Tom is over at Jon and Ryan’s house for dinner on his day off from the photo-lab. He likes coming over for dinner because Jon makes good food, there’s always a fresh supply of beer, and, of course, he gets to see his favorite kid ever: Jude.
“Uncle Tom!” Jude hollers as Tom steps in the door, and suddenly he’s got a little body flinging itself at him and hands wrapped around his legs.
“Jude! Hey,” Tom laughs; he grabs Jude, wriggling around, and carries him into the living room where Ryan is sitting on the couch.
“Daddy! Daddy, look, Uncle Tom is here,” Jude says excitedly. Ryan tips his head back and smiles lazily up at the two of them.
“Jon is in the kitchen, I suppose?” Tom asks and Ryan nods, motioning for Tom to give Jude to him. Tom passes him over, and he giggles as Ryan grabs him. He slips into the kitchen where Jon is cooking dinner. Jon turns his head and looks at Tom from over his shoulder.
“Well, at least I know where Jude gets his excitability from,” Tom says. He pops open their fridge and takes out a bottle of beer before coming to stand next to Jon, his hip bumping against Jon’s. Jon ducks his head and smiles as he cooks. Tom knows that he’s really fucking proud of his kid.
“Uncle Tom!” Tom hears Jude yelling for him seconds before he actually skids into the room, socked feet slipping against the hardwood floor of the kitchen. “Uncle Tom, I got somethin’ to tell you!” Jude says as he halts at Tom’s feet, his hands fisting in Tom’s jeans.
Tom rests a hand on top of Jude’s curly mop of dark hair. “What is it, Jude?”
Jude looks stricken and his gaze darts to Jon, his lip between his teeth. “I can’t say in front of Dad.”
Tom arches an eyebrow and looks to Jon, who is staring back at him with a mirrored expression.
“Come with me and I’ll tell you, okay?” Jude says, his tiny hand slipping in Tom’s and tugging, trying to lead him out of the kitchen. Tom looks to Jon for a sign of whether or not to indulge Jude and Jon smiles and tilts his head towards the living room, motioning for him to go.
Tom lets Jude lead him out of the kitchen and down the hall, past the living room and back into his bedroom. Tom avoids the toys and books and clothes spread along the floor. “Alright, Jude, what is it?” Tom asks with a smile.
“Daddy said Father’s Day is coming up. Do you know what that is?”
“Yeah,” Tom laughs. “I know what it is.”
“I wanna get them a present, but it’s gotta be a surprise!” Jude’s eyes are huge and earnest as he talks and he reminds Tom so much of Jon. “Can you help me get them presents, Uncle Tom?” Jude pleads. Tom isn’t heartless, he’s not, and how is he supposed to say no to a tiny little replica of Jon and Ryan pouting at him? Tom kneels down so he’s on Jude’s level, his hand ruffling Jude’s hair.
“Yeah, I’ll help you, kid.”
“Yay!” Jude cheers, his little hands going up in the air before he moves to hug Tom. “Can I have a piggyback ride too? Please?” Jude asks, stretching out the word. Tom laughs but agrees all the same, letting Jude crawl into position on his back.
Tom re-emerges in the kitchen with Jude giggling on his back. Jon and Ryan are setting the table for dinner.
“Is secret time over now?” Ryan asks and Jude chirps, “Yep!”
“Anything we need to be concerned about?” Jon asks carefully. Tom shakes his head.
“Nothing worrisome at all.”
Tom turns around and bends backwards to deposit Jude on one of the dining room chairs. Jude sits down and smiles at the three men.
Jude gets tired after dinner and he crawls into Ryan’s lap, yawning huge and lazy and tucking his face against Ryan’s chest, hands curled into Ryan’s collar.
“I better put him to bed. God knows that you two will be up all night, talking and drinking and playing monopoly.”
“We’re planning on playing Scrabble, thank you very much,” Jon scoffs, mock-offended.
Ryan rolls his eyes but stands. Jude wraps his legs around Ryan’s waist and whines a little. Ryan walks to Jon and dips so Jon can press a kiss to the top of Jude’s head and tell him good night. Tom watches Ryan carry Jude to bed and Jon laughs.
“It still surprises me, Jonny,” Tom starts, “How well he’s taken to being a dad.”
Jon takes a swallow of beer. “Who? Ryan?” Tom nods.
“I mean, I always knew that you’d be a good dad, that’s a given, but Ross? Man, that came outta nowhere.”
Jon sets his beer on the table and rolls his shoulders. Tom remembers talking to Jon about how he and Ryan were having issues when Jude was just a baby, but Jon had never once said, even when he and Ryan were fighting, that he thought that Ryan was anything less than a perfect father to Jude.
“Not to me,” Jon says with a smile. “I knew if we had kids that he’d be good with them, and he has yet to prove me wrong. I know that he’s not the most responsible guy, but with Jude, he’s different.”
Tom smiles. “Careful, Jon, or you’ll make me all wistful for little ones of my own.”
“I have the utmost faith in you being a good dad, too,” Jon says as he claps Tom on the shoulder and resumes drinking his beer. Tom stretches before he polishes off his own bottle.
“Well, that’s good, considering I’m going to need to borrow your kid tomorrow,” Tom says.
“You know that he didn’t get my teching genes and that there’s all those pesky child labor laws,” Jon says.
“It’s not an Empires thing, Jon. It’s a ‘Jude wants to spend the day with his favorite uncle’ thing.”
“To do what?” Jon asks with a laugh. Tom’s watched Jude before, but he’s never really had him out in the city on his own without either of his parents nearby.
“Oh, you know, take him to a park, get him all hyper with sugar, buy him the loudest, most obnoxious toy, and drop him back off with you and Ryan.”
Jon snorts. “Don’t you dare, or you’ll be babysitting every weekend for a month.”
“Fair enough. So, I’ll be by tomorrow to pick Jude up,” Tom says as he stands to leave, scratching a hand through his hair. Jon stands as well and pulls Tom in for a tight hug.
The next day, when Tom comes over to pick up Jude, the boy is running around in circles with Pineapple following, batting at Jude’s heels.
“Be careful, Jude,” Ryan calls from the hallway. Jude just giggles and keeps running, his kitten following behind him.
“Seriously, he’s got half of Ryan in him. Being prone to accidents is practically in his genes,” Jon teases. Ryan throws him a mock glare before he dips into Jude’s bedroom and returns with a pair of shoes.
“Your uncle Tom is here, Jude, so get ready to go,” Ryan says, stopping Jude in his tracks and hefting him up with one arm before depositing him on the couch and handing him a pair of kid-sized flip-flops. Pineapple hops up on the couch next to Jude, lying down next to his leg. Jude pulls on his shoes and pats Pineapple on the head before he looks up and beams up at Tom with a smile that is one-hundred percent Jon Walker.
Jude stands up on the couch and waddles over to Tom who lifts him up; Pineapple had gotten annoyed at Jude wobbling him around and had escaped to the back of the couch where he’s now curled in a little ball. Jude’s curls his little legs around Tom’s waist.
They leave shortly after that; Jude isn’t the kind of kid who cries when he’s away from his parents too long and he's already eager to go to Tom’s apartment.
“Is Uncle Sean at your house?” Jude asks, “He promised that the next time that I saw him, he’d give me a present!”
“Um…probably! With Uncle Ryan and Uncle Max, too.” Tom is no idiot. He may need a little help and may have enlisted his bandmates for that job.
They stop at a red light and Tom takes the opportunity to tap out a quick text to Sean, telling him that Jude is coming over and that he expects a gift when he gets there. Tom sort of loves hanging out with Jude; he’s a kid, but he’s the coolest little kid that Tom knows. He loves music and he just soaks up whatever Tom plays for him.
They take the elevator at Tom’s apartment building. Normally, Tom wouldn’t, but Jude is wearing flip-flops, and besides, he’s way too excited about getting to ride in the elevator for Tom to possibly tell him no. Jude asks if he can push the button for Tom’s floor, and against his better judgment, Tom lets him, pointing out the number three button.
Tom should really stop trusting kids, because Jude presses three, but he also presses the button for the basement floor, the first floor, and the second floor.
“Uncle Tom! Let’s play spaceship while we’re in the elevator!” Jude suggests, his hand tugging on Tom’s own. “We can be assnauts,” he chirps. Tom barely contains a snort.
“We can be what, Jude?”
“Assnauts! They go in the sky! You don’t know them, Uncle Tom?” Jude peers up at Tom in surprise. Tom really should correct Jude, but he thinks it might be sort of funnier this way.
When they get to Tom’s apartment, Sean, Ryan, and Max are lazing about, bottles of beer littering the floor and instruments out. Sean’s eyes light up when he spots Jude, and Jude’s expression mirrors his.
“Jude! There’s the fifth member of Empires!” Sean says as Jude races to him and, without preamble, climbs up on Sean’s lap, perching himself happily on Sean’s knee.
“The best-looking member,” Ryan adds.
“Jude, you’re going to be our new bass player, aren’t you?” Max asks the boy and Tom rolls his eyes at how easily his friends and bandmates adapt to being around a child. “Are you babysitting, Tom?” Max asks from his spot on the couch. Jude is climbing all over Sean and pestering him about the gift that Sean had promised.
“No, he said that he’d take me to get my daddies presents for Father’s Day,” Jude corrects.
Tom returns from the kitchen and leans against the living room wall. “We’re on a mission, Empires,” Tom tells them. “We need to take Jude to the store.”
“We?” Ryan asks, “I think that he said that ‘Uncle Tom’ was the one who was going to help him.”
“Don’t be an ass – ” Max starts, but Sean cuts him off. “Don’t swear in front of the littlest Empire member, dude!” Sean chides, his hands covering Jude’s ears. Jude squawks his disapproval and tries to pry Sean’s hands off his ears. “Anyway, I’ll go with you if these two won’t,” Sean tells Tom.
“Hey, thanks, Sean.” Tom smiles and Sean grins back as he stands up with Jude clinging to his side. Sean holds Jude upside down by his legs and Jude squeals and turns red, laughing until he’s out of breath, and then he demands piggyback rides from Sean. Max pushes himself up and helps adjust Jude so that he’s sitting on Sean’s shoulders, his hands holding on to Sean’s head.
“Uncle Sean, you’re a giant!” Jude says, almost in awe of how high up he is.
“Nah, he isn’t. Your daddy Jon is just really short,” Tom snorts.
“So are we going to the store or what? We’re burning daylight here!” Sean says. He bounces a little and Jude wobbles on his shoulders. Tom smiles at the scene. He knew he could rely on Sean to entertain Jude. Sean is more fun than Tom is; it’s a fact of life that Tom has long since accepted.
“What did you want to get your dads, Jude?” Tom asks him. He remembers that his standard gift for his own dad was a tie that his mom helped him pick out. Jude taps a tiny finger against his chin and screws up his face like he’s thinking about the most perplexing thing in the world.
“My daddy Jon likes kitties a lot. We could get him a kitty!”
“The last thing your dad needs is another kitty, Jude,” Tom supplies. Jude thinks again.
“He likes my daddy Ryan,” Jude tries again. “But I don’t think daddy Ryan wants to be a present.”
“We’ll just go to the store and see if there’s anything that you like,” Sean says. Jude nods, his hands tangling in Sean’s sandy blonde hair. Tom grabs his keys and he motions for Sean to follow behind him as they leave the apartment. They take the elevator back to the ground floor, and Jude tells Sean about how he and Tom had played “assnauts.” Sean throws Tom a look at Tom’s failed attempt at holding in a snort of laughter.
They get Jude in Tom’s car. Sean isn’t used to working the buckles on a car-seat, but he’s also stubborn enough that he won’t give up for at least ten minutes while Jude tries to explain to him how the buckles work. Eventually, Sean relents and Tom quickly snaps Jude into the seat. Sean smiles as he gets in the passenger seat.
“When did you become good at this?”
“You don’t become the favorite uncle by doing nothing.”
Tom likes hanging out with Jude, but he’s never taken him to the store before, and that’s something Tom maybe should have been warned about. Jude is holding the hands of both Sean and Tom respectively, and as soon as they enter the store, he tugs them towards the toys.
“I thought that we were here for your parents,” Tom says. Jude looks up at him with wide eyes, throwing on his most innocent face.
“Yeah…but I just wanted to see!” Jude answers.
“Come on, Jude, let’s go look at ties,” Tom suggests.
Somewhere between looking at paisley ties for Ryan – No, seriously, Sean, Ryan has enough paisley ties – and looking at vinyl records for Jon – Yes, I am sure that he owns this one already – Tom, Sean, and Jude seem to have run out of ideas. They’re wandering aimlessly through the aisles.
A female worker is grinning at them as Tom and Sean argue over the merits of giving Jon and Ryan a new shower curtain as a gift. Jude is talking to the woman.
“Your son is absolutely adorable,” she tells them. “You must be so proud.”
Tom looks up in surprise and stumbles over his words, but Sean just beams like he really is a proud parent. “Why, thank you,” Sean tells her. “We really are.” He throws an arm around Tom as he talks and Tom is just too dumbfounded to do much else but gape. Jude giggles at them and swings his hand that’s laced with Sean’s. The woman moves on and Tom gives Sean a look.
“We need to be looking for presents,” he mumbles, and Sean pulls away from him. They keep looking, but Jude is obviously tired of this excursion because he starts slowing down and whining.
“Uncle Tom…my feet hurt,” Jude says softly.
“I got this, Jude,” Sean says and they stop in the middle of an aisle. He stoops to lift Jude up. Jude holds on to Sean’s shoulders and squeezes his legs around Sean’s hips. It works, because Jude brightens considerably.
“You know what we could do, Jude?” Tom starts, “I bet your daddies would like it if you made them something for Father’s Day.”
“Really?” Jude asks just as one of his tiny flip-flops slips off his foot and falls to the floor. Sean stops and Tom goes around behind them to slide the little shoe back on Jude’s foot, Jude laughing and wriggling the whole time.
“We’ll just find a ton of art supplies and you can make your daddies their presents,” Sean says, bouncing Jude in his arms a bit.
“Don’t make his shoes fall off again, or you’re carrying them, too,” Tom gripes.
They end up leaving the store with two huge bags full of art supplies, Jude skipping along happily babbling about everything he wants to make. Sean actually manages to buckle Jude into his car-seat in the span of five minutes, and they make it back to Tom’s place without any problems.
Jon texts Tom when they get back to the apartment with ’Is my son still alive?’ to which Tom texts back, Can’t talk right now; he’s too busy playing drinking games with Max and Ryan. In reality, Jude is at the kitchen table with Max and Ryan. Crayons and markers, glue sticks, and construction paper are spread out all across the tabletop.
Sean is keeping an eye on things; the last emergency hadn’t even been Jude-related, but Max had somehow accidentally gotten glitter in Ryan’s eyes. They even found some of that plaster like the stuff at the store that you can make molds with, and Sean has whipped some of that up so that they can make molds of Jude’s hands for Jon and Ryan.
“We’re preserving childhood here!” Sean says as he helps Jude carefully remove his hands from the mold. “Yeah!” Jude shouts in agreement as he lets Sean usher him into the kitchen to wash his hands.
They take Jude home at eight, since his bedtime is at nine and he’s already eaten. His gifts are completed and wrapped and Jude falls asleep five minutes into the ride back to Jon and Ryan’s place. Sean looks over at Tom and smiles.
“So the kid survived.”
“Like you had any doubts? I’m an excellent babysitter,” Tom says proudly. Sean laughs, but it’s stunted and he’s looking at his hands a lot.
“I wouldn’t mind having one,” Sean says quietly.
“One what? A kid?”
“Yeah, yeah, not right now, though…someday. I’d like to have one someday,” Sean answers.
“And who are you having this baby with?” Tom asks, amusement evident in his voice. Sean looks up at Tom through his sandy bangs and he smiles wide again.
“You’re on the top of my list right now, but why don’t we start slow. Take me out for a beer, you know; if I’m going to be carrying your child someday, the least you can do is buy me a beer.”
Tom stumbles over his tongue and tilts his head to make sure Jude is still asleep in the backseat. When he can’t stall any longer, he finally looks at Sean. “Fine. It’s a deal.”
When they get to Jon and Ryan’s place, the two of them come out eagerly, waiting on the porch like the small amount of time they’ve been separated from Jude was already too much.
“He’s asleep,” Tom says to Jon as he carefully hands over the sleeping boy. Jude mumbles in his sleep and Jon and Ryan practically coo at the action. Tom idly wonders if he and Sean will really be like that some day, with some little kid of their own. After Jude is in bed, Sean distracts Ryan and Jon long enough for Tom to slip the wrapped gift into Jude’s closet where the little boy will find it come morning.
The morning of Father’s Day, Ryan wakes up to Jude crawling all over the two of them. It’s not their first Father’s Day, but it’s their first where Jude actually understands what’s happening.
“Dad! Daddy! Wake up! It’s Father’s Day!” Jude proclaims, and he pokes at Ryan’s cheek before he moves on to Jon and sits on his back, tapping a finger against the back of Jon’s head.
“You know what would be a good gift, Jude? More sleep,” Ryan mumbles. Jude laughs.
“You’re silly, Daddy,” Jude giggles. “But I have a present for you guys.” Ryan can feel Jude tumble off of their bed and hear his little feet tapping against the wood floor of the hallway. Jon rolls over on his side and he takes Ryan’s hand in his own, rolling over to press a kiss to Ryan’s mouth.
“Morning breath,” Ryan says after they break apart, and Jon rolls more firmly on top of Ryan, kissing him again and caging his body in. They can’t do anything because Jude is coming back and their son is just as stubborn as Ryan is and as clingy as Jon. Sure enough, right when Ryan would love to slip a hand into Jon’s sweatpants, Jude comes bounding back in the room. Jon flops back down on his side of the bed.
Jude worms his way between the two of them with a large, wrapped box. Ryan sits himself up properly, as does Jon, who’s still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Where did you get that, Jude?” Ryan asks. Jude turns to Ryan.
“Uncle Tom, Uncle Sean, Uncle Max, and Uncle Ryan helped me!”
Jon unwraps the ribbon on the gift and lifts the top off. Jude watches eagerly as Jon takes out the present, handing one part to Ryan and setting the other in his lap. The part Ryan has is a rectangular mold with handprints in it – tiny, little, Jude-sized handprints. Ryan glances over at Jon, and the rectangular mold he is holding has Jude’s footprints stamped in it.
“See? These are my hands, Daddy,” Jude says as he curls up next to Ryan and sets his hand in the molding.
“Yeah, and I bet that this is your foot, too,” Jon says as he grabs one of Jude’s feet and tickles the bottom, making Jude laugh and collapse onto his back on the bed. Ryan never gets tired of seeing the two of them together; it’s still amazing to know that he and Jon helped create this little person and that without one of them, Jude wouldn’t even exist.
Ryan sets down his molding and he tugs Jude up into his lap. “These are wonderful gifts, Jude,” Ryan says as he leans over and gives Jude a kiss. Jude clutches at Ryan and points at the box.
“I made a card, too!”
Jon lifts the card out of the box. It’s a swirl of bright colors and marker scribbles, but it’s singlehandedly the best gift Ryan’s ever gotten in his entire life – besides the gift of Jude himself, of course.
“Come here, buddy,” Jon says, and Jude scrambles to him. Jon pulls him in for a tight hug and a kiss, thanking him.
Ryan always thought that parents were phoning it in when their kids made them things – or at least his parents did – but he already knows that it can’t be true: not when you look at the little face of the person you helped make who has made something for you as a way to thank you for being created.
“We love you, Jude,” Ryan says, his voice is tighter. Jon notices and smiles with an armful of kid. Jude beams at Ryan and goes to settle back in Ryan’s lap.
“I love you, too, Daddy,” Jude says softly, like he really gets how much it all means. Ryan knows that he doesn’t, that he’s just a kid, but it feels like it when Jude squeezes him in a hug.