[takes place in August of 2015, a week after the boys start unpacking in their new lake house]
The house on Shawnigan Lake mostly unpacked, Luke feels comfortable with taking a day to go shopping for the nursery. He has a list of nine stores in Victoria, the measurements for the room, floorplans, photos on his phone, paint chips and a list of recommended items. The forty-five minute drive is actually pure bliss, the traffic nothing like Los Angeles or London and the scenery around them is lush and green, at least until they hit Victoria proper, and even then it's all so pretty. "We have to come down to the waterfront at some point," he tells Alex. "There's a whole path that runs along it and you can bike or walk it. It's supposed to be really beautiful."
Alex grins, his glance flicking to his phone and the satellite map, then back to the road. "What about our waterfront?" he asks. "It's really beautiful. Private, too."
"I know, but this is different. There's little shops and fish and chip stands," Luke points out. "And you can't bike along our waterfront."
Alex tilts his head in acknowledgement of the point. A few more minutes pass in the same easy peace. Then, "Are we shopping only for the lake house today? Or also the Butterfly House? Or do you want to go shopping for the other nursery when we're actually in Carmel?"
"Let's do the other nursery there," Luke says, secretly horrified at the thought of trying to do two nurseries right now. "We still have time."
"Yeah, plenty of time," Alex agrees, glancing at his lover. "I like shopping locally, anyway. I feel like it's good to put money into the community where we'll be living, you know?" Reaching over, he caresses Luke's cheek. "Do you have that long-ass list you were talking about?"
"Yup. And paint chips and measurements and photos," Luke sighs, leaning into the touch. "This is crazy," he says softly. "We're going to be parents. I'm so happy but I'm also utterly terrified."
"I'm pretty certain that means you're sane, älskling," Alex murmurs, and sure enough there's a curl of uneasiness in his own gut anytime they talk real details, real plans for when the babies arrive. "And we can get through being terrified together. We'll be twice as powerful. That's got to, like, cut the fear burden in half, right?" He frowns. "Except that there are two of them, so that means... You know what? Fuck math."
Luke laughs. "I love you," he says, placing a hand on Alex's thigh. "You know that, right?"
"I am thankful for that every single day." Alex shoots his lover a grin, then does a double-take at the happiness in Luke's eyes. "Now don't make me pull this car over."
Luke laughs again. "You have to," he says, pointing ahead of them. "That's the store. Hip Baby."
Alex just stares at the huge sign with its cheerfully-painted dancing script. "That's not what it's called," he says, his words a flat statement. But he adds in a weaker tone, "Tell me our children don't shop at stores named Hip Baby."
"Nope, they don't," Luke says, struggling not to laugh. "But we do."
"Oh, god," Alex sighs, climbing out of their rental. He circles around to the front of the car, waiting for his husband to join him. "Luke, I could've sworn we talked about this. Didn't we promise each other that, even though our kids are inevitably going to be spoiled, we're going to do our best to make sure that they don't get all bourgeois?" He links his fingers with Luke's. "I feel like we have to go shop at a secondhand store just to make a point."
"Secondhand stuff might not be safe though," Luke points out, smiling up at Alex. "Safety codes change, recalls happen, lead paint... I want new."
"You can have new stuff," Alex mutters, "of course you can have new. I just– It's just that– Hip Baby," he grumbles under his breath, but surrenders and decides to let Luke do the talking for both of them when an overly smiley (to him, anyway) sales clerk approaches.
"Good morning, welcome!" A petite blonde woman greets them. "Welcome to Hip Baby, your best choice in all of Victoria for fashion-forward, eco-centric, safe and fun baby gear! May I help you find anything in particular? Or maybe you have a theme we can have some fun with?"
Luke's slightly taken aback but he goes with it. "We're just starting out. We're expecting twins - a boy and a girl - and we need everything. We're focusing on the nursery but we also need a stroller and carseats."
"Oh my god, congratulations! That is so exciting!" the clerk exclaims, and Alex could almost swear he can see the beams of sunshine blasting out of her ass. "So then you're just going to need two of everything!" She flashes the both of them a dazzling smile of all 45 perfectly-matched white teeth, but obviously narrows her focus on Luke... Of which Alex approves. Because he sure isn't sending her any welcoming vibes. "I'm Natalia, I'm one of the owners. Let's start right over here!" she says, all but towing Luke with her. "Are you going with one nursery or two? Will it be adjacent to your bedroom? Or how far away? Same floor?" She drags him to a large labyrinthine display of cribs, polished wood in all different types and styles. "Do you plan on using a nanny? A night nanny? Are you hiring a wet nurse? Have you contacted La Leche yet?" Natalia pauses briefly like a hummingbird mid-hover. "We do, of course, have the Kangaroo t-shirt in stock in several men's sizes as well as colors. We also have the NuRoo, the K'tan, the SleepBelt, and the Lalabu. That's if your surrogate agrees to express, of course." She looks at Luke expectantly.
"I don't know what she's doing," Luke says, looking at Alex in alarm. He thought he had everything worked out but apparently not. "One nursery. Next to our bedroom. It's huge." He shows her the pictures and the floorplan. "We want to put a crib here and one on the opposite wall, change tables in between, gliders in the front area..."
"Okay." She smiles and nods and fortunately – for her – stops talking about nannies and marsupials and genuine what-the-actual-fuck else, because when someone manages to put that kind of distress in Luke's eyes, then Alex is done playing. She peeks at the pics Luke has collected. "We do have this style of crib, which grows with your baby. The mattress drops when your baby can sit and then also once it can stand. The crib converts into a toddler bed and then into a daybed to be nursery furniture. And you have such a variety of styles and palettes to choose from, we can fit any theme. We also have the more classic heritage style, as well as bassinets and cradles."
"No, I think that sounds good," Luke says, relieved that they've moved on. "I like the idea of something that can be converted, rather than having to buy new furniture at each stage." He runs his hand over a nearby crib. "Is this one convertible?"
"Oh, absolutely! With the Carino collection, you can even convert the crib to a full bed, so it's such a good investment. And of course there's the coordinating changing table, the five-drawer bureau, the double dresser, all with the same clean classic lines and inset picture-frame styling..."
Natalia appears to be buoyed by the swell of her own enthusiasm, and Alex steals a moment to murmur to his lover, "I think we've just been abducted. Maybe we should've arranged for a safe call." He snugs Luke in for a quick hug.
Luke laughs and then quickly schools his features, flashing her a huge smile. "I like the espresso," he says to his husband. "What do you think?"
Alex nods. "The espresso would be amazing in the nursery, with those gigantic south-facing windows on the lake," he agrees, picturing it, mentally spacing the various pieces of furniture throughout the large room. "But if you want this kind of style in Carmel, I'd want a much lighter finish, or it'll feel like the walls are closing in." He has already martyred himself to the pain when it comes to their so-called "media room" in the Butterfly House; he absolutely refuses to feel claustrophobic when they'll be snuggling their babies to sleep in the nursery.
"I don't think we'd have the room for two doubles," Luke says. "I'd rather go with regular cribs for there. And bunk beds later on. That place on main street has some reclaimed wood ones that are so beautiful." He glances at the saleswoman. "Sorry. We're shopping for our place here, but we also have a second house in Carmel. We want to shop locally for that as well though."
"Bunk beds?" Alex mutters, trying to picture all the launch attempts and banged foreheads which will surely ensue. Fuck, he is definitely not ready for this. "What about gliders?" he prompts Natalia. "Can we test-drive some nice, safe, low-injury gliders?" He's breathing just a little faster now.
She smiles and chatter-leads to a nearby section, onto a raised dais and straight to a misty gray chair with coordinating cushions. "Just sit back," she guides Alex, "that's it, and stretch out your legs, no, don't try to fit the chair, the ottoman will come to you." Continuing to get Alex settled, she twinkles at Luke. "All you tall fathers are the same, it's like you think you have to be baby-sized just because it's a nursery. But we're proud of our actively engaged fathers, here! We want the furniture to make you feel at home."
"That's great," Luke says, struggling to keep a straight face as he listens to her and watches his husband get settled. "Is it comfortable?" he asks Alex.
"Ohhh, my god," Alex moans softly, in a tone of voice usually reserved for hot baths wrapped around his naked boy. He shuts his eyes and sinks into the upholstery. "Why don't they just make these things for babies? Sleep problems: solved."
Luke laughs. "I guess we'll take two of those," he tells the saleswoman. "And two of the crib in the espresso, along with two of the dressers and the change stations." He doesn't even bother asking the price.
"Wonderful!" If it's possible, Natalia's smile brightens even further. "We have a marvelous financing special right now, 0 interest for the first 12 months–"
"No financing," Alex interrupts, and launches himself back onto his feet with great strength of will. "Luke, should we just wait and buy the infant carseats in Sweden? Since there's no telling how long we'll be there." Maybe it's impractical, but they still don't really speak of it: the very real possibility that the babies might come dangerously early and need some serious time in the newborn ICU.
"We can't use foreign carseats here," Luke says, having read up on the matter. "But we can wait on buying them until we're sure what weights the babies'll be." He smiles at the saleswoman again. "Just those items for today," he tells her. "I'm sure we'll be back."
Alex slips his arm around his husband's waist. "If you could just put all that together, we're gonna browse some," he tells Natalia, and turns away from the furniture to pick an aisle at random. "What about toys?" he asks Luke. "Like, those play-mats you showed me pictures of, or the mobiles, you know, just stuff to look at and reach for while they're still stuck flat on their backs?"
"I want to look in the next place," Luke says with a grin. He's not a huge shopper at all, but having a reason to shop? Then he can get into it. "Scallywags." Watching Alex for his reaction.
"Scallywags," Alex mutters. At least it's a better name than Hip Baby, but still... They're soon back out in the sunshine and he's slipping the purchase order for all the new baby furniture into the glovebox. "Isn't Scallywags some kind of pirate thing?"
Luke laughs. "I don't know. I thought it just meant a rascal or an imp," he says, smiling at his husband. "There's one called Pollywogs. We could go there instead."
Alex raises an eyebrow. "English has the weirdest fucking words. I'm not even going to ask," he says, but there's no way he can stay stone-faced with his lover sparkling at him like that. He hooks a finger into Luke's belt loop and tugs him a little closer. "Are we really ready for this?"
"Not in the slightest," Luke says, his grin widening. "But I think that's the rule of parenting. No one ever is."
"Oh, so there are rules for this thing? I feel safer already," Alex says, kissing his husband.
"We're lulling you into a false sense of security," Luke murmurs, wrapping his arms around Alex's neck for moment and kissing him back. Not caring who sees them.
Alex grins and completes the embrace, just barely managing to keep his hands above Luke's ass. "Do you think we can be responsible parents and still grope each other in public?" Alex used to loathe PDA, simply on principle; now it usually feels like a gleeful "fuck you" to the world.
"Definitely." Luke grins back and kisses Alex again for good measure. "But not in the baby stores so you'll have to get your fill now."
"No, no. You didn't just challenge me," Alex retorts in a tone of disbelief. "My fill tends to be an awful lot, and you know that," he says with a snicker.
Luke laughs. "It's baby shopping day," he says, but he's delighted they still have this level of desire and passion between them after this much time together. "You have to behave."
"You behave," Alex mutters like it's some snappy comeback, and digs his keys out of his pocket. "Get in the car before you earn yourself a spanking."
Luke laughs but he gets in the car. "There's something we haven't talked about," he says as he does up his seatbelt. "How do you feel about spanking when it comes to the kids?"
"What?" Alex is so horrified by the question that he actually kills the engine before it's half-gunned. He snaps his head around to stare at Luke. "Why the fuck would we–? Oh." He relaxes back into the seat. "Okay, I see. No. Spankings are for you, only." This time there's a touch of unfamiliar anxiety in his eyes when he looks to his husband. "Should we really be sorting out all that now, already? Like, whether we plan to, like, put them in time-outs or whatever?"
"I don't think we need to hammer it out completely," Luke says, wondering for a moment what his husband had thought he meant. "We'll probably change our minds as we go anyway, but it doesn't hurt to talk about things as they come out, try and figure out whether we're on the same page."
"Okay." That certainly sounds reasonable, even if Alex isn't quite sure he can wrap his head around it all just yet. Just so long as he gets there eventually. "Well... What kind of discipline techniques have you learned about that you think are effective with little kids? And don't, like, scar them for life. Because I'm really fucking against hitting in anger. I wouldn't ever do that to you, either, and you're capable of giving me a fair fight. It's just a completely fucked-up abuse of power."
Luke nods as they head for the next store. "I have absolutely no interest in hitting our kids. I honestly believe you can discipline without resorting to violence. I don't think it teaches them anything. I think we should try and not say no unless we really mean it, so when we do say it, they know it's important, instead of being those parents who are all 'no, Johnny, don't touch that, Johnny, no, no, Johnny'," he mimics, rolling his eyes. "If I was Johnny, I wouldn't listen either."
Alex grins and snickers under his breath as they walk into the shop and are immediately assaulted by soft lullaby music and an overwhelming scent of... baby oil? Lavender? Something. "No, Luke. Don't touch that," he murmurs, keeping the words just between them. "No, Luke, don't. No, Luke," his eyes widen and he pulls up short at a display that looks like nothing so much as a veritable explosion of pink ribbons and ruffles. "No, Luke," he repeats, but his tone now is deadly serious. "Don't touch that."
Grinning and trying not to laugh, Luke reaches out and pokes the display on purpose. "Any idea what it is?"
"Do you have a death wish?" Alex hisses. "What if, like, it fucking attacks or something?" He is sure he's never seen so many tutus in his life. It's like a teeny-tiny ballerina commando squad, and he is appropriately terrified.
Luke can't help but be amused at Alex's reaction. He also can't help pushing just a little more. "Oh, look," he says, picking up a wide headband with a huge flower on it. "It's so cute! Oh, and look at the tights!" Which look like lace-up ballet slippers. Truth be told none of it's his style, but Alex doesn't need to know that. Not yet anyway.
Alex raises his hand as if to make a point, but then he just gestures vaguely with it. Helpless. "Luke, all those snaps on the onesie-whatchamacallit things, it's so hard to tell which end of the clothes is which just to start with... Can't we just dress them like little matching footie teammates?" he asks, looking at his husband in hope. "I mean, it's not like anyone really can tell if they're boys or girls just by looking at them, at first."
"No, we can't," Luke says, shaking his head and trying not to laugh. "But we don't have to go this far either." He puts the headband and tights back and takes Alex's hand, grateful the salespeople seem to be busy with other customers at the moment. "I don't think we have to worry about clothes though. Elin says we'll end up with more than we'll need at the baby showers."
"Oh." Alex shuts his mouth and glances back over his shoulder as Luke leads him away. "Wait, does that mean we'll be dressing our babies however Elin's friends want to dress them? Whoa whoa whoa, this is potentially serious shit, Luke." He grimaces. "Some of her friends are kinda freaky."
"Michelle's having one for us too. She'll balance Elin out," Luke teases, pulling Alex deeper into the store, towards the pack n' plays and the activity mats.
"Oh." Alex considers that. "Michelle dresses a lot like I do, actually, so that might be okay. Yes, these!" he says, crouching down next to the play space. "This is exactly what I was talking about," he adds, tugging on a plush star, which bounces back with a rattling sound. "The thing that babies lie on their backs and look up at. But wait, that Natalia chick was scary but she was right about themes. What do you like? Safari, ocean, woodland?"
"Not safari," Luke answers quickly, staring at Alex who is now lying down on the floor, his head and shoulders on the play mat, looking up at the toys. He surreptitiously snaps a photo and then a second one. "Maybe woodland? And ocean for the Butterfly House?"
"Aww, that's a cute idea," Alex replies with a grin, now batting at a small mirror, cushioned and dressed up like a jellyfish. "To– what's that word? Like, acclimate them to their environment. Oh, hey." He leans up on his elbows. "Do you think we need to get two of everything? Like, every single toy, we need two? How old should they be before we expect them to learn about sharing?"
"I don't think so," Luke says, hoping not. "If they both really like something or they might need to use it at the same time, then probably, but I'm not having either of our houses completely taken over by baby stuff." Not if he can help it.
"Yeah, especially the Butterfly House," Alex says in wry agreement. "I mean, if I can't have my toys, I don't see why they should get a ton," he explains, thinking ruefully of his erstwhile media room once more. He sits up. "So, okay. This one for here, and this one for there? What's next on our list?"
"Pack n' plays, or at least one, bouncy chairs and a swing," Luke says, reading from his list.
"Pack n' plays... Those are for them to sleep in when we travel, right?" And damn it, this is the reason Alex just smiled and nodded the first time Luke walked him through the mile-long nursery shopping list: the details overwhelm him nearly to the point of panic. "Like, just baby beds in hotel rooms?"
"And when we're visiting with people or outside at the house," Luke nods. "We can probably get away with one. They can sleep together. There's one made for twins that comes with two bassinets but I read really mixed reviews on it."
"Okay." Finally Alex gets back to his feet, and he slips an arm around Luke's waist. "Truth? All this stuff kind of scares the hell out of me. Not the babies, just that there's so much stuff. So if I'm not helping you enough, or supporting you enough or whatever, I need you to tell me. Okay?"
Luke nods, smiling up at Alex. "I will," he promises. "But you're doing fine and it is overwhelming. Our parents didn't have half this stuff and they managed." He shrugs, shaking his head a little. "It makes it feel more real though, getting all these things. Like we're really doing this. We're really starting a family, Elin's really going to have the babies, they're really going to come home with us..."
Alex blinks away sudden moisture from the backs of his eyelids, and nods. "Yeah." He strokes his knuckles along Luke's cheekbone before saying quietly, "Älskling. Am I the only one who is going to admit out loud that we don't have a fucking clue what to do with an infant?"
"Yes," Luke says with a sudden grin. "Because if I admit it, you're going to freak."
For a long moment Alex stares at his boy like Luke has full-on lost his mind. Then he simply sighs his surrender. "That's true. You're right. And I don't suppose it even matters at this point whose idea it was, does it? Elin will smack us both into next week if we even hint that she should keep them inside just a little bit longer."
Luke laughs and leans up, kissing Alex full on the mouth before cupping his husband's head in his hands. "We're going to be okay, I promise," he says. "Just like our parents and their parents and their parents before them."
Alex wraps his arms around Luke, uncharacteristically hesitant. "Promise?" he whispers, the words muffled by Luke's shirt, and issuing somewhere from the vicinity of his shoulder.
"Cross my heart," Luke swears, dropping his hands and hugging Alex tight.