The Man I Love

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Family Matters

Aiden hated that he got so nervous sometimes. He was a grown man who played baseball for the entire country, and yet meeting new people or saying the wrong thing could make him sick to his stomach. It was something he’d hoped desperately that he’d outgrow when he was in high school, but seven years later, here he was sitting on Kellen’s couch, his leg bouncing up and down and his stomach twisting nervously.

He huffed and put a hand to his stomach, trying to relax. A moment later, there was a hand on his leg to stop it from bouncing.

Kellen gave him a sympathetic look and handed him a ginger ale. The wordless gesture made Aiden smile; Kellen didn’t drink soda himself, but he always kept a stock in his fridge for whenever Aiden had an upset stomach.

Kellen reached forward to touch Aiden’s chin softly. “Relax, honey. My sisters already love you, and my stepdad is nice enough. My mom would never start a fight with you the first day meeting you either,” he said with a chuckle.

Aiden kissed his palm, patting his hand lightly. “Your sisters already love me?”

Kellen laughed quietly, pulling Aiden off the couch with ease. “Of course, they do. Do you know how many questions I’ve gotten about you? Oh, by the way, Rory has a thing for numbers and stats and she’s kind of got yours memorized now, so don’t be weirded out by that. And you already know my stepdad watches baseball, so he’s probably going to be awkward.”

Aiden found his shoulders relaxing at Kellen’s easy way of speaking. “I still don’t get how people are awkward around me,” he said idly, an embarrassed flush on his face.

“Maybe because you’re adorable?” Kellen suggested, kissing Aiden on the side of the mouth and making his way back to the kitchen to pour himself a cup of tea.

Kellen might have acted like he wasn’t unnerved at all, but Aiden knew that the only time he made himself tea outside of waking up in the morning was when he needed to keep himself calm. That was the same reason why they’d spent the last few hours at the dance studio, helping Kellen use up some energy.

Aiden smiled to himself at the memory even as he sat in Kellen’s tiny kitchen, sipping at his soda to try and settle his stomach. “I definitely hope your stepdad doesn’t think I’m adorable like you do,” he quipped.

“My sisters might, but you’re in the clear when it comes to my stepdad,” Kellen commented as he took a long sip of his tea, breathing it in slowly.

“By the way, you talk about my butt with Olivia?” Aiden asked.

Kellen almost choked on his tea as he laughed, his hand over his mouth as he wiped off his face. “Sorry,” he apologized as he coughed to get his breath back. “But you bend down to stretch and all that on TV, and sue me if I think you have a great ass.” He shrugged, giving him a sexy smirk.

Aiden shook his head fondly. “Actually, uh, I sort of tell my team about you too. Or they always know when I’m talking to you anyway,” he ventured, watching Kellen tilt his head in interest. “They tell me that I get this look on my face when we talk, and that I pout all day when we can’t chat.”

Kellen gave him a little smile. “And you say that you’re not adorable.” He leaned down to kiss Aiden squarely on the lips, his hand creeping up Aiden’s jaw.

Aiden hummed contentedly, grabbing onto Kellen’s shirt. He exhaled at the warm feeling of Kellen’s lips against his, the taste of the pinch of lemon tea on his tongue. The kiss was over far too soon as Kellen stood back up to his full height. “I’ll hurt my back that way,” he joked.

Aiden stood up fully, pressing his body against Kellen as they leaned against the kitchen island. “This okay then?”

Kellen smirked at him. “Athletic and smart? Look how lucky I am,” he laughed, putting his arms around Aiden’s neck to draw him close. Aiden kissed him deeply, smiling against his lips when he slotted their hips together.

The only reason he broke the kiss was because he didn’t want to meet Kellen’s family half naked and with his hands down the man’s pants. Kellen chuckled as if reading his thoughts, his hand moving down to rest lightly on Aiden’s stomach. “Feeling better now?”

“It’s hard not to after that,” Aiden said lowly.

He still jumped when the doorbell rang.

Kellen gave him a sympathetic look and a kiss on the cheek, murmuring a final, “I’ll be right beside you,” before he went to get the door.

Kellen’s sisters were just as full of personality as he’d described. The older one, Maia, was apparently the type to speak her mind. For a seventeen-year-old, she had no fear about being straightforward with Aiden from the second they met.

“Well if it isn’t Kellen’s boyfriend,” Maia said slyly. “So, if I asked you whether that bruise on your collarbone is from baseball or Kellen, would you answer?”

Aiden clapped his hand to his neck before he remembered that there was no bruise there. Even if there had been, his collarbone was covered by his shirt. He felt his ears go red and he’d only known the little brunette for a few seconds.

“Behave,” Kellen admonished with a raise of his eyebrow, crossing his arms sternly. It was almost funny to see him with that expression; Aiden didn’t think he’d seen his laughing and joking boyfriend looking so serious in a long while.

“Hey, you said he has two brothers. I bet they’re worse,” Maia pouted, pushing a strand of her hair behind her ear sheepishly.

Aiden laughed, gathering Maia’s attention. “Those two still can’t handle Kellen making comments like that.”

“Aiden’s built up a tolerance to me, Maia. You’ve got to give him a second to ease in to your special brand of making people squirm,” Kellen said like it was obvious.

“I like your teasing,” Aiden said simply, making Kellen smile at him as he stepped out to grab his mom and stepdad.

“Oh, that’s so cute,” his other sister, Rory, said as she walked into the living room. She may have been two years younger than her sister, but was already taller by a few inches. The girl clasped her hands together happily. “It’s so nice to meet you, Aiden! I promise my sister isn’t too bad.”

“Who said he was thinking that?” Maia challenged.

Rory shrugged, pushing her thin glasses up her nose. “I mean, you did just try to scare him. Mom would have killed you if she heard you say that.”

“Good thing she and dad are still parking then,” Maia quipped. “And in my defense, we’re probably way less annoying than the brothers Kellen told us about.”

“They’re plenty annoying,” Aiden put in. “I’m the youngest, so I never hear the end of it with those two.” He smiled fondly at the thought of his brothers’ teasing, thinking of the way Kellen could always unnerve them with a few words. He wished he could stop in and see them, but there just wasn’t enough time this trip.

Rory nodded sagely. “I’m the youngest too. But it’s easier to bother Maia since she’s the shortest.”

“Hey!” Maia fumed.

Aiden had been a part of enough sibling arguments to see one in the making. He had no idea whether he should try to stop them or not when Kellen showed back up, placing a hand on each of his sister’s heads. “Enough of that, you troublemakers. Play nice,” he said quietly enough so that his mom and stepdad didn’t hear when they finally stepped in the door.

Aiden’s first impression was that they were pretty average people. Kellen’s mom was somewhat short, but there was nothing that especially made her stand out. His stepdad had kind eyes underneath his glasses, although he too looked more or less like every guy. The both of them did have laugh lines around their eyes though, and greeted Aiden kindly enough.

“So nice to meet you, Aiden,” Kellen’s mom said, shaking his hand somewhat stiffly, awkwardly. She sort of reminded Aiden of the first time his own dad met Kellen. She gave her husband a look that was clearly meant as a nudge to introduce himself.

Aiden smiled to himself as the man stumbled around his words a bit before he finally said, “Glad to meet you, Aiden. Sorry, uh, this is just… pretty cool.”

“This is just really funny,” Maia murmured, making her siblings laugh.

“Maia,” Kellen’s mother warned. “Cut the attitude.”

Maia crossed her arms and glared, but didn’t say anything. Kellen nudged her. “Well, that was pleasantly awkward,” he joked. “Come on let’s get going.” He slipped his hand in Aiden’s easily, although Aiden got the feeling that Kellen did it more for his own sake than for Aiden’s.

“We’re walking then?” Kellen’s mother asked curiously.

Maia immediately jumped in. “We walk every time. Everything is close.” There was the same warning tone in her voice that her mother had used with her.

Aiden looked between the two of them, feeling the tension rise considerably. Kellen’s stepdad appeared to be feeling similarly uncomfortable as he shifted his feet and darted his gaze between his daughter and his wife.

“Well… how about we walk with Kellen and Aiden, and you and dad can drive?” Rory suggested, her hands behind her back as she rocked on the balls of her feet.

“No, no, we’ll walk,” his mother finally said, although she sounded less than happy about it.

Kellen sighed tiredly, putting on a smile with some obvious effort. Aiden wished that he didn’t have to see that stressed look on his boyfriend’s face, especially on the day that they were meant to be celebrating his birthday. And since it was obvious he didn’t fully understand the issue here.

Maia and Rory obviously understood though. They hung back with Kellen and Aiden while they walked, Maia with her arms still crossed.

Rory sighed at her. “Are you pouting still?”

“No,” Maia denied petulantly.

“Spill it,” Kellen commanded playfully.

It took Maia a second, but she finally said, “That was really embarrassing.”

Aiden couldn’t think of anything that would have embarrassed her, but Kellen hummed in understanding. He turned to Aiden and said, “She’s embarrassed because mom scolded her in front of you.”

“We just met and now you probably think I’m an asshole,” Maia said, specifically saying the curse word especially quietly so her parents wouldn’t hear.

Aiden was starting to see that despite Maia’s general confidence, the girl had some anxiety. He could relate. “I don’t think that at all,” he let her know gently. “Your mom seems a little, uh, strict though.”

Kellen had to cover his mouth to stop himself from laughing to loudly. He ended up snorting into his hand. Even Maia cracked a smile, the tension bleeding from her shoulders as she started laughing with her siblings

Rory turned to Aiden and asked playfully, “So, this is it for you, huh? You sure you can deal with Kellen for the rest of your life?”

She was joking. He knew that she didn’t mean it seriously, but Aiden smiled to himself even as Kellen tried to calm down. His boyfriend really was a big dork. He laughed so loud that people stared at him half the time. He teased Aiden all the time just to see his ears go red. He fell asleep during each and every movie Aiden tried to watch with him.

But Aiden couldn’t imagine having someone else by his side. He couldn’t imagine having someone who didn’t stay beside him when he was nervous. Or someone who didn’t send him funny pictures with his coworkers when he knew Aiden was having a bad day. Or someone who didn’t take far too much time to wake up in the morning, setting five alarms each five minutes apart and then running out the door when he was late.

Suddenly Aiden felt like his heart was beating too quickly and his palms were sweating. It wasn’t the first time that he’d thought of having more with Kellen, and he didn’t think it would be the last. The only problem was that while they’d mentioned the idea of marriage here and there, it hadn’t been a conversation either of them wanted to have over the phone if they could help it.

Kellen must have interpreted Aiden’s sweaty hands and silence as anxiety, which wasn’t too far off. His heart was beating quickly, but that wasn’t a bad thing when Kellen leaned over to kiss Aiden on the cheek. “She’s just teasing,” he said gently.

“I… I’m not,” Aiden said to him, pulling him to stop for a moment. “I, uh, I wouldn’t mind a rest of my life kind of deal.”

Kellen raised an eyebrow, a surprised expression on his face before a widening smile took over. “Really, now?” For all his usual confidence, Aiden could hear the nerves in Kellen’s voice.

Aiden could only nod, very aware of their two audience members trying valiantly not to look like they were listening in. His heart was still beating quickly when Kellen put a hand on his chest and leaned in for a chaste kiss on the mouth.

“Bold move, being so forward with an audience too,” Kellen complimented lowly. “But I’d be up for a rest of my life deal, just so you know.” He patted Aiden’s chest with a sweet smile and gaze that sent Aiden’s blood pumping.

If they’d been alone, and not out in public, maybe they would have talked about it more. Or talked about it after doing some very dirty things in the bedroom, or the couch, or in the kitchen together. But as it was, Kellen only gave him another kiss as a promise, whether to do those things later or as a promise for the future, Aiden didn’t know. He was happy either way.

Until he remembered that Maia and Rory really were staring at them and his ears went red. Rory clapped her hands together like she’d done before; it must have been a habit. “That’s so romantic,” she commented cheerfully.

“If you do get married, do we get mentioned in the wedding speeches then?” Maia asked, only half joking.

“Sure. Tell you what: you can even make a speech,” Kellen said fondly to her.

Rory jumped. “Oh no, me too? I don’t know about that,” she mumbled with a frown.

Kellen nudged her. “You’re a good speaker, Rory,” he encouraged. “I’m sure Aiden would love to hear you tell him all about how you know his stats.”

The fifteen-year-old brightened up considerably, turning to Aiden with sparkles in her eyes. “Really? You wouldn’t think it was weird?”

“I mean, it’s totally weird, but it would be better than dad being awkward,” Maia said dryly.

Rory huffed at her sister, immediately jumping into the stats with ease. Aiden wasn’t surprised that she knew what she was talking about, asking him all about strategies, trajectories, training, and his teammates. Her bright curiosity actually reminded Aiden of Kellen, while Maia’s playful attitude was just like her brother’s. The three of them may have not had the same dad, but they were siblings through and through.

All three of them excelled at keeping the conversation light even through dinner when Aiden was trying desperately not to feel too nervous in front of Kellen’s mom and stepdad. The woman’s serious attitude was a little hard to get used to, although it was clear that despite their problems, she still cared about Kellen.

Even if that meant that she really grilled Aiden with questions like, “How long do you plan on playing baseball for?” and “Kellen’s okay with this long-distance relationship?” He even got one about whether he was faithful considering that he was on the road so often, but Kellen put a stop to that as soon as he heard it.

“Mom, that’s enough,” Kellen said dryly.

“I’m just concerned for you,” his mother said softly, her eyes flicking to Aiden’s for a second before returning to her son’s.

Kellen exhaled. Aiden squeezed his hand under the table, running his thumbs over Kellen’s knuckles. While he didn’t appreciate the insinuation that he was messing with Kellen, he did see where she was coming from. The woman was worried and she was just awkward about expressing it. Kellen seemed to know that too.

“I know, mom, but I love Aiden and I trust him,” he explained calmly with utmost certainty. His surety made Aiden’s heart skip a beat. “This is my relationship,” Kellen continued softly.

The woman exhaled, her shoulders slumping. “You’re right. I’m sorry for asking something like that,” she apologized to both Aiden and Kellen, giving her son a little smile. “You’ve just seemed so sad with him gone and I want to be sure you’re happy.”

Kellen smiled slowly, the sincerity in his expression obvious. “I’m so happy, mom,” he said quietly, every word filled with emotion.

Aiden understood the feeling. He’d expressed the same feeling to Kellen the first time the man met his family. That heady, overwhelming feeling of being loved was breathtaking, and it made Aiden’s heart thump with pride to know that he was the one that made Kellen feel that way.

Maybe his mother saw that too as she smiled more widely, the expression lighting up her face. She seemed to relax after that, which helped the others at the table relax too.

Aiden certainly felt better with the easy turn of the conversation, watching Kellen’s stepdad try his best to not be awkward, Maia make her usual comments, and Rory chime in here and there in between bites of her pasta.

For his part, Aiden kept his hand clasped in Kellen’s the entire night, discovering how valuable it was that his boyfriend was left-handed. Aiden felt his heart pick up every time Kellen ran his thumb over Aiden’s knuckles without thinking. He wondered if there would ever be a time when the simple things that Kellen did wouldn’t make him feel like a lovesick teenager; he hoped that day never came.

He hoped he would never stop making Kellen laugh and smile too. He loved the wide cheerful smiles, the loud barking laughter, and even the small questioning smiles like the one Kellen gave him when the group of them returned to Kellen’s apartment for cake and presents.

“So, I don’t get to be in my own kitchen?” Kellen pouted. “If I step in will you smack my ass with a spatula?”

Aiden knew he was kidding. His ears still went red. The rest of his face felt hotter too, even though Aiden knew that Kellen had spoken quietly enough for no one else to hear.

Kellen chuckled under his breath, a tender look overtaking his face. “You do know that you being here is enough of a gift, right? Whatever you do plan on doing with my kitchen, I’m okay without it.” He said it seriously despite his soft tone.

Aiden kissed him on the cheek. He only had the evening left before he had to go back. He wanted to make this little celebration special. “I know,” Aiden said with a smile. “But I planned this out really well. I’ve had this in mind for forever, so don’t question it.”

Kellen raised his arms in surrender. There was a slight blush on his cheeks, one that was usually only reserved for Aiden. Aiden felt a desire to make it spread as he leaned forward to give Kellen a short kiss that made the man swallow at the intensity.

“Are you sure this isn’t a sexy present?” Kellen asked lowly.

This one isn’t,” Aiden confirmed. There was no telling what they’d get into that night, however.

Kellen looked at him for a second, the blush definitely wider now. He nodded to himself like he’d just come up with the right answer. “We should just go to a hotel for a week some time. Then we can just—”

Aiden put a hand over his mouth. “I don’t even know what you were going to say, but I know it’s going to end with me trying not to think about it for the next few hours.”

Kellen laughed with his mouth covered. “You know me so well,” Kellen said when Aiden finally removed his hand. “Don’t burn my place down,” he quipped with a teasing smirk, stepping away so Aiden could get to work.

This had taken some real effort to pull off, and the help of Olivia and B and the spare key Kellen gave them. They’d done just as Aiden asked, hiding the waffle maker he’d bought Kellen in a pile of plastic bags Kellen never did anything with. Kellen joked that if there was anything his mom taught him, it was to hoard plastic bags in another plastic bag and never actually use them all.

Aiden was grateful for it as he found the waffle maker—with a note from Olivia that had a smiley face on it—and got to work.

Waffles of all flavors, shapes, and sizes had been Kellen’s favorite food since he was a kid, since his father used to make them before the man passed. Aiden knew he’d never be able to make them as good as Kellen’s father did, but the least he could do was to make Kellen feel like his dad was here for his birthday too.

Fortunately, cake batter waffles and ice cream didn’t take all that long to prepare. Unfortunately, Aiden almost upturned the plate of finished waffles when Maia and Rory snuck up behind him.

Maia steadied the plate quickly as Rory held her hands out as if to catch him. Aiden put a hand over his heart. “Oh my god, walk louder,” he pleaded with the two of them.

Rory gave him an apologetic glance. “Sorry about that, Aiden. We didn’t want Kellen to notice.”

Aiden gave them both a searching look. “Um, you’re not here to murder me or something, are you? I think your brother will miss me,” he tried to joke to break the strange tension that was hanging over the girls.

Maia cracked a smile at his effort, but in the next moment she crossed her arms and jutted her hip, clearly preparing for a serious conversation. Rory was only a step behind, wringing her hands together nervously. Maia waited until Aiden poured another batch of batter before she began speaking.

“Aiden, we know Kellen really loves you and trusts you, and we think you’re pretty great too,” she started. She took a deep breath and went on sternly, “But we want to ask you not to hurt him again.” She was standing taller now, a determined look on her face.

Rory gave him a placating look, her hands up as if in surrender. “Uh, I mean we know that might not be possible and all, and we know it’s not our place to really say anything, and that Kellen would be super mad if he knew we were saying this right now…” She trailed off uncertainly.

Aiden spared a moment to wonder about what a “super mad” Kellen would look like as Maia nudged her sister to get her to go on.

Rory took a deep breath. “Aiden, Kellen said you guys were together in high school?” She messed with her ponytail, avoiding his eyes. “We sat with him after you broke up. He didn’t actually tell us why he was crying back then, but—”

“But we don’t want to see our brother be hurt again,” Maia finished for her with determination. “We don’t know the whole story or anything, but…” She made a face and sighed. “There’s really no way to say this without sounding like assholes.”

Aiden had never been shovel-talked before, but it didn’t take too much effort to figure out that this was Maia’s and Rory’s attempt at it. It had to be the least threatening shovel talk he’d ever heard though.

Even Kellen had said that his brothers had tried harder when Kellen had first met them, which Aiden had actually been pretty mad about up until Kellen let him know exactly what he’d said to make them regret it. And to make it obvious that Kellen wasn’t messing with him.

“Maia, Rory—” he started, but Maia interrupted him.

“Look, we both like you, but I’d have no problem telling you off if you make our brother cry like that again. I’m confident the two of us together could take you— Ow, Rory!”

Maia glared at her sister as the taller girl smacked her on the back of the head. It looked like Maia was about to test how easily she could take her sister down when the waffle maker thankfully beeped again to distract them. Aiden exhaled in relief; he was pretty sure Maia and Rory were at least as destructive as he and his brothers had been and he had no idea how to handle them like Kellen did.

Anyway,” Rory said with a pointed look to her sister. “We’re definitely not looking to uh ‘take you down’ or whatever she said. I don’t actually think we’d win anyway.”

“No faith,” Maia said with a shake of her head.

Aiden gave them a little smile as he poured the last batch into the waffle maker and set it to cook. Despite the vague threats the girls gave him, there was something endearing about their effort. “You guys really care about your brother, don’t you?” he asked softly.

They shared a look. Maia looked back to him. “Kellen’s had it rough in our family. His dad passed and I mean, I guess that’s the only reason me and Rory are here, but he’s always had a hard time with our mom and dad. But he’s never treated us like we weren’t his sisters. He’s taken care of us when we were sick, and listened when we had a fight with our parents, and made all the stupid vaguely threatening comments about potential boyfriends or girlfriends that big brothers are supposed to make. And I mean, we just kind of…”

She made a vague gesture with her hand, like she didn’t know what to say. Rory finished for her. “We’ve never been able to do much to take care of him like he takes care of us. He doesn’t want to pull us into any arguments he’s had with mom,” she said with a shrug. “We can’t always be with him to help with his migraines either. But we thought maybe if we talked to you, we could kind of take care of Kellen like that.”

Kellen was right: Rory could be an eloquent speaker when she wanted to be.

Aiden knew that he’d hurt Kellen all those years ago. He knew he messed up. He’d seen the dark bags under Kellen’s eyes after they broke it off, and how the usually energetic boy hadn’t smiled for weeks. He hadn’t felt much better himself.

So, he understood where the girls were coming from. They cared about their brother and they didn’t want to see him hurt again.

Aiden didn’t want to see him hurt again either. That was one thing the three of them had in common.

He smiled to himself and said softly, “Well, I want to take care of Kellen too. I know I hurt him, but when I said I was thinking about being with him forever, I wasn’t just saying it.”

It took a lot of effort to meet their eyes. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed by the words—he’d declare his love for Kellen from the rooftops if he needed to—but the girls’ piercing stares felt like having a rifle pointed at him.

Finally, Maia nodded. “His ears are red. No way he’s lying.”

At least his flushing was useful for something besides making Kellen smirk. Aiden swallowed, saying quietly, “Your brother’s a special guy. I care about him a lot. I just… want to make him happy.”

Rory smiled at his honesty. “According to Kellen, you’re special too.”

Maia nodded. “We might be inclined to agree with him considering all the effort you’re going through for this,” she said with a little smirk, indicating the plate of waffles he’d prepared.

“It’s worth it for him,” Aiden responded. His face was probably getting red now too if the smirk Maia gave him was any indication. “Now, come on. Help me get this looking good and bring over plates for everyone.”

It certainly had been worth it to see the look on Kellen’s face when Aiden brought him cake waffles with ice cream. Aiden knew Kellen appreciated the gesture, smiling widely the whole time. When his family left and Aiden showed him the waffle maker, Aiden earned himself a long kiss that tasted like chocolate waffles and vanilla ice cream. They didn’t even make it to the bedroom before Aiden was moaning at the feeling of Kellen’s devilish stare and soft kisses.

Aiden was exhausted when he returned to his team the next day. They hadn’t slept almost all night. In between the wandering hands, loud moans, and varied curse words, Aiden was left feeling intensely satisfied even hours later.

He couldn’t wait to come back to do it again.

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