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Discover That I had Not Lived

Chapter 7

The first time they had met, 33 years ago, had been in a graveyard, which wasn't nearly as morbid as it sounded. Their mothers had been visiting their respective father's plots leaving Charlie to wander around the tombstones and practically trip over Steven who had been sitting in the grass pulling up clover in absentminded handfuls.

"Hi." Charlie had said.

"Hi." Steven had said his face closed off and unreadable. Even at six years old Steven had been serious and careful. An old soul his mother had said, someone who's known real tragedy before. Charlie hadn't understood what she had meant, at six years old he really only understood about half of what adults were saying but he remembered it anyways.

He had told him once, wrapped up in each other and fleece blankets and he had scoffed at him. Actually scoffed, which Charlie had previously only thought people in Dickens' novels did. "Your eyes are older than your face." He had said as a counter-argument but Steven hadn't said anything back, either asleep or too tired to talk.

It became a sort of morbid game for Charlie to play, thinking about the tragedy in Steven's past life, Fire, murder, suicide, loss of limb, dead lovers, war, disease. He didn't think about it all the time or anything, but sometimes the idea would flit through his mind, on the bus, while doing the dishes, after sex.

He was wrong though, and he knew now looking at Steven, 33 years later in a world that wasn't his, it wasn't any of the things he had thought. Nothing as mundane as disease, nothing as dramatic as murder.

A lost child Charlie thought and tried hard to unthink. He tried to unthink it at the hospital as Steven fell to his knees and pulled Byron into his arms. His left arm was broken in two places, along with a row of six neat stitches along the line of his jaw and a bee sting on the back of his right arm. "Poppa 'm fine." Byron said into Steven's shoulder

Jess the babysitter was really the one who needed to be consoled anyways. She looked at Charlie timidly her eyes red rimmed behind her black hipster glasses, "Mr. Dalton...I am so sorry." She said holding onto Sofie like she was a shield.

"It wasn't your fault." Charlie blurted out, because it wasn't. She had taken them to the park and Byron had been stung by a bee while on the monkey bars, falling and landing weirdly on his arm and scraping his chin. There was no one at fault, unless he was going to start blaming insects, which seemed stupid.

"I know." Jess said, in a way which suggested she didn't believe that and Sofie patted her on the cheek sympathetically, the flourescent lights of the waiting room giving everything a strange quality, not quite real looking, a badly filmed soap-opera sort of look. "I just, I feel so bad."

"Here," Steven said, finally having decided Byron was okay enough to let go of momentarily and pulled out his wallet. "Jess, thanks, I know this must have been stressful for you. Do you need a ride home?" She shook her head aggressively.

Sebastian pressed himself up against Charlie's leg and without thinking he ruffled his hair, the way his mother used to when he was young. He was heavy and warm eyes drifting shut even as he stood up. "I think we should probably get them home." Steven said extracting Sofie from Jess, who strangely enough seemed the most awake of the three of them. She leaned her head on Steven's shoulder and Charlie was suddenly struck by how much they looked alike, the same plush lips and curly red hair, the shape of her nose. He wondered if Bethany had been their surrogate, surely Helen never would have agreed to do it and their was no way they could have been adopted. Suddenly the children that had been thrust upon him seemed a little more...miraculous. This wasn't something they had stumbled into by accident, this had been planned. This had been what the other Charlie had wanted and he felt guilty for taking him away from them.

Steven insisted on waiting for Jess' ride to show up before they left the hospital to drive home ,Sofie buckled into her car seat and the boys on either side. Byron fell asleep, his head pillowed against the fresh whiteness of his cast. Steven carried him into the house leaving Charlie to attempt to wrangle Sofie and Sebastian. Seb could barely climb the stairs, eyes fluttering shut and then snapping open again and again. Charlie didn't even bother trying to get him into pajamas letting him instead crawl under the covers fully clothed.

Sofie on the other hand seemed to be full of energy despite a long day of playing at the watertable, deciding Charlie was a robot, and watching her brother break his arm. "Sofie, what are you doing?" He asked as he walked into her room and saw her kneeling on her bed her thumb and pointer fingers pressed together like she was meditating.

"Praying." She said simply.

"Wait, what? To who?" Charlie said, he had never been a huge fan of organized religion, not that he didn't believe in...something it's just that he'd never been able to put his finger on it. It didn't help that a lot of them thought he was going to hell, it really put a damper on his religious exploration. Steven on the other hand was a self-proclaimed Hanukkah and Passover Jew and only went to Temple then to please his mother. Personally Charlie loved Hanukkah, it was a holiday where you made fried food and sang about it. What could be better than that? Anyways, between the two of them it seemed surprising that Sofie even knew what praying was.

"I'm praying to Santa." She said, "Because I want Byron's arm to get better, and I want Seb to not be sad, and I want my daddy to come back. And I want a puppy."

Charlie choose to ignore the third one, "Sebastian's sad?"

"He thinks he's a bad twin because he didn't feel it when Byron fell. Jess said twins are supposed to know when the other is in danger or having a baby and stuff."

"Well does Jess have a twin."


"Then I don't think she would know that."

"But she's like practically a grown-up and she knows lots of stuff. She can spell Mississippi backwards."

"Grown ups don't always know things just because they're grown ups."

"Neither do robots." She said rocking off her knees so she was sitting on her bed. "You're okay though, I like you." She clasped his thumb with her small pale hand ernestly.

"Thanks." Charlie said affection for her blooming in a distant sort of way in the recess of his chest. "You still have to go to bed though."

"Fine." She said reluctantly lying back and pulling a doll toward her, tucking it's plush body under her chin. Her eyes followed as he folded the quilt over her and tucked it around her body the way his mother used to on the rare occasions the nanny had the night off.

Charlie left Sofie- door half opened, nightlight on, - and climbed the short and twisty flight of stairs to the third floor. Jarringly he remembered he had only been here for two days. Jesus Christ it felt like two months, two years even. His New York apartment seemed distant and fuzzy in his mind, childish even, something he had made up to amuse himself. The way Steven's spine curved as he lay on his side with his back to the door seemed more real than his entire other life combined.

He wasn't crying, because Steven never cried. Maybe never is too harsh, Charlie had seen him cry twice; once after his father's funeral, horrible wracking sobs into Charlie's jacket as he rubbed his back soothingly; and once at his sister Beth's wedding when he gave her away, just the faintest silver track on his cheek. Steven tended to shut down, turn inward when he felt distressed, or less often but more worryingly he would break open leaving him oddly...crumpled. Face open and eyes wide like a frightened child. That's how Charlie found him, staring at the wall, hands tucked under his chin.

"No more hospitals." He said thickly, "Just, I can't-I can't Charlie I can't." He broke off and if it had been anyone else Charlie would have thought he was crying. "No more hospitals. Not for a long time. Not ever." He said.

Charlie ran a hand along his side, warm and familiar. "Okay, I promise." Steven caught it and sat up, looking at him seriously.

"You have to promise me that whatever happened with you yesterday," Jesus, that was yesterday wasn't it? "whatever it was, I need to know that it'll be okay. I need to know that you're not just going to freak out again, I can't have another emergency and not know that you will be there 100%. If you need to go away for a while, if you need to check yourself into a facility or something I don't care. I just need you to promise you'll be okay or if you're not I need you to do something so you can be okay. Because Byron was fine, and I know he'll be fine, but if he had fallen different he could have hit his head off the ground and died for all we know. Seb's airways could close off and he could suffocate, Sofie could get hit by a car. That's just reality, that's just what you sign on for when you're a parent but I don't think I can do it if you're not by my side."

"Shit." Charlie said, lost for words so instead he used his actions, stupidly, dangerously, recklessly. He lunged forward pressing his mouth against Steven's in a kiss that was aggressive and passionate and scared and comforting all in one. They had kissed, since Charlie had wound up here they had kissed at least half a dozen times, but they had all been initiated by Steven, friendly and affectionate mostly. This was deep and dirty and gritty. Something primal and honest in exchange for all the things Charlie couldn't say.

"Okay. Alright, but my mother's still coming over when I go to my conference." Steven said breathlessly when they pulled apart, his lips already looking a little bruised. It sent a jolt of arousal through him which was horribly inappropriate considering the circumstances but it placed a persistent thought in Charlie's mind. Steven, before this moment hadn't ever felt truly real, like some sort of computer simulation, so far away from him physically, but now-

It was so wrong, it was so wrong and Charlie knew it. Knew it deep down inside, I can't do this wrong. So he pushed the thought to the back of his mind, climbed over Steven and tucked his chin into the juncture between his neck and shoulder. Wondering if it was naïve to try and read into how natural it felt to curve his body into Steven's.

A.N. This is a slightly edited version to help clear up some confusion.