Actions

Work Header

all the secrets of our mountain (all the riches buried there)

Chapter Text

The door shuts quietly behind Patrick and all three faces swing toward Jonny. Bryan’s still holding his arm and in the absence of anything else to say, Jonny seizes on that. “Eric, apologize to your brother and go grab the boo boo bag out of the freezer.”

Eric looks at Jonny balefully but turns dutifully to Bryan, who sniffles. “I’m sorry,” Eric mumbles.

“That really hurted,” Bryan responds, tears starting again, and that’s apparently all Eric needed because he starts crying, too.

“I’m didn’t mean to,” Eric sobs and throws himself at Bryan, bumping his arm.

“Owwww,” Bryan screams, jumping away. “Owwwwww!”

Jonny closes his eyes briefly, pinching his nose and sighing.

“Eric,” Jonny says over Bryan’s sobbing, “go get your brother a boo boo bag.”

He pulls Bryan into his lap, careful not to bump his arm, and hugs him.

“Shh, it’s okay, Bry, Papa’s got you,” Jonny soothes. “You’re okay.”

“I want Daddy,” Bryan screams. “Daddy! Daddy!”

Jonny sighs. “Daddy needed to go, Bry, but he’ll be back in a little bit. You’re okay, though, Papa’s here.”

“Daddyyyyyyy,” Bryan screams. “Daddy!”

Eric comes back in with the boo boo bag and sits next to Bryan while Jonny applies it. Bryan doesn’t stop crying until Eric holds his hand and starts whispering in his ear. It's quiet for a brief moment before Bryan pushes him away, glaring at him.

Bryan hiccups and turns to look at Jonny, his eyes red and leaking tears. “Daddy’s not coming back? Eric said he’s leaving us, too!”

“Eric!” Jonny shouts, making both of the twins jump. He has to force his voice to a lower volume. “Daddy is coming back, why would you think that?”

“Because you left,” Eric says quietly, sniffling a little as tears form in his eyes. “And you aren’t coming back. Ever. Are you?” He says the last with his jaw set, looking like he’s waiting for a blow.

“I - “ Jonny’s throat aches. “Daddy and I are working on things, things you don’t need to worry about. But right now we need to help Bryan feel better. Right, Bryan?”

“Uh huh,” Bryan says, hiccuping again. “It - it doesn’t hurt so bad no more, Papa.”

It takes a few more minutes of hugs and kisses and boo boo bag application before Jonny can extract himself from the couch and pull out his phone.

“Where the fuck are you, Patrick” he hisses into the phone when Patrick’s phone goes to voicemail after several rings. “Get your ass back here,” he says, hanging up.

“Okay, who wants ice cream?” As expected, the boys perk up at that, and they all troop into the kitchen. Amelie’s already there, piles of laundry on the floor, sitting in a laundry basket, the other one upside down next to her.

“Well, shit,” Jonny says, putting up a hand when Eric opens his mouth. “If you get ice cream after hitting your brother with a sword,” Eric looks down, biting his lip. “Yeah, if you get ice cream, I get to swear. Deal?”

Eric frowns at him for a few seconds before smiling. “Deal, Papa.”

“And you, mon petit monstre, what have you done in here?” He lifts Amelie out of the laundry basket and puts her in her high chair. He’s not sure if the laundry is clean or dirty, so he just piles it all into the baskets and leaves them on the floor for Patrick to deal with later.

“Okay, who wants strawberry and who wants chocolate?” Jonny plonks both flavors onto the island.

“Both!” The twins shout.

“Can we have both?” Eric begs.

“Please, Papa? I have an owie arm.” Bryan pouts, in a frighteningly accurate approximation of Patrick’s patented look.

Jonny has his usual response to that look. “Fine, but-”

“Thanks!”

“Yeah, thanks, Papa, you’re the best!” Eric says, smiling toothily when Jonny gives him a level look.

“Right,” Jonny says, shaking his head and getting out the scoop.

***

One hour, four more calls, and fifteen texts later, Jonny is officially furious. Patrick’s still not home and still not picking up, but when he calls Erica, she tells him that she hasn’t seen him.

“No, he really didn’t come here,” Erica says, her tone cold. “I don’t know what else you want me to say, Jonny. I haven’t seen him.”

“Really?” Jonny feels a prickle of worry make it’s way down his spine. “But he’s been gone for over an hour.”

“And you’re calling me why? Jesus, Jon,” Erica snaps. “You can barely get anywhere and back in this city in an hour, come on. Don’t tell me an hour with your own kids already has you desperate for back-up.”

“I was kind of busy taking care of three small children, Erica,” Jonny says, his voice rising. His phone beeps at the same time and he looks down. “That’s him now.” He hangs up without another word, transferring to the other call.

“Jesus Christ, Patrick, where the fuck did you go?”

“Mr. Toews?” A woman’s voice asks. “I’m calling from Good Samaritan Hospital. Are you the spouse of Patrick Kane-Toews?”

It takes a moment for the words to filter through the rant Jonny was working up to, but when they do, Jonny’s legs give out, and he falls into a chair. “Yeah- yes,” he croaks. “Where’s Patrick? What’s wrong?”

It feels like an eternity before she answers. “I’m sorry to tell you that Patrick’s been in an accident. He was just brought in unconscious, but in good condition. He’s being assessed by the team right now. We’d like you to come down as soon as possible.”

“I - my kids,” Jonny says. “I have - I have to get someone to stay with them. But - is he going to be okay? Is he - is it - how serious is it? Why is he unconscious?” Jonny’s aware that he’s babbling but he can’t seem to shut the words off until she interrupts him.

“I can’t answer any medical questions over the phone, Mr. Toews, I can only tell you that he’s unconscious and in good condition.”

“Oh, okay, thanks,” Jonny says nonsensically.

“I know this is a lot for you to take in, but you really need to come down here as soon as you can. Come to the Emergency Room and give them your name, and they’ll direct you to his care team.” She gives him instructions on where to park and reminds him to drive safely before hanging up.

Jonny sits there, his mind blank other than thinking about Patrick - he’s hurt, Patrick’s hurt, he’s alone and he’s hurt -

“Papa?” Eric says from next to him, making Jonny jump. “The movie’s done, can we watch another one?”

“You-” Jonny’s brain abruptly comes back online. “No, we’re going to Aunt Erica’s. Go get your lovies, and tell Bryan to pack a couple of movies. I’ve got to make up an overnight bag for you guys.”

“Sleepover at Aunt Erica’s? On a school night?” Eric whoops. “Awesome!”

Jonny calls Erica back as he’s racing up the stairs.

“Jesus, you’re a rude fucker,” Erica says when she answers.

“Pat’s been in an accident,” Jonny says without a greeting. “I’ve got to get to the hospital. I’m going to drop the kids off on my way.”

“Pat - what?” Erica says. “What?”

“Patrick’s been in an accident,” Jonny says again, digging into the laundry baskets Amelie had upended earlier and shoving clothes into a reusable grocery bag. “He’s unconscious but in good condition, and I’ve - I’ve - I have to get there, Erica. He’s all alone there - I have to,” he can feel his breath coming too quickly and he has to sit down. “What if he’s - “

“He’s not, Jonny,” Erica cuts him off. “Stay right there, I’m coming-”

“No!” Jonny shouts. “No, you’re on the way to the hospital, it’ll be quicker if I come to you. Just wait there.”

“Okay, okay,” Erica says, her voice thready. “What happened?”

“I don’t fucking know, Erica, they wouldn’t tell me anything,” Jonny says, his voice cracking. “Just that he’s unconscious and in good condition. Fuck, Erica, fuck, we - what if he’s not okay? What if - “

“He’s going to be okay,” Erica says, her voice firmer. “He’s going to be okay. This is why you got that extra safe SUV, remember? I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”

“Right, right,” Jonny says, relieved at the reminder. “But why is he unconscious? What happened?”

“I don’t know, Jon, but you need to pull it together,” Erica says calmly, no sign that she was the one breathing tightly a moment ago. “Just get the kids packed up and get over here. You need to be with him.”

“Right,” Jonny says again, her matter-of-fact tone cutting through some of his panic. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Call me when you get close, and I’ll come out and meet you. And for fuck’s sake, drive safely.”

Jonny’s gets to the front door with a bag stuffed with all of their essential gear less than five minutes later. All three kids are sitting at the bottom of the stairs, Eric reading Amelie her Barnyard Dance book.

Bryan beams at him. “See, Papa? We can be good!” He’s holding about fifteen DVD boxes on his lap and it makes Jonny hiccup an almost hysterical laugh.

“That’s great, bud, but you’re only going for one overnight, Bry. I don’t think you need that many,” he says, opening the bag, “but put them all in here, and you can figure it out with Aunt Erica.”

He looks around for his keys but they’re not where he left them. He wastes a few minutes checking in the kitchen and on the couch, but there’s no sign of them. “Maybe I left them in the car,” he says to the boys and an increasingly fussy Amelie.

But when he opens the door he doesn’t see his car, and Patrick’s car is still in the driveway.

Icy dread floods him.

Patrick hadn’t been in the SUV they’d bought expressly for its safety rating.

Patrick had been driving Jonny’s car.

***

Jonny pulls up outside of Erica’s apartment and jumps out as soon as the car’s in park, opening the back door to pull Amelie out of her car seat.

“Jonny,” Erica says, running down the front steps. “What - why are you driving Patrick’s car?”

“He took my car,” Jonny says, handing her Amelie and shutting the door behind the twins. “I - we were fighting, and he must have grabbed my keys. I didn’t even realize until I couldn’t find them.”

“Oh, shit,” Erica says, paling.

“Yep,” Jonny says succinctly. “Holy shit.”

“Sweepy,” Amelie says, putting her head on Erica’s shoulder. “Nigh-nigh?”

“Sure, Lady Bug,” Erica says, rubbing her back. “Okay, I’ve got this, you should get going.”

“Hey, guys, can you carry this for Aunt Erica?”

“I’ve got it, Papa,” Eric says, hoisting the strap across his body. “Bryan’s arm still hurts, right Bry?”

Bryan nods and bites his lip.

“Okay, well, be good for Aunt Erica,” Jonny says, squatting in front of them to pull them into his arms. “I love you.” He kisses them quickly.

“Call me,” Erica says, “and Jonny, you need to know - “

“No time, Erica,” Jonny says, jumping into the car. “I’ll call you from the hospital.”

Getting to Good Sam takes forever it seems, although the clock on the dash indicates only fifteen minutes have passed. He drops his car off with the valet and sprints into the ER. A security guard waves him through the metal detector and directs him to the registration desk.

“I’m - my husband was brought in? Patrick Toews - Patrick Kane-Toews?”

After verifying his name and making a copy of Jonny’s driver’s license, the clerk calls a woman over.

“Mr. Toews? I’m Michelle, one of the Emergency Room nurses.” She smiles at the clerk and beckons Jonny to join her. “I’ll take you to see your husband now.”

Michelle opens the door behind the reception area and leads him past a row of curtained areas down to a quieter hallway. “He’s just through here.”

“How - how is he? Is he okay?” Jonny’s voice sounds panicked in his own ear, and he takes in a deep breath, blowing it back out shakily. “I’m - no one has told me anything - is he still unconscious? Please, just tell me if he’s not - isn’t he okay?”

“He’s stable,” Michelle answers calmly. “And technically he’s still unconscious, although he’s opened his eyes and spoken to us a few times. But let’s get into his room so I can pull up his chart and try to answer all of your questions.” She holds open a door and gestures Jonny inside.

The sight that greets Jonny makes his knees feel weak again. Patrick is lying quietly on the bed, hooked up to monitors, his face still and pale. He’s got a bruise on his cheek and his hair’s been cut short on one side, a patch extending from behind one his ear almost to his temple, which is bruised and bandaged.

Jonny walks on unsteady legs over to Patrick’s bed and sits down heavily in the chair next to it.

He reaches for Patrick out of instinct but then pulls his hand back, unsure. “Can I - is it safe to touch him?” Jonny asks, looking up at the nurse.

“Yes, just try not to disturb the IV,” she says, gesturing at the tube taped to the back of Patrick’s hand. “Give me one minute to pull up his chart.”

Jonny slides his fingers gently into Patrick’s hand. It’s cold and dry, and he captures it between both of his own, gently rubbing it around the IV.

“Okay, so he’s been seen, evaluated for the head trauma, and they think it’s just a mild concussion, but until he wakes up fully, they can’t confirm that,” she says once she’s logged into the computer on the other side of Patrick’s bed. “They suspect he’s got a broken rib, maybe two, but he hasn’t gone up to x-ray yet. He’s got a few small abrasions from where the airbag scratched his face. Hmm.” She looks at something a little more closely and then closes the window.

“Hmm? What does that mean - what’s wrong?” Jonny says frantically. “Did you see something else?”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong, sorry. I was just checking on why they hadn’t gotten him up to x-ray. Looks like the doctor put a hold on that until she could get some lab work back.” She smiles at him reassuringly. “But the labs are back, and I just paged Dr. Chu so she can give you more details.”

“Wait!” Jonny calls just as Michelle reaches the door, suddenly afraid to be left alone with Patrick. She looks at him patiently.

“Are you sure it’s okay to leave him alone?”

“Yes,” she says, stepping closer to the bed. “He’s going to be fine. He’s resting comfortably and - “

“I know you probably weren’t here when he came in, but - do you know what happened? What caused the accident? The woman who called me didn’t know anything and I’m just,” Jonny breaks off when his voice cracks. “I’m not sure how it happened.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Toews, I don’t have any details about what happened,” Michelle says gently. “I’ll see if the police officer who came in with him is still here. I’ll ask him to stop by the room before he leaves if I can find him.”

Jonny thanks her and looks back down at Patrick, still sleeping so quietly despite all the noise and the bright overhead light. His lashes are dark on his cheeks, and despite the cut on his face and the shorn hair, he’s still the best thing Jonny’s ever seen.

“Patrick,” Jonny whispers brokenly, trailing his fingers down his jaw. There are little flecks of blood on his cheek and Jonny curls his fingers back in abruptly. He rests his forehead on their joined hands and breathes, catching the smallest hint of Patrick’s scent under the antiseptic smells in the room.

Seeing him so small and still, so beautiful, makes all of the bullshit Jonny’s been feeling fade away and get replaced with how much he loves Patrick. And that realization is followed close on its heels by the one that really matters: that he can’t live without him. No matter how hard it will be to move on from the things that have happened between them over the past few months, if Patrick’s willing to forgive Jonny for being an ass, then Jonny’s willing to forgive Patrick for moving forward with the divorce.

“Jon,” Patrick croaks suddenly, his fingers twitching. Jonny’s head whips up and Patrick’s looking at him, blinking groggily. “My head really hurts.”

“Pat!” Jonny says, looking around for the button to call the nurse. “You’re awake, thank God you’re awake.”

“What happened?” Patrick says, moaning when he moves his head a little. “Ouch.”

“I’m just so glad you’re okay,” Jonny says, squeezing Patrick’s hand. “I know it hurts, but you’re - you’re going to be okay.”

“What happened?” Patrick says again, swallowing loudly, his tongue coming out to lick his lips. “I’m so thirsty.”

Jonny looks around quickly and spots a pitcher of water and cup with a straw on the table next to Patrick’s bed.

“Here,” Jonny says, pouring a cup and holding it out to Patrick.

Patrick reaches to take the cup and groans, putting his hand to his side.

“Sorry, here, I’ll hold it.” Jonny lifts the straw up for Patrick and he takes several long pulls before settling back against the cushions. “Better?”

“Mmm hmm,” Patrick hums, his eyes drifting shut. “Thanks, Jonny.”

Jonny’s throat works helplessly, unable to get words out. He settles for squeezing Patrick’s hand as he slips back into sleep.

Fifteen minutes later a trim woman sweeps through the door followed by two men. “Mr. Toews?” She asks briskly. “I’m Dr. Chu and these are my interns, Dr. Hall and Dr. Eberle. We’ve been taking care of your husband.”

“Is he going to be okay?” Jonny asks. “Michelle couldn’t tell me what happened but she said he’s okay - is he - is he okay?”

“Yes, I think he’s going to be just fine,” Dr. Chu says. “Let me do a quick physical exam, see where we’re at.”

“Patrick,” she says loudly, snapping her fingers next to Patrick’s ear several times. “I need you to wake up for me, Patrick.”

Patrick moans and opens his eyes. “Mwhw?” He slaps at her hand when she keeps snapping her fingers at his ear. “Ouch, fuck, stop!”

“Good evening, Patrick, remember me?” She asks cheerfully. “I’m Dr. Chu, we spoke earlier?”

“Yeah, I remember, fuck, can you stop shouting at me?” Patrick snaps.

Dr. Chu laughs, unoffended. “Seems like you’re actually with us this time, hmm? Let’s just get some vitals and then we can go over the test results.”

Jonny stands and edges back from the bed to give the doctors room to maneuver around Patrick, watching him for signs that he’s in pain, but other than wincing when Dr. Chu presses on his left side, Patrick seems annoyed but not in too much pain during her exam.

Dr. Chu steps back from the bed and tucks her stethoscope back into her pocket. “Okay, well, everything looks better than the last time we spoke. Your vitals are good, you’re responding to stimuli as expected and basically other than your headache and a couple of cracked ribs, I think you’re in good shape.”

“Doesn’t feel like I’m in great shape,” Patrick grumbles. “Feels like I got hit by a fucking bus.”

“Luckily for you, you weren’t hit by a bus,” she laughs. “The baby looks great, too. I called in an OB consult when your pregnancy test came back positive and he did an ultrasound, which you probably don’t even remember.”

Jonny must make a noise because everyone looks over at him except Patrick, who is studying his hands where they’re folded over his stomach. When Dr. Chu asks him if he has a question, Jonny shakes his head before sitting down heavily in the chair next to Patrick’s bed.

“Okay, well, there’s no fetal distress, heartbeat normal. So no worries on that front,” Dr. Chu says. “Any questions about the baby?”

Yes, Jonny thinks. Starting with: there’s a baby? and moving right on down the line from there.

“Thanks, that’s great,” Patrick says, glancing over at Jonny.

“We’re keeping you here for a few more hours but then I think you can go home with this handsome fellow,” she says, smirking at Jonny, who stares at her uncomprehendingly.

“He, uh - he’s just a little overwhelmed,” Patrick says.

“Well, if there’s nothing else, we’ll let you get some more rest, and we’ll come back in a few hours, see if we can’t get you discharged.”

“Thanks,” Patrick says, shaking her hand. “I’d love to get home tonight.”

The doctors take their leave, handing Jonny some paperwork about concussions before closing the door.

“Jonny?” Patrick asks tentatively once the doctors are gone. “Jonny?”

Jonny looks at him, his mouth opening and shutting. He shakes his head to clear it. “Baby? Did she say - baby? Are you - you’re pregnant?”

Patrick bites his lip and looks down, rubbing his fingers over the edge of the sheet draped across his stomach.

“Yeah, I . . . I was going to tell you . . .have been trying to tell you, but . . .” Patrick’s voice trails off.

“We’re - we’re having a baby?”

“Yes?” Patrick says. “Yes. We’re having another baby.”

“Oh, ” Jonny says wonderingly. “Wow, that’s . . . so. That’s just. Wow.”

Patrick chuckles and then winces, pressing a hand to his side. “Ow,” he says. “It hurts to laugh.”

“Sorry?” Jonny says. “I. What?”

Patrick huffs out a careful snort. “Jesus, I forgot what you’re like when you find out I’m pregnant,’ Patrick says fondly.

“But,” Jonny says. “How?”

“Not this again, Jonny. I’m know we’ve been over it before. When a boy loves another boy very, very much-” Patrick stops and bites his lip.

Jonny justs stares at him dumbly.

“Right.” Patrick says, making a face. “Sorry. I think - I think it was in December? Before, uh . . . Before.”

Jonny nods, staring unseeingly at the wall next to Patrick’s bed as he thinks back. “Before? Oh!” He blinks at Patrick. “In Tahoe?”

“I think that time, you know. Before the Christmas Program.” Patrick says, plucking at the sheet.

“Oh, ” Jonny says, face reddening. “That’s, that’s good.”

Patrick shakes his head at him and then moans, putting a hand to his head. “Ouch, that really - what the fuck?”

Patrick’s fingers scrabble at the edge of the bandage on his temple and into his hair. “What happened to my hair?” He scrubs his fingers through the shaved hair. “What the fuck happened to my fucking hair?”

Jonny winces, “they, uh - I think they cut it so they could stitch you up? I don’t - I’m not sure, I just got here. It’s not that bad. Not - not really?”

“Find me a mirror, Jon,” Patrick snaps. “Is it bad? It’s bad, isn’t it? Oh, fuck.”

“I - give me a second,” Jonny says, bolting for the door. He rushes to the nurses’ station, and they manage to find a small compact. When he gets back to the room, Patrick’s sitting upright, his face white.

“Jesus, did you sit up by yourself? Jonny demands. “I would’ve helped you!”

“I didn’t -” Patrick says, panting a little and pressing a hand to his side. “I didn’t think it would hurt that much. Did you find a mirror?”

“Here,” Jonny says, thrusting the compact at him. “This is the only thing they had.”

“Fuck,” Patrick says under his breath, closing his eyes before opening them and looking into the compact. “Oh, fuck, fuck, it’s so short, and it’s right in front, fuck.”

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Jonny says desperately when Patrick’s eyes fill with tears. “None of that, come on. It’ll be fine, we just need to even it out. Hell, you could do like, I don’t know. A mullet - you love getting mullets!”

Patrick snorts and then winces. “A mullet? Jonathan Bryan Toews, are you actually encouraging me to get a mullet?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, relaxing a little now that Patrick’s not freaking out. “I guess I am.”

“Anyone would think you’re the one with the blow to the head,” Patrick says, smirking a little even though he’s still wiping his eyes.

There’s a knock on the door then and a man walks in. “Mr. Toews? I’m Dr. Parise, one of the obstetrics attendings. I did the consult when you came in, and I wanted to stop by, make sure you’re feeling okay and talk to you a little about follow-up care.”

“Oh, um - okay,” Patrick says, glancing at Jonny quickly. “Thanks for making sure that the baby’s okay.”

“No problem,” Parise says. “He’s - or she’s - got a really strong heartbeat. I don’t see any reason this pregnancy won’t proceed normally.”

Patrick smiles and nods while Parise goes through the aftercare instructions. “Anything else you wanted to talk about?”

“No, I think that’s pretty much it,” Patrick says, smiling.

“I have some questions,” Jonny says, ignoring Patrick when he groans.

***

Patrick slips back to sleep a little later, and Jonny moves to stand next to the window to call Erica.

“How is he? Is he okay?” Erica demands. “Why are you only calling me now, asshole! I’ve been worried sick!”

“I texted you -” Jonny starts.

“It’s not the same, Jon.” Erica huffs. “How’s my brother?”

“Yeah, he’s good, he seems really good.” Jonny swallows. “And pregnant. Did you know he’s pregnant?”

Erica sighs. “Yeah.”

“Do you know why he didn’t tell me? Because - “

“If you ask me if it’s yours, I will fucking shank you, I swear to God!”

“No, Jesus! What the fuck?” Jonny says, dropping his voice when Patrick shifts on the bed. “What the actual fuck, Erica?”

“Well, the way you’ve been talking to him, I wouldn’t be surprised. Asshole.”

Jonny winces. “Yeah, I know. But I would never think that Pat - that he - “

“Then why don’t you stop calling him a slut, Jon? Why did you keep saying - ”

“That’s not - I didn’t,” Jonny pinches the bridge of his nose. “It’s complicated, Erica, and I’m not having this conversation with you while I’m standing in Patrick’s hospital room watching him sleep. This is something I need to work out with Patrick, not you. Okay?”

“Fine,” Erica says sullenly. There’s an awkward silence for a moment. “Well, how is he? What happened? Is he going to be okay? Is the baby okay?”

“Yeah, he’s good, and the baby’s fine. He’s not unconscious anymore, but he’s got a mild concussion and cracked ribs.” Jonny sighs and leans against the wall.

“Did he say what happened?”

“He rear-ended someone on the freeway. He said he just didn't see the car in front of him until it was too late.”

“Jesus - how fast was he going?”

“Pretty fucking fast,” Jonny says grimly. “Thank God the Acura has good airbags.”

“Not as good as the SUV, though,” Erica says darkly. “But at least he’s okay. Is he spending the night?”

“They’re keeping him for a few more hours. They can’t take x-rays because of the baby, so they want to monitor his breathing to make sure he didn’t puncture a lung or anything.”

“Puncture a lung?” Erica says, her voice rising again. “Aren’t there other tests they can do? A CAT scan or an MRI or something? Why are they releasing him at all-”

“Calm down, Erica. I know how it sounds but they’re almost entirely sure the ribs are cracked, not broken.”

“But if they didn’t take an x-ray, how do they know?”

“Apparently because he didn’t throw up when they did the physical exam.” It had taken everything in Jonny not to punch the asshole intern who’d pressed on Patrick’s ribs.

“What?”

“Yeah, that wasn’t fun. I guess when they press on them, to see if they can feel anything, if he throws up, that means they’re more likely broken. And he didn’t, so.”

“They pressed on his fucking cracked or broken ribs? What kind of shit hospital is that?!”

“Yeah, trust me, I was pretty fucking furious too, but I guess it’s the only way to really check without doing an x-ray. And they won’t risk the baby, so it’s what they had to do. But they’re, um, I think they said confident? Yeah, they’re confident that he’s only got cracked ribs.”

“What about the concussion?”

“Apparently that’s mild, too, so he just needs to rest and keep noise and light to a minimum.”

“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem with three kids in the house,” she says dryly.

“Exactly,” Jonny says. “I was wondering if you can help until one or both of our moms get to town?”

“I can keep them, for sure,” Erica says.

“Well, for tonight, anyway. After that, Pat wants them at home. He’s - we’re worried about how things have been the last few months, and I think it will frighten them if they’re away from the house too long.”

“Yeah,” Erica says, her voice steely. “About that - “

“I’m - I’m going to fix it,” Jonny says. “I promise. I’ll take care of him, and I’ll apologize. And if he can find a way to forgive me, I’ll spend the rest our lives making it up to him.” He chews on the corner of his thumb and takes a deep breath. “Do you think he can forgive me?”

Erica sighs. “Jonny, it’s you. It’s you and Patrick. There’s nothing you two can’t do, when you team up. And I know he did some things that hurt you -- now and in the past -- but you fucking broke his heart the past few weeks. So, yeah, he can forgive you. But I’m not sure he should.”

“I know,” Jonny says, looking over at Patrick, sleeping peacefully. “But I’ve got to believe he will.”

***

Patrick’s discharged from the hospital at two o’clock in the morning over Jonny’s protests.

“He’s got a concussion -- and stop saying it’s mild! I don’t care how fucking mild it is -- it’s still a concussion! What if he goes into a coma?”

The nurse sighs. “Mr. Toews, Patrick needs rest and quiet, and a hospital is no place for either. The best thing for him is to be comfortable and the best place to be comfortable is at home.”

“But - ”

“Jonny, please stop. I just want to go home,” Patrick says, his voice strained. “I want to sleep in my own bed.”

“But what if you - “ Jonny looks at Patrick, drooping in the wheelchair he’d climbed into before Jonny got into this standoff with the nurse. “Okay, I just - I’m worried about you.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that,” Patrick says dryly. “You done?”

Jonny sighs. “I guess.”

“Okay,” Patrick smiles at the nurse, “I think we can go.”

Jonny helps Patrick into the SUV and they drive home in almost silence, only broken once when Patrick speaks. “Bedrest for a week,” Patrick says. “I hope my mom can get here soon.”

“We’ll call them in the morning,” Jonny says. “I’m sure my mom will want to come, too. And I’m going to take time off until they can get here.”

Patrick turns his head to stare at Jonny curiously. “Really?”

“Yes, really Pat. Do you honestly think I’d just leave you home alone with the kids in this condition?” Jonny says, affronted. “Of course I’m going to stay and take care of you.”

“Oh, ” Patrick says quietly. “That’s - thanks. You don’t have to do that.”

Jonny grinds his teeth. “Don’t thank me, I’m your husband. I’m the father of your children. It’s my job to take care of you.”

“Right. Your job,” Patrick says flatly, turning to look out the window. “Yeah, I guess I understand when you put it like that.”

When Jonny glances over at him, Patrick’s resting his forehead on the window, his face reflecting back, pinched and drawn.

Jonny presses the pedal and picks up speed. Patrick’s clearly flagging and Jonny needs to get him home and into bed.

***

Jonny’s finally gotten Patrick settled into bed with his grandma’s quilt, a fresh mug of chamomile tea, and promises that he’ll try to rest and will call Jonny if he needs anything.

Patrick’s been quiet since Jonny first showed up at the hospital, and it’s only highlighted by being home. The silence of the house is oppressive, feels overwhelming. Every room is missing something: Pat’s laughter and teasing, the boys’ bickering, Amelie’s belly laughs.

Jonny’s never really thought of this house as big before, but tonight -- with the kids staying at Erica’s and Patrick quietly resting -- the place feels huge. And for the first time since he moved out, he feels like he’s trespassing in someone else’s home.

With the kids gone, there are no fights to break up or homework to check; there’s no dinner to make or messes to attend to, and Jonny finds himself drifting from room to room, absently straightening books and pushing in chairs. His brain is still going a mile a minute trying to process everything from the past day. He wants something to do, something to take his mind off the fact that Patrick and his baby -- their baby -- were in a car accident. And, God, they could have -

He cuts off that train of thought with a determined shake of his head. They weren’t, they didn’t, they’re both safely ensconced in bed, and he says a little prayer of thanks.

It’s late, but Jonny’s too keyed up to sleep. After making a second lap of the main floor, and still not finding a project to keep himself occupied, he heads into the laundry room, with the half formed thought that maybe he’ll sort through some of their storage containers, finally get them organized like they’ve been talking about since they moved.

Instead, he’s met with three laundry baskets overflowing with clean clothes that need to be folded, and another heaping pile waiting to be sorted and washed.

He shakes his head at the mess. Patrick’s never been the greatest at keeping up with the laundry, but this is bad even for him. Still, it’s exactly the kind of busy, mindless task Jonny’s been looking for, and he sets to work.

It takes longer than he expected, sorting through all the clothes. And it’s been awhile since he’s done laundry, so he spends longer than he’d like to admit considering Amelie’s navy and white striped dress: whites? darks? He starts to wonder if he should have pulled out the plans Brandon sent home with him instead.

Nestled on top of the second basket of clothes, he finds a stack of Amelie’s board books. “How the hell did these get down here?” He mutters, setting them to the side. As he does, the top book slides off the stack revealing the title underneath, I’m A Big Sister.

Jonny picks the book up, trying to swallow a lump in his throat, and starts leafing through it. He remembers reading an older, dog-eared copy of I’m A Big Brother hundreds of times to the twins while they were awaiting Amelie’s arrival. This is clearly by the same author - he’ll remember the story for the rest of his life, he’s read it so many times.

Jonny’s heart breaks a little thinking about Patrick buying this book for Amelie. He can picture it all so clearly: Patrick settling Amelie onto his lap and holding her close, telling her all about how she’s going to be a big sister, how she can do lots of fun things babies can’t do, and how her daddies will always love her even if there is a new baby.

Jonny shakes his head, and replaces the book back with the rest. Patrick clearly had already started planning for this new baby, getting excited about it, and trying to tell Jonny. Meanwhile, Jonny had been accusing him of all sorts of horrible things.

He can’t help but wonder how Patrick had managed alone for the weeks since he found out about the baby. He thinks about how tired and nauseous Patrick had clearly been, and all the migraines he’s had, signs Jonny should have picked up. Signs of how far up his own ass Jonny’s head has been lodged.

It doesn’t bear thinking about, Jonny decides determinedly. And Patrick’s not ever going to be alone again, not if Jonny has anything to say about it.

***

Once he finishes with the laundry, Jonny grabs a quick nap, but he’s awake a few hours later. He hadn’t slept very well, lightly dozing and waking seemingly every few minutes to check whether Patrick had needed him for anything. He hadn’t.

The early hour and quiet house gives Jonny a head start on prepping the boys’ lunches while he waits for Erica to arrive. She had been planning to take the twins straight to school, but she’d texted Jonny that Eric didn’t have his backpack and Jonny had neglected to pack Bryan’s uniform pants, so she was going to swing by the house first. Jonny’s glad he’s going to see them - the house feels strangely empty without them here, and he knows just seeing them will go a long way towards settling the ache inside of him.

When Erica and the kids finally arrive it’s a whirlwind of activity as Bryan swaps out his pajama pants for navy Dockers.

“I found his backpack,” Jonny says, taking Amelie from Erica. “It was half-tucked under Amelie’s crib.”

She looks innocent from where she’s perched in Jonny’s arms sucking on her fingers, but they all know better.

“Why, Amelie Patricia Toews, you little thief!” Erica says, tickling Amelie’s tummy a bit and brushing her curls off her forehead.

“Papa, where’s Daddy? Can we see Daddy?” Bryan asks.

Eric joins him in turning beseeching eyes on Jonny.

“Daddy’s sleeping right now guys, but I bet he’ll be awake by the time you come home from school, okay?” Jonny says. “I know he wants to see you as much as you want to see him.”

The boys trade nonplussed looks, but don’t argue. “Okay,” Bryan agrees.

“But he’s okay, papa, right?” Eric asks, slight waver in his voice.

“He’s okay.” Jonny says, “I promise.”

Eric looks at Jonny a second later before following his brother into the kitchen, where from the sounds of it they’re raiding the refrigerator.

Erica lowers her voice so the boys can’t hear. “Okay, so how’s Pat really?”

Jonny meets her eyes, expecting to see an angry accusatory look there. Instead she just looks concerned, and if anything, a little pitying.

“He’s . . .” Jonny’s not quite sure how to answer. He’s been in a major accident. He’s carrying a baby he thinks I don’t want. He’s got a cracked rib and will barely let me help him. He thinks I hate him. He settles for, “he’s resting.”

The answer must be as unsatisfying for Erica as it is for him because she just “hmms” before calling to the twins. “All right monsters, are you ready to go to school?”

“Yes!” They shout in unison.

“Backpacks?” She asks.

“Yes!”

“Lunches?”

“Yes!”

“Pants?”

“Auntie Erica!” Bryan says while Eric dissolves into giggles.

“Okay, okay, let’s go.” She herds them towards the door. “I’ll pick the boys up this afternoon, but call me if you need anything, Jonny, I mean it.”

He smiles and nods, but knows he probably won’t. He’s going to prove to Patrick -- and maybe a little to himself -- that he’s got this. He can take care of Pat, he can take care of the kids, he can take care of the house, and he can prove that he’s deserving of Patrick’s forgiveness.

Once the door slams shut behind them, the house is quieter but much less empty than it was before. Amelie’s presence alone filling up the silence and making the whole place seem fuller.

“All right ma coccinelle, want to help Papa do some laundry? But we have to stay nice and quiet while Daddy sleeps, okay?”

“Dada! Dada!” Amelie chants as they head to the laundry room, but Jonny doesn’t have the heart to shush her. He knows exactly how she feels.

Jonny just shakes his head, before pressing a kiss to the top of her head, and plopping her down on the floor near the stack of books he’d found yesterday.

Jonny throws in a load of wash, and turns to get started on some of the folding taking over the table, but Amelie is gone. The room isn’t that big, and after making a full turn and not seeing her, he checks the hall, but she’s not there either.

“Ammy?” He calls, walking down the hallway toward the office, but she’s not there either.

“Ammy?” Hide and seek is her favorite game, but usually she’s not very good at it: standing in the corner with her eyes closed and operating under the assumption that if she can’t see you, you can’t see her.

“Ammy?” Jonny says again, a note of rising panic in his voice. He sticks his head back into the laundry room and hears muffled giggling from inside the dryer.

He opens up the dryer door, which had been pulled almost all the way shut, and is met with the sight of Amelie curled up in a pile of towels, one of her books on her lap.

“Papa,” Amelie says, stack of books on her lap. “Bye bye,” and she pulls the door shut again.

Jonny lets out a heavy breath, adrenaline still racing through his body. He considers whether it’s safe for a toddler to sit in a dryer with the door shut.

“Door open, Ammy,” he says, and she frowns at him. “Door open or no dryer, got it?”

Amelie sets her jaw but doesn’t cry or move to close the door, so Jonny turns back to tackle more of the folding.

At least now he knows why the books were in the laundry.

***

Patrick finally wakes up a few hours later, walking groggily down the stairs wrapped in the quilt and giving Jonny a heart attack when he stumbles a little on the last step.

“Christ, Patrick, be careful,” Jonny says, putting Amelie down so he can grab Patrick’s arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, Jon, I’m okay, and the baby’s okay,” Patrick says, pulling his arm out of Jonny’s grip. “I just missed a step, I didn’t fall down the stairs.”

“I know, it’s just - you need to be careful,” Jonny says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t want you to fall - you just got a concussion.”

“I’m aware. But I’m not exactly an invalid,” Patrick says, bending forward to kiss Amelie before groaning. “Fuck, I keep forgetting.” Amelie’s clinging to his leg and he pats her head awkwardly while he presses his other hand against his side.

“I’ve got her,” Jonny says, holding Amelie up so Patrick can kiss her. She squirms and arches to get closer to Patrick, but when Jonny keeps a firm hold of her, she whimpers and subsides.

Jonny trails after Patrick into the kitchen, setting Amelie down and quickly putting together some oatmeal for Patrick, who sniffs it, face rapturous, and then digs in. Jonny pours him a large glass of milk and leans back, shaking his head at how quickly Patrick’s eating.

“Forgot how much I love oatmeal,” Patrick says around a mouthful, grinning widely when Jonny makes a disgusted noise.

“Yeah, well, I’m not going to make it for you if you keep doing that,” Jonny says. “And you only like oatmeal when you’re pregnant.”

“Huh,” Patrick says, looking at his mostly empty bowl and shrugging. He holds it out to Jonny. “Is there more?”

Jonny dutifully fills the bowl again and hands it back to Patrick. “More milk?”

“Nah,” Patrick says, considering. “Maybe a glass of water?”

When Jonny turns back with the water, Amelie’s pulling on the quilt. “Dada, pas mal?”

“Yeah, Lady Bug, I’m not feeling too good.”

Amelie puts her hand on his knee and pats it. “Kiss!” She kisses his pant leg and then runs away giggling.

Jonny’s scooped her up and gotten her strapped into her high chair for her lunch when his phone rings. When he sees that it’s Brent, he looks at Patrick quickly. Patrick’s watching him, frowning.

“Something wrong?” Patrick asks. “You’re making a weird face.”

“No, but I have to take this,” Jonny says. “It’s just work.”

“Okay,” Patrick says but his frown doesn’t clear. “You should go take it in the living room. I’ll just - I’ll keep Ammy amused, right, baby girl?”

“Okay, call me if you - “ He raises his hands when Patrick glares at him. “Fine, fine. I’ll be right back.”

“Thanks for calling me back so fast,” Jonny says once he’s in the living room.

“No problem, Jonny - what’s going on with Patrick? Sharpy called and said he was in an accident?”

“Yeah,” Jonny sighs, looking into the kitchen where Patrick’s handing cheerios to Amelie one at a time so she can build a tower on her tray.

“Is he okay?” Brent asks, concerned.

“Yeah, mild concussion, cracked ribs.” Jonny bites the inside of his cheek. “And. And he’s pregnant.”

“What?”

“I’ll fill you in in a minute, but first I have a question for you.”

When he gets off the phone, Patrick’s drooping at the table.

“Hey, Pat, come on, let’s get you to bed,” Jonny says, smiling a little when Patrick startles. “And you’re due for your pain killer.”

“I am?” Patrick says, blinking.

“Yep,” Jonny says, handing Patrick the pills and a glass of water. “Down the hatch.”

Patrick grimaces but complies, handing the glass back to Jonny.

“And you, petite mademoiselle coccinelle,” Jonny says, wiping off Amelie and picking her up. “Naps for my best girl and my best boy.”

Patrick looks at him, his eyes shuttered, and Jonny’s smile drops. “Oh, right, sorry, I didn’t - “

“I’m going to bed,” Patrick says, walking slowly out of the room.

“Pat, I really didn’t mean anything - “ Jonny says, following Patrick as he climbs the stairs. “I’m just -”

“Oh, don’t worry, Jonny,” Patrick says, pausing but not turning to look at him. “I know you didn’t mean it.”

“That’s not what I meant either, Patrick,” Jonny says, making a strangled noise when Patrick doesn’t respond.

“Well, shit,” Jonny says.

“Want Dada,” Amelie says plaintively.

“Me, too, Ammy,” Jonny says. She’s got her head tucked into his shoulder, and Jonny drops a kiss on it. “Me, too.”

***

Ammy’s still asleep when Patrick comes down an hour later, his hair standing up against the edges of the dressing on his head. He sits down at the kitchen table and yawns.

“Feeling okay?” Jonny asks carefully.

“I guess. But I need a shower,” Patrick says. “But I - what do I do about this?” He runs his hand over the side of his head, wincing. “I can’t see the boys like this.”

“I guess . . . we should cut the rest of it?” Jonny says, getting out a bottle of gatorade and putting on the table next to Patrick.

Patrick groans and puts his head down on the kitchen table. “I don’t wanna.”

Jonny has to bite back a smile at how much Patrick sounds like Eric. “I know, but. Just go sit in the family room, I’ll figure something out.”

Jonny swallows hard and forces himself to walk into the family room. Patrick’s resting quietly on the couch where he left him fifteen minutes earlier.

“Patrick,” Jonny says. Patrick’s head snaps up. “It’s time.”

“I don’t - I’m not ready, Jon,” Patrick says, his eyes wide. “Not yet.”

“Pat, we have to do it sooner or later. And it’s going to upset the twins if they see it like this,” Jonny says gently. “Let’s just get it over with.”

“I - I guess,” Patrick says, pulling at the back of his hair gingerly. “Are you sure we can’t do a mullet?”

“It’s just too high up, you know that. Now come on. I’ve got everything set up in the bathroom, all you have to do is sit there.”

Patrick leads the way upstairs and it feels like a funeral march. Jonny keeps his eyes glued to the back of Patrick’s head, watching his curls bounce.

When Patrick’’s seated in the chair he set in the bathroom, Jonny puts his hand on his shoulder. “Ready?” he asks, meeting Patrick’s eyes in the mirror.

Sighing, Patrick nods and closes his eyes.

Jonny snaps on the clippers and starts trimming. When he’s done, there’s a pile of dark blond hair in a ring around Patrick.

“I’m done,” Jonny says, stepping back. “You can open your eyes.”

“Nope- ow,” Patrick says, shaking his head a fraction before making a hurt noise and stilling. “Nope, nope, nope.”

“You look like you did when we were fifteen and your Dad gave you that buzz cut,” Jonny says wonderingly. “Patrick. Look.”

When Patrick opens his eyes, they seem wider and bluer than Jonny has ever seen them, blinking open and shut as he looks at himself, mouth open but speechless.

Jonny reaches out and brushes some hair off Patrick’s cheekbones. Patrick’s eyes close again, and his lashes are dark against his pale skin, long and lush, and Jonny can’t resist thumbing at delicate skin under his eyes.

“You’re so gorgeous, Pat,” he says wonderingly. He watches as Patrick’s cheeks pink up.

When he lifts his hand away, Patrick grabs it, pressing it back against his face.

“You - you really think it looks okay?” Patrick says, biting his lip.

“I really, really do,” Jonny says sincerely. “And Eric’s going to love it.”

Patrick huffs but he smiles for the first time since they came upstairs.

“Maybe,” Patrick says, letting go of Jonny’s hand. He scrubs his hand over the short hair at the back of his head. “Cold, though.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, clearing his throat. “You - you want that shower now?”

“Yeah,” Patrick admits, yawning again. “Then I’m going to nap. Again.”

“Okay, just give me one second. I’m just going to get this swept up and I’ll get out of your ha- “ Jonny stops, biting his lip, but a chuckle works its way past.

“Jonny!” Patrick says, his voice high and distressed. “Do not make me laugh, how could you? Oh, my god, if you make me laugh I’m going to fucking end you, motherfucker.”

Jonny holds his breath, biting hard on his cheek and breathing deeply. Patrick’s watching him, eyes narrowed. “Sorry?”

“Yeah, you better be, asshole,” Patrick grumps.

Jonny’s still smiling when he closes Patrick’s bedroom door behind him.

***

Beth swings by while Patrick’s sleeping to drop off the sign-up sheets for the toddler gymnastics class they’d been talking about enrolling Amelie in.

“So, uh,” Jonny says, shuffling his feet awkwardly at the front door while Amelie and Dixon chase each around the front yard. “Sorry about the way I acted the other week. I was - we were kind of in a bad place then? And I was an ass. So.” He clears his throat. “Sorry?”

Beth looks at him levelly for a long moment before laughing. “Wow, he was right about you - you are exactly as awkward as he said.” When Jonny opens his mouth to protest, she shakes her head. “I’m kidding! You can’t expect me to just let you get away with it, though, can you?”

Jonny shrugs. “Maybe?”

It makes her laugh again. “Where is Patrick, anyway?”

“He’s resting.” Jonny says. “He was in a car accident last night.”

“Oh, no!” Beth says, her hand to her mouth. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, he’s going to be okay, just banged up a little. He’s got a mild concussion and some cracked ribs.” Even after explaining this a couple of times, Jonny’s not any more prepared for the terror that floods him when he repeats what happened last night.

“Thank God,” Beth says. “And, Jesus, I’m an asshole - I’m so sorry I teased you about any of that -”

“No, don’t apologize,” Jonny reassures her. “You couldn’t have known and anyway, I deserved it.”

Beth looks at him closely, frowning. “Have you slept at all today?”

Jonny shrugs. “Dozed a little after we got home from the hospital.”

“Okay, well, I’m taking Ammy, and we’re going to my house to play. I’ll bring her back after dinner.”

“But-”

“Nope, I’m not taking no for answer. Now, go take a nap - you’re of no use to anyone if you’re exhausted.”

“I - “

“Just say ‘thank you,’ Jonny,” Beth says, her voice stern.

“‘Thank you, Jonny,’” he responds dutifully, smiling a little when she laughs.

***

“Papa?”

“Shh, he’s sleeping, Eric.” Bryan whispers

“Maybe we should get Daddy.”

“I bet he’s in his room?”

“I’ll call him. Da- “

“Wait, wait,” Jonny croaks. “I’m awake.”

He opens his eyes and immediately shuts them again. Eric and Bryan are standing over his head, peering at him.

“Why are you on the couch, Papa?”

“And why did Auntie Erica pick us up after school?”

“And why did you sleep here last night?”

“And-”

“Hey, boys, stop interrogating Papa,” Patrick says from over Jonny’s shoulder. He opens his eyes again to see their comically open mouths.

“Your hair-”

“It’s so short-”

“Did Papa make you cut it?”

“Did you get gum in it, too?”

“Did you cry?”

Patrick makes a choked noise and Jonny sits up abruptly, making the boys jump back. When he stands, he sees that Patrick’s trying not to laugh.

“Boys, Daddy’s not feeling so hot - “

“Is that coz of his boo boo?”

“Don’t interrupt, Bryan,” Jonny says, standing up. “Daddy had a car accident, and he’s not feeling great, so we need to try to be extra quiet tonight, okay?”

The boys look at Jonny and back at Patrick. Eric’s lip starts to quiver and Bryan’s eyes fill.

“Oh, I’m okay, guys, really!” Patrick says, coming around the couch to sit next to Jonny and pull each twin close. His face isn’t quite as pinched and pale as it was before his haircut.

“Where’s Ammy?” Bryan says, and for a second, Jonny’s heart stops.

“Oh! She’s at Beth’s house - she stopped by with Dixon and took her home,” Jonny says. “I, uh, I guess I looked like I needed a nap.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, looking at Jonny. “And now you look like you need a shower.”

“Yeah, you stink, Papa,” Bryan says, giggling and holding his nose. “Bou beed a scnower.”

“What?” Jonny said, grabbing Bryan and pulling him in. He presses Bryan’s head against his shoulder. “I’ll show you stinky.”

“Papa! Papa!” Bryan screams against his chest, and Jonny laughs at the vibrations against his skin.

“Stop, Papa!” Bryan’s giggling, and Jonny stands up and flips him over his shoulder.

“Fee Fie Foe Fum,” Jonny calls, holding Bryan’s legs. “This will be a tasty snack. But is there anyone else here I can eat? Hmmm.”

He looks around exaggeratedly and when he lets his gaze fall on Eric, he grins and Eric squeaks and runs toward the kitchen. “Aunt Erica! Daddy’s gonna eat me!”

Patrick rolls his eyes. “Okay, thanks, now that you’ve gotten them all riled up, hit the shower.”

“Fine,” Jonny says, “but will you hold onto my snack for me?” He winks at Bryan as he sets him down, and as soon as he does, Bryan’s out the door, too.

“I’ll be like five minutes,” Jonny says. “Tops.”

“Take your time,” Patrick says, shooing him towards the stairs. “Erica’s here, and we’ll order something for dinner.”

“No - no, I mean, I made something,” Jonny says. “It’s nothing fancy, but I thought the boys would like macaroni and hot dog casserole.”

“The boys, huh?” Patrick says dryly, but he’s smiling softly. “You know that’s my favorite, too.”

“Is it?” Jonny says wonderingly. “I didn’t realize.”

“And also the only casserole you know how to make,” Patrick adds. “Hit the showers, kid, and I’ll get it -- “ when Jonny opens his mouth, Patrick puts up his hand -- “let me revise that: Erica will put it in the oven. Now get.”

Jonny probably shouldn’t be so encouraged by such a small thing, but the smile Patrick’s wearing when Jonny heads upstairs is enough to make him grin all the way through his shower.

***

By Saturday, Jonny’s exhausted. Even though it’s not terribly late, after a day of running after all three kids, and making sure Patrick’s not overexerting himself -- which to be honest, was half of his workload right there -- Jonny’s thinks he could sleep for twelve hours and still wake up tired.

He’s picking up the last of the toys from the living room floor, shaking his head at the wooden trains he finds tucked into all the cups and saucers littering the floor by Amelie’s play kitchen, when his phone rings.

He picks it up without checking the I.D., assuming it’s Erica checking-in to see how both Patrick and Jonny are holding up, as she has been all week.

“Hello,” Jonny answers absently, staring at the water bottle full of wooden blocks he just unearthed from between the couch cushions. The things the kids find to play with never fails to amuse him.

“Jonathan,” a very different female voice replies. His head comes up at the coolly disapproving tone.

“Donna. Hi.” He says, sitting down on the couch. “How are you? I’m sorry I haven’t called yet but, uh, Erica told me she was keeping you updated?”

“Yes, Jonathan, Erica has been keeping me informed of the well-being of my son and my grandchild.” Her tone is measured, but Jonny has been a part of this family long enough to take that for the warning sign it is.

“Good, that’s good.” He says inanely, turning the water bottle over and over in his hands, making the blocks clack into each other.

“‘Good’ is not the word I’d have chosen.”

Jonny winces, wishing there was a way he could disconnect and pretend the call was dropped.

“So, uh,” Jonny clears his throat. “I guess Erica mentioned that Pat can’t really do too much right now? I think she said that you wanted to come out and help . . .”

“Yes, I’m aware that Pat needs someone to care for him right now. I trust you haven’t been staying at the hotel?” It’s nominally a question, but it definitely doesn’t feel like one.

“No!” Jonny hurries to assure her. “No, I’m here. I’m staying here.”

“That’s certainly a relief, Jonathan. Some of your choices lately . . . well,” she trails off. “Anyway, I’m just calling to let you know that I’m trying to move some things around to come out and help care for Pat, but I probably won’t be able to make it until next weekend.”

Jonny swallows, tongue thick in his mouth. “Okay, that’s. Pat will be glad you’re coming out.”

“I’m sure he will,” Donna says pointedly. “Pregnant, three active children, recovering from a car accident, and feeling like a burden to the husband trying to divorce him.”

Jonny makes a sound of protest, but Donna either doesn’t hear or doesn’t care.

“Can I trust you to pass that message along, Jonathan? Since I’m guessing my son is already asleep.”

“Yeah, I mean yes, he is,” Jonny confirms. “I’ll tell him you called. He’s doing . . . I’m taking good care of him, Donna.”

“Now. You’re taking good care of him now.”

“Yes,” Jonny says firmly.”And from now on.”

“Good,” Donna says, her icy tone thawing a bit. “I need to get to bed myself, but please give my grandchildren kisses from me, and I’m sure I’ll be in touch soon. Goodnight, Jonathan.”

“Goodnight, Donna.” But the phone has already gone dead, and Jonny sighs.

Jonathan, Jesus, he really is in the doghouse.

***

Jonny’s cleaning up from dinner a few days later, the roasting pan soaking in the sink, and he’s wiping the counters down. Amelie and the twins have retreated to the family room, where they’re building towers of blocks for her to knock down.

He figures they have maybe seven minutes before either Eric or Bryan gets sick of having his work destroyed and totally loses it, so he moves a little faster putting the leftovers away.

“Can I help?” Patrick asks from where he’s perched at the counter, sipping on some chamomile tea.

“Pat,” Jonny starts, a little exasperated, he needs to be resting not cleaning or cooking or carrying the kids upstairs. “You need to relax. Besides, I’ve got this.”

“If you’re sure,” Patrick says mildly, tracing his finger along one of the veins in the granite countertop. His socked feet are hooked over the bar at the bottom of the stool, and despite wearing a pair of Jonny’s ratty old sweats and a faded Northwestern hoodie, he looks unfairly good: perfectly rumpled and Jonny just wants to curl up with him on the couch and watch movies.

“But I think I could probably manage to help put the leftovers away.”

Jonny absolutely refuses to have this argument again. He’d win -- of course -- but it’s getting a little old. Besides, the fighting, even if it’s half-hearted, probably isn’t good for the baby. “Already done,” Jonny says, packing the last of the containers into the fridge.

He glances into the living room, since he hasn’t heard the crash of blocks and the squeal of Amelie’s laughter lately, and sees that she’s abandoned the blocks to her brothers. She’s now sitting on her little chair, holding her baby doll, and kissing its head.

“God,” Patrick says. “How cute is she?”

“Actually, that reminds me,” Jonny says, turning towards Patrick and leaning onto the counter a little. “What did the kids say when you told them?”

“Told them what?” Patrick asks, kicking his right foot against the counter, with a steady thump, thump, thump.

Jonny raises his eyebrows at him. “About the baby. What did they say? Were they excited? I can’t believe I missed it. I understand, just-” He sighs.

Patrick makes a face at him. “I didn’t tell them yet, come on. Like they would have kept that from you?” He smiles a little at Jonny, “like I wanted you to find out about the baby from them because our spawn have big mouths.”

“But I saw that big sister book for Amelie in the laundry room?” Jonny says, frowning.

“Well, yeah,” Patrick allows. “We’ve started looking at that, but she doesn’t really get it. And the boys don’t know yet. You know they’ve never been in the laundry room.”

Patrick and Jonny both start laughing.

“Well,” Jonny says, nodding his head towards Amelie, who is now cradling the doll on her shoulder, “maybe we should tell them?”

“Now?” Patrick asks.

Jonny shrugs, deliberately casual, even though he can’t wait to hear what the boys say. “Why not?”

“Yeah, all right, let’s do it.”

Jonny dries the last pot, and carefully replaces the dishtowel. He refrains from hovering near Patrick as he eases himself off the stool, but only barely.

They make their way into the family room, and Jonny scoops Amelie up on the way, settling her -- and her doll -- in between him and Patrick on the couch.

“Hey boys! Bry! Eric!” Patrick calls, “Can you come over here for a sec?”

Bryan adds one more block to the tower he’s working on before joining Eric in slowly making their way over towards the couch.

Eric’s face is guarded and a bit distrustful. “Is Papa going back to the hotel now?” he asks, resigned. “Are you getting a divorcing?”

“No, Oh, Eric, no,” Patrick says, pulling him into his lap carefully.

Jonny pats the couch beside him, and Bryan scoots into his side.

“No,” Jonny echoes. “I love you and your daddy very much, and no one is getting divorced. This is a happy talk! This is good news.”

He smiles encouragingly at the boys, and nods at Patrick. “Come on, tell them.”

“Well . . .” Patrick starts, smile threatening to take over his whole face, “we’re going to have a baby!”

“Another baby!” Bryan says, eyes wide, looking back and forth between Patrick and Jonny. “No! Are you kidding?”

“Not kidding,” Jonny says, hugging Bryan into his side, and pressing a kiss into his curls. “You’re going to be a big brother again!”

“Hey, hey,” Patrick says, hugging Eric into his chest, and rubbing his back. Jonny can see the tears leaking down his cheeks, and his chest clenches a little.

“Really?” Eric asks, turning wet eyes to Jonny. “We’re really having a baby.”

“Yeah,” Jonny smiles. “You think you’re ready to be an awesome big brother to another baby?”

Eric starts nodding quickly, swiping his hand across his face to dry his eyes.

“What about you Ammy?” Patrick asks. “You going to be as sweet to the new baby as you’re being towards your doll?”

Amelie turns a toothy grin towards Patrick, as she slides off the couch. She carefully puts the baby doll on her shoulder, gently rubbing its back and kissing the top of its head, before she starts violently banging it against the floor, smiling at Patrick the whole time.

Patrick bursts out laughing, but Jonny quells him with a look, and says, “gentle, Ammy, we need to be gentle with babies.”

Amelie just turns her angelic smile on him, hands Jonny her doll, and toddles off to go knock over one of the twins’ towers.

Patrick starts giggling again.

“Patrick,” Jonny says. “What if she did that to the real baby?”

“I know, I know, you’re right. It’s just so funny!”

Eric and Bryan start giggling too, and Jonny’s only able to keep his straight face for another second, before he joins in.

***

Things run fairly smoothly over the next few days, but Jonny knows that until he and Patrick talk, the equilibrium isn’t something that will hold. One morning before school starts, he gets a good example of why.

“Can I have more milk, Papa?” Eric says, holding out the coffee mug he’s begun to insist he wants his drinks in like a growed up.

“I can-”

“I’ve got it, Pat, just stay there.” Jonny rushes to the fridge before Patrick can get up, but when he opens it, there’s no milk. “Fuck,” he whispers vehemently. He probably gave the last of it to Bryan when he poured his cereal.

“Jonny,” Patrick says.

“I got it, I’ll just - what about some apple juice,” he calls over his shoulder, grabbing a juice box. When turns around, Eric’s drinking from his mug and Patrick’s shaking his head at him.

“It was on the table, Jon,” Patrick says, smiling widely.

“Oh, ” Jonny says blankly. “Good. Who wants toast?”

“Me, Papa! Me toa’t!” Amelie says, raising her hand, and Jonny laughs.

“Okay, toast for Ammy. Anyone else?” He grabs the cinnamon raisin when Patrick points to it, buttering it and absently tearing it into smaller pieces. He sets it down on her tray and picks up Bryan’s bowl when he asks for more cereal. He’s half-turned toward the island when he hears Patrick gasp, and whips his head around so fast his neck hurts. “Wha-”

He’s not sure if he finished saying the word before an unholy wail comes from Amelie. She’s holding the pieces of toast in her hands and shrieking so loud it’s making his eardrums vibrate. She pauses to breathe in, and Jonny rushes over.

“What’s the matter, Ammy, did you get pinched in the chair?” He barely gets to her side before she’s wailing again, huge tears running down her cheeks.

“What?” He looks at Patrick, frantic, but Patrick’s just biting at his lips, clearly trying not to laugh.

When Patrick just shakes his head, he growls. Not that anyone can hear him. “What?”

“The toast,” Patrick says loudly over Amelie’s cries. “Look at the toast.”

When Jonny looks at Amelie, she’s pressing the two ripped pieces of toast together, mashing them between her chubby fists. He looks back at Patrick, who’s laughing openly now.

“What’s wrong with the toast? I thought you said she wanted the raisin?”

When Patrick throws his head back and laughs, clutching his stomach, Jonny can feel competing urges to shake him and kiss him rise up in his chest. Since he’s not going to do either, he looks at the twins, who are looking at him, hands over their ears, tiny faces unimpressed.

“Okay. What? What’s wrong with Amelie?”

“You can’t tear the toast, Papa,” Bryan says loud enough to be heard over Amelie.

“It makes her mad,” Eric confirms sagely, as though Jonny hadn’t gotten that from the screaming and the wailing and the furious attempts to rejoin the pieces. “You never tear the toast.”

“Never, Papa,” Bryan confirms seriously, looking disappointed.

“What?” Jonny dives for the loaf of raisin bread, muttering a heartfelt “thank fuck” when he sees there’s three pieces left. He throws two in the toaster -- it’s good to have a backup, just in case the first slice gets torn at all -- and glares at it while it toasts. Patrick is exactly no help throughout, beyond wiping the tears from his face as he laughs.

Jonny can feel his lips twitching and he bites the inside of his cheek to keep the smile he’s feeling from showing, since Amelie’s still furious and now she’s gripping the mutilated pieces of toast so tightly one of them is turning into raisin bread goo between her tiny fingers. She’s watching the toaster just as intently as Jonny is, and she’s hiccuping every few seconds, but at least she’s stopped screaming.

The toast pops and Jonny grabs it, burning his fingers as he butters it. He hopes it’s cool enough to give to her, but he can see the muscle in Amelie’s jaw ticking, so he’s not waiting any longer.

He hands it to her and steps back, holding his breath when she smiles at him and bites into it. “Toa’t, my toa’t,” she says, happy again, and he sags back, dropping into a chair.

“Jesus, that sucked,” Jonny says, wiping his forehead. He makes a face when he realizes he’s smeared butter into his eyebrow, and wipes at it with Eric’s napkin. “When did she start caring about her toast being torn?”

“When you were mad at Daddy,” Bryan says, chewing while he talks. “Daddy did it, too, but I gave Amelie one of mine, so she didn’t get so mad.”

“I’m tired,” Patrick says, out of nowhere, laughter disappearing from his face at Bryan’s words.

“Pat-” Jonny says, but stops when Patrick shakes his head at him.

“I’m tired,” Patrick repeats, standing up and shoving his chair in. He’s got his Nana’s quilt wrapped around him, and he tightens it, kicking the ends away from his feet. “I’m going back to bed.”

He drops a kiss on the boys’ heads, and smiles at Amelie, who grins back at him, covered in crumbs. “You’ve got this, right?”

Jonny nods dumbly and watches Patrick shuffle out of the room, enveloped in the quilt, the end trailing after him like a tail.

“Why’d you have to do that?” Eric says, his voice shaking a little.

Jonny looks at Eric, but he’s glaring at Amelie. “Amelie made Daddy mad,” Eric says, eyes narrowed at her. “Why’d you make him mad again?” he yells. “You’re so stupid!”

“Eric!” Jonny says. “We do not call people stupid! Daddy’s not mad at Amelie. He’s mad because-” he cuts himself off and swallows. “He’s mad at me for tearing the toast.”

“But-” Eric says, confused. “But he tore the toast, too. You didn’t know, Papa. He can’t be mad, because you didn’t know.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says with a sigh. “But I should have.”

***

Jonny’s in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the boys’ lunches and attempting to keep the peace as the boys argue over -- well, everything, from the sound of it -- when Patrick comes into the kitchen, dressed in something other than sweatpants and old Northwestern t-shirts for the first time since he came home from the hospital.

“Are you okay?” Jonny asks, concerned, hurrying across the kitchen to pull out a chair for Patrick. He stares at him meaningfully until Patrick finally sits down. “Are you feeling alright? You look pale.”

“I’m fine.” Patrick says, waving him away, and stealing a piece of egg off of Amelie’s tray. “I just remembered I have my follow-up O.B. appointment today.”

“That’s impossible - “ Jonny looks at the calendar and sees that it’s been ten days since the accident. “Oh. Okay, what time is it?”

“It’s at nine-thirty at Cedars. We can drop the boys off at school, and then we can see if Erica’s up for a last-minute Lady Bug play-date. I mean- that is- if you want to come to the appointment, too?”

“Yes!” Jonny says, looking up at Patrick and narrowly missing the tip of his finger with the knife he’s using on the boys’ apples. “Yes, no, definitely. I want to come. I want to - I want to see the baby.”

Patrick nods. “Kinda what I figured,” he says, stealing another bite from Amelie.

“Dada!” she cries, covering her eggs with both hands, and pulling them towards her.

“Amelie doesn’t share food!” Patrick intones, making the twins laugh.

“Do you want eggs, Pat? I’ll make you some eggs.” Jonny turns the burner on the stove on and grabs the eggs from the fridge.

“It’s okay,” Patrick says, “I can grab a banana or something.

Jonny turns to look at him, brandishing a spatula, “If you want eggs -- if the baby wants eggs -- then I’m making eggs.”

Patrick just laughs, putting his arms up in surrender. “Alright, man, you’re the boss.”

Eric and Bryan start to giggle again. “Papa’s not the boss!” Bryan says, mouth full. “You’re the boss, Dad.”

Patrick laughs a little harder, ruffling Bryan’s curls. “Your papa and I are both the bosses.”

Jonny smiles at the boys’ dubious looks and gets on with the business of making eggs.

Amelie must be going through another growth spurt since she just ate both her big brothers under the table and it takes forever to get her fed. Once she’s finished, Jonny packs everyone into the SUV and they get on the road.

Jonny flips through the radio, trying to find any station actually playing music, while Patrick calls Erica to see if she’s available to watch Amelie this morning.

“She’s good.” Patrick says once he hangs up. “I think she’d be annoyed I’m asking her so last minute, but everyone’s being so nice to me since the accident -- even you -- that she only requested we bring her coffee when we drop-off the monster.”

“Who’s a monster?” Eric asks from where he’d been eavesdropping in the backseat.

“Ammy’s a monster!” Patrick says, turning around partially and grabbing her toes.

“Rooooaaarrrr,” Amelie agrees, kicking her feet out excitedly.

The rest of the way to the boys’ school is filled with roars from all three kids, and entreaties to “tell us who’s the loudest, Daddy.”

Jonny can only smile when Patrick joins in on the roaring. He’ll take ringing ears if it makes everyone laugh this hard. He catches Patrick’s eye and he’s beaming, his dimples flashing.

Jonny turns back to the road, his heart light. A happy family, a beaming Patrick, and a peek at their new baby. It’s a pretty good day already, and it’s not even eight thirty.

***

When they finally make it to Dr. Knight’s office, all three kids successfully dropped off, Jonny notices that Patrick’s energy from earlier seems to have waned. “Tired?” Jonny asks.

“Not really.” Patrick says, making a face and shrugging, but he slowly shrinks into himself as they sit in the large room, surrounded by other couples. All that laughing can’t have been good for his healing ribs and the noise from the roaring probably wasn’t good for his concussion either. Jonny resolves not to let Patrick tire himself out so much, not while he’s still recovering.

The couple across from them smile and nod when they sit down, their hands clasped over the expectant mother’s large belly. Her partner smiles at them when he sees Patrick looking at them.

“First appointment?” He asks. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

“Me,” Patrick says.

“Isn’t it amazing,” the father says to Jonny. “I’m so thrilled to be along for this ride.”

“It is,” Jonny agrees. “This is our third time.”

“Wow!” The mother exclaims. “Is it as good the third time around?”

“It’s different,” Patrick says mildly. “But Jonny’s really excited about the baby, right, Jon?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, a smile splitting his face. “Patrick’s known for awhile, but I just found out and I’m -”

Patrick stiffens next to him and looks away.

Jonny swallows and looks at the couple, who are watching him with confused frowns.

“I, uh, I mean - “

“He means we aren’t together anymore and I didn’t tell him,” Patrick says dully.

“I didn’t - “

“Santori?” The nurse calls and the other couple stand with grateful looks on their faces.

“Well, uh, good luck,” the father says, a hand on the mother’s back as they walk away, their heads close together.

“Ugh,” Patrick says. “I know you’re just here to hear the heartbeat, okay? So, let’s not talk about all the other stuff right now.”

“Patrick, I’m not just here - “

“Kane - er - Kane Toes?”

Jonny sighs as Patrick stands and walks quickly to the nurse.

Jonny introduces himself to the nurse, enduring the sort of indulgent smile that says she sees a lot of nervous first time dads, and Jonny has to bite his tongue to keep from telling her that he’s not new, that he’s done this twice before.

He holds his breath a bit while she takes Patrick’s blood pressure, and he’s relieved when he sees it’s on the low side of normal. It’s funny to think that not so long ago he had no idea what the numbers meant, but he and Patrick are both so attuned to every fluctuation now that it’s hard not to worry every time they’re waiting on a reading.

After she finishes taking Patrick’s vitals, she leaves the two of them alone in the exam room, with an assurance that “Dr. Knight should be in shortly.” Patrick nods, and settles himself up on the exam table, while Jonny takes the available chair.

“Pat, I didn’t mean to say that,” Jonny says.

“I know, just. It’s hard to explain how you’re knocked up and divorcing,”

“We’re not - “

“But I shouldn’t have said that to them. Sorry. Let’s not do that anymore. Agreed?” Patrick continues as though Jonny hadn’t spoken.

Jonny’s torn between ending this and protesting, but a discussion about their future -- and his dumbass behavior -- is probably better held at home.

“Agreed,” Jonny says, offering Patrick a small smile. “So. Truce?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, finally looking Jonny in the eye.

Jonny smiles at him and Patrick chuckles and shakes his head.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Patrick says. “You’re really excited about this appointment, huh?”

“As Eric would say, ‘duh,’” Jonny says and Patrick’s smile grows even wider. “Do you think we’ll get to see the baby?”

Patrick snorts. “I don’t think so - just hear the heartbeat? Anyway, like you’ve ever been able to actually see anything on the ultrasounds.”

“Hey, now,” Jonny protests. “I could… see two blobs with the twins?”

Patrick just smiles and kicks his legs on the table, making the paper crinkle loudly, pulling out his phone.

“So your blood pressure looked good.” Jonny says encouragingly after watching Patrick scroll through things for several minutes.

Patrick looks up. “Hmm? Oh, yeah.” He returns to his phone, occasionally huffing out little laughs under his breath.

“What’s so funny?” Jonny tries again.

“What? Uh, nothing, just -- you know -- Facebook. My sisters.”

Dr. Knights taps on the door before Jonny can think of something else to try and draw Patrick out.

“Hello, hello!” She says with a bright smile, dropping a file onto the computer desk and turning to Jonny. “And you must be Patrick’s . . .”

“I’m his husband, Jonny,” Jonny says, extending his hand, “nice to meet you Dr. Knight.”

“So proper!” she teases, winking at Patrick. “And how are you feeling today? Your blood pressure looks great, but I see we’ve had a bit of activity since I’ve seen you last. You’re supposed to be keeping that stress level low, mister, not getting into car accidents! How are you doing?”

Patrick ducks his head, a sheepish look on his face. “Pretty good? Jonny’s been helping out a ton with the kids, and I’m getting lots of rest.”

“His blood pressure’s been really stable, we take it every morning,” Jonny offers.

“It has,” Patrick agrees. “And my ribs are . . . fine, I guess?”

“He’s still not lifting anything, don’t worry,” Jonny hastens to add.

A small smile briefly graces Dr. Knight’s face, “Well it sounds like you two have it well in hand then. Patrick, be sure to call the office if anything changes.”

Jonny and Patrick both nod. “Is there anything else I can be doing, or that he should be doing?” Jonny asks, pulling out his phone to make notes.

“God, no,” Patrick interjects. “He’s turning relaxing into a full time job, if he helps out any more I’m not even going to be allowed to shower alone, and I have three kids: I really value showering alone.”

Jonny can feel his cheeks heat, but he refuses to be stymied. Patrick’s recovery is important, and if he can help at all, he’s going to.

“It sounds like you’re both doing everything you need to do,” Dr. Knight assures them. “Now, are you ready to hear the baby?”

Patrick smiles, a small soft one, and he scoots further up the exam table, leaning back on his elbows. Jonny’s fingers twitch but he restrains himself as Patrick eases back until he’s lying down and pulls his shirt up

“Okay, Patrick, just relax,” Dr. Knight instructs. She glances over her shoulder at Jonny, and he’s not sure if it’s his face or the fact that he’s sitting on the edge of his chair that gives him away, but she reads his eagerness easily. “Come here, Dad, you can help me with the doppler.”

Jonny jumps up, but he freezes when Patrick says, “No. He’s Papa. I’m Dad, he’s Papa.”

Dr. Knight nods, as if making a mental note, “All right then, Papa. You ever worked the doppler before?”

Jonny shakes his head, his voice cracking a little, “No- uh- no, I mean, I’ve seen them used, but I’ve never-”

“It’s easy,” Dr. Knight assures him, squirting some goo onto Patrick’s stomach.

He’s been wearing nothing but oversized t-shirts lately, but now -- bared -- Jonny sees that it’s starting to round softly.

“Just move the wand around, and I’ll tell you when we’re getting close,” Dr. Knight instructs.

Jonny starts pushing the wand across Patrick’s abdomen, moving it in slow circles, and following Dr. Knight’s instructions.

“Go back to the left a little. Lower. Hold it there for a sec? There.” Dr. Knight smiles at him approvingly. “Hear it?”

Jonny bites his lip, ears straining, but he really doesn’t.

Patrick clears his throat, “It’s that clicking noise, the kind of rhythmic one.” He quirks a half smile up at Jonny.

“Bring the wand to the right for a sec, and then bring it back,” Dr. Knight suggests. “And listen for the knocking noise.”

Jonny does as instructed, and this time, when Dr. Knight freezes the wand on Patrick’s stomach, he hears it, the steady beat of a little heart.

“Wow,” he says wonderingly, looking at Patrick, who’s biting his lip. “That’s our baby.”

Jonny’s grateful Dr. Knight doesn’t immediately withdraw the wand, just enjoying listening to the steady metronomic beat. He feels tears prickle his eyes when he realizes, again, that he almost lost this little one before he even knew it existed.

“Hey,” Patrick says softly, clasping a hand over Jonny’s. “He’s okay.”

“Yeah,” Jonny breathes, nodding once. “Wait! He?!?”

Patrick laughs, taking a towel from Dr. Knight and wiping the goop from his stomach. “Nah, or I mean, maybe? He or she. You know I don’t like saying ‘it.’ Feels weird.”

“Just about gave me a heart attack,” Jonny grumbles good naturedly, sitting back into his chair, as Patrick straightens his shirt.

“Well the baby’s heartbeat -- boy or girl -- sounds great, guys. Patrick, you’re measuring right on schedule, and everything seems to be going really well. Do you have any questions for me?”

Patrick shakes his head. “Nope, I don’t think so.” He looks at Jonny with his eyebrows raised in question.

Jonny shakes his head, “I’m good.”

“All right then,” Dr. Knight claps her hands, “you can go up front and check out. Make your next appointment four weeks out. And I think -- “ she glances down at Patrick’s file -- “yup, go ahead and schedule your anatomy scan ultrasound for around then, too. Then you can actually find out if it’s a he or she. If you want to, that is.”

“We, uh.” Jonny looks at Patrick quickly but he’s studiously avoiding Jonny’s glance. “We don’t usually like to find out the sex until the baby’s born. Patrick says it’s a jinx and he’ll inevitably pick the wrong color for the nursery.”

When Dr. Knight laughs, Patrick makes a face at Jonny. “Yeah, because we thought Bryan was a girl, until he wasn’t. And not only did we have to repaint the nursery, I had to return a shit-ton of clothes, too.”

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard that,” Dr. Knight says, keying something into the computer. “It’s not too hard for the technician to avoid showing you anything that gives it away. Just be sure to tell her you don’t want to know. Either way, next time I see you, we’ll give you guys your first look at your new baby.”

“Great,” Patrick says, easing himself off the table. When he looks up at Jonny, he laughs.

“What?” Jonny says, but he can feel the grin splitting his face.

“Such a dork, man,” Patrick says, but he’s smiling back.

“Yeah,” Jonny sighs, his own smile growing.

“Let’s go home,” Patrick says.

“Yeah,” Jonny says again. “Let’s go home.”

***

Jonny makes his way up the stairs, using his chin to help keep the overloaded pile of laundry from spilling entirely out of the basket, he takes a second to add “Getting Annoyed with Patrick Over the Fact That the Laundry Was Never Done” to his mental list of shit he needs to apologize for. It might even need to be on the list twice.

He’d done a load right after waking up and three more last night. He thinks the socks might be multiplying, the boys’ uniform shirts definitely are, like bunnies or mice or fruit-flies or something. It’s insane, it’s a full-time job; he’s ready to just torch the laundry room down and start over. Or possibly just keep buying new clothes.

While he’s contemplating the benefits of one-time-use disposable clothing and whether it would really have that terrible of an impact on the environment, he hears giggling coming from Patrick’s room.

He puts the basket down in the alcove at the top of the stairs, throws a threatening glance at the wavering pile -- lest it get any ideas about falling over while he’s gone -- and hurries to usher the twins out before they can wake up Patrick.

Too late. They’re curled up on either side of Patrick, talking animatedly and occasionally stealing brightly colored pieces of something out of the large mixing bowl that Patrick’s got cradled in his lap.

Jonny clears his throat and three blonde heads swing to look at him in almost perfect unison. Eric’s hair is starting to finally come back in, and the way it’s sticking out and fluffy reminds Jonny a bit of a baby duck’s feathers.

“Boys,” Jonny says, “I thought I told you not to bother Daddy. He needs to be sleeping right now.”

He’s met with three sets of wide, blue-eyed, beseeching stares.

“But Papa,” Bryan starts.

“We brought Daddy breakfast!” Eric says proudly.

“I was already up?” Patrick offers with a small shrug of his shoulders, mixing bowl wobbling dangerously before he steadies it.

Jonny’s lips twitch, and he has to make an effort to keep frowning at all three of them.

“Fine, but you two should head downstairs for breakfast and we’ll let Dad finish his . . .”

“Lucky Charms. But ‘s cool,” Patrick slurs around the big bite he just took. “Let ‘em stay.” He swallows noisily, “They’re telling me all about how Papa started a popcorn fight last night.”

Jonny shifts a little, but he’s saved from having to respond as Amelie starts to cry from down the hall. Patrick twitches like maybe he’s thinking about going to get her, but Jonny stills him with a look.

“I’ve got her, and I’ll bring her to you in just a few minutes. I’m just going to get everyone’s breakfast first. We can’t all eat Lucky Charms for breakfast. In your bed,” he adds with a stern look.

“No, we can’t,” Bryan agrees. “We gave Daddy the whole box.”

Jonny blanches for a second -- Jesus, all that sugar -- he knows Patrick must catch it because he’s biting his lips and his dimple is popping as he tries not to laugh.

Jonny’s saved from admonishing them when Amelie's cries get louder, accompanied this time by fervent banging on the side of her crib. He gets her changed quickly and then deposits her at the foot of Patrick’s bed where she immediately crawls straight for the bowl of Lucky Charms. Jonny resolutely ignores it and heads downstairs.

When he returns a short time later, bearing a tray of fresh smoothies, he notes with some relief that while Patrick is still eating his cereal, the rate at which his spoon is entering the bowl has decreased significantly.

“Breakfast!” Jonny says handing a glass to each of the twins. “I made you one too, Pat.” He holds the smoothie out to Patrick, who just eyes it warily.

“It’s good, Dad,” Eric says, green mustache above his lip. “I know it looks gross, but it tastes like strawberries.”

Jonny’s a little affronted, “It doesn’t look gross.”

 

Patrick just raises a skeptical eyebrow, but does take the proffered drink. Jonny counts it as a win.

“Do I even want to know what’s in here?” Patrick asks, taking a tiny sip and staring at it before drinking a full swallow. “Huh. I mean, thanks, Jon, it’s actually pretty good.”

Jonny allows himself a self-satisfied smile. “Of course it’s good: it’s full of antioxidant rich berries, barley, kale, and flax seeds - your basic superfoods.” He’ll have Patrick and the baby feeling better in no time.

He can tell by the way Patrick’s eyes dance that he’s on to him, but Jonny just ducks his head and sips his own smoothie, watching the boys and Amelie clamor around on the bed.

And if he shifts the Lucky Charms out of reach, well. That’s just because they might spill.

**

“Are you sure you don’t want me to start dinner?” Patrick asks dubiously.

“No,” Jonny says firmly. “I mean it, Pat, you’re supposed to be recovering not cleaning or running after the kids or dealing with dinner.”

“Pretty sure I can probably throw some chicken in the oven or get some water boiling without injuring myself.” Patrick says dryly.

Jonny narrows his eyes. “It’s fine Pat, I’ve got it under control, we’re going to have Salmon Salad, and the only thing you need to do is rest.”

“All right,” Patrick says, but the way he draws the word out doesn’t exactly exude confidence.

“I’ve got this,” Jonny assures him. “Dinner at seven o’clock, I promise.”

***

Jonny does not have this.

Mr. Smith pulls him aside at pickup: apparently in Bryan’s haste to win the race during the afternoon recess he’d tripped over an exposed tree root skinning up his face and arms, tearing his school shirt, and chipping one of his few adult teeth.

“It’s fine,” Jonny assures him, but it makes him late dropping Eric off at soccer practice, and he’s even later by the time he makes it to the dentist for their last-minute appointment, a crying Amelie and a sulking Bryan in tow.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Jonny says, as he puts Amelie down in a nearby chair, momentarily soothed by his cell phone. “I know I said we’d be here ten minutes ago, but I got held up at my son’s soccer practice, and well, you know, L.A. traffic.”

“It’s fine,” the receptionist says. “Dr. Giroux’s still here. ID and insurance card, please?”

Jonny pulls out his wallet, but the sinking feeling in his stomach is only confirmed, when he can’t find anything in there by cash and credit cards, and a few old business cards from a networking dinner he went to last year.

“I’m sorry,” Jonny says, “I don’t have it with me. My husband normally takes the boys to these things. I could call him, but he was in an accident last week and he’s supposed to be resting. I haven’t changed jobs or anything, so it’s all the same.” He smiles hopefully.

The look the receptionist gives him is not impressed, but she makes a few notes in Bryan’s file, reminds Jonny that if insurance rejects the claim they will be responsible for full payment, and tells them to take a seat.

Jonny attempts to take his phone back from Amelie, offering her one of the children’s books the office has in trade, and she immediately starts screaming. There are huge tears streaming down her face, seemingly conjured out of thin air, and she falls to the floor, rolling into chair legs and kicking her feet.

“What’d you do, dad?” Bryan asks, equal parts horrified and impressed.

“Ammy, Ammy!” Jonny grabs her squirming body. “Settle down, coccinelle. Shhhh, shhhh, you need to calm down.” He’s resolutely ignoring the pitying glances from the parents of other, more well-behaved children.

He hands her back his cell phone, and she immediately quiets, like someone flipped a switch. Jonny stares at her, betrayed, but Bryan bumps his shoulder.

“Do I look like a real hockey player, Papa?”

“Yeah, I think you do, Bryan,” Jonny says.

“Can you take a picture and send it to Dad?” Bryan asks.

They both eye Amelie who looks up from where she’s poking at the screen unsuccessfully trying to get it to unlock.

“Maybe later,” Bryan says doubtfully, and it makes Jonny bark out a laugh.

“I’m sure Dr. Giroux can take a great photo for us.”

When Bryan finally gets called back, Dr. Giroux is quick, all things considered. They leave with the requested photo stored in Jonny’s phone, Bryan clutching the hard copy Dr. Giroux had helpfully printed out for them.

Jonny’s terribly late picking Eric up from practice, earning him a reproachful look from Liam’s mom and a passive aggressive, “I hope Pat will be feeling better soon.”

“Uh, yes, thanks, I think he’s doing a lot better. Sorry, again,” Jonny says, as he throws Eric’s backpack into the back of the car.

Eric’s buckled in the back wearing a mutinous expression when Jonny gets in. “I don’t know why I had to go to practice, and Bryan didn’t.”

“Eric,” Jonny chastises weakly, but his argument is delayed when he sees that’s it’s almost seven o’clock. Shit, how did it get so late? He hasn’t even made it to the grocery store yet, and he still needs potatoes and salmon for dinner.

He eases the car into traffic, and is mentally calculating how fast he can get to Whole Foods when his phone starts ringing.

“Hello,” he answers. “I know I’m running late - “

“Jonny,” Donna’s voice filters through the car’s speakers. “How are you? And how are my lovely grandchildren?”

“We’re good grandma!” Bryan yells, before Jonny has a chance to respond. “I broke my tooth today!”

“It was so cool!” Eric adds. “Bryan didn’t even cry or nothing.”

“A new tooth?” Donna asks. “Do I even want to know?”

“Not really,” Jonny says, grateful that she seems to have thawed a little. Or at least she’s willing to hide her anger from the boys.

“Papa, Papa!” Eric chimes from the backseat, “I’m really, really hungry.”

“We’ll have dinner when we get home, don’t worry,” Jonny says. “And it’s not polite to interrupt, Eric.

“But I’m, like, starving!”

“I don’t think you’re going to expire from hunger,” Jonny says dryly. “You can eat as soon as we get home.”

Assuming he can make it to Whole Foods. Maybe a rotisserie chicken will work - he can make green beans, and he’ll just need some bread. He’s still revising his mental shopping list when Eric pipes up again.

“But you forgot to give me my after school snack,” Eric sniffles. “And now I’m sooooo hungry, Papa.” He starts to cry loudly.

“Shit.” Jonny says.

“Swear jar!” Bryan calls out helpfully.

Donna starts laughing, and for a second Jonny had honestly forgotten that she was even on the phone.

“Well, it sounds like you’re busy,” Donna says lightly, “so, I won’t keep you, but I just wanted to let you know that I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it out by this weekend after all. My sister is coming into town and . . .”

“Oh, okay.” Jonny interrupts, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “Well that’s . . . fine, Pat’s doing a lot better, so . . .”

“Oh, good!” Donna says brightly, “I know you’re taking good care of him, and if you need anything, just call. We’ll talk soon, okay?”

“ Yeah, that sounds great. Tell Tiki I said hi.” Jonny hopes Patrick isn’t going to be upset, but there’s nothing he can do about it now.

“Hi, Grandpa!” Bryan yells.

“He’s not there, dummy,” Eric says, his tears seemingly forgotten. “Grandma hung up already.”

“Eric! We do not use that kind of language. Boys, say goodbye to grandma. Donna, I’ll call you later. Love you.”

 

He hangs up without further incident. Fuck it, he thinks, making a quick U-turn and heading home, if he calls for pizza now, it should arrive back about the same time that they will, and then they won’t be eating dinner at midnight.

***

Pat’s reading in the family room when they get home. He places his book to the side. “I was beginning to get worried.”

Amelie is whimpering again, clinging to Pat’s legs. “I’m sorry, Lady Bug,” Patrick says. “I can’t pick you up right now.” She sits down and starts to cry, so Jonny picks her up and settles her against Patrick’s good side. She immediately climbs into his lap and puts her head on his shoulder.

“She this clingy all afternoon?” Patrick asks, his face concerned. “God, I hope she’s not teething.”

“Ugh,” Jonny says. “I’ve had enough of anything tooth related today.”

“I’ll just - “ Patrick starts, but before he can finish, the doorbell rings.

“That’s probably dinner,” he announces. “Boys, go wash up.”

He brings the pizza into the kitchen, and Patrick grabs the plates out of the cupboard.

“Jonny, I’m fine.” Patrick’s stomach rumbles. “Oh, that looks so good.”

“Yeah, sorry,” Jonny makes a face, as he puts a slice on each plate and pulling out grape tomatoes and strawberries from the refrigerator. He distributes them to each plate and places them in front of the boys, who are sitting on the stools at the island.

“I know I said I was making Salmon Salad, and then I thought maybe chicken, but I couldn’t even get into the Whole Foods parking lot, and it was just one thing after another-” Jonny says.

“Papa was late dropping me off and picking me up from practice,” Eric confirms. “And he forgot my snack.”

“Traitor,” Jonny gasps at Eric, making him giggle.

“Anyway, I’m sorry, I know pizza isn’t exactly . . .” Jonny says, tipping his head toward Eric subtly and Patrick shrugs. “But, well, it was this or not eating dinner until like ten o’clock, and I just-”

“It’s fine,” Patrick says easily, biting into a slice of pepperoni with a little moan. “Better than fine, this is great. I think maybe I’ve been craving pizza and not even realizing it, this tastes awesome.”

“Yeah, well, tomorrow should be smoother, and we can have the salmon then.”

“Sure,” Patrick agrees easily, handing Bryan a napkin.

“Your mom called,” Jonny says.

“Oh, good - did she give you her flight info? She’s coming on Saturday, right?” Patrick asks. “That’ll be good, I know this has probably been a lot for you.”

“Yeah, no. I mean, it’s been great, Pat. I’m glad to be here to help and - “

“Still, it’ll be nice to have another set of hands here when my mom gets in.”

“Yeah, it would,” Jonny allows, “but she’s not coming on Saturday. I guess your aunt is coming into town. Your mom’s not sure when she can come.”

“Oh. Well, that’s - that’s fine, too,” Patrick says, some of his earlier easy manner ebbing. “It’s - I’m really grateful to you, don’t think I’m not, but I just thought you’d be ready to not to have to babysit me anymore.”

“No, that’s not - I love being here,” Jonny says quietly, watching Bryan watch them. “But I’m going back to work next week, and I just worry about you being alone - “

“I’m a lot better, even though you insist on babying me,” Patrick says firmly. “My ribs don’t even hurt much anymore, and I haven’t had any dizziness or headaches from the concussion. No migraines either. So I think we’re ready for things to start getting back to normal.”

“I just want to keep an eye on you and the baby, make sure everything’s okay,” Jonny says. He doesn’t want normal since the current normal has him in a hotel room and his family here.

“I’m fine,” Patrick says again, flint in his tone, and Jonny raises his hands in surrender.

Eric doesn’t eat a ton -- but he does eat -- so Jonny’s trying not to be too worried. Amelie is practically falling asleep in her high chair, rubbing her eyes between nearly every bite.

“Bedtime, I think.” Patrick says once the pizza’s been fully demolished. The boys must be tired, because they don’t even offer token protests.

Once all the teeth have been brushed, and stories read, and last cups of water fetched, Jonny and Patrick retreat back downstairs.

“You sure you don’t want to go up to bed, too?” Jonny asks, glancing at the clock. “God, it really is late. Sorry again.”

“It’s fine, Jon, everyone’s alive and fed. In my book? That’s a successful day.”

“Still,” Jonny says, “I think I’ve probably been shitty to you a time or two about pizza for dinner.”

“Yeah, well,” Patrick says. “Now you won’t anymore. Sometimes the day gets away from you, I get tha-” he yawns widely, “-that. Maybe I’m more tired than I thought. You good to clean up?”

“Yes. Definitely. Good night, Pat.”

Jonny’s going to prove he can do this for Pat for as long as he’ll let him. He’s just hoping he can convince Patrick that he wants Jonny around permanently.

***

Jonny’s first day back at work comes faster than anyone’s ready for but there are things Jonny just can’t handle from home, no matter how competent Brandon is. Things he wants to start addressing with Patrick, but he can’t until he talks to Sidney and Geno.

Amelie’s thrilled to get to go to nursery school and drop-off doesn’t take any time at all. When he gets back into his car, he realizes he forgot the plans he needs to talk to Brandon about, so he heads back home to grab them.

He slips into the house quietly so he doesn’t wake Patrick in case he was able to fall back to sleep after all the commotion of getting the kids out the door this morning.

He’s at the front door, picking up the plans when he hears Patrick talking urgently in the kitchen. He frowns -- did someone drop by and disturb Patrick’s sleep? -- and walks down the hall, opening his mouth to see what’s going on, when he hears Patrick let out a hollow laugh.

“Yeah, I wish that were true, Erica, but I think the only thing that proves is that he’s happy about the baby.”

Jonny pauses, arrested by the bitterness and pain in Patrick’s tone as much as his words. He’s opening his mouth to respond when Patrick makes a noise.

“Erica - no, you need to listen! I know you don’t believe this, but I do know Jonny better than you and - and he’s made it very clear that he doesn’t feel like that. Not anymore anyway, if he ever did.”

“I don’t feel what way?” Jonny says, unable to keep silent anymore.

Patrick jumps and spins around, almost dropping the phone.

“Erica, I’ll call you back.” He disconnects the phone and looks down at it, placing it gently on the counter and heaving out a big breath before squaring his shoulders and looking up.

“How long were you standing there?”

“Just a few seconds,” Jonny replies, frowning. “I don’t feel what way anymore, Patrick?”

“I - “ Patrick looks away. “You don’t feel the same way about me. Not since - not anymore.”

“I don’t understand,” Jonny says.

“I can’t believe you’re actually making me say this,” Patrick mumbles. “But fine: I know that you don’t love me anymore. ”

“What?” Jonny says, stepping forward and stopping when Patrick takes a step back. “Patrick - why would you think that?”

“Why - are you fucking serious?” Patrick explodes. “Uh, I don’t know, Jon. Maybe because you spent the better part of a month calling me a slut? Because you can't even look at me anymore. Because every time I try to talk to you, it's like you'd rather be anywhere than when with me. Maybe that put the tiniest hint of an idea into my brain?”

Jonny has to look away from the raw pain and fury in Patrick’s expression. His mind races while he tried to figure out what to say to make things better.

“See?” Patrick sneers, drawing Jonny’s eyes back to him. “You can’t even deny it. And - and I just can’t bear it anymore. I want you to move out again. I won’t fight you on the divorce, but it’s killing me having you around all the time.”

“You want me to leave?” Jonny says.

“Jon. You have to know it’s not good for me -- or fair to me and the kids -- to keep playing happy family. Not when we both know that as soon as the baby is safely born, you’re going to leave.”

“I would never - “

“Okay, fine, you might wait a few months, but eventually. And I don’t - I can’t live through this waiting for the moment when you feel like it’s safe to leave. I just - I just can’t.” His voice breaks on the last words, and he turns away, hands gripping the edge of the counter so hard that they’re shaking.

“Patrick-” Jonny says, taking a step closer, only to have Patrick whirl away. “But I thought - I thought things were good, lately.”

“For fuck’s sake, Jon, are you listening to me?” Patrick shouts. “I know you’re only here for the baby! You’ve made it very clear how you feel about me. And while I appreciate how - how - how great you’ve been since I got in the accident, I just don’t want you in the house anymore, pretending.”

“I haven’t been pretending, Patrick, Jesus,” Jonny says, his voice rising. “I-”

Patrick growls in frustration. “Just stop, I’m begging you. Please stop.”

Jonny bites the inside of his cheek and looks away, thinking quickly. “Okay, I’ll - I don’t want you getting upset. It’s not good for your blood pressure - .“

Patrick snorts, shaking his head. “Exhibit A, ladies and gentleman.” He sits down heavily at the table.

“-Or your concussion,” Jonny continues as though Patrick hadn’t interrupted. “But we are going to talk about this, Pat.”

“But I don’t want to, Jonny,” Patrick says, his voice small. “I can’t - I don’t think I can bear it.”

“Oh, baby, no,” Jonny says, in front of Patrick’s chair. “I just want to try to explain a few things. I think - you need to hear why I’ve been such a complete jackass. And maybe after we talk, you’ll feel differently.”

Patrick searches his face for a moment before nodding, his shoulders still slumped. “I doubt it, but. I guess we should.”

“Thank you,” Jonny says fervently. “I - I know I haven’t done anything to deserve it, but thank you for agreeing to listen to me.”

Patrick huffs. “Ironic, considering how long I begged you to listen to me, huh?”

“I’m not sure I’d call it ironic,” Jonny says, standing up. “Right now it’s feeling pretty fucking tragic.”

“Yeah,” Patrick agrees, sighing deeply.

“Will you - don’t get mad, but. Will you take your blood pressure? I just want to make sure you’re okay.” When Patrick shakes his head, Jonny groans. “You, Pat, I want to make sure you’re okay.”

“Yeah, I know,” Patrick says, mouth twisting. You want to make sure the guy carrying your baby isn’t doing anything that could hurt it.”

“No, Pat. Not the guy carrying my baby - you, the guy I love. The guy I want to be with. The guy I hurt in a way that I’m never going to be able to make up for. The guy I can’t live without.”

Patrick’s mouth drops open, and he stares at Jonny for several long moments before he finally manages to say anything. “I - what?”

“I’ll explain everything later, okay? Just - please make sure you’re okay, and I’ll be back this afternoon.”

“Okay,” Patrick says, sounding dazed.

Jonny’s almost at the door when Patrick calls to him.

“Yeah?” Jonny turns back. Patrick’s looking at him, hope warring with fear on his face.

“Do you - do you promise? That this isn’t - that this isn’t because you want to make sure the baby’s safe?”

“Yes,” Jonny says firmly. “I promise. On the boys’ and Amelie’s and the new baby’s heads, I promise.”

“Oh, ” Patrick says, his eyes wide and startled. “Oh - okay.”

“Do you believe me?” Jonny asks, meeting Patrick’s gaze steadily. “I know you have no reason to trust me. But - do you believe me?”

“I - I think I do,” Patricks says wonderingly.

“Good,” Jonny says, nodding. “Thank you. Get some rest, and I’ll see you in a few hours.”

When he looks back, Patrick’s staring after him, his expression dazed and hopeful and when Jonny smiles at him, Patrick responds with an open grin.

It’s almost enough to make Jonny go back and have it out now, but he’s got to fix a few things at work before he can tell Patrick all of the things he needs to say.

He walks out of the house happier than he’s been in months. More hopeful than he’s let himself be. He’s still got a lot to make up for, but if Patrick’s willing to let him, he’s going to do his best to start today.

***

Jonny’s staring out the window when Sidney comes into his office and shuts the door behind him.

“So,” Sidney says, shuffling a little and putting his hands in his pockets. “Chicago.”

“Yeah,” Jonny sighs. “You’d better sit down.”

“Okay.” Sidney nods and sits. “First though- how’s Patrick doing?”

“He’s doing good -- still taking it easy -- but a lot better.”

“That’s great news. And the baby?”

“Yeah,” Jonny grins. “The baby’s good, too.”

“Okay, so Pat’s good, the baby’s good - tell me what’s going on with you.” Sidney settles back in the chair and crosses his legs. “Tell me about Chicago.”

“I think - I think I’ve changed my mind. About Chicago. I think we - I’ve got some work to do but I think things are going to work out.” Jonny sucks on his top lip, but he can’t keep a helpless grin off his face.

By the look Sidney’s giving him, it’s an exceptionally dumb smile, but Jonny can’t find it in himself to care.

“Jonny, that’s great news,” Sidney says, relaxing into the chair. “I’m not surprised - you and Pat are, well, you and Pat. I didn’t doubt that you’d work all of this out eventually.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure for awhile.”

“I’m not invite to important meeting?” Geno says, opening the door and sticking his head in.

“Geno,” Sidney says, dropping his chin to his chest. “I told you I was going to handle this.”

“I’m just want make sure you not blow it,” Geno says. “Jonny say yes?”

“Yes?” Jonny says, looking between Sidney and Geno.

“Ugh,” Sidney says, sitting up straight again. “We -- Geno and I -- wanted to ask you to reconsider dropping out of the Chicago project. And yeah, Jonny’s going to do it.”

“See, I’m always know, Sid. Should never doubt,” Geno says, poking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth.

Sid just shakes his head, smiling fondly at Geno.

“You know he’s going to be even more insufferable now, right?”

Jonny laughs. “Not my problem, Sid.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Sid grumbles. “So you want in on Chicago?”

“Yeah,” Jonny smiles. “Yeah, I do.”

They spend the next forty-five minutes on the phone with Brent and Duncan, redoing details that Jonny had unraveled a few weeks earlier. After Geno and Sidney excuse themselves, Jonny squares himself for the abuse he knows he’s about to get from Brent.

“All right, go ahead. Let’s just get it all out,” Jonny says, fiddling with a pen on his desk.

“Jonny, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” Brent says, shocked. “I’m just thrilled you changed your mind. Again.”

“Yeah, well, things - things changed today,” Jonny says. “With Patrick.”

“Yeah?” Brent says, dropping the phony offended tone. “That’s so great, Jon.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, smiling dopily for a moment.

“Ugh, I can hear your fond eyes,” Brent says. “Put those things away, man. It’s embarrassing.”

“Fuck off,” Jonny says happily. “My husband smiled at me -- really smiled at me, like he used to before I turned into a jackass -- today and I’m not going to let you or anyone harsh on that.”

“Fine,” Brent says. “You know you’ve taken all the fun of this for me, right? It’s rude is what it is.”

“Sorry not sorry,” Jonny says.

“Ugh,” Brent says again, making Jonny’s grin wider. “This is just disgusting and I’m not subjecting myself to it anymore.”

Jonny laughs.

“But seriously, Jon,” Brent says. “I’m really happy for you. And I’m really excited about working with you - I think this is going to be great.”

“I think so, too,” Jonny says. “I think so, too.”

He’s still smiling ten minutes later when Brandon pokes his head into his office.

“So, how’d it go?”

“Great, Sid and Geno actually came here to ask me to stay on the project.”

“So we’re doing it then?” Brandon says, his voice eager.

“Yep,” Jonny says. “Now let’s talk logistics. But quickly - I’ve got a date with my husband that I’m not going to be late for, and I still need to run out to the Carter House for the final walkthrough.”

***

Jonny makes the drive out to Malibu in record time, but it still gives him a chance to think about everything he’s been going through with Patrick. It’s ironic that today’s the day he’s closing Jeff’s remodel for good, given the role it -- and it’s owner -- played in their lives over the past few months.

He would never have guessed, during that first meeting with Jeff, that it would serve as a bookend to the most difficult time of their lives.

Well. Except for those months after Patrick broke up with him in college.

Their break-up had been a long time coming, frankly, but at the time, it had felt like the end of the world. Thinking back on it, Jonny can see now that it’s had a much larger - and longer - impact on him than he’s ever acknowledged.

Maybe today -- finally -- he and Patrick can get some closure, put that time -- and this one -- behind them.

~~~
“What do you mean, you’re breaking up with me?” Jonny said. Things had been tense between them for the past few weeks, but Jonny couldn’t believe it had come to this. “I don’t understand.”

Patrick scuffed his shoe at the sand and shrugged. He’d asked Jonny to take a walk and they’d ended up at the lake just as the sun was setting. The sky was pink and purple to the west, but it had faded now and the city was slowly darkening as nightfall set in.

“I just - we haven’t been happy for a long time, Jonny. And I think . . . I think we need to see if we’re happier apart.” Patrick said.

“But why?” Jonny wanted to reach out to Patrick, but he seemed too closed in on himself, so Jonny rubbed the back of his head instead, adjusting the angle of his hat to shade his eyes more.

“Come on, Jonny, admit it,” Patrick said, “you know it’s been bad. And it’s been bad for awhile now.”

“It hasn’t been that bad,” Jonny said desperately. “We can work on it, we can, we can - I don’t know, maybe we can see a counselor, or something.”

Patrick made a scoffing noise. “Jonny-”

“You can’t just give up on us the first time things get hard!” Jonny could feel anger bumping up against the fear in his throat. “You never want to put the effort in - “

“Fuck you! I’m not giving up on us because it’s hard!” Patrick shouted, his hands balled into fists. “This is exactly what I’m talking about! I’m fucking sick of all your nasty looks and the comments about how I never study and - and - your constant fucking need to make me better!”

“I do not - “

“Did you work out today? Did you finish your homework? Are you really going to eat that?” Patrick mimics, his mouth twisting. “Sound familiar? Why are you always, always trying to fix me?”

“Wanting you to be the best you can be isn’t trying to fix you, Patrick!” Jonny said.

“The best - ? Fuck you if you can’t love me for who I am - or maybe you just don’t love me at all!”

“That is such utter bullshit,” Jonny hurled back at him. “Stop being so God damn dramatic. Just because we disagree about something doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”

“Well, you sure have a funny way of showing it lately. Yelling and sneering and making fun of me. And I’m sick of it.” Patrick sneered. “And I’m sick of you.”

“Why didn’t you say something? I didn’t know it upset you that much. I’ll - I can stop - I promise I’ll stop. Just - you don’t have to do this to us. I can be better, just give me another chance.”

“Right,” Patrick said bitterly. “Like all the other times I’ve asked you to lay off? And all the other times we’ve fought about this, and you swore it was the last time? Your need to fix me is like a part of your personality, Jon, and clearly your need to make me perfect trumps your ability to think about what I need, what I want.”

“I’ve never put anything -- anything -- in front of your needs, Patrick, and you know it. Hell, I’m at fucking Northwestern instead of Notre Dame because of you!” Jonny winced when Patrick’s eyes widened. “Shit, I didn’t - “

“Finally! Now we’re getting somewhere,” Patrick sneered. “I knew you resented me for choosing Northwestern! You’ve been making me pay for that for two fucking years, Jonny!”

“I don’t resent you, asshole, I just came here to be with you,” Jonny snapped. “You know I love it here. And even if I didn’t, it was worth it because you’re here. I never - “

“Keep telling yourself that, Jon,” Patrick snapped. “See, this is what I mean. We’re just - we’re not on the same page anymore.”

“Maybe if you tried a little harder - “ Jonny growled.

“Oh, fuck you, Jonny,” Patrick yelled, red-faced. “Just fucking fuck off. Try harder? Try harder? Jesus, sometimes it feels like I’m the only one trying at all -- you’re so busy with your drafting and applying for internships and all your architecture friends -- I can’t even get you to talk to me! All you do is come home and dump your stuff on the bed and pass out.”

“You cannot be jealous of Seabs,” Jonny said, astonished. “He’s practically married to Duncs!”

“No, fuck, I’m not jealous - are you deliberately trying to be obtuse, Jon? You don’t have time for me, and when you do, all you do is criticize me. Half the time, you don’t even listen when I tell you things. I bet you can’t even tell me what classes I’m taking this semester, can you?”

“I - “ Jonny colored and looked away. “I know I’ve been busy the past few months, but - “

“Busy,” Patrick snorted. “Face it, for the past three months, if we aren’t sleeping or fucking, we’re not even in the same building. Well, I’m tired of being in a relationship where the only time we communicate is when you’re horny.”

“When I’m horny?,” Jonny mocked, his ire increasing to match Patrick’s. “Right, I forgot that it’s me who needs constant fucking to keep him happy.”

“Aw, Jonny, what’s the matter? Is your cock exhausted from all the demands I put on it?” Patrick mocked. “Well, good news, you can give it a nice long rest - or find someone else to stick it in, for all I care.”

“Patrick - “

“Speaking of, there’s something else,” Patrick said viciously. “I’m going to start seeing other people. So you’re off the hook. I’ll find someone else to - how did you put it? -- oh, yeah, constantly fuck me.”

“See other people?” Jonny scoffed. “Give me a break, Patrick. Now you’re just trying to hurt me.”

“Oh, yeah?” Patrick sneered. “Well, jokes on you because I’ve already met someone.”

“What?” Jonny gapes. His legs give out abruptly and he sits down heavily on a bench just off the path. “What do you mean you’ve met someone?”

“I met a girl,” Patrick scowls down at him. “What do you think about that, huh?”

Jonny just blinked up at him, his mouth open, unable to get any words out.

Patrick glared at him, for a long moment before sighing and sitting down next to him, knocking Jonny’s knee with his own.

“Sorry, that - I didn’t need to say it like that. You just make me so fucking angry, Jon, and I can’t think, and I say things I should never say to you. And that’s - it’s kind of my point, actually. It’s why I think we need a break.”

The corner of Patrick’s mouth twitched, and his dimple flashes, but Jonny had seen that expression enough to know he’s nervous, not happy. “I’m sorry, though. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“But - oh. So you didn’t actually meet someone?” Jonny asked, relieved. “That’s - “

“Uh, no. I mean I did,” Patrick said,. “I just- I shouldn’t have told you like that.”

Jonny couldn’t think; he couldn’t make the words process. How could Patrick want someone else - want some girl? “I don’t- I don’t understand. You met a girl?”

“She’s in my sociology class,” Patrick says, looking out at the lake, his jaw ticking. “She’s nice.”

“In your sociology class,” Jonny echoed dumbly, his breathing picking up as he thought about Patrick and some nameless, faceless girl.

“Yes,” Patrick said, looking at Jonny carefully. “Are you okay, Jon?”

“No, I’m fucking not okay,” Jonny growled. “How could I be okay?”

Patrick grimaced and looked away.

“How - how long?”

“Um, just - not long,” Patrick said, biting at his thumbnail, a nervous habit Jonny’d thought he’d mostly trained out of him.

Patrick spied Jonny glancing at his hand and dropped it into his lap, raising an eyebrow at Jonny. “See? Even now you can’t help yourself.”

Jonny flushed and looked away, his jaw clenched against the words that wanted to come out: Please take it all back. Please take me back. How could you do this to me? To us?

They sat in tense silence for a long minute, avoiding each other’s eyes and staring out at the lake. The roar in Jonny’s ears was louder than the water rolling up against the beach, though, and a thought formed in his head as he thought about Patrick liking -- wanting -- someone else.

“Did you - Oh, God, Patrick,” Jonny blurted brokenly, “please tell me you didn’t cheat on me.”

“Jesus, no!” Patrick said after gaping at him for a long moment. “What the fuck - “

“Because if - if you cheated on me,” Jonny started, his voice shaking.

“Fuck you, Jon, I would never do that - to you or to anyone else. Never, ever. And I can’t fucking believe you even asked me that! You know how I feel about people who cheat! You were there when Erica found out her boyfriend was fucking that freshman - ”

“Sorry, sorry, you’re right, I’m just - “ Jonny inhaled shakily. “This is a lot to take in, and I can’t think - my brain’s just whirling.”.

“Well, shut up about that cheating bullshit.” Patrick scowled at him. “Besides, even if I wanted to cheat on you -- which I never would -- she said she wouldn’t even go out with me unless I broke up with you.”

“You - you talked about us with - with some random girl?”

“No - yes - she’s not some random girl.” Patrick said, shrugging, his face pink. “She’s - she was being a friend to me - a good friend. And things have been so awful with you lately, I just needed someone to talk to.”

“But you have Sharpy - “

“Come on, Jonny, you know Sharpy’s almost as invested in our relationship as we are. I didn’t want to - I didn’t want anyone we’re friends with to know, okay? And Becca was really great - she just listened to me, didn’t judge me or try to change my mind.”

“Becca?”

“Yeah, that’s her name, Becca.” Patrick said, glancing at Jonny quickly before looking back at the lake. “She’s a nice girl, and she’s nice to me,” Patrick said. “And she - “

“Just stop - stop talking.“ Jonny said, swallowing down the bile in his throat. “I don’t want to hear about some chick you want to bang.”

“She’s not just some chick I want to bang,” Patrick snapped. “But that’s fair - I won’t talk to you about her - ”

“Oh, gee, thanks, Pat. So glad you think it’s fair that I don’t want to hear about your new girlfriend.” Jonny mocked, cold fury in the pit of his stomach growing.

“She’s not my girlfriend, and you don’t have to be a dick about her,” Patrick said.

“My boyfriend of five years is breaking up with me to bang some random chick that I’ve never even heard about before, and I can’t be a dick about it? Seems like this is a time when I should have blanket permission to be a dick.” Jonny scoffed.

“Fine, then.” Patrick huffed out a humorless laugh. “Be a dick. Don’t be a dick. You’re just proving my point. I’m just - I need a break from all of this. From us.”

“Just a break?” Maybe - maybe Jonny could let Patrick go, if it’s just for a little while, if he comes back to him. Let him have his - his - whatever he’s going to be doing with this horrible-sounding Becca woman. The thought made his skin crawl. “And then you’ll come back to me?”

“Jonny,” Patrick sighed. “I don’t know. I can’t know. I just need to - I don’t know, spread my wings? See what else is out there.”

“But - ”

“Jonny, I don’t want to wake up married to you in fifteen years, wondering what it’s like out there. And you - you should see other people, too.”

“No,” Jonny said unequivocally. “Never. You’re all I need, Patrick.”

“Jon - “

“No, Patrick.” Jonny ground his teeth teeth and made himself say it. "If you - if this is what you want to do, then I’m not going to try to stop you. Just know that I’ll always be here, waiting for you. Whenever you’re ready to take me back.”

“And you know I can’t promise that’s going to happen, right?” Patrick said gently.

“You don’t have to promise,” Jonny said. “Just know that I’ll be here.”

He’d met Becca a week later when he’d stopped by the apartment to pick up a box of his things. She’d been sitting on their - on Patrick’s bed, swinging her legs. She was tiny and gorgeous, long blonde hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. Jonny had loathed her on sight.

“Jonny, this is Becca,” Patrick had said, glaring at Jonny in warning.

Jonny had nodded once at Becca and left the room as fast as he could, hating the sight of her on Patrick’s bed, unable to think of anything but what she must look like in Patrick’s bed, under him, her tiny body blanketed by his.

He’d spent almost three days drinking after that, not stopping until Brent and Duncan had manhandled him into the shower and sobered him up. It had taken another two days of constant babysitting before they thought he was lucid enough to talk to.

“You can’t do this,” Brent said flatly. “If you crawl into a bottle and drop out of school, what’s that going to do, except prove to Patrick that you’re not good enough for him?”

“But - “

“Nope,” Duncan said. “No arguments. You’ve shown absolutely no ability to make good decisions for the past, oh - six days - so you’re not going to make decisions.”

“But - “

“No,” they said simultaneously, and Jonny laughed, helpless, but almost immediately the laugh turned into a sob.

“Yeah, there it is,” Brent said, handing Jonny a box of tissues. “Take your time.”

It had taken a few weeks, but eventually Jonny pulled himself together. Until he saw Patrick laughing with a man -- bearded, lanky, years older -- while they sat in a local coffee shop.

Patrick had his typical ridiculous concoction in front of him, a spot of whipped cream on his lip. The man had reached out to wipe it away, and when Patrick had smiled at him, it had taken everything in Jonny not to go over and break the man’s arm. He’d spun neatly on his heel and opened the first bottle he’d found when he got back to his room, trying not to think about the man wiping other things off Patrick’s lips.

Brent had sighed when he got home that night. “What happened?”

After Jonny went through the story, Brent had tugged the bottle from his grasp and knocked back his own mouthful. “Yeah, that sucks, man. But you can’t torture yourself.”

Jonny laughed bitterly. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

“Well, you can’t crawl into a bottle every time you see Patrick talking to someone, man, that’s just going to end in rehab. The guy’s dating. So what? You should go out, meet someone, fuck a few randoms. It’ll be good for you.”

Jonny stared at him, horrified. “Jesus, no! I don’t want some fucking random. I don’t want to fuck someone just to get Patrick out of my head when Patrick’s the person I want.” His face crumpled. “But I - can’t stop thinking about that guy, Seabs. With Pat.”

“You’ve got to cut out all of this bullshit, man,” Brent said. “It’s not doing you any good, getting all wound up about it.”

A week later, Patrick had knocked on Brent’s door, where Jonny had been staying since moving out.

“Can I come in?” Patrick said, shifting his feet.

Jonny shrugged his shoulder and gestured towards the couch.

Patrick prattled while Jonny had listened sullenly until he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“What are you doing here, Patrick?” Jonny had asked. “Because I know it isn’t to talk about whether the Bears will make the playoffs.”

Patrick’s ears turned pink. “I - uh.” He swallowed. “I miss you?”

Jonny hadn’t wasted a second before he was pulling Patrick off the couch and kissing him.

They’d barely made it to Jonny’s room before Patrick started ripping off Jonny’s clothes.

After, when Jonny was holding Patrick, he’d dared to ask what had changed.

“Nothing? I just - I miss you. And I want to be friends.” Patrick chuckled, his hair tickling Jonny’s chin. “This -- “ he tapped Jonny’s hip -- “was not what I had in mind.”

Jonny made a cut-off noise.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Patrick said. “I just never thought you’d want to do something like this.”

“I - you - “ Jonny could hardly get words past his throat. “I wasn’t?”

“What?” Patrick looked at him.

“I - Patrick, I thought you wanted to get back together!” Jonny said, sitting up and pushing Patrick away. “I can’t - you can’t ask me to be your - your - your fuckbuddy!”

“But I thought - “

“No,” Jonny said firmly. “You need to leave. Now.”

Patrick had left, but not without trying to explain that he hadn’t meant to lead Jonny on. Jonny had snorted and pushed him out the door, leaning against it before heading to the kitchen to get a six pack out and wait for Brent to get home.

That night even Duncan had agreed that Patrick was being a dick. But knowing he was in the right didn’t change the aching sense of loss Jonny experienced when he realized how far apart he and Patrick were.

Jonny had gone back to lurking and watching as Patrick talked to and smiled at everyone but Jonny. The jealousy and the pain hadn’t gotten better so much as Jonny had gotten used to it, gotten used to seeing Patrick across the quad, smiling and laughing with different guys all the time. The only solace was that he never saw him with Becca, but that was bitter consolation knowing that Patrick was fucking his way across campus.

When Patrick came to him a few months later, asking if he wanted to try again, Jonny had been so relieved that he’d paved over all the pain and jealousy and taken him back. Patrick had tried to talk about the time they’d been apart, but Jonny had begged him to stop, and he’d let it go.

~~~

Thinking back on it now, Jonny can see that not talking about it had just made the hurt fester and grow. He doesn’t know how he’s going to make up for the way he’s behaved, but he’s going to start trying today.

***

Jonny picks up the boys and Amelie exactly on time, arriving home to find a delicious smelling but quiet house.

“We’re home!” Bryan calls before Jonny can shush him. “Daddy? We’re home, and I got a hundred percentage on my spelling test!”

Patrick walks in from the kitchen, drying off his hands. “That’s awesome, Bry! Way to go!”

“And Eric - “

“Don’t tell him, Bryan, I wanna tell him,” Eric interrupts. “I got a hundred, too!”

“My smart boys!” Patrick says, pulling them close and kissing their heads. “I made banana bread - how does that sound for a victory meal?”

“Cool!” They chime instantly, running into the kitchen.

“Wash your hands!” Patrick calls after them.

“Aw, Dad,” Eric says, but the water starts running.

Patrick chuckles and turns to Jonny, rubbing Amelie’s hair and kissing her quickly but stepping away when she holds out her arms. “Sorry, Lady Bug,” he croons. “Daddy can’t pick you up yet. How about we get you some banana bread, instead, huh?”

“Ouiae!” Amelie shouts, making both Patrick and Jonny wince.

“Indoor voice, s’il te plait,” Patrick says, smiling shyly at Jonny before heading back to the kitchen.

Once all the kids have their banana bread and milk, Patrick glances at Jonny, chewing on his lip. “Hey,” he says softly.

“Hey yourself,” Jonny says, winking.

Patrick looks away, his cheeks pink.

“You had a good day?” Jonny asks, wrapping up the remains of the banana bread and stashing the loaf in the fridge. “I take it you’re feeling okay, since you made banana bread.”

“Yeah, today’s been the best day yet,” Patrick says. “Didn’t even need my Vicodin.”

“And did you rest?”

“Yes, Mom, I took a nap before lunch,” Patrick smirks. “And I ate all my vegetables, too.”

“What a good boy,” Jonny says, and laughs when Patrick makes a face, but he doesn’t miss how Patrick’s cheeks get even pinker. “I guess you get banana bread, too.”

“Ugh,” Patrick says, rolling his eyes. “So, uh. How was work?”

“Work was . . . productive,” Jonny says. “And I had a long drive out to Malibu, so I got a chance to think about some things.”

“Yeah?” Patrick says, darting a glance over at the children, but they’re immersed in a conversation about whether Mr. Smith will get a new goldfish in their classroom to keep the other one company.

“But he’s so lonely,” Eric says.

“Maybe he likes having that bowl all to himself,” Bryan replies.

When Patrick looks back, he’s biting his lip again, and Jonny reaches out and pushes on it with his thumb until Patrick releases it. Jonny thumbs over the indentation on the wet, plump skin before drawing his hand away.

Patrick’s flush gets even deeper, spreading to his neck, and he hitches in an uneven breath. “I - I called Claire to see if she could take the kids to the swim club,” Patrick says, “I thought we should talk without worrying about them overhearing. Or interrupting.”

“That’s a good idea,” Jonny says. “When is she coming?”

“In about an hour. She’ll take them swimming and get them dinner, bring them back around nine o’clock.”

“Swimming?” Eric says, looking up. “We’re going swimming?”

“I love to swim!” Bryan yells excitedly. “Can I dive off the diving board?”

“Me, too, me, too!” Eric says.

“All right, calm down,” Jonny chuckles. “Claire’s taking you to the pool, and she’ll decide if you can go in the deep end.”

“But Papa-” Bryan says.

“Bryan, Claire decides,” Jonny says.

Bryan bites his lip and nods. “But do you think she’ll let us?”

Jonny chuckles. “How about we ask her when she comes?”

Patrick sends the boys upstairs for their swimsuits while he digs through Amelie’s diaper bag. “I always keep a suit in here - there it is!” He pulls out a polka dot bikini and makes a face at it.

“This is what we have to look forward to, Jon. Our little girl in tiny bikinis. And I bet they don’t get much bigger than this, either.”

They get the boys dressed and off to the pool as soon as Claire arrives. When the door finally closes behind them, Patrick heaves a sigh and turns around, looking Jonny resolutely in the face.

“Where - can we go sit in the family room?” Patrick asks, rubbing his side. “I need to sit down for a little while.”

“Maybe you should go lay down? Get some rest?” Jonny asks. “Maybe you should take a Vicodin.”

“I’m okay, just tired from baking the banana bread,” Patrick says. “I want to be sober for this conversation and I don’t want to get dependent on that. The doctor said it was fine, even though I’m pregnant . . . but . . . I don’t know. I don’t want to take it too often.”

“Lead on then.”

Patrick settles into one corner of the couch, propped up on a couple of pillows, and folds his hands in his lap. “Okay. So.”

“So,” Jonny echoes, looking at his lap. “I’m going to start by apologizing.”

“Okay. For what?”

“For not believing you about the divorce papers. For refusing to listen when you tried to explain. For the way I spoke to you - the things I said - I never should’ve said those things. They’re not true and I didn’t - I don’t think I really believed them, but. I still never should have said them.”

“Yeah, no shit,” Patrick says. “That was really fucking shitty of you.”

“I know, and I’m so sorry, Pat,” Jonny says.

“I didn’t - I never, ever intended to file those papers, Jonny. Not ever! I just - I called the lawyer when I was so angry, and then I forgot to call her back, so she sent them. I just shoved them into that drawer and didn’t even think about them again. And I really fucking regret that.” Patrick’s voice breaks.

“Pat, you can’t - don’t apologize for that! It was my fault for not listening, for not being willing to hear you out. And I should have believed you - probably would have believed you, except-”

Jonny pauses, trying to organize his thoughts. “Okay, so I think I figured something out, and I need to explain but, please, please don’t think I’m blaming you for any of this? I just - I don’t know how else to explain. Okay?”

“Okay?” Patrick says, drawing the word out slowly. “I’ll try?”

“Okay, that’s - thanks. And if you can’t - I get that. Okay.”

He pauses long enough that Patrick pokes him with his foot. “Okay…”

“So, remember when you broke up with me in college?”

Patrick groans and drops his head back on the couch. “Seriously?”

“Yeah, I know but - it’s important. I promise.”

“Fine,” Patrick grumbles, crossing his arms. “Continue.”

“So, uh. I think I took that whole time we were apart a lot harder than I realized.”

“Really?” Patrick frowns. “Because I think we both know just how hard you took it. Pretty fucking hard.”

“Yeah, but I think I’m still taking it hard.”

“Okay, now I’m totally lost.”

“Okay, sorry. So.” Jonny takes a deep breath. “So I know you slept with a lot of people while we were broken up, and I think I’ve been holding that against you ever since.”

Patrick’s mouth drops open.

“I know - I know! it’s ridiculous! And I really, really didn’t realize until - well, until today, frankly. And it’s awful and unfair and - and -” He sighs, running his hand over the back of his head, his cheeks burning. “Yeah. So. Sorry?”

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Patrick explodes, fighting his way off the couch to stand over Jonny. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“I know - I’m sorry! I just - it was so awful, seeing you around with all those guys and that - that - Becca” Jonny spits her name - “and I know I had no right, but it made me insane! I couldn’t stop thinking about you with them!”

“Thinking about me - thinking about me with them?! I can’t even - when did you see me with guys? What guys? And why didn’t you fucking say anything?”

“Everywhere? I don’t know who they were - it was someone different pretty much ever time, and after the eighth or ninth time, I - “

“What?” Patrick says, his voice dangerously low. “What? Everywhere? Someone different - eight or nine times?”

“Uh,” Jonny says, wincing. “More?”

“More than eight or nine times. You saw me with eight or nine different guys - sorry, wait. More than eight or nine different guys you thought I was fucking - Oh, plus Becca, can’t forget Becca, right?”

“Yeah?” Jonny says carefully. “And I don’t care - I can let it go - “

“Fucking stop talking,” Patrick shouts. “Stop talking or you’re going to say something that I can’t ever unhear! You motherfucker, just - “ He shakes his head, his face flushed and angry.

“I’m - “

“If you say one more word, I swear to God, I’m going to kick you out and take your children and move so far away you’ll never see any of us again. One. More. Word.”

Jonny opens his mouth and Patrick narrows his eyes at him. Jonny swallows and nods mutely.

“Thanks for finally listening when I speak, Jon,” Patrick says mockingly. “It’s such a refreshing change of pace.”

Jonny opens his mouth again, and Patrick explodes. “Are you fucking kidding with this bullshit! Shut up and just - just - argh, I can’t even fucking - I “

Jonny bites on his lips, holding back his plea for Patrick to calm down.

“I can see you thinking, asshole, and my blood pressure’s just fine,” Patrick warns.

Jonny shrugs, looking down and picking at the crease in his pant leg.

“Okay,” Patrick says, blowing out a breath and pacing. “Okay.”

It’s another long moment of Patrick pacing and muttering under his breath before he pins Jonny with a look.

“So, you remember how I wanted to talk about the time we were apart? Just nod, Jon.”

Jonny nods.

“And remember how you wouldn’t ever -- ever -- let me say anything?”

Jonny nods, sighing deeply.

“Yeah, well, you’re a dick.”

Jonny raises his eyebrows.

“There were no other guys, Jon.”

Jonny’s mouth parts and Patrick shakes his head.

“None. Not one. Nada. De rien. None. Never.”

“But- “

“Shut. Up.” Patrick hisses.

Jonny nods and mimes zipping his lips shut. Patrick quirks an eyebrow at Jonny, and he smiles sheepishly.

“God, I just - I cannot even . . .” Patrick stops, shaking his head. “You’re a moron.”

Jonny nods again.

“And you’re not funny or charming, and I’m not joking about this.”

Jonny nods again, less sure of himself.

“Are you listening? Are you finally willing to hear what I say?”

Jonny nods vigorously.

“I have never had sex with anyone else, Jonny. Never. I didn’t even want anyone else - not Becca, not anyone.” Patrick glares at him. “Despite all appearances to the contrary.”

Jonny’s mouth drops open again, this time in shock.

“I think Becca and I went on about three dates, and they were all complete bombs and we kissed, maybe twice? I don’t even remember. But there wasn’t anyone else. Ever.”

“But-”

“I know, isn’t it amazing? The things you learn when you talk about stuff?” Patrick smiles bitterly. “I asked you over and over to talk about it, and you just - I guess you preferred to think that I had sex with - I can’t even say it.”

“Can I-”

“No,” Patrick says. “No. I need a minute. Just - be quiet while I think.”

Jonny nods again, grateful when Patrick sits down, this time in the chair across from the couch. He puts his head in his hands, and lets out a shuddering breath. And because he’s watching him so closely, Jonny can see the moment when he starts crying silently.

Jonny shifts in his seat, torn between warring instincts to comfort Patrick and abide by his requests. In lieu of going to him, he thinks about Patrick not having been with anyone else, about how wrong he’s been and how that’s hurt Patrick.

He wants to hold Patrick. He wants to apologize. He wants to take back everything he’s said to Patrick that’s hurt him.

He doesn’t say anything and the silence drags on, interrupted every so often by Patrick letting out a muffled sob. “Pat-”

“I don’t understand how you could think that?” Patrick says, lifting his head, his cheeks wet. “About me? For all these years? I don’t . . .”

“I’m sorry,” Jonny says, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “I don’t - it just - “

“Do you believe me now?” Patrick asks, wiping his face on his sleeve. “Do you believe that I didn’t have sex with anyone else? Ever?”

Jonny looks at Patrick’s face, his blue eyes swimming with tears, his chin shaking slightly and his heart aches with how much he loves him, how much he needs him. He forces down a sob of his own and nods his head, keeping eye contact.

“Yes, Patrick. Yes. I believe you.” Jonny says firmly. “Of course I believe you.”

Patrick’s tears start again, running unchecked down his face. “You promise?”

“I promise. And I’m - I’m so fucking sorry I ever thought it in the first place.” Jonny shudders, thinking about all the ways that misunderstanding -- not listening to Patrick -- has fucked things up between them. “I know there’s no reason for you to trust me -- to believe me -- but I promise, I believe you, and I’m so sorry.”

“I just don’t know how you could feel this way for so long and never ask me about it,” Patrick says his voice wavering. “Why - Why wouldn’t you just talk to me?”

“I think - I think I was terrified of hearing what you said,” Jonny admits. “Of hearing you confirm it. Of knowing for sure.”

“But that’s ridiculous,” Patrick says, wiping his eyes. “Why would you want to think that? Why wouldn’t you talk to me, if it hurt you that much?”

“I never wanted to think those things - I just - I was so fucking broken-hearted! And I couldn’t - I was hardly sober for three days straight during the entire time - I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. Seabs and Duncs got so tired of pulling me out of a bottle after every time I saw you - “

“Seabs? Seabs and Duncs - they - did they think I was whoring it all across campus, too?” Patrick’s face crumples. “Oh, my God, did Sharpy?”

“No, no - Pat, I never talked to Sharpy about it, ever. And Seabs never believed it, not really - but he did get tired of trying to talk me out of it, I think.” Jonny rubs the back of his neck. “Basically they all thought I was a jackass, and at some point Seabs even said I should - “ He stops, swallowing.

“Seabs said you should what?” Patrick prompts.

“Uh, should. He thought I should, you know, pick up. Fuck someone else. To get over you?”

“And did you?” Patrick asks, his face set. “Because I hate the idea, but I want to get this all out now, Jon. I don’t want to ever have these kinds of secrets between us again.”

“No, Patrick - I never. Until I kissed Jeff, you’re the only person I’ve even kissed. Ever.”

“Ever?” Patrick says, his eyes widening. “But I thought you kissed fucking Broshie in ninth grade?”

Jonny’s cheeks heat. “Yeah, uh. TJ came up with that idea, just to let you know that I was, you know, into guys. TJ just told people we kissed.”

“No shit? Man, I’d feel bad for how I’ve always thought of TJ, except he’s a dick, and he can suck it.”

“You cannot still be jealous of TJ, Pat. It’s been twenty years.”

“Yeah, well,” Patrick says, his jaw set. “I’m not jealous. He can just-”

“I know,” Jonny laughs. “Suck it.”

Patrick smiles weakly and the sight makes Jonny’s stomach flip.

“So, uh. No, I never dated, I never kissed anyone while we were broken up. I mostly went to class and drank.” Jonny says, clearing his throat.

“And spied on me, apparently,” Patrick says, mouth twisting. “Who were all those guys you thought I was with?”

“I don’t know,” Jonny says, shifting in his seat a little. “They were just - just guys? One was an older guy - you got coffee with him on Tuesdays at the Vanilla Bean?”

Patrick frowns at him, and then laughs, his expression clearing. “Oh, my God, did he have a beard?”

“Yeah?”

“Holy shit, Jonny, that was just Joey, no, um . . . Joe Thornton. He was the TA for my sociology class. He wasn’t hitting on me.”

“That fucking sociology class,” Jonny scowls. “Trust me, Pat, that guy was hitting on you. He’s lucky I didn’t punch him.”

Patrick breaks out into peals of laughter. “Jonny, Joe Thornton was like, six foot four and outweighed you by at least thirty pounds. He would’ve wiped up the floor with you.” He wipes his eyes. “Fight Joe Thornton, honestly.”

“Yeah, well, I could have,” Jonny says, glowering it. “And he was a dick.”

“Yeah, he was a dick, but you didn’t have any way of knowing that,” Patrick smirks.

“I could just sense it,” Jonny mutters darkly, thinking about how Thornton had looked at Patrick.

“Oh, my God, you’re insane,” Patrick laughs.

“Shut up,” Jonny grumbles half-heartedly.

“Well, anyway,” Patrick says. “So you’ve been thinking that I slutted it up in college this whole time -- don’t give me that look, you just admitted it -- and you never said anything?”

“No - I didn’t think about it, not really. Not like that anyway. I mean at first it was something I had to work on not thinking about every day. I’d been - it was something I’d gotten used to knowing, to thinking.” He shrugs. “And when we got back together, I just tried to ignore it. Pretty soon I never thought about it at all. Haven’t really thought about it in years, actually.”

“That makes no sense,” Patrick says, frowning.

“I know!” Jonny says, frustrated. “But I really can’t explain it. I just - I blocked it out. And then when we - when you asked me to leave after I was so fucking dumb about Jeff, I think it just felt like that time all over again - the fear that I’d lost you forever, and that I couldn’t do anything about it. I think all of the paranoia and jealousy came rushing back in.”

“But then we worked on things, and they were better. Weren’t they?”

“Yeah, but - it - I don’t know, I think I was just constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I knew you were keeping something from me -- you can’t lie for shit, Pat -- and when I found those papers, I thought it was that you wanted a divorce.”

“It wasn’t that - it was the baby.”

“Yeah, I know that now,” Jonny nods glumly. “But I knew there was something, and when I found those papers, it - it broke something in me, Pat.”

“I - I know, and I’m sorry - “

“God, please don’t apologize!” Jonny says urgently. “You didn’t - it wasn’t you, it was never you. It was me. And the way I reacted - the things I said - it’s just. I understand if you can never forgive me.”

Patrick bites his lip, looking down at where his hands are resting in his lap. “I don’t - I can’t promise that I’m ever going to forget what happened, but I think I might be able to forgive you.”

Jonny’s breath catches in his throat. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, a little shy. “I really - I hate how things have been. And I want to put this all behind us. The divorce papers, the stuff with Jeff, how hard things have been since we moved to L.A. I’m just so tired of being at odds with you.”

“God, me, too,” Jonny says. “I hate it.” He pauses. “Actually, I need to talk to you about that.”

“About what?” Patrick asks warily.

 

“About the way things have been for us all since we moved to Los Angeles.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says warningly. “Stop talking in riddles and spit it out.”

“So, you know that special project I’ve been working on?”

“Oh, you’ve been working on a special project?” Patrick says sarcastically. “Do you mean the one that takes you out of town constantly and you won’t talk about? Because I hate that fucking project.”

“I know I’ve been cryptic about it, but yeah, that project,” Jonny says, wincing.

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“I think - I hope you like it. I’m kind of counting on it.”

“For fuck’s sake, Jonny-”

“Sorry! Sorry, it’s just - this is so important. I- I’ve been working on a big bid and we found out a few weeks ago that it’s a go.”

Jonny takes a deep breath, watching Patrick watch him, tensed as if he’s poised for a blow. Jonny’s fairly sure Patrick will be happy, but he also knows that this is the kind of thing that could make Patrick unexpectedly angry or obstinate when it’s sprung on him.

“I’m getting transferred - “

“Transferred?” Patrick says, his voice rising. “I - are you moving away? Because of all of this?”

“No, I mean yes, but not like you think,” Jonny says. “I’m getting transferred to Chicago.”

“To Chicago?” Patrick’s mouth drops open.

“I’m going to be heading up a huge project in Chicago and, if it goes well, Sid and Geno want me to open a Chicago branch of the firm.”

Patrick’s staring at him, his mouth dropped open in shock. Jonny waits a few moments, but when Patrick doesn’t say anything, he starts to squirm.

“Patrick?”

“You’re - you’re moving back to Chicago?” Patrick’s voice catches on the last word. “I don’t - but what about us?”

“Pat.” Jonny rolls his eyes. “I was really kind of thinking you would come with me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really,” Jonny says, and watches as Patrick smiles so brightly, it makes Jonny’s own cheeks ache.

“You’re - we’re moving back to Chicago?”

“I just think that living in L.A. has been really hard on all of us. I miss our families. I miss Seabs and Duncs. Fuck, I even miss the weather.”

“And that’s the big project? It’s really not anything with - with Jeff Carter?”

The look on Patrick’s face, hopeful but like he’s braced for a blow, has Jonny out of his seat and kneeling in front of him, pulling Patrick’s hands into his own.

Jonny looks steadily at Patrick while he speaks. “Pat, I’m not going to work on any project of Jeff’s ever again. Sid and Geno know that I won’t work with him anymore. And they’re completely fine with that.”

When Patrick makes a face, Jonny shakes his head. “No, they don’t know the details, they just know that it’s something I’m not willing to do. I agreed to stay on as lead until the Malibu house was done, but that was it. I don’t know if they’re going to be associated with redesigning his spas; I don’t care. I’m not going to be a part of any of it.”

“I - “ Patrick looks down at their joined hands and shudders a little. “I know this is selfish of me, but I’m so fucking glad. I know it would have been great for your career to be on a big international project, but I hate that fucking asshole.”

“You and I are a lot more important than my career, Pat. If the last few months have shown me nothing else, it’s that none of that matters a tenth as much as you do.”

A spot of color appears in Patrick’s cheeks and he looks up at Jonny through his lashes. “Jonny,” Patrick says helplessly.

“And you should know that along with moving back to Chicago, my responsibilities at Crosby Malkin are changing, too.” Jonny beams.

“How? What’s changing?” Patrick says, his voice a rough croak. He clears his throat twice.

“Are you feeling okay? You’re not getting sick, are you?” Jonny frowns.

“Nah, I think - I’m really getting tired,” Patrick admits.

Now that he says it, Jonny can see that the flush from earlier is gone, leaving Patrick’s face pale.

“I should probably lay down,” Patrick continues, biting his lip. “But I want to hear about your job.”

“Fuck - of course! I can’t believe I didn’t -”

“Settle down, Jon.” Patrick laughs, shaking his head. “I’m fine, I just need to rest. But I could use something to drink first?”

“Of course, right,” Jonny says, standing up quickly. “I’ll be right back - “

“No!” Patrick says, keeping hold of Jonny’s hands when Jonny tries to untangle their fingers. “No - I want - I’ll come with you?” The spots of color in his cheeks return. “I’ll come with you.”

“Sure,” Jonny says easily, tugging Patrick out of the chair and holding his hand until they’re in the kitchen.

Patrick sits on a stool at the island despite Jonny’s entreaties to take a seat at the kitchen table. He grabs a green drink for himself once he’s poured Patrick a large glass of juice.

Patrick drains his juice quickly with long, deep pulls from the glass, and Jonny stares at Patrick’s neck as he swallows. When Patrick puts the glass down, he catches Jonny and smirks.

“Shut up,” Jonny grumbles, biting back a smile.

“Hey, I didn’t say anything.” Patrick grins and raises his eyebrows twice.

“Yeah, whatever,” Jonny says, pouring Patrick another glass of juice. “Drink that and then go up and take a nap.”

“Yes, sir!” Patrick says, saluting with one hand, grinning.

“Ugh, why am I married to you again?”

“Because I’m a constant delight, Jon. Come on, we’ve been over this,” Patrick mock frowns, tsking.

“Uh, huh,” Jonny says, taking a pull from his bottle.

“Also, I give great head,” Patrick tacks on.

Jonny splutters, coughing desperately as he inhales green drink into his lungs. Patrick calmly walks over and gets him a glass of water.

“Asshole,” Jonny says, his voice thin and his eyes watering.

“Yeah,” Patrick says happily, still pale but seeming lighter than he’s been in months. “I am. Hey - maybe that’s why you married me? What do you think?”

“I think you’re a dick,” Jonny wheezes. “And also that no one should ever inhale green drinks.” He hacks and makes a face. “Jesus, coughing that back up tasted awful.”

“Pretty sure it always tastes awful,” Patrick says, patting Jonny on the back.

“Shut up,” Jonny says after a few more coughs. “Didn’t you say something about taking a nap?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says again. “I’m going, but when I wake up, we’re finishing our conversation. Okay?”

“Promise.”

***
Jonny’s putting the casserole in the oven when Patrick walks downstairs a couple of hours later.

“What’re you making?” Patrick asks, rubbing his eyes. His face is creased on one side, pillow marks on his cheek, and he’s still so beautiful that Jonny has to look away. “Did you actually cook?”

“It’s a casserole - Beth dropped it off while you were sleeping.” He flushes when Patrick looks at him evenly, one eyebrow cocked. “Yeah, yeah, I know - I was an ass about her.”

“Yep,” Patrick says, popping a grape in his mouth and chewing obnoxiously. “I can confirm that.” He grins wider when Jonny makes a face.

“Well, I’m really sorry about saying those things about her. Among other things,” Jonny grimaces as he slices up the cucumber for their salad. “Are you up to finishing our conversation from earlier?” The last thing he wants is to wear Patrick out.

“No, I definitely want to,” Patrick says. His stomach growls and he makes a face. “But this little guy’s starving.”

“That’s okay.” Jonny points at a stool. “Sit. I’m almost done making the salad, and we can talk while we eat.” He pushes the basket of bread he’d sliced earlier towards Patrick. “Snack on that and we can eat in ten.”

“This may not be what you’re hoping to hear, but I need to say something, Jonny,” Patrick says once he’s seated, tearing a piece of bread apart with his fingers. “I’ve been thinking about what you said about that time in college. And I - I hate that you thought those things. It really fucking hurts to hear that you’ve been thinking I was capable of that for all these years.”

“I - I’m really sorry,” Jonny manages, ears ringing. Patrick’s not going to forgive him and he’s going to lose him forever, all because of his stupidity. He puts down the knife gently when he notices how much his hands are shaking.

“But - and I’m not saying we don’t have shit to work out because we really fucking do, but.” Patrick shrugs, the corner of his mouth ticking a little. “I don’t want to let it ruin us forever.”

“You . . .” Jonny can’t catch his breath, and Patrick frowns at him, concerned.

“I think you’re the one who needs to sit down,” he says, pulling a stool over to where Jonny’s standing. “Sit.”

Jonny sits, his mind whirling.

“Jon?” Patrick says after a minute, rubbing his shoulder. “Say something.”

“I didn’t - “ Jonny’s voice cracks. “I can’t - are you forgiving me?”

Patrick makes a face and Jonny’s heart sinks again.

“Hey, no, no. I’m just - I’m not ready to say that you’re forgiven yet, but, yeah. I think I’ll get there.” Patrick smiles a little tentatively at Jonny and Jonny grabs his hand.

“Really?” Jonny gasps.

“Yeah,” Patrick says again, folding his fingers between Jonny’s and squeezing.

They both look down to where their hands are joined, Jonny’s fingers trembling in Patrick’s grip.

“I really didn’t let myself hope you would,” Jonny says quietly. “I wanted to - but, I just, I couldn’t face it if I’d let myself hope and then you’d said you wanted me to leave again.”

“I know,” Patrick says. “And I know that you’re going to spend a long time making it up to me.”

“I am,” Jonny says, his eyes filling. “God, Pat, I really, really am.”

Patrick beams at him. “Good. Now kiss me, asshole.”

Jonny doesn’t need to be told that twice, and he pulls Patrick forward, catching his lips softly, their lips meeting in gentle kisses that go on longer and longer until Patrick’s licking into Jonny’s mouth, his fingers wound into Jonny’s hair.

Jonny’s overwhelmed by the feel of Patrick pressed up against him, of his softly rounded belly pushing against Jonny’s own. He has to pull away to breathe, but when he does, he lets out a choked off sob.

“Shh, shh,” Patrick says, kissing Jonny’s cheeks, and it’s not until Patrick wipes his thumb under Jonny’s eyes that he realizes he’s been crying. “I’ve got you, Jonny.”

“Promise?” Jonny says, tears streaming now. “Don’t let me go, okay?”

Patrick nods, his eyes filling up, too, and Jonny pulls him close again, holding Patrick tightly as his body shakes.

“Promise,” Patrick says after a long moment, nodding again, his hair tickling Jonny’s neck. He pulls back, looking Jonny in the face, his eyes blue and bright with the tears that are spilling down his face. “Do you promise, too?”

“God, yes, Patrick, I’m going to be so much better to you, and I’m going to work on making it up to you for the rest of our lives.” He pulls him back in close, resting his forehead against Patrick’s. “I love you and I’m just - I’m really sorry.”

“Shh,” Patrick says again. “I love you, too, and I’m sorry, too.”

They breathe quietly together for another minute and then Patrick’s stomach rumbles again, making Patrick laugh. He goes to pull away, but Jonny doesn’t let him go far, and when Patrick looks at him, puzzled, Jonny swallows and moves his hand down to Patrick’s stomach.

“I’m so excited about this baby,” Jonny says, slipping his hand under Patrick’s t-shirt to rub over the still mostly flat expanse. When he looks up, Patrick’s biting his lip. “Wait - don’t you believe me? Because I am, you have no idea - ”

“No - it’s not that, I just. I wish I’d told you right away, when I found out.” He makes a face. “I was trying to be too cute about it. Erica warned me, but I didn’t listen.”

“Yeah, I bet you’re going to be hearing about that for a while,” Jonny chuckles, smile growing when Patrick frowns darkly.

“Yeah, I’m already hearing about it, trust me.” Patrick shakes his head. “So from now on, no more secrets, okay?”

“No more secrets,” Jonny promises, kissing Patrick again.

When Patrick steps back, Jonny hip-checks him lightly as he moves back towards his own seat. “Stop distracting me while I’m trying to get dinner ready.”

“I have to say, I could really get used to having you cook,” Patrick says. “Or. Reheat. Whatever.”

“I - I’m sorry that I haven’t been - “ Jonny starts, but he stops when Patrick waves a finger at him.

“Nope, I’m not complaining, so stop apologizing,” Patrick admonishes. “I meant that it’s been really nice, and you’re going to shut up and take the compliment.”

“Yes, sir!” Jonny says, making Patrick laugh when he salutes him with the knife. “Still, I’m going to help out a lot more around here with cooking and cleaning.”

“Never going to turn that down,” Patrick smiles. “Maybe stick to reheating, though.”

Jonny flicks his wet fingers at Patrick, laughing when he tries to duck out of the way and bangs his shin.

“Ow, man, stop laughing. I’m in pain!” Patrick moans, rubbing his leg. “Asshole.”

“Agreed,” Jonny smirks. “Seriously, though - I’m going to help out a lot more. And I’m going to be the best papa to these kids - I’m going to be so much more involved, I promise.”

“Jonny, you are a great papa, and you’re really involved already,” Patrick says.

“You’re on your own with the laundry, though.” Jonny says. “I hate that shit.”

Patrick throws his head back and hoots. “I told you doing laundry’s hard! And it’s never-ending - how can there be so much? I swear, I could do three loads a day and I would still never catch up!”

“Preach,” Jonny says, laughing. “And I’m kidding. I’m going to help with the laundry, too.”

“Man, if you would just fold, I’ll happily do the sorting and washing and put it all away,” Patrick says.

“Deal.” Jonny shudders. “But I’m only folding it once, fair warning.”

“Did Ammy help?” Patrick asks, smiling when Jonny groans. “Yeah, I think I cried for an hour the first time she sorted the clean, folded laundry. Apparently I’m not allowed to take eighteen seconds to run to the bathroom and pee without facing her wrath.”

Jonny laughs as he drains the broccoli and adds some butter. “I’ve basically never urinated alone. It’s easier to just bring her with.”

“Slippery slope, though,” Patrick says feelingly, raising his eyebrows and laughing when Jonny makes a face. “Just saying.”

Jonny pretends to gag, smiling when Patrick laughs.

“Yeah, I really had no concept of how much work there is to do - and how hard it is to get anything done when the kids are around,” Jonny says. “Honestly, I’m just so glad to be going back to work.”

Patrick barks out a laugh. “Right? But even with all of that, I love it,” he says, smiling softly.

“And you’re great at it,” Jonny says, putting a tomato on the cutting board. “Consider my respect for you through the roof, man. Honestly.”

“Thanks,” Patrick says, cheeks pink. “Speaking of hard work, tell me about this new job in Chicago.”

“It’s not a new job, more that the kind of projects I’m going to be taking on are going to change,” Jonny says. “You said some things in Tahoe that made me think about the kind of projects I’ve been working on since we moved here.”

Patrick makes a face. “God, I’m sorry about that, Jonny, I never should have - “

“No, no, don’t apologize, you were right.” Jonny shakes his head. “And I knew I wasn’t happy but it really took you saying those things to make me think about why. And about how I could maybe fix it.”

“And?” Patrick pops a piece of bread in his mouth, chewing slowly.

“And I went to Sid and talked to him about it. Well, I guess technically I talked to Seabs first, but then I went to Sid, talked to him about how we weren’t happy in Los Angeles and that I had a lead on a project in Chicago. A few days later, I flew out to meet with Seabs and the whole thing just took off from there.”

The timer dings and they sit down at the table.

“Okay, so tell me about this project,” Patrick says as he starts eating.

“Well, it’s - shit, Pat, it’s the coolest fucking thing,” Jonny says, a grin splitting his face. “There’s a group of developers - lead by Hossa Jagr, the huge housing conglomerate? - putting together a huge low income housing community. Seabs told me about it. They’ve gotten land donated by the Chicago Housing Commission and the developers have funded building the houses.”

“Houses? Not buildings?”

“No, and that’s just it - it’s going to be a traditional neighborhood layout. There’ll be churches and stores and parks and offices and -”

“Okay, okay, it’s awesome, I get it,” Patrick laughs, kicking at Jonny’s foot under the table. “And what are you going to be doing?”

“I’m going to be the lead architect.” Jonny says, his face flushing.

“Of one of the buildings?”

“No,” Jonny says, the flush moving to the back of his neck. “Of the whole project. The - you know, the entire development.”

Patrick just blinks at him, his eyes wide. “The whole development?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Jonny-”

“And that’s not even the best part, Pat,” Jonny rushes on, warming to the subject. “It’s going to be designed using entirely sustainable living concepts.”

It’s not possible for Patrick’s jaw to drop further, but it does, somehow.

“Sustainable living?”

“And the offices and stores, the schools, everything.”

“The whole thing?”

“Yep,” Jonny grins. “A totally green development.”

“Like your dissertation,” Patrick breathes, sitting back in his chair. “Jonny, it’s everything you ever dreamed.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says. “And it’s going to be a ten year project - there’s a bunch of phases, and it’s still being finalized, so I don’t have all the details yet, but.” He hesitates, unsure of how Patrick’s going to react. “There’s something else.”

“Something bad?” When Jonny shakes his head, Patrick frowns. “Then what?”

“The development’s going to need someone to oversee the family integration. To handle the applications, assign the units, just - basically to build the community. And I know we haven’t talked about it, but if you want to - Duncs already talked about you with the guys at Hossa Jagr, and he even gave Hossa a copy of your old resume.”

“What?” Patrick’s gone very still, his eyes wide and blue.

“Hossa was really impressed with all the work you did on that mental health project and the coordination of all those community agencies for the South Chicago Job Fair,” Jonny rushes on.

“My resume?”

“It’s not for at least two years, maybe three, depending on the breadth of the initial phase, but. It would be perfect for you. So, when we get closer to opening, if you’re ready, they’d like to talk to you about being their resident community outreach coordinator.” Jonny stops, finally out of words, and watches as Patrick blinks.

“That’s - “ Patrick stops, swallowing quickly. “That sounds amazing, and it’s everything I’ve ever wanted to do, but - I don’t know how I could make it work with the new baby.”

“Except the offices for the program are going to be housed in the first building we put up, and it’s got a daycare, paid for by the development group. They want to staff it with people who live in the housing. It’s a model they’ve done in their European developments, and I don’t really understand all of the reasons, but they’re just totally committed to it. There’s even going to be an elementary school that staff across the businesses in the area can bring their children to.”

Patrick’s looking down at his food, shaking his head a little, and Jonny’s heart sinks.

“But - hey, don’t feel like you have to. I know how important it is for you - for us - that you’re home with them when they’re young, so I’ll just tell them you’re not interested - “

“No, you fucking won’t!” Patrick’s head snaps up. “I mean, oh, my God, that’s - of course I want to do that, it’s my fucking dream job!”

“That’s what I thought, too, but - “

“No ‘buts’,” Patrick says, “It sounds incredible.” He slips out of his chair and comes around the table to face Jonny, sliding into his lap.

“The daycare, the development, the job - it’s all just so amazing.” Patrick shakes his head wonderingly. “And this is what you’ve been doing in Chicago? Making all of this happen for us?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says. “Well, I mean, not alone - Seabs helped and Duncs, and even Sharpy’s going to be part of the third phase, if he can convince Abby to move again - but, this was what I was hoping for us. A chance to move home, to be near our families.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, reaching out a hand and running a finger down Jonny’s chin.

“A chance to get back to who we were before. That’s - and that’s something you want, too?”

He holds his breath and watches Patrick’s throat work, afraid to meet his eyes. This is it, this is the moment he’s been working for for the past four months, and he’s terrified how Patrick’s going to take it.

“Is it something I want?” Patrick says fiercely. “Fuck, Jonny, it’s everything I want. You and our family, happy? That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

“Really?”

“So fucking really,” Patrick smiles, leaning forward.

Jonny’s phone chimes, making them both jump. Patrick draws back and Jonny catches his hand. “Don’t - stay?”

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere,” Patrick smiles.

Jonny loops an arm around Patrick’s waist and accepts the call without looking away from Patrick’s mouth. Fuck whoever’s on the phone, he’s not in the mood.

“What?” Jonny barks.

“Jonathan?” The voice is Donna’s and it makes him blanch and push Patrick back a little, trying to get some room between him and the son of the woman on the phone. “Is this a bad time?”

“Stop it,” Jonny mouths to Patrick when he wiggles to get closer.

“Hi, Donna,” Jonny says pointedly, frowning at Patrick. “Patrick’s right here - “

“I didn’t call to talk to Pat, I wanted to talk to you.”

“Um,” Jonny swallows. “Okay?”

“I wanted to find out how things are going.”

“They’re uh - we’re doing good,” Jonny says, smacking at Patrick’s hand where it’s sneaking into Jonny’s shirt collar.

“Good? What does that mean?”

“Uh, It means - it means we talked, and I’m not going to move out?” He looks at Patrick who nods and kisses his cheek gently. “It means I’m not going to move out.”

“So you’re staying for good?” Donna asks, her voice loud enough for Patrick to hear, especially the way he’s nuzzling into Jonny’s neck. “You’ve worked things out?”

“Yeah,” Jonny croaks. “Yeah, I think so.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Jon. I’ve been very disappointed with both of you over the past few months.”

“Uh,” Jonny says, pushing at Patrick’s shoulders to try to get him to move back.

“Also, hello, Patrick.”

Patrick freezes where he’s pressing kisses into the vulnerable skin under Jonny’s jaw.

“Yes, Patrick, I know you’re listening,” Donna continues. “I’m not happy that you two haven’t fixed this bullshit before now.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they say in unison, making Donna snort.

“I expect you to fix it for good, and I don’t want to hear another word about it. Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am,” they chorus again. Patrick rolls his eyes at Jonny, who pinches his thigh, making him squeak.

“Now put my grandbabies on, I need to ask them what they’re doing for Easter break.”

“They’re actually out right now, Mom,” Patrick says, and Donna tsks.

“I’d like to talk to Patrick in private now, Jonny,” she says and Jonny hands the phone to Patrick with a grin.

“Hi, Mom,” Patrick says warily, standing up and sitting back down in his own spot. Jonny starts clearing the table, listening as Patrick answers his mother’s questions about how he’s feeling and what Dr. Knight said.

“Yeah,” Patrick says, a small smile playing about his lips. “I think so.”

“Mom,” Patrick says a moment later, and glances over at Jonny, his cheeks pink. “Never say anything like that again.” He frowns, biting his lip. “You don’t have to - okay. Okay. Thanks.”

Patrick hangs up a few moments later, and he stands up, manhandling Jonny back into his chair and sitting on his lap again, straddling him this time.

“What’d she say to make you so blushy?” Jonny asks, rubbing his thumb over Patrick’s warm cheek.

“Ugh. She said something about how being pregnant made her horny and she was going to call Erica to pick up the kids at the club,” Patrick says, making a horrified face. “Apparently she thinks we need some alone time.”

“Oh. My. God, your mom got us a sexsitter,” Jonny moans, dropping his head onto Patrick’s shoulder, his ears burning. “I’m never going to be able to look her in the eye again.”

“Yeah, well,” Patrick says. “Honestly, it’s Erica I’m more worried about.”

As though he conjured her up, Patrick’s phone rings, and Erica’s face appears on the screen.

“Ugh, Jesus, you take it,” Patrick says, hiding his face in Jonny’s collar. “Just let me expire of the awful that is my sister and my mother talking about us boning.”

“Hah, I love you, but even I draw the line there, sorry,” Jonny says, grinning when Patrick glares at him. “This one’s all you.”

“I don’t know why you’re so cheery,” Patrick says archly. “It’s not like you’re getting laid now. I’m sure I won’t be in the mood after talking to my sister.”

“I-”

“Erica,” Patrick says, smirking cheekily at Jonny as he connects the call. “I hear you talked to Mom.”

Jonny listens to Patrick and Erica banter, drinking in the sight of Patrick’s features, soft with happiness and feigned annoyance.

He runs a finger over the shell of Patrick’s ear, making Patrick shiver and smack at him.

“Ugh, yes, Erica, we owe you all the things. Now can I please hang up so I can kiss my husband?” He gasps. “Do you kiss our mother with that mouth? Jesus. Hanging up now.”

Patrick puts the phone down on the table and Jonny settles him more securely over his thighs.

“Do I even want to know?”

“Nope,” Patrick says, shaking his head. “You really, really don’t. Now, I think you were about to kiss me?”

“Mmm hmm,” Jonny says, pulling Patrick closer. Their lips just touch before Patrick’s phone goes off again at the same time as Jonny’s.

Patrick groans. “Ugh.”

“Yeah, that’s probably my mom,” Jonny says, looking at his phone like it’s a snake that’s coiled to bite him.

“And that’s probably Jess. Or Jackie. Or both.” Patrick shudders, burying his head in Jonny’s shoulder again. “I don’t want to talk to them, Jonny. Please don’t make me?”

Jonny laughs. “Think we can pretend we turned our phones off?”

They look at their phones, still ringing and Patrick sighs. “Yeah, probably not.”

They spend an excruciating few minutes reassuring all the women in their families that yes, they’re doing better; and no, things aren’t totally resolved; and no, Jonny’s not moving back to the hotel; and no, no one’s getting divorced.

“Jesus, I hope that’s the end of that bullshit,” Patrick says fervently. “Those women are merciless.”

“Hey, I’m done with the woman -- one -- in my family. Not my fault you’re so outnumbered by all the ones in yours.” He grunts when Patrick elbows him in the side. “Now, you said something about kissing?”

“God, yes, just shut up and kiss me,” Patrick says and then renders the point moot by launching himself at Jonny’s mouth.

***

It doesn’t take long before Jonny’s got Patrick pressed against the countertop, his jeans open and the tip of his cock peeking out of his briefs. Jonny dips his head to take Patrick’s mouth again, his hands wrapped around Patrick’s head.

“I’ve wanted to touch your hair since I cut it,” Jonny whispers. “It’s so soft.”

“Do you hate it?” Patrick pants, moaning when Jonny scrubs through the short strands.

“God, no,” Jonny says. “It’s so sexy, you look so young and it makes me want to take care of you, wrap you up and keep you.”

“Yeah, you -- “ Patrick gasps when Jonny bites his earlobe -- “you should do that.”

“Mmm hmm,” Jonny agrees, pulling Patrick closer and rolling his hips. His cock rubs against Patrick’s, making him gasp into Jonny’s mouth. Jonny grins and holds Patrick’s hips still, rolling his hips again. Patrick’s cock slides under the hem of Jonny’s shirt, leaving a trail of wetness. Jonny thrusts his tongue into Patrick’s mouth in time with his hips, drinking in all the little sounds Patrick makes.

Patrick pushes at him, falling back against the counter. “You trying to kill me?” he pants.

Jonny leans in close again and bites his bottom lip.

“Come back here.” He licks into Patrick’s mouth again, trading kisses that get more and more heated until Jonny pulls back to tug Patrick’s shirt over his head.

“I’ve been wanting to fuck you in this kitchen since we bought this house,” Jonny says, running his fingers down Patrick’s chest. “Watching you in here, taking care of me, of us, God. Gets me so hot.”

“Yeah, yeah, God,” Patrick says, his voice deep with arousal. “Touch me, touch me, come on.”

Jonny smiles against Patrick’s lips. “Hmm. But I am touching you, baby. Can’t you feel me?” He accents the words with another slow roll of his hips. “Because I feel you, and it’s so good.”

“Yeah, come on,” Patrick says, his hands sliding down to Jonny’s ass, trying to pull him forward, but Jonny’s feet are set and he resists until Patrick subsides. “Jonny . . .”

“Okay, okay, shhh,” Jonny says, and drops to his knees. When he meets Patrick’s eyes, his mouth is open and his eyes are wide, pupils blown. He cups Jonny’s face, and Jonny rubs against Patrick’s hand, shivering a little when Patrick’s fingers ghost over his Adam’s apple.

“You’re so . . . so gorgeous, God, you can’t even know,” Patrick says, his voice filled with wonder, and Jonny blushes, the heat spreading to the back of his neck, and he ducks his head, reaching for Patrick’s jeans and pushing them and his briefs down his legs.

“Hey,” Patrick says. “Don’t get shy on me now.” He grins when Jonny glares at him. “You know you love it when I tell you how hot you are.”

Jonny can feel the flush in the tips of his ears and Patrick laughs.

“I’m so lucky,” Patrick says, stroking Jonny’s ear, his hand drifting down to Jonny’s cheek. “No one but me gets to see you like this.”

“No one,” Jonny promises, holding Patrick’s gaze. “No one else. Not ever.”

“Shh, this is not about that.” Patrick strokes Jonny’s jaw. “I think you were in the middle of something, weren’t you?”

Jonny bites the tip of Patrick’s finger hard enough to make Patrick try to pull it back and then licks it, sucking it into his mouth. Patrick inhales as Jonny curls his tongue around his finger and then hollows his cheeks and sucks.

“Oh, Jesus, Jon,” Patrick says, pulling his finger free. “Suck my dick before I die.”

Jonny huffs out a laugh and bites Patrick’s hip before pulling back and fisting Patrick’s cock loosely, pulling it down until he can lick at the head. Patrick hitches a breath and shudders when Jonny licks a line down and back up again.

“Smell so good,” Jonny says, burying his nose in the curls at the base. When Patrick whines, he returns to the head and sucks lightly on it until Patrick’s thrusting his hips and pulling on Jonny’s hair.

“More,” Patrick says, squeaking a little when Jonny digs his tongue into the slit. “More, Jon, come on.”

“So greedy,” Jonny says around Patrick’s cock before he slides slowly down the length and back up again.

Patrick’s fingers clutch and clench his shoulders as Jonny takes him apart, slowly at first but eventually fucking his mouth on Patrick’s cock, cupping and rolling his balls with a tight pressure that makes Patrick’s whole body shake.

Jonny can feel Patrick getting close, his balls tightening and his cock expanding, and he slows down and pulls off. Patrick whimpers, trying to push his head back onto his cock. “What now, Jesus, come on!”

“I, uh,” Jonny says voice rough. He clears his throat and looks up at Patrick, his face hot. “I was thinking we could switch it up.”

Patrick shakes his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “Huh?”

Jonny puts his forehead on Patrick’s hip.

“You know. You could, um. You could fuck me?”

Patrick’s silent for long enough that Jonny risks peeking up at him. Patrick’s mouth is open, and he’s working his throat but nothing’s coming out. Jonny flushes more deeply, but he stands up and steps back.

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want - “

“No!” Patrick all but shouts, then clears his throat. “Sorry. Uh. No, yeah, let’s do that. I. Yeah, I could.”

Jonny chuckles. “Did I suck all of your verbal skills out of your cock?”

“Maybe?” Patrick smirks, sliding closer. “But - why? You don’t have to do it for me, man. I love when you fuck me.”

“I know, I just. It’s a fucking cliche, but. But think I’ll feel like things are better if you -

“Claim you? Baptize you with my magic sperm?”

“Show me I’m still yours.”

“Oh,” Patrick breathes. “Jonny.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says lamely. “So. Will you?”

“Let’s go upstairs,” Patrick says. “Want to show you you’re mine in our bed.”

Patrick leads the way, holding Jonny’s hand until they’re in the bedroom. He pushes Jonny onto the bed, climbing on top.

“You want me to fuck you?” Patrick whispers, licking Jonny’s jaw. “Want me inside you?”

“Patrick,” Jonny says. “Please.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, pulling off Jonny’s shirt. He trails his fingers across Jonny’s chest, just this side of tickling, and Jonny squirms a little.

“I’ve missed you,” Patrick says, kissing Jonny’s shoulder. “And you,” he says, kissing Jonny’s collarbone. “And you,” he says, kissing the hollow of Jonny’s throat.

“Stop fucking around,” Jonny complains, but Patrick just gives him an arch look and continues his lazy exploration.

Patrick kisses all along Jonny’s torso, his ribs, his waist, his navel, until Jonny’s shifting and sighing. Patrick hasn’t come close to Jonny’s nipples, and Jonny feels like all the nerve endings in his chest are singing.

Finally, finally, Patrick slides up enough that his breath is wafting over the top of Jonny’s nipples.

“And you,” he says, licking delicately at the edge of Jonny’s areola. “God, I missed how you taste.” He licks again, directly over the nipple this time, and Jonny practically seizes at the sensation, body trying to buck and writhe, but Patrick’s holding onto his shoulder, keeping him in place as his licks turn into sucks.

“Oh,” Jonny says, his voice breaking when Patrick bites lightly. “Oh, God, Pat.” He cups Patrick’s head with his hand, pressing him down so that Patrick’s suckling him, rhythmic pulls that feel amazing and overwhelming.

When Patrick tries to move back, Jonny resists for a moment until Patrick bites his nipple, harder this time. It’s so sensitive that Jonny squeaks, shock waves of pain and pleasure rippling out from the point on his chest.

Patrick takes advantage of Jonny’s distraction and slips out from under Jonny’s hands, sliding back so he’s kneeling between Jonny’s knees. “So red,” he says wonderingly, brushing a fingertip across Jonny’s nipple, making Jonny moan. “It’s swollen, Jonny, it’s so warm and swollen, so wet. You’re gorgeous.”

Jonny reaches for Patrick’s hand and brings it to his mouth. “I want this,” he kisses his index finger, “and this,” he kisses the next, “and maybe this,” he kisses Patrick’s ring finger and sucks it into his mouth, “inside of me.” Patrick’s breath catches and Jonny grins around his finger, licking it. “Come on, Pat, don’t you want to fuck me?”

Patrick makes a choked noise and dives over Jonny to pull the lube out of his nightstand. Jonny slides out of his pants and goes to turn over, but Patrick stills him with a hand on his hip.

“Like this?” Patrick says, biting his lip. “I want - I need to see you.”

“Okay,” Jonny swallows heavily. “Yeah, that’s - okay.”

“I know you prefer to be on your knees - “

“No, that’s - Patrick.” Jonny grabs Patrick’s hand. “I want to. I want to see you, too.”

Jonny doesn’t bottom often -- Patrick prefers to bottom and while Jonny gets off harder bottoming than he does doing anything else -- it makes him feel shaky and out of control. They’ve discovered that Jonny can let himself go better when he’s hiding his face in the sheets. But Jonny trusts Patrick, trusts him to make this okay, even as it makes Jonny’s cheeks flame.

Patrick lays down again, draping himself over Jonny’s body and kisses him long and deep, until Jonny’s panting and squirming again, his cock leaving a wet trail across Patrick’s hip. When Patrick finally sits back, his cheeks are flushed and his lips are puffy and wet, his chin red from Jonny’s stubble.

“You’re so - you’re everything,” Jonny says, breath hitching. “I need you to take me, make me yours again. Please?”

“Jonny,” Patrick says helplessly, eyes shining.

“Now, Patrick,” Jonny smiles fondly. “You can cry after. Fuck me now.”

Patrick laughs and wipes his eyes. “Fine, as you wish,” he huffs.

The first finger is awkward and unnerving as it always is. The combined urge to keep Patrick out and take him in war within Jonny even as the slippery wetness forces its way past the barrier. “Ahhh,” Jonny sighs, twitching a little, and Patrick kisses his shoulder before leaning up and capturing Jonny’s lips.

The noise Jonny makes when Patrick presses another finger in is lost in Patrick’s mouth, and they spend long minutes kissing while Patrick eases Jonny open, gently awakening all the nerve endings until Jonny’s so hard it’s actually getting difficult to breathe.

“Okay?” Patrick asks when Jonny makes a particularly sharp groan.

“Yeah, just,” Jonny licks his lips, and rubs his forehead. “Now?”

“Okay, baby,” Patrick says, sitting back and grabbing the lube. He quickly lubes his fingers up and slides them into Jonny again, deep enough that it makes Jonny’s leg kick at him. “Shh, yeah, that’s good, huh?” Patrick smiles, his eyes impish. “Now, just - I think?”

Patrick’s fingers pass gently over Jonny’s prostate and Jonny’s mouth floods with saliva as the pleasure arcs through his body.

“Patrick,” Jonny pleads.

“I know, I’m here, I got you.” Patrick draws Jonny’s legs over his lap and slides Jonny’s hips forward until his cock is under Jonny’s ass.

Patrick pushes in slowly but steadily, and Jonny shivers, his toes tingling at the ache, the fullness, the stretch of Patrick’s cock opening him. He closes his eyes, unable to watch Patrick watch him, but it only makes everything more intense.

Patrick doesn’t pause in his slow, gentle descent until he bottoms out, his hips pressed to Jonny’s ass. Jonny twitches, a long slow roll of his body as he accustoms himself to the full pressure of Patrick inside of him. As soon as Jonny stills, Patrick starts to pump his hips, mostly gentle pulses, not even withdrawing.

“More, God, Patrick, harder.”

Patrick nods, groaning, and withdraws before quickly thrusting forward. He’s not even at the bottom of the stroke when he makes a choked, pained noise and stills.

Jonny’s eyes fly open to see Patrick hovering over him, white-faced.

“Patrick? What happened?”

When Patrick clutches his side and shakes his head, Jonny gently slides out from under him. “Are you hurt?”

Patrick nods, tears leaking out of his eyes. “Ribs,” he gasps, “moved too fast, I think? Jesus.” He pants for another minute, the pain in his face easing. “Well, shit.”

Jonny chuckles, holding his waist gingerly. “It’s fine, we can wait until you’re - “

“No fucking way,” Patrick glares. “I’m not giving up in the middle of make-up sex because of some bullshit cracked ribs.”

Jonny chuckles again and sits back. “Okay, well. What do you suggest?”

“Um,” Patrick sits down, biting his lip. “You could ride me?”

“Sure,” Jonny says easily, taking Patrick’s face in his hands. “I can do that.”

It takes another couple of minutes for Patrick to get fully erect again, and Jonny takes advantage of the pause to reacquaint himself with Patrick’s body, holding him close and repeating the exploration Patrick had forced upon him earlier.

“Now you’re just being vindictive,” Patrick complains, straining under Jonny’s touch.

Jonny bites the inside of Patrick’s elbow gently. “Yep.”

“I’m - that’s mean,” Patrick says, shivering.

“Yep,” Jonny confirms, licking over the bite. He strokes Patrick’s cock twice. “I think you like it, though?”

“Ugh,” Patrick says, “that’s enough, I’m ready, come on.”

“Now who’s being bossy?” Jonny teases, but he grabs the lube and reapplies it to Patrick’s cock, and presses more into himself before settling gently over Patrick’s thighs.

“This good? Ribs okay?”

“Yeah, just, come on.” Patrick shifts a little, and puts his hands on Jonny’s hips, groaning as Jonny lowers himself slowly onto Patrick’s cock.

They’ve never done it like this, with Patrick lying underneath Jonny, but the position itself is familiar enough that it eases some of Jonny’s abashment.

“Tilt -- oh, God, that’s so good -- tilt your hips up a little,” Patrick pants, and when Jonny does, Patrick’s cock eases over his prostate in a long slow slide that lights Jonny up inside.

“Ohhhhh,” Jonny says, his head dropping between his shoulders. “Oh, Patrick.”

“I know,” Patrick says, grinning and then moaning when Jonny rocks back a little. “It’s so much, huh?”

“We’re doing this more,” Jonny sighs, lifting up and dropping back down again, Patrick’s cock pulling another long groan from him.

“Yeah,” Patrick says. “This is - why didn’t we do this before?”

“I don’t know but shut up, and let me fuck myself on your cock, okay?” Jonny says, making Patrick laugh before his eyes roll back when Jonny circles his hips and clenches down.

“Don’t - if you keep doing that, I’m not going to last,” Patrick warns. “It’s been a long fucking time, Jon.”

“Me - me, too,” Jonny pants. “Just let me - ahhh.” Jonny shifts a little and finds the angle again, the pleasure so intense it feels like he’s already coming. “Oh, oh, Pat, oh.”

Patrick’s hands stroke up and down Jonny’s thighs, framing his cock. “Think you can - can you come from just this?”

“Kinda advanced placement for me, don’t you think?” Jonny’s voice goes breathy at the end as he leans into Patrick’s cock, pressing against his prostate.

“You’ve always been a quick learner,” Patrick says. “Look - look at you. Holy shit.”

Jonny looks down, and his cock is leaking a stream of clear fluid. “What?” He spasms a little as Patrick arches slightly. “How?”

“Just - shit that’s so good - just keep doing that, just like that,” Patrick says, moaning.

Patrick’s cock expands and pulses inside of him, and his hands tighten around Jonny’s thighs. Jonny keeps his weight over Patrick’s hips, and Patrick twitches and pushes against it but can’t move. Patrick’s eyes fly open and meet Jonny’s, his pupils blown. “Jonny, fuck, fuck, that’s-”

Jonny moans and comes, the endless pleasure spiking into something so heated it almost hurts as jet after jet of come flows out of his cock onto Patrick’s stomach. Jonny shivers and comes and comes, his whole body lit up.

Patrick’s lying back, chest heaving, watching, and it makes Jonny close his eyes, too overcome by the emotion he sees there.

Non, Jonny, regarde moi,” Patrick says, tapping his fist weakly on Jonny’s leg. “Je veux te voir.”

Jonny opens his eyes and the way Patrick looks, sprawled out under him, covered in come and sweat, the sound of his horrible French, forces another contraction from him. Drained, he tips over and to the side, careful to fall next to Patrick’s good side.

Patrick immediately rolls into Jonny’s side, wrapping his arm around Jonny’s waist and burying his head in his neck.

“Wow,” Jonny says, blinking up at the ceiling. “That was . . . wow.”

Patrick huffs. “So wow. Like totally, dude.”

Jonny squeezes Patrick’s shoulders as well as he can, but he’s still shaking from the orgasm Patrick wrung out of him, so he’s mostly reduced to twitching with intent.

“Shut up,” Jonny grumbles, but he kisses the top of Patrick’s head.

Patrick rests his chin on Jonny’s chest, digging the point in until Jonny looks down at him.

“So, feel claimed?”

Jonny snorts, making Patrick’s head shake. “Mostly,” Jonny allows, dipping his head for a kiss. “Not - it’s not all gone, but. I feel better about us than I have for a long, long time.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, kissing Jonny’s chest. “Me, too.”

Patrick dozes off a few minutes later, still draped over Jonny. At first Jonny watches him sleep, memorizing his features anew, from his ears to his increasingly out of control eyebrows, to his bruised ribs and newly shorn hair.

Jonny sighs and looks around the bedroom. His glasses aren’t on his nightstand, and none of his clothing is strewn everywhere, but in most ways, it looks like it did the day of the Christmas program. Jonny hugs Patrick closer as he thinks about all the ways he’s missed Patrick: as his husband, his lover, his friend. All the ways he’s made him unhappy.

“I can hear you thinking,” Patrick slurs against Jonny’s chest. “Knock it off.”

“But-”

“Nope,” Patrick looks up, turning Jonny’s chin to meet his eyes. “Nope. This is the afterglow. You are harshing it. Stop.”

“But-”

“Ugh, what does a guy have to do to fuck you into submission, man?” Patrick quirks a grin, but his eyes are serious. “I mean it. Mistakes were made. Apologies were given. Forgiveness
was . . . begun.”

“I guess . . .”

“Nope.” Patrick sits up on one elbow, looking at Jonny steadily, remarkably clear-eyed for having been dozing a minute earlier. “I love you. You made mistakes. We got through them. I’m working on forgiving you, and you’re going to work on forgiving yourself.”

Jonny sighs. “It’s just hard, I know how much I hurt you.”

“Yep, you hurt me. And I hurt you. And you were a dick. And so was I -- although I had better reasons -- but that’s still not how I treat someone I love. And we have to work on it, definitely. But for today, I want to enjoy this.” He kisses Jonny softly. “Can we leave the recriminations and flagellations until tomorrow? Please?” He bats his eyes exaggeratedly at Jonny.

“Fine, fine. So what does his highness want to do instead?”

“Hmm. Snooze, take a shower, have sex in the shower, get dressed-ish, have some more food, have sex again, sleep. Or maybe shower then sleep. I’m flexible on that part.”

Jonny shakes his head. “I think someone’s concussion has him thinking he’s eighteen again.”

“Nah,” Patrick yawns. “Just really horny and really hot for my husband.”

“And what about me?”

“I think I can suitably inspire you,” Patrick says confidently. “You did say something about fucking me in the kitchen.”

Jonny’s cock twitches, making him whimper, and Patrick laughs. “See? Now go to sleep, asshole. You’re going to need your strength.”

Patrick settles back against Jonny’s side, and Jonny lets himself drift, secure in Patrick’s arms.

***

They wake up in the morning exhausted and starving, so while Patrick showers, Jonny goes downstairs to make omelets. When Patrick pads into the kitchen, he’s showered and smells amazing. Jonny leans in to kiss Patrick and he steps away quickly enough to make Jonny rear back.

“You’re not - Patrick? Are you,” Jonny swallows. “Are you having second thoughts?”

“Am I - no! Oh, God, no, I’m sorry, shit. I just wanted to. Well. Now the whole moment’s blown, so.” He sighs and pulls his hand from behind his back. “Ta da.”

It’s the sculpture Jonny had given him so many months ago, the image of a father and child rendered in dull bronze. Jonny glances up to meet Patrick’s eyes, and finds him smiling at Jonny fondly.

“What?”

“I just - you’re so cute when you’re completely confused," Patrick says, laughing when Jonny frowns at him. He raises his hands. “You are! And I just,” Patrick cheeks heat. “I wanted to tell you that I love this. I love the fact that you see me this way-”

“Patrick,” Jonny says helplessly. “I-”

“Shh, asshole, it’s my turn. I love that you see me this way, but I want to be more than this to you, too. And I’m going to put this back in our bedroom because it’s important that we both remember that.”

“Remember what?”

“That I’m the man who gave you your children, and that you’re the man who gave me mine. But that we’re also a lot more than that. And maybe looking at this every day will help us remember. Because I don’t ever want to go through anything like we have the last few months.”

“Me, neither, Patrick,” Jonny says fervently. “I never want to go through anything like this again.”

“Good,” Patrick says, nodding. “So, you’ve got food?”

“I’ve got food, but first I need to kiss you.”

“But Jonny,” Patrick whines, laughing when Jonny growls and pulls him in. “Fine, kiss me. But make it quick because I’m really hungry, okay?”

“Shut up, Patrick.”

“Make me, Jonny.”

Jonny does.

The doorbell peals over and over as Jonny’s clearing away the remains of Patrick’s omelet ten minutes later, and Patrick shakes his head in exasperation. “That sounds like Eric.”

Banging starts up on the front door. “And that would be Bryan.”

Patrick gets up to answer the door, but Jonny grabs his wrist lightly. “Are we - what do you want to tell the boys?”

Patrick stops, frowning. “The truth? That you’re an idiot and among the dumbest men on the planet, but apparently so am I because I love you? That’s the shorthand version but I can -” he yelps when Jonny pinches his ass. “Fine, fine, how about: I love you. You love me. Forever.”

“I guess I could live with that,” Jonny says consideringly, smiling when Patrick makes a face. The doorbell stops ringing but the pounding doubles. “Let’s go let the monsters in.”

They walk to the door hand-in-hand, and when Jonny opens it, Bryan tumbles in. Eric lands on top of him, both of them giggling.

“What took you so long?”

“We were waiting forever!”

“Or forty-five seconds,” Erica says from the front step where she’s got Amelie and a large tray of coffee from Starbucks. “All four of you boys out of the way, these chicks are too cool to stand out here all day. Right, Lady Bug?”

“Wight!” Amelie nods, adjusting Erica’s giant sunglasses when they tip forward.

Patrick takes the coffees and hands Erica back her sunglasses while Jonny walks her to the car get the kids’ bags.

“So,” Erica says once they’re out of earshot. “I take it you assholes finally used your words?”

Jonny flushes. “Yeah, and - “

“Nope.” Erica holds up her hand, eerily like her brother. “Not interested. Well. Not in hearing it from you. I’ll get the scoop from Patrick. I just wanted to let you know that if you do this again, I will find you, and I will kill you. Slowly.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“Or maybe I’ll call my mom and let her deal with you.”

Jonny’s face drains and Erica laughs. “Good talk.”

She puts her sunglasses on and backs out of the driveway, cackling.

“Where’s she going?” Patrick says from right behind Jonny, making him jump.

“She’s uh - she’s got to work,” Jonny prevaricates, having no clue if he’s correct. “Give me Mademoiselle, s’il te plait?”

Patrick hands her over and takes Jonny’s hand, the twins waiting impatiently in the doorway behind him.

“Come inside, Jonny,” Patrick beckons, smiling. “Come home.”