[identity profile] annabeth.livejournal.com in [community profile] osgood_asitgets

Once the girls are in bed, Chris has nothing to do but think. And thinking depresses him. He promised Jenna he wouldn't get drunk, but even if he hadn't, he doubts she has any liquor or beer in the house.

He sits down in front of the T.V. cabinet and pokes around in their movie collection, pausing when he finds Saving Private Ryan.

This is his favourite movie, and he'd left it here—like so many other things, some much more important than others—and he hasn't gotten around to replacing it yet.

Jenna'd probably give it to him, if he asked, but he doesn't want to. He almost doesn't ever want to come back here and collect the things he'd left behind so long ago.

Shrugging, he figures he might as well watch it, though, and takes Shrek out of the DVD player so that he can replace it with Saving Private Ryan.

He lies back on the couch, the volume turned low, and wonders if he should actually be trying to sleep.

Chris is actually just dozing off when his cell phone, abandoned on the coffee table, rings shockingly into the silence.

It scares him half to death, and he flails on the couch before he grabs it and flips it open.

"Chris?"

For a second, Chris is expecting Jenna, checking up on the girls or calling to tell him she's coming home and needs a ride, but then his sluggish, exhausted brain re-engages enough to place the voice as masculine.

He rubs his eyes, then croaks into the phone, "'lo?"

"Chris..." says the guy again, and just as Chris recognises who it is, he goes on with, "it's Jimmy."

Fuck. "It's three in the morning," Chris points out. "What are you doing?"

"Drinking," Howie says. Chris thinks about slapping his face with his palm, but restrains himself. Apparently he's just a bad influence all around. "And thinking." There's a long pause, and then a half-stifled giggle. "That rhymes!"

Chris realises that the house is very, very quiet, and the girls' rooms are just down the hall; he needs to get off the phone before he starts yelling at Howie in frustration and wakes them up.

"I can't talk," he starts to say, but Howie steamrolls right over him.

"Please don't do that to me again," he says in a very sad voice. "You ignored me throughout practise, and Babs said he would've benched me too if he hadn't already benched you." There's the sound of rustling, like maybe Jimmy's wiping his nose with a tissue, and then he goes on, "I need to see you."

"I can't," Chris tries to say again, but once more Howie just goes on as if he's not really listening.

"Please," he whispers harshly into the phone. "Just let me see you."

Chris closes his eyes and flogs himself metaphorically some more. "Howie," he says firmly, "I'm babysitting my daughters, it's three in the morning, and what you really need is to sleep it off." And not sleep with me, he adds silently, even though he knows it's hypocritical considering that's exactly what he did two nights ago when he fucked Howie on his couch with his wife just upstairs.

"I don't wanna," Jimmy says. "I'd rather be with you."

"I have a six-year-old," Chris explains patiently. "I can't just leave her alone, even if I were amenable to seeing you—which I'm not." He's just about to hang up when Howie says, a hoarse, broken whisper,

"Rachel's having a baby." He hiccups, and Chris can hear the sound of liquid sloshing in a glass bottle as Jimmy takes another drink.

Chris feels really guilty now, because he can't stay on the phone, but he can also tell that right now, Howie does need someone—just not in the way he thinks he does.

But he doesn't get much of a choice in the matter, in the end, because Sydney comes out of her room, her hair mussed and flattened on one side, her eyes red, her thumb in her mouth.

Chris thinks he woke her up, and he's all set to apologise and cuddle her until she goes back to sleep, when she whispers,

"I'm sorry, Daddy." She sniffs and it sounds an awful lot like Howie's been sounding on the other end of the phone.

"What's the matter, sweetheart?" he asks her, and Jimmy says,

"I thought—"

"Not you," Chris says. "I gotta go." He disconnects before Howie can say anything else. Syd sniffs again, and comes a little bit closer. Huge tears are rolling down her cheeks. She hiccoughs and then she sits down right in the middle of the floor, her crying rising in volume.

Chris dumps the phone on the couch and goes immediately to her, helpless against either of his girls when they're upset, and when he gets close enough to her, he can smell it.

"Shit," he curses, which makes Syd's eyes widen, and then she begins to wail, which draws Mackenzie down the hall only seconds later.

Chris scoops Syd up off the carpet, heedless of his sweatshirt, and carries her into the bathroom.

"What happened?" he asks her, and she hides her face in his shirt. "It's all right, honey, I'm not mad." Genius, he scolds himself, she probably thought you were mad when you cursed in front of her.

"I didn't mean to," she whispers. "I wet the bed; I'm sorry!"

"I'm not mad, it's okay, Syd. Come on." Chris begins to strip her out of her dinosaur jammies, dropping them on the floor and then he puts her down, turns on the bathwater, and gets a towel from the linen closet.

Mackenzie is standing in the doorway, watching them solemnly. Chris glances at her, wondering if this is what it's like all the time lately, Syd garnering all of the attention because she's littler.

"Come here," he says, and Mackenzie trots obediently into the room. He wraps one arm around her and hugs her tightly. "It's all right, I've got it."

"I miss you, Dad," she says softly. "Why can't you stay with us more often?"

"Tell you what," he says, giving her a smile even as he tests the water with his other hand, "why don't you go get some blankets and put them on the couch, and we'll watch another movie."

He actually prefers it this way, because it means he doesn't have to sleep in the bed he used to share with Jenna alone. He's not even sure how she sleeps in their bed alone, especially when it must remind her constantly of what she walked in on.

Mackenzie nods and he lets her go, turning his attention back to Sydney, who's sucking her thumb again, eyes big and wet. He kisses her forehead and plunks her down in the bath.

"Can you wash up?" he asks her, and she nods slowly. "All right, I'm going to change your sheets then, okay? Call me if you need anything."

It's strange, being the daddy again, and Carey hasn't even been gone that long; but it's different, too, doing it for his daughters when he hasn't really been called upon to do so in so long.

He strips the bed quickly, finding that the mattress protector he and Jenna had put on years ago is still there, and balls up the sheets into a wad. He drops them in the hall and finds the disinfectant wipes, which he uses to wipe down the mattress protector.

Chris gets the sheets out of the hall closet, and makes up the bed again quickly, then goes through Syd's drawers—and it makes his heart hurt that he no longer remembers where her jammies are kept—until he finds another pair, these ones with feet on them.

He grabs a pair of undies too and carries them back into the bathroom, where Syd is sitting in the tub with her knees drawn up to her chest, her thumb still in her mouth, the water still clear.

Chris feels another pang. Before, Sydney had been learning to bathe herself. Now, she's obviously waiting patiently for him to come back and do it for her.

He sets her fresh clothes down on the countertop of the sink and kneels in front of the tub, pushing his sleeves up.

"All right, Princess," he says, "I'll help you."

By the time he's got her dry and snuggled back into her clean jammies, Mackenzie's asleep on the couch. He hoists Syd higher up on his hip, her head on his shoulder, and turns around, bringing Sydney back into her room and tucking her into bed.

Maybe it's not fair, but now that he's spent all that time soothing the littlest, he thinks it's time to be there for his eldest; he comes back into the living room, turns his phone off to keep from waking her, and crawls on the couch next to her, wrapping his arms around her.

She deserves some comfort too, he figures.

Nevertheless, he lies awake all night.

///

Morning comes and Chris kisses the side of Mackenzie's face, over her hair, and gets up. She's still out, sleeping like a zombie apocalypse couldn't wake her, and he ambles into the kitchen, lack of sleep hanging like a dark cloud over him, and searches the cabinets for coffee.

He finds some, eventually, and knows that this, too, is a left-over from when he used to live here. It's sobering, but he tries to put it out of his mind nonetheless.

He starts the coffee brewing and then pads down the hall with purpose, gathering up the soiled sheets and dinosaur jammies and taking them downstairs to put them in the wash.

He sets the gentle cycle and turns it on, then climbs the steps again just in time for his coffee to finish. He pours a cup, brings it to the table, and sits down, but winds up staring down into it, unable to take the first sip—he feels like one of the undead himself, eyes gritty, head aching a little—because he can't stop remembering Howie's drunk phone call, or the possible complications with his unborn baby—desperate for it to be okay—and on top of all that, Syd's having troubles she hasn't had since was at least three, and Mackenzie's so much quieter now, as if she feels eclipsed by her sister's needs. As though she needs to fade into the background, be less work, because Syd needs so much right now.

Chris feels like it's his fault. He should be here for his girls, but he knows that Jenna doesn't really want that—it's not that she'd turn down the invitation to help out, but he knows she doesn't really want him hanging out around her house while she's around—and he can't really blame her.

He realises he's been gazing into his coffee, completely spaced out, when a little voice says,

"Daddy?"

Chris focuses on the doorway, where Syd is standing in her jammies, a stuffed monkey hanging from one hand, her hair badly needing to be combed. But she is still his precious little girl, and he can't help but feel like he's failing her—failing them both.

In a terrible, secret corner of his heart, it makes him miss Carey more than he can ever express, simply because Carey's a clean slate; Chris hasn't fucked him up yet like he's apparently done with his little girls.

"C'mere, baby-girl," Chris says, turning the chair and holding out his arms. She comes padding over, then climbs into his lap, nestling right into his embrace like she knows it's her God-given right to be there. And she's correct: it is.

He tightens his arms around her and they sit, silent but for the ticking of the clock, until Mackenzie wanders into the kitchen too.

She stops when she sees them, and Chris immediately feels like he's showing favouritism, because he doesn't think Mackenzie realises or remembers that he spent the entire night holding her while she slept.

"You two are up early," he says, impressed that they don't need more sleep—and reminded that Helm never seems to need that much sleep, either. He's envious.

"It's too bright," Mackenzie says. Her little lips turn down in a frown. "My head hurts, Daddy."

Chris lifts Syd off his lap, pats her bottom, and says to her, "All right, little girl, go get the cereal for breakfast, all right?"

Syd looks up at him with huge eyes as if she's forgotten how to get their favourite cereal out of the cabinet beneath the stove, but after a long moment she walks slowly over to it.

"What's the matter with your head?" Chris asks Mackenzie, and she squints at him, her blond hair a tousled mess too, and she scratches her hip. She comes further into the room, right up to him, and puts her arms around his waist. She lays her head on his shoulder and whispers, breath hot on his neck,

"I don't know. But it hurts. It's making my tummy hurt."

Chris brushes his fingers through her hair and thinks maybe she has a migraine, and he's worried now, about Jenna, caring for Sydney when she's obviously needing more attention than ever, and Mackenzie, who might be having health issues. And again, he's reminded that he hasn't been here for them.

"You should go lie down," he tells Mackenzie. "Shut the blinds, face the wall, and try to sleep for awhile. The darkness should help."

"Okay, Daddy," she says softly. She lets go of him, but he runs a hand down her arm and walks with her to her bedroom.

Maybe it's stupid to tuck in his eleven-year-old, but she seems to need the extra affection, so he folds the blankets around her, closes the blinds as tightly as they'll go, pulls the curtains—remembering that he and Helm had, at one point, been intending to buy new curtains—and then brings in the bathroom wastebasket in case she gets sick.

"All right, sweet girl," he says. "There's a bucket in case your tummy's too upset, all right?"

"Okay," Mackenzie says quietly. She tugs on her pillow until it's squashed in her arms. He kisses her forehead and closes the door as he leaves.

When he gets back into the kitchen, he wants to lie down and rest his own head, because Syd has managed to spill about half the box of cereal on the floor, and instead of sitting at the table like he knows she's capable of, she's plopped down in the middle of the floor, surrounded by cereal and spilled milk.

"Oh, Syd," he says, and she gazes up at him. Her face is ruddy-cheeked, pink like it's wind-bitten. He comes into the room and gets down on one knee, trying to avoid kneeling in the spilt milk. "Are you sick?"

"No," she says, shoveling some of her cereal into her mouth. And then, when she finishes chewing it, she starts to cry. "Why don't you want me any more, Daddy!" she wails, and it's hardly even a question any more.

Chris used to have a heart, he's sure of it, but he's just as certain that Syd's words have smashed it into dust. How could he have done this to them?

For the first time, he wonders if he made the right decision, trying to build a life with Helm. As badly as he misses him, as terrible the longing for his new family is, he's faced with the girls he left behind in trying to find that new life. And it's like staring right into the face of his sins, every last one of them.

He just broke Nick's heart a couple nights ago, and Nick is the reason he's in this position now, an interloper in what used to be his home, a failure at being a father to the child he loves more than anything—except, of course, his other daughter.

And again, secretly, guiltily, he realises he loves Carey and Helm just as much.

If only he'd never slept with Nick in Jenna's bed. If only he'd never slept with Nick at all—Nick would still be happily married to Annika; he would never have gotten drunk and had that not-very-memorable one night stand with Helm; he might still be married to Jenna and taking care of his little girls like he should have been doing all along.

But no, he had ripped them all apart, had gone a little bit more out of his mind than usual and fucked around with Drapes and Helm and Howie, and now here he is, his baby girl sitting in a puddle of milk, feeling like the scum of the universe.

"I will always want you," he says to Sydney, but it doesn't seem to appease her. Tears just keep falling down her plump little cheeks. "Hey, sweetheart, don't cry. I love you. Let's have another bath, okay? I'll wash your hair, and then we'll blow-dry it, and I'll braid it for you, okay?"

She throws herself into his lap and her tears and snot soak immediately into his shirt. He picks her up easily and carries her back to the bathroom, where he runs another bath.

By the time Jenna puts her key in the lock, Chris and Sydney are sitting on the couch, Syd curled up in his lap, her hair braided with wispy strands escaping, sound asleep.

The kitchen's clean, Mackenzie's still in her room, and Syd's finally calmed down. Jenna's belly is unbelievable now; he hasn't seen her in so long, and her due date is fast approaching—just another couple of months.

"Were they good?" she asks right away, and Chris can feel that ache start up behind his eyelids again.

"I'm so sorry," he tells her with genuine regret. "I had no idea what you've been dealing with."

Jenna puts her hand at the small of her back and sinks, awkwardly, down into the easy chair. "I didn't want to tell you," she says in a low voice. "I didn't want you to feel guilty."

"I deserve to feel guilty," Chris points out. "Mackenzie's not feeling well and Syd's convinced I don't love her any more."

"I know," Jenna says. "I think Mackenzie's having tension headaches, and Sydney's desperate to move in with you, as if she's sure that will prove you love her. And sometimes I think she wants to do it to prove you love her more than Mackenzie."

"Are you all right?" he asks her, unable to wait a second longer to find out how she is. Jenna gives him a wry look combined with a tired smile.

"Well, I don't know if you'll be happy about this or not, but it turns out the complications... weren't." She pauses, and Chris feels his body become instantly lighter, worry floating away like so much pollution.

"Why wouldn't I be—" but he doesn't get very far because Jenna cuts him off.

"I was just feeling run-down, and I seemed to have gained more weight than I did with the girls... anyway, the doctor just wanted me to stay for observation. Well, they observed all right," she says with a little laugh. "I'm having twins this time."

Chris almost wakes Syd up by falling off the couch. "What?" he says eloquently.

Jenna visibly deflates. "Oh, no. I hope you're not upset."

Chris stares at her in disbelief. "Are you kidding?" He carefully dislodges Sydney from his arms, laying her out on the couch, then moves over to the easy chair.

Somehow it's the most natural thing in the world to touch her belly with reverent hands, then lean up and kiss her directly on the mouth.

It starts out just as reassurance, but Jenna sighs and when her mouth parts, her sweet breath hitting his lips, he finds himself deepening it, the tip of his tongue flirting with the inside of her mouth, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders, her familiar smell wafting into his nose.

It's probably the stupidest thing he's ever done, even beyond fucking Nick in their marital bed, because he gets so caught up in the moment that he forgets all about Helm, about Carey, about Syd on the couch, and just kisses Jenna.

So many years of making love to her have acclimated him to it, and he doesn't even remember any more that he's gay, because no matter what, he's always loved her.

But as he kisses her, as he leans into her, he wonders what it would be like to try and make things work out, to try and knit back together the severed pieces of the life they'd shared.

And Jenna doesn't pull away.

Chris is lucky, for once in his life, that he manages to remember himself and where he is before Syd wakes up and he makes things worse on all of them; he lifts his head and stares into Jenna's eyes, which are damp-looking.

"Please," is all she says, and Chris knows without having to ask what she means.

He goes through the room collecting everything of his, filling his arms with all of his stuff that's somehow, magically, already taken over even in just one night, and stands awkwardly in the doorway, his key ring hanging from his thumb.

"Syd's sheets are in the washer," he tells Jenna, then continues, "and I slept on the couch with Mackenzie, so the bed's still fine. I'll... I'm just gonna go," he finishes, and runs out the door before he can lose his resolve, drop everything, carry Jenna back up to what used to be their bed and make love to her.

It isn't until after he's driving away that he realises his sweatshirt smells of milk, and he has no place to go, and Jenna's having twins.

///

Chris knows he shouldn't, he knows it's a bad idea—it's a ridiculously bad idea—but he drives to Howie's anyway. It's not like he has any better place to be, anyway.

He parks in the driveway and tries to make himself turn the key, pull away, keep from making this more difficult on everyone involved. But he can already hear Nick saying, There needs to be harmony in the locker room, Ozzie, which means you need to talk to Howie.

His backseat is covered with a plethora of stuff, and he peels of his sweatshirt and drops it back there with the rest of his things. He's wearing a turtleneck underneath it, so he won't freeze or anything, but he feels vaguely naked as he opens the car door and prepares to make his way up the steps.

This isn't that different from playing goal, really. Just put the mask on, try to be fierce and big and not let anything hurt you.

He thinks maybe he didn't impart that lesson well enough to Howie.

Chris doesn't get the chance to knock. Howie throws open the door, then steps outside, barefoot in sweatpants and a long-sleeved thermal tee, and his eyes are rimmed with red, his lips red and swollen, and Chris wonders if he's been drinking, crying, or both.

"You came back," Howie says, rubbing his arms. "It's cold."

"I meant what I said, Howie," Chris says. "You didn't do anything wrong. You weren't bad in bed. I'm just... I'm in love with Helm."

Jimmy sniffs a little. "You broke up," he points out. He's not drunk enough to be slurring his words, but he does smell faintly of liquor.

"I know," Chris admits. "But that doesn't mean I don't want him back."

"Then why'd you sleep with me?" Jimmy asks, sounding confused and young. Chris has to remind himself that Howie is actually older than Helm. It doesn't help much in terms of making him feel less like a dirty old man.

"I made a mistake," Chris says softly. "I got drunk and I did something stupid."

"You mean, I'm stupid," Jimmy says. He takes a step back. "Stupid enough to think I ever had a chance. That you'd chosen to do that with me because you'd finally noticed me."

"Not at all," Chris protests weakly. "You're not stupid, Howie. I am. I had so many choices I could have made, and I picked all the wrong ones." Chris runs a hand through his hair in frustration—with himself, though, not Jimmy. "If I wanted Helm back—and I do—I should have stayed home and kept my dick in my pants, not gone out whoring like a dog in heat."

Howie has a hopeful look on his face, and Chris knows he's not going to like what's coming next.

"If Helm doesn't take you back," he says, "will you go out with me?"

He sounds like a teenager asking someone to the school dance, for Christ's sake. Chris is really regretting drinking that night. He leans forward, and even though Jimmy's been keeping some distance between them, he gives him a hug. But he says, distinctly into Howie's ear,

"I like you a lot as a friend, Howie, and I do think you're hot, or I wouldn't have done what I did, but I'm not going to fall in love with you." He knows the words probably sting, maybe more than a little, but he has to say them, and he knows the hug probably makes Howie happier than he'd confess to, but Chris figures he owes him that much.

Chris lets him go, and Jimmy steps back again, closer to the door.

"I think you better go," he says, and Chris finds himself staring at his red lips and wishing that that was enough—that he could just look at Howie and find him hot enough that he could move on.

But he can't. He's too stuck on Helm, too stupidly in love, too stupid in general.

"I... yeah, I probably should," Chris says. "I'm really sorry, Jimmy." Howie's right; it is cold. He backs down the steps, almost tripping on some ice and killing himself—he thinks maybe he just gave himself a groin injury trying to keep his footing—and Howie goes back inside the house.

Chris has no idea whether he's helped or hindered this situation, but he does know one thing: if he wants Helm back, he's going to have to actually try. To make an effort that doesn't involve simply fucking someone else.

So he does something that might be even more of a bad idea than going to Howie's: he drives back to Helm's house.

///

Chris is only home for a couple of hours before he hears a car pulling up—Helm's Jetta, from the sound of it. He's sitting on the couch with a beer, needing the liquid courage for the confrontation he knows is coming.

It's time for him to be an actual adult and confess to his mistakes, beg for Helm's forgiveness, and hope—and pray and maybe do a lot of pleading on his knees (innuendo intended)—that he can get his boyfriend back.

He's pretty sure that he's not going to get that ring on Helm's finger again anytime soon, but he'll settle right now for just getting Helm back—right now he's not even worried about good graces.

He just wants Helm—put an exclamation point on that and call it done.

Chris hears Carey crying fitfully before Helm even gets near the door. He can't even make out the sound of the key in the lock when they finally get up the steps, because Carey is crying so hard.

Chris's heart aches—the baby sounds absolutely wrecked, and it's not that he thinks Helm was cruel to him or anything, but Carey does sound a little worse for wear.

Helm jostles the door open with his hip and backs into the living room ass first, arms full of luggage, diaper bag, baby seat, and Carey in the baby carrier around his middle.

Chris sighs and puts his beer down. He might as well just jump in any time.

"Do you need some help with all that?"

To Helm's credit, he doesn't startle or scream; Chris thinks maybe he saw the car in the driveway.

"Yeah, Christ," Helm says, blowing out a breath that ruffles the fine hair at his temples. "I thought... I thought I'd be so upset to see you, but I can't even tell you..." Helm drops a piece of luggage and curses. "He cried the whole way there, the whole way back, and most of the time I was at my mother's."

"You did take a very young baby on an airplane flight to Canada," Chris points out—which probably isn't going to help his case any in about five minutes.

"Never again," Helm says. "And tomorrow... tomorrow I'm going to have something to say to you." He yawns hugely and dumps the rest of the luggage on the floor. "Can you take him, please?"

Chris leaps to his feet: this is an opportunity, and he is an opportunist. Helm's frazzled by Carey right now, and if Chris can quiet him down and care for him for awhile, it might soften Helm up a little towards him.

He lifts Carey out of the carrier and snuggles him close to his body. Carey's face is all red, and he's got snot and baby-spit all down his chin, but he hiccups and his cries grow gradually softer.

"Thank Christ," Helm says, throwing himself on the couch, one arm across his forehead. "I'm not going to move until tomorrow."

Chris understands this for what it is: both a dismissal, and permission to sleep in the bed, though he's certain that the latter is because Helm will actually sleep better on their worn, come-stained couch than Chris will with a six-week-old infant in the crib by his bed.

He's about to say something to Helm, when he hears the soft, even exhale of breath that indicates Helm has already dropped off to sleep.

Carey's got his fist in his mouth, still crying a little, but it's muffled by his hand. "Are you hungry, baby?" Chris asks him, swaying from side to side as he trots towards the kitchen.

He wonders how well Carey ate while Helm was gone; if Helm remembered Malts's suggestion for soy formula. Chris had bought some, just in case, and he puts Carey in the baby seat on the kitchen table, strapping him into place and setting about making the formula.

He remembers that Carey hadn't been willing to eat much before they left, and Chris knows that if anything happens to the baby at this juncture, it could probably be laid at his feet.

He tests the temperature of the bottle and then plops down in the kitchen chair, pulling the baby seat closer to him and carefully extricating Carey's slimy fist from his mouth, replacing it with the nipple of the bottle.

Carey sucks on it, and Chris sits, sleepy, with his head in one hand as he holds the bottle with the other, until Carey drains it entirely and lets it fall from his mouth.

Chris sets the bottle down and gets to his feet, finding a dishrag and tossing it over his shoulder. He burps Carey, who doesn't actually spit up all that much for once, and then he brings him back into what used to be Abby's room and changes his diaper for good measure.

He takes him back to the bedroom, lays him down in his crib, tucks the blankets around his chin, and then, even Chris knows he's a terrible singer, he hums Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'' to the baby as he waits for him to drift off to sleep.

Carey's asleep before he gets to the end of the song, and Chris thinks about retrieving his beer from the living room and bringing it to the kitchen, but then he shrugs and thinks better of it.

He falls onto the bed, head turned most of the way into the pillow, breathing through his mouth as sleep comes up swiftly to claim him.

It smells like Helm, is his last coherent thought.

///

Chris is dreaming. He's running back and forth, trying to comfort all the babies crying in the room with him, but no matter how many he feeds, or how many he changes, there's always more, and they're all crying.

Finally, he collapses to his knees, staring down a hall lined with cribs, with baby fists flying, with the sound of their screaming echoing louder and louder, and then—

Chris startles awake. He must have had just enough to drink to make him sleep really deeply, because from the sound of things, Carey's been fussing for awhile, growing louder and more desperate.

Chris drags himself out of bed and over to the crib. His eyes are dry and painful, swollen-feeling, and he feels like he hasn't slept at all, though a look at the clock tells him he's been asleep for just over two hours.

Carey's wet, so Chris picks him up, pats his back gently, and carries him into the spare room, where he changes him.

"Poor baby," Chris murmurs, as he plays with Carey's toes. The baby actually smiles, and Chris can't wait for the first time he laughs. It took awhile to get used to, but now that he is, having a baby around again is reminding Chris why he loved doing this so much the first two times.

Because every little thing they do for the first time is like a minor miracle—Chris doesn't think Helm has experienced that yet. Carey's still so little, the only thing he's really learned to do is smile, and Chris isn't sure Helm realises that's special yet.

He tickles Carey's toes for a minute longer, smiling back at him, despite how groggy and tired he feels.

"You just wanted someone to play with you, huh, baby?" Chris grins at him again, then pulls his onesie down and snaps it. "I bet you're cold, huh?" Chris isn't ashamed of the fact that he's talking to a six-week-old, really. He picks Carey up and balances him in one arm against his chest, then rummages through a drawer until he finds a little yellow sleeper with a bunny on the chest. At the bottom are little flowers, and it is a little girly, but Helm had insisted.

He lays Carey back down on the changing table and carefully puts him in the sleeper, tucking his little feet into the footed bottom, then freeing his little fists from the sleeves so that he can gum on them if he wants to.

When he's done, he lifts Carey again and rocks him back and forth a little as he goes back down the hallway to the bedroom.

It's two in the morning, but Carey seems wide awake, smiling and throwing his little arms out like he's trying to hug Chris back.

So Chris plops him down on the bed, and then lies down on it on his stomach, head resting on one arm, the other pressing lightly on the baby's belly to make sure he doesn't somehow fall off the bed. He's probably too little to roll over yet, but Chris still doesn't want to risk splitting his head open.

Besides the fact that it would be devastating for him too, he's also quite certain that it wouldn't help him get Helm back.

Carey kicks his feet. He almost manages to catch his foot in one hand, and Chris finds himself grinning at him again. It's not going to be very long at all, he thinks, before Carey's taking his first steps—the thought is actually a little bittersweet. He can't wait, on the one hand, to watch him learn to walk; on the other hand, he's not ready for Carey to grow up, and he's already been here six weeks.

It seems like an age has passed, all of that time taking care of him, teaching Helm what to do, the three of them becoming a family. And now Chris has shattered that peace, turned them into something he doesn't recognise. No Helm to kiss in the morning, no baby to change at midnight... Chris has missed them so much, and it's only been a couple of days.

He hears something and picks his head up, and Helm's in the doorway, highlighted by the hallway light. He's standing in his underwear and socks, and his hair is totally messed up.

"He was crying," Helm says, stating the obvious.

"I took care of it," Chris says, cautiously. He's not sure if that was a criticism, if Helm's still really upset at him, or if Helm's just completely drained but had been woken up by the baby anyway.

Helm has a funny look on his face. His mouth is open, that confused cast to his features evident as always, but there's something else there... like guilt, or the bursting need to say something.

"I blew Abby," Helm says suddenly, and flushes. He bites his lip, mouth closed for once, and ducks his head. Like he's waiting for punishment. Somehow, Chris doesn't think he has any right to judge.

It does make something twist in his chest, painful and piercing, but he knows he deserves it—knows that when he tells Helm what he did, it's going to sound—and be—a lot worse.

Still, the thought of Helm's lips on someone else's dick... even if it is Abby and they're best friends... It makes Chris want to cry.

And he knows he deserves that, too, because what he has to tell Helm will probably break his heart forever. It's hard to explain to someone how you could've been proposing to them three days ago and now, you've slept with someone else and made out with two other people, especially when he caught you making out with one of them.

Helm sighs a little, eyes still downcast. "I might've tried to seduce Drapes, too, since I knew..." Helm's sentence sort of hangs in the air and then dies, unfinished.

Chris pulls Carey on top of him as he rolls onto his back, the baby on his belly on Chris's chest, and he's drifting off. This isn't the best time for this conversation, but Chris also knows it needs to happen—and he doesn't want to put it off in case it makes things worse.

"No yelling," he tells Helm. "You can say whatever you want to me, just don't wake the baby."

"You slept with Drapes," Helm says, but it's not accusing, just worn-out and sad.

"I drunkenly gave him a handjob," Chris corrects. "It's not the same thing. And you and I weren't together at the time."

"That's not the point," Helm says. "I had a crush on Drapes, and when I found out... it really hurt, that you'd slept with him." Helm is so red he looks like he probably wishes he had longer hair to hide behind.

"I didn't know you liked him, though," Chris says in his defence.

"That's not really the point, either," Helm says. His entire posture is defeated. "I just wanted to get back at you. I just wanted to prove I was desirable enough to be worth something. That someone else might want me." Helm takes a gasping breath. Chris wants more than anything to tell him how desirable he thinks Helm is, but somehow, he doesn't think it will matter at this juncture.

"So I blew Abby. But when it was over, he told me he wasn't really... he swore it wasn't me, but I just suck at it, you know? So I failed even at seducing someone else to get back at you."

Chris doesn't draw Helm's attention to the double entendre. He's not sure Helm would get it, anyway.

He settles for trying to be soothing before he dumps everything weighing on him down at Helm's feet. "You're not that bad," he says. "And I love you. I can't get enough of you, Darren. Trying to make yourself attractive to someone else to prove that, in the end, I love you, is kind of counter-productive. That argument you overheard between me and Nick was about ending things, putting a lid on my past, not lamenting what I didn't have any more. Yes, sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I were still with Jenna, but mostly? You are the one I want. This right here is what I want; it's why I gave you the ring. I wanted it to last forever." The last few words come out choked and weak, Chris fighting tears, knowing that what he has to tell Helm is going to cause him to lose Helm and Carey forever.

Helm sits down right in the doorway, legs crossed. "I know that," he says in a very small voice. "I just... I couldn't imagine why you'd want me, when you could have Nick, or Jenna, or anyone you wanted. Everyone's in love with you, Oz, and I just don't measure up."

"That's where you're wrong," Chris says confidently, even through his watery voice. "You don't just measure up, you leave them all behind in the dust. Even Nick. None of that was real—not even what I had with my wife, because I was living a lie."

Helm sniffs hugely, obviously fighting breaking down himself. "I talked to Drapes," he admits. "I told him I'd wanted him, and all he could say was that I needed to talk to you."

It's time, Chris thinks; he can't put it off any more. It's not fair. He takes a bracing breath and just plows forward.

"I fucked Howie," he says, "and I almost fucked Nick, and well, you saw the thing with Drapes... Helm, I'm sorry. I'm crazy about you. I'm so crazy about you that without you I just plain go crazy, get way too drunk, do stupid shit. And all it ever does is remind me of how much I've lost every time you walk out that door." He rubs hand across his nose, trying not to dislodge the sleeping baby.

Helm gets onto his hands and knees and crawls over to the bed, then climbs up onto it kind of like a little kid.

"You are crazy," he says softly, touching Chris's hair, running one fingertip down across his forehead, tracing his eyebrow. "You're a goalie. And you're in love with me—that's pretty fuckin' crazy."

Chris swallows back the worst of the tears. "It's why I asked you to marry me, Dare. Because I'm just useless and stupid and crazy without you."

It shouldn't be this easy, Chris thinks, as Helm leans down and softly slides their lips together in a brief kiss.

"I love you," he whispers. "And I hate you, because you say all the right things, so I can't even be mad." Helm deepens their kiss, holding them both in thrall for long moments before he surfaces for air and finishes with, "You can have it. I want to get married, if you still want to."

Chris knows his eyes must be as big as dinner plates right now. "Are you kidding? That's all I want: you and Carey, by my side. My family."

"I'm such an idiot," Helm says, shaking his head. "Taking you back. It's going to be stupid, right? We're just going to keep fighting, and you'll keep fucking around—and the worst part is, I don't care, because I'm so in love with you that I'd rather have you like this than not at all."

Chris would crush Helmer in his arms if he weren't still holding Carey. "Darren," he says reverently, "I wouldn't be like this if I were with you. It's only when you leave me that—" he stops.

Helm puts his finger to his lips. "Put the baby to bed," he murmurs, "and then come back to bed with me."

Chris can't comply fast enough.

///

Helm goes out to get milk for breakfast, and once he's gone, Chris takes out his cell phone and fingers the buttons. There's still some more making up he has to do—he almost feels like he's in Alcoholics Anonymous, the way things are going.

Carey's asleep, so that gives Chris a little time alone—though, admittedly, not much, not when the baby might wake up at any moment.

He gives up and just dials Nick. Faster to get it over with, than to stare at his phone in procrastination until Helm comes back or the baby cries. That's not an acceptable option right now.

When Nick answers, it sounds like he might be in the locker room already. Chris winces guiltily and peeks at the clock—he and Helm stayed up so late last night, coupled with Carey waking them up three times after they finally fell asleep, that they stayed in bed much too long and Babs is going to ream their asses twice over.

Or at least, Helm's probably going to be in twice as much trouble as Chris is, since Chris has already gotten a sit-down and a scolding.

"What is it, Ozzie," Nick says, sounding harassed. "You know that there's a practise in about an hour, right?"

"I'm going to be a little late," he says shiftily. "We are, technically. Helm's back from Canada."

"Great," Nick says. "Helm's benched too, you know."

"I figured," Chris says. "And I know it's my fault, but... well, I called because—"

"Unless this is somehow relevant to the fact that you're not here," Nick says, "can we have this conversation later?"

Chris sucks in air and plunges on. "No, Nick, I just need to say this to you." He can feel his hand getting sweaty on the cell. "I should have... I'm sorry. I should not have said I'd meet you, because I know that it—"

Nick's voice drops. "Ozzie," he murmurs. "I understand. I am aware of your feelings on the matter. Must you keep driving the point home?"

"Well, you never seem to give up," Chris blurts out defensively.

"Well," Nick says venomously, "you never seem to stop throwing yourself at me when it suits you."

"I don't want to fuck you any more!" Chris shouts, flailing his arms and nearly sending his phone flying.

"So you claim," Nick says, voice going even calmer and more even. He always does this: the more agitated Chris gets, the more ice-cold Nick gets, as if he can somehow stifle Chris's heated tantrums with a dose of winter coolness.

"Look," Chris says, "just because when I'm drunk you look hot to me..." he pauses and thinks over the words he just uttered. "Okay, so you're always hot to me. I loved you for a long time. But I'm not there any more, you know? I love Helm now."

Nick sighs. "Can we hurry this up? I need to finish dressing."

"See, this is our problem. You always wanted to hurry me up, or shut me down, or make me do whatever you wanted, and it was all about being in control to you. I'm not even sure you ever did love me." Chris pants, winding down.

"Oz," Nick says with an edge to his voice that suggests his patience is waning, "I think you protest too much. Yet as soon as Helm throws you out for five minutes—and he's going to keep doing that, Ozzie, he's too young for a committed relationship like you need—"

Chris interrupts. "You mean like the committed relationship I had with you?"

Nick goes on like Chris hasn't said a word. Typical.

"—as soon as Helm throws you out for five minutes, you go looking for a good, hard fuck. You did the same thing with me. And you know what? You're right. This is why our relationship never worked. You weren't ready for a committed relationship. You still aren't. You just fall in love, and then you cheat." Nick's voice has risen just slightly, breath short, and Chris doesn't even have to imagine the flush he's probably wearing. It's probably the same one he used to wear just before orgasm.

"As long as you know that that night all you would have been is a good, hard fuck," Chris spits spitefully. "Like Howie was. Because, of course, when I was with you, it had nothing to do with how much I loved you."

"Don't fool yourself, Ozzie," Nick says. "You're still in love with me."

Chris wants to deny it. But this conversation is actually making his dick twitch a little in his pajama pants. Even with all the vitriol, it's reminding him of things like Nick just before climax, or Nick's hands on his skin. Bringing back up memories of how much he loved Nick, like bringing back up alcohol from the night before. Just as pathetic, and just as painful, too.

"Okay, so what if I am," he says in defeat. "But I have moved on. You need to move on too."

Nick steps away from the background noise, as if he's closed a door. "I'll move on when you do," he says. "But don't worry. I'm sure you'll come back asking for it the next time Helm breaks up with you. Bye, Oz."

The phone line disconnects and the dial tone greets him. Okay, so that didn't go so well.

Worse still is the fact that his erection doesn't show any sign of subsiding, and he kind of wants to call Nick back up and ask him if he's hard, too; if it's making his cup uncomfortable.

Then the door slams and he hears Helm hanging up his coat and kicking off his shoes, dropping his car keys on the hall table that he found at the side of the road a few days ago.

"Hey," he says, when he gets into the kitchen. His eyes travel down Chris like he's missed him endlessly in the last twenty minutes, and then the grocery bag hits the floor with a thunk. He steps closer, falling to one knee. "It looks like you missed me," he says coyly.

Or at least, Chris would think it were coyness if he didn't know Helm better.

"Maybe I did," Chris says. Now that is coy right there.

Helm hooks his fingers into Chris's waistband and tugs, allowing his dick to pop out and lean up against his belly, pre-come immediately streaking the skin there.

Chris has a feeling they're going to be a lot later than he told Nick they were.

///

It's a wonder that Chris doesn't crash the car on the way to JLA, since Helm's continuing what he started in the kitchen and has his hot lips wrapped around his dick.

Chris would discourage him, because what if someone sees? But he can't bring himself to push Helm away. He's still not very good at this, but his mouth is soft inside and he does cover his teeth, so all the extra saliva dripping down his dick and soaking into his pubes and the lack of a predictable rhythm don't bother him as much as they could.

Probably, though, the best reason for discouraging Helm is the baby in the backseat, who Malts has promised to watch again during practise. Chris isn't sure what Ken Holland thinks about that; it's a pretty safe bet that he's a little irritated with Chris and Helm for using his new scout as a babysitter whenever he's in the building.

So, yeah, Helm giving him a blowjob while their baby is in his car seat behind them is really not a good idea, but...

Chris swerves a little as Helm increases the suction. He tries to keep in his lane, but his eyes want to keep closing from his impending orgasm—they wouldn't even be doing this, except Chris had told Helm (while his mouth was still full) how much trouble they'd be in if they didn't at least try to be on time, and Helm hadn't wanted to stop.

Well, what he lacks in finesse, he certainly attempts to compensate for with enthusiasm.

"Darren!" Chris gasps, and just as he spills down Helm's throat—and Helm yanks his head back, so he gets a face full of Chris's come—Carey starts bawling in the back seat.

Helm bows his head and starts rummaging through the glove compartment, then through the junk at his feet, clearly searching for a tissue to wipe the worst of the come from his face.

"Jesus," he snipes. "You had to get me in the face? What if someone at the Joe notices?"

Chris flips on his blinker and jerks the car into the JLA parking lot, jamming it into park so that they can try to clean up before going through security. "You want me to be your mommy and wipe it off with my spit?" he carps back. He can see the guard peering at them as if wondering why Chris stopped dead in the middle of the lane without pulling up.

Helm gives him the finger and flips down the sun visor, using the mirror on the underside to see what he's doing as he scrubs at his face.

"It's in my fucking hair," he whines, and behind them, Carey keeps screaming.

He stuffs his softened cock back into his jeans, zips them up, laments yet another come-stain—this one on the inside hem of his shirt—and nearly breaks himself in half trying to reach Carey in order to pat him, attempting to quiet him.

Which is about when he realises that he has a giant wet spot on the crotch of his jeans from Helm's spit—it looks like he peed his pants.

Helm is still rubbing fussily at his hair, scowling in the mirror, which is an interesting feat since he also looks confused about how the come got in his hair in the first place.

"Is it all gone?" Helm asks, and he suddenly sounds very young and seeking approval. Chris kind of wants to point out that this whole thing was Helmer's idea in the first place, but he holds his tongue.

"Yeah, it's good, come on." He flicks away a flake of come from one of Helm's eyelashes. "You can take a shower before practise and try to get it out of your hair."

"But I never take a shower before practise," Helm complains.

"Shut up, you," Chris snaps.

"You look like you peed yourself," Helm says suddenly, with wide eyes.

"Thanks to you," Chris says tiredly. "Come on." He shifts gears and drives up towards the security guard.

The guard eyes them both for a long moment. "You know," he begins, but Chris waves his arm. Or flails, more likely.

"Accident with my morning coffee," he says with what are probably the shiftiest eyes ever. "I'll be lucky if I don't have another groin injury," he adds weakly, trying for humour and knowing he's probably digging the hole ever closer to China.

Helm has his head lowered practically to his chest as if trying to hide. The guard shrugs after a moment.

"All right," he says, and lets them pass. Chris shifts into drive again and speeds through the lot, already late enough to make both Babs and Nick pissed. He wheels the car into a parking space, slams the gearshift back into park, yanks the keys from the ignition and hauls ass.


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