When Max was three, they moved him into the quarantine.
He wasn’t really clear on how he’d figured it out, but somehow, Hugh had realized that glass stopped Max’s powers from affecting the people around him.
The quarantine was as homey as they could make it. Simon fussed over every detail, from making sure the windows would give him a good view of the city to making sure his bedroom was comfortable and fun and bright, exactly how it would have been if he could live at home with his dads instead of being kept separate in the glass room in the sky.
He didn’t let anyone else do it for him. It wasn’t even because he was a control freak, it was just because...well, because he would have gotten to do that for Max if Max was living at home, and he wasn’t going to let that piece of fatherhood be withheld from him, too.
It didn’t make it easier to move him in, though. He was a toddler. He was used to being in the little apartment his nurse lived in, and all the sudden he was in a huge, bright place, looking out over the entire city. The first time Simon visited him when he was there, the day he moved in, he was crying. Big rolling tears, red-faced, snotty nosed sobbing. The kind of crying that made Simon’s heart break with how much he wanted to ignore the danger of getting close to him and hold him tight and reassure him everything was going to be okay.
To know that he couldn’t, that all he could do was press a hand to the glass and watch him cry, while the nurse rocked him back and forth giving him all the reassurances Simon should have been giving him, that hurt.
Max didn’t even recognize him. He didn’t even know that Simon considered himself his dad, because Simon had only gotten close to him once, when he was still a tiny baby, and even those few moments of closeness had stolen some of his powers.
Hugh said that Max turned invisible when he sneezed, and that the first time it happened the nurse hadn’t known what to do, because there had been a baby laying in the crib, and then he sneezed, and suddenly there was no baby in the crib anymore. That was how they’d figured out his power wasn’t just weakening prodigies, it was stealing their powers for himself.
But it didn’t matter how powerful of a prodigy he was, he was still a little boy. Simon’s little boy. He was three years old, he was scared out of his mind, and his dad couldn’t even hold him to calm him down, because one of them was off protecting the city and the other couldn’t get near him. And it hurt to watch him cry like that. It hurt to know he wouldn’t ever get to hold Max without giving up his own powers, that he was doomed to a life of watching his son cry through glass without being able to do anything about it.
By the time Max was five, he did recognize Simon, enough that Simon got a smile when he came and visited.
Adrian called Hugh “dad” and Simon “pops,” and it seemed like Adrian’s frequent visits had gotten Max into the same habits, but both of them knew it wasn’t the same. Not when Hugh could go in and sit and play and earn the title of dad, while Simon was stuck separated by a glass wall.
But Max still smiled when he saw Simon coming across the bridge, and called him Pops, and that usually felt like almost enough. Not quite, but almost.
But sometimes it just wasn’t. When Max was sick, and Hugh could sit and read to him until he fell asleep while Simon was stuck worrying alone at home, or when Max was hurt and all Simon could do was call somebody else to help him, or when Max looked so lonely and sad and Simon couldn’t give him a hug or kiss his forehead.
He tended to make up for the loss he felt with Max with Adrian, making a point of doing things with him, of clearing his schedule even when he maybe couldn’t really afford to, because if he couldn’t be a good dad to both his sons, well, he was going to be an amazing dad to at least one of them. It didn’t make it hurt less that he couldn’t hold Max, or help him when he needed it, but it made him feel less guilty for it.
Hugh tried to reassure him that he shouldn’t feel guilty at all. That it wasn’t his fault, he was the best dad he could possibly be under the circumstances. That he visited the quarantine at least once a day, often two or three times, and he was doing his best.
That didn’t make it hurt less, either.
He just wanted to be a dad, he tried to explain, he wanted the things every dad should get, he wanted to hold Max and rock him to sleep and kiss his tears away and play games with him. He wanted to have been there for his first steps, he wanted his name to have been Max’s first word, he wanted to be a dad, and he couldn’t have any of that trapped behind a glass wall that kept him safe but kept him away from his son.
Things did get easier as Max got older.
It didn’t get easy, but easier. They figured out how to play games together, with a board each sitting cross-legged facing each other, mirroring each other’s moves to mimic playing a real game. Max was great at chess, even when he was only seven or eight.
It was fascinating to watch him build his city, too. His view let him see over at least half of Gatlon, and he’d had Adrian draw the buildings he could see and set them up in a perfect glass imitation of his view.
Then he moved on to the pieces of the city he couldn’t see, and the people in it.
He always kept an area by the wall perfectly clear, though, so he could stand or sit when people visited him.
But Simon still couldn’t help but let the thought cross his mind of giving up his powers just for the chance to hold his son. Sometimes, it just felt worth it.
Being able to be a dad for the rest of his life just seemed like it would be worth never getting to be invisible again.
But he never did, even when it was hardest to ignore that instinct.
When he was woken up by frantic calls from headquarters that Adrian and his new team member had both passed out after being in the quarantine, that they’d gone in in the first place because Max was hurt, one of his glass skyscrapers had gone all the way through his hand.
Adrian was okay, he’d gotten out quickly, and so was Nova, but Max was hurt.
Even though he tried to put on as brave a face as he could muster, Simon could see him squeezing Hugh’s hand tightly while the doctors stitched him up, and how pale he got every time he looked at the blood seeping through the bandages.
It was hard to keep his own brave face on when Max’s scared little eyes met his own, and he tried to force an encouraging smile.
It just hurt, he explained to Hugh later, for the millionth time, it hurt that he couldn’t be the one in there holding his son’s hand while he was hurt, that he couldn’t be the one helping right alongside Hugh.
And Hugh nodded like he always did, and hugged Simon, like he always did, and kissed the top of his head, like he always did, but he didn’t understand.
How could he, when he did get to do all those things that Simon wanted more than anything and just couldn’t have?
He was even a little jealous, for just a brief flash of a second, when they thought Adrian had let Max steal his powers to be able to be his brother and give him a hug. That’s what it had looked like, anyway, and even though that flash of jealousy was immediately replaced with worry for Adrian, it had been there, which almost scared him for a little bit.
Until Adrian had explained.
Explained how he’d found the necklace that had let him go inside the quarantine without a suit and not lose his power, and he’d given the necklace to Simon and they’d made a plan and suddenly Simon was invisible, leaning against the wall next to the elevator, waiting to give his son, his ten-year-old son, the first hug from his other dad ever.
“Relax, Si, I can sense the tension from here.” Hugh said. He was smiling, which was easy for him, since he wasn’t in danger even if the charm didn’t work.
It would work. It had worked for Adrian, obviously, it would work for him. Max would come off the elevator and they wouldn’t be separated by a glass wall anymore.
Hugh looked directly at him, displaying his uncanny ability to know where Simon was even when he was invisible, and gave him a Captain Chromium smile.
“They’re coming.” He said. “The elevator is running.” Simon could feel the vibrations in the wall behind him, and he watched Hugh position himself so he would be the first thing their sons would see when the doors opened.
“Dad?” Max’s little voice sounded very, very nervous when he saw Hugh.
“I told you they’d understand.” Adrian said, obviously already grinning even with the chromium-lined suit muffling his voice.
“I’m...not in trouble? For leaving the quarantine?” Max asked, and Simon took a step forward as they walked past, closer to Hugh.
He was so close, close enough to reach out and touch him while he passed.
“No, you’re not in trouble. We can’t make it a habit, but...for one night. A special occasion.”
“Special occasion?” Hugh smiled and locked eyes with Simon again.
“Assuming it worked?”
Simon let himself become visible again, and Max gasped.
“I don't feel any different.” Simon said, taking another nervous step closer.
“You’re sure?” Hugh asked, and Simon shook his head, vanishing again. He moved closer before reappearing, grinning uncontrollably now.
He was so close, he could touch Max without a suit on, give him a real hug.
He said something, not even sure what he was planning on saying before Max launched himself at him and wrapped his arms around Simon’s waist, and that was it. He lost it. He was crying as he returned the hug he’d been waiting for for ten years.
“Does this mean I can beat you in cards now too?” Max said into his shirt and he laughed.
“I’m better at cards than he is.” He said, laughing a little, and he felt Max’s arms tighten around his waist.
He heard Hugh and Adrian walk away, and he was grateful for the privacy to sit down on the floor and pull Max even closer. To inspect the healing scar on his hand up close for the first time and kiss his forehead for the first time and push his hair out of his eyes for the first time. To kiss away his tears for the first time even if they were happy tears.
“Adrian told me you’d cry. I didn’t believe him.” Max said, and that made Simon laugh again.
“Of course I’m crying, Max, I’m holding you.”
After ten years of wanting nothing more, he was sitting on a dusty floor in an unused part of the building, holding Max tight and close like he’d always wanted to.
Of course he was crying.
How couldn’t he be?