Monday mornings had never been Keith’s favourite. He doubted they were anyone’s; hell, who could enjoy them? Nothing about them had thrilled him since the very first day he’d been dropped on a primary school playground and told to go make friends. If it wasn’t dragging yourself to a school you hated to attend classes you were indifferent to and hang out with kids who irritated you, then it was nodding off in an eight am lecture with a hangover pounding in your head, and if it wasn’t that it was sitting in the traffic trying to get to work, and if finally, that wasn’t the way a Monday went, it… it was this.
“Looks like your first dance class starts up today, huh?”
Keith looked to his right hopefully, fingers dancing along the steering wheel. Ear buds in, arms crossed firmly and slouching, the fifteen year old buckled into his passenger seat oozed dissatisfaction. Great. Keith hated Mondays.
A fierce scowl, polished black nails, and a set of angry eyes that matched Keith’s to a frightening degree.
The way she said his name… it made Keith feel like some dumb kid on the playground again, not a fully functional twenty five year old with a job and a life and friends and-
And two kids.
“Dance class?” Keith prompted with a smile.
Judy blinked at him, her fringe threatening to spill over her eyes. He’d have to book her in for a haircut. Oh my god, where was she meant to get a haircut? He couldn’t take her to his barber, he only did men’s hair, but where else? What if he took her somewhere awful, what if they cut her hair badly and then she’d have to show up to school feeling bad- no, what if she refused to go to school at all and her grades started to slip and-
“Do you… have everything you need?”
Judy stared at him for a good minute, the pout on her lips contradicting the fierce look in her eyes. Was she… oh my god, did she have eyeliner on? Were they allowed eyeliner? Okay, Keith was pretty sure he’d worn makeup when he was fifteen and rebellious but maybe this school had different rules. What if they called him in? What if she was sent home? He should say something. He should definitely, definitely ask. Judy looked away with a roll of her eyes. Keith hated Mondays.
Keith jumped a little; he still hadn’t gotten accustomed to the car seat in the back and the small being occupying it. He shot a look over his shoulder, smiling at the chubby toddler.
“Dada, dada, dada…” Yumi kept babbling, slapping her little hands together.
At least someone liked him. Judy ignored her sister and Keith, looking pointedly out the window. She didn’t like Yumi calling Keith dad, he wasn’t stupid, he knew that. Still, surely it was better for the toddler to adjust to him now, when she was just two? Or maybe not. Maybe he shouldn’t try and pretend; after all, Judy knew her sister better than he did. He was practically a stranger.
Keith hung his head a little, navigating through the traffic with a dull feeling filling his chest. He’d never known his sister. He didn’t know he had a sister, not until three weeks ago, when he’d gotten a call informing him of her a) existence, b) death, and c) two children who had been left in his care. In that exact order. Keith had never known any of his biological family. He’d been abandoned as a baby as far as he knew, spent a few years circulating the foster system before the Shirogane’s plucked him up and adopted him. But apparently his sister had known about him. And maybe she didn’t know any one else she trusted, or maybe she thought that because they were related he was somehow qualified, because come the accident that took her life…
Keith glanced at Judy, the stubborn teen still ignoring him. He sighed. He wished he’d known about them sooner, wished he could have known them as nieces, not… not this.
A car horn blared, and Keith jumped, slamming on the brakes and waving apologetically at the car he’d almost run into at the red light.
“Nice,” Judy muttered.
“Dada!” Yumi squealed.
Keith hated Mondays.
When they pulled up to the school drop-off zone a little while later, his hands ached from how tightly he’d been gripping the wheel. He smiled at Judy as she shoved her way out the car, snatching her school bag from the backseat and placing a small kiss on Yumi’s head- but the teen ignored him.
“Have a nice-“ The car door slammed. “…day.”
Keith sighed, watching his niece retreat into the mass of children filing into her high school. Her new high school, where he didn’t even know if she was making friends because she didn’t talk. A car horn blared behind him, telling him to get a move on out of the drop-off zone.
“Jesus!” Keith swore.
From the back, Yumi just giggled. At least she found joy in just about every mistake he made.
It was a five-minute drive from the high school to the day-care, which usually passed rather uneventfully. Keith kept the children’s CD on for Yumi, finding it was easier to drive without Judy glaring holes into him. When they pulled into the day-care, he could already see a few of the teachers out front greeting the kids. This was the one place Keith didn’t mind, the one place he could leave Yumi without fearing for her life every second he was away from her. The toddler was still grinning at him when he came round the car to unbuckle her, kicking her feet as he lifted her from seat and into his arms.
“Dada, dada,” she kept babbling as Keith grabbed her bag from the boot and locked up.
Should he be teaching her new words? Or was she meant to pick up that stuff by herself? When were children supposed to talk; Jesus, he couldn’t even figure that much out? Yumi was probably going to develop a speech impediment, and then maybe he’d have to keep her back from first grade- oh god, thinking all the way ahead to first grade was doing funny things to Keith’s head. He was brought back by pudgy hands swatting at his cheeks, and he shot the girl a smile as they walked towards the day-care.
Yumi was… different to her sister. Obviously, she was only two, but Keith just… hadn’t experienced anything like her. A toddler. He’d never thought too hard about babies, or kids in general (the reality of them anyway), until he was standing in front of their social worker swearing he could care for the two children who were somehow related to him. It was too early to tell if Yumi would look like her mother, Judy did though. Keith had seen the pictures of his sister, somewhere in the mess of being introduced to the kids and given the run down on the situation. She’d been born in Korea, just like him, but it sounded as if she’d immigrated before Judy was born. While Judy shared her mothers eyes and… frown (don’t ask Keith how, they just had the same damn frown), Yumi was simply a pudgy kid with a wild bob of jet-black hair that Keith enjoyed tying up in a whale spout on top of her head because for starters it was convenient, and secondly, she looked adorable.
He wasn’t the only one who thought so. Yumi had only been attending this day-care for two weeks, but she was a clear favourite. Keith smiled as his eyes locked on Pidge, one of the teachers, and his friend. It was Pidge who’d arranged for Yumi to slot right into the day-care, and who made sure Keith could afford it. Today she was dressed in denim overalls, yellow hair tied up in a similar manner to Yumi’s. She was waving madly at the toddler, who was cautiously waving back, as if she wasn’t sure that was the correct procedure.
“Nice to see you too,” Keith muttered playfully as they approached.
“Sorry Keith, but ever since you got a toddler you’ve become a hundred times less appealing in her shadow.”
“Thank you, Pidge.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, in a pitched, squeaky voice that was meant only to appeal to Yumi.
And appeal it did. Yumi squealed in delight as Pidge tickled her sides, cooing over the toddler as if Keith was simply there to hold the child up for inspection.
“How’s Judes?” Pidge asked seriously, leaving her co-worker, Coran, to deal with the other parents.
“She hates me,” said Keith. “So, great.”
Pidge gazed up at him sympathetically.
“If anyone can get through to her, it’s you. You… know what it’s like.”
Keith smiled stiffly.
“I think this is different.”
Pidge sighed, offering him an encouraging smile.
“At least Yumi likes you.”
Keith huffed, ruffling the toddler’s hair fondly.
“Yeah. I don’t think I could take it if she didn’t.”
“Who could? She’s like the cutest kid ever. I’m gonna need to see your baby pics again soon for a comparison.”
“Absolutely not,” Keith said, laughing. “Anyway, I gotta go, work and all.”
“Alright, hand her over.”
Keith passed the bag over to Pidge, then began trying to extract the toddler from where she had her arms wrapped stubbornly around his neck. At first she went easily to Pidge, but once she realised he’d be leaving, she began to whine.
“Aaw,” Pidge cooed, as the girl’s eyes followed Keith, reaching for him.
“Okay,” said Keith, taking Yumi’s little hand and stroking her palm. “Okay, dada has to go.”
And he was not going to cry this time, he was not. It was Monday, he’d had the whole weekend with her, if anything he should be thankful for the break. So he was not going to cry, even though Yumi was starting to, her little face scrunching up and fat tears rolling down her cheeks no matter how much Pidge tried to sooth her.
“Keith, if you cry she’s going to cry more!” Pidge scolded.
“I’m sorry! I just- ugh! I don’t like leaving her.”
“Yeah evidently, dude. Your kids gonna develop attachment issues.”
Keith clenched his jaw, a ridiculous, scrunched expression swallowing his face as he tried to hold in the tears.
“Okay,” he said. “Bye Yumi. Bye-bye.”
“I’ll get Coran,” Pidge assured. “She’ll calm down.”
Keith nodded shakily, jaw too tensed to talk. God dammit. He waved quickly at them as Pidge began to retreat, rocking Yumi on her hip as she motioned Coran over. He always seemed to be able to calm her down, but dammit, Keith missed her already. It was ridiculous. Still, he forced himself to walk back to the car, let Pidge distract Yumi with toys and other kids.
Keith let his head thump back against the seat, sitting still for a moment in the car park as children and their parents continued to filter into the day-care around him. It was funny, as much as it was a relief knowing Yumi was being cared for and occupied, he kinda… missed her. Missed her happy little babble and all.
Keith started up the engine, finally switching from the tapes of kids music to the radio, specifically, his favourite station. A song was just finishing off, and Keith congratulated himself on his timing as his two favourite hosts announced their arrival on the show.
“Welcome back every one to another average Monday morning. I’m Lance McClain, here with Hunk Garret, and we’ll be your hosts, getting you through the day. Well, half the day, don’t know what poor suckers gonna be on after us because we are a hard act to follow.”
“Oh my god Lance you cannot say that.”
Keith pulled out onto the main road, setting course for his work place. He’d picked up on this station around a year ago, when he’d moved to be closer to Shiro. His adoptive brother had been the one to prompt his move from the country, after years of nagging Keith that living alone on a farm wasn’t good for him or his future prospects and relations. Keith kinda missed it, living out in the country; but Shiro was right, he had been kinda lonely. Still, maybe now that he had kids… No, that was an awful idea. The worst idea. Where would they go to school? He wouldn’t have Shiro or Pidge or Allura or anyone to help look after them.
Besides, the real reason Keith moved was because of Adam. He’d known Shiro was going to propose soon, and the idea of being closer to them while they started up their own family… it was nice. He’d envisioned they’d be the ones adopting kids, that he could be the uncle he’d always wanted to be. Hah. Funny how that one worked out. Keith shook away those thoughts, focusing on what was being said on the radio instead. There was always traffic on his drive, giving him the perfect opportunity to listen in. It sounded as though one of them had just finished up telling a joke, because loud, obnoxious laughter was filtering in from over the speakers, and Keith smiled without even knowing what had been said.
Since discovering the station, Keith had quickly become invested in its two hosts. He remembers taking time out of his day to search up the duo, Lance and Hunk, strictly out of curiosity at first. And maaaybe seeing their profile pictures on the station website and maaaybe Lance’s handsome smile and sparkling eyes might have had a little bit of an effect on his interest as a listener, but that wasn’t the only reason, okay? It wasn’t as if he could stare at Lance over the damn radio; in fact, their host made a point of that everyday, a joke of sorts.
The important thing was, Lance and Hunk were childhood friends, who’d attended college together, where they realised their clear knack for entertaining, and after getting their first gig… well they were popular now. Popular enough to have their faces plastered to the bus that went shooting past Keith’s car anyway. And he liked them, enjoyed the three hour segment they got each weekday morning, not that he got to listen to it all. They started around the time he usually dropped the kids off, so he had a good half hour to listen to them recite the morning news or get impassioned about some recent social controversy or entertain their listeners with music or by bringing guest callers on.
Since taking in Judy and Yumi, the station had kind of been his escape. It was a time to unwind and think about something other than how badly he was screwing up their lives. Hunk always seemed to have surprisingly optimistic anecdotes to start the day with, and Lance was always joking around with listeners, and had a nice voice in general. Like a really, really nice voice. So nice that Keith might’ve tracked down and downloaded an audiobook he’d read so he could listen to it to fall asleep at night despite the fact the book was a sci-fi type-robot-apocalypse novel that he had absolutely no interest in. No one had to know that Lance’s voice helped him sleep, which meant absolutely no one got to judge him.
“No I’m telling you man! They were plotting to murder me,” Lance exclaimed over the radio, over Hunk’s helpless laughter.
Clearing his throat, the second presenter spoke up, clearly still stifling laughter.
“For those of you just tuning in, Lance spent the weekend at his brothers house, where his niece and nephew apparently attempted to murder-“
“Oh no it’s not apparently, they were blood thirsty. I’m telling you, you go two months without visiting, they were ready to bury me alive. I still find sand when I shower, it’s all the way-“
“No! Nope, don’t wanna hear,” Hunk exclaimed with a chuckle. “Your sand, your problem.”
“I was victim to a crime, Hunk. I don’t know if Luis like spoon-feeds them sugar before I get there or what, but those kids are hyped up when I arrive. Every time!”
Hunk just laughed, immune to Lance’s offended spluttering.
“If it helps,” the former continued. “Tomorrows chat line is open to all, we’re gonna be discussing nieces and nephews. So if you’re an aunt or uncle who’s been victimised like Lance, give us a call. We want to hear it all, kids you wanna rave about, kids who are actual devil spawn and you can’t believe came from your siblings.”
“You gotta actually give them the number, dude.”
“Oh, right!” Hunk exclaimed, before rattling off the chat line number.
“Look, I do love my niece and nephew,” Lance amended. “But ay! They want to kill me sometimes. It’s a struggle, I’m telling you.”
“And we want you to tell us too,” Hunk said. “So call in tomorrow if you have a story like Lance’s that you wanna share. Once again, that’s-“
And Keith had a pen and was scribbling the number onto his hand before he could think twice. He wouldn’t actually call, and if he did, it wasn’t as if he’d be lucky enough for his call to go through. But… but he had the number now anyway, no harm in that, right? He was nearly at work, but once again he’d timed it excellently. Lance was rattling on about something, joking, before his attention turned to the same joke he made everyday, the same song he played everyday, the one Keith usually finished off his listening with.
“For all you folks out there listening,” Lance said. “I hope you have eventful days. And in case today is the day the studio cuts my funding, I want to play you a little tune before we kick off our next segment.”
Keith scoffed; as if they’d ever cut funding to this station. Still, he grinned a little as the first few notes of the song kicked in and Lance’s voice trickled off as Video Killed the Radio Star began to play. It was endearing almost, what a kick Lance got out of playing it. Keith liked it, pulling into work with the song he’d heard at least a hundred times now following him in.
Allura was already seated behind her desk when Keith walked in, dumping his bag on the ground as he collapsed into his office chair. She spun around upon hearing him, a bright smile lighting up her face. Allura had to be the only person he knew who did like Mondays.
“Keith!” She exclaimed.
Allura was one of those people who somehow succeeded in bringing life to their dull little office space. Keith had known her for years, but their friendship was only recent. She’d started off as Shiro’s friend in high school, so he knew about her whilst living out in the country. After moving to the city though, she’d helped find him a job where she worked, and they’d hit off quickly. Now they were inseparable.
“I’m so tired,” he grumbled. “Already. It’s like nine.”
Allura looked sympathetic.
“Kids kept you up?”
Keith sighed, rubbing at his eyes.
“Yeah. Judy didn’t want to go to bed, then Yumi was up at like five. Ugh, Allura, why are kids so difficult?”
She smiled, twirling around on the office chair. “Sorry Keith. You want me to come over and help out tonight? I could make dinner?”
He scoffed, shooting her a smile. “Thanks Allura, but I think if you tried to cook we’d have a bigger problem.”
“Oh shut it!”
She pushed him playfully, sending his chair sliding out into the walkway.
“Thanks ‘Lura, but Shiro’s coming over tomorrow anyway-“
“Keith? Oh good, just the person I was looking for.”
Keith cringed inwardly, and Allura mouthed a little sorry as he began wheeling himself back towards his desk. He’d just set his hands on the keyboard when their boss appeared at the entrance to Allura and his little cubicle.
“Hey Lotor,” he said through gritted teeth, trying to keep the edge out his voice.
Keith didn’t hate his job; it wasn’t the best, but he didn’t mind it. He was thankful Allura had managed to find him a position working for her father’s company so quickly. But two months after he’d secured the position, some complications with higher ups meant suddenly the company didn’t belong to Alfor anymore, instead it was owned by-
“Lotor!” Allura said cheerily, except it was fake cheery, and only Keith could tell.
Keith didn’t hate his job, but he sure as hell hated Lotor. Still, with the kids just starting school and all the adjustments they were going through, he couldn’t exactly go looking for a new work place. Besides, he was lucky to get to work with Allura. And lucky she was usually there to distract he and Lotor from how much they hated each other. It didn’t seem to be enough today though.
“Allura, it’s lovely to see you,” Lotor chimed, but the stack of papers in his hand was slowly gravitating towards Keith.
Sure enough, a second later they hit his desk, and Lotor was glaring down at him.
“This report,” he said. “It wasn’t the analysis I asked for-“
“That’s because I asked for it,” Allura piped up. “I wanted to make sure we were keeping a closer eye on customer feedback, so I asked Keith to design and collate a number of reviews.”
Lotor turned, smiling stiffly at her.
“That wasn’t exactly your job, if I recall.”
Allura returned the smile, much more sweetly.
“Old habits,” she said, laughing it off. “I guess I can’t help getting more involved. This is my father’s work, after all.”
“Yes,” Lotor said. “And now it’s my father’s work.”
“I’ll get the report to you soon,” Keith said quickly, sensing Allura’s mood was souring fast.
“Soon?” Lotor scoffed. “I needed it today.”
“You don’t need it for another two weeks,” Allura muttered.
Lotor looked between the two of them, trying to repress his glare.
“I can sense that maybe not enough work is getting done here. Perhaps I ought to find you separate cubicles-“
“Oh please,” Allura snapped. “This isn’t middle school. Now how about you give Keith and I some space to do that work you’re so intent on receiving. Or I could simply report to your father that you’re distracting us? I’m sure he could find you something else to do to keep you occupied.”
Lotor stiffened, huffing slightly as Allura stared him down.
“Fine,” he said. “But Keith, I want that report. You should be thankful you’re even still here.”
Keith glared after the man as he retreated from their cubicle, Allura rolling up beside him.
“What an ass,” she muttered.
“Tell me about it.”
“I’m literally going to murder him if he keeps treating us like this.”
“Too many cameras,” said Keith.
“I know an alley he cuts through on his way to his car-“
“Jesus, Allura,” Keith exclaimed, turning to her as the woman began to laugh.
“Better get onto that report,” she said, snickering.
Keith rolled his eyes, waving her off.
“And thanks for doing the other one for me. I just… I’m going to prove this company isn’t rightfully theirs. I know its true.”
“I know you will,” Keith said, smiling.
Maybe work wasn’t the best, but Allura was.
The end of the day rolled around quicker than Keith expected, and somewhere between avoiding Lotor, fetching Yumi from day-care, going to school to collect Judy then remembering Judy had dance class so leaving school then returning to school two hours later, Keith had developed a headache. His phone read seven o’clock when he finally managed a glance at it, which meant Yumi should have had her dinner hours ago, because by now she was always far too tired.
Keith cursed under his breath as he tripped over a moving box, hauling a tub of cutlery into the kitchen because he couldn’t for the life of him find the knife he’d used that morning. Their move had been recent, and sudden. They’d only been in this apartment for a week, and Keith had found it in a rush, because as much as he liked his old apartment, it didn’t have space for two children. He thought he’d have managed to get through the unpacking on the weekend, but for some reason having a toddler made that harder than it sounded. So here he was, seven o’clock on a Monday night, a screaming toddler on his hands and one very, very moody teenager slumped at the kitchen table.
Judy had her homework spread out between her elbows, glaring at it as if she hoped it might catch fire, all while trying to block Yumi’s screams out with her hands. Keith loved Yumi, he loved how cheery she was, until he was reminded that she really was just a toddler, and that came with problems.
“Okay, okay, dinners nearly ready Yumi, it’s okay.”
Keith’s hands felt shaky as he scooped plain pasta out the pot, wincing at the heat radiating off it before trying to blow on it to cool it down. Yumi was sat in the little high chair the Holt’s had kindly donated to him, and she was not having it. Little hands balled into fists, she brought them angrily down on the table, screaming her head off because she was tired and hungry and Keith was clearly failing at whatever it was he was meant to be doing. He couldn’t even find it in him to be worried about a noise complaint right now, not when he was so concerned about his own sanity. A crying toddler was not doing wonders for his headache.
“God, why didn’t you feed her earlier,” Judy snapped, the noise getting to her.
Keith shot her an apologetic look over the counter, a pot of pasta held helplessly in his hands. He’d tried to tie his hair back so Yumi would stop pulling it in her foul mood, but now the strands were coming loose and getting in the way of his eyes. He must look a mess, a stupid, embarrassing mess, nothing like a parent was meant to be.
“Sorry Judes, I’m just- I-“
But Judy was already rolling her eyes, dark hair sweeping across her face as she went back to whatever homework she was trying to do. It was probably something difficult, something she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on with Yumi screaming like this. Just about giving up, Keith doused the pasta in cold water, nibbling on a piece to test it before lumping a spoonful onto a plate for Yumi. The toddler quieted down for only a few seconds as Keith set the plate down, before her face was screwing up with anger and she let out a high pitched scream, but not before throwing the plate halfway across the room.
Keith sucked in a sharp breath, hands threading through his hair and wincing as the child screamed. His head was killing him, and Judy’s judgemental look was making him feel worse and worse by the second. Keith felt heat building behind his eyes- no. No, he wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t going to cry about something as stupid as not being able to get a toddler to eat pasta. That was ridiculous, he was the adult of this household, he… he was meant to be the dad, for god’s sake. So Keith lowered his hands, taking a deep breath and willing his brain to stop pounding away at his skull. It didn’t, but he managed to retrieve the plate, and top it up with fresh pasta.
“Yumi,” he said, trying to speak calmly.
She screamed back at him, face all red from crying. And it was horrible, it was horrible, he was making her cry because he hadn’t fed her on time, because now she was upset, and just wanted to sleep, and he was useless.
“Yumi, do you want some food?”
Keith held out a piece of pasta, trying to direct it towards her mouth. She slapped his hand away angrily, sobbing. Did he just take her to bed? No, she was too worked up, and he didn’t want her to go to sleep hungry.
“Yumi please,” he said. “C’mon, dada has food for you.”
The toddler wasn’t interested. She was too little to understand he was trying to help, far too worked up about it. A chair scraped against the floor behind Keith, and he was only aware of Judy coming up beside him when she huffed angrily, almost pushing him away.
“You’re doing it wrong,” she snapped.
She snatched the plate from Keith, planting herself in front of her wailing sister. Keith stumbled back, watching the older girl hover the pasta in front of Yumi. She moved it around, making some buzzing sound that caught Yumi’s attention. Tears still trickled down her cheeks, but she watched in mild interest as Judy moved the pasta to her own mouth. She squeaked as it disappeared, shocked that her sister had eaten her pasta that she hadn’t wanted til about two seconds ago. Yumi watched two more pieces disappear into her sister’s mouth before she was reaching out for the plate, huffing slightly as snot and tears trickled down her face.
Judy handed it over, plucking up piece after piece and feeding them to her sister. Keith stayed where he was, not daring to interrupt. Pressure was building in his chest and in his eyes, a horrid, hateful, feeling of disappointment in himself. Judy, who was just a kid herself, who was fifteen, was doing a better job than he was. And she shouldn’t have had too. The whole point of Keith was to make sure Judy didn’t end up raising her sister. Yet here she was, distracted from her own work, having to calm her sister down because he had no idea what he was doing, he was only making the situation worse.
Keith barely managed to hold back the tears as Judy finished feeding her sister, picking up the fallen pasta from the floor to distract himself. Yumi had stopped crying, and finally satisfied that she’d eaten enough, Judy swept her up off the highchair to carry her to bed. Keith moved over hastily, desperate to help out in some way.
“Here, let me-“
“I’ve got her,” Judy muttered, disappearing down the hall with the sleepy toddler clinging to her neck.
Keith lowered his arms until they hung limply by his sides, watching both children vanish into Yumi’s room. He let go a shaky breath, listening for the sounds of Judy tucking her sister into her cot. Knees trembling, head still aching, he slid down the counter, head cradled between his hands as he sat on the kitchen floor. Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry. Most people in Keith’s life assumed he never wanted kids, not after the disastrous childhood he’d had. But that wasn’t true. He wanted kids a lot, wanted them still, spent hours fantasising about a stupid future where he’d marry a man he loved and they’d go about adopting all the kids they found that were scared and alone like Keith had been. And it would be easy, because that’s what it had seemed like to his imagination. Because as long as he loved them, everything would slot into place, right?
Wrong. Keith pressed his palms to his eyes to stop the tears leaking out, short, sharp breaths leaving his lips as he tried desperately to calm himself down. He loved Yumi, and he loved Judy, but it wasn’t doing them any good. It wasn’t enough. He knew the second he found out about them that he wanted to give them the world, wanted them to have the childhood he hadn’t. He’d be ace at it, surely; he’d spent so much time thinking about what the perfect family would be like, how happy he’d be to finally be a father, and now… Keith shook slightly, desperately trying not to cry from his place on the floor. He wasn’t making them happy, he couldn’t even give them the basic support they deserved.
His head shot up, and Keith stood in a flurry, realising too late his path lead him straight to hitting his head on the counter top.
“Ow,” he hissed, clutching his head as he stood shakily on his feet. “Ow ow ow.”
Judy was staring at him across the counter, her hair tied back in a ponytail now. Keith resisted the urge to grimace, dusting himself off and ignoring the red she may or may not have seen in his eyes.
“Uh, thanks Judes,” he mumbled. “Thanks for taking her to bed.”
Judy didn’t grant him a response, just let her eyes trail over his dishevelled form, the bits of pasta thrown about their kitchen, and the stained sweatpants Keith was wearing. What a good example, he thought glumly.
“Is there any of that pasta left?” Judy asked.
She kept her expression impartial, indifferent. At least she hadn’t snapped.
“Uh, yeah, yeah of course.”
Keith hastily pulled two more bowls, proper bowls, from the half packed cupboard, setting them on the countertop. Judy immediately went for the scoop, lumping a bit of plain pasta into her bowl.
“Hey, you want some sauce?” He said hurriedly, tearing the fridge open to dig out the jar of tomato sauce.
Judy stared at him, dissatisfaction and exhaustion evident in her look.
“You’re supposed to heat it up first,” she muttered, before turning away.
Keith looked between her and the sauce, heart rate climbing rapidly again. He wasn’t going to make her eat plain pasta for dinner, it was bad enough that was all he’d fed Yumi tonight-
“I can heat some up quick, it’ll just take a second-“
“Seriously, let me-“
“I said it’s fine,” Judy snapped.
She set her bowl down hard, glaring at Keith as she took a seat. Words formed on his lips, apologies, but Judy was shoving earphones in and staring down at her homework again. Keith let it go with a sigh, frazzled and upset, trying not to think too hard about what a failure tonight had been lest he have an actual breakdown. Not feeling hungry himself, he set to work tidying the kitchen, unpacking a little more of their stuff quietly. Eventually Judy got up from the table, washed her own plate despite Keith’s protest, and disappeared into her room without a word. There was a minute of silence, during which Keith believed their awful night had finally drawn to a close. Then an insistent crying started up from Yumi’s room.
“I’ve got it,” Keith said, rushing past Judy’s door before she had the chance to get up.
Because it was a school night, and she needed sleep; she’d done enough of the parenting for one day. Judy watched him with suspicion as she shut her door, but Keith couldn’t find it in him to care at that moment.
“Hey,” he said softly, stepping into the toddler’s room. “Hey darling what’s wrong?”
Yumi was reaching for him, probably spooked by the dark or a nightmare or whatever else it was that caused her to cry at night. Keith settled down in the chair beside her cot, tucking the toddler into his arms and preparing himself for a long night. She settled down with him holding her, but he knew the second he placed her back in the cot she’d start up again. So Keith grabbed a book from the floor, cradled the child in his arms, and began the first story of many.