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They'll Struggle Because of Us

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“Ritchie?” 

“Yes, my one true love?” Ringo raised his eyes from the newspaper and found George staring at him from across the small alcove table. 

They were seated in the morning room at Friar Park, nursing their separate cups of tea and relishing in the post-dawn quiet. By early afternoon, they would be enjoying — or, in George’s case, accepting — the company of a few handfuls of guests for Ringo’s birthday, and it was nice to enjoy just each other’s company for a while. 

George would have been content with celebrating on their own, or just with John and Paul like they did in February, but for Ringo, he was content to tolerate a few more people. Still, one thing kept nagging him. 

“You’re surprised, too, right? That John and Paul are bringing the kids?”

“In what way?” Ringo asked, putting down the newspaper on the table. 

“You know how protective they both are about Heather and Julian. And how private Paul is about their family. The press hardly ever gets pictures of the kids, after all. So I can’t help wondering why he and John are bringing them to the party. Some of the guests don’t even know that they’re a family.”

“Like who?” Ringo looked surprised. 

“Somebody, Rich, but that’s not the point.” George pressed on. “You said yourself that Paul was worried on Christmas Eve, not knowing how he was going to explain Trio to the interested public. I get the feeling he’s going to be worried about explaining the current family dynamic to some of our guests today.”

“Who says he has to explain it?”

Richard. ” George gave Ringo a pleading look. “He’s going to be worried about the possibility of explaining it. And I’m willing to bet he won’t have talked to John about it yet. You know how prideful he can be without realizing it.” 

“You never fail to amaze me. So thoughtful you are, Geo.” Ringo leaned across the table and gave George a peck on the cheek. “Something tells me you know how to resolve this.”

“More or less.”

“Right, what needs to happen?”

“You know that birthday money I gave you last night?”

“I do recall.” 

“Well great, give some back. I need to buy Play-Doh.”

“On my birthday? You’re lucky I'm so in love with you.”



____________________________________________________

 



The whole drive to Friar Park, Paul was nervous. He tried to control it by gripping the wheel securely, but not so tightly that his knuckles whitened, hoping that his nerves would dissolve and that John wouldn’t notice. Today wasn’t meant to induce anxiety. It was Ringo’s birthday, a festive occasion, and yet Paul felt an almost nauseating tide of worry sweep through him whenever he glanced in the back mirror. 

“What’s wrong?” John asked quietly, careful not to alert Heather or Julian to his concerned tone. They were settled happily in the back seat, and John wasn’t about to change that. Besides, they were much too young to be drawn into their parents’ occasional worries. 

“Umm.” Paul bit his lip. He wanted nothing more than to talk to John, to get this worry into the light, but he was thinking the same thing as John: don’t involve the kids. 

Talk when we get there? Paul’s eyes asked. 

Yeah, of course. John’s gaze was as reassuring in its tone as its words. Ca n I do anything now?

Your hand?

In an instant, John’s hand was there, wrapping around Paul’s own and enclosing it in a warmth as reassuring as his voice. 

“Thank you,” Paul murmured. His worry felt a bit numb now, frozen almost. It wasn’t gone, but at least it wasn’t growing worse. 

The closer the car got to its destination, the more Paul couldn’t help chiding himself for feeling this worried. After all, it was only a party, and a small one at that. The odds of there being more than five or so guests that he or John didn’t know was as slim as George. It would be alright. Paul squeezed John’s hand as hard as he could afford to, feeling his husband’s ring press against his fingers. It had to be alright. 

“George changed the entry code, remember,” John reminded Paul as he pulled up to the green metal gate. “53283. If you assign letters, it spells ‘LEAVE’.” 

“Of course it does,” Pauk sighed. He was a bit surprised George was alright with a party, even if it was small and for Ringo’s birthday. As Paul drove down the winding road to the house, he half expected to see George along the way, dressed in his tall boots and wide brim hat, tending to his shrubs and other herbage. 

“We’re at the Park!” Julian cheered from the back seat. “We’re gonna see Uncle Ringo and Uncle George, right?” 

“We sure are!” John turned in his seat, keeping his hand in Paul’s, and smiled at Julian’s enthusiasm. “Nice job pronouncing, too, baby!”

Julian beamed. Paul had been helping him practice his “G” pronunciations for the past few months, and it was finally starting to pay off. It was possible he’d need speech therapy in the future — not something neither John nor Paul had ever heard of before — but he was making good progress on his own all the same. His parents were particularly relieved, as Heather had started copying his mispronunciations. 

“What’s next month, Jules?” Paul quizzed, trying to keep a pleasant demeanor as he parked the car in a row of others, several of which he didn’t recognize. His nerves wavered.

“August!” Julian sounded out correctly. “That’s when Trio comes!”

Paul sucked in his breath and turned off the car in a conscious motion, trying to focus his attention anywhere but on his worry. He hadn’t thought about the possibility that Julian would bring up Trio. He should have expected it, though. When Julian got comfortable with someone, he liked to talk quietly about things that interested him. 

And Lord, but he was interested in Trio. Once he had really understood what that meant — there would be a second Heather, sort of — he had been overcome with excitement. He talked about his soon-to-be sibling to George and Ringo, Mimi and Mike, Jackie and Jim.

Now that he was in a place with plenty of people, some of whom Julian vaguely remembered from past parties and band events, there was the high chance he’d talk to them about Trio, too. But how on earth could they explain to Julian that talking about his future sibling wasn’t allowed? Shouldn’t he have the right to express his joy? To live a normal life as a normal brother? 

Paul let out an involuntary shudder and closed his eyes. He still had no idea what to do, and he desperately wanted to talk with John, but sitting there doing nothing wasn’t helping anything. Together, he and John exited the car and attended to their childrens’ seat belts. 

“Dada,” Julian tugged on Paul’s sleeve when he was set on the ground outside the car, “can you carry me?” 

“Carry you where, baby?” Paul asked. He was endeavoring to unlock the boot without accidentally hitting Julian in the face, and his ability to process questions and maintain his composure was limited. 

“When we go to where the people are.”

“You mean to the party?” Paul pulled the boot up, revealing a few gift bags and the family’s overnight cases; they were staying the weekend with George and Ringo.

“Yeah.” Julian nodded. “Can you carry me?”

At that, Paul froze. Every part of him wanted to say yes. He loved holding his children, carrying them and swinging them and tossing them in the air. But just as badly as Paul wanted to carry Julian, there was no chance he could. There would be enough guests who didn’t know, who would question why Paul walked into the party holding John’s child. 

“Uh, I have to take the presents, Jules,” Paul cleared his throat. “What if Daddy carries you?”

“Daddy has his itchy shirt on.” Julian scrunched his face up.

Paul looked over at John, who was only just now getting Heather out of her carseat. It was a warm day, and as John was a particularly sweaty person, he was wearing a polo-style shirt that did wonders to show off his biceps. But it was also made of some manner of fabric that irritated Julian’s skin to no end. Having John carry him was as poor an idea as Paul doing it. 

“Could you try walking in by yourself? Holding Daddy’s hand?”

Julian shook his head. His eyes were wide and gave the vaguest hint of water in their rims. He wouldn’t feel safe if he entered below eye-level. Heather had grown out of that fear, but Julian still balked at the very suggestion. 

Paul swallowed more dry air. He could feel his heartbeat rising. It had been so long since he’d felt like this. More than a year, certainly. And yet one worry could bring it all back. He hardly remembered what to do, but all of a sudden a voice interrupted his panic.

“Well look who decided to show up!” George was jogging across the brick parking area, looking surprisingly chipper for a normally quiet man hosting a party. 

His hair was cut to just above his shoulders, allowing for a few waves while keeping it manageable. His beard, on the other hand, had been left to grow out somewhat. 

“You look like a hippie,” John chuckled.

“Yeah, well, your husband looks like a farmer,” George returned when he was right up by the car. 

Paul twitched, looking around to see if anyone had heard George call him John’s husband, but the five of them were alone in the front of the house. He relaxed a bit, letting himself enjoy the joke. His own beard was growing out, too, after all. 

“I’ll take that a compliment,” Paul thanked him. “If it’s any comfort to you, you look more like a gardener.” 

George bowed. “I am honoured by your opinion. And how are my favorite niece and nephew?” He squatted down next to Julian and Heather, surprising John and Paul. 

George’s apprehension about having kids contrasted sharply with his warm nature toward Julian and Heather on a regular basis, but his current action, kneeling down beside them, wasn’t normal for him. Maybe he was getting more comfortable with the idea of being a father.

“Uncle George!” Julian threw his small arms around George’s neck and Heather piled on after brother. “Where’s Uncle Ringo?”

“Your Uncle Ringo is out in the garden, with the other guests.”

“Is today his real birthday?” Julian asked. 

“It really is! He’s 31 years old, can you believe it?”

“How old are you?” 

“I’m 28. And your Dada just had his birthday. How old is he?” George questioned kindly, engaging Julian perfectly. Paul was more than grateful for George’s attention to his son; at the moment, it meant less worry for him. 

Julian creased his brows, clearly focusing. “He’s younger than Daddy,” he finally said. “And I think Daddy might be as old as Uncle Ritchie, but I can’t remember.”

“It’s okay,” George assured him. “Wanna know a fun trick?” 

“What’s that?” Julian’s eyes lit up. 

“After Uncle Ringo’s birthday, and right up until your Daddy’s birthday, all our ages are in a row. I’m 28, your Dada’s 29, your Daddy’s 30, and Uncle Ringo is…” 

“31!” 

“That’s right! You’re even smarter than your parents, now.” George smirked at John and Paul, the former of whom rolled his eyes. 

“Thanks for that,” John sighed.

“So,” George straightened up, “how was the drive?” 

“It was alright.” Paul shrugged. He still felt sick to his stomach. “Good traffic.” 

“Right, well, that’s good. Lovely to have you here.” 

“Who even is here?” John asked, shifting closer to Paul and brushing their elbows together. 

George listed off the guests, most of whom John and Paul knew, including Neil and Mal.

“That everyone?” Paul didn’t want to be unexpectedly surprised. 

George nodded. “Ritchie had a hard time convincing me to have anyone over because we’ll be in New York for the concert in August and are gonna see quite a few people then. And then we might go to LA and see some people there.”

“Gonna be a busy month for you,” John observed.

“And you two,” George pointed out. “You’re coming over for the concert, yeah?”

“Wouldn’t miss it. My little Georgie, doing concerts on his own! He’s all grown up!” John captured George in such a manner to give him a Dutch rub, much to Julian and Heather’s amusement. Paul smiled weakly. 

“Thanks for that ,” George muttered when John released him. “Anyway, Ritchie and I decided it would be best if I met you all out here because, as it happens, he and I have a present for these two!” He grinned at Julian and Heather.

“For us?” Julian’s eyes widened in surprise. 

“For both of you!”

“But… but it’s not our birthday!” Julian protested. He was more than a little confused. 

“Well, who says Uncle Ringo should have all the fun?”

“Dada, Daddy, can we?” Julian looked about ready to jump from anticipation. “Please?”

“I don’t see why not, baby!” John smiled at his son’s eagerness. “You have to be well behaved though. You promise?”

“I promise, I promise!” 

“Heather?” John fixed his smile on her and it faltered slightly, seeing that she was aggressively chewing on the neckline of her child-sized blouse. 

“I pwomish,” she said through her clamped teeth. 

“Sweetheart, why don’t you take that out of your mouth, yeah?” John made to remove it from her jaws, but she shook her head. He sighed. “Heather, please…” 

“Don’t worry, I’ll put some tabasco on it,” George joked. “I can take the gift bags you brought for Ritchie, if you like.”

“Oh, we’ve got them—” Paul started, but George ducked back to the boot, tugging Paul with him. 

“They’ll be in the art room downstairs, just facing out to the garden where we are, when you’re ready,” George whispered. “Ritchie and I got them some Play-Doh. Should keep them entertained until you and John join us. Something tells me you two have a few things to talk about.”

“What…? George, how…?” Paul was baffled. How on Earth did George know what was going on?

“I’ve known you for almost 20 years, mate,” George said softly. “I know what’s going through your head. I’m here to help, best as I can.”

“... Thank you. I mean, really, thank you,” Paul forced out, still surprised. 

“Of course, mate. Try not to worry too much. It’ll be alright. I can feel it.” 

With that, George grabbed the gift bags from the boot and turned back to find Julian and Heather waiting in their best attempts at patience. 

“Alright, you two ready?” 

A chorus of affirmative glee answered his query. George scooped up Julian, slipped his hand into Heather’s, and then the troupe was bound for the front door of the large house. John made to follow him, confused, but Paul tugged him back by the bottom hem of his polo. 

“John love. He’s giving us some time to talk.”

“Oh. Huh.” John looked from Paul to the now closed door of the house. Then back to Paul. “Does he… Did I miss something?”

“No love,” Paul assured, trying to give a calming smile, but he was fairly certain it looked more distressed than comforting. “He and Ringo are just psychic.”

“Psychic huh? I didn’t peg you as a believer.” John arched an eyebrow with amusement. 

“Or something.” Paul felt himself shrugging again. “But umm, yeah. Do you think we could, y’know?”

“Talk?” John waited for Paul to nod. “Of course Macca. Shall we take a stroll? Find some gnomes?” 

Paul chuckled quietly and then involuntarily shivered. “You know I don’t like the gnomes.”

“But Paulie, the gnomes love you!” John teased, falling in step with his husband as they set off in the opposite direction of the house, bound for the garden and its variety of flora. 

The two of them had spent their fair share of time in the Friar Park gardens, trotting along after George as he bounced from plant to plant or simply walking through on their own. The sheer size of it was a little overwhelming at times, and John half wondered how George didn’t get lost 

As they moved further into the trees, following a pea gravel path, John slipped his hand into Paul’s, squeezing it firmly, just as they had done in the car. He absent mindedly began stroking Paul’s knuckles with his thumb, feeling the skin go from smooth to lined, smooth to lined. 

The gravel crunched under their feet, adding to a rhythm that John knew they both could feel. It had always been that way for them. So attuned to what the other felt. John wasn’t always able to guess exactly what was bothering Paul, and Paul sometimes tried to help more than John’s stubborn independence wanted, but they were always connected on some level or another. And so far, they’d gotten through everything that had come their way. When they emerged from the cover of a tree tunnel and into a small clearing, John said as much. 

“We’ll figure this out, Macca, whatever it is.”

Paul nodded. “I hope so.” He looked around at the small lawn, hidden in the woods and adorned around the edges with ferns and late-blooming bluebells. Here was as good a place as any, he supposed. “Shall we?”

“If you’re ready,” John replied earnestly, meeting Paul’s eyes. Upon finding confirmation in them, he gestured to a tree just on the edge of the clearing. “Let’s have a seat, yeah?”

Paul followed John to the tree’s base, hands still clasped. They settled against the trunk, John leaning back against it and Paul sitting against his chest. 

Both of them were reminded of the large oak tree near Strawberry Fields. It had a low, sturdy branch where they perch and talk for hours, side by side. Music, art, literature, family, Liverpool, anything that crossed their minds. It became their place, so to speak. 

They’d had some of their most serious conversations there, and some of their most lighthearted ones. It was where Paul began to know for certain that he had feelings for John, where they’d both fallen to the ground in a fit of drunken giggles, where John had very nearly kissed him for the first time before forcing himself to wait until their trip to Paris. It was also where, almost exactly five years ago, John had hopped down from the branch, lowered himself to one knee, and asked Paul to marry him, official laws be damned. 

Paul felt his eyes water at the thought. He hadn’t thought it possible to miss a place — or a tree — that much. At least they were seated by one now. A stand-in tree, but it would do fine for their conversation. 

“So, uh.” Paul took a breath. “I guess you probably want to know what this is about,” he managed, before closing his mouth against a potential tide of nausea.

“Take your time, Macca. Jules and Heather will be well occupied, I imagine.” 

“I think you would be, too, tactile as you are.” Paul said, then smiled when John squeezed him a bit tighter. “I love you, Johnny.”

“I love you, too, darling. More than all the Play-Doh in the world.”

“That’s a lot of love. Sure you can measure up to that?” Paul’s voice had the edge of a tease in it, and he wondered at how John could calm him down without even saying anything specific. 

Just feeling John’s arms wrapped around him when he was upset was like taking a dose of Valium. But it had been so long since Paul had been prescribed any that he couldn’t really remember how effective it was. In any case, he’d have John over any kind of drug, no questions asked. 

“Hmm,” John breathed against Paul’s neck. “I can measure up to it tonight, if you like.” 

Paul felt a blush rise on his cheeks and butterflies take flight in his stomach. John could still make him feel like a schoolboy, it seemed. 

“We don’t have to, though, love,” John added, taking Paul’s silence as a sign he went too far. “Did I make you uncomfortable?”

“Oh no, you’re lovely,” Paul assured. “You just got me a bit flustered, is all. Still have that effect on me, y’know.”

“Don’t worry,” John whispered, “I won’t tell Jim.” 

“Off it, you git!” Paul playfully swatted at John’s knee. 

“Good to know I can still make you laugh, too. That’s one of my favorite sounds. Do you remember me calling you from Spain, when I was filming, and telling you all those stupid jokes, just so you’d giggle or laugh for me? Made me feel like I was home again, next to you and all that.” 

“Yeah, every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Bet Dick was happy about your phone bill.” They both chuckled at that. “I remember writing down some of your jokes, too, so we could tell them to Julian when he was born.”

“Lord, that was when Julian was still in the womb, wasn’t it? Do you remember how we called him Bean before he was born, just like how we’re calling this little one Trio?” 

Paul hummed contentedly. “I remember when we saw the first ultrasound picture. You were so in awe that something the size of a kidney bean was going to be our baby.” 

“And look at him now, all grown. Size of a large zucchini, I reckon.”

“... Have you seen any zucchini’s recently, love?” Paul was sceptical that squashes of any size could become as big as their son.

“Don’t even ask!” John squawked in his own defense. “Maybe wild zucchinis get that big.”

“I suppose they might,” Paul admitted. A thought crossed his mind. “What was our womb nickname for Heather? Sequel, wasn’t it?” 

“Yeah, George is responsible for that one. Can you imagine if we kept those names? Bean, Sequel, and Trio. We’d have been real flower children then.”

“Well,” Paul grinned, “we are both Daisies…”

“You and Julian, I swear your humor gets more dangerous by the day.”

“We get it from you, Johnny.” Paul gave a cheeky smirk even though John couldn’t see it. 

John sighed in contented defeat. “Feeling a bit more comfortable now?”

“Yeah, thank you, love.” Paul took another breath, relieved to find there was no longer a taste of sick in his throat. “I’m sorry about all of this.” 

“None of that now, Paulie. Remember at the farm, when I was all down and you said that was your sign to love me even better? Well, that’s what I get to do with you right now.”
“You’re very good to me,” Paul murmured. Reassured, he tried again. “So yeah, what this is about. I don’t really want to draw it out, because I know you think about it, too…” He trailed off. 

John waited for him to continue, pressing a kiss to the back of his head and nuzzling gently. 

“Well, you know how when I gave you the ultrasound for Christmas? And said things were only going to get more complicated?”

“I do. I also remember saying we’d get through it, as a family.”

“Yeah, and I hope we will. I think we will. But I just, coming to the party today, with people we don’t know… What are they going to think, John? I mean, what if they find out? About us.”

“About our relationship?”

“And about our family. The kids. If someone saw me holding Julian or if Heather called you ‘Daddy’. All it would take is for one person we don’t trust to see that happen. They tell one reporter, one newspaper, and that’s it.” 

“That’s what?” John’s voice didn’t sound particularly concerned. 

Paul squirmed around to face him. “Then everyone would know! The whole world, practically! That kind of story would fly off the shelves!”

“So?” John cocked his head as if confused. 

“What do you mean?!” Paul started, his heart skipping beats wildly. He was dumbfounded. How could John be so nonchalant about this?

“Deep breaths, darling,” John encouraged, still astonishingly calm. He brought a hand to Paul’s cheek, and Paul automatically leaned into the touch, trying to calm his breathing. “That’s it, just take a few more for me, yeah? There we go. Now, as clearly as you can, will you try telling me why it would be so bad if other people found out about us?”

Paul opened his mouth to speak, almost indignant, but then realized he had no idea what to say. He and John had spent so many years hiding their relationship that it seemed natural to do so. At first, there had been a clear and present danger of incarceration, but as the years passed, the threat became their careers. Then, for a short while after Julian was born, the risk was losing each other, losing their son. Now, their careers were no longer as important, their sexuality no longer a crime.

But Paul still worried about his family. More than once he had bolted up from a nightmare about the kids being taken away. Or John. And he wanted so badly for them to be happy. Maybe that was a good place to start. 

“I just, I want Heather and Jules to be happy. I can’t stand to think how they’d be treated if people found out about us. Can you imagine what they’d go through? Or what if, if they were taken away from us?

“And I know we want them to live normal lives, as much as possible. We don’t want them to have a skewed world view and think they’re better than everyone, but we don’t want them to be ashamed of our family dynamic, either, and I just, I don’t know what to do. But I know I want to keep them safe from the world’s… bigotry.” 

John nodded along, following Paul’s nervous eyes with understanding. He’d been expecting this conversation to arise at some point before Trio was born, and now here they were. When Paul stopped, looking almost defeated, John carded a hand through his husband’s dark hair. Then he gave a gentle sigh, marveling at Paul’s beauty, and spoke:

“I want them to be safe and happy and well-adjusted, too, love. I worry about it every day. Even when they’re learning new skills, I worry they’ll hurt themselves. But we can’t protect them from everything. Julian’s growing up faster than either of us would like. The world starts biting a bit at his age. He has to learn to cope with those new challenges. Heather will be there in a year or so and Trio will before we know it, too. You know that, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Paul admitted. “It just scares me so much, Johnny. They have such different challenges in their way than other kids their age. And all because of us.”

“I know, darling, I know,” John soothed. “There are times when they’re really going to struggle because of who you and I are. And it hurts me to think of it, just like it hurts you. But we can’t shield them from that forever. We can help them, of course. I mean, they’re only four and two. Hardly old enough to be thrown on the streets, wouldn’t you say?” John’s question danced like a joke, and Paul couldn’t help but smile a bit. 

“Not quite old enough, I suppose.”

“There, see? We’re still their parents, they’re still our children. We’re not rescinding that bond just because we open them up to the world a bit more. That’s our job as their fathers. We’d be doing them a disservice if we kept them too far removed from it.”

“What, so we should just announce to the general public that we’re queer?” Paul said it with a laugh, but it was very much a real question. 

He may not have been ashamed of who he was — he’d stopped feeling that shame long ago, largely thanks to John and George — but he found himself frightened at the idea of so many people suddenly knowing all at once. 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” John chuckled, rubbing Paul’s arm reassuringly. “I just meant that we don’t have to hide who our family is as much. In settings or even in public. I mean, why should it be a problem for you to carry Jules or for Heather to call me the name she knows me by? Let people speculate, let the press write stories. What’s important is the values we teach to the kids and how we continue to raise them. We want them to be kind and respectful. Why not start with teaching them that there’s nothing wrong with being queer? It’ll put them miles ahead of their classmates.”

“But… what if people start asking questions?”

“What kind of questions, love?”

“Oh Lord, I don’t know. Maybe someone asks Julian who I am to him, or asks me about the nature of my relationship with you. What are we supposed to say?”

“I figure Julian can say whatever he wants, but I secretly keep hoping that he’ll call you The Walrus one day,” John admitted with a grin. 

“John, be serious!” Paul spluttered, but he was a bit amused all the same. “Am I supposed to say that you’re an Eggman?”

“Well I’d prefer that you say I’m the one who took your queer virg—” 

“John Lennon!”

John cackled at Paul’s flustered expression. “Well,” John said, wiping a laughter-induced tear from his eyes, “how would you like to respond to that question?”

Paul thought for a moment. He supposed he could call John anything on the spectrum of what they were, from his husband to his housemate. But there was probably a better word that encompassed the whole span and wasn’t overly obvious, either. “Um, I guess maybe… I’d rather like to call you my partner, if that’s alright. ‘Cause you are, really. In music, in parenting, in life.”

“Partner,” John sounded the word out, feeling every syllable move through his mouth. “Partner. I like that. When we go to New York, we can say ‘pardner,’ too. Reckon I should buy us some hats. What do you think?” 

“I think you’re full of it,” Paul laughed. He leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on John’s lips. “Thanks for being so wonderful, love.”

“That’s ‘pardner’ to you.” 

They dissolved into laughter at that, Paul falling forward into John’s arms. John rocked him back and forth a bit, chuckling in his ear and kissing the tip every now and then. Paul hummed and nestled himself further into the crook of John’s neck, inhaling deeply. It felt safe there. After a short while, John nudged Paul slightly. 

“Well Macca, ready to go see if Heather has ingested her share of the Play-Doh?” 

“I suppose so. With any luck she’ll barf it back up in the garden and not the house.”

“George will love that, I’m sure,” John noted. 

“He signed up for that possibility when he bought it for them.”

“I highly doubt he sees it that way.” 

“Right well, I suppose we have to hurry then, don’t we?”

They walked hand in hand back on the pea gravel path, setting a mildly brisk pace. Soon the imposing facade of the house came into view, and then the two were walking through the front door and down the halls toward the art studio room. Peeking in through the door showed them it was empty of children, but the table was covered in a healthy dose of Play-Doh, reducing their mild concern that Heather had eaten any. 

“Outside, then?” John asked, looking at Paul. 

A series of joyful shrieks from beyond the studio’s windows confirmed John’s suspicions. They made to walk through the French doors to the garden patio when John suddenly caught Paul by the arm. 

“I promise you, no matter what happens, no one is going to take them away from us,” John vowed. “No matter who ends up knowing, be it one more person or the whole world, they’re our children, and they’ll stay with us. I’ll never let anyone separate us. I promise.”

“I know, I trust you,” Paul murmured, touching their foreheads together. “I love you so much.”

“And I you.” 

They stepped out through the doors, joining a small group of friends and acquaintances milling about on the patio. Heather and Julian were in the grass, chasing large soap bubbles, expertly blown by Neil. At the sound of the door opening, though, both kids looked up. Julian’s face lit into a glow and he began racing toward his parents. 

“Dada! Daddy! We have bubbles!” He cried gleefully. 

Paul froze for a split second, but the love in Julian’s eyes couldn’t be denied, and John’s hand, ghosting at the small of his back, sealed Paul’s determination. He knelt down, holding his arms out for Julian to run into. In a swift motion, he scooped him off the ground, peppering his hair auburn hair with kisses. He was publicly loving his son. It felt just as wonderful as he'd envisioned. 

A few paces away, George and Ringo clinked their glasses together. 

“Mission accomplished, birthday boy.”

“You’re an angel.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Rich.” 

When no one was looking, they stole a kiss, grinning all the while.