Neil wasn't sure it was a good idea to host such a big party with a two-year-old toddler running around the house wreaking havoc everywhere she went. And while Violet was a sweet kid, she could be a handful. And meeting so many new people all at once? Neil wasn't sure she could handle it. They had bailed on last year’s party because Violet was teething and Andrew was down with a stomach flu. Both ailments offered them a legit excuse to stay away – so they wouldn’t get everyone else sick because of Andrew puking his guts out. And they didn’t have to hire a babysitter.
"Stop worrying," Andrew said from where he was having a tea party with Violet on the floor by her tiny table and chairs. He handed her his cup for another cup of imaginary tea. "Thank you darling," he told her, and Violet gave him a wide smile before she went back to serving tea for her dolls, teddies, and the cats. Andrew turned back to look at Neil. "They'll arrive soon and it's almost time for her nap. I'll put her down. You just herd them outside when they arrive, so they don't wake her up." He didn't want to deal with a cranky toddler today when their friends and former teammates came by for food and drinks.
Neil sighed. There was no arguing with Andrew when he was being reasonable. He walked over and sat down next Andrew, their thighs touching. He pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek, then smiled when Violet handed him a plastic cup. "Thank you baby," he said, and Violet beamed once again.
"Welcome," she said in a sweet voice. A voice that always made Neil's heart melt.
As Andrew had predicted, Violet started to get tired about ten minutes after Neil had joined them for tea. He had memorized a lot of her little quirks. Most which she had copied from either Neil or Andrew. She played with her hair when she was tired; a quirk she had gotten from Neil. She stood in front of Andrew and pointed at his lap. He knew what she wanted, they had taught her to ask if she could sit in any of their laps, but words seemed to fail her when she was tired, but he still wanted her to use her words. "Use your words, darling."
The quirk she had gotten from Andrew was that she forgot how words worked.
"Me tired," she said, rubbing her eyes. "Sleep?"
Andrew hummed and carefully pulled her into his lap, letting her get comfortable in his lap. He grabbed one of her toddler blankets from the couch, and wrapped it around her. It didn't take long before she fell asleep, her head resting on Andrew's chest, above his heart.
Andrew rubbed her back, smoothing out the blanket and her yellow dress underneath. She liked yellow; it was her most favourite colour. Her hair was a strawberry blonde, curly mess on top of her head. Neil smiled and leaned down to kiss her forehead, using his hand to smooth down her curls. He leaned back up and kissed Andrew.
"Go put her down. I'll get the grill going," he said before he stood up and pulled his phone out. He snapped a quick picture of Andrew looking down at Violet, Violet's nose nuzzled into his t-shirt, one tiny hand fisted in the fabric. It was rare for Neil to capture one of Andrew’s soft moments with Violet.
Andrew buried his nose in Violet's hair, taking in the unique fragrance of her natural scent, Andrew’s after shave and Neil's perfume. He could spend hours just sitting with her, smelling her hair and how all of their scents mixed together. He sighed softly, then got up with a little trouble and made his way upstairs to Violet's room. She only fussed a little, but it was mostly because Andrew had to remove her hand from his shirt. He closed the blinds and closed the window so the Foxes wouldn't accidentally wake her up before it was time.
He closed the door on his way out. It had been a long year of discussing having a kid with Neil, to them calling the Child Protective Services, to them meeting Violet for the first time in a meeting room. She was just a baby, 10 months old when they met her the first time, crawling around on the floor, pressing all the squeaky toys, accompanied by her laugh. When they got her in their arms for the first time, they were a little taken aback by her straightforwardness. She was very fascinated with Neil's curls, and kept petting them, then her own, as if to tell that they were the same. Violet had cried the first time Andrew held her, but he didn't mind, because when he had managed to get her to calm down, she put her head on his shoulder and fell asleep, one hand buried in his hair, the other fisted in his shirt.
The case worker was impressed.
A month later she moved into their house and she had been a part of their life ever since.
He heard laughter from downstairs, most likely Matt, and Nicky joking. He went to the bathroom and took a quick shower, needing one. He had meant to take one with Neil, but Violet wanted a tea party, and was Andrew just supposed to say no? Neil had the baby monitor on him, so he would hear it when Violet woke up.
He came downstairs 30 minutes later, freshly showered and dressed. Violet was still asleep, for which he was thankful. He was equally thankful to Neil for cleaning up after Violet's tea party. They had avoided the questioning so far.
"Andrew!" Nicky screeched when he saw him approaching. He heard Neil say 'be quiet. The kid next door is sleeping!' Though Andrew was sure Nicky didn't hear because he was fixated on Andrew. "God, it's been so long since I last saw you," he sighed softly. The others had already arrived, save for Aaron and Katelyn. He checked his phone and saw that Aaron had texted him 15 minutes ago, saying that they were delayed because of an accident on the highway.
"Yes Nicky, it has been a long time," he said as he stuffed his phone back into the pockets of his shorts. It had indeed been a long time since he last had seen Nicky that wasn’t via skype, since they bailed on last year’s get together and they hadn't been talking nearly as much over the year—not because they wanted to hide Violet, but because they didn't want to introduce her to so many people at once.
While Nicky rambled on about his life with Erik in Stuttgart, Aaron and Katelyn arrived. They weren't all that late, because Neil was still struggling with the grill, until Matt took over, for which Neil was grateful for. He joined Andrew, Aaron, and Katelyn. He hugged them because that's how much they had grown over the years. Sir and King were basking in the sunlight on the deck, though Neil was sure they would leave for Violet's dark bedroom soon enough.
"How are you two?" Katelyn asked after she had hugged Andrew and Neil. Her platinum blonde hair was pulled into a messy bun, her blue eyes insistent and wide - almost doe like. Like Neil's when he wanted something.
"We’re doing great, thanks. How's the married-doctor life treating you?" Neil asked with one of those tiny half smiles that was making an appearance more often than not—though, the big smiles were reserved for Andrew, and Violet now too.
"It's busy, but it's what we are used to by now. We're both attendings now, so we get to boss around with the interns and the residents," Katelyn said with a chuckle.
"I bet they don't care Katelyn. Look at them, they both have great careers in Exy, they make a ton more money than we do combined—"
"Eighty percent of my salary goes to the Moriyama's," Neil interjected.
"Let me rephrase: Andrew makes more money than the three of us combined. What makes you think that he cares?" Aaron rephrased.
"I don't care about your income," Andrew said, looking at his twin and Katelyn. "All I care about is that you have stable jobs and are... satisfied with them." He took a quick sip of beer and walked away when Katelyn looked like she was about burst into tears. Neil gently patted her shoulder.
"He means well, don't worry. Get something to drink, eat a burger or a hotdog or some salad." He waved at them, then walked over to Dan and Matt. Matt was bouncing their baby girl on his hip, the girl laughing and clapping her hands. It was a delightful sound and it reminded him a little bit of Violet. Dan had taken over the grill, flipping burgers and buns like she had been born to do it.
"It's a nice house Neil. It's cosy and just big enough for you two tiny assholes to throw the cats from one end to another," Matt said with a shit-eating grin.
"Har-Har," Andrew said loudly from where he was talking to Renee and Allison a few feet away.
Neil rolled his eyes fondly.
"Thanks. We had been eyeing it for a while, but then it was taken off the market and then relisted at a cheaper price. We went for it," he explained with a shrug. They had bought the house, not because they were looking to expand their family, but because they wanted to get out of the city. It was getting hard to just walk down the street for groceries. The last few months they lived in the apartment, they had resorted to ordering their groceries online. They still had trouble buying groceries, but their neighbours were a helpful elderly couple, that helped them buy groceries, in favour of Andrew and Neil helping around the house.
“It’s a really nice house, Neil. It’s simply perfect for you and Andrew,” Dan said, kicking her husband’s shin. Matt hissed and their daughter laughed.
“Glad you find my misery funny, baby girl,” he sighed and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
Neil smiled and walked over to Andrew, who was sitting on the steps to the deck, now enjoying a glass of whiskey. He handed it to Neil and Neil took a sip before he handed it back. He watched as their friends and family got themselves food and drinks, and situated around the table. It was only a matter of time before Violet woke up and wanted attention. They waited until everyone was sitting down before Neil stood up.
“We have something to tell,” he said.
“Finally getting married?” Nicky asked hopefully.
“We already are,” Andrew said flatly.
“What!?” Nicky shrieked. It was loud enough to startle the girl in Matt’s lap – and by extension, loud enough to wake up Violet.
“You are adopting another cat,” Renee said next to Allison who sighed.
“Neil’s getting a better sense of fashion?” Allison said with a dramatic sigh.
“No, we aren’t adopting another cat, and no, I’m not getting a better sense of fashion, because I hate fashion. Fashion is stupid,” Neil said and pulled the baby monitor out of his pocked and handed it to Andrew, while Allison was faking a dramatic gasp. It was a cryptic gesture, Neil handing Andrew the baby monitor; the Foxes weren’t really sure why Neil would be having a baby alarm on him, or why Andrew took it and went inside the house.
“We are adopting,” Neil said, crossing his arms over his chest. “We have been fostering and the adoption papers were just approved a few days ago.”
The Foxes were quiet. They didn’t know what to say or how to react. None of them had ever thought about Andrew and Neil becoming parents, nor did they think they would be fostering and adopting. They began to talk around the table. Talking about them becoming parents and them keeping it a secret and how they managed to keep their marriage a secret. Aaron was the one who was most quiet. He couldn’t believe they hadn’t told him. They had gotten closer over the years since they moved to Chicago a couple of years back and this felt like betrayal. He looked at Katelyn, then back at Neil when Andrew stood next to him with a girl on his hip, her arms wrapped around his neck. She was a gorgeous little girl and he couldn’t really stay mad when he saw how good Andrew was with her.
Neil leaned over and pressed a kiss to her shoulder when she reached for Neil and he took her into his arms.
“This is Violet. She’s our daughter,” he introduced her, and she hid her head in Neil’s neck, embarrassed by all of the attention. He rubbed her back and wrapped the blanket tighter around her, feeling her relax a little. She relaxed more when Andrew carefully squeezed her leg, silently telling her that he was there besides her. They sat down on the empty seats, Andrew getting them food so Neil could sit with Violet. Violet slowly got comfortable with the others around her. Comfortable enough to play with Matt and Nicky when they managed to coax her out of Neil’s arms.
Things never got as chaotic as Neil had anticipated it would get.
Aaron sat down in an empty chair next to Neil.
“Why did you never tell me?” he asked, looking at Matt and Nicky playing hide and seek with Violet. Neil turned his head and looked at Aaron.
“We didn’t tell anyone Aaron, not just you,” he said and leaned back in the chair. “We didn’t want anyone to say that we couldn’t do it or that we were stupid to do it or that we have too much trauma to be dealing with children. We talked about it Aaron, and we talked about it a lot. It wasn’t a decision we made lightly,” he said, smiling as Violet came running with a plastic cup.
“Thank you baby,” he said and he ran his fingers through her hair.
“Welcome!” she said in an excited tone of voice. She had a second cup in her hands, looking at Aaron, then at Andrew. She frowned. She looked at them once more, trying to figure out which one of them was her father and which one was an imposter. Aaron looked down at her and raised an eyebrow, trying something un-Andrew like so she wouldn’t come over to him. She stared at them for minutes, which was more like seconds but in Violet time, it was minutes. She clutched the second tiny tea cup, then burst into tears, immediately going to Neil. He picked her up and seated her, so she was facing Andrew.
“Look honey. Dad’s there see?” he said and pointed at Andrew next to him. She looked at Andrew, thick tears running down her cheeks. She reached for him and Andrew reached over to take her from Neil’s lap. Once she was situated in his lap, she lifted her head and looked at Neil, then at Aaron and promptly began to cry again.
Aaron raised an eyebrow and Katelyn chuckled softly. “She can’t tell you apart,” she said, smiling softly at him. She sat in Aaron’s lap, leaning in to kiss him softly. “Maybe we should have one of our own soon, hmm? So she can have a cousin to play with.” It was said in a whisper, so only Aaron could hear her. They had never really discussed having children, but he wouldn’t mind having a few with Katelyn.
“Maybe… We’ll talk about it later, yeah?” he hummed, returning the kiss.
“You made her cry Aaron,” Nicky cooed as he knelt next to Andrew and Violet; Aaron flipped him the bird. “If I had known I had a niece I would have brought her something.” He didn’t touch her. He didn’t know how she reacted to touch.
“You don’t have to Nicky. She’s spoiled enough as it is,” Andrew said as he rubbed her back, letting her calm down in her own time.
“I know, but still Andrew. You have a child. And you are so good with her,” he said and smiled when she lifted her head and looked at him. He reached up and touched her hand when she reached for him.
Andrew was good with her, and so was Neil.
Neil had fretted over having to hold the get together today, because they had Violet and they wanted to protect her and let her settle into her new life with them. But there had been nothing to worry about because Violet fit right in with their family and friends. He leaned over and kissed Violet’s head, then Andrew’s cheek.