Hunter: Father's Day (musc)

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Beep. Beep. Beep.

Like the underscoring of a film, the slow, steady dings of a monitor were the only noise in the hospital room.

The room only had one bed, not two. There were a couple of soft chairs and a television, but very little medical equipment. All that could be done had been done, and nothing had worked. It was a room built for comfort, not cure, because its occupant’s death was inevitable. A question of when, not if.

The man in the bed was rather short and terribly weak, his skin milky white and hairless. His eyes were shut, not in sleep, but merely rest. He opened them upon hearing a soft stirring to his right.

There was a man over his bed. Not just a man - an angel, he had to be. He was tall, extremely muscular and unnervingly handsome, every feature pure and perfect. His muscles bulged within his white t-shirt. As the walking embodiment of male vitality and health, he stood in stark contrast to the dying man in the bed.

“Are you an angel? Am I dead? You’ve gotta be an angel.”

The perfect man’s voice was deep and soft, and carried with it a sense of supreme sorrow. “I’m not an angel. Do you know who I am?”

“I don’t think so-”

“Please. Please look at me. You have to know who I am.”

The patient’s tired eyes rolled to one side, then the other, as he sized up his visitor. The standing man leaned in closer and gripped the patient’s hand. “You know me,” he insisted. “Please know me.”

Something about the eyes…the aura…could it be? “…son?”

“Dad!” Neil pulled his father’s hand up to his cheek and rubbed it against the whiskers, feeling the life pulsing within. He couldn’t believe it.

“Neil…ohhhhh, Neil…” All the air was pulled out of Larry Blue’s lungs. He began to weep. “Look at you. Is this real? Are you real?”

“It’s real, Dad, I promise I’m real. I’m from the future.”

“They time travel in the future?”

“Yeah,” Neil lied, not wanting to waste precious time explaining Hunter. “I wanted for you to see me. I wanted you to know that I turn out okay.”

Larry’s hand reached up with considerable work, and caressed Neil’s other cheek. Neil’s wide blue eyes flooded.

“You’re amazing. You’re amazing,” Larry kept repeating. “I can’t believe you’re my little boy. How do you become you? Your mother and I worry so much about you, about your, you know…sensitivity, about your weight. You don’t really look like either of us.”

“I leaned out. I’m six-four. I’m a professional swimmer.”

“Professional…” Larry shut his eyes and let his son’s words dance around his head. “Olympics?”

“Three. I won six golds at my first one.”

“My God. I want to see that happen. I want to be there. I don’t want to leave,” Larry sobbed. “God help me, I don’t want to leave you. You’re so little.” He paused and listened to Neil cry. “I die, don’t I?”

Neil nodded, unable to speak.

“I don’t want to die.”

Neil’s words were garbled by his tears. He had to speak through grit teeth. “And I don’t want you to. God, I’ve missed you. I still miss you and think about you every single day. I’ve missed you every day for nearly thirty years.”

“There still isn’t a cure, not even in your adulthood?”

Neil shook his head.

Larry tried to muster all the strength left in his body to have this conversation. He knew it would probably be his last, and most important, one. “How old are you now?”

“I’m thirty-four.”

Larry’s eyes widened and he chuckled. “I never even imagined you being that age. You’re so young right now. I can’t believe my boy’s thirty-four…”

“I know. I’m not even a young man anymore. I’m just…a man. An adult.”

“Tell me everything, please,” Larry said hungrily. “I want to know everything about you.”

“Well, uh…” Neil hesitated and composed himself. “I go to three Olympics. My first is when I’m twenty-one. Next two, I’m twenty-five and twenty-nine, obviously…I probably could do a fourth but I didn’t want to train as much once I turned thirty. I have other priorities. I…I have a family now, Daddy. I’m a daddy.”

Larry smiled. “A family?”

“I carry on the Blue name, Dad,” Neil said with a hint of pride. “I got married when I was twenty-two…wow, we’ve been married twelve years. Her name’s Mirela but she goes by Mel and she’s Romanian, her parents emigrated but she was born here. She’s an Olympic gymnast and won some golds herself. We met at a photo session.”

“She sounds beautiful.”

Larry watched his son’s face brighten. “She’s incredible. I love her so much. She gets along great with Mom.”

“And you have children?”

“Yup. Three.”

“All boys, huh?”

Neil smiled incredulously. “How’d you know that?”

“I’m your dad, I can hear it in your voice. Men talk about sons differently than daughters. You would’ve mentioned girls by name. Your house is full of boys, I can just hear it.”

Neil was able to gather a laugh. “You’re right. I have three little men. Lachlan, Leighton and Landon. Lachlan’s thirteen, Leighton’s eight and Landon…” Landon’s the age I was when you died. Five is so little. What is a five-year-old? Practically nothing yet. I can’t imagine leaving Landon, I can’t even…I can’t bear the thought. He needs me so badly, just like I needed you. “Landon is five.”

“I want to see them. I wish I could meet them and hold them. Hug them.”

Neil reached into his back pocket and produced a photograph. He had first thought he’d bring his videophone, but didn’t feel like delving into a discussion of the future’s technology with his father. He had planned well.

The picture was a candid that Mel had taken of the boys with their father. Neil lay on the couch, his long legs dangling over the end. Lachlan stood behind the sofa, leaning in with a big grin. Leighton sat at his dad’s feet, and Landon was on top of Neil with their faces pressed against each other. They all were blissfully happy and comfortable in sweats and t-shirts. It was Christmas morning.

Neil identified each of his sons again. Larry covered his mouth with his hands and stared at the photo. “They’re the most gorgeous children I’ve ever seen.”

“Aren’t they? I’m so proud of them.”

“You should be. Truly, they’re...they’re model children. Is that Christmas morning? I always imagined I’d be with my children’s families on Christmas morning.” Neil didn’t respond, so Larry continued. “That little guy looks just like you,” Larry said, pointing a finger at Leighton. “It’s uncanny. Oh, I love all of them. I love them so much. Neily?”


“Please tell my grandsons that I love them.”

“I will. I swear I will.”

“And my daughter-in-law, too.”

“Of course, Dad.”

Larry’s watery eyes wandered back up to his son’s adult face. “How did someone like you come from someone like me?”

“Fate, maybe?” Neil muttered with a tearful shrug. He tried to force a smile but failed. “Dad, you said…children’s families. I’m your only child, right?”

Larry nodded. “We wanted more. We’d just started talking about it when…this…happened.” The tears started again. “I’m so sorry, Neil. This isn’t what I wanted at all. Not at all. I didn’t want to be the absent dad. I wanted to coach your baseball games and help you lose weight and buy you new clothes every month because you grew too fast and, and, and, and I wanted to teach you how to shave and, and how to tie a tie and how to throw a spiral…” The examples continued, but Neil couldn’t understand them anymore, because Larry was crying too hard. It was clear that Larry had done a lot of thinking in his state. “I wanted to do what you’re getting to do with your boys. I’m so glad you get to do that. Please treasure it for me.”

Neil had thought that thought thousands of times since Lachlan’s birth, and at this moment had no response for it. So, he did what he could: he held his Dad’s hand as tightly as possible. And he thought about when Hunter taught him how to tie a tie in their high school’s locker room.

“How does your mother handle it?”

Horribly. “Uh, well, it’s hard, Dad. We manage. I started making really good money when I hit twenty, so I was able to support her. She doesn’t remarry, but I built her a great house and the kids love her. She stays with us all the time, and she never misses one of my competitions, or really any stuff the boys do either. We have this thing we do, after every race when I would get out of the pool, I would stand on the deck and look to find her in the stands and we’d each put our index fingers in the air and then place them over our hearts, like this,” he demonstrated. “Kinda like a salute or something. A ‘one.’ Because she’s my only mom and I’m her only child, and we were always there for each other.”

Larry smiled and as Neil stared into it, he saw bits of himself, bits of his sons. Neil’s looks may have been altered on the surface, but he was still somehow very much a Blue.

“Mom and I are close. I mean, it’s just me and her until Mel happens.”

“You get her pregnant, huh?”


“You get Mel pregnant when you’re twenty-one and that’s why you get married, because of Lachlan. You’ve been married twelve years and have a teenager. A successful, professional thirty-four-year-old man that has a thirteen-year-old son? That’s a little unusual. I may be sick but I can do math, Neil.”

“You got it,” Neil smiled. “I didn’t want to tell you. He’s our biggest and best mistake. I actually proposed to her before I knew she was pregnant, isn’t that funny?”

“Pretty storybook, if you ask me. Don’t be ashamed of it if it works out.”

“He’s an incredible kid. He’ll make a name for himself one day. I think he’s gonna be a movie star, Dad.”

“Every parent thinks that,” Larry said knowingly, and Neil smiled tenderly, wishing he could bring in twenty-five-year-old Lachlan and introduce him to his grandfather. It’s a bad idea, but I want them to meet. He knew he’d never do it. It was too unstable a situation.

For minutes on end, Neil and his father grasped each other’s hands tightly and cried together over all the missed years.

“Dad, I just want you to know, I love you and I always will, and I never ever blamed you for getting sick. It’s not your fault. It’s unfair,” he seethed momentarily. “It’s not fair to grow up without a dad. But please know that even at five, I remember you, and I love you, and I have a wonderful life that you’ll always be a part of. I tell my boys about you.”

Tears coursed their way down Larry’s face. “I love you too. I love you, I love you, I love you.” He reached up with the last of his strength and put his hands on Neil’s neck, indicating a hug. Neil leaned down and pressed his face against Larry’s while tenderly holding him. “You’re so strong, son. I’m so proud of you. I love you. I love you.” He kept whispering into his son’s ear, again uttering the sentence Neil would always remember: “I don’t want to go.” It was a stark whisper, a desperate plea. Larry wanted to see his little boy grow up, and he’d never have the chance.

They heard a commotion at the door. Neil turned around to see a woman walking in carrying multiple bags, which she struggled to put down. Composing himself, he walked over and helped her, taking two of the bags – filled with numerous odds and ends – and setting them down. She lay another bag on the seat, and a small blue truck fell out of the top and clattered onto the floor. Neil instinctively bent his large frame over to pick it up, and laid a hand on it just as another small hand did the same.

Neil looked up, and his eyes nearly shot out of his head.

The small hand was…his.

On top of Neil’s large adult hand, the hand that sliced through water like a flipper, was the small stubby one of a child. Attached to that miniature body part was a chubby five-year-old with ultra-kinky blond frizz and pale white skin.

No…no. It’s impossible.

“Can I have my truck?”

Neil nodded, his eyes bulging and unmoving, and lifted the truck up to the receiving hand of the little boy that he knew so well. The child looked so sad and so uncomfortable, already knowing that his father would soon be gone and he would be left defenseless and unattractive in a world not meant for him. Neil ached, physically ached, to see himself. He wanted to hug his small self and say who he was and yell, “This is what you have to look forward to! The next decade is horrible, but you grow up to be ME!”

But Neil knew he couldn’t do that. And in his mind - his thirty-four-year-old adult mind, filled with years of memories of athletic prowess and familial bonding - he was able to recall this very moment. The handsome blond stranger handing him his favorite truck. I remember this moment…oh my God, I remember this! That was me! Why didn’t I realize it sooner?!

“Thank you for your help,” the woman said, and as Neil stood and towered over her, he realized it was his mother. Not the stately grandmother of his sons that he knew in his present age, but a younger, terribly sad woman – practically already in mourning – who knew she’d be raising a child alone. He wanted to hug her tightly and show her how strong he had become and tell her that everything really would be alright.

Inside, Neil was screaming. On the outside, he was calm and collected, but just barely. His mother could see his short, shaky breaths and trembling muscles. Her eyes narrowed. “So, what are you doing in here?” she inquired, just a simple question, not accusatory.

I’m your son! I’m Neil, I’m the grown-up version of this little boy! Look at me, Mom! We’re alright, it turns out alright! Look at what I become! I take care of you!


“This gentleman saw me drop my applesauce and came in to pick it up for me as he walked by,” Larry said softly from the bed. Neil looked over and saw that, indeed, there was spilled food on the floor. His dad must’ve purposely dropped a glob when Neil was helping his mother, making it look as if the container had been retrieved but the contents hadn’t. Quick thinking, Dad.

Neil walked over and wiped up the rest of the mess. He tossed the paper towel in the trash and stood over the bed; his head away from his mother and smaller self, hiding his abundant tears.

Larry touched his son’s hand as it rested on the side of the bed. “Thank you,” he said loudly enough for his wife and son to hear, and then he whispered it again. “Thank you so much. Thank you. I needed this. Thank you.”

Neil was shaking like a leaf, making his words almost indiscernible. “I love you,” he mouthed silently. “I miss you.”

Larry nodded, and his eyes said it all. “I love you too, Neil. I’m sorry.”

Neil calmly exited the room and walked down the hallway of the hospital, past doctors that hadn’t been able to save his father, and entered a handicapped restroom to ensure that he’d be alone. After locking the door, his tranquil demeanor dissipated. He buried his face in his hands, screamed into them until he was hoarse, then collapsed in the corner of the bathroom and cried until he had no more tears to shed.


Neil walked into his living room with hesitant steps. I’m back. Even though he knew his house backwards and forwards, he was still struck by how different everything looked in the present. The color schemes, the technology, the fashion – it really was different.

The massive TV was playing Nickelodeon cartoons. Mel and the kids were nowhere to be seen, so he picked up the remote and turned it off.

As Neil set the remote down on the large glass coffee table, he noticed his youngest son sleeping on the couch, splayed across it on his stomach – the kind of position one assumes after utter exhaustion, and Landon was always exhausted from his tearing through the house. Landon’s wavy blond hair was pointing every which way, and his tiny chest rose up and down rhythmically.

Neil smiled, appreciating Landon more than ever. He sat down next to his boy and slowly picked him and cradled him in his arms. Without waking up, Landon wrapped his arms around his father’s neck, as he had done hundreds of times before, and rested his head on Neil’s shoulder. “Don’t wanna go to bed,” the boy mumbled through sleep, making his dad chuckle.


So this is fatherhood. I can practically remember conceiving this brave little guy, and watching him fight for his life, and now he’s so big I can barely hold him.

You’re so perfect. I’m so thankful I get the chance to raise you.

Neil kissed Landon’s cheek, then his temple, then his forehead.

I’m so thankful you lived.

The boy’s eyes slid open. “Daddy?”

“Hi, champ. Why so tired?”

“Mmmm,” Landon responded tiredly, before burying his head back into Neil’s shoulder. “Don’t make me go to bed.”

Neil laughed. “I won’t. It’s one in the afternoon.”


“What were you doing that made you so worn out?”

“I was practicing swimming ‘n gymnastics.” This interesting combo was one of Landon’s favorites. It involved an exhaustive combination of arm-flailing, sprinting and rolling through the halls.

“Were you trying to be both Mama and Daddy at the same time?”

Landon blushed and nodded.

“Do you know that Mama and Daddy love you very, very much?”

“Yeah,” Landon said, grinning.

“I love you so much, Landon.” Once, I was just like you are now, and one day, you’ll be just like I am at this moment, holding your own little boy. Can’t you be five for a little longer?

“I love you too, Daddy.”

“You know who else loves you?”

“Lucky and Leighton!”

“You’re right, they do, but I don’t mean them,” Neil said kindly. “I’m thinking about my Dad, buddy. I’ve been thinking about him a lot today. My Dad, your Grandpa Blue, he loves you too.”

“How?” It was an honest, childlike question.

“Because, bud, he’s watching you from heaven and he’s so proud of you.” Neil looked into Landon’s gorgeous eyes and sunny, All-American face. He was so much more beautiful than his father had been at five years old. This little boy was going to be a very handsome man. “We’re all so proud of you.”

“I love Grandpa Blue, too. I’m happy he had you.” Neil knew that in Landon’s young mind, this was the highest praise possible. The grandfather Landon would never meet had fathered Neil, who fathered Landon. And Landon loved his dad, and thus, his dad’s dad too.

Neil smiled, through watery eyes, and laid back into the plush sofa cushions. Father and son dozed off together, with Landon secure in his dad’s grasp.


“He told me not to send him anywhere else,” Hunter said as he poured a glass of wine for his wife, “no matter how much he begged.”

“Thanks babe,” Katie said as she took the glass and had a sip. “Does he regret it?”

“No, not at all. He just said he can’t keep tampering with it but seeing his Dad…and letting his Dad see him and the way he looked…he said it was worth it. But it was horribly hard, in his words. Horribly hard.”

Katie’s mouth formed a sympathetic smile. “Poor Neil. I can’t imagine growing up without my Dad. I’d be so different.”

“I can’t either. I always wonder how much it affected him.”

“Oh, in every way, I’m sure,” she said, pondering. “Just the way he’s so protective of Mel and the boys, the way he has to take care of everything himself because that’s the way it always was. He works so hard because it’s all he’s ever known. Mel says he’s her white knight. Just watching the way he holds those boys…it’s beautiful. I think he thinks of them as being all he has.”

“Watch it. I hold my kids pretty tightly too.”

She glared, jokingly. “I wasn’t saying you didn’t. You know one of the reasons I married you was because I knew you’d be an incredible father. And you are.”

“Thank you. I was looking for that.”

She smirked. “Fishing.”

They heard a pounding. Katie turned her head to the right. “Was that the door?”

Hunter shouted into the den. “Hey, Burke, what’re you doing?”

“We’re watching the movie!” came the response. Hunter turned back to Katie. “It’s not them.”

“Must be the door. Who doesn’t buzz? Is the doorman asleep or…” She set her wine glass down and opened the door. “Oh my God!

Hunter rounded the corner. “Who’s-” His mouth dropped open. “Harry?”

Harrison was already hugging his sister-in-law. A stuffed duffel bag lay at their feet. Hunter walked up and rubbed his brother’s head and waited in line for an embrace.

A stampede of small feet ran across the hardwood floors. “UNCLE HARRISON!”

Usually, Harrison would sweep up his nephews and niece and immediately start playing with them, often lying down on the floor so they could crawl all over his large body. But tonight, he wearily hugged each one and smiled kindly down at them. He hugged Sean last and held him tightly, kissing his cheek and staring into his face with a lingering and almost analytical gaze.

“Hi, lil’ Sean,” Harrison whispered.

“Hi, Uncle Harrison,” Sean said back quietly, not sure why his uncle was acting different.

Katie could tell something was wrong. “C’mon, guys, let’s go back downstairs,” she said as she picked up Lily and indicated to the boys to follow. She turned back to Harrison as she walked away. “Is everything okay?” she mouthed to Harrison.

Harrison’s lips tightened but he nodded and waved to Lily, who was reaching out to her uncle as she was carried away.

Hunter waited until his brood was out of sight, and then he asked the question. “What’s wrong, Hare? Why are you here?”

“I’m…I need advice.”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“Because then you’d ask why I was coming and I wanted to tell you in person.”

“Uh, okay…”

“Hunter, Brooke’s pregnant.”


Tears sprang into Harrison’s eyes. “I don’t know what to do! I, I don’t want to tell Dad. And Steve’s gonna KILL me. Mom’ll be devastated.” He wiped his eyes. “I’m fucked,” he whimpered.

Hunter was absolutely dazed. “Hare, I…I don’t know what to say. Are you sure she’s pregnant?”

“She’s 12 weeks along. We’re sure.”

Hunter stared at the teary muscle monster who stood before him. At a massive six-four, Harrison was still two inches shorter than Hunter but just as wide; a broad-shouldered, burly and bearded stud. He wore a tight V-neck that showed off his power and perfectly carved form. Hunter hugged him again. “You’re, you’re just my little brother. I literally remember the day you were born. I held you in my arms. You used to puke on my shoulder,” he chuckled, and Harrison laughed too. “You can’t be having a baby. YOU’RE a baby!”

“That’s what I’m saying!”

“Okay, okay, this isn’t a bad thing, Hare. You’re going to be a dad and that’s beautiful. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. And this little boy or girl-”

“It’s probably a boy, let’s just be honest,” Harrison laughed with an accompanying sniffle.

“Heh, yeah. Well, they’re lucky to have you in their life. They’ve already won the lottery because they’re being born into OUR family, and we have a great family. A great family.”

Harrison didn’t respond, so Hunter continued the pep talk, pausing occasionally to ponder his next word.

“Look, Hare…how do I say this…ever since you were little, you’ve been so kind and attentive. Henry has the fire, Hank and Hugh have that whole coolness thing they do, Hudson’s cocky. You’re the sweet one. My kids love you. You’ll be an amazing father, you’ll do great. You’ve fought for everything you have and it’s made you into this man. I remember when you were a chubby little boy and now look at you! Hard work and a big heart get you far. This is the hard part. Why do you think Dad’s going to kill you? You DO know how old Dad was when I was born, right?”

Harrison sighed. “He was 21.”

“He was 21. You’ll be 20. Harrison, you’ll be fine. Dad’s done great, you’ll do great, because you’re a wonderful man. You’re going to love this baby so much. You already do, I can tell.”

Harrison smiled weakly and nodded. “I do. It’s all I can think about.”

“I don’t want you to do this, but she didn’t consider…y’know…”

“No. No, no. The Atkinsons are Catholic. And besides, we were just being stupid, it just…it’s our fault.”

Hunter nodded. “You’re maturing really fast, Hare, jeez. You know who you should talk to, besides Dad? Neil. Lachlan was born when Neil was 21.”

“Oh, I forgot about him. I’ll do that. I just need someone to tell me I don’t suck,” Harrison chuckled. “Brooke’s Dad is gonna chase me down the street with a shotgun. This’ll be my only kid because he’ll castrate me.”

“Maybe Steve will lose it for a second, but then he’ll see this beautiful little baby. I’m not saying it’s an ideal situation, but you gotta look at the positives. Let’s be honest, our family’s well off, Harrison. We can provide. This kid’s gonna have a great life with a great dad and mom. It’s not like you’re some dumb backwoods sixteen-year-old. You’re pretty much a grown man now, bro, and this baby puts you over the top. You’re a man now. If you’re getting girls pregnant, you’re a man, buddy. And as your oldest brother, I’m telling you that there’s no turning back,” Hunter said, dwelling on his own experience. “Life’s not just about you anymore. Whether you marry Brooke or not, she is the mother of your child, and you’re bonded forever. You have a family of your own now.”

“Yeah,” Harrison nodded, wiping his eyes. “Yeah.”

“C’mon, let’s go talk to Katie.”


Hunter sat in the family room, watching his younger brother sleep on the foldout bed. Regardless of the pep talk earlier, Hunter couldn’t shake the feeling that Harrison really was still a kid. Twenty years on the planet isn’t very much experience in the long run. Hunter mourned the death of Harrison’s childhood, but was excited at the prospect of his children finally having a cousin. The next generation of Hardys was here, like it or not. Hunter couldn’t think of himself as separate from his brothers anymore, now that they were having children too.

“Are you coming to bed?”

Hunter looked up to see Katie leaning against the doorframe, her body draped in a silk negligee. She widened her large eyes and fingered a lock of her hair. “Watching you parent the kids and advise your brother turns me oooonnn,” she purred. “You’re so paternal.”

He smiled a boyish, toothy grin. There were so many advantages to being married to a supermodel. “I’ll be in in a minute.”

She disappeared, most likely to primp some more. Hunter leaned back in the chair – his favorite in the house, the one where work met home. He’d sit in the chair and watch game footage and study playbooks, then he’d put that away and play with the kids or sit them on his lap while they watched a movie. He shut his eyes and breathed deeply, feeling the rare silence in the house.

“Hello, Hunter.”

Hunter’s eyes snapped open and he saw a man standing in front of his television. The stranger wore faded blue jeans and a baggy white t-shirt, in a style that had passed decades before. The man smiled, not threateningly, but kindly.

“Who are you?! Get out of my home! Katie…” Hunter stared at the man and went mute from shock. He looked over at Harrison, who hadn’t stirred. Katie didn’t walk back in.

“It’s alright, Hunter,” the man said softly. “I think you just realized who I am.”


The man nodded and Hunter exploded out of the chair, realizing with shock that he was a good seven inches taller than his own father. Sam Scott was not a large man. He stood about 5’10”, slim and narrow – everything Hunter wasn’t.

Sam’s voice never went above a glorified whisper. “Hi, son.”

Hunter tried to say something – there was so much he wanted to say – but he trembled violently with emotion and was unable to produce a single sound. Bountiful tears coursed down his face and into his fingers, and he sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. He dropped onto his knees and wrapped his arms around Sam’s knees, stunned at how real they felt. Sam crouched down and hugged Hunter as best as he could, despite his son being far too large to embrace fully.

“Hunter, look at me.”

Hunter felt fingers touch the base of his square chin and tilt it upward, and he stared into the face of the man he had always longed to meet. “Y-y-you’re real!”, Hunter finally managed to stammer, before sobbing some more. “Where have you BEEN?!”

“I’m not the kind of real you want me to be,” Sam replied sadly. “I wish I could be. I always wanted to be here for you, but that wasn’t part of the deal.”

Confusion was written all over Hunter’s face. Every word took considerable effort to form. “You, I…deal? How are you here? I’ve missed you for so long.”

“You were curious about me, but you didn’t miss me all the time. Sean is your father, biologically and otherwise, just as it should be. But I was the one who originally conceived you with your mother. And I didn’t want to leave, but I had no choice. Watching you grow up has been such a privilege. You have become an incredible, incredible man. You are everything a father wants in a son.”

Hunter wiped tears away with his hands. “I want you to see my family. My wife, my children. Not meet them, just look at them.”

“Katie is a wonderful woman. You were wise to marry her. And those beautiful children you have…I’ve seen them from their first breath. I knew their names before you did. They’re gorgeous and you’re doing a fantastic job with them.”

What? Dad…”

“You need an explanation.”

“Please. Please, I’ve needed one since birth. Who are you? Who am I? What…what are we?”

Sam and Hunter stood together, never breaking their embrace. Hunter leaned down to lean his head on his first father’s shoulder, an awkward but somehow comforting position. “Hunter, I’m…a messenger. What you might call an angel.”

“An angel,” Hunter repeated numbly.

“There are many joys in a human life, but none quite so great as parenthood. I wanted that experience. And I was placed on Earth, where I met your mother. And I loved her. Oh, how I loved her. I wanted to have a child with her. But,” Sam chuckled. “It was a complicated issue. My allotted time was drawing to a close, and I had a choice of a little bit more time with Wendy, or less time in exchange for the guarantee of a healthy, happy child.”



“You…chose me,” Hunter cried softly. “You wanted me.”

“I knew as soon as you were born, I had to go. I stood in that room and held you so tightly. You were the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, and you still are. I gave up a thousand tomorrows just so I could see your face.”

Hunter almost choked on his tears.

“Your mother never told you there was no body in the car when it crashed. They never figured it out. It caused me great pain to watch her struggle, but to see the two of you together…” Sam’s smile said it all. “I wasn’t able to be with you physically, but I was always watching over you, protecting you. I loved watching you grow.”

“I’ve grown a lot. I did a whole lot of growing.”

They both laughed. “That you did. I first learned about Sean replacing me when you were about four and your destinies began to intertwine. Sean’s your Dad now, but you’re still a part of me. Every father sees his traits in his son, and I’m no exception to the rule. Your power comes from me.”

“I’m…half an angel? I’m not a human?”

“Think of it that way, yes and no. You are fully mortal, but you carry me within you. It’s far more complicated than that but that’s the easiest way to explain it. You do, essentially, have two fathers. I carried out the deed that started your creation,” Sam said with a blush, “And gave you a very rare and special gift. But what I gave you, you used to mold yourself into the man you unconsciously wanted to be. You have traits from me, like the power that isn’t going away, but you also have behaviors you got from your mother and also from Sean. Paternally, I was mostly the nature and Sean was mostly the nurture. You’re a fascinating case study.” Both men laughed. “But I let you accept Sean as your biological father, and all boys look like their Dad somewhat. So I watched as you slowly looked less and less like me and more and more like Sean, you know…your hair turned black and you grew so tall and so incredibly strong. Your voice became deep like Sean’s. I was so happy when Sean entered your life. I wanted you to have a father. I pleaded for it. And Sean was a wonderful, wonderful father.”

“I’m sorry he erased you.”

“He was meant to. That was the course of things. Sean assumed the role of your father. Your natural inclination toward goodness – which comes from, uh, my side, obviously – made you a very easy son to raise, but every boy needs guidance. Sean was born specifically to parent and guide you, and not only you, but your brothers and sister as well. The Hardy family is terribly special, as I’m sure you know. Thank you for keeping your first name, by the way. I picked it out myself.”

“You chose me…and you chose my name.” Hunter shut his eyes. “I love that.”

“And I love you.”

“Why tonight, Dad?”

“You were calling out to me,” Sam said. “Subconsciously, you saw Neil finally see his father, and you wanted to see yours. Your longings finally grew too great. You were crying out for me the way I heard you cry for your mother when you were small. I’ve always known it was tonight, it was always meant to be, and I’ve longed to hold you. My boy.” He sighed. “You’re not a boy anymore, though.”

Hunter shook his head from side to side. “I…I’ve missed you for forever. I wanted someone to take care of me,” he said through his teeth, through his tears. “I’m always the strong one. And I like that. That’s me. My children, my wife, my siblings, my friends, even my parents all rely on me. But for once, just for once, I wanted someone to hold ME and tell me that everything was okay, and I wanted to know that I wasn’t behind that person…that I didn’t control them.” Hunter stretched his arms out once more. “Dad,” he cried, unable to say anymore. “DAD.”

Sam held Hunter and calmed him. “Your strength, physically and spiritually, is your defining trait. But you weren’t the only thing behind Sean being Sean. Destiny had a bigger hand than you did. Oh, Hunter, I’m so sorry for your hurt. I wish I could take it all and cradle you.”

“You can hold your grandson. Seanny looks just like me.”

“That he does. He takes after you the most. That’s one amazing boy you’ve got there, with an incredible future. And that’s not meant to discount any of your other children. They will all do amazing things.”

“What does he do?! What do they all do? Please, tell me…”

Sam chuckled and shook his head. “Of course you want to know. I shouldn’t have said anything…you’ll find out. Just live in the present.”

“I try to.” Hunter saw a picture of the triplets hanging on the wall. “Dad?”


“Why don’t Tripp, Lily and Neil have it? They’re a quarter messenger or angel or whatever, just like Burke and Sean.”

“Are you sure you want to know?”

“What do you mean?”

Sam smiled. “I mean that fate interfered. For their sake.”

“Interfered? You…what?”

“Hunter, if the triplets had been born with it, you wouldn’t have been able to heal them and all three would have died.”

Hunter stood still for a few moments, absorbing the words he’d heard but not understanding them, and then he began to hyperventilate. He collapsed into the chair and tried to breathe, but couldn’t.

“What’s the saying here? Everything happens for a reason? When they were gestating, they didn’t develop the trait. And so, when they were born far too early, you were able to strengthen their underdeveloped bodies and they were able to survive.”

Sam put his arms around Hunter and held his son tightly as the younger man sobbed. Hunter couldn’t fathom anything that was being said. Life without the triplets? Tripp dying? No Lily to give him and Katie a daughter? No Neil to bring so much vivacity into their home? Life wouldn’t be worth living. It would be unbearable.

“Don’t cry. They’re alive. They’re sleeping in their beds. There is no alternate universe – it all happens as intended, and it was intended that they live and function as normal, beautiful human beings.” Sam paused. “Well, as normal as you can be when you’re a Hardy.”

Hunter broke away and lurched to the kitchen to gulp down a glass of water. He slammed the cup down and stood at the counter, motionless, before leaning against the fridge and breathing deeply while trying to compose himself. Then, disregarding the presence in the living room, he darted into a bedroom to make sure his daughter was sound asleep in her bed.

She looks so much like Katie when she sleeps.

He kissed Lily’s forehead very lightly, so as not to wake her up, and then carefully switched off the Technicolor lamp on her bedstand. “I love you, Lil,” he whispered.

When Hunter walked back to the living room, Sam was gone, as Hunter had known he would be. All that had needed saying had been said. Sam’s task was fulfilled, and Sean was Hunter’s father. That was all there was to it. And now Hunter had a deeper sense of who he and his oldest and youngest sons were, along with a profound appreciation for his gift and the lives of his three middle children.

Thank you, Dad.

There was a quiet voice in the back of Hunter’s head. I love you, Hunter.

I love you too, Dad. Thank you. Thank you for letting my life play out like it was supposed to.

Hunter could feel Sam’s smile. You’re more than welcome.

Hunter reached down and pushed the blanket over Harrison to cover his shoulders. No matter how grown-up Harrison was, Hunter still felt slightly paternal toward his younger brother.


Tripp was standing in the hallway, clutching the baby blanket that Wendy had given him. Hunter looked at his little boy. Sean and Burke got the most attention for their resemblance to Hunter, but Tripp really looked like his dad too, except he had eyes like Katie’s. With his hair cropped short, Tripp fit right in with the Hardys. You were always meant for this family.

“Hey, bud. Why aren’t you asleep?” Hunter spotted a second figure lurking in the hallway. “You too, Neil. Why are you boys up?”

“I wet the bed,” Tripp said, embarrassed. Neil giggled a little, and Tripp shot his brother a glare.

Hunter let out a small sigh. So much for sex. Tripp looked down at the floor. “I’m sorryyyy,” he said, drawing out the last word for emphasis.

“It’s okay, champ, it happens,” Hunter said, mussing his son’s hair affectionately. He crouched down and motioned for Neil to come closer, and he put his left hand around him while the right went around Tripp. For a few moments, he stared into both angelic faces, bright and young and pure. Then, he drew them in and hugged them tightly, and they hugged him back. “I love you guys so much it hurts.”

Neil, the inquisitive one, just had to ask. “Where does it hurt?”

Hunter chuckled. “Umm…my heart. My heart is so full of love, it’s just too heavy.” He looked up and saw Katie standing in the hallway, and he indicated that he’d hurry up. She smiled.

“C’mon, Tripp, let’s go change your sheets.”

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