Nick paced across the room again. Then cursed at himself. He was doing it again. Calm down, sheesh! He plunked himself in front of the television and channel-surfed for a while. It didn’t help. Five minutes later he was back pacing.
It was a great relief when the doorbell rang, heralding the food he’d ordered.
He could cook now: How had Emma and Kat managed to teach him how to do that in only a week? What was most amazing was that he enjoyed it so much. Before, he’d only seen it as the annoying, long process before he finally got to eat. Now… it was more fun than the eating. It gave him something to focus on; something that calmed him; something that only video games and drawing had done before. Something that was his and his alone.
He hadn’t shared his new skill with the others yet. Okay, so he had baked some cookies and presented them to the guys, but he’d passed them off as something he’d picked up at a new bakery. And the secret glee he felt when they had gobbled them up quickly and complained that he hadn’t brought more… that was a feeling of pride that he’d decided he wanted to keep for himself for a while longer.
And tonight was definitely not the night to announce his new ability. He was too nervous.
He thanked the delivery guy, maybe a little too profusely, and carried the cartons back to the kitchen. Fussing over that kept him busy, but he was back to pacing by the time the doorbell rang again.
Nick was up to something, Howie thought as he waited for the younger man to open the door. And he thought he knew what. The relieved look on Nick’s face, and the smell of Chinese food – GOOD Chinese food, not the Cantonese junk that Nick favoured – confirmed it.
“D! So glad you could make it. Come on in.” Nick invited him in, practically pulling the jacket off of his back before hanging it in the closet.
Howie sighed as he saw the three place settings on the table. Nick had specifically asked him not to bring Todd, so it was a little obvious whom the third place was for. Another attempt to get Kevin and him to reconcile. He’d known it was coming; he’s just expected it from AJ or Rok. Nick usually stayed as far away from this stuff as he could. He wasn’t great with tense situations and was more likely to avoid them than confront them. The others must think things were really bad if Nick had chosen to get drawn in.
He sighed again. He wished they’d just leave well enough alone. His relationship with Kevin had been through a lot of changes over the years. From good friend to lover and back again. Confidante, rival then enemy. They had been slowly overcoming their animosity towards each other in recent years; there really was nothing as powerful as enmity between people who had once been so intimate. They had been doing well; able to talk openly about everything, well almost everything. Finally accepting that they had both made mistakes that had made things unbearable for every one concerned. Finally finding a bond that they could both live with. And then they’d gone to Austin. They’d confronted head-on the one thing they had avoided since they had begun their low arduous trek towards reconciliation.
And it had not gone well.
So now they had to rebuild it. And that took time. Only that seemed to be something that the other three didn’t understand. They wanted the two to shake hands and make up and POOF everything back to the way it had been. “Not going to happen, guys,” he muttered under his breath.
Still he had to admire the love that was behind the attempts.
Nick finally suggested that they eat, when Kevin still hadn’t shown up twenty minutes later. Neither of them ate much; just pushed their food around a bit, both trying to avoid looking at the empty place setting.
“Maybe something came up,” Howie finally said.
“What?” Nick’s head pulled up suddenly. He’d been checking his watch for the hundredth time since they’d sat down.
“Kevin. Maybe there was some sort of emergency.”
“How did you…” Nick look sheepish. “Not very subtle, am I?”
Howie grinned. “Not much. But it was a good thought. And I am sure that if he is not coming its not because of you.”
“Yeah, well, he HAS to come,” Nick muttered.
“Nick, it’s not going to happen overnight. We need time. We re-opened a lot of wounds recently. He’d never really confronted all his feelings about losing them.” Howie’d had a lot of trouble saying Kat and CJ’s names since the trip to Austin. “He’s a stubborn man. Also a very private one. It’s hard for him to admit he was in the wrong to push her away. And even harder for him to admit how much he misses her.”
Nick was silent.
“Look, Nicky,” Howie leaned forward. “This has been great but I should go…”
“No way! You are staying right here. Please, D. Let me just call him…”
“You can’t force this, Nick,” Howie reiterated.
“I gotta try,” Nick insisted. “And if he is going to be a dick and not come over then you and I can work on some stuff, okay?”
Howie smiled softly and nodded.
Nick took a deep breath before he picked up the phone. “Not going to yell. Just be calm. Get him to come over,” he warned himself. Though he almost lost it when Kevin picked up after the first ring.
“Hey Nick. Sorry, couldn’t make it. Something came up.”
“Yeah, a very busy night of channel-surfing from the sounds of it,” Nick replied sarcastically.
I just didn’t want to, okay?”
”No, Kev. Not okay. I really need you to come over.”
“Is he still there?”
“Don’t be a dumbass, Nick. I know you invited Howie over too. I figured that’s what you were up to so I called his house. Todd told me. Stop trying to play peacemaker. It’s not your strong point,” Kevin retorted.
“Well, fucking excuse me for caring so much about the two of you!” The strain of the last couple of weeks was getting to him, and Nick couldn’t hold his temper in check any longer. “I am trying really hard to do you a favour, Kevin. If you’re so god dammed pigheaded you can’t see it…”
“Nick!” Kevin could hear Howie’s voice trying to calm the younger man. “Not the best approach here.”
“There is no fucking “best approach” with you two, and I am damn sick of it. You’re here. He better get his ass over here now,” Nick said angrily.
“Nick, I can still hear you,” Kevin pointed out, a twinge of annoyance in his voice. “And I am really not interested in coming over now.”
“Fuck,” Nick said and hung up.
Howie watched him pace angrily back and forth across the room. “Umm. It was a nice thought, Nick.”
“You don’t understand, Howie. He HAS to be here,” Nick replied with a frustrated whine to his voice. “He has to!”
Nick shook his head. “He just has to,” he repeated. He looked down at his watch and swore. “And he needs to get here NOW.”
“Do you want me to call him? I mean, I can try. I doubt he’ll listen to me, but he’s probably not going to listen to you right now… Maybe I can convince him…”
Nick stood still. “No. It’s okay. I have a trump card I can play. I just didn’t want to. Promise you won’t leave?”
“Howie, I really need you here too. Please. This is very important to me. I really need to talk to both of you at the same time.”
“Got any ice cream?”
Nick snorted. “This is ME we’re talking about. The question isn’t do I have any, it’s how many flavours I have.”
Howie laughed and loped into the kitchen as Nick picked up the phone again.
“Kevin? Yeah, I know you don’t want to talk to me. Just do me one thing. Go upstairs… Well, then go down the hall. Go into Chr—CJ’s room. No, I am not joking around. Go in there and look at the toy you got for him. Then you decide if you want to come over or not.”
Kat wiped Chris’ face, getting the remnants of his dinner off. She took him to McDonald’s so rarely, he had been excited, and couldn’t keep his eyes on one thing for long. He’d take a bite of his burger, then turn one way, smearing ketchup across his face. Take a sip of his milkshake, then wipe the chocolaty straw across his other cheek as he looked at something else. He was a mess.
He opened his eyes sleepily as she cleaned the vestiges off his face, smiled, then went back to sleep. He was just so damn cute. Especially when he was sleeping.
She leaned back in the seat and sighed. He was driving her crazy. Ever since Nick had left he hadn’t shut up about it. It was Unca Nick this and Unca Nick that. And the endless questions about his dad. And his uncles. Then he’d clam up and not talk to her. When she finally got him to say anything it was, “Just guy stuff, Mom. You wouldn’t understand.”
Suddenly her devoted son didn’t want to talk to her.
It had hurt. Just like his father, suddenly he didn’t want her around.
Okay, Kat, so that wasn’t exactly the truth. For one week, Chris had had a male role model in his life. And now he wanted more. He wasn’t rejecting her. He was just letting her know that he needed more. “Right, and if you keep telling yourself that, maybe you’ll believe it,” she muttered as she started the engine.
She needed some time to think, so she checked Chris carefully, then started to drive along the lake, trying to draw strength from the rippling waves.
“You really aren’t going to answer it?” Howie said as the phone began to ring. He wasn’t sure what Nick had said to Kevin, but he had been calling over and over again for the last ten minutes. Nick just smirked at the handset and refused to pick it up.
“Nope. He played hard to get, so I am too,” Nick replied smugly, spooning some more ice cream into his mouth.
Howie chuckled. “You really are a bitch, Carter.”
“I thought that was what you were, Howard, dahling,” Nick retorted with a drag-queen lisp.
Howie was about to answer when the ringing of the phone cut off, and was replaced by pounding on the door. “Umm, I think you have a guest.”
Nick looked at his watch and flashed Howie the famous Carter smile. “Wow, less than 15 minutes. He really shouldn’t drive so fast, should he?”
Nick may be known as Kaos, but when Kevin blew in, after Nick finally decided to open the door, he was a lot closer to personifying a wave of destruction.
“What the fuck? Why didn’t you answer the phone? What are you playing at, Nick?”
Nick just smiled silkily. “The phone? You called? Oh I’m sorry, Kev. Howie and I were talking. I must not have heard it.”
Kevin grabbed Nick and shoved him up against the wall. “Don’t give me that shit, Nick! I want to know how you got this!”
Kevin turned an angry face to Howie. “Are you in on this too, D? I thought the crap you pulled a couple of weeks ago was bullshit, but if you are in on this, I’ll…”
Howie was genuinely confused. “In on what? Nick invited me over for dinner, and I clued into the fact that it was another “get Kevin and Howie to talk” thing. That’s all I know.”
Kevin let a struggling Nick go and pulled something out of his pocket, thrusting it at Howie. “In on this.”
Howie glanced at the picture quickly, then did a double take. He looked at Kevin, then back to Nick. “Carter… Talk now! And it better be fucking good,” he growled, his eyes narrowed.
Kat gently pulled a still-sleeping Chris into her arms. He snored softly in her ear, and she smiled as she pulled her bag over her other shoulder. She left the door to the car open; she’d need some more things from it, and climbed the steps to the house. It only took a few moments for the door to open.
“I was so afraid you weren’t coming.”
“I almost didn’t,” she replied honestly. “I think the excitement got to him,” she nodded to Chris’s collapsed form. “Look, could you go grab Chris’ blanket from the car? And Stomper?”
“Sure thing.” He stepped forward, then drew back, kissing her cheek. “I am really glad you are here.”
She smiled quickly. “Where?”
She turned and looked down the long hallway. Here goes nothing, she thought and stepped inside.
She walked slowly, trying not to wake her son, then stood in the doorway of the living room for a moment, gulping with fear. She turned quickly, walking into the small den off the living room, and laid Chris down on the sofa. Nick jogged in and handed her the blanket and the dinosaur toy, glancing at the two white faces that watched from the doorway. Kat thanked him and covered Chris, tucking the blanket in. She put the toy in his arms and his eyes flicked open for a second, just a quick flash of green eyes, before closing again. He squeezed the toy tightly, then loosened and started to snore again.
Kat straightened and turned slowly. “Maybe we should go back and talk in the other room. Let him sleep for a while.”
Nick nodded, glancing worriedly at the two men. Howie stared wide-eyed at Kat, and bobbed his head. Kevin was fixated on his son. He ignored the others and walked over to him, kneeling beside him. He brushed Chris’ hair off his face and stared intently at him. Then he got up and stalked from the room, dropping onto the large couch in the living room.
“As I was saying: talk.” He demanded huskily, unshed tears glittering in his eyes.