The dim display of the digital clock beside his bed said that it was five forty-eight in the morning… and all Jim knew was that Kevin wouldn’t stop crying.
He'd had a double the day before, with a shift that had started less than twenty minutes after his classes had let out, and Jim had pumped his legs extra hard to make that mile in record time. He’d managed though, with his pack slapping against his back and his shirt damp with sweat. His boss had glanced at him, little more than a look down her nose, before she’d dismissed him with a sniff and a wave. Finally, Jim had gotten off at eight and had made it home by eight-thirty; too tired to run and far too unlucky to ever think about hitching a lift… and the boys had been done with bath time, ready for bed. He owed Sasiss a bottle of Talaxian champagne; a good vintage, if he could find it.
Taking a deep breath, Jim pushed himself up from the comfort of his mattress, rolling over to stand almost before his feet even hit the ground. Walking in an instant, one hand scrubbed over his eyes to try and chase away the sleep, the other doing a check to ensure that yes, he did indeed have pants on. Just like that, he was off, one foot in front of the other as he stumbled out into the hall, bumping against a wall as he went.
To his right, a bedroom door creaked open, and the swirling galaxy lights from a nightlight bled into the hall.
Reaching out on instinct, his fingers scratched through the soft brown strands of the six year old’s hair, reassuring himself that the boy was there and safe.
“Hey, Tommy, go back to bed.”
Instead of replying right away, his son just smacked his lips quietly on a yawn, watching Jim through his dark lashes. One little fist reached up, rubbing at his eyes, while the other scrubbed at his belly. Despite his own fatigue, Jim gave a small smile at the sight, fingers gentle in his hair.
“Is Kev okay?”
“He just had a bad dream. I’m going to go get him now.”
A quiet hum fell from the boy’s throat and his eyes slipped down the hall to where Kevin’s room was, before sliding back.
“He gonna’ sleep in your room?”
Sighing, Jim fell silent for a few seconds, tilting his head to listen to the sounds of Kevin’s crying. Heavy, wrenching sounds, they were cries that came from the little boys belly, full bodied things that would wrack his entire frame. He’d be exhausted, by the end of it, and no doubt so sore that he’d need a heat pad in the morning, to make him feel better.
“Get Skolek for me, Germ.”
Tommy ducked back into his room with a nod, the door creaking as he went, and Jim carried on down the hall with a muffled yawn.
Kevin’s room was usually awash with soft lights of green and blue, gentle things that lulled the boy to sleep and kept the monsters at bay. Now though, the room was in darkness and so a fuse must have blown, unnoticed in the dark of the house. Lips pulling down into a frown, Jim sighed and his fingers found the bed, bathed in a soft beam of light that filtered in through the window. Just a bit of pressure, and that little body rolled toward him and latched on almost instantly.
Kevin's face was blotchy, with red-white skin and mucus that dribbled from his nose. In the dimness, his green eyes were red rimmed, his ginger hair sleek with sweat, and there would be another wash before sleep came, it seemed. Carefully, Jim gathered him close, little three year old hands scrambling at his arms, his shoulders, and short nails catching on the skin of his bare chest.
Kevin's sticky wet face pressed against the slope of his neck, and the boy gave a muffled sob.
"Shh. C'mon Bug, none of that now."
Turning them, Jim lifted the boy up until he was cradled against his chest, free to cling as he chose. Bouncing on the balls of his feet, he rocked them from side to side in a gentle sway, skin growing wet from snot and tears. One hand hooked under the curve of Kevin's rear, supporting his slight weight, while the other rested on the back of his head, fingers gentle against his tangled ginger locks. "You're safe and nothing's going to get you."
Turning his head, Jim pressed his mouth against Kevin's head in a long kiss, and he exhaled past the clench of tight emotion in his chest. Kevin's fingers scrambled for purchase asthe bony knobs of his knees dug into Jim's hips, and every sobbing breath his little lungs exhaled brushed fire hot against Jim's skin.
"I'm right here, Bug, Daddy's got you."
The child’s entire body shuddered, the baby fat that he'd just managed to regain quivering, and Jim sighed quietly. They would need to be careful in the morning, and he would need to warn Sasiss: Kevin wouldn't want to eat much for the next few days after this. Nearly three years, now, and every nightmare still set them back without fail.
Shifting Kevin's weight, Jim hefted the boy up in his arms, holding him higher so he could cuddle against him. Carefully, he snatched the purple octopus patterned blanket off the sheets -a gift from Grandpa that never strayed far from Kevin's side- and maneuvered the two of them out into the hall. Kevin’s wrenching sobs were already giving way to shuddering hiccups. Smoothing a hand slowly over his back to counter the jerking, Jim nudged the bathroom door open with his hip. The lights turned on automatically, rising gradually, and he took a few seconds to orientate himself while he settled Kevin to sit on the sink.
“Hold the edge of the sink on either side of your legs, Bug.”
His breathing wheezy, Kevin stared at him with wide green eyes and a wobbling mouth, but the blanket obediently fell to the ground. “I’m dizzy, Daddy.”
“I know, Bug. I gotcha though, just hold tight.”
Touch gentle, he washed from hip to foot with practiced care, cleaning and wiggling the rag between small toes, just to watch Kevin squirm and giggle.
“All better now?”
Eyes wide, the little boy shook his head, and his fingers tightened on Jim’s shoulders. Extending his arm, Jim braced a hand on the middle of his son’s back, extra support for when he swayed. “My head’s sticky, too.”
“You’re right! Do you want to wash it now? Want me to just run the water through it?”
Nodding, pulling the toddler back a bit, Jim started the tap, adjusting it until the water ran at a comfortable temperature. From there he eased Kevin forward, and kept a steady grip when his son ducked his head below the stream to scrub for only a moment before the work was done.
“Pull-ups or undies?”
Little lips pressing together, Kevin took his time with his answer. There was hesitation in his voice, when he finally made his decision, his small words soft and unsure…
The closet next to the bathroom offered him what he might need; Jim reached into the dark depths to pat at the water-absorbing underwear. The sea creature pattern on the front of them looked mutated in the darkness of the house, and the fabric crinkled under his fingers. He made a show of reminding the young child where they were, before he ducked into the laundry room to grab a fresh pair of undies. He handed them to Kevin and watched as the boy took a tight hold on them while he turned on his heel, toting both his son and the supply back to his own bedroom.
“There’s nothing wrong with if you had needed a pull-ups, okay Bug? They’re called accidents for a reason, and-?”
“And that’s why Daddy gets me pull-ups.”
“And hey, when was the last time we had to use them? Hmm?”
Lips pushing up into a shy smile, Kevin ducked his head, and the stretch of his lips was felt against the skin of Jim’s throat.
“Not since Tommy’s birthday!”
“That’s almost a whole year!”
Another kiss to Kevin’s head, and then Jim dropped the boy onto the open space in the bed, making quick work of wiggling the little cartoon insect covered underpants up his son’s legs. Wide eyed, Tommy stared back at them from where he’d huddled himself under the covers and behind a monstrous excuse for a stuffed animal that barely fit in the cradle of his arms. The six year old held the creature, Skolek, in waiting but ready to surrender it up to his brother, instead. Clapping his hands then, watching as his children wrapped themselves around one another, Jim let out a puff of air.
“All set, guys?”
Both boys stared back at him and Jim didn’t bother to try and ignore the coil of emotion in his chest. Smiling at them, a soft expression that was nearly lost in the darkness of the room, he watched the way that Kevin ducked his head beneath his brother’s chin, fingers finding Skolek to grasp onto, while Tommy made grabby hands at him. Scratching at his stomach, shaking his head, Jim crawled into bed beside them, arms going out to hold them when they both rolled toward him.
Childish shrieks of laughter filtered in from the back yard, through the wide open windows of the kitchen. Long and familiar sharp shadows, thrown from the eggshell white and twilight gray Queen Anne style house, stretched across the backyard and crawled at the tall Tulip trees and fire bushes that littered the fenced in area. The air that blew in from the open windows was cool; crisp from the shade and sharp with the scent of salt from the ocean a few blocks away.
Hands braced on the countertop, head bowed, Jim let the sounds of his sons’ enjoyment wash over him. His body ached from a long night in advanced college lectures that no nineteen year old should sit through willingly, and too much time spent curled over books, scribbling down notes with eyes that could barely see straight. Bent as he was, body arched, most of his weight rested on the cool counter, and Jim sighed, letting himself relax in the safety of his childhood home.
“Rough night, Kid?”
Grunting, tilting his head until he could stare at his Dad, Jim watched with tired blue eyes as the other man slipped into the kitchen, bringing the soft sunshine in with him from the outside world, where the children played.
“Finals start in a few weeks.”
As if that explained it all and perhaps it did, if the way Chris winced meant anything. Shaking his head sharply, the older man puffed and his fingers curled through Jim’s hair as he passed. Following the touch, Jim tilted himself back in a sharp, swaying arch. The motion of his body pulled a laugh from the other man while Jim’s fingers gripped the edge of the counter, nearly the only thing holding him up as Jim tried to follow the touch in his hair.
The soothing scratching morphed into a sharp swat then, and Chris pushed his son away to pull a beer out of the fridge, mirth in his eyes and laughter on his lips.
“Cracking down hard?”
“The fuckers all think they’re the only teacher you have, even though they know I have four other classes in the week. They know, Dad!”
Sympathy pulled at the muscles in Chris’ face, pushing his mouth down and softening the skin around his eyes, and the man took a long drag from his beer to cover his sigh. It didn’t do much to muffle the sound though, and Jim let out a quiet sound in response, shaking his head. He would have thought of the sigh as a sign of disappointment, if he didn’t know his Dad so well. Mouth opening, his words were swallowed under the call from outside, and both men went wide eyed.
“Daddy, what’s a ‘fucker’?”
Sputtering into his beer, Chris pressed a hand to his mouth to try and stop the dark brown liquid that threatened to spill from between his lips. Jim pushed himself up, hands bracing on the counter as he hefted himself up and into the window frame. Out in the yard, Kevin lay on his back, half in and out of the shade with his little body jerking for breath. There was laughter floating on his breath though, and sunshine in his hair, and the sight of him enjoying himself was far less frightening than the shit eating grin on Tommy’s face.
Behind him, Chris was still laughing, wasn’t doing anything to try and smother the noise, and Jim swung around once the boys had gone back to playing. One finger out, he waggled it at his father in the same way it had always been done to him, and watched with a frustrated expression as his dad simply laughed harder. Outrage and embarrassment colored his features, as Jim flushed sharply in the warm sunlight that filtered into the kitchen.
“Don’t you dare!”
“You just taught a six year old how to say ‘fucker’, James! I don’t know how you expect me to not!”
It didn’t matter that he was a father of two young children and that he lived independently. It held no bearing that he worked thirty hours a week in a coffee shop that he couldn’t stand, nor that he put himself through college with the money that he got from that job. His trust fund money didn’t matter, not until he was twenty-six anyway, the meaty stipend that he and the boys received from Starfleet as payment for damages done used to keep a roof over their heads; the boys in a good school.
He looked fondly at Chris, at his face contorted in laughter and the beer balanced precariously in his hand; at sunlight dancing through the open windows, leaving golden streaks across the floor. A soft breeze danced through the antique lace curtains that had been there when he was seven and he thought it was the best thing ever, to tangle himself in their ends where they dragged the floor. The stairs with the stained wood banister were the same ones he had fallen down too many times to count and the doorjamb of the upstairs bathroom still held dash marks and dates for his height as a child; those memories didn’t belong to just him though, not anymore, not with the little dash marks in colored marker at the base that had started just over a year ago.
He was a grown man now, grown enough to have children of his own; responsibilities, and more memories and nightmares on his shoulders than any person should have to carry. In that moment though, he was nothing more than the teenager his ID card proved him to be: he was at the tender age between barely legal and able to drink, with wide eyes and a whine to his voice.
“Oh my God! Dad!”