……

he said, "daddies don't just love their children

every now and then, it's a love without end, amen"

- love without end, amen, george strait

……

It took her the better part of an hour, but Alex finally convinced Justin that she was serious. Of course he threw the typical arguments at her-she expected nothing less-but she was prepared for them.

Alex always maintained that it helped to know your opponent.

"You're only 18, Alex," he started, prompting a "You're just 20," back at him.

"You're about to start college," was answered with "You're already in college. And it's a better one."

"You hate kids," was his next volley, and she lobbed it back, saying that she'd never really been around them. Maybe she would change her mind.

Sighing, Justin sank down onto the tile floor outside of the hospital nursery and dropped his head into his hands. Settling down beside him, Alex bumped his shoulder with hers. "You know," she said, "it's not often that I'm all selfless and caring. You shouldn't be trying to talk me out of it here."

With a wan smile, Justin looked up at her, cheek on his palm, and laughed. "Good point." His face sobered as he straightened his posture and he searched her eyes intently, too intently perhaps, and she fought against the urge to squirm. She was used to Justin doubting her and being skeptical, but this is different. This was a big deal and she really wanted to do this for him.

Yeah, she had no doubt that there would be days where she would regret the offer and want nothing more than to sleep in and stay out late and go to parties with her friends, but she would get over it.

"Alex, are you sure about this?"

She nodded; face set and confident in a way that she usually faked.

Pursing his lips, he made one last attempt to try and sway her. "What about school? You can't commute to Boston from NYU every day."

Alex was ready for that one. Grinning-mainly because she liked getting her way, especially when she knew it was a sure thing to begin with-she dug through her bag and handed him a letter she got the day before and hasn't even shown to Harper yet.

Maybe their Grandma was right. Perhaps there were signs.

Justin eyed the logo in the upper corner and just stared and stared at her until she got annoyed and smacked at his shoulder. "Stop that. Weirdo."

"I just…" His voice trailed off, and he ran his thumb over the flap of the envelope. Justin kept his gaze on the floor, though she doubted he was really looking at the ugly grayish linoleum. "This is a big commitment, Alex. It's going to be tough and I just don't want you to wake up some day regretting that you sacrificed your life for me."

As if offering to move to Boston and help him with the baby was going to be sacrificing her whole life. She kind of wanted to smack him again. Maybe kick him too, just for good measure. But she didn't. Only rolled her eyes and grunted in protest. "That's not gonna happen, Justin. I wouldn't be offering if I thought it would. Trust me."

The corners of his lips twitched, just enough to be noticeable, and it caused her to beam at him.

It didn't matter that the woman from the adoption agency was still at the end of the hall, scowling at them, or that Marjorie was most likely going to fight it tooth and nail to get Justin to go along with the plan she'd devised before he ever had an inkling, or even that their parents were probably going to go bananas. It was all pretty much irrelevant because when Justin smiled at her, Alex knew she was doing the right thing.

……

"Dominic Enrique?" Alex made a face, pursing her lips in distaste to match her crinkled nose. "Bit of a mouthful, don't you think?"

Justin grunted, wearing his best offended face. He put the pen down and held the paper up in front of his face, studying the words.

Laughing, Alex sat beside him and held out the cup of coffee she'd gotten him. "You can stare at it all you want, it won't help." She patted his shoulder, biting her bottom lip to keep the laughter she could feel bubbling up at the sight of his face on the inside.

He held the paper out a little further, titling his head to the side. "I don't see what's so wrong with it."

Alex took a bite of the sandwich she'd gotten from the hospital cafeteria, grimacing at the slight tang of the mayonnaise. She tossed it into the garbage can against the opposite wall and took a swig of her soda to wash the taste of stale hospital coffee out of her mouth. "It's just a lot of name for somebody roughly the size of a head of lettuce."

Justin frowned, whether at the name, or her likening his kid to produce, she wasn't positive, but she figured he should have been used to her comments so she shrugged and leaned against him, wanting to see if she could grab a few minutes of sleep. It'd been a long night.

"Has Dragon Lady been back by since I've been gone?"

"No, she must still be trying to break the news to Marjorie, or placate the adoptive parents." He picked the paperwork back up and began filling in the endless forms he'd gotten from the head maternity ward nurse when after he informed her that he was going to be taking the baby home with him. With a not so subtle look of surprise, she'd handed him over a whole forest's worth of papers that had to be filled in, signed, and dated before the baby could be released. "I haven't seen her since you made her spill her coffee on her suit."

Alex laughed. "I slipped."

"Of course."

They were sitting in a very short row of chairs directly across from the nursery window, Justin not wanting to be away from the baby. Alex secretly thought he was afraid that, if he left for even a second, the adoption agent or Marjorie's friend would sneak in and whisk the baby off. One of the nurses, a young woman in teddy bear scrubs, came around the doorframe with the baby in her arms. Justin jumped up immediately.

"Is everything okay?"

The nurse smiled, no exasperation or amusement at the panic in Justin's voice. She must have been used to neurotic new parents, therefore she had none of the mocking on her face that Alex did.

"Someone's hungry," she said, and shifted the squirming little boy into Justin's arms. "I thought you might want to do the honors." She gave him a bottle and instructed him on how to hold the baby, how much formula to let him have before burping. With another soft smile, she left them and Justin eased back down in his chair super slowly.

The look on face was too priceless and Alex whipped her phone out of her pocket to snap a quick picture before he had the chance to notice. He glanced up and she grinned. "Posterity."

She sat beside him, leaning over to peer into the little face. Warmth settled in her stomach that felt differently than anything she had ever felt before and the edges of her mouth quirked up, just a touch. "Who'd have thought your kid would be so cute?" she teased, making him shake his head. The baby's eyes were still closed, the only sign that he was actually awake was his little jaw moving as he sucked on the bottle.

"You know," she said, softly, not wanting to rattle the baby, "no offense or anything, but he really doesn't look like a Dominic."

Tilting his head to the side, Justin regarded his son in his arms. "No?"

She shook her head. "Nope."

A deep sigh rumbles out of his chest and the baby wriggles against the movement. His little eyes blinked open to peer up at Justin, sleepy, but curious. One tiny hand found its way out of the blanket he was swaddled in and waved, like he was trying to reach up and touch his father's face. Leaning down, Justin held his face parallel to his son's and a huge grin broke his face when the little fingers found the tip of his nose.

Just as quickly, the baby lowered his arm and once again looked asleep, save for the fact that he was still eating.

Alex laughed, a snort coming out of her mouth. "Definitely not a Dominic."

"Dominic means belonging to God," Justin told her. "It's a good, strong name. And Enrique was our grandfather's name."

"I know that," she said. She rolled her eyes. Even after being apart for so long, it seemed her brother still couldn't stop correcting her-not even, maybe especially when, she wasn't wrong to begin with. "I'm just saying…." She trailed off, studying the small features. The name runs over and over and over in her mind, getting jumbled. "Ricky."

"What?"

Alex let her finger run down the super soft, pink skin of the baby's cheek. "He looks like a Ricky." She offered up, and shrugged, raising her eyes up to his.

"Ricky…" Justin glances again at his son. A small smile spread across his face. "I think you're right."

……

Around dawn, while Justin was still filling out paperwork and Alex was leafing through a year's old copy of Cosmo pilfered from the ER waiting room, the rest of their family finally come barreling through the doors of the maternity ward, looking very harried and frazzled.

Which, given that it was a quarter past five in the morning, was understandable?

Theresa, dressed in a silk button down blouse and pajama bottoms, reached her two oldest children first and threw an arm around each of them. "I'm sorry it took us so long to get here," she huffed, out of breath, "there was an accident on the freeway just outside of the city."

Max collapsed into one of the plastic chairs beside his sister, groaning over a yawn. "There any caffeine around here? Or sugar."

No one replied, instead focusing on the actual situation at hand and not Max's lack of focus. Jerry clapped a hand over his son's shoulder, face drawn. "How are you doing, Justin?"

He shrugged. "I'm okay now that its all settled in."

"When can we see the baby?" Theresa can't contain the excitement in her voice, or the worry. "Is it a boy or a girl?"

Standing up, Alex raps on the glass of the nursery window and signals to the nurse in the teddy bears that she and Justin had been dealing with all night. "It's a boy," she said.

Catching on, Justin steps around his parents and gets to one side of the nursery door at the same time the nurse came to stand at the other end. "And you can see him now."

"Oh." Hand fluttering against her chest, Theresa started to cry as soon as Ricky was secure in Justin's grasp. Sniffling uncontrollably, she placed one hand against the back of his head, the other on Justin's arm. "He's beautiful."

Jerry squeezed Justin's shoulder, his eyes too watery. For his part, Max stood long enough to see the baby and then sat back down, falling asleep within a second of his eyes sliding shut.

Justin made a move towards his mother. "You wanna…?"

She wiped her eyes quickly, and took off her coat-her good one she wore for church and special occasions-and handed it off to her husband to take the baby from Justin. Humming under her breath, she rocked slowly from side to side. Ricky yawned, opened his eyes to see who was holding him, and then closed them back.

"That's about the extent of his activity so far," Justin quipped, dry humor lacing his voice.

"Well that's normal," Jerry replied. "Newborns only wake up long enough to let you know they either need food or a clean diaper. Or that's how it seems."

Alex laughed. "Like Max until he was six."

Max snorted loudly from the chair. "I heard that."

She rolled her eyes. It wasn't as if she had tried to be subtle.

After a few moments of Theresa's cooing, and Jerry's attempts not to turn into a six foot marshmallow (he failed) they finally asked Justin about Marjorie.

A pretty fair question as they had never even heard of her until they got the news that she was the mother of their first grandchild.

Justin sighed, looking uncomfortable. He shot his eyes over to his sister in a silent plea for help. She stepped over and took the baby from him. She had long ago noticed that Justin seemed better able to talk without bumbling when he could use his hands. "She, um, well…she's okay. I went in and saw her right after…and yeah, she's doing alright."

Brow wrinkling in confusion, Theresa rubbed a hand over his forearm. "That's good to hear, but can you tell us about her? What's she like, how did you meet?"

"You can't blame us for being curious," Jerry added, "considering she's going to be raising our grandson."

"Actually," Justin began, slowly, calculating his every syllable, "she's not."

They looked at each other, both clearly confused, and then looked back at their son. "What do you mean?"

"She wants to put him up for adoption," he states flatly, eyes sliding sideways towards Alex.

Nodding, Theresa rubbed her hand once more over the baby's head as Alex held him. "That makes sense I guess."

"Really?" Alex all but demanded and her father nudged her for her tone. She never thought her mother would fall on that side of the fence.

"I can't say I'm happy about it," her mother continued, "but you're both so young." She turned her gaze to Justin, all sympathy and maternal instinct. "Maybe it is the right thing to do."

Jerry added his own opinion to the conversation, the same as his wife's incredibly enough. "I agree. Raising a baby is hard enough for two people, doing it on your own is a hundred times more difficult. He deserves a good home."

"He's going to have a good home," Justin snapped. His parents both took a step back, clearly rattled by the coldness in their son's voice. Max finally stood from the chair, eyes wide. Only Alex seemed unfazed. But then, she'd been hearing Justin use that tone on the adoption agent all night.

And honestly, she was starting to develop a new respect for her brother.

Not that she would ever tell him that though.

He shifts his eyes between his parents, stone faced and determined, his posture ramrod straight and self assured. "He's coming home with me."

"What?" All three of them held the same disbelief in their voices, the same incredulity.

"My son," Justin said, "is coming home with me. I've signed all the papers, filed the birth certificate. He's mine. And no one else is going to raise him."

"To a dorm?" Theresa asked slowly.

Faltering for the first time since his initial panic, Justin wavered on his feet. Then he shook his head and set his jaw, more resolute than ever. "If I have to."

"And after that?" Jerry stepped forward, laid a hand on his son's shoulder. Casting a glance at the baby in Alex's arms, he squeezed his daughter's shoulder, his eyes on her full of gratitude and surprise, and a touch of admiration that left her feeling somewhat embarrassed. "Justin, how can you take care of a baby on your own?"

"He's not going to," Alex stepped closer to her brother's side, some invisible force tugging her next to him, to defend him. "He's gonna have help."

Theresa wrapped an arm around her daughter, rubbing her hand down her arm before it came to rest on, once again, on the baby's head. "Honey, I know you want to stand up for your brother, but-"

Alex stepped away from her mother's touch, moving even closer to Justin, their bodies in line front to back. She could feel Justin come closer to her, the two of them, for once, forming a united front.

"I'm not going to NYU," Alex informs her parents, fighting a cringe as their faces fall, partly because she knows they're expecting the worst to come after that. Inhaling heavily and shakily, with Justin's hands on her shoulders, she goes on. "I'm going to the New England Institute of Art, here in Boston."

A few seconds of palpable silence follow, and Theresa looked between her husband and her two eldest children, speechless for once.

"And," Alex continued, spurred on by the weight and warmth in her arms, "I'm going to live with Justin. I'm going to help him raise the baby."

……

This chapter was supposed to be longer, but things happen. : ) Sorry.