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Bitter is the Root

Chapter Text

        The transition from Salem to Los Angeles hasn’t exactly been smooth.

        By the fourth time that Arianna Grace has a tantrum— and, oh, there will be many, many more times to follow— and she starts screaming about wanting her daddy— her other daddy being implied— Will realizes just how fucked he is.

        And that is very, very fucked.

        Somehow, in the aftermath of the split, she’s turned Will into the stern parent, the bad cop to Sonny’s much-preferred good cop. It’s been getting worse since the big move to Los Angeles. Whenever she gets in trouble, which has been happening more and more often lately— and oh god, please don’t let his mother’s baser instincts be genetic— Sonny is her first line of defense.

        Armed with the kind of confidence Will has never had, she sets her little chin and stares him down as if he weren’t twice her size and arguably in charge of her. Then, she demands Sonny.

        She’s a smart girl.

        At 3-feet-tall, she’s already both a beauty and a terror. Typical Brady stock, he thinks. Or is it Robert’s stock? Either way, he’s in trouble.

        It usually starts with a solid stomp of the feet, and then: “I… want… my… DADDY.”

        And what the hell am I?

        Part of Will— the particularly frustrated, exhausted part—suspects that Ari does this on purpose, as if she somehow knows how much it hurts him. She didn’t get a vote on the move, but she can damn well make it as difficult as possible for him.

        Whether she means it or not, it’s a painful power play.

        Are you happy now? Well, Sonny?

        Will knows— he obviously knows— that Arianna is three-years-old and not intentionally pitting her parents against each other. Just as he knows better than to suspect that Sonny encourages this behavior at his expense.

        That couldn’t be true, could it? Not perfect, enlightened, wonderful parent Sonny, who read all the best parenting books and would absolutely know better? He would never do that, right?

        (Of course not.)

        Though, really, when he thinks about it, what could be better revenge than to have their daughter, the one person Will loves most in the world, love Sonny more?

        Regardless, only one of them is currently available, while the other is thousands of miles away, and sorry, Miss Arianna, but you’re just going to have to deal with it. I did.

        Ari’s preference shouldn’t surprise him. Everyone loves Sonny best.

        It’s who Sonny loves that changes with the weather.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

        It takes him about a month to realize that there are three different types of cereal in his kitchen cabinet. Three separate types, and none of the kind he actually likes.

        Sonny didn’t buy them, so they must have been bought at least a month ago. Which leaves one obvious suspect. It’s kind of ridiculous that Will is gone, and Sonny still has cabinets full of empty calories and potential diabetes. A month of just taking up space in his cabinets— space that could be housing healthier, better options. And it took a month for him to notice.

        Standing there in his ratty robe, bare feet sticking on the cold kitchen floor, it occurs to him that he can’t remember the last time he cooked anything. He used to love cooking, didn’t he?

        He was good at it.

        Now, he can’t imagine putting forth all the effort of planning and shopping and cooking a whole meal just for himself. He can’t even remember what kind of cereal he does like. When was the last time he shopped with just himself in mind?

        Two years is the obvious answer. Two years of cohabitation and one single, solitary year of marriage before it all fell apart, and now he’s back to looking at meals for one.

        Something about looking into the smug smile of that cartoon tiger on the cereal box has Sonny’s fists clenching against his sides. He doesn’t want these. He’s never wanted them, and he’s never going to want them.

        Never mind how wasteful it is. He throws the whole never-opened box of goddamn Frosted Flakes into the garbage. Then, he throws away the other two boxes as well.

        After a moment of idly staring down into the trash can, he realizes it’s not enough.

        Suddenly, it’s easy to start filling trash bags with all the things he wants to immediately eject from his life— everything he can find that was bought with someone else in mind.

        Turns out— surprise, surprise— that’s almost everything.

        Once he’s finished cleaning out the cabinets, he just… keeps going.

        He tackles the fridge next. Throws out everything he doesn’t want and never wanted, each new piece of garbage a former compromise, a withheld lecture or sigh. Then, he starts in on the drawers. After that, there are some photographs he has half a mind to burn into cinders.

        Really, it’s the most energized he’s been in days. One would think Paul would be happy about that.

        But when Paul returns, already saying before he even has both feet through the door, “They were out of that thing you like, so I got you—” his voice cuts off mid-sentence. Paul looks at Sonny amidst the wreckage with something akin to horror in his expression, mouth opening and closing on whatever it was he was about to say.

        The apartment is too small for the large silence that follows.

        Sonny holds up a frozen dinner from the freezer and asks, “Did you want this?”

        When Paul doesn’t respond, he takes that for a no and tosses that, too.

        It’s fine that Paul doesn’t know what to say, because Sonny doesn’t know either.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

        After Will decides to pick up and move to Los Angeles, it takes all of a day for people to start lining up to blame Paul.

        Some are more subtle about it than others.

        John, for instance, after a weary sigh, asks if he knows what he’s doing. “I hope you do, son,” he says with a manly clasp of Paul’s shoulder. “I really do.” As if Will’s relocation were somehow by Paul’s design.

        (It wasn’t.)

        It’s painfully obvious his father wants to remain impartial, and Paul appreciates that even as he resents the need for the question in the first place. Because it’s John, Paul takes the slight on the chin with as much dignity as he can.

        The less subtle say it right to his face.

        They claim that it’s his fault Will and Sonny’s marriage crumbled— that he interloped and schemed and seduced Sonny away. Big, bad Paul and his irresistible sex powers, and poor, fragile Will, who certainly had nothing to do with it. If only Paul could have stayed away from them. Then, everything would have been fine. Right?

        (Sure.)

        Paul can understand Will’s assorted loved ones, even Kate, being upset on Will’s behalf. That’s fair, he thinks. Because that’s family. Paul understands family. It’s everyone else that he takes issue with.

        Strangers, acquaintances, the media— they don’t know him. But they love to pretend they do.

        After the initial shock of his outing passed, Paul fell off the media’s radar. He wasn’t giving anyone anything to speculate on by living his completely innocuous new life in Salem. No one cared if he was coaching a Little League team with his father.

        Just as Paul was finally feeling almost free-and-clear of the whole thing, almost as if his celebrity baseball career was in a past life or something. All it takes to reignite the media’s interest in him is some salacious speculation by Will’s former employers at the Spectator. Suddenly, he’s fielding requests for interviews again. If there were ever a part of him that missed the spotlight… not so much anymore.

        This, they care about. A torrid, gay love triangle involving Paul Narita, former baseball star, definitely counts as newsworthy.

        But family? Family should know better.

        Even Paul’s grandfather has politely inquired after Sonny’s health. Paul has never discussed Sonny with his grandfather, and he isn’t prepared to comb through the various gossip rags to figure out exactly what his grandfather thinks about his and Sonny’s relationship. The fact that he even asks says it all.

        (His mother says nothing, which says enough.)

        People can judge him, and they do. Paul doesn’t care. Whatever Paul has done, Sonny and Will are adults, capable of making their own choices. He doesn’t accept that he is to blame for their marriage ending. He’s pretty certain that if their marriage was as strong as people seem to think it was, then the past year would have gone very differently.

        He refuses to apologize for loving Sonny. That isn’t something he’s ever been able to control. Sonny is in his blood and always has been. Despite what anyone says, Paul believes down to his bones that he and Sonny are supposed to be together. People can say whatever they like about it.

        (And they do.)

        Still, it strikes him as odd that somehow, even in Salem, people find the time to judge them. A whiff of scandal, and they all come running. All those good, decent folks. Whatever Paul and Sonny have done, it would hardly be the most scandalous thing to happen in this town, even if they were shacked up in Will’s former home and with him barely out the door as people seem to think.

        To a certain extent, Paul understands. Everyone loves a scandal. (He doesn’t.) And it’s not as if Paul didn’t forge a determined path straight into the middle of this one. (He did.)

        He knows how it looks. People see Will leaving and the quick dissolution of a marriage. They see the tabloids. They see Sonny and Paul spending so much time together at the apartment. They see a lot of things.

        It’s… understandable. People aren’t wrong to assume.

        Unfortunately, they are wrong, but they’re not wrong to assume.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

        With Sonny several states away and Gabi still in prison, Will is basically a single parent now.

        His mother helps out sometimes, but she’s a busy woman with a new career and two young children of her own to worry about. Since Sonny has— maybe understandably— iced him out, Will has to make all the decisions on his own.

        Suddenly, everything is his to choose, to decide. The sudden responsibility is terrifying. But if he’s honest… also kind of exciting? For the first time, there isn’t a safety net. No Sonny waiting at home for him to inevitably fail and come crawling back with his tail between his legs. It’s sink or swim, and Will wants to swim this time. He wants to prove everyone wrong by actually succeeding for once, on his own.

        He decorates Arianna’s new bedroom in their Brentwood apartment to his own tastes, even with Sonny’s voice in his ear questioning every decision. He ignores it. He lets Arianna have sweets sometimes, knowing that Sonny would object but feeling too guilty to say no. She gets a new toy whenever she asks. Will isn’t above bribery, willing to give anything to make this transition easier for both of them. (Mainly him.)

        Will thinks Sonny must suspect that he’s cutting corners, but it’s easy to make judgments on him from so far away. (Or it would be if Sonny knew about it.) Will figures that judging him is one of Sonny's favorite things to do, so why deny him the privilege? (Not that he’s going to tell him.) Anyway, Will is doing his best under the circumstances, and what Sonny doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

        That’s been the running theory anyway, and so much for that.

        Despite Will’s efforts, Arianna is about as interested in making this easy for him as her other father is. They’re partners in crime and always have been, always turning twin looks of disbelief on him, Ari’s arms tight around Sonny’s neck as if she can instinctively recognize him as a port in the storm of Will’s drama.

        In addition to the tantrums at home, she clings and cries every time he drops her off at the fancy preschool his little sister also attends, making him blush and shuffle his feet in an awkward attempt at escape from the room and the scornful gaze of her teacher. She’ll get used to it, they tell him. Don’t worry.

        (Sure, don’t worry.)

        And because he is a responsible parent, Will has to swallow his pride and initiate Skype conversations between Sonny and Ari every time she demands it. He tries to make himself scarce while they’re interacting. It’s partly an attempt at being respectful. Also, it hurts him to hear Sonny being sweet with Ari when Will only gets passive-aggressive hostility.

        He also hates hearing their daughter beg Sonny to come and get them.

        Asking him in her sweet, little voice, “Daddy, can I come home now?”

        A sigh, and then, gently, “You are home, honey.”

        Stubborn, “No, to your home.”

        Defeated, “Ari…”

        He knows it hurts Sonny, too, but he refuses to discuss it.

        (What else is new?)

        When they do talk, it’s short, clipped, and to the point. Sonny never asks about the new job (or about anything really), and Will doesn’t bring up the elephant in the room or ask the obvious question. Things are tense enough even on the best of days.

        Sonny obviously doesn’t want to tell him, and that’s just fine, because Will really doesn’t want to know.

Chapter Text

        Once the ball starts rolling, everything happens very quickly.

        Less than a month after Will has moved out, he’s also filed for divorce and moved himself and Arianna across the country to California. And with barely a by your leave.

        (Not that he has to ask, does he?)

        After all the back and forth with Paul, it's the most startling surrender since Napoleon at Waterloo. It all happens so fast that explaining it to people seems to take longer than the actual breakdown of the marriage. One minute there, the next minute gone. One minute married, and the next minute not.

        And after everything they’ve been through, Sonny finds himself standing, alone, in an empty apartment. All that’s left of their one-year marriage is a half-empty closet, some white spaces on the walls where photographs once hung, and the half-assed note Will left for him to find on the kitchen table.

        In sickness and in health, huh?

        And about a week after that, Sonny cracks and ends up on his hands and knees, face pressed into the mattress, gripping blue sheets in clenched fists and blushing red all over from the sounds of his own pathetic begging as Paul fucks him in his former marriage bed.

        Well. It’s not exactly how Sonny expected things to go, but he’s never exactly been a good judge of these things, has he?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

        Paul would be lying if he said he wasn’t waiting for it.

        Not the divorce, mind you. Rather, the inevitable aftermath. Sonny has been akin to a zombie lately. Dead-eyed and silent, and revealing nothing of his feelings about the dissolution of his marriage or the sudden relocation of his family. He’s cold and closed off, and nothing like the warm person Paul knows him to be.

        (But are any of them the same men they were four years ago?)

        Paul thinks that if Sonny were really as all right as he’s pretending to be, then he would have resisted a little more, would have protested at Paul’s determination to help him instead of lying down and passively allowing him to take charge.

        Other people have challenged the arrangement. Paul thinks Adrienne is one social convention away from flat-out demanding what Paul is doing with her son and why he’s suddenly always around. Sonny doesn’t question his presence, and Paul doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

        He’s calm. He’s polite. He’s lying.

        Sonny isn’t fooling anyone, least of all Paul. He might be holding his tongue, but his dark eyes are begging Paul to fix it, to make it better. He’s always been an open book to Paul, and he expects a maelstrom of feelings when the bough eventually breaks. He’s ready. He wants it. He plans to be there to hold him and to be his rock until Sonny is ready to move forward and begin to heal.

        He has to. That’s just the way life goes. And Paul just has to be patient.

        Except that Sonny doesn’t seem to want to deal with it. At all. He doesn’t talk about Will or the divorce or anything really of substance. They’re together nearly every day, and nothing.

        But Paul won’t push. He understands. He does. It’s not as if he expects anything to happen right away. Divorce is messy, and it’s not as if Sonny doesn’t have a lot on his plate at the moment. Paul doesn’t want to pressure him. He will attempt patience. He’s okay with going slow, with being Sonny’s friend while he deals with all of this.

        But he does expect something to happen eventually.

Chapter Text

        Los Angeles is nothing like Salem.

        Los Angeles towers over Salem, engulfing it in its shadow. Will never realized how small and quaint his hometown really is until he saw downtown L.A. Sure, Victor Kiriakis has his Titan Tower, but downtown has dozens of Titan Towers. Corporate totems of American capitalism with miles of sprawling streets snaking in, out, and around, each with its own direction and agenda.

        It’s a grid, they tell him, patronizing. If you know the grid, then it all makes sense. (Of course.)

        L.A. is thousands of voices shooting over his head through wireless waves, pouring out of each and every window. Everything important in the world passes through here. It’s a hive, and the cacophony of collective buzzing sizzles across his skin. He’s having a hard time focusing on anything else. His mother has to repeat herself.

        “But don’t you miss him?”

        Will sighs, not bothering to hide his annoyance. They’re having lunch at the Farmer’s Market by the Grove. There are interesting, international people all around them. He wants to talk about the here and the now, and she wants to talk about home. But why, when there is so much going on here?

        In Salem, you walk outside and you’re going to run into someone you know. Everyone knows everyone. Their past, present, and future. It’s small. Contained. Incestuous. Judgmental.

        Not here. Here, you’re free. People are rushing here, there, and everywhere, too busy to bother judging or even noticing you. Will gets coffee behind a celebrity, and no one even blinks. At the tables around them, people are negotiating movie deals and corporate take-overs, writing scripts, making up, breaking up, discussing politics, planning community gardens, organizing protests, rehearsing plays, and countless other things. Will could stand up on the table right now and do a monologue, and he doesn’t think anyone would question it.

        Samantha Gene Brady, for all her flaws, shines here. No one would ever suspect that she comes from anywhere else. California girl. She tosses her blond blow-out behind her shoulder, her blue eyes sparkling at him, and he knows Los Angeles is where she belongs. She’s thriving. Her reality show was picked up, and it’s just a countdown until Sami Brady is officially famous (and not just infamous). Her past is about to become her asset, her sins no longer counting against her so much as catapulting her to the top.

        Will wonders how long until he goes native, too, or if it’s something you even notice before it’s too late. One would think that his mother would want him to stay, but she keeps trying to push him back.

        She persists. “Have you spoken with him? At all?”

        Oh, sure. Will has gotten really good at having imaginary, one-sided exchanges with Sonny. He’s had to since Sonny refuses to have any real ones with him anymore. Their line of communication has dwindled down to tense exchanges between their lawyers and short, icy text messages, usually about Arianna. Will’s lawyer tells him to just be grateful that Sonny hasn’t contested the move to Los Angeles or made any moves toward gaining sole custody.

        (Could he, though?)

        His mother sighs. “You were so happy.”

        There are a million things Will could say to that. He says none of them, of course, but really, she’s not wrong. There are times when he wishes he and Sonny could just talk again, at the very least like people who don’t hate each other. For years, Sonny was Will’s rock. Will has never been so adrift, and he no longer has Sonny to anchor him. In some ways, he still doesn’t know who he is without his other half. Everything still makes him think of Sonny, and he doesn’t know how long that will last.

        (Ironically, he could ask Sonny about that. How long before he stopped seeing Paul everywhere he went? When does first love finally fade from reality into memory?)

        Will could tell Sonny that he misses him. Maybe that would thaw some of the ice between them. Or not. But the words stick on his tongue, stubborn, and by now, he’s so used to missing Sonny— even when he was still sleeping right next to him— that it’s nothing new to their dynamic.

        And to be honest, there are some days when he just doesn’t have the energy.

        Fighting with Sonny is exhausting. His dear, sweet husband is much too good at it. Who knew? Each time, Will discovers something else Sonny has been secretly blaming him for— each of Will’s supposedly forgiven transgressions providing ammunition for Sonny to hoard and conceal until just the right moment when he can lay Will out.

        It turns out that Sonny is really, really good at holding a grudge, and Will has long since exhausted himself of fighting losing battles.

        “Will, are you sure?”

        Yes, he’s fucking sure. Why would anyone go back to Salem when they can have this?

        “It’s going to be hard co-parenting with someone across the country,” she warns. She would know.

        Of course it’s going to be hard. It was hard before he left. Finding your rival for your husband’s affections standing in the middle of your living room, holding your daughter, and making himself at home in your home when you haven’t even left yet is hard.

        He’ll endure. She did, and so will he.

        “But if you just…”

        “No.”

Chapter Text

        Sometimes, Sonny has to stop and just breathe through the anger.

        He tries to keep it inside, safely suppressed, but sometimes, Paul can be the victim of Sonny’s emotional imbalance. Maybe that’s inevitable since he’s always around.

        And, boy, does that ever seem to make people uncomfortable. So far, no one has had the nerve to ask him outright, but the way that people skirt around the subject of Paul’s near-constant presence is truly something to behold. Sonny lets them wonder.

        Paul is over at the apartment more often than not, taking care of the things that Sonny can’t or won’t take care of and making sure that Sonny remembers to eat and take care of himself. If Sonny is out and about and resembling a functioning human being, then it’s likely a result of Paul’s efforts to get him out of the apartment. Unlike everyone else, he’s unfettered by Sonny’s mood swings. It’s...

        He doesn’t know what to do with Paul.

        If Paul were anyone else, maybe someone less stubborn, then he probably would have taken Sonny’s rejection to heart and left a long time ago. Sonny would be the first to admit that he’s a mess, and Paul isn’t exactly a patient man. At least, he didn’t used to be.

        Now, for Sonny, Paul is patient. Paul is kind and attentive. Paul is everything Sonny once wanted him to be.

        Sonny hates it.

        Paul knows him. He bends and flows with Sonny’s moods so expertly that Sonny frequently finds himself diffused before he even realizes it’s happening. Paul is the safety net Sonny never asked for, a warm balm on his otherwise frosty rage. Like everyone else these days, he’s soft words and careful touches and empty platitudes.

        The worst part is that Sonny knows Paul, too. He can see that a part of Paul relishes the opportunity to take care of someone— of Sonny. It’s probably new to him, the concept of putting someone else first for a change, maybe forcing him to tap into parts of himself that went dormant a long time ago. It turns out that the guy Sonny once considered the most selfish man on the planet is actually good at it. Surprise, surprise.

        (And maybe, possibly, that sense of control feels pretty good, too, after the year Paul has had.)

        Sonny has unwittingly provided Paul with a new challenge, and Paul, chronic overachiever that he is, has risen to the occasion. Sonny wants to be proud of him, but more than that, he hates being the recipient of Paul’s kindness. It’s an unnatural role reversal for him, and he hates the idea of being pitied— being pitied by Paul, no less.

        But Paul is obviously determined to be there, and Sonny doesn’t have the energy to fight him off at the moment. He needs Paul, as much as he resents it. Some days, it feels as if Paul is the only thing standing between him and the void. He doesn’t have to like it though.

        He can’t handle having Paul around all the time, pushing and pushing with those gentle looks and gentle touches here, there, and everywhere. Paul is so sweet to him, so damn patient, and Sonny is clawing at his own skin, wanting it, hating it, wanting Paul, hating Paul, quietly seething.

        And maybe that’s why the fight happens, and how the fight becomes Sonny’s legs in the air and his grip on the kitchen table braced for impact, the dull wood scrapping beneath his back, the loud screech of table legs on linoleum floor in his ears, and Paul’s fierce expression above him as he fucks Sonny with the same focused determination that he has for everything else.

        Neck gone boneless, Sonny drops his head back onto the table with a throaty moan. God. It’s so easy when it’s just this. Feels so damn good, every part of his body alight and in tune with Paul’s. Sex was never their problem. His head is swimming, synapses firing in every direction, finally, finally distracted from all the reasons this wasn’t supposed to happen, and Sonny lets all of the voices go for the moment, arching and spreading to take as much of Paul as he can get.

        He can barely make out Paul’s voice, saying sexy nonsense like: “God, look at you. You want it, don’t you? Say it. Come on, baby, say it.”

        He has to swallow down a hysterical laugh. He really does. Because, during another argument in another time, Paul once said to him: “It’s just never enough for you! You’re always pushing.”

        Who’s pushing now? Who is always goddamn pushing? And the anger is still there, even as he answers in what could easily be someone else’s needy voice, “Yes, Paul, give it to me, please…”

        I gave up my marriage for you, didn’t I? So, come on, give it to me, baby, don’t stop.

        (Paul’s not going to stop. He never does. Can’t stop, won’t stop. That’s Paul.)

        It’s kind of ridiculous at this point, how Paul always, always refuses to do what Sonny wants him to do. If Sonny wants more of him, he gets less. If he wants less, he gets more. It’s been four years, and nothing has changed.

        In this moment, the past and the present come together to mock him. Somehow, Paul seems to have twisted it all around until even the shame feels pleasurable, not even understanding that there is shame or that this isn’t something to be proud of. It doesn't end on a kitchen table. It goes on and on, everywhere, seemingly for hours, until Sonny begs and sobs (for mercy or more, who can say). He whimpers pathetically when Paul finally pulls out of him.

        And after Paul has turned Sonny inside out, he leaves him like that, falling asleep with a satisfied smile on his face and a tight arm around Sonny’s chest. It means nothing to him that this is the bed that Sonny once shared with his husband, not just for sleep or sex, but for all the in-between moments. Sonny and Will used to feed Arianna her bottle between them right here.

        High as the high goes, the comedown is just as bad. As the rush fades, Sonny finds that all the ugly, dirty things haven't been banished from his mind; they crawl and slither back in. He wants to wake Paul up again. He doesn’t.

        Instead, he lies awake under Paul's arm, anxious and unraveling, his mind divided between two points in time. It’s probably his imagination, but he thinks that he can still smell Will in this bed. And now he can smell himself and Paul and the sticky spunk drying all over them; not to mention every lie, illicit desire, and disappointment in between.

        Ultimately, this wasn’t about revenge, but it wasn’t about love either. It can't be that simple. Love can't solve everything. It can sure as hell make everything more complicated though. Besides, at the end of the day, what does the concept of love even mean for him right now? Today?

        Who knows? Not him. And certainly not Paul, no matter what he says.