"Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time."
"Good morning, Peter. How are you today?"
Peter sat opposite his case worker, who was perched on the loveseat in the den with a clipboard on her knee, looking at him expectantly. His first thought was to snap at her – something about her patronizing smile and condescending attitude made his mood sour almost instantly – but he rallied, and smiled for all he was worth.
"I'm great," he said, focusing on the memory of making pancakes with Berwald that morning, not on her face. Her eyebrows rose, and she made a note before going on.
"So, you've been fostered to Mr. Berwald Oxenstierna for just over a year. Are you satisfied in his ability to care for you?"
And so it went. The woman asked him question after pointless question, and he answered, held a smile even when she made the sorts of implications that made him want to throttle her.
'Finally, I get a father who treats me well,' he thought, 'and now she asks about abuse. Seriously?'
But he kept smiling. He had no clue how unnerving – rather than reassuring, as was the intended effect – this was for his case worker. She was used to him scowling or causing trouble or yelling, so his apparent happiness completely threw her.
But it also left her with nothing negative to report. Even after she brought Berwald in to close the session as a joint interview, Peter just seemed to perk up more, playing off his father's nervousness and stoicism until he managed to get a laugh out of the man.
Peter's case worker made her final notes almost two hours later. She bid the small, anxious family farewell, leaving them alone with their hopes. They'd blown the interview out of the water. Peter's psychological review had shown amazingly positive progression. She had no grounds to hold up the adoption. Really, father and son might've hugged, but the boy hadn't really recovered from the embarrassment of the last one, so they stuck to something he wouldn't deem mortifying.
The moment the door closed behind the woman, Berwald and Peter high-fived. Hard.
Now there was just one last hurdle left to jump.
That evening, Tino called. Peter picked it up. He handed it to Berwald.
It was nice, when, at the end of the call, the Swede didn't have to shield his face. His breathing was regular. He told Peter to put on his coat, that they were going to the park— to which Peter responded that he was perfectly capable of taking care of himself while his dad and said dad's ex-boyfriend sat on the swingset and worked out their issues, and that he didn't want to go.
He got a coat in the face for his troubles. He burst out laughing and made Berwald drive him to the park with it over his head as retribution. They got lots of weird looks from people on the sidewalk as they went by.
When they pulled in, Peter pointed out a neighboring arcade to his father, promising to sit in front of the Plexiglas window so the man could keep an eye on him. Berwald let him go, and headed to where Tino was hesitantly waving, ironically, from the swingset.
They sat together for a long time. Talking. Completely oblivious to the annoyed faces Peter was making at Tino from afar.
It was kinda perfect. But it could get better.
"Thank you," Tino said, after around an hour had passed, and the conversation had dropped into a lull. Berwald glanced over at him quizzically, hands stuffed into his pockets around the chains of the swing for warmth.
"Y've got more t'blame me f'r than thank me," he pointed out, thinking back to the shame-faced confrontation at the police station they'd had almost two years ago now. They'd touched on it briefly, in the course of their talk, but ultimately the issue had been skirted, still too sore to dig into very deeply.
"That's not what I'm talking about," Tino replied, letting himself swing a little, heels dragging in the dirt. "You didn't have to come here, or invite me to dinner the other night... you're actually getting along. So... thank you."
"S'th'only thing I could've done," Berwald said. Tino locked gazes with him, and had that funny – but by no means unpleasant – feeling of looking into the eyes of someone who really loved him. But the feeling there, and Tino's familiar surge of anxiety, were tempered by Berwald's newfound responsibility. It was plain in how the man acted.
I love you, but rationally. I can't be irrational when I know he needs me. I won't be.
And that was so much better. Tino wanted to be two hundred percent fine, didn't want to admit he wasn't two hundred percent fine, but if he wasn't going to be two hundred percent fine anyway, he didn't want to be that way in the face of a love like Berwald had shown him before. He felt too exhausted to handle that suffocation.
But it was plain now he wouldn't have to. And thinking about that led to other thoughts, harder to articulate, harder to voice.
"Berwald, I think that... maybe... after a while... we could..."
He trailed off, wondering how to express what he wanted to without sounding untoward, or rushing things. That was the last thing he wanted to do. His companion looked skyward, getting the gist of what the Finn was trying to say, before glancing back over to the arcade to make sure Peter was still safe and sound.
"Yeah. Maybe. But I'll want t'wait f'r... a good bit. F'r us, and f'r Pet'r. He... r'lly doesn't like you..."
Tino laughed. "I noticed. But, after some time, we might be okay."
He left the 'we' he was referring to good and vague, and Berwald stood to stretch, working some kinks out of his neck. Tino followed shortly, and, together, they started towards the edge of the park.
"I've... got a date, later this week," the Finn said. Berwald nodded.
"S'good. I do too."
Tino did a double take. "Really?"
"At th'justice cent'r," Berwald elaborated, chuckling lightly at the smaller man's instant reaction. "M'goin' t'be adoptin' Pet'r, form'lly."
"Oh. But that's not the kind of thing I meant..."
"Know what y'meant. S'just a good 'xcuse t'get that in. Pet'r isn't a temporary thing, was m'point."
"Oh. Okay. That's... that's a big thing."
Berwald nodded in acknowledgment. "We're ready."
By this point they'd reached the parking lot and Berwald's car, and Peter was also on his way over, having seen them wrapping up. He looked suitably annoyed by Tino's presence, but overall happy with a sour apple lollipop hanging out of the corner of his mouth.
"Who'd y'bum th'candy off of?" Berwald asked, amused. Peter grinned.
"Idiot running the laundromat next door. He came over to flirt with the arcade owner. Easy pickings."
His dad shook his head, but unlocked the car door so Peter could hop in before turning back to Tino.
"D'y'need a ride home?"
"Nah," the man replied, waving the offer off. "I drove here. My car's at the far end of the lot."
"Mhm. G'night, then."
"Good night, Berwald."
Tino stepped back and watched as the man got into his car and drove away, knowing that he too was being watched, in the rearview mirror. He stood for a moment, squinting to catch the red glimmer of taillights before they were completely eaten up by the darkness, hugging his coat around himself tighter for warmth.
Then he left for his own car and went home.
We'll wait a while... but after that, it's anyone's guess.
Time day of Berwald's 'big date' came.
Peter was very disappointed.
It had literally taken him more time to get ready for the proceedings than it had for the case to be heard and the judge to sign the adoption order. After everything he'd gone through, it seemed amazingly anticlimactic. They'd gotten the prefunctory questions about how Berwald was adjusting to having Peter in his life (easy answer there), why he'd wanted to adopt (harder answer, but he'd thought it over for a while and was able to give a good one), if he could provide for Peter, etc...
The last question had been the funniest to answer, as it turned out the judge owned and treasured a credenza made by Berwald. That was probably the point at which everyone in attendance realized how much of a formality the whole process was.
The hearing, all in all, had lasted forty-five minutes.
"Well. S'good t'know that's done w'th," Berwald pointed out later, as they were driving home. "Y'want t'go out t'eat, or somethin'?"
Peter loosened the tie of the suit Berwald had bought him specifically for the occasion. "Not really. We still have leftovers from yesterday, right?"
"Cool. I dunno... I just wanna be at home, y'know?"
Berwald nodded, flicking the windshield wipers on to catch the first sprinkles of rain, forecasted days ago. Despite the weather and their somber appearance and the silence in the car, the mood was palpable. The happy, upbeat, 'this would be a really corny moment if he weren't some kind of stoic and I wasn't a teenager' mood.
The Swede took a hand off the steering wheel and ruffled his son's hair, earning himself a disgruntled 'hey' for his troubles. He'd decided to make it corny anyway.
"Want t'be home too."
"Good – get us there, preferably without running us off the road 'cause of some embarrassing urge to dishevel my hair."
Translation: I love you, Dad.
"Hush y'. 'Mbarrassin' y'is m'job now."
Translation: I love you too, kid.
After a while, they went home. They had leftovers, and they stayed up late watching a movie Peter had a passing interest in. They fell asleep on the couch and woke up with sore necks and kinks in their backs, and Peter barely got to school on time, and Berwald got to work drawing up some new designs. Eventually, Tino called again, reporting the outcome of what had been an abysmally bad blind date. They both got a kick out of it, and they both hung up in a slightly better mood than before. Berwald picked Peter up from school and he did his homework before they made dinner. He told Berwald about wanting to ask a friend out, and the Swede choked on what he'd been drinking.
And they lived their lives.
And they were pretty happy.
And that was alright.
"Being happy doesn't mean that everything is perfect. It means that you've decided to look beyond the imperfections."
Thank you for reading.