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Because more than one person right now needs a hug! You know who you are.
Jeff sat quietly at his desk, staring at nothing. He should have been working; should have been making progress through the pile of reports on his desk. All were screaming for his attention, and yet he simply didn't care. His young sons had also been screaming for attention and even that had been an effort to respond to. He had managed it though, even if he knew it only fooled the younger two. The elder three had seen straight through him. Seen the way the smile didn't reach his eyes, heard how flat his voice was and felt his touches weren't as soothing as they had been before.
How could they be when she was gone?
Three weeks it had been now and the boys had finally gone back to school. Jeff thought it would help, that it would give them a sense of normality but it hadn't. It just made it easier for him to sit in his office all day and lose himself in his work. His mother had taken it upon herself to fetch the children home each day after the third call in a row that no one had arrived to collect Alan. It wasn't as if Jeff was deliberately leaving his boys; he would never do such a thing. But his mind just couldn't focus on day to day activities. How could things be returning to normal? There was no normal for them now.
Sighing deeply, the father managed to finally focus his gaze. It wasn't on the work he had been making a show of working on all evening as a way of avoiding dinner. That hadn't gained his attention then, it wouldn't gain it now. Instead, he turned his eyes onto the photographs standing on the edge of his desk and felt his breath catch. After three weeks, how could even breathing hurt when he looked at her? He ached to hold her, for her soft voice to tell him to stop being silly and go to their boys. He knew he had to snap out of it, but it was so much effort and required energy and will power. Both of those things were running short for Jeff right now, and so he simply let himself zone out day after day and wonder how it had been three weeks already.
His finger traced her face, following the familiar lines that he had loved so much. Still loved. Just because she was gone didn't mean that their love was gone. He had sworn that he would love her forever and that was precisely what he was planning to do. She was smiling in the photograph, but Jeff could almost see the disapproval. What was he doing sitting here staring at a photograph when her boys needed him? Why wasn't he out there doing something?
As if someone had actually said the words, Jeff pushed his chair back and stood up for the first time in hours. It was cold in the office and he realised that he was freezing and starving. This wasn't the first time that he had skipped dinner, and it certainly wouldn't be the last time that he forgot to switch on the heater. He wasn't doing it deliberately, it was just again it took too much effort to actually do something about.
Hugging his arms around himself, Jeff wandered aimlessly through the house. It had his five boys in it, yet it felt so empty, so lifeless. They should have been running around, only their mother's laughing voice telling them to keep quiet because the babies were sleeping keeping them under control. He knew that Gordon and Alan were in bed, his mother had seen to that before she had left for the night. But that didn't mean they were asleep. Softly climbing the stairs, Jeff pushed open the door to Alan's room. They had only just given it to him, he hadn't wanted to go away and leave it again. It had taken hours of promising the two year old that it would still be there when they got back that had made him relent, albeit it only after a few full blown tantrums.
Little did they know then that they wouldn't all be coming back.
Alan was asleep, curled up tightly under the covers. Jeff stepped into the room, then paused. He didn't want to disturb the little boy, and hated that his reasons were so selfish. He wasn't sure he had the patience right now to soothe him back to sleep, not when it had been an even longer day than normal for him and he was tired and grieving right now. But then his paternal instinct kicked in and he knew it wouldn't do any good for Alan to be that hot. He moved silently, his body knowing this routine even if his mind was far away. It only took him seconds to unwrap the blankets and tug them down, securing them around the small body in a more sensible way before stepping back from the bed and sighing. Of course he knew how to do this, he was a father. They needed him to be a father.
That was why there was no sense of normality, because he wasn't letting there be. He didn't want things to settle into a routine that she wasn't in. His refusal to let that happen was affecting his sons. He knew this, but still… Trying to change, trying to force himself to let go enough for their sakes was far harder than he ever thought it would be.
But he had to try.
Determined that this would be the night he saw to all of his children, Jeff took a deep breath and left Alan's room. He would do it in age order, knowing that Gordon too would be asleep. But opening the four year old's door made him stop in surprise. Gordon was asleep, but judging by the frown on his face and the state of the room, he had not gone down quietly. Jeff knew that nothing could get Gordon to sleep if he didn't want to – he had been like that ever since he had been a baby. But apparently, his eldest had a way. For Gordon's hand wasn't clutching onto his normal teddy, but onto the sleeve of his biggest brother. Scott was sprawled across the bed as well, even though he was still sitting in the chair that he had clearly propped up against the side so that he was within reach for his little brother. His upper body was cushioned across the bed and Jeff knew instantly by Scott's slow breathing that his oldest had given into sleep.
Jeff was glad about that, for he knew that Scott had been sleeping almost as much as he had. For a ten year old, that was not good. Knowing that he had to do something but reluctant to wake either of the boys, Jeff cast his eyes around the room, looking for inspiration. After a moment, he spotted a teddy resting on the floor and he picked it up with a small smile. His mother had made it for Gordon during Lucy's pregnancy, and then Gordon's own mother had put the finishing touches to it during his first few days in the hospital. The boy loved it and Jeff knew that if this didn't do the trick, nothing would.
Crossing the room, he held his breath as he slowly forced Gordon's hand to let go of Scott. The boy instantly whimpered, but before he could get as far as stirring, Jeff pressed the bear into his hand. Gordon's fist instantly latched back on and he settled now that he was still gripping something. If Jeff wasn't seeing things, then it even looked as if his frown had lifted a little as well. Jeff paused for a moment, just to make sure, but it seemed Gordon was sleeping on.
He slowly bent down next to Scott, gently drawing one of the boy's arms up around his neck as he half-lifted him so that he could slip his other arm under Scott's legs. It had been a long time since he had picked his son up, but the ten year old wasn't too heavy yet, not when Jeff's need to do this outweighed the practicalities. Scott instantly moved closer to Jeff's chest, resting his head on it as he blinked sleepily.
"Shh, I got you," Jeff whispered soothingly, beginning to edge his way out of Gordon's room. Scott never truly woke up on the whole of his journey to his own room, eyes flickering as he gripped onto his father in the same way that Gordon had been holding onto him. Jeff had to almost prise him free as he put him down in his own bed, smoothing back Scott's hair and kissing him on the forehead as he drew the covers up over his son.
"Go back to sleep," he whispered, drawing away. Scott looked as if he was going to protest, but the words never quite formed and sleep claimed him before he had the chance to offer more of a fight.
Jeff sighed, knowing that he had to leave straight away with Scott because otherwise the boy would stir again. It was like he knew that someone needed him, even if that someone was his father and not one of his brothers. Jeff tiptoed out, turning towards Virgil's room when something stopped him. There was still a light on in John's. Knowing it was going to be easier to sort that out first, the father changed route and headed into the eight year old's room.
He was expecting John to still be up, crouched at his window. He had always had a fascination with the night sky, but the last few weeks had intensified that to a level that Jeff was worried about. But when Scott had quietly – holding back tears – told Jeff that John was looking for their mother up there, the father knew that he couldn't stop the boy. Not if that was the one thing giving him comfort. But this time, John was sprawled across his bed.
The reason for the light, however, was quickly established when Jeff took a step closer. There was still a book clutched in John's sleeping hand and tear tracks were obvious on his face. Jeff knew why as soon as he saw the title of the book and the sheer misery on John's face. The boy could handle a lot more than other children his own age, but even some things were still too challenging for him. His mother had been helping him through the book, a few pages each night.
As Jeff carefully pried it from the slack grip, he saw a small tear in the page John had got to. He didn't need to ask to know. Clearly the boy had tried to carry on like normal and found that he wasn't able to handle it on his own. John wouldn't have given up though, he would have struggled through until he had fallen asleep, frustrated and upset.
And Jeff hadn't been there to help him.
What had started in Alan's room was growing stronger. He had to sort this out. He knew that it wouldn't be easy and that he was going to struggle, but he had to be there. He had to tuck Alan in, give Gordon his teddy and help John with his book. He had to marvel over Virgil's young talent and force Scott to go to bed at a reasonable time. They needed him.
Placing the book to one side, Jeff made a mental note to make sure he was here the next night when John tried to pick it up. But for now, he just drew the covers over the slumbering boy and turned out the light. Instantly, John's breathing deepened as he slipped into a deeper sleep.
Feeling like he was getting somewhere, Jeff left silently and went straight to Virgil's room. He was expecting his middle son to be a sleeping lump in the middle of the bed. Where Gordon had never slept, Virgil always had. He was certainly the quickest to stop night time feeds.
Only this time, the bed was empty.
Forcing himself to stay calm, Jeff quickly searched the room, only to find his young son was nowhere to be seen. The front and back doors had been locked ever since his mother had left, Jeff had made sure of that. Virgil had to be in the house, and that was the one thought that kept Jeff calm. He had already been in four of the other rooms and knew Virgil wasn't there either. The chances were he had gone down to the kitchen for something and Jeff would find him trying to slip back up the stairs. He probably thought he could get away with it without being seen.
He probably could have done, had it been any other night, for Jeff wouldn't have come out of his office in order to know.
Telling himself that was where Virgil was – for he couldn't let himself think of anything else, not when he was fighting so hard to hold it together – Jeff ran quickly down the stairs. But just as John's light had distracted him, his attention was drawn by something other than the kitchen. His office door was open.
Jeff knew that his mind hadn't been entirely focused lately, but he did know that he had shut his door. What he was working on could not be seen by prying eyes, whether they be his children, his mother or anyone else who stopped by. He knew he had put the plans away, but he couldn't break the habit of making sure he shut the door behind him. Yet right now, it was clearly open.
Jeff crossed over to it, the flat of his hand resting against the wood as he pushed it open. He made to turn on the main light, but something stopped him at the last moment and instead he switched on the lamp resting on a coffee table by the door. He had a feeling he knew what he was about to find as he slowly spun around his chair.
Sure enough, his six year old was curled up on it, fast asleep with a piece of paper clutched in his hand.
"Virg?" Jeff called softly, putting a hand on Virgil's shoulder. He instantly whipped off his sweater so he could wrap it around the boy like a blanket, cursing himself for letting the room get so cold. Unlike with Scott, Jeff knew that he couldn't take the little boy straight to bed. Virgil had come down for a reason and Jeff was sure that he wouldn't settle until he had said it. Instead, he moved straight through to the lounge. He put Virgil on the sofa while he turned up the heating and grabbed a blanket to wrap the boy up properly.
"Daddy?" The voice was soft and quiet as Virgil sleepily rubbed his eyes as he sat up, automatically gathering his father's sweater closer to him. "You back."
"Back?" Jeff asked, coming to sit back down and pulling Virgil onto his lap, cuddling the boy closely. Virgil nodded.
"I came to see you and you weren't there, so I waited. Only you take ages and…"
"You fell asleep in your dad's big comfy chair?" Jeff supplied softly, smiling gently as Virgil nodded. "I was just seeing to your brothers, Virg, and making sure they were all asleep. As you should be, young man."
Virgil shook his head, squirming out of Jeff's arms enough to pull his own arms free of the blanket. "Had to give you this first."
He pressed his piece of paper into Jeff's hand before snuggling back in. He pulled the blanket around himself and began sucking his thumb. Jeff let him. They had been trying to get him to break the habit, but this time, the father was too distracted by the piece of paper in his hand. It was a drawing.
But just like John and his reading, Virgil's artistic skills were not those of a usual six year old. It was a picture of the seven of them, and it was obvious who had taken most of Virgil's concentration.
"Now Mommy can watch over you too," Virgil mumbled around his thumb, yawning and resting further back on Jeff. His father barely noticed as his eyes began swimming. Six of the Tracys seemed to be sitting on a bench. But the sun had a face in it, a face that was an uncanny resemblance of the missing member of the family. And she was smiling down on them all, bathing the whole area in light and warmth.
Something in Jeff cracked.
Virgil was practically asleep as he was pulled closer into his father as Jeff shook with emotion. His eyes shut, Virgil reached out a hand and gripped onto Jeff's hand.
"S'kay, Daddy. It will all be okay, you'll see," he said quietly before letting his eyes close again. This time, Jeff could feel him fall asleep, but he could only sit there and hold his son. Virgil had just broken through every defence that Jeff had been trying to build and he truly knew once and for all now that he had been going about it all wrong. Normality wouldn't resume, they would have to establish a new one.
And if John was reading and Virgil drawing, it meant that his sons were ready to take that step forward. All they needed was their father to guide the way.
Gathering Virgil up, Jeff slowly took him upstairs and tucked him into bed. When the boy refused to let go of Jeff's sweater, his father just let him keep it even as he drew the covers up around him and repeated his actions with Scott by kissing him on the forehead.
"Thank you," he breathed as he stepped back from the bed. He paused in Virgil's doorway as he heard the boy snuffle slightly in his sleep, but the child slept on.
And as Jeff stepped out of the room, he felt like he was truly stepping back into being a father again. This time, he wasn't going to let the boys down, he was going to be the one they needed in order to take that step forward to move on with their lives.