Aiden didn’t know what made him wake. He’d been sleeping dreamlessly, cocooned in the warmth of his bed with Kellen by his side. There was absolutely nothing that should have made him wake in the middle of the night.
Except that when he reached out, Kellen wasn’t there lying next to him. Aiden whined unhappily, feeling drowsy and lazy, but he already knew that there was no way he would be able to go back to sleep without finding out where his boyfriend went.
Aiden hauled himself out of bed with a sign, yawning widely with a slight shiver. Wrapping his arms around himself, he shuffled out of his room with quiet footsteps. He’d done the same thing so many times in high school to get a snack or some water that he knew exactly how to move so that no one heard him. Aiden could have found his way with his eyes closed if he really wanted to.
He figured it would cause a racket if he tripped down the stairs though, so Aiden kept his eyes open as he took a few steps. He was halfway down the stairs when he heard the low tenor of his dad’s voice.
“I usually sleep fine, but I guess there’s a lot on my mind,” he was saying with a heavy sigh.
Aiden figured his dad was talking to his mom or something, and was about to step down as quietly as he could when he heard Kellen reply just as softly, “It happens to everyone every now and again.”
Aiden blinked, suddenly feeling much more awake. He hadn’t expected to find Kellen with his dad in the middle of the night. Peeking around the wall that covered the top half of the stairs, Aiden squinted to see in the dark.
The television was on, but it was silent. Some infomercial was playing about one of those food cookers that probably didn’t work. Across from the television, Aiden spied his dad sitting with his elbows on his knees, tense, like he was thinking deeply about his next words. Kellen was next to him, obviously tired and looking paler with the light from the TV, but clearly paying very close attention.
Aiden smiled to himself at the way Kellen’s hair was completely out of place, sticking up messily. He’d also grabbed one of his too-large sweaters, slipping it on over the tee shirt Aiden knew was there. It was endearing.
Yet it was also strange to see his dad and Kellen sitting together on the couch in the dark. His dad didn’t seem to hate Kellen, but they weren’t exactly best friends. Aiden almost thought he might still be dreaming as his father shifted. “I, uh, was everything okay earlier when you and Aiden stepped out?”
“Oh, yeah, we’re okay,” Kellen said with raised eyebrows, as if he didn’t expect the question. “Just needed a minute.”
“You two looked nice together when you were dancing.”
Aiden flushed from his position. He figured that someone had likely seen them or thought about checking in on them after a few minutes, but he hadn’t thought that it would be his dad. Everyone else was much nosier. Everyone else also would have teased them, but his dad had said nothing. Even when the man mentioned it to Kellen, quietly, in the dead of night, there was immense sincerity in his voice, lacking the teasing tone someone else would have used.
Kellen smiled softly, shadows forming in his features from the light of the TV. “You think? I love dancing. I’m the type that’s full of energy, but I like the slow dances with Aiden the most.”
Aiden flushed again not only at the words, but the loving tone Kellen had used with them. He was sure that he shouldn’t be sitting here eavesdropping on this conversation, but he couldn’t tear himself away, not when his dad went on speaking. He would have to apologize to Kellen when he returned.
“I’d like to apologize, Kellen,” his dad said somberly.
There was a pause. “What for? You’ve been nothing but nice to me.”
“But I… I’m sure it’s obvious that I’m still a bit strange about…” Aiden peeked around the corner to see his dad make a gesture before he aborted it and went on, “about you dating my son. It’s not you, I promise,” he rushed to reassure desperately, “but I’m trying to get used to Aiden being with a man. I’m sorry, Kellen.”
Aiden knew that had to have taken a lot for his dad to say. While his dad could apologize when he needed to, Aiden knew how hard it was to say those words. He felt pride run through him on account of his dad, and even more pride when Kellen simply leaned forward calmly.
“You don’t need to apologize to me for that, Jacob,” Kellen said lowly. It was rare that Kellen wasn’t joking around, and that’s how Aiden knew how serious he really was. “I imagine it’s hard, as a parent. You have a conception in your head about who your kids are when they’re born. You probably imagined all your sons getting married to women, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s hard to adjust how you view Aiden in just a couple of weeks, but Jacob, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you trying.”
Kellen huffed, making a face in the dark. “My mother accepted me pretty quickly when I came out. But right when I came out, she told me that I wasn’t sure, that I was just curious. It took her time to accept that I might end up with a man instead of a woman. I’ve had people say jerky things to me because I’m a man who likes dancing, or because I’m comfortable being bisexual. You being a little awkward around me really isn’t the worst thing,” Kellen finished with a little smile.
Aiden swallowed, remembering when Kellen had told him about those things. The terrible words and comments were one of the reasons why Aiden had been so scared to come out, but Kellen had been through all that before. When Aiden got scared, Kellen was there to help him through it. When Kellen was down because of some jerk, Aiden was there to remind him that it would be okay.
He looked back to see his dad staring at Kellen with wide eyes. “That’s… thank you,” he breathed out, obviously surprised that Kellen wasn’t angry at him. “So, your mother… did your father accept you?”
“My stepdad did,” Kellen responded. “We were never that close though and he didn’t want to rock the boat. My dad died when I was a kid. I never got the chance to tell him.”
“I’m so sorry,” his dad said quietly in a hushed tone.
“It’s been a while,” Kellen said easily enough. That wasn’t enough to mask the melancholy Aiden heard though. “I get along with my stepdad a little better, but I still miss my dad. He used to make me waffles every last weekend in the month,” he said with a chuckle, the set of his shoulders less tense than they had been a moment before. “I like to make them now kind of to remember him. I’d like to think that he’d be proud of me and who I am, but who knows.”
Aiden watched as his dad hesitated for a second before patting Kellen on the back in a decidedly fatherly gesture. “I think he would be,” he said simply.
Kellen offered him a smile, looking down in pleased embarrassment. They sat in silence for a little while longer, which Aiden took as his cue to go back upstairs. He made sure not to make any noise as he stepped away and slipped back into bed. Granted, he couldn’t fall asleep without Kellen there, and actually felt more awake after listening to that.
So, he stared at the ceiling for who knows how long before Kellen stepped back in the room with silent steps. Aiden watched as Kellen tried to be quiet, stripping off his sweater to get back into bed. The brunette jumped when he realized Aiden was awake.
“Don’t scare me like that,” Kellen said softly with a hand over his heart. He crawled back into bed next to Aiden, shivering as he was greeted with the warmth underneath the comforter.
Aiden pulled Kellen closer to warm him up, kissing him on the forehead. “I, uh, got up to look for you. I kind of heard you talking,” he mumbled.
Kellen hummed, his eyes closed. “That’s okay. I was going to tell you anyway.” He paused for a moment. “Your dad is a good guy. You should give him a hug tomorrow. Or today? I don’t know, it’s dark.”
Aiden chuckled at the tired whine in Kellen’s voice. Kellen nuzzled up close to him, his cold nose making Aiden shiver when it touched his throat. Aiden only tightened his arms. “I know,” he responded to all of it, his voice quiet in the dark bedroom with the moonlight shining in past the curtains. Aiden already knew he was lucky to have his dad. He was lucky to have Kellen too. Even if his dad and Kellen were still awkward around one another, he was lucky to have two of the most important people in his life willing to try and get along for his sake.
“I love you, Kellen,” Aiden said quietly.
Kellen breathed out. “Love you too, hun,” he slurred. “Go to sleep.”
Aiden almost laughed; it reminded him of the first time he’d told Kellen that he loved him. He settled down with Kellen back next to him, falling asleep not long after he noticed Kellen’s breathing had evened out with the regular rise and fall of his chest.
It was almost annoying to have someone shake him awake in the morning. Aiden was pretty sure that it wasn’t Kellen, since the man had already shown him some other creative ways to wake up in the morning. Usually, Aiden was the one who had to nudge Kellen awake anyway. Plus, he could feel Kellen breathing next to him, his boyfriend’s chest moving in and out steadily.
“What?” Aiden mumbled, opening his eyes to the dregs of light leaking in the room. He couldn’t recognize the person shaking him right away with the light behind them. “What time is it?”
Aiden rubbed his eyes, blearily locking onto Isaac, who was standing there with an amused look on his face. “I’m actually kind of surprised that you can both fit in this bed,” Isaac quipped, apparently finding this funny more than anything. “It’s nine by the way.”
“And you’re in here because?” Aiden asked quietly, his voice hoarse. He stared up at his older brother stoically, wondering if that would get him to go away so that he could bury his head in Kellen’s chest and go back to sleep.
Isaac shrugged. “Dad’s making breakfast for everyone. I nicely volunteered to get you and Kellen.”
“You probably lost a bet,” Kellen slurred from underneath his pillow. He hadn’t moved an inch, but was apparently awake.
Aiden smirked as Isaac scoffed. Isaac didn’t deny it though as he patted the pillow Kellen was holding over his head and said, “Move it or lose it.” With that, he left the room.
Aiden rolled his eyes at his brother’s retreating form, glad that Isaac had at least shut the door to give them a moment before they were surrounded by the usual noise of the house. He turned to Kellen, who was still pressed up against him, not entirely because of lack of space.
“I don’t know if I can handle your brother when I’m not awake yet,” Kellen said from under the pillow. “My brain’s not on enough yet.”
“We should mess with him to get him back,” Aiden suggested, reaching forward to pluck the pillow carefully from its place covering Kellen’s head. The brunette blinked open his eyes unhappily at the light, squinting.
Groaning, Kellen rubbed his hand over his eyes. “What do you suggest?” A subtle smile peeked out from beneath Kellen’s hands as he removed them and looked up with a soft expression that made Aiden’s throat go dry. “All it would take is a couple suggestive comments about us and he would never be able to stop imagining us together.”
Aiden laughed under his breath. “Pure evil,” he said playfully, leaning in to kiss Kellen up the neck, which only made Kellen grab onto his hair to run his hands through it.
“Hey, don’t start something,” Kellen complained without any real heat behind it. “If we take more than a few minutes, your family is definitely going to think we’re having sex. While I’m fine with scarring your brothers with the thought, I’m not sure your dad’s ready for that yet.”
Aiden finished his path with a firm kiss on Kellen’s lips, reigning himself in and pulling back. “You’re too cute when you wake up though.”
“Aw, look at my boyfriend trying to be sweet at… what time is it?” He checked his phone and his eyebrows rose. “Wow, nine? It’s been a while since I slept in this late.”
“Kellen, that makes me so sad,” Aiden said, half joking, half serious.
Kellen hit him lightly with the pillow, sitting up like it took way too much effort. Aiden followed suit, wishing they could have spent a little longer in bed, but knowing Kellen was right. His stomach growled anyway at the smell of something in the kitchen.
“Your dad’s a good cook, right?” Kellen asked as he pulled on his large sweater and tried valiantly to make himself look presentable.
Aiden fixed Kellen’s hair for him quickly. “Pretty good. I mean, no one’s a match for my mom, but my dad does great with breakfast, anything you can grill, and all sandwich-related items.”
“A man of many talents,” Kellen laughed, leading the way to the connected kitchen and dining area where everyone was congregated.
Aiden could hear the noise even before they stepped in. It felt like it had been too long since he’d seen everyone gathered, all in their pajamas with plates of food in front of them. Nikki was on her mom’s lap, chattering away happily. Isaac clearly wasn’t too traumatized as Ian messed with him and Lyla tried not to laugh. Aiden spotted his parents in the kitchen.
His dad was the one who noticed them first, stepping over with a plate. “Kellen,” the man said, holding it out to him.
Kellen blinked, his mouth opening slightly as he saw what Aiden’s dad had made: waffles. Aiden had no idea what flavor they were and hoped that the brown dots in them were chocolate chips, but they could have been burnt and Kellen still would have given his dad that gratefully surprised look as he took the plate.
“You… made these?” Kellen asked, getting his voice back.
Aiden’s dad smiled. “I hope I’m not overstepping, but ah, I thought you might like them.” He shuffled his feet, unsure of what he should say.
Kellen smiled widely though. “It’s actually the last Saturday of the month, just like when my dad made these,” he said with a sentimental chuckle. “Thank you, Jacob. This means a lot to me.”
While everyone else was talking and laughing, Aiden was sure that he and his mother were the only two listening in, even though she was trying to pretend that she wasn’t to give them a semblance of privacy. She gave Aiden a kind smile when the waffle maker went off again, calling his dad back to remove them. But not before he nodded at Kellen with a smile.
Aiden felt a whole new rush of affection for his father. Maybe his dad didn’t understand how much this meant to Kellen, but Aiden certainly did. He saw Kellen swallow heavily and put his hand on the small of Kellen’s back, silently asking if he was alright.
Kellen just gave him a pleased look, patting Aiden on the chest in response and picking up a waffle with his hand to take a bite.
Aiden gave him a mock-offended look. “What, no syrup? You disappoint me, Kellen.”
Kellen hummed. “Do you really want me being even louder than usual with chocolate chips and syrup?” He made an appreciative noise in the back of his throat. “These are good by the way.” He took another bite.
“As good as your dad’s?” Aiden asked softly, not really intending it as a serious question, but Kellen answered anyway.
“I don’t think anyone could match up to my memories. But that’s alright. This way I can remember my dad as special and keep those memories with me. Plus, I can try lots of great waffles,” he finished with a sly smirk, reaching over to grab the whipped cream from the table. With a healthy dollop of whipped cream, he held up a waffle for Aiden to take a bite.
Aiden would admit that they really were good waffles, with chocolate chips and cinnamon inside. The whipped cream only made them better, although Aiden was more focused on the fact that Kellen was currently feeding him playfully with a cute smile. He wasn’t even feeling self-conscious about it with his whole family there, and that was what made Aiden the happiest.
“Can you guys not basically do each other with us here?” Isaac interrupted without any real heat, censoring the explicit words just enough so that Nikki wouldn’t understand.
Kellen licked the whipped cream off his finger instead of responding, and Aiden suddenly thought of a few other things they could do with whipped cream. He had no idea what made him say it, or how he’d gotten so brave, but Aiden responded without thinking, “Unless we start putting whipped cream on other things besides food with you in the room, I think you’re fine.”
Kellen almost choked on his laughter while Isaac clearly regretted bringing it up at all. Aiden felt his ears redden, although he was more embarrassed by the surprised looks everyone was giving him than from what he’d said. There was a moment of silence interrupted only by Kellen’s attempts to stop laughing, Nikki’s continued eating, and Ian’s dramatic sigh. “I never thought I’d see the day when Aiden said something like that. You’ve corrupted him, Kellen,” he joked.
“This is great,” Kellen said breathlessly, trying to take a deep breath through the giggles. “By the way,” he said to Aiden, “that’s a good idea. But yeah, definitely just us in the room.”
Aiden couldn’t stop laughing at the looks on his siblings’ faces that said they were clearly trying very hard not to imagine it. Kellen didn’t make it any easier to calm down as he kept laughing to himself for no reason, clearly trying not to bark out like he normally would. The both of them only ended up laughing harder at the confused looks of his parents when they finally stepped in.
As punishment for what Isaac called their “annoyingly loud laughter for like ten minutes straight,” Isaac volunteered Aiden and Kellen to clear the plates when everyone finished. They would have ended up doing it anyway since Kellen wanted to help out, even if his mom insisted that one of her sons would get them later with a pointed look to the three of them.
“You know, everyone left the room pretty fast when they figured out that we’d clean up,” Kellen commented with amusement as he wiped down the table with an old cloth.
Aiden huffed with a smile, picking up the dishes to put in the sink. “To be fair, we only have a limited number of showers and like nine people here. It’s a race to get a bathroom,” he said lightly. “Just like when I was a kid.” He rolled his eyes at all the times his brothers had banged on the door, or how often he’d done that to them.
With the dishes taken care of, Aiden stepped back over to Kellen. “Hey, did you and your sisters ever—” He stopped talking, his smile fading when he noticed Kellen leaning against the table with a hand to his head, his body rigid and stiff.
“Kellen,” he said in concern, stepping up quietly and placing a hand on Kellen’s arm. He already knew what this was, but in the few times he’d taken care of Kellen since they’d gotten back together, it never got easier to see the man in pain. It made Aiden’s heart race in his chest with worry every time.
Kellen breathed out harshly, his eyes closed. “Damnit,” he cursed, his voice cracking with emotion. Aiden felt a wave of sympathy for him, understanding exactly why Kellen was so bothered: it was his first weekend with Aiden’s family and there was no way he could do anything if he had a migraine.
Ever the stubborn man, Kellen tried to push off the table. He got about a step before he grunted in pain and crumpled, his hands on his head as he sat himself on the floor. Aiden leaned down next to him, his hand on Kellen’s back to hold him up as the other man breathed out with difficulty.
“Baby, it’s okay,” Aiden said in a soothing voice. He rubbed his hand over Kellen’s back. “Here, let me help you upstairs.”
“Aiden,” Kellen whined, maybe from the pain or maybe from something else.
“I know, baby, but I’ve got you,” Aiden continued. He should have noticed that Kellen wasn’t doing so hot, but then again, Kellen’s migraines sometimes came on quite suddenly. “Has your head been hurting?”
“It was just a little bit,” Kellen ground out, keeping his eyes shut. “I thought it was from being tired…” He grunted as a shock of pain hit him, and Aiden held onto him. “It only got really bad a few minutes ago,” he said in a pathetically small voice.
Aiden kept his hold on Kellen, wishing he could soothe the pain and the guilty tone in Kellen’s voice. “It’s not your fault, Kellen,” he replied definitively, keeping his hands on Kellen.
Kellen only winced when two pairs of footsteps ran over to them. Aiden barely heard them, his entire focus on Kellen, but he could only imagine how loud they were underneath the pounding in the brunette’s head.
His mother was suddenly on Kellen’s other side. “Is he okay?” she asked, her voice somehow both calm yet panicked. Her hands hovered over Kellen as if she wasn’t sure whether he was okay with her touching him.
“I’m fine,” Kellen ground out, which wasn’t too convincing when he seemed to curl in on himself even further.
“Migraines,” Aiden explained to his mother. Looking up at his father, he could see the same helpless look on the man’s face, concern etching itself into his features. “I’m going to take him upstairs. I’ll be back in a second.”
“Do you need help?” his dad asked quietly.
“It’s okay, dad, I’ve got it,” Aiden said easily. “Lean on me, Kellen.”
Kellen breathed out again, doing as Aiden asked wordlessly. Aiden kept his hands on his boyfriend to direct him even with his eyes closed, going slow so that he didn’t accidentally lead Kellen into a wall by mistake. They made it back to Aiden’s room after a minute or two, where Kellen collapsed on the bed like his legs simply couldn’t hold him up anymore.
Aiden got to work closing the blinds and shutting the curtains. They didn’t block out light like the ones at Kellen’s place did, but hopefully the eye mask Kellen brought would pick up the slack. He grabbed one of the tiny sodas Kellen kept in his bag for Aiden and popped out two pills for migraines.
“Kellen,” he called softly, leaning down in front of the other man.
Kellen whimpered in pain, but sat up and held his hand out. Aiden helped him swallow before the man collapsed back on the bed, breathing loudly. “I’m so sorry, Aiden,” Kellen apologized, his voice cracking.
Aiden ran his hand through Kellen’s hair comfortingly. “Baby, there’s nothing to be sorry for,” he said sincerely. “You can’t control these.”
“I wanted to have fun with you and your family,” Kellen said instead of answering, swallowing with difficulty.
Aiden kept up the soothing motions. “We’ve already had lots of fun. Now you need to rest, baby,” he said in a low voice. He leaned forward to kiss Kellen on the temple, wishing the kiss could take the pain away. “I’ll be right here with you.”
Kellen hummed unhappily. “No,” he said, his voice slurring slightly. “You should spend time with your family.” He took in a breath through his teeth. “I’ll be… here.” He curled up against the bed spread, his head on the pillows.
“As if I’ll let you be alone all day,” Aiden said matter-of-factly. He touched Kellen’s cheek gingerly. “I just need to let my parents know you’ll be alright, but I’ll be back in a few.” He grabbed a blanket from the closet, draping it over Kellen. “Love you, baby. Just try to take a breath and I’ll be back.”
“Okay, hun,” Kellen said weakly, holding onto Aiden’s hand for a slight second before he burrowed into the blanket.
Aiden had a hard time leaving him there, but he was sure his parents were probably beside themselves with worry. He hadn’t told his parents about Kellen’s accident, and only mentioned it quickly to his siblings. Even if they knew though, actually seeing how much a migraine hurt was never easy.
As he expected, his parents were waiting nervously in the dining room. By that point, Nikki had returned, and was looking around with a somber frown. That’s right; Nikki had known about Kellen’s migraines for a while.
“He’s okay,” Aiden said to his parents. “But he’ll need to rest for the day.”
“Does he get migraines a lot?” his mother asked quickly, concern coloring her gaze. “I used to get those when I was pregnant with Isaac and I remember how terrible they were.”
“Kellen was actually in a car accident years ago…” Aiden started, explaining to his parents about the driver who hit him, the couple days he was knocked out, and the chronic migraines he had to live with now. By the time he was done, his mother looked like she wanted to run up and given Kellen a hug right away.
“That poor boy,” she said sorrowfully. “Is there anything we can do?”
“He just needs rest,” Aiden tried to say with a small smile, hoping to reassure them. “But I hope you guys don’t mind if I stay in today with him.”
“We’ll stay in too,” his dad replied. “We’ll be sure not to be too loud, of course, but maybe Kellen would feel better with us here.”
He sounded unsure, but Aiden gave him a small smile. “Are you sure? I know you guys had some plans. Kellen would feel bad if you cancelled everything for his sake too.”
His mother waved him off. “Your father and I will make it a nice day in. It’s cold outside anyway, and your brothers can go out if they want something to do.” Turning to Nikki with an apologetic look on her face, she asked, “Is that okay with you, sweetie? I know you wanted to check out the toy store while you were with us. The three of us can go another time if you’d like.”
“That sounds good, grandma,” she said with a smile. Her little smile faded as she turned to look at Aiden, getting up from her chair to step in front of him. She looked up at him with those puppy dog eyes that Aiden and her parents wished Ian had never taught her. “Uncle Aiden? Can I stay with Kellen today too?”
Aiden got down on her level, giving her a sympathetic look and a warm smile. Ian and Letta were right when they said they were good parents: they had to have been doing something right for Nikki to be such a good kid. Gently, he said to her, “Nikki, Kellen’s in a lot of pain. He’s just going to be resting all day. It’s so sweet of you to want to sit with him, but I wouldn’t want you to be bored.” He patted her head, touched at her gesture nonetheless.
“But I’ll be quiet, Uncle Aiden!” Nikki pleaded. “And don’t worry: I take mom’s computer and some headphones, and uh, maybe I book. Maybe something to draw with too… but don’t worry, I’ll watch over Kellen today,” she said in a confident rush, bouncing out of the room to find Letta.
Aiden blinked after her, almost confused. When he looked to his mom, he saw her smiling. “Looks like Nikki already has a new favorite uncle,” she teased. Aiden smirked. If Kellen was the one replacing him and Isaac as the new favorite, he didn’t think he’d mind that much. “I’ll go tell the others what we’re doing. Maybe Ian and Letta can have a date night or something while we keep an eye on Nikki too,” she added idly, stepping past Aiden to follow Nikki up the stairs.
Aiden smiled. He knew his mother loved Kellen already, but it was still nice to see that she didn’t want to leave him any more than Aiden had wanted to. It warmed Aiden’s heart to see his dad fidgeting nervously too, obviously concerned.
“He really will be alright, dad,” Aiden said after he was left alone with the man.
His dad huffed. “I know, but I remember your mom’s migraines. They can get pretty bad. Kellen’s too young for all that.” Aiden agreed silently, surprised when his dad spoke again, “When you’re playing this season… perhaps your mother and I could check in on Kellen every now and again. You said his friends usually do it, but, well… if he wouldn’t mind…”
Aiden interrupted him with the hug he’d forgotten to give his dad before. “Thanks, dad,” he murmured, hoping that all of his gratefulness and love would come through with that hug.
He was sure it did as his dad returned the gesture, hugging Aiden as tightly as he always had. Some things never changed.