Learning Curve

“Oh good, you're both here,” Michael says desperately. “Can you take her?” He ignores Justin's eyeroll and thrusts his squalling child into Brian's arms. Brian holds her away from his body with two hands.

“She's not a football,” Justin snaps, and wrestles Jenny out of Brian's grasp. “Although you wouldn't know how to hold a football either.”

“No self-respecting fag knows how to hold a football,” Brian answers, not concerned in the least. “Except for that closet homo of Emmett's. Where'd you stash my kid, Mikey?”

“He's watching videos in the bedroom,” Michael answers. “I was sort of hoping he'd fall asleep.”

“Great babysitting tactics,” Justin says. “You got a bottle for her or anything?”

He nods once and hurries to the kitchen, retrieving the small, cool bottle of milk and holding with two fingers. “It's breast milk,” he says with distaste. “I have to heat it. Oh my God, Justin, did you wash your hands?” He stares in horror at his daughter sucking on Justin's pinky finger.

“It got her to stop crying, didn't it?”

Brian laughs at that before plopping down on the couch. “See? Justin knows that if you want something to stop making noise, you stick something in its mouth. It's worked on him enough times.”

“Ha,” Justin says in a bored voice, and sits in the chair opposite Brian. Michael watches enviously the ease with which Justin holds Jenny, cradling her close to his chest and rocking gently. “How'd you get stuck with both of them, Michael?”

“Lindsay asked us three days ago if we could watch Gus. She said you wouldn't answer your phone, Brian, and besides, you had taken him last weekend.”

“I did. And I don't answer my phone while I'm getting sucked.”

Justin coughed. “It was the other way around. Your mouth was occupied.”

“Anyway,” Michael says loudly, hoping to drown out the details, “when Mel called and asked if I would take Jenny for a few hours on the same day, I couldn't tell her that Lindsay had already asked, because, well. Um.”

“Because you might have gotten injured?” Justin offers, and Michael laughs.

“Yeah. And I thought Ben would be home, but he's got a faculty meeting, so it was just me. I guess I panicked a little.”

“They all call me when they panic,” Brian sighs. “Go fetch my kid.”

Michael is too relieved at the presence of other people that are not small children to protest the order. He sticks his head in the bedroom. “Gus, Daddy's here,” he says, and Gus scrambles awkwardly off the bed.

“Daddy?” he asks, and Michael points to the living room.

Michael watches as Gus races to the couch and flings himself across Brian's lap, giggling like mad when Brian swats his bottom. “Daddy,” he says, jubilant in his four-year-oldness.

“Kiddo,” Brian says with warmth. “Who's the man?”

“Me,” he proclaims, and maneuvers himself to a sitting position, straddling Brian's legs and facing the television.

“You're supposed to say me,” Brian tells him, and wiggles a finger in his side. Gus squeals and writhes with glee. Michael sees Justin smile to himself before returning attention to Jenny, wrinkling his nose at her and trying to make her laugh.

The beep of the microwave reminds him that he stuck the bottle in for way too long and he swears out loud.

“Hey,” Justin protests. “No profanity with minors in the room.”

“Shit,” Gus repeats happily. “My teacher says that isn't nice.”

“Well done, Mikey,” Brian snorts, and Justin shakes his head with disapproval.

“Oh God,” Michael pleads, “don't tell Lindsay.”

Gus sticks his thumb in his mouth. “Thit,” he mumbles around it, and settles back against Brian's chest.

“The bottle, Michael,” Justin reminds him. “Your child is about to eat my finger.”

“Right! The bottle.” He retrieves it from the microwave and puts a drop on his wrist like Melanie showed him, but refuses to taste it for temperature. He loves his daughter, but he'll only go so far.

Michael brings it to Justin and tries to give the instructions that Melanie meticulously wrote out, but Justin brushes him off. “Yeah, I got it, we're fine,” he dismisses, and Michael sees it's true. Justin gives her the bottle like a pro.

“How do you know how to do that?” he asks, watching with amazement as Jenny's tiny pink mouth fastens on the nipple and she gets down to the business of eating lunch.

“I fed Molly,” he shrugs, and settles back into the chair.

“You were, like, nine years old,” Michael says.

“It wasn't that long ago,” Brian puts in.

“Shut up,” Justin says easily.

“Thut up,” Gus repeats, lisping around his thumb, and Brian raises an eyebrow at Justin.

“Jesus! Can't someone say something nice so he'll repeat that? Lindsay will kill me if he goes home using that language.”

“Gus,” Justin says, “say ‘I love you' instead.”

“I luf you,” he parrots back dutifully, eyes still fixed on the television.

“Thank God,” Michael groans.

“Mommy says it too,” Gus tells them, popping his thumb out and wiping it on Brian's jeans that Michael knows are probably Diesel and probably expensive.

Brian looks interested. “Mommy says ‘shit' at home? Which Mommy?”

“No,” Gus laughs, obviously amused by Brian. “Mommy says ‘I love you.'” He stops and considers Brian for a minute. “I get time out for bad words. She says you should get time out too. But daddies don't get time out.”

“Daddies get time out if they're good,” Brian winks at him, and Michael smacks the back of his head.

“Shh,” Michael hisses at him. “God. What're you trying to do to me.”

“Both of you shut – ” Justin stops, eyes Gus, continues. “I mean. Be quiet. Jenny's almost asleep.”

“Mommy loves me,” Gus whispers to himself, but loud enough that Michael can hear. “And I love Jenny.” He turns to look at Michael. “Uncle Mike, you love Jenny?”

“Very much,” Michael answers, and Gus nods with satisfaction.

“I love Daddy,” he murmurs, and Michael sees Brian rest a hand on top of Gus's small head. “Mike loves Jenny. Justin loves Jenny.” He looks at Justin for confirmation and Justin grins at him. Gus turns in Brian's lap and puts a hand on his cheek. He shrieks with delight when Brian grabs it and uses his teeth to nip at Gus's fingers. “Daddy loves me,” he laughs, and Michael notes with interest the confidence with which he says it. “And Daddy loves Justin.”

It's quiet for half a second, even the television is caught between program and commercial, and Michael can sense Justin's stillness.

“You think so, huh?” Brian says calmly. “Who told you that?”

“Mommy,” Gus says, and turns back around to the tv.

Michael feels for a moment like an outsider in his own home as he watches the look that passes between the two of them; Justin's eyes hold warmth and amusement and Brian's have slight panic that fades to lust when Justin fucking beams at him.

It makes Michael uncomfortable enough that he steps between them, reaching down for Jenny and taking her out of Justin's arms. “Okay, thanks, I'll put her down for her nap till Mel gets back.”

“Wait,” Justin protests, “she needs to be – whoops. Too late.”

Michael nearly gags at the sour smell of milk that his daughter has spit back up on his shoulder and glares at Justin. “You should have told me.”

“I tried,” Justin laughs, and slouches back in the chair.

“Well, shit,” he grouches, and Jenny starts to cry.

“Shit,” Gus agrees.