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The First Breath of Adultery is the Freest

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        After a year away from Salem, Sonny comes back.

        He’s had enough time and space to emotionally recuperate from the implosion of his marriage, and the timing feels right. A year in Phoenix has given him a nice tan, a good rest, and some much needed perspective.

        His brother Alex had been the one to suggest Phoenix. Sonny had ended up liking it enough to stay as long as he did, and it had been nice to spend time with his big brother. But Phoenix was never home.

        Salem is home.

        Fresh off the plane, Sonny takes some time to himself and walks around town, taking in all that is new and all that remains the same. He checks in with his club and lets Chad know that he’s back and ready to get his hands dirty again. He texts his parents to let them know that he’s in town.

        Then, he heads for his old apartment.

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        While he was away, Sonny had a lot of time to think things through. His situation with Will and Paul couldn’t have been worse when he left, but he knows what he wants now. Who he wants.

        He surprises Will and Arianna at the apartment— Will’s apartment now. He just saw them a week ago while they were visiting him in Phoenix, but Arianna shrieks and runs into his arms as if she hasn’t seen him in months.

        “Hi, my baby,” he says into her hair, hugging tightly.

        Will looks surprised but in a good way. “What are you doing here?”

        “I’m back,” he says.

        “Back as in…?”

        “Back in Salem. For good.”

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        It’s been a year.

        A lot of things have changed. But Paul is still Paul, and he still wears his heart on his sleeve. Sonny sees everything Paul is feeling in his expression when he first sees Sonny.

        It’s still there.

        Sonny smiles nervously, butterflies churning in his stomach.

        “You’re back,” Paul says.

        “I’m back.”

        There are so many things he wants to tell Paul. Things that he’s just figured out and things that he should have told him a long time ago.

        He tries to tell him some of those things, and Paul looks at him with something akin to despair. Sonny only understands once he sees the engagement ring on Paul’s finger.

        His heart stutters to a painful stop.

        Oh.

        He came back for Paul.

        But maybe he came back too late.

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        People assume that Sonny came back for Will.

        He doesn’t correct them, and before he knows it, familiar patterns and feelings have reasserted themselves. But the ink is barely dry on their divorce papers, and Sonny is reluctant to send mixed signals.

        Still, Will is the one who goes apartment hunting with him. He’s beyond generous in helping redefine a routine where they share custody of Arianna. When Arianna cries the first night alone at Sonny’s new place, Will comes over and they snuggle on either side of her on the couch until she falls asleep.

        They spend time together as a family. Walking together in Horton Town Square, Arianna grips one of their hands in each of hers. She laughs delightedly when they lift her up. It’s nice.

        “I’m glad you came back,” Will tells him.

        Sonny is glad, too. Even if… things didn’t exactly turn out how he had hoped.

        But he keeps that to himself.

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        He sees Paul around sometimes.

        It makes Sonny’s heart hurt, and he tries not to stare. It only makes it harder that Paul looks so sad when he sees him. Sonny doesn’t know what to do about that.

        This is so far away from where he thought they would be when he came back.

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        No man is an island in Salem. Every person, every family is tangled together through generations of bonds, based in either love or hate. Part of what Sonny found comforting about Phoenix was that everyone, aside from his brother, was a stranger. He didn’t have to worry about generations of baggage hanging over his head in every interaction he had.

        People fill him in on what he’s missed while he was away. Other Salemites have come and gone, though Sonny expects he’ll see them all again someday. Everyone always comes back eventually. Including him.

        People have died. Children have been born. Romances have sprouted up and already died on the vine.

        John tells him about how he introduced Paul to his boyfriend. A promising young detective on the force that John cannot speak highly enough of. Apparently, they are very happy, and John cannot wait for their wedding. Paul’s siblings Brady and Belle are going to be in the wedding. Baby Tate, now walking, is going to be the ring bearer. Marlena is going to officiate, just as she did for Sonny and Will’s wedding.

        John tells him these things with a proud smile on his face, and Sonny realizes that John has no idea why he really came back to Salem. Everyone else has long since moved on since he left, and they naturally assume that he has, too.

        It’s a shame that isn’t true.

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        They can only avoid each other for so long.

        Their families are connected after all.

        One night, Sonny goes with Will and Arianna to a family dinner at John and Marlena’s home. He isn’t expecting Paul and David to be there, but he isn’t really surprised either. He’s been mentally preparing for this meeting since first hearing David's name.

        He wishes there were more people, though, so he and Will wouldn’t have to sit directly across from them.

        Paul’s fiancé inspects him curiously, and Sonny can’t help but return in kind. It doesn’t take him long to determine that John’s enthusiasm for this man is entirely justified. David is everything Paul deserves in a partner: gorgeous, smart, and accomplished. He’s also funny and an attentive conversationalist. Sonny already likes him so much that he might actually hate him.

        He doesn’t know what David thinks about him. Sonny hopes he doesn’t know about their past (his and Paul’s and Will’s), but the scrutiny does make him wonder.

        David does seem rather fixated on Sonny. He keeps drawing him into conversation and asking him all sorts of questions about Phoenix, the club, and his family, as if he finds Sonny fascinating.

        Sonny endures this with as much grace as he can muster.

        He knows Paul at least is suffering with him. Paul has barely spoken two words tonight that weren’t directly prompted by John or David. He watches Sonny and David interact with a tense, alert expression on his face. It’s more than the polite confusion coming from everyone else.

        Sonny wonders what he’s watching for. He wants to nudge Paul’s leg under the table, to non-verbally tell him to stop already, but they’re both being watched, so he pretends not to feel the extra attention.

        He wonders if Paul feels guilty. After all, when Sonny was still married to Will, Paul told Sonny over and over again that it should have been them, that it still could be. Now, Sonny is finally divorced, and Paul is going to marry someone else. This perfect, gorgeous man.

        For the first time, Sonny truly understands the insecurity that Will once felt in regards to Paul. It might be irrational, but it still feels painful and undeniable.

        Although there might still be a hint of animosity between them, Will and Paul don’t seem particularly concerned with each other anymore. It’s just another reminder that a year is a long time to hold onto bad feelings. Or any feelings, apparently.

        Everyone is watching him and David, and Sonny has no idea what any of them are thinking. Will coughs awkwardly when David tries to ask Sonny about the dating scene in Phoenix. Marlena quickly changes the subject. David doesn’t seem to notice the tension at the table, and maybe there isn’t any. Maybe it’s all on him.

        Thankfully, Arianna chooses that moment to grow bored with the dinner conversation. She starts pulling at his sleeve and reaching for him. Grateful for a distraction, Sonny takes her from her booster seat and brings her onto his lap. Will offers her a spoon with some of the chocolate mousse from his plate, and she happily stuffs it into her mouth.

        Marlena smiles warmly at them. “She must be so happy you’re home. I know we are.” She and Will share a look that Sonny doesn’t see because he’s trying to keep Arianna from getting any of Will’s chocolate mousse on the tablecloth.

        David looks between him and Will and Ari. Something like a smile but not quite a smile crosses his face, as if a question has been answered for him.

        He puts his arm across the back of Paul’s chair. Sonny notices, and he and Paul catch each other’s eye at the same moment. Sonny quickly looks away, choosing instead to focus on his daughter.

        “It’s good that you came back,” Paul says suddenly.

        Five incredulous stares turn on him. Blushing, Paul drops his gaze to his plate. “You know, for Ari.”

        The night cannot end soon enough for him.

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        Later, Marlena will tell him, “I think he’s been waiting for you.”

        She’s talking about Will.

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        Paul and David start spending time at Club TBD.

        Oddly, David seems to genuinely like him. Well, maybe it’s not exactly odd. As it turns out, they have a lot in common and share a similar sense of humor. They’ve even traveled to some of the same places.

        Sonny feels so guilty for his private resentment that he accidentally overcompensates with David, and before he knows it, they’re actually friends. They even start hanging out together without Paul.

        No one seems particularly comfortable with this arrangement except for David, who appears completely oblivious and determined to forge a friendship.

        Sonny goes along to get along, not assertive enough to resist.

        It’s one thing when it’s just him and David, but it’s another to play third wheel to him and Paul.

        When David invites him out to the Spot one night, Sonny drags Will along. He’s surprised when Will agrees to come, but he’s also very grateful.

        There comes a point in the evening when Sonny momentarily finds himself alone with David after they have had a few drinks.

        Apropos of nothing, David says, “You want to hear something funny? I was kind of afraid to meet you. Everyone talked you up so much. Maybe it’s weird for us to be friends, considering you and Paul used to be involved. But I don’t think so. Life goes on, right? I’m glad you turned out to be such a cool guy. I know I don’t have to worry. It’s obvious how much you love Will.”

        Sonny has no idea what to say to this, so he just smiles and offers to buy the next round.

        At another point in the evening, when they are briefly alone, Paul finally asks him why he came back. There’s pain in his voice when he asks. Sonny considers telling him then, but David returns to the table with their drinks and the topic gets dropped like a hot potato.

        Sonny has already had one too many when he goes to track Will down. He kisses Will while they are both waiting in line for the bathroom.

        Will kisses him back. They leave soon after.

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        The day of Paul’s wedding, Sonny helps Will with his tie even though he learned how to do it himself a long time ago.

        They smile at each other, basking a little in the familiarity. Sonny even holds his hand throughout the ceremony. If he seems to hold on a little too tight at times, then Will doesn’t mention it.

        Sonny makes it all the way to the reception before he escapes to the bathroom.

        Alone, he splashes cold water on his face and avoids his own gaze in the mirror. With shaking hands, he grips the edge of the sink and focuses on breathing. He refuses to cry, even though there’s a voice in his head telling him that this day should have been for him and Paul.

        He can’t believe they missed their shot again.

        He hears someone else enter the bathroom but pays them no mind until a hand touches his shoulder. He looks up and sees Paul. Worse, he sees his own conflicted misery mirrored back at him in Paul’s eyes.

        Paul says his name so gently, like a prayer.

        They have sex in the bathroom stall.

        It’s rushed and passionate, with Paul fucking him with all the desperation of this being the last time they’ll ever have. Sonny gasps and bucks, his face pressed into his arms until Paul tries to turn his face into a kiss. Their kisses miss the mark as often as they don’t. When their tongues finally entangle in Paul’s mouth, he moans helplessly. At the brink of climax, Paul buries his face in the back of Sonny’s neck and makes a loud sound like a sob.

        Paul has been married for all of an hour. It’s a miracle they don’t get caught. Not even afterward, as they clean up, straighten their clothes, and as Sonny gently wipes the sweat and tears from Paul’s face.

        Before they leave the bathroom, Paul tells him with heartbreaking sincerity, “I love you, Sonny.”

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        Paul and his husband go on their honeymoon, and Sonny stays in Salem.

        During the two weeks they’re gone, Sonny and Will make a project of updating Arianna’s room into a more “big girl” room, which means painting the walls her new favorite color— green, as it turns out— and installing her new big girl bed. Sonny gets ambitious and installs some fairy lights over the bed to double as a nightlight.

        By the time the project is done, they collapse on the couch, exhausted and laughing, and Will asks him if he wants to move back in.

        He looks at Will and remembers how it felt to love him and to be loved by him. He shed so many things when he left for Phoenix, and he thought that he had shed this, too. Maybe he didn’t.

        Who should know better than him that it can be possible to love two people at once? It’s a complication he truly tried to leave behind, but providence has not allowed him this.

        Paul is married. Paul is gone. Will wants him to come back to him, to come home.

        Sonny thinks of lost dreams and missed opportunities. He still wants to move forward.

        He says yes.

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        He missed his family while he was away. That feeling of completeness, of shared purpose, of home. He missed that maybe more than anything else.

        He missed seeing his daughter every day. Arianna giggles as her daddies swing her back and forth on their locked arms, like a swinging pendulum ride in an amusement park.

        It’s been such a nice day for the three of them. A nice few weeks, really. He and Will grin at each other, and he feels such a rush of affection for Will that it takes him off guard.

        They aren’t married anymore… but it still feels as if they are sometimes. Like now. It doesn’t help that they’re living in the same apartment and sharing the same bed that they did when they were.

        The sex is different now. He wouldn’t say it’s better than before, when they were still young and newly in love, but there are new elements now: new positions and maybe new feelings. Familiar enough to feel safe, but different enough to still excite.

        He wonders how his parents managed it, slipping in and out of each other’s lives over the years as if they had never been gone, as if there had never been someone else sleeping and eating and loving in their place.

        Part of him wants to tell Will why he really came back.

        He doesn’t know why he doesn’t.

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        Sonny hears that Paul has returned from his honeymoon, but he doesn’t actually see him for several days until Paul suddenly appears at the end of his bar. They stare at each other.

        He follows Sonny wordlessly to his office.

        An apology is the first thing out of Sonny’s mouth. “Paul, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

        Paul cuts him off with a firm kiss. His back hits the edge of his desk as Paul’s body crashes into his. Paul kisses him over and over until they’re both breathless.

        Between kisses, Paul says, “God, Sonny, I missed you. I missed you so much.” He isn’t just talking about his honeymoon.

        Sonny missed Paul, too, the whole time he was away in Phoenix, but he had to get his head on straight. He didn’t expect it to take so long, but it had.

        As they peel each other’s clothes off, Sonny finally, finally tells him, “I came back for you. For you, Paul.” He says it into Paul’s shoulder, into his ear, his hair. Against his lips. You, you, you

        “I love you, Sonny,” he says. “I love you so much.”

        They make love on top of Sonny’s desk, and this time, unlike the last time in the bathroom stall, Sonny knows he won’t regret it. They’ve waited so long.

__________________________________

        Four years ago, Sonny and Paul fell in love on a rooftop in San Francisco. The relationship didn’t last, but not because the love went away. Paul’s priorities were mixed up, and Sonny was young and impatient. They weren’t ready for each other yet.

        By the time Paul found him again in Salem, Sonny was married to someone else. The love between him and Paul was still there, but it was buried under layers of confusion and pain and complication. The biggest complication being that Sonny was still in love with his husband. It all became too much, and then Sonny fled to Phoenix. That wasn’t their time either.

        Now, Sonny is back, and they’re as in love as they ever were. And they’re as far apart as they ever were.

        Sonny thought this would finally be their time, but he was wrong. Now, Paul is the one who’s married, and Sonny is once again living with his ex-husband.

        When he left Phoenix, it was with the intention of moving his life forward. In coming back to Salem, it seems as if he’s only managed to go even further backwards than before. As close as they come, it’s never close enough.

        But the love never goes away.

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        Sonny spends six days a week wracked with guilt and self-doubt, but Tuesdays? Tuesdays are theirs.

        It’s the easiest day to get away, because Will has weekly check-ins with his editor and Paul’s husband works late on Tuesdays. Since they usually meet in the middle of the day rather than at night, it’s easier to come up with an excuse for why they aren’t where they’re supposed to be should someone notice their absence.

        They don’t go to the Salem Inn. Instead, they meet on the Southside of Salem, near Club TBD’s second location. They switch off on choosing the hotel, careful not to repeat the same place more than once a month. They never arrive or leave at the same time.

        This is a game they know by heart. They learned it a long time ago.

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        Having long ago given up on the idea of himself ever marrying Paul, Sonny struggles with the idea of someone else being his husband.

        He traces his finger over Paul’s wedding band as Paul sleeps, wondering why Paul never takes it off. He feels the metal track over his skin when Paul touches him. Does Paul leave it on because it means too much or because it doesn’t mean enough to matter?

        Will took off his ring, once upon a time.

        Sonny could hate himself for this. He could. Maybe a part of him does. But the part of him that loves Paul? Right now, that part is louder. That part feels hungry and unjustly deprived. Why is he the only one expected to sacrifice what he wants for the greater good, when no one else seems to and yet they all get what they want?

        Paul still kisses him as if he’s the most precious thing in the world. He touches Sonny with the reverence of an apostle. Paul sets his body on fire, and Sonny hates that they wasted so much time.

        This still isn’t their time, but it should be.

        The irony doesn’t escape him that they’re once again living half-lives inside impersonal hotel rooms.

__________________________________

        When Will tells him that he loves him— then, now, and always— Sonny says it back.

        The strange thing is that he isn’t even lying.

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        Life goes on.

        Arianna Grace turns four and starts preschool, and Will starts talking about tying the knot again. Paul and his husband begin interviewing surrogates.

        During this busy and arguably happy time, Sonny expects his and Paul’s “Tuesdays” to start dropping off.

        It doesn’t happen that way. If anything, Paul becomes needier. He fucks Sonny with more evident frustration, and it never seems to be enough. This leads to some truly mind-blowing sex, but these drawn-out sessions start making them late to leave, when before they seemed to have the timing down as well as it could be. An hour becomes two becomes three. More than once, Sonny has had to scramble for an excuse.

        Paul starts dropping by the club more often, usually without David. His texts and calls sound increasingly unhappy. Tuesdays don’t seem to be enough anymore.

        Sonny finds himself confused and worried by this behavior. Paul keeps pushing at their rules and making increasingly sloppier mistakes. It’s not that he doesn’t want to spend more time with Paul, but it isn’t smart.

        Sonny notices a distinct chill take over his interactions with Paul’s husband.

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        Will shows him pictures of houses in California.

        It didn’t work out last time, but Will is at a different place in his writing career now. He has more confidence and experience. He wants to try again.

        He takes Sonny’s hand. “I think it might be good for us. For all of us.”

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        When Paul starts ranting and raving, Sonny nervously eyes the closed door to his office. This is another conversation that should be saved for Tuesday, but Paul couldn’t wait, and so here they are.

        “You can’t do it. You can’t just leave again—”

        “Paul…”

        “No, Sonny! You don’t love him. You love me.”

        Sonny spares another nervous glance at the door. “You’re married,” he says, and boy if that doesn’t feel like a weird kind of inverted déjà vu hearing himself say that.

        Paul shakes his head. He looks so unhappy. Sonny doesn’t know how he heard about California, especially when it isn’t a for sure thing yet.

        “It shouldn’t be like this,” Paul says. “Sonny, it doesn’t have to be like this.”

        Sonny’s breath catches. “What are you saying?”

        “I’m saying…” He takes a deep breath and takes Sonny’s hands in his. “I’m asking what if I—?”

        He cuts off abruptly. His eyes widen, and he looks down at Sonny’s hand.

        Sonny’s heart is aching when Paul lifts up his hand, and they both stare at the ring on his finger.

        Déjà vu.

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        Will proposes in the park, with Arianna being the one to offer the ring.

        It’s lovely and sweet and makes Sonny feel like the worst person in the world. A part of him suspected this was the direction they were going, but this still catches him off guard. Does Will really want this? How could he when…?

        Silently, he urges, Look at me, Will. Do I still look like the same person to you?

        He doesn’t feel like the same person.

        Will isn’t the same person he was either. He’s so much more confident now, more comfortable in his own skin. He’s kind, compassionate, and loyal, the man Sonny always knew he could be once he got out of his own way.

        Maybe this is what Will wants.

        Sonny forgave Will for their marriage problems and the infidelity a long time ago, and they found a way to become friends again. He thought he was passed everything, but maybe… maybe he wasn’t? Maybe that’s tied into all of this?

        God, what has he done?

        Looking at Will and Arianna, beautiful and golden with their bright, hopeful expressions, makes something crack inside him, and the ache pours out, thick as honey. He wants to be the man he used to be. Who he thought he was. He wants to go back. He doesn’t want to be the kind of selfish person who could do this to the people he claims to love.

        Will, help me.

        Arianna dances in place, excited. She both does and doesn’t understand what’s happening. She’s old enough now to remember this later, the time her dad proposed to her other dad.

        “Yes,” he gasps. “Yes.”

        Beaming, Will kisses him. Arianna giggles at her silly daddies. Sonny clings on for dear life.

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        “We’re better than this,” he says.

        He hopes. He wants to be. Paul is one of the best men he knows. Sonny can’t help but feel that he’s led them down a path that degrades them both.

        He didn’t mean to. He just wanted to be happy.

        Paul shakes his head, tears in his eyes. “But I love you.”

        He can feel his heart breaking right down the middle. Sonny cups Paul’s face, his beloved face, and wipes the tears away with his thumbs. “And I love you.”

        “Then don’t leave me.”

        “I don’t want to,” he admits. He doesn’t. Part of him thinks that he can’t, especially not when Paul is looking at him like this, as if Sonny holds the balance between happiness and despair in his hands.

        But if it really is so dire, if it has come to that, then… maybe it would be best for Paul if he did go to California. If Sonny left him alone to recover from this mess and to get back to where he was before Sonny came back.

        When Sonny first came back, all he heard about was how well Paul was doing, about his gorgeous fiancé and the life they were building. Sonny didn't mean to take that away. He never meant to hurt Paul. That was the last thing he wanted.

        He presses his forehead against Paul’s, still holding his face in his hands. “I love you, but maybe this just isn’t our time.” Oh, it hurts to actually say it aloud.

        But Paul is stubborn, so stubborn. “Sonny, it will only ever be our time if we make it our time.”

        Sonny sighs. “It’s not that simple.” Pulling back, he lifts Paul's hand between them so they’re both looking at Paul’s wedding band.

        Sonny doesn’t know what he expects from Paul in response, but it isn’t what he does. Paul looks into Sonny’s eyes, tilts his chin stubbornly, and pulls off his ring. Before Sonny has time to process this, he then takes Sonny’s hand and removes his ring, too.

        He places both rings on Sonny’s desk.

        At a loss, Sonny can only stare helplessly at Paul. He doesn’t understand the gesture. Before he can ask, Paul grips Sonny’s face and pulls him into a sound kiss. The kiss smacks of love and desperation. Overwhelmed, Sonny whimpers against Paul’s mouth.

        He’s still overwhelmed when Paul wraps him into a fierce hug. “Stay,” he says. “Just stay, and we’ll figure it out. I’ll do anything you want. Anything, Sonny.”

        Sonny doesn’t know what to say, so he just lets Paul hold him. He clings to Paul’s strong shoulders, not ready to let go just yet.

        Paul’s arms are tight around him. After a while, he asks, “What are you going to do?”

        Sonny looks over Paul’s shoulder to where their rings rest on his desk.

        He doesn’t know.

Finis.