"Do you want to come over?" Ryan's voice sounds tinny through the phone. Spencer wishes they'd move closer to the city—their cell phone connection is sometimes pretty bad.
"That is such a stupid question I'm not going to answer it," Spencer says. "Let me rephrase it: do I want to come over and cuddle my goddaughter?" He'd already wondered how long it was going to take Ryan to call. Brendon had left two hours ago to pick Z up for their spa date. It's the first time Ryan's completely alone with his two kids.
"I'll have coffee ready when you arrive," is all Ryan says before he hangs up.
George opens the door. He's beaming at Spencer and holds up a police truck.
"Hey, Georgie," Spencer says and takes the truck.
Ryan's standing just behind George, holding Jane. "Whose idea was this whole spa day again?"
Spencer's known Ryan for long enough to read the note of exasperation in his voice, and he sighs anyway. "It was her birthday present, Ryan."
"But why now? Tennessee's only going to be on tour until next month."
"Z was threatening to move out," Spencer says. "Brendon took her to get her mind off stuff."
Z does not want to move out. Emphatically. But after Jane's recent adventures in teething, her patience was worn thin. Spencer understands her desire to get away for even just one day. He figures she has enough to put up with, having two kids and Ryan. Brendon sometimes jokes that she has three kids, really.
Ryan rubs his face. "I know," he says. "I know."
Robin's already gone off with George, but Todd's still standing next to Spencer. Spencer ushers him inside and into the den where George is already showing Robin his truck collection. There have been some new additions since the last time Spencer brought the boys here—Ryan usually comes to Spencer, combining the trip into the city with errands.
Spencer makes sure that the boys are occupied. "Play nicely," To Ryan, he says, "Let's have coffee."
Ryan puts down their mugs on the table. "If you want her, you can take her."
"You're just saying that," Spencer says. "If I started packing her stuff, you'd kill me."
Ryan falls into his chair. "No, I wouldn't," he says. "She's all yours." He rubs his eyes. "We might actually get a full night's sleep."
Jane giggles louder when Spencer sticks his tongue out. "I thought she was sleeping through now, after all the teething problems."
Ryan sighs. "Sometimes," he says. "But some nights she keeps crying for no reason.
"Poor baby," Spencer croons at Jane. "Your daddy's overtired."
"Oh, shut up," Ryan says. "You got off easy."
Spencer quirks his eyebrow. "How so?"
"At least your partner isn't dealing with hormonal changes," Ryan says.
"Dude, I think that six months after the birth Z's hormones are mostly back to normal."
"Yeah, now they are. But it's been a fucking hard year."
Spencer withstands to roll his eyes at Ryan. "We had to adjust to having kids, too," he points out. He doesn't say that Z had been as fine as rain all the time. She'd even said that Jane's birth had been much easier than George's and that she was happy to get through everything without any problems. It was nothing compared to Crystal's postpartum depression. Spencer decides to change the topic, anyway. Ryan's stares at his mug like it holds the answer to every question in the universe. Although Spencer believes in the powers of coffee, he doesn't think it's just that sentient yet.
"Have you asked her yet?"
Ryan's face is answer enough.
"Ryan," Spencer says slowly. "You bought the ring four months ago." Jane tugs on Spencer's beard and he rubs his cheek against hers, making her dissolve into laughter.
"I know," Ryan says. "But what if she says no?"
"You're being stupid, "Spencer says. "She was willing to bear your spawn. Twice. I think marrying you is just making your commitment official."
"But if she doesn’t want to?" Ryan is holding to his mug so tightly his knuckles turn white. "Marriage is just a social construct full of oppression."
"I'm married, " Spencer says. "I don't feel oppressed."
"It's different for you," Ryan says, "You had to fight to be able to get married. It's an accomplishment."
"And because you could've married Z twenty years ago, it's meaningless now?"
Ryan shrugs. Spencer sighs loudly. Jane's getting fussy and Ryan reaches for her. Spencer waits until Ryan is holding her securely, then he pulls Ryan in for a one-armed hug. "I get that you're scared," he says. "I was, too."
"Brendon was a sure thing," Ryan says, although he wasn't there at the time.
"I was still terrified he'd say no," Spencer says. "You can never be sure until they answer."
Something behind them crashes. "Your children are taking apart my house, "Ryan says.
"With help from your son," Spencer says.
When he checks, it's only been Robin tumbling down from the chair. "We're building a fort," he announces and climbs back onto the chair, unperturbed. Spencer wishes he still had the optimism and energy of his five year old. Of course, Spencer has to help them with building the fort. Ryan's in charge of holding things up until they can stabilises them.
He puts Jane down to play with her new baby gym, as Spencer instructs the boys how to arrange the chairs.
"It's a blanket fort," Ryan says as Spencer carefully drapes the linen over the chairs and brooms. "It's not Fort Knox. Or the Eiffel tower."
"For them, it might just be as well," Spencer replies.
Just as they're done and the boys are inside the fort, loudly discussing Robin Hood—Robin's immediately decided that Robin Hood was the best hero ever—Jane cries.
"Feeding time," Ryan says. He prepares the bottle. Spencer leans against the doorframe, comforting Jane. It's still strange, he thinks, to see Ryan move calmly and certainly, warming up the bottle. When Ryan had told him that Z was pregnant, when he'd said that they were keeping the baby, Spencer had been happy for them. But he'd also wondered how Ryan would cope.
Ryan's an amazing dad, though. "It's just like music," he told Spencer right after George's birth. "It feels like the first time I've played guitar. I can do this."
Ryan tests the temperature. "Ready," he says. "Where's my baby?"
"Can I—" Spencer asks. He misses feeding babies, that quiet gentle moment of giving them the bottle. Brendon said just the other week how happy he was that bother their kids can feed themselves now. Spencer didn't quite know what to reply.
"Sure." Ryan smiles as he hands Spencer the bottle.
Spencer's sure that Ryan's watching him, but he only has eyes for Jane who's greedily sucking. "You're so hungry, little girl," Spencer says.
"I'm sure," Ryan says, "that Brendon won't say no to another baby."
Spencer ignores him. Two children are enough, he thinks. They're not Brangelina. Besides, they just got out of the worst. Spencer doesn't think that they could go through getting up at night for months, changing diapers and teething again.
"Spencer," Ryan says, "stop blocking."
Jane blinks at Spencer sleepily. Her eyes look exactly like Ryan's and Spencer thinks she's going to be a heart breaker. Actually she probably already is. "Pretty little girl," he tells Jane who pushes her bottle away and yawns. Spencer burps her. When he takes her down she's already almost asleep.
"I'm going to put her down," Ryan says. "You're gonna put on fresh coffee and tell me why you think Brendon' wouldn't want a daughter."
Spencer checks on the boys. Robin's telling an outrageous story. His brother's fast asleep, only Georgie is listening. Spencer smiles. George worships Robin and Robin adores and protects him. They remind Spencer of Ryan and himself, when they'd been little kids. It makes Spencer that much gladder that they've been able to fix their friendship.
It had taken nine months of not speaking at all, many more months of slowly growing closer and one huge fight to get there, though.
"She went down fast," Ryan says. "Z was worrying herself sick that Jane was going to be as difficult as George." George hadn't slept through the night for months.
"So," Ryan says. "Brendon."
The coffee drips and drips and drips.
"If you don't tell me, I'm gonna ask Z. And she'll ask Brendon on their next spa data."
"Z doesn't normally go with Brendon," Spencer says. "Brendon just went with her because Tennessee's on tour."
Ryan pokes Spencer's back. "Then I'll ask him. It's my duty as your best friend to find out why you're unhappy."
"I'm not unhappy," Spencer protests. "I have a loving husband, two beautiful sons and our last record did great. There's nothing else I should want."
Ryan snorts. "I've found that what you should do and what you do can turn out to be totally different things."
"There's nothing else I want," Spencer says. "Happy now?"
"You want a daughter and are scared to ask B," Ryan says. "Why?"
"I'm not scar—" Spencer sighs. He closes his eyes. He's just about admitted that Ryan's right. There's not much sense in denying it now.
"You so are."
"Ryan," Spencer says. "He might say no."
"He might say yes." Ryan puts his arm around Spencer's shoulder. "Come on. Why do you think he'd not agree?"
Spencer leans into Ryan. "We're settled down now," he whispers. "We have two kids, it's—a baby would upset everything."
"But that's not a Brendon reason, " Ryan says. "That's a class A Spencer James Smith reason of the category I'm too stupid and scared to ask for what I want." He shakes his head. "Brendon loves chaos. Remember, I've been to your house."
"Oh, shut up," Spencer says. "Wait until Jane's up and running around and leaving her toys all over the place. Let's see how your house looks like then."
Ryan squeezes Spencer shoulder. "Hey, don't be like that."
Spencer leans into Ryan. "Sorry."
"You should just ask him," Ryan says.
"You should ask her."
Ryan's silent for long enough that Spencer thinks he's won this round.
"If I do," Ryan finally says. "If I ask her to marry me, will you ask him?"
"What?" Spencer turns to look at Ryan. He's looking at Spencer, his jaw set and his eyes dark.
"Let's make a deal. You will ask Brendon if he wants a daughter and I'll propose to Z."
"Ryan, this isn't a game," Spencer says. "This can't be solved by a dare."
"Maybe that's the only way to do it," Ryan says. "Do you remember that time when your mom said that we need one another to push each other?"
"I do," Spencer says. "But this—this is about children and marriage. Not some stupid SAT scores or practising."
"What the fuck are you so afraid of?"
Ryan turns loud and Spencer shushes him. "It's—he's happy. Brendon's happy with the way things are right now."
"But that doesn't mean that everything has to stay that way forever."
"I don't want to make him unhappy. The boys are just—the worst part is behind us. Another baby would mean starting all over again. I can't ask him for that."
"So you would rather sacrifice your own happiness to keep Brendon happy? Spencer, that's. You shouldn't do that."
Spencer closes his eyes. "If he can be happy like this, I can be happy, too. I just need to try."
"Spencer." Ryan pulls him into a tight hug. "You shouldn't have to settle for that."
"It'll be enough," Spencer says. He hopes he's right.
"I want to marry Z," Ryan says. "I want her to know that I'm willing to be legally bound to her, no matter how suburban and assimilated that is. But she's happy with this," Ryan says. "She just trusts me to be honest and to mean it when I tell her I love her. She doesn’t need a ring. But I really want to give her one."
"If he says no—"
"He won't." Spencer doesn't know where Ryan takes his confidence from, but he wishes he could believe it as much as Ryan does.
"If he says no, I will have to do content myself with what I've got." Spencer swallows. "But I'll have sown the seed of doubt—he'll know that I want something else. He'll start to doubt me and maybe—"
Ryan's holding Spencer tightly. "You don't know what he'll say," Ryan says. "But I really doubt that he'll leave you because of that."
"I don't want to jeopardise what we have now."
"But you're unhappy now." Ryan sounds kind of sad. It makes Spencer feel even more tired and more frustrated.
"You are, too," Spencer points out. "You want something else than what you've got."
"So let's be brave together." Ryan smiles. "Let's try our luck."
"I don't know if I can do that," Spencer says quietly. "There's too much—too much depends on it."
"Hey," Ryan says. "Even if things don't turn out like we'd like to have them, we'll still have each other."
Spencer smiles. "I know." He hugs Ryan tightly. "BFF," he whispers and Ryan laughs.
"Need to do our secret handshake?"
Spencer laughs. "No, no need."
"That's good because I don't remember all of it."
It had been terribly complicated with seven different moves. Spencer doesn't think he could do it, either.
They're still standing there, hugging, when Todd comes into the kitchen.
Spencer squeezes Ryan one more time tightly before he turns around. "Yeah, buddy?"
"'M hungry," Todd says. He's lifting his arms up, standing in front of Spencer expectantly.
Spencer picks him up without a second thought. Brendon's trying to break him out of the habit, but Spencer loves feeling his kids in his arms. He likes to know they're safe. "Do you want a sandwich?"
Todd nods. He has his arms wrapped around Spencer's neck and doesn't make any more to let go.
"I gotta put you down, buddy," Spencer says.
"I'll make sandwiches," Ryan says. "The others probably want some, too."
"Thanks." Spencer goes to check on the boys, still holding Todd.
"Robin told a story," Todd says.
"Did you like it?"
"Yes." Todd puts his head down on Spencer's shoulder. "Daddy?"
"When Robin grows up, will he have to go live in the woods, too?"
Spencer laughs. "No. Unless he really wants to."
Robin and George are asleep. Spencer takes a moment to admire their blanket fort. Sometimes he wishes that finding comfort would be as easy for him.
"When does Papa get home?"
"Soon, baby. He's out with Auntie Z, remember?"
Todd hums quietly. It's something he copied from Brendon.
"Let's eat sandwiches, okay?"
Of course, Robin wakes up in that moment. "Samwitches?" he mumbles.
Spencer laughs. "Only if you get up."
Robin drags George up with up. "C'mon, lunch."
The next few minutes Ryan's busy preparing enough sandwiches while Spencer makes sure the boys eat properly.
"I think you're turning in your mom," Ryan says.
"There are worse things," Spencer says. "Hey Todd, chew with your mouth closed."
Ryan shoos the boys into the garden afterwards. "Your dad and I have to clean up."
Spencer squints into the sun. It's warm, but not too hot yet. The boys are playing some form of tag that is way more involved than Spencer remembers. They're shrieking and laughing. Todd keeps lagging behind and every once in a while he makes a loud distressed noise. But then George and Robin pounce on him and tickle him until he laughs.
"That what would work?" Ryan's adjusting the hood on Jane's stroller. She's in the shadow, peacefully sleeping.
"Being brave," Spencer says. "And stop fiddling with the hood before you wake her up. It's fine."
Ryan sits down next to Spencer on the stairs that lead down the patio to the garden, careful of the cans of diet coke Spencer brought out with him. "We won't know until we ask them."
"But you think—"
"Are you sure that Z will accept?"
"She'd be mad not to."
"I think he'll say yes," Ryan says.
Spencer closes his eyes. "I want another baby," he says. "I want a daughter."
"Ask him," Ryan says. "Just do it."
"Okay," Spencer says. "Okay."
He hits send with shaking fingers and only a minute later he has Ryan's reply.
YES. I told you so.
No, I told YOU so.
As a second thought, he sends congratulations.
"Z said today that she was gonna whack Ryan over the head with a baby bottle if he didn't screw up his courage soon." Brendon sits down behind Spencer, wraps his arms around Spencer's waist. Spencer leans back against him. He closes his eyes and just lets himself feel the cold night air.
"Hey," he says.
"Hey," Brendon says back. "You weren't really worried, were you?"
Spencer twists around and presses a kiss against Brendon's mouth. Brendon sighs.
"You worry too much," he whispers. "Come on, let's go to bed. We need to use our undisturbed nights as long as we'll have some."
"And tomorrow we'll call Alyssa," Spencer says. His stomach is full of butterflies. Alyssa is their contact at the adoption agency.
"We will," Brendon says. He gets up and reaches for Spencer. "Come with me."
Spencer's phone chimes with another text.
congrats to you, too, you worry-wart
Spencer lets Brendon pull him into the house.