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For [livejournal.com profile] raedbard. Originally posted here.


It's just after 10 on a Friday night, and Toby has never been more pleased to see a week end. He's spent so many hours in his editor's office, it makes all his years of law school look like a beach party. Now, he's sitting in a chair on the back porch, just taking in the stillness of the air.

"Hey, Dad?"

Toby looks up, surprised. His son stands there, dressed in his pajamas and a heavy sweater. "Huck, you should be in bed."

Huck shrugs his shoulders as he moves to sit in the chair next to Toby's, and even in the low light Toby can see the weight settling there. It bothers him-angers him-in a way he can't quite describe. Toby finally realized about a year ago that he doesn’t want the kids to be sad, either. "I couldn't sleep." The initial prompt I had for this story was “problems with solutions; I worked it out that the problem is that Huck can’t sleep.

Toby nods. Andy's driven into Baltimore to meet an old friend for a drink (and is getting a hotel room for the night instead of driving home), and Molly's at a sleepover for one of the girls in her dance class. He knows what Huck really means is, "The house is too quiet. Too empty." Both kids get unsettled when they aren’t sleeping with only two open bathroom doors between them. I am pretty sure that, when they are grown and living in separate houses, they will still be calling each other before they go to sleep to say goodnight.

"Yeah, I understand. Toby has the whole bed to himself tonight, and he doesn’t know what to do about it; Andy sprawls a lot in her sleep, takes up three-quarters of the mattress (and even more of the covers). You can stay out here for a little while, if you'd like." Toby reaches for his coat, tossed over the back of his chair, and offers it to Huck. "Put this on though, okay? It's getting cold out here."

Huck wraps himself in the heavy black wool. They both sit silently for several minutes, listening to the muted sounds of traffic from the roads surrounding the house. This was the first line I wrote; the image of Huck sitting in a chair, wearing his astronaut pj’s and a sweater his Gramma knit him, wrapped up in Toby’s black wool coat was the first thing that came to mind when I got this prompt, and it did not deviate or diminish at any point. Toby leans his head back and watches the stars; there isn't a single cloud out tonight, and with the chill in the air, the sky seems magnified somehow.

"What's on your mind, son?"

Huck tips his head in Toby's direction, but the coat is bunched up slightly, keeping him from meeting his father's eyes. Again he shrugs, and turns his head back to stare up at the sky. "I'm fine."

"Huck." Toby has no idea just where he picked up that tone of voice-that stern but loving, cut the crap tone-or how he can employ it with just a single word, but there it is. Leo was right after all, Toby thinks to himself as he looks at Huck's profile, barely distinguishable from the coat bunched up around his face, and the darkness of the yard beyond. LEO. See, here’s the thing about Leo; when he tells you it’s a mortal lock, that you’re going to love your kids enough, you do not question it, because he is Leo, and he Knows Everything. And that is what breaks my heart, because you know that Toby didn’t believe Leo when he first said that; not until after, when Toby could actually hold the babies, did Toby understand. (Leo knew that would be the case, though.)

Huck turns again, this time shifting his small body to sit sideways in the chair, facing his father. He pulls the coat tighter around himself and wraps his arms around his pulled up knees. "It's just...there's some dumb kids at school, and they're saying a bunch of stupid stuff about you and Mom. Mostly you, though."

"What kind of stuff?"

Huck lifts a hand and waves it around, but the movement is largely hindered by the too-long sleeve of the coat. That’s one of Toby’s gestures. Like Molly picking up the forehead rubbing, Huck picks up things as well. "Just...you know, dumb stuff. Things they heard from their parents. About you and Mom, and Aunt CJ and Uncle Danny. And Sam."

Toby hesitates for a moment too long before replying, perhaps, but Huck doesn't notice. At this point, I honestly don’t remember if I meant for Toby to have had/have been having an affair with Sam, but I probably did. "It's just a bunch of crap, and I don't believe any of it, but they think it's fun to try to get me mad."

"Does it get you mad, Huck?"

Huck shakes his head, and Toby makes a mental note to tell Andy to make an appointment for haircuts; Huck's hair is just about at his collar. "No. It's just a bunch of garbage. You should see Molly, though; she gets so mad."

Huck grins, and again, Toby knows what he really means. Even at seven years old, his daughter has no problem settling a fight. In rare moments, she reminds him of himself when he was the same age. Brooklyn and Julie Ziegler raised Toby and his brother up fast and hard; apparently, the city never left his blood. He's grateful for it, although he'll never admit it to anyone. There is no doubt in my mind that Toby’s sisters could hold their own in a scrap, but then I remembered that this was Brooklyn in the late 50’s and early 60’s, so there was probably still a lot of heteronormative gender lines that just didn’t get crossed, so Julie didn’t teach his daughters how to fight as much-or as well-as he did his sons.

"Yeah, I imagine she does. That one kid-what's his name, Billy? Has she made him cry yet?" Toby smiles, but tries to keep it hidden from Huck's view. If Andy finds out he's encouraging Molly's attitudes toward her classmate, there'll be hell to pay. The return of Billy.

"No. But..." Huck trails off, once again watching the sky. Toby just waits. "I don't know, Dad. Nothing."

"Okay." Toby isn't convinced that Huck has nothing more to say, but decides not to push the issue. With Huck, Toby has learned to let him do things in his own time.

"I'm sleepy," Huck announces suddenly. He unfolds himself from the chair and stands, shrugging off Toby's coat and dropping it back on the chair. "I'm going back to bed." This was the solution to the problem: Huck can’t sleep, but once he gets a chance to sit with his dad and talk for a little bit-doesn’t matter about what-he realizes that everything’s okay, his dad is there to watch over him, and he can go back to bed.

"Want me to-" Toby is an excellent tucker-inner. He was also a staunch supporter of reading the kids bedtimes stories-complete with funny voices-from the day they were born until they were, like, 9 and decided they just want to curl up and read at their own pace. (Unless they were sick; I can see one of the kids being home with a horrible cold at 12 and being all, “Daddy, my eyes hurt too much to see the pages. Can you read me a story until I fall back asleep?”) As long as they didn’t fall asleep in class, Toby never cared how late they stayed up reading, and there was no such thing as “too many” books in their house.

"No, that's okay. Goodnight, Dad." Huck wraps his arms around his father's neck, and kisses his cheek briefly.

"Goodnight, son."



~end
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