WARNING: Within the entirety of the story, there will be violence, language, abuse, sex, bullying, and discipline. (A/N: And because I don’t care to fixate too much on my mistakes, let it be known that Wes/Nate’s ages regarding Wes/Harris/Thad’s birth doesn’t add up really. But oh freaken well! That’s what happens when 80% of a story comes from a dream. Dreams don’t do math well! And muses don’t feel like fixing it! <<call it ‘Soap Opera Magic’ or whatever>>)
NOTES: I often write original characters into already established fandoms, or I write personal pieces that I am still plotting and planning and hoping to someday finish. There are even a few ideas I would try to publish. This story, however, is for completion. I want to write something to test the length of this idea (it’s a big one), but also my ability to create a realistic enough world. I hope not to bore, and above all I hope to entertain. Proceed with caution and honesty, please. I would love to know what you think.
ACHE – 8,345
SUMMARY: Wes in the hospital, Nate keeps remembering.
It was four in the afternoon, but it felt like days had passed. Nathaniel Ryder sat watching his son’s chest rise and fall. The ever present beeping and clicking and noises of the machines detailing every gradual change of Wesley’s living status.
Kid was lucky to be alive.
For the time being, Nate was alone. Harris had headed home, finally, once Noah had arrived around noon. He had seen Wes, but like Dr. Baylon had said, it was still hours and Wes had yet to awaken.
Angie had had to head to work at 10, but Nate knew that she would be back.
Emma would be around, though Nate didn’t know when. He couldn’t believe he had left her to all of the kids, but he couldn’t think about anything but Wes at the moment. He could only imagine what the rest of the kids thought happened. The only times that he or Emma weren’t there to greet them in the mornings was when they were ill.
Thad wouldn’t have said a thing. Emma would have probably cried herself alone in the new laundry room. It had pretty decent soundproofing and a sink that would let her wash her face afterwards. He had no idea what the younger kids would be thinking. Harris was probably home now, sleeping or heading back after a quick shower and change of clothes. Either way, Nate’s mind couldn’t even warrant much thought on him either.
Wesley’s face was scratched up. Probably in pain. But he was sleeping; deeply and profusely, still in the depths of the sedation that they placed on him for the surgery.
November 4 1993
“Are you serious?” Wesley sighed.
They were all four in the park – Nate, Wes, Angie, and baby Harry. It was a chilly evening in November, and Wes should have known better when it wasn’t Noah, like always, that came to pick him up from school.
“Why wouldn’t we be serious?” Nate rolled his eyes.
Wesley looked away from his tower of French fries. He should have known, last time it had been Mickey D’s. His dad was usually so finicky about what they ate.
Now they went to Wendy’s. And Wes was allowed to order nothing but fries and a large chocolate Frosty. And Harris had been given chicken nuggets. It was all the kid ate.
“I thought you said we were a handful,” the eight year old frowned.
“You are,” Nate nodded, leaning his chin onto his hand.
“But you’re having another kid?”
“These things happen, Westie,” Angela shrugged. She had Harris on her lap, trying to persuade him to eat some from her salad.
“But, can’t these things wait?” he grabbed his drink. He toyed with it for a second, not drinking it, just sloshing it about.
“Well, yeah,” Nate grabbed a fry off of Wes’ tray. “Sometimes.”
By now, Nate and Angie were dating. Nate still lived with Noah and Devon, but they had moved into a larger space slightly closer to where Angie and Harris lived. Noah and Devon still helped him out with his boys. They were more like brothers to him, family, than his sister had ever been.
“And you’re going to have him when?”
“Or her!” Angie said, digging into her meal.
Wes looked at Nate with a look of mild distaste. Nate couldn’t help but grin and ruffle his hair.
“You look like shit.”
Nate looked away from Wes to see Devon entering the room. He was decked out in his doctor scrubs, so he had most probably came from a surgery.
“Back at you,” he sighed, noticing the tired expression on his friend’s face.
Nate stood up and stepped into Devon’s awaiting hug.
“Well, I can say at least we look better than the kid,” Dev said releasing him. Grimacing, he walked over to Wes’ charts.
“You’ve got shit beside manners,” Nate went back to his seat.
“They’re reserved for ages –
“Twenty-six and down?” Nate scoffed.
“Well,” Dev glanced at him over the file. “In your case, yeah.”
The monitors continued their steady beep, and while that should comfort him, Nate felt prickled by their very presence.
“All things considered,” Dev placed the file back. “He’s doing alright. Won’t know much more until he’s awake.”
“That’s what the doc said, Doc,” Nate replied.
“Though if I was him,” he walked over and sat near Nate, on the edge of Wes’ hospital bed. “I’d be more afraid of you, Emma, probably Ang, and oh yeah – me.”
“If there’s anything left of the kid to kill once I’m done with him,” Nate lifted a small grin.
“There’s only so much you’re allowed to do in a hospital, Nathaniel,” Devon frowned.
“I can wait,” Nate leaned back against the chair. “It just sucks.”
“Fuck, duh,” grinned Devon.
July 5 1994
“Fuck,” Wes groaned from the bathroom.
“Excuse me?” Noah pushed the bathroom door opened, startling Wes, who hopped up from leaning over the sink and his arms went behind his back.
“Wesley,” he replied in the same high pitch. Noah leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. “Whatcha hiding?”
Wes frowned. “Nothing.”
“Right,” scoffed Noah. “Like I was born a minute ago.” Wes rolled his eyes. “I heard a mighty heavy word come out of you. There better be a damn good reason for it, pal.”
Wes looked away and started worrying his lip.
“Hey,” Noah came closer and knelt down in front of him. “None of that,” he said, using his finger to maneuver his teeth away from his lip. “I asked you a question.”
“I don’t want to answer,” Wes glanced quickly up.
“Well, tough taffy pal,” Noah leaned back, squatting. “Because either you answer me with a good reason, and get your mouth nice and soaped up; or you give me no reason, and get your butt warmed and your mouth soaped up.”
“No-ah!” Wes cried out indignantly. Noah shrugged. Shoulders deflating, Wes let his arms fall forward; his right one sporting quite the burn mark on it.
“Fuck,” frowned Noah, taking it by the wrist. “What did you do?”
“I don’t want to answer that,” came the stubborn reply.
Noah’s response was a swift swat, and it left Wes hissing.
“Pretty sure you’re going to want to answer me, and fast.”
“But you’re gonna get mad,” sighed Wes. “And then you’re gonna tell my dad. And then he’s gonna get mad.”
“Clearly you were doing something you weren’t supposed to do,” Noah said. He took Wes by his hips, lifting him onto the bathroom counter space. He got a better look at the scorch mark and cringed. “Spill it.”
“Johnny Masen let me use some bottle rockets.”
“Johnny, he lives near Angie. And we were playing yesterday. And his brother, Frankie, had some. And I lit one wrong.”
Noah shook his head and prodded the mark, eliciting another hiss.
“Well, your dad’s gonna hand you your ass, for sure. And then Angie’s gonna go postal on you too. No doubt. You’re going to be giving Dev more medical practice than necessary, that’s for sure.”
Noah sighed and shook his head again. He lifted Wes up, tossing him over his shoulder and went in search for their resident pre-med student, using the position to place three hard smacks as he went along; Wes squirming on his shoulder.
Kid was going to be the death of them all.
“He’s become quite the pro, getting a work up out of you,” Angie said, kissing the side of Nate’s head as she entered.
“Don’t I know it.”
He was getting tired, his neck tense, and his back killing him. He had been watching Wes just sleeping for almost four hours now. Still, he hadn’t woken up.
It was getting on his nerves.
“Brought you some lunch,” Angie said, holding out a plain white bag.
“Thanks,” he sighed, grabbing it and placing it on the table beside him.
“To eat, Nathaniel,” she continued to look at him.
“I’m not really up for it,” he grimaced.
“Nate,” Angela sighed, reaching over to place the food into his lap. “You’re not helping anyone by starving.”
“I’m not trying to,” he said, reluctantly taking the food.
“Help?” she frowned, settling herself on the edge of the hospital bed.
“Starve,” Nate grimaced. “Can’t think about food in a favorable way at the moment.”
“Then don’t think,” the tip of her heels jabbing at his thigh. “Just eat.”
“You know,” Nate grabbed the bag and slowly pulled it open. “I totally stand with the kids right now; telling and doing are two completely different things.”
“Be the bigger man, Nathan,” teased Angie. She watched him roll his eyes and bite into the Italian sub. “He’s going to be fine, you know.”
Nate looked from his burger and gave Angela a faint smile. There was knowing and then there was knowing. And while in his heart, he knew that things weren’t as bad as they looked, in his head he couldn’t take what everyone was saying wholeheartedly. Not until Wesley opened his eyes and looked at him. Not until he could see for himself that his kid really was getting better.
“You know how he loves to get a rise out of you,” Angie leaned forward and poked at his side, causing Nate to choke on his food. She knew he was ticklish.
He glared back.
“I thought you’d be more worked up, honestly,” he retorted through his mouthful.
“I was,” she glanced in Wes’ direction and sighed. “I am. But, we can’t both be a mess now, can we?”
“This is pretty much my I have a son in the hospital look,” Nate held both hands up as if to say lookie-here. “Patent pending.”
“We both know, none have been like this.” And she did look troubled and deep in her thoughts. “Your boys have mostly missed the really big hits. But not this time. Not our Westie.”
Angela reached out, straightening the covers that hadn’t been mussed up since West had arrived in the room.
“It’s not even the whole hospital thing,” Nate looked down at his bitten burger. He felt sour in his mouth, even though he would usually be able to devour one of them in three bites.
“He’s so still,” Angela finished for him.
He nodded, but she didn’t see. Angie’s gaze was on Wes’ face. And though she was not his mother, Wes was still one of “her kids”. Through Wesley, they had all been forced to grow up. To do better and expect more. To become parents before their times, preparing them for the craze and untold future that now lay upon them.
“You’ll have every right to strangle him, once he’s home,” she smiled, the tears teasing at the edge of her voice.
“And I plan to exhort that right,” he grinned back.
It was hours before Nathaniel felt okay enough to leave the hospital room.
Back home, it was utter chaos.
Emma was still in her pajamas, sitting in the corner of the large couch in the family room. The television was on and she had a cooling mug of coffee in her hand. It looked like she had been crying recently, but she was no longer.
Contrary to what he had said, Nate wasn’t surprised to find not only that Harrison had gone home and stayed there, but Thad hadn’t bothered leaving for school at all.
He was glad enough that his older sons had been there to support each other and Emma, and to get the other kids off to school without causing any kind of fuss.
“How is he?” Harris sat up from laying down across the end of the couch that Emma wasn’t curled up in and stretched out onto the adjacent couch.
Emma looked away from the screen and seeing him, stood up.
Nate moved forward and wrapped his wife up in a tight hug. Her hands fisted in his jacket, still slick wet from the rain that had poured out onto him. He had forgotten to grab the garage remote, which had fallen off of his key chain the previous night and had had to park his car by the front door.
Thad walked over from the kitchen, frowning but not saying a thing.
“Wesley’s going to be fine,” Nate said, looking at his two oldest boys. His life had been such a whirlwind since he went to college and became a father. He had thought that the worst thing he was going to have to face was that he was a young, single father trying to get a college education.
But that was just the beginning.
Looking back now, college had been the easy part.
March 14, 1995
Emma Theresa Hayward was leaning against Noah and laughing at his corny jokes.
Nate rolled his eyes at them. He had just met the girl a few days ago, already hanging off of his best friend’s arm like she was his coat or something.
Noah wasn’t that funny.
Normally, Nate couldn’t care who Noah dated or what they were doing, but for some reason, the Freshman girl was being a tad bit desperate for his liking. He was sure that was why he couldn’t stop looking at her. Couldn’t stop thinking about her. Couldn’t help but grind his teeth together anytime he heard her laughing from one of Noah’s jokes.
As it was, Nate had little time to waste. He had managed to slip out of his fatherly duties because Dev was staying home and studying. The boys seemed to listen to him better anyhow, and they would likely be calm and quiet and peaceful like Devon needed them to be.
Nate had needed to get away, even if just for an hour or two.
“You look sour.”
Startled out of his thoughts, Nate looked up from his glaring at his plastic cup and into Emma Hayward’s amused looking grin.
“Who peed in it?” She leaned over as if to inspect his drink.
“No one,” he rolled his eyes. “And you’re definitely spending too much time with Noah if you’re stealing his dumb jokes,” he scoffed.
“Call it like I see it, and you look like when my little brother decided to make himself lemonade, squeezed seven lemons into one glass and forgot to add water or sugar. Sour.”
“I’m not –
“You’re bringing the whole mood down,” she continued, interrupting him and bumping him with the punch ladle.
Nate frowned. Who even used ladles anymore?
“Seems everyone’s doing fine to me,” Nate nudged towards the rest of the space, where the other students were drinking, talking loudly, and doing some kind of movements that could only be classified as dancing if someone was willing to call it that.
Emma gave him a strange look.
“I’m going to cheer you up,” she said after a second.
He had no idea what she meant by that, but she handed him over the ladle and her cup and walked away.
Emma walked over to Noah and spoke to him for a moment. She motioned towards Nate, and then she was gone. Noah walked over to him, but Nate just watched as she walked over to the sound system.
“What’s she doing?”
“I was hoping you knew,” frowned Nate.
“She said you needed a favor,” Noah informed him. “Are you going to drink that?”
Nate looked down at the ladle still in his hand.
“No,” he handed it back to Noah and watched as Emma seemed to finally choose what she wanted from the music. “Seriously, what’s she doing?”
Noah was pigging out from the snack arrangement behind them.
“She’s a bit off,” Noah said between bites. “Girl’s crazy.”
“Is that why she’s with you,” scoffed Nate.
Noah shrugged, taking a handful of pretzels in his hand.
“She’s fun and she doesn’t like serious relationships. Plus, she’s got really hot friends.”
“You’re a jerk, you know that,” Nate shook his head.
“Nah, it’s cool,” he shrugged again. “She knows what’s up. I keep the other guys off of her, and in turn she introduces me to some of the girls in her fraternity.”
“Sorority,” Nate corrected.
“Well, some of them are kind of buff,” Noah cringed.
It wasn’t long before the song changed into one of the older popular songs from the fifties. Emma danced her way over to the center of the room, doing all kinds of goofy moves.
“You asked her to dance?” Noah wondered.
“No,” he shook his head. “She said I needed cheering up.”
“Oh,” Noah turned and stared at him for a moment. “I think I get it. You do seem kind of pissed off lately.”
He probably had been. Seeing Noah and Emma together made him angry. Part of it might have been that him and Angie had recently called it quits. Angie was thinking about leaving the college and changing careers and traveling. He couldn’t see how their boys played a part into all of that, and Angie couldn’t see how they should. She wasn’t going to let them stop her living her life.
Angie sounded like his sister, Tabitha, and it infuriated Nate. To him, the kids came first. Always. Before himself, before her, before his friends, before his parents even. He cared about all of those things too, but he had to put the boys first.
And if that meant he was going to lose Angie, or that he was never going to be with someone, then he was fine with that. His time would come, he had to believe that.
They watched Emma dance. There was some grace to her movements, but mostly she was goofing off. A few people snickered and a few others shook their heads at her.
“I can’t believe she’d do that,” Nate shook his head.
“I told you,” shrugged Noah. “She’s crazy.”
It wasn’t long before Emma dragged a few of her friends up there with her, and soon the song changed and Emma came back to them. Behind her, a whole slew of people were left dancing.
“There it is,” she smirked, pointing at Nate as she approached.
“What?” he frowned.
“Can’t deny it now, I saw it with my own two eyes.”
Noah glanced over at Nate with his own frown.
It was true. Nate was smiling. She had set out to cheer him up, to make him happy, and she had certainly done that. Taking her drink from Noah’s hands she stood between the two of them, very pleased with herself.
“I’ll drive you,” Emma insisted.
“Someone should be here for the kids,” Nate sighed. He was getting ready to head back to the hospital. Wesley, he had been informed, was showing all signs of waking up soon.
It was almost three in the afternoon and it had been a terrible long day in the Ryder household.
“The boys will,” Emma was talking to him from the closet. She had been in there since Nate had stepped out of his shower almost half an hour. “Nathan, I have to see him.”
He glanced over at her, Emma’s head peeking out of the doorway.
“It’s not so pretty.”
“That boy is gorgeous,” she offered him a soft smile. “Any scars he gets are only going to add to his charms.”
Nate scoffed at the thought. Everyone was trying to make light of the situation, and Nate knew that Wes was going to be fine. But he still hadn’t managed to convince himself of that yet.
“Going to have to tell the kids soon.”
Emma finally emerged, nodding. She was dressed in dark jeans and a loose blouse. Very casual. Nate wondered what had taken her so long, but decided against asking this once. He himself was dressed in jeans and a white tee shirt, and it had taken him nearly ten minutes to choose them. Their minds, it would seem, weren’t in the right place.
“When we get back,” Emma afforded. “Once we get to talk to Wes ourselves and see him and we can tell them exactly everything.”
“Within reason,” she shrugged.
Emma sat beside him, taking his hand into her own. She fingered his wedding ring, his watch.
“He is going to be fine,” Nate told her.
“He’ll be home in a few days.”
“And he’s never going to see another motorbike for as long as he lives.”
“Got that right,” Emma scoffed, shaking her head. “You know, he usually is so careful. But you can’t control everything.”
“So you want me to get him a new bike or something? Because I can’t very well see myself doing that.”
Emma shook her head.
“He’s all grown up, Nathan.”
“Technically, sure. I can see why you would say that.”
“He is. I can’t believe it myself. Especially if I think back to how much of a pain in the ass he was when we first got together. He’s definitely warmed up to me in the last few years.”
Nate grinned. His oldest boys had not taken to his new girlfriend at all. Wesley, of course, was the worst.
“Well, it was either his attitude or his ass,” Nate scoffed.
“That and I did my fair share of bribing him,” she nodded.
“Okay, so I might still. Is it my fault your kids won’t listen to reason?”
“Jack and Eli,” she sighed. “He’s probably bribing them, but with what I don’t know. Those two are definitely related to him.”
“As long as they never order a dozen extra lab rats in their schools name, or superglue all of the girls’ locker room doors shut, or spread fresh cow shit under the principal’s car, I think we can count ourselves lucky.”
“Correction,” Emma held up a hand. “It was fertilizer.”
Nate groaned. “Don’t remind me.”
“We’re not going to lose him,” Emma said, her voice slightly shaken.
Nate turned and wrapped his arms around his wife. She took deep breaths to keep back the tears and held onto him just as tightly.
There was a good looking woman standing beside Wesley’s bed, blocking their view as Nate and Emma entered. He had seen her before, but it took him a few minutes to realize it was the same nurse from the previous night.
“Mr. Ryder,” Allison Howard greeted him with a smile. “I was just telling your son here that you would be back soon.”
Nate walked forward until he could see Wes.
There were the same bumps and scrapes and bruises from that morning, but the bruising looked worse. His arm was in a cast now, instead of the loose caster they had him in. Lime green. His face looked like a jigsaw puzzle pieced together from previous Wes pieces and held together with tapes.
“Dr. Braylon will be with you shortly,” Allison said, finishing up her charts.
“Thank you,” Emma answered for them as Nate walked over to Wes’ other side.
Talking was going to hurt for a while for Wesley. His jaw was kept shut for the moment.
Nate gently took Wes’ hand. He had momentary flashes of a much smaller hand, and how it had grown. The fingers against his were no longer pudgy and soft, but strong and callous. The boy before him wasn’t a child he could gather into his arms and take away from all the troubles in the world.
Wes’ grip against his tightened.
“I don’t know what to say,” Nate said, glancing up instead at the injured face.
Wes’ raised his eye brows.
“Oh shut up,” Nate smirked.
Wes rolled his eyes.
“Okay, I have plenty I want to say,” Nate conceded, his thumb rubbing unconsciously against the back of Wes’ hand. “But I don’t think it’s going to do any good right now.”
Wes tugged at his hand, his brow frowned.
“I know,” Nate sighed. “I know you’re alright, I know you’re alive, I know all of that. And believe me, I am thankful. But damnit Wesley, you have no idea how close you got this time!”
“The fact he can’t say a word probably gives him some idea,” Noah said, entering the room. Nate glanced up, he hadn’t even noticed when Emma had left, but she was returning now with both Noah and Devon present.
“Hi sweetie,” Emma said, leaving the men’s side and going to sit at the edge of hospital bed.
Wes turned and smiled at her.
“I have never seen the kid so quiet,” Noah whispered, frowning.
Wes rolled his eyes, turning towards the man.
“He can hear you, you know,” Devon said, moving to grab the medical file from the door.
Wes tilted his head as if to say, no duh!
“What would happen if you pinched him real hard,” Noah said, moving towards the end of Wes’ bed. “Would he make a sound?”
Nate moved enough to block his friend from his son’s feet. The last thing he needed was one of the man’s jokes to cause Wes further jaw damage.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Nate glared.
“Hey,” Noah protested. “These are business hours. He’s my bitch for hire, and if I want to hear the kid scream –
“Lay a finger on him, Graham, and I’ll make sure they put your bed in the hospice section,” Emma threatened him, glaring over her shoulder.
Devon looked up from the files enough to lock eyes with Wes and smirk. Wes rolled his eyes.
“Well, aren’t we just the little Get Well Wagon,” Noah crossed his arms.
They joked around for a bit, Wes looking from one to another as they spoke. But as soon as Dr. Braylon arrived, they quickly sobered up.
“Hello,” she grinned entering the room. “Mr. Ryder, a pleasure to see you awake.”
Noah backed away from the bed, Emma at his side. It was Nate and Devon that addressed the doctor, as it usually was when any of the kids were in the hospital.
Wes frowned but nodded. He figured that this was his doctor, though he was used to mostly having to deal with his uncle Devon as a primary caregiver. But with growing up, he had had to get used to other people taking over.
“Dr. Braylon,” Devon nodded. “I’m Dr. Lessing,” he stretched out his hand for her to shake.
“Dr. Braylon,” she greeted, though she was slightly surprised.
“Devon is Wes’ uncle,” Nate explained. “He’s stopped by to help us understand what is going on.”
She nodded. Wes rolled his eyes, though no one was actually paying him any attention.
“Well, from what I’ve been told by the nurses, Mr. Ryder here has been recovering quite nicely.”
Wes grunted. Nate patted his arm.
“Wesley, please,” Nate said for him. “Before we all get confused.” He wasn’t going to say that Mr. Ryder was his father, because that was a whole different subject.
Crap, he hadn’t even called his parents what was going on yet. Emma probably forgot, dealing with the kids and all of that.
“Well, I’ll just go through a few things with Wesley here, as best as we can, and we can all find out more, alright?”
They watched as she walked over to the bed and asked Wes a serious of questions. Most were yes or no and focused on how he was feeling. He was able to nod his head or frown to show his answers and soon enough, Dr. Braylon was putting her pen away.
“Everything seems to be going along very nicely,” she said turning towards the room at large.
“There was no internal bleeding,” she continued. “During surgery, the arm and leg were reset. Many of the cuts were treated and his jaw and ankle were set. Dr. Palinski set his nose and will be seeing him before discharge to set a later date to check that. When Wesley arrived, we feared he was much worse off and were preparing for a much harsher treatment. That was the reason behind the seemingly long surgery. But I wanted to be thorough and I am glad to say he’s doing amazing well.”
Nate’s ears were buzzing as he heard the good news. He could see that Wes was fine, that he was going to live. But hearing the doctor say it helped him in ways he hadn’t thought about.
Wes was going to be fine.
Devon was there to hear the actual technical stuff, and a part of Noah was listening too. He could see Wes frowning, and then grimacing as he frowned. And then frowning. He could see each time that Wes had laid in bed ill, all the times the kid had taken a spill and he had rushed him into a doctor’s office. The emergency room staff should know him personally for all of the times that Wes and the others had had him or one of the others scared out of their wits.
Wes was going to be fine.
Recovery time. Therapy. Caring for his stiches and his restrictions on the new jaw. A part of his brain was taking notes, but most of him was just too relieved to think too much.
“A few days,” Dr. Braylon was saying, answering a question that Emma had asked.
“Normally,” Devon smirked. “I would be inclined to warn a fellow medic of the horrid patient that Wes here makes, but you’ve got him beat with that jaw wire there.”
“I’m sure he’ll find a way to make his feelings felt,” scoffed Noah.
“He always has.”
April 28, 1995
“What if they don’t like me,” Emma stressed as she slowed on the stairs leading up to Noah’s apartment, where Wesley, Harris and Thad were waiting for Nate.
“Thad’s nine months,” Nate rolled his eyes. “If you have a bottle and feed him, he’ll love you.”
“That’s just fine for a baby. What about Harrison, or Wesley?”
“Well, Harry is three, so he’s going to hate you no matter what.” Nate shrugged.
Emma looked horrified.
“He’s three,” Nate stressed.
“Hate’s a strong word,” she insisted.
“He could love you,” Nate told her. “He’s three. He will probably hate and love you and hate you again in the same hour. Harry is kind of all over the place.
“The one you really have to worry about is Wes.”
Nate took her hand and tugged her up the stairs. There was no way to prepare her for his eldest. He had been trying to get Wes around the idea of his new girlfriend, but the eight year old was set in his ways. He loved Angie, and he had mixed feelings about her leaving them. He wouldn’t talk to Angie or Nate about it, and when he did mention it to either Devon or Noah, it was never good.
“That makes me feel so much better,” Emma shook her head.
“Don’t worry,” Nate insisted, though he was himself a bit pessimistic.
She was eighteen years old, and it felt like she was maybe too young for him, even though he was only two years older than her. Her birthday was just days away and she had asked to meet the boys.
Nate had never thought that he would meet someone that wasn’t scared off at the thought of his having three kids so young. He hadn’t even bothered going into the whole story of how he had Wes with him, but Emma hadn’t pushed the issue either. She was funny and sweet and lively and smart. Everything that Nate imagined a normal college girl to be.
His own college experience was vastly different. And because of him, Noah and Devon’s weren’t exactly typical students either. they had taken to Wes, and then Harry and baby Thad, like they really were the boys’ uncles. Neither seemed to hold any bad feelings for the situation, but Nate still felt badly about having taken the crazy and wild out of their college experience.
He was tentive to do it to Emma.
Getting to Noah’s apartment, which Emma had been to only once when she had been dating Noah, was a whole different experience. For one, she wasn’t wondering whether she was going to make out with Noah or pass out drunk on his couch. And then there was the fact that Noah had a large sheet tied to his neck, declaring himself King. Wes and Harrison had their own capes, made from towels, that aided their knightly appearance with the help of their paper towel roll swords.
Wes was on his knees, making himself a slightly easier target to Harry would was trying to beat his brother over the head. Thad, perched on Noah’s lap within the fort that the living room had become, was screeching in laughter.
“Well, they’re armed now,” Nate scoffed, leading the way into the home. “So, I might have been wrong.
“Daddy!” Harrison dropped his sword and dashed forward. Wes turned and stood up, grinning until he saw Emma beside Nate.
“You’re witnessing the most pivotal part of a knights training,” Noah frowned at them as he stood up, Thad perched in one arm. He had on his footie pajamas, gnawing on his blanket, and a soft baby elephant that Angie had gifted him in his hand.
Nate took Harris in his arms, the three year old burying his face against his father’s neck and his whole body going lithe with the trust and security that Nate brought to them.
“We are knights,” Harris said, his voice hot against Nate’s skin that it tickled as the words were softly pronounced.
“I can see that,” Nate grinned. “And for once, Uncle Noah isn’t taking the beating.”
“Hush!” Noah mock glared at him, pointing an accessory baby monkey at them. “That was only one time.”
“Your memory sucks,” Wes rolled his eyes. “You lose every time!”
“You lose every time,” Noah glared down at him.
“That makes no sense,” groaned Wes.
“You make no sense!”
“They can actually go on like this for an hour,” Nate shook his head. “Wes, Harry, this is Emma Hayward. Emma, these are my sons, Wesley, Harrison, and Thaddeus.”
Harry looked up from Nate’s neck and Wes turned his glare towards Emma. The teenaged attitude was creeping up earlier on that one that Nate could handle and most of the time he tried to not engage it, but he didn’t want to upset Emma. Nate watched his eldest closely.
“Hi,” Harris said softly. Baby Thad in Noah’s arms didn’t even really pay them any attention.
Wes said nothing.
“So,” Noah turned instead to greet them. “You guys have a good time?”
Noah walked forward, trading Harris for Thad in Nate’s arms so that the babe could have his own cuddle. He set the toddler on the floor and turned instead to greet Emma with a quick hug.
Wes turned towards his little brother and made to continue playing.
“Wes,” Nate called to him, frowning at the young boy’s back.
“Leave it,” Noah muttered, trying to get the focus away from the young blond.
As Wesley turned, he kept his focus away from the adults, trying his best not to let them see how upset he was. But it was obvious. It had been months since Angie had left, and he hadn’t been acting the same since then. He wouldn’t talk to Nate about it at all, and whatever he did say to his uncles, they insisted that Nate had to talk to the boy himself.
“Don’t be rude,” Nate insisted. He had certainly taught the boy manners. Just because he didn’t feel like using them, didn’t mean he would be excuse.
And now he was thinking like his mother. Nate kept his own groaning mental.
Wes glanced up at Emma with a sour look.
“Hi,” and then he turned away.
“Don’t,” Noah whispered, knowing from Nate’s face that the man was not pleased.
“It’s fine,” Emma tried to save face, knowing that the situation wasn’t exactly an easy one. It wasn’t too hard to decipher that the boy was upset, and she tried instead to turn her attention to the baby in Nate’s arms that was settling in, burying his face much like his big brother had before him.
She smiled at Thad, who made slippery noises back and instantly earned her affection. He had large brown eyes and just a soft tuff of brown looking hair.
“I never would’ve thought that Noah Graham could care for a small child, let alone three of them,” she teased instead.
But while Noah and Nate took the comment for the joke it was, Emma was the only one who noticed the angry look Wes sent her over her shoulder.
She was going to have to watch her mouth around that kid.
They sat for a moment, just three college co-eds talking random nonsense, and Emma was settling into her calmer, happier ways.
Wes glared at them most of the time, when Harris wasn’t diving at him or swinging the cardboard sword at his head. Nate noticed and tried to ignore it, hoping that with time, Wes would get better used to the idea of Emma being around.
As the time passed, it was coming onto the hour that Little Thad and Harris had to get to bed. Which would mean more time for the focus to be on Wes. This did not please the eight year old one bit.
Thad was leaning his head up against Emma’s shoulder as he sat between her and Nate. Wes glared at them even more.
“Looks like he’s about done,” Noah scoffed, moving to take the babe from them. “Probably should get them to bed.”
“Oh, okay,” Emma said. She gave the infant a small wave as Nate passed his youngest over to his best friend. “Goodnight Thad.”
Harris turned at them then, his tiring eyes glancing up and frowning.
“Is Taddy going to bed now?”
Noah stood with Thad now curling up into his arms. Nate stood up too, planting a quiet kiss against the fine hair on Thad’s soft head.
“Yes sir,” Noah nodded. “You too Wilson.”
“Me?” Wes looked over with surprise. “It’s barely seven.”
“I wanna stay with Wes,” Harris insisted.
“You both need to get some sleep,” insisted Noah.
“I’m not tired,” Harris countered.
“Now you’re trying to get rid of me?” Wes said instead, standing up and glaring now at Nate. “I’m not some dumb little kid.”
“Uh,” Noah scoffed. “Yeah you are.”
“Shut up Noah!” Wes glared, fisting his hands and grit his teeth.
Noah and Nate had never seen Wes acting so aggressively. He was mostly a happy kid, and when he had been rude or outright hurtful, it had been spontaneous and impulsive. But the kid in front of them looked like he was about to plan some kind of devious attack. His eyes were locked at Noah’s but the scariest thing was, they were probably not intended for the man.
“Wesley,” Nate began to reprimand.
Beside them, Emma was silent, watching the exchange with wide eyes and wondering how it would look if she just turned and slowly walked out. Harris however, looked like things were heading towards a dark alley full of horror and was on the verge of tears.
“I should head home,” Emma decided.
“Emma, I’m sorry,” Nate started to say.
“You think,” Wes said instead.
Noah reached over and smacked Wes’ head. “Knock it off.”
“Back off,” Wes grit back.
“Wesley Samuel,” this time Nate sounded exasperated. “Go to the bathroom and calm yourself down, now.”
“This is ridiculous!” Wes turned his glare towards him. “I haven’t done anything!”
“You’re kidding right?” scoffed Noah.
“Go!” Nate could feel his own blood pressure rising. He glared down at Wesley until the kid finally started to move, though his stomping and glaring back over his shoulder let them all know exactly how happy he was with the situation.
By the time Noah had settled Thad and Harris and Nate had gotten Emma down to her car, he got back to find a teary eyed Wes sitting on the bathroom floor, his back against the tub.
As Nate entered the room, he wiped at his face and stood up, instantly glaring at him.
“I’m going to warn you right now,” Nate said, closing the door behind him. “I’m very displeased with your behavior just now, and one wrong move on your part is going to have you up and over my knee. You understand?”
Wes said nothing, just stood there, glaring.
“You just said not to talk,” he retorted.
“I did not just say not to talk,” Nate groaned, sitting on the toilet lid.
“Maybe I’ve got nothing to say to you then,” Wes crossed his arms.
“Thin ice kid,” Nate reached over and tugged Wes in front of him.
The eight year old shifted his feet around, looking slightly ill at ease.
“What was that all about, Wes?”
“Wesley,” Nate took the smaller hands into his. “Answer me.”
Wes shook his head.
“You’re not a little kid, you know,” Nate told him. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re still little, and you’re still a kid. But, I expect you to talk when you’re feeling angry or upset, not to yell out at us when you’re told something you don’t like.”
Wes just glared.
“Wesley, talk to me.”
But it was getting borderline useless. Wes was mad at him, Nate had been able to notice that for the past few months, but he wasn’t so certain what in all he had done. It had to do with Angie, he knew that. But he didn’t want to talk about her. He was still too pissed off at her devil-may-care attitude and her ability to just switch off from her responsibilities to their boys like she had.
Granted, she wasn’t as bad a mother as his own sister had been to Wes.
Angie as still technically around, she was just not ever there. She was traveling and doing her own thing, but she would call and send things for the boys, Wes included. She always looked at Wes as her kid, or at least a beloved nephew. And Wes took great to her too. A lot better than he was treating Emma, that was certain. Was the difference that much between a six year old and an eight year old?
“Wesley, I know you’re upset about having me see Emma,” he started.
“You don’t know anything!” Wes finally shot back, yanking his hands away from Nate.
Nate reached out, grabbing one of the small hands back into his. But Wes started to wiggle away again.
“You don’t need to yell at me,” Nate stated calmly.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Wes muttered. “Either yell at me, punish me, or leave me alone!”
Nate shook his head. “That’s not how this works, bud.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it,” Wes growled. “It’s never what I care about or what I want. It’s always about you!”
“You! You want to do something, go somewhere, have some kids, get a girlfriend, and you just want me to what? Be happy? Not have an opinion? Well, I do have one. And it’s that you suck, and I don’t care what you want anymore!”
“What the hell are you talking about?” frowned Nate. “All I’ve ever tried to do is make a better life for you. It’s all about you kid.”
Wes shook his head. “Oh yeah? How are your sons making my life better?”
There was so much spite in his words, that Nate was actually taken aback. He hadn’t ever seen Wes have a mean action or look towards either boy. And he had never stated that they were anything other than his little brothers.
“Your brothers,” Nate reminded him. “They’re –
“Mistakes,” Wes finished for him.
“Whoa!” Nate yelped. “I do not want to hear you say that, ever!”
“They are,” the boy insisted. “Unless you’re going to lie and tell me you wanted to have kids while you were in college all along, I think we both know the truth. I’m a mistake, Nate. You’re not my real dad, and they’re not my brothers!”
“Wesley,” Nate said, unable to stop the hurt he was feeling at his son’s words. It might have only been almost three years on paper, but he had been with the boy every day of his life. “That’s a very mean thing to say. I love you. You know I love you…”
“I didn’t say you didn’t. I said I’m a mistake. Tabitha had me, not you. You can’t make me forget that. You were just a little kid when she had me, and I know you’re all grown up now, and I’m still a kid, but I’m not stupid!”
“I never said you were!”
“You never wanted to have any of us, but you got stuck with all three of us! That’s not our fault! And instead of learning for it, you’re going off to find some other stupid bimbo to have more kids and then she’s going to leave us all too!”
Tears were stream lining down the boy’s face by then, and Nate barely knew how to reply. He tugged Wesley forward, wanting to hold him. He hadn’t realized how abandoned the boy was feeling, and he probably should have.
He really was a crap father.
But Wes shoved his hands away. He took steps back until he almost fell over into the tub. Nate shot up, reaching for him and yanking him forward by the front of his shirt. He had Wes in his arms, squirming and muttering about.
“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, kid,” Nate told him, crushing the boy against his chest so hard it hurt them both. “Whatever you’re thinking right now, whatever you think of my sister, or you’ve heard me say about all of that, you have to believe this one thing – I love you, and I wouldn’t give you up for the whole world!”
“Not even if it meant that you could have a normal life?” Wes mumbled against his stomach.
Nate scoffed, feeling some tears coming down his own face. He eased his hold around Wes and reached up, wiping at the tears. Parenting, geesh.
“What the hell is normal anyhow?” he scoffed. “I picked you, kiddo. I made that decision to keep you in my life. I asked you to stay with me. You had the out, the only out I might add, that I was willing to offer. Because even though it would have killed me to lose you, I thought it would’ve been wrong to force you to stick around if you didn’t want to be.”
“I was five,” Wes frowned. “You could ask me that today, and I still wouldn’t know what to say.”
“Don’t you want to be here?” Nate looked down at him. “Do you feel like you’re not loved and cared for?”
“I do, I mean, I am. I know I am.”
“Then why do you keep saying shit like that?” Nate groaned, kneeling down. “You don’t think I have my own doubts all the time that I’m screwing shit up?”
Nate glared at the smug look on the eight year old’s face.
“I know what I said. You want to try and repeat it?” Wes shook his head. He knew he was already upsetting Nate enough as it was. “You’re making me nuts, kid. You’re all over the place, and I just don’t know how to keep up.”
“Why did you bring her?”
Nate sighed. “Emma. Her name is Emma. And I brought her over because I like her, and I think she’s pretty cool. And you guys are apparently all I talk about, so she wanted to meet you. All of you. Because you are all my sons, and I don’t think of you any differently.”
“You should,” Wes sighed.
“I won’t.” Nate leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “You are stubborn and insightful, but you just don’t get it. I won’t ever see you as anything other than mine.”
“You’re never going to be able to have a proper family if you keep dragging me around, Nate,” Wes groaned. “Why can’t you see that?”
“You’re eight,” Nate scoffed. “Eight, okay? You have no business telling me what I need, or want. And you especially have no input onto how I’m going to go about getting them.”
“Don’t you understand?” the tears starting up once again on the boy’s face. “I just want you to be happy!”
“That’s my job,” Nate told him. “Not yours.”
“You were happy before. With Angie.”
Nate groaned, shaking his head. Why did it have to keep going back to her? While he didn’t hold any ill thoughts or feelings towards her, he knew that he wouldn’t ever be able to see her the same way again. He couldn’t force her to stay, to choose the boys or him.
“I’ve been a hundred thousand times happier with you, with all you boys, then I could ever be with her. Or Emma. Or anyone.”
“That’s kind of weird,” Wes wiped his face.
“No, it’s really not.” Nate chuckled. “Being your dad, all of these many years, has taught me that it’s a lot more than romance and flings and parties and pleasure to be happy. You are my joy, Wes. And if it hadn’t been for you, I can’t see that my life would be a third as good as it is. And believe me, I am blessed. You are an amazing kid. Harris and Thaddeus are so lucky to have you around. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a brat on the best days. But you are my brat, and you are stuck with me.”
“What if you get married, and your wife hates me? Or The boys?”
“I would never marry someone that couldn’t see how amazing you and your brothers are. You guys come first. Always.”