Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to your FC pressing against your back, slipping a hand in your underwear. “I have to have you right now,” they whisper in your ear and rub their hips against your butt just to let you know how impatient they are. The two of you have a lazy roll in the sheets then another when FC insists once isn’t enough.
How could I not fall for that?"
Every few minutes there had been laughter that lit up the living room like the clear peel of tiny silver bells. Hugh’s comical character voices, and that huge beam of a smile were things that had stuck in the forefront of Atticus’ mind as he’d made a start on tidying up after supper. He gathered an armful of crockery, and carted it back to the kitchen sink, with a final glance over his shoulder at the scene. Hugh, or rather Smaug, was being chased around the sofa by two very over excited children. Atticus huffed a laugh, turned and proceeded towards the sink with deft accuracy.
Babysitting. Babysitting, with Hugh.
He’d never dared to even dream that it would happen. Months had passed since that fateful match letter had fallen through the door. Weeks and weeks since Hugh had reluctantly let go, and walked away. The pain, the soul destroying agony that they both endured had diffused the moment Atticus had been ‘released’ from what could only be described as a binding government contract. He often stopped to think about Misha, and how much he’d like to thank him for breaking the binds of that worthless piece of paper, but that would mean raking up things that should really remain buried. Best to quietly mull things over, rather than dredge up the past. Especially considering Hugh was busy trying not to be felled by rowdy children, at that precise moment. Turns out his work ties were useful for restraining dragons.
The plates in Atticus’ grasp we’re gently lowered beneath the surface of the water, and he reached out to turn the hot tap. The dulled click of stoneware to brushed chrome, muffled by lukewarm soapy water was comforting in ways he couldn’t explain. Just as the stream of water cascaded from the hot tap, Atticus’ attention snagged, and he hesitated.
There it was again, the shrill and excited squeak of delight that he’d heard every few minutes for the best part of the whole day. So why was the whole scene bothering him so?
Atticus braced himself against the brim of the sink, the points of his shoulder blades pressed into the middle of his back, the slender fingers of both hands curled over the edge, idly prodding and moving the fizzling suds that floated atop murky washing-up water. Light from the afternoon sun streamed through the kitchen window of the apartment, bleaching the floorboards and illuminating painted plaster with generous squares of pale light, and casting the rest of the room in drawn shadows.
He couldn’t help but smile to himself, the way Hugh had taken to the younger members of his family was just incredible. That being said, Atticus found himself withdrawing to the kitchen more and more. The quandary he was in was nauseating.
Requests from the children like:
“Uncle Atty, we need a Thorin Oakenshield!” Or “Uncle Atticus, pleeeaaasseeee come and play!”
Were met with:
“Sarah, sweetheart, I’ll be in in a minute…” Or “I’m sure Uncle Hugh, I mean- ‘Toothless the dragon’ has everything under control!”
With each hastily assembled excuse offered to the children, Hugh’s expression had flinched, and the look of concern was excruciating. Atticus could barely stand it.
The fact that he’d busied himself with everything other than being involved had made his other half tangibly… Uncomfortable. Whilst Hugh valiantly continued deeper into the world of make-believe, guided by the two youngsters, it was painfully obvious that Atticus would have limited time left to, yet again, form more reasons why he didn’t want to join in.
It would be literally only a matter of time before Hugh settled them in front of a DVD and found a reason to be in the kitchen. Then, Atticus would find himself cornered, like a rat, and he’d have to look into those cosmic blue-green eyes and lay his soul bare. Like he always did. Hugh had a way of stripping back the layers, and getting to the bottom of things, merely with the tone he used, and the look in those eyes of his.
He reached for the sponge scourer, seized it from where it nestled in its dish on the windowsill, and blindly plunged a hand beneath the water to retrieve a soaked plate. He proceeded to scrub in deliberate, circular motions with the plate half in, and half out of water. Merely the mundane action was enough to calm his thoughts for a few minutes. He fixed a point in the distance through the window pane, and just immersed himself in the peaceful, sporadic popping of soap suds, and the squeak of sponge to glazed stoneware.
The hot tap was spun to closed. He hadn’t heard the soft padding of bare feet against wood boards, or the fact that things in the living too had gone silent, save for the television blaring the theme to How To Train Your Dragon.
A warm gust of breath trickled against the nape of his neck, and the familiar, warm shapes of Hugh fitted behind him. Atticus relaxed against Hugh’s front, as the warm band of his arms snaking around him registered. Hugh dusted his lips behind Atticus’ ear before resting his chin at the slope of Atticus’s neck-
"What are you doing hiding in here?" He murmured gently, tightening his arms around Atticus’ waist.
Atticus froze, he was sure Hugh could feel every sinew tensing. God he just had… A way about him, that man. He just… Knew, when something was amiss. He chuckled nervously in response, and his mouth fought with his befuddled head and stubborn tongue- “I-I’m… Hugh, I’m not… Hiding. I’m just ti-“
"You’re just tidying up… I know." He mumbled gently, the smile in his voice faltered as his brows knitted together. It was a frown that was faintly reflected by the kitchen window in front of them. The pause ended with a soft inhalation, more than likely Hugh readying himself. "… What’s the matter?"
Whether it was the gentle, querying tone, or the way he canted his lips against his skin, whatever it was drew a strangled sob deep from Atticus’ core. He trembled, his knuckles bleached as he gripped the edge of the sink. Hugh’s reaction was simply to unlatch his arms from around his waist, and to slowly urge Atticus away from the sink.
"I’m f-fine…" He stuttered, the plate sunk and the sponge floated discarded on the water’s surface. Atticus wiped his hands down the front of his jeans before heaving a shaken sigh- "I-I’m just-" he turned between Hugh and the edge of the sink, so the small of his back pressed against stainless steel. "I’m just being silly…"
The watery smile, even the way Atticus pressed his palms to Hugh’s face did nothing to quell the obvious worry in those glorious eyes. Hugh studied Atticus’ features at close proximity, and at length, he blinked slowly. His hands raised to smooth over Atticus’ chest-
"Talk to me…" He pleaded in gentle earnest, his fingers spidering over cotton, plucking, gathering and screwing the fabric of Atticus’ shirt into his palms repeatedly. The set of his jaw and the pained frown were excruciating, especially along with the way Atticus could feel his eyes drilling right into the very bedrock of his existence. There was just no way of hiding things from him, Hugh would always be his downfall.
There was silence for a good few moments. Hugh gently coaxing an answer with nothing but his normal softness. Atticus’ down turned gaze and stubborn tongue despite tears falling silently from bloodshot eyes. There was silence, and then:
"Unca-Hugh, can we have hot chocolate before bed, please?" She smiled sweetly around the thumb in her mouth, rubbing her eye with the cuff of her pyjamas sleepily.
Hugh winced noticeably, released the shirt, smoothed it and slowly turned to face the little girl in the doorway. Atticus glanced over Hugh’s shoulder fleetingly and turned to look at the calendar with false interest, doing his best to hide the fact he was crying by cradling his chin, and hugging his torso defensively.
Glancing between the two somewhat fretfully, Hugh cleared his throat and nodded- “Of course sweetheart, I’ll bring it through in a minute…”
"Promise?" She pouted around her sucking thumb, and frowned before beaming at Hugh.
"… I solemnly swear!" He grinned, crossing his heart with his index finger, before she turned and ran back to the sofa. He watched after her fondly, finally turning his attention to the man staring aimlessly at the untidy scrawls on the calendar.
"… Atticus?" Hugh uttered softly, trying not to shock him back to Earth too abruptly, but before he could continue he was cut off-
"You’re amazing with them." Atticus uttered bluntly, hurriedly swiping tears from his cheeks, and shrugging Hugh’s hand from his shoulder.
"Hey, hey now… Where has this come from? You’re brilliant with them, Atticus! They adore yo-"
"But I’m not, though, am I? What if I never am." Atticus dropped his face into his hands, and his shoulders rose and fell in sobs purposely silenced.
Hugh enveloped him, grabbed out and drew him against his chest despite the fervent defiance of Atticus’ whole form at that precise moment. He was reluctant, and completely rigid in Hugh’s arms for a good long while whilst he sobbed into his palms. Hugh held the statuesque figure close, and pressed a warm, sigh of a kiss to his temple.
Atticus relented, his form visibly relaxed, and he stretched his arms up to lace them loosely around Hugh’s shoulders. Whilst Atticus melted against Hugh’s front, Hugh pressed another featherlight kiss to the same point on his temple, and breathed a soft sigh before taking a half step back to get a good look at Atticus’ tear soaked features. The blue-green of his eyes slipped over each feature, and he reached up to push the dark stands of his hair from his forehead. Yet another contemplative sigh filtered between his lips-
"… Now, you are going to calm down and listen to me-"
"No buts, Atticus. Listen." Hugh grinned, the pad of his thumb nudging a tear from his cheek. Atticus huffed and rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"Doesn’t sound like I have much choice…" He grumbled softly, a smile creeping into his tone.
"Not unless you want a raw behind in the morning, no…" Hugh chuckled, the corners of his eyes creased in amusement- "Just… Listen."
To Hugh’s visible surprise, he had the man’s full attention. He closed the gap between them a fraction, and lipped at the corner of Atticus’s down turned lips in a delicate kiss.
"You are the most… Frustrating, uptight, pedantic man, aside from myself, that I’ve ever known. You are competitive, you steal the covers, and my GOD you are an active sleep-talker. There are so many other things. A million other qualities that both irritate and excite me about you… But, mostly? You are kind. Courageous. You are generous, thoughtful and you have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You give yourself wholly to each and every person you come across, and you accept people for who they are. You don’t try to change them, you give them time and in return you ask for absolutely nothing. Christ, if you aren’t parent material…" He shook his head as he laughed, pressing his lips to Atticus’ forehead.
"Parenting is trial and error, anyway. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it. No formula! We’ll both have different ideas to bring to the table, but then… Isn’t that basically what we’ve always done? Its just that, this time there’ll be someone relying on us to make decisions. To protect them. To love them, and to nurture them. We get to bring up a little person , and help them understand the world they live in." He smiled softly, pressing his forehead against Atticus’ and looking down the sliver of a gap between them.
"Those kids on that sofa in there, adore you. But sweetheart… Hiding away in the kitchen won’t change the fact that I want a family with you. It’s the cherry on the sundae." Hugh wiggled his brows comically before his expression fell to sincerity- "You will be a fantastic dad. I love you."