Milo didn't know at which point he fell in love with Camus. He realized what he felt in the end of high school, but he knew those feelings bloomed in his heart much earlier than that. They knew each other since kindergarten and sometimes Milo asked himself if at some point he felt something other than love towards Camus. Not that it mattered - just like the acceptance of his feelings came, so came the rejection; in hindsight, Milo was stupid to listen in silence while Camus assured him that what he felt towards him wasn't love, but a very deep friendship. However, back then he was a foolish, naive boy that days before didn't even know he liked men. It was clear that Milo would believe anything instead of the blow of Camus' rejection and for some time he convinced himself that what he felt towards his best friend was limited to something platonic
It didn't last long.
Once they finished high school, Milo and Camus went to different colleges, which caused them to lose contact. For Milo, it was a great opportunity to meet new people and explore his sexuality. He dated many guys and some girls - just in case - and tried to awaken in his heart a devotion as strong as the one he felt for Camus. Sadly, not only he didn't managed to do it, but he also convinced himself that his feelings for Camus were the closest he would ever be to real love.
Maybe, if he had had more time, Milo would have had the opportunity to heal his wounds. Instead, the world decided to play a dirty trick on him and one day he bumped into Camus in a coffee shop in his neighborhood. After an awkward start, the two remembered past times and decided, without words, to make new memories together. They connected once again and surprised themselves with how little their dynamic had changed. Besides, they lived close enough that they could see each other almost every weekend.
From then on, Milo accepted his fate of a life of unrequited love. Due to his lack of willpower, he decided that the only thing he needed to be happy was being close to Camus and he fervently clung to his friendship. Deep down, he knew it wasn't the best for his mental health, but Milo felt it was too late for him. He was tremendously lonely for five years and meeting with Camus once again was like reaching an oasis after days in the desert. Milo would be satisfied with his friendship for as long as he conceded to it.
For a long time, Milo's plan worked just fine. Not only did he rekindled his friendship with Camus, but it also grew stronger. Their teenager craze was long gone and this allowed them to appreciate each other in a deeper way. Besides, not having to spend the afternoons doing homework meant more time to enjoy their free time together.
And so like that, over the years, they became more and more inseparable. Milo was brimming with happiness and satisfaction, and prayed every day that it could stay like that forever
But all things change sooner or later.
For Milo, it was one afternoon as they dined in a small restaurant midway his apartment and Camus' house.
—Today I applied for an adoption—Camus said as he folded his napkin and put his plate to the side.
Milo blinked twice, frowned and shook his head slightly.
—Excuse me? —he asked, thinking he had misheard.
—This morning, instead of going to work I went to an orphanage to make a formal adoption petition —he continued. Milo noticed that Camus' hands trembled slightly — I've been in contact with the adoption agency for three years and I can finally advance to the next phase.
Milo thought about saying something like "you've never mentioned anything about wanting to adopt", but he knew it would be a lie. Camus always wanted to have children; he was a good teacher and wanted to expand his care beyond the classroom. Although he had mentioned his interest on adopting years ago, Milo thought it was only a distant dream. Now, at thirty two, Camus was at an appropriate age to do it, and Milo felt stupid to have thought that they would remain twenty two for the rest of their lives.
—Congratulations, Camus —he opted to say—You are doing something wonderful.
Camus smiled half-heartedly and shook his head, making a lock of hair slide towards his face.
—You can tell me that once the procedure is completed. It's said that it can take more than five years. There are still many things that could happen.
Milo had heard enough complaints about the adoption process in Greece to know that it could take up to a decade, if it was completed at all. It was easy to guess that the situation was harder for a single man.
On the other hand, Camus wasn't your normal single man. He was member of a renowned family, capable of opening many doors that would be otherwise closed. Milo didn't know much about adoption, but he knew the world spun easier for those with money.
I'm sure it will all be fine —he said, earnestly—sooner or later you'll become a wonderful father.
Camus nodded timidly and smiled at his friend's words.
—I'm terribly nervous.
Milo reached his hand over the table and put it over Camus', squeezing it lightly and caressing it with his thumb. Usually, the last thing he wanted was to bother Camus with his affection, and he used to avoid physical contact. However, Milo was convinced that he needed it at that moment.
—Don't worry. You won't be alone. You can count on me for whatever you need, from changing diapers to the birds and the bees talk.
—Be my guest for the diapers, but regarding the talk… we'll see.
The conversation ended there, and though Milo had it in his mind for months, Camus didn't talk about it again. Milo didn't want to intrude and trusted his friend would inform him if the situation changed.
His trust was well placed and a year and a half later Camus showed up at his door one Friday night. He was dishevelled, pale and extremely agitated. He nervously played with his hands and looked from one side to the other as if someone would jump at him at any moment. Strangely, he also smiled from ear to ear and almost tackled Milo into a hug as he opened the door.
—What happened, Camus? —he asked, worried — Are you alright?
—It's settled! I've signed it! Tomorrow I can take the boys home!
It had been so long since the last time they talked about the adoption that Milo didn't make the connection between that memory and his friend's words.
—What boys? What are you talking about?
—The adoption! — he exclaimed — I'll be a father!
Even though Milo still didn't understand very well what happened, he took Camus' happiness as his own and hugged him back tightly. He led them slowly to his living room - he was afraid they would fall together - and, after offering him a cup of linden tea, he patiently listened to what the other had to say.
—I didn't tell you before because I was afraid things wouldn't go according to plan —Camus explained — I have followed this case for five months. It's two boys. One is two years old and the other is only one month old. The mother is a teenager that decided to put them up for adoption when she got pregnant for the second time. Usually, they would give siblings only to couples, put the mother backed me up enormously. It was she who decided I was the most suitable person to adopt her children.
—I already know, without meeting the other options that the girl is right — Milo stopped himself from saying how hard it would be to take care of two kids at the same time. He was sure Camus had already thought about it a thousand times over and still chose to accept the responsibility.
—I have never been so happy and worried at the same time. I think I'll go mad before even bringing them home.
—You worry too much — Milo assured — I'm sure you'll find whatever strength you need once you have them on your arms.
Camus thought about those words for a long time. Milo watched with attention the anguished expression on his face and the way he blinked unusually fast.
—Yes. You are right. But even so… —he cleared his throat and his gaze fell towards his lap — I know this is very unexpected and that we hadn't talk about it before, but if you could…
—Of course I'll help you! I don't know anything about babies, but nowadays there is so much information that I know it won't take me long to learn. It's gonna be much easier to take care of them with two of us.
Camus stared at him for a long while. His eyes were wide open, mouth parted and his face blushed into a bright red. Milo knew at that moment that he had said too much and begun to bite his lips from his imprudence. Would this be a good moment to go to the nearest park and dig his own grave?
—Would you do that for me, Milo? —Camus asked.
Milo didn't know what Camus wanted to hear. Childcare was a very delicate subject and he didn't want to impose or imply that he couldn't take care of the children on his own. And yet, he wanted with all his heart to help Camus and he thought that if there was a moment to offer his help, it was then.
—Of course I would — he reassured — I have enough free time in the afternoons and weekends. I could also move in with you for a while, while you get used to the new situation. Only if you want, of course. I won't get more involved than what you consider necessary.
Camus lowered his gaze and Milo noticed that his breathing became even more erratic. A long, uncomfortable silence fell over them and Milo thought about stepping back, but resisted, knowing it was best to leave the decision on Camus' hands.
—I was only thinking about you coming with me to the orphanage. But it wouldn't be bad to have a pair of additional hands. I… —Camus cleared his throat — My mother offered her help, but you know how controlling she can be…
—You don't have to decide now. Tomorrow I'll go with you to the orphanage and if at any point you think you need my help, I'll be there in the blink of an eye.
— No, no — Camus covered his red face with both hands — there is no need to think about it — he put his hands on his lap and looked at Milo with so much intensity that it was hard for the latter to hold his gaze — I would be thankful for your help, Milo. At least during the first month. You can stay at the house, you know there are rooms to spare.
Milo nearly jumped from his seat and screamed with joy. Camus was about to embark on a wonderful journey and he was given the opportunity to tag along. He felt as if that was the happiest moment of his life, and he would make sure to meet all of his friend's expectations. For him and the kids he would become the best babysitter in the world.
Once the decision was taken, the men talked about the details for so many hours, Camus ended up staying the night in Milo's apartment. Since he didn't have an extra room, he offered his own bed while he stayed in the old sofa-bed in the living room.
Not that it would have made a difference, for neither of them could fall sleep
The following day, both men went to the adoption centre to pick up the little ones. The eldest was named Isaac, and although Camus already had contact with him, his eyes shone with the promise of a long session of tears. However, he remained firm knowing that he was not the only one in that situation. His younger brother, Hyoga, was just a tiny bundle in Camus's arms, and Isaac was alert in case there was any need to help him.
Hyoga didn't start crying until Camus secured him into the van's child seat. The fuss quickly unsettled Isaac and in a matter of seconds a sharp chorus of desperate wails began. Puzzled, Camus did not know how to react and Milo had to take the wheel while the other constantly looked towards the back seat and tried to comfort them from a distance.
That trip was the most tortuous Milo or Camus had ever experienced, and the problems only escalated until they reached their destination. Camus took Isaac into a tour of the house and Milo deposited Hyoga in his new baby carrier. Once Camus returned, he taught Milo how to prepare Hyoga's formula, and after feeding him, the adults and Isaac sat at the dining table. The boy had little appetite, but Milo managed him to eat his vegetables in exchange for a chocolate-cream cookie. Hyoga woke up three times and in each of them Camus had to lull him around the dining room.
The first night was especially difficult. Isaac cried most of the time, waking Hyoga up and escalating the situation. At three in the morning Milo couldn't take it anymore, and took Isaac from the nursery and lead him into the living room, where they played with a puzzle of little fishes. The pieces of wood were large enough to be handled by Isaac's inexperienced hands and, above all, they made it easier for Milo to retrieve them every time the boy tried to put them into his mouth. Finally, after half an hour of putting the puzzle together and taking it apart once more, Isaac began to doze off and Milo was able to return him to his bedroom, where Camus was dozing in a nearby chair with Hyoga in his arms.
Together, they settled the children into their beds and left the room knowing that it wouldn't be long before one of them woke up again. Wishing to take at least an hour of sleep, they went to the nearest room fell onto the bed.
In the end, Milo lived with Camus for three months. That time was more than enough for Isaac to get used to his new routine and his new dad. From being fearful and defensive, he became creative and kind. Even though he didn't stop being an introvert, Milo suspected that this was more due to his personality than to his past experiences. He loved making soap bubbles, and ever since he discovered Camus' aquarium, it was difficult to separate him from its glass. As if that wasn't enough, his physical and mental developed at a good pace. He grew rapidly, each day his little steps became more and more skilful, and soon he would be ready to go to the bathroom on his own.
With Hyoga the situation was easier, but at the same time more complicated. It was easy because it wasn't necessary to gain his trust before his love. From the beginning, Hyoga got attached to Camus and they did not have to deal with his insecurities or fears. On the other hand, what they did have to deal with was diapers, feeding him every three hours, bathing, colics and crying just for the sake of it.
Taking care of the siblings was a titanic task and Milo was extremely happy to have been able to help Camus at such a difficult stage for his new family. Not only had he grown fond of the boys, but he had also discovered a new side of Camus; a sweet and charming one which somehow made him fall even more in love with him. Sadly, as the weeks passed, Milo began to run out of reasons to spend the whole night with them; especially once his month of vacation ended and he had to return to work. He did not believe that the few hours he spent with the children were enough to give Camus a break and sometimes he felt that he was doing more harm than good. He didn't want to be a hindrance and once Camus assured him that he would be fine on his own, Milo returned to his apartment. The day he took his luggage was the most emotional one of his life.
Although, to tell the truth, shedding tears after receiving Isaac's warm hug was somewhat ridiculous considering that the next day he took the whole family to the zoo. Milo didn't spend the nights with them, but he did spend almost every afternoon and all weekend at their side. Even if Camus worked from home, one person was not enough to take care of a baby and a toddler who just started to crash against all possible surfaces. Thus, his relationship with Camus deepened. It was too late for Milo to worry about that though. The only thing that mattered was the well-being of his best friend and his children, and he was willing to support them in every possible way for the rest of his life.
Or, at least, that was the plan before the quarantine made him open his eyes to the mess he had gotten himself into.
It was the pandemic that convinced him to stay away from Camus for the rest of his life.