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Nick waited impatiently for Howie to reply. He still hadn't even read the message by the time the kids woke up from their nap which meant any research Nick would be able to do would have to wait until the kids went down for the night. They were excited to see him when he went into each of their rooms. Odin had woken up first and the two had played with Odin's hot wheels on the rug until Saoirse woke up. It was noticeably quiet in the house without Mason and Maxwell there. Nick wondered if Kevin ever got used to the eerie quiet. Just hours ago the house had been full of laughter and screaming, but now the only sounds Nick could hear was the quiet clank of Odin's cars crashing into each other.

When Saoirse woke up he had quickly left Odin to head to her room. Now that she could get in and out of bed all by herself she was into everything when unsupervised. Just that morning she'd managed to pull every single baby wipe out of the package and thrown the diapers all over the room before he'd made it to her. He did not want a repeat of that mess. He glanced down the hallway after leaving Odin's room. The door to Kevin's bedroom was still shut. It was a little odd, more often than not Kevin left the door open when he wasn't inside. Nick wondered if the kids had worn the older man out worse than he'd realized and needed the extra time to recoup.

Walking into his baby girls room reminded him that life could be simple. She looked at him with awe and love every time she saw him, immediately putting her hands in the air in a pick me up motion. Nick was always more than happy to oblige. Changing her quickly he carried her back to Odin's room so they could all play together. Odin was a great big brother, but sometimes he could get possessive of his cars. To keep the play civil Nick usually picked out a couple of cars from the bucket for Saoirse to play with and tried his best to keep her from picking up Odin's. He enjoyed putting them all in a line and having them change places. It was simple, mundane, but Nick found these quiet moments with his children to be beautiful.

While the kids were preoccupied, he pulled his phone back out of his pocket and checked his messages. He had another one from Brian which he promptly ignored and checked the conversation with Howie. The older man still hadn't read his message. He didn't want to seem desperate by reaching out again before he received a response. This wasn't usually like Howie though. Out of the five of them, he was the one with his phone permanently attached to his hand. He always got back to people quickly. Nick wondered what could be going on that Howie hadn't even read his message.

Nick looked up just in time to see Saoirse attempt to bring her hot wheel down on top of her brother's head. Grabbing her hand quickly he told her no and redirected her to play alongside Odin and not on top of him. He watched them play for several more minutes, loving the way they interacted with each other. It reminded him of how close he had been with his siblings once upon a time. He still was pretty close with Angel, but his relationship with Aaron was garbage and he barely talked to BJ anymore. Growing up the way they did was hard and it affected each of them differently. He vowed to make sure he could do whatever it took to keep Odin and Saoirse's' childhood intact. Even if that meant keeping them away from their mother.

He glanced at his phone. Still nothing from Howie. It was almost four though, where had the day gone? They would need to figure out dinner soon before it was time for baths, stories and bedtime. Nick was really hungry. He'd been too anxious to eat breakfast and had skipped lunch to continue making progress with the lawyer. He wondered if Kevin was awake yet. "Odin, I'm going to take your sister downstairs and figure out dinner. Do you want to come down or stay up here?"

"Stay here." the boy chirped, not even bothering to look up.

Nick smiled and hoisted Saoirse into the air. She squealed with laughter and smiled. God he loved them. The thought crept up all the time, reminding him that everything he was fighting for was worth it. Nick carried her downstairs, taking note that Kevin's door was still shut. He settled her in the high chair with a book and a container of play doh. Once he was sure she was content in the chair he walked to the fridge and glanced around inside. There was some chicken sitting on a shelf in the fridge. Nick tried to think about what he could do with the chicken. He took it out of the fridge and sat it on the island before taking out his phone again and doing a quick Google search. Finding a recipe that looked fairly easy for someone with absolutely no culinary skills, he set to work trying to make something edible.

Kevin finally appeared in the kitchen almost an hour later. Nick noticed immediately that something seemed off with the older man. His eyes weren't the same vibrant green they'd been just that morning and he seemed distracted, distant. Nick watched as Kevin played idly with Saoirse for a few minutes before washing his hands. He leaned up to pull the plates down, exposing his toned stomach as his shirt rose. Nick blushed and frantically looked away before he was caught staring. The chicken was almost done and smelled good if he did say so himself. The recipe had been easy to follow and he hoped that his first solo meal was at least halfway as good as it smelled.

"Looks delicious Nick," Kevin said peering over his shoulder into the skillet.

Nick turned to reply, not realizing how close the older man was actually standing. They were almost cheek to cheek. If he turned, just slightly more to the right he would be able to brush his lips against Kevin’s. He licked his lips nervously and quickly looked away. "Thanks Kev. I hope you're hungry."

Kevin nodded and backed away, placing the plates beside Nick so he could begin dishing out the food. "I'll go help Odin wash up." he said leaving the room.

Nick breathed a huge sigh of relief once he'd left. Dear God he had to get himself under control. Dinner was very good, or at least Nick thought so. Considering the only thing he could cook before moving in with Kevin was eggs and pizza rolls, he was pretty proud of himself. Kevin was pretty quiet throughout dinner, pleasant, but not very friendly. He mostly ate and talked to Odin here and there. As soon as he was finished eating he thanked Nick for dinner and was gone. Nick was starting to get worried he had done something to make the other man upset, but he couldn’t think of anything in particular that had happened. Maybe this was just the way Kevin was after the boys went back to Kristin. He figured it was best just to leave him alone. He didn’t want to irritate him by being pushy. All throughout dinner Nick had resisted the urge to check his phone. Now that dinner was done, he continued to resist. Both kids needed baths and bedtime stories. They came first over his curiosity, his desire to find out more about the man who had suddenly turned into such a mystery.

It was easiest to bathe them together and they were still so little that it wasn’t a big deal. He put them both in the bath and set to work getting them clean. Fifteen, very soaked minutes later they were clean, Saoirse diapered and swaddled in their jammies. He decided it would be safer to read in Odin’s room rather than going back down to the living room. He wasn’t sure what was going on with the older man, but the urge to isolate himself was strong. Settling into the oversized chair he pulled both kids down in his lap and settled in for story time. Saoirse didn’t even make it through the first story before she was fast asleep, curled up in his lap. Odin however wasn’t satisfied with just one story. Tucking the baby in closer, he grabbed the other storybook Odin had selected. After that story was over he managed to tuck Odin in with only one arm while he held the baby in the other. He leaned down and kissed his son’s soft cheek. “I love you buddy.” he said as he started to leave the room.

“Lobe you too daddy.” Odin said, pulling the covers up to his face. Nick smiled and turned to leave the room, one hand on the door. “Lobe Kebin too.” Odin said quietly, staring up at his father. Nick was silent, not sure what to do. He hadn’t expected this, but it made his heart swell all the same. “Me too buddy.” he said quietly before shutting the door behind him.

Saoirse settled in just as easily when Nick was finally able to put her down. He snuggled her llama in close and covered her gently with her blanket. Her sweet face was happy and content in her dream, completely oblivious to the turmoil her father was going through. Odin loved Kevin. What in the world was he supposed to do with that information? They had all encouraged their kids to love each other, calling each other uncle and trying to be a part of each other’s lives, but this… Odin had never said he loved any of the other guys. It was probably just because they had been living here the past couple of weeks he rationalized.

He closed his daughter’s door softly and made his way back to his bedroom. Finally he was alone, and free of responsibility for the rest of the evening. He emptied his pockets, tossing his phone on the bed before undressing. He looked at it momentarily but forced himself not to check it. First he needed a shower. He set out pajamas for himself and walked into the bathroom. Glancing at himself in the mirror, he took notice of his appearance. His hair was getting very shaggy. He hadn’t had it cut for months. His didn’t grow as nicely as Kevin’s did. The man was made to have long hair. Nick often thought about how it would feel to run his fingers through the jet black locks. If only, he thought. He showered in record time and got dressed before he picked his phone back up. Taking a quick minute to check the baby monitor he settled back down on the bed and took a deep breath. He clicked the power button and held his breath. He had one new message from Brian, and finally, one from Howie. He smiled wide as he opened it up.

Howie: Hey Nick. So nice to hear from you. I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. ::eyeroll emoji:: To answer your question, you can search ASCAP to find songwriter information. Give me a call and let’s catch up. I miss ya.

Nick smiled in victory. He knew he needed to give the other man a call, especially now that he had come through for him. He got up from the bed and grabbed his laptop and headphones. He picked his phone back up to reply.

“Thanks D. I knew I could count on you. I’ll give you a call in a day or too. Love ya.”

Howie’s reply was almost immediate. “Love you too.”

Nick smiled with the information in hand, he fired up his laptop. Finding the website was easy enough. He began reading the sidebar trying to find a way to search for an artist. Finally towards the bottom he saw what he was looking for. He typed in Scott Richardson and held his breath while the computer thought about his request. One name came up in the search. Clicking on it he quickly skimmed the page. There were the songs he knew Kevin had written, some they had recorded and others they had loved but never used. He found the holiday song that N Sync had used towards the middle. A little further down the page his eyes stopped on one title in particular. "If I Didn't Tell You" According to the ASCAP website it was written by Scott Richardson and recorded by someone named James TW. It wasn't an artist Nick was familiar with. It felt very surreal to know that someone else had recorded a song Kevin had written. Someone else got the opportunity to read over the words that he had so carefully chosen and put together, singing the rhythm and melody that Kevin had written in his head. It really bothered Nick that there was this whole side of the other man he knew nothing about. He knew Kevin enjoyed writing music and always came to any planning meeting with notebooks full of ideas, but this just felt strange, in a way. He didn't like the feeling that Kevin had something outside of them, outside of him.

He quickly opened the Spotify app on his laptop and did a Google search for the song. It came up easily. He was afraid to read the words. He wasn’t really sure why, this is exactly what he’d been waiting to do all day. He wanted to know what was written, what Kevin had been thinking and feeling. He checked the website again. This song was registered and recorded in 2019. Just last year. Maybe this song was inspired by the divorce. There was only one way to find out. Putting his headphones back on he settled back against the headboard. He closed his eyes and hit play, deciding to just listen through the first time before reading the words.

From the moment I first met you years ago
You were someone I wanted to get to know
Just something about the way it felt being with you
I knew I liked ya
But didn't know what to do

Nick sat straight up on the bed, knocking the laptop clean off his lap. It clattered to the floor, and thankfully didn’t seem to take any damage. The goosebumps were back, the intense feeling he’d felt earlier in the day listening to the N Sync song was back, only this time was much stronger. His heartbeat quickened as the chorus started.

'Cause if I didn't tell ya
I still think that you'd know
'Cause you make me so nervous
Every time that we're alone
And if I didn't have ya
I'd still want you to know
Baby, you're the one that my heart thinks about the most

His eyes filled with tears. He’d never had this intense reaction to a song before. He was finding it difficult to breathe.

Do you ever think about it like I do?
And would you never regret it like the way I would?
There's something about the way you look
When you look at me
It's wrong to assume, but, you make me believe that

If I didn't tell ya
I still think that you'd know
'Cause you make me so nervous
Every time that we're alone
And if I didn't have ya,
I'd still want you to know
Baby, you're the one that my heart thinks about the most

Every word of this song continued to speak to him. Each word was so beautiful, deep and touching and the arrangement gave him chills. He’d never heard this man sing before, but his voice was low and so full of emotion that the tears just slid down Nick’s cheeks. He was unable to stop them. He wished that Kevin himself had recorded the song, but Nick was afraid that if he had, he’d never have been able to get through the first verse without throwing himself at the older man. He was finding it difficult not to fling open his door and race down the hallway and take the other man into his arms and finally, finally kiss him the way he’d only dreamed about for years.

So tell me I'm wrong
And make me forget
'Cause the more that I think of
The better it gets
So tell me I'm wrong
And make me forget
'Cause the more that I think of
The better it gets

He was a full on blubbering mess now. As the chorus picked up again the tears came faster. The line from the chorus echoing on repeat in his head. Baby, you're the one that my heart thinks about the most. Everything about this song was love. 2019. How in the world had Kevin written such a heart wrenching song in the middle of his divorce? Had the divorce all been Kristin’s idea and he wrote it about her? None of this made any sense. He was so confused and the aching feeling in his chest was just getting stronger. He couldn’t turn it off. He hit the repeat button in the Spotify app and continued to listen to the song over and over again on repeat. He drew his knees up to his chest and rested his head against them, allowing the tears to fall unashamed. What he wouldn’t give to have Kevin feel just an ounce of this for him. The ache was overwhelming, he had no idea how to get it to stop.