Author's Note: This was written right after the Season 1 finale and was just something I played around with and then forgot on my laptop. Set during the finale, but uses only the basic premise, so it's AU. I hope you enjoy, and if you feel inclined to review, please do.

The italics in the story indicate dialogue. Again, just something I was trying out.

Dedicated to my youngest sister, who asked me to write something while we waited for the new season of our guilty pleasure show.

Disclaimer: I don't own "Melissa and Joey". All rights reserved to the respective owners. I just write for fun.


Lennox

I haven't had many good role models in my life, especially not male role models. My dad committed about a million felonies that involved even more money than I knew existed in the world; my maternal grandfather is a former senator with a defunct moral code. So I didn't expect to find a man I could look up to when I went to live with my Aunt Mel.

Joe was a pain in the ass at first. Cocky, overbearing, overprotective. But he could cook and sometimes it was nice to have someone to take care of me. Someone who cared enough to be overprotective, even if he technically was getting paid for it. But as time went on, I realized that it wasn't about the money for him. He was just naturally like that. For some reason he had decided that we were worth his time. Another new experience for me.

Over the last year it's been fun getting to know him, figuring out his bullshit and how to make him blush and messing with his head. He freaked out that one time I went to the overnight party, but just before I left he told me I looked beautiful. Like he was proud of me for growing up to be pretty. Like he could take credit for it. Sort of lame, but it was a nice feeling.

I began to take him for granted. Deep down I knew that he would get another job eventually, that he wouldn't be our nanny forever. Maybe I just figured that he and Aunt Mel would end up together like in movies and he would stay. But the reality of hearing that he would be leaving once he got his settlement money made me realize just how much I—we—came to depend on him for much more than his cooking. He is my solid ground when Aunt Mel is freaking out; my clenched fist when I need someone punched (hypothetically); my personal entertainer when I need a laugh.

But now I'm helping him organize all the boxes he has been keeping in storage for over a year. He's relabeling and repacking and throwing clothes into suitcases and the basement looks so empty that I have to duck out of there and up the stairs so that neither of the guys sees me tearing up.

Would it be selfish if I asked him to stay? Told him that he needs to be around to fight off boys and make sure I don't live on take-out?

I'm not sure when he became my dad, but just like my father he is about to abandon me.

Why do all the men in my life seem to disappear?

At the top of the basement stairs I run into Aunt Mel, who is sitting on the top step, completely unnoticed by Ryder and Joe, who are still packing. Her eyes are dry but troubled, like when she has a hard day at work and doesn't know what to do about it.

You know, she complains almost incessantly about Joe, but I bet she isn't looking forward to coming home to a house that doesn't have him in it.

I sit down on the step below her and lean against her legs. She wraps her arm around me and leans what I think is her chin on top of my head. I feel her sigh and I sniff almost inaudibly. I think she hears me, but she thankfully doesn't say anything about me crying over my nanny leaving.

Sooner or later, they all disappear. But knowing that and watching the boys pile CD's into a plastic bin are two very different things.

So I let one tear trail down my cheek, because no one is watching and Aunt Mel's arm is warm around me and my brother is laughing below me and my dad of one year is moving out.


Ryder

Packing is annoying. Especially when you do it with a guy who is a little too uptight about where his stuff goes. I mean, he's just going to unpack it anyway when he gets across town, why can't we just throw it all in boxes and call it a night?

But I don't complain, because I saw my sister's face when she walked up the stairs a little while ago. I hadn't seen that look on her face since our mom went to prison. She barely flinched when Dad disappeared the second—third?—time.

So I laugh and keep the conversation going with Joe as we dump his clothes (neatly) into suitcases and his CD's into that one plastic bin that is never going to be used for anything else. Our talk is light, about my upcoming soccer game. He swears he will be there, that he won't miss stuff like that just because he doesn't work for Aunt Mel anymore. I try to believe him.

It's been good having a guy like Joe around. One who knows about girls and manly stuff. Plus, he does my laundry. I would call that a win.

I wonder what we are going to do for food until Aunt Mel finds a replacement for Joe. Not that there is really going to be a good replacement for Joe. I'm pretty sure he set the bar too high. Like that one time in gym. Bad memories.

By the time we get done with his packing and head up the stairs the girls are nowhere to be found. I mention this to Joe but he shrugs and mutters something about shoes or clothes. Always a good guess when Aunt Mel is involved. He asks me if I want dinner and I say yes emphatically, trying to forget that this will be his last dinner with us. He gets to work making a steak stir fry and rice with homemade teriyaki sauce.

I'm seriously going to miss his cooking. Damn.

Lennox comes into the kitchen about halfway through the preparation process and sits down at the table with her laptop. She is calm, but I know my sister. We may not get along most of the time, but I can tell when she is genuinely upset. It's the tightening of her eyes, but otherwise almost not noticeable. I'm not sure what to do for her to make it better when I'm so out of it myself. So I sit down next to her and say nothing, catching the glance Joe throws my way and shrugging.

This sucks. My sister is sad, my aunt is AWOL, I'm afraid I might fail science, and my supply of home-cooked food is about to lessen significantly.

Dinner doesn't taste as good as I was hoping.


Joe

At first I was ecstatic about the money. It definitely wasn't the amount I was used to, back when I was a hotshot broker for a billion-dollar company, but it's more than I am making now as a nanny. Not that the pay for being Mel's nanny is horrible, but it's not like I am buying Rolex watches and Porsches.

So I thought this would be the opportunity to get back on my feet, maybe start my own business, live my life for myself again. Only this time it would be sans-wife. I figure I'm better off without Tiffany anyway. I've learned over the last year or so that there are a lot of smart, independent, beautiful women out there who aren't after my money. In fact, I'm going to a gala with one of them next month. Another good thing about getting this money—even footing with Burke.

But dinner is quiet tonight. Ryder helped me pack up my stuff in the basement; Lennox was there too, for a while, but she seemed a little off and disappeared after a few minutes. Mel wasn't home earlier, I don't think.

But back to dinner. I know it's the last time I'm going to be cooking for them for a while, so I pull out all the stops. Homemade stir fry with my special teriyaki sauce and sticky rice. A favorite of theirs. A glass of wine each for me and Mel, and juice for the kids. Nicely done, Longo.

But it's quiet. Lennox is pushing her food around on her plate, making me wonder if she's getting sick or I missed an ingredient or two. But no, everyone else is eating it. She's just…off. Something's up, but I don't know what and there is no chance to ask her. Ryder keeps sneaking glances at her, like he's trying to figure her out too. He shrugs off my glance and raised eyebrow.

Even Mel is silent, staring off into space as she eats. When she's done she sits back and sips her wine, sneaking glances of her own—only hers are aimed at me. I pretend not to notice. I know her, and she's upset about something. But….no.

She can't be upset that I'm leaving, can she? We can barely stand each other on good days, are at each other's throats on the bad ones. Of course that doesn't stop me from thinking she's beautiful. But if she knew that I am sitting here wondering what it would be like to devour her with my mouth and slip my hands under her silk blouse she would probably break my arm. We just don't have that kind of relationship.

But we might. We are going to that gala next month, and no matter what anyone says it's definitely a date. I find myself smiling, thinking of her in a cocktail dress and sky-high heels. It's a nice picture I'm painting. Soon.

Now she is standing, grabbing her dinner plate and making some remark about me doing the dishes for the last time. I reply, and she rolls her eyes. Soon.


Mel

It's the morning after Joe's last dinner with us as a family. Wait. No. Not a family. He's the nanny. Keep it in line, Burke.

Actually, he's not the nanny. My empty basement downstairs proves that. He drove the last of his stuff over earlier, and I'm sitting here on the steps, a lot like Lennox and I did last night. My pencil skirt is getting dusty yet I can't help but picture my nephew and my…friend down there, laughing as they dumped clothes into suitcases in preparation for Joe's departure from our lives.

Because who are we kidding? Joe might say he won't just disappear, that he will be around for Ryder's soccer games and Lennox's dates. And we are going to the Mayor's Gala next month, but life goes on. People get new jobs, new apartments….they move on. And that's what Joe's doing. As he should.

But I want to cry thinking about taking care of the kids by myself, having to deal with homework and cleaning and meals and my job all at the same time. I can't possibly do it all on my own.

I can't possibly do any of it without him. To be honest, I don't really want to try.

And I know we don't get along, and we yell at each other all the time, and we have very different views on the world, and he makes me madder than anyone else I have ever met…but I'm just not sure I remember the last time I laughed when he wasn't the one making me do it. And my god the man can cook. And the way he looks in a suit—dark gray, white shirt underneath, his arms filling it out and shoulders stretching the material in the best way, his eyes a shade of brown I have honestly never seen before.

Focus, Burke! I shake my head in disgust. There is no way I am mooning over Joe Longo. He would smirk until his face cracked if he knew I was thinking like this.

I stand up and shut the basement door firmly behind me. I brush off the back of my skirt (no irreparable damage), turn around and—oh, shit. I freeze, telling myself to wipe my mind blank so he can't read it. Wait, what? Get a grip!

He smirks, like he can read my mind. I glare at him and his face falls a little. I feel bad because he hasn't really done anything. Except get a bunch of money. And move out. And leave us to fend for ourselves.

He's saying something, I need to focus. Something about meeting me after work to see his new place. I nod dumbly; I'm a little shocked he would want to show it to me. But I smile and nod again because I really am curious.

What could happen, right? It's Joe.


Ryder

Joe picked us up from school today, just like normal. He brings us home and feeds us, just like normal.

But Lennox is still avoiding my eyes, and avoiding Joe all together, and I don't know what to do. As we sit at the kitchen table Joe asks Lennox what's wrong.

Why do you care? She's shouting. You're leaving anyway! And with that emotional statement, she's gone. And I'm left staring after her, with a completely shocked Joe standing near the stove.

So that's why she's upset, I think, comprehension dawning. He's leaving, and she's feeling abandoned. I give myself a mental pat on the back, for the first and last time I will ever understand my sister.

But Joe is speaking, and apparently he's speaking to me, if the look on his face is any indication. I ask him to repeat the question, and he does. What's up with your sister?

I hesitate. Do I want to out my teenage sister to our nanny, or let her vent and fume by herself until she runs out of steam. I decide on the latter. I shrug and get a glare from Joe for my trouble.


Joe

Lennox just yelled at me. It's been a long time since she's done that. And it's the first time she's done it without Mel being here to take some of the fall for whatever she's yelling about. I'm standing here in the kitchen with a teenage boy who looks determined not to get in the middle of it. I know how to get Ryder to talk, but I have a feeling that going through him to get to his sister would be a bad idea. For once I actually listen to Mel's voice in my head. It's frustrating. Just when I was about to escape it…

And that's when it hits me. Lennox yelled Why do you care? You're leaving anyway! And I should have known that's what's the problem. She would never admit it but she's upset that I'm leaving.

Wow. Go Longo. Insight into the female mind. I guess living with two women has affected me after all. Not that I'm less manly, or anything. Just more…perceptive.

But Ryder's opening his mouth again. I brace myself. He's never been particularly aggressive, but neither has Lennox. And look what just happened.

Joe…do you think you could…he trails off and I'm left hanging.

Yeah? What's up, buddy? I encourage.

Do you think you could…I mean, can you…would it be so bad if…he seems to catch himself. He sighs visibly and the next words that come out of his mouth are not the ones he wants to say, I'm sure of it. Do you think you could make us some more lasagna? For when you leave? I kinda want to freeze it.

I nod quickly. I will have to go to the store, but it's a small inconvenience compared to the downcast look on the kid's face and the angst I can feel floating down the stairs from my daughter's room.

I stop short at that thought. My daughter? I groan as I head out to the car. I stop short when Mel pulls into the driveway. It's only 4:30, she should still be at work.

But then she gets out, her eyes shadowed and tired and I know for sure that something is wrong in this household. I walk up behind the councilwoman, who jumps back with a gasp when I touch her shoulder.

Jumpy Burke? I ask with a half-hearted smirk. Or do I just make you all hot and bothered?

She sends a zinger back my way and I know I'm going to miss this, the banter, once I'm all moved out officially. But then she's sighing and shrugging off my hand and walking toward the back door.

That's it. My boss is upset, the two kids I love are either mad at me or uncomfortable around me, and I want to know what the hell they aren't saying to me. I follow Mel back into the house and bellow Lennox's name. She appears at the top of the stairs (probably out of reflex) while Mel and Ryder stare at me from the kitchen table. Whatever conversation they are having can wait.

I glare at the three of them, the little family. Lennox looks a lot like Mel—blonde and stormy-eyed and beautiful. Ryder just looks nervous. I'm tired of it. And Mel herself…well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't attracted to her. Even when we are screaming at each other I think she's amazing.

But that's beside the point. So I ask the question that's on the tip of my tongue.

What the hell's wrong with all of you?

Well, I guess that could have come out better, given the expressions on their faces.


Mel

Oh no. He does not get to talk to me that way. Not when he doesn't work for me anymore. Back when he was essential to the function of our little world, maybe. But not now. His stuff is gone, he invited me over to his new place…which I'm guessing is canceled, given the circumstances and the way he is glowering at us.

I glance at my niece and nephew. They look just as confused. But Lennox has guilt behind her eyes and Ryder seems to be debating with himself. Weird.

What the hell's the matter with us? I shout back, my fury and my hurt and my fear all boiling up at once and spilling over. I'm pretty sure the kids have never seen me like this, but that's just too bad. Joe pressed the wrong button.

What the hell's the matter with you? Huh, Longo? You don't know why I might be tired or worried or frustrated or angry or scared? I'm on a roll now, and Joe's just going to have to take it. He's straightening up, really listening. His eyes are intent on mine, and I'm sure Lennox and Ryder are watching me with interest too.

I'm tired because I'm having a hard time sleeping. I'm worried about trusting the two people I love most in the world to someone I don't know a thing about. I'm frustrated that you need to ask at all. I take a deep breath, and plunge on. Might as well, I know my kids already think I'm nuts. Although Joe is probably right there with them on that.

I'm angry that you just picked up and left, gave your smug little two-weeks-notice without asking the kids what they might think about it. I'm scared that I rely too much on you and I won't be enough for them, I finish. With my cheeks flushed and my eyes too bright and still in my work clothes I bet I look a little demented.

Joe is turning to Lennox and Ryder, who look appropriately shocked. But Ryder, the young man that he is, looks like he understands. And Lennox…strong, confident, take-no-prisoners Lennox is sniffling. In front of her brother. And her nanny.

Joe notices that she's crying too and looks horrified. He looks like he wants to yell at me for making his little girl cry, but thinks better of it. Good. I can go all day, Longo. Bring it on.


Lennox

Aunt Mel just screamed at Joe. And everything she said has been echoing in my ears for the last 60 seconds, until I can't take it anymore and give up trying not to cry.

But quietly. Just one sniff. And a big, fat tear. Just one.

It doesn't matter. Joe notices. And so does Ryder. But instead of the teasing I thought I would receive on that end, he just looks at me like he gets it. Like he sort of wishes he could just cry a little too. My poor brother. Being abandoned the first time hit him harder than me, and here I am crying over Joe leaving.

But I'm not such a good person that I will stop crying for Ryder just yet. Some vindictive little part of me wants to make Joe hurt. Because he's leaving.

Just as I'm getting up to leave the table, to escape to my room, Joe's holding up a hand to stop me.

And Ryder looks like he has something to say. Come on, baby brother. We're all thinking it.

Joe….would you stay if we asked you to?


Joe

I'm stunned. Ryder is asking me…to do what? To stay? He's using that confident tone of his that makes me proud, but seems hesitant too. Does he feel like he can't ask me things?

I am left staring at him. Soon enough though, I realize I've been silent for too long. Lennox sighs and gets up, shooting Ryder a look that clearly says You tried. Thanks anyway. I hold up my hand again, to stop Lennox leaving.

Do they all feel this way? Mel's scared of having the kids on her own and the kids are worried I'm going to….what? Abandon them?

And then it hits me. Their mom's in prison, their dad is on the run. Their aunt and I are all they've got. And I'm leaving.

Dear God. What have I done? I don't know how to fix this. So I answer Ryder's question honestly, my epiphany still ringing in my mind.

Yes. Yeah, Ryder. I would.

The guy looks about as flabbergasted as I feel. I can tell he didn't expect me to answer that way. Lennox lets out a surprised squeak. Mel is mysteriously silent, and I find out why when I look over at her.


Mel

Anger. Shock. Elation. Confusion. Innumerable emotions are running around in my head right now. Joe said he would stay. And Ryder…brave, nerdy Ryder, is the one who asked him to.

Wait. No. Ryder asked Joe if he would stay if one of us asked. He didn't actually get asked. So does that mean he's still leaving unless one of us asks him not to?

I look over at Lennox, who still has a single tear track on her cheek, staring at Joe like she's afraid he's going to disappear. Ryder is looking hopefully at me. Oh. So that's how it's going to go. I'm supposed to ask.

I guess that makes sense.

I can swallow my pride. For my kids—for our kids, I think wryly—I can stomp it down and ask.

Joe…the name comes out grudgingly and I have to take a good long look at Lennox's blooming hope. Joe, I think I speak for all of us when I tell you that we would really…appreciate it if you would stay. Here. With us.


Joe

Did she really just say that?


Ryder

Yes! Now I don't have to ask. Thank God. That would have been potentially embarrassing.

Lennox is smiling tentatively. That's nice to see. And even Aunt Mel looks like the request didn't kill her.

Good.


Lennox

Please, please, please please please please please please please….

Say yes, Joe. Stay my dad for a little bit longer.

Did I just say that out loud?

Oops. I think I might die of embarrassment.

Crap.


Mel

Aw. I didn't know Lennox felt that way about Joe. Neither did Joe, apparently. He looks even more stunned now than he did when I yelled at him.

But there he goes. His eyes are softening, maybe even a little glassy. He never could resist Lennox when she was being unexpectedly honest.

And now he's looking directly at me. I know this is the end of any potential relationship we might have pursued at least for the near future, and I can see him apologizing with his gaze. The regret is there for me to see, the confusion, the suppressed longing I feel down deep in my own chest.

I smile slightly, jerking my head at the kids, who are still waiting for his response.


Joe

There's only one answer to Mel's question. Even if it did sound like she was gritting her teeth while asking it.

Yeah. Yeah, I will, Burke, I say quietly. She smiles bigger and I feel two hard thumps against me as two teenagers hit me with hugs.

I grin back at her, shrugging hopelessly. I can't give them up now. Even if it means not getting to see Mel in a cocktail dress and heels; even if it means I have to wait a bit longer to take her to dinner and see her in nothing at all. We'll both still be here.

And who knows, right? In three years, Ryder will be in college and they won't need a nanny. Maybe we can give it a shot then, if things work out.

She turns away to grab a glass and a bottle of wine and I look down at Lennox, who is still clutching my waist. Ryder has disappeared somewhere, not really comfortable with the emotion. I'm not either, to be honest, but…

I wrap my arm tighter around her. I can feel her squeezing back, completely unlike the teenager I usually deal with.

I love you, I murmur, for her ears only. Her breath catches; I can feel it. Next time just ask, okay?

And I feel her nod.


Mel

Wow. Joe came through. He's a great guy. Maybe I will get to see how great someday.

Slow down there, Burke. The kids are happy, there will be dinner tonight, you don't have to find a new nanny. Have a drink.

So I have a drink. And I silently toast the annoying, handsome, sweet man who is currently hugging my niece.


Ryder

I had to get out of there. Too many feelings flying around. I'm not sure of my own right now, all I know is that Joe is staying and Lennox is hugging and Aunt Mel is having a drink.

Back to normal. Time to text Holly.


Lennox

He's murmuring to me. I need to concentrate on what he's saying. And when I realize what it is, I want to cry all over again. But no; enough for one day.

I love you. Next time just ask, okay?

So I just nod and hope there won't be a next time. That our weird, unorthodox little family is staying together.