I could be there and make sure to help you with the baby and Lily. We also may only be together that long but we know each other since you were eight, Lexi. Eight years old. We know each other for almost a quarter of a century.”

“That’s the other thing, Lily.” She pointed out. Tom gave her one glance. “It is one thing saying she wants a sibling, it is not a teddy she can put in a corner. You can’t get rid of it because you regret your decision to have it.”

“Lily would love it, and you know it.”

“But what about Lily?”

“We just mentioned her.”

“No, but if...if we had a baby together, would you…?”

“Would I what?”

“Still love her?”

Tom didn’t even hesitate to answer. “Of course, she is my daughter. Lexi, I chose to be her father, I knew that come anything between us, I was choosing a role for life. She is my little girl and if we have this baby or if we choose never to have one, or have twenty, I will always love her as ferociously as I do now. She’s my little girl.” She swallowed. “I am not going to pretend that the idea of us creating this little human being that has my DNA isn’t one of the most incredible ideas in the world but even with her not sharing my DNA, nothing in this world will change how I see Lily.”

Alexianna stared at him. “You want it.” Tom frowned, his brow furrowing as he wondered what she was referencing. “You want me to have it.”

“I am not going to influence your decision.” He looked away from her.

“Tom, please.” He looked back at her again. “I am being honest with you, please be honest with me.”

Tom bit the inside of his cheeks for a moment. He needed to choose his words carefully and he knew it. His first instinct when she referenced getting a termination was the anger that she would have the baby of the man that abused her, emotionally and otherwise and terminate his child, the one they made, albeit accidentally, with a good, loving relationship. But he said nothing of that. He knew himself that he could not, it was manipulation and cruel to spit that at her. But she had explained her valid reasons why a baby was not something they were entirely ready for at that time, so he would be honest back. “I want it.” He stated. “I want our baby. Our...Even saying it, a baby, this little human being that we made. I want it.”

Alexianna swallowed. “But if I can’t…?”

Tom forced the smile he had at the idea to remain hidden. “Then, we can’t. It is that simple. You have to do the hard part, you are the one that has to try and juggle it, work and college. I can promise to do my share, and you know I will provide for it, you, our family, but you are the one that has to do more, so if you say no, then no it is. I will never hold that against you, Lexi. I promise. You have to do what is right for you, no excuses.”

 

Alexianna nodded slightly at his words. “Tom?”

“Yes, Darling?”

“Can I go for a walk by myself for a few minutes?”

“Of course.” He pulled the key out of the ignition which automatically unlocked the car. “I’ll stay here.”

“Don’t, I’ll get a cab back.”

“Not at this hour, most of them will be off early today. Take the time you need, I will wait here.” He insisted, terrified of her being out after dark by herself, unable to get back to the house.

“I might be a while.”

“Then I will wait a while.” He smiled. “Right here...or possibly as far as the bathrooms.”

Alexianna gave a small laugh at that before smiling. “Thank you, Tom.”

“What for?”

“Being you. Being this amazing man that is calm and rational. I would be so lost without you.”

“You’re one of the most rational women I know.” She gave him a quizzical look. “You’ve just been served a curveball, this doesn’t count.”

“Thank you.” She smiled again taking her coat out of the backseat and getting out of the car.

Tom watched as she walked along the seafront for a few minutes before she became a blur to him. He took out his phone and immediately started researching different things, processing what he was reading and his thoughts.

*

Alexianna thought over what Tom said. She thought over how she would get her exams done and though morning sickness was a nuisance, she could do it. She thought of how she would have to deal with the work issue, she wanted that other job so badly, if she could figure that out...She paused. In those few minutes, she realised that she was not as terrified as before. Tom’s support, his want to be there for her meant that she felt she could see more positives to her situation.

She wanted a child with Tom, down the road, if they were both willing. She was unsure if this was a good time but Tom did. She wondered if he knew what this would mean, the sacrifices they would both have to be willing to make. His life would not be easy either but she knew, come what may, he would not do as Jonathan did, she just knew it. He would be there, for Lily too. His immediate declaration that Lily would remain as she was to him instilled some hope in her also, but she was still scared, all she could do was think it over.

Alexianna realised she had left the seafront and was walking through the town. A few of the shops were already closed, a few more seemed to be closing. One, in particular, caught her interest. She walked in and grabbed two items and walked to the till.

*

Tom sat reading in his car. Alexianna had been gone for twenty minutes. He hoped she was thinking over her options in her head now that she had more information to allow her to make a more informed decision. He meant what he said, no matter what, he would support her. When he looked out, he recognised her warm red winter coat making its way up the seafront towards him again. He turned on the car and waited. He watched as she got in and sat beside him, a pharmacy bag in her hand. Nervously, he looked at it. “Is that it?”

Alexianna shook her head. “No, you have to go to clinics for those, they’re not available over the counter.” She explained before opening the bag. “I am still processing all of this, but…” She took out two boxes and a bottle of water. “There was folic acid in my other multivitamin, this has the recommended pregnancy amount and these are more tailored to what I need at the moment too.” She held up the two boxes and showed him, one was a folic acid supplement for pregnant women and the other was a pregnancy brand multivitamin. “I am not taking any risks.”

“Does this mean….?” Tom was scared to ask.

Alexianna bit her lips together for a moment. “If it’s a girl?”

Tom smiled. “Then I will never get a good night’s sleep again.” The he laughed. “Two daughters….I am warning you now, no one will ever be good enough for my Princesses.”

Chapter Text

Tom woke earlier than usual, the darkness outside told him that it was not even approaching sun-up yet. He felt Alexianna move slightly in the bed beside him, sighing in her sleep before settling and continuing to breathe deeply. He thought of the day before and the life-changing events of those few hours.

A baby, they had created a child together. Inside Alexianna’s body, a small grouping of cells, the result of their actions as a couple, were developing and dividing to create a completely unique little human being, according to the pages he read online while he waited patiently in the car for her, at least. He thought of the night they were in his home alone while Lily stayed with her uncle in their home; but he also recalled Alexianna’s words regarding Jonathan and how she had never felt good with him, as well as her annoyance that she had conceived Lily without having enjoyed the act with her husband. He knew she had enjoyed creating their baby. The fact that there was no one in the house beside themselves meant they did not have to cautious of the noise they were making meaning he had encouraged her to be vocal with how she felt and he was satisfied that he, as a partner, had made her feel good. The way she curled against him after, her arm on his abdomen, the smile and caring look on her face, the way he had felt for her, the loving words shared, it all told him even at that time how much they truly cared for one another. Now, their words and actions had even greater meaning. They had a baby as a result, they had made a baby.

He always felt they would have a child together, further down the road. Alexianna’s declaration of never having any more had long fizzled to ‘ifs’ and ‘when’. The clothes Lily had grown out of yet she did not discard were in the attic of his house. He wondered would they be used again. Would the little pinks and dresses have another little girl don them, or would they be left there, only to have blues be added to them as a little boy outgrew them? His heart pounded in his chest, a son, a little boy to carry the Hiddleston name after him, to do things with as his father had done with him or a daughter, a beautiful little princess, just like her sister, who would have him at her beck and call, playing her Daddy as Lily did, two girls that would argue like rabid wolves one moment but fight so valiantly for one another the next, just as his sisters did. Either one was something he would yearn for, the gender would never matter as much as its health did. He didn’t care what they had, so long as it was healthy. He did not plan this, and yes, Alexianna had been right in some respects, the timing was not as good as it could be. She would be ill on the run-up to her exams and the job timing was not perfect but they were able for this and knowing that come the end of it all, they would have their baby, it was worth it, he felt.

He knew Alexianna was wary of it all and he would hamper a fairly good guess why. Marie had conditioned her from youth to see pregnancy as a negative thing, nothing, to Marie, was worse than coming home pregnant, that she instilled in her, so of course, Alexianna could not help but think such thoughts on the matter. Then with Jonathan, she clearly did not want to have his child. She stated on many occasions her heartbreak when she realised she was pregnant, the fear she felt daily as a result of waiting to see what would happen, knowing the monster that was her husband behind the happy facade. His dismissal of her whilst and for her pregnancy. Giving out to her for being ill, tired and hormonal, three aspects of pregnancy that were practically non-negotiable side effects. All women suffered such during the ten months of gestation, yet Alexianna was expected not to by a man that did not care for her. Then after it all, when she was still in theatre, having just been through major abdominal surgery, he had managed to outdo his previous cruelty and leave her and the baby he forced into her without so much as a packet of nappies, adding the salt to the wound of calling her names because he didn’t like that fate had decided the sperm to fertilise the egg to be an X Chromosome one, leading to a little girl, the most incredible and amazing little girl he ever had the honour to meet. She was perfect; smart, sweet, funny, playful, loving, caring, kind, her list of good traits was endless. He knew she would be the best big sister, that come what may, she would love her brother or sister and no matter what, he would continue to show her how much he loved her. This baby would never replace her, it would not trump her, be more important than her, it was only adding to their little family and he knew that he needed to show her that when the time came to tell her. He knew it could not be too soon, mostly because forty weeks is a long time and Alexianna had already made it clear she wanted to get as far through it as possible before telling people, outside of the immediate family but even at that, she requested they wait a few more weeks before saying anything, she stated with Lily, she was too ill to deny her condition, so they would simply keep it under wraps until a better suited time. Lily, as is common with children, would not be able to contain her excitement and could easily tell everyone around her the news before they were ready, it was necessary to not tell her anything until the time was right. She asked regularly about it, to him more than her mother, as Alexianna dismissed it outright whilst he said “Not yet”. He also knew he had to show Alexianna that he was not Jonathan and this pregnancy was not a bad thing. He would make her see the joy she had referenced seeing other women have while she was pregnant before was the norm and make her feel as happy for this pregnancy. He would show her how it was meant to be.

He had watched for the rest of the day after they returned to the house to see if Alexianna was as confident with the decision as he hoped. She took her multivitamin and folic acid in the car and brought the vitamins to the room when they arrived back so that his mother would not find them. She ate well and most certainly did seem to be thinking of the baby, switching to decaf tea and ensuring to eat even healthier than she usually did. He could not understand how both forms of protection had failed, they were both so careful, but as he felt his hand gently brush over Alexianna’s currently flat stomach, he was glad they did.

“It’s not going to grow overnight.” Her voice was heavy with sleep. “Go back to sleep, Lily will wake us all early, trust me.”

“Sorry.” Tom pulled her to him. “Did I wake you?”

“No, the need to turn around did...My boobs hurt.” She curled in so she had her nose to his chest, noting his natural scent soothed her and made her want to rest more. “This won’t be fun.”

“I am here for you, all the way through.” He kissed her temple. “No matter what.”

“Nine months is a long time.”

“I am talking far longer than nine months, pregnancy I cannot help as much with but I will do what I can, after that, I will assist even more.” He kissed her head again and got comfortable, knowing that in a few hours time, their day would be more than a little busy.

*

“Daddy! Mommy! wake up!”

Tom smiled as he woke, seeing Lily rush to him and shaking him slightly. “What is it, Princess?”


“Santa came.”

“Lil’s, didn’t I tell you not to go downstairs without us?” Alexianna stretched as she spoke to her daughter.

“But, Mommy, Santa!”

“But Lily, sleep!” her mother jested. “That’s a grown-up’s Christmas present.”

Lily giggled. “That’s a boring Christmas present.” She jumped up onto the bed, right next to her mother.

Immediately, Tom felt himself go into a form of guarding mode he had never experienced before. He watched as Lily got excited and began to jump around. “Lily, relax a little sweetheart, mind Mummy.”

“Daddy, I want to play.” She jumped around again.

Tom rushed forward and caught her just as she came close to accidentally falling on Alexianna. “Lily, careful.” Lily looked at him, hurt at his scolding her. Tom wanted to tell her off more for risking hurting her mother but he stopped himself, reminding himself that Lily was entirely oblivious to the fact there was a reason to not play with her mother in a manner she had done before but he also reminded himself it was Christmas morning, of course, she was excited. “We cannot wind Mummy, alright? We need her to be okay.”

“Otherwise we have no breakfast.” Lily nodded sagely.

Tom and Alexianna stared at her silently for a few seconds before both began to laugh. “I know where I stand in this.” Alexianna scoffed. “Food bringer.”

“An integral role, really. Tom chuckled. “Come on, let’s get up and see what Santa brought.”

Tom and Alexianna got dressed as Lily rushed to the bathroom. “Tom?” He turned to face Alexianna. “Thank you for stopping her falling on me but…”

“I know, she doesn’t know.” He nodded. “If she did, you wouldn’t be allowed do anything.”

“She is small, excited and it is Christmas Day, so of course, she is not paying full attention.”

Tom thought for a moment. “Perhaps if we tell her you’re still feeling a bit off since yesterday, she will be less inclined to jump up at you.” He suggested as Alexianna stretched and groaned. “Are you okay?”

Alexianna realised at that moment that for the remainder of her pregnancy, and she suspected a considerable time after, Tom was going to be fretting. “I am fine, my breast hurt because my body is literally pouring hormones out at the rate of knots.”

Tom gently pulled her to him one-armed, making sure not to pull her into him so to not apply pressure to her breasts. “I wish it did not cause you to suffer so.”

“I know, but it is what it is. Now, come on before a certain nutter of a daughter of ours opens her presents without us.”

Smiling at Alexianna referencing Lily as “our” daughter and not simply hers, even with everything else, Tom pulled her to the door of the bedroom. On opening it, he was startled to see his sister walking down the hallway. “Did Lily wake you?” He asked.

Emma and Jack had planned to spend Christmas with his family, but as his niece was at his parents house and was currently covered in chicken pox, it was decided that he and Emma would not risk carrying the virus back on a plane with them for public health reasons, so the day before, Emma rang her mother who was elated to have them instead. “No, we woke…” Tom gave her a raised brow. “Okay yes, she woke us with talk of Santa, so we want to see what he got her too.” She smiled as she looked at her brother and her friend. “Is everything alright?” she noted the slightly grimacing face of Alexianna.

“Yes, I am still a bit off since yesterday.” Alexianna decided to go with Tom’s suggestion. “I feel a bit sick.”

“I am not really myself at the moment either.” Emma nodded in solidarity. “Come on, before Lily has an aneurysm waiting for us.”

Smiling, the adults descended the stairs to see Lily hopping up and down with excitement, the sitting room doors, the location of the presents so meticulously placed there the night before by her mother and an overexcited Tom, still closed as Diana presided over things, preventing the eager Lily from rushing in without her parents, Jack was to the side, boiling the kettle to make the teas for everyone.

“So, I think we should have some tea and breakfast first,” Alexianna stated nonchalantly as she walked to the kettle.

Lily’s face fell as she thought of the length of time adults took to drink hot beverages before she saw the smile on her mother’s face. “Mommy!” She giggled as her mother beamed back at her as Tom took her hand and walked towards the door.

“Ready?” She nodded before he opened it and looked at her face as she processed the scene in front of her. Her eyes lit up as she looked at the gifts waiting for her. She immediately rushed in with a high pitched squeak of joy, her focus going to the black stuffed toy which sat on top of the majority of the rest of her presents and cuddling it tightly to her chest. When she turned around again, she walked over to Tom and leant in against him. “Lil’s?” He asked.

“Thank you, Daddy.” Her voice was strained as she wept.

“What do you mean?” He leant down to look at her.

“I forgot to ask Santa for a Toothless teddy and it was too late to send a new letter, and you are the only grown-up I told and you said that if you saw a Toothless you would get him and now he’s here and I have him and I love him so much.” Tears cascaded down her cheeks at the joy of getting the stuffed toy, resulting in Tom pulling her to him and encasing her in his arms, feeling a swelling in his chest as he realised how much he adored the little girl in front of him more and more each day.

He smiled lovingly as she cuddled and kissed the dragon. “I am glad you like him, Princess but I think he would love to see what else you got.”

Nodding, Lily turned and looked at the other toys, cautiously opening the first one as she attempted to hold onto the dragon at the same time, which was considerably sized in her small arms. She tore the paper and smiled excitedly at the horse figurines from the movie she played ad nauseam, the golden horse she spent more time pretending to be than anything. The next item confused her. It was clearly clothing, so she opened it with a furrowed brow and looked at it. “Pants?”

“They’re jodhpurs.” Her mother explained. Lily had no idea what the word her mother just used meant. “They are horse-riding pants.” Lily looked at her mother in shock. “Uncle Dan, Daddy and I think it is time you stopped pretending to ride horses and actually take a few lessons. What do you think?”

“I...I get to ride a horse? A real horse, like Spirit?”

“A more real horse than Spirit. Though it would be more of a pony at your age, but Emma and I were not much older than you when we started and it’s time for you to begin to do a few after school activities and such, so this is the best one to start with, we know you have the interest.” She smiled as she explained it to her daughter.

For a time, Alexianna and Tom discussed Lily and the need for her to have interests outside of schooling. They discussed what classes would suit her as well as what would interest her most. She was lithe by nature but small, dance was an option but Alexianna had seen the negative aspects of it while she was in school, one of the girls she knew well had developed a severe eating disorder as a result of her dance teacher’s attitude. Tom thought drama to be a good fit on a few levels for Lily. She was animated and enthusiastic but it also boosted confidence, something everyone should have in his opinion. They were currently deciding on others to put forward to her as her options, not wanting to force her into anything, but they knew horse riding was a must and had made arrangements accordingly.

The presents continued to be opened, more than Lily had ever received before as Tom insisted in spoiling her. Nothing was overly extravagant but he did insist on getting her a few things of practical use as well as her main toys, such as puzzles, books and other such things, much to Lily’s joy.

Tom and Alexianna smiled as Lily began to play with her toys, making the horse figurines talk as she enacted one of her favourite scenes from the movie. Emma had gone to get her present to her mother, Jack was currently in the bathroom and Diana had gone to get a fresh cup of tea as they watched Lily play.

“Was it what you wanted, seeing her this morning?” Alexianna asked.

Tom smiled. “So much better than I had hoped.”

“Scary to think next year will be different.” Tom looked at her worriedly before Alexianna leant in and whispered to him. “There will be a small, unable to sit unaided baby to add to it.” She bit her lips together after she said it.

Tom’s mind raced forward to the following Christmas and the idea she had just put into his mind. He could not help but smile at the thought. What also caught his attention was how Alexianna spoke about it. It was not the same fear she seemed to have the day before, there was a slight apprehension, a worry in her voice, he could hear that, but the smile she gave, one of hope and dare he think it, of excitement that caused him to think she was embracing the pregnancy. He pulled her close to him and gave her a kiss, hoping to silently portray his joy at that, both worried that anyone would hear their news before they decided to share it.

Only a moment later, Emma reentered the room, a box in her hand and an excited look on her face. “Mum, I have something for you here.” A moment later, Diana entered the room and sat in her favourite chair. “It’s a weird present, but the note inside will explain it.” She passed the box to her mother and waited, Jack by her side. Diana opened the box curiously, noting the light weight of it before pulling apart the light paper within and looking at the small pair of shoes inside. Taking out the folded over piece of paper, Diana read it and felt her eyes fill with tears.

“What’s wrong Nana?” Lily asked worriedly, rushing over to her grandmother, concerned by her tears.

“Well, see this piece of paper?” Lily nodded. “It says, 'Dear Nana, I cannot wait to meet you but I have to wait another few months. I am due on the 13th of July but being half Hiddleston, I will most likely be late'.”

Lily listened to Diana’s words before frowning. “But...what does that mean?”

“It means that auntie Emma has a baby in her belly and that you will get a new cousin this summer,” Tom explained, giving his sister a huge smile. “Congratulations.” He walked over and hugged her before doing the same with Jack.

“I am getting a cousin?” Lily asked.

“Yes,” Emma smiled.

Lily spent another moment processing the words before jumping up and down in excitement. “This is the best Christmas ever, in the whole wide world!" Lily declared loudly. “Can I help with the baby when it gets here? I can get the nappies and the powder, I promise I won’t wake it, I'll be super quiet.”

Emma smiled and hugged Lily tightly. “I would love for you to help when we are all at Nana’s, but it will be very small.”

“Of course it will, it’s a baby.”

The manner in which Lily made her statement implied she thought that Emma should have been more aware of that fact and that she was informing the woman of something very obvious, causing the adults to laugh as Diana embraced her daughter and thanked her for the wonderful gift.

When Emma turned to Alexianna, the other woman smiled at her, knowingly. “You knew?” Emma looked at her in shock.

“I sort of figured it out last night,” Alexianna confessed.

“What gave it away?”

“A few things really, the biggest of which being you giving out to Jack that you had morning sickness for Christmas and him saying how going to his family was definitely a bad idea because of the risk to the baby.” She smiled.

Emma could only nod back. “I suppose that would give it away, yes.”

Alexianna embraced her friend. “I am so happy for you both.” Alexianna had been one of the very few people Emma had informed that she was actively trying to have a baby, for a year, she and Jack had no luck, she had even made an appointment with a fertility specialist regarding it.

“You’ll help me through this, won’t you?” Emma asked, fearful of all the terrifying stories that people seem to be obsessed with telling actively trying-to-be and expectant mothers, knowing her friend would not do the same.

“Every step of the way,” Alexianna swore.

Chapter Text

Bar the obvious secret Tom and Alexianna were keeping to themselves, Christmas Day went incredibly well. Daniel rang after his shift to wish his sister and niece a merry Christmas, which was a little after Lily’s bedtime, but Alexianna allowed it. It ended up that Daniel was on the phone longer than anticipated, not just because Lily insisted in telling him ever last minute detail of her toys, thanking him more than once for his contribution, but because Diana and Emma wished to speak with him for a few minutes also. Tom spoke while Alexianna assisted Lily to get ready for bed, then the pair swapping tasks and Tom getting Lily to brush her teeth while Alexianna spoke to her brother.

Getting ready for bed that night, Tom looked at his partner. “Did you tell Daniel?”

Alexianna scoffed. “God, no. That is a face to face thing. I don’t think I am ready for that yet.” She sighed. “I am so bloody tired.”

“Get some sleep.” Tom pulled him to her and kissed her temple. “It appears I will have to change my present for you.” He smiled. “Though you have given me the best present I could ever hope for.” He looked at her stomach.

Alexianna gave a small smile, watching his line of sight. “Is it?”

“Another child? Of course. Another little human being for us to love and raise together.” He leant forward and kissed her.

Alexianna had thought he was referencing just them having a child together, not inclusive of Lily, hearing him say it as he did, she realised he could very well mean what he had sworn the day before, that Lily was still as important to him as she had been before. It was something she worried about and would continue to do, even after the baby would arrive, she did not want Lily cast aside simply because this baby would be born to them, born to a happy relationship as opposed to how Lily was conceived. “Well, it can’t be here for Christmas.”

“It is here, just not in a way we can see yet. I cannot wait for next year, what you said earlier, I won’t be able to get that out of my mind.” Alexianna smiled slightly and sighed again, leaning into his chest. “Get some rest, Darling.”

“Mmhmm.”

“I saw your trick, by the way.”

“What trick?”

“Using the alcohol-free wine Emma brought.”

“It raises the least amount of suspicions.”

“Yes, we will give it a few more weeks before we say anything.” He rubbed her stomach. “I cannot believe my sister and I are having two children only a few weeks apart.”

“I checked, based on the date of my last period, this one is due the first of September, so that is seven weeks, but Emma has a first pregnancy, this is my second, she could go over, or ours could go over, there is no telling, but the likelihood is closer six weeks.”

Tom could not help but smile more. “If they are the same gender, it will be like you and Emma again, they will be so close. And Lily and Sophie are close in age too, we planned this all so well.”

Alexianna gave him an incredulous look. “This was not planned, Lily was not planned, there was no planning. This is ‘Oops’ and ‘Oops, I did it again’.”

Tom chuckled. “Well, then, we could not have planned it better if we tried.” He corrected.

With a small laugh, Alexianna went over to the bed and got in, in need of more sleep, even after having napped already during the day.

Tom made sure that everything was organised after the day and got into the bed next to her, his hand immediately going to her lower abdomen, wanting to be as close to her and their baby as possible.

During the night, a small noise woke Tom, looking around, he saw the bedroom door slightly ajar. “Lil’s?”

“Daddy?” There was a quiver in her voice.

Turning slightly to face her, Tom rubbed his eyes. “Did you have an accident, Princess?” She shook her head. “Then what is wrong?”

“I got scared.”

Tom groaned slightly and stretched. “Of what, Sweetheart?”

“I don’t know. It’s all dark and different.”

Tom nodded, “Come here.” Lily came into the room. “Close the door.” She did as he requested and walked over to the bed. “Come here.” She climbed into the bed and between him and her mother. “Get some sleep, but remember, Mummy’s tummy is still sicky, okay?” Lily nodded and started getting comfy, her Toothless teddy very much snuggled in against her. Tom did the same, knowing that Alexianna slept on her left side and had her back to her daughter, she would not accidentally kick her mother’s stomach in her sleep. As soon as Alexianna would feel the small movements of her daughter behind her, she would also adjust her sleeping accordingly.

When Tom woke in the morning, he chuckled at the fact there was a small foot mere inches from his face. He could never comprehend how Lily got into the positions she did as she slept. Her behind was in the air, her head facing the bottom of the bed, and the light snores coming from her made her all the more adorable, Toothless still firmly in her grip. Looking across to Alexianna, he noted she too seemed to be awake. “Morning.”

“What time is it?”

Tom turned to the bedside locker and checked his phone. “Half seven.” Alexianna groaned. “Go back to sleep, Darling.”

Alexianna shook her head slightly and making an odd face. “I can’t.”

“Why not, morning sickness?”

“No, that’s not for another few weeks, I just feel really off, my breasts feel like they are on fire and I am tired but also restless.”

Tom gave her a sympathetic look. “It’s going to be a long ten months, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think you realise just how bad this can get.”

“I am here, no matter what.” He whispered, noticing Lily was beginning to move slightly. She only gave a small smile as a result. “Although, I think I need to get a jog in, or I will start to need new pants.”

“Dad bod, is it?”

 

“Behave you.”

“I’d love you regardless.”

“That’s all that really matters.” Tom gave her a loving smile. “My entire world is in this house, my family is in this bed. You, Lil’s,...” He looked to her stomach. “Everything of importance is here.”

“Money isn’t everything.” She agreed. Lily moved slightly, her arm going over her mother’s leg, causing Alexianna to laugh. “Enjoy your run.”

“Try and get some rest, Darling.”

*

For the rest of their trip to Diana’s, Tom and Alexianna were able to say nothing of her condition, her taking her vitamins daily when she got up in the bedroom, Tom assisting with anything that would put stress on Alexianna, especially regarding lifting Lily or such. Emma and Jack went back to London first, Jack had to be back to the office for New Years, leaving them to say their goodbyes and promising to meet up soon, especially, since Emma insisted she wanted Alexianna’s help with the thousands of things she was fretting about for the baby.

The day of their leaving, Tom began packing in their bedroom while Alexianna started to help Lily since he was something of an expert at packing these days after years of being on the go.

“Have you everything sorted?” Diana asked her son as she brought the freshly washed clothes they had been using during the week into the room for him to pack.

“Almost.” Tom started getting the charger and wrapping it around the plug as he usually did for packing. Then he headed to get some more things out of the press they had been using.

“I’ll put these in here, shall I?” Diana opened the suitcase, thinking nothing of it, putting the fresh clothes in, making sure nothing was creased. When she took the toiletry bag out to put in Tom’s socks, she paused and looked at what was beneath it. “Tom?”

Tom, who had been focusing on making sure he got his electric shaver charger so he could keep his beard trimmed to how he liked it, had not been paying too much heed to his mother, turned on hearing her call his name. His face turned to one of uncertainty as he looked at what his mother was looking at. She looked him in the eye, waiting to see what he would say. “I…”

“I am not going to buy ‘bringing them for Emma’ because I saw her pack hers,” Diana stated. “Thomas?”

Tom knew there was no way to ignore the very awkward situation. For a moment, he could see where Alexianna’s fear had derived from when he realised what was happening. “Mum…”

“Is she…?” Tom simply nodded silently. “How far along?”

“Five weeks, nearly six, according to some calculation thing I don’t understand. She’s three weeks but she’s five weeks, whatever that means.”

Diana nodded slightly. “So this is what had you both out of sorts on Christmas Eve? Why Alexianna was so out of sorts.”

 

Tom could not control his smile, “It’s the best Christmas surprise I could ever ask for. I know it is not how it is meant to be done, but…it was a shock, yes, but we talked it over and we are excited about it. It means rethinking a few things, but we want this.” His smile grew.

Diana studied her son’s face. It was clear she was trying to take it all in. “You both want this? Tom nodded. She remained silent for another moment. “And Lily?”

“She doesn’t know yet, she would never be able to contain it. The day we tell her is the day we may as well announce it to the world.” Tom laughed.

Diana gave a fond smile at that. “As long as she is not forgotten in this.” Tom shook his head. For another moment, Diana was silent, watching her son’s joy before she smiled widely herself. “So, when is my fourth grandchild due?”

“September first, we think. The doctors will be able to ascertain more when we get a scan, but that’s the date according to Alexianna’s calculations.”

 

“Two grandchildren in two months, well, I am practically relocating to London now, aren’t I?” Diana laughed. "I knew she looked different. She just looks more radiant."

“You’re not angry?”

 

“Why on earth would I be angry, Thomas?” Diana’s face changed to that of the concerned parent on seeing the genuine worry in Tom’s features.

“We’re not married, we’re not living together, we’re only together a year and a half.”

“Well, you will have to organise moving in together, you need to be there towards the end of the pregnancy and when she comes home from the hospital to help with the baby. Not to mention, Lily will need to be tended to also.” Tom nodded in agreement. “Neither home is big enough.”

“No.”

“That will need sorting.” His mother commented. “Well, this has been a unique situation from even before the start, I am not surprised it continued in that manner.” She cupped his face in her hands. “You never travelled the ‘normal’ road and I would not suspect you to start now.”

Tom chuckled in response. He was about to comment further when Alexianna walked into the room, sensing the peculiar atmosphere immediately. She worried if something was the matter when Diana walked over and embraced her tightly. “She found the vitamins,” Tom explained. “I could hardly deny it.”

Alexianna did not know what to say. It was true, it was not something that could be denied, maybe one of the vitamins, say they were out of the normal ones, or the folic acid, but not both. She looked at Diana to see her reaction. “You’re not mad? We didn't say anything, we didn't want to ruin this for Emma and Jack either, obviously.”

“How could I be mad at such wonderful news? I know it is not the best timing, especially with you and college and that job you want, but very often, life doesn’t give a hoot for our timing. Emma was a complete and utter surprise, one I could never regret. This little one will be so loved. You don’t have to be worried about doing everything by yourself, we are here for you, Darling. Oh, this is very exciting, two in a single summer. Hopefully, it is two of the same, they will be so close.” Diana was overjoyed at the mere thought.

“I said that too.” Tom beamed.

“No, you said something along the lines of we planned that well….there was no planning.” Alexianna corrected.

“Well, life has these funny ways of bringing things to us, even when we don’t realise we need them,” Diana commented. “I suggest you two finish packing. I will make something for you to have before you leave, healthy of course.” With that, she left the room.

For a moment or two, there was silence between the pair. “I think she isn’t actually angry,” Tom commented. “I thought she’d kill me.”

“I think it is something to do with you being thirty-seven years old. You’re sort of in the age bracket for this sort of thing,” Alexianna stated, putting the vitamins back in the bag. “And you're already an incredible father.”

“I didn’t mean for her to see them. I thought we would end up doing the same as Emma and Jack, or something similar.”

“I know, I packed them, after all, but as your mum said, things happen for a reason,” Alexianna rubbed her lower abdomen. “Even when we don’t plan it.”

Chapter Text

Alexianna did not have to wait long for the morning sickness to start, and like with Lily, she did not think the title for such illness to be accurate. The first bout of it started on a Sunday afternoon at just over seven weeks. Tom had just returned from Ace Comicon in Arizona. She thought nothing of it as she prepared dinner for them, herself and Tom planning to decide what date to plan for the initial hospital visit, as they were due to have her first check-up, once Lily went to bed. She was innocently seasoning the salmon Tom had brought for their dinner when the smell of the raw fish turned her stomach completely, forcing her to hold her hand over her mouth and pray she did not vomit as she felt herself gag. Tom quickly removed her from salmon duty. He cooked the fish, but every attempt to get into the kitchen for Alexianna resulted in her gagging again, she settled to hide until the smell was gone, then eat some vegetables.

It was at its worst in the afternoon, though six PM seemed to be when the vomiting liked to begin as opposed to just nausea. Tom commented she seemed best when she woke up and very much suggested she work around that, leading to Alexianna eating the most of her day's intake of food between six in the morning and midday. It left her with a very complex situation at work, she was eating throughout her office hours, much to the notice of her manager, who was less than impressed but could say nothing as she still did her work. She also changed all of her afternoon shifts for morning ones when possible and rarely stayed in work past five, opting instead for coming in an hour earlier to ensure she was not there for the evening time, her most ill times. College was more difficult, but she forced her way through it.

The hospital agreed that her best options were to continue as she was doing as she and Tom explained her situation to her Obstetrician on the first visit. Tom had insisted that for privacy and level of care, there was going to be no discussion on the matter, Alexianna would have the baby in Portland Hospital, the private exclusive hospital in London that Ben and Sophie had their sons in, where anyone of note in London had their child in. Though Alexianna stated that the care she received with Lily was quite good, she agreed that the non-existent queueing times, having the same staff throughout the pregnancy was a settling situation and with Tom being who he was, knowing that it would not be slapped on the front page of the paper by midwife before she even had a chance to tell Daniel or even Emma gave her incredible ease of mind.

The midwife spent over an hour documenting every last detail of Alexianna’s medical history, discussing the notes that had been sent from the hospital she had given birth to Lily in and discussing the issue that had forced her to get a C-section. Tom also was subject to questioning on his own health, hereditary diseases in his family and other such details. It took an age to go through it all, as well as getting blood samples from Alexianna to ensure everything was as it needed to be. Tom was every bit the concerned and supportive partner through it all, asking her if she wanted or needed anything, ensuring she was happy with her surrounds, everything. When the time came to get a scan to see if the heart was beating, Tom was practically vibrating with excitement. He seemed transfixed with the gel going onto Alexianna’s stomach, which, he realised the week before, was already getting an ever so slight rounding at the bottom when she stood before the screen began to show an odd grainy image. The doctor moved the wand of the machine around for a moment before clicking on the image.

“There it is, a little camera shy, but in there, all the same.” She smiled. “I will just make sure we only have one before we can focus a little more on measurements. I know this is uncomfortable on a full bladder, and I am very sorry, but we need to be sure.” She moved the wand around Alexianna’s lower abdomen, pressing slightly as she did. “Okay, we do seem to have just one in there. Give me a moment to do my measurements and we can have a better look then.” She pressed on the orb like dial on the machine a few times, taking the length a few times before bringing the screen around so they could see properly. “This is the baby. It is about nine weeks, four days, as your dates would suggest, so your prediction of the first of September is very much accurate. It is no longer an embryo but a foetus now, as no doubt you have read, and that,” she pointed to the centre of the bean-shaped object on the screen, where there was a peculiar movement every second or so. “Is it’s heart. It’s got a good strong rhythm, so that is great. I will print you a couple of photos for you to take away, I dare say your daughter is excited?” She smiled, having read about Lily in the file.

“She doesn’t know yet, but she will be.” Alexianna knew that when they did tell Lily, she would be lucky if she would be allowed to keep even one of the scan pictures for herself. She looked at Tom, wondering why he had gone so silent only to see him staring at the screen. “Tom?” He did not respond. She leant over and touched his hand, causing him to look at her. “Are you okay?”

“It’s actually a baby.” There was a notable amount of shock to his voice.

Alexianna could only give a small laugh as a response. “What were you expecting?”

“It’s just, it’s so real.”

Alexianna squeezed his hand a little. “Is this only hitting you now?”

Tom half nodded, half shook his head. “How am I...Fuck.”

“It can be like that for father’s sometimes.” The doctor nodded sympathetically. “It is so much more real to a mother, since she is the one ill and feeling the changes happening. The fathers tend to only realise when they see the baby on the screen, or in some cases when they are physically holding them.” She rose from the chair. “I need to get some roll to wipe this gel off you, I won’t be a moment.”

Alexianna nodded slightly and watched the other woman leave before looking worriedly to Tom. “Tom? Are you having doubts?”

 

Tom had gone back to looking at the image on the screen. On hearing her question, his head immediately turned to her again. “What, no. I...are you?”

“No, I am perfectly okay with this now, but you seem to not be. Is everything okay?”

“We made a baby.” He pointed to the screen. “We made a little human being. It’s alive, we made it.”

“I know, I was there.” She joked, she amazed smile on his face told her it was nothing bad that was causing his stunned demeanour. “What else did you think was in there?”

“I just….This is amazing.” His smile grew. "And we get to tell our family and friends soon."

She could only smile in response, elated that Tom was so thrilled with the situation, forcing herself to not allow Jonathan’s reaction into her head. His smile at the news was never as reassuring as Tom’s and she had not felt so sure of how everything would go from one day to the next. With Jonathan, she was always waiting for the man she had married to return, the belittling and horrible man that made her feel worthless, but Tom, he gave no such feeling, and she made sure to remind herself of that. That was something she had been so adamant of doing; reminding herself she had not repeated her past mistakes, Tom was Tom, he was the man she had loved for so long, the boy she trusted so deeply since she was just a child, he was not Jonathan, he never would be. The loving smile on his face, the way he kissed her hand with a loving look in her eyes made her see that, even if her mind sometimes for a brief moment tried to lie to her and say it would be the same, she knew it was wrong. It could be, from time to time. Mr Barrows had told her, our thoughts, as much as they try to convince us otherwise are not always right.

Chapter Text

Alexianna smiled and watched as Tom went to the front door to answer it. She was officially ten weeks, their baby was healthy and doing well according to the hospital, so, with her stomach starting to show ever so slightly, they decided to tell their family, Emma and Jack being first.

Lily was in school. They decided they would tell her after the twenty-week scan, if they could get that far without her noticing. Twenty weeks was an incredibly long time for a young child, thirty was a lifetime at that age, so they did not want to tell her yet.

Truthfully, Alexianna was a little scared to tell Emma, she did not want her friend to feel as though they were taking from her pregnancy. Tom dismissed her worries as nothing but she still fretted. With a gentle hand over their baby, he kissed her and told her it would be fine before the knock came and he answered the door.

When Emma entered, she embraced her friend tightly. “I was starting to feel you were avoiding me.”

“I've had a lot of college and work stuff of late, it's been very hard to juggle everything,” Alexianna explained. It was true, she had been juggling a lot. The job did not work out, the interview process was brutal and she did not get through. She was disappointed but as always, Tom was supportive and she decided, with the baby coming, she would focus on finishing college and having the baby, then apply to more places. “Look at you, you look amazing. How are you feeling?” Alexianna looked to Emma's small baby bump which was bigger than hers. “I'll get everyone some tea.”

“Actually, I’m really good, bar being sick randomly, but it is getting less frequent and the tiredness has stopped, I'm not feeling so bad these days. I'm relieved I am so close to halfway through this. ”

“Lexi finds Liga the best thing to stave off morning sickness, they really work, we've bought about six packets in three days.” Tom made the comment nonchalantly, smiling as though there was nothing of any note about the words he just stated.

Jack's face filled with confusion at the comment, he looked between Tom and Alexianna, noting Tom's grin and Alexianna's attempt to hide her smirk as she made the tea.

Emma spent a moment longer processing his words before looking at her brother who gave her the biggest smirk he could muster before she looked at a coy looking Alexianna. “You're pregnant?”

“Ten weeks,” Alexianna confessed.

Emma barely inhaled before she emitted a high pitched squeal that hurt everyone's ears, including her own. “We are having babies seven weeks apart, are you serious? Please tell me you're not lying. You're actually having a baby as well?” She rushed over and pulled Alexianna to her again. “This is the best news ever. Oh my, God.” She then went to her brother and embraced him. “Congratulations, both of you.”

“Thank you.”

“Wait, did you know this at Christmas?”

“We found out Christmas Eve. Lexi gave me the most incredible gift.” Tom beamed over to her. “This is incredible, for both of the babies to have someone so close in age to them. When Evan and I were kids, because we were the closest in age, we had the best time of all the cousins. Our children will be the same. Lily and Sophia are really close and our kids will be close. If these two are the same gender...they'll be as close.” He hugged his sister. “This is incredible.”

“You're the most excited out if everyone.” Emma laughed. Tom beamed even more proudly. “So, who knows?”

“You and Mum. She found Lexi's vitamins and added that to our shocked behaviour on Christmas Eve.” Tom explained.

“And she's happy?” Emma shook her head and laughed. “What am I saying, of course, she is. This is so incredible. Are you finding out the gender at the scan?”

“We haven't even talked about that yet.” Tom had not even considered it.

“I'm also very suspicious of them. I mean, our son is a daughter.” Alexianna laughed.

“It had two options and was wrong. We won't paint the room pink and drop three thousand on baby clothes,” Jack added. “Congratulations to you both by the way.” He gave Tom a hug then went to Alexianna, eyeing her carefully. “You don't throw up easily, do you?”

“No, I am at my worst in the evening. As Tom said, I am just stuffing myself with Liga and Rusks.” She smiled. “It works for me.” He gave her a hug.

“We can leave these two have an afternoon together when they’re born and we can suffer together.” Tom joked to Jack.

“Translation, you'll go to your mother's.” Alexianna laughed. Tom gave her a hurt look. “No, you are a great father but Lily is older, little babies will be harder.”

“This is hilarious, you'll be giving me advice about being pregnant because you did it before, and a few weeks after that, you will be going through it all again too.”

They spoke and laughed for a while before it came time for Emma to go prepare for work.

“I am so glad you’re not mad. I didn’t want you to think we were trying to take from your pregnancy in any way.” Alexianna confessed as they were getting ready to leave.

Emma, like Tom, knew better than to simply dismiss her concerns, knowing as well as he did that as much as she had grown, Alexianna was prone to odd thoughts on occasion. “What, no. This is amazing.” Her friend dismissed. “I get to be a mum and have a new niece or nephew in one summer.”

“At least this gets you a great excuse not to feel awkward declining to look after our two, you’ll be busy with your own,” Tom commented.

“Mum is going to never be home. Honestly, between these two, and Sophie and Lily, it’s going to be madness.” Emma noted. “God, this is weird. I am having a baby weeks before my best friend growing up has one with my brother...wow. It’s like some weird TV show.” She walked over to Alexianna and hugged her again “So, Liga, you couldn’t have told me that one?”

“I did, you went on about not being a baby, remember?”
*

Tom watched as Ben looked almost lost between his bickering sons. Hal had the audacity to take the crayon Kit had been in no way interested in as he had been playing with blocks, so naturally, on seeing his brother with the crayon, Kit was convinced he was using it and he needed it more than oxygen. “A good day then?” Tom asked.

“I am going insane. If I was asked to go narrate a documentary on paint drying right now, I would ask if they wanted me to do a three part series.” Tom erupted in laughter at the other man’s words. “I am jealous of you some days, just swanning around as you do.”

“I have Lily.”

“She lives with her Mum, you get a break.”

“They will be living with me soon, or me with them, so no break then.”

“You’re moving in together?”

“We are.” Tom nodded.

“Congratulations.” Ben was genuinely happy for Tom. He had been suspicious at first of Alexianna, he did not want someone making a fool of Tom, or wanting to use him to fund them through life. But he saw how Alexianna was. How adamant she was that Tom never feel pressurized to tend to her and her daughter. She made Tom so happy, her and Lily. He truly was happy for them. “What spurred this on then?”

“Well, we want to be settled before the baby comes. It wouldn’t be fair to Alexianna.” He watched as Ben’s eyes widened. “Alexianna and I are having a baby.”

 

“But...you said she didn’t want to have another child?”

“She didn’t, she was shocked when it happened.”

“How did it happen?”

“I doubt I need to tell you how I got my girlfriend pregnant.”

“No, I am not stupid, Tom. You know what I mean,” Ben growled.

“We have no idea.”

“You have to have some. Were you sloppy one evening?”

“No, I always took care of my side of things and Alexianna ensured them on hers.” Ben had no inkling as to what he was talking about. “We used two preventions, both failed.”

“Both...Jesus, I thought we were bad when Sophie got pregnant with Kit, but two contraceptive methods to fail, you can’t even blame one of you.”

“There’s no blame. It happened, we are dealing with it, we are very happy.” Tom's face told of his elated joy at the news.

“Are you?” Tom nodded. “Well, then, congratulations.” Ben got up and embraced his friend. “And give my congratulations to Alexianna too. As long as you two are happy, and Lily of course, then this is wonderful. How are your parents about it?”

“Mum is delighted, over the moon really. Emma is seventeen weeks pregnant, so two grandchildren this summer, so she's very happy with that. Emma's happy because she has her best friend having a baby two months after.”

“Wait, your sister is pregnant too?”

“She announced it Christmas Day,” Tom stated.

“Did Alexianna know this?”

“Apparently she knew they were trying to plan for a baby, why?”

“And you're sure Alexianna didn't want another one?”

“Ben, I only knew she was pregnant because I found the paper pamphlet that goes in the box, she had hidden the box and test from me, she never planned to tell me and just...deal with it in London herself without my knowing.” Ben's eyes widened. In truth, Tom had wanted to discuss Alexianna's previous plan for the baby. “She broke down crying when I asked her what it was, apologising and telling me she'd already researched the closest clinic.”

Seeing that it in some manner was bothering Tom, Ben realised it was true. “What changed? Surely you don't go from not wanting to have any more children to being incredibly excited to have one very quickly?”

“We talked it over, we listed why things were not ideal now and could they possibly be overcome. Her main concern was work and college, but of course, she is entitled to maternity leave and her final exams are in May, so that's doable, it is not easy because she is suffering morning sickness, but doable. She took time to consider everything, I told her I would support her regardless and thankfully, she said she wanted to keep it.”

“You wanted it?”

“Yes.” Ben was startled by that. “Why wouldn’t I? I love Lily, I always stated that I wanted children. I love Alexianna, I agree with her way of choosing to raise children.”

“How are you with it all? Her thinking to go through with the other option?” Ben could still see there was some part of it bothering Tom. Tom said nothing. “Look, it is clearly bothering you, so either say it here to me, where it goes no further or risk it coming out at the wrong time or festering in you. Neither of those is healthy.”

Tom looked at Hal and Kit, who had foregone their previous argument to chase each other with toy cars along the couch nearby. “I just felt so angry.”

“That she would think to do that?”

 

Tom bit his lips together for a moment, worried that if he said the next sentence, would it mean he was a terrible person. “For considering that for our child but having his.” He awaited Ben’s judgement.

For his part, Ben took a moment to consider Tom’s statement before answering. “I understand what you're saying, I do but did you ever consider she considered that then too? That she couldn’t because of the control he had on her.” Ben had been made aware of a lot of the issues Alexianna suffered through in her marriage. “You said he used the pregnancy as a form of control of her. I know she loves that little girl, I have seen how much so and she most certainly would die for her, but I do not think for one minute she would have thought any differently before, the only difference being, this time she was allowed decide for herself if she wanted to continue the pregnancy, with your support regardless, which in turn, unlike what you said about her being miserable when carrying Lily, has meant she is embracing it more and can actually look forward to motherhood this time.” Ben pointed out. Tom’s stared at him silently. “I could be entirely wrong, of course, but on the outside looking in, it seems to be some bit logical that this is in no manner indicative of how she views you as a potential father to her children but rather how she viewed the situation based on her past experience.” Tom nodded pensively. “You never stated how was your father with this information?”

Tom inhaled deeply. “I haven’t told him yet.”

“Is there a reason for that?”

“He is more stern about things than Mum.”

“In what manner?”

“Children should be born into a married home, it’s more stable.” He responded in his father’s Scottish accent. “Irony of ironies, as his marriage did not last.”

“Well, have you planned to ask her?” Tom looked at his friend. “Kit rushed us along, you know that.”

Tom said nothing in return, he merely thought over his friend’s words.

Chapter Text

Alexianna stared at her boss, slightly shocked. “I…”

“I was under the impression you planned on coming on full-time when you completed your degree, not taking time off.”

 

“It wasn’t intentional, but it has happened and my partner and I feel, giving the circumstances, we are prepared to have another child..”

 

“At this stage of your career, that is not the least bit true. You will come across as unreliable and just another mother if you do that.”

 

Alexianna felt slightly upset, not at herself, but at her supervisor for speaking in such a manner, Since she had arrived a year previously, two women had returned from their maternity leave and nothing was said to either of them regarding the matter from what she could see. She simply stated she would submit her hospital dates as they were booked and if they needed proof of her appointments and left the room. She went back to her desk and went about her day’s work.

*

On her return home that evening, she sighed and went about getting the groceries she had brought with her into the kitchen. She barely opened the first bag before pulling out the chocolate Hobnobs and opening them, eating three sandwiched together.

When Tom came down the stairs, having assisted Lily in putting away her clothes, he stared at Alexianna, slightly perplexed as to what she was doing. “Lexi?”

“Leave me alone.” She growled, taking another two and doing the same again.

“Bad day?”

“Supervisor did a whole ‘you’re ruining your career’ thing when I went to tell her I would need time off for maternity appointment. I reported her to the main manager, apparently, I am not the first one she has done this to, so…” She shrugged. Tom came over and gave her a hug. “Daniel rang as well, he is going to be in London next week. He says he has big news.”

“You’re tired. I will cook us something and you can rest a little.”

“How was rehearsals today?”

“Fine. I met the little girl that will play my daughter in it. She is a lovely little thing. Emmabeth.”

“Good, I assume she adores you already?”

“She is warming to me,” He brought her over to the door. “Go up and take a shower. You also need to see your daughter.” He urged.

“I do.” Alexianna nodded. “Did she have a good day?”

“She did. She also had her friend Willow have her mother come over when I collected her and ask if she can bring Lily to their home on Friday. I got her information and address in case there is an issue. I said we would collect her at six or so.” Tom smiled.

Alexianna smiled brightly at his words. “She must be so happy.”

“Go talk to her about it.”

Alexianna nodded and walked up the stairs. She knocked on Lily’s door as she entered. “Hey, Princess.”

“Mummy, I have the bestest news. I am going to Willow’s house. Daddy said yes. I am going on Friday and I cannot wait, only three more sleeps.”

“That’s wonderful, Sweetheart, I am so jealous.” She cuddled her daughter. “I was talking to Uncle Daniel, he and Auntie Anna are coming here next week.”

“This is the bestest day ever.” Lily beamed. “Mummy, is your belly still sick?” Lily studied her mother’s face, noting she did look somewhat ill.

“I am.” She confessed. “I’m afraid I will be a little sick for another little while, but I’m okay, so don’t worry about me.” She smiled reassuringly, thinking of how she would react when she would realise her mother was ill because she was pregnant, Alexianna pulled Lily onto her lap and hugged her.

Lily, not certain of why her mother did it, did not question, she loved her mother’s hugs and cuddled in tight against her. “Mummy…?”

Alexianna smiled and began tickling her daughter, knowing her favourite spots. Lily’s giggles filled the room. When she pleaded with her mother to stop, Alexianna did so immediately, causing her to breathe deep before asking her to do it again, which she did.

When Alexianna looked at the door, she smiled to see Tom there, beaming at her having fun with her daughter. “Can I borrow Mummy to make her lovely pan bread?” He asked once Lily decided she had enough of the tickles again.

As soon as she heard what Tom asked, her eyes went wide. “Can I help?”

“Sure, Love. Come on.” Alexianna righted Lily so that her feet were to the floor again and rose to her own feet. Tom leading the way, holding Lily’s hand as she descended the stairs.

*

It took a lot to force herself to eat that evening, but Alexianna managed it. They sat around the table and said little for a small time before Tom decided to speak. “I think we need to tell Lily about our plan.” Alexianna cocked her head slightly, uncertain as to what he was referencing. “About the house.”

“House?” Lily looked between them. “What house?”

Alexianna nodded. Of late, she and Tom had started to look at houses for sale in the area with three and four bedrooms. They were pricey, but with two children, they knew they needed something bigger than Tom’s old converted studio and the flat they were currently in. He had informed his cousin that they would be looking for a house, but that they would ensure that when they were ready to move out, Tom would organise the letting agent and such, so his cousin sent a document giving Tom legal right to do so, telling him they could take all the time they wished. “We are looking at getting a home big enough for all of us to live together, you, me, and Tom.” She smiled.

Lily looked between them for a moment. “But Tom lives with us all the time, most of the time.”

The adults laughed at her wording. “He does, that is very true, but we think it would be better if we got somewhere a little bigger. What do you think?”

“Will I have to leave my school?”

“No, Princess, we will only be looking at houses that are close to your school,” Tom reassured her.

“Will I have a pretty room?”

“You will.”

“Okay. This time, we need a garden.” Lily continued eating her dinner, completely nonplussed by the idea.

Tom and Alexianna looked at one another for a moment before just shrugging and smiling, “Fair enough.” Tom stated. “I guess we’ve been told.”

“I think we have.” Alexianna smiled for a moment before she frowned slightly, waiting to see if she was ill or if her body was merely adjusting to eating. When she looked at Tom again, he was eyeing her carefully. She gave him a reassuring smile before continuing to eat. Tom studied her for another moment, worried it was something more dangerous than simply morning sickness, something he was now convinced was the worst lie ever made, as Alexianna seemed to simply be ill day and night as she went into her twelfth week. He read a few of the leaflets the hospital gave about when to call them with a suspected emergency, which had him slightly worried, but now, at twelve weeks, the largest worries were over, though they still had to be vigilant.

He continued to pay heed to her as he thought over what Ben had said about getting married. He knew he had to discuss it with her in advance of the baby being born. He did prefer the idea of the baby being born into a married home but he also knew she was terrified of marriage after Jonathan. It had tied her to the man even four years after she had last set eyes on him, she would not recover from that easily. The baby and moving in together were incredibly big steps for her, he was not sure when they would reach too far, he feared even mentioning that would be it.

*

“We need to go to my father’s.” Alexianna looked at Tom curiously as he drove to the address given to them by Willow’s mother. “You’re twelve and a half weeks and my father doesn’t even know yet.”

“Is there a reason for that?” Alexianna knew Tom was closer to his mother yet he still loved his father also. She never really met his father, something she had thought slightly odd, but now, even more so. “Is there a reason I have not met him yet in general?”

Tom sighed. “My father is old school. You know, you go the one path, love, marriage, then babies.”

“So, you think he will disapprove of me and the baby?”

“No, he will be angry at me. He is going to adore you.”

“Then why have you never brought me to meet him?”

 

Tom looked over at her for a moment. “Because when I screwed up in the past, I really screwed up in his eyes and I didn’t want you to see that because I knew when I would introduce you, I would be introducing Lily too.” He explained. “I was too embarrassed, I don’t want our daughter to hear my father repeat some of the things he has said to me about insulting the family name by parading around like a dog at Crufts.”

Alexianna knew which event he was referring to, but said nothing for another moment. “Is it because I’m divorced and have a daughter already?”

“Lexi, my father is divorced with three kids from his first marriage, married to a woman with two kids from her first marriage. With all due respect, Darling, he would not have the right to say a word about your previous marriage or Lily.”

That was a valid point Alexianna could not argue. It would be highly hypocritical for him to but that was not to say he could not be hypocritical. Her own mother was an example of such. “Well, he needs to be told, it would not be nice for him to hear by some other means, especially as we have told your cousin we're moving in together, it wouldn't take much to make the leap to what is actually the situation.”

“He is on my mother’s side, but yes, if Emma were to say about the babies being born so close, it would be horrible to not have told him ourselves. He would have every right to be angry with me. It is one thing if we planned to see him Sunday but Emma or Sarah let it slip the day before, It shows we at least intended to tell him.”

Alexianna nodded in agreement. Sarah, like Diana and Emma, was elated for them, joking to Tom about his comments about ‘maybe in five years’ and saying how life never really listens to our plans. She was delighted to have not one, but both of her younger siblings to be having children in the one summer, while also making jokes about booking a one-way ticket to India so she didn’t have to help with nappy duty.

They got to the address and smiled. They could see Lily and her friend waving at them out the window. “Looks like she is having a good time,” Tom noted.

“She looks disappointed we’re here.” Alexianna laughed.

“Well, we will have to do a return leg to ours, when you’re able.” Tom looked at her. “You’re not going to be sick, are you?” He knew she was not feeling the best, offering to collect Lily alone if she was not feeling up to it.

“No, I want to see how she got on. I am more tired than nauseous today.”

Tom clenched his teeth slightly. He had been severely angered by Alexianna’s floor supervisor for her comments, the company was taking the situation seriously, but in the few days since then, her workload has suspiciously increased and wanting to actually get home at something resembling a normal time, she had to work harder. With his upcoming run in the Pinter, he was concerned about Alexianna becoming overworked, especially as the pregnancy progressed and with most of his days having two shows, he was worried how she would handle that, the pregnancy, Lily, her classes and her studying for her exams. Part of him wished Daniel already knew, just so they could discuss it. He knew Daniel could not simply come down and deal with his sister’s home, nor did Tom want to ask such a thing of him. Alexianna, Lily and the baby were his responsibility, this was his family, he just wanted to be able to talk it over with the other man.

They walked up to the door which was opened and Lily rushed into Tom’s arms. “Hello, Princess, did you have a good day?”

“The bestest. Willow’s mummy had a baby so we have been so good and helping. I told her mummy that Auntie Emma is having a baby and I am going to help so we helped today to practice.”

Tom and Alexianna smiled at that. “That’s wonderful Sweetheart, did you do as you were told and were you quiet when the baby was asleep?” Alexianna asked.

“You can’t be totally quiet, but we didn’t shout,” Lily informed her. “Can Willow come to our house someday?”

“She most certainly can.”

The two girls cheered at that. “Hello, sorry. She was alright for you, was she?” Alexianna smiled at Willow’s father.

“They were great. Lily is so helpful.” He stated.

“I dare say, probably too helpful sometimes.” Tom joked.

“No, genuinely, since Oscar was born, we were worried Willow was feeling left out, having Lily here has been very good and we would love to have her again.”

“Well, I dare say Willow would love a few hours without Oscar sleeping to play, so we will arrange something for about two weeks time with us as Tom is away next week and I’m working every day, but we will sort something,” Alexianna promised. “Are you ready to come home?”

“Fine.” saddened at leaving her friend, Lily drooped slightly in Tom’s arms as they waved goodbye and walked back to the car.

Tom tied her in and watched as Lily looked back at the house sadly. “You’ll see her again on Monday, Lils.”

“I know, I am just sad.”

“Why are you sad, Sweetheart?”

“Willow never wanted Oscar to be borned and I want a brother. It’s not fair.”

“Well, often, things happen for a reason, who knows, maybe in the future, things will be different.” He smiled sadly.

With a sigh, Lily leant back. “I would be the bestest big sister ever, even to a girl. Actually, I would be even better with a girl a’cause I could teach her stuff.”

“We know, Sweetheart. You’d be great.” Her mum reached behind and rubbed her leg in condolence as Tom got into the car, both adults smiling knowingly at one another, wondering how they would break it to Lily when the time came that her dream for a sibling was very much happening.

Chapter Text

Alexianna toyed with her hands and Tom gripped the steering wheel tightly as they drove the road to Oxford, where Tom’s father, Dr James Hiddleston, lived with his second wife, Rosemary.

Both adults were uncertain of what would occur on their arrival. Tom had, of course, called ahead to inform his father they were coming. James was an intelligent man and knew there had to be the reason why his son would introduce his partner and her daughter, after over a year and a half of courtship to him, but curious to meet her, he told his son to come that weekend. That caused the situation they were in, driving the M40 from London to Oxford on Saturday morning.

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Princess?”

“Where are we going?”

“We are actually going to meet someone new.”

“Who?”

“My father.”

“You have a daddy too?”

“Yes, Princess, everyone has a dad.”

“There’s a girl in my class, Tianna, she only has two mommies.”

“Well, yes, some families are different, they have different types of homes, but to make a baby, there has to be a mummy and a daddy,” Alexianna explained. “Sometimes, the man only helps make the baby and nothing else, so he doesn’t get called ‘Daddy’ and that’s okay too.”

“Tianna likes having two mommies.”

“And so she should. As long as they love her and she loves them, then everyone is happy.”

“So, if this is your daddy, and you are my daddy, and your mummy is my nana, does that mean he is my granddaddy?”

Tom clenched his jaw. James never really referenced Lily and Alexianna in his calls to his son. He had no idea how he would react to Lily calling him that. He knew that he had been adamant when he and his sisters were growing up that no other man get the name as their father, but the situation with Jonathan was different from James. He didn’t know how to answer. “I...guess.”

“I have the bestest life ever.” Lily beamed, elated at having acquired another family member.

Tom looked at Alexianna worriedly, but she only tried to give a reassuring smile. When they came to the house, Tom turned off the car and looked at the building with slight apprehension.

“Tom?” He looked over at her. “We need to do this. We should have done it before now. As you said, he can hardly make too much comment.”

Tom nodded. It was true and it was clear that Alexianna was nervous too, but she was brave enough to face the situation whilst he was worried as to how his father would react to the whole thing. “Right, let’s go so.” He opened the car door and went and opened Lily’s door too.

She jumped out and looked around. “I like Nana’s house more.”

“Lily,” Her mother scolded. “Be good.”

“Daddy, why does your daddy live in a different house to your mummy? Is it like with us?”

“Well, my mum and dad used to be married, but they were not very happy like that so my dad went to live in his house and now they are both very happy.”

“Are you not living with Mummy because you are not happy together?”

 

Alexianna and Tom looked at one another, Alexianna in amusement, Tom in startlement. “No, Love, we are very happy together, but we are not married and we are trying to find a nice house now, remember?” Her mother explained.

“I wish you were married.”

“You wish a lot of things, Lily.”

“That’s acause the more I wish, the more one of them has to come true.”

“That becomes a chance of odds more than anything, Lil’s.” Alexianna laughed. “Now, I know I don’t really have to say this, but…”

“I know, be good.” She smiled.

“Good girl.” Tom beamed, taking her hand. He then looked to Alexianna. “Ready?” She nodded causing Tom to look at the door, inhale deeply and knock. It was a moment before anyone answered, and when they did, Tom gave a polite smile. “Hello, Rosemary.”

“Thomas.” She was as polite back. “James said you’d be here today, how are you?” She stood to the side and made room for him to come in. It was only after a second glance, she finally realised he was not alone. “Oh Goodness, hello. Finally, we get to meet you.”

“Hello, I’m Lily.” Lily piped up. “Do you know you have daffodillies growing in your garden?”

Rosemary looked slightly startled at Lily’s forwardness. “Well, you’re not shy, are you?”She laughed. “And yes, I know I have daffodils in my garden.”

“I want daffodillies in our garden, but we need a garden first.” She looked around. “Your cat looks silly.”

“Lily!” Alexianna scolded. “I am so sorry.”

“No, she is right, Rufus does look silly.” The woman turned and pointed to the cat who was shorn down one side and donning a head cone. “He decided to go and eat pebbles for himself if you don’t mind. The vet had to go and try and get them out. Honestly, some animals are far too silly for their own good.”

“Cats shouldn’t eat rocks.” Lily pointed out.

“I told him that too, but he didn’t listen.”

“Yeah, that’s cats for you.” Lily’s tone was equal parts unsurprised and expectant.

Rosemary erupted in laughter as Tom and Alexianna both shook their heads. “Lily,” Tom warned.

“Oh, she is the sharpest thing, isn’t she?” She looked to the very embarrassed Alexianna. “I am Rosemary, by the way. Excuse my lack of manners.”

“Sorry, yes. Rosemary, this is my partner, Alexianna; Lexi, this is my father’s lovely wife, Rosemary.”

“Hi, sorry for my nutter of a daughter.” Alexianna extended her hand only to be slightly startled when Rosemary pulled her into an embrace.

“And you have met Lily, who I can guarantee, you will not forget her, and if you do, she will remind you.” He indicated to Lily, who waved up happily.

“Hello, Sweetheart.”

“Hello.” She then turned to Tom. “Daddy, if this lady is married to your Daddy, is she my Nana too, acause I only have one Nana, and I’m apposed to have two. And if she is married to your Daddy, does that make her your Mummy too?”

Alexianna was so embarrassed, she simply sighed as she recalled the legal reasons as to why it was frowned upon to kill one’s own child, no matter how tempting it could be at a particular time. “Lily.”

Tom merely chuckled. “You know my Mum, as I explained, when I was younger, my Mum and Dad decided they would be happier if they did not live together and then my Dad met Rosemary and they got married and are very happy so we are all some bit related, but my Mum is my Mum and if you were to give Rosemary a title, she would be my Step-Mum, but I prefer to call her Rosemary because in stories, the stepmother tends to be mean and Rosemary is not mean at all.” He explained.

Lily chewed over his words in her mind for a moment, studying Rosemary in the process. “You’re very greedy having two Mummies and a Daddy, that’s not nice, some people don’t get to have that many.” She scolded.

Rosemary once more lost composure and laughed at Lily’s declaration. “She is an incredible child.”

“She can be a bit of a handful, can’t you?” Tom gave her a playful glare.

“I’m precious.” She beamed.

“You’re a nutter.” Her mother shook her head. “I am so sorry.”

“Please, don’t you dare fret, she is an incredibly curious and clearly very happy child.”

 

“Rosemary was a paediatric nurse,” Tom explained before looking at her. “So I am sure you have seen every sort of child over the years.”

“I have, you can tell the smart ones, and she will go places, won’t you, Sweetie?”

“Yep, like the sitting room.” She giggled.

Rosemary just laughed and ushered them into the kitchen, where she put on the kettle. “Your father just went to the library over an hour ago. You know him, he’ll be home in a few minutes.” She explained. “I will have the tea ready.”

They were not long after putting some tea in their cups when the door opened. “Are you actually early for once?” Came a gruffer older voice with more than a slight twang of a Scottish accent to it.

Tom rose to his feet, gave Alexianna a small look of ‘stay here’ and walked out to the hallway. “Hello, Dad.”

James took a moment to look at his son. “Tom. To what do we owe this pleasure?” He eyed his son slightly warily.

“I came to spend time with you, talk with you.”

“Well, that is worrying. I see a car seat in your car, I don’t suppose I will be meeting them today?”

“Actually, they’re here too.”

James eyed his son again. “Now, I am concerned.”

Tom knew his father would be suspicious, which there was some merit to the statement, he was, after all, there to inform his father that his girlfriend was pregnant. “If you rather not meet them…” The glance his father gave answered his statement. “I just need to warn you.” He leant closer his father to keep anyone from hearing, “Lily is very much full on.”

“Lily?”

 

“The little girl.”

As though on cue, there came an admonishing scold from the kitchen. “Daddy, whispering is bold.”

Tom simply hung his head slightly at the irony of the timing.

“Lily.” Came Alexianna’s own admonishment of her daughter in return.

“Daddy?” James gave his son a questioning look before walking into his kitchen. There, at the table, was his wife with a brown-haired woman he had seen in a number of photos with his son by a few papers, and a blonde haired little girl with curls. When she turned to face him, James became startled. “Hello, are you my Daddy’s Daddy?”

James, still startled by both her appearance and her bravery in speaking to someone she has never seen before, took a moment to answer. “Yes?”

“I’m Lily and I’m five and you’re my granddad.”

Rosemary, who was utterly smitten with Lily from her sheer personality, just laughed again. “You’ve been told now, James.”

“Are you Sophia’s granddad too?”

“Yes, I am.”

“And Auntie Emma’s baby, even though it’s still in her belly?”

“Yes.” He nodded.

“Okay then,” she nodded, satisfied with how things made sense to her now. “Auntie Emma says that the baby will be another little while, so we have to be patient.” She went back to the drink Rosemary had given her, having some supplies in the house for when Sophia or her grandchildren came.

James was still slightly startled by how forward Lily was that he looked at the other adults for a moment before focusing on Alexianna. “So, I take it you are the one that taught this lad to read a watch?”

Alexianna laughed at the comment before getting to her feet and extending her hand to him. “I can’t take the credit for that, I think it was Luke who did that.” She replied, causing James to chuckle.

“Dad, this is Alexianna, my partner. Lexi, my dad.”

“About damn time, I was starting to think he was purposely preventing us from meeting.” James took her hand and shook it. “So, why now?”

“We’ll just have some tea and talk for a bit, Dad. You asked to meet them, so I said I would bring them both.”

The talking continued almost seamlessly for a time. James asked a series of questions that were not overly invasive. What Alexianna did for a living, where did she go to school, nothing overly bothersome. After a short time, Lily tugged on her mother’s cardigan, causing Alexianna to lean to the side. “Mummy, I need the bathroom.”

“I’ll show you where it is.” Rosemary rose from the table, Lily and Alexianna following.

As soon as they left the room, Tom prepared for his father’s words.

“Well, it is clear you are very settled, and why.” James began.

“Lily and Lexi are very grounding, it’s hard not to be when there are people that depend on you.”

“Tom, do you know, as part of my learning science, I learnt genetics.”

“I would imagine that it has a factor in your work, yes.”

“So tell me, why does that little girl look so much like you? Are you her father?”

“Biologically, no. I had not seen Lexi in about five years before she was born and about four years after, so there is no way for her to be mine, genetically. In every other manner, yes, I am her father.”

“I told your mother the day we discussed our separating that there was never going to be a situation where I would deem it acceptable for any other man to be called your father, or Dad, you know that?”

“I do.”

“And yet that little girl calls you hers? I know you do not know the sensation, but what about how that makes him feel?”

“He never heard her speak, much less call anyone her ‘Dad’. Her biological father left the day she was born because she was not…” he looked around to make sure Lily was not nearby, not wanting her to ever know why Jonathan left. “Because he wanted a son and had fathered a daughter. Because he is a sack of scum of a human being and was a very abusive man and as such, she will never call him such a prestigious title.”

James processed what Tom was telling him. “So, you took on the role instead?”

“Bar her mother’s brother, her uncle, I am the only father figure that girl has ever known and will ever know.”

“That’s a bold statement to make.”

 

“Yet I make it.”

“You are an intelligent man, Thomas. So much more so than so many in positions of great standing. I hope you make this statement with all of the facts to say you say it with such conviction.” Tom gave his father a look that showed his belief he did. “So, Hampstead Hill, is that not one of the more prestigious London girl schools?”

“One of the finest in Britain. And before you ask, I am not paying for it.”

“You’re not?”

“No, Alexianna’s father is. Alexianna, as she stated, went to school in good schools, to her father, education is everything.”

“Good, I was worried you were an ATM for someone.”

“Our relationship almost ended because I bought Lily twelve pound’s worth of toys. Alexianna does not live off anyone.”

“So, how far along is she?” Tom was startled by his father’s abruptness. “Come now, Thomas. I am not introduced to her for over a year, but I am now. Her cardigan opened slightly enough to see she has those maternity pants on with a giving waist, the same as Emma is currently sporting and Sarah made a statement last week about the busy and exciting summer with babies, yet Emma only stated she was to have only one. It is not complex science, and even if it was, I am a scientist.”

Tom had to chuckle, it was all he could think to do. “Almost thirteen weeks and Lily does not know and we rather keep it that way for now.”

James gave his son a slight nod. “So, how soon is the wedding?”

“Wedding?” Tom shook his head. “We haven’t discussed such things.”

“And when do you plan to start discussing them? She's already starting to show.”

“There's no plans for it,” Tom stated. “It's different these days, Dad. We don't need to get married to have children.”

James seemed ready to counter the statement when Lily's voice chimed through the house. “Auntie Sarah has really curly hair.” He gave his son a look that told him he did not agree with such things and he would speak further on the matter at a later time.

Tom felt himself get annoyed by the conversation direction and tried to alter his demeanour before Lily and Alexianna re-entered. Lily was the first one back into the room, rushing to Tom. “Daddy, did you have silly curly hair too when you were small?”

“I did.” He extended his hand to his now longer hair and showed her how it still kinked. “It still is a little.”

“We're like twins.”

Tom smiled and pulled her closer to him. He turned to see both Rosemary and Alexianna at the door, looking between then two men apprehensively. Tom gave her a reassuring smile but it was clear she was uncertain about things. She did notice the manner in which James looked at her, and more importantly, her stomach. She knew immediately that he knew, though from the manner Tom was looking at her, she doubted he had told his father. She gave a small smile back before sitting again. “Lily, sit over here.”

“No, you keep being sick Mummy, I don’t want to make you more sick.”

“She’s fine.” Tom insisted, keeping his arms securely around Lily so she would not fall, Lily immediately leaning in against him. Tom absentmindedly kissed the side of her head, not even realising it, but James noted it immediately.

“Granddad? James looked at her, more out of habit than anything else. “You need to give out to Rufus more, he is a stubborn cat.”

“Aye, he is that, alright.” James acknowledged.

“My teacher says that when we have pets, we are like them. Since Rosemary is all happy, does that mean you are stubborn like Rufus?” She asked innocently.

Alexianna looked at her daughter in embarrassment, Rosemary stifled a laugh and Tom gave his father a smug look of pride.

James could only chuckle in response. “I can see why Sophia likes you so much.” He nodded. “I am terrible stubborn.”

“Scottish people are very stubborn. Or that is what my Uncle Dan says when Auntie Anna gets bossy. She is Scottish too.” Lily explained.

James simply chuckled again. “Rosemary, I think we better call Fosters.” Rosemary nodded happily. “I think we need to get some early dinner there.” He stated, watching as Lily nodded excitedly. “So, tell me, Lily, what is your favourite part of school?”

Chapter Text

Luke stared blank faced at Tom. “This isn't a hoax?”

“It would be an incredibly tasteless one were it to be,” Tom stated. Luke said nothing in response. “It's hardly the worst thing to have to deal with, surely?”

“No, it's no,” Luke conceded. “It's hardly ideal either, considering you’re not married.”

“It just happened and the circumstances are not ideal, no. I would rather we had been married before something like this, but we're not and this baby is still going to come regardless so here we are. Marriage isn’t the most integral part of life, Luke.”

“So this was not planned?”

“No.”

“She's not forcing this on you, is she?” Tom gave Luke a face that said everything. “I have to ask, Tom.”

“As my publicist or as my friend?”

“As both.”

“No, quite the opposite, I convinced her to keep it,” Tom informed him. Luke's eyes widened. “She had planned to go to a clinic but when I found out, I was able to talk to her about everything, our options and get her to see that we were in a position to keep it. We'll also be moving in together. Obviously, with a baby coming, we need to organise ourselves more.”

Luke licked his teeth as he assessed what Tom was telling him. “I'm not sure what to say if I'm honest. I didn't envision this being how you personally would come to start your family. I had thought you would have gone a more traditional route. That said, I did not think you'd also be a stepfather and I was very much wrong on that account.”

Tom shrugged. “I had all but given up on ever being a father at all. I had not planned on waiting this long but now that it has happened and I could not be happier. The same with Lily.”

“You've seen yourself as her father from the beginning.” Luke acknowledged, having long argued with Tom over getting too attached to Lily too early. “How is she with this? Does she feel she is being pushed out?”

“She doesn't know yet, it's too soon to tell her. The day we tell her is the day the world will know, she will not be able to remain silent. But she is always badgering us for a baby brother or sister, so I cannot see her being upset by this.” Tom beamed. “I cannot wait to tell her.”

Luke nodded slightly. “So, when are you planning to announce this. The norm is circa halfway, if not after?”

“She's thirteen weeks, we don't plan on announcing it at all, per se, but we need to have a statement ready for if we are spotted. Lexi wants to get through as much of the pregnancy as unharassed as possible.”

“Understandable, of course. She is healthy, I assume?”

“They both are,” Tom confirmed, his face showing his elation.

“You really are happy about this?”

“Come September, I will be holding my son or daughter in my arms, a baby that I actually helped to create. I cannot put it into words how happy I am.” Tom explained. “I love Lily with an intensity I never knew existed but this little one is biologically my child, it would not exist had I not helped create it. Lily will always be my Little Princess and if we just have this baby or three more, she'll be my girl and I will never love her any less because I'm not her biological father, but this little one, I have more of a duty to it as I'm the biological father, if that makes sense.”

“I cannot believe you're a father.” Luke chuckled. “Congratulations.” Tom embraced him. “How did your parents take it?”

“Mum is elated, my father is alright with it too but he feels we should get married.”

“You disagree with him?”

“It's not a good time. It'd be too much for her.” Tom stated.

“For Alexianna?” Tom nodded. “Where is she now?”

“College, she has exams coming up so she is doing classes and studying.” He smiled proudly. “She's doing quite well, she should get close to, if not a 1:1.”

“It is a difficult time for her, juggling everything.”

“Made more difficult with a jumped up supervisor pulling out the whole 'how dare you get pregnant here’ on her at work but she is not letting that get her down.”

“Legally, that is not the best idea for that supervisor. She is legally entitled to maternity leave and any bias against her for being pregnant can get the company in trouble.”

“She reported it to the HR department, so we'll see,” Tom stated, less than pleased with how Alexianna was being treated by her superior, knowing that behind it all, it was actually bothering her.

“Good, that will sort it, hopefully.”

Tom nodded. He could only hope.

*

Alexianna looked at the mirror, her stomach was never flat, but she could see how her lower abdomen had grown to facilitate the developing child in her. She turned a few times and looked at herself from different angles to see how much it was showing. If she was honest, it looked more like she had a large takeaway the night before more than anything. Her jeans were no longer fitting without an elastic band to bring the button and its hole somewhere near each other but not closed. She had started getting some slightly bigger clothing to assist her. Emma also being pregnant had its advantages, she got the other woman to buy clothing she needed without her having to be seen to buy it. The pair went to the shops together and what looked like Alexianna merely assisting her clearly pregnant friend with some clothes but instead, Alexianna being able to get the clothes she liked without informing people that she was also expecting, leading to Alexianna having a very varied and nice closet of maternity clothing, something Tom insisted on, since he knew that with Lily, she was forced to wear only what Jonathan permitted, which led to clothes that forced her to hide her ‘unappealing’ condition, something that had affected her view of her previous pregnancy.

“You look so beautiful.” She turned to see Tom looking at her.

“I just look like I gained some weight.” She indicated to her stomach.

“No, stop that.” He chastised. “You have a baby growing in you, our baby.” He walked over and looked at her stomach before placing his hand on it. “Our little one is growing in there, and to grow, you need to grow with it. It’s the most incredible and beautiful thing, Lexi, and you are doing it for our baby, just like you did for Lily and you don’t even see how beautiful it is. You are all the more beautiful as a result.” He knelt down to be looking directly at her stomach. “You need Mummy to grow a little so you can get nice and strong, don’t you? We want you to be as healthy as possible and that means Mummy eating well and resting well and most certainly,” He rose up to full height and looked at Alexianna instead of just her stomach. “We need her to realise that being pregnant is not a terrible and horrible thing and that being pregnant is an amazing ability and when we are holding our baby, when we are so tired we will be considering Pop Tarts a gourmet breakfast for ourselves and Lily because everything else is too much effort and we don’t know which side of the nappy is which, we will see it is worth it.”

Alexianna laughed slightly at his exclamation. “What about when I have backache and I am cantankerous and you still have beautiful women looking at you that are not all stretch marks and leaking breasts?”

Tom could see her concern at such an idea in her face, no matter how she tried to dress it up as a simple joke. “Then, like any of the rare times they have tried their luck before, I will politely decline them, inform them I have a wonderful partner or that I am simply not interested, and come home to my beautiful partner, our daughter and our growing baby and ask her if there is anything I can do to assist her and hopefully alleviate her stresses, and remind her, time and again, that those stretch marks are only because our beautiful baby is growing and the leaking breasts means that it will be here soon and her body is doing everything it can to prepare and there is nothing more amazing in the world than that and I will never not be grateful to her for that.”

“You used a double negative.” Alexianna pointed out.

“I did.” Tom smiled and pulled her to him. “I love you, Lexi, and I cannot tell you how much I love what you are doing for our baby. I know that I work with very attractive women. I am not going to insult your intelligence or them by saying they are not, they tend to have to be in this industry, but them looking as they do does not make you any less beautiful. Them being as they are does not make me forget that I love you, both your beauty and mind. Your body is changing because of what we did together, of love and lust, to create this little creature.”

“It’s a baby, not a puppy,” Alexianna stated plainly.

“I know but can’t you see, I want you. I love you. I know that voice in your head is telling you otherwise, but I do. You, our daughter, our baby. I want the three of you, more than anything in this world and I am not risking you all for something stupid, never.” He pulled her to him and kissed her head. “Never. Losing you now, with our children, I will take a million cantankerous ‘what do you mean we’re out of Hobnobs’ before risking us.” Alexianna smiled at his envisioned argument. “I know it is hard to understand, Lexi, but I love you, with all of my heart and I know you are conditioned not to accept that, but I always will. You have given me a family, my own family and come whatever we face, I will never not love that or you for that.”

“Again with the double negative.” She toyed with his shirt. “I love you too, and I am so scared that this does not work out. I know that if it didn’t, you are not Jonathan, you wouldn’t abandon the baby, or Lily, you will always love them wholeheartedly.” Tom showed his dislike for her thinking of such things as them no longer being together but nodded, elated to see she understood his unfaltering love for Lily as well. “I am just so scared.”

“I know, Darling. I know, so am I. This is so permanent, this little person is going to tie us forever and I know that is daunting, but we love each other, we made it through love and come whatever, we will never stop loving our baby, even as a fully grown adult.” Alexianna shook her head. “So don’t fret. You look beautiful, your body is beautiful and your brother will be here soon.” Alexianna looked apprehensive. “We have to tell him.”

“I know, I just hope he doesn’t get angry or say he is disappointed in me.”

“He would have no right to say such things,” Tom stated. “You are a fully grown woman.”

“I was one when I married Jonathan.”

“You were, and you have learnt so much since then, most of it good, so don’t you fret. You will always learn, you will make more mistakes in life too, but our baby, our family will never be one of them.” He looked at her, longing for her to see the genuine look in his eyes. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Daniel gave his sister a big hug as soon as he saw her. “Al, you are looking a little peaky, are you looking after yourself?” He asked. “I know exams are stressful, but you need to look after yourself too. You always get so stressed at these times.”

“Mummy has been sick this week Uncle Dan, Daddy and me are minding her.” Lily rushed into her uncle’s arms. “I missed you so much.”

“I missed my little Lily-Pad.” He kissed her head, keeping her in his arms as he walked into the kitchen.

“Where is Auntie Anna?” Lily looked at the door as her mother closed it.

“Auntie Anna wasn’t able to come with me this time, Sweetheart.” Lily’s face fell slightly. “She got caught to mind her sister, so she had to stay in Scotland, but she made me promise to video call her.”

“Okay.” Lily accepted his explanation, as saddening as it was for her.

“She wishes she was here, but she can’t help it.” When they walked into the kitchen and saw Tom, Daniel put Lily down and gave the other man a hug too. “Tom, how are you? I hear you’ve been trying to deal with my exam-stressed sister.”

“We have been trying to help her a little, sadly somethings are not an easy fix.”

 

“No, that’s true,” Daniel conceded before Lily stole his attention again. “Now, tell me all about what you have been doing in school, I want to hear everything.”

*

When Lily finally went to bed, after having to get a story from Uncle Daniel and then demanding one off Tom, the adults relaxed more for the evening. While Alexianna cleaned the dishes, Daniel walked into the kitchen to talk with her.

“I’ll take the couch tonight, you and Tom take your room.”

 

“What, no, you’re the guest. Tom will go to his, I’ll take the couch.”

“Al, you look exhausted. You’re juggling college, exams, study and work, as well as Lily, you need to sleep.”

“I’m fine. Honestly. What about you, what’s this news of yours?” Alexianna had been curious as to what her brother wanted to tell her.

Daniel gave a small coy smile. “You’re free tomorrow, right?”

“Yes, you asked me to keep one afternoon free while you’re here. I need to get some study done, but I made sure to use a holiday day from work for you, why?”

“I want you to go shopping with me tomorrow. I need your opinion on something.”

“Sure. What is it? I’m not the best at clothes and that, but I’ll try and help in whatever way I can.”

Daniel chuckled slightly. “It’s not that sort of shopping, Al, it’s more important than that.” He toyed with his hands for a moment. “It’s for an engagement ring, for Anna.”

 

For a moment, Alexianna said nothing, trying to see if her brother was serious. “Really?”He nodded. “Oh, my…” She rushed forward and embraced him tightly. “I am so happy for you both.”

“I haven’t asked her yet. We are going to go to the Peak District in two weeks and I plan to ask her when we get to the top of Mam Tor. remember when we went there as kids?”

 

I loved the Peak District.”

“You should go soon, when Lily is on her school holidays, a few days of fresh air, but don’t forget, we are going away for the May midterm. You, me, Anna and Lily-Pad.”

Alexianna grimaced slightly, having forgotten about her brother’s holiday for them all, worrying about the world seeing her clearly pregnant stomach then. “Right, yeah, I forgot.”

“Have you sent yours and Lily’s passport forms off?” Daniel asked worriedly, as a delay would impede their holiday plans.

“No, I have them. We got it sorted at Christmas.” Alexianna assured him. “Tom stayed on my ass about it.”

“I did what about what?” Tom, having just come down from upstairs, was not aware of the full conversation, he only knew he was taking the blame for something.

“Mine and Lily’s passports.”

“Oh yes. I made sure she sorted those.” Tom smiled. Looking at the elated look on Daniel’s face, Tom looked at Alexianna to see if she had told him their news. “Is there something afoot here?”

“Dan wants me to help him choose an engagement ring to propose to Anna with tomorrow,” Alexianna explained.

Tom beamed. “That is wonderful news. Congratulations.” He embraced Dan. “I am so happy for you both to say you feel this is the right step for you.”

“Yes, it seems right, so I said to myself to stop dallying and just ask,” Dan admitted. “I am nervous as hell about it though.”

“It will be fine, of course, she will say yes,” Alexianna assured him. “I thought you were about to tell me I was getting another niece or nephew.”

“Another?”

“Emma is pregnant,” Tom explained.

“Oh, very good.” Daniel smiled. “No, no kids for us at all.” Alexianna looked curiously at her brother. “Anna doesn’t want to have kids.”

“But....are you okay with that?” Alexianna asked.

“Oh, she said it day one. I was never under any false pretences. She said if I wasn’t okay with it, not to even think to go out with her, she was adamant it is not for her. Adoring sister and aunt, hell yes, any of her own, no way. I knew this from the start and I am okay with it. I get to dote of Lily and you know Anna adores Lily too, we are happier this way.”

“So long as you both agree, then that is all that matters,” Tom stated.

“No, of course. I was just worried you were not on the same page.” Alexianna agreed wholeheartedly.

“Thank you both. So many, Anna’s stepmom included, and don’t get me wrong, she is a lovely woman, I like her a lot, but she cannot see that it is not something Anna wants in life.” Daniel explained.

“Some people see another’s family choices as an attack on their own if they differ from theirs in any way,” Alexianna stated. “I am having something of a similar argument with my supervisor at the moment in work. She seems to think her choice of family situation is above other peoples simply because they differ.”

“She knew you had Lily before you started though.” Dan shook his head. “I don’t get some people, it’s not a competition.” He smiled then. “I bet Lily is excited about her new cousin.”

“Oh, she is already making big plans,” Alexianna confirmed. “She is even asking Emma if she can help with the baby.”

“Bless her. She loves babies. She was telling me about her friend Willow’s little brother.”

“Yes, I think she was harassing the poor little fellow. She is all excited to see him again.” Tom laughed.

“She also mentioned something about a new house with a garden?” Dan looked between them.

“Yes, Tom and I are looking at moving in together. We are looking at homes in this area.”

“Homes around here are damn expensive though,” Dan stated. “I mean, to keep her close to school here, you’re talking serious money.”

“Yes, and we need a three-bed, at least.”

“I am not wanting to pry, but how are you planning to afford that?”

“We don't have much of a choice, this place, or indeed Tom’s aren’t really big enough, anymore,” Alexianna explained.

“There are two adults and a soon-to-be six-year-old little girl, how can you not fit three of you into either of these homes, from what Lily tells me, Tom practically lives here anyway.”

“He does, it’s true, but you see, Lily is not aware of all the facts,” Alexianna explained.

“Which is?”

“Come the late summer, she is getting a brother or sister.” Alexianna felt her pulse pounding in her ears as she waited for her brother to respond.

For a moment, Daniel seemed to be expecting one or both of them to state that it was some form of hoax. “You’re pregnant?” She nodded. “But you said no more.”

 

“I said it, Tom and I very much tried to prevent it, but…” She opened her cardigan to reveal her slight bump. “Life didn’t exactly listen.”

Dan studied her for a moment. “Are you okay with this?”

“I was terrified at first, I mean, truly terrified but Tom and I spoke about everything and we decided together that this was not the life-ending event I had made it out to be in my head and we are very much okay with this.” She hoped the smile she had on her face conveyed her genuine happiness at the situation.

Daniel studied his sister for a moment longer before looking at Tom, who looked slightly coyly back at him. “I don’t know if I am supposed to beat your ass for getting my sister pregnant or cry in relief that this time, the father is not a complete and utter shitbag and is actually deserving of the title?”

“I hope you side with the latter,” Tom stated.

“If you don’t step up…” Daniel swore.

“You know I will, my kids are my world, them, and their mother.”

“There’s only one in there, right?” Daniel pointed at her stomach.

“Only one,” she confirmed.

“Well...it’s a good thing I booked May and not July. When are you due?”

“The first of September.”

Daniel studied his sister’s smile as he brought her in for a hug. “You’re actually excited about this, aren’t you?”

“I am.”

He pulled her close again, “Well then, congratulations.” He kissed the side of her head. “I honestly am happy for you, Al, for all of you. And I cannot tell you how much I am going to enjoy spoiling this one as much as I did Lily. Anna will be elated too, actually…” He pulled out his phone and dialled Anna’s number. When Anna answered, she seemed somewhat confused by his beaming smile. “Anna? Guess who is getting a new niece or nephew?” A moment later, a high pitched squeal sounded through the phone in excitement.

Chapter Text

Tom sighed. The run of plays was something he was long used to. It was nothing new, though the juggling of them now with a family was a new sensation. Being a father and with a baby on the way added a lot more work to his life. Before, he would step back from everything and become something of a recluse, but not now. Alexianna was doing her exams in mere days, she was dealing with the difficulties of pregnancy and Lily needed them to work out her school schedule, so he had to be more selfless. It was a different experience to his previous work, but he made it work as best he could. With looking for a home and hospital appointments too, it was all the more difficult, especially doing it all in secret. They were slowly making their way through the pregnancy without people knowing. The more time they got through without the world focusing on them, the better.

Rubbing his hands over his face, he readied his list of chores to do for the day before continuing on, setting a reminder on his phone to ask Alexianna to get basil on the way home from college to make something for dinner, he went into the radio station, readying for the interview to promote the play.

*

He felt odd, as though someone was staring at him. Which was not odd in itself, he was, of course, acting on stage. It would be odd if people weren’t watching him. But this felt more than that. As though they were watching his every move, it unnerved him. He glanced into the crowd to see if he could see who it was. The red lights of camera phones distracted him slightly. They were too common these days, he wished they would actually respect the show enough to put them down for five minutes. But he scanned the crowd, hoping to see who was causing his mind to pay attention to them more than his work. When he locked eyes with one individual, he was shocked to see that it was not a young woman as he suspected, but an older man. That unsettled him more. Obsessive fans were something everyone seemed to have these days. Generally harmless, though a little eccentric. But an older man, that concerned him. The way he looked at Tom was also unnerving. It was not in awe, or indeed, with any emotion. It was entirely analytical in manner. He could not tell if this was a reviewer, a critic, or someone who simply was unimpressed to have to be there. There was no manner in which to say, but he was uncomfortable because of it nonetheless.

He forced himself to keep acting and hoped that it would cease, but all throughout the play, he felt the man’s eyes on him.

*

When it came time to meet the fans after, Tom felt the presence once more. He looked through the crowd, but with no sign of anyone bar excited fans, he thought to ignore it.

It was only after a time when he turned towards the car so to go home, he realised the man was there again. In the street, with the evening light to assist, he could look at the man better. He was incredibly affluent, going by the Hugo Boss suit he was wearing and the Rolex watch that shone in the sunlight as he waited arms folded by the car. Tom walked forward, watching the man watching him.

When he got to the car and the man folded his arms, watching him, his face as stoic as his stance, Tom had enough. “Can I help you in some manner?” He asked, not as politely as he would usually try to be.

“Do you know who I am?” The man was as well-spoken as his attire would suggest.

For a moment, Tom studied him, trying to place if he knew the man but nothing came to mind. It was when he studied the man closer, something came to him. His eyes were a particular colour blue, very similar to a pair he saw daily. His hairline was similar too, he saw it with considerable frequency, whenever Daniel came to town. “You are Oliver Hughes, Lexi’s father.”

“I am, and it Alexianna, I did not name my daughter that for it to be butchered.”

“Lexi has allowed my sister and I call her that for nigh on twenty-five years. I do so with her consent.” Tom postured slightly. “Perhaps you would know that were you more present in her life. Excuse me.” Tom made to go to his car, fully aware they were in the street and not able to have a private conversation.

“I need to discuss a matter with you.”

“Concerning?”

“Take an educated guess,” Oliver growled. “What topic concerning my daughter and my grandchild could I be referencing.”

Tom clenched his jaw. “Get in.” He did not want anyone to realise it was not the five-year-old the world knew about that the man was referencing, so he opened the car door and watched as the somewhat smug-looking man walked over and into the car. Tom looked around for a moment, feigned a smile to those nearby and got in also.

“Mr Hiddleston?” His driver/security guard Isaac asked worriedly.

“Just drive us around for a time please, Isaac,” Tom requested before looking at Oliver for a moment. “Unless you wish to be brought back to wherever you are staying?”

“I have a home in Sloane that my wife and I use when we are in London. If that suits?”

 

Tom clenched his jaw again. Oliver seemed to be enjoying this. “So, bar threatening to inform the masses of something Lexi and I are actively trying to prevent become public knowledge, what is it you want?”

“To get to know the man that impregnated my daughter, outside of marriage I might add, and to see if he is simply using her and my granddaughter as some form of a publicity stunt.”

“Do you think yourself in a position to make too many comments regarding Alexianna’s life and choices, considering you have not been part of her life since she was eight years old?” Tom questioned. “You didn’t care when it mattered to her when she wanted her father, now you think you can swan in and make statements on her relationship with myself. I will not deny we are grateful for your assistance with Lily’s education, of course, but you hardly think you have right to decide who is fit for your daughter when you do not know her or have not cared for her in so long?”

“You cannot understand.”

“I assume you have looked into me, my background, my family?” Oliver nodded to confirm he had indeed. “Then you know my parents parted ways when I was eleven, yet they did not do as you have done. My father remained an active part of my life and does so to this day.”

“Your father was not married to the human incarnation of the devil himself. If you know Alexianna since she was a child, then you also know Marie.” Oliver countered.

“It did not relieve you of your role as a father.” Tom reminded him.

“I am aware of my failings as a father, I know what I did to Daniel and Alexianna was wrong. I spent a considerable number of years having to deal with the results of my actions. Daniel has forgiven me, I doubt Alexianna ever will, she does not seem inclined to do so, and sadly, I cannot particularly blame her, but that does not stop me wanting to know what is the situation for her, my granddaughter and this new child.”

Tom felt himself become uneasy. Something about Oliver was not sitting well with him. “If you acknowledge Alexianna’s lack of interest, then her, her children and indeed myself are none of your concern.”

“She, in the very few words she shared with me, made it clear my lack of presence affected her choice in a husband. That left a resonating blow with me.” He looked away for a moment, making Tom feel his words may be genuine. “Daniel told me what she endured, the manner in which her husband abused her, though she told me herself the day I met her in Angel, how he…” He inhaled deeply. “I was not there for her, to teach her what to look for in a man, to stop an unworthy one from snaking his way into her life. I learnt from that mistake.”

Tom felt a surge of anger course through him. “You think me similar to that piece of shit?”

“I don’t know, as I don’t know the first thing about you other than what I read online and I do not trust the internet.”

“Well, I can assure you that I am not. If you speak to Daniel, he would confirm such.” Tom felt himself become more uneasy every passing minute. “I am not sure what this is really about, but I have had enough. Alexianna has made it clear; she does not want anything to do with you, she does not want Lily involved with you and I am inclined to hope I never see you again after this conversation. I most certainly will not be calling you from the hospital the day our child is born to inform you.” He growled.

“I am simply trying to right my wrongs.”

“You’re twenty-six years too late.” Tom retorted. “I have held Lexi more times than I care to count because of the things she has been forced to deal with from her therapy sessions as a result of her trying to deal with her horrid mother, her shit of an ex-husband and you, for being pathetic and spineless and not fighting for her and her brother. She spent more time than is healthy since her daughter was born trying to fathom why a parent would forego their child for an easy life. I personally have spent hours dealing with a legal friend of mine to see how I could remain in Lily’s life if Alexianna and I were to part ways because I love her so much. I am not even her biological father and I care more for that little girl than you ever did for your own flesh and blood.”

“I did care, I cared enough to fund her in the finest schools.” Oliver retorted indignantly.

“She did not want private schools and money, she wanted her father. She wanted to know what it was like to have a parent actually care for her, to know a parent’s pride, respect and love instead she got two heartless parents who saw the world as nothing but convenience and money and she has, since the day she became a mother, had to teach herself how to be one and thankfully, Daniel stepped up as a brother, not because you or Marie thought him to be a man, but in spite of you both.” Tom had ceased the pretence of trying to be polite. All he could think of was alexianna and Lily, not to mention his son or daughter.

Oliver could see Tom was not going to be a way to form a bridge with his daughter, instead, he seemed more inclined to be more of a barrier. He sighed and nodded, forced to accept the decision. “Very well. I will only ask one thing of you.” Tom gave him a glare that showed he was listening but his request was not guaranteed to be listened to. “I have a friend who runs a firm, Insight PR, he owns it. Convince Alexianna to go to him, I spoke with him, he will take her so long as she has a 2:1 or better in her degree, after she has the baby. They provide childcare also.”

“We are hiring a full-time nanny,” Tom informed him. “With our work schedules and two children, it is better to have someone they are used to every day, in their own home.”

“Someone for you to dip your finger in?”

Tom felt bile in his mouth. “No, not all of us have your tastes.” He countered. “Don’t try and hold me to your actions.”

“For all my faults, I never cheated on Marie. I know she told the kids I did, but I swear, I did no such thing.”

“Yet, you were the first to accuse me of such?”

“I stated already, my concern now is Alexianna and the fact she has had two men fail her, I am not going to allow you to be the third.”

“You don’t get to make a decision on that. Daniel, saying such I would respect, you...you are no one in this conversation. Alexianna, Lily and our baby are everything to me. I choose them over everything, my projects now are only with them in mind. I will not fail them but I do not need to tell you this or care what you think on the matter, I do not need to entertain you. I remember when Alexianna was younger, I remember her face when she used to hear Emma and I were going to our father’s, her envy and hurt she was not able to have such a luxury. My daughter, my children will never know that feeling because come whatever happens between Lexi and I, I will be there for them, something you never were.” His nostrils flared as he spoke. His anger coming to a crescendo.

What Oliver did next startled him. The man did not retort. He did not rise with Tom’s anger, nor did he challenge him. He simply chuckled, a smug grin on his face. Tom looked at him as though he was mad while Oliver nodded slightly. “You can leave me out at the Euston Square Hotel,” He instructed to the driver, who indicated accordingly. “I am glad you are every bit the man my son told me you are.” His tone was jovial.

Tom stared at him for a moment, entirely bewildered by the situation before he realised something. “You angered me on purpose.”

“Yes, I did,” Oliver confessed.

“Why?”

“Daniel told me you were an honourable man, who cared for my daughter, her daughter and indeed this new child with every fibre of your being. You being an actor had me sceptical of such, I wanted to see how true it was, and I am satisfied that it is indeed true. You have incredible conviction and I respect that.”

The car came to a halt outside the hotel. Tom had not said a word since Oliver’s confession.

Oliver waited for the driver to open the door before looking at Tom. “Look after them, please. Be the father I never was, be the support I never was. I will ready the education costs for this child also. I will not favour one over the other simply because you are more financially capable. It is the least I can do. Please have her apply to Insight, Harold will look after her, the baby will not hinder her advancement so long as she is capable, just do not tell her I had any part in it.” He pleaded before getting out of the car, turning back to look at Tom one last time, nodding in satisfaction as he did so.

When the driver got back into the driver’s seat, he looked in the rearview mirror at Tom. “Everything alright, Mr Hiddleston?”

“Honestly Isaac, I have no fucking idea what just happened.”

“He’s a bit of a fucking headcase.” The other man stated. “I honestly was about to throw him out a few times.”

“I would not have blamed you.” Tom sighed, sitting back in his seat.

“Are you going to tell the Missis?”

“How the Hell would I even start to explain that to her?” Tom asked, genuinely unsure how he could even begin such a conversation.

“I have no idea mate, and with the little one, I am not sure you should stress her with it.”

Tom was inclined to agree.

Chapter Text

Tom entered the apartment to see it in almost complete darkness. It was not the latest he ever returned from a show, but with exams imminent and the pregnancy tiring her, he knew Alexianna was struggling energy-wise, so seeing she had gone to sleep, he remained quiet as he walked through it. Part of him considered just going to his place, but the majority of his belongings were here now.

It was decided that Tom would rent out his home to generate extra income and that he would look into renting or indeed buying something three bedroomed for themselves in the area. Thus far, nothing he felt was suitable caught his eye, but he knew they would have to be ready, so he had moved the majority of his things to the apartment and readied for the move, whenever it would come.

He looked in the fridge and smiled. Of course, Alexianna had something prepared for him, worried he would be hungry after the play. For a brief moment, he recalled her telling him of when Jonathan was working, regardless of how tired she was, she was expected to have a hot freshly cooked meal in front of him when he arrived home, often not informing her of what time that would be. When he had told her not to concern herself with such, she had enough to deal with, she could hardly comprehend what he was saying, her mind told her she had to have something ready, so they compromised, she would cook a meal for him and put it aside to be reheated if he chose.

After eating and cleaning up, he looked at the doorway and considered going to bed. Part of him was still very much thinking over everything Oliver had said and done in the car. It made him incredibly uncomfortable that the other man did what he did, trying to toy with him to see how he would react. He recalled what Alexianna used to say about her father, how she always felt there was an ulterior motive at play, he realised now how true that was.

He shook his head before pausing for a moment and paying attention. Smiling slightly, he looked to the doorway to the hall. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?” A small shadow came around the door, bright blue eyes sparkling at him. He knelt down to Lily’s level. “Now, what has you up?”

“You weren’t here at bedtime.”

“That is because I had to work sadly, I am not here most bedtimes at the moment, Princess.”

“I wish you were here.”

“I wish I was here too, but I have to work sometimes, same as Mum and Uncle Daniel.”

“Being a grown-up is boring.”

“You have no idea.” Tom agreed. “Come on, up to bed. Mum would not be pleased to know you were awake.”

“Will you tell her?”

“If you go to bed now and be a good girl, I won’t have to.” He ushered her up the stairs in front of him, turning off the light in the kitchen as he did so.

He tucked her up in bed, gave her a kiss on the forehead and put her Toothless toy beside her and left the room. He went to the bathroom and readied himself for bed before going into the bedroom and stripping to his boxers and the t-shirt he wore to bed before getting in beside Alexianna, who was fast asleep, her body facing his side of the bed. He watched as she curled up a little as she sensed his body beside hers and inhaled deeply, but she never woke, instead, she just sighed and continued to sleep. He thought about how he did not know if he should tell her about his unexpected and very much unwanted meeting with her father. Seeing her lying next to him, resting peacefully, knowing she was exhausted from the hormones of carrying his son or daughter in her, he knew he could not hide something like that from her. Not only because to do so would risk them and her trust were it ever to be revealed, but because it was simply the right thing to do. He just had to think of how he would do it.

*

He decided the best way to deal with the situation was to remove Lily from it, so he asked Ben if he and Sophie would mind taking Lily for an hour, that he needed to speak with Alexianna about something which was not appropriate for the young girl. Worried, Ben agreed without question, so Tom brought her over to their home and she rushed in to play with the boys.

“Is everything alright?” Ben asked after she did so.

“Between Lexi and I, yes,” Tom answered.

“Is it baby related? Is the baby alright?” Ben asked worriedly. Though Alexianna was passed the most dangerous stage of the pregnancy for miscarriage, there was always a chance of issues developing after.

“No, nothing like that, thankfully, just family issues.”

Ben frowned, knowing that though James was not overly pleased with his son becoming a father outside of marriage, Tom’s family was little to no concern, leaving him to ascertain that it must be someone on Alexianna’s side. “Her ex?”

Tom looked to see if Lily was closeby before answering. “Her father, Lexi’s father.”

“Do I want to know?”

“I have no idea, but I better deal with telling Lexi first. I’ll collect her soon.”

“She’ll be fine here.” Ben placated, closing the door quickly after Tom left to ensure no one got out of the house. A lesson learnt when Hal tried to crawl down the front step one day as Sophie took off her coat.

*

Tom arrived back to the apartment just as Alexianna returned from her study. “Hey, how did today go?”

“Fine, I just need to get about forty hours of sleep before the exams start tomorrow and I may be okay.”

“Tomorrow? I thought it was later in the week?”

“No, timetable change, the first exam is tomorrow.”

“Are you okay with that?”

Well, I am grateful I spent more time on laws as they were the hardest for me, so if I had waited until after the multimedia exam to cram, I’d be in a bad position, but I’m not, so I will be fine. I wish I had more time to study but...where’s Lily?” She looked around the room. “Did she have a playdate today?”

“Yes, she is over at Ben’s with the boys.”

 

She looked at him for a moment. “Is everything alright?”

Tom wondered if he should say anything to Alexianna considering her exams were so close, but he knew what he had to do. “Not really, I need to tell you something. Please, let me say everything before you speak.”

Alexianna looked at him in fear, worrying about what he was about to say, but inhaling deeply, she nodded, rubbing her stomach where their baby was growing fast as she did.

Tom started with the odd sensation he left during the show and went from there. Alexianna did nothing but do as he asked as he went through the signing of autographs, then the man standing beside his car, when she realised who it was, her nostrils flared, but she remained silent. Tom told her everything he could remember, he knew he was forgetting parts, but he told her everything that came to him. When he finished, she simply stayed quiet for a time.

She sighed and ran her hands through her hair. “Is this why Lily is not here?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head slightly. “This is ridiculous, he had no right…”

“I know, Darling, but getting mad isn’t going to help anyone.”

“I am such trash.”

Tom rushed over to her, placing his arms around her, his hand going to her middle. “Cease that talk immediately, you are nothing of the sort.” He kissed her head. “Your parents are both nuts, but you and Daniel are not trash.” Leaning against him, Alexianna snorted. “I am not sure what he is doing, but he is not worth stressing yourself for.” He looked lovingly at her stomach. “Our son or daughter doesn’t need Mummy to get stressed, least of all for him.” He kissed her head, thinking about the one thing he did not say to her, the job that Oliver suggested, that he was not sure how to broach.

Chapter Text

Tom felt a pang, unlike anything he had felt before. He felt as though he had been struck. Lily had accepted him in her life since she first met him, and though there were occasions where she did not like him exacting parental obligations over her, the same as with her mother but the anger never lasted long then. But she was holding onto this, if anything, it was becoming worse, whatever it was.

*

The plan had not been to bring Lily to the show, but Yakov and Sophie got sick so Sarah stayed home as to not risk spreading their bug, least of all to her pregnant sister and her brother’s pregnant partner. So that left a spare ticket, and with Lily having gone to two shows with her school, Emma and Alexianna thought it a good idea to bring Lily with them instead.

She was excellently behaved through the show. Sitting in her seat, remaining quiet and such. She said nothing the whole ninety minutes, she simply sat as she was supposed to. When it ended and everyone rose to their feet and clapped, Aalexianna notice that Lily did so with very mild enthusiasm if any at all. With a slight frown on her face, she turned to look at Emma, who too noticed the odd demeanour Lily was sporting. They looked at each other once more before looking to the stage, where Tom realised they were there, giving them the warmest smile as he did without trying to inform the theatre as to who they were.

Alexianna ushered Lily outside, knowing Tom would be caught by fans for a time to come as he was every evening, so she walked with Emma to the door, Lily’s hand in hers. When they got outside, she looked at her daughter again, slightly confused. “Lil’s? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, Mummy.”

Neither Emma nor Alexianna knew what to say in response. Clearly, something was bothering her, but she could not be forced into saying anything, she would have to say it herself. Alexianna watched with confusion as Lily held herself in against her mother. She had no idea what was bothering her daughter, Lily had been excited at the idea of going to the play, she was excited when she saw Tom’s picture on the posters, and she was excited when she saw Tom on stage, but that had all ended now, she was the epitome of the word morose and neither her mother or aunt could not fathom what had changed in the duration of the play.

For the rest of the evening, between the show and getting Lily to bed, far past her bedtime, Alexianna attempted to get her daughter to confide in her, but to no avail, Lily was in no mood to speak to her regarding her matter, but knowing her daughter was somewhat like herself, she did not push it.

When Tom arrived home for the night, he smiled at Lily as he checked on her before getting ready for bed that night, noting she did not have Toothless in her embrace as she usually did, he instead was on the floor under her bed, alongside Baloo. Not wanting to wake her, he did not go over to put them back to the pride of place by her head as she slept, he simply closed the door and went to the bathroom before going to bed for the night, smiling at the gently light coming out from under the bedroom door as it did on occasion when Alexianna attempted to wait up for him or when she fell asleep reading. Tom was startled when he saw her sitting up and looking at him. “Lexi?”

“You were incredible.” She smiled, putting down the book she had been reading.

Tom stripped to his boxers and got into the bed next to her, pulling her to him and putting his hand on her stomach, loving the fact their baby now caused her stomach to protrude so obviously. “Thank you. I didn’t see Sarah.”

“There’s a tummy bug in hers. She didn’t want to risk Emma or me getting ill, we brought Lily with us.”

“Very wise decision. How is our little one doing?”

“I didn’t feel ill today either, I think my morning sickness is over.” She looked down unamused. “It’s the one that’s already here is the issue.” Tom looked at her in confusion. “Something is up with Lil’s. She was all happy going to the play but coming out she was all quiet and morose.”

Tom frowned slightly. “That’s not like our little girl. Did you try talking to her?”

“Several times.”

He kissed her, rubbing her stomach gently. “I will see if I can get her to talk to me in the morning. For now, you need to rest.” He urged her to put her book down and turn off the light.

“You were incredible.”

“Thank you.” He noticed her turning towards him. Knowing what she was trying to instigate from the manner she moved, causing him to smile slightly.

From previous experiences, Alexianna did not feel comfortable in her pregnancy, nor did she feel sexually attractive, Tom had, through small patient steps, taught her that if anything, her pregnancy caused her to be all the more attractive to him. In doing so, she became ever so slowly more comfortable in herself and had on occasion been the one to instigate intimacy. Proud of her personal growth, Tom smiled and leant closer to kiss her, being mindful of their son or daughter as he did so.

*

Tom realised the next morning that Alexianna’s worries for Lily were not some oddly perceived notion, but an actual concern. Alexianna went for a shower to get ready for work while Tom made breakfast. Lily came down for her food but said nothing to Tom, instead just walking to the table and sitting without a word.

“Good morning Princess, what can I get you for breakfast? Did you sleep well?” He smiled when he turned around from the kettle and noticed her there. Lily didn’t respond. “Lil’s?” She did not seem overly happy for him to call her again and retaliated with an angry glare, startling him further. “Lily?” It was more of confusion than anything when he spoke her name again, but she did not respond.

When Alexianna came down a few minutes later, she sensed the tension and looked to Tom for an explanation, but got none. “Lil’s?”

“I want porridge, Mummy, please.”

Considering her coldness to Tom, he was startled by her new attitude to her mother being in the room. Alexianna did as required and gave her daughter her meal, when she did so, Lily purposedly hugged her mother before glaring at Tom again and eating her food. Both Alexianna and Tom tried to figure out what the issue was but to no avail.

Tom took her to school, but she said nothing to him the entire way, He tried to engage conversation with her a few times, but she merely gave cold one word responses if any at all.

When they got to the school gate, he looked back at her in her car seat. “Lily, what’s wrong, Princess?”

“Nothing.” She sounded more like a stroppy teenager than a five-year-old.

“Lily…”

“Leave me alone, Tom.”

Tom was stunned into silence. Lily had only called him Tom a handful of times in her life, and not once since he and Alexianna had become serious enough to cease trying to get her to stop calling him that. Heartbroken, he said nothing more and got out of the car to let her into the school. He remembered one of the times he was angry at his mother for not letting him do something, at that moment, he told her he wished he lived with his father instead, he remembered her face. He knew after he said it that he hurt his mother incredibly deeply and he regretted it, but this was his karma, he felt as he knew his mother felt that day, twenty-four years later. He also remembered what Diana did and said, so he opened the door and knelt down, blocking Lily’s exit from the car, she did not look at him, but stared at the seat in front of her. “I don’t know why you are feeling angry with me. I cannot think of what I did, but I am here to talk to when you are ready, and I love you so very much, Lily. You’re my little girl and call me Dad, Daddy, Tom, Thomas or even giraffe face, I will still love you, always and forever.” She did not look at him and got off her belt before getting out of the car. He leant down and kissed the top of her head, but she said nothing to him and went into school, not looking back at him. He got into the car and tried to fathom what was happening with her. He texted Alexianna to tell her what was happening, then was forced to do some shopping before going to the Pinter, since he didn’t like Alexianna dragging shopping in her condition, deeply hurt by what was happening.

*

Tom didn’t see Lily for the rest of the day. There was a matinée showing of the play and he was also doing a show that night. When he got home, Alexianna was already asleep. Still, he checked on Lily before going to bed himself, still hurt by everything.

When he woke the next morning, his hand was on Alexianna’s stomach and she was curled in close against him. He felt her hand go over his. “Do you think she knows about the baby and is feeling jealous?”

Tom had thought that too, but it did not explain her coldness to just him and not her mother. “I thought so, but I don’t think so. Could someone have said about me not being her father?”

“Doubt it, we told her all along and it never concerned her.” Alexianna reminded him.

Tom groaned. “I didn’t realise five-year-olds could hold a grudge this long. I thought they got sidetracked and forgot.”

“Not my children. She is always stubborn, this baby is also stubborn, though with you being the father, I am not sure it is all me this time.” Tom huffed slightly. Usually, that would earn a hearty chuckle from him, but with Lily’s behaviour, he was not able to be overly happy with the situation. “She will come around, whatever her problem is.” She rubbed her hand on his arm in comfort.

Tom said nothing more on it.

Being a Saturday and with her exams done, Alexianna was not working; relieved, she decided to try and convince Lily to voice her issues to her. Tom was due for another matinée and with Lily acting as she was, he was wondering if he should spend a day or two elsewhere to see if anything would change.

Alexianna was making porridge and Tom was making coffee when Lily entered the room.

“Hey, Sweetheart.”

“Hi, Mummy.” Lily’s tone was not overly outgoing, but she saluted her mother nonetheless.

“Did you sleep okay?”

“No.”

“Why not?” Lily did not answer. “Lily?” Nothing. “Please answer me.”

“I don’t want to.”

“Is it because of me?” Tom waded into the conversation. He was met with the glare again. “Lily, what have I done?”

Lily remained silent. “Lily, Daddy asked you a question,” alexianna argued. Nothing. “Lily…”

“Lexi…” Tom soothed her before he walked forward toward Lily. “Lily, we all have the right to get angry, and to feel angry but there comes a time when we have to tell people why we are angry and not bottle it up. I want to talk to you again but you have to tell me why you are so cross with me. I need to leave for work later, but I want us to be talking first, please?”

Lily stepped away from the table.

“Lily, sit down,” Alexianna ordered.

“No.”

“Lily…” Her mother’s tone became more of a warning.

“No, I don’t want to eat.” She folded her arms.

“Lily, don’t be rude.” Tom joined Alexianna’s stand and did not allow Lily to think either would give in.

“You’re not allowed boss me, go boss that other girl acause you care more about her and her Mummy than you do me and Mummy. You love her.” Tears welled in Lily’s eyes and she walked over to Alexianna, curling in against her mother for a hug.

At that moment, both Alexianna and Tom paused. “Wait, what other girl? What mother?” Tom asked, baffled.

“In the show. You were all nice to that girl and cuddled her and she called you Daddy when you are not apposed to be her Daddy, you’re apposed to be mine and you kissed that lady that isn’t Mummy. So you are going to leave us and not be my daddy anymore.”

Alexianna looked at Tom, who seemed to feel as though he was after figuring out a great mystery. “Lil’s, you’re wrong.” She knelt down next to her daughter to look her in the eye. “Tom cuddled that girl, yes, and he did give that other woman, a lovely lady named Zawe, a kiss, but not because he loves them or he is her Daddy, but because it is part of the play. They are actors, just like Tom. They don’t want to steal him, Amelia, that girl he was with, she is pretending to be his daughter, she doesn’t want to steal him from you.” Lily eyed Tom warily.

Tom came over and smiled lovingly at her. “Lily?” She glanced at him. “Thank you.” She gave him a confused look. “Thank you for telling us why you were upset. I hope you can see that by telling us, we can explain to you that what you think was not what was happening and that we can fix this.”

“So...you don’t want that other girl?”

“No, Princess. She has a Daddy already, and I don’t want to be her Daddy, I love being yours.”

“So when you kissed that lady…?”

“Before Tom ever went to the show, he told me part of it was to give Zawe a kiss,” Alexianna explained. “I knew about it and Daddy told me.” She put some of Lily’s hair behind her ear. “It is part of acting sometimes, Sweetheart, and Daddy had to pretend to be married to her. It’s all pretend, that is why Auntie Emma and I never got mad.”

“I thought he was being bold,” Lily explained meekly. “And that he didn’t love us anymore.” Her tears fell.

“Oh, Lily.” Tom pulled her to him. “I told you already, my Princess. I will love you forever.” He kissed her head as Lily allowed the emotions she felt as a result of her not understanding the play fully out. Her confusion, her anger at her perceived wrongs by Tom, her despair at the idea of him leaving them in her mind. “I love you, my Little Princess.” He held her, not saying anything as she held onto him. When finally she pulled back, she hiccupped as she took in air between breaths. “Oh, my little girl.” He kissed her temple. “I will show you, no matter what happens in life, Daddy will always be there,”

“I’m sorry I called you Tom, Daddy.”

“You thought I didn’t love you anymore, Princess, I understand you were sad.” He cuddled her close. “But you need to come to me when you have something to say, not pretend I don’t exist. We cannot fix things if we don’t talk, alright?”

“Yes, Daddy.” She curled in against him again. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Lily, never question that.” He kissed her temple again. “I always will.”

“I promise never to call you giraffe face.”

Tom chuckled slightly. “Good, I am not like a giraffe, am I?”

“Not in the face, you’re tall like one though.”

Chapter Text

When Tom received the call from Luke, he was not entirely surprised. Alexianna was showing and with her coming up to twenty weeks gest ation , it was getting more obvious by the day. They were spotted getting groceries on their way back from the park with Lily. What gave it away was Alexianna’s attempts to hide it allowing for her cardigan to become tight against her stomach and show the rounding that was occurring because of the baby within. She and Lily were due to go on holiday soon with Daniel and Anna so they had planned on telling of the child of her impending sibling soon but they planned on it being after the twenty week scan, so with a thanks to Luke for informing him, Tom went about preparing to tell Alexianna in a manner that would not stress her. 

 

He watched a s Alexianna focused on the paperwork in her hand. She was preparing for a presentation at work so she wished to double and triple-check everything to not allow her supervisor the chance to criticise her, something she had been working hard on since she realised her supervisor made clear her disgust at women taking time to have children. 

 

“What’s up?” Alexianna didn’t even look up from her paperwork. 

 

“Luke just rang.”

Alexianna smiled and looked up at him. “I know, you said it was him on the phone before you left to answer it. And what is bothering the good Mr Windsor today?”

“It’s out.” Alexianna looked at him. “Our little one has been spotted.” He put his hand on her stomach. Alexianna’s face filled with concern. “We knew it would happen sooner or later, Lexi. You are almost halfway. They needed to be told before your week away so they won’t bother you too much there.”

“I would be hoping they would not bother us at all.” 

 

Tom sighed at kissed her head. “Unfortunately, that is not likely.”

“I suppose not. This is better, isn’t it?”

 

“It is.” Tom kissed her hand and smiled at her, trying to reassure her, knowing she was worried about how everyone outside their family was reacting to their news. “It will be fine, they will have their little moment, then it will be back to whoever had a messy break-up in the press again.” She nodded slightly. “What will we do about Lily?” She looked up at him.  “We planned to tell her after the next appointment, but she will possibly find out in school now.” 

 

Alexianna sighed. “I guess we better tell her so.” She rubbed her hands over her face. “I hoped we would get to do it how we planned. How will we do it?”

“Pizza and a reveal, I suppose.” 

 

“Do you have the teddy?”

“I do.” 

 

With the confirmation from Tom, Alexianna rose to her feet and sorted her cardigan over her stomach before getting to her feet and going to her phone to make their order as he retrieved the box he had planned to give to Lily the day they told her. He texted his sisters and with a call to his parents also, he informed his family of the world knowing his news. 

 

His mother had little to say, his father, on the other hand, repeated his earlier comments on how he felt his son and his partner should move forward.

 

“Dad…”

“You know you don’t want your child born outside of marriage. You claim you love her, you are happy to take on the role of father to that wonderful little girl, why not make it official?”

“Lexi suffered too greatly the last time.”

“So because she suffered one fool, you think her adverse to the concept forever? Poppycock. Have you even discussed it with her?”

“Dad, not now, please.” Tom sighed, rubbing his hand over his face. “I want that with Lexi, I do, but I am not going to risk this by thrusting it upon her. The baby is due in just over twenty weeks, it would be rushed and look like I only wanted to ask her because of the baby.” 

 

“Your sisters both waited until they were married.”

Tom inhaled deeply. “It was not planned, Dad. Trust me. We didn’t mean for this to happen. Lexi most of all when she just finished college, but it has and it is an incredible and wonderful thing.” 

 

“It would be all the better if you were married. Give that beautiful little girl and this baby a good stable home. Settle down, have her make an honest man of you.” 

 

“I would think I am a fairly honest man, Dad.”

“Well, a more honest man, then.” 

 

“Dad, we are telling Lily tonight because there is a chance she is going to hear it in school tomorrow otherwise, so we are not going to argue this now. I said I would tell you in case you heard it elsewhere.”

“You already told me.”

“You know what I mean, Dad.” Tom couldn’t help but roll his eyes at his father’s dry attempt at a joke. “I better go now. The food will be here in a minute. Bye for now and send our love to Rosemary as well.” 

 

“Righto. I will talk to you soon. I am due a weekend again surely? Now that you aren’t hiding them from me.”

“I was never hiding them from you, Dad.” 

 

“You weren’t rushing to bring them to visit, were you? How many days did you say goodbye to them and drive here alone?”

Tom bit his lips together. There was a truth to his father’s words. He did kiss Alexianna goodbye and head to his father’s alone a number of times in their relationship. He was about to apologise to his father for his actions when an excited giggle caught his attention. “I know, Dad.” A moment later, the giggles were followed by the creator of them as Lily ran into the bedroom, smiling brightly. “Hey, Princess.”

“Mummy said the food will be here in a minute, Daddy.” She informed him. “Are you talking to Granddad?”

 

“I am.”

“I love you, Granddad, but Daddy has to go now.” She called out before walking out the door again. 

 

“Well, she is the greatest little thing.” James, like everyone else, was enamoured by Lily’s personality. “You should do the right thing, Tom and put a ring on her finger. Now, go be a father and stop trying to argue with me.” 

 

Tom shook his head as his father hung up the phone in an attempt to cease his son from trying to dismiss him again. James’ tone was overall jovial, but with Lily’s happy attitude, it would be hard for him not to be. He rose to his feet and turned to the door just as there came a knock on the door. A moment after, Alexianna walked in. “Everything alright?” He asked, noting a peculiar look on her face. 

 

“Good, fine.” She smiled. “Have you got the box?”

“I do, indeed.” He held it up. “Did you tell Daniel?”

 

“I sent a message to both him and Anna, he is at sea, so I thought it best to tell both.” She seemed to ready herself somewhat. “You get her settled on the couch, I’ll get changed, and we will get ready for our evening.” 

 

“You look a little concerned.”

“I am a little worried about her reaction after that little girl in your play. She got so jealous, I hope it’s not the same with us having a baby.”

Tom pulled her to him. “She thought I was discarding her. That is different. With the baby, we will still be a family, just with a new member.” He kissed her. “She will not be cast aside or forgotten. I was thinking already, of bringing her out from time to time, just her. I will do it, you will, then us together. Then, we will do it with our other little one when it gets bigger.”

“Tom?”

“Yes?”

“The scan?”

“What about it, Darling?”

“Are you...you keep calling in that…”

“Well, we don’t know yet what gender it is.”

“But at the scan?”

“You want to find out?” Alexianna shook her head. “Why not?”

“It was wrong last night. I rather not get confused this time.”

Slightly disappointed, Tom nodded. “That is understandable.” He kissed her. “You have to endure the worst of it.”

“I am scared to have to do it again.” Alexianna shook her head. 

 

“I’ll be there.” He assured her. 

 

“I know, you’re not him. I know that.” She gave a small smile. “Things are so different with you. Anything with you is a whole new, better experience for me.” 

 

Tom thought her words peculiar for a woman so verbally capable. He was about to question her more on it when the intercom rang. 

 

“Mummy?” Came Lily’s little voice. 

 

“I better get that.”Alexianna turned around. 

 

“No, you get changed, I’ll grab it.”

“It’s paid for. His tip money is next to the door.” She instructed and closed over the door to get into something comfortable. 

 

When she came downstairs, she was greeted by an excited Lily bouncing up and down. “Pizza is here, Mummy.”

“Well, let’s get started. What are we watching?”

“Wait, Pizza and a movie? This is the bestest day of my life.” Lily rushed into the living room. “Daddy, get Baloo.” 

 

“Oh, God.” Alexianna groaned with a smile at Lily making her demand. When she entered the room, Tom was smiling proudly as he put the DVD into the player. With everything organised, they sat down and watched the movie, eating happily. 

 

When it ended, it was just a half-hour from Lily’s bedtime. Part of Alexianna felt they should have told her earlier in the evening but they had not, so she simply looked to Tom and nodded. 

 

“Did you like that, Lils?” Tom ventured. 

 

“The bestest.” 

 

“Well, we have something more to tell you.” He sat up properly, looking at Alexianna to see what she would say. 

 

“Daddy has a present for you.” She informed her daughter. Lily immediately looked at Tom again, her eyes bright. 

 

Tom got the little box. “Now, you need to protect this, like you do others, okay?”

 

She nodded and looked at him before taking the box. They had ensured it would be easy for her to open, so slowly, she pulled at the ribbons and opened it, frowning for a moment as she looked at the contents. “Another bunny?” 

 

“Yes.” Alexianna nodded. 

 

“But...are you and Daddy getting married? Is this a Daddy bunny for my other bunnies?” Lily asked excitedly. 

 

Both adults were momentarily stunned by her assertion. “No, Daddy and I aren’t getting married,” Alexianna informed her. 

 

“But…I am confused.” Lily confessed. 

 

“Well, look at the bunny, what is different about it?” Tom asked, not wanting another marriage conversation for the evening. 


“It’s not pink like the me bunny, it’s white like my Mummy one,” Lily noted. 

 

“And?” Tom urged. 

 

“It’s smaller. Yeah, it cannot be a Daddy one, it’s the smallest bunny.” She nodded with the strength of her own conviction. 

 

“So, what might that tell you?” Tom continued to get her to think, looking at Alexianna excitedly. 

 

“I...I have no idea.”

“Well, do you know how auntie Emma is having a baby?” Alexianna started.

 

“Is this for my new cousin? I’d need a Sophia bunny teddy then too, acause that’s only fair.” 

 

“No, it’s not for Emma’s baby.” Her mother assured her, she loosened her cardigan slightly while moving forward. 

 

“Mummy, why is your belly big like Auntie Emma’s?” Lily asked as she noted her mother’s stomach was rounder than she was used to seeing. In truth, when they stood side by side, Alexianna’s bump was similar to  Emma’s, however they were carrying, though the latter was further along. 

 

Tom looked to Alexianna, who smiled slightly and seeing his silent plea, nodded, so he took the bunny from her for a moment and looked at it before putting it gently on Alexianna’s bump. “Well, it is a little bigger because it needs to be to help your little brother or sister grow.”

For a moment, the world remained silent, Tom and Alexianna looking silently at one another, worried about how she would take the news. 

 

For her part, Lily took a moment to process their words before she looked at her mother. “I am getting a baby brother or sister?” Alexianna nodded. “But you said I wasn’t allowed?”

“Well, that didn’t go according to plan.” Alexianna smiled before noting Lily wasn’t smiling. Worried about her getting jealous, she looked at her daughter again. “Lily?”

Lily, like on Christmas morning when she noted the Toothless teddy, leant forward and hugged her mother around her stomach and cried. 

 

“Lily?” Hearing her cry terrified Tom who leant forward to rub her back.

“I finally get my own brother or sister.” Her voice was muffled slightly by being in against her mother’s stomach. 

 

Alexianna and Tom both sighed in relief at her joy at the situation. Tom rubbed her back again. “You do, and you are going to be the best big sister in the world, we know you will.”

“I will share my room with them and even my teddies and….and…” She broke down crying even more. “I love you.” She kissed her mother’s stomach. 

 

Tom looked at her happily before looking at her mother and smiling at her as she cried, a large smile on her face. “Hormones?” She nodded as she put her hand over her mouth. 

 

“Daddy?” 

 

“Yes, Princess?”

“We don’t have a bunny for you.”

“Not yet, Sweetheart, no. But we will.”

“When you and Mummy get married.” 

 

Tom didn’t even know how to respond. 

Chapter Text

Alexianna sat on the hospital waiting for the doctor to come back in having gone in search of gel.

“Are you sure you’re okay with not learning the gender?” She checked with Tom as he sat anxiously beside her.

“Lexi, Darling, there is no need for you to fret this much. We will learn if it is a girl or boy the day it is born, please stop fretting.” Tom took her hand in his.

For the last few days, Tom suspected that Alexianna was fretting that he would react the way her ex-husband did on the news of a daughter. He noted how she had kept Lily’s clothes from when she was born and had even brought them from his home to theirs while his home was being leased and they searched for somewhere new but she seemed almost fearful of them, as though she didn’t want to think of the baby being another girl for fear of his reaction. He tried to calm her by excitedly looking at girl’s clothing with her or talking about pink, but she seemed to say nothing on it. He could only show her that the gender was irrelevant to him and wait for her to see he meant it. He knew it may not rest with her fully until she came home from the hospital with the baby and realise he was still there, but he was willing to do that if she needed it.

When the doctor came back and placed the gel on her stomach, they waited.

“I will do the official checks first, then when that is done, we will do the more leisurely check over, is that okay?” The doctor asked. Tom and Alexianna nodded and watched as the doctor went through everything, clicking different areas of the screen and tapping on the computer in front of her as she did. When finally, she looked at them again, she smiled. “So, the baby is growing on the rate we would expect. It is staying on the percentile it was on since your first scan. I cannot tell you if it is male or female, its legs are in the way and the umbilical cord is very much there too, I’m afraid. And here it appears to be trying to suck its thumb.” She pointed to the screen where a little arm seemed to be close to the face.

Tom could barely contain his elation at seeing his son or daughter move around the screen in front of them. It’s movements happening real-time from Alexianna’s stomach which was growing well as a result of a healthy diet for herself and the baby growing well inside her. He smiled as he thought back to the day he came home from rehearsing in the Pinter to see her devising a meal plan to assist herself and their baby get through the nine or so months of the pregnancy they knew of it being there. She was taking the care and the development of their baby incredibly seriously and they were seeing the results of such on the screen in front of them. The little heart beating, the movements of a little arm as it tried to move in its little cocoon. He smiled with watery eyes as he paid attention to it. He looked at Alexianna to see her giving a small smile that seemed to be studying his. He gently took her hand and squeezed it.

“I am due to go away this week for a few days with my brother and his fiancée to France. Am I okay to fly?”

“I cannot see why not. If anything, a few days in the sun and relaxing in the sun may be something of a recommendation before you are too heavily pregnant to go anywhere.” The doctor smiled. “I wish I could do the same.”

Tom smiled at hearing Alexianna was okayed to fly. He knew Lily was excited for her holiday, her new little swimsuit was bought and she was already learning basic French in school and he and Alexianna had taught her a few more phrases to assist her in her time there. If the doctor had not cleared Alexianna to fly, driving to the south of France would have been long and tedious for them all but Daniel had been prepared for such. They would have to message him when they were done to tell him everything could go ahead as planned.

The doctor went through a few different issues with them, including talking to them about booking Alexianna in for a C-section as a result of her health issues as she had done before, telling them to that they would do it for the first of September, the baby’s due date and reciting what to prepare for, though noting that with her previous caesarean, Alexianna was somewhat knowledgeable to the situation.

“Any questions?” Alexianna and Tom shook their heads at the question. “I am sorry I cannot give you anything on the gender, usually they are not so shy at this stage.”

“As long as it is healthy, that is all that matters to us.” Tom smiled. “It’s nice to have something at the end of it all to have as a surprise.”

“Yes, a lot of parents still prefer to wait and have a surprise. It’s a long process and it adds something for a lot of people.” The doctor agreed. “Personally, I love getting to see the joy on parents faces when they are told, be it during the pregnancy or after the birth.” She printed the pictures from the machine for them. “Here are some more ultrasound pictures for you. I hope five is enough.”

“As long as there is one that shows the baby’s head, Lily will be happy.” alexianna smiled taking the pictures. “Oh, she will love this one.” She pointed to the one where the baby had an arm near its face.

“I think it best if we keep that one in a frame, that’s the best one,” Tom stated, loving that particular picture. He knew that Lily would have it tattered and torn in no time from looking at it. In a frame in the living area, they could all appreciate the picture and have the baby as part of the family right away until it was born and they could add pictures of it with them. “This one is good too.” He pointed to the last one on the reel, a picture that showed the nose and everything.

“Perfect,” Alexianna agreed. “We should get a little frame for it too. She may not have it tattered by morning then.”

“Something soft,” Tom added. “You know she will cuddle it.”
Alexianna sighed and nodded. She was only happy that the baby was healthy and everything was as it should be. Through the check-up, everything remained as it should, her bloods were fine from her last one and they did not see how these would be any different.

When they finished, Tom took her hand and brought her to the car before driving them around for a while.

“Why aren’t we heading home?” She asked curiously.

“I want to show you a house Ben recommended.” He explained. “We are going to get lunch, see that, then collect Lil’s from school and go out for dinner.”

“Okay?” Alexianna eyed him carefully, “Can I ask why?”

“Because I am working every day for the rest of the week, including some afternoons and I won’t get to have dinner with you both before you go otherwise,” Tom explained before indicating left and turning into the car park for a very high scale restaurant.

“Tom…”

“Don’t even try and argue.” He stated before getting out of the car and walking to her door, opening it for her before extending his hand out. “I want to treat you before you go.”

“Going to miss me?”

“I don’t know what I am going to do for a week with my girls gone. Coming home after the show to no one in the house, Lily’s room tidy with no little girl in a sea of teddies. Getting up to you having a coffee ready for me in the morning, alone, no love for a week.” He pulled her to him and kissed her. “But I am so glad you are getting to have time with Daniel and Anna too. With the baby coming, you need a few days of relaxing and being treated and I feel terrible that I have not been the one to bring you away, first to celebrate you getting your degree and secondly to give you time to relax this summer before the baby comes. Maybe after the show ends, we can go away for a few days, the three of us, nowhere far, maybe the Isle of Wight again and just relax before this little one gets here.”

“Perhaps, that sounds nice.” To be honest, to her, it did. No major stress, just a beach and Tom playing with Lily while she sat down and watched sounded idyllic to her.

Tom made mention of saying something to Ben to see if they could as they entered the restaurant.

The meal was pleasant, both of them talking through it.

“So what will you do with your limited time off?” Alexianna inquired.

“Keep our home clean and food ready for your return.”

“So what about this house we are going to see, what’s it like?”

“Neat, not too big, it has a garden, not enormous, but enough to sate a young lady’s want for a few flowers. Then there is three bedrooms and an office which could be converted if this little one is a boy so that Mum can stay when she visits, or Daniel and Anna. Living room, kitchen and laundry room, the office, I forgot to mention, is downstairs. Our room would be ensuite and there is room enough for a nice sied bed and the cot we were looking at, speaking of which, Ben mentioned this co-sleeper thing that Sophie had, it allowed her to have the boys next to her at night, they swore by it.”

“I get worried it would fall between its cot and the bed.” She confessed. “I feel stupid for having gotten rid of Lily’s now. I never thought I would do this again. Then again, I never thought I would allow myself in a position to be with someone to get pregnant either.” She almost laughed at it. “It’s odd, two years ago I signed myself off to never getting to experience these things at all. With Jonathan, it was all so negative. There was never love, respect or affection. I was merely grateful to not be seen as ugly...I sold myself short and I paid heavily for it. I never thought this could happen. To have my degree, a job, Lily, then this, us, the baby.” Tom smiled at how she smiled and looked down lovingly at her stomach. “It is sometimes hard to believe that this is real, that I have gone from having such a miserable outlook on what I deserved in life to this.”

“I am so grateful I recognised you that day in the coffee shop.” Tom smiled. “My life altered exponentially for the better every day since. You, the most supportive, loving woman who is respectful of my career and what it entails when so many would feel to make demands like for me to take higher-paying roles as opposed to the ones I prefer. Our time together is so fulfilling and engaging, I hate that I am missing nights with you at the moment and that our day’s conversations have to be condensed so much. You have given me a daughter I love beyond anything I thought possible, and this baby, the baby we made...my life is incredible now because of you. I thought I had ruined any chance I had at happiness with my decisions and you came in, timid and broken and through sheer resilience and perseverance became an even more incredible version of you than I remember from our youth. You pulled yourself back from everything he did to you and I cannot express how amazing it is to see how hard you have worked to become this woman. You decided you needed to see Barrows, you chose to do that. You chose to no longer be his victim and to bring yourself back for you, and for Lily.” He took her hand. “And now I get the honour of knowing this incredible woman again. To witness your changing from what he turned you into back into this incredible person and for you to allow me in after what he did, I cannot express my gratitude enough. Then this, our home, our family…” He felt his throat go tight. “I can never thank you enough for this. I used to think, in the beginning, how I wish I had been brave enough to tell you how I felt all those years ago, but now, I see the reason I didn’t was to bring us to this, to our family now.”

“Lily would not be this Lily if it wasn’t for everything.” Alexianna pointed out. “Some nights, when I wished that I had never met him, I felt guilty immediately after because I would not have Lily and though there are days I wish I could strangle her when she is strong-willed and arguing with me, I would never change her and that means acknowledging that I cannot change that too. The accident, him, but if they never happened, I would not have come out of my degree, I wouldn’t have been in the coffee shop that day to meet you and I would not have my children.”

Tom chuckled at her ‘strangling’ comment, knowing full well she would never lay a hand on her daughter but that she did, on occasion, like all parents, struggle with having a strong-willed child. “No, everything happens for a reason. I wish you never had to endure that, but seeing you now, smiling, pregnant with our little boy or girl, our other entirely insane child in school no doubt telling them all about how you are going to the doctor today and on your holidays for midterm, I know we would not be in this position but for it. You stated before that you never wished to endure relationship again, yet here we are. You stated you never wished to have another child…”

“Yet here we are.” Alexianna ensured to answer with a smile. “Things change, Tom. I didn’t think that then, but then I didn’t think I would ever have someone that could change my mind on that front, yet here we are. And everything I ever thought has gone out the window. I can only say that everything I ever said I would never do again is discarded and will be reconsidered properly on a case to case basis.”

“Surely you have some things you would never consider again?”

“Well, of course. I will never allow myself to be treated as Jonathan treated me again, but everything else is up for discussion.” She smiled almost knowingly as she spoke.