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the whole world ahead

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They’ve never slammed a door on each other. Ever. Of course Joe isn’t going to start now.

Instead, the lock clicks shut gently, and Nicky is absolutely rooted to his spot against the kitchen counter. Head bowed, gripping the edge, a cold fuzzy feeling settling into his stomach.

He needs.

He needs to talk. Needs someone.

Nile’s working, and Nicky would bet anything that Joe has gone straight for Andy.

So he texts Quynh.


They’re having late dinner at a nearby bistro – Joe’s idea. Nicky has worked a solid ten days in a row with Booker having taken his kids to visit family in France, and Joe had said he deserved a treat. They’ve splurged on a full course meal, desserts devoured with shared smiles and spoons. After the last bite, Nicky had excused himself for the washroom.

Joe has his phone out and a small frown marring his forehead when he returns to the table.

“All okay?” Nicky asks, reaching for his water glass.

Joe’s face goes blank, an automatic smile taking over, and he puts his phone back in his pocket.

“Yeah.” He chews on the inside of his cheek for a short moment. “Noor is pregnant. Eight weeks.”

Nicky freezes before the water reaches his lips. “Christ,” he can’t help blurting. “Wow.”

“I know.”

It’s been almost six years that Noor and her partner have been braving fertility treatments with hope of conceiving. Joe has been filling Nicky in every now and then with updates from his sister; the al-Kaysani siblings don’t have a secret between them.

“Send my congratulations, will you?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Joe sets his elbows on the table, palms clasped. He’s distant. “They’ll be overjoyed.”

“Of course,” Nicky agrees quietly. “Joe.”


“What are you thinking?”

And Nicky feels his own face fall just a little when Joe shakes his head and says, “Later, okay?”, and looks around for their server.


Nicky putters around, disliking the silence of the apartment. Still at her office, Quynh had promised to drop by as soon as she finishes up, leaving Nicky at odds for a short while. He puts away a few dried dishes and walks into the bedroom, straightening pillows and blankets, vague panic kept at bay by pure force of will.

He knows how to halt a spiral. He does. This one just feels very viscerally nearby because it’s Joe, and he loves Joe, and his heart twinges to think of Joe now, alone on the subway on his way to Andy and Quynh’s neighbourhood. Forlorn and wilted. Wonders if the other passengers can tell.

At the bottom of their bed, he has to stop and stand up straight, sucking in a long breath and hissing it out just as slowly. He leaves the room, and then pauses at the door adjacent to theirs. The door leading to the spare room.

And he imagines, just for a moment, just to see, what it would be like for that door to open. For a small person to peer out, smile toothily at him. For a young kid to dart out and run down the hall, pretending to be a superhero. For a sullen teenager to roll their eyes but begrudgingly take a kiss to the head before being summoned for dinner.

He blinks and the images fade.

The doorbell buzzes.


Nicky watches the back of Joe’s head, concerned, as he follows him into their dark apartment. Quiet between them as jackets are hung up, shoes toed off. Joe walks a few feet into the living room, silhouetted by ambient city glow, and he turns, scrubbing palms over his cheeks.

“Sorry,” is the first thing he says. “I’m sorry, Nico, I didn’t mean to put a damper on our evening.”

“No need to apologize,” Nicky says, coming closer.

“It threw me for a loop.”


Joe nods, uneasy.

“It’s. It’s silly, maybe,” he says.

“I doubt it,” Nicky murmurs, stepping close enough to set his palms to Joe’s waist, warm through the cotton of his shirt. “Tell me anyway.”

Looking down in an uncharacteristic display of shyness, Joe holds onto Nicky’s forearms. Breathes softly.

“Noor is younger than me,” he says. “Six years. I didn’t expect her to get there before I did.”

“Get there as in… babies? Children?”

Joe wrestles with his answer, finally, “Yeah.”

Now a little uneasy himself, Nicky presses his lips together.

In another month, he and Joe will pass their fifth anniversary. A wild thought, an exciting one. They’re still so strong after this long. But with Nicky so busy with his business and Joe making his way closer to Andy’s level in terms of management, it had always seemed like there would be time later on to talk about next steps. And they've talked about kids. A few times. Joe is so family-oriented, Nicky had never doubted for a moment that the topic would loom large at some point.

He's just distantly irritated at himself, now, because he’s definitely been avoiding the subject internally.

He’s thirty-eight. Joe is forty-one.

Of course Joe is feeling complicated about this.


On the couch beside him, Quynh purses her lips, threads her fingers together.

"I guess," she says, "it comes down to what you want. What you really want."

"I want a family," Nicky quickly says. "I want Joe to have that, too."

"Well, first off, you have a family," she tells him, nudging his shoulder. "Kids don't make or break that concept. Joe, plus Nile and Book. Your cool Italian aunt, too. Andy and me."

Nicky exhales. "Yeah."

"What's tripping you up about the idea?"

Lifting a shoulder, Nicky says, "I mean, I don't know if I could handle a baby, or a toddler. Sometimes..." He bites his lip. "I've thought, sometimes, that it would be nice to give a home to someone in the foster system. Through adoption, or maybe just hosting, whatever the term is. I don't know how it all works."

"People do that," Quynh says gently. "It's pretty admirable."

"There's just so much joy. And stability. With me and Joe, I mean, and I-" He swallows. "That's all I ever wanted when I was younger. But that's what makes me so uncertain."

"What is?"

He looks at her.

"I have no idea if I want to parent someone else, or if what I really want, deep down, is to re-parent myself. Try to give myself what I couldn't have." His voice peters out. He looks down at the carpet. "Parenthood should be selfless, right? It wouldn't be fair for a child to bear the responsibility of fixing that for me."

She puts her hands over his. "Therapy's made you pretty insightful over the years."

"A common side effect, I've been told."

She snorts lightly. "Yeah." A pause. "Have you told Joe? About the adoption idea?"

"Not explicitly. I think... I think he thinks I just hate the idea altogether. Which is not how I meant it to come across." He winces, thinking back to earlier. Even without raised voices, the simmering exchange had still been devastating. Joe doesn't hide his pain like Nicky automatically does - his eyes had been so bright. Sad. They’d both been at an uncharacteristic loss for words in the face of something they couldn't easily untangle.


Joe’s eyebrows tilt, lips parting in unhappy surprise.

“No?” he echoes. “I- Nicky-”

“No, wait,” Nicky rushes to say. “I mean, not ‘no’. I meant I don’t know.”

“You don’t know,” Joe repeats. “Then why-”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t- I didn’t mean it like that.”

Internally, Nicky is kicking himself. Hard. He’s never been one for second guessing his own words, but he’s more than mortified that his first response to Joe’s timid, “Do you think it’s time to think about kids, now?”, had been a kneejerk, “No”.

Then again, this conversation is unlike any other they’ve had before.

“I’m sorry,” he says on an exhale. “I didn’t mean to react like that. Of course I want to talk about it.”

Joe has withdrawn a little, frowning. “How much can there be to talk about? It’s a gut feeling. Yes or no.”

“What would your answer be?”

“Yes,” Joe says firmly. “Without question. I want that. With you.”

Nicky is starting to feel unmoored, the floor wavering under his feet. “No doubts at all?”

“None whatsoever.” Joe gazes directly at him. “But you feel differently.”

At a loss, Nicky can barely meet his eyes. Sounds so uncertain, so scared, even to himself when he has to say, pulling the words out with great effort, voice thin, “I think so.”

Joe has nothing to say to that.


Nicky returns to the couch with mugs of tea, carefully handing Quynh hers before taking his place beside her again. He takes a sip and yearns at the taste because this citrus blend was a birthday gift from Joe, months ago.

“We’ve never fought like this before,” he says.

Quynh makes a small noise, swallowing a mouthful of tea. “I wouldn’t call this a fight. Just a momentary misunderstanding.”

“You didn’t see his face.”

“I can sure picture it,” she says, giving a rueful smile. “But that’s Joe. Heart on his sleeve, and all that.”

Helplessly, Nicky lifts a shoulder. “He said he wanted a moment alone, so I let him go. Should I not have let him go?”

“He’ll be back,” Quynh murmurs. “He will.”

And she’s proved right about ten minutes later when there’s the sound of a key in the lock at the front door. Cautiously entering, Joe pauses on the threshold, taking in the scene before him.

“Hey, Joe,” Quynh calls. “Find my wife okay?”

He huffs a laugh, setting his keys on the table by the door. “Didn’t get that far, to be honest. I got all the way to Broadview before changing trains to come back.”

Nicky’s heart thuds against his ribs. He sets down his mug, hand trembling with latent adrenaline, relief taking over.

“Guess I’ll have to head home and find her myself.” Draining her cup, Quynh then stands. Squeezes Nicky’s shoulder. “I’ll see you both soon, hm?”

“Of course,” Nicky says. Joe gives her kiss on the cheek as she passes him, and she’s soon gone, door closing behind her. Joe turns the lock and then comes into the living room. Sits where she’d just been sitting and rests his elbows on his knees.

A weighted pause.

“I’m sorry for leaving,” are his first words. Said quietly, regretfully. “I shouldn’t have.”

“It’s okay,” Nicky says instantly.

“It’s not.” Joe sighs and turns towards him, takes his hands and holds them. “This was a big conversation to spring on you unexpectedly. Something we’d be better off gearing up for when we have the time and energy for it.”

“Joe, I do want to grow our family.”

Joe lifts his eyes and tilts his head. “Baby, you don’t have to say that now-”

“No, I’m-” Nicky licks his lips. “It’s the truth. I wasn’t very good at getting it out earlier, but it’s true.” He runs a finger over the familiar bump of Joe’s thumb joint. Finds his gaze and holds it. “I have a lot of worries. About me, about… my upbringing. Things we should talk about. But I want it.”

The ghost of an upward curl at the corner of Joe’s mouth. The best thing Nicky has seen all day.

“By it you mean… babies. Kids.”

“Maybe not babies specifically,” Nicky replies, smiling back, already lighter, “but yes. That’s the idea.”

Hands still clasped, Joe gazes at him. Gazes the same way he’ll tilt his head back to take in the stars, so numerous and bright when they spend time at Andy’s cabin, and Nicky can’t help but stare back, just as enamoured and happily incredulous that this is where he’s landed in life.

“I love you more than I thought it was possible to love one person,” Joe says to him. His voice catches on his emotion, eyes gleaming. “Really, Nicky. It makes me want to believe in things like destiny, that we met that day. We could so easily have missed one another.”

Nicky can hardly breathe because he knows exactly what Joe means. “There isn’t a day that goes by, not even a minute, when I don’t feel so, so lucky,” he manages.

His lips abruptly ache with how terribly he needs to feel Joe, so he leans and Joe meets him halfway and they kiss, and it’s like there’s a place for him in the universe, a niche made for all the atoms and energy that make up Nicolo diGenova, and this is it, right here, gently and lovingly kissing Yusuf al-Kaysani on the couch in their apartment. The city bubbles with life outside. Here, it’s still and safe.

Their lips part but their foreheads stay touching.

“It scares me quite often,” Joe admits with a little laugh, like he can’t believe it, “just how much you mean to me.”

Nicky frees one hand to slip behind Joe’s neck and hold him. “Scares me too.” Carefully kisses his cheek, just under his eye. “Better to be scared together, no?”

“Yeah.” And Joe frees his hand as well, reels Nicky back in with a finger hooked in his collar. “Come back here.”

Nicky falls into him.


About six months later, not long after Joe’s forty-second, Nicky’s perched on a stool while Joe sits in their one office chair, a laptop open on the desk in their bedroom, ready for the monthly al-Kaysani family Skype call.

Joe’s parents are already on. His ma gives a rueful wave – they’re apparently stuck on mute, Ibrahim frowning as he clicks away, attempting to troubleshoot. There are a few cousins Nicky recognizes who all give happy greetings in English, the chosen language of these meet ups so as to best include kids and spouses across a variety of countries.

With his sisters, Joe usually speaks a unique blend of Arabic and Dutch. Nicky finds it kind of beautiful to listen to though he understands very little of it.

“Hi everyone,” Nicky says, giving an awkward wave. He thinks he looks weird in the webcam, a bit hunched over. Joe is grinning at the antics of all the people he can see.

“Joe and Nicky!” Noor exclaims. She’s standing, reaching for something, sits down heavily in her chair.

“How are you bigger than those last photos a week ago?” Joe asks in delight. He can’t wait to be an uncle. Tells Nicky all the time.

She sighs, a hand to her bump, but she’s smiling. “Yeah, she’s strong and healthy. Somehow still growing.”

“Must be almost due, no?” Nicky inquires politely, leaning in. He catches a comforting whiff of Joe’s conditioner.

“About a month left,” she agrees with a nod.

With about twenty people successfully logged in, a round of life updates begins. Nicky listens with interest, trying his best to remember faces and stories, and he sets an idle hand to Joe’s shoulder just to feel him. Just to feel all the warmth of his love and the encompassing aura of family.

A tale is being told of a school play that has just occurred in Amsterdam, Joe’s uncle cheerfully doing a terrible job of showing photos on his phone, when Joe glances up at Nicky. Quietly, so the mic doesn’t pick up his words: “Still okay to share with them?”

Nicky nods, rubbing his thumb over the curve of Joe’s shoulder. “Yes. If you are.”

With a nervous smile, Joe looks back to the screen.

All eyes on them, finally, Joe gives quick updates on work and life in Canada, fields question on when they’ll be back in Europe to visit, graciously accepts a few belated birthday wishes.

“We have something else to share, too,” he eventually says. Nicky catches Noor with a knowing smile – she’s already aware. Again, no secrets.

Joe pauses, and glances up again. Gives an encouraging dip of his chin. After taking a fortifying breath, Nicky looks towards their rapt audience.

“We have been thinking about our family,” he says. Joe squeezes his ankle, out of view. “Joe’s permanent residency status was recently finalized. And we have just been accepted as foster parents for an agency here in Toronto.”

The reactions are lovely and excited, and Joe jumps in to share just enough detail on what might be coming up to address all of the enthusiastic curiosity. And throughout it all, Nicky lets the yearning inside of him settle somewhat, because Quynh had been right. He does have a family, already. His Toronto family, but also Joe’s – Nicky has never once been made to feel unwelcome by all of the people currently sharing excitement for them, and, over time, he continues to notice how the unconditional love and support fills an old, aching space in him.

Fills it enough that, yes, he is ready for more. And he can’t wait.

Joe squeezes his ankle again, and Nicky glances over his shoulder at the slightly open door leading into the guest room, and he can’t wait.