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Moving (is not the same as moving on)

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Moving is always an experience. To upend your whole life, pack it up and take it elsewhere… you turn over some stones, is all.

They find the pictures at the very bottom of one of the boxes, underneath more recent memories. There it is, crisp as the day it was taken if a little wrinkled: Amanda, impossibly tiny with barely a wisp of hair, sleeping peacefully on her father’s shoulder. I love you Amanda, is scrawled across the bottom in Dorian’s artsy handwriting.

Even after all these years Maxwell has to swallow down the urge to cry, for their little girl’s sake if nothing else. Hah. Not so little anymore. Eighteen and a senior, almost off to college. How time flies.

“Dad, is that…”

“Yeah, Manda Panda.”

Neither of them says a word. They stare at the photo for a long moment.

It’s not even a very good one, Dorian wasn’t the focus after all, Amanda was. He’s just window dressing, a background of cream fabric and bronze skin with a hint of well-groomed facial hair. God, sometimes Max misses him so much it hurts.

“Funny story actually.” The day she was born. It seems so impossibly long ago but the story comes to Max as if by itself. That stupid fender bender that barely even counted as a car accident, emotions running so high and Dorian the rock in that storm.

No, he didn’t freak out until later. They always had a good routine going for that. Like a shift change for freak outs. No mass panic in this household, no siree.

Huh. Yeah, funny that.

Amanda has so few actual memories of her father… so Maxwell spins her the story, gives her that little bit of him like he does when he can.

He doesn’t think about the rest until they’ve left their old house behind.

Twenty years he has lived here. They bought it together, with their own money and then it was just his, his and Amanda’s. Soon, it would have been just his. Yeah, maybe it’s time to move. Maybe it’s time to move on.

They peel out of the driveway and trundle across town, to their new pad. A little smaller but more manageable for one person when his baby girl moves out. It’s better that way, really. He’s pretty sure it would be too much for him to live in a place that has so many memories, all on his own.

More memories than Amanda will ever know. Even dads have their secrets.

No, he doesn’t think about the rest until she’s tuckered out and tucked in, finally down for the count after an exciting day. That’s when Max lies awake, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling with whiskey on his tongue. Exhaustion is dragging him down but he can’t seem to find rest.

He hasn’t gotten drunk in over eighteen years. Still isn’t, he’s barely worked up a buzz, but it wakes memories.

 

-----

 

Amanda is crying like only a baby can. She’s obviously exhausted, stuttering into hiccups ever so often but she hasn’t stopped since they left. Max is rocking her helplessly, pacing over the worn out carpet of the hotel room.

He has no idea what to do.

“Hush, honey, it’s going to be okay.”

His daughter presses her face into his neck and wails. Yeah, he’s not sure he believes himself either. But he couldn’t- he can’t-

On the nightstand his phone starts to vibrate again. He doesn’t pick up. “It’s going to be okay.”

Dorian’s and his relationship isn’t perfect. No relationship is. Maxwell is keenly aware that his husband… has a few problems. It’s not immediately apparent. Dorian is an amiable guy, likes to go out, likes to have a drink. Nothing wrong with that. Thing is, it’s never just that one drink.

He manages it well but the truth of the matter would be that when they met, college or not, Dorian Pavus was a highly functioning alcoholic. Few people catch it, hells, Max didn’t cotton on until they were well into the dating-territory of things and he was starting to realize the true depth of his boyfriend’s problems concerning his self-image.

Dorian never got rowdy, never got violent. He’s perfectly steady until his fourth bottle of wine and can give a toast worthy of a gala past the fifth. Neither of these things is exactly healthy.

He has his reasons, Max knows that. And he has been working on it, he has been better, so much better about it since well before they got married but something like that doesn’t just go away.

That’s why Maxwell, faced with the reality of what the man he loves is going through, had called it quits on his own wild days in the end. He had traded in wine for cranberry juice and beer for sparkling water and never looked back.

If Dorian fell off the wagon every now and again when his parents called it wasn’t such a big deal. He always crawled back on. They made it work. Or so Maxwell had thought until he woke tonight to an empty bed, Amanda crying in her crib and his partner nowhere to be found.

He can imagine how it went. They’ve both been dreading Halward Pavus reaction to the information that his son, his gay son, has managed to produce a child after all. Maxwell has lived through the grasping, passive-aggressive attempts at controlling Dorian’s life that crop up like clockwork. He has held his husband’s hand through therapy sessions that left him with a burning desire to hop on a plane and set his partner’s childhood home on fire.

But he didn’t see this coming. He should have.

He should have and he feels so stupid, later, after he is done panicking while he tries in vain to comfort their baby daughter, when he finds the scrawled note stuck to the fridge the way he was used to, once. Dorian always leaves a note, at least, ever since Max freaked out about him disappearing that one time and called the actual cops because he thought his fiancée might have been, you know, murdered on the way home. Turns out he was drinking.

And he is now.

 

Be back later, don’t wait up.

Love, Dorian

 

Max knows just what that means. It’s like being hit with a wash of iced water, right there in the kitchen with a whimpering toddler in his arms. The first thing that comes to his mind is this: I can’t do this.

He tries to quiet that voice, to busy himself putting Amanda back to bed but his baby won’t calm down. Not even the sunglasses help.

His Manda Panda is a smart cookie. She knows when her daddy is upset.

When the key’s jingle in the front door lock over an hour later and well into the arse end of the night they’re both nervous wrecks. Amanda has dozed off a few times but never for long. Max has tried literally every trick he has learned in six months of fatherhood and everything the internet offered in sage wisdom.

The last bits of energy fuelled by primal hindbrain-instincts has run out and even coffee might as well be water by now. Mainlining a Monster might help but- no. Just no. He’s…

Dorian wanders into the kitchen, a jaunt in his step and humming a tune. That would be fine but Max knows the signs. He can tell just how much wine he has had without getting a whiff of his breath.

Not that you would know it by his smile. As charming as ever, if not more so. He blinks, adjusting to the dim light. “Max? What are you doing up?”

It’s then and there that the realization that has been creeping up on Maxwell solidifies into a leaden weight. Against his shoulder, Amanda sniffles.

“Oh my. Is our princess having trouble?” He’s so sweet. Always has been, drunk or not. Rakish and sweet and Max had fallen for him head over heels, he loves him more than almost anything.

And that’s not enough. It’s just not enough. Not in the face of the sheer outrage bubbling up in his heart. “How dare you.”

Surprise flashes over Dorian’s face, tips into confusion and that hint of fear that makes it so impossible to stay mad at him for long because if there is anything in the world he’s afraid of it’s being rejected. The people he loved have hurt him so badly already.

His slightly unfocused gaze sharpens. “Amatus?”

That, too, is not enough this time. He catches himself at the last moment and compresses his voice to a hiss, “Don’t even talk to me.”

He pushes past his husband, who makes no move to stop him. Maybe he’s too stunned. Maxwell can’t remember a time he has talked to Dorian like that. He never wanted to. He never had reason to. In his arms, Amanda is whimpering again. She’s winding up for a real cry this time, he can already tell.

Poor sweetheart. No one deserves this less than her. “Ssssh. Daddy is here. It will be alright.”

It will be, because it has to be. He has to make it right for her, that’s his job now. She only has them, no one else, and- god. Dorian has never been a violent drunk. Just flirty, affectionate, a bit careless.

Things happen, when you aren’t all there. Max would fucking know. He tried out his limits pretty thoroughly in college. Things happen. Things can’t happen with a baby.

And his husband came home three sheets to the wind.

Yes, Maxwell has had a little time to contemplate that his own irresponsible days are definitely and irrevocably behind him. He can’t stomach even the chance that something could happen to their daughter. Not because the world is a terrible place sometimes and definitely not because one of them got careless.

He can’t- He- he can’t do this.

He’s well into throwing anything he can think of he might need for the night into his never-used gym bag by the time Dorian has gotten his bearings together enough to come after them. “Amatus, please, just tell me what-“ Max makes the mistake of reacting to that plaintive note and looks up just in time to see his husband’s face go from contrite to stricken, “Maxwell?”

His resolve wobbles but the reason he is doing this is drooling on his collar, chewing it for comfort, and that’s a really hard thing to forget long enough to fall back into their old routine. “I can’t do this.”

Saying it makes it real. It hangs in the air between them, impossible to erase.

Dorian looks as if he might as well have gutted him. No matter how much it hurts him, Max can’t stop for that. He blinks back tears unsuccessfully and takes a shuddering breath. “I love you, Dorian, I do. But we’ll be home when you’re sober.”

 

-----

 

Yeah, their marriage wasn’t always easy. Dorian cleaned up that last bit, even if it took a little while, and he made sure to never be drunk again anywhere near their daughter. Never let it be said that he didn’t move heaven and earth if Max put his foot down.

But it was hard, sometimes, tough. They had their share of couples' counselling for a while there.

Amanda doesn’t know that. She remembers her father as the cool one, the suave gentleman that could charm his way through life with a wink and a smile. The shadows of Dorian’s childhood and adult life, all those painful, bittersweet memories that crop up between those lighter ones aren’t something they ever allowed to touch her.

Sometimes Max thinks she might be old enough to hear about those too, that maybe she should. He doesn’t want to take that from her though, the image she has of her father. She remembers him as he was on his best days, as it should be.

Their little princess should never doubt that she was the best thing they made and raised together, right up until Dorian didn’t come home from that fateful AA meeting, run over by a drunk driver, of all things.

She is. She is the best of them. She has Max' stubbornness and goofy humor, his tendency to tough it out no matter what and she has Dorian’s smile. His laugh, too. She appreciates the world in ways Max didn’t until she showed him her first photos, all those wonders big and small that she immortalized on film.

He loves her for her own sake and all the little glimpses of somebody he lost too long ago.

No, it was better to move, staying behind would have been a kick in the teeth. Maybe it’s time to do other things, too. Max knows just what Dorian would have to say to the fact that he hasn’t even bothered dating since he died.

Fasta vass, Amatus, are you serious? Get out there! Get a LIFE!

Maxwell has to laugh into his pillow just imagining it. It’s a bit watery.

Maybe he will. New neighbourhood and all. Maybe he should get out more.

It can’t hurt, right?

That’s the spirit. Now stop moping, you’ll get wrinkles, Max. Wrinkles.

‘Bit late for that, love. Our daughter took care of that and then some.’

Oh well. I suppose I love you anyhow.

“I love you too.” He feels a little silly whispering it at the empty room in their new house that Dorian never set foot in.

It’s been eleven years. His baby girl is all grown up, ready to take on the world.

Maybe it’s time to move on.