The Man I Love

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Don't Leave Me

Aiden narrowed his eyes, holding his cards close to his chest. Looking left to see Lyla and right to see Kellen, he saw them holding their own cards similarly, although Kellen was trying not to smile. It wasn’t obvious, at least not to anyone else. No one else would know that Kellen was trying to keep a straight face, as he was succeeding, but Aiden knew him well by now.

“I am no good at poker,” Kellen mumbled to himself. “I fold.” He threw his cards down, leaning back in his chair.

Isaac rolled his eyes again. “Oh my god, you’ve folded almost every hand. Just play for once.”

Kellen shrugged, clearly unbothered. “Aiden knows when I’m lying. I’m telling you: poker doesn’t work when you’re a terrible liar.”

“But you’re a great liar,” Ian commented, completely without malice.

“I’m great at messing with people,” Kellen clarified, “Getting under people’s skin is easy. Pretending my cards aren’t terrible is hard.”

“You just don’t like poker,” Aiden said with a laugh. No matter how many times they played with the group, Kellen preferred to fold and watch rather than play. When they played privately, however, Kellen could trick Aiden fairly well.

“See? He knows me so well,” Kellen said lightly, crossing his arms and relaxing back with a calm smile on his face.

Letta hummed in agreement. “This is what happens when no one wants to reenact the great monopoly battle from six months ago.”

Ian looked at her tiredly. “Letta, we were up until three in the morning arguing over who had more money and trying to bankrupt each other.”

“Until Lyla overturned the board,” Isaac mumbled.

“That was an accident!” Lyla said emphatically.

Isaac avoided her gaze and said, “So, you just happened to flip the board when I was like two seconds away from destroying you?”

Some things never changed: those two could still bicker like there was no tomorrow. Aiden hadn’t even been awake to take a side in that argument. He’d been dozing against Kellen’s shoulder after his husband bankrupted him mercilessly. Overall, it was a fun night.

It had taken them hours just to flip the board though, which is why they had chosen poker instead when they gathered for a night in at Isaac’s and Lyla’s place. The adults were playing poker sans Nikki, who was upstairs with the rest of the kids hanging out. She said that if they switched to monopoly, she would return for the ensuing battle.

Aiden had to admit that it was nice to be beating his brothers though, even if Lyla was the one putting up the best fight. He’d just added a little more to the pot when Skylar whooshed down from the stairs and stopped next to him.

“Heyyyy dad, papa?” came Skylar’s voice suddenly, drawing out the y sound. Aiden turned to her, Kellen doing the same as she said, “We, uh, require some assistance upstairs.”

Aiden shared a look with Kellen, immediately wondering what in the world they could have gotten into playing videogames, reading books, and having their own board game battles.

Kellen patted his shoulder. “I got this. Alright, Sky, no one’s on fire, right?”

“Oh no, but ah, yeah, you should come,” she said quickly, grabbing Kellen by the hand to get him to go upstairs with her.

Aiden stared after them curiously for a second before retuning his attention to the game. Letta nudged him. “It was very sweet of the girls to plan a night out for you two last week for your anniversary.”

“Yes, it was,” he said, smiling at the memory. “Thanks for taking them.”

“Your girls are fun,” Ian said surely, taking a look at his hand and frowning. “And we always get to hand them back.”

“Oh, hush. You were so happy to have kids in the house again,” Letta teased. “He ended up calling Nikki because he missed her.”

“Nice to know we always have some people to watch the girls,” Aiden quipped in amusement. “You’re sure that you don’t want to take them?”

Ian shook his head seriously. “Nope. A few days, maybe a week is good. But me and Letta had one girl. Three is too many to watch.” He cracked a smile, shooting Letta a pleased look.

That was when Aiden heard Kellen yell and curse from upstairs. He went on high alert in about a second, only for Kellen to yell down, “It’s fine!”

Aiden frowned in concern, but before he could get up to check on everyone, Letta had folded and was out of her chair. “Well, I’m done too, so I’ll go check on them.” She walked up quietly, leaving them in silence.

Lyla sighed. “Man, I need a night off though. Ian, you want to take my kids?”

Ian chuckled to himself. “I’ll think about it and consult the boss,” he said, referring to Letta. “Glad you and Kellen had fun though, Aiden.”

All Aiden had to do was smile for Isaac to interrupt and said, “Whatever you’re thinking, no sharing. I still don’t want confirmation of all the mental images Kellen purposely gives me.”

Lyla rolled her eyes fondly. “You say that like you’re still actually bothered by all the teasing.”

“Hey, I can find it funny without wanting to know what they do to each other behind closed doors,” Isaac maintained.

Anything else he might have said was interrupted by Letta’s high-pitched, short scream, followed right away by both she and Kellen yelling, “We’re fine! It’s nothing!”

Aiden wasn’t so sure he believed them, but he was almost scared to join them at this point.

“They’re… probably fine,” Ian said curiously, obviously wondering if he should go after his wife. “What could they possibly be doing?”

Orrin chose that moment to appear. He didn’t say anything to them, nor did he look at them as he went to the kitchen, grabbed a pot and lid, and stole some oven mitts. He would have run upstairs like that if Lyla didn’t ask, “Hey, hey, Orrin, what are you doing?”

He looked at his mother quickly, still walking. “Uncle Kellen and Aunt Letta need them,” was all he said as he dashed up the stairs.

Lyla looked after him with suspicion, but apparently resolved to grill him when Kellen and Letta came back down. It took about fifteen minutes, but their reappearance was weirder than Aiden would have thought.

Kellen was holding the pot closed in front of him, mitts on and keeping his eyes on the pot like it was about to explode. Letta ran out in front of him to open the back door. A second later, Kellen had thrown the pot outside, Letta had shut the door, and they both watched like they’d just thrown a grenade.

“Hey, that was our good pot,” Isaac protested.

“We’ll buy you a new one,” Kellen mumbled distractedly, not tearing his eyes away from the pot outside. “Do you think it’s mad?’

“It had to be,” Letta confirmed without looking at the rest of them. “Did it leave? Did you see it?”

“I don’t think we should go outside until at least morning,” Kellen said in the same distracted voice.

Letta nodded along. “Well, we don’t live here at least.”

“Yeah, but we do,” Lyla pouted. “What did you just throw outside?”

“Snake,” Kellen said without preamble.

Aiden gave him a look. “You put a snake in a pot and threw it outside?”

“There was no other choice, hun. Why did you think we were yelling?” he asked with a tilt of his head.

“I… honestly couldn’t tell you,” Aiden said. Out of all the things that had gone through his mind about why they were yelling, them finding a snake hadn’t ranked very highly. “Is snake charming in your future then?”

“Oh no, never ask me to do that again,” Kellen responded surely. “I’ll stick to charming you instead.” He gave Aiden a teasing look at the bad joke.

Aiden just smiled fondly, rolling his eyes. Isaac scoffed. “That was just bad. That’s like my-dad-level dad joke.”

“Life goals achieved,” Kellen said simply. “By the way, say hello to your dad and mom for me when you go down to help your parents clean out the house next weekend. And Aiden, honey, I’m serious when I say please don’t go overboard. You’re stronger than me, but I don’t want any calls about you dropping a box on your foot or something.”

“That was once and I was fine,” Aiden reassured him, although at the time he hadn’t felt so fine. “But yes, dear, I’ll be careful.”

He didn’t think he could go overboard even if he wanted to. There was just so much to work through that it was more tedious than labor-intensive; this was part of their parents’ effort to clean out some of the house now that they were getting older.

The two of them aging wasn’t something Aiden liked to think about, although the evidence was undeniable. His father had gone grey by now. At least Aiden figured out where his bad eyesight came from, with his father donning a pair of glasses for himself. His mother had aged well. The woman was in her seventies and while she moved a little slower, she was as vibrant as ever.

That weekend, Aiden lifted another box from his mother and she huffed. “I’m not that old yet, sweetheart,” she said with her hands on her hips.

“Forgive me for caring,” Aiden chuckled.

She lifted a hand to pat his cheek. “Oh, it’s so nice to have all my sons home for a little while.”

“Mom, we’re not that far,” Isaac called, dropping a few couch cushions by the curb. “You literally came over two weeks ago to see the kids.”

She waved away his concern as if he didn’t say anything at all. “Yes, but it’s different with just my boys again.”

Ian stepped over. “Mom, you’re making me feel old,” he teased. “Next you’re going to take out the school pictures and the wedding pictures.”

“For the record, it was your dad doing that,” she said, making them all turn to look at their dad, who shrugged casually.

“What, I can’t miss my sons?” he asked rhetorically, placing another box down himself. “Boys, I need two of you to pick up the old couch.”

Aiden went over to get it with Isaac, which was more trouble than it was worth with the old pullout bed in the middle. As they set it down by the curb with a few grunts at the weight of it, Aiden was reminded of Kellen’s plea for him not to go overboard.

As nice as it would have been to spend Kellen’s day off with him and the girls back at the house, Aiden couldn’t complain about being with his parents and brothers. There was something familiar about having the five of them together again. It occurred to Aiden that it hadn’t just been the core family since before Ian got married, back when Aiden was eighteen.

He smiled to himself at the thought, placing down the last box for garbage and heading back inside to relax for a few minutes for lunch. Aided had only just stepped inside when he pulled out his phone, narrowing his eyes at the missed call from Thea and the voicemail she left. If she was with Kellen, there should be no reason for her to call him. Or for her to leave a message asking him to call her back.

Aiden felt a spike of worry hit his chest, pulling up his voicemail to listen as he walked into the kitchen. He saw his mother on the phone also, but ignored it as he listened.

“H-hey, dad,” Thea started, her voice sounding oddly strangled. “Um… so… er, we’re kind of… at the hospital? I drove us. I was really careful, but papa couldn’t drive. He, um… I don’t know what happened, but he said his head hurt differently than usual. Me and Violet and Sky made him go. He said he’d wait for you, but dad… I’m really scared… papa was in a lot of pain and I don’t know what to do and I know I shouldn’t cry because Violet and Sky are with me, but, but, but…” She paused, sniffling loudly. “Please come as fast as you can, dad.”

Aiden had never felt so worried in his life. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than hearing his daughter break down crying on the phone, but her crying because his husband was currently in the hospital was pretty high up there too.

Kellen. He had to get to Kellen as soon as he could.

Aiden was about to rush out the door when his mother swiped his keys from his hand. “Mom!” he reprimanded angrily. “Give those back.”

The blonde only shook her head. “Violet called too. She said Kellen would be upset if you drove. I’ll take your car with you. Jacob, you take our car and Ian and Isaac can take their own.”

“Whoa, hey, what’s going on?” Isaac said worriedly, standing up to follow their mom to the door without being asked. Their dad had already got to work rushing out the door and to his car, following orders like a soldier.

Aiden swallowed. “Kellen’s in the hospital.” That was all he could say. He felt numb. He felt agitated. He felt his heart sink so low in his chest that he wasn’t sure how it was still beating. He felt panic. He had to get home. “Mom, give me my damn keys, I have to get home,” he tried to say angrily. It sounded more like a plea than a demand.

She didn’t seem bothered in the slightest by his tone. “Absolutely not, I’m driving,” she said, leaving no room for argument. “In the car. The more time you spend arguing with me, the more time you waste.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. His mother was a fast driver anyway when she needed to be.

Even so, it still took a little under an hour to get to the hospital. Aiden spent every second imagining the worst. It was hard to breathe. For the first time in a while, his stomach was acting up terribly, the nerves getting to him. He was sure he would have a panic attack when his mother started talking to him soothingly, prompting him to get in touch with Letta, Lyla, Olivia, and B, all of whom were headed to the hospital as well. They said they would update him if they heard anything.

Aiden got on the phone with Thea, Violet, and Skylar too. It broke his heart to see how hard Thea was trying to be strong, but she couldn’t keep the vulnerability out of her voice. Violet had to take the phone from her to keep talking.

“The doctors haven’t told us anything yet,” she said quietly over their video chat. Her face was pinched with worry, her body rigid. “But we’ve been asking. And a nice nurse brought us water.”

Aiden tried to give her a reassuring smile. “The doctors are taking care of him, and I’ll be there with your uncles and grandparents too.”

She nodded. “It was… really scary. Papa dropped a plate and I came over to see what happened. He was holding his head and said a migraine hit him really suddenly, but that never happens,” she mumbled. “But he was dizzy and couldn’t walk and he said his eyesight was blurry. We would have called an ambulance but then we couldn’t go with him. If anything happened, we wanted to… be with him.”

Aiden pushed down the worry for Kellen, even though he felt like it was getting hard to breathe again. He was the adult here. He needed to be comforting for his daughters. “Thea only got her license a little while ago. She drove?”

Violet nodded. “Papa tried to be quiet so he wouldn’t distract her. I made sure she had the route right.”

“You did a good job, Violet. Tell Thea she did well too, and that I’m proud of Skylar for helping papa,” Aiden said. He took a deep breath. “Keep me updated until we get there, Vi?”

“Okay, dad,” she said in a quiet voice. It looked like she might tear up too, but she only gave him an “I love you,” before hanging up.

Aiden took another breath. He ignored the pain in his stomach and tried not to think about how much pain his husband was currently in or what might be wrong with him. It was possible that they were all just overreacting; it really could have been another migraine. There were certainly some similar symptoms.

But Kellen didn’t normally get a migraine that suddenly. He had so much experience with his usual migraines that it was odd for him to say this one felt different.

Even if it did turn out to be nothing, Aiden was proud of his girls for taking charge and making Kellen go to the hospital. He wished he’d been there and that Thea didn’t have to drive, or that they just called one of their aunts, but it wasn’t always easy to think under panic. At least they’d all managed to make it there safe.

Despite knowing they were fine, Aiden surreptitiously checked out his girls when he arrived, making sure they were okay as he wrapped the three of them in a hug. He took solace in the feeling of his three girls in his arms. As distraught as they were, they were alright. If only he could say the same about his husband.

By that point, Aiden wasn’t thinking very clearly anymore. He couldn’t stop thinking about everything that could possibly be wrong, despite the best efforts of his various family members taking up a large portion of the waiting room. It was probably only a few minutes before a doctor came over to speak with him, but it felt like it had been hours.

Away from the rest of them, he talked to the doctor quietly. Aiden couldn’t remember what word the doctor used, but apparently Kellen experienced some sudden nerve pain which required a very low-key surgery on the back of his neck to correct. They still couldn’t correct the migraines, but in a few hours, Kellen would be recovering in a room before they could take him home.

Aiden almost collapsed in relief. He couldn’t relax until he was seated next to Kellen though, watching his husband breathe in and out to the steady beeps of the machine for his heart.

He pushed some of Kellen’s hair away from his face, carefully avoiding the IV in his arm and the nasal canula that they hadn’t removed yet. Kellen looked so much paler than normal, but his face was relaxed and his chest was moving in and out without a hitch.

Aiden let out a breath and sat, taking a moment for himself as his brothers and sisters-in-law occupied his kids. Grabbing Kellen’s hand, he ran his hand over the man’s knuckles, allowing himself to take in the knowledge that Kellen was here and he was okay.

Now he just needed to wake up.

“Aiden.”

Aiden snapped to attention, but it wasn’t Kellen speaking. It was just Ian, who pulled up a chair to sit next to him. Isaac moved to sit on his other side.

“Letta took Skylar, Violet, and Thea to get something for dinner downstairs in the cafeteria,” Isaac said calmly, although his eyes kept flicking to Kellen too. “Mom and dad went along with them.”

Aiden blinked, sitting up. “I… huh?” His hand was still in Kellen’s, but the man hadn’t moved yet. “But they were just here…”

Ian nudged him. “You kind of zoned out. It’s only been a few minutes.” More softly, he asked, “Are you okay, Aiden?”

Aiden let out a breath. “I…” He stopped when he realized that he had no idea what he was going to say. Swallowing, he said the first thing that came to mind. “Do you remember when I had my tonsils out?”

Isaac nodded. “Yeah. That was when they had trouble waking you.” His voice was low, solemn.

“Did Kellen feel like this?” Aiden asked, his throat tight and his chest like lead. “I feel like I can’t breathe. He’s here and he’s okay, but he’s still not awake and…” He took a deep breath, trying to get air into his lungs before he ended up in the bathroom again. “I-I can’t stop thinking about him not waking up. I love him so much and I don’t want to lose him.”

He put his hands over his face, feeling utterly exhausted as his voice cracked. If this was how Kellen felt for that minute that he thought Aiden wouldn’t wake, and those few hours he waited for the anesthesia to wear off fully, then Aiden had no idea how he’d ever convinced his husband to leave him alone that weekend. He didn’t even want to let go of Kellen’s hand now.

Ian wrapped an arm around Aiden’s shoulders. “We know. But Kellen’s alright, Aiden. I don’t know how Kellen felt exactly after your surgery, but you know that he cried and panicked. He loves you just as much.”

“And he’d love it if you got something to eat,” Isaac said, segueing into the new topic effortlessly.

Aiden gave him the most not amused look he could muster. Isaac cracked a smile though. “Aiden, Kellen was about ready to break down after your surgery. You look like you’ve been sleepwalking all day. And you yelled at mom, so that’s proof enough that you’re not yourself.” His attempt to lighten the mood fell flat. He sighed and his shoulders slumped. “I think Kellen felt the same way, Aiden. But even then, we made him eat too.”

Aiden swallowed, looking back to the brunette on the bed. He let his thumb rove over the man’s knuckles. “I don’t want to leave him though,” he complained quietly. “What if he wakes and I’m not here? I wasn’t there when he had to go to the hospital.”

That was it: guilt. That was what Aiden had been feeling. It mixed in with the anxiety and panic as he thought about the fact that something could have happened to Kellen and he wouldn’t have been there when he was needed the most.

“Oh, Aiden,” Ian said sympathetically, “We can’t be there at all times. And you know that anything could have happened. If you were with Kellen and one of us slipped and broke a foot, you would have felt guilty for that too. You shouldn’t feel guilty for something that was entirely out of your control.”

“I know,” he responded, patting Kellen’s hand. He let out a breath. “It makes sense when you say it. It doesn’t make sense when I try not to feel bad.”

Isaac nodded in understanding. Aiden got the feeling that he didn’t want to leave either. As much as Isaac would never admit it, Kellen was like another brother to him and he was worried too.

Ian clearly had no problem admitting it though. “Knowing Kellen, he’ll say one thing to you when he wakes up and you’ll already feel better. Looks like we know him pretty well too by now,” he said lightly, chuckling under his breath. “So, you stay here in case he wakes. I’ll bring up something for you and Isaac.”

“I’m staying too?” Isaac asked, although he didn’t sound all that broken up about it.

“Aiden needs company,” Ian said simply. “Be right back.”

It was quiet when his oldest brother stepped out. Aiden probably should have told him that he couldn’t stomach anything heavy, or really anything at all, but he figured Ian would be too distracted to bother him about eating. He only continued holding Kellen’s hand, looking up when Isaac huffed.

He raised an eyebrow at his brother. Isaac shook his head. “It’s like what the hell, you know?”

“No,” Aiden deadpanned, legitimately unsure of what Isaac was talking about.

His elder brother leaned forward. “As soon as we’re sure he’s okay, I’m going to be mad. It makes me mad when people randomly go to the hospital and when you look so devastated like that. Like what the hell? Kellen shouldn’t just be dropping.”

Aiden couldn’t help it if he smiled. “You won’t be mad. You’re just worried.” He remembered Isaac being the same way after he woke up from his surgery years ago.

“I’m going to totally be mad,” Isaac maintained. He wasn’t a very good actor. “You were crying with mom. I saw. And… I don’t like seeing that.”

Aiden placed Kellen’s hand down gingerly, getting up to nudge Isaac on the shoulder. “Stand up.”

Isaac gave him a look, but he did it anyway. He didn’t protest when Aiden pulled him into a bear hug, wrapping his arms around his brother tightly. Aiden felt the nerves in his chest subside just a little at the feeling of his brother standing there with him.

He pulled away with a more relaxed smile, noticing that Isaac looked slightly better too. Aiden patted his brother on the shoulder and turned to sit back with Kellen.

His heart leapt in his chest when he noticed Kellen scrunch up his eyes like he did in the morning when he was having trouble waking up.

“Kellen?” he asked, rushing back to Kellen’s side. Isaac was on his other side.

Kellen turned his head and breathed out. Aiden put his hand on his cheek, stroking his cheekbone. “Are you awake, Kellen?” he asked softly.

Isaac stepped over to dim the lights, returning when Kellen opened his eyes blearily. They looked unfocused, but lucid. “Hey, Aiden?” he asked, his throat scratchy.

Aiden couldn’t help the flood of relief that assaulted him when he heard his husband’s voice. He almost felt himself tear up, but resisted the urge in order to answer, “Yes, baby?”

Kellen blinked up at him, a lazy smile creeping onto his face. “Have I died, because I see an angel.” He started laughing lowly to himself at his own joke.

“Oh my fucking god,” Isaac mumbled in exasperation, a hand on his forehead.

Aiden laughed breathily, endlessly amused. “How drugged are you right now?”

“I don’t know, but I feel great,” Kellen emphasized, reaching over to pat Aiden’s stomach sloppily.

“You feel too great if you’re using bad pickup lines on my brother. You do know that you’re already married, right?” Isaac quipped. Aiden could see his fingers tapping like he was anxious, like he wanted to give Kellen a hug without it being obvious.

Kellen turned to him, blinking as if he was trying to wake up. “Isaac, stop ruining my moment! There is literally no other time that I can use that line on him.”

He was clearly slurring his words, and probably still high on morphine, but he was awake. Aiden wiped his eyes, unable to stop the few tears from leaking down his cheeks.

“Oh, no, honey, sweetheart,” Kellen said, mixing up his pet names. He used a little more energy to reach up to Aiden’s cheeks, wiping them with an incredible lack of coordination. Aiden had to grab his wrist to stop himself from being poked in the eye. “My hand is funny,” he murmured, looking disconcerted by that fact.

“I’m just happy that you’re okay, Kellen,” Aiden said, putting his hand back beside him. “And guess what? You’ll only need a day or two of recovery. I know you hate sitting around.”

“Aw, yes,” Kellen said victoriously, “but I’m too tired right now, Aiden. Do I have to get up?”

“No, you don’t. You sleep. We’ll be here,” Aiden reassured him, giving him a peck on the lips and a kiss on the forehead. He helped Kellen settle in again and watched his man fall back asleep.

Isaac was trying not to smile. “Kellen is a dork.”

“Yes, he is,” Aiden agreed fondly, smiling and smoothing his hair back.

Kellen woke again a few hours later, less drugged and more eager to get out of bed despite the bandage still stuck to the back of his head and the IV in his arm. The girls sat up with him on the bed while Aiden sat beside it, watching his family happily. He watched Kellen give each girl a big hug, apologizing to them for worrying them so much and praising each of them for their valiant efforts to help him. Skylar ended up crying, Thea tried not to, and Violet sat solemnly. They refused to leave his side.

“You should be apologizing for that terrible pickup line before,” Isaac said with a roll of his eyes as soon as the girls had relaxed on either side of Kellen.

Kellen tilted his head, confused. He had Thea snuggled into his side while she looked up at the TV that Skylar was messing with. “What?”

Aiden was about to remind him, but he could tell when Kellen was joking. The blank look in his eyes said it all. “You don’t remember waking up before, do you?”

“I woke up before?” Kellen asked, blinking owlishly. He adjusted his feet around Violet, who was reading idly at the end of the bed. She wasn’t turning pages very quickly though, instead surreptitiously glancing at Kellen every few minutes.

Isaac raised his eyebrows, a smiled creeping onto his face. “Oh, you don’t remember?” He looked far too amused by that fact. “You asked Aiden if you’d died because he’s an angel or something.”

Kellen barked out a laugh, trying to be quiet since they were in a hospital. “That’s great! Come on, Isaac, there’s literally no better time for me to tell him that.”

Aiden shook his head fondly. Drugged or sober, Kellen apparently still had the same sense of humor. It shouldn’t have been as endearing as it was. He couldn’t help but to give his husband a kiss, kissing his cheek too.

Kellen smiled in understanding, not saying anything about Aiden’s obvious clinginess until they finally got him out of the hospital and they were able to sleep in his own bed again. They laid silently next to one another for a while, Aiden watching Kellen’s chest rise and fall. He hadn’t even slept the previous night; he couldn’t, not with Kellen in the hospital overnight.

“Come here, hun,” Kellen said lowly, adjusting them so Aiden was resting atop him, his heart beating right under Aiden’s chin. “I’m alright now,” Kellen murmured, carding his hand through Aiden’s hair with gentle fingers scraping against his skull.

“I was really worried,” Aiden whispered. He’d cried in the hospital before. He’d let a few tears fall when Kellen had woken up. But here, alone, with just Kellen for company, he couldn’t stop the tears. “I love you so much, Kellen, and I thought… I thought…”

He took in a breath, sitting up. Kellen followed him, letting him cry as he kept mumbling, “I thought… what if I lost you? And I wasn’t there and you were in so much pain…”

“Aiden, honey,” Kellen said softly. He wiped the tears with his thumbs, making sure that Aiden met his eyes. “Do you know what I was thinking before they put me under?” He waited a second before he went on, “It was hard to think anything really, but I knew the girls were safe and…” He took a breath. “I was worried that I might not get to see you again. I was so worried, Aiden. And scared. But then I woke up and you were there. Well, the second time, because I don’t remember the first time.”

Aiden cracked a smile, but he still had tears streaming down his face. He couldn’t help it, and he didn’t cry quietly like Kellen either. But Kellen held him tightly, whispering soothing words into his ear and placing his hand over Kellen’s heart, showing him that it was beating just fine.

“I’m so sorry for worrying you, Aiden,” Kellen said seriously. He leaned over and kissed Aiden’s cheek, then his forehead and lips, peppering short little kisses all over his face.

Aiden couldn’t help but to smile slightly at the loving attention. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you,” he apologized, his voice feeling hollow after all the crying.

Kellen simply blinked at him and kissed his cheek. “Aiden, you can’t predict everything. That could have happened at work, or on another evening, or at any time. I do wish you were there, but life happens. Granted, it would have been much easier if you were driving. I can’t tell you how hard it was to direct Thea when it was so bright out.” He tried to smile, although he clearly wasn’t kidding. “Aiden, you have nothing to be sorry for. We raised our kids right and they got me help.”

He put his hand on Aiden’s neck, running his thumb over his neck and moving his hand down to his chest. “I’m more worried about you,” Kellen said matter-of-factly.

Aiden frowned. “Me?”

“Yes, you,” Kellen said surely. “Don’t think that I can’t tell when you haven’t slept.”

“Well, you know I can’t sleep unless you’re next to me,” Aiden protested.

“And Olivia told me that you spent hours in the bathroom being sick? Have you eaten much since then?” Kellen asked in concern.

Aiden huffed. “You just spent a few days in the hospital and you’re worrying about me?” Kellen just gave him an expectant look, waiting for an answer. Aiden mumbled, “I wasn’t hungry. B got me a soda to drink. My stomach was too upset to eat.”

“I saw you not eat the sandwich Ian brought you,” Kellen said sternly. He pouted. “I asked Olivia to grab you something lighter.”

“She brought me a box of cereal,” Aiden admitted.

“Which you didn’t eat?” Kellen guessed correctly. He smiled a little. “How’s your stomach now, honey?” He reached over to lay them both back down, gently rubbing Aiden’s stomach.

Aiden relaxed under his touch. “Better. I feel better knowing that you’re okay.” He adjusted their positions so that he was cuddling atop Kellen just to hear his heart keep beating. “I love you so much, Kellen. So much.”

“I love you too, Aiden,” he responded, understanding all the emotions that Aiden couldn’t possibly put into words.

He kept his hand going through Aiden’s hair, and Aiden felt his eyes droop to the noise of Kellen’s heart beneath his ear, his head rising and falling in time with the movement of Kellen’s chest.

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