Film Brain was humming a familiar cartoon theme song and finishing the task of combining his movie collection with Critic's, which had required no less than four bookcases to accommodate it all, when he heard the chime of the doorbell.
"Critic! They're here!"
Sliding the last Don Bluth DVD into place, Film Brain ran a hand through his hair before he hurried over toward the front door and pulled it open, beaming at the guests who stood on the other side.
"Hello! We're so glad you could make it!" He quickly directed his beam at the tiny bundle wrapped in a blanket bearing the image of Sesame Street's resident numerophiliac, Count Von Count. "And this must be little Grey! Aw, he's adorable!"
"Yeah, we think he's pretty neat," Paw said with a chuckle before he and Maven entered Critic's home.
"He's better than neat, he's wonderful!" Film Brain exclaimed as he led the new parents into the study, where snacks and beverages were already laid out on the table for them. "I just know Critic will be as delighted as to see him as I am!"
"I didn't take Critic to be a fan of children," Maven mused as she reached for the glass of tomato juice prepared just for her.
"I am when I only have to be around them for an hour tops," Critic snarked, suddenly making his appearance as he crossed the room to grab a bottle of beer from the table.
"That's the Critic we know and love," Paw said, reaching out to shake his hand. "Thanks for inviting us over. We've officially made you two the first stop on our grand baby tour!"
"We're honored," Critic said, sounding only slightly sarcastic this time. He took a few cautious steps toward Maven, peering down at the baby she held curiously.
"Would you like to hold him, Critic?"
"W-what? No, no, that's definitely not a good idea," Critic said, curiosity turning to panic as he scrambled backwards.
"Oh come on, he doesn't bite," Maven replied, taking a step closer to him. "He won't get his fangs for another six months, at earliest."
"See, I don't know if you're joking right now, so that's not helping your case here," Critic admitted.
"Critic, there's no reason to be worried." Critic looked down to Film Brain, who had suddenly appeared at his side, a calm smile on his face. "I know you're curious, so why don't you give it a try? You won't mess this up, I promise."
Critic smiled softly and nodded, reassured. "Thanks, Film Brain." He turned back to Maven and extended his arms. "Just don't get mad if I drop him on his head."
Maven laughed as she settled her son into his arms.
"Aw, how cute," Paw said as he took in the sight, a sappy smile on his face. "This is a good look for you, Critic. You should consider showing off your softer side more often, like you did in your crossover with Film Brain!"
While Critic's face started to turn red, Film Brain's lit up. "You saw that? What did you think? I know people have been wanting to see a crossover between the two of us for quite some time, so I hope we delivered!"
"You truly did," Maven reassured him. "You two have wonderful chemistry and your review was a joy to watch. I was particularly impressed by the ending, and your tender declaration of your feelings, Critic."
"I never thought I'd live to see the day where Critic told someone he loved them," Paw agreed.
Critic blushed even brighter red. "What's the big deal? I said it because I felt it. It's not like the world's going to start spinning out of orbit or something."
"He's so cute when he's embarrassed," Paw teased.
"If I didn't have a baby in my arms, you would be in a world of pain, Paw."
Maven admired her son with an approving look. "He really seems to have taken to you, Critic. Babies don't just sleep in the arms of strangers so easily, you know."
"Really?" Critic glanced down at the tiny, bald-headed being and felt a strange, hot feeling flare up in his chest.
"Yes really! In fact, he might be able to sleep through the rest of the afternoon if he's held in such a warm, comforting position," Paw chimed in. Film Brain and Critic were so engrossed in looking down at Grey that they failed to notice how their guests were not-so-slowly backing out of the room.
"It would be quite a shame to wake him from his slumber,” Maven added, pulling her car keys from her purse and handing them to Paw. "Perhaps it would be for the best if you watched over him for a little while."
Critic's head snapped back up when he heard this. "What?! Where the hell do you think you're going?!"
"Shhhh!" three voices hissed at him.
"Don't wake him, Critic! He needs all the rest he can get at this stage-and so do we," Paw murmured, stifling a yawn with the back of his hand.
"It would just be for a few hours. We will retreat to our coffin and rejuvenate ourselves while the sun is still up," Maven said, inching ever closer towards the door. "Besides, you two look like you would be marvelous babysitters. I'm sure our darling will be in the safest of hands."
"Hands that would be around your neck if I had it my way!" Critic got out through grit teeth, though he unclenched when Film Brain patted his arm.
"It's just for a few hours, Critic. I'll be here and I can help you keep an eye on him."
"You're a doll, Film Brain! We're definitely keeping you in mind for godfather!" Paw cried out before they vanished out the front door.
Critic sighed as he heard the duo peel out of his driveway before he turned to Film Brain. "Okay, that's it, your turn to hold him."
"Gladly," Film Brain agreed, eagerly opening his arms so he could accept the baby. Critic grunted and flopped down onto the couch, reaching for a handful of chips to shove into his mouth.
"I can't believe I was forced into this position again. What do I look like, a member of the fuckng Baby-Sitter's Club? Do I have some form of fucking child-magnetism thanks to merging with the Plot Hole or some shit? Why does this keep fucking happening to me?"
"Oh for God's sake, Film Brain, there's no way he'll remember any of this! I could recite Carlin's '7 Words You Can Never Say on Television' routine and it'd make no damn difference!" Nevertheless, Critic inhaled another handful of chips so his mouth would be occupied until he started to calm down.
"Oh stop being so grumpy," Film Brain chided as he took a seat beside his boyfriend. "You seemed perfectly happy looking after children before. Remember my cousins and Evilina?"
"Uh yeah, I think I remember that," Critic replied with a roll of his eyes. "I also remember those three being able to talk, and feed themselves, and appreciate a good movie when they saw it. They weren't completely helpless drool and poop factories like this thing."
Grey, seemingly amused at this description of himself, started to burble happily.
"Well, I think it's kind of exciting to be looking after a baby," Film Brain admitted. "Especially a little cutie like this one."
'Eh," Critic mumbled non-comitally.
Film Brain shot him a look. "You can't tell me you didn't feel something when you were holding him, Critic."
Critic blushed once again. "I refuse to answer that."
"Well I certainly felt something," Film Brain continued, shifting Grey in his arms a little. "You looked very adorable when you held him."
Critic's face burned brighter and he looked away. "Shut up."
"Paw was right. You are so very cute when you're embarrassed," Film Brain remarked before leaning in and pecking Critic's bright-red cheek.
"Will you knock it off?!" Critic snapped, before he slapped a hand over his mouth in horror. They both looked down when they heard the baby give a tiny whimper that eventually turned into a wail. "Oh, great, now look what you did!" Critic threw his hands up and Film Brain looked incredulous.
"Me? I'm not the one who was screaming louder than the baby!"
"Whatever! Isn't there anything we can do to make him stop? Is there a button on him or something?"
Film Brain bounced Grey gently in his lap, trying to soothe his cries. "Maybe Paw and Maven left their diaper bag here. There should probably be something inside which can settle him down."
"Well hurry up and get it then!"
Film Brain sighed. "Fine, if I'm fetching the bag, then you should have no problem holding him while I go." He deposited the baby into Critic's arms and got up without further ado.
Critic scowled. "Oh yeah, that's nice. Real nice." He looked down at the red-faced Grey with a frown. "Hey, you got a pretty sweet gig here, kid. You got parents and babysitters who do nothing but feed you, clothe you, and wipe your ass for you. What reason do you have to cry?"
Grey only sobbed louder at this and waved his little fists in the air, so Critic started looking around for something he could use to distract him-or migraine medicine. Whichever he found first. Finally, his eyes landed on a book sitting on the bookcase, and his eyebrow went up as he was struck with an idea.
"Maybe those forced babysitting sessions did pay off."
Film Brain sighed in relief after he found the diaper bag resting against the front door and he quickly rummaged through it.
"Let's see: there's formula, bottles, diapers, baby wipes, clothes, and toys. I don't know what Grey wants, so we'll have to try them all." Film Brain picked up the bag and brought it to the kitchen where he quickly prepared some formula, hoping it would be perfect for quieting the baby's cries. As he carried the warm bottle back into the study, Film Brain was pleasantly surprised to find that Grey was no longer crying, and even more surprised to hear Critic's voice instead. Film Brain peeked his head into the room and watched as Critic read aloud from a book. It was a Dr. Seuss story which he'd heard many times as a child, but somehow hearing it spoken in Critic's warm tones caused him to imagine the scenes playing out in his head.
"Oh the places you'll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all."
Grey also seemed to be entranced by Critic's voice, and by the time he was finished, the baby had drifted off into a deep and restful slumber. Critic smiled down at him after setting the book back onto the table before he traced one finger down the baby's chubby cheeks. "Don't tell anyone I said this, but you actually are pretty cute."
Film Brain silently sat down beside Critic and wrapped one arm behind his back, leaning against the taller man while Critic leaned back. "I promise."
Phelous took a sip of his coffee before smiling politely over at his guests. "I'm so sorry Snob isn't finished working yet. He's really happy that you came to visit us, but, uh, you know how busy he can get once he's editing a review."
"Of course, we completely know how engrossed you can get in your work," Paw replied, sipping from his coffee cup as well.
"Once, after watching an especially intriguing vampire film, I moved into a belfry for a week and communed with the bats within," Maven added, stirring her tomato juice with a stick of celery.
Phelous tried not to cringe at the thought of rooming with winged rodents and quickly stood up. "Why don't I just check on his progress."
"Of course, please go ahead," Paw replied happily.
Phelous nodded and made his way up the stairs and directly into the bedroom where, as he expected, the shorter man was flipping through a magazine. "Seriously?" he asked, shaking his head in slight disappointment.
Snob scowled and lowered his reading material. "What did you expect? You know I hate having company, and that I hate babies, and yet you invited both of those abominations into our house."
"So now our friends and newborn babies are abominations," Phelous repeated, his expression growing incredulous. "Do you even hear yourself right now, Snob?"
"Just leave me alone. I am not coming anywhere near a damn baby."
Phelous sighed in disgust and closed the door. There was no point in trying to ague when Snob got into one of his moods, so the best he could do was apologize to Paw and Maven and hope they didn't cut all ties to the exploitation lover. Phelous made his way back downstairs, mentally composing an apology, when he realized he was staring into an empty living room. Well, not a totally empty living room, since baby Grey was still there, strapped into his carrier, along with his diaper bag and what appeared to be a folded note on the coffee table. Phelous quickly picked it up and read.
'Phelous and Snob,
Thank you most kindly for your hospitality today. Unfortunately, Paw and I had to step out to complete some errands, and hopefully catch a nap, since we are dreadfully tired, so we have entrusted our son's care to you on this most joyous of days. We're sure you two will rise to the challenge so don't let us down! Everything you need for Grey can be found in the bag we've left for you, so please have a splendid day bonding with a new lifeforce! See you at 8.
Maven and Paw.'
"Oh fuck," Phelous muttered just as footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs.
"I heard a car pull out of the driveway," Snob said, bouncing into the room with a smile on his face. "Are they gone?"
Phelous turned around and bit his bottom lip. "Don't get mad, Snob."
Snob blinked before his eyes traveled to the couch, and the baby sitting there, who was sucking on his fingers and gurgling obliviously. "Oh, you've gotta be kidding me!" Snob shouted, stamping his foot on the floor angrily. "Those assholes fucking left him here?! Who do they think they are?! Screw this, I'm calling child protective services!"
He reached for his cell phone but Phelous quickly grabbed it from his hand. "Come on, Snob, don't do this. Yeah, it was a dick move for them to just leave him here with us, but I'm sure we can keep watch over him until they get back."
"I don't know anything about babies!" Snob protested, crossing his arms. "I don't WANT to know anything about babies! If it drools on any of my stuff I'm putting him in Lloyd's carrier!"
Phelous groaned and clamped his fingers around Snob's wrist, pulling him into the kitchen as quickly as possible. "First of all, shut the hell up!" he snapped once they were out of sight of Grey. "If you keep screaming like that, you're going to upset him and he's going to cry. Loudly. Do you want that to happen?"
"No," Snob admitted in a softer tone, yanking his wrist back and rubbing it as if Phelous had injured him. Phelous rolled his eyes and ignored that.
"Second of all, you don't have to know anything about the damn baby. Since I was the one who invited them over, I'll take care of him until they get back. You don't have to do a thing besides sit in your chair and be your usual charming self," he finished, adding as much sarcasm to the word charming as he could. "Okay?"
Snob's lips jutted out into a slight pout, since he was never happy when Phelous was annoyed with him, but he refused to back down on his anti-baby stance. "Fine. Just keep it quiet and out of my way, and I'll do the same for you."
Phelous nodded and let the conversation drop, since this was probably the best he could get from Snob anyway. He turned and walked back into the living room, wanting to be sure Grey hadn't gotten sick in the thirty seconds he'd been out of his sight, since that was just the type of luck he had, before letting out an unhappy sigh when a terrible stench suddenly filled the air.
"Great. Of course you need to be changed. My day just keeps getting better." Grumbling the entire time, Phelous picked up the baby and the diaper bag, and carried them into the bathroom to begin one of the most disgusting chapters of his life.
After the changing was over and the gagging had passed, Phelous decided to settle down on the couch with some cartoons while letting Grey gnaw on some soft cloth toys he'd found in the diaper bag.
"Jeez, you really can drool a lot," Phelous grumbled as he looked down at the giant wet spot growing on the couch. "Snob's gonna have a fit when he sees that. But what else is new?" Grey gurgled some more and Phelous decided to take that as agreement. "He's really not so bad once you get to know him, though. He's cranky, throws a lot of temper tantrums, is a picky eater, and can really mess up the house when he tries, but he's cute enough to get away with all of it. So in other words, you two would get along great." Phelous smiled, watching as Grey stuffed more of the toy into his mouth.
Snob, who had been eavesdropping from the kitchen the entire time, was caught between feeling outraged at being compared to an obnoxious baby, and happy that Phelous had called him cute, so he stood in the middle of the room confused for a few moments until a soft meow drew his attention. Snob's face instantly lit up when he saw Lloyd rubbing along his shins and he bent down to scoop the cat into his arms.
"Hey, how's my big guy doing?" he asked in the dopey voice he reserved only for his furry companions. "Did you have a nice nap this afternoon?" Snob cuddled Lloyd to his chest and scratched under his chin until the cat started purring rather loudly. "Aw, did you want some attention, buddy? Everyone likes a little attention now and then." Snob pressed a kiss to the top of Lloyd's head before he noticed that his cat's food bowl was empty. "Oh no, my big guy can't go around with an empty tummy. Let me fix you something good."
After setting Lloyd down, Snob picked up his dish and grabbed a can of cat food from the cabinet. He dumped it all into the bowl and put it in the microwave for ten seconds before stirring it around a little. "Ah, not too hot, not too cold," he exclaimed with a satisfied smile as he set the bowl down. While Lloyd began to eat, Snob pulled out a hairbrush from a drawer. "And after you're done, I'm going to make your fur all nice and clean because you're my favorite little buddy in the whole world." A sudden snicker from the doorway caused Snob to look up and he found Phelous, along with Grey, standing there and smirking at him.
“You can’t stand babies, huh? Looks like you’re already used to being a dad,” Phelous quipped, always loving it when Snob smothered his cats with affection, and loving it even more when Snob’s face turned that one shade of red.
“I-I am not! Lloyd is better than some dumb baby! At least he’s litter trained and knows how to feed himself!”
Grey, who had been staring at Lloyd the entire time, started to wave his arms and make noises.
“Oh, you wanna play with Lloyd now, Grey?” Phelous knelt down beside the cat, watching as Lloyd looked up from his dish and stared at the baby with interest. Lloyd sniffed him and Grey waved his hand again, bopping Lloyd lightly in the face. Lloyd let out a startled meow and darted out of the room.
“Lloyd! Buddy, come back!” Snob called out, his voice full of worry, before he ran after him. When Snob reappeared, he was carrying Lloyd in his arms and placing many kisses to his head, before he paused to glare at Phelous and the baby. “See? We let that thing into our house and he goes after my cat! He’s a menace!”
“I’m sure Lloyd is fine, Snob,” Phelous said. “He gets into more trouble fighting with Chloe and Tiniqua over the last cat treat.”
"I am so over this," Snob declared, turning on his heel and heading toward the stairs. "Lloyd and I will be spending the rest of the day in a baby-free zone, while you and that 'thing' can do whatever you want."
Phelous bit his tongue to keep from saying something he'd regret as Snob stomped up the stairs and slammed the door to his bedroom behind him, before he set to work preparing a bottle for the baby. Then he carried Grey into the living room and settled onto the couch with him.
"I thought you would be the only one throwing a tantrum this afternoon," Phelous murmured, smiling softly as Grey cooed up at him. 'Don't worry, kid. I'll make sure the grumpy man doesn't ruin our afternoon anymore. We can have fun with just the two of us, right?" Grey's coos grew louder and Phelous took this as a good sign. He tilted the bottle to Grey's lips, his smile growing wider as the baby eagerly drank his formula. "That's right, we'll have lots of fun." Just then, a horrifyingly familiar smell filled the air. Phelous moaned. "You have got to be kidding me."
Hours later, after Phelous had introduced Grey to his collection of slightly odd action figures and changed him two more times, the baby and the sitter could be found dozing together on the couch, the former in his carrier, the latter slumped over the arm, both slightly drooling. They were so tired that neither one heard the soft footsteps descending the stairs, which preceded Snob peeking his head cautiously into the room. He scowled automatically upon catching sight of Grey, but his features softened when he saw the state his boyfriend was in.
"Dammit, Phel, why do you have to look so cute when you're asleep?" Snob murmured under his breath. "And why do I have to be such a bastard...?" Just then he heard a knocking at the door and rushed over to answer it, his expression becoming a glare when he saw who was there. "About time you got here. Are you ready to pick up what you so fucking graciously left with us?"
Maven stretched her arms over her head and yawned. "Oh, yes! I feel nice and refreshed now. Where is my darling little one?"
Paw didn't pay much notice to Phelous as he collected his son, instead grinning when he realized Grey was still dozing away in his carrier.
"Aww, looks like he got a nice little nap too. Maybe if we're quiet he'll sleep for another hour or so after we get home," he whispered, looking rather desperate for such a thing to happen.
"Yeah, and maybe if you leave in the next five seconds, I won't kick both your asses for dumping him on us!" Snob hissed. "Now get out!"
Once the happy family was gone, Snob closed the door and locked it securely before walking off.
Sounds from the kitchen roused Phelous from his slumber sometime later and he blinked a few times as he tried to regain his focus. This was more easily accomplished once he realized the baby carrier and the baby were no longer anywhere in the living room, since a wave of panic drove him to frenzied scramble around the room.
"Oh shit! Where is he?! Snob? Have you seen the baby?!"
"I see you're up," Snob said, peeking in on him from the kitchen. "And before you have a fucking heart attack, I am happy to announce that those assholes already reclaimed their hell-spawn."
"Thank God," Phelous sighed, pressing a hand to his heart as he tried to calm down.
"You really look like shit, Phel." Phelous's eyes narrowed and he was about to snap a retort to his boyfriend when Snob yanked him into the kitchen. "You probably haven't had dinner yet. I'm almost done with this, so go sit at the table until it's ready."
Phelous's eyes widened as he witnessed Snob sautéing vegetables and searing chicken, and he was even more surprised to see the table set for two. "I assumed you would have snacked on something upstairs."
"I knew you wouldn't eat," was all Snob said in response. His back was tuned, but Phelous knew his expression was one of concern.
"I guess I was too worried about fucking up to remember that. I didn't mean to make you do this." Snob didn't respond so Phelous made his way over to the table, stumbling a little as he sat down. "Whoa. I guess I didn't realize how tired I was," he murmured, shaking his head a little to get the fuzzy feeling out of it. He looked up when he saw Snob place a glass of water in front of him, then a mug of tea.
"Here. Drink these and don't get up." Snob walked back over to the stove and began plating the food, setting one down before Phelous before sitting down next to him. "There. Now eat. Or do I need to cut it up and feed it to you?" Snob snarked, though he showed plainly that he would be very upset if Phelous didn't get some nourishment.
Phelous obeyed, bringing several forkfuls of meat to his mouth quickly, followed by the vegetables, the tea, and even the glass of water, which he managed to drain in a few seconds.
"Slow down or you'll get sick," Snob scolded, though he seemed to be eating at a faster pace than usual as well. Once they'd finished their meals, Phelous reached for his plate, but Snob snatched it away before he could.
"No dishes tonight. You go upstairs and get right into bed," he ordered, his tone very serious.
Phelous couldn't help but smile at him. "Will you tuck me in and read me a story?"
Phelous's subsequent yawn cut off the snarky comeback he'd come up with, and exhaustion quickly overwhelmed him. "Okay, Snob," he mumbled, standing up on wobbly legs before he trudged up the stairs. Phelous only managed tp pull off his shoes and jeans before he collapsed onto the bed and crawled under the covers. He was on the verge of drifting off when he felt a warm body settled down beside him, soft hands sliding under his shirt to rub at his back.
Phelous sighed happily. "I knew you... had it in you... to be... nurturing..."
"Not compared to you," Snob admitted in a low voice. "You fucking run yourself ragged today."
"Yeah but... it was worth it..." Phelous sighed in contentment once more when he felt warm lips pressed to the back of his neck.
"Even though I never want to see a fucking baby around here again, watching you today made me consider for the first time in my life that... maybe it wouldn't be so bad," Snob admitted. "Purely in a hypothetical, you-do-all-the-work-and-I-do-nothing manner," he quickly clarified.
Phelous craned his head back to smile at Snob. "I guess now's the perfect time to tell you that I offered to watch Insano's kid tomorrow."
At once, the massage and kisses stopped. "If you ever make another joke like that, I'll strip you, put you in a diaper, and lock you out of the house for a week."
Phelous snickered. "Totally worth it."
It was a pleasant, though rainy day in the base one afternoon. With all the world-saving, comic reviewing, and errands finished for the time being, the team were all relaxing and making conversation around the table as they waited for lunch to be served.
After what seemed like hours to the hungry men, Ninja-Style Dancer stepped away from the counter and with a snap of his fingers caused several bowls of steaming ramen to appear all around the table.
*Here is your lunch, everyone. Seeing as it is already becoming quite gloomy outside, I thought something warm would help rejuvenate us today. Please enjoy.* He bowed and said a held up a quick Japanese prayer before sitting down and indulging himself.
"Mmmm," 90s Kid sighed as he felt the steam hit his face. "Your ramen is always the most awesome, Ninja-dude."
Dan nodded in agreement as he tasted his first bite of noodles, feeling the warmth travel down his throat and into his stomach with delight. "Indeed it is, Kid. Thank you again for inviting me over for lunch. I had to admit, this is much better than the cup ramen I usually eat."
Ninja's nose screwed up in distaste. *I would never dream of serving that to an animal, let alone a human.* His eyes then softened as he noticed Harvey eating his steadily. *How does it hold up to a chef of your caliber, Finevoice?*
"I think you got something real swell going here," Harvey admitted, wiping his mouth with a napkin. "On cold and wet days I tend to prefer chicken soup, but this is a very acceptable substitute."
*Substitute? When you're eating top quality ramen like this, chicken soup is clearly the inferior product.*
This quickly devolved into a normal bout of bickering over culinary talents which the rest of the team ignored as they enjoyed their lunch, but all conversation ceased when there was a loud knocking at the door.
"I wonder who that is," Linkara said, rising to his feet so he could answer the door.
"Weren't you having company over today, Kid?" Harvey wondered. "Maybe that's them."
"Well yeah, but I told them to stop by whenever they wanted this afternoon, so I doubt they took that to mean come by at noon on the dot." Linkara arrived at the door and pulled it open, looking around curiously, before frowning when he realized no one was there. "Huh, that's weird. I wonder..." Linkara trailed off when he caught sight of a baby carrier resting beside his doorstop along with a large diaper bag, a note, and a softly cooing baby. "What the hell?"
Linkara snatched up the note and read it before his eyes narrowed. "Apparently they took that to mean, 'Yes, on top of saving the world, I am running a daycare service, so please drop your kid off whenever you want and then leave for several hours'. I can't believe those two!" Linkara pulled out his cellphone and spent a good five minutes leaving angry voicemails for both Paw and Maven before he sighed and carried his charge for the afternoon inside. "Okay, team, there's been a change of plans," he announced as he plopped the baby carrier onto the kitchen counter so everyone could see it.
Almost instantly, Boffo flew from his seat and over to Grey's side, dangling a pile of child play-keys from his fingers to the boy's delight. Linkara blinked in surprise. "Where did you get those?"
"Oh, you never know what Boffo's got stored in those pockets of his," Linksano replied, still at the table enjoying his lunch. "I take the baby's presence to mean your associates have arrived?"
"Actually no. That's what I said about there being a change of plans."
"What do you mean, Linkara-dude?" 90s Kid wondered as he also made his way over to smile down at the baby.
"I mean my former friends have decided that instead of spending the afternoon visiting me, they'd rather take in dinner and a show, so they've generously made me their babysitter for the next twelve or so hours," Linkara explained, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
Twelve whole hours? That's wonderful! Boffo honked, now tickling Grey under the chin. I'd be happy to look after this cute little guy for the day!
Linksano turned to Boffo, his previously amused smile faltering. "Boffo, dear, I realize you're excited, but I thought we were going to the laser light show this evening? Maybe you'd prefer not to go now though. That's of course alright, but... I'd just... hate to waste the tickets..."
Boffo's expression grew conflicted as he pondered this, before he snapped his fingers. I know! How about we all look after him in shifts to make it a little easier on ourselves? Linksano and I will take first shift, then 90s Kid and Dan can have the next turn, and Linkara and Harvey can take the evening!
"Yeah, that sounds awesome! But what about Ninja-dude?" 90s Kid piped up, and all eyes turned towards him suddenly.
Ninja caught sight of Boffo's expectant face and then looked away.
*I, er, actually need to attend to some errands. Ninja errands. Can't tell where I'm going, top secret. It appears I'm late. Farewell, everyone.*
He was about to throw down his smoke bomb but Boffo caught him by the wrist.
Oh no, you are not setting one of those off when we have the baby over. Go out the front door. He demanded, pointing at it. Ninja nodded and quickly did so while Linksano stared.
"I have no idea how you did that but I've never been more impressed with you, dear."
Not wanting them to lose track of what was happening, Linkara cleared his throat. "Boffo, I appreciate your willingness to help, but I'm not sure if we'll be able to take care of a baby for the day. Not all of us have experience with this sort of thing."
It's just for a few hours! Boffo pleaded. Besides, they left everything we'll need!
"Yeah, and I'm good with kids, Linkara-dude! Dan and I'll be fine." Dan's eyes widened and he scratched at his arm uncomfortably before flashing a quick smile, but otherwise remained still.
Linkara looked between them all before his eyes finally landed on Harvey, who had been mostly quiet during this time. "Well, um... I guess it's okay with me if it's okay with Harvey, then." Linkara bit his lip softly as he tried not to let his worries overcome him. Harvey had good days and bad days when it came to children and he wanted to be sure this wouldn't become one of the bad ones.
A soft smile spread across Harvey's face as he nodded toward Linkara. "It's okay with me, Kid. I could never say no to a squirt in need."
Relieved, Linkara turned back to Boffo. "Alright, then we will use the shifts Boffo has determined, but if anyone needs help, we'll all be able to ask each other for it."
"Except for when we're at the show!" Linksano interjected.
Right, so then it's our turn to take care of this little bundle of sweetness and light first! Boffo signed as he picked up the carrier and started off toward the stairs.
"Hey Chuckles, don't you wanna finish your lunch?" Harvey wondered, looking down at Boffo's half-eaten meal with slight disapproval.
I can eat later, once I've made sure this little one is satisfied!
"Don't worry, I'll make certain he eats it," Linksano promised as he moved Boffo's bowl next to his. He knew how his boyfriend could get when he was enthralled with something, especially if that something involved children. Once he'd finished eating, he carried Boffo's ramen and the diaper bag up the stairs with a soft sigh.
"So it begins. Tesla have mercy on my soul."
Boffo was having the afternoon of his life. He'd already fed Grey, cuddled him, and amused him with a puppet show that he was planning to debut at the hospital next month. Grey had proven to be a very receptive audience for a newborn, laughing softly whenever the clown tickled his chin or cooing when he was rocked in his arms. Boffo wished that Linksano was having as good a time as he was, but the scientist had spent most of his time lying on their bed and reading.
Oscar, don't you want to play with Grey? He finally asked, looking over to Linksano curiously.
Linksano looked toward the baby with apprehension before marking his page and setting the book down carefully. "You seem to have things under control, Boffo. It's only natural, since you can make even the most stubborn of children smile, but I fear that I know close to nothing about them."
Babies aren't hard to deal with at all, Oscar. It's easy to keep them entertained if you focus. Besides, I'm sure you must know some things about them.
Linksano finally stood up from the bed and walked over, though still keeping a safe distance from them. "Yes, I know how they're created and I could give one a check-up, but caring for one is harder. I haven't met very many infants." Boffo reached for the baby and carefully took him into his arms, holding him out to Linksano. "Oh, Boffo, I-I couldn't," Linksano told him, inching away. "Babies are very messy creatures and I just had this coat dry-cleaned."
Boffo smiled and nodded before sitting down on the end of their bed. Alright, Oscar. I don't want to push you if you aren't comfortable doing this. I'm sorry for bothering you before.
"You weren't bothering me," Linksano muttered, his fingers clenching and unclenching as nervous energy started to fill his body. There was a part of him that enjoyed watching Boffo in his element; caring for children came so naturally to the clown. He was gentle and loving and all around decent-just the opposite of Linksano, if he were being honest with himself. He couldn't care for a baby; it was a miracle that he'd managed to maintain a steady job and relationship for so long what with his true nature being quite the opposite of sane.
But when he realized Boffo was gazing at him with that look of adoration he reserved only for Linksano, revealing he was utterly content and at peace, Linksano's twitches started to fade and his worry vanished as he thought that perhaps he wasn't as ill-suited to this task as he'd originally assumed.
"Boffo, I..." He trailed off and swallowed nervously before taking a hesitant seat on the bed beside his boyfriend. "I think maybe I would like to try."
Boffo's eyes widened in delight. I'm so glad to hear that, Oscar! I promise you, it's much easier than you think! First take off your coat and then I'll show you how to hold him.
Linksano nodded and slipped off the garment, folding it neatly before placing it behind him on the bed.
Now, hold your arms out like that, and be sure to keep his head supported. There we go.
Boffo gently placed Grey in Linksano's arms and the scientist looked down at him awkwardly.
"I'm sure I must look ridiculous."
You look utterly adorable! Boffo insisted, burning the image of Linksano holding a happy baby into his memory.
Linksano blushed lightly. "Really? You don't think he'd be happier elsewhere?"
I don't think there's any place he'd rather be. Boffo assured him.
Linksano smiled a bit and gazed down at the boy with a look of fondness. "Well, hello there, young one. My name is Dr. Linksano. I know, being an infant, that you don't comprehend my words, but speaking in a soothing voice should be a pleasant experience for you."
To prove him correct, Grey giggled and reached one tiny hand up toward Linksano's goggles.
"Since you seem to be quite active, perhaps it might be good to stimulate your mind before those parents of yours fill it with the dreck they deem worthy enough for their reviews." Linksano glanced up at the clown once again. "Boffo dear, could you open the nightstand and hand me my cards."
Of course. Boffo handed Linksano his homemade flash cards and beamed with pride as Linksano held one up.
"I'm hoping to one day sell these to gifted children," he explained to the baby. "Now, we'll start with an easy one. Here we see the letters A and U: what element on the periodic table does this stand for?"
"Goo," Grey replied, drooling slightly as he continued to reach toward Linksano's goggles.
"That's right, gold!" Linksano cried, smiling even more fondly at the boy. "This child has more promise than I expected! Now, what is gold's atomic weight? Come on, this is an easy one..."
Linksano continued to educate Grey with his cards while Boffo watched happily, until the baby's eyelids fluttered closed and he drifted off for a nap. Linksano frowned when he noticed this, looking slightly put out. "I didn't even get halfway through the table," he muttered, pouting a bit. Boffo could no longer resist how cute his boyfriend looked, so he leaned over and planted a kiss on his lips. "What was that for?" Linksano wondered.
Just thanking you for being such a wonderful babysitter! Boffo told him, though if he were honest that was only half the truth. Seeing Linksano interact so sweetly with the baby had caused him to become more lovestruck than ever. I knew you could do it if you tried!
Linksano blushed and looked pleased at Boffo's encouragement. "Praise from the master himself. I suppose this wasn't such a bad way to spend the afternoon after all. Although I hope the show this evening will be just as enjoyable to you."
Boffo nodded. Of course it will. I'm always excited to spend the evening with you, Oscar. I'd love to get dinner with you at our own special spot, and perhaps I could find us a cozy place to spend the evening?
Boffo batted his eyelashes encouragingly and Linksano giggled. "Oh my. I believe I could find myself enjoying that..." Boffo slid an arm around Linksano's waist and kissed him again.
We'll hand him over to 90s Kid once he wakes up. But for now, why don't we rest up as well? I have a feeling there won't be much rest for us this evening.
Boffo winked and Linksano giggled bashfully once more.
"I never knew being babysitters could have such delightful perks."
90s Kid sat on his bed holding the still-dozing Grey and staring down at him in awe. He had been doing this for the past hour in relative silence, without even complaining once about his arms hurting, which was a new record for him. 90s Kid had never been so close to a baby before, so he'd made a vow to devote his complete attention to the newborn for the duration of their time together. From the other side of the room, Dan glanced up from the comic he was reading to check on them.
"How you doing, sweetie?" he whispered. "You need anything? I can get you a soda no problem."
"Nah, I'm cool," 90s Kid whispered back.
"Are you going to hold him the whole time?" Dan wondered. "I don't think he'd wake up if you put him into his carrier."
"It's no biggie," 90s Kid insisted. "And I kinda like holding him. He's all soft and warm and, like, he smells kinda nice." 90s Kid bent down to take a whiff of his hair. "You wanna smell him, Dan?"
Dan chuckled and shook his head. "No thanks."
90s Kid frowned a little. "How come you're sitting over at my desk? You should come sit next to me, on the bed."
"I don't think there's enough room for all of us," Dan replied, looking the teen's small bed over dubiously.
"What? There totally is. I can just do this." 90s Kid folded up his legs to his chest and gestured with his head toward the empty spot which that action created.
"Kid, you're already working your arms overtime," Dan gently chided. "I don't want you doing the same with your legs. It's not really a big deal if I sit over here just once, is it?"
90s Kid sighed and relaxed his legs once more. "Guess not." Just then, a faint beeping sound could be heard coming from downstairs. "Duuude, the cookies we baked are totally done!" 90s Kid started to slide off the bed. "Can you hold Grey-dude while I go get them?"
"I'll get them, Kid."
"Dan, you're the guest. You don't have to-"
"It's really no trouble at all!" Dan's smile was very wide but it didn't reach his eyes. "I'll take care of it, so you don't have to worry about a thing! Be back in a jiff!"
90s Kid watched Dan exit the room in a hurry before glancing back down at the baby. Grey finally started to blink open his eyes and yawn, which 90s Kid found to be totally cute. "Aww, did we wake you up? Sorry, little dude. I'll try not to talk so much with Dan... which he probably would be cool with since he's, like, way too quiet today."
Grey reached up and grabbed 90s Kid's sunglasses, knocking them off his face, but 90s Kid didn't mind at all. Anything the baby did right then would be fine with him.
Dan came back with the platter of cookies a little later, his smile still wide but somewhat more genuine. "Here we are, Kid! Oh, the baby's awake. Wanna put him down now so we can enjoy these while they're still warm?"
"Yeah, okay. I guess my arms are a little tired," 90s Kid finally relented. He carefully set Grey down into his carrier and grimaced as he felt the soreness in his back and shoulder. Dan reached out to massage them, earning a grateful smile from the teen. "Thanks, dude. That feels good."
Dan smiled. "I'm so glad to hear that, Kid." He leaned in to kiss 90s Kid and started to slide his arms around him when 90s Kid pushed him back gently.
"Dude, we're still looking after the baby. We can make out and stuff when our turn is over, okay?"
Dan's expression shifted into something 90s Kid couldn't identify for an instant before it returned to his normal smile. "You're right. Sorry for being so impatient, sweetie. I'll just go back to my comic." He moved to stand up when he felt 90s Kid latch onto his wrist.
"Don't leave," 90s Kid begged, looking up at Dan with a sad expression.
"Kid, I'm just going right over here," Dan said, chuckling again.
"Why don't you want to sit next to me?"
"Well, as you just pointed out, I'm a bit of a distraction," Dan said, his eyes quickly darting to the baby. "Maybe it would be for the best if I just left you alone while you're with him."
"You wanna leave?" 90s Kid looked at Dan in shock. "Why? I don't get this, dude. What's wrong?"
Dan pulled his arm free of 90s Kid's grasp. "Nothing's wrong, sweetie, I'm fine."
"You're not fine. You seem..."
"What? Annoyed? Angry? Upset?" Dan's eyes bore back into 90s Kid's intently, and the teen suddenly wished he was still wearing his sunglasses. "Because I promise, I'm not any of those things, Kid."
"But you're not happy."
Dan's smile finally faltered and he turned away. "Kid, please, can we just drop this?"
"Why can't you tell me?" 90s Kid walked up to Dan, grabbing onto his shoulders. "I thought you could tell me anything, dude."
Dan tensed up before he sighed and turned back. "Fine. It's just... we had plans today and I know it was just to go the arcade but I didn't really want to break them, and you don't get a lot of free time lately so I miss being with you and... and babies make me feel weird and I don't know how to be around them, okay?"
The two stared at each other in silence, neither certain of what to say, before they both jumped when Grey started to cry. 90s Kid hurried over to scoop up the baby, comforting him softly until his crying ceased, before he looked up and realized Dan had left the room. After rocking the baby back to sleep once more, 90s Kid grabbed his teleporter and ran out into the hallway, intent on finding Linkara to tell him he had to end his shift early. He skidded to a halt though when he saw Dan standing at the end of the hallway, looking out a window.
"Sorry," the older man said without turning around as 90s Kid approached. "I thought it'd be better if you dealt with him alone." Dan's eyes widened when he felt 90s Kid wrap his arms around him.
"I'm sorry, Dan," 90s Kid muttered, pressing a kiss to the top of his head. "I just volunteered to do this without even asking you if you wanted to. I didn't know you felt, like, all weird and junk."
Dan turned around and pressed closer to 90s Kid's chest. "I'm being stupid. I shouldn't have let it bother me," he said in a disappointed tone. "I should have been more mature than that. I know how much doing this made you happy and I ruined it. I'm sorry, Kid."
"Dude, I'm not happy if you're not. If you wanna get out of here, then I'll ask Linkara and Harvey-dude if they can start their shift early."
"You'd do that for me?" After 90s Kid nodded, Dan stood up on his tiptoes and kissed him softly, his genuine smile sliding back into place. "I love you, Kid."
"I love you too, Dan." 90s Kid grinned and slid his hand into Dan's as they walked back into his room. "Okay, Grey, it's time to-oh no." They both winced when a horrible smell assaulted their noses. "Dan, quick, go get Linkara for his turn, and don't say a word about this!"
"Ugh, I am so going to get 90s Kid for this," Linkara grumbled as he exited the bathroom with Grey in his arms. He went downstairs to the kitchen where Harvey was at the counter preparing formula. After testing the bottle on his arm and nodding in approval, he went to sit in his usual chair.
"Bring him over here, Kid. I bet the little tyke's hungry." Linkara walked over and handed Grey over to Harvey, who smiled down at him fondly. "Hey there, little guy."
Linkara sat down across from Harvey as the singer began to feed him, feeling a swell of affection in his heart as he watched the scene. Harvey looked perfectly content gazing down at Grey, and Linkara couldn't help feeling like Harvey was in his element.
"You look like you're having a good time."
Harvey chuckled softly. "Been a long time since I did this, but I guess it's hard to forget. He's a hungry little fella."
"I'm glad you're around, Harvey. I would've had no idea how to do any of this stuff."
Harvey watched as Grey closed his eyes, still drinking steadily from the bottle. "Back when I was first starting out, I was just as clueless as you were. But I'm glad to see I haven't lost my touch."
Linkara went over to stand behind Harvey, massaging his shoulders gently. Once the bottle was empty, Linkara took Grey from Harvey's arms so he could stand.
"Nice work, Harvey. I think that should keep him happy for a little while." Linkara started to pat the baby on the back and Harvey was startled.
Linkara was only confused for a moment until he heard Grey burp and felt something wet and disgusting roll down his back.
Harvey burst out laughing and held up a towel. "I w-was gonna warn you to put this on first... I shouldn't be laughin', but the look on your face, Kid... you just... ahaha! Hahahaha!" Harvey started to crack up laughing and Linkara handed over the baby to him with a scowl.
"Fine. You get to clean him up while I go shower and change," he mumbled, stomping off to the bathroom to wash up. When he returned later in some clean clothes, he found that Harvey was giving Grey a bath in the kitchen sink. His earlier frustration with the singer melted away instantly as he watched Harvey carefully cover the baby's eyes before pouring the water over his head. Everything Harvey did with Grey showed how experienced he was, and Linkara found it warming his heart unexpectedly. "Anything I can do to help, Harvey?"
"Good to see ya back, Kid," Harvey said, smiling over to him. "I'm almost done here, so can you hand me that towel over there?" Linkara nodded and brought it to Harvey, before once again admiring the singer as he tended to the baby. He dried Grey off with the utmost care before settling a clean diaper on him and slipping him back into his bat-patterned onesie.
"Let me put this away for you," Linkara suggested when Harvey started to gather his bath supplies with one hand.
"Thanks, Kid. I really owe you one."
"After what just happened, you owe me two," Linkara dryly replied, earning another round of laughter from Harvey.
"Sure thing." He headed off with the baby into the living room while Linkara set to work cleaning up the sink and kitchen. It was dark now, and much cooler than before, so he also adjusted the heat to ensure the baby would not freeze before his parents returned. "I wonder if I can add my heating bill to the list of expenses I plan to give those two," Linkara muttered as he entered the living room at last. His grumblings were silenced though once he caught wind of the beautiful song wafting through the area. Linkara tiptoed closer, his expression melting into one of pure love as he witnessed Harvey rocking Grey as he serenaded him with a familiar tune.
"Moon river, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style someday..." Linkara rested his elbows on the back of the couch and bent over to get a better view of them, not wanting to interrupt Harvey until his song was over. When at last he reached the final notes, Harvey set the sleeping Grey into his carrier before leaning back into the cushions. "Don't be such a stranger, Kid. Join me."
"I was trying not to interrupt," Linkara explained as he settled on the couch beside the older man. "You know a performance isn't nearly as good if it's unfinished." Linkara's smile fell when he realized that Harvey's eyes looked red and he reached out to him in concern. "Harvey-"
"I'm okay," Harvey reassured, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief before smiling at Linkara once again. "Just got lost in a memory for a moment, but I swear I'm okay, Kid."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Linkara asked, sitting down with Harvey on the couch.
Harvey slipped a hand into his and decided to continue. "I used to sing 'Moon River' for Charlie almost every night," Harvey began, thinking back to a happier time in his life. "It was his favorite. When he was a baby, I used to sneak out of bed at night and just watch him sleep. I stared at him for hours, I couldn't tear my eyes away for anything. He was just so perfect..." Harvey smiled as he thought back and squeezed Linkara's hand. "Even though I love getting to be a singer and helping you and the other cats save the world, all I ever really wanted to be was a father. Sometimes I feel like I was made to play this part."
Linkara laid his head on Harvey's shoulder. "I think you're a great father, Harvey," he whispered. "When you say that, I'm almost glad we got the baby dumped on us for the evening."
"I am too. It was nice to get to do this again." Harvey caught Linkara wiping his eyes and kissed his cheek. "Don't worry, Kid. Everything's fine, and it's not like I don't get the chance to be a father every day here too. That's why I'm okay now. I've got a good family here, and I've got a good boy who I get to watch grow up. That's nothing to be unhappy about."
Linkara kissed him softly on the lips. "I'm so glad to hear that, Harvey."
"Maybe I'll see if Junior has any plans for tomorrow. It's been too long since I've gotten to spoil that boy rotten."
Linkara smirked. "Since you managed to get me out of this jam today, I'll let that slide."
Their tender moment was interrupted by the buzzing of Linkara's phone. Thankful that he had switched off the ringer before the baby had fallen asleep, Linkara answered with a friendly, "Hello?"
"Good evening, Linkara. This is Maven."
"Oh, it's you." Linkara gripped the phone tightly, his brows furrowing as he thought of exactly what he'd like to tell the vampiress.
"Yes, it's me!" Maven chirped, her tone much too light and airy for Linkara's taste. "My darling and I are just checking in on our little bundle of darkness! How has he been on this fine autumn day?"
"How has he been?" Linkara repeated almost in disbelief as he walked into the kitchen, lest his loud voice wake the baby up again. "How has he been? Oh, I'll tell you how he's been. He's been..." Linkara trailed off when he noticed Harvey had bent down on the couch and was stroking his fingers through the soft fuzz topping Grey's head, a look of pure contentment on his face. "He's been a joy to look after," Linkara finally finished, his voice much calmer now.
There was a pause on the other end of the line before a confused, "Really?"
"Yep," Linkara replied. "In fact, we wouldn't mind looking after him for the rest of the night. If that's okay with you, of course-"
Judging from the fact that the phone call was suddenly terminated, apparently it was in fact okay with them. Linkara pocketed his phone and returned to the living room, Harvey glancing up at him curiously.
"That the proud papa and mama of this little guy?" Linkara nodded and Harvey sighed. "I guess they're ready to come back any time now."
"Actually, they both still seemed a little tired, so I offered to watch the kid for the rest of the night," Linkara said with a small smile. "I hope you don't have a problem with that, Harvey."
Harvey rose to his feet and hugged Linkara tightly. "It's no problem at all."
Linkara hugged him back. "I thought you'd say that."
"I love you, Kid."
"I love you too."