Ok, well I was watching the move, The Object of My Affection the other night with Jennifer Aniston and I got an idea, then I saw the movie, What Makes A Family with Brook Sheilds, and THEN I thought about the Madonna movie, The Next Best Thing, which is where I got the title from, and I decided that if I put the three together I would have a pretty interesting fic, so, that's exactly what I'm going to do. For any of you who saw those movies, you're probably thinking that this is going to be a slash fic, but it's not. It just kind of has the same points as those two movies. If you've never seen them, or have seen one and not the others, don't sweat it, you don't need to see them to understand the fic. Well, here goes nothing! Please review to tell me if I should continue this!

...Breigh...

The Next Best Thing: In After Dark, Out Before Dawn


She moved the heavy, down comforter off her tiny body slowly, in an effort not to wake the sleeping figure next to her. She grabbed her hair clip, which was sitting on the nightstand and clipped back the top part of her blonde locks so that they were out of her face. The sparkle of her emerald green eyes shone the only light on the dark hotel room, concentrating on the man in the bed. His dark brown hair was all messed up, sticking out in every direction. If they could all see him now, She thought as she headed over to the couch in the corner off the room and grabbed her jeans. If they would only realize that he's not perfect. She thought again as tears brimmed in her eyes.

At first she thought she could deal with it. In after dark, and out before dawn. She thought she would be able to deal with the screaming fans and jealous girls, with his so called life. She thought that in some way she could lie, and go along with his lie.

For some reason she thought that she could be 'The other woman'. But as everything went on, she realized that she couldn't. All she had with him was sex, and yes, at times it was good, but all in all she needed someone to be there for her, and she was tired of just standing by and watching him have both. He had her, for the sex, and he had his fiancée, for the sex, the love, the devotion, all of it. It wasn't fair, to him, to her, and to his future wife. None of it was fair.

She looked around the room, trying to find her bra, and spotted it over by the foot of the bed. She grabbed it and put it on before slipped on her light purple top, and looked him over one more time before leaning down and kissing the top of his head softly.

"I'm sorry Jace." She said as she wiped a tear off her cheek. "I'm so sorry, for everything." She grabbed her shoes and purse before heading out. She looked back and forth in the hallway, making sure the coast was clear before stepping outside.

Dirty. She felt dirty. She did it without thinking, without considering the consequences, without thinking of her. But then she met her; she saw her bright smile, and cheery eyes. She was taken over by her sweet personality and knew that she couldn't do it any longer. She felt dirty. Dirty.

Her feet unwillingly carried her down the exclusive hallway until she stopped in front of his door. She went to turn away, but she felt herself being pulled back. With a deep breath she formed a fist out of her hand and knocked gently on the door. She waited anxiously for a few minutes before she heard the door unlock and then open.

"Kate?" 24-year-old Joey Fatone asked groggily as the person as his door came into view.

"I'm sorry Joe, I just didn't want to go back to my room alone." Kate explained shaking her head back and forth.

"What about JC?" He questioned as he stepped aside so she could enter the room.

"I can't do it anymore Joey..." Kate said shaking her head. Joey watched as his old friend walked farther into his room and fell down on the couch.

Kate and Joey had been friends for years, and it was through him that she met JC. Joey didn't butt in when they started messing around, he knew that he was far from the voice of reason, so he just watched it all happen. He was the one that saw both sides of the story. He saw JC sneak around with Kate, and he saw him with Bobbie.

"I met her tonight after the show, and she was so great. And, she had no clue! She didn't know anything was going on. I just watched her, and I listened to how she talked about him." Kate paused and wiped a tear from her eye as Joey sat down on the edge of the bed and ran his hands through his thick, now blonde, hair. "She loves him so much, and I feel like a whore! How could I have done this?"

"Kate, you didn't do anything that he didn't want. You can't blame this whole thing on yourself, because it takes two to tango, and trust me, he's as big a part of this as you are." Kate nodded, wanting to allow herself to be comforted by Joey, but she knew that she couldn't do it. She said nothing, simply moved her hand over her eyes and allowed herself to cry freely. After an awkward moment Joey walked over and sat down next to her, taking her into his arms. "Kates, people make mistakes-"

"It wasn't a mistake Joe! I knew exactly what I was doing, and even when I knew how horrible it was I kept doing it! How could I do this to another woman? I know what it's like to be cheated on, I know how it feels, but now that I'm the one responsible for inflicting that one someone else-"

"Kate, listen to me," Joey pulled her from him and watched a tear fall down her cheek. "You realize it more now, so just stop it. Knowing Jace, he won't even tell Bobbie, she'll never know, and what she doesn't know can't hurt her." Joey reasoned.

"How can you say that? He has to tell her!" Joey simply shook his head in response.

"It's their life now, you just step out of it." Joey said calmly. He watched Kate's face, he knew that she wasn't the type to be in a relationship with no emotional attachment. He knew that in the end this would all be too much for her, he knew, but he never questioned it, he just watched, knowing that in the end she would be crying on his shoulder. And, to tell the truth, he liked that. No one ever depended on him the way she did, no one ever looked at him with those eyes that needed to be comforted, and a frown that needed to be turned into a smile. She made him feel needed, and that was a feeling he needed.

"I can't." Kate said shaking her head slowly. "Joey, I can't." She repeated. Joey looked at her questionably.

"Why? You go back to being my friend, and only my friend. You don't have to hang around the guys as much, and you don't have to see JC at all if that's what makes you comfortable. And, I'll keep you and Bobbie apart."

"Joey, you don't understand, I can't." Kate said in a low voice.

"Yeah Kate, I don't understand. So why don't you explain it to me." Joey stated as he rubbed his hand up and down her arm. Kate grabbed his hand and held it for a few minutes as she looked deep into his eyes. Then, slowly she moved her hand down to her stomach, and placed it there.

"Because," She started, "Because of the baby..."

*~*~*

 

Part 2

 

The Next Best Thing: Late Night confessions

"Why? You go back to being my friend, and only my friend. You don't have to hang around the guys as much, and you don't have to see JC at all if that's what makes you comfortable. And, I'll keep you and Bobbie apart."

"Joey, you don't understand, I can't." Kate said in a low voice.

"Yeah Kate, I don't understand. So why don't you explain it to me." Joey stated as he rubbed his hand up and down her arm. Kate grabbed his hand and held it for a few minutes as she looked deep into his eyes. Then, slowly she moved her hand down to her stomach, and placed it there.

"Because," She started, "Because of the baby..."

As soon as that one word was said Joey felt his stomach drop. Quickly he moved his hand off her stomach and jumped back.

"W-What? Kate, what are you talking about?" He asked shaking his head.

"Joey, I'm pregnant." Kate stated as firmly as possible.

"How? When? Where? Why?" Joey stammered.

"Do you really want me to answer all of them?" Kate laughed softly, attempting to break the tension. Joey closed his eyes and ran his hands over his face. He didn't know why he was getting so worked up, it wasn't like Kate had just told him she was pregnant with his baby, but to him that's what it felt like. In reality he knew that JC would want to be a father to the baby, he loved kids, he always had, but at the same time he knew that he wouldn't. He'd deny it until he was blue in the face. Joey hadn't answered after a few minutes, so Kate started talking again. "I think you know how it happened. And I'm not exactly sure when, maybe in Philadelphia, maybe in New York City. Somewhere around there." Kate watched as Joey fell to the ground, sat Indian style and rested his elbows on his knees, and made a head rest with his hands. "And to answer you're why....well, I don't know why. I thought we were being careful, I mean the last thing I wanted to come out of this was a baby." Kate said sadly. Joey nodded, trying to process everything, but as he looked up at her all he saw was his five-year-old neighbor with pig tails; in short he saw his best friend.

"So, uh, what are you going to do? I mean are you going to keep it?" He regretted the words as soon as they came out of his mouth. It made him sound like he wanted her to have an abortion, or give up the baby, and in essence, that would be the easiest thing to do, but knowing Kate, he knew she would never be able to do it.

"Do you think I should?" Kate snapped back.

"I think you should do what you think is right." Joey stammered uneasily.

"Well, I think having this baby is what's right." Kate explained with a nod.

"Then um, then that's what you should do." Joey said as he offered her a light smile. Kate sighed deeply and looked over at Joey. How had she gotten herself into this whole thing? Never in a million years would she have envisioned this scenario.

"JC's not going to want the baby." Kate said as she played with the comforter. Joey said nothing; he knew she was right. "And to tell you the truth, it doesn't bother me that much. I'm considering not even telling him." She said shaking her head.

"Katie, you have to tell him, it's his child, I would want you to tell me if you were pregnant with my child." Joey stated shaking his head.

"Why would I tell him? He'll just deny it anyway, and plus, he'd never take responsibility for the baby as long as he's with Bobbie. He would never want to mess things up with her, even if it was for his own kid." Joey just watched her, he knew it was getting to her more than she was admitting. He knew that she wanted the baby to have a father. He expected all that, but he didn't expect what came out of her mouth next. "But I do want the baby to have a father." She paused for a minute and got up off the bed before walking over and sitting down in front of him. "And the more I think of it, the more sense it makes," She started as she reached for Joey's hand. "You're so great with Nick," She smiled, referring to Joey's nephew. "And you love kids, no matter how much the thought of having them scares you, you really love them." She said softly. Joey's mind was blank, in a way he knew what she was about to ask, but at the same time he was trying to deny it all together. Things like this happen on soap opera's, not in real life; not in his life. "You'd be a great father," She said lowering her eyebrows and concentrating on his facial expression, trying her hardest to read his thoughts.

"Kate, I-" Joey started.

"Joey, please, this baby needs a father, I know that, you know that, and-"

"And JC's the father, not me." Joey said shaking his head as he got up. "Um, Kate, maybe you should go." He said as he headed over to the door.

"Joey, please." Kate pleaded as she followed him. "I need you right now. This baby is going to need you. If he or she can't have her biological father, then I can't think of anyone better than you." She said sincerely.

"Kate, I'm not ready to be a father. I can't do it, not now. JC is that child's father, and he should be the one taking responsibility, not me. It's not my fault." Joey said shaking his head. Kate's eyes welled up with tears, and one single one dripped down her cheek.

"I'm not asking you to do anything besides love this baby, Joey. I don't want you to take responsibility, or fault. I want this baby to be able to call you at night and tell you goodnight. I want him or her to look at you and say that's my daddy. I don't want you to support me, or take responsibility; I just want you to love this child. I want you to be the person I know you are, that good, genuine person." Kate said sadly as she reached up and ran her fingers gently down his cheek. Joey just stared at her for a few minutes before reaching down and opening the door.

"I'm sorry Kate." He said lowering his head. Kate swallowed hard and wiped the tears from her eyes. In one step she was out the door without another word, and Joey quickly closed it behind her, trying his best to shut out the reality that he was sure would now start to haunt him.

*~*~*

Joey made his way down to breakfast the next morning a little before 9. The plans for the day was breakfast, a quick photo shoot, rehearsal, break for something to eat, then they'd head over to the venue for meet and greet, and finally the show. They were all the last thing he needed right now. As he walked into the conference room, which was reserved so the guys could have breakfast and discuss their upcoming schedule, he saw JC snuggling closely with someone. At first he couldn't tell who it was, but he hoped more than anything it was Kate. As he walked farther into the room though, he realized that it was Bobbie. He closed his eyes momentarily, trying to compose himself, and then headed over to where his friends were sitting. Justin was busy eating a bowl of cereal, Chris was making spit balls to shoot at Lance, and Lance was counteracting by making spit balls to shoot at Chris.

"Hey Joey!" Bobbie said happily as she moved a strand of her hair out of her face.

"I thought you had to be back at work by today." Joey said blankly as he sat down across from Justin.

"I did, but when I got to the airport last night my flight was delayed, so I called and they let me take the day off so I could get back." She smiled happily as JC ran his hand up and down her back.

"Oh." Joey said simply as he glanced around at the guys. He sighed deeply and then reached for an apple, which was sitting in the middle of the table. "Do you guys think a baby would effect the group a lot?" Joey asked non-chalantly, his eyes burning into JC.

"Well, I don't know how good a baby can sing, but I bet it would make the girls go crazy." Chris laughed.

"Seriously, if one of us had a kid, do you think it would change a lot?" Joey's question was aimed at everyone in general, but his eyes were still locked on JC.

"Joey, do you have a kid?" Bobbie inquired.

"No." Joey said shaking his head. "But if I did,"

"Joe, by the time you're ready to have a kid we'll be done with this whole thing, so my answer is no, a kid wouldn't change things that much." Lance reasoned. Joey clenched his teeth and nodded, yet his eyes were still set on JC.

"Joey what the fuck's you're problem?!" JC yelled frustrated. "Why the hell are you staring at me? I don't have a kid!" He erupted. Joey nodded and then continued to eat his apple as everyone else carried on their previous activities.

A few moments later the door to the room opened, and no one paid any attention, figuring it was just someone giving them a warning on how much time they had. Joey's back was turned to the door, but when he saw JC glance up at the person quickly, and then saw his quick reaction he knew it had to be Kate. Slowly he turned around, somewhat afraid to see her again after last night. Be stronger than that Katie. Joey thought as he saw Kate's face when she saw Bobbie.

"Kate! Hey!" Justin called over to her through a mouth full of cereal. Kate stood planted for a few minutes before deciding to go in. She walked over to the oblivious group, the guys had no clue what had been going on between Kate and JC, all except for Joey and JC of course. Hesitantly she sat down next to Joey. He watched as she locked eyes with JC, and then looked down.

"What are you still doin' here Kate? Didn't you're flight leave this morning?" Chris asked from the opposite end of the table.

"Uh, yeah, it did, but I kinda over slept, so I'm just taking one out tonight." Kate nodded. Joey cleared his throat as he looked over at her. She never acted like this, she was always outgoing and cheering everyone up, but not this morning.

"Looks like everyone missed their flights." JC laughed nervously as he looked back and forth between Kate and Bobbie.

"You missed you're flight too?" Kate asked glancing over at Bobbie, trying not to make things look suspicious.

"Actually my flight was delayed." Bobbie smiled as she played with the engagement ring sitting on her left hand. "But I don't mind, cause now I get to spend more time with Jace." Just the way she said his name made Kate feel nauseous, and the morning sickness she had been combating was no help.

"Hey Katie, do you want an orange?" Justin asked as he picked up and orange from the middle of the table.

"No, I'm actually not feeling to well." Kate answered shaking her head.

"You should really eat." Joey muttered under his breath. Kate looked at him sharply and then stood up.

"I think I'm going to go lay down guys, I shouldn't have even have came down." She looked over at JC and smiled sadly.

"Aw Kates, come on, stay." Lance pleaded.

"Sorry Lance." Kate smiled as she glanced over at him.

"I guess I'll see you guys when you come to Orlando." She smiled.

"Call me when your flight lands tonight, ok?" Joey said turning to her and grabbing her hand.

"Uh, yeah, sure." She said softly. "Good luck tonight guys." Kate said before turning and walking out to chorus' of 'Bye!' and 'See ya later!'. Joey sunk back in his chair and just sat there while the rest of the room continued on without him taking any participation in it.

*~*~*

As hard as it had been Joey hadn't talked to JC all day, not during the photo shoot, not during rehearsal. The two men had uttered one word to each other since breakfast. When the guys took a break after rehearsal Joey decided that he wouldn't go to lunch with everyone, but instead go out on his own for a little while. Ever since breakfast he'd been thinking about Kate, and how he's let her down. Sure, the baby wasn't his, but the more he watched JC he knew that there was no way he would admit to getting Kate pregnant with his child. He wouldn't want to ruin things with Bobbie.

And Joey knew that the baby did indeed need a Daddy. He couldn't imagine not growing up witout his father there, and he knew that that was the same thing bugging Kate. He knew that the baby would need a Daddy, especially if it was a boy, little boys need their Daddy's there to teach them stuff. They need them to teach them how to thrown a baseball, and how to make a mud-pit in the backyard. Basically, they need a father. And the more he thought about it, the more he wanted that job. It would be hard with the group, especially JC, if Kate insisted on not telling him, then they would have to make up some lie about Joey being the child's biological father. They'd have to figure out some lie, but then again they'd been lying for the past couple months, so it couldn't possibly be that hard. But then there was touring and promotions and things like that, he could take action and be the child's Dad, but would he be the kind of Dad the child needed?

The more he thought, the harder the pain in his head got, so he tried his best to clear his mind as he walked slowly towards a park bench. He wasn't sure quite how he'd ended up at the park, maybe it was fate, maybe free will, but he was there none the less. He remembered when he was little; there was a park two blocks down from his house in Brooklyn. Whenever he got mad, or in a fight with his parents or brother or sister, he'd run their. In a way it was like his sanctuary, and now, wherever they were on tour he would always be able to find the local park without any effort.

A smile came across his face as he sat down on the park bench, remembering how when he would run away to the park, his father would always wait a little while, maybe 20 minutes to give him his space, and then he'd drive down and get him before they went out for ice cream. Joey laughed lightly as he looked out over the vast park. The more he considered it, the more he wanted to be there for both Kate and the baby, but how could he do it? He didn't know the first thing about being a parent, he was good with children, sure, but one that was his own? Or at least that he considered his own? Could he really do that?

No more than a few yards away Joey noticed a man and a little boy playing happily. The child looked no more than 4, and he had a huge grin on his face as he kicked the little soccer ball to his Dad.

"Aw! Goal! Man Jacob, you win again!" Joey heard the man yell with a laugh as the ball rolled passed him. The little boy, who Joey presumed to be Jacob, laughed and jumped up and down happily. "Alright buddy, you work on that kick, I'm gonna go sit down for a little while ok?" The man told his son, and Joey watched as he turned and walked straight at him. He hadn't noticed it before, but the man's jacket was sitting right next to him on the bench. Joey was about to get up and leave, but something told him to stay, and he did. The man smiled amicably as he sat down next to him. "Is it alright if I sit here?" He asked.

"Yeah, sure." Joey nodded, somewhat happy to have the company. The man watched Joey's eyes as they followed his son's every movement.

"You got kids?" He inquired.

"Who? Me? No, well..." Joey trailed off. "Not yet." He said shaking his head.

"Wife pregnant?" The man pressed.

"Um, no, my, I guess you could call her my girlfriend." Joey said as he squinted because of the bright sun, and then turned to look at the man.

"Oh, congratulations." He nodded.

"Thanks." Joey smiled. He didn't know why, but he felt unusually close to the man sitting next to him.

"You scared?" After a moments hesitation Joey answered.

"Very." He scoffed. "I'm don't think I'll be able to do it." He admitted. Joey hadn't admitted to himself that he would be a Dad to Kate's baby, but going along with it made him feel something he'd never experienced before.

"Can I give you some advice?" The man offered.

"Sure." Joey nodded.

"My dad told me this when I wasn't sure if I could do it with my son. I was worried, because everything I'd done my whole life I'd known how to do, but I had no clue how to be a father, and I thought I should know before I became one, I thought that's what should happen. But my dad told me, "The things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." Joey paused, letting what he was just told register in his mind.

"Wow, did he come up with that himself?"

"No, Aristotle said that."

"The philosopher guy?" Joey questioned, remember learning about him in his freshmen History class.

"Yeah." The man nodded as his son looked over at him.

"Daddy! Come on!" As the little boy called to him, Joey had never been so envious, and had never wanted anything more than to be called Daddy.

"I better go play with him." He smiled as he got up off the bench and looked down at Joey. "Good luck man. It was nice talking to you."

"Nice talking to you too, thank you." Joey said before the man walked off. The quote played over and over in his head "The things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." It made perfect sense. He smiled as his mind cleared and the obvious answer floated into his mind. He was going to be a Daddy...

*~*~*

 

Part 3

 

The Next Best Thing: Tears of a Father

Joey sat back in the seat and let out a deep sigh as he looked out the tiny plane window at the huge, white, puffy clouds. They looked like huge cotton balls. He looked next to him and saw Justin fast asleep; his hat pulled down over his eyes. Across from him were Chris and Lance. Chris was watching Weekend At Bernie’s on a little portable DVD player, and like Justin, Lance was asleep. JC was in a seat in front of Lance and Chris, and he was playing around on his laptop.

Things had been shaky over the last two weeks. JC had no inkling of what was going on, all he knew was that Kate was that Kate was never home when he called, and that Joey was grumpy- or so he thought. The truth was that Joey had been avoiding him intentionally, and when he did talk to him he was very limited in his discussion, saying only what he needed to. Once Joey had decided that he wanted to be a father to Kate’s baby he found it harder to get along with JC. Basically he wanted to remove himself from his old friend, and in doing so he hoped that raising the baby as his own wouldn’t be as hard. If he could convince himself that he didn’t really get along with JC, and that being a Daddy to his son or daughter wasn’t weird, then it would make everything that much easier.

What would also make things easier was if he could talk to Kate. He knew that she had to be upset with him. She basically poured her heart out to him, and in doing so tested their friendship. She told him that she needed him- no one had ever told him that before. And in all honesty, it scared him. But after he realized that he could do it, and he wanted to do it he’d tried to call. But, after day after day, and night after night his attempts proved frivolous. It was now two weeks since Kate told Joey about the baby, and asked him to be its father. And he hadn’t been able to get through to her since. Finally their tour date came up in Orlando, and he came to the conclusion that he would just have to go over and tell her in person. The only problem was that he hoped it wasn’t too late. He prayed that Kate wasn’t too desperate and decided to have an abortion.

Joey looked around at his friends one more time before reaching down and pulling out his backpack. He unzipped it and then reached in and rooted around for a few minutes before he found was he was searching for. Then he zipped the bag back up and placed it in it’s spot on the floor. He then reached forward and opened the tray table, which little squeaking noise that jarred Justin slightly before he fell back to sleep. Joey sighed and then opened the little plastic shopping bag in his hand. He reached in and removed a card, and then reached in again and took out a pen. He placed the bag at his side, and then put the card down on the tray table.

He paused for a second and just stared at the picture on the front. It was black and white, and of a father holding a baby. The man was just staring down at the child in awe. Joey had managed to convince himself that he would have that feeling that all parent’s talk about when they first see their child. Even though the baby wasn’t biologically his, he would be there through everything, and he would be the baby’s Daddy. He sighed deeply as he opened the card and began writing.

Kate,

I’ve never wanted anything more; there’s no job I’d rather do, than be a Daddy…will you still let me?

Love Always,

Joey

Short and sweet, that’s all he wanted to say, and he knew that if he attempted to write more he’d just end up regretting it. He shut the card and then placed it in the envelope before scribbling ‘Kate’ on the front. Then he placed it back in the bag, and he took out the other item, which was in it. It was a little, brown stuffed dog. He wanted to bring something for the baby, and he thought it was adorable. He smiled contentedly to himself and then placed it back into the bag before sitting back and glancing at his watch. Only 2 more hours to go…only two more hours until he would find out if Kate would let him do the one thing, which over the past few weeks had become his deepest desire.

*~*~*

Kate pulled up to her little Orlando home. It was nothing special, but it was home, and it made her feel comfortable. She parked the car in the driveway and then ran her hands tiredly over her face- happy to be home. She never remembered being this tired. Usually her 8-hour days were nothing, but now with being pregnant she found herself having to struggle to get past four. She stepped out of the car, and searched her key ring for her house key as she approached the front steps. She was so concerned with just getting inside that she didn’t even notice the figure sitting on her front step. At first she didn’t notice him, but as she got closer she saw the familiar face smiling at her.

"Hey Kate." He said with a smile as he stood up.

"What the hell are you doing here JC?" Kate asked with a scowl.

"I was thinking," He started as he approached her. "We could, ya know." JC smiled with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Where’s Bobbee?" Kate questioned as she crossed her arms across her chest.

"At home." JC stated as he raised his eyebrows.

"No JC, it’s over. You’re an ass, do you know that? You have this girl who thinks you’re madly in love with her, while you’re over here screwing me. If the world only knew that JC Chasez is-"

"What? Is what? Willing to have an affair with a nothing of a girl? Kate, you should count you’re lucky stars that you even got the chance to fuck me, and now you’re going to try to say that it’s all my fault?"

"That’s not what I’m saying. I just don’t want to be apart of this anymore. If you want to cheat on your fiancee, then you’re going to have to find someone else to do it with." Kate said stepping around him and heading up to the front door.

"Fine! But don’t come crying to me when you realize that you made a mistake!" JC yelled. Kate just stood in front of her door as sobs shook her tiny body.

After a few minutes she felt someone rubbing her back gently. Fuck JC, just leave me alone. She thought to herself, but she was unable to speak the words.

"Don’t cry over him Kate, he’s not worth it." She heard Joey’s gentle voice tell her. She jumped from the surprise, he was the last person she’d think to be behind her. She sniffed and then turned around to face him, and as she did so her breath caught in her throat. In his hand was a huge bouquet of pink, blue and white roses, along with the little stuffed animal, and the card.

"J-Joey…" She stammered softly.

"Hey kid, you look exhausted." He smiled as he reached down and wiped the tears from her face before taking the keys out of her hand and opened the door.

"Thank you." She laughed as she wiped her eyes and then walked into the house, followed by Joey.

"What, um, what are you doing here Joe?" Kate asked once they were inside. Joey shut the door and then walked over to her. He had planned this elaborate speech, but at that moment only one thing came to him mind.

"I want to do it Kate. I want to be a Dad to the baby. I want to be a Daddy, please, you have to let me."

He said it, and her face went blank. Over the past two weeks she had been concocting a way to tell JC that she was pregnant. Joey had told her that he didn’t want the responsibility, and that he couldn’t do. If he managed to change his mind this quick about doing it, what made her think that three months from now he wouldn’t realize that he really couldn’t do it, and he’d be gone?

Kate walked over to the door, and with a blank expression she opened it before looking over at Joey.

"You should probably go." She said, re-stating the words that Joey had told her that night she asked him to help her raise her child.

"W-what? Are you serious?" Joey stammered as he placed the flowers, stuffed animal and card down on the coffee table and then walked over to her.

"Very." She nodded as Joey stood before her, a single tear now coming down his cheek.

"Kate, please. I want this, I really, really want this. And I can do it, I know I can do it." He pleaded. Kate reached up and wiped the tear from Joey’s cheek.

"I’ll see ya later." She stated flatly.

"No, Kate, listen to me…" He begged.

"Goodbye Joey." She stated firmly, and Joey realized that no matter how much he begged it was going nowhere.

"Bye Kate." He sniffed as he left the house.

Once Joey was gone Kate headed over to the things he’d left, and she picked up the card. Carefully she opened the envelope and then removed it. She stopped as she saw the picture on the front, and then walked over and sat down on the couch. Kate felt as she started to cry, and then opened up the card and read the short note before sobs took her over, but she shook her head and placed the card back on the table. She wasn’t going to let this get to her, he wasn’t even the baby’s real father, and the more she thought about it the more ridiculous the idea sounded. Joey be a father? There were times he could barely take care of himself. And how would they raise a baby when the baby’s real father was always there? The idea was ridiculous, and she wasn’t going to let it get to her.

She sighed deeply as she reached next to her and picked up the cordless phone. She dialed his number and heard it ring a few times before his message came on.

"Hey, it’s Jace, leave me a message and I’ll get back to ya as soon as I can."

(Beep)

"Um, hey JC, look, I’m sorry I was so short with you earlier. I’ve just had a really long day and I’m tired. But, um, I need to talk to you, so…well, come by later on around 9 if you get a chance…if not then I get the picture. See ya later."

Kate clicked the phone off and then laid down on the couch, one had resting on her stomach…Am I really doing this? She thought with a slight twinge.

*~*~*

At exactly nine o’clock there was a knock at Kate’s door. She walked slowly to the door, and stood behind it for a few moments before reaching down and unlocking it. It’s now or never. She thought to herself as she pulled the door open, and sure enough, there was JC. He stood before her with a smile on his face and a single red rose in his hand. The two just stared at each other for a few minutes before Kate stepped aside, and without a single word JC walked into the house.

"I wasn’t sure if you’d come." Kate said shutting the door and then turning to him. JC took a step towards her and kissed her cheek before handing her the rose.

"You sounded like you wanted to talk." He smiled; presuming she was hinting at sex instead of actually talking.

"Yeah, I really do." She agreed as she placed the rose down. JC leaned in and kissed her passionately, and ran his hands down her back. Kate stepped back and just stared into his deep blue eyes. "No Jace, I really need to talk to you."

"Oh." Kate nodded and then led him into the kitchen.

"Sit down." Kate said flatly as he sat down and she sat across from him. As she looked over at him she was totally lost, and had no clue what to say, let alone where to start. The truth was that she was falling for him-hard. She wasn’t sure if she was in love with him, but she did know that she loved him. After an awkward silence Kate finally started. "You and Joey…you’ve um, you guys haven’t been on the best terms, have you?" Kate questioned as she ran her hands back through her hair.

"He’s been keeping to himself, but what does that have to do with anything?" JC inquired as he leaned forward.

"Ok Jace, this is hard for me, and I don’t really know how to say it, so I’m just going to say it, and then we’ll talk about it, ok?" JC nodded, and Kate continued. "That night I was with you guys in St. Louis I left your room in the middle of the night like I always did, but instead of going back to my room I stopped by Joey’s. I talked to him for a little while," Kate paused as she lowered her head and ran her hands over her eyes. "JC, I’m pregnant. And I went to Joey for…I don’t even know, I guess for comfort. But- Well, I ended up asking him to take care of me and the baby, and be the baby’s father. Honestly I have no clue what I was thinking, it just kind of happened. But he said no, and then today he came by and said that he’d changed his mind." Kate paused and just watched JC’s face. His eyes were wide and he was just staring. "I told him no, and then I called you."

"W-wait…you’re p-pregnant?" JC managed to get out.

"Yes."

"And it’s mine? The baby’s mine?" He questioned, his voice rising with every word.

"Yes JC, the baby’s yours."

"But how? We were careful Kate, we used protection, and you were on those pills." He said shaking his head as he ran his hands through his hair.

"Neither one was 100 percent effective, and these things just happen." Kate shrugged.

"And then you asked Joey to be the father?"

"I knew you would never take responsibility because of Bobbee." Kate cleared up. JC just sat there, he was afraid to speak because he knew he would freak out on her, and by the looks of things he knew that that’s not what she needed. "What are you thinking about?" Kate asked quietly. JC just shook his head.

"I have no clue." He muttered as he looked over at her. JC went to say something, and Kate knew what was about to come out of his mouth.

"I’m keeping this baby." She confirmed sternly.

"Well, I’m staying with Bobbee." JC stated as he cleared his throat. "Kate, I’m sorry, but I love her, we…we were just a thing. I never meant for a baby to come out of it…" He trailed off.

"You might not have meant to, but it did…you’re baby came out of it."

"Kate, I can’t do this, I’m sorry, but there’s no way that I can raise a baby with you. I’m getting married to Bobbee." JC watched as Kate started to cry, but she wiped her tears away quickly, trying to play it off.

"I figured you’d say that." She smiled ironically though her tears. JC got up from the table and walked over to her.

"If things were different; if I wasn’t JC Chasez of N Sync, and if I wasn’t in the place I am with Bobbee, then maybe we could work this out, and I could do the whole ‘Daddy’ thing." JC explained as he looked down at her. "But the truth is, I am…I’m all of that, and a baby just doesn’t fit." Kate looked up at him, she knew that somewhere he did want to be a part of the baby’s life, but she also knew that he would never admit to his mistakes.

"Yeah, but the truth is, regardless of all those things, you are a Daddy." Kate reached up and grabbed his hand, as she had done to Joey’s a few weeks back, and she placed it on her stomach. "That’s your baby in there JC, you made that baby…you’re a Daddy, regardless if you’re JC Chasez of N Sync or not. And if Joey was willing to be Joey Fatone of N Sync and a Daddy, then why can’t you?" JC left his hand on Kate’s stomach for a few moments before slowly removing it.

"Then maybe you should let Joey do it." He nodded as he took a step back. "I’m sorry Kate…" He stood before her for a little longer before leaving.

Kate sat at the kitchen table, unable to move. How had things gotten so out of control? The only good part of the whole event was that JC hadn’t totally freaked out, but still, he denied his own child, what kind of father denies his own baby?

She knew what kind of father didn’t…Joey. He’d selflessly agreed to devote himself to her and the baby, knowing that the child wasn’t his, but he still wanted it none the less. He still cried when she denied him of that…he cried the tears of a father…and that’s exactly what she wanted him to be…

*~*~*

 

Part 4

 

The Next Best Thing: A Single Tear (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star)

He reached forward for the little dark brown liquid in the glass before him. His dark brown eyes beat into it intensely for a few moments before he shook the glass and then once again stared at it. With a loud sigh he downed it all in one gulp before placing the cup back on the bar.

"I’d give you another one; if you weren’t my nephew- but you are, so I’m drawing the line at 3." The older man behind the bar smiled. His dark, brown eyes stared intently at Joey, trying to read him, but his attempts proved frivolous. "C’mon Joe, what’s up?"

"Gimme another one Uncle Lou." Joey pleaded as he rested his elbows on the bar, and then placed his head in his hands.

"I’m not giving you another one, I’ll give you water, or a Shirley Temple. Man, you loved them when you were a kid." He smiled as he leaned down on the bar.

Kid. Since when had a three-letter word been so powerful? Instantaneously he thought of Kate, and the baby he had convinced himself he would be a Daddy to. The kid he thought he’d get to tuck in at night and read bedtime stories to, the kid he would brag about to all his friends, the kid he would want nothing more than to spend five minutes with. The kid who would love him unconditionally and in return he’d do the same time. But now he had no kid, no one to tuck in, no one to read bedtime stories to, or to spend just five minutes with, or to love. He had himself, and if he could manage, another drink.

"Here, come on." Lou said as he placed the glass down on the bar next to Joey. "I’ll put in extra cherries." He smiled as he dropped four Merichino Cherries into the glass.

"Uncle Lou, please." Joey begged as he hung his head and then rubbed his temple’s in a circular motion.

"Joey, no." His uncle insisted. "Don’t you have somewhere to be anyway?"

"No." Joey shook his head.

"Great, then you’re coming home with me." Lou nodded as he began cleaning everything up behind the bar and then he headed over and locked the front door to the little Italian restaurant.

"No, I’m just going home." Joey surrendered as he got up from the barstool and stretched before grabbing his jacket off the barstool next to him and slipping it on.

"Oh no you don’t. You’re comin’ over. Aunt June will want to see you, and we’re watching Anthony for the week. Jess and Michael went on some cruise, so we got him. How long has it been since you’ve seen him?" Lou questioned as he went back into his office and grabbed his jacket.

"I’ll see him later." Joey nodded. "I just wanna go home." Lou walked over to Joey and just stood before him, staring into his dark, chocolate brown eyes. The happy, carefree sparkle that had once been there had since vanished.

"Talk to me Joey. You used to when you were little, you’d tell me everything." Joey couldn’t speak, he just nodded, not able to trust himself with his own words. Lou placed a hand on Joey’s back and led him over to a table close by. He pulled out a chair and then sat Joey down before sitting across from him.

His 24-year-old nephew appeared to be at his breaking point, and the last thing he was about to do was just let him walk out. "Joey," He prompted. Joey stared at him, he could only imagine what was racing through his mind. He’d come in about 2 hours ago, not saying a single word, just walking straight to the bar and asking for a drink. He didn’t smile, he didn’t frown, he didn’t laugh or cry. He left everything up to the imagination. Joey bit his bottom lip, and before he knew it he felt tears begin to form in his eyes, tears of a father…

*~*~*

Her Blonde hair. He loved blonde hair, maybe that was it, maybe he wanted to run his hands through her hair, and that’s how it all started. The way it fell around her face. The way it looked on the pillow next to him.

Her Genuine Smile. Or maybe it was her smile. The fact that it was genuine, and when she smiled it reached her eyes. So genuine that no matter how horrible his day, no matter how many rumors or lies, it made him smile too. So genuine; something his hadn’t been in years.

Her Eyes. Her emerald green eyes, so green that you questioned the fact if they were real. So green that they sparkled and lit the room. So green that they could be seen in a sea of screaming fans. So green that he still saw them every time he shut his eyes. So green that he longed to look into them one more time. So green that he couldn’t.

Her heart. She was for sex. Their whole relationship was based on sex, not love, or trust. It was based on lust. But the more he got to know her the more he saw what a good heart she had. The more he started to see her for more than sex. The more he had to convince himself that he loved Bobbee…the more he had to convince himself that he didn’t love her- that he couldn’t love her.

And now a baby. Everything happens for a reason, he knew that, and he believed that. But what was he supposed to do? Let her know how he really felt? Let her know that he wanted to be a father to the baby, that he wanted to marry her? He reacted how he thought he should, not how he wanted to. He trusted his head, and not his heart. His heart was telling him to hug her, to embrace her. When she placed his hand on her stomach he wanted nothing more than to leave it there. And, as he sat in the lonely recording studio he wanted nothing more than to be a part of the life of the child he’d created- his child.

But that was crazy. He couldn’t do it. He had Bobbee, what was he supposed to tell her? Nothing. He’d tell her nothing. He’d managed to convince himself that he wasn’t in love with Kate, and he would do the same with the baby. His baby.

He was so deep in thought that he didn’t notice the door to the studio open, and someone enter. Before he even had an idea of what was going on he felt hands rub his shoulders and then continue on down his arms. In the next moment the person leaned over in front of him and placed a gentle kiss on his soft lips.

"Honey, are you ok?" Bobbee asked as she walked over in front of him. "Jace, you’re crying." Bobbee observed. JC just sat there. He hadn’t even noticed the little tears that were flowing down his cheeks like fierce little rivers.

"I-um-" He stammered as he wiped the tears from his face. "How did you know I was here?" He asked as Bobbee pulled up a nearby chair and sat across from him.

"You always come here when something’s bothering you. What is it?" Bobbee pressed.

"Nothing." JC insisted as he shook his head. "Everything’s fine. I just needed some time by myself. Don’t worry about." JC smiled, trying to convince her that everything truly was fine.

"Josh-" Bobbee argued. She knew him too well to just believe that everything was fine. He never cried unless something was really bugging him.

"Baby, everything’s fine." JC sighed as he reached for her hand. He squeezed it tightly and then raised it to his lips. "I love you." He smiled, and he did. He did love her, but was he still in love with her? He knew he was, once. But was he still?

*~*~*

Her hands shook as she wrote the words. She was never good at commitment, and what she was doing was like signing her life away, along with the life of the baby. From this time on she’d constantly be associated with him, and the crazy life he led; the paparazzi, the late nights, the touring and promotions. He was already a big part of her life; he was the guy she called when she couldn’t sleep, and he was the one who always had all the answers to all her questions. And now, he would be a father to her baby.

With a deep sigh she wrote the last line, and then shut the card before placing it in the envelope. Kate stared at the large, dark house before stepping out of her car and making her way up to the front door. She rang the doorbell and waited a few minutes. By the looks of things it didn’t look like anyone was home, but she decided to try just incase.

"Figures." She murmured under her breath before shoving the card in the crack of the door and then leaving.

*~*~*

"Joe, you’d be a great Dad." Lou smiled as he tried to comfort his nephew. "But maybe now’s not the time, ya know? Maybe you’re not meant to be a father yet." He paused and saw Joey’s reaction getting no better. "Everything happens for a reason."

Joey just stared at him. His eyes were covered in a teary fog, and every so often a tear would find it’s way down his cheek. He hadn’t been totally honest with his uncle, he’d stretched the truth a little, claiming that the baby was his, but the mother didn’t want him part of it’s life because of who he was. He said that she wouldn’t let him be there because she didn’t want to inflict the life that he lived on an innocent child. He also admitted that he would give up everything; the money, the fame, the fans, even the music, to be a father. He’d be satisfied with only singing lullabies, and having his only fan be his child.

"Yeah, but I siked myself up for this, Uncle Lou. I was excited, and I was planning for it. I was just looking at our tentative schedule for next year the other day, and I was thinking about how I could fit a baby into it, so that I’d have time with the group, but also have time with the baby."

"Joey, did you ever think that maybe it’s not your kid? And she’s just preventing the inevitable?"

"I don’t care if it’s mine or not," He stated firmly. "I want this child, I want to be a Dad more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life. I never knew I could want anything as much as I want this baby." Joey finished and then stood up. "Thanks Uncle Lou, you’re- you’re a great listener, but I’m gonna go home. I have to be up in a few hours, and-"

"Are you sure you’re gonna be ok?"

"I’ll be fine." Joey nodded as he leaned down and hugged his Uncle.

"Take it easy Kid, and trust me, things will work out how their supposed to, just give it time."

"Yeah, I hope so." Joey shrugged as he slipped on his coat.

"I’ll see ya later." Lou waved goodbye as Joey headed out the front door of the restaurant.

Once outside Joey took a deep breath and then headed over to his car. He got in and just sat there for a few minutes, trying to collect his thoughts before he glanced up at the mirror and saw the large box sitting in the backseat. Joey ran his hands over his face before turning to the backseat.

He’d bought it earlier, on his way to Kate’s, but he hadn’t brought it in, figuring that he’d do it afterwards, but then she told him to leave and everything got all screwed up. He reached back and touched the cardboard with a gentle finger before reaching up and playing with the large bow that sat on top. It was one of those carrier/car seat things. He wasn’t planning on getting it, but he saw it and couldn’t resist. It was navy blue with little, light yellow stars all over it, and the first thing he thought about was carrying the baby around in it.

"I could still give it to her. There’s no use in taking it back." Joey reasoned with a light sigh before heading off.

*~*~*

It was late, or early, depending on how you look at it, when Joey pulled up in front of Kate’s house. The little red lines on the clock in his car read 3:23 am. Slowly he made his way out of the car and around to the back. He opened the door and pulled out the box before removing a pen from his coat pocket. Joey took the lid off and then scribbled a heart and then ‘Joey’ on the top of the box before placing the pen back in his pocket and quietly shutting the door. He lifted the box and then made his way up to the house, which was completely dark except for what he assumed to be the TV. Joey placed the box down, and out of curiosity tried to open the door, and sure enough it opened slowly. Expecting Kate to be sleeping on the couch he entered as quietly as possible.

He brought the car seat into the house and placed it by the door before closing it behind him and looking around the house. After a few minutes of standing perfectly still he heard the light noise of the TV coming from the nearby room. Joey headed over, and laying across the couch he saw Kate. She was sound asleep, one arm draped across her stomach and the other hanging off the couch. He continued into the room, where he heard a familiar voice coming from the TV.

"N Sync will be in Orlando this-" Joey hurried over and shut the TV off before grabbing a blanket from a nearby chair and laying it gently over Kate. He then moved the arm that was hanging off the side of the couch and placed it across her stomach near the other one.

"Mmm…" She murmured with a sigh as she rolled over. Joey stood still, trying not to wake her, but before long her eyes fluttered open. "Joe?" She asked quietly as she willed her eyes open.

"Uh, yeah, yeah it’s me." Joey answered softly as he bent down in front of her and began running his hands over her soft, blonde hair.

"You got my card?" Kate asked with wide eyes.

"No…no, I just forgot to drop something off earlier so I came by after visiting my Uncle. I haven’t been home yet." Kate just stared at him for a few moments while an unjustified silence hung in the air between them.

"I told JC."

"What um, what did he say?" Joey inquired as he sat down on the floor, and Kate sat up. She reached over and turned on the light before continuing.

"If he wasn’t with Bobbee I think he’d do it." Kate nodded as she tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. "But he is. He talked about how he would do it if he wasn’t with her, and if he wasn’t ‘JC Chasez of N Sync’." Kate paused for a second as she looked down at Joey. "Which is crap, ya know? If he wanted to be a father then he’d figure out some way, but he apparently doesn’t care. And then I told him about you, and he said to let you do it." Again Kate paused. "Joey, I want you to do it. I know how much you want to, and I want you to. So, will you-"

"God Kate, of course I’ll do it." Joey laughed as he got up and wrapped his arms around her. "I’m gonna be a Daddy." He laughed as he pulled away. "I’m gonna be a Daddy." He repeated softly.

*~*~*

JC laid in his bed, the dark of the night surrounding him, and a gentle, petit figure lay next to him. Her soft hair lay strewn across the pillow, and her tiny hands held tightly to the thick, down comforter, which lay atop her. He lay there for a few minutes as he stared at the ceiling before loud cries filled the silent house.

A smile formed across his face as he glanced over at the clock by his bed; 2:35, right on time. The woman next to him rolled over, and then started to sit up, but JC sprung up faster.

"I got him." He said before kissing her on the top of the head. She nodded and then fell back into bed. JC left his room and then headed into the room right next door. Upon entering the loud cry became even louder and he headed over to the little brown crib, which sat in the corner of the room.

The room itself was like a toy store. There were baby toys, and stuffed animals everywhere. It was the perfect little boy’s room. Once he reached the crib he leaned down and lifted the tiny baby into his arms.

"Shhh, it’s ok buddy, Daddy’s here. Everything’s ok." JC stated in an attempt to comfort his young son. He continued crying, and JC ran his hands up and down his back and then ran his nose through his son’s baby fine, dark brown hair. He walked over to the rocker in the opposite corner of the room before sitting down. JC adjusted the baby in his arms so that he was looking up at him, and then sang the first thing that came to mind. "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky, Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are." The little boy’s loud cries diminished, and he sunk comfortably into his father’s arms before once again falling into a deep sleep. JC just sat there and held the tiny child in his arms.

And then he woke up. He was in his bed, and next to him was Bobbee. There was no nursery, no rocker, no baby boy, and no lullaby- only a single tear, which rolled down his cheek like a little river trying to find it’s way out to sea.

 

Part 5

 

The Next Best Thing: A Family

JC walked into the little room with a quiet hesitation. His dark brown hair was held back by a navy blue baseball hat, and his ocean blue eyes focused intently on the man in front of him.

"You done?" JC asked, trying to make his voice as amicable as possible. He sighed silently, and then shoved his hands into his pants pockets.

"Um, yeah." The other man nodded as he put a sweatshirt into his bag, and then ran his hands through his thick, blonde hair. "I didn’t really have much to do anyway." He shrugged as he slung his bag over his shoulder.

JC lowered his head and pretended to be preoccupied with his shoe. It had been 3 months. The hardest three months of his life. He and Joey barely talked, and when they did it was on a need to know basis, and usually only had to do with the group. The two didn’t hang out like they used to, and there was an uncomfortable tension in their air between them.

And then there was Kate. He had held his phone in her hand, ready to dial her number, but he couldn’t bring himself to doing so. He’d just stare at the phone, and then out into oblivion. And, after a considerable amount of time, he’d convince himself that he’d done the right thing. Even though he hadn’t really talked to Joey, he knew he was happy. Everything about him was different, his smile was so much more sincere, and his happiness was so much more contagious. Something JC desperately needed to catch.

JC glanced up and watched as Joey walked over to the door. With a side-step JC planted himself between Joey and the door. He felt his stomach turn as he looked Joey in the eye for the first time since everything. He swallowed hard, and then opened his mouth.

"How is she?" He asked softly. Joey took a step back, in utter shock that JC actually cared. He kind of knew that he did, but he never thought he’d admit to it.

"She’s good. She had bad morning sickness in the beginning, but everything’s ok now. She’s pretty big too. I think it’s cute, but she hates it." Joey smiled as he shook his head back and forth. He watched JC’s eyes drop. JC forged a smile.

"And the baby, everything’s normal, right? Healthy?" He checked.

"As of our last visit. We have another appointment tomorrow." Joey answered, now starting to get uncomfortable. Why was JC so concerned? He told Kate he wanted nothing to do with it.

"Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?"

"No, it’s still early. And Kate doesn’t want to know. Not yet at least." Joey explained.

"Oh." Was all JC could answer.

"Look man, I’ve got to go. Kate and I are going over my parents for lunch. We’re telling them about the baby, her parents are going to be there." Joey informed him. JC sighed. It was supposed to be him, him holding her hand, him telling people of the news, him going shopping for the nursery and helping pick out baby names. But it wasn’t him, it was Joey.

"When are you telling the other guys?" JC ventured as he stepped out of Joey’s way.

"Tomorrow, after the doctors. I’m telling them and management." Joey answered.

"How do you think management will take it?" JC questioned as Joey opened the door.

"Don’t care." Joey shrugged as he walked out of the room. JC wished he could have that care free attitude, that ‘I don’t care’ persona, but he couldn’t. He wanted it, but he couldn’t have it. Like the baby.

At first he didn’t really care if Joey adopted the baby. But then everything started floating into his head. He would be a part of the baby’s life, but not as Daddy, but rather Uncle JC. He’d be watching his child grow up, without the baby knowing who he was. He would be on the outside looking in.


Joey walked down the halls of the recording studio. He passed one of the rooms and saw Justin and Chris singing something, and Lance was waiting outside on a chair, fast asleep. He smiled to himself and then proceeded outside, letting the warm, mid-summer sun engluph him before heading over to his car and heading off towards Kate’s.

*~*~*

"Do I look pregnant to you?" Kate asked as soon as Joey walked through the door. She was wearing a light pink button up polo shirt, and the sleeves were rolled to just below her elbows. She had on khaki shorts and brown sandals, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.

"Hello to you too." Joey laughed as he looked her over. "No, you look cute."

"Joe, seriously." Kate implored as she ran her hands over her stomach.

"Kate, seriously, you are pregnant." Joey smiled.

"Yeah, but I don’t want our parents or anyone to know until we tell them. So if I show up in this, do you think they’ll figure it out right away?" Kate explained her reasoning.

"No, you can’t tell because you’re shirt’s baggy." Joey shrugged. "Can I go get changed now?" He asked as he raised the duffel bag in his hand.

"Changed? Why? You look fine. And we’re going to be late."

"Kate, I’m a guy, it’ll take me all of two minutes." Joey laughed as he handed her the plastic bag he had in his other hand and then headed back to the bathroom.

"What’s this?" Kate called back to him as she opened the plastic bag.

"Soda. You were low last night-" Joey called back as she heard him rooting through his bag.

"I can’t have caffeine."

"That’s why it’s caffeine free." Joey yelled.

"Man, you know more about this whole thing than I do." Kate laughed as she placed the soda in the refrigerator, and a few minutes later Joey came back out. He was wearing baggy khaki capri like pants, that came down a little past his knees, brown sandals, and a dark gray no-sleeve top.

"What do you think, is the hair too big?" He asked as he ran his hands through his hair.

"In comparison to what? The Empire State building? Cause then the answer would be no." She laughed.

"Haha." He smirked shaking his head.

"No, it’s fine." Kate smiled and she reached for his hand, almost instinctively. Joey hesitated for a minute, caught off-guard by the gesture, before settling into it and then the two headed out.


"Have you talked to JC at all?" Joey questioned as they headed towards his parent’s house in downtown Orlando.

"Um, no, why?" Kate said glancing over at Joey.

"He asked about you today before I left." Joey glanced over at her. Kate looked down at her growing abdomen and ran her finger over it gently. Joey paused and there was a silence in the air between them for a few moments. "He sounded like he cared. Like he wanted to maybe-"

"What? Be a part of the baby’s life?" Kate asked hesitantly. Joey’s stomach dropped at the way she said the words. He couldn’t help but pick up the gleam of hope in them.

"He was just asking how you were, and if everything was OK with the baby." Joey swallowed. Again there was an uncomfortable silence, letting each process their own thoughts. "Would you let him?" Joey asked as they turned down the street on which his parents lived. Kate’s eyes were focused on her hands, which were nervously playing with one of the buttons on her shirt.

"I thought about it." Kate said almost ashamed. The truth was that it had been nearly 2 and a half months since the day she told JC about the baby. And, in those two months she had a lot of time alone with her thoughts. She knew that Joey wanted to be in the baby’s life, and she wanted him in the baby’s life. But would that be better than the child’s real father? She didn’t know if she could bring herself to forgive JC for everything he said that day, but she did know, that if he ever did come to her, begging to be in the baby’s life, she would never be able to turn him away.

But then there was Joey. He took on the whole situation so well. He would call her every night before bed, making sure everything was fine, and he’d call again in the morning, checking to make sure she didn’t need anything. He’d bring her dinner, and breakfast, and with every meal came a new toy for the baby. He was happy. He was truly happy. But he wasn’t the baby’s real father. And, she still couldn’t help but think what would happen if JC did come to her and ask to be a Dad to the child.

"Oh." Was all Joey could get out as they pulled up to his parent’s house. Kate’s parent’s car was in the driveway. They were the last one’s there. "Hey, why don’t you go ahead in. I’m gonna take a little drive." He couldn’t help but feel like a safety net. JC didn’t want the baby, so he was there. And he was happy about it. He thought about it all the time, and every time he thought about it he smiled. He’d never been so anticipant of anything in his life. But, still, in the pit of his stomach he had this unsecure feeling. Like everything could change with one simple word. At first he thought the decision was in Kate’s hand, but as time went along he saw that it was in JC’s. He didn’t know if he would be able to commit himself fully, and then be expected to just step back and be ‘Uncle Joey’ when, and if JC decided that he did want to be a father to his son or daughter.

"Joey, come on, don’t do this." Kate pleaded as she gently placed her hand on his forearm.

"I don’t like me being here through everything, and then at the drop of a dime I could be gone, because JC decides that he wants to be in the baby’s life." Kate didn’t say anything, and Joey stared straight ahead, avoiding her gaze. "And how could you let him be in the baby’s life after he flat out rejected it? After he looked you in the eyes and said ‘No’?" Joey questioned.

"You said no." Kate pointed out. She didn’t want to start a fight, but she felt as if it had to be said. "And then you said yes."

"Yeah, but it’s not my own child. I didn’t say no to my own child." Joey paused. "And besides, I’m doing it. You’re telling me that if JC came to you and asked, you’d just ignore everything I’ve done, and everything I’ve promised to do for him?" Joey questioned. Kate’s mouth moved, but nothing came out. She couldn’t choose her words carefully enough. She let out a sigh and ran her hands over her face.

"I don’t know what I would do. Ideally I would want the baby to be with his or her biological father-"

"Oh, so I’m just second in line? What the hell did you mean when you told me that you didn’t want JC to have anything to do with this kid? Were you just lying to see how far you could get me to go? Kate, what are you doing, and what do you want?" Kate just shook her head. "I can’t devote myself to this child, if in the end your just going to end up taking him from me."

"I’m not going to. JC’s not going to come and beg to be in the baby’s life, because that’s not the kind of person he is. I want you to be in this child’s life, I want you to be his father, because you will, and are going to be an awesome one. I have my doubts sometimes, but how can I not? Every time I feel the baby move, every time I look down at my stomach I think of him, because in the end, I am carrying his child. But, in the end I want you to be there for him, not JC. It’s you Joey. It’s always going to be you." Kate tried to assure him. Joey just stared. She had started off saying one thing, and she had finished saying another.

"I’ve just given everything I have to this baby. I’ve tried my best to bond with the baby, and give myself to him, or her completely, like I would do if it was my own. And I know that I won’t be able to deal with it, if in the end, I have to just be ‘Uncle Joey’ and I have to watch JC raise this child." Joey shook his head.

"That’s not going to happen Joey. I promise." Kate smiled. "Hey, feel this." She laughed as she grabbed his hand and placed it on her stomach. She moved it around a little bit before finally it came across where he could feel the baby kicking. He’d felt it before, but it was subtle, nothing like how it was now.

"Whoa, I think we have a soccer player." He joked as he moved his hand around her stomach, continuing to feel the tiny kicks. Kate smiled as she reached over and ran her hands through his hair.

"I’m sorry Joey." She apologized.

"No, I’m sorry." He shook his head. "I should never have acted like that. I didn’t mean to make you upset." He looked over at her. Kate could see the concern shining through his dark brown eyes.

"I’ll live." She smiled. "Now come on, I’m starving, let’s go." She laughed as the two got out of the car and headed up to the house.

*~*~*

JC held Bobbee’s hand tightly as they walked down the quaint little Orlando street. It was lined with little café’s, and tiny shops. The people looked to be care free, and no one seemed to even pay any attention to him, which is exactly how he liked it. JC’s eyes ran across all the little shops, and as they came across one he stopped abruptly.

"Jace?" Bobbee asked as JC pulled her to a halt.

"Let’s go in here." He said as he took a step towards the display window and pointed. In the window was a dark, brown crib, overflowing with stuffed animals. The window was done up like a little nursery.

"JC, are you feeling alright? That’s a baby store." Bobbee scoffed.

"Yeah, I know." JC stated, almost mesmerized by the little shop.

"Honey, we’re not having a baby. No one we know is having a baby. Why would we go in?" She questioned as she tucked a loose piece of hair behind her ear.

"This is a relaxing day, remember? We’re just going to look around, enjoy everything." JC reminded her.

"Yeah, but-" Bobbee argued.


"Baby, I’m going in. If you don’t want to, you can sit over there." JC said as he motioned to a nearby bench. Bobbee sighed, and then followed JC into the store. He walked through the door, and took the sunglasses off his eyes, and then let himself adjust to the light. Bobbee watched in confusion as JC ran wildly around the little store, like a young child in a candy store.

JC walked around, looking at all the displays. He found a cute little stuffed animal. It was a little giraffe and it looked old and tattered. Also in his rumage through the store he came across a little sleeper with a matching hat. His first impulse to buy it, but he knew that if he did he would have to attempt to explain something to Bobbee.

"What’s that?" Bobbee asked walking up to him. JC raised the giraffe and the little sleeper.

"Aren’t they cute?" JC smiled.

"Yeah." Bobbee agreed. "Gosh, they’re so small." She smiled as she reached for the little clothes. Just as she touched the soft material her cell phone rang. "I’m going to run out and get this." She opted, figuring that it she were to answer it in the store everyone would hear her conversation. Quickly JC ran up to the register and set everything down.

"Is there any way you could hold this for me until tomorrow?" JC asked the older lady behind the desk.

"Sure, honey." She smiled. "You want to surprise her?" She asked, referring to Bobbee. JC just smiled as the woman pulled out a little piece of paper. She looked up at him, and he felt her dark brown eyes staring intently at him. "Aren’t you one of those boys from that group?" She asked. Again, JC’s only response was a smile. "You are! My granddaughter has your picture on her wall." She smiled as she handed him the paper and pen. "Just write your name and I’ll hold it for a week."

"Oh, I’ll be in tomorrow. Early afternoon probably." He specified as he finished writing his name and then handed the paper back to the woman.

"Ok. I’ll see you then." She smiled warmly as JC turned and walked out of the store. He found Bobbee standing outside, and she was just hanging up her cell phone. He smiled and grabbed her hand as the two continued on down the street.

"Josh," She asked seriously. She only called him Josh when she wanted a straight-forward answer.

"Hmm?"

"Do you want a baby?" She asked sincerely. JC just smiled and then leaned over and kissed her cheek softly. Yeah, something like that. He thought to himself.

*~*~*

"Ok, who’s ready for dessert?" Janine, Joey’s mom asked as she got up from the table. Kate looked down at her plate, and played with the end of her hot-dog that was still sitting on the plate. She looked up, and glanced around at everyone. Her dad was talking about something to Joey’s Dad, better known to her as Uncle Joe. And her mom was about to get up to help Joey’s mom with dessert.

"Actually, I would like to talk to you guys first." Kate spoke up, and in and instant everyone was looking at her. She felt Joey reach behind her and rub her back for encouragement.

"Sure Kate." Janine smiled as she sat back down.

"What is it?" Kate’s mother, Ann asked with a soft smile.

"I, um…" Kate trailed off. "Ok, this is hard." She sighed as she shook her head back and forth. Joey reached under the table and took her hand in his, squeezing it gently.

"Honey, is something wrong?" Her father, Mike asked, his voice full of concern.

"I’m pregnant." Kate blurted out. She and Joey watched intently as the faces of their parents dropped. Joey attempted to act surprised by the news, but ended up with a smile on his face, resulting in him hanging his head.

"What? Kate!?" Ann exclaimed, her voice was indifferent, yet there was a sense of complete shock. "I didn’t even know you had a boyfriend!" Ann shook her head.

"I don’t." Kate said sternly.

"Are you saying that you just got pregnant by some random guy?" Mike asked his daughter, his green eyes beating intensely into her.

"No, not some random guy." She shook her head. She paused for a minute. "Joey." Joey slowly looked up to see his mother’s mouth hanging open, and his father just staring. Ann and Mike’s eyes were wider than anything he’d ever seen, and all stared at the two.

"You?" Joe Sr. asked his son.

"Yes me." Joey nodded.

"Are you dating?" Janine asked.

"No." Both answered.

"Things are different now, it’s not like when you were younger. You don’t have to be married, or dating to have a baby." Kate argued.

"Yeah, but it would be nice!" Joe Sr. replied with a huff.

"Dad, look, it doesn’t matter if we’re dating or not, what matters is that we’re going to be doing this together. I’ve never wanted anything more than I want this baby. And I know you guys may not agree with it, but I don’t care, because we’re doing it anyway." Joey stood up for himself and Kate. The four just stared at the two.

"You’ve never sounded so grown up Joe." Ann smiled over at Joey. He placed his arm around Kate.

"We’re really happy about this you guys. And-"

"If you guys are happy, then we’re happy." Janine cut her off.

"Really?" Joey asked looking around at all of them. The four adults all had far off looks in their eyes, like they were thinking seriously about the situation at hand. Which, in fact wasn’t a situation at all.

"I can’t believe that you two are having a baby." Ann laughed as she admired her daughter and Joey.

"Yeah, well, we are." Kate smiled.

"I’m happy for you guys." Mike admitted. "You two just better take this whole thing seriously. A baby is a big deal. Especially you Joey, with the group and everything. Have you thought about that?" Mike asked exactly what was on the mind of everyone else.

"The baby comes first. I’m telling management and the guys tomorrow, and those are going to be the first words out of my mouth. I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this right." He said trying to convince everyone. But Kate, the only person who really needed to be convinced, was already there. Listening to him she had never been happier in her whole entire life. She couldn’t believe that everything was unfolding how it was.

"Glad to hear it." Mike smiled. The six sat there just staring at each other with huge smiles before Kate spoke up.

"Well Aunt Jan, are we going to have desert now?" She asked with a smile.

"Sure sweety." Janine smiled as she got up from the table.

"It looks like it may rain." Ann chimed in as she too stood up. "Why don’t we finish inside?" She suggested.

"That’s fine." Janine agreed. "Joey, Joe, Mike, can you guys help us with the stuff?" She said glancing around at the food on the table.

"I can help too." Kate added as she stood up, along with the three men.

"Oh no honey! Don‘t you worry about a thing!" Janine said sweetly as everyone except Joey and Kate grabbed something and headed inside.

"I think that went well." Joey smiled.

"Yeah, it was nice actually." Kate agreed as Joey reached down and grabbed his pager from his pants. "Who is it?" Kate asked as she arched her back to stretch out.

"Um, Kell." He said as he pressed a button on the pager.

"Kelly?" Kate asked for verification.

"Yeah." Joey nodded. He looked up and saw the blank look on Kate’s face.

"Were you two going to do something tonight? You could go-"

"No, no, it’s fine." Joey shook his head. He hadn’t seen Kelly since everything with Kate. They weren’t technically boyfriend and girlfriend, but it was close enough.

"Joe, really. You haven’t seen her in months."

"Kate, really, I want to stay here. I’ll call her later." He smiled as he reached down and ran his hand slowly over her stomach. "He’s doing ok?" He asked about the baby.

"Or she." Kate laughed as she caught his dark brown eyes. She felt her heart stop for a second, and for that second she had to remind herself to breath, something she’d never experienced, let alone with Joey.

"Or She." Joey sighed gently.

"Look, if you wanna go with-"

"I don’t want to Kate. I’m staying. I really want to stay." He smiled before leaning down and kissing her cheek.



"Did you ever think this would happen?" Janine asked Ann as they watched Kate and Joey from the window.

"I don’t think so." Ann smiled. "But look at them." She sighed as she watched Joey once again run his hand over Kate’s stomach. "Look how happy they are." She observed as she crossed her arms across her chest.

"They’re having a baby." Janine laughed as she watched the interaction between her youngest son and the girl she practically considered her second daughter.

*~*~*

"Hey, what are you doing out here?" Joey questioned Kate as he walked over to her. She was sitting in the backyard on a swing, staring up at the jet black sky. There was a light breeze that shook the trees gently, and the stars were provided all the light on the two. Kate just smiled as Joey walked over and sat down next to her.

"Did you call Kelly?" She asked looking up at him. He smiled and then placed his arm around her shoulders.

"Nope." Joey shook his head.

Silence.

"You should." Kate sighed as she played with her shirt. Joey sighed at hearing how she said the words. He couldn’t tell if it was jealousy, anger, or if she was just tired from the day.

"Yeah, well." He shrugged.

Silence.

"Are you guys close? I mean are you back to, you know..." Her soft voice was carried off by the breeze of the summer night.

"Nothing serious. We have fun. But it’s definitely not serious." He shook his head.

Silence.

"Kate, do you want something to happen between...I mean, do want to...do you...What do you want?" He stammered.

"To be a family." She hesitated, and stared straight ahead. "You, me and the baby. Together." She said softly.

"You know what?" Joey smiled as he kissed the top of her head. "That’s what I want too." He gently moved her face so she was looking at him and then leaned down and kissed her softly. "A family." He smiled as he pulled away.

*~*~*

 

Part 6

 

The Next Best Thing: Beautiful Boy



The warm sun shone a soft, gentle light on the couple as they lay peacefully in bed. With a deep sigh he reached over and traced the outline of her face with his thumb before lacing his fingers through her blonde hair.

"Kate." He whispered gently, letting the letters roll of his tongue.

"Mmmm." She moaned as she rolled over to face him before willing her eyes open. "Good morning." She smiled softly.

"Good morning." He smiled back as he leaned over and kissed her sweetly.

"What time is it?" Kate asked as she stretched her arms, letting them fall around Joey’s neck.

"Quarter after 9."

"Don’t you have to be at the studio?" Kate questioned, looking at him with a smile. What had happened last night was something that she never knew she wanted, and now couldn’t imagine living without. She’d never been held and felt so safe. She’d never felt so relieved, or just completely care free. Just talking to him made her wonder why she’d never found that quality of him before. It made her wonder how he could have been keeping that soft, warm side of him a secret for so long.

"Nope." He smirked. "I told them I wouldn’t be in until 2. So," He leaned down and kissed her delicately. "We can go to the appointment. And then, I have to go tell the guys, and management and everything." He sighed.

"Do you want me to come with you?" Kate asked, and Joey smiled as he shook his head.

"No, I think I should do it alone." He knew that he probably wouldn’t get the best reaction from everyone, and he’d be able to deal with that, but he knew that if Kate were there she’d get upset.

"You think they’ll be mad?" She inquired.

"I’d say more shocked than mad. But they’ll deal with it. They’ll have to." Joey reasoned.

"And if they don’t? I’ll be like Yoko Ono." She laughed, but Joey could tell that she was serious.

"Hey, it’s a baby. A baby is good news. And, if for some reason they can’t deal with that, then fine, they won’t have to." Kate sighed and Joey reached down and laced his fingers through hers.

"You love what you do." She smiled softly. "And you’ve worked too hard, and sacrificed too much to get it."

"Yeah, but you have to draw the line somewhere."

"The line for what?" Kate asked, not totally understanding what he meant.

"I’m not going to be doing this my whole life. Eventually people are going to get tired of us, if they haven’t already. And, if I give up this," He paused and brushed her stomach gently. "Then in a few years I’m going to be kicking myself wondering why the hell I did it."

"What did I do to deserve you?" She laughed gently as Joey leaned down and kissed her gently.

*~*~*

"It’s cold." Kate jumped as the doctor placed the cool gel over her stomach. Joey smiled assuringly as he ran his hand over her forhead and then back through her hair.



"So Kate, has everything been ok?" Dr. Cassin asked as she moved the machine around on Kate’s stomach, trying to find a good picture of the baby. Joey pulled up a near-by chair and sat down next to her before taking her hand in his.

"Yeah, the baby’s been kicking, and I feel good. Just a little tired." She shrugged.

"That’s normal." The doctor nodded before a loud swishing noise filled the tiny exam room.

"Is uh…that’s, that’s the baby?" Joey stammered as his eyes became glued to the screen.

"Yep. That’s the baby." Dr. Cassin nodded as she pointed to the screen. "See, there’s the head, and the back." She explained as she pointed out the baby’s features. Kate just laughed as she turned to look at Joey, and then back to the doctor. "Would you like to know the sex?"

"I-um-We-uh…" Kate stuttered as she looked over at Joey.

"How about this, I’ll write the sex in an envelope and give it to you. If you decide that you want to know, you can open it, ok?"

"Yeah, we just didn’t really get a chance to talk about it." Kate smiled.

"And, can we have pictures? I mean, can you print that out?" Joey asked as he nodded towards the frozen picture on the screen. It may not have been his baby, but there was no doubt that he felt that feeling. That unexplainable, amazing, breath-taking feeling.

"Sure, I’ll print out a couple, and then go write the baby’s sex in an envelope." She smiled as she cleaned off Kate’s stomach and proceeded to print out the pictures.



"You want to know, don’t you?" Joey smirked as he looked over at Kate. She was holding the little white envelope tightly.

"It’d be easier. I mean, preparation wise. We could really make a nice nursery, and get all the clothes, and we could start thinking of names." Kate sighed as she shook the envelope.

"Then open it." He smiled as he pulled into the parking lot of the recording studio.

"Yeah, but then again there aren’t that many surprises in life, and this would definitely be a surprise." She sighed as she handed the envelope to Joey.

"Well? Look honey, I gotta go. Why don’t you think about it, and we’ll do it later, ok?" Joey compromised.

"Yeah, but I’m going shopping and I’d like to buy an outfit for the baby…" She trailed off as she bit her bottom lip. "Open it." She decided after a moments pause. "Open it, I want to know." She repeated. Joey laughed as he unsealed the envelope and then pulled the paper out. He unfolded it as he read the words on the paper.

All in one moment he pictured his future. Up until then he’d seen him with the baby, but now, now that he knew what it was he felt closer to it. He could see everything so much clearer now. He laughed as he shook his head back and forth.

"It’s a boy." He said softly.

"A boy? A boy." Kate laughed as she reached over and wrapped her arms around Joey’s neck.

"I’m gonna have a son- we’re gonna have a son!" Joey exclaimed happily as he saw Chris exit the studio. "Damn, Chris is coming." He cursed under his breath.


"Go and tell them. I’ll see you later." Kate smiled.

"Here." Joey said reaching into his pocket and pulling out his credit card. "Get him something nice." He laughed before kissing her sweetly and then getting out of the car.

*~*~*

Joey looked around at the four men in the room. Justin was sitting next to Chris, and they were playing some game on his cell phone, and Lance was playing with the sleeve of his shirt, waiting for whatever was to come. Johnny sighed as grabbed the bridge of his nose before looking at Joey. Everyone was there; everyone except JC. He’d decided not to come, making up some excuse about having to pick something up.

But, Joey knew that it was just that- an excuse. He had been in the room with Kate, and he saw the tiny baby on the screen. He more than anyone knew what JC was missing out on. And, no matter how many times Joey tried to convince himself that JC had done it to himself he still couldn’t help but feel for him.

"What’s up Joe?" Johnny prompted. Joey didn’t know what to say, so he did the first logical thing he could think of. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the little black and white ultra sound picture. With a smile he handed it to Johnny.

"That’s my son." He said proudly. Almost instantaneously Justin dropped his cell phone, and Lance practically ripped off his sleeve.

"Lemme see that." Chris said as he walked over and took the picture from Johnny. "Your son?" He questioned looking up at Joey.

"My son." Joey nodded. "Um, he’s due December 11th. And, I really don’t know what else to say, except…Yeah, I don’t know what else to say." Joey shook his head. What else could he say? He wasn’t going to tell them about the whole JC thing, they didn’t need to know, and knowing them, they didn’t want to know. He would raise the little boys as his, the only ones who would know were he, Kate and JC. It was no one else’s business.

"With who? Kelly?" Justin asked as Chris handed him the picture. A slight smile graced Justin’s face and he looked up at Joey before handing the picture to Lance.

"Kate." Joey said simply. The three group members faces dropped.

"Are you getting married?" Johnny asked, his expression was blank. Joey knew that he was thinking more about the group than him.

"We’re together, and maybe eventually we’ll be married. But as of now, no." Joey shook his head.

"Do you know what this is going to look like? A 24-year-old, unmarried Pop-Star gets a girl pregnant? Joey, what were you thinking?" Johhny prompted. You didn’t have to be very receptive to hear the aggravation in his voice.

"What? The group, is all you can think about? Fuck the group, Johnny! I’m having a baby. I don’t care what everyone thinks, or says. I’m going to be there for my son, and for Kate. We don’t need to be married or whatever. I’m not your puppet, I’m not going to not have a private life because of this group. And, if you guys can’t deal with that, then I’ll leave. It’s not like I’m a huge part of this anyway. I go to the interviews, smile, and comment about how much I love women. I bet you could find someone else to do that." He took a deep breath. He’d said it. He’d finally said what was on his mind. "I’m doing this, and if you can’t deal with it, then you don’t have to." He took the picture of the baby before turning and storming out.

He’d just given up everything for JC’s son. For JC’s mistake. For JC’s lies. For JC. He swallowed hard as he looked down at the picture of the baby. He hadn’t given up everything.

"Don’t worry about him Joe. He’ll get over it." Joey heard Chris say from behind him. "You’re not going anywhere. We won’t let you." Chris assured him with a smile.

"It’s a baby, Chris." Joey sighed. "You’re supposed to be happy when you hear about a baby. It’s good news. If I wasn’t Joey Fatone everyone would be happy." He shook his head.

"Are you happy?" Chris asked blankly as he took the picture from Joey and looked at it once again.

"Yeah." Joey nodded.

"Then I’m happy. And so is everyone else. If you’re happy, then we’re happy." Chris smiled as he handed the picture to Joey. Joey, a father. He laughed softly to himself before convincing Joey to come back into the studio.

*~*~*

JC’s breath caught in his throat as soon as he saw her. He knew that eventually they’d run into each other, but now….he wasn’t expecting it to be now. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and her green eyes sparkled as they searched through the little rack of baby clothes. But, what he was immediately drawn to was her stomach. It was larger now, and his baby was in there. How could he have been so stupid? How could he have looked at her, and told her no? How could he have ever told her no?

He watched intently as she came across a little plaid shirt. She looked at it as her face lit up, and then she placed it over her arm. Kate continued looking through the other clothes, taking a couple more outfits, which looked to be for boys and then heading over towards him. She didn’t see him, but he knew that if he didn’t move quick, she would.

"JC?" He heard her soft voice call, and his heart melted. It had been so long. So long since he heard her call his name. So long since she’d stood before him. He wanted to cry, he wanted to laugh, he wanted to run to her and just tell her how big of a mistake he’d made. He wanted to tell her about his sleepless nights, about the times he’d loose himself in thought about his unborn child. "What are you doing here?" She asked, her voice was flat. He said nothing but lifted the two items he’d put on lay away the day before.

"I saw them, and I thought of the baby." He nodded towards her stomach. Kate wanted to turn and walk away. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction, but she couldn’t help but smile.

"I don’t need, or want anything from you JC." She said with an ironic smile.

"But the baby." He whispered softly, before making sure his hat was down far enough to cover up his identity. "What do you think she wants?"

"He. It’s a boy. And, he wants a father. You denied him that." She sighed as she moved past him.

"It’s a boy?" JC muttered softly under his breath without moving an inch. "A son?"

"Not your son. My son, and Joey’s son. Never will he be your son." She repeated again before making her way up to the register. She had to get out of there before she lost it. She thought of JC all the time, mostly because of the baby, and after what happened yesterday with Joey she knew that she had to get away from him, for her own sake, and for Joey’s.

Kate paid for everything and quickly exited the little store before hurrying down the street. As soon as she was outside she removed her sunglasses from her pocket and put the over her eyes. Trying to hide what was in them. She didn’t make it very far before she felt his hand on her arm. He turned her to face him, and the two stared at each other for a minute.

"I won’t let you do this to me JC." She shook her head as she felt tears welling up in her eyes. JC just stared at her, and with a hesitant move he placed his hand gently on her stomach.

"I bet he’ll be beautiful. My beautiful boy." He smiled sadly before removing his hand. He reached into his own pocket and pulled out his sunglasses before placing them on. Kate’s mouth moved, but nothing came out. What was she supposed to say? What was she supposed to do? She had Joey. Joey was there for her and the baby. But then there was JC, the baby’s biological father. Everyone made mistakes, she knew that better than anyone, but could she possibly forgive his mistakes?

Kate caught herself before she thought the next thing coming into her mind. It wasn’t a mistake. JC knew damn well what he did when he did it.

"I never want you to do that again." She said as her voice shook, and she placed her hand on her stomach. JC watched as she turned and walked down the street, taking with her his son.

*~*~*

Part 7

Disclaimer: I don’t own any of the guys of N Sync or their family…is it possible to own a person? Cause I wouldn’t mind keeping Joey on my shelf…hehe…I do however own Kate and the baby and any other made up characters.


The Next Best Thing: Beautiful Boy Part Two: A Miracle


"Do you ever think it could snow in Orlando?" Bobbee questioned between sips of her hot chocolate as she peered out the glass door in the back of JC’s downtown home.

"Sure." JC shrugged as he rooted through a box of ornaments. The large green pine tree sat bare over in the corner in desperate need of decoration.

"This year?" She proposed as she walked over and sat down next to him, helping him root through the cardboard box.

"Maybe. It would kind of be a miracle, but, yeah…why not?" He shrugged as he pulled out a little pair of shoes from the box. They were from his first Christmas. He didn’t say anything as he got up and walked over to the tree, setting the little ornament prominently in the center.

*~*~*

"Well, whatda ya think?" Joey asked as he scratched the side of his head.

"It’s beautiful baby." Kate smiled from the couch. Her stomach was big now, and the baby was due any day. It took a lot of convincing, but Kate finally agreed to move in with Joey. They were going great, but the move was more for the baby than anything. They wanted to raise the little boy as normal as possible, and the first step was having parents that lived together. They were together anyway, so the move was a sensible decision.

"Oh God Kate, the nursery’s beautiful!" Janine smiled as she and Joe Sr. entered the family room where Kate and Joey were.

"Thanks Aunt Jan." Kate smiled as she looked back at her. After a brief contemplation they’d decided on Noah’s Ark for the baby’s room, and ever since the decision they’d been bombarded with various stuffed animals, which were now almost overflowing the room.

"You’re not putting on any ribbon or anything?" Joe asked his youngest son as he examined the Christmas tree.

"I don’t think so…why? Do you think it needs it? I didn’t want it to be too cluttered, you know? Just a few ornaments, and once the baby’s born we’ll add a few of those ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ ones." Joey explained as he reached down and rubbed Kate’s shoulders.

"I still think it could use some ribbon." Joe shook his head. "When are your parents getting here Kate?" He asked as he turned to Kate, who was having a totally different conversation with Janine.

"Sorry Uncle Joe, what did you say?" Kate asked rubbing her stomach in a circular motion.

"When are your parents getting here Honey?" He asked again.

"Oh, um, they said they’d be here around 5." She said glancing down at her watch. It was quarter till.

"Alright, that’s enough time. Joey, you and I are gonna run down to the store and buy some ribbon for that tree." Joe said as he dragged Joey out of the house and down to the store.

*~*~*

"Can you see what it is?" Joe asked his son as the two attempted to get a good look at the stretch of road before them. The store they ended up going to was only about 20 minutes away, but for some reason the ride home was taking an eternity.

"It’s probably an accident." Joey reasoned as he fell back into the seat and looked down at the clock. It was 5:24. "Great idea Dad." He sighed as he ran his hands through his hair.

"C’mon Joe, we got the ribbon, didn’t we?"

"The ribbon we didn’t need." Joey rolled his eyes.

"I only hope your son shows you the same gratitude you show me." He laughed.

"Haha." Joey shook his head as his cell phone rang. "Hello?"

"Joey! Where are you?" His mother’s voice screamed into the phone.

"Trying to get home. There’s some kind of accident on Browler. It’s backed all the way up." Joey explained, and he heard Kate scream something in the background. "Was that Kate? What’s wrong? Is everything ok?"

"Joey, Kate’s water broke, we have to get her to the hospital." Janine said in a soft voice, trying to keep calm, and keep her son calmer.

"Wh-what? Now? The baby…she’s…now!?" He yelled shaking his head.

"Joey, where are you?" He heard Kate’s voice on the other end.

"I’m on my way sweetie. It’s ok." He said gently.

"My back was hurting all day, I just thought it was an ache, and then…" She trailed off.

"Hey, it’s fine. Everything’s fine. You go over to the hospital with my mom and we’ll meet you there, ok?"

"I’m scared Joey." She said almost inaudibly.

"I know baby. It’s ok. We’re having a baby!" He laughed.

"Joey, we’re going to go, we’ll meet you there." His mother’s voice once again came onto the phone.

"Keep her calm, ok mom? Make sure she’s ok?"

"Don’t worry honey, everything will be fine." Janine assured her son.

"Alright mom, bye."

"Bye Joey." Joey hung up the phone and turned to his father.

"Kate’s in labor." He said simply. He was going to be a father. The reality of the situation hit him now more than ever.

*~*~*

"Can you tell me what room Kate Douglas is in?" Joey asked the little red head woman behind the desk.

"Are you family?" She smiled. She knew him.

"I’m the father." He confirmed, which was exactly what she was waiting to hear. They’d tried their best to keep this whole thing a secret, and he knew by telling this woman everything was completley blown.

"Room 402. Down the hall and second door to the right." She smiled after typing Kate’s name into the computer.

"Thanks." Joey nodded before running off down the hall. "Mom!" He yelled as he came to a quick halt before almost colliding with his mother.

"Hey sweetie, slow down." She laughed as she placed her hand on his upper arm, just below his shoulder.

"How is she, is everything all right?"

"She’s fine, and so is the baby. He’s got a good heart beat, and everything looks great." Janine paused for a minute, taking in the relieved look on Joey’s face. "They said she’s moving quickly, and there’s a good chance he’ll be here before midnight." She smiled as Joe Sr. walked up to them.

"Really? Tonight?" He knew it was coming, but tonight…he had no idea when he woke up this morning that he would be a father before the day was over.

"Yeah." Janine confirmed with a nod. "Go in and see her, she’s asking for you." She nodded towards the door. Joey smiled and then turned and headed into the room. Her parents were talking to her, apparently trying to calm her down. The baby was due in two days, but for some reason it seemed as though they still had months to prepare. But now it was all coming at them full force. They would have a baby. Tonight.

"Hey honey." Joey said gently, making his presence known. Kate’s parents smiled before leaving the room so Kate and Joey could be alone. "How are you feeling?" He asked as he walked over next to her and sat down in a chair.

"Scared." She smiled truthfully. "For some reason I thought we had a lot more time." She shook her head. "We haven’t even picked a name." She sighed shaking her head.

"You liked Jackson, right? That’s cute…Jackson Douglas." He said the name hesitantly.

"Fatone." Kate corrected him. Joey smiled as he reached for her hand and kissed it gently.

"Ok, Fatone." He said softly.

"And I don’t know about Jackson…it’s cute…Jack…but I don’t know…" She trailed off shaking her head.

"Well, we still have a few hours." Joey laughed before the air between them grew silent. Each knew exactly what the other was thinking, and it was the same exact thing. Even though they planned on keeping it out of mind, it was inevitable that it would come up. Joey rubbed Kate’s hand softly as both figured out whether to speak their mind or not. After a few minutes of silence, Joey spoke up. "Are you gonna call him?" He asked as he cleared his throat.

Kate said nothing, but stared down at her stomach, and then she glanced over to where the baby’s heart monitor was. Her mind was racing. It felt like just yesterday she was sitting across from Joey in the hotel with his hand on her stomach, telling him about the baby. And now everything she’d tried to make so perfect for the past few months was finally coming together. Her son was finally going to be in her arms. But, every time she closed her eyes all she could see was the blue of JC’s eyes looking back at her. And, the whole time she couldn’t help but think about if they handed him to her, and he was a picture of his father; a picture of the man she would rather forget. A picture of the man she couldn’t forget.

"What if the baby looks just like him…" She thought out loud, letting the words roll softly off her tongue as a sharp pain hit her. Her face scrunched together, and she grabbed her stomach lightly.

"Contraction?" Joey asked, although he already knew the answer. Kate nodded a yes, and Joey leaned foreword and kissed her forehead while rubbing her arm and breathing with her. After it subsided they each stared at the other with blank faces. "I already told you that I’m going to love him no matter what. Whether he’s green, orange, pink, purple, or if he’s JC’s exact clone. He’ll still be my son." Joey confirmed with an assuring nod.

"He should know though." Kate looked over at him. "Call and tell him, but I don’t want him here, ok? Tell him not to come." She made sure she was clear.

"Alright." Joey nodded. "You don’t want to call him?"

"No. I can’t talk to him." She shook her head as she lowered it slowly.

"I’ll take care of it baby, don’t worry." Joey smiled as he got up and headed out to call JC.

*~*~*

"She’s having him? Now? She’s having him now?" JC stammered softly into the phone so Bobbee wouldn’t be able to hear. She was still oblivious to the whole thing, and for now that’s exactly how he wanted it to stay. In the back of his mind he couldn’t help but hope that once his son was born Kate would have some amazing realization and come to him, asking for him to be in both her and his son’s life. And, to that proposal he’d say yes without a second thought. Somewhere deep down he thought that the baby’s birth would change everything, especially his life, and hopefully it’d be for the better.

"They say by midnight." Joey said into the phone as he leaned against the wall near the pay phone. Over the past few months he’d watched his relationship with JC crumble. Out of all the guys he and JC were never the closest, JC’s mindset was always on the music and work, while Joey focused on the fun aspect of the whole thing. Still JC was one of his closest friends, and he came to the conclusion that he would have to break that bond in order to make his bond with Kate stronger.

"And she doesn’t want me there?" JC questioned as his voice fell. He hadn’t talked to her since that day outside the store. He still had the outfit for the baby, but he never worked up enough guts to give it to her, or to Joey for that matter. Every time he looked at Joey he saw the life he knew he could be leading. The life he wanted to be leading.

"No. We’re just going to do this. Me and Her. You didn’t want to be there in the beginning, and you don’t deserve to be there now." Joey glanced around to make sure no one was around.

"If I knew I would have loved him-"

"You don’t love him." Joey hissed.

"I never got the chance to." JC thought about the words, cursing them as soon as they left his lips. He did. He had the chance. Everything was up to him, and he threw it all away. He practically handed Joey a girlfriend and a son.

"Don’t give me that bull Josh, she asked you, and you said no. You denied your own son." Joey scolded him, his voice filling with anger by the minute.

Josh. How JC wished that he could be Josh again. Josh would never have told Kate no. Josh would have been there with her, he would have been there holding her hand. He would have been there to see his son. But, it wasn’t Josh. It was JC. JC Chasez. Is it really possible that a name can change that much?

"Stop saying that! Dammit Joey stop saying that!" JC yelled angrily into the phone.

"JC?" He heard Bobbee call and he heard footsteps enter his office, where he was talking on the phone. "Is something wrong?" She inquired from the doorway.

"Um, no. I’ll be out in a minute." He nodded. Bobbee smiled, not totally believing him, and then turned to walk out. "When you see him tonight, just remember that your holding my son, not yours. I’m his father." JC shot back something that would hit Joey just as hard.

"You may be his father." Joey said through clenched teeth. "But I’m his Daddy." With that he hung up the phone before slowly walking over to a chair nearby and letting his legs fall out from under him. He placed his elbows on his knees before burring his head in his hands. Soon a little baby would be placed in those hands. His baby, regardless of what JC thought. A Dad wasn’t someone who makes the baby, it’s someone who’s there for the baby. And Joey was there. Everyday, every night, he was there. And, it was safe to say that he’d be there tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and 10 years from that. Because, regardless of JC’s theory, Joey was the little boys Daddy, and the little boy was Joey’s son.

*~*~*

"Alright Kate, one more push and you have your son." Dr. Cassin smiled.

"I can’t. I can’t do this." Kate shook her head as she fell back onto the bed, looking up at Joey for some sort of way out.

"Yes you can. You have no other choice." Joey laughed. "And it’s my turn to hold him now…you’ve had him for nine months." He laughed as Kate cracked a smile.

"I guess it’s kinda fair." She laughed gently.

"Alright Kate, this is it, here we go." Dr. Cassin said softly, and Kate leaned foreward and pushed with all that she had left. Joey steadied her with his hand on her back. "It’s a boy." She announced as she turned her back and handed the baby to a nearby nurse.

"Is he ok? Why isn’t he crying? Joey?" She looked up at him.

"He’s fine honey." Joey said, trying to quell her nerves along with his own. "You did so beautifully baby." He kissed the top of her head.

"I don’t hear him. Why don’t I hear him? Shouldn’t he be crying?" She panicked as she looked over and saw a group of nurses, and one doctor huddled around the baby.

"He’ll cry." Dr. Cassin said looking up at Kate. And, withtin seconds a loud wail could be heard throughout the hospital. "See." She said as both Joey and Kate let out a sigh of relief.

"Can I see him?" Kate asked as she and Joey watched as a nurse carried the little bundle over.

"Of course." She smiled as she laid the baby on Kate’s chest.

"Oh God." Kate muttered almost inaudbly. Her pain was gone at the first glimpse of her son. "God Joey, look at him. Oh God, he’s so beautiful." She laughed as tears fell slowly out of her emerald green eyes.

"Hey buddy, I’m your Daddy." Joey laughed, and Kate smilde as she moved the little blue hat on his head back, revealing a whole head of dark brown hair.

"Look." She laughed happily as the tears continued falling. She held the baby closely as he cried, and it was like music to her ears.

"God Kate, he’s perfect." Joey smiled as his brown eyes became covered with tears. "He’s absolutely perfect." He repeated as he leaned down and kissed the little boys nose.

"Hear that baby, Daddy says your perfect." Kate smiled. "Here Joe." She said raising the baby to Joey. Joey swallowed hard as he took the baby into his arms. In an instant he felt that indescribable, amazing feeling that he’d been praying he would.

As Kate watched Joey admired the baby she wished more than anything, that by some streak of weird luck the little boy would look just like Joey. But, as Joey raised the baby close to his face and smiled at Kate, she saw JC looking right back at her.

*~*~*

"Well, he needs a name." Kate smiled as she looked down at the baby boy in her arms, and then up at Joey, who was standing contentedly over them with a smile on her face.

"Jackson?" Joey asked as he reached down and ran his hand over his son’s head.

"Nah." She shook her head. "He doesn’t look like a Jackson."

"Can I see him?" Joey asked hopefully.

"Sure." Kate smiled as she handed the baby over to his Daddy. Joey sat down in the chair next to the bed and stared down at the little boy. "What about Joseph?"

"Kate, don’t do that." He shook his head.

"Why not? I like it." She argued lightly.

"It’ll be too confusing. What about Caden?"

"Sounds too much like craven." She laughed, and Joey rolled his eyes with a smile as he looked down at the innocent baby in his arms. As he looked at him all he could think about was how unprepared he was for being a father, and how he was totally clueless, but at the same time how much he wanted to do it, and how much he would do it the best he could. Slowly a memory from months ago drifted slowly into his mind.

"The things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." Joey said softly as he ran his thumb over the baby’s forehead.

"Joey, that’s beautiful." Kate commented.

"Aristotle said that." He smiled as he leaned down and kissed the little boy’s forehead.

"That’s it." Kate smiled as it hit her.

"What?" Joey asked as he moved the baby closer to him.

"Aris. Aris Joseph Fatone. That’s the name." She smiled happily. Once Joey said the quote she remembered hearing the name a few years back when she was in Greece. And, it had a meaning. The quote was something she felt, and she knew Joey felt, and considering the child was the first for both of them, and both would be learning things through him, the name just fit.

"Aris." Joey said softly as he looked down at the wide eyed baby. "Aris." He repeated. "Aris." He said again with a smile, confirming the name. "It’s perfect." He smiled as he leaned down once again and kissed his son’s head. "I love you Aris." He whispered softly.

*~*~*

Kate was sound asleep from what was no doubt a tiring day, and even though Joey knew he should be getting home, he didn’t want to leave his son. He knew that when the baby was born he’d feel different, but how he felt now was something that he never, and could never expect. He never knew that he was capable of loving someone so much, someone he’d know for such a short amount of time at that. And, he never knew that he could be so happy about commitment. The word that usually scared him made him smile now. Commitment. He had a life-long commitment to the little boy in his arms, and the farthest thought from his mind was breaking free from that.

Soft at first, and then getting increasingly louder Aris started to fuss, which eventually turned into a cry. Joey continued rocking him, but that proved frivolous, so he stood slowly and began rocking the baby in his arms as he walked around the room, attempting to quiet him before Kate woke up from her much needed rest. As that soon proved to no avail Joey did the next thing that came to his mind. He sang, and it was the song that was in his head from the moment he found out the baby was a boy. Clearing his throat he began.

"Close your eyes, Have no fear, The monster's gone, He's on the run and your daddy's here…" He started, and almost immediately Aris settled down. "Hey, you like that? Huh buddy? Do you like Daddy’s singing?" He asked with an ironic laugh. At least his son liked his voice. With a smile he watched as Aris smacked his lips, and then opened his eyes slowly, blinking frequently. "You want to hear more?" Joey laughed before continuing with the song. "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful boy, Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Beautiful boy, Before you go to sleep, Say a little prayer, Every day in every way, It's getting better and better…" Joey paused as he bent down and kissed Aris’ head sweetly before rocking him back and forth in his arms. "Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful boy, Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful boy, Out on the ocean sailing away, I can hardly wait, To see you come of age, But I guess we'll both just have to be patient, 'Cause it's a long way to go, A hard row to hoe, Yes it's a long way to go, But in the meantime…" Again he paused, this time grabbing Aris’ little hand with his own, and within a few moments Aris managed to wrap all his tiny fingers around Joey’s thumb. Tears were in his eyes, yet he continued singing, enjoying the effect it had on his little boy. "Before you cross the street, Take my hand, Life is what happens to you, While you're busy making other plans , Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful boy, Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful boy, Before you go to sleep, Say a little prayer, Every day in every way, It's getting better and better, Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Beautiful boy, Darling, darling, darling, Darling Aris." Joey finished, changing the name in the song from Sean to Aris. He sighed contentedly as he looked down at the sleeping figure in his arms. His son, his beautiful, beautiful boy.

*~*~*

His feet hit the white linoleum floor softly as he made his way down the long hallway of the maternity floor. He stopped suddenly outside the door, clasping the little shopping bag in his hands tightly. With a deep breath he entered the little room, which was pitch black except for the light of the moon from the large window on the wall opposite from him.

The first thing he noticed was her sleeping form on the bed before him. Even in her sleep she had a peaceful look on her face. He sighed regrettably as he ran his hand through his dark brown hair; he’d never taken the time to watch her sleep before. Slowly he walked further into the room and placed the bag he was carrying down on one of the chairs before he spotted the little bed with the baby.

Kate had decided to opt for the new service the hospital offered, where the child would be with the mother at all times, instead of in a nursery, and with the status of the baby’s father, the hospital decided that it was the best thing for the new parents.

His hands shook as he approached the little boy. His breath caught in his throat, sending a horrible pain through his chest as soon as he saw the baby before him- his son. He was looking at his son. But it wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. He wasn’t supposed to have to sneak around to see his son. He wasn’t supposed to keep it a secret. No. This was wrong. This was terribly wrong, and the feeling he had in the bottom of his stomach proved it.

"Aris Joseph…Fatone." He stuttered quietly. Too afraid to hold the baby in fear he’d wake up he just admired him. As he looked at him he saw his own reflection looking back at him. The little boy was his, there was no denying it. For the first time in a few months he let the feelings he’d been trying to keep inside come out, ending up in body-shaking sobs, which he did his best to keep quiet. "God, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Please, I want my son…God, please." He said through his tears before he slowly looked up and caught a glimpse of outside.

It was snowing. It was actually snowing in Orlando. It hadn’t snowed there in years, at least two decades, but there was no denying it, little white flakes, as pure as the baby before him fell from the pitch black night sky.

"A miracle." He muttered softly. "It’s for you…Aris." He whispered softly as he reached down and gently ran his hand over the baby’s tiny head. "It’s all for you."

*~*~*

Part 8

The Next Best Thing: Daddy Loves You


There are some things in life that no words can explain. There are feelings that you’ll only feel once, and they’ll never come again for the remainder of your life. There are smiles that only grace the presence of your face one time, and there are ways your eyes sparkle in which it’s impossible to ever do again. There are experiences in life that change you in ways you never thought possible. There are people that make you realize just how lucky you are to see the dawn of each new day. There are people who’s simple touch, makes you smile uncontrollably.

He knew how all of that felt; the smile, the irreplaceable sparkle his eyes held, the experiences, and the people. His life had changed so fast in the past 3 months that he felt as though it passed him by; as though he’d been on the outside, watching it. But then his son would cry, and he’d realize that he wasn’t in a dream, it was his life.

With a million-dollar smile Joey Fatone reached for the tiny blue and white Nike shoes to his left before turning to the baby before him. The child lay in a baby carrier, which sat on the kitchen table. His light brown hair was covered by a little khaki floppy fisherman’s hat, and his piercing, cobalt blue eyes were the perfect match for his innocent, childish smile. He placed the shoes on the little boy’s feet before sitting back with a satisfied sigh.

"Lookin’ good Aris." He laughed gently before getting up and then taking his son into his arms. Joey walked down the little hallway, and then made his way up the back staircase of his Orlando home, Aris hugged close to his chest. Once at the top of the stairs he walked past 4 doors before turning into the fifth one on his left to find Kate pulling her hair up as she looked in the mirror. "Baby inspection." Joey smiled as he removed Aris from his chest and placed his hands under the baby’s arm’s before holding him out towards Kate.

"Joe, are you sure this is a good idea?" Kate turned to him, and made faces at her son, yet her demeanor was flat.

"Kate, we can’t keep him inside this house forever. And, we can’t avoid JC forever. We got lucky, he and Bobbee decided to elope, and they went away for a few weeks, but now he’s back, and we can’t put him off forever. At some point he’s going to see him." Joey sighed as he moved Aris into a more comfortable position. "Besides, you need some time to yourself, and I want some time with us." He kiss the hat, which sat on the little boy’s head.

"You better get going then, you’re going to be late." She sighed as she reached out and rubbed Aris chubby little hand.

"We’ll be back later. Have fun with Christina." He took a step towards her and kissed her forehead gently. "I promise, he’ll be with me the whole time." Joey smiled as he bounced Aris up and down. Kate nodded.

"I believe you." She kissed Aris, and then Joey.

Joey put Aris back in his baby carrier, grabbed his little blue jean diaper bag and slung it over his shoulder, and then headed out for the day with his son.

*~*~*

"Hey Chris, do you know if JC’s here yet?" Joey asked non-chalantly as he unstrapped Aris from his seat and then picked him up. The two men stood in the little area just outside the studio that strongly resembled a waiting room.

"He’s not." Justin answered as he walked into the room. Joey just stared at him for a moment as he cradled the baby close to his chest. It was taking him a while to get used to the new, ‘no curls’, Justin.

"I think he was asking me, ‘the man formally known as Curly.’" Chris mocked. Justin rolled his eyes before walking over to Joey and Aris.

"Yo man, he’s getting big!" He commented as he admired the baby.

"They tend to do that, J." Joey widened his eyes as he turned Aris to the two men before him.

"Whoa, those are some blue eyes." Justin smiled as he played with Aris’ foot.

"Yeah, does someone in Kate’s family have them? Doesn’t she have green? And your whole family has brown." Chris inquired. Joey shifted uneasily at the question, wanting to get it out of the way as quickly as possible.

"Um, yeah, yeah, her brother has blue eyes." He lied through the skin of his teeth. She didn’t have a brother.

"Hey Joe, we need you in here." Johnny called to him as he poked his head out of the studio door.

"Yeah, one minute." Joey turned to Justin and Chris. "Could one of you watch him for me? He’ll be fine, he just ate before we left, and I just changed him. There’s some toys in his bag." Joey said as he balanced the baby in one arm and reached for the diaper bag with the other. Justin and Chris both laughed at the sight. "What?" He questioned their giggles.

"Just never thought I’d see you like that." Justin smirked as he shook his head. Joey smiled, and then kissed Aris’ head. He’d never thought it either. But now that it was upon him, he couldn’t imagine it any other way.

"Yeah, you’re like…responsible." Chris made a weird face, and then the three laughed.

"Yeah, well." Joey shrugged his shoulders. "So, will one, or both of you keep an eye on him for a minute?"

"Gimme the little dude." Justin smiled as he outstretched his arms to the baby.

"Aris be good for Uncle Justin." Joey said gently as he handed the little boy over.

"Hey, what about Uncle Chris?" Chris argued playfully.

"And Uncle Chris." Joey rolled his eyes before turning and walking into the studio.

*~*~*

"All right Joe, this sounds good. You’re done for the day." Johnny said as Joey took a drink of water.

"Great, then I’ll see you tomorrow." He nodded as he stepped towards the door.

"See ya!" Johnny bid goodbye as Joey exited the studio door, stepping into the little room outside. He drank the last bit of water left in the bottle before tossing it into a nearby trash can as Justin walked down the hall towards him.

"Is Aris with Chris?" Joey asked as he ran his hands back through his hair, which was once again brown.

"No, Chris ran out to get some lunch about 20 minutes ago, he’s-"

"With Lance?" Joey pushed the question.

"No, JC, he got here just as Chris was leaving, and he took him for a walk." Justin explained. Joey felt his stomach drop. A walk. He took him for a walk. How far of a walk? The questions and possibilities were running through his head so fast that it hurt.

"I told you to watch him Justin!" Joey yelled angrily. He knew he shouldn’t get mad at him, he knew Justin didn’t know any better.

"Yo Joe, chill, he’s with Jace. He’s fine." Justin didn’t understand why all of a sudden it was such a big problem. Joey clenched his jaw as the image of JC holding Aris shot into his mind, and arguing with Justin was no longer his top priority. He pushed past him, heading straight outside, his mind reeling with possibilities. He could have taken him. He knew he wanted him, and he could have taken him. His brown eyes surveyed the front lot, searching for any sign of them.

He saw nothing, but then, slowly, as he looked towards the little picnic area under a tree, he spotted them. JC’s hair was longer than usual, but it was him all the same. Aris sat before him in his little baby carrier. The breath he’d been holding slowly found it’s own way out as he hurried over to the two.

"Thought I took him, didn’t you?" JC asked without even turning around. He knew it was Joey. He could always tell by the way he walked. Joey said nothing as he walked to the other side of the picnic table and sat down. His eyes fell immediately on JC’s face- On the way he watched his infant son.

"I don’t know what I thought." Joey said flatly as he reached for Aris’ seat, and turned it to face him. "Hey Buddy." Joey cooed as he unstrapped him and took him into his arms. "Daddy’s back." He kissed the top of his head gently.

JC’s jaw locked as soon as Joey said the word ‘Daddy’. What the hell had he given up? He wanted to scream, he wanted to throw things, he wanted to run. There was even part of him that wanted to cry hysterically. But it all came down to the fact that he couldn’t move. He’d done it to himself. He had the chance. He had the chance to be ‘Daddy’. And in an instant he’d given it up, and for what? For the thing he convinced himself was true love? For the thing he was convinced wasn’t.

"H-he’s got my eyes." JC stammered, not sure how Joey would react. "He’s got Kate’s nose though." He laughed at the thought of his own nose, which he’d always thought was too big. Joey didn’t react, he just stared down at the baby in his arms. "I-um-is his hair dark, or light?" He questioned. The fact that he had to ask about the color of his own son’s hair made him sick. He should know. He shouldn’t have to ask. He shouldn’t have to ask Joey, to make matters worse.

"Light brown. I think it’ll be dark though." Joey explained as he got up and grabbed the diaper bag, which was sitting next to the carrier, and slung it over his shoulder.

"I can take this to your car." JC offered as he picked up the baby carrier. Joey said nothing, he just stared at JC. He stared at the eyes he stared into every night. He stared at the eyes both JC and his son shared. The eyes he knew he would never escape.

"Kate doesn’t want you around him, Jace." The words came out gently, and the meaning was lost to Joey. For some reason JC had managed to crack him. They’d been friends forever, and Joey knew no matter how much he willed the friendship apart, it would, in the end, stay together. Something that strong doesn’t just vanish. JC’s breath shook as he let out a deep sigh. Figures. He couldn’t expect any more, and at the same time he couldn’t expect any less.

"I was an idiot Joey." JC shook his head. "How could I have not wanted him?" His questioned remained unanswered as the air between the two men grew thick and awkward.

"I don’t know Josh." Joey spoke slowly, using the name they only used when the conversation was serious.

"I don’t know either. I don’t know why I married Bobbee." He paused and looked down at the silver band sitting on his left finger. "I don’t know why I didn’t tell Kate that I love her." JC’s own words surprised himself. He’d admitted it. He’d admitted it out loud. Joey shook his head. He loved Kate. It was too late for JC. Not now. He wasn’t going to ruin his life now. The soft spot Joey had been forming for JC suddenly vanished. "I don’t know why I said I didn’t want to be a father." Again he paused. "But I do know that I love him." JC nodded towards Aris. Joey brought his son closer to him, JC’s every word making him more agitated.

"How can you love something you hated in the beginning? You don’t love him JC. I doubt you even know what love is." The harsh reality of Joey’s words hit JC like a brick. He was left speechless as Joey forcefully pulled the baby carrier out of his hands and walked away.

Joey managed to strap Aris into his seat with one hand before placing the diaper bag down on the floor and then leaning down and kissing the top of his head. "I love you Aris." He said softly as he ran his hand over the baby’s chubby little hand. "Daddy loves you."

"I love you Aris." JC said softly to himself as he watched Joey pull away. "Daddy loves you."

*~*~*

"…In your eyes I thought I saw my heaven, And now my heavens gone away, And I'm out in the cold…" –Blue Eyes Blue, Eric Clapton

*~*~*

Part 9

The Next Best Thing: Norman

His crystal blue eyes focused intently on the little brownish green frog before him as it sat as still as a statue amongst the green grass, draped with the mid-summer dew. For a three year old little boy he stood uncharacteristically still, watching the little amphibian before him with great intensity, as if his eyes would will it into his little hand.

"Hey A, you ready?" He approached the child slowly, carrying with him a pair of little brown sandals, and a navy blue sun visor.

In an instant the child’s mouth dropped, and he sprinted across the lawn in hot pursuit of the frog as it hopped wildly a few feet before him.

"Aris? Buddy, what are you doing?" A perplexed look watched as the three-year-old turned sharply to face him before throwing his hands in the air.

"Daddy!" He screeched as his eyes widened. "You made me loose Norman."

"Who?" 28 year old Joey Fatone questioned as he approached his son.

"Norman! You scare him and he lost now!" He exclaimed in his toddler language as he shook his head, expecting Joey to already know what he’s talking about.

"Aris, who, or what, is Norman?" He implored as he bent down to his eye level, staring right into his eyes.

A chill ran up his spine. They were JC’s eyes, they always had been. He knew that all babies were born with a dark shade of blue eyes, and he always wished that eventually they would change, but now Aris was three, and his eyes were bluer than ever.

"A frog!" He threw his hands up again as Joey laughed. "It not funny!" He scolded his father. Never did that child cease to amaze him. Through him he was able to view a world he thought he’d lost long ago, and through him he’d realized what life really was.

"I know, I’m sorry." Joey shook his head. "But we gotta get going, Johnny’s gonna get mad at Daddy if we don’t get over there." He explained as he placed the visor on his head and then fixed the toddlers chocolate brown locks. As his eyes grew bluer, his hair shadowed by growing darker. Aris sighed as Joey lifted him up and carried him over to the light brown wooden patio set. He set him in a chair and then placed the sandals on his feet. Aris climbed out of the chair and paused just long enough for Joey to fix his little navy blue board shorts, and his miniature wife beater tank top.

"But Norman…" Aris said as he stepped around Joey and looked over the yard.

"Maybe he’ll be back later." Joey suggested as he picked Aris up into his arms and walked through the back door, re-entering the house.

"Mommy!" Aris screamed as he managed to squirm out of Joey’s arms and run over to his mother.

"What’s wrong baby?" Kate asked in a gentle tone as she lifted the child into her arms. Joey sighed as he rolled his eyes. He was never getting out of the house.

"Daddy made me loose Norman!" He heard Aris explain to Kate.

With a soft laugh he smiled as he ran his hands through his hair. It may have been annoying at times, but it made him happy to know that he gave Aris a good life- that the child’s biggest problem was loosing Norman, a frog, in the backyard. Over the past three years he’d changed his life entirely for his son.

As soon as he came home from the hospital the partying and wild life he was used to ceased. The refrigerator, which was once filled with all types of alcoholic beverages, was now filled with little juice boxes, and the freezer was filled with every type of popsicle you could think of. And his house was no different, toy cars and life sized wrestling buddies strewn the floor, and Blue’s Clue’s tapes and cartoons constantly played on the television. Baby gates surrounded the steps, because even at three years old, they were still scared of him falling down the steps.

Truth is, they were scared of everything. They watched the little boy like a hawk, afraid of the outcome if they didn’t. The house was completely child proof, the cabinets were child locked, and there were outlet covers in every socket. Not to mention the thousands of dollars they’d invested in security cameras. Having Aris made Joey aware of the fact that there was a whole world out there he’d never known, a whole new world he had to worry about.

But, never the less, he loved it. The group was still together, despite what everyone thought, and, over the years, Aris had evolved into a mascot. He loved the guys, and how they each related to him as an adult instead of a child. They were all always there to baby-sit, or they’d stop by with presents. He was close with all of them, all except JC. He wasn’t allowed to be close with JC.

Three years, and still Aris was the blockade between Joey and JC. The little boy with JC’s eyes, with JC’s hair, and with JC’s smile separated them like Moses did the Red Sea. Aris was JC in a toddler, but it was oblivious to everyone. Joey thought they knew, they had to know something, yet they never said a word.

JC was married to Bobbee with a baby on the way, and Joey was with Kate and they had Aris. That was how it was, or at least that’s how everyone had convinced themselves it was.

"All right big guy, we’ve gotta go." Joey sighed as he took Aris from Kate.

"But you made me loose Norman!" Aris protested as Joey rolled his eyes. He wasn’t forgetting this Norman thing any time soon.

"I’ll help you find him later, I promise." Joey smiled before turning to Kate.

"God Joe, what kind of father are you? Making your son loose his frog." Kate laughed. He rolled his eyes before a light giggle escaped his lips.

"I need to talk to you about something tonight, ok?" Joey’s expression turned serious and he reached down for Kate’s hand.

He loved her. He loved her like a friend, he loved her like a lover, he loved her like a husband should love a wife- except she wasn’t his wife…not yet anyway. He intended on proposing a lot sooner, but before he realized it he was caught up in the whorl wind that was Parenthood.

"Sure." A smile appeared across her face, and Joey leaned over and kissed her cheek. She knew what it was about. Finally, after three years, it was time. "I love you Joe." She smiled softly.

"I love you too." He smiled, and where he would usually leave, he stayed for an extra moment, as if he was studying her face one last time.

Beautiful. She was beautiful, more now than ever. Every time he saw her with Aris this feeling came over him, one like he never had before, and in that moment he wanted to stay right there before her forever. He studied her emerald green eyes, and with a deep sigh he watched as she leaned over and kissed Aris on the cheek.

"I love you too Baby, have a good time with Daddy," She paused for a minute as she played with the little visor on his tiny head. "And he’ll help you find Norman later." She humored him. Above anything, she was a wonderful mother, and she loved her son more than life, which was amazing considering the circumstances.

She thought about JC a lot, how could she not? She practically lived with him. Aris was so much like him that it scared her. Yet, she saw him with Joey, she saw how much they loved each other, and she could have easily regretted keeping her son from his biological father, and vise versa, but, then she would watch how Aris looked at Joey, and she knew that she could never regret it- ever.

"He better." Aris turned to his father.

"I will." Joey rolled his eyes once again. "Alright Honey, I’ll talk to you later, ok?" Kate nodded before Joey and Aris left.

*~*~*

The large stadium was empty except for the large stage, and the hundred or so crew members. Aris drove around in his little Power Wheels Jeep while they awaited the arrival of JC so they could begin rehearsing for their upcoming tour.

"Yo dude, what’s up?" Justin asked as Aris drove up to him quickly, stopping just short of his feet.

"Nuttin." Aris shrugged his shoulders.

He was a familiar face at all the group functions. He was growing up around the music, and if at all possible he loved it more than the guys. Joey could never go to the studio alone anymore, ever since that first time he took him, when he was three months old, Aris was Joey’s shadow in the music business.

"You dance?" Aris questioned as he looked up admirably at Justin.

"Yeah, as soon as Uncle Jace gets here, we’re gonna dance." Justin nodded. No sooner did the words come out of his mouth than did the door in the back of the venue slam shut, revealing JC. He moved his sunglasses to the top of his head, revealing his blue eyes. The same blue eyes he shared with his son. Over one shoulder was a backpack, and in his left hand was a cardboard happy meal box.

Instantly Aris backed away, and sped off in his little car towards his 'uncle'.

"Hey A, what’s up buddy?" JC asked as he bent down to his eye level- His sons eye level.

Aris was his son, he didn’t need to question that, and he loved spending time with him, even if it was only as ‘Uncle Jace’. But still, it was time none the less. It wasn’t a lot, but he took all he could get, getting to know his son as his nephew, and learning to build a relationship by that.

"You hafta dance now." Aris explained, as his eyes grew wide.

"Yeah I know. Are you gonna dance with us today?" JC asked the little boy who had affectionately become known as the ‘sixth member of N Sync’.

"Maybe, I hafta ask Daddy." JC forged a smile. He was cute, and innocent, and he was his son none the less, but he still called Joey Daddy. He couldn't blame him though, that's what he knew, that's what he'd been taught. And, even though he’d heard it for going on 2 years, he still couldn’t get over the feeling he got when he heard the little boy say the words. He wanted to take him into his arms and say, ‘No buddy, I’m your daddy.’ But he couldn’t, to Aris he was nothing more than an ‘uncle’, one of his father’s best friends, but he was beginning to question even that.

"Well, I brought you a happy meal." JC smiled. "Cheeseburger with no pickles." He’d gotten that from Joey. Actually, every acquired trait you could think of he’d gained from Joey, the way he walked, the way he talked, things like that. Yet, his looks were so blatantly JC’s that it was scary.

"Thank You!" Aris screeched as he climbed out of the car and took the happy meal before running off to find his dad. "Hey Dad, look what Uncle JC got me!" Aris jumped up and down, interrupting Joey’s conversation with Chris.

"Cool dude, did you thank him?" Joey questioned as Aris opened the box and shoved a few fries into his mouth.

"He did." JC answered as he walked up behind him and placed his hand on Aris’ head. Gestures like that got to Joey, how could they not? But, he’d learned how to hide his reactions rather well. It seemed all he did the past three years was hide things, as if he didn’t have enough secrets to begin with, once Aris was born he might as well have added 15 million more to the pile.

"How’s Bobbee doing?" Chris asked as Aris clawed at Joey’s arm, signaling that he wanted him to pick him up. He hated being left out of conversations because of his size. As far as he was concerned he was just as much one of the guys as his father.

"Good, she thinks it’s a girl." JC laughed as he shook his head, casting a subtle glance across Aris as Joey lifted him into his arms, and the toddler fed his dad a French fry. Joey focused on Aris, trying his best to faze out the conversation between Chris and JC.

He knew what he was getting himself into when he agreed to be there for Kate and the baby. And, he wouldn’t take that back for anything, but, that still didn’t make matters any better, while at the same time it didn’t make matters any worse. Through the years JC managed to bury himself in his work, ultimately growing apart from Bobbee in the act, while, Joey on the other hand set his priorities around his son.

They each had their own lives, yet at the same time, they had a life that was tied together by their profession. There wasn’t a day that JC regretted giving up Aris, and, at the same time, there wasn’t a day Joey didn’t realize this. He didn’t have to say anything, he could tell just by the way his eyes fell across the little boy, or the way he always brought him presents, or candy, or something to that effect.

In a way, it was as if JC created the life. He created the baby and he created the vulnerability that ultimately led to Joey being with Kate. And, when he left his creation, Joey just happened to be in the right place at the right time, with all the right words.

*~*~*

Justin plopped down in a heap on the stage before rubbing his face with his towel and then placing it around his neck.

"Uncle J!" Aris called up to the blonde, curly hair man before him as he raised his arm as far as it could go, and offered him a bottle of water.

"Thanks man." Justin thanked as he took the water from Aris before the little boy turned and ran up the side of the stage, coming to a stop next to his father, who was just about to reenact Justin’s motions.

"How much trouble are you getting into?" Joey raised his eyebrows as he sits next to Justin. Aris walks around behind him, and wraps his arms around his neck.

"None!" Aris laughed at his father’s suggestion.

"You sure?" Justin chimed in.

"Yes Uncle Justin." Aris moaned as the back door to the stadium opened, and in walked Kate. Her blonde hair was tied up in a clip, and a brown leather backpack was slung over her shoulder. She approached the three slowly, her and Joey locking eyes as soon as she walked in the door.

"Hello boys." She smiled casually as she removed the sunglasses from her eyes and placed then on top of her head. She couldn’t see him, yet she could feel JC’s eyes burning a whole in her bare arm. Yet, she ignored him, just as she had managed to perfect over the past three years.

"Mommy!" Aris screamed as he ran over to the edge of the stage.

"Baby, gosh, be careful up there, don’t fall." Kate took a step towards the edge of the stage, making sure Aris was ok. "Joe, are you watching him? He could fall off." She warned as she glanced over at Joey and then turned back to Aris.

"He’s fine, I’m sitting right here." Joey smiled at her motherly instinct. "What are ya doin here?" He asked as he took a sip of his water and then ran his hands back through his hair.

"I’m here to pick him up." She looked up at Aris. "I’m going over to my mom’s for lunch, and she wants to see him."

"But I don’t wanna go!" Aris fought.

"Ah, but I don’t care if you want to go." Kate laughed. "Dad and Uncle Justin have to actually practice, and I bet you’re getting in the way." She added.

"Am not!" He protested. "Am I?" He looked to his dad for support.

"You’re not, but," He paused for a minute as he picked Aris up and handed him to Kate. "You better go with Mommy. I’ll be home later." He smiled. "And it’s just going to be boring for the rest of the day." Joey attempted to convince him.

"But Dad-"

"A, you’ll have fun, and I’m almost done." Joey interrupted his argument. Kate smiled at Joey before kissing Aris’ temple.

"Come on buddy, we have to go. I told Grandmom we’d be there 10 minutes ago." Kate told her son.

"Do you want me to walk you to the car?" Joey offered. Kate shook her head as she pulled at Aris’ little tank top.

"Nah, I’ve got it." She took a step towards him and the two kissed sweetly. "Ew Joe, you really need to borrow Justin’s towel." She smiled over to Justin.

"I love you too." He laughed.

"Love you." She smiled before turning and walking away, and Joey could tell by her mannerisms that she was trying her best to convince Aris that going with her was best.

"Hey A!" Joey yelled as he stood up. There was something in the bottom of his stomach that didn’t feel right, but he thought nothing of it as he saw his son turn and look at him. "Have fun, and when I get home I’ll help you look for Norman, all right buddy?" His tone was soft.

"All right Daddy!" Aris yelled happily at the memory of his lost frog.

"I love you!" He added.

"Love you too!" Aris called back before he and Kate disappeared out the door.

*~*~*

"Guys, you’re turning to the left too soon." Wade scolded the quintet. "It’s right, left, right, front, left. You’re ignoring the front." He explained as he did the choreography that had been the main problem since rehearsals started.

"Well, if we just forget about the front, then we’ve got it down." JC’s eyes were wide as he placed his hands on his head, and Johnny made his way over to the stage, a little cell phone in his hand.

"Jace, if we eliminate a step then the beat’s off. It fits perfectly, we can’t just drop it, it’s there for a reason." Wade reminded him.

"Joe, you’re mom’s on the phone." Johnny outstretched his arm holding the phone as Joey walked over to the edge of the stage and took it from him.

"Mom?" His voice was skeptical. She never called him when he was working, or on someone else’s phone none the less.

"Joey," Her voice was slow, and it shook unsteadily.

"Mom?" He paused for a moment. " What is it? Did something happen? What’s going on?" He flooded her with questions as every type of scenario floated into his head. The first thing he thought about was his father. He’d been sick lately, but it was nothing that bad, or at least he thought.

"Honey, there um, there," She stammered. "Joe, there was an accident." His heart jumped into his throat as he was overcome by a tingly sensation, followed by a bitter burning hot coldness.

"Who?" The voice that escaped his mouth was so far from his own that it even scared him. The four men on the stage were quiet, seeing how he’d lost all his color almost instantaneously.

"Kate, and the baby." She said as she cried softly.

"Aris? Kate and Aris? Are they ok? Mom, God, are they ok?" The room began spinning, and everyone began blending together. This wasn’t happening. They were fine. He’d just seen them a little over two hours ago, and they were fine. Kate was smiling as normal, they’d kissed softly, she’d told him she loved him, and Aris, he joked with Aris about helping him find Norman. This couldn’t be happening. They were fine, they were perfectly fine.

"You need to get down here Joey." Was all she said before the phone reception was lost.

"Mom? Mom! Mom, can you hear me? How are they? Mom!" He yelled, but it was no use. He turned and looked at the faces before him. "Kate and Aris were in an accident. I think it was pretty bad, my um, my mom, she was pretty upset." His words were slow and drawn out. "I have to go." He dropped the phone as he jumped off the stage and headed towards the door with JC hot on his heels.

"Joey!" He yelled after him, and Joey stopped abruptly and turned to him. They stood in the middle of the stadium, each feeling the same feeling- the same uncertainty, the same fear. "Aris-" He referred to the little boy. " I’m going with you." He said simply.

"No, no you’re not." Joey shook his head. He could feel the tears in his eyes, but he stayed strong.

"If he needs something like blood, he’s going to need me." This comment caught the ear of everyone in the stadium, as all eyes were focused on the two men.

"Josh, no." Joey answered through clenched teeth. JC inhaled deeply, trying his best not to lose it.

"You’re jeopardizing your son- no, my son for your fucking pride, Joey? He may need me, and there’s no way in hell I’m not going to be there." They could feel everyone’s eyes beating into them, and they could feel the breath from their open mouth’s, yet it didn’t stop them. "Joey, for Aris." JC pleaded. "Think of him." After a hesitation filled with contemplation Joey threw him his keys.

"I don’t think I’ll be able to drive." He confessed before the two ran out of the stadium, leaving behind a room full of unanswered questions.

*~*~*

"Where are they? Where the hell are they?" He was a volcano waiting to explode. His hands shook, and his eyes were filled with tears that he'd yet let to fall. JC stood back quietly, letting Joey handle the situation on his own.

"Aris is doing better." His mother nodded as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "He has a little cast on his arm." She attempted to smile, but it soon faded at Joey's blank expression.

"Kate." He didn't know how he meant it, it wasn't really a question in the fact that he didn't want the answer, but, at the same time it wasn't a statement either.

"God! No! Please! God!" A woman screeched at the end of the hallway before bursting into tears. The lump in Joey's throat grew. He knew who it was- it was Ann, Kate's mother. Janine stepped aside as Joey sprinted past her to the end of the hallway, stopping just short of Ann and Michael. His breaths were heavy, and his whole body shook. The three just stared at each other as a doctor walked out of the door to Joey's left.

"Mr. and Mrs. Douglas?" He started in a blank tone. Michael placed his arm around his wife while Joey tried to avoid the situation all together.

"No. This isn't…" Joey shook his head. He didn't want to hear this, he shouldn't have to hear this, nor did he need to hear this. "No." He bit his bottom lip.

"I'm sorry." The doctor drug the words out, as if they were a murder sentence. In one movement Joey walked past him and into the little hospital room. The last time he was in a place like this was when Aris was born. And now, now he was…

He didn't even want to think it. His eyes were closed as he shut the door behind him, and as they slowly opened the sight before him left him breathless.

Kate lay before him, perfectly still. She had cuts on her face, and some bruises on her arms. The machines all around her were turned off, and an eerie silence filled every inch of the tiny hospital room. With one more glance he finally gave in to the tears that threatened his eyes, and his legs turned to Jell-O as he slid down the wall and placed his head in his hands as he sobbed like a child.

"This isn't happening…this…Kate…Kate…" He screamed between cries.

After a few moments he slowly regained the strength in his legs and rose solemnly. He clasped his hands together to steady them as he came to a stop by Kate. The tears rolled relentlessly down his cheeks as he bit down on his bottom lip until he tasted the bitter sweet taste of crimson red blood in his mouth.

How could your life change in a minute? How could you be talking to someone one minute, and faced the reality that you will never talk to them again, the next? And, how can God be so great as to provide you with this awesome child, this source for all your love, the source for your life. But then, in the next instant he takes the person who means the world to you. This wasn't how it was supposed to end.

He was supposed to propose tonight.

Tonight she was supposed to be his fiancée.

But tonight, they would never be again.

Joey reached into his pocket and removed a little black velvet box. He opened it, removing a large diamond ring, and he held it in his hands for a few moments before getting down on one knee and taking Kate's hand in his.

"I'm never going to stop loving you." He sobbed. He had the whole speech planned out, and he wasn't about to waste it now. "You gave me the best p-present I could ever wish for." He paused for a moment to recompose himself. "You gave me my son, and my life. You gave me love, and you taught how not to be afraid. I love you Kate, I've loved you…"His voice trailed off as he grabbed the bridge of his nose and the tears continued rolling down his cheeks, finally stopping on the collar of his shirt. "I've loved you since we were five years old. Since you used to come over and rip all the arms off my G.I. Joe's because I knotted your Barbie's hair." He reached up and ran his fingers over her forehead softly as he traced her hairline. "I love you Katie." Supporting himself on the bed he stood slowly before reaching for her left hand and slipping the ring on her finger.

With a shaky sigh he leaned down and kissed her forehead as a tear fell from his cheek onto hers. He wiped it away, realizing that from now on his life had changed. In a matter of seconds he was a single father with a three year old little boy. How was something like this allowed to happen? How could someone allow this to happen to him, after so man years he finally started to get things together, and now he was back at square one.

*~*~*

The door slammed behind him as his red eyes met the crystal blue ones before him.

"How is he?" He asked as he ran his hands back through his hair.

"He thinks it's cool that he has a blue cast." Joey sighed as he crossed his arms across his chest.

"Did you, uh," JC couldn’t bring himself to say the words. She was gone, it wasn't fair, not to Joey, not to Aris, and not even to him. In that hallway the animosity between them faded for a brief second and each saw each other in the other's eyes.

"Not yet." Joey shook his head. "He wants Jake." He referred to the dog he gave Kate before Aris was even born. That memory, which was usually accompanied by a smile was now glossed over by tears. "They're keeping him over night to watch him. So, Uh, I'm gonna go home and get him some stuff- and Jake." JC nodded.

"I could go." JC offered. Joey shook his head.

"You don't know where everything is. It would be quicker if I went." He cleared his throat. Three years of not one steady conversation, and it came down to this. The air between them was thick, and neither said anything for a few minutes. "Can you stay with him? He's tired, and he'll probably fall asleep. There's something on TV he's watching." JC nodded. It was ironic that Joey was instructing him on how to take care of his son.

"I'm sorry Joe." JC said softly.

"So am I." Joey nodded. "So am I."

*~*~*

With Aris' backpack over his shoulder, and Jake in his arm Joey made one final sweep of the house, making sure he didn't forget anything. As he walked past the backdoor, which lead into the yard he heard a vivid croaking coming from right outside. He opened the door, as the cool breeze dried the tears rolling down his cheeks.

He shoved his hands in his pockets as he cleared his throat and looked around the yard. How was he supposed to do this without Kate? The reason he'd agreed to do it was because of her, and now he was alone, just him and his son. And there wasn't one piece of his mind that didn't doubt him. He lowered his head slowly as his eyes fell across the dark brownish-green object at his feet. It croaked loudly, startling him.

"Norman." He muttered as he shook his head. Slowly he bent down to the tiny creature before him. "I found Norman." The frog croaked once more before hopping off, and Joey fell back onto the cement patio. "You're leaving me too, huh Norman?" The words rolled off his tongue as he allowed his tears to take him over once more.

Him and Aris.

Aris and Him.

They were all the other had left.

Him and his son.

*~*~*

JC's hand shook nervously as he ran it over his son's head. How could he have given up something so precious? How could he have passed on his son's life?

Slowly he leaned down and kissed the sleeping toddler on the forehead. He'd almost lost him, and if he could help it he would never loose him again. He yearned for his son for three years, for three years he prayed that he would be able to have a relationship with his baby boy. And now he'd almost lost him, and he wasn't about to let three years come between them again.

He was Aris' father.

His biological father.

And now there was nothing to stand in the way of that.

He was going to get his son if it was the last thing he did.

He was prepared for a fight.

Prepared for a fight he knew he would win.

*~*~*

Part 10

Author’s Note: This story uses some violent language, and if you take offense to that, or would just rather not read it, I suggest you don’t read this story. It’s not excessive, but it’s there. I’m just warning you now so I don’t get a hundred e-mails of people complaining about it. If you’re fine with that, then read on. But, if you’re not, then you’ve been warned.

The Next Best Thing: My Son

Life is full of mysteries. There are times it can pick you up when you’ve hit rock bottom yet, at the same time it also has a great way of kicking you when you’re down. It can give you your dreams, but not without compromise. Your life changes hundreds of times, your ideals, your dreams, and your goals, they all change with you as you grow. There is no answer to life. There’s no remedy for the winding roads and rocky paths. They’re just there, and if you’re lucky you’ll find someone who will help you make it through with a smile.

Kate was that person to Joey. She knew when something was bothering him, even when his face still bore a smile. She could always find the fun loving five-year-old in him, even after the whole N Sync charade began. His life changed, and people tried to change him, but as long as she was there, they would never succeed.

But now she was gone. And the thought of having to keep a level head, and keep everything in order without her scared the hell out of him. He took care of Aris with her. They were a family. He more than anyone knew that he wasn’t prepared to be a single parent. But, that was life, it didn’t ask, it just served. And, you had to take it, because that’s all you got.

The paper in his pocket crinkled and smashed together, conforming to the new shape of his leg as he bent down to the slate gray headstone before him. A shaky sigh escaped his lips as his fingers traced the path of the chiseled granite. He set a bouquet of flowers down on the sparse grass that had began to grow atop the dark soil before standing back up again. Glancing over at the nearby silver Mercedes convertible, his eyes fell upon his sleeping son. With a clenched jaw he reached into his pocket and scratched at the paper.

Two months. He gave him a whole two months to mourn Kate before he dropped the bomb. He wanted Aris. He was suing for custody of the child he’d denied just three years prior.

"JC’s trying to take him." Joey spoke slowly as he looked out over the cemetery, squinting, complements of the bright sun. "He hasn’t told anyone, not even Bobbee. His lawyer just sent me a letter to let me know what’s going on." Joey paused as he once again looked over at Aris. "Custody. Full custody." The words that came out of his mouth disgusted him. "And he didn’t even have the guts to tell me himself." He shook his head. JC was his friend. He was more than his friend, he was like his brother. They practically shared a life. Yet, Joey knew that somewhere they had strayed, because never would he take the one thing that meant the most to his friend. But, that’s what plagued him. Had he already committed that crime? Was it his fault that his world was crumbling now? Was it because of his choices that he had to face the consequences? He knew how much Aris meant to him, and now, after Kate, JC’d worked up enough guts to take the only thing he had left. He was attempting to rob him of his son.

His son.

That’s exactly what Aris was. He was his son. Aris Joseph Fatone. He was the one to change his diapers, he was the one who held his hands when he took his first steps. It was he who would wake up at three in the morning and rock the crying baby back to sleep. And, now, it was him who read Aris his bedtime stories, made sure he was always happy, and made sure he never wanted for anything. It was Joey who kissed his forehead before bed, and it was Joey who held him and sang to him when he was sick. It was Joey who he called Daddy.

Daddy. Joey was his Daddy.

"I’m gonna fight for him, Kate." Joey said through clenched teeth. "He’s my life- I can’t let him take him. I know I don’t really have that good of a chance. The adoption papers hadn’t cleared yet, and we were so young we didn’t even think about wills." He shoved his hands into his pockets as he dug at the dirt with the tip of his sneaker. "But I love him. That counts for something, doesn’t it? And as far as he’s concerned I’m his Dad. There’s no way taking him away from me is in his best interest. I may not be great at this whole parent thing, but taking him from me isn’t going to do anything."

"Daddy!" A little voice reached his ears.

"I’m here A, it’s ok buddy." Joey called back to assure him. "I’ll be there in two seconds." He turned back to Kate’s headstone and knelt down once again. "He’s so afraid I’m going to leave him." Joey laughed ironically. He swallowed hard as he kissed two of his fingers and then touched Kate’s headstone. "But I’m not going to let that happen. Not to my son." He shook his head as he stood. "I love you Kates." Joey shut his eyes for a moment before turning and heading over to the car.

"Hey there big guy." Joey smiled as he got into the car. He turned around and smiled at the toddler in the back seat. "Have a nice nap?" Joey inquired.

"Is Mommy coming home tonight?" Aris asked innocently as he cocked his head to the right- something he’d learned from JC. Joey’s heart fell. He was so innocent, he was so young. He’d tried over and over again, but there was no easy way to explain to a three-year-old what death was. Aris didn’t understand that his mom wasn’t coming home tonight, or any night to that matter. It wasn’t like when he went out on tour. Kate was gone, and it proved frivolous to attempt to get a three-year-old to understand that.

Aris formed a fist with his little hand before rubbing his eye and letting out a yawn.

"No Air." Joey shook his head. "Mommy’s not coming home."

"But I miss her." He said the words with such conviction, that if it were possible, Kate would be home that night.

"I know you do buddy, I miss her too." Joey got the words out just before Aris let out a loud cry. Joey turned around and stared straight ahead for a moment, questioning whether he had the strength he was sure he would need. He didn’t even get a chance to cry about Kate before he had to focus all his attention on Aris. Suddenly his life started spinning in a relentless downward spiral. He was now about to fight for his son.

No Father should have to fight for their child. Life shouldn’t be that cruel. People shouldn’t be that cruel.

*~*~*

The door to the recording studio flew open, revealing four members of nsync, along with Johnny, who were apparently looking over lyrics. The incident on the night of the accident went undiscussed. They all had their questions, as to why JC yelled about Aris being his son, and since then the traits JC and the boy shared had become so blatantly obvious to the four, yet they said nothing.

They had been together too long to know that prying into someone else’s personal life provides no benefits. You don’t push things unless someone comes to you. It was an unspoken rule. They all knew it, and they all abided by it, even though their questions were getting too numerous to contain.

"Bastard." Were his only words as he eyed up the brown hair, blue eyed man. "Mother fucking bastard." He took large steps, and was before him in an instant. JC turned to him, his eyes wide at what the man before him was about to do, while the other men just stared at the spectacle, not knowing whether to stop it, or leave. "You’re suing for custody? All of a sudden you want him? What changed your mind? Huh JC? What made you realize that you wanted to take the one thing I had left? The one thing that I need?" Joey’s questions came fast, and they were demanding.

"He’s mine." Were JC’s only words. The way he said them made the child sound like a prize.

"He will never be yours." Joey shook his head. "You didn’t want him. You acted like a coward. You had your chance and you blew it." Joey shook his head as JC’s eyes stared sharply at him. In a moment of rage Joey grabbed the collar of JC’s shirt, and forcefully pushed him back into the wall. "You-" Joey started through clenched teeth, his hands still white-knuckled on JC’s collar. "Will not take my son from me. Do you hear me? " Joey shook his head, and for the first time he saw actual fear in JC’s eyes. "You’re JC. Never…never will you be Daddy. You’re barely a man let alone a father." He let go of his shirt and took a step back, his eyes never leaving JC.

"He was never your son." JC said flatly as he regained his courage. "That was just something you tricked yourself into believing. Another lie you managed to make true." He said as Joey’s face grew redder by the minute. "Aris is me Joey. No matter how much you want him not to be, he’s me. You look at him, and you see me. Because he’s mine. I’m his father. You-" JC took a step towards him. "You just happened to be in the right place at the right time." He finished.

Over the years they had faced so much, and they had managed to get through together. Everyday they saw each other, they were practically brothers. Yet, as each stood there, in that recording studio and stared sharply at the other, each knew that their friendship had shattered into a thousand pieces. The straw that broke the camels back was upon them. And, all those memories, all those moments were gone. They were no longer friends. They were enemies. Each attempting to claim what they thought was theirs.

"He may look like you." Joey shook his head, his composure barely contained, "But over my dead body will he call you Daddy." And with that he turned and walked towards the door. Once there he turned back to the gawking faces of the other men. "Accept this as my resignation." He stated simply as he turned and left the studio, slamming the door behind him.

*~*~*

The remaining three members of the group, including Johnny stared at JC, no one asked a question, yet all wanted answers.

As their eyes burnt into him JC ran his hands back through his hair before letting out a heavy sigh and turning to the men before him.

"Four years ago I had an affair with Kate. Aris is my son. Joey’s raising him." The men’s eyes grew wide, and their mouths fell open even larger. They had suspected it, but they figured there had to be some explanation, they had to be jumping to conclusions. But, the scary truth was that they weren’t. "I screwed up in the beginning. I was marrying Bobbee and told Kate I couldn’t do it. After he was born I realized I’d made a mistake. I never said anything because I didn’t want to hurt Kate. I knew how much she wanted Joey to raise Aris." JC paused, letting them take in the information before beginning again. "But Kate’s gone now, and I want my son." He stated simply before he to left the bewildered group of men.

Chris looked around at the other men in the room, Justin was just staring ahead, while Lance and Johnny were both staring at the ground.

"If I were Joey…"Chris trailed off as he shook his head. "Let’s just say JC wouldn’t be walking out of here." He cleared his throat.

"Aris is…" Lance muttered, unable to bring himself to say the words.

"Aris is Joey’s son." Justin said sternly. He couldn’t help but feel as though he was living in a soap opera. He shoved his hands in his pockets as Chris nodded in agreement. No matter what Aris looked like, or who his biological father was, Joey was his Dad, and there was no convincing them other wise.

*~*~*

"Geese Joe, you’re soaked." Janine shook her head as she stepped aside so her son could enter the house.

"Yeah, it’s raining pretty bad." Joey stated blankly.

"We’re getting a bad storm." She told him as he walked farther into the house.

"Where’s Aris?" He questioned as he looked around.

"In the den watching a movie with Nick. Steve had some errands to run, so we’re watching him." She explained.

"Is Dad here? There’s something I need to talk to you guys about." Janine’s face fell. She knew how hard it had been with Joey, and her mind reeled with the possibilities of what he needed to talk about.

"He’s back with the boys. Honey, is everything all right?" She implored as she took a step towards him and placed her hand on his cheek. Joey stepped back slowly before turning and heading down the hall to the den.

"Daddy!" Aris screeched as he saw Joey’s figure appear in the doorway. He got up off the floor, dropping the little Pokemon figure in his hand, and jumped into his father’s arms.

"Hey bud, are you having fun with Nicky?" Joey asked the toddler as Aris nodded happily.

"Hi Uncle Joey." Nicholas turned to his uncle and waved quickly before turning back to his figures.

"Hey Nick." Joey kissed Aris’ temple before setting him back down on the ground. "You play with Nick for a little while, I’m going to talk to Grandmom and Grandpop, ok?" He explained as he ran his hands back through Aris’ hair. The little boy blinked his crystal blue eyes and then nodded.

"Ok Daddy." He smiled before turning and running back over to Nicholas. Joe Sr. slowly got up from his place on the couch and hesitantly approached his youngest son.

"Everything all right?" The older man questioned. Joey gave no reply, but walked back out to the living room, where his mother was waiting.

"I need to talk to you guys about Aris." Joey swallowed the lump that was forming in his throat, while Joe Sr. and Janine sat down on the couch, and Joey sat himself across from them on the love seat.

"Is he ok?" Joe Sr. asked as he leaned forward. Joey shut his eyes momentarily, attempting to gain all his strength for what he was about to say.

"Joey, please, you’re scaring me." His mother urged him. Joey clasped his hands together and focused on his thumbs for a few minutes before looking up at his parents. His eyes were glossed over by tears, and his trademark smile was nowhere to be found. "Joey…" The tears in her son’s eyes brought tears to her own as she reached out and rubbed his knee.

"Aris isn’t my son." He blurted out. After arranging a speech in his head, the words just floated out of his mouth.

"What?" Janine’s hand flew over her mouth as she gasped.

"What the hell are you talking about? Aris isn’t your son? He has to be your’s. Who else could he be?" Joe’s questions were hard, and they came with no hesitation.

"Aris is JC’s son. Kate and him had an affair, and when JC found out about the baby he refused to take care of him." Joey began. "So she asked me." He cracked a smile.

"God Joey, no." Janine shook her head at the thought of her grandson being someone else’s little boy.

"I loved Kate, and I didn’t want her baby growing up without a father." Joey explained himself.

"So what? You adopted him?" Joe asked the questions as his wife just shook her head.

"I was in the process. It didn’t clear before…" Joey cleared his throat, not able to say the words.

"Joey, I don’t understand. What are you getting at?" Janine spoke up.

"JC is suing for full custody of Aris." He threw his hands up in the air as his mother’s mouth fell open, and his father just stared at him. "He’s trying to take my son." Joey laughed ironically. "He’s trying to take my little boy." His tone was more solemn now, and with a sigh he placed his head in his hands to hide the tears as they fell down his cheeks.

After a moment of pure silence Janine slowly got up off the couch and re-seated herself next to her son.

"No one’s taking that baby from you." She hugged him tightly as she ran her hand over his back. "He didn’t want him in the beginning, and he doesn’t deserve him now." She kissed the top of his head as she did when he was a little boy. "Aris is your son Joey. You’re that little boy’s Daddy."

*~*~*

He shut the door behind him slowly in an attempt not to wake Bobbee up. His footsteps were soft as he walked through the large foyer and into the back gathering room, where, to his surprise Bobbee was sitting, staring intently at him. Her eyes were questioning as she cast a slow glance upon the clock to her right.

11:57pm

"Hey, what are you doing up?" JC questioned as he steadied his voice before walking over and sitting on the edge of the coffee table that sat before her.

"I was worried." She said blankly as JC reached for her hands, to which she pulled them back forceful. "You called three hours ago and said you were ten minutes away." Her eyes stared over his shoulder at the wall behind them, which was adorned with all the nsync plaques and achievements.

"I know." JC nodded slowly. "I got a call from Craig. I needed to go over some stuff with him." He paused as he sat back and ran his hands over his face. He knew that this was coming, it had to, but now…How was he supposed to sit there and tell her now? Now that she was carrying his baby, now that her cheeks were already tear stained from worrying about where he was?

"Craig? Craig McCallaugh…the lawyer?" Her face showed her confusion as she placed her hand atop her growing stomach.

"Baby, I need to talk to you about something." JC spoke gently, but Bobbee immediately jumped up from her spot on the couch.

"God…oh God, I knew it…I knew this was coming." She shook her head frantically as tears fell down her cheeks.

"What? Honey, what did you know was coming?" JC stood up and he reached for her shoulder, but she stepped to his right to escape his touch.

"I get pregnant and you’re divorcing me! What kind of man are you? God, you’re…you’re-"

"Bobbee, I’m not divorcing you, I love you sweetie." He interrupted her ranting. "Please, sit down, and let me talk." Her eyes fell skeptically as she sat back down on the couch, and JC assumed his previous position on the end of the coffee table. Bobbee wiped away her tears as JC reached into his pocket and removed a picture. It was one of him and Aris taken a few weeks ago at the guys rehearsal. "What do you see when you look at him?" JC questioned softly, trying his best not to make his words sound like a demand.

Shivers went up Bobbee’s spine as she looked at the two in the picture. They’re similarities were so blatant that it scared her. She’d seen Aris hundreds of times, but never with JC, or never in JC’s arms, as he was in the picture. The little boy looked just like him.

"It’s Aris." Bobbee’s eyes remained on the picture for one more moment, trying to find some logical explanation for the features her husband and the little boy shared. "Joey’s little boy." She finished as she looked up and handed the picture back to JC.

"Bobbee," JC paused for a moment as he looked down at the picture of him and his son. "I had an affair almost four years ago." Within moments Bobbee’s hand was over her mouth as she shook her head in disbelief.

How? He was always so good to her, he was always so responsible. She’d always felt safe knowing that he was the one in the group who would least likely be the one to cheat, he was the most grown up, the most trustworthy. How could he have done it? He couldn’t. He was JC…JC wasn’t capable of something like this.

"It was with Kate," Again another blow as tears fell once again down his wife’s cheeks. His eyes were gentle, and they were covered in tears at the realization of how much he had actually hurt her.

Bobbee just stared at him. He couldn’t have. JC couldn’t have. He wasn’t capable of something like this. She repeated it over and over again in her head, hoping it would come true.

"Aris is my son. Mine, not Joey’s, and I’m taking Joey to court for full custody of him. I want my son." JC finished in one breath, wanting it all to end.

"I don’t believe you." Bobbee shook her head. "You wouldn’t do that to me." She said softly through her tears. In that moment JC’s heart managed to shatter into a million pieces, Even more than when he’d hear Aris call Joey Daddy.

"Honey, I’m so, so sorry, and I…I love you, and if I could go back and do it over, I wouldn’t do it at all. But I did it. I did it, and I have a son Bobbee, a beautiful little boy." His words were no comfort, as her tears continued falling.

"How?" Her question was simple, but JC had never had a harder one to answer.

"I wish I knew." He let a tear fall down his cheek as he spoke after a pause.

"And you have a son."

"Yes, and I want custody of him. I love him. I love him so much." JC nodded as he looked down again at the picture in his hand.

There was a long hesitation as silence filled the large house. Bobbee swallowed hard as she turned to her right, looking at the table of pictures, one of which was a picture of Joey and Aris. She got up and walked over slowly and picked it up. Her mind was reeling, and she knew that what JC had done was unforgivable. She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, and if she had a gun she had a feeling he wouldn’t be breathing.

Yet, she walked back over to him slowly and handed him the picture of Joey and Aris, and as her voice cracked she asked him one simple question.

"How could you do that to Joey?"

*~*~*

"Daddy! Daddy!" A little shriek filled the house and woke Joey from his restless sleep.

"Aris? Buddy, it’s ok, I’m coming!" He called groggily as he rolled out of bed, tripping over his shoes, and then stumbling out into the hall.

"Daddy!" His screams were now cries as Joey raced to the room down the hall. He walked in to see Aris sitting straight up in his bed, tears flowing down his cheeks like tiny rivers.

"Hey big guy, what’s wrong?" Joey walked into the room, turning the light on as he went. "Did you have a bad dream?"

"Sleep with me." Aris moved over in his toddler bed as Joey looked down at him with a warm smile.

"Is that all you wanted?" He bent down beside the bed as he reached over and pulled Aris across the bed to him. The little boy nodded as Joey kissed his forehead and then ran his hands through his hair. "I think I can do that." Joey paused as he lifted Aris into his arms and stood up. "But how about we sleep in Daddy’s bed? I don’t think we could both fit in yours." He smiled lightly, as Aris smiled and wiped the tears from his face. "Yeah, there ya go." Joey reached up and wiped a tear from Aris’ tiny cheek.

Joey carried Aris down the hall to his room, and he laid him down in the bed, moving the covers tightly around him before he climbed in next to him. Aris moved as close to Joey as humanly possible as he wrapped his arms around him, and buried his face in the familiar cloth of his father’s shirt.

"I love you, Daddy." His voice was muffled, but Joey heard it. He hugged Aris tightly as he blinked back the tears in his eyes.

"I love you too, Buddy." Joey slid down deeper under the covers as he pulled Aris up closer to his head.

"You’re best Daddy." Aris looked up at his father’s sparkling eyes. Joey didn’t attempt to fix his son’s grammar as he placed a soft kiss on the toddler’s forehead.

"And you’re the best son." He told him as Aris sighed contentedly before drifting off into a light sleep. "And you’re my son." Joey spoke softly after Aris was asleep. There was no way he was letting JC take this away from him. There was no way Aris would call to JC in the middle of the night, and there was no way Joey would let Aris snuggle up to JC’s chest.

"My Son." Joey repeated softly before succumbing to sleep.

*~*~*

"…The space between, The wicked lies we tell, that hope to keep us safe from the pain…" –The Space Between, The Dave Matthews Band

*~*~*

Part 11

The Next Best Thing: Daddy

He still remembered the first time he saw him. He was this scrawny kid, a few months younger than him, and his brown hair was cut close to his head. The two didn’t talk much at first, out of everyone they were the two that were the farthest apart. Maybe it was because they were the same age, or maybe it was because people always claimed their voices sounded the same, which, in the end turned into a constant competition that he never won.

But, through the years they got over their initial differences, they had no other choice. They were always together, always having to act like the best of friends, and after a while it just happened. Yet, in an instant it all changed. Aris was born, Kate was gone, Joey quit the group, and in the process he found himself fighting for the only piece of life he had left. His Job was gone, his fiancée was gone, and he’d be damned if he’d let his son be the next to leave him. He’d raised that child since he was born, since he was conceived. His hand was the first to touch Kate’s stomach, he was the one who read the baby books at night, and he was the one who passed out blue bubble gum cigars the day Aris was born.

Joey watched with a smile as the little boy’s chest rose and fell in a steady motion, while a tranquil smile graced his face. He was so innocent, and yet it was he who was causing all the trouble.

"It’s worth it though Buddy," Joey bit his bottom lip as he reached over and ran his hands through the little boys hair, and then rubbed his back softly. "You’re worth it." He leaned down and kissed the side of Aris’ head gently as he imagined the press the case would get. He wished that he could just be normal for one second. For one second he wished he could walk outside with his son, and play in his yard without worrying about the story that would be in the paper the next day, or the rumors that would begin.

The soft chime of the doorbell filled the downstairs of the house as Joey hurried over, leaving Aris to nap on the couch.

"Good morning sweetie." He was greeted instantly by a kiss on the cheek from his mother, and then a hug from Ann, Kate’s mother.

"Morning mom." Joey tugged at the tie around his neck as he stepped aside so the women could enter. "Hi Ann." Joey nodded to the other woman.

"Morning dear." She smiled as they looked over his shoulder. "Where’s the baby?" Ann asked softly as her eyes fell sympathetically on Joey.

"Sleeping on the couch." Joey pointed in towards the couch in the living room.

"Honey, did you pack toys? It may be a long day and he should have something to play with." His mother advised as she and Ann headed into the living room to see the sleeping child.

"God, no, I forgot. Um, can you keep and eye on him and I’ll go put some things in his bag?"

"Sure." Janine nodded as Joey took off up the stairs.

He walked into the little boy’s room as the realization that it might be the last time he walked into that room, that after today the room would be empty, only memories occupying it. Joey found himself sitting on his son’s little toddler bed, clenching the little stuffed dog he’d bought Kate before Aris was born. The dog Aris and Joey had jointly named Colby. After holding back tears as he looked slowly around the room, remembering all the times he’d run in in the middle of the night to comfort Aris, he felt himself reach his breaking point as tears fell down his cheeks, coming to a stop in the thick, brown fur of the stuffed dog.

"Joey?" He heard a gentle voice call as he reached quickly for a little bag on the floor, attempting to make it look as if he’d been doing something. "Oh Joey." The voice fell as he saw Ann approaching him. Joey stood quickly as he wiped the tears from his eyes and placed Colby in the bag.

"Aris loves this dog, he’ll want to bring him." Joey attempted to make everything appear all right as he walked over and collected a few figures along with some cars off the floor.

"Joey, this guy has no right taking that little boy from you." Ann placed a gentle hand on Joey’s shoulder as he stopped gathering Aris’ toys. "Kate would call me and brag about how wonderful you were with Aris. She’d always wonder how you were so patient, and how you managed to love him so much. She told me once that the thing she loved most was watching you two talk. You treat him like your best friend, because he is. She loved watching you two together." Joey attempted to collect himself, but Ann’s words carried too many emotions for him to succeed. "You are a Daddy Joey, not because of blood, but because of love. Never have you treated that child like a burden, you’ve loved him since the day he was born. And that love is something that no one can take away from you. I couldn’t have asked for a better father for my grandson." As her speech finished there were tears pouring down her own cheeks.

"God I love him." Joey’s voice cracked as he shook his head back and forth. His back was facing Ann, and he stared aimlessly at the wall before him. "I treated him like my best friend because he is." He paused as he sniffed and wiped away his tears. "He’s my son. Why would someone want to take my son?" Ann turned Joey around and wiped the tears from his eyes like she used to when he was little. In the next motion she wrapped her arms around him and brought his head to rest on her shoulder.

"That man does not deserve your baby Joey. No one deserves him except you, that’s how Katie wanted it. You’re his father, and I’m going to help you fight until you get him. Because he belongs with his Daddy." Joey sobbed relentlessly as his breath escaped him. He hadn’t remembered crying this much since he was a child, but in that room the thought of loosing his son was too much for him to handle. He’d dedicated almost four years of his life to that little boy, and the last thing he wanted was JC coming in and taking that from him. "And you’re his Daddy Joey. You will always be Aris’ Daddy." She moved his head off her shoulder as she kissed his tears away.

"Daddy! Daddy!" A shrill scream came from down the hall.

"God, he's so scared I'm going to leave him." Joey shook his head. "There's no way he'll be able to stay with JC, he hates being in another room without me." Ann took the bag from Joey and rubbed her hand up and down her arm.

"He won't take him from you Joey. Over my dead body will that baby not be with you."

"Daddy!" Another scream filled the house. Joey looked at Ann for a few moments before rushing downstairs to get his son.

"I'm right here Buddy." He smiled as he took Aris from his mother's arms. "Daddy's got you." He bounced the little boy up and down as he kissed his cheek sweetly.

Janine watched her son as he cradled his son in his arms. Anyone with half a brain saw how much they needed each other, and the fact that someone could rob them of the other was inconceivable. They were father and son, they were best friends, and they were each other's lifeline. Who would want to take that away from either of them?

*~*~*

She let out a deep sigh as she clipped back the top of her light brown hair before rubbing her hands slowly over her growing stomach.

"I don't feel special anymore." She muttered as she felt the baby within her give a strong kick. With another sigh she stepped back so she could view her whole body.

"What'd you say honey?" His voice was soft, knowing that anything else would set her off. She'd managed not to kick him out immediately, and he didn't want to do something to make her do so now.

"I don't feel special." She looked at him sharply, not expecting him to understand. He finished fixing his tie before turning to face her. Slowly he closed the gap between them, and placed a gentle hand on his wife's stomach. "Like when you do that. Knowing that you've done it before. Knowing that this child isn't your first. I had this feeling before, like we were both doing this together, but now- now this is the second time around, and I have to wonder if it's the same."

JC found himself at a loss for words as he leaned over and gently kissed her cheek.

"I love this baby just as much as Aris." He whispered softly. "If not more." Bobbee stomach fell at the brief thought of the little boy who had managed to turn her world upside down. But, she couldn't blame the child, she could only blame JC, which was harder to do now with a baby on the way. She found herself vulnerable, and in the end she realized that she wasn't strong enough to raise their baby on her own.

"Then why can't it just be us Josh?" She questioned slowly. "Just you, me, and this baby? I know that you love him, but he's grown up with Joey, Joey’s the only Dad he knows, and if you try to remove him from that situation now it's going to be hard for everyone involved…especially now with a new baby on the way." She paused as she leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder. "Haven't you ever heard, 'let sleeping dogs lie'?"

"This is my son Bobbee. I love him, and I've been out of his life for three years, I'm not going to stand by and watch it be four." JC stepped back as Bobbee's face fell.

"But what about me? It's not just your life anymore, Jace." She shook her head. "It's our life. And what if I don't want this child in my life? Or what if I don't think I can handle this child in my life? You say he's yours, and you want him, but I'm going to be the one watching him while you're working, and while you're on tour." She paused as she looked into the eyes that had captured her all those years ago. "Did you ever think what I want?"

"It's a little boy, my little boy." JC clenched his jaw as he shoved his hands into his pockets.

"It wasn't your little boy three years ago when you didn't want any part of his life." Her words were calm, and she watched as he lost it.

"Who the hells side are you on? Jesus, you’re my wife, you're supposed to be supporting me! And if I didn't know any better I'd say you're not." He attempted to control his anger, but his nerves for the upcoming day, and the way Bobbee acted as though he should just forget Aris made it hard.

"I don't know who I'm supporting. Joey loves Aris, Josh. I don't see how you could rob him of his son-"

"My son! Aris is my son!" JC erupted. He didn't expect her to understand, or forgive him, but he did expect her to side with him, and to his surprise she was doing the exact opposite.

"Fine, your son." She huffed before leaving the room. JC turned and looked at his image in the mirror. There were circles under his eyes, and they burnt from no sleep while going over the custody case over and over. As he looked at his image in the mirror he felt his stomach tingle as the realization that when he came home that night he would be carrying Aris in his arms. His lawyer had assured him that Joey had practically no case, and JC watched as their friendship crumbled, all over the three year old child- His three year old child.

*~*~*

"Uncle Chris!" Aris laughed happily as he reached for the older man before him.

"Hey dude!" Chris laughed as he took Aris into his arms. The toddler preoccupied himself with Chris' collar as Joey nervously tugged at his suit jacket. "How are you holding up?" Chris asked as the hot summer sun surrounded them while they stood on the large steps of the Orlando courthouse.

"Not very well." Joey answered truthfully as he reached over and rubbed Aris' back. The little boy turned and smiled widely at his father before turning back to Chris' collar. "I just- I don't believe he's actually doing it. He knows how much he means to me." He shook his head.

"Joe, I was there through it. I know that you're his father, and no one can convince me otherwise. You deserve him." Chris bounced Aris up and down on his hip. Joey’s stomach turned at how everyone had been referring to the little boy like he was some prize.

"I just don't understand how you can't do it one minute, and then after you get your life together, and things get easier you decide that you can. You’re a father from the day your child is conceived, kids don't wait for you. And I stepped up and took responsibility for his mistakes." Joey shook his head back and forth. "But I wouldn't change that decision for anything in the world."

"You're going to get him Joey. You're his Dad, and anyone who wants to take that away from you knows crap." Chris shook his head as Justin and Lance approached the two adults and the toddler.

"A! What's up bud?" Justin called lightly to the little boy in Chris' arms.

"Hi Curly." Aris giggled at Justin's nickname.

"Hey Air." Lance smiled as he reached over and ran his hand up and down the little boy's back.

"Hey Uncle Lance." Joey glanced down at his watch as his stomach dropped, it was time. He felt himself grow clammy, and he ran his hands nervously over his face before placing them in his pockets.

"Is he staying with your mom? Or Ann?" Chris questioned as Aris and Lance were carrying on a little conversation.

"Oh, um, whoever he wants. I don't want him to be upset or uncomfortable, ya know? So whoever he wants to sit with is fine." Joey cleared his throat.

"I stay with Uncle Chris!" Aris overheard the conversation as he wrapped his arms tightly around Chris' neck.

"That's my boy." Chris laughed.

"No, that's my boy." Joey leaned over and kissed Aris' temple sweetly before the four men exchanged solemn glances and then headed into the courthouse.

*~*~*

"So you believe that the child would be better with Mr. Fatone?" Joey's lawyer paced back and forth in front of the witness stand as Bobbee cleared her throat.

"I believe Aris has a relationship with Joey. He's the only father he knows, and he's been through enough this year with loosing his mother, and in his eyes taking him from Joey would be loosing his father." Bobbee finished the statement with sigh.

"Then you don't see Mr. Chasez as a competent father?" The lawyer asked his next question as Bobbee ran her hands over her stomach. How could she answer that question now that he would be a father to their child in a few short months?

JC ran his hands over his face as he watched his wife testify against him. He heard a little giggle, and both he and Joey turned around to see Aris playing with his figures on Chris' lap. Aris felt their eyes, and he looked over and waved at Joey. Joey smiled to himself before turning back around, while JC slipped farther into his chair and grabbed the bridge of his nose.

What exactly was he doing? Bobbee was right, if he loved Aris, then he would let him be happy with Joey. But for some reason he couldn't reconcile with that. He wanted Aris to be his son, he wanted the little boy to call him Daddy. Maybe it was selfish, but it's what he wanted. He wanted what all fathers want, a chance to know their child.

"No, I think Josh would be a wonderful father." She paused for a minute as she looked over at JC. "But not to this boy. Joey has been there from the beginning, and it certainly wouldn't be in his best interest to take him away from him now." She explained her reasoning.

"Thank you Mrs. Chasez." Joey's lawyer finished as he walked over and sat down next to his client.

"How do you think it's going?" Joey whispered nervously as JC's lawyer got up from his seat.

"So far everyone's testified that you keeping the child would be in his best interest." He whispered back. "But you've got to know Joey, we're fighting an up hill battle here. They've never awarded custody of a child to a non-biological parent." Joey stomach fell as he glanced back at Aris once more.

"I can't loose him, we've got to win this." He said softly as JC's lawyer began questioning Bobbee.

"You said that taking the child from Mr. Fatone would be like him loosing his father. But, in reality hasn't the child already lost his father? For three years he's been living without his father, believing that another man is his Dad, but in reality it's been a lie. Do you not think that the child being with his biological father would be in his best interest?" His comments were sharp, and they drew a smile across JC's face. His exact statement summed up everything he felt.

"No. Josh lost a son, but Aris never lost a father. He has one, Joey." She looked over at Joey as JC's lawyer walked back to his bench.

"That's all." He sat down as Bobbee made her way off the stand.

*~*~*

"Mrs. Douglas, would you say that it was your daughters intent was for Mr. Fatone to be this child's father?" Joey's lawyer leaned up against the witness stand as Ann nodded.

"Yes. She never told any of us that Aris wasn't Joey's, and I know that she loved Joey being his father. She definitely had no second thoughts about having Joey be his father."

"Thank you ma'am. That's all." He nodded before walking over to Joey and sitting behind the table as JC's lawyer approached Ann.

"If your daughter was so intent on Joey being the child's father then why didn't she ever make it legal? She could have easily wrote a will, or Mr. Fatone could have adopted the child. But, she did neither."

"My daughter was 29 years old. She didn't even think about things like that, and there were adoption papers, they just hadn't cleared before her accident."

"Why didn't she get them sooner? The child was three years old, she could have gotten the papers as soon as the baby was born."

"I don't know why she didn't get them sooner. Joey was part of Nsync, and my only reasoning is that maybe she didn't want to ruin his career, and her relationship with Josh had stopped, so she probably didn't see them necessary."

"But they apparently were. If she was certain that Mr. Fatone would be the best father for the child then she would have gotten the papers done immediately." He finished his statement and with that he walked back over to JC. Ann got down from the stand as the judge turned to Joey's lawyer.

"Mr. Davis, do you have any more witnesses?"

"No." He shook his head as the judge turned to JC's lawyer.

"And you Mr. McCullough, is there anyone else you'd like to call to the stand?"

"No your honor, that's all." He shook his head.

"All right then Mr. Davis, you're closing statement."

"A father is not someone who merely conceives a child, a father is someone that raises that child, and who loves and cares for that child- All of which Mr. Fatone has done. He has been there from the beginning, and he's a remarkable father to his son. The little boy knows only one father, and taking him away from that would definitely not be in the child’s best interest. In the beginning Mr. Chasez wanted nothing to do with his own son, and Mr. Fatone willingly stepped forward, he raised the child, and he loved him incessantly. There is no reason that the little boy should be removed from him. He has provided him with more love and more devotion than Mr. Chasez ever could. It’s clear that the boy’s mother intended for him to grow up knowing only one father, and that’s my client. Taking this child from him now would not only be wrong, but it would be detrimental to the little boy, and anything but in the child’s best interest." He felt as though he proved his point as he stepped back and sat down next to Joey.

"Mr. McCoullough," The judge turned to JC’s lawyer as he rose. "You’re statement."

The middle aged man made his way to the front of the court room and looked around slowly at it’s occupants.

"People make mistakes. My client is only human, and where he was in his life at the time he was told about his son caused him to doubt if he could be a good father. But now he’s stable, and he can provide his son with a family, a mother, a father, and soon a sibling. Mr. Chasez loves his son, and is just asking what every parent in this country is entitled to, raising their child. This shouldn’t even be a case, Mr. Chasez is the boys biological parent, and because of that he should be granted full custody of his son." His speech was short, but it established a hard-hitting point- JC was Aris’ biological father, and regardless of what he’d said in the beginning, it was his right to raise his son.

"We will now take a recess so I can review the case and we’ll come back for the ruling at 4 pm." The judge gathered the papers and overview of the case before leaving the courtroom.

"Daddy! Look what I made!" Aris rushed through the little gate, which led to the front half of the courtroom, and ran right to Joey. He held up a little truck with a paper man inside.

"That’s cool, A." Joey smiled as he reached down and lifted the little boy onto his lap. He held him tightly, hoping that if at all possible he could continue to hold him like that forever. "Did Uncle Chris help you?" Joey looked over at Chris, who was just watching the two.

"Yeah." Aris nodded happily as Joey’s eyes fell upon JC. He too was watching the interaction between Joey and his son, and he clenched his jaw as he watched th was Aris looked at Joey. He wanted that. He wanted that so bad it hurt.

He was ready now, maybe he was ready then, but the fear got to him, the reality of the situation covered his desire. He’d watched for three years as Joey fathered Aris, and now he wanted to do it. He knew that he could, he knew that he would be the kind of father Aris needed. It would be hard, sure, but he loved him, and that had to count for something. He loved him more than he’d ever imagined. He was always thinking about him, and wondering what he was doing, he was always attempting to put on a smile when Aris called Joey Daddy. But, in the end he loved his son. He wanted to be Daddy, and he wasn’t going to let Joey, or anybody else stand in the way of that. He’d created Aris, it was him who helped bring the child into the world, and he was tired of watching Joey live the life he should be. He was tired of watching, tired of dreaming. He was ready for his son, ready for the one thing that kept him going, for the one thing he never knew he’d always wanted. He was ready to be Daddy.

*~*~*

Part 12

 

The Next Best Thing: Best Friends


The judge made his way back into the courtroom and slowly took his position behind his bench as the occupants of the room stood. There was no sound as you could practically hear Joey’s heart beating. To him, it all came down to this, after almost four years of loving Aris, and providing for him, and taking care of him, he could loose him in one single second. Just like that.

JC on the other hand was already planning the evening’s activities with his son. In his mind there was no doubt that he would be the one taking Aris home in the end, something he’d been waiting to do for years.

The judge’s eyes peered across the courtroom, before falling down on the paper before him.

"I’ve never known a luckier child," He began, and all ready Joey felt his legs wobble under him, and his body burned. "To have two fathers who would break up a friendship for the chance to love him. Mr. Fatone," He turned to Joey. "You’ve given this child three years of your life, and you’ve showed him what it’s like to be loved. You’ve jeopardized more than I can imagine for this child, and I don’t doubt your love for him. But, in the state of Florida the biological parent has custodial rights. Therefore, it’s my ruling that Mr. Chasez be granted full custody of Aris Joseph Fatone."

A loud gasp, and cries could be heard as Joey collapsed back in his chair, his hands immediately covering his face, and his body immediately stricken with sobs.

"No! You’re not taking him, I won’t let you take him!" Ann screeched in the back of the room as she rushed over to Chris and removed her grandson from his arms. JC slowly made his way back to the two, a smile on his face. He had his son, he finally had his son.

"Daddy?" Aris questioned as he started to cry, due to the reactions of people around him.

Daddy. Through all the sighs, and gasps, tears and screams, Joey heard that little word, and because of it he steadied himself as he rose and made his way to the back of the room.

"Daddy!" Aris stretched his arms out in the direction of Joey. With a deep sigh Joey turned to face JC, who was standing next to him.

"You took my son from me," His eyes were all ready red, and they were the perfect facsimile for the smile across JC’s face. "The least you can do is let me say goodbye." Joey proceeded to take Aris from Ann and exited the courthouse, holding the child close to his chest, while JC was met by the glares of Chris, Justin and Lance.

"Do you even know what you’ve just done?" Chris asked as he crossed his arms across his chest.

"I’ve just got the chance to raise my son." JC sighed lightly. "Look, you can call me every name in the book, but until you’re in my position it’s not going to do you shit. I love that child more than you can imagine, and I deserve to be his father."

"And Joey? When you said no he was there, what do you think he deserves? Cause it sure as shit ain’t this." Lance shook his head before he and Chris walked away, leaving Justin and JC.

"I’m never going to stop admiring you from the music point of view." Justin shook his head as Bobbee approached the two. "But if I was Joey…" He trailed off and let his eyes do the talking. He stared at him sharply for a little longer before turning and joining Lance and Chris.

"You just screwed over your best friend." Bobbee said as her hands fell at her sides. "I only hope that you can be half as good a father to this little boy than Joey was. You may deserve him Josh, but that child doesn’t deserve you." She spoke her mind, regardless if she was his wife or not, she had an opinion, and she wasn’t about to suppress it.

*~*~*

"We go home now, Dad?" Aris held Joey’s hand tightly as they walked over to a bench just outside the courthouse doors. Joey said nothing as he slowly watched the life he’d fought so hard to maintain crumble.

"C’mere buddy." He cleared his throat as he sat down and then sat Aris on his lap. Aris looked up at him, and he just watched him for a minute. How could they do this to him? How could they do this to both of them? They were the only family the other had left, how could anyone want to break that up?

As Joey looked at the small child before him only one word came to his mind- love. He never knew that he was capable of loving someone so much, of loving every movement, or cherishing every smile, and in the end he had JC to thank for that. But also in the end he had JC to thank for loosing that. This is what his worst fear had been, that somewhere down the line JC would change his mind, and after everything he’d given to the baby, it would all be taken away. But as Aris leaned his head tiredly against his chest, and reached for his hand, he knew that never in his life would he trade, nor regret the past three years of his life.

"Can we please go home Daddy? I tired." Aris asked softly as he squeezed Joey’s hand tighter. With a deep breath Joey ran his hands up and down the little boys arms, and then quickly through his hair. How was he supposed to do this? Since Kate’s death he and Aris became so close that the little boy hated even being in the other room than him.

"Um, you know what buddy, you’re going to be staying with Uncle JC for a while." A while, it was better than permanently, and if he tried hard enough maybe he could make it sound like a good thing. There was something inside Joey that had shattered, a piece of him that was no longer living since the judge read that verdict, and if at all possible he didn’t want Aris to experience the same thing.

"Why?" Aris moved his head away from Joey’s chest as Joey turned him to face him. He looked at him for a moment, capturing the only piece of Kate he had left, and cherishing his precious last minutes as a Daddy.

"Well, I thought it’d be fun. He’s really excited about it." Joey forged a smile as he blinked back the burning tears in his eyes. His breath caught in his throat as he saw Aris’ bottom lip began to quiver.

"No, I wanna go home with you." He shook his head. Joey bent down and kissed away his innocent little tears. What the hell had JC done? If he loved him, if he really loved him then he wouldn’t make him hurt this much. No parent wants to see their child how Aris was on Joey’s lap. Joey included.

"Oh man, buddy." Joey shook his head as he attempted to think of an excuse that would reconcile the fact that Aris couldn’t go home with him. He brought the toddler as close to his chest as possible as he rocked him back and forth. "I love you, you know that, right? I’m always, always going to love you." Reassurance was better than anything else, and gently he kissed the top of Aris’ head. "But you have to go with Uncle JC. But you know what pal, he’s going to take good care of you because he loves you a lot."

"I love you a lot." Aris moaned through his tears as he clenched Joey’s shirt.

"I know you do, and I love you a lot. More than a lot, I love you so much I can’t even begin to tell you. You’re the best thing that ever could have happened to me Air, you’re my best friend in the whole world."

"You my best friend." Aris continued to sob as his whole body shook, and he could barely breath. Joey moved Aris away from him slightly so he could see his face, and then he wiped away his tears and pushed back his brown hair. With one hand placed on Aris’ back he reached around his own neck and undid the little clasp of his necklace. He caught the chain and then removed it from under his shirt. In his hand he held a tiny superman charm, which was on a silver chain. He hadn’t worn any type of superman necklace in years, but this one was special. Kate had given it to him years ago, and because of the occasion he thought he might need super powers.

"I want you to have this, and I want you to remember how strong superman would be, ok?" He placed the necklace on Aris as he kissed his forehead. "And, whenever you look at it you’ll know that I’m with you, ok bud?" Aris looked down at the little charm around his neck.

"Was I bad?" He huffed to catch his breath as he looked up at his father with bright red, raw, eyes.

"Aris, you listen to me, you were never bad. You were the best thing in my life, and I love you. I’m always going to love you, and I’m always going to be your Daddy. Just remember that, ok? Will you remember that?" Joey’s own red eyes shut momentarily before re-opening to see Aris wipe his nose quickly with his fist.

"I will." He nodded.

"Good." Joey brought Aris closer one last time as they exchanged their last hug as father and son, while JC watched from a few feet off. He could hear Aris struggle for breath, and he watched as Joey, whom he’d always presumed was invisible shatter into a million pieces. He knew what he was doing all along, but to him it was always him gaining his son. He never thought of the repercussions, and maybe that’s because he’d never seen them, but now he watched as his son cried uncontrollably, and one of his best friends lost all they had left, all on account of him. Maybe everyone was right, if he did love Aris that much, then he should let him be happy. But he couldn’t reconcile with that. He loved him. He loved him more than anything, and he wanted a chance to raise, and love the baby boy that he had created.

Slowly JC approached them, and subtly he placed his hand on Aris’ head.

"Hey Aris, are you ready?" He asked softly. Aris looked up at Joey, the only Daddy he’d ever known, the only caretaker, the only provider, and the only protector he’d ever had.

"Please, I’ll be good." He shook his head as he clawed at Joey’s shirt.

"I told you," Joey bit his bottom lip as JC tried to take Aris out of his arms, "You weren’t bad. You were amazing. And I love you. I love you." He repeated as JC finally managed to remove him. Aris looked at JC for a moment before kicking and screaming as he clawed at his face.

"No! No! I wanna go with Daddy! I wanna go home with Daddy!" Aris pleaded as JC managed to carry him away. "I don’t like you!" He coughed before taking an unsteady breath to try to breathe. "Daddy! Daddy Please!"

Joey heard as his screams became more distant, and he found himself crying like a baby. His hands covered his eyes as he heard people walk by, but he couldn’t find the strength to get up, he could barely find the strength to breath.

His son was gone.

*~*~*

There was this indescribable feeling as he tucked his son into his bed for the very first time. A feeling that he’d only imagined, but never had he imagined it would feel as it did.

Aris’ eyes were still red, and he cowarded back in his bed as JC sat down next to him with a little book.

"Do you want me to read to you?" He asked gently as he reached over and ran his hand down Aris’ cheek. Aris shook his head back and forth as he crawled out of the bed.

"Uncle JC, please can Daddy take me home?" He asked for the billionth time that night. JC let out a defeated sigh as he placed the book down and reached for his son.

"Aris, I’m going to be your Daddy now, and Joey, he’s your uncle Joey." The parallel was something he couldn’t explain, his first night as a father and already he’d managed to turn his son away.

"No you not." Aris shook his head as he turned and ran out of the room. "Daddy! I want my Daddy! Please!" He screamed through his tears as he ran through out the house. He came to a stop just short of Bobbee, who had come out to see what the screaming was about.

"Aunt Bobbee, please, let me go home." His words broke her heart. How could JC do this to his own son? She bent down to him as she wiped the tears from his eyes.

"You are home sweetheart." She smiled softly, trying to quell his sobs.

"No. Daddy. Please." He begged as he fell to the floor, and began screaming. JC walked into the hallway, his face was pained as he walked over to his son and his wife.

"Aris, come here man." JC bent down and picked him up as he rocked back and forth soothingly. Bobbee shook her head as she reached over and ran her hand up and down Aris’ back.

"Sweetie, you have to calm down." She said gently.

"Please Uncle Jaaayyyce." He drug out his name. JC wanted to correct him by telling him he was Daddy now, but he knew he wouldn’t take it well.

"Hey, do you want to watch a movie? I got your Toy Story movie downstairs." JC suggested as he looked at Bobbee for help.

"Nooooo! I wanna go home! Daaaady!" He screeched.

"God JC look what you’re doing to him! Look at what you’re doing to your own son!" Bobbee yelled over Aris’ hysterical cries. She ran her hands over her face as she shook her head back and forth.

"I love him Bobbee! I love him, and…" Aris’ screams elevated as he thrashed around in JC’s arms. "God Aris, please! Please just calm down!" JC begged as he reached his breaking point. What was he supposed to do? It was his first night as a father with a hysterically crying three-year-old; His hysterically crying three-year-old.

"If you loved him, you would have let him be. You would have let him be happy, or you would have been there from the beginning. But you weren’t, and now you’re trying to jump into his life, and make him forget everything he’s known for the past three years all for your fucking sake!" She screamed over Aris’ cries.

"I loved him in the beginning, but I wasn’t there because of you, because I loved you!" JC screamed back as he fell to the ground with Aris. A deep sigh escaped his lips as he placed Aris on the floor. "Aris, please, just please…" He shook his head.

"You loved me? Ha! That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever heard Josh! You loved me? When did you love me, huh? When you were screwing her? Or when you were on the phone lying to me? Oh, or was it when you’d put me on a plane and then go back to your hotel, fuck her, wake up and call me and tell me how much you missed me? Which one Josh? Huh?" She put her hands on her hips as JC looked up at her with tears in his eyes.

"I love you Bobbee, and I love him. I screwed up, but look at him," He paused as he laid on the floor and wrapped his arms around his screaming son. "His mine, and I love him. I don’t regret him, and I wouldn’t change having him for anything in this world." JC began to cry desperately as he covered Aris in kisses. "Please, can you please help me?" Bobbee stood still for a few minutes before she bent down to them. Aris was still crying, and he was gagging every couple minutes as if he was going to throw-up. JC rubbed Aris’ hair gently as Bobbee picked him up off the floor and brought him into her arms.

"Sarah and I just bought that Johnson’s soothing bath for the baby. Go get it, it’s in the nursery under the changing table, and then go start a bath."

"Thank you." JC said almost inaudibly as he got up and headed down the hall into the nursery.

"Hey Aris, it’s going to be ok baby. We’re going to make you a nice bath, and then we’ll watch a movie, does that sound ok?" Bobbee told him sweetly as she ran her hands through his hair, trying her best to stop his incessant crying.

"I-I just w-wanna go h-home." He managed to get out before crying again, pausing every couple seconds to catch his breath. He was making himself sick.

"Can we just try this? And if it doesn’t work, then you can go home, all right?" She made an empty promise, but she knew that she had to do it. If he continued crying like this he would end up in the hospital. If the bath didn’t work there was only one other thing to do- call Joey. Aris sniffed just as JC made his way out of the bathroom down the hall. He wiped his eyes quickly before heading over to Bobbee and Aris.

"It’s ready." He said as he placed a concerned hand on Aris’ head. Bobbee miraculously managed to get up off the floor with Aris in her arms and she carried him down to the bathroom. Together with JC they took him out of his pajama’s before placing him in the luke-warm bath. The water came up just below his belly-button, and Aris just sat there, his tears rolling off his cheeks into the water surrounding him.

"JC, I know you want this," Bobbee whispered softly as she reached for a wash cloth while JC did the same, "But do you really want * this *?" She nodded towards the little boy before her as she began to gently wipe his back with the wash cloth. "He’s so attached to Joey. And I know how much you want a relationship with him, but look at what you’re doing to him." JC grabbed the bridge of his nose before falling back on the cool tile of the bathroom floor. They sat in silence, Aris’ steady cries filling their ears while JC just watched. What was he supposed to do?

*~*~*

"Is he asleep?" Bobbee asked as she cleared her throat and then walked over behind JC, who was standing in the doorway to his room.

"Uh, yeah." JC nodded, his eyes were glued on the little boy before him. Slowly and softly he walked into the room followed by Bobbee. Their footsteps were soft, wanting anything but to wake up the toddler. After two hours he’d finally managed to cry himself to sleep. JC let out a deep sigh as he placed his arm around Bobbee’s waist. "I love you." He kissed her cheek as he squeezed her closer. "But something tells me that giving him up three years ago was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made." He shook his head. "I love him, I really do, and now that he’s finally with me I don’t ever want him to leave. But you’re right, what am I doing to him? He’s so innocent in this whole thing, and all he wants is the man he was raised to know as Daddy." JC removed his arm from around Bobbee and walked over to Aris. Softly he knelt down by the bed and ran his hands over his hair. "Joey and him are really close. Joey said he was his best friend, and he was sobbing Bobbee, I mean really, really sobbing." JC paused as he hung his head. "What have I done?" Bobbee walked over next to him and bent down slowly, finding a spot next to him on the floor.

"You’ve realized what everyone else has known all along." She smiled as she saw her husbands yearning for the child before them. "But, maybe it could work." She hesitated for a minute as she bit softly on her bottom lip. "Maybe if you didn’t make the transition so abrupt, like if you had Joey come over tomorrow for dinner or something, you guys could watch a movie together, and then you could both get him to sleep."

"Bobbee, whatever friendship I ever had with Joey is gone. What makes you think he’d help me?" Bobbee said nothing for a few minutes before she allowed herself to smile gently.

"Because he loves that little boy just as much as you do." She nodded towards Aris as she ran her hand over his back.

"And if he doesn’t? What if he wants nothing to do with me?" JC locked his jaw as Bobbee reached for his hand, yet kept a soft hand on Aris’ back.

"Then," She said clearing her throat. "You sign the adoption papers."

*~*~*

"A boy is a magical creature—you can lock him out of your workshop, but you can't lock him out of your heart. You can get him out of your study, but you can't get him out of your mind. Might as well give up—he is your captor, your jailer, your boss and your master—a freckled-faced, pint-sized, cat-chasing bundle of noise. But when you come home at night with only the shattered pieces of your hopes and dreams, he can mend them like new with two magic words—'Hi, Dad!'" – Alan Beck

*~*~*

 

Part 13

The Next Best Thing: Four Years and a Four-Letter Word

"He’s gone. I woke up this morning, and…" Joey trailed off as he let the cool rain fall around him. "And I’m always used to having him right next to me, but this morning he wasn’t there. I’ve never had such a feeling of…of…" He paused and let his head fall back while he pushed his soaked hair out of his face. "It just wasn’t right." He summed up as he bit his bottom lip. "And I cried. I actually cried, but it wasn’t just crying, it was sobbing, so bad I could barely breath, but I couldn’t stop. God, I haven’t cried that hard since- since I was a baby." Again he paused as he attempted to keep himself calm. The rain grew heavy as it sent a chill down his spine and turned the dark black soil into a thick, light brown mud. "I’ve always loved him, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t consider him my son, and there’s not a minute that goes by when I don’t think about him. But I never knew how much I loved him, or how much it hurt, until JC took him out of my arms yesterday. And all he kept saying was that he’d be good, like it was his fault."

Joey hesitated as a tear fell down his cheek and mixed with the rain. "I could hear him cry until JC finally put him in the car, and it killed me that I couldn’t do anything to make him stop. I’ve never in my life felt so helpless, Kate." He cleared his throat before bending down. "Then JC calls this morning and told me that Aris cried so hard last night he couldn’t breath, and how he cried himself to sleep, and all I can think about is what kind of father would do that to their son? If he loves him as much as he claims then wouldn’t he just let him be happy? Maybe it’s easy for me to say because Aris wants to be with me. But today I know what it was like to be JC. When we were on the phone I heard Air in the background, and I realized that that’s all I’m going to have now. I’m not actually going to be a part of his life like I was, I’m just going to be watching it." Joey grabbed the bridge of his nose as he fell back into the muddy ground. "And JC wants my help now. He wants me to go over there, and help him build a relationship with Aris. And I know what he’s doing, he’s using me to help calm Aris down, and then he’ll begin phasing me out. There’s not a bone in my body that wants to help him, and if there was it was gone as soon as he pulled Aris out of my arms yesterday. But at the same time, I want to be there for my son. I don’t want him to cry, I don’t want him to feel like I do." He shook his head as he contemplated everything, but he knew what he was going to do, he knew what he had to do.

It wasn’t Aris’ fault, none of this was Aris’ fault, but he was the one who was suffering the most. Joey knew that no matter how much he hurt Aris had to feel it 100 times more, because Joey knew what was going on, he knew why, but Aris didn’t. To him the whole thing was just him being separated from his Daddy, and no matter how many times people tried to explain it he knew that he would never understand.

"I feel so helpless in this whole thing. Like I’ve actually lost control of the one thing I’ve always managed to keep a hold on." He found himself at a loss for breath as he inhaled deeply as the mixture of the cool rain and his warm tears fell down his cheeks. "And I miss you so much, and so does Aris, and now…now I lost both of you and God Kate I don’t think I can do this." He admitted to the granite headstone before him. It was so easy for him to talk to her, even if he knew she would never answer. That’s what he loved about her, the way she always made him feel so comfortable, and even now that she was gone, that was something he didn’t want to loose.

"I’m gonna try though, because I don’t know, maybe by some streak of luck I’ll get him back. Maybe JC will actually realize what he’s doing to him, and…" Joey trailed off as he shook his head and the dark gray sky was lit with a light of thunder. "Yeah, yeah he probably won’t." Joey shook his head before opening his mouth to allow the rain to engulf him one last time before getting up. "I love you Kate." He said as he shoved his hands into his pockets and headed over to his car to escape the rain.

*~*~*

"Hey Air, are you hungry buddy?" JC asked hesitantly as he walked into the room he’d made for Aris. The toddler looked up at him for a minute before turning back to his stuffed dog. He carried on a little conversation with his stuffed animal, ignoring JC’s question. "Aris, I asked if you were hungry, Bobbee’s making some eggs."

"I don’t like eggs." He shook his head without looking at JC just as the loud rolling thunder could be heard through out the house. Aris jumped as his face dropped. "Are you ok? Did that scare you?" JC walked over to him as soon as he saw the expression on his face.

"I don’t like storms." He sat up on his bed as he shook his head back and forth, and in the next motion he reached for his dog.

"Oh, I hear you pal, I don’t like ‘em either." JC shook his head with a light chuckle as he noticed yet another similarity between him and his son. Sure, it was a similarity a lot of people shared, but to him it was different.

"It not funny." Aris referred to JC’s laugh as he shook his head and squeezed his dog tighter to him. His eyes scrunched up, and JC knew what was coming next.

"A, I’m not laughing at you bud. Listen, let’s go downstairs and we can get some breakfast, and watch a movie, huh? Does that sound good?" He cocked his head sideways as he brushed his hand across Aris’ baby soft cheek.

"When Daddy come over?" The little boy began to cry softly as JC’s head dropped. His eyes closed momentarily as once again the hard-hitting reality he’d dug himself into hit him at full force. Every time Aris cried all he wanted to do was stop it, but at the same time he knew that every time he cried and screamed for Daddy it was because of him. It was his mistakes in the beginning and his mistakes now that brought tears to his sons’ deep blue eyes. The deep blue eyes he’d given him.

"Tonight." He began simply as he swallowed hard. "Joey’s coming by tonight, and we’ll have dinner, and you can pick out a movie for us to watch. Or if you don’t want to watch a movie we can do whatever else you want." JC tried to make the situation sound as nice as possible, but he didn’t dare to refer to Joey as Daddy. Every time Aris said the word without reference to JC it made his stomach drop.

"We watch Toy Story! Daddy loves it!" Aris giggled happily, his tears immediately vanished from his eyes as he jumped up on his bed. JC forged a smile to mirror the huge grin set on Aris’ face. It was the first time he’d smiled since JC’d brought him home, and the fact that it was over Joey made the accomplishment less enjoyable.

"Yeah." JC said softly under his breath as he stood up. "But first you have to eat. We have some cereal, or Bobbee could make you whatever you want. She’s a good cook." He smiled over at his son.

"You have Cheos Uncle Jayce?" Aris questioned as he climbed down off the bed.

"Cheerios?" JC confirmed, and Aris nodded as he placed his dog under his arm. "Yup, we have them."

"And fut loops?" He blinked before scratching his head.

"Yup, we have fruit loops. But I thought you just asked for cheerios?" JC’s eyebrows scrunched.

"Both silly!" Aris laughed at JC’s lack of knowledge.

"You’re going to eat fruit loops and cheerios?"

"Yeah! It good! Daddy and I eat it!" JC watched Aris smile widely as slowly he could remember sitting across from Joey on the tour bus as he ate none other then a mix of cheerios and fruit loops. And it was then that JC actually noticed that no matter how much Aris looked like him, or how many traits the little boy had acquired from him, he was still as much of a part of Joey as he was him. "C’mon, I show you." Aris grabbed JC’s wrist as he pulled him out of his room and down the hall.

*~*~*

Joey stood silently across from Aris’ empty bedroom, his back propped up against the wall. He just stared into it, thinking that maybe if he listened hard enough he’d be able to hear him talking to Colby, or hear him talk to his figures as he set them up all around his room. They were the things he’d always taken for granted until he woke up this morning and they were gone. Aris wasn’t next to him, he couldn’t fight with him over whether or not he would eat breakfast, and he had no say in what shirt he put on.

He knew it was something he would have to get used to, but at the same time he knew it was something he would never get used to. Four years seemed like nothing compared to the life JC would now have with Aris, but it was something, and it was his something. For four years he had a son. For four years he was a Daddy. For four years he’d dedicated himself to the little boy he convinced himself was his own, and then, in four seconds he was gone.

Joey ran his hands over his face before looking down at his watch. He wanted to go to JC’s so bad, but he knew that what he might see may not be what he wanted. JC had had Aris for almost two days, who knows what he’d done to him, or convinced him of. He didn’t want to get his hopes up in case Aris wasn’t as psyched up to see him as he hoped. A part of him knew that he would kill JC if Aris snuggled up to him, or fell asleep in his arms, but another part wanted it to happen, as odd as it may seem. To know that Aris was that happy, and that comfortable would set his mind at ease, no matter how much he wished the circumstances were different.

It was reality, and over the past year, he more than anyone else knew exactly what reality was, and knew that you couldn’t change it. He walked slowly into Aris’ room and took a look around. The bed was still the same, and most of his toys were in the same exact place he’d left them. It was like a joke, some sick joke that Joey didn’t get. As he turned to walk out he noticed the brown cowboy hat on the back of the door. He’d bought it for Aris when he took him to Disney World a few months ago, it was like Woody’s, from Toy Story. He smiled to himself before taking the hat and heading out to JC’s.

*~*~*

"Uncle JC have you see my hat?" Aris put his hands on his hips as he looked up at the man over twice his size. JC bit his lip to keep from correcting the way Aris addressed him. He’d decided that tonight they’d work on not having him cry himself to sleep, and once he got that down he’d work on going from Uncle JC to Daddy.

"What hat Aris?" JC bent down to his eye level as he moved some of Aris hair out of his eyes while he made a mental note to get it cut.

"My Woody hat! I wear it when I watch Toy Story, and it missing!" The toddler’s blue eyes grew wide as he stared at JC like he should already know what he was talking about, and JC felt the same way. He should know. Everything Aris had said, or asked for JC had to question, the things his little boy did as a normal routine seemed so foreign to him- his father.

"Woody hat? Who’s Woody? Is it like a baseball hat with him on it or something?" JC shook his head due to not understanding a word the child was saying.

"Woody’s the cowboy, right Air?" Bobbee’s hand fell softly atop Aris’ head as she walked into the conversation.

"Uh-huh!" Aris screamed, excited that finally someone knew what he was talking about. JC gave her a questioning look as he stood up.

"Kaighlyn watches it all the time." She referred to her niece as she explained her knowledge. JC dropped his head at yet another mystery he had about his three-year-old. Bobbee watched his face fall as she placed a gentle hand on his arm. She knew that she shouldn’t be helping him, but she also knew that there was no reason for Aris to suffer. She also knew that every time Aris said something JC didn’t know about, or had to question it killed him. And maybe that was enough. Maybe the almost nothing relationship he had with his toddler son was enough punishment. "C’mon sweetie, I’ll help you find it." Bobbee tugged Aris towards the stairs and they found their way into his bedroom just before there was a light knock on the door.

JC opened it to find Joey standing before him, a cowboy had in one had and a box of fruit snacks in the other.

"Why didn’t you ring the doorbell?" Were JC’s first words. The awkwardness between them was anything but concealed as neither met the other’s eyes.

"I-uh-I thought Bobbee might be sleeping. Kate used to go to sleep early in her last trimester with Aris." Joey nodded uncomfortably as JC walked past him to shut to the door.

"That’s Aris’ Woody hat?" JC pointed down to the brown cowboy hat in Joey’s left hand.

"Oh, yeah." He smiled while he subconsciously tried to lighten the situation. "He likes to wear it when we watch the movie. I didn’t know what we were watching, but with A it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll pick Toy Story." JC made a sound that bordered a laugh and a sigh as he nodded.

"Yeah, he was asking for that thing. I didn’t know what it was, but he’s up looking for it with Bobbee." He explained, and for a split second he felt something weird, kind of like an accomplishment, that finally he knew where his son was, and Joey didn’t. After years of Joey constantly relating Aris’ life to him, JC finally had the upper hand on it.

"Good, I need to talk to you about something without him." Joey switched the bright red box of fruit snacks to his left hand as he stuck his now empty right hand into his pocket.

"Ok, what’s up?" They hadn’t talked that much in a while, but the connection they both shared with Aris was pulling them together, regardless if they resisted.

"Did you call Ann and Mike today? Or last night?"

"Kate’s parents? Uh, no, I haven’t." JC shook his head.

"Look JC, you have to call them about Aris and let them know what’s going on. You have to let them see him." Joey lectured JC like a child, even though he was no younger than he was. But, he found himself with more experience, and aged far beyond his years when it came to parenting.

"Joey, I-" JC shook his head as the fact that he had to suddenly be so responsible became a heavy burden. He knew that once Bobbee had the baby he would take on more responsibility than ever, but it would be gradual, but with Aris- with Aris he was a father to a three-year-old in a matter of seconds.

"No, JC you * have * to call them. Kate was their only child, and the only way they still have her is through Aris. They have rights to see him, I may not, but they do." Joey cleared his throat.

"I know Joe. It’s been a tough two days, and I’m trying to get accustomed to this whole thing. I’ll call them tomorrow morning." Joey had words of his own about how JC wanted this, and he shouldn’t be complaining because he didn’t have anything he didn’t bring upon himself. But instead Aris came down hopping down the stairs.

"I can’t find it." His head looked down at his bare feet as he made his way down the large staircase. JC stepped out of the way as Joey could barely contain his excitement as he walked over to the bottom of the stairs. It was crazy what this child did to him. What he did to both of them.

"I’ve got it." Joey held out the hat as Aris’ head flew up.

"Daddy!" Aris literally flew over the last few steps, landing comfortably in Joey’s arms. "I miss you!" He laughed happily as he buried his head in Joey’s shoulder. JC watched as his jaw locked and he attempted his best to keep himself together. Four years of seeing them embrace, but nothing hit him like this one did. The way Aris screamed Daddy, and the way he buried his head in Joey’s shoulder made JC feel like the past two days he forced him to spend with him was some horrible form of torture.

"I’ve missed you too buddy!" Joey’s voice was muffled as he kissed the back of Aris’ neck, and with his free hand he ran his fingers through the toddler’s hair. "Have you had fun with Uncle JC and Aunt Bobbee?" He asked as Aris finally pried his head off of his shoulder. Aris shrugged his shoulders as he looked over at JC and then at Joey. He cupped his hands around Joey’s ear as he leaned forward.

"I wanna go home with you." Aris whispered into his ear. "I don’t like staying here." Bobbee caught JC’s eyes as she watched him watch the relationship Joey and Aris had, and she knew he wanted that more than anything, but she also knew that there was a slim chance of him getting it. "Can we go home tonight? Just us?" Aris finished before moving away.

Joey shook his head regretfully as his eyes filled up, but he blinked back the hot tears.

"Uncle JC loves you." He struggled to keep his voice strong as he kissed Aris’ forehead. Perhaps the hardest thing he had to do was make JC out to be someone Aris wanted to be with, when he felt the exact opposite. "But let’s not think about that now, ok? Let’s just have fun." Joey smiled as he set Aris down and then placed the cowboy hat on his head before handing him the box of fruit snacks. He paused for a minute and found all his strength before turning to JC. "As Uncle JC if you can have some before the movie." Joey turned his authority over to JC as Aris moved closer to Joey’s leg, and placed an arm around his knee.

"You say it ok?" Aris looked up at Joey in confusion.

"No, I said you have to asked Uncle Jace if you’re allowed. It’s up to him." JC looked at Joey and knew that he didn’t like it, but he wanted to help him for Aris.

"Uncle Jayce, can I have a fruit snack?" Aris looked over at JC.

"Uh," JC stepped forward as his first actual parental decision rested on whether or not Aris could have a pack of fruit snacks. All of a sudden it seemed like a momentous decision as he turned to Joey. "What does your Daddy think?" He indiscreetly asked for help.

"I think you can have one now, and then one later in the movie, because if you eat too many you’ll never get to sleep."

"That sounds right." JC smiled awkwardly as Joey reached down and lifted Aris into his arms.

"Can you get me something to drink?" Aris asked Joey innocently. Joey turned to JC, who nodded. Suddenly Joey found himself looking to JC for permission before he did anything with the little boy who he’d considered his son since birth.

"Sure buddy, let’s go see what Uncle JC has." He bounced Aris up and down on his hip as they headed off towards the kitchen.

Bobbee walked slowly down the staircase, as JC made his way up, meeting her halfway.

"He seems…" Bobbee trailed off as she looked in the direction Joey and Aris went. JC hung his head as he propped himself up against the railing.

"So much happier." He shook his head without looking up. "Why can’t I give him that? Or at least * half * of that? I want to."

"I know you do, but he’s a little boy, Josh. A little boy who loves the father he grew up with. Him and Joey are so close, he took that baby everywhere with him. And now all of a sudden you’re trying to break a four year bond that’s stronger than either of us can imagine." Bobbee let out a deep breath as she reached for his shoulder. "I know you want him to jump into your arms and call you Daddy, but he’s not used to that. Think what it would have been like if someone came and took you away from your parents when you were his age. Think what it would be like if suddenly you had to forget the only thing you’ve ever known. And for him it’s 100 times worse, because he already lost his mother, and to him this is the same as loosing his father." Again she paused, waiting for JC to say something, but he stayed silent. "You have to take all that into consideration before you start killing yourself over why things aren’t like a fairytale."

"I just wish he could love me as much as I love him." JC sighed. In the past two days he’d expressed more emotion than he had in his whole life, and the fact that he had to express his feelings as he was was kind of scaring him.

"He does." Bobbee nodded as JC looked up at her and they locked eyes. The same eyes he fell in love with all those years ago, that same love he doubted all those years ago, and that same love he needed now. Now more than ever did he realize how big of a mistake cheating on her was.

As she was about to have their child, and she was right there when he needed him did he realize how much he loved her, and how much he’d hurt her. Yet he had a son because of that mistake. Perhaps the affair was a mistake, or bad judgment, or whatever. But as he heard a loud, shrieking giggle come from the kitchen he knew that the baby boy from that ‘mistake’ would never be a mistake to him. And he was coming to see that because of that baby boy Joey had managed to live his life after Kate. Joey had managed to make a friend he could only wish for.

"He just loves you as Uncle JC. And that may not be enough for you," Bobbee wiped the tears from JC’s cheeks, "But that’s all he can give right now." She kissed his cheek gently. "I’m going to bed." She said as she exhaled and turned to got upstairs. "Have fun." She added before disappearing around the corner of the staircase.

JC wiped his eyes with his sleeve and stared down at the little wet spot as he swallowed hard. Not only was he putting Aris through hell, but he was putting himself through it also. And he didn’t say anything, but upon first glance he could tell that Joey had been crying as well. His brown eyes were blood shot, and all around his eyes were swollen and light shade of red.

And it was all because of him, because of what he had convinced himself he wanted. But now that he had it it was different than what he’d imagined, and he couldn’t help but feel that maybe he’d only wanted it because he couldn’t have it. He loved Aris with everything he had, but he couldn’t stand being the reason that he cried himself to sleep. And Joey, who had always been the happy go-lucky, strong guy had crumbled all on account of what he wanted. Everyone, including himself was suffering for his selfishness.

"Uncle JC?" A little voice broke his thoughts, which immediately vanished at his sight. How did everything turn this confusing? JC watched as Aris walked up to him, and with him in front of him he knew that he would never be able to live his life without him. It wasn’t just what he wanted, it was what he needed.

"Yeah buddy?" JC reached down and lifted his son into his arms as he walked into the living room.

"We gonna put the movie in." Aris told him as he walked over to the couch, where Joey was fixing the sippy top on top of Aris’ cup. JC stood in front of the coffee table for a minute with Aris still in his arms as he looked down at Joey. He laughed as he watched him struggle with the cup.

"You think this is funny?" Joey looked up at JC and Aris as he played along.

"Yeah." JC laughed again. "What about you Aris," JC paused as he used the words he’d been trying to avoid. "Don’t you think what Daddy’s doing is funny?" Aris giggled as he pulled at his bottom lip. Joey looked up at JC, surprised, but then smiled, letting him know that he appreciated it, and JC moved around the coffee table and handed the little boy to Joey. "Here, Let me do it." Joey handed the cup to JC and almost effortlessly he put the lid on. It was funny, but if they could figure out some way to raise Aris together, they would make a great team. Both men were thinking that at the same moment as they rebuilt their friendship for the sake of the three-year-old sitting on Joey’s lap.

For the three-year-old they both loved.

For the three-year-old they both needed.

For the three-year-old who needed them.

*~*~*

"He’s out." Joey whispered softly as he rubbed his hand over Aris’ hair. JC nodded as he got up off the couch and proceeded to turn off the TV. Joey looked down at Aris, not ready to leave him yet. He’d gotten a greater appreciation for JC, and couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for him. And, he even saw his motives for seeking custody of his son. He didn’t like it, but he understood.

"He had a rough night last night." JC admitted. "Uh, his room is the third door up on the left." He said as he ran his hands back through his hair.

"Jace, I should probably go." Joey shook his head. JC stood still for a few minutes, catching what Joey was hinting at. The truth was Joey wanted more than anything to tuck Aris in one last time, but he knew that it was JC’s responsibility now, it was JC’s job.

Slowly Joey moved Aris’ head from his lap and he stood up from the couch. He looked at JC, thinking of something he could possibly say, but he found himself at a loss for words. Quickly he turned around and placed a soft kiss on Aris’ temple before walking past JC.

"Remember to call Ann and Mike." JC heard Joey’s voice shake, but didn’t say anything as Joey let himself out. He walked over to the couch and slowly moved Aris into his arms. The little boy squirmed a little bit, and his eyes fluttered open briefly before closing again.

"Daddy?" He asked softly as JC carried him upstairs. JC paused for a minute, contemplating what to say.

"Yeah buddy, I got ya." He adjusted Aris in his arms so he was more comfortable as he made his way down the hall.

"Sleep with me." Aris moved his arms around JC’s neck as he tiredly placed his head on his shoulder. Instantly JC realized why Joey was always smiling. And at the same time he realized now why he was crying.

"Sure." JC answered softly as he kissed the back of his neck and then carried him into his room. He set Aris down in the bed before taking off his own shoes and stripping down to his boxer shorts. He caught himself for a minute, and just watch the serenity on Aris’ face. He knew that when he asked his ‘Daddy’ to sleep with him he meant Joey, but JC couldn’t help but feel excited. His mind, and his emotions were racing as he squeezed into bed next Aris, who immediately conformed to the shape of his chest.

With his son that close to him, and as he brushed through his hair the only thing he could think about was Joey going home alone, and how happy Aris was when he saw him. More than anything he wanted to be on the receiving end of that hug, but his jealousy had subconsciously subsided as he watched how happy Aris was. And maybe that was what he loved about his son, how he was so happy, but as soon as JC brought him home everything changed. Suddenly he didn’t know if he wanted his son to be with him or he would rather have him be happy. He wasn’t sure what he was feeling, and he wasn’t sure what to do about it.

"Daddy we go to the park tomorrow?" Aris muttered in his sleep as he moved closer to JC. JC’s heart fell as he bent down and kissed his son. What exactly was he doing to him?

"Sure pal, whatever you want to do, we’ll do it."

"And Uncle JC can come too." Aris yawned. JC’s eyes closed as he thought about what Bobbee said earlier. He was searching and yearning for the love of a son, but what he hadn’t realized was that he already had it- as an uncle.

"If you want him to." He whispered quietly. There was no response, and JC assumed Aris was asleep as he let his own tired eyes fall.

*~*~*

A breeze found it’s way through his dark brown hair as he watched Aris slide down the slide. Nervously his hands shook as he ran them along the sides of the manila envelope in his hands.

"Uncle Jace, what time is it?" Aris asked as he ran over to him.

"3:30." JC smiled as he reached for his son. "C’mere bud, your shoe’s untied." Aris lifted his foot high enough to rest on JC’s knee and JC tied it. "There ya go."

"Thanks." Aris waved over his shoulder before running back to the playground.

"Hey." Joey said gruffly as he slid next to JC. JC watched as Joey searched the park for Aris, and he saw him smile once he found him.

"Hey, thanks for coming by. And I never got to thank you for coming over last night. A really had a good time." JC’s eyes stared down at the invisible stain on his shoes.

"Yeah, so did I. But he looks like he’s getting better with you, it may have just been that first night." Joey found himself saying the words without actually meaning them. He wished that Aris hadn’t been as close to JC as he was, but at the same time he was happy that he was becoming accustomed to what would grow to be his new life.

"MmHmm. Last night he slept right through the night. He was perfect." JC’s words meant more than one thing, but before he could expand on the subject he cleared his throat to start up a whole new conversation. He gathered up what strength he had left after the draining two and a half days as he watched Aris talk with two other little boys. "Joe, I asked you to meet us cause there’s something I need to talk to you about." JC cleared his throat.

"Uh, ok? Is everything all right?"

"I envy you Joey. I’ve envied you since I walked into that hospital and saw Aris Joseph Fatone on my son’s name card. And every time I saw you hold him, or every time I saw him smile at you my stomach fell, because even though I had initially given it up, I wanted it more than I could have ever imagined. Whenever I heard him call you Daddy my stomach turned and it was like I was living some nightmare, which seemed to totally off-set the dream you were living." JC paused as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. "I love him so much, and I always knew that you loved him too, but I didn’t think it was as much as I did. I didn’t think that you were capable of loving him as much as I did, and I didn’t think he was capable of loving you that way either. But that day at the courthouse, when I took him from you- I didn’t- it was so- you were sobbing, Joey, and never in the 12 years that I’ve known you have I seen you like that. And then Aris was screaming the whole night about how he wanted his Daddy. I kept telling him that it was me now, that I was his Daddy, but he didn’t even try to hear me, he just screamed and yelled that I wasn’t." Again he paused to keep his composure as Joey sat there with his mind reeling, what exactly was JC getting at? And when would he get to it? "I saw that what I wanted wasn’t what he wanted. What I wanted was the relationship he has with you. But I don’t think I could ever have that with him. I don’t think I could ever make him smile the way that you do, and I don’t think he could ever really sleep peacefully through the night unless it was next to you. I want to raise him more than anything in this world, but I want him to be happy. And when he’s with you, there’s just something about him that’s so amazing, and I love that, and…" He trailed off as he swallowed hard. "And Joey, I love you for giving him that. I love him as my son, but last night I realized that he could never love me like a father, he already loves you that way. The only reason he slept was because he thought I was you. And I don’t want him to be somewhere he doesn’t want to be. I can’t stand to see him cry, and if being with you makes him happy, then I’ll try my best to be happy for him."

"What are trying to say to me?" Joey’s voice shook at the unknown as JC handed him the manila envelope.

"I signed the adoption papers this morning." He clenched his jaw as tears filled his eyes. "You have your son. Just do me one favor, ok?"

"Josh- I…" Joey trailed off as his own eyes filled with tears. Was this actually happening? Throughout everything, and imagining every scenario this is the one he wished for, but never imaged would happen. Almost instantly he’d gotten his best friends back, both his son, and JC.

"You just love him like I know you do, and make sure that he’s always smiling." He bit the inside of his cheek as Aris slowly made his way over to them. His shirt was dirty, and his hair was sticking up in every direction. "He’s beautiful when he smiles."

"He’s always beautiful." Joey laughed softly as he looked at the dirty child approaching him. "JC, I’m not going to keep him from you. If anything, I’ve learned what it must have been live for you these past four years. Last night I couldn’t reconcile with the fact that I had to leave. I had to leave the little boy I considered my son. I had to just go home without him. I had to watch you with him, and I felt like I was the one on the outside. I have no clue how you’re doing this, but I do know that you love him just as much as I do, and whenever you want to see him, or spend the day with him, or take him to lunch, whatever- you can do it. I’m a single parent now, and I’m going to need all the help I can get. And for Aris’ sake I think we should put the past behind us and go from here."

"That’s exactly what I think." JC nodded as the two shared a quick hug before Aris reached them.

"Daddy!" He laughed happily as he walked over to Joey.

"Hey buddy! Are you ready to go home?" Joey stood up anxiously as he looked down at Aris- his son.

"You mean home to our house?" Aris’ eyes grew wide and he beamed at the fact.

"Home to our house." His daddy confirmed with a smile. "Kiss Uncle JC and then we’ll get going." JC blinked back tears as Aris kissed him quickly on the cheek.

"We go now?" Aris looked up at Joey expectantly.

"Yeah man, we can go now." He nodded as he bent down and lifted Aris into his arms. He kissed the toddler’s cheek as he held the greatest present anyone had ever given him. He held love he knew he didn’t deserve, and he held his crutch, the one person in the world who kept him sane. He held a link to the only woman he’d ever loved, and he held a piece of one of his best friends. He held his son.

His son. Not because of blood, not because of appearance, but because of love. Because of a four-letter word that had proved to be the strongest bond he could have ever imagined.

*~*~*

"It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was." -- Anne Sexton

*~*~*

Ahhh I can’t believe it’s over!! I never like my endings, but yeah…I need to thank EVERYONE who has reviewed this fic you guys are amazing. And for those of you who have e-mailed me about how it has touched you I just want to say thanks and let you know how honored I am that I could do something like that with my writing. This piece took a lot out of me, but in the end I’ve loved every minute of it. Thanks again to everyone who’s been reading this, you’re all awesome!

~Breigh

 

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