He sat on the floor of the lounge, rhythmically pointing and relaxing his toes against the force of the resistance band. As much as he hated being injured, hated having to take even a single day off of dancing, he was determined to make his way through rehab from his surgery patiently; he wouldn’t still be a dancer at forty if he didn’t.
He paused for a moment to listen for any sounds upstairs, but was rewarded with a calm silence. He often didn’t get to enjoy the daytime with Oliver like Jim did, locked away instead in rehearsal studios from seven in the morning until three in the afternoon. They’d had the best morning together, baking biscuits in preparation for when Jim got home, dancing around the lounge to the music on the television and drawing pictures together.
Freddie glanced down with a smile at the white shirt he was wearing, covered in pen from where his little man had taken to drawing on him. They definitely hadn’t stayed within the lines.
Little Oliver had been tired out after his lunch, and Freddie was proud of how easily he’d managed to put him down for a nap, all tucked up in his blue and white blanket that he had bought him on their first day together. The nap gave him the time to work through some of his exercises, to keep the muscles of the feet prepared even as he had to rest his upper leg.
The phone rang and Freddie grabbed at his crutch quickly; although he wasn’t dependent on it, he didn’t want to push how long he went without it. He moved as quickly as he could, not wanting the shrill noise to wake the sleeping child, assuming it was Jim calling to check on them in his lunch break. He’d always been the one to do the morning routine, to sort out childcare while he was away from school, and he sometimes couldn’t quite believe that Freddie - mostly - remembered everything he had to do.
He sat on the floor by the receiver and picked up quickly. “Hello, Freddie and Jim Hutton?”
Freddie Hutton. He glanced at his wedding ring and smiled; still not used to it.
“Freddie?” The voice on the other end was recognisable, though not familiar. It sounded stressed, even a little panicked, and he tensed immediately. “Freddie, is that you?”
“It’s me.” He replied quickly. “Is everything okay?”
He heard an audible sigh of relief and relaxed a little. “It’s Charlotte from the adoption agency. I’m so sorry to launch this on you now, especially as you haven’t had Oliver long, but are you still opted in for emergency foster care?”
That had been a long battle, something that Jim had agreed to with a little reluctance; he didn’t trust Freddie not to overwork the both of them. “We are.” He said softly. “Is there somebody you need me to take? I can make up the spare room.”
“Are you working at the moment?” She asked hopefully.
“Not at the moment. I’m off completely for two and a half weeks for injury.” He explained, grabbing the paper and pen off the counter in case he needed to write anything down.
“How’s your mobility?” Charlotte questioned. “How are you doing with Oliver? Is Jim home too?”
“I’m on crutches whenever possible, but I’m not dependent on them. I tore my hamstring, so it’s not too major. Jim’s not home, but Oliver and I are doing just fine. I’ve just put him down for a nap.” He grabbed his warm up boots from his bag by the door and put them on over his cold feet, phone pressed between his head and his shoulder.
“I’ve got a little girl here who desperately needs somewhere for this evening and I really don’t want to put her into care if I don’t have to. She’s just lost mum and dad in an accident, and she won’t speak to anyone. You know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to, but is there any way that you could take her in?” She asked.
What kind of monster could say no to that?
“Of course I can.” Freddie promised. “Bring her straight over and I’ll make up the spare room. How old is she?”
“We don’t know. We don’t know her name, either. We’re guessing she’s just about to or just has turned three.” She sounded so much more relaxed. “I’ll bring her over to you at about four. Thank you so much, Fred.”
Oliver was happily playing up in his bedroom, the spare room had been set out with soft blankets and the window opened to air it out on such a warm day. Freddie picked up the phone quickly and dialed the Opera House, tapping his fingers impatiently against the counter. He was put through to Jim on an emergency call and almost laughed when he heard the flustered voice of his lover on the other end.
“Freddie, sweetheart, can I call you back when we’re done for the day? I know we need milk and dinner, I’ll pick it up on the way home. I’m really in the middle of something right now.” Freddie smiled at how well Jim knew him, knew his usual requests, but today was out of the ordinary.
“It’s important, darling, I’m sorry. I might not be able to take the call later.” He apologised. “We’ve been pulled up on emergency foster care. A little girl is staying with us this evening, and she’s very upset because she’s lost her parents and she doesn’t really know what’s going on.”
“Fuck.” Jim replied quickly. “Okay, love. I’ll bring things for four.” He promised. “I’ll get out as quickly as I can so that I can be with you. Are you okay?”
“I’m okay.” Freddie promised. “Not as much pain as this morning. I’ll be okay with them. Please bring some extra things, especially some treats. I don’t want her thinking this is some kind of puritanical no fun house.”
Jim laughed then, and Freddie relaxed, knowing he wasn’t angry about it. “Will do. I love you.”
“Love you too.” Freddie smiled then as he put down the phone and went to make another tea.
The little girl was possibly the sweetest thing that Freddie had ever seen. She couldn’t have been older than four, mostly hidden behind a soft, knitted blanket that she clutched to. He could see immediately that she needed a good bath, maybe with the princess rubber duck that Jim had bought as a joke and a lot of bubbles to help make her smile. She was still a little teary-eyed, looking around at everything and seeming so frightened and overwhelmed. She stood behind Charlotte in the hallway, too frightened to move, and Freddie couldn’t help but smile. If there was something he knew how to deal with, it was this.
“Hello!” He said quietly, keeping his voice light and friendly as he sat on the floor, a little way away from her. “I’m Freddie, what’s your name?”
One blue eye regarded him carefully but she shook her head.
“That’s okay.” He smiled. “Is it all big and scary at the moment? Lots of people that you don’t know?” He asked gently.
She nodded, thumb in her mouth, but Freddie could see the way she responded a little, moved the blanket away from her face just a little. He’d take it as a victory.
“You know what I always do when things are scary?” He lifted both his hands and cupped them around his face, blocking out his peripheral vision. “I do this with my hands so I can only see what’s right in front of me. If you do it now, you can block out everyone other than me. Can you try that for me?”
She lifted her hands nervously, blocking out everything around her except Freddie. He smiled at her. “Good job! Now, I’m going to get everyone to be really quiet so we don’t have to think about them at all.” She seemed to trust him every time he fulfilled a promise. “Can we all be nice and quiet for me?” He asked the adults stood above them; they obliged quickly.
“Can you hear that?” He brought his hands back up to his face, copying what she was doing. “It’s all nice and quiet now. It’s just me and you, we’re in a little bubble.”
There was almost a nervous smile on her face.
“Now, do you think that you can tell me your name? You only have to talk to me, nobody else.” He promised.
She was quiet for a few seconds, but Freddie imagined it was the first bit of quiet she’d had all day. He was creating a safe environment for her, and she was responding to it positively. It was a start. “Talulah.” She whispered.
“Talulah. That’s a very pretty name.” He smiled. “Do you know how old you are, Talulah?”
“Three.” She murmured and Freddie beamed at her.
“Well done.” He said softly. “Thank you for telling me, Talulah.” He slowly lowered his hands and watched her do the same. “Now, Talulah, I’m going to be looking after you for a little bit. I’m going to keep you nice and safe, okay?”
“You are?” She asked, moving out from behind Charlotte’s leg a little. They’d established a line of trust.
“I am.” He repeated. He held out his little finger, crossing his legs as he smiled. “I pinky promise.”
She locked their fingers and then, unexpectedly, flew into his lap, little arms wrapping tight around him. He looked shocked for a second and then wrapped his arms close around her, glancing up at Charlotte with a smile. He pressed a gentle kiss to the top of her head. “Tell me, sweetheart, do you like cats?”
When Jim came home that evening, Freddie was asleep on the sofa, Oliver tucked up against his side, Peaches laying across one shoulder and the sweetest, smallest little blonde-haired girl he’d ever seen against his chest.