Prompt: I’d love to read about the first time Dex called Tony “Dad”. I mean, how did he transition from calling Maddock “Uncle Tony” to “Dad”? Was it a natural instinct?
“You’re so full of it.”
Tony arched an eyebrow at his older sister. “Why don’t you tell me what you really think, Danelle?”
Danelle chuckled as she leaned against the counter. Her expression softened and her warm brown eyes filled with concern. “You can’t pull one over on me, Anthony. I remember when you were in diapers just like Cael.”
“Thanks. That’s… informative.”
“Don’t be a smartass.”
Tony gave her an incredulous look. “I’m sorry, have we met?”
“No wonder that boy’s a little smartass,” Danelle muttered, though she was clearly trying not to smile. Tony knew his sister loved Dex something fierce. Cael too.
“I’m fine,” he promised, holding a finger up before she could reply. “Cael’s about to wake up from his nap in four… three… two… one.” The baby monitor crackled to life before the sound of gurgling followed by wailing filled the kitchen.
Danelle stared at the monitor. “That child has some lungs on him.”
Tony chuckled as he took the baby bottle from the pot of heated water on the stove, checking the temperature before heading for the stairs, his sister close behind. “And he’s supposed to be the quiet one,” Tony mused. They walked into his bedroom to the custom made crib against the wall, opposite his bed. He handed the baby bottle to his sister so he could lower the side of the crib to get Cael out since Tony couldn’t reach over the top.
Tony had learned pretty quick that Therian babies were tiny acrobats. As soon as Cael could pull himself up, he was climbing the bars of his human crib like he was a seasoned pro. Thankfully Tony’s reflexes were nothing to be scoffed at and he’d managed to make a dive for Cael just as his son decided to practice his soaring skills.
“I will admit these two have pushed my adrenaline to new heights. More than any perp ever has.” He cradled Cael in his arms and took the bottle from his sister.
“I just worry about you,” Danelle said quietly, stroking Cael’s chubby cheek as Tony fed Cael. “You know I’ll always be here for you and these boys, but, Tony, people are pissed. They think it’s not right, you adopting a Therian child. The ink’s barely dry, and your job’s on the line. What if they fire you? How are you gonna take care of these boys?”
“We have you, don’t we?” Tony teased, giving her a wink. “You got enough in your fridge to feed Dex for at least….” Tony thought about it. “Three weeks. At least. Maybe.”
Danelle laughed. “I don’t know where that boy puts all that food. I know he’s growing, but he eats almost as much as you do, and this one,” she motioned to Cael who was making little baby noises as he drank his milk, “he’s going to grow up and his Therian metabolism will kick in. These boys are going to eat you out of house and home.”
“Look at him, Danelle.” Tony turned so his sister could get a good look at Cael, not that she hadn’t made a big fuss over him before. “Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.”
She opened her mouth to reply then closed it. With a huff, she folded her arms over her chest. “Yeah, fine. I know.” She smiled down at Cael and cooed at him, making him smile as he continued to drink. Little wrinkles formed at the corners of his big gray eyes.
“I know this is all new. Believe me, it scares the hell out of me. You think I don’t wake up in the middle of the night asking myself if I’ve gone crazy? Me? With two kids? I couldn’t even keep a cactus from drying up. I mean, who kills a cactus?” He shook his head with a sigh. Tears sprang in his eyes, and he walked over to the bed to sit down. He looked up at his sister. “I miss them, Danelle. I miss him. God, I miss him.”
Danelle took a seat on the edge of the bed beside him. She ran her hand over his head. “I know, honey. I know what they meant to you. What he meant to you.”
“Sometimes I wake up, and it’s like a I can’t breathe. When I’m at work, or out and I see some stupid thing I think John would like, that would have made him laugh, and it’s like I can’t breathe. I keep thinking, what if I screw this up? John was the one who kept me from getting too serious, too focused on the job.” He frowned at the tear his sister wiped away from his cheek, not realizing it had made its escape. Man, was the heartache ever going to dull?
“And now these babies will do that for you, Anthony.” She stood and stepped in front of him. “These boys need you. Dex needs to heal, you need to heal, and that little one in your arms needs to be loved and protected from the morons of this world. Who better to school those idiots than you, huh?” She kneeled down in front of him, her hand going to Cael’s soft fuzz sticking up. It always made Tony smile, and it made Dex giggle his little head off. “If anyone can raise these boys to be good, honest young men, it’s you.”
Tony nodded, not being able to bring himself to speak. The front door closed downstairs, and he smiled at the sound of stomping on the stair. Danelle stood with a chuckle.
“Uh oh, here comes trouble.”
Dex swept into the room with all the theatrics disposable to a six-year-old. “Aunt Danelle!” He launched himself into her arms, squeezing her tight, and making her laugh.
Once he’d gotten his hug from Danelle, Dex skipped over to Tony and gave his cheek a kiss before he planted a kiss on Cael’s head. “Can I finish feeding him?”
Tony nodded. He loved how involved Dex was with Cael. Just four months in and Dex was taking his big brother responsibilities very seriously. He helped Tony in everything when it came to caring for Cael, from feeding to changing his diaper, and even reading him stories at bedtime.
Dex sat on the bed, and Tony handed him the blanket which Dex painstakingly arranged on his lap. The kid was a neat freak, just like Gina. Tony smiled before carefully placing Cael in Dex’s arms. Dex held the bottle, his feet subtly swinging. He was always fidgeting. That he got from John.
“Can I have chicken nuggets for dinner? Pleeeease?” Dex asked, smiling widely, showing the gap where his top two front teeth used to be. It was adorable.
“Okay, but only if you promise to eat your peas.”
Dex wrinkled his nose. He narrowed his eyes at Tony. “How many peas?”
“You want an exact number?” Beside Tony, Danelle put her hand to her mouth to keep herself from laughing.
“Sounds like someone else I know,” she muttered.
Tony glared at her before turning his attention back to Dex who very grown-up-like handed Tony Cael’s empty baby bottle.
“Wait until you hear all about school today,” Dex told Cael. “But I’ll tell you later. First….” Dex arched a little blond brow at Tony. Lord, help him. The kid was too smart for his own good at six. He was going to have to keep his wits sharp the older Dex got.
“Forty-five,” Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Dex pursed his lips, and Tony could see the little wheels turning. Here we go.
Tony laughed. “No way. Forty.”
Danelle looked on in amusement as they negotiated over peas. These days Dex negotiated everything, from how long he could play Nintendo to what time he’d go to bed. Tony had witnessed hostage negotiations with fewer demands.
“Eighteen,” Dex countered, wriggling his fingers under Cael’s chin, making him gurgle and squeal.
Tony planted his hands on his hips, his eyes narrowed. “Thirty-five.”
“Thirty, and that’s my final offer.”
Dex pursed his lips. “Thirty and I get an extra cookie.”
Danelle snickered and Tony shook his head at her. “You’re not helping.”
“I’m sorry.” She turned and laughed into hers hands. Clearly she wasn’t sorry.
Tony walked over and took Cael from Dex. “Deal. Now go do your homework.”
“Woot!” Dex jumped off the bed, running victory laps around the room. Tony had just put Cael down in his crib and turned on the musical lion mobile set that Cael loved to swat at when Dex tackle hugged him. With an “oomph” Tony hugged Dex back.
“Okay, little man. I love you too.”
“Thanks, Dad!” Dex skipped off and Tony stared after him. His knees felt weak, and he held onto the crib. Danelle turned to stare wide-eyed at him.
“Did he just….”
Tony nodded. “I uh… I need to sit down.” He flopped down on the bed wondering if he’d heard what he thought he had. Of course he had. Danelle had heard it too.
“How long has it been since—”
“Sixteen months,” Tony stated. He was still sorting through the red tape of Dex and Cael’s adoptions. He was still showing up in the news as the first Human to adopt a Therian child. John and Gina’s house was still sitting there, untouched because Tony still couldn’t bring himself to sell it, and not because of the assholes who said he was taking advantage. Like he’d ever touch a penny of John and Gina’s insurance money. Everything was in Dex’s name. Not one penny touched. Tony would raise his boys on his own, with his own hard earned money. What Gina and John left behind would go toward Dex’s future, and when he was old enough, he could do whatever he wanted to do with it. Whatever happened, Tony would make sure his boys were well taken care of. His boys.
Danelle’s arm around his shoulder gave him a start, and he shook his head. “Do you think he knows what he said?”
His sister gave his shoulders a squeeze. “You know Dex. When does he ever not know what he’s saying? He’s smart. Sometimes too smart,” she teased. “Negotiating peas.”
Tony chuckled before getting serious again. “Do you think I should talk to him?”
“Go on. I’ll look after Cael.” She gave his cheek a kiss and went to the crib. She knew him too well. He’d mull over it, worrying about Dex until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He walked downstairs to the dinner table where Dex was doing his homework. Needing to fortify himself, he poured them each a glass of milk and put some chocolate chip cookies on a plate. He brought everything over to the table and sat down. Dex looked at the cookies then up at him, his eyes wide.
Tony couldn’t help his smile. “Who says something is wrong?” He held up a cookie, chuckling when Dex eyed it warily.
“You always say snacks before dinner will fill you up.” Dex took the cookie, looked at it, and shrugged before biting a chunk out of it.
“I do say that. Dex, did you… um….” He cleared his throat. “You called me dad.”
Dex blinked at him, his mouth full of cookie. He gulped down some of his milk before his expression turned puzzled. “Yeah.”
“Yes,” Tony corrected.
“Yes,” Dex replied with a nod. He cocked his head. “Is that bad?” His pale blue eyes grew glassy. “Because you’re not daddy, should I not call you dad?” He looked hurt and Tony quickly reached out, pulling Dex onto his lap, rocking him and running a hand over his hair.
“No, that’s not it at all, kiddo.” He squeezed Dex tight. “I think it’s great. I love it. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. You know that calling me dad, or thinking of me as dad won’t change how much your daddy loved you or how much you love him. You know that right?”
Dex nodded, his cheeks pink as he sniffed, tears in his eyes. “I know. You’re never going to go away, right? You’re going to be dad now, for me and Cael. We’re a family now.”
Tony kissed the top of Dex’s head, his arms wrapped tight around him as Dex hugged him back. “Yeah, we’re a family, kiddo.”
“Yes,” Dex corrected.
Tony smiled, his heart all but ready to burst.
Copyright © 2016. Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.