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

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“Make way for the two wise men!” Patrick bellows as he bangs through the front door. Jonny can hear the twins tumble inside after him: a flurry of kicked off shoes followed by what sounds like a herd of elephants coming down the hall.

Jonny looks up just in time to catch Bryan as he leaps onto the couch. His blond curls tumble over his eyes, and he blows them back before grinning up at Jonny with his trademark impish smile.

“Papa, Papa, Papa! I’mma be Frankenstein!” Bryan says, his cheeks flushed with excitement. “He’s the best wise man!”

“No he’s not, stupid. Everyone knows gold is better,” Eric scoffs as he climbs up on the sofa more sedately, pushing at his brother to make space for himself in Jonny’s lap.

“Eric,” Patrick says, putting Amelie down on the floor near a previously abandoned pile of blocks. “Six minutes on your think-about-it-stool for calling your brother names.”

Eric looks beseechingly at Jonny, wide eyes pleading but Jonny shakes his head and pushes him towards the corner of the living room. Eric sticks his tongue out at Bryan as he plops down on the stool and darts a guilty glance at Jonny, but Jonny lets it go and turns back to Bryan.

“Frankenstein? Since when is Frankenstein in the Christmas play?” Jonny asks, pulling Bryan closer and pressing a kiss to his cheek before Bryan squirms out of his grip.

“It’s not Frankenstein. It’s Frankenmurr!” shouts Eric, from his perch on the think-about-it stool.

Patrick frowns from where he’s finishing the complicated process of getting Amelie out of her coat. “It’s frankincense, and if I hear one more word out of you, you’re losing Dora the Explorer privileges for one week.”

Pushing Amelie in Jonny’s direction, Patrick mouths “fingers crossed” and disappears into the kitchen.

Amelie toddles over to the couch, brown hair escaping her pigtails and falling across her face. “Papa Papa,” she gurgles, arms stretched out to Jonny, and he scoops her up to tuck against his side.

She's inexplicably covered in chocolate, with an especially large streak across one chubby cheek, and Jonny watches, dismayed, as it smears on the paperwork he’d been reviewing for the big Carter presentation when chaos descended.

“Patrick, why is our daughter covered in chocolate?” Jonny asks, trying to twist the blueprint out of Amelie’s sticky hand. “Didn’t we agree not to give the kids treats this close to dinner?”

Patrick appears in the doorway, sleeves rolled up and capable forearms exposed; he’s tying a red apron around his waist with a few competent flicks of his hands. “Yeah, I know, but - Nutella stuffed churros, babe. Everyone is powerless in the face of Nutella churros.”

Jonny shakes his head at Patrick, who makes a face and calls Bryan into the kitchen to wash up and start his homework. Jonny is left with chocolate-smeared paperwork, an adorable demon in a smocked dress, and a dawning headache.

He’s not sure why he keeps trying to work from home. It’s clearly an exercise in frustration and futility. And occasionally chocolate.

Jonny slides the paperwork out from Amelie’s hands, and she scrunches her face up at him in displeasure. “Pwease?” She says, lower lip wobbling a bit as she makes grabby hands at his blueprints.

He makes a goofy face at her, and she chortles and slaps his face twice before squirming closer, crunching blueprints and documents once again under her hands and feet. Jonny looks at the papers now strewn over the couch. “Fuck it.” He stands up, sweeping Amelie up onto his shoulders and heading for the kitchen.

“Papa made a swear word!” Eric yells, turning around to look at Jonny. “Daddy! Papa made a swear word!”

Patrick sticks his head out from the kitchen. “Eric Timothy Toews, if I hear one more word from you while you’re in time out, we’re moving this act to your room, and I’m going to double the minutes.”

He pauses, looking at Eric steadily. “Now, do you want a twelve minute time out? Or are you going to finish this one quietly?”

“But Papa said - “ Eric stops when Patrick fixes him with an unimpressed look. He sighs but subsides, putting his thumb in his mouth and turning to look at the wall.

Bryan appears in the doorway, biting his fingernail and looking anxiously at Eric, but Patrick just turns him around and nudges him back into the kitchen.

Patrick turns his attention to Jonny, and Jonny can see him biting back a grin. “And as for you, Papa, you owe one dollar to the swear jar. You know we don’t use swear words in this family.”

Jonny rolls his eyes as Patrick waggles his eyebrows at that patent lie.

“Also,” Patrick leans in, murmuring softly enough that only Jonny can hear, “get that magnificent fucking ass into the kitchen and help me get dinner on the table, you gorgeous asshole,” Patrick murmurs, too low for anyone else to hear.

Jonny pinches Patrick’s - in his opinion - superior ass on his way to the table and laughs when Patrick squawks indignantly.

Jonny gets Amelie settled into her high chair and ruffles Bryan’s blond curls, longer and lighter than Patrick’s.

“Why don’t you go put Eric out of his misery so he can do his homework before we eat?” Patrick says. “I’ll put on some music.”

When Jonny releases Eric from his time-out, Eric looks up at him sadly. “I’m sorry, Papa,” Eric says. “Bryan’s not stupid.”

“I think you need to tell Bryan that, buddy,” Jonny says, giving Eric a quick hug before scrubbing a hand over his close-cropped hair.

When they walk into the kitchen, Patrick’s swaying in front of the stove, whistling along to “It’s a Hard Knock Life” while he stirs a pot on one of the burners in time with the music.

Bryan’s already at the table, papers spread out in front of him. He smiles when Eric climbs up and hugs him.

“I’m sorry, Bryan. I think you’re super smart!”

“It’s okay, E,” Bryan says. “Wanna practice spelling?” He hands a pencil to Eric.

Bryan catches Jonny’s eye and gives him a scrunchy-faced almost-wink, and he looks so much like Patrick that Jonny can feel his throat tighten a little.

“I miss Eric’s curls,” Jonny says quietly to Patrick as the boys bend their heads over their homework.

“Because you’re not the one who has to brush them,” Patrick responds dryly. “And there really wasn’t any alternative, Jon. He had a wad of gum the size of a golf ball stuck in there.”

“I know, I just really like the boys with long, blond curls.”

“Don’t I know it,” Patrick says, waggling his eyebrows.

Jonny rolls his eyes. “Need help with dinner?”

Patrick nods at the chopping block, piled with vegetables that need cutting up. Jonny drops a quick kiss on his shoulder and starts chopping. Patrick starts humming again, and pretty soon Jonny’s joined in.

What even is his life that he actually knows this tune? It’s a far cry from his staid, sterile office, but when Bryan and Eric start singing along and Amelie joins in by banging her tiny fists on her tray, he remembers exactly why sacrificing a blueprint to chocolate handprints every once in awhile is worth it.

***

Jonny’s late. Again.

Bryan had spilled milk all over his uniform that morning, and of course no other shirts were clean. By the time Patrick had harvested one from the dirty laundry, washed out the spot of spaghetti sauce on it, and blown it dry enough that Bryan would consent to put it on, they were forty-five minutes late.

Brandon greets him at the door, grabbing Jonny’s briefcase in exchange for blueprints and a large coffee. Jonny thanks him around a mouthful of coffee as they hurry along the corridor.

“You’re late,” Brandon says.

Brandon is a presumptuous shit, and Jonny isn’t sure why he keeps him around. Except for how he brings him coffee and covers for him when he’s late. Again.

“I know,” Jonny says. He takes another gulp of coffee before handing it back to Brandon and shuffling through the papers. “Did you - “

“I stalled, but Mr. Carter’s been in the conference room for fifteen minutes. Shawsy’s trying to-”

“You left our new client alone. With Shawsy.” Jonny stops abruptly, giving Brandon an incredulous look before doubling the pace. “I thought I’d trained you better than that?”

“Bollig’s in there, too. And Geno. Shawsy’s just setting up the presentation.” Brandon looks offended. “I’m not that new.”

“Sorry, sorry, I’m in a rotten mood.” Jonny’s pathetically grateful that Brandon doesn’t mention how he’s been in a rotten mood all week, preparing for this meeting. “Is Geno mad?”

Geno’s usually pretty easy going, until he’s not, but it’s still his firm, and he’s still Jonny’s boss.

“Nah, they’re talking smack about Olympic hockey,” Brandon tilts his head toward the conference room door. “I’m surprised Sid’s not in there, too. He’s got bat ears for hockey talk.”

“Jonny,” Sidney says, appearing as though Brandon had conjured him up. “We good? You’re ready for this?”

Jonny blows out a breath. Designing Jeff Carter’s house is the biggest project he’s ever been on, and the fact that Sidney and Geno are trusting him is gratifying and terrifying in pretty equal part. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he says and opens the conference room door.

The relieved faces of Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig greet him when he walks in. They’re only junior architects on this project, but Jonny knows first-hand that they’ve been putting in just as much time as he has preparing for this meeting, and they’re as nervous as he is that it goes well.

Geno’s smile is less relieved and more amused as he beckons Sidney and Jonny over and to where he and Jeff Carter are standing by the head of the conference table. As he was the last time they met, Carter’s impeccably dressed in a perfectly tailored blue suit.

“Sid, I’m tell Jeff that Russia best,” Geno says, giving Sidney a wicked smile, his tongue emerging from between his teeth.

Sidney huffs before turning towards Jonny. “You remember Jonathan Toews? Jonny’s going to be the lead architect on your project.”

Carter gives Jonny a lazy grin and shakes his hand firmly. Once they’ve exchanged greetings everyone takes their seats and Sidney calls the meeting to order, giving a brief overview of the firm and a quick introduction of the project, and then everyone’s looking expectantly at Jonny.

“Mr. Carter - “ Jonny starts.

“Jeff,” Carter interrupts, a smile playing around his lips. “Call me Jeff. We’re going to be working closely together, Jonny. I don’t think we need to stand on formality.”

“Jeff then,” Jonny smiles, feeling more at ease. “Let me walk you through the design we’ve put together.” Shawsy puts up the first schematic. “So our plan for your home has two stages, the first is the complete renovation of the interior of the main house, including a complete gut and rebuild of the first level."

“How is that going to work?” Jeff asks dubiously. "I don't see how that kind of construction can meet my timeline. Which is non-negotiable.”

“It should, actually. Even though we’re going to gut the first level, we'll keep some of the interior structure, which should - which will," Jonny amends when Sidney frowns at him, "allow us to meet the mid-December timeline you’re requesting. We’re going to remove the majority of the interior walls on the lower level, to really give you the desired open concept. The residence will feel much larger even though we won’t be adding additional square footage during this stage.”

“I like it,” Jeff says, looking at the design Shawsy’s displaying. “What about the rest of the project?”

“The second stage, which we’d start after New Year’s, will entail adding-on to the main residence to give you additional rooms with a layout that really capitalizes and enhances all of the gorgeous ocean views. Stage two is also when I propose we begin construction on your cabana and the guest house.”

An hour later, Jeff has approved the plans with only minor tweaks. Sidney’s beaming, Geno’s checking his phone, and Jonny’s completely drained.

“Lunch?” Jeff asks, stopping Jonny as he’s turning to leave.“I’d like to get to know my lead architect better, before we get started on this collaboration.”

All Jonny really has the energy for is to sit in his office in silence and go over the notes he’s taken, maybe while inhaling a salad from the deli downstairs. He spent all week getting ready for the presentation, up until two o’clock in the morning and awake again at five-thirty, but he can see Sidney watching them from the other side of the room where he’s talking to Jeff’s business manager, and he knows there’s no getting out of this.

“Yeah, sure, that sounds great.” Jonny turns to gesture at Shawsy and Brandon. “My team -“

“Just you, “ Jeff says, smiling broadly. “If that’s okay?”

It’s not like Jonny can say no, and quickly enough they’re walking to a pub just down the street.

“This is one of the first places we found to eat when we moved to L.A.,” Jonny explains, gesturing Jeff through the door. “Patrick and I watched the playoffs here last year, but we’ve been too busy this season to come in for a game yet.”

“Patrick?” Jeff asks, taking a menu from the waitress. “Is he at the firm, too?”

“Oh, no, sorry. I meant my husband, Patrick.” Jonny looks at the menu briefly, but he knows he’s getting the steak salad. He always gets the steak salad, and he doesn’t care that Patrick says it makes him predictable. Maybe he’ll get a local brew today instead of an ice water with lemon. He can be spontaneous.

“I didn’t realize you were married,” Jeff says.

Jonny glances down at his left hand and then back up at Jeff, raising an eyebrow.

“I tend to ignore wedding rings, as a rule.”Jeff shrugs. “So, what’s so great about this place?”

“We love to watch Hockey Night in Canada and this is one of the few bars that gets CBC. It makes me miss home, but I love to watch Don Cherry take his foot out of his ass and stick it in his mouth.”

“I knew I recognized a fellow Canadian!” Jeff says, delighted. “I’m from London, south-west of Toronto. What about you?”

“Born in Winnipeg, but I’ve lived in the States since I was a kid,” Jonny says.

“Winnipeg,” Jeff says with a shiver. “I can see why you ended up living in Los Angeles.”

“Yeah, you definitely can’t fault the weather here,” Jonny says.

“Are you taking advantage of the year-round sports?” Jeff leans back in his seat, spreading his arm across the chair next to him. “Surfing, tennis, that kind of thing?”

“Not so much - although both my sons play a lot of sports, so we spend a lot of time at their games. Amelie - she’s our youngest - loves to swim, so we get a lot of use out of our pool.” Jonny shrugs. “We haven’t even taken the kids down to the beach much, although they loved it the few times we’ve gone.”

“That’s nice, but I didn’t ask about your family. I asked about you.” Jeff runs a finger through the condensation from his beer, looking at Jonny intently. “What do you like to do for fun? That doesn’t involve your kids, I mean.”

Jonny can’t think of anything for a second; he’s not had time or energy to do much more than be a father the past six years.

“I don’t have a lot of time to myself,” he admits.

“And if you did?” Jeff asks.

“I love to golf,” Jonny answers. “I don’t get much chance to anymore, but in the summer I try to get out at least once or twice. I love Stephen King novels. Oh, and I’m great at Mario Kart.”

Jeff’s eyes light up. “The hell you say, Mario Kart. I bet I could kick your ass.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Jonny says, grinning.

“I love your confidence. It’s misplaced and sad, but I love it,” Jeff mocks. “Which character do you play? Princess Peach, right?”

“Haha. Nope, I’m Waluigi.” He shakes his finger at Jeff when he barks out a laugh. “I bet you’re… Bowser?

Jeff’s mouth drops open. “How did you know that?”

“I know a Bowser when I see one,” Jonny says, smug.

“Well, I’ll look forward to watching Bowser drop the hammer on your Waluigi,” Jeff retorts. “So hockey, golf, Mario Kart. Horror novels. What else makes Jonathan Toes tick?”

“Taves,” Jonny corrects. “It’s pronounced taves, like saves.”

Jeff rolls his eyes. “Duly noted, Mr. Toews-like-saves.”

Their food comes then, and they talk about Jeff’s car collection while they eat. Jonny can’t remember the last time he’s made such an instant connection with someone. They argue all the way back to the office about whether the Blackhawks or the Kings are going to come out of the Western Conference this year, and he realizes he’s whistling as he heads back up to his office. Working with Jeff is going to be fun.

***

A crazy two weeks later, things are falling into place on the project, but Jonny's exhausted. He signs off on the final plans for construction and heads home at a decent hour for once, looking forward to a drink and some time in front of his fireplace with Patrick in his arms. He's barely through the front door, though, still toeing off his shoes and attempting to hang up his jacket when the twins barrel into his legs, almost knocking him over.

“Papa!” they exclaim in unison, Bryan handing Jonny back his shoes and Eric trying to turn him towards the door. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”

“Boys, boys!” The tension headache Jonny had earlier starts to flare back to life. “Go where? What are you talking about?”

Patrick appears in the door frame, holding Amelie and a Christmas tin.

“Don’t you remember, Papa?” Bryan asks, eyes always so wide and guileless.

Patrick jumps in, “Of course Papa remembers we’re going to pick out our Christmas tree!” He smiles ruefully at Jonny. “Why don’t we go load up in the car while Papa gets out of his work clothes.” Patrick says, ushering the kids out the door before turning back to wink at Jonny. “Five minutes, buddy. And you owe me.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Jonny says. “And thanks.”

The tree selection is an almost total success: tree procured (even if it does seem a little big to Jonny) in under one hour. Jonny thanks the proprietor, slipping him an extra twenty dollars for his help in getting the tree tied to the top of the car.

Once he’s behind the wheel, he sees Patrick's already passing around the tin of chocolate chip cookies and cups of cider.

“Just one, boys.” Jonny says, “We’ll save the rest for after dinner.”

They haven’t even gotten a block away from the lot when he sees Bryan sneaking another cookie.

“Bryan, what did I say? No more cookies right now and no cookies after dinner, either. Maybe that will help you listen.”

“But Papa!” Bryan whines, accompanied by what can only be described as an anguished gasp from Eric.

“Come on, Papa,” Patrick placates. “I think he can have another one, can’t he? This is sort of like a special occasion.”

“Yessss!” Bryan says, high-fiving Eric, as they both take another cookie and start eating.

“No,” Jonny says, reaching behind with one hand to try to rescue the cookies. He gets the tin back and drops it in Patrick’s lap, furious.

“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal out of this,” Patrick complains, tucking the cookies between them. “It’s just a cookie.”

Jonny can see Eric looking at him in the mirror and smiling around his cookie. He throws Patrick a dark look but doesn’t say anything, jaw clenched for the rest of the ride home.

But once the kids are all asleep, Jonny’s practically bursting with frustration and impotence.

“What the hell, Pat! Why do always do that?”

Patrick's not even all the way down stairs yet, freezing on the second step from the bottom for a moment, confusion giving way to anger on his face.

“What did I do this time?” Patrick says eventually, making his way over to the bar.

“Don’t give me that. You know what I’m talking about.”

“Words, Jonny,” Patrick says mildly as he pours them each a finger’s width of bourbon. “Use your words.”

“That shit you pulled back in the car,” Jonny replies, frustrated. “You’re always doing crap like that, undermining me in front of the kids, going behind my back, changing their punishments. You’re not the only parent here, Pat, they’re my kids too!”

Even though Patrick’s facing away, Jonny can tell from the rigid set of his shoulders that he’s gearing up for a fight.

“For fuck’s sake, Jon,” Patrick says, turning around and handing Jonny his glass. “I’m always doing this? Don’t be such a drama queen. Because I told the boys they could have another cookie? I don’t know why you’re making this such a big deal. It’s not like I let them eat cookies for dinner every night. It was one extra cookie.”

“It’s not about the fucking cookies,” Jon says, louder than he intended if the thump from upstairs is any indication. He lowers his voice with a wince. “It’s bad enough that you don’t respect me, but now you’re teaching the boys not to either.”

“I don’t respect you? I don’t respect you?” Patrick sputters, “Are you fucking kidding me with this?”

“You don’t respect me, Pat,” Jonny repeats, “or maybe it’s just that you think I’m a shitty parent. Because every time you undercut me in front of the kids, you’re telling them, ‘Don’t listen to Papa, he’s wrong, he doesn’t know anything.’”

“Jonny,” Patrick starts again, voice tight. “You’re being ridiculous. I don’t understand how letting them have an extra cookie -- one extra cookie -- means I’m undermining you somehow.”

“Jesus Christ, Patrick! Are you even listening to me?” Jonny shouts.

“The way you’re shouting, I think the whole neighborhood is listening, Jonathan,” Patrick sneers.

“Screw the neighbors,” Jonny says, but he lowers his voice. “What do you think the boys are learning here, Pat? Because I can tell you - that they don’t have to listen to me, that if they don’t like what I have to say, all they need to do is run to Daddy. And it's not fair.”

Patrick’s expression is sliding from anger into guilt, and Jonny’s satisfied to finally get that reaction out of him. “And when you’re not undermining me, you’re complaining that I make you the bad guy, that I always get to be fun Papa. Which is rich, considering that the few times I try to hold the line, try to tell them that they can’t, oh, I don’t know, have another cookie before dinner, you jump in and tell them they can!”

“I never-” Patrick throws back the rest of his drink before setting his glass down and stepping close to Jonny. He frames Jonny’s face with his hands, fingers tracing his jaw as he stares up at him for a long minute. Jonny can feel some of his self-righteous anger leave him at the love and guilt in Patrick’s expression. “I’m sorry, Jonny. Really sorry. I never meant to make you feel like that or to undermine you in front of the kids, and you’re right, I do do that.” Patrick says earnestly, his face soft with regret. “I’ll try not to. I promise.”

They breathe together for a minute, before Patrick speaks again, “You’re a great dad. The kids love you so much. I love you. I didn’t mean to ruin the whole night -”

The regret in Patrick’s voice cuts through the last of Jonny’s anger and he silences him with a kiss. “I’m sorry too. I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. You didn’t ruin tonight. It’s just . . . this has been bothering me for a really long time, and -”

Patrick interrupts him this time, with a kiss of his own.

“I’m going to be better, Jon, I swear.” He leans forward to kiss Jonny again, but they’re interrupted by a pitiful wail from upstairs.

Patrick sighs and steps back. “Rock, paper, scissors? Or we could see if she settles down on her own?”

“No, it’s my turn, I’ll go,” Jonny says with a resigned laugh. “We’ll never get a second’s peace now that she’s up.”

“And maybe check on the boys, too?” Patrick says when Jonny’s on the stairs. Jonny looks back to see Patrick running a shaky hand through his curls, expression miserable, and that won’t do.

Jonny stalks back to Patrick, grabbing his face and kissing him deeply. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He smoothes Patrick’s hair back into place. “I love you.” He kisses him again. “Always.”

Patrick nods, his face clearer. “I love you, too.”

They stand together for another minute before Amelie’s cries pick up again.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Jonny says, kissing Patrick one more time. “But we’re picking this up later.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Patrick salutes, grinning.

Jonny rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning as he walks away. His phone rings just as he starts heading upstairs. He glances at the screen and makes a face at Patrick.”Sorry - I should really take this, do you mind going up?”

Patrick smiles and heads upstairs. Jonny watches his ass flex in his khakis are he ascends before he connects the call.

“Hi Jeff, what’s up?”

He’s still on the phone when Patrick comes back down. “One minute,” he mouths and Patrick smiles easily.

“Jonny?” Jeff asks, drawing his attention back to the call.

“Sorry, sorry, my husband just came downstairs from putting the baby down and he’s being very distracting,” Jonny says, smirking when Patrick gasps dramatically.

“Your life is so glamorous,” Jeff says.

“Yep, it’s all fast cars and expensive champagne,” Jonny snorts.

“Well, I know I’m a fan of both of those,” Jeff says. “You?”

“I can take or leave champagne, but I love cars,” Jonny says.

“Fast cars? Race cars? Matchbox cars?” Jeff teases making Jonny laugh. Patrick looks up from where he’s straightening up the couch cushions.

“Fast cars, man, I may be an old, married man but I’m not dead.” He winks at Patrick, who wrinkles his nose back at him. “And I love all those car auction shows.”

“I’m really more of a motorcycle guy myself, but I have a couple of fast cars. You like Benz’s?”

Jonny thinks of their own sensible Benz parked in their garage, the antithesis of the kinds of cars Jeff’s probably used to. “You could say that.”

“I have a 1999 CLK. It’s one of only twenty-six built,” Jeff says, laughing when Jonny chokes on air.

“You’re shitting me,” Jonny sputters. “A CLK? You have one? Holy fuck.”

Patrick groans. “Not cars,” he says, and Jonny waves a hand at him to hush.

He and Jeff spend the next few minutes debating the relative merits of restoring cars into hot rods versus keeping them authentic. Patrick sighs and pulls out a magazine, settling into the couch.

***

Jonny wakes up in a pretty great mood, fight from the night before forgotten. They’d fallen asleep before they’d had a chance to finish what they started, but this morning there’s no little foot kicking him in the face, no alarm blaring, and no little person in their bed - excepting Patrick, Jonny thinks, smiling to himself.

Patrick, who’s tucked into Jonny’s side, face lax with sleep, bare chested, and gorgeous.

A quick glance at the clock tells Jonny there’s almost an hour before the twins need to be up to get ready for school and forty five minutes until Amelie likes to start her day - plenty of time to make up for last night.

Jonny noses along Patrick's hairline, dropping soft kisses against sleep-warmed skin.

“Patrick,” he whispers into the shell of his ear. “Patrick, wake up.”

It’s been too long since they’ve had their bed to themselves - Amelie’s sleep training has been leaving something to be desired - and he fully intends on taking advantage of this rare quiet morning.

“Pat,” he murmurs again, his fingers skating gently up and down Patrick's sides.

Patrick stirs and arches his back sleepily, pressing into Jonny. He makes a satisfied hum after a few moments, rolling over and pulling Jonny on top of him.

Jonny shifts further into the vee of Patrick's thighs, slotting their hips together and thoroughly enjoying the broken moan that spills from Patrick's lips.

“Good morning,” Jonny smiles, lips against Patrick's in an almost kiss.

“Morning,” Patrick answers, lips catching against Jonny’s.

His voice is rough from sleep and it’s so reminiscent of how he sounds after sucking cock that Jonny’s hips twitch in response.

“Mmmm,” Patrick silently agrees, digging his hands into the meat of Jonny’s ass and pulling him in closer.

Jonny loves Patrick like this, hasn’t had Patrick under him in too long. Hasn’t had anything more than rushed rubbing off or hurried hand jobs in forever. He presses his lips to Patrick's, slow and soft, their lips just barely catching as they trade lazy smiles. With each kiss Jonny settles and shifts just that much more firmly against Patrick, nestling in the cradle of his thighs.

He noses along Patrick's jaw, brushing a soft kiss below his his ear and taking in the way Patrick smells: like their detergent and Jonny and something just undeniably Patrick. He bites the soft skin of Patrick's neck gently, the hidden spot that never fails to make Patrick's hips twitch, and he relishes the feel of Patrick pressed against him.

Jonny can’t stop trailing kisses over any part of Patrick he can reach, his neck, forehead, shoulders. The only sound in the quiet room is the rustle of sheets against bare skin. The near silence lends itself to the cocoon-like atmosphere. It feels a little like they’re the only two people awake in the world.

Jonny slows it down even more, revelling in all the skin before him, in the low moans spilling from Patrick's lips. He wants to draw this out, wants it to last forever.

Patrick arches up against him, trying to get more, and Jonny grabs his wrists, pulling them up toward the headboard and pinning them down. Patrick’s hips thrust up, almost involuntarily, pressing their cocks together in a way that makes Jonny’s pulse race.

Jonny can feel the tension in Patrick's arms, the quiet strength as he presses against Jonny’s grip. And he can feel the exact moment that Patrick stops resisting, when he lets go and sinks into the bed, body soft and pliant. As much as Jonny loves when Patrick resists, this is the Patrick he craves: open, accepting, and so fully his.

After pressing Patrick’s wrists into the bed in an unspoken command to keep them there, Jonny trails his fingers down Patrick's arms. Patrick shivers a little, but his arms stay right where Jonny put them. Jonny smiles before licking into Patrick’s mouth. Patrick’s body is still, but he meets Jonny’s kiss with flicks of his tongue.

Jonny settles himself deeper into the vee of Patrick's legs, while he mouths across his jaw to his collarbone, mapping the scar from his surgery eight years ago. Patrick squirms, but when Jonny hums he subsides, tilting his head back and exposing more of his throat. Jonny licks a stripe up the side of his neck, smiling smugly as Patrick's mouth falls open in a silent, breathy moan, his chest heaving.

He kisses Patrick's cheeks, the hollow of his throat, his chest, as he starts working his way down Patrick's body, pressing kisses and mouthing bites into the sleep-warm skin. He tongues over Patrick's nipples, biting one gently, and then harder when Patrick moans, his hand cresting over Jonny’s head for a moment, before he brings it back to the headboard.

Jonny huffs a hot breath across Patrick’s nipple, watching it pebble and twitch, before rewarding him by biting it harder, flicking the hardened nub with his tongue while squeezing Patrick's other nipple. He repeats it again, and again, switching sides without pause until Patrick's arching and sobbing under him, begging him to stop, begging him for more.

When Jonny kisses across his chest again, Patrick starts mewling soft protests, and Jonny licks his nipple, already so red and hard. Patrick bucks under him, and Jonny presses his hips down firmly, trapping him tight under the weight of his body.

Patrick's a mess: biting on his lower lip, moaning lowly, hips twitching and shifting. Jonny pulls back slightly, blowing a light breath against Patrick's nipple.

“I love seeing you like this, so desperate for me,” Jonny says.

“Jonny, Jonny, more, I can’t, please -” Patrick breaks off as Jonny bites down, harder, while Patrick squirms against him. Patrick’s chest is heaving when Jonny finally relents, releasing his nipple.

With one last flick of his tongue, Jonny moves lower, under the sheets, kissing a straight line down Patrick's chest, before finally pulling Patrick's sweats down to his thighs. Patrick's dick springs free, hard and leaking, but Jonny only presses a light kiss to the hollow of Patrick’s hip, drinking in Patrick's pleas for “more, more, please.”

Jonny nips at his hip bone and draws his fingers delicately across Patrick's thighs. He peers up the length of Patrick’s bared torso, watching the way Patrick's head thrashes against his pillow.

Jonny shifts lower still, hitches Patrick's legs over his shoulders, and noses along the join of his thigh, breathing in the heady scent of Patrick with a sigh.

“Please,” Patrick begs again, lifting his hips a bit.

Jonny loves the desperation in Patrick's voice, loves that it’s because of him. He huffs out a last breath over the head of Patrick’s dick before swallowing him down. He can’t believe they haven’t had sex in two weeks. Jonny’s missed the heavy weight of Patrick on his tongue, the salty bursts of precome, the way Patrick can’t stay still.

Jonny feels the sheet pull tighter across the back of his head, pushing him ever so slightly closer to Patrick, as Patrick moans loudly and arches further into Jonny’s mouth.

“Jonny, please, don’t - “ he says, breaking off into a deep groan as Jonny backs off again, just tonguing at his slit and trailing one finger over the spot behind his balls.

Patrick stills as Jonny’s finger moves back and presses dry against his hole, and Jonny feels him spasm a little. Maybe they have time to -

The loud bang of their bedroom door being flung open freezes them both.

“Daddy? Daddy!”

“Bryan!” Patrick yelps. He pushes Jonny’s head off and scrambles up the bed, taking care to keep himself covered.

Jonny emerges from under the covers just in time to see Bryan run out of the room, yelling “Eric, come help! Papa’s hurting Daddy! Papa’s hurting Daddy!”

“Oh Jesus,” Patrick groans, sliding out of bed and pulling up his pajama bottoms and grabbing a tank. He lets out a hiss as the material rubs across his nipples and then heads down the hall to the boys’ room. “Bryan, Eric, everything’s okay.”

Just then, Amelie’s early morning cries join in the commotion.

“Fuck.”

Jonny drops his head to the mattress, before throwing on his sleep pants and going to help out.

He swings by Amelie’s room first, bussing a quick kiss across her forehead as he scoops her up. She’s fussing and looking disoriented, but she quiets down to suck on her lower lip as Jonny pats her back.

Jonny makes his way to the boys room just in time to hear Patrick explain, “. . .not hurting Daddy, I promise. Your Papa would never hurt me. You don’t ever have to worry about that.”

The boys are looking at Patrick with wide eyes. Bryan darts an unsure look toward Jonny and then back to Patrick.

“But Papa was mad last night. We heard him yelling at you.” He glances at Eric, as if for confirmation.

“Yeah,” Eric says, glaring at Jonny with an intensity that he might find comical if his heart weren’t currently breaking.

Patrick looks up at Jonny, a silent plea for help on his face. Jonny passes Amelie to Patrick, and squats down near the boys’ beds so he can look them in the eyes. “We were fighting last night, and Daddy and I are both sorry you heard that. Sometimes daddies fight. But we made up, and I’m not mad at Daddy anymore -”

“And I’m not mad at Papa,” Patrick interrupts

“Right,” Jonny agrees. “And I wasn’t hurting your Daddy. I would never, ever do that. I promise.”

“But Daddy sounded hurt,” Bryan insists doubtfully.

Jonny can feel himself flushing, warmth suffusing his whole face, and he’d like to fall through the surface of the earth now please.

“Breakfast!” Patrick exclaims, clapping his hands together brightly and standing up.

“But-” Bryan says.

“Breakfast,” Patrick repeats firmly. “We can talk more about this later, Bryan, but right now, I think we’ll all feel better if we have some breakfast.”

“Yay!” Amelie cheers.

“I”m going to, uh, shower,” Jonny says, scratching the back of his neck and watching Patrick and the kids troop downstairs. He ducks his head for a moment when Patrick turns to leer at him before nodding at Patrick’s pajama pants, where he’s still half chubbed up. Patrick shrugs. Unfortunately, they’ve gotten used to never finishing what they start.

“Yeah, you go shower,” Patrick says easily, smile a little rueful. “We’ll save you some eggs.”

***

Thankfully once Jonny gets to work, the rest of the day is a lot less eventful, dominated by non- stop meetings now that actual construction at Jeff’s home has kicked off. Antoine Vermette is the contractor, and Jonny’s pleased to have him. It’s been awhile since they’ve worked together, and Antoine and Jeff had hit it off immediately.

“I didn’t know you spoke French,” Jeff says once their meeting wraps up. Jonny nods, a little embarrassed. He and Vermette had lapsed into French for a few moments when they were grabbing coffee during a break. “You have hidden depths, Jonny.”

“My maman is from north of Montreal,” Jonny explains. “I grew up speaking it at home.”

“Ask him about going to French-immersion school until he was twelve,” Shawsy stage-whispers from just behind them as they’re walking to Jonny’s office. “Or should I say ‘douze’?”

“Fuck off,” Jonny says easily in French. “Your mother wishes you could spell twelve.”

Bollig grabs Shawsy by the nape of his neck, shaking him like a dog. Shawsy slaps at his hand, yelping. He dodges it easily with a laugh and says to Jeff, “I have to apologize for him. He’s not housebroken.”

When they get into Jonny’s office, Jonny echoes Bollig’s apology, but Jeff just waves it off. “No apologies necessary. You guys sound like my friends back home. It’s refreshing.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, rubbing the back of his head. “We can get carried away with that. Just be sure to ignore any mention of crop tops or ice bucket challenges. That way lies madness.”

Jeff laughs. “Duly noted.”

Brandon comes in then with material samples, and they get down to work.

***

When Jonny gets home that night, he can hear the racket before he even opens the door, crying and high-pitched screaming and the kind of banging that's more suited to one of his work sites than inside his own home. He tries to steel himself as he opens the door. He wants to embrace the chaos he comes home to every night - three young kids doesn’t exactly lend itself to calmness and order - but he knows he’s not exactly succeeding. He can feel the grimace on his face as he trips over tennis shoes and spots his new issue of Architectural Digest languishing in a puddle of something wet tracked in from who knows where.

He picks it up and is trying to shake out the pages a bit when two blond balls of energy come crashing into him.

“Papa! Papa! Papa!” they chorus. “You’re home!”

“Come see my tower,” Bryan demands, pulling sharply on Jonny’s hand.

“No!” Eric stomps his foot. “Come see Artie!”

“Tower!”

“Artie!”

“Tower!”

The boys have all but abandoned Jonny now, facing off against each other and yelling with ever-increasing volume. It’s in sharp dissonance with the sound of the baby crying and the clanking of pots and pans that’s coming from the kitchen.

The headache that’s been lingering around the edges after a day of intense meetings comes back with a vengeance, a sucker punch of sharp stabbing pain right behind Jonny’s eyes.

“Who the hel- heck is Artie?” Jonny asks, crouching down by the two boys.

“My frog,” Eric says proudly, big grin and dimples so like Patrick’s.

“His dumb frog,” Bryan mutters.

“PAAAAT,” Jonny calls out, fingers massaging his temples. He knows he’s a coward for wishing with all his might that he’d decided to just work a little later. Maybe he could have timed it to get home after dinner, when the kids are fresh from their bath and waiting in their soft pajamas for stories and goodnight kisses.

Patrick appears in the doorframe, looking just as harried as Jonny feels, an unidentifiable smudge on his cheek and Amelie still crying and perched on one hip.

“You’re home!” Patrick says, relieved. “Thank God. Here, you take Amelie and I’ll -”

“You bought Eric a frog, Pat? What the hel- heck?” Jonny interrupts. “We can’t keep this house clean as it is and you got him a pet?”

He’s trying to keep his voice down, he is, but the look on everyone’s faces is telling him he hasn’t been very successful. Patrick's face, so open and happy to see him only moments before, quickly shutters, all clenched lips and murderous eyes. “No, I did not buy him a pet. Andy -”

“Artie!” Eric interrupts helpfully.

“Artie,” Patrick continues, throwing Eric a small smile, “is the class pet, and it’s our turn to take him for the weekend. Eric, why don’t you tell Papa why Mr. Smith picked you to bring Artie home?”

“I got the best grade on my spelling test, and all the bonus words!” Eric exclaims, bouncing slightly on his toes. “You want to come see him now?”

“Yeah, buddy, I do,” Jonny replies, feeling more than a little chagrined. “And nice job on your test. That’s really great. Daddy and I are real proud of you.”

Patrick looks mollified, at least. Jonny’s really not interested in getting into another fight before he’s even had a chance to get out of his suit.

“Come here, ma coccinelle,” Jonny says, easing Amelie from Patrick's arms. “Let’s all go see Artie and then your tower, Bryan.”

He gives himself a mental pat on the back for heading that one off at the pass and moves to drop a quick kiss on Patrick's lips: part ‘hello,’ part ‘I’m sorry,’ part ‘I’d really like to finish what we started this morning before getting interrupted.’

But Patrick takes a half step back, scrunching his face up, “I’m so gross right now; Amelie didn’t nap today, did you, Lady Bug?” he bops her nose gently, “and I haven’t had a chance to shower yet.” He purses his lips up and mimes an exaggerated air kiss in Jonny’s direction. “Later, hot stuff.”

It’s not what Jonny really wants, but at least Patrick's no longer trying to set him on fire with his eyes, so he’ll take it.

The next time he sees Patrick, the casserole is in the oven, the salad is made, and the boys are playing quietly at the lego table. Jonny’s leaning against the counter, watching Amelie go into the closet, close the door and - he’s honestly not sure what happens then, but whatever it is, it’s occupying her for long minutes. He’s just hearing her call for “Papa” when Patrick comes down the stairs, wet curls still dripping onto his collar.

“I see you’ve been introduced to Lady Bug’s latest occupation?” Patrick asks, moving to open the closet and release Amelie, who toddles happily to him. She only consents to a quick kiss, though, before she’s heading right back into the closet, happily closing the door again.

“What do you think she’s doing in there?” Jonny asks. There are shoes and coats and maybe a few hangers on the floor, but beyond that, there’s not really anything to entertain an eighteen month old.

“Ours is not to ask why, Jonny,” Patrick says, pulling him into his arms. “I’m just glad she’s not in the laundry again.”

Jonny squeezes him a little. “Was she helping again?”

“If you want to call it helping,” Patrick says, pulling Jonny’s face down for a long, slow kiss. When he picks his head up again, he licks his lips. “Yum. You taste like. . .. raspberries?”

“Mmm hmm,” Jonny agrees, moving back in for another, deeper kiss. “Got the fruit out. Lady Bug and I had a pre-dinner snack.”

“What do I still need to do?” Patrick asks, pulling away, but Jonny holds onto his arms, keeping him close.

“Everything's done and all you need to do is stay right where you are,” Jonny says. They stand there, kissing intently, until Amelie bangs on the door again.

“Duty calls,” Jonny says with regret, pushing Patrick back a little so he can let her out. They both watch as she toddles out again, walks in a circle once, a receipt in one hand, and then goes back in, closing the door behind her again. They laugh, and Jonny’s just pulling Patrick back into his arms when the oven timer goes off. “I’ve got it,” Patrick says, rueful.

Jonny gathers up Amelie and shepherds all of the kids into the bathroom to wash their hands. Within minutes, they’re all at the table, the boys happily talking about Artie and spelling tests and Terese, who apparently tried to eat the frog food Mr. Smith keeps for Artie. Even Amelie seems to find that disgusting.

Jonny’s phone buzzes while he’s wiping off Amelie’s tray and he pulls it out. It’s Jeff, confirming that they’re going with slate in the foyer. Jonny taps out a quick thanks and is pocketing his phone when it buzzes again.

Jeff: catch the leafs/jets game tonight?

Jonny: No time. Also I’m not a Jets fan - now if it was the Hawks…

Jeff: i see how it is

Jonny: ??

Jeff: you jumped ship once the hawks got so good

Jeff: bandwagoner

Jonny: I was a Hawks fan when it was painful to be a Hawks fan. Trust me, I’ve earned the right to enjoy every bit of success they have.

Jeff: it’s nice to meet another hockey fan. they’re hard to find in LA

Jeff: i could get us tickets a kings game, if you want to come?

Jonny: I’d love to - are you sure it’s not too much trouble?

Jeff: i’ll call dean and see if I can get us a suite.

Jonny: you know dean lombardi?

Jeff: yep. i’ll pull some strings, see if i can get us a suite. do it up right for you.

Jonny: That’s not necessary - just getting us tickets would be great.

Jeff: anything for you

“What’s got you smiling like that?” Patrick says, smacking Jonny’s butt with the towel he’s drying the table with.

“Just Jeff - he’s going to try to get us tickets to a Kings game,” Jonny says, putting his phone away.

“Wow,” Patrick says. “That’s nice of him.”

“Yeah, he’s a good guy,” Jonny says. “And he knows Dean Lombardi.”

“Shit,” Patrick says, awed. “Those are going to be amazing seats.”

Amelie pulls on Jonny’s leg, and he swings her up. “I’m taking madame coccinelle up to bed.”

“I need my sugar first,” Patrick says, kissing her quickly and Jonny a little more lingeringly.

They all end up in the family room, the boys at the legos again. Amelie’s tucked in her bed, but she’s still awake, and Jonny’s keeping an ear on the occasional hiccups and whines over the baby monitor.

Patrick drops onto the couch next to Jonny with a thunk, and Jonny pulls him close. They kiss softly for a moment before Bryan says “gross, Dad!” and Eric makes a gagging sound.

Patrick laughs. “Okay, okay, back to your legos, guys.”

When the twins’ attention has returned to the task at hand, Patrick looks up at Jonny. “So, dear, how was your day?” he says, simpering and batting his eyelashes. Patrick probably doesn’t mean for it to be as affecting as it is, but Jonny has to pull him into his lap a little more, settling him firmly into the cradle of his pelvis.

“It started off great,” Jonny growls into Patrick’s ear. “Not exactly with a bang, though.”

Patrick snorts and nips at Jonny’s jaw before easing back, dipping his head a little towards where Eric is still staring at them, a disdainful look on his face. Jonny sticks out his tongue, and Eric rolls his eyes. Jesus, he’s got to stop doing that in front the boys.

“The day wasn’t too bad,” Jonny says, turning back to Patrick. “We’re really making great progress on the Carter house.”

He spends a few minutes detailing all of his plans for the house, how they’re going to make the four week timeline work. By the end, Patrick’s grinning at him wordlessly.

“What?” Jonny asks, self-conscious.

“I think you’ve said some version of ‘the Jeff Carter house’ at least fifteen times in the last ten minutes,” Patrick says. “It’s cute how excited you are about this project.”

Jonny flushes. “I just - it’s my first project as lead. I want it to go well.”

“I know, babe, I get it. It’s why I’m not giving you grief about how many hours you’ve been locked in the den the past week,” Patrick says. “But you owe me, buddy.” Jonny rolls his eyes again and then winces, looking over at Eric, who’s thankfully absorbed in the legos again.

“It won’t be like this for long,” he promises Patrick. “But with Jeff needing the house done the Friday before Christmas, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.” When Patrick raises his eyes at the deadline, he shrugs. “He’s having some kind of party, planned for months.”

“Blah, blah, blah, lifestyles of the rich and childless,” Patrick says in his worst British accent. “Can’t say I’m thrilled that you’re going to miss so much of the runup to Christmas, but,” Patrick sighs and settles back into Jonny’s arms. “I guess this is the deal we made when we moved to Los Angeles.”

“Regrets?” Jonny asks, pressing a kiss to Patrick’s head. “Do you wish we were still in Chicago?”

“No, not - not really regrets, so much as nostalgia, I guess?” Patrick replies. “You know I miss everyone back there. And with all this Christmas shit -- “ he looks over at the twins, but they’re still busy fighting over dividing up the pink legos -- “all this Christmas stuff going on, it makes me a little, I don’t know.” He bites his lip. “It’s just hard. So you being so busy with work, it’s not the best.”

“I-“ Jonny breaks off as his iPhone buzzes in his pocket. He pulls it out, and it’s a text from Jeff. “Give me a second,” he tells Patrick, typing out a reply quickly. When Jeff texts back his approval, he puts the phone away and pulls Patrick more firmly into his lap. “What were you saying?”

Patrick pats his hand. “Nothing, babe, just whining. What do you say we get these two monkeys up to bed?”

The monkeys in question aren’t as enthusiastic as Patrick, and bedtime takes almost an hour. By the time Jonny’s done cleaning up the tub and getting Amelie settled back down, there are four new texts and six emails regarding the Carter project.

“I’ve got to go deal with this, Pat,” Jonny apologizes again after hanging up from his sixth call with an increasingly frantic Brandon Saad.. “Just finish the movie without me. I’ll catch it on a plane or when we’re on vacation.”

“Your loss, dude,” Patrick salutes him with his beer. “Don’t stay up too late.”

Jonny frowns as he turns back to his phone. This isn't the way he wanted today to go -- from start to finish -- but at least it didn’t end with a screaming fight. He doesn’t have time to think about it any longer because Jeff’s returning his call now, and Jonny needs to get his okay on the recycled Italian marble they’ve found so that Vermette can order it tomorrow morning.

“Hi, Jeff, sorry to bug you so late…”

***

Vermette proves he was the right choice, managing to keep the project on schedule, even if it's shockingly expensive and he's using crews pulled from three other job. Apologies from Sidney and a promise of a discount on the clients' next jobs smooth over any problems, but even though Jonny's entire workload has been freed up to focus on the Carter House, he's still working more than he has since joining the firm.

It’s been a non-stop barrage of phone calls and texts and meetings, and he’s on his iPhone again, making decisions about travertine versus marble for the steps out to Jeff’s infinity pool when Patrick comes back in with Amelie, the twins’ soccer bag in one hand.

“Shit, shit, I can’t find Bryan’s jersey,” he says, putting Amelie down so he can dump the bag onto the counter. “Shit.” He pulls at his hair a little, looking harried and unhappy. “Can you check the laundry room while I make their water bottles?”

Jonny duly heads off to the laundry room, shouting out a five minute warning to the boys when he passes by the sliding glass doors to the backyard. They’ve been in an intense nerf gun battle all morning, and they groan. “But, Papa!” Eric says, “We’re having fun! Can’t we skip soccer this week?” Bryan nods too, but looks more torn.

“We made a commitment, boys.” Jonny says, and he can see the question on Eric’s lips, so he answers before this becomes a debate. “A commitment is a promise. And you should always keep your promises.”

“Do you always keep your promises, Papa?” Bryan asks, serious. “Does Daddy?”

“Yes, buddy,” Jonny says. “And that’s why we’re going to soccer.” They groan again but dutifully head in, and Jonny locks the door before continuing to the laundry room. There are piles everywhere, and Jonny’s not sure what’s clean, or even where to start looking.

“Jonny?” Patrick’s voice filters down the hall to the laundry room minutes later when Jonny’s failed to locate Bryan’s jersey after searching through another pile of unfolded but hopefully clean clothes. “Are you still in there?”

“Out in a minute,” Jonny yells, gritting his teeth. It feels like they spend their whole life sorting through laundry. Patrick swears that it mates and multiplies when left alone in the laundry room. Jonny suspects it's more likely that Patrick buys new clothes when he can’t keep up, which judging by the state of things, is always.

“We’re going to miss kick-off!” Patrick walks into the room. “What’s taking so long?”

“I’m still looking for Bryan’s uniform. If you’d just fold this fucking laundry once in awhile - “ He knows as soon as he says it that he’s gone too far, but he always feels like he’s one step behind. Late for school, late for work, late for practice, late for games, late, late, late.

Jonny’s so tired of being late.

“Really.” Patrick's voice is flat, unimpressed. “What’s the matter with your hands, Jonny? I can’t remember the number of times I’ve asked you to help with folding all of this. I’m not the only one in this family capable of folding laundry.”

Jonny drops the handful of laundry he’s been sifting through.

“Apparently you’re not capable of folding laundry.” Jonny gestures to the multicolored mounds of clothing on every available surface. “What the actual fuck, Patrick? Are you even trying to keep up? We’re going to be sending the boys to school naked at this rate.”

“Ha fucking ha, Jonny. Doing laundry for five people is a lot of work. Did you ever think that I could use a hand?”

“After I spend my entire day working - “ Jonny bites out, but stops when Patrick’s face darkens.

“Oh, right, you bring home the bacon, can’t be bothered to help keep up with the housework. That’s a job for the little wife,” Patrick sneers. “Jesus, you’re such an asshole sometimes.”

“If I spent the whole day around the house, yes, Patrick, I would get the laundry done.” Jonny's just so done with this. “Or at least make sure my son’s soccer shirt was ready so we aren’t late for every fucking game.” He gestures around before grabbing at another load of blues sitting on the folding table and starting to sort through them. “Oh, and here’s an idea,” he says, “I’ll take the kids to the soccer game. You stay here. Maybe take the time to, I don’t know, get this fucking house in order. Jesus. If I operated any of my job sites like this - “

“Oh, right, I forgot, perfect Jonny and his perfect job.” Patrick simpers. “For his perfect clients.”

“My perfect clients pay for your fancy lifestyle. Unless you’re tired of your fancy house and your fancy clothes and your fancy life?”

“You know I’ve never cared about that shit, Jonny!” Patrick spits.

“Big words from the guy who insisted on the GL-Class Benz, even though we’re still paying off the crazy-ass hospital bills from when you were pregnant with Ammy. You know, the car that my ‘perfect clients’ paid for,” Jonny mocks. “And if it just so happens that car is all the rage with the moms in the carpool lane.” And also the one that cost north of a hundred thousand dollars, he doesn’t add.

“Oh, fuck off, you wanted that SUV, too. You’re the one who figured out that it’s the safest one on the market!” Patrick snaps. “And fuck you if you’re blaming me for those hospital bills, like I wanted to get put on bed rest and end up with an emergency c-section?”

“Shit, Pat, no,” Jonny says, deflating. He scrubs a shaking hand over his hair, shocked by how quickly their fight escalated. “I’m not. That wasn't -- I didn’t mean like that. I’d pay those bills a hundred times over to have you and Ammy safe. I’m sorry, that was a really shitty thing to say.” His apology is interrupted by a loud crash and the sound of running footsteps from down the hall, followed immediately by Amelie crying.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck. Just find the fucking shirt, I’ll handle the kids.” Pat says, and he’s out the door before Jonny can respond. “Boys! What did you do!”

Jonny finally spies Bryan’s jersey, pulling it free and following. By the time he gets to the living room, both of the twins are on a time-out stool, and Patrick is swinging a still screaming Amelie in his arms. He looks at Jonny, furious, and then looks away.

Jonny moves over to take Amelie, bouncing her and crooning in French until her cries fade away, leaving an awkward, tense silence in its place. When Amelie wiggles to be let down, heading for the closet and shutting the door behind her again, they both laugh and the moment is broken.

“I can’t-”

“I shouldn’t-”

Looking at the boys on their stools, Patrick beckons Jonny a little further into the foyer, where they can’t hear them. Patrick gestures for Jonny to go first, and Jonny rubs the back of his neck, sheepish. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that about the car. I did want you to have it for the safety features. And I don’t have anything against the moms in the carpool lane. And I really shouldn’t have said anything about the hospital bills. Those were worth every penny.”

“Yeah, well, you’re an asshole.” Patrick says, but it's without heat.

“I really am,” Jonny agrees, nodding. “But you do know that I didn’t mean any of that?”

“I know.” Patrick sighs. “It feels like we’re doing this a lot, lately.”

“Fighting?”

“Being assholes to each other.” Patrick corrects.

"It’s me, you’ve been - you take great care of us, and I’ve been so busy lately. I’m just really stressed, and I’m sorry we’re fighting so much.”

Patrick makes a noise and then he’s pulling Jonny into his arms. “I don’t like it.”

“I don’t like it either,” Jonny agrees. They stand together just breathing for minute, and then he kisses Patrick lightly on the temple and steps back. “Now, who’s ready to go to a soccer game?”

Time on the stools have changed the boys’ tune about going to soccer, and they move happily out to the front yard, kicking a ball between them before Jonny rounds them up and into the car. Patrick grabs soccer bags and water bottles while Jonny gets Amelie secured in her car seat.

He knows they’re okay when their eyes meet when Radio Disney comes on and it’s playing “Let it Go.” Patrick’s grin is wide and dimpled, and Jonny can feel something in himself relax for the first time in almost a week.

Patrick’s pulling out of the driveway when Jonny reaches over and catches his hand, and kisses his knuckles. Patrick darts a quick glance at him and smiles again, fond, squeezing Jonny’s hand back.

***

The boys tumble out of the car, and Jonny gets them turned over to the coach while Patrick brings Amelie, a large blanket, a fit-to-bursting carryall, and a miniature soccer ball for Amelie over to a free patch of grass.

They’re a few minutes late, but two other kids arrive after they do, so Jonny consoles himself with the knowledge that at least they weren’t the last ones there as he joins Patrick and Amelie. And at least neither of his kids have grass stains on their shorts like Logan does, he can’t help thinking a bit smugly. When Patrick pokes him with a wry smile, he flushes a little.

“An hour ago we could barely find Bryan’s jersey in the laundry, Jon.” Patrick smirks. “You don’t get to be superior about our kids today.”

Jonny disagrees. He can be superior about their kids every day. They’re clearly the best. But Patrick’s still giving him a look, so he huffs and turns his attention to Amelie, but he’s smiling, too.

The game is - well - kind of hilarious, Jonny can admit. The teams are uneven: someone always seems to be missing because of birthday parties or the types of emergencies that seem to befall six-year-olds including misplaced cleats, lost pets, and parental mismanagement. And that’s just in their house.

Jonny hesitates to even really think of it as soccer. He used to play competitively, had been pretty good, even if he doesn’t like to brag, much. This game? This game is not that. The kids don’t stay in position, occasionally forget not to use their hands, and run after the ball as a single-minded herd. It’s not textbook soccer, but it’s adorable.

Jonny’s phone rings and he stands up. “Gotta take this, sorry,” he says when Patrick makes a face at him. He moves a few feet away so he won’t distract Patrick from the game.

“Jeff,” Jonny says. “Thanks for calling me back. Are you good with resurfacing the pool instead of demolishing it and pouring a new one? The current pool is in good shape, so resurfacing makes sense because it’ll save time and money.”

“Sure,” Jeff says easily. “You didn’t mention how resurfacing instead of demolishing is more eco-friendly, but don’t think I don’t see what you’re doing.”

Jonny laughs and Patrick glances over, frowning a little. “Yeah, sorry, you got me.”

“Yeah, I’m on to you, Toews,” Jeff says.

Jonny hangs up after going over the details with Jeff, smiling at Patrick. “Okay, what did I miss?”

“It’s halftime, so not too much,” Patrick says. He opens and closes his mouth, but then shakes his head and smiles. “Take care of business?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, and flushes when Patrick gives him a long look. “What?”

“Nothing,” Patrick says. “I just can’t wait to meet this Jeff Carter guy tonight.”

Jonny frowns in confusion. “Why?”

Patrick shakes his head at him again and laughs. “You’re so cute,” he says fondly. "And so clueless."

“Shut up,” Jonny grumbles half-heartedly, trying not to laugh when Amelie crashes into Patrick and tumbles over his legs, sitting back up with a pout. They spend the rest of halftime soothing her with kisses.

When the game starts again, Patrick cheers wildly every time the boys get within striking distance of the ball, every time the boys are on the field, to be honest. His wide grin is infectious and Jonny starts joining in, trying to be just that much louder. Amelie's clapping along too, in between rolling the soccer ball back and forth with each of them. Jonny’s thrilled she’s still sitting; by this point in the game last week she’d already tried to join her brothers three different times. You wouldn’t think two grown men could be outrun by an eighteen-month old, but she’s so sneaky that she almost always gets a pretty solid head start.

“I think Bryan and Eric are the best ones out there.” Jonny comments, focus ninety-five percent on the game at hand and five percent on trying to keep Amelie out of the snack bag. “Later, ma coccinelle,” he childes absentmindedly, handing her a board book in attempted redirection.

Patrick laughs loudly, and even after all these years, it’s still Jonny’s favorite sound. Getting Patrick to laugh like that, even unintentionally -- because he’s not joking, the boys really are the best -- is still something that makes Jonny feel like a million bucks.

“They’re good.” Patrick agrees, still laughing. “But, Brooke just scored an own goal, Matt's sitting by the mid-field line picking dandelions, and Amy just stopped playing to ask her mom if it’s snack time yet. Oh, and don’t forget Fergus.” Jonny looks over at where their goalie is picking his nose. ”I wouldn’t say the competition is incredibly high here.”

Jonny can’t argue with that, but he’s still hoping that once Amelie is a little older they can look into getting the boys into a more competitive league. He’s sure he remembers one of his colleagues talking about some traveling team. Maybe he’ll even coach.

“Jonny,” Patrick says with a knowing look, “let’s just let them enjoy their first season before you start signing them up for development camp.”

“I didn’t say -” Jonny protests.

“No,” Patrick laughs again, “but I know you. You were thinking it weren’t you?”

“Not development camp,” Jonny hedges, which only serves to make Patrick laugh more.

“Maybe not,” he allows, “but something. Just admit it: no one knows you like I do, baby!” Patrick knocks their shoulders together and he’s leaning in for a kiss when Amelie darts away.

Jonny’s up and after her, but thankfully she heads away from the game. By the time he’s corralled her, there’s a roar behind him, and he looks over to see Patrick jump up and cheer, shouting Eric’s name. Jonny runs over to yell for Eric and wave when he looks over proudly.

“Jesus, man,” Patrick shakes his head when they’re sitting on the blanket again. “It’s like she’s got a sixth sense for when he’s going to score.”

Jonny snorts. “I think I’ve missed, what, three goals by Bryan and two of Eric’s saves this season?” He shakes a finger at Amelie. “You, ma coccinelle, are going to get it. Ecoute-moi?” He tickles her and she screams in response, her eyes lighting up and her little hands clenching and unclenching with joy.

“Big talk, tough guy,” Patrick says. “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger and you know it. She knows it. The guy selling ice cream over there knows it.”

“Like you’re not the same,” Jonny retorts. “All those tears at bedtime and you cave. Crocodile tears, aren’t they, cher? Daddy thinks he’s tough but you know how to get your way, hmm?”

When Patrick doesn’t respond, he looks up. Patrick’s looking back at the field, but a muscle is jumping in his jaw. “Aw, fuck, Patrick, I didn’t mean anything,” he says, reaching out to cover his hand. “I wasn’t - I was just teasing.”

“I know, it’s just.” He sighs and looks over at Jonny ruefully. “I don’t want to talk about anything serious. I just want to enjoy the rest of the day. We have an actual child-free night out tonight.” His face relaxes a little when he turns back to the soccer game. “Can we?”

“But I-,” Jonny says, wanting Patrick to understand that he hadn’t been criticizing him, but when Patrick looks at him pleadingly, he just nods. “Okay. Okay.”

They watch the game in silence for a few minutes until there’s a shout and the parents turn to see Micah’s little sister squatting under a tree just down from the swing set next to the soccer field.

“Is she peeing?” Patrick says, voice incredulous. He turns to look at Amelie and then in horror at Jonny. “Did you know they do that?”

“Fuck, Pat, you’re the one with sisters. How would I know?”

They both watch as Amelie pulls out the entire contents of the diaper bag.

“Well, shit,” Patrick says. “You’re not doing that,” he tells Amelie.

She grins toothily, “Dada Dada” in response and goes back to batting the wipes around on the blanket.

“Yeah, no, I’m not prepared for that at all,” Jonny says.

They sit for another minute watching Amelie. It doesn’t feel like they’ve resolved their conversation from before, and Jonny doesn’t want to lose their fragile truce from earlier, but when he inhales to say something else, Patrick interrupts him. “Jonny. It’s okay.” He smiles softly at him. “I know I’m just being sensitive. So. Let’s enjoy today.”

And Jonny really can’t think of any good reason why they shouldn’t, so he smiles back. “Okay.”

***

The party’s going well enough, Jonny thinks hours later, clients and partners mingling nicely with spouses. It took the interns the better part of six weeks to plan, but Jonny can see they’ve all relaxed enough to be enjoying themselves, too. Shawsy seems to be keeping them all entertained. Jonny knows he should join Patrick at their table, but he’s using the excuse of getting them drinks to grab a break from all of the small talk and schmoozing he’s expected to do.

“Hiding in the corner, Jonny?” he hears, and turns to smile as Jeff Carter walks up. “Aren’t you supposed to be out there, charming everyone?”

Jonny shrugs, sheepish. “Yeah, charming isn’t really my department.” He looks over at the table where Patrick is holding court with three of the firm’s biggest clients and their wives. “I leave that to my better half.”

“He looks like he’s good at it,” Jeff says. The band finishes up a song and they clap politely. “This music, though.” Jeff laments. “A little too old-fashioned -- or just plain old -- for my tastes.”

Jonny nods. “Yeah, this isn’t really my first choice, either.”

“I’m really more of a classic rock fan, myself,” Jeff says. “You?”

“I like more alternative rock, I guess,” Jonny says.

“Let me guess; Tragically Hip? Nickelback?”

Jonny laughed. “Yep. My favorite is probably Our Lady Peace.”

“Our Lady Peace,” Jeff wrinkles his nose. “You, sir, are a Canadian parody.”

“Yeah, well, I bet you’ve got some on your iPod.”

Jeff’s shaking his head when someone calls out to him. They both look over as Gary Bettman waves and strides toward them determinedly.

“Ugh,” Jeff says, swiftly finishing his drink. “I know the music sucks, but dance with me?”

Jonny demurs. “I don’t really dance.” He smiles to take any sting out it. “It’s one of Patrick’s biggest complaints; I think the last time I danced with him was on our honeymoon.”

“Well, I really didn’t come here tonight to talk about all the ways my holdings would benefit from an exclusive relationship with the law offices of Quenneville & Bettman,” Jeff says, taking Jonny’s drink and setting it down on a nearby table. Jonny lets himself be pulled toward the dance floor. “It’s your job as my architect to, I don’t know -- insert the appropriate architectural metaphor here -- save me from the evil attorney and dance with me.”

Jeff tilts his chin down, and if he weren’t a thirty-something billionaire, Jonny would swear he’s pouting. It makes him laugh though, and he gives in. He can suck it up for one dance. He looks around and sees Patrick watching them as they start swaying to the music. Patrick widens his eyes dramatically and clasps one hand to his heart. Jonny rolls his eyes, and when he looks back up at Jeff, he’s smiling.

“Not the jealous type, is he?” Jeff says, pulling Jonny a little closer to speak into his ear above the music.

Jonny snorts. “Hardly. Patrick knows that tonight is all about the clients.”

“You wound me,” Jeff gasps. “Am I really just a client to you?”

“Oh, no, 1135 Shoreline Dr., I mean Jeff, you’ve never been just a client to me,” Jonny deadpans.

Jeff throws his head back and laughs. “Touché, Jonny.”

They dance for a few minutes in silence and Jonny can see Patrick heading over to the bar.
He takes a moment to admire Patrick’s easy grace as he navigates his way around the room, deftly swiveling to avoid Shawsy when he scoots his chair back directly into his path, and nodding quickly at Bettman when they cross paths. He looks over at Jonny, tilting his chin, and when Jonny nods, collects a glass of white and a tumbler of whiskey before heading back to their table.

When he looks at Jeff, he’s watching him, his expression inscrutable. “Well, I know I would be jealous, if you and I were . . .” Jeff trails off. “I wouldn’t want to share you with anyone, even for one evening.”

“Patrick’s used to sharing me,” Jonny shrugs. “With the three kids, it’s rare when it’s just the two of us.”

“Yeah, three kids.” Jeff says. “That’s got to be a ton of work.”

Jonny nods. “Oh, it is. Hockey and soccer and baby art classes and homework. Luckily Patrick's on top of all of that, since he stays home with them.”

“I just cannot imagine.” Jeff shudders. “At least you have someone to deal with the house and the kids for you.” He laughs. “I guess I’ve got my PA, so I can appreciate that.”

“Oh, trust me, I do my share, but Pat keeps it all running smoothly.” He talks about Amelie’s latest art project, the renovation they’ve been slowly doing to their carriage house, and the twins’ hockey practices.

“It sounds like you’ve both got your hands full.”Jeff says. “I can see why it’s hard to find time just for the two of you.”

Jonny looks over at Patrick, laughing at something Shawsy's saying and thinks about how long it’s been since they’ve been out like this without the kids. “Yeah, tonight’s the first time in, God, it has to have been months.” Jeff gives him a thoughtful look, and he shrugs again, uncomfortable. “I miss it. But it’s worth it.” He rolls his eyes. “Usually, anyway.”

“Can’t imagine doing it myself,” Jeff says after they’ve danced in silence for a few moments. “Getting married, having kids. Any of it.”

“Really?” Jonny asks. “Why?” He’s busy and stressed and always tired, but he wouldn’t give up his life with Patrick for anything.

Jeff leans in closer as he spins Jonny toward the side of the dance floor, out of the way of Tracey and Laz, who are already drunk and listing a bit. “Because it sounds hard and exhausting, and frankly -- don’t take this the wrong way -- boring.”

Jonny laughs. “One thing my life never is, is boring.”

Jeff dips his head and smiles wryly. “I’m sure. I think I’m too selfish to put someone else first like you do. And four someone elses? I can’t imagine. I like being able to jet off to Italy at a whim, stay up all night and sleep all day. Walk around the house naked.” He turns them a little and pauses for a long moment, looking at Jonny consideringly.

“But it’s not just that - “ Jeff breaks off, pulling him closer. “I just can’t imagine being with one guy for the rest of my life. Although if that one guy were someone who looked like you. . ."

Jeff’s breath is hot on the side of his neck, and Jonny shivers, suddenly uneasy. He pulls back a little, putting some space between them. He’s not sure how to respond; this isn’t a conversation he ever thought he’d have with one of his clients.

“I guess that’s where we’re different,” he says finally. “Pat and I’ve been together so long I can’t even imagine ever being apart.”

The music stops and Jeff steps back. “Well, Patrick’s a very lucky man, to have a guy like you.”

“Sure am,” comes Patrick’s voice over Jonny’s shoulder. Jonny turns to Patrick gratefully, pulling him close with an arm around his shoulders. He introduces them quickly.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Jeff says, shaking Patrick’s hand. “Jonny was just telling me about your family and how you keep everyone in line.” He shakes his head. “Husband-nanny-housekeeper-personal assistant. I’d have to pay a lot of people a lot of money to do what you do.”

Patrick smirks at him. “Especially that first part, right?”

Jeff barks out a laugh. “Especially that first part.” He turns back to Jonny. “I like him!”

Jonny pulls Patrick more firmly against his side. “Yeah, he’s alright,” he says, then grunts when Patrick elbows him in the ribs.

“Anyway, sorry to interrupt, but I had to get in on this action. It’s been a long time since Jonny’s been willing to dance.” Patrick smiles at Jeff. “He never wants to dance with me. What’s the secret to getting him to do what you want?”

“Oh, just played the client card; Jonny knows he has to keep me happy.” Jeff says. They all laugh. “But no, actually I just asked, and he said ‘yes.’”

“Just asked, huh?” Patrick wiggles his eyebrows at Jonny. “Hmm. Well, I hope you won’t mind if I steal my husband away for a bit then. Jonny, will you dance with me?” he simpers, batting his eyelashes. When Jonny just rolls his eyes, he smirks at Jeff again. “I’ve got to get in a spin before he remembers that dancing isn’t something he’s willingly done in seven years.” Patrick smoothly turns them back onto the dance floor with a casual, “nice to meet you!” tossed over his shoulder at Jeff. Patrick guides them through the crowd to the middle of the dance floor and away from Jeff, and Jonny’s grateful for the feel of Patrick in his arms as well as the break from Jeff.

Once they’re out of earshot Patrick teases, “Someone’s got an admirer,” lips curving up into the dimpled grin Jonny loves so much.

“What are you talking about?” Jonny asks, looking around to see who Patrick's referring to.

It only makes Patrick laugh, tossing his head back so his curls shake a bit. His eyes are full of mirth. “Your boy, Jeff,” Patrick sing-songs. “He thinks you’re cute, he wants to kiss you, and, with how good your ass looks in that suit,“ Patrick slips a hand down for a surreptitious squeeze, “can’t say I blame him.”

“No way,” Jonny argues, pulling Patrick a bit closer to him before giving him the promised twirl. “If he’s even looking over here, he’s definitely looking at you, all the boys do.”

“Yes, way,” Patrick teases, sounding a bit too much like the twins for comfort, “he hasn’t taken his eyes off you all night.

Jonny looks up and finds Jeff’s looking directly at him, his eyes hot and dark.

Oh, Jonny thinks.

Patrick must see the realization flit across Jonny’s face, because he’s laughing again, and stepping closer to Jonny as they dance. He smells good: a little like he’s fresh from the shower and a little like the wine he’s been drinking all night.

“There’s something hot about knowing everyone here wants my man,” Patrick teases, breath hot on Jonny’s cheek. He’s waggling his eyebrows ridiculously and gives Jonny’s butt another squeeze.

Jonny can feel his face getting hot, knows he’s got to be blushing something fierce. “Pat,” he starts warningly.

“No one’s watching us.” Patrick says, pressing a quick nipping kiss to Jonny’s lips, “Well, your boy Jeff is, but he can just look and be jealous about what’s mine.”

Jonny loves Patrick like this: happy, teasing, eyes bright, a little handsy, and just this side of drunk. It reminds him of being young college kids pressed together in the dark corners of frat house parties, trading punch flavored kisses. It reminds him of being in their first apartment, burning dinner, when the cheap bottles of wine they’d drink would convince them they would rule the world. It reminds him of toasting birthdays, holidays, new jobs, new babies.

Jonny spins Patrick again, before drawing him close, hands low on his back. “Want to get out of here?” he breathes into Patrick's ear.

“Can we?” Patrick asks, licking his lower lip and glancing around like one of Jonny’s bosses is going to storm over to stop them.

“Pat,” Jonny says, low, with a sharp bite to Patrick's earlobe.

Patrick makes a shocked noise, deep in the back of his throat, before taking Jonny’s hand and all but dragging him from the party.

***

The car ride home is tense, all heated glances, hands stroking over knees and thighs, and Patrick's perpetual -- and Jonny’s sure -- purposeful lip licking. They get there with no tickets and no accidents, so while Jonny doesn’t actually remember doing any of the driving, he’s going to call it a success.

***

Not a success, however, is their covert entrance home. Something about the cool night air makes Patrick giggly, and he’s absolutely no help as Jonny’s trying to get them into the house.

Patrick's plastered to his back, biting into his shoulder, putting his hands in Jonny’s pockets, and grinding up on him. “C’mon, babe,” he whines, as Jonny fumbles the keys. “Hurry up, don’t you want to get inside?”

Jonny finally gets the door unlocked and open, and they all but fall through, Patrick giggling and then shushing himself. When Jonny turns to face him, Patrick's got a finger to his lips and big wide eyes, like he’s imploring Jonny to, please, keep it down.

“Shhhhhh,” Patrick says again, not at all quietly, and Jonny’s has to kiss him to shut him up. They stumble into the console table, rattling the key bowl and knocking a magazine to the floor. Patrick starts giggling again, mostly muffled against Jonny’s shoulder this time.

“Pat, shhhh,” Jonny says, “you don’t want your sister to hear us. Or worse, wake the kids, it’s so late.”

Patrick nods agreeably, miming that his lips are sealed at the same time, an amused voice comes down the hallway. “Too late,” Erica says, looking an embarrassing combination of bemused and sleepy, “I’ll just let myself out then. Have fun, boys.”

Patrick tucks his head into Jonny’s neck and sends her off with a half-hearted wave.

***

The moment the doors shut behind Erica, they stare at each other for a long second, before making a mad dash for the stairs. Bumping into each other, the walls, and anything else in their way as they tear upstairs, taking them two at a time and giggling the whole time.

“I win!” Patrick crows, arms thrust up in the air in victory, Jonny sees a flash of white teeth and dimples, before he’s tackling Patrick to the bed.

Patrick's still laughing, clutching a bit at Jonny’s shoulders as Jonny starts making quick work of their clothes. He gets Patrick's shirt off quickly, and then settles back on his thighs, looking at Patrick as he strips his own shirt off. Patrick's laugh peters out to nothing but some heavy breathing, his eyes dark and hungry, and Jonny can feel how Patrick's muscles relax beneath his own thighs.

When Jonny’s hand moves to own his belt, Patrick presses a hand over his, stilling him, “Let me?” he asks, licking his lips and trailing his hand over the hot press of Jonny’s cock.

Jonny’s mind's gone fuzzy, stomach twisting with want, and all self control concentrated on keeping his hips still. He nods, before falling to the side, lifting his own hips up a bit as Patrick smoothly removes his pants and boxers, throwing them on the floor.

Patrick sits back on his knees between Jonny’s spread thighs, eyes washing over Jonny -- over his cock -- with a phantom touch. Jonny feels warm from the attention, can’t help arching a little into it.

Patrick looks for long moments before he starts brushing gentle fingers over Jonny: up his thighs, curving over the vee of his hips, skating across his belly. Fingers merely a light pressure, too light, and so close to where Jonny wants them most. And every time, they ghost past the head of his cock, the proximity the worst kind of tease.

“Pat,” Jonny all but growls, grabbing one of Patrick's trailing hands and freezing it, “touch me.”

“Hmmmm?” Patrick asks voice confused, but eyes teasing, “Touch you? Here maybe?” He presses a finger lightly to the tip of Jonny’s cock, sliding through the precome pearling at the tip, before circling the crown quickly and withdrawing.

“Pat,” Jonny chokes out, thrusting his hips up, chasing the fleeting contact.

“Like that?” Patrick asks, “or maybe - “ he scoots backwards and dips his head to lick up Jonny’s cock from root to tip.

Jonny’s hands fly to Patrick's shoulders, fingers edging into the wayward curls at the base of his neck, pushing him back down.

“Yeah,” Patrick breaths, eyes fluttering closed with a dreamy half-smile, “make me. Do it.”

Jonny’s head falls back sharply, but he looks down to watch as he pushes Patrick down onto his cock with a groan. He’s sliding in so smoothly, there’s just a tiny hitch as he hits the back of Patrick's throat, before he’s swallowing him down. Jonny holds him there for a long moment, until Patrick's grip on Jonny’s thighs goes tight and the tears start welling up at the corner of his eyes.

Patrick pulls off with a gasp, taking in deep lungfuls of air, before Jonny’s fucking up into his throat again and again. Each time he holds holding Patrick there for just a second longer, thumbing at the tears leaking from Patrick's eyes and clinging to his lashes.

He loves the wet, hot heat of Patrick's mouth; can’t get enough of the way Patrick moans around Jonny’s cock, the way he opens his throat so sweet every time Jonny thrusts in. “Close,” Jonny warns, fingers tightly woven in Patrick's curls as he holds him down on his cock, fucking in with minute little thrusts before coming hot down the back of Patrick's throat. He pulls Patrick off just as he’s finishing, loving the way the last drops of his come paint Patrick's lips, loving the way Patrick's tongue chases the taste.

Patrick drops his head to Jonny’s hip with a sigh, pressing an almost sweet kiss to the jutting bone there, as Jonny pats ineffectually at his curls. Jonny can feel the bump-bump-bump of Patrick's fist working his own cock between their bodies, hitting Jonny’s leg on each upstroke.

“No, c’mon, Pat, up here,” Jonny slurs, grabbing a little loosely at Patrick’s shoulders as if he has the energy to haul him up Jonny’s body himself. Luckily it doesn’t come to that, and Patrick shifts upward, kissing Jonny messy and wet, hips and tongue in almost perfect unison as he grinds into Jonny’s hip.

“Jonny,” Patrick whines, snaking a hand between their bodies again, but Jonny gets there first; he’s unable to do more than make a tight tunnel for Patrick to thrust into, but it seems to be enough, and he’s spilling over Jonny’s fingers, thick and hot, mere moments later, making that punched-out, guttural groan that Jonny dreams about.

Patrick rolls over onto his back, eyes closed and face totally contented. Jonny can’t get enough of that little smile, loves knowing he was the one to put it there. Patrick must feel Jonny’s gaze on him, and his eyes slit open, “Wha?” he asks, voice so rough that Jonny regrets not having the refractory period he had when they first started fucking.

“Tired?” he asks, grabbing the corner of one of their sheets and wiping down their bodies a little bit.

“Mmmmhhm,” Patrick agrees, eyes almost slipping shut again. Jonny can feel his lips quirk upwards at the sight; Patrick's always so fucked-out and sleepy after he comes. “Don’t be so smug about it,” Patrick grumbles, face already turning into the pillow, “‘s unattractive.”

“Oh yeah?” Jonny laughs, before dropping a kiss to the corner of Patrick's mouth, “I think we both know you think I’m super attractive.”

“You’re the worst,” Patrick groans, dragging Jonny back down and fitting his body around and over him, legs tangled and arms tight around his waist. “I don’t know why I love you at all.”

***

That night, with Patrick tucked into his side, snoring softly, Jonny thinks back on all the things Jeff’s been saying, the way he’s been looking at him, and he feels foolish that he put it all down to Jeff being just another oddball client. He can see now what Jeff’s been, well, what he’s been doing, for lack of a better word. He’s more than a little embarrassed to have missed it.

Now that he’s thinking about it, though, Jonny can’t stop remembering. The flirty uptilt to Jeff’s face, the hungry look in his eyes. So now that he knows, he’ll be able to shut it down. It’s not going to be a problem.

***

Patrick and Jonny are enjoying a few rare minutes alone and while Jonny wishes it wasn’t with one of them elbow deep in soapy water and the other on drying duty, this is apparently their life now. Amelie and the boys are occupied in the family room watching Frozen for the millionth time, and if he and Patrick move fast, they might get the dishes done before Amelie gets bored and comes to help, which usually consists of crawling inside the dishwasher or systematically unloading the utensils basket onto the floor.

“So then Tommy -- you know Tommy? Leah and Ashton’s kid? Brooke’s little brother? -- Anyway, so Tommy plants his ass to the wall, and Leah’s calling after him, ‘Tommy! Tommy, stop!’ but every time she says anything he’s scooting further away from her down the wall, and leaving a trail of poop behind him.” Patrick's laughing so hard he can barely tell the story, wet hands flicking through the air as he’s talking, sending a rain of droplets onto Jonny’s shirt.

“Pat,” Jonny grimaces, glancing quickly at the living room to makes sure they don’t have any eavesdroppers. “That’s fucking disgusting.”

“I know,” Patrick agrees gleefully, grabbing the last plate from Jonny and hip-checking him lightly out of the way, “disgusting, but hilarious. And that’s why we’re not trying to potty train Amelie right now. I’d rather deal with diapers than that.”

Jonny shakes his head a bit, “When I asked if anything interesting happened today, this was really not where I saw this conversation headed.”

“Suppose not.” Patrick acknowledges, hopping onto the counter and watching as Jonny dries the last plate and puts it into the cupboard. “Not much new going on in my world lately, just play dates, and school drama, and plenty of tragic tales of missed naps and potty training. I need some grown up time.”

“Maybe I can help you with that,” Jonny says, stepping into the vee of Patrick’s legs and raising an eyebrow pointedly.

Patrick snorts. “Well, yeah, that too, perv. But I’m talking, like, just an afternoon off without the kids, to go see Tyler, or watch a movie, or, hell, just get coffee without having to bribe anyone to ‘behave, please, and you can have a smoothie.’”

Jonny frowns, but Patrick hurries on. “It’s okay, I know you’re really busy right now, especially with this project, and all the holiday stuff going on, and the kids’ activities. I’m just throwing it out there, for when things settle down a bit.”

“Hmm,” Jonny says, pulling Patrick more firmly into his arms. “I think Lydia mentioned the other day that Susan gets her hair and nails done every week while she’s watching the kids.” He tugs on Patrick’s curls a little. “Not sure there’s any hope for this mop, though.” He kisses Patrick, and it quickly deepens, their tongues slipping together.

Patrick groans when Jonny pulls away, and his eyelashes flutter when Jonny tugs his hair again. “Don’t front, you love my hair,” he says, licking at Jonny’s bottom lip. “You especially love holding onto it while you fuck me.”

Jonny growls and pulls Patrick back in for a kiss. “I do,” he whispers, kissing along Patrick’s jawline. “Love the way you arch up when I do it, how it makes you tighten around me.”

They kiss more urgently for a long minute before Patrick pulls back and rests his forehead on Jonny’s collarbone. “God, Jonny,” Patrick says, his voice wrecked, “it’s been too long since we’ve had time to fuck.”

“It has,” Jonny agrees, and pulls back a little. “We need to fix that. Soon.”

Patrick nods, chewing on his lower lip again, now swollen and red and slick and Jonny can’t resist taking his mouth again. They kiss until they hear little footsteps coming down the hall. “Daddy?” Eric says, stepping into the kitchen and Jonny turns toward the sink to hide his erection.

Patrick hops down off the counter. “What’s up, buddy? Did you come to help with the dishes?”

Eric makes a noise. “No. I don’t feel good,” he says, and when Jonny turns around, he can see how flushed Eric is. Patrick picks him up and frowns. “Baby, I think you have a fever,” Patrick says, putting his cheek against Eric’s. “Jonny, can you get the ear thermometer? I’m going to sit down with Eric in the living room.”

By the time Jonny’s located the thermometer, Patrick’s laying back on the couch with Eric’s head in his lap, running a hand over the wiry brush of his buzzcut. He looks up as Jonny walks in, the worry on his face easing for a moment as he smiles wryly. “So much for later, huh?” He looks down at Eric. “I think he’s got a fever, but he says he didn’t feel bad until a few minutes ago.”

“Want me to get some water? Children’s Tylenol?”

“Not yet,” Patrick responds, checking the thermometer. “It’s only one hundred point two. The pediatrician says it’s not a fever unless it’s one hundred point four.” He hands the thermometer back to Jonny. “He’s definitely not himself, though. Says he just wants to lie down.”

“Sorry you’re not feeling good, buddy,” Jonny says, dropping down on the couch next to Patrick and putting Eric’s legs over his lap. “Are there any sick kids at school?”

“Maggie went home yesterday because she throwed up,” Eric says miserably, starting to cry. “Am I going to throwed up, too?”

“Shh, baby, shhh.” Patrick pulls Eric up and cradles him against his shoulder. “Do you feel like you have to throw up?” He mouths ‘bucket’ at Jonny and stands up. Jonny can hear them walking up the stairs on his way to the laundry room. He ducks his head into the family room but the other kids are engrossed in Frozen, and Jonny’s glad to see it’s only about halfway through the movie.

When he gets upstairs, Patrick and Eric are in the bathroom and Eric’s crying between retching into the toilet. Jonny motions Patrick to switch places. “I’ve got him,” he tells Patrick. “You go get things set up in our room.”

Patrick stands gratefully, a little green and shakes his head at himself. “Sorry, it just always makes me, uh.” He shudders. “Ugh.”

Jonny snorts. “I know,” he says, and Patrick sticks his tongue out at him. “You. Bucket. Bed. I checked on the movie and we’ve got about thirty minutes left. I’ll get him tucked in.”

“And I’m going to call the pediatrician, just to make sure,” Patrick says.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Pat,” Jonny says, but at Patrick’s stubborn look, he shakes his head. “Fine, whatever, if it makes you feel better. Go.”

Jonny gets Eric settled into their bed when he finally stops throwing up and dry-heaving. By the time Patrick’s back upstairs, Eric’s asleep and Jonny’s settled in beside him, thumbing through emails on his iPhone. “I’ll stay here, keep an eye on him. You go get the other kids to bed.” Patrick bites his lip. “Pat, you said the the pediatrician told you that he’s going to be fine. If he keeps vomiting, has trouble breathing, becomes unresponsive, or his temperature is above one hundred and five, we call 911.”

“One hundred and three,” Patrick says. “We call the doctor if his fever’s higher than one hundred and three.”

“Right, one hundred and three.” When Patrick still doesn’t move, Jonny shoos him. “You’re going to wake him up. And it’s bath night for Bryan.” He waves his phone. “I’ll call you if we need anything.”

“I’m down the hall, Jon, not across town,” Patrick says drily, but his face has eased a bit as he heads out again.

Jonny’s getting a play-by-play of the Laker's game from his courtside seats via text from Jeff when Patrick walks back in, the sounds of Bryan splashing happily in the bathtub coming down the hall.

“What are you reading?” Patrick asks. “It must be good if it gets you to smile like that.”

Jonny flushes and pockets his phone. “Just work stuff, nothing important.”

“Sure,” Patrick says, eyebrows raised, smirking. “Were you looking at p-o-r-n while you watch our sick son sleep, Jonny?”

“No,” Jonny says, flushing a little with guilt. “It was - it was just work, Patrick. Fuck.” He's only lying because he doesn't want to fight again, he tells himself.

“All right, all right,” Patrick says soothingly. “I’m just teasing. I believe you.” But he waggles his eyebrows again, and Jonny snorts. “Anyway. How’s Eric?” His peers warily into the bucket. “No more throwing up?”

“Nope, he’s been asleep the whole time, his temp's still one hundred point two, and he’s breathing fine.” They both listen to his soft snores. “And the bathroom's clean - I Cloroxed the toilet and sink.”

“You’ve been busy,” Patrick says, moving to run a hand over Eric’s head. “Thanks. That’s, like, my least favorite thing to do.”

“Yes, Patrick, I know. You and vomit, man.” Jonny says wryly. “I’ll sleep with him tonight. You take the guest room.”

“No, you take the guest room” Patrick insists. “I’m sure you’ve got a big day at work tomorrow. You need your rest. I should-”

“Pat,” Jonny says. “We both know you’re a sympathetic vomiter, and this is basically the only thing I’m better at than you, so let me help.”

“Are you sure?” Patrick asks before relenting when Jonny just looks at him evenly. “Okay. Once I get Bryan to bed, I can give you a break, if you need to get anything done?”

“Nah, I’ve finished everything urgent, the rest can wait,” Jonny grabs a handful of Patrick’s shirt and pulls him down for a kiss before pushing him toward the shower with a smack on his ass.

Eric moans a little when he settles back in next to him, his eyelashes dark against his pale skin. Jonny's phone chimes again but he ignores it, focusing on his baby and resolutely tuning out all thoughts of work. Or of Jeff.

It isn’t a shock the next morning when Bryan starts throwing up after breakfast. The next few days are intense, between mopping up vomit and keeping up with the demands of the Carter house. Jonny feels like he and Patrick are so busy, they’re two ships passing in the night. Bryan’s been sleeping with Jonny since the day he woke up sick, and Patrick's sleeping in Bryan’s bed so Eric isn’t alone. They’re both exhausted, but so far, neither they nor Amelie have gotten sick, so Jonny supposes he shouldn’t complain too much.

Work isn’t any less busy. The Carter house is coming along quickly; they seem to be meeting all of the checklists necessary to turn the house over by the deadline but Jonny’s never worked on a job with such a tight time frame.

Things with Jeff have changed, too, since the Christmas party. Now that Patrick has mentioned it, Jeff’s glance makes his skin feel prickly and hot. Jeff’s been stopping by the site almost daily, usually to surf, but he always takes time to exchange a few words with Jonny about the project. And knowing that Jeff’s flirting doesn’t seem to be enough to keep Jonny from flirting right back.

***

Jonny’s bent over the plans with Vermette when Jeff walks in and whistles. “Wow, this is really shaping up,” he says, turning in a slow circle. “It looks like you’re actually going to be done on time.”

Jonny dismisses Vermette with a nod. “I think so, yeah. We should have the paint crew out of here by one o’clock on Thursday. You should have enough time to get the house into shape for your party on Friday night. You’ll have to do a lot of cleaning, though.”

Jeff laughs, clapping Jonny on the back. “Oh, Jonny, you’re adorable. That’s what I have staff for!”

Jonny smiles at him. “Not spending the day vacuuming up the sawdust shavings?”

“Not even for a second.” They do a quick walk through of the house, Jonny stopping to point out a few things that have been finished since the last time Jeff stopped by.

The tour ends in the master suite, where several of the external walls have been replaced by floor to ceiling windows so that there’s an unimpeded ocean view. The landscaping has been redesigned as well, providing a sense of seclusion and privacy, even though the house is part of a long string of beachfront homes.

“This is just spectacular,” Jeff marvels. “The glass wasn’t in the last time I was up here. Jonny, you’ve exceeded my every expectation.”

“It’s helps that we started with pretty great foundation,” he says, and gestures toward the ocean. “The view isn’t bad, either.”

“Mmm,” Jeff hums and looks at Jonny. “No, it’s not.” He winks, then laughs as Jonny flushes. “Actually, I think the whole place looks great,” Jeff continues easily. “I can really see your vision coming together.”

“It’s not all me,” Jonny deflects, “and like I said, we had a lot to work with. It helped knowing what you were trying to do.”

“You’ve certainly nailed the ‘elegant but comfortable’ aesthetic I wanted.” Jeff looks around again.

They walk out to the wraparound deck where the sounds of the ocean are loud enough to make conversation more difficult. It’s cold and the morning fog hasn’t quite burned off, giving Jeff’s section of beach the feeling of isolation even though they’re only minutes from L.A. and surrounded by neighbors.

“And I love all the little eco-touches you added. I’m as committed to the environment as the next guy, but adding solar panels to heat the floors and water in the bathroom? Genius.”

“It’s an easy way to give you the high-end luxury you’re looking for without having to add a second water heater.” Jonny shrugs. “Just smart use of all this California sun.”

They listen to seagulls calling over the roar of the ocean, and Jonny turns his face toward the sun that’s just peeking out of the clouds. “Even though we’ve all been working like dogs, I’m going to be sorry to see this project come to an end,” Jonny admits. It’s been nice to drive out to the beach and the relative peace and quiet of the construction site. Which probably says more about the chaotic state of things at home than anything.

“Me, too,” Jeff agrees. “I think we make a pretty good team. And I’m hoping we can collaborate on something . . . else.”

Jonny looks at Jeff. “What did you have in mind?” He asks, hoping Jeff's talking about business, but before Jeff can answer, his cellphone rings and he makes an apologetic face at Jonny. “Sorry, I’ve got to take this. Can you give me a minute?”

Jonny nods and steps back inside to give Jeff some privacy as he starts talking about something that sounds complicated and financial and way over Jonny’s head. He wanders back into the ensuite, absently checking the soaking tub they’d installed yesterday. When he looks up, Jeff's watching him from the doorway.

“You did a great job in here.” Jeff says. “It’s spacious and beautiful without feeling too . . . decadent.”

Jonny snorts. “The master suite is twelve hundred square feet. The cabinets are handmade from wood that cost fifty dollars a square foot. The floors are laid with marble that your designer flew to Rome to find. And that faucet cost four thousand dollars. I don’t think there’s anything in here that’s not decadent.”

Jeff laughs, putting his hands up. “Okay, sure, but you know what I mean. It still looks like someone could live here, not like a museum. And I’m going to really enjoy living here. Especially because I’ll know you designed it all just for me.”

Jonny ducks his head, flushing from the praise. He likes the idea that Jeff's going to live in this house. It’s a good house, and Jonny’s taken the time to add little touches that go beyond granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. “I’m glad. Its - I tried to keep you in mind with all of the design decisions. I think you’ll be happy living here.”

It’s not until they’re on their way out that Jeff stops him with a hand on his arm. “I meant what I said before, Jonny. We make a good team. I like how you think, I like the things you brought to this project, like the solar panels and the eco-friendly flooring. I’d like you to consider taking on a few more projects for me.”

Jonny blinks, stunned. If he can land Jeff as a long-term client of the firm, there’s no way he doesn’t make partner. “That would - that would be great,” Jonny stutters. “What would you - where would you want to start? And I’ll need to talk to Sid and Geno but I know they’ll be thrilled.”

“Let’s have lunch, just the two of us, and we can talk about what I’m thinking.” Jeff steps up to the limo that’s been idling while they spoke. “Can you do eleven thirty at Geoffrey’s?”

Jonny pulls out his phone. Fuck, Amelie’s art class is at noon. “Uh, yeah, I think that can work. Let me just make a quick call?”

“Just let me know. But if it’s not this afternoon, I’m not sure when I can free up time, and I’d like to get started sooner rather than later.”

Jonny makes a decision. “No, that’s fine, I can move some things.” He hopes. “I’ll meet you there.”

He watches Jeff drive away and tries not to think about how furious Patrick's going to be. Landing more work from Jeff for the firm could set them up for years. He’s going to have to trust Patrick to understand that.

***

“Hey babe, you on your way?” Patrick says when he answers the phone. “Lady Bug is ready to get her paint on, aren’t you?” Amelie makes a noise in the background. “She’s fed, got her apron on already, and just needs Papa to swing by and grab her.”

“Uh,” Jonny says, “Pat…”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Patrick says, incredulous. “You’re canceling on Amelie? Again?”

“It’s work, you know I’d rather be with her, but I’ve got obligations.” When Patrick scoffs, he finds himself getting angry, too. “And I’ve missed exactly one art class since she was eight months old and that was for a doctor’s appointment when I was basically dying. ‘Cancelling again.’ Dick.”

For a moment the only sound is Patrick’s breathing, loud and fast. “Fine,” he says finally, Amelie babbling something in the background. “I’ll take her. But this job - Jonny, your only obligation isn't to your job. Lately it feels like you’ve been forgetting that.”

“Oh cpme on, Patrick.” Jonny’s so tired of getting this bullshit from Patrick. “I coach the hockey team, I take Amelie to art class, except for today -- I -- Jesus, I - I - ” He trails off, and Patrick laughs, a short angry bark.

“Can’t think of anything else, can you?” Patrick mocks. “It’s fine. I’ve got this. Go do your, your, whatever it is that’s more important than your daughter.” He hangs up with a sharp click and Jonny bangs his head on the steering wheel. “God damnit,” he says, giving himself a few seconds to just breathe before he steps out of the car.

***

Jonny manages to keep thoughts of Patrick -- and Amelie -- out of his head for most of the lunch, mostly thanks to the plans Jeff has for his properties in Mexico and the Caribbean.

“But the place I’m most excited to show you is in Lake Como.”

Jonny tunes out as Jeff describes the property north of Lierna that he’s converting to an exclusive spa. The last time he was in Lierna was when he and Patrick were young and so in love it felt like they could conquer the world.

“Jonny?” Jeff says, sounding concerned. “You okay?”

“Yeah, no, sorry. Just spaced out for a second. Lierna, huh?” Jonny sips his water. “Beautiful location.”

“You’ve been to Lierna?” Jeff asks, astonished.

“Yeah,” he answers, not meeting Jeff’s eyes. “Pat and I went there for our honeymoon.”

“Ah.” Jeff swirls the wine left in his glass, watching him. “Good memories, then?”

“The best,” Jonny says honestly. It seems like so long ago. It seems like just yesterday. “We actually just stumbled on it on our way back to Milan.”

“Fantastic views, hmm?” Jeff asks, smiling. “And the food. Did you eat at Sapore?”

“No,” Jonny says, laughing. “We were poor college grads, backpacking around Italy. Mostly we ate fresh bread and sopressata.” And they’d slept in hostels, twined together in beds meant for one, drunk on wine and love. “Although we did find a great art gallery in Lierna.”

“Art? Jonny, you keep having these sides to you that are unexpected. And fascinating.” Jeff signals to the waiter for more wine. “So,” he prompts, once the waiter has uncorked and poured them both another glass. “You found a gallery in Lierna?”

Jonny smiles. “Well, Patrick found it, really. He’s really more of the art lover.” He shakes his head. “I think it’s all the time I’ve spent studying buildings, art just seems . . . small? Out of scale? I don’t know. But Patrick loves art. So when he saw this little storefront next to the hostel we stayed in, he was thrilled. I think we spent more time in Paolo’s shop than anywhere else in town.”

“What kind of art?” Jeff asks, leaning back in his chair.

“Oh, he carried paintings, ceramics, lots of things. But what we really fell in love with were the sculptures.” Jonny remembers seeing the abstract piece that Patrick had gravitated to immediately. “Patrick loves abstract sculpture.” They had picked up a small piece on their honeymoon that Eric uses as one of the warriors in his battles, when he can sneak it out of the den.

“I love sculpture, too,” Jeff says. “Maybe not the same kind of thing you would be able to have in your house. With kids around, I mean.” He shrugs. “My art collection tends to have more of an . . . adult theme, let’s just say.”

Jonny laughs, uncomfortable. “Yeah, well, collecting art wasn’t really on our radar screen when we were there. Or since, really. Mostly we just bought what we liked, when we could afford to. Haven’t gotten anything in years, though.”

“You should collect art that you like!” Jeff says. “Otherwise, it’s just an investment. Buying art shouldn’t be an investment.” He wrinkles his nose. “I do enough of that in the rest of my life.”

Jonny snorts. “I think any art I could afford to buy would never be anyone’s idea of an investment. If we buy anything, it would be from a place like Paolo’s. But I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get back to Italy anytime soon.”

“Well, maybe sooner than you think,” Jeff says, looking at Jonny intently. “If we’re going to be renovating that property into a spa, I’m going to need you to be on site. And maybe I can show you a side of Italy you haven’t seen, yet.”

Jonny swallows and has to look away. “We’ll see,” is the only way he can think to respond.

They spend the rest of the meal going over the places Jeff has properties he wants to renovate, and Jonny realizes that Jeff's talking about redesigning a significant chunk of his portfolio. “Jeff, this is incredible. I’m really honored that you’re trusting us with so much of your business.”

Jeff looks at him steadily. “I’m trusting you, Jonny. Because I like how you work. And I like how when I push you, you push me right back.”

“Not sure why that’s something you like,” Jonny says. “Most people say that’s my worst quality.”

“I think I’ve shown you that I’m not like most people,” Jeff says, signing the bill. “So, do you think this is something we can make work?”

Jonny thinks for a moment, his head still spinning from all of the possibilities. “I don’t - I can’t commit for the firm,” he says, and Jeff nods in acknowledgment, “but it sounds like something I’d love to do.”

“And the travel - you can make it work?”

“I’ll have to talk to Patrick,” Jonny says. “But he’ll support me, if he knows it’s important to me.”

“Excellent!” Jeff says, and claps him on the shoulder as they leave the restaurant. “We can drink to it at my party.” When Jonny looks at him, puzzled, he goes on. “You will be at my party, right?”

“I - hadn’t planned on it?” Jonny thought that Jeff had invited him as a courtesy. “Fridays are always family night.”

“It’s just that I invited several of my friends who have homes that need renovating and I thought I could introduce you,” Jeff says. “But if you can’t make it . . .”

“No, I’m sure I can move things around,” Jonny says, not sure at all but he knows he’s not getting out of it. “And Patrick?”

“Of course.” Jeff says, a small smile playing around his lips. “Bring Patrick. If you want.”

***

Jonny stands outside the front door for an embarrassingly long time. He’s not afraid to go in; he’s just gathering his thoughts, he tells himself. He’s lying.

Patrick hadn’t just been angry earlier when he’d called to cancel the art class with Amelie. He’d been furious. The only time Jonny hadn’t been actively worrying about it all day had been the two hours he’d been at lunch with Jeff.

He doesn’t poke at that thought for too long, though.

Instead he squares his shoulders and opens the door. “Patrick? Kids?” When no answer comes, he sighs with relief. They’re probably still at Bryan’s karate class. He hangs up his coat and moves into the living room to make himself a drink.

“Jonny,” Patrick says from the couch. Jonny whirls, his heart racing. Patrick smiles grimly. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Pat,” Jonny says, and then doesn’t know how to go on. “Want a drink?” When Patrick shakes his head, he moves over to the liquor cabinet and pours himself a scotch, takes two large sips before he can make himself begin the conversation.

“I’m sorry,” he starts, unsure even after seven hours exactly why Patrick's so angry. “I shouldn’t have just dropped that one you.”

“And?” Patrick asks, his face blank.

“And . . . I’m sorry I missed Ammy’s class?” Jonny isn’t sure what he’s supposed to be saying but he’s fairly certain he’s not coming close.

“And?” Patrick prompts again, mouth tight.

“Enough of this bullshit already, Patrick, just tell me what you want me to say, and I’ll say it.” Jonny knocks back the last of the scotch and pours another.

“How about being sorry for how often you’ve put all of us second to that fucking house and your fucking job?”

“That's not fair, you know I have obligations to the firm, responsibilities so that I can support all of us. Jeff wanted to discuss the firm taking on more of his properties, and that’s an opportunity worth, shit. Worth millions, probably. Probably enough that if things go well, I could make partner. I couldn’t just blow him off.”

“Jeff,” Patrick says, unimpressed. “Well. Lately it seems to be much easier to blow off your daughter and me than some asshole you work with.”

“I didn’t blow her off - “ Jonny shouts, but Patrick cuts him off.

“You did, though.” Patrick says flatly. “You blew off the only chance you have to spend time alone with Ammy all week. And you let me down. You know that Amelie’s class is the one time I get to do anything on my own, be anything other than your husband and the kids’ father. It’s two hours a week. Two hours, Jonny. But trust me, I grasp that what’s important to me -- important to your children -- isn't as important as your important client.”

And that’s just dirty pool. “Fuck off, Patrick. I never -- ever -- put anything before you and this family. I wanted to be there. There’s no place I’d rather be than with you guys. But-“

Patrick cuts him off again. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it. Lately the only time we see you is in the morning. You’re missing hockey practices, soccer games - fuck, Jonny, you missed the boys’ parent-teacher conferences last week! It’s like the only thing that exists for you anymore is Jeff Carter and this fucking renovation.”

“That fucking renovation is important to the firm - it’s important to me!” Jonny can feel the guilt receding as he gets angry himself. “And it should be important to you!”

“Why? Why would I give any fucks about Jeff Carter’s McMansion?” Patrick sneers. “That thing is a monstrosity and an embarrassment to everything you used to believe in.”

For a moment Jonny's speechless. “I’ve spent over a month pouring everything I have into that house. How can you call my work a monstrosity? I thought you were proud of me.”

“Oh, stop being dramatic, Jonny, Jesus, you’re missing the point,” Patrick shakes his head. “We used to laugh about these kinds of projects. You used to rail against the billionaires and the heiresses and their incessant need to have the biggest, the flashiest, the newest. Ten thousand square feet for a master suite. Heated and air conditioned stables for fucking cars.” He snorts. “Now, not only are you designing this kind of shit, but you’re putting it ahead of your family.”

“Who the fuck do you think you are? This is my job. This is my career.”

“I think I’m your husband, that we’re your family. Which you used to think was more important than a job or a career or Jeff fucking Carter.” Patrick stands up and starts pacing. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard ‘Jeff said this’ or ‘Jeff said that.’ It’s always Jeff, Jeff, Jeff.”

“I keep telling you that you and the kids are more important to me than anything, Patrick,” Jonny bites out. “You’re why I’m working on homes like Jeff Carter's, so I can afford to provide for you and the children! And I can’t do my job because I’m too busy holding your hand at PTA meetings?”

Patrick narrows his eyes. “Oh, pardon me, you absolute dick, I thought we were in this together. You wanted these kids. You wanted me to stay home with them just as much as I did. Fuck you for saying that we get in the way of anything you need to do for work.”

“I can say it when you throw a fit because I missed one -- one -- of Amelie’s baby art classes! In all the months she’s been going, I’ve missed exactly two total, and one of those was when I had bronchitis. Excuse me for not getting all the toddlers sick just so you could have an afternoon off.” He pours himself another drink and knocks it back quickly. “I’m not allowed to miss one class?”

Patrick look at him with narrowed eyes for a long moment. “If this was just missing a class, do you think Niklas would be picking Bryan up from karate and Elina would be feeding Eric and Amelie tonight? If it was just about missing one class, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You know it’s not just about missing one class, Jonny,” Patrick’s voice shakes a little. He blows out a deep breath and looks away. “I’m starting to feel like this thing you’ve got going on with Jeff is taking precedence over everything else. I could deal with it when it was a short-term thing. But if you’re going to be working on more projects, we’re going to have to figure something else out.”

The prickle of guilt Jonny feels makes him angry and defensive. “Like what, Patrick? Because this is what you chose when you wanted to stay home with the kids.”

“Oh, fuck you, Jonny.” Patrick stands and pokes at Jonny’s chest, knocking him back a step. “I chose? I chose? Whose dick was that in my ass getting me pregnant? Whose kids am I choosing to stay home and raise? You know this wasn’t ever something I chose. We chose it. Together.”

“Yeah, well, I guess that choice means that I’m not going to be around as much as you want,” Jonny snaps.

“And I think I could deal with that if you looked at all like you minded,” Patrick says, waving his hand at Jonny. “But all I see is a guy who can’t wait to leave behind the chaos of our life in favor of building McMansions. What happened to that idealistic guy who wanted to build low-income, eco-friendly, energy efficient, inner-city housing?”

“You think I wouldn’t rather be doing that?” Jonny shouts. “I didn’t want this fucking job, I didn’t want this to be my fucking career! I hate it!”

The silence after he finishes is leaden, and Patrick is looking at him, wide eyes and stricken, and Jonny sighs, Jonny exhales, suddenly exhausted. “I’m doing this bullshit for you and our family, Pat. I’d go back to Seabs’ firm in a heartbeat if I could. But you’re right. We chose this life. And that means sometimes I’m going to be home late. Sometimes I’m going to have to cancel art classes and miss soccer games.”

"Jon," Patrick says, stricken.

“And I hate that I’m not here for you - all of you. I hate missing out. Even when it’s total chaos, it’s the best part of my day.”

Jonny says earnestly, his throat thick.

Patrick’s eyes are shining, and he walks over to Jonny. “Babe, God, I didn’t know. I’m - if this isn’t what you want, we can, we can do something, I can - I can go back to work.” He pushes Jonny down onto the couch, climbing into his lap to kiss chastely, reverently. “I’m sorry you’re so unhappy. I don’t want you to be unhappy.”

Jonny leans his forehead against Patrick’s and they breathe in each other’s space for a few moments. He pulls Patrick tighter to him, and says, “I’m sorry, I’m really not - I’m not that unhappy. I was just mad and being an ass.”

"Really?" Patrick asks, searching Jonny's eyes. "Really," Jonny says, tamping down on the urge to take Patrick up on his offer. He snorts. “Who would have thought redesigning McMansions for billionaires would be kinda fun?”

Patrick laughs a little and snuggles in closer, and Jonny turns them so they’re lying down, Patrick stretched out over him. Jonny lets the familiarity of Patrick’s body soothe and relax him, and he kisses Patrick, moaning as Patrick deepens the kiss until they're both breathing fast and half-hard.

“I really would rather be at Amelie’s art class,” Jonny whispers against Patrick's throat, nipping a little at his Adam's apple.

Patrick chokes out a laugh. “We actually brought something home today.”

Jonny draws back. “She didn’t eat it?”

“She didn’t eat it. Saved it for her favorite father,” Patrick teases before sobering. “I - she - she misses you, Jonny. And the boys miss you - they're always asking why you're not around much anymore.”

Jonny closes his eyes, the guilt he’d felt earlier back in force. “God, Patrick, I’m -

“Shhh,” Patrick says. “I’m not saying that to make you feel bad, I just want you to know that I didn’t mean it when I said you’re not part of this family.” He kisses Jonny gently. “You’re the biggest part. When you’re home, we revolve around you. I don’t know what we’d do without you.” He kisses him again, more deeply. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Well, my life revolves around you, Pat. You won’t ever have to find out. I may not be around as much as either of us would like, but we’re in this together,” Jonny says. “I don’t know what I’d do without you, either.”

Things are better between them, but when Jonny lays in bed that night, he can’t help thinking about how dismissive Patrick had been about the Carter house and Jeff Carter. He knows Patrick hadn’t really meant it, but it still stings to think about what he’d said. Amelie starts moving around and crying over the baby monitor, and he sighs and gets up, moving Patrick gently from where he's tucked up against Jonny's side so he doesn’t wake up.

As he stumbles down the hall, he swipes a hand across his eyes, yawning. He’s so tired - tired of fighting, tired of the chaos, tired of dealing with children who don’t want to sleep. He’s just tired, and he feels like something’s going to have to give soon, and he has no idea what that will be.

***

The next few days aren’t uncomfortable, not exactly, because he and Patrick aren’t fighting, but it’s not the same, either. Jonny works hard to pitch in when he's home, taking over some of the things Patrick normally does to show him how invested he is in their life. The chaos and exhaustion of home means that despite what he’d told Patrick, being at work has turned into the best and least-stressful part of his day. Working - specifically working with Jeff - is fun, Jonny losing himself in the uncomplicated work of construction and design. They continue to make great progress on the house, and Jeff's interested enough in scaling Jonny’s green technology tweaks across his real estate empire that today the team responsible for overseeing his holdings in Europe has descended, and Jonny finds he’s talking himself hoarse explaining how his ideas would work in large, non-residential properties.

“I hope you’ve got time for a drink?” Jeff asks, shaking Jonny’s hand as Brandon and Shawsy pack up the conference room once the presentations are over.

Jonny looks down at his watch and grimaces. “I’ve actually got to get home,” Jonny apologizes. “It’s already after seven, and I can’t miss bedtime if I want to still be married.”

“Your priorities, Jonny . . . ” Jeff teases but he's smiling. “No, I get it. Gotta keep the hubby sweet. Go on, get out of here. I’ll give Andrew and Brandon a hand, we’ll get this place cleaned up, right guys? And then drinks are on me.”

Brandon and Shawsy give Jonny wide-eyed looks and nod. Jonny quickly says his goodnights and heads out, relieved that Jeff had taken him begging off so easily. He stops by Bollig’s office on the way out, where he’s happy to learn that they’re on the same page: that no good can come from having Jeff out with Shawsy unsupervised. So Bollig takes on Shawsy-watching duties, and Jonny heads home, exhausted but happy from a great day.

He’s going to make sure the rest of the night goes just as well.

***

Jonny’s still in a good mood by the time he makes it home. The meeting with Jeff had gone a little late, sure, but they’d been so damn productive, and it’s always exhilarating to work with Jeff, whose questions and intellect always keep Jonny on his toes and challenge him in ways that bring out his best.

It’s quiet when he opens the door, so quiet that he double-checks his wristwatch, having been fairly confident that he was in time to put the kids to bed. As he’s glancing down he hears a series of thumps and giggles coming from upstairs. When he makes it to the playroom he’s treated to a hero’s welcome, “Papa! Papa!” they shout happily, are running down the hall to get to him, and he swoops them into the air, one in each arm.

“Papa, Papa, Papa,” Amelie echoes, toddling towards him, a little unsteady in her footie pajamas.

Jonny puts the boys down, landing them on the large pillows scattered around the room and pretending to body slam them. They’re screaming with laughter, kicking their feet and rolling into each other as they try to get away. He scoops up Amelie, dropping a kiss to the top of her head, and tickling her belly until she’s squirming with laughter.

“Throw me again, Papa,” Eric pleads, tugging on his arm and trying to hang from it. Jonny obliges with a smile. There’s something pretty fantastic about making little people who think you hung the moon howl with laughter.

He’s got all three kids on the floor now, and has resumed tickling them with varying degrees of ferocity, laughing himself at their breathless pleas for “more!” and “again!” when Patrick appears, white tee shirt drenched and clinging to him. Jonny can’t help but take an appreciative look. "Hi, Daddy," he says throatily, enjoying Patrick's flush. "That's quite a look."

Patrick rolls his eyes. “Don’t get them too riled up now, it’s almost bedtime. I’m going to go change real quick,” he says backing down the hallway with barely a pause, “Ammy discovered how to use the handheld shower, and now I’m soaked.”

Jonny starts laughing, and Ammy joins in. “You don’t even know what’s so funny ma coccinelle.”

“I do.” Bryan chimes in knowingly, draping himself over Jonny’s back as if to climb over him, “Ammy got Dad all wet, and that’s funny.”

“Yup,” Eric nods sagely.

“Hilarious,” Pat’s dry voice precedes him as he comes back, still pulling his shirt over his head. He follows it up with a light punch to Jonny’s shoulder. “Late tonight,” his says mildly.

“Not too late,” Jonny returns evenly, determined not to be annoyed, “I made it for bedtime didn’t I?” He sees the boys share a quick glance, and takes a deep breath. He had a good day, he’s having a good night, he’s not going to fight in front of the kids. Again.

Patrick makes a noncommittal noise in reply, scooping up handfuls of toys into their respective bins. “And speaking of bedtime...”

The twins groan simultaneously in dismay, making Patrick and Jonny laugh. The subtle tension that had been building dissipates.

“Bed.” Jonny agrees. “Boys go brush your teeth, and if you’re both in your beds once I get in there we can read two chapters of Captain Underpants instead of one.”

Eric and Bryan fly out of the room like a shot, and Jonny and Patrick start laughing again, joined by Amelie, who claps her hands delightedly.

“You think everything is sooooooo funny.” Patrick teases, blowing a raspberry on her belly before scooping her up. “Come on, Lady Bug, say goodnight to Papa, and we’ll go read a book of our own.”

Jonny kisses her on each cheek and once on her nose for good measure, before taking advantage of Patrick's proximity to kiss him firmly, a little in apology for being late but mostly out of a need to be close to him after a long day. Patrick hums into his mouth, and smiles at Jonny, his face softer. "Hi again, Papa."

"Maybe after the kids are asleep, we can go to bed, too," Jonny says.

“Sounds a lot better than Captain Underpants,” Patrick calls over his shoulder, voice light and grin teasing. "Now get cracking, mister before the boys make you read three chapters for keeping them waiting."

“Yeah, yeah,” Jonny grumbles goodnaturedly, levering himself to his feet and making his way to tuck the tiny little tyrants in.

Patrick's asleep when he gets down putting the twins down, Amelie in his arms, and he gets them both in their respective beds. He smoothes a curl off Patrick's forehead, grinning when Patrick bats at his hand in his sleep. It's only eight thirty, but Jonny's exhausted, too, so he crawls in with him, curling around his warm, familiar body, and smiling as he falls asleep. This is why it's worth working as hard as he has, he thinks as he drifts off. Even if he's only been able to get a sliver of his usual time with them, he'll take it.

***

The next few days require a lot of Jonny’s time at work, and on the weekend when he carves out a few hours, Patrick drags him shopping before they go out for a family dinner. Patrick swears it’s not a punishment for not being around, but so far, Jonny’s not sure you can call it anything else.

Three hours in, everyone but Patrick seems exhausted and they haven’t even made it to Dave and Buster’s yet. Amelie has a meltdown in the Children’s Place and Jonny takes her outside to distract her while Patrick finishes getting the boys three hundred pairs of socks, or whatever it is that requires them to still be at the mall at four o’clock in the afternoon. On a Saturday. In December.

He’s got Amelie down to hiccuping whimpers and is keeping her distracted by pointing out the birds flying overhead when he feels a tap on his shoulder and turns to see Jeff, looking tall and gorgeous and immaculate. He's in a white sweater that clings to his firm pecs and the sun's glinting off his hair and he has a huge grin on his face.

“Jonny!” Jeff says, his eyes hidden behind mirrored sunglasses. “What are you doing here?”

“Shopping,” Jonny says lamely, pulling at his own stained and probably smelly flannel shirt.

Jeff laughs and takes off his glasses. “Really? At the mall? Who would've guessed," Jeff smirks. He turns to Amelie. “And who’s this little beauty?” She smiles a little at him before tucking her head down against Jonny’s neck.

“This is Amelie. She’s having a bit of a rough afternoon.” He bounces her gently, murmuring to her until she peeks up at Jeff again. Jonny makes an apologetic face at him. “She's not usually this fussy, she missed her nap today.”

“Well, that certainly always makes me cranky.” Jeff blows a little raspberry at her, and she giggles. “She’s gorgeous.” He looks at Jonny. “All dark eyes and dark hair, just like you.”

Jonny flushes and holds Amelie a little tighter. “That’s, um, uh. Thanks. She’s my bonne fille.”

Amelie's reaching for Jeff’s finger, but he’s looking at Jonny, moving closer. “Do you think she’d let me hold her?” Jeff asks, his hand coming around to rub Jonny’s shoulder, sweeping down to his lower back. “Promise I’ll be very gentle.”

Jonny inhales sharply, the light caress setting unexpectedly setting his pulse racing. He has to look away from Jeff's eyes; they're dark and hot, the way he's been looking at Jonny more frequently every day. "Uh - I - "

“Why are you looking at my papa like that?” Eric says from just behind Jonny. “Papa, why is he looking at you like that?”

Jonny startles and steps away from Jeff, but not before lets his hand linger lightly on the top of Jonny's ass. Jonny manages not to shiver in reaction, instead marshalling himself as he looks down at Eric. “Oh, er, baby, he’s not - he wasn't. Uh. This is just a friend of Daddy’s from work.”

"Still just a friend from work?" Jeff says, his lips twitching a little. "I'm a little hurt."

Patrick walks up just then, scolding Bryan. “I don’t care how many times you ask me, you’re not getting any candy. I'll never understand why they always put candy in the checkout lane.” Patrick says, exasperated. “Are they sadists?”

“Just smart businessmen, I’d expect,” Jeff says.

Patrick finally looks up from where he’s been digging in the diaper bag. “Oh! Didn’t see you there, Jeff.” He mouths ‘sorry’ at Jonny and turns to the twins. “Behave yourself, boys. This is one of Papa’s most important clients.”

Jeff squats down in front of the twins and offers his hand. Bryan shakes it briefly but Eric's still glaring at Jeff, who’s looking at his hand in dismay. “Is he - why is his hand dirty?”

Patrick winces. “Oh, shi-oot, sorry! They got into the flower pots front of Children’s Place on the way out, and I can’t find the fudging wipes. Wait, wait, I could swear I put some - yep!” He holds up a few crumpled napkins. “Ha, knew going to Cinnabon would pay off, Jonny. Be right back.”

He dashes over to a fountain across the courtyard, leaving Jonny with the uneasy tableau of Bryan and Eric in an apparent stare-down with Jeff.

“You shouldn’t look at my papa like that,” Eric says, fierce. “My daddy wouldn’t like it.”

“I wasn’t - we’re just talking about grown up things.” Jeff says, laughing a little and rolling his eyes up at Jonny. “You’re just too little to understand.”

Eric’s jaw tightens, and that’s all the warning they get before Bryan launches himself at Jeff.

“Don’t laugh at my brother!” Bryan's screaming, kicking and hitting Jeff, who falls on his ass, and puts his hands up, trying to protect himself from fifty four pounds of furious six year-old. “Don’t you laugh at him!”

Eric’s clinging to Bryan and sobbing, and Jonny’s trying to keep Amelie -- who’s started crying again -- on one shoulder while he holds Bryan back when Patrick runs up. “Bryan! What are you doing - stop that right now!”

It takes a few tense moments but eventually Patrick calms Bryan and Eric down and Jonny gets Jeff back on his feet. His white sweater's misshapen, there are two dirty handprints on one arm, and his sunglasses are hanging off one ear but Jeff shakes his head ruefully when Jonny’s asks if he’s hurt. “Is he always like that?” Jeff asks, gesturing toward where Patrick's holding on to both boys, rocking them a little as he speaks to them quietly. “Out of control?”

“God, no, I’ve never seen him like that,” Jonny says, wiping at his forehead. He’s sweaty and tired, and Amelie's still sobbing, and he needs to help Patrick, but his son just attacked his biggest client, and he doesn’t know where to start making this better.

“Jonny, I’m fine.” Jeff grabs his arm and shakes him a little. “Really. It’s a little dirt and a few bruises. I’ve gotten roughed up worse in one of my Board meetings. Honestly. It’s fine.”

“You’re being really nice about this,” Jonny starts, but then Patrick's leading Bryan and Eric over, and even though everyone seems to have calmed down, he can’t blame Jeff for flinching a little and subtly putting his hands in front of his crotch when they stop in front of him.

“Bryan, do you have something to say to Mr. Carter?” Patrick prompts when they're both silent, Bryan's face streaked with tears, and Eric crying silently. Bryan wipes his nose and looks up at Patrick, his eyes pleading. Patrick shakes his head. “Now, Bryan.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carter.” Bryan says, glancing at Jonny quickly before squaring his shoulders and continuing. “I shouldn’t have hitted you or kicked you or yelled at you. My daddy says I don’t get to have ice cream for two weeks” -- Patrick clears his throat -- “three weeks as ‘punnament. And I’m not going to get my allowance for a month.” He looks back up at Patrick when he’s done, tears spilling over his cheeks again.

Patrick squeezes his shoulder. “Good job, buddy. Why don’t you and Eric go sit on that bench while Papa and I talk to Mr. Carter.” He hands them a packet of kleenex from the front pocket of the diaper bag, sighing as they walk away.

“I’m really very sorry,” Patrick starts, when Jeff cuts him off.

“Stop, both of you - all of you!” Jeff says, putting his hands up and shaking his head ruefully. “I’m fine, it’s fine! I’m not hurt, no harm done, honestly. My dignity's the only thing that got injured, but since I don’t use it that often . . .”

He smiles self-deprecatingly. When neither Jonny or Patrick laugh, he sobers and nods towards where Eric and Bryan are sitting, Eric whispering into Bryan’s ear. “And you really don’t have to take away his allowance -- or ice cream -- on my behalf! Now I feel terrible. Bryan was right, I shouldn’t have laughed at Eric, and I don’t blame him for sticking up for his brother.” He shrugs sheepishly. “I’m just not around children much, and it didn’t even occur to me that it would upset him like that.”

Jonny puts an arm around Patrick, who leans into him a little, and it’s only then that he realizes Patrick’s shaking. “We appreciate your understanding, but it’s important that Bryan learn that he cannot act like that, ever.” Jonny tightens his grip on Patrick’s shoulder, and he must squeeze Amelie a little, too, because she starts fussing again.

“Here, give her to me,” Patrick takes Amelie, rocking and shushing her. “Daddy’s got ya, Lady Bug.”

They stand there in awkward silence for a long moment, before Jeff clears his throat. "Anyway. I’m late for my dinner meeting - not that I mind!” he says when Patrick opens his mouth again. “I hate working on Saturday and not even going to Nobu for hand rolled sashimi is enough to make up for it.” He makes his goodbyes, promising to send Jonny the bill for cleaning his sweater and refusing any more apologies.

Jonny walks with him for a few steps, shaking his head. “That wasn’t the best introduction to my family,” he starts, but Jeff stops him with a look. “I’m not apologizing!” he protests. “It’s just not usually quite that dramatic.”

Jeff laughs. “Understood. Listen, I know I’m a client, but I meant what I said. I’d like to think we’re also . . . friends, I guess.” He reaches out to take Jonny’s hand, using it to pull him into a loose bro hug. Jonny’s not too distracted to fail to notice how good he smells, like saltwater and expensive cologne. He watches Jeff walk away and wonders what it would be like to have sushi in a quiet, dark restaurant that doesn’t have a children’s menu.

When he gets back to Patrick’s side, he feels like a traitor for noticing that Patrick still has sweet potato puree on his collar and smells like licorice and baby spit up.

***

“What on earth did Jeff do to make Bryan so upset?” Patrick asks later, when the twins are distracted by a movie in the living room. “Eric said something about him looking at you?”

Jonny doesn’t look up from the dish he’s drying. “I don’t know what that was about. He walked up and when I tried to introduce him, Eric got upset. And then Jeff laughed and it all went to hell.”

“Jonny. Stop pretending.”

Patrick says, grabbing a dish towel.

“Pretending what?” Jonny asks warily.

“That you don’t notice how Jeff looks at you,” Patrick says, smirking a little. “You see it, I see it, Eric sees it.”

“Jeff’s not, no, he’s just. He’s just being friendly!” Jonny protests, his face flushing. He hopes Patrick thinks it’s embarrassment and not guilt. It’s not guilt; he has nothing to be guilty about. “I don’t know why you keep insisting he’s, he’s . . .”

“Hitting on you,” Patrick says, turning away. “That man is hitting on you, Jonny. And I get it. I’d hit on you, too. I mean,” he looks back over his shoulder and leers, “if I didn’t have a hot as fuck guy locked down at home.”

Jonny swallows, relieved, then dries his hands quickly and sidles up behind Patrick and slides his hands into his pockets, pulling him back against him. “Locked down, huh?”

Patrick presses back into Jonny’s embrace. “Yep.”

“If memory serves,” he says, kissing along Patrick’s neck, pressing him more firmly into the counter, “I’m not the one who likes being locked down.” He runs his hands down Patrick’s arms and circles his wrists tightly, holding Patrick still, trapped between his body and the kitchen sink.

“Ohh,” Patrick whispers, his lashes fluttering. He pulls at his wrists, twisting as though to get away, but Jonny just tightens his hands, and he can feel Patrick shudder and still, breath quickening.

“This guy, does he hold you like this?” Jonny grinds into Patrick, his dick riding into the valley of Patrick’s cheeks. “Does he hold you down and make you just take it?”

Patrick moans, and his head drops back on Jonny’s shoulder, and Jonny catches his lips, catches his gasp. He licks into Patrick’s mouth for a moment, then pulls back, gratified when Patrick tries to chase his mouth. He mouths at the nape of Patrick’s neck, biting a little and licking the sting away. He used to keep a mark here, hidden under Patrick’s curls, and he bites down a little harder. “Do you remember, Pat?” He bites again, sucking a little this time. “When you always wore my mark? When I never let it fade?”

Patrick nods, his curls rubbing against Jonny’s cheek.

“Answer me, baby,” Jonny croons.”Do you remember when I used to bite you, right here?”

“Yes,” Patrick says, leaning his head forward a little, “I remember. Used to do it when you were inside me. Ohh, fuck.” He breaks off as Jonny sinks his teeth in a little deeper, pulling a little skin up between them and sucking hard.

“Did you like it?” he says when he lets the abused flesh go. He licks across it again, and Patrick’s hips hitch. “Knowing it was there, just barely hidden under your hair?”

Patrick nods. “Fucking loved it, Jonny. God.” Jonny spins him around, and pushes him gently until he’s bent backwards over the sink a little. “Loved knowing it was there, but it was secret, it was our secret. No one go to see it.”

“I bet you wanted to show everyone, though, didn’t you?,” Jonny licked across Patrick’s skin. “Wanted me to mark you up so anyone looking at you would know you were mine.”

He kisses Patrick then. He’s achingly hard, and he wants to turn Patrick back around and fuck him against the sink, hold him still and make him come, right there in the kitchen, in front of the window, where the neighbors could see them, if they looked out of the right window. He remembers this feeling, the need to possess and cherish and show off Patrick, and it drives him to whisper into Patrick's ear, “Maybe tonight I’ll remind you that you belong to me, hmm?” He kisses Patrick again, fucking into his mouth with his tongue. “Remind you that no one else gets to see you like this, no one else gets to have this.”

“Yes, God, yes, Jonny, please,” Patrick moans around Jonny’s tongue, the words warped into almost nonsense.

“You’d let me, wouldn’t you?” Jonny pulls back a little to look at Patrick, his lips red and swollen, the blue of his eyes swallowed up by the black of his pupils. “You'd let me mark you here,” he kisss just behind Patrick’s ear. “And here,” he sucks lightly on his collarbone. “And here,” he says, as he bites at his jaw.

Patrick’s making a steady stream of noises, his hips grinding back against Jonny’s. The feel of Patrick falling apart underneath him, because of him, is making Jonny harder than he’s been in as long as he can remember. Unfortunately, he can hear Aladdin wrapping up in the family room, so he backs up a little, kissing Patrick softly, until they’re both breathing a little slower. Patrick's relaxed and pliant in his arms, and Jonny wants Patrick like this, always. He’s missed this, the past few months, the past few years. Nothing's ever been hotter than having Patrick in his arms.

Unbidden, the thought of Jeff rises up in his mind.

But before he can start feeling guilty, Patrick’s pulling away. “Later?” he asks, kissing him one last time. “In that witching hour between the boys falling asleep and Amelie waking up for the first time?”

“Later,” Jonny promises. This part of Patrick, the way he needs Jonny, the way he wants Jonny calls out to the part of himself that needs to take Patrick, to take him apart. Patrick's always in charge of their life, of their home, or their children. Of Jonny. Once upon a time, Jonny was in charge of Patrick, too, and maybe tonight's a way to take back a little of that control. If nothing else, it’s worth trying.

“Later,” Jonny says again, and kisses Patrick again.

But later, when the boys are conked out and Amelie's settled in her crib, Patrick's once again asleep when he gets to their room. Jonny contemplates waking him up, but he knows they’re both exhausted, so he just presses a kiss to Patrick’s hair and goes into the bathroom to wash off the day, resigning himself to jerking off instead.

He’s still keyed up from before, and as he strokes himself in the shower, he flashes back to the sound of Patrick’s moans, the way his hips stuttered when Jonny bit the back of his neck. He closes his eyes, and Patrick’s face flickers out, replaced by Jeff. The angular cheekbones and devilish smile he gets when he’s particularly happy about something. The way his eyes are dark and unblinking sometimes when Jonny looks up to find him already staring back. The way he licks his lips. The way he lets his eyes trace up and down Jonny’s body, like they're mapping out the path he'd touch Jonny, if he could.

Jonny moans and his hand speeds up as he remembers watching Jeff emerge, peeling himself out of his wet suit, breathing hard from surfing, water running in rivulets down his chest. He can see him, his chest bare, his nipples pebbled, his six pack disappearing into his board shorts. Once, when he caught Jonny glancing at him, Jeff had unashamedly adjusted himself, holding Jonny’s gaze the entire time. When he ran his hand slowly up the outline of his cock, Jonny had turned away quickly and made his excuses, practically running back to his car. It’s that memory that finally pushes him over the edge, the look in Jeff’s eyes as he touched himself. The knowledge that that look was for Jonny.

Jonny comes, his hand tight on his cock, and he has to lean against the shower wall so he doesn’t slip. He puts his head on his arm and as his breathing slows, he realizes what he’s done. What’s he been doing.

He’s been letting Jeff into his thoughts, into his life. And now he’s brought him into his home. Into his bedroom, where his husband's sleeping peacefully. It makes Jonny ache to think of Patrick knowing, of what it would do to him if he found out, but he can admit to himself that even that thought probably isn’t enough to keep him from doing it again.

***

“Ugh, are you sure you can't take the boys to hockey?” Patrick asks, stuffing the boys’ water bottles into the hockey bag. “I know you haven't been able to coach as much this year, and I-”

“Pat, we've been over this," Jonny says, exasperated. “I’ve got those emails to go over, and a conference call in forty five minutes. Plus we don’t want to leave Amelie with a sitter when she’s got a fever. This is a better division of labor today."

“It’s just that you’ve been working so much, and I hate that you keep missing things,” Patrick says with a sigh.

“I’m not going to be working that hard, and this way I won’t have to be on the computer after dinner tonight,” Jonny reminds him, “And spending a few hours alone with ma coccinelle is an okay trade-off. Go. The kids will survive hockey practice without me.” When Patrick still looks unsure, Jonny laughs, “for fuck’s sake, just go!”

Patrick sighs, relenting finally, and comes over to kiss Jonny. “If you keep swearing like that in front of her, her limited vocabulary is going to include the word ‘fuck.’” He swoops Amelie into his arms and busses her cheek with a kiss. “And we don’t want Lady Bug to get banned from Baby Fun Time, do we? No, we don’t. No, we don’t.” He makes a silly face at her, and she giggles.

Jonny rolls his eyes. “Didn’t happen with the twins, not going to happen with Ammy.”

“We were too tired to swear when the twins were babies,” Patrick says, finally putting Amelie down and grabbing the hockey bag. “Okay, I’m going.”

When the door finally closes behind him, Jonny looks at Amelie. “I thought he’d never leave,” he says, snuggling her close. “Now I get you all to myself, Mademoiselle.”

Ten minutes later, she’s playing at his feet, looking more and more sleepy, when his cellphone buzzes with a call from Jeff. “Hey, Jonny, sorry to bother you at home, but I’ve got a quick question about the layout of the second master suite.”

“Good evening to you, too, Jeff,” Jonny says. Amelie looks up when he speaks, and he wrinkles his nose at her before standing and walking to the window. “How are you?”

Jeff laughs. “Sorry, sorry,” he says. “I’m just rushing to the airport, and I’m trying to tie up a few things before I head to Rome for a few days.”

“Jetting off to Rome, huh,” Jonny says, teasing. “Rough life.”

“Would you change your tune if I told you I’m going to be locked in a conference room for sixteen hours a day with my European financial managers, getting ready for an audit of one of my companies by the Italian tax bureau?”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Jonny concedes. “Sorry. I guess I should have said: don’t work too hard.”

“Oh, I never let a little hard work prevent me from getting what I want, Jonny,” Jeff says, his voice low. “And I almost always get what I want. But I think you already know that.”

Jonny swallows, his throat suddenly dry. The silence drags on for a moment before Jeff continues. “I’m also hoping to have time to get some artwork for the house, so that when you’re done, it’s not just bare walls and floors.”

“Yeah, that, uh, you don’t want that,” Jonny says lamely, when he finally finds his voice, and he knocks his head against the window pane a few times. “What are you looking for?”

“Not sure yet,” Jeff says, “Art, maybe some rugs. Hold on a second, got to deal with this.” There’s some muffled conversation on the other end, and then Jeff’s back. “Sorry. So. You got any suggestions for me, Mr. Designer Man?”

“That's Mr. Architect Man; artwork isn’t really my department,” he says with a laugh. “And you should be glad of that. My tastes tend to run more to sports memorabilia than art.”

“I don’t know, from what you told me about your honeymoon in Lake Como, it sounds like you know a little something about art.”

“I really just know what I like when I see it,” Jonny says, and there’s a long, charged, silence.

“Do you?” Jeff asks, his voice deep and husky. “And do you-”

The front door crashes open and Jonny startles, almost dropping the phone. Patrick calls to him and Jonny blanches with guilt, stammering out an excuse to Jeff to hold on. He schools his face into a bland expression just as Patrick comes rushing into the living room and darts around the room, looking behind the couch and under the arm chair before moving into the dining room.

“Eric forgot his skate!” he explains, ducking to peek under the table and banging his head when he straightens back up. “Fuck! Ouch! His left skate. Have you seen it?” He doesn’t pause for an answer, barely pauses to take a breath. “Why his skates aren’t in his skate bag, I’ll never know. And of course he has no idea where it is-” his voice trails off as he heads out into the kitchen.

Jonny knows from experience that Patrick's prattling along, not realizing -- or caring -- that Jonny can’t hear him anymore. A few minutes later, he’s rushing back through the living room, rogue skate in hand, still chattering aimlessly, “-fireplace. I mean really, who puts a skate in the fireplace?. At least Amelie didn’t find it, I guess, but we need to have a serious talk to these boys about responsibility. Don’t you think - oh God, it’s already that late? Ugh. Traffic on the 405's going to be a fucking nightmare. Pizza tonight I think, I’m not going to the store now.”

He pauses for a quick second, eyes running over Jonny’s face, and stops. “You feeling okay, babe?” he asks, moving to press a hand to Jonny’s cheek. “You look flushed. You’re not catching the Ammy's bug, are you?” He steps back a little. “Oh, God, are you getting sick?”

“No!” Jonny responds quickly, moving a little away from Patrick, and Amelie makes a noise of protest from the floor where she’s playing with Jonny’s shoes. “No,” he says again, clearing his throat. “I’m, uh, I’m not getting sick. I’m just a little warm.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Pizza sounds great. Want me to make a salad?”

“Sure,” Patrick replies, but he looks a little like he wants to argue the point. Jonny drops a quick kiss on his lips and pushes him towards the door. “I wouldn’t kiss you if I didn’t feel well. Now, you’d better go or you guys are going to be really late.”

“Yeah, all right, love you,” and with a parting smile, Patrick’s gone. The silence behind him is pronounced after all of the activity, and Jonny takes a moment to just breathe before he puts the phone back to his ear.

“Uhhh,” Jonny says, “sorry about that. The boys -- I mean Pat -- he just-”

Jeff laughs warmly, “No apologies, I’m the one who’s interrupting family time.” Jonny can hear the noises in the background increase sharply. “Just walking out to the tarmac now. Give me a second to get into the plane. I want to continue where we left off.”

“Sure, yeah, no problem,” Jonny says lamely. “I’ll be here.” He rubs his hair absently. He’s not exactly sure where they left off. Amelie’s still playing happily, not showing any signs of fever anymore, and Jonny’s wondering if he shouldn’t have hung up on Jeff and gone with Patrick instead, when Jeff’s back on the line.

“Thanks for waiting, Jonny,” Jeff says. “Now, where were we?”

“We were talking about art,” Jonny says, running his hand up and down his thigh to dry it off a little, and switching the phone to the other hand to repeat it on the other side. “And, uh, what you’re looking for. For the house, I mean.”

Jeff chuckles. “Right, we were talking about what you like,” he says. “Maybe we can pick that conversation up later.” His voice drops an octave. “And by the way, I like things that are beautiful. Strong. Sexy.”

Jonny swallows. “Yeah, that,” he says. “That sounds like something you’d be attracted to.”

“Doesn’t it?” Jeff asks, “Do you think I’m going to find what I’m looking for in Rome? Or do you think I should look here in Los Angeles?”

Jonny’s pretty sure they’re not talking about art any more. “I - I. Uh. I don't know,” he says, heart pounding. “Maybe?”

“Mmm,” Jeff hums, “I like the sound of that.” They’re silent again for a moment. “Well, if you think of anything you think I’d like, be sure to let me know.” He pauses again. “You're going to give me something, though right? I mean, after all this time, it feels like you should.”

“What?” Jonny chokes a little. He looks down at Amelie and shuts his eyes in shame, trying not to think about what he’s doing. In his own home. With his daughter -- Patrick's daughter -- at his feet. It feels like he’s on the edge of a precipice that he’s either going to fall into or run away from. “What would - what would I give you?”

“Well,” Jeff drawls. “I can think of a few things I'd love to get from you. But right now I’m talking about for the house.”

“Oh,” Jonny says, relieved. He exhales loudly, and Jeff chuckles.

“I won’t ask what you thought I meant. Not now, anyway. I just wondered if you were planning to give me some art, I could coordinate with anything I buy myself.”

Jonny makes a face. “I’m not - we don’t have any plans to add art or anything like that to the project, Jeff. At least I don’t think we do. Let me call Brandon, see if he-”

Jeff interrupts him. “I don’t mean for the project. Not everything is about work with me, you know.” Jonny’s very afraid that he does know. “I mean for when we finish the project. Isn’t it customary to give your client a gift for his new home?”

“Oh. Oh!” Jonny says. “Yeah, that’s not really my department. I’m sure Sid or Geno will have something nice picked out.”

“I’m sure they will. But I want something from you, Jonny,” Jeff says. “Something you picked out, something that when I look at it, will remind me of our time on this project.”

“Oh,” Jonny says again lamely. “I didn’t. I don’t usually.” He swallows, his throat clicking. “I’ve never done that before. But. Okay.”

“Well,” Jeff says, voice deeper again. “I’m happy to be your first, then.”

Jonny doesn't know what to say to that. The silence's charged and stretches on until it’s interrupted by Amelie. “Papa, Papa,” she babbles, holding her arms up and blinking at him sleepily. “Up up.” He picks her up and holds her tight to his chest, her head under his chin.

“Sorry, Jeff, I need to put my daughter down for her nap.” He pauses. “I’ll, uh, I’ll try to find something you like. For the house.” He squeezes Amelie against him more firmly, hoping the pressure will ease some of the ache in his chest.

“Sure,” Jeff responds easily. “I’m looking forward to seeing what you pick out. And to seeing more of you... soon. Ciao.”

With a click, the call ends, and Jonny puts the phone down. Amelie's snuffling a little into the crook of his neck, her hair tickling his collarbone, and he runs a hand over her head, smoothing the dark curls down. He’s going to have to get his shit together because this thing with Jeff is going down a road he’s not sure he’ll be able to come back from.

***

Once the suggestion's in his head, Jonny can’t stop thinking about a gift for Jeff. He’s in the den idly clicking around The Sharper Image website when it comes to him. Yesterday they’d gotten a postcard from Paolo for an exhibit of the sculptor that he and Patrick had fallen in love with on their honeymoon. Patrick had made a comment that he’d love to have another piece but there were so many he liked, he didn’t know how to choose. It’ll be a perfect Christmas gift for Patrick. The artist should have something that can work for Jeff, too.

He’s navigated to Paulo's site and is browsing through the choices when Patrick walks into the den. “Hey, did you ever-” he cuts off as Jonny hurriedly closes his laptop and swivels around to face him. “Whatcha doin? Oh my God, Jonny, are you looking at porn again?” He grins and makes grabby hands for the laptop. “You pervert. I want to see.”

“I wasn’t looking at porn the first time, Patrick,” Jonny says, moving the laptop safely out of his reach and then sitting on it. “It’s just something - something for -”

“Let me guess: the Carter house. Gotta keep the big man happy,” Patrick says, voice flat, and Jonny would protest except - it works perfectly as a camouflage for his gift. Patrick’s got some kind of sixth sense for where Jonny hides all of his gifts. He always finds them; the only exception might be right after the twins were born, when he was so exhausted that he couldn’t figure out where the bathroom door was, let alone where Jonny had hidden his birthday present. So he just blinks at Patrick, schooling his face into innocence, until he shakes his head at Jonny and moves on.

“Not sure why something for Carter's such a big secret but whatever. If you can spare a minute from your work, I wanted to know if you’d signed the boys up for hockey camp over Christmas break? Eric’s making noises like he doesn’t want to go.”

“He’s signed up, he’s going,” Jonny says firmly. “We didn’t spend five hundred dollars for him to sit at home while Bryan goes.”

“I just don’t know if hockey’s going to be Eric’s game, Jonny.” Patrick warns. “And I’d hate for him to start disliking it because we forced it on him.”

“Pat, if we give in every time Eric asked to stay home from something, he’ll never leave the house,” Jonny says. “I know it’s not easy, but we’ve got to make sure he keeps his commitments when he makes them.”

Patrick eyes him for another minute before shrugging. “Fine. But you’re helping me get him out of the house, I’m not going to fight that battle alone.”

“I should be able to take them” -- when Patrick clears his throat, he corrects himself -- “I will take them. The Carter House should be finished by then, and we don’t have anything starting until after the New Year.”

Patrick smiles brightly at that. “Really? You didn’t tell me that.” He peeks out from under his lashes, and his dimples appear. “Can you take some vacation? I’d love to take the boys skiing. Margie and Frank are going to their Tahoe chalet between Christmas and New Year and she emailed me yesterday and invited us to come with.” He leans in closer. “She’s got an au pair who can keep an eye on Amelie for us, a great ski school for the boys, and a hot tub in the guest suite. If you play your cards right, I bet you could even pick up a ski bunny to share it with . . .” He flutters his eyelashes, and Jonny snorts.

“That sounds amazing but you know there's only one ski bunny I'm interested in,” Jonny says, leaning across the desk to kiss Patrick briefly. “I could probably get away - it’s always dead between Christmas and New Year’s anyway. But my parents are going to be in San Francisco - I’d really like to get up there to spend some time with them.”

“We still can, that's what's so great,” Patrick beams. “San Francisco’s a couple of hours from Tahoe, we’ll just head there for a few days on our way home. We definitely need to see them since they’re not coming for Christmas this year.”

“Great, you tell Margie we’re in, and I’ll let Sid and my folks know.” He smacks Patrick on the ass. “Now out with you, so I can finish in here and help with bedtime.”

“Aye-aye, Captain,” Patrick says, and Jonny groans. “Not the captain anymore, Pat,” he says, and Patrick smiles at him fondly.

“You’ll always be the captain of my heart, Jonny,” he simpers and then dances away when Jonny growls and reaches for him. “Okay, okay, I’m going, I’m going.” He’s knocks on the door frame as he’s leaving. “This is going to be great.”

Jonny shakes his head and sits back down, opening up his laptop again. He does a search for Dipolito, hoping the artist has something that might work for Patrick. He finds one that he really likes of a father with a child, and the father has curls, longer than Patrick’s, more like the way he looked when they’d first met. It's seems like the perfect combination of the boy Patrick was, the man he's become, and the children he's given to Jonny in the process. It makes Jonny think about how he’s gotten everything he didn’t even know he wanted in his life, and how it’s always been with Patrick, because of Patrick. He puts the piece in his shopping cart and goes back to browse through some of the paintings to find something for Jeff’s house.

Forty-five minutes later, Jonny’s about to pull his hair out. Everything is wrong; he doesn’t even remember the interior designer’s presentation, let alone know a color scheme, and he’s about to say fuck it and just order Patrick’s when he notices another sculpture by Dipolito that might just work.

It’s a nude male, rising out of a large base, arms stretched up like he’s reaching for the heavens. The muscular definition of his torso reminds Jonny of Jeff after he’s been surfing and his wetsuit's rolled down, the cut of his abs stark against the dark rubber of the suit. The sculpture's a bright, burnished coppery color, bronze, Jonny thinks, and he likes it. He wants to see what Patrick thinks but he can’t do that without giving away his gift. He's just about to call Shawsy or Bollig to see if they think it’s too suggestive for a client, when Patrick yells for him to take the boys up for their baths.

Fuck it, it’s artsy enough that it should fit with whatever else Jeff has in his home, so he adds it to his cart, pays for the expedited shipping with a wince, and clears the cache on his laptop. He’s been married to Patrick long enough to know he’s going to check the browser history. He’ll probably have to take the stupid thing to work, because Patrick’s like a bloodhound about finding his gifts.

He shuts the laptop and heads upstairs, confident that Patrick will never see this gift coming.

***

Jonny’s waiting by the front door when the phone rings, making him groan. Patrick’s dicking around upstairs, the sitter's late and they’re never going to get to Jeff’s party on time. He’d yell for Patrick -- again -- but he doesn’t want to wake the baby. Again. The twins are watching some Disney treacle that Patrick insists is helping develop their compassionate, creative side, and now Jonny’s got a headache from listening to high-pitched voices singing songs that are complete ear worms.

So they’re late, Jonny's already exhausted from just trying to get out of the house, and he’s slowly losing what little grasp he had on his temper. It figures the whole thing would be a clusterfuck, because he’s been looking forward to Jeff's party all week, and frankly, he should have known better.

Patrick's coming to the party, though, he reminds himself, and that’s good. It’s great, really. Because Jeff has been - he’s been looking at Jonny a lot lately. And Jonny’s not exactly looking away. He can’t find it in him to brush off Jeff completely. If he’s honest, he doesn’t want to. So Jonny’s glad Patrick's coming. Or he will be, if he comes downstairs anytime soon.

Jonny’s reconsidering yelling for Patrick when he hears him coming down the stairs, still wearing his sweatpants and speaking quietly to avoid waking Amelie. “No, no, it’s okay Claire. We know how that goes. Don’t worry about it, it’s really not a big deal. Just a party for Jonny’s work. So stop apologizing.” Patrick winces at Jonny, mouthing ‘sorry’. “Yeah, yeah, I will. Feel better.” Patrick sighs as he ends the call. “Claire can’t make it. She’s got the same bug the kids a few weeks ago. She’s been throwing up all day. I'm sorry, but it looks like tonight's a bust.”

Jonny’s hands clench and unclench. “Pat, this is important. Call somebody else.”

“Jonny, no one’s going to be available at eight o’clock on a Friday night,” Patricks says evenly.

“Call Erica, then,” Jonny snaps. “She’s always around anyway.”

Patrick inhales sharply. “My sister is a huge help to this family when you're not around to do things, asshole. But I'm not asking her to rush over here to babysit at the last minute just so we can go to your stupid party!”

Jonny flushes with anger. “My stupid party? The most important project of my career, and it’s just a stupid party?”

“No, that’s not - I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that Erica has her own life. I can’t just ask her to drop everything for us,” Patrick says firmly, not a bit apologetic.

“Well, I can’t just not show,” Jonny insists, his voice rising. “This is the first house I’ve done as lead architect. The whole firm is coming to this party. I have to go.”

“Well, then you should go. You don’t really need me there, anyway. Go be dazzling and fantastic and whatever the fuck.” He glances into the family room where the movie is still blaring. “I’ll just stay here and watch Frozen with the boys.” He shrugs, and his shoulders slump. “Honestly, it’s all I’m good for tonight, anyway. I didn't really want to go tonight - it’s been a really long week and I'm exhausted.”

“A long week?” Jonny scoffs. “You’ve had a long week? Is that another shot at me for not helping enough? Because I've run myself ragged the past two weeks between work and making sure I was around more for you!”

"And I appreciate it," Patrick's eyes narrow. “But do you really want to argue about this again? Now? When you’re going to a party, and leaving me to deal with three kids alone?”

“No,” Jonny grits out, frustrated. “It’s just good to know that instead of a fun night out with your husband, you want to stay home and watch a fucking Disney movie. Don’t complain to me that we never do anything fun anymore.”

“Going to your work party isn’t really fun for me, Jonny,” Patrick sneers. “And it’s not a date, either. So don’t go complaining to me about skipping out on something 'fun' when the only reason we ever go out anymore is for your fucking career.”

“I knew you never wanted to go to the party,” Jonny accuses. “You're not even dressed and we were supposed to leave forty-five minutes ago!"

"No, I didn't really want to go," Patrick admits, his voice sharp. "I don't get why I need to be there, anyway. It's just another boring work party!"

"You know how important this project is to me, and I was looking forward to showing it to you," Jonny snaps. "Why can’t you just be honest and admit that what’s important to me is never important to you anymore?”

Patrick's scowling but before he can reply a small voice interrupts the silence.

“Daddy? Papa? Can I have more popcorn?” Bryan says, standing in the doorway to the family room, his eyes dark and serious, bottom lip almost quivering.

“Yeah, and I’m thirsty,” Eric echoes, close on his heels as always, usual smile wavering. He slips his hand into Bryan’s.

Patrick glares at Jonny, who looks away, sick with guilt and anger. “Sure, boys, give me a minute. And say goodnight to Papa. He’s going out,” Patrick sneers as he moves into the kitchen.

“Don’t go! Don’t go!” The twins yell, and suddenly Jonny’s got two six year-olds attached to his legs. He drops down to hug them, whispering quietly in French about how much he loves them, how sorry he is that he has to go out. “Daddy’s here, though, and I’ll kiss you both goodnight when I come home.”

“You never do bedtime anymore, Papa,” Bryan says, tears welling up.

"That's not true, Bryan! I know I missed last night, but we've been reading Captain Underpants for weeks!" Jonny protests.

“You missed two nights this week!” Eric chimes in, an angry set to his jaw that’s so like Patrick's face when he's mad that it makes Jonny’s chest ache. “We had to finish it with Daddy. Don’t you want to know what happens to Doctor Diaper’s evil robots?”

“Of course I do,” Jonny soothes. “It’s just that my work is really busy right now. I have to make money so you guys can have hockey skates and video games and fancy sneakers, don’t I?” Bryan hiccups but nods, while Eric just looks at Jonny, unimpressed. “I promise, it’ll be better soon. Promise.” After regarding him silently, Eric returns Jonny's pleading smile, but he doesn't look convinced. Jonny'll take it though, and prove to Eric that things will go back to normal now.

“I bet the popcorn’s almost ready. Why don’t you go start the movie again?” Jonny says, giving each of their heads a final kiss. “And be good for Daddy,” he adds as they head back into the family room, their hands entwined. Eric’s whispering to Bryan, and he puts his arm around him as they go.

Patrick looks over at him from the microwave, his face tired and resigned. “Just go, Jonny,” Patrick says. “We can talk about this tomorrow.” He raises his voice, calling to the boys in the family room. “More popcorn in two minutes, guys. And turn that volume down, Bryan!”

“But I can’t hear when you’re yelling at Papa!”

Bryan calls back.

“Yeah, and when he’s yelling at you!”

Eric adds.

Patrick's mouth twists, angry, but he keeps his tone even. “Well, you don’t have to worry about us fighting anymore because Papa's leaving now. Right, Papa?” He turns back to the microwave, and Jonny’s guilt gets consumed by anger at Patrick's dismissal. He stands there for another minute, watching Patrick's tightly clenched shoulders.

Jonny doesn’t slam the door as he leaves, but it’s a near thing. He’s still furious when he arrives at Jeff’s house, and he can barely manage to be civil with the valet. He grabs Jeff’s gift from the back of the car and takes a few deep breaths. If he goes in there this angry, he’s only going to end up saying -- or doing -- something dumb. This is his work, this is his career.

The sounds of the party are muted until the door opens and then Jeff's standing on the threshold, the light spilling out from behind him. He’s gorgeous in a deep blue v-neck sweater that matches his eyes. He’s got an easy smile on his face that widens when he sees Jonny.

“Jonny! You made it,” Jeff smiles, looping his arm around Jonny’s shoulder and squeezing briefly. He looks around, puzzled. “But I thought you were bringing Peter?”

“Patrick,” Jonny corrects automatically. “He wanted to come, but our sitter cancelled at the last minute.”

Jeff shrugs and squeezes him again before letting go, hand drifting down his arm before it drops to his waist. “That’s too bad. But I’m sure you can have fun without him, hmm? Maybe his loss will be my gain.” His thumb rubs just above Jonny’s belt, and Jonny shivers. That now familiar swoop in his stomach is back.

“I-” Jonny swallows thickly. “Here.” He shoves the wrapped gift into Jeff’s hands. “I got this. Uh. It’s for you.”

“Jonny,” Jeff grins, delighted. “That’s so thoughtful of you. You really shouldn’t have,” he says, a twinkle in his eye.

“A little birdy told me that I really should.” Jonny deadpans. “Just open it, asshole.”

Jeff’s laugh rings out in the foyer. “You know what I like most about you, Jonny? It’s the respect you have for me.”

Jonny rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I know what you really like about me.” His eyes widen and he stops. “I didn’t - uh. I meant you like my designs.”

Jeff just smiles. “Oh, Jonny, I don’t think you know all the things I like about you. Yet, anyway. But that’s a discussion for later. For now, I’m going to open this gift, because I’m dying to see what you picked out for me.”

Once Jeff has the sculpture out of the box, though, the tension between them only increases, because the way he looks at Jonny makes him feel like prey. “I love it. It’s elegant yet earthy, and I love the weight of it in my hands.” He puts it down on a small table and steps closer. “And I love that when you saw it, you thought of me.”

Jonny shrugs, uncomfortable again. “It just - I thought it might fit in the house. And you said you liked nudes, so.” He's realizing uneasily that he probably should've called Bollig after all, because he hadn't meant it to signal anything to Jeff.

“I think what I said is that I liked sexy, Jonny.” Jeff tilts his head to the side again. “But I think you already know that, hmm?”

Jonny flushes and looks away, nervous and not a little turned on. “I should really rejoin the party. And I want to show you around, show you off. Shall we?”

The evening passes in a whirl of excellent whisky, introductions to dozens of Jeff’s rich friends -- carefully curated to include those who might be in the market to renovate or build houses of their own -- and the warm press of Jeff’s hand to Jonny’s lower back. The few times Jeff's called away to deal with some crisis or another, Jonny can feel his gaze linger on him from across the room, heavy with an intent that makes Jonny flush.

The result is that Jonny's caught halfway between turned on and wanting to flee the whole night. The first time someone asks them how long they’ve been together, Jeff laughs. “No, no, we're not together. I mean, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind,” Jeff says, his eyes running over Jonny, "but unfortunately he’s very taken.” Jonny grins weakly at the knowing chuckles from Jeff's friend.

By the end of the evening, he’s gotten three requests for appointments to look at houses, and another five or six people who may call him. He’s flushed with pride and the low thrum of arousal that started at the door hasn’t abated. It’s been implicit that Jonny will stay until the end, and he tries not to think about what might happen when he’s alone with Jeff. The urge to flee hasn't passed, either, and he eyes the door as people begin to depart, suddenly wishing Patrick was there to take him home.

As Jeff escorts the last of the guests to the door, Jonny turns to look out the window at the expanse of the ocean visible just beyond the pool, the usual darkness lit by the huge moon reflecting off the surface. It really is an incredible view and he says as much when Jeff returns with another glass of whisky. Jeff fingers linger over Jonny's as he hands it to him, and when he turns back to the view, their shoulders rub together. Jonny doesn’t press into the contact, but he also doesn’t move away.

Jeff looks over at him after a minute of quietly watching the waves roll in, a small smile on his face. “You like what you see?” His eyes drift lower, running down over Jonny’s body and slowly back up. “Because I do.”

Jonny’s breath catches. Jeff has been more subtle until now, but Jonny knew this was coming. Fuck, this is exactly why he needed Patrick tonight. But when Jeff steps closer and turns so they're facing, all thoughts of Patrick slip away.

Jeff runs his finger over Jonny’s cheekbone and then down across his jaw. He tips Jonny’s head closer and leans forward, stopping just short of his ear. Jonny shivers at the puff of breath across the shell of his ear. “I’ve got other things I’d like you to see. Things I think you’d like.”

Jonny inhales sharply, his heart racing. He’s half-hard at just the sensual growl of Jeff’s voice, at his words. He’s been jacking off to the dark look in his eyes for days, and to see that look up close is heady and overwhelming. Jeff moves closer until he’s pressed flush against Jonny, running his finger up and down Jonny’s collarbone now, a touch that would tickle if it didn’t have so much intent behind it. “Do you want to see what I have to show you?” Jeff asks, his hand coming up to cup Jonny’s jaw, slowly moving his head to the side until his lips are hovering inches from Jonny’s.

“Jeff, I can’t -- I’m not -- I’m married,” Jonny protests, too late and too weak. “I don’t do this. It’s not - “ He stops, his voice dying out, throat dry. He takes a step back and raises his whisky to his mouth, taking a long gulp. “I just don’t do this.”

“Ah,” Jeff says moving back a little. “But you want to, hmm?” He looks pointedly at where Jonny’s erection is tenting his suitpants before turning back towards the view. “I’m not reading it wrong? Because if I am, just tell me, I’ll back off.”

Jonny downs more whisky, unable to muster the words he knows he should say. He’s been denying this thing between him and Jeff for the past few weeks, but now he has to face it. He wants to fuck him. He wants to let Jeff fuck him. He wants - he wants things he shouldn’t want, from a man who isn’t Patrick.

An image of Patrick rises, eyes bright with laughter, dimples flashing, and Jonny flushes as guilt washes through him. This isn’t him - he’s not this guy. He exhales shakily and a little further from Jeff, putting more distance between them. “I just can’t,” Jonny says more firmly.

“It’s okay, Jonny, I get it.” Jeff shrugs, looking patient and soft, seemingly not at all discouraged. “But if you change your mind -- and I hope you do -- just let me know.” Jeff reaches into his pocket, pulling out a condom and smiling at Jonny ruefully. “Guess I won’t be needing this tonight after all.” Jeff slides closer again, slipping his hand into Jonny’s pocket and Jonny's frozen, unable to move away. Jeff’s thumb rubs a small circle against Jonny’s hip through his pants before he withdraws. “You keep it. If you ever want to use it,” he smiles. “Well. You know where I live.”

Jonny squirms, uncomfortably aware of how much he wants to give in to everything Jeff's offering. He chokes back the last of his whisky. “I think I need to get home. Patrick will be missing me.”

Jeff nods, soft smile on his lips. “Yes, I suppose he is. I know I’m going to miss you, Jonny.” He leans in slowly, telegraphing his intent and when Jonny doesn't object, letting his eyes drift closed, Jeff kisses him, licking a little at the seam of Jonny’s lips until they part and then darting his tongue in. Jonny's head swims, the alcohol and arousal mingling and making him feel light-headed. He moans into the kiss, letting his tongue tangle with Jeff's briefly before he shivers and pulls back.

Jeff's watching him carefully, his pupils dilated so that almost no blue is showing. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”

Jonny shakes his head after another fraught moment. His lips are tingling from the kiss, but he can’t do this. He has to go home. His shoulders droop at the thought of Patrick in bed. No doubt with Amelie tucked in next to him. The image makes his chest ache.

“Yeah, I should go.” Jonny pats his pocket for his keys and it makes the condom scratch a little against his leg. He inhales quickly, suddenly feeling completely overwhelmed. “Where are my keys? Fuck, where are my keys? I need to - I have to go, Jeff.” He’s on the verge of panicking because if he can’t leave, if he stays in this house for another minute, he’s not sure if he’s going to be able to resist dropping to his knees and blowing Jeff. “Where are my fucking keys?”

Jeff cuts him off calmly. “The valet has your car, remember?” He steps smoothly away, seemingly unmoved by the kiss, and pulls his phone out, texting quickly before collecting Jonny's jacked from where it's draped over a chair. Jonny follows blindly, the whisky and arousal combining to make him feel overcome. They walk outside just as Jeff’s limo is pulling up to the curb.

“You’re in no state to drive. My driver will take you home, and I’ll have your car dropped off in the morning.” Jeff pulls Jonny into a loose hug, and squeezes his hand as he steps away. “Or I can send the limo and you can come back here yourself. We can pick up where we left off.”

Jonny shakes his head. That’s not - he’s not going to do that. No matter how tempting it is. He can’t. “No - “

“Shh. Don’t say anything yet. Just think about it. Think about me. We can talk more tomorrow.” Jeff shuts the door before Jonny can respond, knocking lightly before the driver pulls away.

Jonny opens the limo’s well-stocked bar and pours himself something dark and strong that he throws back quickly before slumping in his seat. His head's swimming with guilt and anger and arousal as the car winds its way easily through the Los Angeles traffic, taking Jonny away from Jeff and back home to Patrick, where he belongs. The only problem is that he keeps letting himself forget that where he belongs is where he wants to be.

***

The limo pulls away, and Jonny looks up at the dark house with something approaching dread. He’s immediately filled with shame, because that’s his family in there. This is his home. And he almost put it all in jeopardy tonight for a quick fuck with a guy who probably collects men the way he collects art.

He puts his emotions down to the alcohol and adrenaline in his veins and eases the door shut quietly when he finally makes his way inside. The television in the family room is on, but he can’t hear any sound, which means Patrick's probably trying to get Amelie back to sleep while he catches up on the late games. He pauses on the threshold of the family room when he realizes both Patrick and Amelie are asleep.

Patrick’s lashes are fanned out and dark against his cheeks, and he’s got Amelie snugged up high on his shoulder, her little mouth open and drooling a little on his shirt. The twins’ mini-sticks are strewn in front of the television. Amelie’s latest art class production -- Patrick swore it was a robot, but Bryan and Eric had shared dubious looks with Jonny about that -- is now on the floor, a small, dirty footprint across one corner.

There are photos everywhere Jonny looks: their wedding; the twins with his parents, with Patrick’s parents; Patrick holding Amelie, a tiny, wizened little face hooked up to too many wires; Patrick looking wan and exhausted and amazed at what they’d done, at their beautiful little girl.

He thinks back to the cold, sterile, beautiful interior of Jeff’s house, all angles and sharp edges and cold, stark colors. It’s beautiful but vacant, and Jonny can’t believe he ever thought that he could want any part of what Jeff was offering.

This room has always been the heartbeat of their home; where they come together at the end of the day, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes all five. It’s different every day, what happens here, but it’s home, and it’s theirs, and Jonny realizes what a fool he’s been. This is all he’s ever wanted or needed. This man, this room, this home. Not because of the physical walls that surround him, but because of the things that the walls surround. And just as this room is their home’s heartbeat, Patrick is Jonny’s heartbeat.

When Jonny sits down next to him on the couch, Patrick stirs, smiling sweetly up at Jonny once he opens his eyes. He can see the moment Patrick remembers their fight because his smile falls away, and he looks down and bites his lip. Jonny says hi, softly, not wanting to wake Amelie up. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I was an asshole. Again.”

Patrick bites his lip. “Yeah, you were.” He sighs. “But so was I. Again. I shouldn’t have snapped at you, and I definitely shouldn’t have said those things in front of the boys. So. Yeah. I’m sorry, too.”

Jonny needs to be closer to Patrick, so he shifts until he can slide an arm around his back. They sit in silence, until Patrick lets out a long sigh and puts his head on Jonny’s shoulder. He sniffs a little, wrinkling his nose. “You smell funny. Were you smoking?”

Jonny grimaces, plucking at his shirt. “Not me, but, uh, there were some people smoking cigars on the patio.”

“Isn’t it a bit chilly for that?”

“Jeff has heat lamps and a fire pit.” He laughs at Patrick’s look. “Pretentious, I know.”

Patrick leans back against Jonny again, snuggling in tighter. “Nah, it sounds nice, actually. Being outside in the middle of December. The kids could roast marshmallows.” He snorts. “Bet nobody at that party was roasting marshmallows.”

“Nope.” Jonny breathes into Patrick’s curls for a minute. There hadn’t been a single thing at Jeff’s party that connected to his life here, that Patrick would have enjoyed. There was no place in that world for Patrick or their kids. There really was no place for Jonny, either, even if he’d been tempted to try to find one.

“You’re breathing mighty heavy there, mister.” Patrick pokes him. “Are you drunk?”

“Eh,” Jonny replies, and Patrick laughs. “Oh, yeah, you totally are. You always get so Canadian when you’re drunk.”

And that just makes no sense, so Jonny says so. “I am Canadian, Patrick. Not sure I can ‘get’ any more Canadian than I am always. Than always I am. Than I always am? Ugh, you know what I mean.” Maybe he's a more than a little drunk. He didn’t eat much and that last drink in the limo is hitting him hard.

Patrick giggles, shifting Amelie up to his shoulder and standing up smoothly. He offers a hand to Jonny and pulls him up, grin dimpling his cheeks. “Well, drunk or sober, it’s late. Let’s get you and Lady Bug up to bed. Because you are on early morning duty, buddy.” Jonny shuffles along behind him as they climb the stairs, losing himself in watching the way Patrick's ass bunches and flexes in his sweatpants. “You don’t get to abandon your husband alone while you wine and dine at the Jeff Carter House and not have to pay the price.”

Jonny lets Patrick lead him to their bed, and he strips before dutifully drinking the water and ibuprofin Patrick pushes into his hands. He’d like a shower to wash the evening off of his skin, but Patrick just presses him down onto the mattress and pulls the covers up. “Sleep. You can shower in the morning.” He kisses his forehead. “I’ll just get Ammy tucked in and be right back.”

Jonny turns over and looks at Patrick’s side of the bed, at his pillow, still rumpled from where he’d probably been sleeping when Amelie had woken him up. He lets his eyes drift closed to the familiar sounds of Patrick murmuring to Amelie over the baby monitor as he settles her down, but when Patrick climbs into bed, he reaches across and pulls him against his chest, arranging him until Jonny's spooned up behind him. “Love you,” he whispers fiercely into Patrick’s hair. "So much."

“Love you, too, you maudlin fool,” Patrick returns fondly. “Not drunk my ass.” Jonny grumbles, but when Patrick tilts his face back for a kiss, Jonny obliges, and he falls asleep, finally, with Patrick secure in his arms, the way he’s been for so long Jonny’s not sure why he ever thought this wasn’t enough -- wasn’t everything -- he’s ever wanted.

***

It’s early morning when Jonny wakes, and he groans, his head pounding faintly. His mouth is dry, but he doesn’t feel as he bad as he probably should given how much he drank last night. It’s still so early that the only sound is Patrick’s soft breathing, and he turns his head to look at him, his curls messy against the pillows, his face so familiar and beloved that Jonny’s heart aches.

He only has the sound of pounding footsteps as a warning before the door to the bedroom slams open and twin dynamos launch themselves onto the bed.

“Wake up! Wake up!”

“Daddy, Papa, we have to wake up and get dressed for the program!”

Patrick groans and rolls over, covering his eyes. “It’s too early, boys. The program isn’t for another” -- he opens one eye and closes it quickly -- “fourteen hours. Go back to bed.”

Jonny snorts at that, and Patrick's lips twitch a little. “It’s worth a shot!” he protests. The boys are now standing on the foot of the bed jumping and they’re terrifyingly accurate about landing on his junk when they get excited like this, so he rolls out of bed and claps his hands.

“Right. Downstairs, Papa pancakes, let’s go.” Screeches proceed the boys as the run out of the room and down the stairs, chanting “Papa pancakes, Papa pancakes,” and Jonny laughs as he pulls on a pair of track pants.

Amelie is peering up at him from next to Patrick, having apparently migrated into their bed at some point last night, her face happy as usual. “Come on, Mademoiselle,” Jonny croons, sweeping her up and rubbing his cheek against hers. “Let’s go before les petit montres destroy Daddy’s kitchen.”

“I’m up, I’m up,” Patrick says, but Jonny pushes him back with a hand to his shoulder. “Just sleep,” he says, leaning down to kiss him briefly. “I’m sorry about last night. I’ll get them some breakfast and then we’ll go to the park. You sleep in.”

Patrick rolls onto his back and squints up at Jonny suspiciously. “Why are you being so nice to me?” he asks. “Did you wreck the car? Again?”

The reminder of where the car is makes Jonny flush a little. “Uh, no, just left it at Jeff’s. I had one too many whiskeys.” Jonny straightens Amelie’s sock, unable to meet Patrick’s eyes. “Thought it wasn’t smart to risk driving.”

“Good call on that, you don’t need a DUI on top of all those tickets.” Patrick stretches, the sheets slipping down to his waist, still tight and trim even after three babies and all these years. “Worst driver ever, Jonny, I swear to God.” He yawns loudly. “So we have to go pick up the car? Ugh, how do we fit that into today?” Patrick sits up. “I can’t sleep in, Jonny.”

Jonny swallows. He’s going to have to go back up to Jeff’s. He’s not sure he can face him yet, he doesn’t know - he’s not sure what’s going on, but he doesn’t think he should be alone with him again. He does know he doesn’t want Jeff anywhere near Patrick.

“I’m going to call Jeff and ask him to send his limo. The boys will love the ride, and it’ll kill some of today.” He pushes on Patrick’s shoulder again. “So stop protesting and enjoy a quiet morning at home, alone. Mademoiselle is going to come, too, aren’t you, belle princesse?” Amelie coos and pulls on Jonny’s ear. “Go back to sleep. We’ll try to keep it down.”

"That sounds good, but I'm keeping Ammy; I'm sure you don't want to deal with her carseat and that way I can put her down for a morning nap. She was up twice last night." Patrick yawns as he settles back against the pillows, tugging the duvet up under his chin. “Just for an hour, though, Jonny. I still have to fix the hem of Eric’s costume where Bryan stepped on it, and I have to get another layer of gold paint on the frankincense container Bryan is carrying. Some of it got chipped during the dress rehearsal.”

“I’ll wake you before we leave.” Jonny turns back to look at Patrick, mostly buried under the covers, only the top of his head visible. It’s an image he’s seen thousands of times, but today it makes him a little heartsick. “Sleep well,” he says, but all he gets in response is a soft hum, and he leaves quietly, closing the door gently behind him.

“Papa!” Eric bellows up the stairs. “I’m hungry for Papa Pancakes!”

“Shh, Eric, I’m coming, I’m coming.” He sniffs Amelie a little. “I have to change mademoiselle coccinelle and then I’ll be down.”

“Can I-” Eric starts.

“No, you cannot get out the chocolate chips and no, Bryan cannot get out the sprinkles. If you do, there won’t be either in the pancakes today.”

“But Papa!” Eric protests, but the way his voice fades means he’s already running into the kitchen, no doubt to tell Bryan to put the sprinkles back before Jonny comes down. Jonny lifts Amelie like an airplane as he turns into her room. “Let’s get you ready before your brothers make a complete mess downstairs.”

It’s an ordinary morning, really, in a lifetime of ordinary mornings, and Jonny finds himself thinking of Jeff, in his house with it’s pristine furniture, sharp corners, with priceless art placed on perilously low tables. He can’t imagine Jeff ever changing a diaper or childproofing his kitchen or eating pancakes with sprinkles and chocolate chips and strawberry faces. When he thinks about his life, his family, he can’t picture Jeff at all. He knows that he’s been a jackass, but he doesn’t want Jeff, not really, for all that he’s gorgeous and funny, he’s not Patrick. And Jonny has only really ever wanted Patrick.

***

Jonny sends Jeff a quick text after he gets the first batch of pancakes served, and Jeff replies quickly that the limo will be there at nine o’clock. Jonny figures can get everyone fed and bathed and dressed, if they rush, before the limo arrives. Once breakfast is demolished, he gets the boys in the bath while he dresses, careful not to wake Patrick, who's starfished in the middle of their bed.

Jonny might lose a minute or two watching him sleep before Amelie toddles in with the TV remote in one hand. She hands it to Jonny, and they both stare at it for a moment before she puts her hand back out.

“Moi moi, Papa,” she says, and Patrick groans from the bed. Amelie’s eyes widen and she claps delightedly before overbalancing and landing with a thud on the floor. She blinks up at Jonny and is just drawing breath to scream, he thinks, so he quickly hands her the remote and sighs, relieved, when she quiets and happily shoves it in her mouth. He should probably get that out of her mouth, but when he reaches for it, she pulls it away.

“Non! Moi!” she says, glaring at him with all the indignance only an eighteen month old wearing just a diaper can muster. “Pas tu!”

“Ugh, is she speaking French, or am I just that out of it?” Patrick asks Jonny, rolling over and blinking up at him. “Are you turning my children into French speakers, Jon?”

Jonny snorts. “Pretty sure my children are already French speakers, Pat.”

“That’s just cruel, man.” Patrick yawns, turning over and burrowing back into the pillow, his eyes drifting closed again. “And un-American. They’re ‘Merican, they’re supposed to, supposed to, to speak-” he drifts off in the middle, and just breathes heavily. Jonny watches him fondly and he’d feel bad about what he does next, but Patrick said to wake him up in an hour, so, desperate times and all that.

“Fuck!” Patrick yelps when Jonny yanks the covers off and pinches his ass. Jonny steps back from the bed, safely out of range. “What the fuck did you do that for?” He rubs the spot Jonny pinched sulkily.

“You said to wake you up in an hour. It’s been almost two, and you just fell asleep in the middle of telling me something important about the superiority of America.” Jonny steps back further when Patrick narrows his eyes. “I felt extreme measures were warranted.”

“Jesus, fuck, Jonny, that really hurt,” Patrick grouses. “And not in a good way.”

“Fu-fu-fu-” Amelie chants from the bottom of the bed, and they look at each other, horrified.

“Oh, God, Jonny, the fucking Christmas program is tonight!” Patrick hisses, panicked. “My eighteen month old cannot swear at the fucking Christmas program!”

“She’s not going to swear at the Christmas program, Pat,” Jonny soothes. “Are you, petite fille?”

Amelie blinks at him. “Fu-Fu-Fu,” she responds.

“Oh my God,” Patrick says, his face pained. “Couldn’t this be what you taught her in French? So no one would understand it?”

"Pretty sure it's not just me who's teaching her this particular word," Jonny replies dryly.

“Fu-fu-fu, Dada,” Amelie says again, looking at Patrick quizzically when he groans. “A toi?” She offers Patrick the remote and pats his leg consolingly. Patrick looks down at her hand, and when he meets Jonny’s eyes, his lips twitch before he bursts out laughing. Jonny joins him and Amelie stares, seemingly stunned into silence by the strange behavior of her idiot fathers before she resumes gnawing on the remote.

“Oh my God,” Jonny says when he can speak again. “We are the worst parents ever.”

“No, we’re really not,” Patrick responds, his voice hoarse, “we didn’t leave our kid at the mall by accident like Manny Diaz. And he didn’t realize for four hours.” Patrick’s swipes at his cheeks. “Four hours, Jonny. Who loses track of a three year-old for four hours?”

“Okay, maybe we’re not the worst parents,” Jonny allows. “But if we have to change schools because our daughter yells ‘fuck’ at the end of the Christmas pageant, I think we’ll be coming in a pretty pathetic second.”

“I know, I know,” Patrick says. “Shit.” Their gaze swings to Amelie, but she’s rubbing her eyes and doesn’t seem to have noticed. “Jesus, I’m a menace,” Patrick says, wincing. “So. What time is it, anyway?” he asks, looking at the clock on the bed. “Jonny, it’s almost nine o’clock! I’ve got so much to do! The boys need baths-”

“Done.”

“And Amelie’s dress needs to be ironed-”

“Done.” Jonny waits and when Patrick opens his mouth again, he says in unison with him, “Paint the frankincense chest. Which is also done.” Patrick eyes him narrowly for a minute. “And the boys’ robes?”

“Sorry, that’s above my pay grade,” Jonny says, shrugging. “Plus, I wanted you to have some reason to get out of bed. You can’t spend the whole morning lazing around. Think of the example you’re setting for our children.” Patrick squawks but Jonny grabs Amelie and walks out, whistling, before he can say anything. “Okay, boys, get your socks and shoes on. I’m gonna get mademoiselle coccinelle dressed, and the limo will be here in five minutes.” he calls down the stairs on his way to her room.

He ducks when a shoe sails out of the bedroom door, but he can hear Patrick moving around the bedroom, so he figures it’s safe to leave. They’re waiting for the limo on the veranda when Patrick comes out with a mug of coffee.

“That wasn’t very nice,” he says, bumping Jonny’s shoulder.

“Letting you sleep in? Or getting the kids bathed, fed, and out of the house before nine o’clock in the morning?” he asks, mock serious. “Or maybe it was repainting the trunk?” Patrick snorts and hits him in the ribs lazily.

“Fine, so maybe it was a little nice,” he says, sniffing disdainfully. He squints up at Jonny. “And I would have been down here sooner, but I was too busy in the shower. Washing important . . . parts.”

Jonny snorts. “Now who’s not being nice?” He puts his arm around Patrick’s waist.

“Eh, you deserve it. I was just lying there, sleeping innocently.”

“You don’t do anything ‘innocently,’ Pat,” Jonny says and Patrick smiles at him sweetly.

“Well, no, not since that time senior year, thanks to you.” Patrick peeks up at him through his lashes. “Innocence-stealer.”

Jonny’s about to respond about who stole what their senior year when Jeff’s limo pulls into the driveway, and the twins start yelling. By the time the door opens, though, Jonny’s got them both corralled and Patrick’s holding Amelie. To Jonny’s shock, Jeff steps out and waves.

“Oh, look,” Patrick chirps. “Your boyfriend's here to take you to the prom.”

Jonny's frozen, his eyes darting back and forth between Jeff and Patrick. He shrugs sheepishly when he catches Patrick looking at him funny. “I didn’t, uh,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I didn’t know he was going to come.”

Patrick smirks. “I’m sure he didn’t want to miss a chance to spend time with you. Bet he didn't plan on having a bunch of tiny chaperones, though.” He tips his head toward the limo. “Think the boys can behave themselves? Or do you want me to keep them here?”

Jonny winces. “I don’t think there’s a chance in hell of them not coming. I promised them.”

Eric and Bryan look up at Jonny when Jeff says hi and tells them they can climb in, and he nods.

“Good morning,” Jeff says as he walks up. “Nice to see you, Patrick.”

“You, too,” Patrick says. “Thanks for sending Jonny home last night. And for picking him up this morning.”

“Glad I could help,” Jeff says. “So. Ready to get this show on the road?” He smiles easily at Jonny, nothing like the sensual looks he was giving Jonny the night before.

“Ur, I hope you don’t mind,” Jonny says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I kind of told the boys they could come along for the ride.”

“Oh,” Jeff says and his eyes cut to where the twins are standing in the limo, looking out from the sunroof. “That’s. Okay. That’s fine.”

“I didn’t think you’d be coming, too,” Jonny explains. “We can leave them here, if it’s a problem? I was just hoping to give Patrick a little time alone, to make up for last night.”

“No, no, it’s not a problem,” Jeff says, although it's half-hearted. They all look over as Bryan and Eric start making elephant noises as they pop up and down out of the sunroof. “Are they going to be that loud for the whole trip?”

Patrick shakes his head. “Jonny, why don’t you just leave the boys home with me. I know they’ll be disappointed, but they’ll get over it.” He waves at the boys. “Time to get out, Papa and Mr. Carter need to go.”

Eric looks at Jonny, betrayed. “You said we were going to ride in the limo!”

Bryan chimes in. “You promised! Papa, you promised!”

Patrick sighs and looks at Jonny, who shrugs. “I’ll just take them, if it’s okay with you, Jeff?” Jeff nods, a wary smile on his face. “It’ll be fine, and I can keep them out of your hair while you get ready for the program.”

“Okay,” Patrick concedes after another moment. “Alright, boys, Mr. Carter says you can go, but you have to be quiet and listen to Papa.” Bryan and Eric nod frantically and disappear from the sunroof. “Good luck,” he says to Jonny, leading Amelie back inside as Jonny and Jeff move toward the limo.

Jonny stops and pulls Patrick in for a kiss. “Love you,” he says, and Patrick beams at him, waving as they drive away.

The boys are surprisingly shy with Jeff, who tries to engage them in conversation. Shy until he mentions that he has his own plane. The floodgates break then, and the boys spend the entire ride quizzing Jeff about it.

When they arrive at Jeff’s house, Jeff asks the boys if they want to go down to the beach. “If it’s okay with your dad, that is,” Jeff says. “You can wade around in the ocean a little while your dad and I talk.”

“Please, Papa, please, please,” they beg, each tugging excitedly on one of Jonny’s arms, making him laugh. “Okay, but there are rules. No going in the water higher than your ankles -- I mean it, Bryan -- and if I see you walking in the tide, we’re leaving. No throwing sand. You have to stay in front of Mr. Carter’s house, no walking away where I can’t see you. And when I say it’s time to go, no arguments.”

Bryan and Eric quickly agree, and Jeff leads them down to the deck and the stairs to the ocean. Eric and Bryan look at Jonny pleadingly, and he nods, then laughs as they take off running for the sand. Jeff's smiling when he looks over. “I’m not up for sand in my shoes,” he says, gesturing at the beach. “And I was hoping to talk to you. Can we keep an eye on them here, or do you need to go down there?”

Jonny looks at the distance between the deck and the ocean. “Nah, I can watch them from here, since they're not swimming,” he assures Jeff, “I wanted to talk to you, too.” Jonny squares his shoulders and faces Jeff but before he can speak, Jeff does.

“I take it that it’s ‘no’,” Jeff says mildly. “I’m disappointed. And surprised. I thought- Well. I know there was something there. Unless I've been reading you wrong this whole time?”

“No, I’ve-,” Jonny starts. “No, you haven't, not really. But it’s not going to happen. Patrick’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. He’s... my family’s my whole world. And I’m not interested in risking that, in giving that up. Not for you, not for anyone.”

“Are you sure he’s enough for you? Because I’ve seen you looking at me. You don’t look at me like a man who’s getting what he needs from his husband.” Jeff steps closer, but stops when Jonny steps back. “The way you talk about your marriage, I get the sense that there’s something missing between you and Patrick.”

“My marriage is none of your business,” Jonny says, narrowing his eyes.

“Come on, Jonny. I think you’ve made it my business, over the last few weeks.”

“I don’t give a shit what you think about it, it’s none of your business,” Jonny bites out. “I want to make it clear. From here on, it’s business between us, that’s all. No more of this, this, thing between us.” He takes a deep breath, trying to rein in his temper. “I'm saying no. It’s always going to be no. If that’s going to be a problem, then I’ll turn your holdings - including the new project - over to Bollig or Geno.”

“No need for dramatic self-sacrifice,” Jeff says, an amused turn to his lips. “I’m a big boy. I can take no for an answer and move on.” He looks back at his house, the windows gleaming in the sunlight. “We did good work together. I love the way you wove smart energy technology into every facet of the house. I want you for this project because of the way you think. Not because of the way you look or how much I want you in my bed.”

“Jesus,” Jonny growls. “If you can’t drop this, Jeff . . .”

“No, sorry, you’re right, I’ll stop,” Jeff grins, unrepentant. “You can’t blame me for being disappointed, though.”

Jonny scoffs. “I’m sure there are any number of men who’d be interested. Don’t try to make it out to be a romance. It wasn’t. It was - whatever it was, and it’s over. Now, if you want me to, I’m ready to design the shit out of your spas. If that’s enough for you, great. If not, well,” he looks back at the boys, who are using two pieces of driftwood as swords. “There are other firms, other architects you can hire.”

Jeff’s silent for a long moment, and when Jonny looks back at him he shrugs. “No, no, I want you on this project,” he says. “Strictly business, I promise.”

Jonny’s not sure if Jeff can keep things “strictly business,” but he’s willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They stand together for a few minutes before Jonny calls the boys back in. He ignores the chorus of “but Papa” and reminds them of the rules, and they come back, dragging their feet through the sand and shooting pleading looks at him.

Jonny exhales deeply when he’s finally on his way back home. He hadn’t been sure how Jeff would take a refusal and knows it could have gone a lot differently. He knows how excited Sidney and Geno are about the new properties, and he’s glad he’s going to be part of the project. And if turning a string of luxury homes into eco-friendly boutique spas across Europe isn’t the kind of architectural difference he’d dreamed of making, at least it’s affording his family with the best life possible. That’s worth sacrificing anything Jonny ever thought he wanted, because he wants his family more.

***

“Daddy, we got to go in the ocean!” Eric yells as soon as they’re in the door. “Mr. Carter’s house is next to the Specific Ocean!”

Patrick laughs from the sink where he’s cleaning strawberries. “The Specific Ocean, huh?” He winks at Jonny. Eric details all the things they saw on the beach, and then hands Patrick the shell he found. “This is for you, Daddy,” he says earnestly.

“Aw, thanks, buddy,” Patrick says, taking the shell and placing it on the window sill. “It sounds like you had a lot of fun. Did you guys clean your feet off really well? We don’t need sand in the bed when you take your naps.”

The boys groan. “We’re big boys, Daddy, we don’t need naps anymore,” Bryan says, blinking his eyes up at Patrick as Eric nods his agreement. “We’re not babies like Ammy.”

At her name, Amelie looks up. “Awick!” She stands up and toddles over, offering the blue nerf ball she’s been playing with to Eric. “Pway?” She tugs on his hand and Eric rolls his eyes but walks over and sits down, and they start batting the ball back and forth between them, Amelie laughing in delight.

“Daddy, do we really have to take a nap?” Bryan asks, and Patrick nods. “But -”

“You were up at five o’clock in the morning. You’re going to be up tonight until after ten, most likely.” He points a strawberry at Bryan and waves it around. “And all those tears you’re about to cry? You can pack them up because you’re just making my case for me, buddy. You are tired. You're taking a nap.”

“But Daddy,” Bryan says, his voice quivering, and Jonny steps over and sweeps him up into his arms. “Buddy, B-man, here’s the deal. If you get into bed and close your eyes for ten minutes on the timer, you can get up. But if you open your eyes or try to get out of bed early, then you have to stay for the whole two hours.”

“Two hours!” Bryan asks. Jonny nods. “Two hours. Do we have a deal?”

Bryan chews on his lip a minute before he nods and offers his hand to Jonny. “And Eric, too?” Bryan asks. “Same deal?”

“Are you authorized to negotiate on behalf of Eric?” Jonny teases, and Patrick laughs. “It’s okay, buddy, I’m just teasing,” he says, at Bryan’s blank look. “Yes, same deal for Eric.”

It takes them another hour to get through lunch before they troop upstairs together, Eric yawning and Bryan’s eyes already at half-mast. Patrick gets Amelie down while Jonny’s sitting in the twins’ room, waiting the agreed upon ten minutes to expire, even though both boys fall asleep almost as soon as they close their eyes. Patrick closes the door on Amelie’s room just as Jonny’s coming out of the boys’ room.

“You want to shower first, or should I?” Jonny asks once they’re in their bedroom and the door is shut. “Or maybe…” He pulls his shirt over his head and grabs Patrick around the waist.

“Or maybe?” Patrick says, running his fingers over Jonny’s shoulders. “I pick ‘or maybe.’”

Five minutes later, Jonny’s got Patrick naked and wet at his feet, kissing his way up Jonny’s thighs and nuzzling in the join of his thigh and hip, his damp curls brushing the base of his cock. He runs his fingers through Patrick’s hair, pulling on a single curl gently until it straightens and then bounces back into place. “God, I love your hair,” he says, and Patrick laughs.

“Only you, Jonny,” he licks Jonny’s hip. “Only you would be talking about a guy’s hair when he’s kneeling at your feet, about to give you a blow job.”

“You’re not just ‘any guy,’ this isn't just ‘any’ hair,' he says, and pulls on it lightly, “and I think the key word in that sentence is ‘about’- Jesus, fuck, fuck.” Jonny stutters as Patrick takes him in and swallows around him. “Oh God, that’s so, fuck. That’s so good.”

Patrick hums and Jonny’s hips thrust involuntarily. Patrick chokes a little but he digs his fingers into the meat of Jonny’s ass to hold him in place. “You’re so good at that, fuck,” Jonny says, “God, I love your mouth.”

Patrick takes him in deeply and looks up through his lashes, holding Jonny in place but not moving. Jonny takes Patrick’s head in his hands, his thumbs brushing his cheeks where tears are mixed with the mist from the shower. “What do you want, Peeks?” he asks. “You want me to,” he thrusts a little deeper into Patrick’s throat, and Patrick moans. “That what you want?” Patrick tries to nod, but Jonny’s holding on tight, and he withdraws slowly before pushing back inside. He’s honestly not sure what’s hotter, the feel of Patrick’s throat around his cock, or the look on Patrick’s face as he plunges into his mouth.

Jonny loves to see Patrick like this, so open and free, so beautiful. He’s been crazy in love with him for almost fifteen years, practically from the moment he saw him, and he can’t believe that he ever thought anything - or anyone - else could make him even a tenth as happy. Patrick’s abandoned all pretense of sucking and is just keeping his mouth open for Jonny to fuck into. He can feel Patrick’s body shaking from the way he’s stripping his own cock, and Jonny loves this, loves how hot it makes Patrick, but it’s been too long since he was inside of Patrick -- or Patrick inside of him -- and they’ve got the door locked. He’s not going to let an opportunity like this pass them by.

He tugs on Patrick’s hair to get his attention and then grabs his shoulders and pulls him up, licking into his mouth to chase the taste of his precum. They kiss for long moments before Patrick breaks away, whining: ‘Jonny, come on, touch me, touch me.”

“Wanna fuck you, Peeks,” Jonny says urgently, and Patrick moans. “Shhh. Don’t want to wake anyone up,” he says. Patrick nods eagerly, zipping his lips with an impish grin, and Jonny grabs the conditioner he uses for his hair.

Patrick raises an eye at him. “My conditioner? Really?”

“I like the idea of my cock -- and your ass -- smelling like this, like you and me, mixed together inside of you,” Jonny says, and Patrick moans as he pushes his finger inside. “Oh, yeah, you like that idea, don’t you.” Patrick nods, his head tipped back, and Jonny licks his neck, sucking lightly on the skin stretched taut over his Adam’s apple as he adds another finger. “Do you like it when you walk around smelling like me?”

“God, Jonny, yes, yes,” Patrick says. “Love the way it feels, being so slick with your come.” He moans again as Jonny strokes lightly over his prostate. “Keep- keep doing that, oh my God.” He reaches up to pull Jonny into an open mouthed kiss, groaning when Jonny slips a third finger in. “Feels - oh my God - feels so good.”

Jonny spreads his fingers a little, working them in and out of Patrick slowly, tugging a little when they’re almost all the way out, grinding his knuckles up against Patrick when they’re buried deep inside. He’s mostly holding Patrick up at this point, so he pulls his hand free and hikes Patrick up until his legs go around his waist. Patrick’s throat's at the perfect height for Jonny’s mouth, and he finds that spot below Patrick’s jaw that always makes him writhe.

It’s no different today, and Jonny shifts Patrick’s weight a little so he can move his hand back, and shoves his fingers back inside of him, twisting and spreading them until Patrick's whimpering and shivering in his arms. As small as Patrick is, he's still a solid guy, and Jonny gropes behind him until he can sit down on the seat at the back of the shower, making Patrick giggle. “The sex seat? Really, Jonny? So cliche.”

Jonny retaliates by slipping his pinky inside of Patrick, just enough to play around the edges of his hole. Patrick makes a choked noise and bucks against him. “You were saying?” Jonny asks, and Patrick pants against his lips and shakes his head. “That’s what I thought.” He scrambles for the conditioner again, and slicks himself up before lifting Patrick again and lowering him onto his cock, in one slow, smooth slide. Patrick’s tight, really tight, and he’s trembling a little, so Jonny stills and pets his thighs, licking at his throat and biting softly at the spot he’s been sucking on. When he feels Patrick relax a bit, he shifts his hips, and Patrick hiccups. “God, it’s so much,” he says, tightening even further around Jonny.

“Too much?” Jonny asks, pausing, but Patrick shakes his head. He pulls him in for a kiss before resting their foreheads together and shifting up and down a little. Jonny blinks dumbly and then moans, his head tilting back, as Patrick moves up and down over him, his cock moving smoothly inside him. “God I’ve missed this,” Patrick says. “Missed having you inside of me, around me. Missed seeing you like this.”

"Pat," Jonny says helplessly, digging his fingers into Patrick’s hips and holding him tight while he fucks up into him, faster and faster, until his thighs and abs are screaming and Patrick's clutching his arms tight enough to bruise. He pulls Patrick snug against his body and they kiss desperately, fucking their tongues into each other’s mouths while Patrick takes over, grinding down on him, squeezing his cock in steady pulses that make Jonny's vision blur.

After a while, they aren’t kissing so much as panting into each other’s mouths. Patrick's making “huh-huh-huh” noises in time with the snap of Jonny’s hips, and Jonny can feel his legs start to quake as his balls tighten. He takes Patrick’s shoulder in one hand and wraps his other around his cock, and Patrick bounces down as Jonny thrusts up, hard.

“This what you wanted?” Jonny asks, sliding his hand up into Patrick’s hair and pulling his head back to expose his throat. He bites at Patrick’s collarbone and sucks hard on the spot he’s been worrying, the force of his thrusts making Patrick keen and shake. “Like this?”

Patrick moans. “Yes, yes, yes, Jesus, please,” he says, pushing Jonny’s hand off his cock and stripping it desperately. “Going to, going to, oh, God, Jonny,” he says, and then he's coming in waves that Jonny can feel from the root of his cock all the way up to where the tip is buried deep inside of Patrick. That’s all it takes to pull Jonny over the edge, and he wraps his arms around Patrick while he pulses over and over inside of him.

Jonny’s legs are shaking when he comes back to himself to find Patrick kissing him, his tongue pushing lazily into his mouth. “Love you, Jon,” he says, biting at Jonny’s lip and pulling back a little to look in his eyes. “The things you do to me.”

Jonny licks along Patrick’s top lip before kissing him, wet and sloppy and sated. “Right back at you, sweetheart.”

“Ugh, Jonny, you’re so lame,” Patrick laughs, slapping him lightly on the shoulder. “‘Right back at you?’ Really?”

“I’m sorry, are my witty comebacks not to your satisfaction?” Jonny smirks. “You’ll have to give me a minute because I think you just broke my brain.”

Patrick snorts. “That’s not actually that hard to do, you know.” His face falls a little. “Er, I didn’t-”

“Pat,” Jonny cuts him off with a hard kiss. “Stop. My brain's fine. It’s offline at the moment, though, so if we could table all that concussion shit for now, I’d appreciate it.”

"I just worry about you," Patrick says, his face still too serious, so Jonny kisses him again and stands up, hiking Patrick up, too. Patrick squeaks and grips his shoulders. “What the fuck, man, you’re going to drop me! I think I did break your brain.”

“We do actually have to shower,” Jonny reminds him once he's put Patrick down. But when Patrick reaches for the shampoo, he takes it first. “Let me?”

Patrick smiles at him a little dumbly. “What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment? Are you sure you didn’t wreck the car?”

“I’m being thoughtful, and all you can do is mock me,” Jonny says sadly. “And people think you’re the romantic one in this relationship.”

He rinses Patrick’s hair and they both laugh when he squirts the conditioner out. He pulls Patrick to his chest and kisses him while he rubs it through his hair. “This always makes me think of you,” he says. “The way you smell, God, Patrick.” He trails the fingers of his other hand back to Patrick’s hole and slips in two easily. Patrick gasps and rocks up against him, and Jonny pushes his thumb against the soft skin behind Patrick's balls, pinching it gently between his fingers inside and his thumb outside. Patrick sobs out a moan and Jonny brings his fingers out, sniffing them before feeding them to Patrick, who sucks on them before kissing him fiercely.

Patrick turns to rinse the conditioner from his hair and runs a washrag over his body quickly, completely bypassing his hole. When he catches Jonny looking at him, he ducks his head a little. “I want to - I don’t want to wash it away,” he says, blushing fiercely. “I like it.”

“God, you,” Jonny starts and then he’s kissing him. “We are doing this more often, I can’t even…” He trails off when Patrick starts laughing. “What?”

“Just. I did not think that today was going to include hot sex in the shower. In the middle of the day, even!” Patrick says, his tongue poking out of his cheek. “Like, if you’d asked me, ‘Pat, what do you think today will bring?’ I would not have had fucking on the list at all.”

“Yeah, well, maybe we need to make that list a little longer,” Jonny says, and Patrick rolls his eyes. “I’m serious! I just.” He pulls Patrick closer and kisses him fiercely. “I miss this. I miss you.”

Patrick pulls away a little. “I’m right here, Jon. And I’m not going anywhere.”

“You better not,” Jonny says, kissing him again and then smacking his ass, laughing when Patrick yelps.

There’s a knock on the bathroom door. “Daddy?” Eric says, his voice small. “Had a bad dream.” Jonny groans and puts his head on Patrick’s collarbone. “I’ll be right there,” Patrick calls out. “You finish showering, I’ll deal with him.” Jonny kisses him one more time before Patrick grabs a towel and opens the door. “What’s up, little man?”

Jonny can’t hear Eric’s response, but Patrick chokes a little. “Oh, no, uh, Daddy just scratched his neck a little funny with the washrag, E, it’s nothing,” he says and turns to narrow his eyes at Jonny. “Yes, it was kind of itchy.” Jonny grins, unrepentant, and Patrick shakes his head at him. “I'll get dressed and we can go get you a hot chocolate and a candy cane, okay?”

Jonny’s whistling when he gets downstairs just as Patrick's putting marshmallows in Eric’s mug. Patrick grins at him, and he drops a kiss on his shoulder. “I might have one or two other items to add to that list of yours,” Jonny says quietly. “Just so you know.”

Patrick’s eyes widen and he bites his lip. “Me, too.” He looks up between his lashes and Jonny can’t get hard again - it’s been fifteen minutes and he’s not sixteen anymore - but his cock twitches gamely all the same. Patrick laughs and smacks his ass as he walks over to the table to give Eric his hot chocolate. “You are so easy, man.”

“I’ll show you easy,” Jonny growls, but Amelie's cry over the monitor brings him up short. “I got her,” Patrick says, but Jonny grabs his wrist when he walks by and hauls him close. “What- ”

Jonny kissed Patrick, quick and hard, one hand on his collarbone, and presses into the mark he left that’s just visible under Patrick’s t-shirt. “I’ll go,” he says. “and I love you.”

Patrick lights up. “I love you, too.”

“Ugh, gross,” Eric says from the table, making Patrick giggle.

“You’ll understand one day,” Jonny says. “When you meet someone you want to marry.”

“I already met him,” Eric says, “duh. It’s Bryan.”

Jonny and Patrick look at each other and burst out laughing. “Uhh, buddy,” Jonny starts, but Patrick puts a hand on his arm.

“Divide and conquer,” he says and jerks his head toward the kitchen door. “Go get our baby girl. I’ll handle Jaime Lannister over here.” He winks and Jonny leaves, whistling again.

Yeah, he wouldn't have put fucking Patrick in the shower on his to-do list this morning either, total fucking oversight; he's not making that mistake again.

***

A quick glance at the clock tells Jonny that they’ve got almost an hour to kill before leaving for the boys’ Christmas program. He’s not sure they’re going to make it. Eric and Bryan are so excited about their self-proclaimed starring roles that they’re bouncing off the proverbial walls, hyper with pre-performance excitement and all the sugar from the candy canes they’ve been sneaking from the tree.

Jonny’s just about to suggest an episode of the Wild Kratts or, hell, anything he can find on TV that’s even nominally aimed at kids, when Patrick intercepts Eric mid-leap from the couch and catches Jonny’s eye.

“What if we each opened a Christmas present before we head to the program?” Patrick asks. “I think that might get us all in the Christmas spirit, right Lady Bug?” He deposits Eric gently on the ground and turns to Jonny mouthing, “and calm them the fuck down.”

Jonny can’t argue with that and doesn’t want to, thankfully, since the boys are already cheering, and even Amelie looks happier. Jonny helps Amelie wrestle the bow off of a present his brother sent last week, and they both watch the boys unwrap identical presents from his parents.

Soon Amelie's toddling around pulling a wooden dog behind her, and the boys are fighting each other with weird looking pixelated swords. Patrick must see his confusion, because he explains, “they’re from Minecraft: that computer, lego-y game they like.”

Patrick reaches under the tree and pulls out a small box that he places in Jonny’s hands with a little smile, “from all of us.” Once Jonny gets the wrap undone, it’s been sealed tightly with tape as well as copious amounts of Avengers’ stickers, he uncovers a picture frame, that can only be described as colorful.

Patrick fidgets, looking a little unsure. "The boys and Amelie painted it. I got the idea from that art class you missed with Amelie, they made ornaments remember?”

Patrick's still talking, Jonny can hear him speaking but the words aren’t really registering. All he can see is the picture Patrick picked for the frame. It’s of the five of them, taken after one of the boys’ soccer games.

Eric’s a muddy mess, Bryan’s jersey is covered in grass stains, Amelie has cracker crumbs all over her front, and they’re all grinning madly at the camera. Everyone except for Patrick, whose face is fixated totally on Jonny, lips curved in the soft smile that Patrick saves just for him.

Patrick's saying something about how the first frame broke, maybe, and Jonny will have to get the details later, but for now he has to pull him into a deep kiss, which goes on and on, interrupted only because the boys stop hitting each other with their swords long enough to call out, “Grooooooosssss!”

Patrick pulls back with a laugh, “You like it?” he asks, pleased grin in his face. Jonny punches him in the the thigh, “you’re an idiot.” Patrick’s dimples light up his face and they smile at each other dopily until the boys interrupt them again, clearly exasperated with them both. “Now you, Dad!” Bryan calls, sword forgotten, as he thrusts a gift at Patrick.

From the looks of it, Jonny’s willing to bet it’s his annual young adult novel from one of his sisters. But instead of opening it, Patrick hands it back to Bryan. “Thanks, Bry, but I’ve got my eye on a different present.”

Patrick ignores Bryan’s protest and unearths the large rectangular box that holds the Dipolito sculpture from the back of the tree. Jonny tries not to smile too smugly because he’d taken the gift to work, so he knows it’s going to be a surprise, and he’s sure that Patrick's going to love it.

Amelie plops into Jonny’s lap, apparently tired from her circuit of the living room, and starts gnawing on the dog’s red wooden tail as Patrick carefully slides his fingers under the wrapping paper.

“Hurry up, Dad!” Eric demands, impatient, and he grabs at the wrapping paper, but Patrick moves the present out of the way quickly enough that all he gets is a fist full of Patrick's shirt. “Open it, open it!”

“That’s Dad’s present,” Jonny admonishes, “you and Bry already opened yours, and now you need to be patient.”

“Borrrrrinnnnggg!” Eric complains, as Patrick finally gets down to the nondescript cardboard box. “C’mon Bry, let’s go build towers and knock them down with our swords.”

Over the sounds of legos spilling all over the floor, Patrick shoots an exasperated grin at Jonny. “God, where did they get all of that energy? It must be from from you, because I’m sure I was never anything but quiet and well-behaved.”

“Lies!” Jonny laughs. “Don’t even front, Pat. Everyone in your family has been warning me since we were sixteen that you’re a hellion.”

“Traitors,” Patrick mutters before shooting Jonny a look from under his lashes, “besides, you love it.”

“I really do,” Jonny agrees easily. “Now open your damn present.”

“Da! Da! Da!” Amelie starts chanting happily, keeping time as she hits her dog, making his tail shake.

“I’m going to pretend that she’s just saying ‘Dad’.” Patrick says with a grin, “and you should be very grateful the boys aren’t paying attention, or you’d be emptying your pockets into the swear jar. Again.” He laughs when Jonny rolls his eyes at him, and then turns his attention back to the gift and eases the lid off the box.

The way Patrick’s looking at the gift, Jonny can’t see his face, can only hear the choked out noise Patrick makes in the back of his throat. He’s holding the sculpture so tightly, his knuckles turn white. “As soon as I saw it, I knew it was perfect for you.”

Patrick still can’t seem to find his voice, so Jonny goes on. “It reminds me so much of how you looked when you were holding our babies.”

Patrick makes another noise in the back of his throat and puts the lid back on the box. When he finally meets Jonny’s eyes, his are watery, and he looks pale and shocked.

“Thanks, Jon, it’s really - it’s really beautiful.” He swallows then, looking down again. “I’m just going to go put it in our room, so the boys don’t knock it over during their next sword fight.” He stands up and looks at Jonny again, head shaking a little and voice still wavery, “I really can’t believe you gave me this.”

“Who else would I give it to?” Jonny asks, bemused. “I can’t think of anyone else, can you?”

“No,” Patrick replies. “I can’t think of anyone else you would give this to, either.”

“And it was a total surprise, right?” He asks, but he’s pretty sure he did given Patrick’s reaction. “First time ever.”

“Yeah, I was surprised,” Patrick says. “I - I’ll be down in a minute.”

Jonny looks at Amelie as Patrick heads up the stairs. “I think we did good, baby girl,” he says, dropping a kiss on her head. It’s a couple of minutes later when he realizes Patrick hasn’t come back down.

“Pat?” He calls, walking over to call up the stairs. “Everything okay?”

“Can you get the boys ready to go? I’m just going to wash up, and then we better head out to the Christmas program.” Patrick says, his voice a little husky. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

When Patrick gets downstairs, they’re all sitting by the door, costumes on. Bryan’s even keeping his gold trunk safely on his lap. Jonny gestures at them with pride. “See? All ready.” Patrick nods, his eyes red, small wavering a bit. Jonny wants to tug him into a hug but Patrick hustles them out the door and then it’s the usual flurry of activity getting everyone into the SUV. Managing the robes of the wise men doesn’t make it any easier, but soon enough they're on their way.

It’s not until they’re almost at the school that Jonny realizes Patrick hasn’t said a word since he came downstairs, and when he looks over, Patrick’s face looks pinched and drawn.

“Everything okay?” he asks, putting his hand over Patrick’s on the console. Patrick’s fingers flex before he draws his hand away.

“Yeah, just got a little bit of a headache,” Patrick says, rubbing his forehead before placing both hands on the steering wheel. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”

“Says the guy who got to sleep in until nine o'clock in the morning,” Jonny teases. “And I even got the boys out of your hair for three hours when Jeff sent the limo.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says. “Jeff Carter’s doing all sorts of things to this family.”

“What do you mean?” Jonny asks, confused. "What’s he doing to us?”

“Sorry, I meant doing a lot of things for this family. You know, it feels like working with him has really changed everything. With your career, I mean,” Patrick says as he pulls into a parking spot. He turns to look at the kids. “Okay, boys, walk, do not run, into school. Papa will take you.” He looks at Jonny briefly before turning away and climbing out of the car. “I’ll get us some seats.”

It’s a cacophony of noise in the staging area for the program, and Jonny’s happy to hand off the boys to one of the parents helping corral everyone and head into the auditorium to take his seat. Amelie's sitting in between them, reading a picture book and Patrick’s staring at the stage intently. Jonny stretches an arm over Amelie's seat and knocks his hand against Patrick’s shoulder. “Still got that headache?” he asks. Patrick looks at him briefly, nodding. “Can I do anything?” Jonny asks, concerned with how quiet Patrick's been.

Patrick doesn’t speak for a long moment. “No. I think - I think I just need to sit quietly for a while. Can you just keep Ammy busy?”

“Sure,” Jonny says, but he keeps an eye on Patrick while he reads to Amelie, and Patrick’s face looks even paler than it did earlier. Before he can ask Patrick if he wants to leave, the lights go down and Mr. Verhines is welcoming everyone. Amelie's looking tired, and he helps her lay across her seat, her head in his lap, and turns his attention to the program.

***

By the end of the program, Jonny’s crying with laughter. Eric and Bryan carried their parts off with aplomb, as expected, but the Johnson boy had pantsed the virgin Mary and then all hell had broken loose. The sheep started playing ring-around-the-rosy with the shepherds right in the middle of angel bringing them tidings of great joy, and the baby Jesus was dropped -- twice -- until his head had popped off and rolled off the stage into the lap of the poor guy asleep in the front row. There was really been no going back at that point, so Mr. Verhines had mercifully called an early halt to the proceedings.

Patrick’s been quiet through most of it, though, and when Jonny wipes the last tears out of his eyes, he catches Patrick looking at him. Amelie's asleep on the chair next to Jonny -- how she ever slept through all of that noise, when in her own room she wakes up if a mouse sneezes in the house down the street, is a complete mystery -- and he elbows Patrick a little and tilts his head at her.

“I guess that solves our worry that she was going to swear like a sailor at the Christmas program.” Patrick nods but doesn’t look over, and when Jonny turns to ask Patrick if he’s okay, he stands abruptly and gathers Amelie gently into his arms. She snuffles but doesn’t wake up.

“I’m going to take her to the car,” Patrick says, his voice quiet. “Can you get the boys? Don’t forget to give Mr. Verhines the thank you card the boys made.”

When Jonny nods, he turns and walks off, even after Jonny calls to him. It’s still loud in the theatre, though, and Patrick’s got his head buried in Amelie’s curls, so Jonny just shrugs and goes to find the boys.

Predictably enough, they’re having a impromptu light-saber battle using a couple of the shepherd’s hooks. Jonny gets their robes off and returns the hooks to their rightful owners, speaking briefly to Mr. Verhines before letting Eric pull him by the hand out to where Patrick’s waiting with the car.

“A Christmas Story” is just starting to play over the entertainment system when they pull out of the school parking lot. “Boys, put on your headsets,” Patrick says, and turns the sound down once they have them on.

Jonny's explaining about the light-saber battle when Patrick drives by the entrance to their neighborhood. “Are we going to someone’s house?” Jonny asks, gesturing as they drive by their street. When Patrick doesn’t respond, he looks over. “Pat?”

“What would you do?” Patrick asks, his tone curiously flat. Jonny looks at him, but he doesn’t turn his head.

“What would I do when?” Jonny asks, mystified. “Where are we going, Patrick? Did something happen?”

“What would you do if you were in my position?” he says, speaking in that monotone again.

“Patrick,” Jonny says, losing patience with whatever it is that’s upset Patrick. “Either tell me or don’t. This passive aggressive bullshit isn’t funny or cute.”

“Sure, Jon.” Patrick glances at him, eyes narrowed. “So, what would you do, if your husband bought an erotic sculpture, and when Christmas came around, he gave it to another man?”

Jonny’s breath catches in his throat. Patrick waits a moment and when Jonny doesn’t answer, he nods to himself.

“Because I’m not sure how I should react, is the thing.” He finally looks at Jonny, a brief cut of his eyes over to where Jonny’s sitting frozen. “Do I wait around? Find out if it’s just a sculpture, or if it’s sex and a sculpture, or worst of all, if it’s a sculpture and love?”

He puts the car into park, and Jonny realizes through the roaring in his head that they’re at Niklas' house. Patrick turns to him, his face lit by only by the bright lights strung around the front yard.

“So. What would you do? Would you stick around, knowing that life will always be a little bit worse? Or would you cut and run?” He looks at Jonny for a moment longer. “Nothing to say, Jon?” When Jonny doesn’t answer, he laughs, brief and brittle, and shakes his head. “Yeah, that’s kinda what I figured.”

Patrick gets out of the car while Jonny’s still gaping at him and when he opens the door, the overhead light so bright it makes Jonny wince. Patrick’s pulling Amelie from her car seat and hustling the boys up the walk before he can get his seatbelt unfastened, and Jonny sits in the dark, his mind racing. He doesn’t realize that Patrick’s back until the light comes on again and he climbs in.

“Patrick,” Jonny starts but honestly he doesn’t know what to say, where to start. “I was an idiot, I’m a complete idiot, but I didn’t-”

“Just shut up,” Patrick says, and his voice is so cold and flat that Jonny feels like he’s been slapped. “You’ve been a jackass and you’ve made a complete fool of me,” his voice wavers briefly, and he swallows before going on, “and, and, you’ve made the life we lead - the life we’ve built together - a lie. A joke. So. Just. Just shut up. ”

Jonny thinks - he thinks he needs to protest, he needs to explain but his mind is blank of everything except panic and so he just nods and leans his head against the window, letting the coolness of the glass ground him.

For long minutes he just watches the twinkling Christmas lights go by in a blur. They’re pulling up at a stoplight when then he catches sight of Patrick’s reflection and he has to close his eyes, then because Patrick’s face is set into an expression that Jonny’s never seen before, and he’s terrified that he’s done something he’s not going to be allowed to fix.

 

***

Jonny feels like he hasn’t been able to draw a deep breath since Patrick told him he knew about the gift for Jeff. Patrick, on the other hand, has been eerily calm. He hasn’t said a word since leaving the kids with Niklas, but the moment they’re through the front door, he’s practically spitting at Jonny. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Patrick this angry.

"Got anything to say for yourself?" Patrick says with a sneer. "Did I give you enough time to come up with a good story?"

“Patrick, I’m sorry - I didn’t,” Jonny trails off, unsure what he can say. What he should say. That he didn’t want Jeff? That he wouldn’t have cheated? That he’s sorry he ever let the thought enter his head? None of it is any kind of explanation. None of it is any kind of defense.

“You’re sorry? You didn’t?” Patrick mocks. “Sorry for what, exactly? For the gift? For the reason behind the gift? Sorry I found out about it? Exactly why are you sorry?”

“I just didn’t think - “ Jonny says, his voice shaking a little. “It was just a gift. It wasn’t - there wasn’t anything else. I promise, Patrick.”

“You promise,” Patrick scoffs. “And that’s supposed to mean something to me? Because you always keep your promises? Like the one you made to me ten years ago when you swore to be faithful?”

“I wasn’t unfaithful, Patrick!” Jonny shouts.

“Right. Are you really trying to pretend that all those late night ‘meetings’ over the last few weeks were just to finish up Jeff’s project?” Patrick demands, eyebrow arched.

“It wasn’t like that! We hadn’t done anything - “ Jonny knows it’s the wrong thing to say as soon as the words are out of his mouth because Patrick blanches and recoils.

“Then?” Patrick whispers. “You hadn’t done anything then - but now you have?” The anger that was there before has drained away and left Patrick looking devastated and small.

Jonny swallows and looks down. He can’t - he doesn’t lie to Patrick. He doesn’t even know how. Patrick makes a choked noise and turns away.

Patrick's still and silent for a moment and Jonny reaches for him. If he can just touch him, he can make things right, he can fix this. Somehow. He has to.

As soon as he puts his hand on his shoulder, Patrick whirls on him, jerking away. ““Don’t you fucking touch me, you asshole. Is this why we haven’t fucked in months? Because you’ve been fucking Jeff Carter instead?”

“No! I haven’t been fucking Jeff - and you, we fucked this afternoon,” Jonny protests, his head swimming.

“Yeah, and about that,” Patrick says, his voice icy. “Maybe you should have been wearing this.” Patrick flings something at Jonny. It bounces off his chest and falls to the floor. “It dropped out of your pants pocket. Merry fucking Christmas to me, huh, Jon?”

Jonny looks down at the foil packet that Jeff had handed him. His cheeks burn, and he doesn’t answer.

“Do I need to go get tested?” Patrick shouts, his voice breaking at the end. When Jonny doesn't respond, just staring at him blindly, he growls, “Answer me, Jon! Were you at least safe, or do I need to worry about a fucking disease? Because God knows where that fucker’s dick has been.”

Jonny always forgets what a vicious little shit Patrick can be when he's angry, but he doesn’t think he’s ever heard this level of venom in his voice before. But this is Patrick -- his Patrick -- and Jonny knows him. So he can also hear, under the fury, the pain. And he did that. He did that to Patrick. Jonny’s chest tightens and suddenly he can’t breathe.

“Nothing to say, Jonny?” Patrick mocks. “Answer me, you asshole! Jonny? Jonny? Jonny!”

Distantly, Jonny can hear Patrick’s voice, can hear the anger turn to worry, but he can’t respond. He’s too busy trying to catch his breath, which doesn’t make any sense since he’s doing nothing but breathing in. The room is getting darker and then somehow he’s on the couch and Patrick's pushing his head between his knees.

After a few moments, Patrick steps back and turns to leave, but Jonny keens and grabs for his wrist. He can’t - he can’t let Patrick go. Patrick reappears in his view. “Jon. Focus. You’re hyperventilating.” Patrick’s voice is firm, steady. “Jon. I’m just going to get a paper bag, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’ll be right back.”

He spends the few moments Patrick’s gone to concentrate on not sliding off the couch. After what feels like hours, Patrick's back, cool hand on his forehead and a washrag pressed to the back of his neck. He shoves a paper bag into Jonny’s hands. “Breathe, Jonny,” he says, his thumb running back and forth just below Jonny’s hairline. "Just breathe, just breathe. I’ve got you.”

Jonny clings to Patrick’s words, to the gentle but firm way he’s holding his head. If Patrick can still do this, can still care enough, maybe - maybe Jonny hasn’t lost him forever.

That thought, more than the paper bag, calms Jonny down, and his breathing slows. When he finally sits back, he regrets it immediately when Patrick moves away. “Better?” Patrick asks, and Jonny nods. Patrick sighs, his face pinched and pained.

“I didn’t,” Jonny says, his voice wrecked. He doesn’t know if Patrick will believe him, but he’s got to get it out, can’t let Patrick worry about it another minute. “I didn’t sleep with Jeff. I wouldn’t. Patrick. I wouldn’t.”

Patrick searches his eyes for a moment, and then he relaxes, just a bit, just enough for Jonny to know he believes him. “Okay, maybe you didn’t. But. Do you have any idea what it feels like, to sit through your kids’ Christmas program, sore and leaking your husband’s come, wondering if he’s been fucking someone else?”

“It was- ,” Jonny starts, but he stops when Patrick raises a hand. Jonny can see it trembling.

“I don’t want to know,” Patrick says, his voice wavering. “Just, just answer me one thing.”

Jonny nods, knowing that he doesn’t want to hear the next thing Patrick says. He wants to shout at Patrick, beg him not to ask, to shut up. He wants to grab him and kiss him and make all of this go away. He wants to go back and stop Jeff, to reject him the first time he realized that this thing wasn’t just harmless flirting. He wants to go back and stop himself from going to Jeff’s party last night. But he can’t do any of that, and he owes it to Patrick to face this, to face him.

“You wanted him, didn’t you?” Patrick asks, and Jonny flinches. Patrick blanches and steps back. His tremors have turned into shaking, and for a long moment it looks like Patrick’s going to faint, but in the end he just sits down. His eyes never leave Jonny’s and it’s only the smallest part of what Jonny owes him to not look away.

“You - you really wanted him?” Patrick’s voice cracks, and Jonny shakes his head, desperate. “Don’t lie to me,” Patrick whispers, “don’t you fucking lie to me.”

“It wasn’t like that, Patrick, I swear, it wasn’t.” Jonny stands up and reaches for Patrick, who jerks away. He lets his hand drop. “It was harmless; I let it get out of hand. I never - I would never have done anything. I love you. I want you. I want our life together.”

Patrick looks down, makes a bitter, choked sound, a laugh or a sob or both, Jonny’s not sure. “Our life together. You want our life together? I thought you hated all the piles of laundry, and the kitchen that’s always sticky, and how loud it all is? That life?”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Patrick. You know I didn’t mean it like that,” Jonny pleads.

“I think you did mean it like that,” Patrick says, his voice flat. He’s not meeting Jonny’s eyes anymore. “Well, good news. You don’t have to worry about that life anymore.”

“Patrick,” Jonny’s voice cracks.

“I want you to leave," Patrick says, hoarse but firm. “I don’t want you here. I don’t want you in my home. You need to leave.”

“Please,” Jonny says, “please don’t. I’ll do anything - what can I do? I’ll do anything. Just tell me how to fix this.”

“You can’t fix this, Jonny,” Patrick says, his voice terrifyingly steady. Sure. Cold. “If you want to do something for me, leave. That’s all I want from you.”

Patrick turns and walks into the kitchen, his shoulders hunched and still shaking a little and it takes everything in Jonny not to follow him. He looks down at the washrag Patrick had brought him, abandoned on the couch, soaking into the cushions. He picks it up. Patrick loves the couch, Jonny thinks. He wouldn’t want it to get ruined.

Jonny looks around the family room, at the table in the corner, covered with stickers that Bryan had applied and Jonny had never been able to get off. At the arm chair where he’d sat with Amelie when Patrick had been so sick after she was born, hours spent there feeding her so Patrick could sleep. At the mantle, covered in photographs of their wedding, the boys’ baptism, the family portrait Jonny’s mom had made them take, all of them in white shirts and jeans. At the carpet where, once upon a time, Jonny had fucked Patrick twice before he let him come. When Patrick had come, he’d sobbed Jonny’s name, and Jonny had felt like he could conquer the world as long as Patrick loved him.

Jonny looks around and he wants to collapse. This is his everything; Patrick is his everything. this is the life they’d built together. Jonny had forgotten, he’d been bored and stupid, he’d let himself get drawn into something meaningless. He’d forgotten who he was, what he’d built here with Patrick. Jonny looks around and he wants to collapse, but he doesn’t. Because this is the life he built with Patrick, the life they’ve built together, and he’s not giving up that life without a fight.

Chapter Text

Patrick manages not to break down until he hears Jonny’s car leave the garage. But when he pulls out his phone, his fingers are shaking so much that he almost can’t enter his password and dial.

“Pat?” Erica says when she answers after a couple of rings. “How was the Christmas program? I can’t believe I missed my little men doing their wise man thing. Fuck my schedule, anyway. Who schedules a movie shoot on a Saturday night in December?”

“Erica, I- I-” Patrick’s throat clicks when he swallows, struggling to speak.

“Patrick,” Erica’s tone switches to concern. “What’s wrong? Did something happen? Are the kids okay?”

“No, they’re fine.” Patrick’s palm is damp enough that the phone slips a little in his grip, and he switches hands. “No one’s hurt. But-but. It’s Jonny.”

“What about Jonny?” she asks, concerned but no longer frantic.

Patrick inhales, a choking sob. “He- oh God, Erica, he fucking cheated on me.”

“He did not,” Erica says, shocked. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“He-there’s this guy he’s working with. Erica. He didn’t buy it for me, he bought it for him.” Patrick babbles.

“Pat, Pat, slow down. You’re not making sense. What did Jonny buy?”

“The sculpture,” Patrick says, and he’s crying enough now. He wipes his cheeks. “That fucking sculpture I told you about last week. The nude one? The one I found last week.” He chokes out a laugh. “I’m such an idiot. I thought it was for me.”

“How do you know? Did you ask him?”

Patrick laughs, harsh and low. “Because he didn’t give it to me. He gave me a sculpture of a man holding a baby. He gave me a sculpture of a man holding a baby, and he gave another man sexy art.” He swallows. “So I asked him, and he said-” He chokes again.

“What did he say?”

“He said he didn’t fuck him, but,” Patrick sobs. “That he didn’t fuck him, but he said he wanted to,” and now Patrick’s sobbing. “And I don’t know what to do. What am I going to do? What do I do?”

“You stay there, I’m coming to you,” Erica says. “Don’t hang up, I’m on my way.”

***

Patrick listens to the sounds of the house, empty of the kids and Jonny, and it’s so quiet, the silence is starting to sound loud in his ears. He’s too exhausted to get up and turn on the television, just for some noise, and so he sits there. He responds to Erica every so often, when she asks, but he’s not listening to the stream of inane conversation she’s keeping up.

He tries not to think about all the ways that Jonny’s been choosing Jeff over Patrick and the kids over the past few weeks. He’d thought it was the project -- Jonny had said it was just the project, just work -- but now that he knows it was more than that. He hadn’t even suspected. He’d trusted Jonny. His cheeks flame as he thinks about all the ways that he’s been blind to the whole thing.

He tunes back in as Erica’s says, “I’m here,” and hangs up the phone. He still startles when the garage door bangs open. “Patrick?” Erica calls from the kitchen. “Where are you?”

“In the family room,” Patrick responds. “Ironic, huh?” He drops his head into his hands and presses the heels of his hands against his eyes, which feel hot and sore.

Erica comes in and immediately pulls him into a hug. “Where are the kids?”

“Dropped them off at Ben’s house,” he says. “I’ve got to pick them up in the morning.”

“Okay, good,” she says. “So. Go through it all for me. What happened?”

“He,” Patrick stops, swallows, his throat dry. “He gave the sculpture to Jeff fucking Carter.”

“The one you found last week?” She prompts, rubbing his back, and Patrick let’s himself lean on her.

“Yep,” Patrick says. “And you know what he gave me?” He holds up the sculpture, and Erica’s eyebrows draw in. “This. This is how he thinks of me. And the other one: the naked, strong, masculine one? When he saw that one, he thought of Jeff.”

“Oh, Patty,” Erica soothes, stroking his arm. “I’m so sorry.”

Erica’s sympathy is what finally breaks him, and he starts to cry again, clutching his arms and rocking. “Erica, what do I do, what do I do,” he sobs, and she wraps her arm around his shoulders.

He cries for so long that at the end, he’s hiccuping and exhausted. He takes a deep breath, and after he lets it out in a long gust, he sits up and pulls away from Erica a little. She hands him a tissue, her face sympathetic, and he has to look away before he starts crying again. “Even though he’s the one who hurt me, I wish he was here to hold me and make it better. Pathetic, huh?”

“No,” Erica says, hugging him. “He’s been there for you for the the last, fifteen, twenty years? Of course you want him to comfort you.” She pulls him off the couch. “What we need is alcohol, and lots of if,” she says decisively.

By unspoken agreement, they knock back their first drinks immediately, the second one Patrick sips more slowly. He can feel the burn melting slowly into a warmth that combines with all of his crying earlier, leaving him exhausted.

He lists a little into Erica, and she hugs him up against her side. “So, I need to know what you want tonight,” she says. “Are we mad at Jonny, sad about Jonny, don’t want to talk about Jonny, or just don’t want to talk at all?”

Patrick laughs hollowly. “I’ll take door number four for one hundred dollars, Bob.”

“Got it,” Erica says. They sit, silent except for the occasional creak of the house. “Bed?” Erica says after a while, and when he looks at the clock, it’s past eleven, so he nods and they head up.

He grabs her hand when they get to the top of the stairs. “Stay with me?”

“Sure, Patty,” she says. “Let me grab something from my drawer in the guest room and brush my teeth. I’ll be right there.”

Patrick has to restrain himself from following but he finally turns and walks to his bedroom. He looks around the room, at the laundry hamper, at the bed, and at the sculpture that he’s still holding onto. He probably should feel like crying, but he’s too numb to do more than hiccup a small sob, so he sets it down on his dresser and goes into the ensuite to get ready for bed, resolutely ignoring his own reflection and the smudged handprints he can see on the shower door, a painful reminder of that afternoon.

Erica comes in a few minutes later, while he’s still brushing his teeth, and she meets his eyes in the mirror. “You good?” When he nods, she says, “Okay, bed.”

Patrick pulls the covers up and turns on his side, away from Jonny’s side of the bed. Erica puts her hand on his back. “Just try to get some sleep,” she says. The light clicks off, and she settles next to him. A few minutes later she’s breathing steadily, and Patrick tries to use the cadence of it to lull himself to sleep, but every time he closes his eyes he sees the condom fall out of Jonny’s pocket. And every time he opens them, he sees the sculpture, mocking him from where it’s still sitting on the dresser.

He huffs finally and gets out of bed, when it’s clear that he’s not going to sleep if he has to look at the visible reminder of the evening. He puts it in the bottom drawer of his dresser and climbs back into bed, lying on his back and staring at the dark ceiling. He times his breath to the rhythm of Erica’s breathing, and slowly, slowly, he drifts off into an uneasy sleep.

***

Patrick wakes up slowly and stretches, patting the bed next to him absently. Amelie isn’t there, and he turns to crow to Jonny that she slept through the night in her own bed. Except Erica is lying in Jonny’s spot, and he can’t bite back the pained noise he lets out as last night comes rushing back to him.

“Pat,” Erica says, rolling onto her back. “Shh.” She holds his hand and they lie there, silent, for a long moment before Erica gets out of the bed. “Up, lazy butt, it’s time to face the day.”

“Ugh, Erica, stop channelling mom, it’s terrifying,” Patrick grouses, but he’s smiling a little when he gets up. He takes his shower while Erica gets cleaned up in the guest bath, and when she comes downstairs, he’s just put the toast in to go with scrambled eggs and cut up fruit. He’s glad it’s colorful because he’s pretty sure it’s not going to taste like anything in his mouth.

“This looks nice,” Erica says. They eat in silence, and she doesn’t speak again until she pushes her plate away. “So,” she says, and Patrick braces himself. “Tell me the whole story. From the beginning.”

He rolls his shoulders back and goes over the events of the night before as quickly as he can.

Erica’s mostly silent, asking a question here and there, but when he gets to the part where Jonny hyperventilated, Erica snorts. “Jesus, Pat, are you fucking kidding me? You’re comforting him when he’s the one who cheated?”

Stung, Patrick snaps, “He couldn’t fucking breathe, Erica. Also, I’m not a heartless bitch.”

Erica inhales sharply, her mouth twisting.

“God, no, I’m sorry,” Patrick says, on the edge of tears again. “I’m just - I didn’t mean that, I’m just so confused and tired, and I didn’t mean it. You’re the opposite of a heartless bitch.”

Erica’s silent for a long moment before she sighs. “I know, Pat, but you need to pull yourself the fuck together. I’m on your side. I will always be on your side, but that doesn’t mean you get to talk to me like that.”

Patrick nods, and traces a pattern on the table. “I know. I’m sorry.”

Erica’s voice is lighter, but still with a touch of steel behind it. “Good, because if you do it again, I’m going to have to tell mom.”

Patrick coughs out a laugh, and just like that, he’s crying again.

Erica stands and takes the fork out of his hand, placing it on the table before pulling Patrick up into her arms. She hugs him, rocking him gently. Patrick sniffles. “I’ve got to stop doing that,” he says. “I can’t let the kids see me like this.”

“No, you can’t,” Erica agrees calmly. “So pull yourself together. We’ll go get your babies after we clean up this joint.” She gestures at the kitchen, which still has the remnants of last night’s hasty dinner on the counter. Patrick winces at the bowl of spaghetti drying out next to the sink.

“Right,” Patrick says, glad to have a plan, but just then, he hears the garage door open. He and Erica stare at each other. “No one else uses the garage,” Patrick says, and his heart races as he realizes it’s got to be Jonny. He’s not ready to deal with Jonny. He’s frozen, unsure whether to run or to stand and face Jonny down.

He looks at Erica, panicking, and she reaches for his hand. “I’m here, I’ve got you,” she says and he takes a deep breath. “I’ll tell him to go.”

Doors slam and then Eric comes racing in, yelling “Daddy!” He stops when he sees Patrick and launches himself at him. “Missed you, Daddy, where were you? I stayed at Mr. Smith’s house and he gave me cake for breakfast!” Patrick catches him and pulls him up onto his hip.

Jonny walks in, carrying a sleepy-looking Amelie, Bryan clinging to his pant leg. “Hey,” he says, his eyes widening slightly when he catches sight of Erica before his face shutters. “Ben called and said he couldn’t get you to answer your phone,” he says, his tone slightly defiant. “He had to go out, so I picked up the kids.”

“You-” Patrick starts, but Eric is turning his chin and he has to stop and grab his hand. “Eric, Daddy and Papa are having a conversation. Please stop interrupting us.”

“But Daddy, Mr. Smith’s house is so cool! We played crazy eights, and he has a dog, and he let me walk him.”

“In the backyard,” Bryan scoffs, “that doesn’t count.”

“Does too.” Eric says, narrowing his eyes.

“Does not!”

The noise in the kitchen is reawakening Patrick’s headache, and he puts a hand to his temple. He closes his eyes to the intensity of Jonny’s gaze as the boys bicker back and forth.

“Boys,” Jonny says, his voice firm. “Enough. Go upstairs and get changed. I’m taking you to soccer practice in fifteen minutes.”

“But Papa-” Eric protests.

“Eric,” Jonny says. “Now.”

Eric glares at Jonny but follows Bryan upstairs, and Patrick turns back to Jonny, where he seems to be in some sort of staring contest with Erica. “You can go now,” Erica says coldly, and he takes a moment to wonder where Jonny stayed last night. He’s pale and he’s wearing the same clothes, although now they’re rumpled, like he slept in them. He looks so familiar that Patrick aches.

“This is my home,” Jonny says firmly, glancing at Patrick and then back at Erica. “I’m staying here.”

“No, you need to go,” Patrick says quietly. “I cannot deal with you today. You can take the boys to soccer, but once you drop them off, don’t come back.”

“I’m coming back, Patrick,” Jonny says, and he has color high in his cheeks now. “This is my home. This is my family.”

“I’m not arguing with you about this,” Patrick says, his voice rising, but Erica breaks in before he can go on.

“For fuck’s sake you two, you’re worse than the boys! Knock it off.” She looks between them, then sighs. “Give me Amelie. You two need to talk.” Jonny transfers Amelie into her arms. “Come here, Lady Bug, Aunt Erica’s got you.” She squeezes his arm on the way by, and he looks at her, pleading. She shakes her head and walks out.

Jonny eyes Patrick warily. “How are you?” He winces when Patrick lifts an eyebrow at him. “I mean, are you doing okay?”

“Fuck off,” Patrick snaps. “And get out of my way. I need to make the water bottles.” He’s careful not to touch Jonny as he moves to the sink.

“Pat,” Jonny says. “We need to talk. You have to let me explain-”

“No, we don’t,” Patrick says, cutting Jonny off. “You need to leave. Why don’t you go wait in the car, and I’ll send the boys out?”

“I am not waiting in the fucking car,” Jonny grits out. “This is my house, too, and I’m not leaving.”

“If you won’t stop being a dick about this,” Patrick responds, mock sweetly, “I’ll just call my attorney, and you can talk to her about moving out. I need to call her anyway.”

Jonny pales again and takes a step back. “You - we - Pat,” he says, his tone panicky. “Don’t do that. Please. If you’d just let me explain, we can work this out.”

Patrick turns back to the sink and wrings out the dishrag tightly. “I don’t know that I want to work this out,” he says, and he’s not sure if he’s lying or not. “I do know that I definitely don’t want you here right now.” He hears Eric and Bryan stomping on the stairs. “Stop jumping, boys,” he calls.

“Aw, Dad,” Eric whines, but the remaining stairs are taken more quietly. He closes the water bottles. “Here,” he hands them to Jonny and grabs the soccer bag from the mud room. “They can put their shin guards and cleats on in the car.”

Jonny’s still standing at the island, his mouth working but no sound coming out. “Jonny,” he says sharply, and Jonny’s mouth snaps shut. “You need to go.” He glances at where Eric is watching them intently. “Or you’ll be late.” Jonny nods tightly, adding the water bottles to the bag and zipping it closed.

“Bye, Dad,” Bryan says, skipping out of the kitchen after giving Patrick a hug.

Eric runs over and grabs Patrick, gripping tightly. “I don’t want to go to practice, Daddy,” he says, and starts to cry. “I want to stay here with you.”

“Buddy,” Patrick says, and he untangles Eric from his legs and squats in front of him. “You love soccer. And all of your friends will be there.”

Eric shakes his head. “Don’t care. Why can’t I stay here with you?”

“Eric,” Jonny says, putting a hand on Eric’s shoulder and turning him so he’s looking up at him. “Remember when we talked about keeping your promises?” Eric nods, sniffling. “When we signed you up for soccer, you agreed to go to all the practices and the games. That’s like making a promise to your team. You need to keep your promise. You’ll have fun once you’re there. Don’t you always have fun when you go to practice?” Eric nods again. “So let’s get going, buddy.”

Eric scrubs at his nose and looks at Patrick. “Daddy’ll be here when I come home?”

“Of course,” Patrick says.

“And Papa?” Eric says

“Of course,” Jonny responds, looking at Patrick challengly.

Patrick sighs and nods. “Yeah, and Papa. But Papa has a very busy day, so he might not be able to hang out here. Okay?” Eric shrugs and Patrick hugs him before standing up and pushing him gently towards the door. “Go get in the car, Papa’ll be out in a minute. Start putting on your shin guards.”

Eric walks out, dragging his feet a little, and he gives one last glance back at them as he leaves. When Patrick hears the door shut, he turns to Jonny, furious. “Fine, you can come back, but only for a little while.”

“We need to talk about this,” Jonny insists. “I’m not moving out.”

“Just go,” Patrick says.

Jonny makes a frustrated sound before he turns and walks out. Patrick slumps against the counter,drained.

“Well, that sucked,” Erica says, walking in. “Amelie, go give Daddy a hug. He’s having a rough day.”

“Dada,” Amelie says, and runs over. “Up, Dada!” Patrick picks her up and buries his nose in her hair. She puts her arms around his neck and squeezes. If he sniffles a little into her brown curls, Erica is decent enough not to say anything. He’s going to have to prepare for the conversation with Jonny after the soccer game, but for now, he’s going to hold his baby girl.

“I’m going to make her lunch,” Erica says. “And after she eats, you can lay down with her, get a little rest.”

“Only if you wake me up when Jonny gets here,” Patrick says stubbornly.

“Pat, you need to get some sleep,” Erica says firmly. “I texted Jonny to take the boys out to lunch and to that new Pixar movie that came out last week. So you have plenty of time to rest.” She smiles darkly. “And if Jonny comes home before you’re awake, I’m sure we can find something to talk about.”

“Erica,” Patrick says, exhausted suddenly. “You can’t fight this battle for me.”

“I know, but I can tell him what an utter asshole he is,” Erica says. When Patrick scowls, she sighs. “Fine, I’ll be nice. Well. Not nice, but I won’t gut him.” She pauses. “Can I scare him a little?”

Patrick snorts despite himself. “No, Erica. Leave Jonny to me.”

“Vroom, Dada, vroom,” Amelie interrupts, and Patrick laughs. “Okay, let’s go get your vacuum.” He smiles his thanks to Erica and carries Amelie out to play while Erica gets lunch ready. At least with Amelie he can ignore everything for a few minutes and just enjoy her delighted giggles.

A half hour later, Amelie’s rubbing her eyes and when Patrick scoops her up, she puts her head on his shoulder. It makes him yawn, and when he looks over, Erica’s smirking at him. “Fine, fine, I’m tired. But . . . wake me up when Jonny gets here?” Patrick says as he heads upstairs with Amelie. Erica rolls her eyes but nods and shoos him upstairs.

Amelie’s always affectionate and sweet when she’s tired, and it just takes a few minutes to get her diaper changed and into her crib. By the time he lays down himself, his eyes are heavy, but he feels a little less like the world ended last night.

Even if it did.

***

Patrick wakes with a start. He’s in the spare bed in Amelie’s room, and for a moment he lets himself breathe in her scent, a combination of baby lotion, shampoo and something that’s just Amelie, before he forces himself to sit up. Amelie’s not in her crib, and he stretches, yawning loudly.

Erica was right, he needed to rest, and he feels better able to face the rest of the day. He quickly splashes water on his face and makes his way downstairs. The house is quiet so he figures Erica must have taken Amelie to the park, but when he glances at the clock, it’s after four. The boys should be back by now, so at least he slept long enough that he doesn’t have to face Jonny.

“Pat.” He jumps at Jonny’s voice and spins around. “Fuck, you scared me,” Patrick says, his heart pounding.

“Yeah, sorry. I thought you knew I was here,” he says.

“I just woke up. I figured you’d dropped the boys off and left,” Patrick says and chews on his lip. “I, uh. I guess you were right. We need to talk.” He glances at Jonny, who’s pale, his eyes bloodshot. “I’m going to make some coffee. You want some?”

Jonny nods, and Patrick gets the coffee started while Jonny pulls out his ‘Architects do it with Models (and they finish on top)’ mug. He stares at it for a long moment before putting it back and choosing two nondescript mugs. He shrugs when Patrick looks at him and takes a deep breath, but Patrick shakes his head. “Nope, not until we both have some caffeine.”

“Should I get the Kahlua?” Jonny jokes lamely, and when Patrick doesn’t laugh, his shoulders slump. “Just go sit,” Patrick says, and gestures at the living room, and Jonny leaves without saying anything else. Patrick takes the few moments while the coffee brews to compose himself. He honestly feels completely cried out, and he doesn’t want this to be the emotional shit-show that yesterday -- and this morning -- was.

When he brings the coffee into the living room, Jonny’s got a picture frame in his hand that he hastily puts down on the shelf, flushing. Patrick hands Jonny his coffee, careful not to touch him and sits back on the couch. Jonny slumps down at the other end and stares into the mug intently.

“So,” Patrick starts. “You wanted to talk to me?”

Jonny’s mouth opens and closes twice before he gets anything out. “Patrick, you have to know that I would never - I wouldn’t have done anything with Jeff. Ever.” He looks up then, his eyes glassy. “I love you, I didn’t, I promise.”

Patrick snorts. “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t really put much stock in your promises right now, Jon. So I’m not sure why you think I’d believe anything you say.” He smiles meanly when Jonny flinches. “But let’s just pretend that I believe you that nothing happened. That doesn’t change the fact that you said you wanted to fuck him. And I’m pretty sure that’s not any better.”

“Christ, Pat, of course it’s better!” Jonny shouts, standing and glaring at him. “You can’t seriously think that not sleeping with someone is worse than actually sleeping with them!”

“I don’t think you get to tell me what I think right now,” Patrick snaps.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Patrick,” Jonny explodes, but then he deflates, rubbing his eyes wearily. “Jesus.” He swallows, his throat clicking and looks out the window into the back yard. When he looks back at Patrick, eyes red and shiny, Patrick has to look away.

“I’m so sorry, Pat,” Jonny says, and his voice cracks. “Please, can you forgive me? I’ll do anything if you would just, just forgive me.”

Patrick looks down at his mug and swallows himself. “I don’t think I can,” he says, his voice hollow. “And I don’t think I want to. But.” He meets Jonny’s eyes. “Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I can.” He looks down again and shrugs. He and Jonny have broken up before, but it’s never been something that he feels like they’re not going to come back from. “So. I’m not sure where that leaves us. But I do know I don’t want you here right now.”

“But you have to-”

“Listen to me,” Patrick says. “Whatever you did with Jeff fucking Carter, you shouldn’t have done it.” His voice cracks and he clenches his jaw until he can go on. “I want you to move out,” he says again, more firmly. “And we need to tell the kids soon. They've been too busy to notice that things were different this morning, but that’s not going to work when you move your stuff out.”

“Patrick,” Jonny whispers. “Please, please don’t do this.” To Patrick’s shock, a tear rolls down one of his cheeks. He’s known Jonny since he was fourteen years old, and they’ve been together since they were sixteen. He’s never seen Jonny cry. It makes his own throat spasm, and he can’t sit here any longer, so he grabs his mug and chokes out, “Need more coffee?” and rushes out of the room.

He stands at the sink and lets the silent racking sobs shake his body for a solid minute before he wipes his face and takes a few deep breaths, concentrating on breathing in and out until his chest isn’t as tight. He doesn’t want Jonny to leave; he doesn’t want Jonny to have cheated on him; he doesn’t want Jonny to ever have met Jeff. But he’s not going to get what he wants, and he can’t bear the thought of Jonny being here more than he can’t bear the thought of Jonny leaving. He takes two more deep breaths and goes back to the living room.

Jonny’s sitting now, head bowed and Patrick stands in the doorway for a minute watching him. His face is wet, and as Patrick watches, he shudders and swipes at his cheeks, squaring his shoulders. Patrick clears his throat, and Jonny startles and stands.

“Pat,” he says, his voice wrecked. “I’ll leave if this is really what you want?” Patrick makes himself nod, his throat fighting the words. “Okay.” Jonny says. “Okay.” He sits up straight. “When do you want to tell the boys?” Patrick hadn’t thought about it, so he says the first thing that comes to mind.

“Today.”

Jonny’s throat works. “Today?” He asks, and his voice cracks. “I-” He clears his throat twice before he continues. “Okay. Just. Can we wait until later? I’d like to have some time with them before-” He cuts himself off and looks down at his hands. “Before we tell them.”

“Whatever,” Patrick says, exhausted and unbearably sad. “You should go pack up some of your stuff now. They don’t need to see that.” He chews on his lip. “Where are you going to stay?”

“I don’t know,” Jonny says quietly. “Last night I stayed at the Courtyard on Oaks.” He sighs. “I guess I’ll go get started.”

Jonny’s steps are heavy on the stairs, and when he’s out of sight Patrick slumps.

He tells himself that this is the right thing, even if it feels horribly wrong. He looks at his watch. It’s almost dinner time, and cooking will definitely help pass the time while Jonny is upstairs packing. He texts Erica ‘all clear. come home’ and sets to work, turning on the Kings game for some background noise. He resolutely doesn’t think about what Jonny’s doing upstairs in their bedroom as he starts chopping some onions, and he snorts when he realizes he’s so cried out that just this once they don’t bother his eyes at all.

***

Patrick’s got dinner in the oven when the kids walk in, covered in dirt from the soccer game and the park. “Jesus, Erica, did you let them roll around in the mud?” She gives him a flat look and he puts his hands up. “Sorry, I mean: thank you, Erica, for taking the kids to the park.” He smiles wanly. “I’m going to get them in the bath. Dinner should be ready in about forty-five minutes. You want to stay?” He looks at her pleadingly, but she just shakes her head.

“I need to get home, I feel gross.” She motions him to the door to the garage, and whispers, “What’s going on?”

“Jonny’s upstairs packing some clothes and shit. I asked him to move out. Tonight.” At Erica’s concerned look, he shrugs. “I can’t have him here, I just can’t.” She nods and rubs his arm consolingly.

“Yeah, I get it, Pat. Do you need me to stay? I can shower later.”

He sighs. “No, it’s probably better if you’re not here; we’re going to tell the boys after dinner.”

“What are you telling them?”

“That he’s moving out. That- that.” Patrick stops. He thought about it the whole time he was making dinner, but he still doesn’t know what he wants to say, and he tells her that.

She bites her lip. “Maybe just stick to what’s happening today? You guys need a break from each other, and he’s going to stay at a hotel.”

Patrick shrugs. “Maybe,” he says, but as he turns it over in his head, he decides it’s actually a good idea. “Yeah, that’ll work, I think.”

“You need to talk it over with him, Pat. The last thing the kids need is for you two to be on different pages with this.”

Patrick nods again, and Erica leaves, making him promise to call her if he needs her. He rests his head on the door after she’s gone, and jumps when Jonny says his name. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you again. I’m done,” he swallows loudly. “I’m done packing. Where are the kids?”

“Out back; they came home covered in dirt, and I need to give them baths,” Patrick says.

“I’m, uh. I’m going to take my stuff out,” Jonny says. “I can handle bath duty, if you want?” When Patrick shrugs, he sighs and turns to leave. He’s almost at the door when Patrick calls to him.

“What are we going to say?” Patrick says a little desperately.

Jonny looks at him sadly and shrugs. “I don’t know, Pat, this is kind of your show.”

“I know, but . . . Erica said we need to be on the same page . . . to make it easier on them.” To make it easier on him, too, Patrick thinks but doesn’t say out loud.

“Yeah,” Jonny sighs. “Any ideas about what we should say?”

Patrick repeats what Erica suggested, and Jonny shrugs again. “Works for me.” He pauses. “You’re not going to - to - say anything about, uh, Jeff, are you?” His mouth twists when he says Jeff’s name.

“God, no,” Patrick says, horrified. “I wouldn’t do that. They’d never understand, and if they did, they’d probably never forgive you.”

Jonny’s shoulders relax imperceptibly. “Thanks,” he says. “I don’t think I could bear that.” Patrick’s throat closes again, so he just nods, and stands out of the way when Jonny gestures at the door to the garage. “I’m just going to put these in the car, and then I’ll get the boys cleaned up,” he says.

Once he’s gone, Patrick squares his shoulders and turns back to the stove to get the roasted carrots started. The routine of preparing dinner and getting the table set helps him to relax a little and by the time Jonny brings the boys down, Amelie’s in her high chair, her face smeared with orange goo from the carrots.

“Everybody hungry?” He asks, and sets out the food. Dinner is surprisingly normal, considering Jonny’s mostly pushing his food around his plate. The boys are busy relating every single thing they did at the park, so they don’t seem to notice how quiet Patrick’s being, although he catches Eric staring at him at one point. He tries to smile and Eric’s eyes narrow, so he busies himself putting more banana slices on Amelie’s tray.

Jonny does the dishes, and Patrick retreats to the family room, stopping on the way to pour them both a drink, which he goes back to deliver to Jonny in the kitchen. Jonny thanks him awkwardly, and Patrick’s throat closes up again at how uncomfortable things are between them now. He knocks back his own drink and detours to get a refill before sitting down to watch the boys’ sword fight. It feels so much like last night that it makes Patrick nauseous.

When Jonny comes in a few minutes later he’s pale and wearing a resigned expression. He stops in the doorway and watches the boys smacking each other, and Patrick can see his throat work. His eyes are red when he meets Patrick’s gaze, and Patrick has to look away. He clears his throat and pats the couch next to him. “Sit down, I’ve got a front row seat for the fight.” Jonny looks at him gratefully and sits down carefully.

They watch in silence until almost eight o’clock when Amelie crawls over to Jonny and puts her head on his knee. “Okay, mademoiselle, I think you’re about done,” he says, and swings her into his arms. “Say goodnight to Daddy.” He holds her out for Patrick to kiss, and when he does, she says, “Bon nuit, Dada,” before she tucks her head under Jonny’s chin.

Patrick keeps his face carefully still until Jonny has left the room, and then he slumps, suddenly exhausted. His anger at Jonny has been fueling him all day, but now that they’re at the point of telling the boys, it’s gone, and in its place is a hollow sadness. Jonny’s been everything to Patrick, for Patrick, since they were too young to know what they were doing, and he’s still bewildered by how things have changed overnight.

“Daddy,” Eric interrupts Patrick’s thoughts. “Why are you crying?” Patrick swipes his cheeks, surprised to find them wet.

“Did you get an ouchie?” Bryan asks from where he’s standing behind Eric, chewing on his lip anxiously.

“No, I didn’t get an ouchie,” Patrick responds, smiling weakly. “I was just thinking about something sad.” The boys look at him skeptically. “You know, like that time in Bambi, when Bambi’s mom died, and how it makes you sad when you think about it?” Patrick realizes that perhaps Bambi isn’t the example he should have picked, but it’s too late now. “I was just thinking about something sad like that.”

“What were you thinking about?” Bryan asks, ever inquisitive.

“Um, I -,” Patrick starts, and startles when Jonny cuts him off. “Boys, you need to sit down so Daddy and I can talk to you about-” his voice cracks, and he clears his throat. “About a few things.”

Bryan climbs onto Jonny’s lap and Eric looks at them both suspiciously before sitting on the couch. “About what? Did we do something wrong?”

“No, baby,” Patrick says, and he grabs Eric’s hand. “You didn’t do anything wrong.” He looks at Jonny helplessly. “We just . . . Papa and I are. Um.”

“You know how Daddy and I have been fighting sometimes the last few weeks?” Jonny says, a muscle in his jaw ticking. The boys nod, Bryan confused, Eric sombre. “Well, we’ve decided to take a little time out.”

Bryan giggles. “Daddy’s in time out?”

“No, Daddy’s not in time out,” Jonny says, and Bryan’s smile fades when he looks at Jonny. “Are you crying, too, Papa?”

Patrick squeezes his eyes shut.

“Yeah, I am. I’m a little sad, buddy,” Jonny says. When Patrick opens his eyes, Jonny’s looking at him, his eyes red. “Because I’m in timeout, not Daddy. And I’m going to have to take my timeout somewhere else.”

“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” Eric accuses suddenly. Bryan gasps when Jonny nods, his expression pinched. “You’re getting a divorcing, aren’t you?” Eric shouts at Jonny. “You liar! You promised! You promised!”

Patrick grabs Eric just as he’s raising his arm and rushing toward Jonny, pulling him into his arms. Eric is shaking, big tremors that Patrick knows from experience mean he’s about to have a total meltdown. Bryan’s wailing and clutching at Jonny, who looks like he’s about to break.

“Boys,” Patrick says, holding onto to Eric tightly. “It’s going to be okay. We’re not getting divorced.”

When Eric shakes his head violently, wriggling and crying “Let go, let go,” he almost gets Patrick under the chin.

Jonny growls. “ERIC! Enough.”

Eric flinches and then bursts into tears. “You promised, Papa. You promised,” he sobs, and then buries his head in Patrick’s shoulder.

Bryan is still sobbing but now he’s reaching for Eric, and Jonny lets him go. When Bryan gets close enough, Eric grabs him and suddenly Patrick has a lap full of sobbing six year-old boys. Jonny stands up, white as a sheet. “I’m going to go get some kleenex, I’ll be right back.” His voice cracks at the end as he leaves the room.

“Shh, shh, boys, it’s going to be okay,” Patrick says and buries his head in Bryan’s curls. "It’s going to be okay.” He’s not sure if he’s telling them or himself.

By the time Jonny gets back, the boys have gone from hysterical to quietly sobbing, and Patrick takes the tissues from Jonny gratefully, smoothing back first Eric and then Bryan’s hair and wiping their faces. He pats the couch next to him and when Jonny sits down, he shifts Bryan over into his lap. “Shh, baby, Papa’s got you.”

Bryan looks between Patrick and Jonny, his face red and wet and then he’s gripping Jonny around the shoulders. “Don’t go, don’t go, Papa,” he cries, his voice hoarse and thick. “Don’t leave us, please! Papa, please! Please!”

Jonny swallows and says, “I’m not going far, I promise, and I’ll be here every day-” he darts a look at Patrick, who nods sharply, his jaw clenched- “I’ll still be doing hockey and taking you to soccer and all sorts of things.” He kisses Bryan’s forehead. “I’m not leaving, I would never leave you.”

“You want to live at Mr. Carter’s house, don’t you?” Eric says, his voice wavering. “You like his house better than ours!”

“No!” Jonny shouts, shocked, looking at Patrick with panic. He takes a breath and lowers his voice. “No, Eric, never. I’m not going to live there, I’m just - I’m going to stay at a hotel for a little while.” He meets Patrick’s eyes, and the raw pain there makes Patrick’s heart ache for him, and he has to look away. For the first time, Patrick wonders if they’re doing the right thing here; nobody on the couch looks like this is making them feel any better. “I don’t want to live anywhere but here, with you and your daddy, Eric.”

Eric sniffles and shakes his head. “I heard you and Daddy fighting about going to Mr. Carter’s house, and I don’t care what you say,” Eric’s voice cracks. “I don’t want you to live with him. He’s a mean man who laughed at me.”

Patrick turns Eric to face him. “Eric, Papa’s not - he’s not going to be at Mr. Carter’s house. I promise. For now, he’s taking a timeout at the hotel.” Eric shakes his head, but Patrick grabs his chin. “And you can visit him there, so you can see what it’s like. I bet it even has a pool. Right, Papa?” Jonny nods, but Eric shakes his head.

“I’m not going to your stupid hotel,” he says. “You can live there, and I don’t care because you broked your promise.” With that, he buries his head in Patrick’s neck and starts crying in earnest again.

Bryan looks torn between defending Jonny and joining Eric on Patrick’s lap. Jonny’s arms go lax around him, and Bryan is up like a shot, climbing onto Patrick’s lap and squirming until he’s wrapped around Eric.

Jonny shudders and stands up. “I’m just going to go,” he says, his eyes red-rimmed and glassy. “I’ll- I’ll call you tomorrow.” Patrick nods, his throat tight. When the front door closes quietly, Patrick buries his head in the twins’ hair and lets his own tears fall.

***

“We told them,” Patrick says, his voice wrecked. “So. I guess it’s official, now.”

Erica is silent on the other end of the line for a few moments, and Patrick listens to her breathing, letting it soothe him. “Do you want me to come over again?” she asks. Then, when he doesn’t respond, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

Patrick stares at the phone after she hangs up, turning it over and over in his hand. It’s quiet again in the house, just a few creaks and the buzz of the baby monitor breaking up the silence, a distressing repeat of the night before, and he wonders if this is his life now. Sitting alone after the kids are asleep. He doesn’t know how long he’s been sitting there when Erica walks in and snaps on the light next to the couch.

“Oh, Patty,” she says, and pulls him into her arms. It’s the permission he’s been waiting for, and he starts to cry.

“It was so awful, Erica, so awful.” Patrick breathes, shakily, wiping at his face. “Bryan wouldn’t stop crying, Eric was so angry. I’ve never seen him like that. I thought he was going to hit Jonny. Or me.”

“I’m sure he was angry,” Erica says, her voice firm. “We’re all angry with Jonny. I still can’t - “

Patrick cuts her off. “I don’t want to talk about Jonny, not. Not yet. I have to focus on the kids, on what happens next. If I don’t, I’m just going to pull the covers over my head and not get out of bed until next Tuesday.”

Erica rubs his back and nods. “Okay, Pat, okay.” They sit quietly for another minute before Erica asks, “So, do you want to tell me what happened? Or do you just want to get out the Ben & Jerry’s and put a movie in?” She shakes a paper bag at him.

“Ben and Jerry’s,” Pat says firmly. “Wait, you got ice cream on the way over? I’m in great emotional distress and you stop for ice cream?” He’s trying for funny, but he thinks it mostly sounds pathetic.

Erica just looks at him. “Patrick, I bought this ice cream on my way home today.”

“Oh.” For some reason it makes Patrick smile, the idea that Erica has stockpiled ice cream for him. “Is it that bad? In case of emergency, break seal for ice cream?”

Erica snorts and bumps his shoulder as they walk into the kitchen. “Pretty much. So, Boom Chocolatta or Half Baked?”

He’s pathetically grateful she didn’t bring Chubby Hubby. “Both?”

“There’s the spirit,” Erica says. “Grab some spoons,” Erica says and hugs him as she gets out a bag of popcorn and pops it in the microwave. “And the bourbon.”

Somehow Erica manages to cut Patrick off before he can get maudlin -- or hungover -- and when he wakes up in the morning she’s already downstairs with the kids. When he walks in, the twins look at him, wary, he gives them a lopsided grin and watches them relax as he ruffles Bryan’s curls and pulls on the little bit of Eric’s hair that’s grown in.

Patrick starts making lunches, something he hasn’t had to do in months. Jonny handles lunches, Patrick gets the kids dressed. Mornings are one of the few times Jonny could consistently spend with the family, and he loved putting together their lunches, adding special treats and notes that Patrick would find when he emptied their backpacks after school.

He let’s the boys’ chatter wash over him as he grabs the sticky note pad and writes out a couple of knock-knock jokes before shoving them into their lunch boxes and closing them with a snap. When Erica looks, he shrugs, and she makes a face but doesn’t say anything. He spies the candy canes on the counter and throws a couple of those in as well, and loads them into their backpacks.

“Everyone ready?” When the boys nod, he says, “okay, take these and get in the car, I’ll be out in a minute.”

He’s filling his coffee cup when Erica touches his arm. “Want me to take them?”

“Nah,” he says, squaring his shoulders. “I’ve got this.”

***

The week drags on. With the Christmas program over and Christmas break in sight, there isn’t much to distract any of them from their new family reality.

“Eric is so quiet, he won’t even look at Jonny, except to glare at him,” Patrick says. “And Bryan’s become my shadow and won’t let me out of his sight. Dropping them off at school is a nightmare.”

“And how are you doing?” Erica asks, her voice gentle.

“I’m. I’m. Not good.” Patrick swallows. “I miss Jonny so fucking much. And I’m still so furious with him. And he looks so sad. And that just makes me even angrier. Which makes him even sadder.” He sighs. “It’s a vicious fucking cycle.”

“How can I help?”

“Go back in time and fix it?” Patrick laughs shakily.

“Sorry, Pat, I’m fresh out of Deloreans,” Erica says with a weak laugh. “Any other ideas?”

“Jesus, Erica, if I had any clue how to fix this, trust me, I would,” Patrick says, rubbing his forehead where he’s had a low-grade headache for days from all the crying he’s been doing. “And it’s almost Christmas, and I don’t even know if I want Jonny here, but how do I keep him away from his kids at Christmas time? Or ever?”

“Maybe Jonny should have thought about that instead of thinking about getting into that asshole’s pants,” Erica says darkly.

“Erica,” Patrick’s voice breaks. “Don’t. Please.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Erica says. “Want me to come over?”

“No,” he says. “You can’t run over here every time I can’t keep my shit together.” She makes a disagreeing noise and he sighs. “No, really, I’m okay. Relatively. It’s just good to talk about all this shit.”

When he hangs up a few minutes later, Eric’s standing behind him. “Hey, buddy, what’s up?” Patrick picks him up and rocks him a little. “Can’t sleep?” When Eric shakes his head Patrick kisses the top of his head. “Want a hot chocolate?”

Eric’s head comes up. “Hot chocolate?” He asks, his eyes wide. “After bedtime?”

“Sure,” Patrick nods, moving into the kitchen. “I think we can make an exception to the rule of no treats after bedtime this once.” He leaves the lights in the kitchen off and makes the hot chocolate under the dim light filtering in from the living room. “No marshmallows,” he tells Eric, who nods and sips at his mug. By the time he’s done, he’s drooping. “Let’s go brush your teeth again and I’ll lay down with you.”

Eric’s out like a light moments after he gets into bed, and Patrick rubs his hand over his tightly cropped hair, sparing a moment to miss his unruly curls.

Things have to get better soon, he thinks as he gets into bed. At least they can’t get any worse.

***

He’s wrong. Things get worse the next day when Jonny’s over to pick up Amelie, and Patrick’s hurriedly restocking her diaper bag.

“Hurry up, Pat, we’re going to be late,” Jonny says, annoyed, from the other side of the kitchen where he’s holding Amelie, unhelpfully shifting from foot to foot and looking at his watch. “Why can’t you ever have her ready on time?”

Patrick sees red.

“Fuck off, you dick,” he snaps, putting the diaper bag down and walking over to pull on Amelie, trying to take her out of Jonny’s arms. “Just go back to, to, to whatever -- or whoever -- you were doing before, and I’ll take her to baby art class.” Amelie looks between them and her lip starts to quiver, but Jonny doesn’t let go when Patrick glares and tugs harder. “Let. Her. Go.”

“Jesus, Patrick, stop fucking pulling on her, you’re going to hurt her!” Jonny shouts.

“Then fucking give her to me!” When Jonny shakes his head, his jaw set, Patrick growls.

Erica chooses that moment to walk in from the patio. “What the hell, I could hear you all the way in the backyard.” She looks at Amelie, still stuck between Jonny’s arms and Patrick’s hands. “What are you doing to that poor baby?”

She walks over and takes Amelie from Jonny’s arms, and dick that he is, now he lets go. Amelie starts crying and Erica bounces her gently, making shhhing sounds. She pins them both with a stare. “Talk this shit out somewhere that your children can’t hear, assholes. And maybe don’t use them like you’re playing tug of war.”

She carries Amelie out of the room, crooning to her, leaving Patrick and Jonny glaring at each other.

“Look what you did to Amelie,” Patrick snaps. “You just sweep in here, so fucking superior, so busy. ‘My life is so important, Patrick.’ ‘I don’t want to be late, Patrick.’ ‘You keep fucking up, Patrick.’”

“Listen, princess, in case you haven’t noticed, I have to sweep in here because you won’t let me live here anymore.”

“Yeah, well, why is that, Jonny?” Patrick pretends to think. “Hmm, could it be because you were fucking someone else?”

Jonny makes a strangled sound. “For the seventy-fifth time, Patrick, I was not fucking anyone else. Why won’t you get that?”

“Um, let me think,” Patrick sneers again. “Because you were carrying a fucking condom around? Because all I heard about was how the sun and the moon and the stars revolve around your precious Jeff fucking Carter?”

“I explained about the condom. I tried to explain about Jeff, but you won’t listen,” Jonny says, low and furious. “You won’t even try to hear what I’m saying. It’s so fucking unfair, Pat.”

“Unfair?” Patrick bites out. “Unfair? You know what’s unfair? Unfair is finding out the guy you’ve been in love with for fifteen fucking years, who promised to put you above all others, whose children you’re at home raising, is sniffing around other guys while he’s at work! Unfair is finding a fucking condom in your husband’s pocket and a fucking sex sculpture he bought for another man! Unfair is giving up your career -- your future -- for a man who says he supports you being home with the kids and then coming to find out that you’re basically just a glorified fucking nanny, only without the fucking part!” His chest is heaving when he finishes, and Jonny’s gaping at him.

“Are you - do you even hear yourself?” Jonny asks. “Do you know how fucking nuts you sound? You have been the most important thing in the world to me for the past fifteen years. And you’re staying home with the kids because you wanted to stay home with the kids!”

“Oh, you fucker, it wasn’t my idea. You’re the one who brought it up when the twins were born, and you fucking know it!”

“I brought it up because I knew it was what you wanted to do, and you were too fucking chicken shit to just come out and say it.” Jonny puts his hands on his hips, mouth twisting. “So, as usual, I have to read your fucking mind and say the hard things for you. But for you to say that it was my idea, Jesus, Pat. What a fucking crock.”

“Oh, wow, poor you, having to put up with me and my inability to say the hard things. Well, I’m learning. So how’s this for saying the hard thing: I want a divorce.”

Jonny pales and reaches for a kitchen chair, and it makes Pat viciously glad to see the pain on his face. He walks closer so he’s looming over Jonny and points at him. “I don’t want to be married to you any more. I don’t want you around any more. I wish I’d never had children with you because now I’m doomed to have to see you for the rest of their lives.” He knows he’s gone too far, but he can’t seem to stop himself.

Jonny’s face crumples, and Patrick swallows. He looks away, but he can’t bring himself to apologize. “I think you need to go,” he says finally after a long moment. “I think art class is a bust this week.”

“Pat,” Jonny croaks, and when Patrick looks back at him, he’s careful to keep his expression blank. “You can’t mean that. You can’t regret our kids.” His breath hitches at the end.

“You’re right, I don’t regret my kids, I shouldn’t have said that.” He shrugs. “Maybe it’s just that I regret choosing you to be their father.”

Jonny stands abruptly, walking out of the house without saying another word. When Patrick hears the garage door shut, he slumps into the chair Jonny abandoned, puts his head in his hands and weeps.

***

“Thanks,” Patrick says, mouthing ‘one minute’ to Erica when she walks in. “I’ll sign them and send them back as soon as I get them.” He hangs up and blows out a breath. “Well, that’s done.”

Erica cocks an eyebrow at him, unloading Amelie’s diaper bag. “What’s done?”

“Talked to my lawyer, she’s sending over papers for the separation,” Patrick says, running his finger over the countertop so he doesn’t have to look at her. “Figured I might as well get things started.” When he finally looks up, Erica’s staring at him, her mouth open. She closes it with a click and looks down at the jar of Nutella in her hand. “What?” He asks, annoyed. “You don’t think I should?”

“I just - remember when you broke up in college?”

“Gee, no, Erica, I forgot about that,” he says dryly. “Of course I remember breaking up in college, though what that has to do with anything . . .”

“You broke up with him, right?”

Patrick makes a face at her. “Yes, Erica, you know I did. What’s your point?”

“I never told you, but Jonny used to call me. To ask how you were doing.” Patrick must look stunned because she nods. “I know. You broke his heart -- you started dating other people -- and he still wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Patrick can feel his cheeks heat. “Because he’s a controlling asshole,” he mumbles.

She elbows him sharply in the side. “No, because he loves you that much. Because he’s always loved you that much. The only time -- the only time -- you weren’t together, you were the one who broke it off, and you were the one who dated other people. Jonny never wanted to. Never did. But you did.”

“One other person,” Patrick says, rubbing his side. “I dated one other person -- two dates total -- before I realized that all I wanted was Jonny. And we were broken up. I was allowed to date other people!”

“It still broke his heart, Pat,” she says.

“Yeah, well, at least I had the decency to break up with him first before I broke his heart,” he says angrily. “I didn’t cheat on him.”

“And Jonny didn’t cheat on you,” she says, matter of factly.

“You can’t possibly equate this to dating -- just dating, not fucking -- one girl in college for a couple of months. When we were broken up,” Patrick’s voice rises, and Amelie looks up at him. He manages to draw up an insincere smile, and she smiles back, innocent and unaware. When she looks back down, his smile drops away.

Erica sighs. “Don’t yell at me, Patrick, I’m on your side here. I’m just saying this is similar. Interested in someone else, figured out they weren’t worth losing what you have with each other, didn’t fuck them, practically broke his heart.” Erica sighs again when Patrick shakes his head stubbornly. “Fine. But even then, Patrick. Even when he could have, he didn’t want anyone else. You did - you broke up with him, you went out with someone else. It almost fucking killed him. Trust me, I had to listen to that shit. But even though you didn’t get back together for six months, he never so much as looked at anyone else.”

“Yeah, well, he was definitely looking this time.” Patrick says, rubbing the spot where she dug in her elbow.

Erica snorts. “Right. Do you think he’s blind? That he was just going to go through life ignorant to all the men -- and women -- who were looking at him? Because-”

“No, Erica,” Patrick says, furious. “I always trusted that he wasn’t looking back. But he did, and now I don’t think - I don’t know if I can ever trust him again.”

“Okay, so he looked back. But if he didn’t actually fuck him --” she points at him when he opens his mouth -- “just shut up and listen. If you believe him that he didn’t fuck Jeff, what, exactly, did he do that was so egregious that fifteen years together isn’t worth at least trying to work things out before you serve him with divorce papers?”

“I expected him to be faithful,” he starts, and when she makes a noise, he shakes his head. “No, Erica, just because ‘all’ he did was buy that asshole a sculpture that he had no business buying, just because I found out before he had a chance to use the condom he had in his fucking pocket, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t just a matter of time before he did.”

“You really believe that? Are you actually going to divorce Jonny for possibly cheating on you at some nebulous point in the future?” He nods, and she throws up her hands. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

He makes a face at her. “Erica, don’t you think I know it sounds dumb? But if he got this close to that asshole, obviously he doesn’t care about me like I thought he did.”

“Patrick, that man thinks you hung the moon,” Erica says. “He lights up when you walk in a room. He’s snarky and grumpy and awkward with everyone. Except you.”

“Yeah, well, it hasn’t felt that way lately. He was so . . . so . . . disconnected from things all the time. So exhausted. And when I’d ask him about it, he just said he was fine,” Patrick responds glumly. “Meanwhile he’s smiling at texts from Jeff and he’s staying late for meetings with Jeff, and nothing I did was enough to make him pay more attention to us, to our family. To me.”

“Patrick, you need to be saying these things to Jonny, not me.” Erica points out gently. “Have you said any of this to him?”

“No,” he admits, “every time we even start talking about what happened, we end up shouting at each other.”

“Maybe it’s just too soon,” Erica says. Patrick shrugs. “Well, it’s definitely too soon to be talking to an attorney or filing any kind of papers.” When Patrick shrugs again, she rubs his arm. “I just think you should give it a little more time. What’s your rush? Jonny’s not living here right now, you’re still letting him see the kids whenever he wants. Is there any reason you need a formal legal separation yet? Is there really any harm in waiting?”

Patrick thinks about it for a moment. “No,” he says, slowly. “I guess - I could probably wait. At least until after the holidays.”

“Good,” Erica says. He reaches for her and she hugs him for a minute before pushing back and punching his shoulder. “No more feeling sorry for yourself, either.”

“Fucking ow,” he says, rubbing his arm. “Jesus, you’re strong.”

She smirks at him. “I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”

He blinks at her. “You’re a pretty face?” Erica growls, and he grabs Amelie from the floor, holding her in front of himself like a shield. “You wouldn’t hit a man with a baby?”

Erica smiles, and it’s frankly terrifying. “No,” she says, moving closer, and Patrick backs up until he’s pressed against the counter. “But it’ll keep.” She takes Amelie and grins over her shoulder. “Call your lawyer back, Goldilocks.”

“Erica,” he whines. “Don’t call me that.” She just wiggles her eyebrows at him and Patrick makes a face at her and looks at his phone. “Shit,” he says, noticing the time. “I’ve got to go get the boys - can you watch her for a few minutes?”

“No problem. Want to have some sandbox time, Ammy?” She swings her up in the air and settles her back on her hip. “Go, just don’t forget to call.”

“Okay, Mom,” he says and steps out of reach quickly. He grabs his keys and heads out, feeling marginally better.

***

Even though it’s a little better after that, it still hurts in new ways, a thousand times a day. When he wakes up and looks over and there’s no dent in the pillow in the shape of Jonny’s head. When he comes out of the shower and goes to call out for Jonny to get his ass out of bed, or he’ll be be late for work again. When he’s making coffee and the first pot is too strong, but there’s no one there who drinks it that way. When he’s trying to get the kids out the door to school and Jonny hasn’t already warmed up the car.

It hurts the most when Amelie does something adorable, and his first thought is to snap a photo and text it to Jonny. When he’s on the way to school and their song comes on the radio. When he’s watching the Hawks game and he turns to tell Jonny why their power play is ineffective.

Jonny’s never there. And it hurts the most because Patrick keeps forgetting that he’s not.

But when Jonny is there, it’s not any better. Patrick can’t bear to look at him, some days, and they orbit around the children, ignoring each other. Other days, the very sight of Jonny makes Patrick see red and they end up having whispered screaming matches about whether Eric should be allowed to skip soccer practice. Jonny’d stormed out, red-faced and furious, and Patrick’s rage had left him trembling for an hour after he left.

***

Erica calls him on his shit again when he’s whining about how Jonny’s made himself scarce for the last few days.

“If you miss him so much, call him. I’m tired of listening to you whine about the Jonny-shaped hole in your life,” she says, sounding bored and irritated. “You’ve been bouncing between missing him and hating him for the past week. You made that hole; you kicked him out. You know he’d be there in a hot minute if you called him.”

“I’m not fucking calling him,” Patrick hisses, his voice low but the tone enough to get Bryan glancing over at him. He smiles and stands up, moving into the kitchen. “The last time he was here was awful. I just can’t talk to him right now. All I’d do is scream at him. Again.”

“I don’t understand - “ Erica starts.

“Sometimes I just hate him, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him and I’m never going to let him move back home-” he breaks off, sobbing a breath in. His hand is shaking where it’s gripping the counter, and he wraps it around his waist instead. He turns at a sound behind him.

“Daddy?” Bryan asks, standing in the doorway, his face serious and sad. “Are you talking about Papa?”

“Erica, I have to call you back,” he says and hangs up without waiting for her response, moving over to take Bryan’s hand. “You know it’s not polite to listen to other people’s conversations. That was private.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Bryan says, his eyes welling up with tears. “But you sounded sad, and I wanted to- you always make me feel not sad. I don’t want you to be sad, Daddy. Please don’t be sad!” He’s sobbing at the end, his shoulders shaking, and Patrick can’t - he’s just not ready to make this okay. He hasn’t known how to make this okay since the night of the Christmas program.

“Bryan,” Jonny says, walking in from the garage. “Baby, it’s okay.” He sweeps Bryan up into his arms. Patrick notices how pale and drawn Jonny’s face is when he turns to look at him.

“But Daddy’s right, it’s not okay to listen to private conversations.” Jonny puts Bryan down on the counter and steps back a little to look at him. “You know that.”

“I didn’t mean to, honest I didn’t!” Bryan says, crying harder now. Patrick passes him some tissues and runs his hand up and down his back, and they stand there for a minute, the room quiet except for Bryan’s wet breathing, but he’s calming down now, and Patrick can feel him relax under his hand.

“Daddy’s not that sad, are you, Daddy?”

Patrick nods, crossing his arms over his chest so he doesn’t reach out for Jonny. “I’m okay, buddy.” He manages a small smile. Bryan just looks at him.

Bryan is hiccuping a little, and Jonny shushes him gently. “Everyone gets sad once in awhile, you know that. Eric gets sad, Ammy gets sad, Daddy gets sad. Even Papa gets sad.” He pulls back to look Bryan in the eyes. “Sometimes you have to let people be sad. And then you have to be there for them when they’re ready to not be sad anymore.”

Patrick moves away when Jonny glances over at him, pulling a bottle of water out of the fridge and handing it to Bryan.

“I’m not that sad,” Patrick says again. “I was talking to Aunt Erica, and I got a little upset and said some things I shouldn’t have said. Things that were not appropriate for you to hear.”

“But you said that you won’t ever let Papa come home!” Bryan says, looking at Patrick. He can see Jonny flinch in his peripheral vision. “Why? I miss him! Eric and Ammy miss him. I want him to come home. Please, Daddy, can’t Papa come home?” Patrick’s mouth opens, but he can’t get words past the ache in his throat.

“Bryan,” Jonny says, “Bryan, honey, I know you’re upset -- Papa and Daddy are upset, too -- but this isn’t something you can ask Daddy to do right now.” He grabs Bryan off the counter and walks over to the table, sitting down with him in his lap.

“Papa did something that made Daddy very, very angry. Something that Papa shouldn’t have. And now Daddy and Papa are having a little breather. You know how sometimes you and Eric have breathers when you’re playing together and you get so mad that you can’t stop fighting?” When Bryan nods, Jonny continues. “It’s like that. And you know how Daddy always lets you have a breather until you decide you’re ready to play with Eric again?” Bryan nods again, more slowly. “That’s what we’re doing right now, we’re having a breather.”

“So you’re not getting a divorce? Eric said you’re getting a divorce. And that we’re not a family any more.”

“Eric said . . .” Jonny’s throat clicks, and Patrick can’t help looking at him, at the sadness and tension in his body. “No, we’re not - that’s not.” He looks up at Patrick helplessly, then back at Bryan. “Eric shouldn’t have said that.”

“We’re not getting a divorce,” Patrick says, finding his voice. Both of their heads snap towards him. “We’re not getting a divorce,” he says again, stronger, “Daddy just needs a little more of a breather, and then he and Papa will talk about everything. And whether Daddy lives here, or at the hotel, or somewhere else, we are always going to be a family.”

“No, we’re not.” Eric says. He’s standing in the doorway, an identical tableau of Bryan earlier. “We’re not going to be a family because Papa is going to leave, and he’s going to stay with that man who made Bryan so mad, and we’ll never see him anymore.” Unlike Bryan, though, Eric is furious. “And I don’t care because I don’t like Papa anymore.”

Jonny inhales sharply, stricken, and Bryan hugs him and buries his face in his neck. “I still like you! I don’t want you to leave, Papa! I want you to stay. Please stay? Please. Please.” Jonny hugs Bryan to him, rocking him a little as he sobs.

“Stop being a cry-baby, Bryan.” Eric says, crosses his arms over his chest, gaze steady. “Why would Papa want to stay anyway, when you’re nothing but a cry-baby? Maybe that’s why he moved out! Because you won’t stop being a cry-baby!”

Patrick feels like his head is going to explode, and he’s so furious and so devastated at the same time, the emotions of the past week spiraling out of control in him. He wants to say yes to Bryan and ask Jonny to stay, he wants to agree with Eric and throw Jonny out. He’s frozen, not sure what to do, when Jonny speaks again. “Eric Timothy Toews, do not speak to your brother like that.” Eric’s jaw tightens mutinously. “Go to your room right now.” When Eric opens his mouth, Jonny cuts him off. “Not another word out of you. Go. Now.”

Eric looks at Patrick, his eyes filling with tears and looks back at Jonny. “I hate you! I hate you!” He runs away, pounding up the stairs, sobbing the whole way.

Jonny looks like he’s been pole-axed, and Patrick can’t think what to do. He can hear Eric banging and wailing upstairs, and he’s only going to get worse; he’ll cry until he throws up if Patrick doesn’t go upstairs, but Patrick thinks he might faint and Bryan is sobbing again, too, his tiny body shaking in Jonny’s arms. Jonny looks down at Bryan for a moment before his face smoothes out into something more resolved.

“Pat,” Jonny says over Bryan’s crying. “Patrick!” When Patrick startles and nods, Jonny jerks his jaw towards the stairs. “You go up and deal with Eric. If you leave him like that he’ll only make himself sick, and we don’t need that on top of all of this.” He pauses. “And I don’t think he - I’ll only make it worse if I go up there right now.”

Patrick nods, pushing himself away from the counter, and opens his mouth, even though he doesn’t know what he’s going to say. Jonny waits, but when Patrick doesn’t say anything, he smiles encouragingly if a little weakly at him. “I’ve got Amelie and Bryan. Eric needs you. Go.”

Patrick nods again and forces himself to leave. He doesn’t understand how Jonny can be so calm. He looks back into the kitchen as he’s going up the stairs. He can see Jonny’s face and it’s pulled into a grimace, his chin resting on top of Bryan’s head, and Patrick has to grab the banister to keep himself from tripping at the pain that hits him in the chest. His boys -- his Jonny -- everyone is so unhappy, and he wants to make it better, but he doesn’t know how.

He watches as Jonny smoothes out his face and stands up with Bryan, ruffling his hair a little as he sets him down. “Now, let’s try not to be too sad in front of mademoiselle coccinelle, hmm, Bryan? We don’t need everyone to be sad tonight.” Bryan says something in response that Patrick can’t hear as they walk out of the kitchen.

He shuts off his brain and doesn’t think about anything as he gets Eric calmed down and into the bath and then in bed. He’s numb when Jonny brings Bryan and Amelie up a little while later, Bryan asleep over one shoulder, Amelie bright as a bug in his other arm. He hands her to Patrick, and he buries his face in her hair, watching as Jonny gently lays Bryan down in his bed, running a finger over his cheek before tucking the blanket around him.

Jonny takes Amelie from Patrick’s arms, and Pat follows him down the hallway to her room. Watching wordlessly as Jonny gets her ready for bed and busses three kisses across her forehead before nestling her in her crib.

They ease the door shut to her room silently, sharing a small smile when they escape without any tears.

“Well, that sucked,” Patrick says emphatically, and Jonny huffs. “But I’m really glad you were here. Which . . . why were you here?”

“Oh, uh,” Jonny rubs the back of his neck. “Sign-ups for the next baby art class are tomorrow morning. I got an email reminder, and I forgot to tell you.”

“And you couldn’t just forward it to me?” Patrick says, his smile growing. “Honestly, Jon, a man who designs multi-million dollar buildings using the latest in computer software shouldn’t be this bad at email. There’s this little arrow at the top-”

“I know how to forward, dumbass. I just thought you might not get it in time,” Jonny protests. “And, well, I wanted to apologize for yelling at you the other day.”

“Oh,” Patrick says, biting his lip. “Yeah, me, too.” They stare at each other for a long moment. “You should stay tonight,” Patrick blurts out, surprising even himself. “In the guest room,” he hurries on, “It’ll be good for everyone to have you here in the morning.”

“Okay,” Jonny says. “If you’re sure it’s not going to confuse Eric even more.”

“I’m not sure, but,” Patrick sighs. “I still think you should stay.”

Jonny nods, and they say goodnight. He tries not to think about how Jonny is just down the hall, but still so far away. He’s not entirely successful, but he does manage to fall asleep, finally. When Amelie stirs later and he goes to get her, Jonny’s already there, rocking her and Patrick tiptoes out before they see him, but not before the sight of Jonny’s face gazing with love at their daughter makes the knot that’s been clenched so tight in his chest, that he’d sort of forgotten it was even there, loosen a bit.

~~~

Jonny leaves early the following morning, and the boys settle down from the drama the night before, although they still demand Papa pancakes of Patrick for breakfast. When Erica arrives as they’re finishing eating he puts her to work keeping them occupied while he straightens up the kitchen.

A small smile plays across his face as he listens to Erica chasing the boys around the living room. He’s exhausted and so grateful his sister’s been stopping by nearly every day. He’d joked frequently before about basically being a single-parent, what with Jonny’s insane work schedule, but he really had no idea how hard it would be without Jonny around. It feels like every day, he’s finding more and more places that Jonny seamlessly fit in, helped out, and kept things moving that he’d never noticed. Or appreciated.

Like this mess, he thinks, with a wry grimace, wringing out the rag into the sink. Patrick had definitely put the effort in -- he’s all about placating the boys right now, with sugar if necessary -- but he’s not sure he’ll be usurping Jonny in front of the pancake griddle any time soon.

They were edible, he feels like he can freely say that, but he’d still managed to knock over the half-full bottle of chocolate sprinkles and dribble more than a bit of batter down the lower cabinets. Luckily the boys are rather forgiving critics, and all manner of sins are covered up with extra whipped cream and chocolate chips.

He’s just finishing getting the last of the mess cleaned up when the doorbell rings, “I’ll get it! I’ll get it!” Bryan calls running down the hallway.

“Look first!” Patrick calls out, drying his hands quickly to follow, “Remember we don’t open the door for strangers.”

Patrick rounds the corner into the foyer just as Bryan is flinging open the front door, “Grandma! Grandpa!” and hugging Tiki around the knees. Soon his greetings are muffled as the entire Kane family tromps in in a flurry of hugs and kisses and “Surprise!” and “Merry Christmas!”

Patrick's frozen on the spot: what is his family doing here? Did Erica call them? Before he can get his bearings, Eric is flying past him and leaping into Tiki’s arms, followed only slightly more sedately by a smiling Erica, bearing Amelie right to Donna’s out stretched arms.

The girls are busily catching up, chattering and gesticulating wildly, and while Patrick would normally jump right in there, he feels a little paralyzed by the shock of the whole thing. Still, he loves his family -- misses them terribly -- and he can’t help letting the laughter and noise wash over him like a comforting blanket.

It doesn’t last, however, and with one quick question, Patrick's brought back to reality with a start. “Where’s Jonny?” Donna asks, balancing Amelie on her hip, and looking over Patrick's shoulder a bit, as if Jonny is going to appear at any moment.

“He’s, uh, he’s . . .” Patrick's glances at Erica for backup, but she’s resolutely not meeting his eyes. Traitor.

“Papa’s at his hotel.” Bryan chimes in helpfully.

“Oh that’s too bad,” Donna remarks kissing Amelie on her fat little cheek, “I can’t believe they have him traveling for work this close to Christmas.”

“Well, uh,” Patrick starts.

“He’s not working.” Eric spits out, hands balled into fists at his side, “Papa lives at the hotel, because he’s a liar, and he’s mean, and Daddy won’t let him come home ever again.”

Patrick's head drops forward briefly, as if his strings have been cut, before he straightens up with a clap of his hands, “right then, well come on in. I didn’t know you were coming, so the guest rooms aren’t made up yet, but let’s get out of the foyer, and I can get right on that.” He ushers everyone into the living room, “Where are your suitcases? Did you get a rental car? Are you all going to stay here? Because I still don’t have the spare room set up for guests and the house is a mess-”

“We’re excited to see you too,” Jessica teases, flicking him not-so-gently in the arm.

“Shut up, uh, be quiet, Jess, that’s not,” Patrick says, flustered and annoyed, and Donna steps in, smoothing things over.

“We’re staying at a hotel, dear, well, your dad and I are, anyway. The girls want to stay with you, Erica?” she looks questioningly at Erica, who nods quickly in agreement. “Jonny coordinated the whole visit as a surprise for you, so don’t worry about cleaning up or where we’re staying. We just want to spend the holiday with you.”

Patrick bites his lip, feeling a tell-tale prickle in eyes, “Drinks!” he declares, grasping at straws, “let me get you all something to drink. Coffee? It’ll just take me a moment.” He’s aware he’s babbling, but he can’t seem to stop, so he just barrels on. “Boys, why don’t you tell everyone about your Christmas show?” Jackie and Tiki ask for water before everyone gets pulled into the family room by the boys to see the Christmas tree.

Patrick escapes to the kitchen and takes a few deep calming breaths before pulling out mugs for everyone, taking small comfort in the rote actions of the mindless task of getting the coffee going.

He hears her before he sees her, and Donna joins him side by side at the counter, as he’s pouring water from their filtered pitcher, taking inordinate care to make sure that each cup is filled up exactly the same amount.

Patrick doesn’t know what to say, so doesn’t say anything, and can only blame himself as his mother turns to the side, cocking her hip against the counter, and saying mildly, “That's a hell of a way to find out your son's having marital problems. You want to explain why that's the first I've heard of all this?" She raises her eyebrows searchingly, and the expression on her face is one that Patrick knows all too well, a look honed from years of wrangling four Kane teenagers - determined, all-knowing, and the kind of placidness that says ‘I can wait here all night.’

"I'm sorry, Mom, I just wasn't ready," Patrick sighs, head dropping forward a little again. He can’t seem to look her in the eye. “It’s just so fucking embarrassing.”

He supposes it says something about the severity of the situation that Donna lets the cuss word slip by without admonishment. She doesn’t say anything at all for a long moment, before she’s pushing him into a chair at the kitchen table, sliding a glass of water in front of him. “Drink. Stay here, I’ll be right back.”

He hears her go back to the living room, hears the uptick of voices, and the hustle of everyone moving around followed by the front door slamming. And then it’s blessedly silent.

Donna returns shortly thereafter, pulling up her own chair, and giving his hand a quick squeeze. “Erica’s going to go get the girls settled at her apartment, and probably gossip madly about you, and Dad’s taking the kids to the park we passed on the way in.”

“Okay.” Patrick says, tracing patterns in the table cloth.

Donna continues, as if he hadn’t interrupted, “Now tell me exactly what is going on.”

“C’mon Mom,” he protests, scooting his chair back a little bit, as if the distance will persuade her to drop it. “We’re just, we’re not in a good place right now, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

“‘Not in a good place’ is sniping at each other over coffee, or someone crashing on the couch for a night; it’s not your husband moving into a hotel and your kids thinking he’s never coming home again.”

Patrick feels a frisson of guilt course through him at that, because he knows how hard it’s been on the kids. He thinks back to earlier this fall, when Eric woke up with nightmares three nights in a row, crashing in their bed, before he’d finally broke down in tears making them promise to, “never, ever, ever, never get divorced like Kyle’s parents!”

Donna’s words break into his thoughts. “I know I’m your mom, but you don’t stay married as long as your father and I have without going through a rough patch or two. I might understand more than you think.”

When he glances at her face, she’s looking at him with the same patient expression as before, and he thinks a little meanly that if she just knew what happened she’d surely drop it. Thinks that she’s probably convinced this is some over dramatic fight like Jonny and he used to have when they were sixteen and didn’t have any idea what they were doing.

“It’s really embarrassing to have to tell your mom that you weren’t enough to keep your husband interested. That he’s fallen for some new guy who’s a better looking, taller, richer, more interesting version of you.” He spits it all out fast, like ripping off a bandaid, and watches as her face shutters and then clears.

In the end, she just levels him with an assessing look, and makes her way over to the counter, getting down mugs for the coffee, and Patrick’s glad he pushed all the cute ones Jonny’s collected over the years to the far recesses of the cabinet. She pulls out the milk from fridge and doesn’t look up as she carefully prepares her coffee. “When you were nine, you played on that little league team, do you remember?”

Patrick makes a face, even though she can’t see it, confused as to what that has to do with anything. “Yeah, the Sluggers? Only year I played, I think.”

Donna hums noncommittally, “Your dad was really busy with work that year, opening up the second dealership, and I was pretty busy too, keeping track of all your and your sister’s activities. I don’t think your dad and I spent more than a couple of hours alone together that whole spring. Except for maybe when we were sleeping.”

She returns to the table with two steaming cups of coffee. Patrick’s is perfect, just enough sugar and no milk, and he lets himself enjoy holding the warm mug in his hand as he inhales the comforting aroma.

“I spent a lot of time with your baseball team that year and with your coach.” Donna says, her mouth twisting a little self-consciously.

“Donny?” Patrick asks, scrunching up his nose a bit.

“Yes, with Donny. I think by the end I fancied myself a little bit in love with him.”

Patrick makes a noise, staring at her with wide eyes, hands clenched tightly around his mug.

Donna shakes her head ruefully, “I wasn’t. Not really. But sometimes it’s easy to get swept up with something. The novelty blinding you to what is -- or isn’t -- there.”

Patrick feels dizzy. “Does Dad know?” He can’t help but ask.

“Yes, of course,” Donna looks almost offended, “of course he knows. We had a rough go there for a bit. There was lot of talking, and crying, and forgiveness.” She looks at him pointedly, “but no one ever moved out, and no one ever involved you kids.”

Patrick’s cheeks burn. “So you think I’m doing it wrong?”

“I didn’t say that, Pat,” she says. “I’m just saying - you can get past this. If you work on it. Together.”

“How long did it take?” He says, his voice small.

“It took awhile. And there was a lot of back and forth; I think that was the hardest part. Some days it felt like we were getting past it. Other days it felt like your dad was one fight away from filing for divorce.” Patrick thinks of the papers buried in the desk in their den, and his mouth twists.

“But we kept at it, and, well,” Donna sighs. “In the end, it was something that brought us closer together.”

The garage door opens, and Jonny walks in. “Pat, sorry I’m late, traffic was awful. It’s starting to rain, though, so I’m not sure soccer practice is going to happen tonight.” He’s brushing his wet hair back when he freezes, staring at Donna.

“Donna,” he says, mouth opening and then closing wordlessly. “Oh, shit, I totally forgot you were getting in today.” He looks between Patrick and Donna, his jaw ticking. “It’s good to see you.”

“Hello, Jonny,” Donna says, mild. “Seems like there were a lot of surprises today.” Jonny winces.

“The kids are at the park with Dad,” Patrick says and Jonny’s eyes swing to him. “Why don’t we drive over and get them so they don’t get soaked?”

“You go, Pat,” Donna says. “I want to have a few words with Jonathan before they get back.” Jonny’s eyes plead with Patrick not to leave, but he just shrugs at him, a part of him viciously glad that Jonny’s going to have to deal with his family.

“I’ll just be a few minutes,” he says, a reassurance to Jonny and a warning to his mother.

“Let me move my car,” Jonny says. “I parked you in.”

They walk outside together and as soon as the door is closed, Jonny turns to him, grabbing his arm. “You can’t leave me alone with her! Not when she’s calling me Jonathan. Jesus.”

Patrick wrenches his arm free. “You’ll be fine, she’s not exactly thrilled with me, either and I’m still standing.” When Jonny scoffs, he narrows his eyes. “This is your own fault, Jon. Pretty sure you’re going to have to face up to that at some point this week. Just get it over with.”

“What did you tell her?” Jonny asks.

“The truth - that you fell for another guy,” he says flatly.

“I didn’t fall for another guy, Patrick, for fuck’s sake. I made one mistake-”

“You made a bunch of mistakes,” Patrick interjects.

“Fine, okay, I made a bunch of mistakes,” Jonny grits out. “But I wasn’t in love with Jeff, Jesus. Why do you insist on making this worse than it actually was?”

“Maybe because it’s pretty much the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” Patrick grinds out.

“I didn’t - “Jonny closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. “I’m not having this argument again while your mom is inside and our kids are at the park getting rained on-”

“Shit!” Patrick says. “Give me your keys, fuck! They’re going to freeze! They’ll probably catch a cold just in time for Christmas.”

“You can’t catch a cold from rain and it’s seventy degrees, Pat,” Jonny says. “You catch colds from germs.” He pulls his keys out and hands them to Patrick.

“I’m not having a fight with you about germs again, either, so, just go inside and face the music. I’ll be back in ten minutes.” He dashes out to Jonny’s car and doesn’t spend the few minutes it takes to get to the park thinking about what his mom and Jonny are talking about.

The kids are wet but not soaked, having taken shelter in the pavilion next to the baseball fields.

“Sorry, Dad, I didn’t realize it was going to rain,” he says once the boys and Amelie are buckled in the back and the stroller is stowed.

“Stop apologizing, a little rain never hurt you kids, I’m sure yours will survive just fine, too,” Tiki says. “And it’s almost seventy degrees out there, not like they’re going to freeze, either. But - isn’t this Jonny’s car?”

“Yeah, Jonny came over,” Patrick starts, looking in the rear-view mirror to see that Eric’s listening. “The boys were supposed to have soccer practice -- yes, it’s cancelled, Eric, don’t look so happy about it -- and he parked me in. Mom wanted to talk to him, so I took his car.”

When Patrick glances over, Tiki’s brows have shot up. “Not sure I’d have left my husband alone with her after the bombshell that Eric dropped earlier.”

Patrick shrugs. “Didn’t have much of a choice. She wanted to talk to him, and I didn’t want to argue with her.”

“I don’t really understand what’s going on, but your mom always means well, so I’m sure she won’t be too hard on Jonny,” Tiki says soothingly. “But I’d step on it if I were you. That woman is downright terrifying sometimes.”

Patrick barks out a laugh. “Almost thirty-five years of marriage and you’re still afraid of her, Dad?”

“A little healthy fear isn’t bad for a marriage, son,” Tiki says seriously, but a smile is playing around his lips. “All husbands know that.” They share a smile and then Patrick’s pulling into the driveway. They troop into the house, discarding jackets and shoes. Tiki chases the boys into the family room and Patrick goes to see if the kitchen -- and Jonny -- are still intact.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting, but Jonny and Donna laughing at the kitchen table definitely wasn’t it. Jonny looks up and sobers when he sees Patrick standing there. “I, uh - the kids okay?”

“Dad had them in that pavilion and they were playing penny tic-tac-toe,” Patrick says. “What are you guys laughing about?” He fidgets awkwardly for a moment before going to the fridge to get water for the boys.

“Nothing important,” Jonny says, his smile gone. “I got a text from the coach and practice is definitely off. I should - I’m going to go before your sisters get back.”

“Running away?” Patrick says meanly, then flushes when Donna narrows her eyes at him.

“I don’t think it makes me less of a man if I say yes,” Jonny says, standing up and pulling on his coat. “Donna, thanks for the talk. Patrick, walk me out?”

Patrick eyes Donna as he walks by but she just smiles at him placidly. When he gets outside, he hands Jonny his keys and then crosses his arms. “Well?”

“It wasn’t . . . awful,” Jonny says, rubbing the back of his neck. “She - she was a lot nicer about it than I thought she’d be.”

“How nice for you,” Patrick says, snotty. He looks away at Jonny’s unimpressed look. “Did she - what did you talk about?”

“Mostly about how disappointed she is in me about all this,” Jonny admits waving a hand between them. “And that she expects me to respect your wishes and not push you into things you don’t want.”

“Huh,” Patrick says, surprised. “Then why were you laughing?”

“I asked her about how you reacted to seeing them,” Jonny says. He lifts a shoulder. “She said you were completely shocked. And happy to see them, of course. I was telling her that I almost never get to surprise you because you always find your presents.”

Patrick smiles bitterly. “Or other presents.”

Jonny’s smile drops away. “Pat-”

“Nope,” Patrick says. “This day is about my family being here. And I’m really happy they’re here. It’s going to be amazing to have them around for Christmas, and I really thought they were going on a cruise. I can’t believe Erica and I fell for that. My dad always gets seasick.”

“I can’t believe I forgot they were coming,” Jonny says. “But with everything going on, it just slipped my mind.”

Patrick snorts. “I guess so.” He lifts a shoulder. “But, hey, thanks. It was a great present -- for everyone -- and just, thanks.” Jonny smiles a little sadly and Patrick nods at the car. “Now you’d really better go before the girls get back.”

Jonny shudders and starts walking, turning around to smile quickly at Patrick. “A close encounter with one Kane woman is about my quota for the day.”

Patrick watches until Jonny pulls out of the driveway before he goes inside.

***

“You doing okay?” Jessica’s hovering at the door of the den, holding a bottle of beer.

“Yeah, just needed a minute,” he says, gesturing for her to take a seat. “That looks awesome,” he nods at the bottle. “Did you bring me one?”

“This is yours,” she says, handing it to him and holding up another. “So. Jonny?” She says it like a question, like a request for him to open up, but Patrick’s worn down by the day, and he just lifts a shoulder picking at the label on his beer.

“Jesus, Jess, leave the guy alone,” Jackie says, walking in. “You can’t just walk in and interrogate him.”

“I’m not,” Jessica snipes back. “I just-”

“Guys can you not,” Patrick says wearily. “Tiptoeing around everyone all night - I’m just worn out and listening to you guys snap at each other isn’t helping.”

“Sorry,” Jessica says again, softer this time. Jackie sits down and curls into Patrick’s side. “Sorry,” she whispers.

“Okay, Jesus, I’m not dying,” he says, but he drops a kiss into Jackie’s hair. “It’s just been a long couple of weeks.”

“Hmph,” Jessica scoffs, and he shrugs. They’re quiet for a long minute, staring out the window onto the patio before Patrick starts to giggle. Jessica looks at him, concerned, and Jackie sits up a little. The giggles turn into laughter and they look at each other before turning back to him, but he waves his hands and gets himself under control.

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just,” he takes a deep breath and wipes his eyes. “This whole thing is so surreal.”

“I bet,” Jackie says soothingly, and Patrick knocks her shoulder with his fist before pulling her close again. “You want to tell us about it?”

“No,” he says, promptly. “I think I’m all talked out. You guys - have your say, let’s just get it over with.”

“We’re not that bad!” Jessica laughs, jostling him. “But, do you need more beer before you hear from your big bad sisters?”

He swishes the beer left in his bottle. “Nah.” When they’re quiet, he nudges Jackie. “Ok, let me have it.”

“Pat,” Jessica says, biting her lip. “I can’t believe it. I mean, I do believe it. But, I just. I can’t believe Jonny did this.”

Jackie scoffs. “He’s a dick, Jackie. Didn’t you hear what Erica said?”

“I heard, I just - I still just can’t believe it.” She looks at Patrick when he snorts. “What?”

“Believe it, sister,” he says bitterly. “I guess you really want all the juicy details. Like how Jonny fell for another guy? Like how the guy was tall and blond and gorgeous and rich? Or maybe how I found a fucking condom in his pocket? I wish I had a photo of the piece of shit art he bought for the asshole, naked and, and,” he breaks off, groaning. “Shit.”

“See, what an asshole,” Jackie says. “He’s an asshole who doesn’t deserve you, and I wish-” She cuts herself off and shakes her head.

“Oh, give us a break,” Jessica says, mocking. “You’re just mad because you’ve worshiped at the feet of St. Jonathan since you were eight years old.”

“Fuck you, Jessica,” Jackie snaps, furious. “I’m mad because he hurt Patrick, because he fucking cheated on Patrick, it’s not about me! Why are you always such a bitch?”

“Oh, fuck off. I’m a bitch? You’re the bitch,” Jessica says. She’s drawing breath to continue when Patrick breaks in.

“Okay, guys, can you postpone world war three until Mom’s here to mediate? Because you’re just making my headache worse.” He rubs his temples.

Jackie sits up. “You’ve got a headache?” When Patrick nods, she sits all the way up and pulls him down until he’s lying with his head in her lap. Jessica grabs his feet and rests them on her lap and starts rubbing his ankles while Jackie rubs his temples. Patrick sighs and relaxes into their soft touches, the tension slowly draining out of him.

“Man, my husband should cheat on me more often, if it gets me this kind of treatment,” he sighs, and grunts when Jessica pinches his calf. “Hey!” He frowns at her. “Heart-broken man, remember? Be nice.”

Jessica snorts and rubs the spot. “Better, you big baby?” He sticks his tongue out at her and looks up at Jackie when she makes a noise. “What?”

“I just don’t get how you can joke about it,” she says, and looks away. “Jonny - Jonny just fucking broke your heart. How can you make a joke about it?” Her lip quivers and Patrick grabs her hand.

“Because I’m not sure I can cry anymore, and I don’t want to find out,” he says, rubbing her wrist with his thumb. “And because I can’t be sad all the time. I’ve got three kids to take care of. Plus now you guys are here.” He squeezes her wrist. “That makes it all a little better.”

“Pat,” Jackie says helplessly. “How could Jonny do this? I thought he was a good guy. I thought he worshiped you. I thought -”

Not it’s Patrick’s turn to snort. “Yeah, well, I thought so, too. But, if I’m honest, I think things haven’t been the same for him for awhile now.” He licks his bottom lip absently. “He’s been different since we moved to L.A. last year. I just didn’t realize how different.”

“What do you mean?” Jessica asks and he looks down at where she’s rubbing his feet. “Different how?”

“Other than wanting to fuck other guys?” Jackie says bitterly, and they both gape at her. “What?

 

“Jacqueline Kane!” Patrick says, shocked.

“Whatever,” she says sulkily, looking away.

Jessica and Patrick exchange a glance. “O-kaaay,” Patrick says slowly, drawing the word out. “So I’m picking up a little hostility, here.” Jackie coughs out a laugh, and Jessica giggles. Within a minute, they’re all laughing.

“Here you all are,” Erica says from the hall, and they laugh harder at the expression on her face. “What’s so funny?”

“Stop sucking on lemons and get in here,” Patrick says, lifting his legs off Jessica’s lap to make room for her. “Kane sibling pow wow.”

“Nuh-uh,” she says, a wicked smile on her face. “Kane sibling dance-off: the next generation.”

“You’re shitting me,” Patrick says. “You got the boys to dance?”

“No, Patrick,” she says, grinning. “I taught the boys the Kaner shuffle.”

Jackie and Jessica sit up so fast that Patrick tumbles to the floor, and Erica moves out of the way hastily, holding out a hand to Patrick and hauling him up. “Come on, let me show you what your babies can do,” she says, bumping his shoulder.

“Yeah, okay,” he says, bumping her back, but he thinks she knows he means ‘thanks.’

***

Patrick wakes up early the next morning, and he’s downstairs drinking his second cup of coffee when he hears Amelie stir over the baby monitor. She’s sweet and happy, and they make it back downstairs without waking the boys, who were up late and hopefully will sleep until at least eight o’clock.

He’s grateful that Jonny had thought to put his parents up at a hotel and that Erica had volunteered to play tour guide around L.A. for the morning, before bringing everyone by for lunch. It’s not that he thinks today is destined to be the day he and the kids get back to a routine -- as long as his family’s in town, and if he’s honest, as long as Jonny’s living at a hotel -- it’s pretty safe to say that ship has sailed. But having a quiet morning with the kids is exactly what they all need with what’s shaping up to be a hectic Christmas now that his family’s in town.

The boys finally surface at seven forty-five, which might be the latest they’ve slept in more than two years, and he texts Jonny on a whim.

Patrick: e&b just woke up

Jonny: wow!!! they must have been exhausted.

Patrick: two words: kaner fam dance off

Jonny: oh my God, that’s terrifying.

Jonny: also that’s four words.

Patrick: :P

Patrick: my sistas r magic or something

Jonny: or something.

Patrick: i can hear u rolling yr eyes

Jonny: no comment.

Patrick: were gonna do a starbux run in a few

Jonny: let me guess, you’re going to the drive-thru one, even though it’s ten minutes farther.

Jonny: i assume it’s a pj run?

Patrick: u knw it. superman & batman and wonder woman. guy @ the drive thru is gonna enjoy the show :P :P

Jonny: jesus, pat, don’t wear your PJs again. you’re gonna get arrested for indecent exposure.

Patrick: ha, i leave getting arrested 2 u mr underage drinking

Patrick: 2x even

Patrick: but chill, dude, i’m wearing sweats

Jonny: ugh, stop with the text-speak, i don’t understand half of what you’re saying

Patrick: wot? y?

Jonny:

Jonny: because you’re a 30 year-old man not a 14 year-old boy?

Patrick: im 4eva a 14YOboi

Jonny: sad but true.

Patrick: Ammy just pulled all the books from under the coffee tabletop and climbed in like it’s a tunnel. now the boys r trying 2 crawl in 2 except theyre 2 big. hysterical.

Jonny: photo?

Patrick: wot do you think this is, amateur hour? getting it on video, dude. ill send it to u

Jonny: sounds like you’re all having a good start to the day.

Patrick: yep but its gonna get hectic ltr

Jonny: want me to come by later and take the boys to the children’s mass rehearsal? what time does it start?

Patrick: thanx that would be a+! rehearsal starts at 1.

Jonny: okay, going into a meeting with Sid and Geno so i’ll see you at 12:30. have fun at starbux. :)

Patrick: thanx

Patrick pockets his phone with a smile. He organizes the kids for the trip to Starbucks before he gets started on all of the Christmas cookie making and decorating that he’s put off until now. If he times it right, he can have most of it done before his family comes over this afternoon.

***

Three hours later, Patrick is regretting his life and all of the choices that have led him to ineffectually scrubbing sugar cookie dough out of his hair. The kitchen is an unmitigated disaster area: sprinkles on the floor, lopsided cookies sinking through the cooling racks -- probably because he forget the baking powder -- and two different bowls of colorful icing upended on the table. The boys are trying to look apologetic, but are mostly too giggly and hyper from all the icing they’ve been sneaking tastes of to do it properly. He finally calls uncle when Amelie sticks her hand into a bowl of icing.

“Right.” Patrick says, running a hand over his face. “You two, wash your hands, and go pick out a movie. A Christmas movie. Amelie and I will be in the family room in a second. You three are going to sit quietly and behave and watch Frosty-”

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Snowman!” Eric gleefully interrupts, bouncing slightly on his toes.

“Fine, Rudolph.” Patrick continues, undaunted. “While you’re watching the movie, I’m going to shower and get this dough out of my hair. Get it?”

“Got it!” The boys chorus cheerfully.

“Good,” Patrick says, glad everyone was in pajamas still since they’re all covered in icing and everything’s likely stained beyond saving. He looks around as he’s rinsing Amelie hand’s off in the sink. There’s sugar cookie dough everywhere, and it’s probably Amelie’s fault that his hair is starting to harden, but she’s so happy playing in the water, splashing her hands, and making scrunchy faces at him, that it’s impossible to be mad.

“Wrapped around your little finger,” he says, making a silly face at her. He puts up the baby gate and turns on the baby monitor, giving the boys strict instructions that none of them are to leave the room. He showers as quickly as possible and throws on jeans and an old Northwestern sweatshirt.

The baby monitor has been quiet since he got out of shower, and he’s humming along to the movie soundtrack as he pads softly down the stairs, squeezing the ends of his curls one last time in an attempt to get the water out. When he reaches the bottom, the last thing he expects is to hear the boys laughing in the kitchen.

Patrick steels himself to see what destruction his offspring have wrought, images of green frosting handprints all over the walls dancing before his eyes. When he peeks around the doorframe and sees Jonny -- ridiculous Christmas apron tied around his waist -- supervising Amelie as she carefully drops sprinkles one at a time onto a Christmas tree shaped cookie. He feels a little like he took an unexpected punch to the gut.

The kitchen’s been cleaned. There are no sprinkles on the floor, no big globs of icing dripping from the end of the table; the only evidence of Patrick’s early endeavors is the towering stack of bowls in the sink waiting to be washed. It even smells like there’s a second batch of chocolate chip cookies in the oven.

“Papa!” Eric says, “Look at my snowman!” He holds out the cookie towards Jonny carefully, using two hands. There’s a riot of orange and green powder and three cinnamon buttons on the snowman in the approximate location his face would be if it weren’t listing drunkenly to one side.

“That’s really good, buddy.” Jonny smiles. Leaning over to ruffle his hair. “Yours, too, Bry.” Bryan’s reindeer is actually missing its head, and there’s a ring of red around the spot it should be. “Rudolph got bebactitatored!”

Jonny snorts and covers his mouth with his hand. “Decapitated, Bry, and yeah, that’s very creative.” He frowns a little. “But I think we need to talk about how graphic the shows you’re watching are.” Bryan laughs and the boys exchange high fives while Jonny turns back to Amelie, catching her hand before she puts it in a bowl of icing.

Patrick takes a step back, trying to gather his bearings and let the kids have some more time with Jonny. Eric especially has been so angry lately, that seeing him now, with Jonny like this, is making something unclench in Pat’s chest. He knocks a little into the wall though, and all the heads turn to look at him.

“Dad!” Bryan cries, “Come see our cookies. Papa helped us fix them!”

“It was Bryan’s idea, he called him,” Eric says, glancing warily between Patrick and Jonny.

The look on Jonny’s face, part guilt, part determination, and part hopefulness, is what ultimately makes Patrick throw on his most cheerful grin, “Well, it was a really good idea, I’m pretty bad at baking, and Papa’s really good at it.”

“Yeah,” Bryan agrees, “Those chocolate chip cookies weren’t very good, Dad.”

“But look how well the sugar cookies turned out,” Jonny says, giving Patrick a small smile.

“Yeah,” Patrick shakes his head ruefully, “but those are from a box.”

“Still, they taste good, and they look amazing,” Jonny says. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

Patrick smiles and grabs a knife. “Where are all the Christmas trees? And pass me the purple icing, E.”

“In what universe is a Christmas tree purple?” Jonny says, rolling his eyes.

“In this one,” Patrick says, licking his thumb. Jonny’s eyes drop to his mouth and Patrick’s face heats up. He looks down, focusing on spreading icing neatly over the entire surface of the cookie.

“Yummy,” is all Jonny says, and when Patrick peeks at him out of the corner of his eye, Jonny’s smiling.

***

“Peeks, Peeks, what’s a guy gotta do to get a call back?” Sharpy’s usual mocking tone has an undercurrent of seriousness. “I was starting to think you were mad at me.”

“Yeah, uh, sorry.” Patrick wishes he’d never answered the phone. “I’ve been really busy.”

“Busy,” Sharpy says flatly. “That’s not what I hear from Seabs.”

“Seabs?”

“Yeah, you know I’m out of the loop if I have to hear from Seabs that you and Jonny are separated. When were you going to tell me?”

Patrick winces. “I wasn’t?”

“You weren’t?” Sharpy asks. “Why the fuck not?”

“I just - I haven’t told anyone other than my family. It’s fucking embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing,” Sharpy says. “Embarrassing because you know no one will believe it?”

“No, embarrassing because Jonny basically cheated on me.”

“Cheated on you?” Now Sharpy’s voice is incredulous. “Jonny. Jonathan Toews. Cheated. On you?”

“Almost.”

“Patrick, if you don’t tell me what the fuck’s going on, I’m going to come to L.A. and beat it out of you. Or Jonny. Or both.”

“Jesus, fuck, no. You’re not coming to L.A. This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you.” Patrick sinks into the couch and buries his head in his hands. “Fuck.”

“Fine, Peeks, fine. I won’t come to L.A.” Sharpy’s tone shifts to concerned, although there’s still a hint of anger there. “Calm down and tell me what’s been going on.”

“There’s this guy,” he starts and pretty soon the whole story comes pouring out. Sharpy’s silent at the end, and Patrick can hear him breathing through the line. “So. That’s it. And now he’s staying at a hotel, and I’m trying to figure out what it means for me. For us.”

“That stupid motherfucker.”

““Yeah, pretty much.”

“I take it back, I’m coming to L.A., and I’m going to kick Jonny’s ass.”

“You are not. I know you’re my best friend, and I love you, but you can’t fix this for me. You’re going to stay in Dallas and let me work this out. By myself.”

“How could he - Peeks, tell me that you’re making that dick pay for what he did. Preferably by ripping his balls off.”

Patrick winces. “I’m not?”

“You’re not.”

“I just - it’s so complicated, and I can’t help it, I still love him.” Patrick hitches in a long breath. “He’s really sorry-”

“He fucking should be,” Sharpy’s voice is so cold and hard that it makes Patrick shiver. “You’re not planning on taking him back?”

“I don’t know,” Patrick admitted.

“He’s a dick, Patrick. He doesn’t deserve you - he never has.” When Patrick protests, Sharpy speaks over him. “Listen to me. He’s a grouchy, controlling dick who competes with everyone about everything. And when you don’t meet his high standards-”

“Shut up,” Patrick snaps. “Jonny’s incredible. He’s loyal and honest, and he’s the best man I know. So shut the fuck up about him. What the hell do you know?”

There’s silence over the line for a moment, and then Sharpy laughs. “There’s the Peeks I know and love. I still think Jonny’s not worthy of you -- and I still want to rip his balls off -- but I think you need to decide if he’s a dick you want to divorce, or the best guy you know.”

Patrick scrubs at the back of his neck where his hair has gotten longer than he usually wears it. “Yeah, I take it back, I don’t love you. You’re an asshole.”

Sharpy just laughs. “Yeah, I am. And you love me anyway.”

“Yeah, I do,” Patrick grumbles.

“Let me know if I can do anything,” Sharpy says, warm and serious. “And I mean it, I’ll come out if you need me.”

“Thanks,” Patrick says, his eyes prickling. “I’ll let you know.”

“Okay, enough of this maudlin bullshit,” Sharpy says. “Tell me about my favorite set of twins. Still playing hockey?”

Patrick smiles. “Oh, man, you should see Bryan, he’s got such a wicked wrister. Takes after his old man.” They spend the rest of the call trading details about the kids, and Sharpy talks about how Abby’s parents are making him nuts with all the Christmas gifts they’ve sent. When Patrick hangs up, he’s smiling.

***

“What do you mean you haven’t thought about what Jonny’s doing on Christmas?” Donna says, incredulous. “It’s the day after tomorrow, Patrick!”

Patrick focuses on the gift he’s carefully wrapping. “I just haven’t, Mom, I don’t know.” The tape gets caught on his thumb and tears the paper. “Fuck!” Donna rolls her eyes and pushes him out of the way.

“I’ll do this, you can cut the paper for the next one.” She deftly tapes up the package and they settle into a rhythm of wrapping the presents for the kids.

“Thanks,” he says after a few minutes of silence. “I’m really glad you guys are here.” He smiles at her.

“Me, too, honey,” Donna says. “I’m not happy that you didn’t tell us about you and Jonny, but I guess I forgive you.” She bumps his shoulder. “Just don’t do it again.”

Patrick huffs a bitter laugh. “Hey, the next time my husband cheats on me and I kick him out, I’ll be sure to call first thing.”

Donna levels him an unimpressed look. “You know what I mean.”

Patrick ducks his head. “I know, it’s just, this has been so awful, mom. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.”

“Well, let’s deal with Christmas then,” she says, adding a bow to the gift she’s working on and passing it to Patrick so he can write Amelie’s name on it. She starts on the next gift. “You’re going to call Jonny and ask him to come stay with you guys on Christmas Eve.”

“But, Mom-”

“Don’t you ‘but, Mom’ me, young man. You have three children who deserve their Christmas to be normal, or as normal as possible right now, and that means having both of their fathers here. Whatever you two are going through, he’s your children’s father and you can’t deprive him -- or them -- of that.”

Patrick squirms. “I don’t know, mom. He might not even be around. He said something about going up to see David in San Francisco. His parents are flying in, too.”

“Well, then, you need to call him to find out because no matter what he did, Jonny doesn’t deserve to be alone on Christmas morning.” She curls the ends of the bow she’s putting on the gift. “Do you really want him having his Christmas dinner at some hotel restaurant by himself?”

Patrick feels a prickle of guilt. “No, I didn’t - I hadn’t thought about that,” he admits. “I’ve kind of been existing day by day. I’ll - I’ll call him today and ask him.”

“Now,” Donna says firmly. “Go call him right now.”

“Mom,” he whines, but she just arches an eyebrow at him and he raises his hands in defeat. “Fine, fine. I’ll be, uh, in the den.”

Jonny picks up on the second ring, sounding breathless. “Pat? Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, am I interrupting something?”

“Just in a meeting with Sid.” Patrick hears a voice in the background. “Just, just give me a minute, Pat.” Jonny turns away and then Jonny must cover the phone with one hand because the sounds muffle before Jonny comes back on the line. “Sid says Merry Christmas.”

“Do you need to go? We can talk later,” Patrick offers.

“No, we were mostly done, Brandon’s going to finish up for me. So, uh, what’s up? Is something wrong?”

“No, no, I just - I wanted to talk to you about Christmas,” Patrick says, biting his lip. “What are you - are you going to see David?”

“No,” Jonny clears his throat. “I’m probably driving up between Christmas and New Year since I have the time off.” The time he was taking off to be in Tahoe, he doesn’t say, and a tense silence follows.

“I wanted to know - I think you should spend Christmas with us, then,” Patrick says finally. Jonny’s silent on the other end. “Jonny? You still there?”

“Yeah,” Jonny croaks, and then clears his throat. “I - are you - you want me to come over for Christmas?”

“Actually, I was thinking you could come stay here on Christmas Eve. That way you’ll be here when the kids open their presents Christmas morning.”

“Really?” Jonny says, incredulous. “You really want me there?”

“I wouldn’t have asked you otherwise, would I?” Patrick says shortly, annoyed that he can tell just how moved Jonny is. “I just think the kids would like you there so you can see what Santa brings.”

“That - I would love that,” Jonny says, low and earnest. “Yes, of course I'll be there.”

“Good,” Patrick says, and there’s an awkward pause. “Now I won’t be the only one up at five o’clock in the morning dealing with kids hyped up on sugar and adrenaline riding around on their skateboards.”

“Oh, I see how it is,” Jonny replies, and when he clears his throat again, his voice sounds more normal. “I’m just a warm body, huh?”

“You caught me,” Patrick says. “We also have to assemble Ammy’s playhouse, so . . .” He smirks when Jonny groans. “Oh, and you should come over before the Children’s Mass. Unless you’re not going?”

“Of course I’m going,” Jonny responds, offended. “The boys are reading, I wouldn’t miss that.”

“I wasn’t sure if you needed to work,” Patrick says, unable to stop himself, and then bites his lip because that’s not why he called. “Sorry, I just - it’s a bad habit. I didn’t call to fight.”

Jonny’s silent on the other end for a moment. “Yeah, well I’m not working at all on Christmas Eve, so.”

“Good,” Patrick says, sincere and Jonny grunts on the other end of the line. “So, anyway, we have a pew reserved because they’re reading, but parking is going to be a nightmare, so we should probably go in the same car,” Patrick says. “The boys have to be there by five forty-five.”

“Okay,” Jonny says, “Wait, what about your parents? We’re not all going to fit in your car, Pat.”

“They’re driving straight from the mall.” Patrick snorts. “Apparently they’re going shopping with the girls so they’ll just meet us there.”

“Your parents. Are going shopping. On Christmas Eve.” Jonny says flatly. “I will never understand the women in your family.”

“Join the club,” Patrick says, and Jonny chuckles softly. They’re quiet for a long moment, but it’s easier, not as tense as earlier. It’s progress. Maybe his mom was right. “I’ve got to go, but, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I’ll be over in the morning to take the boys to camp.” Jonny pauses. “Pat? Thanks. I didn’t think - I mean - just. Thanks.”

“Okay, Jonny,” Patrick says. “See you.” He hangs up and lays his head on the desk.

“What did he say?” Donna asks from the doorway. “You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just- a lot,” Patrick admits, rolling his head to look at Donna. She snorts. “But he was thrilled, and he’s going to come before mass on Christmas Eve.”

“That’s good, honey,” Donna says, walking over and pulling his head against her stomach. “I’m proud of you. I know that wasn’t easy. But it was the right thing to do.”

“I hope so,” Patrick says. “This is all so fucking confusing. I’m just never sure what to do or what’s going to happen next. It sucks.”

“I know it does, and I wish I could tell you what to do.” She rubs the back of his neck, smoothing the curls down.

He snorts. “Think you just did, actually.”

“Well, that was easy. I think the best thing to do is muddle through all of this one day at a time. We’ve got the next few days handled, so. Want to make cheese dip and watch daytime television with your old mom?”

“That sounds excellent,” he laughs, and as the rest of the day rolls along, he realizes he feels a little more hopeful about things than he has since the whole thing started.

***

Christmas Eve hasn’t started out very promising, and Patrick’s more than ready to pack the boys off to hockey camp for three hours of blissful quiet. He’s listening for Jonny’s car and shoving water bottles into their hockey bags when the boys tear through the kitchen and into the foyer.

“Boys!” Patrick yells. “Boys! Stop running in the house right now, unless you want a timeout on Christmas Eve. I don’t think Santa brings toys to little boys who need timeouts on Christmas Eve.” There’s more scuffling in the hall, but no more running, and he blows out a breath. Jonny cannot get here soon enough, he thinks as he’s zipping up the bags, when the new quiet is interrupted by a huge crash. “Boys! What happened? Eric, Bryan! Are you okay?”

He runs into the foyer and finds the boys frozen, looking at the handblown glass on the hallway table. He grabs their hands, squatting down to look at them. “What happened? Are you okay?”

Eric nods, biting his lip, but Bryan bursts into tears. “Bryan? Did you get cut?” Bryan doesn’t respond, just sobs, his cries gaining in volume. “Bryan,” he says, alarm rising into panic. “Bryan, where did you get hurt?” He looks at Eric, who’s face is crumpling. “Eric, did you see what happened? Did Bryan get cut?”

Eric shrugs and tears well up in his eyes, and Patrick squeezes his hand. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he says, picking up Bryan and carries him into the living room. “Bryan, baby, calm down. Tell me where you got hurt.” He moves his hands gingerly over Bryan’s arms and legs.

He looks up to see Donna coming down the stairs with Amelie, her face concerned. “What’s wrong? Is Bryan okay?”

“I don’t know, Mom, I don’t see anything but he won’t tell me if he’s hurt.” Patrick grips Bryan’s shoulders, shaking him lightly. “Bryan. Bryan. Are you hurt?”

Bryan shakes his head, but if anything, he starts to cry harder. Patrick pulls him into a hug. “Shh, baby, shh, Daddy’s got you.” After a few moments, Bryan’s shaking subsides, and Patrick pushes him away gently so he can wipe his face. “Okay, can you tell me what’s the matter?”

Bryan’s face crumples again, and Patrick rubs his cheeks. “No, no, buddy, come on. No more of that.” Bryan hiccups and nods, although tears are still streaming down his cheeks. “Now, if you’re not hurt, why are you so upset?”

“I broked the vase,” Bryan says, his lip quivering. “I broked the vase and you’re going to be mad at me!”

“Shh,” Patrick shushes him again. “I know you did, but-”

“Please, Daddy, don’t be mad! Don’t make me go live in the hotel! I’m sorry!” Bryan cries, throwing himself into Patrick’s arms.

Patrick’s mouth drops open, and he looks at Donna, still standing in the foyer. He’s frozen for a moment before he can react, but Bryan is still pleading with him. “I’ll be gooder, I promise. I don’t want to live in the hotel with Papa. I want to live here with you and Eric and Ammy! Please, Daddy, please, please don’t be mad at me! Don’t make me move out!” Bryan dissolves into sobs again and Patrick pulls him into a tight hug.

When he looks up at Donna again, Jonny’s standing behind her, his face white and his throat working. Donna follows his gaze over her shoulder and starts. “Jonny,” she says firmly, grabbing his arm. “I’m going to take Amelie and Eric into the kitchen and get them something to drink.” Jonny looks at her, nodding dumbly, and she jerks her shoulder at the couch where Patrick’s holding Bryan, before holding her hand out for Eric.

“Eric, come with Grandma, we’re going to get a glass of milk.” Eric shakes his head, but she comes over and takes his hand. “Let’s get one for Bryan, too, okay? He’s going to need something to drink.” Eric finally takes her hand, wiping his own face and looking back anxiously as Donna basically drags him from the room.

Jonny sits down next to him on the couch, reaching out to rub a hand on Bryan’s back. Bryan looks at him from over Patrick’s shoulder. “Daddy, no, no, don’t make me go!” He screams, clutching at Patrick. “I’m sorry! I don’t want to go with Papa!”

Jonny jerks his hand back and stands up, and Patrick tightens his arms around Bryan. “You’re not going anywhere, Daddy isn’t mad. Bryan,” Patrick says, when he just cries harder. “Listen to Daddy. I’m not mad. You’re not leaving.” He repeats it over and over until Bryan’s sobs taper off to shuddering hiccups.

When Bryan is calmer, Patrick lets himself look at Jonny, who’s been pacing by the window while he settled Bryan down. “You okay?” he asks quietly.

“No,” Jonny says rawly, his pallor offset by two spots of color high on his cheeks. “I don’t think I am.”

“Well, you’d better be, because Bryan needs you to be okay, and I need you not to fucking fall apart,” he hisses. “Get your shit together and come over here and comfort your son.”

Jonny jerks forward and sits down with a thunk and puts an arm out to rub Bryan’s back. “Papa’s,” he chokes and clears his throat. “Papa’s here, and I’m not mad either.”

Bryan peeks up at him from Patrick’s shoulder and then launches himself at him. “Papa, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to broked the vase.” His face scrunches up.

Jonny shakes him gently. “No, no, no more of that, baby, don’t cry, I’m not mad. No more crying, now. Papa’s not mad and Daddy’s not mad, and you need to settle down. You’re upsetting Eric and making me and Daddy sad, too.” Bryan hitches in a breath, and nods. Jonny looks at Patrick a little desperately over Bryan’s head.

“Okay, so we’re going to talk about what you said about me being mad at you,” Patrick starts, shaking his head when Bryan opens his mouth. “Nope, buddy, you need to just listen. Why do you think that you’re going to have to leave if I get mad?”

“Because,” Bryan says, looking between them, “you’re mad at Papa, and he got a time-out, and you made him move to the hotel.”

Patrick takes a deep breath, but before he can speak, Jonny does. “Buddy, that’s not what happened, that’s not why Papa moved out at all.” Patrick holds himself still, waiting to hear what Jonny says.

“I did something that I shouldn’t have, and I needed a timeout, remember?” Bryan nods. “Daddy and I decided, together, that I needed a timeout. And adults can’t do timeouts on a stool or a stair, right?’ Bryan nods again, more slowly, his brow wrinkled. “Sometimes adults need to take timeouts, and sometimes those timeouts mean going to a hotel.” He hugs Bryan. “But you’re never going to have a timeout at a hotel.”

“How long are you going to be in timeout, Papa?” Bryan asks, his lip quivering again. “I want you to be done with timeout now.” He looks at Patrick. “Can Papa be done with his timeout now, Daddy?”

Patrick manages to shake his head slowly. “Papa isn’t done with his timeout, Bryan,” he says, “but he’s going to stay here tonight, for Christmas, so he can help you open all the presents Santa’s going to bring. Does that sound like a good plan?”

“Really? Really, Daddy?” When Patrick nods, Bryan beams. “Can I tell Eric? He’s going to be really happy.” He lowers his voice. “He still thinks you’re getting a divorcing.”

Patrick doesn’t look at Jonny, just wipes Bryan’s face. “No, we’re not getting divorced, but this is just for Christmas, Daddy’s just getting out of timeout for one night. Okay?” Bryan nods and Patrick tilts his face up to look at him. “So, now that you know that you’re never, ever, going to live in a hotel, we need to talk about running in the house. It wasn’t just you that wasn’t listening, so I want you to get a drink from grandma and then you and Eric need to come in here so we can discuss punishment.” When Bryan’s eyes fill again, he taps his bottom lip. “None of that, now, you’re a big boy. Off you go. And do not run, mister.”

“Can I tell Eric that Papa’s going to stay?” When Patrick nods at him, he chirps, “thank you, Daddy! This is the best Christmas present ever!” before walking very methodically through the door to the kitchen.

It’s a minute of fraught silence before Jonny clears his throat. “Well, that sucked,” he says. Patrick hiccups a startled laugh, and they trade cautious smiles that quickly die. “I guess we need to figure out how we’re going to deal with Bryan’s worries.”

“And Eric’s anger,” Patrick adds. Jonny looks away. And fuck him, this is entirely his fault and Patrick’s not going to start feeling sorry for the man who let himself get so involved with another man that he wanted to cheat on him.

“Right now we need to turn this shit around because it’s Christmas Eve and I’m not going to spend the day weeping and pulling my hair out,” Patrick says, determined. “We’re putting the boys in six minute timeouts on their timeout stools, and then you’re taking them to hockey.”

Jonny’s eyes widen. “You’re still sending them to hockey camp?”

“Jesus, it’s a fight, and a fit of hysterics, Jonny. The best thing for them is normal. Normal is getting timeouts, normal is going to hockey camp, normal is, normal, is,” Patrick trails off. “Normal just is, okay?”

Jonny looks at him, face serious for a moment, before he barks a laugh. “Normal just is? Wow. That’s a little hippie of you, babe.”

Patrick’s smile dies on his face and he glares at Jonny. “How many times have I told you not to call me a hippie?”

Jonny looks at him, uncertain. “Never?”

Patrick’s grins. “Now that’s normal.”

Jonny groans and pushes on Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick smacks his hand away. Eric and Bryan walk in then, holding out two mugs of coffee. “Grandma said that you probably wanted something else to drink but this would have to do.” Eric looks at Bryan and he nods. “Also, she said to tell you bottoms-up.” He giggles. “Are you going to drink with your bottoms?”

Jonny almost snorts coffee out of his nose, and Patrick hands him the used tissues to wipe off his face, smiling sweetly when Jonny grimaces. “Okay, boys, sit.”

It takes a few minutes of conversation before they dismiss the boys to their timeout stools. Jonny runs his bag up to the guest room while Patrick wanders into the kitchen to face his mother.

“Everything settled down?” she asks, closing the dishwasher.

“Yeah,” he says, hopping up on the counter. “Sorry. I don’t know what got into Bryan. He’s never said a word about being worried about that before.”

Donna gives him a sympathetic look and crosses the room to squeeze his knee. “Don’t apologize, honey. I know it’s hard for everyone.”

“At least it explains why Bryan has been a Stepford child this past week,” Patrick says morosely, picking at his nails. “He’s been afraid I was going to kick him out.”

Donna grabs his hands. “Stop that,” she chides. “And don’t apologize. It’s been a tough time for all of you and you get to feel how you feel.”

“Ugh, Mom, stop with that shit,” Patrick says, rolling his eyes. “No wonder Jonny thinks I’m a hippie.”

She smacks his leg. “Honey, you are a hippie.”

“It takes one to know one,” he says, smacking her lightly on the arm. They’re still smiling when Jonny walks in.

“Okay, that’s six minutes by my watch,” he says, coming to a halt when they look at him. “Why are you two smiling like that?”

Patrick looks at Donna, and she shrugs. “No reason, dear. So, you’re taking the boys to camp?” she asks.

Jonny looks uncertainly between the two of them. “Yes?” he says.

“Their bags are by the front door. Why don’t you let the boys out of timeout and go, so you’re not too late.”

“Are you sure they should go to camp? It’s Christmas Eve . . .” Jonny trails off when Patrick levels him a long look.

“Jonny, it’s Christmas Eve and we’ve had two fights, a broken vase, and at least three breakdowns, if you don’t include mine and it’s not even ten o’clock in the morning. I need a little peace and quiet and a break from six-year-old boy drama. They are. Going. To. Hockey. Camp.”

Jonny raises his hand in surrender. “Okay, okay, just checking.” He takes an apple out of the fruit bowl. “Just doesn’t seem very hippie to me,” he mutters as he walks out of the kitchen. Donna looks at Patrick, and they start laughing.

“God, I love that kid,” Donna says, wiping tears from her eyes. Patrick nods and then sobers. She puts her hand on his cheek. “It’s going to be okay, Pat.” He bites his lip and she pulls him into her arms. “I promise.”

He hugs her tightly and listens to the sounds of the boys walking out the front door.

 

***

“We’re home, Daddy!” Eric’s voice rings out. “Daddy! Daddy! I got the winning goal in the sprinage!” He runs into the kitchen. “We won the sprinage!”

“Wow, E, that’s great,” Patrick says, hugging him briefly before pulling away. “Whoa, You’re soaked.”

Jonny and Bryan enter more sedately. “Okay, Eric, let’s get upstairs. Time for a shower.”

“But Papa,” Eric whines, but he closes his mouth at a look from Jonny. “Sorry.”

Bryan’s holding onto Jonny’s leg and peeking at Patrick uncertainly. “How about you, buddy,” Patrick says, squatting down and taking his hand. “How was camp?”

Bryan looks up at Jonny, biting his lip. “It was okay,” he mumbles. “Are you still mad?”

“Oh, baby, no, I’m not mad.” He pulls Bryan to him and stands up. “That’s the deal, right? You say sorry and do the timeout, and Daddy and Papa aren’t mad. Just don’t run in the house, okay?” Bryan hugs him tightly and then Jonny takes his hand. “Showers for both of you.”

They groan, and Jonny growls. “Oh, ho, I hear the shower monster,” Jonny says, looking around. “I think he wants to eat all the little boys who haven’t taken their shower!” He growls again and contorts his face, lifting his hands up and making claws. “He’s almost here!” The boys squeal and turn for the door.

“Walk,” Patrick reminds them, giving Jonny an exasperated look. “Even the shower monster has to walk in this house.” Jonny winks at him and limps off, growling and roaring. Patrick laughs and turns back to the stove where he’s making the soup for dinner tonight.

Ten minutes later, the twins are eating their lunch, and Jonny’s helping him shred the meat for the soup.

“It’s called veggie soup because it’s got so many veggies in it,” Patrick says, rolling his eyes.

“That makes no sense,” Jonny responds. “It’s beef vegetable soup. If you have beef in it, you can’t call it veggie soup.”

“Are you two having this argument again?” Donna asks as she walks in from the garage, Tiki behind her. “It’s veggie soup, Jonny. It always was and it always will be veggie soup.”

Tiki nods. “Best just to stop fighting that one, son. Not worth the effort.” Donna smacks him on the arm. “What? It’s true!”

Jonny laughs. “But it’s so much fun making them explain how veggie soup can have beef in it,” he says, and backs away when Donna eyes him. “It’s a holiday tradition, Donna!”

Donna and Patrick’s eyes meet and they shake their heads. “Our taste in men, honestly,” Patrick says, pulling a bag of carrots out of the freezer. “Pretty but dumb, am I right, mom?”

“Hey!” Jonny and Tiki say in unison, and Donna laughs. “I guess we have a type,” she agrees, kissing Tiki briefly. “Okay, so, how can we help?”

Patrick points at Eric and Bryan. “These two need some outside time. We have to be at the church in-” he checks the clock - “four hours. Amelie’s almost done napping, and I need a shower.” He looks at Jonny who nods. “Jonny, too. Maybe Dad could take the boys to the park? Between the three of us we can finish up the soup and the rolls and get showered before you guys have to leave for the mall.”

“Sure thing, Buzz,” Tiki says. “We didn’t want to have to go back to the hotel, so your mom brought our church clothes and our pajamas for opening presents tonight,” Tiki says, holding up a duffel bag. “Where should I put this?

“Put it in the guest room, I guess,” Patrick says, distracted. “You guys can change in there.”

Jonny clears his throat. “My, uh, my bag’s on the bed, just move it if you need to.” When Patrick looks up from where he’s stirring the soup, Jonny’s staring determinedly down at the meat he’s shredding. Patrick jostles his shoulder and smiles at him when he looks up.

“I think I told you guys that Jonny’s going to sleep here tonight,” he says, ignoring his mother’s smirk. “But you can still change and leave your stuff in the guest room.”

“Honey, I’ll take our stuff up and check on Amelie, you go ahead and take the boys to the park,” Donna says, looking over at the table where Eric’s still eating his sandwich. Bryan’s done already, just swirling his finger through his milk and painting it onto his plate.

“Bryan, go wash up and get your shoes on,” Patrick says. “Eric, three more bites or you’re not going to the park.” Eric grimaces and takes another small bite, chewing slowly. “Bigger bites, mister.”

“He still not eating much?” Jonny asks Patrick quietly. Patrick shakes his head. watching Eric take two more slightly larger bites. “Later,” he says softly, and Jonny nods.

“No progress on getting him to eat more, huh?” Jonny says when the boys are gone and Donna’s upstairs. “I don’t get it, he used to have such a big appetite and now it’s like he’s on a hunger strike.”

“Jonny, don’t.” Patrick sighs. “I talked to the pediatrician and she said it’s just a phase.”

“A phase he’s been going through for more than six months, Pat,” Jonny says, shredding the meat more forcefully than necessary. “I don’t like it. Bryan eats like a horse and he’s getting taller than Eric.”

“Bryan’s a quarter of an inch taller than Eric,” Patrick says reasonably, then blows out a breath. “But yeah, I know, I don’t like it either. She said that if we make a big deal about it, he might get worse or try to hide it or something,” Patrick says and shrugs. “Told me we should make sure he has snacks in his bag at school, not to bug him about finishing his plate, and to always feed him if he says he’s hungry.”

Jonny makes an impatient sound. “There has to be something we can do.”

“There really isn’t,” Patrick says firmly. “And definitely not on Christmas Eve.”

“We can’t keep saying that, Pat,” Jonny says, shaking his head. Patrick opens his mouth to protest again when Jonny holds up his hand. “I’m not saying today. But soon.”

Patrick sighs. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’ll call the pediatrician after the holidays and get a referral,” Patrick says.

“A referral,” Donna says, walking in with Amelie in her arms.

“To help with Eric’s eating.” Patrick says.

“You two aren’t still worried that Eric’s not eating enough?” Donna says, holding Amelie out for them to kiss and then setting her down with her blocks. “How many times do I have to remind you that I went through this with Patrick when he was Eric’s age, and by the time he was nine, he was eating more than all three girls combined?”

“I know, but Mom -” he starts and Donna tuts at him. “Stop looking for problems where none exist. I think you’ve got enough actual problems on your plate right now,” she advises, shooting them a tart look. “And listen to your pediatrician if you won’t listen to me.” Patrick opens his mouth to retort, and Jonny bumps his shoulder.

“I’m not sure Patrick’s childhood eating habits are that reassuring, Donna,” Jonny says, stepping smoothly out of Patrick’s reach with a grin. “I don’t want him growing up to be a shrimp like someone else I could mention.” Donna laughs and Patrick makes a face at Jonny.

“Ha ha, Jonny, so funny I forgot to laugh,” Patrick says, brandishing his fork in Jonny’s direction and advancing until Jonny’s backing toward the doorway “I suggest you go shower before chaos descends again in the form of our sons and my sisters.”

“Too late!” Erica says. “Chaos is here.”

Jonny jumps a little before continuing down the hall. “Just going to shower, as ordered, see you guys at church!”

“Coward,” Patrick mouths at him when Jonny waves at him. When he looks up, all four Kane women are looking at him with differing degrees of amusement, fondness and exasperation. “Shut up,” he says. “It’s Christmas. I’m not allowing any of that--” he waves at their faces -- “in my house today.”

Erica snorts. “Good luck with that, Patty,” she says, grabbing a spoon from the drawer and tasting the broth. “Wow, this is good, Mom.”

“Hey!” Patrick says smacking at her to move out of the way. “I made the soup and no snitching!”

“How come Patrick doesn’t have to come to the mall,” Jessica whines. “I hate going to the mall on Christmas Eve.”

“God, Jess, you’re such a baby,” Jackie mocks. “It’s two hours! Get over it already.”

“Children,” Donna says quellingly, “no fighting on Christmas Eve.”

“But Mom -” they say in unison and it makes them all laugh. When Jonny walks back in fifteen minutes later, Patrick’s got the soup warming on the stove. “Papa!” Amelie says, lunging toward Jonny, and Jackie has to juggle her to keep her from falling.

“Faites attention, Ammy,” Jonny says, taking her from Jackie and kissing her head. “Je ne veux pas depose-tu, cher.” Patrick swallows and looks away from where Jonny’s biceps are straining against the t-shirt he’s wearing. Erica’s smirking at him again, and he flushes.

“So, who’s up for the mall?” Jackie asks over the sounds of Amelie’s giggles.

“Not me!” Jessica says and Erica groans. “What? I don’t want to go!”

“Not to interrupt what I’m sure would be an entertaining argument,” Patrick drawls, “but maybe Jess and Dad could stay here and help me and Jonny get the boys ready for mass and you guys can meet us at church?”

“But your father will be so disappointed,” Donna says and then laughs when they all look at her. “What? He will!”

“How about if we head over to the park with Amelie and see if Tiki wants to come shopping or not?” Jonny offers. He visibly flinches when that draws all of their attention to him. “Or not? Or-”

“That’s a great idea, Jonny,” Erica says, her smile all teeth. “You can walk over to the park with us and Patrick can stay here.” She smiles at him. “You can shower and finish getting things ready for tonight.”

Jonny swallows visibly and throws a panicked look at Patrick, who shrugs. “I’ll just - I’ll get the stroller and the diaper bag,” Jonny says and all but runs from the room.

Patrick sighs. “Be nice,” he says pleadingly. “Please?”

All three of his sisters nod, but Patrick’s not convinced, and by the way Jonny’s dragging his feet when they leave, he’s not either. Patrick rolls his eyes at Jonny when he looks back and Jonny turns away, walking slowly down to where Jackie is waiting at the bottom of the driveway. Patrick shakes his head when he shuts the door. It’s going to be an interesting Christmas, that’s for sure.

***

“For all our friends and family who are here,” Eric says.

“And for all our friends and family who are far away, especially notre grandmere et grandpere,” Bryan says.

“We pray to the Lord,” they say together.

Patrick looks away from his iPhone where he’s filming the boys and Jonny’s smiling at him, eyes shining. He’s standing in the row in front of Patrick with Tiki and Jackie, recording on his phone, too. Bryan and Eric move to the end of the line of tiny readers, Bryan smiling and waving and Eric pulling on his sleeve.

“They’re so cute,” Erica says, wiping the corner of her eye.

Patrick bumps her shoulder. “They are.”

He sniffles before laughing when Amelie shouts “B! B!” and waves at Bryan, who waves back.

Jonny hastily shushes her while the people around them laugh, bright spots of color in his cheeks and Patrick pokes his back. “Always has to be the center of attention, Jon. Wonder who she got that from?” he whispers and Jonny makes a face at him.

“Shh,” Tiki says. “Behave yourselves, boys.” Patrick makes a silly face at Jonny before he turns forward quickly.

“Jesus, some things never change,” Erica mutters, but she just shakes her head when Patrick looks at her.

The rest of the mass is the usual combination of ritual, bathroom breaks, and baby-wrangling until they get to the kiss of peace and he and Jonny turn to each other. He’s kissing Jonny before he even realizes it, and Jonny freezes, one arm folded up awkwardly between them, the other around Amelie. “Uh. Sorry, habit,” Patrick mutters, his cheeks hot, before he leans in to press a kiss into Amelie’s hair.

“Daddy?” Eric says, from next to him, and he looks down to see him watching them both carefully. “Merry Christmas, buddy,” Patrick says, hugging him and resolutely ignoring Erica where she’s looking at him assessingly. “And Merry Christmas to you, Bry,” he says, turning to Bryan and kissing his cheek, too.

When he looks up, Erica’s staring at Jonny, who’s flushing even more deeply than Patrick is, and he elbows Erica. “Merry Christmas and peace be with you,” he says pointedly. She laughs and nods, kissing his cheek. “Merry Christmas, Pattycakes,” she says, and pinches his side. “I hope it’s a good one.”

“Me, too,” he says quietly. “Me, too.”

***

“Hello?” Patrick’s distracted when he picks up the phone in the kitchen, but the voice on the other line instantly has his attention.

Bonjour, Patrick,” Andree says, “Joyeux Noel.” Her voice is gentle and sad, and Patrick’s throat tightens. “How are you?”

Joyeux Noel, Andree.” His voice cracks and he clears his throat. “I’m good. You?”

“We are all good, but I am not happy with my son. He told me what happened and I am very disappointed in him.”

“I - “ Patrick honestly doesn’t know how to continue and when Donna looks at him, her face concerned, he mutely passes the phone to her and walks away.

She comes into the den ten minutes later, turning the phone over and over in her hands. “So, Andree apologized.” Patrick makes a noise and Donna waves a hand. “No, it’s fine, I told her it’s been a long day. Just make sure you speak to her tomorrow when she calls.”

Patrick drops his head into his hands. “God, Mom, is it ever going to get easier? I feel like I can’t keep my feet under me. Sometimes it’s great and I think maybe things are okay, that it’s going to work out, you know? And then sometimes I’m so angry.” He sighs. “But the worst is when it just hurts. Or when it hurts worse than it usually does.”

“I can imagine, honey,” she says, sitting down next to him on the couch. “For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing a great job.” When Patrick scoffs, she squeezes his hand. “I mean it.”

“Which part? The part where my son is so traumatized that he thinks I’m going to make him move out if he’s bad? Or the one where my other son is so angry with his father that he actually tried to hit him? Or maybe the part where I failed so hard at being enough for my husband that he went looking for someone else?”

“Patrick, feeling sorry for yourself is neither helpful nor attractive,” she says, reproving, and he twists his mouth and looks away. “I meant, you’re doing a great job of not falling apart.”

“Am I, Mom?” He laughs, brittle. “It doesn’t feel like it.” The rooms swims and he wipes at his eyes angrily.

“Oh, baby,” she says and pulls him into her arms, rocking him gently. “Yes, you are. You’re doing the best you can, and if it were me, I’d have fallen apart or run for the hills. So stop being so hard on yourself.”

“I can hear you thinking it, so just say it.” When she’s silent, he makes a frustrated noise. “Stop being so hard on Jonny, right?” She squeezes him a little tighter and rubs his back. “I’m trying, I’m really trying, but it’s so hard.”

“I know you are.” She says softly.

“What am I going to do? I don’t know what I should do,” he says, his voice cracking. “Why won’t anyone tell me what to do?”

“You know no one else can decide that for you, Patrick, but I think if you look inside yourself, you know what you want to do. Sometimes the best thing to do is just let yourself do what you want to do.”

“But I don’t know what I want,” he whines. “It changes all the time.”

“I think deep down you do know.” He shrugs mulishly, and she sighs. “And even if you don’t, well. You’ll figure it out. Until you do, I think you should just take it one day at a time.”

“And stop being so hard on Jonny,” he says, sniffling.

“And maybe stop being so hard on yourself,” she corrects, pulling back to wipe his cheeks. She’s a little watery herself and he rolls his eyes at her.

“Okay,” he says. “Okay.” He blows his nose.

“You guys okay in here?” Tiki asks, walking in and shutting the door behind him.

“Yeah,” Donna says before she looks at Patrick speculatively. “Actually, maybe you should talk to Patrick. I think he needs some . . . reassurances that you’re a little more qualified to give. She stands up and gestures at her spot. “You stay with Pat. I’ll help Jonny get the kids into their pajamas while you guys talk.”

Tiki stands awkwardly after she leaves until Patrick groans and tips his head back onto the couch. “Might as well sit down and get it over with, Dad ,” he says wearily. “I think we’ve been lucky to escape this for this long.”

Tiki chuckles and nods. “Your mother isn’t one to shy away from making us talk about things, hmm?” He sits heavily on the couch and rubs a hand over his head. “So. Things getting to you, Buzz?”

“Yeah,” he sighs, exhausted suddenly. “It’s just been really hard, Dad .” His eyes fill again and he swipes at them. “Fuck.”

“I remember,” Tiki says, and then stops. “Your mom told you about us, I guess?” When Patrick nods, he winces. “Yeah, so. I remember when your mom and that asshole Don Mitchell were. Well.” He clears his throat. “Anyway, it sucked. And for a long time I didn’t forgive her. I didn’t want to forgive her. Hell, I didn’t even want to see her. But you guys were all so young, and just walking away wasn’t an option.”

“Great, so you’re saying you just stayed with her for us?” Patrick asks bitterly.

“No, that’s just why I didn’t kick her out right away,” Tiki frowns. “But I was so angry. And I was so confused. But mostly I was just really hurt.”

“Oh.” They sit there quietly before he can ask, “What did you do?”

“Oh, I froze her out. I don’t think we spoke to each other unless it was about you kids for a good three months.” He sighs. “But it’s hard to stay that angry for long when you love someone the way I love your mom. And I didn’t want to lose her.”

Patrick pulls in another shaky breath. “Yeah.”

Tiki pats his leg. “But that’s my story, Buzz. You have to do what’s best for you, and whatever you decide, your mom and I support you.”

Patrick nods and Tiki squeezes his leg once. “So. I heard a rumor that we’re there’s hot chocolate and Christmas music in the family room. Want to put on your Christmas pjs and I’ll buy you a drink?”

Patrick hiccups a laugh against his will and nods. When they stand up, Tiki pulls him into his arms. “I’m real sorry about all of this, Buzz. And I’m really proud of you.” Patrick buries his head in Tiki’s shoulder and breathes for a minute before stepping back.

“Hot chocolate and Christmas cookies sound great,” he says. “Lead the way.”

***

“God, I hope we got it this time,” Jonny groans. “I don’t think my back can handle taking this fucking thing apart again.”

Patrick sticks his head out of one of the windows, watching Jonny stretch his neck. “It seems sturdy enough and the windows all open.” He opens and shuts the door. “Door seems to work, too.” Jonny laughs and Patrick scowls. “One more crack about me fitting in this and I’m locking you out here to wait for Santa.”

“Aww, Pattycakes, don’t be like that,” Jonny says, stepping out of the reach.

“Ugh, Jonny, don’t call me that,” he says. “Help me up.” Jonny offers him a hand and they spend a minute looking at the finished product. The roof fits and the stickers are all where they’re supposed to be. He looks over at the small pile of plastic pieces next to the instructions. “I still don’t like that we have so much left over.”

Jonny claps him on the shoulder. “You pushed on the walls, you laid across the roof. It’s sturdy enough. You know they always include mystery pieces.”

“Yeah, well, since I’m so little, maybe we should have had your fat ass up on the roof, test all those load-bearing walls.” He elbows him lightly. “Get it? Your ass and loads . . .”

“Patrick, are you ever not a fourteen year-old boy?” Jonny groans.

“Nope,” Patrick says. “That’s why you love me.” His neck warms as he realizes what he said. When glances at Jonny, he’s looking at him, face soft.

“Yeah,” he says and bumps Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick’s cheeks warm as well.

“Anyway, nice job, Papa,” Patrick says, clearing his throat and looking back at the little house. “I guess the third time’s the charm.”

“Please tell me the boys only got skateboards from Santa?” Jonny says. “I’m beat and it’s already one thirty in the morning.”

“Ha,” Patrick says. “There’s their new bikes, the stroller for Ammy, the-” his voice is muffled when Jonny wraps his hand over his mouth. He licks his hand, and Jonny just wiggles his eyebrows at him, so he bites instead and Jonny draws his hand back with a shout.

“I can’t believe you bit me!” He shakes his hand.

“You know how much I like chewing on things,” Patrick says sweetly as Jonny grimaces and wipes his hand on his pants. “Anyway, that’s the only thing we have to assemble.”

“Thank Christ,” Jonny says. It takes another minute to get the boys’ skateboards and the small ramp set up on the patio before they’re back inside. “Put the boxes in the recycling, but shove them to the bottom,” Patrick reminds him, and Jonny rolls his eyes. “Not my first time at this rodeo, Pat,” he says.

Patrick’s turned off all the lights except the Christmas tree when Jonny comes back in with two beers. “Enjoying the calm before the storm?” Jonny says, handing one to Patrick.

Patrick takes a long sip. “Great minds, man. Beer and A Christmas Story.” Jonny and they settle onto the couch to watch Ralphie try to connive his way to getting a BB gun.

“Man, I do not enjoy this as much when I think about one of our boys with a fucking BB gun,” Jonny says in the quiet. “Can you imagine?”

“Forget shooting his eye out, we’d probably spend half our time in the ER because they’d be shooting each other in the ass,” Patrick agrees fondly. “I have a hard time keeping them separated when they fight as it is! No way am I putting a weapon like that in their hands. And I dread the day when they’re bigger than us and I can’t just pull them apart.”

“Oh, you mean next month, little man?” Jonny says, ruffling his hair.

“Stop, asshole!” Patrick says without heat, slapping at Jonny’s hands and smoothing his hair down. Jonny sighs loudly and when he looks over at him, he’s smiling at Patrick fondly. “What?” Patrick asks warily.

“Nothing, just,” Jonny shrugs. “I was kind of dreading Christmas and this has been nice. Mass, Christmas PJs, even putting together the dollhouse. Three times.”

“Yeah, that wouldn’t make my list, got to admit.” Patrick snorts. “But, I’m glad you’re here. And not just to help with Ammy’s house.”

Jonny stands up and turns off the TV. “Come on, let’s get to bed. Those monsters are going to be up at six o'clock in the morning and I need my four hours of beauty sleep.” They turn out the lights behind them and climb the stairs quietly.

“Night, Jonny.”

“Night, Pat.”

***

“Daddy, wake up, wake up! It’s Christmas!” A voice shrieks in Patrick’s ear, and he groans.

“Eric, I told you that you’re not allowed out of your bed until six o'clock and it’s only-” Patrick lifts his head and groans again. “Six o'clock.”

A deep chuckle at the door reveals Jonny standing there with Bryan in his arms. He lifts an eyebrow at Patrick, who buries his head back into his pillow. “Five more minutes,” he begs, and Jonny chuckles again.

“Okay, Eric, you heard your dad. Five more minutes.”

“But Papa!”

“Go back to your room and find a book to read,” Jonny says, and when they protest, continues, “Or do you want to have to wait to open your presents from Santa until Grandma and Grandpa get here?”

One of the twins gasps, and then the only sound is their pounding footsteps back down the hall to their room and the door slamming. Predictably, that results in a cry from Amelie and Jonny shakes his head. “I’ll get her changed but you’d better get up unless you want an epic wonder twin meltdown from those two. I caught them trying to sneak in here half an hour ago, and there’s only so much delaying they’re going to put up with.”

Patrick blinks his eyes. “You were up before five thirty in the morning?” He yawns. “You hate getting up early.”

“I was just making sure I’d gotten Amelie’s doll house set up right,” he whispers after making sure the boys are still down the hall. “I hate that there’s all those extra pieces, and I don’t want it to fall apart.”

Patrick snorts. “Dude, we went over this already.I’m sure it’s fine.”

“Yeah, well, if Santa makes something, he makes damn sure it doesn’t break the first time you play with it,” Jonny says, twisting his lips a little.

“Always have to have everything perfect, huh, Jonny,” Patrick teases, but the smile on Jonny’s face drops off immediately. “No, hey, I just meant that you always want the kids’ things to be perfect,” Patrick says. “Plus you’re a boss at putting together that shit.”

Two spots of color appear high on Jonny’s cheeks. “I remember how hard my dad worked to put all of my stuff together and I just . . . I want to do that for our kids, too,” he says, shrugging.

“I don’t think you have to worry about it,” Patrick says, pushing himself upright and stretching. When he opens his eyes, Jonny’s staring at him a little slack-jawed, and his flush is even more pronounced. Patrick ducks his head and tugs his t-shirt back down over his belly. “Okay, I’m up, you should go deal with Ammy.”

Jonny’s mouth snaps shut, and he nods a little robotically. He turns to leave and bangs straight into the doorframe, and Patrick has to bite his lips to keep from laughing. “Watch your step there, Tazer,” he says after Jonny, who just flips him off and keeps moving.

Patrick grins and hauls himself out of bed. It might only be six o’clock in the morning but he’s already having an okay day.

***

When Patrick let himself think about it, he’d dreaded Christmas morning because even though things have been a little better since his family got to town, anger flares up between him and Jonny without much notice. But the kids are so excited that he doesn’t even have time to think about it. The boys love their skateboards, and Amelie keeps going into her playhouse and back out again. He smiles at Jonny, who grins back at him.

“Good call on telling Santa to deliver his presents outside, Daddy,” Jonny says quietly enough that the boys can’t overhear.

Patrick shrugs. “Not like we could have them inside, with that monstrosity.” He gestures at the playhouse just as Amelie comes back outside. “But it was a great idea for Amelie. She loves it.”

“Yeah,” Jonny laughs, watching Amelie toddle back inside and close the door again. She peeks out the window and then disappears. They wait, but when she doesn’t come out, they look at each other and laugh. Patrick smiles at Jonny a little goofily and Jonny smiles back.

“Daddy, Daddy, look! I’m on a canoe!” Eric calls, kneeling on his skateboard and pushing it along with a stick from the yard.

“And I’m a turtle!” Bryan yells, laying on his stomach on his skateboard and scrabbling along the pavement.

“You guys are doing great,” Jonny says, and they watch while the boys make their way around the backyard. “And don’t run over the turtle, E.” Eric smiles at Jonny briefly and moves over so Bryan can scoot by. It one of the few smiles Eric’s directed at Jonny’s in the past few weeks, and it makes something inside of Patrick’s chest lighten.

“Thank you,” Jonny says after a moment.

“For what?” Patrick asks, distracted as Eric tumbles off his skateboard into the grass, but he hops up and gets right back on, Bryan chirping him for falling. Jonny doesn’t answer, and when Patrick turns to look at him, he’s staring out into the yard, his shoulders tense.

“For last night. And this morning,” Jonny says. “You didn’t have to include me. And. And I just really appreciate it.” He looks at Patrick quickly and then away again. His mouth twists. “I’m so glad I got to be here. So. Thank you.”

Patrick has to swallow twice to get words past the lump in his throat. “Stop thanking me, Jon, Jesus,” he says, annoyed, and Jonny’s face falls a little. Patrick winces. “Sorry, just. You don’t have to thank me. They’re your kids, too, you should be here.” He smiles and lowers his voice. “Besides, who would have put together that thing if you hadn’t been here? Me? Erica?” They look at each other. “Tiki?” They say in unison, and laugh, and the tension eases.

“Coffee?” Patrick asks, and Jonny nods, his expression still a little guarded. Patrick stands up, brushing his hand over Jonny’s shoulder. “It’s Christmas, Jon,” he says. “Let’s just enjoy the day, okay?” When Jonny’s face relaxes, Patrick smiles at him and heads inside.

**

Two hours later, he’s gotten most of the pre-dinner prep work done, but he hasn’t had a chance to deal with the mess around the Christmas tree and his family is due any minute. The piles of wrapping paper, ribbons, and the remnants of packaging the boys demolished in their haste to get their toys out of the box were daunting enough that he abandoned them in favor of cooking, but he can’t stall any longer. He grabs several garbage bags and heads into the family room, but he stops short when he sees Jonny on the floor, garbage bags filled to bursting at his side and not a scrap of paper in sight. Jonny looks up and smiles when he walks in.

“You cleaned?” Patrick says, more incredulous than he intended judging by the way Jonny’s face closes off. He hadn’t meant it to sound quite as disbelieving as it had probably come out, and he backtracks hastily. “I mean, wow, man, thanks.”

Jonny shrugs, tying the last bag tightly without looking up. “You were busy with the turkey, and the kids were happy outside, so I figured I’d get started in here.”

“Well, it looks great,” Patrick says, smiling at Jonny when he meets his eyes, and Jonny shrugs again, but he looks less tense. “Really. I was not looking forward to tackling that mess.” He touches Jonny’s shoulder briefly.

When Jonny straightens up, he’s close enough that he looms over Patrick. His hand lifts up toward Patrick’s face, but drops before he touches him. “You’ve got something orange on your chin and you look tired. Why don’t you go clean up and then you can lay down for a little? I can supervise the boys for a while so you can rest before your family gets here.”

“I’m not tired,” Patrick starts but a yawn cuts him off and Jonny laughs. Patrick shrugs, sheepish. “Okay, maybe I am a little tired.” He bites his lip, frowning. “Are you sure?”

Jonny turns him around and pushes him toward the door. “Aren’t you the one who told me once that if someone offers to watch your kids, you say yes and head for the hills as fast as your legs can carry you?” Patrick laughs, because, yeah, that sounds like him. “Go get some sleep.”

Patrick smiles and nods, and when he looks back, Jonny’s still watching him. Patrick flushes and waves lamely, and Jonny raises an eyebrow at him and waves back. He smiling softly at his image in the bathroom mirror as he wipes candied yams off his chin. He’s too tired to analyze the myriad emotions he’s been cycling through this morning, so he just washes up and gets into the bed in Amelie’s room. He doesn’t want to sleep too long and she’ll probably be up in an hour or so. He lays there and lets the warm feeling of this morning wash through him as he slowly falls asleep.

***

It feels like he’s only been out for a few minutes when he wakes up to Amelie’s voice. “Dada,” Amelie says, “Dada up? Haut!

Patrick blinks and opens his eyes to see Amelie bouncing in her crib.

“Dada haut?” She asks again.

He scrubs at the sleep in his eyes and grins at her. “Did you have a good morning nap, baby girl? First time in a while for a morning nap, hmm?”

She nods and lifts her arms up. “Out, Dada. Out plait.

Patrick laughs. “We’ve got your brain so confused, don’t we?” He tickles her belly as he changes her diaper and she squeals and bats his hands away. “Pense tu, er, confused?” He laughs again. “Juste comme Daddy, n’est ce pas, Lady Bug? Did I get any of that right?”’

“Papa, Papa,” Amelie says, and Patrick freezes.

When he looks over, Jonny’s standing in the doorway, his mouth open. Patrick bites his lip and goes back to fastening up Amelie’s onesie. “I guess you heard that?”

“Were you - did you just speak French to her?” Jonny says. “Is that - I don’t understand.” He stops again. “ You know how to speak French? How do you know how to speak French?”

Patrick’s cheeks get warm. “I’ve been taking lessons,” he admits, meeting Jonny’s eyes briefly before darting away. “Hand me her Christmas dress, will you?”

Jonny passes Patrick the dress absently and scrubs a hand through his hair. “Lessons,” Jonny says, still looking stunned. “You. You’ve been taking French lessons? I don’t - French lessons? Why?”

Patrick works on getting Amelie into her dress while he tries to figure out what to say. “It was supposed to be a Christmas gift for you and the kids. So, uh, surprise?” he finishes lamely.

“You learned French,” Jonny croaks. “For us.” He shakes his head like he’s trying to clear it. “You learned French for us?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, “J’appris française pour tu, er. Pour vous? Shit, I always forget that one.”

“Pour vous,” Jonny corrects. “Plural of ‘you’ is ‘vous.’

“Right, right, I knew that,” Patrick says, mouth twisting. “Your language is fucking hard, man.” He finishes buttoning Amelie’s dress up and turns her around on the changing table. “Je suis finis!”

“Um,” Jonny says, sheepish. “That’s not - don’t say it like that. It’s ‘j’ai fini.”

Patrick tilts his head, confused. “But that’s - isn’t that ‘I have finished?’ That doesn’t sound right.”

Jonny nods. “Yeah, well, ‘je suis finis’ means ‘I am dead,’ so, maybe don’t say that around any actual French speakers.”

When Patrick opens his mouth, Jonny adds. “Including Quebecois French speakers.” Patrick smiles at Jonny cheekily and hands Amelie to him.

“I’m going to shower and get dressed for dinner. You good on your own for a little while longer?” Jonny nods, and Patrick’s turning to leave when Jonny grabs his arm and pulls him into a hug, squeezing him tightly.

“Patrick, merci, merci. Cela signifie beaucoup pour moi. Pour nous,” Jonny says in rapid French.

Patrick closes his eyes, holding on to Jonny’s shoulders, Amelie squished in between them. He recognizes ‘merci,’ but the rest goes by so fast he can’t parse it.

“De rien,” he settles on, figuring it’ll fit whatever Jonny thanked him for. “I just figured I’d better learn so I can break into that secret club you’ve got going with the kids.” Patrick bumps his shoulder. “Can’t have you guys ganging up on me, right?”

“Right,” Jonny says, his voice wrecked. “But. Thanks. Really.” Patrick nods and steps back, and as he reaches the door Jonny’s voice stops him again. “When did you take lessons, anyway?”

Patrick shifts, uncomfortable. “It was. Uh. During Amelie’s art class,” Patrick admits and raises a hand when Jonny blanches. “No, hey, don’t.” He pauses, gathering his thoughts. “It was something I’ve wanted to do since the boys started getting so fluent but then Amelie was so sick when she was born and I just couldn’t find the time or the energy.” He smiles at Jonny. “I’m glad I finally did, and I’m glad I could finally tell you. So don’t beat yourself up about missing one class. Okay?”

Jonny’s mouth twists, but he nods, and Patrick smiles at him again. “It’s Christmas, man. If I can let it go for today, so can you.” That makes Jonny’s face relax a little more, and he nods again, but it seems more real this time, and this time when Patrick leaves, he’s the one who looks back. Jonny’s kissing Amelie’s cheek and speaking softly to her and Patrick can’t hear him, but he likes knowing that if he could, there’s a good chance he could understand.

***

“Patrick, it smells delicious in here!” Donna exclaims as she walks into the kitchen. “Jonny, put these under the tree for me?” Once Jonny’s left the room, she turns back to Patrick. “I see Jonny’s helping out this morning?”

“Ugh, Mom, stop,” he says, but he can’t help a small smile and she bumps his shoulder. “I’m glad, that’s all. It’s a day for putting things aside, hmm?”

“You want to get the gravy started?” Patrick asks, ignoring the comment and nodding at the pan of drippings Jonny had been about to start on. “The flour’s on the island.”

She hums and gets to work, and he fills her in on the kids’ response to Santa apparently crashing his sled under their tree. “Honestly, I don’t know what Santa was thinking. Where are we going to put all that shit?”

She grins at him, then. “Well, you’re going to need an addition when they open our presents.” Patrick groans and flicks water at her, but she dances out of the way.

They work in silence for a few minutes before she turns to him, her face serious. “Have you thought any more about what I said the other day?”

He looks out the window over the sink, shrugging. “Yeah. I just,” he sighs and looks back at her. “I don’t know, mom. I’m not sure I can just get over it, you know?” When she keeps looking at him, he wrinkles his nose at her. “But. I’m trying?”

She pats his arm. “That’s all you can do, sweetie.”

“Um,” Jonny interrupts from the doorway. Patrick’s head snaps around and Jonny shifts uncomfortably. “The kids want to open their presents?”

“Okay,” Patrick says, “we’ll be in in a minute.” Jonny leaves, and he rolls his eyes at Donna. She laughs and shrugs. “At least he knows now.”

Patrick rolls his eyes again. “Maybe I don’t want to make it that easy for him.” He pauses. “Or get his hopes up.”

“Sweetie,” Donna says gently. “His hopes are already up - anyone can see he’s hoping you’re going to forgive him. Now you just need to decide if he’s right to think there’s a chance.” She pats his arm again and leaves. Patrick closes his eyes for a moment and when he opens them again, Jonny’s standing in the doorway again, looking uncertain.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you and your mom,” he says. “Did you - are you okay?”

Patrick nods and dries his hands. “I’m good. Let’s do this thing.”

Jonny huffs out a laugh and follows him into the family room where even Amelie is bouncing out of her skin. He laughs with Jonny as she makes loops around the coffee table before Tiki grabs her and throws her in the air.

“Someone said something about opening presents?” He asks and laughs at the chorus of yesses from kids and adults alike.

 

***

“What’s this?” Patrick says, pulling tickets out of an envelope. They’re for the Hawks’ game in two weeks against the Kings, and they’re glass seats. “Jonny, wow.”

When he looks at Jonny, he’s rubbing the back of his neck. “I bought them a few months ago. I thought we could - but you should take Erica. Or one of the boys. Or, or-”

“Don’t be stupid,” Patrick says, and makes a face at Eric when he squawks. “I didn’t call him stupid, E, keep playing with your magnet tiles.” Eric makes a face back but obeys. “Of course you’re going with me.” His cheeks heat when he realizes his whole family has stopped opening their gifts and is watching them. Jackie’s frowning, but Donna is biting back a smile. “Even though I’d prefer Buffalo.” He smirks. “At least it isn’t the Winterpeg Jets.” He laughs when Jonny scowls. “Nah, really, I love them, and. And you should come.”

“They come with babysitting from me,” Erica chimes in. “Already arranged.” She smiles, all innocence, when Jonny gives her a wary look. “I don’t go back on my agreements.” Jonny blanches and looks down, and Patrick glares at her. She widens her eyes, mock innocent. Patrick jerks his head at the boys, but luckily Eric is engrossed in making a tower and isn’t paying attention. She shrugs, unrepentant.

“Well, good,” Patrick says. “That way we can both go watch the Hawks whip some L.A. butt.” Jonny nods and goes back to opening the teepee Amelie got from his parents. “Here,” he says, handing Patrick the opened box. “I’ve done - “ he cuts himself off. “Santa did so much building last night, I think you should have a turn.” Patrick wrinkles his nose at him but takes out the instructions and pulls his father over to help him figure it out.

***

“Papa, Papa, open this!” Bryan shoves a present at Jonny, but Patrick and Tiki are still getting Amelie’s teepee set up, so he can’t see which one it is.

“Thanks, bud,” Jonny says, pulling Bryan up next to him on the couch. “Is this from you guys?”

Patrick head snaps up. Shit, shit, he’d meant to grab that one out of the pile.

“Yep,” Bryan chirps, “And I wrapped it all by myself.”

“I helped,” Eric says.

“You just put the tape on, that’s not hardly helping!” Bryan protests. Eric’s about to reply, probably loudly, when Jonny intercedes. “I’m sure you both helped with the present, though, right?” The boys nod, and he picks at a corner of it before he looks at Eric a little warily. “Want to come sit up here, E?” When Eric nods and climbs up next to him, Jonny puts an arm around him and kisses him on the top of his head. Eric squirms a little, but puts his hand on Jonny’s arm before taking the present and holding it out to him.

“Come on, Papa, open it,” Eric says, and Jonny squeezes him one more time before pulling back the wrapping paper -- which Patrick knows from experience is not an easy task with how much tape the boys used -- to reveal a small black box.

Patrick sits back on his heels, chewing on his lip as Jonny opens the box and pulls out the booklet inside. “Daddy made the words and we drawed the pictures,” Bryan is telling Jonny as he thumbs slowly through the pages. Jonny’s eyes are shining when he meets Patrick’s gaze and Patrick smiles, a little watery himself. Jonny swallows a couple of times before he speaks, and when he does speak, his voice is husky with emotion. “This is amazing, guys,” he says and pulls them both closer. “Thanks.”

Patrick hadn’t realized how quiet the room had gotten until it bursts into activity at Jonny’s words. “Girls, grab a couple of garbage bags so we can get all of this wrapping paper cleaned up,” Donna says. “Are you guys done with that tent? Because I’m going to make coffee, and I could use a hand with the mugs.”

A moment later they’ve all left the room, and it’s just Patrick, Jonny and the kids. Amelie crawls into her teepee and starts chewing on her Princess Elsa doll’s foot. She waves at Patrick and closes the teepee flap. Patrick chuckles and stands up, dusting off his knees and stretching. Jonny looks up at him, his eyes still a little red.

“Can we go play with our skateboards, Dad?” Eric asks, “Please?”

Patrick nods and grabs the boys by the back of their sweaters before they can run out of the room. “Elbow pads and helmets, boys, every time you ride them.” They nod quickly and scamper out, yelling to each other about the relative supremacy of turtles and mermaids. Once their voices have faded, Patrick turns back to Jonny. Jonny’s reading through the coupon book again, his face slack with wonder. “These are amazing,” he says again. “I love it.”

“It was their idea,” he says, smoothing his hair behind his ear. “They just love spending time with you.”

“Me, too,” Jonny says softly, and this time Patrick has to look away. Jonny’s opening his mouth to say something else when Erica comes in.

“Coffee?” Erica asks, looking between them. Patrick nods at her, his throat tight. “Jonny? Coffee or tea?” He chooses tea and she’s walking as Jackie and Jessica come in with garbage bags. Jonny gets down on the floor to help them get rid of the paper and cardboard left. “Oh, Pat, Mom says the casserole is done, and she wants to know if you want her to start on the mashed potatoes?”

“I’ll do it,” Patrick says and takes the chance to make his escape.

***

There’s an awkward moment as they’re sitting down to dinner when Jonny hesitates, clearly unsure whether he’s supposed to sit in his usual spot at the head of the table. Patrick looks at him, raising an eyebrow. “Waiting for an engraved invitation?” Patrick says, smirking, and Jonny snorts and sits down. It breaks a tension that is only notable in its absence, and the rest of the family finds spots. Donna sits next to Amelie’s chair and tears up pieces of turkey for her.

“So, Jonny,” Tiki asks, passing him the mashed potatoes. “How’s work been this year?” He grunts, his face pained, and sends a look towards Donna, who’s glaring at him.

Jonny freezes and looks at Patrick helplessly. “Uh, it’s. Uh.” Patrick’s eyes dart away. “The work’s been good. I got - I was the lead on a big project that just wrapped up.”

“Why don’t you tell us all about it,” Erica says, her tone deceptively mild. “Your big project, I mean.”

“Let’s leave the business talk for now,” Donna says, leveling Erica a look that honestly makes Patrick nervous on her behalf. “We don’t need to ruin Christmas talking about Jonny’s work.” Jonny looks at her gratefully and picks up his wine, finishing the glass.

“I’m going to get another bottle. Everyone still okay with red?” he asks not waiting around for the answer. When he’s gone, Donna looks at all of them evenly.

“Enough of this,” she says, her voice steely. “We’re here for Patrick, and we will take our cues from him.” She stares at each of them until they nod. When she gets to him, Patrick smiles at her and shrugs.

“I just - I want to have a nice Christmas, okay?” he says, fiddling with his silverware. “I know what you’re all trying to do, and I appreciate it. But,” he looks at Eric and Bryan, who are watching him intently. “Not today, okay?” Eric frowns but Bryan’s face clears. “More sweet potato casserole, boys?” They nod eagerly, and Patrick should probably feel bad for distracting them with food, but he can’t bring himself to care.

Donna clears her throat. “Eat up everyone,” she says, and Jonny walks in, as though he was waiting for her cue. The high color in his cheeks suggest that he was doing just that, and when he meets Patrick’s gaze, Patrick levels him with a knowing look and then snorts when his cheeks flush even more.

When the food is eaten, they move to the family room. Patrick watches the boys dress up as soldiers and Bryan makes Jonny a princess, putting the pink crown on his head. Amelie is apparently the sheriff - complete with felt hat and badge. Jonny’s under arrest for reasons that Patrick isn’t able to follow, and the boys decide that the teepee can serve as the jail. Jonny’s so tall that the teepee is bulging out around his shoulders, and it gets even more crowded when Amelie climbs into his lap. Patrick’s been snapping photos of the entire proceeding and putting them up on Instagram until there’s a jailbreak and Jonny climbs out of the teepee, his hair messy and his face flushed. Patrick snaps another photo to cover his reaction.

Tiki clears his throat to get everyone’s attention a few minutes later. “Okay, time for favorite gifts. Who wants to go first?”

“Me, grandpa, me!” Eric shouts, dropping his magic wand. “My favorite gift is the Pod because it has lots of music, and I can have my friends over for a dance party! You can come, too, Daddy and we’ll teach Papa how to do the Kaner shuffle!” Patrick grins when Jonny blanches.

“Me next, me next,” Bryan demands. When Tiki nods, he says. “I love the skateboard Santa gave me because I can ride it like a turtle. Oh, and now I’m going to be a ninja turtle when I ride it because Grandma got me make believe clothes.” Erica tugs him into her lap and tickles him until he’s squealing.

“I didn’t know ninjas turtles were ticklish,” she says as Bryan’s laughter rings out.

“Stop, stop, Aunt Erica stop!” She laughs and puts him down finally. “Okay, why don’t I go next. Hmm. I guess my favorite gift was the hand-blown martini glass set from Jess and Jacks because now when I get Patty Cakes drunk he can forget all his worries in style.” She looks at Patrick. “I have a feeling I’m going to be using those babies a lot.” Patrick wrinkles his nose at her and doesn’t look at Jonny.

Jessica chimes in. “My favorite gift was getting to come here because I miss my niece and nephews,” she pauses and gives Jonny a small smile. “Thanks, Jonny.” When Jackie concurs a little less graciously, Jonny’s cheeks turn pink.

“My favorite gift was coming here, too,” Donna says. “It’s great to see my west coast kids, and my beautiful grandbabies.” She smiles at Jonny. “Thanks, Jonathan.” When Tiki starts to thank him as well, Jonny puts his hands up.

“Enough, enough. You guys have to stop thanking me because I’m glad you guys came, too.” He clears his throat twice. “We - Patrick and the kids love to see you. I do, too.” He looks down at his lap, and Patrick takes pity on him.

“My favorite gift was the Turtle Tales that the boys and Ammy gave me, because the story of Tim the Turtle is my favorite one to tell and now I can read it from my own personal story book,” Patrick says.

“I picked it, Daddy, and Papa wrote it down for me to copy,” Bryan says eagerly. “I like it best, too, because I love turtles!”

“I did all the pictures, Bry, it’s not just your favorite.” Eric’s face is set like it gets before he explodes, and Patrick grabs his hand. “I love the pictures, Eric. And the writing, Bry.” He smiles. “So that’s my favorite gift, for sure.”

“I think we can guess what Ammy likes best,” Patrick says as she climbs in and closes the flap on the teepee again. “Thanks, Mom and Dad.”

The only person who hasn’t gone is Jonny, and he’s looking uncomfortable. Patrick takes pity on him but just as he’s about to stand and suggest they serve dessert, Jonny finally speaks. “My favorite gift is Patrick learning to speak French,” he says quietly. “Because he knows how important it is to me that our kids are bilingual, and now he can be a part of that.” He shrugs, not looking up. “Merci, Pat.”

Patrick’s throat aches a little when he swallows. “De rien,” he says, and when Jackie snickers, Patrick reaches over to smack her on the arm. “Je parle un petit peu, mais j'essaie.” Jonny beams at him and his cheeks burn.

“Patrick, you need help with that accent,” Jackie cuts in, giggling, “Parce que ça fait mal mes oreilles.”

Jonny glares at her. “Son accent est très bien,” he says.

“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t know because you speak that horrible Quebecois,” she says sharply, and then she and Jonny are arguing in French that’s too fast for Patrick to decipher.

It gets more heated and Patrick catches devastated and never and forgive before Donna claps her hands.

“Children,” she says. “Enough.” When Jackie opens her mouth again, Donna quells her with a frown. “Jacqueline, I think that’s quite enough.” There’s another awkward pause as the room falls silent, even Eric and Bryan are just blinking at the adults.

“Who wants dessert. Pie or brownies?” Patrick asks desperately. He takes orders and turns to Jonny. “Want to help?” Jonny nods gratefully and follows him out of the room.

“Sorry about that,” Patrick sighs as he gets out the plates. Jonny pulls the pies from the fridge and starts slicing. “I just want to put all that aside for one day and enjoy Christmas with my family. Is that too much to ask? Why is everyone so protective of me?”

Jonny shrugs. “They’re angry with me,” he says. “I’m mad at myself, why shouldn’t they be?”

Patrick swirls some whip cream onto a slice of apple pie. “I really don’t want to talk about that today,” he says, his temper rising. “Why can’t any of you get that?”

Jonny nods. “I do, I get it.” He bites his top lip. “It’s just hard to forget.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Patrick says incredulously. “Fuck you, Jon, opening gifts under that tree was about the worst moment of my life, and yet here I am, back in there, sucking it up and doing it again. Even though every time I unwrap one, I think back to that fucking night.”

“I should - maybe I should go,” Jonny says, stepping back. “I don’t want-”

Patrick lets out a strangled moan. “Fuck. Stop! I asked you here, I want you to stay. Stop being a fucking martyr about it, man,” Patrick says, frustrated. “I’m the one you cheated on-” when Jonny opens his mouth, he shoots him a glare and continues- “I’m the one who got blindsided by my husband and Jeff fucking Carter. So I’m the one who gets to be mad, and I’m the one who gets to call the shots on this. So I’m calling this one.” He takes a deep breath and lowers his voice. “No more of this today. I can be angry tomorrow. You can be defensive and hurt tomorrow. But today is Christmas and the family is together and the boys - Shit. Eric is smiling, Jonny. He hasn’t smiled in two weeks.”

“You have to know how sorry-”

“Fuck, Jonny!” Patrick shouts, exasperated before dropping his voice. “Just stop! I can’t-” Patrick is horrified when his voice cracks, and he swallows twice before he can go on, “I can’t deal with any of this today. Just - stop all the apologies.” He rubs his forehead. “Can you please just stop?”

Jonny meets his eyes for a long moment and nods. “Okay, Pat.”

“And stop rising to my sisters’ bait. Jackie’s - I know she’s being a bitch, but she’s really upset. You guys were so close that I think she’s taking this whole thing really personally.”

Jonny’s mouth turns down. “I’m - not sorry?” He says, when Patrick glares at him and it makes Patrick bark out a laugh unexpectedly.

“I think you need to stop reacting to all of the shit Jess and Jacks are putting down, or the whole point of today -- of getting together as a family -- will be for naught. Can you do that?”

“I’ll try.”

“There is no try, Jonny,” Patrick says flatly. “There is only do.”

“Did you just quote Yoda?” Jonny says, incredulous. Patrick shrugs sheepishly.

“Maybe?” Patrick says.

“Did you quote Yoda when we’re talking about all of this,” he waves his hand around, “I don’t fucking believe you.” He shakes his head. “And as always, asshole, you got the quote wrong. It’s do or do not. There is no try.”

“Eh,” Patrick says dismissively as Jonny’s face cracks into a helpless grin that quickly turns into laughter, and Patrick starts laughing too. “Do or do not, Jonny,” he gets out, trying to catch his breath. Jonny’s laughing so hard tears are in his eyes. When their laughs slow down, their eyes catch and they start howling again.

Erica and Donna walk in. “What’s this?” Donna asks, and all Patrick gasp out is, “No try,” and then he and Jonny are gone again.

Erica raises an eyebrow at them as she and Donna grab four plates of pie, and Patrick gives her a salute. He wipes his eyes and turns to look at Jonny, who’s still gasping and laughing beside him. Jonny hiccups once and wipes his eyes, and suddenly he’s crying for real, sobs wracking his body.

“Jonny,” Patrick says helplessly. “Jonny.” He steps up to him and pats his back gingerly. Jesus, how did he end up having to comfort his unfaithful husband on fucking Christmas? “It’s, uh. You’re okay,” he settles on. “You’re okay.”

Donna and Erica appear in the doorway again, and he waves them away.

Jonny’s tears finally slow, and he wipes his face with the tissue Patrick hands him. “Sorry,” he says, rubbing his eyes. “Just hit me all at once there.”

Patrick shrugs, uncomfortable. “It’s okay, man,” he says. “I get it. Just. Pull yourself together.” I’m going to take the rest of the desserts in before the family overruns us for their pie.” Jonny nods and blows his nose. “Go wash your face or something, you look like shit,” he says, and Jonny snorts half-heartedly. “Take your time.”

He delivers the desserts and shakes his head at Erica when she looks at him. Luckily, everyone is so happy to get their sugar that they don’t comment when Jonny comes in, his eyes red and his face still flushed. Patrick hands him a piece of sweet cream when he sits down next to him, bumping his shoulder once. Jonny bumps him back and just like that, they’re on a more even keel.

Somehow they get through the rest of the day, a combination of NBA basketball, college football and a long argument about whether the Chicago Blackhawks or the Buffalo Sabres were the better team this season. Soon enough the kids are asleep and Patrick’s parents are leaving for their hotel. The girls took off an hour ago, talking about breaking in Erica’s martini glasses. Patrick had avoided Erica’s knowing glance when she was leaving, and his mother was nice enough not to make any comments while they were putting the desserts away.

When the door closes behind Tiki and Donna, it leaves Patrick and Jonny standing in the entranceway. Jonny rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I guess I should, uh, head out?” he says, and Patrick snorts. “Come on, asshole, I’m not kicking you out on Christmas night.”

“Nightcap on the patio?” Jonny asks, his shoulders relaxing.

“Fuck, yes, that sounds amazing.”

Jonny goes to the living room to pour them both a drink while Patrick turns out the lights in the kitchen and the family room. By the time he gets outside, Jonny is sitting on a deck chair and Patrick’s drink is on the table next to him.

“Thanks,” Patrick says gratefully, and takes a sip, sighing loudly. “Man, that hits the spot.”

“It was a nice day,” Jonny says, sipping from his own tumbler. “Thanks for including me.”

Patrick sighs again. “It was a nice day. Thanks for, I don’t know, for being here.”

Jonny tips his glass toward Patrick in a toast. Once he swallows, he stands up and nods at Patrick’s glass. “Another?”

“Nah,” Patrick says. “I’m good.”

He’s admiring the Christmas tree lights reflecting in the pool when Jonny returns, settling back into the armchair. They lapse into a companionable silence, staring out into the darkness.

“Can I - is it okay if I stay again tonight?” Jonny asks, stumbling over the words. “I can go back to the hotel, but.” He sips his drink and then shakes his head. “Maybe I should just go back to the hotel.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says, rolling his head to the side to meet his eyes. “Shut up. Spend the night. The kids like having you here.” He looks back out at the pool. “So just stay. And unless you’re looking to piss me off, stop being all --” he waves his hand in the air -- “annoying.”

Jonny huffs out a small laugh. “Okay, okay, no annoying Patrick. I’ll get right on that.”

“Damn straight you will,” Patrick nods, and then smiles a little at Jonny.

They’re silent for another minute before he stands up. “I’m done for, I’m going in. See you in the morning.”

“Night, Patrick.”

He checks on the kids before climbing into bed. He closes his eyes and lets the day run through his head. It was without a doubt the most awkward Christmas he’s ever had. But, all in all, it was a lot better than he’d been expecting, and he’ll take it.

~~~

Patrick’s parents leave a few days later, and while he’s sorry to see them go, he’s exhausted and looking forward to their vacation in Tahoe. Jonny comes to take the kids to open skate and Patrick spends the entire time they’re gone on the couch watching House Hunters. It’s almost three hours later when he hears them get back.

“Dad!” Eric calls, the front door slamming behind him. “Dad, I did a spin-o-rama! It was awesome!”

Patrick high-fives him as he races by on his way to the kitchen. “Walk, E, let’s not go through that whole thing again.” Eric spins and gives him finger guns before spinning again. “See! Spin-o-rama!”

Patrick’s chuckling when the door opens again, and Bryan enters, more sedately, sniffling a little. Jonny makes a face when Patrick looks at him, confused. “Did you hurt yourself?”

“No,” Bryan says. Jonny rolls his eyes at the tragic tone of Bryan’s voice, and Patrick bites back a grin. “Then what’s up, bud?”

“Eric was being a dog,” Bryan says, his lip wobbling. “And he’s so mean!” With that, Bryan bursts into tears. Jonny shrugs and backs toward the kitchen, Amelie in his arms. “Asshole,” Patrick mouths at him, but Jonny just grins and waves.

Patrick gets Bryan calmed down once he’s listened to all the ways Eric ruined their open skate, and soon both boys are hunkered down at the island, gulping down sandwiches. “Slow down, boys,” Jonny says. “No one’s going to take the food away from you.” By the time they’re on their way outside to practice their skateboard moves, they seem to be on better footing.

“So, Eric’s a dog, huh?” Patrick says, shutting the dishwasher with his hip. “That’s a new one.”

“I think he meant hot dog,” Jonny laughs.

“Ah,” Patrick says. “That makes more sense. But - did he really do a spin-o-rama?”

“Yep. Well, it was a super slow-mo version, but he definitely did. Circled around Bryan -- which is part of the reason he’s so upset -- and then roofed it with his backhand.” Jonny beams. “It was so fucking awesome. You should've been there, Pat.”

“I wish I had been,” Patrick says wistfully. “But I really needed a few hours to myself, especially since tonight I’ll be rushing around getting ready to drive to Tahoe in the morning.”

“Oh, yeah,” Jonny says, looking down and fiddling with the dials on the stove. “Do you have a lot to do?”

“Well, I have to finish the laundry, and pack, and get treats and books and DVDs and water in the car,” Patrick admits, chewing on his lip. “I’m so glad Margie has lots of snow pants and stuff, so I don’t have to worry about packing any of that. And we’ll rent the ski equipment when we get up there.”

“Sounds like you’ve got a lot to do, but I’m sure you’ll have a great time,” Jonny says without looking up.

“Oh,” Patrick says, flushing. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

“No, it’s fine,” Jonny says, even though it clearly isn’t. “Did I tell you I’m still going up to see my parents in San Francisco? I’m just going to spend the whole week at David’s.”

“That’s great!” Patrick smiles at him, sad but relieved that Jonny’s getting some time with his family. “Punch David in the shoulder for me. And give your parents my love.” The Christmas day phone call with Andree had gone a lot better, but he still regretted that they weren’t going to spend time together this year. “I’m sorry we’re not going to get to see them, but I just think-”

“Pat, it’s fine. They understand. And Maman will see the kids when she comes in February,” Jonny says. “But, uh. Do you want me to help with packing or anything for the trip?”

“Nah,” Patrick responds, deliberately casual. The conversation has veered from the happy congeniality of earlier into something fraught and tense. “Think I’ve got it. Thanks for taking them this afternoon, though.”

“Oh, yeah, no problem, any time,” Jonny says. “Well, I guess I’ll get going?” Patrick nods, smiling a little and Jonny nods. “I’ll just go out back and say goodbye to the boys.”

“Let’s get you cleaned up and go see what the boys are destroying outside, hmm?” Patrick says to Amelie. When he stops into the backyard, Jonny’s hugging Bryan. Eric’s standing off to the side playing with his hockey stick and sneaking looks at Jonny. Jonny strides over and picks him up, throwing him in the air. When he sets Eric down, he hugs Jonny’s legs and then dashes off to join Bryan by the skateboard ramp. “Put on your helmets, boys,” Jonny calls before turning to Patrick and Amelie.

Au revoir, mademoiselle coccinelle,” Jonny says, hugging her briefly. He’s close enough that Patrick can smell him, a mix of ice and sweat and Jonny that reminds him of being sixteen years old and riding the bus back from a game, exhausted and sweaty and so happy. He must make a noise because Jonny looks at him with concern.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, sorry, just, my throat’s a little dry,” Patrick says, clearing it. “Anyway, I guess we’ll see you after New Year’s.”

Jonny nods and moves away, reluctance written on his face. “If you change your mind about needing help getting ready for the trip, just let me know.”

“Okay,” Patrick says.

“And text me when you get there? I don’t like the idea of you traveling by yourself. Are you sure you don’t want me to drive with you to Tahoe? It’s a quick trip from there to San Francisco-”

“Jon,” Patrick says. “I’ll be fine. We’ll be fine, and I’ll let you know as soon we get there. Just go have fun with your family.”

“If you’re sure . . .” Jonny says, putting up his hands when Patrick narrows his eyes. “Okay, okay. Have a good trip.”

“You, too.”

Patrick gets the kids to bed early, but it isn’t until he starts the laundry that he realizes he underestimated how much he has to do. He basically ignored all the clothes piling up the whole time his family was in town, so it takes him the entire evening to finish. By the time he’s done washing and folding and packing, it’s almost two o’clock in the morning, and when the boys wake him less than five hours later, he’s tired and cranky, and wishing Jonny were there. He has to stop himself from calling him and taking him up on the offer to travel with them.

It’s a long and tiring drive to Tahoe, and Patrick’s exhausted and irritable when they arrive after dinner. The boys have been cranky all day, and he’s relieved to hand them off to Margie’s nanny so he can get Amelie down and deal with their luggage.

“I’d ask how the trip was, but I think I can guess,” Margie says when Patrick comes into the kitchen once he’s gotten all the suitcases unpacked. “You look beat.”

“It wasn’t fun,” Patrick says darkly. “Where’s the alcohol?” Margie laughs, but when he cuts a look at her, she sobers up and pours him a drink, handing it over without another word. He knocks it back while Margie stares, wide-eyed, before gesturing for another. After he’s taken a long, slow sip, he takes a deep breath and blows it all out. “Sorry,” he says, saluting Margie with his glass. “I’m in a rotten mood. Traveling by yourself with three young kids sucks.”

“Why didn’t Jonny come up with you?” Margie asks, pouring herself a drink and motioning Patrick toward the couch. “When’s he coming?”

Patrick swallows the rest of his drink and grimaces. “He’s-” he starts and then stops. Things were a little better over Christmas, and he hasn’t told anyone other than his family about Jonny moving out. Maybe . . . “He’s-”

“I bet I can guess,” Margie says. “He has to work, right?” She shakes her head. “Honestly, it’s like they live for their jobs! Frank’s in the den right now, on some kind of conference call with the Egyptian government. Or was it Israel? I don’t know, doesn’t matter” she says, waving her hand. “Anyway, it’s like we don’t even exist.”

“Yeah, you could say that Jonny’s been living for his job lately,” he says, getting up to pour another. He decides to make it smaller this time because he’s already feeling the effects of his first two.

“Well, he’s coming later, isn’t he?” Margie says. “He’s not leaving you here by yourself for the whole vacation? I’m going to call Sidney Crosby and give him a piece of my mind!”

“No, uh, I’m sure he’ll be here tomorrow or the next day, you don’t need to bother Sid,” Patrick says hurriedly.

“Well, he’d better get here,” Margie says grimly. “I know Geno wouldn’t approve, either.”

They drink in silence for awhile until Patrick sighs gustily. “He’s just - he’s been working on a big project that’s taking up a lot of his time and energy.” He looks into the bottom of his glass and feels his eyes prickle. “Not sure he’s even going to miss us.”

“Oh, pish,” Margie says, and Patrick smiles because he can picture Jonny’s face if he ever said ‘pish’ to him, and why can’t he stop thinking about Jonny and why isn’t Jonny here yet?

He startles when Margie takes the glass out of his grip and pulls him off the couch. “I don’t know why Jonny’s not here yet, but let’s get you to bed,” she says, leading him up to his room. “I think you’ve had a long day.”

“But the kids-” He says, dropping onto the bed with a thump. Margie pulls his shoes off and walks away. “Where are you going? Don’t leave me alone.” He closes his eyes and the room spins, so he opens them up again hastily. “I’m always alone. I don’t like being alone. Why am I always alone?”

“I’m right here, Patrick,” Margie says, peering at him from beside the bed, smiling widely.

“Oh, there you are! I thought you left.” Patrick sighs, relieved. “But where are the kids?” He looks around. “Did you see where I put the kids?” He pats the bed next to him, but they’re not there, either.

“Justine is taking care of all of the kids,” Margie says, biting back a smile and setting a glass of water down. “Eric and Bryan are doing a ‘sleepover’ in Anastasia’s room, and Amelie is already asleep, remember?”

“Oh, yeah . . .” Patrick smiles at her. “She’s such a good baby.” Margie spreads a plush throw over him, and he pulls it up under his chin. “Did you know she looks just like Jonny?” He smiles at Margie. “She’s really pretty. So is Jonny. Don’t you think Jonny’s pretty?”

“Yes, Patrick, Jonny’s very pretty,” Margie says, turning off the lamp next to Patrick. “Goodnight. And don’t worry about getting up early tomorrow, Justine will keep them busy while you get some rest.”

“Mmm-kay,” Patrick says. “Is Jonny here yet?”

“No,” Margie says, and even drunk he can hear the laughter in her voice. “Go to sleep.”

“Mmm-kay,” he says again, and he closes his eyes. He hopes Jonny’s there in the morning. He’s so pretty, Patrick thinks, and he has the nicest eyes. Maybe he’ll be there when Patrick wakes up. It’s a good enough reason to let himself drift to sleep, so he does.

Chapter Text

The persistent urge to pee rouses Patrick from sleep, and when he looks at the clock, he jolts up. The sudden motion makes his need to pee take second place to the need to throw-up, and he dashes into the bathroom quickly.

Fifteen minutes later, he’s finally emptied the contents of his stomach -- and his bladder -- and feels well enough to crawl back into bed. His head is pounding, and he swallows several tylenol and an entire glass of water before dropping back down onto his pillow.

When he wakes up next, his headache is milder, but still there, and even though he’s still nauseous, he’s also ravenous. After trying to ignore the latter, he stumbles back to the bathroom and showers.

When he makes his way downstairs, the house is quiet and there’s a note on the counter next to a pitcher of orange juice.

Took the kids to the lodge to go swimming and get everyone fitted for their ski equipment. Justine is downstairs with Amelie. Have some breakfast, use the hot tub, just make yourself at home. We’ll be back after lunch. Margie

He grimaces at the taste of the orange juice and grabs the coffee pot instead. His headache recedes a little as the caffeine starts to kick in, and he takes his second mug to the enormous great room off the kitchen, settling into a chaise lounge that feels like sitting on a cloud. He thinks he can hear Amelie babbling downstairs, and he’ll go down in a minute. For now, he lets himself enjoy the solitude and lets the last vestiges of his hangover abate.

He feels better after a few minutes, and he can’t help remembering his conversation with Margie last night. And now she thinks Jonny’s coming, and he’s going to have to come up with a plausible reason why Jonny’s not there that won’t involve her calling Jonny’s boss. His head drops back, and he closes his eyes against the rise of tears. His life has changed so much since that moment just a couple weeks ago when he opened his gift before the Christmas program.

He’d just told Erica that he was having the best day he’d had with Jonny and the kids since they moved to California. He still can’t believe he’d thought they were finally coming through the funk they’d been in for months, and how glad he was that it was happening just in time for Christmas. Christ, he was such an idiot.

He’d been so excited to open presents before the Christmas program. The boys had worked so hard putting the picture frame together for Jonny, and Patrick couldn’t wait to see his face when he opened it up. But more than that, he couldn’t wait to open his own gift, even though he knew what it was. After a lifetime of practical gifts -- neckties, kitchen appliances, a Kindle, new shirts -- he’d been damn near giddy for days that Jonny had gotten him something so personal. Something that said I see you, all of you. You’re not just the dad, the errand runner, the schedule keeper; I see the man you were when we fucked all over Italy, young and drunk on cheap wine and so in love, the man you still are.

Just thinking back to seeing that statue of a man with a baby, instead of the one he’d thought was meant for him, is enough to make his stomach roil as mortification courses hotly through his body.

~~~

“As soon as I saw it, I knew it was perfect for you. It reminds me so much of how you looked when you were holding our babies.” Jonny had said, such pleased happiness in his voice.

Pat could barely register what Jonny was saying, could barely even register the sculpture in front of him, only too aware that this was not the gorgeous, half-naked Adonis he’d been expecting to see. This was definitely not the sculpture Pat had already planned on hiding from the boys in their bedroom. He’d felt the tears well up within him, when he realized where the other sculpture must be, the bronze features of the baby-in-arms blurring.

“Thanks, Jon, it’s really - it’s really beautiful.” He swallowed, looking down again; he couldn’t bear to meet Jonny’s eyes, lest he see the raw pain that he’s sure must be shining through in his own. “I’m just going to go put it in our room, so the boys don’t knock it over during their next sword fight. I really can’t believe you gave me this.”

“Who else would I give it to?” Jonny asked, bemused. “I can’t think of anyone else, can you?”

“No,” Patrick said, somehow keeping his voice even, even though his whole body felt like it was shaking apart at the seams. “I can’t think of anyone else you would give this to either.”

He’d barely made it to their room, taking the stairs two at a time once he rounded the landing and was free from Jonny’s watchful gaze, before the threatened tears finally started falling. He’d sat down on their bed and grabbed a pillow, putting his head in it so he could finally let his sobs go. The tears that spilled hot over his cheeks soaked the pillow case, and he’d only lifted his head when he felt like he couldn’t take in enough air over the lump that had lodged itself in his throat.

What a fool he was, trusting Jonny so much that he hadn’t even questioned things that he can see now were signs. Jonny staying up late to talk to Jeff, going to parties with Jeff, having long lunches with Jeff, texting him constantly. And apparently buying fucking erotic art for Jeff. Maybe . . . probably more than buying art, Patrick recalls thinking, a fresh wave of pain washing over him.

And while Jonny was out there, doing all of that with Jeff, Pat had been happily ignorant: at home taking care of his house, raising his children, worrying about how much time at work Jonny was putting in. Trusting him. He’d been so fucking confident that Jeff’s little crush was one-sided, that he’d loved teasing Jonny about his boyfriend just to see his cheeks flame. He’d been so confident that even if things were harder than they’d ever been, Jonny was in love with him. Now that he knew, he could see that Jonny’s flushes must have been from guilt or shame. Maybe Jonny wasn’t even ashamed; maybe now that they lived in this horrible city where spouses were always getting traded in for the latest model and cheating was taken as a given, Jonny thought what he was doing was okay. Patrick’s Jonny would never have done this, but clearly Jonny wasn’t the same man anymore. Patrick’s Jonny wouldn’t look at another guy, let alone-

“Pat?” Jonny’s voice had floated up the stairs, “everything okay?”

Patrick barked out a bitter laugh into the pillow. Was he okay? Jesus. His heart ached with how far from okay he was. But he didn’t want Jonny to come upstairs and see him like this, when he didn’t have the first clue what he was going to do next, so he cleared his throat as best he could and called back. “Can you get the boys ready to go? I’m just going to wash up, and then we better head out to the Christmas program. I’ll be down in a minute.”

He’d sat on the edge of the bad, scrubbing his hand over his face, telling himself to pull it together. Now was not the time to deal with this. Tonight was about the kids, and maybe there was a perfectly innocent explanation for all of this. He was coming back from washing his face when his eyes caught on Jonny’s khakis sandwiched between the nightstand and the wall. “Jesus fucking Christ,” Pat muttered, grabbing at the pants, “I swear I think I’ll fall down dead and expire right here if he ever puts his fucking clothes in the hamper.” He tossed them at the laundry basket.

And watched in utter disbelief as a small, shiny, foil packet had tumbled to the floor.

~~~

Patrick wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and shakes his head. He doesn’t know why he keeps tormenting himself with the memory of that night, especially because it doesn’t solve the problem of explaining why he’s here alone. His irritation with Jonny, combined with his hangover, make Patrick short with Amelie when he goes downstairs to see her, and she picks up on his mood immediately, fussing and clinging to him.

He sends Justine for her lovie, but she can’t find it anywhere, and it makes him want to cry right along with her when he realizes he probably left it on her dresser back in L.A. He rocks Amelie as she cries inconsolably, and when she finally hiccups her last sob, he distracts her with a bottle, even though he’s been trying to wean her of that habit over the past few months.

Just another thing that’s gone to shit thanks to Jeff fucking Carter, he thinks darkly.

He’s still in a rotten mood once he gets Amelie settled down. He goes up to change and notices three texts and a missed call from Jonny.

Jonny: you guys get there okay?

Jonny: i hope you’re having fun. send photos of the kids skiing when you get a chance.

Jonny: i haven’t heard from you and i’m getting a little freaked out. can you please call me when you get this message?

Patrick’s calling Jonny before he even thinks about it. “Jon,” he says flatly when Jonny picks up. “Just saw your texts.”

“Thank God, Pat, I was so worried! The weather-”

“The weather here is great, the trip was long but uneventful, I’m in a terrible mood, and I’m hungover, so if there’s nothing else, I’m going to go.” There’s a long silence on the other end, and Patrick pulls the phone away from his ear to see if the call is still connected or if Jonny hung up on him.

“Sorry to hear that,” Jonny says finally, and Patrick’s lips twist at the patronizing steadiness in his voice.

“I fucking hate when you talk to me like that,” he snaps. “I’m not one of the boys, you know, who has to be patted on the head and placated when he’s having a temper tantrum.”

“Pat,” Jonny says, sounding even more gentle, and Patrick growls a little. “Okay, fine, sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“From hundreds of miles away?” Patrick sneers. “Uh, no, Jonathan, unless you can magic yourself here, I think I’m just going to have to deal with this on my own.”

“Are you okay?” Jonny says, his voice worried. “Is Margie around?”

The concern in Jonny’s voice makes something in Patrick shift abruptly from furious to distraught, and to his horror, he can feel his throat getting tight. “I’m just so tired, and I’m really cranky. Oh, and I made Ammy cry, and then since I forgot her lovie she wouldn’t stop, and just . . . everything fucking sucks.” He cuts himself off with a sob.

“Patrick,” Jonny says helplessly.

Patrick takes a few deep breaths, blowing them out and dropping his head into his free hand. “I’m sorry, Jonny, fuck.” He wipes his eyes. “I don’t know why I’m being like this. Yesterday was just exhausting - the boys were great, Ammy, too, but you know how traveling with three young kids is.” Jonny makes an affirming noise, and Patrick shrugs, even though he knows Jonny can’t see him. “And I never really got to eat anything, and when we got here I had a few too many drinks, so now I’m hungover as fuck.” And you’re not here to help, he doesn’t add. It’s probably implied.

Jonny hums.“That sucks, man. Did you try scrambled eggs and diet Coke?”

Patrick smiles against his will. “Falling back on the old college hangover cure?”

“You know it,” Jonny says warmly. “And I wish - I wish I was there to make it a little easier.”

Patrick bites back a comment and sighs. “It’s okay. I’ve got Margie and Frank, plus Justine has been great and they all seem to love her, so.”

“Justine?”

“Margie’s nanny. You’d like her - she’s from France. Or maybe Switzerland? I don’t know but she and the boys were chattering away in French when I kissed them goodnight last night.”

“Margie has a French nanny. That’s-”

“I know, it’s ridiculous. Or maybe she’s an au pair? What’s the difference between a nanny and an au pair? I’ve never understood that,” Patrick says, laying back on the bed. “Anyway, Margie took the kids to the lodge to get them ski stuff, and they’re going to swim, too.”

“That sounds nice,” Jonny says. “Where are you?”

“I’m in my room. Everyone’s out, so it’s just me and Ammy and Justine.” Jonny hums and Patrick smiles. Telling Jonny what he’s been going through has helped, and he’s not feeling quite so tragic anymore. He scrubs the last moisture out of his eyes and sits back up. “I’ll have to make my own scrambled eggs. My life is so hard, Jonny. I already had to pour my own coffee.”

“Somehow I think you’ll manage,” Jonny says drily. “But - call me if you need me. And maybe check the gift shop or see if there’s a place in town that sells lovies.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” Patrick says. “But you know Ammy. If I can’t find the exact same one, she’s not going to want it. I just can’t believe I forgot it. I must have left it in her crib when I was packing.”

“I’m sure it was hectic, don’t be so hard on yourself. Try not to stress too much. I’m sure it’ll all work out okay.”

“Yeah.” Patrick sighs heavily. “Thanks for being so nice to me, Jonny. I’m sorry for biting your head off. I-” He has to bite back the urge to tell Jonny how much he wishes he was in Tahoe right now. “Anyway, how are you doing? Did you make it to David’s yet?”

“No, I’m not leaving until later.” They’re quiet for another moment before Jonny clears his throat. “I should probably go, though. I’ve got some last minute things I need to pick up, and I’m never going to get out of town if I don’t go now.”

“Okay,” Patrick says, his eyes watering again. He’s mostly successful keeping his voice steady. “Have a good trip.”

“Thanks. And let me know how things are going? I want photos of the boys skiing, too.”

“Sure,” Patrick says, resisting the urge to sniffle. “Bye, Jonny.”

“Bye, Pat.”

***

“Jonny still stuck at work?” Margie asks. They’ve been sipping hot chocolate in the lodge and watching the kids on the bunny hill for the last fifteen minutes. Eric’s bombing down the bunny hill, Bryan following more sedately behind Anastasia and their instructor.

“Yeah, he’s not sure when he’s going to make it up here,” Patrick says, trying to sound casual. “He’s got lots going on.”

“That just sucks, Pat, honestly,” Margie says consolingly. “Men, I swear.”

“Uh,” Patrick says, throwing a look at her. “Still a man, Marge.”

“Of course you are, sweetie, but you know what I mean.” When Patrick shrugs, she rubs his arm. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant . . . Our husbands seem to think their priorities are somewhere other than here, and if you’re like me, you’re sick of it.” Her tone is bitter enough to make Patrick dart a look at her. “Oh, don’t mind me, I’m just having a rough day.”

“You want to talk about it?” Patrick asks warily.

“No, no, it’s not worth talking about.”

“Margie-”

“it’s just. I really envy you,” she says finally. “Jonny’s so devoted to you. I mean, I’m shocked he’s not here. That boy worships you.” She sighs. “I wish Frank looked at me the way Jonny looks at you.”

“Oh, Margie, I’m sure-”

“I mean, I know Frank loves me, but Jonny,” Margie laughs. “The way his eyes follow you around the room, and the look on his face when he watches you. Fond and proud and happy. You’re a lucky guy.”

Patrick flushes and shrugs, uncomfortable. “I don’t know about that, but I do know that Frank’s eyes always follow you when you walk away.” He winks at her. “I think he definitely enjoys the view.” Margie laughs when he leers at her and shakes her head at him. “And he should -- you’re in great shape -- how do you keep so fit?”

They spend the next few minutes debating boot camp classes and personal trainers before the kids troop in, wet and hungry from two hours of skiing. Patrick focuses on getting everyone fed and carefully keeping Margie distracted from asking any more uncomfortable questions about Jonny, especially not anywhere the boys can hear her.

The doorbell rings just as they’re finishing the last of the dinner dishes that night, and Patrick dries his hands. “I’ll get it,” he says. When he swings the door open, Jonny’s on the other side.

“You - you - what are you doing here? I thought you were going to see David in San Francisco?”

“I was. I am, but,” Jonny says sheepishly. “Can I come in? It’s really snowing out here.”

Patrick nods and shuts the door behind him. Jonny knocks the snow off his shoulders and stomps his boots. Patrick waits, but when Jonny doesn’t say anything, he gestures for him to get on with it. “Well?”

“You said you forgot Ammy’s lovie, and I just thought,” he rubs the back of his neck, cheeks red. “I didn’t want her to be without it. And you seemed pretty upset, too, so. I thought having it would help.”

Patrick blows out a breath. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know, it’s just-”

“Jonny! You finally made it!” Frank says, walking out of the kitchen and holding out his hand. “I wondered when you were going to get here. I thought this snow might have kept you away another day.”

Jonny blinks at him. “Yeah, I uh,” he glances at Patrick. “The weather is pretty nasty out there.”

“Patrick said you’ve been busy at work and might not make it, but I knew Sid wasn’t that much of a task-master that he’d make you work while your family was on vacation,” Frank says, grinning. “Let me put your coat away, and we’ll find Margie. I think we can rustle up some leftovers and a hot drink.”

Patrick chews his lip as he follows in the wake of Frank pulling Jonny into the kitchen. Margie exclaims over Jonny before sitting him down at the island. When Frank hands him a beer, he demurs. “I shouldn’t, I have to-,” Jonny stutters, and Patrick interrupts him. “How about I show Jonny where to wash up.” He widens his eyes at Jonny as he stands. “Bring your beer, Jonny,” he says, pulling him into the foyer.

“Patrick, what’s going on? Why-”

“Shut up, shut up,” Patrick hisses, looking past him into the kitchen, where he can hear Frank complaining about his knee hurting from all the skiing they did that afternoon. “Do you want them to hear?”

“I don’t know,” Jonny says slowly. “Tell me why they think I’m coming to stay.”

“Uh,” Patrick says inarticulately. “I might not have told them you weren’t? Yet?”

“What?” Jonny’s voice rises. “Why?”

“Jesus, keep your voice down,” Patrick whispers. “When we got here, the kids were so happy, and they assumed you were working, and I,” Patrick sighs. “I just didn’t want to tell them. So. I didn’t correct them.”

Jonny stares at him. “You didn’t correct them?”

“That’s what I just fucking said, isn’t it?” Patrick hisses. Jonny’s eyes narrow, and he sighs. “Sorry, just, can we - can you go along with it? For this trip?” He bites his lip and looks up at Jonny through his lashes, watching Jonny’s pupils dilate. “Please, Jonny?”

“Patrick,” Jonny breathes out, reaching for him, but Patrick steps away before he can touch him. Jonny shuts his mouth with a snap, color high in his cheeks. “You can’t do that,” Jonny says, low and furious. “You can’t fucking look at me like that to get your way when we’re not - when we’re not - when I’m not allowed to touch you.”

“Sorry, I didn’t - it’s habit, okay? I didn’t think -”

“Yeah, well, think next time, asshole,” Jonny says, eyes narrowed.

“Okay, okay,” Patrick says, “So will you you stay?”

“I don’t know,” Jonny says, blowing out a breath. “You want us to, what. Pretend?”

“Yeah, I guess?” Patrick says. “I - you can do that, right? It won’t be much different than what we did over Christmas. And you can pretend for a few days, can’t you?”

“I honestly don’t know. I’m supposed to be at David’s with my parents. Playing at happy husbands with you when we’re not actually happy or husbands right now isn’t exactly how I envisioned spending my first week of vacation in six months.” After a long moment, Jonny sighs and shakes his head. “But fine, whatever.”

“Thanks, Jonny,” Patrick says sincerely. “I really appreciate it.”

“Not sure we can pull this off, but if it means that much to you, I’ll try.”

***

It’s not until Jonny’s bringing his suitcase in from the car that Patrick realizes there’s a flaw in his plan.

“Is that everything?” Margie asks, and when Jonny nods, she gestures toward the stairs. “Follow me, and I’ll get you all settled in Patrick’s room. I think you’ll love the view.”

Patrick meets Jonny’s eyes and swallows. He hadn’t even considered where Jonny would sleep. Jonny rolls his eyes at him and heads up the stairs.

“Think I’ll take you up on that offer of a drink,” Patrick says, smiling weakly at Frank. “I should check on the kids, first, though.”

“Nonsense,” Frank says, pulling Patrick along with a firm hand on his elbow. “Justine has it covered, and she’ll let you know if they need anything. This is why you came, Pat: to just relax and enjoy some time off from all your cares and worries.”

That would be nice except for how his cares and worries showed up at the door a few minutes ago.

Jonny and Margie walk back in, Jonny carrying Amelie’s lovie. “I thought I should hand this over as soon as possible,” Jonny says. “Where are the kids?”

“Justine has them all downstairs watching a movie,” Margie says. “Let me call her.”

“Oh, I - maybe I should take it,” Jonny says, looking at Patrick uncertainly. “I’d like to say hi to them, too. I haven’t seen them in awhile.”

“Two days and he misses his kids!” Frank says, winking at Margie. “Two days with my kids and I’m missing my nanny.” They laugh obligingly, and Patrick stands when Jonny jerks his head toward the door. “I’m going to go, too, get my good night kisses in now. We’ll be right back.”

He leads the way downstairs, Jonny walking beside him. He opens his mouth but closes it without saying anything, Patrick stops. “What?” He snaps.

“I hope you realize we’re going to have to share your room,” Jonny frowns.

Patrick blows out a breath. “Yeah, I didn’t really think that part through,” he says. “I really don’t want to explain why you’re sleeping down the hall, though. There’s always the couch.”

“You’re fucking right, you didn’t think it through. And I am not sleeping on the couch,” Jonny says. “It’s a fucking chaise lounge made for midgets.” He looks Patrick up and down assessingly. “You’d probably fit.”

Patrick elbows him sharply. “Fuck off, I would not.” Jonny smirks at him, and he rolls his eyes. “Har, har, ‘Patrick’s a shrimp.’ That shit was stale in high school, man, and it’s stale now.”

“It’s actually not, but I can see how it would make you a little short with me,”

“Fuck. You.” Patrick turns into the video room, and takes in the sight of the kids sacked out on the huge couch in front of what looks like a seventy-two inch television screen. He looks at Jonny and they exchange a laugh. “This place, man, it’s ridiculous,” he says quietly.

Between Justine, Jonny, and Patrick, they get the kids transferred to their beds, and Jonny goes in to see Amelie who’s sleeping in her crib. Patrick watches as he brushes a curl from her head and covers her with the blanket she’s kicked to her feet.

“She’s just like you,” Jonny whispers when he sees Patrick standing in the doorway. “Always kicking off the covers because you’re too hot.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’m too hot because you’re a furnace,” Patrick whispers back, and then flushes when he realizes what he said. “Anyway, we should get back. I need another drink.”

Margie gives Patrick an arch look when they get back to the living room, where the lights have been turned low and a fire is crackling in the fireplace. Through the floor to ceiling windows, Patrick can see the fat snowflakes falling and the lights from the ski lifts on the mountain. Jonny walks over to stand next to him. “Quite a view,” Jonny says. “Can’t wait to try out the mountain.”

“You can’t ski for shit, and you know it,” Patrick teases, bumping Jonny’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, though, they have a great bunny hill. It’s just your speed.”

“Margie, tell me, did Patrick have to rent children’s ski equipment again, or did they have extra-extra-small adult equipment this time?”

“The real question is whether they stocked up on ‘my ass is the size of Manitoba’ ski pants.”

“At least I can sit on the ski lift without needing a booster seat,” Jonny says mildly.

Patrick’s drawing breath to respond when Margie laughs. “You guys are so adorable,” she says, offering Patrick his drink. “I just love your whole schtick.”

“Our schtick? We don’t have a schtick,” Jonny scowls.

“Jonny, don’t be mean to the nice lady with the alcohol,” Patrick chides, putting a hand on Jonny’s arm and squeezing once in warning. “You’ll have to excuse him, he’s tired from the trip.”

Margie waves his apology away. “Pat, I’ve been around this one enough to know that grouchy is a constant state,” she says, and she laughs when Jonny scowls more deeply. “It’s just so nice to be around two people so in love.”

Jonny’s scowl deepens, and Patrick moves his hand to grip his elbow. “Well, we love being around you guys. It was so nice of you to invite us. I was just telling Jonny about how much fun we all had skiing today,” Patrick says. “Let’s sit down and plan out where we’re going tomorrow.”

They manage to make it through the evening without embarrassing themselves, but when they close the door to their room, Jonny rounds on him.

“This is never going to fucking work,” he hisses. “I can’t just pretend that we’re okay, Pat. And what about the boys? Don’t you think one of them is going to mention how Papa lives in a hotel now? You know, like he did with your fucking family the second they got in the door?”

“How do you know about that?” Patrick says. “Who told you? Erica? My mom? Jesus, it’s like no one can stop meddling in our business!”

“Bryan told me, you asshole,” Jonny snaps. “Your son? The one who’s part of our business?”

“Well, excuse me,” Patrick snaps back. “It’s just that I got a lot of, oh, input is a nice way of saying it, when my family was in town, and I’m tired of hearing what everyone thinks about every single fucking thing I do, or say, or think.” He blows out a breath when Jonny looks at him, unimpressed. “Bryan told you that, huh?”

“He did, yeah. So I’m not sure why you think that one of them isn’t going to mention it. And when this whole thing blows up in our faces. How’s that going to look to Margie and Frank?” Jonny says. “Not good, Patrick. That’s how it’s going to look. Not fucking good.”

“Stop being so melodramatic,” Patrick says, and when Jonny scoffs, he frowns. “They’re going to be so happy you’re here, they’re not even going to question it.”

“Maybe,” Jonny says, unconvinced. “But what about when we go home?”

“What about when we go home?” Patrick asks, pulling his sleep pants out of a drawer.

“What about when we go home, and it’s not to the same place?” Jonny says. “What are you going to tell them then?”

“I-” Patrick pauses, at a loss. “We’ll figure something out.”

Jonny jabs his finger at him. “You’ll figure something out. You’re the one with all the big ideas.” He glared. “And it better be something that doesn’t make Eric hate me more than he already does.”

“He doesn’t hate you,” Patrick protests. Jonny snorts. “He really doesn’t, he’s just scared and confused. And,” he swallows, “he misses you.”

“I miss him, too,” Jonny says, brittle. “I miss everything.”

Patrick looks down to where he’s twisting his sleep pants. “I know.” He shrugs. “I don’t want it to be this way, either.” He looks up and meets Jonny’s eye. “It is what it is.”

“Pat, it’s-” Jonny starts, but then trails off. “I don’t even know what it is.” He rubs the back of his neck. “I’m so tired I can’t even finish that thought. Can we just table this until tomorrow?”

“Thank fuck, yes,” Patrick says, deflating and rubbing his forehead. “I’m beat.”

They move around the room for a few minutes quietly before Jonny speaks again. “Okay, so, uh, how are we doing this?” He waves a hand at the bed. Patrick blinks at him.

“It’s a bed. I thought we’d sleep in it?” Patrick says, cheeks flushing when Jonny raises an eyebrow. “Shut up.”

“I didn’t say anything.” Jonny says, a smile playing on his lips.

“Yeah, yeah, fuck you, I know - I didn’t think this through,” Patrick mutters, but he can’t help huffing out a laugh when Jonny smirks at him.

“You want first shower?” When Patrick nods, he says, “Just give me a second,” and disappears into the bathroom.

Patrick looks around for the t-shirt he’d brought to sleep in and sits down on the bed, suddenly drained. Skiing all day and spending the whole night pretending everything is okay between him and Jonny was exhausting, and it’s finally catching up to him now that he’s sitting down. He’s rubbing his temples when Jonny walks out of the bathroom.

“Headache?” Jonny asks.

“Yeah, just started,” Patrick admits, opening his eyes and looking over at Jonny, who’s pulled off his shirt and is rummaging through his bag. Patrick watches the planes of his back shift until Jonny turns around. He looks away quickly, flushing. “You bring your medicine?” When Patrick nods, he grunts. “Go take it then, idiot. All we need is for you to get a migraine and have to spend the whole day in bed tomorrow.”

“It’s not a migraine, I’m just tired,” Patrick says, and heaves himself off the bed.

“Well, then, maybe you should get in bed,” Jonny says. He stretches and his boxers slide down, exposing the curve of his hip.

Patrick really did not think this through.

When Jonny clears his throat, Patrick’s eyes snap up to find him smirking at him, his shirt still held in one hand. He raises an eyebrow at Patrick, and his throat clicks when he swallows. “I’ll, uh. I’ll just go change. And shower. Shower and change. And then I’ll be. Yeah.”

Jonny’s grin widens. “You okay there, Pat?”

“Shut up,” Patrick grumbles. He resolutely does not think of Jonny -- or his muscles -- during his shower. When he gets out, Jonny’s reading in bed, still shirtless. He peers over his glasses at Patrick. “All done?”

“Yep, it’s all yours,” he says, and hopes Jonny attributes his pink cheeks to the heat of the shower. He climbs into bed, and pulls the covers up, keeping carefully to his side of the bed. He drifts to the sounds of the water running. His muscles are the kind of pleasantly sore that speaks to hard work, and by the time Jonny opens the door to the bathroom, he’s almost asleep. The bed shifts behind him for a few moments, sheets sliding as Jonny gets settled before he reaches across Patrick’s body and turns off the light. Patrick feels a hand brush over his hair softly, but before he can turn or ask Jonny what he’s doing, he slips into sleep.

***

Jonny is plastered to Patrick’s back when he wakes up. With the comforter pulled around them, Patrick feels like he’s going to suffocate. He wriggles to break Jonny’s hold, plucking at his hand. “Wake up, Jesus, you’re killing me, man,” he says, but Jonny just tightens his grip and mumbles something into Patrick’s hair, his lips brushing the fine hairs on the back of his neck and making him shiver in response.

Jonny grinds his hips into him, and Patrick can feel Jonny’s cock, half-hard against his ass. He has to clench his teeth not to moan because it’s been a long time since he’s woken up like this, Jonny pressed up behind him, no one under six in their bed, and it feels good. It feels familiar, and he wants to sink into it, but he doesn’t. Because this isn’t them anymore, and even though he wants to press back against Jonny, to turn in his arms and kiss him, he’s not sure anymore if Jonny feels the same.

He finally manages to free himself and huffs a laugh as Jonny rolls over and buries his face into a pillow. He’s sweaty and gross from sleeping curled around Jonny and he wants a shower, but he can smell coffee brewing so he heads downstairs instead, wondering if the kids are up. All’s quiet, though, when he peeks into the twins’ room, so he heads back to the kitchen. Frank’s sitting at the island, and he pushes a cup of coffee over to Patrick as he sits down on a stool. They sip in companionable silence for awhile until Patrick feels like his eyeballs aren’t stuck to his eyelids.

“You always up this early?” Frank asks. “I have a business call with Zurich or I’d still be in bed.”

“Yeah, usually Ammy or the boys are up by now. It’s not usually this quiet in the morning,” Patrick says.

Frank raises his mug. “Thank God for competent nannies.”

Patrick smiles weakly. He hadn’t meant it as a complaint, exactly, but he’s not going to admit he misses all the noise of the kids running around. “Where is Justine, anyway? I checked in Ammy’s room, and she wasn’t in bed.”

“Justine was playing with her when I came down, but I sent them to the basement so she didn’t disturb my call.”

Patrick’s going to chalk his annoyance up to the early morning and the stress of having Jonny so close, but he’s not sorry when Frank excuses himself a minute later to get on his conference call. Patrick pours another mug of coffee and wanders around until he locates Amelie and Justine.

The boys come out of their room while he’s playing blocks with Ammy, and they spend an hour playing hide and go seek in the chalet’s enormous basement. By that time, Justine is making noises about breakfast for the kids, and Patrick still needs a shower, so he heads back upstairs. He grabs a mug of coffee for Jonny, who’s predictably still buried under a mound of pillows when he gets to their room.

“Jonny, Jonny,” Patrick croons, pulling the comforter back from his shoulders. “Jonny, wake up.” When Jonny just groans and stuffs his head more firmly under the pillows. “Jonny, I have coffee.” Jonny’s mumbles something, but doesn’t move, and Patrick has to bite back a grin. “Okay, well, you’ve left me no choice.”

He slips two ice cubes down the back of Jonny’s shirt and steps back to watch as Jonny leaps out of bed, smacking at his shoulders and then pulling his shirt out to get the cubes to drop to the floor. “Shit, shit, fuck,” Jonny says, and Patrick laughs.

“You asshole!” he growls, reaching for him, but Patrick dances of his reach and runs into the bathroom, Jonny hot on his heels. He slams the door and locks it. “I left your coffee on the side table,” he says through the door, jumping back when Jonny pounds on it. “Now, now, be nice, Jonny, this isn’t our house.”

Jonny bangs on the door again. “Asshole,” he says, his voice muffled. Patrick listens for another minute but when he doesn’t say anything, Patrick opens the door a crack. Jonny’s standing by the door sipping his coffee, his hair sticking up everywhere, a disgruntled expression on his face. “The kids are awake,” he tells Jonny, opening the door a little more. Jonny probably won’t jump him with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Justine’s going to get breakfast for them, and there’s more coffee in the kitchen.” Jonny grunts, and he has to bite back a smile. “I’m going to shower.”

He’s still smiling twenty minutes later when he descends the stairs again. He can hear the kids giggling in the kitchen, and when he walks in, Jonny’s flipping a pancake. He’s found a chef’s hat somewhere and there’s ingredients laid out in front of him: bananas, chocolate chips, sprinkles, blueberries, and strawberries. Amelie’s in her high chair, and she squeals when he walks in. “Dada, Dada,” she says, pounding on her tray. There are bananas mashed between her fingers, and Patrick grabs her hands and kisses her quickly before moving out of reach. Justine smiles at him and puts a pancake on her tray.

He pours himself another cup of coffee and sits at the table next to Justine, content for a moment just to watch Jonny and the kids. The twins are too busy chowing down on mini stacks of pancakes to do much more than look up at Patrick as he sits down, matching maple syrup smeared grins gracing their faces.

Patrick can’t keep the laugh from his voice, “Good, guys? Or did Papa ruin them by putting too many chocolate chips in again? I bet he can remake them with extra wheat germ and walnuts.”

“Noooooo!” Bryan cries, aghast, shifting his plate infinitesimally away from Patrick, and glancing at Eric with a horror struck expression.

Pat catches Jonny’s eyes, lit up with silent laughter, and he bites his lip to keep from smiling. All for naught when Eric -- always too shrewd -- narrows his eyes at Patrick, and says knowingly, “Daddy’s just kidding. He thinks he’s really funny.”

Jonny bursts out laughing. “He does think he’s really funny. It’s easier just to let him keep thinking that.”

“Hey! I am funny.” He tries to make his voice sound affronted, but can’t help joining in with the boys’ giggles. “Everyone’s so mean to poor old Dad: no respect! No pancakes!” He’s ramping up to really get into it, when Jonny places a plate in front of him and drops the sports section on his head, before sliding into the seat next to him.

“We’re out of wheat germ.” Jonny smirks, grabbing a pancake from Pat’s plate and dragging it over to his own. “You’ll just have to make do with extra berries.”

“My life is very hard,” Patrick agrees, smoothing the paper out onto the table, and reaching for his plate of pancakes. They’re stacked high and loaded with toppings, just the way he likes. They’re also shaped into perfect hearts. “Heart shaped pancakes?” he teases, voice just a touch thick, “My, aren’t we fancy?”

He sees Jonny’s cheeks pink up, ever so slightly, out of the corner of his eye. “The boys said circles are boring.” Jonny says mildly, scooting the maple syrup closer to Patrick with a little smile.

Patrick takes it all in. The boys are arguing over the relative merits of skiing versus sledding; Amelie’s babbling happily in her chair, scrunching her face up and laughing whenever anyone looks at her; and Jonny’s lost the chef’s hat -- hair all fucked up on one side -- and a tiny drop of maple syrup clinging to the corner of his mouth. Pat clenches the edge of the newspaper tight in his hands, focusing intently on the write up of last night’s hockey games to keep from licking the maple syrup off Jonny’s lips, to keep from kissing the taste of pancakes right out of his mouth, to keep from sending the kids down to the basement with Justine and dragging his husband back up to their shared room.

Once breakfast has been cleaned up and everyone’s had their showers, they turn Amelie over to Justine with a flurry of sweet kisses so Pat, Jonny, and the boys can head up to the slopes. Margie’s taking Anastasia to meet a friend later, and Frank’s got another meeting, so it’s just their family, which turns out to be a good thing when Bryan asks why Jonny’s in Tahoe with them.

“I thought you said he couldn’t come?” Eric asks, his gaze sharp.

“I was going to go see Uncle David, but now I’m here,” is all Jonny says, and God bless six year-old children who don’t ask too many questions, because Eric seems satisfied with that answer. For all of the eight seconds it takes before Bryan pipes up.

“Do we have to tell Ana that you’re living in the hotel now?” Bryan asks, and Patrick bites his lip, but Jonny handles that easily, too. He’s clearly thought about it, and Patrick winces again at how little consideration he’d given to how pear-shaped this thing could have gone before he’d entreated Jonny to stay.

“No, I don’t think we need to talk about it with anyone else,” Jonny pauses and lowers his voice. “I don’t think they have security clearance.”

The boys eyes get big and they exchange excited glances.

“Is it a secret?” Eric asks.

“Like a spy?” Bryan says, his voice rising.

“Sure,” Jonny says, biting back a smile. “And it’s very important to our mission that we keep it to ourselves, okay?”

“‘Kay, Papa!” They chirp, and Patrick sags with relief.

“That was easier than I expected,” Jonny says out of the corner of his mouth once the boys are distracted by a giant snow plow clearing the road. “Think they’ll keep quiet?”

“Hope so,” Patrick says quietly. “And if they don’t, I think we can trust Margie and Frank not to say anything.”

Jonny hums, looking out the window as the resort comes into view. “Wow,” he says, distracted. “That’s a big mountain.” When Patrick glances at him, he’s a little pale.

“It is,” Patrick says, keeping his face straight. “Skiis fast, too. You can really fly down it.” Jonny swallows, and Patrick smacks his thigh. “Don’t worry, I’ll show you all the fastest runs.” Patrick laughs when Jonny glares at him.

It only takes a few minutes to obtain Jonny’s equipment and turn the boys over to the ski school, reminding them to listen to the instructors. "Sure you don't want to stay?" Patrick teases, tongue tucked in tightly behind his teeth to keep from laughing, "Audit the Beginners Ski class with the boys? I think they're going to hit the harder of the bunny slopes today, should be just your speed."

"Ha ha ha," Jonny intones dryly, knocking against Patrick’s shoulder companionably, but hard enough that Patrick still stumbles a bit. "I'm not actually as terrible at skiing as you seem to think I am."

"You really are though," Pat laughs, righting himself and leading Jonny over to the benches by the ski lift, so they can finish gearing up. "It’s remarkable that someone with those thighs and that ass can’t keep himself upright. Erica and I still laugh about the year we all went to Vail, and you bounced your way down the mountain!" He's smiling just remembering it.

"C'mon," Jonny protests, “I was like seventeen! I think I'm a little better now. Besides what kind of terrible person lets their boyfriend attempt a diamond run their first trip out?"

"No, No, No." Pat says as they make their way over to the lines for the lift, "You absolutely do not get to blame that on me! I told you that it was a hard run, and you were all, 'Patrick I think I can handle this. If I can stay upright on the ice without falling, I'm sure I'll be fine on a little snow.' The next thing we knew, you were rocketing down the hill before you even learned to properly snowplow. Idiot.”

“In my defence, I didn’t know what the black diamond meant,” Jonny says, the argument familiar and well-worn. “And you should’ve been coming after me, not standing at the top doubled over laughing.” He points at Patrick and shakes his head. “At least your mom was decent enough to follow me and make sure I hadn’t brained myself when I finally stopped.”

“And by finally stopped, you mean: went out of bounds and ran into a snowbank, right?”

“Shut up.” Jonny says, but it’s without heat.

“Actually, come to think of it, your skating should've been our first clue. ‘Staying upright on the ice' my ass. You've got the grace of a drunk toddler learning to walk, tripping all over the ice like someone left your skate guards on."

"If -- if -- I fall on the ice," Jonny says archly, settling into the ski lift seat a little more firmly and pulling Patrick flush against the back rail, "it's only because some of us actually spend our time going to the hard areas and back-checking. We can't all just live off of pretty passes and spin-o-rama goals."

"My passes are very pretty," Pat agrees, settling himself firmly against Jonny's side, and taking in the view before them: crisp white snow, clear blue sky, picturesque lodge in the distance. “Which reminds me! Are you coming to the next game? We missed you last time. Hossa specifically asked if you’re coming next week when we have to play that team out in Laguna Beach, but I wasn’t sure what to say.”

He keeps his eyes trained on the view until Jonny makes an incomprehensible noise. When Patrick glances over at him, he’s got a strange look on his face. “I just thought . . . I didn’t think you’d want me there? I’m trying to be . . .” he blows out a heavy breath. “I’m trying not to be an asshole here.”

“Too late.” Patrick snarks automatically, before wincing. “Sorry, habit. You’re not. I mean, yeah, you were an asshole, and you’re probably right, I didn’t really want you there before, but -” Patrick’s pretty sure Jonny says “knew it” under his breath, but he manfully ignores it and soldiers on, “But, you should come back. Christmas was good. This week is good? I think we can play on a rec hockey team together without fighting.”

Jonny starts laughing, and Patrick can’t help but chirp him. “Fine, without fighting about something other than how weak your passes are.”

“Don’t you mean about what a puck hog you are? My passes are tape-to-tape things of beauty.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Patrick says, with a smile, relieved that the easy camaraderie of earlier has returned. “I suppose they’re not terrible.”

The rest of the way to the top of the mountain is made in companionable silence, Pat unable to stop sneaking small glances at Jonny, only to look away because every time he does, Jonny’s already looking at him, a shy, hopeful smile on his face.

Jonny stumbles a bit getting off the lift, and Pat grabs the back of his jacket to steady him. "Not a word," Jonny warns, straightening up. "Not a single fucking word."

"What's that?" Pat asks, all false innocence and wildly fluttering lashes, "I didn't say anything." Jonny pulls away and makes a face, and Patrick’s struck by how gorgeous he is. He might be a really shitty skier, but he certainly looks the part today: tan skin and cheeks perfectly flushed. He swallows back the heat that pools in his belly and sticks out his tongue. “Race you,” he dares, but Jonny shakes his head.

“Not falling for that again,” he says, pointing his pole at Patrick. “No racing.”

“Wow, it’s like I don’t even know you anymore,” Patrick says, shaking his head mockingly and leading them to a green run that he knows Jonny can handle.

The afternoon passes quickly, Pat loves the feeling of flying over the snow, almost as much as he loves a clean sheet of ice. Almost. After the first run, where Jonny had tumbled to a stop at the end, narrowly avoiding two kids and a tree, even he had, mostly, found his footing.

Pat probably could take on some of the harder runs, but he’s willing to admit -- if only to himself -- that he’s having too much fun taking the easier runs with Jonny, chatting with him on the ski lift, and teasing him until Jonny’s cheeks turn red from more than exertion.

It’s a perfect afternoon. Pat’s having more fun than he has in ages. He feels more like himself than he has since they moved to L.A. Spending time with Jonny like this makes him feel like a teenager again; he can almost forget about Jeff fucking Carter, and Jonny living at a hotel, and the fact that Eric is still bouncing between anger and hurt. For a little while, it just feels like old times, Patrick-and-Jonny, no space between them, no room -- or need -- for anything or anyone else.

Pat glances at his watch, “Almost time to go pick up the boys.”

“One more?” Jonny asks. “Race ya!” He takes off without even waiting for Pat’s assent.

“What happened to ‘no racing?’” Patrick yells, taking chase.

Pat is compact and aerodynamic (“A shrimp!” Jonny accuses when they’re retelling the story later), not to mention a better skier, and he handily beats Jonny to the bottom of the run. He stops easily, kicking up a bit of snow, and turns to watch Jonny finish the last little bit.

“You lose! I win! It was ever thus!” Pat crows, grinning so hard it hurts and thrusting his arms up in the air in victory.

Jonny opens his mouth to retort and windmills. He over compensates a little and lands on his ass, setting Patrick off into fresh peals of laughter. “Your face! You should see your face!”

Jonny glares for a second longer before starting to laugh too, “Fine, fine, you win. You might be a slightly -- infinitesimally -- better skier than I am.”

“What’s that?” Pat asks, reaching out to help pull him to his feet, “I don’t think I heard you. Could you repeat that?”

“Not saying it again,” Jonny grumbles good naturedly, coming quickly to his feet and knocking into Pat after a last, hard tug.

He doesn’t crash into Patrick, but he does make enough contact to make Patrick’s laughter die in his throat with a startled hiccup. Pat’s hands are on Jonny’s hips, where they’d grabbed to steady him, and they’re staring at each other. It’s a moment that feels suspended in time.

Before he can over think it, Patrick’s hand is on the back of Jonny’s head, and he’s drawing him down for a kiss, light and sweet and barely more than a susurration of breath across lips. Jonny parts his lips, but Patrick keeps things light, sucking gently on Jonny’s bottom lip before pressing another kiss against his open mouth.

When he pulls back, Jonny’s got a half dazed expression on his face. Patrick grabs his hand for a quick squeeze before dropping it and stepping back.

“Pat . . .” Jonny says, blinking. “Why did you kiss me? What-”

“Just, let’s not. Can we just not?” Patrick begs, panic welling up inside of him, crowding out the happy feeling he’s been carrying around all day. “I just - it’s been a great day and I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s not talk about it and ruin it?”

Jonny stares into his eyes intently and then nods, finally, pulling off his hat and scrubbing a hand through his hair. “Okay, Pat.”

“Thanks,” Patrick says gratefully, gesturing over his shoulder at the bunny hill. “Come on, let’s go get the boys. I bet they’re chomping at the bit to tell us all about their day and probably to remind us ten different times that we promised them hot chocolate.”

“With extra marshmallows,” Jonny supplies, still looking a little dazed.

“Exactly,” Pat says, licking his lips. He can feel how hot his face is -- knows that his cheeks must be bright pink -- and spares a second to mentally curse his fair skin. And his inability to keep his hands to himself.

He turns to smile at Jonny again, hoping he’ll take it for the ‘thanks for not making this weird’ that he intends it to be. “Today was fun,” he offers, “I’m glad you came up. Even if your parents might never forgive me for kidnapping you!”

Jonny laughs, “Nah, they’re cool. I mean, David is pissed as all hell I left him all alone with my parents with no one to deflect any of their ‘why haven’t you proposed to that nice girl yet’ questions, but he’ll deal.”

“Papa! Papa!” Dad!” they hear in chorus, looking up to find the boys running towards them and waving excitedly.

“We went down the hills like a million times!” Eric exclaims.

“It was the best!” Bryan agrees, “Can we go get hot chocolate now?”

“With marshmallows!” Eric interjects.

Patrick meets Jonny’s eyes, and they start laughing, “Called it!” Pat says, dragging Eric into his side for a quick hug.

Jonny just rolls his eyes, still giggling a little, “All right, let’s go, two hot chocolates.”

“With extra marshmallows!” Eric, Bryan, and Pat add in perfect unison.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Move it.” Jonny laughs, as they head towards the lodge. Pat looks at Jonny over the boys’ heads, and they share another big smile. Today really has been pretty great, and Patrick’s determined to enjoy the rest of it.

***

It's equal parts awkward and amazing over the next few days, and by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, Patrick’s having trouble remembering that this is all a charade that Jonny’s agreed to and not the way their lives always are. Which is ironic, because they’re going to a masquerade party that night.

“Come on, Jonny, it’ll be fun,” he wheedles, pressing when Jonny’s mouth twitches. “If you go as Batman . . .” Jonny’s eyebrow goes up. “I’ll even go as Robin.” When Jonny’s eyes widen, he puts his hands out. “One-time-only offer.”

“Done,” Jonny says immediately, grinning cheekily and plucking the costume off the rack. Patrick frowns at him in confusion. “What?” Jonny asks. “Not my fault that you always cave too soon.” As Jonny walks toward the back of the store, he’s whistling.

“Really, Jon? Bat puns?” Patrick shakes his head and then glances at the clerk who’s staring at him, smirking. “Motherfucker,” he breathes, impressed, when she hands him a bag she pulls out from behind the counter. It’s a Robin costume.

And that’s how Patrick ends up wearing green tights and a mask to a costume party on New Year’s Eve.

***

“Patrick,” Jonny’s voice floats into the bathroom over the sound of the water running in the sink. “Have you seen my cape?” Patrick smiles toothily at his reflection. “I know this thing came with one.” Patrick schools his face into an innocent expression when Jonny sticks his head in.

“Don’t know,” Patrick says, swiping his razor down one cheek. “Isn’t it in the bag?”

“It’s not in the bag. But you already know that.”

“How would I know they forgot to put it in the bag?”

“Because they didn’t forget to put it in the bag.” Jonny says, glaring at him. “Where is my cape, Patrick?”

Patrick doesn’t answer right away, but when Jonny keeps looking at him accusingly, he lifts his eyebrows up. “Who me? What would I know about it? I’m Robin, remember?” He looks back at his reflection and pokes his tongue into his cheek to make it bulge out before swiping across it again. “The bat cape is really more Alfred’s area of expertise.”

Jonny makes an inarticulate sound of rage and bangs his hand on the door. “Patrick, if you think I’m wearing that pile of scraps without something to cover my ass, you’re wrong.” He points at Patrick. “I’ll just wear regular clothes to this stupid party. I didn’t want to wear a costume anyway.”

“Oh, well, if you’re too chicken to wear it,” Patrick says, and Jonny’s eyes harden with resolve. He would despair at how predictable Jonny was, if it didn’t work in Patrick’s favor so often.

“I’ll show you chicken,” Jonny mutters darkly and turns away.

Patrick rolls his eyes at his reflection. “Always with the witty rejoinders, Jonny.”

“What?” Jonny sticks his head back in. “I heard that.”

“Heard what?” Patrick says, smirking. “I didn’t say anything. I think your bat ears are deceiving you, buddy.” Jonny makes a choked noise and slams the door behind him. Patrick raises his eyebrows at his reflection. “Check and mate.”

***

He’s pulling his costume out of the bag when he realizes his mistake. “Jonny!” Patrick yells. “You’re not funny, asshole! Jonny!” He throws on his robe and stalks out of their room, calling down the hall. “Jonny!”

Jonny peers up from the bottom of the stairs. “Pat, you’d better get dressed. Frank and Margie are waiting for us.”

“I can’t get dressed, Jon, I’m missing my,” he looks around and lowers his voice. “My binder.”

“Sorry, Pat, couldn’t hear you there at the end,” Jonny says, cupping a hand over one ear. “You’re missing what now?”

Patrick makes a strangled noise and turns to march down the first few steps but when he ducks to look over the bannister, Margie and Frank are blinking up at him, and he stops short, tightening the belt on his robe. “I, uh. Could you come up here?” When Jonny just raises his eyebrows innocently, he grinds his teeth. “Please?”

“I don’t know how you could be missing anything,” Jonny says, solicitous. “Because I checked your bag, and I’m sure your costume was in it. Unless you think there’s another bag somewhere. Maybe you put it in there? Maybe that’s where my cape is! Do you think we might have another bag somewhere?”

Patrick grinds his teeth but manages to keep smiling. Margie and Frank look at him a little warily, though, so maybe his smile is less sincere and more serial killer. “No, no, no other bags, honey.”

“Shame,” Jonny tuts. “Do you want me to come up and change? We can both go without a costume, if that makes you feel better?” He puts his foot on the bottom step and looks up, his eyebrow tilted.

Patrick’s insincere smile grows a little. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to deprive the party of your costume.”

“Well, if I can go without my cape, I’m sure no one will notice that you’re missing your. Um. Belt.” Jonny clears his throat and shrugs when Frank looks at him suspiciously.

“I guess you’re right, honey. I’ll be down in one minute,” Patrick says when he can speak again, and he throws another large tight smile that hurts his face at them before turning back toward their room.

“That’s a pretty frightening smile. Are you sure he’s not going as the Joker?” He hears Margie say as he walks away, and Jonny laughs.

“Nah, but he does think he’s pretty funny,” Jonny says drily.

***

He’s wriggling a little in the back of the car when Jonny reaches over and grabs his thigh. “You okay?” He asks softly. “Everything tucked in?”

“Man, you are so not funny,” he huffs, looking out the window so Jonny doesn’t see his helpless smile. “Can’t believe you stole my jock.” He darts a glance at the front of the car but Margie’s still prattling on about the party, seemingly unaware of the bored and distracted expression on Frank’s face.

“I can’t believe you stole my cape,” Jonny counters quickly. “Check and mate, hmm?”

Patrick’s mouth drops open and Jonny laughs loud enough to draw the attention of both Frank and Margie. “Sorry, Patrick was just telling me about what he found in Ammy’s diaper this morning,” he starts, stopping when they blanch and go back to ignoring them.

Patrick thumps Jonny on the thigh. “This isn’t over,” he says. “You’re so going to regret this.”

“Bring it on, baby,” Jonny says. “Not sure you have the whole package, though.” Patrick goggles at him. “What? Don’t think you can keep up?”

“Oh my God, Jon.” Patrick gapes at him. “More puns?”

“You know it,” Jonny says, humming. “I mean, come on, it’s not like you’re stiff competition.”

Patrick groans and drops his head into his hands. Why is he married to this asshole, seriously.

“Is Patrick okay?” Margie asks carefully. “He’s not going to be be sick, is he?”

“Nah, he’s fine,” Jonny reassures her. “Just hungry. He was saying he’s hoping they have hot dogs or maybe some sausage at the party.” Patrick moans again. “Maybe meatballs? No?” His hand thumps down on Patrick’s back. “Should’ve eaten more at dinner, man.”

***

When they get to the party, it’s clear that Patrick hasn’t just miscalculated. He’s frankly been completely and utterly outmaneuvered, because watching Jonny walk around the party in skintight, well, tights, while dressed in his own pair is not just torture, it’s a recipe for turning the party NC-17. Especially when Jonny walks by every so often and bends over to grab some food off the coffee table in front of Patrick’s spot on the couch.

“Nuts?” He offers Patrick, his eyes glinting. “Or - I think they put out some carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes?”

“Sit the fuck down or pass me a fucking pillow if you’re going to wave that thing around.”

“Not in the mood for nuts?” Jonny ignores his plea entirely and turns around again. “Oops! Dropped one.” He bends over and reaches for the floor.

“Uncle, man, uncle, you win.” Patrick raises his hands in surrender. Jonny looks at him blankly before his face breaks into a shit-eating grin. “Ugh, stop doing that with your mouth, it’s disgusting,” he says waving a hand at him.

Jonny sits down heavily, leaning into him. “Check. And Mate.”

“Ugh, I said you win, just stop,” Patrick says, and knuckles his eyes. “That was-” he looks over at where Jonny’s smiling at him, smug. It says something about him that he’s helpless not to smile back. “Yeah, yeah, you win.”

“Damn right,” Jonny says and pops a couple of nuts into his mouth, crunching them before making a face when he realizes they were on the floor. They sit in companionable silence for a minute, watching all the sexy cats and Zorros walk by.

“No imagination,” Jonny critiques. “Seriously, I think I saw five Duck Dynasty/Trophy Wife combinations. Why bother, if you’re not even going to try?”

“Jonny, only you would cast judgment on the costume ideas of a bunch of bored, drunk millionaires.”

“If you’re going to do it, commit,” Jonny says, smiling around another mouthful of nuts. He holds the bowl out to Patrick, who laughs and raises his hands again. “Seriously, man, enough.”

Jonny’s face falls. “I was just worried about you being hungry, Pat, Jesus.” When Patrick just looks at him blankly, he laughs and raises his hands. “Okay, I’ll stop, I’ll stop.”

Patrick eyes him suspiciously before nodding. “Drinks. Many. Now.” He shoos Jonny with one hand. “You’re on fetch and carry duty tonight. I deserve it after putting up with all that.” He waves in the direction of Jonny’s ass. When Jonny snorts and stands up, he smacks him. “And don’t front like you don’t love everyone looking at you.” Jonny’s face reddens and he nods. “Exactly. So. Drinks. Many. Now.”

He watches Jonny walk away and grabs for the pillow, just resisting stuffing his face into it. This is going to be a long night.

***

“Three, two, one! Happy New Year!” Patrick yells at Jonny, who laughs and pulls him closer. “Happy New Year to you,” he murmurs into his ear. Patrick pulls back, and Jonny tucks his hair behind one of his ears, making him shiver. “Bonne nouvelle annee, Jonny.”

Jonny eyes darken. “Joyeux annee a toi, Patrick.”

Patrick’s blood feels like it’s moving warm and slow in his veins, and he tips his face up unconsciously. “Jon,” he starts and then he’s kissing him, hungry and hard. Jonny’s mouth opens on a gasp and Patrick slips his tongue into his mouth, licking past his teeth.

Jonny pulls Patrick flush to him and slides a hand into his hair, tugging a little, making him moan. He pulls Jonny closer and loses long moments drinking in Jonny’s hands on his body, his tongue in his mouth. They finally pull back only when someone bumps them and then moves away, tittering, “I always knew there was something between Batman and Robin.”

“Yeah, well, maybe they need to get a room.”

Jonny snorts and nuzzles back into Patrick’s hair, kissing along his jawline. They sway there until Patrick feels a hand on his shoulder.

“You guys look ready to go,” Frank says, amused. “The car’s waiting outside.”

Jonny nods and pulls Patrick to his side, and Patrick puts his arm around him, but not before groping his ass. “God, I’ve wanted to do that all night.”

Jonny hums. “I thought you’d never catch a clue. What’s a guy gotta do, man? Drop his nuts on the floor?”

Patrick pulls up. “Are you fucking with me?”

“Not yet,” Jonny says, mouth twisting. “Because you’re not getting in the car, Patrick.” He pushes him into motion. “Let’s get in the car, Patrick.”

Patrick’s breath stutters at the dark look in Jonny’s eyes, and he lets himself be guided along, safe and warm in Jonny’s embrace. When they get in the car, Margie laughs at them. “I guess I don’t have to ask if you two had fun,” she says.

Patrick slides over until he’s mostly in Jonny’s lap. The champagne and the scotch are still swirling in his bloodstream, and he feels like he’s dangling on the precipice of something, so he holds on to Jonny and lets himself drift.

***

As soon as they shut the door behind them, Jonny presses Patrick against it. “Is this, can I?”

Patrick’s already pulling him in. “Just kiss me,” he commands, and then he’s caught up in Jonny’s mouth again.

The kiss is desperate at first, but slowly Jonny gentles it, his tongue flicking behind Patrick’s teeth. Patrick shivers and gasps when Jonny bites down on his lower lip. “God, Pat, I missed this, missed you,” Jonny says, pulling him back in. His hands sweep up and down Patrick’s back before coming to rest on his hips. “Feel so good. I want to . . . just . . . I want to . . .” Jonny kisses him again. “Jesus, what I want to do to you.” He squeezes Patrick grinding against him, and Patrick moans. He pulls Jonny’s head back down and kisses him fiercely, thrusting his tongue in and out and licking his top lip, worrying at the scar there.

They break apart to catch their breath and Patrick pushes Jonny back a little further, Jonny’s head still leaning forward as he chases his lips. When Jonny opens his eyes, Pat pushes against his shoulders harder, and Jonny’s face shutters a little, but Patrick shakes his head. “Want you, too,” he pants, and pushes again. He can see when Jonny gets it, and the next time he pushes him, Jonny grabs Patrick and turns him, backing him up toward the bed, his hands tight on Patrick’s wrists.

“You’re sure?” Jonny says, face flushed and too serious, and Patrick has to lean up and bite his bottom lip.

“Fucking fuck me already,” Pat says and then gasps when Jonny pushes him down onto the bed and crawls on top of him, caging him in.

“How do you want it, Pat,” he says, kissing and biting at his jaw. “You want me to be gentle?” He drops down a little, his body a firm and solid weight in Patrick’s arms. “You want fast?” He ruts against Patrick briefly. “Or you want me to take?” he asks, and bites on Patrick’s ear. Patrick’s head rolls back to give him more access and he can feel Jonny’s smile against his throat. “I think you want me to take, hmm?” Patrick nods, his mouth dry, and Jonny chuckles. “I can do that.”

Jonny makes quick work of their shirts, pausing briefly to tweak a nipple, and place a kiss to the Pat’s collarbone. Abruptly, Jonny flips him to his stomach and crawls down his back, pulling at the ridiculous green tights and scoring his legs as he tugs them off. He slaps Patrick’s ass and growls, “stay there,” and Patrick nods mutely, turning his head to watch as Jonny strides into the bathroom, making a noise of triumph. “You’re such a fucking boy scout, Pat,” he says, tossing a tube of lube down on the bed. “Love that about you.”

Patrick smiles into the comforter and shifts his hips up and down while Jonny slicks up his fingers. Jonny puts a heavy hand on his ass and pushes him back down. “I said stay,” he chastises gently. “Can you hold still for me?” Patrick nods again, and Jonny kisses the ear he’d bitten earlier. “Going to get you ready, baby,” he croons. “Going to give it to you so good, you’ll see.”

Patrick moans when Jonny runs his slick fingers up and down his crack, slipping his thumb lower and lower until it’s pressed against his perineum. “Uhn, uhn, uhn,” he pants as Jonny presses firmly behind his balls with his thumb, even as a finger starts pushing inside him. There’s a pinch, and Patrick clenches down briefly, moaning.

Jonny pushes deeper, stroking Patrick’s inner walls and making him moan again. “So tight, Jesus, you’re so tight,” Jonny says, his voice dropping an octave. “Can’t wait to get inside you.” He pumps his finger back and forth, but because Jonny asked him to hold still Patrick presses his forehead into the soft fabric of the comforter to keep himself from fucking back onto Jonny’s hand.

After a long minute, Patrick reaches back and grabs Jonny’s hand, stilling it. “Want to feel it,” he rasps. “Come on, Jonny, please, just fuck me.”

Jonny makes a choked noise and pushes two fingers in quickly, tugging on Patrick’s rim, making him moan loudly. Patrick sighs when he finally pulls his fingers out, and he can feel the dull pressure of Jonny’s cock pushing against his hole. Jonny’s cock is big and thick, and Patrick tenses as Jonny pushes the head past the tight muscle. “Nghh,” Jonny whispers. “So tight. gotta relax for me, baby, gotta help me out.” He presses a little deeper and Patrick groans, the stretch a sharp, bright pain that makes him tense and hold his breath.

Patrick tries to relax, but even half drunk and dizzy with want, he can’t quite let go. Jonny finally pulls out and kisses the back of his neck. “Shouldn’t let you rush me.” He leans back and grabs Patrick’s ass in both hands, spreading it apart. Even though Patrick can’t see, he knows Jonny’s looking at his hole. Patrick clenches automatically, his cheeks flaming. “So pretty,” Jonny says. “Wet and tight and hot for my cock.” Patrick can hear the reverence in Jonny’s voice, but it doesn’t help the way he burns with shame and arousal, proud and horrified at what he’s willing to give up to Jonny.

Patrick grips the duvet and whimpers as Jonny dribbles more lube directly over his hole, the slick dripping down onto Patrick’s balls and the sheets, and then Jonny’s using two fingers to push it into Patrick. He tugs on Patrick’s rim, holding him open. Patrick feels the cool lube sliding inside of him, and he chokes, overwhelmed.

“Shhh,” Jonny soothes him softly, “so pretty.” He kisses the curve of Patrick’s ass. “Love opening you up, baby. Love seeing you like this.” He bites at the spot he kissed and sits up. “I think you’re ready.” He pushes his fingers deep and curls them to find Patrick’s prostate; Patrick jolts as pleasure rockets up his spine.

“Less talking, more fucking,” Pat says urgently, pushing back on Jonny’s fingers. “Come on, come on.” Jonny bites his ass again and pushes his fingers deep, before sitting up and pressing his cock between them, holding Patrick open as he slowly sinks inside. It’s still tight, but Patrick sighs as Jonny pushes in, pulling back a little, and then pressing forward, gaining ground an excruciatingly slow inch at a time.

“Yes, yes, oh, God, so much, it’s so much,” Patrick babbles, tossing his head back and forth, biting the duvet to keep from screaming. The stretch makes his toes shake and tingle, and he’s caught, frozen between the twin urges to relax and let Jonny in and to tighten and push him out. As much as Patrick loves Jonny fucking him, this is probably the best part: the delicious struggle he goes through every time he takes Jonny, tensing and releasing but unable -- unwilling -- to stop Jonny.

The pain and pleasure mix together and catalyze each other until Patrick’s almost sobbing now that Jonny’s moving in and out in long, slow thrusts that get deeper with every stroke. Patrick feels the tension of resistance bleed away as Jonny’s cock pushes deeper and deeper before he finally bottoms out, holding there for a long moment, panting.

“That’s it, that’s it, Jesus,” Jonny says, and fucks into him hard, his body slamming Patrick’s flat against the bed. He pulls at Patrick hips, wrenching him back onto his cock, and Patrick whimpers as Jonny shifts his own hips, pushing even deeper inside of him. “Ready?’ Jonny asks, and at Patrick’s nod, he thrusts in and out, hard and fast, pausing once more before he starts fucking in earnest, setting a fast rhythm that makes the bed creak.

Patrick can hardly catch his breath as Jonny pounds into him over and over, pulling his hips up and back even as he presses forward, the head of his cock sliding past his prostate and lighting up his spine. His toes are tingling again, this time from pleasure instead of pain, and Patrick’s grunting every time Jonny fucks in. Jonny pushes down on his shoulders and pulls all the way out before pushing deep inside. Each entry is a shock, and soon he’s gasping in time to Jonny’s strokes.

When Jonny slides the hand on his hip underneath Patrick and grabs his cock, Patrick has to muffle his shout at the intensity of his orgasm, his body contracting around Jonny’s cock. Jerking off over the past few weeks had taken on a perfunctory, melancholic quality that left him mostly unsatisfied, so his orgasm, when it hits, is overwhelming in its intensity. The waves of pleasure roll through him, and it’s all he can do to clutch at the sheets and ride them out. He comes and comes, and it goes on and on and on until he's lightheaded when it finally eases off.

He heaves in a huge breath and collapses, exhausted and spent. He contracts one last time, and Jonny gasps, his hips stuttering before he stills and comes, mouthing wetly behind Patrick’s ear, his cock pulsing and pulsing. Patrick turns his head to catch his mouth, and Jonny pants into Patrick’s mouth, still coming in little aftershocks that make him grunt before they finally taper off.

They lay there, kissing lazily, until Patrick’s neck starts to hurt and he pulls back. “Off, off, you’re always so fucking heavy.”

Jonny laughs and slides off of him, his cock leaving a slick trail across Patrick buttocks and hip. Patrick turns over, and Jonny kisses him again. “You came so much,” Jonny says, incredulous. He drags his fingers across Patrick’s pelvis where come is matted into the wiry hair and rubs it between his fingers. “How is there so much?” He brings his fingers to his mouth, and Patrick's cock twitches weakly, but he's drained and exhausted and there's no chance he's getting it up again tonight. He lays there panting as Johnny licks his come from his fingertips, and when Jonny looks up at him, he has to close his eyes at the intensity of his gaze.

Jonny pads off to the bathroom and returns with a washrag, wiping at the remaining come on Patrick’s thighs and stomach and mopping ineffectually at the stains on the duvet. “It’s a lost cause, man,” Patrick says, his voice cracking.

Jonny tosses the washrag aside. “Scooch over, then, and I’ll pull it off.” They get the comforter off and Jonny pulls the thick blanket off the couch and spreads it over them. Patrick rearranges them until he’s draped over Jonny, legs twined together. They breathe quietly, and the combination of alcohol and endorphins have Patrick drifting pleasantly, somewhere between sleep and waking.

“Pat,” Jonny’s voice rumbles under Patrick’s ear. “Does this,” he clears his throat. “Does this mean-”

“I don’t know what it means,” Patrick sighs, turning his head to look up at Jonny. “But I wanted you. ” He sits up. “And I’m not sorry. So, I guess that’s what it means?” When Jonny doesn’t say anything he pulls back a little. “Is that okay?”

Jonny’s face is unreadable, but he nods slowly. “I guess,” he says, breathing out heavily. “But we need to talk about things. I love you, Pat,” he squeezes him. “I’m sorry, and I love you, and I’m just- So sorry.”

Patrick presses his finger to Jonny’s lips. “Shh, let’s just not. Not tonight. I just want to lie here -- in your arms -- and sleep.” He kisses Jonny softly, and Jonny opens for him easily. “We’re just going to sleep, and we’ll deal with the rest of the world tomorrow.”

Jonny nods, his frown letting up a little, but not completely gone, and Patrick smooths a finger across his brow before laying back against his chest. It’s not long before the rhythm of Jonny’s breathing lulls Patrick into a deep sleep.

***

Patrick wakes up overwarm and sore, and with the urgent need to piss. Jonny’s pressed up against his back, and his legs are tangled with Patrick’s. Patrick carefully extracts himself so he can sit up, making a face as he scratches at the dried come on his stomach. Jonny makes a dissatisfied noise and reaches for him, slipping a hand across his hip and pulling on him. “Come back, Pat,” he mumbles, opening one eye. “Sleep.”

“Gotta pee,” Patrick says and stands up. “And get some Advil.” Jonny groans and buries his head under a pillow. It’s a tableau Patrick’s been looking at for almost twenty years, and he never fails to be amused by Jonny’s grumpy early morning personality. He showers quickly and throws on sweats and one of Jonny’s old Hawks shirts before padding downstairs to see who else is up.

No one, it seems, the house quiet, and the only noise is the coffeemaker once he turns it on. He takes his coffee into the great room, standing by the floor to ceiling windows. It’s snowing again, big, fat flakes, and the whole world is quiet and still under their weight.

He’s still sipping his first cup when Eric appears next to him. “Whatcha looking at?”

“The snow. Isn’t it pretty?” Patrick puts down the mug and picks Eric up. When he makes a face at him, Patrick chuckles. “Well, I think it means lots of good skiing, hmm?”

“Can we please go sledding today?” Eric says, pulling on the back of Patrick’s hair a little. “Please, Daddy?”

“Yeah, I think we can,” Patrick smiles, and when Eric fist pumps he barks out a laugh. “Where did you learn that?”

“Kyle does it,” Eric says, wiggling and Patrick lets him down. “He says it’s for when you do the best, or you’re super extra happy.”

Patrick nods. “Sounds like your buddy Kyle’s pretty smart.”

“Duh, Daddy, he’s in third grade,” Eric says, with all the frustrated indignation of a six year old, and Patrick bites his lips to keep from laughing. “I’m going to go tell Bryan!”

“Walk, mister,” Patrick warns, and Eric slows purposefully down to an almost crawl, throwing an impish smile over his shoulder. Patrick rolls his eyes and motions him on his way, and Eric speeds out of the room.

“Sledding, huh?” Patrick turns to see Jonny standing in the kitchen doorway, a mug in his hand. His hair is flattened on one side, and he looks sleepily dissatisfied with the world. When he scratches the back of his neck, his t-shirt rides up, and Patrick has to look away from the cut of his hips above his loose sleep pants.

“Yep,” Patrick says to his reflection. “Eric’s been after me to take him sledding, and I keep putting him off, but,” he gestures at the snow. “Seems like a good day to try it.”

Jonny grunts, and Patrick laughs. “Shut up,” Jonny grumbles. He bumps Patrick with his shoulder and Patrick has to step back, off balance. His coffee sloshes in his mug but thankfully doesn’t spill, and he makes a face at Jonny. “Asshole,” he says, but it’s without any heat.

Jonny smirks at him, and Patrick rolls his eyes. “Let me guess,” he says. “You’re on your . . . second cup?” Jonny waggles his eyebrows at him and he snorts. “Third cup, God, you’re so predictable.”

“Come down and watch the parade with us?” Bryan says from behind them.

Patrick smiles at him. “Is the parade on already?”

“Yes, Dad, jeez,” Bryan says, indignant, and Patrick bites down on a smile. “Come on! It’s going to start without us!”

“Okay, okay,” Jonny says. “I’m coming. Let your dad get some more coffee, and he’ll be down in a minute.”

“Promise we’ll go sledding later, though, right? Eric said we could go sledding.” Bryan says to Jonny as they turn for the stairs.

“For sure, Bry,” Jonny responds, throwing a wink over his shoulder at Pat. “If you don’t get in any fights with Eric this morning, we’ll go sledding before the Winter Classic starts.”

“Awesome!” Bryan chirps, his excited voice fading away.

He’s not at all surprised to find the coffee pot empty when he gets back into the kitchen. “Fucking, Jonny,” he says, shaking his head. He makes a pot of decaf and fills a carafe. “Two can play at that game.”

***

Sledding is exhausting, and they troop in after an hour soaked and hungry. Justine gets the boys fed while Jonny puts Amelie down with a bottle. By the time they’ve all eaten, Bryan’s eyes are at half-mast and Eric’s drooping in his chair.

“Naps,” Patrick says, and it’s a testament to how tired the boys are that they climb down from their seats without a protest. He’s just closing the door to their room when Jonny comes out of Amelie’s. “Did you get them to sleep?” Jonny asks. When Patrick nods, he shakes his head. “Without any whining? Wow, that’s a first.”

They settle downstairs with their own lunch and turn on the Winter Classic. It’s the Hawks at the Stars this year, and Patrick sends Sharpy a quick text teasing him about the fake snow they’ve shoveled around the rink. It’s not until they’re drinking hot chocolate during the first intermission that Jonny speaks up.

“So,” he says, clearing his throat. When he doesn’t say anything else, Patrick glances at him. He’s staring at the tv, a muscle in his jaw ticking. He waits and finally Jonny looks at him quickly and then back out at the screen. “Speaking of predictable,” he says. “Last night wasn’t . . . anything like I would have predicted.”

Patrick can feel his cheeks heat up. “Yeah, uh. Me, either.”

“So what did it mean? Are you . . . is this you forgiving me? Do you . . . can I come home?”

“No.” Patrick says quickly, but he knows Jonny deserves more of an explanation than that, and he turns to look at him. Jonny’s been watching out of the side of his eyes, but he turns to face Patrick then. “I’m honestly not sure when I can forgive you. Or even if I can forgive you.” When Jonny blanches, he rushes on. “But I think I’m getting there. And I know last night wasn’t fair to you -- to either of us honestly -- so, I’m sorry. Until I figure out what’s going on and where we go from here it won’t happen again.”

Jonny’s forehead wrinkles, and Patrick pauses to turn the words in his head over and over to figure out how to say them without hurting Jonny too badly. “Ugh, I can’t - this is so hard to explain.” He stands up and paces, then sits back down abruptly, opening and closing his mouth twice before finally deciding to just spit it out.

“What happened last night was a mistake,” he starts quickly wincing when Jonny blanches. “No, I didn’t . . . sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t regret it, but . . . I’m still processing all of this, everything that’s happened over the last few weeks.” He can see from Jonny’s expression that he’s just as startled to realize they’ve only been dealing with all of this for mere weeks. “And I’m not sure what’s going to happen when I’m done processing. ” His mouth twists awkwardly. “And I need to do that before we can go forward.”

“When you say ‘move forward,’ do you mean that you want to fix things? Because I really want to fix things, Pat, and I’m so sorry about Jeff and the, the, thing I let happen. It didn’t mean anything to me -- I never stopped loving you or wanting you -- you have to believe that.” Patrick shrugs, and Jonny scrubs his hand through the hair on the back of his head in frustration. “Fuck, Pat, please, please believe me.”

“I believe that you love me,” Pat says quietly, and Jonny subsides against the arm of the couch, watching Patrick intently. “And I know you’re sorry. But it doesn’t change things.” When Jonny opens his mouth, he cuts him off again. “I just don’t know how we deal with the fact that you let yourself get so close to cheating on me.” Jonny flinches at that, and Patrick smiles a little meanly. “With Jeff fucking Carter. Jesus.”

“Pat-”

“Nope,” Patrick snaps. “Not your turn to talk now. I know you said nothing happened, that you never touched him, and that helps, but-” he stops at the guilty look that flashes across Jonny’s face. He narrows his eyes. “You swore you didn’t fuck him. Jesus, if you lied about that, Jon-”

“No, Christ, no.”

“Then what did happen?”

Jonny closes his eyes, his expression pained, and he shakes his head. “I didn’t - I swear I didn’t fuck him. But. I let him kiss me.”

“What.” Patrick’s heart is pounding. “You said-”

“I said I never slept with him, and I didn’t. But,” Jonny bites his lips. “The night of his party, he kissed me.” Patrick makes a noise that hurts his throat, and Jonny shakes his head. “It was just for a second, Pat, I swear. As soon as he did it, I pulled away.”

“You let him kiss you. And then you pulled away. Oh, well, that makes it so much better,” Patrick sneers. “And -- since apparently I’m going to have to drag it out of you -- what else? Did he touch you? Did he blow you? Did you blow him? Handies? Is there anything else that you didn’t think to mention before?”

“No, Pat, no! I didn’t touch him or blow him or - or - he never even touched me except when he kissed me.”

“Where did he touch you when he kissed you?” Patrick doesn’t know why he’s torturing himself with this, except that the images he’s conjuring up are probably worse.

“I don’t know, it wasn’t - it wasn’t anything, it was no more than his hand on my arm and - my shoulder, I think? I was drunk, Pat, and I knew as soon as he did it that I was making a mistake. And I said no.”

“So, to recap. Didn’t fuck him. Didn’t give or receive an orgasm. Didn’t touch him. Kissed him.” Patrick ticks each one off on his fingers.

Jonny looks miserable and nods. “Let him kiss me-”

“It really doesn’t make it better that he kissed you first, Jon.”

Jonny raises his hands when Patrick narrows his eyes. “Okay, okay. Yes, I kissed him. And I get that you’re mad, but, Patrick,” Jonny says imploringly. “I promise, it was just one kiss.”

“Yeah, well, maybe one kiss is enough.” Patrick says mulishly.

“You can’t - don’t throw away our marriage because I was stupid enough to let a guy kiss me, Patrick. It’s not fair!”

“You want to know what’s unfair, Jon?” Patrick asks bitterly. “What’s unfair is you putting yourself in a situation with another man where you were so close to cheating on me that it took him kissing you to snap you out of it.”

“Patrick,” Jonny says, his voice choked, and Patrick bites his lip, his eyes suddenly swimming as his angers leaves him in a rush. They breathe together silently for a moment before Patrick speaks again, softer this time. “I think - I think we need to talk about why you let things get to that point with-with-” he stops and clears his throat. “Because I thought we were good - I thought you were happy.”

“I was happy!” Jonny protests, but when Patrick raises an eyebrow at him, he flushes. “I was, Pat, but . . .”

“But . . .” Patrick prompts. “But . . . you were attracted to him? But . . . you wanted to be with him more than your family? But . . . you wanted him more than me?” His voice cracks audibly on the last.

“No, no. God, never. I’ve never wanted anyone -- I will never want anyone -- the way I want you, the way I want our life together. That’s not- it’s not. Shit,” Jonny says, and sighs when Patrick just looks at him steadily. “It wasn’t about Jeff.”

“That’s kind of my point, Jon. So, if it wasn’t any of that, then why?”

“I . . .” Jonny stops and licks his lips. “I think things haven’t been right for me for awhile.” He shrugs. “Or, I guess, they haven’t felt right between us.”

“How so?” Patrick’s voice comes out hoarse, and he clears his throat. “Tell me what you mean.”

“Come on, Pat,” Jonny sighs. “We’ve been together how long? Fifteen, sixteen years? And except for that time you broke up with me, and when the kids were born, do you ever remember going more than a week without having sex of some kind? Ever?”

“No,” Patrick says, rubbing his thumb against the rim of his empty mug. “No. Is that why? Because we weren’t having sex, you wanted to with someone else?”

“No, fuck, that’s not what I mean,” Jonny says, frustrated. “Why are you being so obtuse about this?”

“Maybe I’m just waiting for you to say something that explains some of this.” Patrick responds sharply. “I think I deserve that much, after what you’ve put us all through.”

Jonny deflates. “Yeah. Yeah, you do.” He rubs the back of his neck. “It wasn’t the sex. Or rather, it wasn’t just the lack of sex. It was how you’ve gotten so focused on the kids since Ammy was born that it feels like there’s no time for me anymore. Like I’m not a priority outside of being a father and . . . I don’t know. A roommate.”

“Finally,” Patrick says under his breath. When Jonny glares at him, he shakes his head. “No, I just - I get it. I’ve felt that way, too.”

“You have?” Jonny sounds genuinely shocked, and Patrick rolls his eyes.

“It felt like you went to work and left us all behind, and I was just the guy responsible for making sure the kids didn’t get too loud or the house didn’t get too messy, or that you had enough clean shirts.”

“I don’t give a fuck about my clean shirts, Pat!”

“Really?” Patrick asks flatly. “Because I remember something about how if you were home all day ‘doing nothing,’ you could get the fucking laundry folded.” He smiles meanly when Jonny colors. “Yeah, you don’t give a fuck about clean shirts. Asshole.”

“I’m sorry about that, too,” Jonny starts, but Patrick waves it away.

“I didn’t say it to make you apologize, I just wanted you to get that things haven’t been easy for me, either. And I didn’t get to go to work and put all of it aside. I had to stay home -- and I wanted to -- but it meant I didn’t have anywhere to escape to, anywhere that I wasn’t a father, or a housekeeper, or any of the other things I’m responsible for.”

“You’ve always been more than that to me,” Jonny protests.

“And you’ve always been more than just an extra set of hands to help with the kids. Or a roommate. And it’s never been easy, not with three kids, but since we moved, it feels like just about everything’s been different.”

“I know,” Jonny says tiredly. “It’s like suddenly you were obsessed with these things that had never mattered to you before. The car you drove had to be like what all the other parents drove, and the school we put the kids in had to be the best in the city, and you were always doing stuff with the PTA and,” he stops. “And it felt like you only cared about being the perfect dad.”

“That’s not fair,” Patrick says, his voice rising. “I didn’t have anything else to do out here, Jonny! All I am out here is a father! No one knows that I love Jimmy Buffett or that I used to win dance competitions with my sisters or that I have a degree in social work. No one knows me as anything but Eric’s and Bryan’s and Amelie’s dad. So if I got obsessed with being a father, it’s because that’s all I am out here.”

“You’ve never been only a father to me,” Jonny says fiercely. “You are a father -- and it’s one of the things I love most about you, your dedication to our family, to our kids -- but it’s never, ever been the only thing I’ve loved about you. I love you for how much you love Buffett and everything else you said and a million reasons more.” Jonny pauses. “And you’re a father -- a great father -- but I just didn’t understand why all of sudden you had to be the perfect father.”

“Maybe I was trying to be perfect,” Patrick admits. “This move -- this city -- it’s not been anything like I expected. I know we agreed to move here for the family, but it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be not to have anyone except Erica here. I did all of that to fit in, to make friends. I’ve just been so lonely, and being part of the group from school was one of the only ways I had to meet people.”

“Pat,” Jonny says, pained. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because you were so happy! You were always going on about how your job was so great. How much you loved working on these important projects, and I didn’t want you to know that I wasn’t happy,” Pat says. “Because I didn’t want to take you away from this job you seem to love. Or at least love enough that you’re never home anymore,” he grumbles.

“I was working that hard for us,” Jonny says. “I’m doing all of this for us.”

“I know, but it felt like you wanted to be there, not here. Not with me. So I tried harder to be perfect, to make everything easy and happy.” Patrick shakes his head. “And I guess we can see where that got us.”

“Pat-” Jonny says.

“Daddy?” They look over the couch to where Eric’s standing in the hall from the kids’ rooms, rubbing his eyes sleepily. “I woked up.”

“Aw, baby, come sit with us and watch some hockey,” Jonny says.

“‘Kay,” Eric says, climbing into Jonny’s lap and putting his head on his shoulder. “Can I have some water, please?” Patrick nods and gets up. As he reaches the door, Jonny calls to him. “Pat?”

Patrick walks back to the couch and scrubs Eric’s hair absently, scratching a little into his scalp. “Yeah?”

“Can we - I want to talk about this some more,” Jonny says, his words slow and deliberate, like he’s testing them out before he says them. “When we get ho- when we get back to L.A.?”

Patrick smiles. “Yeah,” he says, “Yeah. I promise.”

***

Patrick lays down with a sigh, revelling in the feeling of being in his own bed, with his own pillows, surrounded by linens that smell like home. Tahoe had been great, and Lord knows Margie and Frank can afford nice beds and sheets with a more than respectable thread-count, but there’s still nothing quite like being home.

He starfishes for a second, legs kicking out at the duvet, trying to get comfortable. It was such a long day: driving back from Tahoe, unpacking from the trip, and dealing with three over-tired kids. Jonny had offered to follow them home and help, but Patrick had thought it might be easier on the kids -- and himself, if he’s being honest -- to get used to not having Jonny around all the time after an entire week of playing house.

Thinking back on the boys’ sullen faces all through dinner and how exhausting bedtime was, he’s pretty sure he did not calculate that one correctly.

Patrick keeps shifting around on the bed, body tired, but mind awake. He can hear all the little noises in the house that would normally be so much white noise, but now seem amplified and grating. The bed seems too big, and Pat’s head is full with anecdotes about the drive home that he’s desperate to share with Jonny.

While he’s biting his lip and contemplating calling Jonny -- it’s late, but maybe not too late -- his phone buzzes with an incoming text message.

Jonny: Bonne Nuit

He can feel himself smile, totally involuntarily, and a little frisson of happiness sparks in his chest. Before he can overthink it, he’s ringing Jonny up.

“Hello, Patrick,” Jonny answers, voice warm and fond and slightly rough.

Patrick bites his lip and lets himself smile again, small and pleased, and settles himself more comfortably against his pillow. He’s nervous all of a sudden, almost like he’d been at sixteen, calling to invite Jonny for dinner and the Kane family game night, something Jonny had done dozens of times, but not since they started holding hands and kissing and sharing popcorn at the movies. And other things.

“Patrick? I can hear you breathing . . .” Jonny repeats, breaking his reverie.

“Oh! Hi, Jonny. Sorry,” Patrick says, cheeks flaring with heat. “Guess I’m more tired than I thought.”

“S’okay, just thought maybe you butt-dialed me. Again.”

“I haven’t done that in years!” Patrick sputters. “You know my phone’s had a lock on it ever since the boys figured out how to work it.”

“I also know that Eric figured out the password about ten minute later. You’ve got to stop using our birth year for all of your passwords, Pat,” Jonny says, but Patrick can tell he’s smiling.

“But it’s so cool, because-”

“It’s our numbers in hockey, I know,” Jonny says, talking over Patrick. “But they’re going to be able to clean out our bank accounts and break into our home if you keeping using it for the ATM and the security code, dumbass,” Jonny says sternly, making Patrick giggle.

They lapse into silence, it’s not awkward, not exactly, but Patrick still feels like he wants to say something to fill it up, if only to keep Jonny on the phone for a little while longer. “How was your drive?” Patrick asks finally.

Jonny huffs.“What? Are you . . . Pat, you were there for practically all of it. We caravanned back. Hell, we made all the same rest stops. You called me when we got off the 110!”

“I know, but then you went straight on Catalina, and I turned onto Pasadena. Just humor me. Did you get home okay?”

“Yes, Patrick, the last four hundred yards of my trip were fine. Traffic in L.A. is always a hot mess, but I hardly need to tell you that. Since you were in the car behind me,” Jonny deadpans.

Patrick grins. “And to think I used to complain about gridlock in Chicago. What a sweet summer child I was.”

“Okay, Sansa, I thought you weren’t going to watch Game of Thrones alone anymore,” Jonny teases. “You know you get nightmares from the white walkers.”

“I do not. I just . . . don’t like them.”

“Yeah, that’s one way of putting it,” Jonny says dryly. “Terrified is another -”

Patrick interrupts him with a loud yawn.

“You sound exhausted,” Jonny scolds him. “Why aren’t you sleeping already?”

“I am. I mean, I will be soon.” Patrick yawns again, feeling sleep coming and making him stupid and too honest. “I just got used to having you sleeping next to me again, lulling me to sleep with your stupid loud breathing. Our - my bed feels too big now without you kicking me and stealing all the sheets.”

“Me?” Jonny says, and Patrick can hear the amusement in his voice. “I practically contacted hypothermia sleeping with you. Between your ice block feet and the fact that every blanket on the bed ended up on you in the middle of the night, it’s lucky I didn’t lose a toe to frostbite.”

“Would’ve explained your skiing,” Patrick teases, “and my feet aren’t cold, you just run abnormally hot.”

“And I don’t breathe that loud.”

“Yeah, keep telling yourself that,” Patrick says, yawning again.

“Go to bed, Pat.”

“Wish you were here,” Patrick blurts, and Jonny’s sighs.

“Pat . . .” he starts.

“I know, I know,” Patrick apologizes. “I just really got used to having you next to me again.”

Jonny’s voice is more serious when he replies. “You know I want to be there. Of course I’d rather be home -- with you -- than in this stupid bed in this shitty hotel. But until I’m home for good, you have to stop saying things like that - it’s too hard for me.”

“I know,” Patrick interrupts, “You’re right, I know you’re right. And God knows we’re both too tired to talk about it tonight. Just maybe, stay on the phone for a little bit until I fall asleep?”

“Okay,” Jonny agrees, and the last thing Patrick hears as he drifts off is a whispered, “bonne nuit, Patrick. Je t’aime.

***

“Where did we put that Santa frame?” Patrick’s been digging around in the bottom of the ornaments box but there’s nothing inside except replacement bulbs and a few strands of tinsel from that time Jonny had decided they needed to do things ‘the old fashioned way.’ “Jonny, it’s not in here anywhere.”

“I think you put it in the memory box, so the kids wouldn’t find it,” Jonny says. “Along with their letters to Santa.”

“Well now I can’t find it,” Patrick says, exasperated. “Where’s the box?”

“Last I saw it was in the back of our closet. Underneath my suits maybe? I don’t know, but it’s in there somewhere. I’ll go find it.”

“Grab that Santa letter, too, I want to re-read what they wrote last year.” They smile at each other dumbly for a second before Erica clears her throat, and Jonny startles, the tips of his ears turning red. “I’ll just, uh, I’ll go grab it.”

Patrick concentrates on packing up the ornament box again, tidying it unnecessarily before finally looking up at Erica and snapping, “What? Fucking what, Erica?” She’s grinning at him, all teeth, her eyes glittering. “Ugh, don’t look at me like that. It’s fucking terrifying.”

“You are just so fucking done, Pat,” she says, swinging the scissors she’s holding around by the thumbhole. “So fucking done.”

“What.” Patrick says flatly.

“You’ve forgiven that boy, I can tell.” She points the scissors at him and then sticks her tongue out when he snatches them away. “You can’t hide that shit from me.”

“No, I haven’t, but so what if I have? You got a problem with that?” He asks, narrowing his eyes.

“No, no, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad.” She smirks at him. “But you’re my brother, and I will give you shit about it. It’s in my job description.”

“Shut up,” he grumbles, but it’s half-hearted and she just raises her eyebrows at him. He grabs another ornament box and starts packing up more of the tree. It always takes a lot longer to take the tree down than it does to put it up, and he’s still exhausted from the trip back from Tahoe.

When Jonny isn’t back a few minutes later, Patrick heads upstairs, checking in the boys room, and then peeking in at Amelie, but there’s no sign of Jonny.

“Jonny?” he calls softly as he enters the master bedroom. There’s light spilling from the closet, but when he walks in he doesn’t see Jonny immediately. He’s about to leave when he spots Jonny on the floor in front of his suit rack, looking at something. The memory box is sitting forgotten at his side.

“Oh, good, you found it,” Patrick says, walking closer.

Jonny looks up, startled. “Sorry, didn’t hear you come in.” He’s got a photo in his hand, and Patrick moves closer to get a look at it, but Jonny stuffs it back in a shoe box and grabs the memory box next to him. “Told you it was in here,” he says, shaking the box at Patrick and standing up.

“What were you looking at?” When Jonny doesn’t respond, Patrick picks up the box and opens it. There are stacks of photos inside, neatly organized except for the few Jonny had thrown on top. He stills when he realizes what he’s looking at. “These are,” he swallows, his throat clicking. “These are from college.” He looks up at Jonny, hovering awkwardly at the door. “Where did you find the box?”

“I guess we left it up here when we moved in? I don’t know, but they were on top of the memory box.” He shuffles from foot to foot. “Anyway, I’m going to go downstairs, keep plugging away at the Christmas decorations.” He flees when Patrick nods absently, leafing through the photos.

There’s one of Jonny and him on Jonny’s front porch, their arms around each other. They can’t be more than fourteen, but already Jonny’s towering over Patrick, his long limbs tanned and muscular. Patrick’s hair is buzzed short and Jonny’s scrubbing his hand over it.

Patrick finds an old photo of their hockey team from high school, right after they won the State Championship. Patrick’s tucked in next Jonny, who’s wearing the C, and smiling down at Patrick instead of the camera.

There’s one of him and Jonny the day their parents dropped them off at college, smiling hugely in front of their dorm, both of them pointing at the crest on their Northwestern sweatshirts.

There’s a photo of them slow dancing at one of the dorm formals, Patrick’s head tucked against Jonny’s shoulder. They’d just gotten back together before that dance, Patrick thinks, and he’d been so glad to be back in Jonny’s arms.

He laughs when he sees the one of them from the Mumford and Sons concert junior year, Jonny with his arm wrapped around him, both of them wearing their baseball hats backwards. “Such douches,” he says fondly. He still had that horrible beard they’d grown every year for finals. Jonny’d shaved his into a ridiculous goatee that year, even though Patrick had tried to explain that a man who can’t grow a decent mustache technically can’t grow a goatee, so Patrick felt obligated to keep his unruly beard just to mock Jonny’s pitiful one.

There’s a photo of Jonny on their wedding day, dressed in black and looking happy. Patrick brushes a finger across Jonny’s face, beaming at the camera with joy and anticipation. He remembers how he’d felt, happy and excited and ready for the rest of their lives to begin.

There’s a photo of them with the twins right after they were born, Jonny holding Eric and Patrick holding Bryan. Patrick’s looking at the babies, but Jonny’s looking at him, his expression stupidly fond.

It’s their whole life, in photos.

Patrick slowly packs the photos back up and carries the box into their bedroom. Jonny hasn’t lived there for weeks, but his presence is everywhere still. His cologne is on the dresser. There are more wedding photos on their side tables, and ones of Amelie and the twins covering most of one wall. The sculpture they’d bought on their honeymoon is still sitting on a shelf in the bookcase. The bookcase has stacks of Architecture Digest magazines and urban planning books piled in one corner.

Patrick’s heart aches as he looks around the room. He tries to imagine this room barren of Jonny, and he can’t. Any more than he can imagine the rest of the house, the rest of his life, without him.

When he makes his way back downstairs, Erica’s putting on her coat. “I’ve got work tomorrow, I need to go,” she says. “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, looking at Jonny struggling with a string of Christmas lights. “I think I did.”

Erica screws her finger into his ribs. “I see how it is.”

“Ow, fuck, stop poking me,” he says, grabbing her wrists. When she stops fighting, he uses the his grip to pull her closer. “Thanks,” he says softly. She squeezes him tightly for a moment before stepping away.

“Go get him, tiger,” she says, growling. He just shakes his head and locks the door behind her.

Jonny’s ineffectually wrestling a strand of lights into submission when Patrick walks into the family room. “Gimme,” he says, and Jonny sighs, his shoulders slumping in defeat, making Patrick laugh. “It’s ridiculous how awful you are at this, man,” he says, untangling the string easily.

Jonny crosses his arms. “I’m an architect not a fucking - fucking - I don’t know, light engineer,” he huffs. Patrick laughs at him again and starts wrapping the strand around his arms.

“Light engineer,” he mocks. “I’m a social worker, and I can figure this shit out.” He deftly twists the end of the cord around the whole bundle and brandishes it at Jonny like he’s fencing. “En garde.” Jonny snatches it out of his grasp and dumps it into the bin with the rest of the lights.

“Now I know where our sons got their need to turn everything into a sword,” Jonny says mockingly, picking up another strand of lights. Patrick takes it from him and puts it down. “What? I’m not that bad,” Jonny says, frowning in confusion when Patrick takes another step closer. “Patrick?”

“Shh,” Patrick says, lifting a hand to Jonny’s cheek. “Just. Let me?” He rubs his thumb over Jonny’s lower lip and when his mouth opens, presses up into him, licking where his thumb had been before kissing him gently. Jonny huffs in surprise, lips slack for a moment before he pulls Patrick tight against him.

Patrick slides his tongue along the seam of Jonny’s lips, licking inside when they part on Jonny’s groan. Jonny pulls Patrick closer still, his hands moving down to his waist. His thumbs rub small circles under Patrick’s belt, against the skin beneath his waistband, and Patrick shivers.

For long minutes, the only sounds in the room are their mouths sliding wetly together and their harsh breathing, Jonny making ‘uhn, uhn’ sounds when Patrick’s hands drift lower and cup his ass. Jonny tightens his grip and presses forward, grinding his erection into Patrick’s, and Patrick has to turn his mouth away to catch his breath.

Jonny presses gentle kisses along his hairline as Patrick pants into his shoulder. Their breathing slows, and Patrick’s grip loosens. He rubs his hand slowly up and down between Jonny’s shoulder blades, and Jonny shudders. When Patrick looks up, Jonny’s face is serious. “Is this - what is this, Pat?”

Patrick sighs and puts his head back on Jonny’s shoulder. “I don’t know,” he admits. “Just felt right.” Jonny’s arms tighten again, and he sets Patrick apart from him. He takes Patrick’s face in his hands and looks in his eyes, not speaking. He presses a long kiss to his forehead and steps away.

“That’s - I can’t take much more of this uncertainty, Pat,” he says shakily. “It’s killing me.”

Patrick chews on the inside of his cheek. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t mean for it to hurt you.” He shrugs. “I’m winging it here, man.”

Jonny nods, but he doesn’t look any happier than he had before. “I know, but I can’t - you can’t keep pulling me close and pushing me away. It’s not fair. You know how I feel. You know what I want.” He looks at Patrick evenly for a moment. “Until you figure out what you’re going to do, what you want, I can’t keep doing this.” He gestures between them.

Patrick nods, taking a shaky breath. “I know. I’m - I wish I could tell you what you want to hear.” When Jonny scoffs, he shakes his head. “I don’t mean it like that. What I want isn’t much different than what you want, not really. But,” he shakes his head again, “I’m just not ready yet. I need to figure out whether I can forget all of this. I don’t know if I can go back to the way things were before.”

Jonny’s jaw tightens. “If you don’t want to go back to the way things were before, I’m not sure where we go from here.”

“We go forward, Jon,” Patrick says. “How we get there or what that looks like, I have no idea. But no matter what, we can’t go back.” Jonny’s face is pinched and drawn, and Patrick takes his hand, bringing it to his cheek. “Back is how we got to the point that Jeff fucking Carter even entered the equation. Back is where things went wrong. I don’t want to go back. We can’t go back.”

Jonny sighs. “But you’re willing to try to fix some of what got us here? To let me try to make up for it?”

“I think I might be,” Patrick admits. “But we have a lot of work to do. I can’t just snap my fingers and make it so.”

“Just don’t lead me on,” Jonny warns. “I couldn’t take that. All of this kissing, when we fucked in Tahoe, then you pushing me away; it all has my head spinning as it is.”

“I’m not leading you on,” Patrick says helplessly. “I just honestly don’t know how to do this.”

Jonny stares into his eyes for a long moment, then relaxes minutely. “Okay,” he says, squeezing Patrick’s hand. “Okay. But no more mixed messages.”

“I promise,” Patrick says. “How about we go out sometime? Get coffee or go to a movie -- one that’s not animated -- or get dinner, just us?”

“You mean go on dates?” Jonny asks, his mouth twisting into a small smile. “I was going to ask you out, but you got there first.” Jonny shakes his head. “Always have to be the one to do the asking, huh?”

“Well, if I waited for you we’d both still be virgins pining away for each other,” Patrick says, poking Jonny in the side and drawing a protest from Jonny.

“Yeah, probably,” Jonny says, grinning like an idiot.

They stand there for another moment just smiling at each other. “So, do you want to stay over?” Patrick asks, without thinking. When Jonny’s eyes widen, Patrick shakes his head. “Sorry, sorry, no, I meant do you want to sleep in the guest room, be here in the morning to help get the kids to school?”

Jonny shakes his head at him ruefully. “Yes, you dick, I’ll spend the night in the guest room. Again.” He steps back scrubs a hand through his hair. “Good thing I left so much of my shit here.” He raises an eyebrow at Patrick. “And don’t front, I know you just want me here to make lunches.”

Patrick grins. “It might have crossed my mind.” Jonny makes a face at him and he laughs. “Come on, let’s get the rest of this shit put away so we can get some sleep. First day back at school in the morning, and we’re going to be up way too early as it is.”

The rest of the evening passes quickly and when they head upstairs an hour later, Patrick lingers in the hall while Jonny checks on the boys. “All good?” he asks, and Jonny nods, shutting the door silently. They stand there for a long moment before Patrick steps up to Jonny and presses a soft kiss to his lips. He steps back before Jonny can react and backs away towards his room. “Goodnight, Jon,” Patrick says quietly.

Jonny still has a hand outstretched, and he huffs, shaking his head a little. “Goodnight, Patrick,” he echoes, walking backwards toward his door and slipping inside. Patrick closes the door to their bedroom and leans back, knocking his head once or twice against the door. “What am I going to do?” he asks his reflection in the mirror over their dresser, but he’s pretty sure he knows. They still have a lot to work on, and it’s not going to be easy. But Jonny -- and their family -- is worth it.

***

Between school starting, hockey, and soccer, the week passes quickly. Jonny goes out of town for business, so it’s Friday before they go on their first date. When Jonny gets to the house, they get the boys fed and Jonny takes the kids to the park so Patrick can shower and change. When he comes downstairs, the boys are outside showing off some of the skateboard moves they’ve spent the last few days perfecting. Amelie and Jonny are idly tossing a ball back and forth while they watch Eric tumble off the ramp and collapse in giggles. Patrick scoops him up and presses quick kisses all over his face until Eric squirms away, laughing.

Patrick walks over to where Jonny’s sitting with Amelie. “They’re really getting good at that,” he says, watching as Bryan glides up the ramp and jumps off his skateboard onto the top. “I can’t believe they’ve only had those for a few weeks.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, distracted. “That’d be great.”

“Are you even listening to me?” Patrick laughs. Before Jonny can reply, the doorbell rings.

“That must be Claire,” Patrick says. “I’ll go get her set up so we can leave.”

It takes a few minutes to get out of the house once they finally make their escape, Patrick can feel the anticipation that he’s been trying to hold at bay all day grow as he drives them to dinner. They’re seated quickly, and they peruse the menu while Jonny tells Patrick about work.

“Anyway, Bollig was really busy getting ready for the presentation, so he gave the final rendering to Shawsy to proof and never checked it himself. So they’re handing them out to the client when he notices that on the rendering, the huge letters on the side of the building say ‘UCLA School of Pubic Health.”

“Oh my God,” Patrick says, “What did they think?”

“Bollig notices as soon as he sees it up on the screen and he turns bright red - you should see that guy blush, it’s hysterical, he’s like a twelve-year-old boy, only 6’2” and with a full beard - and jumps in, directing everyone’s attention to one of the other pages, and just completely ignores it, and no one ever says anything. Somehow Saader was able to pull back every copy of the prospectus. Thank God. Sid would not have been pleased if we’d pissed off UCLA administration when they’re building this whole new health campus.”

“Pubic health, huh?” Patrick says, sipping his wine, leering. “Now that’s something I could really get behind. Any idea when they’re going to erect the building?”

Jonny groans. “Please, no puns tonight!”

“Fine,” Patrick pouts. “It sounds like you had a good day.”

“Easy to laugh when it’s not my project. But the best part is right now,” Jonny says, his eyes dark and intent. “Being with you is always the best part of my day, Pat.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says, his face heating. “Stop.”

“Hmmm,” Jonny says, smiling wickedly. “Speaking of cute blushes . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, stupid Irish complexion.”

“Hey, none of that. I’m kind of partial to blonde boys with pale skin.” As soon as he says it, Jonny blanches. “I didn’t mean - “

“I know,” Patrick sighs. “But. Are we going to talk about it?”

Jonny bites his lip. “Do we have to?”

“Hey, you were the one who wanted to finish the conversation in Tahoe,” Patrick reminds him, pointing with his fork. “So, yeah, I think we should. It’ll clear the air, and you can stop feeling bad when you say something like how much you like blond haired boys.” He makes a face. “And I can stop getting mad when you say something like how much you like blond haired boys.”

“Okay, so. Jeff Carter,” Jonny says, shifting in his chair.

“Jeff fucking Carter,” Patrick says, finishing his wine and pouring another glass. “Why him?”

Jonny makes a face. “I think he was just an easy escape from everything that’s been hard lately? It wasn’t even him, not really. I don’t know.”

“Okay.” Patrick takes a deep breath. “I’m not happy in Los Angeles, Jonny.”

“I know, Patrick. Neither am I. But I don’t know what we can do about it. Our savings is only just now recovering from paying off the bills from when you were pregnant with Amelie. Without the kind of salary I’m making, we can’t afford for you to stay home with the kids - “

“And I still want to stay home with the kids,” Patrick interjects.

“I know, I want that, too. So I can’t go back to Seabs’ firm. There’s just no way for him to pay me what I’d need to make for you not to have to work.”

“I know, but,” Patrick swirls the wine in his glass. “I’m afraid that if something doesn’t change, we’re going to fall back into the same habits that got us into this whole situation And I can’t do that again.”

The waiter interrupts them to serve their entrees, and it’s a few minutes before they pick the conversation up.

“I know we can’t move now,” Patrick says. “But - can we at least plan to find something that lets us go back to Chicago? I hate being so far from our families. I hate how much you have to work. I hate that I got sick, and it cost so much money. I hate that we had to bottom out our savings to pay it off.”

“I hate that you were sick when you were pregnant with Amelie, too, because it scared the fucking shit out of me. And I hate that my insurance was crap, and we owed a fuckton of money because of it.” Jonny says. “I hate that you have to do so much of everything by yourself because I’m not around enough and you don’t have your mom -- or my mom -- to help you. I hate that I’m putting in seventy hours a week. And I hate that all of this has driven us apart.”

They’re silent after that, until Patrick throws his fork down. “Okay, this was a bad idea.”

Jonny sits back, color draining from his face, and Patrick reaches across the table to grab his hand. “I mean rehashing all of this again, tonight. It’s depressing as fuck, and I just want to enjoy our first date.” He squeezes Jonny’s hand. “So tell me more about Bollig’s pink cheeks.”

The rest of the evening is more relaxed, and when they’re back at the house and Claire’s gone home, Jonny pulls Patrick into his arms. “I love you,” he says, kissing him slowly. Patrick’s arms slip up around Jonny’s neck, his fingers sliding into his hair. Jonny deepens the kiss, and Patrick moans into his mouth, their tongues tangled. Patrick pulls back, biting at Jonny’s bottom lip.

“God, I love your mouth. The little scar from hockey,” he says, kissing it, “and how your bottom lip gets fuller and pinker after you kiss me.” Jonny tightens his grip and kisses him deeply until Patrick breaks the kiss again. Patrick kisses Jonny’s cheeks, one and then the other. “And I love how flushed you get, how you wear exactly how much you want me right there on your face for everyone to see.”

“And I love how full your lips get,” Jonny says. “Pink and so damn kissable.” He kisses Patrick deeply again. “I love how your lashes rest on your cheeks and how you peek up at me through them.” He kisses Patrick’s eyes softly. “And I love your hair,” he pulls on it lightly, tangling his fingers in the curls. “How it changes colors with the seasons, how your curls bounce when you’re moving around, how it peeks out of your toques and baseball caps.”

Patrick has to kiss Jonny again then, and lick into his mouth, and press against him. Jonny kisses back just as fiercely and pulls Patrick tight so that they’re pressed together from shoulders to knees. He lets Patrick rut against him before setting him back a little. “Pat,” he says, stroking Patrick’s back, gentling him. “I’ve got to go.” Patrick makes a protesting noise, but Jonny shakes his head. “Can you tell me you’re ready to have me home again? For good?” Patrick shrugs because as much as he wishes he could put the whole thing behind them, he’s not there yet. “That’s fine, baby, but then I need to go.”

“But Jonny,” he whines.

“No, Pat,” Jonny says. “I can’t.”

“Fine,” Patrick pouts. “But just know that when you leave I’m going upstairs to jerk off, and I’m going to think about you.”

“You suck,” Jonny groans. “Why would you say that? Now, I have to drive back to the hotel with an erection.”

“And while you’re doing that, I’ll be jerking off and thinking about you watching me, About you sucking me off. About you fucking me.”

“Stop,” Jonny says, stepping back and running his hand through his hair. “I’m going.”

Patrick walks Jonny to the door and Jonny leans in and kisses him again, quick.

“I had a great time tonight,” Jonny says, his voice deep and quiet. “Thanks for going out with me.”

“I had a great time, too, And even though it wasn’t the most fun conversation, I’m glad we got a chance to talk about some things,” Patrick responds. “I think we’re getting there, Jon.”

Jonny smiles and ducks out the front door. Patrick watches as his car pulls out of the driveway before he shuts the door and leans against it with a contented sigh. It was a nice evening and even if they don’t have a solution to the problem of living in L.A., he feels optimistic that they’ll get there eventually.

***

The next day Jonny’s over at the house when Bryan falls off his skateboard and cuts open his knee.

“Oh God,” Jonny says, swaying a little at the sight of blood pouring down Bryan’s leg.

“Jonny,” Patrick says, grabbing a towel out of the basket he’d been folding. “Jonathan!”

Jonny jerks his gaze over to Patrick and shakes his head dazedly, his eyes coming back into focus. “The blood . . .”

“I know, Jon, but I need you to suck it up. You cannot fucking faint on me.” He picks Bryan up, keeping the towel wrapped around his leg. “Get Eric and Amelie inside. I’m going to get my little soldier all bandaged up, and then we’ll see about a popsicle if he’s an extra-brave boy.”

Bryan’s crying shuts off abruptly at that. “Popsicle? I get a popsicle? Eric, too?”

“Sure,” Patrick says easily. “Eric and Amelie and Daddy and Papa can all have popsicles. But only if you stop crying and let Daddy fix up that knee. Deal?”

“O - Okay, Daddy,” Bryan hiccups. “I’m going to be extra brave so everyone gets popsicles.”

“That’s my boy,” Patrick says, putting him down on the island in the kitchen. He removes the towel and peers at the cut, which goes the length of Bryan’s knee and is slowing oozing blood. There’s almost no way he doesn’t need stitches. “Well, that doesn’t look so bad, huh?”

Bryan looks at him skeptically, and Patrick’s shoulders slump. “Yeah, buddy, I think you’re going to need stitches.” He’s trying to remember if the pediatrician’s office is open this late or if they’re going to have to go to the ER when Jonny walks in with Amelie in his arms and Eric hiding behind his leg, resolutely not looking at the blood.

“Stitches?” Jonny says, glancing at Bryan and then swallowing. “Is it that bad?”

“No, Papa, it’s not bad,” Patrick says, smiling through gritted teeth. “Just a little cut and sometimes even little tiny cuts that don’t hurt that much and aren’t that bad need stitches, right?”

“Oh, right,” Jonny says. “I’m sure it’s nothing. And stitches are the coolest, right, Daddy?” Jonny says, his color returning now that Patrick’s folded the towel up so the blood isn’t showing.

“Did you ever get stitches, Papa?” Bryan asks, and while Jonny tells him about the time he got high sticked, Patrick ducks into the foyer to call the pediatrician.

Three hours later, he’s back home with Bryan, proud owner of eleven stitches and under strict instructions not to ride on his skateboard without his knee pads ever again. Amelie’s already in bed, but Eric and Jonny are reading in the living room when Patrick walks in, Bryan sleeping over his shoulder.

“But Bryan gets a popsicle,” Eric says, eyes welling up, and Jonny picks him up quickly, murmuring about extra popsicles tomorrow and needing to be super quiet so Bryan doesn’t wake up.

Patrick lays Bryan down and goes to shower and change his clothes. By the time he gets back to the twins’ room, Eric’s mostly asleep, but he stirs when Patrick bends over to kiss him goodnight.

“Did Bryan have to get a shot?” Eric asks, his bottom lip trembling.

“Shh, baby, Bryan’s fine, and he’s going to tell you the whole story in the morning, okay? You get some sleep now.”

“M’kay, Daddy,” Eric says, his eyes drifting shut. He whimpers when Patrick tries to stand up, and grabs his hand. “No, Daddy, don’t go, please?” Patrick’s torn; he’s so hungry that he’s been feeling nauseous for the past hour, but he doesn’t want to leave Eric alone. Jonny rubs his arm and sits down on Eric’s bed.

“Papa’s here, Eric,” Jonny says, sitting down on the bed. “Daddy needs to eat and rest a little, but I’ll stay with you. How about that?”

Eric’s eyes are already drifting closed again. “Don’t leave, Papa?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jonny promises, looking Patrick in the eye. Patrick bends down to brush a kiss on Eric’s forehead, and then presses a brief one to Jonny’s lips.

“I left a plate for you in the microwave, and there’s a beer in the fridge, if you want it,” Jonny says.

“Thanks,” Patrick says, exhausted suddenly. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here.”

“Even though I almost fainted?”

“Even though you almost fainted.”

“Well, I’m glad I was here, too. We make a pretty good team,” Jonny says, bumping his shoulder against Patrick’s hip. “Now go. Sit down and eat before you collapse.”

“Thanks, Jonny,” Patrick says again.

“You’re welcome,” Jonny says with a soft smile that makes Patrick duck his head. He smiles all the way downstairs and then beams when he sees the kitchen cleaned up and a place set for him at the island, next to a drawing by Eric showing Bryan falling off the skateboard. He’s written ‘Bryan the Brave’ at the top in blocky letters, and Patrick smiles, tracing the tall figure with dark hair lying on the ground next to a small figure with bright yellow hair.

“That’s me,” Jonny says, startling Patrick. “We talked about how I hate the sight of blood, so he drew me fainting. Then he decided he didn’t want me to be lonely, so he put himself next to me.”

“Ah,” Patrick says, yawning through a smile. “He’s such a sweet boy.”

“They both are,” Jonny says. “Bed for you, Pat.”

“But it’s only -” he looks at the clock, shocked. “Ten thirty? Jesus, how is it already ten thirty?”

“Time flies when your first born’s getting stitches,” Jonny says, and Patrick snorts. “You’re dead on your feet. Go up to bed. I’ll lock up and let myself out.”

“M’kay,” Patrick says, and Jonny smiles at him fondly.

“You were great tonight, Pat. Really. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been alone.”

“It’s nothing,” Patrick says.

“No, it’s not.”

“Well, I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been here to take care of Ammy and Eric,” Patrick says, yawning again. “Like you said, we make a good team.” He steps up onto the first stair, turning back to Jonny, who puts his hands on Patrick’s hips and pulls him close. Patrick’s a little taller than Jonny like this, and he smiles and leans down to kiss him briefly.

“Come over in the morning? Your presence has been requested to hear the terrible tale of ‘Bryan the Brave,’” Patrick says, smiling. “And no fainting when he tells us all about the nurse and the shot and the needle.” He laughs when Jonny makes a face.

“Okay, I’ll be here, but no promises about not fainting,” Jonny says, and pushes him back a little. “Night, Pat.”

“Night, Jon.”

***

“I’m not up to cooking,” Patrick warns Jonny when he arrives for their family dinner date almost a week later, the trauma of bloody knees and eleven stitches mostly forgotten. They’ve been getting along so well -- almost too well -- and Patrick’s been stewing on why Jonny’s been so agreeable for the past couple of days. But he puts Jonny’s constant complicity out of his mind when Jonny’s pressing him against the front door and kissing the breath out of him.

“What did you say?” Jonny pants when he pulls back.

“Uh,” Patrick says untangling himself and brushing his hair back off his suddenly overhot face. “Oh! I’m not up to cooking tonight.”

“So don’t,” Jonny shrugs. “We can just order in.”

“Good idea, genius,” Patrick teases as they walk into the kitchen. “Why didn’t I think of that?” He looks pointedly at the island and the menus spread out over it.

“Great minds,” Jonny smirks and pulls open the fridge door, grabbing a water bottle and taking a long pull. Patrick takes a moment to admire the way his shirt stretches across the planes of his back, his muscles shifting under the tight white henley.

When Jonny turns and catches him, Patrick’s cheeks heat, and he turns back to the sink. “Pick something while I check on the the boys.”

“What are you in the mood for?” Jonny asks, shuffling the menus around on the island. “I’m not fussy.”

“I feel like Indian, but we both know you can’t eat Indian food, so,” Patrick says, deliberately casual. “Just pick something you like. I’ll be right back.”

When he walks back into the kitchen, the menus have been put away and Jonny’s on the phone. “Also, one order of rogan josh. And can you make sure there’s extra naan? Great.”

“What are you doing?” Patrick asks after Jonny hangs up, eyes narrowed. “Did you just order Indian food?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, shrugging. “You said you were in the mood for-”

“What the actual fuck, Jonny? You can’t eat Indian food! It always makes you sick. And gassy.” He pulls a face.

“I don’t know,” Jonny says, shrugging and looking down at his fingers tracing patterns on the countertop. “You sounded like you really wanted it, and I’ll just have some naan. It’s not a big deal. I didn’t want you not to get it just because I’m here,” Jonny says sheepishly.

“You’re going to eat naan. For dinner. After going for a six mile run this afternoon.” Patrick folds his arms across his chest.

“Well,” Jonny says, clearing his throat. “I have my green drink, and I’ll just make a sandwich. It’s fine, Pat, really.”

“God damnit,” Patrick says, yanking the drawer with the menus open. It rattles alarmingly but doesn’t fall, and Patrick digs through it to find the menu for the Italian place that Jonny loves. He throws the menu at Jonny, and it flutters to the floor. “I don’t fucking get you. Do you want to be sick for the next three days? Or faint because you didn’t eat enough? Jesus.”

“Okay, fine, fine,” Jonny says placantly, picking up the menu. He calls the restaurant and places the order while Patrick glares at him. “Better?”

Patrick scoffs. “No.” He snatches at the menu, but Jonny holds it out of his reach.

“Patrick,” Jonny gestures at the menu. “I ordered something else, just like you told me to. What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Patrick makes an inarticulate sound of rage. “What the fuck, Jon! Are you actually this stupid?”

“It’s stupid to order from the restaurant you just told me to order from?” Jonny asks. “Patrick, you’re not making any sense.”

“No, you’re not making any sense,” Patrick says, and Jonny’s frown deepens. “What’s with this bullshit meek act you’ve been pulling lately. ‘Yes, Patrick; okay, Patrick; whatever you want, Patrick.’ What the fuck, Jon.” He bangs his hand on the countertop. “You’re being so patronizing, and you never argue with me anymore, and it’s driving me crazy! Why are you acting like a fucking Stepford husband?”

“I’m just being nice, Pat, I don’t get what’s so awful about that,” Jonny huffs.

“Last week, when Bryan threw that temper tantrum because you said he couldn’t have ice cream, and I wanted to let him have it? And you were all ‘okay, Pat, whatever you think.”

“You were right, I was being too hard on him - “

“No, you weren’t, and you’ve never backed down on something like that so easily before.” Patrick points at him. “And then the other day, when we were talking about the Sabres? When I said they’ve got a better chance than the Hawks to win the Cup this year, you agreed with me!”

“Well, they do have Eichel, now-”

“And when I said I wanted to go shopping for appliances, you offered to come with me.”

“I just thought you could use some help,” Jonny says, eyes shifting guiltily to the right.

“You hate shopping, and you especially despise shopping for appliances, Jon. What’s going on with you lately?”

“I don’t understand why you’re upset that I’m agreeing with you-”

“For fuck’s sake!” Patrick explodes. “It’s like you think I’m so fragile and so weak that you can’t argue with me!”

“Maybe I’m just afraid you’ll never forgive me if I piss you off!” Jonny explodes, running a hand through his hair, pulling on it a little.

“Well, great plan, because now I’m furious!” Patrick snarls, and then stops. “Wait. What? You . . . what?”

“Yeah, asshole, maybe it escaped your notice, but we’ve been doing really good, and I don’t want to fuck that up!” Jonny snarls. “Also, when we fight, one or both of our sons burst into tears. So excuse me for trying to be fucking nice to you!”

“Jon,” Patrick says, his anger receding almost as quickly as it came on. “You can’t . . . I don’t want you to defer to me on everything. That’s not us - it’s never been who we are. One of the things I’ve always loved about you is how you much you challenge me. And this whole not-fighting-with-me-to-keep-me-happy thing? It’s just pissing me off. So, maybe rethink that whole strategy.”

“Fine,” Jonny says, his jaw set. “Stop agreeing with you, be nasty to you, piss you off. Got it.”

“Ugh, you are so not getting the point,” Patrick says, beyond frustrated. “I know things have been weird, and we’re both feeling this whole thing out, but you deferring to me on everything isn’t the solution.” He snorts. “We fight. We bicker. We piss each other off. That’s not going to change just because of everything that happened.”

“I know but-”

“Listen, we both know that one of the reasons we’re . . . that I . . . that you had to move out was because we let ourselves lose sight of each other. We forgot how to be Patrick-and-Jonny. I want to get back to that, and you just rolling over and doing whatever I want isn’t helping. So stop.” He kicks out at Jonny’s foot. “Just be yourself. Agree, disagree, I don’t care as long as you’re being real with me, okay?”

“Really?” Jonny says, shoulders relaxing.

“Really,” Patrick says,

Jonny smiles a little. “Okay.”

“Now come over here and kiss me,” Patrick demands, licking his lips just to watch Jonny’s focus narrow in that way that always sends a shiver up his spine.

Jonny stalks around the island and presses Patrick back against the counter. He leans in, and Patrick closes his eyes, his breath coming quicker. Jonny puts his hands on Patrick’s hips and Patrick arches into it, tilting his face up. Jonny’s breathes across Patrick’s lips, and he licks out to catch Jonny’s mouth, but Jonny pulls back. “Jonny,” he whines, “come on.”

“Kiss you, huh?” Jonny says, leaning in to press a soft kiss against his jaw. “Like that?” When Patrick shakes his head, he brushes another kiss on his cheek. “Maybe here?” Patrick shifts but Jonny’s hands on his hips won’t let him get any closer. “No? How about here,” he says and licks the hollow of Patrick’s throat and Patrick moans. “Oh, you like that, don’t you?” Patrick tilts his head back and Jonny sucks at the same spot. “Mmm, you taste good, baby,” he says, voice vibrating against the sensitive skin over the vein in his neck. “I can feel your heart beating.”

“Jesus, when did you-” Patrick gasps. “When did you turn into a vampire?” Jonny bites down on the spot he’s been licking and Patrick keens softly, dropping his head back. “Fuuuuck. More, I need more . . . you’ve got to . . . come on . . .”

“Shh,” Jonny says after letting Patrick babble incoherently while he sucks what is sure to be a hickey into the skin of his neck. “I’ve got you.” Jonny finally, finally kisses Patrick, his lips soft and warm. Patrick loses himself for long minutes in the dark, wet heat of Jonny’s mouth, his cock hard and leaking in his boxer briefs.

When he finally pulls back and opens his eyes, Jonny’s watching him, his pupils blown and eyes narrowed on Patrick’s lips. He licks them in response, and when that makes Jonny growl, he smirks at him a little. “Yeah?” he asks, and Jonny growls again and kisses him, harder than before, urgent, and Patrick ruts into Jonny’s thigh, his cock aching from the pressure. Jonny reaches between them and slips his hand into his pants, gripping his length the best he can at the awkward angle, finally settling for rubbing his thumb over the slit and spreading the moisture there over the entire head of his cock. Patrick moans into Jonny’s mouth, hips jerking.

Jonny pulls back then and pants softly against Patrick’s cheek. “Jesus, Pat, you feel so good. I love you like this. It’s like you come alive in my arms.” He kisses Patrick again, but more chastely, and drags his hand slowly out of Patrick’s pants. “But the boys are in the next room. We’ve got to stop.” He pulls back further, setting Patrick at arms’ length.

“Jonny, stay,” Patrick says breathlessly, meaning now, and also tonight, and maybe forever. Jonny shakes his head. “Why?” he whines, even though he knows why.

“Because I can’t,” Jonny says firmly, but his voice is wrecked. “Because you’re not ready to forgive me. And I get that, I do, but it’s too hard on me, having you like this and knowing it’s temporary. Unless . . .” He trails off, looking hopeful and defiant, and fuck, Patrick loves him, and he wishes it were enough.

“Jonny,” Patrick says, taking his face in his hands and pressing a small kiss to his mouth. “I’m sorry, it’s - you’re right, it’s too soon.” He pulls back against Jonny’s hold. “Maybe we shouldn’t even do this? If it’s too hard on you?”

“No,” Jonny says, kissing him briefly, before setting him back firmly. “It’s not too much. So long as you’re okay that it can’t go any farther?”

“I’m okay,” Patrick says, pulling a face. “Figures that this is the thing you finally grow a pair and say no to me on.”

“Yeah, well, that pair is currently blue, if it makes you feel any better,” Jonny says, quirking a smile.

“A little,” Patrick smirks. The doorbell rings just as Jonny’s leaning forward again, his gaze intent on Patrick’s mouth. “Saved by the bell,” Patrick says, and Jonny groans. “What? Did you think you’re the only one in this family who gets to make terrible puns?” He dances out of arm’s reach, but not before Jonny smacks him on the ass.

“Just for that, you’re buying,” Jonny says.

“Seems fair,” Patrick says, grabbing his wallet. “Even though I was willing to put out.” He waggles his eyebrows, and Jonny laughs.

“I’ll take a raincheck on that.”

“You’d better,” Patrick says, and jumps when the doorbell rings again. “Have the boys wash their hands?”

“On it,” Jonny says, but he strides up to Patrick and grabs his face in his hands, kissing him fiercely. “I love you.”

“I know,” Patrick says, smiling. “I know.”

“That’s enough for me,” Jonny says. “For now.”

The delivery man looks at Patrick strangely, and he glances down quickly, but there’s no obvious evidence of what was interrupted. He pays him, and it’s only as he’s turning back to the kitchen that Patrick realizes what the delivery guy had been looking at when he catches his reflection in the mirror in the foyer. He’s flushed and his lips are red and puffy. The skin on his neck is red, and there’s a dark spot directly over his jugular. His hair is mussed, and he generally looks like he just got laid. But mostly he notices the stupid grin on his face, one he can’t wipe off even now, so he just shrugs at himself and goes into the kitchen where the boys are good-naturedly arguing with Jonny about whether they’ve washed their hands long enough. When Jonny looks up, he grins at Patrick, and Patrick’s grin gets even wider, and he can feel his cheeks heat up. Again.

“So, who’s ready for dinner?”

“Me, me!” Bryan says. “Oh, did you get tandoori chicken, Papa?”

“Sure did,” Jonny says. “And lots of naan for Eric.” The doorbell rings again. “And that one’s for me.”

Dinner is the usual raucous affair, Eric telling them all about the story his teacher read in school that day, Bryan explaining how he won at dodgeball. Jonny smiles at Patrick from across the table, and Patrick grins back. It’s nice - it feels right, and Patrick can feel a little more of the hurt and anger that’s been his constant companion for the past few weeks ease.

***

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Have I mentioned that you’re my favorite sister?” Pat asks, moving papers around the kitchen table in an attempt to locate his keys. He finally finds them under permission slips for the boys upcoming field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits.

“Not since last week,” Erica says bouncing Amelie on her hip a little to make her giggle.

“Got ‘em!” Pat says. “Wait. Last week what?”

“Nevermind, Patty,” Erica laughs, “Get out of here, your boy awaits.”

“Right. Well. Won’t be too long, nap in an hour, and - “

“I know! Ammy and I have this down, don’t we, dollface? So scoot!”

He takes out of the kitchen at a dead run, and narrowly avoids tripping over the basket of blocks Amelie had dragged out earlier. He checks the time as he pulls onto Catalina - he promised Jonny he’d meet him at Coffee Bean in five minutes. Never gonna happen.

***

Pat’s hauling ass, and even though the traffic is actually lighter than normal, he’s ten minutes late when he finally arrives. But Jonny’s still there, sitting at a table for two and glaring at anyone who ventures too close to the vacant chair. He doesn’t even look pissed when Patrick arrives with a smile and approximately fifteen apologies.

“Don’t worry about it.” Jonny pushes a drink over towards Patrick, “Really, not a big deal. They’re kinda slow here. So stop apologizing and enjoy your girly drink.”

“Oh, come on, Jonny, you have no room to talk. We both know how much you love to eat creamy things.” Patrick pokes his tongue into his cheek and raises his eyebrows. He manages to hold a straight face for the three seconds it takes for Jonny to start cracking up.

“You are a ridiculous human being,” Jonny laments, taking a sip of his own drink. “And we are in public.”

“Ridiculously awesome,” Patrick agrees, taking another big gulp of his drink and purposefully getting whipped cream on his nose just to make Jonny laugh.

Jonny’s not laughing when Patrick wipes it off and licks his finger, his eyes tracking the sweep of Patrick’s tongue with rapt attention. Patrick swallows as Jonny’s eyes darken, and he leans forward to rub his thumb along Patrick’s bottom lip. “Missed some,” he says, and Patrick is opening his mouth to suck on Jonny’s thumb when a lady carrying a tantruming toddler accidentally knocks into their table while trying to haul her kid out of the cafe.

She apologizes over the kid’s screams and rushes out. Pat shakes his head in sympathy as they mop up the coffee that spilled. “That’s the fucking worst. When we were here on MLK Day last week, Ammy had a total meltdown because I wouldn’t let her ask a table of moms for parts of their scones.”

Jonny snorts. “That I would have liked to see.”

“You really wouldn’t have,” Patrick says dryly, and nods his head at the mom in the parking lot, now trying to strap the thrashing little boy into his car seat. “It was a lot like that,” Pat says, “Only the boys were here too, so Bryan was giving me helpful directions like ‘Make her stop crying, Daddy!’ and Eric just kept asking me, “Why did Martin Luther King fall asleep so much? I never have that many dreams!’”

“Martin Luther King?”

“They were talking about his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at school, and Eric thought that he must have slept a lot to have so many dreams.”

“That’s awesome,” Jonny says, wiping his eyes.

“I know, but enough about the kids. What we need to discuss is your lame-ass excuse for missing last night’s hockey game. A meeting, Jon, really? At ten o’clock on a Tuesday night?”

“It was an architectural emergency,” Jonny deadpans.

Pat just narrows his eyes.

“Fine, fine. There wasn’t a meeting,” Jonny says, “but I really was working late, couple of weird projects going on right now. And - and I wasn’t sure if you really meant it when you said I should come back.”

“I did. You should. We really could have used your big ass at the face-off dot,” Patrick says mildly, kicking his shin gently.

“I see how it is, you just don’t want to have to play center.”

“I really don’t,” Pat agrees, shooting him a cheeky grin. “But you can make it up to me, the next game is on Friday, and we’re all going out for drinks after. You can buy me a beer and get the team off of my back.”

“I suppose I could do that,” Jonny teases, hooking his ankle over Pat’s underneath the table.

“Oh, I’m not done yet.” Pat says. “And then you can buy me another beer, and probably a few more after that. And then you can pour us into a cab, and take me home, and send me to bed with water and Advil. And then you can deal with our monsters on Saturday morning when they wake up with their usual unreasonable demands for food and entertainment.”

“You’re lucky you’re so cute.” Jonny complains.

“I’m taking that as a yes.”

They leave the coffee shop an hour later, coffee long since finished, and Jonny escorts him to his car with a smirk and a chaste kiss on the cheek. Patrick doesn’t stop smiling the entire way home.

Doesn’t stop smiling even when Erica pokes his dimple. “Jesus, you’re so done, Pat.” He just sticks out his tongue and keeps grinning.

***

Jonny’s around more and more, stopping by after work more often than not to join them for dinner, taking the boys to their practices, grocery shopping, and Patrick feels more and more like their lives are slotting back into place. The only problem is that Patrick’s horny, and Jonny’s not giving in at all on his ‘no sex’ rule.

Jonny’s also been out of town a lot more than usual; he hasn’t said what he’s working on, and Patrick hasn’t asked. They’ve spoken by phone most nights, whether Jonny’s in town or not, and tonight is no different.

“Can you believe it’s been more than a month since we got back from Tahoe?” Patrick asks, checking the lock on the front door and setting the alarm before heading upstairs. “Time has just flown.” He listens carefully at the top of his stairs, but the kids are still quiet, so he creeps quietly down the hall to his room.

“Mmm hmm,” Jonny hums, his voice tinny and far away. “It’s been a great month, though.”

“Yeah, it really has,” Patrick says, biting his lip. “I appreciate how slow you’re letting me take all of this, but this no sex rule is killing me, Jonny.” He sighs. “I’m so fucking horny.” Jonny chuckles deeply, the sound tickling up Patrick’s spine. “Don’t do that, you fuck, you know how that turns me on!”

“I do,” Jonny says smugly.

“Remember when you were in Rome for your internship and we’d have Skype sex?” Patrick says, closing their bedroom door and locking it. He pulls off his shirt and his sweatpants before climbing into bed. His earbuds are waiting on the bedside table and he slots them into place, sighing when Jonny’s breathing in his ears again. “Your fucking voice, Jon, I swear to God, I was popping boners whenever you’d leave me voicemails for the next year.”

“You were, huh?” Jonny says, his voice dropping an octave. “You never told me that. Do you still get hard listening to my voice?”

“Maybe,” Patrick says, teasing out the last syllable. “Whatcha gonna do about it, big boy?”

“Pat . . .” Jonny says.

“Jonny . . .” Patrick echoes. “Want to have phone sex?” When Jonny doesn’t say anything, Patrick blows out a breath. “Come on, it’s been years since we had phone sex. Let’s at least get something fun out of all of this stupid travelling you’ve been doing.”

“We shouldn’t.”

“That’s not ‘no’, Jonny,” Patrick says, sliding his palm over his boxers.

“Pat,” Jonny says, “I’m just not sure it’s a good idea.”

“But things are going so well, and you’ve been out of town so much lately,” Patrick says, and even he can hear the whine in his voice. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too. But I thought we agreed to wait?”

“Maybe, but.” He’s been thinking about telling Jonny that he wants him to move back in, but Jonny’s been gone so much lately, there hasn’t been time, and he’s not doing it over the phone. “What if I told you that I might have the answer you’re hoping to hear soon?”

“Pat,” Jonny breathes. “Really?”

“Maybe,” he teases.

“Well, then, maybe I should make you keep waiting, then,” Jonny teases back.

“But I’m horny now,” Patrick says, pleading. “I’m mostly naked, and I’m horny, and if you won’t have phone sex with me, I’m just going to hang up and jerk off.” He can hear Jonny’s breath pick up speed over the phone line again. “Can’t we jerk off at the same time? Pretty please?”

“Patrick . . .” Jonny says, and Patrick does a fist pump before sliding his boxers down and pulling his shirt off.

“I’m all the way naked, now, Jon,” he says, his own voice dropping an octave. “I’m in our bed, and the door is locked, and I need you to tell me what to do next.”

“Jesus,” Jonny says, his voice hoarse.

“Or I could just get out our favorite toy and take care of myself.” Patrick knows that is dirty pool, but he doesn’t care if it gets him laid.

“The beads?” Jonny swallows audibly.

“The beads,” Patrick confirms. “I’m not exactly sure how to use them, but I thought you could talk me through it.”

“Oh my God,” Jonny says, swallowing audibly. “Okay, yeah. You win. But don’t get out the beads. The next time we use those, I’m going to be right there watching.” Patrick moans and Jonny chuckles darkly. “Yeah, you like it when I watch, don’t you? When I can see how hard you are, flushed and sweating, your little hole fluttering. Do you like that, baby?”

“Jesus, Jon,” Patrick says, swallowing as saliva floods his mouth. “That’s the voice. Fuck.”

There’s rustling on the other side of the phone and then a click. “I put on my earbuds. If we’re doing this, you’re going to need yours. I’m not having phone sex with you on speaker while our kids sleep down the hall.”

“What do you take me for, an amateur?” Patrick says, smiling at Jonny’s ability to switch from dead sexy to matter-of-fact without a pause. “I’m already wearing them, dumbass. I can’t very well jerk off and finger myself if I’m holding the phone, now can I?”

“Shut up, Pat,” Jonny says, and the command in his voice sends a shiver down Patrick’s spine. “And stop touching your dick.”

“But Jonny,” Patrick whines.

Jonny tuts at him. “Hands. Off.”

“Fine,” he says, dropping both hands to the bed.

“Good, that’s good. Don’t want you to get ahead of things, here.” There’s more rustling and a hitching breath that tells Patrick Jonny’s just put his hand on his cock. “Lay down on your back and put the lube under your leg to warm it up.”

Patrick gets positioned and waits for Jonny’s next instruction. Jonny doesn’t make him wait long. “I want you to put two fingers in your mouth, and suck on them.” Patrick does, and Jonny sighs. “Yeah, that’s so good. Get them wet for me.” Patrick moans around his fingers. “God, I love listening to you use your mouth. So filthy, so talented. So wet. Love your mouth, Pat.”

Patrick sucks on his fingers in time with the sound of Jonny stroking his cock, the wet sound making his own cock twitch. He watches as it weeps a drop of precome, and he runs his thumb through it, swallowing harshly as the light touch makes his abs contract with pleasure. He can feel himself drooling and he writhes a little, face flaming.

“That’s so hot, baby, I can just see you squirming for me. Showing me what a naughty, dirty boy you are, hmm?” Patrick’s eyes roll back as he humps the air, his cock slapping wetly against his stomach.

“Now, take your fingers out, and rub them on your nipple while you suck on the fingers of your other hand,” Jonny says, and Patrick’s voice catches when his fingers slide over his nipple. “Pinch it -- just a little -- like I do.” His voice is even, but Patrick can hear how turned on he is. “Wish I was there to watch you. See you touch yourself like this for me, because of me.”

“Jonny,” he moans around his fingers.

“Right here, Pat,” Jonny says, and his tone makes Patrick shiver. “Switch nipples, but keep pinching until I tell you to stop.” Patrick grumbles around his fingers and Jonny laughs. “Impatient?”

“Gee, no,” Patrick tries to say, but it comes out more like, “ee oo” and Jonny laughs again.

“Watch that tone, or I’ll make you wait even longer,” Jonny threatens, but Patrick can hear the hitch in his breath. “Now take your fingers out of your mouth and put them on your hole. Just circle it, don’t press in yet.” Patrick groans and moves his fingers down, pushing against his hole once and then rubbing circles around and around until he makes a soft, desperate noise that Jonny echoes back at him. “God, Patrick, you’re always so . . . so gorgeous like this.”

Patrick squirms, and his fingers skitter a little, pressing harder against his hole. “Jonny. Come on, come on.”

“Okay, we’re getting there,” Jonny says. “Open the lube and squirt some onto your fingers.”

“I have fingered myself before, Jon,” Patrick says dryly, but he dutifully slicks up his fingers. “Now what?”

“Now you push one in, Pat. I thought you said you’d done this before?”

“Ohhh,” Patrick says as his middle finger breaches his hole and gets swallowed up in one smooth motion. “Feels,” he swallows, voice thick. “God, Jonny. Feels so good.”

“Tell me,” Jonny commands, and Patrick shakes his head back and forth. His face flames even hotter, and he hitches in a wet breath. His lips and chin are wet, and he licks at his bottom lip. “My, my finger is so wet, Jonny, it slipped all the way in, and I can feel myself squeezing my finger. It’s so intense.”

“I know, baby, I love how tight you are at first. You are, aren’t you? So tight your finger tingles a little. And it feels so good when you clench around me. Can you bear down a little for me? Clench your little hole tight?”

“Oh, God, please can I touch my cock? Please, please, I’m so close, Jonny!”

“Shh, baby, pull your finger out and put both hands on the bed for me.” Patrick whines, but he does what Jonny says, and in the quiet, he can hear Jonny’s hands jerking himself faster and faster. “I want us to come together, and you’re getting too close. Let me catch up.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says helplessly. “I can hear you.”

“Can you?” Jonny says, breathless. “You think you’re ready to put two fingers in your hole for me?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, grabbing the lube again. “Now?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says. “Push them in together and just slide them in and out.” Patrick groans loudly as his fingers breach him. “Still tight, huh? Does it hurt?”

“Burns, yeah . . . so good.”

“Yeah, you like the burn, just like you like being stuffed with cock. Remember in Tahoe, when I fucked you? You were so tight, baby, I could hardly get inside you.” Jonny’s hand is speeding up, and Patrick has to close his eyes. Once his eyes are closed, all of the sensations are intensified, and he tosses his head side to side, writhing and squirming on the bed.

“Can I?”

“Yeah, baby, take one finger and slide it over the head of your cock,” Jonny says. “I bet it’s wet. I bet it’s dripping and wet. Want to taste it for me?” Patrick shivers as he runs his finger over his cock slowly and then brings the finger to his mouth. “You always taste so good.”

“God, Jonny, I’m so close.”

“Me, too.” Jonny moans. “God you’re so amazing. Wish I was there, opening you up, getting you ready to take my cock.” Jonny babbles a string of filth over the phone line, never letting Patrick do more than run his finger up and down his length or roll his balls in his hands. He stops Patrick two more times, until he’s moaning inarticulate nonsense in a steady stream.

“Baby, God, you sound so hot. If I were there, I’d get out those beads you love. Bet I could push them in now, you’re so loose and open. Bet you could take the first three all in a row.”

“Yeah, Jonny, God. Give me - give it to me.”

“The first three are easy, but the fourth and fifth are harder, aren’t they?” Patrick nods, even though Jonny can’t see him. “I know you like the fifth one because it’s wider than my cock and you really have to work to let it in.” Patrick moans again, thrashing his head and Jonny shushes him.

“And when the first four are already inside you, pushing, and pressing, and shifting, it’s really crowded. You can take it though,” he says, groaning a little, and Patrick can hear the slick sound of Jonny jerking off increase in pace. “The sixth is hard to take, even for you. We’ve only gotten to the sixth once. Do you remember?”

“Yes,” Patrick says, and has to swallow before he drools on himself. “In- in our old apartment.”

“Yeah, you wore that plug all day to get us started, and then I knelt there and fed them in. One by one.”

“And you- and you pulled them out.”

“I did. And then I slid them back in, one at a time, and made you push them out. Do you remember that?” Patrick shakes his head back and forth. “You didn’t want to, and you cried and begged me not to make you. But that was your favorite part, wasn’t it? You’re such a dirty, slutty boy. And your little hole didn’t want to spit those balls out for me, but you did it, and it was so gorgeous, so fucking hot.”

Patrick moans again and there’s an urgency in Jonny’s voice when he speaks again. “Okay, Patrick, you ready?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Patrick says, licking his hand. It’s salty and tastes of sex, and he can feel himself clenching harder on his fingers. “Please, let’s. Together?”

“Yeah, God. I’m so close, baby.” Jonny’s voice is that deep tone that precedes his orgasm, and it makes Patrick shiver. “Take your cock in your hand and stroke it for me. That’s my hand on your cock, those are my fingers in your ass and now you’re going to come for me, right, baby?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Patrick says, and just like that the pleasure crests, and he shakes and moans, his feet kicking out straight as wave after wave buffet him. “Nghhhh,” says, shoving his fingers back into his mouth. “Jonny…”

“Patrick,” Jonny cries, coming, and Patrick contracts again around his fingers in time with Jonny’s breathing, his cock pulsing until it’s almost dry coming. When it’s over, he’s exhausted and all he wants is Jonny there to hold him.

“I wish I was there,” Jonny says, his breath slowing. “You probably look so gorgeous.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says after he’s stopped panting. “I miss you. When are you getting home?”

“On Tuesday, late.”

“You’re staying for the weekend? Why?” Patrick ignores the tiny part of him that whispers that all this travel must be for Jeff’s project and maybe Jonny’s staying for the weekend to be with him.

“Just got a few things to tie up here,” Jonny says evasively. “I’ll explain it all soon.”

“Is it for Jeff?” Patrick says, sleepy enough to ask questions he shouldn’t.

“No, I’m not - this trip isn’t for anything related to Jeff, I promise.”

“Good. But why is it such a secret?”

“Like I said, I can’t tell you yet, but I will soon.”

“M‘Kay,” Patrick slurs. “gonna sleep now.”

“Night, Patrick.”

“Mmm,” Patrick says and slips into sleep.

***

Patrick wakes up the next morning with the familiar start of a headache building behind his eyes and an uncomfortable hollow nausea in his stomach. He feels a flash of annoyance -- he hadn’t even had anything to drink last night -- before the noises coming out of the monitor in Amelie’s room distract him.

She’s babbling away in an almost intelligible mix of French and English, and she punctuates her words every so often by banging wildly on the side of the crib. Patrick can feel the grin splitting his face as he watches her on the monitor, bouncing around and making herself giggle.

God, he loves his little girl so much. He can feel a swell of emotion rising up in his chest, bubbling up and and catching in his throat. He could almost drown in how overwhelming his love for her feels right now: this precious, perfect little girl that he’s been entrusted with.

“Dada! Dada! Dada!” she starts chanting, hands keeping rhythm as she claps, almost as if she knows he’s watching her.

Patrick breathes deep, enough to keep the threatening tears at bay and hurries to her room, sweeping her out of the crib and up into his arms, peppering her face with kisses, and snuggling her against his chest.

For a second, he almost starts laughing at himself: he remembers vividly the last time he felt this bowled over by love for his kids, it was a few years ago, the twins tucked into his sides in matching footie pajamas, heads heavy as they drowsed against him. He remembers looking down at them and thinking he’d never known that he could love quite like this. And for a brief, clarifying moment, he’d known that he’d needed to take a pregnancy test.

That was the night he’d found out he was pregnant with Amelie. They’d been trying for a while at that point, and the joy he’d felt at seeing those two pink lines was nothing -- nothing -- to watching Jonny’s face light the fuck up when Patrick had told him later that night.

The laugh gets caught in his throat, and Patrick stands frozen in Amelie’s nursery, the same sudden flash of realization he’d felt two years ago battering him over the head right now.

Amelie’s still babbling away, laughing and patting his face, but he can’t do anything but stand there. Suddenly, the constant migraines he’s been experiencing since New Year’s make sense; the hollow nausea every afternoon, how he’d craved dry toast every morning, all of it explained. They’ve only been together twice in recent memory, Patrick doesn’t even need to see a calendar to know when it was. The day of the Christmas program, almost two months ago. Patrick starts laughing, torn between shock and happiness and terror as he thinks about what this means for him, for their family. For Jonny.

“Dad! Dad!” he hears coming down the hall, “I can’t find my socks.” Bryan crashes into Amelie’s room, mostly dressed in his school uniform, and with a disgruntled look on his face that reminds Patrick so much of Jonny, he can’t help but laugh harder.

“It’s not funny, Dad,” Bryan says, stomping his foot and putting his hands on his hips. “Stealing my socks is a really dumb prank.”

“It is,” Patrick agrees, switching Amelie to his hip, “Stealing socks is a really, really lame prank. I should know; Papa used to do it to me.”

“Then why are you laughing?” Bryan says, tone accusatory and eyes narrowed.

“Not because I took them, I promise,” Patrick says, “Come on, let’s go downstairs, I did a bunch of laundry last night, I think you’ve got some socks in the basket to be brought up. Let’s go find those, and I’ll get breakfast going.”

“Pancakes?” Bryan asks hopefully.

“Not a chance. I’m not nearly as efficient as Papa at pancakes, but I can rustle us up some eggs and toast.”

The process of getting the kids off to school goes quickly. Patrick feels like he’s operating in a fog: making breakfast and lunches on autopilot; barely listening to the boys and continually having to ask them to repeat themselves; forgetting to react with the appropriate amount of excitement when Amelie tries to play peek-a-boo.

“Boys, do you have your homework?” Patrick asks as they’re all piling in the car. A quick glance at his watch tells him they’re running late, and he needs to get Amelie over to Jonny’s office this morning too, so that they can go to her baby art class.

“Dad.” Eric says, “you’ve already asked us, like, twenty times. Yes. We have our homework. And our lunches.”

“Right. Okay, Great. Everyone buckled in?”

The shouted “yes!” from both the boys tells Patrick that maybe he already asked that too, but he can barely spare it a thought. The constant refrain of, “Oh my God, am I pregnant? Holy shit, am I knocked up? Oh, God, what am I going to do? Four kids!” that is running through his brain is crowding out the ability to focus on just about anything else. Before he knows it, it’s time to take Amelie to Jonny’s, and he just can’t think about it anymore.

So Patrick doesn’t think about whether he might be pregnant while he gets Amelie’s diaper bag ready. And he doesn’t think about it while he’s getting her into the car, or while he’s driving to Jonny’s office. And he definitely doesn’t think about it while he’s parking the car or when they’re in the elevator riding up to Jonny’s office.

He really doesn’t think about it when he walks into Jonny’s office, and Jeff Carter is sitting on Jonny’s couch in a casual sprawl, looking like he belongs there.

Seeing Jeff puts a halt to all of the not-thinking Patrick’s been doing as abruptly as a record scratch, and the numbness he’d felt before recedes in a wave of fury.

Jonny scrambles up and comes around the desk, his expression wary, and Patrick twitches his lips in what he hopes is a reasonable facsimile of a smile. “Sorry we’re late,” he says with as much fake cheer as he can muster. When he meets Jonny eyes, he’s watching Patrick anxiously, and Patrick quickly looks down to concentrate on pulling Amelie’s hat off her head and smoothing her dark curls. “Ammy couldn’t decide on which outfit to wear, right, Lady Bug?”

Amelie ignores him and tries to squirm out of his arms, so he hands the diaper bag to Jonny and puts her down. They all watch as Amelie pats Jonny on the leg and then toddles over to the bookshelf where Jonny keeps a few toys and the mini-sticks set that the boys play with when they come into his office.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Patrick says, when it’s clear that Jonny isn’t going to say anything.

“No problem,” Jonny says too loudly, and then clears his throat. “We were done, I think?” He looks at Jeff and then back at Patrick, his face pale except for two spots of color high on his cheeks.

“We just finished our meeting,” Jeff agrees smoothly, his smile the typical smarm and charm that Patrick recognizes from every other meeting they’ve had. Patrick bares his teeth at him in his most insincere smile. “But it’s always good to see you, Patrick. And this is - Amy, right?”

“Ammy,” Patrick says through clenched teeth. “Her name is Amelie, but we call her Ammy.”

“That’s cute,” Jeff says, and Patrick looks at Jonny for support, but he’s got a deer in the headlights expression on his face, so no help there.

“We like it,” Patrick says, his tone dangerous enough that it snaps Jonny out of his silence.

“I’m taking her to her baby art class,” Jonny says. “We go every week, right ma coccinelle?” Amelie’s making choo choo sounds and running her train over the coffee table, and she just smiles at him. The fond expression on Jonny’s face makes tears prickle in Patrick’s eyes.

“Baby art class?” Jeff says, drawing their attention back to him. “I can just imagine you squeezing into one of those tiny chairs.” Jonny darts a glance at Patrick and it makes Patrick see red because why the fuck is Jonny letting Jeff flirt with him in front of Patrick when he’s the asshole who put them into this tailspin that they are maybe, finally, putting behind them, especially if - he cuts off the thought again.

“I’m glad you’re done with your meeting,” he says. “I’d hate to take Jonny away from your project. I know it’s Jonny’s main priority right now. You certainly need him out of town often enough for it.”

Jeff’s brow wrinkles. “But-”

“Let’s not talk about work,” Jonny interrupts, clearly worried that Patrick’s going to make a scene. “Jeff’s got another meeting to get to, so I’ll just see Jeff out, and then I’ll be right back,” Jonny says a little desperately. “Wait here?”

“Yeah, sure,” Patrick says flatly. “I’ll be here.” By the way Jonny audibly swallows, he hears the implied ‘just like I have always been’ and ‘waiting for you to finish with Jeff fucking Carter.’

“It was nice to see you again,” Jeff’s saying, and Patrick tries to summon the civility to respond in kind.

“You, too,” Patrick says, pasting another insincere smile on his face and nodding as Jeff and Jonny leave. Once they’re gone, he sits down on the sofa and rubs his head. Getting smacked in the face with the fact that Jonny’s still working with Jeff is exactly what he didn’t need today. Not when they might be putting all of this shit behind them. He reminds himself that if they’re ever going to work again, he has to be able to trust Jonny, and especially if - he cuts off the thought again.

“Jesus, my life is a mess,” he says, and laughs when Amelie looks over at him. “Not you, Lady Bug.”

“Pat,” Jonny says, rushing back through the door. “I’m sorry about Jeff, it’s not-”

“No,” Patrick says. “Don’t apologize, and honestly, you don’t have to explain. It was just a shock to see that asshole sitting in your office.” Looking far too familiar with it, he doesn’t add.

“But-” Jonny starts and then twists his mouth. “You’re not upset?”

“Well, I’m not ever going to be thrilled to see him,” Patrick admits, grabbing Jonny’s hand and pulling him down on the couch. “But I know you’re going to be working with him a lot because of this big mystery project you’ve been working on, and I’ve just got to make peace with that.”

“Still,” Jonny says, voice a little bitter, “you don’t trust me.” When Patrick opens his mouth to respond, Jonny shakes his head. “It’s okay, I understand. I’ll just have to keep showing you that you can until you believe me.”

“I do trust you, I think?” Patrick says uncertainly. “But I don’t trust him. And neither should you.”

“I don’t. And I’m trying to keep all contact with him to a minimum. But sometimes I have to be involved, even though I’m not - even though there are other people here who can help with a lot of things.” Jonny’s not meeting his eyes, and Patrick grabs his chin, tilting it toward him. He looks sad and guilty, and there are secrets behind his eyes that Patrick wants to ask about, but everything’s still so tenuous and uncertain that he just leans in to press a small kiss to his lips.

“Enough gloom and doom and Jeff Carter,” he says, motioning at Amelie. “Don’t you have a hot date?”

“Yeah, but we have-” he looks at his watch. “Six minutes before we have to leave. What ever shall we do to pass the time?”

“Hmm,” Patrick says. “I can think of one or two things.”

“Why Mr. Kane Toews, I do declare, you are incorrigible.”

“That I am,” Patrick agrees. “Learned from the best.”

“Come here and kiss me, idiot,” Jonny says.

They pull apart several long minutes later after trading lazy, deep kisses that leave Patrick’s lips numb and tingling. Jonny’s hair is fucked, and he’s flushed from his forehead to the top of his shirt, the color accented by a dark bruise Patrick hadn’t been able to resist sucking into his neck. “Marking your territory?” Jonny teases, rubbing the spot and hissing.

“You know it,” Patrick smirks. Jonny glances at his watch again. “I think we’d better get going.”

They get Jonny’s hair smoothed down, and Patrick pushes his curls behind his ears, thinking about whether he needs a haircut. Jonny notices and reaches out to pull on one of the curls at the back of his head. “Don’t,” he says softly. “I like these.”

“I know you do. Fucking caveman,” Patrick grumbles good-naturedly. “The kids keep teasing me about doing a combover to ‘hide your forehead, it’s so shiny, Daddy!”

“Well . . .” Jonny says, smirking at Patrick. He squawks when Patrick pinches him. “I didn’t say anything!”

“You didn’t have to,” Patrick says dryly. “And you have no room to talk.”

“Lalalalala,” Jonny says, raising his voice until he sounds like Bryan when he doesn’t want to hear a lecture from one of them. “Can’t hear you.”

“Real mature, Jon,” Patrick snorts.

Jonny walks Patrick down, and they part ways when the elevator stops in the lobby, Patrick kissing Amelie and then Jonny. “Have fun at class, ma coccinelle,” Patrick says and has to laugh at the way Jonny’s eyes light up. “You, too, mon mari.”

“Ouai, Patrick, merci.”

Patrick watches them as the elevator doors close, and then all the ‘not-thinking’ he’s been doing starts up again. He looks at his reflection as the elevator descends to the parking levels, thinking again that he needs a haircut. Maybe he can grab one after he goes to the drug store. He needs to get a pregnancy test so he can dismiss the idea that all of his migraines and weepiness and sleepiness and nausea -

Shit. Fuck the haircut. He’s grabbing a test and going over to his sister’s to confirm that he’s gotten knocked up. Again.

Twenty minutes later finds him banging down the door at Erica’s, CVS bag in hand. He’d pretty well cleared them out of pregnancy tests: First Response, Clear Blue Digital, E.P.T., Fact Plus Rapid Results. For a few minutes he’d contemplated just getting a couple of the generic CVS tests before deciding that this was one time to really splash out on the big name brands.

“C’mon, Erica, let me in,” Patrick knocks louder. He’s gone from feeling zen-like calmness at the prospect of being pregnant again to a burning desire to know for sure that’s so strong he’s ready to knock this door in S.W.A.T. Team style.

“Jesus, Pat,” Erica complains rubbing her eyes as she finally opens the door. Her hair’s ratty, and she’s in oversized sleep pants and an old Sabres T-shirt, that he’s resolutely pretending she stole from him and not from one of her loser ex-boyfriends. “What’s the emergency?”

“Are you just waking up?” Patrick asks, trying -- and failing -- not to sound completely judgmental.

“Yup!” Erica says brightly with a little smirk. “No kids and the new film doesn’t start till next Monday. Try not to be a hater.”

Patrick just shakes his head, pushing inside and making his way over to the kitchen to get the coffee going. He knows what his sister’s like without her morning cup, and he wants her fully caffeinated and functional for this.

“Pregnancy tests?!” Erica says, holding the bag loosely in one hand, bright pink box in another.

“Don’t go through my shit,” he whines, willing the coffee machine to hurry the fuck up.

“Oh please,” she throws the test back in the bag and tosses it to him. “Like you weren’t going to tell me, like that’s not the entire reason you’re over here at the crack of dawn, tweaking like some kind of addict.”

“It’s ten-thirty,” Patrick says idly, clutching the bag to his chest.

“Whatever,” Erica waves her hand dismissively, before hopping up onto the counter, and holding her hands out for the cup of coffee he’s pouring. “None for you, preggo,” she sing-songs.

“You’re the absolute worst,” he tells her feelingly. “Why do I like you again?”

“Because I’m awesome. We’ve been over this, Pattycakes,” she says taking a big sip from her coffee and grinning at him, Cheshire cat-like. “So,” Erica starts after the moment of silence has stretched uncomfortably, “have you already taken a test and these are just extra confirmation? Or . . .”

“Or.” Patrick says.

“Oh my God, don’t just stand there! Go pee on stuff!” She jumps off the counter easily and starts shoving him toward the bathroom.

“Out, unless you’re actually going to help me with this part, Erica,” he says, batting her hands away.

Erica gives him a disgusted look. “You’re gross, but I’m going to give you a pass because you’re clearly freaking out. So. Hurry up, pee on some sticks, and I’ll keep you from totally losing it while we wait for the results.”

***

The wait to get the results is the longest five minutes of Pat’s life. But finally -- finally -- the alarm on his phone chimes. For a second he’s frozen to the couch, torn. He’s sure he’s pregnant, positive of it, but he’s suddenly not sure he’s quite ready to get official confirmation. Erica rolls her eyes at him and hauls him off the couch. “Let’s go find out if I’m going to be an Auntie again!” she crows, dragging him back into the bathroom.

“Yes,” Patrick grumbles, “that’s the important part of this whole thing. Whether you’re going to be an aunt again.”

And she is. Or rather, he is. Pregnant. He supposes four tests can’t possibly be wrong.

“Wow.” He says, looking at Erica with wonder. “I mean, I thought I was, but, like, I still don’t know how this happened, you know?”

“Pat, you have three kids already, are you really asking me where babies come from?”

“Shut up. I’m allowed to be a little shocked after everything that’s gone on in the last few months. You know how everything’s have been between me and Jonny.”

“It seems I didn’t know ‘everything’ that’s been going down between you and Jonny,” Erica leers.

“You’re terrible,” Patrick scowls, “I don’t know why I thought you’d be helpful at all.”

“Lies!” Erica says brightly as they make their way back to the living room, and she takes a sip of her coffee, before making a face, and putting it back down. “I’m your favorite sister, don’t even front. Anyway, I don’t need the dirty details,” she raises her eyebrows suggestively, “but what are you going to tell Jonny?”

Patrick leans back heavily in his seat, tipping his head onto the back of the couch to stare at the ceiling for a long moment. He lets out a heavy breath, turning his head to look at her. “The truth, I guess, that I’m pregnant.”

Erica gives him an unimpressed look. “Okay, let’s try this again. How are you going to tell him? What do you think this is going to mean for you two? Things have been good lately right?”

“God, they’ve been so good,” Patrick says, flushing as he thinks back to the phone call the other night.

Erica laughs, “Again, I don’t need the details, but your face is pretty much saying it all, bro. You are one smitten kitten. Again.”

Patrick shakes his head at her, but he can’t bite back his smile. “Erica, I really think I’m ready for him to come home, I was going to tell him soon, on Friday.”

“That’s great-”

“Oh, God, what if he thinks that I only want him to now because of the baby?”

“Pat-” Erica starts.

“Or what if he’s not excited about the baby? He was really upset when I got so sick when I was pregnant with Ammy. He was pretty clear he didn’t want to go through that again. What if he’s mad that I let myself get pregnant again? What if he’s not ready to come home? He’ll probably feel obligated to move home anyway, and-” 

“Patrick. Stop that.” Erica says. “You know that he’s dying to come home, he basically tells you every time he sees you. And he’s going to be excited about the baby -- you know he is -- he loves you and the kids so much. And I know things were tough with Amelie, but the doctors said you shouldn’t necessarily have any trouble with future pregnancies.”

“I know, but-”

She silences him with a stern look. “And the last two times you were pregnant that boy was damn near strutting around like a proud peacock. All: ‘I’m going to be a dad.’ and ‘Did you hear Pat’s pregnant, with my baby?’ When you tell him, he’s going to be over the moon.”

Patrick smiles softly, remembering Jonny’s face the last two times he’d told him. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he agrees. “I just. This is such a surprise.”

“And it will be for him too.” Erica says. “But such a good one. And this is a beautiful fresh start for you two, with a little baby to celebrate and prepare for. Invite him over for dinner tonight, wrap up one of the seventy-five tests you just peed on, and give it to him with a big bow. I can watch the kiddos, if you want?”

“I don’t know, I’m thinking about waiting.”

“Waiting?” Erica says skeptically. “For God’s sake, why?”

“Oh, not long - I just want this to be special, and Friday’s Valentine’s Day. Think about it - I’ll tell him about getting back together, and the new baby, and then we can have a nice romantic dinner to celebrate!”

Erica gives him a nonplussed look. “Well, I think you need to tell him now. Don’t you think you’ve both been through enough lately, without keeping secrets?”

“It’s not going to hurt to wait a couple of days. I mean, come on, I couldn’t get him a better Valentine’s gift than this,” Patrick says. “He’ll love it. I hope. Won’t he?"

“Not this again, Pat - he’ll definitely love it. I still think he’d probably like to know about it now,” Erica says, “but do what you want, I guess. I can watch the kids on Friday either way.”

“I’m definitely going to wait until Friday. I’m going to make everything perfect,” Patrick insists. “It’ll be a Valentine’s Day we’ll never forget. You’ll see.” 

***

Driving back to pick up Amelie, Patrick still feels a little in shock: pregnant. Again. But thankfully finding out at Erica’s and being able to talk things through with her has him feeling mostly excited to tell Jonny.

Jonny had only had the one brother growing up, and he and David are close, Patrick knows. But he also knows that as much as Jonny teased him about dance-offs, and game nights, and Super-Special-Secret-Kane-Family-Time, there was always a little part of him that was envious of the raucousness and closeness the Kanes shared. He smiles a little thinking of their own soon-to-be family of six, palm drifting down to press against his still flat belly.

Part of him can’t imagine their house being any louder than it already is, and part of him can barely wait to see who this new little person will be.

And part of him almost blurts out the news the second he sees Jonny at their post-Art Class Amelie handoff, despite his carefully made plans. But apparently today’s theme was “W is for Water,” so she’s soaked and covered in paint, and the mess is totally distracting.

So is Jonny for that matter, the hickey Patrick had given him standing out in stark relief above his collar, his shirt damp and paint spattered. “She did great,” he says proudly, not seeming to mind how messy he is. “She didn’t even eat the paint today!”

Amelie is already been starting to fuss, so Patrick leaves pretty much straight away.

It’s hours later when he’s finally able to get Jonny on the phone. “Today has been absolutely nuts. Soccer Practice, errands, Little League sign-ups, and Ammy’s been so cranky, she hardly let me put her down. I’m pretty sure she’s teething again.”

“Again?”

“Right? I mean, how many teeth does a baby need. She already eats more than Eric, I just really don’t think she needs any more chompers.”

“You should just tell her that,” Jonny says, deadpan. “Put a stop to it right now.”

“I think I will.” Patrick yawns.

“Go to bed, Pat.”

“Mmmm? What? No, I will in a second. We’ve barely had a chance to catch up lately.”

“I know there’s been a lot of travel lately,” Jonny says apologetic. “but if this project I’m working pans out, things are going to be better soon.”

“Okay, Mr. Cryptic,” Patrick says hand rubbing distractedly over his stomach. “So, Friday -- Valentine’s Day -- you should come over. Heart shaped pancakes with the kids in the morning, you’ll have to cook, obviously, my many talents lie elsewhere, and Erica said she’d have the kids over that night for a sleepover. So I thought we could have a date night when you finish work: dinner, rent a movie, and - there’s something I want to tell you. Something big.”

The silence is long enough after that Patrick almost checks to see if they got disconnected, before he hears a tiny choked out sound. “Yes,” Jonny says, voice rough with emotion, “Yes, obviously, that would be great. Pancakes, and the kids, and you. Yes. That’s . . . It’s perfect. Thank you.”

“Cool,” Patrick says, voice wavering slightly too. He’d like to blame it on the pregnancy hormones, but he doubts anyone would buy it. “Good. Awesome.”

“Great.” Jonny agrees. “It’s just so great.”

Patrick laughs, “God, just the other day the way you talked to me made me come so hard I saw stars and nearly broke the phone, and now we can barely get two sentences out.”

“Pat,” Jonny says, his voice wrecked and without a hint of humor. “You have to know that this just means a lot to me.”

“Oh, and my orgasms don’t mean a lot to you? I think I’m offended.” Patrick teases around the sudden lump in his throat.

“Patrick, I’m trying to be serious,” Jonny groans.

“I know, but this was getting entirely too maudlin. You had a good day with Ammy, I had a good day, you’re coming over in a few days to rock my world -”

“I thought I was coming over for pancakes?”

“Exactly,” Patrick grins, “what did you think I was talking about?”

When they finally hang up, Patrick can’t stop smiling. Only a few more days until he’s got Jonny back where he belongs: with him, with their ever-increasing family.

***

Patrick feels like he’s been running in place all morning. Even with Jonny coming over to help with breakfast and drop the boys off at school, they’re still scrambling.

“Eric, where is your backpack?”

“I don’t know, Daddy,” Eric says. He’s still pushing his pancakes around on his plate, and he’s got syrup all over his chin.

“I think it’s in our room,” Bryan pipes in, rubbing his face with his napkin and jumping up. “I’ll get it!” He takes off and pounds up the stairs.

Patrick shares a smile with Jonny. “My little helper,” Patrick says, and levels Eric with a stern look. “Someone else could help out around here a little more.”

Eric shrugs and smiles, all teeth, and chews obnoxiously. “I’m not done with my breakfast,” he says, and Patrick shakes his head.

“He’s definitely your son,” Jonny smirks from where he’s wiping down the griddle. “I’ve seen that move a time or twenty in the last fifteen years.”

“He’s our son, and I’m not going to bring up all the things you do that aren’t fit for good company,” Patrick says, and then feels his face heat as Jonny’s smirk gets wider. “Shut up, what even,” Patrick mutters, trying to bite back his smile.

Jonny steps closer and leans in. “I wouldn’t mind demonstrating them for you,” he says, voice low and husky, and Patrick swallows, his throat clicking. He hasn’t come up with a response when Bryan comes back in empty-handed. Jonny smirks at him and steps away.

“I couldn’t find it, Daddy,” he says, spreading his hands out.

“Sh-oot. Thanks for looking, Bry,” Patrick says, rubbing his forehead. Jonny moves over to wipe off Eric’s face. “Ugh, where could that stupid thing be?”

“My backpack isn’t stupid, Daddy, it has dinosaurs on it and dinosaurs aren’t ever stupid.” Eric says indignantly.

“They are too, stupid,” Bryan chimes in. “They had teeny tiny brains.”

Eric and Bryan start arguing, and Patrick turns to Jonny. “You check the den, I’ll check the mud room, again. Oh, and I left a permission slip on the desk somewhere for the boys’ field trip to the zoo. Can you grab it? It’s due today.”

Jonny leaves, and Patrick goes into the mud room. It takes a minute of shuffling things around before he reaches the bottom of the pile of coats in the corner and finds it. “Ah ha!” He crows. “Jonny, honestly, how is that you never find anything? It was right here!”

When Jonny doesn’t respond, he sticks his head into the den. “Find it?” Jonny’s standing behind the desk, motionless, holding a stack of papers in his hand. Icy tendrils creep down Patrick’s spine.

“No, I,” Jonny swallows and looks at Patrick, his eyes hollow. “I thought it might be in the desk, but I found these.” He holds the separation papers out to Patrick, who takes them numbly. “Guess now I know about the news you wanted to tell me tonight, huh?”

“Jonny that’s - ” Patrick starts.

“Save it. I’ve got to take the boys to school.” He brushes by while Patrick stands there, frozen, for a long moment before rushing to catch up to him. By the time he does, Jonny’s in the kitchen loading the boys into their coats. “Wait, Jonny, just wait a minute,” he says desperately, but he stops when Jonny looks at him, his eyes cold and dead.

“I have to get the boys to school,” he repeats, his voice flat. “And I need Eric’s backpack.”

Patrick looks down; he’d forgotten he still had the backpack in his hand. “Oh, uh, here,” he steps forward to hand it to Jonny and he flinches. Patrick drops it on the floor next to him. “I’ll, I’ll get the lunches,” he stutters, biting the inside of his cheek to keep his mouth from trembling.

“Papa already got them!” Bryan says. Eric is sucking his thumb and looking at Jonny, who has two spots of color high on his cheeks.

Jonny smiles grimly at Bryan. “Okay, ready to go?” he asks, and herds the boys out before Patrick can get another word in. Patrick looks at the closed door until Amelie bangs on her highchair demanding to be let out, and he turns gratefully to her. He can deal with Jonny later - he can explain and Jonny’ll laugh and feel like an idiot and everything will be okay.

He nods to himself. He can fix this. He has to be able to fix it, for him and the kids, and their new baby. He rests his hands on his stomach. He’ll make Jonny see that this is all just a big mistake.

Chapter Text

“So you’re saying that you and Jonny are fighting? Again.” Erica says, incredulous. “Did you explain about the divorce papers?”

“I tried, but he wouldn’t let me,” Patrick says.

“Did you tell him about the baby?”

He clenches his jaw and she sighs.

“And you let him leave?”

“He had to take the kids to school!”

“Well, gee, Patrick, I’m so glad your kids weren’t late for school.”

“Shut up,” Patrick says sullenly.

“And you haven’t spoken to him since?”

“He won’t answer his phone!”

“Well,” Erica says, speaking slowly. “You need to go to his office and make him listen.”

“I can’t,” Patrick says. “He’s working. I don’t want to get him in trouble.”

“In trouble. With work. The work where he met Jeff Carter and set into motion the events that are currently the bane of my existence? That work?”

“Erica-”

“Ugh, I’m so tired of this “Toews-of-our-Lives” soap opera you two have going on, I want to scream,” she says, scowling. “You’re married to a great guy who’s been in love with you for practically twenty years. You have three beautiful, healthy children, and you’re pregnant with another of his -- undoubtedly -- beautiful babies. Again. I, on the other hand, am over thirty years-old, currently single, and the mother of zero children. I have willingly volunteered to spend Valentine’s Day with your -- admittedly adorable -- spawn. It should not be possible that I am better at this relationship shit than you are. And yet, I clearly am.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, dropping his head into his hands. “So what do I do?”

“Pat, this isn’t rocket science. Even you should be able to figure this out. If he’s not answering his cell, call his office. If you still can’t reach him, and you won’t go to his office? Go wait for him at his hotel. Have it out with him.” She smacks him on the back of the head. “Stop being dumb boys and use your words.”

“Ouch,” he says, rubbing at his head. “Stop smacking me, I’m in a delicate condition.”

“I’m going to delicate condition your ass if you don’t get out of here and fix things with Jonny,” she growls.

“Fine, fine!” He says and jumps to get out of her reach. “I’m going!”

When he gets to the door, he turns around and jumps when he sees that she’s right behind him. “I’m going!” he says, holding up his hands in surrender. “Just. Thanks for always listening. You’re a great little sister.”

“I know,” she says cheekily and pushes him out the door. “Now scram. I’ve got a hot date with Lady Bug.” The door slams in his face, and he laughs despite himself.

***

“Hi Brandon, is Jonny around?” Patrick says, trying to keep his voice even. “He’s not answering his cell, and I thought maybe he let his battery die again.”

“Uh,” Brandon says, sounding uncomfortable, which is fair since they haven’t spoken since Patrick kicked Jonny out. “I don’t think his cell died, but he’s left for the day, so I can’t say for sure.”

“Left for the day?” Patrick looks at the clock on his car stereo. “It’s not even three o’clock.”

“He took the afternoon off, said he wasn’t feeling well. Maybe he turned off his cell?” Brandon covers the receiver, and Patrick can hear muffled conversation, but he can’t make anything out. “Uh, Shawsy said he had an appointment and then he was going back to his hotel for the night. You could try him there?”

“Yeah, okay. Thanks. You guys doing okay?”

“Yeah, this new project is kicking our asses, but, you know, it’s all good.” Brandon cleared his throat. “Not sure if I’m ready to move, but I love working with Jonny so-” The sound of raised voices come over the phone and then another voice is speaking.

“Hi Kaner, it’s Bollig, sorry about that. I didn’t realize it was you on the phone.”

“What’s going on over there?”

“Nothing, just a kid who’s talking about things he doesn’t understand,” Bollig says. “So, anyway, we’re pretty busy right now. I hate to cut you off, but Jonny’s not here, and we have a deadline that we have to meet, so. I’ll let him know you called, if I see him, okay?”

Bollig basically hangs up on Patrick, and he stares at the phone in disbelief. He’s not sure if they’re covering for Jonny or if he’s really at the hotel, but he’s going to plant himself there until Jonny comes back. Jonny can’t hide from him - he’s not going to let him.

He texts Jonny one more time before he gets in the car.

Patrick: Please call me. We need to talk about this.

Jonny never responds.

When he gets to the hotel, he calls up to the room but Jonny doesn’t answer. They’re happy to make him a key when he gives them his name, and he resolves to wait up in the room until Jonny gets back. He looks away from the couple in the elevator with him, kissing and whispering to each other, but it’s another reminder that today is Valentine’s Day, and it’s not at all the day he had planned. He places his hand over his stomach. But he can fix this - Jonny’s mad and hurt, but when Patrick explains, he’ll understand. He has to.

Jonny’s room is dark when Patrick opens the door, and there’s no answer when he calls out. He walks over to the window and opens the curtains enough to let a little light in. The pillow on Jonny’s side of the bed has an indentation and when Patrick sits down and picks it up, he can smell Jonny’s scent on it. He hugs the pillow to his face for a moment and then replaces it, smoothing it out.

Fifteen minutes later, the adrenaline surge from arriving at the hotel has ended, and Patrick feels drained and exhausted. He scoots up onto the bed, putting his head on Jonny’s pillow and shuts his eyes. He’s so tired in the afternoons lately, maybe he can just rest here for a few minutes until Jonny gets back.

***

“Patrick,” a voice says. “Patrick, wake up. Patrick!”

Someone shakes his shoulder roughly, and he bats at the hand. “Sleeping, go ask Papa.” He burrows deeper into the pillow when Jonny says his name again, shoving at his shoulder again.

“Get the fuck out of my bed, asshole.”

Patrick groans and rolls over, blinking up at Jonny. The lights in the room are still off, and the only light is from the half-opened curtain. “Wha?” He tries to wet his lips, but his mouth is too dry to really make any difference. “Time isst?”

“It’s six o’clock. What are you doing here? Why are you in my hotel room? Why are you in my bed? Who’s got the kids?”

“Can I have a drink of water?” Patrick asks, licking his lips again. Jonny makes a scoffing noise, but hands him a bottle from the fridge, crossing his arms when Patrick takes it.

“Thanks.” Patrick drains the bottle and carefully closes it to give himself more time to collect his wits. His brain feels full of cobwebs, and he needs a minute to wake up enough to explain to Jonny about the divorce papers.

“Patrick,” Jonny says, even and flat, the way he gets when he’s furious. “Why are you here?”

“Jonny,” Patrick reaches out to Jonny, who flinches and steps away. “Babe, please. You’ve got the wrong idea about the papers.”

“Oh, you mean the divorce papers? I’m not sure how someone could ever get the wrong idea about those kinds of papers, Pat. They’re pretty much exactly what they say on the tin: papers for getting a divorce.”

“But I didn’t-”

“You didn’t what? Didn’t want me to find out about it until tonight? Didn’t want me to figure out the ‘big surprise’ you were planning?”

“No, none of that! Jonny-”

“Because I’ve got to admit, Pat, leading me on and then breaking my heart during a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner is pretty fucking cold,” Jonny’s voice is flat and his face is an unreadable mask. “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”

“Jonny, that’s not what I was doing. You’ll understand if you’d just listen,” Patrick says, his voice rising. “I wasn’t leading you on - we were working on things! And they got better, and we were doing so well, I was going to tell you that I want you to move back in, for us to be a family again.”

“Right,” Jonny says. “Was that before or after you filed for divorce?”

“Jonny,” Patrick says, beyond frustrated. “I didn’t file them! I was never going to file them! Why won’t you listen to me!”

“Maybe you wanted me to find them,” Jonny muses, ignoring Patrick. He puts his hands on his hips, affecting a mocking tone. “‘Go find the boys’ permission slips, Jonny, they’re over there in the drawer where I put our divorce papers. Did you giggle when I fell for it? Did you listen in the hall so you could come in right on cue to see me reading them?”

“Jesus, Jonny, no! I would never do that - how can you think I would set out to hurt you like that?”

“Because you’ve been jerking me around for the past two months,” Jonny says angrily. “Let's have phone sex, baby. I might be able to give you that answer you're hoping for soon, baby.Jonny mimics harshly. "Jesus, you're such a fucking tease. You’ve had me begging and groveling and catering to your every whim. And the whole time, you were planning to divorce me.”

“Jonny-”

“And I was such an idiot,” Jonny continues. “I didn’t see it. I didn’t see that all the times you pushed for sex, came on to me, tried to tempt me to fuck you when you knew -- you knew -- what it would do to me, it was all about scratching your itches. When you knew you weren’t ever going to give me a second chance.” Jonny looks Patrick up and down, sneering.

“No, no, no, that’s not true, Jonny, you have to listen to me-”

“You were just out to get what you wanted from me, even though I told you I couldn’t - I didn’t want to! Not until you were ready to forgive me! But you still pushed, didn’t you, Pat?”

Jonny steps forward, crowding Patrick back until his legs hit the edge of the bed. “You wanted my dick on demand for when you were horny, even though I told you it would break me. But you didn’t care about that. You only cared about what you wanted,” Jonny says, his voice breaking.

“No, Jon -” Patrick says, putting his hand out to Jonny, only to have him step back out of reach.

“How could you do that to me?” Jonny asks, his face crumpling a little before settling back into an angry mask. “How could you lie to me?”

“I didn’t - “ Patrick says, backing up again when Jonny steps even closer, overbalancing and falling onto the bed.

Jonny stands over him for a long moment, his chest heaving. “Yeah, there you go, laid out on the bed like the slut you’ve been playing at the past couple of months, isn’t that right?”

“Right, I’m the slut,” Patrick sneers, pushing himself up on his elbows. “Pretty sure I’m not the one who almost fucked the first asshole who turned his head, Jon. We wouldn’t even be in this situation if not for you and Jeff fucking Carter.”

“Fine, blame Jeff for this,” Jonny says, turning away. He unbuttons his sleeves and pulls his tie free, throwing it on the other bed. “But Jeff wasn’t the one who was fucking with my head; Jeff wasn’t the one who promised me that he wasn’t leading me on. Jeff wasn’t the one who broke my heart.”

His voice cracks again, but when Patrick reaches for him, Jonny just knocks his hand away and moves out of reach.

“I bet you were planning on some Valentine’s sex, weren’t you? Before you broke my heart?”

“Jonny-”

“Maybe next time you should plan your moments better,” Jonny sneers. “First get the sex in, then break the guy’s heart.”

“God, you’re an idiot,” Patrick says, exasperated. “I wasn’t planning anything like that!”

“Yeah, but you were planning something, weren’t you? And don’t try to tell me you haven’t been hiding anything.”

Patrick colors, and Jonny laughs bitterly.

“All week, I could tell you were plotting something - you’re a horrible liar, Pat. I just hoped - I just thought it was something, something - something else.” Jonny’s jaw ticks and he looks away.

“Jonny,” Patrick says desperately. “I wasn’t plotting anything, I promise. I was trying - “

“You promise,” Jonny snorts, shaking his head, mouth drawn up in disgust. “Well, I don’t believe you or your fucking promises.”

Jonny’s hands are shaking and when he sees Patrick looking at them, he jams them into his pockets.

“Jonny, please,” Patrick entreats. “Just let me explain?”

Jonny stares at him stonily and doesn’t respond, so Patrick stands and takes a tentative step closer, reaching for Jonny. “I love you - I wouldn’t - I wouldn’t hurt you like that. Come on - you know I’m not like that!”

Jonny jerks away from Patrick’s hand. “What I know is that I’ve been groveling to you for the past two months, and you’ve been using me for sex.”

“Jonny, you’re the dumbest person I know - “ Patrick says. “What the actual fuck. You think that I’m so desperate for cock that I’d just use you like that?”

“I’ve seen it before,” Jonny says darkly.

“What?” Patrick frowns, lost.

“Don’t play dumb. We all know how much you love cock.”

“Well, fuck, Jonny, if I’m that desperate, maybe I should go downstairs, find someone to fuck me?” Patrick’s smiles viciously when Jonny’s face falls. “Since you’re being so unaccommodating?”

“You wouldn’t fucking dare.” Jonny steps closer, face set.

“Yeah, well, maybe I want to see what else is out there.” Patrick smirks when Jonny blanches. “Find out what I’ve been missing.”

“Patrick-” Jonny says, swallowing. “Don’t-”

“Are you offering?” Patrick asks, stepping closer. “Maybe I can get that Valentine’s Day sex after all?”

When Jonny doesn’t react, Patrick steps back, shaking his head. “Fine, I’m going - I’m sure there’s someone out there willing to be a - how did you put it? -- oh, yeah -- ‘a dick on demand.’”

Jonny’s eyes narrow and then he’s got his hands on Patrick’s waist, pushing him back until Patrick falls onto the bed again, looking up at Jonny.

Jonny stands over him, face set in a determined mask. “No, no, I don’t want to disappoint you, baby.” He palms himself. “Let me see if I can give you what you want.”

Jonny works open his belt and fly and drops his pants to the floor. Patrick can see his erection, outlined clearly through the thin, tight boxer briefs. Patrick swallows, his mouth dry at the sight, and Jonny grins, shark-like, and palms himself again.

“Jon,” Patrick says, crab walking back further on the mattress and trying to ignore the way just the sight of Jonny like this is making his cock stir. “What are you doing?”

“Just giving you what you came here for, Pat,” Jonny says, grabbing Patrick’s feet and hauling him back down the mattress before lowering himself on top of Patrick.

“Sorry I spoiled your Valentine’s Day surprise before we fucked,” he says, biting at Patrick’s jaw. Patrick moans and Jonny chuckles, filthy and low. “Yeah, you’re so easy for it, aren’t you, Pat?”

Patrick pulls his lips in to keep from moaning as Jonny presses him into the mattress. Jonny fucks down into the cradle of Patrick’s hips and Patrick’s head rolls to the side at the pressure on his half-hard cock.

“There you go, see?” Jonny says into the skin of Patrick’s neck, licking and then biting at the cord of his neck as he rolls his hips into Patrick’s erection. “I know what you want.”

“You,” Patrick gasps. “I only want you. I’ve only ever wanted you,” Jonny groans and dives for his mouth, forcing his tongue in and licking the breath out of Patrick. The next few minutes are a flurry of clothing being pulled off and left wherever they land and before he knows it, Patrick’s flat on his back and Jonny’s got his fingers buried inside of him.

“You’re so tight,” Jonny moans, biting sharply at the curve of Patrick’s ass. “How is it that you always stay so tight?”

“Jonny, come on,” Patrick whines. “Stop fucking around and fuck me already.”

“Yeah, I’ll fuck you,” Jonny says, and picks Patrick up, dropping him face down onto the edge of the bed. Patrick bounces, his cock rubbing against the scratchy fabric in an itchy, almost painful way that makes him shiver. Jonny pulls his hips up and away from the mattress. “No, no, no, none of that,” he says. “You’ll come when I’m inside you and not before.” His cock rubs at Patrick’s hole for a brief second, and without any further warning, Jonny’s pressing into him, bottoming out in one long, hard slide.

“Ah,” Patrick gasps, his head dropping down. The burn is intense, and he shivers a little, involuntarily trying to shift forward, away from Jonny’s cock, but Jonny has a tight hold on his shoulders and Patrick can’t move. He’s caught there, spasming around Jonny, and Jonny moans. “God, that’s so good, Pat,” he babbles. “I can feel you, holy shit, you feel so fucking good.”

Jonny withdraws slowly, but he pounds back in immediately with the same force, setting a brutal rhythm. Patrick trembles, holding himself up on his elbows and dropping his head between his shoulders. Jonny buries his hand in Patrick’s hair and hauls his head back up, stilling deep inside Patrick. “Stay there,” Jonny says, and Patrick freezes. Jonny drapes himself over Patrick’s back and bites on the skin below his hairline.

“Your hole is so hungry for my cock,” Jonny whispers into Patrick’s ear as he grinds into Patrick, his cock a pulsing heat inside of him. “Swallowing me up like this, fluttering and squeezing around me.” Patrick clenches involuntarily and moans again.

“Love you, Jonny. Love how you fuck me.”

Jonny pulls back. “Shut up. Just shut the fuck up about that shit.”

Patrick tries to shake his head, but Jonny’s still gripping his hair. “No, Jonny, I do. I love you.”

“You love the way I fuck, you mean.” Jonny’s voice breaks and he swallows, his throat clicking. Then he’s pulling back and slamming into Patrick again. “Got me all trained up, huh?”

“Jonny, Jonny,” Patrick chants in time with Jonny’s thrusts. “I need - I can’t.”

“Yeah,” Jonny says, picking Patrick up easily, his cock still deep inside. He climbs onto the bed, knee walking closer to the center before he settles Patrick in the cradle of his lap, Patrick’s legs bracketing his own.

The new angle makes it so that Jonny’s cock presses right on Patrick’s prostate, and Patrick keens, shuddering. “Yeah, like that.” Jonny whispers.

Jonny’s fingers dig into Patrick’s hips as he works him up and down on his cock, and Patrick’s vision gets blurry from the heat radiating out from his cock. He reaches for it, and the feel of his hand loosely wrapped around it is almost too intense. He hisses when Jonny shifts and grinds into him.

“You gonna come, Pat?” Jonny’s voice is strangled, and Patrick turns his head to capture his mouth, but Jonny pulls his head back. “No. I don’t want to kiss you.”

“Jonny,” Patrick says, voice breaking, and he lays his head back on Jonny’s shoulder. Jonny wraps an arm around Patrick’s waist and bats his hand away from his cock, taking over stroking Patrick himself. It’s a lot harder and faster than Patrick was doing, and the dry, almost painful friction is joining the slick, deep pleasure of having Jonny inside of him, and then he’s coming, body locked up as his cock pulses, come running over Jonny’s fist and dripping onto the pillow Patrick had been sleeping on earlier.

Patrick’s gripping Jonny’s arm, and as he comes down, he realizes he’s digging his fingers in, and he forces himself to relax his grip. Aftershocks ripple through him, making him shiver, and Jonny gentles him, still buried deep inside of him. One hand traces the planes of his stomach, skims over the skin on his chest and arms, and Patrick’s head lolls on Jonny’s shoulder. Jonny gives him a minute to recover, and then he’s pushing up into him, pistoning his hips, once, twice, three times before he’s coming, and it’s Patrick’s turn to hold onto him as he shakes and empties himself deep inside. Patrick clenches involuntarily, and Jonny sobs wetly, thrusting his hips up into Patrick one more time.

They stay that way for a long moment before Jonny pushes Patrick over onto his side, and his softening cock slides out of Patrick. They collapse on the comforter, shoulder to shoulder, and Patrick looks over at Jonny. His eyes are closed and his face is soft and relaxed; Patrick watches him as he lies there, sweaty, and sticky, and panting.

When Jonny opens his eyes, Patrick smiles tentatively at him, but Jonny’s face shutters, and he looks away, clenching his jaw. He disentangles himself from Patrick and stands abruptly, grabbing his t-shirt and pulling on his boxers before he finally looks at Patrick.

Patrick watches as Jonny’s eyes go dead the way he’s only seen them do when Jonny’s at his most vicious. They’re flat and cold Patrick’s never had them directed at him, not even when they’d broken up in college. He shivers a little under the force of Jonny’s gaze.

“Get dressed,” Jonny says shortly. “I’m taking a shower. When I come out, I want you gone.” With that, he walks into the bathroom and slams the door.

A moment later the shower turns on, and Patrick pushes himself up. He winces and reaches back to feel his sore and open hole. It doesn’t seem torn, but it stings a little, and he pulls his hand away quickly. His boxers are in front of the television and he pulls them on. He finishes dressing quickly and is just tying his shoes and pocketing his wallet when Jonny walks out of the shower, a towel caught loosely around his waist.

“You’re still here?” Jonny says, his voice flat.

“Jonny,” Patrick starts and then sighs when Jonny crosses his arms over his chest, face stormy. “Why won’t you listen to me? I can explain-”

“Because you’ve been lying to me for weeks. And I can tell that you’re still lying to me,” he says and smirks when Patrick colors. “I know you too well, Pat.”

“That’s - I wasn’t lying about any of that, I swear, Jon, it’s just - there’s something I need to tell you. I - “

“Stop.” Jonny’s says, furious. “I don’t want to hear it. Get the fuck out of my hotel room and don’t come back ever again.”

Patrick shakes his head, his own anger crowding out his hurt. “You’re making a mistake. You’re going to regret this, I swear. But I’m going.”

“By the way,” Jonny says when Patrick’s at the door. “Jeff wasn’t the first guy.”

“What?” Patrick freezes, hand on the doorknob.

“You said I almost fucked the first guy who turned my head.” When Patrick can get himself to turn and look at Jonny, he’s reclining on the bed, calmly swinging the water bottle he’d been drinking from. “Oh, don’t worry, I didn’t fuck anyone else.”

Patrick glares at him, but Jonny just smirks at him.

“Jeff just isn’t the first guy who looked at me like that.” He shrugs. “But you’ve always been the only thing I’ve ever wanted or needed, so I didn’t have the time or energy for anyone else.” He tips his head at Patrick. “I guess now I can see what I’ve been missing out on.”

“Jonny-” Patrick inhales sharpy. “You-”

“Get out,” Jonny says, dropping the casual, contemplative tone he’d been using. “And don’t come back.”

Patrick bites his lip and feels nausea build in his throat. He opens the door and turns back one more time. “You’re making a mistake,” he says, his breath hitching. “This is all just a stupid mistake.”

“Maybe so,” Jonny says. “But unless you’re sticking around for round two -- which, you’re going to have to give me another ten minutes, we’re not teenagers anymore -- get the fuck out.” He grins savagely at Patrick, all teeth.

“Oh, I’m going,” Patrick says, wrenching the door open. “I just wish I never had to see you again, you fucking asshole.”

“Tough luck, since I’m the one who knocked you up,” Jonny says.

“What?” Patrick freezes, his heart pounding.

“Yeah, sorry, having three kids together means you’re stuck with me. So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow for hockey practice. In the meantime, don’t text me, don’t call me. I don’t want you around, and I don’t want to hear your voice unless it’s about the kids. Got it?”

“Got it,” Patrick says, panic fading a little. “Also, fuck you.”

“Think that’s my line, Pat,” Jonny leers mockingly.

Patrick steps into the hallway, shaking with rage, but by the time the elevator reaches the lobby, his anger has dissipated into despair. He brushes a tear aside as he walks past the restaurant next door, brimming with couples celebrating their love. That should have been them. Instead he’s wincing as he walks to his car, alone, Jonny’s come leaking down his thighs.

“Happy Valentine’s Day to me,” he says, giving in to the tears he’s been holding back.

***

Patrick spends the next week in a daze as the realities of his pregnancy and Jonny’s accusations sink in. He feels mostly numb, partly due to the constant nausea keeping him from eating much, and partly due to the unabating tension between him and Jonny.

Jonny’s still participating in the kids’ activities, but when he comes over he stands in the foyer for the few minutes he’s even in the house, his jaw clenched. After a week of tense handoffs, Patrick has had enough and confronts Jonny when he picks the kids up for a movie on Saturday afternoon.

“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say,” Jonny says, voice flat. “I’m here for the kids. That’s all.”

“But, Jonny-”

“I’m not going to tell you again. I don’t want to hear it. If you can’t respect that, I’ll wait in the car when I pick them up.”

Patrick swallows and looks down, tears pricking his eyes. “No, don’t - it’s been confusing enough for the kids. I don’t want them to think - “ His throat locks up.

“What? Don’t want to think this is the way it’s going to be from now on?” Jonny sneers coldly.

“Jonny,” Patrick says. “Please . . .”

“I’ll be in the car,” Jonny bites out, jaw ticking. “Send Eric and Bryan out when they’re ready.”

The door slamming behind Jonny makes Patrick jump.

“Where Papa?” Eric asks, coming down the stairs.

“He, uh. He got a call he needed to take, and he’s going to wait in the car,” Patrick says, wiping his eyes quickly and grabbing Eric’s shoes. “Come on, you’re going to miss the previews if you don’t get going.”

“Is Papa mad at you?” Eric asks suspiciously. “He looked mad.”

“You know how Papa is,” Patrick says, ducking down to tie Eric’s shoes, the laces blurry under his fingers. “Sometimes he looks mad when he’s just thinking about something.”

“Yeah,” Eric says, clearly unconvinced. “He better not be mad at you.” His sniffles a little.

“Oh, Eric,” Patrick says, looking up. “You don’t need to worry about that. Papa and I love you, and we love our family, and we love each other.” He hopes the last is still true, but he’s not going to think about it right now.

“But - why doesn’t he come home, Daddy?” Eric’s eyes are shining, and Patrick brushes a tear from his cheek.

“He - we’re working on it,” he says. “And I know that’s been hard on you and your brother. But we love you, and we don’t want you to worry about it. Our family: Papa and me and your brother and sister -- “ and the baby, Patrick thinks, his stomach clenching -- “we’ll always be your family.”

Eric sniffles again and nods. “Okay, Daddy.”

“Now, why don’t you go out and get in Papa’s car, and I’ll round up Bryan.”

“Okay,” Eric says, hugging Patrick tightly. “I love you, Daddy.”

“Oh, sweetie, I love you, too,” Patrick says, kissing the top of Eric’s head, his hair grown in enough that it’s just starting to curl. “Now scoot.” He smiles at Eric brightly as he leaves, and then closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, and then another. When he can get his throat to work again without his voice cracking, he calls for Bryan and the flurry of getting him out the door after yet another trip to the bathroom is enough to cut through the heartache. When he finally shuts the door behind Bryan, he sags a little.

“Jonny,” he whispers, rubbing his belly. “Why won’t you just listen to me?”

Amelie squawks on the baby monitor, and he smiles. “Saved by the baby,” he says to no one and climbs the stairs to get his little girl. “Daddy’s coming, Lady Bug.”

After Jonny drops the boys off without coming in, Patrick gets them to bed before he swallows hard and calls him.

“What,” Jonny snaps when he answers.

“Jonny, I just wanted to - I think we need to figure out how to make this better.”

“Jesus, Pat, how many fucking times - “

“No, not - “ Patrick sighs. “Not us. I meant when we’re around the kids. With handoffs and going to games and stuff.”

Jonny’s silent for long enough that Patrick thinks he hung up on him. “Jonny?”

“Yeah, fine,” Jonny says.

“You can’t - you won’t look at me, or talk to me, and the kids can see that, Jon,” Patrick says, his chest tight. “Eric asked me if you’re mad at me, and I really don’t want the kids dragged in the middle of this. So, can you - can we call a truce when we’re around the kids?”

“Okay,” Jonny says, his voice not quite as tight and angry. “You’re right. I’ll try not to - I’ll dial it back.”

“Gee, thanks, don’t strain yourself,” Patrick snaps. “Jesus, if you’d just listen-”

“Patrick, I’m going to say this one more time. There is literally nothing you could tell me that would make a difference. So. Stop. Trying.” He bites out the last words with precise anger. “Was there anything else?”

“No,” Patrick says, and before he can get another word out, Jonny hangs up on him.

“Well, fuck you,” Patrick says, furious. And that’s better than the near permanent state of numbness he’s been feeling lately, so he’ll take it.

***

Erica shows up in the morning as though she knew that he was going to need help. It means one less stop to drop Amelie off on the way to his prenatal appointment and Patrick is grateful that his sister always seems to know when he needs her. He just wishes it wasn’t so often lately.

Erica just sighs when he tells her how the conversation with Jonny had gone the night before.

“You should have told him about the baby,” she says quietly, zipping the boys lunches closed. “He should be going to this appointment with you.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t have time to worry about that right now,” Patrick says, and heads back upstairs to help the boys finish getting their uniforms on. It’s still a rush getting everyone fed and out the door, but no one’s late so Pat’s calling it a win.

He signs in with the receptionist and hands in all of the paperwork they sent him to fill out. When he turns around to find a seat, he realizes he’s the only one in the waiting room without a partner, and he flushes when a very pregnant mom smiles at him gently. He sits in a corner away from the others and leafs through a magazine. He’s shocked to find an old copy of The Hockey News and it makes him wonder if Dr. Knight’s a hockey fan.

He resolutely ignores the pitying looks from the other couples by losing himself in an article about recent advances in hockey analytics. The wait for Dr. Knight is relatively short. The practice he’d been with in Chicago always left him cooling his heels in the waiting room, so this is a welcome change of pace, and when he’s called, he’s grateful to leave all the happy couples behind.

Once he’s in the exam room and all the usual necessities have been attended to -- weight, blood pressure, peeing in a cup; he’s old hat at all of this now -- the low level anxiety he’s been feeling since he realized he was pregnant starts to rear its head. He pulls out his planner and turns to his notes, reviewing them so he doesn’t forget all the things he wants to ask.

Dr. Knight’s measuring his stomach, and pulling out the doppler, and Patrick’s trying to pay attention but his mind keeps cycling through what she’s going to say about all the drinking he’d done over New Year’s, the caffeine, the migraine pills he’d been taking before realizing he was expecting.

“Excuse me, uh,” Patrick interrupts as Dr. Knight is moving the doppler over his still relatively flat abdomen. “Sorry, it’s just. I’ve been drinking. I mean, not since I found out,” he hurries to add when she frowns at him, “but before I knew, I kind of drank a lot of whiskey and wine - well, not a lot, a lot, but you know, like a couple drinks a night? and probably some beer, too. Is that- do you think I- could that have hurt the baby?” He asks the questions in a rush and then heaves in a huge breath when he’s done, his heart racing.

“You’re fine, Patrick,” Dr. Knight soothes, patting his arm. “This is a very common concern, but really, the amount that you’d have had to have been drinking is far beyond normal recreational use. And you’re not terribly far along yet, so likely the majority of your alcohol consumption was before the placenta had even taken over, and the baby was still protected and on the fetal pole.” She smiles reassuringly. “I’m not saying go out and get wasted, but don’t lose any sleep over what’s been done.”

Patrick bites his lip, “Okay, um, what about my migraine medicine?” He sits up for a second, to fumble for his phone, pulling up the picture he’d taken of the label that morning. “Sumatriptan.” He turns the phone towards Dr. Knight so she can look at the label.

She slides over to the nearby computer and types a few things into the terminal. “You’re fine,” she says, “I can’t recommend that you continue taking it -- if you really feel you need it we can discuss the risks and benefits at that point -- but for now, don’t worry about it too much. It’s a Category C drug for pregnancy, which is what most drugs are. It’s not very helpful, but it does mean that it hasn’t been contraindicated.”

Patrick exhales in relief, “Okay, awesome, cool.”

“Cool,” Dr. Knight echoes with a grin. “So is it cool if I finish up the exam real quick and then we can talk about your previous pregnancies and what you should be doing moving forward?”

“Yes. Absolutely. Go to town, Doc.”

Dr. Knight grins at him and reapplies another layer of the cold, green goop -- Patrick’s sure that’s the technical term -- to his belly, and moves over it slowly with the doppler. “And that, right there, that’s the baby’s heartbeat.” She looks up at Patrick expectantly.

“Yeah,” he says. He can’t hear a fucking thing. It all sounds like the same woosh, woosh, woosh no matter where on his stomach she puts the wand.

She must see it in his face, because she turns the doppler up and slides it again.

“Right here,” she readjusts it. “Can you hear that tiny little click? The rhythmic one?”

“Kind of?” Patrick says. He thinks he might hear something. He remembers when they’d gone for their first ultrasound with the twins, and Jonny’s white face when the doctor had blurted that there were two heartbeats. The corner of Patrick’s mouth quirks a little as he thinks that Jonny should be here, straining to listen to their new baby.

“That’s it!” Dr. Knight’s smiling at him encouragingly, letting him listen for a few more seconds, before sitting back. She wipes his stomach off with a rough washcloth, and tells him he can sit up.

“All right, the baby sounds great. I know you’ve done this before, so I’m sure you remember all the big stuff, but I’ll send you home with a couple pamphlets -- stuff you can’t eat, medicine you can’t take, all the fun stuff you can no longer do -- just the basics. Do you have any other questions for me?” She’s taps something into the computer quickly, then sits back and looks at him.

“Yeah,” Patrick says, pulling his shirt down a little more firmly over his stomach. “The twins were a fairly straight-forward pregnancy -- just the normal multiples stuff -- but my daughter wasn’t as easy. My blood pressure started rising when I was thirty-six weeks, and I ended up with eclampsia so bad that I started having convulsions and had to have an emergency c-section. She was fine -- early and a little small -- but otherwise okay.”

Dr. Knight is nodding, and he bites his lip, remembering how awful that time was. It seems so long ago now but it wasn’t - it wasn’t even two years. “After she was born my kidneys started to fail, and I ended up in the hospital for over a week on dialysis.” He shudders. “Even after I went home, it took me a long time to recover. I feel like I missed out on the first six weeks of her life. I don’t want - is that something you think is going to happen again?”

“It’s possible,” she says directly, “but we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t. If you’ve had eclampsia once, you’re at higher risk of developing pre-eclampsia with subsequent pregnancies, but there’s lots of things we can do to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

“Really?” Patrick sighs out a long, relieved breath when she nods.

“Really. Blood pressure and proteins in your urine are the two strongest indicators of pre-eclampsia and right now, your proteins are normal and your blood pressure looks great. But we’ll definitely want to monitor for this, and you’ll need to help with that, taking your blood pressure at home, checking your proteins, that sort of thing. Looking out for the other warning signs.” Dr. Knight leans back slightly towards the desk, pulls out a fact sheet, and passes it over to him. “That’s got the biggies on there, so review that, and keep an eye out. Really one of the biggest things you can do right now, is just try to keep your stress level low, that can really have a huge impact on blood pressure.”

Patrick bites his lips. Stress. Right. There’s nothing stressful going on right now.

Dr. Knight laughs a little, “I know, I know, easier said than done, especially with three small kids, but this is really the time to take it easy as much as possible. Make your partner pick up a little extra slack, tell him, ‘Doctor’s orders!’”

Patrick smiles, it feels like a grimace. “Right. Yeah. Okay.”

“I know, it’s a little overwhelming, even if you’ve done it before, but you’re going to be fine, Patrick. And you have our on-call number, so if anything comes up just give us a call. No question’s too dumb, I promise.”

Patrick gathers up all the papers he’s collected during the visit, wincing a little at the cheery cartoon character decorating the top one, So You’re Going To Be A Dad! “Okay, great. Do I just check-out up front?”

“Yup, and we’ll see you in a month.” Dr. Knight follows him out the door, and points out the exit to the lobby. “Take care, Patrick, see you soon.”

His head's still swimming as he exits the office a few moments later. He’s known about the baby for a few weeks now, but hearing the heartbeat and talking to Dr. Knight about everything is really driving it all home, that he’s doing this. He’s having another baby.

***

The appointment -- and Dr. Knight’s no-nonsense but supportive demeanor -- leaves Patrick much more relaxed and excited on the drive home than he’d felt when he’d left that morning. And when he arrives home, finding Erica and Ammy embroiled in an epic game of hide-and-seek helps him laugh away the last of his earlier anxiety.

“She’s winning,” Erica explains from her perch on the couch where she’s leafing through a magazine. She nods towards Ammy who is sitting on the bottom stair, eyes clenched shut and mouth shut. “Ammy's such a good hider, Pat, I can’t find her anywhere.”

Amelie giggles, before covering her mouth with her hands, and closing her eyes even tighter. Patrick has to stifle his own laugh: Ammy’s fervent belief that if she can’t see you, you can’t see her is one of his favorite things.

Patrick fills Erica in on his appointment, while every so often she exclaims, “Where is Ammy hiding?” and “Oh dear, whatever will I tell Daddy?” and “Maybe she’s under the table.”

Once Patrick finishes, she gives him a searching look, “Just keep that stress level low, huh? No sweat.”

Patrick feels like he wants to argue with her, at least on principle since it’s not as if he actually disagrees, but he’s forestalled by her lightly whacking him in the shoulder with her magazine before running towards Amelie and spinning her around, “I found her! I found Ammy! Oh my goodness, I thought you were lost forever.”

Amelie screeches with laughter and clings to Erica’s legs when she sets her down, “Mo’ pwease!”

“No way, Jose!” Erica laughs, collapsing to the floor, “I’m too tired, you go turn those big brown eyes on your daddy!”

“Way to sell me out!” Patrick says and Amelie crashes into his shins.

“It’s every man for himself,” Erica giggles. “She’s cute, but she’s exhausting.”

“Don’t I know it,” Patrick agrees swinging Amelie up onto his hip and kissing each chubby cheek. “All right, Lady Bug, what do you say we go figure out lunch.”

Amelie starts clapping quickly.

Patrick laughs, shaking his head, “Yes! Yay! Lunch!” He turns towards Erica, “You staying?”

“Nah, I’ve got to go, but call me if you need anything. And talk to Jonny, it’s probably the only thing that’s going to actually help your stress level.”

“I don’t know which Jonny you’re thinking of, because talking to my Jonny is only going to make my blood pressure go up.”

“You can’t avoid him forever.”

“I’m not avoiding him,” Patrick mutters petulantly. “He’s avoiding me.”

“Okay, then, you’re lying to him, sound better?” Erica says a little more sharply than he’s used to from her.

“Erica - “

“It’s okay, Pat, it’s just - he’s going to know eventually. Why not tell him now?”

“I told you, I don’t want him to - to - to forgive me or just move back in because of the baby. And I can get through to him, I just need a little more time.”

“You can’t keep waiting -” Erica says.

“Humgry,” Amelie interrupts helpfully, patting Patrick’s face as if to remind him that she’s still there. “Yunch!”

“Saved by the bell,” Erica says wryly, pulling both Patrick and Amelie into a quick hug, “Go feed her, I’ll talk to you later.”

“Good job distracting mean old Auntie Erica! Best baby!” Patrick tells Amelie.

“I heard that,” Erica calls from the foyer.

“I meant you to,” Patrick calls back sotto voce, laughing when the door slams. “She’s so silly,” he tells Amelie as he’s setting her into her high chair and fixing them both lunch.

***

They’re just finishing dinner a few days later when the doorbell rings, and Eric jumps up from the table. “Sit down, young man,” Patrick says. “You’re not finished with your dinner.” When Bryan opens his mouth to protest, he shakes his head. “You, too. I’ll get the door.”

He’s almost to the door when the bell goes off again. “I’m coming, jeez, keep your pants on!” He says as he swings the door open. Andree's standing on the other side, laughing.

“Patrick,” she says, smiling at him while he sputters. “It is so good to see you, mon fils.” She pulls him into a hug, surrounding him with her scent, and the Chanel No. 5 makes Patrick’s eyes prickle with how much it reminds him of growing up.

Maman,” he says, hugging her tightly. “Sorry about that - I thought it was someone selling something!” He pulls back and ushers her into the foyer, shutting the door behind him. “How was your flight? I didn’t think we’d see you until tomorrow afternoon.”

“I couldn’t wait to see the children,” Andree says.

“They can’t wait to see you, too. They’ve been so excited about your visit. Come on, they’re in the kitchen.”

“Yes, one moment, please, Patrick,” she says, a hand on his arm stopping him before he leads the way back to the kitchen. “My son tells me you are having trouble again. He says that the divorce, it is something you want?”

“No,” Patrick says fiercely. “No, it’s nothing I want, but I can’t get Jonny to listen.” His throat tightens. “I don’t know how to make him understand if he won’t even hear me out on this.”

“He tells me the divorce is your doing, though, and I do not understand,” Andree says. “Donna said that Christmas was good and that you were doing better after your vacation. Jonny said this, too. But then suddenly he is angry and unhappy again, and he tells me you are divorcing him. So what is the truth, cher?”

Patrick shrugs and she sighs. “Did you file for a divorce, Patrick?”

“No!” Patrick says quickly, shocked that she thinks it was him. “No, I didn’t - things were good between us -- but he found these papers I had drawn up a couple months ago and now -- he’s just so angry.”

“I can see that he is angry,” Andree says. “But you should be able to work this out without involving lawyers.”

Patrick darts a glance at her, about to protest that he isn’t the one who filed, but he can see that she doesn’t know. Jonny clearly hasn’t told her about filing for separation papers. If Jonny hasn’t told her, Patrick’s certainly not going to be the one to do it; hopefully they’ll work things before any of their family hears anything about it.

“Patrick?” Andree prods, looking at him expectantly.

“I just - he thinks I was lying to him, that I was leading him on. But I wasn’t, Maman, I swear! And now I can’t get him to let me explain and things are so bad. They’re just so bad.” He says, his voice hitching. “And I know it’s my fault, but Jonny won’t listen. He’s being an ass.”

Andree turns a disappointed look on him and he flushes, trailing off.

“Well, perhaps I can speak to Jonathan. I will ask him why he does not talk to you. Perhaps he will listen to his mother.” The hint of steel in her voice makes Patrick smile.

“I hope so,” Patrick says. “He’s definitely not listening to me.”

“Hmm,” she hums. “We will see. But, maintenant, where are my beautiful petit fils?”

Mémé!” Eric shrieks when Andree walks into the kitchen, and Patrick has to duck out of the way as he races to her. The next few minutes are filled with laughter and rapid French, and Patrick’s pleased that he can follow about half of the conversation.

He interrupts when he catches snatches that seem to be the boys pleading with Andree to buy them a new skateboard ramp. “All right, I think Mémé would like a break from little boys who should know better than to ask for special presents the moment their grandmother walks in the door.”

“But Dad,” Eric says, and Andree laughs rubbing the short curls growing out on his head.

“Nope,” Patrick says. “Clear your plates and then you can take Mémé outside and show her the perfectly good ramp you’ve already got for your skateboards.”

“Can we wear a costume?” Bryan asks, his face pleading. “Please, Daddy?”

“Sure,” Patrick says. “We’ll meet you out there in five minutes.”

Les petits frères jumeaux are not so small anymore,” Andree says when they’ve dashed out, whispering about whether to be superheroes or ninja turtles.

“They are not,” Patrick agrees.

“Amelie is growing up as well,” she continues, plucking her out of her high chair. “Soon you will have no babies for me to cuddle and then what will I do? Until David stops being stubborn and proposes to Rebecca, mademoiselle coccinelle will be the youngest for some time, no?”

“Uh,” Patrick says, scrambling to respond while he wipes the already clean table again. “You don’t think David’s ready to settle down?”

“Perhaps, but he is very stubborn, just like his brother, and I fear that he is going to wait too long, and she will decide she doesn’t want to wait for him any longer.”

“Did you see her at Christmas?” Patrick asks, and he sighs with relief when Andree allows herself to be distracted talking about David and his ongoing refusal to make an honest woman of Rebecca. They head outside a few minutes later to enjoy the costumed skateboard routine.

Andree’s cell goes off a little later while she’s pushing Amelie on the swing, the phone abandoned on one of the lounge chairs. Patrick picks it up, but when he sees that it’s Jonny calling, he doesn’t answer it. He hands it off to her wordlessly and takes her place behind the swing.

“More!” Amelie demands and Patrick pushes her higher, keeping one ear focused on Andree.

Andree paces as she talks to Jonny, her face and voice animated. He can only catch snatches of the conversation, but she doesn’t sound angry so much as insistent, so he tries to focus on pushing Amelie higher.

“I would like to have dinner here tomorrow night,” Andree says after she hangs up the phone. “With you and Jonathan and the kids. And Erica - the whole family.”

“But Jonny . . .” Patrick trails off. “He’s not going to come, Andree.”

“Yes, he is coming as well,” Andree says firmly. “Jonathan agreed that eating as a family would be . . . acceptable. So. What shall we make?”

Patrick shakes his head and laughs at the expression on her face. Jonny, for all his stubbornness, has never been able to out-stubborn his mother. At least some things haven’t changed.

***

Patrick might help Andree pick out the menu, but he has no memory of doing so, and has to rely on his shopping list to help him piece it together. He’s shopping at Whole Foods when Erica calls.

“Pat, did you know Andree’s in town?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, distracted. “Saw her last night.”

“And did you know she was going to invite me to dinner? At your house? With Jonny?”

“Oh, yeah,” Patrick says, wincing. He stops in the middle of the pasta aisle and rubs his temple. Yeah, “I’m sorry, I should have called. I’ve - it’s been a weird twenty-four hours.”

She snorts. “I have a feeling that the next twelve hours are going to put the last twenty-four to shame. Are you sure you and Jonny having dinner together is a good idea?”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s a horrible fucking idea, but saying no to Andree hasn’t gotten any easier over the years. For Jonny or for me. Or for you, it sounds like,” he teases.

“Yeah,” Erica says with a sigh. “What do you want me to bring?”

“Yourself, to the house, about three hours early. I love her, but Andree is terrifying when she’s like this, frankly,” Patrick says, moving out of the way of another shopper.

“Like what?” Erica asks.

“You’ll see,” Patrick says. Erica laughs, and it makes Patrick relax some of the tension he’s been carrying in his shoulders since he woke up this morning. “So, come over around three o’clock?”

“Sure,” she says easily. “I’ll just grab the boys after school.”

“Thanks,” Patrick says, heartfelt.

Shopping goes more quickly after that, and he’s feeling a little less nervous until he gets home and sees Jonny’s car parked in the driveway.

“Fucking fuck,” he says.

“Fu’ fu’, Dada,“ Amelie repeats, and Patrick laughs despite himself.

“Come on Lady Bug, guess we have to go face the music.”

He unloads Amelie and grabs the two cold storage bags before shouldering open the door from the garage into the house. “Jonny?” There’s no answer, so he deposits Amelie on the floor and puts the groceries away quickly. When there’s no reply, he grabs Amelie again and walks out to the foyer. “Jonny?”

He hears noises above him and heads upstairs. “Jonny?” He finds him in the closet of the boys’ room.

“Papa!” Amelie squirms to get down and runs over to Jonny. “Papa!” She presses kisses to his face and tucks her head under his chin. “Ammy nap?”

“Sure, coccinelle. If that’s okay?” Jonny says and kisses her head. Watching them makes Patrick’s heart constrict. Jonny looks up at Patrick when he doesn’t respond.

“Yeah, yeah, sure.” Jonny’s almost at the door when Patrick stops him. “Hey, what are you doing in here?”

“Looking for Eric’s spare shin guards,” Jonny says. “He wasn’t wearing his right one when I picked him up from practice yesterday.”

Patrick frowns. “And it couldn’t wait?”

“I wanted to talk to you about tonight.” Jonny says, his expression getting dark.

“Okay,” Patrick responds. It’s not a bad idea to find out how Jonny plans on handling the evening. Forewarned is forearmed. “I’m just going to get a sandwich. Can I - do you want something for lunch?”

“I already ate. Just give me ten minutes?”

Patrick’s mostly done with his sandwich when Jonny comes into the kitchen. “She asleep?” He doesn’t say that he was watching Jonny on the monitor crooning softly to Amelie before laying her gently in her crib.

“Just about.” Jonny grabs a green drink out of the fridge and takes a swig. “So. My mom.”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, quirking a small smile. “She’s something.”

“Ha,” Jonny says, a quick bark of a laugh that’s clearly involuntary. “That’s one way of putting it.” He swallows the rest of the drink and rinses the bottle out, tossing it in the recycling bin. “And I wanted to tell you I’m sorry about tonight.”

“What? Why - aren’t you coming?” Patrick asks, dropping the last of his sandwich in shock. “You cannot skip out on your mother, Jon. She’ll kill you!”

“I’m coming, Jesus, Pat, it’s just - it’s gonna be a shitshow!” He says, looking wild-eyed.

“I know, babe, but-”

“Don’t call me that,” Jonny grits out. “Not your babe anymore.”

“I didn’t mean to, it’s just a habit. “ Patrick says, exasperated. “Jesus, you’re an asshole.”

“Fuck off,” Jonny says, his jaw working.

“Fine, whatever.” Patrick sighs and waits. When Jonny doesn’t say anything, Patrick raises an eyebrow at him. “I thought you wanted to talk about what want to do about your mom?”

“I do,” Jonny says sullenly. “What did you say to her yesterday? I know you didn’t tell I filed for separation but - what does she think happened?”

“I just told her the truth,” Patrick says, and Jonny makes a face. “Yeah, and you know what, Jon? She actually listened to me! It was so refreshing.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because she doesn’t know the whole story,” Jonny sneers. “And how about I tell her a few truths about you? About exactly how you were using me? Wonder what she’d say if I told her her precious Patrick wasn’t quite the innocent boy she remembers growing up?”

“You’re such an asshole,” Patrick says, coloring. “You - you wouldn’t.”

“Probably not,” Jonny admits, a nasty smile on his face. “You sure you want to take the risk, though?”

Patrick’s eyes prickle, and he hugs himself, looking away.

“Okay?” Jonny says, his voice cold, and Patrick mutely nods his head, not trusting his voice not to crack.

“We’re going to pretend to be a united front,” Jonny says in the same clipped tone, and Patrick’s had about enough of that. If Jonny thinks sex is the only thing that motivates Patrick, he might as well live down to his expectations.

“Really,” Patrick says, mustering up a faux-smirk. “What’s it worth to you?” He sidles closer and waggles his eyebrows, and his smirk gets more authentic when Jonny steps back and bangs into the refrigerator, his eyes huge and dark. Patrick steps even closer and runs one finger up his arm.

Jonny makes a little noise, and Patrick angles his head down, looking up at Jonny through his eyelashes. Jonny licks his lips and leans closer and - Amelie squawks on the monitor, making them jump. Jonny pushes on Patrick’s chest and slides past him, and Patrick sighs.

“Jesus, you’re - fuck, Patrick,” Jonny says, running a hand through his hair, two spots of color high in his cheeks. “You - what the fuck are you doing?”

“Well, since you think I’m such a cock-hungry slut - and I guess I’m not alone in that,” Patrick says, nodding at the obvious erection tenting Jonny’s pants. “Just figured I might as well live down to your expectations, If you aren’t going to listen to what - ”

“For fuck’s sake! Can’t you respect that I don’t want to hear your lies? That I don’t believe them? Just fucking stop with this bullshit!”

Amelie’s rustling has turned into whimpering, and Patrick rubs at the dull ache at the back of his neck before dropping his hand to his side. “Fine. Just. What do you want to do tonight?”

He’s exhausted even thinking about getting through dinner, what was already stressful edging toward unbearable at the thought of spending the night at odds with Jonny.

Jonny glares for another few seconds before his shoulders drop, and he scrubs at his hair. “I think we should just distract her. Make sure the kids are around - and for God’s sake, don’t let her get the two of us alone.”

“Fine,” Patrick says again, brushing a hand across his mouth. The nausea he’s been dealing with more frequently lately has returned, and he’s starting to regret that sandwich. “Is that all?”

Jonny peers at him more closely, frowning. “Are you alright? You look like you’re going to throw up.”

Patrick shakes his head quickly. “I’m not - I’m, I’m just tired. I’m going to go lie down after I get the stew started.”

“Maybe you should lie down now,” Jonny says, doubtful. “You’re pretty green, Pat. Are you coming down with something? Eric said he heard you throwing up yesterday.”

“No, no,” Patrick says, fighting to keep his voice even. “I’m fine. But maybe I will go lie down. Could you start the stew?”

“Sure,” Jonny says, concerned and looking at Patrick in a way he hasn’t seen directed at him for weeks. “Go rest.”

He’s almost at the door when Jonny calls out to him. “Pat - wait.”

Patrick turns and Jonny’s expression is a combination of defiance and guilt. “I didn’t - I shouldn’t have said those things. I - Can we put this all aside, at least for tonight? Just - like a truce?”

“I - really?” Patrick says. He’d be more shocked at the change in Jonny’s tone if he didn’t know how mercurial Jonny’s moods can be. Especially when it comes to dealing with his mother.

“Yeah,” Jonny says. “Please?”

“Five minutes ago you were basically threatening to tell your mom that I’m a cock-hungry slut,” Patrick says skeptically, wanting to punish Jonny a little for being a dick.

“Yeah, that was - I didn’t really mean it,” Jonny says, wincing. “And I’m not going to tell my mom anything about our - our business.”

Patrick looks at Jonny for a long moment, watching him shift his weight awkwardly, his expression unsure.

“Okay,” he says eventually. It’s not an apology but it’s probably the best that Jonny can do right now, and Patrick, God help him, will take it.

“But - you can’t keep saying shit like that, man. It’s - you just can’t,” Patrick pleads. “It’s not fair -- or true -- and you know it.”

“You’re right,” Jonny nods, twisting his lips. “I’ll try to be better from now on.”

Patrick nods back and walks out, feeling a little hopeful about the situation for the first time in awhile.

He listens at Amelie’s door, but she seems to have settled back into her nap, so he kicks off his shoes and lays down on his own bed. The nausea has thankfully abated, and he rolls to his side, cupping his belly.

He doesn’t let himself think about how much Jonny’s words hurt. He’s just going to have to put it aside until he can explain.

“I’m going to keep trying to get him to listen, don’t worry, baby,” he says, yawning widely. “Your Papa’s a jackass, but he’s our jackass.”

***

Erica shakes him awake an hour later. “Want to tell me why Jonny’s in the kitchen braising meat?”

“Mhwyuh?” Patrick says. He yawns and rolls over, looking to see that it’s almost four o’clock. “I can’t believe I slept this long,” he says, yawning again.

“Patrick,” Erica says, her tone deceptively patient. “Why is Jonny downstairs cooking? Inquiring sisters who have been putting up with all of this bullshit for far too long want to know.”

“Oh, uh. He’s just here to help with dinner.” When she raises an eyebrow at him, he rolls his eyes. “He wants us to present a ‘united front’ to his mother. Apparently that includes helping with dinner. I don’t know how he managed to get the afternoon off from work, but when he offered, I was nauseous enough that I said yes.”

“That sounds like progress,” she says, frowning when he shakes his head. “Or not?”

“I wish, but, no,” Patrick shrugs. “He’s still being - well, he’s not being nice, let’s leave it at that.”

“Do I need to go kick his ass, Patrick?” Erica says, eyes narrowed.

“No!” Patrick says quickly. “No, please, Erica. It’ll just make him even angrier, and I can’t-” he swallows down a lump in his throat. “It’s already hard enough.”

Erica sighs and picks at the duvet cover for a minute. “I’m not going to be nice to him, but I’m not sure how much longer you can wait to tell him about the baby. Jackass or not, he deserves to know. And maybe-”

“Maybe it’ll make him forgive me? Or be with me?” Patrick scoffs. “I can’t wonder for the rest of this pregnancy if Jonny’s only with me because of his baby.”

“Pat-”

“No, Erica. I just can’t - it would kill me,” Patrick says. “Because I know Jonny and even if he didn’t want to, he’d pretend for the baby. He wouldn’t leave me alone to deal with everything.”

“I think you’re being stupid again,” Erica says, blowing out a frustrated breath.

“Maybe, but it’s my decision and that’s final.”

Erica’s silent for a few seconds. “Okay.”

So how are we handling tonight?”

“Carefully?” Patrick says and she shakes her head. “We’ve got a sort of truce. And he doesn’t want you to leave us alone with Andree,” Patrick snorts. “Like having you in the room is going to keep Andree from saying her piece.”

“That kid is an idiot,” Erica scoffs.

“Yeah,” Patrick says fondly. “He is.”

“And so are you,” Erica adds, and Patrick throws a pillow at her.

Patrick splashes some water on his face, ignoring the dull ache at the base of skull that somehow got worse during his nap. When he gets downstairs, Jonny’s looking even more closed off than he did earlier, but at least he doesn’t look like he wants to take Patrick’s head off anymore.

Andree’s got Jonny cleaning the strawberries, and there’s a pile of green beans waiting next to him, so Patrick grabs a seat and sits next to him at the island. He smiles at Jonny a little tentatively, but Jonny smiles back at him, his eyes a little wild.

“Patrick!” he says loudly, and Patrick has to bite back a laugh at the relief in Jonny’s voice. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says, smiling back at Jonny helplessly. “Just needed a nap.”

“Were you not feeling well?” Andree asks immediately, looking at him sharply.

“No, no, I’m fine,” Patrick says again, his cheeks heating. “I just didn’t sleep well last night - I’m reading that new S.V. Madelyn novel, and I couldn’t put it down.”

“Hmm,” Andree says, but she lets it go.

Jonny’s looking at him out of the corner of his eye, and Patrick bumps his shoulder. “So she put you on strawberry duty again, huh?”

“Yeah,” Jonny says. “Because I’m awesome at it.”

“Because you’re terrible at everything else, you mean.”

They chirp each other gently for the next few minutes, falling into their usual banter without any effort. “Well, maybe if you hadn’t snuck the vodka out of the liquor cabinet, we wouldn’t have had to clean thirty-six ears of corn all by ourselves-”

“Boys,” Andree says, shaking her head at them when they look up. “It has been almost twenty years. I have never understood why whichever of you took that bottle does not admit to it.”

“Because it wasn’t them,” Erica says matter-of-factly from the table where she’s been helping Amelie color. “It was me. Well. Me and Jessica.”

“What?” Jonny and Patrick say in tandem, looking at each other in shock. Jonny shakes his head at him, eyes wide in surprise.

“You and Jessica,” Patrick says incredulous. “There’s no way it was you and Jessica.”

“Oh, but it was,” Erica says, smirking and running her finger through the frosting left in the bowl. “Me. And. Jessica.” She laughs, pointing the finger at them. “I wish Jessica could see you - actually, she’s going to kill me for telling you. But it’s worth it.” She licks her finger and laughs again. “You guys should see your faces.”

“I can’t believe you,” Patrick says, his voice rising. “You let us take the rap for that for almost twenty years! And I can’t tell you how many fights we’ve had-”

“Patrick, mon fils, please calm down,” Andree chides him, trying to hold in a grin. “I’m sure Erica's very sorry, hmm?” When Erica nods, clearly unrepentant, she smiles more widely. “It was a long time ago. It is best if we just let it go, yes?”

“But-” Jonny stops. “Maman, we-”

“Enough, Jonathan,” Andree says, her tone still amused, if a little more forceful. “And if you have finished cutting up the strawberries, you may start on the cucumbers.”

Jonny makes a face behind his mother’s back and gets the cucumbers out of the fridge, passing close enough to Erica to make her move quickly to the side, out of his reach. When he sits down, he bumps Patrick’s shoulder again. “Your sister, man,” he says. “She’s a menace.”

“Yeah, well, at least you didn’t have to deal with her for the first thirteen years of your life,” Patrick returns, smiling innocently when Andree looks over at them.

“Remember those pictures from the Halloween she made me wear her princess costume so she could wear my Batman costume? They called me Rapunzel until I got into middle school.” Patrick mock-glares at Erica.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel,” Erica says, laughing. “Let down your curls.”

“Shut up,” Patrick grumbles. Jonny’s shoulder brushes his and when Patrick looks over, he’s biting back a smile. “Hey,” Patrick says, frowning, but that makes Jonny giggle, and soon enough they’re all laughing.

“Do not tell the boys about that,” Patrick says, pointing his knife at each of them in turn. “I will cut you.”

“Eh, you’re all talk,” Erica says, ruffling his hair. “Now, who wants a drink?”

Jonny and Andree ask for wine, and Erica opens a bottle of Pinot Grigio that’s been chilling, taking out three glasses.

“Aren’t you having any?” Jonny asks when they’ve all got their glass.

Patrick freezes. “No - I - no,” he stutters, trying to think of an excuse. “I’m - I - I’m so tired. I’d probably fall asleep in the dessert.” Jonny shrugs and takes a sip of his wine.

Patrick glances at Andree. She’s looking at him consideringly, and he flushes.

“I’m just going to get a soda from the fridge in the mud room. Be right back.”

He waits a few minutes in the mud room, pressing the can to his cheeks to cool them. When he returns, Andree’s occupied with getting the salad dressed, and Jonny’s pulling the jug of water out of the fridge. Erica’s openly smirking at him, and he makes a face at her.

After all the buildup and stress leading up to dinner, the meal itself goes smoothly, the conversation flowing easily. The boys chatter away about their day at school and all the toys their Mémé got for them. There’s really only one tense moment - when Andree asks Jonny about all the travel he’s been doing. Jonny gets red and his face tightens.

“Yeah, I’m not sure that project’s gonna work out,” he says, stabbing at his salad. “I was hoping-” he darts an angry glance at Patrick. “Anyway, I think I’m going to get assigned to a new project, soon.”

“So, perhaps you are going to be around more, hmm?” Andree asks mildly. “Or does this new project have a lot of travel as well?”

“No,” Jonny says, jaw ticking. “No travel for this one.”

“Good,” she says.

Patrick smiles tightly when Erica looks at him, eyebrows drawn together. Jonny’s mystery project hasn’t been something he’s wanted to think about. He’s fairly certain Jonny isn’t going to turn to Jeff, even as mad as he is at Patrick, but . . . He doesn’t want to think about it. He’s just relieved that the new project Jonny’s going to be working on isn’t the glamorous ‘spas around the world’ undertaking that he’d been so excited to work on with Jeff.

Cher, you need to eat,” Andree says, tsking at the full plate of food in front of Eric. “Do you not like the stew?”

“I like it,” Eric says, biting his lip. “I’m just full.”

When she looks at Jonny and raises an eyebrow, he shrugs.

“Take three more bites,” Jonny instructs, meeting Eric’s pleading eyes. “Nope. Three bites, buddy.”

“I can eat them for Eric, Papa,” Bryan volunteers, but he subsides when Jonny shakes his head at him.

“Eric can eat his own bites. Now, do you want some more?” Patrick asks, spooning out more stew when Bryan nods.

The rest of the meal is relatively uneventful. Patrick and Jonny clear the table while Erica and Andree take the kids to the backyard to play before dessert.

“So far, so good,” Jonny says out of the side of his mouth, glancing back at his mother and Erica following the boys outside, Amelie perched on Erica’s hip.

“Shut up, shut up,” Patrick hisses. “That’s like asking for trouble.”

They get everything cleaned up quickly, and Jonny’s getting out some ice cream when Andree walks in. Patrick closes the dishwasher with a slam, and swallows, easing toward the door. “I’m just going to go - “

Un moment, s’il te plait, Patrick,” Andree says. “I want to talk to you both.”

Patrick looks at Jonny and shakes his head in disgust. “You jinxed us,” he mouths.

Jonny shrugs and puts the ice cream away, his shoulders tight. - they’d been so close. “Maman-” Jonny says, clearly not ready to give up the fight. “Our relationship is - “

“Why is Eric not eating?” Andee asks, cutting him off.

“What?” Patrick blinks at her. “Eating?”

“What do you mean not eating?” Jonny says, looking at Patrick “I know he doesn’t eat a ton, but -- he’s been eating more lately -- right, Patrick?”

“I mean, he doesn’t like everything we make, but, yeah, I think his eating has been better lately,” Patrick adds. “I’ve been making his favorites more, and that helps.”

“No, he is not eating,” Andree says, her expression serious. “Tonight I watched him the whole meal. He took two bites of the stew, and had a little salad. Half of his roll. He is not eating.”

“I - Well, now that I think about it,” Patrick says slowly, glancing over at Jonny. “Most of his lunch comes back uneaten. But - “

“What? He’s not eating his lunch, and you didn’t think that was important?” Jonny says, frowning at him. “How could you not pay more attention?”

“Fuck you, Jonny, I’ve been a little distracted lately, and I just didn’t notice until Maman brought it up.”

“What the hell, Pat? He has to eat!” Jonny says, gesturing at the table. “He’s already smaller than Bryan, and if he’s not growing because of this-”

“He is growing, Jon, Jesus - “

“Boys,” Andree says loudly, and Patrick closes his mouth with a snap. Jonny swipes a hand across his mouth, face red.

“Enough of this arguing, it is not helping,” Andree says, leveling them both with stern stare. “Do you know that Jonny was not always a good eater, Patrick?”

“Yeah,” Patrick says sullenly, picking at his nails.

“Did you know that he had his first irritable bowel flare up when he was only eleven?”

“What?” Patrick says, looking up at Jonny. “You - why didn’t you ever say something?”

“I honestly forgot, it’s been so long.”

“How could you forget that? Jesus, Jonny maybe - ”

“Eric does not have irritable bowel,” Jonny interrupts sharply. “He’s a six year-old kid! He’s just - he’s a picky eater. That’s all.”

“I don’t know if he’s just picky or if he’s ill, but neither do you,” Andree says in the silence that follows, and Jonny clenches his jaw, glaring at Patrick. “You need to take him to a doctor. And soon.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Patrick says, relieved she hadn’t cornered them about anything else. “I’ll make an appointment tomorrow.” He eases toward the door. “I’m going to go check on the kids and Erica.”

“No, you are not,” Andree says firmly. “I want to talk to you about this nonsense about a divorce,” Andree says, and Patrick has to swallow a groan. He knew they wouldn’t get out of it that easily.

“I’m not going to stand here and be lectured to-”

“No, Jonathan, you need to listen. I have spoken to Patrick, and he tells me that you are not talking to him about the things you need to talk about. I am very disappointed in you, mon fils.”

Jonny bristles and throws another glare at Patrick. “I can’t believe you talked to her about this,” he hisses, furious.

“Oh, fuck off,” Patrick snaps. “She asked me, what was I supposed to say?”

“Donna has told me all of this, too, Jonathan,” Andree says curtly. “You are not to be angry with Patrick because he has talked to me.”

Maman, this is not your business.” Jonny crosses his arms.

“You two have been my business since you met twenty years ago,” she chides. “Keeping you two from killing each other was our job for the first few years. This is no different.”

Maman,” Patrick says. Two pairs of dark eyes swing his way. “I think - I appreciate it, but. Jonny and I need to work this out. On our own.”

Ouias, vraiment, Patrick,” Andree says, tilting her head and smiling softly. “But you cannot work it out if Jonathan will not listen, hmm?”

Jonny huffs. “Fine. If I promise to listen, do you promise to leave it alone?”

“Yes,” Andree says, her tone light. “If you promise, Jonathan.”

“I promise,” Jonathan grits out. “Are you done?”

“I am, yes, but you two are not. You will talk now,” Andree says, her voice rising when Jonny opens his mouth. “Jonathan, you will clear this foolishness up. If not for each other, for your family. For your children.”

Jonny crosses his arms, glaring at his mother.

“Andree, I don’t think now’s the best time,” Patrick says, licking his lips, the tension headache he’d had earlier making itself known again. “The kids - “

“It is a very good time. Erica and I are taking the children for ice cream, so you will have some time alone.”

“Fine,” Jonny says, jaw ticking. “And then you’re leaving it alone, Maman.”

“Of course, Jonny.” Andree says, smiling sweetly. “I promised, non?”

It takes a few minutes for everyone to leave, but once they’re gone, Patrick hands a green drink to Jonny and grabs a bottle of water for himself.

“Well, that was not fun at all,” Patrick says, rubbing his temples. “Your mom, man.”

“Like yours is any better,” Jonny scoffs, finishing his green drink.

“True,” Patrick concedes. They stand there in silence for a long moment. “Anyway. What are we going to do about Eric?”

“I can’t believe you -- we, I mean we -- didn’t notice that he’s not eating,” Jonny says, pained.

“To be fair, I think he’s been trying to hide it from us,” Patrick says, his throat tight. “Jesus, what if he has - what if it’s an eating disorder, Jonny?”

“It’s not an eating disorder, Pat, come on. That kid would eat ice cream all day, every day if we let him.”

“I know, but-”

“Listen, we’re not doctors, and we just don’t know. We need to get an appointment with his pediatrician.”

“He’s probably just going to refer us to a specialist,” Patrick says. “It might take awhile.”

“Call Annika, Ethan’s mom. She’s on staff at Sinai, she can probably help us get him in quicker.”

“Good idea,” Patrick says. They stare at each in awkward silence for a moment.

“Jonny-”

“I’m going to-” Jonny says over him.

Patrick gestures. “You go first.”

“I was just going to say, I’m going to make a few calls,” Jonny says. “Brandon’s been texting me all night, and I need to get back to him.” He turns toward the door and Patrick reaches out, grabbing his arm.

“But - aren’t we going to talk?” Patrick says.

“No.” Jonny shakes him off and walks out.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Patrick shouts after him. “You promised your mother!”

“I’m thirty-three years old, Patrick,” Jonny says, his voice fading. “I don’t answer to my mother, and I’m done with this conversation.”

Patrick sits down at the table and drops his head into his hands rubbing at his temples. His headache is threatening to turn into a migraine, and he doesn’t want to fight anymore, so he just puts on a kettle to make some herbal tea that has been helping stave the headaches off.

“You’re going to be perfect, just like your sister and brothers,” he whispers as he sips his tea, rubbing his belly. “A perfect, sweet baby, and we’re going to love you so much. Even your stubborn, stupid papa.”

“Who are you talking to?” Jonny says from the door, brow furrowed..

Patrick hadn’t noticed him walk in. “Nobody, just thinking out loud,” he mumbles. “Are you leaving?”

Jonny’s still looking at him funny, but he drops it. “Yeah, I’ve got things to do, so.”

“So you’re running away before your mom comes back and kicks your ass,” Patrick snorts. “Fine, just go.” His head's throbbing, and he can already tell he’s going to have to spend the next twelve hours sleeping. At least Erica’s already here.

When he opens his eyes, Jonny’s peering at him, brow furrowed.“Are you okay? Are you sure you’re not getting sick? You looked pretty green earlier.”

“I’ve just got a headache. It’s been a stressful few days, dealing with your mom. I’m fine. You can go.” Patrick’s vision's starting to narrow, and he shakes his head a little, widening and narrowing his eyes.

“This isn’t a headache,” Jonny says firmly. “You’re getting a migraine. You’ve been getting a lot of those lately.”

“Not anymore than usual,” Patrick deflects. “M’okay, just need to rest.”

“Patrick, you’re slurring your words, your vision’s narrowed, and you look like death. You’ve got a migraine. Go to bed, I’ll take care of the kids.”

“Are you sure?” Patrick says, standing up a little unsteadily. Jonny takes a step forward, his arm outstretched, and then stops, shifting awkwardly.

“Have you been eating?”

“Not really,” Patrick admits. “No appetite.”

“You look like shit,” Jonny says bluntly.

“Fuck you,” Patrick retorts automatically.

“You need to see the doctor, Patrick.”

“I - I have an appointment tomorrow, actually,” Patrick says. It’s not a lie - he’s meeting with the midwife to make a birthing plan and get something for his migraines.

“Good. Come on, you need to get to bed.”

Jonny takes Patrick’s arm and guides him up the stairs, depositing him on the bed and kneeling in front of him to take off Patricks shoes and jeans. “You need to take better care of yourself, Pat.” He pulls Patrick’s sleep pants on and unbuttons his dress shirt before he pushes him gently back into the pillows.

“Yeah? Why do you care? You hate me.” Patrick babbles, stupid brain to mouth filter busted. He bites his lips against the urge to tell Jonny exactly why his headache turned into a migraine.

“I don’t hate you,” Jonny says brusquely. “Now get in bed. I’m going to get the migraine medicine."

“Can’t take it, Jonny,” Patrick says.

“What? Pat, you can’t just grit your teeth through a migraine.”

“I -” Patrick clamps his mouth shut and thinks frantically around the pounding in his head. “I took it while you were on the phone. Just hasn’t kicked in.”

“You definitely need to see the doctor. The medicine isn’t working anymore,” Jonny says, pulling the covers up and turning off the light. “Try to sleep.”

Patrick sighs and turns his cheek against the cool pillow as Jonny closes the door softly.

“Thanks, Jon,” he says to no one and tries to lie still as the waves of pain rise and fall, eventually slipping into a fitful sleep.

***

Patrick catches a ride to the rink with Dustin, who took over captaining the team when Jonny stepped away in January. Even with Jonny back, Dustin has kept the ‘C,’ and he and his wife have been good friends to Patrick. Dustin’s the only one he told about being pregnant -- it had just spilled out when he’d called to tell him he couldn’t play -- and poor Dustin had ended up consoling Patrick. Not one of his finer moments, Patrick admits.

He hasn’t spoken to Jonny yet, but since he’s going to be out of town until Friday, this is a good game to go to and say his goodbyes. He’s going to miss the guys; playing hockey has been pretty much the only thing he’s done since they moved to Los Angeles that hasn’t revolved around the children in some way. Hopefully they’ll be okay with him coming back once the baby is born.

Walking into the rink, the smell hits him, and he relaxes. This is a place he’ll always feel at home. He and Jonny had hammered out much of their relationship in rinks like this, first in Downer’s Grove and later at Northwestern. The first few fights of their marriage had been skated off. The smell of ice and cold makes him feel like things might be okay.

So of course that’s when reality hits him in the face in the form of one Jonathan Bryan Toews. Who happens to be standing at the door to the dressing room, scowling at Patrick.

“What are you doing here?” Jonny asks coldly. “I thought you quit the team?”

“Just because I don’t want to play doesn’t mean I don’t want to see the guys,” Patrick says. “And what are you doing here? I thought you were out of town on your super secret project?”

Jonny’s laugh is short and bitter. “Yeah, that’s wrapping up, so I’m not going to be out of town as much. Sorry.”

“Jon,” Patrick sighs. “Do we really-”

“Kaner!” Tyler Seguin walks out of the room, grinning from ear to ear. “Dude! Where have you been? And what’s all this bullshit about you quitting the team? You know I love my tiny little right winger!” Tyler ruffles Patrick’s hair, and Patrick harrumphs, slapping Tyler’s hand away.

“Fuck off, man,” Patrick says, mouth twitching into a smile despite himself. “I spent all morning on my hair.”

“Jesus, I hope that’s not true,” Tyler laughs, looking at it skeptically. “I’m out of here, but you better not be a stranger, baby.” He smacks Patrick on the ass as he walks by.

“Ugh,” Patrick says, trying to comb his hair back into place with his fingers. “Fuck you, asshole.”

“Any time, baby,” Tyler calls, turning around and wiggling his tongue at Patrick.

Jonny makes a cut off noise, and Patrick turns to look at him. His face is flushed and he looks murderous.

“What the fuck, he’s just flirting, Jonny,” Patrick says, exasperated. “Like he always does. It’s Segs.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have to stop on my account,” Jonny says, mouth in a tight line. “I’m sure he’s up for satisfying your needs now that I’m not around.”

“Jesus,” Patrick says. “This again? Jon, you do know we went a good five months without fucking, don’t you?” Patrick could tell him he knows the exact dates they fucked, since it’s had such significant ramifications on his life. “Not sure how that fits with all these accusations.”

“Only because our kids exhausted us,” Jonny sneers. “Frankly, I’m surprised you weren’t begging for it.”

“Ugh, you just need to shut up,” Patrick says, his ire increasing. “You’re going to regret saying all this shit to me.”

“Right,” Jonny scoffs. “I doubt it.”

“Fine,” Patrick says. “I’m going to watch the game. Try not to break your skull. Again. Clumsy fuck.”

“Fuck off,” Jonny says automatically but he’s frowning at Patrick. “Why aren’t you playing? Did you quit the team because of me?”

“No, Jon, you don’t factor into all of my decisions anymore. Apparently.”

“Whatever,” Jonny says, his mouth twisting. “So why then?”

“My new migraine medicine,” Patrick says, and Jonny tenses, frowning at him. “It could make me dizzy, and the doctor thought it was good to stay off the ice for a few months, until I adjust to it.”

“Dizzy? What the fuck, Pat - how can you still drive if this shit makes you dizzy?”

“Uh, it,” Patrick says, trying to think of an excuse. “It’s more a balance thing, I guess? I don’t know, he just said no riding my bike or playing hockey. At least for a few months.” Nine months, to be exact, he thinks.

Jonny’s still looking at him skeptically. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, Jon. I wouldn’t actually drive my kids -- or myself -- around Los Angeles if I thought there was any danger.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jonny says, but he’s still frowning. “But - if you get dizzy, you need to let me know. You can’t take care of the kids by yourself if you’re sick.”

“If you moved back home I wouldn’t be alone,” Patrick says, and Jonny shakes his head.

“Jesus, you never stop, do you?”

“Nope, can’t stop, won’t stop,” Patrick says, rocking on his heels. “You should just give in now, man.”

Jonny huffs out and is about to open his mouth when Ryan Kesler appears behind him. “Move your fat ass, Toews,” he says, bumping Jonny aside. He stops when he sees Patrick. “Kaner!” He hugs Patrick, tall on his skates, blocking out Patrick’s view of Jonny.

“Hi, Kes,” Patrick says. “Sorry about cutting and running on the team, man.”

“That’s okay,” Ryan says. “You’re coming back, though - that’s what Dustin said.” When Patrick nods, he smiles, shark-like. “And I hear you and this asshole are separated. I’d say I’m sorry to hear that, except I’m not.”

“I - “ Patrick says, his face flushing.

“Time for hockey,” Jonny says, pushing Ryan away from Patrick and frog-marching him toward the bench. “I’m going to enjoy pasting you to the boards today, you dick.”

“Bye, Kaner,” Ryan laughs over his shoulder.

“Bye,” Patrick says, deflating. Things just keep getting worse with Jonny; just when he thinks he’s reached the bottom of this stupid thing, something else hits him in the ass.

He climbs the bleachers putting thoughts of him and Jonny out of his head and tries to concentrate on how beautiful Jonny’s hockey is.

It’s fun until the second period, when Saader scores: Jonny races to him and jumps into his arms, making Saader fall back against the glass. The grin on Jonny’s face is the one he used to turn on Patrick after his goals -- after both of their goals, really -- and it makes him ache to think that he’s lost that. He brushes aside a tear and leaves shortly after that.

Maybe the next time he sees Jonny he’ll listen, he thinks. The only problem is that’s been his mantra for the last several weeks, and it’s not getting him anywhere. At least Jonny’s going to be out of town for a few days. Patrick could use the time to rest.

His blood pressure has been fairly steady, but he knows pregnancy affirmations and meditation aren’t going to keep his anxiety at bay. Putting it out of his mind and focusing on normal day-to-day activities is probably the best medicine, and he’s just going to have to make more of an effort until Jonny finally gets his head out of his ass.

***

“Another cup of coffee?” Patrick asks, holding up the pot. He’s glad he invited Beth over after the mommy-and-me playdate at the park this morning. They’ve been lazily watching Amelie stack blocks so Beth’s son can knock them down.

“Sure, why not. Live on the edge, that’s my motto!” Beth laughs. “But two’s my limit, or I won’t be able to drive home.”

“Well, this is decaf, but still, it’s always good to pace yourself,” Pat laughs, pouring the last of the pot into her mug and turning off the machine. “Let’s take the kids out to the back. Ammy got a playhouse for Christmas. Plus we can watch them try to break into the pool; it’s hysterical.” It takes a few minutes to get the kids settled, and they watch them play for a few minutes before they sit down to sip their coffees.

“This is so nice,” Beth sighs. “I can see why people move here. Back home it’s minus ten and they got three inches of snow yesterday.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Patrick responds. “The weather here's great.” Beth shoots him an incredulous look and he shrugs. “I never minded a little cold and snow.”

“A little cold - where are you from?” Beth asks, incredulous. “Because minus ten isn’t a little cold in my books.”

“Chicago - although originally from Buffalo.”

“I can’t believe you miss the weather in Buffalo and Chicago,” Beth marvels. “That’s got to be a first.”

“I don’t miss the weather so much as the people,” Patrick says, shrugging again. “I grew up there. My whole family’s there, Jonny’s family’s there, our friends from college are there - it’s just home.”

“Yeah, that’s a lot to give up,” she agrees, and they sip quietly for a moment until Dixon toddles out and falls on his butt, but before he can cry Amelie hauls him up and dusts off his shorts. Patrick grins at Beth. “So how long have you guys been here?”

“A little over a year,” Patrick says. “And it’s great, it’s just-”

“It’s not home,” Beth says, and Patrick nods.

“Yeah, exactly. It’s not home. But if I have to live far from my family, I guess it could be in worse locations.”

“Yeah, well, because Michael's a pilot we’ve basically lived everywhere, so I say this with authority: you absolutely could.” Beth smiles. “Where did you go to college?”

“Northwestern,” Patrick replies. “Bad football team, great social work school.”

“Social work?”

“Yeah, before I was a glamorous stay-at-home father, I used to help people get services, find housing, look for jobs. Community social work, basically.”

“Wow - that sounds. Well. It sounds exhausting, actually,” Beth says, wrinkling her nose.

“No -- well -- yes, but it was incredible. Working with people who haven’t had access to decent housing, education, childcare? And helping them improve their lives? I loved it. But when the twins were born, I wanted to be home with them, so.”

“Do you miss it?”

“No?” Patrick shrugs. “I love being home with my kids.”

He’s wiping away tears from Beth’s story about passengers on one of Michael’s flights who got locked in the lavatory trying to have a mile-high threesome when a throat clears behind them. Jonny’s standing there watching them, his face expressionless. “Jonny, what are you doing here?” he says. “I thought you were out of town for another day?”

“Caught an earlier flight,” Jonny says shortly. “Who’s your friend?”

“Jonny, this is Beth. She just moved in a couple of houses down from the park. And that’s her son Dixon, playing with Amelie. Beth, this rude man is my husband, Jonny. ” He smiles grimly when Jonny’s shoulders tighten. “Don’t mind him, he’s always like this.”

“Shut up, Patrick,” Jonny says, his tone joking, but it’s a warning, and Patrick glares at him. “Nice to meet you, Beth.”

The next few minutes are awkward, and he can’t really blame Beth for taking her leave after agreeing to meet Patrick at the park tomorrow.

When Patrick returns from seeing her out, Jonny’s holding Amelie and murmuring in her hair. She wriggles in his arms, impatient to get down. He sets her on the grass, and she gives him a kiss on each cheek before taking off toward her playhouse.

Jonny crouches there for a moment, fingers playing in the grass while he watches Amelie, his expression soft until he sees Patrick.

“What?” Jonny snaps, standing up and crossing his arms.

“What do you mean, what? You were fucking rude to her. You basically chased her off!” He’s suddenly furious with Jonny. “She’s a nice woman, you didn’t have to act like - like that!”

Jonny smiles tightly, his eyes narrowed. “Gosh, Patrick, sorry to have interrupted your little coffee klatch. I’m just dropping off some paperwork. You can invite her back after I leave.”

“Fuck you,” Patrick says, tilting his chin up. Fuck Jonny anyway, he’s been out of town for four days, and Patrick’s so tired of all this bullshit between them. “Maybe I will.”

“Maybe you should,” Jonny snaps back. “That way you can reassure her that you won’t have a husband too much longer interrupting you so inconveniently.”

“Jon,” Patrick says. “I’ve told you I don’t want a divorce.”

“Yeah, well, too fucking bad, because I do. I’ve signed the divorce papers.”

“What,” Patrick gasps, the wind knocked out of him. “You-”

Jonny throws a large manila envelope on the lounger Beth had been reclining on. “Your copy. My lawyer sent them over to me this morning, and I figured I’d deliver them myself rather than have him serve you. Now all you have to do is sign them, and we’ll be on our way to being divorced.”

Patrick’s stomach drops, and he turns to pick up the abandoned coffee mugs to hide his reaction to Jonny’s words. “What if I don’t want to sign?”

Jonny shakes his head. “You wanted this first, remember? I’m pretty sure it was you who started this in the first place.”

“No, Jonny, I was just mad -- because you almost fucking cheated on me -- and I stupidly called my lawyer.” It’s the farthest Jonny has let Patrick get without interrupting him, and when Jonny opens his mouth, Patrick barrels on, not letting him speak. “And I forgot to call her back to tell her I’d changed my mind. So yeah, she drew them up and sent them to me. But it was in December -- when I thought we were done -- when everything was raw, and I didn’t think I’d be able to forgive you. But then things changed and I just - I forgot all about them. And I’ve told you how sorry I am - ”

“Save it for someone you didn’t jerk around for months. Someone who didn’t try to convince you that he was sorry and didn’t get anything from you but sex and teasing and a vague promise that you were still thinking about whether we were getting back together.”

Patrick growls in frustration. “For fuck’s sake, Jon, are you actually going to walk away from me? From our marriage? From our kids? All because I forgot to throw some papers away? Weren’t you the one telling me that you would do anything -- anything -- to save our marriage? Our family? What changed that you’re so willing to just destroy all of that?”

“You changed,” Jonny shouts. “You! You let me suffer and pine for months while you hedged your bets. You fucked me one day and pushed me away the next. And all the while, you were meeting with your lawyer and - and I’m so tired of it. I’m so done with it. And I’m done with you.” His voice cracks at the end.

He sweeps his hands out to his side. “So, feel free to invite your friends over. I’m sure Tyler or Kesler would be here if you called. Fuck, invite them both at the same time and have a threesome for all I care. Just do it on the nights when the children at are my place. Because so help me God, if I ever hear that you’ve introduced someone to our kids, I will have you in court so fast your head will spin. I’m going along with everything you’ve asked for in the separation papers. But know this: that will all stop if I catch wind of that. And you don’t want to fight me on this.”

“What do you mean, when they’re at your place? Are you talking about the fucking Courtyard by Marriott?” Patrick asks to cover his shock at the vitriol in Jonny’s words.

“I’m going to rent an apartment,” Jonny says, throwing his shoulders back. “My lawyer says I need to be able to prove to a judge that I can provide a stable environment if I’m going to get joint custody.

“Joint -” Patrick blanches. “You mean joint legal custody.”

“No, Pat, I mean joint custody, legal and physical. They’re just as much my kids as yours, and I’m not going to be limited to seeing them on Wednesdays and every other weekend. I want them every other week, same as you’re going to have them.”

Patrick laughs, bitter and short. “What are you going to do, drop back to half-time in order to be home with the kids? You, who’s hardly been at a soccer game in the past two weeks? Who keeps taking mysterious business trips? I seriously doubt it.”

“I’ve been working on a project-” he waves his hand at Patrick when he opens his mouth to protest- “Shut up. I’ve been working on a project out of town. But it’s not going to happen now, or at least-” he cuts off and twists his lips, looking almost sad for a moment. “I won’t be the one taking lead anymore.”

“So you can go back to your boyfriend’s project, right?” Patrick sneers, but Jonny just ignores him.

“I’ll be right here, in Los Angeles, and I’ll be hiring a nanny for my weeks with the boys. I’m not planning to take Amelie during the day. I’d rather she be with you, so long as you agree to a few ground rules. But listen well: I will have the boys every other week. And I will have Amelie at night during my weeks.”

“But-” Patrick croaks. “You can’t take them away from their home, Jonny. You can’t.”

“You’re not the only father in this family and since you’re the one who wanted a divorce, you should have known this is how it would have to be. They’re going to have two homes now, and the sooner we make this transition, the sooner everyone can get used to it.”

Patrick tries to swallow around the taste of bile in his mouth but he can’t seem to, his throat working fruitlessly. “I-I-”

Jonny watches him and then shakes his head when he doesn’t continue. He calls to Amelie. “Come here, coccinelle, Papa has to go.” She runs over and pulls on his pant leg, and he sweeps her up and kisses her. “Be a good girl. Je t’aime.

He brushes by Patrick and turns to look at him. “Sign the papers, Pat. My lawyer will be in touch if you don’t.”

When he hears the front door close, Patrick collapses onto the chaise like his strings have been cut, the mugs crashing to the ground in a jumble of coffee and glass shards. Amelie’s head comes up and he stands, quickly sweeping her out of the way of the glass. She clutches him and pats his face gently. “Sad, dada?”

He bites his lips and nods. “Yeah, Lady Bug. Daddy’s sad.” He hugs her for a brief moment before turning for the house. “Let’s get this mess cleaned up before the boys get home.” She squeals when he pretends to bite at her neck, and he walks into the house without looking at the papers on the chaise where Jonny dropped them. He’ll deal with that particular mess later.

***

Patrick’s lucky that Beth wasn’t so put off by Jonny that she isn’t willing to babysit Amelie last minute. He packs everyone into the car as soon as the boys get home. He’s got to drop the boys off at soccer practice and get to his attorney’s office by five o’clock to drop off the papers Jonny left. He’d forgotten to put the lasagna he’d planned for dinner in the oven, but he’s sure if he hustles he can squeeze in a stop at the grocery, too.

Traffic is as horrible as it always is on the 405, so he bypasses it in favor of Wilshire, driving too fast and darting around slower cars. He keeps glancing over at the papers on the passenger seat, innocuous-looking and anonymous in the brown manila envelope Jonny threw on the chaise, but menacing all the same. Looking at them is making his chest so tight he can’t get a breath, and he calls Erica, trying to stave off what feels like a panic attack.

“Hi, Pat,” she says when she answers. “I’m kind of busy - “

“Erica, ” Patrick says, swallowing hard around the lump in his throat. “Fuck . . . I-”

“Pat, what’s wrong?” Erica says immediately. “You sound terrible.”

“Fucking Jonny,” Patrick says. “He signed those stupid fucking divorce papers! I can’t get through to him, and I’m three months pregnant, and I haven’t even told him yet and - “

“Patrick, take a deep breath,” Erica says. “Calm down. Where are you? Are you driving right now?”

“Yes, fuck, I’m taking these stupid papers to my lawyer’s office. She wanted them today, since his attorney filed them, and she didn’t get notified. So between dropping off Amelie at a play-date and taking the boys to soccer practice, I’m running a couple of errands. You know, stopping by Whole Foods, dropping off divorce papers, going to the bank. The usual.”

“Well, I guess you’re okay if you’re lucid enough to snark at me,” Erica says. “You’re not going to put up with this shit from Jonny, though, are you?”

Patrick snorts, his lips twitching into a reluctant smile.

“I’ll take that as a no. So just calm down, this isn’t anything new, it’s just paperwork.”

“Paperwork, right,” Patrick says, breathing out long and slow. His next breath feels like the first deep breath he’s taken since Jonny walked out this afternoon, so he does it again. “Okay, okay.”

“It’s a bump in the road, Pat,” Erica says. “And I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to go - we’re on a late shoot tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah, big shot producer, go make your movie,” says

“That’s Ms. Big Shot Producer to you,” Erica sniffs. “And, really, don’t worry,” she says more seriously. “It’s you and Jonny. Nothing’s ever kept you apart before.”

“I know, but-”

“It’s just paperwork, Pat.”

“Right,” Patrick sighs. “Thanks. Call me later?”

“No problem, Patty,” Erica says, and Patrick groans.

“Don’t call me that, jeez,” Patrick grumps automatically, and he can hear Erica laughing before he hangs up.

***

Jonny still comes over, but he keeps himself distant, responding to Patrick with only icy detachment. Patrick keeps it together while Jonny’s in the house, but when he leaves, he usually indulges in at least fifteen minutes of crying, and fuck Erica for laughing at him about that.

The night before Eric’s doctor’s appointment, he stops Jonny as he’s on his way out the door.

“Tomorrow,” Patrick says. “It’s - can we be on the same team? I need you not to be - “

“Not to be what,” Jonny says, crossing his arms.

“A dick,” Patrick says bluntly. “I need you not to be a dick. It’s going to be stressful enough and - this is Eric, Jon.” He swallows. “This is Eric.”

Jonny face softens. “I know, Pat. I’m - I’m scared shitless, to be honest.”

“Me, too,” Patrick says, his eyes filling with tears. “He’s our little man, what if - ”

“Nope, no ‘what ifs,’” Jonny cuts him off. “He’s fine, we probably just need to work on his diet.”

“Do you really think so,” Patrick asks, brushing a tear away. “Really?”

“No,” Jonny admits, clearing his throat when his voice cracks. “But - whatever it is, we’ll handle it. Right?”

“Right,” Patrick echoes. “We’ll handle it.”

***
The next morning, Patrick’s exhausted. He spent most of the night lying on the floor of the bathroom trying to stop retching, and although the nausea has abated -- at least for the time being -- he’s still worried about whether he can get through the appointment without having to throw up again.

The good news, as his midwife reminds him when he calls to see if there’s anything he can take that would help, is that all the vomiting likely means the pregnancy has taken well. The reassurance isn’t enough to make his throat stop hurting, but he thanks her anyway, dutifully writing down the list of herbal remedies and suggestions she offers. He can probably stop and pick some of them up on the way home from the doctor’s, if he has time, so he shoves the list into his organizer.

He drops Amelie off at Beth's house for a playdate with her son before heading to Cedars Sinai’s children’s hospital. Eric chatters away in the back seat, thrilled to miss school even if it’s because he’s going to the doctor.

When they’d told Eric about going to see Dr. Fleury, he’d been so excited to miss school that Jonny had scowled ominously, explaining under his breath that the doctor would likely want to scope Eric to get a look at his stomach. They debated talking to Eric about it, to prepare him for what might happen at the visit, but in the end, they decided not to, knowing it would only make him dread going. They’d simply said the doctor would likely want to do some tests and left it at that. Thinking about it now, Patrick hopes they made the right decision.

When they get to Cedars, Eric’s chattering comes to an abrupt halt, and he clings to Patrick’s hand in the waiting room, jumping every time the door opens. Jonny arrives a few minutes after they arrive, and he takes one look at Eric and scoops him up, cuddling him on his lap and murmuring reassurances in his ear.

The nurse finally calls Eric’s name, and Patrick stands up quickly, swaying as the room gets fuzzy. Jonny looks at him sharply and grabs his elbow, and Patrick leans into him, taking slow, deep breaths until the darkness fades. He avoids looking at Jonny as he pulls his arm free and follows the nurse out of the waiting room.

“What’s wrong with you?” Jonny hisses as they walk behind Eric down the corridor to the exam room once he’s weighed and his height and blood pressure have been taken. “You almost fainted back there.”

“Nothing’s wrong, I just forgot to eat breakfast and stood up too fast,” Patrick says, grateful when the nurse opens the door and gestures for them all to take a seat. He pulls Eric into his lap, and Eric tucks his head under his shoulder, peering out at the nurse anxiously, his little body tense.

“So we’re going to start by getting some information about Eric and then Dr. Fleury will be in to talk to you,” she says, her tone cheerful. “I’m just going to ask a whole bunch of questions, okay, Eric?”

As it becomes clear that she's only asking questions and not giving him shots or swabbing his throat -- it’s the worst, Daddy, it makes me almost throw up -- Eric opens up. Patrick listens, stunned at the realization of how little Eric’s been eating and all the foods he doesn’t like to eat.

“Do you ever eat something that you’ve never eaten before?”

“Yeah,” Eric says, thinking. “Oh! The other day Daddy got kim’s chia, and I didn’t like it at all.”

Patrick bites back a laugh. “He means kimchee. I ordered from a Korean place last week, and he tried it and loved it. I don’t know what you’re talking about? You ate so much, Eric. Why are saying you don’t like it?”

“It made my tummy feel icky,” Eric says, fidgeting in his lap. “And then I felt like I was going to throw up.”

Jonny and Patrick exchange concerned looks.

“Baby, why didn’t you tell me?” Patrick asks, remembering how encouraged he’d been to see Eric willingly eat something.

“I didn’t want you to be mad,” Eric says, his lip trembling. “You get mad at me when I don’t like to eat.”

“I - I - Eric, baby, I didn’t know the food was making your stomach hurt! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you think I was mad. I just want you to grow up big and strong, and-” Patrick’s throat tightens, and he looks at Jonny, eyes swimming.

“Buddy,” Jonny says, pulling Eric out of Patrick’s lap and looking him in the eye. “Daddy and I get mad about what you eat because we think you’re being fussy. If we’d known how the food makes you feel, we wouldn’t have made you eat those foods. You have to tell us these things.”

When Eric’s face crumples, Jonny shakes him a little. “Hey, hey. we’re not mad, but, if you don’t tell us, how would we know? We’re not magic! We’re not like that Barbie movie where she can hear what people are thinking!”

Eric giggles when Jonny pokes him in the side. “Papa, you’re silly. you’re not a Barbie! You’d be a Ken!”

“Does that mean Daddy’s Barbie?” Jonny asks, winking at Patrick as Eric giggles louder, and the unexpected camaraderie makes the tears Patrick’s been holding earlier finally spill silently down his face. Jonny frowns at him before turning back to Eric. “Or is Bryan Barbie?”

“Papa!” Eric says, laughing now. “Ammy’s Barbie! Boys can’t be Barbie!”

Jonny winks at Patrick again. “You might be surprised, Eric. I’ve known boys who’ve dressed up like a Barbie a time or two.”

Patrick flushes and the nurse laughs, drawing their attention back to her. Patrick blows his nose and puts a hand on Eric’s back when Jonny settles him into his lap again. Jonny knocks his shoulder against Patrick’s and leaves it there.

The nurse continues asking questions, but he doesn’t pay much attention. His mind is racing, thinking of all the times he’s made Eric eat something that he didn’t want to eat.

A few minutes later the nurse finishes and tells them the doctor will be in soon. Once she’s gone, Jonny glances at Patrick, eyebrows raised and Patrick nods.

“Hey, E,” Jonny says, taking out his iPhone and offering it to Eric, “want to play Minecraft?”

“Cool!” Eric says.

Jonny shifts Eric into his own chair and once he seems suitably distracted by the game, Jonny leans in to whisper in Patrick’s ear. “What the fuck? How did we miss him hating food because it actually hurt him?”

“I have no idea. Is that what it was like for you as a kid?” Patrick responds quietly. “Stomach pains and diarrhea?”

“No,” Jonny says, “I don’t remember that. I don’t like this - we should have noticed. Fuck.”

Eric looks up at that and Jonny shrugs, sheepish.

“Five dollars for the swear jar, Papa,” Eric says, grinning. “Daddy said me and him and Bryan and Ammy get to use it to go to a movie and get anything we want! I’m going to get licorice!”

“What about me,” Jonny says, putting his hand on his chest dramatically. “Don’t I get candy?”

“I didn’t think you could come, Papa, now that you don’t want to be in the family anymore.”

“I-” Jonny blanches and looks at Patrick quickly. “Buddy, that’s not true - I love you guys. It’s not that - I -”

“I know things are different now, E,” Patrick says. “And It’s hard. But no matter what, Papa’s always going to want to be part of our family. And Papa always will be a part of our family.”

“You promise?” Eric asks.

“Pinky swear,” Patrick says, holding out his pinky. Jonny’s still pale, and his smile is a little wan, but he puts his pinky around Patrick’s. Eric looks at them both for a moment before he wraps his tiny pinky around Patrick and Jonny’s, squeezing them together.

There’s a knock on the door then, and a man in a white coat sweeps into the room. He’s got a big smile and he laughs when he sees their pinkies entwined. He walks over and puts out his pinky. “What are we pinky swearing to? Maybe I can get in on the action.”

“You can’t silly,” Eric giggles. “We’re swearing that my Papa will always be in our family!”

“Ah! Well, I will leave that to you, then. But I can definitely get in on the next one, oui?” When Eric’s eyes widen, he laughs. “Sorry, I mean: yes?”

“Non, non, je comprend que vous etes en disant!” Eric says. “Parlez-vous francais?”

“Ouais, je parle francais parce que je suis de Quebec. Et vous?”

“Je suis de Chicago et de Los Angeles, mais mon meme est de Quebec, ouais Papa?”

Jonny smiles at him. “Yeah, Eric, that’s right. But how about we all speak in English. Daddy’s getting better at French, but he’s still learning. Okay?”

“Okay,” Eric says. “But can we speak French later? Please?”

Ouais, of course.” He smiles at Eric before turning to Jonny and Patrick. “Bonjour, I’m Dr. Fleury and I’m going to try to figure out what’s going on with this guy and help him feel better. So you grow up big and strong, ouais?”

Oui!” Eric says. “I wanna be as big as my papa.” He looks at Patrick and leans towards Fleury, and Fleury slides his stool closer. “My daddy is kind of small,” he whispers.

Jonny snorts, and Patrick mock glares at Eric. “I heard that, kid,” he growls, poking Eric in the side and making him giggle.

“Well, let us see if we can help you grow up big and strong like your Papa. Or almost big and strong,” Fleury says with a smirk.

They spend fifteen minutes going over the questions the nurse asked before Fleury does a quick physical exam and has Eric get dressed again.

Parlez-vouz francais avec moi maintenant?” Eric asks Fleury, pulling his shirt over his head and jumping down from the exam table, making Fleury laugh. They exchange rapid-fire French that Patrick couldn’t follow even if he wasn’t too distracted thinking about what Fleury’s going to say about Eric.

Fleury seems to recognize how nervous they are because he wraps things up with Eric quickly. “All right, petit ami, I need to talk to your fathers. Will you wait in my office for us? I have lots of legos. You don’t like legos do you?”

“I love legos!” Eric says, happily following Fleury out the door.

When Fleury excuses himself to escort Eric to his office, Patrick can feel his heart rate pick up as soon as they’re out the door. He startles when Jonny takes his hand.

“Calm down, Pat,” Jonny says, rubbing Patrick’s knuckles with his thumb. “It’s going to be okay.”

Patrick turns his hand and captures Jonny’s. Jonny squeezes briefly before he withdraws his hand and clears his throat, leaning back in his seat, his shoulder tense where it’s pressed to Patrick’s. They just breathe quietly for the minute it takes for Fleury to return.

“He is a great boy,” Fleury says, sitting down again and grinning. “And he speaks French like a native Quebecois.”

“Is Eric okay?” Patrick bursts out, pulling his lips in after, as though he can pull the question back. “Do you know what’s wrong with him?”

“Yes, Eric is going to be fine. This is something we can easily treat. Let me go through a few things with you, and then I will answer all of your questions, okay?” When they both nod, Fleury continues, his expression reassuringly calm. “The first thing I want you to know is that I do not think this is serious. I believe he has a simple ulcer that can be cleared up with medication. The medication will give him immediate relief from his symptoms.”

“But-” Jonny glances over at Patrick. “Are you sure? Do you really think it’s just an ulcer? Because with my history of irritable bowel syndrome - could that be it?”

“It could be, but I’m fairly certain it is not. Eric’s symptoms are very consistent with an ulceration caused by an h. pylori infection, and that the ulcer has been exacerbated recently due to stress or diet. Or both.”

“How can you know for sure it’s not IBS?”

“I could do a scope to confirm that it is an ulcer and not IBS, but that is a very invasive test, and his symptoms aren’t consistent with how IBS presents in children. He is not having pain upon defecation and his pains do not improve after he defecates.” Patrick must make a face because he laughs. “Disgusting, no? And it is my profession - I went to a lot of school to deal with poop all day.”

Jonny barks out a laugh, and the unexpected sound makes some of the tension in Patrick release, giving him the courage to voice the thing he’s been afraid to ask since he realized that Eric had practically stopped eating.

“Does he - are you sure this isn’t an eating disorder?” He’d looked up childhood eating disorders after Andree visited and hadn’t been able to get the images of those children out of his head since.

“Yes,” Fleury says emphatically. “It is not an eating disorder; this is a clinical, medical condition caused by bacteria. It is a simple infection that we will cure with antibiotics and an acid reducer. It is possible that failing to treat this could, over time, develop into an eating problem. But now we have an explanation for his eating, and we can treat it. We will make sure Eric starts feeling better soon, so he can go back to being the happy, healthy boy you are used to.”

“Antibiotics?” Patrick asks, eyebrows drawing together. “I thought you took antacids for an ulcer?”

“For an ulceration like Eric’s, antacids will do nothing. The antibiotics will cure the infection that likely caused the ulcer, and the acid reducer or proton-pump inhibitor -- Prilosec, Zantac? you are familiar with these, yes? -- will reduce the inflammation so that the ulcer can heal.”

“What about food?” Patrick asks. “It’s the food that we’ve had the most trouble with - shouldn’t he be on a special diet?

“Reducing acidic foods can definitely help in the short-term. My nutritionist will meet with you to discuss his diet and work with you to establish a healthy approach to managing his food.”

“Good,” Jonny says decisively. “We can do that - I’ve been following a special diet for twenty years. We just need a list of foods, then.”

“But - why did this happen?” Patrick asks, trying not sound hysterical. “It’s gotten so much worse the past few months. Neither of noticed it being this bad before, right?”

“He’s always been a fussy eater, but never like he’s been lately,” Jonny agrees, frowning.

“Based on what he you’ve told me, his discomfort -- and likely his ulceration -- increased in December,” Fleury says, looking at his notes. “Perhaps he’s having trouble in school? Or something else that could be upsetting him? Addressing the source of his stress will also help him feel better more quickly.”

“We-” Jonny stops, the muscle in his jaw working. “Patrick and I started having some problems in December.“

“We’ve been living separately since then,” Patrick says, his voice wavering a bit at the end. He coughs and goes on, stronger, “and I think Eric’s taken it harder than our other children.”

“Ah,” Fleury says, “that might explain some of it. Stress can make an ulceration flare up or get worse.”

“But, he never said anything, how were we supposed to know?” Jonny says, his voice cracking. “Why didn’t I realize?

“I’m the one who should have noticed,” Patrick insists. “I’m home with them, I unpack his lunch. He’s with me the most, and if I didn’t see it how could you have?”

“I’m the one with the food issues, I was just ignoring it - this is my fault,” Jonny says, pained, and when Patrick looks at him, he’s white as a sheet.

“If I may,” Fleury cuts in, “it is not uncommon for parents whose children have ulcers to miss the signs. The parents -- the child -- are not watching for symptoms, they are busy living their lives. It doesn’t sound like Eric was complaining about his tummy hurting more than your other son, oui?” When they shake their heads, he nods as if satisfied. “I think it likely that Eric did not even notice himself until his recent drop in food consumption. You should not feel guilty about this.”

Fleury picks up two brochures and hands them each one. “This has some simple information about ulcers in children and what you can do to prevent them. It should help you until you can see the nutritionist.”

“But what about the stress? Eric gets so angry with me - maybe I shouldn’t be around him until this is all over?” Jonny asks, glancing anxiously at Patrick. Patrick rubs his arm, and he can feel Jonny shaking. He slides his hand into Jonny’s, and Jonny grips it tightly.

“I cannot tell you how to handle things with your son. You are his fathers; I can only explain the factors that may be impacting him. Like watching his food. Watching to make sure he is not too stressed with be important for you both.” Patrick nods, but his eyes prickle thinking of what Eric’s been going through, he and Jonny so wrapped up in themselves they hadn’t even noticed. “Personally, I don’t think withdrawing from his life is the choice I would make.”

“I agree,” Patrick says firmly, squeezing Jonny’s hand. Jonny shudders and looks down, but eventually nods.

“So, we go forward,” Fleury says, taking out his computer and pecking out something with his index fingers. “I am giving you two prescriptions; he will take the antibiotics twice a day for two weeks, and we will test his blood again for the bacteria. The acid reducer will be once daily, before school, for two months at least, and I would like to see him again in a month to make sure the medicine is helping, and to answer any more questions you might have. It’s possible he could need the acid reducer for the next few months or longer.”

“Daily medicine?” Jonny says, dismayed. “At six?”

“Yes, Mr. Toews. It’s very important that we affect an immediate change in Eric’s system as quickly as we can. By your own observations, he has been resisting eating for almost a year. We can maintain him long term with diet and other lifestyle changes, but for now we need to heal his stomach and the best way to do that is with daily medicine.”

“I don’t want him to be in pain. I just - he’s so young.”

Oui, but he is not even the youngest I’ve seen, not at all,” Fleury says reassuringly. “And once we treat this, and he is symptom free, I think Eric will be able to stop taking all of these drugs. But we will have to wait to see before we decide.”

Fleury goes over the details of the treatment plan with them before his nurse brings Eric back. Jonny's quiet while Fleury gives a quick run down with Eric, and they’re on their way down the corridor when Jonny grabs his arm. “We - Pat,” he says, his eyes rimmed with red.

“I know,” Patrick says, covering Jonny’s arm with his own and squeezing gently, “but we’ve got this now, Jon. It’s not great, and I can’t believe we let it get this far, but we’ve got this now.”

“How do you know?”

“Because it’s us, asshole,” Patrick says, elbowing him in the ribs and brushing past him. “Now let’s take the poor kid for ice cream.”

“Frozen yogurt,” Jonny calls after him, waving the paper Fleury had given them. “He can’t have ice cream!”

Patrick spins and walks backwards in front of him. “See, told you. We got this.”

Jonny snorts and rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling as he follows Patrick out.

***

When he thinks back on it later that night, Patrick realizes that things have been going so well that he probably should have seen the blow-up coming. It’s little consolation, though, when he’s facing a furious Jonny.

“Pizza, Patrick?” Jonny says incredulously. “Pizza? Didn’t you listen at all to Fleury? He needs unprocessed food with less acidity. Not this mass-produced crap full of fucking-” he peers at the label of the box he pulled out of the recycling. “Xantham gum and MSG!’

“Yes, Jonny, I was there. But sometimes I’m too busy to cook, and so sometimes we’re going to have to have a frozen pizza. It’s not going to kill Eric to eat processed cheese once in awhile.”

“Papa,” Eric says, his face dark. “Shut up!”

Patrick gasps, and Jonny’s eyes narrow. “What did you say to me?”

Eric just glares challengingly at him, pulling his lips in tightly and jutting his chin out.

“E-” Patrick starts, but Jonny silences him with a nasty look.

“You do not talk to me -- or your daddy -- like that. Ever. You know that. Go to your room and we’ll talk about this later.”

“You always say that!” Eric shouts, red-faced. “And then you leave! You’re stupid!”

“Go to your room, Eric, I’ve asked you twice.”

Patrick can feel his headache rachet up to a more urgent state, and he can’t think with all the yelling going on. He knows if he doesn’t intercede, Jonny and Eric will stay in this stalemate for longer than he’s capable of tolerating.

“No!” Eric shouts again, taking a step toward Jonny.

“That’s enough, Eric,” Patrick steps in, taking Eric’s arm and guiding him over to the freezer. He pulls out two yogurt treats. “You can have one of these, and this one’s for your brother. We’re going to deal with this after I’ve finished talking to your father.”

“Okay, Dad,” Eric says, and Patrick’s heart aches for how grown-up his little boy is getting. Eric turns a determined look at Jonny. “Don’t yell at my Daddy anymore.”

“Eric, that’s enough,” Patrick says firmly. “Go.”

Eric leaves, dragging his feet slowly and shooting Jonny another dirty look as he walks out.

“Jon-”

“Are you fucking kidding me with that bullshit?” Jonny explodes, stepping closer to Patrick and making Patrick’s heart beat a little faster. “How dare you undermine me like that? Eric just shouted at me to shut up! And you give him a fucking treat?”

“Calm down, fuck. It’s not that big of a deal,” Patrick says, struggling to keep his voice even. “He’s been through so much lately. He’s just a confused six year old boy. And you yelling at him isn’t helping.”

“Of course he’s confused, Pat. Because you keep fucking undermining me! Jesus!” Jonny slams his hand down on the island, and it makes Patrick jump. “First you make fucking microwave pizza - “

“It was frozen, asshole, not microwave-”

“Then you step in and let him out of a timeout when I’ve already ordered him to his room. And then you give him a fucking treat! I don’t believe you!” Jonny’s cheeks are flushed, making his cheekbones stand out prominently. Patrick has to look away, ashamed at the curl of arousal the sight ignites in his gut.

“Yeah, well, maybe it’s hard for me, did you ever think of that? You coming and going, us fighting all the time! It’s fucking awful is what it is.”

“If you’re not going to punish Eric for the way he talks to me, I’m just going to go.” Jonny says, shaking his head in disgust. It makes his hair flop onto his forehead. “Obviously I’m just in the way.”

“That’s not what I said,” Patrick says, caught between being angry and turned on. “You don’t need to go-”

“Are you going to punish Eric?”

“Jesus, Jon, he didn’t do anything that bad,” Patrick snaps, anger winning over arousal. “That poor kid has gone through a lot the past few months. He’s confused and scared. I know he shouldn’t have done that, and I’ll talk to him, but I don’t think a timeout is necessary. He’s stressed out as it is, dealing with all this uncertainty between us.”

“I know he’s stressed, Pat. And you’re not making it any better, just giving in to him. I hate to think what it’s like when I’m not here to keep him from constantly getting his way.”

“I promise you, nothing is as stressful as it is when you’re around!”.

“Well, I can solve that,” Jonny says meanly, a tight smile on his face “I’m leaving.”

“Jonny, I didn’t -”

“No,” Jonny snaps. “You and the kids clearly don’t want or need me around. Lucky for you, I’m going out of town for the next three days.” His face twists. “Not sure why I’m even bothering with this stupid project anymore-”

He cuts himself off, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. When he opens his eyes again, the anger from before has been replaced with a pain so acute that Patrick takes a step forward and grabs Jonny’s hand.

“Don’t go, Jon,” Patrick says, taking another step forward, watching Jonny chest heave. Jonny doesn’t push him away, so Patrick steps even closer. “It’s not better without you. I’m sorry - I really didn’t mean that.”

Jonny’s pupils dilate as Patrick reaches up to cup his cheek, rubbing his thumb over the bright spots of color on his cheeks. When Jonny doesn’t pull away, Patrick steps in even closer. “Can I - can I kiss you?”

Jonny’s eyes drift shut and Patrick presses a soft kiss to his mouth, licking along the seam of his lips delicately. Jonny shudders and pushes forward, holding Patrick’s head still and taking his lips with a hard kiss, inhaling so deeply he steals the breath from Patrick’s lungs.

When Jonny pulls back, panting against Patrick’s cheek, Patrick curls closer, pressing kisses to Jonny’s collarbone. “Stay, Jon. We’ll talk to Eric and then . . .” He sucks on the spot he’d been kissing and Jonny’s hips jerk forward. “Then . . .”

“Not - not like this,” Jonny says, pulling back a little, but Patrick holds on tight. “I can’t.”

“I know you’re mad, but can’t we - I just, I want you so much,” Patrick says, pulling at Jonny’s shoulders, “and I-”

Jonny pushes Patrick away with enough force that Patrick bangs into the island, knocking the back of his hip against the lip of the countertop. “Ow,” Patrick says, putting a hand on his hip and glaring at Jonny who’s looking back at him his face white. “What the fuck, Jonny? Now you’re manhandling me?”

Jonny’s still gawping at him, his mouth opening and closing soundlessly, but at Patrick’s words he shakes himself. “Shit, I didn’t - I’m sorry about that,” Jonny says urgently, his anger receding a bit. “Jesus, I’m sorry - are you okay?”

“Yeah, no thanks to you,” Patrick sulks, watching Jonny as he rubs his hip. He’s pale and shaking a little and Patrick’s getting concerned that he’s going to faint. “Did you get enough to eat today? You’re as white as a sheet?”

“No, I,” Jonny clears his throat. “I’m fine.”

They stand there for a charged moment before Patrick drops his hand from his hip. “Why’d you push me away, anyway? You weren’t feeling sick before.”

“Because you can’t stop pushing me,” Jonny frowns, his disdain back in force. “Just because you’re constantly horny-”

“Hey,” Patrick protests, stung.

“- doesn’t mean it’s my job to satisfy you.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t the one who was just grinding his dick into my hip.”

“I’ve never been able to say no to you, though, have I?” Jonny’s face contorts. “Because you won’t fucking let me.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, Jonny?!” Patrick can feel his blood pressure rising as he stands there, clenching his fists, forcing himself to take long deep breaths to keep himself from punching Jonny.

Jonny ignores him. “Well, I’m done. You can call Seguin - or Kesler - I’m sure one of them would help you out. Or maybe your new friend. Betty? Beth? Maybe you and Beth can get in a quickie while the kids watch a movie.”

Patrick stares at Jonny, baffled. “Jon, honestly, what the fuck are you talking about? Have you actually gone insane?”

“I wish,” Jonny laughs, a short, brittle sound. “Keeping you satisfied is exhausting.”

“Keeping me - “

“Remember what it was like when we were younger? Jesus, I was exhausted all the time, trying to keep up with your needs. I had to hole up in the library just to get a few hours peace.”

“You -” Patrick jerks back, his stomach plummeting. “What?”

Because Patrick remembers those times, too, remembers when Jonny would come back from the library, his lips cold, running his icy fingers up and down Patrick’s flanks. Patrick liked to push him back onto their bed and peel off all of his layers and give him a long, slow blow job, sucking him off until he was so sensitive he almost sobbed as he pushed Patrick away. Jonny would pull Patrick up next to him and suck on his tongue while he jerked him off, holding him tightly, whispering filth and love into his ears.

“That’s not - how can you say that?” Patrick’s eyes prickle, and he looks away, biting the inside of his cheeks. His head down, he manages to clear his throat, saying, “okay, Jon. Whatever. Just go. I can’t deal with you any more.”

“Pat, that’s not-” Jonny looks uncertain for a moment before his face hardens. “Not a problem. I’ll get out of your hair.”

“When you get back, I need to talk to you,” Patrick says. He can’t keep this up, hiding his pregnancy from Jonny, letting Jonny tear them apart like this. Jonny’s going to say something they can’t come back from, soon, and Patrick can’t let that happen. He won’t let it happen - they’ve got a lot more than themselves to take care of now.

“I agree,” Jonny says ominously. “I think I’ll have a few things to say, too.”

After Jonny’s gone, Patrick pulls out his blood pressure machine and takes slow, deep breaths as he waits for the machine to flash its reading. He slumps when it’s only a few points higher than usual. He lets himself sit for a few more minutes. He’ll get the twins to bed in a minute, but he’s got to get himself under control first.

Things are going to have to change when Jonny gets home. Patrick’s not going to wait for him to snap out of all this much longer.

***

“Slow down boys,” Patrick yells, “No running in the house!” He plops Amelie down into her mini-chair before settling himself onto the couch with a big sigh. Friday. Finally. And it’s St. Patrick’s day, so the boys seem to think it’s his birthday and keep asking about cake.

Things with Jonny have been increasingly difficult, but at least he has his kids to distract him - and he’s going to enjoy sitting on the couch where he can keep an eye on all of them.

Amelie sits nicely for about half a second before toddling off to the hall closet, where she opens the door, smiles toothily at Patrick, and shuts the door behind her.

Patrick just shakes his head. He keeps waiting for this little game of hers to get old, but from her muffled giggles, she seems just as amused as ever. He sinks a little further into the overstuffed couch cushions, worn out. He’ll get up and check on her in a minute.

Two seconds later he can hear Eric and Bryan tumbling down the stairs, the thumping and bumping tells him they’re probably running -- again -- but he’s going to play dumb on this one. “Eric, Bry,” he calls out, and they pause at the entrance to the family room, twin guilty looks gracing their faces. “Can one of you open up the hall closet for Ammy?” Score, Patrick thinks, didn’t even have to get up. Having minions is the greatest.

The boys rock-paper-scissor it out, and Patrick just shakes his head. It’s going to take them longer to decide who has to get Ammy then to just do it. But he’s not saying anything, just enjoying a little more quality time with his favorite piece of furniture in the house.

Bryan loses and lets Ammy out. She toddles back into the room, grabs a book from one of the low shelves, seemingly at random, and scurries back to the closet. What a weirdo, Patrick thinks fondly.

This repeats a few more times, Patrick keeps calling the boys over to get her out, until Bryan says, clearly exasperated, “Dad, we’re busy over here with this battle.”

Patrick just laughs and hauls himself up off the couch, but when he goes to open up the door, it doesn’t budge. Amelie’s banging on it again, sounding increasingly frustrated that her game is being thwarted.

“Shit.” Patrick says, wiggling the door knob a bit more forcefully.

“Swear jar!” Eric yells. Patrick bites his lip to keep quiet and prevent his owing any more money to the little vultures.

“Be right back, Ammy, Daddy’s going to get you out, don’t worry,” Patrick says.

He hurries to the kitchen and starts quickly sorting through the junk drawer, pulling out anything that might conceivably jimmy the lock. When he gets back to the door, Amelie’s still banging on it, and this time calling out plaintively, “Dada! Dada!”

Patrick tries to soothe her as he works paper clips and skewers into the tiny hole on the knob, cursing quietly the whole time. “What kind of a fucking idiot puts a lock on a closet.”

He spends a few more minutes rattling the doorknob, and googling “how to pick a lock” on his phone, to no avail. By this time the boys have realized something infinitely more interesting than their epic dinosaur versus G.I. Joe battle is being waged in the front hallway, and they’ve joined Patrick, offering such helpful advice as, “Open the door, daddy, Ammy wants to get out!” and “Shake the door knob the other direction!”

Amelie by this time has started sobbing, and the boys are starting to look like they might join her, and if that happens, Patrick will definitely join in and be of no use to anyone.

He hates to do it, but there’s no help for it. “Can you come over?” Patrick asks the second Jonny picks up the phone. He’s flustered, but the icy “Patrick” still hurts. He’d thought things with Jonny had been a little more relaxed since seeing Dr. Fleury. So much for having a good Friday, he thinks.

“What’s going on? Is Eric sick?” Jonny asks, voice going a little frantic.

“No, no,” Patrick says, glancing over at the twins who are now banging on the closet door, and assuring Amelie that she’ll be saved soon. “They’re fine, it’s just, Ammy locked herself in the closet. Don’t- don’t ask me how, I have no idea. And I’ve tried everything I can think of to get it open- and I googled how to pick the lock, but it’s just not-”

“I’m on my way,” Jonny says, “just try not lose it, okay? You’re gonna scare the kids.”

“Right.” Patrick takes a shaky breath in. “Just get here soon?”

Jonny does make good time, but the wait still feels interminable.

Patrick has his back to the closet door, and he's reading Amelie’s current favorite book, Barnyard Dance, as loudly as he can in a mostly unsuccessful attempt to soothe her.

The twins have taken it upon themselves to act out the dance from the book they way they often do to amuse Amelie. Normally, it makes Patrick and Amelie giggle to see them leaping like a frog and promenading two-by-two, but today he can’t seem to focus on anything but Ammy’s sad little cries. He’s never felt so helpless - and he’s never been so glad to see Jonny walk in the door, looking tall and calm and competent.

Jonny takes the situation firmly in hand, and even though Patrick’s still a little mad at him for being such a stubborn ass lately, he can still appreciate the commanding way Jonny takes charge.

“Okay boys, why don’t you go get Ammy’s lovey from upstairs? I bet she’s going to want it once Daddy and I get her out.” Jonny says, shooing the boys out of the way.

“What are you going to do?” Patrick asks. “You can’t knock the door over - she’s sitting right there, and probably won’t know to move.”

“I won’t,” Jonny assures him, before taking out a few thin piece of metal from his pocket.

“I already tried to pick it,” Patrick says. “I tried a nail, a skewer, even one of Erica’s bobby-pins that she’s forever leaving all over the house.”

Jonny just shakes his head, “I got a lock pick set from the hotel. This should work.”

He puts the first metal stick in and wiggles it around, it doesn’t do anything and the sound of Jonny’s voice seems to make Amelie’s cries louder. She’s starting to hiccup, and Patrick’s hands itch with the need to soothe her.

“Come on, come on,” Patrick chants, his arms wrapped around himself. “Come on.”

“I’ll get it,” Jonny says, glaring at him. “Just give me a minute.”

Patrick’s beginning to think they’re going to have to call the locksmith. Or the cops. God, what kind of father is he, he should have been watching her, not just sitting on the couch.

While he’s busy with his self-recriminating thoughts, Jonny inserts the second lock pick, and gets the door open.

Amelie tumbles into the hallway, just as the boys are returning with her lovey.

Patrick scoops her up, peppering her face and head with a million little kisses.

“Dada! Dada!” she giggles, and as is her way, her little tears turn to laughs in an instant. She butts her forehead against his twice, before arching out of his arms to get down. She makes for the closet again, but is intercepted by Jonny.

“No way, ma coccinelle,” Jonny says, redirecting her towards the living room. "We’re not going in that closet again until Papa and Daddy have time to switch out the door knobs.”

She just looks at him balefully -- and Lord help him, Patrick loves her judgey face, it’s so reminiscent of Jonny -- before toddling off after her brothers, who sound like they’ve moved from creating battle scenes with action figures to actually waging battle.

“Thanks.” Patrick says, “I- thanks for coming so fast.”

Jonny opens his mouth, but whatever he was going to say is interrupted by a loud crash coming from the living room.

“Boys!” Jonny shouts, moving in to see Eric standing over Bryan, who’s sobbing and clutching his arm. “What happened?”

Patrick rushes to Bryan’s side and picks him up. “Shh, it’s okay, it’s okay, Bryan. Are you hurt?”

Bryan crying so hard he’s not making noise, his face flushed dark red. He finally inhales and starts screaming. “My arm! My arm!” He’s clutching it at the bicep, tears running down his face. Patrick tries to move Bryan’s hand out of the way to see if it’s broken or cut, but Bryan flinches back. “No, no, don’t touch it, Daddy!”

“It’s okay, Bryan, I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to see,” Patrick soothes. Bryan moves his hand, tears running down his face. There’s no blood that Patrick can see and while he’d like to get Bryan’s shirt off, he’s not going to press his luck right now.

“It’s not bleeding, Bry, but - can you move your hand for me?”

Bryan hiccups and nods, moving it right and left, and his arm rotates easily enough, although moving it makes Bryan bite his lip.

“That’s great, Bry. Now can you bend it at the elbow?”

Bryan nods dubiously and bends his arm slowly before flexing it open and closed once.

“That’s great, Bry, I don’t think it’s broken either,” Patrick says, smiling at Bryan, whose face falls. He starts sobbing again and throws himself against Patrick’s neck.

“Eric hit me,” Bryan sobs. “He hit me so hard, Daddy!”

“I’m so sorry, sweetie, that wasn’t a nice thing to do,” Patrick soothes, looking over at Jonny, who has Eric by the arm.

“Eric, why would you ever hit Bryan like that?” Patrick says, rubbing Bryan’s back. Eric’s face sets, and he narrows his eyes, shaking his head. “Answer me!”

“Eric,” Jonny says, shaking Eric a little by his arm. “Answer your father. Why did you hit Bryan?”

Eric looks at Jonny, and his face contorts. “Daddy said we could play swords,” Eric says, shooting an angry look at Patrick. “We told him, but he didn’t say we couldn’t.”

“Eric Kane Toews, you know you’re not allowed to fight for real,” Patrick gasps. “And I was busy helping Daddy with Amelie.”

“But you made us open the closet, and you just sat on the couch!” Eric says. “ Why do you care if I hit Bryan? You never pay any attention to us, anyway!”

Patrick’s mouth drops open, and he looks at Jonny, shaking his head. Jonny’s glaring at him, though, and so he shuts his mouth and swallows hard.

“That is not true and you know it,” Patrick says. “I just - I was watching all of you, I was just tired. It’s been a long week -” Patrick has to stop or he’s going to start sobbing himself. He takes a deep breath, shaking his head at Jonny. “I was watching them, I swear. You were here, too - why didn’t you stop them?”

“I was busy handling opening the closet door because you couldn’t,” Jonny says. “Jesus, Pat, how can you let things get out of control like this? Taking care of them is your only job, and you have to call me to open a door. Meanwhile one of the kids almost gets his arm broken by the other!”

All three children are staring at Patrick. Eric’s got a spiteful grin on his face, Bryan’s still crying, but now he’s watching Patrick a little fearfully. Amelie’s come up and put her hand on Patrick’s knee and is patting it. “I-” Patrick chokes and stands up, shoving Bryan in Jonny’s lap. “I just can’t do this anymore,” he says. He goes to the front door and grabs Jonny’s keys off the hall table.

He shuts the door quietly behind him, shuddering when he hears Bryan start crying again, but he doesn’t turn around, and he doesn’t stop moving until he’s parked in front of Erica’s, no memory of how he got there, his face wet with tears. He sits in the car for a long time, staring out the window.

His phone beeps and rings beside him, and he finally shuts it down. Jonny’s with the kids, there’s nothing that can’t wait. He needs to see Erica and any minute now he’ll get out and go up to her apartment.

Things with Jonny keep going from bad to worse, then just as Patrick thinks they might be getting better, something like this happens and pulls the rug out from under him. The uncertainty, the inconsistency in dealing with Jonny is getting to be too much for him to handle, and it’s almost certainly not good for their baby.

Maybe Erica’s right and he needs to tell Jonny, figure out where they go from here. For the first time in his life, Patrick’s not sure if they’re going to work things out.

He looks out the window at the lights on in Erica’s apartment. If he goes up, she’ll give him ice cream and sympathy, and he’ll be no closer to fixing things with Jonny than he is now. The only way out of this nightmare is through Jonny, and Jonny’s at home.

Patrick starts the car and pulls out into traffic, navigating back onto the freeway. The traffic is light but he can see taillights coming ahead. He changes lanes, struggling to control Jonny’s Acura. The sight lines are so awkward, and he has to lean forward to see in the rear-view mirror to check his lane. When he looks back, the car in front of him has come to a complete stop.

He slams on the brakes and feels the car skid and shudder before it slams into the car with a sickening bang, hurtling him forward against the seat belt.

When he blinks his eyes open, the airbag has deployed, and his ears are ringing. His can feel something wet on his face, and when he pulls his hand away, it’s bloody. He reaches for his seatbelt and sobs at the pain in his side. It shocks him out of his daze, and he puts his hands on his stomach, panic making his heart pound in his ears.

“Baby,” he whispers, feeling his vision darken. “Oh, no. No, no, no. Not my baby-”

It’s the last thing he knows before the world goes dark.

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 a