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The Godfathers

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To everyone’s surprise, Matt and Dan weren’t the first Foxes to have kids.

Kevin and Thea were.

Kevin announced Thea’s pregnancy over their monthly Skype call while Aaron and Nicky were snipping at each other as a quiet aside to Renee. As if the news wasn’t going to act like an atom bomb on them all. As if Nicky wasn’t going to screech so loudly he overloaded his microphone and went silent. As if Neil wasn’t going to immediately panic about the upcoming Olympic games. The games that Thea is supposed to play in, Kevin! As if Aaron wasn’t going to start loudly proclaiming that Allison owed him $300 right fucking now, Venmo it bitch.

Thea went into labor at the start of the second half of their last match of the Games. A fact that, for reasons unknown to Andrew, their captain decided to tell Kevin just as they locked the court doors. Andrew knew, as he’d overheard the conversation just before the start of the game, that Thea had told Kevin in no uncertain terms to play the game to completion, no matter what, but Andrew still had to lay a heavy hand on the back of his trembling neck and shake the anxiety out of him.

Kevin went on to win an Olympic gold and a world record.


 

The next year, Kevin and Thea were the last to arrive to the annual Fourth of July party at Andrew and Neil’s. The reason for which was plopped unceremoniously into Andrew’s arms nearly as soon as the door opened.

“Hello, Leigh.” Andrew murmured, barely audible over the toddler’s excited babbling. Behind them, Neil watched as Allison’s perfectly curated eyebrows took up residence in her hairline and her mouth dropped open. A well-placed elbow from Renee had Allison covering her shock with a sip of spiked punch before Andrew turned towards them.

Leigh was, in all aspects except for his eyes and mouth, a carbon copy of Thea. He also possessed his mother’s boldness, evidenced as he smacked his tiny hands against Andrew’s cheeks, cooing “Dew! Dew!” It was as close as he’d been able to get to Andrew’s name thus far and so unfathomably cute that Neil felt it like a physical ache deep in his chest.

A similar ache, he supposed, that he’d gotten when Thea had informed them that they were to be his godfathers. He hadn’t quite known what it’d meant at the time, but when he and Andrew had stood in a tiny church in the middle of the Massachusetts countryside for Leigh’s baptism, they’d gotten a full twenty minute lecture from the priest on their new duties. Duties, Neil had realized as Andrew calmly wrapped his hand around Neil’s wrist, thumb resting on his suddenly thunderous pulse, that meant that they were now well and truly family.

And somehow, it felt different than before; different than the bone deep sense of contentment that the Foxes in all of their imperfect glory seemed to inspire. That feeling, as Thea had handed him a tiny, flawless baby in the soft glow of a near silent morning, was something altogether different. That feeling, as Leigh had pried open his emerald eyes and stared up at him, silent and smiling, had lingered for days.

“Is that Thea I hear?” Dan called, sliding through their glass doors with a beer already uncapped for her. Matt was predictably trailing behind, eyes bright at the idea of seeing the baby he’d only ever seen via a screen, but as he closed the sliding glass door behind him, sealing out the muggy summer day, he paused, visibly shocked to see Andrew carefully cradling a babbling toddler on his hip. He recovered quickly enough, but Neil was consumed with confusion until he realized that the rest of the Foxes had never seen Leigh before.

It was their house, Neil realized as Andrew brought Leigh to him so that he could smack his sticky hands against Neil’s face, that Kevin and Thea brought the baby to first. They were the ones who watched Leigh when both Kevin and Thea had a game.

They were Leigh’s godfathers.

The rest of the Foxes hadn’t been there when Kevin had told them that they’d discovered that Leigh was allergic to strawberries. They hadn’t seen the barely there lift of Andrew’s golden eyebrows, the short nod as he stood and grabbed his gardening gloves as he made his way to the backyard. They never watched Andrew carefully harvest the berries ripening on the row of plants, the plants he’d taken months to cultivate. Or how he’d then taken a shovel and torn them all from the earth, dumping the mangled bushes in the garbage and the harvested berries on Neighbor’s porch.

They didn’t know .

The Foxes didn’t know that Andrew had quietly baby-proofed the house. Or about the stash of clothes and diapers that Thea had brought over and tucked under the guest bathroom’s sink. They didn’t know that Neil now automatically turned when someone said “eel.”

Matt hadn’t been there to witness Andrew rocketing to his feet when the Neighbor had let her dog out for the first time while they were letting Leigh crawl about in the front yard. He hadn’t seen the sudden shift to violence in the seconds between when the massive hound had spotted Leigh and when it had thrown itself to its back, whining in the same way it did to Neil in the morning as it begged for belly rubs. Matt didn’t know that it had taken hours for Andrew’s hands to stop shaking, even after the Neighbor, Thea and Kevin had watched Leigh be covered in a thick layer of slobber in the face of the Neighbor’s dog's gentle affection.

But they’d learn.

Renee at least, was unphased, and smiled as she approached and offered her pointer finger for Leigh to grab and almost immediately put in his mouth. She, as Neil expected, possessed the kind of calm, open air that children tended to trust and Leigh smiled brightly, cooing again even as he gnawed on her manicure.

“Oh Kevin, he’s adorable.” She said, “Just look at those cheeks!” Renee gently reclaimed her finger to tickle at Leigh’s cheek, smiling brightly at him before sliding her gaze to Andrew. She said nothing, but inclined her head, earning an eye roll so deep that Neil was certain he’d seen his ancestors.

“Here.” Andrew said, handing Leigh over to Neil, he didn’t pause, thoughtlessly confident in the way of someone used to a routine, and motioned for Renee to follow him into the kitchen.

“Eel!” Leigh squealed, and Neil smiled helplessly as Leigh’s hand went again to the scar on his cheek. He caught Dan’s eye and shrugged at her puzzled expression.

“It’s the contrast.” Kevin explained, dropping a kiss to Leigh’s head as he shrugged off his over-shirt, “Babies love it. He’ll stare at a ceiling fan for hours.”

“Yeah,” Neil said, “Check it out. Leigh. “ Neil brought the baby’s attention to his arm by holding it up for his inspection and smiled again at Dan as Leigh lunged to poke and rub at the scars there.


 

 

“He’s quick!” Katelyn  laughed, watching Leigh toddle around the porch from her vantage point in the circle of chairs set around the fire pit in the yard. Nicky nodded, eyes hidden behind oversized sunglasses with a just shy of too tight grip on Erik’s hand.

Leigh looked up at the sound of Katelyn’s laugh and twisted, giggling as he made a beeline for the circle of adults, heedless of the small set of stairs between him and his goals. A shout of alarm rose up, but before Leigh’s pint sized sneaker cleared the first step Andrew materialized to scoop him up with both hands under his armpits. As one, a sigh settled over the group, save for Kevin who rolled his eyes as Andrew descended the stairs and gently placed Leigh onto the grass.

“Gotta be more careful!” Katlyn said to Leigh’s giggling face.

“I’m moderately certain that all babies are programed to self-destruct,” Thea sighed, “He has a thing for rolling off of furniture, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because he likes getting caught.”

“My nephew does the same thing! He waits until you're watching to swan dive to the ground. I have no idea why.” Dan exclaimed, throwing her hands in the air. “Gave himself a shiner something awful once, Lord have mercy.”

“I thought he was going to take his eye out once,” Thea plucked Leigh from Katelyn’s lap when the baby began making grabby hands for her, “he’s trying to walk around but is so distracted by the ceiling fan he almost ran right into their coffee table. Andrew caught him before he could, of course. He's playing baby goalie now.”

“He's um,’ Erik paused in the way that meant he was searching for a proper translation, “better with children than I thought he'd be.”

“Really?” Renee sipped idly at her iced tea, and smiled over the rim of her sunglasses at Erik, “Andrew has always been a guardian.”  

Erik blinked at her for a moment before he shrugged, dropping the subject just as Neil came over to announce that the burgers would be ready soon.

Leigh perked up and squealed, arms up. “Eel!”

“Hello, Leigh. Do you want to help me pick some veggies?” Neil asked. Leigh babbled and shrieked, grabby hands in full force and Neil nodded seriously, “Good, let's go.”

Together, Neil and Leigh made their way through the sprawling gardens, picking (or slapping in Leigh’s case) a small basket of produce for dinner. Katelyn beamed at Aaron, tugging at where their hands were joined as Neil held up tomatoes for Leigh’s inspection and seemed to listen as intently as he had to Wymack back in college to whatever nonsense the baby garbled.

“The garden looks amazing, Andrew.” Renee said. They were seated across the lawn from the others propped against the stairs to the porch, feet on the grass. Andrew’s eyes tracked Neil and Leigh as they picked out lettuce and dug up onions.

“I don't know if I've forgiven you for the zucchini incident.” Andrew said.

“It wasn't that bad.” Renee laughed.

“We grew about a hundred pounds of fucking zucchini.” However, Andrew felt his snarl slip from his face as Leigh hung over Neil's shoulder to babble at them, holding an unripe tomato in his fist.

“Good job, Leigh.” Andrew and Renee spoke at the same time, eliciting a snort from Renee and another eye roll from Andrew.

“My my my, I never thought I’d see you so thoroughly wrapped around someone’s finger.” She teased, gently tapping her shoulder to Andrew’s. He, as always, stood immobile, but he sucked his teeth.

“If you’re just going to insult me, you can get the fuck out.”

“I’m just saying,” She continued, sipping from her glass of sweet tea, “It’s nice. I mean, have you seen Nicky? He looks like he’s going to break Erik’s hand every time you and Neil so much as look at the baby. If you thought he was bad when the baby was born, you should have seen him when you were holding him. He’s drowning in his own tears over there.”

Andrew glanced across the yard where most of the party was lounging in the lawn chairs that Neil had spent an hour arranging. Indeed, Nicky had his husband’s hand gripped within his own, and he was tossing his head in a way that meant he was fighting tears even from behind his ridiculous sunglasses.

Andrew paused, considering, but then figured it was a hypothesis worth testing.

“Neil.” He called, voice just barely above his normal speaking tone. Immediately, Neil stepped from between the garden’s rows, a question in the tilt of his head.  Andrew simply held his hands out and Neil carefully placed Leigh into them, to the toddlers audible delight. Leigh held up his now slightly crushed tomato, pressing it insistently against Andrew’s hand until he took it with a quiet “Thank you,” but his eyes were on Nicky, who was now visibly crushing Erik’s hand.

“Be nice, Andrew.” Renee said, a scold in words only as her tone was obviously egging him on.

“I’ll go wash these and get them all plated.” Neil said, stepping past them with his basket of produce balanced on one hip. He ruffled Leigh’s hair as he want, scarred hands unbelievably gentle in Leigh's riotous mass of spring like curls.

Nicky not-so-subtly adjusted his sunglasses as Erik lifted his near bloodless hand to kiss Nicky’s knuckles.

Andrew blinked slowly, then lifted Leigh up to look into his face. The toddler beamed, giggling and garbling at him, delighted as always to be the center of attention. Andrew felt his lips twitch, a near smile, before leaning in to smack a kiss against Leigh’s suspiciously sticky cheek.

And across the yard, Nicky let out an audible sob.