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Holding on to perfection

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Kate was eight when her namesake—one of her namesakes to be precise—married again. Katherine had dated Bill for as long as Kate could remember, so when they prepared for the wedding, she asked her brother, "Why did they wait so long? I mean, I get if you don't want to get married, but they both seem happy about it. So why now? Why not sooner?"

Aidan looked at her, and it was that angry look that he sometimes got when he was annoyed or when he fought with their father. "Can you blame her after what happened with Dad?"

She pouted a bit and said defensively, "Divorces happen."

"And so does cheating, I suppose," he said bitterly.

Kate's eyes widened. She didn't believe him. It couldn't be. "Dad would never do that."

Aidan looked at her incredulously, then he snorted and shook his head.

"He wouldn't," she insisted, because she knew her father and he would never do something like that, neither of them.

"Why do you think they got a divorce?" he asked her.

"They fell out of love. Things changed. It happens," she repeated, her voice getting a slightly hysterical edge.

Aidan stared at her. Most of the time she was glad that he didn't coddle her, but right now there was neither sympathy nor the least bit of understanding in his eyes. "They divorced because after years and years of lying and cheating they had enough."

"That's not what happened! You're lying!" she screamed. She wanted to hit him, but she didn't think he'd give her the satisfaction and react, so she ran out and downstairs, just away from him and what he'd said—only to run smack into their father.

"Whoa, careful there, sweety. We're not that late," Joe-Dad said. Then he took a look at her. Thank God she wasn't crying. She held her chin up high stubbornly. "What's wrong?" he asked.

A part of her wanted to tell him, wanted to ask him to tell Aidan that he was wrong, to make him stop saying such things.

But another part of her was afraid that it might be true. Her parents didn't talk a lot about how they got together. She knew that they had been friends while working together on Stargate Atlantis. She knew that they moved in together shortly after their respective divorces. She couldn't imagine either of them ever doing something as horrible. And that was exactly the reason why she couldn't ask her father now.

She didn't know what she'd do if Aidan had told the truth.

"Nothing," she said. "Just didn't want to be late."

She didn't quite meet her father's eyes, and he watched her but let it go and just ruffled her hair.

"Hey!" she said, but couldn't help the small smile.

~~

For the next years, Kate mostly tried not to think about it. But she couldn't forget. Sometimes she'd just look at her parents and the question would pop up in her mind. She tried to dismiss it, tried to tell herself that it didn't matter even if it was true—which it wasn't—because they clearly loved each other, but doubts kept nagging at her.

She wished there was someone she could ask. She couldn't ask Aidan. He still got twitchy whenever their father talked about the past, a vacation or something else, from before the divorce. Aidan had told her and he'd either lied or exaggerated. The latter was what she clung to. Because after the anger had worn off, she had to wonder why he would make something like that up. So maybe there'd been something. Something that made them finally realize that they wanted to be with each other. Something that only Aidan would call cheating.

She nearly asked one of her aunts, but a part of her felt ashamed for having to ask, for not trusting that her parents would never betray someone they loved. And the part that still had doubts wasn't sure if anyone really could confirm or deny it, because if they had cheated on Katherine and Jane, it wouldn't have been something they shared with anyone.

It wasn't any particular event that finally prompted her to ask. She'd had her moments in a fight when she wanted to throw it in their faces, but eventually it was a normal dinner when she looked at them and felt that she was ready to take it. She was ready to accept it if it was true, and she'd known from the moment Aidan had told her that she had to know if it was true. She had to know this about her parents.

"Can I ask you something?"

D-Dad only glanced at her and said, "Sure," but Joe-Dad watched her as if he could see something was up.

"Did you cheat on Aunt Jane and Aunt Katherine?"

D-Dad's head snapped up and to Joe-Dad, who set down his spoon, jaw clenched, trying to compose himself.

"Where did that come from?" D-Dad asked, a bit irritated, but mostly curious.

"David!" Joe-Dad admonished him.

"Aidan told me," she admitted.

"What?!" Joe-Dad stood up so abruptly that the chair nearly fell over. "I can't believe... What—"

"When?" D-Dad asked her.

"Uhm. When Aunt Katherine married."

Joe-Dad turned to her. "But that was...years ago."

"I, uh, I didn't believe him. I don't believe him. I'm sure he got it wrong. Did you... Did you cheat on them?"

She looked from one to the other. Joe-Dad had a far-away look, thinking maybe about how it had been back then—or why Aidan would tell her something like this.

"Yes."

She and Joe-Dad turned to D-Dad.

"David," Joe-Dad said, but there was no heat in it, more a request. To discuss this first. This...

Suddenly she processed that single word in her head.

Yes.

It was true. All the hopes she'd had that it was a lie were dashed. There was still the other possibility, that it had been just one moment of weakness before they did the right thing.

"What did you—" She stopped herself, because she really didn't want to know. "Did you...kiss?" And okay, she was probably being naive. "Did you spend a night together?"

Joe-Dad looked miserable, and she felt bad, but she needed to know this. She looked over to D-Dad who seemed much more forthcoming.

"We had an affair," he said.

"David. We agreed to—"

"To cross that bridge when we got there. Well, here we are. Bridge," he said, gesturing towards her.

"Don't you think we should discuss—"

"What is there to discuss? I'm not going to lie to her."

"That wasn't what I meant," Joe-Dad said, and she could feel that he didn't want to talk with D-Dad in front of her now. But she didn't want to wait. She didn't want to hear what they had agreed to tell her. She wanted the truth.

"How long?" she asked. She tried to brace herself for something bad. Half a year, maybe even a year. No matter what, she couldn't believe that Aidan was right. They wouldn't have done it "years and years".

Joe-Dad looked away, then sat down. He must have realized he wouldn't get out of this.

"A couple of months," D-Dad said, and Kate inwardly sighed in relief before he continued, "after we met."

She looked at him, not understanding for a moment.

"That's when we first... We broke it off shortly afterwards," he said with a look at Joe-Dad, "and then started it again, broke off. We did that a couple of times before we...stopped breaking it off."

She started doing the math in her head. Not only was Aidan right, calculating the age of her brothers, she realized that they must have started before Fergus and Baz and Rick were born, before D-Dad had married Jane.

"But..." She couldn't really put her horror into words. "You got married," she finally said and it came out like a shout.

"I... I know," D-Dad said quietly.

"But why? Why didn't you just tell them the truth then? Why did you wait for years?"

D-Dad looked to Joe-Dad. Joe-Dad looked completely stoic now, and it frightened her a bit, but she wanted answers, damn it. She needed to understand.

"We both thought that your father would never leave Katherine," D-Dad finally said.

"And that makes it better?" she asked incredulously, because in her mind it just made things worse.

"No, it doesn't," Joe-Dad said. "Nothing can make it better. There is no excuse."

"Except that we were in love," D-Dad said, looking just a bit sad, and she hated to see that when he was talking about loving Joe-Dad. But she couldn't stop.

"Then why didn't you tell them? Why did you keep lying to them? You could have simply been honest. You lied to them for years. How can you even trust each other? How can you know it's not going to happen again?"

"We can't," D-Dad said, sounding resigned, but matter-of-factly.

"That is not true," Joe-Dad said sharply, straightening.

D-Dad turned to him. "Joe."

"How can you say this to her?" Joe-Dad asked. "And God, do you want her to lose every bit of faith before she even falls in love for the first time."

"I'm just not lying to her," D-Dad said. He turned to her. "It doesn't mean that it's not worth it. You have to know that."

"We never meant to hurt anyone," Joe-Dad added. "I know that we did, but sometimes you can't help it. Sometimes you hurt someone without wanting to, and then you can only hope that you're forgiven. And you might not be. Some things can't be forgiven, and some things shouldn't be forgiven. You'll have to figure that out for yourself."

She looked at her parents. "Aunt Katherine and Aunt Jane forgave you."

"They did," Joe-Dad said. "And I'm not sure we deserved it. What we did to them was unforgivable. We can only make sure that it never happens again," he said looking at D-Dad.

D-Dad sighed.

"David, you're wrong." Joe-Dad turned to her. "What your father meant was that we can never be sure what will happen. We never planned to fall in love but we did. And as much as I'd like to say I will always be with your father, I cannot know that, but I do know that I won't ever lie to him." He turned to D-Dad. "After all we've been through, I know that we could never do that to each other. No matter how much it would hurt, we'd be honest with each other. And that's the truth."

D-Dad looked at him, and it was that astonished look that he got when Joe-Dad said something smart and proved D-Dad completely wrong. "You're right," he said with a small smile. Then he turned to her, and the smile widened and became a bit mischievous. "Your father's right. Who would have thought?"

Joe-Dad gave him a look, before turning to Kate. "Are you all right?" he asked, visibly concerned.

She thought about it. It was still hard to process what they'd done, and some part of her still couldn't believe that the same people who had raised her, had always been there for her and were so loving and giving to each other, had lied to and betrayed their loved ones for such a long time. She tried to understand their situation back then, and what she did understand was their need to be with each other because she simply couldn't imagine them not being together. "Yeah," she said hesitantly.

Joe-Dad lifted his eyebrows, encouraging her to go on.

Was she all right? "Yeah," she said with more conviction. She'd far from figured it all out in her head, and she wasn't sure how this would affect how she saw her fathers, but she would be able to deal with it one way or another. She was sure of that at least. Although, there was one thing. "Can I talk to Aunt Katherine and Aunt Jane about it?"

Joe-Dad and D-Dad exchanged a look.

"Of course," D-Dad said.

"If they want to," Joe-Dad amended. "And you can talk with us. If you have questions and don't understand. We'll try to explain it as well as we can." D-Dad nodded. "Just give me a little head-start, okay?" Joe-Dad added ruefully.

D-Dad snorted and she smiled.

"Okay," she said, getting up from the table and taking her dishes. She carried them to the kitchen and made her way to the stairs when she remembered something. She turned and went back into the dining room. "Don't be mad at Aidan," she said.

Joe-Dad's jaw clenched, and D-Dad looked at him as if he knew that was going to take some persuasion. "We won't", D-Dad said, giving her a reassuring smile. However, she waited until Joe-Dad looked at her too and nodded.

It was only then that she smiled, said "Good night" and turned to leave. Around the corner, she stopped and turned once more.

Her parents sat silently at the table. Joe-Dad had a faraway look. D-Dad reached out and put a hand on his. They looked at each other, and it wasn't a happy look. But she still recognized it as uniquely her parents'.

Suddenly she realized that this wasn't just the look of two people who were willing to go through the bad times together as well as the good. It was the look of two people who had already gone through bad times, really bad times. She still didn't know what to think of the decisions her parents had made, but she knew without a doubt that what they'd done they wouldn't have done lightly. They simply couldn't have seen an alternative, and the idea that you felt forced to do something that was wrong was terrible.

She watched as D-Dad leaned forward and Joe-Dad did the same and their lips met in a kiss. Her heart hurt at the sight. She'd always seen her parents' love for each other as something wonderful, but now she realized that it had also been a source of great pain for so many people: Katherine, Jane, certainly Aidan, whom she couldn't blame, even if she didn't think she could ever hate her parents for what they'd done. And Joe-Dad and D-Dad themselves must have gone through a lot of pain.

Her fathers' kiss deepened as they reassured themselves of their love. And okay, now it got a little gross. Kate turned and went quietly up to her room before she saw things that would scar her for life.

Upstairs she dug out her photo album with pictures of her as a baby with her biological parents, but then she skipped to a few years later. She looked at herself, learning to ride a bike or rolling down a hill with one or both of her fathers by her side. Back then it had seemed that they knew everything.

Now she realized that they weren't so different from herself, only trying their best and sometimes messing up really badly. In a way it was nice to have that in common, to have them be just like her in that way.

But as she lay down and looked at a picture of her as a younger girl, gazing adoringly at her fathers, she kind of wished they could have stayed perfect for just a bit longer.