A/N: The boys took a bit of a hiatus while I was pregnant, but I think they're back! Short update, but that tends to happen when I need to get back on track. Onward!
Edward got out of his car and stretched. It had been a long day at the hospital. He raised an eyebrow, hearing the commotion his three tiny children could make even from where he was. He put his bag down and went out the side door, headed for the backyard.
There, he indeed found his children, tumbling around the yard. Perched on the stairs, watching them, was not only their nanny, Jacob, but a man in magenta scrubs. It didn't take many guesses to figure it was the home care nurse Carlisle had hired to be with William when they were both at work. Eric, if Edward remembered correctly.
"Daddy!" The children spotted him and redirected, barreling into him at full speed. Edward intercepted Ethan, lifting him high into the air. Lucas and Izzi clung to his waist, jumping up and down as they greeted him and babbled about their day.
Eric got up, looking a touch guilty to be caught outside and not with his charge. "Good evening, Mr. Cullen. William is napping just now."
Edward smiled as he shook the man's hand. "How was he today?"
It was Jacob who answered, his tone sour. "He's…" He eyed the children. "Cantankerous."
"He has some opinions about men in our jobs," Eric said cheerfully.
Edward rolled his eyes skyward. "Oh, fabulous." He sighed, setting Ethan down amongst his siblings. "I'm sorry. I hope it goes without saying that you're well respected by the rest of this family. We don't think professions have a gender."
"No offense taken." Eric waved a dismissive hand.
"Nothing I haven't heard from my own father," Jacob said. He picked up Izzy and kissed her cheek, making the little girl grin. "I haven't let it stop me yet. I like this job. I like your crazy kids."
"Yeah." Edward mussed Lucas's hair. "Yeah, I'm kind of fond of them too." He looked to Eric. "What about you? You don't have the pleasure of dealing with my children."
Eric raised an eyebrow. "They were my helpers today, weren't you, kids?"
"We helped Grandpa," Izzi said.
"We did," Ethan enthused. "I got his owange juice, and I didn't spill it. Not one bit."
"We counted medicine," Lucas said.
"They helped count his pills. They didn't touch them, " Eric clarified.
"Pills are off limits," Izzi said importantly.
"That's right," Edward said. Izzi beamed. She loved being right.
"Grandpa said we should be doctors like our daddies and not nurses," Ethan said.
Edward had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. He squatted down to his children's level. "Nurses work very hard, and they help a lot of people. Daddy and I are going to be proud of you no matter what you do. You can be doctors, nurses, dancers, or deep sea explorers. You can be whatever you want to."
"I want to be a bathtub," Lucas said seriously.
Edward grinned. He lifted his son up and gave a big kiss. "I'm all for that plan. I'm a fan of baths."
"It's not a big deal," Edward insisted for what had to be the seventh time.
His husband huffed as he sat heavily on the edge of their bed, unbuttoning his shirt with unnecessary aggression as he fixed Edward with a rare, withering stare. "He has no business—"
"Carlisle." Edward shook his head, putting aside the laundry he'd been folding. "It's fine."
"It's really not. He can't say these things. Jake and Eric—"
"Jake and Eric are adults and professionals."
"And what about our young, impressionable children?" Carlisle gestured vaguely at the door. "You think they should hear that their gender limits what they should do and be?"
"Our children are young and impressionable. We also have a lot more influence over them than your father ever will, Carlisle." Edward sat at his side and put a hand on his knee. "You're really worked up about this."
"It's a ridiculous way of looking at things, as though the nurses who take care of us and the people we trust with our children are less valuable somehow. Or what? Less strong? Noble?"
"It's a dumbass way of thinking. I'm not going to argue with you there. But weren't you the one who taught me to pick my battles?" He squeezed his husband's hand. "This isn't one that needs to be fought. The kids know they can be anything, do anything, and we'll support them."
Carlisle took in a deep breath like he was going to argue, but then exhaled in a gust, his shoulders slumping. He ran his hands over his face. "Yeah. You're right." He sighed. "I hate feeling like this."
Edward rubbed his back. He hated seeing Carlisle like this—skirting the very edge of his control. "He's under your skin."
"Yeah." Carlisle shook his head. "I can't seem to do anything right, can I? Hire a male nanny. A male nurse."
"Does it matter so much that he cares?"
Carlisle tilted his head up to the ceiling. He breathed in and out, long moments passing before he spoke again. "I'm afraid he's going to tell them I killed my mother."
"Then we do what we do whenever he says something stupid. We explain it was an accident. Bad things happen." He cupped Carlisle's face. "Even to good little boys."
Another few moments went by before Carlisle tilted his head back down and looked to Edward. "You know what I hate? Never once, when we were making those kids, did I question if we were doing the right thing. I never questioned if two men could be the parents our children deserved. And I still don't. We're good fathers.
"But that's the way I see the world. There's nothing that guarantees the kids will see the world the way we do. They don't know much about mothers, but they will. When they're in school and most of their classmates have mothers, they'll know. Their reality is more complicated. Biologically, they have two mothers—the one whose DNA they share and the one who birthed them." He shook his head. "I killed my mother. Their grandmother. And robbed them of the possibility of having a mother."
"I know." He leaned his head against Edward's, putting an arm around him. "He's my father. I have to believe he once felt about me the way I feel about the kids, but I can't make him see anything but the reality he clings to. Whatever it is that makes people think the way he does, who's to say the kids won't turn out like that?"
Edward's gut twisted. There was a frightening thought. "It's just...not going to happen. You broke the cycle."
"Yeah." Carlisle leaned in, kissing the side of his mouth. "I know. I'm just being...something."
Edward lay back, pulling Carlisle down on top of him, intent on helping him forget his worries for awhile.
"What's going on here, then?"
Edward looked up from the table where he'd been watching his three children make an incredible mess. William stood there, leaning heavily on his walker, his eyes, as always, judging.
Sure enough. "It looks like a hurricane hit the table," William said, sitting carefully at the furthest end.
"Excuse the mess, my children are making memories." Edward batted his eyelashes innocently, quoting a patronizing sign he'd seen often. He was sure the old man had a thing or two to say about keeping kids neat and orderly, but he wasn't going to give him the chance. "Tell Grandpa what you're doing, guys."
"It's Daddy's birthday soon!" Ethan said, overexcited.
"We're making him tings." Izzi held up her purple sheet of construction paper which was a mess of glue and glitter.
Lucas and Ethan copied their sister, holding up construction papers with three-year-old doodles and bits of brightly colored paper glued haphazardly on it. Edward was charmed. William at least looked bemused.
"That's, er… Well, I'm sure your father will like it," William said. The smallest of smiles tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"What're you getting Daddy for his birthday, Grampy?" Lucas asked, bending his head back to his drawing.
"Oh." William cleared his throat, his brows furrowing when Ethan and Izzi stopped working to look at him. "Well. I think it's fine that you want to give your father a little something, but I think birthdays are for children, not grown-ups."
Now, Lucas raised his head. "Bella had a birthday."
"And Jakey," Izzi said.
"Can we really consider Jake a grown-up?" Edward muttered.
Ethan gave him a look that suggested he was deranged. "Daddy, Jakey is all grown up like you. That's why he can take care of us."
"Oh. My mistake." Edward reached over and mussed his son's hair.
"So you have to give Daddy a gift. It's his birthday," Lucas insisted.
"Grandpa doesn't have to do anything, bub," Edward corrected gently.
"No. It's all right." William frowned. "I don't have any earthly idea what to get a grown man."
The kids, of course, were full of suggestions. Most of them had Edward cackling behind his hand. Watching William stumble over responding seriously to the triplets' increasingly bizarre suggestions was priceless. He thought it was precious that they wanted to get him a tool chest because Bella had one for her tools and they'd heard Carlisle talk about his (bone) saw.
"I can order something from the internet for you," Edward offered when the kids were distracted again. "Or we can go shopping if you'd like."
William grunted, looking displeased as always. "Seems like such a waste. Buying some trinket. It's not as though Carlisle needs anything."
Edward started to straighten up the art supplies the kids weren't using. "You don't have to feel obligated." It took all of Edward's self control to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. "Carlisle loves giving gifts. He's over the top." Edward shook his head. "I caught him researching just how much our own private island would cost."
William balked. "Of all the ridiculous, unnecessary—"
"It was a lark. We're not that well off."
"The very thought…" William grunted. "The Bible would tell you 'every good gift and every gift comes from above.' But if that's truly not enough, a gift should be thoughtful. Personal. Not some extravagant means of showing off."
Edward struggled not to roll his eyes. "Then can I offer a suggestion?"
William waved a hand indicating he should continue.
"Carlisle never talked much about what it was like growing up with you."
The old man went stiff as a board, his face twisted. Edward hurried on before he could get defensive. "But he did tell me a fond memory he had. He said you would bake bread for the people who ran your office on occasion. Rye bread, which he hated. Because you knew he didn't like it, you would bake a special loaf just for him."
William looked off and nodded slowly. "Tomato basil. He like that it was red."
Edward smiled. "I think he'd like something like that very much."
"Hmm." William raised his trembling hands. "I'm not so sure I could knead bread."
"I could help you with that."
William grunted again but, after a few quiet moments, he nodded. "I would appreciate that."
One of the many things Edward had discovered, when he fell in love with Carlisle, was that he wasn't as patient a man as he prided himself on being. He had a smooth, steady hand in his profession where he could stand for hours on end making the most minute, exacting cuts.
The first time Edward had prepared a surprise for Carlisle, though, all his patience went right out the window. He must have called the man five times to make sure he was coming home when he said he would.
Never was his impatience worse than when he had a really good gift for Carlisle and had to wait to give it to him for Christmas or their anniversary or his birthday. Edward knew Carlisle would like the gift he'd bought, but it wasn't what he was so excited about. He was itching to tell him about William's gift. His curiosity was off the charts, wondering how his husband would react. It could be a beautiful moment.
Of course, Edward bit his tongue. "Do you know what struck me today?" he said instead as they were winding down for the day. He was watching Carlisle brush his teeth at the sink, studying the muscles of his back and shoulders.
Carlisle rinsed his mouth and looked over at him. "What's that?"
"You know how they say women grow up to marry their fathers? Not that you're a woman, but given that he was really the only one you had...there might be something to that."
Carlisle narrowed his eyes. "What are you talking about? You're nothing like my father."
"Well, I'm not a judgmental old prune, but that's not actually his main problem."
Edward took his husband's hand and pulled it to rest on his waist. He danced the fingers of his free hand along the ridge of Carlisle's spine. "That's just his indoctrination—his religion, his parents, whatever. No, his main problem is that no one has ever told him it's okay to feel." He kissed Carlisle's chin. "Doesn't that sound familiar?"
Carlisle looked dubious, so Edward went on. "Think about it. You should have seen him today. The kids were...well. I mean, they have the kid logic going on. And you could see it on his face. He wanted to let go and enjoy them, but there was that part of him that wanted to correct all their ridiculousness." He chuckled at the memory.
"I don't think he knew how to grieve about your mother," Edward said, his tone easy. "He took it out on you. Classic displacement. Not unlike me searching out a hard spanking instead of crying over my lost patient."
Carlisle shuddered. "Don't talk about my father and your bratting in the same breath, little boy. Those are two things I don't want to associate with each other."
Edward grinned. "It's not my fault that I found other ways to deal with my bullshit rather than become a cranky bastard." He looked into his husband's eyes and his smile gentled. "But I was like him. Scoffing at cuddling because that's not what a grown man needs. I was lucky. I had you to show me it was okay to feel and to be soft. Maybe if your mother had lived, things would have been different for him." He shrugged. "But you married your father."
Carlisle pulled him tight against him. He took his face in between his hands. "You're nothing like my father," he repeated more fervently.
Then, he kissed him. Hard. And again. Soft. Gentle. Edward sighed, and let his husband wrap him up in loving arms.
A/N: Mew! Birthday party next chap. Should be fun.