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“I hope you find what you’re looking for, Jamie.”

Jamie looks up from the couch to where Molly is watching him from the foyer of his apartment. She’s got a small overnight bag in her hand, everything she’d left at his place during their eight-month relationship able to fit in it easily. Jamie thinks that must say something, that he’d been so reluctant to integrate her into his life that she barely had any presence in his apartment. That his apartment is just gym clothes and lesson plans and textbooks, scattered bits of decorations he’d been working on for his classroom for school spirit week.

“You too.” He tells her, and she gives him a small, sad smile before turning around and walking out of his life.

Once the door closes quietly behind her, he collapses against the back of the couch and stares up at the ceiling. He’s not sure how long he sits there, but it’s long enough that he must doze off. The sound of a key in the lock pulls him from his daze. There’s only three people who have a key to his place – well, two now, he thinks and spares a glance at the key Molly had left on his entry table – and he can hear the telltale sounds of nails scratching on the hardwood floor on the other side of the door. A moment later, the door swings open and Cash and Gerry come barreling through the front door. Marshall follows at a more sedate pace, and Jamie gets just a moment to watch Tyler walk through before Cash makes a flying leap for him. He licks a long stripe along Jamie’s cheek, Gerry nudging his way between Jamie’s legs so he can beg for pets.

“Hey, guys.” He greets with a rough voice. He gets his fingers behind Gerry’s ear to give him scritches, Gerry’s tail thumping against the floor at a frenetic pace. He can hear Tyler moving around in the kitchen, pouring water into the bowls that Jamie leaves out for the dogs, opening the fridge, presumably grabbing one of the disgusting light beers that Tyler loves so much that Jamie makes sure he has a six pack of at all times. Marshall brushes by him, rubbing his head on Jamie’s knee, before moving slowly to his big, fluffy bed in the corner. It tugs at Jamie’s heart every time, to see Marshall move a little slower, grow a little grayer around the muzzle. He’d been a puppy when Jamie had met Tyler, their senior year of college when they’d moved into adjoining apartments. Years later, they still lived in the same apartment complex, all of them a little older and slower.

“Move, move, move.” Tyler orders, winding around Cash and Gerry so he can collapse on the couch next to Jamie. He presses one of Jamie’s pretentious IPAs into his hand and cracks open his own beer. They sit there in silence, Cash collapsing in a heap next to Jamie while Gerry nuzzles Tyler on the other end of the couch. It’s comforting, familiar, and Jamie feels the last of the disappointment drift away from him.

“Molly left.” Tyler hums next to him.

“That sucks.”

“Yeah.” Jamie takes a long drink from his beer. “I don’t feel sad. Is that weird?”

“Nah, man.” Tyler nudges him with his knee. “You guys had been having problems for a while.”

“Yeah, but like…eight months. Shouldn’t I feel something?”

“Guess it just means that she wasn’t the one, dude.”

“I guess.” Jamie shrugs. “I just, I’m tired. I want…”

“I know. You’ll meet someone. You’re fucking great. You’re a nice dude, you’re a great teacher – the steady job with summers off is also a plus – you’re pretty mentally stable. You’re a catch.”

“I’m thirty-one. I thought I’d be…I don’t know, married with a family and shit by now.”

“Look,” Tyler sits up, slaps Jamie’s thigh until he looks back at him. “I know Jordie and Jenny have done all that and it’s fucking you up, but you can’t…that doesn’t happen on any other person’s timeline. And you shouldn’t force it with someone who’s not the right person just because you think you should be at that point by now. You act like you’re old and decrepit, which would make me old and decrepit, and that’s unacceptable.”

“You’re a paragon of youth and virility.” Jamie assures him, rolling his eyes as Tyler preens. He really did pick the biggest dumbass for a best friend.

“Damn right I am. Now that I’ve given you your pep talk, what are you making for dinner?”

“I just got dumped an hour ago. Why aren’t you taking care of me?”

“Because you’re the caretaker in this relationship. It’ll do you good to feed me.”

“Hmm.” Jamie rolls his eyes again, but soon enough he gets up and moves into the kitchen to find something for them to eat.

After dinner, Tyler pulls a movie up on Netflix. He doesn’t seem in a rush to leave, and Jamie’s not in a hurry to be alone with his thoughts. The dogs spread out around them, and by the time Adam Banks is forced to join the Ducks, Tyler’s sprawled across the couch, his head resting against Jamie’s thigh. It’s not unusual – Tyler’s always been the most tactile of Jamie’s friends – so Jamie drops a hand into Tyler’s curls on instinct. Tyler hums, moves his head until Jamie gets the idea and starts running his blunt nails along Tyler’s scalp, and it’s…nice, Jamie settles on. He’s past the age for drowning his sorrows in alcohol, clubs, and nameless faces. Spending the evening at home, with someone important to him, it’s what Jamie’s wanted ever since he was old enough to know what he wanted in life.

The fact that it’s with Tyler…well, Jamie’s had a crush on Tyler for ten years, he’s long since accepted his feelings for his friend. But Tyler’s never indicated that he feels the same, that he wants the same things in life, so Jamie tucked his feelings away in his heart in a box labeled ‘do not examine closely’ years ago and moved on with his life.

Tyler and the dogs trudge home (all the way to the next building over) after the Ducks win the state championship, and Jamie’s apartment is oddly, eerily silent. He briefly considers looking over his lesson plans for tomorrow, takes one look at his bag sitting on his dining room table, and turns instead for his bedroom.

His alarm blares in his ear way too early, and he blindly snoozes it, almost pushing it onto the floor in the process. He knows better than to stay up late with Tyler on a school night. Tyler, who makes his own schedule at his gym, doesn’t have to be bright and perky and ready to deal with twenty grumpy, hormonal middle schoolers on a Monday morning. He stumbles into the shower, and is more grateful than he can say for the fancy coffee maker Jordie left behind when he moved out that has a fresh pot ready and waiting for him when he makes his way to the kitchen with a towel wrapped around his waist.

Once he’s dressed, he gathers up his papers and stuffs them into his bag, and that’s when he hears it. It’s soft, pathetic whimpers that have him wandering around his apartment looking for the source of the sound. It grows steadily louder until it’s turned to harsh cries. It sounds like it’s coming from the hallway – probably a neighbor’s kid announcing its unhappiness about the morning, but Jamie decides it’s a good idea to stick his head out the door to make sure it’s not a lost kid on its own.

He looks out into the hallway, seeing nothing until he looks down and…there is a basket in front of his door. Old-fashioned wicker, a soft white blanket covering what it contains, and a cream envelope sitting on top, Congratulations written in beautiful gold calligraphy. Jamie feels his heart constrict in his chest because…no, there’s no way…

He holds the envelope in his hands, and gingerly pulls back the blanket. Sure enough, there’s the source of the crying, now blinking up at him with big brown eyes with something like curiosity. He kneels down and lets the baby – his baby, his wishbaby holy shit – take his finger in its tiny hand. Jamie laughs, and it’s wet, and he looks around as if waiting for one of his dumbass friends to pop out and reveal that it’s all a joke.

It’s not. He knows it’s not, like he knows deep in his gut that this is his child.

He picks up the basket, and it’s heavier than he thought it would be, and then he remembers that wishbabies come with enough supplies to get new parents through the first few days. He sets the envelope down, still unopened, next to the basket on his dining table and starts to unfold the blanket containing his child. They’re so small, so delicate, that Jamie momentarily fears that he’s going to break them as he pulls them out of the basket. They’re wearing a simple white onesie, and Jamie briefly wonders whether it’s a boy or a girl before something in his heart screams girl, and Jamie knows immediately that this is his daughter. He holds her in the crook of his arm and stares down at her as she stares back with eyes just like his.

Wishbabies aren’t so rare that Jamie’s never met one – Bish, the seventh grade science teacher, and his wife Andrea had a wishbaby a few years ago – but he had never thought it was something that would happen to him. She starts to fuss, and Jamie rocks her gently until she calms again, and then he fishes his phone out of his pocket and calls the school to let them know. The secretary forwards his call to the principal, and Bones offers his congratulations and tells him that he’ll have the school e-mail over his paternity leave paperwork.

“You’ll be alright son.” Bones reassures him. “You let Judy and I know if you need anything.”

His daughter cries in his arms, and Jamie momentarily panics before a certain smell reaches his nose.

“Well, you don’t waste any time, do you little one?” Jamie pulls out the blanket she’d been wrapped in and sets it down on the table. He’s loath to put her down even long enough to fish a diaper out of the basket and unbutton her onesie, but once she’s changed the crying fades out and she seems much more content. He snaps a quick picture and texts his family’s groupchat before he picks her up again.

Welcome to the family? He sends along with the picture. The wishbaby envelope is in the background of the picture, and Jamie knows that he should open it but…he can’t. He knows that it will contain the congratulatory letter that comes with all wishbabies, and within that letter will be the name of the other parent. If there is one, he supposes. It’s not unheard of for wishbabies to have only one parent, but it’s an even rarer occurrence in already rare circumstances.

No fucking way!!! Jordie texts back, while Jenny sends a string of heart emojis. A moment later, his mom’s picture flashes across his phone and he slides to accept the call.

“Hey, mom.”

“This is not a funny joke, Jamie.”

“It’s not a joke.”

“You have a wishbaby.”

“I do.”

“Oh, honey.” She coos. “I’m so happy for you and Molly.”

“It’s not…Molly and I broke up.”

“Oh.” His mom sounds strangely relieved. “Do you want me to come down for a few days?”

Jamie wants to tell her no, to not put her life on hold for him, but…well, he has no idea what he’s doing and he really, really doesn’t want to screw this up.

“Would you? I just…I…”

“Of course. I’ll look at some flights and let you know when I’ll be coming.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

Jessi calls a few minutes later, offering the clothes and other things that Billie’s outgrown, and Jamie truly loves his sister-in-law. She tells him that she’ll get it together and have Jordie bring it over when he gets home from work, and then it’s silent in his apartment again. His daughter’s sleeping quietly in his arms, and Jamie grabs the blanket again and sets it on the couch before stacking a couple of pillows around her. He’s pretty sure newborns can’t roll over or anything, but he doesn’t want to take any chances.

He unpacks the supplies in the basket, does his best to organize them, sets the formula cans in the kitchen and the diapers on the coffee table, and then his eyes fall on the envelope again. He considers opening it again, briefly, before going to his room and shoving it in the back of his nightstand. He’s walking back into the living room when he hears a knock on his front door. Tyler’s standing on the other side when he opens it, skin shiny with sweat like he’s just come back from a run.

“Hey, I saw that your car was still here, so I wanted to make sure that you’re okay. Are you sick?”

“No.” Jamie shakes his head. “I, uh…well, you should probably come inside.”

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just that something’s…happened.”

“Sounds ominous.”

“It’s not. I, um, well-“ He’s cut off by a now-familiar whimper that grows into a cry and Jamie turns and goes into the living room.

“Do you have Billie here?” Tyler asks, following him. Jamie bends down to pick up his daughter and cradles her in his arms before turning back to face Tyler. “Holy shit.”

“Yeah.” Jamie agrees.

“Is that…?”

“My daughter.”

Tyler steps closer, his eyes wide, until he’s close enough that he can lean over and see Jamie’s daughter’s face. “Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“Did you, uh, I mean…I’m pretty sure I would’ve remembered you knocking someone up.”

“She’s a wishbaby. She was on my doorstep this morning.”

“Damn, that’s crazy.”

“Do you want to hold her?”

“Can I? Hell yeah.”

“Stop cursing in front of my baby.” Jamie admonishes, but he sets her into Tyler’s waiting arms.

“Shit, sorry.” Tyler grimaces and looks over at Jamie sheepishly. “Sorry.”

Jamie watches Tyler hold his daughter, and something almost painful forms in his chest, but something beautiful also blooms there too. He already loves his daughter with a ferocity that he didn’t know was possible, and seeing her in Tyler’s arms feels right, two people who have taken up permanent residence in his heart together in front of him.

“She’s beautiful.” Tyler says softly, running a finger along her cheek. “Do you have a name yet?”

Jamie freezes, because the thought that he had to come up with a name hadn’t occurred to him. He shakes his head.

“I haven’t had a chance to think about it yet.”

“Hmm.” Tyler stares down at Jamie’s daughter, a soft smile on his face. “I’ve always liked Ava.”

“Ava.” Jamie repeats, rolling it around in his head.

“Yeah.” Tyler shrugs. “Ava Benn, it’s cute.”

Jamie likes it, likes Ava, but it doesn’t…there’s something missing, but he can’t put his finger on it. Still, Ava seems to fit her, at least.

“Ava, I like it.” Tyler beams at him, and Ava chooses that moment to start to fuss again. Jamie moves to take her, but Tyler just moves with her, rocking her gently.

“You think she’s hungry?” He asks, and Jamie shrugs.

“She hasn’t eaten since she’s been here, so probably.”

“I can hold her while you make a bottle?”

“You don’t have to stay.” Jamie protests. “I’m sure you have work to do.”

“Perks of owning your own business. I can make my own hours. Go make the bottle, Ava and I are good here.” Tyler turns away from Jamie and returns his attentions to Jamie’s daughter, babbling nonsense at her as Jamie heads into the kitchen. He makes the bottle, but it’s slow going as he reads and re-reads the instructions on the side of the canister. Finally, he’s got what he thinks is an acceptable bottle and heads back into the living room. Tyler’s standing near the window, describing everything outside as Ava gurgles quietly.

“I’ve got the bottle.” Jamie announces, and Tyler turns back to face him. He holds his arms out for the baby, and Tyler momentarily looks hesitant to give Ava up before he sets the baby back in Jamie’s arms. He watches as Jamie settles on the couch and puts the bottle in her mouth, and Jamie smiles as she immediately starts eating.

“How are you doing?” Tyler asks. “What can I do?”

“I don’t know.” Jamie admits. “Babies, I mean they need a lot of sh-stuff, right? Jordie’s going to bring some of Billie’s old things over tonight but that’s not going to be enough. I need, like, a crib and a stroller and all kinds of stuff. I’m not sure where to start.”

“Let’s make a list!” Tyler proclaims, opening up his phone. “The necessities, the stuff you need immediately, and I’ll go to store and get them for you.”

“You don’t have to do that, Segs.”

“You’re my best friend.” Tyler replies, like it’s obvious, not looking up from his phone. “Like I’m going to let you do this alone.”

Jamie wants to argue, but instead he just sags against the couch. “Thanks.”

“Besides, only the best for my favorite niece.”

They make a list, and by the time Jamie’s got Ava down in her little makeshift bed on the couch, Tyler’s on his way out the door to head to the store. Jamie wants to just watch Ava sleep, but he does need to get stuff ready for whoever takes over his classes while he’s out on leave. He grabs his laptop and starts consolidating his lesson plans for the rest of the semester, making notes where he can, but he keeps getting distracted by every little noise that Ava makes. It’s almost lunch time, and news must be traveling among the staff at his school, because congratulatory texts start trickling through. His favorite is from the gym teacher, Radulov, who just sends him a series of exclamation points and demands a picture.

He’s just finished making sandwiches for both of them when Tyler barrels through the front door. Jamie can barely see him under the mountain of bags that he’s carrying. He sets them down in the foyer, then smiles up at Jamie triumphantly.

“Did you buy the entire Target?”

“Just the baby section.” Tyler shrugs. “There’s more downstairs.”

“Tyler, you didn’t have to do this.”

“It’s fine. We’re having a good year at the gym.”

“It’s too much, you have to let me pay you back.”

“Jamie.” Tyler tells him, his voice firm. “Let me do this.”

Jamie stares at him for a long moment, maybe a little too long, but eventually nods. “I made you lunch.”

Tyler brings up the rest of the things he bought – a bassinet, a carseat/stroller system, enough bottles and diapers and clothes and other baby things that Ava will want for nothing. Jamie’s heart feels like it’s too big for his chest as he helps Tyler unpack it all.

“You’ll need to turn one of the extra rooms into a nursery.”

“Yeah, I’m thinking of using my office. I always end up on the dining room table anyway, and that way my mom can still use the guest room while she’s here.”

“Your mom’s coming?”

“Yeah, she texted me while you were gone. She’s not going to be able to get off of work until next week, but then she’ll be down here.”

“That’s good, I love your mom.”

Jamie rolls his eyes and tosses a piece of bread at Tyler. “That’s because you’re her favorite.”

“I’m everyone’s favorite.”

“Sure.”

“I’ll be Ava’s favorite, too, just you wait.” Jamie wants to argue, but he ends up staring at Tyler and…yeah, he probably will be Ava’s favorite, just like he’s Jamie’s.

They start a load of laundry with all of Ava’s new clothes, get the bassinet set up in Jamie’s bedroom, and make a dent in finding a place for everything Ava apparently needs according to the Target employee Tyler had roped into helping him. It makes Jamie feel slightly more settled, like he has things a little more under control. He’s feeding Ava another bottle when Tyler collapses next to him, a tired smile on his face. Jamie smiles back, and a moment later Tyler’s face shifts and he bites his lip, his telltale face that he’s about to bring up something he doesn’t want to.

“Have you, uh, told…Molly yet?”

Jamie’s brow furrows. “Why would I tell Molly?”

“Well, isn’t she? I mean…she’s the other parent, right?”

Jamie doesn’t mean to laugh, but he can’t stop it. He shakes his head, sets the empty bottle on the table and carefully moves Ava so he can burp her gently.

“Molly’s not the other parent.”

“Oh.” Tyler’s quiet for a long moment, something strange in his voice. “Then, who is?”

“I don’t know.”

“You haven’t looked?” Jamie shakes his head. “Why not?”

“Because it doesn’t matter. Ava’s my daughter. Besides, there’s no one…I mean, it’s not unheard of to not have a second parent for wishbabies.”

“You don’t want to know for sure?”

“Not right now.” Jamie decides on. “I just want to get used to this first.”

Tyler doesn’t say anything for a long time, and Jamie assumes that the conversation is tabled for now. He looks over and Tyler’s staring at Ava, so he hands her over and gets a wide smile from Tyler in return. Jamie watches them, takes in the way Tyler coos at Jamie’s daughter, babbles nonsense at her, and the sight is quickly becoming one of Jamie’s favorites.

Jordie shows up, presses bags of baby stuff into Jamie’s hands, and goes straight for Ava.

“Jessi wanted to come, too, but Billie’s feeling a little sick.” He tells Jamie as he plucks Ava from Tyler’s arms. “Hi there…?”

“Ava.” Tyler supplies, and Jordie nods.

“Good choice. When is Mom coming?”

“Next week.”

“You two seem like you have it covered.” Jordie glances up at Jamie, waggles his eyebrows, and Jamie wants to melt into the floorboards.

“Jamie’s already a great dad.” Tyler supplies, slipping past Jamie to head into the kitchen.

“Would you shut up?” Jamie hisses once he’s sure Tyler’s out of earshot.

“What?” Jordie feigns innocence, and if he wasn’t holding Jamie’s daughter, he’d punch his brother in the face.

“You know what! That’s not funny!”

“Why does it matter? You’ve had a wishbaby together, I’m pretty sure he knows about your big fat crush on him, Chubbs.”

“Ava’s not his.” Jordie freezes, stares at Jordie.

“Bullshit.”

“Stop cursing in front of my daughter.”

“If he’s not the other dad, why is here?”

“Because he’s a good friend?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Look, just…he’s not the other parent, okay?”

“So, who is? Not Molly.”

“No, of course not.” Jamie scratches the back of his neck and shrugs. “There isn’t another parent.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, so if you could stop with your…your Tyler stuff, that’d be great.”

“Huh.” Jordie stares down at Ava, studying her closely.

“What?” Jamie snaps, and reaches out to take Ava from Jordie.

“Nothing.” Jordie says too quickly, but Jamie doesn’t have the energy to push it. Tyler comes back in, handing him and Jordie beers, and brushes a hand across Ava as he heads back to the couch. Jamie avoids Jordie’s gaze and turns toward the room that now houses Ava’s half-built nursery so he can change her diaper.

“I can go take care of the dogs and then come back.” Tyler offers later, after Jordie’s left, and Jamie shakes his head.

“No, man, you’ve done more than enough. Go home and get some rest.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, we’ll be okay.” Tyler doesn’t look convinced, but he eventually nods and moves into Jamie’s space so he can look at Ava.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Little Benn.” He promises, and Jamie’s breath catches when he looks up at Jamie through his lashes. “You too, Big Benn.” He adds with a wink.

Once Tyler’s gone, and Jamie’s alone with Ava again, it feels…wrong, like he’s missing something critical. He does his best to shake it off, but Ava must be able to tell because she becomes truly fussy for the first time. Jamie makes a bottle, changes her diaper, walks around the apartment, but nothing soothes her. Her cries are soft and pathetic rather than sharp and screeching, but it’s enough to have Jamie’s nerves frazzled after the craziest day of his life.

She finally cries herself to sleep, and Jamie places her in the bassinet and collapses in bed next to her sometime after midnight, but she’s up again two hours later, then again an hour after that, and then they make it two and a half hours after that, and so it goes until the sun creeps through the window and Jamie feels exhausted. He knows that this is part of having a baby, sleepless nights, but he feels suddenly overwhelmed in a way he hadn’t yesterday.

Ava finally seems calm – or maybe just exhausted – so Jamie takes the moment to brew a pot of coffee, having forgotten to set it up the night before. He’s bent over the counter sipping his second cup when Tyler steps through the front door. That’s how Tyler finds him once he makes his way to the kitchen, and Jamie doesn’t even bother to look up.

“Rough night?” He greets, and Jamie grunts in response. “Where’s Little Benn?”

“Asleep, finally.” Jamie sinks into the hand Tyler rests on his shoulder, too wrung out and tired to do otherwise. Tyler tightens his grip and tugs until Tyler can wrap his arms around him. Jamie lets him, rests his head on Tyler’s shoulder and takes what Tyler’s offering. Jamie breathes Tyler in, feels himself settle, only to tense up again when he hears Ava’s cries from the bedroom. “I’ve gotta-“

“No.” Tyler tells him simply. He grabs Jamie’s shoulders and guides him toward the guest bedroom. “Get some rest.”

“No, I’m fine, Segs.”

“My mom always says you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Tyler continues to push him toward the spare room. “You have to sleep if you’re going to be any good for her. Sleep, I’ve got Ava.”

“But you have to work.”

“Not until the afternoon. Go.” Jamie stares at Tyler for a long moment before nodding.

“Just for a few hours.”

“Whatever, Chubbs. I’ve gotta go greet my favorite girl.”

Jamie’s asleep before his head hits the pillow, and when he wakes up, he still feels tired, but slightly more put together. He stumbles out of the guest bedroom and into the living room, following the soft tones of Tyler’s voice.

“You’re doing so well, you know that?” He hears Tyler telling Ava. “I shouldn’t be surprised, though. Your dad’s the best person I know, it only figures that his daughter’s just as awesome. But you gotta let him rest, Little Benn.”

“Hey.” Jamie greets them both as he steps further into the room. He takes Ava from Tyler and smiles down at her as she wiggles in her blanket.

“I just gave her a bottle about twenty minutes ago and changed her diaper right before that.”

“Thanks, you don’t have to do all of this.”

“I know, but I want to.” Tyler shrugs. “I, y’know, I love her already. It’s not a big deal, I like helping.” Jamie stares at Tyler, feeling like his heart is going to burst out of his chest.

“Besides,” Tyler continues, pressing closer to Jamie with a grin. “I kinda like you too.”

Jamie’s sure his face is probably comical, but Tyler moves away from him before he can say anything, grabbing his gym bag and throwing it over his shoulder.

“I’ve gotta get to work, but call me if you or Ava need anything, okay?”

“We’ll be okay.” Jamie assures him.

“I’ll come by after I’m done at the gym.” Jamie almost tells him he doesn’t have to, but Tyler seems to anticipate it and pins Jamie with a pointed look. “Bye, Little Benn.” Tyler leans over and runs a finger along Ava’s face before he smiles at Jamie and heads out the door.

“You really have him wrapped around your tiny finger, huh?” Jamie tells Ava once Tyler’s gone. “You gonna teach me your ways?”

Ava only gurgles in response.

They settle into a routine, after that. Jamie spends his days with Ava, Tyler goes to work, but when he comes home, he comes to Jamie’s apartment. He’s there so much over the next few days that Jamie ends up suggesting that Tyler just leave the dogs with him during the day. Suddenly, with the dogs and Tyler and Ava, it feels like home in a way that Jamie’s apartment never has before. It starts to feel like Jamie has a real family.

It terrifies him a little, just how fast and how easily he’s gotten used to Tyler walking through the door in the evenings, greeting the boys and Ava and him, and they eat dinner together, and maybe watch a movie if Ava stays quiet long enough. Tyler holds her most of the time, claiming that Jamie gets her most of the day so it’s his turn. It’s so comfortable and nice that, almost every night, he fights the urge to ask Tyler to just stay when he packs up to head back to his own place. He finds that he misses him when he’s gone, the boys too – that as much as he loves Ava, it doesn’t feel right when it’s just them.

“Are you sure?” He asks, a week later as he scrambles to find his wallet and keys and phone amidst all of Ava’s chaos. Tyler’s got her in his arms, of course he does, and he rolls his eyes as he shoves Jamie’s keys into his hands.

“Yes, go get your mom from the airport. We’re fine.”

“I’m not – I know she’s safe with you, it’s not that.”

“I know.” Tyler reassures him. “Trust me, my precious ego can handle you freaking out about leaving her for the first time.”

“I’ll be back as fast as I can.”

“Yes, yes, I know. Just go.”

So, that’s how Jamie ends up in the arrivals area of the airport helping his mother grab her bags off of the baggage carousel. She looks around curiously, as if she’s expecting Ava to appear out of thin air.

“Where’s my granddaughter?”

“Back home, with Tyler.”

“Oh, of course.” She nods and pulls him into a hug. “I’ve missed you, honey.”

“Me too, Mom. I’m glad you’re here.”

“I’m sure you and Tyler have handled things wonderfully on your own.” Jamie doesn’t say anything, just leads her to the parking lot  and into the car. He watches out of the corner of his eye as she eyes the backseat, to the carseat base in the back. “I can’t believe you have a baby.” She sounds like she’s on the verge of tears, and Jamie laughs.

“You act like this is your first grandchild.”

“Oh, hush. It’s your first child, let me be an emotional grandmother.”

“I’m going to tell Jordie that Ava’s your favorite.”

“I love all of my grandchildren equally.” She huffs. “Just like I love all of my children equally.”

“Sure, Mom.” He replies, and gets a swat on the arm for his troubles.

The apartment is quiet when they get back, even Gerry sedate as he walks up to greet them. Jamie lets his mom in and rolls her bags to rest near the entry table, then reaches down to greet the youngest Seguin dog.

“Oh.” Jamie’s mom coos, her voice soft, and Jamie looks up and follows her gaze to the living room. It’s a familiar sight, but one that still tugs at his heart. Tyler’s stretched out on the couch, Ava on his chest, both sleeping soundly with Tyler’s arm wrapped around Ava to keep her in place. “How sweet.”

“Here, let’s get you settled.” Jamie offers, guiding her to the spare bedroom. He leaves her to unpack, then goes back to the living room where Tyler and Ava are still sleeping.

He feels like a creeper watching them, but he can’t help himself. Ava’s starting to fuss, squirming against Tyler’s chest, and Jamie watches as Tyler instinctively soothes her in his sleep, rubbing up and down her back. He does his best to pluck her up without waking Tyler, but he slowly blinks his eyes open anyway. He smiles gently up at Jamie and Jamie smiles back as he situates Ava in his arms.

“Hey.” Tyler greets, his voice heavy with sleep.

“Good nap?” Jamie teases, and Tyler nods.

“Your mom here?”

“Yeah, she’s getting settled in. Do you have to go to work?”

“Yeah, for a little while. We’ve got a couple new classes starting this afternoon.”

“Okay.” Jamie watches as Tyler stretches, then gets up and gets his things together.

“I’ll see you after work.” He promises, then leans over to drop a kiss on Ava’s head.

“Okay.” Jamie repeats, following Tyler to the front door. “See you tonight.”

Jamie turns back around when the door closes, he finds his mom staring at him. He feels fear swirl in his stomach, like he’s been caught out by his mom, but she just smiles and holds her arms out for her granddaughter.

It’s reassuring, having his mom here with him. He didn’t think that he was doing a terrible job at this dad thing but having his mother nod approvingly as he cares for Ava, it feels like a weight off of his shoulders. Jessi comes by in the early afternoon with Billie, and Billie’s so fascinated with her new cousin despite the fact that Jamie and Jessi have to tell her that Ava’s too little to play with. It’s nice, having family around, and Jamie can’t help but imagine Ava being bigger, growing up surrounded by these people who clearly already love her. It’s everything he could want for his daughter and more.

His mom’s just finishing dinner when Tyler comes through the front door. He crouches down to greet the boys, then collapses on the couch next to Jamie.

“Where’s Ava?”

“Asleep in her room.” He replies, gesturing to the baby monitor on the coffee table. “How was work?”

“I’m so fucking tired.” Tyler sags further against Jamie. “I hired this new instructor, Jason, and he’s a beast dude. I fully regret my promise to try each new class out.”

“You’re getting soft.” Jamie teases.

“I’ll show you soft.” Tyler shoots back, but all he does is drop his head on Jamie’s shoulder. “What’s your mom making for dinner?”

“How do you know I didn’t cook?”

“Because it smells edible.” Jamie wants to shove Tyler’s head off of him for that, but he’s too warm and comfortable against Jamie’s side. Instead, he wraps an arm around Tyler and holds him in place until his mom comes into the room to inform them that dinner’s ready.

Ava wakes up almost as soon as they’re done eating, but his mom rushes off before either one of them can get up. Jamie pushes Tyler toward the sink and they work together to clean up the mess from dinner as they hear Jamie’s mom moving around, talking softly to Ava as she changes her diaper and feeds her.

“How long is your mom here for?”

“A week, that’s all she could get off of work.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yeah, the help will be great.” Jamie shrugs. “And it means you don’t have to hang around.”

Tyler stops drying the dish in his hand. “What?”

“Well, I mean, I have help now. So, you know, you don’t have to hang around all the time.”

“Oh.” Tyler’s voice is quiet, and Jamie knows that he’s said something wrong. “Okay.”

“You can’t keep your life on hold for me just because I’m going through this big change.” Jamie tells him, and Tyler nods.

“Yeah, of course.” Tyler sets the dish down and turns away from Jamie. “Uh, I just remembered, I have some stuff I need to go through before work tomorrow. Tell your mom goodnight for me.”

“Tyler-“ Jamie starts, but Tyler’s already out of the room, gathering up the dogs. The front door closes and Jamie leans against the sink.

“Where did Tyler go?” His mom asks, and Jamie shakes his head.

“Uh, he had to go home.”

“Home? He’s not staying here?”

“Why would he stay here, Mom?” Jamie turns to look his mom and daughter, and Ava’s wide awake and staring around the room.

“Well, because he’s Ava’s dad?” She asks, and Jamie feels like he’s been stabbed in the gut.

“He’s not…” Jamie sighs. “Mom, he’s not Ava’s other parent. We’re just friends.”

“Oh. But…” His mom doesn’t finish her thought, just sets Ava into Jamie’s arms and pushes him away from the sink. “Go sit with Ava, honey. I’ll finish this.” Jamie wants to argue, but he knows there’s no deterring his mother, so he takes Ava into the living room.

Later that night, as Ava’s sleeping in the bassinet next to Jamie’s bed, he tosses and turns. He feels unsettled. He knows that he’s hurt Tyler’s feelings, and he can’t keep his mother’s assumption that Tyler was Ava’s other parent out of his head. He knows that he has a crush on Tyler, has maybe more than a crush, but he can’t let himself think…

He leans over and pulls open the drawer of his nightstand, digging through it until he finds the wishbaby envelope that came with Ava. It’s still unopened, still as pristine as the day it arrived. Jamie holds it in his hands, stares at it. He’ll have to open it eventually, he knows, but now…now he has hope, hope that there’s another name inside that will be the one he wants to read. And if it’s not, well, Jamie’s not sure he could handle that particular disappointment.

He stuffs the envelope back in the drawer.

Tyler doesn’t show up the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. His mom doesn’t say anything, but he feels her eyes on him as he wanders around with Ava. They go to the pediatrician, and they ask about Ava’s other parent, and Jamie feels the weight of her gaze when Jamie tells them that there isn’t another parent. The apartment feels emptier without Tyler, without the dogs.

Jamie feels emptier.

“Fix it.” His mother tells him on her last night, dropping a kiss on his cheek before retreating to her bedroom with Ava. Jamie stares at his phone, thinks about just going over to Tyler’s apartment, but eventually settles on sending him a text because he’s a coward.

I’m sorry. He sends, because he is.

Come over. Tyler sends back almost immediately, and Jamie does.

The boys bombard him as soon as he walks through the front door of Tyler’s apartment, and Jamie crouches down to greet them, feeling Tyler’s eyes on him the entire time. When he stands back up, Tyler looks uncomfortable, pulling at the sleeves of a well-worn sweatshirt that Jamie belatedly recognizes as his own.

“I’m sorry.” He repeats, and Tyler nods, staring at the floor.

“Me, too.”

“You don’t have anything to apologize for. I was a dick.”

“But I didn’t…I was around too much, I know. This is your time; you’re building your own family and I was there all the time-“

“I like having you around.” Jamie interrupts. Tyler looks up at him at that, and the hurt there makes Jamie feel like the biggest ass in the history of the world. “Ava misses you.”

“And you?” Tyler gnaws on his lip, looks away from Jamie again.

“I always miss you.” Jamie confesses. It’s the closest he’s ever come to confessing his true feelings for Tyler, and he feels like his body’s vibrating with it. Tyler smiles, something soft and private, and Jamie gasps when he pushes into Jamie’s space and kisses him. Jamie freezes, unable to do anything. It’s just a press of lips, but Jamie can’t get his body to do anything and Tyler must sense it because he pulls away.

“I’m sorry.” Tyler says quickly, his breathing heavy. “I’m so sorry, Jamie, I-“

“Shut up.” Jamie grabs Tyler’s face and brings it back to his. Tyler whimpers against his lips, wraps his arms around Jamie’s waist and holds him close. It’s everything Jamie’s ever wanted, and he feels like he’s been cracked open when Tyler runs his tongue along his bottom lip, when he licks into Jamie’s mouth, tugs and shoves and moves them until they’re standing in Tyler’s bedroom.

“Where’s Ava?” Tyler asks as he bites his way across Jamie’s jaw and down his neck.

“My mom wanted to take her for the night, before she leaves.”

“Okay. Good.” Tyler tugs on the bottom of Jamie’s shirt until he gets the idea and lets him peel it off and toss it next to where Tyler dropped his own. He crashes his lips against Jamie’s again, and they stumble to the bed.

Tyler scrambles up onto the bed and makes grabby hands toward Jamie that are impossible for him to resist. He hovers above Tyler, kisses him slow and deep, and shudders as Tyler’s hands roam across his bare skin. Tyler breaks away to press kisses along his neck, his chest, seemingly anywhere he can get access to while pinned underneath Jamie.

“What do you want?” Jamie asks, and Tyler pulls away enough to study his face. It seems like more of a loaded question than Jamie meant, but finally Tyler smiles and kisses him again.

It’s still dark when he wakes up, and he’s momentarily disoriented until he feels Tyler’s warm breath against the back of his neck. He’s wrapped around Jamie like an octopus, one leg jammed between Jamie’s and another thrown over his thigh with an arm clutching his chest. It should be hot, uncomfortable – and it is – but it’s also the most at peace Jamie’s felt in his life. He thinks about Tyler, about kissing him, and fucking him, and waking up with him every day, and raising Ava together and –

Oh.

Oh.

This isn’t a crush at all, Jamie realizes. He loves Tyler. He’s in love with Tyler.

Fuck.

He extricates himself slowly, and Tyler grumbles in his sleep, his brow furrowing as he reaches for Jamie. Jamie feels a pain so tight and sharp in his chest that he momentarily freezes, staring down at him, and God his mom told him to fix it and instead he’s made this so much worse.

Because Tyler can’t love him. He can’t, not the way that Jamie loves him. Not the way Jamie’s, apparently, loved him for years. Through girlfriends and boyfriends and heartbreaks and hookups, Jamie knows now that he’s loved Tyler through all of it, the entire time. There’s no one else for him.

He stumbles home, lets himself into the apartment as quietly as he can. The apartment is dark and silent, and Jamie presses his ear against the door of the guest bedroom. It’s silent, his mom and daughter apparently sleeping peacefully while Jamie has a life-altering crisis.

He loves Tyler, has apparently for years, but he knows that Tyler doesn’t – can’t – want him like that. He might want Jamie for a hookup or a casual situation, but Jamie wants forever and there’s no way that Tyler wants the same thing with him of all people.

He closes the door to his bedroom behind him and stares at the nightstand. There’s one way that he can prove it, can prove that Tyler doesn’t feel the same, doesn’t want the same things that Jamie does. He opens the drawer and pulls out the envelope, stares down at it. Part of him wants to rip it open, rip open his own heart by proving that Tyler doesn’t feel the same. Another part desperately clings to a hope that maybe…maybe…

Jamie pries open the envelope.

He stares down at the letter until he hears the front door slam closed. His eyes jump to the clock on his nightstand. It’s the middle of the night, and there’s only one person who has a key to his place besides Jordie. He jumps up, clutches the paper in his hands, and walks out to find Tyler staring around the apartment wildly. He’s back in Jamie’s sweatshirt, his curls sleep-tousled, and Jamie’s heart feels too big for his chest.

“Tyler.” He breathes, and Tyler whirls to face him. He looks wrecked, torn open, and Jamie rushes toward him when he sees that his eyes are wet and red-rimmed.

“You left.” Tyler croaks out, stepping back when Jamie moves closer, shaking his head. “Why did you leave?”

“I’m sorry.” Jamie tells him. “I-“

“I knew it.” Tyler laughs, but it sounds more like a sob.

“Knew what?”

“Jamie, I…you have to know. You have to know how I feel about you.” Tyler finally steps closer, presses his fists against Jamie’s chest. “Please, please tell me you wouldn’t do that with me, knowing how I feel, if you don’t feel the same.”

“Tyler…” Jamie starts, feels his heart in his throat. “You have to tell me. How do you feel?”

Tyler looks up at him, opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again, and Jamie feels something like hope grow.

“I love you.” Tyler finally tells him, loosening his fists to press his palms flat against Jamie. “I have for so long. And I don’t care if I’m not Ava’s real dad, because I love her, and I love you, and I want all of it. I want to be with you, and I want her to be mine, and I want us to be a family.”

“She is yours.” Jamie chokes out, and Tyler steps away with wide eyes. Jamie wants to reach out and grab him, but realizes he’s still holding the letter in his hands. Tyler follows his gaze, and Jamie watches his breath quicken. “I left because I love you, and I thought…I thought that if I finally opened it, if I finally saw that it wasn’t you, it would prove that you didn’t feel the same way I do, but then…”

“Then?” Tyler asks, and he slowly pries the letter from Jamie’s hand, unfolds it, and Jamie hears his quiet gasp and feels his heart clench in his chest as he re-reads the same words he’d been repeating over and over since he opened the letter.

Congratulations! it reads, and just below it, the birth information.

Baby Girl Benn-Seguin

Born September 25th

8lbs, 2oz

21inches

Born to Jamie Randolph Benn and Tyler Paul Seguin

“She’s mine.” Tyler whispers, running his fingers over the embossed letters.

“She’s yours.” Jamie confirms.

“And you?” Tyler asks. “What about me and you?”

Jamie sighs, feeling like his strings have been cut, because he never thought he could have this.

“I’ve always been yours.” Jamie admits, and the smile that Tyler gives him is blinding.

Tyler stumbles out of the bedroom behind Jamie the next morning, plastering himself against Jamie’s back as he pours them both cups of coffee.

“Thanks, babe.” He presses a kiss to Jamie’s shoulder as he takes the cup he’s offered and sips it slowly next to Jamie. “Maybe we should have our next life-changing discussion at a more decent hour.”

“You’re the one who wanted to give me a blow job after.”

“I didn’t see you pulling me off your dick, Chubbs.”

“Good morning, boys.” Jamie’s mom greets, stepping into the room.

“Sorry, Mom.” Jamie mumbles, his heart swelling in his chest as he watches Tyler take his daughter – their daughter – into his arms.

“Hi, Little – well, I guess I can’t call you Little Benn anymore.” Tyler winks at Jamie, and Jamie feels his cheeks heat as his mom pats his arm.

“Glad you two worked things out.” Is all she says, before taking her cup of coffee into the living room.

Jamie waits for her to leave before he wraps an arm around Tyler’s waist, pulling him and Ava close enough that he can rest his head against Tyler’s and stare down at Ava. Jamie realizes, then, what had been missing ever since Ava arrived. This, this, was his family. What he’d been hoping and wishing for all of his life.

He pulls them both in tighter.

 

Five years later

“Papa! Papa!” A familiar voice screeches, streaking across the lawn toward him. Jamie crouches down on instinct, opening up his arms for Ava to throw herself into. He stands back up, letting her grasp his face in her tiny hands and force her to look at him.

“Yes?”

“Papa!” She yells again. “Papa, Billie said that you can’t beat Uncle Jordie at hockey, but I told her that she was wrong because you win at everything and then she said that her daddy’s the best at everything and I said you’d show her but then she said that she was right because she’s seven and I’m only five and then she called me a stupidhead but she’s the stupidhead!”

“Well, it’s not nice to call people stupidheads.” He tells her seriously, and she looks so much like Tyler when she sighs and rolls her eyes that Jamie has to stifle a bark of laughter. “And you are absolutely right, I can beat Uncle Jordie at hockey, but it’s his birthday so let’s just keep that a secret between us, eh?”

“Okay.” She sighs, and wiggles until Jamie puts her down again. Jamie watches as she races off again, lost in the crowd of kids taking up a corner of Jordie and Jessi’s backyard.

“What was that all about?” Tyler asks, wrapping an arm around Jamie’s waist as he hands him another beer.

“Billie called her a stupidhead.”

“Eh, they’ll be best friends again in five minutes.”

“Probably.”

“Can you take him for a minute?” Jessi interrupts, holding out her son. “I need to replenish the food table.”

“Sure.” Jamie plucks Charlie out of her arms and settles him against his chest. Charlie beams up at him, smacking at his cheek lightly, squealing with laughter when Jamie pretends to bite his fingers.

“We should have another one.” Tyler tells him, drawing his attention back.

“What?”

“A baby. We should have another baby.”

“You think?” Jamie shuffles Charlie to his other side so he can give Tyler his full attention. “You think we can?”

“I mean, we had Ava on accident. Imagine if we actually wished for a baby.”

“Oh, god.” Jamie groans. “We’re going to end up with an entire hockey team.”

Tyler beams up at him and pulls him closer.

“You wish.”